Friday, December 30, 2011

A new year's resolution; make a will!

As the year comes to a close, many people think about making new year resolutions. Perhaps, instead of thinking what we are going to do next with our lives, we should think about what we are going to do if our lives suddenly end.

I have been dragging my feet for a long time - a few years, in fact - about making a will for myself and my wife. We have advised people to do it and we have been advised by others to do it. Yet the very thought of reading through pages of a legal document is very off-putting for me. However, not so anymore; I have just read through a will kit that I purchased from the post office. It took me just a few minutes to read and understand the whole works. The will form is almost as easy to fill in as a withdrawal slip at the bank.

So there you go. This blog is to encourage all my friends to tarry no more. Have the will to make a will.  

Take a look at the will kit here: . (Download to read later. I will remove this link after a few days. You might want to purchase an original copy at the post office. Get the couple's kit. It has two sets of forms)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

High Definition TV or Big Pixel TV?

I bought my 42" TV nearly 4 years ago. It was at a price point where a 60" TV sits today; slightly below the groundbreaking 65" screen. My wife wants to go for a bigger screen now but I am not convinced it is a good idea. People are still buying into the idea "bigger is better", just like camera buyers are led into thinking more megapixels means better quality.

HD (high definition) TV broadcast ranges in resolution from 852x576 up to1920x1080 pixels. It doesn't get better than that unless somebody in the broadcast industry decides that it is now time for a change. And change is expensive. Blu-Ray resolution is 1920x1080 while DVD resolution is normally 720x576 (PAL) or 720x480 (NTSC). So the maximum resolution is about the same whether you are watching the most advanced digital TV or playing from the most advanced media player.

The question should be how big do you need a screen to be to enjoy watching 1920x1080 pixels. Try watching a low resolution image, say 320x240, on a big screen and you'll quickly notice how un-watchable it is. The point is, there is a comfortable screen size/viewing distance for any given resolution. I won't pretend to know what that is but there is a limit to how far you want to go. Generally for a given resolution a big screen is good for a big room to accommodate more people. For a small room, a giant screen simply makes every pixel larger and you will not enjoy high definition TV. All you get is a big pixel TV unless your room is large enough for you to sit far away.

Oh, I do know the optimum screen size for my TV room. It is 42".

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What do you know about Boxing Day?

In Australia, Boxing Day (26th Dec) is celebrated as a public holiday. Traditionally, on this day people used to box up food and other things to give to their servants and to the poor. According to another version, the Christmas Box is opened on this day to share its content with the poor. People would place gifts in a large wooden box to be given out.

Ask anyone about Boxing Day and they will tell you what a great shopping day they had. They will tell you where to get the biggest bargains. They will tell you of the shoppers' frenzy (the other people's madness, naturally) and the parking mania in the parking lot, as people try to outdo one another to be the first to snatch up bargains.

Ironically, the great tradition of alms giving has turned into the pinnacle of materialism and self gratification. Is this the way to celebrate Christmas - remembering God's gift on Christmas Day, and then start self indulgence on the very next day?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

More from PhotoFunia

I am really drawn into PhotoFunia.

I think I am really hung on it!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Here is another fun app for you hotshot photographers. Fancy displaying yourself on a billboard in a public place? Here is an easy way to give yourself more public exposure. This Android app is called PhotoFunia. I stumbled upon it accidentally just now. It looked interesting, so I decided to give it a try. It is a pretty smart app. You select the effect, then choose a picture from your folder. It uploads the image to a server, modifies it, and then downloads the resulting image to your phone. The result is bound to impress someone, especially a non-techie person.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The "Enter" button

Do you know why the Enter button is the biggest button on the keyboard? It is because it is the most important button. The Enter button does one of two things. When you hit the Enter button, it is an act of launching an action while you wait for the result. Or, it is a full stop for you to pause before taking the next set of actions. 

I wish every smart phone has such a button. When I use it to take a picture, touching the screen to get a shot is a far cry from the snap action that comes from pressing a shutter release. When you press a physical button -  the "Enter" button - you execute a decisive action.

When making a phone call, I prefer to press a physical button than to touch the screen, after entering the numbers. It feels more responsive. Press a button, then wait for the call to go through. That's execution. The same with using a calculator app. After you enter the numbers and the operators (+ - * /), you hit the Enter button to get the result. When I use a recording app, I want an Enter button to start and stop recording. When I use a music player app, I want an Enter button to start /stop the music. We are all trained to press Enter at the end of every set of actions.

You cannot replace the Enter button with a touch screen virtual button. It just doesn't feel the same. So why is there no equivalent of an Enter button on every smart phone? Wake up, Apple, Samsung, and HTC! (hit Enter)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Camera360 and Little Photo

I am not a big fan of camera effects for serious photography. However, when it comes to mobile phone camera I think effects are great fun to use.

Here are two Android apps that will please many photographers. Both are downloadable as free apps, or you can pay a small fee to get the most out of them. What I like about them is that they allow you to shoot in silent mode, and they each have a rich choice of effects that you can use to soup up your shot. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, so I recommend you download both.

Camera360 lets you choose the effect before you take a shot. As an example of what it can do, see the image that shows I have been painted by a street artist in Europe.

Little Photo, on the other hand, lets you take a shot and then enables you to choose which effect you want to apply on the image. The portraits below show what the shot looks like before and after applying one of the effects.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Magi and manger message

On a Christmas card that depicts the Magi are the words "Wise men still seek Him." What an interesting thought!  The birth of Christ is replayed year after year, but the message never grows old or irrelevant.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was no room to be found in the inn. Thus He was born in a lowly manger. Today Jesus is alive and He seeks a room again - in your heart. This reminds me of a Sunday school song I used to sing as a little boy. It goes like this:.

"No room for the Baby in Bethlehem's inn,
Only a cattle shed!
No room on this earth for the dear Son of God,
Nowhere to lay His head!
Only a cross did they give to my Lord,
Only a borrowed tomb!
Today He is seeking a place in your heart,
Will you still say to Him - no room?

Why the week passes so fast

It is just one more week to go before Christmas Eve. One week passes very fast. It is not our fault that whoever invented the calendar decided that one week should only have seven days instead of ten.

We are all very tuned to the metric system.We count dollars and cents in 10's. We count objects in 10's. In the supermarket, many things are bundled in 10's or even 12's, but not 7's. That is why one week seems to pass so fast. I have to put my garbage bins out every Tuesday. It seems like a very short time between Tuesdays. I attend the camera club meetings every Wednesday. It seems like before one week is up, the other sets in. Do you get the feeling that you are always behind on something? Blame it on the calendar. There should be ten days in a week instead of seven.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Christmas message

John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

I have always wondered how can we tell how much God loves us. That's just what the Bible says, isn't it? Is the love of God only a mantra to be repeated mindlessly to convince ourselves?

There is one way to know the depth of God's love. As a parent, I know. You see, I love my children very much. I love them so much that I would do anything for them, unless it is something that will bring hurt to them eventually. I would willingly bear their pain for them, if there is any way to do so. And so it is with God's love. God so loved the world, that He sacrificed His only begotten Son, in order to save us from eternal damnation.

I used to enjoy the tradition of Christmas: the carols, the Christmas tree, the bright and colourful lights, the Christmas dinner, etc. As years passed, celebrating Christmas has become less and less of an exciting event. Perhaps it is time for all of us to awaken to the true meaning of why we are celebrating Christmas. It is a time to remember God's love by spreading it around, remembering people we seldom see (those far away), and seeing people we seldom notice (the lonely and the needy).

Friday, December 9, 2011

A very practical scanner

When I took up photography, I made it a point to keep all my negatives. At that time, I wanted to be able to make additional prints; which of course never happened. Later on, I started taking slides because I wanted to project them on the wall to see a bigger image. Now I simply want to digitize everything and store stem on my computer.

I have tried several different scanners, including a very good one that I borrowed from the camera club. The effort of getting as good a quality scan as possible was not really worth the trouble, as my slides and negatives were very old and generally poor in quality.

Finally, I decided to get the most practical scanner I could find. This one costs me less than Aud$65.95, inclusive of shipping. It does the job with the least effort. This scanner has a monitor, is powered by USB, and images are stored in an SD card, as you can see in the picture. To scan, simply pop the slide into the slot in front of the monitor and press the big button on the left. The image is captured within 3-4 sec. Here are some sample images from 30 years ago. The handsome young man in the truck was scanned from a slide. The very charming couple and the two adorable kids were scanned from a negative. All the images are straight out of the scanner and have not been post processed, except for size reduction.

The model of this scanner is FS186. It is an OEM product (unbranded), and you can view it here: . Caution: the scanner hangs up after scanning 510 images. I think there is a limitation, so don't bother getting larger than 1GB SD card.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Information rich, thoughts poor

Nowadays information is so readily available that we often lose the inclination to give deeper thoughts to what we are looking up for.

As I picked up my smartphone to look at the temperature, I realized I have been routinely checking the temperature and weather forecast every day. What does it matter if the temperature is 15C or 18C? What does it matter if there is going to be a slight drizzle or none at all? Why do I even waste a few seconds in a day checking the weather? After knowing exactly what the weather is going to be like for the day, I stopped appreciating a beautiful weather because it has become an expectation.

When I first got my Kindle, I was spending more than an hour each day reading the news. Using the Kindle was really fun. After several months, I realized I was simply wasting away a lot of time. At the end of the day, catching up with the news did nothing for me. It did not make me happier, smarter, richer, or wiser. It was just news to be consumed, and then to be expunged later.

How about email or Facebook? Some people spend lots of time reading and responding to email, or they get on the social website like Facebook. We all know that people prefer not to talk about themselves or reveal too much of their personal life on the internet for fear of misuse. This is another example of too much information, and too little useful interaction.

We really ought to think more about how we spend our time on the consumption of information. I think we are overconsuming information and starving our natural thought process at the same time.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Flash photography and ISO settings

Sometimes when you shoot indoor with flash, especially at night, you get a cold stark flash look rather than the nice warm light that you see in the room. There is an easy way to capture more of the ambient light. Simply dial up the ISO and the flash will automatically reduce its intensity. You will then get a stronger mix of the ambient light, as what I did in this picture.

Of course, one can also get around this by manipulating the white balance settings, by either using the presets or the manual Kevin setting. But I find setting the ISO is the easiest and most direct way.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Instant fame for the old and young

As I was driving just now, I heard Susan Boyle singing "I deamed a dream" on the radio. I wondered to myself how many things have become "instant" these days. Including worldwide fame.

With precooked food, we have instant meal using the microwave to heat up. With email, we have instant delivery of messages. With the internet, we can get a lot of information instantly. But fame? Who would have thought that even fame can be "instant-nized "?

Before the advent of the internet, fame took time to build up. The Beatles did not become a household name overnight. Through the power of the internet, Susan Boyle outsold the Beatles in the Christmas album sales in Australia last year, although she only became famous only a very short time ago.

On the other end of the age spectrum though, many aspiring parents are tapping into the internet (Youtube) to launch their children into stardom. A quick search on the Youtube showed that youngsters as young as 7 years old are singing their hearts out and strutting on the stage like a pro. Actually I think these parents are denying their children of normal childhood in their haste to achieve instant fame. I have nothing against true child prodigy, but it is a shame to put a normal child in the spotlight of fame. Many adults cannot handle it, what more a mere child?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A charming place for breakfast

Young people love to hang out for coffee in the local shops along Kingsway. It is nice to sit on the sidewalk and watch people passing by. However, I am not young anymore. I prefer a more interesting ambiance where I can also enjoy peace and tranquility among people who appreciate the same.

One of these places is the tea house at Jell's Park. It has big glass windows looking into the park. People come in from their morning walk or simply meet up with friends for a chat. They are mostly older people or young mothers with their charge. Another place is the cafe at the Monash Library. There is a pubic library and an art gallery; two places where you will find unhurried people who are just interested in immersing themselves in the sublime world. Recently I found another place nearby. It is a little church cafe which serves coffee, scones and muffins. There is a church library and a bookstore. If you are by yourself, you can help yourselves to some of the books and do a little reading while enjoying the coffee.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Blogging from my mobile

This is my first attempt to blog from my mobile phone via email

p/s And it works perfectly well!

Audiogalaxy music app for Android

I have a digital collection of more than 4000 songs in my computer. Occasionally I want to listen to them, but I don't want to do that sitting at my computer all the time. I want to play from my Android phone wherever I am. Here how Audiogalaxy does it for me.

First I install Audiogalaxy on my computer, and the app on my Android phone. On my computer, the Audiogalaxy "helper" searches my hard disk drives and categorizes each and every song into Album, Artist, and Genre. It even locates the album covers for me! Now, with Audiogalaxy running as a background job* on the computer, I can launch Audiogalaxy on my mobile phone wherever I am, as long as I am connected to the internet.

On my mobile, as I select each song, it appears in a playlist. The songs are streamed to my phone and played continuously. There is a "genie" feature which will suggest and append similar songs to my selection. When my selection runs out, the genie takes over. It is like listening to a favourite radio station! I can choose the songs to suit my listening mood, and I can let the genie take over and stream similar songs for me the whole day long.

Apple would prefer you to purchase your songs from iTunes and manage your songs in the internet cloud. Google, Microsoft, Sony, Amazon, and many others are also trying to tap into the consumer pockets. At about $1 per song, I would have to pay $4000 to have the same collection. I think Audiogalaxy is fantastic if you already have a huge music library.

*Note: On the computer, Audiogalaxy must be running in the background and the computer must not be in standby or hibernation for the app to work on the phone. Otherwise, a message will tell you your Audiogalaxy helper is not running.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The king of democracy

Democracy has a king, and the king is the stock market.

A headline today in The Telegraph says "Spanish election fails to calm market fears." A few hours later, The Independent newspaper says "Madrid markets fall on return of the centre-right."

What I find interesting is the amount of emphasis on the stock market's reaction to the result of the Spanish election. The Independent reports "The markets were not assuaged by Mr. Rajoy's victory speech ......". Further on, it says "To the dismay of some PP officials, and the markets, ........."

There is just too much fanfare about how the stock market reacts to everything that happens around the world, especially in the political arena. And very often, the reaction is exaggerated and the market quickly bounces back to where it was. So why is the market reaction still so keenly observed?

Politicians everywhere are scared of making decisions that will spook the market. They want every vote of the general public, down to the lowest economic rung of society. But they make decisions to suit the market's wishes (the unseen power brokers with wealth to move the market), and not the voters' wishes. Such is the state of democracy today. This is why many once-prosperous developed countries are now in a pickle.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Human rights and criminal wrongs

We often hear of criminals using the "human rights" argument in appealing against their sentencing. For example, a rapist in the UK had been sentenced to deportation, but managed to remain in the UK when his lawyers argued that his human rights to remain with his family has been violated. There are too many examples to list here, as you just have to read the newspapers to find out that criminals seem to have more rights than ordinary folks in the eyes of today's blind justice system.

If we are playing by the rules, then the rules must have been written by the mob. Doesn't the law care about the rights of people who have been violated? Don't they have rights too? In the above, the rape victim has the right to walk around without being attacked. The public has the right to their home and neighbourhood not being threatened by a migrant rapist. So why are the judges so keen to uphold human rights for criminals while condemning the public to criminal wrongs?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cultural assimiliation

As a migrant to Australia, I am constantly reminded how quickly the migrant children of various races adopt the local culture. Everyone who comes to Australia at a very young age, or who is born here, invariably speaks with an Aussie accent, behaves like an Aussie, and thinks like an Aussie. This happens regardless of whether the child is of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, or even Middle-eastern descent.

I find this very intriguing. My grandparents migrated from China to Malaysia, as do most of the grandparents of my peers. In Malaysia we held on very strongly to our Chinese culture, in terms of religious practice, customs, speech, and schooling. Even the Indians, who make up less than 10% of the population, retain their Indian heritage thoroughly. So why are the migrant children in Australia able to assimilate so quickly?

On the same token, the Chinese who went to Malacca emerged with a totally different culture - the Baba Nonya culture, which is neither Chinese nor Malay, but a curious blend of both.

What makes migrant group assimilate or not assimilate into the local culture? Is it spontaneous? Is it random? Is it the government policy? Surely this makes an interesting subject for any anthropology student.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Workplace ministry

The place where we work is the place that we come into most contact with people. It is the place where our life is laid bare to the world around us. What we say or do reflects the kind of person we are: a matured disciple of Christ, or a regular worldly person who otherwise goes to church once a week.

James 3:14-16 says: "But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." In the highly stressed work environment today, people tend to talk and share their grievances. As a Christian we can be easily caught up in this.

If a Christian wants to be an angel in a hellish workplace, he has to show godly wisdom. Continuing from the verses above, James says in verses 17-18: "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness."

The godly wise

James 3:13 says:  "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."

I have been following a 12-day reading plan on wisdom. When I came across this verse, at first it did not mean much to me. On that day the verse kept turning over and over in my mind. Then it became crystal clear.

Who is wise and understanding among you? We usually think of them as people we turn to for advice. Many people also turn to professional counselors - people with a PhD in Psychology - when faced with problems in marriage, in children, or in dealing with depression. James has this to say: let the wise demonstrate their wisdom by their good life and by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Perhaps while seeking wisdom and advice from someone, you are inundated with lots of opinion instead. Run for your life! Proverbs 18:2 has this to say: "Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Kindle Fire vs Tablets/iPad

By introducing the Kindle Fire at an incredibly low price of US$200, some tablet manufacturers have panicked and surrendered without a fight. Most notably was the HP TouchPad that saw its price slashed to a mere $99. Acer halved its price on Iconia 500 recently, while ZTE was selling its tablet at $99 to an eager market a few months ago. Actually it has now emerged that what Amazon introduced was a specialty product, not a general-purpose tablet to compete head-on with the iPad and other tablets.

The Fire, and also the Nook, are clearly designed for reading and reading alone. They lack a camera, a microphone, 3G, bluetooth, GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and video output. All these play a part in running many of the apps on the tablet. The camera is not just for taking pictures. With it you can do video call, and run the very interesting Google Goggles app. The microphone enables you to use voice recognition apps. GPS enables you to use many of the map-related functions. Video out allows you to use your tablet to play movies on the big screen. Accelerometer and gyroscope are great for more advanced games. Many apps will simply not work on the Kindle Fire or the Nook.

Tablet manufacturers can take it easy for now. The market for general purpose tablets is still in a flux. The price point has not been firmly established yet, unlike for Kindle Fire and Nook (which are what I call reader-based tablets). How much should you pay for a tablet? For unknown brands, and talking about the 7" tablets, you can expect to pay roughly* $200 (mostly made-in-China?). For branded ones, they are at $400 to $500 price points but will probably drop to $300+ before long as they come under increasing competition. As for the Touchpad saga, I think the HP CEO must have panicked and did not truly understand the tablet market at all.

* See

Monday, November 7, 2011

Teasure trove of nostalgic songs from the Far East

I have always enjoyed playing songs from my childhood days. If you have grown up in a small town you will know how neighbours loved to play their music at maximum volume to entertain everyone far and wide. Nobody seemed to mind. It brought music to people who would otherwise be unable to afford a good system, or who simply never learned to indulge in any form of entertainment. I was a young teenager then and the only music at my disposal an old radio with very poor reception. Also, in those days, 24-hour music on the radio was unheard of. You tune in to your favourite broadcast at a scheduled time, just like when you want to watch a favourite TV show.

Today I dug into a treasure trove of music from that era. Go to this website: Here you can get re-acquainted with names like Frankie Cheah, Francis Yip, Simon Junior, Agnes Chan, Anita Sarawak, P. Ramlee, etc. Did you now that actresses Nancy Sit and Fung Po Po also sang? Their singing prowess did not reach the halls of worldwide fame, but to hear their voices crooning the old hits is really a treat if you are looking for a escapade into nostalgia.

The website above does not play all the songs of these singers, unfortunately. However, you can quickly turn to Youtube and search for the singers to enjoy the rest of them. Happy listening!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

E-book technology - the new printing press

In ancient days books were a rarity. Only the rich could afford a small collection of books. Books were very expensive because they had to be painstakingly hand copied. The invention of the printing press around 1440AD reduced the price of books dramatically. This enabled the poor to gain knowledge and education, which enabled some to break loose from the bondage of poverty.

Ebooks are now set to do what the printing press did in those days. People in the remotest parts of the world are now able to get instant copies of electronic books, as well as accessing the internet with its unlimited storehouse of information.

Ironically, it is not the educated and the people of means who stand to benefit most from this new found and endless wealth of information. It is the poor who previously have no ready access to vast libraries of books, even those under the rule of the strictest regimes, they are the ones who will benefit them most. Who can ban an e-book? It can be circulated to everyone in the entire world at ZERO cost - a far, far cry from the days of hand copied manuscripts.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Kindness to others

In Matthew 25:40 (in the parable of the sheep and the goats), The Lord says: "...Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

This verse speaks of the deep of love of God for even the least of his subjects. I love my mother very much. I feel indebted to anyone who extends a helping hand to her in her old age. For example, I feel indebted to my niece who regularly makes sure she has the right medicine. The more we love a person, the more we are touched when another person shows kindness to our loved one.

Everyone should always show kindness, respect, and love to his or her spouse's parent. In this way, he or she will touch the heart and earn the gratitude and indebtedness of the spouse. Well-brought up children learn this from young. I stopped at a coffee shop yesterday and ordered a coffee. After I was billed, I asked the person about his father (he didn't know me), and immediately he insisted on giving me discount on the coffee. The young man left a positive impression on me. Even though he did not know me, he did for me what his father would have done.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Earthquake survivors after 100 hours

It has been a hundred hours since the earthquake in Turkey struck. Survivors are still being rescued from underneath the rubble. The thought that occurs to me is the ordeal of being trapped for that long.

Imagine being unable to keep warm; not knowing day or night; and not hearing any voices for days. Imagine you have no room to even move a limb - solitary confinement in a prison cell is a luxury in comparison. Now imagine you cannot even scratch an itch. To endure an itch even for a few minutes is enough to drive many insane,try enduring for100 hours. The mental torture of being trapped in a tightly confined space is just unimaginable to me. Count your blessings every day and appreciate what you have: your health, clean air, warm bed, your liberty, food on the table... etc, etc.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A History of the Jews

I have always been interested to read what history has to say about Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed. I found a very interesting book called "A History of the Jews" by Solomon Grayzel. This is history from a Jew's point of view. The author portrays Jesus as a holy man and a prophet, but stopped short of saying he is the Messiah. While Grayzel accurately narrated the life and death of Christ as told in the New Testament, he did not narrate the numerous times Christ appeared to his disciples after he was resurrected. If you are interested to read Grayzel's account, go to:

Grayzel also mentioned the rise of Prophet Mohammed and how he founded Islam. What I found interesting is that Grayzel says Prophet Mohammed expected the Jews to hail him as a great prophet and redeemer of mankind, failing which he vented his anger at them and took actions to destroy them. If you are interested in this bit of history, see: .

(The above given links are temporary and will be eventually removed. Download to read while you can)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Programs, browsers and apps

This blog is motivated by an article I just read in PC Magazine, written by John Dvorak called "It's an App World After All."

Back in the 70's, using a computer means opening up a program that has been developed in-house or through a third party software developer. Gradually this evolved into using commercially developed and mass marketed software, which reduced costs and increased standardization and ease of use. This was Microsoft's golden years, as this environment was very OS-centric.

In 1984 when Sun Microsystem started the mantra "The Network is the Computer", it must have triggered others to take online computing seriously. Ten years later in 1993 the first browser Netscape emerged. Many years after that, Google successfully challenged Microsoft for the computing throne. Browser-based computing is now as important as OS-centric program-based computing. Through the popularity of its search engine, Google took computing to its next era, leaving Microsoft befuddled behind.

Steve Jobs made app-based computing popular. Apps, short for "applets" (and nothing to do with little Apples) is now gathering momentum. People seem to be more at ease with buying and installing apps, than on buying and installing "programs". Even browser-based applications like Youtube and Facebook are finding their way to computer-illiterate people when packaged as an app. I have no doubt that apps-based computing is the new wave of computing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Wall Street protests

This movement started last month in New York, and has now spread to 1500 cities throughout the world. People are finally voicing out what all of us have slowly come to realize: there is something inherently wrong with the economic system in the world today. Bankers and financiers are the target of this growing wrath. As the protesters say, the financial systems benefit a handful of banks at the expense of the taxpayers.

I wish the protesters well. During the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) of 1988,  the US government used its taxpayers' money to bail out the banks, with very little of the US$800bil directly benefiting the man in the street. As the crisis in Europe unfolds today, it is again clear that governments all over Europe are more concerned about keeping the banks safe than letting the banks pay for their years of recklessness and greed.

In Australia, the four major banks are now saying they are going to retrench workers, in spite of the fact that they are forecasted to have profit increases of between 10% to 21% in 2011. Here is what the news report* says: "Australia's major banks are under pressure to cut jobs in response to flagging demand for credit despite being on track to deliver a record combined annual profit of more than $23 billion. Three of the big four lenders - ANZ, Westpac and National Australia Bank - will release their results in the coming weeks, and analysts warn they may unveil cost-cutting plans." It is all greed, greed, and more greed. If the banks are not retrenching staff, they are always looking for ways to increase charges to their customers. Where is the line drawn, I wonder?

*see Herald Sun Oct 16th, 2011:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The money illusion

Money has no absolute value. The value it carries is relative to the area in which it is used. It may not be a geographical area, but rather, it is the area where money is competing between its owners for similar goods (kind of like supply-and-demand situation). For example, in a city the value of money is much lower than what it is in the rural area when it comes to competing for real estate. Yet the same currency will have the same value in both places when it comes to buying a car or a TV set, because the same item could be moved across the country to even out the demands.

Here is the money illusion. People with little fixed assets other than their homes (which means >90% of the population) generally measure their wealth by how much savings they have in the bank account. With the cost of utilities having risen by at least 30% over the last five years, people have been "robbed" right from under their nose without so much as a whimper. Indeed, experience has shown that when a country undergoes hyperinflation, the purchasing power of money can devalue to just a fraction of what it used to be. Inflation and hyperinflation differ only as a matter of degree. Money should be tuned into a fixed asset as soon as one can afford to put it aside, not as a fixed deposit or a big fat bank account.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Guitar apps for my Android phone

One of the nicest things about having a smartphone or a tablet, for that matter, is that you can keep adding apps with little or no cost. For a gadget lover like myself, this equates to having countless gadgets at my disposal. The Android apps store is rich hunting ground for anyone who cares to look. Here are a few guitar apps (all free) that I have installed on my phone.

The first one is called Solo Lite. With over 63,000 downloads, its popularity speaks for itself. You can play a tune on it by touching the strings or the chords. While not a serious application, it is rather fascinating to use.
You can find many drum kits and drum machine apps, but the curiously-named Silicon Oxide app is one that I like most. It gives you the basic drum beats and you can easily change the tempo using the slider. It is very useful for practice sessions. Plugged in to my speakers, it sounds just like a real drum beat. This app has only 105 downloads but it is a real gem.

Of course, who doesn't need a chord finder every now and then? Basic Chords has only slightly over a 1,000 downloads but I like it for its simplicity. It shows you all the different variations of the same chord, as well as plays the chord when you touch it. You can also choose other instruments like ukulele, mandolin, etc.

gStrings is one of my favourite apps. This app has been downloaded over 40,000 times. I have checked it against my faithful old tuner and I find it equally sensitive and accurate. You can also change the setting to tune violin, ukulele, etc. This is really fantastic for people who play multiple instruments.

Apple without Steve Jobs

Here is what I think will happen to Apple without Steve Jobs. This is, of course, just pure speculation on my part. In my opinion, I think Apple's greatest days are over unless another genius like Steve Jobs takes over. I don't know much about Tim Cook, the new CEO. All I can say is that it is hard to replace a genuine innovator of Jobs' calibre at the helm.

Here are some companies that are struggling to produce innovative and lifestyle-changing products, but never they have never hit the same level of success that Jobs has managed to achieve. Bill Gates was never the great innovator he claimed to be. As CEO, he failed to make the tablet PC a success, despite working on it for 15 years before the iPad was announced launched.

Motorola invented the mobile phone, but failed to reap the benefits of worldwide dominance in mobile phones. Its CEO failed to move in the right direction of technological progress, spending billions instead on developing the Iridium network which became an absolute white elephant.

More recently, HP spent US$1.5bil to purchase the PalmOS, hoping to gain a head start in its own tablet PC. One year later, this was completely written off.

How about Nokia, which hired its present CEO from Microsoft and ended up adopting Phone 7 for its mobile phone future? A team of conscientious senior managers tried to make a stand against that decision but eventually relented. It is now clear that Nokia has made a huge blunder, as the Phone 7 is all but completely ignored by the market.

From the above examples, it is clear that CEO's are key to making the right technological decisions, especially when we are talking about high tech companies. Their influence cannot be underestimated. Unless Tim Cook is another genius like Steve Jobs, I can only say that Apple has already reached its pinnacle of innovative prowess.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Spending the way to prosperity or doom

Many politicians and their economic advisers believe that the way to get the economy moving is to get people to spend. That is undeniably the right thing to do, but only up to a point. This is a flawed argument in times of prosperity.. Many, if not all, of the developed countries that are now in trouble do not save for rainy days. Their governments spend through bad times to stimulate the economy, and then continue to spend in good times to win votes by making people feel good. Of course, when people spend endlessly, the economic indicators will tick upwards. Unfortunately, the ensuing prosperity is ephemeral. The day of reckoning will eventually come, and come it has.

This is perhaps a time for our government to reflect on what is good and responsible economic management. If it is not able to spend within its revenue, perhaps it should relinquish the job of running the government to the opposition. We should have a law to prevent those in power from spending over the budget, which is what they like to do as it helps to garner votes by giving everyone some goodies. Only that the goodies are obtained by incurring debt, to be paid for by the future generation.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Cutting pay or cutting people?

The European Union wants Greece to reduce its runaway budget deficit by retrenching tens of thousands of workers in the public sector. They must be thinking that it is better to piss off a percentage of the voters (those who will lose their jobs), while allowing the rest to enjoy an ill-affordable level of pay. This is so terribly wrong. I think the right and decent thing to do is for all the public servants to receive a pay cut, with those on then highest bracket getting a proportionately bigger cut. In this way, nobody has to go hungry.

Unfortunately, the idea to cut the number of employees and not the level of pay, seems to be prevalent in the Western countries. Just watch what the U.S. and some other European countries are going to do in the next few years.

Civil service should be used as a buffer for employment. When unemployment runs high, the government should create jobs such as in maintenance and new infrastructure projects, or even cleaning the loo or sweeping the streets (for those incapable of doing anything else). Pay could be kept low until the country prospers again. Instead, governments nowadays play the private sector role. They remunerate their employees the same way as in the private sector AND retrench them in the same way too. So what happens to the government's duty as caretaker of the citizen's welfare?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Samsung Gio; my new smartphone

I have just bought a new smartphone (goodbye to my Nokia E71). At AUD$199, it is on the cheaper-end of the smartphone lineup. This is the first time I have owned an Android device and I love it! It does not feel like a phone; it is more like a small tablet with a phone function.

Unlike some previous phones I have had, this works right out of the box, I just popped my SIM card into it and off it went. Even the Gmail and Google browser were all set up and ready to go. This is the most seamless phone I have ever come across, in terms of applications. The apps store is simply amazing, as compared to Symbian apps which are far fewer in number and frequently have compatibility problems.

One of the first things I looked for is a good camera in the phone and I am not disappointed. The camera is far better than in all the phones I have ever owned. Here is a sample shot.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Forgiveness and humility

Many people seek redress when they feel they have been wronged. It is a natural thing to do, in order to try and get back into the "perfect" world we have created in our own mind. Of course, the damage has been done, a wrong word has been uttered, or a regrettable action has been taken. When the supposed wrong-doer has apologized, the relationship is supposed to return to normal. But of course it seldom does. Sometimes it lingers silently for years, while outward appearance belies inward feelings.

One of my favourite verses is Philippians 2:3-4: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." I believe that in order to truly forgive others, one has to practice putting others above himself.

Whenever I find myself getting angry with someone, I remind myself that the problem is my ego (vain conceit). Once I have decided to humble myself, total forgiveness then flows easily. It might be someone who just cut in front of me while driving, or a young person who just acted disprespectfully. Or it might be a good friend who just said something hurtful, or a stranger who did not return due courtesy. If we expect to receive grace from God, we also must practice being gracious to others.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Note to myself: SB-900 flash compatibility issue

I recently discovered that when my SB-900 flash gun is taken off camera, the flash is weaker than when it is mounted on the hotshoe. At the camera club tonight, I discussed this with a couple of Nikon owners and I found something very interesting. Now I understand that the SB-900 is not fully communicating with my D90. The SB-900 and the D90 will both show TTL option, but unlike the higher end Nikon DSLR's, they will not show the Remote option. The Remote option is what communicates the Aperture and Shutter speed settings to SB-900, but not the TTL option.

In short, the D90 is not fully communicating with the SB-900 although it has the built-in Commander mode to control the flash wirelessly. Knowing this, the best option may be to use the Commander in manual mode (not TTL) when using the flash off-camera.

Nikon's new mirrorless cameras

Nikon has just announced their new lineup of mirrorless cameras, the J1 and the V1. The J1 and the higher end V1 come with an all-new 1" sensor, with a 2.7x crop factor. The new sensor format is called CX, and the new lens mount is called CX mount. This new sensor is significantly smaller than the Micro Four-Thirds and the APS-C sensors (shucks).

I think Nikon is taking a very big risk. It could trigger a backlash from Nikon loyalists, at a time when Nikon is already facing a declining market share. I think Nikon should have stuck to the DX format. Since the F-mount lenses can also fit into the DX-mount, many people would have happily bought into a mirrorless camera based on DX sensor and mount. By starting a totally incompatible line of CX-mounts, Nikon will be splintering its own customer base. Many Nikon DSLR owners will have no reason now to maintain undivided loyalty to Nikon. When purchasing  a small body DLSR system many will now start to look at Sony, Panasonic, or Olympus. Unless the new CX sensor is able to provide unprecedented image quality (very unlikely) and is proprietary to Nikon. Good luck, Nikon. All eyes should now be turning to Canon to see what they are going to do for a mirrorless camera. And I hope they will have the sense to stay with APS-C.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nothing new under the sun

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun"

The above is just as applicable to the internet. We can find answers to practically anything and everything.

In a way, the internet is like the supercomputer HAL in the Space Odyssey fiction. Armed with a smartphone these days, anyone could have his own HAL in his pocket. If one could travel 200 years back in time, and armed with a smartphone accessing the internet, he would be the most amazing walking encyclopedia around.

Cost of processing asylum seekers in Nauru

Tony Abbott proposes that asylum seekers be processed in Nauru. Julia Gillard's quick rebuttal is that it will cost the taxpayers AUD$1bil; therefore implying that her own Malaysian deal is less costly at AUD300mil. Now, take note that even though these figures are not well defined, Julia Gillard must be thinking we are a bunch of ignoramuses.

Let's assume that cost of living is a good indicator in this case. Just a quick check reveals that the cost of living indicator (where New York = 100) is 91.16 for Yaren, Nauru, and 71.82 for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia*.  I can safely say that the cost, while slightly higher in Nauru than in Malaysia, is not three times, my dear Prime Minister. If you must exaggerate, please do it more plausibly.

* see:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Consitutional budget deficit cap

Many governments are on a drunken spending spree. America is a stark example of how a great country can be brought to the brink of bankruptcy within one generation. Many other countries did the same and are also facing the same consequences of a potential meltdown. In the gloom and doom that fill the front pages of our newspapers these days, I am glad to read that there is still hope that politicians will do the right thing. Germany already has a legal limit on its budget deficit level, while France is still exploring the idea. Spain, instead of trying to spend its way out of trouble, is now moving closer to institute a cap on how much budget deficit the government is allowed to incur.

Unfortunately, that wisdom has not permeated the brains of Australia's Gillard and Swan. I wouldn't heap praises on the previous government of John Howard and Peter Costello either for keeping the budget deficit down, because they did so by selling state assets. Swan is just as blatant. While promising a return to surplus, he is simultaneously pushing the deficit to a record $250b, at a time of record tax revenue from the mining boom... and still promising to return to surplus next year. Oh wait, since time is running out, he is now looking at illegally "borrowing" from the Future Fund to keep his election promise. What a joker. Only that the laugh is at the expense of the future generations, who are now too young to defend themselves or to vote.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Malaysia tipped for reform?

We had a group discussion yesterday about whether one is an optimist, a pessimist, or something in between. Where we stand can make us a believer or a skeptic. Take yesterday's article in The Age newspaper, for example. It says "Malaysia tipped to opt for reform." Malaysia's Prime Minister Najb made an announcement about wanting to repeal the Internal Security Act, which has been frequently abused by his government to incarcerate its most outspoken political opponents and to instill fear in people against voicing any anti-government sentiments.. 

I am a pessimist when it comes to political views. I view political statements like the above as yet another attempt to win votes with no intention of keeping the promise. The general election is coming up in 2012. The government knows that it has to start its election machinery now. It is totally out of character of Najib, as far as his political life has demonstrated. Out of the blue comes this shot. If there is any desire for true reform, much work would have already been underway. It is bewildering to think that all of a sudden Najib has woken up and decided to act. Call me a pessimist.

On the other hand, you can be an optimist and say that all the mass rallies in KL has made finally reached the ears of Najib. That the Arab Spring uprisings has made him sit up. That he is genuinely interested in carrying out reforms. You have the right to your opinion. Cast your vote - wisely.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Internet - the best instructor

I am so used to looking up manuals that I tend to forget that the quickest way to learn about something is often through the intenet. Instruction manuals are good only if the subject is highly esoteric. These days, the internet replaces the need for many (but not all) instruction manuals.

One good example is the Photoshop software. When I want to learn to do something new, out of habit, my first inclination is to pull out an instruction manual or click the Help button and then read the steps one by one. Lately I realise that it is far easier to just google for it. You will find lots of lots of help available. Better still, you can usually find a video tutorial, which is like having someone sitting beside you and visually showing you all the steps.

Finding it hard to master Photoshop? Start googling and you'll be an expert in no time. You don't really need to spend money on expensive lessons or buy any instruction manuals.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Notes to myself: Adding shadow in Photoshop

Here is a quick and easy way to add shadow in Photoshop.
1. Get ready the background layer. In this case, it is plain white.
2. Add a new layer with the cut out. In this case, I chose a vase.
3. Duplicate the cut out layer and move it below the previous layer (shadow always falls behind).

The fun part:
4. On the shadow layer, press Control U to bring out Hue/Saturation Adjustment. Move the Lightness slider all the way to the left to make it dark. Reduce opacity to 25% or as desired. Add Gaussian Blur to the shadow layer using Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur.
5. Still on the shadow layer, distort the shadow using Edit>Transform>Distort.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Notes to myself: Image evaluation

I attended an image evaluation seminar last weekend. I thought I was going to learn more about how to recognize a good image, but instead I learned about the philosophy behind judging an image. To be a qualified judge, the speaker Paul Robinson believes that the judge should be a practising photographer. I would go further by saying that the judge should be an accomplished photographer as proven by acceptances into national and international salons.

Minimum requirement:
As a minimum, a photograph submitted for competition should be technically sound, as far as focus, exposure, tonal range, and white balance are concerned. Over and above the technical quality, aesthetic and emotional appeal is what determines how great the image is.

Relationship. This is from an article written by Anne O'Connor in this month's Australian Photography magazine. She says that "within any image there will be a relationship between the main players portrayed.... it is what tells the story..."

The Decisive Moment. Quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson, "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Once you miss it, it is gone forever."

Rarity. Here is where I add my own thoughts. Some images have great appeal because of rarity. The image may taken in an exotic place. An old woman in a foreign land wearing strange costume seems to make a more appealing composition than an your grandmother sitting in the kitchen; at least that is how one might think after looking at the numerous toothless old women often making successful entries in competitions.

Inclusions and Exclusions: This may not be a key point but I feel  that it is important. Someone once said that the difference between a painter and a photographer is that the painter begins with a blank canvas and starts by adding things. A photographer starts with a complete picture and he looks for things to eliminate. This is quite true. A good image should strive to include only items of relevance to the story telling objective. 

That is my list for now. Perhaps I will have more to add in the future as I gain more knowledge and understanding of what it takes to produce great photographs.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Multiculturalism or social disharmony

The Victorian government is proposing a new slogan to be put on car number plates. It is to be called "Victoria, the Multicultural Capital", replacing the old slogan "Victoria, the place to be".

I grew up in a truly multicultural Malaysia at a time when social harmony was a given. In my younger days, Malays, Chinese, and Indians inter-mingle without any thoughts or talks about racism. There were few inter-racial marriages and yet nobody saw that as a necessity for multiculturalism to work. What was important was that people of different races were blissfully colour blind when it came to friendship and camaraderie. We joined in the fun of celebrating each other's festivals. Nobody made any demands to be treated specially for their cultural differences, and nobody asked for laws to be implemented to protect their perceived rights. (Of course, that is not the Malaysia you see today, but that is not what I want to write about.)

In Australia, I find that the local Aussies are very accommodating but naive. While they themselves were once migrants, they allow new migrants to dictate terms to them on multiculturalism. Some newcomers are not willing to assimilate. They demand special treatment for their cultural differences.  Instead of trying to integrate and harmonize with the existing culture, they ask for their own laws to be instituted. They ask for special prayer rooms. They ask for special partitions in public swimming places. The list of demands can go on and on. What kind of multiculturalism is practised here? Certainly not the kind that I grew up with. The kind that is practised here can lead to social disharmony as what is happening in Europe. The issues need to be addressed, not celebrated in blissful ignorance and misguided naivete.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Father's Day message

At church today, the speaker said that non-Christians view our God by the way we live. We can sing and proclaim God's love for all we want, but does the life we lead display the love of God we preach?

As it is Father's Day today, I think the above also applies to Father's Day and Mother's Day. I've always had some reservations about celebrating these occasions. I believe Father's Day and Mother's Day should be observed everyday, not once a year. If a person does not show love and respect for his parents in his day-to-day life, simply wishing his parents on one day a year actually amounts to nought.

There is an old country song called Roses for Mama. It is about a man who was just going to send some flowers to his mother when he met a little boy at the flower shop. What happened next will really touch your heart. If you have not heard it before, listen to it on the Youtube: .

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How I will celebrate this Christmas

As I was doing gardening yesterday, an elderly neighbour stopped and chatted with me. She told me how she enjoyed the Christmas decorations I have put up. To be honest I gave last year a miss, but I didn't tell her that. I remember now that this same neighbour has mentioned to me before how much she liked my Christmas tree.

Yesterday, this same neighbour told me that when we heard our carolling, she "felt sad". I don't know what she meant by that, but she said she felt like going into my house and join us. She would be most welcome, I told her. I think many older people reminisce about the good old days when the sound of carolling was everywhere. I think many people love to see Christmas decorations lighting up their street. It creates a holiday atmosphere for everyone.

Yes, I think I'll make it a point to put up my Christmas tree every year, because it is not just for me. It is also for my neighbours. I will make it a point to play the carols loud enough for my neighbours to hear. If a carolling team comes up the door, I'll make them sing long enough for the neighbours to enjoy. After all, what better opportunity is there to proclaim the birth of Christ to our neighbours?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sharing photos in Dropbox

Whenever I take photos at a function, people often ask me to send their pictures to them. I used to think Facebook is good for this purpose, but due to privacy concerns, I now choose to do so via the "Photo" folder in Dropbox.

Facebook if great for sharing photos if you enjoy having your photos viewed by anyone and everyone. Many people are actually uneasy about this because it can potentially go viral. Also, many people feel that their safety is compromised by Facebook's endless linking of one person to another. Some people actually asked to have certain pictures deleted after viewing it, while others specifically asked for their photos not to be put on Facebook.

Dropbox, on the other hand,  is wonderful for sharing photos with ease and without encumbrances. When you sign up for an free Dropbox account, in addition to your own private folder, there is also a folder called "Photos". Create your own subfolder in here, copy the link (highlight subfolder>>Dropbox>>copy public gallery link), and email the link to your friends. Your friends can then view the photos easily, and choose to download any pictures they want and at the original resolution. You cannot navigate to any other subfolders (thus ensuring privacy), unlike sharing photos in any other online albums.

To see my sample photo subfolder, use this link I have copied:

To see a full demo of Dropbox or to sign up for an account, go to:

Monday, August 29, 2011

A lovely drive to a wedding

I attended a wedding yesterday. The venue was at a wedding reception area up in the Dandenong Ranges. The drive there was a treat in itself, just like another one I had attended before in another place in the Dandenongs. The sun was shining and the weather was perfect. Spring flowers cover the road shoulders, while the crispy clean air makes the greenery looks fresh and vibrant. The journey took about 40 mins, of which the last 20 minutes was a pleasant drive up the mountain road. By the time I reached there, I was already in the mood for a magical time. I must say a wedding reception that is preceded by a lovely drive certainly takes the cake. So if you are planning for a wedding, make sure the drive to the venue is a pleasant and memorable one!

Monday, August 22, 2011

What is good value?

Here is an excellent article which I'd like to rehash. The article is called "Factoring Value", written by Mike Johnston in The Online Photographer. The link to this article is: . 

Here it goes. The value of something depends on:

Use—the more you use it, the greater the value. Ladies know that a handbag that goes along with any dress get more use, hence is more value-able, than one that is hard to match clothes.
Results— anything that enables you to obtain the results you want will have some value.
Longevity—durability of an item is good value only if you keep on using it. Unfortunately, the things we dislike most tend to be proportionately more durable than those we like.
Payback—replacement batteries always cost a lot more at tourist hot spots. The retailers know that when you are out of battery, you are out of luck. An item will immediately have a heightened value when we urgently need it!
Pleasure of ownership—the writer calls it the opposite of "a fool's economy" (" buy something cheaper than you wanted because it's more "responsible" or a better deal, but you don't get any pleasure out of owning or using it. In that way, a smaller, less costly, more "sensible" purchase can actually be more of a waste of money"). Unfortunately, too many people use this to justify spending more than they can afford.
Resale value—car salesmen frequently use this in their sales pitch.
The deal—I recently passed up an opportunity to buy a Panasonic GF1 on clearance at half the usual price. I was not shopping for a camera, but on hindsight this was one good value that I should have grabbed.

Think of something significant you have just bought. What value did you see in justifying the puchase? If you hit three of more of the above, you're on the dollar!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Sometimes it is useful to be able to just create a softcopy output (i.e. a pdf file) instead of a printed copy. A softcopy can be readily emailed to other people, or stored in the computer to be printed at a later date.

One very useful freeware that can do this job is called PDFCreator. I have used this software for many years now. Once downloaded and installed on your computer, it will become your virtual printer. When you send a document to print, the selection of printers will include "PDFCreator". Selecting this option will enable you to preview the document, change setup (like landscape or portrait mode selection, etc), and save it to a designated location on your computer as a pdf file.

I have found this software to be very useful when I carry out transactions on the internet. Instead of printing a receipt, I just "print" it to my virtual printer and store the receipt as a softcopy.

To download the latest version of this software, go to:

Here is the printer selection screen, with PDFCreator installed:

Friday, August 19, 2011

The craft of photography

Some people, including many photographers, regard photography as an art. As a photographer, I have always been uncomfortable with being labelled an artist. To me photography is more a craft than an art. As a craft, it lies somewhere between an art and a science. It is a skill that can be duplicated in most people, given the right equipment and the right instruction. It is not a unique ability. For example, when a model shoot has been set up, all the photographers shooting at the same model will end up with a similarly good image.

I like what Paul Robinson (an accomplished photographer) says: "(The craft of photography) is the skillful operation of equipment (camera and post-production) as well as the achievement of ideas gained during the process along with pre-visualized results. It also includes the basics of composition, lighting, colour, tone, and presentation."

The above is a wonderful summary of what photography is all about. In particular, I agree that post-production processing is a necessary skill. Without some skill in this area, one will not be able to join the ranks of those who exhibit in the most competitive salons in the world. I also like how Paul Robinson includes presentation as part of the craft of photography. Indeed everyone who practices this craft should have a showcase for his work. This could be prints, an online gallery, or perhaps a slideshow or a photobook.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Longevity moon cakes

Moon cakes are already on sale at the local Asian grocery shops two months before the Lantern Festival. The cakes seem to have perpetual shelf life. I imagine that it would take at least a month from the time of production in China or Hong Kong, importation into Australia, and finally arrival at the grocery shelf. Assuming they are still good for consumption a few weeks after the Lantern Festival, the moon cakes must have a shelf life of at least 4 months. Imagine the pastry and egg yolk being able to last that long; I could use some of the stuff they put in there to make my body last forever. Some foodstuff shouldn't really have expiry date - we will guarantee to expire before the foodstuff does.

Sample pages of my first photobook

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Rotten Apple

Apple Inc is one company I used to admire. They became great by producing great products. Unlike Microsoft, they did not stifle the competition or corner the market in order to climb to the top. Now that Apple has become the largest corporation in the world by market capitalization, it seems that the Apple that I knew has turned rotten.

It now wants to corner the e-book market. There is an ongoing class action suit against Apple and 5 US publisers for price collusion. In the lawsuit, the filing says that "As a direct result of this anti competitive conduct as intended by the conspiracy, the price of eBooks has soared. The price of new bestselling eBooks increased to an average of $12 – $15—an increase of 33 to 50 percent." To add further squeeze to Amazon and Barnes and Noble, it is demanding a big royalty for purchases made through Amazon's or B&N's apps on the iPad. (The good news is that Amazon has now come up with an alternative solution - the Kindle Cloud Reader - to circumvent Apple's attempt to control the ebook market through its apps store.).

Apple has a cash horde of more than US$70bil. It is using this war chest to sue its competitors into oblivion. It has taken Samsung to court for copyright infringement, causing Samsung to withdraw its 10.1" tablet from the market. It is also suing Motorola and others for patent infringements. Clearly Apple is on a rampage. It seems like Apple is suing every major competitor simultaneously. Is this how a great company behaves? I hope this is the turning point for Apple. Perhaps it is time for Apple to be humbled. Stop buying Apple products.

London rioters

My first reaction was that the rioting was senseless and criminal in nature. The rioters have no excuse to do what they did. Regardless of what causes them to act this way, they ought to face the court of law and bear responsibility for what they did.

Now that I have that out of the way, I would like to say that the government should do some soul searching to see why there are so many disgruntled youths around. Is it because British industrialist have exported away all the jobs they should have reserved for their youths? Is it because politicians have taken away the rights of parents to punish their kids and made it illegal for parents to cane their children and discipline them when they are young? In their unending quest for political correctness, politicians have even gone to the ridiculous extent of protecting criminals by concealing the names of hardcore criminals such as murderers and rapists. The list can go on and on. If this sounds familiar to you, all that is happening in the UK is also happening in all the other developed countries of the world. To be sure, every one of these countries has the same undercurrent that can simultaneously erupt into a street riot.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Free market, it ain't

How will the current stock market turmoil play out? Probably in much the same way as it has always been. The monster (the stock market) will eventually be restrained and subdued. Like those at the betting table of a casino, the punters will count their losses or gains and then wait for the next round to begin.

The stock market, contrary to what politicians and financial experts like to tell you, does not operate in a supply-demand situation. It is built on a house of cards - a very big and strong one - that is not allowed to fail. Governments are run by people with lots of vested interest in the stock market, and financial experts make their fortune from leading more punters to the stock market. Together, governments and financial experts make policies to ensure the stock market is always upbeat. Indirectly, this creates an aura of prosperity for everyone, but really more so to enrich the power brokers. That is why governments want people to put their superannuation in the stock market and make policies to suit that objective. When everyone is bought into it, it is so much easier to legislate self-serving economic policies.

If the stock market were to operate in a totally free-market condition, governments that overspend will have to bear its consequences. Those in power may be replaced by a new team. Companies, no matter how large, will be allowed to fail. The rich may find their fortunes gone and the poor will have a chance to take their place. This is what the free market theory is all about, isn't it? Right now, governments in Europe and America are frantically trying to prevent the stock market from further slide. Yes, it is to prevents an economic meltdown that will affect everybody's lives. But ask yourself then why their proposed solutions are always to save the companies first, and why America's US$800bil bailout in the GFC went to save the financial institutions and not the people's jobs.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The big deal about a name

Giving someone or something a name signifies possession. When a child is born, he is given a name by the parents. It is as if the parents are declaring their ownership rights. Likewise, when a company is developing a new product, a name is given. Even projects are given names, even though no products may be involved. In the Bible, we see that King Nebuchadnezzar gave new names to Daniel and his friends, ostensibly to show that they belong to him now.

One might say that God started it all. In Genesis 2:19-20, it says "Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals." This implies that God gave mankind dominion over all the animals and all the birds.

Now, when a child reaches the age of 21, he declares himself an independent adult. Why is it that he doesn't get a new name to symbolize that he is no longer under anyone's authority? Should he? Would he? Probably the answer is "no", yet many at that age behave like they have a new name.

And for the ladies, here is something to think about. By Western tradition, the woman gets a new name when she gets married; her husband's. What do you think of that?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

My first photobook

I have just finished making my first photobook. I've just uploaded it to the online store, paid for it through PayPal, and now I am just waiting for it to be delivered. Here is my experience.

Getting started...
I got a few recommended sources from my camera club members. I chose Photobook Australia. I downloaded a copy of its free software, the Photobook Designer. If you have created a slideshow before, you will find the workflow very similar. It took me just a few minutes to get used to the software., and a couple of days to master it completely. It is that simple.

Designing the book...
Photobook Designer is the first photobook software I have used, but I must say it is pretty impressive. It allows me to experiment with different cropping and different aspect ratio, as well as rotating the picture. It lets me set the background colour, add title and captions, stack pictures one upon another, etc. I can open and close different folders in my hard drive to select just the photos I want. In short, it can do practically everything I expected it to.

Sending it to print...
Ordering a printed album is as easy as ordering prints for my images. Just click on File>>Order in Photobook Designer and it will automatically lead you to place an order through their website. Once payment is made, it will ask you to upload the project file, or save the file to other media.

In the old days everyone had a prized wedding album with laminated pages. Over the years the laminate invariably comes unstuck, the pages turn yellow and the photos fade away. The modern photobook is really a far better option. It is now easier to reproduce.One can do so in any shape, sizes and quality level. In this day and age, I am sure no newly wedded couple will be without one.

To see sample photobooks, go to

Thursday, August 4, 2011

War on crime

Who are we kidding? The war on crime has never been a real "war."

In today's news, a German court awarded more than $4020 in damages to as child murderer. The public was outraged when the regional court ruled that the human dignity of Magnus Gaefgen has been violated  because during questioning police threatened him with "unimaginable pain." As it turns out, Gaefgen had already killed the child while under interrogation by police. In the bid to be politically correct, an imbecile judge has given more dignity to the criminal than to the parents of the child. The judge did not consider the unimaginable pain the parents had to suffer forever, while all the criminal had to do was to confess to what he had done and he would be spared the pain.

The war on crime has never been a real war. In war, adversaries will do anything to gain victory, including torturing prisoners. Our democratic system is formed on the basis of doing what is best for the greater good, yet Western governments are failing to do exactly that when it comes to war on crime. Criminals have more rights to humane treatment than the people they victimize. Their identities are hidden by privacy laws. In detention they are given free board and lodging; and they can sue the government for ill treatment and hardship unless they are given all the amenities you can find at home. If there is a war on crime, then the criminals must be winning hands down. Even white-collared corporate executives are turning to crime, for crying out loud. Everyone is having a party on this war on crime, thanks to politically correct brain-dead judges.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Entering the PSA competition

Today I finally took my first step in entering an international photography competition. Granted, this is a competition that anybody can enter. There is no minimum criteria, so I am not going to talk about what a great photographer I am just because I submitted my first entry to the Photographic Society of America.

This is a logical step for me to take. It aligns my line of sight straight to the final destination of my pursuit in photography. It is a necessary step for accruing points towards getting a recognition from the Australian Photographic Society, of which I am now a member. If any image is accepted into a national or international competition, I get some points.

As I shift my sight to competitions beginning this year, I also find that my taste in photography is changing. I become more perceptive of images that are designed to sit in photography competitions, and those that are made for commercial purposes. Cliched shots are great for improving one's shooting skills. They do well at local levels, but have no great potential in high level competitions.

So what do I shoot now? I'll still shoot the same things, but hopefully more thoughtfully and less prayerfully.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sound recording on a camera

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to good travel cameras. They are relatively inexpensive, small and light, have ample zoom, and takes great video in addition to good quality still images. You can buy heaps of storage in tiny flash memory cards. Imagine how much less baggage you need to carry these days, as compared to 15 years ago.

One useful feature is sorely lacking though: sound recording. I cannot imagine why the camera manufacturers have not seriously looked into this. I have a Sony F717 which I bought about 10 years ago. It has a feature that allows you to record a short sound clip in addition to the image, if you were to keep holding down the shutter release after it is pressed. On a sightseeing trip, you can record a short description of the image you are shooting. The voice clip filename is the same as the image filename, so you can immediately link them up. My only disappointment is that you can only record for about 10 sec.

My idea:
With the huge capacity of flash memory these days, it would be perfect if the recording is infinite, or programmable to a predetermined maximum duration. Once an image is taken and the shutter release is held down for 3 secs, it should activate the sound recording with an LED indicator lighted. The recording should continue even if you keep on shooting more images, until you turn the sound recorder off. This allows you to shooting multiple images with the same sound track running.

This sound recording feature will be great for spicing up a slideshow. Sometimes it is better to record a series of images with a continuous background sound, rather than to do a video recording. Furthermore, videos consume much more memory and takes up a lot more computing resources.

Don't you agree this is a "sound" idea for a travel camera?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Semper Driver Backup

Even though I have a full image backup of my computer in case it crashes due to virus or hardware breakdown, I occasionally have to re-install the entire system from scratch. That is when I have to have all the drivers the system needs. Sometimes I have to google for it when I can't find it in my software collection.
Here is a useful little software that everyone should have. It is called Semper Driver Backup. It creates a backup all the drivers you need to run your program and peripheral devices. When you have done that, copy the entire folder (which is located in My Documents) to somewhere safe. The utility also allows you to restore drivers from the backup when needed.

It would be better if the backup is done automatically at a pre-set interval, but then this is a freebie. One cannot ask for more. Here is the website to download the software and to see a demo:


Here is a very useful little software that you can find lots of use for. Once installed on your computer, it exists as a little icon that opens like a normal folder. So you can think of it as a folder which resides both on your computer and in the cyberspace "cloud". Here are two major uses of Dropbox:

1. Synchronizing
You can install Dropbox on all your computing gadgets: laptop, smartphone, iPad or Android tablet. Once installed, you can place any file in Dropbox. You can access this file from any one of your computing devices. Each time a file in Dropbox is updated from anywhere, it is also synchronized to all your other devices. The file actually resides both in the cyberspace cloud as well as on each of your devices that has Dropbox.

2. Sharing
I find it particularly useful for sharing large files, such as a video recording or a whole bunch of photos. All you have to do is to put the file in the Public folder of your Dropbox. Then go to that file in Dropbox and right-click to get the link. Email this link to anyone. This will save you from emailing huge files to your friends, and they from having to wait for the download to complete. For handling many files, I find it useful to zip them up so that you only need to send one link.

Dropbox website:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Telling lies in parliament

Rupert Murdoch stands to go to jail if he is found to mislead parliament during the recent enquiry into the phone hacking scandal in the UK. I assume the same law applies in Australia. However, it appears that the law does not apply to parliamentarians. They can and do intentionally mislead one another and the public by selectively quoting certain survey results, studies, and modellings that fit their agenda while rejecting those that do not.

A recent article in The Australian newspaper (Open your kimono and show us your modelling*) highlights the carbon tax deception by Gillard and Wayne Swan. The modelling is designed to mislead the public by underestimating the costs. Here are just a few extracts from the article:

"...the model does not provide for the mandated decommissioning of the Hazelwood and possibly Yallourn power stations in Victoria. ..... Treasury's modelling seems to defer the cost until at least 2025 and maybe until 2040. That conveniently reduces the estimated hit to electricity prices."

"...The modelling assumes emitters can borrow permits from the future. And borrow they do, on a scale that puts Greece to shame. By 2050, emitters worldwide have borrowed four years' global permit allocations from the future. Using Treasury's estimate of future carbon prices, that is equivalent to a net debt of $10.7 trillion in 2011 dollars, or 10 times Australia's current national output. And the total value of those net borrowings would rise at 6 to 8 per cent a year, far exceeding the growth rate of world incomes."

 "....without access to the model no one can say by how much. And that suits the government. For Treasury's modelling presumably reflects assumptions determined by the government, such as that all industrial countries have carbon taxes in place by 2016 or behave as if they did."

Surveys, studies, and modellings can be very misleading. They all have some commonalities: the result is fully dependent on the underlying assumptions, how the work is framed, and how the results are analysed. If not properly done, the result will be biased at best. Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan could be using a "biased modelling" approach to mislead the public. Ask yourself; should that be a jailable offence?