Thursday, December 16, 2010

V1, V2

Hello again my crippled blog. Life has recently become very hectic with day jobs taking a larger cut of my time than expected and few other things keep holding me up. Exactly two week ago I pledged to update this blog more often, well...

Partly because Part 3 of my mobile network series is taking much longer as I have underestimated the amount of research. Besides, I have been distracted with the temporary ownership of an iPhone 4 for which I took the advantage of carrier subsidy to buy as a Christmas gift for my dear father.

I have had ample opportunity to fiddle with other people's iPhones before which were not all that impressive: The plastic chassis feel cheap, the screen is mediocre and iTunes is a pain to use. The iPad failed to please me the same way with its general lack in productivity features, which even MacFags do admit.

You see, the smoothness of iOS is often achieved through deception. Deliberately disabling multitasking is one thing, for Apple is a clever social engineer to make things appear better than they really are. For example, Safari on the iPhone only render the visible portion of the active tab plus a very small adjacent area to reduce the processing overhead. If you scroll too fast you will be greeted with blank areas cleverly disguised as transparency layers before the system catches up. The interface also tricks people into suspending processes rather than properly killing them, resulting in a seemingly fast launch time when the same process is called again.

However the iPhone 4 is actually quite agreeable. The slim construction of double glass panels and external antennas, despite its susceptibilities to breakage and attenuation, is quite pleasing to sight and feels substantial in your hands. The much-hyped retina screen is also pretty nice, even for someone already accustomed to a high quality screen on the Milestone. Apple have chosen the right resolution that existing apps that were smart enough to uemploy vector graphics can be scaled up without any intervention.

Taiko no Tatsujin looked so good that I almost thought it was developed natively for 960x640

The added RAM helps to make multitasking possible without sacrificing responsiveness. And the camera deserves special mention too for being exceptional. in such a small package. While I did not regret giving it away, I am looking for a locked 32GB one for entertainment. Overall, it is a glorified and augmented iPod Touch rather than a communication device, for I cannot bear the lack of physical keyboard, notification light and interchangeable batteries found on every other phone.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the history of Apple shows clear continuity from Day 1 while Microsoft's products were often refreshed to the point that it no longer resemble their ancestors. The latest Macs still have some of the quirks of Apple II where critical system timings were taken directly from the bus clock, so binaries not complied with such systems will fail to execute.

The present iOS vs. Android race is an exact duplication of the old PC vs. Mac rivalry. Apple, by controlling the range of hardware, can effectively control the user experience, while their more open opponents must deal with all sorts of segmentation and compatibility issue.

To better explain this, let's look at a recent example. Everybody loves Angry Birds however the initial Android release was unplayable for most people. Simply because with iPhone there are only two hardware branches and one or two OS to maintain, while Android comes in at least three versions, a variety of screen resolutions and a continuum of processing power, which is something that developers, having been spoiled by the iPhone, cannot no longer cope with.

BTW, this game, along with many others, are free for Android but paid in the App Store...Hint hint.

The same issue plagues most apps ported from iOS, where it works poorly with handsets of limited hardware.

This, however, still leaves one question to be answered: Does Apple make people stupid, or are stupid people attracted to Apple?

The answer is, it does not matter, for there is a demon darker than coal trapped in every iDevice. BlendTec has proof.


Blogger Stats has not been working for some time and I have put it down to the ineptitude of Google's admins ( has been on the downhill road since the takeover by Google), however a recent visit to the message board revealed that the function simply stopped working with Firefox, or any gecko-based browser altogether. Google Analytics, the background service that powers Blogger Stats, are also reported to have many issues with Firefox, including some reports that it does not register visits via Firefox at all. After many years of mutual support, the rift between Google and Mozilla is finally beginning to show.

The period from 2001 to 2005, following the first Browser War, are the dark days of the web with the lamentable Internet Explorer 6.0 dominating the market with only two minor update in two years. Alternatives were available however since most sites are written to support IE, the average layperson are unlikely to use it. 

Fortunately the stagnation did not last forever; Firefox came out with Gecko, a brand new, standardised rendering engine, a smooth interface with tab browsing and much better security features. While its market share was never beyond the 30% mark, the real change brought along my Firefox is the renewed competition of development within the browser market. 

I thought that Firefox was the forefront of web standardisation however this seems to be no longer the case, and I have similar personal experiences where a KHTML page I authored refused to be rendered correctly in Firefox; Trident renders it correctly only 50% of time however Webkit i.e. Chrome and Safari rendered it without a hitch. I ended up making static versions of the affected pages with a redirection script, which is easier said than done since every browser pretends to be Mozilla

As for the software itself, it has become increasingly bloated and crash-prone from 3.6 onwards (hence the author is still staying on 3.5 for the remainder of its support lifetime), nor is the 4.0 beta anywhere near ready. Once the developers start to embrace Chrome en masse, there is little advantage left for Firefox. 

Unlike Microsoft which has virtually bottomless resources to promote their browser, Firefox had to enter into an agreement with Google which trades search traffic for financing. While this income has allowed Mozilla to keep up the fight in the darkest of days, it is getting less secure because of the inherent conflict of interest.

Finally compared to Opera which successfully captured the niche market of mobile web browsing, Firefox was too dependent on mainstream x86 platforms; Camino was hit hard when Apple defected to x86 and was never really completed, while Fennec is still stuck in beta at the time of writing. 

A losing battle from the beginning

With a sad note, I must say that Firefox is losing on all fronts and shall fade away within five years just like its Netscape fathers, not for its own wrongs but a combination of complacency, lack of focus and sheer bad luck. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December and Onwards

Today marks the proper beginning of summer as well as my three-month study break. Exam results was released a few days ago and they are probably the best for the entire three years at uni.

There is no magic about getting a better mark apart from actually paying attention in class and taking time to swot. Befriending lecturers also help, a lot of legitimate help will come with way.

The perpetual B student has moved on. Looking back, I wish I have tried harder, not only for the past semesters where I....utterly failed myself, but also the recent ones. If I have tried harder, I should rocking cut-edge science in the air conditioned labs over the holidays while enjoying many elite privileges such as free coffee and unmetered staff internet. Instead I am earning a meager wage three days a day in a small kiosk that feels like the defendant dock at the high court. Fingers crossed that I will get the project I wanted for my honours year.

On the bright side of mundane affairs, missing out on my summer studentship may actually be a kind of blessing since it should give me time to do the following:

  • Scale down. Since the plans for London fell apart, I have resumed the old habit to acquire too much property and I still do despite my best effort. Getting rid of things is not easy, especially when it comes to your childhood treasures and books. However, things will need to go, for me all die alone and empty-handed. 
  • Practice touch-typing. I am sure everyone has noticed (but had been too polite to point out) that I type with two fingers, which probably does not match my current job description and geek status. Definitely need some time to practice.
  • Get more exercise. Something I have planned for but ultimately failed to act on during the year. Well right now I no longer have any excuse to slack off, and summer should be a great time for losing weight.
  • Inspired by the sheer awesomeness of Amy Adams Julia & Julia, I have decided to carry out a similar, however less fancy version of kitchen quest with the quintessential classic: The Edmonds Cookery Book. At the rate of two to three dishes per week I am in good position to finish the entire thing before uni starts again. Other meals will be back up with my standard (lit. Atkins) diet of red meat and raw salad, supplemented by the occasional junk food and things that came out of a cardboard box.
  • Finally update this blog more often, I have always been in requirement of writing exercise and this blog served me great on this purpose. I am also delighted, as the visitor stats of this blog points out, that my babbling did help other people looking for answers to their various questions. A big thank you to all my readers past and present, more content is always on their way.
You would have guessed these ambitions are parts of a larger plan to make myself more capable and independent. I used to spend too much time lamenting my woes, now I know that I only need to spent time to deal with them, one at a time.

This is for the record, I wish for all kinds of help that I will be able to come back to this post 99 days later and cross everything out with a smile on my face. 

P.S. Got the first paycheck since starting the new job, hooah!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Never been a fan of U2 at any time, however one must appreciate Bono's guts for appearing in a video that plays satire on the fundamental hypocrisy of showbiz.

Shtarker: Too bad about all the dead movie stars.
Siegfried: Yes. What will we do without their razor-sharp political advice.

And with late happy turkey day to everybody:D

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mobile Network 101 Part 2

In an ideal world, there should be a sensible meeting of people where standards are designed and implemented internationally.However the world is not ideal as we know it, and mobile technology was no exception.

Back in the analogue days, US first came up with AMPS, a simple FDMA (refer to part  1 in case you are getting lost here) system on 800MHz FM band; Japan and the UK was soon to follow suit, however because of regulatory limitations they had to use a different variety on the 900MHz band. Continental Europe, however, went into a frenzy of devising their own national standards, none of which turned out to be satisfactory or economically viable after a few years.

Learning from their blunders, European telcos decided to poll their effort together to create a common standard. The collaboration was initially named Groupe Spécial Mobile, however the acronym GSM soon conflated with the term Global System for Mobile. GSM was designed from the drawing pad to be fully digital, modular, and capable of operating on several different frequency bands to suit national regulations. One major point that had to be mentioned separately is the invention of the SIM card, which allows the user to move his number from one phone to another with ease.

People of the present age often take SIM cards for granted, and indeed in New Zealand over 70% of mobile subscribers are using a prepaid SIM. Nonetheless, SIM card is actually a more recent invention. Back in the days when telecommunication was though to be of natural monopoly and AT&T decided what colour is your phone going to be, it is no big surprise that phones are sold hard-wired to a certain network. In Europe, however, many countries have laws in place prohibiting blatant bundling of service with a product. With the technology standardised between countries, there is no longer any excuse to lock users in. SIM cards also allowed people to change their phones more frequently so the manufacturers are actually quite happy with it.

Hence two very different business models developed on two shores of the Atlantic: American carriers grant heavy subsidy for handsets, often offering them free of charge to lure customers into signing a lucrative contract; even GSM phones are often sold locked to a specific network, even after the initial contract has expired. In Europe, most SIM cards are prepaid and carrier locks are virtually unheard of until, you guessed right, until Steve Jobs decided to shove the American way of life down everyone's throat. 

Back then when GSM was rapidly expanding, AMPS evolved very slowly. The IS-54 standard made the internal handling of calls digital to triple cell capacity, while remaining compatible to the older standard externally for a smooth transition. The subsequent IS-136 standard is fully digital, however it came too late and GSM became the effective global standard.

The future of the AMPS family was sealed when a domestic foe appeared. A start-up company in California called Qualcomm pushed digigently for their radically different and innovative CDMA technology. Unlike GSM or AMPS, CDMA does not require a frequency switch during a handover process, resulting in a much "softer" transfer that nearly always goes unnoticed and rarely dropped. While GSM and AMPS are both subject to the limitations of TDM encoding, GSM was being continually developed to minimise any issue but AMPS lacked the momentum, not to mention it was not designed to handle frequent handoffs in the first place. Two major carriers, namely Sprint and Verizon Wireless, embraced CDMA because SIM card (correct term for CDMA is actually is RIM) is not mandatory, allowing the contract-based status quo.

Subsequently AMPS went into a slow but steady decline; service has been stopped in most countries by 2006. To this date only a few networks remain, all of which are in remote regions where the upgrade cost is prohibitive.

The same pattern of change played out in most parts of the world except in Japan, where the AMPS system was simplified to become PDC, which is specialised for the higher user density found in Japan. Because PDC allowed handsets to have lower transmission power, tiny handsets unimaginable elsewhere can be made. Manufacturers became obsessed with making even smaller units, culminating in the PHS system where all cells are microcells covering a radius of less than a kilometer. The domestic market flourished, while the PHS system was exported to gain a huge following in large cities like Taipei and Rio. Notwithstanding their relative success, the Japanese mobile industry became disconnected with the rest of the world for years, overlapping much of the lost decade.

In this chapter above I tried to summarise the development from 1G (analogue voice) to 2G (digital voice), the next chapter will devoted to the entire 3G fiasco of which the effects are still being felt today.

Random Bits of Information

Suffice to say, I am very busy right now with everything in life trying to strangle me. More posts are in the pipeline, and expect frequent updates once I am out of this tar pit.

In the meantime I can make up for the lack of music in recent posts.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sony PRS-350 Impressions

Back to the beginning of 2010, Kindle was the only affordable e-reader of acceptable quality; other offering were either cheap n'nasty or horrendously expensive. Sony's line of e-readers had a mixed reception: the build and system are both excellent, however their screens had a really bad glare issue due to the extra layer of glass where the digitiser is.

A recent trip to SonyStyle cleared up much of my prejudice against Sony e-readers. The latest PRS-350 is especially lovely, with a streamlined aluminium body, beautiful screen and a much improved touch panel that does not glare much if at all.

I tend to speak very positively of Amazon, nonetheless I do feel that they were cutting corners with the Kindle 3 to keep their margins. Omitting a few vestigial bits like accelerometer and GPS can be forgiven, however the plastic chassis had been causing many issues including warped units and broken screens. PRS-350, however, is mainly slimmed down in functionality with no wireless connection and very limited choice of font sizes and no memory card slots.

The relative success of the Kindle is based on Amazon's present customer base, as well as the device's ability to please both ends of the user spectrum, namely from computer illiterate soccer-moms (over the air purchase, delivery and file conversion) to geek major (drag and drop file management, crude system with many possible hacks), while on the usability front it is actually falling behind other companies who are catching up very rapidly. With the glare issue fixed, Sony is in a good position to capture the more mainstream users who is looking for a balanced option.


  • Excellent construction, better than the Kindle 3
  • Small size, light weight
  • Decent touchscreen operation
  • Easy to use, responsive system
  • ePub Support
  • PDF reflow

  • Lack of wireless connectivity
  • Limited customisations and community support
  • Need a computer to manage books
P.S. Over the weekend, B&H had a deal on Sony e-readers, with PRS-350 priced at US$119.99(approx. NZ$156, around NZ$200 with international shipping). Having just spent some money on booze and canned pineapples, I hesitated on placing an order. However I soon regretted as the price went up to $149.99, much less attractive.

It is available from official channels for $299.95 including GST. You can check it out hands-on at your local Sony outlets. To compare the size of popular e-readers, click here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mobile Network 101 Part 1

Last week I went into a recently opened to 2degrees store to see if they have a good mobile data package on offer, only to find out that people who worked there have little actual knowledge of their own merchandise: I asked about WCDMA service outside major urban areas, and they replied that their network is 3G and GSM only.


It is hardly surprising that with a corporate mindset, people are hired on their ability to follow instructions and protocols rather than their own initiative. However when I actually thought about the current state of mobile technologies, it is evident that with so many different technologies and terminologies floating around, it is simply not meant for easy and painless comprehension.

Say, Vodafone NZ is operating concurrent networks, 2G GSM EDGE at 900MHz and 1800MHz, as well as a W-CDMA based, HSDPA capable 3G UMTS on 900MHz and 2100...Well I should probably stop here.

Much of the confusion had been a result of bureaucratic red-tape, political rivalry, human greed and outright stupidity. Hence this new post series is going to strip these terms to be basics in an attempt to explain them. 

Depending on the context, these information could matter a lot or a little to the end user. For example, iPhone owners may find themselves with no 3G coverage while their friends with a $99 Nokia phone gets 3G practically anywhere. Nevertheless if the only activities on their mobile are plain calling and text messages, it is hardly an issue.

Before we head into the confusing world of mobile telecommunication, let us look at the earlier iterations if the copper-based phone system.

Early telephone services are nothing but a simple mesh network of interconnected phones, with your phone physically linked to all your friend's homes. Using a bit simple math, we can soon work out that the number of wires required for n users are n(n-1)/2. The situation soon imploded as every possible wiring space is filled with cables, something has to be done.

 I had to use a less impressive modern example because I cannot find the file photo; for now just imagine the same tangle 10 times bigger.

Then some genius came up with the idea of telephone exchange, which uses human power to physically connect calls by forming circuits. 
The Nutt sisters were the first female telephone operators bought in to replace teenage boys with poor manners; well you cannot expect good manners from a teenager on minimum wage, women are more willing to submit; need proof?

Despite the technologies of phone exchange advanced greatly over the last century, with mechanical then electronic means instead of maiden's hands, the "hub and spoke" model survived largely intact in many other forms of networks beyond voice and data. 


As an oversimplified rule of thumb, high frequency means shorter distances of transmission and higher bandwidth. A few examples:

Long wave travels by the contours of the earth, hence they require very high masts. Transmission can be picked up from 3000km away on a good day. 
Junglinster long wavestation

Short wave, on the other hand, gets around by getting reflected between the ground and the ionising layer of the atomsphere. Hence they have a range in tens of thousands of kilometers and remains the standard frequency for international broadcasts in this digital age.
Radio Canada's short wave towers

Microwave transmission usually travel by the line of sight, hence they have limited range usually less than 50km. Nevertheless it is of excellent spectrum density and less affected by weather.
Your average rooftop microwave mast, very likely to be a cellphone mast as well; note the drum-like relay antenna and the triangular panel antenna

With higher frequency, range is even more limited and absorption by rain and other obstacles become problematic. However they can be made into good applications such as short range remote controls.
Infrared is invisible to human eyes, however most digital cameras will notice

Hence, there is no accident that mobile phones uses a small section of microwave frequency known as UHF, which offers good range as well as the ability to carry multiple calls from one station.

Earlier iteration of radio phones are nothing more than small radio transceivers connected to the phone exchange system, with many radio masts known as base stations providing service to one area known as a cell and maintaining connection to each phone in small channels of allocated frequency. Calls are handed over to another base station once the user travels into the a different area because the same channel could be used by another device and the late comer has to be allocated a different channel.

All was well when cellular phone are few and powerful such as car phones and large handsets about the size of a hock of ham. Coverage was excellent as one major base station can cover a large radius. For example, Telecom used to have one base station on top of the sky tower for the entire central Auckland, nowadays the same area is served by hundreds to thousands of masts yet call quality is hardly better than what it used to be.

The main reason behind the evolution is that as the number of users increased, existing stations ran out of capacity for calls and had to be divided into smaller cells, and apply some tedious math to make sure there is enough channels to go around.

Conversely, the smaller cells require less power which leads to the further miniaturisation of cell phones; the first generation of true handsets were born.

From left: Motorola Droid(made in 2009), Dr Martin Cooper(born in 1928), DynaTAC prototype (first used in 1973)

Not only do cells need to be smaller in general, extra stations had to be deployed strategically at places where large number of people convene, i.e. train stations, shopping malls and office buildings. An extreme situation would be major sporting events and concerts where tens of thousands of people with cellphones are packed into a small space, often necessitating the network operators to set up temporary cell towers to be able to handle the sheer number of handsets. This adds great complexity to a mature network, since calls are handed over much more frequently over cells of varying transmission power.

Clearly, more measures are needed to be able to fit more users into the finite space of radio frequencies. Digital transmission algorithms are used to compress voice signal into smaller channels, and calls are co-modulated to utilise transmission efficiency as much as possible according to the rule of physics; however the number of calls that can be stuffed into one wavelength is still limited.This is known as Frequency-Division Multiplexing or FDM

A cunning way to get around the issue is called Time-Division Mutiplexing, where each phone is allowed a time slot in the same frequency, maximising use of the same channel. The competing standard is know as Code-Division Multiplexing. Without going too far into the technicalities, imagine FDM attempt at dividing a large hall into tiny cubicles so the occupants will not speak over the voice of each other, TDM as the same hall full of people taking turns to speak; while with CDM everybody talks at the same time, albeit in a different dialect so to avoid confusion. Most current technologies uses one of the methods or a combination of two or more.

For the mathematically minded

Saturday, November 13, 2010

October Political Commentary (3): The Origins of Anand Satyanand

Mutyala Satyanand was born in Fuji to second generation immigrant family who descended from indentured laborers from India.  At the age of 14 he left Fiji to attend high school in Wanganui. A few years later Mutyala was admitted to Otago Medical School, then graduated with an MbChB. Intending to leave for Fiji after his education but his best plans were disrupted by World War II. He stayed on before ultimately deciding to stay and open his own practice in Auckland, where he pioneered what is later known as sports medicine, treating rugby players, cricketers and jockeys of their ailments.

He married a Fijian-Indian Nurse from Suva and started a family. Their son Anand grew up in the eastern suburbs of Auckland, went to Sacred Heart College and, having failed to gain admittance to Otago Med School, took up law back in Auckland and became a lawyer. Slowly he rose to the top as a fair and just man of law by the people. Having worked with both Labour and National, he is the ideal material for his current office.

However, what kind of people is Sir Anand? He belongs to the small class of what I would call the Minority Ascendancy, who are self-made men and women who had worked through the ladders of social hierarchy with their own might. like the AhChee family.(Old enough to remember Georgie Pie? The AhChees started it.)
The Ascendancy always had a ambiguous attitude to their culture identity, i.e. they are partly proud of and partly embarrassed by their origins, and even more aware that they are, ultimately, different to the majority. The social rift back in Fiji runs neatly along lines of ethnicity and religion, while the late Dr Saty would consider himself more Indian, Sir Anand would have tried hard to define himself for the 66 odd years he lived. These are the people of no culture barriers, however these are also the people of nowhere.


What I thought would be a series of objective informational post ended up being another piece of self-centered reflections and perhaps rant; I promise that the next post will be objecive to the extreme and totally free of personal opinion:)

And it should have been "November" in the title anyway. I ran out of time and energy to write due to exams. In the past two weeks I seriously considered to remove the first two posts because I may never finish the third. Nevertheless, I decided to hold on and finally finished this mini-series. Hence I am a better person, take that.

P.S.Improvements to these posts will be made piece by piece so come back once in a while to see the updated versions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

End Title Nostalgia

Performed by The Warsaw Philharmonic, perfected by Yoko Kanno

Yeah, the 7/7 live was more than a year ago, time surely flies...


The end of my undergraduate degree is not "in sight", it is here to be felt.

On Monday there was a exam review tutorial which went so well that I became somewhat depressed towards the end since it ended so abruptly.  We shared some food and drink in the end, and one of our tutors even baked miniature cupcakes for us with cheeky messages and self-promotion attached, bravo!

 Rachel is the nicest person I have ever met

Then a friend organised a shared lunch on Wednesday which was good fun filled with nice food, bad jokes and photos with stupid faces.

Thanks to all the awesome people I met at uni, you have been an inspiration to me.

Apparently Grafton campus will become a mini-limbo from next week on with construction, and with all my exams in either City or Tamaki today will be the last time for me to be on Grafton campus in a long time. I went to the last undergraduate lecture, which had a disappointingly low turnout. 

Well, they totally missed out on Graeme Finlay's review session which could not get any better.

After the lecture I printed my last assignment after adding some finishing touches while laughing at my friend's ineptness in starting a lab report that was due on Wednesday. I then went to the aforementioned tutor to talk about exams before going home on a bus which I managed to catch just in time.

Yup, I know the bus stop outside Auckland hospital has always had some construction on during the semester and the bus time display has been having issues before it suddenly disappeared overnight. Nevertheless I was able to check real-time bus arrivals on the web via, with the stoo number 1028. If you need an idea for Christmas gifts, I highly recommend getting your loved ones smartphones, which will transform the way they go about your daily lives. :P

Anyway, the rest of the day was spent on daydreaming, eating melon-flavored ice cream, reading RA Weinberg's cancer bio on my kindle to the realisation that everything I thought to have learned from a semester's work in cancer biology is already summarised in the first fifteen pages of this great textbook.

Another few changes that happened to my life this semester:

  • Craccum magazine and talkback radio have quit my life entirely. The former due to lack of time and the latter because my new phone did not have a usable FM module and I am too lazy to get a standalone FM receiver. I did manage to discover the infamous ND magazine for the medics and found them good read for they have absolutely no serious content.
  • No more new books/games/movies/etc before I could clear out my existing pile. I have too much property and I still have too much after actively trying to downsize for much of the year. 
  • I have been wearing boots for so long that regular shoes are no longer comfortable; I wore my suede sneakers today for a change and my ankles almost broke down after a short climb uphill to home. 
  • Takeaway lunch became a regular feature of my routine, especially the chicken wrap and pork turnovers from the bakery on Park road. Spending on food did not help with my wallet however it had a spectacular effect on my wilingness to study, and I could have not made to every single lecture this semester without sustenance.
  • I actually began to enjoy reading journal articles; some reviews are so well written that they answer a many lectures' worth of questions in mere minutes. Note it was before I bought my kindle and this statement is the cause, not result. 
  • Ever since my first year I realised it is possible to go into any lecture without being asked who you are. However, I did not begin to informally audit lectures till this semester for a paper I could not take due to timetable clashes. Some of my new friends in class were shocked to find that I am not actually enrolled in the course, despite turning to lectures regularly, answered a bunch of questions and even prepared a presentation in front of the class. Looking back, I really should have done this earlier, especially in the first semester when I had a huge gap between my morning and afternoon lectures. I have already made loose plans with a friend to co-appear in random undergraduate lectures next year to make full use of our time.
  • Cellphone bills skyrocketed, partly due to the $20 mobile broadband which I could not live without anymore, but most of it is actually due to text messages and calls to friends. Next year I will consider going on account, 3GB data per month for $40 is just too good to be missed. 
  • I am a happier and more sociable person in the second half of 2010. It is true that I still get the occasional bouts of depression and anger, however I am doing much better than before like I said in several previous posts.It is time to believe that you are having a positive effect on others; even if they don't seem to reciprocate your feelings, it does not imply that you are abandoned by the world.
It seems that people only came out of their shell and began to know each other before they are about to get on their own ways, and I shall be grateful that I am definitely heading back to the same place next year as a postgraduate student, hopefully for my BSc Honours. Meanwhile, I should get ready for my exams which are both close (first one on the 28th of this month) and clumped (three exams in four days, huh).


Finally a little update to the kindle post I made last week.

Apparently I overlooked the fact that my Kindle DX is the international version (serial number starts with B0005) and actually has free wireless service in NZ. I was not able to use the browser due to some problem with region settings but finally managed to get it working.

It is a very generous for amazon to provide free 3G web access; it cost them US$0.12 per MB transmitted in the US and probably more for my AT&T powered Kindle to roam here. Would I use my Kindle DX to surf the web more regularly? Well no, and there are technical reasons apart from being unwilling to abuse Amazon's generousity: The browser on 2.5.x firmware is poorly coded in Java; it uses an obscure rendering engine that is not suited to large screens and probably does not render most web pages correctly anyway. It is a "nice to have feature", however Kindle 3 is much better in terms of browsing websites.

In more flattering note, I have managed to jailbreak the system to replace the stock Caecilia font with sans-serif Droid Fallback which is much sharper and easier to read, especially for the (ridiculously) smaller font sizes. This also brings the much needed CJK language support.(Not needed for K3 which support CJK characters out of the box, with some rightfully ugly Korean font)

The default screensavers are a mixed bag, which has since been replaced by my favorite paintings converted to the Kindle format.

The jailbreak is well documented and very easy to carry out, if you are keen please find instructions here, however take full note that this may brick your kindle and Amazon will not be happy when they find out.

I have attempted to use the kindle as a classroom tablet (very good, however you cannot take notes with pdf files) and read under direct sunlight(bad idea, the white borders had too much glare)I am also experimenting with the root shell access and see if I could get more from the device. Right now everything makes me want to actually learn Linux, did you know that you can manipulate people with shell commands?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review: Kindle DX Second Generation

All information is valid as of Oct.14 2010, prices are quoted in USD unless explicitly stated.

I am serious, and don't call me iPad

Finally it is here. I paid for my Kindle DX over a month ago and waited forever for it to arrive at my agent in the USA, and the trip from eastern US to Godzone only took 10 days.

Not many people own a e-reader here, less so for a Kindle DX. After my brief encounter with a half-crippled Kindle 2 earlier this year, I have always been tempted to get its bigger brother. Back then it costed over $500 and definitely out of my radar; now with many competitors out in the market, Amazon has quietly lowered their prices (often to comical effects, since for a number of days people were trying to sell used Kindles for more than new ones) and the DX is suddently a lot more affordable.

I was going to order the DX Graphite but decided against it in the last minute for several reasons:
  • Vodafone NZ signed with Amazon in August to provide 3G service for Kindle over their well-established WCDMA network. The current versions of Kindle DX relies on the CDMA2000 standard which does not exist locally, however given the highly modular design of the device it would not take them very long to release a WCDMA model for New Zealand. Although the Kiwi dollar is at a historic high point, $379 is still no small sum and I could have spent it on many other things I need than want.
  • The graphite edition boasts a superior display with 50% more contrast, however pricing policy suggests otherwise with the older generation only $20 less. A friend was kind enough to show me her latest acquisition and it made my mind: Black seems to be a tad richer compared to the Kindle 2, but I could not help but suspect that a lot of the visual improvements came from the black chassis, which has a better contrast with the white (actually gray) blanks. Clearly the new screen is nothing worth raving about nor is it worth the prenium price tag.
In the end the compormise was achieved on a factory refurbished Kindle DX, which is substantially more affordable at $289 (when I made the purchase, price has since dropped to $269) and carries the same warranty. It had to be shipped to a US address for sure, and thankfully the process was smooth except for the extended waiting period, which I could not understand until I had the package in my hands.

A bunch of wussies I must say. If Li-ion batteries are safe enough to be carried on a flight, I see no reason why they are unfit for freight.

First Impression and Ergonomics

The Kindle DX is big, bigger than one of my laptops. It is also much heavier than the 6in variant and not intended for prolonged reading held in a single hand. The best reading posture is actually to brace it with your left arm while using your own torso to support its weight, use your left hand in place for the large buttons while leaving your right hand free to manipulate the keyboard.

The control buttons are only found on the right hand side, which is fine with me. Sorry to left handed people, your own option is to turn the device unside-down and the pages will automatically flip 180 degrees to resume reading.

To maximise the screen area, the keyboard has been pressed to a tiny row which results in a top-heavy configuration that wants to capsize as soon as you attempt to type with both hands.The keyboard is usable with some support, however not comfortable enough to type long notes or write emails. The smaller Kindles has bigger keys and are more balanced for typing. The 5-d joystick is also a little fiddly and I would prefer the flat d-pad on the latest Kindle 3.

Reading on Kindle DX


The picture shows the smallest font size which is similar to your standard paperback books. Reading is pretty much similar to Kindle 2, except more words fit per screen and the "Next Page" button is going to be needed a lot less frequently. Screen refresh time is on par with the smaller kindles which is very impressive considering the screen is more than twice the size.

Project Gutenberg now publish most books in specific Kindle format, often complete with illustrations to make it more like reading a real book, although illustrations does work always fill the page as intended by the creators. 


PDF fits very well across the page and is rendered faithfully. Sometimes the words may appear a little faint so you will need good lighting to see better. 

There is also a crude zoom and pan function which makes the inevitable finer print easier to read; however it is easier to turn the device 90 degrees and read in landscape. Unlike e-readers of other brands, PDF reflow is not yet supported and you are better off jotting down notes on a piece of paper.

The screen has more an enough grayscale for manga or comic if you don't mind monochrome. I use Mangle to resize and convert image files to Kindle-friendly sizes. The major let down is the system, where it often takes several seconds to load the next page or images may simply turn up corrupted. Don't rely on it for your everyday manga reading, however it provides a decent variation to reading words.

Other Features

Most features I remembered from the Kindle 2 are still firmly in place, including the web browser and text-to-speech functionalities. A recent system update added the sorely needed function of organising books into "collections" so the days of browsing 50 pages of catalogue to find a page is a thing of the past. If you weren't fussy about warranty claims, there are plenty of documentation on various hacks and mods to do wonderful things with your kindle: Maybe you want to tether network over USB, run Busybox or even a full Linux distro? They are all possible.


Like Kindle 2, Kindle DX is a minimalist device, all you need is a micro-B type USB cable to charge and access the device. Nevertheless, Amazon did issue a few pieces of accessories; there are also a vast range of offerings from other brands to choose from.
The official Kindle 2 charger, not withstanding its tiny size it has excellent specs (100-240V input, 4.9V 850mA output). The world has certainly moved on from the era of wall warts, and MacFags will be pleased to know that these chargers will handle Apple products quite nicely - once less charger to carry.

The Amazon case, unfortunately, is a different (and depressing) story. It has two metal hinges to secure the device and cause cracks (which often renders the screen useless) over time or instantly in case of blunt force damage. Avoid them, at least the older iterations with straight hinges, and get a third-party soft case instead, preferably with a reading light so you will be able to read when your loved ones are fast asleep. On the other hand, clip-on reading lights of any origin work pretty well with the kindle DX with its wide margins for attachment.

Because the refurbished items does not come with a charger, I picked up VanGoddy's Kindle DX accessory package which include a well made silicon sleeve(shown in a previous picture), car charger and wall charger with USB cable; good deal for $24.85.

As a generally messy person and wannabe scientist, I also bought Octovo's spandex splash proof case. It is a cumbersome affair and has a few problems such as the direction key fails to line up with the printed markers on the outside. But it is still a handy case for the purpose. The black colour also solves some of the contrast problems reading in bright light.

Many accessories are less useful, for example, screen protector film is a waste of time and defeats the purpose of having a readable screen under direct sunlight, and do you really need a docking station to keep your kindle upright while charging?


Unlike its little brother, Kindle DX is a somewhat overpriced product that serves a more dedicated market, namely high-throughput readers and researchers who read a lot of articles in PDF format. it is not intended to be maximally portable and you probably won't fancy carrying it with you on a daily basis. If you read a lot of PDF files and/or find the generic e-readers too small for your needs, jump at it, other wise don't bother.

At this moment the Kindle 3, especially the wifi-only version remains the best deal in the e-reader market. With a little extra you can grab the 3G version for over-the-air delivery and free web access. If you weren't in a hurry, you can always wait for Amazon to release a new model that works in NZ.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

With Summer on your Doorsteps

Officially summer did not begin till the end of November, meanwhile we can listen to Hisaishi's brilliant composition and hope for the best.

I have been very busy but calm at the same time, life is so much easier if you focus on nothing but the road ahead of you. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

October Political Commentary (2): Reserve Power

Nowadays people are inclined to believe that democracy is for the people and by the people, yet the earlier forms of democracy has always been a tool of the elites against the monarchy and the general population. (See Magna Carta) As a part of deal, the head of state retained rights to veto certain bills and (more in a ceremonial sense) dissolve the parliament.

Franchise was gradually extended from the aristocracy to the landed gentry, then to every tax-paying man and finally every able-minded adult. Strangely back then many liberal politicians opposed the idea of universal (male franchise), particularly in France, because their fears that the uneducated masses are uncapable of exercising political power and may, in their worse fear, elect a royalist that will end their privileged position once and for all. At the same time, the power of the monarchy was constantly eroded by the state. There is a partticularly sharp decline since the Napoleonic Wars when the Georges might have had some influence on governments, Queen Victoria delibrately refrained from politics during her later life, and the underprepared Uncle Edward was more interested in diplomacy than domestic affairs. Prime Minister could go as far as requesting the head of Balmoral castle to appoint more Peers to the House of Lords in order to pass certain laws. The only king to have rebelled against the role of glorified rubber stamp is Edward VII, and the government promptly got rid of him. (Wallis Simpson is just an excuse, they could have used his sympathy to facism or any other excuse on a later date)

Constitutional Monarchy implies that the country is ultimately governed by a constitution, of which New Zealand is definitely lacking. Apart from the ceremonial roles generally afforded to the Queen, the functions of Governor-General include:

  • Officially dissolve and open the parliament at the request of the Government, as well as appointing ministers including the PM
  • Grant Royal Assent to new laws.
By convention the Governor-General acts at the advice (emphemism for explicit instructions) of the ruling government, nevertheless he is not bound by any rule to obey. Such incident were known as "constitutional crises" where nobody knows what to do.

There is also the problem of overlapping between the legislative and executive wing in the Westminster system. In other words, the government consists of serving MPs and nearly always control the parliament. The situation is even more extreme in NZ without an upper house to check the power of proportionally elected representatives. Hence the reserve power is at the same time a good measure and equally useless.

Overall, the reserve power at the hands of the Governor-General is vague and limited at best.  The viceregal role seems to be entirely vestigial and out of place. I bet many of us were not even aware of our current Governor-General before the debate erupted.

So, who is Anand Satyanand?


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October Political Commentary (1): Birthright or not?

The recent controversy initiated by Paul Henry's comment of whether Sir Anand Satyanand "is a New Zealander", together with the fallout from this seemingly trivial comment, prompted me to write this rather reactionary commentary.

Those of you who know me should be aware that TV watching is not a normal part of my life, however I do have a liking for Paul Henry who, like Paul Holmes, has the old fashioned quality of speaking whatever their heart says. This is especially precious in today's increasingly phlegmatic society filled with overt political correctness. Still, sometime one has to admit that many broadcasters are ill-informed about the political status of New Zealand, which in itself is a huge puddle of muddy water.

Let's hope that I shall not lose momentum while writing this series. I will modify completed sections heavily so do expect to find differences over time.


Prior to any meaningful discussion on the complex topic, we must first review Being my usual lazy self, I choose to present a modified section stolen from Wikipedia:
"As the sovereign is shared equally with 15 other independent countries in a form of personal union and resides predominantly in her oldest realm, the United Kingdom, she, on the advice of her prime minister only,appoints the governor general to carry out most of her constitutional and ceremonial duties for an unfixed period of time—known as serving At Her Majesty's pleasure—though five years is the normal convention. Once in office, these individuals maintain direct contact with the Queen, wherever she may be at the time."

In Simple English, Govern-General is a government-appointed person who acts as the Queen's stunt in her distant lands. The exact role of the regent in a constitutional monarchy will be better discussed in its own chapter. Meanwhile, I have summarised the history of the post in New Zealand:

  • There had been 35 past Governors-General under various titles.
  • Most of the early ones came from the mother country as professional administrators or later, retirees from various public or military offices. The first "Kiwi" Governor-General is probably Lord Freyberg, who was born in England and moved to New Zealand at  the age of two. The last one to have born in Britain was Bernard Fergusson, a former army brigadier whose father and two grandfathers had all served on the same post in the past. 
  • Every Governor-General since Arthur Porritt are all born in New Zealand except Sir David Bettie who was born in Sydney; nevertheless Arthur Porritt had close ties to the British Royal House during his medical practice and is probably closer to his precedents than it appears.
  • Most people mentioned here are high-class professionals such as doctors, lawyers, officers, etc.
  • Much to the point John Key made during the interview where all hell broke loose, it is usually unwise to appoint a career politician to the role of Governor-General, obviously because their previous alignment with a certain ideology is simply not suited to the non-partisan nature of our head of state. Hence I find the notion of former legislators becoming the Governor rather bizarre. The most recent example has to be Sir Keith Holyoake, who was made the Queen's representative while serving as a government minister and MP. Guess who did it? Muldoon.  
  • Overall, there is no written eligibilities for this job, and in the historical context, nativism is only a recent feature yet it seems to become the accepted norm. 
This is in stark contrast to Canada, which is a similar bi-cultural society. The established tradition is to rotate between Anglo and Québécois candidates as a sign of fairness. Nevertheless the last two Governors General appointed by Liberal governments were both foreign-born females of humble upbringing.

This concludes the mini-discussion on the history of the office. Next post will focus on its various functions.

To be continued.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Requiem Lorazepam

Three weeks to the end of semester. Instead of pulling my best effort in a heavily weighted lab assignment, I decided to take some time off and watch Bergman's classic The Seventh Seal.

It's good, I mean seriously good. The acting may seem crude and melodramatic at some point, but the bleak atmosphere is perfect. Remember this was made in 1957, the height of thermonuclear doom and gloom, slightly out of touch for people like me who grew up in the 90s; however Bergman managed to capture the pessimistic tune and present it. They did not bother too much about historical accuracy and the actors look too clean for an infamously crusty period in history, still these should not detract viewers from the plot which is very concise and well-written. 

The theme is philosophically complex however may be condensed into one Orwellian line: "Ignorance is Strength". In the end, every person who is aware, whether idealistic or cynical, with good intentions or malice, face the same bitter end while the blessed fools carry on with their normal lives undisturbed.

This also echos with Lovecraftian stories, where the characters are nearly always driven in insanity and death through their insistence to knowledge that are better kept in the dark. If the divine one turns out to be the indifferent architect, who people still believe him?


On the other hand, I am delighted to report that my stress management appears to have improved. Unprovoked emotional outbursts still happen but are less severe and further in between. Let's hope this upward path carries on into my next year.

Que sera sera

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Daily Rumbling

It is scary to think that there is only three more weeks to the end of the semester and my undergraduate courses. Not to mention I have heaps of assignments due before the exams. Although the recent test results revealed a rather alarming lack of improvement, I think I will do better than my last 5 semesters combined.

Next year I will probably do BSc Hons, if my exam results convince the study committee to let me in. I went through the list of available projects and could not decide between 18 equally interesting topics. The use of RNAi to treat neurological disorders seems quote promising, so is the isolation of anti-necrotic proteins in maggots. Even if I don't get in, I will probably carry on with BioMedSci and find out whether I am meant to work for science.

Despite the exams looming on the horizon, I have applied and got a new part-time job. It is not for the money, but just to keep myself in contact with people while having nothing planned for the summer.

Out of the cave aye ;-)


Onto happy memories:

On Tuesday I was made an honourary member of World Jewry, together with two other (non-Jewish) friends for helping out at the Jewish Awareness Day, which involved putting up posters of Somali Jews and Israeli swimsuit models around the quad, as well as handing out free Israeli food: Crispy falafel, fresh couscous salad and lots of hummus.

I am not sure if the event helped to raise the profile of Jews in the land of long white cloud, but it was good fun. Somehow we found ourselves right next to the Meat Club's weekly barbecue of a gigantic pile of sizzling sausages and bacon. And behold, they got extremely uncomfortable and one of them went as far as getting someone from AUSA to ask us if we had permission to be there. This amusing minor incident reflects on the society in general where the atheistic/agnostic/apathetic are more easily upset than genuine believers.


BTW, please let me know if you have spotted a heavily used iPod Nano with the menus in Polish, it could be stolen property, thanks.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Music of Our Time

56k warning: This is a video heavy post and I recommend a fast internet connection (with some dedicated reading/listening time) to make the most of it. 

Maybe it is just me, but certain tunes always remind me of a bygone era. Here I have complied a small list of songs for each year since 2000. Some titles included here may be of rather poor taste and rather embarrassing, yet my memory remains unapologetic.


WANDS - 世界の終わりまでは/Till the World's End

Assuming you grew up in the 90s, your life is not complete without Slam Dunk. I mean it,full stop



Ricky Martin - La Copa de la Vida

While not a real fan of any competitive sports, I am still able to polymorph into a hooligan every for years for just for the FIFA World Cup. I guess this is where everything started.

Nevertheless, if I could only choose one Ricky Martin song to listen to for the rest of my life I'd go for Linvin la Vida Loca; for HG.




Bee Gees - Melody Fair

Dad gave me a (rather flash back then) Onkyo brand CD/MD player for 10th birthday and some albums that only people of his age would be interested in. I had no alternative and ended up listening to a lot of doo-wop, jazz and pop standards, many songs I am still fond of.

By the way, the movie in which the song had an honourable mention was fortunate to have been filmed before the Katakana plague of the 90s set in. While Melody will always be cherished as 小さな恋のメロディ, poor kids nowadays have to watch stuff like ロード・オブ・ザ・リング(I shall refrain from any attempt to pronounce or it might give me a heart attack.).

Another twist of the story is the device itself, which had MD player failures every six months. We had it repaired several times under the warranty but eventually gave up after the third claim.  Never bought any Onkyo equipment again.



Bon Jovi - It's My Life.

This one is especially notable because of the music video above. Admittedly, I have seen no movies back then and it totally blew my mind. It took me years to realise they ripped the idea off Run Lola Run. Well, I can forgive their deadly sins for the music.

Also, I have not met any Bon Jovi fan in years, not a single soul.



Jay Chou - 安静/Silence

Jay is probably the last M-Pop (no, he does not do R&B) musician I have paid some attention to. He continued to produce exceptional songs in the upcoming years however his second and third album will always be my personal favourites.



Avril Lavigne - Sk8er Boi

Fast and catchy, something that suits pubescent teens. It is actually of little relevance to my life but somehow got imprinted into my mind every time I think of 2002. Maybe whoever in charge of the student TV back in BBI played it too often.



Chisa Yokoyama et al - 夢の続き/Lasting Dream

For some time between 2002-2004, my best friends all belonged to this Sakura Taisen fan club. Looking back it is kind of scary since many of them are Takarazuka fans in heterosexual disguise. I spend most of my time not caring about the theme but talking to whatever normal people present and trolling the lesbos.

To this day people from the group still make up over 50% of people on my MSN contact list, although many of them never appear to be online. I remember one, to whom I had a rather exciting conversation with one day only to find her blocking me from the next day, still have not figured out why but I'd probably blame PMS.

Folks, I don't know where are you or what are you doing, but I appreciate everything you did for me:

Thanks to V-gun for listening to my pointless rants.

Thanks to legato for sending me all the episodes of Last Exile, although I never had time to watch it.

Thanks to toby for cheering me up at the hard times, I wish you will find your dreamed one soon.

Thanks to xephon who kept contact with me till this day. I pass through your city almost every year without stopping and I really hope to meet you again some day.

Thank you all.



L'arc~en~ciel - Ready Steady Go

My aptitude for Anime peaked around this time and my selection became rather Anime-centric. I would not normally listen to L'arc~en~ciel or any Visual-kei band but this song was in the first FMA anime series. So be it. 



Angela Ammons - Always getting over you

It was a rather pleasant time. I transferred to another school and everything appeared to be on an upward track. My interests also shifted and I was once again, back in love with easy listening mainstream pop.



Kuribayashi Minami - Shining☆Days

Things were still holding out fine and I decided to give Anime one more chance. Rather than following new series on a weekly basis, I bought several completed series and watched all episodes in one sitting during the winter holidays.

Turns out my selection was rather good: Mai-Hime, Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG, Speedgrapher and Cowboy Bebop. Nevertheless by the end I was kind of turned off by too much Anime goodness, knowing that I will never be the old fully-fledged otaku again. I still watch occasionally but mostly moved on.

P.S. Had to copy and paste that star, why some songs must contain un-typable symbols?



Groove Coverage - She



Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue

Dr Colin Quilter introduced country music to me, an genre that I had previously neglected. Above all, country music reinforced my reactionary tendencies, and Johnny Cash convinced me that it is feasible to do drugs and get away with it.

Taylor Swift came into the picture a bit later but just like Jay Chou, she is doing a fine job albeit on something different, certainly not country.



Laura Marling - New Romantic

It was all a blur, all I remember is inebriation, truancy and melancholic British love songs.



Sukima Switch - 全力少年/Boys with All Our Might


積み上げたものぶっ壊して 身に着けたもの取っ払って

Stop seeking answers in the stagnant scenery!
Right now a new light passes through the muddy water

Destroy the things that have piled up
Get rid of the things that weight you down
Riding a parabola of many dreams
We're definitely always going to be boys with all of our might
I will be the one to open up the world
My eyes also become clear

Finally, getting back on terra firma. Looking back I wish I had done things differently, but it is all of this big thing called life.

In other news, today marks my 9th year living in New Zealand. Still lovin' it.