Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cordless LED reading light

Here is a reading light that is sure to delight many a serious reader. It runs on 6 AA batteries, which is supposed to last for 15 hours (or get a set of rechargeables if you like). There are 16 LED's, emitting a bright daylight white light. It has a flexible goose neck for you to adjust the direction of the light.

What I really like about this is that the light is of just the right intensity and it is highly diffused. You won't see any harsh shadow lines on your book. As it is cordless, you can carry it with you and place it wherever you want. Definitely a thumbs up from me. I got it today from Aldi for AUD$20.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What I did not see at the royal wedding

I watched the royal wedding of William and Kate with my family just now. I have to say that the camera crew did a remarkable job from behind the scene - not one of them was in sight! You can tell that the wedding ceremony has been shot from many angles in the Westminster Abbey. Yet not a single scene reveals where the cameras have been placed. Even the marriage vows of the new royal couple are clearly audible; so where is the zoom microphone? Out in the street, you can see the procession being shot from many places along the sideline, yet not a single time was any camera or reporting crew in sight.

The other interesting thing  I observed is the absence of flash going off. Watching the Beijing Olympics on my home TV in 2008, I could see the flash going off ceaselessly among the audience. Probably the guests in the Westminster Abbey have been asked not to take any pictures. Out in the street, even though it was bright day you would normally see a flash going off now and then, but I did not see any this time. That's unusual.

Oh yes, it was a great wedding. Here's is a souvenir shot of the royal couple. Since everyone is hyped up about the balcony kiss, I couldn't resist bringing out my camera to take this shot....on TV.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kindle e-reader for US$114

It is official now. Kindle has lowered the price of its Kindle 3 Wifi-only version. See:

The Kindle 3 used to sell for US$139. With the $AUD now stronger than ever, you can actually get it for a real bargain compared to the time I bought a few months ago. The price is now US$114, which is close to AUD$104 at today's conversion rate. That's a whopping 30% off the price I paid! If you ever felt like swapping your newspaper for electronic newspaper (and save a few trees in your lifetime), now is your opportunity.

Recently I have the opportunity to compare my Kindle with an iPad 2 side by side. Together with the cover, my Kindle weighs 400g, while the iPad 2 weighs about 740g. When holding the iPad 2, I have to be extra careful because it seems like it will shatter if accidentally dropped. On the other hand, the Kindle with its cover feels like it can easily survive a drop or two. The Kindle is practically smudge-free. It has a matte screen and a matte bezel, while the iPad 2 has a shiny surface which is impossible to keep smudge-free. As for reading, I feel that the Kindle handles reading better because I can hold it in many ways and I will not accidentally get switched to another page.On the iPad 2 you have to be careful about touching the screen. For reading enjoyment, Kindle is still the best. It is easy on the eye and the battery lasts for weeks on a single charge. Having said that, I will still eventually buy an iPad or an Android tablet, but it is to replace my desktop and not my Kindle.

(Note: there are strong rumours that Amazon is working on an Android-based tablet. It could be something like the Nook Color from competitor Barnes and Nobles. I suspect that will complement Amazon's product range but not replace the e-ink reader)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shielded TV cable actually works

Coincidentally, when I changed over from my old analog TV to a digital plasma TV, I also began to have a problem receiving all the channels. I thought it had to do with the antenna. After all, the new digital channels do call for antennae that are designed for the different digital frequency bands. I did start to look for a replacement antenna but fortunately one shop assistant suggested that I try one of the Monster TV cables. Well, to tell you the truth, I was not about to spend $35 just to see if that would work. A good new antenna would cost only twice that much.

However, by chance I came across a shielded TV cable in Bunnings that was described as "virtually noise free". For $10.50, it seemed like a safe bet. Sure enough, that did the trick. It has saved me the job of climbing to my roof, plus money and effort to replace the antenna. And then, that might not have solved the problem at all. So if you are having problems getting consistently good reception on your TV, you might want to look no further than the simple cable connecting your TV to the antenna socket.

(My Maths professor in college used to remind us not to bring out the big cannons before we have tried the simple ways to solve problems. This is one of those examples)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Landscape and portrait

I have never given these terms much thought other than how a page is laid out for printing, or how a camera is held when taking a shot. Now that I have joined the APS (see last blog) and signed up as member of the Portrait and Landscape folios, I realize that I am not sure what constitutes a portrait or a landscape.

This is what I have found after a bit of googling. A portrait is easier to define. It is an image where the main subject of interest is a person or several persons. This can be a face, a half body, or a full body picture. Many wedding portraits are shot full body and we can immediately identify it as a wedding portrait. However, without the bridal dress, a picture of the same pose and composition in a scenic background may simply be termed as a holiday snap. I think the criteria here is whether the subject of interest is clearly about the person in the picture.

I am convinced that a true landscape picture should be that of a natural terrain. It is a spread out scene; one you get when looking at an broad expanse of land some distance ahead and in front of you. The picture of a waterfall is not a landscape picture, if the waterfall is the subject. But if the waterfall is in the distant and is part of a scene, and the scene is the subject, then this image is rightly called a landscape.

I cannot claim that the above constitutes a universally acceptable definition of portrait and landscape. They are just my own understanding. There are grey areas that nobody has the right answer to but many have opinions on. For example, the image on this blog might meet some of the definition of a landscape, but it is not in "landscape" format (hence restricting the view of a broad expanse of land). Also, while the subject is clearly about the scene, yet the immediate focus is on some big rocks in the foreground. I am not sure if I can enter this in a landscape competition, even if it were an amazing shot.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Australian Photographic Society

After mulling over it for several weeks, I decided to go ahead and sign up as a member of the APS. This is actually a wonderful opportunity for people who are otherwise not able to join a regular camera club. As a member, I also registered to be placed in a couple of the folios (Landscape and Portrait). This enables me to share my images with other people as well as comment on each other's work. This is similar to what we do at the Knox camera club, minus the outings and workshops.

My main reason for joining the APS is to expose myself to regular competitions and to collect points that will lead to awards, starting with the LAPS (Licentiate of the APS). Big deal, you might say, but this is the institutionalized way to gauge my own competence level and to learn from the experts along the way. There will be comments, critiques, and disappointments, but that is the name of the game.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The saving habit

It used to be that financial institutions give out piggy banks to encourage children to start saving from young. This builds up a saving habit in children. They learn to handle money in a responsible manner. It is a pity that we do not see so much of this anymore. Many banks have forgotten the important role they used to play in society.

People need to be able to save, no matter how much they earn. For the young, it is the habit that counts, not the dollars and cents. Some young people think that they will start saving when they reach a certain income level. They think that once they start earning a bigger salary, they can put away a lot more in a shorter time; that the small amounts they squirrel away now wll not make much of a difference the next day. That is just wishful thinking; the bar just keeps getting higher and the right time to save never comes.

As parents we need to cultivate the saving habit in our children, whether rich or poor. It is this habit that will see them though life long after we are no longer able to watch over them. We hope that they will not spend down to their last dollar at the end of every month. If the pocket money we give to our children disappears completely at the end of each week, we have failed in our duty.

Children, when you leave home as an adult, you gain some but not total independence. You will not be financially independent for many more years to come. That happens only when you have built up sufficient savings. You need to cultivate the saving habit now. You goal should be to have a savings account that grows every week, only to be used with utmost discretion. I hope my children read this blog and remember always.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lycamobile vs Lebara

I am of the opinion that local telcos are gouging the public. Therefore I am always on the lookout for better rates, and then helping to publicise it. This is the only way that the telcos will face the impact of real competition; that is, when everyone starts switching to the competition.

The best part about Lycamobile is in international calls. Calls to Malaysia costs 19c per call with unlimited talk time. Lebara has dropped its rates now to 25c per call and unlimited talk time. Forget about Telstra, Optus, and even TPG; their charges are outrageous in comparison.

The other outstanding feature of Lycamobile is the convenience of international roaming. You do not need to do anyting to activate it when holidaying overseas, and the prepaid model makes sure you will never be slugged with a huge bill.You can receive SMS for free, and send SMS for between 22c to $1 per SMS, depending on country. Voice calls are not cheap though. In the UK and many parts of Europe, you can call for 88c per min and receive calls at 30c per min. For other countries (including Malaysia), you will pay more than $10 per min. Yes, $10.00+ per min!

Local calls are also not bad. Lycamobile charges 12c/min and no flagfall (during promotional period; no indication what comes after). TPG Mobile $1 Plan charges 10c per flagfall + 10c/min. Lebara charges 25c per flagfall + 15c/min. These apply to calls to either landline or mobile.

My recommendation to recent migrant folks: get a Lycamobile and dedicate one of your unused mobile phones for international calls. Because of the ease of invoking international roaming, you may not want to give out your Lycamobile number as your primary contact. Each $10 recharge expires after 3 months.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Wireless remote control for my camera

This is one of the best gadgets I have added to my camera gear recently. I purchased it for just AUD$20 on eBay. There are two parts: the receiver (attached to the camera) and the remote transmitter.

On the receiver part itself, you can half-press to focus, and full-press to release the shutter. It works even without a battery!

The transmitter allows you to do the same focus-and-shoot, but wirelessly. This transmitter uses radio signal. Therefore you do not need to have line of sight to trigger the shutter. The signal works up to 100m and it is very responsive. The remote can also be used to control the shutter in bulb mode. You can also choose to activate the 3 sec timer on the remote itself, which is very useful for doing self portrait.

The remote really adds a lot of fun to shooting. I can leave my camera on the tripod, watch it in live view, and shoot whenever I want to without reaching for the camera. I have tried shooting with my camera tethered to the computer using Lightroom 3, and it works just as well!

Why I think this remote is really good.
My previous remote requires me to change between "normal" and "remote control" in the shutter release mode settings. This one does not require that (unless I want continuous shooting or bulb setting). When the receiver is plugged in, I can choose to trigger from the camera, or the receiver, or the transmitter without changing any setting on the camera. I really appreciate this kind of flexibility.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Astronaut photographer - Douglass Wheelock

Occasionally we get to see pictures taken by astronauts while they are in outer space. The pictures are usually out of this world (pun intended). So why don't we see even more of these pictures? I believe the reason is that you need to be quite an acomplished photographer to take the kind of pictures that astronaut Douglass Wheelock took. Camera gear being a big addition to the payload, I doubt if you can just bring along your heavy camera gear, unless you have been specially appointed for the task. Point-and-shoot cameras just won't cut it.

Here is a link for Douglass Wheelock's pictures:

I can imagine the challenges Wheelock faced; long shutter speed being the foremost one. He will have to shoot through a small window with thick glass (how many f-stops down?), and maybe do a spacewalk to clean the outside of the window (tongue-in-cheek). Some shots are perhaps taken while doing a space walk, but certainly not those near to earth. In the cabin though, he cannot move around to get the best angle. He has to anticipate and catch each photo opportunity as it comes up. Taking pictures near to earth would be subject to vibration coming from the engines when approaching or departing earth. No sirree, being there alone is not enough to capture such images. You have to be quite an accomplished photographer too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Are you nice?

I watched an interesting clip on Youtube this morning. The URL is

There is a serious message in the clip, but first let me digress a little. The protagonist says the origin of the word "nice" is not pleasant. I have checked it out and what she says is true. "Nice" comes from the Middle English word meaning "stupid"; from Old French nescius meaning "ignorant"; and from Latin nescire meaning "not know". So the next time somebody says you are nice, it could be a subtle way of telling you that you have been had!

Now for the serious message. This lady believes that Western civilization, the Constitution of America, and Orthodox Christianity are all dying. The reason is that these institutions are taught that being nice (in the modern sense of the word) is a virtue. As a result, they are digging their own graves. I agree with what she says. The only part I have trouble with is, she thinks the Bible should not be teaching us to be nice. Is the Bible leading all of us to self destuction? I do not think so. The Bible also tells us to beware of the wolf in sheep's clothing. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were told not to take any prisoners alive when conquering the promised land (that's not very nice!). Jesus himself displayed his anger when he went to the temple and saw money changers and traders in the house of worship.

Yes, we are in a civilization upheaval now. We are being foolishly nice in sticking to political correctness while ignoring the other virtue of being watchful for the enemies. Being "nice" to everyone all the time can certainly carry two implications: nice as in pleasant, or nice as being ignorant and stupid. The word has not lost its original meaning after all.

If you are a Christian, how does this thought strike you?

Bali, a paradise no more?

I have a outdated notion of Bali. When I was young I used to think of Bali as a tropical paradise; can you imagine that coming from someone who actually grew up in the tropics? My juvenile impression of Bali was based on rural Malay life in Malaysia. I imagined it to be like the villages I have known and loved, only more idealised. I thought of Bali as a place of swaying coconut trees and friendly sarong-clad villagers who are more than happy to welcome visitors into their midst.

I have a trip planned for Bali in the beginning of next year. While it will be a fulfillment of my childhood desire to visit the place, I am afraid it will also bring an end to my fantasy. I have read too many accounts of mounting crime in Bali, terrorist attacks, and atrocities against Christians, to consider for a moment that this trip will be the visualization of my hidden fantasy. I still hope to be wrong.....

Friday, April 8, 2011

Photographing trees

Trees can be an intriguing subject to photograph. I have walked in the park many times with a camera. I have made many attempts to photograph trees before, but somehow the images always turn out to be uninteresting.

Last weekend, however, I think I finally got a hang of it. I went to the National Rhododendron Gardens with my wife. The heavy overcast sky seemed just right for photographing the trees. A hint of wintering foliage added some interesting colour. I used the Kelvin setting to get the correct white balance, as the auto white balance mode seemed to have difficulty getting the green right.

The next time you talk a walk in the park, bring your camera and challenge yourself to see if you can bring home some interesting shots. It is a great exercise (speaking about photograhy, of course)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

iPad1 is a good deal

Apple dropped the price of its original iPad by AUD$180 when it launched iPad2. The main advantage of the new iPad over the original one is that it has camera, is twice as fast, and is thinner and lighter.

I am of the opinion that iPad competitors will have to compete with both the old iPad (on value for money) and the new iPad2 (on features and price). The reason why the original iPad is still appealing is that while the camera is useful for video calls, you probably will not be making many such calls. After a while, this may cease altogether. As for the difference in speed, weight and thickness, I guess you can get used to that over time. So if you can get a great discount on iPad1, this is really value for money. Even then, perhaps the new price ($449) for an original iPad is still too big a tablet to swallow... I think $300 is a more reasonable price point for mass adoption in this segment of the technology market.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A unique day

I have something to boast about. Not everybody gets to celebrate one extra hour one their birthday but I will be one of the lucky ones. The local time is going to be wound back by an hour at 3am tomorrow, which happens to be my birthday. That means, I will have 25 hours to celebrate. Now, how cool is that?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Another self portrait

Here's another self portrait. Unlike the previous picture, this one is done over with Lightroom to give it a high key effect.

Actually, after giving it much thought, I don't think I will enjoy making this type of images. It is not true photography (no doubt a subject of personal interpretation). To me this has crossed the line into digital manipulation. As it just takes a few minutes to transform the right image into a reasonably interesting piece of work, would you call this a cheap shot or a cheat shot?

The second picture is how it was originally shot.