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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The First Sights of UoN

Note: Pardon the incorrect exposure and extremely limited dynamic range of certain (OK, almost all) photos. I think it's almost time for me to upgrade my camera.

Two weeks ago, a bus picked me up from London Heathrow Airport to the University Park campus of the University of Nottingham (UoN).

Nope! That's not me. That's Donny.

The bus was a boring 3-hour ride and most of the passengers slept throughout the journey. Will talk more about the ride some time soon.

Along the way, I noticed how much UK reminded me of Cameron Highlands. The cool late summer weather, refreshing breeze and classic bricky building architecture, Cameron Highlands seemed like a mirror image of my first impression of UK.

Caught this picture from within University Park.

The University Park Campus, one of the four UoN campuses in UK, even has wide contoured grassy areas, good for lying down during a clear, bright day, staring deep into space.

Almost all UoN campuses (even the China and Malaysia ones) have clocktower buildings facing a lake. This is modelled after the Trent Building in University Park.

Clocktower of the Trent Building.

The Trent Building is the oldest among all, dating back to 1920's, even before UoN became a university.

My friend Edmund, with the Trent building at the background.

Throughout the years, it has become the icon of the university.

A door, located just beneath the clock.

As said, the Trent Building overlooks a large lake, which expanded over the ages along with the university with the merging of gardens and changes in school borders. A jogging path goes around the lake, stretching a total of 1.97km, much longer than Malaysia Campus's (UNMC) 800m. While UNMC's lake is home to 15 (the last time I counted) ducks, University Park's accommodates literally countless waterfowls.

Jogging track surrounding the lake.

Along the jogging track, joggers are treated with great countryside views. I've caught some real nice photos during my jog, they'll be published here few weeks later.

One picture caught from the jogging track.

Right beside the Trent Building is the Portland Building. Portland, which houses the Students' Union, was first built in the 50's and probably extended sometime in the 1990's or 2000's. The result -- the two facades look very, very different.

The newer side of the Portland Building.

Stairs and glass of the newer part of Portland.

Alfresco dining area at the older side of the Portland Building, right outside the Students' Union Bar.

I really love the old classic British architecture used in many buildings in University Park. Even most of the residential halls are designed as such.

Derby Hall (I think), University Park, a residential hall.

But not all buildings are that old-fashioned, of course. More pictures will come, and you'll see how different the Jubilee Campus is.

Cripps Building, University Park. Relatively new.

After the many years, I'm glad they still managed to preserve a great amount of greenery in the campus. There are several gardens and stretches of lawns I particularly like. This has helped University Park in winning various architecture and landscaping awards. Again, more to come within the next few weeks.

Love the lighting and shadows of this photo.

The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) is widely known (at least so in Malaysia) as one of the most (if not the most) beautiful of all academic campuses in Malaysia.

My opinion is simple. Those who think UNMC is attractive has certainly never been to University Park before. 'Nuff said.

Saturday, 26 September 2009


Note: higher resolution copies of the following pictures are available by clicking on them.

An ambigram is a typographical design or artform that may be read as one or more words not only in its form as presented, but also from another viewpoint, direction, or orientation.
Ambigram. (2009, September 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 00:33, September 25, 2009, from

I started school recently. And got bored in class. So I drew these ambigrams that can be read upside down.

I started off with a simple three-letter-word -- ENG. It turned out quite well!

The bottom half's a 180 degrees rotated copy of the top.

Then I tried to make one of my name. The ENQ turned out quite well, but the W and I are disastrous.

Then I tried a longer word -- engineering. It wasn't real good, but I am quite happy with it.

I then tried my name again, this time my family name.

And again.

I have to say, they look more like alien writings to me.

My final ambigram (as of today) is of the word "pointed".

Looks more like "painted", huh?


PS: If you're interested in ambigrams, take a look at Robert Petrick's designs.

Monday, 21 September 2009

London and Airports

The past Wednesday, I took a 14-hour inter-continental flight from KL and touched down at London.

My destination wasn't London, however, it was Nottingham. Nottingham is located some good 4 hours away from Central London by coach.

Good news and bad news. The good news is that the University of Nottingham provides free transport from London to the University. The bad news is AirAsia X only flies to London Stansted Airport, and the University's coach pickup is at London Heathrow Airport, so I had to take another bus from Stansted to Heathrow.

In summary,
Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Carrier Terminal -> AirAsia X plane (14 hours) -> London Stansted Airport
London Stansted Airport -> bus (90 mins) -> London Heathrow Airport
London Heathrow Airport -> bus (4 hours) -> University of Nottingham

I arrived at London Stansted at about 5pm (GMT +0). London Stansted is a relatively new airport, but most big airlines (such as Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines) fly to Heathrow.

Entrance of London Stansted Airport.

I spent my first penny in London Stansted. British coins were hard at first, as their values were imprinted pathetically small (I got the trick now, being able to recognise them by their shapes, colours and sizes).

Then I went looking for a bus to Heathrow. I went to the counter, and the lady casually said "twenty-two fifty, please," with a smile on her face.

What. The. Hell. I'm paying, er, 22.5x6, RM135 for an 80-minute bus ride?! But I was tired and I didn't have any other options available, so I grudgingly (and quietly) paid for my ticket, mirroring her smile.

The journey to Heathrow was uneventful, although the coach did brought me across the suburbs of London, giving me great sights.

The best picture I got from the bus ride. Witnessed beautiful sunset my very first day in UK.

It was dark when I finally reached Heathrow. I was extremely thirsty, hungry and tired, but I still had to drag my 20kg luggage and 7kg backpack across the huge and confusing London Heathrow Airport. Paid something like £3 for a yogurt bar and a box of sandwich. Boy, things ARE expensive here.

After filling my tummy (half-filling, more like), I went looking for a place to settle down for the night (the bus wouldn't arrive until the next morning). London Heathrow is famous for being busy -- it is the world's 3rd busiest airport.

Trolley passageway, Terminal, er, 1?

Don't let its fame fool you, though. Unlike KLIA or Singapore's Changi Airport, London Heathrow is incredibly old, dating back to the 1930's, before air travel became popular among the general population. When demand grew, structures were added where possible to accommodate the extra passengers. With five terminals spread carelessly across more than 12 square kilometres, along with my mind's compromised ability for navigation, I surely didn't feel like exploring or even shooting much photos at all.

Trolley passageway, Terminal 2.

I soon discovered that Terminal 2 was relatively quiet and peaceful compared to Terminals 1 and 3 (I was too tired to check out the newest two terminals) so I brushed my teeth (toothpaste-less), set down my luggage, curled up in a corner, and entered an uneasy sleep.

Almost all toilets in Heathrow have vending machines selling vibrators, viagra pills and condoms. What do they expect of their patrons, use those things on their flights? Click for high resolution image.

Terminal 2, where I slept.

The chairs were uncomfortable, it was too cold, and I had to wake up early the next morning, but I still needed my sleep.

Heathrow travellator.

Me in London Heathrow. I was sooooooo tired after missing two nights' worth of sleep I'm surprised I even managed to capture some good photos after all.

I woke up at 4.30am, Thursday. I could've slept more, but my back was hurting due to the uncomfortable chairs. My shoulders ached after carrying the heavy bags for hours. I was even shivering uncontrollably. Why the hell didn't they turn off the A/C of this deserted departure hall in this chilly weather?

Damn, I even pity myself right now.

I was sure that falling asleep again would be hard, so I dragged my heavy luggage to Terminal 3, preparing to meet my friends.

Entrance of Terminal 3.

I met my friends at about 6am. Boy, seeing some familiar faces in a whole new country really does give a boost of confidence. We then took the coach to the University.

Car park of Heathrow.

So if you were to ask me how I felt during my first few days in UK, I'd say tiring. I wasn't even looking backwards when the coach left Heathrow -- I just wanted nothing more than checking into my room and get a good sleep.

I had no idea that I had to wait for another 12 hours before getting it.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Inter-Continental Fright

I took my first inter-continental flight from Kuala Lumpur to London this past Wednesday.


It is also my first air travel since like ten years ago. So you can imagine how worried I was at first. Have I got my passport? Where's my ticket? Is the plane reliable? What happens if I am denied entry by UK Border Agency? Can I solve all my problems without my parents' support?

Nope. Not my plane. Could've boarded the wrong flight.

When I approached the plane, I was impressed. Engineers are indeed smart people. They've turned pieces of scrap metal into a flying structure!

When the plane was ready for take-off, however, I got worried. The air stewards and stewardesses demonstrated what to do in case of emergency, which even got me more paranoid.

Things weren't better when it started to move. Peering through the windows, I noticed that the wings aren't perfectly rigid and vibrated when the plane manoeuvered over uneven ground. What the nonsense were materials engineers doing?!

Then the engines roared and the plane gathered speed. Faster and faster it went, and the wings angled further upwards.

Can the long thin wings even support the 300 passengers?

And we were off. I swallowed hard as we climbed further up. Then it was safe to take off the seat belts again.

So how does it feel like to travel 40,000 feet above sea level at an incredible speed of 0.8mach (850km/h)?

Nothing. In fact, I felt like I was conned. Was I even off the ground at all? I didn't pay some RM1000 for getting stuck in KL LCCT for 14 hours you know. It was even no more exciting than, say, driving in Need for Speed. Need for Speed's a game, for goodness's sake!!!

And so, the 14 hours on-board flew by (no pun intended) uneventfully and we touched down at London Stansted Airport.

What a great fright flight.

And yeah, engineers are still smart people.

PS: Photos of UK to come in a few days' time! Plus, check my Twitter page for real time updates -- it takes days for me to plan blogposts.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

UNMC 2008/09 - Over!

I can't believe it's been a year since I had the to-enter-or-not-to-enter-UNMC dilemma.

I did quite a few things in the past academic year.

1. Took up LAN subjects

Up to this stage, I still have no idea what LAN stands for (certainly not Local Area Network). Its other name (dunno newer or older) is MQA, standing for Malaysia Quality Assurance, and it comprises of three subjects -- Malaysian Studies, Moral Studies (or Islamic Studies for Muslims) and Bahasa Malaysia. Since I got a credit for my Malay Language in SPM, I was exempted from taking the latter.

I dreaded the other two subjects a lot as I never scored them well back there in secondary school. They were boring and rather bland, making things worse. However, our teacher Ms Evans managed to spice things up by telling a lot of stories -- many thanks to her. Believe it or not, we even performed a short sketch in front of the class during Malaysian Studies (A.K.A. Malaysian History) and I even demonstrated some Chinese calligraphy skills that day.

From left: me, Lee Khan, Ming, Wan Foo, Sean, Nick, John. Click to view full resolution image.

2. Picked Up Badminton... Again

I've always loved badminton, but never really had the chance of playing. Mum bought me a Yonex racquet, and I put it to use playing with a few friends from time to time. I even joined the Badminton Club and participated in most of their workshops.

3. Started Jogging Weekly

No kidding. When I first started, I was so bad I had to stop after trotting less than half a kilometre. Today I can scale 4km in a little over 20 minutes -- not atheletic, but a great improvement. I even have a log of my jogging performance in a spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel for those who don't know) and plotted a chart of my average jogging speed.

4. Started Photography

Or rather, started to show interest in photography. I snapped many, many photos of my campus when I first entered. Boy, I've learnt much about photography since then.

5. Had My First Summer Break

During which I accomplished a lot of things.
a) got my first working experience as an engineer
b) tidied up my freaking messy room
c) formatted my computer
d) cleaned up (the hard disk of) my desktop (I freed over 50GB of space!)
e) prepared for yet another Chinese calligraphy exhibition
f) went for karaoke session for the first time in my life
g) done lots of preparation for my 2009/10 academic year

The coming year will witness even more breakthroughs, simply because of one thing -- I'll be spending it not in Malaysia, but in UK. It will present me loads of opportunities. Keep checking back, I will post my every step here. I'm flying tomorrow, so fresh photos should appear pretty soon.

h) taking a 14 hour inter-continental flight

Hope I enjoy it.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Dad Has Got A New Phone

An "iPhone", no less.

The first time I saw it, I laughed my ass out. It was a made-in-China knock-off. You know the kind of Prada which looks classy 5 metres away but hilariously cheap when you spend more than 5 seconds looking at it? This was something like that.

So I'm writing a "review" for it. Haha.

1. Unboxing

The phone came in a stylish black box, much like the genuine Apple iPhone. Even its box design is a direct carry-over. Head over to GSMarena to check out the real thing.

The box set comes with the A610 "iPhone", a spare battery, one set of handsfree, one external battery charger (along with adapter), and a USB cable.

2. Phone Design

The physical design, of course, is a mirror of the Apple iPhone. Some key differences include
a) a smaller 3.2" touchscreen (no idea resistive or capacitive)
b) lack of additional sensors such as proximity and ambient light sensors
c) an ugly loudspeaker grill, spoiling the smooth surface of the "iPhone"
d) a TV antenna, located at the bottom right corner. Why is it pointing down?

My Sony Ericsson XPERIA X1 looks like this with its battery cover removed.

Click to view high-resolution image.

The A610 "iPhone" looks like this with its battery cover removed.

Click to view high-resolution image.

The words Changjiang made me laugh again.

You'll notice two SIM card slots, flanking a microSD slot. The microSD is blocked by the battery, so it isn't hot-swappable. I tried inserting my microSD - it fitted perfectly physically, but the A610 "iPhone" didn't seem to detect it at all. Is that microSD expansion slot even real?

After that I began doubting whether it was a dual-SIM phone at all. Perhaps it was even a null-SIM (I tested it without a SIM card).

3. Batteries (yes, two)

Two batteries are provided in the package, one labelled in Chinese and another in English.

Both of them show the same specifications, though, with an output voltage of 3.7V and charging voltage of 4.2V, in-line with typical Li-Ion batteries.

What shocked me is their capacity. My X1 boasts an incredibly huge (both in terms of physical and capacity sizes) battery of 1500mAh, occupying almost the entire back panel.

The A610 "iPhone" battery, covering 50% of the back panel, physically half my battery's size, however, boasts a 3600mAh battery.

Hello...? This kinda capacity only applies to laptop batteries so far. I'm absolutely sure that X1 battery has mobile phones' biggest capacity when it was released last year, earning its nickname Hercules.

Click to view high-resolution image.

When placed side by side, the A610 battery really seemed like a big joke to me. One big, finely made battery, covered with a plastic wrapping, on which printed big letters of its manufacturer, accompanied with various ID numbers, date of manufacture and two genuine holographic stickers. And another small battery wrapped carelessly in black paper, showing no manufacturer's information at all but a capacity of more than twice the former.

What the hell.

I have no idea how long the batteries last on the A610 "iPhone". But with another "3600mAh" spare battery, you should at least have a false sense of security.

If that kind of capacity turns out to be real, please do not place the spare battery in your pocket or risk burning your butts off.

Click to view high-resolution image.

The A610 comes with an external charger, useful for charging your spare.

4. Interface and Functions

I personally think they made a good job copying the physical appearances of the iPhone. You'll have to agree with me after seeing its software side for just two seconds.

OK so they got the "unlocking slider" right, although the default wallpaper (even though of an attractive girl) is far from stylish.

Unlock the slider, and you'll find the similarities diminishing.

The icons aren't nice. The font is ugly. Nice gradients are nowhere to be seen. There's only one page of the homescreen. No extra icons can be added or customised or modified or anything. Nothing can be installed because it is not a smartphone. Safari can nowhere be found.

Tap on any icon, and it gets worse.

Tap on the phone icon, you get this. Ugly, but still usable.

Menus look like this.

This is so not iPhone.

Well, at least it sports a 3.2" screen, bigger than my X1. Perhaps the on screen keyboard is nice. So I tapped on the messaging icon.

But I was so wrong. Because this is what I got.

The icons are so puny, they're actually smaller than the typed text! The very insensitive screen made text entry even worse.

The camera is downright lousy (0.3 megapixels, at most). White balance is inaccurate. No autofocus is on board. Start up is slow. Details are low.

Then there's no 3G support. No Wifi. To be fair, none of these technologies are available in China. However, the phone totally lost my interest at this stage and I don't even care if it has Bluetooth at all.

You'll notice, however, that the A610 "iPhone" sports a TV receiver. Signal wasn't that strong, though. I managed to get some noisy pictures accompanied with no audio at all, unless you count all the white noise.

One ridiculous thing is there isn't any way to turn off the phone at all. However long you hold the power button down, all it does is turn off (or on) the screen. The only way to turn it off is to remove its battery. Thank goodness they made the batteries user changeable, leaving us an option to turn the blasted thing off.

5. Verdict

The Changjiang A610 "iPhone" is physically a good imitation of the real thing. It even comes with several advantages iPhone users can only dream of, including a TV receiver, dual-SIM card slots, microSD expansion slot, and user changeable batteries of a capacity so big it's (literally) unbelievable.

And all this at a price tag of RM600 too (estimated, asking dad for its price tag is like asking him how much money he was conned), 25% of the real thing.

So yeah, go for it. Just make sure you don't show it off to anybody younger than the age of 50. And don't forget to keep the enormous battery some place safe.