July, 2008

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Bye Bye KM5D

The first digital camera I owned was a Canon S10, a compact camera I picked up in 1999 at a crazily expensive cost of $1.5K (ouch). That was followed by a better prouser digicam, the Minolta DiMAGE 7 in 2002 with an uber optical 7X zoom.

The S10 took OK pictures but had a short battery life of around a few dozen pictures (!). The DiMAGE 7 was a great camera with a 250mm focal length reach, but battery use was flaky. A fresh set of NiMH batteries could either last me for 300, or 10 shots depending on the camera’s mood for the day. In 2004, there was also a pocket Nikon Coolpix 2200 that Ling put into her handbag to take all those foodie pictures you see in this blog. The Nikon camera completely died last year – RIP.

I finally got it right with the fourth digicam in 2006, the Konica-Minolta Maxxum 5D, which incidentally was also my first DSLR. It was a terrifically reliable camera with great controls, feel, and light weight too. Ok so the camera shutter made a huge racket whenever I triggered a shot but all that whirling sounds when I powered it on to the kit 18-70mm lens’ focusing noise was sort of reassuring. The camera accompanied us on a few trips overseas too, including our Honeymoon in South-Korea, then to Pulau Medang, and to Pulau Rawa. All of the early aquarium photographs were taken using this camera too.

The KM5D hasn’t seen much use since I picked up the D300 in April this year, and it was taking up some space in the dry cabinet too. So I finally sold it away this week for about a third of the price I paid for it. Yep great bargain. It was sold with some mild sadness, but I’ll have plenty of fond memories and the pictures this great companion made possible.:)

Citius, Altius, Fortius

Faster, higher, stronger—or so the Olympic Games motto goes.

It doesn’t feel so long ago when I wrote an entry here about the 2004 Summer Olympic games in Athens. This was during my doctoral program in Perth, and I followed the games semi-closely, rooting for the Australian swimming, American basketball and for the Singaporean teams that weren’t too dominated by foreign sporting talents-turned citizens (sorry it’s a bit of a nationalistic thing for me). There were quite a few fiascoes in that event, e.g. Paul Hamm’s gold award, all the dope scandals, and the anti-American-everything sentiment that seemed everywhere in the competition.

Is it going to be any different this time? Well, the rabid anti-American sentiment seems to have diminished ever so slightly in the last couple of months. Moreover, unlike the last time round Bush isn’t running for re-election this time. Rather, a genuinely likable Black American candidate is in it facing off an experienced old hat in foreign diplomacy.

But then again, knowing how nationalistic is the host nation, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that when the gold tallies get close, tempers will fly, accusations will shoot and rivalries will turn ugly. In fact, less than a fortnight before the games begin, there are already mutterings about whether a couple of Chinese gymnasts poised to bag a couple of gold medals are really as old as official documents state. And anyone remembers all that stuff about Steven Spielberg refusing to get involved in the opening ceremony?

And let’s not forget that with the world’s oldest sporting competition drawing millions of spectators, visitors and dignitaries, the local terrorist organizations want their share of media time too. Never mind that these fellows aren’t as famous as their Al-Qaeda brethren now fighting it out with NATO along the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Yep sirree. It’s gonna be an interesting tournament. I don’t think the scandals are gonna be avoidable, but here’s to hoping at least that the bad guys i.e. terorrists stay far, far away. For if they were to embarass the Chinese by staging an attack on their very home and right when they’re proudly hosting a big event like this, I imagine the Chinese will muster all their power, might, and million-person army to crush them into very, very fine powder.

Standard Obstacle Course

The SOC was the most ‘feared’ activity when I was doing my national service 18 years ago. In fact, I was so terrifically bad at the course during boot camp that I failed the course each practice run (and got myself viciously knocked on the head each time by my boot camp instructors), only passing it on the very last few days of Basic Military Training.

Either way, after I was posted into a combat unit half a year later after completing my vocation training, I resolved to train on my own. So, whenever I could in the early evenings when the rest of my bunkmates were having night-outs, I’d stay in and run the course on my own. In retrospect, that sort of stunt was dangerous, since Training Safety Regulations even back then forbade any soldier from attempting the course without proper supervision—the course is one common source of injuries—but I was so fixated with passing the damn thing I didn’t care about very much else.

In any case, 18 years after the fact I’m now older, fatter and weaker. I gave up and sold my Benro A-250EX tripod as the D300 + Sigma 150mm macro + SB-600 setup came perilously close to toppling when mounted onto the thing. A Gitzo, the Mother of All Tripods that one of our smallgroup friend owns (*envy*) was out of the question as it was awfully expensive for the height, usable load and horizontal column configuration I wanted for macro photography. So, I chose the next best; a Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 tripod with a 488RC2 ballhead. It’s also made of carbon fiber which is lighter than aluminum equivalents, but this model is a little longer as it had to meet my eye-level. So, now the entire set up weighs about 2 kg i.e. lighter than the M16 rifle with kevlar helmet, pouches and everything else you carry when running the course, but still.

I was looking around for a suitable tripod bag or strap (the Manfrotto didn’t come with either), and stumbled across a useful read about how people carry tripods. One of the photos on the site is quite a unique way of carrying a tripod, and aptly called “The Swashbuckler”. Now that gave me a chuckle!

Check out the picture on the right here; it comes from the article on that site. The writer for the site has an RSS feed where he posts really good articles on photographic and CS3 tips too, and it’s well-worth bookmarking.

In any case, I don’t think this method of carrying would suit me. The tripod + folded ballhead measures 67 cm from head to toe, and the damn thing would be knocking against my ankles.

So, it’s likely gonna be a Thinktank Bazooka bag assuming if I can’t find anything cheaper. The Bazooka bag looks uber cool, and a couple of people taking pictures in public areas have even been stopped by security thinking those cases are actually rocket launchers or something. :)

Animal rituals

If this following entry offends, I apologize. It’s really intended to be a humorous take on the sort of things we’ve only up till this point seen on animal documentaries. Specifically, and depending on your point of view, the both of us have been either terrifically unlucky, or lucky, to have witnessed animal rituals of the mating kind right before us.:)

The first occasion occurred on our very first day at Phuket. We’d just checked into our suite in the late afternoon, taken a number of pictures of the suite in pristine condition (before we mess it up) and rested a bit. We decided then to head down to Surin beach that was about 150 metres away from Ayara Hilltops to take a look. The beach was pretty deserted; winds were strong and it was already in the early evening – except for these two dogs that were going about on it.

Click to read more; but do be reminded that these photos are not for children.

Read More

For the love of coin

One of the comic books I read as a child and I still do occasionally is Conan the Barbarian, a fantasy character created by Robert E. Howard in the 1930s. This character has appeared in a lot of mediums outside comicbooks, including a couple of films starring Ar-nuld in the early 80s, feature-length animations, and novels.

Now, Conan was a pretty savage fellow. But he had his own code of moralty and honor, one of which was that he’d typically have no qualms offing someone’s head if the latter double-crossed him, for example over “love of coin”.

And here’s the thing; the love for money and willingness to do the foulest deeds was what immediately came to my mind when a news article appeared in The Straits Times about how some residents’ cars in a condomium had been damaged. Apparently, these residents have dissented against en-bloc sales of the property. Because a similar incident had just happened, some are suspecting that this is the work of persons who’re unhappy with the dissenters resisting the deal:

HUNGER for en-bloc dollars looks to have turned vicious at a quiet private estate in East Coast.

On Tuesday night, two residents of the 530-unit Laguna Park estate discovered that their cars had been doused with a corrosive liquid, possibly paint thinner.

They were among the residents who had not yet agreed to put the seaside development up for sale. Earlier this month, two other cars belonging to the dissenting group were also vandalised.

Laguna Park residents told The Straits Times yesterday that they believed the vehicle attacks were ‘inside jobs’ committed by people who support the en-bloc deal.

For those of us unfamiliar with en-bloc apartment sales in Singapore, well the summarized version is this; there’s a lot of money involved for residents who want in on it, and the “a lot” is around a couple of million dollars each for owners in good properties.

There’s the old adage that money is the root of all evil. Still, it’s shocking that people who resort to such scum acts of vandalism if it’s indeed the work of greedy residents wanting to scare dissenters. What they really need is a Conan to smack their heads if not lop them right off for stooping so low.

Rich tai tai

That’s Ling’s lifelong dream. Given a choice, she’ll really like to be a stay-at-home housewife and bake all day.:)

But seriously; every so often, Ling will ask if I’m still keeping an eye out for academic openings at Universities outside Singapore. There’re quite a few for certain, but usually around in research hubs in the UK or Nordic regions.

Truth to tell, I do think about the opportunities possible at these institutions, especially when many of these openings are an exact fit to my interest, i.e. critical game studies and new media.

I’m a little apprehensive though about uprooting myself into another country for an extended period of time again. I’m spoiled by the solid infrastructures we enjoy in Singapore, even though Singaporeans in general complain a lot about everything, e.g. ministerial pay, ERP, Mas Selamat, education. So, when some Singaporean like this lady here writes a letter telling everyone else that Singapore sucks for her because she can’t get a housing grant and therefore she’s quitting, well, more power to her and I hope she can find her nirvana somewhere.

As enjoyable as the doctoral program itself in Perth was, truth is that I missed Singapore during those three years. Especially the food, the infrastructural, telecommunication and transport conveniences. And while the world feels smaller with social networks to keep in touch, I missed friends while there. That’s one of the other reasons (money being the other one) why I worked like crazy to finish my doctoral thesis in double-quick time so I could come back home fast.

All that said though, it’ll be easier this time since if I were to go anywhere, Ling will be with me this time and it’ll be easier. And indeed she’ll be a stay-at-home tai tai then, but as for rich, er, let me strike a lottery first! :)

Catfight! Mrrreeeoooww…!!!

The two of us usually get back home at about 6:30 pm every evening. If either one of us is cooking, dinner will typically be at around 7:15 pm and we’ll usually dine with a couple of Seinfeld or Everybody Loves Raymond episodes on the TV as accompaniment. It’s a nice way to unwind.:)

One of the episodes we watched on Seinfeld on Tuesday evening included a subplot where Elaine—one of the show’s four main characters—gets into two catfights (Mrrreeeoooww!), and how all the male persons would all surround and chuckle and watch the two women contestants fight it out. It’s a pretty cute scene which is also a lot more hilarious than it sounds on a blog entry.

In any case, it’s quite coincidental that we were watching the catfight (Mrrreeeoooww!) episode since Singapore is watching two ‘star’ bloggers going at it at with each other right now too:

BLOGGER Wendy Cheng – better known online as Xiaxue – is not apologising to fellow blogger Dawn Yang.

Yesterday was the deadline set in a letter that was sent last week by the latter’s lawyer to Ms Cheng to do so.

The bad blood between the two bloggers goes back to November 2006, when they were compared in an online ‘hottest bloggers’ ranking. They have been making comments about each other on their blogs since.

Ah no; I don’t read or follow either woman’s blogs though I’ve read of their antics in media. What’s even more fun though is to read comments posted by readers into The Straits Times discussion board, some of them derisive, others calling it “tabloid crap” and chiding our national newspaper for wasting precious space over these two when there’re far more critical news they should be reporting on. Either way, for a laugh, the thread’s right here.:)

(Picture from The Straits Times)

Tak chek time

That quite literally means “Study books time”.:)

But seriously, the last two of three books I’ve put on my photography reading list finally arrived from Amazon.com several days ago. I’ve ordered stuff from Amazon.com before, and they’ve typically arrived in about a fortnight. But these two books took a horrendously long time i.e. 6 weeks to get here. I’d been initially hoping that they’d arrive in tome for our Ayara Hilltops trip in June. It’s a bit of a letdown, because books on Amazon.com with shipping costs added are still cheaper than buying them from Kinokuniya even with members’ 20% discounts. But oh well. At least I get to enjoy them over the next couple of weeks in addition to the several other photography and travel books borrowed from the library.

The three most recent books now are:

Martin Evening’s Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers. A heavy weight tome on CS3. It’s not as accessible as Scott Kelby’s wholly function-centric book, but I frequently check this book to figure out how to do something in the software. Bought it from Kinokuniya with a 20% discount a fortnight ago.

Complete Digital Photography by Ben Long. This book is the fourth edition and the most recent edition in a pretty successful series. Kinokuniya had a copy of this in stock but it’d been handled badly by browsers, so this came from Amazon.com. I was initially a little apprehensive about getting a general photography book but this book is amazing and really insightful with a lot of tips to offer. E.g. a couple of my panoramic shots at Phuket had distortion and I couldn’t understand what caused it. And now after reading this book’s section on panoramic pictures, I know why now; and the advice in those 4 pages alone is important enough to justify the entire book’s purchase. The book even has notes on Astrophotography (!!!).

David Busch’s Nikon D300 by erm David Busch. Ordered this book from Amazon.com because it’s not available at Kino. Busch writes a ton of model-specific books, but of the several commercial D300 books and guides available, this one’s reportedly the most informative and best. Camera manuals are typically functional explanations that don’t really tell how to best use the equipment under circumstances, and the D300 manual while rich with information isn’t different So, while being partial geek I can understand (with some effort) the supplied manual just fine, Busch’s book gives me a lot more information that I can pack on the go when I don’t have a wireless connection to surf for info.

All three books cover the three central topics I need; CS3, Photography, and the camera. So, happy camper I am now with loads of books for night-time reading.:)

The Island

photo2.jpgI follow The Straits Times forum and discussion threads quite a bit, though I almost always operate in lurk rather than participant mode. The posts run the spectrum of quality; some witty, some informative, some pointless, some just plain rude.

Here’s one post I’ve found especially humorous though. In response to the announcement a few months ago from the International Court of Justice to award Pedra Branca to Singapore, and that some Malaysian politicians were reportedly unhappy with the decision (though their government had promised to abide with the decision), one post from a person with the moniker richardpang read:

To the people in Johore [and other Malayans] who are lamenting the “loss” of Pedra Branca as the result of the ICJ’s judgement, I have this message:

You can take consolation in the fact that, with the formation of Malaysia in 1963 [Thanks to the British “colonialists”, “imperialists”, “schemers”, “pirates”!!!], you gained two huge territories: Sabah and Sarawak. Otherwise, you would have remained as the Federation of Malaya while Sabah and Sarawak would be independent states!!

[To the people in Sabah and Sarawak, I sympathize with your loss of potential independence in 1963 as the result of the formation of Malaysia!! To the Brunei Sultan: “You are a lucky fellow because your dad chose not to join Malaysia!”]

That gave me a good laugh.:)

Of Giving

Reverend Philip Lim was speaking on Giving during the 7:30 am service last Sunday, and he made a funny at the start of the sermon. It’s the kind of joke that sticks in your mind. My memory’s a little fuzzy but I think the story went like this:

Two men were marooned on an island with no help to be found. One of them looked pretty at ease and confident they’d be rescued. So the other fellow asked, We’re stuck on this island, no help in sight. Why are you so confident?”

The fellow replied “Well, I make a lot of money, and I give 10% to the church without fail, and it’s a sum of $100,000 every month.”

He paused for a moment, then added “I’m very sure my pastor will find me.”

OK, maybe it’s a corny joke, but I laughed, Ling laughed, so did the people behind us in the pews. If you didn’t find it funny, maybe this one will be better.:)