New bank notes for the new year?

Bank Negara Malaysia recently released a new series of bank notes for the Malaysian Ringgit which brings back into common circulation the RM20 bill. Accordingly, the old RM20 bill was never put out of circulation and is still legal tender as opposed to the RM500 note and RM1 coin. The old RM20 note had a brown theme and is especially hard to find nowadays which actually reminded me about the rare notes I used to/still collect. So here is a short list of what I currently have.

Pre-RM ringgit notes
There were notes used the dollar sign eventhough the wordings used the ringgit representation such as this $50 ringgit bill. This bill was printed in Surrey, England (the company is listed on the note on the back in small print) and uses the old spelling for Gabenor as Gabenur (i.e. Governor in English). It is the largest bill I have for the Malaysian currency sizing up at 14.7cm×8.8cm or 5.75"×3.5".
The one ringgit bill on the other hand was far smaller measuring 12cm×6.4cm or 4.7"×2.5".
Pre-'Merdeka' dollar notes
These are even older and was used during the British colonization of Malaya hence the use of the word dollar instead of ringgit. As far as I know, the British pound (£) was not replicated and used for local trading but accepted as tender (I'm not a historian so I could/most probably am wrong). These dollar notes were also printed in England and carried multiple denominations - and some featured the Queen of England although the $10 note did feature a water buffalo plowing a paddy field. These notes were accepted for legal tender in the countries of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore ... when/why was the North Borneo name changed to Sabah? I have no idea.

Interesting fact - you may notice a trend in the notes above that the current denominations for the ringgit (all the new and old series releases) STILL use the same colour scheme for the values they represent!

Another thing is that smaller denominations were also paper!!

Commemerative CG98 RM50 ringgit note
The first ever polymer banknote for the Malaysian ringgit was not the RM5 or the current RM50 but actually a limited run RM50 bank note released for the 1998 Commonwealth Games held in Kuala Lumpur. I got this for a steal at only RM50 (at the time it was retailing for RM120 I think) because I knew someone working in BNM. It comes sealed in a folder describing the note which can be viewed both sides through a clear window.

50th Merdeka RM50 notes
Although not really rare (except for a limited number with specific serial numbers/sets/folders), the current RM50 bill had a special release to mark the 50th Independence Day for Malaysia. The notes look exactly the same except for the top right corner at the back which has an additional '50' logo. I stumbled upon these 5 at an ATM machine where I work ... was withdrawing RM500, saw these 5 bills and thus had to withdraw another 5 bills because of that.
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More and more cloud services

Malaysia has its own cloud music server with the launch of WOWLOUD and initial previews look good so far. The service is still in testing phase and is open to invitations only but after being offered an inivitaion here's a summary of what I've found out so far:

- Service is ad-based and this provides 20hours of music per month (which is supposedly renewable somehow). Premium accounts with unlimited service are available at RM9.90 which I think is pretty steep since most of the music on the cloud is available for free *ahem* elsewhere. A better price point would be at RM5 per month which would total RM60 a year. Companies still hard-up with all this 99 bullshit (i.e. 3.99, 9.99 etc) should just give up and state a round figure to make lives easier.

- WOWLOUD requires its own player which is relatively lightweight when running but requires a hefty 36+MB download. Granted that they need to provide some means of DRM or encryption or control ... couldn't they just have used WMP or Quicktime as their player instead? In terms of the application, its pretty with animations and transitions .... but runs a little lethargically. After playing around with the interface you can't help but feel everything runs too slowly. Thankfully song selections are lighting quick.

- The current 'Search' function is not intuitive enough. Typing in buble resolves to bubble and bulle instead of bublé. Although not case sensitive, the search engine needs to improve on character searching with accents, umlauts etc.

- Streaming is almost instantaneous even on congested networks and quality is approximately 128kbps equivalent (don't really know what bitrate they are encoding/streaming at) but not too overladen with compression artefacts. Things may change as servers cope with load as users increase.

- Startup offerings are quite varied but of course not complete. This is set to improve once they start hosting more items but its a very good start. Genres are available and should satisfy most listeners. It does seem that classical listeners aren't very well serviced unless they like crossover classical pop and more mainstream artistes.

- They should offer 'free' streaming options to promote music that will not 'eat' up limited accounts. Playing a 3-minute song twice eats up 6 minutes (each repeat is counted), so free accounts may find themselves without service upon repeating a song.

- Glee fans can rejoice! Songs not found on their CDs are now available on the WOWLOUD service. This includes songs like Defying Gravity (the individual solo versions) and karaoke versions.

- Playback is (currently) limited to Windows and Mac platforms only but rumour has it apps for portable devices are in the pipeline.

All in all, the service is not too shabby although there is plenty of room for improvement .... now if there was only some way to combine WOWLOUD with iCloud and Amazon's cloud service.

Wants and Needs

I WANT an iPhone/iPad/Galaxy but I NEED a car .... so no prizes for guessing what made my bank account RM43k lighter today :(

DDR2 > DDR3?!?!

Dunno what is going on here but just realised something while idling my time away. The scenario is two PCs with different configurations (yeah I know its unfair)

PC1 (2011) PC2 (2009)
Intel Core i3 550 3.20GHz
4GB DDR3@1333 Dual Channel
Intel Q57 Exp chipset
Intel HD Graphics
Win7Pro 32bit SP1
Intel Core2Quad 6600 2.40GHz
4GB DDR2@667 Single Channel
MCP73 chipset
nVidia 6600 (on board built in)
Win7Pro 32bit SP1

PC1 WPI score

PC2 WPI score

Using just Win7 Performance Information, its funny to see the older PC beat the newer one on two important aspects. Obviously with four cores, the C2Q do more calculations per second whilst the i3 only has two cores and creates 4 threads through HT but in real-world use, the cores beat HT anytime (especially in rendering, simulation and graphic/image processing). SATA harddisk scores are equal (both running same Win7 image so no software differences). Graphic scores are not comparable since one is using on board graphics whilst the other is using on-die GPU (Note: PC2 scores with a nVidia 9200 was 7.0 for both catagories... but I shorted that card out and haven't replaced it yet)

Whats weird here is that the DDR3 memory running at twice the frequency AND in dual channel mode is thwacked by the DDR2 by a large margin! Somehow the Q57 chipset on the newer Dell PC may be limiting the performance ... it IS a budget motherboard anyway (it only has two SATA, two RAM slots ... nothing else! All other headers were removed). So getting a new PC with a newer CPU doesn't necessarily mean better performance.

899 apps and no iDevice

Yeah ... as of 30th Sept 2011, I've amassed 899 apps for the iPad/iPhone/iPod and I don't even own any of the devices (yet!). So its easy to guess what my next toy will be ... *hint*

Total cost = US$0.00
Actual cost ≈ US$553.00 (last checked in August)

Best places to keep track for free iOS apps is at freeappaday and appshopper ... the others mostly provide links to lousy shit. So setup an iTunes account in US, UK and a local one (for the local news apps) and you're done!

I should write shorter posts...

Bad habit of mine ... I tend to get lazy to write posts. So I decided to make it a point to write shorter posts instead of waiting for a long topic to blah about.

So whats new? .... No freakin' idea. Uhm ... my Glee CD collection has been growing steadily. Weird thing is that the total cost is less than if I bought locally ... and thats NOT including two albums not available locally. My conclusion is that its actually cheaper to buy CDs online from overseas.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Power of Madonna
Volume 3 Deluxe Edition
Journey to Regionals
Best of Season 1
Volume 4
Volume 5
The Christmas Album
Volume 6
Rocky Horror Picture Show

Need - to - update *gasp*

Ughs ... been so busy procrastinating that I've left this blog alone for too long. There are also too many postdated posts that haven't been published. If only life would sort itself out now ....

Another month, another toy ...

FINALLY gave in and bought a media player this week after going through many options. Earlier I wanted to build my own media player (i.e. was thinking along the lines of an Atom/ION based mini PC with a Win7 Embedded build and XBMC GUI) but then decided not to until next year so I can use to claim for tax relief ... yup, sometime soon will be another PC build.

There are like hundreds of different types of media players in the local market but probably the most popular are from A.C. Ryan and WD. Then there are those china-made players with no names and no support which are dirt cheap (as low as RM70!) but I decided against these. I have nothing against the heavy weights like the WDTV series or PlayonHD players but I had specific needs.

What I was looking for was something that can
  • Play mpg, mkv, avi, mov, mp3, m4v, vob ... the usual stuff. Didn't need rmvb/rm formats as I have none of those files
  • Network option - either wifi or wired prefably with UPnp or SMB playback
  • Bluray disc playback ... yeah, I actually started buying BD discs before getting a player
  • Multiple media support - HDD, USB, flash etc

The controlling option was the third one with bluray playback. I didn't want to get another standalone player just to play BD content and there aren't that many with optical drives anymore.

I first settled on a Kogan bluray disc player but needed to import from Australia. Final price was around RM1000+ but I would have to forgo things like warranty and replacement. Then there was the Popcorn Hour MNT machine. Weird that a locally made/designed product can't be bought anywhere here! I had to get it from Singapore for around S$400 + shipping + addon bluray drive (any normal PC drive) which drove up the cost ... this really is "Malaysia Tak Boleh".Finally settled on the Taiwanese Dune HD Max which burnt my pocket of RM1500++. It covered all my needs and provided a few which I didn't ask for but really appreciate and love now. Most importantly, it had region-free bluray playback (search for Dune HD region free for the patch to install) which was mucho importante since I had discs from every region in the world (DVDs from 1-6 and BDs A,B and C)

Out of the box (with new firmware of course), the Max supports SMB/CIFS/NFS filesharing so it could grab content from any PC in the network and playback without me having to copy between devices using thumbdrives or portable HDDs (which is does support). Best of all, it had wireless support AND it used the adapter which I already have (the Dlink DWA-140 which I got for free) ... so now its a wireless playback center which can grab content and also host content for other PCs to download from!! It has a hot-plug HDD bay for 3.5" SATA drives which allows for easy install and moving of large amounts of content if actually required.

Currently it grabs HD TV content from my PC upstairs and displays (with help of Zappiti) the following menu during playback ... nothing much since most of the other content is on external drives and these were the only ones on the running internal drive (thats already 120GB mind you!). Next up is to get another internal HDD to install ... all the ones I currently have are 7200rpm-ers which are too hot ... but thats for another day.

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File-sharing block in Malaysia

This piece of news is making its rounds on FB and twitter because the MCMC (Malaysian Comms and Multimedia Commission) has requested ISPs to block 10 sites that are illegally providing sharing services which contribute to piracy. [Ref TheStar article here]

The "1M Malaysians Don't Want SKMM Block File Sharing Website" on facebook has over 2000 likes as this post is written and is sure to grow as news spreads after the weekend. First things first, the group has a absurdly long name. There are the usual complainers and grouses from the public about the action being taken to ban these sites but a few really beg the question "Do Malaysians really understand their rights?".

This post above on the FB group made me wonder did the person/other users ever read the T&C when he signed up for Streamyx/FTTH-Unifi/Dialup/3G services from any of the local ISPs? You may have paid for the service but that does not mean you own it or can dictate the conditions required from it - those were already set when you signed up for the service. For example, Unifi has a clear T&C that
Transmission of any material in violation of any international, federal, state or local laws or regulations is prohibited. These include, but shall not be limited to copyrighted material, material legally judged to be threatening or obscene, pornographic, profane, or material protected by trade secrets. These also include links or any connection to such materials.
This obviously indicates the use of file-sharing sites but has the company ever taken any harsh action against any users of the service? What would this FB user say if the rules was changed and instead of banning the site, the ISP was to surrender the names and addresses of subscribers accessing these 10 sites for further action by RIAA/MCMC/PPM etc? Wouldn't that be a bigger problem for the user instead?

Then there are posts that repeat the PM's statement about non-censorship of the internet. There exists a very thin boundary between censorship and banning. Admittedly I may not know the laws and jurisdictions of the Government well enough (aku bukan loyar ler) but do you consider the blocking of a "file-sharing website" as a form of censorship? From the governing bodies' view, the block would basically support the rights of a copyright holder which are definitely more than the subscribers right to pirated material. This basically boosts a goverment's outlook as one that supports media rights instead of piracy but draws hatred from the rakyat instead. It all boils down to a simple question - Does blocking pirated material constitute censorship OR support the copyrights? - that is the major problem.

Personally I'm torn between both FOR and AGAINST the action to block access. I don't consider the block as a form of censorship but basically the right action to support the copyright holder's rights to the material. A downright block is what I am against as there are legitimate uses for these filesharing sites (an email can only attach so much). As of writing, TPB is not yet blocked but down (once again) because of some server problems ... I think.

UPDATE 2011-06-11 1600hrs (+8GMT) confirmed that TPB is still accessible and those people swearing online in FB were just paranoid crazy. TPB was out earlier due to power outage at their server ... so, torrent while you still can!

[P/S swearing in FB doesn't prove anything other than you having a really extensive vulgar vocabulary and the class of major A-hole]
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10 things you learn ...

... when driving on Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong:

[1] The lane you are in will always be the slowest - no matter how many times you change lanes .... so why bother? Its less stressful and safer to just keep to your own lane.

[2] No one reads/obeys road signs. See a 60km/h sign? No worries, go ahead and drive at 140km/h until *BANG* you hit the car in front of you ... lost count the number of times I've seen this happen. If you ask 100 drivers on the LDP, probably 99 of them won't know that motorcycles, trucks and construction vehicles aren't allowed on overheads and underpasses .... no one reads the signs *sigh*

[3] "I see dead animals" On average, you will see at least one roadkill per journey. So far I've seen the usual cats and dogs. And then theres the occasional snake, alligator, turtle, stork, cow (how in the heck do you hit a cow and not leave the vehicle behind?) goat, iguana etc.

[4] The driver throwing rubbish out their windows are more often those that are driving BMWs, Mercs, Alfas of some other high-priced vehicle. During these times I really pity those drivers ... their cars cost so much that they can't afford a rubbish bin at home and are forced to drive just to throw their trash. Worst offenders are those that throw diapers onto highways *yuck*

[5] Majority of drivers on the right lane are on the wrong lane. Want to turn left? Then keep right ... however most drivers wait until the very last minute and the last 2 metre stretch before merging like crazy just to get into the wrong lane .... and please learn to signal-lah.

[6] Planning a journey on the LDP is based on two important factors. Time of journey and weather. If travelling during peak hours (mornings from 0730 to 1000 and evenings from 1630 to 1930) add at least 45 minutes of travelling time. If it is raining add one hour .... scale as necessary depending on how far into the journey you are. If it is peak AND raining add 95 minutes travelling time. To prepare for unpredictable scenarios (i.e. snake in temple, 6 car pileup, overhead pedestrian bridge collapse, etc) add X = ∞ time. ALWAYS make sure the gas tank is half-full in the first two conditions.

[7] Drivers that 'flash' you are usually on the wrong lane (see point number 5). 'Nuff said.

[8] ALL construction on LDP is for show only. No matter WHAT they add or WHEN they do it, it still does not solve the problem of overcapacity. The management doesn't seem to understand that the problems are mostly cause by the high number of exits on the highway (*snort* yeah right ... "highway" konon). For example, block of the exit in from of St. Ignatius Church and that will reduce the slowdown on the overhead approaching since there is already a sliproad before that .... simple really. Last-ditch measures like contra-flows only push the problem around and never really solve it at all.

[9] Yes there are ways to avoid some tolls and in some cases actually save you time and money.

[10] ALL the electronic signboards on the LDP are useless and tell you nothing about traffic conditions. Recently they only promoted "Promosi Touch 'n Go di Alamanda" throughout the day .... at Kelana Jaya .... come-on lah people. Who in their right money-saving minds will go to Alamanda when they are in KJ?

Upgrading in progress .....

Upgrades, upgrades and more upgrades ......

1. +2GB RAM upgrade - free courtesy of work :P
2. FullHD C910 webcam - free courtesy of project claims ... muahahaha3. 23" Dell IPS monitor - not so free but RM539 after discount with ext warranty.

muh new toy ^.^

Half months salary (slightly over lah) gone during a spur-of-the-moment purchase. Well ... was looking for one anyway ... so went full spec with the extension pedals too. Problem now is where do I put it?

25th Anniversary Studio Ghibli Concert DVD

Just got this ... this DVD features a live 2008 concert recording to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the cooperation between the Ghibli greats - Miyazaki and Hisaishi. It also served to launch the then-new "Ponyo on the cliff" movie.

Apart from Japan, it seems that no other country has released this in any form yet and I was ready to import all the way from the land of the rising sun when I saw it whilst browsing at a nearby video store. For RM29.90 (approx US$10) you get a single DVD disc and an audio CD. The region-free DVD features the full concert that was held in Budokan and broadcast on NHK. The concert is 1 hour 56 minutes long in total and features 10 songs from 9 animated features (Nausicaa, Mononoke, Kiki, Ponyo, Laputa, Porco, Howl, Spirited Away and Totoro). The other disc features nine songs - minus the encore - but on a more audio-friendly CD format for listening in the car. Why no encore? Well, it IS pushing the limits of the audio CD format because at nine tracks it already reached the maximum 80 minutes and the last song would definitely never be able to fit in there and remain red-book compliant.

With the source recorded in high-definition, the DVD presentation thankfully is properly down-sampled to NTSC resolutions with no signs of ghosting/interlacing seen. Compression rates are kept pretty low , averaging 6.74Mbps, with the entire concert taking up the 5,577MB of a double-layer DVD (totalling 7.6GB). Compared to the Japan R2 release which was split onto two dual-layer DVDs, the entire concert is squeezed onto a single one here so a sacrifice had to be made - the audio is limited to stereo Dolby Digital only (Japan R2 has 2 channel PCM stereo and 5.1 DD surround) but once again, it has been kept at a high bitrate of 320kbps thus maintaining the clarity of dynamics of the concert extremely well.

Other than the concert, the two specials are also available on this disc - "Making of the concert" which lasts 21 minutes and "The Big Screen" running for 17 minutes. The making video shows the amount of work done in preparation for the event which included 200 members of the orchestra and a 400-person choir. Although insightful and informative, this video is in Japanese only with no subtitle options. There is only a sprinkling of spoken dialog though so it doesn't really affect much - most of the important stuff (names, venues etc) are hard-subbed as part of the video.

The big screen video basically repeats what was shown on the projection screen at the Budokan venue during the concert. Various clips from the animated features are shown during the concert and this video allows you to see the entire content without interruption and camera changes. All clips from 10 songs are combined as one long clip here.

Overall, its great that you can purchase this recording outside of Japan but the only dissapointing thing is the lack of subtitle options on the extras. Online purchasing may still be available here but at a higher price .. so find a store to buy it from instead if in Malaysia. Options to buy the Japanese R2 release is still available at CDJapan or Amazon. For those with HD playback, the blu-ray versions are also at CDJapan and Amazon.
P/S : I question the legality of the release but then it IS included with a license /censorship board sticker which I hope means that all royalties/duties were paid. The DVD comes with a slipcover that duplicates the same label content but with a foil effects. The audio CD also comes with a slipcover but has no label of its own. The DVD is mislabeled LOVE STUDIO GHIBLI CONCERT instead of LIVE STUDIO GHIBLI CONCERT but both carry valid IFPI numbers imprinted and embossed.

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Lion King @ Marina Bay Sands Theatre

The Lion King on Broadway in the Lion City .... ironic isn't it?

Well I caught the show on its first week run on the 12th of March (started on 3rd) at the MBS Theatre. The location is brand new and this musical is basically the grand opening attraction for the venue. Even the neighboring hotels and restaurants are heavily promoting it in Singapore.

So here's a quick review divided into parts:

The venue - Marina Bay Sands Theatre

Utilising the smaller of two theatres in the MBS, the venue can seat ~1600 guests on two levels (stalls and dress circle). Overall the venue was nice and acoustics were pretty good but the surrounds were under-utilised making audio sound very front-centric. Its not like I want to be constantly enveloped in sound but several points in the show could have benefited from a stronger surround source (e.g. the valley, stampede sequence and final battle) to give the effect of vastness.

Prop movement was fast and not too distracting except for one part where trapdoors open in the "Can't Want To Be King" sequence to release air-filled cacti - the doors swing open and land with a loud bang and breaks the illusion ... but overall the use of light and props in the show were top-notch.

The sound engineer for the night was pretty spot-on with his timing which is crucial in this show since the dialog switches often between a heavy reverb/echo to a clean speech setting. Balance between the accompaniment and singers was also very well done with each voice being heard clearly above the orchestra and was never drowned out.

The stage itself felt very cramped and tight ... as if there wasn't enough space for full movement. This is especially so in the opening sequence where the animal 'cast' felt extremely crowded on stage. Thankfully other sequences were less packed.

The cast
Weird enough (for the first time) MBS never annouced the actors playing the roles. This is pretty common for a musical and helps the audience know who is on stage. Granted that the adult cast never really changes except with the understudy, the actors that play the young Simba and Nala were unfortunately left unacknowledged. Anyways, the roles of both were surprisingly all played by Filipinos instead of Singaporeans although auditions were held at both countries. Maybe the young Singaporeans aren't talented enough??

The young Simba for that performance (afternoon 12th March ... whoever you are) was pretty good, emoted and responded well when required - and for someone to carry pretty much the first half of the show, his singing and acting was commendable (and at times amazing). Young Nala didn't have much parts so not much to say there.

The adult cast in the Singapore show are from various productions in the world (some from London, France and Australian shows) and this brings about an unfortunate problem of varying accents. Adult Simba had quite a heavy Brit accent during spoken dialog whilst Mufasa felt pretty uncomfortable with spoken English since his dialog was choppy at times ... it didn't hurt the performance in anyway though.

The best peformer (IMHO) was Timon who had most of the punch lines and the best/funniest songs and lines of dialog (my personal favourite when he says "This wasn't in the cartoon"). As usual, musical text is often adapted to local audiences and TLKoB is the same. During the course of the show, Timon has Singlish adaptations like "谢谢你" to thank his prop 'bush' that helps him up from a supine position and also lines like "Let it go lah". The favourite line of the performance was probably the one that went "Oh look I see a merlion" (in reference to Singapore's Merlion) and Zazu singing "Rasa Sayang" instead of "Its a Small World" during the Scar's Cave sequence Act II.

Unfortunately the worst performer of the show was adult Nala who sounded breathy and almost scratchy throughout the show. At times it almost sounded like she was trying to sing with a sore throat - and her pitch ran off pretty badly at places. "Can you feel" was spoilt since her voice was drowned out by Simba thus ruining the overall duet. Her solo in "Shadowland" was painful at times and felt as though the pitch was too low for her - her bottom notes were inaudible at times.

TLKoB in Singapore uses the edited version of the show (last changed in 2010) and has the same changes reflected in all productions around the world. One song "The Morning Report" was removed (it was written for the movie, then edited out, reintroduced in the 1997 musical, added back in the movie DVD release and then removed from the musical in 2010) and thus follows the sequence in the movie. This song established the relationship between Mufasa and Zazu but was not critical in the plot .... I was hoping it would be there though.

The love duet "Can you feel" is also shortened and the dance between Simba and Nala is removed (around 70 bars of music) and immediately reaches the climax of the song. The full version is still heard on the OBC recording. The ending song for the Finale also seems changed and the chorus immediately enters the line "Its the Circle of life ...." instead of chanting and building up to the ending scene. If I'm not wrong (writing this from memory is hard!) I think a reprise of "Chow down" was also added in and "One By One" had a new arrangment midway through (the recording on the broadway album is taken from the "Rhythm of the Pridelands" CD and does not reflect the stage version).

My recommendations
Those wanting to see this show before it ends its run (May 2011) should try to get seats in the stalls instead of the dress circle since portions of the show extend into the audience (opening of first and second act and Simba's escape). The middle rows of each sections probably have the best views of the incoming procession whilst the front row premium seats have the best experience in "Can't wait to be King". Arrive early and bring extra cash for souvenir purchase (really expensive though but is usual for events like these)

I'm ending this post with my favourite from TLKoB - "Endless Night" featuring the original adult Simba, the late Jason Raize.

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