Civilization 4

I was tired yesterday and wanted to rejuvenate when I did the mistake of installing Civilization 4 on my notebook. The game totally sucked away my waking hours like a succubus on heat.

What’s different about the game when compared to the previous version is that it has a new concept called “Religion”. Civs can now start a religion and spread them beyond your boundaries. Civs with same religion tends to be more amiable to each other but be careful of overzealous neighbours who will preach to you about your sinful ways.

Another cool thing is that one can run for Secretary General of the UN and set resolutions to be voted on. This allows one to push through resolutions like Nuclear Non-Proliferation (after one has build a HUGE stockpile, hehehe…).

The game that I played last night was relatively a short one (2 hours 59 minutes) when compared to a typical Civ 3 game (which typically takes 4-6 hours). Overall, I was friendly to my neighbours (not a single battle was waged) but the ending was quite tedious as it was a race to space between my Civ and another Civ.

In the end, I proved myself to be the better megalomaniac than the computer.

Apple switches to Intel

When Steve Jobs is in his element, he can sell almost anything. That was precisely what he did recently when he announced during the Apple World Wide Developers’ Conference 2005 keynote that Apple is going to use Intel microprocessors in all new computers beginning 2006.

This story has been the buzz on the Internet ever since CNET broke the news on Friday, 3rd June 2005, 3 days before the Jobs’ keynote. Most Mac enthusiasts(including me) initially did not believe such a report and were caught surprised with the official announcement.

The Macintosh’s switch to Intel marks the third major switch that this family of computers has gone through since its introduction in 1984.

1984: The First Generation- Macintosh 128K

Containing a whopping 128 Kbytes of RAM, this machine ran at a screaming 8 MHz. Utilizing a Motorola 68000 microprocessor, it was among the first few personal computers in the market at that time that sported a high-resolution black and white graphical user interface. At that time, the OS didn’t even have a name and was known as version 1.0. This machine went on to change the world by permanently segregating its computer users into 2 groups:- the enlightened (Mac users) and the droll (MS-DOS users).

1994: The Second Generation- Power Macintosh 6100

The Power Macintosh 6100 was the first personal computer to use the new PowerPC microprocessor. The new chip, design by the consortium of Motorola, IBM and Apple, was supposed to stem the growing Wintel hegemony. Running at an incredible 60 MHz, the PowerPC 603 system ran MacOS 7.1.2. Of course, changing to a new chip meant that these machines were slower when it ran older applications meant for the 68×000 microprocessors. But on PowerPC native applications, they trounced Intel.

2000: The Third Generation- MacOS X

Launched with a barely usable MacOS X 10.0, this operating system has matured in just under 5 years to become MacOS X 10.4, one of the best operating system in the world. Consisting of multiple frameworks, MacOS X is made from putting together a few application systems and framework on top of a core OS kernel named Darwin, which in itself is derived from NextSTEP, which is desrived from BSD. While Darwin is open-sourced, application systems like Aqua, Quicktime, Quartz Extreme, etc are not. These sub-systems give every Macintosh the MacOS X experience- snappy windows, licking good graphics and easy to use interface.

2006: The Next Generation- Intel Macs

Information is sketchy at this point in time but some are beginning to emerge. The Mactels are definitely x86 machines as the machine that Jobs was using in the keynote is a 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 PowerMac. There is also a new translation technology called Rosetta that does real time binary code translation for PowerPC applications to Intel.

Tiger, tiger burning bright…

I am always impressed with Apple on how they could milk every single ounce of computing power from a microprocessor. This is the reason why I looked forward to installing the latest version of MacOS X on my Powerbook. Numbered 10.4, the OS is also known as Tiger- a silly big cat nomenclature that had started with Cheetah to Jaguar to Panther.

(This naming convention was actually the work of Apple’s marketing department who wanted to portray “speed? and “agility?, though if memory serves right, Panther was supposed to be “Pinot?. Fancy working on an OS that is named after a puny grape? Didn’t think so…)

However, naming OSes after big cats is slightly better than Microsoft who went with names of ski resorts. The latest, most bestest, most futurestest version of Windows is known as Longhorn, which incidentally, is also the name for a species of cow. Whether intentional or not, this Windows shares similar nonchalant attitudes when it comes to timekeeping- which explains why it is delayed until 2007…and beyond.

Tiger is much more than just a marginal update. It is a major update that Apple touts as containing more than 200 new features. Of that, one major new feature could potentially change the way in which I use my computer. And I say this without exaggeration.

That feature is Spotlight.

Ever since starting with MS-DOS, my entire computing life has been one where I managed, manipulated, archived and catalogued directories and files. In fact, this is pretty much how everyone uses a computer. Failure to understand this renders one incapable of finding one’s file, which could remain unfortunately lost among billions of bytes of information that are encoded within nanoscopic grooves in one’s hard disk.

Microsoft proposed a new way to manipulate files. In fact, they were so ambitious that Longhorn was originally designed to have a new file system that would make folders and files less relevant. I used the word “originally? because that feature has been deemed to be too complex and it was removed from development. But not for Apple.

Starting a couple of years after Microsoft boldly published the specifications of Longhorn, Apple first delivered File Journaling in Panther (MacOS X 10.3). On top of that new file database table, Apple built Spotlight, which is an ultrafast, ultradeep search function. Spotlight is not an application. It is a feature of the OS that can be used by any applications. On the Finder, it is used as a fast file search tool. Just type a keyword on the top right magnifying glass icon and Spotlight will return a list of files, applications, graphics, music, documents and even video that is somewhat related to the keyword.

As a test, I typed in “Star Trek? and I found the teaser trailer of “Star Trek: First Contact? within my hard disk. This was a file that I thought that I had lost a long, long time ago. In addition, I’ve managed to find also valuable MS Word documents that I had written long time ago but had not accessed because I had forgotten what their filenames were.

And to make it even better, Spotlight works so fast that it is unbelievable. Type in a word and it starts searching, with each search averaging about 5 seconds to complete on my 1.3GHz PowerBook G4.

How Spotlight would change computing is pretty obvious. With such an easy way to find files, the emphasis on creating proper directories and naming conventions is reduced. This means that all files can be dumped into one big folder (okay, some of us are already doing this but I’m not one of them) and Spotlight will keep everyone sane. Sort of like Google on one’s desktop.

Apart from Spotlight, another cool thing is Dashboard. To be fair, this is not anything new. Apple has a habit of copying from the best and adopting features into its own software; for more of this: read Fire in the Valley and see its made-for-TV-movie-adaptation Pirates of the Silicon Valley. This time, Apple “borrowed? the idea for this software from Konfabulator.

Dashboard consists of widgets, like Konfabulator, and widgets are small applications and have them float freely around your desktop. These small applications could be pulling the latest news from the web, converting one unit of measurement to another or spitting up the meaning of a word from a dictionary.

Personally, I liked Apple’s widgets. They are cute eye candy versions of small apps that I always use when I am working on my computer. Take for example, the calculator: this helpful widget saves one an enormous amount of time as one doesn’t have to load the behemoth that is Microsoft Excel every time one wants to determine how much 7659763 divided by 65.8 is (the answer’s 116409.77203647, thanks Calculator Widget!).

However there is a slight and irritating bug on the weather widget. The weather widget gives one the highs and the lows for the day as well as displays the current weather in a graphical form. For example, if it is raining, one gets a cool animated rain graphic. But for Kuala Lumpur, the widget always seems to think that we are in perpetual darkness because the graphic that I get is always one of the moon- even though during daytime!

Another thing that got me a little concern is the ease with which widgets can be installed on one’s computer. Normally, this would be a good thing. This ease of installation, however, could cause security issues for the MacOS X. Malicious widgets could be attached to e-mail and unsuspecting users would unknowingly install these into their computer. Perhaps Apple should release a patch to allow users to uninstall widgets, which, at this point of writing, one is unable to do.

Overall, I like this OS and I think that this is the best MacOS X by far. I get very excited every time Apple releases a new OS and so far, they’ve managed to not only raise the bar ever so higher but to meet and exceed it with every release. The MacOS X 10.4 Tiger is a resounding home run.

View a of Spotlight.
View a
video demonstration of Dashboard.

SuprNova Down

I can’t believe it. The site that I visit without fail everyday is down…and this time, probably for good.

There was news that MPAA recently is going to crack down on BitTorrent sites. Most of the time I pay little attention to this sort of news. I mean, how can you stop a website that doesn’t (technically) break any copyright rules?

Take SuprNova:- it doesn’t host any infringing files. What it does provide is a link of all new and active torrents on the site. It also provides a tracker for these torrents. MPAA (or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) claims that anyone facilitating the infringement of copyrighted materials is as guilty as the infringing party.

This is truly a disturbing development. Does it mean that if I provide a link to say another movie BitTorrent site that I would be liable too in the eyes of MPAA, even if I did not ripped, mixed, burned or shared any illicit copies?

Anyway, I look forward to the next leap in technology when someone would develop a server-less version of BitTorrent. This version would work like any P2P software and it can use the gnutella technology to search for torrent files. Trackers would be decentralized. Upon locating the required torrent files, the program would then download using BitTorrent.


Apple’s latest update, the Mac OS X 10.3 (code-named Panther) is a great operating system and sets the bar for how computer operating systems should evolve.

Body: It was a pleasant surprise a couple of weeks ago when I received an e-mail from our friendly MacAsia Apple Centre in GE Mall announcing that they are going to have a launch event on the 24th October 2003 at 8pm. A quick check to the calendar revealed that Deepavali falls on that day. Wanting to be sure that I do not show up for an event because of a typographical error, I e-mailed them a few questions and got a prompt reply stating the following:-

1. Yes. It is a public holiday and they’re having a launch event with food and drinks
2. No. I may not buy the OS before that date no matter how much money I had spent with them

I am a big fan of Jaguar, the previous OS and had no complains about it and was anxious to try out the software. After 2 weeks of running the new OS, I am pleased to report that it is everything that I had expected and more.

Apart from the subtle but effective GUI changes (something that I look forward to in every release of new OS), my Powerbook and Powermac appeared to work faster and breezier. Now, I’ve come traditionally from a Wintel platform and this is the most perplexing “feature” of Apple Mac OS X updates- they actually make your current machine faster! To confirm this, I’ve installed Panther on my friend’s clam shell iBook (which was crawling on Mac OS X 10.1) and everything (reponsiveness, screen refresh, windows dragging, etc) was so much more faster.

I challenge Microsoft to pull this off without requiring people to buy new Intel machines every time a new Windows is released…

End of MSN Chat

Microsoft is shutting down MSN chat rooms around the world because they claim that they are unsafe for children. However, will this make the Internet a safer place?

The short answer is: NO. Taking away just one channel out of a possible unlimited channels where minors can chat does not a safer Internet make. In fact, it might even be more dangerous. The danger is if parents are lulled into a false sense of security by the move. Minors still can have access to Instant Messaging (whether MSN, Yahoo!, AOL or ICQ) or other on-line bulletin boards.

And with Microsoft being a market leader, their social responsibilities are higher. What is astounding is that Microsoft chose the easy way out (by shutting down) instead of doing something more proactive to mitigate the problem. MSN portals could and should be used by Microsoft to teach children about safe Internet surfing.

Of course, one can’t deny the financial aspect of the move as Microsoft can cut it’s MSN portal operation costs down. But in this case, they should have put people