30 January 2006

Photography 101 - How NOT to take product shots

This happened quite some time ago in the office, but I still think it's funny.

I had to take a shot of some PC speakers that we were reviewing - the Edifier MP300. Excellent piece of kit, this.

Anyway, this was one of the angles I tried:

Imagine if THIS got printed in the newspapers...

25 January 2006

Motoring journalism 101

Yesterday was one of those days where, if something could've go wrong, it probably would. Which is exactly what happened.

I was handed a brand new Proton Gen-2 1.3 litre Campro to test out for one night - so I thought "Hey, wouldn't it be great to drive up Genting Highlands at about 5:30am?"

And why not? I would be able to get some rather nice photos of the car on a deserted hill-side road and I'd get to drive the Gen-2 in anger round some nasty twists and turns.

Well, I did get a couple of nice shots in (By 'nice', I mean that I could probably use them in print). And here they are:

The Gen-2 1.3 litre is a rather nice car to drive - it handles surprisingly well and has impressive mid-corner adjustability. Apply the power or the brakes, and the car's weight will shift predictably, providing either increased front-end grip, mild oversteer or induced understeer. Even the steering weighs up properly, not quite up there with the best that Europe has to offer, but better than most Japanese and Korean efforts.

It pretty much handles like how a well-sorted front-wheel-drive car should.

Aaanyway, back to the main topic. Having taken enough photos for the morning, I decided to head back down the hill...

...until I spotted a rather nice-looking, vacant parking lot with some nice scenery behind it. And so, I drove down a ramp, slowly scanned the area with my eyes and heard a loud, familiar "Thunk!"

And within seconds, smoke started to rise from beneath the car. Oh, dear.

I stepped out and was greeted by the following sight:

That's an awful lot of engine oil, isn't it.

And this is what I had driven over:
Notice the trail of oil?

And this is the damage it inflicted:
If you look to the right of the nut, that's a hairline crack and some oil dripping out of it.

Basically, I cracked the Gen-2's oil sump on a small rock about 12cm tall.

For those unfamiliar with what an oil sump is, it basically holds all of your car's engine oil and is usually located at the bottom of the engine.

Many people go through life without ever damaging an oil sump while driving. This is already my second time in almost the same number of years (The first time being with my own car).

The other problem, of course, is that a car cannot run without engine oil. If it did, all of the metal bits in its engine would start scraping together, before tearing themselves apart in a cloud of smoke and metallic shards. That would not be very pleasant.

Just to put things in perspective, the parking lot was about the size of a football field. And there was only one bloody rock lying on it. And I just had to drive my car right over that one rock. And of all the components it could've hit, I just had to hit the idiot oil sump, which isn't all that big either.

If there was anything that could make me feel incredibly incompetent, this was it...

But the big problem, though, was that I was in Genting Highlands. With an incapacitated car. At 7:45am.

Obviously, I was going to need a tow truck.

So I had waited for about and hour and a half before I could get in touch with the people who really needed to know that the Gen-2 they had entrusted to me was currently stuck on top of a hill.

Apparently, I wouldn't lose my job, but I would have to wait for the tow truck to arrive.

Ok, no problem. I waited till about 10am when my phone rang. And just as the tow-truck operator asked where I was, my phone hanged. Crashed. Froze. It hadn't happened before, at least not in the middle of a call.

And to make matters worse, it kept switching itself off the whole bloody day. Not particularly helpful at a time when you're expecting many phone calls.

Eventually, I was told that the tow-truck would arrive around noon. Not too shabby, considering I am a little out of the way.

After all, if you were a tow truck driver, would you drive all the way up to Genting Bloody Highlands to pick up a car? I know I wouldn't.

In the mean time, my mum and uncle had come to my rescue - we went for breakfast in the indoor theme park and went back to the Gen-2 at about 12pm to wait for the tow truck.

But there was no sign of it (the truck, not the Gen-2). Fine, maybe they're a little late.

Then, I got a phonecall from the tow truck operator. Apparently, the tow truck was on the way and had just reached Gombak (somewhere relatively nearby). Oh, ok.

So we waited. And waited. And at about 1:20pm I get another phone call from the tow truck driver himself - he said that he was on the way and had just reached Gombak (somewhere relatively nearby).


Right. Gombak.

The tow truck arrived at about 2pm - a full two hours after the promised time.

If you've never rode a tow truck down Genting Highlands before, I'd highly recommend it. The 50-minute journey to the bottom in a foul-smelling, harsh-riding tow truck is an experience in itself.

And of course, there's this perpetual fear that the Gen-2 would suddenly free itself from the tow truck and go on its own little excursion into the woods and off a cliff.

We finally reached the service centre at about 4pm.

And so, mission accomplished. We had successfully brought the car to EON Service in one piece. I then went into the main reception and asked to speak to a particular service foreman - only he didn't exist.


After spending a good 20 minutes speaking to various people, it suddenly dawned upon me that the tow truck driver was supposed to bring it to Proton Edar instead (a completely different Proton service centre).

Enough was enough. I had been continuously waiting around to sort out the damn car for almost 9 hours. I took a self-portrait for posterity and buggered off...

In the end, I had learned a couple of important things from this little event:
1. ALWAYS keep your eye on the road directly in front of your car when driving on a deserted, unfamiliar road.

2. NEVER ever wake up at 5:30am. Bad things will happen. Just go back to sleep.

Save the Tapir!!!

No particular reason for this, except that I like Malayan Tapirs.

BTW, this banner is made-up; there is no "Save the Tapir" organisation, just in case you're planning to donate. Do feel free to put this banner on your website / blog.

Read more about the Malayan Tapir here.

Something awful (and rather funny in retrospect) happened to me yesterday - more details to come!

17 January 2006

Videogame journalism, old magazines and otaku stuff...

Being a journalist myself, I know it sounds awfully fake and "holier than thou" to publicly criticise the works of other journalists - especially those who write for a magazine that's sold worldwide.

However, just reading this irritated the hell out of me so let me rant. Again. Please? *Yay!* OK, here we go...

One of my sisters bought a copy of Electronic Gaming Monthly - a pretty respectable videogame magazine, although nowhere near the sort of maturity of Edge magazine (not to be confused with this other Edge).

Flipped through it just to see what I should be looking forward to in 2006 (although it goes without saying that I'll play Zelda: Twilight Princess and Final Fantasy 12 even if they get horrible reviews).

Other than Malaysia's own GameAxis, it's been a while since I've picked up a videogame mag and - sadly - not much has changed in the past 10 years. You still get over-passionate fanboys who are so fanatical about gaming to the point of making rather silly remarks. Take this for example:

It's a review of Call of Duty 2 for the Xbox 360. No real problems here - in fact, the review is concise and quite well-written, providing just the correct amount of information to get the gamer eager to buy it.

That's until you read this bit:

Just in case you can't read what's on the JPEG, it says:

    "For one, you're never taken out of the moment by fiddly controls. Movement maps intuitively to the sticks (on the Xbox 360's joypad), as does the aim that strikes just the right balance of accuracy and having grenades handy on the shoulder buttons is a Godsend. I'll go on record right here: It's better than playing with a mouse and keyboard."


How can joypads ever be better than playing on a mouse and keyboard when you're playing an FPS? It's like saying, "Oh, I'd rather lift these marbles with chopsticks - far more accurate and quicker than using your fingers alone".

Walk into any cybercafe and the chances of seeing someone in the midst of an Unreal Tournament 2k4 deathmatch mashing the buttons on a joypad are... are... well, you won't find anybody that daft!

I can't recall the last time any experienced gamer picked an analogue, dual-stick joypad as his peripheral of choice in any competition - unless he was trying to handicap himself.

If you're playing Call of Duty 2, I'd like to see you - in the space of a second - get up from a crouch, run round a wall and fire a round at, and kill, an opponent located 50 yards mile away and another about 30 degrees to its right.

I mean, you try tracking a moving target with a scoped rifle with an analog stick - It's just not possible!

That's not to say joypads are rubbish - they're excellent for sports games, fighting games, 3d platformers and racing games. But to claim that an FPS plays better on a joypad than the venerable mouse and keyboard combo is akin to telling people (and believing) that you're the Prince of Wales: you'd be mad.

And just think for a moment - suppose little Johnny reads the review, goes out and buys a copy of the game. Then, he goes to school and tells his PC gamer friends that Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360 has better controls than the PC version. Poor Johnny.

If you think I'm being bitter, click here for a similar but more brutal attack on videogame journalism on www.somethingawful.com. It's a pretty good read and, if you've been reading gaming mags (both print and online) for years, it'll bring a smile to your face.

Now, I'm not saying that all videogame journalists are bad - on the contrary, there are some excellent ones out there (though most of them work for Edge magazine).

However, the editors of these magazines should work a little harder to weed out the fanaticism and instill accountability, objective thinking and professionalism in the ignorant fanboys that may be working for them.

But are all fanboy gaming journalists BAD?

Not necessarily. As long as they stick to facts, and avoid making some obviously foolish remarks - some of the most passionate and detailed reviews I've ever read came from the now-defunct GAMEFAN magazine:

Based in the USA, GAMEFAN was made entirely out of gaming otaku who really knew their stuff about gaming. Best of all, they covered plenty of Japanese imported games and other obscure, but excellent, titles and tried their best to let the public know about some excellent games that never gained mass acceptance in the market.

They were huge proponents of Japanese RPGs even before Final Fantasy 7 took the western market by storm.

Their reviews were incredibly long - some stretching to over 4,000 words long. And yes, it's awful by professional journalism standards. But at least they stuck to the point and tried their best to make each article nice to read.

Unfortunately, their standards dropped sharply in their final year - as did the number of articles and pages. Next thing I knew, I couldn't find their mags on newsstands and their website had shut down.

They other magazine I really liked was Computer and Video Game magazine (CVG, for short). They were the first ever games magazine in the UK and had some of the best writers and reviewers. The only problem was that they lacked feature stories - something that Edge Magazine is really good at.

CVG were also one of the first publications to eschew the percentage scoring system - using a 5-point rating system (1 - bad, 2 - below average, 3 - average, 4 - good and 5 - excellent) instead.

Their rational was this: If one game scored 92%, does it make it conclusively better than a game that scored 91%? And why note give it a 93% score instead? Can you rationally argue that a game is 1% and not 2% better than another? It made perfect sense, and showed an incredible amount of maturity for a videogames mag.

Each game review was accompanied by loads of gameplay information and screenshots to illustrate a point, and the layout was excellent - more functional than flashy. Plus, CVG had really high standards. A lot of my favourite games only scored 4 of 5 and even games that scored a 3 were fun to play. Only the truly great games scored 5 points.

I've not read CVG for years (not even the online version), so I can't say how good they are nowadays.

Here's my first-ever copy of CVG. Too bad the cover fell out.

This was a review of Quackshot for the Megadrive. An excellent platformer game, even if you can't stand Donald Duck. The game mechanics made good use of suction plungers and their inherent elastic traits. Ahh... nostalgia!

And here are some more recent issues (dating back to 1994).

My God, here's an article about the Sega Mega-CD!!! Wondered what happened to that?

Speaking of which, I actually happen to have one sitting in my closet:
Sadly, it doesn't work anymore...

Warning: Old Otaku memorabilia ahead...

And I've got a Sega Saturn too, but that doesn't work either, thanks to an incident involving younger siblings and step-down voltage transformers.

...which is a shame since I've got some excellent games for it. Yes, I actually played through Sakura Taisen part 1 in Japanese even before I knew how to speak the language (not to say I'm any good even now).

Hell, I even bought a 1000-piece Sakura Wars jigsaw puzzle. It's finished already, but I separated it into three layers and kept it in the box since I'm not hanging it on my wall.

Hell, I even have a mini Saturn-shaped CD case!

Wait, there's more stuff in there. What's this? Ah, it's my Hori arcade stick for the Saturn. Never really used it, since the Saturn's standard joypad was excellent for fighting games.

Speaking of joypads, this is the first one I've ever destroyed (It's a Sega Dreamcast joypad, BTW). I can't remember what I was playing but it probably pissed me off like nothing on Earth.

Wait, what's this...?

OMG, it's an unassembled, unpainted special edition EVA-01 from Shinseiki Evangelion, complete with official bottles of paint! Never assembled it since I'm completely shit at building models.

Oh, dear... there's more:

Yup. Anime and game soundtracks. Thank God I'm not an Otaku anymore, otherwise I'd still frighten girls and little children away.

Or am I still an Otaku? Well, my at least my book case is:

There's also a bunch of Random manga lying around my room and in my sisters' cupboard.

Perhaps they're otaku too???

Perhaps I really am a closet Otaku pretending to lead life as an normal citizen, in an normal job with an normal social life. Resisting all attempts to sing Japanese anime opening songs during karaoke sessions with friends....

...until Zelda: Twilight Princess is launched, that is. Gotta finish Pikmin 2 before it comes out.


16 January 2006

Back from SF... missed photo opportunities

    Note: Updated with a little more text...

Talk about jaded... I've spent six whole days in San Francisco, and not once did I take a picture of their famous cable cars. I went to Fisherman's Wharf and didn't take a single photo either - not of the pier, nor the Bay Bridge nor Alcatraz. Why? Because I've shot them to death before, during my last trip.

The last thing I need are another 13 million shots of San Francisco that I'd probably end up deleting anyway. Nowadays, I only tend to keep shots that are frameable (or at least bloggable). Or unless there's some sentimental value attached to them (birthdays, parties, weddings, etc).

But when it comes to arty farty shots, especially if your subjects are inanimate buildings and structures, there's really no point in going back to the same place again to shoot - especially if you've already taken everything the last time.

But, there were a couple of things I didn't take - because I kept forgetting - that I wish I had.


The first was some teabags sitting on the counter at a sandwich counter at Macworld. They were called "Xiao's Blend". HAHAHAHA LOL!!! I couldn't believe it - it's a tea blended by some Xiao!


Managed to find a picture of it, but it's real tiny. You can visit the company's site here for more info on this excellent tea.

Ok, I realise that only five or six people might find this even remotely funny (i.e. the guys at the office), but it put a smile on my face for the whole bloody day.

"Do not disturb" sign

Ok, the hotel where I stayed had these "Do not disturb" signs that you can hang on the doorknob so that housekeeping wouldn't barge in while you're sitting on the toi..

...wait, why the hell am I explaining this?

Aaaanyway, below the English sentence on the sign, there were a few other sentences written in different languages - presumably meaning "Do not disturb" in Greek, Spanish, German, Chinese, Korean, etc...

Then, one of the translated sentences caught my eye. It said:

    No molestar

What language is that? It's probably Spanish. After all Pajero (as in the Mitsubishi Pajero 4X4 Off-road thingy) means "wanker" in Spanish.

So what the sign's saying is: If you are molestar, don't knock on my door, senor.


I just think it sounds incredibly cool. No?

Imagine if you're eating at a coffeeshop when one of those direct-selling bastards / beggars / phony donation collectors show up while you're eating your Char Kuey Teow - just turn to him, stare him in the eye and shout:


If someone bumps into you while walking on the street, just throw your arms into the air and scream:


After you place your order at McDonalds, if the person behind the counter persists in getting you to get a large fries and Coke with your meal when all you want is a small cup of Ice Lemon tea with your Double Cheeseburger, simply point your finger at the offending idiot and go.

"No Molestar, you bastard!"

It's brilliant, I tell you. Spanish is BRILLIANT!

Unless it turns out that it's really Italian... Viva la difference!

I should also take this opportunity to apologise to my readers (if you guys are still scratching your heads) - I know this is seriously unfunny but - not sure why - I'm still laughing my arse off whenever I think of these things.

Maybe I'm going mad. Haha!

Or sleepy.

As it turns out, I've also revealed the three things that piss me off the most after a long day.

...more to come.

13 January 2006

I've bought more stuff!

Went to Fisherman's Wharf yesterday. Didn't bring my camera since I couldn't be arsed to carry it (after all, I've taken a ton of pictures here the last time). Ate a dungenese crab and had some Clam Chowder, which tastes awesome ^_^

However, I did buy a bunch of funny T-shirts. Yay!

Here they are:

"Federal Bureau of Intoxication"

"I'm not an alcoholic. I'M A DRUNK. Alcoholics go to meetings"

"Save the trees. Wipe your ass with an owl"

Also got myself a CD:

QUEEN: Greatest Hits I, II & III - The Platinum Collection
Yes, I'm turning into an old fart...

11 January 2006

Macworld 2006 - Intel Macs ready!

If you're vaguely interested about this, you've probably read about it elsewhere. For a detailed report, click here or go to Apple's official website.

To cut a long story short, Apple announced that it has begun shipping Intel-powered Macs, a mere 6-months since it told the world of its ambitions to move away from IBM PowerPC processors and about 6-months earlier than expected.

Basically, everybody expected some sort of Intel announcement, but I don't think anyone was expecting them to have the systems ready so soon.

The new models are an Intel-powered iMac and a new pro laptop called the MacBook Pro - yes, it's an awful name. They both use Intel's latest dual-core CPUs (the ones that just got launched) and are supposedly 2 to 3 times faster than the PowerPC-laden Macs that they replace.

It's kinda funny when you think about it - after spending a better part of a decade telling Mac users that PowerPC processors are the best and anything Intel is shite, they're now trying to convince us otherwise... ^_^

But the fact that everybody sort of half-guessed everything correctly made this Macworld keynote a little less brilliant than usual. In fact, there weren't any major announcements other than the two new Macs.

Perhaps it's also because Apple CEO (and Macworld's most anticipated annual keynote speaker) Steve Jobs is getting old, but he didn't have the usual sort of sparkle he'd normally have.

Anyway, it's late and I've got to get up early tomorrow. With any luck, I'll finally have time to get some actual work done.

Nite nite...

BTW, here are some pics.

That's me right after Jobs' keynote address

Jobs touring the exhibition hall (yup, I actually got pretty near him... before his bodyguards shoved me aside)

A-HA! They switched the billboards again!!!

10 January 2006

Macworld 2006 - the day before

Well, it's only a couple of hours before I head off to the Moscone Center for the keynote - it's about 3:30am now and i'm wide awake.

Excitement? Maybe. Jetlag? Definitely.

Went there to collect my media badge yesterday and took some photos before some arsey security guard told us to stop. Not sure why, but apparently he thinks that the inside of the Moscone Center is some sort of secret lair. Kinda like the Bat cave, only everybody can walk in and out of it.

If this year's going to be the same as the last, this billboard will probably be swapped during the keynote for whatever it is that they're launching this year.

After that, we did some shopping. Got myself an S-video cable for my Gamecube (about time too) and some pre-played copies of Resident Evil and Resident Evil Zero. Stopped by Borders and got some manga too... ^_^

Later that night, all of the Asia-Pacific press were treated to a nice dinner by Apple. Being the only member of the press from Malaysia, I was lumped together with the Filipino journalists. They're almost high on sugar all the time - a very fun bunch of people.

And best of all, one of them sounds just like Maritess, who incidently sounds a lot like a certain person I know in the office. (*cough!* *cough!* *Timbuo-* *cough!*)

And they've also confirmed that they're indeed the fastest SMSing race on the planet - apparently, most of them can touch-type T9 in Tagalog!

I guess I better try to get more sleep before the event - don't want to arrive there feeling like a Zombie.

09 January 2006

Macworld 2006 - I'm here!

After a week's break, I thought it would be nice to continue blogging...

Anyway, I've just checked into my hotel in San Francisco, USA. This is my 2nd time attending an Macworld Expo, so it's nice to be back here.

The journey here was pretty uneventful - except for the fact that we travelled on business class... :)

Didn't take any pictures coz I didn't want to appear like a frog emerging from under a coconut shell. In any case, all I can say is that Cathay Pacific's Business Class is in an entirely different world from their economy class. Lot's of legroom, nice fully-reclining seats and an in-flight on-demand entertainment system that crashed a lot (the headphones weren't working anyway).

So no, it wasn't perfect, but it was damn nice anyhow.

Plus, there was also a gentleman on my left who chewed with his mouth open and slurped on his tea as if it was running away from him. Strangely enough, he had a Singaporean passport but dressed as if he just stepped out from a farm in China and spoke fluent Cantonese.

Look's like he's shattered my miserable illusions about Singaporeans.

And to cap it off, the driver who was supposed to pick me up from the airport drove off after collecting the two Singaporean journalists who are also attending Macworld.

I'm not sure what they were thinking, but the least they could've done was wait about 5 minutes for me (i was delayed at immigration).

Besides, why the hell would I decide to wander off and get to the hotel on my own if I knew I had transport? Perhaps they think Malaysians are stupid or something. Or maybe they just had to reach the hotel before me... (kiasu)

I'm saying all this in jest, of course. I like Singapore. And Singaporeans too, of course.

Anyway, I'll probably meet them 2moro. And I'll be good-mannered, of course.

Oh, and there are some strong rumours of a new home-entertainment Mac mini, Intel-powered iBooks and something about hell freezing over.

Good night.

01 January 2006

Happy New Year!

It's currently 12:06am, Jan 1 2006. And I'm sitting in front of my Mac, writing my first blog entry of the year.

Yes, I'm at home.

I have some personal reasons, but I really didn't feel like partying tonight.

2005 has been an 'interesting' year, to say the least. Lot's of great things have happened to me over the year, along with some not-so-good things. In any case, I believe I'm a little wiser this time than during New Year's day a year ago (Well, I better be).

These are my resolutions for the upcoming year:
1. To lose enough weight so I can actually wear my size 36 trousers and XL-sized shirts again (you should see my current clothes - they're huge).
2. To actually get back into game programming instead of just talking about it all the time.
3. To drink less booze (or rather, to pick my battles more wisely :) )
4. To actually clean my office desk.
5. To actually buy a new stapler to replace the one that walked away from the aforementioned desk.
6. To avoid breaking mice, keyboards and other inanimate objects that inhibit my ability excel in multiplayer PC games.
7. To clean my fish tank more than just once a month.
8. To be nicer to my friends.
9. To be somewhat nicer to my enemies.
10. To seek to understand, rather than to be understood.

Here's to a better year ahead. May common sense prevail over stupidity and pointy-haired bosses.

- Chris