For the heck of it

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hooked on to Heroes!!

I am a great fan of Sci-Fi thrillers. So when my colleague Hatim (who also happens to be my boss), introduced me to Heroes - a science fiction running on NBC, I jumped right in! He offered me an entire series in HD format, which he had freshly downloaded off the internet through torrents.

That was on Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, which happens to be weekends in this part of the world (Middle East), I finished 19 episodes - 9 on Friday and 10 on Saturday. FYI - Season One of Heroes includes 23 episodes. Today I am on the final four episodes.

A Brief Backgrounder via Wikipedia...
Heroes is an American science fiction drama television series, created by Tim Kring, which premiered on NBC on September 25, 2006. The show tells the story of several people who "thought they were like everyone else... until they woke with incredible abilities" such as telepathy, time travel and flight. These people soon realize they have a role in preventing a catastrophe and saving mankind. The series follows the writing style of American comics with short, multi-episode story arcs that build upon a larger, more encompassing arc. Even with small story arcs that move the story forward, Kring said "we have talked about where the show goes up to five seasons".

When the series premiered in the United States, it was the night's most-watched program among adults aged 18-49, attracting 14.3 million viewers overall and receiving the highest rating for any NBC drama premiere in five years. On October 6, 2006, NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly announced Heroes had been picked up for a full season, and on January 17, 2007, Reilly announced Heroes had been picked up for a second season. The second season of Heroes will consist of 24 episodes,[6] and the first season of new spinoff Heroes: Origins will include 6 episodes.

I am really amazed at the quality of production Heroes has. I didn't expect a series to be top notch - you could only name a few series that are brilliant, like CSI for instance. But Heroes is definitely one step ahead of most sci-fi thrillers I have seen, as far as direction, story line and the amount of production quality it accompanies, is concerned. If you are someone who loves Sci-Fi Thrillers, Heroes is definitely a must watch. I am now eagerly waiting for the Season Two of Heroes.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

And now... the Media Player Review

I am back to Dubai from my trip to Taipei. I was there to cover Computex Taipei 2007. During my 7-day stay, I visited the computer street in Taipei and bough myself a hard disk drive case, which also doubles up as a multimedia player.

As promised in my post, here's the review. I bought the hard disk drive case for about AED190 (NTD 1800). While such cases are also available in Dubai, they cost on the higher side. For instance, the case I bought from Taipei for AED 190, would easily cost around AED350 (NTD 3500). The build quality of the case is awesome and the UI is quite easy to use.

Yesterday evening, I went to Computer Plaza here in Dubai and bough myself a 120GB 2.5-inch hard disk drive for use in the multimedia player case, for AED260.

Last time I checked in Taipei, a 120GB 2.5-inch hard disk cost about NTD 2000 (AED200). But I was a bit wary buying a hard disk from Taipei - what if the hard disk refused to work, once I was back in Dubai? There would definitely be no way for me to get it replaced or exchanged.

I removed the hard disk drive from its packing and connected it to my Compaq Presario laptop. My laptop immediately recognised the hard disk.

Next, I downloaded CompuApps SwissKnife V3.22 to do the partitioning and the formatting bit. True to its name, the tool worked wonders - the 120GB spanking new hard disk was partitioned into two different parts and formatted within a matter of seconds.

I then proceeded to transfer some DivX, MPEG, VOB, MP3 and some images onto it, to check out the compatibility of such file formats.

Everything seemed to play well. In fact, the quality of the playback was awesome. In fact, it also automatically played subtitle files!

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bye Bye Taipei

I am all packed up and ready to go.

My flight leaves in about 4 hours time. It was nice visiting Taipei and I hope to come back sometime soon...

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Tech Shopping in Taipei

Have been busy for the past few days, since my meeting schedule was packed, thanks to my magazine's agent in Taipei - PRISCO. Got time today and tomorrow for my shopping before I fly back to Dubai tomorrow. I had been wanting to buy one of those 2.5-inch hard disk casings, which also double up as multimedia players. Such casings are available from companies such as Sarotech, Vantec, Sedna and so on.

At Computer Plaza in Dubai, I have only seen such casings from Sarotech and few "no-name"companies. While the ones from Sarotech sell for a whopping AED 450 (US$123), those from "no-name"companies sell for about AED 180 (US$49). Sarotech cases flaunt a really good build quality and user interface, while those no-name ones are made of cheap metal and crappy UI.

I went to the Computer Street (I think it's called Guang Hwa Computer Market) in Taipei to check out the wares. I asked a representative from PRISCO to write the name down for me in Chinese, so that it becomes easier for me to communicate it to the taxi driver, and it becomes easier for him to undertand where I wanted to go. Here's the location name in Chinese.

Print this image out and show it to the taxi driver, if you want to go to Computer Street in Taipei

You can print it out and hand it over to the taxi driver, if you intend to go to the Computer Street in Taipei. On the computer street, you will find big technology superstores, medium-sized computer stores and small kiosks that also sell IT and CE products. The taxi driver told me that it's much better shopping at the kiosks, which are situated into a building that is divided into six halls. Each hall has numerous little shops / kiosks that sell a variety of gadgets.

I visited each and every shop in the building looking and enquiring about the 2.5-inch hard disk drive cases. And I did find a variety of them - ranging from NTD 990 (US$ 30) to NTD 3400 (US$ 103), in different colours, materials, and features. I bought one from a "no-name" company for NTD 1,800 (US$54).

The HDD case. Seen here is the AV cable, the USB port, the multi-cable connector, and the power connector.

The build quality was excellent and the UI was awesome. As you can see below, it came with a variety of connectors, too. Watch this space for a detailed review.

The contents of the box - the cables, the remote control, the pouch and the manual.

Before I left for Taipei, my good friend Siddharth, who also happens to be an excellent photographer, asked me to buy one of these casings for him, too. However, when I asked the guy selling the case, he said he only had one piece left, since many people who were visiting Computex, went out and bought such cases, too. He claimed that he himself sold about 32 such cases to visitors from various countries, over the last 2 days.

I then enquired at other stores, and luckily found one from a company called Vantec, which featured an OTG function, and cost NTD 2200 (US$ 67). I immediately mailed Siddharth telling him about the case, and asking him whether I should buy it. He replied back with an affirmation, and so I bought this one for him.

The HDD case showing the AV connectors, the USB port and the /off switch.

The contents of the box - check out all the cables, remote control, software CD and manual.

I hope to post a full-on review of the case some time soon. So watch this space for more!

Great Food in Taiwan!

Taipei is well known for its hospitality. It's a heaven for food lovers. I am a food lover, too. While there's a huge variety of food and cuisine available in most hotels, restaurants or food stalls in Taipei, I have an advice for visitors from the Middle East - especially Muslims.

According to Islam, it is forbidden to eat pork. However, in most restaurants, hotels and food stalls, you will definitely find pork on the menu. While most hotels and restaurants mark dishes made using pork separately, you might not find such classification at most night markets, food stalls and local restaurants. So it is better to ask the restaurant managers or those selling food at the food stalls to let you know about those entries on the menu that don't contain pork.

If you want to be on the safer side, you can always opt to dine at places such as McDonald's and KFC. Believe me - there's an McD on every corner of the street! By the way, if you do choose to eat at McD, I suggest you try the chicken burger which is made using burger buns made out of boiled rice! Take a look at the picture below - it looks something like this:

I tried it, and I can give it an 8 out of 10! It was yummy. The rice in Taiwan becomes sticky, whne boiled, and so it's easier to make burger buns out of it. Yesterday in the evening, I went to the Raohe St. Night Market - which is just 10 minutes drive from Rebar City Crown Hotel. As soon as I entered the market, I could smell stinky tofu everywhere!!

The street was filled with small food stalls selling everything from tofus, fried chicken, beef and pork stew, to Chinese meat balls, ice-creams, and so on. There were also a few dishes, which I can't really explain - looked like fried duck neck with the head and the beak intact to me. Needless to say, I avoided eating from those stalls.

While roaming around the night market, I faintly heard something, which sounded like a Hindi song. I immediately walked towards the sound and the next thing I know was that I was standing in front of an Indian restaurant, which was run by a Pakistani guy. Don't believe me? here's the menu:

I ordered a Chicken Curry dish - which came with chicken curry, rice, naan, soup, salad and a drink. The price - NTD350 - is a bit on the higher side, and the food tasted OK. Here's what it looked like:

Friday, June 08, 2007

And the Award for the Most Courteous Taxi Driver Goes to...

Teddy!! Teddy?? Teddy, who??? Well, the guy below.

Why? Because, I am from India, and now live in Dubai. As you might have read from my previous entries, I am in Taipei to cover Computex 2007. I haven't seen a taxi driver anywhere as yet - in India, Dubai or Taipei - go over and above his duty to help his customers! I wanted to get to Computer Street in Taipei, and so hailed a taxi from Grand Hyatt hotel, right next to Taipei 101. As soon as I got in, Teddy (he called himself that, but I don't know his Chinese name) greeted me with a Ni Hao, and a "good afternoon". Throughout the journey, he was like this chatterbox that went on chattering and chattering, without boring me.

He was funny and was quite helpful - by the way he spoke really good English for a Taiwnese (and a taxi driver). He told me that he used to work with a furniture export firm in Taiwan earlier. But since his father got sick, he had to quit his job to take care of his father. But then he had to support his family, too. So he started driving a taxi. He says that by driving a taxi he earns money enough to keep his family going, and it's also a job with flexible timings. So he doesn't have to think twice, if somebody from his family needs him for a moment.

Since it was raining, he didn't think even twice before handing me his umbrella. He said, "You are here to shop, not catch cold and fall sick." I asked him how would I return his umbrella. He said, "That's OK. It's an umbrella, a passenger left behind."And then quickly added, "Oh, I was just kidding." I gave him my hotel's card and asked him to collect it from the reception. He nodded. I then, took his phone number and told him that I would need a ride back to the hotel to drop off the stuff I would be shopping for. He promptly gave me his number.

After shopping, I called him on his cell and he arrived to pick me up within no time! In Taipei, if you book a taxi, you need to pay extra. Teddy didn't even speak about the money. He just drove me back to the hotel and as usual the journey was a plesant one, with Teddy chattering away. If you look at the picture closely, you would see that he is chewing on something similar to beetle leaves. Here's a cloese-up shot.

Teddy says that most taxi drivers chew on these leaves to stay awake, so that they don't doze off at the wheels. Most taxi drivers are hardworking and do extra shifts for that extra piece of revenue. He also adds that these leaves are good for keeping the blood-pressure under control.

I will be leaving on 10th for Dubai. I have already asked Teddy to pick me up from my hotel and drop me off at the airport. I had a really great experience, travelling with Teddy. I would certainly recommend Teddy to anyone travelling in Taipei. If you are in Taipei or are travelling to Taipei and are looking for a taxi driver, Teddy would be your man. You can contact him at: 0970157639. And yes, if you do meet him, wish him on my behalf.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Marriages are made in heaven... well almost!

Someone in the olden days, said something right - marriages are made in heaven. I am in Taiwan currently and am here to cover Computex 2007. I have been around the city and I am only impressed each time. Yesterday was a surprise! It started to rain, and for no reason, I glanced at Taipei 101 to have a look at the world's tallest tower touching the skies above. And Iwas amazed at the sight. The tower displayed "Marry me? Diana" in lights. I immediately clicked the image below.

Click on the image for a larger version

Apparently a Taiwanese guy wanted to propose his girlfriend, and chose this novel way to let her know about his feelings. It was really cool idea - his girlfriend would have clearly said "YES!"

The heavens must surely be missing some angels...

... and I found them at Computex Taipei 2007!!!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Computex - Part Duex

Having to cover Computex Taipei this year, I landed up in the city of great electronics and IT products, and stinky Tofu, for the second time. Took a long 11 hour flight from Dubai via Hong Kong to Taipei, Taiwan. I came to Taipei last year for the first time (again to cover Computex) and immediately fell in love with the city. This time too, it wasn't any different. It was a pleasant surprise to be welcomed by rains! Aaah... finally a relief from Dubai's HOT and dusty weather. But the relief will only stay on for 7 days until June 10th, when I return to Dubai. Sigh.

Taipei 101 at night

It was great to see some folks from TAITRA - the organisers of Computex - waiting at the Chiang Kai Shek airport to receive journos from around the world, turning up for the event. Computex by the way, is world's second largest IT exhibition, only second to CeBIT, which is held in Hannover, Germany. After a 1.5 hour travel through amazing locales and beautiful sceneries, I reached my hotel - Crowne Plaza (now known as Rebar City Crown) at 3:00pm, entered my room (911) on the 9th floor.

Room 911, Rebar City Crown Hotel, Taipei

I then hit the shower, dressed up smart, and then headed to the opening ceremony of Computex, which was to start at 5:00 pm.
Taiwan World Trade Center

Was feeling sleepy all through the event, since I hadn't slept a wink on the flight, and was a bit tired with all the travel. But the event went well. There was a live orchestra playing in the background, while we were all having dinner.

The live orchestra at the opening ceremony of Computex 2007

The biggest surprise at the event was meeting a few friends from my first job as a journalist - Cybermedia. I joined Cybermedia way back in 2002. Din din done, and I headed straight to the exit of the event hall to get to my hotel and hit the hay. As I was exiting, one of the cute girls at the reception booth of the event, handed me a fluffy doll - the Computex mascot.

The Computex Mascot Doll

I took the doll, smiled and thanked her, and left.