October, 2012

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eBay Sellers

A few years ago I put up a status update on Facebook; and it read like this:

“The wife has discovered online shopping. I’m dead.”

That of course elicited a lot of ‘Likes’ and humorous comments that followed that status update!

I’ve been purchasing small items on eBay for a while now, and they run quite a wide gamut; Hannah’s plush toys, computer accessories (e.g. cable connectors), lens filters and assorted camera accessories. Most of the purchased items are usually extremely cheap – usually less than $20, but many costing just a few dollars even. Surprisingly, the vast majority of my shopping experiences have been quite positive, but two have been poor in the last 4 years, and both involving sellers based in China.

The long-story summarized in both cases are similar; they send you a defective product, and when you seek a refund, they plead/ask nicely for you to send it back to them (at your cost) where they’d refund or send you a new item. Each time I did exactly just that, and you never hear from them again. Normally, it’s possible to initiate a dispute incident through eBay or your payment merchant. Unfortunately, their incident rules require a within 45 day response window, after which both providers will do nothing, and both times those crooked sellers have gotten away because I was nice enough to have given them the benefit of doubt at the expense of my response window lapsing.

Oh well; lesson learned. The next time I buy something from China-based sellers, I won’t hesitate to start a dispute incident immediately at the first sign of potential difficulty. Better safe than sorry, and auto-resolve the dispute on my own if things work out rather than play nice and let these buggers fleece me.

Hannah @ 30mm – Part 2

Another weekend and more pictures of Hannah with the 2 weeks old Sigma 30mm f2.8! Hannah on Saturday mornings is usually up at around 7 AM-ish – about an hour after I get up, which means that the two of us can get some daddy-daughter bonding time together before Mommy (finally) wakes up.


Yep, I managed to get her to strike one or two poses (most of the time she would not be asked on that still though), which made for some memorable pictures. Bokeh on the 30mm isn’t as creamy as one would get on a cropped sensor of course, much less the full-frame – but oh well.

What I discovered this morning though about the 30mm was something else altogether. While the lens’ center has been reportedly sharp, I had no idea that it would be able to resolve resolutions like this (Matt – check this out LOL)…


… and at f2.8 wide-open even, bud! Ling chuckled when she saw this picture, and said she’s going to have to start Hannah on a skin moisturizer regime.:)

Work-in-Progress – Part 9

Another visit to the ongoing construction of our new home @ The Minton condo. We headed out earlier than usual this Saturday morning, and fitted enough time to visit the site from three different locations: Blocks 143, 142 and finally 158. We’d not checked out the view from Block 143 before, and you do get a long corridor that gives an uninterrupted wide view of the project, especially Blocks 2, 6 and 8 and the iconic badminton dome. The pictures this time were taken with the D7000, and the Sigma 18-250mm lens. Some of the worker shots were taken at the longest focal length.


Minton blocks 8, 6 and 2 as seen from Block 143.


The iconic badminton dome’s steel frame is up.


Close-up of workers at the dome.


The main pool and water playground not evident from the picture yet.


No record of a Minton visit is complete without a Hannah picture. This new home project was for her afterall.


Our block coming along very nicely, and further along in development than the others. Ling chuckled that that’s because ours is the guinea pig block LOL.


Our unit – at the moment indistinguishable from all the other units.


View from Block 142.


Looks like they’ve prefilled the 50m lap pool.


Workers going at it.


A look at the project’s main entrance and what will be the clubhouse area; viewing from Block 158.


Long shot of the badminton dome.

Re-entering the Kitchen: Spare Pork Ribs in Plum Sauce

Spare Pork Ribs in Plum Sauce

It all started with a neglected bottle of plum sauce in our fridge. I just cleared and tidied up the fridge recently. And I’m very proud to announce that all the items in the fridge are neatly organised and packed in containers. No more loose packet of cheese slices or some half-opened sultana box can be seen lying around in the riot town that is the fridge. Law and order have prevailed at last. :)

Yo, back to that plum sauce story. Yup, it would go to waste in a few months’ time if I didn’t use it. I recalled vaguely eating pork marinated in plum sauce previously and started googling for recipes. Found one and tried it! Boy, you have to try this. It was so easy and delicious!

Below is the recipe (I tweaked the original one very slightly to suit my personal liking), thanks to ‘Hochiak! Delicious Asian Food’ blog.

Ingredients (serves 2 adults)

  • 500 g of spare pork ribs (try to request for more meat than bones)
  • 1 to 2 large onions (I used small onions as these were what I had then)
  • 3 large carrots (peeled and cut into chunks)


  • 6 tsps of plum sauce
  • 3/4 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 heaped tsp of corn flour
  • dashes of ground white pepper


1) Wash and pat dry the pork ribs.

2) Mix the marinade ingredients in a small bowl, pour and coat the pork ribs well. Cover with cling wrap and marinate the pork ribs in the fridge for at least 1 hour. The longer the better.

3) Lay onions and carrots on bottom of slow cooker (aka crock pot). Then, lay pork ribs on top of the onions and carrots and spoon out any remaining marinade onto the pork. Turn on slow cooker to ‘high’ and leave everything to cook for 3 hours. No water is required. The ingredients will form a yummy sauce at the end of cooking.

Bottom layer should be hard root veggies as they require higher heat to cook.

The upper layer should be the marinated spare pork ribs

Cook on ‘high’ setting for 3 hours. Resist opening the cover to check.

4) Serve with steamed white rice.

The pork was so tender that it fell off from its bones after cooking. And the marinade was well absorbed into the meats making them succulent and flavourful. And the carrots and onions were cooked to tender perfection! Great dish for toddlers too. I did blanched xiao bai cai in special oyster sauce to go with this dish and it was a great dinner! Yang loved it. :)

Recipe for the blanched xiao bai cai in special oyster sauce can be found at this blog called Noob Cook. I added a few drops of sesame oil to her oyster sauce mixture. The result is restaurant quality veggies! I’m lost for words.

A final note on the use of slow cooker. Where the meat cuts are concerned, it is not critical to buy premium cuts such as pork ribs as slow cooker has the ability to cook ordinary meats to tender-goodness without drying them out. That’s why I used spare ribs instead. Can save some $$. :) Lastly, I used Indonesian pork, not Australian.


The secrets of slumber

My best friend Doreen, an experienced teacher in primary school education, once shared with me that a child grows and develops when she is sleeping. Being uninformed then, I used to associate sleep with down time for the body to rest rather than an important aspect for growth in children.

Hannah was asleep while sending daddy off at the airport during the wee hours of morning in Dec 2009.

A few months back, Yang bought a parenting book entitled ‘Nurture Shock’ by PO Bronson & Ashley Merryman. It was highly recommended by his manager. As a science person, I readily lapped up the new information and insights on rearing children that were linked to research findings. Additionally, my training in biology allows me to process the neurological explanations that support the mantra that sleep is important to growing children.

The gist of all that were mentioned and said is this: children who sleep well are intelligent, happy and less likely to become obese.

Slumber time for kids is different from adults. A good night’s sleep helps in long-term learning of language, times tables and any other content-loaded subjects. When a child sleeps, the brain shifts into an efficient storage mode. What was learnt in the day, say new vocabulary, the brain will store psycho-motor skills for enunciation, auditory memories of new sounds and emotions linked to those new words during the different stages of sleep. The more a child learns that day, the more she needs to sleep that very night. What is more is that when she wakes up, she would come up with new insights on her learning the previous day.

Take one of my students for example. She has been consistently doing well for her science tests not because she burns midnight oil to do revision but because she lavishes time to sleep in the night. She maximises the time in the day to learn as much as possible through active listening and questioning during my science lessons and let her brain does the rest at night. She didn’t know anything about the importance of sleep. Rather, she happens to love her sleep. Recently, I noticed that Hannah also displayed the secretive functions of the brain. She learnt ‘2 + 2 = 4’ from watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on TV and the next day, she could show us the concept by holding 2 toys in each hand and declared saying “see, two and two is four”. Isn’t that a little application in daily life by the brain?

Gotta knock out first, mommy. It’s growing time.

Now the happy part. In our brain, negative emotions are processed by the amygdala while positive memories gets processed by the hippocampus. The hippocampus’ function is affected more than the amygdala when a person is sleep deprived. Consequently, the person has trouble recalling happy memories and at the same time can remember unhappy times clearly. The more sleep deprived a person is, the more easily depression creeps in.

It sounds strange to dissociate sleep from obesity. I was under the impression that the more one sleeps, the more sedentary one gets and hence the result would be weight gain. Well, recent research says otherwise. Sleep loss can trigger hormonal changes that affect one’s weight. I remember that whenever I stayed up late to study or work, I got hungry easily and resorted to snacking. The culprit is a hormone called ghrelin. Sleep loss also increases the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, which stimulates the body to make fat. What is worse is the release of human growth hormone that breaks down fat in our body for growth during sleep is affected at the same time.

In conclusion, the earlier a child develops good sleeping habits, the more she would benefit from it. A child’s brain is continuously developing until she hits 21. Any sleep loss during the first 21 years of life will have greater impact on a child’s growth as compared to adults.

Brain is busy. Do not disturb!


Hannah @ 30mm – Part 1

New series of posts with the 30mm and my favorite photographic subject! The spread of photos here were taken throughout the week, and all on the newly acquired Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens .The bokeh isn’t as creamy as the 20mm f1.7, but it certainly focuses noticeably quicker and perspective is more natural too. Interestingly, Hannah has also taken very quickly to using a camera, or actually Ling’s Sony Xperia Neo V handphone, herself to take pictures too. She now recognizes where the shutter release button is, though is still learning how to compose and frame pictures. Perhaps this is the first indicator that she’ll take after Daddy’s hobbies!


Still extremely difficult trying to get Hannah to remain still for a picture, but the reasonably quick AF on the 30mm helps a lot.


Center sharpness is good with accompanying resolution too. At f2.8, it’s sharp enough to make out all baby wrinkles and skin blemishes!


Doing the very Singaporean thing – taking pictures of everything we eat!


Qiji yam cake at 9:31 AM on Saturday morning.


Qiji yam cake 14 minutes later at 9:45 AM. She devoured it without our help.:)


In an extra chirpy mood on Sunday morning brunch. Why? She’d just finished a plate of carrot cake, that’s why.

She really loves Pluto!


Taking pictures of Pluto.:)

Yummy Toddler Foods: Kiwi in Orange Juice Popsicle

Kids are often drawn to colourful foods.

Feeling the unbearable heat these days? The popsicle to the rescue! :)

Trying out new recipes for popsicles is so much fun as they are quick and easy with satisfying results. Making popsicles give a lot of room for creativity too!

The idea for the kiwi in orange juice popsicle came from a blog site called Weelicious. This site also has many other fun and healthy recipes for toddlers. The original recipe calls for lemons but my personal policy is that if oranges can replace lemons in any recipes, the better. Why? This is because oranges are often stocked in our fridge whereas lemons are only bought if a recipe requires them – and I often end up with half an unused lemon. IMO, oranges often impart a better flavour to cooked / baked foods as they have the natural sweet factor which is lacking in lemons.

Okay, enough orange philosophy. :P

Ingredients for making 4 popsicles are: freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2-3 large oranges), 4 slices of green kiwi fruit and 1 tbsp of organic honey (adjust amount according to the sourness of the orange juice). Add one slice of kiwi into each of 4 popsicle moulds. Pour honeyed orange juice into each mould, cover and freeze overnight or at least 8 hours before serving.

Easy popsi, orange squeezy! :)

Simple, healthy and delicious treat :D

Sigma 30mm f2.8

The Panasonic 20mm f1.7 has become the lens I use most often when I’m at home or taking pictures of Hannah. The lens is beautifully sharp in the center, works wonderfully well in low-light, and starts-up quickly when attached to the E-M5. I’ve got two issues with the lens though. It focuses somewhat slowly (an issue sometimes when you’re trying to take pictures of a perpetually moving 3 year old girl), and of late, Hannah has become a lot more conscious when a DSLR is pointed in her general direction.

There’s one other prime in the micro four-thirds arsenal that I’ve been eyeing for a year now. It’s the Olympus 45mm f1.8 which costs marginally less than the 20mm, and focuses lightning quick. Thing though is that the focal length is too long for portrait shots across the dinner table or sofa. I might still get that lens at some point, but for the moment, settled with a Sigma 30mm f2.8, picking it up this afternoon at Artworkfoto.


The lens goes for USD199 at Amazon – relatively low for prime lenses – and the price I paid for it was eventually even less than after currency conversion. A real find. The new lens focuses quicker than the 20mm, and while not quite as tack-sharp as the 20mm in the center, is still reasonably good with good resolution. Equally importantly too is that with the longer focal length, I don’t have to step in too close for pictures like these:


This lens isn’t going to replace the 20mm by any measure, but it will certainly be a nice complement to add some variety to the thousands of 20mm shots I’ve taken for the last one year.:)

Yummy Toddler Foods: Simple Carrot Salad

From the wide array of recipes which use carrots, I like raw grated carrot, carrot cake and carrot muffin best. Yang loves carrots but he likes them cooked to just tender to bite.

Enter the raw carrot salad today! :D I wanted Hannah to eat more vegetables in their raw forms and hence did this salad as an entrée for her lunch recently. I was glad to hear “Mommy, it is yum yum!” when I asked Hannah for feedback.

I used the finest grater I have at home to achieve fine slivers from 1/2 a small carrot. Then I squeezed juice out of a thin wedge of orange over it, dump in 1/2 teaspoon of mayonnaise, sprinkle some sultanas and toss everything together to mix well. Ta-da, a lovely salad done in no time. The orange juice and mayo are optional as the grated carrot was already so sweet, juicy and refreshing. If you’re going to give this salad a try, do buy carrots that are sweet smelling. :)

Art & Craft @ Home

  There is no right or wrong, when it comes to making art

  Making sure that you have fun, is the most important part!

  Splash a little paint, draw a little line

  Just make sure that you have fun, each and every time!

The song from one of Hannah’s favourite Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episodes played in my head when I carried out a stamping activity with Hannah recently. Our girl got inspired to do ‘art and craft’ at home after watching this particular episode. She enjoys using the paint brush to ‘draw’ on her drawing board whenever she gets the opportunity. An idea came to mind when we were doing ‘art and craft’ today. I went into the kitchen to dig out my vegetable cutters (aka cookie cutters) and made some potato print blocks (I have unused potatoes in my fridge anyway). It was quick and easy. 10 minutes tops.

Using cookie cutters to make potato print blocks.

Once the print blocks were ready, all Hannah had to do was to wet the print surface with water, press it onto a poster colour cake and start stamping away on her drawing board. She was quite engrossed in the activity until I told her that we had to move on to the daily routine of taking her bath.

Step 1: Lightly wet the printing surface

Step 2: Ink the print block with the desired poster colour

It just so happened that the size of the cut out shapes on the print blocks fit exactly within the poster colour cakes. So random and yet so perfect :)

No space liao….

…attack the north!