Microsoft Photosynth

It was only a few days ago that I raved about Microsoft's Vista and here again I am going to rave about another of Microsoft's latest creations: Microsoft Photosynth. The technology is currently development but Microsoft made a public tecnology preview available on its Live Labs pages late last year.

Photosynth is an application where a pool of photographs of a place are analysed and a 3D view is contructed using the 2D world portrayed in the photos. The photos can be of different sizes, quality and can be one of any of the overall picture. The technology allows the user to "Fly" through the reconstruction, zoom in, walk in all directions and is an as immersive experience as it can get. The technology is pretty innovative because it is able to use normal photographs which may very well be taken by different people at different times and then compile them in such a way that a scene is constructed in 3D.

I was pretty impressed when I saw it around the time it was released but it was only recently that I spent sometime reading the technology behind it. Computer vision algorithms calculate the perspectives, pattern recognition methods indentify and tag images on unique features and then all of it is mashed up together to give a smooth viewing experience. Some things are impressive from looks and some become even more impressive when you learn a bit of how it all works!

- Check out the Photosynth homepage
- View the intro video

Psychoactive substances in the Maldives

Like elsewhere in the world, Maldives is host to a variety of substances that have been known and used by the local people for achieving altered states of the mind. Oshani (Datura stramonium) and Afihun (Papaver somniferum), grown locally in the Maldives, were popular until relatively recently when the plants became classed as illegal.

However, while quite a few of the "reality altering" substances are illegal and carry prison sentences for possession and consumption, there exist psychoactive substances that do not have any restricting legislation on it. In fact, there are quite a few substances that are available right at home or at the convenience shop down the road. Here are a few of the substances available in the Maldives that "supposedly" have psychoactive/psychedelic properties.

Morning Glory (Ipomoea violacea)
Morning Glory is a non-native plant variety that had been imported into Maldives. The plants are grown and sold freely. Being an imported plant, they are mostly grown as a decorative garden plant. Among the various morning glory varieties, several are known to contain LSA (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide), a chemical similar to LSD, in amounts enough to create hallucinatory effects. The varieties commonly known as "Heavenly Blue", "Pearly Gates", "Flying Saucers", "Wedding Bells", "Summer Skies" and "Blue Star" posses these properties which amusingly, to say the least, are proudly grown in some of the homes in Male'.

While nutmeg is not known to grow locally in the Maldives its products are available freely, especially for use as a spice. The red mesh covering of the nutmeg nut is even used as a traditional medicine ingredient in the Maldives. However, it is the nut itself that presents the psychoactive properties! Ingestion in the right amount will cause an altered state of mind that is very intense and hallucinatory.

San Pedro
There are many varieties of cacti being imported to the Maldives and San Pedro is undoubtedly among them. It is legal everywhere in the world. This harmless looking cactus packs a punch of mescaline although the amount of mescaline it contains varies with the particular variety. The Native Americans used another similar variety of cactus known as peyote, which contains a stronger dose of mescaline, for their spiritual rituals in order to gain "prophecies" and reach an "enlightened" state.

Passion Flower
Yep, that harmless looking plant whose fruit we make juice out of has varieties that contain sedative chemicals that is supposed to give a mild high. All the parts of the plant, especially the leaves, are rich in these chemicals and can be used to relax by boiling the leaves in order to make a "tea".

There are a few varieties of mimosa in the Maldives. The potency of the plant comes from the presence of DMT, a powerful psychedelic. The type "Mimosa Hostilis" is attributed to as having this chemical. I am not sure of the plant's exact identity but apparently "ladhu gas" (the plant that closes its leaves when you agitate it via touch) belongs to the mimosa family.

This list is ofcourse non-exhaustive and there are a few other plants like "salvia" which I suspect is also grown in the Maldives oblivious of its psychoactive power. Extra information on these and more can be found on, which is an excellent resource on plants and drugs and happens to be where I got most of the information here.

Disclaimer: This information serves to cater for the intellectual enrichment of sane, curious individuals. It is not my intention to encourage unapologetic unleashing of scary monsters and/or morphing time and space into unrecognizable landscapes by the means of chemically induced altered states of consciousness and perception for nefarious purposes.

Windows Vista - my new OS!

People have been bashing Microsoft's latest incarnation of its popular operating system, Windows Vista, ever since its conceptual stages. I don't know what people were expecting of the new operating system but some people claim that Vista is a disappointment. Me? I beg to disagree!

Some of Microsoft's OSes have indeed been dodgy, like Windows 95 or 98. However, of late, their software have been better and a lot more stable. Windows 2000 was pretty solid as a server OS. Windows XP was a decent OS for home and office use. I've used all of Microsoft's OS at some point in time although Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 has served as my main workhorse OS(es) for the past 6 or so years. Windows 2003 Server is undoubtedly the most stable Windows release, atleast in my experience. Despite it being a server OS, I used it for all my work on my laptop and since I keep my laptop switched on throughout the day I can say it goes without crashing or needing a restart for weeks. Since I move around quite a bit, I rely on the "hibernate" feature to retain the machine's state and Windows 2003 do well in that department to help me keep my work uninterrupted. I consider that more than acceptable performance as an OS...

I moved from Windows 2003 to Windows Vista last week after Microsoft included the Vista Business edition DVD in the list of Microsoft software that is downloadable to our university students via the Microsoft Academic Alliance program. I thought I'd jump the chance and grab my own copy of Vista since it comes with my own key so that I can avoid the registration and activation hassles that we, the pirate software ridden Maldivians, usually have to put up with :-P. I chose to go for a clean install rather than an upgrade as Vista has quite a few issues with "older" software. Starting afresh also gave me a chance to get rid of the accumulated mess that I've made now and then. :-P

Vista installed automatically and uneventfully after a short wizard driven process of collecting the information it wanted. My laptop booted straight into Windows and Vista had picked up and installed all the drivers except for the built-in Bluetooth module. What becomes apparent from the first boot is the shift toward a more graphical user interface. The new Aero skin gives Vista a visibly different feel to that of XP/2003 and the various graphical enhancements make for some good eye candy. Font smoothing, the technology that makes fonts looks so much better, is now enabled by default unlike previous versions - it's something I always had enabled manually in previous Windows'es. But it wasn't the looks of Vista that impressed me - it was the added options, the extra utilities and bits of software that has been integrated and united into the OS that really caught me eye. Windows Explorer, the taskbar, the Control Panel, the administration options etc have undergone changes. The security options have been beefed up - an adequate firewalling solution comes in the form of Windows Firewall and spyware/rogueware protection is offered by Windows Defender. The image viewing program has improved, although it is still not in the same league as ACDSee. Networking has been enhanced - Windows automatically figures out the network, finds nearby devices and has extensive Wifi support. Voice recognition and control is available out-of-the-box and is effective throughout the OS. There is also built in support for mobile devices via the cool new Windows Mobile Device Center which allows me to sync with my mobile phone easily. Fax, scanning and CD burning is available by default. A contacts manager and a calendaring program is also now available with the default install. The boot (and resume from hibernation) time has also increased significantly.

Anyway, enough of sugar-coating Vista. It's been a week since I moved to it, I've had my laptop switched on all the time as usual and Vista has remained stable thus far. If you are looking to move to Vista, do so by all means as long as your computer fits the hardware requirements.


Busy (with uni)

Quite a bitta time since I last blogged! University resumed on the 15th after a month of break for winter holidays and I've been just swamped with work. Well, that or more likely my effort to, for once in my life, shift into the "normal" sleep-wake cycle is turning sour and leaving me drained and vegetative.

This semester at uni should be quite interesting but is fully loaded with various coursework and projects. Of most interest to me is the mobile robot which we will be building over the next few weeks as part of the engineering applications module. Once we create the microcontroller based electronic circuits that power the robot, we will add the locomotive mechanisms and tackle programming the software that would make it do whatever magic we aspire it to do. A bit of artificial intelligence added to it will make it slightly more "intelligent" and interesting than say a computer mouse or perhaps as smart as some random primitive insect. We continue on with the neural networks module this semester and I have yet to tackle the second coursework for the module which requires building an application that uses multilayer perceptron (artificial neural networks). I am quite looking forward to the new set of lectures on AI concepts, which I reckon would keep my eyes open during the lecture unlike the neuroscience lectures which I have already had some unfortunate shut-eye moments. I sure am glad there aren't any electronics/circuits module this semester - we had a surplus of them last semester :s

Anyway, it’s the time of year when I realise that exams are only a few months away and that I have a lot of read and prepare for. Sigh. On second thought, I guess I can afford a few more months before I need to panic! Wish me luck :-P

Maldivian life?

I saw an interesting video clip on YouTube today. It is a clip from a program broadcast by Television Maldives featuring the life of a chap named Hussein Moosa from Hanimaadhoo island, Haa Dhaal Atoll. The program follows around his daily schedule a bit and features interviews with him where he rambles on and on (with a cutesy "island" accent) about his childhood (his parents died), why he didn't marry (too much responsiblity?!), what he's seen through his life time (bodu thadhu, Mohd Ameen and Nasir presidency) and a myriad of other things. Quite an entertaining and amusing clip...

Check it out on YouTube:

Control Room

I just finished watching a documentary film called Control Room. I tell you, it's a must watch! Truly moving and entertaining.

It is a film documenting the events at the media operations center at the US Central Command (CentCom) in Doha, Qatar during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It's been out since 2004 and has been broadcast on a few channels. The film, although made by an independent film maker, has a main focus on Al-Jazeera (the growing and supposedly modern Arab TV network) which paves the way for an alternative perspective on things than which the patriotic US TV networks bombard us all with. It follows through the events with snippets of riveting conversations between people at CentCom. It features interviews with a US Press Officer named Josh Rushing, a senior producer at Al-Jazeera named Samir Khader and journalist Hassan Ibrahim also with Al-Jazeera as the main characters along with minor snippets from a lady producer at Al-Jazeera, a dude at CNN and a few others.

I just took to the bother of naming these fellows because their conversations truly enriched the experience of the film. I especially adore the comments and conversations it showed with the very articulate and intelligent Samir Khader. The US Marine, Josh Rushing, has since left the Marines and joined Al-Jazeera International, which is quite amusing since he is seen making comments throughout much of the film about how detestable the things Al-Jazeera was showing was. However, there is a particular moment later in the film as the war progressed, where he reflects on a moment where he realized that he was offended by the images of dead/injured Americans on Al-Jazeera yet wasn't so much bothered when he saw western media showing equally, if not more horrific, images of Iraqi people. The film also follows the events surrounding the death of a Al-Jazeera reporter in Baghdad due to a direct bombing of the Al-Jazeera office by a US war plane. Lots of tears and anger but all keep calm for the most part despite that they all think it was an intentional attack by the US.

Anyway, that is too much of a spoiler. Grab the film at your local video store (unlikely in Male' :p) or scrounge around the net for it. A little birdie tells me its on Rapidshare ;-)

Make a spud gun!

One thing I remember particularly from my childhood is my liking for those toy guns that made a bit of explosive flash and sound when triggered. It came in different forms but I remember my favourite one (or rather the only one my parents dared to get me :-P) which was shaped almost like a real gun with a changeable ammunitions magazine. The magazine packed a round of these cool bullets that when fired made a small explosion. The bullets had a teensy weensy amount of gunpowder in them to achieve the effect - I know because I took apart a bullet (and eventually the gun itself) to learn how they worked. But then, the government added fireworks, firecrackers and anything that went bang including these toy guns to their list of banned items. Being an avid experimenter, that got me started on making my own things-that-went-bang...

Here is how to make a spud (potato) gun. It is something quite common and easy to make. It is also pretty powerful - has a range of atleast 30ft when constructed correctly and delivers a punch that would make you go a big "ouch!" if hit by one. I made a mini pistol-like version of this when I was in Male' for holidays in August 2006, just to reminisce the gunslinging days :-D.

- Insect repellent spray (shelltox, bop spray...)
- Piezo electric igniter from a cigarette/kitchen lighter
- About 2ft of large diameter plastic pipe
- About 4-6ft of small diameter plastic pipe
- Endcap for the large pipe
- Reducer that connects large pipe to small pipe
- Paperclip
- Small length of wire


- Any type of insect repellent should do. I've tried "Shelltox" and "Bop Spray".
- Piezo electric igniters are those things found in some cigarette and kitchen lighters that when pressed makes a spark. I'm sure many have used these things to deliver a jolt of friendly electricity to friends ;-)
- Glue the large diameter pipe to the reducer and then glue the reducer to the small diameter pipe.
- The end cap doesn't need to be glued and can be just plugged onto the large pipe.
- Break the paperclip into two, heat up pieces using a lighter and when hot, push the two pieces about 5mm from each other.
- Connect wires to the paperclips terminals.
- Connect the end of the wires to the piezo igniter.
Construct as shown in the diagram.

- Push a Potato into the end of small pipe making sure it fits snugly and there is no space for air to flow. Push the potato till it is almost at the beginning of the reducer.
- Spray some repellant into the large pipe and quickly cover with the end cap.
- Take aim and press the igniter to shoot!

More details:
The above is what I did in August. There are many, many different versions of spud/potato guns available on the net. I suggest reading up more from this guide at They have photos and videos there.