Astro B.yond ... good or bad?

UPDATED 01/01/2010

One call and 8 days later then TA-DAAH! The Astro B.yond box is installed. What is involved - new set-top box/decoder, new external dish/LNB, remote control and HDMI cable all in a pretty basic blue box.

Going around the forums, the most common questions about the B.yond package I've seen are as follows (and answered the best to my knowledge)

How much do I need to pay to get B.yond?
If you are a current customer, nothing. Installation is free AS LONG AS YOU SURRENDER YOUR OLD EQUIPMENT (this includes STB, remote and smartcard ... items DO NOT need to be in working order but you must have a running Astro account). Installers should accept ANY decoder/remote + gold smartcard even if you are not using the decoder (i.e. you bought another one to replace non-working one, etc)

If you are not a Astro customer/ex-customer you need to pay standard installation fees of RM80 to install dish, cabling and setting up of the STB to TV. The charges here are similar to the old decoder. If you wish to keep your old equipment the same charges apply (but note that your old gold smartcard will also be deactivated upon the activation of your HD smartcard)
How long do I need to wait?
Depending on area and availability, anywhere between 5 to 25 days. The installers I've seen and asked have mentioned they are installing at a rate of around 70 to 100 sets per day. Each set has to be activated at Astro and linked to your account (i.e. program smartcard) before they are assigned to the installers.
What do I need to view B.yond?
Any TV will work with the decoder - 3 video outputs are provided in increasing quality (composite, component and HDMI) along with one analog stereo outputs (RCA) and one digital output (RCA). Best video quality at HD resolution can only be provided through HDMI cables. Composite will be limited to 500 lines resolution (approx) and component a maximum of 720 lines. HDMI will support up to 1080 lines of resolution. The majority of LCD/Plasma TVs locally sold already support the requirements for the B.yond STB.
What resolution is Astro B.yond broadcasting at?
According to website specs, the channels broadcasting now are in 1080i but the STB can downsample to 720p and 576p/i for compatibility reasons.
The B.yond remote conflicts/interferes with my TV/amp/hifi remote. What do I do?
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this. Unlike the old STBs, the current Pace STB does not seem to have an alternative channel for the remote (or at least one that is documented for public knowledge).
Do I need a widescreen TV to view?
No but it will be better. HD content will be broadcast in widescreen 16:9 ratio. Using a standard 4:3 TV will allow you to choose between a Pan-and-scan option (i.e. zoom in and cut off the sides) or letterbox mode (black bars top and below content). On a widescreen TV the options are different - 4:3 broadcasts can either be stretched to fill the screen (i.e. fat people) or pillarboxed (black bars on left and right of content). All Astro content is in PAL format 50Hz.
Which is better - 720p or 1080i?
Uhm .... depends on your TV set and how sensitive your eyesight is, but majority of viewers may not be able to tell the difference (especially on smaller screens or longer distances). People claim that 720p results in smoother images with less stair-stepping since each image projected is "whole" whilst others claim that 1080 gives you such a higher resolution that the stepping is unnoticable plus you get the extra detail. Basically, if you have a LCD/Plasma TV not older than 5-8 years, any signal going in is already going to be de-interlaced before it can be shown on the panel (yes ... all flat panels are progressive displays and cannot work with interlaced signals).

So, my suggestion is, if your display supports it, to use the 1080i signal as broadcast to your STB and let the TV do the deinterlacing for itself. If you are using the 720p output signal, your display may have to recompose the image again (stretch or shrink to fit) and then deinterlace AGAIN before displaying which may affect resoultion. Personal experience says that the 720p signal gets deteriorated quite a bit on my set (which is 1080p capable) until I see jaggies on curves and lines.
Can I just buy the decoder/subscribe HD channels/terminate after installation?
No. The decoder is bundled as a package WITH the channels. You need a minimum 1 year subscription else a RM500 penalty will be charged for early termination of HD services. Subscription is RM20 per month + your standard Astro monthly package subscription rates. The RM20 does NOT give you access to all the HD channels. Access will follow your normal subscription package (e.g. your normal Astro subscription does not have sports package so you will not get the HD sport channels even if you pay RM20). My charges for HD channels only begin in April eventhough I've installed it for two weeks in December but your mileage may vary depending on how loyal a customer you are and is up to Astro's discretion to offer.

Once your 1 year contract is up, you are free to terminate the HD service and choose to retain normal Astro subscription to standard definition channels. The decoder will continue to function as it is.
Can I transfer the card to another B.yond decoder?
No. The card/STB are linked together and will not work on other B.yond decoders.
On an old TV set, can I use S-video/SCART connection instead?
Purchase a Component to S-video/SCART converter (around RM15) to connect to your set. Else use composite connections but at (noticeable) reduced quality
What connections are available on the STB?
As listed on the images below .... (click for larger image in a new window/tab)
What are the USB ports for?
PVR (personal video recorder) functions introduced later (as announced on website) and possibly firmware upgrades. The decoder is NOT designed to function as a media center (i.e. WDTV) but will only playback content recorded by the unit itself. You need a storage device (thumbdrive, external HDD) to record content onto.
Can I share the recorded content later?
No. All content recorded on your decoder will be DRM locked to your subscription (and possibly the decoder) and can only be played back on the same unit/account.
What is my PIN code for parental settings/installation settings?
Its in the manual .... but since you're here the default value is 0000.
What is the network/ethernet port for?
IPTV/Network functions introduced later.
Is there any difference to the content?
Uhm ... not really. HD channels will be in proper widescreen ratio (no more fat people la!) and in 5.1 surround sound (requires external amplifier/decoder) and standard content remains the same. Some channels will eventually have exclusive HD content not available on the standard channels. HD broadcasts are currently delayed by 1 hour except for sports HD channels which have a nominal delay (few seconds due to broadcast delays around the world etc.) There are only 4 channels now (fifth introduced in January) and rumours of an additional 5 channels later in the year. The 2010 World Cup will be one of the highlights of the HD offerings as they will be in widescreen 5.1 surround.
Is/Are the HD content/channels censored/broadcast in original aspect ratio?
Content on ALL ASTRO CHANNELS will remain censored and cut to remove "questionable" and "offending" content. This means all swear words (F***, B**CH, S*IT, B*TT, A*S etc) will be silenced if done locally (if from original source you hear the normal beep). All kissing, nude (partial or full), sexual, illicit, boob-y and breast-y content will be removed. If you wish to view things like this, go online or switch to the cartoon channels!! (yup ... words like ASS , BUTT and SHIT as well as kissing scenes are OK on Disney and Cartoon Network but not on any adult channels - go figure THAT out)

Film content will be in widescreen but NOT in original aspect ratio (OAR). They will be zoom pan-and-scan but not to the extremes of 4:3 crop. For example, the current Indiana Jones marathons are actually filmed in 2.35:1 ratios and start off correctly. Immediately after the credits, the picture zooms in slowly to fill the 16:9 screen (but still at HD resolutions). Since the start of B.yond broadcasts NONE of the movies on HBO-HD have been broadcast in OAR. This is beyond (sic) the control of ASTRO because this cropping is done at the source.
Will all channels be HD? Are the normal channels improved in quality?
No. Only specific channels will be broadcast in HD format whilst remaining existing channels remain exactly the same. Those channels won't look any better than what you have now ... well, maybe slightly better because of higher transmission rates thus making it less blocky/pixelated
How do I remember/What are the HD channel numbers?
Easy ... change the middle number to either 3 or 7. For example HBO is 411 so HBO-HD is on 431. NatGeo and History is on 553 and 555 so their HD corresponding channels are 573 and 575 respectively.
Can I split the output signal to two TVs?
Possibly (haven't tried this yet) by using the multiple outputs provided. HDMI connections to the main TV whilst an extended component cable run to a secondary TV but both sets will display the same channel.
Can I split the incoming signal (from dish) to two decoders (e.g. one B.yond and the other standard)
No. One thing is the LNB on the new dish is vastly different and could be incompatible with the older STBs. The other is the new B.yond decoder is highly sensitive and is said to not work well with any cable splitter which degrades the signal quality (note quality and not strength) Having more than one B.yond STB linked to a single dish might result in no reception
Any disadvantages to changing to the new decoder?
Based on experience, the new STB works best with an external amplifier (or at least a hifi set) as the standard outputs are extremely low. If you are watching the current Astro STB with a volume level on your TV at 20 then the new STB will need a volume level of around 85 to be equal (personal comparison). Maximum output resolution is at 1080i but majority of households with LCD TVs can support this or at least the 720p resolution. No pay TV company broadcasts in 1080p.

If you are exchanging a Astro.MAX decoder, note that you will lose the function of the dual decoder (i.e. you can't record one channel whilst watching another) because the STB only has one tuner built in
What about advantages (other than HD)?
The new STB response is much faster than any other existing standard STB in all aspects. Also, load times are very very much quicker - especially on channels that are NOT on your subscription (old decoders forced you to wait for the "This channel is not in your subscription" message before allowing you to proceed, this STB doesn't) The old "GUIDE" option is now replaced with the "TV GUIDE" that now also shows a mini preview window whilst still allowing you to browse through the channels.
What equipment is B.yond using?
Seems that the B.yond STB is a adaptation of the Pace DS830 box found here and here or the US variant found here but localised specifically for Astro to have USB ports ×2. The actual STB used has the model code DS830NA and uses NDS encryption for content distribution. The unit is manufactured/assembled in Malaysia. The external dish is slightly larger but no details have been provided/obtained thus far. It is angled at a different position during installation (towards MEASAT3) and has a better signal rate and thus should reduce rain fade-outs (my current signal strength is hovering above 85% at 100% quality levels, before it was 61%).

From whatever information obtainable, it seems the STB runs on a RISC cpu with Linux as its operating system (cold start shows a BOOTING message on STB LCD panel). The manual lists GPL and LGPL licensing by Pace as part of the software contained within the box. More details possibly obtainable here.
Will I be able to receive Digital FTA TV with the B.yond decoder?
No. Current digital TV trial broadcasts are running on DVB-T whilst Astro runs on (possibly but unconfirmed) DVB-S which is entirely incompatible. To view FTA channels you need a separate decoder and high-gain digital antenna to receive those channels.
What does the aspect ratio button do (on the remote)?
A future function to allow switch between widescreen/standard ratios and possibly between stretch/pan-and-scan modes depending on your TV.
What does the Back button do (on the remote)?
Several functions - move back between setup menus to a earlier one, close the language/subtitle panel and channel swap (swaps between the two most recent channels viewed)
What does the AV button do (on the remote)?
If programmed to your TV (See your manual), the AV button allows you to cycle through the AV inputs on your TV set. If not programmed, the button does nothing.
What does the FAV button do?
Allows you to select (limited) channels and group them as your favourites. By default, the channels are already grouped as movies, sports, news etc. This allows you to only view the schedule for your favourite channels instead of all your subscribed channels.
What happened to the INFO button?
The INFO button on the B.yond box only shows the content of the current channel displayed. To get something similar to the INFO function on the old STB, used the arrow keys around the OK button to call up the "programme banner" then use the arrow keys to move between channels and time slots. The programme banner dissapears after a set amount of time (available in the settings options) To view details of a particular program on a timeslot, press the INFO button. Another way to view the schedule is to use the TV button.
How do I return back to the program I was watching?
Press the blue B.yond button anywhere to return to the last viewed channel.
What does the APP/.@ button do?
Who knows ....
Do you work for Astro?
Nope I do not, but answering the same questions to neighbours made me think to write this up for fun and also as a service to those searching Google for answers.
..... Show/hide questions about B.yond

That should answer the majority of the questions floating around cyberspace now ... now back to figuring out if there's any way of hacking the STB

Yeah ... I'm a sucker for novelty items

Can't really help it but freebies and novelty items always seem to catch my attention ... for one thing, they're free and the other is that there is no other way of obtaining them except at promos/roadshows/events. Here's the latest at the CI booth running at 1Utama this weekend.

Answer questions, take part in the quiz and you end up with these. Love those syringe pens ... and the fact that their caps are little IU bottles and they have real fluid inside them. What I don't understand are the leaves, debris and sand with the jigsaw puzzle. The bottom show little note pads with the probably the tiniest pen attached; also come with a torch and retractable measuring tape on the other end. Thermal mugs are the normal fare at the as are the t-shirts and car sunscreens (both not shown here).

Yeah ... simple things like this keep me happy ... I'm kinda sad like that (but cheap to shop for too!)

Is this the future of Streamyx?


Seems that installation works for Zaaba, Datuk Sulaiman and Burhanuddin have completed and it won't be long until TM HSBB (High Speed Broadband) will be available. Everyone else on Streamyx is on what they call BBGP which maxes out at 4Mbps. This is what the installation looks like so far.


Each existing junction box now has an additional tower with a warning sign "LASER DANGER" ... technicians were seem wearing goggles when configuring the big mess of fiber optics cables inside. What does this mean when HSBB is finally available? From TM news announcements, the minimum speed package will be a whopping minimum 24Mbps upto 100Mbps for download streams but bill payment rumours at local forums put it anywhere from RM600/month upwards with a download cap (in other words *YIKES*). A cap of 10GB downloads means I'll reach that limit in 2 days (hee hee - go blame those humungous MSDN AA ISO downloads and bittorrents)

TM intranet posts have said that prior to launch, Streamyx subscribers from TM staff in Bangsar, TTDI and Subang will be invited to guinea-pig test the scheme first (so when - pray tell - will they call me :D ). Oh well .. here's to hoping.

P/S : As I was taking the pics, TM technicians were actually down the road installing at another junction box. I'm guessing next area to complete is Rahim Kajai.

No ... I'm not dead

Left this blog in silence for sometime as other matters popped up - mostly work related ... been spending a lot too on necessities and NON-necessities. My PC decided to die on me with a blown motherboard and graphic card ... 8 days and RM500 less, its now back in (hopefully) working condition. Also finally formatted it to run Windows 7 Professional (was running as upgrade previously and it brought all the crap it collected in Vista). Am currently downloading Win7 x64 ISO and might do another reformat to try that version out later if time permits.

What else ... finally bought another camera to replace the one that was stolen ... not going the SLR route yet (for now) 'cos my parents sometimes borrow the camera and they already have a hard enough time figuring out these point and shoot consumer cams. Searching around, finally settled on another Kodak model - this time the Z1085 IS.
Kodak Z1085 ISWhy this particular model? Mostly because of size and convenience's sake. Plus it takes HD quality 1280×720 video at 30fps and the output isn't half bad although its autofocus does tend to suffer in low-light situations. Another gimmicky feature which works quite well is the built-in panoramic shot. My parents took the camera on a 9 day test run on a tour to China and this was one of the panoramic shots taken (resized to 22% of the original). Look closely enough and you'll notice two spots the camera 'stitched' wrongly :P

Click to view larger

Too bad Blogger video resizes the video and recompresses it so badly ... here's the same clip with YouTube HD.

Bad points, the camera is a battery hog and goes through normal NiMH/CD rechargeables and Alkalines like crazy (fresh batts only give around 10 shots). Had to foot out an additional RM70 to get rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and RM45 for a 4GB SDHC card. Total cost equals to RM520 (the camera was RM310) for them to use on the trip and I haven't even had a chance to play around with it yet, waiting for the battery to recharge ...... *sigh*

Will update more later 'bout what I've been spending on :D

The KLIA Chime

OK ... useless post ahead ... I'm kinda weird like that.

Few weeks back I was stuck at KLIA airport for nearly two hours waiting for pickup. End result? The KLIA chime got stuck in my head ... which led me to wonder about annoucement chimes. Searching around, it seems most locations (i.e. airports, train stations, shopping malls) use a basic root chord like C-E-G-C or portions of it as shown in this Youtube video below.


So the KLIA chime certainly stands out amongst the rest with a chord progression ... I kinda liked it after a while and figured it would be a great alert tone. Searching Google only came up with audio recordings which wouldn't work on my current lau-yar Nokia plus the quality was so-so. Next best thing was to figure out the note progression and make a MIDI tone of it. The chime moves from a base chord of Bmin to Cmaj as shown below - split into two staves for the chord and moving arpeggio. These notes are played by a vibraphone at a 120bpm tempo, doubled up with a glock to highlight the downbeat notes ... with the following result below(not taking into account the acoustical delay and reverb of the paneled KLIA ceilings)

P/S: Doesn't the Aena Spanish Airport 2 chime at 1:14 in the Youtube video sound like the one on the Putra LRT?

He said it best

Of all the people, of all the celebs, he said it best. Who? Zac Efron ... weird huh?

"I don’t have a Twitter, a MySpace or a Facebook or anything like that.
I kind of value in people not knowing where I am or what I’m doing”


My sentiments exactly. Facebook is bad enough ... but then again, I'm the kind of person that can survive without a handphone or Internet connection. Its just a convenience not a necessity in my life.

R.I.P Yasmin Ahmad - Our Nation's Storyteller

Haven't been on blogger for quite sometime ... not because I have nothing to say but because I don't have the time to do so. Anyways, news hit me hard about how Yasmin Ahmad passed away due to a brain haemorrhage. Personally, I have never met her but from interviews (both on TV and online) she seems like a person anyone could be friends with. We were truly and absolutely blessed with her talents and her chutzpah when defending her rights and beliefs.

Her true nature can really be seen whenever she is left to ramble ... as seen in this recently released (30 July) clip from TheBackpackr for TEDxKL.


This retrospective YouTube video sums it up nicely (by NSTPonline ... kudos to the author and apologies for embedding)

R.I.P. Michael Joseph Jackson

Michael Jackson RIP (photo from MSN)Just concluded watching the tribute broadcast of MJ's Dangerous Concert in Bucharest on local terrestial 8TV and boy did it bring back the memories. Every song, every moment, every effect was like hidden somewhere in my brain but watching that concert on TV brought everything flooding back.

I remembered a rocket, the dissapearing acts, the angel, the lasers, the fibre optics and of course, the screaming. I remembered anticipating the concert and loved every minute of it right till the end. Of course, I didn't go to that Dangerous Concert but instead went to the History World Tour Concert which was held in Stadium Merdeka, 29th October 1996. I still hold on to the fading ticket from the show which I will most certainly treasure more than ever now (RM160.00 you know!! NOT cheap for a 16 year old but hey, it was a once in a lifetime event which is even more true now)


Wierd enough, the night before his passing I was playing his albums - which I had not done for years now. I went through his Dangerous and History Book 1 CDs before falling asleep and was awoken to the sad news. Kinda wonder now if it was a sign or just pure coincidence.

Rest in peace Michael, and trust that I am and will always be a fan.

Hooked on iTunes 2 !!

Follow up from an earlier post here, four months on and my iTunes folder has exploded to a massive 53.6GBs ... and this does NOT include the 80 items queued up for downloading.

50++ gigs of space!Long queue to goWonder why I find it so amazing? All this content downloaded was 100 % FREE and legal. There are several gems amongst all the bits and bytes
    Free full episode of Mythbusters - Alaska special 2!
    Premiere episodes of Aaron Stone (now showing on Disney Channel Asia but I finished watching in April) and the upcoming Zeke and Luther (probably premiering on Disney Asia in December?) in 720p HD and 5.1 surround!
    Premiere episode of Parks and Recreation
    Mother's Day giveaway with episodes of Jon & Kate +8, Little people bit world, The Duggars ....
    Pilot episode of Glee! in HD
    6 Spring break freebies featuring full episodes from Discovery Travel and Living
Those terabyte harddisks are looking pretty tempting right about now....

Anyone still using Finale Notepad?

Makemusic earlier this year decided that Finale 2009 Notepad will no longer be free to use and requires a minimum US$9.95 payment instead of free as once was done with older versions. This cost is justified by Makemusic with the new features added onto F2009NP including support for import and export of MusicXML files, guitar tabs, MIDI import/export, better expression entry and so on (as listed on the press release here)

I'm all for them charging for the software but what really bums me out is that they removed all trace of older versions of the software eventhough there's a sizeable group of users still using them. You can no longer obtain free license keys for the software nor can you download them from their website ... or can you? Turns out I still have the links to the individual downloads listed under the history panel of the download manager I'm using.

So ... if you have an existing license key and are just looking for the downloads because you lost yours, here's the full list for Windows and Mac PCs.
Finale 2001 Notepad
Windows
Mac

Finale 2002 Notepad
Windows
Mac

Finale 2003 Notepad
Windows
Mac

Finale 2004 Notepad
Windows
Mac

Finale 2005 Notepad
Windows
Mac

Finale 2006 Notepad
Windows
Mac

Finale 2007 Notepad
Windows
Mac

Finale 2008 Notepad
Windows
Mac


All links have been tested to work as of 9th June 2009 but could be taken offline anytime soon. This post is NOT validated or supported by Makemusic and can be removed at anytime by request. I am NOT hosting the files, nor will I send you the files and/or license keys by email/sharing sites.

Whats wrong with Google Followers?

Just a quickie ... something's wrong with the followers gadget in blogger. When its loaded, this blog doesn't load and instead aborts with an error "Operation aborted" or the error number 800a03e8. Removing the gadget seems to have fixed it for now.

Getting surround sound working in iTunes downloads

[a.k.a. removing DRM from iTunes videos]

This is a known problem that upcoming iTunes downloads now feature a normal stereo track and a 5.1 surround track but no player can actually access this track. Selecting the track in iTunes or Quicktime just results in empty silence whether you are going the analogue or digital route (but then why do AppleTV owners not face the same problem?). There are some writeups about using Quicktime Pro to reassign channels to get the file to work properly but it didn't work for me - the only way I managed to run with 5.1 surround is by removing the DRM from the file and playing in VLC.

For this you need the software (*cue ominous RIAA tracking music here*) Requiem. No links will be posted here ... uploads are regularly tracked and removed, so you have to be quick/smart/sneaky with ways on how to get this download (I won't answer requests to get a copy of this software either) (see bottom of post for link). Note that there are several Requiem 'uploads' on sharing sites but those are either not working or trojans in disguise. The one you need is the now current version 1.8.10 which supports iTunes 8.1.1.10 both in Mac and Windows.

Strip commandThe GUI didn't work on my computer (too lazy to install a JAVA runtime environment) so I went the CLI path to strip the DRM from the file. Note that you need to have a working media file with license on your computer - you can't just copy the M4V/M4A file from a friend and strip the DRM on your computer. Requiem's decrypter makes use of your iTunes library license files to strip the DRM off your files making them playable in other software/players.

Once stripped, you can now play the file in an alternative 'better' player and access the 5.1 surround track properly (without having to reassign channels, edit, etc). It also works if you want to output the digital stream to an external decoder. The files STILL won't work in Quicktime or iTunes though as they don't have a decoder for the AC3 stream ... wierd huh?

5.1 channels working!Its just a normal AC3 stream with 5.1 channelsNote that Requiem does NOT strip user data from the file, so your iTunes account details are still left intact in the file - uploading/sharing the DRM-freed file would be a bad thing as they can be traced back to your account.
______________________________

UPDATE 21st March 2012!!!
Wow ... amazing how many still get to this post even though its 3 years old. Anyways, Requiem is still alive with the last working version I used being 3.3.5 for iTunes versions 10.5.3.3 and below. If you have updated to iTunes 10.6.X.X.X then this version will not work and you may need to install an older version of iTunes (search oldapps). Since my last update, the interface has changed quite a bit (referring to the Windows version) and Requiem now automatically strips DRM from ALL files in your iTunes storage folders (i.e. Movies, Music and most Books) whilst original files are deleted and placed into the recycle bin. If you prefer more control, just hold down the SHIFT key on your keyboard when starting up Requiem - this disables auto-loading and removal of DRM. Then just drag-and-drop selected file(s) onto the program and it will decrypt and delete the files.

How do you obtain Requiem? You could always search Google for shares/links to the package or learn to use TOR @ https://www.torproject.org/ and direct yourself to "tag3ulp55xczs3pn.onion" for the latest versions of Requiem.

UPDATE 13th June 2009!!!
Seeing as a lot of traffic is diverted here from Google, here's a validated link for Requiem 1.8.10 found on Rapidshare. I didn't upload this and I don't know how long it will be around.

http://rapidshare.com/files/230438021/requiem-1.8.10.zip

If you use other methods of downloading, Requiem should weigh in at around 638kB in size only. Anything larger could be fake or infected.

UPDATE 12th June 2009!!!
Here's how I downgraded iTunes (i.e. installed older version) in Windows to ensure Requiem works. Just go to your control panel and uninstall the iTunes application (you can leave the updated Quicktime) and grab the older version of 8.1.10 from http://www.oldapps.com/itunes.php.

Go to your iTunes download folder and rename it something else temporarily (I just renamed it to iTunes-old). Install the older version and start up the program which should create another iTunes downloads folder in the same location as the first. Close iTunes and proceed rename the iTunes-old folder back into the new iTunes folder (thus deleting the new one created by iTunes).

Go into the "Previous iTunes Libraries" folder and choose the latest library backup file. You can't use the one from iTunes 8.2.0.23 'cause it won't open/load and must replace the one in the root directory of the new iTunes folder - just rename it to "iTunes Library.itl".

Restart iTunes and your library should be restored up to the latest backup date. If any downloads are missing, just drag and drop the files onto iTunes and it will automatically restore them to their respective folders. Any new downloads will not play and will ask for your authorization - do this and the previous 8.2.0.23 licenses are replaced with 8.1.1.10 and once that is done, Requiem 1.8.10 will work once again (this time its confirmed 100%!)

UPDATE 10th June 2009!!!
Scratch the update above ... any NEW iTunes downloads with 8.2.0.23 are no longer decryptable with this Requiem version. Existing downloads (ones obtained with earlier versions of iTunes) remain decryptable as long as your license was obtained with the older version of iTunes. If you formated your PC/Mac, then reauthorized your iTunes account, Requiem may not work any longer ... haven't really tried it out but it seems that way. Either reinstall 8.1x and obtain new licenses for new downloads or wait patiently for the next release of Requiem.

UPDATE 7th June 2009!!!
Just tested and Requiem 1.8.10 seems to still work with the latest iTunes 8.2.0.23 and new DRM-ed downloads ... who knows, maybe later releases might break the program but for now everything is still rosy. User details are still kept in the file ("purchased by" and "account name") though, so no sharing on P2P sites if you want to avoid Apple blocking freezing your account!
..... Show/hide past updates

My Worst Day Ever (so far ... )


And I feel like
I'm living the worst day
Over and over again
And I feel like the summer is leaving again
I feel like
I'm living the worst day
I feel like you're gone
And every day is the worst day ever

Yesterday was the worst day ever
And tomorrow won't be better
It's history repeating (on and on)
Summer plans are gone forever
I traded them in for dishpan water
And every day is never ending
I need to work I'm always spending


[Simple Plan - No Pads, No Helmets ... JustBalls]


Most of you already know, I was robbed in broad daylight on the busy highway. Part of it is my fault for being too trusting, the rest of it is purely me being too stupid and naive. Total loss estimated RM3500++ (RM2300 cash, one digital camera, 2 SD memory cards, one handphone and one 500GB Buffalo external harddisk), one slightly swollen nose and bruises.

No pics (no camera mah) ... no need. Putting it in the past and making it a lesson well learnt. Sorry I swore online (facebook ...) as I REALLY had to vent.

Virtual XP download for Windows 7 runs in Vista!!!

Haven't seen this posted anywhere else, so here goes ... I might be the very first to get this!! Woo hoo!

DISCLAIMER: This blog post has NOT been cleared for copyright issues and all trademarks, names and tradenames are copyrights of their respective owners. All content herein is for reference purposes only and shows a proof of concept that a product designed for Windows 7 runs on Vista. Any use or implementation of the methods shown here will be at your own risk. Legality issues aside, this post was not meant to defeat the official purpose of the installer.

Look! Its Win7's Virtual XP in VistaWindows 7 RC comes with an optional download for Virtual PC beta and a full licensed Virtual Windows XP with SP3. What this does is to allow users of Windows 7 to have better backward compatibility to older software that can only run on XP. There are many descriptions about this feature online already so I won't mention this here. What they don't tell you is that the download for Virtual XP runs in Vista too but it needs some effort on your part.


First step:
Make sure your PC can run Virtual PC properly - for this I'm currently following the guidelines for VirtualXP as listed : 15GB storage space, a minimum of 2GB RAM and any CPU that supports virtualization technology (my Core2Quad has Intel VT so I'm covered).

Second step:
Download Virtual PC 2007 for Vista and install. This is a free download and is available here. Make sure to get SP1 of the VPC and follow whatever architecture Vista you are currently running (x86 or x64)

Third step:
Download the official Windows Xp Mode Beta package from the link above or here. Once again, choose which architecture you want to download, either the 32-bit x86 one or 64-bit x64 one ... both work.

Fourth step:
Extract the content of the installer. Vista has built in command line tools to extract MSI packages. Open a command window and use the following command
msiexec /a MSIfile /qb TARGETDIR=targetdir
In my case, I navigated to the directory I downloaded the package to and entered the command "msiexec /a VirtualWindowsXP.msi /qb TARGETDIR=c:\downloads\virxp".
You will get one directory (and some other files) called "Program Files" - you are only interested in the "Virtual Windows XP.vhd" file located within this folder.

Fifth step:
Start Virtual PC 2007 in Vista and create a new virtual machine with the wizard. When prompted, navigate to the location of the vhd file we extract in the step above then complete the steps to create a new virtual machine. Make sure you allocate at least 256MB RAM to the machine and hardware virtualization is enabled (it might work without it, but much slower in my opinion)

Make sure virtualization is enabled
Sixth and final step:

See! Setup EULA page proves this is the virtual HD image and not a complete installStart this new virtual machine and follow the prompts to setup your complete Windows XP SP3 in Vista! Note that on my PC, I had to disable the prompt to update my PC during setup but once that was over, the updates worked as normal.

Other screenshots with proof of concept as follows

Ahhh ... the classic XP start menuNetwork is mapped automatically and uses NAT to use existing Internet/network connections. Sound also works right out of the box with basic SB16 emulation! Heck, it even played MP3s and WMAs without any problem.

Internet works! Happy Mother's DayOne amazing thing is there is no need to install Virtual Machine Additions - mouse movement is capture and released automatically! (If you do your own step-by-step install of WinXP, you need to 'release' the mouse from VPC with the right ALT button)

Differences? No USB support since VPC2007 does not provide that feature anywhere. Other than that, you also don't get the integration between XP and Vista (in Windows 7, any new programs install onto Virtual XP also appear on the Windows 7 Start Menu and can be called from there seamlessly without having to startup VPC first).

Advantages? Waaaaaaaay quicker than doing the normal install routine to create a virtual machine for XP in Vista. Whole process only took 3 minutes (excluding download time) for a complete running XP ... and can be validated (PS: Your serial key is in the extracted folder in step 4). The Virtual XP can be setup to run full screen at full resolution of the host PC so you can switch between them both.

Desktop resolution goes all the way up to a crazy 1600×1200!
Who knows? I may even be able to get Max Payne to run in Virtual XP again!!

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Embarassing ...

One word is enough to describe the following scene about the DUN Perak recently.



What do you call these 'adults' that act worse than kindergarten children? The Perak government, unfortunately .... all spoiled effing b@$tards in my opinion based on their actions.

P/S : Kinda reminds me of the pasar malam and the 4D shop rolled into one.

Four word per sentence

Had a long weekend.
It was labour day.
It was grandmother's birthday.
She's 80 years young.

Drove down to Ipoh.
Cuzzin and grandaunt tumpang-ed.
Traffic jam was hell.
Reached there around 3:00.
Lepak-ked around until 6:00.
Cake(s) came at 6:30.

Arranging took 10 minutes.
This was the result.
(Click pix to enlarge. Opens in new window)

Too lazy to count.
PW (Sasha) says 63 cakes.
Dunno why one candle.
Me assumes she's correct.
Then waited for caterer.
Cuzzins started taking pics.



See last picture here.
Food came at 7:15.

Badly coordinated birthday song.
Purposely sung off-key.
Perfect example of MPSSK.
Only me caught video.
This is what happened.


The obligatory grandchildren photo.
What is LPP sniffing?

Then things get wierd.
PQ with rock looks.
What did PZ see?
Who is strangling PW?


Remaining cake abstract art.

Still says Happy Grandma!!
Actually "B H'py Granma".
You get the picture....
Some went karaoke session.
I took a nap.

Read alternate posts here.
Also here and here.
Thats enough for now.

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KK9.BBQ.SS.VDO ... hee hee

New syiok-sendiri video ... currently passworded but will be released to full access (and in pseudo-HD!!) after examination period. Turn up your speakers!!

What are the odds?!?

Logged onto work webmail at home and this surprised me ... after hearing so much about having to prepare for this particular accreditation this greeted me at the login page.


For those not in the know (thus not understanding my amusement) I'm referring to the Wash. Accord. It's probably more relevent to engineers though .... but I thought it was amazingly coincidental and really timely.

Video tests

Made a video for fun about the choir (and also to test out YouTube/Google Video/Facebook uploading specs). Went through somewhere about 6,000+ photos and around 57GB of video and narrowed it down to the following clip which was rendered in Vegas Movie Platinum. Hit the HQ button to view higher resolution encoding if you have the bandwidth to support it.



Findings about this test?
  • Google video resolution is bad (not the worst though) but they provide the best options for restricting viewership to particular regions of the world (e.g. Malaysia only). Any upload automatically generates a downloadable version in MP4 files compatible with some portable media players. Additionally, GV supports captioning based on SUB, SST and SAMI formats
  • YouTube provides the best resolution encoding amongst the three but messes up the audio sync ever so slightly. No downloadble option available but plenty of hacks out there to overcome this situation. Limited viewer restriction possibilities (max 25 users/subscribers) and embed properties. Allows annotation through online interface.
  • FB video is probably the worst amongst the three. Really slow uploads and random pauses/disconnections resulted in the same video requiring 13 hours to upload after 9 tries. Provides HD encodings but messes up by scaling all videos to 4:# ratios even when properly encoded. Widescreen uploads must be pre-letterboxed in order to playback properly. Does have the advantage of being able to limit viewership to restricted users only (by association/friendship/lists etc) and was the only one to correctly sync audio and video together.

Archuleta fever hits Malaysia hard and fast

Got this wierd-scary-shocking video from my cousin's post ... from a user upload on YouTube.

David Archuleta of American Idol S7 fame landed in KLIA Malaysia yesterday for a 4 day tour of the country which includes a showcase at the Sunway Lagoon Amphitheatre. Although security was present, obviously it wasn't enough as they weren't expecting the huge mob of fans that arrived to catch a glimpse of the teen star.

Best moment in the video? The other passengers getting of their flights wondering WTF is happening :D

He's supposed to be visiting one lucky school in the PJ area either today or tommorrow. Wonder which one will that be? There aren't THAT many schools in the PJ area ... I think.

UPDATE : He visits SriKDU as posted on R.AGE. Follow David's trip around locations in Klang Valley on the Twitter page here.

P/S: Those interested can probably still score showcase passes from participating music stores, DiGi dealers and radio promos running across Klang valley. Guessing by the welcoming response, you'd probably be shit-out-of-luck.

When no mic problems, they actually sound great!

It's disappointing when technical things out of your control spoils a performance. Mic-ing on competition night was terrible, horrible, vegetable .... morning rehearsal recordings show how big a difference it makes when everyone can be heard - who sing wrong oso can hear! S'not perfect but waaaaayyy better. (Different password in use here)


Note: video has cuts and audio dropouts ... I have no control over that 'cos I didn't film it but this was the 'cleanest' clip without seniors shouting over the singing.

Earth Day 2009

Earth Day was 28th March. Turned off house power for one hour (yeah ... power to the entire house!! extreme huh?!) and then took a walk over to 1Utama to pass the time. Saw a few houses participating in the event, my immediate surrounding neighbours were in it. It was obvious who was taking part as their lights were out but their televisions were not - every living room had that eerie glow :D

1U during EH - taken whilst walking so its blurry1Utama turned down their exterior lights but advertising spotlights were still blazing away (with the most obvious being the current large McDonalds near the old wing). Inside 1U, only a few tenants were actively participating. TGIF was seen promoting candlelight dining and surprisingly was still bringing in the dinner crowd. Others that I noticed included McDonalds (which partly turned off their dining area lights), Carls' Jr and Daves bistro (near the deli). Jusco supermarket started off late but in the end turned down maybe around three quarters of their lights leaving on the payment area and every alternate aisle lit. Other tenants seemed oblivious to the event especially places like Guardian which was unsurprisingly 'bright' since their opposite tenant (McDs) were switched off.

According to today's newspaper report, that solitary hour of action resulted in a dip of 550MW (thats megawatts) of electricity which could have powered up 14 million 40W flourescent bulbs for the same period! With the formula 1kWH = 1.55lbs CO2 that means we've reduced carbon emissions for that hour by a staggering 550,000×1.55 = 852,500lbs!! Not too bad ...

So did YOU turn off the lights?

More KK9 choir BTS/SS videos

Some more digital camera video captures during practise and during time off. Use the same passwords as before from the previous post.

Behind the scenes videos during practise

Conductor tak jadi. Also the main reason why we never have a conductor 'cos it will become like this.
Even more SS videos

Remaining two Tang Yuan nite video clips in full length!!

Another chipmunk video ... now with nonsense sing-along lyrics!!! Have fun laughing

KK9 Choir ... behind the scenes and SS videos

This is a private post and requires passwords to unlock the full post contents. People with passwords are expected to keep to themselves and not to distribute them. Some videos are from my camera, others are from choir members or from Ese's camera.

Behind the scenes videos during practise.

13/03/2009 Practise session @ KK6 - Can You Feel the Love Tonight

13/03/2009 Practise session @ KK6 - Pusaka Merdeka

Practise session @ KK9 Dewan Makan - Pusaka Merdeka (pre-ending version)

Syiok sendiri videos

Tang Yuan nite in VIP room .. some have seen clips and previews of the games played, here are the full length versions!
How would the choir sound like as chipmunks? Was messing around in Vegas MS Platinum 9 and this was the result ... I thought it was funny.

Five years and running!

Victory again ... 'nuff said

18 hours to go

Its 18 more hours until the 2009 Feseni competition ... why do I do things like this? So many questions left unanswered - are they ready? are they stable? And why oh why do I already have the structure for next year's song in my head?!?!? Why do I torture myself so :P

Don't be fooled by this water filter scam!

WARNING! Super long rant ahead.
I don't intend to implicate but only to educate.

Here's the premise:
The salesperson(s) from a MLM company visits you to promote a water filter claiming it to be the best (as does every other company). They ask for a water sample from your house for a comparison with their own that was filtered by their company's product.

They first do a TDS meter test to determine the amount of dissolved solids in the water, and to no surprise your own household water has a higher dissolved mineral content (unless you already have a filter). Then they proceed to do an electrolysis test on your sample to illustrate their point. Out comes a device which submerges two electrodes into their company sample and your household sample. Seconds later, your household water sample starts creating yellow-brown (sometimes greenish depending on TDS content) sludge.


    By this point many people would have been tricked into believing the salesperson(s) gimmicks and proceed to purchase the product at a VERY inflated cost. They have just been duped by one of the oldest tricks in the chemistry book. So what are the truths and lies in this sales pitch? .......

    FACT #1

    The product they are selling IS and always will be a fully functioning water filter that works on reverse osmosis/6-stage filtration/ozonalization/etc. There is no denying this. The only problem is they are using cheap parlour tricks and lying through their teeth to sell a legitimate product (i.e. ala melamine passing of as protein anyone?!?) for one goal only = EASY MONEY.
    FACT #2
    The 'experiments' performed are legitimate chemistry tests and do not involve any slight of hand or usage of chemical additives, switching of samples, distractions etc. Any secondary school student (around Malaysian Form 4, 5 and 6, US K12 10th Grade and up) would have learnt this in their Chemistry or Advanced Sciences classes.
    So lets debunk this water scam starting with the TDS test.
    ______________________________

    This is a simple test using what is known as a TDS meter. The meter usually has two membrane contacts which are submerged into a liquid sample. The current flowing between the contacts through the sample is measured and results in a measurement of the percent of dissolved minerals in the sample. When the amount of dissolved minerals is high, conductivity of the liquid increases therefore increasing the current resulting in a higher TDS measurement. Simple science really but convincing because of the scientific 'numbers' that result.


    FACT #3

    A high TDS measurement only shows that your water sample contains a high concentration of dissolved solids such as minerals and salts. If you already have a filter in place, the measurement will vary depending on how your filter works and how clean/dirty the filters are.
    The TDS measure SHOULD NOT be taken as a measurement of how contaminated or polluted water is. Water coming out of the tap is almost always guaranteed to contain a percentage of dissolved solids. This could have originated at the processing plant in which chemicals are added to clean and treat the water before supplying back to the public. Some minerals are added for the advantage of the consumer such as flouride. Other sources of dissolved minerals could be the actual plumbing itself which might make use of copper or some other metal pipes - corrosion of these pipes result in minute leeching of minerals into the water. A high TDS measurement does not equal contaminated water because the TDS meter does not distinguish between the minerals it measures. The meter is VERY easily swayed by something as simple as addition of a few grains of table salt into the sample or heating/chilling/freezing it.

    Most demonstrations don't even use the TDS meter properly. A true TDS test would follow something along these procedures (slightly simplified to avoid lengthy laboratory procedures):

    • Obtain equal amount samples (preferably with pipette) in similar sample cups at a volume enough to cover the TDS contacts.
    • Turn on the meter and submerge into sample and shake/stir vigourously to eliminate air bubbles (this is VITAL step which is skipped in every demonstration I've seen).
    • Hold TDS meter UPRIGHT in center of sample - a laboratory calibrated meter can actually obtain different TDS measurements at different areas and angles of the same sample in the cup.
    • After 15-30 seconds only do you take the measurement.
    • After reading is taken, meter is removed and rinsed in DISTILLED water (RO or filtered water is NOT recommended to avoid false readings). The meter is then shaken/dried before the steps repeated for the next sample.

    ______________________________

    The second test uses a device known in the water filter industry as a preciptator. Basically this magical device is a portable electrolysis kit with multiple electrodes to perform simultaneous electrolysis on multiple samples. Some run on batteries whilst others run on household mains but they work the exact same way. SO how does that yucky sludge appear by magic in your household sample? The answer lies in the electrodes themselves.

    Two of the electrodes are made of aluminium whilst the other two are made of iron. The aluminium electrodes (which are relatively more inert or less reactive in the electrolysis) is always submerged into the 'filtered' sample whilst the iron electrodes go into the sample you provide and seconds later the sludge appears. What is happening here? YOUR water sample has dissolved minerals (as proven by the previous test, which is why that test is always performed first to ensure this next test works) and thus conducts electricity. This is the basis of electrolysis which requires the electrodes to be submerged into a

    Ask any passing science student and they will tell you electrolysis of any liquid is performed with INERT electrodes - usually carbon (cheap!) or platinum (very expensive). They why would you use iron as an electrode? Iron is reactive. Iron oxidises in water and air to create rust (ferric oxide). In electrolysis, the use of the iron electrodes create ferric hydroxide. This hydroxide does not dissolve readily in water and results in the yellow sludge you see in the test.

    FACT #4

    The ferric hydroxide created is not actually dangerous and is used in many applications such as the creation of food dye (Yellow No. 42 anyone!!) and also as a component in the treatement of arsenic poisoning. It is also used in the filtration of aquatic water supply to remove phosphates (e.g. fertilizer). But it just looks yucky.
    If you understand the science, then you'd understand the following equations which show the reactions that occur at the electrodes.

          Fe -> Fe3+ + 3e-
          Fe3+ + 3OH- -> Fe(OH)3
          The other result is hydrogen gas which results in the bubbling you see

    You're probably arguing "But the saleperson flipped the electrodes and nothing happened to their sample". Then you probably forgot that their sample does NOT have any dissolved solids/minerals. Their sample would have gotten a big fat ZERO on the TDS test. This means their sample does not conduct any electricity. No electricity means no electrolysis. No electrolysis means no reaction thus no sludge. Simple huh? Its a guaranteed trick to fool the feeble minded person.

    There are variations to this trick but basically the results are the same. If this does not convince you, here's the proof as I did the test myself. First test is a normal electrolysis of tap water using carbon electrodes. You can safely try this experiment at home if you want.


    Second video shows the same test but replaces the carbon electrodes with iron ones, which in my case were two iron nails (was too lazy to go searching for iron rods). The video has been sped up but the reaction is only visibly noticeable around the third minute. This is exactly what happens with the precipitator but at a far slower rate because of the low current/voltage I used.


    STILL not convinced? Use Google and search for precipitators. You can buy them online to do your own so-called water test. On many sites you can clearly read that they use 2 aluminium electrodes and 2 iron electrodes. On one site, they even place a note to remind users not to immerse the electrodes too long as they will dissolve into the water. Hmm ... that means the sludge has to be coming from somewhere other than the water right? Bingo, the electrodes themselves! Don't worry you can buy replacement iron electrodes to continue duping customers.

    FACT #5
    Preciptators do have legitimate uses in the industry but this is not one of them. The process is often used in filtration of air instead of water.
    ______________________________

    This particular company boasts about the product obtaining a gold seal from the water quality association (WQA). This association exists and their homepage is here. The gold seal exists. They did get the seal (as one of only three in the home water filter category) at the WQA S-300 level. This is ALL TRUE.

    What they fail to tell you is this:
    • As per my understanding, no company is forced to apply for ratings by the WQA. It is VOLUNTARY and usually initiated by the company themselves (i.e. WQA does not on its own initiative go out and test every water filter in the market and rate them). This is unlike other rating and quality standards (e.g. Malaysia's SIRIM, BKMM, ISO ratings, US-FDA, UK BQF etc) which are mandatory for all products in a particular category.
    • The WQA site clearly lists a disclaimer "Listing in these directories does not constitute an endorsement, guarantee, or warranty of any kind by Water Quality Association or its members of any of the products contained in them." Hmmm ... no warranty, no endorsement ... basically nothing. Under regular law, this means any problems will be solely the users' fault and not the manufacturer nor the certifying body.
    • The WQA (yes, the actual body that gives this company the Gold Seal) does NOT condone the use of precipitators in the marketing of any water filter product. This is clearly stated on a post on the actual WQA site and can be downloaded here. They clearly state a precipitator "will mislead the public" and "the presence of precipitant has no relation to the water's quality". Sales pitches using a precipitator can be used as grounds to demand a withdraw of their gold seal rating.
    FACT #6
    The price you pay these companies for their product does not actually mean a better or higher quality product (although I admit that some do have better quality standards in comparison with brandless types). They're mostly inflated to cover the cost of the members' monthly sales commissions in pyramid/ponzi schemes- sometimes as much as 1500% (and yes, that's one THOUSAND five hundred percent).
    So conclusions? The product is real but all the sales tactics, gimmicks and big talk is pure bull$hit. Why don't these people/companies sell the thing for what it is ... a RM300 water filter period and stop cheating people for a quick buck. 'Nuff said.

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    Hooked on iTunes ... wierd

    Sad to admit it but the iTunes app really grows on you after a while. True that it is probably the worst sync application ever created to handle media on the iPod (iTouch and iPhone included), as a podcast manager its quite good. Suffice to say that I haven't really tried that many podcast applications but I quite happy with how iTunes manages all my subscriptions and such.

    Barely two months after starting, my iTunes directory has grown to a staggering 25.2GB. Here are four of my top picks for 100% free podcasts that I subscribe to (links open in new windows/tabs):

    • Vintage Tooncast - Classic public domain cartoons and movies. You can't go wrong with classic cartoons featuring Woody Woodpecker, Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck and Scrooge McDuck. Quality isn't the greatest but highly watchable. Only annoying thing is the podcast banner firmly encoded onto each file. Subscription links here.

      Mickey Mouse in The Mad Doctor
    • Acappella-U HD - High definition podcasts of acappella groups from the US presenting original material in live video recordings. Amazing quality at the cost of really large files - averaging few hundred MB per episode (latest runs in at a staggering 828MB). Subscription details here.

      Acappella U HD

    • Dirty Jobs Video Podcast - Mike Rowe + dirty jobs + outtakes = great podcast. The behind the scenes clips are the best though and aren't seen on regular broadcasts. Subscription XML feed here.

      Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe ... eeeuuu
    • Discovery Channel Podcast - Highlights and clips from Discovery favourties including Man vs. Wild, Destroyed in seconds, How to survive and Toughest Race:Iditarod. Subscription XML feed available here.
    One thing annoying about iTunes is that the majority of the iTunes store is open only to American/European customers. Users in places such as Malaysia, Singapore, etc only have a limited selection which only sells apps for iPhone and iTouch. So we miss out on some great free stuff such as free music and video downloads. That doesn't mean its impossible to get them though ... just harder and more troublesome, but in the end if you do manage to open a US account you're free to download weekly free stuff!! Here's proof as shown in my iTunes playlist.

    Look! High def video content from iTunes US StoreSuddenly it seems those terabyte harddisks might come in handy because a single video episode in high-def runs over 1GB each and iTunes downloads BOTH the high-def and standard-def versions once you've selected them. Another thing is iTunes store content are DRM encoded and thus cannot be shared (especially video content). This makes them only playable on Apple devices(iPod video, iTunes and official Quicktime ONLY) of which both are inefficient processor hogs particularly on high def content. Ughs :( Luckily most podcast content is DRM free and playable on any device/program.

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    Earth Hour is back!!

    Earth Hour MalaysiaClick for more details on how to participate ... its as easy as turning off your lights!