Friday, August 28, 2009

Wired and archaic to wireless and modern

So I've been burnt. After years of supporting the underdog (or getting dodgy gear), I've finally made the move towards a solid setup for all my storage and internet needs. Unfortunately it was out of necessity, but I somehow knew the day was coming.
As my external harddrive collection mounted to a frankenmonster twist of cables and cases, full of backups and downloads, all was going smoothly albeit messy. I guess that's expected when multiple harddrives are involved along with the internet and a network, cable mess is the order of the day. But then, yes wireless has been around for at least a few years now. I've just neve had a need for it. My downloads were going onto the mighty Noontec GigaView, from where I could play media too, which was handy. My backups were going onto what I thought was a good and reliable Barracuda 40Gb. The most crucial backups go online to, something that hopefully won't break anytime soon. Then the day came. Whether it was a solar storm or a statistical anomaly, both of my harddrives died on the same day. So I lost all my downloads and backups. Downloads are always on the internet so I didn't care that much, backups are still on the old reliable laptop so that was just plain lucky. But it gave me a kick in the butt and a heart palpitation so I thought I'd better get my ish in gear and sort something out. The living room floor looked a mess and my brain was on the verge of a digital collapse.
Drawing on my years of network maintenance and modest knowledge of systems, I decided "right this is it".
1. Get an exact same model harddrive that's in my laptop, put my laptop image onto it.
2. Get a RAID1 external drive. (preferably NAS)
3. Get a wireless router. (to get rid of the mess of cables on the living room floor)
So off to get the bits. Getting the same harddrive as in my laptop was relatively easy, and as soon as I got it, I put an image of the windows build onto it using a trial version of TrueImage (it works fully for 30 days and I only needed to do this once). When that was done and I could swap the harddrive in and out of my laptop with the same windows booting up fine, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Now for the storage solution. Looking around for a RAID1 external drive was looking daunting at about US$200 for a base model RAID1 case was the norm. And with a NAS addition, this started becoming prohibitively expensive. Somehow during my research I stumbled across what is called a 'storage link' included with some wireless routers. This is simply a USB port in a router that takes a USB storage device and makes it available on the network. Awesome. Seeing that I needed to get a wireless router anyway this seemed like a winner. So all I needed now was to find the right devices. From the officeworks website I was able to find a RAID1 Western Digital MyBook Mirror. A reasonably priced device that was purchased locally, came packed with features and a 3 year warranty (and it looks kinda cool with that black casing and a blue pulsating gauge). Next was the router which was a tad more difficult to locate. For some reason there's not that many wireless routers out there with a 'storage link', and the ones I found were either not available or not being made anymore... bizarre. Eventually I stumbled across a Belkin N+ router. Sweet. Again, sweet black and blue look with features bursting out of the box and that elusive 'storage link' things couldn't be sweeter.
Once both of the devices were inside my door, quick set of configuration and I was ready to move the great cable knot of 2009 out of the living room. I did have a few issues setting up the router where initially the set configuration would not work, but then it worked fine. The modem settings were rejected then they were accepted, then I couldn't connect to the networked drive, and then I could (with no changes). Yep the self-healing computer network strikes again. It's bizarre how often that has happened to me in the past. Anyway, after the whole adventure I was able to take the ADSL modem, router and harddrive and put them all in another room, reclaiming living room floorspace. And the piece of mind of having a RAID1 terabyte of storage and an imaged laptop system drive, is golden.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The moon is made of honey

The wedding couldn't have gone better if we tried. The beachside ceremony and reception venue proved to be a spectacular choice. The weather was perfect and the day's activities went off without a hitch. Most of all, being married to my beautiful new bride made me the happiest man on earth. With the 'just married' sign pinned to our back, our honeymoon was the next port of call, the very next day. We chose to go to Broome, and the choice was definitely the right one.
Arriving amongst the heat and humidity instantly brought on the holiday feeling. Entering our apartment with its own plunge pool and all the creature comforts made the holiday feeling even more real. This place had all we needed, so leaving for daily excursions felt almost unnecessary. Nevertheless, exploration of the old pearler's town was warranted, because the apartment's air conditioner and pool provided an awesome end-of-day destination.
On the night of our arrival, a phenomenon called 'staircase to the moon' was occurring. The best vantage point for this was at 'the mangroves' tavern where what seemed like half the town gathered to witness the spectacle. We managed to snag a front row seat and as the orange moon began to rise, all the lights were turned off, a local digeridoo player began to play, creating a great atmosphere. The event itself was a combination of the rising moon and a low tide over the mangrove mud flats, creating a series of moon reflections resulting in what looked like a stairway from the vantage point to the moon. This was a unique experience and one definitely worth seeing. We were just very lucky to experience it on our first evening in town.
The best way to get around is the local privately owned bus for a fraction of the cost of hiring a car or catching taxis. The bus goes through all of the town's main attractions so we were only happy to use it. The town center venues are clad in galvanized sheeting and full of pearl stores. Apart from that however, there are a number of unmissable destinations for anyone who's not looking to buy a $4000 pearl necklace. Small and friendly stores and cafes are dotted around the main street with 'Chinatown' being the main attraction. Hopping between each one is good fun as souvenirs are quirky and each store's air conditioning systems are refreshing retreats from the relentless heat and humidity outside. Eating out in restaurants in ridiculously expensive, so unless you're keen for a $40 steak and chips either eat at the reasonably priced lunch time cafes or buy your own supplies in the supermarket. We chose a combination of all of the above figuring that getting ripped off was part of the experience. But wherever we went the food and service was great, no matter how much we chose to pay. As we made our way around town, its unique and unforgettable features stood out. The outdoor cinemas, Matso's brewery, various pubs and general town architecture made us fall in love with the town, making us fantasise about how we could move there, setting up a small business and live our lives out amongst the friendly atmosphere.
While in town, we came across a camel souvenir store. There we were able to book a sunset camel ride along Cable Beach. The experience itself was unforgettable, where a combination of the surroundings and being part of a camel train made us feel like we were crossing the Sahara while witnessing a spectacular sunset on a beautiful beach. This is a must-do for anyone visiting Broome. It also showed us the beauty of cable beach, where we spent most of the next day bobbing around an the very warm Indian ocean for most of the day, followed by a burger in the beachside cafe - magic.
The whole experience of Broome was awesome. The town born out of a pearling tradition still retains its roots while providing anyone who visits it with a great holiday. This was a great honeymoon destination, a beautiful start to a happy married life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Benefits of a light bag workout

Light bag workout provides benefits to improve various aspects of kicks and punches. It provides a good coverage of speed, mobility, power.
While hitting a light bag, the weight of the bag demands that the hits are quick and snappy, because 'pushes' as opposed to 'hits' fail miserably on light targets, highlighting the sensation of wrongness when throwing a strike that turns out to be a 'push'. The extreme of developing this 'snappiness' is to use a very light target such as a focus pad, or a piece of paper on a string. So hitting a light target demands that speed of delivery and balance on recovery are key.
The light bag also provides enough resistance to strike realistically heavy hits. Landing heavy hits is fun, and when done in a fight, will cause a knockout. But most of the bout is sent throwing hits that make light contact, miss, are parried or blocked. Landing heavy hits on a heavy bag does improve focused strength of the hit, but if not careful, hitting a heavy bag can result in 'pushes' being thrown. With a light bag, heavier hits with all available strength can still be performed at opportune times. When a swigging bag is coming back, strike on an opposite angle to its direction of travel can be done with full power and appropriate resistance would be supplied by the swinging bag.
The variety of techniques and skills involved in a light bag workout provide training of skills utilised in a sparring situation. It provides, 'middle ground' between the fragmented extremes of very light and very heavy target practice.
Videos below illustrate the use of light bag workout for kicks and punches, then just kicks.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Don't fly Air Asia

Because you probably won't be able to. During our trip to Thailand, we had a return trip booked from Bangkok to Phuket. We booked this back in July and the flights were in December. All was seemingly well. Our flight bookings were confirmed and ready to go. Then the fun began.
About a week before the first flight, whilst in Spain, I received an SMS informing me that our flight to Phuket was canceled. There was a phone number to call included in the message, but that number was wrong, and looked like it was typed by a dyslexic. The number in the SMS was 66 2 151 9999 when in fact it is 66 2 515 9999. So after calling the correct number, being put on hold for over half an hour on an international roaming call was not fun, after which I gave up. So off to the website that has a contact section. Ok fine, so I sent a message describing the situation. Next day, no answer. Another message, no answer. Once again, no answer. Meanwhile the flight date is getting closer and options are getting narrower. With no answer from the uncontactable airline we were forced to change the flight manually using the airline's website, being sluggend a fee for doing so.
After arriving in Bangkok, we proceeded to the AirAsia counter. There we found out that if a flight is cancelled then the airline is obliged to move you to another available flight at no cost. As we have paid for the flight transfer, we were refunded the money which was not immediate and was going to take upto a month. Ok, whatever, so we caught our late flight. At least the return flight was not cancelled. Or so we thought.
After spending a great week in Phuket, we were due to catch a 9:05am flight to Bangkok. We woke up extra early and arrived at the airport with some time to spare. Arriving at the airport desk however, revealed that the flight was cancelled. The AirAsia office wasn't even open at that time of the morning. With a bunch of discruntled guests waiting, as soon as the office opened the staff scrambled to restore order. Their competency was terrible, having to double check that our flight was cancelled. So the next flight was at 12:05pm, leaving us at the airport for another 4 hours without without prior notice. This time we resisted and asked for a flight refund, indicating no confidence in that the next flight was not going to be cancelled without notice. As we had another refund being processed from the previous flight, their policy was that no documentation could be provided indicating the refund. The refund was going to be placed in a 'queue'. I had to struggle to get something in writing to this effect. All I could get was the clerk's name on a piece of paper. We ended up flying Thai Air within half an hour for not much more at all.
Our assumption for this cancellation bonanza is that AirAsia has a lot of available flights. Sometimes when not enough people book to go on these flights, they just go ahead and cancel them and move the unfortunate guests to the other flights. This is not a way to conduct business. Advertising the fact that AirAsia has so many flights is misleading, and leaves their customers with a bad taste in their mouth. In fact those customers who are affected by this dodgy practice are less likely to fly AirAsia again, if ever. I know I'll never use them again.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

European Vacation

Singapore was the first stop. We had about 6 hours there. This gave us an opportunity to get out and see the city. Catching the train was quick, cheap and easy. We hit 6 pm foot traffic, ducking and weaving our way past an electronics shopping mall and state buildings, over to Chinatown. It was 27 degrees, and very humid, so a cool drink and some food was a welcome milestone. Chili crab, Singapore noodles, chicken satays and some greens with a couple of local beers hit the spot. Singapore is a big city, clean and friendly. Everything works, runs on time and most coveniences are free, such as maps, shuttle buses and internet terminals. At the same time, the city feels a bit contrived and manufactured, lacking character and substance. Most things seemed sustained by the system, giving the city an empty feel. Nevertheless, a nice city to visit and to witness a fusion Asian,Malay and Indian cultures.
From Singapore we got on a 12 hour flight to Frankfurt. Because we walked around Singapore until exhaustion, we were able to catch some sleep on the plane. We arrived in Frankfurt and had to walk for what seemed like kilometers inside the massive airport to get to our connecting flight to Amsterdam. After a short flight and a seamlessly connecting train to Central, we arrived at the Frisco Inn, around the corner from the central train station. The Frisco Inn is a great little hotel in the center of all the action of the red light district, featuring Amsterdam's steepest stairway. The debauchery of the city's nightlife was astounding. Waves of chavs roaming the streets in a who-knows-what state, followed by groups of howler monkeys, lizards and chickens. Coffee shops serving up intoxicants could be identified by a green and white sticker, or more generally a smell spilling out of the front door. Dodgey characters trying to sell even more dodgey substances on most street corners. On the upside, local fresh food was delicious although a bit pricey, but trying to save money on food only resulted in eating out of dispensing pigeon hole or eating dodgy steaks in touristy barns. Best to go local and fresh for an extra couple of €.
During our stay, we explored most of the city, with the help of free maps contained in tour brochures at most reception front desks. Picking a district of the city and exploring it on foot was a great way to do it. Shopping was abundant, sprinkled with cafes and curio shops. Abandoned piles of bicycles, awkwardly leaning townhouses and canals full of half sunken boats filled in the rest of the landscape. Highlights of this exploration was finding a massive self-serve lunch hall called La Place Mangerie, farmer's markets and hidden cafes and pubs.
The time in Amsterdam flew very quickly and before we knew it, we found ourselves on the train to Berlin for a two night stay then a trip to Jelenia Gora. We we explored the city mostly on foot. The monuments and buildings of interest were of grand proportions. Lots of history perforated by bullet holes from world war two. Generally, prices were a bit cheaper, the food was on par, and an abundance of all things opulent was prevalent. The Berlin wall was a big attraction with tourists were flocking to it in droves. We cut out a lot of the legwork by catching a tethered balloon that ascends 150 meters. The experience was certainly worth it. The city and its people were generally nice but felt snobbish and stiff. The most ironic thing being the smell of sewerage in the main snobby shopping street, summing up much of the Berlin experience. Then there is the coffee. In both Holland and Germany it seems that people like their coffee percolated with UHT milk. This could be because of their unknown taste of a good coffee, love of crappy tasting coffee or the lack of cows. Either way finding a good espresso with proper milk provided a good excuse to explore the city. Oh, and a fly baked into the pizza left a lingering feeling of food prep distrust. And if I see another food outlet lined with sugar-encrusted baked goods, it won't be too soon.
Next stop is Jelenia Gora, Poland, my home town. The train trip from Berlin was about six hours, so we were glad when it was over. Getting there felt like traveling to parts unknown. The stop over in Zary was our first glimpse of a Polish train station and it was not pretty. There was graffiti scribbled all over inside the station and a couple caged ticket windows. But we got through it. We caught the connecting train about an hour later to another connecting station, then to Jelenia Gora. We stayed in Hotel Fan, which recently changed its name to Hotel Tango, both really bad names for a hotel. The decor in this place was a contradiction between traditional, tropical with mother's touch. The African wooden statue in the foyer with a pink ribbon in its matted hair illustrated this well. Overall good quality service, rooms and food but with a massive case of identity crisis. Nevertheless, the stay there was pleasant, even though we felt like the only guests in the hotel, not seeing another guest throughout our stay.
On our first day, we explored the town center, buying souvenirs and being the general tourists. The town has changed a lot since I was there last, about 20 years ago. Lots of new stores dotted the buildings that have not changed one bit. Most of those were in a dire need of repair, but the town square was well maintained and a pleasure to walk around.
The second day involved visiting Cieplice, my home town. For this we hired a car and were surprised to have succeeded as I only had an Australian driver's license, not an international one. So driving on the right (wrong) side of the road took some getting used to, luckily without the expense of an accident.
We drove into Cieplice and the memories came flooding back. We visited my old neighbourhood, the house where I grew up and the park where I used to play as a kid. It all seemed so much bigger when I was little. In the park we were greeted by squirrels who were all too eager to get some food by climbing up my leg and scaring Taryn. Seeing and experiencing all these sites was very significant for me and my head was spinning for a couple of days afterwards. That evening we were invited for a dinner at my cousin's place. I have not seen him for 21 years so it was really good to do so as we were pretty close as kids. I also met his wife and their little one. I also caught up with my aunty and my other cousin whom I haven't seen since she was a baby. It was a great evening and one that I will remember forever.
The day before leaving was spent running a few errands, eating and sleeping, exactly what holidays are meant for. The day after, we were leaving for Krakow. We woke up and noticed that it has been snowing all night, and all was covered in white, including our car. It was the first snowfall of the year, and it looked magical. Driving through the snow was a bit of an ordeal, but slow and steady won the race. We returned the hired car without an inci-dent. While at my cousin's, we found out that the train trip from Jelenia Gora to Wroclaw, the stop over to Krakow, was going to take about 5 hours to cover about 120 kilometers because of the state of the railways between those two towns. This would have been a real drag, so he offered to drive us into Wroclaw, which was great. In Wroclaw we made the 12:15 train with 10 minutes to spare.
We arrived in Krakow in the evening and in the middle of a snow storm, getting to the Secret Garden Hostel was a trial, and eventually we caught a taxi there. It turned out to be only a few blocks away. There we obtained the keys to our apartment which was actually a few more blocks away, but a walkable distance. The apartment was very cute, located in the Jewish quarter of the city. This part of the city is full of restaurants, bars and galleries and seems like the arty part of town. The next day we went out to explore the city, but it was snowing so heavily that we couldn't see much of it at all from under our hooded jackets. We decided to go visit the Wawel castle, and upon arriving there, we found out that the entry on that day was free, so we got tickets to see whatever we could. It was great to see the old residence of the country's royal family. Everything was on a grand scale and well worth visiting. After this we went to the old town square and stopped over for some afternoon snacks at an iconic chocolate factory. In the following days we explored the city in general, stopping for meals as we went, and even managed to cook a couple of dinners in our apartment's kitchen. Krakow is a huge and beautiful city with many stories to tell, it's well worth visiting and exploring as it has something for everyone. We checked out at midday on the last day and caught a connecting bus to Katowice airport and were bound for our next stop, Rome.
Our friend and her boyfriend live and work in Rome, so we were able to secure some cheap accommodation and their help in telling us how to get around and what to see and do. Most nights we stayed in an Irish pub Flann O'Brien's. The accommodation was actually really good, and we got if for almost half price, knowing one of the staff. Having said that, if we had to pay full price, the room was not worth the pay. On our first day we visited the Colosseum, Pantheon and Fontana de Trevi, enjoying the city in between. Lucky that we had a map which has all the iconic sites, giving us an invaluable navigation tool.
Knowing someone who lives in town also gave us the opportunity for some free accommodation at their house. After setting up and leaving our luggage in one place, we ventured outside Rome to Spoleto. After arriving, we met up with some locals and had a great lunch, complete with a bottle of home brewed wine. After that we went to the old town which was stunning. There we wandered around the cobble stone streets admiring the old architecture and a massive bridge. We also stumbled upon the truffle festival, which was unmistakingly obvious judging by the nostril-burning odour. From there, we made our way back to Rome and sadly ate dinner at the Hard Rock cafe, authentically non-authentic. The next day we needed some rest so we took it easy, I got a chance to catch up on some exercise, before replenishing the calories in a thanks-giving party organised by some yanks. There we were treated to some turkey and apple pie and witnessing a drunk mother battling her rebellious 14 year old daughter before cracking and giving her alcohol.
The next day we were off to Florence for a night. We caught the Euro Star train there, probably the most comfortable train ever. Arriving there, we discovered an old and charming city with many things to see. That is probably why it felt very touristy, with extravagant prices for everything. Tourists were the meal of the town and were devoured piece by piece by dodgey market hawkers and restaurant 'service fees'. Nevertheless, the city has a lot to be offer with piazzas, pizzas, statues and galleries around every corner. Michaelangelo's David was probably the highlight as it's situated on a hill that offers beautiful panoramas of the city. After two short days we felt as if we have seen all that the city has to offer and headed back to Rome. Overall Italy felt as if everyone wanted to be a movie star, wearing over the top fashion, acting snobbish and superior, with no sense of courtesy but underneath there was no substance to back up their claims. The cities were dirty, the food was substandard and the self imposed superiority of Italy and its people is just an outer gloss with no substance. Sad but true. Our next stop was Barcelona.
We arrived in Spain and the contrast became clear pretty quickly. The place was clean, people were friendly and didn't act like wanna-be movie stars. Exploring Barcelona was fun, but really there was not much to see there, seems the city is still riding on the fact they held the Olympics 20 years ago. One main touristy roar surrounded by dodgey side alleys. Trying to get tapas without going into a smoky bar became impossible, with such bars being present everywhere and full of people drinking and smoking at all hours of the day. On average, finding a good meal became tedious as most of the restaurants served tourist versions of a good meal, so our paella ended up a dry, bland version of itself. Indeed, the best meal we had here turned out to be Chinese. One of the most exciting things we discovered in Barcelona was the central market, full of produce of all kinds, dominated by the open-air seafood stalls full of weird and wonderful creatures, half of which were still wriggling around. Hoping that we can find some good Portuguese chicken, we hopped on a flight to Lisbon.
Lisbon is a beautiful city that seems relatively unaffected by the evils of western capitalism. The city has an easy and arty feel about it, with the entire city's footpaths being paved with white pavers intertwined with intricate black mosaic patterns. We stayed in a cute and cheap guest house, Res. San Paolo, where our room was always cold for some reason even though it was quite warm outside. On our first day we wandered down to the city centre which was bustling with all kinds of businesses. On our way we stumbled across a small bakery that was selling their wares by weight. We couldn't go past the Portuguese tarts and a custard filled, coconut wrapped vanilla lamingtons. Both were so delicious that we had to have them two days in a row. In the city centre, almost every street corner had chestnut vendors who emitted massive clouds of smoke that engulfed the streets. Even through this haze we managed to find a hand-painted tile with our house number on it. A great souvenir as Portugal seems to pride itself on its hand-pained tiles. We then had a lunch of peri-peri and Portuguese chicken that filled us to the brim. With this fuel, we wound our way through the maze of streets up to the St. Jorge castle which provided great panoramic views of the city. After that exhausting run we wound up for the day, just to revisit these sites again the next day as there was so much more to soak in. On the second night our hotel porter said that we should not leave Lisbon without seeing a performance of traditional Portugese music, Fado, over dinner. He highly recommended an iconic restaurant that did just that. I have to say, it was an unforgettable and enchanting experience. Every half an hour, the lights would dim, the performers would emerge onto a small stage in the restaurant and perform acoustically. Overall, Lisbon is a great city to visit on anyone's itinerary. Next stop for us is Madrid, somewhere to rest for three days.
Arriving in Madrid at 11:30pm and no available hotels on that night meant that we had to stay in an airport hotel. We found a nice one that said it was 400m away from the airport and had a free shuttle bus, which was a good sign. Upon arriving at the airport we found the phone number of the hotel, called it but it didn't connect. There was no shuttle bus in sight. We had no choice but to catch a taxi. Upon telling the taxi driver our destination, he swore and proceeded to take us around many looping roads and even a town, until we arrived at our destination and had to fork out €20 for the privilege of getting taken to a hotel 400m away. The hotel was nice enough, but the food was dodgey and stale. The next day we caught the hotel shuttle back to the airport, from where we caught the metro to the city center for €1. On the metro both of us were unsuccessfully pickpocketed. Taryn was observant enough to spot the pickpocketer unzipping her bag. After being spotted, he quickly proceeded to get off the train, but not before being nice enough to tell me that someone else has unzipped my backpack pocket. Luckily nothing was stolen, but a great welcome to Madrid indeed. However, soon enough our troubles were over. We found our hotel, High Tech Hotel, which was in a great central location. The room was really comfortable and the staff were helpful. Wandering around Madrid was great. The city is really big with lots to see and do. This is in stark contrast with Barcelona which was lacking all that Madrid had to offer. Having three nights here meant that we could relax and soak in the city at a slower pace. We managed to see most of the monuments and sample some local cuisine. This did include burgers, pizza and kebabs, all of which were top notch. Quality of the shopping was good too, but like everywhere else in Europe, overpriced. So after a relaxing stay in Madrid, it was slowly time to begin thinking about heading to the southern hemisphere. However before doing so, we stopped over in Rome for one more night as it would work out cheaper and our flight was heading out of there. So we caught up with our Roman friends for one last meal, ironically an Indian curry. We then spent the next day checking out the couple of piazzas we missed the first time around and then we were off to Bangkok.
The plan was to grab a sleep on the 10 hour flight. Soon after the meal however, I realised that was not going to be happening. We were seated next to a rowdy Vietnamese group. The man next to me was drinking red wine like there was no tomorrow, mainly because it was free. He was also making his buddies get red wines so that they could give those to him. We stopped counting after he drank his 10th plastic cup full. The drunkenness gave way to sleep, during which he was as loud if not more so then he was awake. During the night he kept shouting out of nowhere and for some reason decided to use me for a pillow. I knocked him back every 5 minutes quite forcefully as he just didn't seem to get that you just can't sleep on other people. Then during the morning when everyone started waking up, he was coughing, wheezing and yawning while shouting. Throughout this serene experience I managed to get about half an hour worth of sleep. Just to add to the man's credibility, he decided to have two glasses of red wine with his breakfast while coughing splattering and being generally loud. The only thing that kept me hopeful was the upcoming Thai heat. I even changed to summer gear on the plane in anticipation. So when we landed, we were really glad to get off that flight.
After stepping off the plane we finally felt the heat of Thai summer, but this didn't last long as we had to wait in a freezingly air-conditioned airport for six hours for our connecting flight to Phuket. Changing into summer gear on the plane didn't seem like a good idea anymore. Although we did manage to get into the mood by getting some mango and sticky rice and noodles. Eventually we boarded the flight, landing at our destination about an hour later. From the airport we got a free shuttle car provided by our hotel, the Pacific Club Spa Resort. We arrived at 11:30pm, managed to get a late snack from the kitchen and then slept. The next day we woke up and began to explore our newfound paradise. Compared with Europe, this is a land of halves-and-doubles. Everything is half the price for twice the value. The hotel is twice as plush as any in Europe, the people are twice as helpful, the food is twice as tasty, the weather is more than twice as good, all for half the price. This made us realise how going for a holiday to Europe just does not make sense. Granted that doing it was essential to get it out of our system, but going there again for a holiday is not going to happen anytime soon, unless it's a stopover to a beautiful tropical destination.
Our days here consisted of filling up on the free buffet breakfast, lazying around and in the pool until breakfast is digested. After that we get up and go for lunch in the local town, a nap in the afternoon, then to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Most relaxing routine ever.
Phuket and Karon beach inparticular, is a great place to get away and forget about life for a while. Because of that, it was difficult to get up and say that we have to leave. To make the transition easier, we decided to spend one night in Bangkok.
We arrived in smoggy Bangkok and checked into the city oasis that is Phrankorn Norlen. In my opinion, this is the only place to stay when in Bangkok. It's so homely and relaxing, contrasting the city's fast pace beautifully. As we only had about half a day left after arriving, we wandered around the local area. Weird and wonderful food markets, street food stalls, clothing stands, souvenir shops, all made their presence known immediately. We had no choice but to give in. Eating few small nibbles and buying a few small things provided the fix, then we were ready for the next day. On the second day we caught the river boat to our destination. Catching the river boat is definitely the fastest and most economical way to get across town, not to mention the most scenic. The combination of luxury houses, temples, hotels, and dilapidated shacks along the river is amazing. Our first stop was the biggest temple complex in Bangkok. There visitors can see the golden temple, made of gold and the emerald Buddha, made of emerald. The size and intricacy of the work in these temples is amazing, a sight not to be missed and well worth the money and hired clothing change. In this place uncovered limbs offend, so clothing which hides these evils can be borrowed. After seeing the fruits of many faithful labourers, we got back on the boat and traveled to our next destination, the Blue Elephant. As the name doesn't suggest, the Blue Elephant is one of Bangkok's most famous restaurants. There we booked a half day cooking course. Being in a class of three, we got almost personal treatment from the restaurant's chef in preparing some great Thai dishes. We learned how to prepare chicken satays, stir fried calamari, ancient curry, fish salad, and taro desert. It was a great experience, highly recommended to anyone. After the course we got to eat our creations. We also got to keep our apron and received a certificate and a bag of goodies. After the cooking class it was off to our hotel to shower and get to the airport for our last leg, home!
As we left the hotel, the taxi was right there which was convenient, we took off to the airport. Bangkok taxis have no seat belts so that is a safety inconvenience at the best of times, but when a psycho driver takes off down an 80kph road at 130kph, it becomes a terror ride. After counting ourselves lucky by getting to the airport, we walked around the airport shops, boarded out flight and went off to Melbourne. There we had to wait for about 5 hours, being so close to home, yet so far. At this point we were pretty tired, but flying into Adelaide and getting home was a high that kept us awake. The home was still all there, albeit a bit overgrown outside, but it felt so good to be home.

Friday, November 7, 2008

new phone - HTC Touch Pro

Now that I'm about to go on overseas, I need internet access, and roaming phone to stay in touch. A new phone was in order. But I also need basic internet. Taking my laptop would probably brake it by the end of the trip, so maybe an Asus EEE with windows XP and wireless network connectivity. But then if I'm going to use this device for travel-related internet, typing etc then why not a phone with enough kick to do the trick?
After so many years of having crappy phones that did bugger all except make calls, I have pulled my boots out of the mud and decided to get a phone that solved my laptop and phone needs together. I've been looking around for a while, and did have my eye on the Nokia N95, knowing that it was at the forefront of this new wave of all-in-one phones for a while. But there was something that the N95 was missing, and that was a touch-screen. I immediately discounted the iPhone, because it's just a fad-phone, missing features that I would find useful, such as multithreading, bluetooth, and a tactile keyboard. And besides it is a Mac phone, and macs are just... well ... you know. So after a while of following internet reviews of phones and browsing around, the HTC Touch Pro came on the market. I snatched one up.
Since I got it, I couldn't be happier. It is very well designed, solid and user friendly. The touch screen opens up many navigational features that normal phones don't have. The qwerty keyboard is nice and responsive. The application load times and the way that HTC embedded their own 'skin' on top of Windows Mobile 6.1 makes it a pleasure to use. Besides the pleasantries it has all that what Windows Mobile OS has to offer, with some nice hardware additions such as the level sensor, GPS, HSDPA modem, it has it all. From a business user through to a casual user, this device comes highly recommended.
Another main reason for getting the HTC Touch Pro was that HTC are at the forefront of the adaptation of Android, an open source complete device stack from Google. I have done a reasonable amount of research into Android as part of my job, so it was good to get some time to read up about it. And I must admit it looks like Google have got it right from the beggining with Android. It has been taking a while, but once deveices start using it, it will change the mobile devices landscape. HTC Dream already runs Android as standard. I have also read that HTC touch pro has the required hardware to run Android, so it's a matter of just waiting for the Touch Pro drivers to get written, meanwhile I think I can still run the Android interface by emulating Linux in Win Mobile, then run the Android emulator from there.
Overall, a brilliant phone that has saved me buying a laptop, and interested in developing for the mobile platform again.

It has been a while

Well, first blog in ages. It has been a ride, professionally and personally. Professionally, I have grown exponentially, transitioning from a coder to senior programmer, after which, evaluation towards a software architect is the next step. Personally, I have been keeping fit, while looking forward to the biggest holiday with my love.
So, I will try to keep this blog up to date during our travels, and beyond.

Monday, March 31, 2008

ASUnit, JUnit, XUnit u knu it

Alright. Bit of a lull in looking at updating my coding skills and knowledge. And recently, when an opportunity presented itself, I dove into Unit Testing. Before I jumped onto the Actionscript-based Unit testing bandwagon, I wanted to find out what unit testing was about. A few good references made the mud more clear.
Chapter 4 from Java Extreme Programming was very useful.
Wikipedia also had some good stuff to say.

Unit testing means testing through single assertions or units. The basic concept is that an assertion executes a conditional that either fails or passes a test. For example:

person=new Person("John","Smith");
assertTrue("this person first name is John: ","John" == person.fistName);
assertTrue("this person has a first name: ", person.hasFistName);

In this case, both assertTrue() method calls would return 'true' and the test would pass. This extends to other assertion assertXXX() methods that test for true and false results.
From this basic concept of unit tests emerges a whole methodology of writing software. Basically it means that a specification is clearly drawn up. What needs to happen in clearly stated in an unambiguous specification. Something that developers crave for at the beginning of the project anyway to avoid confusion and deliver on expectations. Based on this detailed specification, code is written which includes tests that verify this functionality only. So if I wanted to write a piece of code that drew a square on the screen, I would first write a test that would validate whether the square has been drawn correctly. Perhaps something like this:
square=new Shape("Square");
assertTrue("Square has finished drawing: ",square.isDrawn);

Now the assertTrue() method here would return a 'false' as I have not coded anything in the draw() method and the isDrawn getter only returns a false unless specific conditions in the Shape class are fulfilled, ie. the square has finished drawing.
I purposefully chose a shape draw type of test here because there is an additional factor to consider when it comes to unit testing. That is the timing of these tests. Now in this case I would have to base this assertion on some kind of an event that is fired when the square completes drawing because the draw() method is executed in the same block as the assertTrue() method, which will more than likely fail even if the square has been drawn correctly because of the time involved in drawing a square, especially if the square is drawn as an animation. All of this timing has to be handled outside of the unit tests themselves inside some sort of event handling framework. So I go ahead and write all of my code with these sorts of tests where needed, run the unit test and see that all of the tests have failed at this point. If they haven't then I've done something wrong as I haven't coded any functionality yet. Once all the tests failed, I can dive in and start coding, passing these tests as functionality is developed. Once I have coded everything and all of my tests are passing correctly, then I know I have fulfilled the specification requirements and am secure that my code is going to work, unless something breaks it, and what that is, I can easily follow while running the unit tests.
This level of confidence in the software structure then brings me to a phase where I can confidently take on the addition of new features and refactoring of old ones. Throughout this phase I will run the unit tests and see whether my changes have made any tests fail along the way. This is quite a comfortable spot to be in a as a developer because tests on my code are formalised and are runnable as changes occur. This may even eliminate the need for using a debugger to follow a rogue variable through to its untimely death.
So, fun fun. Downloaded and installed ASUnit, it ran like a dream. Now I have my security blanket. But as soon as I wrapped myself in it, I realised: What about UI testing? Unit testing only tests assertions in your code, but does not test the runtime functionality of the user interface. Being a flash developer, this became a major issue. After some digging around I found sparse information about how to reliably automate the testing of the user interface.Nothing really concrete. User Acceptance Testing came out as the most reliable way of testing the UI. I am looking for automated testing here so I thought I'd ave a think.
It may be possible to create a 'script' that used an event engine of sorts that ran through the application at runtime, pressing buttons and comparing resulting screens with expected ones. Some sort of bitmap comparison of a screen capture to a bitmap of a screen that has been determined as being the 'expected result'. The engine that does the button pressing on the screen could emulate a 'dumb user', one that presses on random buttons for no reason other than time wasting. It could also include some for of stress testing that presses buttons faster and faster in an attempt to crash the application. All these may be pipe dreams, but I can see the possibility of writing something like this. And it sounds like it would be fun too!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

in da houuuuse

Yes, that time has finally come. After looking around at different properties one finally fulfilled all the requirements of a 'great place'. The search criteria begun with trying to get a house in the CBD. Not an easy task, but still a doable one. So looking around, the only viable real estate website, few places came up within our price range. Going to the inspections revealed that many others thought the same thing we did. Overwhelming crowds can dampen one's hopes for getting the property in question.
Not swayed by this, we kept looking for a place in the CBD, with wild possibilities of cherry farms sprinkled throughout. The story just kept getting repeated. Shabby, small, too expensive, too much interest. Meh. Meh indeed.
But the day came when the browse for properties in and around the CBD came up with this little gem.
Yep, a two storey freestanding townhouse on a sizeable piece of land in the suburb of Ovingham.

It looked very inviting, so we contacted the agent who was able to let us in there in an evening inspection. Not sure if the cover of darkness was an attempt to hide imperfections or dampen the view, but it didn't work. We fell in love with the place. So to buy it, we had to make an offer. This can be unfair and akward as you don't know what the other interested parties are offering. So we shot a price. Lo and behold, we ended up winning the bidding war against about 15 people by $2k. Awesome. I would have felt like money was lost if we won by $20k or some ridiculous amount. So yay!.
Now off to get a mortgage. Boy do the fees stack up! we ended up paying about $30k in fees!
But after the dust settled, moving into the new house was one of the most exciting things ever. To know that you own it. To think of improvements, changes, possibilities, knowing that you will be the one to benefit is just so empowering. And no freakin 3 monthly inspections from the agent either!
Long live the house!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

das is a telee vision

Who says that spontaneous purchases are a waste of money? Well I usually do. I'd like to think of a product, look around, research the web for reviews, get a bunch of prices. This time however, it was different. Going to the local 'Retravision' store on the weekend to lurk around was an accidental event. "Let's just have a quick look", were the famous last words. Well the look was quick indeed. A new model 'W' series of Sony's Bravia TVs has hit the store. "how much is it?", "boy, it looks nice", "what are the specs?" were the in-store comments at the time. Oh yea, whatever, thanks buddy, yep TV is nice but so are the other 20 on the shelves. But this TV in particular stirred something up. It was simple, feature packed and a new model. The price wasn't too bad either.
But what of it, it's just a TV that I've been dreaming of having for a long time, but the tech has never been up to scratch or the looks were way off. I didn't want some 1366x768 "HD ready" or compatible LCD that pretended to be. But this was the real deal. Full 1080x1024, digital receiver, 3 HDMI ins, VGA in, and the design was clean and simple. After inquiring about the 'best price', we went looking around. No other store had these in stock yet as it was so new and the other prices were about $500 more than the one on offer.
So We thought 'stuff it' let's get spontaneous on this baby. Bought it, it fit in the car.. just. Got it home, turned it on. Dream-like. Everything was perfect. Nice bright, sharp image, and the HD programs looked awesome. After doing some research on the web about this model, I found that the reviews were very favorable, so that made me happy.
Long live the new telly!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ukert crater mystery

As far as weird things on the moon go, Ukert crater is right up there. It forms an equilateral triangle and has been dismissed by experts as being a naturally formed landmark. All in all that's all interesting and might have passed by me as another anomaly to have a think about and reflect on why NASA does not investigate these things further or release their findings more. But when I was browsing around google's moon maps to the Ukert crater, I discovered that a small area to the northeast of it was blurred out. Why? what's hiding under this blur? Strange landmarks? Signs of intelligent construction or activity? None of these questions can be answered because this area is blurred out! Now that just makes me more intent on finding what's there.
Some scraped pics:

Roads and castles:

funnily enough gone from the same spot on the lunar orbiter mosaic

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Infrared lens filtering

Recently I became fascinated with taking images in the infrared range. This is mainly because the usually non-obvious detail of usually ordinary things. Especially in nature. It's fascinating to notice that this range of light is being emitted from various objects. Sometimes this may be accidental, for example in fire. Other times it might be on purpose, as in flowers emitting their attractive attention grabbing patterns to various insects that can only view objects in the infrared color range.
I'm also interested in infrared because it's how best photos and videos of UFOs are taken. You never know, one might get in the range of the lens.
Besides that, it's fun!

Ok So here it is.
I got a Hoya 72R IR filter from eBay for about $50. This one came highly recommended, so that's the kick. On my Canon S3IS I used Manual mode with F2.7 and ISO set to 200 or 400.
First of all: use a tripod. Even with the automatic stabilisation, if the exposure time is so high, you're gonna get some blur. This is an image done by holding the camera in my hands.
One thing is that you should point around the sun. Sunrises or sunsets are awesome.

So now what to do with an image like this?

I'd say Auto Levels and Greyscale would bring out more detail.

And this is a color version of this example. Check out the difference between the leaves!

Oh and fire looked really interesting. Check out these two photos of the same fire. Interestingly enough, the IR version (first one) has not been altered.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Everything is new again

Yup, my lease expired. As it rose by AU$10 per week, and a new place happened to be literally 'down the street' at AU$120 less per week, the Tao flowed towards the 'up and move' . All went swimmingly well with the help of my dear girl and couple of my mates. Oh except for the 'fridge falling off the ute' incident. Yup at a major intersection, while turning to the right gradually, the fridge flew off the left side of the ute, smashing all over the road. Cars swerved, frantic scramble began to pick up the fridge pieces off the major intersection. Lucky the fridge didn't fall into a car or a cyclist. Other than that it's a bonus because the fridge was going to be replaced anyway, so I didn't really want it that much.
Oh brought a new car too after selling the mini. Back to the world of buttons. After much consideration between the Golf, Volvo, Renault, Honda, BMW, the beamer won for value for money/brand/feel hands down. A silver 2000 318i executive, at 74000km. Leather seats. Great price, great drive. It's something like the one in this picture. Some tinting and a set of wheels wouldn't go astray.
All is now in place with the new house feeling welcoming and comfortable. Ace!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Something on Mars

I've been browsing around and because they are there and to check out other planets for yourself is great fun. More than it sounds. It's like exploring a planet. When looking at the map of Mars, there are gray strips where the satellite missed areas of the ground. That's fine. Looking between those reveals a landscape with hills, valleys, riverbeds. It's quite astounding actually. Having a further scan around I found this. Now why is this rectangle grey? it's as if this bit of data has been removed. It's obviously very high because it casts an enormous shadow to the north. But the center of it looks like the gray that the satellite camera passes missed. Why gray it out? What is it? The mind boggles.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Mini is gone

My little mini is gone. Yes that's right, sold it up for a extra AU$1200 for 9 months usage. It's like the money I've spent on the services, rego, fuel, and the clutch arm fix has come back plus some.
After putting it on and many people called, few came in and had a look.
The lucky buyer was a grey old fox. With too much money and expectations for tricky questions, he came over, had a look and a reminisce about his young mini days, he was keen. He said he will leave a deposit, then pay the rest later. After depositing $500, he called and will pick it up by Sunday.
So there it is. Everyone, a minute of silence please.

Minis are great and I would recommend one to anyone. I know I will sometime in the future. Until then, a push bike will be great. Or a car with buttons!

Has it been a minute yet?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

2012 - Apocalypse or not?

Well, not according to these Tibetan monks who have used their powers of Remote Viewing to see what's going to happen.
Their vision does sound spot on though, and to think that it's only 5 years away that this is going to happen. 2012 has been a year that has been predicted by many independent texts as being the year of 'Apocalypse'. This however, does not mean the physical destruction of the world. But a change on a massive scale in the way that humanity behaves and thinks. I would also hope that it spells the end of organised religion. Most evil institution in the world, preaching spirituality and salvation by threats, costing many wars and countless lives. And the logic of religion, don't even get me started on THAT. It holds as much water as believing that Unicorns created the world amongst rainbows and pots of gold.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Touchy Feely

Getting excited about the future of computers has been a passion of mine for a while now. With a few duds along the way, few things stand out. One of those is the multi-touch interface sweeping the world. Perceptive Pixel look like a stand out bunch of guys, and have been doing this for some time now.
Microsoft has now kicked in and together they combined to create the Microsoft Surface which looks like a modded version of Windows Vista. This kiosk like device works with infrared sensors to detect objects on the tabletop. In the demo videos, file transfer between a camera and the filesystem is done upon placing the camera on the desk surface. Dang!

Programmer and being one

It's been a while since I've blogged. Hectic times at work and life make for a slow blogger. At least I don't cheat and hire someone to do this for me!
Anyway, this article from Robert R Read is a really good read if you want to know what's going on in a programmer's mind on a day to day basis. Besides being comprehensive, it is also full of really good advice based on day to day challenges faced when engineering a software product. His strong emphasis on the personal and team aspect of software engineering is a good refresher from the cold facts of the formal processes involved in this activity. This stipulates that logically evolved ideas and processes using software development products have implications on the formal structure of the software processes.
Even though it's a big read, it's kept light and relevant. Great read!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mystery amongst chaos

It's been a couple of weeks of the most intense development at work. The wayfinder is becoming a very popular product, so everyone wants it. And as it happens this is a product that I'm responsible for developing, so day to day I'm backed up with frantic development. Also when deadlines approach way too quickly, the stress levels increase. All is well so far though as expectations are being met and the software is becoming a configurable 'product' at a good pace.
Amidst this frantic work pace I've been refreshing myself with news stories from sources such as this and this. At first look it might seem that these news sources are all about conspiracy theories and silly delusions. But really they are just aggregators of news stories about topics that fascinate me: Archaeology and science's inability to explain all that has happened in the past in terms of available technologies and people's knowledge.
While dwelling on some of these fascinating topics, I thought I'd have a look on google maps where Tikal stood and how it looked on these maps. Meh, nothing fancy really. I'd rather be there in person (one day). But then scrolling about 70km to the south-west of Tikal shows an 'L' shaped cut out of the Jungle with squares on either end. It's about 5km by 5km, which is massive. I've never heard of the place so I though I'd do some research. Nothing. This really stumped me. All the tourist archaeological locations are everywhere else but this place. What's this about? This really freaked me out. Why is nobody mentioning this massive area? Zooming out of this map reveals that this area is dead in the center of the triangular area of south Mexico and western Guatemala. And surprisingly this 'L' shape can be seen from a large distance away. There are no town around it. and the ones that are, don't mention anything about this area. Archaeological maps reveal nothing. I am really freaked out at this point.
The other thing I thought this could be is an area of deforestation. This is possible, but why would any one leave two tree-laden square ends on either end of the 'L' shape? Also each of the square areas within this area are made of triangular areas that meet in the middle. This is reminiscent of the way that pyramids look from above. This is still freaking me out and now I really want to find out more information about it and if none comes along, A trip to this area will certainly be in my future travel agenda.
If anyone has any information about this area, I would be more than greatful, so please let me know.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Touchscreen navigation: touch or scratch?

With the encroachment of the self glorifying iPhone, it shows that touchscreens are starting to break trough the mainstream barrier. What is really interesting here though is the innovation of navigation methods using a touchscreen on a small device. Apple seem to be pushing the fact that we already have hand fulls of stylus', namely our fingers. So we should use those, and throw out the old stylus.

The idea of using a finger on a small device touchscreen is not new. My old iPaq would accept finger touches, albeit very difficult to register a press and inaccurate, but it did work for things like the media player. However this raises two main points that pop up when the stylus is thrown all together in favour of the finger.
Accuracy and Visibility - when you're touching a button, you obscure it. This may reduce the accuracy of the button and it definitely removes its visibility. Issues that can be huge on a small-screen device. Apple, being the kooky bunch that they are came up with a reverse-touch approach. I think this one fails too because when you're going to touch a button, you want to go and touch it directly, not have to wind your hand around the back of the device. The awkward feeling of this would actually shift my preference towards obscuring the button on order to press it.
A simple stylus would solve both of these issues. It is both accurate and does not obscure what it's pressing, making for a usefull little stick. C'mon Apple, dropping this? Really?
This should not, however, detract from the viability of using fingers as a navigation device on small device touchscreens. Indeed it doesn't look that bad on the iPhone. But what also impressed me is that in parallel, a Taiwanese company HTC have released their version of how some of this navigation can work. Also I'm glad that they stole some of iPhone's thunder by releasing this device before the iPhone.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Flash CS3 , pleasure to meet you

Finally I got a go ahead to use Flash CS3 as a day-to-day worktool. And what a pleasure it has been so far. It seems that more then merging Flash into Adobe Suite family, Adobe really listened to the developers and included some great features in the IDE. It's mostly the little things not to detract from the established workflow routine, but it somehow feels enhanced and smooth.
The way that the different control panels can be folded into a sidebar that not only makes the task of saving realestate, but it gives a visually appealing medium-size icon side tray with easy one click reference to that panel. The tool bar itself is interesting. you can click the top of the toolbar to squeeze the tools thinner along the screen, one column instead of two. Then when you're doing something else the tool bar hides, and a click on it's head bar brings it back. Small things like this make it good. Similar thing happens if you have your library open from the sidebar for example, then you click on an empty frame, and the library folds up. This I found to be a bit annoying becuse I wanted to open the library, target a frame by clicking it then dragging the library item onto the stage. Couldn't do it without opening the library again because it just closed. The other criticism that I have is that the contents of a library can take a while to load.
Other than that, it seems really fast. Adobe have done a great job merging Flash into it's product range.
I've only been working with FlashCS3 using AS2 at the moment, which seems like a waste, but I'm looking forward to diving into AS3 already having the tool in front of me.

My work is getting blogged with positive feedback

Doing a quick search on "iDirectory westfield" in Google, brings up a few blogs that people actually went to trouble to to write about my software. This is the wayfinding kiosk in the San Franciso Westfield shopping center. This one seems to be positive on the software interface part, which makes me happy. The couple of points that were pointed out were about putting more of these kiosks around the place so that people didn't have to wait to use them. There is a good discussion going on here about the viability of this type of interface in shopping centers. Always good to discuss these things. This one went to the trouble of putting the interface usage on digg and youtube.
Great feeling.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Sony's stepping up in the display race

With it's bendable thin screen. This screen is paper thin piece of plastic (well plastic thin then), so it won't break if dropped. And it is reminiscent of sci-fi movies such as minority report where the screens are transparent. This one however has the added bonus of being bendable. This means that all sorts of shapes can now be surrounded by pixelated real estate. Going beyond the clothing applications of such technology, with the introduction of a touchscreen panel this could go very far. Any surface becomes a tactile, interactive interface that can fulfil a purpose.
The technology involved in making these screens has been around for a while. I've heard of it about 5 years back when the Kodak labs were researching the capacity to emit luminescent colour from a chemical reaction generated by insects such as the firefly. It's only now that we are seeing some actual results. In fact it looks like these screens are brighter and more detailed then the conventional LCD. Because the technology here is chemical and organic in nature, researches have been having trouble increasing the size if these screens for a while, but it seems to be finally happening. The OLED screens that are emerging now should see that all our screens in the future are just a piece of plastic. Awesome.
Devices could range from patient health monitors to gaming industry's newest controller revolution: the hand. If there was a console (let's bank for PlayStation 5) that comes with 2 pieces of transparent plastic. This moulds to any surface, your forearm, leg, the couch, and it displays touchable controls that conform to a standard of course, but may be altered by the software to have additional buttons, sliders and controllers. This does take away from the whole 'button' experience, but I think it is adaptable. Hope it's better for the gaming RSI too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

var myWickedCrib = new HunterCherryFarm();

Looking around, we came across a cherry farm at the outskirts of Adelaide's north-eastern urban sprawl in a cute town called Montacute. The property is here and it's just amazing from the photos. This weekend is a definite drive up there to check it out closer.
Owning a cherry farm with walnut trees and raspberry bushes would be a dream come true! The possibilities! 80 hectares with other 2 houses on the property, it s a dream! One of the houses could be a cafe, making all sorts of delicious morsels. Taking the cherries to the grower's markets, selling produce to the local bakeries. The possibilities are endless! The other property could be a guest house. And the main house is just amazing, with it's pantry being made up of 5 rooms! And the cherries! Love 'em!
At over a million though, the price range is way out of my pocket, but if it's a business on site, it might be good to go. Maybe if it's declared as a farm, I'll be a primary producer getting all the help I can get from the government. Also it is an established business, so it would be generating income, hopefully enough to make up the mortgage payments! Oh and did I mention the cherries?

Or maybe Oprah will get it for me. Oprah, are you reading this?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Free internet for thee

If you ever find yourself at Sydney airport with a laptop that has a wireless network card, connect to the "Cisco" network. It gives you access to the internet for free for some reason. In fact I am making this post from the airport right now. I wonder if this is a permanent service or whether Cisco have made a security blunder here. It doesn't seem right because there is a '' wireless network floating around here, and when connecting to it, you are asked to pay money to connect to the web at ridiculous rates. Well, well, surf's up!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

M$ Vista - don't do it if you can help it

The issue of copying files at a snail's pace in the latest and greatest Microsoft OS, Vista, seems to be turning into a serious nuisance. I can't believe that the OS even escaped the Q&A phase when this issue of some basic functionality like deleting and copying files is causing such an fuss amongst users. What makes it worse is that Microsoft are dragging their feet and not releasing an official fix or offering anyone any explanations. This issue alone has stopped me from going anywhere near Vista until everyone is happy with it and there are unavoidable advantages of switching to another OS - the basic reason why I don't wanna move to MAC OSX. If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

SWF -> XAML one for the Flashers in the tech wars

This looks promising. Electric rain have released a SWF to XAML converter! This means that things like Silverlight and other XAML authoring tools could be redundant. Developers could leverage their knowledge of flash to create SWF files and then convert them to XAML, the crappy MS bound vector format for Vista.
Go Flash! One for the home team!

Friday, May 11, 2007

tech wars

It seems that the last few weeks have seen a blitz of new technologies emerging, major players releasing products, and the UI wars are well and truly on. It has been a whirlwind. Not much of it will have major influences immediately and once the dust settles, it will be interesting who ends up standing. Nevertheless the recent events will have some sort of impact on the way that we work and the industry moves.
So, Adobe released their next iteration of their product suite. This includes the swallowed Macromedia's product suite, including the new Flash CS3 of course. Getting stuck into AS3 has been just around the corner for a while, so having a copy of an IDE AS3 compiler will be a wicked learning boost. The framework at work and the general trend is that everything we make will soon be AS3 based. This release of the Adobe suite has also moved the international design and developer community into line. This is ofcourse for those wo can afford it. But indeed if you haven't got the client who is going to pay for the suite and still profit, then you should keep learning with their demos or sell yourself to someone with money or a CS3 sitting on their book shelf. CS3 promises to work well on mac and windows computers and unify the way things are created. It's pretty much got the monopoly there as none can compete realistically anymore.
This will be boosted with the move of the Flex platform into the open source arena. This will be a major boost in how many people use Flex and now that it's open source, the emergence of Flex communities will be huge. At work we are moving onto the Flex platform so that'll bring me across into that arena, bit more importantly it will be a great learning experience, not to mention huge fun.
In the UI wars, Microsoft is flexing its muscle with Silverlight. Java is having a go with JavaFX. Seeing that JavaFX is considered as being a response to Microsoft's Silverlight, it looks like the battle will be fought out amongst those two for the number two position after flash. Both technologies have a long way to go in order to mature and even attempt to bite at Flash's ankles. But you gotta start somewhere, right?
In the dust, you'll see a lot of hype about Silverlight. Heck there'll be well paying jobs to develop Silverlight content. But that's only because Microsoft has wads of cash, but like most Microsoft technologies, it will become segregated to the Microsoft world. It will be interesting where JavaFX ends up, but my prediction is that it will go in the way of its Swing technology. Dead as.
But that's not to say that these technologies will not have any effect on us Flash devotees out there. The repercussions will be in learning what those technologies are able to accomplish and how. Then it's time for Flash to take the good things and discard the useless.

You could never be too careful, the tech wars are'a'brewin.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

in Syd for a week

Work have asked me to go to Sydney and work at the office all week next week. This is a bit much, but I also think that it'll do me some good. I think a week is a bit long, I'll get to catchup on what's going on within a few days, and the rest will just be working away as per usual. And I'll miss everybody back in Adders. On the flipside, I think that it will be a great opportunity to see what's been happening back at the 'ol office without me. There have been some changes in the way that things are beginning to be done. The flash framework is in full swing and all seems to be moulding very quickly towards a systematic standardisation in software authoring. So I'm looking forward to falling into the mould so that all the code that I write will leverage the existing structures as much as possible, making my code cleaner and less. And ofcourse it's all paid for!
I got my itinerary today so all the tickets and accommodation have been booked. No backing out now. Sydney here I come!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

mini teeth

Yesterday was a service day. Fist thing in the morning was the dentist. 9am appointment. All bodes well, my crowned tooth is looking alright. The dentist did an abrasives clean then a fluoride treatment, 4 x-rays and a checkup. This all came to $205 but cost me nothing due to health insurance. Even though I'm still within the 12 months acceptance period, the insurance paid this out with nothing to pay for me. The dentist also told me that my teeth were in a good condition, something I was totally blown away by as the Polish dentistry industry in the early 1980s was not well renown for its work. Stoked.
Then I took the mini in to get the clutch mechanism sorted out. I didn't know what it was but the clutch felt like it was at the end of it's life, going up and down maybe an inch. The people at minisport knew what they were doing though. They replaced the arm and joint that moved the clutch. This arm was totally bent and the joint was worn. Turned out to be a common occurance on old gear arms. So in the picture on the left, the ball down the bottom was bent right a fair bit and the middle part was bent too. Basically worn the heck out of. They also replaced a clutch bearing, putting in a good quality one. This all cost me $430, about what I was looking to pay anyways.
Now the mini runs totally different. When before I had to struggle to get into first with an inch of clutch give, I now have about 25cm clutch give and the gearbox works like a treat. Ahh it's good to get the mini serviced by people who know what they are doing.
So my teeth and mini are both serviced up and ready to roll onto the next adventure.

Monday, May 7, 2007

xkcd a day keeps the blues away

In case you haven't seen the stick-man figure comic strips at xkcd, they are just awesome. I've come across these a year or so back when they were sitting in a dump folder on someone's server. Obviously the dude got his wits together and made a galley of his gems. The humour is actually funny if you're a bit of a cynical geek and it works on other levels too. Great time killer. And with strips like this, you'd be one smirking uber geek.

Friday, May 4, 2007

MVC at WebDU

This presentation by Robin Hillard on the MVC pattern at the latest WebDU. It's a really clear explanation of how the Model-View-Controller pattern works and how it's applied in real applications. Well worth a look. Also as it happens, I'm working on a project that uses MVC, so to confirm what I've been doing is rightwas a relief, as I didn't want to hear that what I've been doing is toatlly wrong at this point.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Bali hi

What an adventure! Well worth every penny.
It began with an exciting morning. Off to the airport to get sent to Darwin for the day. A 3 hour flight with a crappy breakfast. I just drank black tea as I was coding my way through how to place an input box in a specific place on a multi line text field, one of my favourite pass times when cramped into an airplane seat. While enjoying this pass time, I dropped my new sunnies, mangled them, popping a screw or two and bent the frame. Great, no sunnies for the trip.
Arriving in Darwin, greeted with the first wave of tropical humidity. 12 hours here. Ok off to the 'city'. Smaller than Adelaide with a unique population of Aboriginal people, this town is as rural as a city could get. It has one mall flanked by a few adjacent streets of open shops, then about a block or two away, the harbour and parks.
We stumbled into the optometrist who was able to mangle my glasses back into shape with about 1/2 a centimetre off on one side. Alright, glasses are back, and all for free! Then we had lunch in an unimpressive food court, before taking a long walk through the harbour, parks and a seaside suburb with a cold beer stop.
On the way back for dinner we stopped at Tim's Cafe. Awesome Aussie dishes. I ended up having a crocodile parmy. When in Darwin...
After a celebratory cocktail at the local tapas place, we whisked off to the airport to land in Denpasar. At the airport, we waited for about 1/2 hour for the international gate to open. After which we had to show our bags, and a ridiculous man frisked everyone with the backs of his palms in the most ridiculous fashion. If I had anything I wanted to sneak on board, there would have been no problems. One up for the Australian airport security. Doing a smashing job guys, love your work!
After a brief flight (not long enough to get my coding boots on), we landed in Denpasar at 11:30pm. The whole airport felt like it was made out of wood. And I felt like I just stepped into a Swedish sauna.
After passing the lacklustre security and dishing out US$50 to line the pockets of some corrupt official, we stepped out onto the footpath where everyone wants to grab your bag to help (for a tip). Luckily we spotted our Contiki bus who whisked us off to the resort for free through the hot and smelly streets of Bali. It's a mix between petrol fumes, burning rubbish, satay chicken and incense. Arriving in the Contiki resort was something different.
Drink on arrival and a poolside room that has a pool bar. Heaven.
With all breakfasts and dinners included, this resort was a real highlight of the trip. Our room was the one immediately to the right of the person with a blue skirt in this photo. So the out-of-the-bed-into-the-pool scenario became a frequent occurrence. And the water was so nice and warm that you just couldn't fault it. The only reasons to get out were excessively wrinkled skin and the need to visit the toilet.
From this home base we ventured out onto the streets of Seminyak, and Kuta. Everyone wants to sell you things. Trinkets, t-shirts, watches, carvings, fabrics and the list goes on. You just have to learn to politely say 'no'. We even thought of printing up some t-shirts that say 'no' or 'no thanks'. That might do the trick to those who can read. The most heard words though are : "taxi?", "transport?", "you like?", "where are you from?" The traffic was a horror on one side and a peaceful river of oneness on the other. Drivers are respectful and cautious but there are no road rules really. The main one to consider in Bali is that the driver is responsible for their vehicle's front. This makes drivers more vigilant and giving way to cars entering a road is not uncommon. The roads and places we ventured to I mapped on google maps here. Hope it works.
So after a few days of 'cooling off' with the coldest beer in the country, we headed off to Ubud. A place that's known for it's stone carvings, silver making, and beautiful scenery. Here, we stayed at the Tjambuhan hotel. It was amazing. The hotel itself is a series of villas. All of these are built on a cliff face facing the adjacent river. It even has its own temple! Walking around this place was like being in some magical land. Fresh water pool, a spa carved into the mountain, a collapsing stone bridge leading to a huge temple. It was simply amazing. It was not as hot here as it was in the plains, but you'd still built up a sweat, and if it wasn't for the air-conditioning, I don't know, we would've melted.
In Ubud, there are many cheap restaurants with good food and the main street has more than its fair share of shopping. One night during dinner we bumped into an Aussie who's lived in Ubud for 20 years painting. He said that there has been a massive expansion of Ubud in that time with many of the demand not being catered for by the town's infrastructure. There are no taxis, for example. Everyone has a car or a van and they offer transport on every corner. Ubud is kind of like the hippy valley of Bali. Highly recommended if you go to Bali anytime.
On the last day, we caught a taxi down to the airport, checked our bags into the lockers, and found a local taxi driver who took us around. To waste time he took us to the newly up and coming western-style shopping center. Even though it was huge, it just looked like it was going to fall apart any minute, and I swear about 40% of the stock there must have been 'Polo' shirts. He got a bunch of cheap DVD's, most of which didn't work, and wandered around for a bit.
After this, our cabbi picked us up and we went to Jimbarran bay. It's basically a beach with a whole load of fishing boats on one end, and is lined with restaurants from then on. You can select your live seafood and they cook it fresh, and you get to eating on the beach watching the sunset. I couldn't think of a better way of ending this magnificent trip. It has been truly awesome
Oh and one set of batteries lasted me the whole trip in my new camera - go Canon!
Here's the online collection of some of the photos from Bali. Check it out if you feel like it!