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!