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.:)

The third and last in our series of posts on our short sojourn to Legoland last week! Comments in no particular order of significance:

There are two Lego-themed parks in the vicinity – the main theme park, and a waterpark – with the Hotel sitting snugly in-between the two. Both are within easy walking distance of just 2-3 minutes and are flat or with slight inclines, so strollers/prams are just fine to bring the little ones.

We checked out the main theme park on a Monday, and the waterpark on Tuesday, and going past entrances shortly after they opened at 1000 hrs. Off-peak season too for the normal Malaysian visitors, as their school holidays had just ended. The main theme park was relatively sparse of people and only became somewhat more crowded past mid-day. The waterpark got crowded quicker, and there were lots of people milling about by late morning.

The main theme park is significantly larger than the waterpark (which is quite compact). Depending on whether you’re doing repeated rides and the number of visitors, we think about a 6 hour stay will let you cover at least 70% of the park and once on each of its rides. The waterpark – slightly less. About 4 hours will cover it.

Several of the rides in both parks have a minimal age for admission, no matter whether there’s an accompanying parent or not. Peter for instance was admitted into a boat with Ling at the Boating School but not the rollercoaster rides. The Junior Riding School has an age requirement of three years and older too.

Brief comments on each of the rides we tried out too in the main theme park: Technic Twister, Merlin’s Challenge, Lego City Airport – easy rides though not for those subject to vertigo. Aquazone Wave Racers – easy ride though prepare to get drenched. Dragon’s Apprentice – relatively mild and short rollercoaster which should be fine for most people who are able to handle rollercoasters. Boating School, Observation Tower – easy even for two year olds. Junior Riding School – age requirement, but otherwise fun and easy. Rescue Academy – fine for kids and parents, though not for Peter as there’s physical activity involved.

Some visitor reviews of the main theme park note the lack of trees to provide shade and the like. Things have improved in this regard during our visit; the areas showing scale models of famous landmarks is still rather bereft of shade, but the rest of the park is fine with trees about, and also sheltered places to hide if need be.

The wave pool at the Waterpark. The gently bobbing waves make for lots of fun, though the pool is also quite popular and can get crowded.

The wave pool at the Waterpark. The gently bobbing waves make for lots of fun, though the pool is also quite popular and can get crowded.

Boating school. Safe for two years old accompanied by parents too.

Boating school. Safe for two years old accompanied by parents too.

Miniature train ride. This one runs on a small circuit sitting inside a large tent.

Miniature train ride. This one runs on a small circuit sitting inside a large tent.

The Lego scale models are very neatly done up and provide lots of opportunities for zoomed in pictures.

The Lego scale models are very neatly done up and provide lots of opportunities for zoomed in pictures.

 

Lots of little annoyances to note – none of which are deal breakers and we could get by them or simply adjusted our expectations. Here’s the list:

In-room WIFI is account-based (login ID and password are on the TV screen), complimentary but also excruciatingly slow. It’ll still be tolerable for email and light web-browsing, but not for heavy duty work or web-gaming. Might be a good thing though, since you now have a good reason not to follow-up on work emails!

The king-size bed is wide but also somewhat short in depth. Asians like ourselves will be fine, but if you’re a tall Ang Mo visitor, your legs might be sticking past the edge of the bed.

The user-interface overlay for the televisions is pretty and informative, but also resulting in obviously lagging navigation from menu to menu. In fact, it’s bad enough to dread changing TV channels!

The hotel is relatively new but it’s already starting to show wear and tear, on account I’m assuming because of heavy use by visitors to the Theme Park, and also maintenance that’s not keeping up. The window edge carpeting in our room was damped on our last morning, and we suspected it was due to inadequate window sealing. Small parts of the room showed wear and tear (e.g. stains on the walls), and our bedsheet on one morning showed large stain spots even after house keeping had supposedly cleaned up.

The water pressure in our showerhead was awfully low, and it took us – even the kids – at least twice as long just to get clean. We didn’t bother with calling for someone to come look at it as we figured it’s a common enough problem in many hotels.

Bring your own toiletries too. The hotel only provides the bare minimal.

There are lots of things for kids to do and get engaged in, but not for adults. Not the Hotel’s fault of course, but you’ll need to moderate your expectations.

The hotel’s main restaurant – Bricks Family Restaurant – is the venue for its included breakfast. Probably due in part because of the number of hotel guests and also that most families would time their breakfast to finish just before the Parks’ opening hours meant that the restaurant got really crowded between 0900 to 0945 hrs everyday. The restaurant felt like a school tuckshop, with the restaurant reception having to use loudhailers to direct visitor traffic. The breakfast buffet offerings were adequate for kids (or rather as they’re not discerning enough to tell quality) but adults might wince! A check on Tripadvisor reveals a lot of unhappiness over the quality of food in this restaurant and also its general organization. To be fair, our experience wasn’t quite as bad. There’s enough food to go around and queues are for the most part either short or non-existent – probably because most of the buffet items were not cooked on the spot, and patrons during our visit were for the most part abiding by basic courtesies of not queue-cutting and minimal shoving. But the food quality really isn’t there.

The hotel’s fairly late check-in at 1600 hrs and early check-out at 1100 hrs policies don’t sync well with the Park’s opening hours, and makes it hard for travelers to arrive at the hotel, check-in, and head out to visit the park right away.

Hotel staff service standards are generally adequate (e.g. knowledgable) but not particularly friendly or warm.

Most seriously though is the price of the stay. For what one is paying, you’re really expecting much better all-round standards, especially the included breakfast spreads, and room luxuries and amenities.

Last post in the series on our notes and recommendations for future trips to the Park, and hotel if ever!

 

After the tough trip to Koh Phangan with Peter last year in December 2014, we resolved to try some place closer to home for our short June vacation – and something that didn’t involve traveling by air. The usual suspects were considered – including staycations and immediately offshore islands in Malaysia and Indonesia, before we finally settled in for a 4D3N trip to Legoland Malaysia.

Planning for it was pretty easy: the Legoland Hotel offered bundled deals for entrance into the two theme parks themselves, and the place is just a short 10 minute drive from the Tuas Checkpoint. The outbound trip took to the Park/Hotel took a little longer than we thought – largely on account that we spent 30 minutes in the queue at the Malaysian customs (we left on a Sunday afternoon, forgetting that it was also the last day of the Malaysia school holidays with lots of vehicles returning up North), while the return clearance was very quick through both checkpoints.

Many Singapore families with young kids have already been to Legoland Malaysia and we’re kinda late to the party. So, we’re not sure if what we’re gonna say about the place and the hotel is going to add anything new to the volume of opinion and knowledge about the trip, but here it goes anyway. We’ll do a review of the Legoland Hotel in two parts.

Firstly; the stuff that went well.

Driving from Tuas Checkpoint up north to Legoland was an extremely easy drive, and had less traffic on the highway than a typical low-peak day on Singapore expressways. Even if you don’t have a GPS equipped car or Google Maps, there are road signs that will direct you. Right after the Malaysia checkpoint is the toll-booth. If you don’t have a Touch n’ Go card, take the left lane and buy one at the manned counter. It took just about 10 minutes drive from the MY checkpoint to get to the Hotel.

Hotel carpark: two levels, brightly lit, and watched by security too. On the last day morning, I ferried luggage separately to our parked vehicle, and could feel the security guards watching me from their guard post.

Check-in at about 1545 hrs was smooth. That said, it wasn’t as quick as some of the luxury stays we’ve had even though there was no one ahead of us in the queue. There is a play area right beside the Hotel Reception, so the kids didn’t mind. There was a longer queue on the check-out morning, but a hotel staff saw that I wasn’t arriving, and pulled me out of the queue to do a separate out-processing.

We had a Premium Adventure room on the second level, and even though it sounds small at 36sqm, the room can comfortably sleep five persons. The room has two separate areas connected by a sliding door; one room faced the Theme Park and had a king-size bed, and the other room had a bunk bed with an additional pull-out bed that could sleep three persons. Both rooms have TVs too. The TVs have their own overlaying user-interface that shows hotel information, including weather, amenities, admissions and the like. The wallpaper make for a very cheerful ambiance and we enjoyed lounging around in the room.

The name of the Hotel made up of Lego bricks.

The name of the Hotel made up of Lego bricks.


King-size bed in the private room.

King-size bed in the private room.


The room came with a tub of bricks for the kids to play.

The room came with a tub of bricks for the kids to play.

The room has lots of Lego-styled amenities that excited Hannah. The treasure hunt within the room (clues on the room wallpaper!) leads to a number combination code that will unlock a floor-chest, and the payout is a little bag of Lego bricks. If you get stumped on the hunt, give Reception a call and they’ll reveal the combination code to you.:)

Air-conditioning was on over-drive for both rooms, and we had problems fine-adjusting the temperature even. Oh well – better cold than warm!

The room had a fridge but no chargeable snack/drink items – a good idea I think; otherwise kids are likely to just raid every snack about and the parents have to pay for them! The four mineral water bottles (replenished everyday), scented teas and all-in-one coffee sticks are all complimentary.

The ground floor – where the Reception and Concierge are – also has play areas for kids. Including a castle and pirate ship set pieces, tons of both plastic lego bricks and also rubbery type ones, a small Lego souvenir shop, and an area for dancing games. Hannah and Peter loved these hangout places, and we allowed them almost free reign of the area after meals on most days.

Ground floor play area. Several kids built a small house even!

Ground floor play area. Several kids built a small house even!


Face-off. Our girl turned and ran in fear LOL.

Face-off. Our girl turned and ran in fear LOL.


Hannah is in the front row, and joined by a mass of kids!

Hannah is in the front row, and joined by a mass of kids!

There’s a small pool on level five with a scenic view of the general area, and the pool is watched by lifeguards too. The pool seemed a little small for the typical volume of hotel guests and was crowded in the afternoon we checked it out, and we didn’t return again to it.

Next post – on the things that didn’t work as well!

 

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.:)

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 to replace the now kaput-ed 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!

 

Incredibly; more than 3 months have whizzed past since I last did a photo post on our two kids!

Hannah has been growing both in understanding the world around her and also in her sense of independence and decision-making. We’ve successfully taught her to shower on her own now since last month/year, though she still needs the occasional help bringing down the showerhead from its holder, or hanging up her wet towel in the yard. She also can easily find things on her own to entertain herself with, and – nicely too and something we observed from young about her – isn’t obsessed with TV or electronic gadgets. She’ll, very occasionally, ask if she can watch TV for instance (her current favorite are Tom & Jerry cartoons, no doubt a consequence of having watched tons of it over Cartoon Network while in Koh Phangan) or play her Mickey Mouse Clubhouse games on the iPad, but doesn’t mind if she can’t.

Peter on the other is quickly turning into more than four handfuls. At his age of 19 months now, we’ve concluded that the amount of care and labor that goes into managing him has long surpassed what Hannah required at the same age and even younger. Peter is a fussy eater (vomits food that he doesn’t like), doesn’t easily go to bed for naps or overnight, and gets into baby tantrums at the slightest unhappiness. Ling in fact quipped yesterday that the effort to take care Peter is easily twice that of Hanny. The difference between baby girls and baby boys – until this point we’d never realized how true such differences can be.

Kids @ Mcdonald's at the newly opened Paya Lebar Square. Nothing much in this mall (the neighboring One KM mall is much more exciting).

Kids @ Mcdonald’s at the newly opened Paya Lebar Square. Nothing much in this mall (the neighboring One KM mall is much more exciting).

Very inquisitive. Anything within his arm radius is likely to go missing.

Very inquisitive. Anything within his arm radius is likely to go missing.

Kids at home on weekends. The two of them play a lot together, though Peter often seems contend to follow his sister's lead.

Kids at home on weekends. The two of them play a lot together, though Peter often seems contend to follow his sister’s lead.

Hannah loves to look good and dress up whenever we head out - even if it's just for casual breakfast at a coffee shop!

Hannah loves to look good and dress up whenever we head out – even if it’s just for casual breakfast at a coffee shop!

Playing catch at the lift lobby - we were just about to head out for Hannah's weekend ballet classes.

Playing catch at the lift lobby – we were just about to head out for Hannah’s weekend ballet classes.

Hannah is already a little tall for her age. Almost too heavy for us to carry now too.

Hannah is already a little tall for her age. Almost too heavy for us to carry now too.

 

Another year, and time for my annual year-end post on our big decisions of 2014 – what went well and what didn’t!

Choice of Interior Designer – Win: Our renovation project took a good part of all our free time in the first four months of the year, and it was a tough decision shortlisting from 13 IDs we checked out to 2, and then finally deciding on who to go with. Our renovation project was of course a culmination of many activities – the main renovation, the individual furnishing items, choice of decorations, the other subcontractors we enlisted to do other parts of the house etc. On the overall and briefly; our renovation project went on balance very well, though 8 months into the fact, we’re starting to regret our choice of LED lights. Oh well – lesson learned.

Selling The Rivervale – Win: Another tough and significant decision we made this year; whether to sell away or rent out our old Rivervale home, and which estate agent to go with. We’re still not absolutely certain that selling our old home was the best financial decision long-term, but we did benefit from a great estate agent who was accessible, and got us a selling price that we were comfortable, and an easy and fast sales transaction to boot too.

Koh Phangan and Santhiya – Mix: Peter’s first vacation out, and the entire experienced gave us mixed feelings. The resort was nice enough and holiday unrushed and quite laid back. But it was also a pretty expensive holiday and the overall resort package wasn’t matching to the premium price charged for the stay, Peter wasn’t on his best behavior, and both the men of the household fell ill.

iPad Mini Retina – Win: The first of two iPads I picked up during the year. This was to replace the Google Nexus 7 – whose screen I had to squint at from deteriorating eyesight. The tablet is perfect in size, pocketable though screen wise it’s not quite up to what the Air 2 below is capable of. I’m still figuring out which will be my go-to tablet long-term; this one or the Air 2.

iPad Air 2 – Win: Came with a mobile broadband bundle I signed up for late in the year. Lovely screen, quick performance, thin and light if almost also a little fragile; but if only the form factor was just a little smaller. This one can’t fit into my bermuda pockets!

Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom – Win: I picked this portable Bluetooth speaker at the start of the year for use during my classes, given the number of videos I use for teaching purposes. The speaker is stylish, loud, has a battery that charges quickly and runs forever – though ironically, the speaker doesn’t pair very well Bluetooth-wise with my Macbook Pro, and I end up using the old analog 3.5mm audio jack LOL.

Sony Walkman NWZ-F886 and Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear – Win: The audio quality of the Walkman isn’t as warm as the Cowon it replaced, but the pair is now my music companion whenever I’m on the treadmill.

Novita 611-I Air Purifier – Lose: We bought this for the impending haze, and it turned out to be a white elephant when the haze didn’t return much for this year.

2015 ought to be an interesting year; since our mobile phone plans are both up for renewal (new smartphones in other words), the Panasonic TM700 Camcorder will be five years old and approaching end-of-life, and the Macbook Pro Retina will be three years old – the typical point where notebooks in general start getting wonky!