Archive for January, 2006

Google and the Fed

Seems like google is having a bad week. Not only is it having to stand up to a federal government subpoena to turn over a week’s worth of search data, it is now having to fend off criticism for caving in to Chinese Government demands that it censor sensitive sites (covering issues such as human rights and Tibet) from search results returned from its .cn site.

Personally, I don’t get the big deal.

If the government wants data which has been stripped of all personal references such as IP addresses, why should privacy become an issue? The other factor is of course Google’s trade secrets, which it fears might be compromised as a result of releasing all the search data. This is probably a more valid point but whether it is sufficient cause to block the government request is debatable, and depends on the manner in which the data will be handled by the government.

With regards to the China controversy, a more balanced view point is presented in this article by BBC correspondent Bill Thompson. His argument is that it would be better for Google to be involved in China to some extent (even if it involves a little “flexibility”) than to be totally excluded from such technologically and socially formative years in China. In any case, Google is not the first US tech company to conform to China’s censorship rules – both MSN and Yahoo follow the same censorship guidelines in China, yet no one seems to have raised so much as a peep in protest. Google at least inserts a notice on the search page informing the reader that pages have been filtered from the returned results.

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No VS.net!

Short guide to get you started on building windows applications in .Net for free. Recommended tool is sharpdevelop. Users need to download the .Net SDK from Microsoft but this is free.

The trouble I’ve had with working in C# is that it’s been really difficult to get good documentation on it that _doesn’t_ involve VS.net. Instructions for building anything in C# always go like this: “first, click on the file -> new project, select…”. OK if you’re going to be using VS.net for the rest of your life but if you plan on using Mono or DotGNU, this will soon get very frustrating.

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The $100 PC

Came across this interesting idea about creating a “$100 PC” – the basic idea is to store your entire environment on a thumbdrive and to log on to virtual terminals scattered around places like McDonald’s, Starbuck’s, etc. I’m not sure if I’d call that a PC but it’s definitely a cool idea (Of course, it all depends on the cost of the dummy terminal – I don’t see how it would cost $60-70 since any such device would need at least a display unit, CPU, RAM and motherboard plus it would need to be networked to really make sense). One suggestion – if souped-up TV sets, cable boxes, games units, those information kiosks, etc can be made compatible with these devices, then the initial base of virtual PC “docking stations” would get a good start.

An additional advantage is that this concept is particularly friendly to free OS-es since not only are these cheaper (when talking about a $100 PC, the savings derived from using a free OS in terms of percentage of total cost is significant). In addition, it would be inherently difficult to enforce licensing or copy-protection rights with any thumb drive based PC – hence any propriety OS release for this scheme is likely to be clunky and unfriendly…

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Melting Moments

Want to make some nice cookies? Here’s how:

Ingredients
———–
Butter 50g
Margarine 75g
Sugar 75g
Flour 125g
Eggs 1/2
Baking powder 1/2 tsp (or, alternatively use self raising flour)
Rolled oats 2 tbsp

Method
——
1. Cream Butter, Margarine and Sugar
2. After it’s *really* smooth, add in the egg
3. Fold in flour and baking powder (not all at once!) until stiff
4. Shape into balls and toss with the oats.
5. Flatten slightly (tip: use a fork, flattens ’em nicely and leaves a funky pattern on the cookies)
6. Place on greased baking tray and bake for 20 minutes at 180-200’c
7. Enjoy 🙂

If you really need to attach a label to these, they’re known as “Melting Moments”

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Malaysian Road Signs

Talking about Malaysian roads, what is it about those road signs. They seem to have been specially tailored to confuse and mislead. Two examples:

1) In most other places, if the speed limit is (say) x kmh, the sign would say “x kmh” and that would be that. If at some point, the speed limit changes to y kmh, then just erect a sign which says, accordingly, “y kmh”, at which point most reasonable people would agree that the previous speed limit was now void and had been replaced by the new one. Well, for some reason, on Malaysian roads, when the limit is x kmh, three signs are needed: “x kmh mula (start)”, “x kmh peringatan (reminder)” and “x kmh tamat (end)”. Apart from being a waste of time and resources, this will be confusing to foreign drivers who can’t read Malay. In addition, there’s the question of what exactly is the speed limit between the last tamat and the next mula. Clearly we are now in some dead zone where there is no speed limit. Great.

2) A favourite spot to erect road signs seems to be just after “Y” junctions, like so:

|——————->>
|
——-| [Road Sign here]
|
|————————->>

However, the sign would only indicate one destination (like “Exit”, for example). The hapless driver arriving at this junction is now left with the unenviable task of figuring out exactly which of the two branches is the “exit”.

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Evil drivers

I’m pretty horrified by the mannerisms of drivers on Malaysian roads. Especially annoying are those who flash their high beams at the vehicles in front to get them to move out of the way. Not only is this (extremely) rude, it is quite dangerous as it distracts both the driver in front as well as drivers in the neighboring lanes. The new superbright xenon lights don’t help, either.

How to strike back? Don’t budge. By obliging, we are re-inforcing their behaviour and encouraging them. Unless you are crawling in the fast lane at 20 below the speed limit, you have the same right to overtake/take the right turn, etc as anyone else. If you were planning to overtake a car on the right, carry on doing so at *Exactly* the same speed as before – do not be rushed into driving at a speed that is uncomfortable to you just to accomodate the barbarian behind you.

None of this is to say that you can’t show a little grace and courtesy yourself. Of course, the driver behind you could well have a valid reason for driving like the wind (or maybe he fainted with his foot stuck to the accelerator). However, there are more polite ways to do so than to dazzle a fellow road user with your high beam. It’s rude, dangerous and tolerated only because of the impersonal nature of travelling on the roads – try walking on the pavement and screaming at the guy in front of you to get out of the way. Not a good idea? Didn’t think so 🙂

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