Saturday, October 30, 2010

Glib talk

The "wiktionary" define glib as "Having a ready flow of words but lacking accuracy or understanding; superficial; shallow; Smooth or slippery; Artfully persuasive in nature"

There is one glib public servant who recently lost $50 million, nearly all, of his personal fortune by investing in a friend's venture that misfired. His name is Samuel Graeme, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Ten days ago he says that the NBN (National Broadband Network, costing $43bil to the taxpayer) does not need a cost-benefit analysis. When contested, he says (watch and learn!), "I did not say that a cost benefit-analysis is not needed. What I did not then go on to say is that one was needed." Duh??? Is this guy for real?

Friday, October 29, 2010

What would a dog think?

A customer came into the post office today, smelling like he has never taken a bath in this life. I had to hold my breath the whole time while attending to him, and I rushed for fresh air as soon as he left. I wonder if people like that are aware of their own condition. It is not as if one cannot do anything about it.

That led me to wonder what if this person has a dog. A dog has a very keen sense of smell. Can a dog be repulsed by obnoxious smell? Would his dog still lick him and stay close by him all the time? What is it like to be the dog of an owner who smells as bad as the person I mentioned?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Between SLR and point-and-shoot

Some people buy an SLR because they are told SLR takes good pictures. Others buy the point-and-shoot digicam because they find that the features are all available as in an SLR. So what really is the big deal about an SLR over a digicam apart from interchangeable lens? There is nothing special about an SLR that could not be produced in a digicam if the manufacturer so desires. They would probably do so if it makes commercial sense. An SLR simply encompasses a certain level of features and performance, rather than an exclusive technology.

If you are undecided between an SLR and a digicam, here are some points to consider whether you really need an SLR:

1. Interchangeable lens
Obviously, this gives the SLR flexibility in the use of superior optics to achieve a desired effect. If the shot is achievable in a normal digicam, then the SLR will not contribute very much to producing a better shot for you, generally speaking.

2. Bigger sensor
The much-larger sensor in an SLR has better light capturing capability, thus expanding the range of ISO you can use. In an experienced user, it enables you to shoot with a shallower depth of field for creative effects. This latter advantage is seldom exploited by a novice photographer.

3. Faster shooting
Although digicams have improved tremendously in this area nowadays, a typical SLR still outperforms the digicam in how fast you can shoot. There are 3 key areas: the shutter lag, the time between shots, and the focusing time. When you are shooting an event, every second counts. That is when you need a fast trigger.

Bearing in mind the above three reasons, it is easy to see why a normal point-and-shoot digicam is all a person needs while on vacation. The quality or performance edge of an SLR sometimes does not justify the extra baggage you need to lug around. On vacation, you are seldom looking for outstanding creative shots (which is hard work), you are mostly shooting in broad daylight (even in non-ideal midday sun), and you typically shoot at your own pace (don't need a fast trigger). Having said that, I still carry my SLR on vacation, but shoot with a digicam unless I really need to pull out the SLR.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Learning to shoot

They say time and tide waits for no man. So is a good photo shoot. Although there are situations where you can simply take your own sweet time to set up your camera for the perfect shot, there are also many situations where your brains have to click as fast as your camera. The only way to do so is to keep on using the different settings on your camera and accessories until setting up for a shot becomes second nature.

After many years of shooting, I believe my first real speed challenge was during my Apollo Bay trip this year with a bunch of photographers. We woke up early to shoot the sunrise at Skene's Creek. My mind raced through all the settings on my camera, as the dawn broke over the horizon. The colour in the sky changed by the minute. It felt more like seconds. At the end of a hard work out, I managed to get a few "OK" shots out of hundreds, but the experience was invaluable.

Shooting in a studio is also training me to be more adept at setting up the camera as well as the accessories. When the model is watching, seconds count. You may have to tweak aperture, speed and ISO, exposure compensation, flash value compensation, white balance... all the time while you pose the model and shift the light stands. You might forget to turn image stabilizer off when using a tripod, and turn it on again when you remove the tripod. Or you set the metering mode for something and then forget to change it back.

I am beginning to appreciate continuous studio lighting, as opposed to using flash lighting. The seconds it takes for the flash to charge up and the occasional misfire makes a difference. It sound ironical, but home studio is great for training to be a fast trigger.

Monday, October 25, 2010

All-in-one and one-in-all

These days you will find many gadgets that do the same thing: access the internet. The common ones are the game consoles, smart phone, e-reader, and iTouch and various PDA-like devices. Following closely behind the media players are set-top boxes and the TV set itself, which will soon be able to access content from the internet. This is the "one-in-all" I am talking about: internet in everything. Of course, there are also the "all-in-one" gadgets. The smartphone that can do almost everything the PC can do. So can my Kindle e-reader, and so can my daughter's iTouch tablet.

It is time we start to back off from the all-in-one mania. For example, it is more practical, in my own opinion, to carry a simple feature-less (i.e. less features) phone and have a separate iTouch-like or iPad-like device, than to rely on an all-in-one iPhone for your needs or compulsion. I prefer to carry a simple inexpensive phone just to talk or text on the spur of a moment. I handle the phone for these purposes several times a day. It might get dropped and it might go missing. I won't need to sweat over it. On the other hand, the other things I do like surfing the web, making appointments, reading a book, playing games, etc, are activities that I can plan ahead. I have the choice of carrying a larger screen iPad or a more-portable iTouch for such activities. Or I can choose to leave them at home. No sweat.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Notes to myself: flash strobing

Someone at the camera club taught us how to create this effect using the strobe function in the flash (note: not all flash units have this function). It is really quite simple. A number of trial and error on the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings is all that is needed. Of course, you also need to know how to set your flash unit to enable it to strobe at a desired rate.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The sewing machine challenge

How hard is it to use a sewing machine? As a kid I have watched my grandmother and my mother use the sewing machine. It looked complicated, and that is the way it has been ingrained into my mind. I have one of the modern sewing machine that sits on a table. I have been meaning to try it out for years. Yesterday I took it out of storage and bravely confronted the manual. I kept telling myself that it couldn't be very hard. For a long time I have been curious to find out how it really works. This is one machine that every single woman, literate or not, could handle with ease, yet always appeared a mystery to me.

Today, the shroud of mystery lifted. I actually read through the manual and learned how to use the sewing machine. Surprisingly, this modern electric-powered machine works in the same way as the pedal driven sewing machine of yore. They both have the same mechanical parts to handle the threads. I learned how to make a simple straightforward stitch. With some help from my wife, I now have a black backdrop for my photo studio (spent AUD$25 on 5 meters of black muslin and stitched together for a bigger spread)

I feel I have made a significant inroad into a woman's traditional stronghold. It feels good.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Housekeeping made easy

I have been brought up in a generation where we were taught never to throw away things that could be of use to anyone. As a result, I find that many people, including I, have too many unnecessary things in the house. I used to think that every house should have a storeroom, because doesn't everyone have lots of things to store?

If you walk into a kitchen shop, you'll find all kinds of utensils; do we need every one of them? If you walk into a furniture shop, do you think that every home should have one of every type of furniture - a coffee table, a cabinet, a sideboard, a computer table, etc? We fill our homes with clutter just because we have been led to believe everything is a "necessity". That is why we buy things as soon as we find a nook or a corner to place them in. When we want to make room to buy even more things, we place them in storage - out of sight - so that we can continue to buy more things.

Word of advice: start giving away or throwing away things that you don't use and you'll find you have less housekeeping to do. Warning: this is very painful to do and requires great resolve. It will be accompanied with a feeling of loss and possibly regrets. Few people actually succeed in making a significant impact when it comes to clearing clutter; they always find a reason to keep things. After all, that's how the clutter builds up in the first place. Back to square one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is this the end of Microsoft?

Microsoft is noticeably absent from the biggest IT revolution in recent years, with not one, but three converging products simultaneously jostling for media attention during this pre-holiday season. I am talking about the smartphone, the tablet PC (including iPad), and the e-reader. This may signal the end of Microsoft's stranglehold on our computers. For 25-years, Microsoft has used its monopoly on the operating system to fend off competitors while milking the public for as much and as long as it could. That was only possible because people needed a common set of software to enable file sharing and work collaboration. IT users had to face constant compatibility issues if they used anything other than Microsoft products.

Mobile computing has changed all that. You just cannot have a phone that cannot communicate with another phone. As phones get smarter, they have to share pictures, video, and eventually documents, across different phone manufacturers. The phones evolved into tablets. E-readers just found itself dragged into the scene, although it started as a distinct product in one corner of the digital library world. Suddenly, these gadgets appear sophisticated enough to threaten the laptop and the desktop PC. One will soon be able to share files across different phone platforms, and make extensive use of the internet and cloud computing to free oneself from the shackles of the desktop PC and its inherent limitations. Apps make all the difference; people can now install and launch an app without knowing anything about the operating system layer. The OS layer, like bios commands, and like command line codes, will someday be reserved for troubleshooting purposes only. Without monopoly of the OS, Microsoft cannot command the $100+ price it charges.

Google made the Android platform and gave it away for free. Smartphone and tablet manufacturers trust Google enough to install Android as the OS in their devices. That's what is killing Microsoft. Even if Microsoft can successfully sell its Phone 7, it has already lost the chance to save itself. Soon, I predict the free OpenOffice will become a standard office suite, thanks to tablet PC's that are just about to become ubiquitous. At this rate, I wonder how long Microsoft can continue its hegemony.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Australia's National Broadband Network

NBN was formed as an alternative to Telstra's unwillingness to cooperate to provide highspeed broadband to all of Australia. When the-then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced this, I applauded the proposal. Now I think otherwise.

First, it is unnecessary to provide high speed broadband to all over Australia. Remote areas are best served by upgrading existing copper lines to keep the cost down. Think: would rural Australia benefit from having a dual carriage expressway serving the town? Would the people be best served by high speed broadband or by having better school or better medical facilities?

What really takes the cake for governmental wisdom is the fact that Prime Minister Julia Gillard wants to make it compulsory for every household to sign up for NBN's broadband service. Yes, that's reported in the news today. If you don't sign up, you cannot subscribe to the telephone service.

Don't ask about the cost to subscribers yet; Julia is not saying, or does not know. As for the project cost, $43bil is just the indicative price. My bet is that it will be much more before we see the light at the end of the fibre optic.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Have we grown wiser from the GFC?

I think the short answer is "no." We have not grown wiser from the global financial crisis of 2008. Australia is going back to status quo, while the other first world countries that are still in recession are slowing trying to recover status quo from the looks of it. Chief executives of public listed companies are back to the game of rewarding themselves with multimillion dollar pay rises (e.g. Myer CEO Brookes' pay jumped from $2.9 million to $5.45 million last year), while retrenching staff to "increase productivity" (e.g. Westpac Bank in today's Herald Sun news). In the first case, CEO's are unjustifiably rewarded; in the second case, staffs are retrenched at a time when the banks are raking in record profits.

We all now that the GFC is caused by greed on the part of corporate leaders, especially those high fliers in the financial world of hedge funds and investment banking. Slowly but surely, the talk of financial reforms has been just that - talk.

No, I think we have grown too used to the comfortable existence of pre-GFC days to want to give it up so easily. The people who will pay the price of this lassitude are our children and the generations to come. Even the people who think they are doing alright today, they won't be doing their children a favour. Greed has reached a new level, where people are even willing to sacrifice their children's future wellbeing. Why else would local councils keep raising council rates? Why else would government leaders privatize the public amenities and allow the private companies to raise prices at liberty? Why else would companies retrench staff when they are making huge profits (and rewarding their CEO's with big bonuses)? Why else would companies re-locate offshore and starve their own people of jobs?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Soaring utility bills - who benefits?

The Herald Sun reported this today: ".... typical households are paying a staggering $900 more for the essentials compared with 2005."

I used to think that the government is being negligent for allowing utility companies to raise charges year after year, far greater than the annual inflation rate. It appears at first glance that the privatized electricity, water, gas, and telecom companies are gouging the public as much as they can and pretty much getting away with it. Why is it that the government is allowing this free ride?

Perhaps there is a good reason for this laissez faire attitude. When the utility companies reap in a bonanza in extra profits, the government also gains a windfall of extra tax dollars. The government does not get cop a blame from the public. Instead, the utility companies get blamed, but they don't seem to care. After all, EVERY other utility companies are doing the same. Perhaps this is the reason why the government is silent about utility hikes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My digital collection

Today's digital age makes it possible for people to collect many things for free. With the low cost of hard disk drives, storage is practically unlimited. With digital storage, there's no dust, no mould, no silverfish and no deterioration.

I have a collection of my own photos and a collection of music in MP3 format. I am now building a collection of e-books on photography. I certainly will not attempt to read all the photography books (there's about 150 now, and counting), but I just wanted to have a reference library on photography. In the past, building such a library would be prohibitive in cost and storage space. With digital technology, this is just a cinch. I am also enthralled with downloading e-books of other genre. It is like looking for treasure on the internet.

Here's a great website for all kinds of books:
Here's one for Christian literature:

Notice that most of the free books are in pdf format, which doesn't go well on an e-reader, but opens up alright on a normal computer screen. I usually look for mobi or epub formats to use on my Kindle e-reader.

Notes to myself: sensor size and depth of field

I always learn something new in the camera club. Last Saturday while helping the newbies taking the beginner's camera course, I realized that depth of field is also influenced by sensor size. Let me explain the depth of field in its entirety, to give you the whole picture (pun intended).

Depth of field is shallowest (greatest blurry background effect) under these conditions:
1. the lens aperture is opened to the maximum (e.g. f2.0 instead of f11)
2. increased magnification (move closer or zoom in)
3. short distance between camera to subject, in relation to subject to background.
4. larger sensor size

While conditions 1,2 and 3 are frequently discussed, condition 4 is a new realization for me. I realized this when one of the students was trying unsuccessfully to get a shallow depth of field with her bridge camera (something like the Canon G11, but hers was a Panasonic Lumix model). I applied conditions 1 through 3, and the best I could do was not as good as when using a normal SLR (with a much larger sensor). It was then that I realized her sensor was only 1/1.7".

In the film days, condition 4 would be quite unheard of as nearly everyone uses the standard 35mm film. It is important to realize that it is very hard to get the shallow depth of field effect when you are not using a large sensor camera. Wikipedia has a good write up on this. See:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Seeing differently

Many have written and expressed their views about how the Chinese and Indian communities in Malaysia are continually discriminated against in Malaysia. I reserve my comments here, as what I want to do here is to present a different perspective, while not condemning or condoning what others have said enough about already.

Consider this perspective: if we remove all talks about racial discrimination, we can concentrate on seeing Malaysia as a "corporation". What kind of CEO do we see? Is the management team effective in achieving the goals of the corporation? As a general public, do we want to invest in the company? Why or why not? Is Malaysia in danger of deflation or stagnation? Is the "corporation" spending more money that it earns? Is it borrowing money that it has no ability to repay? Is it selling off its prized asset in order to pay the management team big bonuses?

Many who emigrate from the country cite reasons of racial discrimination. However, I think that an equally strong motivation is pure and simple economics. I am only surprised that most people choose to dwell on the first reason, rather than discuss the second.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How fast can DHL deliver?

I am amazed by the speed of delivery when I bought a second Kindle from Amazon. This is the sequence of events:

27 Sept 2010 at 11:30pm
- placed order for Kindle. Within minutes, an email arrived to confirm the order.

28 Sept 2010 at 8:32am
- email came from Amazon saying item has been shipped.

30 Sept 2010 at around 9:00am.
- DHL delivered the item to my doorstep.

The total time taken is only slightly more than 2.5 days, all the way from America. Kudos to Amazon and DHL!