Thursday, May 30, 2013

Best way to roast chestnut

I must say I feel pretty confident that I have finally cracked it (pun intended). After trying to roast chestnuts year after year, I think I have finally gotten it right. The shell and the skin comes off easily on more than 90% of the chestnuts I have roasted on the last three occasions this autumn season. Here is how to do it right.

Basically there are three things to consider: choosing the best chestnuts, making the right slit, and roasting at the right temperature and duration.

Buy fresh chestnuts. Cut open, the nut should not look dried or dark. It should look fresh and yellowish. I prefer not to get the giant chestnut as they are less tasty than the regular-sized ones.

Before roasting, you have to make a slit on the shell. Do not slit at the pointed end (I have tried and failed). Do not slit in the side (also tried and failed). Just make a slit across the bottom of the nut (this is the the key to success!). First, wash the nuts. Next, holding the flat side with your thumb, rest the nut on a chopping block. Then holding a sharp paring knife with the other hand, cut a slit across the bottom of the nut. Do this for all the nuts.

Preheat the oven to 210 deg C. Spread the nuts on a tray and roast for 20 min. The exact duration may very plus or minus a few minutes depending on your oven. Before taking out from the oven, check that the shell has started to crack open, revealing the beautiful edible part inside. When properly roasted, the shell should come off easily, along with the skin covering the edible part of the nut. If the skin does not come off easily, try roasting a bit longer.

The nuts are easiest to shell soon after removing from the oven. Do not wait for them to cool down. Try it and surprise yourself how easy it is to get it right.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden

The Dandenong Ranges are still full of unexplored sites for me. Take for example the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens. I have heard it being mentioned many times before, but I have never visited it until now. Bathed in the colourful splendour of autumn, this is simply a must-see place for any photographer. You have to be fit enough to make the almost one kilometer long steep walk down to the lake and back (which I still am, obviously). In the absence of other visitors, the isolation and serenity of the lake feels truly magical. Enjoy the pictures!

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Apple Store experience

I went to the Apple Store today with my wife. She was there to see if Apple can do something about certain software faults in her iPad that only surfaced recently. As I looked around the store, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable. Sure, there are many other customers in the shop, and all of them seemed to be promptly attended to by the almost-equal number of Apple staff. The store looks bright and the staff are friendly.

I pondered why I didn't have the same thrill as the other customers. I normally love to browse in a computer shop; but I didn't feel that way in the Apple Store. In a regular computer shop or in an electronics shop, I am surrounded by products from many different manufacturers. Every product will have more than one manufacturer vying hard for my equally hard-earned dollars. I am in control there and I decide what is best for me.

In the Apple Store, I felt like a dumb consumer. Apple decides what is best for me. I just have to utter what I want to do and Apple will do the rest to get me equipped. This is not a geek hang-out place; I felt that the only geeky-looking people are the Apple staff. Their clients are all seeming newbies in a high-tech arena. I must say I felt out of place. I wonder if the Apple staff are trained to talk to people at the client's level of competence, rather than assume everyone is a noob.

Perhaps the Apple Store is designed for the segment of the public that still feels phobic about using a computer or a handheld device. The Apple Store doesn't quite work for me. Give me a regular computer shop any time.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The cheapest good camera

According to a Bill of Materials report (re: IHS iSuppli Research, March 2012), the camera component of the iPad3 costs only US$12.35. On the iPad2, it costs even less; US$4.10. Of course, I am sure this only refers to the lens and sensor components. The other costs of the iPad3 : display ($87), touchscreen ($40), processor ($23), battery ($32), and so on. But my point is, it only costs $12.35 for Apple to include a really good camera in the iPad3. No doubt it also costs Samsung and others more or less the same amount to include a good camera into the tablet or smartphone.

As for the quality of the images taken by a high end smartphones (i.e. iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Sony Xperia, etc), they are now comparable to images taken by most point and shoot cameras. Image quality is no longer the differentiator. The web-publishing features and carry-anywhere convenience of a smartphone is what counterbalances the advantages of a faster turn-on time, longer battery life and the zoom lens in a P&S (point-and-shoot) camera. Even video shooting on a smartphone has caught up with the P&S world.

To underscore the coming of age of "iphoneography", the Australian Photographic Society is launching its inaugural Mobile Phone Photography Showcase in July 2013.

So if you ask me today what is the cheapest good camera to buy, I might tell you to look no further than to upgrade your smartphone or tablet. Or, if you are an Apple aficionado, your iPod, iPhone or iPad. The only caveat is, what is your image making goal?

Friday, May 17, 2013

The customer is always right: wrong!

Whoever came up with the maxim "The customer is always right" cannot be a very perceptive person. How can anyone always be right? We are all human and we all make mistakes, whether you are on this side of the cash register or on the other side. The silly notion that everyone must always give in to his customer should be dispelled once and for all. I have seen many "ugly"(as in character) customers who don't deserve to be served at all. Such customers are best served by self-checkout counters.

A CEO who imposes this maxim on his staff  is certainly out of touch with reality. As a result of this silly directive, his staff will have to endure abuse from the public.The public expects to get away with it, while the hapless staff gets berated for not providing "customer satisfaction". No, I do not agree at all that the customer is always right.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Notes to myself: Insights into black-and-white photography

The talk at the camera club tonight taught me what a novice I am at black-and-white photography. I realize that up until now all I know about making black and white images are just the methods and not the skill. (It is like learning to drive a car. You can learnt to operate a car in a few minutes. But it takes years of practice before you become good at it).

The speakers tonight are from the Ringwood Black-and-White Camera Club. They have been doing it since the film and darkroom days. Here are some useful tips I have picked up tonight. They are not all new or astounding, but I have gained a clearer insight.

1. We "see" images with our brain and not our eyes. The brain has an uncanny ability to just focus in on any subject and filter out everything else. B&W simply helps us to focus better than colour images on the artwork in an image. Colour distracts.

2, The eye has more green receptors than red or blue receptors. Also, in dim light, the black-and-white receptors are more effective than the colour receptors. Therefore in dim light we see things more or less in B&W. When an image is presented in B&W, our perception is heightened, just like when the light is dim, all our senses are in high alert. I don't know how true this is scientifically, but it makes sense.

3. Not all subjects lend themselves well to B&W. Rainbow, colourful flowers, and sunset are examples of what won't do well in B&W. As in colour images, a B&W photographer knows what type of shots to go after.

4. In B&W conversion, it is necessary to control the R, G, and B channels separately to bring out the contrast successfully. (Not sure if this is due to the fact our eyes have more green receptors than red or blue receptors). Just moving the contrast slider is not good enough. Also, make use of colour filters and dodge and burn tools to do selective toning.

5. A B&W image is better at evoking an emotion in the viewer. Therefore a successful B&W image is one that can evoke an emotion.

In summary, the beauty of B&W, done properly on a suitably chosen subject, can turn an ordinary image into a piece of art, just like some of the portrait images I saw tonight.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Autumn in the Dandenongs

My wife and I went for a drive up the Dandenongs today. The deciduous trees are simply ablaze with the colours of autumn.We made a number of stops as we drove. I managed to capture some pretty looking houses, accentuated no doubt by the colourful autumn foliage. The sky was constantly threatening to rain but fortunately it held on long enough for us to make the drive up there worthwhile.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Digital photo frame app

When the digital photo frame was first introduced about a decade ago, I really thought it was a great idea. It can continuously display a set of images, perhaps even accompanied by soft background music. It saves the trouble of making prints and hanging up pictures. Speaking as a photographer, I thought that was a must-have accessory. As it turns out, I have never found it compelling enough to buy one even as the prices keep coming down and the display quality keeps getting better.

Last night, while fiddling with my newly updated Android OS, I was intrigued enough to try out the in-built Picture Frame app on my Galaxy phone. It wasn't to my satisfaction. So I did a search on Google Play and installed the free Animated Photo Frame app. It has just the features I like:

o You can launch the widget and have it permanently displayed fully on a screen.
o While fully displayed, you can play it in slideshow mode or manually click to change.
o You can select and change albums anytime.
o You can shuffle the images to display.

Just a word of caution when you install this. You need to restart your Android once immediately after installation for the app to appear.

Now I can enjoy viewing my own photo gallery each time I take out my smartphone. I really don't need a regular digital photo frame to put on public display. This one is for my own personal enjoyment.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Blessed are the peacemakers

I was thinking over this today. Why are peacemakers called blessed? After all, peacemakers actually run into a lot of personal attacks while trying to get two opposing sides to see eye to eye. Peacemakers can be accused of taking sides. Or, they are accused of not really understanding the problem at hand. So what blessing is bestowed upon the peacemakers?

In the Bible, in Matthew 5:9, Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God". Jesus did not say the peacemakers shall receive this or that. In the other blessings, Jesus said "...theirs is the kingdom of heaven", "...they will be comforted, "...they will inherit the earth", "...they will be filled", "...they will be shown mercy", "..they will see God".

Peacemakers, on the other hand, will be called children of God. The reward of peacemakers is not something material or spiritual. It is a recognition that they are children of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Baby photo shoot

I did a photo shoot for some friends last week. This is my first attempt at "semi-pro" type of work and I am glad it turned out well. Here are my favourite shots of the day.

Baby and family friend

Baby surrounded by friends

Baby and Mum