Monday, 24 October 2011

It's War!!

Never mind the events in Libya, there is a bigger war going on all around us, a war going on in the world of mobile computing, a war with no apparent boundaries, a war with millions of dollars at stake. I am of course talking about the ongoing patent case between Apple, the makers of the iPad, and Samsung, the upstarts from South Korea who brought out the Galaxy Tab. It seems that Apple, perhaps buoyed by the sympathy vote after the tragic demise of their founder, are suing the pants off of Samsung, because Samsung have dared to release a tablet computer that resembles the Apple iPad2.

Injunctions have been issued in several countries stopping Samsung from selling its products. Counter injunctions have been fired by Samsung aimed at the latest half baked iPhone version. It is all very ugly, just like a real war. And like real wars, there are plenty of innocent victims. And these victims are the consumers.

Because of all this corporate skirmishing, the consumer, that's you and me, folks, cannot choose for themselves which tablet computer to buy, in some countries such as Germany and Australia. Their right to choose has been stripped from them by lawyers and corporate suits.

And this is a crime, because the result is a restriction of choice. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 is every bit as good a tablet as the Apple iPad, in some ways better, because it can connect to a laptop with its own dock, plus a supplied USB cable. You cannot do that with the iPad without purchasing all sorts of dodgy third party pieces of hardware. Also, the Galaxy is cheaper, and wifi and 3G options are bundled together. Why should I buy a more expensive product just because of the large number of apps available to the iPad?

That just makes me want to reach for my pills, because quite honestly, I do not care if Apple thinks Samsung has violated its patents by producing a similar machine. All I care about is having the choice of which tablet to buy. That is my right, and it is the right of all those German and Australian consumers who have been denied choice because of legal fiat.

Apple accuse Samsung of stealing the design of the tablet from its own product, and admittedly the two tablets do look and feel suspiciously similar. However, tablet computers featured in movies and TV long before the iPad came along - in 2001 a Space Odyssey in 1968 and Star Trek the Next Generation in the 1990s. The design idea therefore has prior provenance. Consequently, suing Samsung for producing a similar product to the iPad is as logical as Mercedes Benz suing BMW because the beamer has four wheels and a powerful engine.

So I bought a Galaxy tab, before Apple stops it being sold here in Malaysia. And I haven't regretted it so far...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A day well spent

A day well spent is a day helping someone with serious problems. Today, my missus and I spent the afternoon with a friend and colleague who has just been diagnosed with lung cancer. Now before you jump to conclusions, no, she doesn't smoke, nor does anyone else in her family. Neither does she live next door to a cigarette factory, as far as I know. But lung cancer it is, though fortunately (!) it is stage 1. Now, as you may or may not know, my wife had breast cancer four years ago so she is in a great position to offer advice and help to her friend, and so armed with some edible and drinkable goodies and a present, we went over to her lovely house outside Kuching.

I won't bore you with the details of our conversations, but it became obvious that one factor was shared by my wife and our friend - stress. Both of them have experienced a great deal of stress in the last few years and much of it has in fact come not from demanding work environments, but from demanding and draining families! Now I am not saying that families cause stress all the time, nor am I arguing that stress necessarily causes cancer. But many people suspect, doctors included, that psychological factors may have a correlation with certain types of cancer.

It was enormously satisfying seeing my wife and her friend sharing some of their secrets which we have not been able to share with anyone for so long. The sense of a heavy burden lifting was palpable in that living room this afternoon. But the stress will not go away that easily, especially if you have demanding and stressful families.

Many people struggle through illness, even though their families make unfair demands on them, physically and mentally abuse them and treat them as if nothing is wrong. All I can say is that such families are toxic. They do not or cannot care whether you live or die. But you have a choice. Don't let them get you down, as they say. If you need help, read a book, pray, play Angry Birds, anything. But most of all, find refuge in a good friend. A good friend will never cause you stress, and will never be toxic...

Friday, 14 October 2011

Back Again, again!

Oh bugger it! Why not! Let's start the old blog up again and see what happens shall we? It's been so long, and so much has happened since my last post which was, oh, last year! I've got into Facebook, but that doesn't satisfy me enough. I've got into Twitter, but length really is everything! So, I've returned to the medium I love best. Continuous prose where you don't have to be careful how many words you type.

Of course, it doesn't mean I will stop using social media, oh no. But blogging is really where it's at for me, it's what crumbles my cookie, what dings my dong! There's nothing like the real thing, as they say....

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Good Morning Shoppers...

You can imagine what would happen if the following announcement came over the tannoy in the Spring shopping mall: "Good Morning shoppers! Would the car owner of QXX 9XXX please return to your burning vehicle immediately"!

I for one would suffer an immediate shed collapse in sheer and utter shock that something actually INTERESTING was being announced in those faux American, oh so nice and sisterly tones. Never mind my obvious pity and horror that some poor unfortunate so and so had to return to the Premier Car Park to watch helplessly as his HondaBastard VX9 roared away gloriously in flames with a nice healthy black plume of smoke hurrying off briskly into the wide blue yonder!

I might be moved by human feelings to go up to him, and say how sorry I am to see his pride and joy in such a conflagrous state. I might offer him advice about how important it is not to leave your cigarette lighter switched on in the blistering heat of the Sarawak late morning.

Because people do things like that you know! It says so on the Internet!!

Almost every day, I get these postings in my email box, many of which are forwarded on to me faithfully by my dear wife. They come in various categories, many of which are related to health and how to avoid cancer by taking carrots or drinking water and egg yolk mixed with a dash of pepper corns.

The ones I am focusing on here are those scary posts which are by way of an urgent warning to anyone who basically wakes up in the morning and does anything. They usually start with big bold letters in many colours and there is usually a hint or two that the writers do not have English as their native language.

One of them I read the other day warned of the mortal perils of starting your car up in the morning without opening the windows to let out the carcinogenic spores that rise up from your car seats. Another one revealed to us that according to scientists in China (!) drinking milk and eating meat causes cancer and that we should all remove these items from our diets or die horribly. Another one was a kind of security warning about what happens in some third world countries to travellers who forget to have their passport stamped when going through immigration.

Now don't get me wrong, folks. Some of these postings do have some good advice, even though they seem to resemble urban myths in terms of their possible truth value. But I can't help thinking that the creators of some of these posts really do think that we are stoopid. I mean, surely EVERYbody knows that it is a bad idea to start your car in the morning without opening the windows, right? Even in a tropical country where dengue mosquitoes are hovering near your car just waiting to slide through the open car window and kill you...

Oh and one more thing. I get really peed off by redundancy in human communication. When the Spring shoppers announcement says 'would the car owner of...' I can't help reaching for my pills, grating my teeth and wondering whether the announcement is also aimed at motorbikes and trucks and any other vehicle apart from cars. Why can't you just say 'would the owner of...' and get rid of the redundant 'car' because it's understood. At least by me..

Has that burning car gone out yet?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Madder's Lovin it!!

Phew! I finally decided to re-join the blogosphere after a year of self-enforced absence. To my dear fan (s) I would like to apologise for my lack of presence during the last 12 months. I categorically deny all of the evil and unfounded rumours that I was kidnapped by aliens, or in prison, or that I had left the country. Luckily for you, my dear reader (s), none of these is true, and I am back, panting and moist with excitement at the prospect of continuing my rantings for your delectation...

So, why did I go away, I hear you all scream? The reasons are complex, but they boil down to a lack of ideas, pure and simple. I ran out of things to say, yet the things I really wanted to say could not be said, at least not in the ways I wanted to say them. Sounds paradoxical I know, but hey, sue me!!

But let us be friends once again, let bygones be bygones and water under the bridge, no need to cry over spilt milk, la de dah de dah...

So what should I write about?

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Bumpy Sections - Part Two

I was beginning to realise by this time that road maps of Borneo only represent reality in an approximate manner, like TV comedy programmes. Just before setting off on the trip, I had dutifully purchased two folding road maps of Sarawak, Sabah, Borneo and whatever, and they SEEMED accurate. I also traced the route from door to door on Google Maps several times, noting down the names of towns and villages.

But the trouble is that none of these road maps, paper or electronic, are anywhere near accurate enough. I am used to the military precision and accuracy of the Ordnance Survey maps back in the UK. These maps offer you so much detail, from street and house level right up to regional and national and planetary level. No wonder the army uses them. But, I discovered that Malaysia does not seem to have an Ordnance Survey standard set of road maps for Sarawak, Sabah and Brunei. And to make things worse, decent maps of Brunei itself are even rarer and less detailed than the Malaysian ones.

I daresay there are two reasons for this – one comes from the old days of the Konfrontasi during the 1950s and 1960s, when it was not a good idea to let too many people know where Bukit Whatever was, or where Rumah Such and Such was situated, in case there were communist agents lurking about. The other reason comes from the fact that Malaysia in general is changing so rapidly that the layout of towns and villages sometimes literally changes overnight. This is true in Sarawak where, less than a decade ago, the road I took up to Sibu was largely a dirt and gravel track whereas now it is paved and much more civilised.

Yet it still begs the question of why on earth the maps cannot be updated more quickly, when electronic equivalents are more up to date. Well, slightly anyway. The latest Google Earth map of my area in Kuching still does not show the Spring shopping centre, nor the new airport!

So the long and the short of it is that using a map to guide you from Kuching to Sabah via Brunei is a somewhat inexact science, full of adventure and tantalising uncertainty!!

I found that it is much better to follow the road signs, rely on my excellent sense of direction (“Sibu is behind us, so Bintulu MUST be in front!!”) and, if the worst comes to the worst, ask a passer-by. Which is what we did in Brunei, when we got lost.

But I am getting ahead of myself here! Let me fill you in on the trip from Bintulu to Brunei, on the Second day of the trip. So I woke up groggy and somewhat puky at an unthinkably early hour on 17th September. We showered, packed and after checking out trudged down to the muddy car park to find the car perfectly safe and sound.

After getting under way, we didn’t have too much trouble finding the road to Miri (Road signs!!!) and pointed the blunt nose of the Matrix towards that town. The road to Miri is bumpy and hilly, like a strip of dark grey chewing gum with big lumps and long gaps where some of the gum has stretched too thin. I drove but after a while my arse and my stomach began to regret it!

We stopped in the huge and sprawling Niah Caves Rest Stop, where we had breakfast, stocked up on drinkies and nibbles for the journey, and most importantly filled up the petrol tank. Here is another useful bit of advice, gentle readers. On long journeys, fill up your tank at every opportunity. Don’t wait too long to do it, because you never know, there might not be another filling station for 500 kilometres!

This is especially true if you are heading for Brunei, because that country does not allow foreigners to buy petrol and in any case, it’s twice as expensive in Brunei as it is in Malaysia because of the exchange rate! So use the Niah Cave Rest Stop wisely!!

After the Niah Caves, it was on to Miri, where a lack of road signs for the Brunei border made it slightly difficult to find our way but, thanks to the constant phone contact between Mordiah and her friend (who had drawn a map for us!!) we were able to find our way, haltingly, to the border. I say haltingly, because again the lack of road signs knocked us off course at one point and two sets of passers by were singularly unsuccessful at pointing us toward the Sungei Tujuh border post.

Which brings me to another bit of useful advice – bring someone with you who speaks the local dialect. Or something like it anyway. Asking for directions might seem straightforward but even if you know standard Malay, the locals will speak back to you in their own version of it. Just to give you a flavour of the problem, the standard Malay word for ‘one’ is ‘satu’ but it is ‘sigek’ in Sarawakian. And in Miri they have their own special variety of Malay which I know nothing about but which I understand is even more different...

So thanks to Mordiah, our intrepid local interpreter, we eventually found ourselves at the Sungei Tujuh border point.

More later......

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bumpy Sections - Part One

Well here I am, back from a self-imposed three month break from blogging. I just got so fed up with people asking me when I was going to start blogging again that I decided I would take up my keyboard again and continue to serve my legions of fans.

So here goes...

“So what have you been doing with yourself all this while?” I hear you all scream. Well, my dear loyal readers, I’ve been up to many things, though most of my experiences since August are unutterably and mind-numbingly dull and not worthy of this august forum! But, I did do one thing that is worth mentioning. That is my mammoth drive across Borneo which I undertook at the end of September for the Hari Raya. I’ll happily share that one with you, dear readers, because I’ll never forget it, and neither will you...

Now, it’s bad enough trying to take a plane from Kuching in Sarawak to Tawau in Sabah at the best of times, let alone the Raya when just about every Muslim in Borneo is taking to some sort of transport or another at the same time.

So, imagine what it’s like taking the same trip by road? Yes, by road!!

Now I’ve been called many things in my life, including ‘screaming great lunatic’, ‘mad as a hatter’ and ‘silly as a box of toys’. Also, ‘one brick short of a full load’ and ‘out of his tree’. However, that’s nothing compared to people’s reactions when I told them I was planning a driving holiday from Kuching all the way across Sarawak, Brunei and Sabah to my wife’s ancestral pile in Tawau.

Why did I think of such a hair-brained scheme? Well, apart from the obvious savings in flight tickets, which are criminally expensive just before major public holidays in Malaysia, well, my wife and I just thought we would challenge ourselves, see a bit of the scenery that we had never seen, and basically do something that we had never done before. It’s the old NASA logic – we go there because it’s there!! Well, Borneo is there alright, as I found out.

Our trip was somewhat convoluted by the fact that my dear wife had different holiday starting dates to me. This meant that I had to set out two days before she did. She, of course, flew to Kota Kinabalu, by which time I had already driven there.

Needless to say, I did not travel alone to KK. There was my son as co-driver and our young friend Mordiah, an ex-student of my wife who knows all the local dialects and was brought along to help out and have a holiday. We set out from Kuching on 16th September at about 11.30 in the morning. We started so late because my dear son had left his passport in KL the day before and had to get it couriered over before we travelled. You can’t go through Brunei without a passport!!

As punishment for the passport incident, I made my son pilot for the first leg of the journey, from Kuching going roughly North sort of hugging the coast (well, waving at it from a safe distance anyway). We proceeded along a scraggly route to Serian (12.30 pm), Seri Aman (14.24) and Sibu (by 17.40).

Word of advice: DO NOT TRY TO DRIVE THROUGH SIBU DURING THE RUSH HOUR!! Or at any other hour in fact. We made the mistake of thinking we would look for a place to stay the night in Sibu, but the fact is that Sibu is so full of traffic and so lacking in places to stop, plus having a one-way system designed by Satan, that we decided to stop for a rest at a petrol station before driving through the dark tunnel of the night to Bintulu.

The trip to Bintulu was a night-driver’s playtime, which is why I took over the controls from Sunny. The road to Bintulu was narrow, bumpy and full of gargantuan trucks, and I was spending most of my time squinting past the blaring lights of oncoming vehicles and negotiating ways of overtaking without being smashed to pieces against an oncoming Hilux. We were nearly hit in the face at one point by a 4WD which must have swerved to avoid a pot hole (more about these later!). Further up the road we passed a car which had gone down in a ditch. Lots of excitement...

Eventually, though, after a 2 1/2 hour drive, the hot dark womb of the tropical night spewed us out at Bintulu, which is a very well lit oil town and major port with nice safe roads and, luckily for us, plenty of cheap hotels to choose from. Selecting a fairly safe-looking place called the Lee Hua Plaza, we checked in at around 22.00 and, after an excellent meal in the understandably deserted restaurant, we retired to our rooms for a well-deserved slumber.

Number of Kilometres covered in day one: 643. Number of petrol stops: 2.

Next Part will follow (honestly!!!!!)