Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just dive into it!

MOST of the time, we stay clear of any kind of liquid when working with our computers. But there is this type of computer that is meant to be used underwater. What is it?

Answer: Dive computer.

A dive computer (or dive com, in scuba diving lingo) is not like your laptop or desktop computer. It looks more like a wristwatch and is a device used by scuba divers to measure the time and depth of a dive so that a safe ascent rate can be calculated.

What that basically means is this: In scuba diving, the pressure of the surrounding water increases as you descend, and reduces as you ascend.

As you go deeper underwater, you have to constantly "equalise" the air pressure in your ear with the pressure of the surrounding water by pinching your nose and blowing hard out through your ears.

And when you ascend, there's something to be said about decompression sickness.

You need to ascend slowly, making few minutes stops at certain depths on your way up. You do this to avoid decompression sickness. Otherwise, you may die.

I have been taking scuba diving seriously lately. I first got acquainted with the activity last year while covering a Panasonic event in Pulau Perhentian.

The assignment required reporters to dive along, to witness the actual work.

Although I was afraid of large bodies of water, I said yes to the assignment.

It's all about mental barriers, folks. Thousands of people have dived into deep waters and came out alive, so you know for a fact that it can be done.

But there's a difference between knowing and believing. I decided to make that transition from knowing to believing and was successful at that.

Since that first experience, I have done a total of five dives. I have yet to get my licence but this should be soon.

Meantime, I have been checking out some of the equipment. It does make a difference if you use rented equipment as opposed to your own.

So over the weekend, at the Malaysian International Dive Expo at PWTC in Kuala Lumpur, I took the opportunity to shop for some basic diving equipment such as mask, wetsuit and fins.

I managed to get a suit for RM250, which is a steal considering you usually cannot get a full-body suit for less than RM400.

One of the things to look for when trying out a suit is that it has to be tight enough. I was told this is to prevent your body from floating. The suit that I got is freaking tight, so I must be doing it right. In fact, it's so tight that I am not able to wear anything else underneath. Interestingly, the brand is called Bare.

A friend made a statement recently which I find interesting. She said a lot of gay men like scuba diving. I didn't know that, and I didn't ask her why but I do have a theory: They take better care of themselves and therefore can slip into a wetsuit easily.

Straight men go drinking with their buddies and develop teh tarik belly. They feel uncomfortable and hate the way they look in a suit, and we haven't even got to the part where they must learn to breathe like Darth Vader.

But it doesn't mean that all men who can slip into a wetsuit are gay.

Finally, to those who are not sure if they can scuba dive, just give it a try. After all, you cannot have scuba without the word cuba (try).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Check out this revolutionary Mac

HAVE you seen those cute little notebooks? All the PC manufacturers sell a few except Apple. The Mac makers has managed to resist making these so-called netbooks, until last week.

At its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple finally succumbed to market demand for netbooks. And no, it's not in tablet form as some smart-Aleck pundits had predicted but a normal looking netbook.

The product is called Apple MacBook Poor.

It has all the makings of a typical netbook: 28cm monochrome display, Intel 486 processor, 128KB of RAM and a cramped keyboard. In short, something that conforms to Microsoft's specification of what a netbook is.

However, it is devoid of the various colourful stickers that adorn the palm rests and undersides of other netbooks.

Another difference is that it runs Mac OS X Kitten as opposed to Windows XP or Vista.

"We christened it MacBook Poor to make it clear who it's for: those who can't afford real Apple products," said Apple's senior vice president for worldwide product maketing Phil Schiller.

"It is designed for those who after all these years still think Macs are expensive computers meant for graphic artists.

"And it's just a nice coincidence that the name has a similar ring to our real laptops, MacBook Pro," Schiller said.

Laptop purists may balk at the MacBook Poor's cramped keyboard but a revolutionary voice control feature in the laptop more than makes up for this shortcoming.

Users may simply bark the appropriate commands into the laptop's microphone.

"With voice control you can play music by artiste, album or playlist and activate the Genius feature by saying `play more songs like this.' You can also tell the MacBook to `do my homework' or ask `who's poking me on Facebook right now?'"

Another of its selling point is its built-in camera, which has an autofocus feature that allows users to tap on the screen and choose the good side of their face for Facebook profile.

And finally, a biggie. Because most netbook users are women, the MacBook Poor has a Find My MacBook feature that works together with MobileMe, so users can locate their lost MacBook on Google Maps.

For the more discerning netbookers however, Apple has a surprise for them in the form of Apple MacBook Poor S.

"Duh, that looks exactly like the one you just showed us," said a member of the audience at the product unveiling recently. At which point, the Schiller pointed out the S in the name.

"Aha, the MacBook Poor S may look similar to its more inferior cousin, but it runs the next-generation Mac OS X Snow Kitten," he explained.

The `S', he added, stands for speed.

"This is the fastest MacBook Poor yet - up to two times faster and more responsive than the previous MacBook Poor. Apps launch faster and it takes less time to open a Web page in the Safari browser.

During the demo, icons bounced just 20 times in the Dock before their respective applications finally opened.

"We hope by giving the pro-netbook market segment what they want upfront, we can keep them happy and get down to doing more useful work - like lording over the smartphone market," said Schiller.

While the article above is just a figment of the writer's imagination, it is inspired by real announcements by Apple last week at its Worldwide Developer Conference.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mac tablet to debut soon?

THIS should be a very interesting month for gadget lovers as Apple will be unveiling a new operating system for its iPhone.

Called iPhone OS 3.0, the OS has been in beta for the last couple of months to enable third-party developers to write new applications for it.

So what's new with iPhone OS 3.0? A lot. There will be more than 100 new features, including the much anticipated ability to copy and paste text. You see, the iPhone is the world's most brilliant mobile phone without copy-and-paste technology. If that sounds so wrong, it is. Thankfully, that will be rectified soon.

But what about a new iPhone, will there be one as well? No announcement of that sort. When it comes to hardware, Apple reverts to its usual policy of absolute secrecy. It is however widely speculated that Apple will unveil a new iPhone to go with the new OS based on the fact that the last two iterations of the OS were all loaded on new hardware (the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G).

But wait, that's not all there is to it. Speculation is also rife that Apple is preparing to introduce a revolutionary Mac computer based on tablet computing/touch screen technology.

Sites like ZDNet and TechCrunch have been fuelling the rumour since it was discovered that a patent filed in 2004 for some sort of tablet computer was credited to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and 14 other inventors.

The rumour gained momentum again early this year when it was reported that OEMs in Asia have been contacted about mass producing the device.

This rumoured Mac tablet has been likened to an oversized iPhone or iPod Touch. The screen can be anywhere between 7-inch and 10-inch and the operating system is expected to be iPhone OS.

Another sign is that the 2004 patent has Jobs' name on it, which has never happened with other Apple products. Jobs' name tend to appear only on patents that show real Apple products in their somewhat final form.

Having lived with the keyboard and screen all our computing life, it is indeed an enticing proposition, this touch screen interface. The original iPhone ushered in the era of MultiTouch for mobile devices when it debuted in 2007, so the next logical step for Apple is to equip something similar on its full-fledged computers.

After all, the line between laptops and mobile devices in terms of what you can do has blurred considerably in the last few years.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tech etiquette

I HAVE been receiving quite a number of friend requests lately from strangers on Facebook.

The thing about these requests is that people simply do not explain who they are anymore and what their intention is. Okay, maybe the second part is a duh; obviously they want to be your friend.

But come on! It's annoying when I have to MESSAGE THEM, asking if we had ever met and it boils me when they don't reply! A few of these strangers, I found out, had thousands of friends on their Facebook profile.

One particular girl had close to 2,000 friends (a normal person would have between 200 and 500 friends) and was using Facebook for no other reason other than to announce to everyone that she was attending this party and that party, sometimes several parties in a day.

It looked like she was just out to make herself look popular.

Faced with friend requests from strangers, most of us fall into either one of these two categories:

1. People are good by nature. Accept all friend requests.
2. There are people out there who are out to use you. Investigate all friend requests. If you sense something wrong, go with your instincts.

I belong to the second category. Which is why, I am thankful that a friend recently took the trouble to share an article over Facebook headlined 25 Rules of Tech Etiquette from www.switched.com.

Not only did the article confirm what I've been doing is right, it also cautioned me against going overboard with my suspicion.

According to the article, it is perfectly all right to ask strangers to explain themselves politely because you never know if it's a friend of a friend or someone you've forgotten or a potentially lucrative connection.

After all, Facebook was intended for friends to catch up with other friends and perhaps make connections with friends of friends.

Some other enlightening tips from the article:

Q: If someone has gotten creepy on my social network site or IM, how do I get rid of them without feeling like a jerk?
A: In most IM clients and social networking sites, there's an option to ignore certain buddies or friends, discreetly preventing them from contacting you without sending them an official notice that you've dumped them.

Q: What is out-of-bounds when it comes to writing my Facebook status updates?
A: Pretty much anything that could offend. Sure, some of you will say, "Who cares what others think? It's my Facebook page." True, but unlike nasty postings from anonymous cowards, the comments you post online belong to you. Be prepared to pay the price when someone else takes offence and posts your comments for the rest of the world to see.

Q: What's with people who use ellipses ... throughout ... their emails?
A: Either they're high and can't complete a thought or they're under the mistaken impression that it's a legitimate use of punctuation. Ellipses signify a break in a quotation or perhaps a trailing thought for dramatic or comedic impact. Using them after or in the middle of a bunch of sentences is bewildering to read and signifies that the sender is either an ignoramus or is sniffing glue.

Email, instant messaging and handphones have gone mainstream for about 10 years now. Social networking sites have been around for about five years. That's long enough to stop being clumsy with our online communications.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tech it easy

I WAS in tech journalism for the first five years in NST. I wrote for the Computimes pullout and later Computimes Shopper Malaysia magazine.

I enjoyed my time there. Assignments were fairly straightforward: go cover product launches, write about product. Get review unit, write review.

I loved the informal but purposeful way with which events were conducted. I loved the people I met. I found them to be real, resourceful and down-to-earth.

Not many people know this, but tech journalists are some of the most well-travelled ones around. They are treated very well by tech companies with the budgets to send journalists to cover overseas tech events.

So if you love to travel, tech journalism is the place to be.

My times at Computimes and Shopper were also some of the most creative periods of my life.

I taught myself video editing and problem solving, and even learnt Photoshop and started a side career in cartooning.

But the best part was still the fact that we got to play with gadgets and software.

This we used to our full advantage. Say, for example, I developed a curiosity for a particular Mac computer. I could then call Apple up, ask for a review unit and play with it until I was satisfied that all my questions were answered before buying the product, all on the pretext of doing a product review.

I loved the mental stimulation. During tea at the canteen, my colleagues and I would LOL at some of the most obscure jokes and twisted puns you can ever think of.

I really thought we were some of the coolest people in the office.

But when I moved to Life & Times in 2005, I had the shock of my life. It turned out that the rest of the company didn't think much of me.

On the contrary, they thought I was one of the more boring people in the whole wide office!

My colleagues at the new desk gave me this look of horror whenever I tried to impress them with some of my classic puns. It took me some time to control my tendency to crack a joke.

What I learnt from this episode of my life was that not many people like smart Alecs.

One of the dangers of being tech-savvy is falling into the trap of superiority complex.

You start out like any other chap: humble, precocious and willing to learn. All the right ingredients to become a talented tech writer.

After a few years when you are able to form opinions about your subject matter, you are given the confidence by your editor to maintain a column.

You begin to have followers. You find yourself having a certain influence on the general public - or at least, those within your magazine's circulation figure.

Soon, however, your followers grow to a size that worries even someone like Ayah Pin.

You get on Twitter and have even more followers. Your level of influence extends to the global level.

At this stage, you begin to feel infallible. Others' technical opinions do not matter anymore.

There is an Arabic word for this: riya' (pride). According to Islamic teaching, techies who have riya' even the size of an atom in their heart will not go to heaven.

You can tell when a techie has riya'. He walks around with a MacGyver strut and doles out unsolicited "advice" about gadgets to hapless consumers.

Don't be like this techie. On Earth, people do not like it when you demonstrate how smart you are. When you die, you will burn in hell. You lose on both counts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I say, this just won't do!

TWO months into using the iPhone, I find myself spending more and more time on it.

These days, I'd say half of my online time is spent on the iPhone. The other half on my laptop.

In fact, I rarely Facebook or email on my laptop anymore. The iPhone has replaced it as my primary device for these tasks.

Why? Because it's so darn convenient. You pick up your phone from the coffee table, wake it up and it's instantly online as it recognises your home network.

You tap on the Facebook icon. And since you keep your Facebook and email accounts logged in all the time, any new messages can be seen on the iPhone in an instant.

The concept of logging in and logging out is no longer a hard and fast rule.

It gets better. Wi-Fi introduced us to the concept of surfing the Internet in your living room or bedroom but with smartphones like the iPhone, you can walk around the house or lie down while you're at it. How comfortable is that?

And your addiction gets worse if you have a good 3G plan. Not only do you tap away on your phone indoors, you also do the same outdoors. Because you know those few minutes on the Internet won't cost you much.

So you find yourself blogging, Facebooking and emailing while you are out and about, standing in line at the cinemas or waiting for food at some roadside stall.

Recently while on assignment camping in front of the Kamunting detention centre waiting for the release of the ISA 13, guess what I did? Yup, I Facebooked.

Yes, you really can become addicted to the Internet on the mobile. You have been warned.

But then, therein lies the problem. As you spend more time on your mobile device, you start noticing its shortcomings.

On the iPhone, frankly there are not many. Just the battery life.

Prior to buying my iPhone, I had been warned about its lousy battery life. I refused to listen then, because I had already set my mind on buying it.

The first few weeks of usage was fine. I found the criticism to be unfounded. My phone could last two days on a full charge, which wasn't bad at all.

But once I started Facebooking, emailing, surfing the Internet and playing game after game of Bejeweled on it, the battery life was just good for one day.

Now, I have to charge my phone every night.

And if you have to be online for an extended period, the battery life may not last you through the day.

Based on my two-day experience at Kamunting, after waiting from 7am to around 1pm, I had to start looking for a place to charge my phone.

Why is it like that? It's the screen.

The iPhone's screen is both its best feature and its curse. At 3.5-inch, it's one of the largest you can get on today's mobile devices.

Together with the Multi-Touch gestures it supports, the screen makes surfing the Net on the iPhone a less painful proposition compared to other mobile devices.

However, this large display is also the biggest culprit behind the iPhone's `paltry' battery life. As a rule, the larger the screen is, the faster it drains the device's battery.

You have better luck at night, as you can reduce the brightness of the screen to the absolute minimum, thereby extending the battery life considerably. But under the sun like in Kamunting, I had to keep the brightness at a minimum of 50 per cent.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It takes a Genius...

FOR Malaysian iPhone 3G users who have been having problems with caller ID not appearing on their brand new smartphone, Apple’s latest announcement will sound like custom ringtone to their ears.

The iPhone maker has released a software update that promises to solve that very problem — and more.

The announcement on Tuesday by Apple will see its iTunes do-everything-from-music-to-movies-to-apps-to-contacts software receiving a feature boost in the form of a Genius for Contacts.

This is the second Genius feature on iTunes. Genius made its debut last year on iTunes 8 as a way to instantly and automatically create playlists of songs that go great together.
The songs are from iTunes Store as well as from the user’s own music library.

In similar fashion for Contacts, the names and phone numbers of iPhone users are anonymously sent to Apple’s servers where it is combined with the anonymously gathered knowledge from millions of other iPhone users and processed through Apple developed algorithms.

Information is also gathered from social networking sites such as Facebook.

Additionally, Genius will identify people outside of the user’s circle of contacts who are common friends or have similar tastes in computer and phone (Macs and iPhone), and recommend that the user adds these people to their contacts.

Apple has access to information on 30 million iPhone and iPod touch users to make this work.

In addition, the company knows an estimated ten-fold more of other consumers who have Googled “iPhone” on their computer.

“The Genius feature worked very well for music on iTunes. So we decided to extend it to other parts of the iPhone-iTunes-App Store ecosystem starting with Contacts,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice-president of iPod and iPhone product marketing.

“Besides, you need to be a genius to solve the iPhone caller ID problem. Bwahahahahaha!”

The introduction of Genius for Contacts was timely in light of problems faced by iPhone customers in Malaysia, Apple’s latest market.

Thousands of customers who bought their iPhone from Maxis recently in a fit of techno-lust discovered they had “lost” some of their contacts.

Instead of the caller ID, iPhone displayed the caller’s number.

Most people have no idea what their friend’s or spouse’s numbers are.

Bengong betul. How can a company like Apple overlook something so basic?” an indignant customer was heard complaining loudly soon after wiping drool from his new iPhone.

“Even a RM300 China phone can do that properly.”

“I love my iPhone,” said another happy customer. “It allows me to do calls, SMS, listen to music, watch video clips, browse the Internet, get organised, play games – everything. Except see my caller ID.”

At least 30 marriages and relationships were reported dissolved nationwide when iPhone users, who received missed calls from their partners, responded with, “Sorry, who is this please?”

But these newly-single iPhone users have no reason to be sad.

Apple said Genius has a built-in Contacts Store containing over 25,000 beautiful people who are real-life iPhone users.

With just a few taps on their iPhone, users can add these beautiful people’s phone numbers at prices ranging from US$0.99 to US$4.99 and US$24.99 depending on desirability.

Third-party developers are also offering add-on Contacts that will allow users to add celebrities to their contacts and even have these celebrities appear on their Facebook friends list to impress people. Huhu.

Mac pundit Lee Harvey Aswad speculated that Apple will eventually extend Genius to other parts of the iPhone-iTunes-App Store ecosystem.

“I predict they will eventually have Genius for apps, Genius for e-books, Genius for quotes, Genius for twitter, Genius for FB status updates, Genius for Genius,” said Aswad.

An Apple representative declined to comment.