We finally decided last evening on our December vacation spot, going ahead to book a flight for all of us, and also put in a booking for our choice of accommodation too. For a week in December, we’ll be at Ko Pha Ngan – an island just north of Ko Samui – and likely staying at the Santhiya Resort. Though I had a budget to work with, there were so many options and accommodation permutations within that budget trying to find that elusive mix of the best accommodation with the best options on the best travel times and dates that I pretty much gave up and went with what looked like the best balance between our requirements.

Of the places:

Nha Trang was a real possibility but we ended up dropping the city from the shortlist as the layover period time would had just too long for Peter. We did think about spending a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh to ease out the layover, but that would have stretch our vacation period even longer. We were told by the resort that while the weather was going to be cool, it would likely also be rainy – what a bummer.

Maldives got added to the shortlist late in consideration, but got dropped just as quick after the projected cost of an approximately week-long stay would have over-shot our budget by quite a bit.

In the end, it was basically a toss-up between Ko Samui and its neighboring island Ko Pha Ngan, both on the east coast of Thailand. The resorts we especially liked in Ko Samui were pretty decent, well-appointed for the most part, and many had their own pools villa-styled, and were pretty large, with several unit areas of a hundred square meter area and more. The size of a middle-size HDB apartment easily. But the cost of these accommodation at Ko Samui were relatively high, and the beach qualities quite variable. We did especially like the Buri Rasa Village, as it had among the most promising beaches around, was nicely located – but the cost accommodation unit we looked at was a tad small at 80sqm, and the main/common pool rather small too. But we eventually decided on Pha Ngan.

Pha Ngan is less dense in terms of its accommodations but also less varied in range, and also reputedly offering slightly better beaches too. Accommodation options were very slightly cheaper if also less swanky. While the pictures of the beaches looked more attractive than the ones we saw at Ko Samui, we weren’t willing to chance for a swim only at beaches. That meant we needed a resort with a decent-sized main/common pool, and also – if we could find it – a unit with a larger private pool too. There weren’t many accommodation options of a particular ‘quality class’ on the island, and among these, only the Santhiya ticked all the boxes: a fairly large villa at 115sqm, a larger than normal villa pool, and a large common pool, and the accommodation cost somewhat high but just within what we were prepared to spend. As a bonus too; the resort had its own private beach, the villa option we booked was well-away from the beach-front too  (and thus hopefully quieter), and the resort grounds apparently quite spacious.

Ling was initially a little skeptical about heading up to Pha Ngan rather than staying on Samui, and wondered if it was a self-contained island; because if it wasn’t, it’ll mean we’ve have to frequently travel back to the main island every time we wanted to do something else (like eat outside the resort LOL). Thankfully, the island seems the former – with its own town center, restaurants, infrastructure, natural areas and the like. Not that there’s a lot to do in either island, but this trip we’re primarily intending to just stone and vegetate rather than sight see.

The island from the air.

The island from the air.

Santhiya Ko Pha Ngan - hope it's as good as it looks on the travel brochures!

Santhiya Ko Pha Ngan – hope it’s as good as it looks on the travel brochures!

More to come later once I’ve worked out a sort-of itinerary!

2014 is almost over, and it struck me earlier this year that we haven’t traveled nor gone on a family vacation in 2013. Not that I need vacations because I’d go crazy without one, but vacations are always opportunities to take pictures of places other than the usual staple that we frequent as a family. The big event we’ve had for 2014 was our move to our new home at The Minton and now that we’ve settled in nicely, I revisited plans for a vacation.

We were initially deciding if Peter was coming with us, and if not, if grandparents are still able to take care of him for a couple of days we head out as a family somewhere. Going with this arrangement, it would have had to be somewhere close to home and a relatively short trip as well so as not to stress our parents out when they care for Peter. Couple of ideas, and they included:

Legoland in Johor: Hannah has a special interest in this one, and was in fact just asking us about it earlier this year after seeing that NTUC Fairprice had a couple of promotional vouchers for trips there.

Cruise: this has been long on our list, if also because neither of us have been on cruises yet. Oh, it’ll probably turn out to be guilty-laden event where we’ll eat so much food that it’ll be coming out of our ears, but that should be provide equivalent incentive for us to make use of the fitness facilities onboard too.

Staycation @ Sentosa: We had a wonderful, if dreadfully expensive, staycation at Capella Sentosa when Hannah was 2 years old, and were thinking of returning for her to enjoy Resort Worlds Sentosa and Universal Studios.

We decided last week though that Peter would join us for the family vacation of about a week, and that it’d be at year end. Hopefully by then, he would had been better able to walk long distances without tiring quickly. That expanded our travel options quite a bit, though we’re still ever mindful of being financially prudent, and also of prevailing weather conditions in various parts of Asia.

Nha Trang Bay, Vietnam. Neither of us have been to Vietnam before. From what we’ve read, neither Hannah nor Peter would be able to handle a walking-heavy itinerary of the city and sights, and the capital Ho Chih Minh was dense with all the intricacies of a developing city. The coastal city we’re headed to though is some distance away from the capital, necessitating a connecting flight from the capital. The resort we have our eye on at Nha Trang Bay is lovely, but we’re a little worried about the return leg – as the layover at Ho Chih Minh before flying home to Singapore would had been about 8-9 hours. Way too long for Peter!

Koh Samui, Thailand. We haven’t been to this island either, though we’ve both gone to other parts of Thailand several times now. There are direct flights to Koh Samui from Singapore – more convenient – but also a less ‘new’ place for both of us on the other hand.

Perth. Ling is especially interested for the family for a self-drive trip in Australia, as the place is (probably) more child-friendly. Unfortunately, having spent three years in Perth, I’m not wild about going back again so soon! Still, if we were to make the trip there, it’ll be an opportunity to catch-up with my old supervisors and friends at University.

More to come very soon, since we’ve just had Peter’s passport made and will be deciding on the vacation place very soon.

Mmhhmm - a big possibility!

Mmhhmm – a big possibility!

One key decision we had to make this year about our Minton home was what we’d do with our current and first family home @ The Rivervale. Truth be told, most people around us advised us not to sell our old property but to rent it out instead, as the long-term returns were higher. For instance, the rent alone from the home would have paid off our monthly installment of our home loan for Minton, and with spare change too. On the other hand, we (or rather, it was mostly just me) didn’t want the hassle nor potential complications of renting out an apartment, and wanted to be debt free sooner to that we could start significantly investing in our children’s education funds.

We finally decided to sell away our Rivervale home only in February this year – about a month before moving to Minton. The next decision we made was not to sell away the old place before we had properly moved and settled into our Minton home. Much of it lied in that we didn’t want to rush through the sale process. We wanted a good sale at a price we were comfortable with, and to owners who would, hopefully, treat the place with the same respect and care the first owners did before they sold it to us in 2006.

Unfortunately, our delaying the sale of our old home also meant that the general price trends of resale homes were depreciating over the last months. It wasn’t a disconcerting drop fortunately, but not small enough on the other hand to make us laugh it off.

We didn’t spend a lot of time in our hunt for the right property agent to sell our old home. We simply collected a stack of publicity collateral various agents had been stuffing into our mailboxes, shortlisted a couple of them (don’t laugh now – but we went mostly with how nice they looked in their pictures!), invited them over for discussions, saw their portfolio, then decided. Of the three agents we interviewed, one was nice and probably competent but seemed somewhat unfamiliar with the nuances of Rivervale units or the general area. Another was quite aggressive, had a fabulous track record, but didn’t quite endeared herself to us. The third – but actually first agent we spoke to – was – a jovial and bubbly lady who was apparently specialising in the sale of Rivervale units. As it turned out too, her daughter was Hannah’s friend and bus-mate in school too. A lucky match. We negotiated the asking commission, decided on the targeted yet achievable sale price, signed off on the exclusive arrangement to sell, and went with it in early June.

To our agent’s credit, and probably also because she had a well-honed system (i.e. do A, then B, then C, then D etc.), there were quite a few viewings over the next few weekends, and she kept us posted each time on these viewing arrangements. The actual confirmed sale of our unit to a family came almost exactly a month later with the new buyer exercising the Option to Purchase. We were alright with the counter-proposed sale price offered by the buyer, appointed the lawyers at our own end, and began the sales paperwork. The sales transaction would take three months to complete.

Almost two months have passed since that point, and earlier this week, we just almost finally cleared everything in our Rivervale home. We arranged for the handymen who work the condo to come clear off the bulky items – the Ikea sofa, the handed-me-down TV console, our master bedroom frame, the IKEA bookshelves and chairs, the Zen-like dining table etc. Thereafter, we took the opportunity to take a final round of pictures to remember our first home. As Ling mused; seeing our old home bare off furniture reminds us of what the place looked like 8 years ago too. Peter will be too young to remember the place, but Hannah might – and there will certainly be pictures to remind her!

Hannah (and Peter's) old room. Hannah likes her Minton room more.

Hannah (and Peter’s) old room. Hannah likes her Minton room more.

The living room sans furniture.

The living room sans furniture.

Thankfully, our new Minton home doesn't exhibit such strong wall colors!

Thankfully, our new Minton home doesn’t exhibit such strong wall colors!

The bulk furniture at the basement carpark awaiting for the handymen to cart them over to the bulk disposal point. Most of these in the picture here were from Ikea.

The bulk furniture at the basement carpark awaiting for the handymen to cart them over to the bulk disposal point. Most of these in the picture here were from Ikea.

We’ll miss our Rivervale home; the cool breezes we enjoyed in the living room everyday, the great neighbors, the large space the condo sat on, and the general serenity in the condo’s amenities and common areas. Hope the new owners take care of the place!

Another three weeks since my last post on our two kids. The most significant development between the two is that Peter is now – for all purposes and intent – mobile. Yep, he’s able to confidently prop himself up and briskly baby-stomp around the house now, and only occasionally losing balance. That’s added a new spin to home safety, since one of us parents need to keep a loose eye on him when he’s awake and scurrying around our home – it’s not entirely baby proof yet – and it helps that Hannah is like a Meekrat, playing sentry and alerting us loudly if she sees her baby brother doing something dangerous!

The two kids have been taking turns becoming mildly ill over the last fortnight though. Nothing serious and just minor colds and some coughing on Peter’s part, but it might be again due to the changing weather over the last month from warm and humid to somewhat cool most days.

We’ve also been finding ourselves lightly comparing between our two kids at similar ages and developmental ages. Peter is of course a lot stronger as a baby and louder than Hannah was at the same age years ago. Must be a baby boy thing. Hannah on the other hand picked up simple words a lot quicker. In fact, at 1 year 2 months, we recall that she was able to call either of us, while Peter at this point is just managing “da… da”, presumably in reference to his daddy. Similarly, we had our small group friends over at our home last Friday, and observed that comparing him to another baby boy who was younger by a few months, Peter still seems… baby-ish, while the other boy was looking distinctly more mature!

Our small group gathering during the mid-autumn lantern festival. The baby boy to Peter's left is younger than he is!

Our small group gathering during the mid-autumn lantern festival. The baby boy to Peter’s left is younger than he is!

Dinner at Tim Ho Wan, the famed dim sum restaurant. During the restaurant chain's opening in Singapore, people lined up for hours just to get a seat. The crowds have tapered off, so we were able to walk right in without waiting for am early weekday dinner.

Dinner at Tim Ho Wan, the famed dim sum restaurant. During the restaurant chain’s opening in Singapore, people lined up for hours just to get a seat. The crowds have tapered off, so we were able to walk right in without waiting for an early weekday dinner.

The two kids at Hannah's kindergarten mid-autumn festival celebrations in Punggol.

The two kids at Hannah’s kindergarten mid-autumn festival celebrations in Punggol.

We haven't previously brought Hannah to an indoor playground, and finally did so earlier this week. This is at Pollywogs @ East Coast. The place has the usual suite of kiddie-play areas, is attractively priced, and parents can accompany their kids without additional charge.

We haven’t previously brought Hannah to an indoor playground, and finally did so earlier this week. This is at Pollywogs @ East Coast. The place has the usual suite of kiddie-play areas, is attractively priced, and parents can accompany their kids without additional charge.

Build sandcastles at East Coast park after Pollywogs!

Build sandcastles at East Coast park after Pollywogs!

Getting Peter to learn to drink from a sippy cup. Ling thought this might help Peter transit to learn to speak words.

Getting Peter to learn to drink from a sippy cup. Ling thought this might help Peter transit to learn to speak words.

The weather has turned – surprisingly – cool since last week after the National Day weekend, with flash storms occurring at several points during the week. Quite interesting to think about it, since just over a year ago, we were pretty much living in daily smog, and for some reason, the haze has not returned for the most part to our island. It did hit a few parts of our neighbors up north in Malaysia, but judging from the news, it still wasn’t up to the extremely unhealthy levels of June 2013 even then. There are still a few dengue clusters about the island, but thankfully too, our area in Hougang has dropped off the dengue hotspot list since the last fortnight too.

Today and the next 3 days of weather. This is considered pleasantly cooling by local standards of humidity!

Today and the next 3 days of weather. This is considered pleasantly cooling by local standards of humidity!

On the personal front; my detailed health screening returned the other week to report that I was in good health at the age of 42, for the most part. Because the report also noted that I was approaching high-blood pressure and also have high (bad) cholesterol. Quite a timely wake-up call, because I resolved immediately thereafter to exercise regularly and eat healthily. For the former; I tried swimming at the Minton lap pool, but unfortunately, the pool gets frequently misused by residents who treat the pool as a water play ground for young kids rather than an exercise pool. Next best option; stairs-climbing! I’ve been walking up from the ground to the top floor at our apartment block at least 3-4 times a week now, and have been steadily improving the number of iterations I do a complete cycle. Started off with 2 iterations and I’m now up to 4 – the latter of which makes it roughly about 56 floors of stairs. Good stuff!

As for our two kids, we have a few developmental notes to make since the last fortnight too.

Hannah having fun with the Nikon Coolpix L29 we got her for her last birthday. She might just have the photographer gene, as some of her pictures are pretty nicely framed! We'll post up some of her shots soon enough.

Hannah having fun with the Nikon Coolpix L29 we got her for her last birthday. She might just have the photographer gene, as some of her pictures are pretty nicely framed! We’ll post up some of her shots soon enough.

Peter has got to the point where he can squirm free from the seatbelt restraints. The situation got so bad that on a couple of occasions, we had to stop the car by the roadside, and carry him out to sit with us in the front compartment.  Since then, we've reversed this seat location so that it faces front now, and added an additional restraining strap (courtesy of Ikea, and sewed in by Ling) so that he can't easily get free from the car seat belt... until he figures out how to unbuckle himself altogether!

Peter has got to the point where he can squirm free from the seatbelt restraints. The situation got so bad that on a couple of occasions, we had to stop the car by the roadside, and carry him out to sit with us in the front compartment. Since then, we’ve reversed this seat location so that it faces front now, and added an additional restraining strap (courtesy of Ikea, and sewed in by Ling) so that he can’t easily get free from the car seat belt… until he figures out how to unbuckle himself altogether!

Celebrated mom's 71st birthday over the National Day weekend. With all her grandkids in this picture.

Celebrated mom’s 71st birthday over the National Day weekend. With all her grandkids in this picture.

We also started Hannah on introductory Ballet lessons too. Our Saturday weekend mornings are now spent hanging around Ang Mo Kio central while she's at her classes. She enjoys the classes tremendously, and we'll see how far she'll want to take this new found love.

We also started Hannah on introductory Ballet lessons too. Our Saturday weekend mornings are now spent hanging around Ang Mo Kio central while she’s at her classes. She enjoys the classes tremendously, and we’ll see how far she’ll want to take this new found love.

Another one of those 'in' activities now for kids. Ling bought her a large jar of Pyssla beads from Ikea. She's put together simple patterns and have been proudly presenting them to everyone around her.

Another one of those ‘in’ activities now for kids. Ling bought her a large jar of Pyssla beads from Ikea. She’s put together simple patterns and have been proudly presenting them to everyone around her.

Started Peter too on a variety of fruits, including banana and apple slices. He's apparently more interested in upsetting the apple cart here then just eating the slices!

Started Peter too on a variety of fruits, including banana and apple slices. He’s apparently more interested in upsetting the apple cart here then just eating the slices!

Earlier post in this two-parter here.

A desktop PC would have easily been able to hold a solution that was quick, offer storage solutions as large as its case can hold. Except that if the thing was possibly gonna go into a TV console, I was going to be limited by how big the case could be; especially along the height and depth dimensions. Of the major casing manufacturers, many offer their own unique line of mini-ITX casings. After a lot of exploration, the ones I shortlisted included the Elite 110 and also the SilverStone Sugo SG05. Of the two cases, the Elite 110 was a little taller and wider – which were fine – but more seriously, deeper – which while would have meant a very tight fit into the TV cabinet with very little clearance for cables. The SG05 was a much more comfy fit, though also a less-widely carried model at Sim Lim shops. Very nicely too was that the SG05 was able to hold video cards of up to 10″ in length. It wouldn’t fit the fastest cards that money can buy, but pretty decent solutions nonetheless of the GTX X60 variety.

The rig as configured from existing and new parts from Sim Lim were:

Silverstone Sugo SG05 Mini-ITX Black Casing. The casing wasn’t of the screwless variety, The casing offered space for an SSD, a 3.5 inch HDD, and even a slim DVD bay (unused after assembly).

Silverstone SFX Series ST45SF-G 450W Gold series. Not much options here, as I needed a slim-profile PSU. The casing actually comes bundled with a similar wattage PSU but of the bronze rating, but that was out of stock too. So, paid a little more to get a more power-efficient and higher-rated PSU.

Intel i5-4460. Slightly less quick than the i5-4670 that’s in the desktop rig. I’m not intending to do photo editing or video rendering on this machine though, so a slower i5 was just fine.

Xigmatek Praeton LD963 Low-profile CPU Cooler.  A normal full-sized CPU cooler wouldn’t have fitted in!

Asus H97I-Plus Mini-ITX motherboard. I was originally intending for a H87i motherboard but that wasn’t available at the store I was picking up the bundle from, so went with the newer and very marginally more expensive H97i board.

Kingston DDR3 1600 MHz 8GB RAM. Went with the cheapest 1600 MHz value-RAM I could find.

Western Digital 4TB Green HDD. I’ve had a lot of luck with the Western Digital Green HDDs, compared to the couple of Seagate Barracudas that all failed because of (apparently) batch issues at manufacturing. I swapped this HDD for an older 2TB drive from my desktop rig though – 2TB should suffice for the moment. Added one of my spare OCZ 160GB SSDs to it as the primary bootup drive.

Palit 2GB DDR5 GTX760. The same card to my desktop rig.

Microsoft All-in-One Media keyboard. Compact keyboard with a built-in trackpad. Would had been perfect – were it not for that there’s no function-lock key. Arrgggh.

Casings in this class are very compact, which meant very tight quarters to mount components, cables and connectors around. Still, after a couple of hours installing Windows 8.1, and transferring nearly a TB of family video and pictures, the unit was good to go.

The SG05.

Installing stuff onto the primary drive of the SG05.

Cable management? What cable management LOL.

Cable management? What cable management LOL.

Installing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, just for the heck of it. Check out the download speed: not quite 1 Gbps as the connection has gone through two routers before reaching this PC, but very good for our needs.

Installing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, just for the heck of it. Check out the download speed: not quite 1 Gbps and just a shade under half that as the connection has gone through two routers before reaching this PC – but still very good for our family’s bandwidth needs.

The rig all ready to go, and sitting inside our bedroom TV console.

The rig sitting inside our bedroom TV console.

The first TV that gets the honors in hooking-up is our Master Bedroom’s TV panel – the old Panasonic Viera plasma 46″ from our Rivervale home. Oddly, though the Viera supports 1920×1080 resolution, I couldn’t get it to display at that resolution without losing about 5% of its left and right edges, resulting in a very odd though resolution of 1768×992 resolution. Tinkering around the Viera options though revealed a 16:9 Overscan option, and disabling that from the default enabled setting sorted the 1080p problem nicely.

All done and finally ready for an Assassin’s Creed IV: Blag Flag stress test.:)

Long-post, so split into two parts.

Back at the end of last year, I did my every couple of years routine of assembling a new desktop rig to see me through the next stretch. That PC now sits comfortably in its own corner at our workroom, and has worked very well for 8 months now without any issues. Interestingly, when I did a routine check on its internals, there was noticeably less accumulated dust and dirt inside it than I’d expected. Which made me wonder if it’s because our Minton home is less dusty than our old Rivervale place. In any case, at some point, I’d be thinking very hard about making a couple of custom dust filters and putting it at the vents of this machine.

Another PC project I’d been thinking of putting together since moving in has been a PC that would be connected to one of our two flat-screen TVs. The motivation for this came about when Hannah started expressing interest at the start of the year to see photos and videos of herself when she was a toddler. Now, most media players can do that to a degree, but format support remains iffy, and the user-interface is also clunky. Forget about scrolling through several thousands of pictures in each folder, and file searches too. The PS3 fares somewhat better with its support of video and picture formats but not by much. So, this home pictures and video rig would had to be based off a PC configuration and running a traditional desktop operating system.

The main challenge though was figuring out a suitable size for it. My requirements for this rig varied over the months, and they went something like this:

Compact enough to fit into our customized TV console deck, or sit on top of it.

Can run full HD content well.

Offer internal storage options of reasonably large capacities (as in a couple of TBs), and preferably chassis space for both an SDD as primary drive and a separate HDD for media.

Can be dual-purposed to run 3D games with some future-proofing.

The last requirement one was especially tricky, as 3D games require decent graphic processing unit cards, and those things are not small, and more significantly, require significant cooling apparatus and ventilation space to keep them operating optimally too. The PC market has seen a selection of miniature PCs, especially from lines like Asus EEE PCs, Zotac Mini-PCs, and Gigabyte Brixes. The EEE PCs are very stylish, compact and would have been a pleasing and futuristic accessory that would go well with the cabinets. But while their line of machines would not be able to drive anything beyond simple flash-based games.  The Zotac and Gigabyte Brix mini-PCs offer a decent range of configurations and choices, with their top-line solution available here being rigs that include an i5/i7 processors alongside Iris Pro 5200 graphics. I found the Zotac models rather drab-looking externally, and favored the Gigabyte models for their strong paint jobs for the casings.

A Gigabyte Brix in  exciting red!

A Gigabyte Brix in exciting red!

A Zotac - not as interesting looking.

A Zotac – not as interesting looking.

The Iris Pro solution was interesting, as it’s widely regarded as one of the current quickest integrated video solutions for small form-factor PCs. It would have run current 3D games somewhat well but wasn’t especially future proof against upcoming content – and more worryingly, the early reviews of the Gigabyte Brix models with the Iris Pro noted serious heat and noise issues. Gigabyte had just announced a new Brix model that would feature a quicker and dedicated graphics card based off the GTX760, but that model wasn’t available here yet – and judging from the prices of the American pricing, would have probably cost about S$1.5K once memory and storage solutions had been included in. These mini-PC models too typically also offer a single-bay for storage options: which would have meant that I’d have to go with a 2.5 inch HDD (slower program and operating system access than an SSD), and also limited to 2TB in capacity too currently.

More in the next post!

 

We drove past Jalan Besar yesterday Sunday late-morning on our way to brunch, and it occurred to us that it’s already been past six months where we’d spent most of our spare time outside work on the hunt for electrical fixtures and installations for our Minton home. Ever since moving and settling into our home, our leisure hangout places have also gone through a bit of a shift. Back at our old place, the places where we’d head out to on weekends would routinely be Compass Point, Hougang Mall, Hougang1, and Greenwich Village, where both our workplaces are situated. Nowadays, it’s Serangoon Nex, City Square Mall, Bugis Junction, and we’ll be also adding Toa Payoh hub soon enough to that mix too.

What has helped a lot of course is that our Minton home is located at a relatively centralized location than the north-easterly Rivervale was. And that in turn has made getting to downtown places easier too via private transportation. Unfortunately, the same can’t be quite said for public transportation. It’s closer to downtown, but our new home requires quite a bit more walking distance to get to either one of the two MRT stations that the condo is equi-distance from.

Ling has lots of little anecdotes to share too about our two kids. For instance: a month ago, Hannah surprised her by saying this:

Hannah: Mommy, thank you for growing didi for me.

Mommy: ?? You’re welcomed, sweetie.

Both Hannah and Peter enjoy playing with each other since Peter started to sit up and recognise faces and voices. Sometimes we wonder whether the age gap of 4 years has something to do with it. We were certainly surprised to hear the daughter thanking us for giving her a brother.

Another one of these conversations:

Hannah: Mommy, what are you going to do with the cheese?

Mommy: I’m going to let it melt and mix it up with the corn.

Hannah: What is melt?

Mommy: It’s when something solid becomes liquid. Okay, it’s like when you put ice on the table and it becomes water.

Hannah: Okay, for example ah, when you eat ice cream and it du..du..du..du..du…and it melts. The hot air around it makes it melt.

Mommy: Oh yah…

Cup corn-styled!

Cup corn-styled!

And more pictures now.:)

Got no clue what is going in Peter's head when this picture was taken!  He's got four teeth coming along now.

Got no clue what is going in Peter’s head when this picture was taken! He’s got four teeth coming along now.

Peter can easily hoist himself up, and is almost able to walk on his own now. The terror to come LOL.

Peter can easily hoist himself up, and is almost able to walk on his own now. The terror to come LOL.

A couple minutes of iPad time. This one's that popular (among young girls?) Toca Hair Saloon game. on iOS.

A couple minutes of iPad time. This one’s that popular (among young girls?) Toca Hair Saloon game. on iOS.

Not sure what she's thrilled about, but that's the Fairprice Supermarket cash receipt for our groceries.

Not sure what she’s thrilled about, but that’s the Fairprice Supermarket cash receipt for our groceries.

 

It might be the company I keep, but I rarely see or hear of many friends who still listen to classical music regularly anymore, if going by social media posts is any indicator. Just earlier this year, I shared a couple of Youtube videos of live recordings of pieces I enjoyed – including a lovely rendition of Handel’s Lascia Ch’io Piango aria as sung by New Zealander Hayley Westenra – and not surprisingly, very few seemed to respond to it. Not quite like the ‘Likes’ any one of Peter or Hannah’s pictures would routinely enjoy.

I’ve still continued eMusic’s subscription service since my last post about my love for the classics 4 years ago now, and picking up to a dozen classical albums each month under its service package – most of which I’ll go through, select, and pack them into the car audio for listening. If it weren’t for this service, I don’t think I’d ever discover much lesser known classical composers like Johann Fasch, Jean-Marie Leclair, Charles Villers Stanford or Pietro Locatelli. I’ve generally steered away from the well-known works from the mainstream composers on eMusic on the other hand – there are only so many versions of Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s London Symphonies, or Beethoven’s Piano Concertos I want to acquire!

Interestingly and perhaps reflecting also of young people trends, there are fewer manufacturers of dedicated MP3 players these days, what with many preferring to get their music fix via smartphones. Two of the holdouts still releasing updated models regularly are Sony and Cowon. My last MP3 player was a Cowon C2 which I bought from Amazon last year in March and had it shipped here. That little unit produced lovely audio, a very wide range of customization options, and a battery that seemed to run forever – and whose touchscreen zonked out last month. Arrgh. That was my second Cowon MP3 player over the last 5 years, and the first one also failed though for other reasons.

I wasn’t keen to return to Cowon players any time soon again, even though they are still routinely among audiophile’s favorite choices of personal audio units. I was however interested in trying out an Android-based MP3 player, if nothing else that they routinely come with larger touch-based screens, great customization options, and also running off an operating platform I was familiar with and like a lot – if also on the other hand, at the expense of usually shorter battery runlength and also overall stability.

The Sennheiser Momentum hooked up with the Sony F886.

The Sennheiser Momentum hooked up with the Sony F886.

So; in came the Sony Walkman NWZ-F886, and accompanying it a Sennheiser Momentum On the Go – that was picked up early this month. There weren’t that many choices for Android-based MP3 players, quite unlike the almost bewildering range of headphones out there from dirt cheapo ones under $10 to premium ones that have everything and cost a few thousand moola. And after a fortnight of use:

Customization – hooray!

Svelte form factor. Compact, light, and its case that oozes confidence and density – none of that creaky stuff that you get with cheap plastics. Very premium-looking too.

Pretty good audio – and almost as good as the Cowon players.

Android runs well on it. No lag or stuttering observed in music playback. Haven’t quite stress-loaded it with other apps though (no intention to).

Reasonably high-resolution screen for me to squint at the album covers.

Charges quickly.

On the other hand:

Battery isn’t as cracked up as others have suggested. I’m maybe squeezing about 15+ hours of it with some light usage of the screen and scrolling about albums.

Finger-print magnet.

Somewhat low screen viewing angles.

Dated Android OS at 4.1.1, even with the most recent firmware update.

Uses Sony’s proprietary charging and data cables.

On the overall, I’m pretty happy with it – not that I would have had much other choices if i wasn’t!

Discovering Schubert's Overtures - thanks to eMusic.

Discovering Schubert’s Overtures – thanks to eMusic – and also all of Rossini’s Overtures, part of Christian Benda’s series of recordings with the Prague Sinfonia Orchestra.

 

 

Been another long while since I did a post on our kids! So, lots of pictures in this update post. I think we’re blessed in that both Hannah and Peter’s birthdays are in the month of June – which nicely coincides with the stipulated school holidays in the public school calendar. We celebrated both their birthdays at home; with friends in Hannah’s case, and with our larger family for Peter. Hannah is of course at an age now where she recognizes the significance of having a birthday, and that it’s not just about having more presents and toys to play with. Peter on the other hand was completely nonplus about it and probably wondered what all the fuss was about when the family all gathered around him for the celebration song.

Hannah just turned five!

Hannah just turned five!

And received from us a Nikon compact camera as a birthday present.

And received from us a Nikon compact camera as a birthday present.

Hannah admiring her just taken-selfie, while Peter looks bewildered at the bounced flash that just triggered to take this picture.

Hannah admiring her just taken-selfie, while Peter looks bewildered at the bounced flash that just triggered to take this picture.

We haven't bought Hannah a lot to swim in the new main pool @ Minton, given that our weekends have been quite packed with activities. She's been taking swimming lessons too at school, so is more comfortable now in the water.

We haven’t bought Hannah a lot to swim in the new main pool @ Minton, given that our weekends have been quite packed with activities. She’s been taking swimming lessons too at school, so is more comfortable now in the water.

We've started letting Peter have his tidbits of food with us when we eat out of home. Necessary method of engagement, otherwise he'd just bawl (out of boredom?!).

We’ve started letting Peter have his tidbits of food with us when we eat out of home. Necessary method of engagement, otherwise he’d just bawl (out of boredom?!).

Peter more interested in his birthday cake than the singing.:)

Peter more interested in his birthday cake than the singing.:)

Peter is nearly able to stand unsupported on his own now. At the moment, he can keep his balance for a few seconds, but he's getting there.

Peter is nearly able to stand unsupported on his own now. At the moment, he can just barely keep his balance for a few seconds, but he’s getting there.