John

Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Soldier Jumps On Grenade–Nominated for Highest Honour

In News on March 31, 2008 at 7:14 am

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Stories like these don’t happen all that often, so it’s good to hear that action heroes do exist in the real world–and more importantly, survived the freaking grenade. Amazing stuff.

From the BBC:

A Royal Marine who threw himself onto an exploding grenade to save the lives of his patrol has been put forward for the UK’s highest military honour.

Lance Corporal Matt Croucher, 24, a reservist from Birmingham, survived because his rucksack and body armour took the force of the blast.

He was part of a reconnaissance troop in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in February, when the incident happened.

The Ministry of Defence said he could be considered for the Victoria Cross.

He suffered only minor injuries and a bloodied nose. Cripes. It kinda makes me wonder whether he was wearing this Dragonskin body armour thing that I saw on Futureweapons (Okay, so the ex-Marine host is an asshole, but just watch the clip towards the end).

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Bad Monday News: Math prodigy now a Hooker

In News on March 31, 2008 at 7:01 am

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Some days, you wake up with a smile on your face, and other days, well, sad news like this happens and it makes you wonder wtf is going on in Sufiah Yusof’s life. According to news reports scattered among the English newspapers (and later picked up by the Star today), Sufiah Yusof, who at 13 was admitted to Oxford University to study mathematics, is now a prostitute.

An excerpt from The Daily Telegraph:

Sufiah Yusof was just 13 years old when she was admitted to the prestigious university to study mathematics.

But 10 years on, Miss Yusof now earns £130 an hour working as a prostitute from her flat in Salford, Manchester, according to the News of the World.

The newspaper claims it sent an undercover reporter to the 23-year-old’s home, where Miss Yusof, who allegedly works under the name Shilpa Lee, described the services she reportedly offered.

On her website, she is alleged to have described herself as a “very pretty size 8, 32D bust and 5’5” tall – available for bookings every day from 11am to 8pm.” The website has since been shut down.

Furthermore, according to The Star, “her father was jailed for sexually assaulting two 15-year-old girls as he home-tutored them in Maths,” which may offer some explanation on her current situation. I feel sorry for the girl–but she’s still only 23, and there’s a bright future ahead of her yet.

Don’t Call It MicroHoo! Yet: Jerry Yang’s Still Clingin’ On

In News, Online on March 19, 2008 at 7:05 am

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So the saga continues. News of the Yahoo-Microsoft takeover is starting to peter off as the weeks go by since the headline shocker of “Largest Web Takeover”, but occasionally I do find some bits and pieces that are worth following up on. This was picked up by the Guardian yesterday, where Yahoo! announced financial plans showing that Microsoft’s “unsolicited acquisition proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo”.

Its stock rose up nearly 5% after news broke out–looks like Jerry Yang is one determined guy who wants to keep the company from falling into Microsoft’s hands, and he just might do it yet. But then again, it’s Yahoo, which has played second fiddle to Google for so long now in terms of innovation.

That makes many wonder if they have they have the right resources to carry out Yang’s goals in “developing Yahoo.com, My Yahoo, search and mail to be more ‘open, social and relevant’ to users,” as well as developing a new advertising platform and improving Panama.

Here’s an excerpt:

Yahoo’s share price rose nearly 5% today after the internet company released details of a three-year plan that it claims proves that Microsoft’s takeover offer “substantially undervalues” its business.

The internet content company has put forward a financial plan saying it expected to “roughly” double operating cash flow to $3.7bn and generate $8.8bn (£4.36bn) in revenue by 2010.

Yahoo also said that it would meet City expectations for its first quarter, a key concern for analysts who had speculated that if the company missed its targets Microsoft might drop its $31-a-share offer and come back with a lower bid.

The company’s share price on New York’s Nasdaq exchange had risen by 4.45% to $27, at 13.33pm UK time, following today’s announcement.

Yahoo said the plan was presented to its board of directors in December, before Microsoft’s bid. The company added that it “supports the unanimous determination by the company’s board of directors that Microsoft’s … unsolicited acquisition proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo”.

Malaysia: The Bad.

In News on March 19, 2008 at 3:41 am

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Following the excellent news that Malaysian scientists are developing a cheaper version of aerogel, this Newsweek piece on foreign labour came up, describing many foreign workers as captives working for pittance–aka slave labour. It’s not a great boost for our country’s image (and many foreigners will now have a stereotyped image of Malaysia being a cruel hub of slave labour), and I hope the Opposition/New State governments brings this issue up.

Of course, many Malaysians have suspected this happening widespread with little or loose control on the way foreign labour is handled by private “job placement” companies. I hope this story sticks into the conscience of the people whenever they consider hiring foreign labour from dodgy agents for dirt-cheap prices.

Some of the world’s leading computer makers don’t want you to know about Local Technic Industry. It’s a typical Malaysian company, one of many small makers of the cast-aluminum bodies for hard-disk drives used in just about every name-brand machine on the market. But that’s precisely the problem: it’s a typical Malaysian company. About 60 percent of Local Technic’s 160 employees are from outside Malaysia—and a company executive says he pities those guest workers.

“They have been fooled hook, line and sinker,” he says, asking not to be named because others in the business wouldn’t like his talking to the press. “They have been taken for a ride.” It’s not Local Technic’s fault, he insists: sleazy labor brokers outside the country tricked the workers into paying huge placement fees for jobs that yield a net income close to zero. “They say they were promised 3,000 ringgits [$950] a month,” the manager says. “How can we pay that? If we did, we would be bankrupt in no time.”

So why don’t those foreign employees just quit? Because they can’t, even if they find out they’ve been cheated by the very brokers who brought them there. Malaysian law requires guest workers to sign multiple-year contracts and surrender their passports to their employers. Those who run away but stay in Malaysia are automatically classed as illegal aliens, subject to arrest, imprisonment and caning before being expelled from the country.

REM Takes The Digital Plunge on iLike

In News on March 19, 2008 at 3:21 am

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Following the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead in offering their music for free online, REM is supposedly the next “digital breakthrough artist” by giving–or, rather streaming–their songs online via iLike. Reports Anders Bylund from Ars Techica:

The grandfathers of alternative rock will have their new album, Accelerate, on store shelves in two weeks. But one week ahead of the physical release, Accelerate will be available for free streaming in its entirety through iLike, the online music service best known for its Facebook-based incarnation. You could stream lead single “Supernatural Superserious” from remhq.com since early February, and the band invited fans to mash up the video at will.

Sure, Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails may have gone a few steps further into the digital future, but they’re free agents.

I’m not sure whether this really warrants the hype–I remember OutKast streaming their entire album “Idlewild” on MySpace, and the folks on Last.fm have a fair bit of music streaming as well–okay, a helluva lot. Downloading it for free like Radiohead’s and NIN’s latest album–now that warrants some news.

UTM scientist invents cheaper way to produce Aerogel!

In News on March 18, 2008 at 8:50 am
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IHT reports that prof. Halimaton Hamdan has successfully created a way cheaper way to produce aerogel – the stuff they use at the bottom of space shuttles because they make excellent heat insulators and are freggin light. Wow!

SKUDAI, Malaysia: A Malaysian scientist says she has discovered a cheap way to turn discarded rice husks into a high-tech material that could reduce electricity bills, protect buildings from bomb blasts and make airplanes and tennis rackets lighter.

Halimaton Hamdan, a University of Cambridge-trained chemistry professor, says her process cuts the cost of producing aerogel by 80 percent, making it so affordable that it could become a commonplace material with widespread use.

Halimaton Hamdan, a University of Cambridge-trained chemistry professor, says her process cuts the cost of producing aerogel by 80 percent, making it so affordable that it could become a commonplace material with widespread use.

[…]

Bravo Prof Hamdan! Bravo! This is so much better than sending some bloke into space so he can tell us how much he misses teh tarik and roti canai. This is what earns a country respect.

iPhone sdk restrictions bypassed – iPhone malware on the way?

In Geek Stuff on March 15, 2008 at 5:37 am
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pic courtesy maccomplainer.com

Cnet reports that the iPhone software development kit (“SDK”) restrictions have been bypassed. The original intent for Apple was that all software develped by third parties for the iPhone had to be certified by Apple and made available only via the iTunes store. This crack bypasses the need to check if the app is certified before it is run.

The iPhone Dev Team said yesterday (thanks, Gizmodo) it has figured out a way to hack into the iPhone’s bootloader by taking advantage of the way the iPhone authorizes code that can be written to memory. After some modifications, this apparently allows any code to be written to the iPhone, such as applications that haven’t been authorized by Apple, and it should work with any new software version Apple releases, according to the team.

Unlike previous hacks, this one isn’t specific to the latest firmware version, it exploits the way that Apple designed the iPhone’s main bootloader. According to the iPhone Dev Team, the iPhone verifies whether or not firmware code has been signed with an RSA certificate before allowing it to be written to memory. The team has apparently figured out a way to disable that check and allow unsigned code to be written to memory. A detailed explanation of the exploit can be found here.

Apple’s desire to control the apps that run probably stems from the fact that a misbehaving app potentially ruins the overall user experience of the product – Apple’s chief differentiator. Imagine an app that doesn’t fade into the background obediently when an incoming call comes in – mighty frustrating for iPhone users. With a platform as powerful as the iPhone, this also opens the way for the malicious spammer types to now write code that could suck out contact and other personal data off the phone and send it back home for their own nefarious purposes.

The hacking community believes this jailbreaking method (which will also let you unlock your iPhone) can’t be fixed by Apple in a production version of the 2.0 software. Even though Apple has released the SDK, it seems pretty likely that hacking will continue as long as the company maintains its one-carrier, one-country policy and if Apple chooses to exclude lots of third-party applications that conflict with its goals.

Apple are used to having complete control over the entire user experience in their entire history. The fanboys don’t complain and since they’ve always had tiny market shares, it wasn’t deemed anti competitive. With the advent of the popularity of the iPod and arguably, the iPhone, this desire to maintain a homogeneous environment can’t realistically be expected without drawing some legal repercussions. Like Microsoft, though, at that point, the legal fines may just be a cost of doing business for Apple. Whatever the case, attempting to impose strict controls over any platform is next to impossible – as already demonstrated in so many tech examples. The hacks will always catch up. What this possibly means is that like any other user, the Apple-lites will now need to start thinking about security issues as well.

The Star is Whipped By Digital Media–Editor Wants Change?

In News on March 14, 2008 at 6:16 am

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Okay, so maybe the political biasness at The Star could finally tone down a little. I was taken aback a little when Oon highlighted Wong Chun Wai’s column called Denial syndrome must end“, where amongst other things, he called for the mainstream media to have “A serious and honest soul searching to truly feel the pulse of Malaysians. The mainstream newspapers have to learn, quickly, or face being abandoned by their readers.”

Well, it’s about time you stood up. The GE ’08 was revolutionary in more ways than one, especially in the way it highlighted the importance of digital media in delivering the news. The reported 500,000 visitors to Malaysiakini.com on poll night was a big blow to the credibility and efficiency of mainstream newspapers and television.

If Chun Wai and the rest of the newspapers does what he says, i.e., “end their communal slant as they should take into account that the votes for the Opposition came from all races,” this could signal the start for a free, fair and credible mainstream media. Well, okay, so maybe that’s a little bit of a stretch for the next decade or so.

Alternative media, as quick and informative as it is, can lack those elements. The nature of blogging is in itself a personal passion, causing the news reported to not necessarily be”free, fair, and credible.” You can’t rely on RPK–as entertaining as he is, or as Oon would describe him as “full of shit”–to deliver accurate news and credible sources.

Here’s an excerpt of Chun Wai’s piece.

The winds of change have swept through not only the political landscape but also the media environment. It’s time for media practitioners to do some serious soul-searching to stay relevant and accurately feel the pulse of the nation.

The websites of mainstream newspapers had an even tougher time, being overly cautious on accuracy, particularly on results, and not wanting to rely too much on unconfirmed news.

In the end, the alternative media scored better as it did not have to worry too much about accuracy. An example was the newsflash on the purported 14 unopened ballot boxes in Lembah Pantai, implying there would be rigging. The report turned out to be false.

But this election was a wake-up call to the nation, not just to the leadership, but also the media. A serious and honest soul searching is required to truly feel the pulse of Malaysians. The mainstream newspapers have to learn, quickly, or face being abandoned by their readers.

Ziff Davis Files for Chapter 11: Cripes.

In News on March 13, 2008 at 10:10 am

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This came in a little late, thanks to the new job that I’ve settled into that’s pretty much sucked out the social and blogging life outta me. Anyway, as reported on March 5 by the Associated Press, Ziff Davis filed for bankruptcy. As Dvorak must have said: Cripes.

Ziff Davis Media Inc., publisher of technology and video game magazines, filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday and cited a decrease in revenue from print advertising and subscriptions as contributing to its decline.

But the company said it expected to reorganize quickly and exit court protection by midsummer.

New York-based Ziff Davis said in a court filing that it had about $500 million in liabilities and $313 million worth of assets, as of the end of December. It filed for Chapter 11 protection to restructure debt that had become burdensome.

“We feel like we’re in a position poised for wonderful growth,” Ziff Davis Chief Executive Jason Young said Wednesday. “We just needed to solve this issue.”

The company is the publisher of PC Magazine and Electronic Gaming Monthly and Web versions of those magazines.

Ziff Davis reached an agreement with senior creditors, to whom it owes $225 million. Under the deal, the senior creditors will be owed $57.5 million and at least 88.8 percent of the common stock in the company once it emerges.

The company was unable to reach an agreement with more junior creditors, and is looking to use the court process to resolve that. Another 11.2 percent of the reorganized company’s stock is available for distribution to those debt holders under the company’s current proposal, but those creditors are likely to seek more equity in court.

Have to say that the news took me by surprise, seeing that Ziff Davis are doing a great job at making the transition from print to online media with its multitude of video podcasts and articles posted online. But it looks like a company that “reaches 26 million consumers through 16 Web sites, three magazines and direct marketing,” still isn’t good enough.

It’s not over for ZD yet, but then again, Chapter 11 is never good news.

Realpolitik In The New Opposition: Is Kit Siang Our Kissinger?

In News on March 13, 2008 at 9:07 am

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Just a few days after the political tsunami, the knives are out for the opposition, none more so eager than The Star. I really can’t be bothered with reading the paper these days as it continues on its anti-opposition propaganda, especially after its shameless biased coverage of the pre-election run up.

Hence, I’m relying on blogs these days to get my analysis of the political situation that’s developing, especially in Perak. Oon Yeoh today posted an interesting take on Kit Siang’s outburst regarding the appointment of PAS’ Mohamad Nizar Jamaludin to lead the state. According to Oon, you shouldn’t take Kit Siang’s opposition on face value, but rather, it’s part of a grander game of political chess going on.

Here’s the post, and you can follow up on the saga on his blog:

According to sources, DAP and PKR were dismayed by the decision to give the Perak MB position to PAS (DAP has the most number of state seats followed by PKR. PAS had the least).

Such a situation could have turned out very badly for DAP with MCA ready to pounce and condemn it for giving in too easily for PAS.

Kit Siang objected vehemently – earning the scorn of bloggers and online commentators last night – but the seasoned politician knew exactly what he was doing.

What does he do this morning? He apologizes to the Sultan and the Regent of Perak. All DAP state reps will be attending the ceremony after all.

The Opposition coalition proceeds and MCA is without any ammunition to attack DAP.

No one can claim that they did not put up a fight. No one can claim they gave in easily. What can Ong Ka Chuan say now?

This, folks, is political chess. This is realpolitik. This is why Kit Siang is the master politician.