Wednesday, December 31, 2008



Happy year rollover day!

Remember, there will be a leap second added at the end of 2008 (at midnight UTC), so reset your atomic clocks accordingly.

Readership Statistics At The End Of 2008

I've been using a webtracker since 15 April 2007, and I thought it'd be interesting to see the reader demographics of this blog. Some of my friends read it (thanks folks!), and some random people inadvertently stumble upon it. So far, I've gotten 11616 unique visitors, give or take some margin of error as webtrackers aren't terribly reliable.

By Country
Readership By Country

Here, we can see that most of my visitors are from the United States. Malaysia ranks second place, the UK scores third, Canada gets fourth, Australia is fifth and we have a whole bunch of other countries following behind. I've grouped the countries with a visitor ratio of less than 1% into a clump called "Other", which accounts for 16.75% of all visitors. For a map view, you can check out this site, which also tracks my visitors.

By Browser
Readership By Browser Type

Gecko is the core of the Mozilla-based browsers such as Firefox, Iceweasel, Seamonkey and Epiphany. Gecko is the winner here, and IE is second place. As far as my blog is concerned, Microsoft just lost the browser war. Neener.

By Operating System
Readership By Operating System

There's quite a number of Linux/Unix and Mac users out there visiting my blog. Maybe it's because of some of the *nix-oriented posts I have. Still, I'd say most of my blog is now general interest rather than tech-specific.

I used Google's chart API to dynamically render the pie charts you see above. If you think this entire post is just an excuse to play with it, you're probably right.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Vim For OS X

Whenever I do a Google search for "Vim for OS X" or "Vim for Mac" , it links to, which has old binaries and hasn't been updated in a while. I thought I saw someone using a shiny, tabbed-interface Vim during last month. I could have sworn it was Toru Maesaka, but after emailling him it turns out it wasn't him.

Anyway, tonight I finally found it! The newer Vim for Mac can be found at this page. It has goodies such as OS X keyboard bindings, tabbed multiple windows and transparency.

Thursday, December 25, 2008



I saw Australia today (the movie, not the country). Despite lukewarm reviews by critics, I decided to go see it anyway because my friend Beachgirl liked it a lot (I trust friends more than I trust movie critics), and the trailer captured my interest with majestic landscapes and the clever allusion to The Wizard Of Oz. The movie is set during World War II, just as the Japanese are about to attack the town of Darwin. There is a love story, cattle, a charming half-aborigine boy, evil ranchers, Japanese bombers, and Hugh Jackman generally being badass throughout. Baz Luhrmann has attempted to create a grand epic, and for the most part, he does deliver. Spoilers follow, so be warned.

Lady Sarah Ashley (played by Nicole Kidman) is an Englishwoman who travels to Australia to find her husband, who owns a cattle station down under called Faraway Downs. When she arrives she finds her husband murdered, and she is stuck with the station which she tries to sell. However, she meets an adorable half-aborigine, half-white boy named Nullah who befriends her. Nullah's mother is an aborigine woman and his father is Fletcher (played by David Wenham), a jerk who works on Sarah's farm as a manager. After she finds he has been helping a rival cattle farmer steal cows from her (and his mistreatment of Nullah and his mother), an outraged Sarah fires Fletcher and decides to run the station herself.

Sarah enlists an independent cattle drover (played by Hugh Jackman), who simply calls himself "Drover", to help her drive the cattle to Darwin to be sold to the military for food. PhotobucketSarah, Drover, Nullah, and a few other hands drive the cattle across a very scenic country, despite being hampered by a vengeful Fletcher throughout the journey. Sarah and Drover fall for each other after the cattle drive, and she lives at Faraway Downs with Drover and Nullah.

Nullah is kidnapped one day by the authorities during his coming-of-age "walkabout", and is forced to go live on a church mission on an island. This happened a lot to half-aborigine children back in the day, where they were forcibly removed from their families and made to live in missions. They are referred to as the "stolen generation". Anyway. an upset Sarah tries to get Nullah back, without any success. And then, the Japanese attack. The mission is hit first, and then Darwin. Amidst the chaos of the bombing, Drover goes out to sea to rescue Nullah. He succeeds, and brings Nullah home to a tearful reunion with Sarah.

The film gives us some very stunning shots of the Australian continent. It's a beautiful place and Baz Luhrmann's visuals do it justice. His story structure however, feels a bit odd. The first part of the movie is about the cattle drive, and the second part is about Nullah's capture, rescue and the attack on Darwin. This makes the film feel like two movies tacked together in the middle, and it doesn't flow quite smoothly for me. There is quite a bit of melodrama, and the villain is rather cliched in his one-dimensional portrayal. Despite all this, it doesn't fail to entertain, and even though it's very long it never gets boring. It's one of the better movies of the year, and it's a shame it didn't get more favourable reviews. Go see it if you get the chance.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Birds In Trees

Sometimes, I like to look at the very tops of the trees to see if anything interesting is perched there. When I have my camera with me, I zoom up and take a picture if I see any birds.

On a bright Monday morning, I took this picture of a black-naped oriole while waiting to pick up visitors (the three French guys) from the guest house in USM.

I don't usually see Brahminy kites perched, so this picture is a rare treat. This is at maximum zoom, as the bird was quite a distance away (hence the picture quality isn't too great).

The same kite as seen from the side. It has pretty chestnut-coloured wings with black tips.

A chestnut-headed bee eater sits in the usual bee eater hangout tree.

I saw a whole bunch of coppersmith barbets! Now I know they like to gather at VC Rock

When taking this batch of photos, I took videos too. I will be making a documentary-type thing about the birds I've seen soon. Hopefully by January or February I can post it on the blog.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Met Sparkleyone


My friend from the PhDComics forums, Laura, came to visit Penang on her Southeast Asia tour. I showed her our giant lizards, turtles, birdies and walking fish. I believe she was impressed by our wildlife. In the above picture you can see her relaxing against a palm tree, on our island with blue skies and clear water. So the rest of you guys who read my blog, do come and visit us here, like Laura did.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Another Visit To UTMK

Today, I had a reunion with my colleagues from UTMK, and I also met the trio of academics from France that is Christian Boitet, Mathieu Lafourcade and Didier Schwab.

We had lunch at the Red House.

Here they are discussing stuff with Lian Tze.

Mathieu Lafourcade hard at work.

At last I got to meet the famous Professor Boitet, whom I have heard so much about from Lian Tze.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Day The Earth Stood Still


Continuing the Hollywood trend of producing an endless stream of remakes, here comes a 21st century version of the 50's classic sci-fi movie. Reactions to the new movie have been mixed, with reviewers generally having a low opinion of it. I saw both versions (the 1951 movie and the 2008 remake) recently, and the 2008 version had a very different message. While I don't mind the new movie, the story in the remake doesn't appear to be as coherent as the original. It is an average sci-fi flick, when considered on it's own. It's watchable if you want to kill some time in the afternoon. Massive spoilers follow in this post, so stop reading now if you haven't seen either version.

I have no particular attachment to the 1951 version, as I've only seen it the same week I saw the remake. It feels dated and quaint now, and Klaatu's suggestion that we submit ourselves to the authority of giant killer space robots was quite disturbing. The older movie was made in a climate of fear around nuclear weapons, and the message reflected that. Today's version is the threat of ecological damage to the Earth, and Klaatu is here to remind us that we haven't been very nice to our planet.

The new movie opens with a random hiker (played by Keanu Reeves) getting his DNA sampled by an alien snow globe in 1928. Cut to the present day, where Helen Benson is an astrobiologist working for Princeton (in the original, Helen Benson was a secretary). She lives with her son, Jacob, who is an annoying bratty little kid. Government agents show up at her door and whisk her away to a lab where scientists have discovered that an object is on a collision course for Earth. This part is reminiscent of the opening scenes to Michael Bay's Armageddon, albeit not as badly directed. We later find that the object is a spaceship which doesn't collide with Earth, but lands softly in Central Park in New York. The ship looks like the alien snow globe we saw in the introduction, and a team of people consisting of armed military personnel and a bunch of scientists (Helen included) prepare to make contact. A figure appears from the ship, and as Helen approaches him, the alien gets shot by a jumpy officer. This causes a giant robot (the modernised Gort) to appear out of the ship to neutralise the weapons of the military. The injured alien is then taken to a guarded government hospital, where he is found to be a human-looking being (Keanu Reeves) in a spacesuit. This part pretty much follows the original, except that we now know why the alien's form is human-looking; he looks exactly like the hiker that got his DNA sampled in 1928.

The alien introduces himself as Klaatu, and he has an important message for the leaders of Earth. The US Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson (played by Kathy Bates) will not have that, and detains him in the hospital. Klaatu escapes with the help of Helen Benson, and now he must find a way to accomplish his mission. Helen. Jacob and Klaatu end up on a road trip where Klaatu meets another human-disguised alien, and a professor by the name of Barnhardt. Helen learns the true purpose of Klaatu's visit; to eliminate humanity to ensure the continued survival of Earth. To this end, he unleashes his giant robot which is actually a swarm of nanobot insects clustered together in humanoid form. Several Earth species are saved in little glowy bubbles before the killer robot termites are activated. When the nanite swarm is unleashed, it devours everything in its path, and it is implied that more nanites are created out of the things the swarm eats.

Now Klaatu has second thoughts about destroying all humans. His alien friend has grown to love humans, and Helen and the professor both try to make him change his mind. Klaatu listens to Bach and thinks it's pretty cool, and finally Jacob's adorable antics make him decide to stop his genocidal alien robot storm. He tells Helen that saving humanity comes at a price, and when he zaps the bugs with his alien sphere, all of Earth's electrical systems grind to a halt. Disappointingly, I could not hear the classic line "Klaatu barada nikto" uttered at all during the film, although Wikipedia says it's in there somewhere.

After contemplating the motives, of Klaatu, I find that the main plot does not make much sense to me. Wiping the Earth clean of human beings is as potentially damaging to the ecosystem as it is a very sudden and disruptive change. Perhaps that is why they needed to save some Earth creatures. However, doesn't this defeat the whole purpose of trying to save the Earth? Klaatu chastises humanity for being damaging and destructive, and there he is doing exactly that. Perhaps the aliens think it's better for the long term with humans out of the picture.

If you're a fan of the old movie, you may not like the new one. They've changed the plot and the kid is annoying, but otherwise it does do a decent job at being a passably entertaining sci-fi movie.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chestnut-Headed Bee Eater

I may or may not have photographed the chestnut-headed bee eater (Merops leschenaulti) before. I have a few bee-eater pictures, but this is the first time I've managed to positively identify the species. These photos were taken on Sunday. There is a flock of chestnut-headed bee eaters sitting on the branches of the trees near VC Rock in USM. They swoop around and chase bugs.

The chestnut crown gives the bird its name, and the rest of it is mostly green with a blue rump, a yellow throat and a mask-like black stripe near the eye.

The top two birds are chestnut-headed bee eaters, and the one below them is an immature black-naped oriole.

Saturday, December 6, 2008




Schröder wasn't feeling too well last week. He slept all day, didn't eat much and wasn't playing with his friends. However, he's fully recovered now, and up to mischief again. Luckily he got better all on his own without needing a trip to the vet. I'd hate to have to medicate two cats. Sally is still on his antibiotics, although he appears to have fully recovered too. Still, the doctor says he has to finish his medicine.