Colouring Race

Something oddly geeky just occurred to me this morning. You’re probably no longer surprised at my geeky thoughts but it’s still something I found mildly interesting. I’m not trying to be racist but I asked myself a question: How many bits would we need to colour every possible race on earth? More directly: How many bits do we need to colour every possible race in Malaysia? More importantly: Why do we want to colour the races?

Computer Colour History
monoComputer displays started with a 1-bit monochrome display, essentially coloured or non-coloured. These came in different varieties, depending on your computer system. The most popular ones were white-black and green-black.

cgaIn the early 1980s, people realised that this was very limiting and increased the colours to a 4-bit display, which could represent 16 fixed colours. Every programmer who started off programming in the 80s (me included) has got this 16 colour palette burned into their heads. This fixed palette was useful for highlighting text but not so useful for displaying images. There were other palettes available but these 16 were the most commonly used.

vgaAfter a while, this still did not please our senses. So, in the late 1980s, computers came with 8-bit displays, which could represent 256 colours. However, the palette was not fixed and the 256 colours could be customised. Many entertainment products exploited this new colour space to display vibrant graphics. Many games were proudly advertised as supporting 256 colours and cartoon colour characters bloomed.

But still, our hunger for visually stimulating graphical inputs were not sated. Then in the 1990s, came 16-bit displays, which allowed 65+ thousand colours. Now, we were getting somewhere. It was now possible to view photos and movies with realism. This coincided with the boom in multi-media applications to exploit this colour space.

fullBut some visual pundits were still not satisfied. So, 24-bit displays were quickly introduced, which allowed the display of 16.7+ million colours. This should keep anyone happy for a long time. Colours were represented in an additive model with 8-bits of red, green and blue intensities.

Finally, as most computers are 32-bit today, they represent colours using the RGB(A) colour model. In addition to the RGB colours, the last 8-bits are often used to represent transparency.

Racial Colours
Now, if we accept the fact that it takes at least 2 individuals to even begin to form a distinct race, we will arrive at our answers. For the world, we would only need a 32-bit representation, which can represent 4.29+ billion possible colours. For Malaysia, we would only need a 24-bit representation. Both types of colour representations have been available on modern computers for years. As evidenced from the series of photos, high colour depths are important so that we can see things clearly and enjoy the vibrant dynamism of different colours.

However, if we were to look at recent developments in our country, we will soon realise that our federal government is still stuck in the graphical stone age. In order to protect the rakyat from being victimised by opposition state governments, they are going to channel development funds through MARA, which is only interested in helping one group of people (1-bit). Our former 2nd Finance Minister has also recently called on Malays to emulate the progressive thinking of Jewish and Chinese societies in terms of development (2-bits).

In conclusion, I think that there is nothing wrong with having a mind coloured by race, as long as it’s of a sufficiently high colour depth. It’s when the colour depth is low (such as that presently employed by the federal government), that we have trouble recognising things for what they are in this world. I would sincerely hope that everyone embraces high colour depths and enjoy the richly colourful world that we live in.

What do you think of this odd thought?

Nightwatchmen

“Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom” — Thomas Jefferson

It’s been many days since this article first appeared in TheStar but I have yet to hear a peep about this from anyone else. So, I felt that I should write down some of my thoughts here. The article says that the Malaysian Home Ministry is mulling the idea of upgrading RELA to departmental status as an enforcement agency under the ministry. I see this as a serious development with potentially fatal consequences (call me a cynic). From the RELA website:

Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (RELA) ditubuhkan pada 11 Januari 1972 dengan berkuatkuasanya Akta (Kuasa-Kuasa Perlu) Darurat 1964 – Peraturan-Peraturan Perlu (Ikatan Relawan Rakyat) (Pindaan) 2005. Penubuhan RELA membolehkan rakyat jelata untuk secara sukarela tampil menganggotai sebuah pasukan sukarela bagi membantu memelihara dan mengekalkan keselamatan dan keamanan negara.

Ostensibly, RELA is a ‘volunteer’ organisation that helps to preserve and maintain the safety and peace of our country.The volunteers are provided with some training and, on occasion, arms to help them carry out their duties. All this sounds very innocuous unless you delve deeper, at which point, you suddenly realise what the NYT mentioned in an article late last year:

This force, called Rela, now numbers nearly half a million mostly untrained volunteers — more than the total number of Malaysia’s military and police in this nation of 27 million. Its leaders are armed and have the right to enter a home or search a person on the street without a warrant.

Their abuses of power are fairly well documented online. You can just do a quick search for it to find a bunch of articles accusing them of rape, robbery and much more. It is not too difficult to see how this can come about. The volunteers do not go through any strict vetting nor are they provided any sort of legal training but are instead given broad powers.

You can call me paranoid, but when I read that the Home Ministry was considering upgrading their functions (and by inference – power) it reminded me of an organisation from another wonderful science fiction series. I tend to like quoting examples from good science fiction shows. Although entirely fictional, the scenarios are often mirrors of things happening in the world.

In Babylon 5, the Nightwatch was also an organisation of volunteers set up to preserve peace and security. During a tense period of politics, the Nightwatch were upgraded into a full security organisation. By that time, it was already too late to do anything as their members were too numerous and everywhere. Overnight, they took power and control of key military installations and became the president’s personal army.

Although RELA claims to be modelled after the Home Guard, I’m quite wary of how easy it would be to turn them into a Gestapo-esque body. That they make up 2% of our population, and outnumber our police force, is worrying. Giving them more powers than they already have, just does not make me sleep well at night. I’m afraid that they will be turned into an organisation that is used, not to preserve public peace, but to enforce the will of certain parties, extra regular channels.

So, I would urge caution before taking any serious measures. The matter needs to be properly looked into and debated, hopefully at parliament. I just don’t want things to end up like they did in B5.

Webcam Job

I’d just read an article on the Beebs titled: ‘Disgust’ at nude webcam job ads. The article goes on to say many things about the job ad. Although it tries to be as impartial as possible, most of the comments came from an evidently disgusted person who spotted the ad in the first place.

The ad says:

Looking for adults aged 18+ for immediate start either from home or from employer site in Mitcham, Surrey. Guaranteed minimum wages per four hour shift. Duties require the successful applicant to be nude/semi-nude. Vacancy not suitable for under-18s. Please note that there is no obligation to consider making an application for this vacancy.

Personally, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the ad. Some people may argue that it’s exploitative and I’ll just point out to them that every ‘job’, by definition, is exploitative. Even stocking shelves in a grocery store, is exploitative. The only question is whether or not you are being paid well enough for your troubles because, in the end, all jobs are about trading your life for money.

In this case they are paying £10 an hour with 50% commission. Considering that minimum wage is £5.52 an hour, that, to me, is not at all exploitative. They are earning almost double the minimum wage in addition to a 50% commission. Considering that you get £10 for doing nothing but look nice on a low resolution webcam, it’s certainly pays better than stocking shelves in any store.

In fact, I would even go further and say that it pays better than most jobs on the market as I don’t know of many services that bill their clients by the minute. So, you can easily chalk up a bulk of earnings through commission, if you are any good at the job. Just like any other job, clients should be lining up in droves to engage in the services provided if you are.

Working hours are probably flexible as well, considering that this is an Internet job, without any borders. It is always a cold and lonely night, somewhere in this world. Hence, the advert called for someone willing to work in shifts. Even doing this part time, could easily rake someone more than £100 (pay + commission) per day. Even banking/consulting jobs don’t pay as much. Now, that’s putting things in perspective.

The only people who have trouble with these kinds of jobs are the people with a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. These people might think that it’s unclean to be engaged in this kind of industry. These ‘holy’ people need to have their brains cleansed. As long as the employer provides for a suitably hygienic working environment and tools, as provided for under OSH rules, you cannot fault them for anything else.

You make use of whatever skills and assets that you have, and provide a service that someone needs. The employer would probably provide some minimal training, such as in how to work the equipment. And in return, you get paid a certain amount of money for your time and efforts. Once you look at things like that, you’ll realise that it is no different from any other job.

That is also the view taken by the JobCentre agency. According to their spokes person:

These vacancies make up less than 0.016% of all vacancies advertised by Jobcentre Plus. Jobcentre Plus has a duty to advertise any legal job. We have a range of measures in place to safeguard jobseekers wishing to work in the adult entertainment industry.

So there you have it. Everything is done in accordance to the law. There are even procedures in place to protect minors from entering into this industry. So, as long as there is a demand for webcam operators, there will be a supply of them. And as long as the companies pay them well, there will be a constant stream of people working in this industry.

PS: Makes you wonder about the state of the Internet, doesn’t it? There must be some truth to the belief that the adult industry is the largest industry on the Net.

What do you think?

Engineers – Bad Communicators

I’ve been tossing around in bed for the last two hours, unable to sleep. So, I’ve decided to do something else, like write this entry. This entry has nothing to do with the reasons that I’m unable to sleep. It’s just a random entry. I’d like to talk about the false perception that engineers do not have good communication skills.

On the contrary, most engineers have very good communication skills. In fact, we engineers probably understand the importance of communication, better than most other people. Engineers work in teams. If we lacked communication skills, you can be sure that nothing would work properly. In fact, accurate communication is so important to us that we have even come up with many methods to formalise thoughts.

However, through my interactions with people from different trainings and backgrounds, I’ve come to understand why the world perceives engineers as bad communicators. I will try to share some of my thoughts by using a few examples of people who are generally conceived as “better” communicators.

Let’s take someone from a social science background, like an economist. When you try to get an economist to explain any concept, they tend to explain it in as many words as possible. I can totally understand the need for so many words, because they constantly deal with situations where conflicting arguments can be used to explain the same thing. So, the only way to share their thoughts on the subject, is through the use of many words to explain the contradictions away.

Next, let us consider some who is generally regarded as being good with words, a lawyer. Their whole life is built around correct wording. So, you can expect lawyers to use just the right number of words, as necessary, to talk about anything. They wouldn’t spare a single word more nor less than was necessary to make their case. In fact, they will even carefully choose words so that their meanings cannot be misconstrued by any party.

Now, you can see the main reason for the misconception. The number of words used. An engineer is trained to communicate in an accurate and concise manner. So, to explain something that may normally take twenty words to do, a lawyer will take exactly twenty, an economist will take forty (or more!) while an engineer will take two. Herein lies the problem. Everyone else expects twenty words and is stunned to only get two. Everyone else naturally draws the conclusion that engineers don’t have much to say and are bad communicators.

You see, when engineers communicate, we are actually communicating on two levels. The first level, is the raw speech or text or drawing or whatever, that we use to send information from one mind to another mind. This is the terribly inefficient bit of communication. There is another second level that is at work here, that is implicit understanding, which is based on analysis and synthesis. We use words in order to shape a thought process, which will then covey the true meaning.

When we communicate, we don’t normally expect to have to spell out everything, from introduction, discussion, through to conclusion. We generally expect people to be able to work the process from A to B themselves, and not have us explain everything. So, with those two words, we expect everyone else to understand what we meant, which unfortunately, is not true for most other people.

For example, if I was asked to say what I felt was wrong about our system of democracy in Malaysia, I would answer it in one word: feedback. At this point, most people would look at me and not understand what I meant, which to me, seems rather incredulous. How can anyone not see the flaw. But I digress.

However, there is a method to get us to drone on and on, with many many words. Talk to us about something that is much less intellectual. If you can catch us on a topic that we are personally interested in (could be anything from cats to church) we can have so many points to put forth that you will have trouble shutting us up.

So, what do you all think?

Optimising Tea

We are provided with a free flow of English tea in the engineering department, between 10am to 4pm, daily. In the earlier hours of the day, free coffee is provided instead. This is nice but there’s something particular about tea drinking in the department that I’ve found fairly surprising.

Considering that we’re all a bunch of engineers, I would think that most people would’ve figured out how to make an efficient cup of tea, by now. But for some reason, nobody else seems to be making a cup of tea the way that I do, and introduce more waste as a result. Engineers are supposed to optimise processes.

So, for the benefit of everyone else, here is my method of making tea:

  1. Take an empty cup. It is essential to start with a dry, empty cup.
  2. Add in sugar to taste. Amount should be proportional to size of the cup.
  3. Pour in the hot tea. Pour in the tea at one side, directly onto the sugar.
  4. Pour in the milk. Pour in the milk from a slight height.

Notice anything missing? If you did not, please look through the list again and try imagining the steps involved. You will notice that there is an essential step missing: stirring the cup. With this four step method, there is no need to stir the mixture. As a result, you will save the use of a spoon, which either needs to be washed or recycled later. And for a large department like ours, it quickly adds up to a lot of spoons.

The key action in this is the pouring of the tea. The hot tea will naturally dissolve the sugar and if poured correctly, will automagically stir the cup. Ditto for the milk. The only catch is with the sugar. The amount of sugar added has to be proportional to the cup to avoid leaving any sugar, after the cup is filled. It’s also essential to start with a dry and empty cup to avoid the sugar from sticking.

I can assure you that this method works with a single teaspoon of sugar. I have never tried it with more because I don’t usually take sugar at all. Feel free to experiment with the amount of sugar and the pouring technique. The two are related.

If you can come up with an even more efficient method of making an efficient cup of tea, please leave it in the comments section!

PS: I can finally classify this under my new category: ecomental issues

Crash & Burns

I’ve got this nice looking burn pattern on my hand now. Honestly, I do think that it is the most beautiful burn pattern that i’ve ever gotten on my hand. For some reason, it keeps reminding be of the tail patterns of a peacock. But maybe my brain is just wired differently. And yes, it’s not the first time that I had gotten an interesting burn pattern, usually from the oven or hot oil.

I’ve also learned something interesting through the years. During my training as a first aider, many years ago, I had always been taught to run a burn under the tap for several minutes to prevent blisters. For some reason, this has never worked for me at all, back home in Malaysia. Then, there are many other old wives’ techniques that involve applying various things, such as butter and toothpaste to the burn. Regardless of what I do, blisters ultimately develop after a while.

But the technique actually works here in the UK. I just need to run it under the tap for about a minute and I’ll never see a blister at all. I think it’s because the water here is terribly cold. Holding my hand under the tap for more than 20 seconds is like holding it under ice. So, the result is the burn patterns that develop and stay for several years. But that’s probably because I’m getting old and my skin can no longer rejuvenate as fast as it used to.

Talking about getting old. I really do think that I am getting old. I used to be able to sleep only every other night and burn the candle at both ends in order to get work done. Over the last couple of weeks, and particularly last week, I was so zoned into my work that I totally lost all track of time. I would sit down in front of my computer and before I knew it, it would already be morning and I had not had anything to eat or drink for more than 12 hours. Then, I’d push myself on until I could no longer keep a straight thought. Then, I’d go to sleep.

After depriving myself of sleep and proper food for many days, I finally crashed over the weekend. My body simultaneously screamed for nourishment and rest. I was so tired that I had no appetite to eat and only wanted to sleep. But I couldn’t keep running on empty. Luckily I had some milk and fruit with me, which were good at providing a quick energy boost. Then, I made sure that I forced down some carbs before hitting the sack, to conserve what energy I had left. But I had a restless sleep, waking up every couple of hours to consume more food.

I do feel much better today, after spending almost 24 hours in bed. However, I still feel a little weak, like when I recover from a bout of illness. I also don’t really have an appetite but I try to keep myself fed with food. Personally, I think that my work will eventually kill me if I don’t get out of here as soon as possible. But in order to do that, I’ll need to push myself for another few more months. So, I’ll just have to set up a proper regime of rest and food, and stick to it.

PS: I’m not trying to elicit sympathy from this entry. It was just time for a personal entry. Doritos + hummous probably does not constitute a meal, regardless of how nutritious chickpeas are nor good they taste together. d:

Ghost in the Shell!

Kusanagi Motoko is coming to the big screen!

According to the article, Universal and Sony were busy courting but DreamWorks has managed to secure the movie rights for GITS. It seems that Spielberg took personal interest in the negotiations and made things happen. I so really hope that they don’t screw it up. This is a great opportunity for manga/anime productions to translate onto another medium.

They’ve also managed to secure Avi Arad as the producer. He has previously worked on all three Spider-Man, all three X-Men, the two Fantastic-Four, and the upcoming Iron Man and Incredible Hulk. But these were all live-action films. GITS is going to be a purely CGI production. Seems like the time for GITS has arrived.

The reason that I’m so excited is because I am a big fan of the series. I have bought all the DVDs (bar one) and I’ve watched them all several times. That’s two stand alone movies and two seasons of the series. In fact, at this very moment, I’ve got the second season playing on my second laptop. It is an anime series that is good to have playing while burning the midnight oil as it helps to keep the adrenaline pumping and blood flowing.

GITS has all the elements of an anime that I like: greatly flawed characters, a dark story line that keeps me glued, plot twists that take me off guard, and superb voice acting. I’m sure that DreamWorks can deliver on most of the elements, but I’m not too certain about the last one. I hope that they find someone right to play the role of Motoko. She needs to be strong enough to be a special forces unit Major, and smart enough to be an elite hacker.

Another difficult character to translate would be the Tachikomas. They are the self sacrificing sentient artificial intelligence tanks that feature in the series. I hope that the Hollywood version does not turn them into stereotypical robots or overtly flawed ones. Once again, the voice acting has to be perfect. They are the most important support characters in the series and lend a comedy element, in an otherwise entirely serious show, with their naive view of the world.

While I’m excited, I also have a sinking feeling that Hollywood will spoil it. It is going to be rather difficult to develop the story within the span of a single movie as there is a lot of character development and back story involved. Unless of course, they plan to make it into multiple films, then they may stand a better chance of getting a good story down. Otherwise, if they only make a watered down version of the story, then it will not fare well.

I’ll now leave you with a little taste of the series. This is the intro sequence from the second season DVD. Let’s all pray that they don’t screw it up.