August, 2008

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Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag

I started creating the Excel spreadsheet for my packing list to Bali several months ago. Yep, it’s still that Excel spreadsheet fetish I’ve got. Funnily, that fetish has rubbed off on Ling too. These days whenever she makes an overseas trip, she’ll prepare similar lists too. OK; so it may not be uncommon for travelers to pack according to a checklist. But mine goes one geek level up; I even have columns indicating quantity, item weight, quantity weight, and weight totals against baggage allowance. Beat that! :)

One of the harder things about packing this year though is which lenses and camera equipment to bring. While we’ve engaged a local driver to show us around for three of the six days we’ll be there and the amount of equipment that can go into the boot shouldn’t be an issue, there’s still the problem of how many lenses I can physically cram into the Tamrac Adventure 7 backpack itself.  I could just bring everyone of the seven lenses I’ve got stuffed in the other Tamrac shoulder bag, but my shoulders would likely kill me for that.

So, after loads of stuffing lenses, filters and accessories to and fro the backpack and dry cabinet, here’s what I’ve finally decided on:

  1. D300
  2. 18-55mm VR
  3. Sigma 10-20mm UWA
  4. Sigma 150mm macro
  5. SB600 Speedlight +Demb Jumbo Flip-it bounce card
  6. Wireless / remote trigger
  7. 190CXPRO3 + ballhead
  8. 52mm + 77mm graduated neutral density, neutral density and circular polarizer filters

The recently acquired Sigma 24-60mm lens still has a backfocus issue which I’ll have to sort out after we’re back. I don’t think I’ll be doing portrait shots, so no 50mm. Now, the 55-200mm I was sorely tempted to bring since I’m thinking of checking out the Bali Bird Park too. But no space.:(

In any case, the both of us are headed off to the airport and Bali in an hour’s time, so this will be the last post for the next couple of days until I can find an Internet connection somewhere on the island. Till then.:)

"Praise My Soul The Kingdom of Heaven"

I adore hymns. I’ve blogged here about my playing of hymns as the ACS School Pianist 24 years ago before. I love hearing and singing with a large congregation songs of majesty and praise, accompanied by a pipe organ.

Just a few months ago too during a small group meeting, I was musing that whenever I turn the Wesley Hymnal to each song during early Sunday morning worship, I also always pay attention to the year it was composed. There’s just something incredibly significant about singing songs that Christians have been singing in churches for hundreds of years now. Just think about it. In another hundred years’ time when we’re all long gone, people will still be worshipping God in churches singing these same songs.

There’s a couple of hymns that are my perennial favorites. E.g. Praise My Soul The Kingdom of Heaven (audio)  which incidentally was the opening hymn I chose for our wedding, And Can It Be (audio), and Be Thou My Vision (audio).

My knowledge of hymns didn’t come from just 12 years of singing them as an Anglo-Chinese School boy. There were two hymn audio albums that I first bought in the 80s on cassette that exposed me to songs I’d up till that point haven’t heard. These two albums, Hymns Triumphant, were performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra and are pretty well-known and have been available on CD for years now. The sound even on CD (at least the versions I have) haven’t aged so well though since they were recorded more than 20 years ago, but the first album especially offers an extensive introduction to numerous hymns as they’re arranged into medleys.

The last hymn CD I bought was like 5 years ago, specifically this one by the Halifax Choral Society, one of the world’s oldest choral groups. Their rendition of Praise My Soul (audio sample on the link) is simply awe-inspiring, so much so that upon hearing it years ago, I immediately wanted this song as my opening hymn if I ever married—and this was like 2 years before meeting Ling.:)

CD albums are now harder to find given the general worldwide decline in classical music CD sales. However, I recently discovered Classics Online, and have been browsing through its very large catalog and purchasing the MP3 versions of hymn albums again. Of several albums I’ve picked up, there’s another album that’s just as amazing as the Halifax Choral Society’s one. It’s sung by the Huddersfield Choral Society featuring a mix of both well-known and less known songs in a generously filled album. There’re some audio samples here; just listen to their singing of Jesus Christ is risen today. Simply amazing.:)

One thing about the Classics Online site though; there’re so many albums there a classical music fan could easily blow his credit card limit if one wasn’t careful.:)

Oh she can play (but finds excuses not to) :P

One of the things we had to decide when we were making plans to move into The Rivervale was whose piano would go to the house. It was, surprisingly, a pretty easy decision. Both of us had pianos at our family homes, but Ling’s was in far better condition than mine at Lentor.

That said, we still had to put it through a reconditioning as the entire keyboard assembly had too many keys that were out of alignment. So, I got my old piano tuner from 30 years now to retune the entire thing at a cost of $700.

Ironically, we don’t get to play our piano that much. OK, I play about every fortnight during worship for our small group meetings, but Ling very rarely touches the piano though she’d also completed her ABRSM Grade VIII.

So what’s with this picture? Well, it was her turn to choose the worship songs for last Saturday’s bible study. So, she dutifully chose them in the early afternoon and was feeling quite satisfied with herself… until I casually remarked an hour before the session I was gonna take a break from playing that evening and she should play for that evening for the group. Now that completely freaked her out haha! She protested saying she just cannot manage “so many chords”.

This picture was taken at about 8 pm; like 15 minutes before we set off for Ann’s place, and there she is frantically going through the pieces.:)

To be honest, I was just teasing her; and I laughingly admitted so just after the photo was taken. Boy, was she relieved; she said she was positively “butchering all those hymns”. I got the four songs from her and as I was going through them once, she turned quite green with envy, mournfully asking how come I could sight-read like nothing.:)

But she’s determined to give it a go, just so long as she gets to know which songs a fortnight in advance. So, I’m gonna get her to do this. The next time it’s my turn to choose songs, she’ll get all the time she needs, and no more excuses for her not to play.:)

Rain and Fire

The funny thing is that I’m far more likely to remember the tropical rain from yesterday than all the pyrotechnics that followed thereafter during yesterday’s shoot at the Singapore Fireworks Festival.:)

Ann’s students recced the area over the several days leading up to the event to see if there were better spots to take the pictures for the night. They got to what seemed like a pretty secluded spot in Tanjong Rhu after walking through open fields, crossing longkangs (drains) and the like.

The Tanjong Rhu spot is pretty nice and it offers a more interesting perspective of the fireworks than the usual Suntec City + Esplanade backdrop that everyone usually guns for in these things. You just have to accept that the Benjamin Sheares bridge will be in it.

In any case, I was OK with either this spot or the NTUC open field for a repeat shoot again—two weeks ago I shot the National Day Fireworks from the same spot. Ann chose the latter, and I looked around for places to park in the Central Business District so that we wouldn’t have to choke on too much ERP and parking fees again.

The festival spanned two days, and the second day on Saturday was expected to experience huge crowds. We settled on Friday, but I still wasn’t ready to leave anything to chance. One thing I learned from the NDP shoot was this; there’s no such thing as “too early” when it comes to Singaporeans. You want a good spot for anything, you just have to be even more kiasu than the next fellow. So, I took a half day leave from work and with Ling got to our spot at 4 pm five hours before the shoot.

And would you have guessed; there were already photographers camped out there at 4 pm!! Fortunately, it was just about half a dozen photographers already there, so Ling stopped by One Marina Boulevard and I unloaded around 8 kilograms of equipment: the tripod, the camera bag with the D300 + lenses + filters, beach mat and two chairs; all for me to set up camp.

Ann was still at home by the time I’d started the camp; she’d overslept with her power nap.:) A few SMSes later though and she was on her way.

Then it started raining! And there was wind to top it off. Ling was still looking around for parking space, and I’d forgotten about the umbrellas. So there I was huddling under a beach mat desperately clutching onto camera equipment and the tripod to stop it from blowing into the bay haha.:)

It was still raining by the time Ling got to where I’d camped, with Ann arriving shortly thereafter at around 5 pm. The three of us huddled close together for mutual rain protection, and also to avoid the oft chance we’d get struck by lightning. A newspaper headline that reads “Two Photographers and a Tripod Girl Died For Their Hobby” wouldn’t look so good.:)

The rain subsided into a very slight drizzle at about 7 pm. The field was seeing more photographers arriving, though by the time the fireworks started itself, the field still wasn’t nearly as crowded as it was during the NDP shoot.

What were the things we did to occupy ourselves? Well we’d neglected to bring playing cards. One group on our right did. Another group on our left brought along their notebooks even. And Ann went about the stretch peering at what other people were using for their tripods.:)

The fireworks started at 9:20 pm and ran for 20 minutes. Longer than the NDP, somewhat more impressive, and I think we got a good number of nice shots. A selection have been uploaded into our Flickr album right here.

Oh yeah; there was the usual smoke diffusing the visual spectacle of those fireworks. Ann cheerfully suggested aloud that we all blow as vigorously as we could… from 300 metres across the floating platform. That got the photographers around us laughing.:)

So, was it all worth it? The math of it is boggling. Five hours for the about 180 exposures, two thirds of which turned out pretty OK.

Well, at least one thing’s for sure. I’d like to move onto other spots next year. The thing about fireworks photography is that the shoots aren’t really all that different unless you change your spot to get a different perspective.

That said, it’s really a social occasion. These shoots just aren’t just any fun if you’re going on it alone. Ann provided a good number of jokes. And that’s what we’ll remember from this evening—the rain, the laughs, and the fireworks (maybe)! :)

Oh yeah; Ann’s must-read account of the shoot is right here.:)

Fireworks Festival 2008

We braved the rainy weather and all for the 2008 Fireworks Festival this afternoon, this time with Ann from our church group too. And boy, do we have stories to tell. Ling is completely spaced out though and can barely keep awake, and can’t wait to turn in. Me, I’ve just finished sorting and selecting through the photos. Here’s a sampler.:)

I’d stay up and contine writing a longer entry since I can still stay awake, but Ling is already passed out on the sofa and needs to turn in. So it’s tomorrow then, with the rest of the pictures at our album here.:)

Who wants to be a trillionaire?

Easy; if you want to be one, just move to Zimbabwe.:)

If you thought inflation in Singapore was bad, check out what’s happening in Zimbabwe. Inflation there has hit 11,200,200%…!! Apparently, a loaf of breadcost less than $200,000 Zimbabwe dollars in February this year. This week, it costs 1.6 trillion Zimbabwe dollars. Ouch!

Source right here.:)

Creature Creation

A couple of students and staff (including myself!) from the department were at the Singapore Zoo the other day for a talk given by Will Wright, the very famous game industry person and designer of the upcoming Spore game. I haven’t been playing a lot of games since GTA IV—the two of us are still struggling to finish the Lego: Indiana Jones that Matt bought us—but Spore has piqued my interest for a while now since it was announced what 3 years ago.

One of the freebie items that was included in the Guest Bag provided by Electronic Arts during the talk was a coupon for the Spore Creature Creator, an appetizer of sorts that’ll allow you to create your own custom critter. The trial version is freely downloadable here (the coupon was for the full version which saved me $20—mwahahaha), and it’s quite a ball of fun.

The animated avatar on this page is my pet critter generated from the program itself, and you can just let your imagination run wild.:)

Olympic panorama

Here’s one of the most amazing panoramic shots I’ve seen… like ever! Someone created a 360 degree view of the Beijing Olympics stadium just before the 100m finals:

Link right here.:)

Use the SHIFT, CTRL, and hold-mouse to zoom in / out and pan the camera. You can also look upwards too.

Absolutely breathtaking, and check out the photographer poses.:)


Well, I’m taking a breather from the Olympics postings and onto something more mundane—home utilities.:)

There are two Excel spreadsheets I keep and update on a daily basis. One is for the latest toys and gadgets, and the other is for home accounting. It’s sort of fun to see Ling’s reactions to both. If she sees a spreadsheet opened for “Computers / Cameras”, she’ll remark wryly in amusement, “OK he’s thinking of yet another toy again”. When it’s for home accounting, she’ll cringe a little and wait for me to give my succinct yet always final assessment, e.g. “Dear, we’re spending too much on electricity. No more baking!!!” :)

But seriously, as unbelievable as this may sound, my numbers-peering over utilities at least has as much to do with wanting to do my small little bit for Green Earth as it has on wanting to always be very clear of our financial standing at all times. There’s a sort of burden I’ve been experiencing for the last year now about how we’re carelessly wasting our natural resources on this Earth we’ve been blessed with.

Ok, so at times I’m hypocritical since I sure spend quite a bit on camera equipment, and I’m not a habitual recycler. So I’m referring specifically to those things about energy wastage. E.g. turning off lights when we’re not using them. Or not wasting food. Or planning the times when we cook so we buy food condiments and items on demand and need, instead of stocking them up and then throwing them away when their by-use dates expire.

One of those things we’re really thankful for too is that our bedroom faces a park, and there’s a cooling breeze on most nights. As a result, the air-conditioning for our bedroom is rarely switched on. Like maybe once every 2 months for 5 minutes, and only because Ling thinks it’s a good idea to switch it on once in a while to “keep the motor alive”. :)

The sum of it is that on the 23-24th of every month when I get the utilities bill, there’s a little sense of accomplishment when I see how much our household utility expenditure is compared to the average Singapore household, even if there’re just two of us with no children yet. The chart above shows the sort of spreadsheet-nut I’ve become, and for those so inclined our per-day utilities cost on a monthly basis.:)

"Oh, say can you see…"

I was humming along while the American national anthem was played during the awards presentation for another gold medal win at the Olympics the other night. Ling then turned and asked if I knew the words to the anthem, and there I was singing the words out.:)

The US Presidential Elections is coming real soon, again and I figured I’d better write a first entry on it. Yeah I know this blog has so far largely concerned itself with education and customer service in Singapore, photography, debating, cooking, eating in Singapore etc. everything local. But on occasion I write about foreign affairs, so there. Like this one or this one. So I figured I should do a 4 year-later follow-up entry on the elections between presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain.

Matt was online and here’s how the MSN conversation went.:)

Chek Yang says: I have to write an entry on the presidential election soon, if nothing just to echo my 2004 post.

Matt says: I hope McCain and Obama are caught sleeping together so neither of them get elected.

Chek Yang says: Haha.:) Well, I need to make a prediction, if nothing else just in the oft chance I get to say “See, I predicted right..!!” and make myself feel good.:)

Matt says: My world sucks because no matter if you predict correctly or incorrectly, my president will be a moron.

Chek Yang says: Hahahahaha.:)

Matt says: And send me some anthrax in the mail too, so I don’t have to live through the next four years. :)

Thing is, I’m not naturally a funny person. My students make that clear enough in every semester’s feedback reviews; all their comments go along the lines of “Great lecturer, always well-organized. But why so serious; needs to crack more jokes.” So, whatever entry I write is going to be a matter-of-fact.

Or maybe I should just ask if Matt could write one.:)