31. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, Photography & Cameras · Tags: ,

My first Nikon lens from 1985 was a 50mm f1.8. As those of us who’re amateurs in photography would know, this 50mm focal length lens is especially appropriate for portrait shots. While I did pick up my first zoom lens – a Nikkor 70-210mm a couple of years later out of my own pocket money – I spent more time with the 50mm taking portrait shots of my ACJC classmates than the zoom. Those pictures weren’t all good of course (though a couple turned out very well, including one of this classmate I was interested in back then!), but there were a lot of valuable lessons that I learned from trying out, and also from a fellow ACJC enthusiast back then, who today has his own photography studio.

Fast forward to 25 years: I’ve bought a second-hand 50mm f1.8 AF from a colleague in July 2008 but funnily never really used it much with the D300. I like the Sigma 24-60mm f2.8 lens better, what with its small but tremendously useful zoom range, and that it’s tact sharp after I had it calibrated at the Sigma Service Center. Either way, I took the 50mm out for a Sunday spin with Hannah as the test subject. And here’s the outcome after about 90 frames later – split into two posts. This one below was taken at home in semi-low light.

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Yeah I’m all rusty, and I made a couple of noob errors. But the next couple taken at Hougang Mall turned out better.:)

31. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues · Tags: ,

Hannah was found reaching for the guard railings of her cot after her bath over the weekend! Though you can see that her fingers are grasping the railings very tightly so that she can support her weight, it’s still pretty scary – because soon enough she’ll be able to climb over the railing itself.

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With Matt coming to stay with us again next month in his third visit to Singapore, we’ve been chatting a lot about camera gear and equipment. He’s picked up a Nikon D90 and the 35mm f1.8 lens for this trip. Ling’s quipped that I’m a bad influence on him in this regard.:)

On my end though, I confess I’ve been looking still at the same lens that’s remained on my radar for more than a year now: the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR (brief blog entry about it nearly a year ago here):

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It just costs a royal bomb that easily jolts me back to reality: the older iteration of the lens’ USD1949, and the newer one an even fatter USD2334. Way, way, waaaayyyy too much for what I’ll ever care to pay as an amateur for a lens, no matter how excellent optically and versatile it is.

There’re far less expensive third party options though, like the Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 which costs a modest USD770…

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… just that it reportedly focuses pretty slow – a non-starter considering what this lens is specifically best intended for. A slightly better choice is the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 at USD799:

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But while the Tamron and Sigma each cost just slightly over a third of what the Nikon lenses cost, neither of them are optically stabilized – which is a downer. Now, if only both manufacturers offer the same lens with that, it’d be a killer lens! Matt pointed to me the other week a discount 10% coupon for Sigma lenses at Amazon. I just need to wait for the two events to coincide, then it’d be a hard offering to pass up.:)

Hannah’s like me not in just the physical resemblance; unlike her mommy, Hannah’s an early riser like daddy! She’ll frequently be up at 7 AM whether I wake her up or not. In fact, before infant care, that she was awake at this time each morning allowed me to spend a bit of time playing with her before heading to work.

She’ll often begin the day by baby-talking and cooing to herself. Saturday weekends are more special though since that’s the opportunity to have an extended play session with her. After a semi-absence of Hannah pictures during the first two weeks of the year and our resolution not to miss these growing months of her, here’s a series of pictures taken this morning of Hannah playing, or rather licking, cups on our bed.:)

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All taken with the usual Sigma 24-60mm f2.8 with the SB600 + diffuser pointed at the ceiling.)

29. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-uptowngirls-01 Uptown Girls (2003) – on rental. My interest in Brittany Murphy’s comedies and dramas got revived after watching Just Married the other day. The late actress was pretty productive with a long list of films, several of which I’ve queued up on DVD rental. Uptown Girls was made in the same year as Just Married, and I actually have an impression of this film though I didn’t catch it then at the theater, that came by way of Dakota Fanning’s involvement in this comedy-drama.

Murphy plays Molly, a well-off socialite living off the fame and inheritance of her rock legend father. She’s socially adept, claiming the Dalai Lama as one of her character references even, but is otherwise bimbo-ish, and almost child-like despite her age. Fanning on the other hand plays Ray, the only daughter of a mother (Heather Locklear) who’s never home and dad whose bedridden in a coma at home.

Ray’s family is wealthy, but she’s also largely neglected by her mother who showers her with expensive luxuries but otherwise doesn’t spend time with her. That’s turned her bitterly cynical, though she’s also brilliant and wise beyond her years.

The two cross paths when Molly’s financial manager to whom she’s relied on for everything disappears along with most of her wealth. She’s forced to seek employment, and eventually lands one as Ray’s nanny. The rest of the film explores their relationship: an adult with the aptitude of a child, and a child with the aptitude of an adult.

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About casting choices: Murphy fits Molly’s character well enough, though I can think of other actresses who can play as well the ditzy, wide-eyed, carefree: Cameron Diaz, anyone? Fanning though is the actress who’s playing a character slightly out of her usual element. Ray’s outspoken and intelligent, like the other roles Fanning had played up to that point. But in Uptown Girls, she’s also brimming with sarcasm, and displays open animosity and disgust against Molly. When the latter asks if Ray has ever seen a shrink, she bites back “Since I was three”. It’s to Fanning’s credit that even though Ray’s bitchy – and bear in mind she plays a 9 year old – the character isn’t dislikable.

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Much of the film smartly centers on the two’s relationship and engagement. The early setup scenes explores Molly’s newfound relationship with an up and coming rock singer, Neal (Jesse Spencer, left in the picture), and are a little slow, but the film picks up noticeably when Ray becomes Molly’s employer. The scenes they both share from that point progressively reveals bit by bit why they are the way they are. There’s a touching scene at about midpoint where an adult Molly is in tears over boyfriend depression, and it’s the young Ray who ends up having to comfort her. Quite the reversal of roles! Nicely too is that their antagonism isn’t resolved until very late in the film so there’s a nice build-up to the film’s final outcome, and it isn’t a perfectly happy ending either.

Of the supporting cast, besides Locklear, the other instantly familiar face for me was Donald Faison (right). I wonder if Ling recognized him though: Faison played Dr. Chris Turk in the ‘Scrubs’ series that we spent so many evenings in the last couple of years watching.

So, a little uneven at the start, but otherwise a thoughtful drama with light comedy. Watch especially if you’re interested in the two actresses.:)

29. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues · Tags: ,

Hannah has come a long way by way of getting fed solids. When we first fed her solids 6 weeks ago, the experience was similar to rummaging through a dumpster… it was more a mess than nutrition!

But the experience today is a lot quicker as Hannah’s learned how to accept food, and it helps that she seems to like what Ling prepares for dinner. These pictures here were taken during yesterday night’s dinner, and the dinner was fish porridge.:)

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Taken with diffuser + bounced flash off the ceiling, and the Sigma 24-60mm at f2.8.:)

28. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Toys & Technology

The newest Apple toy to be revealed this morning must had been one of industry’s worst kept secrets. Funnily, when the specifications of the new tablet device was presented, it didn’t get the unanimous and unreserved approval online the company might had been hoping for, though that hasn’t stopped the usual Apple Faithful from gushing all over the device and shouting down anyone who’s questioned the new device’s real usefulness and design compromises.

In the last year the Cupertino boys have got my business for their iPhone and MacBook – which are alright devices but still long ways from being the nirvana devices fanboys rate them to be – the iPad won’t this time after looking at its specifications, never mind that the name is uncomfortably similar to a sanitary object. Why?

blog-ipad As a portable music playback device – it’s too big. My Cowon D2 works just fine, and runs for 40 hours compared to the iPad’s reported 10.

As a productivity device – Never mind that you can’t multitask on the iPad. But I don’t care to use a touch screen to create or edit a word-processed document. OK, so there’s going to be keyboard options, but it’s a separate peripheral… which means more $$$ and having to bring along more devices just to get the same level of productivity you get already with a netbook.

As a portable game device – for iPhone-esque games only. Anything more complex or visual that’s commensurate with the screen size requires the kind of processing that won’t be possible with iPad’s weak processor.

iPad’s 10 hours battery life? Some of the netbooks are already dishing out 8 battery hours, and it’s still improving with newer models and low power processors.

As a communication device. Er, no onboard camera – which means you can forget about video calls.

As an e-book reader. iPad is rated at 10 hours battery. Amazon’s Kindle is rated at 7 days.

So I don’t get it. Just what exactly is this device really for. Is it supposed to be superior to netbooks when the latter can dish out more for less money? It’s too big to be truly portable, and too small and missing integrated I/O peripherals to be useful for anything more than what you already can do on the iPhone.

But that’s Apple for you. The iPad will likely sell millions of units to Apple fans, if nothing else because it’s a fashion statement to own one, never mind its real utility and that it seems neither here nor there. Well, I won’t be one of them this time. I’ll rather just save my money for the next iPhone which hopefully won’t be the same size of this brick!

28. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Baby Blues, Dining · Tags: ,

blog-2010-hannah-DSC_6010-dinner-shabu-buffet We haven’t had a nice family dinner – not counting brunches at Swensen’s – for the three of us since the wedding anniversary last November. So, last night after work, we drove down to Hougang Mall to compensate.

Most of the restaurants in the mall are clustered around one side of level 2, but the lots sure change quickly. Over the years, there’s been Vietnamese food, Cafe Cartel, and Thai Express – but all of them moved out and got replaced by other restaurants.

The lot formally occupied by the latter was under renovation for several months, but was recently reopened as a Shabu-Shi Buffet restaurant. For about $18.90++ per head, it’s a free-for-all on a conveyor belt. Not that I was too interested in most of the items on the belt – I was really just there for the tempuras.:)

Anyway, Hannah was well-behaved for half of the dinner, interacting cheekily with the wait staff and even a couple of patrons from the Ichi-ban restaurant beside Shabu-Shi (the two restaurants are separated by a low glass partition). From midpoint onwards though she started grumbling, which put some level of stress on the both of us as we had to finish up dinner double quick and take turns to pacify her.

Took a couple of pictures though. Not of the food, but of our darling girl. Yeah – she was groping for the food whenever we carried her.:)

27. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, Baby Videos · Tags:

We wanted to take more videos of Hannah crawling about in the living room, but apparently she was more interested in her toys! :)

27. January 2010 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-entrapment-01 Entrapment (1999) – on rental. There aren’t a lot of Hollywood films that have large scenes shot in South-East Asia, with just a few I can think off my head: Anna and the King starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yuen-Fatt who struggled with English in the 1999 film, and the just awful Bangkok Dangerous starring Nicholas Cage from last year.

There was another that was widely reported in media 10 years ago: Entrapment starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and it was well-known for two things: that the film’s climatic last scenes were shot on location at Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers, and Zeta-Jones has that now widely-parodied scene where she bends her voluptuous body to avoid laser beam detectors. The film was a publicity coup for our neighbors up north, since the concrete and steel superstructure had just been constructed then, and what better way to show off the then world’s tallest building then than in a Hollywood film?

Sean Connery plays Mac, an art thief who specializes in sophisticated capers stealing the world’s most famous artworks for his private collection. Opposing him is Catherine Zeta-Jones who plays Gin, an insurance investigator who hooks up with Mac pretending to also be a master thief while reporting his plans back to her superiors. The two go on several heists together before they play cat and mouse with law enforcement on the highest floors of the Petronas Towers.

It’s a pity that putting aside Entrapment‘s spectacular location, the film itself just wasn’t very good. Just three years separated The Rock and Entrapment, but while Sean Connery was all energetic in the former, in Entrapment, he’s lethargic. I was actually afraid for the poor guy as he tries to run, crawl, and tip toe to the next building on a metal wire hundreds of meters above ground. As for Zeta-Jones, she sure is deliciously yummy to look at. But despite the supposed experience and expertise of her character Gin, what we get instead is a Gin who pouts, switches to tantrum mode in one scene, and in another looks like she’s about to burst into tears. This is the sort of character you’d expect from an 18 year old – not a seasoned insurance investigator character.

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Even worst though was the character engagement between the two leads that made the both of us – actually Ling especially – cringe. Zeta-Jones was 30 years old when the film was made, while Connery was an ancient 69. When you have a 39 year gap between the two leads, the last thing you’d expect out of the script is any whiff of sexual tension – but believe it or not, you’ll find it in Entrapment! Every time the two look like they’re about to gush their feelings or smooch, the letters D O M screeched out loud in both our minds.

I’m just glad that at least this aspect of their relationship as fellow thieves is somewhat underplayed in the film. There is no make-out scene, thankfully – but there is that one scene where Mac ogles, whoops, interrogates Gin about her intentions while she has no clothes on. But things would had been so much better if the script had stuck only to a father-daughter type of relationship as befitting their relative ages.

And if the hair-raising characterization weren’t bad enough, the action-heist pieces were just dull, unless you think the titillating scenes of Zeta-Jones bending her body like Beckham in this film is sufficient to rid yourself off the awful stink off the rest of it.The one saving grace is Ving Rhames channeling the same role he did in the three Mission Impossible films with Tom Cruise, but he’s criminally underused in Entrapment showing up only in a couple of short scenes.

Avoid.