Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cardboard Transformers

I am sick.

I have a fever and I'm coughing like mad. I had a trip planned to KL for an Apple event, but I had to cancel. Oh well.

To cheer me up, Annie B. pointed me out to cardboard Transformers you can print out and fold yourself. Thanks Anne!

On a related note, this and this have to be the best commentaries on the Michael Bay Transformers movie on the web.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Flora And Fauna

USM's campus is a host to many interesting animals and plants. I've only just begun to learn to fiddle with my camera, so you'll see this blog littered with pictures that I just have to show everyone (and putting up pictures is a lot easier than writing actual content).

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This is an anthill near the School of Graduate Studies. It's hard to make out the little ants, though I assure you they are there.

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Here is a water monitor lizard going for a swim in the lake near the School of Computer Sciences. The legend goes that the water in that lake is quite toxic, and those critters will mutate into huge Godzilla-size monsters and terrorise Tokyo. Yes, I know Tokyo is a long way from here, but look at him swim! He'll make it there someday.

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Here is another water monitor on land. This one knows how to pose for the camera.

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Mushroom, mushroom! No badgers or snakes though.

My friends have asked for more bird photos. I've been trying to take more photos of birds, but they are tricky animals to photograph. I do have a few though, and I'll be putting up another birdy set soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Visiting UTMK

The Computer Aided Translation Unit (UTMK) had a big launching event thingy today for their new website and portal, and Didier is leaving USM for a job in France. I visited them today to see their spiffy exhibits and say goodbye to Didier. My first sort-of-real job since graduating was to work on a Malay version of Wordnet, and I sometimes I really miss my old workplace.

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These are LLT's cubicle decorations. As you can see my friends have come up with interesting slogans and acronyms for my former office. It looks so much more lively now with the stuffed animals.

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Here is Didier giving a presentation on conceptual vectors (see his publications for more information on this).

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The UTMK group photo with industrial trainees. Didier is wearing a songket, which was his going-away present. Sadly, I am not in this picture.

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I am in this shot, however. This picture shows Didier and I just after having an afternoon snack.

It was great seeing everyone again today. Best of luck to Didier, and bon voyage!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Con Calls It Quits

Dr. Con Kolivas announced his retirement from the Linux kernel some time back, and there's an an interview published on the web with him about this, and about computing and Linux.

We'll miss the Doc from the kernel scene, and I wish him well. He gave me a lot of sage advice and a kick-ass kernel scheduler back in the day when I was struggling with my masters. A big thank you goes out to Doc for that and all the contributions he's made to his users.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Taking Screenshots In Mac OS X

The keyboard shortcuts for taking screenshots is something I can never quite remember. Therefore I am writing this down here for my own reference:
  1. Command-Control-Shift-3 - Takes a screenshot of the entire screen and saves it to the clipboard.
  2. Command-Control-Shift-4 - Select an area with the mouse. This grabs a screenshot of the selected area and saves it to the clipboard.
  3. Command-Control-Shift-4 - Press space, then clicking on a window will take a screenshot of the window and save it to the clipboard.

You can also make it save to a file on the desktop instead of just copying it onto a clipboard buffer by omitting the Control key from all of the above keystroke combinations.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix

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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAfter a string of disappointing movie sequels, the new Harry Potter movie finally delivers something entertaining. We continue the adventures of our angsty hero Harry Potter and his friends for another year at Hogwarts where he will yet again have another confrontation with his arch-nemesis, Voldemort. As usual, this review is rather spoilerish so you probably want to stop reading if you haven't seen it or read the book.

This time around, news of the return of Voldemort finally hits the wizarding community and the Ministry of Magic is in denial over the alleged rumours. To keep things "under control" at Hogwarts, the Ministry despatches a very quirkily evil woman named Dolores Umbridge who takes over as the Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, and promptly takes over the school and makes all kinds of new rules while trying her best to indoctrinate the students with her own brand of "education".

Umbridge throws her weight around, acts like a boss to other teachers (even Dumbledore), imparts cruel and unusual punishments on students and makes up new rules all the time just to make life miserable for the kids. She introduces a watered-down "ministry approved" syllabus to the students which offer no practical lessons in magical self defense, in the name of protecting student welfare. Umbridge isn't evil in the same category as Voldemort, but nevertheless she seems to enjoy being a cruel and sadistic witch (whom she is, in the literal sense too). Think of her as lawful evil compared to Voldemort's chaotic evil. Imelda Staunton does a fine job of portraying a believably nasty (if over-the-top) character.

At the same time Harry learns about a secret organisation known as the Order of the Phoenix which was founded back when Voldemort first caused chaos and mayhem back in the day when Harry was a baby. Voldemort is building up his forces again and it will be up to the Order of the Phoenix to stop him, again.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBack at school Harry creates a clandestine student group called Dumbledore's Army and starts training other kids on the stuff he's learned after all his encounters with Voldemort. Ultimately the kids will have to stand on their own against Voldemort's Death Eaters, and by the end of the movie the kids are frantically waving wands against dangerous foes.

I don't know how well the adaptation of the story was done in comparison to the book, as I haven't read it yet. As usual book fans will probably be upset that things are left out or changed, but I myself found this movie to be well-paced, fun and enjoyable. The visuals are pretty neat, with lots of gratuitous flying shots and wand effects.

On the downside, I feel that the overall storyline is getting kind of draggy. This felt like yet another confrontation with Voldemort which ends in yet another stalemate. It's a good thing J.K. Rowling has finally ended the saga with her latest book, because the story feels like it's desperately seeking a resolution.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bumblebee On The Racetrack

I'm took my Bumblebee figure for a photo shooting session on a racetrack, where I basically fiddled with manual focus and F-number values to set depth of field. The H2 can be cranked up to f/8.0, which produced the racetrack photos.

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Here's Bumblebee the long-distance runner, warming up for a race.

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The road turns out to be a little too long though, and running is tiring. See how droopy his head is?

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But why run when you can drive? Bumblebee makes the transforming noise as he folds himself up into a Camaro. Choo-choo-chee-chee-chee!

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Marathons are easy to win when you have wheels and a motor (and also when there's no one else around actually racing you). Here is Bumblebee enjoying the view from a lofty spot after winning the race.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Turtle Power!

This series of photos depict each of the ninja turtles in different locations. It took a long time to get this set done, but here it is now.

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Here's Leonardo on the top of a rock, triumphantly waving his ninjaken in the air.

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Raphael is out in the jungle alone, descending stealthily from a vine.

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Michaelangelo is in his element on the beach, planning to have fun riding the waves on a jetski.

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Donatello walks on a ledge high above the streets of the city.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Birds Near The Workplace

The great thing about my workplace is that it's surrounded by greenery, and its a rich habitat for a whole variety of birds. Here are a few that I managed to take photos of with my camera.

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Two birds sitting on a wire. These birds are called welcome swallows (Hirundo neoxena), and they are fast flyers.

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A dollar bird (Eurystomus orientalis) perched high up on a treetop.

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A white-throated kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) waits for its prey near a stream. This fellow hangs out behind the office every evening and snacks on small fish.

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There myna birds are quite common on campus. They are either the white-vented myna or the jungle myna.

Thanks to Antenne for helping me identify the birds.

Monday, July 2, 2007


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Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketEver since I was a kid, I loved Transformers. I think every Transformers fan has wondered at one point if they would ever make a live-action Transformers movie, and how much it would rock if they did. So here we are, in July 2007, and the first Transformers live-action movie rolling out into the theatres. The only problem is, it was directed by Michael Bay.

There are spoilers for the movie ahead. If you don't want to know anything about the story, stop reading here.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNow the movie was entertaining enough, and the giant robots were impressive. I liked the new character designs with their intricate detail and fluid movements, which was (in my opinion) an improvement over the boxy squarish robots we had back in the 80's. However, the whole experience was rather lacking. The plot was ludicrous, the supporting characters were forgettable and the cinematography was clumsy. Such is to be expected from a Michael Bay movie of course, but I think even he could do better.

The first half of the movie begins promisingly enough. The story begins with a Decepticon attack on a US military base in the desert, with a giant helicopter dude (Blackout) tossing tanks around and shooting at random things. There we meet our first forgettable stock character, the Macho Marine. He has a wife and baby girl back home (like every good movie marine should), and he leads a band of surviving soldiers out into the desert.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWe then meet Sam Witwicky (Spike from the cartoon, though they don't call him by his nickname in the movie), a nerdy kid who really, really wants a car. His dad (Sparkplug, but called 'Ron' in the movie) takes him to a used-car dealer and gets a junky '74 Camaro for him. The Camaro turns out to be none other than Bumblebee in disguise, who helps Sam woo the girl he fancies. The object of Sam's affection is a pretty classmate named Mikaela, and in a cheesy but cute sequence Bumblebee plays back music and pretends to break down as a hapless Sam tries to figure out what's wrong with his car and at the same time impress Mikaela.

In the night, Bumblebee sneaks out, transforms and calls up Optimus Prime and his friends with a Batsignal-like thing. Sam sees this, and become terrified of it, but when he gets embroiled in the Autobot-Decepticon war to find a MacGuffin called the "Allspark" (kind of like Vector Sigma, only... squarer), he decides to help out.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt turns out Sam's great-great-grandpa was an explorer who discovered a frozen Megatron in the North Pole years ago, and the coordinates to the Allspark were etched on his glasses (you have to see it to understand). Optimus Prime gets hold of the glasses, but Sam, Mikaela and his parents get kidnapped by a shady government organisation called Sector 7. This is where the plot disintegrates, with a lot of very painful attemnpts at 'humour' from the Section 7 bureaucrat. Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots rescue Sam and Mikaela, but the potential coolness of this scene was totally taken away by the goofy portrayal of their captors.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Autobots have a run-in with Sector 7, Sam and Mikaela get captured again together with Bumblebee, Sam and the rest of the stock characters (an Important Government Official, a Nerdy Hacker, the Macho Marine from the opening sequence) converge at the Hoover dam where the government is secretly holding both Megatron and the Allspark in a secret base. The Autobots (using the grandpa glasses) track down the Allspark to the Hoover dam. However, the Decepticon spy Frenzy (who looks like a little metal gremlin) leads the bad guys there too.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSam convinces Important Government Official and Macho Marine to help the Autobots, so they release Bumblebee and take the Allspark, but robot gremlin infiltrates the base and revives Megatron. Then, the Autobots take the Allspark to a highly populated urban area for no apparent reason other than to set up the final confrontation where Michael Bay can blow up buildings and show the terrified human populace running for their lives.

The final battle isn't too bad to watch, if you can ignore the logical flaws in the story. However, the enjoyment is again marred by Michael Bay's poor direction. The camerawork is awful, and it is frequently shaky and the use of zoom is always at odd and inappropriate times.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI commend the special effects guys on making cool-looking robots and transformation sequences. The director and scriptwriters don't do much justice to it though. Shia LaBeouf gives an earnest performance as Sam, but the rest of the human cast fails to stand out as they were reduced to stock character roles. The addition of the fat hacker nerd was completely unnecessary, as were the Sector 7 and 'hacking' plotlines. Peter Cullen's return to the Optimus Prime role provided a comfortingly familiar voice, and thus Prime is the most recognisable of the Transformers. Otherwise, there isn't much for nostalgia-seekers. Most of the robots had only a few lines each, and did not get much to say. It's as if the filmmakers didn't care at all about the robot characters, and just used them as they would the other special effects.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe potential for this film to be awesome was there, if only there had been a different director and scriptwriting team. How amazing would it have been if it were directed by Sam Raimi or Brad Bird or even Steven Spielberg himself (he is the executive producer of this movie).

The producers have indicated that they are making sequels to Transformers. If they get rid of Michael Bay and hire a director that cared about our beloved robot characters, perhaps then there'd be a worthy movie that will light our darkest hour.