Thursday, October 08, 2009 2009 - Press Conference

Last year a bunch of us organised the Free and Open Source Software Conference ( 2008 within a very short period, and it almost killed us. This year we had a bit more time, but as per normal, we procrastinated and left it till very late before things started happening.

Thanks to Ditesh who pulled everything together the past few weeks, we managed to sort out all the prelim issues which we missed last year. One of the main items was a Press Conference; an activity which completely baffles us techies, but certain corporate types seem to like as it seems to bring in the publicity.

With APIIT (or now they prefer to be known as UCTI since being promoted to a University) as our venue sponsor again, they have been amazing in sorting out the issues with regards to logistics. (Go Gurdip)

So the Press Release was written up and available online here, basically outlines why we are so excited about this year's lineup of speakers;

We are showcasing our local dudes, namely John Lim, the reclusive hacker of the very popular database abstraction layer for PHP, ADOdb. He will be the opening keynote on the first day. Yusseri Yusoff, the big guy behind the first phase of the MAMPU initiative on public sector open source way back in the day will be giving the closing keynote on Sunday. Like his articles online in OpenMalaysiaBlog and TheMalaysianInsider, do expect a twisted tale.

Of course have in the Malaysian lineup, Reduan Oon, Nur Hussein, Mohan , Alvin Jude, Khairil Yusof, Muhd Abd Hay, Yaser Khalid, Yuen-Chi Lian, Julian Khoo, Muhd Najmi, Suresh Ramasamy, Uwe Dippel and Errazudin Ishak.

The economic crisis has made this year's effort in raising sponsorship and also persuading companies to help fly in speakers extremely difficult. However the team has managed to juggle the finances and have managed to bring in a few luminaries of the international Free and Open Source Software scene.

Brian Aker will be giving two regular talks: covering aspects of MySQL, Drizzle, memcached or Gearman, and he will also be giving the first day's closing keynote.

On the second day, we will kidnap the Father of Free Software, Richard Stallman who will be making his way through Asia. He will fly in at a peculiar time on Sunday, give his keynote, and then scoot off. He will be talking about "The Free (Bebas) Software Movement and the GNU/Linux Operating System"

We will also host Pradeepto, a KDE hacker from India, Devdas Bhagat, Giuseppe Maxia, Harish Pillay, James Morris and Pia Waugh who was extremely well accepted in the previous conference.

On top of that, we are having numerous Birds-of-a-Feather sessions running in parallel to the talks, featuring KDE, Ubuntu-my, Drupal, Fedora, CodeAndroid, Fosschix and workshops Linux and Startups.

For more information, look at the 2009 schedule.

The Press Conference held at APIIT/UCTI on the 6th of October itself was pretty standard. After some welcoming comments from Gurpardeep Singh of UCTI, Lee Nan Phin of MNCC outlined the importance of Open Source for Malaysia, and how MNCC has had programmes in support of FOSS over the years.

Ditesh and I were "co-chairs" for whatever that meant, and we both emphasised that this is a true grassroots events created by the community for the community. We were asked if the talks would be too technical. Our response to that was that it is aimed more for the technically inclined, and instead of the regular rhetoric, and hopefully the technical bias of these talks would encourage the audience to participate more in the FOSS process.

We were also asked if the Government should have programmes to encourage the usage of FOSS in research and academia. I responded that it shouldn't be a Government initiative but the academic institution's culture. Currently most of the institutions teach students how to use a particular software to fulfill the syllabus. So at the end of the day, we get students with a very short shelf life, in that they only know a certain version of one vendors product without having any strong fundamentals.

What is really required is a change in this culture to a true research and innovation culture where FOSS, the freedom to run, read, share and improve software, clearly satisfies the academic requirements.

Another issue which we wanted to emphasise was the affordability of 09. It is free (as in percuma) for all primary and secondary students. For those on a tight budget, we have the $20 pass which allows full access to all the talks - you just don't get the swag. Hobbyists just have to pay $60 while Professionals pay $88. All of this goes up during the event, when the Walk-in price is $100, so we encourage people to register NOW.

With GIMP and Inkscape love, this is our poster. Clicken to embiggen:

Thanks to the sponsors, MDeC, APIIT/UCTI, MySQL, LCA, ByteCraft and Inigo. MNCC is helping to organise the event.

Colin has got a good summary, and thanks to Jo Timbuong, we have something up at TheStar. The reporters fron Nanyang and Sin Chiew were very careful in getting our Chinese names right.

Because of this buzz, and the fact that today it was announced that a netbook will be given to all the pre-registered (15 Oct) delegates, registration has picked up!

So sign up now, and see you in a few days time.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

MyNPL Round 4 - Melacca

Feva Division did not register to play Round 4 of the MyNPL League, which was held in the historic city Melacca. Luckily for me, The Infidelz (gotta love that name!) had a player spot available, so I had the opportunity to guest for them yet again.

It was great that Division 4 games only started in the afternoon, so I could actually travel down to Melacca on the Saturday morning itself. I was suppose to wake up at 7am, but in the excitement, was awake by 6am. Checked twitter, and found that @joshlim of Yakuza needed a ride. After some attempts at getting his number, I drove across town (pre ISA/FRU clampdown) to Tropicana area to pick him up, and then only got onto the North-South highway by 8am-ish.

The drive down was shorter than I anticipated, with some really heavy patches of rain. This was not good news, but fortunately the paintball field was not deluged when we arrived at about 10am. Had breakfast at the "Old Town Coffee" in Dataran Pahlawan. Ironic.

Waited around for teammates to arrived, and Shiham, Infidelz captain for the day joined us. Ideham couldn't make it for the first day, Saturday, because he had family duties to attend to. Got my tag, and we waited for the rest to arrive. Prem, Faiz and Wan turned up, and we had the opportunity to check out the other D2 and D3 teams playing on the three Fields.

Had lunch, which was some badly cooked maggie mee below the field facing the school/church. Don't go there. Although the limau ais was nice: they put in an asam boi in it.

The players paddock was luxurious in relative terms. Long tables, instead of the crummy square ones, ample chairs, but most importantly, an airy high ceilinged structure which housed over 40 teams very comfortably. The toilets were close by and although they didn't have tissue paper (always bring your own), it was clean. It is an excellent venue. Pity about the traffic though.

Field 2: For all the games, we started from the left working towards the right.

We setup our stuff, filled pods, and warmed up. For Field 2, my default position was to take the Mini-snake within the Carwashes (mid-top of this image). I had Prem to back me up. Shiham was in control at the center and ready to fill in whichever positions, while Faiz and Wan played the huge wavy snakeside.

Our first game was against the red Tshirted team called "Kerex Hunter." It was interesting, with Shiham managing to do a snakeside taperun to take the flag for the win.

The second game, also on Field 2 was against "Jerung" and it featured Faiz taking out three from the hard to handle snake. I was in the little dorito/"chip" and managed to take out the BabySpike right across the field. Then made my way to the carwash, suppressed the back corner and dove into the mini snake. However the carwash on the other end was not oriented properly, leaving less cover than it should, and the corner guy shot my shoulder. But Infidelz pulled it off and brought their flag back.

The third game was against DPMM 1, which was a bunch of newbies, who put up a brave fight. They were a bunch of 3 girls and 2 boys, and very young. I did the same as in the previous game, parking myself in the chip, taking out the opposite corner (backright), then I dove into the mini snake. By the time I reached the other end of the minisnake, my teammates already cleaned up shop. All of us survived.

Field 3: Again we were "fortunate" to start from left to right. The stalls behind us were blasting "Speedy Gonzales" on the PA system making it difficult to relay info.

Then we had two games on Field 3, where the default plan was to have Faiz at the 50Spike, myself at the mid carwash, and Prem, Shiham and Wan at the back.

For the fourth game, we were up against "Jari Jari Mentega" which is such a brilliant name, the BM version of "Butterfingers" (or more accurately it would be "Margerine Fingers", but who cares). It started well, I tried desperately to hit the back right guy who was battling with Wan who was already in the snake. All five of us were still in play.

I then heard the call, "Only one left! Go!" So Faiz who was infront, obeyed immediately and marched forward, and I tagged along. He was facing right so I flipped to the left. Shiham was running on the right of the carwash. Just when I noticed Faiz getting shot out, I switched hands to face right but it was too late and I was shot out too. I first thought it was because I was in Shiham's line of fire but the shots came from someone who was hiding in their carwash. Shiham got him out, but Shiham too was marked by the player on the right back.

Prem who was moving up on the left was taken out by another player in the centre back. So there were actually 3 players just before we made our move. Fortunately Wan was still in the snake, and he meticulously took out the remaining two back players, and hung the flag in time. That was a really close call.

The fifth game was against "Rookie Raiders". They held their ground well. Playing from the home side (on the plan, right to left), I was in the carwash battling with their backleft. I was joined by Shiham who had moved up from his command at center back. He told me to go into the snake, and because there was a convenient break in the snake, I slid in and composed myself at the center dorito. The back left dude was pelting the dorito, and I just timed it to snap shoot him out. I feel my left shooting is far better nowadays than before. With the left tape down, I shimmied further down the snake. I exchanged a few pellets with the center back, but unfortunately did not recoil in time as he shot my hopper.

There were two from both teams remaining when the marshalls called "Time out". So it was a draw, but a very interesting fight.

We didn't have a sixth game, because Team "Legio-X Frentensis" was a no-show, so we got a walk over.

Tally after the prelims. Infidelz at 5th Place, tho' the spread was thin.

So at the end of the first day, we had 489 points and were ranked 5th of a field of 30, which wasn't too bad at all! This means we proceed to Day 2 for the knockout stage, starting with the Sweet16. Being fifth, we would play the fifth last team which was Team "JS".

Later that day, Ideham turned up, checked into Baba Hotel and walked down Jonkers Street:

A lady crooning down Jonkers Street. Must be part of the "Moral Uplifting" programmes. For her, not us.

Shiham was parked in Dataran Pahlawan, so we walked all the way there to meetup for dinner. It was getting late, and we were hungry, so we chose an easy option of Burger King. crums.

The next day, the competition started at 8am. D4 players were assigned Field 3 again. Because Wan could not attend Day2, we changed our breakouts accordingly.

The first game against JS for the best of 3, I was suppose to fill the snake while Faiz the 50Spike. Unfortunately I got laned: as I dove on the ground, sliding, a pellet exploded on my hopper splattering paint on my mask. How embarrassing, getting laned by mech markers. So as I watched helplessly from the deadbox, I could see teammate after teammate dwindle down, to a 2 vs 2 fight. Shiham took out their Right Back and they got a penalty for playing on, so their other teammate got pulled. So somehow Infidelz pulled it off again, and we got the flag.

The second game against JS, I was in the carwash and suppressing the doritos. Felt a graze on my right finger, looked at it, but there was no burst. But the marshalls pointed at me and called me out, only to see Faiz and Prem in the deadbox already.

Shiham and Ideham were still in play, up against 4 JS guys. Shiham slid out to the doritos side, while Eddy was in the snakes. Eddy burst out, running down the snake tape, and bunkered JS's captain Buyo at Snake50, then slid into the Snake1 knuckle. He got a bounce off his hand, and the marshall cleared him. He then took out the man in the carwash, and moved up the end of the snake.

Eddy put pressure on a guy across the field on Dorito1, who wrapped around, hiding from the pellets. Shiham saw him and was just about to take him out when the marshalls called the JS guy out, because in his haste he stepped out of bounds. Shiham then moved up and did some gymnastics and managed to get mini-dorito guy out. They both got the flag, and helped us through to the Quarter finals (top 8).

Next, we were up against Team Karma, a Singaporean based team, who had great results whenever they played in previous MyNPL rounds. Fortunately the official photographer The Resident Evil Chef Foo was on the field to take pictures of this game (more here).

The first game we started at Home, breaking out with Eddy and I in the carwash.

Faiz made it to the 50Spike, but had problems with his marker. Eddy did a brave run down the snake, but was shot out, and while I was suppressing the dorito side, a Karma dude ran down the snake side and took me out.
At the same time, Shiham ran up, got the Dorito guy,
and captured their flag while their man also got our flag. It was a 1-on-1 situation but unfortunately Shiham got shot out first.

So we lost for the first time in the tournament.

In game 2, there was some confusion in the breakout, which meant that Faiz did not make it to the 50Spike. When he tried to go down, he was shot out. Eddy was taken out by a wicked bounce off another bunker while he was safely behind the carwash. I was covering the doritos as usual, and exchanged fire with D1 for quite a while. Fortunately I managed to mark him out, but almost immediately, their back left filled in the same dorito. So while I was raining pellets on him, a player from their spike slid into the mini coke right in front of me. I called for Prem, which I then realized was already taken out.

By the time I tried to suppress the mini-coke guy, the player from Dorito-1 moved into D2 which had a better angle than before and took me out. All that was left for the remaining 4 of them was to do was to clean up Shiham who was in the back corner.

We lost only for the second time in the tournament, and it was devastating. So we got knocked out of the tournament, not progressing further than the Quarter Finals. It was a pity. A small consolation was that Team Karma progressed from the Semifinals beating the Jackals to be in the Finals against Team "Shoot in Rage" (SiR).

Not over yet...

Karma however lost to Shoot in Rage in the finals. Yin Yang who was extremely strong in the prelims played Jackals for the 3rd/4th placing, and we managed to see them draw after three games. However the 1-on-1 decider was extremely anti-climactic as the Jackal player got laned on the breakout by the Yin Yang player at the start.

We had lunch at a tiny peranakan restaurant called "Banya" which was very close by, thanks to the recommendation by localboy @cerventus. The Assam Fish and Chendol was good, the rest OK only:

Overall, it was a great outing, managed to reach the Quarterfinals, but like in every tournament, it would have been better to proceed further. The disadvantage of having a relatively easy prelims is that we dont get a feel of the quality of opponents in the future rounds, and whether our tactics would stand up against good opponents.

But we live and learn, and again it was great to play alongside Team Infidelz.

The official results were:
Division 4: (32 teams)
2nd = KARMA


Some other links:
Uncle Zee of Yakuza.
Eu Veng "Evo" Ooi of Yakuza
Resident Evil Chef Foo with his Malacca Gallery Day 1 and Day 2

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Poken apart and back again.

Thanks to @mikefoong, I managed to see first hand what this Poken device is all about. We met at D'lish at Bangsar Village for a tweetup and we got to choose our poken devices. I arrived kinda late, but got the RockStar Poken - only because he had a guitar.

I also brought my Ubuntu netbook to see if it worked well as advertised. I plugged it in, but nothing happened. So I kept an eye on dmesg and found it rather alarming:
I double checked with @davidlian's device, and the I/O errors persisted with his device too. So its not particularly well setup. However it mounts as a read-only device and displays 3 files.

Because Ubuntu doesnt recognise "autorun.inf", you'd have to manually click on the Start_Poken.html file. This is where the magic lies. In the html file, it has a URL which is automatically generated everytime you plug your Poken in.

Its a simple META refresh to a website with a really long URL and looks something like this:
The URL autogenerated by the Poken device. Some information blocked to protect the innocent.

It certainly looks like it was a relatively straight forward encoding, with fields delimited or padded with the 'AAA's. So the first few parts tended not to change, but I could detect the byte field which increments by four bits every time its plugged in. What is also interesting is that the trailing groups of data corresponds to the number of people I Pokened. So in this case, was 6 people.

The remaining series of '+-+-+' obviously is "free space", and at 1434 bytes remaining, with approximately 23 bytes per Poken contact, it should be able to fill another 62 contacts in addition to my 6, so a total of 68 pokes.

So don't go to a Poken party with more than 68 new people, or you'd lose information. I'm not too sure what happens when it gets full, but it seems you can erase the information on your Poken by holding the button down for more than 3 seconds.

I also pried open my Poken, and it split apart quite easily. There was no glue holding it together, as its held together with just simple plastic catches, so a small screwdriver will do the trick. Underneath the circuit board, they melted the plastic pins to flatten out like rivets, so you'd have to push those up for the board to slide through.

Argh! Put that Poken back in one piece, darn it!

As you can see, the circuitry itself is small and thin with the possibility of being incorporated in a slim card form factor. However the bulk comes from the battery, and the antenna, which is wrapped up as a spool.

It also works just by touching the battery onto the contacts, and the red LED lights up. I noticed 3 other LEDs, inside the spool: Another Red, the Green, and Orange to signify the different modes of the Poken.
No worries, it still works, see? flashing lights!

I then snapped it back, not wanting to damage this device further.

So its a relatively simple device, with not much information exchanged during the Pokening process. Just the ID of your friend, and the status of their Poken (discrete or normal). All the actual "Social Network" information is actually in the website. So there is no need to "download" information into your Poken.

What this also means is that this Poken device may not be necessary in the future. All we need could be just software which runs on your phone, which can do almost the same thing via Bluetooth, Infrared or even the Bump.

I guess why this is interesting is that we have some relatively cheap tech which does data transmission, reception and storage in a really bizarre form factor. I look forward to people hacking this to make other interesting applications.

Noticing that the website allows customisation of the Poken Calling Cards, here is my Poken Card template which I created using GIMP (the layered .xcf file available on demand):
Which when populated with the Poken information, looks like this:
Things which Poken needs to fix:
  1. I/O error as reported by dmesg
  2. Making the device writable - what is the use of a 1GB capacity when I cant use it? [Update: it seems the 1GB is simulated, as the device has only 14KB of memory]
  3. Linux friendly - plug and launch
  4. It seems Facebook Connect only works with Internet Explorer 7+. Being a Firefox on Linux user, I don't see how I can make use of this.
  5. Make the device cheaper - something which people wont even think twice about buying. RM20?
  6. Make it thinner
  7. More Pokenistas abound.
Other good Poken reviews:
Carolyn Chan - "If it ain't Poken, go fix it"
Nicki Choong - "Let's start Poken"
Suanie - "do you poken? come poken with me"


[Update: 12 Aug 2009, added Suanie's blog which mentions this, and the 1GB simulated info]

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tasik Idaman Paintball Tournament 2009 with Team Infidelz

I had the opportunity to guest for Team Infidelz last weekend (4-5 July 2009), for this amateur tournament in Bangi.

Directions via the North-South Highway:

View Taman Tasik Idaman, Bangi in a larger map

Left home at 6:20am, arrived at 7am at Tasik Idaman. Nobody was there, it was like a typical kampung. Booked a table for Infidelz, and the organisers, Skirmish, just started up filling up the bunkers. Fortunately they decided to replace the piped bunkers with proper air bunkers, however the snakes were still made out of three pipes stacked on each other. This is higher than usual, so it is really difficult for the snake player to peek out because the knuckles are only 6 inches taller. So its difficult like Melawati's KKlub.

Team Infidelz Belasah - actually it should have been Team InFevadelz Belasah, as Infidelz imported two players but the organisers didn't register it right, was scheduled to play the first game. It was against Team LCCT ASTAKA 1. They wiped us out. Sani who was back left who was covering me got hit by his mirror quite early on, and I was hit from the enemy's back right. This meant that Infidelz was exposed on the left tape. So eventually an ASTAKA guy ran down the tape and took out the rest. Eddie and Shiham tried to avoid them, but it was too late. LCCT ASTAKA 1 was a great team, and got at least 4 games where they had 100 perfect scores.

The next game Infidelz played against was Nate Jokes. I was infront, and managed to take out a guy at the center carwash because his foot was slightly exposed. I then moved up, and managed to take a guy out as he tried to move into the left snake, then I heard Eddie calling out that there was one in center back. So as I moved up along the left, Faiz flanked on the right and we managed to hit him simultaneously - only to find out that it was a little kid, no more than 10 years old! Poor fella. So we won with a perfect score.

The third game was against Team Pain-Nuts. They had really nice custom TShirts, and looked like recball vets. It was a close game only to be won with Shiham's fantastic run up the right tape to take out most of the remaining players.

The fourth game was against Team Platinum Elite, which was decked out in their full Sly Black/Green striped uniforms. While I was up infront, I thought I shot out the carwash guy, but didnt realise the ref cleared him, so when I wrapped around the otherside, he got me back. It was a tough fight, Shiham again ran up the right tape, battled close quarters with the back right guy, who swivelled around the bunker and managed to mark Shiham out. Eddie managed to grab their flag, and rushed back, but the PE dude ran back to our base and pinned Eddie down. Eddie did not reload and was running on an empty hopper but time ran out almost immediately, so although we got the flag grab, we didnt get the flag hang. Only 42 points.

The fifth game was against Team MP Sepang, which we expected to win, but due to our overconfidence perhaps, we lost the match.

The sixth game was against the Kampung Boyz and we managed to pull off another perfect game. We changed positions abit, and I played back left while Faiz and Sani played up front.

Thus ended the first day - there were quite a few teams playing and it was a really long drawn out process. We had to wait almost 2 hours between each game under the tents, which on that day was really hot. There was a gentle breeze, but it was very tiring. Having the first day last from 9am all the way to 6pm is really taxing.

We were placed in the 12th position and needed to win our remaining 2 games to be in the top 8.

Arrived early on Sunday as well, and we went up against Team Haruman Abadi which was at that time placed 3rd. So quite a strong team. For the second time, I continued playing back left while we had Shiham and Faiz up front. Straight off the break, my gun didnt fire. A few twists of the gas tank got it working again, but I lost about 30 seconds.

The team was still intact, so I started suppressing the snake. There was a person in my mirror, and one in snake 1. Suppressed them until Eddie/Shiham moved all the way up and managed to take out most of the enemy. He also got my mirror out, and at that point, I ran up the tape with my marker pointed at the snake 1 dude. As I approached him, Eddie moved inside the snake, and was in position behind him. Shots were fired, and I heard the Ref shout "Out". The snake player still didnt realise that I was there, and I wasnt going to shoot him because he must be out, as Eddie was still in play. Then the snake guy turns and shoots my leg, and I asked the Ref what was happening? They checked the guy, and he wasnt marked. Why did they say that he was out then?

Lesson Learnt: Shoot Shoot Shoot.

Then Shiham got their flag and ran straight back home and touched our base. "Time" was called, and Eddie and Shiham raised their arms while the Refs checked them. Mr Snake then shoots at Eddie! Not sure what happens next, but the game was declard a dirty hang because Shiham had some paint on his shins which he thinks he got while kneeling. Faiz was also called out earlier in the 50s because he was hit on his inner thigh, but it was clearly a bounce with no paint marks on his pants.

So that game was really frustrating with us clearly winning, but got the wrong end of the referee decisions. Of course we appealed, but we got really weak excuses like "The ref didnt call the snake guy out: it was some spectators" and "Ref clearly saw the break" etc) but what to do right, just live with it and play on.

The Eighth game was against the Fantastic 5. During breakout, I was running and gunning to the back left, unfortunately during the jostling, my marker chopped up a pellet badly. I tried to recover it, but it was quite messy, and told Eddie. I filled for him at the center back, while he moved forward. Fortunately the team managed to win this game.

So it was a terrible wait and see, for it solely depended on the outcome of The Bandits game, who were the only team we could mathematically overtake. Even though they drew the game due to their dead teammate (Mr Fingers) talking, they still had a few points more than us. So we were placed #9, and out of the knockout quarterfinals.

Boo hoo.

So we went home at 12pm. Total cost for the tournament was about RM180 per person, which was not too bad.

The final results for the tourney is:
It was a pleasure playing for the Infidelz, and they run a really tight ship. Everyone is easy going yet disciplined. Faiz's ability to stay alive way up in the 50's center and in the tube snakes is extraordinary. Shiham's tape runs on the rights turned the game around multiple times. Eddie's field awareness is quite amazing, giving orders and making the right moves all of the time.

It certainly was an honour playing with them, and there was alot to learn.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Nokia N97 Launch

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Nokia N97 Launch Party last Friday night. They held it at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and on the foyer, mingling amongst the crowd were people in ChunLi, HellBoy, JackSparrow, Uhura and Evil Anakin cosplay. The good thing about it was that they were really into character happily posing for canwhores, but the strange thing is, I didn't really see the connection between the cosplay and a device launch.

Met up with @bytebot, @bleongcw, @limyh and met up for the first time @geekonomics (CNET Asia blogger from Singapore) and @dk.

crappy camera phone pic by @limyh

I tried to register, but I was bounced from the "Media" counter to the "Guests" counter mainly because I presented my business card. They couldn't figure out if I was invited as a blogger or as a corporate guest. I didn't know which category I was either. But I mentioned the secret password: @davidlian, and it was all magically settled.

The doors opened, and Colin and I made a beeline to the furthest booth with two available units for hands on use. We tried them out. First impressions were good, with a nice build quality to the device. The keyboard looks a little puny, but the buttons have a nice feel to it. I didn't really like the location of the spacebar, being really small and way too far to the right.
the symbol key has moved to the right too.

I tried to probe into as much features as I could without being too rude in appearing to hog the device. I must have handled it for about 15 minutes. So while I had a very limited amount of time with it, this "review" is will also compare the N97 with its peers. Some background information, before my Bold and iPhone, I used an E61 (Oct 2006). This is the original version without the camera. This was over 2 years ago, and that was my first experience with the S60 Symbian Operating System. I found it appropriate at that time, providing a relatively stable OS, good enough pull email, an interesting way of handling connections to WiFi, EDGE and Bluetooth. I found it functional enough for its time.

The iPhone was snazzy, but pretty much a toy and I didn't use it more than 4 months before moving onto the BlackBerry platform. The Bold I use now is a great balance of stability, functionality and most importantly integration to work (Email, Calendars and Contacts). The Bold is nice, but looking at other platforms, is probably getting abit old. I have tried the Storm, but it feels like the touch screen features were a kludge; it doesnt feel smooth, and the display seems to lag behind the interactions.

I also had to maintain a series of Nokia Communicators over the past few years. Having to handle the whole family of what I call, "The Beasts", the 9000 to the 9210 to E90. This is absolutely indispensible to some senior managers and directors who NEED the large screens and full sized keyboards for due to failing eyesight. Mobile device manufacturers seem to want to design stuff for the young and trendy seeming to forget that the people who pay the bills are old and are severely long sighted. So Nokia and Blackberry, please don't forget about this market segment!

I always found the Communicator series wanting in their performance. Navigation was a pain, especially when there were literally thousands of emails in the inbox. We had to wait over 30 seconds just to task switch. Options were scattered everywhere and the UI looked very clunky.

Considering the amount of time Nokia had to develop the N97 since the E90, I had high expectations and assumed the N97 to solve all these problems. A form factor which would be useful for upper management, a modern OS, great integration with productivity apps, snappish performance, and as a bonus, a new input and interaction method with the touch screen.

Unfortunately I was wrong.

First off, when I was navigating the menus of the N97, it basically felt like my old E61. Yes, the familiarity is good, in that I knew where to access the obscure options like how to define Connections, etc, but I had the feeling like I was using a 2 year old phone. It was like a timewarp. I would have thought that with a new processor, more RAM, this machine would fly. Unfortunately not. It just felt so laggy. Fonts and widget designs too were retro.

The N97 touch screen interactions, like the Storm, is not cohesive and feels out of place. It doesn't register the exact position, and it feels very sluggish in terms of recognising a contact, and especially when a stroke (to pan) is made. For example if you need to scroll down a page in the Apps desktop. As you scroll, it feels jerky and there is a 500-800ms delay. This is not good.

The scrolling itself is jerky. Meaning that the refresh rates are very slow. You can actually see the screen repaint as the desktop pans. Surely the display should have some basic 2D graphics acceleration assisting it?

I often felt frustrated with the accuracy of the pointing. OK, I was using my fingers, and not a stylus. But being spoilt by the iPhone, I expected that tech nowadays would be good enough for any pointer be it a grubby finger or a stylus.

The Apps

One of the first apps I loaded was Nokia Maps. This looked interesting as it was an official Nokia product, so integration and features must be almost bleeding edge. It loaded up and displayed the entire globe ala Google Earth. This was all good until I tried to zoom in. Again I expected the iPhone-like feature of navigating the Earth with multitouch by zooming with two fingers. Unfortunately it wasnt to be, as @geekonomic's tweet explains, the Nokia N97 uses the standard resistive tech vs the iPhones capacitive technology. So to zoom in, you'd have to use the buttons located by the screen on the right, which is not as intuitive as it should be. The refresh rates again was jerky with probably at 2 fps.

One of the options on Nokia Maps was "Traffic Info". Wow! This would be an excellent feature to have as a device. It then cautioned me that this required a license / subscription. Since it wasn't my device, I agreed as a proxy, to the terms and conditions for the demo device. However after a few minutes of downloading, it came back to me and said that my region did not have any traffic information sources. This is a real pity. I expected with the amount of effort spent in this launch, a more extensive localisation effort would be put in in extending the features of the Maps product. Glen Cha (Product Marketing Mgr) later explained that getting information from Malaysian Govt Departments is not exactly easy. So much for ITIS.

This to me is a killer feature for a mobile phone / GPS convergence product. The ability to get up to the minute updates of traffic information and to guide you through the optimal path is something only a mobile phone can do which a regular GPS product cannot.

The interface for the Maps App itself is still very primitive just like the BlackBerry Maps App, which I dont use, where the interface looks like it was done by a 9 year old: drawings for roads are just plain lines. Looks like Google Maps Mobile still offers the best UI and functionality. Latitude, Satelite Hybrid, pretty roads (1way/2way/highway) and a great search facility gives Google a huge advantage.

The Camera

The camera slide cover is a good idea. Camera holes tend to be an attractor of lint, so this will certainly help get rid of the trademark cameraphone blur. I took a picture of Colin and Bernard, and was very happy with it.
there were lots of people cameraphoning a cameraphone that night. geeks.

The flash was "good enough" for the distance, the Carl Zeiss lens was bright and able capture the subjects in focus. However I was slightly worried about the time it took to take the picture. The camera took a good 3 seconds to focus, and then it snapped only after a second. So while this was marginally worse than @mellissa's Ixus, I hope that the performance will be better in normal conditions as this was done in really low light.

Sending Pictures

After taking the picture, I wanted to send it to my email account. This use case was abit more obscure, because I think an email account was not setup on the demo device. It didn't allow me to directly email the picture to any other arbitrary address. However via the Internet looking icon, it did provide an Ovi option, which was to upload the picture to the Ovi website which would then forward a link to your intended recipients. This worked good enough.

Physical Build

Generally it looks adequately built. Of course we wont know how well it survives the real world unless someone actually uses it day in and out for at least 3 months, dropping it and knocking it on hard surfaces a few times. What I'm really afraid off is the spring loaded mechanism where the screen snaps out of the keyboard.

Now it reminds me of the modified Nokia "banana-phone" in the first Matrix movie where Neo snaps out the mouth piece and says "Most Awesome, Dude!". Its all really cool, and feels great. However someone must have tuned this snap-action a little too hard. I'm really afraid that it would jump out of someone's hands if not held properly.

I checked the construction of the supporting mechanism at the back, and the two plastic hinges seem sturdy enough. But I would hate to think what will actually happen when they utlimately fail, as Ive seen way too many Nokia devices fail due to their plastickyness. e.g. Screen hinges for all the Communicators which eventually cut into the screen connection ribbons.

The Web Browser

I also had the opportunity to test out the browser, and it was good. Not as nice as the iPhone's Safari, but way better than my Bold's minimal browser. Scrolling with the touch screen was unfortunately jerky. The promo video ofcourse showed super-smooth compiz like effects on-screen which I thought was quite deceiving.

That was all the time I had with the device. The speeches started, so I put the device down and paid some attention to it while I twittered my first impressions, with full reference to the #n97kl hashtag.
They had booths which ran Gravity on the S60, showing the latest tweets on screen. This was a great touch and should be a permanent feature in all future events.

After the marketing spiel, which tried to project this device as the answer to everyone's need to access the internet "Nokia N97: Making the internet YOUR Internet", we were approached by one of the wonderful Text100 staff, Erna @mahyuni invited us to go down to the Press Conference to ask a few questions if we wanted to. So Colin and I went down, hoping to get some detailed answers.

Bambos Kaisharis (Head of Mktg), Vlasta Berka (GM), Glenn Cha (Prod Mktg Mgr)

The room was already full with some traditional media folk. They asked some basic questions and we waited our turn. An interesting factoid was that people in East Malaysia are bypassing wired internet and using mobile devices as their gateway to the interwebs nowadays. Through twitter, @ditesh asked:
does it come with inbuilt SIP client? Does the SIP client support Speex? (Speex = open standard)
So Colin asked that to one of the three dudes there. They did say that SIP support will come as software upgrades, and assumed that if there are new features, it can be sent via Over the Air. Something like Windows Upgrade.

I then asked my first question:
"Your Nokia device seems to support a multitude of video and audio formats. This is great. So does it support Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis, the Open Standard for video and audio as recommended by HTML 5.0?"
Bambo Kaishari's (Head of Marketing) answer was almost immediate; "We'll get back to you on that one."

Oh, I thought, thats interesting. Im not too sure if it was too geeky a question, but there were three guys in front. Someone should know at least? They fielded other questions, and when it was quiet, I asked another:
"Nokia announced a while back (june 2008) that the Symbian Operating System will be Open Sourced. When exactly will this occur?"
Again, a brief silence, and Bambos said "We'll get back to you on that one too." They were very nice about it though, and after the conference, Vlasta Berka (GM for Sales) came up to me and said that he will definitely come back to me. I then remembered another important question:
"Our company uses BlackBerry devices, and previously we used to integrate our Communicator devices with BlackBerry using the Nokia-BlackBerry connect. Will the N97 have BlackBerry integration?"
He looked stunned and looked like he was about to say "We'll get back to you", but he elaborated that he was not sure what has transpired between Research in Motion (those evil device pushing Canadians) and Nokia, but the last he heard was that the development for BlackBerry Connect for Nokia devices have stopped. There were some issues with the pace of development. So while he couldn't give a definite answer, he seemed confident that there would not be BB integration in the future.

Pity. It would be great if BlackBerry users had more choice in what devices they could use to access the BlackBerry infrastructure. Considering that there are quite alot of older users using BlackBerries they should either develop a large Communicator form factor like device, or open up their infra so that device makers like Nokia can more easily address those needs.

Food and Entertainment

After the Press Conference, we went back upstairs and by that time, all the kiasu people had cleared off from the buffet line. The food served was constantly refreshed, so there was ample left for us latecomers. Nokia then had some competitions for most extravagantly dressed couple, and a Guitar Hero competition.

I stayed on, anticipating to see @kimberlycun + @shaolintiger and @kyspeaks + @mellissa dominate this competition, but it was truly an epic fail. They didnt last 11% citing reasons like the Wii timing wasn't synched. Yeah right.

Overall, it was a great event, excellent food (roast beef and apple crumble+ice cream ftw), excellent ambiance, well organised, but huge let down by the star of the show itself, the N97.

So Ill still have to wait for another launch cycle to recommend a suitable device to those old folks who have their Bolds set with font size 20.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Google Maps Malaysia Launch

I had the opportunity to attend the Google Maps Launched of its localised service in Malaysia last week. The venue was in this nondescript place called No Black Tie, famous as a destination for Jazz fans. It has been a while since Ive been there, and when I was, it was in their previous venue around the corner. Thats how long ago. So when Google Malaysia (Thanks Hanson) invited, I was happy to go.

I dont normally attend functions like this, considering that I have better things to do. However Im a real big fan of Google Maps, as it has saved me many a times before on my Blackberry with GPS while looking for difficult to find addressess, avoiding traffic jams and lately keeping tabs of where other people are with Latitude. I certainly would like to see this service to improve.

The bunch of invitees were basically the same and MyOSS dudes. Met up with @ditesh, @aizatto, @angch, @bytebot, @seanx2, @yclian and @cerventus, @limyh, @arzumy and other folk. Considering there were so many twits, Im surprised that there was relatively little hash tagging using #mymap / #mymaps during the event.

Thanks to @surianee for taking this picture. More pics and blog entry here.

The event started off with the Google folk giving the intro ("Reaching out to you guys" spiel) with a buildup to more exciting stuff. Unfortunately Mr Murphy just had to show up, and killed ALL internet connections. Perhaps it was because of the 41 laptops trying to connect at once, or because #streamyxreallysux, but it was very unfortunate, because being an internet launch the event really depended on a fast and stable connection.

Fortunately there was much Google love abound, and most of us have seen what Google Maps can do. So when Andrew McGlinchey and Vinny encouraged us to "imagine", it wasnt very hard to extrapolate what they really meant. Maybe it WAS planned after all. Oh, @pamelafox's Mario Cart (demo'ed in foss.my08) was way better than their car driving demo.

Here were some of my questions which I planned to ask, of which some were answered.
  1. Why does assume you are in the US? The Googlers at the event showed that if you use, it will default to Malaysia showing both East and West Malaysia, but surely they could do better? Why is this an issue? Geo IP has been around for ages. Deduce from the IP address, and take the map to the closest City with the appropriate zoom levels. Wikimapia does it already.
  2. The Googlers were expecting to get questions from the intertoobs, and posted this URL: for people to post questions, and vote on which one to ask first. Unfortunately the moderator.appspot page isn't mobile device friendly. @alphaque had trouble with it (maybe that was a good thing) and my BB wouldnt render the page as well
  3. There is a small version discrepency between BB and S60 devices for the Google Maps mobile client. No big deal, all the features seem to be there.
  4. It seems the FOSS Image slicer which was mentioned is this Command Line program by Ian Stevens described in this blog post "Unix command-line tile cutter for Google Maps" - or download the shell script here. May use this in my future mind map presentations.
  5. I asked Andrew directly when the Browser Based "My Maps" feature will be integrated with the Google Maps Mobile Client. He must have misunderstood my question, because he went on about how creating maps in My Maps is a desktop experience, and not suited for the mobile. Plus you could email the created map. I corrected him that the emailed map is actually an image file, and its really not very useful. All we want, as a killer feature, is to have our "research" on how to get to somewhere done on the desktop with the appropriate markings to be synched with our mobile device. That is infinitely more useful. He finally/hopefully understood and gave the stock answer that the Google team would be looking into it.
Overall, it was a good event. It definitely could be alot better with regards to the internet connection. No Black Tie is a nice setting. Certainly a better change to the standard Hotel fare, where the location itself is forgettable. The staff upstairs at NBT was attentive and curteous and even offered refills. Food was minimal, no thanks to plate overloaders (you know who you are), but solved with a trip to the Mamak down the road.

Its good that Google is finally making itself heard in Malaysia. Their products certainly have a good fit to any Malaysian company as any, and hopefully they will expand out here too. That is of course if Malaysia makes sure broadband just works ...


More info from Colin.

Official Pictures here. Spot the "Kawaii" Camwhorer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Random Pictures #2

Here are more strange pictures from around KL between the months of March and April 2009.

Somewhere in Melawati, by this dumpsite (which obviously has a sign which says dumpsters will be prosecuted), was this strange juxtaposition of beauty and rubbish:
Which prick keeps peacocks nowadays anyway? Some MJ wannabe?

Driving through the Middle Ring Road, approaching Damansara - yes, everywhere is "Damansara" nowadays, even though its more like Puchong/Kepong/Jinjang. A new sign appeared below the Smart TAG, and it asks for volunteers to test out some MILFs. Or did I read wrong?
The dude in the DMAX seems dissapointed.

In a Factory Outlet Store, there was this reject of a shirt. I wonder what the vendor was thinking when they ordered 50 cartons of these lame yellow "SCO" shirts.
The seagulls look so 2.0. And what does "So Cal" mean? iCal? Fail.

This restaurant seems to be trending with the theme of the season. I wonder if they serve pork? from Mexico?
Next door is "Pneumonia Drive Thru".

An addendum to my "Secure Eateries", although its not about security, nor is it about eateries, this new shop in Sri Rampai seems promising to us geeks:
How does it work? Do they trade in IPs of open terminals to log in? Well, Ive got bad news for their business: Ctrl-Alt-[F1-F6] gives users free terminals! What is the furniture for? Whatever the case, they certainly dont install Windows there!


Monday, May 04, 2009

MyNPL ISSC 2009 - Feva Division as 1st Runner up

Having picked up paintball only about 3 months ago, I'd never have thought I'd be involved in a major tournament anytime soon. It all started when my cousin introduced me to a bunch of new but really keen paintballers who practise in a field very close to where I live. They only started late last year, but have since invested significantly in purchasing all the gear AND electronic (meaning: fast) markers ("guns"). They were keen enough for weekly sparring practises which was good for me. Learning the ropes, and how to handle the field.

Our first action as a team was in a mini, unofficial tournament in KKlub Kombat Zone, which is where we normally play in. We played as team "Feva Rookies" and came 3rd: a podium finish, but it has to be told, there were only 4 teams participating. So it really wasnt that amazing a feat. We won a Kombat Zone ceramic mug, and a whole box of 2000 pellets to share. Team Marksman Alpha won the tournament then.

Then I asked if we were going to try out the MyNPL International Super Seven Championship to be held on the 1-3 May. There was general interest, but until the last week of the deadline, the consensus was that we were not ready in using the regularly sized fields. Kombat Zone is approximately half the size.

Surprisingly, I got a call from Gilbert, our team Manager one night to submit our details. He pulled everything together and registered us for the tourney. Not only that, eventually he managed to get "Bro" Ariffin (+6019-312088) from Kombat Zone to sponsor our team! Thus the team "Feva Division" was borne.

So after pouring over the Field layouts which was available online, and a 2 hour team meeting, we thought we were ready for the grueling 3 days of the ISSC.

On the 1st of May, we arrived early in the morning, registering and checking out the area. Because we were mere Division 4 (or "Young Guns" division), we had to share a canopy with two other teams. It was rather cramped. The Division 1 teams were already at each other in Field 1, while the Division 3 teams were at Field 2. We had to wait till 12pm for our first match.

We didn't do too well. But we didn't do too bad either. There were only 10 teams registered in D4, and one didn't turn up. So we only had to beat one team to stay in the competition for the knockout stages starting with the Quarter Finals. We lost 3, won 2, drew 2 and won by default 1. This gave us the preliminary position at #7.

At least we made it to the next day!

Personally, I had a great time at the later part of the day. I was trying things I learnt observing the more experienced teams exploited throughout the tournament. How they waited in the snake, moved back and forth the knuckles avoiding the pellets. I played about 3 games in the snake and was quite comfortable.

However I didnt move too much, just around the first and second knuckles only. This position however had access to a large part of the field. The centre back, carwash, spike and hammer was always available for picking off. I also managed to hit someone on the left mid can in one game.

Unfortunately for the Quarter Finals (final 8), we were up against the 2nd best team called "Infidelz". Only started a year ago, they are already "D4 veterans" having competed in two other MyNPL tournaments, reaching podium placements then. They did extremely well in the prelims, and perhaps due to the fatigue at the end of the long day, we managed to draw with them (I took out someone on the break, and traded out with the snake player.)

So for Saturday, the Quarter finals is setup as the best of three. No points, either total elimination or capturing the flag within the time period.

This is when Verat "Conquest", our team captain, architected an ultra high risk and aggressive plan of running down the field and taking the enemies out by surprise. The Ultimate Feva move. So we tried it out on the first game of the Quarter Finals against the technically strong team Infidelz. I ran down the left Dorito side with markers blazing.

Unfortunately halfway down, my bolt jammed. As I looked down to pull it back, I got hit squarely in the mask. Henry too was out, with similar problems with the mechanical house marker. I was walking back dejectedly to the dead zone, thinking it was the end of the plan. Then I noticed our right flank making great progress with Gilbert "Aquaman" cleaning up the last remnants of Team Infidelz.

We pulled it off! It was really fast, no more than 45 seconds. Super aggressive, Feva style.

The second game was slightly less quick, but aggressive nevertheless. We won that too. With two wins, we managed to knock out the mighty Infidelz!

Unlike the grueling 1st day where we had to play 8 matches, Saturday had only the Quarter Finals scheduled. So, for the Semifinals, we had to wait one more day.

I spent the rest of Saturday sleeping.

On Sunday, we arrived at 7am to get ready for our first match against team "X-O Dust." They did extremely well in the preliminary rounds, and rose as the favourite, amassing 597 points with 6 wins. They did well in the last MyNPL event in Johor reaching the Quarter Finals.

We didn't expect to progress further, but were determined to put up a fight.

I sat out the first game, with Mervyn "Blaze", our import from Team Marksman / Dangerouz Dragonz / Werdna Kids fame, covering the Doritos side.

We decided to storm the enemy again, and managed to do it in style: We wiped them out without dropping a player.

The second game I managed to be part of the action. The plan was to push aggressively as well. I made it up to the 50, but got shot out. Fortunately SanRise took my lane and sneaked into the wedge to pick off the players who thought that it was already clear. Then we started dropping players, and it was a brilliant move by the lone Conquest who moved up the snake tape to methodically take out 2 bunkered guys, and finally trading out with their last player. This meant the game ended as a draw!

I was out of the third game as well, and watched on helpless as our team got thrashed. It was XO Dust payback for the first match by wiping us clean with all 5 of their players remaining alive. So with a Win, Draw, Lose scoreline, it only meant the nerve wrecking One-on-one decider!

We chose SanRise to represent the team. He calmly stayed in the center back can while the XO Dust player moved swiftly up the field. He finally settled on the Hammer, and snapshot behind the Dorito. It was a thrilling minute which felt like 30 while team Feva huddled looking on. Then the Marshall's keen eye spotted a small splatter on the XO Dust players lower left leg and shouted "Ouuuttt!" and we cheered!

We were actually through to the Finals!

The time was about 10:30am and the Finals for all divisions would only start at 1pm. This meant a long time to wait out. We had an early A&W lunch and relaxed by the players paddocks. The weather was not as hot as Friday, and we had more room since the other teams who did not make it vacated their spots.

We also had to think about the new field. Field 1 was played by the Div 1 and Div 2 teams. Over three days, this meant that it was literally covered with paintballs. The amount of paintball pellets used is really quite extraordinary. This also makes it very slippery to run on.

We had a look at the field, as the marshalls allowed us to walk it. The snake side was extremely exposed with very few bunkers covering it. This put a damper on any fieldwide aggressive moves.

Our opponents were team "Destructo". They too did not expect to advance this far, and only qualified the prelims one place above us at #6. They were only formed 1 weekend before the tourney. So it was a match up of the underdogs. They however had an excellent snake player who was deft, sneaky and deadly.

So our first game, we played defensive. We bunkered in, forming a rough W. Ultimately with less planning and understanding of the field, we didn't choose the right bunkers and were easily picked off from the sides.

With not much to lose, we decided: its Feva Time. Aggressive play for the second game. Having to cover the snake side, this meant I had to run down a very exposed area of the field. It meant certain death, but it would be a small sacrifice for my other team mates to pick off the distracted and disoriented enemy. It worked, with our last player Aquaman again deftly clearing up the debris. Fortunately for me it didn't hurt too bad.

With the scores even, we could either play aggressive or defensive. We decided to go all out. Unfortunately this time, pulling the same trick twice against a smart team did not work, and we were shot out as fast as the last player ran down the 50 yards. As I turned out of the field crossing the tape, their Left Back player accidentally shot through my mask splattering paint into my right ear. Im still picking out orange paint from my ear.

So it was unfortunate that our aggressive play did not work the last time, but it did provide results for the other times we used against unsuspecting teams. In the long run, nothing beats traditional tactics and building skills in bunkering, snapshooting and team placement. These are skills which we will build up over the weeks and months ahead, but at least we know the fear we can instill in the hearts of our opponents with the Feva aggression.

As a first time tournament, the result of 1st Runner Up (or 2nd place) is really out of this world. It was beyond our grandest targets, and we were truly happy with the result. Not only do we get to get some silver medals, we got some Redz harnesses from Werdna Hol and a team prize of RM1300 cash which really is quite good.

So to my teammates at Feva Division; Mervyn, Gilbert, Verat, Kevin and Henry its been an honour, thanks for the experience and well done!
And thanks to Kombat Zone for the sponsorship. More pics available at Verat's Gallery.

Paintball is fun.


[Updated: 18 May with ResidentEvilChef Foo's excellent pictures]

Official Results
More Pictures: cybertrooper2001

And the Official Photographer for ISSC, ResidentEvilChef, Desmond Foo: