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.
One of the (relatively) more novel things we did for our new Minton home was to invest in a dishwasher machine. We’ve blogged here previously about our thought-process in going with a bit more automation in the kitchen, and the space considerations we had in mind in view of that. The short version of that is that we were lucky to be able to move our laundry machine out from the original Developer-supplied spot in the kitchen into the yard, therefore freeing up that space for us to put a dishwasher and additional storage in.
While there are quite a few dishwasher models from major brands on sale in home appliance stores here, I’m not sure if these appliances are really staple items for Singaporean households. For starters, our parents’ generation had no such appliances in the kitchen, and within our generation of friends and people of our age with families, we do observe one or two families with these devices but it’s not a common household item either; unlike say vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, laundry machines and the like. We decided early on we’d go with a compact/half-height dishwasher, largely on account that:
We wouldn’t be using the dishwasher that often. On non-school holiday periods, the only times we’d cook would be during weekends.
We don’t have that many mouths to feed at this point. Peter is fed separately, and Hannah uses children-size crockery.
We didn’t like the idea of having the entire cavity vacated by the laundry machine used by a full-sized and relatively tall dishwasher.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have quite a wide range of compact dishwashers to choose from, so eventually settled on the Bosch SKS62E12EU. This dishwasher now sits in a customized cabinet our Interior Designer constructed, with a quartz hard-surface counter-top too. Our experience six weeks into using this machine has been on the whole positive. Great things about the machine:
Reasonably cheap. The compact dishwashers we saw were routinely cheaper than the full-height ones.
Easily accepts all-in-one capsule detergent solutions, though the makers of such detergent solutions seemed limited to just two at the big supermarket chains.
Very quiet. Whisper quiet even!
Great for small families.
Great for already small kitchens, like our Minton home.
Utensils and crockery come out clean, for the most part. Ling remarked on the first use that there was some mild residue on a few of the cleaned items, but we didn’t observe it further on.
But on the other hand:
Difficulties fitting medium-sized and larger pans with their long handles. It’d be a non-starter if use big frying pans with long handles and must wash them in these machines.
Long wash-cycle (3 hrs on default settings).
Will be too small if you use a lot of crockery in food preparation, or have a lot of mouths to feed
In particular, the long wash-cycle is something we had to adjust to – since washing crockery by hand would routinely take just minutes, making those items quickly available for re-use.
Still, the appliance has proven quite handy. It doesn’t draw attention to itself when it’s operating, and when not in use, blends in nicely with the rest of the kitchen finishing too. Though I suspect when over time when there are finally four adults to feed in our household, we might look into a larger unit then.
There was a news article not too long ago reporting of workmanship issues at The Canopy Executive Condominum, a newly completed apartment project here on our island. In that instance, the general issues faced by new apartment owners apparently were so pervasive and widespread that news media took interest in their story.
To be fair again, our Minton unit was in a reasonably good state when we got the keys in January, and the first defect rectification went more/less smoothly helped by a jolly worker in-charge and an effective customer service officer who acted as the go-between us and the worker team. We were aware however of several neighbors who weren’t quite so fortunate over the last couple of months, though now that most units are already moved-in or in the middle of renovation, we’ve been hearing less of early defect issues coming out of newly received units. Still and mindful of what the The Canopy EC residents encountered, I wonder though if such workmanship issues are endemic to mass market apartment projects, and that it seems whether one gets a unit that’s in an alright state against one that has numerous issues is a crap shoot.
Now that our unit has been lived in for almost 6 weeks now, we’ve started to also observe little issues coming out of it. Nothing that poses danger to life and limb thankfully. Several of these annoyances we just shrug away – I’m certain that the longer we stay in it, the less these minor things will bother us – but one issue did bother Ling, and that was specifically how grouting was done in the living/dining hall and the kitchen. We heard a couple of our neighbors sharing that the grouting for their units were so badly done that they came off after a few floor cleanings.
Ours was thankfully in a relatively better state on the overall – in that they didn’t dissolve and stayed sealed for the grouts in the living and dining halls even though they still aren’t as nicely done as we would have liked them. Just as well, since it’d be hard for grouting to be redone for the living/dining hall now that all our furniture has gone in. The kitchen grout was a different story though – they were of uneven color. Some of it was white, others cream, and several were even grey.
And Ling would have had none of it, since she spends so much time in the kitchen and she’d have to look at it everyday. So, we contacted our customer service officer – a different lass as the previous one who served us very well had since left the company – over for an inspection a fortnight ago, had a short inspection to ascertain the scope of work, and re-grouting work started shortly thereafter and over the weekend. We also took the opportunity too to get cracklined tiles around the rubbish chute replaced, likewise also for a chipped marble floor tile in the master bedroom toilet – though the worker ended up accidentally damaging a neighboring tile, meaning two tiles had to be replaced.
The several news articles reporting of the worsening smog in Beijing this year had a side-effect; they reminded those of us in Singapore of the dreaded haze from last year, and that it was only going to be a matter of time when the effects of slashing and burning tactics employed by Indonesian farmers coupled with weather phenomena would once again reach Singapore. So, when local news reported last week that the haze was not only going to return soon, it looks to be even worse than last year’s, it was largely received by persons here with a mix of mostly disappointment and resignation as opposed to shock, going with social media at least.
We went without air purifiers last year, and instead relocating most of what we did at home to the master bedroom at our old home. This year with Peter at home, we’re even less inclined to risk living with the bad air. So, we started scouting around for air purifiers over the last week. Our requirements were quite specific again; we’d likely be relocating most of what we do at home to the master bedroom at our new Minton home, so the air purifier unit would need to easily work with a room of that size. We wanted also a unit that was True Hepa certified, and also with filter parts easily available for end-user purchase.
The Honeywell purifiers were the most consistently highly-rated units on online chatter and are priced attractively in the US but apparently heavily marked up by the local distributors. We thought of picking them up through Amazon but didn’t want to have to deal with having to use stepped-down transformers. Of the bunch of alternatives, the Sharp and Philips purifiers seem to be quite popular, but we eventually settled on a Novita NAP 611-i. The Novita purifiers seem to be relatively well-received on online forums and popular purchases too. We eyed the the NAP 611-i which ticked all the boxes. The unit was a $599, but we got it at $500 at Goh Ah Bee, a home appliance store located at Kovan and quite near The Minton. The unit came with a extra complimentary filter set – nice – which immediately extends the longevity of the unit, assuming if everyone else works to expectation in the years to come.
The unit seemed to work just fine, though we’ll have to wait till the haze actually returns in a couple of weeks to see how it’ll operate under stress. More to report when that time comes!
Most new condo projects on our island routinely try to design their blocks such that each unit’s living and bedroom areas are in the north-south orientation, and in so doing avoid the afternoon sun that can otherwise blast unrelentingly into the rooms. Most of the units in The Minton are north-southerly facing (with the exception of one block!), including ours.
A year ago while I was doing my fortnightly photo-visits to the ongoing construction site then, I observed that our front balcony would get some morning sun. Not quite an issue for us. And when keys were collected in January this year, we again observed that there would be some mild afternoon sun getting into Peter’s room – but not the other bedrooms. Whew – we thought. But then, exactly as Ling feared, this was a seasonal thing, and since 3 weeks ago, our Tranquil World facing bedrooms have been getting some direct sunlight into the rooms. Not full-on thankfully in the east-west sense, but sufficient to heat up the room to the point that it’s noticeable. Hannah’s room and our workroom are especially affected, since the Zebra blinds we’ve got there can’t block a sufficient amount of sunlight.
So, we had to look into window films and specifically of the solar control type. There were already several advertisers promoting their various brands on different web sites and the like, and it was some intensive fact-finding on our part. And also because solar control films are a commonly-requested product for new built-up apartments on a hot and humid equatorial island, our mail box over the last months have been stuffed with flyers and brochures from many, many window film contractors.
Without getting too much into our exploration process, what we’ve learned in the last one week – from deciding to go with films to learning about the different film types and specifications to inviting different contractors down for measurements to deciding who to go with and finally actual installation – include:
Competition in this industry seems extremely intense. We heard and read of stories of companies badmouthing their competitors products.
The more affordable films seem compacted around the same price range (about $4 to $6 per square foot).
Most films we saw all offered 99% UV rejection, and Solar energy Rejection was routinely between 45% to 55%. The other characteristics (Visible Light Transmission, Warranty, Infra-red Rejection) varied significantly however.
Some characteristics of the film are (a lot) more important than others. The important ones are Total Solar Energy Rejected and Visible Light Transmittance if you’re also concerned about how much darker your room might be once films are installed.
With regards to the last point, there are quite a few online resources that debate on the often-cited Infra-red rejection film characteristic how what it really means, including here, here and here. The long and shot of what those resources all say is that IR rejection statements needs to be read with caution.
As for the other characteristics; after having been convinced about the importance of the selected film characteristic indicators, we invited several film contractors down for their sales pitches, measurements and quotations. Not quite easy deciding between the lot, but we eventually settled on LLumar solar control films, and with a contractor who was its local distributor. The film manufacturer seemed well-established and having been in the business for decades, and their films well-reviewed and received too and used across different purposes. The cost per square foot of their solar control films were just a little higher than their competitor products, but we were persuaded to take up their package largely on account that their films seemed in our exploration to be most premium of the bunch.
The installation took 2 afternoons, and we had different film types installed for the living/dining halls and the bedrooms. The two films’ Visible Light Transmittance was 48% and 60% for the Living/Dining halls and bedrooms respectively, and both offered 53-54% Total Solar Energy rejections. Total damage was almost $1.9K. Ouch!
Many homeowners when putting together the furnishings for their new apartments will routinely check out Ikea. We’ve had pretty varied experiences with Ikea furniture at our Rivervale home. Basically ‘good’ for their baby changing table and baby chairs, ‘so-so’ for lighting fixtures and sofas, and just ‘godawful’ for their book shelving (they started sagging after 6 months). The fact that their self-assembled furniture though are priced so low has meant we still check their two large stores out to find items that we can get that won’t be too painful even if they don’t work as well as expected.
Bathroom clothing hooks
Bathroom towel rods
Bedroom full-length mirror
Children bedroom shelves and clothing hooks
Living room photo frames
Bathroom full-height open shelf
Foyer shoe bench
Outdoor furniture: rocking armchairs and sidetable
The last three items were packed flat and unassembled – one of the well-known characteristics of Ikea’s offerings. We had the option of having the store deliver and assemble it for us, but like many Singapore families, we brought the furniture back in our trusty family sedan and assembled it at home. I was able to assemble the whole bunch of items pretty easily without hitches except for the Molger shelf. Pretty sure I followed the instructions closely, but the joining screws wouldn’t go in all the way, resulting in noticeable gaps between the supporting struts and beams. Oh well.
It finally happened. We were at Isetan department store @ Nex just before the Labor Day public holiday when store patrons heard the following over the PA system:
Paging for the parents of a 4 year old girl who got lost; her name is Hannah Foo and she has a Pluto plush toy. Please come to the customer service counter at level 3!
We were at the store to pick up a Panasonic microwave oven (I finally reconciled against my long fears of eating microwaved food). Hannah wandered off to look at toys after I joined a long queue to pay for the appliance while Ling was looking for some face towels, and somewhere in between our girl couldn’t find her way back to us. Hannah was completely red-eyed and sobbing when we picked her up clutching onto her constant companion Pluto, and in uncontrollable tears. But just 30 minutes later when we were driving our way back home to Minton, she was rattling off to the both of us that she wasn’t lost, but it was mommy/daddy who were lost, and how we should know better!
Our two kids have adjusted very well to our new home @ Minton, with Hannah easily having the best view in the house now. Her bed overlooks Tranquil World, and it’s quite a pretty sight with the nearly a hundred path lights lining the many walkways and ponds. Every night, we’ve taken to spend time to look at the sights with her on her bed before she turns in. Peter has also a larger floor space now to crawl around too.
The adults though are still gradually easing into the new home. Perhaps because that the space is now larger with a lot more partitioned areas, we found ourselves having to walk a lot more and turn around corners to get to everything in the house! Frequently heard of late also – especially from me – is the line “Dear, where did you put the spatula / Hannah’s milk carton / table spoon / plastic bag / dishwasher capsule / masking tape / Hannah’s socks / Peter’s towel / coffee powder…??”
Couple of pictures using the 17mm and 25mm primes:
Using as a reference our annual family photos taken during the Lunar New Year, it’s fun to watch how we change over time. Not the adults mind you, but the kids. My oldest nephew is now so tall at just 14 that he’s nearly at his dad’s height. Hannah is also fast closing the height gap with her cousin, and this year too, we had Peter in the pictures as a new addition. Too bad he looks a little sickly with the return of mosquito bites he suffered over the last couple of days.
Funnily, post-first days of CNY, Hannah, Peter and Ling are all down with varying degrees of illness. Peter and Hannah have got mild colds, and Ling is down with mild fever too. The weather has certainly been odd for this time of the year, with the cold front lasting longer than normal. It’s been quite dry – it hasn’t rained for a week now – and yet relatively cold too with evenings for the last week now hovering at 22-23 degree celsius lows.
Like the last year, the Nikon D7000 stayed at home, with the two micro four-third cameras pulling all photographic duties. The family pictures below were taken using the 17mm f1.8, and stepped down to f4.0 offered sharpness that was almost scary.
Next year at this time will see Peter just over a year and a half-old, and Ling should be able to dress him up in little boy clothes then.:)
It’s the end of another year, and Ling was asking just the other day when I was going to do another one of my end-of-year review of our big ticket and asset decisions in 2013. To be fair, we’ve kept the decisions that cost a lot of $$$ somewhat minimally this year, given the large expenditures we’re projecting for 2014 i.e. home renovation. Looking through the list, we had a large number of interesting (or just fun) purchasing decisions though mostly still relatively small purchases. Going with the list again in chronological purchasing order…
Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 (Win). 2013 was the year where I picked up a number of micro-four-thirds lens, all of which turned out to be great purchases. The first one in the year was the 25mm f1.4, which is closest the m4/3 standard has to a ‘standard’ focal length reach. The lens focuses very quickly, and has become one of the two main-stay lenses for my two m4/3 cameras. The only issue I can think of – and this is really being creative – is that the lens makes an odd soft squeaky sound when it focuses. And er, that’s it.=)
Panasonic-Lumix 14mm f2.5 (Win). This lens normally comes bundled with an earlier generation Panasonic m4/3 cameras, and lots of people were selling the lens out of the bundle for cheap on eBay. In terms of focal length, the lens is redundant since it’s covered by several other kit zoom lens already, but as a semi wide-angle and very compact prime, it works great. Attach it to the E-PL6 and the form profile is small enough for the camera to be pocketable. I don’t use the lens as much, favoring the 25mm and 17mm, but it’s still a win because of how cheap it was.
Billingham Hadley Pro (Win). My luxury camera bag for this year, and the last messenger-styled bag I’ll need for a while. The bag normally costs a lot when purchased here and nearly as expensive even through Amazon stores. For some odd reason, the bag is much cheaper in South Korea, and after assuring myself I wouldn’t buying an imitation, I picked up one through eBay. The bag has accompanied me for all of this year’s Minton shoots from March, and it holding my two m4/3 bodies, several lenses, filters, and a camcorder.
Olympus 75-300mm II (Win). This lens is a consumer-grade long zoom lens – as compared to the f2.8 equivalents which cost twice as much – and an improved model over the earlier generation lens of the same focal length range. I picked it up locally mostly for the Minton pictures. There’s some very slight perceivable loss of resolution and image degradation at its longest focal, but with the 2X crop factor, it’s a pretty cheap way to reach up to 600mm.
Zojirushi Bread Maker BB-HAQ10 (Win). The first of three presents I got for Ling this year, and I’m one of the main beneficiaries of it! I’ve been able to enjoy home-baked bread in the form of packed lunches to work, though Ling is quite concerned with the flour-intake when she bakes an entire (small) loaf for me to finish in a day.=)
Olympus 17mm f1.8 (Win). The second of my preferred lens for m4/3s. Robustly constructed, focuses very quickly and reliably, and nicely balanced between offering both a very slightly wide-perspective, and also capable of subject isolation when used wide-opened. I picked up the silver edition of the lens, and it looks gorgeous when attached to the similarly-colored E-PL6.
Olympus 45mm f1.8 (Win). The fifth and last m4/3s lenses for 2013. The lens is a small telephoto prime and while it doesn’t quite have nearly the same kind of reach as the 75-300mm, it’s a fast prime. The lens has allowed for some very nice close-ups of the two kids with plenty of subject isolation. The focal length also lets me put some distance between myself and them too, and Hannah is also less self-conscious as a result for it too.
Viking E20 Sewing Machine (Win). Ling’s birthday present this year. She hasn’t blogged about it yet though, but she’s already sewed a dozen baby bibs for Peter. She mused that these bibs sell for $15 each. This could easily become an alternate source of income if she ever decides to churn these out like a sweatshop.=)
Olympus E-PL6 (Win). The best sensor that Olympus has created in a smaller body. Handling is quite different from the older E-M5, the mode dial is fiddly, and you don’t really get to use the full 3 inch screen when previewing RAW images. But the camera allows for selfies and was picked up for cheap. Both the E-PL6 and EM-5 are in my bag whenever we’re out as a family.
Samsung Galaxy Note III (Win). A new phone that came out of my renewal of a teleco plan this month. Snappier and looking more gorgeous than the earlier generation device. I was considering numerous devices to upgrade to – including the LG G2 and the even humungous Sony Xperia Z Ultra – but none of them offered the stylus.
Google Nexus 7 (2013) (Win). Not an easy decision here as there are so similarly sized tablets. Among them included the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 (nearly bought this because of its stylus, but did not because of the comparatively low-resolution screen), the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 (low-resolution screen – ugh), the LG G Pad (ideal size, high resolution, metallic back place, but no 4G/LTE arrgggh!!), and the new iPad Mini Retina (but didn’t want another iPad). The updated Google Nexus 7 won out in the end, given how reasonably future-proof it is, low-cost, great screen, and that it’s such a popular device that custom ROM developers have been churning out builds for it like no tomorrow.
Krups Dolce Gusto Circolo (Win). Ling’s Christmas present from me, though we’re again both beneficiaries. We’ve been enjoying gourmet coffees every evening now, and are gonna try the entire range of brews over time. The machine is one of mid-range models in the popular line of coffee makers, and is for the most part well-reviewed by purchasers. Interestingly, a couple complained about the apparent lack of full automation, but I actually appreciated that you can control the amount of water you’re using when brewing each cup.
That’s it. Happy 2014.=)
If there’s one thing I dislike about living in this part of the island, it’s the amount of dust that gets blown around the house. When we first moved in our current home, we actually had a routine where we’d mop the house twice a week. The frequency dropped down to once a week, and before long – or rather when Hannah came along – we finally engaged part-time help to clean-up the place every two weeks, which isn’t nearly enough. The worst hit room in our home is the workroom too, since that’s the room where we do all our work, and all our computers and notebooks, book shelves etc. all are – all potential little pocket areas for dust to accumulate.
The computer equipment isn’t spared. My current desktop is a heavy-duty ensemble I put together 4 years ago, but in the last two, have been starting to get real cranky with intermittent failures. Opening up the casing alone reveals layers of dust and dust balls aplenty. The most serious failure was earlier this year and caused by the video card accumulating so much dust and gunk in its intake fans that it no longer was able to dissipate heat properly, causing the desktop to crash repeatedly.
Initially, I’d intended to assemble a new desktop PC when we’d projected we’d be moving to The Minton by the end of this year. That got delayed, but I stuck to the new PC project timeline nonetheless. Most of the PC’s key parts were picked up during a Sim Lim square outing this afternoon, but a couple were bought separately: the new SSD drive was from Amazon a month ago during the Black Friday sales, the Dell 27 inch monitor is currently at my workplace, and the blu-ray drive is still somewhere in delivery.
Here’s the outcome several hours of work later:
Like the 2010 desktop, I didn’t go for broke in picking up the best equipment possible. I went with average components, since I mainly use the computer these days for work, image and video editing. Here’s the outlay:
Corsair Carbide Series 400R MidTower: Well-reviewed midtower casing with 6 internal and 4 external drive bays.
Asus H87-Pro + 4670 3.4 LGA1150: A reasonably-spec CPU and motherboard with sufficient USB 3.0 ports. Unfortunately, the motherboard supports slightly less SATA connectors than the last desktop. Looks like I’ll have to pick up a SATA expansion card soon.
Cooler Master Hyper 212x PWM CPU Cooler
Western Digital 4 TB Green 64MB 5400rpm: more storage for cheap for me to keep backups of backups.=)
Crucial Ballistix 1600 MHz CL8 (16 GB): a bit excessive for today’s normal usage, but more RAM is always good when I’m doing video-editing.
CoolerMaster V750S 750W 80+ Gold: this was one component that I didn’t scrimp on.
Dell S2740L Monitor: budget large-screen monitor
Palit GTX760 2GB: average-spec video card
Samsung Electronics 840 EVO-Series 250GB SSD: bought for cheap from Amazon
Corsair AF120 Quiet EDT 1,100 RPM 21dBA: an additional fan mounted on the top of the casing
Oddly speaking, the motherboard still doesn’t play nice with the Probox enclosure I use for a couple of external harddrives. Basically, none of the drives will properly mount when connected with USB 3.0 (USB 2.0 works fine though). I experienced the same difficulty with the old desktop, which leads me now to wonder if it’s an issue with the enclosure than the desktop itself. That aside, the new desktop works great – I’ll put it through a couple of torture stress tests soon and see how the configuration works out.=)