Monday, June 22, 2009

An appreciation for RAW files

Up until now, I have not been able to truly appreciate what I can do with a RAW file. I mean, I know what a RAW file is (see explanation below)*. But does it really make much difference? I decided to learn more about it today. Am I glad I did!

Of course, you cannot do any adjustments on Exposure, ISO, Focus, Shutter Speed, and Aperture once that has been set in the camera. However, after an image is captured, a RAW conversion software allows you the flexibility to change the settings for white balance, tint, contrast, sharpness, saturation, and brightness at a later stage. While many of these adjustments can also be done on a JPEG file using a regular photo editing software, I have found that white balance is best fine-tuned in a RAW file. There is just no equivalent adjustment in a photo editing software (available adjustments are: Hue, Variations, Color Balance, Photo Filter).

The other adjustments (e.g. saturation, exposure, brightness), while available in a photo editing software, are much easier to make at RAW level. The RAW image file has a much richer range of colour information to play with. After all, RAW files are much bigger than JPEG files for a very good reason. RAW files are recorded in 12-bit or 14-bit, whle JPEGS have been compressed down to 8-bit, which gives you only 256 levels of tonal range. Guess what? I think I am going to start shooting serious pictures in RAW from now on. Photoshop is still useful, but I think I am missing half the picture (so to speak!) if I do not shoot in RAW. I am really excited about the prospects!

*RAW: this is the unprocessed data captured by a digital camera. Depending on the manufacturer, it could be named .NEF file, or .CRW, or .CR2 file, etc. For most consumer range cameras, the image captured is a JPEG file, which has been processed by the camera's CPU from raw data. Higher range cameras has the option to shoot in RAW format, which requires a RAW convertor for the picture to be viewed. Many RAW convertors also gives you the ability to make adjustments to the image, such as birghtness, contrast, white balance, etc.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A thing of passion lasts forever

At the camera class today, the presenter said something which I'd like to repeat here. He says that when you buy a camera or a camera accessory, go for the best you can afford. You'll never regret it. I couldn't agree with him more. You see, photography is a hobby of passion. A photographer is passionate about his equipment. If he buys something, he wants to keep it for a long, long time. Even way beyond its useful life. We are not talking about a utility item here. After you buy a camera or an accessory that you are really keen on, you will enjoy it every time you use it. Imagine if you had bought something just because it is on sale; you will keep longing for what you could have acquired, but didn't. Your passion would not be able to reach its deepest level of satisfaction. The money you saved cannot make up for the satisfaction you lost.

Of course, the caveat is that we are talking about passion here. Not everyone is passionate about what he does. But it is easy to tell when he is. You may have come across a struggling musician who owns nothing but the most expensive musical instrument. Or you may know of someone who loves sports and will settle for nothing but the best equipment within his means. Only a person of deep passion for his pursuit can truly say "it was worth the money".

Friday, June 19, 2009

Plenty of words; little communication

When I was working in an office, I used to get up to a hundred emails a day. Many of them, however, were not written by the sender directly to me. They were either cc-ed to me, or they were written to a group of people which included me. Now that I am not working, I still get a number of emails a day, although much less. But something is missing though. As it was during my working days, there are lots of information zipping around in my cyberworld but little communication from sender to me. Most of the emails were forwarded jokes or forwarded news clips.

The email has made it much easier, much cheaper, and much faster for people to write to one another. Yet people still keep pretty much to themselves. They prefer to forward another person's writings than to sit down and write even just a short paragraph. Writing is a skill like any other creative art. You write to express yourself. You can bring joy to dear ones you haven't seen for a long time. Unfortunately, the age of emails has not succeeded in bring people any closer together. Very few people actually write, as in the old fashioned sense of the word. Just think: how many of your incoming emails are actually a real letter written by someone as if conversing with you? That's how real letter used to be written in the pen and paper days.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anglicising one's name

Today's papers are quoting a research* which finds that it is much easier to get called for an interview if you have an Anglo-sounding name than a Chinese or a Middle-Eastern one. The study sent out 4000 fake resumes for entry-level waiting, data-entry, customer service and sales job.

"The research found that overall, Chinese job seekers were called back 21 per cent of the time they applied for a job, compared with 22 per cent for Middle Eastern people and 26 per cent for indigenous applicants. By comparison, Anglo-Saxon job seekers were called back 35 per cent of the time, only slightly ahead of Italians on 32 per cent."

The research says nothing more than that it is easier to get called for a job interview if you have an Anglo-sounding name**. It would be wrong, however, to infer that racial prejudice exists. If any amount of prejudice exists, it is only IN FAVOR of Chinese, Middle Eastern, and indigenous people. Anglo-Saxons make up more than 90% of the Australian population, and the jobs advertised for require direct interaction with mostly Anglo-Saxons. If the successfully employed share the same percentages, wouldn't Anglo-Saxons be under-represented in these jobs? Such data can only prove that Australia has come a long way since the days of White Australia policy.

*e.g. See:,22606,25649837-5005962,00.html

** This is assuming that the number of fake resumes were evenly made up of the different races, and that applicants outside of the research group were not significant enough to upset this assumption.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An "epic" camera: the E-P1

The photography community is abuzz with the latest camera from Olympus: the E-P1. Surely this camera has taken a long time in coming. The early digicams (non-SLR digital cameras) spotted some interesting designs that were not possible with film cameras (e.g. movie mode, live view, articulated LCD). However, but many of these features took a long time to be incorporated into the DLSR's when they first appeared about 10 years ago. Many in the photography community had wanted to see a camera like the E-P1 emerge. So, what is so special about this camera?

The E-P1 is like a cross between a digicam and a DSLR. Like a DSLR, it has a big image sensor that is used in the DLSR, and it uses interchangeable lens. Like a digicam, it has live view and it is able to record HD movies (although these features are now making their way into the newer DLSRs). So what we have is a digicam-sized camera that potentially has the capability of a DSLR. I look forward to Nikon coming out with a similiar camera, although I doubt it would be any time soon. This is because we are talking about a whole new system of lens mount and short "pancake" lenses that go with the new Micro Four Thirds system. That's quite an act for anybody to follow any time soon. Olympus has developed "pancake" lenses some time back.

Would I buy the E-P1? Probably not. It is not because there's anything wrong with it (the reviews are still being carried out by DPreview and others). I would give it a serious thought if I owned an Olympus Four-Thirds system, which just needs an adapter to go with the E-P1.

Another interesting camera to watch out for is a normal digicam that has a DLSR sensor. Sony came out with one a few years ago, but it was not well received for various reasons. I think it is time to give it another go. Let's see... it should have a twist and swivel form factor like the classic Coolpix 990, or an articulated LCD like the Canon G5. A built-in flash and a hot shoe would be useful. A fast F2.0 lens , optical image stabilization would do nicely. I could live with a 24mm-120mm type of zoom. High definition movie would be a bonus. That would be my dream camera.

E-P1 is revolutionary, but it has come a decade too late for me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beyond break-ins and snatch thefts

The following is extracted from today's news report in Malaysia. I remember some 25 years ago when the main party conversation was house burglary. This gradually worsened to house robbery, whereby the perpetrator daringly goes into a person's house, tie up the occupants, and ransack the house without fear of being caught. This is often done without any concern that the neighbours would alert the police.

From house break-ins and house robberies, the criminals moved on to work day shifts too. They started to snatch ladies' handbags. Before long, robbery in the broad daylight and under public glare has now become an everyday affair. This has become so commonplace that people simply take it as an unlucky day when they become a victim. The victim would simply shrug it off, and get on with the day. Many people don't even bother to make a police report, not because they are indifferent, but because the police are totally unable to do anything about it other than taking down your statement.

The robbing spree reported below appears to be the next step up in crime activities in the country. Not contented with individual robberies, a group of robbers decided to go on a robbing spree. This is a dangerous precedent. It reminds me of the situation in many parts of Africa where groups of robbers would swoop down on a village and start attacking anyone and everyone, and then make off with the spoils. For this to happen in Malaysia, surely it demonstrates that the criminals in Malaysia have gotten bolder. How much worse is it going to get before things start to turn around? Or will Malaysia degenerate into a failed state like one of the African countries? God forbid!

Wednesday June 17, 2009

Robbing spree in Puchong

SUBANG JAYA: Seven parang-wielding robbers terrorised several businesses in Puchong in an hour-long robbing spree beginning at 5.30am.

They made off with approximately RM9,000, seven cellular phones, some jewellery and a school bag after hitting five restaurants and a hotel that were just opening for business yesterday.

(To read the rest, go to )

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Revelations about flash photography

I decided to do some research into flash photography today. 'Learned quite a few amazing things. Flash technology took a leap when in 1988 Nikon introduced TTL (through the lens) capability in its SB23 and Sb24 Speedlights. Gone are the days when one has to compute the right settings based on distance, aperture, and film ASA. Every digicam now uses TTL in its flash, which makes flash photography a no-brainer, compared to the early days! The only thing grandma has to figure out is how to pop up the flash. The camera does the rest.

I was delighted to learn that my D90 incorporates Nikon's latest flash technology. It has a built-in commander mode, which means I can actually control many other flash units wirelessly. I can actually set my SB600 Speedlight to flash in the TTL mode at +3 or -3 f-stops. The settings are remotely controlled on my camera itself, while the camera's built-in flash can also be independantly set with the same options as the remote flash or flashes. This gives a vast array of options for creative lighting. I am sure high end Canon cameras will have the same options, either now or later. For me, I am simply delighted with my D90.

I also gained a renewed respect for slow sync and rear curtain sync. One writer on the internet suggests that all indoor flash should be done in the slow sync mode. I am not so certain of such a sweeping statement, but I did give slow sync a try today. You won't believe the difference until you've tried it yourself! I may be wrong, but from what I've gathered, slow sync basically slows down the shutter speed regardless of your shutter speed setting. Then, while keeping true to the exposure requirements of your aperture and shutter speed, it flashes in rear curtain mode. This allows you to capture as much ambient light as possible and still enjoy the aid of flash to finish the job of getting the right exposure for the shot. This is slightly different from pure rear curtain sync. My D90 has both slow sync and rear curtain sync (of course, in addition to other modes). For some samples of what it can do, see: .

Saturday, June 13, 2009

If you are a budding photographer.......

Recently I have been helping out at a Saturday photography class conducted by the KPS camera club. This is the first time I ever sat in on a photography course. I am impressed by the amount of information and help you can get by attending a class like this. I am convinced that if you are interested to learn more about photography beyond casual shooting, this course is the best investment you can make to improve your photos before you think of upgrading your camera or expanding your gear.

What do you get from the course? First of all, you get all the basics nailed down. You are exposed to a broad overview of all the different types of shots photographers normally take (portraits, macro, sports, etc), and how to use the camera settings. While in class, you get to ask all the questions you ever had in your mind. For example, it had taken me a long time to figure out by myself what "stopping down" means. In the class, if you are a keen learner, you will become conversant with all the technical words in no time. Want to expand your gear? No problem; people are passionate to fill you with all the recommendations you ever need. You will no longer look at equipment from Harvey Norman and JB HiFi, but visit pro shops for your needs. Finally, at the end of the course, you are not left on your own. You are signed up for one year of free membership at the club. This is the perfect way to keep your interest continuously stimulated.

In addition to just taking pictures, there's also an introduction to the photo editing process using Photoshop. There's also an introduction to slideshow-making using ProShow. Photoshop is the digital darkroom of the modern age, while a slideshow is one of the best tools for showing off your photos with loved ones near or far (e.g. through YouTube).

I would highly recommend any budding photographer to go for a course like this. You don't need to have prior skills. Just bring along a camera and a strong passion for photography; then start your journey from there.

Career advice to young people

By now we are all familiar with the global economic crisis, which has been caused by the recent financial meltdown in all the developed countries. The belief that globalization will lead to freeing up market forces to do its magic on improving the welfare of everyone has proved to be wishful thinking. In a recession GNP contracts, resulting in fewer jobs for job seekers. If prolonged, it could lead to (gulp!) double digit unemployment in the developed countries.

I believe the employment market is slowly becoming less favorable for salaried workers that are not unionized. Everyone who does not enjoy union protection (e.g. pharmacists in Australia) will find himself at the mercy of his employer. Only the minimum wage law can provide a bit of protection for some workers, but professionals who earn above a certain level of income are not. The cut off level is not high by any means, which is why a unionized blue collar worker can earn as much or more money than a non-unionized white-collared professional.

My advice to young people making career choices now is this: unless you are striking out on your own, choose a job that has union protection or a strong trades guild. In the current economic situation there are more workers than jobs. Hence your employer can afford to be choosy, work you hard, and pay you little. That's how a free market works. A union or a trades guild provides income protection. I am not a pro-union person, nor am I for exploitative employer. I am merely stating a fact that if I were to make a career choice today, I would go for one that is represented by a union or has a good trades guild.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A funny encounter

While at the Post Office this morning, a man hurried in to pay a couple of bills. He left his bills and $300 at the counter, and said that he has to go out and keep watch on his car, which was apparently illegally parked. One of the two bills was for a parking offense in another place. He came in moments later to pick up his receipts and bills. Obviously this man was dicing with the law. He knew the score, but he was prepared the pay the penalty if caught.

As I was relating this to a co-worker, two girls came up to the counter to pay a bill. I had to quickly smother my story, as they were also coming in to settle a parking offense. What a coincidence!

Monday, June 8, 2009

The trend in house prices

I read an interesting article published in The Age today, written by Robert Shiller, professor of economics and finance at Yale. Here is what I have gathered.

According to Shiller's observation, real estate market moves very slowly. That is because sales of existing houses are mainly by people who are planning to buy another. In other words, they are already "in the market". If they wait to buy low, they also sell their houses for less, and vice-versa. For such people, there is no reason to hurry.

The real shift in real estate market trends are effected by those entering the market for the first time (e.g. a young couple buying their first home), or those exiting (e.g. an old couple selling out to move into a retirement home)*. The decision to move into the market or to move out of the market usually reflects the growing pressures of economic necessity. For the former, it may be that the cost of rentals outweighs the cost of home ownership. For the latter, it may be due to foreclosures, or a changing opinion about the future. Typically, the decision-making sentiments can last long after the actual economic factors have changed. A new couple may decide to stay longer with their parents to delay buying into the market, based on their perception of what the future holds. An elderly person can decide to cash in early in a declining market, or to delay in a rising one.

Shiller says that the fall and subsequent rise in house prices do not exactly follow the timings of an economic recovery. He says "Any trend may suddenly be reversed if there is an "economic regime change" - a shift big enough to change their thinking. But market changes that big do not occur every day. And when they do, there is a coordination problem: people all won't change their views about home ownership at once." Shiller believes that even if there is a quick end to the recession, house prices may be subdued for years. "After the last price boom, which ended about the time of the 1990-1991 recession, house prices (re:US) did not start moving upwards, even incrementally, until 1997."

In my opinion, the government should do its bit to prevent speculative buying. Housing is a basic human necessity, not an option. When people's income is largely spent on servicing a home mortgage so that the rich can get richer through speculative buying, the overall quality of life declines accordingly. Until the current global financial crisis, so-called democratically-elected governments of the world seem to be "of the people, by some people, for few rich people."

* p/s This ideal scenario excludes investors or speculators. In reality, investors moving in and out of the market can also make an impact on house prices. The Howard government implemented the previously-abandoned negative gearing scheme, thereby ensuring that investors remain in the market through up and down cycles by providing tax offsets for losses. This essentially provides a perpetual upward lift to house prices in Australia. Ugh!

My view concerning racism in Australia

Is Australia a racist country? Are Australians racist? These are two different questions. Recently many Indians in Australia and in India have highlighted the feeling of being racially singled out for physical abuse. As a result, following mass media reports, surely many people in the world are questioning to what extent is racism being practised in Australia. Here is my take.

First, is the government racist? The fact that Kevin Rudd's effigy was burnt in India shows that some people believe the government is racist. I have observed Kevin Rudd from the time he ran for leadership of the country until now and I have never detected any racially-based remarks from his lips or any action that can be seen or felt as racist. If anyone cares to look at the number of Indians working in government departments here, he or she will quickly find that there is a highly disproportionate number of Indians working in many offices of the public sector; from the immigration office, to Centrelink, to VicRoads, to the Australian Taxation Office, etc, etc. All this came about in just the last few years. In comparison, Malaysia has 35% of Chinese and Indian population. It has only a sprinkling of Chinese and Indian workers in almost every department in the public sector. I can only surmise that the Australian government can hardly be accused of practising racism.

The second question is: are Aussies racist? No doubt many people perceive an Aussie as typically white. According to statistics, in 2006 25% of Aussies were born overseas. Indians, by 2006, had already overtaken the mainland Chinese as the third largest migrant group (after Britain and New Zealand), and they number more than white Aussies some public schools I know of. A typical "Aussie" is increasingly becoming less white and more Asian. As we ponder over whether Aussies are racist, we should also think who are we calling so.

The fact remains that recently there has been a significant number of Indians in Melbourne and Sydney who were attacked by presumably white youths. Curiously, there has not been many reports from non-Indians being singled out for abuse on the same scale. I think this is probably triggered more by the economic downturn, than by KKK-styled hatred. Chinese-faced migrants have been around long enough to be assimilated into the society, while Indians are the more recent migrants arriving in huge numbers. Naturally they have become obvious targets for disgruntled youths in tough economic times. Of course, this does not alleviate the ugliness of racially targeted attacks.

So, what should one do to win the hearts and minds of the locals who have made it possible for the migrants to come and share in the wealth of this country? Are public demonstrations and show of strength in numbers the best thing to do? I think not. When you go to somebody's house, do you lay down your terms on how to be treated? What do you do to be invited to stay? Instead of laying down demands, a new migrant group should try to integrate into the fabric of society and "doing life" together with the locals.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Observe the human spirit

What do you see when you look at a whole bunch of people? I was waiting to pick up my daughter from her school the other day. I watched the young people streaming out of school. I heard their laughter and the excited voices chatting away. Under a tree, a group of them were singing the happy birthday song to one of the mates. Only this time, I observed something more. I observed the human spirit behind the faces. No, I am not psychic. I am talking about the energy that is outwardly expressed in action or expression. The next time you are in a public place, look at the spirit of the people there. You can feel the energy bursting forth from the schoolchildren. You can see subdued spirit in the sick or unwell. You can see sadness in those needing comfort. In the case of depressed people, you will see a lack of spirit, as if there is no life in the person. Then you will appreciate all the noise your children make at home. You'll be grateful for the occasional sibling quarrels, for this demonstrates a strong spirit. There is nothing more pitiful than having a spiritless life. Without the spirit, there is no life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Back on the internet

It is good to be back. What is it like to be without the internet for 2 weeks? You'll have to try it to see what modern life is like without the internet. For me, I felt like I was in detention class. I did miss writing a blog now and then. When a thought worth sharing comes to mind, it soon evaporates when not put into blog immediately.

I missed using my VOIP phone. Or rather, I missed the cheap calls I could make with VOIP.
I missed getting all the online news, and being "connected" with friends on email.

Well, in the last 2 weeks, I upgraded my computer to Quad Core. I have not really tested how much faster I could do my video rendering on this new upgrade as compared with my previous 4 year old duo core processor. However, the real attraction of the upgrade was the Express Gate feature that came with the new Asus motherboard. This enables me to turn on a Linux-based browser in 5 sec from bootup. It is just a fun thing, but not really a killer function. So don't go upgrading your computer just to get this feature.

As for whether my new service provider TPG is better than iPrimus, my first day on TPG hasn't been great. Lot of service interruptions. Good thing I only signed up for a year. I know many of my friends say they are happy with TPG. perhaps the area they live in that's less problematic than mine. I cartainly can't give TPG a good recommendation. In comparison, iPrimus wasn't that bad, other than costing a little bit more.