unfinished blogs – no. 8 – A home communication, entertainment and network in Malaysia setup

I’ve been writing this blog for three years this month, and have accumulated many partially written blogs that remain unpublished. I may as well just publish them as is, and if I ever feel inspired to finish any, do so later.


December 5th, 2012

Nowdays we have all these gadgets, but many connect with each other. I am going to suggest one way you can set up your home communication, entertainment and network.

Home cinema magazines write that home cinema is not a DIY project, as there are so many complexities, so much different equipment, and a lot of expertise is necessary to choose the right components for your environment and to meet your aims, desires and budget. And then the equipment must be set up and tuned for the best performance.  So they suggest working with a home cinema shop to do this.  They must visit your home at least twice, once to evaluate the environment and see what equipment you already have, and once more to install and tune the equipment. Just reading equipment reviews and buying the recommended components, or alternatively, buying everything from one manufacturere will not, they write, produce the best results.

25 years ago we were living in Tokyo, and I set up my own home cinema surround sound system, and it worked really well. This is not to say a professional could not have done better, but I was very happy with it. Watching films the sound was fabulous. We lived in a tiny flat, and I had to be careful with the volume if the neighbours were around, but still, I was very satisfied.

From memory the components were:

  • a large Pioneer TV
  • a Pioneer 5.1 AV amplifier
  • Pioneer surround speaker set and subwoofer
  • VHS stereo recorder
  • CD player
  • Sony 8mm video camera
  • Sony 6″ TV and 8mm video tape recorder (used for editing videos)

Later, when we livied in Sydney I consulted a home cinema shop, and they did indeed provide good service, and I had a home cinema in the living room, and several zones around the house and outside to which I could provide music.  I had switched to a Yamaha AV Receiver, which was very good, still had the Pioneer speakers, and can’t remember the brands of the other components.

After this I got tired of dragging equipment around the world, and for the intervening years have had a very basic setup where we have lived.

After these experiences I do tend to think that working with a specialist home cinema shop is preferable, so I will largely assume that this has been done.

Having said which, there seems to be no shop that will cater for this in Penang- hi-fi or home cinema shops are not usually staffed by helpful people, and you want to integrate far more equipment, anyway. If you go to one of the bigger stores, the salesman will come out of the vaccuum cleaner department, tell you the price of whatever you ask, not be able to answer any other questions, and then ask if you want to buy. Then he’ll go back to the vaccuum cleaners.  They used to have, but seem to have no longer, listening rooms set up in SenQ at Gurney Plaza, and at Harvey Norman in Queensbay Mall, where you could switch between different equipment and listen and evaluate it. Now these rooms are just displays of whatever they are selling.  Any hi-fi stores I have found have a very limited range of products they sell, and they may not sell what is ideal for you.

Kuala Lumpur may be different, but they will hardly visit Penang to look at your home, in order to make recommendations.

So, I will make some references to home cinema, but it being so complex, leave it at that. And I will make some assumptions:

  • There are one or  two of you
  • You have a three or four bedroom apartment on one level – I don’t, I live in a two level house, but most people in Penang are in apartments
  • You don’t want to hack your walls to put in Ethernet wiring – because it’s messy, or you’re renting
  • Wi-Fi is convenient, but not good for one’s health, so you use alternatives, and when you do need Wi-Fi  turn it on only when using it
  • You want to keep costs down
  • You want to minimise the time you spend supporting the equipment.
  • If the Internet goes down you want some kind of backup
  • You’re not using mainly Apple products – I object to their exploitation of workers in China, insistence on using wireless instead of having options to use wired, lack of options to add additional storage such as SD cards on their iPads etc., and their much higher price.
  • You already have much of what you need

You have or will probably acquire:

Good warranties

  • Digital Camera
  • Video camera
  • Phone
  • Mobile
  • router
  • switch
  • network
  • powerline network – devolo
  • Internet provider
  • NAS
  • printer/scanner/fax
  • UPS
  • TV
  • Media Server
  • DVD or Blueray player
  • speakers

You will want to think about where to place your IT gear to minimise wiring snaking around the apartment, but to be convenient for how you use it.

It is hard to know where to start, so let’s start with the Internet.  The signal comes into your modem / router. On this you will have at least one Ethernet port.

It may have WiFi, too. If you are lucky you will have an on-off switch on the router for the Wi-Fi. Otherwise you will have to turn it on and off from a web browser, which is not very convenient.

If there is only one Ethernet port, you should connect this up to a switch. These come in configurations from 4 port up – an 8 port costs little more than a 4 port, so this should be the minimum size. Also, ensure the speeds include 10/100/1000 mbps. A switch enables you multiply the number of devices you can attach, and very efficiently manages the network so very little speed is lost to any of the devices.

As the Wi-Fi is not healthy, it is better to connect your networked devices by wire. If they are close to the switch you can use an ethernet cable from the switch to your device – you may have a NAS server near it to store your files, photos, music and videos on, for example. It might be convenient to place your printer nearby, too.

Unless you want to hack your walls and install ethernet cable, or attach conduit with ethernet cable within to your walls, or can run wires easily through your floors or ceiling, or under carpet or mats, although not recommended, then quite a good alternative is to use powerline networking.  You can attach a special plug to a power point near your switch, and run an ethernet cable from your switch to the plug.  Then you attach other such plugs where you want the network, and run a cable from the plugs to the devices. You are using your electrical wiring for your network.

If you wish the devices near the router to work if there is a power outage, and be protected from electrical surges, then purchase a UPS, and Uninteruptable Power Supply.  It will not run for so long unless you buy a big one, but it will give you time to shut down your equipment gracefully, rahter than have it crash.  It can also be set up to shut down equipment automatically if the power goes out.

So, near where your router is located is a switch, and perhaps a powerline setup, printer, UPS, and NAS. The advantages of a NAS must be mentioned before we move on.

If you also want a fax and a scanner, consider a combination fax and a scanner and printer.

The NAS (Network Attached Storage) will allow you to back up anything on your PC’s over the network, and to store music, photos, and video etc. to play on your TV or home entertainment system. You will want all equipment releated to home entertainment to be DNLA certified.

Your TV can be connected directly to a network cable, or via composite cables or HDMI cable to a Digital Media Adapter, which is connected to the network.  It is best if the DMA is DNLA certified, as it will work with other useful equipment.

unfinished blogs – no. 7 – The utilities blog – water, electricity, and gas…in Penang

I’ve been writing this blog for three years this month, and have accumulated many partially written blogs that remain unpublished. I may as well just publish them as is, and if I ever feel inspired to finish any, do so later.


November 16th, 2012

In the UK, we paid about GBP40 per month for electricity, about GBP40 per month for gas, and GBP89 for water. Electricity and gas were metered, but water was a fixed charge, and not metered.

Here we pay about RM170 per month for electricity. Expats report bills ranging for less than RM100 up to RM800, depending on their homes, and usage, of course. Our bill is very similar to that of the UK, but in the UK we lived in a two bedroom flat, with gas central heating, but, importantly, we were out of the flat working five days a week, which would have kept the bill much lower. Thus, electricity is costing us less here, even though it cannot be said to be cheap. But electricity heats the water for showers and baths, and runs the aircons, so we use it for more functions, here.

These are the tariffs, becoming more expensive as you use more:

Electricity: Tenaga Nasional:

First 200 KW/hour: 0.218 RM 43.60

Next 100 0.334 RM 33.40

Next 100 .400 RM 40

Next 100 .402 RM 40.20

There is no town gas, so you have gas delivered in canisters, costing RM27 or so for a litre cannister. This has lasted us from about three months to about six months, depending on how much we ate in. If three months, then about GBP2 per month.

As for water, it costs RM6 minimum per two months, and usually we only use the minimum, so it is less than GBP1 per month. Usually we pay Indah Water several months in one go to save the trouble of paying every two months, and then every bill we receive shows a negative debt to them.

How to pay? With electricity, one can pay online with most banks. With gas, you telephone and it is delivered, so one pays the bike delivery person. It is more difficult with water – you can pay at the post office.

More and more condos in Penang – but it’s not all bad

For as long as I have been here new condominiums have been continually constructed.

This can be both good and bad.

Firstly, jungle may be cleared and the environment damaged. Clearing trees means water will run off instead of being absorbed into the environment, and can lead to floods. New condos often block nice views residents of other condos had. Never believe your view is sacrosanct – even if directly on the ocean, as the sea could be reclaimed in front and built on.

During construction the roads are damaged and more congested by heavy lorries, there is vibration that damages nearby buildings, illegal workers may have malaria and dengue which can spread by mosquitos to others living nearby, there is dust, some dropped debris, runoff into the sea, and sometimes noise…

After construction there is a higher population density, so more traffic, and while one apartment may have a parking space, many families have two or more cars, so the nearby streets are parked out… many of the more expensive apartments are purchased by people who use them as investments or as holiday flats, and are empty most of the time, so the effects of more residents is not as pronounced as you might think.

However, although the roads are not improved, at least the drainage is, as otherwise there would be floods. The nearby area is often cleaned up and modernised. And tall buildings shade some of the neighbouring land – especially this time of year when the sun is lower in the sky. I get a half hour of shade in the middle of the day for a couple of months.  And why is this better than say early morning, or evening?  Because at those times mosquitos are around, but in the middle of the day they are not, and yet it is cool in the condo-shade.

soon I will have half an hour of pleasant shade

soon I will have half an hour of pleasant shade as the condo blocks the sun

I enjoy this shade during this period of the year.

Cleaning my air-con

We have nine  Panasonic air conditioners, and occasionally have them cleaned – which costs RM60 each.  But we always feel uneasy with tradesmen in the house.  At one stage we had three different groups of tradesmen in the house, and couldn’t keep an eye on all of them, and some things were stolen.  So now we minimise the number of times we call anyone, and keep a close watch on what they are doing.

One of our aircons desperately needed cleaning, and when they came we watched closely.  But I also noticed that they weren’t doing anything too complicated.  They dissembled part of the aircon, took those parts outside and  washed using water and rags.

Thus I thought that I could also do that, and not have to feel paranoid about workmen being in the house. So I did. And this is what I did. I am writing this so in a year’s time I can refresh my memory.


Panasonic aircon cleaning


Step 1 Assemble tools and material

Small plastic tray for draining water

Cloth to protect surface below from dirt and dust

Computer size Phillips screwdriver

Normal size Phillips screwdriver

Medium size and large size ordinary screwdrivers

Torch if in dim area

Ladder probably

Dropsheet possibly if you want it to catch any fallen screws, and otherwise they’d disappear; and others to cover any fabric or furniture.


Cost of living in Penang in March 2014

Just to give you an idea of what it could cost to live in Penang on a monthly basis, where in March 2014  GBP£1 = RM5.4; USD$1 = RM3.2; AUD$1 = RM2.9

I wrote the same blog in November 2012, so prices (and sometimes quantities) from 16 months ago are in brackets to show the rise in prices.

Here is a site I recently found that is more comprehensive than my blog: 

When first here we lived for RM30 per day, plus rent.  Below gives more details of costs of a comfortable life.

RM300 in a low-cost condo, with no facilities, and probably in a poor location in a badly maintained building.
RM2,500 for a three bedroom two bathroom condo of about 1,000 square feet, with pool, gym, parking space etc.  in a nice, reasonably maintained building.
And up for bigger, better appointed condos.
Houses, RM2,000 or more.

I think these prices have increased a bitsince I wrote them 16 months ago, but feel presently that the market is in a government induced slump.

Home ownership:
Condo: maintenance fees.
House: see tax section.

Electricity is metered, but water is a fixed charge, and you get gas delivered in canisters.

Electricity charges were recently substantially raised. We don’t yet know how much more this is actually costing us. The government charges comparatively more per kilowatt for more consumption, so the higher bands have increased substantially. I suspect at least a 20% higher bill.  It was about RM200 for electricity, using air cons when necessary, heating water for showers, lighting, TV etc. Expats report bills ranging for less than RM100 up to RM800, depending on their homes, and usage, of course. Our bill is very similar to that of the UK, but in the UK we lived in a two bedroom flat, with gas central heating, but, importantly, we were out of the flat working five days a week, which would have kept the bill much lower. Thus, electricity is costing us less here, even though it cannot be said to be cheap.

(UPDATE:  During very hot February we used the aircons more.  Our usage was 12% (kilowatt hours) more than the bill for December, but our bill was 27% more.

RM10 per month for gas. There is no town gas, so you have gas delivered in canisters, costing RM30  (RM27) or so for medium size canister. This has lasted us from about three months to about six months, depending on how much we ate in.

RM3  for water; it costs RM6 minimum per two months, and usually we only use the minimum. I use rainwater to water the plants where possible, because the plants seem to prefer it, but in the drier months use town water.

Currently a phone line and 4mbps ADSL Internet connection with Telekom Malaysia costs RM140 per month.  For 8mbps it costs RM160 per month.

RM1,200 per month (RM900) for groceries. There are supermarkets and markets for fruit and vegetables. But if we buy everything just from Tesco, this is an approximate figure, although prices are rising significantly.

Health Insurance:
RM560 for two of us for policies covering hospitalisation, taken out locally, but covering world-wide.  Visiting a doctor in a clinic used to cost around RM35 in this area, or in a hospital RM80 or more. Doctors’ prices were increased by 14.4% this week, with the previous price range for visiting a doctor’s clinic from RM10 – RM35, and the new range from RM30 to RM125.  This doesn’t appear to be 14.4% to me, but that’s what the newspaper reported. Here is a chart taken from The Star:

2014-03-08 12.52.45s

Our insurance agent told us medical procedures are increasing in cost by 20% per annum, so at this rate very soon Malaysia will no longer be a low cost medical destination.

RM0 if you are renting. The service charge for the condo is paid by the owner, as is any tax on the property. If you own a house, there is a land tax and a charge for the local council’s services, which amount to about RM500 per annum for both for a modest property. The Malaysian government plans to introduced a GST of initially 6% in April 2015.  This is being universally cheered by the media. Since the government seems to expect people/companies to act as their tax collectors without recompense, I assume the extra costs of this tax collecting and accounting will be passed on to the consumers, thus having a bigger than 6% impact.  The government has recently substantially increased capital gains taxes on property sales.  Now the tax is 30% for properties sold within 5 years, and 5% on properties sold during or after the sixth year. (Previously 15%, then 10%, and after 5 years 0%).

RM2.10 (1.90) per litre – I live centrally, so even when I drive it is only for about 10 minutes one way, so in a month I spend less than RM100 on petrol.

Car running costs:
Car service – about RM400 for a Japanese car to perhaps RM1,000 for a Mercedes. I only need it once a year as everything is close by in Penang, so I don’t drive many miles. Road tax depends on engine size – see this calculator. Some things are really cheap – puncture repair RM8, for example – with immediate and friendly service. Car insurance, of course, depends on the car value and your no claim discount.  RM2,000 per year for a medium size car, perhaps, with full no claim discount.

RM0.40 (RM0.30)per half hour, and up, on Penang Island, for street parking by coupon (previously meter or with parking attendants). RM5 for parking all day, as a guideline. On weekdays it costs RM1 for three hours parking in Gurney Plaza, on weekends more. You can park free, too, in some supermarkets, on suburban streets, at some businesses.

I have heard that metered fares may double soon, but know no more.  If so, drivers will apparently “have to” use their meters.  It is so long since I caught a taxi I can’t update this figures from last time: RM10 for a short distance, RM15 for about 10 minutes drive, and up for longer. Taxis are supposed to be metered, but drivers usually prefer not to use meters and quote a price – which they usually won’t lower if you try to bargain.  Occasionally they will, though.  The quoted price and the metered price often work out similar, anyway, and I prefer the former. Pulau Tikus to the ferry terminal is RM15; Pulau Tikus to Queensbay Mall RM35. Pulau Tikus to airport RM55ish. Prices significantly higher between midnight and 6AM, and to the airport there is a special airport charge. Personally I think if you choose a regular taxi company, or several drivers you like, then you will find them honest and reliable, and have no problems.  But even picking taxis from the street I have found the drivers honest and mostly friendly – in Penang. As for KL, I hear the situation is different.

Public Transport:
The ferry to Butterworth is free; returning is RM1.20 as a foot passenger, RM7.70 for a car with passengers. Otherwise there are Rapid Penang buses and their site still says the minimum fare is RM1.40.  Beware of pickpockets – friends of mine have had things stolen on the bus. I would take nothing valuable, and only the money I needed, and not travel when the buses are full. There are few seats, so it’s likely you will have to stand. Neither are they reliable, and drivers often don’t speak English.  However, they are air-conditioned.

Alcohol is highly taxed, and costs more than the UK, and far more than Europe.  One 320 ml (330ml) can of Carlsberg beer in a supermarket is RM7.49 (RM6) and up; a 700ml bottle of local vodka is RM23 (good for cocktails), a 700ml bottle of imported vodka about RM120; a 750 ml bottle of vintage wine bottled in country of origin from RM35 if you look around; 750ml sparkling wine from RM70 if on special; imported liqueurs generally well over RM100. Mixers like a 325ml Schweppes ginger ale and tonic water etc. cost about RM1.80 (RM1.50). Coke is now RM1.89.

Eating out:
Can be free, at some temples, or on festival days, where shops hand out food, and bottles of water.  Generally, eating out is cheap, but drinking alcohol out is expensive.  A 660ml bottle of local beer is around RM15 at a hawker centre – but noodles might cost you RM3. Of course western food in upmarket restaurants is far more expensive, and a small glass of wine could cost RM20 or more.  Nevertheless, expensive western style restaurants are good value for food if you compare the price to London, Paris, Sydney etc. Local cooking uses far too much sugar, and MSG, so eating out frequently, especially in cheap places like hawker centres,  over a longer period is probably not healthy, unless you are very selective.

From RM8 (RM7) at Gurney Mall. Yes, very affordable, and cinemas are quite empty weekdays, during the day. Senior discount, when one is over 55,  makes it RM1 less. Wednesdays are discount days, too – RM1 less, but seniors get no additional discount on that.

Cable TV:
I am not at all interested. This is the Malaysian provider.

You can join local clubs, such at The Penang Club, The Penang Swimming Club, the Penang Sports Club etc. You need to buy a membership, and then pay monthly dues, which are about RM12,000 and then RM165 monthly for the Penang Club; about RM25,000 membership fee for the Swimming Club; monthly fee appears to be RM45 per month according to their website; and RM15,000 and RM100 monthly for the Sports Club. You can sell the membership in the future, if you wish.

So, as you can see, many prices are increasing substantially, with more to come, and this is before the introduction of a GST, which will further increase prices.

Did I forget anything important?  Let me know if I did, and I will add the details if I know them, or can find them out.