Happy 40th Birthday Apple!

Apple marked its 40 years of existence with a, well, nothing. For most companies, a milestone is a cause for celebration, or atleast, an opportunity to sell more items through an anniversary themed promotion. But not Apple. It chooses to celebrate this occasion by doing nothing.

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Microsoft is winning on innovation

It wasn’t so long ago for me that using Windows as a daily computer was such as an abhorrent idea. I have been using Macs for a long time now.  I even got into passionate fights with my enterprise IT teams due to my persistence in insisting that my MacOS devices be allowed to log into the corporate network. But recent innovative developments in Microsoft have given me pause to rethink my attitude towards the company and its products.

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Apple September 2014 Event Keynote

It is really weird that Apple’s announcements are always called keynotes. I remembered times when a keynote meant the most important speech that always underscores the theme of an event. It is supposed to precede an event. Apple’s Special September Event is just that– an event where the only thing happening was the keynote.

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I got hacked and I didn’t know it

I checked my website after a very long time and was surprised to discover that I had been hacked from 6th July 2012. A quick fixing of some files resolved the matter and everthing is back to normal.

For the hackers, I am glad that you had deemed my website worthy of hacking but I’m sure that the effort went about unnoticed because, well, there aren’t that many visitors to this site.

One thing that I must thank you guys for is that you had left my site intact for me to restore.

Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac

Even though I love Apple’s iWork, I’ve always had a soft spot of Microsoft Office. In my mind, iWork is the sexy Ferari that one takes out to spin once in a while Office is the utilitarian Toyota one takes daily to commute from point A to B.

That is the reason why any Microsoft Office for Mac always attracts my interest. It’s like a clash between 2 ideologies where the Mac, a temple of aesthetics, melds with Microsoft, the makes of Fisher Price blue and lime green themed operating systems like Windows XP. Their offspring can sometimes be wonderful- like the very first version of Microsoft Excel for the Mac or it could be disastrous like Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac.

Microsoft writes really good code for office productivity software. I can’t imagine a day in office where I’m not relying on my trusty Microsoft Outlook to organize my day and flow of information or squeezing meaning out of data dumps with complex pivot tables on Microsoft Excel.

But all that is in the office.

At home, in front my big screen Mac, I just want to have fun while I work. I want to drain my brain from the clumsy and clunky Windows interface and just stare at beautifully crafted icons.

Occasionally, when I need to work on office items, I want to use elegantly designed software like iWork. But Pages and Numbers can only carry me so far. Once in a while, I have to shore up my courage and load Microsoft Office 2008 on my Mac and get the work done.

During those times mentioned above, my Mac is transformed to become a Windows PC. Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is so badly designed and perplexing, especially for big screen Macs, that J.J. Abrams could have set the story of Lost on the computer screen. Common features are embedded so far deep into the interface that they don’t have the chance to see the light of day.

The good news is that this may change with Microsoft Office for Mac 2011. While it is not a Lexus, Microsoft have learnt a few things and these are the key improvements which I really liked after test driving the Microsoft Office for Mac 2011:-

Fast and more responsive: I’m blown away by the improvements in speed. The applications load up quickly and in matter of fractions of seconds, one can start using Word, Powerpoint or Excel. Letters appear instantly on screen as you type in Microsoft Word. Contrast this to the previous version where the application speed is slow and highly unresponsive, the improvement in performance is one great compelling reason why everyone who is using Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac should upgrade.

Snazzier Templates: Okay, Steve Jobs will probably not use any of the supplied Microsoft PowerPoint templates but they are the best Microsoft Office templates that I had ever seen so far. Much better than any in the PC version—and the best thing is that they are fully compatible which means that there is no need to export great looking presentations from Keynote to Powerpoint.

Microsoft Word

Improved User Interface: The separate floating “palette” is gone! In its place is the ribbon that first made its appearance in Microsoft Office 2010 for the PC. There is some contention as to whether the ribbon is a better interface but I’ve grown to like it. It is really practical for people like me who have 12 different windows opened at any one point in time.

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.