Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ansel Adams

Some photographers become famous after making one sensational shot. Others, with advanced camera these days, are able to produce the occasional beautiful images. In my opinion, the pursuit of excellence and perfection in photography goes far beyond the serendipitous shots. It requires constant honing of one's skill over years, or even decades.

This evening our camera club screened a documentary on Ansel Adams. After watching, I am left with a very positive impression about this man. I think he represents what great work in photography is really all about. First and foremost, it is about passion and hard work. Adams spent decades in the wilderness of Yosemite, making long treks and photographing every single day with hardly any breaks. He did not make a lot of money. In fact his wife supported him, rather than the other way around. He only made a lot of money and gained fame and recognition only in his sunset years - long after he had stopped his prolific photography work.

His most active years were during the Great Depression. He was criticised for taking pictures of the stones and waterfalls; his critics thought he should have spent his time doing socio-documentary work. It is only decades later that people could appreciate that his work directly influenced the US government to set up preservation parks in the Yosemite area. Future generations can thank him for that. Adam's contribution had been as much to the environment as he had been to photography.

Ansel also did a lot of post processing work. He did a lot of dodging and burning in the darkroom. He spent hours making print and print until he perfected one. He likened the negatives to the music score (he was a pianist too), and the post processing to the music conductor. The same negative, under different hands, can produce different results. This is something to think about, for those who harbour disdain for any post processing work.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Newspapers should be read in the evening

Culturally, almost everyone reads the newspapers first thing in the morning. Newspapers became widely circulated in Europe in the 17th century. The Europeans must have started the trend of selling papers in the morning.

There are good reasons why I think newspapers should be read after the evening meal, instead of at the breakfast table. First, there are always more depressing news than good ones. If you must, why not read something pleasant to start off your day with a happy disposition? Also, in the morning, one has limited time to get ready for work. So why not spend the few precious minutes socialising around the breakfast table? I remember as a kid when I visited my grandparents during the school holidays, breakfast time was a highlight itself. I loved to talk with my cousins as we ate and we had a jolly good time around the table. I do not recall anyone holding up a newspaper at the breakfast table at any time.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Suitcase break-in at airport

My wife flew on the Emirates to Kuala Lumpur last month. Upon arrival, she found that the zipper was broken. From my experience, zippers on Samsonite luggage bags do not break easily.

I had the chance to examine the broken zipper when she came back. It is very clear to me that the bag had been broken into. Apparently, a metal rod is all it takes to break the zipper. This method is less obvious than breaking the lock. My wife initially thought the zipper was accidentally broken. From the bottom close-up image, you can tell that a deliberate force was applied to break the zipper handle from its bottom attachment, as the hole in the zipper handle is now slightly out of shape. (Click on the image for enlarged view)

After a lot of hassling, Emirates agreed to replace the zipper in KL. As a precaution, always examine your bags for damage after retrieving them at the airport. And don't put valuables (camera, etc) in your checked-in luggage, no matter how well-locked your bag is.

(Update: after I told a friend about this, she said her luggage bag was similarly damaged on her last trip. She had all the while assumed it was due to bad zippers and wanted to claim the warranty from Samsonite)

Money transfers

Where I work, I have to do Western Union money transfers for people. I always feel touched when I see people transferring money to their family members back home. Some of them do so quite regularly. You can tell by the surnames if they are transferring to their family members. These people are making a sacrifice so that their folks back home can also enjoy a bit of the blessings they get in Australia. Many people work hard and they have high expenses here, but they still manage to save somthing for their folks back home. They care.

A girl in her early twenties was in today to transfer AUD$500 to another person of the same surname in Belarus. One African lady used to come in and she would send AUD$100 to one person, and another AUD$100 to another. She used to be a nurse in the UK before migrating to Australia. Quite often I see Indians and Sri Lankans come in to send varying amounts. I have also done transfers for people originating form various poor countries in Europe. Love and devotion to one's family cuts across all nationalities. I feel humbled.

As I do the money transfer for these people, my heart warms towards them. In each of them I see not a customer but a loving and beautiful human being. I can't help but quietly add my blessing to the gift they are sending.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Remote controls - Part 2

Continuing from yesterday's blog....

Here's an example of what a remote control app in a smartphone can do for you:

1. A remote for any appliance
The manufacturer can design the appliance to be run by remote control, and then provide the remote control app separately in an app store. Now you can use your smartphone to remotely control your fan, oven, lights, wahing machine, computer, home entertainment units, etc. Every appliance can have an app that the buyer can choose to install or not. The manufacturer can do away with equipping everyone with a remote that is seldom used. At the same time, users are given a choice.

2. Different levels of remote control
Some gadgets require a higher level of controls to set up. After the initial set up, it is used in the most basic mode by most of the household members. Grandma and Grandpa might just install a basic operating mode, while the techie may install the full version to give him maximum control over the same gadget.

3. Everyone can have a remote
Nobody will have to live with a gadget that has outlived a broken remote. Need another remote? Just install the app.

4. Never run out of battery; never lose a remote
With remote control apps in your smartphone, a flat battery or losing a remote will now be a thing of the past.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remote controls - Part 1

Remote controls are probably one of the most "used-less" gadgets in my house. I have a basketful of remotes that have not been touched for ages. The only remote that is constantly used is the one used for the plasma TV. Lying idle are the remotes for my DVD player, the Karaoke player, the pre-amp, plus those for many other appliances now long forgotten. 

I have a gripe about remotes. Contrary to popular belief, they are not a convenience. The only thing it does is to shift work from one person to another. The person using it is often not the one who has to keep the remote after it is used, or to wipe it clean after it gets dusty. Therefore it only provides convenience for one person while inconveniencing another.

I do not see why we need to have a remote. The couch potato could use some exercise walking up to the TV to change channels. He could give some thought as to what he wants to watch. Life without a remote for every home entertainment unit is less complicated. Honestly, hasn't everyone have at least one exasperating moment when the remote could not be found? Or picked up the wrong remote and wondering why it doesn't work? Or run out battery? In my opinion, the usefulness of a remote is questionable.

Perhaps it is time for the remote to undergo a serious change. Every home entertinament unit should be fully operable without a remote (believe me, some don't). Also, all of them should come with a remote control app that can be installed on a smart phone. I don't want a universal remote that I have to learn how to program each time I buy a new gadget. I want a device-specific app that is ready to use as soon as it is installed.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Die twice, live twice, born twice

The postie came in today humming an unusual tune. I asked asked him about it and he said he has been listning to this song on the radio. The songwriter says he has died twice. The first time when he met this woman, and the second time when the woman left him. How poetic! Such is how a man thinks of a woman.

A woman, on the other hand, tells you that "you only live twice"; credit to Nancy Sinatra who sang for the James Bond movie. You live once for yourself and once for your dreams. A woman's outlook is more positive!

The Bible tells us we are born twice. Once, when we come out as a baby. And once again when we accept Christ and become a new creation.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fun with wide angle

I have just acquired a Nikon 12-24mm F4 DX lens. I spent a few minutes to ty it out just now. In the pictures here, you can see how I have enlarged my living room to make it more like what you see in a real estate brochure. The pictures shot with 24mm and with 12mm. On 35mm equivalent, they are actually 36mm and 18mm, respectively.


 In the other set of pictures, you can see how the distortion has been exaggerated. Yes, I think I am going to enjoy this new lens, which I have bought for landscape photography and not to expand my living room.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stickies program for your computer

"Post-It" notes are great. You write little notes on them and you stick them on the fridge, in your book, or on your computer screen to remind you of things. Since I spend a few minutes regularly in front of the computer every day, I find that my computer screen is the best place to put reminders on.

Now, instead of writing notes on little pieces of Post-It notes, I have re-discovered the Stickies software, which I used to have on my computer years ago. It is one of the most useful little programs you can ever install on your computer. The bright yellow box on which you write a reminder to yourself stays pinned to your screen. It stays right on top of every window you have opened up. This new Stickies software also has a lot of features which I am not sure I'll ever use. You can choose a different colour for your Sticky, you can make it not always go to the top of your windows pile, you can change fonts, set opacity, set reminders, sleep mode, etc, etc. It is just a very simple to use program, elegant, and free.

If you are interested to try it out, download this program from:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Picture, picture on the wall

I have just finished rearranging the photos on the wall, plus putting up a few that had been sitting on the sideboard for a long time. As a photographer, I do not hang any of my pictures that I sent for competitions. I only hang pictures of my family which I like but which are not necessarily good. They are pictures taken in a restaurant or on an outing, including one or two that were shot in my studio.

I have been asked many times why as a photographer, wouldn't I be able to find some pictures to frame up and  hang? The reason is, I do not think a good photograph is necessarily a suitable photograph to decorate the house with. I think a picture, or a painting for that matter, has to go with the decor and the ambiance. For example, it is nice to decorate a home on the seaside with seascape, boats, or anything nautical. A landscape of a farmland may be good for a home in the country. A landscape of exotic places may suit an office well, while an architectural shot or an abstract image will fit well in a modern living room. This is just my personal opinion.

Still life images are generally easier candidates for most homes. Again, the subject has to suit the decor. Images of fruits and vegetables will go well in the kitchen. Images of a statue or a vase may lighten up a living room which may have difficulty accommodating a real life statue or a vase. Images related to one's hobby will easily find a place in the study; and they don't have to be just still life images.

So there you go; I am probably not the only photographer who has nothing to hang up on his walls.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Don't be careful what you say

If there is something bad, we tend to politely refrain from talking about it. If it is something really bad, we even hush each other up in case there is an eavesdropper around. For example, this afternoon I just mentioned the word "extremist" and my colleague hushed me up. We are not supposed to talk about Muslim radicals, or cast any aspersion on the Muslim religion. Yet we can freely talk about any other religion on earth without being chastised while the one we mustn't talk about is the one that is by far the most radical. Even as I write this blog, I risk getting spammed by a Muslim for the mere mention of this little episode. I hold nothing against a Muslim. I only question what they stand for: peaceful co-existence or subjugation of every non-Muslim.

Why is it that people are reluctant, or even scared, to discuss problems? Would you not encourage your child to voice out his problem so that you can have an open discussion with him? Or would you rather hush him up and pretend that there is no problem? I have read that a mother actually stopped her daughter from talking about herself (the daughter) being abused. I have heard about schools that do not want an untoward incidence being reported in the news, so as not to bring the school into disrepute. I know of people who do not want their illness known.... and so on, and so forth.

So next time before you want to hush up or to hush somebody up, ask yourself why. Is it fear? Is it embarassment? Is it denial? Whatever it is, I think chances are, it is not a good reason.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Australia does not have a people smuggling problem

The dictionary defines that to smuggle people is to convey people somewhere secretly and illicitly.

Think about it; by definition Australia does not have a people smuggling problem. The people smuggling problem faced by Australia does not fit into this definition. The so-called "people smugglers" operate out of Indonesia with impunity. When they reach Australian shore, they signal to the border patrol and ask to be taken into Australia. On the Australian side, the asylum seekers are routinely "processed": housed, fed, given a health checkup, and free legal service.

I remember a time when things were different. The Vietnamese boat people arrived in Australia after braving an odyssey, literally. Stories abound of life-threatening dangers from pirates, storm, and leaky boats that were not fit for the journey. These people had to bribe corrupt officials with their life savings, just to exit their country. Young women had to disguise themselves to avoid attention and rape. Many were taken by pirates to a life far worse than that they left behind, and permanently devastating those of their family members.

The present day boat arrivals fly to Indonesia in safety and comfort. They exit their countries properly and they hire a boat operator to sail to Christmas Island. All these things things are done under the nose of the authorities. There is nothing secretive about it. The move is not illicit, as perpetrators are treated as house guests. They just need to bide their time for their application to be processed. Meanwhile, just sit back and relax.

As I said, Australia does not have a people smuggling problem. We just have a problem of trying to accommodate too many house guests and we are running out of rooms. The only thing that puzzles me  is why do the asylum seekers bother to use a boat? Their asylum claim would have been processed the same way if they had flown into the country. And they would not have to stay on Christmas Island.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Beauty in simplicity

Sometimes I run out of inspiration when looking for things to shoot. At such times, I would be firing away at everything and shooting at nothing. I've really got to remind myself of a good tip I picked up at the VAPS Muster in Phillip Island last month. This guy who gave a talk on area photography is an editor of a local magazine. He showed some beautiful images that were very simple but effective compositions. For example, a closeup image of the water around a pier, with no beautiful sunset, but just swirling water.

This also reminds me of an article I read this morning on The Online Photographer. The writer says that nowadays with the zero cost of shooting additional images, we often lost sight of trying to capture something meaningful. We think nothing of firing away on the camera.

Here is one of the very few images I actually took on Phillip Island that is intended to capture something simple, rather than capturing a composition full of details.

Malay music broadcast in Australia

Years ago when I was a student in the US, it was a special treat to visit the Chinese grocery shop on rare occasions. The smell of familiar Chinese foodstuff and the sound of Chinese music was enough to trigger a bout of nostalgia. Nowadays in Melbourne I feel like I am in a Chinese community all the time, so the visit to the Chinese grocery shop has become not a treat but a daily routine.

Last night, however, it was a rare trip down memory lane to hear a long forgotten Malay/Indonesian song over the Melbourne airwaves. I happened to be tuned in to 3ZZZ on FM 92.30, at around 11pm (Sunday). It was actually a broadcast in Malay (not Indonesian). I was pleasantly surprised to hear the song "Mimpi Yang Sedih" being played, among other Malay songs.

If you want to listen to this delightful song once more, go to Youtube: . You'll love this!

And if you want to hear Bengawan Solo, click:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Scarcity of jobs in the US

It was reported this week that the unemployment rate in the US has reached 9.1% now. Only 54,000 jobs were created in May, one-quarter of what was reported in April, causing the stock market to take a dive.

What bothers me is that in the midst of its economic turmoil, local governments (in the U.S., that is) cut 28,000 jobs in May. In my opinion, this is not a good thing to do. The government is behaving like a profit-and-loss business corporation. It has forgotten its role as an overseer of the people's welfare. It was in a hurry before to rescue the banks and the stock market, which makes me wonder whether that is because the people in power are simply protecting their own interests in the banks and in the stock market. Why are they treating the country like they are running a private business, rather than taking care of the people's welfare? Or perhaps they are running their own private business out of the White House.

I believe that in bad times the government should be increasing the number of jobs in the civil service, while in good times it should do the opposite so as to free up skilled workers to go into the private sector. This it should do, even if it means cutting the salary of existing staff. Every abled-bodied young man and woman is entitled to a proper job. Anything short of that, the government has failed in its duty of care.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Portraits, anyone?

My daughter wanted me to take a portrait picture of her. I said OK; and then I thought why not invite others to come for a portrait session too? I could print some business cards for her to pass around. I thought I would give my studio a name. So I suggested a few. She told me she doesn't think my venture would go very far. Young people; what do they know?

(I thought these names sound cute. What do you think of "WYSIWYG", what-you-see-is-what-you-get? Or "The Plain Truth", to promote the completely honest approach of my style? Or "Let's Face It", to motivate those who are simply terrified of having their pictures taken? or "Face to Face", to appeal to the shy ones?)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

About politicians

Generally people seem to like having their picture taken with a politician. The higher up the politician is, the more treasured is the picture. I used to think that way too, but as I grow older, my disdain for politicians also grow. At least, for many of the present generation of pollies. Considering that many of them are outright liars who care more about winning and keeping their seats than about true public service, why should anyone be proud to be seen with them?

Take Wayne Swan for example. He claims that the economy is bouncing right back, immediately after reporting that Australia is having its sharpest quarterly decline in 20 years. He says household saving, at 11.5%, is at the highest level since the mid 1980's. From what I have heard, people ARE afraid to spend, in anticipation of bad times to come. He says our economy is set to grow by 4% in 2011-2012. I think he is intentionally misleading the public.

Julia Gillard is just as bad. She pledged not to introduce the carbon tax during the election, but look what she is doing now? She is also going to be remembered as the PM who created the hugely expensive NBN, which dwarfs even what the US has ever attempted to do for high speed internet connection.

Whatever happened to Premier John Brumby who always wanted to be a great statesman? He will be remembered for irrevocably committing Victorians to the possibly unnecessary desalination plant at Wonthaggi, at a whopping cost of $400 per year to every household (which of course will be squeezed out of your pocket one way or another). Brumby has completely disappeared from public scene now. I hardly think a great statesman can ever disappear from public life. Brumby proved me wrong; he did that in record time.

So would I care to have my picture taken with a politician? Perhaps only if he asks me nicely.