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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inaugural Geekcamp Singapore

Close on the heels of JUG Singapore, I attended the Geekcamp Singapore on Saturday. Since I work for Yahoo and our company was hosting the event, I was also a volunteer. The geekcamp was quite a success. I did attend the talks till about 2.30 PM after which a sleep-deprivation-induced headache prevented me from continuing any further. The most interesting thing I learnt was that actual event here was better than the event in KL, which was the inspiration for Jason Ong and others to start off conceiving the event.

The talks on CouchDB by Arun Thampi and the talk on Design in programming by Justin Lee were my favorites. Having heard good things about Patrick from his colleague Trent Payne at the JUG meetup, I rather felt sorry for having missed his talk. But I am sure there will be a next time.

The details of the event can be found at the Geekcamp page. If you did not attend this one, try stopping by for the next one.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

JUG Singapore

Two days back, I spent my evening with the Java Users Group (JUG) Singapore. It is apparently yet another effort towards building a vibrant Java community in Singapore. Sven, the organizer has been in Singapore for 8 years and has seen the history of the Java guys coming together and breaking apart more than once. This attempt, we are hoping, will be longer lasting. We were 6 people discussing quite a bit, and not just Java. I am going to list down some of the discussion threads (and omitting details/conclusions. If you are interested, come to the next meetup :D):

  • Tech Culture in Singapore
  • Tech best practices (Test Driven Development, Continuous Integration)
  • Entrepreneurial Opportunities in Singapore
  • Startup ecosystem in Singapore
  • Cloud Computing growth, both Singapore specific and otherwise
  • And some personal anecdotes
We are currently hosted on meetup's JUG page. The next meetup is on September 7. Care to join?

ps: Even if you don't write code in Java, you can join in to discuss good ideas.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Independence Day

Since I was holidaying in Tioman on Singapore's National day, I am going to take the opportunity today, which happens to be India's Independence day to wish both Singaporeans and Indians a very happy Independence day. May both the countries progress to great destinies.

Some of my previous posts on Independence Days:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kami kembali ke Singapura

After having two days of fun, we finally arrived on the third day of our trip. We had bookings for the 4.30 PM bus from Mersing to Singapore. However, we had tickets for only the 2.30 PM ferry to Mersing. Our experience was that they are pretty late. So, we wanted to head out early. Ahmad suggested we try our luck with the 12.30 shuttle. So, we had time till then to kill. We decided to head out to the nearby waterfalls, as suggested by Ahmad. This trek was quite fun, with different scenes to absorb compared to previous 2 days. On the way to the waterfall, we saw a Monitor lizard from above.

A few minutes trek took us to a small spot where a little water was getting collected. Being Indians and used to large waterfalls, we decided to trek further to see if we can reach the source. Doing about 15 mins of it was leading us to nowhere and we decided to track our way back. We got into the point where the rock fall was and then returned back.

With that little adventure behind us, we managed to get into the 12.30 ferry, which arrived an hour late and dropped us at 3.30 at Mersing. We had enough time to get ourselves a table in the nearby cafe. On my own, I decided to explore a bit of Mersing and head to the Chinese and Subramaniar Temples in Mersing.

After that, I returned to find myself an extremely tasty banana split for only RM7.

Not just that, these folks had already managed to grab a well made tasty vegetarian Pizza at that place. Apart from serving good food, they also have rock on boards.
Mersing truly rocks.

The bus operator, though issued a ticket to Singapore, made us change buses at Johor Bahru into the local bus connecting JB to Singapore. This was quite inconvenient as the local buses are far crowded. Once we cleared emigration at Malaysia end, we had one more super long queue for the Singapore bound bus to contend with. Once we navigated ourselves out of it, the rest of the trip was most uneventful. We ended up at Queen street by 9.30 PM having to go to office the next morning. We decided to grab a good meal at nearby Komala Vilas before hailing a cab back home.

The journey was quite good and Me and Nidhi greatly enjoyed the company of Hyacie and Rajiv. If you two are reading this, thanks for making the trip memorable for us. I would also like to thank Ahmad, the resort manager, for providing us with the deal fairly late in the game, when everything else was booked, and providing us with a good experience when we were there, including all the vegetarian food.

All our photos here are on flickr.

ps: "Kami kembali ke Singapura " in Malay means "We returned to Singapore" in English, just in case you were wondering about the title.

Kami pergi ke Pulau Tioman Day 2

Note: This is about day 2 of the trip. Read out Day one.

Up early on the second morning, all excited about getting into the water and doing some snorkeling, we were looking forward for the day. An early cup of Teh got us going.

Tioman island, apart from having clean beaches, also has some very lush green vegetation. Its a good idea to head out for an early morning walk and snap a few photographs.

Ahmad, our resort agent, took care of organizing a snorkeling trip for us as part of our deal. He organized for somebody to pick us up from the resort with the gear and the works. He even arranged for packed lunches. Of course, we had to pay for renting out the snorkeling gear, since that wasn't part of the deal.

The snorkeling guy took us near an island, and gave us one full hour for snorkeling. This was deep water. Here, a little problem presented itself to me. I did not know how to swim and did not initially want to try it, but given everybody's encouragement and the fact that life jacket was on, I decided to jump.

I was warned that I would feel a sense of panic in the sea, not knowing how to swim. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. I panicked, searched for the nearest thing to hold on to, which was the side of the boat. Once I held it, the legs, which were unsupported, starting looking something to anchor on.

All it could find was the side of boat, which was really a very bad idea. All I ended up doing was bruising myself at the side of the boat. So, my legs from knee down was badly bruised with scratches from the side of the boat. I somehow managed to get back into the boat. With so much blood oozing out, I was pretty disappointed.

Somehow, in all this, I did not want to spoil the party from Rajiv and Hyacie, whom I indicated to carry on. They did have quite a nice time snorkeling there. In the meanwhile, me and Nidhi (who never even bothered to get a snorkeling gear) decided to feed the fishes and watch them. It was quite a fun thing to do.

Once the designated hour was up, he took us to Marine Park, which was a far better place to snorkel, even for novices like me, since it was shallow water and you can launch yourself from the beach. I got back into the water (with the bruises still intact :-) and spent some time doing snorkeling. I have to say that the experience was quite worth it. It is amazing to have a peek into the marine life with all the dynamics there.

In hindsight, if the guy had first brought us to shallow water, allowed people like me to gain a little confidence and then taken us to deep water, I would have probably managed much better. But, hey, life ain't fair!

I did this till our time was up, after which our boat guy took us back to the resort. I wanted to do a little more snorkeling which I was hoping to do in the beach next to the resort, since it was shallow. Unfortunately, we had low tide and hence there wasn't enough depth to put your face into the water.

So, effectively, my experience was about as much as I could extract at Marine Park. Nevertheless, it was quite fun to try this out. At the end of the day, there was lot more Rummy before we headed to bed. We had a few hours to spare the next morning and we planned to do some trekking. Will write about it in the final article for this trip.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kami pergi ke Pulau Tioman - Part 1

Me and Nidhi decided to make the most of the Singapore National Day long weekend and head out somewhere out of Singapore. We were also joined by Rajiv and Hyacie who were also looking for a similar break. Since all of us loved beach places, we decided on going to Tioman Island. About two weeks before the actual trip, we started working on it, specially trying to get accommodation and after a bit of a struggle, found a package with Sri Paya Tioman Enterprise for two nights stay + food + to-n-fro Jetty from Mersing + one snorkeling trip. We had also packed our hats, sunscreen lotion, insect repellents and loads and loads of beach holiday spirit!! So off we were.

Since we only had accommodation, we did not have any previous arrangement to go from Singapore to Mersing. The direct buses were all booked. So, we decided to cross the Malaysian Border into Johor Bahru by local bus and figure things out. This, in retrospect, was a pretty poor choice. Starting at 5.30 AM from Simei, we got into Malaysia Sultan Iskandar (after immigration clearance) by only about 11.00 AM. The long weekend queues were never ending and the bus infrastructure was just not good enough to handle the mass exodus of Singaporeans heading out for vacations.

Once there, we decided to hire a cab to take us to Mersing, a distance of 134 KMs. This experience was quite pleasant, to say the least. The car was comfortable, the driver was an energetic and pleasant Malay. He enthralled us with his Bollywood love. On one hand, he took the effort to explain why he loved Salman Khan and on the other, he actually enacted the Rajni Kant style. He is the only person on earth I have met yet who is a fan of both Salman and Rajnikant. I thought they served different demographics!

The roads in Malaysia are pleasant. It was just a two lane highway but considering that the traffic was less even on a busy weekend, I guess that was enough. A similar two lane road in India would have been ridden with potholes in India, but not in Malaysia. We could easy overtake when we wanted and maintained a good clip. Both sides of the road was scenic filled with Pineapple, Palm and other plantations.

We reached Mersing an hour before our Ferry booking for 2.30PM and our travel agent met us there. After having a quick lunch, off we were on our ferry to Tioman Islands. There isn't much to see in the ferry (except boring music videos) and so we slept!

Once in Tioman, we were stuck by the beauty of the location. The vegetation was lush green and the beaches were surprisingly clean. The rooms we got, essentially old style wood made chalets, were very close to the jetty and we settled in comfortably. By this point, it was already beyond 6.00 PM and all we had time is to soak in a bit of evening beach. Rajiv did some quick snorkeling.

After dinner, we all gather at our room for a round of drinks and a few games of Rummy. To say the least, this part was most enjoyable.

I would be doing Tioman injustice if I did not tell you that the most shops in Tioman are "duty free" meaning that duty would not have been paid for goods in Malaysian side. This means that everything from Chocolates to Liquor is quite cheap and worth your shopping. (Note: Be careful not to buy any alcohol to bring back to Singapore, since no duty free alcohol is allowed if you come from Malaysia by road/water.)

At some unearthly hour, it was time to catch some sleep and get ourselves ready for Day 2 - which was when we did the real snorkeling. That in my next article.

All photos uploaded to Flickr.

(ps: "Kami pergi ke Pulau Tioman" in Malay means "We went to Tioman Island" in English - just in case you were wondering about the title.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

iPhone Free Chess Roundup: Glaurung is my pick

I am a chess enthusiast, not the expert kind, but the amateur kind. I would like to spend a few minutes playing a neat player, but not one who is too strong who would keep beating me. It would be cool to be able to increase the level of the game and also awesome if the opponent would occasionally allow me to take back the move (yeah, that's a little too much to ask, I know :D ) And since I have an iPhone, what better device to use for playing chess?

So, I basically did a round up of all the free chess apps I could find on the AppStore and this article does a summary-review of all of them.

a1 chess Free: Too bad that it has only two levels (and I am guessing the paid versions might have more - but I only tried free ones). The level 2 (highest) plays too naively and you can pretty much defeat it every time with either white or black. You will pretty soon get bored of this app.
Rating: * (1/5)

Chess Free: Neat interface and good level of chess, but has a hard limitation of the games being 10-min a player only. What if I don't want that restriction? Time limit chess is only one of the forms of chess and not one that I fancy. It would have been nicer to have at least have the option of changing the time limit.
Rating: ** (2/5)

Chess O: I could never properly test this - because into a minute of using this, it starts complaining of the iPhone running on low memory, while everything else seems to be working fine. God knows how to make this work.
Rating: (0/5)

Deep Green Chess Lite: Very glib interface and good level of chess game, but no adjustments on the game possible. If that were possible, then this would be quite a good app to use.
Rating: ** (2/5)

Glaurung Chess: This is by far the best free chess app I have seen. It has loads of cool features. It has a timer - but it doesn't not stop the game after the time has lapsed but just indicates it in red on the top. If you want to make the time limit strict, you can finish the game then. It has easy ways to control the level - it has levels between 1-199 which means you can set it at multiple levels as you increase. It has the option of taking a move very easily - just swipe right to left at the moves section (and left to right to see what happened from a point in the past). Ability to look at your moves is a great way to learn. Finally, what makes it quite awesome is the ability to send emails to yourself when the game finishes. I have recorded a bunch of the games that I thought were interesting. If I find a simulator to run through the moves as a video, then that would make this feature the rock star feature. [Update: I built the Chess Runner]
Rating: ***** (5/5)

Free Chess: Has levels (discrete numbering 6), the interface is snazzy and you can save and retrieve games (within the iPhone), and hence is probably the best competitor to Glaurung. If only it had more levels control and emailing feature, I would have rated it a full 5.
Rating: **** (4/5)

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