Kuala Lumpur and our Taxi Rides of Death

The flight from Coolangatta to Kuala Lumpur was one of the smoothest I’ve flown in a long time, and it was interesting to cross a broad swath of Australia instead of my usual path straight over the Pacific. The wall of heat welcoming us in KL was refreshingly hot and the airport to my surprise was larger and more organised than our port of departure. It’s interesting being the minority in such a large group of people, but not altogether uncomfortable.

Instead of paying a measly 9RM to catch the bus into town, we elected to splurge on (still measly) 100RM taxi straight to our hotel, thinking it would cut out some of the hour-long trip into the city.

We managed to get a driver with a unique understanding of the speed limits, or the 80 sign I saw must have read 140km/h. It was nice of him to get us to the hotel so fast as I arrived just in time to lay down for an hour to recover from the travel sickness due to being thrown around the entire nightmarish ride while watching us practically touch other cars and guard rails along the way.

Some time later I managed to zombie-walk to Suria KLCC, the western-style boutique shopping centre underneath Petronas for some food and headache tablets, then retreated to the hotel room to sleep it all off.

From a pedestrian standpoint, the roads are (from what I’ve been told) like any other Asian country, with motorcycles suicidally weaving through traffic and what must equate to a law against indicating before changing lanes. Pedestrian crossings are completely different from the variety I’m familiar with – essentially drivers know people cross here, so they’re extra careful while firing their horn as they speed through. Locals have an uncanny ability to weave through traffic as it screams through the crossings, while everybody else shakes their heads and waits for clearings and the very occasional green light. Everybody looks left and right.

As we were staying in the city center at the plush Corus Hotel,I and as it was only a one night stay I didn’t really see anything near as dirty and run-down as I’d been told to expect, although the glimpses I managed to catch on the trip into the city revealed a lot of derelict-looking (although completely occupied) apartment buildings and enough high density modern cookie-cutter housing estates to make any American developer proud.

Owing to school holidaysII we completely missed out on tickets for the Petronas tower bridge, so in leiu of that we took a taxi to KL Tower, which gave an impressive vista to a city that seemed to stretch off in every direction with almost no plan or pattern. The photos they had as guides were modern, so it was surprising to see so much post-photo development in reality outside the window.

We decided against the pony ride that was part of our package deal, and ducked back into town for lunch.

Deciding to go around the hotel staff to save on the greasy-palm tax, we called a taxi to pick us up for a (hopefully smoother) drive back to the airport. It turns out that no matter how reassuring and offical the taxi company sounds on the phone and how much they promise you, sometimes they just don’t bother turning up. We managed to snag a affable driver in a near new Nissan who would take us to the airport. Something you learn fast in KL; drivers love going to the airport on account of the distance from the city, so you’re never left for long without a ride.

Our new driver was better than the last; managing to hit 150 at one point, not long afterward we heard and felt the distinct sensation of air escaping a tire. We pulled over onto the side of the six lane motorway (barely) and he jumped out, discovered to his surprise that he had a flat, and in one sweeping motion opened the back of the bus and freed our bags out onto the road in a loud crash.

“Oh, so sorry. So really, very sorry”, he uttered in his most genuine fraudster voice, trying to dust off the scratches and gravel rash from our bags. Fortunately mine landed on another before craftily bouncing away from the steady stream of incoming traffic.

He kicked the tire. “Incredible!”, he said, now happy, “I’ve never had to change a tire on this before, it’s only seven months old!”. I didn’t spot it (all I saw was the smoke wafting out of every inch of the tire) but there was some serious wear from the wheel arch, no doubt from the maniacal cornering at high speeds he was so fond of.

Turns out he hadn’t told us the whole truth – it became clear he hadn’t changed a tire. On any car. Ever.

Fast forward twenty minutes the (luckily new) spare tire was fitted without much effort on his part, although he was very grateful for the help, and we were back to speeding along the highway as if nothing had happened.

To our surprise the tire held, and this time he gingerly opened the back door while shooting me a sheepish grin. He gave us what must amount to a roadside assistance discount on the fare, and was on his way chasing the sun with a new passenger. I hope they brought oil and overalls.

After burning the very last of my Ringgits and Sen at the airport stores I managed to procure an old trojan through wifi at the airport and spent all my time cleaning it off instead of writing this.III Soon after we boarded another AirAsia plane for our hop, skip and jump over to Macau.

  1. A business hotel that was cheap for the size of the room and location. []
  2. Not to mention the silly system they run which doesn’t let you book. []
  3. Why do I have  Windows installed on my laptop again? []
Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Preface to 2010

I thought I’d better get this out of the way as a sort of preface, before my travel posts.

As the dates reveal, I’ve been typically absent from bloggingI in the last two months, although now I’ve finally freed myself up to get back to relative normality. All three people who read this blog can now sleep easy.

Between writing I’m watching the almost endless pastoral farmland of country Australia out my window, flying the friendly skies of AirAsia to KL.II Even traveling regularly you still forget just how enormous our country is, and I’m surprised just how much we utilise. I was waiting for the deserts to emerge, but only managed to see enormous river systems bone-dry from our seemingly everlasting drought. It was great to see water in these river systems in Northern Queensland, hopefully it will make a difference.

My main excuse of absense is that I’ve been frantically preparing my house for sale, which is all but on the market. Hopefully it won’t stay that way too long. :)

When I haven’t been working or working on the house, I’ve been slowly moving into my apartment, which I’ve had to leave behind as a veritable warehouse of boxes and old furniture. More on that when I’m home again.

  1. And for that matter, most other things. []
  2. Nobody rob my apartment while I’m gone, okay. :) []
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Back, kinda

It seems I was half-way through renovating this site last year, so everything is half-working again, but I guess that’s enough of an incentive to completely change it once I’m all caught up with everything else.

Thanks to capital G I managed to scrape back all of my blog posts that weren’t in my backupI and repost them, albeit without any formatting, links, and worst of all devoid of all the comments left in 2009.

Needless to say I’m rolling my own backups now.

  1. Other private blogs I host for friends and family weren’t as lucky []
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Out for the Count

The company that hosts all of my sites, WebHostingPad, had some server issues yesterday morning and every site went down, though I was told they’d be back up in a few hours. A day passed and nothing had happened so I contacted them again, to which they said that the problem was fixed and that there’d be a gradual rollout account restoration. I asked if there’d be data loss and was assured that there would be none at all.

I must have taken a trip back in time while asleep, because this morning according to my sites it’s now mid December 2008, with every single thing afterwards gone.

Luckily I back up more often than WebHostingPad’s pathetic annual backup, but the awful timing means I really won’t get a chance to get everything right again for at least a week.

Email still works thankfully and I’ve ranted on Twitter about how awful and crappy WebHostingPad have been in regards to data security, uptime and general nonchalance, so if you want to contact me and don’t have my details best to tweet me until it’s all back to normal.

I apologise to everybody I’ve recommended to the substandard hosting company that is WebHostingPad, I hope none of you have been unlucky enough to be on the same shared hosting box that I was.

See you all in 2010!

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OpenDisc 09.12 Released

It feels good to have one final release this year to cap off 2009, and for two good reasons – there’s some major new releases this time around, Thunderbird has hit 2.0, RSSOwl which broke into the 2’s after an enormous beta phase, and the SeaMonkey suite which also turned two since the last version. The other reason is the oft-promised substantial boost to the lineup, which was held back with the pedestrian-slow Kiwix migration.

After not adding much in the way of new programs in a while, adding seventeen completely new programsI was at least ambitious, if not foolhardy. Fortunately volunteers pulled together nearly all of the data required, including the ever-troubling screenshotsII which only left forming the text up to fit the format and to hunt down a few logos. A big thanks to all the regulars and everybody else who suggested, tested and contributed to the wiki and made it possible to get such a huge increase of new software onto 09.12. :)

Thanks to Forrest Walter for the shiny new Audacity logo. I spotted his work after thinking there was no way the old logo was still in use, and googling for the new logo led me to the new one, or so I thought. Turns out he had the same impression of their logo and took it upon himself to redesign it, but sadly the developers declined and stuck with the original for their own reasons.III Forrest was kind enough to let us use his version to make Audacity more presentable for users, so his work wasn’t for naught.

Two new FLOSSManuals also grace 09.12 (newcomers Avidemux and Miro) as well as an expanded and updated manual for Firefox. Here’s hoping more people contribute to make manuals, as the existing selection (although limited) is well written and a huge boost for useability of the programs covered.

Now, there aren’t many rules for programs to make the cut and appear on OpenDisc, but I’ve made the choice to break one for Infrarecorder. It’s now the only program featured that isn’t cross-platform. There’s a couple reasons, the main being we recommend using it to burn copies of OpenDisc on the site so it’s hypocritical to recommend it for use without including it on the disc itself. Secondly, there just isn’t a cross-platform open source solution out there, not even on the horizonIV with the same capabilities.

Two other releases were slated for 09.12 but were yanked at the 11th hour, simply because there aren’t any official installers. One is the FPS NexiuzV and the other is KompoZer, the replacement for the long-abandoned Nvu. If people look hard enough chances are they’ll find community-made installers, but for security reasons we only take it straight from the horses mouth. As program selection widens, we’ll have to look at managing our own installers for these programs, which sadly adds to the workload.

There’s a laundry list of things I’d like to have ready for this release ((New screenshots and disc/cover art top that list) but the slew of new programs put those back into the 2010 pile. At least the new site design slid in nicely between releases without a hiccup.

We’ve got two big things planned for 2010 so far, so be sure to keep an eye out early in the new year. :) OpenDisc 09.12 comes in at around 1.2GB and as always is available from www.theopendisc.com.

  1. And games, which welcomely fills that section out nicely. []
  2. More on that later though! []
  3. Something about merchandise IIRC, which is fair enough as his design was unsolicited. []
  4. Happy to be proven wrong. []
  5. The developer explained that it’s easier for them just to provide one zip for all three platforms, something I can’t argue with. []
Posted in OpenDisc | 1 Comment

My new SGCD (Smoked Glass Colour-Draining) lens filter

I’m downsizing from my old cameraI to an E-P1, so I’ve had to hunt down a new CPL. Problem is the kit lens is 40.5mm, which must be unusual as everywhere I asked had no filters to speak of in that size.II Looking on eBay, I noticed absolutely no brand names that I recognised, so I took the punt on a dirt cheap CPL, and what arrived was instead a brand new type of lens, the SGCD, for my hard earned $10. Here’s the before and after:

Before, naked lensAfter, filter attached

When you see advertising for CPL filters there’s the stereotypical before+after of sky or Koi in a pond; I was all outta’ Koi. The before photo is on the left, and the second photo has the CPL filter attached. No, I didn’t get these around the wrong way, the CPL filter I bought is actually just smoked glass. The end result drains the natural colour from the photo and darkens shadows into obscurity, resulting in some awfully muted skies.

Fake Fotodiox CPL filter

The guilty party; a Made In USAIII quality Fotodiox, that famous optical company everybody has been telling you about. Nothing is outwardly wrong with the case or the filter, the screw thread is perfect and the case looks more modern than most other brnads, but as the photos show it’s a worthless piece of glass. There’s nobody I hate enough to give this to, so I guess I’ll hold onto it in the case that it finds a use. Needless to say, a $40 Hoya CPL is on it’s way, my lesson fully learned. :)

For the m4/3 readers: you can actually use a regular linear PL as there’s no phase detection AF to cause trouble, but for the cost of finding a multi-coated PL, it’s cheaper and easier to source a good quality circular.

  1. a 400D, which I’ve only had since October 2007 []
  2. UV filters do not count. []
  3. Lens/case/cardboard made in China, Sticker made in China but applied by an illegal immigrant in USA. []
Posted in Photography, Rant | Leave a comment

BookOven Launched

Hugh McGuire contacted me on PGDP back in March to test run his new startup, BookOven, before it went live. I wrote about on StumbleUponI a while back

Much along the lines of PGDP and Recaptcha, The Book Oven is aiming to make social-collaboration proofreading available for all publishers (public domain or otherwise), in a simple way by chopping text into sentence blocks, much in the way Recaptcha grabs single words. People discouraged by proofing whole pages on PGDP should find this more palatable, while proofing will be more accurate than the Recaptcha model as you aren’t just fixing a lone word.

It’s great to see that although it’s still calling itself an alpha, it’s now open to the public. More info is available on their blog. Nice work guys!

  1. Which doesn’t have much relevance now Twitter is around, no doubt unfortunate for the original owners who bought it from eBay recently. []
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Canon 50mm 1.8 II lens test photos

Like most people I couldn’t go past this cheap prime lens for my first non-zoom glass, and I took it into the garden to try out just how narrow 1.8 actually gets. I was really surprised by how sharp primes are compared to zoom lenses, although after looking at pricing for other sizes I might not be venturing much further for a while!

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Recession Songs by Dan Costello

I don’t get to talk much about music these days, so it was interesting when Brooklyn musician Dan Costello contacted me a few weeks ago to ask if was okay to use my origami cd sleeveI for the cover of his next album, Recession Songs.

It’s suitably a free download (along with the printable cover) and is an interesting solo/indie LP, so if you like it be sure to leave something in his tip-jar and check out his other albums, and if you’re lucky enough to live in his neck of the populated woods, catch a live show. Tell him I said gday. :)

  1. See An aesthetic Origami disc card sleeve. []
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Journalism is bipartisan, all else is propaganda.

Last week I started following one of the Twittering Iranians involved in the disputed election results. Only eight days later, I’ve stopped following @persiankiwi. Why? Here’s my original tweet:

Follow @persiankiwi for an inside voice in Iran during this whole
mess - let's hope it's not all true.
9:35 AM Jun 15th from web

I can’t speak for the (now infamous) lack of coverage in America, here in Australia SBS and ABC were at least providing as much information as they could, considering all foreign media were denied renewed press passes which left them in a useless capacity to investigate. Much was made early on about social networks providing better news from inside Tehran, but crucially nobody seemed to be all worried about the quality or accuracy of reports.

For the next week I followed @persiankiwi as did many others, from 5000+ when I started to more than 30000 today. To start off with the reports were just factual updates of what was happening on the ground, but soon descended into spreading what can only be dangerous rumours. Here’s one of best examples from two days ago:

Helicopters pouring acid on people from the sky - #Iranelection
1:37 AM Jun 21st from web

Note there’s no “Reports of” or “People are saying” in the text, it’s stated as a fact. A google search reveals a lot of people repeating the same “fact” without the slightest thought of verifying it first – anybody who questions the legitimacy gets buried under people outraged about it. This is the problem with pseudo-journalism; a lot of people who don’t judge news reports take everything at face value. So far there’s 230,000 pages relating to “acid helicopter iran”, without there being a shred of credible evidence that it happened.

I’ve also stopped following as I’m annoyed at how the Muslim state religion gives license to violence.

Tehran is now alive again with the sound of the people - Allah Akbar - Death to the Dictator - #Iranelectionabout
6 hours ago from web

What part of a democracy calls for the murder of a president? They should surely realise that one man is not a government; the goal (if not re-election) would be to campaign and win the next election under a fair voting process. That’s democracy, what they’re proposing goes by a different name; regicide. I’m sure Parviz Davoodi hopes for democracy being the “dictator” in waiting.

We are the soldiers of Allah - peace be upon him - and we shall fight until justice of God is upon this nation - #Iranelection
10:12 AM Jun 21st from web

They should be fighting for the people’s justice in Iran, not a god, and I think fighting is too literal a word when you’re throwing justice and god in the same sentence. They also don’t seem to realise that “the other side” (the anti-western government currently in power) are as much soldiers of Allah as they are; and just as you, me and just like everybody else in the world. Claiming to be soldiers for a non-existant army takes any legitimacy out of their argument.

Brothers and sisters were killed before our eyes today - the innocent blood of the martyrs of Allah - #Iranelection
10:34 AM Jun 21st from web

It’s an awful time when people are dying in political protests, but calling them martyrs really sets up another domino for what could well turn into a revenge spiral, and soon you’ve got a repeat of the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Let’s all hope not.

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