Friday, 28 March 2008

Mengenali Abdulrazak Gurnah

Jarang saya menulis tentang buku yang saya belum habis baca. Tapi kali ini saya betul-betul tertarik dengan penulis yang bernama Abdulrazak Gurnah.

Abdulrazak Gurnah berasal dari pulau Zanzibar, Tanzania. Zanzibar dikatakan antara tempat (bukan setakat pulau) yang terindah di dunia, yang masih terpelihara keindahan semulajadinya.Tanzania juga mempunyai bilangan penduduk Muslim yang ramai. Saya pernah berbual dengan seorang junior yang berasal dari sana, dan masih ingat dia bersungguh-sungguh menunjukkan di mana letaknya Zanzibar di dalam peta dunia.

Tak banyak yang ditulis tentang Abdulrazak di Internet. Beliau pernah dicalonkan untuk hadiah-hadiah sastera Whitbread dan Booker pada tahun 1994 untuk novel ke–4 beliau, Paradise. By the Sea ialah novel beliau yang ke–6.

Saya harap beliau bukan daripada golongan mereka yang nama macam orang Islam, tapi bukan. Nauzubillah. (Semoga Allah selamatkan saya dan kita semua.) Tapi saya rasa tidak. Sebab isi By the Sea ada sedikit sebanyak menceritakan tentang Islam, aqidah, tentang Allah dan Rasul, bulan-bulan Hijrah, Israk Mikraj dan lain-lain. Dan ini baru bab satu dan lebih kurang 5% bab dua. Abdulrazak juga menyelitkan pelbagai maklumat dan sejarah tentang Zanzibar dan negara-negara lain termasuk Tanah Melayu. Tanah Melayu diceritakan melalui watak Jaafar, seorang saudagar berketurunan Parsi yang membuka sebuah perniagaan di sana. Antara perkara yang disebut ialah tersungkurnya kerajaan-kerajaan negeri satu demi satu di bawah 'pengaruh' British. Rasa terharu pun ada melihat sejarah negara ini disebut, kerana saya lansung tak sangka.

Insya-Allah, ulasan By the Sea akan menyusul tidak lama lagi. Saya harap.

(Sebab saya tak berani nak janji.)

Monday, 24 March 2008


So this is what I do. I compensate for my lack of writing with a tweak in the layout.

Behold, a new header. Er, masthead? Banner? Whatever, it's the thing sitting at the top of this blog with the title in it. Sure, it's not the coolest in the world but I'm happy with and glad about it.

And it's in red. I tell you, red is not exactly my colour. You won't find me in public wearing red. If you do, you can safely assume I may be forced against my will to wear it. I don't hate the colour, I just think it's a bit too strong for me. In fact I find yellow, coral or peach more tolerable.

This whole red thing going on is actually my attempt at breaking out of my own box. I just hope nobody's eyes will get hurt in the process.

Anyway, credits should be where they're due. The thingy above was done using Inkscape, the wonderful open source the scalar vector graphics (SVG) editor. SVG is much, much smaller than JPG or PNG, making the header's size small and faster to load (I hope).

My gargantuan thanks to mulomen, the person who shares the SVG of the RAF 977E van over at the Open Clip Art Library. Great job, couldn't done this without it.

And a big bouquet of gratitude to SMeltery for the font Audimat Mono. Love it, and the other free fonts being offered too.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Get more PDF power with pdfsam

I once found a free PDF ebook that that is downloadable chapter by chapter. Brilliant, I thought. The whole book would probably take a long time to download. Then after I got all the chapters, I realised that getting them combined into a book would easier for keeping.

Before that I heard about a software that can combine different PDF files together, PDF Split and Merge (pdfsam). I tracked it down, downloaded it and put to work. Seconds later, the seperate chapters became a complete book.

To tell you the truth, I was sceptical about pdfsam the first time I heard of it. All I know was PDF is pretty much an airtight thing, i.e. there's probably nothing we can do with it besides opening and reading it. But pdfsam proved me wrong. It can also take out any page out of a PDF document and save it as another PDF document. The interface is simple to understand even for a first time user. pdfsam is an essential tool for anyone who works with lots of PDFs.

pdfsam requires Java for Windows to work, so make sure you've got installed first.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

A entry for the history books

I was thinking the same thing as some of the politico-pundits: the GE results would be shocking. But I wasn't sure whether it would a good or a bad one.

I consider myself as apolitical in my writings. I have my own opinions, but I only share them with people close to me.

It's now a day after the GE. Those In and Out have been named. The new government is taking shape. I'm grateful to God for an election that didn't end in bloodshed or violence.

Time to work, elected servants of the people. You have a lot answer for from now on. Million of eyes are fixed on you. Time to prove yourselves, put aside your differences and work together. All the best. May God help us in all our sincere endeavours.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Memoirs of a browser user, part 3

Thunder echoed from afar. A storm was coming.

We don't hear much about IE these last 18 months or so. IE 7 was released, and finally tabbed browsing included. But IE is still IE. It is still part of Windows.

Improve it has. IE finally earned some respect for introducing major improvements. IE 7 may be behind Firefox 2 and Opera 9, but it's slowly reducing the gap.

But these improvements appear at a very slow rate. Even Firefox and Opera's development cycle are much faster. What's the deal, some analysts asked. Microsoft is famous for being aggresive, but why isn't it showing teeth when it comes to IE?

Some speculate that Microsoft has set its sight on other things. Its video game venture has proved to be an applaudable success, pulling in millions each year. Its hardware sales —mice, keyboard, etc.— also proved to be another cash cow. IE was probably shown the backseat.

But rest assured it's far from dead. IE 8 is in the pipeline, and previews have been positive. It's said to be the most standard-compliant IE version yet.

As someone who once tried his hand at web design, I share their agony. You design your web page to appear a certain way, but once you open in IE it gets mangled. In IE, it looked slightly different. Earlier IE versions don't fully support CSS. Those of us who use CSS positioning to position things on our web pages had to work around the issue because if we don't IE would display the things out of place.

IE wasn't (and still isn't) a standards-compliant browser. The standards I'm talking about are the ones maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C. These standards include HTML, XHTML, CSS and DOM.The standards are very important because they allow the Internet to grow in a more guided direction. If there a more than one set of standards, the Internet be one massive chaotic mess. Browsers and website cannot understand each other. People will bite their own heads off.

I still use IE for testing purposes. If IE 8 is as good as they claim, I might use as often as I use Firefox and Opera. Other than these two, there are other Windows-based browsers worth checking out. Maxthon, like IE but way cooler (same same, but different.) Apple released its own browser, Safari, for Windows last year. Safari (the Mac version) is already known for being one of the best browsers around. And let's not forget about Flock, the so-called the social browser.

What's next for the browser scene? Possibly 3D browsers. But I think it would another a few years before they become mainstream.

In many other industries competition has waned down due to takeovers, mergers and a shrinking number of competitors. On the other hand, the competition between the Windows-based browser is just heating up. This is interesting because as I mentioned in the first part, these are free products going against each other. Revenues, at least direct ones, isn't a driving factor.

When a competition actually works, it can a beautiful thing. And as a user, I can certainly appreciate the beauty.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Memoirs of a browser user, part 2

The dragon is soon to be de-fanged.

I learned about Firebird and Opera from computer magazines. I tried out Opera first, because it has tabbed browsing.

Once you've tried tabbed browsed, you'll never go back. In fact, I dare you to go. You'll only make yourself cry.

That aside, it's honestly one of the best things ever invented.

Opera exceeded my expectations. It was fast and made very little fuss. It did crashed, but rarely. Opera is a browser that keeps getting better and better. I would consider it as one of the best engineered software at the moment. Many of its feature such as page zooming are ahead of other browsers.

Opera wasn't free at first. It was ad-supported. Users had to contend themselves with seeing banner ads in Opera's toolbar. The ad-free version is downloaded for a fee. Opera is made by Opera Software, a Norwegian company based in Oslo.

The ads in Opera concerned me a bit. So turned to Firebird, a hatchling in the browser market. Firebird also had tabbed browsing, but by then I was a veteran. Like Opera, it didn't gave me any major annoyances. Firebird was young but raring to go.

The name Firebird didn't stick for long. There was another software project named Firebird, a database management system. Earlier before that they named it Phoenix and that got them into a trademark dispute with software company Phoenix Technologies. So the people behind the browser finally settled for Firefox.

When Firefox first came out, I jumped for joy. I changed me, along with millions of other people. Never before I had the chance to customise my browser to my liking. Add-ons, like tabbed browsing, is something of utter ingenuity. The Internet browsing experience has been transformed.

Today, I'm happy with both Firefox and Opera. Firefox 3 is coming soon. Opera has gone gratis and ad-free since version 8.5. The two browsers have grown leaps and bounds.

The dragon laid silent. It stared into sky, wondering about the future. The sky looked dark.

To be continued...

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Memoirs of a browser user, part 1

I think the first browser I used was Netscape Navigator. This was back in the late 1990s, and it was going head to head with Internet Explorer (IE). Remember the browser war?

Browsers are free. As in they cost nothing. Gratis. Therefore, the war is not about how much money can be made from browser sales. It's about the percentage of usage.

IE became a market leader through a controversial strategy. Microsoft, the makers of IE, made it the default browser for the Windows operating system. Internet usage was still growing at this time, and many people didn't know any better. Only a few users went for Navigator or other Windows-based browsers.

Navigator grew, but sadly got obese. Netscape developed Navigator further and added more features to it, but performance did not improve much. It got too slow in fact. I was sad to see Navigator sink. Netscape is a company that will be remembered as a short-lived but revolutionary. It transformed the industry in many ways.

Microsoft was happy about this, undoubtedly. It wanted to be the #1 in many areas, and this was its chance to make IE the browser king.

Soon later new facts emerged about IE. Scary facts. IE is not only the default browser for Windows, but it is also part of Windows. There were reports that uninstalling IE would cause some critical bugs in other software. Without it, Windows and other software would refuse to work properly.

Then came worse news. Due to the fact IE is part of Windows, evil hackers saw this as a window of opportunity to attack Windows-based system. IE also uses ActiveX, a Microsoft-owned technology that was supposed to deliver more functionality and multimedia capabilities. Evil hackers use ActiveX to create malicious software (malware) like trojan horses instead.

(Hacking can basically be described as taking apart software —or even anything— to find any ways to improve it. It is not an 'evil' activity by itself. Hence the term "evil hackers.")

All these issues landed IE in trouble and eroded the user's confidence in it. It was no longer seen as secure. People needed security, and they began to look elsewhere.

Enter young sparrows, Firebird and Opera.

To be continued...
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