We’ve been using at home the very office-capable Fuji Xerox M255z printer for more than a year now, and the unit has posed no issues. Of late though, I was tempted to get a personal laser printer to situate at my office. So, the list of possible candidates from Canon, Brother and Fuji got included in a spreadsheet and I started checking out the models in person at the usual electronic and computer accessory shops whenever we were out of home for dinner and outings and the like.

The search for an office laser printer however got a 180 degree change at the start of the week – and largely because we wanted photo printouts of our recent trip to Legoland Malaysia but kept procrastinating in getting them done at the usual photo printer shops, and I figured that that having a second laser printer would be convenient, but would not fundamentally add anything new to what I do at home and in the office. Hannah loves to look at pictures and photos, and I thought why not get something for the home that would enable us to print photos on demand.

I was initially looking at portable photo printers, and learned quickly that there wasn’t a lot of choices there. There was the Canon Selphy C910 that had an attractive price-point for the unit, convenient in usage and using reasonably-priced consumables – but offered only average quality photo prints, and also printed at slightly smaller than 4R sizes. There was also the Epson Picturemate PM245 that was widely appraised to offer better photo prints at the right 4R size, but also slightly more expensive, and harder to find, and let alone the consumables.

So, it was to be typical size inkjet photo printer, and preferably with duplex printing and scanning features. There’s a very large range of photo printers on sale from the major manufacturers which made arriving at the final decision tough. Duplex printing/scanning features weren’t the only considerations though, but also the availability of consumables, same manufacturer photo paper, and also ongoing costs. After a couple of days of exploration, the choices came down to:

Canon Pixma MX727: decently-priced at $259 with a $50 cashback, this printer is fairly short but has a large footprint, and supported duplex printing/scanning. Requires a number of ink cartridges that were fairly expensive. Interesting, one salesperson said that the MX727 is an old model and going to be phased out. Canon consumables are widely available though.

Canon Maxify MB5370: quite a bit more expensive at $459 with a $70 cashback but featuring real office-type functionality, including single pass duplex scanning. Fairly tall unit, using fewer ink cartridges of a different type than the Pixma series that seemed cheaper and also slightly more ink capacity too.

Brother MFC-J2720: average-priced at $368, pretty compact, duplex everywhere, average-priced ink cartridges that were available at stores, capable of printing A3 even. This was initially on the top of my list and I nearly decided on it – but stopped short when I couldn’t readily find manufacturer photo paper for it. Gaah.

Epson L550: average-priced at $359, and after nearly an hour of indecision, that’s what we settled on.

The Epson L550!

The Epson L550!

Why the L550 though? First comments after two evenings of setup and use to print 50+ photos on premium photo paper, and starting off with its limitations and what we didn’t like:

No duplex printing or scanning.

Primitive and ancient-looking 1980s monochrome LCD screen.

Somewhat old model from two years ago.

Does not support borderless printing, or rather, I haven’t found the setting for it. Ling doesn’t mind though and in fact prefers the prints with white borders.

Very slow printer setup. The ink took 20 minutes to initialize, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the excruciatingly slow software installation took another 30 minutes. Or maybe the installation got stuck somewhere without my realization.

Noisy. The L550 printing was like monkeys hammering away on conga drums. Laser printers aren’t noiseless of course, but I guess we’ve been spoiled by the M255z’s relatively silent operation.

And on the other hand:

Stunningly beautiful photo prints, especially at the highest quality settings and using Epson’s best photo paper. Ling took one look at our first A4 photo printouts of Hannah and Peter, and said “Worth every cent!”

Three of our first A4 photo printers. Beautifully rendered colors that look very professionally printed,

Three of our first A4-sized photos. Beautifully rendered colors that look professionally printed.

Very cheap ink. Epson has come up with a clever ink tank system that not only requires just 3 colors (apart from Black), but is refillable at extremely low cost. The printer came bundled with a complete set of fully-filled inks each costing about S$10 for about 70ml volume, and two additional black bottles even – and between them are rated to churn between 4,000-6,000 color pages. That’s cheap ink and able to print a crazy amount of material. In fact, I seriously doubt that we’d ever need to buy ink anymore – the printer will probably die out first LOL.

Cyan ink cartridge. $9.90 and 70ml volume. Cheap!

Cyan ink cartridge. $9.90 and 70ml volume. Cheap!

Recommend that you peel off the protective sticker in a single (slow) motion, unless you want ink on your fingers!

Recommend that you peel off the protective seal in a single (slow) motion, unless you want ink on your fingers!

Affordable manufacturer 4R photo papers. A stack of 30 Premium Semigloss (251g/m²) costs $7.30 and is available at most places – which works out to a competitive price of about 24 cents per print. The A4 photo papers are a little harder to find, so I’ll have to snap them up when I do find them!

A couple of niggling albeit minor issues too that I’ve developed workarounds.

Photoshop Elements/printer driver doesn’t properly switch between landscape and portrait picture orientations. A batch print job comprising a mix of both resulted in printing errors. The temporary workaround was to reset print area whenever switching between orientations.

Out of the 50+ prints I churned out, one print job canceled on its own, ejected the half-printed photo, then re-did the print one more time. Weird.

All, in – this looks like a great purchase, and Hannah is already getting her favorite pictures printed for her own personal 4R photo album that she can bring around to show off.:)

The third and last in our series of posts on our short sojourn to Legoland last week! Comments in no particular order of significance:

There are two Lego-themed parks in the vicinity – the main theme park, and a waterpark – with the Hotel sitting snugly in-between the two. Both are within easy walking distance of just 2-3 minutes and are flat or with slight inclines, so strollers/prams are just fine to bring the little ones.

We checked out the main theme park on a Monday, and the waterpark on Tuesday, and going past entrances shortly after they opened at 1000 hrs. Off-peak season too for the normal Malaysian visitors, as their school holidays had just ended. The main theme park was relatively sparse of people and only became somewhat more crowded past mid-day. The waterpark got crowded quicker, and there were lots of people milling about by late morning.

The main theme park is significantly larger than the waterpark (which is quite compact). Depending on whether you’re doing repeated rides and the number of visitors, we think about a 6 hour stay will let you cover at least 70% of the park and once on each of its rides. The waterpark – slightly less. About 4 hours will cover it.

Several of the rides in both parks have a minimal age for admission, no matter whether there’s an accompanying parent or not. Peter for instance was admitted into a boat with Ling at the Boating School but not the rollercoaster rides. The Junior Riding School has an age requirement of three years and older too.

Brief comments on each of the rides we tried out too in the main theme park: Technic Twister, Merlin’s Challenge, Lego City Airport – easy rides though not for those subject to vertigo. Aquazone Wave Racers – easy ride though prepare to get drenched. Dragon’s Apprentice – relatively mild and short rollercoaster which should be fine for most people who are able to handle rollercoasters. Boating School, Observation Tower – easy even for two year olds. Junior Riding School – age requirement, but otherwise fun and easy. Rescue Academy – fine for kids and parents, though not for Peter as there’s physical activity involved.

Some visitor reviews of the main theme park note the lack of trees to provide shade and the like. Things have improved in this regard during our visit; the areas showing scale models of famous landmarks is still rather bereft of shade, but the rest of the park is fine with trees about, and also sheltered places to hide if need be.

The wave pool at the Waterpark. The gently bobbing waves make for lots of fun, though the pool is also quite popular and can get crowded.

The wave pool at the Waterpark. The gently bobbing waves make for lots of fun, though the pool is also quite popular and can get crowded.

Boating school. Safe for two years old accompanied by parents too.

Boating school. Safe for two years old accompanied by parents too.

Miniature train ride. This one runs on a small circuit sitting inside a large tent.

Miniature train ride. This one runs on a small circuit sitting inside a large tent.

The Lego scale models are very neatly done up and provide lots of opportunities for zoomed in pictures.

The Lego scale models are very neatly done up and provide lots of opportunities for zoomed in pictures.

 

Lots of little annoyances to note – none of which are deal breakers and we could get by them or simply adjusted our expectations. Here’s the list:

In-room WIFI is account-based (login ID and password are on the TV screen), complimentary but also excruciatingly slow. It’ll still be tolerable for email and light web-browsing, but not for heavy duty work or web-gaming. Might be a good thing though, since you now have a good reason not to follow-up on work emails!

The king-size bed is wide but also somewhat short in depth. Asians like ourselves will be fine, but if you’re a tall Ang Mo visitor, your legs might be sticking past the edge of the bed.

The user-interface overlay for the televisions is pretty and informative, but also resulting in obviously lagging navigation from menu to menu. In fact, it’s bad enough to dread changing TV channels!

The hotel is relatively new but it’s already starting to show wear and tear, on account I’m assuming because of heavy use by visitors to the Theme Park, and also maintenance that’s not keeping up. The window edge carpeting in our room was damped on our last morning, and we suspected it was due to inadequate window sealing. Small parts of the room showed wear and tear (e.g. stains on the walls), and our bedsheet on one morning showed large stain spots even after house keeping had supposedly cleaned up.

The water pressure in our showerhead was awfully low, and it took us – even the kids – at least twice as long just to get clean. We didn’t bother with calling for someone to come look at it as we figured it’s a common enough problem in many hotels.

Bring your own toiletries too. The hotel only provides the bare minimal.

There are lots of things for kids to do and get engaged in, but not for adults. Not the Hotel’s fault of course, but you’ll need to moderate your expectations.

The hotel’s main restaurant – Bricks Family Restaurant – is the venue for its included breakfast. Probably due in part because of the number of hotel guests and also that most families would time their breakfast to finish just before the Parks’ opening hours meant that the restaurant got really crowded between 0900 to 0945 hrs everyday. The restaurant felt like a school tuckshop, with the restaurant reception having to use loudhailers to direct visitor traffic. The breakfast buffet offerings were adequate for kids (or rather as they’re not discerning enough to tell quality) but adults might wince! A check on Tripadvisor reveals a lot of unhappiness over the quality of food in this restaurant and also its general organization. To be fair, our experience wasn’t quite as bad. There’s enough food to go around and queues are for the most part either short or non-existent – probably because most of the buffet items were not cooked on the spot, and patrons during our visit were for the most part abiding by basic courtesies of not queue-cutting and minimal shoving. But the food quality really isn’t there.

The hotel’s fairly late check-in at 1600 hrs and early check-out at 1100 hrs policies don’t sync well with the Park’s opening hours, and makes it hard for travelers to arrive at the hotel, check-in, and head out to visit the park right away.

Hotel staff service standards are generally adequate (e.g. knowledgable) but not particularly friendly or warm.

Most seriously though is the price of the stay. For what one is paying, you’re really expecting much better all-round standards, especially the included breakfast spreads, and room luxuries and amenities.

Last post in the series on our notes and recommendations for future trips to the Park, and hotel if ever!

 

After the tough trip to Koh Phangan with Peter last year in December 2014, we resolved to try some place closer to home for our short June vacation – and something that didn’t involve traveling by air. The usual suspects were considered – including staycations and immediately offshore islands in Malaysia and Indonesia, before we finally settled in for a 4D3N trip to Legoland Malaysia.

Planning for it was pretty easy: the Legoland Hotel offered bundled deals for entrance into the two theme parks themselves, and the place is just a short 10 minute drive from the Tuas Checkpoint. The outbound trip took to the Park/Hotel took a little longer than we thought – largely on account that we spent 30 minutes in the queue at the Malaysian customs (we left on a Sunday afternoon, forgetting that it was also the last day of the Malaysia school holidays with lots of vehicles returning up North), while the return clearance was very quick through both checkpoints.

Many Singapore families with young kids have already been to Legoland Malaysia and we’re kinda late to the party. So, we’re not sure if what we’re gonna say about the place and the hotel is going to add anything new to the volume of opinion and knowledge about the trip, but here it goes anyway. We’ll do a review of the Legoland Hotel in two parts.

Firstly; the stuff that went well.

Driving from Tuas Checkpoint up north to Legoland was an extremely easy drive, and had less traffic on the highway than a typical low-peak day on Singapore expressways. Even if you don’t have a GPS equipped car or Google Maps, there are road signs that will direct you. Right after the Malaysia checkpoint is the toll-booth. If you don’t have a Touch n’ Go card, take the left lane and buy one at the manned counter. It took just about 10 minutes drive from the MY checkpoint to get to the Hotel.

Hotel carpark: two levels, brightly lit, and watched by security too. On the last day morning, I ferried luggage separately to our parked vehicle, and could feel the security guards watching me from their guard post.

Check-in at about 1545 hrs was smooth. That said, it wasn’t as quick as some of the luxury stays we’ve had even though there was no one ahead of us in the queue. There is a play area right beside the Hotel Reception, so the kids didn’t mind. There was a longer queue on the check-out morning, but a hotel staff saw that I wasn’t arriving, and pulled me out of the queue to do a separate out-processing.

We had a Premium Adventure room on the second level, and even though it sounds small at 36sqm, the room can comfortably sleep five persons. The room has two separate areas connected by a sliding door; one room faced the Theme Park and had a king-size bed, and the other room had a bunk bed with an additional pull-out bed that could sleep three persons. Both rooms have TVs too. The TVs have their own overlaying user-interface that shows hotel information, including weather, amenities, admissions and the like. The wallpaper make for a very cheerful ambiance and we enjoyed lounging around in the room.

The name of the Hotel made up of Lego bricks.

The name of the Hotel made up of Lego bricks.


King-size bed in the private room.

King-size bed in the private room.


The room came with a tub of bricks for the kids to play.

The room came with a tub of bricks for the kids to play.

The room has lots of Lego-styled amenities that excited Hannah. The treasure hunt within the room (clues on the room wallpaper!) leads to a number combination code that will unlock a floor-chest, and the payout is a little bag of Lego bricks. If you get stumped on the hunt, give Reception a call and they’ll reveal the combination code to you.:)

Air-conditioning was on over-drive for both rooms, and we had problems fine-adjusting the temperature even. Oh well – better cold than warm!

The room had a fridge but no chargeable snack/drink items – a good idea I think; otherwise kids are likely to just raid every snack about and the parents have to pay for them! The four mineral water bottles (replenished everyday), scented teas and all-in-one coffee sticks are all complimentary.

The ground floor – where the Reception and Concierge are – also has play areas for kids. Including a castle and pirate ship set pieces, tons of both plastic lego bricks and also rubbery type ones, a small Lego souvenir shop, and an area for dancing games. Hannah and Peter loved these hangout places, and we allowed them almost free reign of the area after meals on most days.

Ground floor play area. Several kids built a small house even!

Ground floor play area. Several kids built a small house even!


Face-off. Our girl turned and ran in fear LOL.

Face-off. Our girl turned and ran in fear LOL.


Hannah is in the front row, and joined by a mass of kids!

Hannah is in the front row, and joined by a mass of kids!

There’s a small pool on level five with a scenic view of the general area, and the pool is watched by lifeguards too. The pool seemed a little small for the typical volume of hotel guests and was crowded in the afternoon we checked it out, and we didn’t return again to it.

Next post – on the things that didn’t work as well!

 

Beef stew slow roasted italian 4 blogOf all the beef stew recipes I have tried over the past few years, none of them consistently results in moist, tender beef with a reasonably full-bodied broth.

I tried using both chuck tender cuts and stew meat cuts for the stew. Results were hit-or-miss kinda thing and most of the time I  ended up serving dry meats. I almost wanted to give up until I chanced upon a lovely food blog which featured their Italian beef stew.

Although red wine is found in the recipe, using red grape juice as substitute can still produces a yummy stew that is worthy to be served to guests. Yang is a teetotaler and I don’t drink wine as a beverage at home. Hence, not having to add wine to the stew is a big plus.

Now, the recipe still uses chuck tender cuts and I decided to try out a different cut, shin of beef, after reading up on Delia’s recommendation based on her mom’s recipe and knowing my MIL’s preferred cut for her Chinese-styled beef soup. So, gotta listen to your mothers. LOL :)

Finally, I’m so glad to see that tomatoes have no place in the broth. Me thinks the taste of tomato complicates the taste of a hearty beef stew.

At last, moist, tender beef cubes in delicious broth! Ahhh, my search has come to an end. I have a beef stew which I could call my own and feel like a great cook whenever this dish is served.

Credits must go to Donna and Chad from The Slow Roasted Italian for sharing the recipe with the world. :D Below is the recipe modified to suit our family’s tastebuds. It’s a perfect one-dish meal served with steamed white Jasmine rice.

Ingredients (serves 2 adults & 2 toddlers)
• 450 g beef shin – trim fats, sinews/silvery white outer layer, cut into 1.5” cubes
• 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp paprika
• ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
• 1 tsp salt, divided (to taste)
• 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp unsalted butter
• 1 shallot, diced
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 cups home-cooked chicken stock (unsalted)
• 1/2 cup red grape juice
• 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
• ½ tsp dried Italian herbs seasoning (I think this is important to the overall taste)
• 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks (becos’ there’s a rabbit in Yang. JK. Seriously, forget about potatoes. Carrots complement this dish better.)
• fresh parsley to garish, optional

Method
1. Trim hard fat (which does not melt during the cooking process) and silver skin (white and silvery looking) from beef shin and cut into 1.5″ cubes. It takes about 5 minutes, but don’t skip this step. It is so worth it.

2. Combine flour, paprika, pepper and ½ tsp salt in a medium ziplock bag. Seal and shake to combine. Add beef and shake until well coated.

3. Warm olive oil in a French oven over medium low heat (to avoid burnt meat), once you can feel warmth when holding your hand 6 inches from the pot, add butter.

4. Once butter has melted, remove beef from flour and shake gently to remove loose flour. Place coated beef in the French oven, one piece at a time and then brown on all sides. Cook in two batches. Turn pieces until all sides are browned and remove them and set aside in a bowl. Once the first batch is cooked, add the second batch and repeat. Remember, watch the heat. Don’t let the meat burn as the French oven can heat up quickly.

5. Meanwhile, prepare shallot and garlic. Shallot should be diced and garlic minced. Set aside.

6. Once all beef is browned and removed, add shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add grape juice and deglaze by scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the oven. Add chicken stock, Worchestershire and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine. Return beef to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and cover. Allow soup to simmer for 1.5 hours.

7. Meanwhile, prepare carrots and set aside.

8. After about 1.5 hr of simmering, add carrots. Stir to coat vegetables and cover. Cook for another 30 minutes or until carrots are fork tender. Taste broth. If necessary, add additional salt to taste (mine needed ½ tsp).

About done :D

About done :D

9. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. Serve hot with steamed white Jasmine rice. Bon appétit! :D

Tuck in!

Tuck in!

p.s. French oven is preferred for its even heat distribution.

It’s just past a full year since our Minton renovation project ended, and I thought it’d be fun to do a retrospective review of how the new home has been since it’s now lived-in for a year. Most things and design decisions have worked very well – surprisingly! – but there’s been a couple of others that with the benefit of hindsight, haven’t worked as well. Long post, so split into a couple of parts – and starting off with the things that have worked well.

Fans: One big difference between our old Rivervale home against our Minton place now is in our type of fans. Our current place is already a little more airy than the Rivervale one – though this is also seasonal – but after the frequent tripping over of electrical cables lying about on the floor from standing fans in our old home, we went all-out for ceiling fans in the Minton a year ago. The Crestar fans in the Living, Master and Children’s rooms are still working as well as they did when first installed and providing plenty of air circulation. The Fanco 36″ in the Workroom remains under-powered – a mistake in choice back then that’s necessitate turning on the air-conditioning a little more frequently there just to keep things comfortable in the room. The fans do occasionally make a bit more din when our part-time cleaners clean the fan-blades, but they’re not causing enough ruckus at this point to bother us – thankfully!

Clotheslines: A year ago we were wondering if this was way-overkill to install eight ceiling clotheslines in the yard balcony on top of the clothes rack we got from Ikea, but they have turned out to be tremendously useful, given the amount of laundry we do. We also realized how lucky we were to have purchased a unit with a yard balcony of decent length which could be our dedicated laundry area.

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines - not counting the

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines – not counting the rack below it.

Work Room Tables: This was another risky design requirement we made last year – how and if we should squeeze 3 of us in a room to do actual work. At the moment, the configuration has worked well enough, and we removed the rollers on our work room chairs too so there’s no chance of chairs slamming into each other. Hannah also seems versatile enough to do her homework anywhere in the house.

Invisible Grills: The grills have also been as they were a year ago; the cables still seem tense, and no signs of rust (yet?) too. We did hear of a neighbor going with the same grill vendor who didn’t have as much luck though – the grills showed signs of corrosion. The one gripe we have is pretty minor – the plastic caps to cover holes along the grill frames have been dropping off, like this:

Cap gone - duh.

Cap gone – duh.

Solar Film: Food for thought though: whether Films are of any real perceptible benefit might come down to whether you’ve experienced the house without Solar Films installed first. We did for a couple of months last year and can say with certainty that the Films will help. That said, we were never under any illusions that the films all around the house were gonna turn an apartment experiencing afternoon heat into a chilled igloo. At this time of the year now, the afternoon sun is shining directly into the wide part of the house, heating up the children’s bedroom (below), the workroom and to a lesser degree, the Master room. The films do help by bringing the general temperature a couple of degrees down – though it’s still not enough to make the rooms bearable for working and living in the afternoon heat without turning on additional air-conditioning.

The children's room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

The children’s room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

Front Balcony: We had grand and lofty ideas about how to use the fairly large front balcony space before moving in – and that included a general lounging around area and also children’s play area. But given the general humidity of the island in general, the Front Balcony has turned into our little stretch of green for Ling’s plants, and also for drying items that need direct sunlight (the yard balcony where the laundry normally goes does not experience direct sunlight for the most part).

Multi-function balcony LOL.

Multi-function balcony LOL.

More notes in the next post, soon.:)

We’ve been driving our new ride for almost a month now, and not surprisingly, we’ve learned to live with some of the little issues that we found annoying earlier on – and a couple other things that we didn’t notice earlier on are now only surfacing! In no particular order:

Auto-sensing screen wipers: seem quite intelligent… but only when the sensors are actually working! We noticed on a couple of occasions that the sensors didn’t detect a downpour, requiring us to toggle the auto screen wipers back to manual on/off. Weird

Proximity auto-locking: same thing too. Most occasions the car’s auto-locking will kick in, sometimes so promptly when we’re just a meter away from the car. But like the screen wipers, the sensing seems temperamental, so much so that we’ve decided not to rely on proximity auto-locking and now manually just lock the car doors when we’re out of the vehicle. The auto-retracing side-view mirrors remain very useful though – they serve as an immediate visual indicator that the car is indeed secure. We lost count of the times we asked each other “Dear, did you lock the car…?”

Active Driving Display: still super useful!

MP3s off the flashdrive: still working well enough, though the player funnily resets the playlist occasionally without us knowing why.

iStop: something we thought would be really annoying – but we’ve learned to live with it. The jolt the car experiences when it quick-starts the engine when we’re driving off from stoppage can still be felt, but it’s like the car mildly sneezing. Cute even LOL.

Car all-round visibility: still trying to get used to it! Still making us a little nervous that we’re giving our left wheels sufficient clearance.

Funnily too, we’re barely reaching the reported fuel consumption that other Mazda 3 users are getting. We’re getting about 9.3 liters/100km mileage while other drivers are expending 8 liters for the same distance. Might be to do with our driving styles, or that the roads we drive on to/fro work and home aren’t expressways.

 

We collected our new ride yesterday afternoon. Not that we’re ultimately fussed over these things, but it was quite a different experience at the Mazda showroom compared to the Nissan one 8 years ago. We were ushered into a large private room at Eurokars – Mazda’s Authorized Distributor – with the new car waiting. Our customer executive who sold us the car took a picture with us posing with the new vehicle and had it printed and photo-framed, then walked us through each feature, followed by the final paperwork for car registrations, and warranty policies and the like. So yep, that little feeling of class and care at Eurokars for a six digit purchase that was oddly absent from Nissan / Tan Chong Motors experience back then, though all things on balance, we liked the Nissan customer executive even more.:)

The wife gets dibs on the first drive-out,.

The wife gets dibs on the first drive-out,.

Both have us have taken short drives on the new ride, and the initial observations:

The car feels (actually factually is too) a lot heavier. We’ve not had a lot of recent experience on continental-styled cars, but the Latio in comparison felt nimble, light, and almost occasionally unnerving when we do a hard turn. The Mazda is rock steady – especially evident when making turns and going up and down humps.

Both kids eased into the new car readily. Peter didn’t wail, and in minutes, was babbling to himself again – which is a sure sign that he’s happy.

Hannah was especially excited over the sunroof, and was nearly over the moon when I casually mentioned that the vehicle’s entertainment system should be able to screen Tom & Jerry cartoons!

Many of the features are really nifty and actually useful. Like the super-cool HUD-like Active Driving Display which makes it much easier to check your current vehicle speed, the driver console to control the media system, dual air-con adjusters, USB charging, auto-sensing window wipers, auto-retracting side-view mirrors, headlights, and proximity-based auto-locking. A few other features are less useful or just stuff we won’t use very much – like the Bluetooth connections to handphones for messaging, but are still nice to haves.

This sort of thing is normal in modern cars today – but I cannot sufficiently emphasize how grateful I am to finally have a ride which can play MP3 music off a USB thumbdrive. No more CD switcheroos. I can finally put to use that 64GB thumbdrive jam-packed with about 900 hours of music. Happy day! :)

On the other hand:

We miss a couple of things from the Latio, and its absence only now reinforces how much we took it for granted in the old car. Especially the foot-brake. Greatest vehicle invention ever, and sadly not in the Mazda 3.

The iStop – which basically kills the engine at temporary stoppage and gets it ready for quick start again – is intended to help the car be more fuel efficient, but we’re worried if it’s going to impose wear/tear on the car engine. And that little jolt when the car auto restarts will take getting use to. Ling already wants to permanently disable iStop, but from what I know from checking around, that’s not possible.

General space for rear-seat passengers is indeed more compact and limited than the Latio. Not that our kids mind at the moment, but they might when they get older and bigger.

Brake and acceleration pedals are pretty stiff and require more pressure before they register input. Hopefully they will loosen up over time.

Seemingly fewer but also smaller storage compartments. The Latio had a lot of storage compartments (e.g. passenger and driver side) and the key ones were cavernous! We could chuck books, maps, bottles and the like in the side-storages – but we couldn’t find similar equivalents for the Mazda 3 at this moment.

The car doesn’t provide the driver as much easy visibility all-round. One thing we really appreciated on the Latio was large windows, which really helped in checking for blind spots. The Mazda 3 in comparison feels more enclosed and walled off, and in part because of the chassis, provides less easy visual cues for drivers just at the edges of our peripheral vision. Case in point. We were gingerly making turns in and out of carparks in part of course due to the car being longer and wider than the Latio, but also because we couldn’t see for certain out of the windows how much clearance the car wheels had against kerbs and walls.

I banged my head coming out of the car – twice now LOL. The door frame is smaller, and will require getting use to.

And finally; Hannah did a drawing after she had her first ride. She’s making it abundantly clear who the car belongs to.:)

Close enough visual representation of the Mazda 3 - except for the rear antenna.:)

Close enough visual representation of the Mazda 3 – except for the rear antenna.:)

Another two months have gone past since I did a post of our kids! Work has kept both of us pretty busy, and activities at home have mostly settled into a tidy routine. Hannah is just as chirpy as ever, and now takes weekly swimming lessons at her school and was ‘promoted’ to the next level at her ballet class with corresponding changes to class timings on the weekend too.

Peter though is still a huge handful, and is showing inclinations to throw tantrums (basically bawling) when he doesn’t get his way. We’ve been starting to discipline him – or actually slightly more so from the daddy than mommy – but it sure is a battle of wills, and he’s still not at the age where he recognizes that he can’t always get his way. Sigh. Ling was wondering if her consumption of coffee during Peter’s pregnancy has anything to do with him being more hyper and emo, compared to his easy-going and affable big sister. When she was carrying Hannah, she went with all the old wife tales and cautions about not consuming certain types of foods, but with Peter, it was no holds barred LOL.

Peter has learned how to handle eating utensils.

Peter has learned how to handle eating utensils.

I've been finding games where the two of them can play together. One such first moments.

I’ve been finding games where the two of them can play together. One such first moments.

Hannah showing how she does her Chinese homework - with one leg up!

Hannah showing how she does her Chinese homework – with one leg up!

Peter making faces. Is that one of horror, or grimace?

Peter making faces. Is that one of horror, or grimace?

There's a small kid's animal zoo near Jalan Kayu that we swung by over the weekend. Hannah is deciding whom among the three gets the last bird seed, while Peter seemed unnerved!

There’s a small kid’s animal zoo near Jalan Kayu that we swung by over the weekend. Hannah is deciding whom among the three gets the last bird seed, while Peter seemed unnerved!

Hannah making new friends.

Hannah making new friends.

On the toys and gadgets on the home-front. Oddly, the Macbook Pro that spectacularly failed early this year resulting in the purchase of two laptops decided to work properly again. Now between us we’ve got five personal laptops. Oh well. Plenty of second hand equipment to foist onto Hannah when she starts schooling and needing to use computers. The Panasonic LX100 has been serving us wonderfully well too, and alongside the Nissin i40 pocket flashgun, has pretty much taken over photographic duties from the full m4/3s cameras. Center sharpness for most images remain an issue, and subject isolation is less attractive than the primes I’ve been shooting with before picking up the LX100, but it sure is a lot more versatile and portable than carrying two camera bodies fitted with primes.

We’ll also be picking up our new ride in a few days’ time. More to come on that soon.:)

The decision in our new car project 2015 to replace our 8 year Nissan Latio came down to either the Toyota Corolla Altis Elegance, or the Mazda 3 Sedan Deluxe. While the Kia Forte K3 really had some nifty and unique features, we finally decided not to risk a South-Korean designed and built car. Possibly we were overly conservative since many reviewers note that the South Koreans have really caught up with the Japanese. The Nissan Sylphy that we liked a lot several days ago was a third choice, but for just a bit more, we could be considering alternatives that were better regarded along general vehicle reliabilities. Interestingly too, Nissan cars seem to fare badly in overall reliabilities, going with Consumer Reports, though our Latio didn’t give us issues during its 8 year span.

The toss-up between the Altis and Mazda 3 was very close. There was marginal difference in their overall packaged prices (just S$200) and apart from slight differences in performance, horsepower and rated fuel consumption, both otherwise had almost identical feature sets – with the feature differences between them nice to haves but not especially consequential (e.g. how doors are locked – by proximity or car movement). The decision was finally based largely on the country of manufacturing – Japan or Thailand. Many consumer level sedans are now manufactured in the latter, and there’s nothing to say that a vehicle made in Thailand will be less reliable than one made in Japan. The item could be manufactured in China and still be fabulous as long as there’s good quality control. But we were thinking of potential resale value down the road, and in this regards, we figured Japan-made vehicles might have the advantage. A quick check online among Singaporean car owners also showed favor for the Mazda 3. So, it was to be a Mazda to replace our Nissan.

The Mazda showroom was pretty crowded in our return visit though, and this part of the island was experiencing an uncharacteristic heavy early evening downpour. The salesperson who’d worked out a package for us during our noon-time visit was busy with other customers. We ended up waiting for more than an hour, and well past the showroom’s normal closing hours of 1800 hrs before we were served. It must had also been our salesperson’s lucky day, as ours was the third deal he closed today.

The Mazda 3 got Hannah's approval!

The Mazda 3 got Hannah’s approval!

Peter like a boss with his calculator. "No sir; I don't think you can afford this SUV. Can I interest you in a cheaper family sedan?"

Peter like a boss with his calculator. “No sir; I don’t think you can afford this SUV. Can I interest you in a cheaper family sedan?”

Lots of people were checking out the Mazda 3, so it wasn't easy trying to get a photo of this lovely without people in the backdrop.

Lots of people were checking out the Mazda 3, so it wasn’t easy trying to get a photo of this lovely without people in the backdrop.

This will be our first car with modern amenities - like GPS-enabled navigation, and info-entertainment decks.

This will be our first car with modern amenities – like GPS-enabled navigation, and info-entertainment decks.

We wouldn’t have bought the car without Hannah’s approval of course. She sat in for today’s test drives – alongside Peter who was too perplexed by the new surroundings – and at the end of each, we asked her for her opinion. She didn’t like the Altis for some reason that she couldn’t explained. As for the Mazda 3, at the end of the test drive, the very astute salesperson showed her the retractable sunroof – Hannah was sold on the spot.