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?