Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Crappy SingNet

I have switched over to Starhub Maxonline and called Singnet a moment ago to terminate my DSL line. You won’t believe the hoops I have to jump through just to do that. My first stop was the helpdesk at Singnet. I told the assistant that I wanted to terminate my broadband service and she said she can’t do that through the phone and directed me to a page on their website where I could submit a termination request. She then drops the bomb about the $40 fee for immediate termination. That was because I should give them one month notification before termination, she said. Hey singnet, in this age of the internet who on earth asked for 1 month notice? Do you really need one month to terminate my line or is that supposed to give me time to reconsider?!

Ok never mind that. I opt for immediate termination as I figured $40 is cheaper than my one month bill if I were to wait. I logged on to singnet website and tried several time to get to the termination page. I tried it on IE and on Firefox and nothing works. The page just refused to load. That got me wondering if all this is just to make termination difficult. Ok never mind that too. Let’s terminate the phone line first since with the broadband gone, I will no longer require the phone line. I called SingTel this time and similarly requested for termination of my line. The experience is better this time around. At least there was no shocking news. And then I requested to be transfer to Singnet to terminate my broadband. I was just trying my luck in case I get a new assistant who will be willing to help me do that through the phone.

The transfer went through and I spoke to a new assistant who confirmed the termination of my phone line and then she did something really stupid. She asked me if I would want to terminate my broadband immediately! Well well, let’s see; I have just terminated my phone line that was used for my broadband and she is asking me if I would like to keep the broadband for one more month?!

Determined to get this over with, I swept aside the silly question and asked her to terminate the broadband service NOW. She muttered something about $40 and I said sure and that was it. So that just proved that it can be done through the phone and the first assistant was basically giving me the run around. I don’t understand why they must make termination of service such a hassle. Making it hard for consumers to do that will just ensure that they are not the only one that will switch. Now I will make sure that everyone around me know about singnet’s poor service and will discourage anyone to sign up with them. In fact I will get all my friends to switch to starhub. And if they have to go through the same hoops just to switch, they may spread the word further and get their families and friends to switch as well. Bad publicity is just gonna spread fast and it will come back to kick singnet in the butt.

Now, about the $40 fee for “immediate” termination, I just wonder what will happen if I refuse to pay. Are they gonna cut my already non-existent line? Hmm… and it looks like I am not the only one complaining about Singnet. CLICK here to read what others say.

Monday, September 11, 2006

TV Boy

Yet another boring train ride. This is one of the rare occasion I have to go without my trusty thinkpad. But thank God, I still have my O2 Mini and that means I could draw.TVBoy first started in february when one of my friends told me that we shouldn't have TV in the room or infact shouldn't have shiny reflective surfaces directed at us when we sleep. And this led to a discussion of how "things" might suddenly start to crawl out from the tv to grab you in the middle of the nite. I just find the whole notion ridiculous and funny. So I started drawing TVBoy as a way to poke fun at such urban legends. TVboy is a nerdy, dorky superhero. He is actually like astroboy but the creator ran out of parts for the head and used an old tv as a stop gap measure. But the creator soon died of a freak accident and TVboy became permanently stuck with a ..er..tv. So how is he a super hero? Well, you see, he has the ability to project whatever is on tv into real life. These are not holographic projection but the real thing. At first I thought of making them just projections but hey if you can have a robot boy running around with a tv for a head, why not push reality further by making these projections real!? Ok they cant be real for a long time. I think I needed to give these outta-the-box creatures a short lifespan so that they can only be useful for a short while and then they just disappear. I am still working on some details but it should be a fun character and comic series.

Machinima Test

For those who don't know what machinima is, it is virtual film making using in-game engines. Games like The Sims, allow you to manipulate game characters so that you can line them up for scenes. You can even instruct them to do certain actions suitable for your script. It is like a mix of puppeteering and video editing. But with games like The Movies, you can allow the AI to take over. It will come up with a suitable script and even “film” a version of it. The fun part is when you go into the advanced movie making mode to fine tune the script and actions. The game even output the movie to a friendly wmv file.

The Movie is really tailored made for machinima. Besides advanced scripting, you can also do some simple post production work like video edit and voice over. You can even mod your characters if you do not like the generic characters provided you in the game. This is really amazing and fun to play with. Even without much experience and technical skills, one can create a relatively simple machinima in less than an hour.

I have been experimenting with machinima using games like Quake4 and The Sims 2 but nothing comes close to the ease of use of The Movies. You can click on the picture above to view my first attempt using that game.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

World Press Photo 2006

Founded in 1955, the World Press Photo set out to encourage high professional standards in photojournalism through creating greater visibility for press photography through various publications and public exhibitions.

If you are a photography hobbist, here's the good news for you. The World Press Photo is stopping by Singapore between 8 to the 28 of September for an  exhibition at the national library. The exhibits are on the 7 and 8 floor. It opens daily from 10am to 9pm and is open to the public.

Unreasonable clients and workflow

In my line of work, unreasonable clients are common. Most of them do not understand the work flow of a design job and treat it as if they are buying appliances. Here are the differences:

1) design work progresses in stages. Usually there is a conceptualization stage, a production stage where there will be several rounds of drafts and then a final output stage. Occassionally there will be a grace period after the final where some last minute fit and finish amendments will be done.

2) client's input is crucial throughout development. This is not an option. Clients must know that they are needed to review, approve and sign off stages before the designer can proceed. Proceeding further without consent or proper review is simply put, suicidal. This is the point where most clients (the nasty ones that is) are ignorant off. Do not commision a project and let the designer do his thing. This is not a time to test self-motivation or initiative. This is the time to give as much input as possible so that your ideas and requirements are sufficiently communicated and understood.

3) Unlike buying an appliance, design schedule is very fluid. This is not to say that there is no fixed timeline. On the contrary, a timeline is vital and very useful in the development of a design. However, leeway must be given. However anal you are about schedule, you must understand that this is afterall a creative process and sometimes more time is needed. I have enough experience to know where to draw the line between being a artsy perfectionist and a commercial designer. I will not drag a deadline farther unless absolutely necessary to ensure certain standard and quality.

If you use alot of freelance designers or engage design firms to do your work, you will do well to bear this 3 points in mind. Always treat a design project as a collaborative effort and not like an off-the-shelves purchase. I realize I do my best work with understanding, appreciative and supportive clients. I know this sounds like a cliche but this is a formula for a win-win partnership.

HDTV it is

After looking around electronic stores islandwide, I have decided on a 32" HDTV from Sharp. It has the best picture quality at the price range. Similarly priced HDTVs are from a brand called Palladine. I was initially interested to get that but I kept getting conflicting information regarding its make and quality. So in the end I chose Sharp for its quality Japanese LCD and workmanship. There is a trade off of course. And that is in the resolution department. The Palladine has a higher resolution compared to the Sharp. However when placed side by side, the Sharp does have a clearer and brighter display than the other.

I will write more about the new TV once it arrives.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

HDTV or SDTV?

It is a sad day for me. I came home to find my beloved 30" TV dead. And this is when my new Xbox360 is coming in next week! What awful timing. Efforts to revive the ancient tv proved useless and I had to pronounced it utterly and irreparably dead.

So now the next step is to go look for a new tv, and what a head splitting task that is! So many questions whirl through my mind and I could hardly breathe. What is HDTV? Is it really worth it to get a HD-ready tv? What is HDMI? What is DTV? Is it the same as HD? Will it really look much better than SDTV? Will it work with my new xbox?Why are they so damn expensive!!?

Too much uncertainities...I need to go sit down and do some more research. If any of you have any experience with new tvs, do feel free to comment.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Apple Hack Revealed

If you have been following the saga going on in the mac blogger community lately you may know that a couple of hackers, Jon Ellch and Dave Maynor suffered loads of personal attacks from mac bloggers (more accurately mac fanboys) after they publicly demoed a way to hack a macbook through a wifi exploit at DEFCON.

Shortly after the demo, they went silent, thus inviting speculation that the entire demo might be a hoax. The mac bloggers geared up in arms to flame them and tried to destroy their credibility. Yesterday, Ellch finally broke the silence in an email. He explains their silence since the demo in his email by saying:

Secureworks absolutely insists on being exceedingly responsible and doesn't want to release any details about anything until Apple issues a patch. Whether or not this position was taken after a special ops team of lawyers parachuted in out of a black helicopter is up for speculation.

He then continue to explain that while the debate started in the mac blogger community, it made no sense to reply to their flames and accusations because most of them would not have understood the technical reasons anyway. He adds:

Responding to mac bloggers isn't my idea of a good time. Nothing I could say would ever convince them. This isn't even a personal attack against them; it's that they lack the technical skills required to understand this problem. In short, anyone qualified to sit and discuss the look and feel of changes of Mail.app probably has no idea what ring0 code execution means. This is blatantly evident across all these mac blogs.

He then gave examples of some of the flames he received where the ignorance of some of the mac bloggers are evident.

Then why did he decide to finally break his silence? He explains that since the debate has now reached a community of tech savvy people, it is time to give more details to show that the hack was no hoax.

So what this saga shows is that the views and attacks from the mac bloggers stem from their blind faith in the marketing hype from Apple rather than anything technical. When asked if Apple is trying to silence him, Ellch replied:

Let's just say its pretty obvious I'm not happy about being silent. So much so that i'm releasing non-apple bugs to convince people that we do in fact know what we're talking about.

Intel has since patched the wifi vulnerability. Apple, on the other hand, remains quiet and maybe in denial. If you have a mac and you use it regularly at public wifi hotspots, you may be vulnerable to hacks. If you feel uncomfortable about that you may want to switch off your wifi or pressure Apple into releasing a patch and give mac users an account on this exploit.

Read Ellch’s email HERE.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Terror scare at Cityhall

I walked pass Cityhall MRT station, on my way to Funan today. I saw an area of the station near the control room cordoned off and some 15 police officers securing the area. With all the security exercises nowadays, commuters hardly bat an eyelid or stop to check out the scene. I noticed a brown briefcase on top of some charity box but did not think much of it until much later when I saw the news. Though it turned out to be a false alarm, it does beg one to question why anyone would leave a briefcase in such a prominent place. Could someone have actually forgotten to take the briefcase with him? How could anyone forget something as big as a brown leather briefcase and why didn’t he return to pick it up? Could this be a test of our response time or was it just a silly mistake?

How To Charge Your Client

Have you ever wonder what is the appropriate amount to charge for your services? How much are you worth? Should I charge on a daily rate, hourly rate or per project? All these are valid questions that designers like me always ask. Look, even Picaso had to suffer the same dilemma;

Legend has it that Pablo Picasso was sketching in the park when a bold woman approached him.

"It's you -- Picasso, the great artist! Oh, you must sketch my portrait! I insist."

So Picasso agreed to sketch her. After studying her for a moment, he used a single pencil stroke to create her portrait. He handed the women his work of art.

"It's perfect!" she gushed. "You managed to capture my essence with one stroke, in one moment. Thank you! How much do I owe you?"

"Five thousand dollars," the artist replied.

"B-b-but, what?" the woman sputtered. "How could you want so much money for this picture? It only took you a second to draw it!"

To which Picasso responded, "Madame, it took me my entire life."

There are really no industry standards but I find the suggestions at 1099.com rather useful. Remember that these are just guidelines and you are advise to use your own judgement to decide what is fair for you and your clients. At the end of the day, it is not just how fast you can complete a project but the quality, the amount of time you need to work on it and the years of experiences you bring with you that ultimately determine the value of a project. Don't sell yourself short.

Singapore Businesses still don't Get It

This is one good example why our Prime Minister has to plead with our home-grown businesses to wake up and embrace new technology. Heck, some of these stuff are not even new. They have been around for the past decade and yet we see a sluggish momentum to pick them up.

So right now I am looking the popular camera shop called John 3:16. It is popular because almost every local photographers have been to it and have spoken with the very friendly staff. The prices are reasonable and the after sales service is excellent. All these sound great but what good is it if you cant find them both online and physically? Yes, it is not a joke! I couldn’t locate them at Funan! You see they don’t have a website and Funan’s directory is uselessly outdated. Who on earth will start a business and not have a website you ask? Apparently a lot of businesses today, be it new start-ups or old SMEs are still clueless about the importance of a website. In this instance, John 3:16 missed a perfectly good opportunity to impress me with their promotions and testimonials. Yes I have heard of them many times but it would have been nice if they have a website to showcase all these feedback and give me a rough guide to their services and product stock-up. Maybe they have a small page somewhere with some photography club but again what good is it if I can’t find it. A quick search on google produces nothing but some random comments about John 3:16. Some of the comments are good, some gave addresses (outdated ) and some gave telephone numbers (outdated as well). This doesn’t reflect very well on them. And I hope other businesses will learn from this and start to pay more attend to the messages they are sending out via their web presence or the lack thereof. Remember that as a business, you would want to control the messages that your clients are receiving and if you think that is not important and you can leave it to some forum users, then I am afraid you will lose lots of business opportunities and eventually you will fade into oblivion.

Singapore Idol is About Idols

Why are Singaporeans making such a big fuss over the lack of talents in Singapore Idols? SI is about who can capture the hearts and minds of the population. It is not solely about talents or who has a better voice or who can hold a tune better. Yes these are useful traits to have if you are an unknown trying to attract the people’s attention but these may not be the only way to get noticed. Take Paul Twohilll for example; he doesn’t really impress with his voice or his technique but truth be told, he is the most interesting character of the bunch and I think that is vital for a contest like SI. If there are no talents in Singapore or rather, if we are all equally untalented, then the more interesting looking or behaving characters amongst us will shine. It is that simple. Once again it is the Singapore Idol, not the Singapore Singer or Talent. So let’s stop complaining and get on with our lives.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Crocodile Man, Steve Irwin is Dead

The hyperactive Aussie TV icon was killed today in a freak accident. What a shame.

THE Crocodile Man, Steve Irwin, is dead. He was killed in a freak accident in Cairns, police sources said. It appeared that he was killed by a sting-ray barb that went through his chest, Queensland Police Inspector Russell Rhodes said.

He was swimming off the Low Isles at Port Douglas filming an underwater documentary and that’s when it occurred.

Ambulance officers confirmed they attended a reef fatality this morning at Batt Reef off Port Douglas.

Mr Irwin was killed just after 11am, Eastern Australian time.

It is understood he was killed instantly.A source said Mr Irwin was already dead when his body was brought onto the Isle.

A source said Mr Irwin’s body was being airlifted to Cairns Hospital in North Queensland for formal identification. An Emergency Services Response Management spokeswoman said they received a call about the tragedy at 11.11 am, Australian Eastern Standard Time.

The response unit left in a helicopter for the Batt Reef at 11.18am and arrived shortly after.

Mr Irwin was pronounced dead at the scene immediately, the spokeswoman said.

Night Shot

Took this shot at Lornie Road, just outside MediaCorp. I seldom try long exposure because I don't usually carry my tripod with me and when opportunities strike, I am left with using whatever was around at the time to support my camera. I took this on the overhead bridge. Singapore bridges are usually decorated with plants and it is quite hard to get a clear shot but it so happened that there was a bald spot on this particular bridge and it was directly above the road.

Cat Show at the Expo

There was another show at the expo besides COMEX. The annual cat show was at Hall 1 of the Expo. Like previous years, you see lotsa people bringing their cats there for the contest and this year you see many more breeds. SPCA was there as well to promote their "adopt a cat" campaign. At the front of the show floor you would see cages of strays and abandoned cats up for adoption. These cats appeared to be friendlier and more affectionate than those from the contestants. But that could be because the SPCA cats were mostly kittens and are invariably more playful and active than the older cats. Unlike previous years, there was an admittance fee of $3. Though it wasn't expensive but it did used to be free. You can't beat free. More photos here.

IE7 is here to stay

After installing RC1 of IE7, I am glad to announce that IE has replaced Firefox as my default web browser. Unlike previous releases, RC1 is more robust and responsive. Application and pages load much quicker and overall you see more fit and finish than before. It is a worthy install if you haven’t tried the new Internet explorer. Firefox has always been a stop-gap measure for me anyway. IE has always been integrated into the OS and that makes things easier. I really do not like to run multiple browsers on my computer. For me, if I can just stick to one browser, I will be happy and for the longest time that wasn’t possible because as secure as firefox may be, it still can’t render pages accurately. Furthermore, some of the sites I frequent use only IE and for situations like these, I have to switch to IE. Like I said, I hate having more than one browser running. So now with the newly improved IE7, I am able to once again rely on just one browser. It will have all my RSS feeds, all my favorites and I don’t have to worry about syncing my bookmarks and favorites anymore. Firefox, it has been nice knowing you.

President Charity 2006

Celebrities and artistes got together this evening to raise funds for the President’s Charity. I was there to support a friend who was performing. Variety shows are always more fun live than on TV and I enjoyed this one. Among the celebrities are singers like Stephanie Sun, Dick Lee, and the winners of local “idol” contests. Security was tight as usual but there was a slight snafu over seating arrangements. One lady at the reception counter made a mistake and resulted in chaos in the auditorium where duplicate seat numbers caused much confusion. I am not sure if it was related to the seating errors, but during the first commercial break, guests in the area I was seated, were asked to shift to another section. I wouldn’t have mind the shift if not for the fact that lady who asked us to move was pretty rude to us. I am not sure who she is but from the way she was giving orders to the assistants and directing the President’s contingent, I would guess she must be quiet high up the hierarchy. But there is no excuse for being rude. If I have known her name, I would have written in to complain.

I particularly enjoyed Dick Lee’s rendition of “Home”. Having seen him perform, I now know why he is so hot in Japan and why he was chosen as one of the judges in the Singapore Idol. There was a comical moment during one of the commercial breaks when he was testing his microphone. He tapped his mic and said “President Nathan, President Nathan, can you hear me?”. The stage manager must have felt uncomfortable as they swiftly cut his mic and he looked like a boy whose toy was just confiscated. These are the kind of funny things home audiences don’t get see.

And I also discovered that Gurmit Singh was less annoying live than on TV. He was really spontaneous and genuinely funny. On TV he was just plain annoying. Maybe when you see him live, you get to him improvising even when the camera was not trained on him. His comical act continued off screen when he interacts with his co-stars.

Stephanie Sun was a hot favorite with the fans. Even before we saw her on stage, you could already hear her fans screaming and shouting her name. It is all nice and warm to see this kind of support but sometimes I think the fans went abit too far. For example, during a song by one of the artiste (can’t remember her name),and while the crew was setting up the props for the next performer, the fans spotted their idol and started screaming. And this was during a live performance. It drowned out what the poor artiste was singing. To the home audience who won’t be able to see the set up and the next performer, you would have thought that the cheers and applause was for the artiste.

On the whole, I enjoyed myself. The lights were too bright for my liking and the seats were too cramp but the performances were entertaining and that made me forget about these discomforts at least until the next commercial breaks.

See the rest of the photos here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Why Copy Protection is Bad

As a content creator I know the importance of copy protection. But sometimes it frustrates legitimate users so much that it makes me wonder whether it is worthwhile just to stop some pirates. One good example is this game (I will leave the title out) I am playing now. I have the original DVD and I played it on my x60. Now, the x60 is an ultraportable and as such it doesn’t have a built-in drive. The reason for an ultraportable is so that you can travel light and so I don’t normally bring along my external drive. But the game developers went ahead and decide that as a form of copy protection, they want the DVD to be in the drive before you can play the game. That just means that folks who are thinking of playing that game on their ultraportables will be out of luck. Why do I need to have a cd/dvd to be in my drive before I can play the game? Isn’t the product code good enough as a deterrent to piracy. Come on let’s face it. Pirates have been cracking product codes and coming out with no-dvd cracks for the longest time. We know that if they are determined to crack it, there is no way to stop them. Whatever additional measures game developers take will only frustrate the legitimate users; folks who spend good money to buy your products and who have to go through hoops just to enjoy their purchases.

And in case you think that people who play games on their driveless ultraportables are rare, let me just say that the numbers of ultraportables sold are rising expotentially. But that is not the point. The point is, regardless of the device you are using, why should legitimate consumers be inconvenienced by redundant and often useless copy protection measures when they are the one paying real money?

Because of this incident with the game, I had to look for a nodvd crack online. That is plain ironic. And I believe I am not the only one forced to go look for hacks and cracks just so that we can play the games we bought. Many pirates used to be legitimate consumers. They were frustrated by such arcane practices that they went looking for ways around it. And thus exposes them to the dark communities. And once you know that you are better of downloading illegally than to be inconvenienced by legally purchased goods, it is really hard to turn back. So dear content creators, please don’t make it so difficult to use your product. I am not saying that you remove all copy protection. All I am saying is that you think of your fans and supporters and stop making us feel like criminals and thieves.

Introducing the Creative Zen V Plus

I got distracted again. I was looking for cameras at Comex 2006 when I saw the Zen V Plus at the Creative booth. I have been waiting for this one for quite a while. I must have visited all the Creative stores on the island and all of them gave me the estimate launch date as sometime mid september. I knew I will get it the first time it is available but didn'y expect it to be so soon.

Actually I prefer the black and orange color scheme but they don't have that for the 2Gb version. My love for anything black made it obvious which one to choose between the 2 color schemes (black with green or white with green) they have for the 2Gb version.

As you can see from the photo, the zen v plus is very small. Personally I think the zen v series is more "poddy" than the ipod and the ipod nano more "zen" than the creative zen. The two companies should just swap product names! Jokes aside,  the zen v has a gorgeous OLED screen. It is bright and vibrant and makes photo viewing a joy. There were several occasions where I mistook a dummy unit for a real one and vice versa just because the screen looks so "organic" that it is easy to think that it is just a piece of printed paper stuck onto the screen.

Sound quality is superb with a list of preset settings to choose from. Alternatively you can set your own custom settings using the built-in equalizer. The FM radio, video and photo are great features to have especially on long trips. Although the video feature is abit gimicky it is actually quite useful when viewing short MTVs.

The build qualiy is generally solid with the buttons being alittle plasticky. I do like the dedicated volume alot though. Creative marketing posters and collaterals show the zen's "wheel" portion lit up and glowing but in reality, only the 2 big buttons glow. For me this is a minor thing but if I were into stuff like that, I might blame creative for deceptive advertising.

Overall, I like this player for its diminutive size, ease of use and sound quality. If you are looking for a mp3 player today, there is no better choice than the zen v plus. Stop following the crowd and forget about the ipod. Everyone else is using one. It is time to be unique and follow your own style.

You can view the unpackaging of the zen v plus here.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Comex 2006

  This year's consumer electronic exhibition is held at the Singapore Expo. It starts today and ends on Sunday. Initially I thought if I go there early this time, I wont get caught up in the crowd and get just swept away by the torrent of human traffic. But I guess everyone was thinking the same thing and sadly history repeats itself. If you are headed there over the weekends, remember to travel light. At some area of the expo, people are packed shoulders to shoulders. And parents please I implore you, please do not bring your kids or your prams. You will just add to the jam and noone will be happy especially your kids.

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, my mission this time is to look for all the new cameras. Things to look out for are the pentax k100d, the canon eos 400d, the sony alpha and the nikon d80. The good news is that they are all out and available. For the canon fans, there is an even better news; the canon eos 400d is only going for S$1669. The kit comes with a 18-55mm lens, 2x1gb CF cards, camera bag and some other accessories. From what I have heard, that is the special price for comex.

The higher end nikon d80 was a delight to use. I was trying it out and  it felt just right in my hands. Better weight balance and response when compared to the canon. But that's just my opinion. The picture on the left shows a lucky chap trying and walking away with one. I hope it wasn't an impulse buy because that piece of technology is not cheap. At S$2285, it is easily $600 more than the canon. I will be going back to try some test shots soon.

The pentax k100d is the cheapest of the lot. At S$1225 (there about), it is obviously aimed at the price sensitive crowd. It is not a bad camera but I think in terms of specs, it was designed more as a beginner camera than one for serious users. The kit also comes with a 18-55mm lens. I believe there is a 1Gb card thrown into the mix.

I have tried the sony alpha on other occassions. It is not a bad first attempt by sony, but this camera is kinda loud. I not sure about you but I find the shutter clicks very loud. Besides that its performance is good and almost on par with alot of its competitors at that price range. Of note is its Dynamic Range Otimizer that allows you to take properly exposed shots even when your subject is in the shade. It is akin to having photoshop levels features hardcoded into a camera. The results are impressive. Sadly I do not have a photo to show as the exhibitors were rude and refused me to take photos.

Besides the cameras, you will also see that creative's highly anticpated zen v plus and neeon 2 debuting with lotsa support from its fans. The queues are long and there were lot of people buying. I was there early and managed to get a 2 gb zen v plus at a special price. There will be a review shortly.

Unfortunately Asus' new tablet PC R1F wont be making a debute at  the comex but will be launched later this year instead. The 2 most anticipated Tablets (the other being the Thinkpad x61) seem to be heading for a face-off later this November.

That is it for now. More reviews to come shortly. Meanwhile the rest of the photos are here.

Newsletters for school

This is probably gonna be the last newsletter I am gonna do for schools. The first thing I hate is the attitude of the school staffs. This is like a chore to them. Of course, very few people would volunteer to be put in charge of collecting all the write-up and photos from the rest of the teachers so usually the teachers-in-charge are assigned. And you can really see the relunctance in their eyes. They try to push responsibilities every opportunity they have and cooperation is virtually non-existent.

In my initial meeting with them, everyone flipped out their organizers and you get this game to see who can shout out some dates first. The dates they shouted out will be the dates when they won't be "free" so whoever shout out last will have to be responsible for the handing over of the project. It was a sad sight. I mean, these are teachers who are supposed to be moulding our future generations? No way!

And then comes the photos and materials that they want included in the newsletter. This is a print newsletters and they passed me photos in Word documents. Are these photos for the newsletters or are these just references to the high res. photos you are sending me later? Sadly the answer was "what high res. photos?" So I guess that's it; I am to use those pictures they embedded inside Word. And because the write-ups were submitted by different teachers, you get them in separate Word documents. It was such an hassle to track down the photos and articles for the sections. Suffice to say that it was a huge mess. The project is ongoing so more rants to come.

The Perry Bible Fellowship

Don't be mistaken, this ain't no Bible Fellowship. If you click on the link thinking you could get some spiritual guidance, you will be left flabbergasted. Ok this isn't some adult trash but some of the comics here might offend. So consider yourself warned.

Now that the disclaimer is outta the way, I must say this is a very funny site. Not the weird funny but the HAHA-collapse-on-the-floor-and-roll-around kinda funny. Some of the comics are so warped and surreal that it actually makes you think. I love it! The site updates every sunday. When asked why the site is named as such, the creator compared it with Madonna. We all know Madonna(the singer) is no Madonna so who cares. Err right. Via Drawn.ca

Rotten Apple

Apple Computer is well known for its industrial design and marketing finesse but something appears to be going wrong with their quality control. If you have been following the recent series of exploding batteries incidents, you would have heard that Apple has initiated a massive recall of its batteries. It started off with a Dell exploding during a conference in Japan. It was filmed on a cameraphone and subsequently circulated online. Many mac fanatics came out to ridicule Dell and PC in general as crappy and dangerous. But they were silenced almost immediately when news came out that the mac was suffering from the same “crappy” QC as well. It was so quiet from the mac camp that you can almost hear the infamous whining from the macbook pro a block away.

The truth of the matter is that Apple’s QC has been sliding drastically. I have heard so many complaints from friends that I start to wonder why there is no class action suit against the fruity company. Just this week alone, we have a couple of high-profile complaints. One of them was from ZDNet Australia. It seems that their editorial team has been having an incredible series of bad luck with their macbook pros . There are photos of warped macbook and bulging batteries on their site. Then there was the editor of Mobility Today who was so pissed with his mac that he has written an openletter to Steve. You can read the letter here. And from Gizmodo;

The problems started soon after the purchase, where Ciccone noticed whining noises emanating from his laptop, accompanied by extremely hot temperatures. Two unsuccessful repair attempts later, Apple replaced the MacBook with a new unit. Bringing that home, Ciccone noticed there was still a whining noise but used a plug-in to make that go away, only to find three weeks later there was a loud mooing noise coming out of the machine. Then the MagSafe connector began fraying from the heat, and at about the same time Apple recalled the unit's defective battery. Next he noticed severe warping in the battery slot area, causing the battery to wiggle. Now he's getting some sort of flaking problem.

At the end of his rope, Ciccone called Apple Executive Relations, asking for either a new MacBook Pro or a refund. The response: "It's to our discretion if we want to replace it and this is not an option for you." Now he's taken matters to the top, writing an open letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Six different service issues on two different MacBook pros? Something's fishy here. Is Ciccone alone? Is everyone having these types of problems? What's happening here?

So indeed what is happening here? If the company can’t produce a decent computer and provide decent after sales support, it is time we boycott them. I am sick of all this double standard when it comes to Apple. How can we put up with such crap from the company and then turn around and condemn dell or microsoft. So what if they make nice looking products and has a charismatic pompous tech icon as their salesman. As a paying customer, I demand at least a working product and no nonsense support when that product fail to perform as advertised.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Some Vista Screenshots

This is the desktop that will greet you when you log in. There are a few high quality wallpapers to choose from. Overall the feel is polish and responsive. If you have a new graphic card, you will be able to see the full UI effects.

This is the revamped start menu. No longer do you see cascading menus filling the entire screen. Instead you get a neat expandable list that shows all installed apps. You can search from your start menu as well.

The side bar is where you park your gadgets. This gadgets are small programs that do specific task like weather forecast, calendar and stickies. You can drag your gadgets around and even plant them on your desktop. There are new gadgets you can install from Windows Live Gallery.


My Computer in XP has been renamed to simply Computer. Besides the name change, you will also see a clearer, color coded detailed view of your hard disk and drives in your computer.

The control panel looks the same but now includes neater and clearer organization of items and tasks. Of course you can always switch back to traditional list view if this is all too confusing for you.

This is the new photo gallery in Vista. It is fast and has a respectable list of features to help with photo edits. Will I switch from picasa? Maybe not. I still like Picasa and allows for easy upload of photos to the web.

Now we get a full fledged calendaring application in Windows. Together with Windows Mail, it helps to make Windows more usable out of the box.


Media Center has a new funky splash screen. It is similar to the Vista splash screen during bootup. There have been complaints about the forced startup sound but if Media Centre is any indication, it will be a pleasant one.

The new task manager gives more info than before. It gives you a clearer view of all your processes and more control if any program locked up and threaten to crash your system.

I have started installing applications and so far it has been good news. There are some minor apps that show compatibility issues but nothing that the compatibility mode cant solve. There are no major driver issues except for my creative audigy 2 card. A quick check online and a download later, the problem is solved and everything is working well. More updates in the future.

4x6 Artwork

Who say artists are weird and anti social. Jeremy Adolphson shows us that they are more accomodating than we think. In 1999, he started sending 4x6" postcards to some of his favorite artists. The cards were sent with a stamped return envelope and a request to draw him a picture. What he has in return after all these years is a huge collection of their amazing work.

From 4x6-art.com; I was brought up at an early age reading comic books, as I grew older, I eventually found myself standing among thousands of people at the Rosemont Convention Center for Wizard World 1999. The cramped passageways, loud noises, and individuals from all over the world was my first encounter with a comic book convention. I saw fans handing out sketchbooks to artists and purchasing commissions for them to scribble something , an original work, for their collection. This intrigued me, that someone would take time out their schedule and actually draw something specifically for you. Something like this was much more personal than say an autograph or even purchasing artwork that has been published before. After the show ended, my desire to collect artwork continued to soar. While comic book conventions usually only occur once a year in a given city, it would become too costly to travel across the nation acquiring art. I needed to find a way to continue this throughout the year and to make it efficient to do this through the mail. There would be too great a risk to send out a sketchbook through the mail for fear of it becoming lost. I remembered seeing postcards with First Day stamps whereby syndicated cartoonists would autograph it along with putting a doodle of their most known character on it, then mailing it back to the person. So, I drew from this, along with my grandfather’s movie star autograph collection on index cards, and decided to mail a card along with the return postage to some illustrators to see if I received anything back... via boingboing.com

The Vista Experience

Microsoft is giving the first 100,000 people a free download of Vista pre-RC1. You can try your luck here. I have downloaded and installed it. I am pleasantly surprised by the polish and stability of this build. Even though my graphic card cant run Glass, Vista is polished enough to be smooth and responsive. I have yet to go through the rest of the features but will try them out soon.

Banning IM

I know some of my friends work in offices that block live messenger. The reasons are always about productivity and security. But some of these companies are just plain clueless. They would block live messenger and allow googletalk or block yahoo messenger but let slip web messenger. So are these reasons they gave reasonable? Do they really understand the technology and possibilities that come with it? Or are they just paranoid and fail to embrace new technologies?
Let’s take a look at productivity. First and foremost I want to say that I hate those conversations with a lot of parties involved. Everyone will be typing at the same time and if they all use the same fonts, you will have a headache trying to figure out who is who and what they were talking about. That is counterproductive and very frustrating. Having said that, I must say that my colleagues and I do use three-way conversations on live messenger. It is tolerable and even effective because we don’t just all start hacking the keyboard but we listen more than talk and try to get to the point the quickest possible. We keep our conversation short and sharp. I understand why companies would want to ban instant messaging all together. There is of course the tendency to chat with your buddies and neglect your work but hey there are lots more ways you can get distracted at work. How about surfing the web, music, youtube, a sexy colleague and yeah, email! There are reports that blame email as the single most distracting thing in the office. Some people just use outlook the entire day! I am not kidding. I have seen people replying or writing email and that basically is their job. So I don’t buy the distraction reason. In fact I think the pro of using IM outweighs the con. I use IM to transfer files quickly to my coworkers and friends. We usually just use it as a human-google system where you can quickly look up some facts without having to search the web. That is valuable reason enough to use IM. For the bosses, think about this; instead of hiring just one guy, you are getting the entire network of friends and resources that will help you get information faster and get work done more efficiently. What about just using email to relay information, you might ask. Email is too slow in today’s fast-paced work environment. I have been in companies where coworkers would write enquiry emails to one another and wait for reply before proceeding with projects. That is just dumb. Of course you would argue that companies need a record of emails and transaction but you can already do that with IM. And really, who cares about all those emails that coworkers send to one another?

Now let’s look at security. This is a even more ridiculous reason than productivity. Security experts will tell you that as long as you are physically infront of a system, your system is vulnerable. Security software and protocol may be able to stop an intruder from the outside but once they are seated right in front of it, no amount of security is going to be effective if he is determined to crack it. So what if IM is blocked in an office? Employee can still use email to send out files. They can even copy files onto their thumbdrives and ipod and whatever tiny little usb storage we have on the market today. And if you have wifi in your company, you have another hole where precious data can leak. And then of course we have the camera phone. You can bring them anywhere and record anything. There are so many things to worry about other than IM. Yet companies would clam it down, blindly citing security as a reason.

Any form of technology can be abused. We have to be wise enough to learn its use and stop having these knee-jerk reaction to anything new. Even traditionally conservative Singapore wants its people to embrace new technology, how much more so should businesses learn to let go of their paranoia and welcome a new way of working and communication.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Collection of Holga Pix

Charmaine has a nice collection of photos taken with her lomo camera. You can view them here. You may have noticed some of my own "holga-fied" photos in my collections but those were done post production using photoshop. Of course the "purist" like Charmaine will complain most vehemently over the use of "artificial" means to create a photo but truth be told, all forms of photography is "artificial". Think about it for a minute; even in a traditional analog camera, the kind of lens, filter and chemical will have an additional effect on reality. That to me is no different from using digital filter and digital processes to alter the image's saturation or color mix. But having said that, creating those effets in an analog camera do require skill and patience but does speed or the lack thereof means that it is more authentic? Not really. It just means that the old way of "alteration" requires more skills on the camera and the new way of digital alteration requires more skill on the computer. What ever skill it is, they are both admirable and has nothing to do with authencity.

However, if you were to say that analog camera produces picture of a certain quality and warmth, then I will have to agree. There is infact a difference in quality; subtle but it is there. If your decision to stick to analog camera is because of the latter reason and not the former, then stick with it. It is, in my opinion, worth sacrificing convenience of digital photography for a liitle of that quality and old charm warmth. But lazy me only go for convenience I am afraid. There is nothing like the luxury of continously snapping around knowing that you still have, say another 500 more shots to go. Or the luxury of immediately viewing your work and uploading it online. And if you are in the design industry, there is no other joy than to use your freshly shot pictures in your design work. Instant, on-demand art. I like!

Buy Windows Vista and get a free PC

Well not really but at $450 USD (S$ 750), Microsoft should really consider bundling it with a free PC. What is even more ridiculous is that in Singapore you can build a pc with LCD display for that price.I really like Vista. I think it is a big upgrade for windows users and some of the features are really innovative and useful but are these enough to justify the price tag? I don't think so. I guess if the numbers are correct, we will see alot of people migrating to the mac. Today you can get a macbook for S$1400. And that is with OSX and iLife suite of applications. How can anyone justify getting Vista if it means paying an exorbitant sum and possibly hardware upgrades so that Vista can run properly? We will be better of getting a mac which can run xp and vista anyday. This is really sad.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Wishlist for the Zune

If you haven't already heard, Zune is the mp3 player from Microsoft. It will be available next month at $299 (USD) with a 30Gb storage capacity. There has been many speculations on the actual specs of the device but so far only a handful of things are certain; it will have a larger screen than the ipod, it has FM, WIFI, video and picture capabilities, physically it is a tad bigger than the ipod (non-video) and it will come in an assortment of colors. Oh and this just in; Toshiba will be the official manufacturer. So do I think it will dethrone the current market leader? I think it will in the long run. The first salvo will be for the enthusiasts market. Thats where the wifi connectivity comes in. It will allow users to share and transfer files from one Zune to the other wirelessly. I am not sure how the DRM works in this case but I must admit it is really interesting and compelling. I dont really care much about sharing songs with friends but the possibility of being able to transfer files to my zune from my laptop wirelessly makes it an excellent external storage device. So what is on my wishlist? Firstly, I want bluetooth and I mean being able to stream songs from the zune to a pair of BT headphone. I want the headset to have the ability to pair with my phone at the same time, alerting me of an incoming call or sms messages. I also want a SD card extension slot so that I can transfer photos from my camera to the zune. This will come in handy during trips and since SD cards are dirt cheap nowadays, it will make a quick and cheap upgrade. In-line recording will be good to have too. And while we are at recording, lets add in FM recording and a built-in mic to the mix. And as for the aesthetics, MS should make the face plate swappable. Follow what creative is doing with the Neeon and the Neeon2 by allowing 3rd party stick-ons. That will appeal to the younger crowd. And the most important thing on my list is battery life. I want, no I demand at least a 20 hrs batt life and a user replaceable battery. I am sure I will think of more things to put on my list. But for now it will do. I do sincerely hope that MS could kick Apple's butt in the mp3 player market. I am really sick of all these ipod mania. Compared to alot of the players in the market, it is not even the best option but yet we see a mad rush everytime Steve reveals a new one. It is time to appeal to the geeks than the wanna-bes.

Do you hate Mondays?

If the answer is yes, you belong to huge community of human zombies that has either lost sight of their destination or has no destination to start with. So say Danny from dannychoo.com. It may be a little weird to be getting advice from a 30-something toy collector who lives Tokyo but I do find his words inspiring. The following is taken from his blog;

Establish your destination. Once you have done that, make sure you are spending everyday moving towards your destination. You will start to look forward to Mondays and in fact you will look forward to every day of the week each morning each night. Once you are in this mode, you realize that you wont need an alarm clock anymore because your body naturally wants to get up and work with the challenges awaiting in the day ahead...Dont wait a year to make a resolution. If you decide to take on something, dont wait for the new year to start - do it straight away and you'll probably find your destination quicker and/or approach your destination sooner rather than later.

Inspiring stuff. When I finish studying Engineering at NTU, I was struck with the realization that I did not want to be an engineer. Because I treasure my life I didn't tell my parents (not until much later when I know I could out run them). But deep inside I had decided to go a different path. I want to be a designer, to make beautiful things. That , I knew, was my destination. I taught myself all the necessary tools like photoshop, illustrator, pagemaker, indesign, flash, dreamweaver, fireworks, 3D studio max, premier and other more obscure applications. I started to take on freelance projects and so started my career as a designer. It wasn't all smooth sailling though. If you have been reading this blog, I am sure you would know that.

I agree with Danny. Don't wait till the new year or for some events before you start on your journey towards your destination. Know what you want to do and what needs to be done and do it! Don't wait. But don't be disillusioned; you will still have hell mondays and clients from hell but you may find that you will gradually resent them less as you march towards your goal.

Friday, August 25, 2006

No Free Pitch

As a designer, I stick closely to the no free pitch policy. The reason is simple; design is a valuable service and we should be paid for our creative work. That is the reason why I will turn down any assignment that will require me to give free pitches. Whether my designs are used or not, I should get paid. Of course some of my clients do not value design. Sometimes I don’t blame them for their ignorance because I see my peers spoiling the market for all of us. They would agree readily to doing things for free in the hope that that will buy them a chance to hook a big project. Sadly, their clients will see their behavior and their devaluation of their craft and will end up having utterly no respect for the trade and future designers. The industry is already filled with businesses that will devalue design in an instance if it means future business; we do not need designers to spoil it further. One good example is the printers. Sometimes they would throw in design for free if you print with them. This tactic may be good for them in the short term but will ultimately ruin the entire creative industry, stealing credibility from those who are in the trade. It is a sad state of affair and will take time to mend. Meanwhile I hope all young and experienced designers alike would stick unwaveringly to the no free pitch policy. I know it is tough during lean times but if we hold on a little longer, the industry will be revitalize. If Singapore is to have a vibrant and recognized creative industry, it must start with the designers. We have to start to take pride in our work and demand the respect that is rightfully ours.

This doesn’t just apply to pitches but applies to commissioned work as well. Ideally a designer should ask for a down payment before starting on a project. But if you have already started on a project, then you should get paid even if the client terminate the project prematurely. My policy is that the client must pay in full if the project was terminated unilaterally due to reasons not related to the designer. A designer must learn to protect himself through the proper use of contractual agreements. It is vital that you take some time to learn how to draft a proper agreement before going forth to start your freelance work. This will not only help to protect your rights but will also ensure that your work are protected against any improper use by the clients, especially after a premature termination of the project.

St Andrew Cathedral

I love St Andrew’s Cathedral. It is like a piece of legacy in the middle of a bustling city. Occasionally I would step into the cathedral to get some peace and quiet, away from work and away from stressful city life. And today I had my camera with me and I took a few shots of this stately architectural masterpiece. Personally I dislike the new extension. I think it took some of the grandeur away from the original architecture and reduces it to some modern fusion mishmash. I think my hatred for fusion stuff extends to food as well. Usually I will stay clear of anything that has the word fusion in it. It just means weird taste at an exorbitant price. I look at the new extension to the cathedral and I reminds of me of cancer spreading from the city into a previously serene place of worship. As we progress, I am sure we will see the extension “extending” further in and eventually it may just take over the entire cathedral and completely robs it of its spirit and character. That will be a sad day indeed.

Apple loses $100 million

Couple of my friends have been asking me for my take on the $100 million payout from apple. I think this is good for creative as it validates their patent, resolved a possibly lengthy litigation and hey gives them $100 million in cold hard cash. What’s not to like about that?! Truth be told, I think they should have asked for more. I know there must have been a lengthy bargaining session before this and they must have felt pretty proud of squeezing that out of Steve Jobs’ hands but I think creative’s IP worth much more. Creative was the first to come out with a working MP3 player. They were the one who has been using the disputed UI since the beginning. After the settlement, Jobs said creative was lucky to be awarded the patent first. I don’t agree. I think the IP rightly belongs to Creative and Apple most certainty and willfully infringed on Creative’s IP. If the litigation was to continue, I am sure apple will lose. Jobs knows that and that is why he settled but as usual, he doesn’t have the grace to admit any wrong doing. For all the ipods that were sold since the beginning, I believe creative deserves a better settlement. Considering also that apple will get creative’s endorsement in making ipod accessories, $100 million dollars is a bargain for apple.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Machinimasia

Thanks Bian for the invite to the press con of Machinimasia. So what is machinimasia actually? Simply put it is virtual film making using virtual sets, virtual actors and virtual crew. It is not really new. According to Bian it first started in 1998 with games like quake, half-life and counter-strike. Many machinima clips were produced by accident. It was more as a fun thing gamers occassionally do just because the tools were already available and it usually involve some scripts that spoofed certain popular movie or events at that time. It wasn't much later that the term machinima was coined and ever since it has grown in popularity and acceptance. So much so that it has become a subculture of indie film-making. There are machinima film fest, machinima competitions, machinima workshops and even big names like MTV is recognising it and using it as video-mod in their mtvs.

Technically, it doesn't involve much. You will need a PC, games like The Sims 2, half-life 2, quake 4 or whatever games that has multi-player mode or allow you to customise the characters and settings. You will also need some video capture softwares like FRAPS to record the scenes on screen. After you have captured the clips, you then proceed to piece them together in windows movie maker or whatever video editing softwares you deem fit. That is the basics for producing a machinima. Of course, if you are so incline, you may even add in our own voice-overs and special effects to spice up your masterpiece. I gave the set-up at the press con a spin and managed to produce a short MTV video-mod in less than 5 mins. It really is that simple.

Machinimasia is now open for submissions. If you have done any work in the past or who are eager to try out this new phenomenon, get your work cleaned up and send them to machinimasia. Who knows; you may stand a chance to win an all-expense-paid ticket for 2 to Australia! Who say it is not hip to be geek?! View the photos here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Windows Desktop Search Beta 3.0

Woo! Saw this today and thought I will give it a try since I have not installed it on my new x60. I like the previous version but find it abit of a resource hog, especially on my old T30. It works well on my desktop though but occassionally I get corrupted index and have to redo the indexing. I have Office 2007 beta installed on my x60 and it comes with a preview version of the WDS. The performance was horrible and there wasn't any desktop UI. Beta 3 is an improvement over that. Now not only do I get a desktop UI but the performance has increased significantly. For example, indexing no longer takes hours and bring your system to its knees and search is fast, almost instantaneous.

After trying it out, I must say I am happy with the performance tweaks. You will also see some minor UI tweaks. Overall it looks good and works well. Give it a try if you are in need of a desktop search engine.

Comex 2006

So comex is coming this 31 Aug. Of the few things I am watching out for I am most excited about the new tablet from ASUS, the new FZ50 from Panasonic and the k10d from Pentax.

The ASUS R1F tablet is interesting not because it is the first tablet to be coming out from the veteran PC maker but also because of its 13.3 wide screen format. Effectively, that makes the R1F the longest and narrowest tablet around. It will feel almost like writing on an A4 note pad when in tablet mode. It will also have a 6 in 1 card reader and a hot swappable drive bay.

The FZ50 from Panasonic will be the sucessor to the very popular FZ30 which I bought 4 months ago. The FZ30 has been a fantastic camera and I expect the 50 to be equally impressive if not more. One thing new to the FZ50 is the dynamic ISO which will allow the camera to dynamically adjust your ISO sensitivity according to light conditions. I will also feature a new processor that promises faster processing and more vibrant colors. Panasonic has also added a HD-SD support allowing it to use one of those new high density SD cards that are just coming onto the market.

Ok, the k10d from Pentax is only just a rumor but I still hope I could get my paws on that camera later this month. Perhaps more realistically, I should instead be looking out for the k100. This entry level camera from pentax is obviously aimed at the price sensitive crowd and offer some of the pro features. I don't have much info on it but i guess you could read more at dpreview.com.

I must say I can't wait for comex. I love the new toys but hate the crowd. As usual, there will be a swam of people. I know it will grow exponentially worse as the trade show progresses. From my experiences, it would be better to go there early so that you can at least get to see the new stuff without being threaten to be swept away by the torrent of human/geek traffic.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Forgotten photo

How do you keep track of all your multimedia files? I am having a headache just thhinking of all the photos I have on my harddisk. Should it crash, I would easy lose thousands of photos and videos. I have so many photos squeezed into this little laptop that sometimes I would come a cross a photo that I don't remember taking. This photo for example was taken 3 weeks ago (according to the folder it was in) but I have no recollection of it. I am sure there are more of this "hidden" goodies lying around somewhere. I have tried using picasa to catalogue all my photos but I have yet to find a solution that could backup for me and allow easy cataloging and retrieval when I need them.

Rain Rain

Hot off my thinkpad. I do't know what inspired me to do this but I guess it must have something to do with the heat. And if you think that the creature looks like wedgehead, you are right. It was inspired by the wedgehead that sits next to my laptop.

I have always like rainy days. I don't really know why but I think it like having a common enemy. You do, when we have a common enemy, we will tend to focus less on each other and more on the problem. In the same way, the rain makes me less self conscious and more relax. Maybe it is because I just like the cool temperature. Hmm.