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: .