Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My way forward is lighted

Last weekend, I had a most interesting time at the KPS retreat in Mt.Buller. I had my first hands-on experience in a studio setup for portraits photography. I was able to get a feel of how a seasoned studio photographer gets ready for the sitting, how to use a light meter, and how to set up the lighting condition, and how to hook up multiple flash units. I knew all these in theory; it was different to get an actual feel of it.

I came away more convinced that ever that good photography goes much further than composition, handling of aperture and shutter speed, or judicious use of lenses and filters. It goes back to the root of photography. By definition, the etymology of "photography" is photos (which means light) and graphos (which means writing or painting). Incidentally, the studio set up at Mt.Buller used off-camera flash guns rather than normal studio strobe light. This set-up is not only cheaper, but more practical to carry around. Coming back from the retreat, I learned about off-camera flash photography in our online discussion forum. Here I discovered a whole new genre of photography. It is all about using off-camera flashes to control lighting condition both indoors and often outdoors. Thus I now begin on another new adventure in photography. My way forward has been "lighted".

Here is a good website to get you started if you are interested in this subject: http://strobist.blogspot.com/2006/03/lighting-101.html

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This phone call may be recorded....

When you call a service center, you will probably hear a recording saying that the call may be recorded for training purposes. I have often wondered what they really do with the recordings. I would like to think that this is to ensure that the call center employee provides a courteous service to the customer.

However, after encountering a few instances of unacceptable service over the phone in the past, I am beginning to doubt the above. I now suspect that the recording is done to ensure that the customer does not try to be funny with the company. They can actually hold you to your words if you are not careful about what you say. Now, supposing you are able to record the phone conversation on your side. When the call center tells you that your call "may be recorded for training purposes", tell the person that you are also recoding the conversation for your own "training purpose". It may be interesting to see what the person has to say to that.

Alternatively, when the call center person says "this phone call may be recorded", you respond by saying "I agree; we may record this call" and then proceed to record the conversation without letting the other party know. If challenged about your recording, you have already covered yourself by declaring upfront "We may record this call". Er.... excuse, me... would you care to repeat what you just said? Oh don't worry, I already have it on tape.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New offer from MyNetFone

What you need:
You just need to have an internet connection, preferably broadband speed.

What to do:
Call MyNetFone at 1300 731 048. MyNetFone has one of the best VOIP plans. I go for the SuperSaver, which is $0 per month. You just prepay and then top up with Bpay when your credit is low.

Current promotion:
Yesterday (21st April 09), MyNetFone launched a promotion which ends on 3rd May'09. Go for the Linksys SPA2100 phone adaptor. It costs $19.95, inclusive of $10 credit. But you have to sign up for a plan. Go for the MegaSaver. It'll cost you $9.95 per month and the contract is 12 months, but you get a 100 free calls every month. At the end of the year, you can opt to get out of it. If you miss the promotion, then just pay the normal price of $69.95 and go for SuperSaver ($0) plan.

What are you waiting for?
Just call the number given above, and order what you need, and MyNetFone will send you the adaptor. Plug it into your internet, and connect your normal phone (cordless is OK. Just connect the base station to it) and you will be able to make your calls rightaway. If you want to read more about it, go to: https://www.mynetfone.com.au/

What you'll save:
After installing VOIP, I changed my landline phone to the cheapest ($20/month) plan. I use landline to receive calls only, and make all outgoing calls with VOIP. You'll easily cut your phone bills into a fraction of what it is now. The big telcos do not like you to use VOIP, so they'll try to tie you down with bundled plans. Don't fall for it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Watch out for voice recording

By now we should all be very familiar with the case of an embarrassing email that gets forwarded to the wrong person. Very quickly, one learns not to write something in an email that could potentially be embarrassing or politically disastrous. You can never be certain that it will never be forwarded to another person. An email once sent out is virtually unstoppable.

What many people may not be so aware of yet is that the same applies to what comes out of the mouth. It is very easy to install a voice recorder program in many of the newer mobile phones. Two examples are "Best CallRecorder" and "LivePVR". They can be set to automatically record all incoming and outgoing calls without making give-away beep sounds. You'll never know if what you say is being recorded. We know enough not to vent our anger against another person in an email, preferring to do it over the phone or in person. Now, one should also be careful not to say anything over the phone if you do not want to risk being recorded. You can't stop being recorded just as you can't stop being photographed in a public place.

Used in the right way, voice recording technology can be very useful. It does not take up much memory space and you can use it to keep track of your phone call usage, as sometimes I get the feeling that the credit on my mobile phone disappears by itself. Sometimes I just want to be able to recall a piece of information given over the phone. With each new technology comes a debate over the use and mis-use of it. This has never changed and it never will.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Panasonic DMC-GH1 - an exciting new camera

This is really cutting edge for a still/video hybrid camera. This camera is announced in March 2009. I find this to be an exciting camera that is worth serious consideration (provided the image and video quality stands up to scrutiny). Based on published specs, it is as good as it gets for now. The DMC-GH1 is the HD version of the G1 announced in Sept 2008.

Here's the exciting bit on the HD video recording of this camera:
"In addition to Motion JPEG images, the DMC-GH1 can record high-resolution full-HD 1920 x 1080 movies at 24 fps (frames per second) or smooth HD 1280 x 720 movies at 60 fps in AVCHD (MPEG-4/H.264)* format.

"A special, separate button on the back lets the user instantly start recording movies while shooting photos without any having to make any extra settings.

"The LUMIX G VARIO HD 14-140mm/F4.0-5.8 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S. kit lens boasts a focal length of 28-280mm (35mm camera equivalent) and supports the continuous AF function of the contrast AF system for both photos and movies...... This lens is also designed for movie recording use by minimizing the mechanical sound generated by the continuous AF/AE action.

"For more creative sound recording, an optional stereo microphone (DMW-MS1) is available. A Wind Cut function blocks out most of the noise from background wind even on breezy days."

In addition to all the standard features you'd get in a self-respecting DSLR, it has a 3-inch, articulated LCD (albeit 460k pixels only, but it is good enough).

My only disappointment is with the lens aperture of f4.0 on the wide end of the lens. Fortunately, one can always buy Olympus lens or other third-party lenses for the open-standard Four-Thirds system.

Free Bibles for your mobile phone

I have just noticed that you can now download free copies of various versions of the bible at Mobiles24.com. Go to this site: http://www.mobiles24.com/search?keywords=bible&c=free-mobile-software&search=GO

You'll find versions of the bible such as NIV, The Message, Amplified Bible, KJV, NKJV, etc. You can also find bibles in foreign languages. Each bible takes up only roughly 1.5MB of memory. The software is standalone; you don't need any e-reader software. It also gives you some useful tools such as changing font sizes, returning back to the same page you stopped, and bookmarking your memory verses, etc.

If you do a search on that website, you can also find scores of dictionaries in various languages. Very useful if you are going to do a lot of reading!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The trend in mobile computing

It is reported that ARM, which makes the CPU chips that power most of the smartphones and PDA's, has sold about 10 billion chips. In comparison, the much better known CPU giant Intel, has only sold 1-2 billion to date. The gap is expected to grow wider all the time. ARM chips run on low power consumption. They are designed for mobile computing. As they grow more powerful, they begin to take on applications that emulate what goes on the desktop. HP and Asus have said they will use the ARM chip on their new line of netbooks. It will be interesting to see Symbian apps running on the netbooks. Intel and Microsoft no longer has complete dominance over the computing world.

People do not need a powerful CPU. Smart phones and Linux-powered netbooks have shown that almost all the applications a typical user needs can be satisfied by a small application running on a small little CPU. The only reason why we are pushed into buying increasingly powerful computers is solely to run more and more bloatware. The mother of all bloatware comes from Microsoft (think Vista, Microsoft Office). Of course, companies like Adobe and Nero also seems to have taken the cue from Microsoft. They bloat up their software with each new release, yet the basic functions used by most people has remained unchanged for years. Of course, Intel obliges with more and more powerful CPU's, which dovetails nicely into their business plan, of course. Of course, I can't use an ARM-powered computer today to run Photoshop and videoediting. But believe me, I am still running these applications on my 6-year old 2GHz Pentium 4, with Windows XP platform. I see no reason to upgrade anything unless I have decided to become a professional graphics artist or a movie producer. And I need but just one computer to do that.

Google has recognized this trend by coming out with the Android platform for mobile computing. This is a direct challenge to Symbian, which is also an open standard. The new Android phones are expected to become widely accepted as more apps are made available. If Android captures the market and expands to netbooks, Microsoft will be consigned to a niche market. Be afraid, Microsoft; be very afraid.

About mobile apps and mobile computing

In the last 3 or 4 weeks since I had my new mobile phone, I have re-discovered a whole new world of computing. The mobile phone is indeed an alluring little gadget. There are so many interesting mini applications in the web. I could spend hours surfing endlessly for all kind of applications that are designed on my phone's Symbian platform. Among the more unusual and unexpected apps I saw was a drum kit application that actually works like a real drum machine. I have also come across a metronome, a music tuner, a software that can turn the mobile into a Wifi hotspot, as well as one that can constantly monitor for wifi hotspots wherever you do. I just installed QReader today, which can read any .txt file in a mobile-friendly way. Really, the possibilities are practically endless. It is not just about apps you can put into the phone, but it is about what you can carry with you on the go.

After many days of spending hours at a stretch scouring the web for new apps, I begin to ask myself whether I am enjoying my new phone more or whether I am simply hooked on looking for new apps. The little apps are so much more appealing than the big software packages that one installs on a desktop computer. The mini apps are fast to download, and simple to install. Instructions, if needed, are often short and simple. If you don't like what you have installed, removing it is equally quick and easy. Caution: this is very addictive. (I am determined to stop apps surfing or at least limit my time spent on it. Yes, this is a warning to myself)

For me, true mobile computing is no longer about carrying a laptop, or a downsized netbook like the Asus Eeepc. It is about carrying a mobile phone that has now become my watch and alarm clock (I no longer wear a watch); my MP3 player and voice recorder (I have shelved my digital recorder and MP3 player); my appointment book (I used to carry a diary for appointments when I was working full time); and of course, a whole library of ebooks, plus a small collection of photos and family videos. Oh yes, it is a handy camera too. Wasn't that why I bought the N73 in the first place?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The enemy of your enemy is NOT your friend

It is said that Benjamin Franklin once quoted "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". This is a dangerous position to take, because one cannot assume that the enemy of your enemy will not turn against you. The U.S. made a huge mistake when it befriended Saddam Hussein in Saddam's early years when the Ayatollah Khomeini was at war with the U.S. Saddam was armed with advanced U.S. fighter jets and his army was given military training. We all know how it ended. Saddam Hussein eventually waged war against the Kurds, the Sunni's, Kuwaitis, and eventually the West. One must never assume that the enemy of an enemy is automatically a friend.

Some years ago the prevailing sentiment was that certain countries should take in political refugees who are fighting against regimes not friendly to themselves. This is unwise. For example, a jihad fighter believes that it is his religious duty to eliminate all non-Muslims. Should a non-Muslim government readily grant such a person asylum if he is a political refugee in his own country? In this case, certainly, the enemy of your enemy can potentially also be your enemy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What I want for my birthday

Yes, my birthday is coming up. I guess you can call 50 years a significant milestone. Admit it; it is not easy to buy anyone a present that would truly thrill him or her in this age of material abundance. Now, what would I want from my children, if I could wish for something?

I did think of something I would truly, greatly treasure. I just want an expression of love and filial piety. A simple note in a simple card will do. It has to come from the heart. An acknowledgment for the years of sacrifice; yes, that would be nice. A renewed willingness to listen to parental advice (even if there is no intention to obey) would be flattering. How about a pledge to be a good son/daughter who is willing to take care of me in years to come when I could no longer take care of myself? Yes, just a simple note from the heart would be the greatest birthday gift my children could give me, even year after year.

One additional thought.... perhaps that little note could come with a promise of something really nice and expensive.... yes, I'll settle for a dream gift anytime; and I do mean it literally.