Monday, September 29, 2008

Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 - launching!!

When the first pictures got out early this year, I told myself this is one cool phone to have in my pocket. The crunch came in the WAIT! This phone, would not be available until end of Q3 08 :(

Here's a quickie on the X1's features.... (in no particular order of 'foo-yoh'-ness)
  • Sliding form factor, with a curved, sliding QWERTY keyboard
  • Runs Windows Mobile 6.1 with its unique Xperia panel interface
  • Displays all that in the full glory of a crisp, 3 inch, 800 x 480 screen
  • Uses the really useful optical joystick OR touchscreen for flexible navigation options
  • Spots a zippy Qualcomm 7200A CPU running at 528 MHz
  • Carries an auto-focus 3.2 megapixel camera with flash (LED unfortunately, methinks)
  • Uses Assisted GPS for rapid positioning even when indoors
  • And carries the usual 'must-have' features you've come to expect of a killer gadget like the X1: Bluetooth A2DP (stereo bluetooth headphones), WiFi (of course!), Memory Stick Micro slot (another report claims it is MicroSD???), FM radio, 3G quad-band / HSDPA / HSUPA, Opera browser with RSS reader
If you haven't already seen it, here are some pix of the X1... see if it makes you drool (I'm proud to be a tech geek, ok!).

The good news is... for the lucky folks in UK and some parts of Europe, the wait ends tomorrow, as the official launch for the X1 is 30th Sept 2008! For the rest of us in Asia, Latin America and other parts of Europe, we'll have another agonizing wait until the end of the year before we get out grubby hands on this hottie. Friends in the US, AU... sorry, no news on when this babe phone is coming out.

Oh yeah, the above pix were from Sony's Xperia website. If you want to see more of it, they have a series of videos ala-Jason Bourne, where the hero, Johnny X uses the X1 to figure out his true identity. Check it out at the Who is Johnny X site.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Digital Convergence

I've been down with a bad throat these couple of days. Throw in a mild fever and body ache, and my weekend's pretty much stuffed. So what's a guy to do when he can't take his kids out for the usual weekend spin or swim?

The boys have been very understanding ... and between catching up on some school work, a couple of siestas, their sunday school and a bit of PSP, they were actually quite happy to stay at home!

As for me, it was a good excuse to catch up on some office work, some Astro and to check out the blogsphere. You'd be amazed at the interesting things you find people talk about! From games, to papayas, to recyclable wallets.

Then I spotted this advertisement featured in WongPK's blog.

This talks about Microsoft Surface, a combo of Vista-driven PC hiding behind a touch-sensitive display. It still remains to be seen if this product will take off the way the add envisions it, but wow, can you imagine if it really worked?

What a concept!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fastest browser in town?

Most of us who spend quite a bit of time in front of the screen, would have a favourite browser. If you have not bothered to do anything to your PC, and started browsing out of the box, then chances are you're using MS Internet Explorer.

There are plenty of people (I'm one of them, heh) who throw scorn on MS IE -- and for good reason! It's clunky, lethargic.. and I think the fact that it was forced on Windows users probably made it public browser enemy no 1.

The guys using Macs have it made. Their Safari browser is, like many things Apple, super cool... and guess what, in many cases, they are super fast as well!

I used to use Opera... and quite liked it. I forget why I dropped it... probably because I didn't install it when I had my notebook replaced!

In recent years, have been using Mozilla's Firefox... and have been a happy customer. Their tab browsing came aeons before IE. And especially with V3 today, is even better.
Plus it has the bonus of being support by a wonder slew of free add-ons. My favourites are:
  • PicLens (now called Color Iris -- you ain't seen the web until you've seen it through PicLens!) and of course
A month back, Google got into the thick of the action by introducing Chrome. I've been meaning to give it a test drive -- you know, to see what all that hype was all about. I probably will have to find some time to do that -- one day!

So the question will inevitably come up -- which of these browsers are the best? Every one of the browsers will tell you they are best. And if you look close enough, they are probably focusing on one specific of performance. Like ability to render HTML, or speed to process Java Script, or uses the least memory.....

Is there a clear winner?

Kevin Purdy of posted this excellent compilation of browser performance. In that post, you'll see for yourself, which browsers are best at which category. One thing you'll notice, is that IE's (both 7 and 8) performances are the most consistent. Consistently worst or among the worst, that is!!

Check out his site and you'll decide for yourself, which is best. As for me, I think I'm quite happy to stay with Firefox for now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Question from Scooba

I received a comment left by a reader who was having trouble with his Synctoy folder pairs. I'm not really a tech expert, but if I understood his message correctly, I think this should help.

In short, I think here's the situation
  • he built a folder pair between his PC's HD and an external (likely USB-connected) HD
  • one day (mysteriously) his external HD is assigned a different drive letter by windows
  • all the previously configured folder pairs now refuse to work
So here's my response... I thought perhaps this may be of help to others having this same problem.

Dear Scooba, sounds like a problem where your windows decides to assign a different drive letter to your external drive... did I understand that correctly?

If it is, then don't worry, its a fairly common problem.

I used to tear my hair out when iTunes and Picasa couldn't find my music and photos respectively when suddenly one day the drive letter got changed.

The easy way out of this is to change the letter back to the one which you used to set up your folder pair. And no, I'm afraid the same problem exists for XP, so I'm afraid we can't blame vista for this doozy.

Try this (I can comment for XP only, sorry, can't comment on Vista)...

- go to Control Panel ==> Administrative Tools ==> Computer Management

- on the left window, click on "Disk Management"

- on the right window, select your external HD

- Right-click that HD and select "Change Drive Letter and Path"

- BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THE ABOVE SELECTION..... because if you click the next one, it would be to FORMAT your HD....!!

- A small window will pop up and you'll be able to assign your drive back to the original letter

- click OK and your folder pairs should start working again

Hope you find this useful.... I find myself doing this quite often... especially if you're like me and have up to 3 external HD's running at one go... and need each of them to have one specific drive letter!


Digital Photography - it just gets better!

I'm a fan of photography. I don't take good pictures (hopeless!!), but sure do appreciate great photos and the cool gear that helps capture those photos.

And being a photography enthusiast means this is the best time of the year... yeah, Photokina! That's like the E3 of gaming... the Detroit motor show of cars.... the... well, you get the picture.

However, in the recent years, the stuff that get dished out at Photokina is nothing to really go ga-ga over. The manufacturers keep on cramming more megapixels into the sensors, they try to out-do each other with evolutionery and me-too features... BORING!

But this year, things got really exciting!

If you read my previous blogs on digital cameras, you'd hear me bemoan (here, here and here!) the tiny and noisy chips in Panasonic Lumix cameras. I had been wishing out loud that Panny woudl stop the silly megapixel race and focus on making their wonderfully small and featurefull cameras with larger and better chips.

Lo and behold, 2 surprises came...

1) Panasonic introduces its first micro four-thirds digital SLR prototype, the G1. The whaaa? Picture this:
  • Its like an SLR, with interchangeable lenses, but the body, lenses - everything - is much much smaller
  • They do away with the flip mirror and the prism, and in the process gives true live-view
  • The heart - sensor - of the camera is still a proper SLR-sized four thirds CCD.. so there is no compromise there
Here's a side by side comparison of how the conventional DSLR looks like vs the new micro four thirds.... lots of exciting days ahead, when we see how the market responds to this. Already, Olympus is hot on the heels and have also pre-announced their version of the micro four thirds as well!

The traditional four-thirds DSLR: note the mirror and pentaprism

The micro four-thirds DSLR : everything smaller except the sensor!

Then, things got even more exciting!

2) Canon announces its mother of all compact super zoom... the Powershot SX1 and SX10
  • It finally has a really great camera that starts of with 28mm
  • It has an optical image stabilized 20x zoom, with super fast and silent mechanism that beats the stuffings out of the competition
  • Ths SX1 has Canon's excellent CMOS CCD.... with a bonus that it can shoot at a lightning speed of 4 frames per second!
  • It does away with even top-end consumer video cameras by being able to shoot videos at FULL HD
  • On paper... the features are really top notch.... can't wait to test it out when it's finally available here!
  • The only thing is the price.... no idea how much is it going to cost in Malaysia .. but it does look like its going to encroach quite deeply into DLSR country ... and may (hopefully not) end up with a very niche market..?

Read more about this amazing camera here, here and here.

Sorry, Panny, but I may have a new favourite hottie now.... !!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Malaysia and Singapore bands milk-based products from China

The situation has worsened as more reports surface about the impact of the melamine tainted milk from China.

Damage so far?
  • 53,000 children reported ill
  • 104 classified as critical
  • 3 deaths -- so far
How did it get into the milk?
  • Milk farmers water-down the milk so they can sell more
  • They add in melamine to fool tests into showing the watered-down milk is still high in protein
  • The milk passes tests and gets distributed and made into milk powder, yogurt, chocolates etc....
Malaysia and Singapore have started banning milk-based products from China, as a precautionary measure. Many of you would have received SMSs warning people about a whole list of branded candies. I have my doubts on those, especially if they are not made in China, or made with Chinese milk.

Still.... here are some reports on what our government is doing: here , here and here

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tainted Chinese Milk affects other products

Just when you thought you'd be safe so long as you avoided milk from China, there is breaking news that authorities have found other products made with Chinese milk that have also been found to be contaminated by melamine.

So far, Singapore has identified 3 products to be contaminated (remember, it applies only to China-made ones):
  • Dutch Lady strawberry flavoured milk
  • Yili Choice Dairy Fruit Bar Yogurt Flavoured Ice Confection
  • White Rabbit milk candy (I used to and still love this sweet!!!)
There's even an SMS going around expanding on that list to cover a whole bunch of international brand, China-made chocolates too. So far, I haven't seen any news reports substantiating that SMS, but be on a look out ya... better be safe than sorry!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

How safe is your favourite bottle?

About 22 years or so ago, soft drink manufacturers started replacing their large glass bottles with lightweight, and hip-looking plastic bottles. These PET bottles quickly gained public acceptance and was soon seen in every supermarket shelf.

Along the way, some smart guy figured that these nifty bottles would make cheap and perfectly practical water bottles, in place of the much more expensive Tupperware bottles. Before you knew it every other student was toting a PET bottle. Some manufacturers even made straps so you can fasten onto these bottles and make carrying these around easier.

Fast forward 10 years later, and the public started warming up to the idea of drinking mineral or filtered water out of bottles as well. These were also made of PET, and soon replaced soft drink bottles as the 'even hipper' water bottle.

By now, you'd have to have been hiding under a rock this past decade if you don't already know that re-using PET bottles for all drinking liquids is a big NO-NO. Studies indicate these bottles may leach DEHP into the water. DECP is a suspected cancer-causing chemical.

Of course it all depends on which side of the story you hear. PET manufacturers' FAQs will say this is a load of baloney. And some people will tell you if you listen to every warning, you won't even be able to breath, let alone live to the next day. Go figure!

Back to our history lesson. About 5 years or so ago, along came a new wonder bottle, made of polycarbonate (PC for short). These were touted to be the perfect medium for water bottles -- they were very tough, durable, looked pleasant, were recyclable, heat resistant, odour-free, and most importantly, perfectly safe.

Most, if not all of us, fearing for our health, ditched our PET bottles in favour this new, 'space age' bottles in an instant! The considerable take-up factor was also aided by the fact that for all its benefits, these bottles were still much cheaper than Tupperware!

PC is a really versatile plastic. It is actually clearer than glass and can transmit light better. Because of these qualities, it is used to make high-end reading lenses. This stuff is also used for making CDs and DVDs. You find them in baby feeding bottles, tough plastic appliances, car head- and brakelights, skylights, display cabinets, ... the list just goes on!

With so many wonderful uses, you'd imagine you can't go wrong with this stuff! Unfortunately, recent studies have found that with regular use, PC can leach BPA (bisphenol A), a hormone messer-upper. Some studies link it to breast and ovarian cancer, while others warn against dangers to infants.

2 days ago, there's even a news report about a class action suit againt the manufacturors of baby bottles and sippy cups for a host of health problems like prostate and breast cancer, diabetes,
premature onset of puberty in females, lowered sperm count and
infertile sperm in men, developmental toxicity, attention deficit

So how do you identify which bottles are safe?
The trick is to look at the bottom of plastic ware, for the triangular recycle signs.
The look something like this:

So far, plastics with the number 2, 4 and 5 have yet to be reported to be dangerous or known to have caused any harmful effects. So your safest bet is to go with plastic products with these numbers.

Numbers to avoid:
  • #1 - The soft drinks or mineral water (PET) bottles
  • #3 - for PVC, which is not a food-grade plastic and should be avoided
  • #6 - The familiar white 'styrofoam' boxs used when we 'tapau' our food. These contain a harmful neurotoxin
  • #7 - PC falls under the miscellaneous plastics category, along with other classes of plastics
To be fair, PC bottle makers like Nalgene have come up with BPA free PC bottles now. Similarly, you can also find BPA-free baby feeding bottles in the market -- you just to be on a look out for these products. has published this simple reference card that you can easily use as a guide. It doesn't specifically pick PET out as a danger, but like I said, there are lots of people have either support or reject this.... so its your choice!

Stay healthy ya!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Robot Trivia #2 - The answers and results

I just realized that I had forgotten to give a closing date for this round of Robot Trivia. (grin!) But I had been looking at the comments and it is quite clear that anybody who has anything to say has either said it or, well, won't ever!

So here are the answers to the trivia....

#13 -- Asimo, by Honda. This is the most articulate robot I've seen to date. He made a brief appearance about 2 years ago here at Midvalley Mega Mall. Did a simple dance and a bunch of other movements which other robots would have trouble managing. If any company has a chance at making real, useful and practical domestic robots, I'd put my money on Honda!

#14 -- Pris from Blade Runner. According to the movie, this is a 'military/pleasure' model. Hmm, dominatrix, anyone??!!

#15 -- QRIO by Sony. Pronounced 'Qu-rio' and short for "Quest for cuRIOsity". Too bad you won't see future models of him anymore as Sony has pulled the plug on his development. Bye bye QRIO, we'll miss ya!

#16 - C-3P0 and R2-D2 from the Star Wars saga. Did you know these 2 guys were inspired, in part by an Akira Kurosawa film titled Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (1958) (The Hidden Fortress)?

#17 - Sonny from iRobot. The first time I saw this movie, I was quite convincend this was the badguy.... at least for the 1st half of the movie! :)

#18 - Twiki, carrying on his chest Dr. Theopolis, Both from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

#19 - Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Fans watch out, there's a Hollywood movie on this robot in the making!

#20 - Lance Bishop 341-B from Aliens. Prefers to call himself an 'artificial life form'. Was the executive officer on board the Colonial Marine vessel Sulaco.

#21 - EVA-01 from Neon Genesis Evangelion. Piloted by 14-year-old protagonist, Shinji Ikari. Wikipedia states this is "commonly regarded as one of the greatest anime of all time."

#22 - Sorry, that other guy from Lost in Space had already made his debut in Trivia #1. This bulbous fella is Robby, originally from the movie Forbidden Planet. And check this out, this 7-foot-two robot has actually made appearances in more than two dozen movies and TV shows!

#23 - RX-78-2 from the highly successful Gundam franchise. He was piloted by Ray Amuro, which, like the heroes in many robot stories, is a guy who 'happened to be there' at that time.

#24 - VF-1 Variable Fighter from the Macross universe. Piloted by Skull Squadron leader, Roy Fokker.

So here comes the part where I announce who's the super-geek for this round... and the winner is... a sort-of tie between STING (or Mr. Gundam) and Robotboy!! Both of them gave a bunch of really good answers, as you've seen yourselves, and deserves to win!

Thanks to all for participating... and to show of you who are non-fans of robots, thank you for your patience...

Next post... dangers lurking in your plastic bottles... learn to tell which are safe, which are not!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The day justice died

Today we take a break form talking technology, and observe a minute of silence, to mourn the death of justice.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

BOOM - an early LHC success story

This my friends, is a simulated picture of the first ever successful proton stream collision at the LHC. It happened yesterday, on day 1 of LHC's operations. The success of getting the world's largest (and most expensive) scientific equipment up and running so quickly surprised even the most optimistic physicists working on it!

Oh yeah, and no accidental black hole resulted from it. DUH! We wouldn't be reading this if that happened, right?

Read more about this first experiment here (also contains a really cool video on how the LHC works, narrated in an equally cool accent!).

BTW, not everybody agrees with the LHC plan as well -- although I think the writer meant it as a satire. Read about that here.

What is everything in the Universe made of?


Yeah, that pretty much sums it. But if you were like Democritos, the Greek philosopher of 300 BC, you'd want to know what exactly is this 'stuff' then?

Democritos figured that if you kept halving something, you'd eventually reach a point where that thing simply cannot halved anymore. He called this an 'atom'.

Today, we know this as a fact. Atoms really are what Democritos imagined it would be -- to a point. For someone who existed over two thousand years ago, I'd say he was waaaaay ahead of time then!

Since then, we have gone a few steps further and discovered that within atoms, there exists Protons, Neutrons and Electrons (halo, still remember your fizik or not?) -- collectively called sub-atomic particles.

These Protons and Neutrons are in turn made up of even tiner particles called Quarks.

Subatomic particles are so small, there is no way we are able to observe them through conventional means. And by 'conventional', that means even the most powerful scanning-tunneling electron miscropes that are able to look at individual atoms!

To describe the behaviour of subatomic particles, scientists resorted to building complex mathematical models that predict their (the particles, not the scientists!) lifespans and characteristics.

But if you really wanted to 'see' them, you'd need a super massive tool called a partical accelerator. You'd have probably read it in the news by now, regarding the CERN particle accelerator called the LHC, Large Hedron Colider?

The LHC (pix by:Fabrice Coffrini / AFP-Getty Images)

  • Its a tube, the shape and size of a gigantic doughnut 26 kilometers in circumference
  • The system is buried deep underground so it is shielded from solar radiation (which messes up the readings).
  • Around the tube, there are 9,000 super-conducting magnets that run at a super-cool temperature of minus 270c.
  • The machine consumes 120 mega watts of power.
  • There are between 7,000 to 10,000 scientists working on this machine.
  • It is located at the border of France and Switzerland -- what a lovely place to be!!

So what does it do?

  • It speeds up one stream of hidrogen atoms within this tube to nearly the speed of light in one direction.
  • It speeds up another stream to the same speed on a different path, but on the opposite direction.
  • Then it smashes these 2 streams together -- BOOM
In there to record the action, are massive detectors that are described as equal to a 150 megapixel camera (our high end consumer models shot 10 mega pixles) and at 600,000,000 frames per second! Say CHEESE!

These scientists then spend the next months and years theorising further on what they saw, or what they thought they saw... and whether any of the particles' collisions were caused by driving under influence.

The cost of this thing?

Estimates vary, but its been tagged at between 6 to 10 billion dollars.
Its being funded by Europeans, and in part, the Americans.
No Petronas money was being misused for this purpose (sorry, Malaysian-only inside joke here)

What do they hope to get out of this thing anyway?

The scientists hope to answer, prove or disprove 5 theories:
1) What happened milliseconds after the Big Bang?
2) Do Strings (as in String Theory) exist, and are there really 11 dimensions in the universe?
3) Is it universe or multiverse?
4) Find this 'dark matter', that's supposed to make up 96% of the universe.
5) Find this illusive thing called the 'Higgs Boson'... and hopefully find more than that even

No, really, what I mean is, what's in it for us?
Actually there was an initial fear that the machine may somehow create a micro blackhole. If that happens, some fear that it would wipe out our entire planet -- get sucked into something the size of a green pea or something.

The LHC went life today.... and chances are, if you're reading this, it means no blackhole was created. And if it did.... well, it wouldn't matter much anyway. Nothing matters much when you are sharing the space of a green pea with 6 billion other people and a planet! But that has a 1 in 50 million chance of happening!

But beyond satisfying the curiosity of several physicists, there is little of what will come out of this that will benefit the layman any time soon.

Who knows, the findings may open doors to new and more insightful views of our universe?
I guess I would... to a point. But beyond that, I'd focus my energies on the other kind of doughnut -- the delicious ones from Big Apple!

Interested to know more? Check out this excellent article from Wired magazine.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More robots (Part 2)

Hello there folks, the fun robot trivia is back!!

Hopefully this lineup is more fun for you ... lets see how many you can get right this time.... and then we can find out who's the ultimate robot geek! OK, OK, if you're not too proud of that title... then we'll just keep it low key, how about that? :)


#13 -- Its the first ever robot capable of running too!

#14 -- Way cool when she dipped her hand into the boiling water.....

#15 -- Harro! Too bad they've discontinued its development

#16 - No list is complete without these two blokes!!

#17 - Complete with extra dense alloy and independent processor

#18 - Bidibidibidibidi (anybody ever figured out what he is saying??)

#19 - "And I'll form the head!"

#20 - "I may be synthetic, but I'm not stupid"

#21 - If he fights Angels, does that make him the Devil?

#22 - You have to be really, um, grown up, to know this one!

#23 - The original model -- nothing fancy, but it works!

#24 - Wait till you see me fly! Hint - I talked about it in Part 1

So there you have it.... 2 dozen fine specimens of Robots!! Its quite a shame only 3 amongst the 24 are real. So start posting your comments, and see if you can name these remaining 12!

I'm quite sure I must have missed out some other note-worthy mechs. Oh ya, like the Mechwarriors or the kid from AI. Do let me know too, if there are others which you feel strongly about that was not included in this lineup.