22. April 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Baby Blues · Tags: ,

Hannah has been able to easily recognize animals from the set of picture cards she has for months now, and I’ve also created a Folder for her on the computer storing online pictures from a range of animals to help her in animal recognition. We decided it was time to let her see the real thing. So, it was a trip to the zoo this holiday morning.

Well, one trip later, mixed results. Great weather, and the trip was accident free. However, with the exception of the elephant and giraffe enclosures, and the ponies at the kid’s zoo, she seemed hard pressed to recognize most of the animals elsewhere or even demonstrate much of an interest in them.

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Mommy had this idea of renting a kiddie’s cart, but our girl had little interest in it after the first 10 minutes.
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There was a kangaroo lying less than a meter from the exhibit fence at the Outback enclosure.

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Having fun with elephants above. The one animal she recognized instantly! There were lots of visitors at the giraffe enclosure, but she got a pretty good look at them.

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The obligatory family picture!

The highlight was in the walk-in aviary when Hannah ran after and probably terrorize a few duck. =)

It’s the season for the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) Central Judging for Choirs for secondary schools again. Just the other day, I went to support my ex-choir at Singapore of the Arts (SOTA) School where the judging was held. Actually, the support was a nice way of masking the fact that I missed their singing despite all the heartaches and stress I went through while I was their teacher in-charge.

One of their two set pieces, The Snow by Elgar, touched many hearts. There was a time not too long ago that saw youth choirs performing technically challenging pieces which were mostly not easy on the ears. One often ended up appreciating the prowess of the singers and sophistication of the choral arrangement rather than the music itself. Hence, it was a refreshing change when The Snow was sung at the SYF. The other set piece, Essassa by Ko Matsushita, was probably one of the most difficult pieces for a youth choir to master as it was rated a 5 from a difficulty scale of 1-5. This composition is in 5 parts and here’s an audio recording of the choir performing it.

I was happy for the choir when they were given the award they deserved at the end of the day. Here’s an audio recording of The Snow they sang. (The sound quality would be better with good speakers or earphones.) Lyrics of the song below. Enjoy :)

The Snow

O snow, which sinks so light,

Brown earth is hid from sight,

O soul, be thou as white as snow.

 

O snow, which falls so slow,

Dear earth quite warm below;

O heart, so keep thy glow,

Beneath the snow.

 

O snow, in thy soft grave

Sad flowers the winter brave;

O heart, so soothe and save,

As does the snow.

 

The snow must melt, must go,

Fast, fast as water flow.

Not thus, my soul, O sow

Thy gifts to fade like snow.

 

O snow, thou art white no more,

Thy sparkling too, is o’er;

O soul, be as before,

Was bright the snow.

 

Then as the snow all pure,

O heart be, but endure,

Through all the years full sure,

Not as the snow.

 

(C. Alice Elgar)

Eh, I know the title sounds a tad inappropriate for little tots but that was exactly what Hannah has been doing every night until mommy put a stop to this behaviour!

Of late, Hannah’s busy little hands could undo the poppers of her cutsy one-piece pajamas. And she ENJOYED undoing the poppers and ALSO unfastening her diaper after lights out. On a couple of occasions we’ve even found her completely naked! Perhaps it was the warm weather plus having to sleep underneath the mosquito net made her want to break free from her clothes. Or it was just her ‘itchy’ hands.

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Hannah at 8:30 PM, TUES night.

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Hannah at 10:30 PM, TUES night.

I have been sneaking into her room to fasten her diaper and button up her pajamas after she has fallen asleep. But after a while, it was becoming a chore. Hence, I decided change her sleep attire to romper + pants. This way, she won’t be able to get out of her clothes and the combination is also cooler (short-sleeved and feet exposed).

19. April 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Photography & Cameras · Tags: ,

Continued from the last post!

It’s not easy deciding whether the Olympus E-PL2 is a significant or a minor upgrade from the E-PL1. It doesn’t help that Olympus doesn’t seen to be phasing out the E-PL1 yet at the moment, and letting the two models sit side by side on the same shelf.

Functionally, they’re pretty similar. In fact, I didn’t even bother with the E-PL2’s Instruction Manual. From the first pick-up at the Funan Center outlet of Alan Photo, I found myself instinctively navigating through the menus to toggling modes and options to make sure the camera was working properly before handing over the money for the camera yesterday morning.

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Here’s a list of my small notes; ranting off and in no particular order:

– I went with the Black edition this time, just for a change. And I’m starting to have mixed feelings about the color. Sigh. Should had gone back to the Champagne Gold one, like my old E-PL1.

– Out-of-camera JPGs remain outstanding. I took a few shots outside at The Rivervale and they look just great. This is one camera I have no problems shooting in JPG.

– Flash recycling times have improved – nice!

– The hotshoe cover slides off easily. I took it off first thing and left it in the box, lest it slips off accidentally when in actual use!

– The new MSC Mark II kit lens focuses internally, silently, and very briskly (hooray!!!). Even Ling was impressed.=)

– The new kit lens however uses a different lens diameter. 37mm. Gaaah. What am I gonna do with the 40.5mm filters I bought for the E-PL1 now?

– On the other hand, the new kit lens feels a little more plasticky. Maybe it’s the color.

– The 3 inch 460,000 dot rear TFT LCD is gorgeous. Not as pixel-dense as the D300, but definitely an upgrade from the 260,000 dot 2.7 inch LCD on the E-PL1.

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– The rear four button controller on the E-PL1 has been replaced by a control dial that supposedly offers faster navigation through menu options. I didn’t care much for this though as the control dial itself is still too small to make rotation easy.

– Whatever happened to the volume control of the focus-beep? It’s on or off now only in the new camera.

– Rotatable Ring strap eyelets included now as a design improvement over the E-PL1. I actually prefer the rectangular metal ones from the old E-PL1 instead. These new rotatable ones rattle.

– The UI really looks antiquated. It’s functional yes, but not particularly pleasing aesthetically. Having seen the Sony NEX-5 and Samsung NX100 UIs, the Olympus one looks like it’s from a 2000’s rather than 2011 line of digital cameras. Maybe it’s the font or the color scheme, or both.

– The E-PL2 feels more robustly made than the E-PL1. It’s still a large plastic construction, but exhibits no flex at its joints.

In all; I’ll put it somewhere between a significant and a minor upgrade from the E-PL1. The faster focusing is the singularly most important benefit for me, with the larger and higher resolution LCD following next. More and final notes to come after I’ve spent a bit more time using the camera. =)

Continued from the last post!

I’d actually been looking for a replacement compact before deciding to sell the E-PL1. Initially, I toyed with the idea of an underwater-capable compact and/or setup, but dropped the idea when I found no end to the horror stories of supposed waterproof cameras, even the premium ones, going uplorry on their first swim.

There’s been a series of very attractive and feature-laden high-end small cameras; some lens-interchangeable and mirrorless like the E-PL1, and others which are solidly in the ‘compact’ class but still offering very good performance. I narrowed the entire lot based on what I was willing to pay (up till about $1K), and ended up with my usual spreadsheet comparing between eight models: Canon G12, Nikon P7000, Panasonic LX5, Olympus ZX-1; Panasonic GF-2, Samsung NX100, Sony NEX-5 and the Olympus E-PL2.

The first four are all-in-one compact camera solutions, and in the case of the ZX-1, features a slightly larger than normal for its class sensor coupled with a marvelously bright lens with a large maximum aperture. Attractive price points too. Thing is; it’s hard to go back to these compact cameras when you’ve experienced mirrorless formats which are just slightly larger but way more versatile and routinely offering better performance and optics. So, all four got dropped in consideration last week, and it was back to the micro four-thirds format (the GF-2 and E-PL2), the Samsung equivalent (NX100), or the Sony NEX system.

The Samsung NX100 got dropped out of reckoning next. Limited lens range and no optical stabilization were the killers for me, despite its APS-C sensor size and very low price point. The GF-2 was a recent update of the well-received GF-1 but it eschewed mechanical buttons and dials for touch-screen operations (yuck).

So, it became a toss-up between the Sony NEX and the Olympus E-PL2. That was a really hard decision to make. The NEX is slightly more expensive than the E-PL2, but is packed up the wazoo with features that are missing on the E-PL2, including in-camera panoramas and HDRs, super-slick UI, full 1080i HD video recording, and excellent noise handling in high ISO. Unfortunately, a couple of its quirks killed it for me too; relatively huge lenses compared to its diminutive camera body, very limited lens range, built-in flash can’t be bounced and no option to mount an external flash.

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The Sony NEX-5. Nearly went with this one.

So it was the E-PL2. Continued in the next post!

18. April 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Baby Blues, Photography & Cameras · Tags:

I sold my Olympus E-PL1 away late last week after having it for over a year and shooting about 6,000 pictures on it. I really liked the camera a lot. It was handsome looking, beautiful out of the camera JPGs, VERY reliable (it survived dunking in Niagara Falls!), and I found myself using it more than the D300 to take pictures of Hannah. And that’s to say nothing of that the camera’s a much more discreet device that I can bring around everywhere.

There was a single problem with the little mirrorless compact though, and it was the awful habit of its 14-42mm lens constantly hunting around for the appropriate focus point in low light. When I’m shooting in good light or outdoors, focusing is speedy. But indoors and with a hyper active Hannah, half the shots I took were invariably out of-of-focus. Occasionally that was because of subject motion – Hannah just wasn’t going to sit still while waiting for the lens to decide its optimal focus – but even when Hannah was still, a lot of images still came out blurred for some reason even though at this stage I’ve developed pretty robust camera-holding techniques now.

Our friend Ann owns a similar camera and setup and I remember her remarking that that was a major difficulty for her too. Even Ling disliked using the E-PL1 because of this and preferred using that cheapo Panasonic LZ8 of hers.

For a while I thought it was an issue with the camera, until upon trawling the Internet for notes from other users, discovered that the focusing difficulty was a known problem with this lens and the E-PL1, and there was a revised edition of the 14-42mm (a Mark II) that solved this issue. Moreover, there was some kind of conflict between the lens’ shuttle vibration and lens elements when shot at a focal length range and at certain shuttle speeds, which resulted in vertical blurring (detailed analysis here).

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find someone to sell me a used copy of the updated lens, and a new one would have cost about $450 – ouch! Mildly exasperated, I decided to just sell the E-PL1 with the 14-42mm late last week for about half of what I originally paid for a year ago – within 12 hours of posting up the online ad, there were 17 persons all wanting the unit; should have asked for more – and look into an alternative.

My E-PL1, Mar 2010 to Apr 2011.

More in the next post!

blog-2011-hannah-OLYP6157-AMK-hub-brunchHannah’s just two more months to two years old – i.e. we’re gonna have to start thinking about a small birthday event for her – but she’s already solidly entrenched into the ‘Terrible Two’s’ phase. She’s learning to vigorously resist, ignore parents and basically do the sort of things that make the both of us grow more white hair.

She’s also been a little sick though in what seems to be a revisit to those days when she was picking up viruses everyday at infant care – we suspect she picked up her most recent bout of cold from her play group, since she hasn’t interacted with any other kids elsewhere, and neither us nor her Nanny are sick.

Here’s a morning picture taken at this little Hong Kong-inspired restaurant at Ang Mo Kio Hub. If you look hard enough, you’ll see a small scar near the bridge of her nose. She scratched herself a few nights ago, and hopefully it’s not going to be there for too long.

09. April 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

Centurion (2010) – on rental. I’m always a big sucker for historical dramas, especially that centered on the ancient Roman civilization. Centurion was released last year in theatres here, but I gave it a miss on account of that early reviews of this Brit film were decidedly mixed.

The film spins what seems to be a mostly fictional yarn on what might have happened to one of Caesar’s most famous legions – the Legion IX – which according to the historical account, vanished in Caledonia (where Scotland is today) at about AD117, approximately 60 years after Caesar’s death. Historians have speculated possibilities that include that the Legion simply disbanded, or that it was swarmed and obliterated by the Pictish hordes. Centurion goes with the latter scenario, depicting the Legion’s massacre in full, bloody and gory fashion – and no this really isn’t a spoiler as elements of this is shown in the film’s public trailers. The original thought in the film though goes entirely in its story of a small band of Roman survivors of this massacre, and their attempts to reach back friendly lines through Pict-controlled territory.

We’re introduced to the key players early on. There’s Quintus Dias, played by Michael Fassbender, a Centurion with the Legion who’s deployed at an outlying outpost that gets overrun early on in the movie. There’s General Virilus, played by Dominic West pulling a cross between Russell Crowe’s Maximus and Gerald Butler’s Leonidas, the charismatic and very skilled commander of the Legion, and Etain, a female Pitish scout with a hidden agenda played by Olga Kurylenko. This lead cast is supplemented by a small band of supporting actors playing the other Roman survivors and pursuing Pict warriors, most of whom are relative unknowns but they all look reasonably distinct so that when the body counts start clocking in, it’s at least possible to easily tell who’s dead and who’s left.

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Body count... 1,403... 1,404...

The film was shot on location at the United Kingdom, and uses the magnificent backdrops to full advantage. There’s obvious CG in a couple of spots that clearly look manufactured when they show up on screen, but putting aside also the fact that the story takes place in early winter and the limited color palette that results from that, for the most part the film looks gorgeous. The action scenes, especially important since the film is really more an action than historical piece, are a mixed bag. There’s scale, especially the violent confrontation early on in the film showing the Legion’s demise for all their superior training and tactics. It’s also very violent. Expect to see lots of ways to get killed with sharp objects. Unfortunately, a lot of the fight and combat scenes are steady-cam shot with a lot of quick cuts. It was mildly migraine-inducing, and very difficult to follow fights in the encounters involving more than a few persons at a time.

There’s not much to say about the story. There isn’t a lot of subtlety, characterization is reserved only for the three leads and there isn’t a lot of it even then, and loose story ends are tied up by the end of the film’s very economic run length of 97 minutes.

In all, a very average film and watchable as long as you see it for what it is; an unsophisticated action film set against a historical incident.

08. April 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, At Home, Entertainment

blog-piranha3d-01Piranha 3D (2010) – on rental. Critters gone amok, and eating up humans while at it. That’s the kind of film I’ll happily watch when I need film entertainment without emotional or brain investment! Piranha 3D is a remake of a classic from 33 years ago. As far as the story goes, you have a big bunch of vicious Piranhas who’ve apparently been hiding and nesting in some hidden fissure below in the ocean’s depths, and surface during a minor earthquake. On the other side, you have lots of humans at Spring Break, of which you get acquainted with a select group that the film intends for you to associate with and scream with horror or laugh when they get massacred by the very hungry and carnivorous fish.

As far as the cast goes, there’s – surprisingly – a couple of recognizable names and faces in what is a solidly B-grade film. There’s Ving Rhames cruising through this film in a supporting role of a Deputy Sheriff before going on to do Mission Impossible 4. Christopher Lloyd shows up in a role that isn’t too far from his Doc Brown from Back to the Future; he discharges the film’s ‘scientific’ information factoids about the dangerous fish. There’s Elizabeth Shue, aging gracefully, as the kick-ass Sheriff. And Richard Dreyfuss shows up in the first 5 minutes of the film as a fisherman, and then promptly gets eaten up as the fish’s first human victim.

All the veterans are playing supporting roles though. The lead cast comprises mostly young adult unknowns, few of whom I suspect were hired for their acting compared to good looks and beautiful bodies. The film conveniently sets itself in Spring Break, that crazed out annual American event where tens and thousands of college kids descend on the nation’s waters in bikinis, booze and lots of wet T-shirts. So yes, there’s a lot of flesh on display, most of it female, at least for the first half of the film before the piranhas start feasting.

The film is also entirely formulaic, which I won’t for a minute fault it for. It’s clearly a homage to all those disaster/horror films involving murderous critters and hapless humans. You get the initial and early scene showing those critters for the first time, but it’ll be a single isolated incident that no one knows the significance of. You get the (brief) introductions of each human character, many of whom will leave you with no impression. You get the second scene showing those critters again tearing through more humans, waking those who’re still mentally-alert. And after a bit of ding-donging about what the threat is about, they finally receive the epiphany – usually with one or two more fish eating incidents happening before their eyes – that they are about to all get swamped. And then, these so-warned humans try to warn everyone else but of course must get ignored. Then all hell breaks loose and lots of humans get eaten up.

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Feed me..!!!

If the story’s not going to surprise and the lead cast is a huge Fail, all that leaves you with is the hope that the critters are interesting, and the flesh-eating parades are fun to watch. Unfortunately, it’s a mixed bag in this most critical film component. To sum it up here, it’s messy. All you routinely get to see is a human thrashing about in water, the horde of fishes swamp on it, bits of pieces fly about, and lo behold a few seconds later, you get a half-eaten carcass left!

Maybe it’s because it’s not easy realistically depicting on screen, even with computer-generated graphics, fishes tearing through humans when in the water. You’re after all having to CG thousands of these critters tearing through bits of humans, as opposed to say a single huge white shark biting off someone mid torso. I blame it mostly on the quick cuts though. So, the one big scene where the hordes of piranhas descend on the thousands of Spring Break vacation seekers, the one scene which had the potential of it being very distinct and memorable, is a big mess.

Well, at least the film has no pretensions. It’s intended to be gory and violent, but yet goofy and a parody at spots too involving inedible human genitalia. I actually thought it was fun to watch, though I don’t think Ling will ever care for these films!

There’s something about a stack of picture cards that our girl can’t resist getting her hands on. The thing about giving Hannah these not-too-thick rectangular pieces of paper for play is that she might fold, tear or crush them altogether. I’m sure many parents would feel ‘heart-pain’ when our kids damage brand-new items. But I also want Hannah to learn about herself and her environment and these cards (given by parents in-laws) serve that function.

In her early days, Hannah enjoyed walking around the house with one or two cards stuck to her soles. She found the experience amusing. Yang did a great job at helping her recognise the picture on each card by reading their names aloud to her. I was pleasantly surprised by the rate she picked up new words from these cards alone. It is true then when researchers say that the brain power of children is higher than the average adult. I remember reading that the brain of an infant is the densest, i.e. it has many more neurones (nerve cells) than say an adolescent or an adult. If any neurone does not receive enough stimuli over time, it gets trimmed off (exterminated, that is). Hmm, now I wonder whether we are in any way limiting the brain development of our girl.

Parents gave us about 4-5 stacks of such cards and Hannah is through with 2 stacks. It’s time to introduce another new stack to her collection. In the process of using these cards for learning, we discovered a fun element. These cards are not just for passive reading, they can be activity-based. Words such as ‘walking’, ‘kick’ and ‘jump’ would prompt Hannah to do the very actions. And she enjoys these little activities. If a card says ‘window’, she would start walking towards the various windows around the house, touch them, and come back to us to find out what the next card says. :)

Below is a snippet of a video clip taken recently for the sake of ‘capturing the moment’ of her growing years. :)