Dec 25, 2007

LEDs: Light Emitting Diodes

If you look at your car's digital clock, microwave display, laptop computer's indicator lights, or your keyboard's Num Lock/Caps Lock indicator lights, you're seeing LEDs. They never wear out and they don't give out heat. The last bit means that they're turning hardly any of their input electricity into heat. That in turn means huge amounts of electricity is being saved.

If you think about it, they're pretty miraculous compared to incandescent lighting and fluorescent lighting, the two most popular lighting technologies we have today. I've been hearing more and more about LEDs since this past year and it looks like they're going to hit the big time pretty soon. For example, it looks like the developed world is passing regulations to ban incandescent bulbs in a few years.

Currently most LED lights are pretty small. But slowly we'll be seeing LED desk lamps, lightbulbs, laptop display backlights, televisions, and on and on. They're going to be rolled out and just blend in with our everyday technological landscape.

Such an important technology deserves to be well understood simply because it's going to become a huge part of our lives in the future. And, it's a pretty nifty application of simple high school physics. I recently found a good article that explains the whole thing very simply, and reminds us of how LEDs managed to attract our attention.

From the article: `Up until recently, LEDs were too expensive to use for most lighting applications because they're built around advanced semiconductor material. The price of semiconductor devices has plummeted over the past decade, however, making LEDs a more cost-effective lighting option for a wide range of situations. While they may be more expensive than incandescent lights up front, their lower cost in the long run can make them a better buy. In the future, they will play an even bigger role in the world of technology.'

Dec 21, 2007

Monopolists and interoperability?

Here's an economist's take on Microsoft's new file formats. From the article: `While Microsoft could have kept the traditional ``.doc'' as its default format for MS Word, this would not have served its purpose: eventually, after enough of the world pays for Office 2007, holdouts will be dragged along, kicking and screaming. Then, in four or five years, Microsoft will begin our agony all over again.'

I'm not sure I understand what this means. After all, wouldn't it be in Microsoft's best interests as a monopolist to have everyone use its own established file formats? Why introduce new ones and create confusion in the marketplace? A later paragraph makes things a bit clearer: `So, by creating incompatibilities, some subtle and some obvious, that make its old software obsolete, Microsoft can sell its operating systems at high profit margins without fear that people will wait until the price drops. The price will never drop, because Microsoft will just roll out a new system, again at high profit margins.'

Of course, he's trying to find a purely economic explanation for Microsoft's new file formats, which is fine but it's not the whole picture. There's a growing movement in the world today that's pushing towards office document formats which are open and XML-based, to make it easier to process them and extract information from them. I myself hit on a similar idea--of serving XML-based Word documents ready-made in response to users' queries--a couple of years ago while doing time (my internship in a bank :-).

Anyway, Microsoft can't be left behind with its older, closed file formats, plus it too sees how useful XML-based formats can be, so it develops XML versions of its formats. The problem with that is there is already a growing XML-based office document standard--Open Document Format. Microsoft wants its own standard--it says ODF can't support all the features of Microsoft Office.

It's kind of sad reading about the kind of troubles ordinary, non-technical people have been going through adjusting to the new Office, file formats, and Vista: `The first person at my company to use Vista was our Executive Vice-President. He was furious. Vista and Office 2007 came with his new Dell computer by default. Dell didn't ask: ``Would you prefer the old versions of the operating system and MS Office that you know how to use?'' So our VP got a shiny new computer that he didn't know how to use: functions were rearranged, and keyboard shortcuts were different.' Especially because we have something like, which offers a familiar interface and the ODF standard file formats, for free.

Nov 30, 2007

Slashdot Humour Post #2

I'm sorry but this stuff is just too funny not to share with y'all non-Slashdotters. The post (Your Ex-CoWorkers Will Kill Facebook) was about how awkward it would be to add your colleagues and boss as your Facebook friends, and then maybe stumble on pictures of you and your friends pinned up in their cubicle sometime. And what do you do after you leave that job? There are actually some good ideas in the comments. Some people apparently use LinkedIn to do professional social networking and Facebook for personal friends. Here are some of the funny comments.

Finally (Score:5, Funny)

by j.sanchez1 (1030764) on Thursday November 29, @01:55PM (#21521823)
Your Ex-CoWorkers Will Kill Facebook

At least those idiots will do something right before they die.

Re:uh, dont use it? (Score:5, Funny)

by AdmiralDouglas (1158047) on Thursday November 29, @03:29PM (#21523275)

Pembo13 read the post with a sigh. Thoughts of his lost love came streaming in on him from every direction. The parent's post was all too remeniscent of that seductive MySpace page he fell in love with so many years ago. He was sure she was the one. He knew it down to his bones.

But just as most of the turbulent online relationships he'd known ended up, he too, was doomed to her foe list.

He'd heard so many stories of couples meeting and falling love, when was it his turn? If only they could hear his heart, pleading for their attention! His fingers tapped away a message over the keys. A message in a cyberbottle. A plea.

A plea for a happy ending.

Don't worry, pembo13. Your time will come.

It's beyond me why people are so quick to spill their most personal secrets on a social networking site

It's because they're hoping to score with Hot Internet Chicks. Why is this hard to understand?

If playing every Mario game ever made has taught me anything it's that guys will do anything, even eating strange mushrooms and jumping head first into sewer pipes, for the vague possibility of impressing women.

Re:this is old news... (Score:5, Funny)

by truthsearch (249536) on Thursday November 29, @02:05PM (#21521983)
( | Last Journal: Friday May 11 2007, @04:02PM)

George: You have no idea of the magnitude of this thing. If she is allowed to infiltrate this world then George Costanza as you know him ceases to exist. You see, right now I have Relationship George. But there is also Independent George. That's the George you know, the George you grew up with... Movie George, Coffee Shop George, Liar George, Bawdy George.

Jerry: I love that George.

George: Me too, and he's dying. If Relationship George walks through this door, he will kill Independent George. A George divided against itself cannot stand!

Nov 29, 2007

Rambling post

My discerning readers may have noticed by now that I'm not much for blogging about personal stuff that's been going on in my life. Or maybe not--personally I suspect my total readership here has the combined IQ of an eathworm. Ha, ha. That was me making a House-ian sort of crack. I promise I'll try not to do that--much.

Well, the past few days have slowly gone from being boring to more and more filled with anxiety, as the exam results come closer and closer. Mind has basically been on stasis, with online TV shows and movies keeping me entertained, apart from the quick snippets of The God Delusion read between computer reboots.

I have been programming quite a bit, though. At least, in JavaScript and CSS. Tried to make a simple CRUD web app using only those two--i.e. nothing on the server side. The aim was to make something that looked and felt Web 2.0-ish. It worked, except couldn't find any good way to store data on the local computer using only JavaScript--so in the end was forced to just pop up a new window with the data and ask the user to save it as a file with the correct name. Quite a stop-gap.

From there somehow I ended up trying out Dojo, which is an impressive framework but I'm still getting used to it, and trying to get it to work properly for me. It kind of gives the impression of being a bit buggy. But the use of `widgets' and easy theming are impressive.

Then I tried tackling rounded corners in HTML boxes using JavaScript-generated SVG images, on-the-fly, on the client side. Haven't got that to work properly yet, and needless to say, it will only work on browsers with native SVG support, like Firefox and Opera.

Update: Happily, I seem to have done OK in the exams, pulling through to the last phase of my time in Monash. It's just a huge relief. Now my last unit is left, consumer behaviour.

Nov 18, 2007

Windows died

I was on, watching some video when suddenly Windows faltered and crashed. I briefly saw a blue screen detailing some error and then Windows tried to reboot but couldn't find ntfs.sys. Whoops! It told me to try repairing the install from my original Windows CD. Now I know I have it around here somewhere, and it might be the best idea to just use it to repair Windows--after all I did pay a fair amount of money for it. But--I also had a Mandriva 2008 live CD lying around fairly close, and it's really impressed me with its performance on my laptop and its overall ease of use.

So I thought, what the hell, this is a sign, it's time to go back to Linux. And I did it. And ten minutes later, here I am with Mandriva installed and up and running. It looks and feels great, but I know it's not coming without a price. And so, here's a list of Windows software I'm really going to miss:

Microsoft Word. I was familiar with it, it did what I needed, and it was powerful so I could do a lot of other stuff with it, like easily writing VBA macros. Oh well.

EndNote. With EndNote and Microsoft Word working together, referencing became easy and powerful at the same time. I can only hope one day to create a perfect bibliography style file with BibTeX and use it with LaTeX.

EViews. Really going to miss this one, especially as I'm hoping to one day write a clone of it. Needed to familiarise myself with it more.

Firefox profile. I'd built it up over more than a year of browsing and storing passwords and bookmarks. Oh well. Will just have to build it up all over again.

Let's hope everything else goes great.

Nov 16, 2007


Very impressive movie. I could have sworn in some scenes that the actors were really there, but apparently it's an animated movie, so there's no telling what was there and what wasn't. One thing I was really intrigued by was--you guessed it--Angelina Jolie. Her character appeared fully nude except for some body paint, and nothing got censored--even here in Malaysia. The movie got a PG-13 rating. I might be ranting here a little bit, but it just seems like kids these days don't even have to try to get to see nudity--it's just being handed to them nowadays. I'm happy to report Roger Ebert has noticed this too.

Well, not that I'm a prude--well, maybe I am if I have to see this stuff with kids under 15 or 16.

But yeah, really enjoyed the movie. And now, can't wait for the Dragonball Z movie to come out!

Sep 8, 2007

Some interesting articles about child abuse

These articles raise some interesting questions about society's tendency to see all men as potential child molesters:

Are We Teaching Our Kids to Be Fearful of Men? (
Managing the Risk of Child Sex Abuse (
We Predators (
Avoiding Kids: How Men Cope With Being Cast as Predators (

The last article is especially interesting to me as an adult male -- for obvious reasons. Should I assume that because I am an adult male, society will automatically profile me as dangerous and threatening to children? And will children behave towards me as if I'm a potential criminal? It's a strange world we live in.

On another note, Mark Bennett, the attorney who authors the blog `Defending People: The Art and Science of Criminal Defense Trial Lawyering' ( seems to be a very good writer. Will be adding him to my blog feeds.

Sep 3, 2007

Some cool Firefox themes

Aside from the default Firefox theme, there aren't any really cool themes that I've found -- but I do like a couple of themes which give Firefox the look of MS Office 2003. Here are the links:

Outlook 2003 Blue (
Outlook 2003 Green (
Outlook 2003 Silver (

An ideal theme for me would be a really minimalist theme which uses very dark colours, but doesn't overdo it. Yup, it's a high hurdle.

Update: Just found the perfect theme: Miint ( Mmm, tasty.

Jun 1, 2007

Getting email in your Gmail inbox

Yup, it's actually possible to send and receive (or any other uni/workplace) email from your beloved Gmail account. Here's how:

Receiving (mail into Gmail)

When someone sends mail to your Monash email address, you can have the Monash mailing system forward it to Gmail. Sign in to Monash Webmail ( and choose the Options link from the row of links at the top. In the Options page, choose the Forwarding and Delivery link from the left side. There you can specify that email should be forwarded to your Gmail address and then deleted (so it doesn't take up any space in your Monash inbox).


You can compose and send emails from your Gmail account which will appear to be from your Monash address. To set this up, you need to be signed into both Gmail and In Gmail, go to the Settings page, then go to the Accounts tab. Click the Add another email address link, and a window pops up asking for the name and address. Enter your name and email address here, click Next Step, then Send Verification. Keep the small window open because the Monash email site has a bug which makes it show Web page links incorrectly. In other words, you won't be able to verify that you own your Monash address simply by clicking the link in the email that Gmail sent to your Monash address.

Now go to your Monash inbox, open the message from Gmail, and copy and paste the confirmation code in Gmail's verification window. Hit Enter, and Gmail adds your Monash address to the list.

Try It Out

Compose a message in Gmail, and choose your From: address from the drop-down box. The person who gets the message will see the Monash address, and when they reply to it, the message will automatically come to your Gmail inbox. When you reply to this reply, the new message will automatically have your Monash address in the From: field. And so on.

Apr 29, 2007

The EndNote post

For the past few days I've been installing EndNote, the bibliographic referencing software, on every computer I've been able to, and it seems to be proving useful to everybody. So I thought I'd share some more info about it that I've found out.

So first off, what is EndNote? It's a program that stores all the information about the references you use in your articles, and inserts them into Word documents as and when you want them. Oh, and it automatically creates and updates the list of references at the end of the document in the proper style (Harvard style in our case). This is very useful for us because we're always writing up assignments with a certain number of references required (say, at least ten) and we're always getting the references wrong -- or not quite right -- somewhere or the other. And obviously references are very important to us because Monash is starting to use Turn-It-In and is asking everyone to submit assignments electronically as well as on paper.

So yeah, I highly recommend EndNote to save a lot of time and effort. Monash makes it very easy for us to get up and running with it: go to for a summary page that contains all the EndNote links. After installing the program (Microsoft Word must be closed for the install to run), the program link should be in the Start menu (All Programs, EndNote, EndNote Program). Create a library file (File, New...) which will hold your references. You can of course have more than one library file, say one for each subject, but you can start out with just one.

Automatic bibliographic information

Once you're in the new library file, you can start creating some references (References, New Reference) to articles and books you've found. More importantly, you can now connect directly to Monash's online libraries to search for articles. When you find articles like this, you can just import the references into your library file and the information will automatically be properly formatted when you make EndNote insert it into Word. This is a simply awesome feature, not having to manually type in all the referencing info.

EndNote uses what it calls `connection files' to find out how to connect to each separate online database. The connection files relevant to the Monash databases are at The most important connection files for us (business students) are `Business source premier', `Expanded academic ASAP (GALE)', `Econlit (EBSCOHost)', and `Monash University Library Catalogue'. In fact these are probably the only ones we need, and once we put the files into the C:\Program Files\EndNote 9\Connections folder, we can actually just delete all the other connection files in there.

Once you have the connection files set up, here is how to use them: tell EndNote to show you only the connections you want (Edit, Connection Files, Open Connection Manager..., then find and mark only the above connections). Then connect to, say, Business Source Premier (Tools, Connect, monash_business_source_premier_ebscohost). The search window should open up. Do a search, e.g. for anything authored by Mankiw. EndNote does the search, asks you how many results to show, then shows them. To see the detailed info about each search result, double-click it. You'll usually want to see the detailed info because the abstract will tell you if the article is relevant or not. To use the reference, copy it to your library file (the Copy ... Reference(s) To) button.

One issue with this feature: the first author is listed twice. Once the reference is copied into your library, open it (double-click) and delete the duplicate author name. Still less work than typing it all in.

Now the main part: putting the reference into your document. There are a couple of ways to do this, I'm just mentioning here the simplest. In Word, put the text insertion point where you want to insert the citation. Then in EndNote, move to the citation you want to insert, then click Tools, Cite While You Write [CWYW], Insert Selected Citation(s), or press Alt+2. And there you go, the citation is put into the document, and at the same time, the list of references is created or updated at the bottom of the document.

Another problem: it's not in the proper Harvard style. The closest style that EndNote has to the Monash Q Manual Harvard style is called `APA 5th', which you can find in the Style Manager (Edit, Output Styles, Open Style Manager...). Once the style is selected, make it the default style (Edit, Output Styles or the style drop-down box in the main toolbar). You can also customise the style to bring it closer to the Q Manual, but I've got a heavily customised style I can send out to anyone who wants it. Just put the style file into the C:\Program Files\EndNote 9\Styles folder and EndNote will see it.

Another issue: you want to include a page number in the citation, or you want to leave the author name outside brackets, like so: Mankiw (2005) says that.... You can do this in Word. Put the text insertion point inside the citation, then click Tools, EndNote X, Edit Citations.... Or click the button in the EndNote toolbar. Then select the Exclude author option. Or fill in the page number.

And that's all for now folks.

Apr 20, 2007

America's gun culture

I am sorry to learn about the losses suffered by the community of Virginia Tech. My first reaction is to blame America's gun culture. After all, American kids are bombarded with images of gunbattles, gunslingers, and the gung-ho shoot-from-the-hip attitude as portrayed in the popular media. If they face these kinds of images growing up, how can they not come to accept guns as a solution to right the wrongs they face? But obviously, most kids don't do this -- only the ones driven to madness do.

If my first reaction was to think of gun culture, my next thought was, how to curb it? There is a powerful segment of Americans who will strongly oppose any attempts to prevent ordinary citizens from buying guns. King George might be trying to break into their houses, after all. And just in general, removing rights from people just sounds ... queasy to me.

But there is another option -- compulsory weapons training. Make it compulsory for anyone who buys a gun to receive training to use the gun, and psychological evaluation to gauge the person's mental health. This way, everyone who buys a gun automatically deals with a barrage of people who train him to use the gun properly (keep the gun safety on and all that); make sure he knows the what he will be liable for if he shoots his gun and hurts someone; and evaluate his general state of mind and fitness to use the gun. Preferably, there would also be a written exam (consisting of technical questions e.g. on gun care, and also -- crucially -- psychologically loaded questions like `How would you feel about shooting someone in the head?' which would give some basis to gauge the person's mental stability and mindset) which he would need to pass to get the license for the gun. (How do you think Seung-hoi Cho would have answered a question like that? Obviously with a rational answer -- but questions like this allow psychiatrists to pick up clues about the person's mental processes.)

In this way, guns become another state-regulated item, just like poison and radioactive materials. You might be asking, what next, will we need to give an exam to keep knives in our kitchens? To be honest, I think guns are far more dangerous than knives, because they are long-range weaponry, fire rapidly, and on average, do far more damage to the human body than a knife does.

Looking at this from an economic perspective, the use of guns in society has negative externality-like effects on society. Society wants individuals to use less guns than the individual wants to. Therefore, society should impose a tax on the individual who wants to use guns to bring his demand for guns down to an socially acceptable level. This tax is in the form of the gun training and written exam, which the individual would of course have to pay for just like any other training/exam.

We live in a world where we have to retake tests like the IELTS every few years just to prove that we are still as proficient at English as we were three years ago. I don't see anything wrong with taking a test to prove that we are fit to own a gun. In fact, there is more reason to make this a periodic test, say every two years. This way, kids will think twice before going off to buy guns to make themselves feel bigger.

Jan 5, 2007

Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa is back to his roots in this last movie. The boxing champion of Philadelphia is back in the old neighborhood, looking for meaning in his life after the death of his wife Adrian. He's drifting apart from his son and living in the past, reliving the glory days in the boxing tales he tells the customers in his restaurant, Adrian's.

Rocky leads a lonely life, with exactly two people to call family -- his son Rocky Jr and his brother-in-law Paulie; and his friends and employees at the restaurant his only other human connection. The rest of New York sees him as Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion, the local champion. He hears `Yo, Rock!' on the streets -- people asking for autographs.

He befriends a woman who works at a nearby bar. She says he's met her before -- he has trouble remembering until she reminds him he walked her home one night, took a cigarette from her and told her to stop smoking. He remembers her as Little Marie, the girl who shouted `Screw you, creepo!' at him. She wonders why he wants her as a friend; he just needs a friend, someone to keep out the loneliness in his life no one else can stop.

Then, suddenly everyone's talking about a computer-simulated fight between Rocky and Mason `The Line' Dixon, the reigning undefeated world champion, in which the computer Rocky, in his prime, beats the hell out of computer Dixon. Suddenly Rocky is reminded of what he loves doing best, fighting, and wants to start training again so he can do small, local fights. To do this, he has to get a license from the boxing commission in the city. He has passed all their tests with flying colours, but they don't want to give him a license -- they tell him they're watching out for his best interests. Rocky gets emotional, asking the panel at the commission why they have the right to stop a man from following his dreams.

Dixon's managers have another idea -- an exhibition match between their client and Rocky, a match that will get Dixon the publicity he desperately needs -- with no challenger good enough to beat him, boxing fans aren't exactly knocking down the walls to see him, as they tell him. They approach Rocky with an invitation to fight in Las Vegas, leaving him with a dilemma -- should he embrace this chance to go down like a warrior, or pass up the chance to avoid embarrassing himself and the people around him?

From the scene at the commission, and throughout the movie, I kept getting a sense of why Rocky the man, and not just Rocky the boxer, is a champion at heart. His defining quality is to be able to see the people around him fall short, and to inspire them with nothing but his heart and his compassion. His son comes to him and shouts at him, blaming him for overshadowing his life. Rocky's reply cuts straight to the heart of their relationship: he'd held the infant Rocky Jr in the palm of one hand and promised Adrian that he was going to grow into a great man, better than anyone who came before. He'd watched Rocky Jr grow up and it was a privilege, because he was the perfect son. But when he grew into a man, he changed, because he let the people around him tell him what to think and what to worry about. Rocky shows his son the way to be a champion, and it's about getting back up and keeping up the fight no matter how hard you get hit.

Rocky accepts the fight (of course), and we get to see the training again, only this time the goal is not to build the perfect boxer's body: it's to build up all of Rocky's power, so that when he punches Dixon, Dixon should feel as if he's been kissed by a freight train (Rocky's trainer's words, heh).

Then comes the Big Fight, as always. It's one hell of a fight, as always. It pushes you to the edge of your seat and beyond. And in the end, it's not about who wins, but about Rocky, who has the crowd on his side all along. They can feel his champion heart -- they can see it in every punch he throws, and more, every time he gets back up to take more punishment from Dixon.

The first Rocky movie won an Oscar, I think for Stallone's writing. It had heart. The sequels had muscle and youth and energy and flash -- big bang for the bucks. They were enjoyable. But this last movie is enjoyable and has heart -- Stallone has done it again, by going back to the old values. Watch and enjoy.