29 December 2005

King Kong - movie of the year?

Note: This is a spoiler-free movie review

One word: Astounding.

Yes, the story is pretty simple. Yes, there are more screams (from man and beast alike) than eloquent, thought-provoking dialogue.

Basically, director Peter Jackson could've screwed up in so many ways. It could have degenerated into a mindless action flick. It could've felt rushed. It could've dragged too long. It could've been all about the special effects (*cough!* *cough!* *Star Wa-COUGH!*)

But in the true spirit of one so passionate about filmmaking, he has made a film that's both highly entertaining (yes, even in the 'haha!' sort of way) with excellent pacing and many moments with either a wonderful sense of irony or the 'Oh-My-God-I-can't-believe-it' sort of feeling about it.

This is the sort of action-adventure film that we've not seen in a long time. Kinda like the first time I ever saw an Indiana Jones movie - I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.

It's one of the few movies where I genuinely felt like rallying behind the main characters during the fight scenes and action sequences.

What's even more remarkable is that Peter Jackson's resisted all temptation to insert dialogue at pivotal moments - relying instead on silence and emotion (from the actors' and ape's facial expressions).

He makes the audience care. Well, at least I did.

All credit to Peter's amazing direction, the incredible cast of actors and one of the best special effects teams in the business (hell, it all seemed so natural that I just stopped bothering to spot what was computer generated and what wasn't).

This, my friends, is movie-making at its best. And for God's sake, try to catch it in the cinemas while it's still showing. Unless you've got a gigantic plasma TV and are waiting to buy the high-definition disc versions of the film (either HD DVD or Blue-Ray, of course), you really have to catch this on the big screen.

Yes, I like this film. A lot.

22 December 2005

Crossed the line?

Ah... it's about 3am on Thursday.

It seems that at least one reader finds my previous post somewhat offensive.

And in the end, the last people I'd want to offend are the already small number of visitors to this somewhat-humble blog of mine.

I've always believed in sticking to my opinions, and I generally don't delete posts or edit their contents. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a blog, would it?

However, I may have crossed the line, this time. Again.

As a result I've edited the previous post to make it more diplomatic. I've left the comments intact, because I felt they were good and made a lot of sense.

My emotions have calmed and my hormones have stabilised. I admit, I've done something unkind. Again.

Comments welcomed, as usual.

21 December 2005

Creative Technology - the king of Cheese?

Note: Heavily edited to remove suggestive material

Late last year, Creative Technologies CEO Sim Wong Hoo declared 'war' on Apple Computer with his company's line of portable music players.

He said that he wanted to capture the iPod's market share within the next year. Well, Creative lost that war - claiming only about 10 percent of the worldwide market while the iPod continues to dominate with 70 percent.

And then - a few months ago - Creative Technology revealed that they had been granted a patent for an interface design which allows users to search for songs on their MP3 players by title, artist, album and so on.

And Sim, being the cheap fella that he is, announces that this is proof of Creative's innovation in the market. That they're the leaders of the digital music revolution and shit like that.

Big deal! Such an interface had already existed on music-playing software on PCs and Macs long before the first Creative Nomad Jukebox hit shelves. It was a natural and obvious thing to do with the technology - sorting your stuff with metadata. After all, that's the whole point of having metadata in your files.

And if Creative is the innovator that Sim says it is, why are they targeting their products against the iPod? Why did they change their graphical user interface to ape the iPod's more closely? Why do they have similar designs? When Apple released the first white iPod, Creative eventually made their Zen player white coloured as well (with white earphone cables too!!!).

Then, when they offered the iPod mini in 5 different colours, they started making stuff in 7 colours.

From the looks of it, Creative's engineering team simply waits until Apple launches a new iPod variant before deciding what to do next.

For more links and background info, go to this link:

Which brings me to the press release which I am currently looking at. It's about their latest player, the Zen Vision: M.

In all honesty, it's a rather nice design and I actually like the fact that it'll play various video formats right out of the box (including DivX and XviD). It's got a 2.5in LCD screen too - just like the iPod - only this one displays about 262k colours or something.

However, the following lines in the press release caught my eye:

    When people see the Zen Vision:M, they tell us it’s incredibly cool,” said Sim Wong Hoo, chairman and CEO of Creative. “We designed the Zen Vision:M with its mesmerizing 262,144 color screen to display four times the color of the 30GB iPod that plays video, and to provide twice the battery life for video playback. Plus, we offer people the freedom to choose their video in a variety of different formats, and to get subscription music or download tracks from a number of different sites to their player.”

Read the whole thing here.

He's getting his ass whooped by Apple and he's still playing second fiddle, using the "My torn slippers have nicer buckles than your shiny boots" sort of reasoning. Basically, they take the basic ingredient from Apple, alter it a bit, and slap on countless other features and make various 'improvements' while neglecting other areas.

Of course, what Creative wont tell you is that the Zen Vision: M is almost twice as thick, weighs about 27g more (it weighs about 163g in total) and doesn't have a standard USB plug - and that you MUST have software installed on your PC in order to transfer files if you're using the Zen Vision: M as a portable hard disk.

Plus, they've jammed in useless stuff like an FM radio and tout other companies' online music services as one of their own features. Classic!

And that's the problem with Creative - Sim has stressed that "Creative is a technology company, not a lifestyle company", which shows an incredible lack of foresight. Who the hell cares about the technology? People care about whether their electronic gadgets are useable.

And from experience with Creative Zen portable players and MediaSource software, they're still lagging far behind Apple's iPods and iTunes music jukebox software, which is far better integrated and generally much easier to use.

And what's really annoying are his constant references to Apple. Why does he always make the highlight of his press releases a statement that basically says "Hey, Apple products are rubbish compared to our's"

Does he need to leech off Apple's fame by all these media publicity stunts?


19 December 2005

Singapore Zoo! (Round two)

I've been to Singapore Zoo once before), and took some pretty nice pictures of the animals during that trip. Maybe I'll post those pics up one day.

This time, my goal was to re-shoot a few specific animals which fascinated me on my previous trip. And since I was able to spend far more time on each animal, I thought that my chances would be much better this time round.

If you haven't been to Singapore Zoo, I suggest you do. It's one of the nicest zoos I've ever been to with some fantastic enclosures that offer photographers a chance for some really good shots.

Anyway, these are my top 4 picks. As usual, click on the images to see a larger version:

White Tiger

The white tigers are beautiful creatures, looking both majestic and incredibly cuddly at the same time. I spotted three tigers in this enclosure - they just had their meals (big, juicy steaks) and this one decided to take a dip in a pond.

There are about 600 White tigers in the world, most of them in captivity (they are rarely sighted in the wild). The thing is, they aren't a separate species. Rather, they are just orange tigers with mutated genes. However, white tigers themselves are considered to be extinct in the wild.

Historically, white tigers have long been revered as divine beings in some Asian cultures - such as the Japanese, who see it as the God of the West, 'Byakko'.

If you're wondering the other Gods are aka 'Genbu' (the tortoise guradian of the North),'Seiryu' (the green dragon guardian of the East) and 'Suzaku' (the Phoenix guardian of the South). The Chinese also have the same mythology, but I'm not sure about the Chinese names. If you're wondering, I know this only because of the countless references to these Gods in Japanese animation (Anime).

Sri Lankan Elephant

A sub-species of Indian elephants (aka Asian elephants), they're smaller than their African counterparts: the African Elephant. The Asian elephants have smaller ears too, and are proven workhorses - they are able to pull huge logs weighing a couple of tons and have incredibly good balance (helps them negotiate narrow ledges and hills. Their trunks are incredibly dexterous and strong - able to lift heavy objects (such as humans) and delicately handle small, fragile objects (such as flowers).

Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragons are the largest living lizards, growing up to 10 feet and 140kg. They are carnivorous and have been known to take on large mammals.

Compared to some other animals, they haven't got very powerful jaws. What makes them such deadly creatures is their venom, which can kill anything from birds to elephants. And if that wasn't enough, they have several deadly strains of bacteria in their mouths so - if you survive the initial venom attack, which is unlikely - you'll be sick for days, if not completely dead by then.

So, if you ever come across a fairly large lizard in a jungle and if it looks like anything in this photo, run. Like hell.

Ring-tailed Lemur

Found only on the island of Madagascar, Ring-tailed Lemurs are technically an endangered species but with a large number of them in zoos around the world (along with the fact that they breed easily in captivity), they shouldn't be going extinct anytime soon.

They are said to be highly intelligent creatures and - from my personal observations - they seem very comfortable with human company. I had been pointing my lens at this particular lemur - close range - for a good 15 minutes without much of a fuss.

I'm particularly pleased with this shot although - if you're really picky - you'll see a bit of camera shake. Actually, this photo was a complete fluke; the lemur was resting high up on a tree so I had to hold my Nikon D70 high above my head and push it through some branches. And just as I tripped the shutter, it looked at the camera. Excellent.

So there you have it. Three and a half hours in Singapore Zoo and my favourite shot is the one that's out of focus with a leaf obstructing the animal.

14 December 2005

I'm allergic to holidays...

It's the same every time it happens. I take a week off from work and - somehow - I end up back in the office during my vacation. And in spite of my colleagues' rather reasonable recommendations that I go home, I don't.

I dunno, maybe I just like work. Or maybe it's because we've been playing loads of Call of Duty 2 - Multiplayer in the office lately. After emptying a few hundred clips of ammunition into the heads, limbs and backsides of my co-workers - I suddenly realised something:

    While most people play golf with their bosses, I routinely shoot mine in the head with a German semi-auto rifle. Sometimes, I even lob a grenade to finish the job.


It's been a somewhat busy week in the office - had the pleasure of reviewing the latest Apple iMac G5 (the 17in model). It's a wonderful machine, but has this strange habit of crashing whenever my co-workers peer over my shoulder. As usual, it's good for work and rubbish for games. Not that there are any Mac games out there, but that's besides the point.

The cool thing, though, is that it comes with a built-in webcam and this mildly amusing software called Photo Booth. Basically, it lets you take photos of yourselves, with real-time special effects.

Photos such as these:

Finally, someone's figured out how to do something useful with a Mac!

08 December 2005

Land Pirates!!! (The 4x4 Expedition)

This was one of the best trips I've ever been on, partly because it was sooo relaxing, but mainly because it was a really interesting experience for me.

Plus, I took over 500 photos - most of which are near-duplicates from bursts of action shots. It's trips like these which really make my Nikon D70 worth every sen I paid for it.

Anyway, the trip...

It was actually one of those Ford-organised Lanun Darat (Land Pirate) expeditions into the forest for Ford Ranger, Courier and Everest owners (these are all the hard-core off-road Fords - you could take your Laser TX3 into the jungles but you'd have to abandon it about halfway through the journey...)

The entourage was quite huge - about 20 cars or so. I rode in Paul Si's car as his personal photographer and co-pilot of sorts. Our destination was this campsite in Sungai Berakit, Pahang - somewhere near Taman Negara, I believe.

The journey was relatively incident free - it had rained halfway during our trip from KL to the to entrance into the forest, so we had been expecting quite a lot of mud and some slippery 4X4 action.

Instead, the entire trail was bone dry - it hadn't rained here at all. So, it was fairly simple, except for this moment where we had to cross this river:

The problem was that the riverbed was mostly soft sand and there was a huge tree stump in the middle of the path. There was a bridge over the river but it broke. A couple of cars got stuck but - otherwise - there wasn't any real danger of damaging our cars.

Here's a shot of another car entering the same river:

This next shot looks like we're crossing a plain, but it really used to be a dense forest:

This was the result of some logging activities carried out by some uber rich people. We stopped for a short while to take a closer look at the destruction. Apparently, it was slightly better now, with bits of greenery sprouting up from the ashes. Another group passed through a month or two ago and it was completely dead.

In any case, it was quite a sad sight.

However, I did catch a glimpse of a rather nice mountain range in the horizon, behind the trees:
I don't think my photograph does this mountain range any justice, but it does look rather majestic when you're actually there.

Malaysia is a trully beautiful country - it's a shame that some people don't appreciate it.

After another half hour or so, we were approaching our campsite. It was already getting dark and my arse was staring to hurt from the ultra bumpy journey.

Here we are, crossing another river.

This is the river by our campsite - our bathtub, swimming pool and kitchen sink for the next couple of days.

After finding a nice spot in the campsite, Paul did the sensible thing of whipping out the foldable chairs and Stella Artois (really nice beer)....

...While the others pitched up the tent (yes, we're evil)

It rained later that night - quite heavily, I might add. Which was good because it meant that we'd have a cool night.

But that wasn't the highlight of the evening. You see, what I didn't realise was that these 4X4 trips were also an excellent opportunity to get completely drunk - and that everyone had already prepared for this with shitloads of booze.

I didn't get any pictures, but it's probably better that I didn't. Anyway, I was wasted - we were playing some incredibly daft game - picking cards from a deck where the ones with the lowest-valued cards had to take a swig. The rules changed a couple of times throughout the night and the goal seemed to shift from not wanting to take a swig to wanting to take a swig and - eventually - back to not wanting to drink. (If you're observant, you'd notice that this follows the usual progression of "too shy to drink" to "getting high already" followed by "F**k, I'm going to puke.")

It was a blast...!

Breakfast the next morning:

Still feeling rather pukey from the previous night's events - It took me a while to get out of my sleeping bag.

Being morning, it was also time for my morning ritual - only it's the first time I've actually done it in the woods (Never actually shat during any of my camps as a scout in school).

I was briefed on the proper technique. First, you need to grab three things: an umbrella, a cangkul and a roll of toilet paper. Then, you need to walk to a quiet spot away from the campsite.

Then, you dig a small hole in the ground - preferably next to some dense forests - and prop the umbrella in front of you while you take a shit. Of course, you should make sure that your arse is facing some bushes rather than a clearing - you don't want passers-by to catch a glimpse of The Eye of Cthulhu.

It was a very calming experience - almost divine. Now, this is what it's like to become one with nature. Returning to our roots. Shitting in a forest while peering over an umbrella to look out for other people. It's magic.

Later on, we were jumping into the river for a swim, resting under the shade and - generally - just having a helluva relaxing day.

Paul then proceeded to check his car for any damage and found something rather strange:

There was this huge piece of wood stuck under his car - pressing against some rather vital hoses (the ones that allow him to engage 4-wheel-drive, I think). He said he could have picked it up from his previous trip. Luckily, it didn't cause any damage.

You think we could cook this?

Some of the women in our group having a bath. Nothing naughty about this shot... Honest!

That's Mike, the GM of Ford Malaysia. He's got this cool portable hammock thingy that doesn't require trees, pillars or slaves from 3rd-world countries to hold up.

"I think my boat's sprung a leak!"

That's us chilling under our tent. Clockwise from the top: Paul, me, Edward, Juwene (the head at the bottom), Jeffrey (the 'Young man' - not sure if this is the correct spelling) and his son, Richard. There's another dude, Julian, but he's not in the picture 'cos he's the one taking it.

Here's a gratuitous shot of Juwene:
She's a really sweet, soft spoken girl. And - unusual for a woman, I think - she actually seems to enjoy these outdoor activities. Nothing naughty about this shot, then. Nope. Honest...

That's Paul's ammunition box, gas stove and pot - and a rather famous Ford Ranger in the background. Apparently, this Ranger has made several TV appearances (mostly ads) and has been painted several different colours throughout its life.

Later on, the organisers held a special stage competition, Basically, it's a timed event - drivers and co-drivers have to get their 4X4 through an obstacle (in this case, a river) and later change a wheel in the river.

Since I'm the least experienced fella on the trip, Paul paired up with Julian instead.

That's Julian carrying the wheel around Paul's car (it's part of the competition). Ever the opportunist, Paul took advantage of the situation and cleaned his brakes with a cloth.

There was another special stage at night, basically a river crossing. Only nine cars took part in this event and only three managed to make it across without assistance. I managed to get this shot of Paul's car just as it plunged into the river:

He was one of the three who made it across.

Now, the funny thing was that we had the closing ceremony at the same riverbank the next morning, and nobody had problems crossing the same river with their 4X4s this time!

And that's it! The end of my first Lanun Darat experience. Suddenly, the whole idea of owning a proper 4X4 has become a lot more appealing. I'll probably join Paul on another trip in January - I can hardly wait!!!

02 December 2005

Small cars, muddy jungles and existential-humanism

My God, where the hell did the week go? I'm not sure how I did it but I managed to keep myself completely swamped with work and other responsibilities - to the extent that I barely had any time on my own.

And even as I type this, I'm in the midst of an open-book exam of sorts. And in about six hours, I'll be joining some total strangers (other than Paul from work) in a 4x4 expedition to a jungle in Pahang. And I haven't even packed yet!

Once I have time, I'll probably add some pics to this post but for now, a summary of my life over the past week:

The Smart Roadster

Test drove the Smart Roadster at the new Mercedes Benz showroom near Jalan 222 last Sunday. Awesome car, even though it's only got a tiny 700cc 3-cylinder turbo engine (produces about 80BHP). Handles like it's on rails, great steering feel and a good sense of speed despite being quite slow, actually.

It only feels fast, but that's because you're seated so close to the ground. If I got pulled over by a cop, I'd be staring at his crotch. And he would have to squat - just to interrogate me... :)

Only problem is... I'm too big for the car (just like how it was with the Fiat Coupe). By the time I get into a comfortable driving position, my head is mashed against the ceiling and the headrest pokes into my neck rather than supporting the head attached on top of it.

It seems that I'm destined never to own a sports car... The cool thing, though, is that the Roadster has a soft-top that tucks away at the push of a button. And you can remove the beams between the A- and B-pillars, turning the car into a carbriolet! Plus, it's even got proper stowage compartments for the beams in the boot - so you don't have to chuck them in your garage. Brilliant.

That way, I can actually achieve a proper driving position in the Roadster. Unfortunately, I'd still stab myself in the forehead if did an emergency stop. Doh!

Preparing for a trip to the jungle

Tomorrow, I'll be heading into a jungle in Pahang in Paul's Ford Everest. Will be spending two nights there - it would be first time I've slept in a forest since my old Boy Scout days over ten years ago.

Anyway, I got all excited and bought shitloads of gear - even took leave from the office to sort it all out.

Got myself a sleeping bag, travel pouch, hiking shoes, a strap for my glasses so they won't fall into the mud when I look down, some travel toiletries, medical supplies, insect-repellent, 10 litres of drinking water, a head-mounted flashlight and this cool gel that lets me clean my hands without any water!

It should be a lot of fun, I'll take as many pictures as I possibly can and try to soak up as much of the atmosphere while I'm there.

Of course, the leeches and mozzies will be soaking up as much of my blood as well...

I can hardly wait.

Counselling-class exam

And right after this, I'll be continuing with my 'open-book exam' for the counselling classes I'm attending.

I've developed a liking for Carl Rogers' existential-humanistic approach to counselling, which basically involves the counseller playing a more passive role in interviews, merely re-affirming what the client has already said in order to establish his/her train of thought.

The theory is that, through this implicit directive approach (this method is supposed to be non-directive) the client will gain awareness over his/her own feelings or the consequence of his/her actions.

And why am I being so damn politically correct, with the 'his/her' thingies...???

Anyway, I better get back to work - I now have about 5 hours and 45 minutes to go.