31 March 2006

Curse of the IBM Death Star

A couple of weeks ago, my sisters' eMac suddenly gave up the ghost. A quick look at it and I figured that the hard disk had crashed. It kept making a strange clicking sound.

And so, I took the eMac apart (with the help of some very comprehensive service manuals) and replaced the hard disk.

The eMac came with an 80GB Hitachi-branded IBM Deskstar 180GXP.

I wondered why the name sounded so familiar. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but then... it hit me.


In case you've never heard, the Deskstar (also known as the Death Star) was IBM's notoriously unreliable range of hard drives sold around 2003. It did insurmountable damage to IBM's reputation as a mass storage device manufacturer.

The controversy behind the Deathstar wasn't merely because it was unbelieveably unreliable (an estimated 6% failure rate among users within the short term and a maximum lifespan of about 3 years or so), but because IBM knew that it had a design defect but denied that the Deskstar series had any issues.

Basically, if you've bought a computer in the year 2003 or 2004 from a branded computer company (i.e. Apple, Dell, HP, Compaq, IBM, etc...) I highly recommend checking what sort of hard drive you've got.

CAUTION: If your hard drive looks anything like this, I highly recommend backing up all your data now and upgrading your PC/Mac to any other hard drive in the market. Trust me, you can't possibly get anything worse than this.

The clicking sound I heard from the eMac was the Deathstar's infamous "Click of Death" - a common indicator that your drive is about to go the way of the Dodo.


Anyway, here's how I replaced the hard drive on the eMac. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to repair and change components in an all-in-one Mac on your own (i.e. the eMac and iMac range). All you need are the service manuals and some basic tools (screwdrivers, Allen keys, etc...) and some prior experience in taking apart electronic devices.

While it looks daunting at first, the eMac's innards are extremely well designed. The parts make maximum use of available space and are relatively easy to disassemble (no scary, PCB-bending antics required here).

Of course, this is coming from someone who's spent the better part of his life taking apart videogames consoles, radio controlled cars and PCs. If you've never taken apart a toaster before, ask someone who has (if you want something changed in your eMac).

With that out of the way, it's time to play doctor.

STEP 1: Place eMac on table/bench/bed/sofa facing downwards.

Step 2: Remove the big shiny screws with an Allen key (always useful to have these things lying around the house).

STEP 3: Pull off the white casing, making sure you unfasten the power button connector - otherwise, you'll rip it right off. This is what a naked eMac looks like.

STEP 4: Remove the Faraday plate - this will expose the optical drive, and the entire digital assembly.

STEP 5: Remove the cooling fan.

INTERMISSION: This is what the eMac should look like at this stage.

STEP 6: Remove the digital assembly.

STEP 7: Unscrew the hard drive cradle and unfasten the cables. Now, you should have a bird's eye view of the graphics chip, CPU heat sink and other cool-looking bits and pieces.

STEP 7: Replace piece of shit with a nice, healthy Maxtor hard drive.

Once you're done, just backtrack until you've got a working eMac again that's not in bits and pieces. If you've already put the eMac back together but found something like this lying around your room:

Then, I suggest you read the service manuals - you probably forgot to put something back in.

24 March 2006

The show must go on...

Today, I mourn the loss of a dear friend. And what makes it even more heartbreaking is the fact that I haven't got any photos to keep the memory alive.

Deutsche Bierhaus in Plaza Mont Kiara, KL is no more...

    Moment of silence, please.

Went there for a proper drink (i.e. German beer) with Aloy only to find some Argentinian @&$%ing steak house where it used to be.

I can't believe it! They've uprooted a fine source of the Lord's nectar for some joint pushing beef burnt by a bunch of South American wankers!!!

Where the hell am I going to get my fix of Weissbier now?

I'm angry. Real angry...

20 March 2006

Caption this...

Yay, I can finally post pics again.

Went for the Canon EOS 30D launch sometime last week and managed to snap this picture of the models as they pranced around the stage.

Not a particularly interesting shot, but I thought that this girl's expression was epic.

"Oh, my GOD! It's Simon Yam!"

*UPDATED APRIL 5 - Actual pic of Simon Yam in a Canon event*

Anyone got funnier captions?


19 March 2006

This is so irritating...

...I don't blog for over a week and when I finally do, I find that I can't upload any pictures.

Not sure what's wrong - might be something to do with my router (which went berserk last week and has been regularly cutting me off from the web all weekend).

Oh, well. I guess I'll just have to depend on good old-fashioned written skills.

Except I haven't got anything to write about. AAAARGH!

I guess I can't blog without visual representations. *sigh!*

On a slightly lighter note, I heard an extremely silly joke from my dad recently:


Q: Why do all Punjabis like Barry Minalow?

A: Because he sang "I write the songs that make the whole world Singh!"


10 March 2006

Awake for 21 hours and still chirpy...

It's funny, it's been about 18 hours since I last posted on my blog, and I've yet to sleep. Seems like I'm getting even worse at handling jet lag these days...


The whole night and morning was uneventful, but I met up with Kelly slightly after noon and went to this place called Haight. It's right next to Golden Gate Park, but I really couldn't be arsed to trek more than 5 km just to take some artsy fartsy shots. Maybe if I had more sleep, but not in the undead state I was in.

Instead, we nipped into a CD store called Amoeba Music:

Yes, it's HUGE. You can easily fit a football pitch into the building, and it's stacked wall-to-wall with CDs, records, tapes and DVDs. You can find almost anything here - there's even a bloody J-POP section! This is easily the biggest music store I've ever been to.

Looks smaller from outside

The district of Haight (I think it's a district, or a street) is decked out with loads of hippy, new-agey shops and stores selling funny T-shirts.

Nice Mustang!

Some stores have rather bizzare 'things' stuck in front of them:

There's this uber cool place there called Giant Robot. That sells a bunch of cool stuff.

Which is where I got this: a plastic wind-up Totoro that hops!


Ok, time to pack up... it's about time I head home.

08 March 2006

Cars is AWESOME (spoiler-free review)

* Updated with corrections (I'm now awake!). All changes in bold.

Ok, I've finally gotten my internet connection, jet lag is finally kicking my backside and I've just watched Pixar's Cars.

I'm really sleepy right now (and smelly, due to my lack of deodorant - thanks to the bottle exploding during the flight) but I'll try to write a short review.

What I really like about Cars is that - like all other Pixar films - it tackles a really difficult, seemingly uninteresting theme and comes away leaving a really good impression.

Director John Lasseter is deeply passionate about filmmaking and it shows - Cars is a really fun movie with loads of interesting characters, character development and perfectly scripted moments that tug your heart strings just the right way.

Personally, I'm a bit of a petrolhead but even I was sceptical about Cars - after all, the trailers are really boring! (Quite the opposite of how some trailers are much better than the actual film). Looks like Pixar has proven me wrong again.

What's really cool is that the film starts of with a bang - with our hero Lightning McQueen (the red guy) racing against The King (an old racing legend in blue) and Chick Hick (the one in green - The King's long-time nemesis) in the final round of the prestigious Piston Cup. It's a three way battle for the ultimate prize and McQueen is also in the running to be the first-ever rookie champion.

However, McQueen's got a bit of an attitude problem, what being a natural-born winner and stuff like that. As it turns out, the outcome of the race is a surprise, and all three are invited to take part in an additional three-car race to determine the winner.

The pace and sensation of speed is excellent, and really gets your adrenaline pumping. If you're a guy (or girl, possibly) who used to play pretend races in your head with your little Matchbox toy cars, this will have you grinning.

The sound effects are awesome too, sending shivers down my spine every time. It's handled by the guys at Skywalker sound, which is good.

And after you've settled into your seat, the film slows down into a really nice tale about friendship, pride, growing up and a lot more. Without giving away too much, let's just say McQueen manages to get himself marooned on a desert town called Radiator Springs on his way to the special race.

He then gets into trouble and finds himself dealing with the town's eccentric residents - and finds out that there's more to life than winning races.

This is where the bulk of the movie takes place, and it's basically that - a story about slowing down. Where the journey, not the destination, is the goal.

The townsfolk are a mixed bunch of people (sorry, cars) and take an instant disliking to McQueen. But do they warm up to him?

There's and old car named Doc Hudson, who has a dark past and seems to be in charge of the town. He's a rather cool character, voiced by Paul Newman and all.

The other residents include a rusty tow truck called Mater (who ends up being McQueen's best friend), a military Jeep called Sarge (who has an army surplus store), a 1950's showcar called Flo (who runs a swanky gas station), a firetruck called Red (who just splashes things), an Italian Fiat 500 called Luigi (who own's a tire store with his Italian forklift sidekick, Guido), a Mexican low-rider called Ramone, some old vintage car lady, and a hippy VW van called... can't remember his name!

This is an extremely likeable cast of characters who add so much to the dusty town of Radiator Springs.

Oh, and there's hot female in town - She's a Porsche named Sally, finally confirming that Porsches are, in fact, GAY! Or feminine, at least.

Yes, the film's premise sounds cliche and you can probably predict the remainder of the story by the halfway mark. BUT, it's a classic Pixar film - the sort of film that reminds us why we watch films in the first place. It's really well directed, the dialogue is good, and the little references to popular culture (while nowhere as offensive/prevalent as in Dreamworks' films) will get both car buffs, film buffs and dairy farmers laughing.

Plus, there are even a couple of tifosi in the movie (Luigi and Guido)! Somebody in Pixar obviously loves Italian cars. And wait till you see who makes a guest appearance in the film.

The other cool thing is that, while the film is about cars, it isn't about cars. Meaning, there's no geeky talk (or lengthy discussions) about suspension settings, heel-and-toe braking, AE86 Toyota Truenos, carbon fibre hoods or general engine modifications - ala Initial D.

In fact, other than the Porsches and Ferraris, no real-world cars are explicitly modelled in this film. (Note: This was very obviously wrong, as I've already shown above!)

Note to self: Don't write stuff when you're half asleep, you will get facts wrong.

I didn't realise it at first, but a whole lot of research actually went into the show to ensure that car buffs will go "Hey! That's cool". For example, all of the engine sounds are accurate to their real-life counterparts. With the exception of McQueen and Mater, most of the main characters are based on real life cars.

For example, Doc Hudson is really a 1951 Hudson Hornet - a really important car in the history of the US motorsports scene, dominating the Nascar scene in the early 50's. Wait, I think I just gave a spoiler! ^_^

Ok... my mind is blanking out. I need to sleep. Maybe when I'm awake, I'll re-write some of this for better clarity. Good night. (Note: I'm awake now!)

In the end, Cars is a fantastic movie. Sure, it's funny and has all the usual feel-good movie elements in them. But if anything, this is a very good example of how it should be done - More than just writing good stories, the guys at Pixar really know how to tell a story well.

06 March 2006

Transit blues...

Having wrestled with the really tiny seats on board a China Airlines Airbus A300, I now find myself in an airport in Taipei, awaiting my flight to San Francisco (which should be in about 3 hours time).

Webcams are fun!

I didn’t take any pictures during the flight here, mostly because I wasn’t really in the mood. The first problem was that the seats were really small (wait, I’ve already said that…). Now, I don’t mind if a seat is a bit on the narrow side or if it doesn’t offer enough under-thigh support, but I swear that these seats were designed for midgets.

Or Chinese.

The headrest stopped exactly where my neck began, which is quite annoying if you’re the sort of person who’d like to have a headrest behind your head (especially when you’re going to be sitting there for at least 4 hours).

This made sleep a near impossibility. BUT, being the sort of person who can fall asleep on top of a small bed of rocks, I could somehow manage.

What I couldn’t manage, though, were the two old aunties sitting directly behind me – shouting to their friends across the cabin in Mandarin. With squeaky voices. Ugh…

Normally, I’d be able to tolerate this too, but the two old ladies also appeared to be deaf – screaming at the top of their lungs to each other. At point blank.

Now, even this is tolerable – but that’s before they actually disagree on something. That’s when the Mandarin goes up a couple of pitches and the volume goes up to eleven.

The other problem, of course, is that the two ladies tended to disagree on lots of things.

What I then had were a couple of screeching banshees behind my ears, while I was trying to fall asleep on a seat which didn’t know what to do with my head.

Oh, and I almost forgot – I’ve still got the stiff neck from Thailand. Still can’t turn around nor look upwards either.

And now, here I am sitting in a waiting lounge for my flight trying to kill some time. Thank God they’ve got a free WiFi connection here.

I’m not even sure what’s the proper name of this airport so I’ll just call it Taipei airport for now. The thing about Taipei airport is that it’s really big, really new and really quiet.

If you thought our KLIA was under patronised, you haven’t seen nothing yet.


Mind you, this shot was taken at 8:30pm - usually the busiest times for an airport. Maybe it's just this terminal - there seemed to be more life in the other terminal (where I had arrived from)

The other thing about Taipei airport is that it has an obscene number of duty free shops selling really expensive stuff. Bvlgari, Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Chanel, et al are all here, and – just in case you can’t walk – there are several outlets placed within a stone’s throw of one another.

The other other thing about this blasted airport is that there’s nothing to do. Apart from the airline lounges and toilets, you’ll have to keep yourself amused through other means – such as blogging. But what’s really strange about this place is the near total absence of food / drink outlets.

There’s a tiny noodle bar nearby but when I followed some signs saying “Restaurants”, I ended up reaching the other end of the terminal, with a fresh set of “Restaurants” signs pointing to opposite direction (where I’ve just come from). And when I followed these signs, I ended up at the original “Restaurant” signs, which I had initially followed.

Should I follow the signs again?


Maybe I’ll just save money, go hungry for a bit. Hopefully they’ll serve some food on the plane before bedtime.

Ok, I’m done.

Thai massage - it's a scam!!!

I should mention that, while in Bangkok, I did have the opportunity to experience traditional Thai massage.

No hanky panky, mind you... Just PROPER Thai massage where they make you wear something that looks like a cross between old pyjamas and prison clothes while an old aunty literally kicks the shit out of you.

Now, you know how massages are *supposed* to really hurt? As the massagers knead all of the knots out of your muscles? Well, it's good, except for the fact that my arms and legs were fine anyway.

It was also supposed to loosen up my back and neck, which I'm sure would've been great after a long day, but I was fine beforehand.

The head massages were also supposed to release the stress and headaches which supposedly plague the inner sanctum of my skull, and it would have been brilliant if I actually did have a headache - which I didn't since my job can hardly be described as stressful.

If that was the case, why on Earth did I end up in a massage parlour in Bangkok with some lady flinging me over her shoulder like a roti canai?

It's simple, really - because it's *supposed* to be good for you. If you're already fine, it's supposed to make you finer. Only it didn't (not in my case, at least).

In fact, all I really ended up with was a stiff neck:


I guess if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

BUT... But I've had massages before, even while I was feeling fine. And almost every time, I came away feeling much better - looser, lighter, straighter, longer, etc... But each time, it was either Swedish-style massage or Japanese Shiatsu. Yes, they didn't last two hours long (which the Thai massage did), but they didn't hurt either.

In fact, it actually felt pretty good in the middle of a Swedish/Shiatsu massage - you can feel yourself unwinding and falling asleep. And when you wake up, you feel like a million dollars.

In contrast, I was close to screaming most of the time during the Thai massage, as I was being stretched, poked and twisted out of shape.

Which brings me to the point of this rant - I think that Thai massages are a big scam!

You see, if you come out of a massage parlour and don't feel anything, your compatriots will probably blame you instead - for not relaxing properly - or simply accuse you of being to much of a simpleton to appreciate the finer things in life. Uncultured, so to speak. After all, it can't possibly be the masseur's fault - they're pros and Thais have a reputation for being some of the best masseurs in the world.

And that's the thing... it's all just reputation. Somehow, traditional Thai massage has garnered such a God-like stature that, no matter how inept the masseur was, she/he did a great job because it hurt like hell and the ceasefire thereafter (i.e. not having someone jam their knuckles into your bones) feels like heaven in comparison.

That's rubbish!

And now that's done, I'll have to rush home to do some packing. Flying off (again) to catch the press junket for the following film:

Watch this space.

04 March 2006

Burning rubber in Bangkok...

This is Bangkok, capital of Thailand. One of the largest cities in South East Asia. The last uncolonised empire of the region. A rich blend of culture, culinary delights and a thriving sex industry (and traffic jams - loads of them).

But bollocks to that, I was there to test some tyres.

Some Bridgestone Turanza GR-80s, if you really need to know (Hell, even I couldn't remember the model number until they made me sit through an hour long presentation).

That's me

The whole point of the exercise was for Bridgestone to show us why their tyres are the best and why the equivalent tyres from Michelin are shit.

But most of all, it gave us an opportunity to drive like twats, really fast, round a test circuit. Unfortunately, each of us journalists were only given four rounds on our own (I managed to sneak in six)

This is me driving a 2.4litre Honda Accord in anger.

The Bridgestone proving grounds in Thailand consists of an S-bend encapsulated by a couple of corners: a medium-sized wet one (to test wet-weather grip, of course) and a larger dry one on the outside (for high-speed cornering).

Wet handling testing

This track also has another section with two long straights - one for testing high-speed stability and another with varying surfaces for Bridgestone's test drivers to evaluate the performance of its tires in various simulated conditions.

All of our mucking about took place in the corners and S-bends.

I've learnt a couple of things from my short excursions:
    1. The Honda Accord is completely rubbish when it comes to handling (It's sprung like a mattress).
    2. The Honda Accord is also much more fun with shit tyres than good, grippy ones.

Allow me to explain. The Bridgestone Turanza GR-80 did provide a helluva lot more grip (especially in the wet) compared to the Michelin MXV8, which meant that the Accord understeered less (meaning, it actually had a tendancy to go in the general direction pointed to by the steering wheel - pretty good for a Honda!*). It's also much quieter than the French rubber - important for the tyre's target market of luxury cars.

However, the Michelins lack of initial grip meant that understeer and oversteer are both far more progressive, allowing you to get the hulking Accord into a drift of sorts, which is a surprisingly fun thing to do.

Michelins: No grip = more fun?

But of course, I'd probably get the Bridgestones instead - After all, I don't really want my car to go sideways while I'm popping over to 7-Eleven or something.

As fun as it was, it got really interesting when a Bridgestone driver decided to take all of us on a lap of the entire proving ground - in a Mercedes E220 CDI (that's a diesel model).

It sounded like a taxi but, my God, it's a helluva fantastic car to sit in, especially when some mild-mannered Japanese man is driving it round a bend at over 100km/h, WHILE DRIFTING.

And what's really great about our Japanese test driver's performance was the sheer control he had of the car, even as we were moving sideways on wet tarmac. It was like he does this sort of thing for a living.

Oh, wait...

That's him taking us round in the Accord before we all had a go. Shame I can't remember his name.

And there you have it - buy a set of Bridgestone Turanza GR-80 tyres today and you'll instantly become a drifting god.

    * I should probably mention that I particularly dislike the current generation of Honda Accords. My dad owns one, and I've driven it extensively, and I feel that it's the most over-engineered, souless car on the planet. It's boring. It's dull. It feels as if the steering wheel isn't really attached to anything. The only thing I like about it is that it's well put together.

    BTW, I've also nearly rendered myself unconscious in an Accord - by whamming my head on the A-pillar while climbing in. Hate the bloody car...

01 March 2006

Sexy laptops = sexy me?

Look what I got my grubby hands on today... ^_^

It's the all-new Apple MacBook Pro 2.0GHz, and I've got it for a week!

If this doesn't improve my sex appeal, NOTHING WILL.

And now that I've updated my blog, I'm off to the airport... and eventually to Bangkok (again). Doing some writeup on Bridgestone tyres or something like that.