Thursday, July 31, 2008

To infinity and back... you'll have to wait a bit more for 'beyond'

Lets just say you have USD 200k to blow on a holiday.
And lets say you can afford only a day for that holiday.
Where would you go and still be the envy (or derision) of the rich and famous/notorious?

Sir Richard Branson has the ready answer for you -- A trip to the outer-reaches of Earth on Virgin Galactic (VG)!

You'd have read them in the news by now, about the unveiling of the 'mother ship' called WhiteKnightTwo that will carry your space ship to a height of 18,000 meters (60,000 feet!). There, it will release the actual spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, where the spacecraft will then fire up her hybrid rocket engines, and continue the journey -- all the way up to 110km in the thermosphere.

110k is the distance from Port Klang to Seremban -- only this time you'd be travelling vertically, from ground zero, straight up! Oh yeah, you, your 2 pilots and your 5 other travelling companions be zipping at over 3 times the speed of sound (4200km/h)! Now that's adventure with STYLE!

Source: Wikipedia: WhiteKnightTwo, carrying SpaceShipTwo between her twin hulls

And how will your ride look like? The pictures above and below look like something straight out of Japanese sci-fi anime. But hey, this is for real! Both these planes were designed by the uber-genius of an aerospace designer, Burt Rutan, and built by his company, Scaled Composites.

Never heard of him? He was the guy who designed the first ever plane -- the Rutan Voyager -- to successfully fly around the globe non-stop, without refuelling. This is also the same guy who designed the first ever, privately-built spacecraft -- SpaceShipOne -- to make 2 successful trips to sub-orbital space within 2 weeks. He won the US 10m-dollar Ansary X-price for his efforts.

Source Wikipedia: SpaceShipTwo, something straight out of reality!

So how, interested? Sorry friends, you'll have to get in line. VG claims the first 100 seats have already been snapped up -- and paid for in full -- for flights that will be happening in the next 2 years. A further 170 clients have paid a deposit for future flights. Eventually, the price would come down to a much 'cheaper' US 20k per pax.

That's peanuts compared to the US 20 million Dennis Tito reportedly paid to be the first tourist in space. Tito is not alone in this elite club. Since then, four other space tourists have also paid hefty sums to experience life as an astronaut.

To be fair, this comparison is like comparing a ferry ride to holidaying on the QE2. The VG flight will last 2.5 hours, let you experience momentary weighlessness, before making a slow decent back to earth. In contrast, the 'real' space flight will see you zipping at 25,000 kmh, spend a few days in the international space station, and make countless orbits around earth!

Still. Going to space is going to space. And whether it costs 20k or 20 mil, not many will have that kind of bragging rights to say they were up there with the gods!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ain't it Cuil? (pronounced 'cool')

Big news on the technology front today... firstly, is the unveiling of the commercial space carrier, White Knight two, and then this -- -- touted by some to be the eventual 'Google slayer'. is built by ex-Google staff, and they claim that they have built a better search engine than their ex-employer's.

But a search engine is a search engine is a search engine, right?

Most search engines will tell you 'no'. Like in the case of Google, it has secret rules and complex formulae to allow them to rank a page largely by popularity, in order to return the best results for any given search. Yahoo and others have tried to replicate the 'intelligence' in the search but failed.

With, they hope to leapfrog Google with something even more advanced to give better results by topic relevance and not mere popularity. The key difference is that it tries to understand and merge 3 things together...
  • The context of your search statement or question
  • The context of the contents in the 121billion web pages Cuil claims to index. (That is almost 4 times to what observers estimate what Google is indexing today)
  • The context of the pictures in those web pages they index

The result is supposed to be more intelligent search results that are accompanied by relevant pictures.

These guys just launched this service, and will have some fine tuning of the algorithms to do. And so far, the results have been quite amusing. There are spot-on hits, and quite a number of misses as well!

For fun, I did a number of searches and here are some of the results:

Search #1 - a famous, iconic brand, such as IBM.
  • Subjects closely related to the company are neatly organized into sections with helpful descriptions on the subjects giving user a preview of what to expect
  • Explore by Category box conveniently provides further related topics organized in neat sub-categories
  • The images that accompany the results look quite 'normal' initially until you start looking at them closely, and you realize that some of the items (See the 'previous' button?) don't quite belong there

Search #2 - Topic of the day, e.g. White Knight Two (dunno what's that? Read my next post coming soon!)
  • First result got the correct subject, but the picture showed a white orchid (probably of a similar name). Another shows the knight chess piece!
  • Subsequent ones had the correct picture but the subject was totally different
  • Get this, there's even a picture promoting Japanese AV (porno) title (see bottom right)! Just how that is related to a space ship is beyond me!! In fact, The Register had also reported something similar, in that the search for a French academician resulted with gay photos!!

Search #3 - Local blogging personalities - Paul Tan (motoring blogger)
  • Successfully showed his blog as the first search result! Not bad.
  • Seems to share the same penchant as Google to display results from Wikipedia (which isn't necessarily a bad thing!!)
  • Interestingly, the Explore by Category box decided to list down things related to Malaysia instead. Quite a nifty feature and pleasant surprise

Search #4 - Local blogging personalities - Kenny Sia (er, famous blogger?)
  • Lists other bloggers or articles talking about him, but interestingly, does not show Kenny's actual blog! Poor Kenny!

Go ahead, try it yourself and have some fun. Do tell me if you get any interesting results!! :) ==>

You think you can survive a hard disk crash?

If you think about it, its kinda like the subject of death.

Everybody knows that it is bound to happen. Its just a matter of time, some say. Yet, people would rather not think about it... and hope that its something that happens only to 'other people'. And even if you do prepare for it, or think you are for such an event, it is never pleasant and the results, often devastating!


But life goes on!! Really. Unless you're resigned to good 'ole paper letters, listening to music from vinyl or CDs, watching in VHS of DVD movies and storing all your photos in reams of hardcopy albums, you're bound to have emails, MP3s, AVIs and JPGs which you need to store in the hard disk in your PC.

The obvious answer, to protect yourself from losing data in a crash, is of course to backup. And there are loads of backup solutions our there which you can use. Just Google for "freeware backup software" or some derivative of that and you'll find more solutions than you need. Or, if you're too lazy, you can find a few useful ones here.

However, I have a problem with the way most backup software works. Typically they take a complete backup of whatever it is you need to protect. And then, you'll need to do periodic backs to ensure the latest data get saved as well.

The simplest way is to do a fresh backup every time. That means you backup an entire copy of everything you have (both old and new files) into a new backup image. Its simple, it has everything in one image. But doing full backups take a lot of time and a lot of storage space. You'd have to be super kiasu, super kiasi, and super rich to afford the storage for such a solution.

The alternative is to do a one-time full backup of what you have at that time. And for the newer files, you do incremental backs. The software cleverly figures out what is it that has changed since your last backup and stores only those.

That cuts down on the massive storage you need. But now, if you need to restore the data, you'll need the original image plus all the incremental backups to be able to restore things completely.

Oh and depending on the software, you may not be able to access the individual files from your backup unless you restore the full image. Which is a major drag if what you need is just to get one single item from your years of backup!

Having fun yet?

Someone forgot to backup?

Honestly, I have never bothered with this kind of backup!

What I really need is to be able to have a copy of the same thing onto another hard disk; and be able to access that backup the same way I would access my main data. In other words, what I need is a 'mirror'.

This is where I introduce to what is likely the BEST MICROSOFT TOOL for this kind of needs. This tool is very simple to use... small and lightweight... fast... its been around and has been running reliably for me... and best of all, its FREE.

Friends, if you don't already know what I'm talking about... its the one of MS' best kept secret, the MS SyncToy.

What it allows you to do is to create 'folder pairs'. And you have a choice of using 5 different relationships between the pair of folders to achieve what you need to do.
  • Synchronize - Whatever you do on each side of the folder pair is replicated to the other side. Useful when you need to work on both folders and want all your changes to be reflected to the other side.
  • Echo - Like the above but synchronization only happens one way. (MS describes it as from the 'left' or source folder to the 'right' or target folder)
  • Subscribe - Like Echo, but this time it is from 'right' to 'left'
  • Contribute - Like Echo, but if you delete a file from 'left', the same file on the 'right' is left untouched
  • Combine - Like Synchronize except renames and deletes are not replicated over
Simple-to-use interface

It just take a minute to set up your folder to be backed up. And running it requires just another click. The initial run for a new folder pair will make an exact copy of whatever is it you have on your souce folder. For subsequent refreshes, SyncToy intelligently and very quickly scans through and only picks out the updated files to act upon.

A couple of pre-requisites though.... Firstly, you need to have the MS .NET Framework for SyncToy to work. (yeah, groan!) Secondly, get yourself a second hard disk. It wouldn't be much of a backup if you copied your data back onto the *same* hard disk, right?

Still wondering if you can survive a hard disk crash?

If you already have a backup solution, PLEASE continue and be diligent in backing up!

If you don't have one, then give MS SyncToy a try -- you'd stand to lose more by not doing anything!

This tool isn't perfect though!

After a while of using it -- especially if you're not careful with configuring your folder pairs -- you'd end up with the potential problem of having too many duplicate files in your target folder. Its not life-threatening or anything!! Just an annoyance.

But fret not, in my next post, I'll talk to you about another nifty tool to fix this problem!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Best places to buy IT stuff in Malaysia...

Come this August 1st to 3rd, we'll be having our PC fair for the Klang Valley.

For many of us who need to get an upgrade or buy that shiny new 22" wide-screen, that will be *the* event to attend.

Of course if you can't make it to that event, or chose *not* to go because you want to avoid the sardine-packed crowds, there's always the trusty LowYat in KL or Digital Mall in PJ. These IT marts are open 7-days a week and offer good deals if you're game to bargain a bit.

If there are friends coming down from Penang or anywhere out of town, looking for a good place to buy IT stuff, the above would be my usual recommendations.

BUT, are these places really the cheapest in town?

A couple of friends I know actually prefer to get their gear from Ipoh or even Taiping!?! They say that those are the places where the prices are really low. I've been to Ipoh a few times. But it always for the delicious food. But never, ever, for tech! Same for Taiping... lovely town, but never imagine it would be a place to buy cheap tech.

So here's a question to you. Are there Ipohites and Taiping-uh-hites(?) out there who can comment about this? Is it really true that you can get peripherals and stuff at cheaper prices than here in oh-we-are-only-at-7.7%-inflation-KL?


Friday, July 25, 2008

Is your mobile phone ZAPPING your brain?

DUH! Of course it is! Isn't it obvious already?

That's as far as my opinion is concerned anyway. :)
And I don't think I'm alone with that view.

So far, although many researchers have hinted on the link between the phone radiation and brain tumors, you still don't see a Surgeon General's sticker on the side of your phone do you? That's because its either there really still is no conclusive evidence of the fact, or, that the industry including us users are in a state of denial.

I vote the latter.

But looks like finally, somebody is saying different now!

The LA times blog discussed yesterday, an Associate Press report that the University of Pittsburgh director of cancer research, Dr. Ronald B. Berberman has finally done what nobody else has dared to do: Publish a warning about the possible risk of cancer from frequent cell phone use.

Its actually a warning published to Berberman's faculty and staff, and not a general public warning. But that is seen as a bold step.... and is based on some initial, unpublished data.

Hope Jean-Luc's personal communicator doesn't give him breast cancer!

What does it mean to all of us?
  • Keep it away from children -- you don't want to risk messing up their still-growing young minds
  • Use the speaker phone function or hands-free / bluetooth headset
  • If you really must talk long, use a land line, please!

I know what you're thinking. Doesn't the bluetooth hands-free emit radiation as well? Think of it this way:
  • The bluetooth set only needs to be powerful enough to reach your phone up to 10m away
  • Your phone needs to communicate to the nearest base station from anything between 1.5km to up to 40km away! That's a lot more radiation it will have to put out to reach such a distance
  • Its the case of the lesser of the 2 evils anyway

So what do YOU think? We've lived with the tai-kor-tai for many decades now. For the younger ones, its been there since day one of their lives... and cannot imagine life without it. Is it worth the risk? Can we just junk the phone and return to sending smoke signals? HOW?

Leave me a comment.... would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Running on fumes

You've probably seen this Hollywood cliche in a million times ...

Imagine this is just 5 minutes before the movie ends:

The hero is trying to escape via a plane/car/bike/truck/boat after successfully completing a death-defying mission. The unrelenting (but typically stupid) bad guys are hot on the protagonist's trail. But it looks like the hero will make it to safety after all...

Then, the twist comes... and quite often, fuel (or the lack of it) becomes an issue. Some lucky cock-eyed baddie somehow manages a fluke shot that hits the escape vehicle. That usually means hitting the fuel tank. Makes one imagine that Hollywood vehicles are made with fuel tanks covering the entire surface!

One time, the hero wasn't so lucky...

So anyway, the fuel starts flowing profusely, the low-fuel light starts blinking ominously. The fuel may even catch fire (but rarely explode) if the director sees the need for added drama. The hero's sidekick (or the hero himself, if its a low budget flick) then earnestly taps on the fuel gauge, somehow hoping that the needle would miraculously jump back up to 'Full'.

Then hero mutters something that always seem to have the phrase "we're running on fumes".

It is usually around this time that I lose interest in the movie. My mind then goes off on a tangent, and starts wishing if only it *were* really possible for my car to "run on fumes". Aaah, wouldn't that be a thing of beauty?

At the time of writing this, crude oil price dropped 3.7% to USD 127.19 a barrel, but the 1-year forecast still hangs at a stratospheric USD 165.35 per barrel. In Malaysia, we're still reeling from the 41% jump in petrol pricing. People outside of here would tell us to quit whining as our fuel price is still relatively low. But that's another debate.

It has finally happened!

One thing's for sure though: Every time the fuel price goes up, so does my interest in fuel-saving devices. The idea of spending a couple of hundred bucks in return for the promise of saving between 10% to 25% in fuel costs never fails to get my attention.

In my moments of weakness and desperation, I'd actually bought a few of these items. One of which was a fuel magnetizer. Another was a some fuel additive. The list goes on... and consistently, I came up with one result. None of them lived up to their promises!

Do these things work? Put quite simply, there are 3 views floating around:

1) Ya, they work. Yeah, the cheque's in the mail. Yeah, Santa will be with you in a moment.

2) They don't really cost that much... and some people are swearing by its effectiveness... so what's the harm of trying it? There are lots of anecdotal accounts too.

3) None of them seem to be built on any sound scientific principles. And even if some products may claim to have discovered and exploited some yet-unexplored scientific anomaly... none of the products have gone through a proper, controlled test without failing miserably

To put it even simpler -- these things don't work as advertised! And if you're not careful, some products may actually make things worse for your car!

Some new miracle fuel additive?

I'll save you the trouble (and money) by listing some of studies performed, and the conclusions, in the links at the end of this post.

Some marketeers, anticipating consumer skepticism have resorted to conspiracy theories. The favourite one is about the unholy alliance between petrol companies and car makers. The story, it seems, is that the Exxons of the world have partnered/cajoled/threatened the Toyotas of the world into hiding from the rest of the world, the secrets to vastly better fuel economy!

Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory! But think about it. If there really are fuel saving technologies that will give you quantum leaps in efficiencies, won't you find:

  • Hummers suddenly giving the Prius a run for the money?
  • Korean cars finally making fuel efficient cars like the Japanese?
  • Proton Savvy not having to resort to cheap tricks to get itself into the Malaysian Book of (questionable) records?

AHA, some smart guy retorts: How do I know that Toyota *hasn't* in fact already made a pack... and they are hoarding all the fuel-thingigamajigs to themselves?? huh? huh?

Like I said, everybody loves a good conspiracy theory.

The ultimate fuel-saving gadget...?

So, enough of my gab. Here's what some of the the pros have to say:

1) Popular Mechanics actually did a controlled test on 7 fuel saving 'technologies'

2) Vincent T. Ciulla writes a 4-pager detailing the groups of devices and common brand-names of those devices which the US Environment protection agency tested -- and found none of the products worked as advertised, or, hear it straight from the Federal Trade Commission, who sound like they've had enough with the false advertising that comes with these products.

3) Lastly, my hats of to Tony. This guy is really, really passionate about fuel saving gadgets. His very comprehensive site all you need to know about all manner of products. Read and learn. Will save you a few bucks!

While researching this topic, I stumbled on this highly informative site about cars. If you want to know what's under the hood, but never got around asking, check out The author painstakingly put together 3 massive pages of practically anything and everything cool you ought to know about your ride. Go through this and you'd have picked up a few things to impress the guys (or the girls - some do care!) with your motoring know-how!

Have fun!

Still not happy? You really still want to save fuel?
Here are a few things you can consider:
  • Read it up: Hypermiling -- or if you care to wait, I intend to write something about this one day!
  • Re-chip for better efficiency (as opposed to better power)
  • Buy a more fuel-efficient car (duh!) :)
  • Lobby the gov for ULSD (ultra-low sulfer diesel) and when successful (don't hold your breath!), change to a car with Euro-4 specs, like the ones powered by diesel common rail technology
  • Do public transport, cycle, walk, call in sick

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Internet at the speed of molasses (Malaysian version)

Pop quiz:

What do you do when you cross broadband with a garden snail?

Dunno? Give up? So quickly?
If you're Malaysian, chances are its staring at you right now... its in your face!

Answer: Streamyx (my ADSL service provider).

As I type this, its been over 120 seconds since I typed in Streamyx's add into a new browser window, and I've yet to see anything. Remember, this is Streamyx's own website!
All I get is this:

Yes, I am severely cheesed off with these guys.

My broadband connection has been on the fritz for the past few days... couldn't VPN back to my office network (which isn't necessarily a bad thing!) ... and doing general surfing was a royal pain in the behind.

Posting or doing anything on Blogspot has been dreadful... with simple pages taking forever to load, and longer still to post. Aaarggh!!! Streamyx, if you continue as you are, you may actually be single-handedly responsible for reviving good old morse code in Malaysia. That would likely have higher data rate than you!!

A search on the internet (again, patience required by the truckloads) shows Streamyx has quite a lot of upset customers! There's even a site called StreamyxSucks!

And here is an example of the neat banners they have made available to get the message across.

Streamyx Sucks

Is your blog Googleable?

How long is one second, or minute or even an hour?

That depends on one second or whatever for what.

In this internet age however, where instant messages are the norm, where emails arrive at your pocket via Blackberry, where you can serve the net practically everywhere, anything over a few seconds to a few minutes would be too slow or intolerable.

But there are exceptions. There are things on the net which surprisingly do take time!

I've always taken for granted, as an example, that anything and everything that is on the internet can be Googled or Yahoo'd or (insert your favourite search engine here!). Somehow, things just magically get picked up by their crawlers and bots and pop up when you search the right words, right?

In truth, these search engines -- as powerful as they are (think: billions of pages indexed!) -- cover only 10% of the entire Internet. The other 90% (so-called "The Invisible Web") is actually readily visible to anyone who types in the correct URL, but will not show up on your search results. This is usually because the search engines have either yet to discover these page, or decided to ignore the simply because there just is SO MUCH STUFF out there!

In a sense, technology is having trouble catching up with... technology.

Take my blog for instance... if you search for it today, using your favourite search engines, you'll probably find it only in Google and no where else. I managed to get this blog 'googleable' by manually submitting Kindasophical using Google's AddURL service.

The service is very simple and painless and most importantly, FREE. A couple of days later, I was on the Google database and anybody who happened to look for "Kindasophical" (can't imagine who would, though!) would find this blog on Google! Way cool.

That was over 2 weeks ago. Today, it just occured to me that if I had to do a manual submission for Google, then its likely I had to do the same for the other search engines! I did a quick search and sure enough, all the other search sites turned out blank.

In hindsight, the reason was obvious. Google wouldn't want to share its stuff with its competitors -- and I don't blame them!

So I went about researching ways to submit my URL to the other search engines too. The first one was to submit my URL to MSN LiveSearch. It is as fuss-free as Google. And doesn't seem to demand anything in return... not even my email add!

Yahoo was fussier. Told me to use the SubmitExpress service instead. SE is quite interesting -- they claim they will submit your website to all the key search engines and about a score of other smaller services as well! And all of that's for free.

So I just did that... and if you are also facing a searchable 'identity crisis' like me, just google 'submit URL' or a similar phrase. There are tonnes of services out there. Most of these services do say that they don't guarantee all submitted sites will make it to the search pages -- a lot of it depends on the contents and popularity.

(Here, why don't you try and see if these search engines are able to find Kindasophical today:

I'll be checking these engines in a few more days.... and if they still
turn up a blank.... then its back to doing more research!!

But one word of advice.... not all URL submission services are free. Some have additional value-added, 'premium' services that attract a fee. So PLEASE BE EXTRA CAREFUL when submitting your email or ticking anything ya?!

I've read in some instances that it could take months before the search spiders finally get to indexing your page. So if you find this a reassuring thing -- that some things are still bound by some 'natual laws' -- then welcome back to information at the space of molasses. Oboy!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to lose in a debate

When I first thought about starting a blog, I told myself that I didn't want this to become 'just' another political blog. I made that decision based on several reasons:
  1. I'm neither politically astute nor aware ('blur' comes immediately to mind) -- therefore the analysis I come up with would be no better than coffee shop talk
  2. I don't really follow the scene keenly and don't have the scoop on anything -- so I'd only be repeating stale news, and/or parroting the opinion of some other blogger I happen to agree with
  3. Though it may be fun to find a soapbox and moan a bit every now and then, I don't really have much value to contribute that the other, far more capable political commentators out there, haven't already covered

So, I decided to become just another technology blogger instead. It is likely all the above 3 points are applicable to me still (just replace politics with technology), but the thing is, I do have fun doing this. And that makes a difference -- to me! :)

BUT today, I thought I'd do something entirely different, and talk about debating!

If you are Malaysian, and have been reading the papers or watching TV at least once in these past few weeks, you would probably have guessed by now that my title for this post was prompted by the live telecast debate between our Malaysian Information Minister, Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek (SC), and the opposition de-facto leader, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim (AI). The topic surrounds the recent increase of petrol and diesel prices in Malaysia.

So in line with my self-made promise, I will steer clear on the political issue raised, and instead take a look at the debate techniques employed by the 2 debators. Since I'm no professional debator, I researched the online resources on what makes a good debate.

Wikipedia summarised it well, by saying this:

"Though logical consistency, factual accuracy as well as some emotional
to audience are important elements of the art of persuasion, in
debating, one side often prevail over the other side by presenting
superior "context" and/or framework of the issue."

The points I highlighted above are the same things that I, as a casual listener. would either consciously or sub-consciously be looking out for in determining the merits of each side.

Ezine@rticles, in their article discussing Tips and Tricks of debating, listed down some key things that should or should not be done. Below are these 6 points plus my personal take on what I heard from each of the speakers.

At this point, I must apologise up front that if you did not witness the debate, the points below would be quite meaningless. I do hope I'll be able to get a copy of the transcript eventually, and post a link to it. In trying to keep the post as short as possible, I've tried not to quote specific examples... leaving it to you to access the debate transcript yourself. Until that is posted, here's an excerpt by Anilnetto(you'll have to read it bottom-up as it is in reverse chronological order!).

1) You are always right - and your opposition is always wrong
  • SC - Focused primarily on why he thought AI was wrong, but at the expense of having sufficient points backing up why he felt he was right
  • AI - Started by stating why his opponent's policies were wrong, proposed a solution, and positioned a list of initiatives as 'factual' and 'practical' ways of realizing his solution (i.e. to proof he was right)
  • Winner: AI - well structured and supported arguments; SC should have changed tactics once the basis of his attacks were no longer valid when AI set a different stage he seemed unprepared for
2) Strong central argument
  • SC - Prepared argument on the assumption that AI would propose dipping into Petronas funds, and built a list of counter points on why that would be a bad idea. Chose not to cover the point on why the price hike was a good idea
  • AI - Leave Petronas' coffers intact, but get funding through streamlining inefficient & corrupt processes. The sudden price hike is damaging to the economy and will lead to recession
  • Winner: AI - Coherent message and stayed on his intended topic throughout. SC was trying to reconcile his prepared arguments with AI's central points, resulting in a loose collage of attacks that do not always support his central point
3) Rebut - at every chance, to prove the opposition wrong
  • SC - Left some of AI's points unchallenged. The ones that he did rebut, he misquoted AI or had placed some points out of context. A panel speaker supporting SC too seemed more eager in joining in the rebuttal and looked like he had forgotten his intended role
  • AI - Parried the ones he didn't want to respond to; pandared to the audience by playing up some of SC's misquotes; pounded on those points key to his central message.
  • Winner: I think its getting pointless trying to keep score here. All of us listening in on the debate were judges, and we'd have formed our decisions -- so it doesn't really matter who I thought won.
4) If you need more time, summarize
  • SC - Generally kept good time, although in 2 instances, struggled to reach his intended conclusion.
  • AI - Constructed arguments into modular structures that worked as standalone points. Also seemed to somehow anticipate the bell and be able to conclude just in time. Used summaries to reinforce key messages.
5) Never insult the opposition
  • SC - Focused a fair amount of time on attacking the speaker instead of the argument. This approach drew boos from the audience in a few instances. These attacks also drew focus away from speaker's central points and his rebuttals to AI's arguments
  • AI - Played up the fact that he was being attacked personally, to his advantage. Dabbled with a few hints and innuendoes but steered clear of outright attacks. Sneaky!
6) Have passion, speak from the heart
  • SC - Had come with a set of well resharsed arguments, but seemed like he was more intent on getting those messages covered, than to engage the audience with his points. Situation worsened when it became clear that AI's arguments had taken a different line from the onset, but SC soldiered on along his planned line of attack, further alienating the audience to his cause
  • AI - Used a series of repeated points and summaries to reinforce his central message, thereby conveying a sense of urgency of his message. Then almost breaks the fourth wall by stating to the audience, the debate was about the people's plight, and not him or his political aspirations. That helped convey a sense of passion or personal attachment the speaker had for the subject
So there it is, my hastily typed 2c's worth on the debate. On a side note, I do hope that we get to see more of such live debates, although, from the less than stellar performance by SC this round, I doubt there will be another round of anybody versus AI any time soon!

Learn more about debating.

Monday, July 14, 2008

How much space do you need?

The first fridge we bought was a 2-door LG behemoth with a whopping 430-liter capacity. My better half (MBH) thought I was totally out of my mind. I thought it was perfectly reasonable. Fortunately as that was the first few things we were buying for our home, I got my way.

In hindsight, I should have used that leeway to max out on the largest screen TV and baddest-ass hifi set, instead of a crummy fridge! Well, live and learn, I guess.

What's the big deal about a 430l fridge you ask? Well, for starters that's equivalent to the storage space of about 14 minibars. There were only 2 of us, and we didn't really cook. So to be fair, that size could be considered a tad cavernous for us then. So to make full use of the fridge, we started keeping all sorts of things in there.

Not quite like this, but wouldn't it be neat to have something like that?!?

My personal record was keeping about 6 assorted Cosway mooncakes in the deep freezer until the 10th Chinese Lunar month.... of the following year!! Occassionally we'd clean the fridge and find long lost, frozen artefacts in there... kinda made me feel like an icelandic explorer hoping find a woolly mammoth intact in the ice.

We were never quite sure what we'd find in there!

Fast-forward to today, and the faithful LG icebox is still chugging along, keeping good tempreture without breaking a sweat. Of course these days, it is stuffed to the brim with all manner of real and edible food. Finding that we were not having enough space, we resorted to getting a dedicated freezer for all the protein sources to meet the carneverous needs of my boys.

Occassionally, out of fun, or out of the need to proof that I'm the better judge (which I tend not to be), I'd bring up the 'fridge story' as an indication of how much foresight I had in choosing one that was big enough to meet our future needs!

That anecdote was getting trite, but it didn't stop me from using it ("one can never have too much storage space") when I needed to get yet another hard disk. This would be my 5th hard disk, and I was running out of excuses:

  • My first HD was a 40GB 2.5inch notebook drive put in an external casing. MBH accidentally dropped it one day, totally ruining it. The lost of the data within was devastating!
  • I next bought a 300gb disk. Had a perfectly good alibi -- needed space to store all the pictures I'd taken and my previous HD was broken.
  • Then I bought a 500gb disk. There was yet another compelling story to be told -- I needed a secondary hard disk for backup, and besides, the 500gb was then even cheaper then the 300gb one I bought previously. (It helped that MBH had dropped the first one, making her acutely aware of the need for a proper backup image!)
  • My friend and mentor, Mark, came over from Melbourne one day and plonked a 300gb disk on me -- "here ya go, enjoy". So I had a windfall there -- free drive plus a bazillion cool things that came stuffed in the hard disk!
Its been barely 6 months since I had bought the 500gb disk, and I was greedily eyeing the new Western Digital Caviar 1TB Green drive. The 500gb disk was still only 60% full, and I had no immediate plans (or ideas) for filling up the rest of the 200gb. So in a sense, I was more short of excuses (to buy the 1TB) then I was on space.

Then along came a perfect excuse. A terabyte-worth-of-data kind of excuse.

Picture this:

Me: Dearest, I was kinda thinking I could do with a hard disk -- you heard about the WD 1TB drive?
MBH: Hmm... ?
Me: You know, the pervious Seagate one I bought... its going to run out of space eventually...
MBH: You're not going to tell me the fridge story again are you?
Me: No! Of course not dearest, it wouldn't be fair... even if it was true
MBH: What dear?
Me: uh, I said it wouldn't be fair... and I must be fair to you... heh
MBH: I think its cool too to have a 1TB drive, but what do you want to do with it that you can't already do with your 500gb?
Me: I can do *twice* of what I'm doing with my 500gb! :)
MBH: Right.....

Then came a whole bunch of half-baked reasons, justifications and sales-pitches to convince her (and partly, myself) that it made sense to buy the 1TB drive then.

Me: I mean, like, think of the kind of bragging rights I'd have, right!!
Me: I promise I'd load up '24' and House and your favourite serials for your easy access...!
Me: Seriously, this would be the last one I need for a long time....
Me: Aw common... can't a guy have his fun? (was beginning to get desperate)
Me: Look sweetie, how about if you thought of this as a Father's day gift... you've been saying how hard it is to get me something, right?

That last one, I must admit, was kinda low, even by my already compromised standards. But hey! That actually worked! MBH finally relented and said I could get silly and buy it. *grin*

My ensemble of spinning disks whirling happily away on top of the PC.
Took one of Mark's brilliant ideas of using a notebook cooler
(see the grey pad under the 2 harddisks?) to effectively manage the heat in my 2 fan-less enclosures.

A couple of decades back, this would have taken up the size of a room, needed some serious cooling and power cabling ... and the people responsible for cutting over 1.8 terabytes of storage would have thrown a champagne party for such a big milestone. Sorry, but I digress.

Anyway, RM 880 (650 for the HD and 130 for the excellent enclosure -- see above pix, left most hard disk) later, I had, tucked under the console table, more storage than any sensible bloke would ever need in his entire lifetime. Of course, for a tech-fan who also has a severe case of collectoritis, being 'sensible' simply meant looking for the next great excuse to use when I desperately need to get my next 2TB or 4TB drives in the future!

Hmmm... if I could get away with that fridge story again?!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Healthy pinch of salt necessary

When we first moved into our place over 10 years ago, my better half and I went about the task of getting all the electricals we needed for our home.

Again, as with planning our purchases, we'd make a list, define our budget, see what we like, and then buy. Easy right? Well, yes, sort of. Things went great all the way until we hit the 'and then buy' part.

That was when we encountered this near-human species called the Mega-legenda-cheapo-ban-hock-leong-guan-hin-seng electronic appliance salesman. You've probably encountered these beings before. Its not hard to spot them. There are good ones, and there are those who make pond scum somehow look wholesome.

Here are some highlights of what I remember of them:
  • The "Yes sir, how can I help you" opener (hands clapsed, body bent forward in commission-driven sincerity)
  • The "Oh ya, we can get you everything you need" guarantee (brings out reams of photocopy lists)
  • The "You better beware of the other sharks (points next door) who give you low price but never deliver" well-rehearsed advice
  • The "Sir, I'm already making a loss selling to you at this price... how to go lower?" puppy-eyed plea
  • The "Tell you what, I'll.... if you'll.... " nudge-nudge-wink-wink deal closer

But largely, the most defining, albeit least desired highlight of this species is the "rip-every-shred-of-faith-you-have-for-humanity-by-utterly-reneging-on-every-single-promise" act. You'd probably have experienced it in one way or another, when dealing with these guys.

  • Eg 1: Promises to deliver at 11am and manages to turn up at 3pm after 27 calls

  • Eg 2: Promises the best deal in town, only to tell you they're out of stock -- the next best deal would 'only' be a couple hundred bucks more


Closely resembled me when I screamed out of frustration!

  • Eg 3: Promises you great after-sales service, and when you need it, crudely points you to the manufacturer's service centre instead. ("you want to send through us also can one, but this will take extra 5 days woh")

Saw that in:
  • I could go on but there's no sense in telling you what you already know, eh?

So here's the deal. Everybody knows these guys make American 2nd-hand car dealers look like the Salvation Army. Yet, why do we still go there? Why not go to Harvey Norman or Best Denki or even Carrefour (pronounced "kar foor", ok) / Giant hypermarts where you'll be assured of a 'fair' value and not get ripped off?

Looking for a deal eh mate?

Hai, hai, honto ni this izu best0 dee-ru in town neh!

Oui, oui, cest si bon, I give you ze magnefique deal in ze town ya?

I think its because, secretly, we all believe we're the better bargainer, and far shrewder then the worst (technically, best) salesman! We have done our homework -- walked up and down the streets 4.57 times and can memorize the model number and 7-page specs by heart! NOBODY is going to sucker me! We all believe that, right?

Sure, I believe you!

You could get the better of some of these guys. And yes, to be fair, not all of them are as terrible as how I'd described them to be. Some could be worse! But there are many decent guys out there as well (2 is many!).

So whatever your preferred way to shop, good luck, have fun, and shop smart!
Oh yeah, and set aside an extra 2% more budget if you're paying by 'card'!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Vital statistics (not Asterix's friend)

Imagine this if you will:

You (okay, maybe not you) are looking for a partner, right.

And you've (again not necessarily you, but this is getting tired!) made up a list of qualities you'd like to have in this partner.

For fun, lets list down some here...

And now comes the fun part of finding and choosing -- or shall we say, The Hunt!

So, armed with your perfect-list, you then open up the pages of the personals, scan through it... comparing, analysing, short-listing, stacking up the the pros and the cons. And finally you think you've found "The One".

So you go see the person and after a 10 minute impression, assuming all the vital statistics check out, you go for it.

"Heeey... waaaait just one minute here!", I hear you protest.
"What, no courtship, no getting to know one another, no ... you know, all that jazz?", you continue to argue.

Go ahead, protest all you like.
And I'll totally agree with you.

Unfortunately for me, this 'process' I just mentioned above was exactly what I went through when I got my first MP3 player.

Strictly speaking, I didn't actually *buy* my first MP3 player. Rather it was a birthday gift. But I was fully responsible for making choice (i.e. agreeing to getting it as a birthday present) in the first place! So yes, I brought it onto myself.

This was what I wanted and got:
  • At least 128mb ram -- check!
  • Small, slim, easily pocketable -- check!
  • Runs off cheap and easily replaceable AAA batteries -- check!
  • Has built-in voice recorder for meetings and memos -- check!
  • Has FM tuner so there's always variety -- check!
  • USB direct connection for music upload (no messy docks) -- check!
  • Scrolls through lyrics as music is playing -- wow, it can actually do that?
  • Fancy 7-colour flashing LED -- um, well, since it already comes with it...

With a killer list like that, how could I go wrong, right? Why spend a tonne of money on the iPod just because it has a nicer packaging and aggressive marketing? And, what was Steve Jobs thinking anyway... does he seriously think he can get away with not putting in an FM tuner in his gizmo?

I eventually got my china-made birthday gift, and was happy as a bee finding his first hibiscus. Excitedly, I loaded up some of my all-time favourite songs, put in a brand new alkaline battery, donned the (ahem) headphone-cum-lanyard assembly... and pressed play.

A lesson from Mr. Funkey Boy... people can print anything on a spec sheet

This was another of my "don't just depend just on the specifications again, you dumb-ass" moments. The music was there, but there seemed to be also a lot of sub-perceptible 'noise'. Its not hissing or any thing you can hear. But somehow the music just came out jarring all your senses. It was either too loud, or not clear, or too glaring, or, I dunno... just noisy.

My big break came when, some time later, I received as a gift from my company, an iPod Shuffle. That had twice the ram, but very little of anything else. No LCD display, no flashing lights, no FM tuner... but hey, it also came with 'no noise'. And was the best sounding little wriggly-gum-sized piece of plastic in my whole life!! Compare to dear Mr. Funkey Boy, I was in audio heaven!!!

Aaahh... I had found true MP3 love, and had become a total iPod convert!! Sorry Mr. Jobs, I guess you were largely right!

My faithful Shuffle still going strong 3 years on -- posing here naked, without its silicon 'pod-dom'

The next one I got was naturally another iPod. 256mb was nice but getting way too cramped. Was in singapore mid last year and stumbled on an iPod sales -- Nanos going for a song and with freebies thrown in too. Wow, who could resist that? So I bought myself a mean-looking 8gb black Nano.

My Nano seen here in its silicone 'pod-dom' -- accessorize, man. Gotta have your bling! :)

Again, absolute bliss. The only area I was left wanting was the lack of bass from the cool-looking but whimpy headphones. So when I saw a pair of brand new set of black Sennheiser CX300 in-ear buds in, I thought that was the perfect match for the Nano. Got that for less than half the price compared to Singapore duty-free shops. Quite a steal!!

These days, I get to enjoy nice, robust basses accompanied by clear mid-tones and crisp highs... all the while insulated from the surrounding noise. Its not a Bose, but for the price I paid, hey, I'm a happy boy!

Now, if you'll pardon me, I think its time I got another fix of my fat- and preservative-free, no-cholesterol, low sodium audio ecstasy!

The amazing pocket rocket (pt 2)

Rereading my earlier post about the Lumix TZ , I realized that I'd not put in sufficient focus on the person behind the camera. Okay, granted the previous post was more on the camera, but still, I felt I should have given more credit to the 'liveware behind the hardware.'

So for this post, I no longer have any excuse for not giving enough focus on the photographer, since I'm not talking about cameras today!

Okay la, may be just this bit here then we'll go to the pix, promise!
The previous set was taken using the Lumix TZ2 with 6 megapixels and a 2.5" LCD.
Today's set was taken using the Lumix TZ15, with 9 megapixels and a really hi-res 3" LCD.

This time around, the pictures were taken by Tan Lay Heong, a fine-arts student with incredible talent! I hope to be able to compile some pictures of her painting and show them here...lovely!! Sorry, I digress.

Anyway, the point here is that people make the difference. With her keen eye on picture composition, the pictures taken really have that emotive quality about them. Sorry, less words today, more pictures!!

Do post in a few comments if you like -- and have a say about what you think about the pictures here. I personally think they are great -- makes you want to both run and pause at the same time... deep.... :)

Sunny but cold

Surfer dude




Searching for answers?

Found the answer!?

Getting somewhere


Private time

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The amazing pocket rocket

If anybody were to ask me what they should get, if they needed a good point-and-shoot camera, and didn't mind a little bit more bulk, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Lumix TZ range of cameras.

These guys pack a solid 10x optical zoom in a tidy little, metal-encased package. Its quite a beauty! Don't take my word for it. Here's a pix of the Lumix TZ5... check it out yourself!

Image Source: DP

And how does the camera perform, you say? Again, don't take my word for it. Check out these pictures yourself. Many thanks to AiHua, the guy behind the lens, who kindly agreed to let me show off some of his lovely pictures. The liveware behind the hardware makes the difference!

Oh and by the way, the first 2 pictures were taken at the Ayer Itam Dam, in Penang, Malaysia. Penang is a really great place to be. Visit it if you haven't been there. Its got a lot of old-time charm. Okay, so perhaps quite a bit of its "Pearl of the Orient" aura has been lost to too many years of neglect and mismanagement... but many of us die-hard Penang supports (yep, I'm one of em!) still hope that she will relive her glory days one day soon!!

This next one was shot at the seaside of Sungai Burung, Selangor, Malaysia.

The next set is a composite, showing the difference you can get by playing with the contrast. The top pix of the pair was shot in the original, plain vanilla mode. The bottom one was shot with a notch or two of extra contrast. Its really cool how much more detail can be surfaced with such a simple step. Its really made wonders out of the otherwise bland pictures you usually end up when shooting through the plane window!

All the above were shot with the TZ2. Stay tuned when I get my hands on some pix taken with the TZ5! Till then, cheers!