Creeping towards 2009

Its 4½ hours to 2009 and for the first time (in a long time) it will be spent at home. I'm kinda grateful for that though ... no longer will there be fights over parking spaces, crowded parties, foam sprays, screams, shouts, trash everywhere ... all in all a big relief. At least I still get to see the fireworks from 1U and Ikano (there are benefits to loving so close to these places) and I can hear the traffic horns as I type this.

Had to make this last post in just for the fun of it, so ....

Yeah ... 'borrowed' the graphic 'cos I'm too lazy to make one. Happy New Years 2009 everyone!

Wanna see something crazy?

uTorrent eating all my bandwidthThis is uTorrent at my workplace running off the internal campus tracker (hence the Class-A IP address as the URL) and no, your eyes aren't deceiving you - the bottom torrent IS downloading at 7.9MBs

Upload speeds are greatly affected though because current harddisk is a first generation SATA without NCQ so it trashes like crazy during downloads but with 4++ GBs downloads in around 8 minutes, can't really complain much. Too bad connections to the real world (aka. Internet) is slow as heck.

P/S: Don't bother trying to connect or asking me how to get to this tracker - its on an internal network and VPN connections are passworded/logged.

Merry X'mas — Feliz Navidad — Selamat Hari Natal — メリークリスマス — 聖誕快樂

Haven't had a Christmas tree put up at home for ... uhm ... 15 years I guess, but the offer at the local Tesco's was just a little too tempting. It really shows how the economy has slowed down when fake Made-in-China trees are going dirt cheap (3 feet for RM2.98 / US$0.86 and 5 footers at RM9.95 / US$2.88). Kinda makes you wonder what the actual cost price is at wholesale.

After rummaging through the house, I manage to locate the old decorations and used those to decorate the tree. Need a new set of fairy lights though but couldn't find any other than ones in ugly pink colour. The ones on the tree now are actually from the Chinese New Year decorations with the pieces pulled off!. Still haven't learnt my lesson though as I still meddle around with the tree with the power switch on ... yeah, I got electrocuted once on a tree (and thrown back around 7 feet maybe) and still have the scar to prove it :)

Anyways, Merry Christmas to all and a very Happy New Year 2009!

Four weddings and a funeral ...

It's been a wierd bitter-sweet past few weeks.

Firstly, congratulations to the four happy couples who have had their wedding dinners and cemeronies (you know who you are eventhough you may not ever read this post :D). What I've noticed that in Malaysia, we're lucky to be able to experience a multitude of wedding ceremonies and traditions. I love the pomp and circumstance of Malay weddings and how guests are treated with little souvenirs of bunga telur as a memento of the occasion.

A.Sinclair & B.C.LestariChinese weddings have their own traditions from the jockular bride claiming ceremony (something sweet, something bitter etc ...) to the filial tea ceremonies. The downsides are the actual dinners which resemble mini reunions for family and friends and take forever to end. Ooh! ... attended one yesterday in which the restaurant provided gift chocolates in the shape of japanese carp to match their decor. A unique touch in comparison with other places that usually give either fruitcake or those heart shaped chocolates. Another thing that seems to be in fashion is to give gifts of bowls and chopsticks which I personally find a bit troublesome :P

Y.W.Low & W.Y.MahHowever eventful, the happiness in the weeks have been toned down with the death of a friend. Commiserations and heartfelt condolences go out to the families of a classmate of mine who suffered (from what news I've received and yet to confirm) a heart complication in HUKM. It's times like these that make me wonder how long do I have and who do I know, who do I ask forgiveness from, who do I need to contact/recall ..........

Something fishy with my Streamyx connection ...

UPDATE 17-01-2009: Scratch this post as I only just figured out it was a problem with the router firmware.


Been having problems with my Streamyx connection this past week. Many sites would not load on the first attempt and require multiple F5 refreshes to fully load. This lead me to wonder if my modem/router settings are causing too many dropped packets. So I did the usual MTU fragment checking and lo and behold, the Max MTU has been lowered down to a measly 1272 bytes!! My modem/router settings were set to the default of 1492 so this basically means hundreds of packets were being discarded because they were too big.

WTF?! the MTU is now a low 1272B!!From the image above, I've highlighted the maximum packet size that I can send/receive through my ISP. Adding on the 28 byte header brings the new MTU setting on my router to 1300 and once I changed that value, suddenly all sites are now opening quick and snappy. So, if you're like me and having problems with Streamyx, then check your current connection settings with this command (replacing with a valid website address to test)

ping [website add here]-f -l XXXX <- that is lowercase 'L' and NOT numerical '1'

What I'm wondering now is when did those bloody f**king a***oles at TM change this value and without informing subscribers?

Who wins TARA 3?

Its 12pm and I'm at work with 9 hours to go to the broadcast of the final episode of TARA3. Message boards at the official site have been blasted from supporters/fans/detractors/etc each one claiming a winner from their country. So I guess I'll have to wait and see who really wins.

UPDATED 30/11/2009
Everyone knows by now that the Hong Kong boys won TARA3 (can they actually be called Hongkies since Sam is Singaporean and Vince is Canadian ... oh well). The wonders of television and creative editing made the final episode of TARA3 seem like a close race between S&V with G&T but in reality they were 45 minutes apart to the finish line. Our final Malaysian team, I&T, were dissapointingly delayed for 1 hour and 30 minutes at the airport due to one lazy desk clerk and lost their lead and the race in the end (but kudos for still being good sports and completing the race!).

From what I can dig out, TARA3 once again sets many new records in the Amazing Race series (I could be wrong on these facts, but AFAIK they're correct)
  • It probably had the longest legs in any TAR race (some lasting over 40 hours non stop, hence the tagline "toughest race ever").

  • I'm also guessing that Tania is the first ever pregnant racer (she was about 3 months along during the race and only confirmed the pregnancy a month after it ended!).

  • Probably has the couple that changed detours the highest number of times (G&T changed 5 times in the last detour).

  • First TAR to be filmed in high-definition video but dissapointingly broadcast only in standard def.

  • Highest number of teams that gave up during race and quit in a detour/roadblock (5 out of the total 10 teams - Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Thailand ×2). Team Malaysia did contemplate giving up during the detour to locate the right Bluray disc but didn't in the end. Team Phillipines G&T gave a passing mention during the minature museum task but also didn't opt to quit (and in the end were rewarded with Sam's blunder!)

This already adds to an impressive list of prior records made in TARA and TARA2 which include

  • First ever all female team to win an Amazing Race (Joe Jer and Zabrina, Malaysia in TAR)

  • First ever disabled person to win (and complete) an Amazing Race (Adrian and Colin, Singapore, TARA2)

So, only a year's worth of waiting until the TARA4 ... at least TAR12 is running and is FINALLY picking up the pace.

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What's new in the beta WLM9?

Installed the beta version of Windows Live Messenger (Build 14.0.5027.908) and was pleasantly surprised with several new features and updated implementations of older ones. The installer integrates tightly with the Live series of products and upon installations asks if you want to install the other items in the suite (including Live Writer, Live Mail etc).

Messenger chat window has been rearranged
First thing you'd notice is the messenger window has been rearranged and display pictures now appear of the left side. The pictures and toolbar can be hidden by clicking on an arrow that appears when you mouse nearby to give you more messaging space. Typing indicators now appear in the centre of the window (where its written Last message received ... in the pic above) instead of at the bottom of which now houses the message options.

Display pictures are now more flexible and allow animated gifs to be properly displayed with the animations (previously only a still frame appeared). Additionally, integration with a webcam seems better here as there is an option to do a snapshot directly from within the picture dialog. If I'm not wrong (as I rarely used it before) you couldn't actually do this in the older version without resorting to additional software to do a snapshot and then add it to available pictures.

Webcam options and animated gif support
A new added feature in here is the option to create your own dynamic display pictures. You need a webcam as you are not allowed to import ready made pictures or animations (without resorting to tricking the software). You can then capture either a still or a 4 second video and assign it to the default picture or any other 4 emoticons you want. When that emoticon is entered as a message, the display picture will animate accordingly to what was recorded.

Create your own dynamic pic
On the main program itself, the interface has been slightly altered and the left-hand tabs are now not/optionally displayed. Interface settings are hidden until you mouseover the top right corner of the program to reveal the configuration menu. By default, WLM9 includes scenes or themes that match the online Live series of websites (Live Hotmail and Spaces). If you don't like them you can add your own.

Peel-away reveals configurations
Theme settings
The contact list now supports 4 different sizes of icons (3 shown here) and can be set individually for contacts or favorites lists (you can still sort contacts according to groups or status)

Bullet or icons
Internally, now you have to option to disallow sign-in from another PC. Previously, whenever you sign-in onto another PC, any existing ones are disconnected but now if you do that, you are notified on which PC you're still signed on to.

/out options
The sounds panel has been heavily changed and now supports different sounds for different events and different users. By default, WLM9 uses the same sounds as before but it also comes with 10 pre-installed audio samples for you to assign. Additionally, you can assign different sign-in sounds to different people on your contact list (i.e. like different ringtones for different callers).

Contact soundsAlien?!?
You can also assign your own 'signature sound' which other contacts will hear when you come online (note that they need to be running WLM9 too).

In use, the WLM9 beta seems pretty stable and so far no bugs have appeared on my PC although reports have surfaced that some beta users lost their contact lists, history and installed packs. So if you're not willing to take a risk, wait for the final release else take the plunge and download WLM9b here.

Based on personal tests, WLM9 beta currently does NOT work well in XP (even with SP3 installed). In the 3 XP PCs I tested, one would not connect to the messenger service no matter what I did, another would crash on startup and the third cause XP to crash along with it. If you took the plunge and installed it on XP and are facing problems, you're probably looking for a way to uninstall it to install the older version('cos it doesn't create an uninstall option for you surprise! surprise!). Fortunately, you can manually uninstall it by running this command in the Run dialog box of the Start menu (Vista users need not worry as the normal uninstall option works for them)

msiexec /x {B1403D7D-C725-4858-AACC-7E5FA2D72859}

This tip comes from Jonathan Kay, MVP at his blog here. Note that screenshots above were taken with Messenger Plus Live! for WLM9 beta installed along with the additional Live and Emoticon packs (Wall-e, Fantastic 4, BearRabbit , I'm a PC) so some items may not be available in the default installation.

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Why do we pirate?

I was asked a funny question once in which the person said "Why do you buy original DVDs? Can get at the pasar malam for RM6 only-ma". This got me to thinking as I surveyed his living room which, not surprisingly, had pirated DVDs and VCD/CDs displayed amongst other things - Why do people buy pirated goods?

The most obvious reason of course is price - with knockoffs of originals selling at a mere fraction of the originals' price. With this alluring factor comes demand and with demand comes more piracy, thus we have a never-ending cycle that continues to flood the market with fake goods.

There are reasons why pirated DVDs sell so cheap. For one thing it relies on the work of others. By buying a pirated DVD, you have stolen a paycheck from the person who created the content on the disc. You have taken away the effort put in by the artwork designer that created the original cover and packaging for a cheap photocopy. You have thrown away all the hardwork of the staff at legal distribution and production companies. Not forgetting to mention, minisculed the hardwork of the hundreds (if not thousands) of people who work so hard on the film it contains just for 1-3 hours of your enjoyment. None of the money you've paid went to the actual people who deserved it but went into the pockets of pirateers instead.

FACTS you might not have known about piracy

  • Authoring something like a DVD can cost anywhere from US$10,000++. This does not include costs for obtaining copyrights and production of new materials (e.g. documentaries, commentaries), manufacturing and packaging as well as promotion and distribution.
  • Pirated DVDs may cost anywhere from RM3 to RM20 but the cost of each pirated disc? Maybe around 30 sen (maybe less or more depending on quantity). Buying a pirated DVD means you're probably paying for his third Ferrari car.
  • That RM100 Nike Shox was probably made in Vietnam by workers that earn few a sen a day (not saying that originals are that good either ... just better)
  • Piracy DOES feed into the black market. Watch the documentary on C&I channel and see how children (sometimes abducted) are shackled to sewing machines for hours at end making fake apparel for a few measly ringgit per day. Do you want to support this industry? What if it was YOUR child or someone you know?
  • Supporting piracy means attracting greed and greed makes man do the most despicable things. Worst case scenario occurs when piracy affects human lives (melamine tainted milk scare anyone? or killer cold medicine?) You wouldn't want to end up in the hospital suffering just because of faked goods would you?

Food for thought - if you buy pirated stuff, think of this REALLY HARD. How would YOU feel if someone stole from you behind your back? The act of piracy exists in many different forms and you might have experienced it before:

  • If you're a programmer, imagine not getting a paycheck because your colleague took credit for your work.
  • If you're a teacher, imagine giving classes and never getting paid for any.
  • If you're a software publisher, imagine a program you've toiled thousand of man-hours away being downloaded freely without your permission or worse being sold without you getting the profits.
  • If you're a student, how would you feel if your classmate copied your assignment and got better marks?
  • Would you be angry if someone wins a music competition with your composition?

There's a reason for the sticker price of a few tens of ringgit. It pays the people who work, just like how YOU receive a paycheck for the work YOU do. Don't deny them their means of livelihood and try not to support piracy of any form if you can. You don't want it to happen to you.

P/S: I might sound hippocrite, but this post does not mean that I myself don't buy pirated items. I just try to avoid them whenever I can. I most certainly am NOT going to pay RM1999 for something which I KNOW does not cost that much to make :D

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Quantum of Solace preview

JB:QoS poster
Attended the special premiere of the James Bond:Quantum of Solace movie at the GSC Gardens on Friday night. First of all, The Gardens is like any typical mall in KL ... same stores, same stuff, same atmosphere - so in one word, BORING. As far as I know in the quick walkthrough of the place, nothing really interests me to go back for a second time.

Secondly, are these developers THAT desperate to open? The building is still largely incomplete and the signage is terrible. Locating GSC from the carpark was terrible as doors lead to a dead ends or ended up going in circles. Walkways were unfinished and dangerous - imagine 7 floors above ground level with no walls to stop you falling out. I'm wasn't the only one, 'cos I ended up with a group of maybe 15-20 of us scurrying around the floors of the carpark banging on multiple doors looking for ways into the Gardens. Guards were of no help because they either didn't know or just didn't speak English/Malay/any local language. *sheesh*

Was expecting something else...but is better than nothingAnyways, finally reached GSC Gardens with 10 minutes to spare but the halls were only open a little after 9:30pm, I'm guessing probably due to the lack of staff at the venue. As the crowd grew larger, noise levels went up as well as the heat. Those who won in the Discovery Channel contest were given a bag which featured a banged-up Buster with the slogan "Buster does all my stunts" along with a oversized pen and the current issue of the Discovery Channel magazine featuring James Bond. In the cinema, everyone had a large sized popcorn and Coke drink. The preview was held in Hall 1 which I later found out charges RM20 per ticket!! Pop corn and drinks were RM15 so for two people to watch a movie you would need RM55 ... kinda pricey!

So what about the movie? SPOILERS AHEAD - TO AVOID READING, SKIP TO ***!!! Hmm, if you're a James Bond fan you probably won't be dissapointed with the amount of action in this movie. Although its short (shortest so far amonst all the Bond films) it probably has the highest number of chase sequences in a single movie. It has foot chases (two actually), bike chases, car chases, boat chases and air chase scenes ... heck the only major mode of transportation not covered is on a train! After a while, it felt like there wasn't enough of a story to last the length of the movie so I'm guessing they added on these scenes - a bit too repetitive for my tastes but exciting nonetheless.

Predictably there's always the Bond girl that he sleeps with (no pun in name this time round though ... Miss Fields) and dies in a fashion uncannily like in Goldfinger. There are far less gadgets this time round other than the oh-so-obvious main sponsor Sony handphone that doubles as a camera with face recognition technology. Even the car gets banged up pretty bad after the first five minutes and is never seen again. Characters seem to appear in the movie such that they do not really support or move the story along other than to provide more evidence against Bond to bring him in to MI6 because of his actions.

Overall though I can't really complain too much. It IS a valiant effort trying to make a full length movie out of what is actually a short story as it attempts to conclude the story from Casino Royale (eventhough NONE of the story itself is used in the film other than the title). Basically, for effects, action and thrills it earns highest marks but otherwise its just OK and is probably worth the price of admission. Gardens on the other hand gets a dissapointing two thumbs down (for now, might change once its complete) as a place to shop/spend time ... you get more at Sunway/1U/Curve etc.

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Busy busy busy

1034 hrs local (+8GMT)

CNN snapshot of current US poll standings
Gonna try to make this a multi-post day as America decides who becomes their next president (As of now Obama leads 194 to 69 for McCain). Personally, I have no qualms or questions on who should win and neither do I have any preference, its just the current story that apperas on every news portal.

Anyways, have to rush out later and make a trip to ASTRO in TPM, then later to Menara Star and another drop off at Mid Valley at the end ... and I'm predicting a lot of cursing when I join the traffic jams at each area.

UPDATE 1110 hrs local (+8GMT)

CNN snapshot
Decided to go after lunch 'cos its raining :)

UPDATE 1200 hrs local (+8GMT)

Decided to help my dad fix up the dining room ceiling fan. The one that was there shorted out after a power surge and has been left hanging there since August. Since I have relatives migrating overseas, we decided to salvage one of their ceiling fans (since they were going to be sold anyways). Took around 45 minutes to disassemble and dismount the old one and put up the new one ... at least now there's a fan in the dining room again :D Only problem is that this 'new' one hangs 4.5 inches lower than the old one ... its so low I can touch the base without having even to go tippy toe (must remember not to stretch!)

Fan is up and spinning

UPDATE 1910 hrs local (+8GMT)

Its the evening and Barack Obama is now the next President of the USA. I'm back from a tiring day out travelling across the Klang Valley and collecting stuff.

Left the house at exactly 2.00pm and headed towards TPM first but by the time I reached Jalan Universiti, I was stuck in a traffic jam which took me nearly 35 minutes to get through. There are just too many traffic lights on that stretch of road and those bloody f**ing idiots who park illegally in front of PPUM only make things worse. Luckily it was a cloudy/rainy day so at least it wasn't too hot to drive.

Stuck in a jam with nothing to do
Made it to Bukit Jalil circa 3:00pm and proceeded towards TPM for the ASTRO building to collect the first prize for today. After registration, had to make it into the building this time to collect (usually they just distribute at the registration counter).

15 minutes later, I was out of there with two tickets to the premiere screening of James Bond : Quantum of Solace for this Friday at GSC Signature, The Gardens. The remainder of the prize will only be handed over at the venue (*sheesh*) courtesy of Discovery Channel Asia.

Premiere tickets
Then it was back to the highways again as I proceeded to Menara Star for the second prize collection of the day. Took me another 45 minutes to get back due to heavy traffic, rain and of course, those blasted traffic lights again. Finally reached Phileo Damansara area at 4:00pm but decided against parking inside the building after seeing the long queue forming outside - so I parked behind BHP Petrol and walked there instead.

Took me another 15 minutes to get to the Menara Star lobby by foot (took wrong way and ended up in the wrong building ... hee hee) and had to go through the whole registering, deposit license, taking pass procedure just to get to the 7th floor. Collection was fast and I managed a sneak peek at the In.Tech offices at theStar (reminds me a lot of the IT dept at my workplace) whilst waiting ... wonder where all the staff are? There were only a handful there, so I'm guessing either meeting or convetion. The prize? Wall-e movie tie-in merchandise and Canon sponsored calculators.

The polo-tee is kids size unfortunately but I'll probably keep it just because. The automatic umbrella is really cute with the eyes of Wall-e silkscreened on the outer side but the inner side is really neat with a faint imprint of a night sky (the camera somehow picks up the 'stars' and shows them as bright dots ... is probably reflective or something). The Wall-e mousepad goes into my collection (nearly 30+ already!) and I'll figure out where the calculator will do its function.

Wall-e brolly
Ooh.. purty stars
I decided against going to Mid Valley after seeing the then-forming traffic jam. I'll leave that for another day and another journey.

UPDATE 2350 hrs local (+8GMT)

Just found out that the Canon calculator prize is actually made from recycled materials! This probably answers the question as to why give a calculator as a prize. Seems that Canon reclaims old hardware (printers, photocopiers, scanners etc) and disassembles them into its basic components to later remanufacture/remold to create this line of fully recycled calculators that run on solar power.

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Mamma Mia ... again ... ughs

Took a walk over to Ikano PowerCentre just to catch the roadshow to "Mamma Mia! The Musical" today 'cos I missed the one yesterday at 1 Utama. The crowd was large (est. 500 maybe?) and mostly adult females ... screaming adult aunties ... not a pretty sight and sound. They were mostly screaming for free tix to the event which isn't even beginning until 17th of December! What's even more amazing is that it seems that many of the tickets are sold out for the show.

Screaming aunties scare meAnyways heres a clip from the roadshow featuring the female cast leads singing ABBA tunes (which are getting pretty grating 'cos my neighbour has been playing them over-and-over). The angle is pretty bad but I did manage to get a behind-the-scenes look at the roadshow crew dancing along!!

Best part of the event was this elderly couple vying to get free tix to the event. Kudos to them for being amazingly sporting to dance TWICE to the delight of the cast members and the public.

I won't be going for the musical anyways ... first thing is I'm not interested (storywise and music wise ... sudah jelak la) and secondly its running at Istana Budaya - a place which I find is absolutely the WORST for musical productions due to extremely poor AV conditions. At most, I'd prob sneak in for rehearsals when the time comes heh heh!

Header image change

Was getting bored of the original header image on this blog which was simply done and needed a lot of tweaking. Somehow I never got that 'organic' feeling to work properly so I decided to create a new one. Its better but still not perfect ... still like it a lot though since it looks more realistic and more towards the look I'm targeting.

This header image was done in Paint Shop Pro and simplified from the steps shown here. Instead of using a vanishing point filter, I just used the text warp / deform option in the text tool. I also added two extra layers - one behind to create over-spray and one right on top to add grain and texture back into the sprayed areas. Lastly, an erase tool was used to create blank areas and flaws in spray distribution for effect. Only problem? Need to find a way to get the letters to overlap in the right order (real graffiti usually overlaps from left to right)

How old is your email account?

11 years and counting!
Random thoughts into a post ... just how old are your email accounts. I have 13 email accounts (free, ISP, etc) and just found out the oldest one is from Hotmail. I got it waaay back when it was still plain old Hotmail (just before Microsoft bought it up) and it just got past its 11th year anniversary!! Whats more surprising is I still have mails all the way back from 1997 ... talk about a time-trip. Amazing how it has grown from the original 2MB mailbox right up to the current 5GB.

What's safe to eat nowadays?

With the increasing concerns of melamine contamination in food/edible products, I began to wonder what are the actual products that are safe for consumption and what has been withdrawn from the market. A quick search on Google came up with the following health authority websites with latest postings on the melamine incident including which products are safe and which are not. These are focused mainly on South East Asian - Australasian authorities due to the higher number of imports but apply to anywhere in the world that sells the same products (note that a product might be manufactured in many locations but carry the same name/packaging)
  • Malaysian Food Safety & Quality Division (BKMM) - English / Malay [LINK]
  • Singaporean Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority - English [LINK]
  • Indonesian Badan Pengawas Obat & Makanan - English / Indonesian [LINK]
  • Korean Food and Drug Administration - Korean [LINK]
  • New Zealand Food Safety Authority - English [LINK]
There are many other FDA sites but these are the ones that seem to be still actively testing and releasing news about the contamination. Latest products include Cadbury chocolates, Bairong biscuits (those sold in Watsons and Tesco) and Dutch Lady milks from China manufacturers.

Amazing Race ×2 ... again

Just concluded watching the first episode of Amazing Race S12 on AXN and this marks another round of double Amazing Race's for probably the next two months or so (The Amazing Race Asia S3 is coming to its fourth episode this week). I'm a fan of the series and have watched every single season of TAR and TARA and find each version has its own unique thing to offer.

This time round, TARA3 wins hands down in terms of content and can clearly call itself the "toughest race ever" based on first episode impressions. Heck! rumour has it that even the production staff fell ill during the filming of the race due to the stressful conditions.

The first episode of TAR12 was slow, boring, lenghty and didn't really work the competitors so far. The theme of the show felt like "grouping the teams" as each point in the race the teams were being segregated into groups that left for the next portion of the race at different time intervals. The sole challenge of TAR12 episode one is the choice in the detour - to climb down cargo net or crawl up the steps ... kinda lame IMO. It almost felt as if the producers ran out of ideas.
Compare that to the first episode of TARA3 - first challenge at the very start was to devour an entire bowl of bugs (containing fried scorpions, maggots, worms, frogs, grasshoppers etc) which I estimate amounted to maybe 800gms. Then its was to wash an entire two-storey passenger bus (a task which took most of the afternoon and night) followed by a pitch dark hunt for clues on temple grounds. An 18 hour bus ride later, it was the detour to race or rice - racing buggys or pounding rice resulting in muddy bodies or blistering hands. Definately much more exciting - even episode two was an extended length one since the leg lasted over 48 hours!!
Rants? TARA3 is the first season to be filmed entirely in FullHD 1080p but AFAIK, no carrier is actually broadcasting in HD, let alone FullHD - what a waste (but I could be wrong). TAR12 probably has more eye-candy in terms of competitors but TARA3 doesn't lose out by much there (but then Pailin and Natalie were eliminated last week). Competitors on TAR12 seem to be starting of pretty chummy except for one particular moment between Sarah with Nick and Starr. There hasn't been a breakdown in the first episode of TAR12 but Mai and Oliver have already showed their true colours during the end of the first episode of TARA3. Things might change as TAR12 catches up with more episodes, but for now TARA3 gets my vote for the better Amazing Race.

If only I can remember which teams go with which race (same prob last time with TAR12 and TARA2) ...

UPDATE 02102008 : Forgot about this ... whoever the subtitler is in ASTRO is doing a really bad job. Misunderstood words and sentences ("I'm so dumb" actually became something like "Aku sungguh gelap" or I'm so dark) and his/her crazy-ass spelling (why in heck would a simple word like Cyclo be subtitled as Xich Lo?). There is no need to translate and subtitle every single thing on screen, especially when the subs start to intrude into the actual screen action part. I cringe when I read the subs during the second viewing of episodes.
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Looking for karaoke tracks?

No this isn't a post about me going to a karaoke bar (at least not this time round) but on how to get or create your own backing tracks for practise/ backup/etc. I've been asked this question quite a few times already, so I guess I'd do a write-up instead of repeating myself. Here are 6 ways on how I obtain my backing tracks - click on the [+/-] to read details.

  1. Get original backing tracks (duh!)
    Sometimes tracks are released alongside their instrumental versions (or karaoke/minus one) and these are the best bet to get a version that matches the original exactly. You can find these most often on CD singles and sometimes on bonus discs. Albums from Disney and Buena Vista sometimes have instrumental versions available (e.g. High School Musical OST Bonus disc and their Karaoke Sing-along CDG series).

    Disney's official karaoke series CD+Gs
  2. [+/-]
  3. Get commercial backing tracks
    These are tracks released by recording companies specialising in creating karaoke tracks. Many of them are quite good but they might not sound exactly the same as the original recording because they are mostly renditions recreated by an arranger. Good backing tracks will use real/matching instruments and follow tempos and keys whilst there are cheaper ones that rely on cheap MIDI banks and lower quality arrangements.

    Example of sites include : PocketSongs and SoundChoice
  4. [+/-]
  5. Music sharing websites/tools
    Another option is to hit up music sharing websites looking for backing tracks. Sites such as usually have user uploads for backing tracks (some of them from official sources but illegally uploaded) which you can listen to and download. For this you would need additional software such as FreeMusicZilla to download the FLV files and then FLV extractor to extract the MP3 file from the downloaded FLV. Registration is required to listen to whole tracks on Imeem.
    Imeem Other options include the free website Sims on Stage (formerly SingShot) which offers free backing tracks to sing online. A simple trick allows you to download the tracks permanently to your harddrive for your own personal use which I will not discuss here. They offer quite a varied selection from 50s to current hits and other family favourites and their tracks seemed to be sourced from the SoundChoice library

    UPDATE 2009 : Singshot link removed as EA has decided to close down the service.

    P2P networks are another great source for obtaining tracks - be it through Kazaa/eMule/eDonkey/VeryCD or through torrent sites. Just be wary of fake files, RIAA trackers and long download times due to unavailable seeds.
  6. [+/-]
  7. Write your own in MIDI
    Those well versed in music theory can try their hand at writing their own MIDI backing tracks although this would take time and quite a lot of skill (not forgetting to mention the hardware required). One option is to visit MIDI sites and try out user submissions there ... you might be surprised at what some users can come up with. Depending on your MIDI hardware, you can possibly render out a pretty useable backing track.
  8. [+/-]
  9. Vocal removers
    If you have a Realtek audio device in Windows, you probably have a corresponding audio manager control panel installed and within the settings there is one for vocal removal. This is a basic voice removing algorithm which basically takes the difference between individual channels from stereo audio file as the output (i.e. (L-R)÷2). At best, the vocals on a track can be removed - at worse, everything else is also removed. One problem with this simplified algorithm is that it affects the whole spectrum and removes everything in the phantom centre channel including vital parts.

    Realtek control panelIf your hardware does not have this setting, you can still obtain similar effects using the Vocal Remover effect with your audio files in Audacity.

    My own trick instead is to use a plugin called "center cut" (yes, I know I switch between American and British spellings for centre) written by Moitah (who also wrote the FLV extractor referenced above) which itself is based on a plugin found in Virtualdub written by Avery Lee. The plugin runs in Winamp and no installation is required other than to copy the files into the plugin directory of Winamp. This plugin is available here.

    To use, just activate the plugin in the Preferences—DSP/Effect page and set to "Center Cut - Sides (Bass to sides)" which is basically still using the same algorithm above, but this time it ignores the bass frequencies and allows them to pass unfiltered. The difference is quite obvious and really helps the output result sound better. Here are several examples comparing the original audio, conventional vocal remover and center cut plugin (note Google video muxes audio back to mono when hosting)

    Using a combination of the center cut plugin and the diskwriter plugins in Winamp, you can generate your own backing tracks from any audio files you own and later recompress them or burn to CD. Note that results may vary depending on file and channel separation.
  10. [+/-]
  11. DVD rips
    This last method relies on how audio is encoded on a DVD and works best on animation and musical type movies (especially those from Disney!!). At a bare minimum, this method requires the audio to be properly encoded as discrete 5.1 Dolby Digital audio and will NOT work with 2.1 or PCM/MPEG stereo audio. This is because we need the vocals to be encoded in the centre channel and the audio only portions duplicated in the front or rear L/R channels. What remains is just to extract this digital stream, delete the centre channel and you're left with the backing track!

    Extracting the audio from a DVD is pretty finicky, requires patience, quite a few tools (all 100% freeware of course), plenty of harddisk space and obvoiusly, the actual DVDs. First you need to extract the correct VOB file (or the whole movie but that wastes space) and remove any CSS protection if necessary. You can use tools like DVD Decrypter to get this done. Certain AVI files (from *ahem* sources) may also have a 5.1 Dolby Digital/AC3 stream and those can also be used.

    The digital audio stream is then extracted. For AVIs, you can use VirtualDub to save the audio stream. Open the AVI file, select "Source audio" and "Direct stream copy" and save the WAV file with an ac3 extension.
    Set to direct stream to get original data
    Save files with ac3 extension
    For VOBs you need an AC3 extractor - I usually use Ciler's AC3Tool with the AC3 extract function. Open the VOB file, select the audio track and location to save to and click Extraire to get the stream. What you end up with is a raw AC3 file for further processing to delete the centre channel.

    AC3Tool's built-in extractor works well
    To remove the centre channel, there are two possible options - AC3tool (mentioned above) or HeadAC3he (thats read as headache). Both have options to convert the AC3 stream to PCM wave format and allow you to select which channel to decode/downmix/ignore. I can't really say which tool is better 'cos some streams work in one program and not in the other and vice-versa with others ... go figure. This is where the trial-and-error phase comes in - some tracks will work better with just the front L/R channels whilst others get better results with rear channels only.

    AC3Tool channel extractor
    HeadAC3he channel extractorThe end result (if successful) is a raw PCM wave file ready for compression or burning to CD for use. Here's a sample clip ripped from two DVDs to show you what I mean - the first using front L/R channels from the Mandarin audio track (I ripped the wrong track but it worked anyways) and the second combining front and rear L/R channels for the final result.
  12. [+/-]

Legality issues aside, all methods discussed here are for your own use only and might not be approved/allowed by the copyright owners. All clips/videos shown here retain their original copyrights and are used - with apologies - to illustrate concepts only

Today Is Gonna Be a Great Day!

Can't get this song out of my head no matter how hard I try. Performed by Bowling for Soup, it constantly reminds me of their earlier single "Greatest day" which also had me humming the tune for weeks. This particular song has catchy chorus with great chord progressions, funny lyrics ... hey! where's Perry? :)

There's a hundred and four days of summer vacation,
'Til school comes along just to end it,
So the annual problem for our generation,
Is finding a good way to spend it
Like maybe...

Building a rocket, or fighting a mummy,
Or climbing up the Eiffel tower,
Discovering something that doesn't exist,
Or giving a monkey a shower,
Surfing tidal waves, creating nano-bots,
Or locating Frankenstein's brain,
Finding a Dodo bird, painting a continent,
Or driving our sister insane

This could possibly be the best day ever,
And the forecast says that tomorrow will likely be,
A million and six times better,
So make every minute count,
Jump up, jump in and seize the day,
And let's make sure that in every single possible way,
Today is Gonna to Be a Great Day!

Crossing a tundra or building a rollercoaster,
Skiing down a mountain of beans,
Devising a system for remembering everything,
Or synchronizing submarines,
Racing chariots, taming tiger sharks,
Constructing a portal to mars,
Building a time machine, stretching a rubber tree,
Or wailing away on guitars

This could possibly be the best day ever,
And the forecast says that tomorrow will likely be,
A million and six times better,
So make every minute count
Jump up, jump in and seize the day,
And let's make sure that in every single possible way,
Today is Gonna to Be a Great Day!

Let's put our heads together and design a master plan,
We may miss dinner, but I know mom will understand,
We got our mission and suppliers, yoghurt gumballs and desire,
And a pocket full or rubber bands, the manual on handstands,
Unicycle, compass, and a camera that won't focus,
And canteen full of soda, grab a beach towel here we go!
(this is Ferb-tastic)

This could possibly be the best day ever,
And the forecast says that tomorrow will likely be,
A million and six times better,
So make every minute count,
Jump up, jump in and seize the day,
And let's make sure that in every single possible way
Today is Gonna to Be a Great Day!

(Seriously this is gonna be great)

This could possibly be the best day ever
(Today's Gonna be a Great Day)
This could possibly be the best day ever
(Today's Gonna be a Great Day)


For those interested, I found this downloadable MP3 version (while the link exists) here. I did not upload this, so don't ask if why if the link no longer works.

UPDATE 27/09/2008 : Second download link found at mediafire. Same file as the first. Download link available here.

Both files are clean versions without dialogue.

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Cringe-worthy Mamma Mia!

Attended the preview of Mamma Mia! yesterday nite courtesy of nuffnang at GSC 1Utama and as is the usual case of most bloggers, cameras and handphones were flashing everywhere to capture the moment for later blog posts (me excluded).

Mamma Mia!The movie was so-so in my opinion with a few genuine laughs at several points that kept my interest awake. ABBA music, no matter how catchy, kind of gets on the nerves after a while especially with the repeated chord transitions and patterns (ughs ... I'm analyzing the music too much). Two songs that really made me cringe was S.O.S. and The Winner Takes it All which felt too forced and too long for the moment.

Pierce Brosnan's singing was credible but bland (he should avoid musicals IMO) and he felt soooo out of place, wooden and uncomfortable when Meryl Streep was screaming out Winner. You could almost read Ms. Streep's mind as though she is thinking "Ughs, why won't that bloody wind stop blowing my shawl/wrap around" as she continuously fidgets with it on screen. A bad choice of filming location there.

Seems several songs were removed from the broadway version (as is the usual case with the limited running time) including Thank you for the music and Knowing me, Knowing you although the former is included in the soundtrack. Could possible mean it was filmed and cut during production. Additionally, Our Last Summer was moved from a duet between Harry and Donna to mostly a trio between Sophie, Harry and Sam with interjections from Donna and Bill. I could be wrong though as I'm basing this on the PVG score book.

Choreography was limited to big leaps and jumps along with dated moves from the flower power era although they did a funny thing with swimming flippers on the docks with the guys and with the girl power scene featuring Dancing Queen and aged old ladies dancing.

Overall? Watch it if you're a fan of ABBA music or musical genre, else give it a miss and wait for it on Astro or the nearest pasar malam dealer/torrent site. The movie has been ever-so-slightly censored to obtain the [U] rating in local cinemas.

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New BIOS update for Acer M5640

NOTE 18/01/2009

This outdated post has been updated

Took a MAJOR risk today and updated the bios on my Acer M5640 Aspire desktop with the latest revision number R01-B2. Why major you may ask? Well ... from what I can figure after searching around, the bios version IS official from Acer/AMI but it hasn't been released in many countries. As of yet, the bios firmware is only available on the Taiwan and Thailand Acer support websites whilst ALL other countries are still stuck at R01-A3 or worse at R01-A1.

Anyways, I downloaded the one from the Thai Acer website (both sites have different packages but the same firmware file) and proceeded with the firmware update using the Windows flash utility ... was too lazy to create a DOS bootdisk. It ran, it erased, it programed and then it 'hung' and Vista went into its familiar "Application is not responding" period. About 45 seconds later, the PC went into auto reboot and voilà the firmware update was complete (*phew*)

Whats new?

Major changes are additions to the "Advanced Bios Features" section of the bios which now has the option for "Installer OS select" with the options for Windows, Linux or other (supposedly to help in correctly booting OS installer discs) and an option to enable and disable speedstep on the CPU labeled "Speedstep Tech". Other menus seem to remain the same but I have nothing to compare to as I forgot to note down the changes prior to flashing (my bad).

Upon entering Vista however, it detected a new device and promptly installed drivers for PCI standard RAM controller and it now appears multiple times in the device manager. Have no idea what this device is and what it does but so far it doesn't seem to affect Vista in anyway.

New devices but what are they?
For those interested, here are the direct download links to the new bios revision for the M5640 (also for M1640 and M3640):
  • R01-B2 firmware from Thailand Acer Support website available for Windows/DOS and Linux
  • R01-B2 firmware from Taiwan Acer support website available for Windows/DOS. Instructions in Chinese.

NOTE 18/01/2009

This outdated post has been updated

DISCLAIMER : Any attempts of this update is at your own risk and I do not take any responsibility. Attempts at changing hardware settings are not approved and may void your warranty if not done properly. All trademarks, tradenames and program names are property of their individual owners.

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