Tuesday, December 25, 2007

GMail outage

It almost makes me believe in magical thinking. Not long after I plugged Google to someone, GMail dies on me. It's been unavailable for 15 hours as I write this. If you're also experiencing this, you could try this section in GMail Help Discussion, or you could report the problem to Google.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

The error message is:
Temporary Error (502)
We’re sorry, but your Gmail account is currently experiencing errors. You won’t be able to log in while these errors last, but don’t worry, your account data and messages are safe. Our engineers are working to resolve this issue.

Please try logging in to your account again in a few minutes.

Fifteen hours is certainly not temporary!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

All your job are belong to Filipinos

So folks, the Phillipines is not just the land where Filipino maids come from, but it is the land where our future jobs are going to.

According to a recent market forecast by XMG, the Philippines is poised to overtake Malaysia in the race for global outsourcing revenues.

As expected, M'sia is in denial, and our government doesn't seem too concerned. One M'sian tecnocrat even claims Malaysia offers "high-value" services compared to the Philippines, though he also seems content to sprout techno-babble such as "process-oriented operational competencies":

Outsourcing Rivalry Doesn't Faze Malaysia

In fact, Mdec is still clinging on to a dubious consultancy report which ranks Malaysia No.3 in the world for outsourcing, just behind India and China. This ranking seems quite improbable to me, and appears to be symptomatic of the "inflated sense of self" that has been used to describe Malaysia. Are we really ahead of Singapore, Canada, Russia, and dozens of other strong outsourcing competitors?

In a related issue, check out this Economist article:
Gravity's pull
Is India's computer-services industry heading for a fall?

Also interesting is this article from Entrepreneur.com:
Five Out-of-the-Ordinary Outsourcing Trends

And now, to head off criticisms of my grammar ;-) , surf to:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New cover sheets on all the TPS reports

Well these things do exist after all, and not just in Office Space. According to good old Wikipedia,

"A TPS report is a document used in software engineering, in particular by a Software Quality Assurance group or individual, that describes the testing procedures and the testing process.

The term TPS report has come to denote pointless busy work assigned by employers without doing anything productive for the company."

Now that you know, why not download your own TPS report cover sheet (pdf) ?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Facebook becoming a real word?

Merriam-Webster (MW) recently concluded its annual Word of the Year poll, and the results are pending.

To my surprise, "facebook" is on this year's list. You might recall that MW ran a similar poll last year, and the word "truthiness" won by a large margin, beating out even "google".

The fellas over at Mountain View got the last laugh though - "google" was inducted as a verb in both the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary last year.
News.com: Google joins Xerox as a verb
You can view the MW definition here, and the Dictionary.com listing here.

Facebook has some ways to go before it becomes a real word. For now, it has only made it as far as MW's open dictionary, which defines facebook and facebooking. I'm sure Mark Zuckerberg ordered all his employees to vote up "facebook" in the MW poll. At this point though, I feel that the word is mainly synonymous with "time-wasting" or "goofing off".

It should be noted that "truthiness", despite being 2006 word of the year, has not been included in the MW dictionary. It is still listed in the open dictionary. Unsurprisingly though, truthiness does have its own Wikipedia entry.

Just what is this open dictionary? MW says it contains words submitted by "other members of the Merriam-Webster Online community", which, as far as I can tell, means "any damn fool on the Net". If that is the case, then the open dictionary doesn't seem to be any different from the Urban Dictionary.

So what does it take for a word to be added to "real" dictionaries?

Graeme Diamond, Senior Assistant Editor at Oxford University Press provides some insight. He is responsible for researching, drafting, and editing dictionary entries for new English words and meanings.
New Words: How do they get into the Oxford English Dictionary?

MW has a FAQ covering the same topic.
How does a word get into a Merriam-Webster dictionary?

In a related issue, this article in the NYT seems to dismiss WOTY (word of the year) polls as gimmicky, publicity-seeking stunts by dictionary publishers.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Blocking stupid Zombies, Vampires, et al apps

Boy, is there anything more annoying on Facebook than those idiotic Zombies, Vampires, et al apps?

I didn't install any of them, of course, but somehow, other people's actions were showing up on my News Feed.

Turns out you can block all updates from these apps by surfing to their main page, and clicking on the Block app link. It's located at the lower right corner, below the "Afraid of abuse by this application?" question:


If you had previously blocked an app, Facebook will inform you. This step will also work for other abusive and spammy apps.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Cash for old IT junk

MBPJ and Dell Asia Pacific are jointly organising the Computer Recycling Campaign
starting September 2007 to January 2008. A total of 9 Centres in PJ are collecting computers and other accessories such as printers, plotters, mice, keyboards and monitors.

The recyable items can be either in usable or broken condition. You'll get paid 40 sen per kg for these items.

Check out The Star's coverage here.

Well, I can certainly confirm that you CAN get paid for turning in IT junk, "as advertised".

In fact, I made RM13 last Sunday just by dropping off junk at the recycling centre which is off Jln SS22/47 (next to SK Damansara Jaya).

This particular centre is run by the Damansara Jaya Residents Association, and is open every Sunday from 10am to noon.

My "loot" was two old monitors, a PC casing, one inkjet printer and a couple of ancient computer parts. They will take any IT-related hardware, working or not. They'll pay you 40 sen per kilo, in good old ca$h.

This is also a standard recycling centre, so they will accept paper, plastics, and other recyclables, though you won't get paid for those. I forgot to ask if they'll pay for old newspaper (some centres do).

Now RM13 doesn't put me on Malaysia's Richest list, but it did buy me breakfast AND lunch for the day. I was about to dump the old stuff anyway, so this was free money for me.

One advantage of the SS22 centre is that it is right on the curb, and you can literally drive right up to the weighing scales. No need to look for parking, negotiate stairs, or hack your way through jungle. A definite plus when you have bulky items.

So don't just chuck that old PC or monitor into the trash; take it to the centre for proper recycling, and you'll even get some cash back!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Burma: Child Soldiers

Do we really need another reason to boot Burma (Myanmar) out of ASEAN?

Now reports are surfacing that the Burmese junta is recruiting child soldiers. This is because its adult soldiers have started deserting in large numbers, partly because they oppose the recent crackdown on Buddhist monks.

Now "recruiting" is a euphemism here, and I won't even use the word "conscripting". The children are usually abducted or threatened into joining the army. This is the worst kind of child abuse. So Malaysia, as a fellow ASEAN member, can be proudly associated with these despicable military leaders.

Don't forget about Malaysia's Petronas connection to Burma, which I wrote about previously.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Google steps up GMail gig race

Sometime in the past few days, when I wasn't looking, my GMail storage space raced past the 4GB mark. It had hit the 3GB mark only a week ago. GMail is falling behind some of its webmail competitors, some of which offer 5GB or more space.

So it seems that Google is stepping up the gig race, and is adding storage faster than its usual rate.

Update, Nov 17: Storage is now near the 5GB mark.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Burma: The Petronas Connection

Despite all the noises that Malaysia is making about Burma's human rights record, the government has conveniently forgotten its embarrassing link to the Burmese military junta.

An article in The Sydney Morning Herald, titled Oil companies look to exploit Burma, reveals that companies like Petronas are more than willing to continue doing business with the military regime.

A piece in Times Online, Boycotting Burma makes things worse, also examines the history of Petronas' Burma stake. Apparently, it originates from Premier Oil, a British company which was pressured by the British government to pull out its investments from Burma a few years ago. Premier did just that in 2002, selling its investment in the Yetagun gasfield to Petronas.

An article in Time, titled Going nowhere, even provides a dollar amount:

"Two existing operations, one managed by France's Total and the other by Malaysian state oil company Petronas, provided Burma with about US$1 billion in revenues in 2005, estimates one energy consulting firm."

From the SMH article:

"France's Total SA and Malaysia's Petroliam Nasional Bhd, or Petronas, currently pump gas from fields off Burma's coast through a pipeline to Thailand, which takes 90% of Burma's gas output, according to Thailand's PTT Exploration & Production PLC.

But investing in Burma has brought accusations that petroleum corporations offer economic support to the country's repressive junta, and in some cases are complicit in human rights abuses.

The military's bloody clampdown on the protests this week have intensified calls from international activist groups for energy companies to pull out of the country.

"They are funding the dictatorship," said Marco Simons, US legal director at Earth Rights International, an environmental and human rights group with offices in Thailand and Washington. "The oil and gas companies have been one of the major industries keeping the regime in power."

Unsurprisingly, our local newspapers are silent on this issue, with the minor exception of The Star, which ran two readers' letters, but no actual reports:
1. Impose sanctions on oil and products
2. Put on hold business activities in Myanmar

Now, Petronas is mainly government-owned, and by extension, public-owned so this can be interpreted as the Malaysian public giving support to the Myanmar military regime.

Petronas' continued investment in Burma, and continued payment of millions to the army diminishes Malaysia's stance on this issue, and opens us to accusations of hypocrisy and exploitation.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Famous phantom voters

It seems we even have famous phantom voters these days. Well-known Malaysian blogger Rocky (Ahirudin Attan) is also a phantom voter, as he recently discovered for himself after visiting the SPR website.

rocky's bru: Excuse me, WTF registered me as a voter?

You may also want to check out my earlier postings about the SPR website and phantom voters.

Friday, September 07, 2007

SPR website may need old IC

Following on from the previous posting, a few readers have reported that the SPR website doesn't have their voter records, even though they registered many months ago.

If you also provided an old IC no during registration, you could try using that instead.

That seems to be the case with my record; keying in the new IC no. did not return any records. Only my old IC no. got results.

This is puzzling because my record clearly lists my new IC no too.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Are you a phantom voter?

Blogger Dr. Prince recently discovered that he is a registered voter in Kedah, even though he has never registered, and never voted before.

You can check your own voter status at the Election Commission (Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya, or SPR) website. Who knows, you may have "voted" during the last election even though you have not registered. And I'm guessing you "voted" for BN!

Note that the SPR website doesn't use any secure connections (e.g. SSL). So I would not recommend querying your data if you're using a public Internet connection (e.g. cybercafe, free wi-fi locations, etc). The SPR pages list quite a bit of personal information, thus creating a potential for identity theft.

It seems that the EC isn't too concerned about about serving up voter registration info over the Net on unencryted pages.

On a related note, check out the Wikipedia section on Electoral fraud.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Interesting corp policy to encourage healthy living

From BusinessWeek:
Being Unhealthy Could Cost You -- Money
August 2

For employees at Clarian Health, feeling the burn of trying to lose weight will take on new meaning.

In late June, the Indianapolis-based hospital system announced that starting in 2009, it will fine employees $10 per paycheck if their body mass index (BMI, a ratio of height to weight that measures body fat) is over 30. If their cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels are too high, they'll be charged $5 for each standard they don't meet. Ditto if they smoke: Starting next year, they'll be charged another $5 in each check.

Clarian has been making headlines for its aggressive and unusual approach to covering escalating health-care costs. Rather than … (link to story)

I think this is an excellent policy because company health policies mainly benefit those who are unwilling or unable to take care of their health. For example, I do not smoke, my BMI is within normal range, I try to eat right, and I exercise quite regularly.

In my workplace, there a quite a few people who do none of the above. Not surprisingly, they tend to have more health problems and they fall sick more often than the other workers who try to stay healthy.

Ultimately, the healthier workers end up paying a lot more to subsidise the unhealthy lifestyles of these co-workers.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Don't forget the New Umno Anthem

Not sure what all the excitement with Negarakuku is about.

Don't forget there is also the New Umno Anthem (Lagu Baru UMNO) available on youtube:

According to the youtube page, it was uploaded more than one year ago and has been viewed more than 29,900 times. The caption below says, "This is a video response to Umno Youth protest at Asean Ministerial meeting". You can also scroll down a bit for the lyrics.

If the govt is going after Namewee, why not go after these guys too?

Update: Another blog called Hope for Malaysia has transcribed the full lyrics (BM) and also provides an English translation.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ministry is capricious, contradictory with 24-hour rulings

Now, I am no big fan of oil companies and petrol stations, but I feel the Ministry has overstepped its authority in this “must open 24 hours” issue.

Since these are private businesses (not owned by government), the Ministry has no authority to dictate their opening hours. If it can do this, what is to stop the Ministry from dictating the opening hours for any other businesses? For example, it may order all clinics to open 24 hours. For that matter, why not order all mechanics and car workshops to open 24 hours?

I watched the press conference on Tv3 news last night where Datuk Shafie threatened unspecified sanctions against the petrol dealers. When pressed by reporters for details, he only said something like “They know what will happen to them.”

This gives me the impression that the Ministry has no legal standing in this matter. Plus, Datuk Shafie comes off as capricious, and the Ministry appears to be making up rules as it goes along.

Worse, the Ministry’s stance on petrol stations staying open 24 hours is a direct contradiction to its stance on hypermarkets’ opening hours.

Recall that this is the same ministry (and the same minister) which, in 2004, barred hypermarkets from opening 24 hours. This, despite protests from consumers, and appeals from the hypermarkets who actually want to open 24 hours (unlike these petrol kiosk operators).

One excuse that the Ministry is using is that petrol is a “controlled item” or “essential item”. But aren’t there a lot more controlled items sold in hypermarkets? Don’t I have a right to buy sugar, flour and chicken at any time of the day or night? Isn’t food more of an essential item than petrol?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hypermarts should be allowed to open 24 hours then

If the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs says petrol kiosks in strategic locations must continue to operate 24 hours, why not allow hypermarts to open 24 hours too?
Since the Malaysian public tends to have a short memory, here's a reminder of the Ministry's stance on hypermarkets:

Publication Date: 08.04.2004
Publication: The Star
Section: Main
Page Title: Nation
Page: 24
Subject: Government
Keyword: Supermarkets

No more 24 hours for hypermarkets

KUALA LUMPUR: Hypermarkets are no longer allowed to operate 24 hours with immediate effect, said Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Mohd Shafie Apdal.

"The ruling is necessary to protect small industries, market traders and grocery shop owners who are losing out because of the 24-hour operation by hypermarkets.

"We have received complaints from the Entrepreneur Development and Co-operatives Ministry and small businesses regarding this," Shafie said at the post-Cabinet press conference in his office here yesterday.

Shafie said his ministry had monitored the situation and conducted studies since 2002 on the effect of hypermarkets on local traders before deciding on the regulation.

He said all hypermarkets would operate from 10am to 10pm on weekdays and from 10am to midnight or 1am on weekends.

"It's sufficient that they are already operating 365 days a year," he said.

Shafie said it was up to the local authorities to ensure that the hypermarkets adhered to the new ruling.


Here were some of the letters from consumers protesting the ruling:

Publication Date: 11.04.2004
Publication: Sunday Star
Edition: Final
Section: Main
Page Title: Comment
Page: 34
Column: Mail

Ridiculous to restrict opening hours of hypermarkets

I AM extremely disappointed that hypermarkets are no longer allowed to operate 24 hours, "No more 24 hours for hypermarkets" (The Star, April 8).

I agree that hypermarkets do pose strong competition to small traders and grocers, but depriving consumers the freedom to choose where and when to go shopping is simply ridiculous.

Are we absolutely certain that by restricting opening hours of hypermarkets, small traders and grocery shops can breathe a sigh of relief? Most of these businesses close early, so where can we go if we need to do some shopping after midnight?

Believe me, there are some people whose daily routines are different from others.

Must I now knock on the nearest corner shop, wake the owner up and remind him that if he refuses my business, he is losing out?

Businessmen should be given the right to open and close for business according to their ability.

Many European countries have hypermarkets both in the urban centres and suburban areas opening for 24 hours and yet people still go and shop at the grocery stores near their homes.

Small traders there are wise enough to keep up with the times by striving to provide better service, a wide range of quality products and equally competitive prices.

Kuala Lumpur

Publication Date: 13.04.2004
Publication: The Star
Edition: Final
Section: Main
Page Title: Comment
Page: 29
Subject: Shopping
Keyword: Hypermarkets, Operating Hours
Column: Mail

Unfair to restrict opening hours of hypermarts

I REFER to the letter, "Ridiculous to restrict opening hours of hypermarkets", (Sunday Star, April 11).

It is extremely unfair to restrict the operating hours of hypermarkets because they pose strong competition to grocers and small traders.

This decision was passed not too long after the first 24-hour hypermarket started operations. I believe no investigation was conducted to prove that it had actually affected the smaller players in the industry.

I suppose the only way to find out the truth is to do a comparison of balance sheets of the affected traders.

However, this method is understandably tedious and impractical. The next best thing would be to do a survey on consumers.

Find out what they really want and, most importantly, whether they are really ignoring neighbourhood grocery shops.

Are the small traders really affected or are the hypermarkets being denied their right to profit from their niche market?

Kuala Lumpur.
(via e-mail)

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I read with interest Star's Jun 9 front page story about the beef import cartel under the headline Cartel broken.

However, the story is a little scant about how exactly the cartel was “broken” and how it came about in the first place.

It also raises other questions. For example, are there competition laws or anti-cartel (i.e. antitrust) laws in Malaysia? Is their behaviour even illegal (from the Malaysian legal standpoint) in the first place? How do we ensure this situation doesn’t arise again?

Since the Government is portraying itself as cartel-busters, how about looking at the book and magazine suppliers in Malaysia, who seem to engaging in cartel-like behaviour?

If you’re interested in some good examples of anti-cartel laws take a look at:

United States Antitrust Law or European Community Competition Law.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Heading off Skycar hype

We're starting to hear from Moller International again about its skycar, which is variously billed as a flying saucer, flying car, or flying vehicle.

This time around, there seem to be photos and videos of the product, plus you get the inevitable Jetsons references. Now this kind of story always gets writers and editors excited; just search Google News for "skycar" and you'll get a bunch of stories, with more probably on the way.

The problem is, Moller Int'l has tried to sell this concept before and was later revealed to be quite a dodgy company.

So much so that the SEC (The Securities and Exchange Commission, a U.S. regulatory body) filed a lawsuit against Moller Int and Paul Moller in 2003. The details are available on the SEC website at: http://www.sec.gov/litigation/complaints/comp17987.htm

In fact, just google "Moller International" and the SEC page is the third link, just below Moller's own website.

In the introduction to the suit, the SEC said:
"This matter involves a fraudulent, unregistered offering and the filing of a fraudulent Form 10-SB by Moller International, Inc. ("MI" or "the company"), a California company engaged in the development of a personal aircraft known as "the Skycar."

Under the heading, "False and Misleading Statements and Omissions", the SEC said:
>>19. The promotional material used in this solicitation campaign contained materially false and misleading information.
20. For example, the Skycar, according to Moller, would allow any person to travel at speeds over 400 miles-per-hour in the uncluttered airspace above the roadways for about the same price as a luxury automobile. In MI investor newsletters, Moller projected that 10,000 Skycars would be sold by the end of 2002.
21. In reality, the Skycar was and still is a very early developmental-stage prototype that has no meaningful flight testing, proof of aeronautical feasibility, or proven commercial viability. <<

Maybe things have changed since then, but I feel this is really a case of caveat emptor, and the media should not get overly excited over this “flying saucer” until more tests are conducted.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Time to quit soft drinks

In today’s Reuters story run in The Star:

No safe haven: Diet sodas linked with health risks
Soft drinks -- even diet ones -- may be linked with increased risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, US researchers said on Jul 23.

And if that’s not a good a enough reason to quit soft drinks, try reading this earlier article in The Independent (UK):
Caution: Some soft drinks may seriously harm your health
Expert links additive to serious cell damage.

In the book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (2004), Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman also reveal how dangerous soft drinks are:

Soft drinks are hard on the body

>> Your body will act to neutralize acidic drinks with alkaline blood buffers. Most soft drinks are extremely acidic. Colas also contain high levels of phosphoric acid, an acid capable of poisoning you if not quickly neutralized. Cola (regular or diet) has an extraordinarily low pH of 2.5 (that is, acidic).
It would take 3,200 glasses of alkaline water with a pH of 8 (or 32 glasses with a pH of 10) to neutralize a single 8oz glass of cola. If the body did nothing to counteract the acid in the cola, a single glass would lower your blood pH to 4.6, killing you instantly (…)
There were no colas nor carbonated soft drinks thousands of years ago, so our bodies did not evolve to deal effectively with the onslaught of acids that many people consume today, and there are problems resulting from the body’s detoxification strategies. <<

I completely quit soft drinks about 8 months ago, and my only regret is that I didn’t do so earlier.

I only had some “cravings” during my first week without soft drinks, but after that, I lost all desire to consume the stuff. As an added benefit, I’m a lot less of a sweet tooth these days, and I have also cut down on sweet foods and sugar in other drinks.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

SciFi.com to remove its fiction archive

I'm not a big fan of reading fiction online, but sometimes that's the only avenue available, especially for "niche" categories like sci-fi.

So, I'm sad that SciFi.com is nuking its fiction archive, as reported by Boing Boing. The reasons cited being rights issues, and low traffic.

Among the notable stories in the archive is "The Ugly Chickens" by Howard Waldrop, which is one of my favorite stories, and where the name of this blog comes from. Incidentally, the story won a Nebula award for best novelette in 1980, and also a World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction in 1981.

Scifi.com's archive is about the only website that is (was?) legally hosting a copy of the story. The story is still accessible as I write this (June 23), but may not be for long.

Most of Howard's stuff is out of print, and in fact, you can only get "The Ugly Chickens" in print if you buy Waldrop's short story collections, such as "Things Will Never Be the Same: A Howard Waldrop Reader" (2007) or "Howard Who?" which came out last year, and which itself is a reprint of a 1986 title. Try this Amazon search for Howard Waldrop books

Now I own a copy of "Howard Who?", plus I even have "The Ugly Chickens" in another short story collection. But I still snuck a peek at SciFi.com's page, so I must be one of the people they logged. In hindsight, maybe I should have visited a couple hundred times more ;-)

So, read it while it's still available online, "The Ugly Chickens" by Howard Waldrop.

You might also want to view the Howard Waldrop entry on Wikipedia.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Proton: Let it die

The former PM's pet project, which was already unravelling even during his tenure, has now completely transformed into a black hole for taxpayer's money.

Even if Proton could magically produce better cars tomorrow, who in their right mind would buy a car from a dying company? And yes, a RM591mil loss for FY07, and declining profits since 2003 certainly qualifies as "dying".

For that matter, which well-run, profitable car company would want to partner with someone like Proton, which is bleeding cash, is poorly managed, and has too many workers?

Let's drop any pretence of being a "car-manufacturing country", and just let Proton die, as it seems very intent to do so.

The govt should remove the trade barriers to foreign cars, and stop paying out subsidies and bailout money to Proton.

The money should instead be spend on proven economic drivers such as roads and highways, telecoms infrastructure, public transportation, and education.

Consumers: Vote with your wallet and do not support this embarrassment to Malaysia. Don't buy a Proton car. Don't mistake "wasting money" for "patriotism".

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another contact lens solution recall

NY Times story:
Lens Solution Is Pulled Over Link to Infection

A contact lens solution manufacturer voluntarily withdrew one of its products yesterday after federal health officials said an investigation had linked it to a rare but potentially blinding eye infection.

Customers were advised to immediately stop using the solution, AMO Complete Moisture Plus Multi-Purpose Solution. The solution, used to clean and store soft contact lenses, is made by Advanced Medical Optics of Santa Ana, Calif.

Soft contact lens wearers who have the AMO solution were advised to discard all partially used or unopened bottles and switch to alternative products. They should also throw out their current contact lenses and the lens storage case because they may harbor an infection-causing amoeba, officials of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said. More at this NYT link. Or you can just search Google News for "amo contact".

The AMO Malaysia website has a product recall notice to that effect.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Shanghai at night

A couple of night shots from my recent Shanghai trip.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Adobe Reader mind games

One thing really annoying about Adobe's Acrobat Reader is that it cannot be obtained anywhere else except from Adobe's website. This note on Tucows summarises the problem:

The Adobe Acrobat Reader download is just an installer. This installer will lead to a much larger download that includes the Reader as well as the Yahoo! Toolbar and Adobe Photoshop Album Starter Edition. These items will download, however, upon installation you can opt-out of them.

The obvious solution is not to use Adobe's product, but unfortunately, Foxit Reader doesn't work properly for me. It has a problem with properly selecting multiple columns of text.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Illumi-Lite = LED Backlight

Just returned a few days ago from the HP Mobility Summit held Shanghai, China. Among the more interesting products is the HP Compaq 2710p notebook which comes with an Illumi-Lite display. I've confirmed with HP that the term is marketing-speak for LED backlighting.

Current notebook displays all use cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) technology for backlighting. Among the benefits LEDs have over CCFL are:
· Over 10% longer battery life (which can translate to as much as 90 minutes more run time with a nine-cell battery pack)
· 10% thinner; in addition, the backlight driver can be included on the panel controller board and
does not require additional space below the panel
· 25% lighter
· Excellent color saturation at all brightness levels

LED backlighting is also claimed to be greener, because Mercury is not required in the manufacturing process. Plus, LEDs are supposed to last longer than fluorescent lamps, though no estimates have been provided yet.

source: HP white paper

Sunday, April 22, 2007

So-called "dust removal" systems are BS

My colleague Tan Kit Hoong pointed me to an interesting article about the so-called "dust removal" systems on current DSLRs.
The fellas over at Pixinfo examine the various DSLRs on the market which are touted to "remove dust" from their image sensors. Then they conducted extensive dust tests.

Apparently, in the case of the Pentax K10D and the Sony Alpha, their "dust removal" systems introduced more dust or were completely ineffective, while the Canon and even the Olympus only managed to remove 12-30 spots out of 500 or so.
Turns out you'd fare a lot better if you just use a standard air blower. Perhaps Nikon was right to leave this "feature" out of their DSLRs.

The before and after shots are especially informative.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Task Manager mysteriously disabled

An In.Tech reader complained that his Task Manager has been mysteriously disabled:

Hi, I keep my Dell laptop updated in every way possible, and I have a legal copy of Norton Internet Security 2006.

However, I found out not too long ago, whenever I press Ctrl+Alt+Delete, the Task Manager doesn’t appear but instead I get a message saying... “Task Manager has been disabled by your administrator.”

I’m the only user on my laptop and I didn’t assign any guest or other user! How do I fix this?

J. Tai
via e-mail

On occasion, when we come across PCs infected with a virus, spyware, trojan, or other types of malware, we've found that the Task Manager has been disabled.

Malware creators like to disable Task Manager to make system troubleshooting difficult, and also to make it hard to remove their malware.

Ramesh Srinivasan, a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) covers this
issue on his website at http://snipurl.com/jk50.

“If this restriction was enabled in your system without you doing anything or without your knowledge, then it’s highly likely that a Virus has blocked the usage of Task Manager in your system by enabling the DisableTaskMgr policy via the registry.” Srinivasan notes.

He suggests that “you perform a thorough checkup of your system immediately”. The steps listed below will unblock the Task Manager, but will not remove malware (if any) from your system:

1. Click Start, Run and type Regedit.

2. Navigate to the following registry branch: HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Software \ Microsoft \ Windows \ CurrentVersion \ Policies\ System.

3. In the right pane, you should see a line called DisableTaskMgr.

4. Double click on DisableTaskMgr and change Value Data to 0 (zero) to re-enable Task Manager.

5. Close Regedit.

By the way, you can also launch Task Manager by using this keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+Esc.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Raising cop salaries just the start

Raising cop salaries in M'sia is a good start against corruption, but other measures such as transparency of business rules, laws, freedom of the press, and cultural pressure are also needed.

A 2004 article from Radio Free Europe covers this topic well:

Is Raising State Salaries Enough To Combat Corruption?

or http://snipurl.com/1e0kz

An excerpt:

So does that mean that raising state salaries is all it takes to root out corruption?

Actually, no -- far from it. Corruption in the state sector sometimes forms a chain, from the lowest bureaucrat to the most senior ministers, and in this case breaking the cycle is more difficult.

Laurence Cockroft, chairman of Transparency International's British chapter, told RFE/RL: "It's also sometimes part of an organized racket, so that the policeman on the beat may be taking a bribe from the public at the behest of his senior, who may be trying to organize quite a large taking from those more junior policemen whom he controls. So one has to accept the fact that although petty corruption for the most part is a means of survival, that's not always
the case and it's not the whole picture."

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usAt the most senior level, Cockroft said, ministers have access to information and decision-making powers that have the potential to earn them millions of dollars, so doubling or tripling their salaries can have little effect. "If we move up the scale to the level of ministers, then certainly in terms of the developing world, whether we're looking at India or Cameroon or Colombia, the fact of the matter is that ministers are paid a small sum and do find it difficult to survive on those salaries," he said. "On the other hand, the fact of the matter is that in those cases, the means of sustaining or increasing their take-home pay is really to become involved in very large contracts where the distortion of public finances is rather serious and the implications for society as a whole are likewise very serious."

What ultimately makes more of a difference in combating corruption are factors such as the transparency of business rules, laws, freedom of the press, and cultural pressure. The more government officials have the leeway to create rules and regulations as they go along, the easier it is for them to use their discretionary powers for personal gain and the harder it is for the media to act as an effective check against corruption.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ribena in NZ found to have no Vit C

Two Kiwi schoolgirls are worldwide celebrities after their school experiment forced an international pharmaceutical and food giant to admit it made false claims about vitamin C levels in Ribena. - NZPA

Many news reports. Just search Google News for "ribena vitamin".

Which begs the question: how much vitamin C (if any) is there in the Ribena sold in Malaysia? Personally, I don't think you should be getting your vit C from something like Ribena anyway. You'd also be getting sugar, preservatives, dyes, and other additives...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Wiping old hard disks

An In.Tech reader inquired:

I have an old hard disk which I’ve not used for a long time but before I send it to be recycled I want to make sure all the data is wiped out. Any idea where I can get this done?

B. Rozario
via e-mail

Well, you certainly have reason to be cautious.
In a 2005 study, a British research team bought 100 hard disks off eBay and found half of them still contained sensitive information, including insurance records, biographical information about children, and even “blackmail material” such as details of sex sites visited by users.
Assuming you still have a floppy drive, or a computer which supports booting from USB flash drives, a good solution would be Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) an open-source program which securely wipes the hard disks of most computers.
It can be obtained from http://dban.sourceforge.net.
The program creates a bootable floppy disk or USB flash drive which will then load a wipe program which can be used on any hard disk connected to the computer.
Of course, you’d want to lock up or erase the DBAN floppy disk around after you’re done because this is a powerful utility.
The author also provides steps for creating bootable CD. Be sure to read the FAQ at http://dban.sourceforge.net/faq/

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Digi ad is offensive

I fully agree with Star's Hoo Ban Kee's opinion piece titled
"Hello, where are your manners?" (http://tinyurl.com/33783w)

I also found the recent CNY TV ad from Digi ("Longevity Calls") to be offensive. It depicts a "reunion dinner" where everyone at the table is busy chatting on their handphones. (see screencapt) Worse, the ad also depicts a child looking on in puzzlement at all the adults with their handphones. Eventually the child tries to imitate the adults!

Such a thing would never happen at my family's reunion gathering. In fact, if anyone even tries to play with their handphone during dinner, they can expect to get a severe tongue-lashing from my grandma.

She (rightly) believes that CNY is important time of the year for everyone to talk face-to-face. If not, what is the point of traveling all the way back to gather at one place?

Are there no Chinese executives in Digi? Did they not preview the ad first? Did everyone there think it would be "cute" or "funny" to shoehorn a product ad into such an important Chinese tradition?

The ad is also offensive in another way; it perpetuates some stereotypes about Chinese, particularly the "Ah Beng always on handphone" stereotype.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

No ban of fast food ads, but don't allow kid ads

I think fast food companies should be allowed to advertise, like any other business. However, I propose the following restrictions because of the high number of ads aimed at kids:

1) No targeting of children in fast food ads.
2) No sponsorship of cartoons and "kid's clubs".
3) No bundling of toys and a kid-related products with fast food.
4) No setting up of playgrounds or "daycare" centres at fast food locations.

This would be for the same reason we don't allow cigarette ads to be targeted at kids: Children are not knowledgeable enough to make health decisions.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Quantum leap

D-Wave will demonstrate the world's first commercial quantum computer on Tuesday (Feb 13) at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. If it works, that means it can solve some of the most difficult problems, called NP-complete problems, thousands of times faster than current supercomputers.

Initially, D-Wave (Vancouver, B.C.) will lease time on its quantum computer, which will be accessed over a secure Internet connection. Eventually, the company plans to sell quantum computer systems.

Being able to quickly solve NP-complete problems has enormous consequences. A fairly well-known NP-complete problem is the travelling salesman problem, which has real-world implications for logistics. NP-complete problems are present in such diverse fields as medicine, biology, computing, mathematics, and finance.

Of immediate concern is quantum computers' potential for cryptanalysis (codebreaking).
Specifically, a quantum computer could factor very large numbers in a fraction of the time needed by current computers. That BTW, is just what you need for cracking the RSA cipher and other widely-used ciphers that depend on one-way mathematical functions. Perhaps this will light a fire under quantum cryptography efforts.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Orang-hutang pt. 2

Some good news for taxpayers and other honest debtors. PTPTN higher education loan defaulters will now be on a blacklist to be supplied to banks and credit card companies, as reported by The Star.

Not that I'm trying to take credit for this, but this was exactly what I proposed in my Oct 26 posting.

The immediate effect of this move is, the deadbeats will now have a difficult time getting other loans, including car loans, credit cards, mortgages, etc. Hopefully this will put an end to the idea that these loans are "free money", or that paying debts is "optional".

Note: PTPTN stands for Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional, or the National Higher Education Loan Fund Corporation. It is run by the Public Service Dept (PSD), aka Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam (JPA).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Real alternative

An In.Tech reader needed to view some RealVideo files from the Internet but was hesitant to install RealPlayer because his friends had encountered problems with this software. He asks if there is a way to convert or play RealVideo/ RealMedia files without installing RealPlayer?

Here's my reply: You are right to be hesitant about RealPlayer from RealNetworks Inc. Previous versions of RealPlayer have been criticised for serving up ads, installing too many startup and background programs, and attempting to set itself as the default player for many other file formats, not just RealMedia ones.

None of us at In.Tech have installed RealPlayer, and we generally avoid viewing RealMedia files. We're not the only ones who feel that way; in a PC World story titled The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time (May 2006), RealPlayer was listed in the No. 2 position.

But if you absolutely need to play RealNetworks' file formats, consider Real Alternative instead of any product from RealNetworks.

Developed by a third party, Real Alternative allows you to play RealMedia files with Media Player Classic (a free program), without having to install RealPlayer or RealOne Player.

Real Alternative supports the RealAudio (.ra and .rpm), RealMedia/RealVideo (.rm, .ram, .rmvb, .rpx .smi, and .smil), RealText (.rt), and RealPix (.rp) formats.

It also supports RealMedia content that is embedded in webpages. However, certain RealMedia files like .smi and .smil files are not fully supported, so only the first part will usually be played. The developers say this is a limitation of the current version of Media Player Classic.

Real Alternative's RealMedia browser plugin supports Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox and Netscape.

Real Alternative
can be downloaded from http://snipurl.com/94ce while Media Player Classic can be found at http://sourceforge.net/projects/guliverkli.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Car owners getting a free ride

Some car owner over at The Star Citizen's Blog is of the opinion that motorcyclists are getting a free lunch, and should be forced to pay tolls and road tax.

As a user of both a motorbike and a car, I agree that there is "no such thing as a free lunch". But he or she has got it wrong about who is getting the free lunch. Cars consume a lot more petrol than motorcycles. This means the car owners receive the bulk of the government's petrol subsidy. As an example, I use my motorbike for about 2/3 of my travels these days. If I were to use my car full-time, my petrol costs would increase by 3 to 4 times.

Since I pay taxes, that means I am paying the petrol subsidy for some car owner who is using a lot more petrol than I am. What is worse is anyone who pays taxes - even a person who doesn't own a vehicle - is subsidising the petrol used by car owners.

Another thing to note is that cars cause most of the wear and tear on roads; motorbikes are far lighter than cars and only have two wheels. So car owners should rightfully bear the costs for roadworks - hence the road tax and tolls. So ask yourself, car owners, who is getting the free lunch?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Are you discrete, or discreet?

Consider the following sentences which have previously appeared in The Star:
"...dining room was plush without being overwhelming while the service was charming yet discrete."
"Xxx's two discrete rooms are the perfect place to entertain business guests for private functions."

In both cases, the intended word was probably discreet. Discrete means "constituting a separate entity : individually distinct", according to M-W. Just a tiny difference in spelling, yet they have completely different meanings. Unfortunately, your spellchecker won't flag this, because both are valid words. These would be examples of malapropisms.

IT-savvy users are most likely to encounter this word in a description such as
"discrete graphics", which refers to standalone graphics cards (usually using processors from nVidia or ATI). Even here, there's also confusion over the two words; if you google for "discreet graphics", you'll get 700+ hits.

Speaking of discrete graphics, it looks like Intel is going to enter this already competitive market. Interestingly, the company is the overall leader in PC graphics, by virtue of its built-in (integrated) graphics technology used on many motherboards. They carry names like "Intel Extreme Graphics 2" though most serious gamers would call them "graphics decelerators".

Monday, January 22, 2007

Andy Bhasin, spammer

Boy, is he a prolific spammer. He apparently works for some outfit called APIMD and he regularly sends out thousands of spam touting their training courses. It's not as if APIMD can deny anything; they've already sent out so much of the crap over the years.

I think they've managed to spam most, if not all e-mail accounts in Malaysia and Singapore. Just Google for apimd.com and you'll see various complaints about Andy/apimd, plus you can find their spam on mailing list archives, Usenet archives etc. Everyone I know has received apimd spam at one time or another.

Now, my spam filters normally weed out this apimd crap, but today one of them managed to slip thru. This was possibly because he spammed me with a Gmail account. I duly filed a complaint with Google. If you get spammed by Andy or anyone else via a Gmail account, you can complain here:


Anyway, here's the Whois info on the apimd.com domain.

Domain Name.......... apimd.com
Creation Date........ 2001-04-03
Registration Date.... 2001-04-03
Expiry Date.......... 2007-04-03
Organisation Name.... APIMD SEMINARS
Organisation Address. 20 Ayer Rajah Crescent #07-03
Organisation Address. Singapore
Organisation Address. 139964

Admin Name........... Andy Bhasin
Admin Address........ 20 Ayer Rajah Crescent #07-03
Admin Address........ 139964
Admin Address........ Singapore
Admin Email.......... apimd@magix.com.sg
Admin Phone.......... 65-4254203
Admin Fax............ 65-8975242

Tech Name............ Oliver Chiam
Tech Address......... #13-10 Tan Boon Liat Building
Tech Address......... 315 Outram Road
Tech Address......... Singapore

Complete info can be obtained via Whois.

I don't recommend you actually sending e-mail to anyone there though; they'd just add you to their spam list. If you're in Singapore, feel free to call them up and express your opinion about the spam you've received from them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hold Your Wee for a Wii

Sometimes the headlines write themselves.

A California woman died of water intoxication after taking part in a radio station's water-drinking contest to win a Nintendo Wii video game system. Participants competed to see how much water they could drink without going to the bathroom.

The contest was called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii", thus providing the greatest ready-made headline ever. All Google News listings here.

And yes, you can die from drinking too much water. The folks at Wikipedia have an up-to-date entry on water intoxication.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Beware of open and "free" proxies

With Internet access still quite crippled in Malaysia, I've noticed some postings on forums and some blogs about "free" web proxies located in other countries. These proxies are provided by ostensibly "generous" persons who want to "help" you surf the net.

Speaking from personal experience, setting up a secure and properly configured web proxy is not a trivial matter. In fact, I would only do so for users I know and trust. Other than the obvious bandwidth issues, proxy operators also need to worry about liability issues. For example, users may use the proxy to surf kiddy pr0n, spammers could use it to send out their unwanted mail, or hackers could use it to launch attacks.

Just to give you an idea the cost and effort needed to run a web proxy, one company charges US$24.95 a month for dial-up bandwidth (30-60kbps) and US$49.95 a month for broadband (100-900kbps) access to its proxies . With that in mind, you have to wonder why would anyone set up a free, open proxy that can be accessed by thousands, even millions of users?

As the proxy company noted:
If someone is offering a free proxy service, there is a catch somewhere. Considering the cost of bandwidth and machine maintenance, a free proxy service is simply not feasible.

The proxies that are listed likely to be malicious proxies, i.e. proxies set up by hackers to record, or worse, to alter traffic that passes thru them.
By design, a proxy sits between your browser and other websites, and this provides a perfect opportunity for conducting Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. If you have used these unknown proxies, I recommend you immediately change all your passwords and check activity/transaction logs for any accounts you accessed thru them.

In fact, most, if not all proxies on public lists and forums are:

1) Misconfigured proxies - the operater is not aware that the proxy is open to the rest of the world. Users are, in fact, stealing bandwidth.
2) Malicious proxies - these are set up by hackers to record everything sent to the proxy; this includes unencrypted logins and passwords.
3) Compromised proxies - If an operator does not know how to properly configure a proxy, there's a chance he may not know much about security either. Even if the operator has no malicious intent, the proxy may eventually be compromised by hackers and turned into a malicious proxy.

Wikipedia has some general info about proxy servers and also mentions malicious proxies:

A commercial provider of proxies details the risks of using open proxies:
The dangers of open proxy servers
OK, some of it is probably self-serving - this company sells proxy services - but there is still lot of useful information about open proxies that all users need to know.

Back to Wikipedia:
The bottom line is - be wary when using proxy servers, and only use proxy servers of known integrity (e.g., the owner is known and trusted, has a clear privacy policy, etc.), and never use proxy servers of unknown integrity. If there is no choice but to use unknown proxy servers, do not pass any private information (unless it is properly encrypted) through the proxy.