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Dengue and single parenting
One of the real hazards of living on a compact island in a perpetual state of urban renewal, coupled alongside with our infamous tropical humidity, is the risk of fast-forming breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Singapore has seen a number of cases of dengue fever in the last several years, and while most people fully recover from it – the long period of recovery notwithstanding – there have been fatalities from it already before. The dengue ‘hot spots’ move around quite a bit, but they are usually largely centered on the eastern-side of the island. Our general vicinity – the Hougang area – has been a hotspot for several times round since we moved to The Minton. But we got through just fine each time.
We finally lucked out three weeks ago though, with Ling being the first in the family now to have contacted dengue. She’s since recovered. Funnily, and from what we gather, the source of it is unlikely from Hougang – but from the nearby Serangoon area where she works. When she was contacted by the National Environment Agency while warded at Changi General Hospital, Ling advised that she was working in the Serangoon area – and the officer remarked that it was a hotspot with a hundred-odd cases in the general area at that point. Not surprising I guess, since there’s a stretch of construction sites directly facing her workplace.
The general timeline for her looks like this:
Day 1: 30 Jan – started feeling unwell. She was nauseous all day, lost all appetite for food, and was at risk of falling.
Day 6: 4 Feb – warded upon clinic’s advise, and on Sunday morning. The blood platelet count continued sinking for about two days more, and around Day 8 when the fever subsided did it start to rise again.
Day 9: 7 Feb – discharged, and given another week of medical leave to continue recovery at home
It was a four day stay at Hotel CGH, and wanting Ling to have the most comfort and privacy, we opted for the A1-type wards. And during the 9 days or so when Ling was very well and on the bed, it was largely single-parenting at home.
And my random notes from my stretch of single parenting:
The hospital is strict on visitor registration. But once I registered myself as the primary caregiver, I was able to breeze through without having to register again.
Each day began with me getting up earlier than normal to prep both kids for school, drive/walk them out, then head to the hospital, and return home in the late afternoon to bring the kids home, worry about dinner, help Hannah with her homework, wash up Peter, prepare their school bags and meal boxes for the next day, settle them both into bed, and finally household chores.
Peter was inconsolably sobbing over Days 6 to 8 that he wanted mommy to come home. I guess it was a matter of time before he had a meltdown.
Hannah on the other hand aptly demonstrated her age by volunteering to take over household chores. OK, it was just the ones that she’s fascinated with, e.g. watering the gazillion plants @ home.
The kids had a lot of ‘helpful’ suggestions on what they will rather not eat for dinner. Conversely, saying a firm ‘no’ to McDonald’s and Dominos’ pizza is an acquired skill.
Coming out with varied evening activities other than Adventures of Puss in Boots @ Netflix, and ones they won’t fight over, is harder than winning Sudoku expert level.
Trying to find an unused parking lot at CGH is painful. I used to find CGH’s car park layout confusing to no end. Now I know it like the back of my hand haha.
It was certainly a learning experience, and I was also especially lucky to have a supportive workplace so that I could take on most days over the six day intensive period, though the workplace laptop accompanied me throughout so that I wouldn’t have a backlog of work to clear when I returned back to work. Dengue fever is really no fun – but I reckon we’re at least better prepared now on what to expect if one of us contacts it next!
Chinese New Year 2018
It’s become our tradition on our blog here to do a short post every Lunar New Year. Like last year, the E-M1 and 12-40mm f2.8 did the heavy lighting for the family shots. And for a change this year, the GX85 coupled with the 45mm f1.8 handled the couple shots.
We still haven’t gotten round to having everyone sit or stand in exactly the same position each year though. But wouldn’t that be an achievement!
Things I Cherish About @ The Minton
I think the Government has long realized that Singaporeans are becoming harder to please. I reckon we’re victims of our own success – e.g. considering that our small island’s public branding has been one of efficiency, that we’re the top in the world in X or Y or Z – that, inevitably, when the regional competition catches up or surpasses us, or a service and amenity we expect to run smoothly runs into glitches (*cough*MRT), Singaporeans will just start flipping chairs and tables.
I’ve been observing it on multiple levels, including our home and the community around it. True: that some of the private apartment projects built here of late have had issues, well-reported also in media. As The Minton ages, some of the estate and unit issues are going to get more persistent – e.g. from wear and tear, or that many of us aren’t very good at taking care of public things and amenities.
So, I thought it was a good time to remember and be grateful for the things that do work, and that things aren’t really not all that bad. I posted this on the Minton’s FB group, and it’s below – edited also for better context.
10 Things I Cherish about Living in @ The Minton
1. The Greenery
– The landscaping, especially around Tranquil World, was a key selling point when we were deciding. The overall flora has kept up fairly well, and I’ve also grown used to the fencing used around the compound – a sore point some of us will remember when we first noticed it in 2013. I’m really cheered to see the pictures residents with green fingers post up about interesting plant specimens around the compound!
2. The Fauna
– Especially the many occurrences of butterflies laying offspring on balcony plants, and that we even have resident support groups who share resources and food for the caterpillars to grow into butterflies!
3. The Range of Amenities
– Though I only use the main pool nowadays, I appreciate that there are other facilities in the compound I can make use of if I want to – including the badminton dome, piano room, gym, and a convenience store for us to get binge snack food! I miss the Itailan pizzeria, and Edgy’s Cafe though.
4. The Location
– The closeness to main roads connecting the rest of Singapore, and half a dozen large malls all within 20 minutes driving distance of home e.g. Compass One, Hougang Mall, Hougang 1, Seletar Mall, 1KM, SingPost Center, Punggol Waterway, and many more in the town center just beyond.
5. The Pictureseque Views
– The number of newly wedded couples having their bridal photography shoots @ Minton! And that we have many photography enthusiasts who post pictures of sunrises and sunsets, the lily pond, and full moons!
6. The Car park and Lift lobbies
– It’s always pleasant to return home via an air-conditioned lift lobby situated beside car bays. I appreciate that our car park is fairly roomy, well-lit and ventilated and cooling too. If only all of us would comply with the driving directions though.
7. The Safety
– While we enjoy a relatively high-degree of safety on the island, I appreciate too that the general Lorong Ah Soo surrounding is also free of petty crime. We’re near routine dengue hotspots though, and that’s something we need to continue to be vigilant about.
8. The Sounds of Life
– Our compound is filled with the morning sounds of cascading waterfalls, birds chirping, kids running across the wooden decking of the contemporary bridge, and school buses arriving.
9. The Learning Pianists
– This is a personal blessing for me; I enjoy hearing the sounds of the piano from the many residents who play! But please finish before 9:30PM though.
10. The Neighbors
– Most of all, I appreciate our neighbors, many of whom we now count as friends that we share our lives with. There’s an admirable willingness to share knowledge (e.g. recipes, supplier contacts), help each other out (e.g. caring for our balcony plants when we travel), and just being neighborly (e.g. affirmation) – whether here on this FB group, in-person, or over one of the many WhatsApp groups formed by Minton social groups. We do have our inevitable disagreements, but that’s expected when we commune in shared spaces.
And there we go. It’s important to be positive about our homes!
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II – Part 3
Just over a week with the new G7X Mark II, and more comments:
This is my first ‘serious’ Canon camera, albeit a compact one and not counting the six year old Ixus HS115 that I use exclusively for underwater pictures. And the debuting Digic 7 processor certainly renders pictures out of the box quite differently than the m4/3 cameras. In fact, having used Olympus and Panasonic m4/3s for almost half a dozen years now and before that Nikon DSLRs, I think I still prefer the colors out of Olympus cameras than other systems.
The camera certainly is portable. Not as petite as the G9Xs, but it’s small enough now for me to seriously find one of those uncle-styled waist belt pouches to drop it into!
Like the OMDs E-M5 and E-M1, the camera starts up very quickly. Powering on the unit automatically extends the lens, and in the time it takes for you to bring the camera up to framing position, the G7X is all ready for shots.
The 24-100mm lens focal length is at a great range: easily wide enough for selfies/wefies, capable of decent magnification when zoomed all the way-in.
Focusing is responsive and fast enough, though there seems to be some softness when I take pictures wide-open at f1.8. Detail resolution also isn’t quite what you’d get on an interchangeable lens system, and I typically have to do a bit more sharpening in post than I normally need to using say one of the m4/3 primes on either of my OMDs.
Pictures and comments!
The Pet Project – Part 10 – Cleaning and Maintenance
This is a post about poop!
There’s a pretty vibrant and lively FB group for guinea pig owners in Singapore, and there’s a lot of sharing, discussions and cute to-the-max photos of cavies in the forum. A frequent question that comes up is the amount of cleaning and maintenance required to keep up with cavies. So, here’s my offering:
Guinea pigs defecate more than hamsters – by a lot! For Stacy – our just over a year old Syrian hamster now – we just need to change her sand bath every 3-4 days, and do a full clean-up of her enclosure ever month or so. That’s it. For Rudolf and Danny, our two boar cavies, their clean-up work happens everyday.
Guinea pig poop is, essentially, solid, odorless and easy to sweep or pick-up by hand even – unless there’s something wrong with their diet. Their urine though can be quite a stench. It’s not too bad if there’s plenty of air movement – e.g. a ceiling fan is on and the windows are opened/air-conditioning is switched on. But when it’s not, the smell build-up can be quite strong, e.g. when we’re back home from work.
A lot more clean-up materials are required. Our arsenal includes a mini-brush with dust-pan, animal-safe wet-wipes, two different types of pee-pads, and small pet recycled pellets as litter.
Our current enclosure is a simple C&C of 90x60cm and still evolving. With that in mind:
I use two types of bedding:
- Two layers of charcoal pee pads (totally four sheets of 45x60cm) as the base layer.
- A third layer (of 33x45cm) at their favorite pee spot, which at the moment is the furthermost right corner of their current enclosure. This third layer is secured by letting their house and cage wall sit on it.
There’s also a 280mm x 228m x 150mm Gex square toilet that I first place a pee-pad inside, then fill with about 4cm of small pet litter on top of it. I’ve been using Pets Dream Paper Pure from Pet Lovers’ Centre for a year now, but am just switching to Nature’s Eco Recycled Paper and giving that a try. The pee pad here and pellets are changed every 3-4 days, and the toilet unit gets washed (I have a second toilet of similar size and color that gets rotated in). As our two cavies like to pee/poop in the far corner of the toilet, I scoop up and dispose of the most obvious poop bits, and also re-arrange the pellets to spread the used pellets.
If the cage wall base is coated with dried poop, the wet-wipes come in for spot-cleaning.
The top (of two layers) of charcoal pee paid is changed every 7 days, and the bottom layer kept as it is as a backup-layer.
Every month, everything gets dismantled for a thorough cleaning. It takes a bit of time to scrub all the dirt off and have it sun-dried, but I’ve got plenty of cage spares.:)
All in; my daily maintenance takes about 5 minutes, and the weekend maintenance maybe about 10 minutes in all. Quite manageable!
Blurb Vol. 8 – Disappointment
The two Blurb Vol. 8 books arrived a few days before the scheduled delivery. The interiors were perfect – well, aside from a small quarter-page photo that was accidentally repeated. The exterior however was a very different story. Check out the books’ spines:
I’ve printed about a dozen Blurb books over eight years now, and the jacket covers have always been correctly aligned, so this is the first time I’ve seen such a thing happen. So, an email got sent to Blurb support asking them to check – which they did in short order to explain that it was user layout error. This picture was included in their reply:
So, I checked the source version that I worked on and see what they meant. The incorrect layout against book spines however were extremely easy to miss, and the warning messages in BookWright not helpful enough for users to have realized it. And I thought I was a fairly expert user already. Finally, I didn’t remember BookWright’s Expert PDF Proof showing the misaligned cover pictures in this fashion too.
In any case, fine – my bad. I did not however need both books to be reprinted as the contents themselves were fine – just specifically the dust jackets were in error. So, I asked how I could reprint just the jackets.
To which Blurb replied nein, not possible to print just the dust jackets. To get the correct jackets, I’ll have to fully reprint both books again, but here’s a 35% discount coupon to offset the several hundred dollars I’ll have to spend to get them redone. And even with that, I reckon I’ll have to spend about SGD300.
Frankly, even though BookWright’s UI made it very easy for users to miss the layout anomaly, I admit I goofed the layout here. But I just don’t see why book jackets can’t be re-printed separately: the books themselves are fine.
So, in conclusion, reminders to self that in future:
Check again, and again, and again.
Do not use Blurb again. Not because of their printing quality, but their lack of satisfactory remedies when things go wrong.
Zhiyun Smooth Q Smartphone Gimbal – Part 1
Many imaging devices of both the still type (e.g. cameras, smartphones) and video (e.g. camcorders, smartphones too LOL) like to claim that they are stabilized, and feature mechanisms and technologies to reduce if not eliminate what’s commonly known as ‘camera shake’. Olympus of course has the very nifty five-axis optical stabilization technology that the company has continue to improve over its micro four-thirds cameras. For instance, their current top of the line model – the E-M1 Mark II – is able to fairly easily obtain sharp five-second exposures. And this fellow here was even able to hit 20 seconds!
Reducing shake seems also quite different between both types of imaging devices, and I reckon it’s harder when it comes to recording video than still images. The old Panasonic TM700 I’ve owned for almost 7.5 years now – and still working perfectly albeit that it’s covered now with all manner of dings and scratches – has superb optical stabilization for video. But it doesn’t do 4K resolution. All the videos we took in our last vacation were in 4K, and the Huawei Mate 9 was clearly struggling to stabilize the video footage. I reckon trying to reduce shake on crazy high-resolution videos require lots of sophisticated machinery that simply won’t fit into a smartphone form factor.
So and looking around. Apparently, there are fairly straight-forward gadgets that work on more or less the same premise and lets one capture stable videos on smartphones: you mount your smartphone on a three-axis electronic gimbal that tries to sense and buffer your most extreme wrist movements. The solutions have come from quite a few manufacturers – including crowdfunded projects – and typically cost several hundreds of dollars. The most expensive, and maybe also the one which is most effective in its job, is the DJI OSMO – and it costs a whopping SGD430. That’s a crazy amount of money to spend on a handphone accessory. Albeit a very useful one, but no way I’m going to pay for that kind of money.
Most other gimbals cost SGD250 and more too, but I found one from a Chinese manufacturer which costs substantially less – the Zhiyun Smooth-Q, and I picked it up for SGD178. The manufacturer also makes a number of other gimbals, and the general consensus among reviewers in my pre-decision fact-finding is that:
It’s crazy cheap.
It’s reasonably well-built for the cheap price, but slightly lacking the premium build in some of the very pricey devices.
It offers nearly all the features – e.g. object tracking, silent operation – you want in top-line devices, and even more impressive considering its very low asking price.
Some of the user documentation and interfaces might be in Chinese, but it can be forgiven because of it’s dirt-cheap price.
Have I already said that it’s crazy cheap?!
So, a few hours of watching YouTube reviews later, I picked one up from Lazada SG – and it was delivered in two working days after placing the order. A comment about this particular e-commerce company too: I’ve made a number of orders from this site for more than a year now, and am quite impressed with its reliability and speed of delivery.
To be continued in a next post!
Home Recording – Part 3
I didn’t think for a moment that home studio recordings were going to be easy. Never mind that I wasn’t going to do both video and audio recordings and any mistakes would be very hard to correct. I reckon professional musicians typically do multiple takes when doing studio recordings, then splice and re-edit them so that what you get is often a piece that comprises the best bits of multiple takes. That’s why live recordings are often regarded as the most authentic performances.
Moreover, the fairly small living room and its odd shape, coupled with the against-wall placement of our piano also meant that sound would be bouncing everywhere and creating echos and reverbs that would be very tough to correct in post-processing. What I was totally unprepared for though was the physical exertion involved. I was perspiring buckets after a two-hour recording session on a weekday morning, even though the living room was air-conditioned!
Microphone-placement was also extremely difficult to get right, compounded also by the awful reverb in the room – so it’s something I’ll have to keep trying until I find something that works. The raw video and audio files were at least manageable, though I was able to clean up only a small part of the echoing and muddy bass in Audacity. Also another part of the workflow I’ll have to read up more on.
I did a total of 23 takes of eight pieces over the two hours, of which seven takes for seven songs were the least sloppy LOL. Here’s the first one: Mika’s Song, a lovely piece written and performed originally by Korean pianist, Yiruma. The tempo I used for this song is a little more brisk than the original recording:
Home Recording – Part 2
Coming out a crash course on home recording equipment, the basic outlay seemed to be:
Microphones: two basic types are dynamic, and condenser – with the former more suitable for low-frequency audio signals (e.g. drums), and latter for higher-frequency audio (e.g. piano). Condenser microphones can be several orders more expensive and in the thousands of dollars range though, but I found Amazon selling pretty decent large diaphragm condensers for USD70 each – the Samson C01. And these weren’t run of the mill ones either, but well-regarded and fairly well-reviewed too.
Microphone cables: these can cost a bit too, but I went with the cheapest that could be delivered to Singapore through expedited and free shipping – at USD7 each. Hooray for cheap Amazon house-brand stuff! Had to make sure that the connector ends were of the correct type with the microphone and audio interface unit though.
Microphone stands: again, not willing to spend a lot on this. The cheapest decent stands – I needed two of them – was available on Amazon: the Samson MK-10 Boom Stand with a very attractive price-tag of USD20 @ Amazon, but the item would not ship with free expedited international shipping. Even Amazon’s slightly cheaper house-brand required shipping fees. Boo! Fortunately, Lazada lists local resellers who carry this item, so two were picked up at SGD40 apiece.
Audio interface: another item I had to read up about as a total noob. Basically, this is a electronic box that interfaces between the computer’s digital audio software and the recording equipment, and the best (i.e. most expensive) ones permit large numbers of audio inputs of multiple types. These can cost several hundred USDs. And as I was just trying out home recording, I got lucky again finding one – the U-Phoria UMC202HD – that was rated highly, and from Behringer, a German audio equipment manufacturer, that cost USD60. Perhaps as a testament to how popular this particular model is, I pretty much bought the last available unit on Amazon – as immediately after ordering it, the item went out of stock – with the next availability at 4-6 months as reported by Amazon.
Digital Audio Workstation: is really just a fancy name for the application software that takes care of the editing and post-processing parts of an audio recording. The professional versions can run to thousands of moola, so I went with the open-source and very free equivalent: Audacity, the widely-praised digital audio editor that I’ve been using for about ten years now after getting introduced to it as part of work.
And since I’ll still be recording video that I’ll merge the new audio layer into, I dug up my old copy of Adobe Premiere Elements and have to start learning how to use it.
All in, the expenditure was about SGD377 – quite a bit lower than what I’d earlier resigned to spending during the initial exploration phase. With two of the key items – namely the microphones and audio interface – high-quality models even!
Home Recording – Part 1
One of my life-long ambitions has always been to do a proper studio recording of pieces I play on the piano. There’s been sporadic occasions over the years where I’ve attempted to do variations of that. For example, using a Korg keyboard work station to record my piano compositions in the early to mid ’90s and then using sampled notes from a Steinway & Sons Grand Piano to render the MIDI files to CD-quality audio recordings. And more recently, HD video recordings using the E-M1 – which I’m still not yet brave enough to make public on YouTube LOL.
I’ve never been fully satisfied with either method. Recording via MIDI format results in pristine audio quality, but the approach always felt a little unauthentic. You’re essentially recording computer data that gets next mapped via instrument samples, then finally rendered to an actual audio recording. The benefit of a MIDI approach though is that you can fix note errors and dynamic issues before mapping.
Recording via camcorders and digital cameras is closer to a studio recording – but the built-in microphones in these camera devices are usually second fiddle to imaging. These devices are first and foremost imaging devices not sound-recorders! The camera microphones do not offer good dynamic range, pick up all kinds of odd noises, and most significant, do not present a proper stereophonic experience.
So, earlier this year I resolved to get round to trying the real deal: I’ll find out and learn what is necessary and how to do home studio recordings. This is of course a highly specialised and professional industry, and those beautiful and warm-sounding acoustic piano recordings we hear are the intentional results of a whole host of contributing factors: including the performance of the artiste, the ambiance in the recording venue, the equipment setup, and the sound engineering.
The initial survey was pretty intimidating and learning curve very steep: a lot of the learning material both text and videos, and even equipment documentation seem to be written for persons who’re already familiar with the domain of professional-standard recording. I wasn’t ready to throw a lot of money into this thing either – professional level condenser microphones can easily cost thousands each – but I found very well-regarded branded equipment that were at entry-level prices, and was lucky enough that Amazon was able to ship them here too using free international shipping. More on that in the next post.
There’s a last method too: using digital pianos, or acoustic pianos with silent piano modules – like the Yamaha U30BL upright we have at home. The U30BL’s module though hasn’t quite resulted in the kind of audio fidelity that I need, so in case this simple home recording studio setup still doesn’t work well, I’ll have to either revisit recording using the U30BL’s silent piano module, or think very hard about getting a digital piano – if we can find space at home for it to begin with!