The wife was musing that she never gets her own new laptop at home. Oh, her workplace provides her a Fujitsu laptop, but it’s a pretty clunky machine that she doesn’t seem to like bringing to and fro work and home. All the home notebooks she’s used – the Dell XPS 16 (fabulous machine with a beautiful display) and the Macbook Pro Retina – had been hand-me downs. Powerful machines yes, with the latter still the most high-spec laptop I’ve (ever) owned. In any case – probably also in part that it’s a month to her birthday – I went about with the usual vigor to find her one such.

And of requirements: the wife only said she didn’t need it to be mobile. I was already eyeing a beautiful Asus Zenbook UX305, solid unibody construction with a bright and good-contrast matte screen, fitted with a 128GB SSD – and all for just $999… and that option was thrown out of the window.

Her workplace also had a small grant claimable by staff to support them in the purchase of such technological equipment. Since her new notebook was going to mostly sit at home, the other requirements I had in mind were:

14″ to 15.6″ screen. Has to be full HD – none of that 1366×768 resolutions

At least 8 GB of RAM

Preferably non-reflective glossy screen, but even if it’s matte, it needs to offer wide viewing angles

Preferably an SSD drive

At least an i5 processor

Not too cheap looking

Good warranty terms

All for under $1.4K

Of the bunch of requirements, the hardest requirement to meet was really the screen and also the SSD option. Very few notebooks at this price range will offer a large full HD screen with wide viewing angles and an SSD drive to go alongside that. I did think about going for a custom-assembled Aftershock notebook that could had been configured within that budget, but that came sans operating system and would require an additional purchase – an expense I was trying to avoid.

I finally got lucky over the weekend evening when after dinner at Parkway Parade, I chanced across the HP Pavilion 15 at the Best Denki, and of the following specification:

Got it for a lot cheaper than the Recommended Retail Price on the August 2015 HP Retail Guide.

Got it for a lot cheaper than the Recommended Retail Price on the August 2015 HP Retail Guide.

i7 processor – nice. Upgradeable to Windows 10 – check. 8 GB RAM – check. Dedicated if yesteryear generation GPU – don’t need it. 15.6″ screen – check. FHD matte screen with wide viewing angle – all check. And 3 years warranty – nice! I would have likely shortlisted this model for further consideration – but the notebook also was tagged a promotional price of $1099. That sealed the decision pretty much.

After spending a day loading up the usual office productivity software and other applications that Ling typically uses, and forced-upgraded it to Windows 10, what I liked of the new HP Pavilion 15 p257TX:

Full HD screen with a decent viewing angle, and good brightness levels to match. The color gamut isn’t quite as wide as the XPS 16 nor the Retina, but it’s still pretty good for a matte screen.

Comfortably spaced chiclet styled keyboard with a nice tactile and springy touch to its keys.

Properly placed USB ports: the right USB 2.0 port for the mouse, and two USB 3.0 ports on the left.

Large trackpad.

At 2.2 Kg weight, not that heavy for a 15.6″ laptop.

Attractive-looking design. Not a fingerprint magnet.

Dirt cheap for what it’s offering.

And as for the stuff that’s less stellar:

The 1TB 5400 rpm hard disk is slow. Or maybe it’s just that this is my first notebook in 4 years that’s running off a HDD.

Hard disk activity lights situated on the right-hand side and away from immediate view.

Keyboard lid exhibits some flex.

Thick bezel around the screen.

Not a backlit keyboard.

Lots of the usual bloatware, but thankfully – I was able to install all of those I didn’t care for.

Apart from the slow hard disk, pretty minor annoyances, made even more trivial when one considers the low asking price.

The HP Pavilion 15 p257TX.

The HP Pavilion 15 p257TX.

Slightly off-centered keyboard to make way for the numeric keypad.

Slightly off-centered keyboard to make way for the numeric keypad.

Spacious trackpad, though still not with the same tactile feel of a Macbook.

Spacious trackpad, though still not with the same tactile feel of a Macbook.

Two USB ports on the left, alongside a LAN and HDMI port, and air exhaust vents.

Two USB ports on the left, alongside a LAN and HDMI port, and air exhaust vents.

Another USB port, and the optical drive.

Another USB port, and the optical drive.

Attractive if somewhat plasticky chassis.

Attractive if somewhat plasticky chassis.

The Dell XPS 13 is diminutive - while the HP Pavilion 15 is... normal size!

The Dell XPS 13 is diminutive – while the HP Pavilion 15 is… normal size!

More notes to come after extended use!

Every week, Hannah at Kindergarten 2 has two spelling quizzes; Chinese spelling on Monday, and English spelling on Tuesday. Each quiz requires the kids to write several words – usually three for Chinese and five to six for English. Hannah often practices for them at her nanny’s, and also at home from the weekend onward. Hannah genuinely seems to enjoy school work. And getting the words mostly if not all correct at the quizzes is often a source of great pride for her. She’ll often gush with joy when she reports her results to us on Tuesday and Wednesday late afternoons when we pick her up, and we’ll also draw additional ‘stars’ and smiley faces in her report book as a reward for her.

Practicing her English spelling.

Practicing her English spelling.

Our girl normally does pretty well for English spelling, but Chinese spelling is a huge hit and miss. Like what Ling muses – Hannah simply doesn’t get sufficient Mandarin speaking practice at home. Mommy’s Mandarin is decent, while Daddy’s on the other hand is… – well, the less said the better! So Ling had a grand idea the other day: print the Chinese words of the week using that new Epson L550 printer, and put them up in her bathroom (of all places).

Subliminal learning!

Subliminal learning!

In both language cases though, Hannah still doesn’t take well to failure, and an early morning incident today brought this to the fore again. Today’s English spelling quiz involved the words: ‘lizard’, ‘caterpillar’, ‘worm’, ‘snail’, centipede’, and ‘spider’, and Hannah did her usual practices last night. This morning just before driving off from home, we got her to mentally rehearse the six words again – and when she had difficulties recalling how to spell ‘caterpillar’, we could see her tears starting to well-up. A quick reassurance and prompting helped her recall, but it reminded us of what her kindergarten teachers often share when we meet them: that our girl has very high expectations of herself and her work. Yes she takes pride, but she also gets super emotional at failures.

We’re not sure what to make of it, especially since Peter, even at just two years old, shows no such perfectionist tendencies. In fact, if nothing else, he has that curious if also destructive streak when he rampages about the house.

It’s indeed something to think of and reflect: on the one hand, we beam with pride when Hannah’s teachers share about Hannah’s academic accomplishments in class, her sociability and her natural leadership tendency to take charge, but are also a little worried if she doesn’t grow to better handle not being good at everything and failing as she grows older.

We’ve been using at home the very office-capable Fuji Xerox M255z printer for more than a year now, and the unit has posed no issues. Of late though, I was tempted to get a personal laser printer to situate at my office. So, the list of possible candidates from Canon, Brother and Fuji got included in a spreadsheet and I started checking out the models in person at the usual electronic and computer accessory shops whenever we were out of home for dinner and outings and the like.

The search for an office laser printer however got a 180 degree change at the start of the week – and largely because we wanted photo printouts of our recent trip to Legoland Malaysia but kept procrastinating in getting them done at the usual photo printer shops, and I figured that that having a second laser printer would be convenient, but would not fundamentally add anything new to what I do at home and in the office. Hannah loves to look at pictures and photos, and I thought why not get something for the home that would enable us to print photos on demand.

I was initially looking at portable photo printers, and learned quickly that there wasn’t a lot of choices there. There was the Canon Selphy C910 that had an attractive price-point for the unit, convenient in usage and using reasonably-priced consumables – but offered only average quality photo prints, and also printed at slightly smaller than 4R sizes. There was also the Epson Picturemate PM245 that was widely appraised to offer better photo prints at the right 4R size, but also slightly more expensive, and harder to find, and let alone the consumables.

So, it was to be typical size inkjet photo printer, and preferably with duplex printing and scanning features. There’s a very large range of photo printers on sale from the major manufacturers which made arriving at the final decision tough. Duplex printing/scanning features weren’t the only considerations though, but also the availability of consumables, same manufacturer photo paper, and also ongoing costs. After a couple of days of exploration, the choices came down to:

Canon Pixma MX727: decently-priced at $259 with a $50 cashback, this printer is fairly short but has a large footprint, and supported duplex printing/scanning. Requires a number of ink cartridges that were fairly expensive. Interesting, one salesperson said that the MX727 is an old model and going to be phased out. Canon consumables are widely available though.

Canon Maxify MB5370: quite a bit more expensive at $459 with a $70 cashback but featuring real office-type functionality, including single pass duplex scanning. Fairly tall unit, using fewer ink cartridges of a different type than the Pixma series that seemed cheaper and also slightly more ink capacity too.

Brother MFC-J2720: average-priced at $368, pretty compact, duplex everywhere, average-priced ink cartridges that were available at stores, capable of printing A3 even. This was initially on the top of my list and I nearly decided on it – but stopped short when I couldn’t readily find manufacturer photo paper for it. Gaah.

Epson L550: average-priced at $359, and after nearly an hour of indecision, that’s what we settled on.

The Epson L550!

The Epson L550!

Why the L550 though? First comments after two evenings of setup and use to print 50+ photos on premium photo paper, and starting off with its limitations and what we didn’t like:

No duplex printing or scanning.

Primitive and ancient-looking 1980s monochrome LCD screen.

Somewhat old model from two years ago.

Does not support borderless printing, or rather, I haven’t found the setting for it. Ling doesn’t mind though and in fact prefers the prints with white borders.

Very slow printer setup. The ink took 20 minutes to initialize, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the excruciatingly slow software installation took another 30 minutes. Or maybe the installation got stuck somewhere without my realization.

Noisy. The L550 printing was like monkeys hammering away on conga drums. Laser printers aren’t noiseless of course, but I guess we’ve been spoiled by the M255z’s relatively silent operation.

And on the other hand:

Stunningly beautiful photo prints, especially at the highest quality settings and using Epson’s best photo paper. Ling took one look at our first A4 photo printouts of Hannah and Peter, and said “Worth every cent!”

Three of our first A4 photo printers. Beautifully rendered colors that look very professionally printed,

Three of our first A4-sized photos. Beautifully rendered colors that look professionally printed.

Very cheap ink. Epson has come up with a clever ink tank system that not only requires just 3 colors (apart from Black), but is refillable at extremely low cost. The printer came bundled with a complete set of fully-filled inks each costing about S$10 for about 70ml volume, and two additional black bottles even – and between them are rated to churn between 4,000-6,000 color pages. That’s cheap ink and able to print a crazy amount of material. In fact, I seriously doubt that we’d ever need to buy ink anymore – the printer will probably die out first LOL.

Cyan ink cartridge. $9.90 and 70ml volume. Cheap!

Cyan ink cartridge. $9.90 and 70ml volume. Cheap!

Recommend that you peel off the protective sticker in a single (slow) motion, unless you want ink on your fingers!

Recommend that you peel off the protective seal in a single (slow) motion, unless you want ink on your fingers!

Affordable manufacturer 4R photo papers. A stack of 30 Premium Semigloss (251g/m²) costs $7.30 and is available at most places – which works out to a competitive price of about 24 cents per print. The A4 photo papers are a little harder to find, so I’ll have to snap them up when I do find them!

A couple of niggling albeit minor issues too that I’ve developed workarounds.

Photoshop Elements/printer driver doesn’t properly switch between landscape and portrait picture orientations. A batch print job comprising a mix of both resulted in printing errors. The temporary workaround was to reset print area whenever switching between orientations.

Out of the 50+ prints I churned out, one print job canceled on its own, ejected the half-printed photo, then re-did the print one more time. Weird.

All, in – this looks like a great purchase, and Hannah is already getting her favorite pictures printed for her own personal 4R photo album that she can bring around to show off.:)

Edit 5 Aug: Good read here about Epson’s EcoTank printers.

Beef stew slow roasted italian 4 blogOf all the beef stew recipes I have tried over the past few years, none of them consistently results in moist, tender beef with a reasonably full-bodied broth.

I tried using both chuck tender cuts and stew meat cuts for the stew. Results were hit-or-miss kinda thing and most of the time I  ended up serving dry meats. I almost wanted to give up until I chanced upon a lovely food blog which featured their Italian beef stew.

Although red wine is found in the recipe, using red grape juice as substitute can still produces a yummy stew that is worthy to be served to guests. Yang is a teetotaler and I don’t drink wine as a beverage at home. Hence, not having to add wine to the stew is a big plus.

Now, the recipe still uses chuck tender cuts and I decided to try out a different cut, shin of beef, after reading up on Delia’s recommendation based on her mom’s recipe and knowing my MIL’s preferred cut for her Chinese-styled beef soup. So, gotta listen to your mothers. LOL :)

Finally, I’m so glad to see that tomatoes have no place in the broth. Me thinks the taste of tomato complicates the taste of a hearty beef stew.

At last, moist, tender beef cubes in delicious broth! Ahhh, my search has come to an end. I have a beef stew which I could call my own and feel like a great cook whenever this dish is served.

Credits must go to Donna and Chad from The Slow Roasted Italian for sharing the recipe with the world. :D Below is the recipe modified to suit our family’s tastebuds. It’s a perfect one-dish meal served with steamed white Jasmine rice.

Ingredients (serves 2 adults & 2 toddlers)
• 450 g beef shin – trim fats, sinews/silvery white outer layer, cut into 1.5” cubes
• 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp paprika
• ½ tsp coarse ground black pepper
• 1 tsp salt, divided (to taste)
• 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp unsalted butter
• 1 shallot, diced
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 2 cups home-cooked chicken stock (unsalted)
• 1/2 cup red grape juice
• 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
• ½ tsp dried Italian herbs seasoning (I think this is important to the overall taste)
• 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks (becos’ there’s a rabbit in Yang. JK. Seriously, forget about potatoes. Carrots complement this dish better.)
• fresh parsley to garish, optional

Method
1. Trim hard fat (which does not melt during the cooking process) and silver skin (white and silvery looking) from beef shin and cut into 1.5″ cubes. It takes about 5 minutes, but don’t skip this step. It is so worth it.

2. Combine flour, paprika, pepper and ½ tsp salt in a medium ziplock bag. Seal and shake to combine. Add beef and shake until well coated.

3. Warm olive oil in a French oven over medium low heat (to avoid burnt meat), once you can feel warmth when holding your hand 6 inches from the pot, add butter.

4. Once butter has melted, remove beef from flour and shake gently to remove loose flour. Place coated beef in the French oven, one piece at a time and then brown on all sides. Cook in two batches. Turn pieces until all sides are browned and remove them and set aside in a bowl. Once the first batch is cooked, add the second batch and repeat. Remember, watch the heat. Don’t let the meat burn as the French oven can heat up quickly.

5. Meanwhile, prepare shallot and garlic. Shallot should be diced and garlic minced. Set aside.

6. Once all beef is browned and removed, add shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add grape juice and deglaze by scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the oven. Add chicken stock, Worchestershire and Italian seasoning. Stir to combine. Return beef to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and cover. Allow soup to simmer for 1.5 hours.

7. Meanwhile, prepare carrots and set aside.

8. After about 1.5 hr of simmering, add carrots. Stir to coat vegetables and cover. Cook for another 30 minutes or until carrots are fork tender. Taste broth. If necessary, add additional salt to taste (mine needed ½ tsp).

About done :D

About done :D

9. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired. Serve hot with steamed white Jasmine rice. Bon appétit! :D

Tuck in!

Tuck in!

p.s. French oven is preferred for its even heat distribution.

It’s just past a full year since our Minton renovation project ended, and I thought it’d be fun to do a retrospective review of how the new home has been since it’s now lived-in for a year. Most things and design decisions have worked very well – surprisingly! – but there’s been a couple of others that with the benefit of hindsight, haven’t worked as well. Long post, so split into a couple of parts – and starting off with the things that have worked well.

Fans: One big difference between our old Rivervale home against our Minton place now is in our type of fans. Our current place is already a little more airy than the Rivervale one – though this is also seasonal – but after the frequent tripping over of electrical cables lying about on the floor from standing fans in our old home, we went all-out for ceiling fans in the Minton a year ago. The Crestar fans in the Living, Master and Children’s rooms are still working as well as they did when first installed and providing plenty of air circulation. The Fanco 36″ in the Workroom remains under-powered – a mistake in choice back then that’s necessitate turning on the air-conditioning a little more frequently there just to keep things comfortable in the room. The fans do occasionally make a bit more din when our part-time cleaners clean the fan-blades, but they’re not causing enough ruckus at this point to bother us – thankfully!

Clotheslines: A year ago we were wondering if this was way-overkill to install eight ceiling clotheslines in the yard balcony on top of the clothes rack we got from Ikea, but they have turned out to be tremendously useful, given the amount of laundry we do. We also realized how lucky we were to have purchased a unit with a yard balcony of decent length which could be our dedicated laundry area.

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines - not counting the

Two stacks of four tiered clotheslines – not counting the rack below it.

Work Room Tables: This was another risky design requirement we made last year – how and if we should squeeze 3 of us in a room to do actual work. At the moment, the configuration has worked well enough, and we removed the rollers on our work room chairs too so there’s no chance of chairs slamming into each other. Hannah also seems versatile enough to do her homework anywhere in the house.

Invisible Grills: The grills have also been as they were a year ago; the cables still seem tense, and no signs of rust (yet?) too. We did hear of a neighbor going with the same grill vendor who didn’t have as much luck though – the grills showed signs of corrosion. The one gripe we have is pretty minor – the plastic caps to cover holes along the grill frames have been dropping off, like this:

Cap gone - duh.

Cap gone – duh.

Solar Film: Food for thought though: whether Films are of any real perceptible benefit might come down to whether you’ve experienced the house without Solar Films installed first. We did for a couple of months last year and can say with certainty that the Films will help. That said, we were never under any illusions that the films all around the house were gonna turn an apartment experiencing afternoon heat into a chilled igloo. At this time of the year now, the afternoon sun is shining directly into the wide part of the house, heating up the children’s bedroom (below), the workroom and to a lesser degree, the Master room. The films do help by bringing the general temperature a couple of degrees down – though it’s still not enough to make the rooms bearable for working and living in the afternoon heat without turning on additional air-conditioning.

The children's room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

The children’s room on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with the full 1600 hrs sun blasting into the room.

Front Balcony: We had grand and lofty ideas about how to use the fairly large front balcony space before moving in – and that included a general lounging around area and also children’s play area. But given the general humidity of the island in general, the Front Balcony has turned into our little stretch of green for Ling’s plants, and also for drying items that need direct sunlight (the yard balcony where the laundry normally goes does not experience direct sunlight for the most part).

Multi-function balcony LOL.

Multi-function balcony LOL.

More notes in the next post, soon.:)

Another two months have gone past since I did a post of our kids! Work has kept both of us pretty busy, and activities at home have mostly settled into a tidy routine. Hannah is just as chirpy as ever, and now takes weekly swimming lessons at her school and was ‘promoted’ to the next level at her ballet class with corresponding changes to class timings on the weekend too.

Peter though is still a huge handful, and is showing inclinations to throw tantrums (basically bawling) when he doesn’t get his way. We’ve been starting to discipline him – or actually slightly more so from the daddy than mommy – but it sure is a battle of wills, and he’s still not at the age where he recognizes that he can’t always get his way. Sigh. Ling was wondering if her consumption of coffee during Peter’s pregnancy has anything to do with him being more hyper and emo, compared to his easy-going and affable big sister. When she was carrying Hannah, she went with all the old wife tales and cautions about not consuming certain types of foods, but with Peter, it was no holds barred LOL.

Peter has learned how to handle eating utensils.

Peter has learned how to handle eating utensils.

I've been finding games where the two of them can play together. One such first moments.

I’ve been finding games where the two of them can play together. One such first moments.

Hannah showing how she does her Chinese homework - with one leg up!

Hannah showing how she does her Chinese homework – with one leg up!

Peter making faces. Is that one of horror, or grimace?

Peter making faces. Is that one of horror, or grimace?

There's a small kid's animal zoo near Jalan Kayu that we swung by over the weekend. Hannah is deciding whom among the three gets the last bird seed, while Peter seemed unnerved!

There’s a small kid’s animal zoo near Jalan Kayu that we swung by over the weekend. Hannah is deciding whom among the three gets the last bird seed, while Peter seemed unnerved!

Hannah making new friends.

Hannah making new friends.

On the toys and gadgets on the home-front. Oddly, the Macbook Pro that spectacularly failed early this year resulting in the purchase of two laptops decided to work properly again. Now between us we’ve got five personal laptops. Oh well. Plenty of second hand equipment to foist onto Hannah when she starts schooling and needing to use computers. The Panasonic LX100 has been serving us wonderfully well too, and alongside the Nissin i40 pocket flashgun, has pretty much taken over photographic duties from the full m4/3s cameras. Center sharpness for most images remain an issue, and subject isolation is less attractive than the primes I’ve been shooting with before picking up the LX100, but it sure is a lot more versatile and portable than carrying two camera bodies fitted with primes.

We’ll also be picking up our new ride in a few days’ time. More to come on that soon.:)

Our best bud and family friend was going to be in the region for a tech event, so took the opportunity to visit and stay with us. This is his fifth visit to Singapore (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015) after his promise the last time round that he’d be in Singapore for SG50, and his first stay at Minton too. The period of travel while about the same as it would had been for most times of the year, would had been even better if it’d coincided with the children’s/Ling’s March school break, but oh well.

The stay at Minton this time round required a bit more logistics and planning, on account that despite the floor area of our Minton unit being significantly more than Rivervale’s, the bedrooms aren’t bigger. The +1 (study) room that is currently Peter’s room wouldn’t fit the mattress, and even if we could find a thin enough one, the door wouldn’t close. So, Peter retained his room, and we asked Hannah if she could relinquish her room for “Uncle Matt” – to which she happily consented. Not that it mattered very much, since she still waltzes into the room like it’s still her own!.

The arrival at Changi Airport was also smooth (though Matt will relate the story of pandemonium at the neighbouring gate at Houston International which he jokingly quipped that the pilot had called in sick), and touched down in Singapore from Moscow early even, and he settled in easily on early Saturday morning in time for us to bring Hannah for her weekend ballet classes, and Matt’s first roti-pratas for his stay. Hannah was like BFFs with Matt from the get-go, which is probably testament to our girl’s easily all-round affable nature.

Selected pictures from the first four days!

Settling into his room, with his two self-invited roommates!

Settling into his room, with his two self-invited roommates!

Pratas at Prata Raya @ Ang Mo Kio. Curry's pretty good but pratas-wise, we prefer the fare at Prata Wala.

Pratas at Prata Raya @ Ang Mo Kio. Curry’s pretty good but pratas-wise, we prefer the fare at Prata Wala.

Noon-time swim in the Minton pool. Weather was scorching hot - but nothing that a cool swim can't help.

Noon-time swim in the Minton pool. Weather was scorching hot – but perfect for a cooling swim.

Debating over the finer points of cuisine (maybe?) at Dian Xiao Er @ Nex.

Debating over the finer points of cuisine (maybe?) at Dian Xiao Er @ Nex.

Too much food - again - at Ichiban Sushi @ Hougang Mall.

Too much food – again – at Ichiban Sushi @ Hougang Mall.

Cosy fit in our Nissan Latio for our three rear-seat passengers.

Cosy fit in our Nissan Latio for our three rear-seat passengers.

Checking the city views at the top of The Pinnacle @ Duxton yesterday morning.

Checking the city views at the top of The Pinnacle @ Duxton yesterday morning.

And oh yeah. We’re putting together broad plans to reciprocate with a visit to the midwest, maybe around 2016-2017 when Peter’s a little older. And our Ang Mo friend’s first reaction was: “Why…? There’s nothing in St. Louis worth seeing!” LOL.

2015 is one of those lucky years when the Lunar New Year falls just before the weekend, and extending the long holiday weekend for us too, and we got to enjoy a good 4.5 day stretch. Last year‘s family pictures taken over the festive season didn’t look so good on account that Peter was suffering from a bout of mosquitoes bites. We did better this year, since Peter was (slightly) more able to listen to instructions to look good for pictures, though not by too much still!

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

The Foo clan, 2015. Everybody in our small family was present this year.

Us!

Us! Don’t mind the plant watering bottle on the top left corner LOL.

Lighting was a bit off for the first picture above – you can see that the right side of the frame looks a bit darker than the rest of the picture. The Metz flashgun wasn’t producing sufficient output. I guess that was because the flash head had not been fully turned to point upwards but at a slight off-angle, and that might have caused the flash gun to misunderstand how much light was required. The first picture had to be post-processed from the RAW file as a result. The flashgun was correctly adjusted for the second picture of the four of us at home, as it was taken an hour later.

One thing’s for sure. My next camera is gonna feature built-in wireless control capability. I’ve had enough mucking around with third party wireless remote-controllers for the old Nikon DSLRs and for the current Olympus E-M5. The wireless remote controller for the latter almost didn’t work on this occasion (I had to furiously jiggle the batteries a little). Otherwise, I would have been forced to use self-timers for the family pictures.

At play at our parents' home.

At play at our parents’ home.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy - as usual.

Despite having a runny nose, Hannah is chirpy – as usual.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

The sippy cup is more tasty than water.

Olympus has just released the next iteration of the E-M5, nearly named the Mark II of the model. The new E-M5 II is a little better-specced for the most part, including providing support for a very high-resolution mode, and an improved IBIS (In-body image stabilization) that now offers up to 5 buffer stops for sloppy handholding technique LOL. Unfortunately, the continuous AF support from the more professional but also older E-M1 model did not go over, which makes it a little harder for enthusiasts deciding between the two which to go for. Decisions to make, maybe later this year!

Monsoon has passed since the last week. The weather has been gradually warming up during the day alongside rain becoming an infrequent occurrence. And while nights remained quite cooling, it won’t be long before the island creeps into daily temperature highs of 33°C and beyond. The transition in weather has also made our two kids more vulnerable, and Peter experienced mild-temperatures on and off in the last fortnight, and Hannah is just recovering from a week long bout with skin rashes, possibly an allergic reaction to seafood at a family dinner we had a fortnight ago.

Ling was remarking that Peter doesn’t look like his age at all. At past 19 months now, he still has a baby-ish look about himself and were it not for the fact that he has a healthy pair of legs that let him run around, could be mistaken for an infant that’s just a year old. While he’s unable to say words beyond “jie jie” (“big sister”) and “daddy” and loud Homer Simpon-like “DOHs”, he’s better able to understand simple instructions we give him. Like:

“Peter, put that toy back on the table.”

“Peter, go to your jie jie.”; and of course…

“Peter, get your bu** over here NOW!!!”

He’s also less clingy to Mommy now too, after Daddy made a concerted effort to bond better with him, and will happily follow after me when he’s called to without the accompanying hollers and screaming from a couple months ago.

But then again, he’s also been doing quite a few stunts that’s been making us tear our hair out, including:

Upsetting Ling’s plants, and eating the soil that spill out.

Taking Hannah’s hair-clips and dropping them into the toilet bowl.

Taking an entire toilet roll, and also dropping it into the toilet bowl.

Taking Ling’s NASA stress ball, and biting pieces off it.

Ling was especially furious about the last one, since the stress ball was a beloved memento. We’re of course not to the point where we’ll punish Peter for misbehaving since he’s not fully cognizant of his actions, but it won’t be long now before he gets introduced to ‘time-outs’ for bad behavior.

All this said, Hannah has been a real help. As Ling put it on Facebook:

God gave us a healthy son albeit a very lively one. Sometimes I do fret over the stressful situations his liveliness brings and forget that he is a blessing. Over a peaceful dinner at home just now made me realised this and that God has also blessed us with a wonderful daughter who helped to keep Peter occupied so that the adults could eat ‘in peace’. Let me not forget that and be thankful!

Pictures.:)

Peter has de-stressed by taking out on the stress ball.

Peter has de-stressed by taking out on the stress ball.

Helping us keep an eye on Peter. After weekend brunch at Coffee Bean @ Greenwich Village.

Helping us keep an eye on Peter. After weekend brunch at Coffee Bean @ Greenwich Village.

Driving home at weekday's end. We love watching kids sleep; so peaceful and in their own world.

Driving home at weekday’s end. We love watching kids sleep; so peaceful and in their own world.

She doodles at least 2 pictures each 20 minute session on the SP3.

She doodles at least 2 pictures each 20 minute session on the SP3.

Hannah @ 5 years 8 months old, but looking older.:)

Hannah @ 5 years 8 months old, but looking older.:)

Looking cute now - but not so cute at home!

Looking cute now – but not so cute at home!

 

My follow-up post to the SP3 and XPS13 after having put both through two and one weeks of respective use.

My initial intentions for both devices were to leave the SP3 at home and for the XPS13 to be the workhorse replacement for the Macbook Pro. Funnily, both devices are now getting trafficked to work everyday in my haversack. The XPS13 is the heavy duty work machine, even if the keyboard and touchpad isn’t as nice to use or that the overall unit isn’t as lighting quick  compared to the MBP – but the SP3 is just so much fun to use. I’ve always enjoyed scribbling on the Samsung Note 3, and the SP3 takes it to a whole new level with a more natural-sized pen and larger canvas to work with. It’s also become a diagramming tool I use for teaching, and also to take copious notes during meetings.

And Hannah loves drawing on the SP3. Quite a welcomed change for us parents, because she’d normally just draw them on pieces of art paper and leave them lying around the house!

Hannah's creation on Microsoft's Fresh Paint app!

Hannah’s creation on Microsoft’s Fresh Paint app!

Battery-life wise on the XPS13 – it’s nowhere near Dell’s initial claim of 12 hours at January 2015’s CES, not at least if you intend to do use the XPS13 for anything apart from just keeping a static screen on with minimal brightness. Using the XPS13 to do a slightly-over two hour class that used Powerpoint that also included several high-resolution videos, set on near maximum brightness with Wifi + Bluetooh on, the XPS13 showed about 65% battery life remaining. Plenty enough more to run for quite a bit longer. In such usage, I’ll put the XPS13’s battery life to about 5.5-6 hours. The SP3 seems to run for about the same length of time too.

Mobility-wise; both devices are in the same ballpark weight though I feel less nervous carrying the SP3. The latter’s type-covers provides a nice friction grip when it’s hand-carried or cradled underneath my arm, while the XPS13’s aluminum body is so smooth that I fear it falling off my hands. The SP3’s exterior is also very cool and pleasant to the touch – pretty much like the Macbook’s unibody exterior.

The mini-Display port sits on different sides of both machines too. It’s the right side for the SP3, and left for the XPS13. This is a very individual thing, but all my secondary displays at work and home are always on the right-side of the principal machine. So, in my case, the SP3’s mini-Display port is a more natural orientation to the secondary display than the XPS13 – which requires the display cable to run behind the machine’s width, and hence a little messier.

The near bezel-ess display on the XPS13 is just lovely, and you’ll be continuing to marvel at the engineering feat to make it possible. That said (and apart from the light-leakage there), it also requires a bit more effort to swipe on the right-side to bring up Windows Charms. The screen also presents significantly more reflective glare than the MBP – and it doesn’t help that the maximum brightness isn’t that high to begin with. The SP3’s display is less striking, and the screen’s thicker bezel makes it look unappealing. The very slightly odd tint on the screen there too has been improved somewhat after reading a post on Surface Forums.net on how to correct that color idiosyncrasy. The screen still doesn’t produce whites as pure as that of the MBP or XPS13, but it’s an improvement now.

Both the typecover and the XPS13’s keyboard are backilt – particularly useful in the SP3’s case, since the unit is used a lot in dim bedroom light.

I have mixed feelings about the XPS13’s weaved-patterned palm rest. It’s scratch-resistant and looks premium, but I prefer the metallic-alloy feel off the MBPs, or the rougher-textured rests off the SP3. Minor thing though. As for the keyboards on both; the SP3 provides a more tactile if noisier experience, while the XPS13 is very quiet but also mushy. Given a choice, I prefer the former.

The XPS13's palmrest.

The XPS13’s palmrest.

SP3's.

SP3’s.

That’s it for the week-usage notes. More to come – maybe!