Friday, October 31, 2008

What if.....??

A couple of days back I decided to just kick back a bit, switch off the brains and let the TV do some of the thinking for me. On the Discovery channel was a special about alien life. There are loads of such documentaries that try to give both sides of the story.

The believers will tell of their experiences -- seeing this, hearing that, getting abducted and poked around a bit.

Then there'll be the cynics and people who profess to be men and women of science. And these guys just can't wait to pooh-pooh all this claims as wild hallucinations of nutjobs.

"Forget your leader, take me to Krispy Kreme!"

I'm sitting there listening to each side's accounts...

"They had almond shaped, dark eyes..."
"The guy probably had too much to drink!"

"The saucer flew at such incredible speeds"
"Um.. it was a weather balloon, yeah, or an unmanned vehicle..."

"Thousands of reports came in, all claiming to see the same phenomenon!"
"Its not unusual to have cases of mass hysteria..."

"Those beings are evil, and they are systematically abducting humans for experiments"
"Ah, people will say anything just to go on TV!"

Must not have been too bright, since he got caught!

And so the argument continues. Some of these are supposed to be famous scientists.
So who would you believe, some small town person who may have had too much moonshine or sun or both?

Or a distinguished professor who has chewed through a million dry facts and figures?

I've always wondered what would happen to these very public debates, if one day, the real truth really came about? What would the many vocal skeptics say if really, some green-grey skinned visitor came down one day ... took a look, decided we weren't worth their time and left.... right in plain sight of a hundred TV cameras?

I for one would love to see that day.
And for the record, I do believe there is sentient life out there! Its inconceivable for me that of the bazillions stars in this infinite universe, we are unique.

Remember, just barely a couple of centuries ago, the brightest scientific minds of that time though the earth was flat... um, no, round but in the center of the universe, not that... but the sun rotated around the earth... strike that... the moon is made of cheese....

Flat Earth - circa. 1225 AD

Well, perhaps not that last one. But you've seen scientific and religious dogma being proven wrong with every leap of new discovery and knowledge. Makes you wonder what other 'facts' that we hold as irrefutably true today would turn out to be yet another of our misunderstanding of nature?

I leave you with these famous words, spoken eloquently by many of the world's brightest minds. Its not about aliens or anything funky... but you'll be surprised how people felt about things which we take for granted today.....

  • "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.
  • "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" -- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
  • "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible." -- A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
  • "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" -- H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
  • "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." -- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
  • "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible." -- Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.
  • "So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.'" -- Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer.
  • "You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can't be done. It's just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training." -- Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus.
  • "Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy." -- Drillers whom Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist in his project to drill for oil in 1859.
  • "Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau." -- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
  • "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value." -- Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
  • "Everything that can be invented has been invented." -- Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.
  • "The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon". -- Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.
  • "No flying machine will ever fly from New York to Paris." -- Orville Wright.
  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- T.Watson, chairman of the board, IBM, 1943
  • "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." -- Popular Mechnics, 1949
  • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olsoon, founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1972

Monday, October 20, 2008

The hidden cost of travel - CO2

A reader asked how it was possible for an MPV travelling 15,000 kilometers to generate 4,000 kgs of CO2?  If you think of it, its quite amazing that the CO2 generated is almost 3 times the weight of the vehicle!

The truth is that when your car burns fuel, the resultant CO2 generated weighs more than the fuel itself.  Here's a quick conversion:  burning 1 KG of fuel will generate roughly 3.25 kgs of CO2.

Did you know that on average, a Boeing 747 can burn about 200 tons of jet fuel per trip?
And, this is how much fuel burnt (and the resultant CO2 generated) to carry 1 person from Kuala Lumpur to:
  • Bangkok: 100kg fuel       --> 325kg CO2
  • Tokyo: 400kg fuel           --> 1300kg CO2
  • Sydney: 480kg fuel         --> 1560kg CO2
  • London: 750kg fuel        --> 2440kg CO2
  • New York: 1090kg fuel  --> 3540kg CO2
You can try out how much fuel is burnt from flying here.

Here's another number:  The aviation industry alone, contributes to 2% of the world's carbon emission!  Talk about a guilt trip!!

So what am I talking here, do we not fly?  Do we just take ourselves back to the pre-Wright era in this modern day Flat world?  Well, here are some alternatives....
  • Use trains (for long- and shorthaul) -- they generate about a quarter of CO2 compared to planes
  • Use cars (for short trips) -- still generate half of the CO2 of planes
  • Don't travel -- video conference or Skype! (no, seriously, many business are turning to this!)

But if you must fly (and many of us do), there is a way you can help...

Many environmentally conscious Airlines around the world have started to implement a carbon offset program.  Cathay Pacific, Qantas, Continental, Virgin are some names who have offered either carbon neutral flights or an option for passengers to participate in their carbon offset programs.

Closer to home, Malaysia Airlines (together with sister companies MASwings and Firefly) have also recently opened its carbon offset program to all its online customers.  This is a voluntary program where passengers have the option of contributing a sum of money to help fund selected UN programmes to reduce greenhouse gasses.  

If you like, you can even make one-off contributions without even needing to travel.

So next time when you book a ticket through MAS, have a think and consider contributing to their program for the sake of the environment. You can check out MAS' initiative here.  Happy tree hugging!! :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Okay so Symphony is FREE but is it GOOD?

I'll start right off with what I don't like about Symphony, and get that out of the way first.

Symphony TAKES TOO LONG to load!
It needs between 15 to 40 seconds in a 'cold' start before you finally see the first page! Compare that to the 5 or so seconds it takes Office to load, it makes you wonder just what on earth is churning in this Eclipse-built application!

The warm start (i.e. opening a 2nd document after you've already launched the app) is much better at around 6 seconds. Its still a couple of seconds slower than Office, but at least its less noticeable.

If you can live with the wait, then read on, as the rest are mostly on things I quite like about this sluggish beast!

1) Installation was a breeze!
  • The installer comes packaged as a single file. Its hefty, at 201mb, but then this is an office suite afterall, and takes surprising little time to install.
  • Having everything in a single file also makes the distribution of this software a simple matter of copying into a CD or thumbdrive. With ADSL, it is also a practical size to download from the net.
  • No CD Keys to remember or loose -- remember, this is freeware that can be used both at home or in the office

2) All 3 apps in one integrated platform
  • You don't have to bother with opening multiple applications as a single program opens all your Word, Excel and Powerpoint file.
  • Each document appears as easily accessible tabs, much like the tabs in Firefox.
  • Working on multiple documents and sharing data between docs now become easier with all features in one view.

3) Nifty properties bar easily accessible
  • I liked that there is a context sensitive bar on the right that shows me the properties of whatever object I am working on. It saves me time of not having to right-click and select format.
  • Having all the pertinent information visible takes the guesswork out of formatting a document.
  • Of course if you don't like it, and don't want it hogging too much screen real estate, you can easily collapse or make it go away totally!

4) Re-creates as much as possible the feel of Office
  • The main thing for me is that it uses the same Excel formula format. And in my tests, the data does seem to render quite nicely, although some of the more complex formatting did run a bit!
  • This means you avoid steep learning curves and loss of productivity as you'd intuitively use this as you would Office.
  • It actually does better than Office by giving a rather pleasant looking interface with some nice design touches!

5) Its OPEN!

  • As in open standards -- as it supports the Open Document Format.
  • MS Office may be pervasive and is the de facto format, but it is still proprietary.
  • Not only does it support ODF, the application itself is also open. You can enhance its features with FREE plug-ins that you can download and install. And best of all, the plug-ins don't just come from Lotus. 3rd party developers can also build plug-ins for Symphony.

So is this the product for you?
  • Its not for everybody -- at least not quite yet.
  • If you are a hardcore Office user who use its features heavily, you can forget about Symphony for the time being.
  • If you have always only used Viewers for Word etc... then this is YOUR TOOL.
  • If you are looking to also do some basic editing of Office docs, and be able to do it FOC AND LEGALLY, then you should seriously have a look.
  • If you're a company looking to deploy lots of PCs to your users, but don't intend to fork out big bucks for Enterprise Licensing, then YES go for Symphony! (your power users can still buy their Office)
Net of it, I think, is this -- you've got absolutely nothing to loose from using this software. Fully installed, it takes up only a paltry 380mb. If you use it and hate it, leave it there just in case. If you love it, well even better!!

I for one will be leaving it in my machine. Its V1.1 today, and with the amount of enhancements planned, I can surely look forward to even better features in the future.

Find out more and download from the from Lotus Symphony website.

Add free upgrades and soup-up Symphony.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Work on your MS Office documents legally, for FREE

Question -- how much do you or your employer pay for a genuine copy of MS Office?
A quick check with ComputerWar's September quotation says a single user license will set you back about RM 600.
Take that and times the number of users in your company, and that usually adds up to a tidy sum! To add to that, your Office would be obsolete in a couple of years, and you'll need to fork out another pretty penny for an upgrade.

How much of Office's rich set of features and functions do you really use?

A study by and THINK Strategies discovered that :
  • 50% of Office users use only its basic features found in Office Pro/enterprise
  • 25% never used Office at all, even though it was installed in their workstation
  • Only 25% are exploiting the rich features in Office pro/enterprise editions

Then why are we paying so much for something only a quarter of the people in the company are using?

Good question! Why don't you ask your MIS manager that question?

But then, if we don't invest in Office, how are we going to read and edit all those Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents which have become the de-facto office suite formats?

Well, the folks at IBM Lotus say they have the answer to that -- in the form of the free, open source office suite called Lotus Symphony. Symphony is a single, integrated application suite combining a word processor, a spreadsheet and presentation software. Developed using Eclipse (a free, open source java development platform), Symphony V1.1 today runs either Windows or Linux.

That's well and nice, but I still need to read and write to my Office files...
Which is why Symphony is written to be able to open Lotus Smartsuite, Open Document Format AND MS Office 2003 documents. So in theory, with this software running, you don't need all that extra suites sitting in your machine already!

Even better, Symphony comes pre-built with the ability to export all documents to PDF as well. That again saves you a few more bucks in having to purchase an Adobe Acrobat writer.

But having said that, Symphony doesn't try to be everything Office is. Remember the stats about most users accessing only the basic functions? Symphony gives you most of the features you'd see and use -- practical!

Source: Lotus Symphony Brochure

You sure or not? That sounds too good to be true. What's the catch?
That's what we're here to find out.... watch out for the next post where we pit Symphony and Office to a couple of simple head-to-heads and see who comes out tops.

Stay tuned!!

Find out more and download from the from Lotus Symphony website.

Add free upgrades and soup-up Symphony.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hi, i'm back!

I do apologise for my long silence... have been up to my eyeballs with all manner of stuff.

Am working on a review of IBM's Lotus Symphony suite. Some interesting things there which i hope to share soon, in my next post.

In the mean time, many thanks to the voices of support for our environment -- both online and offline.

I think we live in an age where we no longer have the luxury to ignore the damage mankind has been inflicting on our planet. And until we find another habitable blue-planet to mess up, this is still our only one.

At the risk of sounding trite and corny... please.... Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A word on our Environment

Most people love to accessorise -- I know I do! Whether it be nice fashion items, some bling, or cool gadgetry -- its as much fun looking for stuff as it is owning it.

It could be a $10 costume jewelry from the flea market, or a $2799 Samsung Omnia, or a $35,000 hand-stitched Hermes handbag or even a $550,000 Hummer -- if you like it and can afford it, there's nothing wrong in getting it. Right?

Well, financially, perhaps. But these days, we have to look beyond just the price tag and understand what is the true cost of a given item -- stated in terms of the (usually negative) impact of our choices and lifestyles have on the environment.

Take my 7-seater MPV for instance. I just learnt that if I traveled a modest 15,000 kilometers a year, it would have generated -- get this -- nearly FOUR TONNES of carbon dioxide. Our other family car equivalent, although spotting a fuel-efficient engine, would still put out another 2.4 tonnes of CO2!

So just from commuting and weekend driving alone, the two cars would have added 6.4 tonnes of greenhouse gasses to our atmosphere, contributing yet a bit more to global warming.

It is because of this that some bodies are advocating attributing an environment cost to a product. That means besides the usual specifications of a product, manufacturers are encouraged to also state the environment cost of:
  1. Producing the item -- how much pollutants were generated in the production of one item

  2. Maintaining or operating it -- how much more will be generating with its continued use (think: fuel / power consumption / CO2 or pollutant emissions etc)

  3. Disposing it off eventually -- impact to landfills; threat of dangerous chemicals leaching into groundwater etc
Now that we've started talking about the amount of CO2 generated by a car, should we also look at other aspects of our lives that also contribute to global warming?
  • How about your food choices?
  • How about your garbage dispossal?
  • How about the things you own and use -- do you repair or replace?
  • What are your at-home habits -- are you using more resources than you need to?
  • Selling off old newspapers is fine, but what about the other garbage -- do you separate them for recycling?

I started poking around the Internet, to see what was the impact to my lifestyle on Mother Nature... and honestly, some of the numbers surprised me. And you're talking to someone who *think's* he's already quite environmentally cautious:
  • We only switch on the a/c when it is very warm (over 31c), and even that for an hour just to cool things down
  • We actively use recyclable bags to avoid unnecessary use (and subsequent disposal) of plastic bags
  • We try to carpool and avoid single-occupancy driving as much as possible.....
So it was quite a disturbing but good learning experience when I took some quizzes and realized that there are so many other of my choices and actions that also impact the environment, that I'd never thought about so far!

Did you catch that number?
99 tonnes of CO2 a year! That's what the survey tells me what my family's lifestyle is likely producing. And that means we are living as if we have got 2 planet Earths to support us. We are living as if we have 3.7 hectares of land absorbing enough CO2 to offset what my family is producing!

I'd say this is a wake up call! Are we aware what is the impact our actions are having on the earth... and what is it our children will be inheriting from us.... our mistakes or our conservation efforts?

Read up more

Test yourself

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chrome... chrome... bup-bup-be-doo-whop...

In my earlier post about the fastest browser in town, I said I'll be taking Google Chrome for a spin.  I have been using it for a few days now and as a strong Firefox supporter, I have to say this about Chrome - hey, not baaad at all... :)

Like most things Google (I'm a heavy user of Gmail, Google Maps, Blogger obviously, and of course, search!), this app is quite nicely thought out.  The boys probably did their homework, found out what features users liked about their browser, and tried to incorporate them into one 'simple' browser... and out came Chrome.

The installation was a breeze.  I read the end user agreement, agreed (as if you'd disagree?!) and proceeded.  After a couple of clicks, I practically left it by itself to do its own thing.  A few minutes later when I came back, it was done.

And by 'done', it meant Chrome had imported all my favourites / bookmarks, browsing history, IDs and passwords.. the works!  When I started browsing in Chrome, it seemed like I'd been using it for ages!  Its a bit freaky if you think about the security aspect... but hey, for the majority of users, they'd appreciate the seamless migration!

Oh, and a plus point was that Chrome didn't try to muscle its way to be THE DEFAULT browser.  Its happy playing second fiddle if you tell it to, and won't complain.  Aah, sweet silence!

BTW, Chrome is still in beta, so there may be some bugs along the way...

What I liked so far:
  • More than just for URLs -- you can type in anything in the 'address bar' and Chrome will automatically find best URL matches, or Google searches in one go.  You just need to decide which one you want.  This does away with needing a Google bar or needing to first go to the Google site to perform a search.

The result is a mixture of URLs and suggested searches

  • Your favourite sites in one glance -- By default, when you open a 'blank' tab, google shows you thumbnails of your most frequently accessed sites, automatically!  I find this way cool -- you don't have to even pull down your book marks, or tell google which is your favourite.  Google figures the more you access a site, the more you'd appreciate it being easily accessible.  And I say, 'way to go Google!!'

All your favourite sites in one glance... sweet!

  • 'Intelligent' password storage -- This sounds fancier than it really is, but the slight tweak makes a world of difference.  You know the nifty feature that IE and Firefox has?  The one that prompts you if you want the browser to remember an ID and PW you just keyed in?  The two browsers ask you that question the moment you enter the ID and PW.  That's fine, if you had entered the right info... but what if you were guessing, and were not sure if you keyed it incorrectly?  Chrome instead waits till you have successfully moved on (i.e. logged in) to the next page before asking you.  That way, you'd know what you are asking Chrome to remember is indeed a correct one.  Just a slight delay, but yields brilliant results!

Decide to keep the ID/PW only after 
you see if you've entered the right one

  • Clean screen, really! -- Okay, some may actually find this feature a bit unnerving.  Chrome takes up very little screen space.  Icons are minimalist, there isn't even a menu bar... just like the Google search screen, clean and simple. 

Simple and uncluttered

  • Peekaboo! -- In line with the clean screen, there isn't even a status bar at the bottom.  If you're used to peering down at the status bar for link information and loading status, you'll notice Chrome still has that but is hidden mostly.  It only pops up when there is something interesting to tell you.

Magically dissapears after it's done its work...

  • Downloading simplicity -- Again, a little window pops up at the bottom left corner, giving you the status (KB complete) of whatever it is you're downloading.  And when down, it sits quietly there until you decide on what to do with it.  Firefox would have needed a little add-on to do that while with IE... well, I don't really care how IE does it actually!

Know where your download stands at one glance

Simple but effective choices...

So, is Crome perfect?

Far from it, but it has a good chance of getting there some day!

Chrome may sometimes get distracted and either refuse to or forget to load a page.  Take TheStar for example... nothing difficult or weird about this site, but for some reason, Chrome took a couple of retries before it could load the page.  I'd also faced some difficulty with the some of the trickier pages in Facebook and MyBlogLog. 

Hello... anybody there?

So what's next... dump Firefox (or whatever is your favourite browser) for Chrome?
Again, not quite.  Being still in Beta, means that there are practically no add-ons and nifty things you can install to enhance Chrome's features.  I'm guessing its a matter of time that all those add-on builders who've been contributing to the vast selection of nifty gadgets for Firefox start building the Chrome equivalent eventually. 

Anyway, as Chrome is still at a relatively early stage of development, things should only get better... especially with the vast resources that Google has at its disposal.  So stay tuned and watch out for even more goodies from Chrome.

** Anybody tried using Chrome and have your own opinions?  Pls share them in the comments... would love to hear from you!! **

PS.  In case you're wondering, the title of this post was taken from a Garfield movie where native Hawaiians were worshinping Jon's old car that had lots of shiny chrome bits... :)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A fun blog: Vision of the World

The fun thing about blogging is that you also tend to surf about visiting other blogs. Whether if its about food, or a mother's pride, or politics, or technology, I find myself enriched with the musings and sharings of the blogging community.

Occasionally, you'd stumble upon some fun blogs, like this one called VOTW by Bertrend Leseigneur (at least that's what I made out from his email add). The blogger calls it a blog on technology news for the 'non-geeks' -- fun huh?

Well it is... simple posts that lets pictures tell most of the story. Nothing too heavy if you want to just chill out and brows a bit. Here are a couple of recent toons which I had a good chuckle. Thanks Bertrend....

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Raya fireworks .... well, not really :)

I was kinda hoping to take some fireworks pix during Raya, to post alongside my Raya wishes (see earlier post this morning). But never got around doing it.

Instead, here are some even nicer fireworks pix (taken during the August Malaysian Internal Fireworks Competion in Putrajaya) from Tonny Yeap, who is happily firing away with his Canon 450D. He had chosen a really good spot and well... again, lets have the pictures tell the story instead.

Tony's just plonked some serious moollah on a pair of Canon L lenses!! Hope I'll get to post some more of his pix once he starts snapping with those legendary lenses.

Regretted missing the competition? Yeah, me too!

Happy Raya!!

To my dear Muslim friends and readers,
wishing you a safe and happy
Aidil Fitri celebration.

May you have lots of good rest,
great times with family and friends,
and loads of yummy food!!

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri 1428H
Maaf Zahir dan Batin