Monday, November 29, 2010

Beauty is in the "mind" of the beholder

When a non-photographer sees a beautiful scene, he usually tries to capture everything he sees so as not to miss out any details. As photographers, we learn that "less is more". We try to capture only the main item of interest and leave the rest to the imagination. This often makes the picture more appealing. For example, the picture of wild flowers next to an old letterbox may stir up imagination of a rustic scene; the image of one corner of the garden may imply a larger setting; the profile of a person's face may carry a stronger picture than that of a fully visible person. I believe a really beautiful image cannot be just "seen" but has to be "imagined" as well.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chaos at the National Australia Bank

At this time the hottest seat in the corporate world has to be that of the CEO of the NAB. This bank has the worst nightmare any senior manager and I.T. manager will ever face. NAB says that a corrupted file has contaminated customers' records, resulting in delayed payments, phantom debts, and unusable ATM machines and EFTPOS terminals. (I wonder if anyone also reported extra money appearing in their account?). Basically the system has been brought down to its knees and NAB customers brought down to tears. The problem may even be contaminating the entire banking system in Australia. This is BIG.

While it is too early to start pointing accusing fingers, I think it is time to reflect on the CEO's role. The CEO is given a ridiculously high pay, while the critical jobs are done at the lower levels. When everything is fine and profits are rolling in, the CEO takes the credit and a giant slice of the profit cake. Let's see what happens now when the dust has settled on this computer fiasco. It is time to realize that the CEO is not sacrosanct.

Jumper cables

I always carry a pair of jumper cables in my car. I have found this to be a good insurance policy. Over the years, I have used them but a few times. However, each time they had been a tremendous blessing either to me or to someone else. Every car should be equipped with one. They are like the spare tyre; you never know when you are going to need them, but need them you will. Although the car battery can theoretically work forever, in practice I find that on average I have to replace the battery every five years or so.

Jumper cables don't cost much, and they don't take up much room in the car. If you don't have them, get them now and make sure you know how to jump start a car. When your battery goes flat (which it inadvertently will at the most inconvenient time and place) you'll be thankful you read this blog.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Screen obssession

Ever since the television was invented, more and more people spend their time in front of a screen more than anything else. First it was the TV screen, which grew larger and larger, in keeping with the side way growth of the couch potatoes sitting in front of them.

Then we have the monochrome computer screen, which evolved into colour VGA screen, followed by LCD screen. That gave us a whole generation of people sitting in front of a screen in almost every sedentary work you can think of. Honestly, I cannot think of any sit down job that does not have a computer screen on the desk of the person.

Screen obsession seems to follow us everywhere now in the form of a mobile phone. The more a person looks at the mobile phone screen, the less likely it is that he is making a call. He is using the mobile to text, to play a game, to surf the internet, or to do social networking. Closely related to that, and almost equally as mobile, is the iPad screen and the tablet PC screen.

If you look around you, there isn't a day when you don't face an electronic screen. This is how pervasive the electronic display has become in our lives.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Computer breakdown

I admit I didn't give much thought to the possibility of my computer breaking down. I pride myself in having an automated daily backup of all my files. I even do a periodic image backup of my C drive. Unfortunately, I have to accept the fact that my computer has now reached its end of life. It is dead. It started showing signs of deterioration a couple of weeks ago- a flicker here and there, unexpected slow down, etc. Now I have to admit it is time to move on to another computer. Although I am glad my files are all safe, I am not looking forward to re-installing all the programs and my favourite settings. As things go, the breakdown has to come at the most inconvenient time when I have a million and one things to do on the computer.

A moment of reflection: I have to admit the computer has become the single most important tool I have. Without it, I lose my regular contact with the outside world (email), my daily source of news and information (www), my electronic filing system, my digital darkroom (Lightroom and Photoshop), and my home financial management system (i.e. bill payments). Indeed, my life would need a major readjustment in order to go back to living without the computer. Would yours?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Which camera system to buy

The new mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras such as the Sony NEX, the Olympus PEN, and the Panasonic GFx are all very alluring because of their compact size. Does it mean it is better for a newbie to start buying those new hybrid cameras? I don't think so. Here's why.

Take the Canon 550D as an example. The cost of a basic system consists of (in AUD$)
Body only: $1230
2 kit lenses: $470
Speedlite 580EX II: $650
UV Filter + Polarizer: $100

Working this out, the body itself is roughly 50% of the entire cost. This gets smaller as you start buying more lenses and other Canon-specific accessories. If you decide to upgrade your camera in 2 year's time (many of us do!), you only need to replace the camera, which is only a fraction of the entire cost.

Now assume you have bought into Panasonic instead. Your entire system is Panasonic-specific. Even when you decide to upgrade, you can only upgrade with another Panasonic camera. In other words, you are locked in. Should Canon or Nikon come out with a superior mirrorless SLR in the future, you cannot simply switch brand as you will have to replace the entire system (lens and other accessories).

The conventional wisdom still holds true: buy the system, not the camera.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chinese dining culture?

I was away in Adelaide last weekend. While there, I went to my favourite steakhouse in Hahndorf (a resort town) for dinner. I noticed that about half of the clientele were Chinese, unlike when I first visited the place. Back then, about 6 years ago, the customers were mostly Ozzies.

I can tell that the restaurant is now used to serving Asians. Back then, if we came in a group the waiter would write down what each person wanted to order, asking one by one in turn. We rarely finished the entire servings as they were enormous. This time when I placed the order, the waitress did not check to see if everyone had placed an order each. She just assumed that we would share everything. Looking around, I could see that the other Asian groups all share their orders (and they were still enormous servings), instead of ordering one meal per person.

I also ordered one soup for my mother. The waitress immediately brought bowls for all of us, assuming that would be sharing the soup. To cap it all, the waitress started talking to me about a popular Chinese actor. No doubt about it, Chinese clientele has pervaded Hahndorf.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Blogger's break

I am taking a blogger's break for the next 4 days, as I will be away. Till then!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mobile phone or electronic leash?

Just as I drove away from my house to go and buy something yesterday, I remembered that I had left my mobile phone behind. For no reason I felt a tinge of guilt, as if I was expecting someone to call me. I'm sure many people feel the same way when they leave their phones behind. I think it is time we consciously break away from this electronic leash. We should be free to go anywhere without being connected. We don't need to be on call all the time. We should cherish moments of solitude and isolation; a quiet time when we can be by ourselves in our own space and time.

These days I often see people cradling their mobile phones as if it is the dearest companion in their lives. Even when people gather in a group, there will be someone who breaks out to make or answer a phone call every now and then. Perhaps people should start shutting down the phone at a fixed time every day. This will enable one to enjoy time with the family, or to socialize with friends without being interrupted by a phone call. A mobile phone should be just a means to make a call when you needed to. It should not be an electronic leash where you are expected to answer every call, failing which the caller starts to imagine the worst has happened to you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bulging wallets and the future

A bulging wallet used to be an item of envy because it would almost certainly be filled with money. That's what a wallet used to be for: keeping notes. These days you can tell a lot about a person by the things he stuffs into his wallet: bank cards, credit cards, licence cards, employee cards, membership cards, discount cards, coupons, and what not. Standing at the cash register, I have noticed that the more bulging the wallet is, the fewer dollar notes it seems to contain. The idiom about a fat wallet no longer holds true.

The bulging wallet may be put on a diet soon. Google and Apple are both racing to make the Android and the iPhone the means of making small transactions. At the same time, three of the four largest mobile phone carriers in the US have teamed up, and are inviting banks and retail outlets to join them, to turn phones into digital wallets. This was supposed to be one of the key features of the Newton, Steve Job's PDA that was way ahead of its time. I believe the time is ripe now for this to happen within the next couple of years.

Looking back, I must say that from the wallet perspective we can now look forward to the good old days where a wallet is a wallet, and not a miniature carry case anymore.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Is money the solution to all problems?

As the state election draws near, it seems that the only election pitch our politicians know how to make is to pitch in more money into every problem. Crime rate high? Have more policemen. Declining educational standard? Have smaller classes and hire more teachers. Long waiting list in hospital? Build more hospitals and hire more doctors. The list goes on and on. Just keep promising more funds for every problem that excites the voters.

I dare say that many problems arise from poor conception and design, poor implementation (bad project management, like the Myki project), and subsequently, poor administration. Basically, many problems are due to putting incapable people to manage and to lead. That is why the election process is designed to replace all who are past their used-by date. Instead of addressing the root causes, what we see is both major political parties doing their porkbarreling best in the run up to Election Day. In a real-world corporation, under such a system of management the company would have folded a long time ago.

Notes to myself: Falloff

One of my first challenges in studio photography is to get the background pitch black. In my early attempts, even the use of a black cloth for backdrop doesn't always work. Now I know why; it is just the simple physics of light. Light falls off at inversely proportional to the square of the distance added. I have heard this preached many times when talking about how the flash works, but have not applied it to control the background exposure in a studio setting. (Note: since the sun is 93 million miles away from the subject, light falloff is hardly perceptible when shooting with daylight as the light source, either indoor or outdoor!)

The easiest way to apply this is to set the light source close to the subject and the background relatively far away. Kirk Tuck says in his book "Minimalist Lighting - Professional Techniques for Studio Photography":

"Background Control. Suppose you need your background to be much darker than your foreground (for, say, a portrait subject), and you hasve a limited amount of space and that back wall just isn't going to move any further. If you move your main light closer to the subject and adjust your exposure so that your subject is correctly exposed you'll find that the background will be darker. Falloff has worked to your advantage."

Here is where I don't want light to fall off quickly: group photography.
I recently tried to shoot a group of 3 people in my studio and had difficulty getting even lighting. Now I know why. I would have needed to move the main light to the front, or use one light on each side of the group.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lyrics Tube

Back in the B.C. days (before computer, that is), I remember how we used to seek out song lyrics and then hand copy into our own notebook. Xerox was not available yet, much less the computer. We copied lyrics from magazines and from one another's collections as if they were prized commodities. There were no MP3's and all the songs were in records or cassette tapes, which were not easy to duplicate and keep.

Along comes Lyrics Tube; see: This site is almost ideal for someone like me. It has all the oldies, lyrics, and video to go along. With it I can learn up any song without searching for the MP3 all over the internet. This very useful for learning a song to play on the guitar, as you can play repeatedly on any section by just moving the video slider. This is really great! Check it out!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

9 weeks into the Kindle

It has been 9 weeks since I received my Kindle. I have not missed one day of reading on the Kindle since. And since then, I have helped Amazon sell two more Kindles to my friends who really loved it. I have finished reading 2 full books, some short stories, weekly magazines, and daily newspapers. I find that my reading enthusiasm has improved. I can pick up a news bulletin and read it with the words sinking in, and my mind clearly focused in the richness of the text. It is as if the writer is actually speaking to me and using words to evoke emotion and feelings. The words are no longer just a bunch of information to be quickly filtered and processed. I have come to enjoy reading once more.

I hope the Kindle doesn't changed into a colour ereader soon. The black-and-white screen actually helps to free me from any distractions. My mind has less information to process (no colour). There's no strong temptation to click on the links, as internet speed is much slower than on a desktop. Overall, the reading experience is very pleasant and positive.

Painting Lessons 101

I visited an art exhibition in Armadale recently. That gave me an idea. Maybe I should try my hand at painting. After all, painting is not very different from photography. In fact they share a common root in the early years of photography in the late 18th century. In photography as it is in painting, the principles of light and composition are the same.

Of course, it takes a lot of skill and practice to paint portraiture or elaborate scenes. What if I start off with something simple? A sky, some trees, and some water will be enough to make a landscape picture. I looked into Youtube to see what tutorials are available. The search for "how to paint sky" yielded 5,090 results; "how to paint trees" yielded 4710 results, and "how to paint water" yielded 5290 results. A quick google search for "Artists' societies in Melbourne" shows the location of 10 such places. The activities in the club descriptions I have seen are similar to those in a camera club. One can learn to paint, participate in exhibitions, and watch demos by seasoned artists. It sounds like fun!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Notes to myself: camera upgrade?

Lately I have been thinking of upgrading to a full frame camera. Camera-envy is certainly one of my weaker points. In justification , I think of all the advantages one can genuinely get from a full frame camera like the D700, such as true wide angle and shallower depth of field. Coming back from the club meeting tonight, I changed my mind. I have a renewed commitment to my D90 now.

I realize that whatever faults I have laid charge on the D90, they are mostly to do with technique and skill. It is easy enough to set the camera to fully auto mode and get a mostly good enough picture most of the time. But that is not what photography is to me. My quest is not only in composing a good image, but also in having full control over the equipment.

Tonight as I mingled with the other club members and listening to their conversations, I found that one is also striving to get the image sharp (this guy has a D700); and another manually compensates the exposure (this other guy has a D5 MkII). Both members are very experience photographers themselves. They too are on similar quest to polish their skills. Tonight, I am determined to keep working on my D90 to get it to make sharp focusing and perfect exposure a repeatable experience. I know the D90 is capable. I know I am not quite there yet. I look forward to the renewed challenge I have given myself. D700 can wait.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Campaign spending promises

The Victorian state election is coming up in a couple of week's time. Politicians are busy making promises on what they will spend money on if elected. Australian politicians seem to know how to sing only one tune when it comes to campaigning for an election. They will tell you that if elected, they will build the much-awaited for railway extension, or inject more money into the health system, or pump more funds into the school system, etc, etc.

I have this to say to incumbent Premier John Brumby: stop making spending promises on an ad hoc basis. Just present the next year's budget and let everyone see how you are going to cut the budget cake. Whatever spending promise you make each time is going to mean something else will be taken out, if balancing the budget is important to you. Therefore I won't be taken in by the line "if elected, I will build this, or that..." You already have had 3 years to do that, and much more, if including the time you served as Finance Minister under the previous premier.

By the way, if you cannot manage one project - the Myki - how do you think you have been managing the state of Victoria? Myki project is behind by 4 years now. Your only way out of this mess is to keep paring down the project deliverables. If you have business sense (important for a premier, isn't it?), this project should be scrapped long ago. Of course, it does not look good on you. How did all the budget blowouts happen in the case of the desalination plant and the road improvement works? Did you even try to manage the utility companies that seem to be having a free run at increasing prices now? What ARE you managing?

Monday, November 8, 2010

How good is the Expodisc?

Some time ago, I bought an Expodisc to calibrate the White Balance setting on my camera. It costs me about AUD$100 and I have never put it to good use before. It is one of those things that I felt on hindsight I shouldn't have bought. Tonight, I learned otherwise.

I have taken some pictures recently with a set of Bunning's (non-pro) spotlight, which uses halogen bulb. Using the closest white balance preset of "tungsten" on my camera, I felt that the pictures I had taken were a little bit too warm.

Tonight I did some comparison shots. Both pictures shown here were taken with the same settings, except for the white balance. The first picture was taken with the white balance set to "tungsten", to match the lighting. The second was pre-calibrated using the Expodisc. As you can see, the second pictures gives a more accurate white balance. To be precise, the first picture has a colour temperature of 2950 Kelvin. The second was 2900 Kelvin; a difference of only 50 Kelvin.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Consumption gluttony

In today's world of fast-paced consumerism, we are often inundated with a wide array of choices and new products. This is so much so that it is sometimes difficult to discern between needs and wants. So we end up drowning ourselves in indulgence. We buy more than what we need. We feel deprived if we don't get everything we want; the TV commercials make sure you get that message.

Many of us own more than one device that we can log on to the internet with, more than one digital camera, and more shoes and more clothes than we can possibly need in a lifetime. Yet we keep on buying more things to keep in ever-bigger houses even as the average family size gets smaller and smaller. This is consumption gluttony. It is not much different from food gluttony. We will just keep on consuming and not feel satisfied. I think it is time we become more astute in our consumption behavior. Otherwise we will get the same bloated feeling that we have just consumed too much.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How people see differently

When I show off my Kindle, I get different types of response. Some people just take one look and you will get the hint that they are not interested. Others look at it and comment that the iPad can do the same and more. Only once did one friend get as impressed with the gadget as I was on my first encounter.

The first group of people view the gadget from a superficial or aesthetics point of view. They have to be "sold" on the item before they can relate to it.

The second group of people look at it from a functional point of view. They are more discerning (i.e with regards to the gadget) than the first group, but they are usually not too analytical in approach. Their only concern is what they can do with the gadget. Any gadget that can do the same thing is no different from the other.

The third group is one who looks beyond the appearance and functionality of the gadget. He has an interest in the design, quality, and performance of the gadget. He is interested in the features. He compares the gadget with other similar products of its class.

Whether you are trying to sell soemthing, or whether you are seeking the opinion of someone before buying something, it is good to know who you are talking to!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The profound mystery

Ephesians 5:31-33 (NIV) says "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."

In trying to understand more about what this passage says, I looked at The Message translation. It says "And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become "one flesh." This is a huge mystery, and I don't pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband."

This is a wonderful depiction of God's relationship with us. Unlike parental love which is held togther by blood ties, spousal love is special. A man meets a woman; by falling in love, he chooses her. Then out of pure love he is willing to sacrifice anything for her. It is this love that prevents him from breaking his vow to love and be constantly united with his wife. This "mystery" must be about the special relationship that God has with us, exemplified by the relationship between a man and his wife. That is why marriage is a holy union. The ideal marital relationship is one that is described in the above passage of Ephesians.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What did Christ look like?

I came across this interesting description in a book compiled by Eberhard Arnold, a 19th century theologian. It was from a letter written by Clement (a theologian) to the Corinthians in 94 A.D.

"He is like a small child, like a weak root in poor soil. He has no comeliness or glory. We saw him. He had neither comeliness nor beauty. His form was despised. It was uglier than the human form usually is... He was despised; he was disregarded. He bears our sins. For our sakes he is afflicted. We regarded him as one afflicted, and bruised and martyred. But it is for our sins that he was wounded, it is for our iniquities that he was bruised. He was under punishment that we might have peace. By his stripes we were healed. he did not open his mouth while he was abused. Like a sheep he was led to slaughter, and as a lamb he was dumb under the hand of his shearer, he did not open his mouth.... because of the sins of my people did he come to his death...he took upon himself the sins of many, and he was delivered up because of their sins.

"And again Christ himself says:
"But I am a worm and not a man, mocked and despised by the people. All who saw me scorned me, they muttered with their lips and shook their heads, "He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he has delight in him." "

I'll leave it to the reader to interpret this image of Christ for himself. Bear in mind that the Old Testament mention that the coming Messiah would have no stately form or majesty.

Sacrificial love

When it comes to giving, most people are willing to part with an insignificant amount of what they have. Very few are those who are generous enough by nature to give much more than the average person. Rarely do we find anyone who would give almost everything away and keeping just enough for his sustenance, although it is not unusual for a parent to do that for his children.

Have you ever wondered that the most painful sacrifice is not something that you give up materially? An evil person knows that to inflict the severest pain on you is not to hurt you directly, but to hurt your loved ones and see you agonize. On the same token the greatest sacrifice one can make, which God made, was to give his only begotten son, so that mankind may be reconciled to God. God loves us THAT much!

Ironically, some people are put through that test of sacrificial love by the very people closest to them - their spouse. How often do families break up because the spouse is asked to choose between his parent and the spouse! Pray for God's grace to enable you to "drink of the cup that God has given you!"

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Christian wife

I knew it was in the Bible somewhere that wives ought to respect their husbands, but each time I saw only the verse that says "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22). Today, I saw the other verse further down the passage. Ephesians 5:33 says "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."

I have observed over and over again, that there is something special in any couple where the wife shows respect to the husband in front of everyone else. Immediately other people also see and place the husband in high esteem, and they see inner beauty in the wife at the same time. If she sees her husband being put down, she immediately rises to his defense. If she is offered a compliment that makes her husband look small, she immediately shares the compliment with her husband. She knows when to decline when her husband is not equally honoured. Such is a woman's beauty that does not fade with time.

So, while we go about quoting Ephesians 5:22, don't forget to include Ephesians 5:33 as well.