Astro B.yond HD

Astro likened the launch of B.yond, its HDTV offering in Malaysia, to the introduction of colour television broadcasting. As unfortunate as it may seems, I am old enough to remember the day when RTM started broadcasting in colour. I recalled the excitement of curious neighbours as they crowd around the rare new colour TV set in the neighbourhood, ahh-ing and ohh-ing ever so often. I also remembered vividly that we would religiously tune into any program that was broadcasted in colour, regardless of the subject matter

While Astro’s B.yond promises high definition (and to most extent and purposes, deliver on that), it is nowhere near as revolutionary as colour transmission.

High definition content is not new. If you are running your PC at resolutions better than 1280 x 720 pixels, it’s already 720p HD. If your puny 2 Megapixel camera takes images at 1600 x 1200 pixels, it already has more height information than 1080p, which is the current highest standard for HD. Bluray discs (and earlier HD-DVD), gaming consoles like PS3 and XBOX360 had gone HD since a couple of years ago.

Therefore, Astro B.yond, unlike colour television, does not have a high novelty factor. It would be hard to imagine your neighbours curiously crashing into your living room to see for themselves what the HDTV fuss is all about, no matter how more lines you can find on the face of David Letterman.

Currently, B.yond only has 4 channels in HD (NatGeo HD, History HD, HBO HD, Astro Supersport HD) with ESPN HD coming soon. To get these channels, Astro requires you to change the dish, decoder, smart card and remote control. The new Set Top Box (STB) is smaller and slicker with a redesigned on-screen menu system. There is an USB port on the front which one may connect memory devices if Astro were to release TiVO like features in the future.

Originally, I had stripped down my Astro subscription to only the bare basics, a form of boycott for the ever increasing bill. What this meant was that I can only watch the documentary channels, so I spent quite a lot of time initially watching Megadisasters, Ice Truckers, Mega Movers, etc. A very little publicized fact is that the programming for the HD channels of NatGeo and History are actually different from the standard definition (SD) channels. The shows may be the same but the scheduling is totally different. However, HBO HD is essentially the same channel as HBO SD except for the 60 minutes delay while Supersports HD is a repackaged Supersports 2 in HD.

The documentary channels look absolutely spectacular. The colours are indeed much richer and there are just so much details in those programs (one can easily read the finer prints on the background or count the number of lines the talking head has on his, er, head).

Inspired, I signed up for the movie package and I got to watch HBO HD.

This is when my excitement got a little doused as the quality of HBO HD was not as great as the documentary HD channels. Perhaps it’s the compression profile that Astro uses for this channel but pictures look softer and filled with blocky compression artefacts, especially during action sequences. Some scenes are quite unwatchable and remind me of badly recompressed pirated DVDs.

Another big beef that I have is with the sound. Even though Astro B.yond touts having Dolby Digital sound, the quality is really bad. The audio channels are often encoded wrongly. The most common mistake that happens in the NatGeo HD and HBO HD channel is that the vocals are not only coming out from the centre speaker, they are also coming out from the left and right speakers. To make things worse, the same vocal track is not even in synch! This slight delay between the center and other speakers creates a wierd off-phased vocal effect that is just downright irritating.

To succeed in this game, Astro would have to bring more care into rolling out this service. With 4 channels today, it is unlikely that they will get conversions from the masses, except maybe during the World Cup 2010 period where all the games will be broadcast in HD. This initial wave of interest today is attracting early adopting HD geeks like me who won’t mind paying RM 20 more per month to enjoy the technology. To get the masses, they would have to fix the faults and ramp up on HD content very quickly. That’s because after watching the HD channels, people would wise up and realize that Astro’s standard SD offerings looks really, really bad.

The Maps for Hedeby Island

I’m current reading Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and I discovered that the English edition did not come with 2 maps of Hedeby, the fictional island where most of the action takes place. While one may not need the maps to enjoy the book, I found that they greatly helped as a geographical frame of reference for the narrative.

After some fruitful (albeit long and tedious) googling, I stumbled upon 2 maps that were originally included in the Swedish edition of the book. The maps are in the original Swedish but thanks to Google Translate, I reproduce here for fans of the book, the 2 maps in English.

Do note that the Swedish to English translation is not perfect and most of the time, I have to make judgment calls. Please let me know if there is a better English version out there.

BTW, halfway through the book now and it is really a good genre novel. Actions move fast, situations are intriguing, characters are engaging. Overall, a very good light reading vacation novel 🙂

Directions to Lake Fields

For those who are coming to the morning session of Celeste and Ming Han’s wedding, here are some quick directions to Lake Fields.

Directions from Kesas (Lebuhraya Shah Alam) to Lake Fields

1.

After the KESAS toll, travel eastward on KESAS towards KL

4.0 km

2.

Take right fork towards Cheras. You will be now on Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR 2)

2.0 km

3.

Look out for Bandar Tasik Selatan LRT station on left. Take left ramp and make a U-turn to the other side of MRR 2

0.3 km

4.

Continue on MRR 2 until you see the turning to Serdang, Balakong, UPM on the left

1.7 km

5.

Take that turning and continue straight. You will come across a traffic light. The Sg Besi LRT station is on your left

0.2 km

6.

Continue straight and take flyover on the left that says Lake Fields

0.3 km

See Google Map

Directions from Federal Highway to Lake Fields

1.

Head east on Lebuhraya Persekutuan towards Kuala Lumpur

0.2 km

2.

As you pass MidValley on your left, take the exit onto Jalan Klang Lama

3.1 km

3.

Travel straight and turn left at Jalan Kuchai Lama

2.6 km

4.

Continue straight all the way and you will be travelling on Lebuhraya Sungai Besi

4.0 km

5.

Take “Lake Fields” ramp when you come to a 3-fork that says Sg. Besi/Cheras (left), Lake Fields (centre) and Serdang/Balakong (right)

0.4 km

See Google Map

Directions from KL Seremban Highway to Lake Fields

Take the Cheras exit from KL-Seremban Highway

0.1 km

Take the left ramp to Sungai Besi (via Lebuhraya Sungai Besi) *warning: do not take leftest ramp to Putrajaya

56 m

Keep right at the fork to continue toward Lebuhraya Sungai Besi (towards KL)

1.0 km

Make a U-turn

2.5 km

Continue straight on Lebuhraya Sungai Besi (towards Serdang)

4.1 km

Take “Lake Fields” ramp when you come to a 3-fork that says Sg. Besi/Cheras (left), Lake Fields (centre) and Serdang/Balakong (right)

0.4 km

See Google Map

When you reach Lake Fields, you will see white 3 storey houses that look something like this:-

The Lost Symbol

I have a confession to make.

I would lust after Kentucky Fried Chicken and would feel really bad after eating it. Not from a guilt point of view due to unhealthy indulgence. Nope, I really do physically feel bad after finishing the last piece of fried chicken that has been secretly embalmed with 11 herbs and spices. It always leaves a peculiar after-taste that can be described as a bad combination of sickeningly creamy grease, refrigerated overnight chicken soup and sweaty salty skin.

Which is like the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol. While I couldn’t resist the marketing messages which promoted this book like it is the sequel to the Holy Bible, the feeling that I get after completing it can be described as a bad combination of sickeningly ill-constructed scenes and dialogues, refrigerated plots from previous books and conspiracy theories and non-sweaty predictable plot twists.

In this novel, Dan Brown took familiar plot elements from The DaVinci Code, Angels & Demons, Deception Point and Digital Fortress and transported the story to Washington D.C. This time around, a diabolical and murderous villain with the moniker of Mal’akh forces Robert Langdon to once again solve puzzles based on long lost symbols. I wouldn’t write anything more about the plot because the book has nothing else going for it and I do not want to spoil it in case one wants to read this book or wait for the Tom Hanks movie version of the book.

What I’ve discovered when reading The Lost Symbol is that Dan Brown has unabashedly recycled plot elements and characters from his old novels. (For those who do not like spoilers, skip to the last paragraph now).

For instance:-

  • Robert Langdon is forced into solving the puzzles
  • Female co-lead is forced into the situation too
  • It’s a race against time
  • The secret that is such a big deal is always hidden in plain sight in paintings, buildings, etc
  • The secret, if made known to all, will cause massive chaos and disorder
  • There is a an official from hell who apparently hampers Langdon and his female co-lead but who eventually turns out to be one of the good guys after all

The saving grace to this book is that with all the flaws it is still fun to read. That is if one lowers one’s expectations enough to read it for the pulp fiction value that it is and nothing more.

dsdI have a confession to make.
I would lust after Kentucky Fried Chicken and would feel really bad after eating it. Not from a guilt point of view due to unhealthy indulgence. Nope, I really do physically feel bad after finishing the last piece of fried chicken that has been secretly embalmed with 11 herbs and spices. It always leaves a peculiar after-taste that can be described as a bad combination of sickeningly creamy grease, refrigerated overnight chicken soup and sweaty salty skin.
Which is like the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol. While I couldn’t resist the marketing messages which promoted this book like it is the sequel to the Holy Bible, the feeling that I get after completing it can be described as a bad combination of sickeningly ill-constructed scenes and dialogues, refrigerated plots from previous books and conspiracy theories and non-sweaty predictable plot twists.
In this novel, Dan Brown took familiar plot elements from The DaVinci Code, Angels & Demons, Deception Point and Digital Fortress and transported the story to Washington D.C. This time around, a diabolical and murderous villain with the moniker of Mal’akh forces Robert Langdon to once again solve puzzles based on long lost symbols. I wouldn’t write anything more about the plot because the book has nothing else going for it and I do not want to spoil it in case one wants to read this book or wait for the Tom Hanks movie version of the book.
What I’ve discovered when reading The Lost Symbol is that Dan Brown has unabashedly recycled plot elements and characters from his old novels. (For those who do not like spoilers, skip to the last paragraph now).
For instance:-
Robert Langdon is forced into solving the puzzles
Female co-lead is forced into the situation too
It’s a race against time
The secret that is such a big deal is always hidden in plain sight in paintings, buildings, etc
The secret, if made known to all, will cause massive chaos and disorder
There is a an official from hell who apparently hampers Langdon and his female co-lead but who eventually turns out to be one of the good guys after all
The saving grace to this book is that with all the flaws it is still fun to read. That is if one lowers one’s expectations enough to read it for the pulp fiction value that it is and nothing more.

Patch for the human OS

Recently, we went to the paediatrician to give Chloe her shots. I was pretty blown away by how much we have advanced as a human race since I last got my compulsory shots.

Nowadays, they have super 6-in-1’s or 9-in-1’s that is able to immunize baby from Hepatitis to Hong Kong Feet (okay, maybe not but but they should for our olfactory challenged friends).

Seeing all this advancements reminded me of the times when I upgrade the operating systems of the computers that I own.

Microsoft and Apple will always advertise (as you are installing their Operating Systems) that you are installing one of the most advance piece of software that money can buy. After spending 40-60 minutes waiting and seeing the status bar trudging along slowly from 0 to 100%, the machine will herald triumphantly that it is ready to boot using the new Operating System.

Upon first boot, one will then be confronted by windows popping up asking for you to download gigabytes of updates, service packs & patches because the most advance software that money can buy just got outdated from the time it left the store to your house.

Which is very similar to the human race today.

Babies are born to be as perfect as our last benefetial genetic mutation. However, between the time from that mutation to now, there are viruses that can cause a great deal of harm if the body is not “patched” to fight those viruses.

Looking at the schedule of shots that they have today, I would think that newborns will have a pretty traumatic & painful childhood. I’m just gald that babies don’t come with accessories like camera or scanners.

Patching the device drivers for those suckers is hell.

Another baby post…

Being a new parent is like being on perpetual standby: you are never going to prioritize anything above the welfare of your baby.

Take for example my favourite hobbies. Assuming if I can find time first to indulge in them, my enjoyment of watching a DVD is contingent upon Chloe not crying during the duration of the movie. When Chloe cries, it doesn’t matter if Liam Neeson is in the middle of saving his daughter while single-handedly taking down the human trafficking gang in Taken, the movie stops and Chloe gets full attention.

The same goes for books and magazines, which have reverted to be nothing more than loose reading materials akin to those in doctor’s waiting lounges. They are there for you to pass the time before you have to attend to something more important like your baby’s cries.

The attention required by a baby is just tremendous.

Being so helpless, they rely on able-bodied adults to do their biddings. The weapons at their disposable are their ear piercing cries and their disarmingly cute face. And both in combination, when used in varying proportions, always induce a fully-grown adult to revert to a drone bent on fulfilling baby’s desires.

After 2 years of servitude to baby’s wishes and demands, I am going to do something different: payback time. Yes, I’m going to secretly train Chloe on how to clean the floor, the house, the TV console, defragment my computer, queue my favourite TV program in my bittorrent software, perform systems maintenance upkeep, wash the car and make morning coffee. And in the name of parenthood, I am going to draw up a schedule where she is supposed to do these “chores” so that she could improve on her “hand-eye coordination”. Hehehe…maybe it’s time to have an army of kids 🙂