Microsoft slashes product prices by 80%

Legalise your softwareMicrosoft Malaysia has launched a program which caters specifically to higher education students and offers its most popular products for up to 80% off the retail price. The program is very much similar to the one currently being held in the US (details here) but has even more products listed than the American counterpart.

The list includes home software like Microsoft Encarta 2008, Office 2007 Pro, Visio Pro 2007, Expression series and also upgrades to Vista Business and Ultimate. The Vista Ultimate upgrade seems pretty worth it since an OEM version already costs around RM700 and retail boxed versions running well over RM1000 whilst Office Pro OEM is around RM800. Heck! Encarta is going for a measly RM48 (approx US$15).

So whats the catch? Well, the offer is open SOLELY to students studying in local IPTAs (Institut Pengajian Tinggi Awam or Government-based Higher Education Institutes) because they have to purchase and register their details at their local Kedai Kooperasi in order to get their software (full physical media supposedly included). Each student is only allowed to purchase one (1) license for each listed product and each license will be registered to the student's name. More details about this offer and the complete list of participating IPTAs and available software is available here.

Hmm ... last year Microsoft Malaysia distributed for free, full versions of Vista Business at my workplace (and WinXP four years before that) and I thought that was pretty neat although I had to queue for nearly 2 hours. Both offers seem to benefit Microsoft in more than one way - in decreasing pirated software in educational institutes and also increasing its customer base in IHLs, many of which are now turning to open source options to do research and development. We'll just have to wait and see how the campaign works out.

BTW, how many people realise that most of their campuses actually purchase open licenses for their software and students are often provided copies (either downloaded or through a drop-by install facility) to use on their own desktops? Ask around and you may be surprised. UM and MMU provides this but not many actually know about it ... go figure :P

Mamma Mia makes for more musical movies

Photo from allmoviephoto.comAnother musical-to-film movie is about to hit local shores, albeit at a very much later date than when it premiered (25th September 2008 to be exact compared to when it actually opened in UK on 30th June). Based on the Broadway musical, this movie only makes use of ABBA songs to carry the movie along and is not actually a biopic of the group as many might assume. Featuring nearly the entire range of ABBA songs, the musical makes use of their most popular hits including Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, I Do I Do I Do I Do I Do, Money money money and Honey honey (hmm ... aren't these song titles SO creative - note sarcasm here). Of course the aptly name movie title track is also featured but only halfway through.

One thing I do notice though is the sudden increase of interest with musicals currently ... not that I mind though. The trend is noticeable especially with movies and TV releases such as Hairspray, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Moulin Rouge, Rent and the Disney staples with its Enchanted, High School Musical trilogy and Camp Rock coming soon. Audience wise, there will be the fans and of course the detractors that hate anything to do with musical theatre and broadway. As for me, I find it interesting to watch actors expanding their range and ability - and perhaps showing off something new we've never seen before.

Take Pierce Brosnan for example - possibly best known as James Bond (and maybe less so as Remington Steele) he has always been the action/mystery actor but manages to show off some vocal prowess in this movie. The same goes for Meryl Streep who was the boss you loved to hate in the Prada movie but seems to carry the quirky title role here very well (based on trailers I've seen). Whats next for musicals at the cinema ... who knows? Here's hoping Avenue Q makes it someday 'cos I'd like to see how the censors handle that ( ... the internet is for porn, grab your d*ck and double click for porn porn porn ... )

Piano score reduction MIPHmmm ... which reminds me, I still have the PVG score book from this musical which I never sold (WB publishing ISBN 0757992781). It was ordered and never picked up and now that person is in Thailand .... guess its mine now. Any offers to buy it (retails RM79)??

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Comprehending Acer wireless devices

Another post to do with hardware, this time with the wireless keyboard that come with newer Acer desktops. Mine looks like this and came bundled with a wireless optical mouse with the Aspire M5640. Documentation that comes with the hardware is scant and hardly informative but a little digging around solved that. So here's hoping this post would help those in trouble.

Acer wireless keyboard,mouse and receiverLocating the set model number was confusing and very misleading because each item had its own model number and serial ID ... and it turns out the correct one is on the USB receiver. This particular set is an OEM from Chincony Keyboards model WUR0420TR (as shown here on their website). Its a basic 2-channel 27MHz RF wireless multimedia keyboard with additional function keys (pre-programmed) and volume controls in Windows.

To link the devices up, just plug in the USB receiver into any free USB port. Press the button in the middle and the receiver should start blinking steadily . Then just press once EITHER the mouse or keyboard connect button located on the underside (you do not need to press both devices). If successfully paired up, the receiver will stop blinking. These are the same steps to change the channel frequency of the devices should there be any interference that affects the hardware behaviour.

By default out of the package, the mouse and keyboard will work on different channels and will alternatively pair up whenever you initiate the steps above. In noisy situations (e.g. offices with many similar devices) you might have to force devices to use the same channel by which you have to change the device ID tag. The steps are similar as before, but this time press and HOLD the connect button on the device affect for more than 3 seconds to change the device ID. This will force the devices to use the same channel frequency but with different ID tags to differentiate signal sources.

Although driverless in Windows XP and Vista, Chicony actually does have its own drivers that provides the same functionality as the default Windows HID driver but it goes one up by providing an on-screen indication panel on whether the num/caps/scroll lock has been activated. Additionally the panel purportedly also shows the battery signal from both devices - basically, if it's lit, your battery is weak.

On screen indicatorsTo download this driver/utility, do a Google search (you can also use the Google search on the side panel of my blog) on the model number "WUR0420TR" to locate an executable WUR0420TR.exe which weighs in around 4MB++ (most sites are in Russian though so be careful but the drivers are in English). Note that the drivers MUST be installed as an administrator and in Windows XP SP2 compatibility mode if you are using Vista, else you'll get errors and non-stop pop-up message boxes. If everything goes as planned, the drivers will install correctly and upon reboot you'll see the on-screen panel. If you don't like installing the driver, you can basically extract the application (CNYHKey.exe and HKCYDLL.dll required) using i6comp and run that in your startup menu.

UPDATE 05092008 - The driver I used was downloaded from here.

UPDATE 18092008 - Released drivers from Acer available here. The drivers are listed for model WUG0570 but it works in both XP and Vista.

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Dell Soundbar power jack uses

Photo from people (myself included) who own a Dell LCD monitor actually don't have the optional Soundbar accessory which attaches to the bottom of the monitor and provides a pair of basic speakers for audio output. The Soundbar itself isn't anything fancy but it does reduce the need of an additional power brick / outlet to power up speakers and does provide two headphone jacks for private listening if your case does not have them (or is out of reach). Although it is not sanctioned, you can actually power up other speaker sets - just as long as they conform to the specs.

Check speaker power requirementsThe power jack on most Dell LCD monitors output 12V DC 1.5A according to the website details (but check beforehand). Next is to see if your speaker set uses the same voltage/amperage as its input. Also required is that your speaker set has a detachable power source else you will need to do some work to attach a power jack which might involve drilling and soldering. Luckily most branded and higher-end speakers have separate power bricks.

What is needed for the connection is basically a two-ended cord with plugs at both ends to connect the power output jack from the monitor to the input on the speaker. I had a couple commercial connectors lying around as spares in my toolkit (from my part-time job days in school) and used those but you can easily make your own with parts bought from any electronic component dealer (or just gut two unused/broken adaptors for their plugs and join them together). Plug in both ends and on startup, your Dell monitor should have detected the attached speakers and activated the corresponding auadio option in the OSD menu.

Two ended power cord adaptorFrom testing, it seems that for most speaker sets, the voltage does not really matter but you MUST pay careful attention to the input current amperage. With the 12V DC, I've managed to power up a pair of AIWA SC-A55 PC speakers eventhough the required voltage was 13V. Testing with a variable transformer, it turns out the speakers would work even at 6V 500mA!! Turns out a lot of energy is wasted with the original transformer. Second set tested was a Cambridge PC Soundworks 2.1 set which listed a perfect 12V 1.5A requirement in the manual. Those worked fine too except for an annoying hum due to nearby EMI (which reminds me, I need to get some ferrite filter beads).

Another advantage of using the Soundbar jack? When your monitor turns off or goes into standby power save mode, your speakers also turn themselves off - thus saving electricity!! (though this action can be toggled using the above mentioned audio menu)

DISCLAIMER : Any attempts of this hack 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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Olympics 2008 trickery?!?

The 2008 Olympics have started in Beijing and the opening was a sure stunner but barely 5 days after the opening ceremony, news reports have started to expose about how the public were fooled into thinking how well the event ran on the night.

There was pre-recorded computer rendered video footage of the fireworks used during the live broadcast which showed how firework 'footprints' traversed a 6 mile journey from Tiannamen Square to the Bird Nest stadium. Watching a HD download of the opening ceremony, it is actually noticable now which ones were faked. My guess is that all the outdoor shots were pre-rendered right from the very beginning. The camera angles and positions are so close to the fired fireworks that in reality, the downdraft of the helicopter used (if there was an actual one) should have distorted the foot shape but instead it is perfect.

Fireworks a few feet from the helicopter remain unaffectedIf I were to guess, I would even say that the 'smiley' fireworks for the theme song were also generated during the outdoor shots as each one was a perfect smiley ... but I'm just guessing. I have NEVER seen any firework display with that that amount of precision. Some shots were ever-so-slightly off and looked funny - everything was in focus no matter how far away it was!!

Is it me or is the focus depth of this picture wierd?Next trick was the replacement of the actual child singer because she wasn't pretty enough to represent China though the actual singer has now been given recognition after the musical director of the event admitted to the change as published in many news reports (such as the one here).

Another thing which I have yet to see any news/online/web/TV report on is on the opening drum sequence of which commentators said there were 2008 drummers. A still frame of the drummers reveal that there are only two groups, each with 59 columns and 17 rows making a total of 2006 participants!! Where are the missing two?!? Believe me ... I counted this twice using multiple frames which makes me wonder is this another case of fakes as China is so infamous for?

BTW, I also have a sneaking suspicion that the drum sequence audio was pre-recorded too because the drumming was never in sync with the sound. Ughs ... I'd better stop analyzing too much before I spoil the splendour of what really was a good show.

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trueSpace 7.6 now FREEWARE!

trusSpace logoGo and download your very own copy of Caligari's trueSpace 7.6 - which is the latest version - absolutely FREE. All thanks to mega-corp Microsoft which has bought over the company.

Previously, the only ones that were available for download were versions 3.2 and 1.0 and these are already showing their age although both still work fairly well in Windows' platforms. Additionally, the older free versions did not come with documentation (which was a separate downloadable purchase) or any form of tutorials. Not with this one though as the download includes links to the PDF softcopy of the manuals and full tutorials covering many aspects of 3D modeling, rendering and basic animation! Normal price of this full package is approx US$600 so you're getting a real bargain.

trueSpace renderingsSo go on and try to give Pixar a run for its money! Who knows, you might be creating the very next Toy Story ©. Get your full download here. Requires registration.

Boom De Ah Da!

I'm hooked on this song which has been featured on the current Discovery Channel ad all over the world which features people like Bear Grylls, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, Stephen Hawking, Mike Rowe etc. The tune is just infectious :)

What's even better, you can download the audio track in its entirety as an high-quality 96kbps 48kHz MP3 file from Astro/Discovery SEA for a limited time here and use it as a ringtone (ePass membership required).

So start singing Boom de ah da!

Would you pay RM108 for this?!?

RM108 paper calendar ... crazyThis is a rhombic dodecahedron calendar made of paper ... and it costs RM108 - P&P not included - to get one (and yes I know its outdated but you get the picture). You can get the link to the website selling them here.

Funny thing is, you can make these dodecahedron models very easily and to accomplish the similar results as those from the website, all you'd really need is a good colour printer and the ability to follow folding instructions. I've personally made the rhombic dodecahedrons since I was a kid but never really fathomed them as calendars mainly because I was too fascinated by how the pieces fit to form the model.

Although I learnt this model from a book which was in Japanese (yeah, I had to figure out all the stuff just by looking at the pictures) I've found better instructions online to help from this website. Here you can generate printable PDF files to create calendars for any year in several languages. Here's mine as displayed on my office PC monitor - created using the same generator and printed on 3 sheets of coloured paper before assembly. Total cost? Probably RM0.05 max since the paper was recycled from old ads - I could have made it more fancy by using the office colour laser printer and adding backgrounds but I kinda like it plain as the dates are easier to see.

Eco-friendly recycled dodecahedron calendar

Are your broadband details correct?

Local broadband selections suck big time. Its either you go with wired broadband or any of the other wireless options which are (in my opinion) worse as their data transfer rates fluctuate so randomly its hard to predict anything. If you are on any package though, one thing you should be checking is whether or not you are getting the correct up and downstream rates as subscribed. If you're lucky, you could be getting a better package than the one you are paying for but if not, you could actually paying extra for nothing.

ADSL speeds are controlled by the ISP - which in my case is TM - based on contract agreements. The maximum download and upload rates are determined by the handshake protocols that happen between your modem/router and the exchange. The only way you can find out this information is to access the configuration pages of your device to see at what level your connection has been setup to.

Accessing the configuration pages might be as easy as entering the device's IP into the address bar of the browser (different devices may vary in technique - check the manual) but many will have passwords which can be Googled. Here's mine.

It states that the handshake has setup my upstream (US) rate at a maximum of 512 kbps and downstream (DS) as 1024 kbps which is great since I'm only subscribed to the 512 package :)

Other modems will have different config pages but basically say the same thing, perhaps using different terms but you get the picture. Here are some screenshots of two other popular modems provided when subscribing to TM - ZTE (the gawdy blue one) and an Aztech 500E modem.

If your handshake details are inconsistent with your subscription details, its time to call the service hotline of your ISP and complain that you are not getting what you paid for. Do note however that the handshake only states the maximum possible up and download rates - actual usage depends on other factors such as current network traffic, server load and intercontinental connection conditions.

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