Sunday, December 31, 2006

Is this 2007 or 1997?

As we enter 2007, almost all Net users in Malaysia will only be able to surf at modem-like speeds, or worse. After years of using broadband, it feels a bit surreal. To add to the surreality, a fair number of major websites are still unreachable, almost as if they never existed. I found that even the mighty Google was inaccessbile at times.

As my colleague H. Amir Khalid wrote for In.Tech:
It's 1997 all over again for Net users
Apparently, Jaring users will be worse off. According to Jaring CEO Mohd Awang Lah, the Asia Pacific Cable Network 2 (APCN 2) was not the only one damaged. The FLAG Cable network, which is one of Jaring's main backup lines, was also hit by the earthquake.
The slow Net access must be particularly frustrating for MMO (massively multiplayer online) gamers. Interestingly, I had signed up for a free 10-day trial of World of Warcraft about a week ago. Since the earthquke, WoW has been unplayable; you either can't log in or you get booted out after a few minutes. Maybe it's for the better; despite all the hype about WoW, it doesn't seem too compelling to me. I'm only a level 13 Paladin, BTW. WoW feels very much like Everquest II, which I played for only two months before getting bored.

Anyway, Happy New Year to all, and here's to faster and more reliable Net access in the year ahead.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Net access severely affected by quake

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck off the coast of Taiwan early this morning (the 27th). Unfortunately, it also damaged major undersea cables (submarine cables) which is causing a slowdown in Internet access for most of Asia. No word yet on when the problem will be fixed. Most ISPs have issued statements saying "traffic diversion and restoration works are currently in progress" or something similar.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No In.Tech on Boxing Day

The Star will not be published on Dec 26 due to the Christmas break. That also means no In.Tech this Tuesday. The Star will be back on Wednesday, Dec 27. While the next In.Tech will appear on Thursday, Dec 28.

Happy Holidays, all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shared memory means less for OS

An In.Tech reader inquired recently:

I bought a computer recently with the following specifications:
Processor: AMD Sempron 3000+ 64-bit
Motherboard: A33G SATA ATX
Memory: 512MB

However, when I did a system information check, I noticed that the memory showed this information:
Total physical memory: 447.30MB
Available physical memory: 212.26MB

Have I been short-changed?

A. Samy
via e-mail

It sounds like you have a motherboard with integrated graphics, or as it is sometimes called, built-in graphics.
The A33G motherboard is from PCChips and the website specifications indicate “Embedded Mirage Graphics with 128MB shared memory”, which is also another way of saying integrated graphics.
As the phrase suggests, the graphics system is sharing part of your main memory, which results in decreased memory for the operating system and other programs. In your case, about 64MB is being used by the graphics system.
If you’re concerned about memory usage, you can reduce the amount used for graphics via the BIOS settings, which are accessible during startup. If you’re not playing games on your PC, you can get by with just 32MB or even 16MB for the graphics.
However, the better alternative is to just buy more RAM. These days, RAM prices are quite reasonable. Your mobo is listed as using DDR2 RAM; if you’re buying new RAM, make sure it matches the speed of your existing RAM.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Outsourcing: Multi-super what?

A BusinessWeek feature examines the trend of companies increasingly sending IT work to hubs outside India. Ominously, Malaysia is not even mentioned as an outsourcing destination.
Outsourcing: Beyond Bangalore
"So companies are setting their sights on a slew of emerging hot spots for IT outsourcing. Need a multilingual workforce adept at developing security systems and testing software? Buna ziua, Bucharest. Want low-cost Linux developers? Bienvenidos a Buenos Aires, where many companies adopted open-source software after the devaluation of the peso in 2002 made licenses from abroad prohibitively expensive. Other cities on the list include Moscow and St. Petersburg in Russia and Prague in the Czech Republic, according to consulting firm neoIT. Other hot spots include Mexico City, São Paulo, and Santiago in Latin America; and within Asia, Dalian, China, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

AutoHotkey and regular expressions

I've been using AutoHotkey, a powerful scripting language, for about a year. During this time, I've written several programs to make my work at In.Tech easier. A few of my colleagues also use the programs and they seem to like what I've created. The latest version of AutoHotkey (1.0.45 and onward) now supports Regular Expressions, which makes it even more powerful.

AutoHotkey is open source and completely free, so there are no licensing issues. Plus, it has very helpful user community. So, if you need to automate boring/tedious tasks, and just need to code quick programs for solving special problems, give it a try.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Antivirus is Dead

I've heard this prediction a few times over the years. And now it seems to be finally happening. Let's start with a ZDNet report from July:
Why popular antivirus apps 'do not work'
which reveals that antivirus apps are largely useless against new trojans and viruses.
Then Info World's Roger A. Grimes asked in Sept:
Is the end of anti-virus finally here?

Now we have the CTO of BigFix who declares:
Anti-virus is Dead!
"Stand-alone, signature-based, anti-virus is dead. The stand-alone anti-spyware market is over too, if it even existed!"

On my systems, I dumped Norton Antivirus a few months ago because it seems to sap resources, and its product activation annoys me. I now use AVG Free Edition and the built-in Windows XP firewall. For anti-spyware I use AVG Anti-Spyware ( from the same company) plus I run the old standbys, Ad-Aware and Spybot occasionally.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stop making crap

Andy Ihnatko is merciless in his Chicago Sun-Times review of Microsoft's Zune player:
Avoid the loony Zune
If you (or anyone else you know) are contemplating the Zune, you need to read this review. The Zune may be the most anti-consumer player ever sold. As a bonus, this is probably the most entertaining product review I've read this year.

Photo: John Froschauer / AP

Saturday, November 25, 2006

More Sony defects

As if they don't have enough QC problems. Sony has said it will recall eight models of its Cyber-shot digital cameras after finding a defect in the LCD screen. It is apparently caused by condensation. The screens might not display images correctly, images could be distorted or cameras might not take photos at all, Sony Corp said in a statement.

The affected models are DSC-F88, DSC-M1, DSC-T1, DSC-T11, DSC-T3, DSC-T33, DSC-U40 and DSC-U50. Between September 2003 and January 2005 over 1 million of these cameras were sold worldwide, but Sony believes only 4,000 will need repair, however. For more details try Sony's Electronics Support website.

For news stories, Try searching Google News for "sony cyber-shot problems" (without the quotes).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Malaysia Bodoh

Since the govt is so concerned about "gwailo opinion", maybe it should listen to this guy:

While Malaysia fiddles, its opportunities are running dry
Michael Backman in The Age

In this column, he blasts Malaysia's grossly inflated sense of its place in the world, its preoccupation with Malay vs. Chinese wealth, its wasteful megaprojects, and other missed opportunities. He concludes the column with a memorable phrase:
That's not Malaysia "boleh", that's Malaysia "bodoh" (stupid).

Malaysia Bodoh!
I can't think of a more appropriate slogan for this country.

In case the link disappears, a few copies of the column have been posted on Usenet. Try searching Google Groups for "Malaysia fiddles" (with the quotes).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Malaysia's broadband

In the Nov 16 issue of In.Tech I took a look at Malaysia's consumer broadband situation. Bottom line: About 700,000 broadband users in Malaysia, and more ISP choices now but coverage still mainly around the Klang Valley.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Just a SOCKS puppet

I was looking for a free SOCKS server for testing, and discovered there aren't many around any more, at least not for Windows. Does anyone even use SOCKS any more? I downloaded Antinat, but never got around to running it. It uses XML-based config files and looks too formidable to set up.

Next I tried FreeProxy, but just couldn't get it to work. One thing I don't like about FreeProxy is, while it does have a nice GUI for settings, the actual proxy itself is just a command-line program.
This must be the second or third time I've downloaded FreeProxy; I keep forgetting that I've never gotten it to work. Nothing personal against the author; I'm probably just not smart enough to configure it correctly.

Then I remembered an old standby - AnalogX Proxy. It just happens to have a SOCKS server. I had previously used its web, NNTP and SMTP proxies, but never the SOCKS proxy. So this was a good time to test it. After some quick configuration - it only has "proxy binding" and "logging" sections - I got it running and it works as expected. So yes, AnalogX Proxy also works great as a SOCKS proxy.

update: turns out there is an actual product called Socks Puppet. It's described as "a multithreaded socks 5 server for Windows NT/2000/XP/98/ME." I haven't actually used it though.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cellphone as tracking device

From the AP:
Atlanta’s horrendous traffic has inspired two companies that are looking to monitor many more roads and highways than is done today and at a much lower cost. Their approach: Track the signals of cell phones that happen to be inside cars. By using anonymous data from wireless providers to mark how fast cell-phone handsets are moving - and overlaying that information with location data and maps - IntelliOne and AirSage hope to offer more detailed information and pragmatic advice than other firms that monitor traffic through radar, helicopters or cameras. But some critics aren’t so sure the benefits outweigh the potential privacy risks.
Privacy advocates are predictably up in arms over this. But they, and other cellphone users may not have realised that the tracking feature is a fundamental feature of cellular phone networks; they need to know where you are located (or rather, where your cellphone is located) to ensure handoff between base stations. This is why you can continue chatting on your phone even when travelling in a car. This system has been in place since the early days of cellphones!

Those who worry that the "govt is tracking me" seem a bit paranoid, or even "perasan" (filled with self-importance) - as if anyone wants to know that you go to KFC every Tuesday between 1:30 and 2:30pm.

Tracking people via cellphones also has some important uses. A system called Wireless Enhanced 911 is already in place in the US which helps emergency services pinpoint the location of cellphone callers who cannot give directions to where they are.
For example, the "help I'm being kidnapped and I'm in a car boot!" scenario.
I think traffic-tracking is a useful and legitimate use of this built-in feature.
So, if you're really paranoid, try wrapping your cellphone in aluminium foil, or put it in one of those X-Ray film protecter bags which are lead-lined. ;-)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Minimum speed limit for safety

I fully support a poster on The Star's Citizen's Blog who called for a minimum speed limit, especially on our highways. This system has long been in place in developed countries like the US, where you can even get a ticket for driving too slowly on a highway.

Some drivers in Malaysia seem to operate with the faulty logic that "if speed kills, then slower must be safer." Such drivers not only impede traffic but they also pose a serious danger to other drivers, simply because they do not understand the concept of relative speed.

Assume, for example, that one driver decides to drive at 30kph on the North-South highway, while everyone else is driving close to the speed limit of 110kph. Then the relative speed of the slow and fast cars is 80kph (110-30 = 80).

Now imagine if you were driving at 80kph and you suddenly spot a car parked (stationary) right in the middle of the highway. How fast do you think you can react to this sudden threat? That is is exactly the danger which slow drivers pose to those who are driving faster. Mind you, the faster drivers are not "speeders" or "racers", if they keep within the 110kph limit.

Worse, it can be difficult to judge a speed of another car while it is moving (even at 30kph), so the other drivers may have even less time to react. Plus, one would (reasonably) assume that cars would not be moving so slowly on a highway.

So all you "Lembu" (slowpoke) drivers out there, keep off the highway for your own safety, and that of others!

image courtesy of U.S. Metric Association

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blogger bug

When putting up a new post, I was getting this error msg:
001 timed out
It seems quite a few others have the same problem.

Update: the problem seems to have been fixed, after two days.
So I can publish again. Looks like it is a much wider problem:
Google Blogger Service Outages Spark User Firestorm

Handwriting skills in decline

A Washington Post feature confirms what you've probably suspected for years - a growing number of students cannot write in cursive (i.e. where characters are joined and angles are rounded), and even have trouble reading it. This can be traced mainly to the use of computers.
While the WP article is US-centric, I believe we're also seeing this trend in Malaysia. It's not as apparent in M'sia only because computer usage in M'sian schools is not as advanced as in the US. From the WP:

The Handwriting Is on the Wall
The computer keyboard helped kill shorthand, and now it's threatening to finish off longhand.
When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.
And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I'm glad to read about the Public Services Department's latest move to haul in study loan defaulters -"PSD to blacklist family of study loan defaulters, too" on Oct 24. My only complaint is they did not do this earlier. That means that brothers and sisters of loan defaulters could easily get loans, and they are likely be defaulters too. Worse, PSD has even turned up cases of the children of defaulters getting loans and also defaulting. Truly, "like father, like son."

This absurd situation cannot be allowed to continue, and taxpayers' money should not be wasted on these characters who think they are entitled to "free money".

In fact, PSD should go one step further and also release the lists of study loan defaulters to banks and other loan providers in the private sector. I'm sure banks will be most interested in these individuals' track record when (if) they apply for car loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc

There is no need to force banks to blacklist PSD defaulters; just providing the list will be sufficient. Borrowers would be aware there are more dire consequences for defaulting on a PSD loan, and the list will serve as a preventive measure.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SF shots

I was in San Francisco earlier this month for an assignment. I didn't do much photography, but here are a couple of street life shots:

Top: Where are they now... "Supergirl" walks around Market St. to promote a Halloween store.

Bottom: A couple of homeless people on Market St. Note the cats on top of the bags; in the US, even the homeless have pets! To be fair, SF's homeless problem isn't as bad as in other major cities.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Number portability

In.Tech's Jo Timbuong reported on Oct 19 about mobile number portability (MNP) which (supposedly) will be available to cellphone users in Malaysia by December next year.
In case you're new to the topic, number portability refers to the ability to switch cellphone service providers and still keep the same number.
If you've ever switched providers, you'll know what a hassle it is to inform all your contacts about your new number, epecially of you have hundreds of contacts.
Worse, quite a few users will not answer calls or reply to SMSes from a "strange" number.

The service providers are well aware of this, of course, and absolutely do not want number portability. They will typically cite "technical hurdles", "high costs" or "hurts branding" as reasons for not implementing it.
Now that cellphone service is basically a commodity, your cellphone number is one last way for companies to ensure your "loyalty".
MCMC's Datuk Dr Halim Shafie said countries like Britain, Finland and Austria have already introduced MNP.
"Telcos in those countries have improved their delivery services since MNP was implemented," he said.

However, M'sian subscribers are not confident MNP here will be on schedule. After all, MNP was proposed as far back as 2004, and was supposed to be in effect last year!
A couple of quotes which appeared in the In.Tech print issue say it all:
"Implementing it will cost the telcos a lot in terms of infrastructure and I don’t see it materialising soon," said C.Y. Tan. "If they had wanted MNP, they would have introduced it already."
"Maybe we'll have it by the time the 12th Malaysia Plan is announced (in about 15 years time)?", said Saifulnizam Taat.

Friday, October 20, 2006

High-end fixed-focal length P&S digicam

It seems like a wacky idea at first. Sigma recently launched its Sigma DP1 at Photokina. It's billed as a "high end point and shoot digital camera" which sounds very much like an oxymoron. Even wackier is that this camera has a fixed focal length lens, i.e. no zoom. Didn't such P&S digicams die out in the '90s?

But a closer look at the specs reveals some impressive components. The DP1 has a Foveon X3 image sensor, and an f4 28mm (film-equiv) lens. Sigma likes to describe the Foveon X3 as "14MP" sensor, but it is actually only about 4.6MP. They arrive at the "14MP" figure by adding up all three layers in the sensor (2652×1768×3 layers) .

Still, the DP1 might come in handy as a backup camera/lens replacement for those who use prosumer digicams or even DSLRs. Most digicam lenses only go down to 35mm, while for DSLRs, the wide-angle lenses are expensive, and the superzoom lenses are really expensive. No pricing has been announced for the DP1, but it probably won't come cheap.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Your hidden voice-mail

Hi all, this is my first posting, so let's start with a zinger.

If you have a land line from Telekom Malaysia (about 99% of Malaysian land lines are TM's), you might be surprised to find out that you now have voice-mail service - even if you didn't ask for it. Apparently, TM enabled this feature for most (all?) of its customers about two months ago. But the problem is, TM has not informed its customers, so hardly anyone knows about this.

In fact, I only found out about the voice-mail service by accident while researching a non-related topic. I ran into this letter from the Consumers Association of Penang titled "TM subscribers ripped off by voice-mail service" which was posted on Malaysiakini on Sept 26. So I quickly checked my own phone number and discovered that, indeed, I had a voice-mailbox.

Worse, I found out callers had been leaving messages since around August! I had to call them all up and apologise for not returning their calls. Gee, thanks a lot, TM. I was thinking about getting voice-mail service, but it'd work better if you had informed me about it. You can surf to TM's website for instructions on how to access your voice-mailbox.

Other than the valid points raised by the CAP, I also found that the voice-mail system has a major security hole. This hole will become obvious to you (and probably to others) the moment you access the voice-mail system for the first time, or even if you just read TM's website. So folks, check your voice-mail ASAP!