One of those very Singapore-an things to do on weekends is to check out new homes in new apartment projects. There’s been a large number of such new developments in the north-east side of the island. Heck; our old home at The Rivervale at one point saw six such new developments all in eyeshot! Visiting showrooms is a great way to see what apartment developers are up to, but there’s always that little sense of unease when we get tailed by property agents during a visit and routinely have to fake our guest names and contact numbers just so that we don’t get harassed by the agents later on.

A friend at work had just received keys to her new home @ Bartley Residences, a 702 unit project that just TOPed a few months back, and invited us to go by to take a look over the recent weekend. Which we did, and here are some of our quick observations – especially in comparison with our (relatively) new home @ The Minton. Just casual impressions too since our encounter here was just an hour or so visit and exploring the grounds. Not commenting on the finishing and the general workmanship at BR either, since we only visited one unit. But from what I’m hearing, the general quality of that isn’t different from what Minton residents had too at the point of key collections.

Bartley Residences (BR)’s location is a key advantage and more central than that of Minton’s. It sits directly opposite a train station and Maris Stella High School, one of the brand name boys’ schools. The wife quips that even persons who stay under 1 KM will need to ballot just to get their kids in. It’s also just a couple minutes drive away from a CTE connection. Super convenient.

On the flip-side though; the major road that connects to the sideroad leading into the condo is also a major artery that connects residents from the East to the more central areas of Toa Payoh, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio and beyond in Bukit Timah. We go by the road occasionally on weekend peak hours, and routinely will hit slow-traffic. I wonder if this bottleneck is gonna be a source of daily frustration for residents trying to get home! The Minton on the other hand isn’t exactly near an MRT station – 12 minutes of brisk walking is involved to get to either Kovan or Serangoon stations – and isn’t near a connection to the expressway either. But it does run beside a fairly major main road, which – fortunately – isn’t congested… yet (?!).

The side-road that leads into the condo is also pretty narrow, with at least one of two sides occupied by landed property. Not in itself a problem, since the condo sits among low density housing, but the narrowness of the side-road might pose challenges. We observed a lot of cars parked on one side of the road – and lots of empty or re-purposed driveways in the private houses. Once the main body of residents move into the condo, the side-road leading in and out of the condo onto the main road might get real crowded.

There are 702 units at Bartley Residences, compared to the 1,145 units @ Minton. The latter can feel crowded sometimes, though that feeling is somewhat alleviated by that the blocks are at least spaced relatively far apart facing-wise.

Tranquil World @ Minton, where our block faces.

The condo sits on a gentle incline which the developer has employed to good effect. We explored the Kid’s splash pool and were wowed by the views the deck offered: a pleasingly far view to Maris Stella High and Bartley Secondary Schools, and well beyond too.

The condo feels cosy, especially in how the pool-facing blocks hug the pool’s circumference, with good use of plants to and greenery to provide a lush garden pool feel to it. The Minton main pool in contrast is more functional and probably has to fit multiple intentions – including pool-side BBQs, the garden awnings, and also for lots of kids running about with pool-side toys.  The BR main pool is also literally right at the door for the patio units, which might be a good or bad thing depending on one’s expectations of privacy. The Rivervale’s poolside patio units had two barrier types – a walkway, and also taller than human height flora – such that pool users would never be able to peer into homes.

The Main Pool @ BR.

The Main Pool @ BR.


Hammocks @ BR!

I thought that the main pool seemed relatively small for the number of units it has to support, while Minton is at the other extreme with four separate pools – a pretty large main, lap, heated, and children’s – and you can imagine the ruckus on weekends at all four pools. Not really idyllic living anymore LOL.

The general BR compound is beautifully landscaped too, and Ling especially liked the numerous little relaxation corners where residents can hide out and chill. The planted flora/greenery is already of sufficient height to provide a degree of privacy to patio units, unlike the Minton units back in 2014, though by this point now the flora has grown to sufficient heights.

I like the general aesthetics of the blocks. BR’s blocks are a mix of white, browns with embedded design patterns that run along the entire height of blocks. Not quite like Minton’s more industrial look of concrete, steel and glass.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree-facing blocks @ BR.

Structure of steel, glass, wood and stone @ Minton.

No bay windows at BR! Bay windows are awful for already small rooms – a room constraint we had to think very hard to get around @ Minton.

No planter boxes at BR too and hence no wasted space on the balconies.

The developer-supplied washing machine and dryer stack is elegantly tucked and hidden away inside the kitchen. Definitely beats the experience we had squeezing our brains on how to fit our own laundry stack into our yard toilet last year.

There’s a huge tree that sits on one side of the compound, which is a protected specimen that’s hundreds of years old. The tree looks awesomely huge and I felt like a midget standing beneath it. Certainly one of the key highlights of BR. Several blocks surround this tree, and also a further-on view of low-rise houses yonder too. Very serene! And right beside it is a children’s playground with several fixtures – something that’s sorely lacking at Minton. We do get a crochet lawn beside the children’s treehouse – the lawn of which has been re-purposed to a mini-soccer pitch / BBQ extended area / picnic lawn / children’s badminton field / playing catching field / morning Qigong area – and of late, even a drone launch pad.

A dedicated Children's Playground @ BR.

A dedicated Children’s Playground @ BR.

The Bodhi Tree @ BR.

We saw just one vehicle entrance and exit point at BR, compared to the multiple points of vehicular entry/exit @ Minton. Three in the latter! Good in the sense that it spreads things out quite a bit, bad because the access control can be uneven across all points of entrance/egress. The manned main guardhouse and vehicular gantry at BR is also placed exactly where it naturally should be: right at the property’s main entrance.

There’s a picturesque cascading waterfall adjacent to the main pool, and deck chairs that are immersed into the shallow end around the pool too. Very neat! The pool is also surrounded by blocks and quite private, like at The Rivervale. The Minton pools are relatively more exposed.

The rooms in the sample apartment we visited were rather small. In the oft chance that the sample isn’t representative, the apartment sizes reported on other sites are also telling. E.g.: a Bartley Residences 3 bedroom size is ~1,022 sqf compared to Minton’s ~1216 sqf, and the 3+1 configuration (ours) is 1,162 sqf at BR compared to 1,495 sqf at Minton. These aren’t trivial differences in sizes and seem to be the norm for newly built condos. I wonder how much smaller can apartment developers shrink units until they essentially become unlivable! Part of the generous floor area of Minton units though is taken up by those massive balconies in most units here, with the joke being that our front balcony is larger than our bedrooms.

The sliding door-type of wardrobes in each room is also more practical than the swung out wardrobe doors @ Minton, which posed further constraints on the furniture we could fit into the bedrooms.

The final verdict? Hannah liked Bartley Residences, and said “We should come here more often and swim in the pool!”. :)

Hannah approves!

Hannah approves!


Ling comments that it’s hard buying tech toys for my birthday every year. Thankfully, it’s easier on my end for her birthdays – on account that, apart from apparel and things that women use (i.e. handbags LOL), there are always new kitchen or home appliances or gizmos out there. And I actually enjoy the learning process involved with finding out about the new home innovations, and comparing between them using the usual spreadsheets.

One home item that Ling mused about early this year was a juicer. We do consume some fruits at home as a family of four on most evenings, but it takes time to wash, and slice/dice them. Moreover, I’m a temperamental fruit eater: there are many fruits I dislike, and I have low tolerances too for fruits that are sour or bland. The juicer is supposed to take care of all that, since when they are mashed and squeezed into pulp and fluids, and mixed into different concoctions, blandness and tastelessness become less of an issue.

There seems to be at least two broad types of fruit juicers: fast juicers that use centrifugal forces to essentially grind fruit pieces into pulp and juice, and slow(er) juices that use pressure. The ‘net is awashed with a lot of material comparing between the two and occasionally trying to separate fact from fiction of both juicers’ advantages. The fast juicers as sold here are also somewhat lower in average pricing than the slow ones, with some premium models in the latter category coming close to or crossing the thousand dollar mark.

Possible hype and unfounded fears aside, I decided to go with the slow juicer early on – if nothing else that I think power-pulverizing by motors does strike me as being very cruel to fruits! There’s a wide range of slow juicer models, with the cheapest ones costing just slightly over a hundred dollars. I wasn’t sure how a juicer would finally fit into the kitchen, since there’s been a couple of big ticket household appliances that turned into white elephants (a certain vacuum cleaner from OSIM or breadmaker machine for example), while other low price items that have turned out to be a lot more useful than we envisioned (e.g. an Electolux handheld vacuum cleaner). Erring on the side of caution this time round again, we went with a fairly cheap slow juicer – the Philips HR1830 that cost slightly more than S$200.

Despite it being Ling’s birthday present, I’ve been the primary user of this new juicer now since its purchase 5 weeks ago now – on account that it’s fun to juice, and everyone gets their Vitamin C fix almost every night. Some comments about the juicer and juicing!

Our concoctions most of the time are what comes out from a pineapple, 3 large oranges, 4 apples, 1 carrot, and 1 celery stick. Enough for everyone to get at least a full relative-sized cup – even Peter. We’ve of course tried many other fruit types at this point, but this particular mixture seems to provide us with a blend that is reasonably tasty without strong flavors in particular directions.

The HR1830 isn’t a heavy duty juicer, or at least not with the daily abuse it gets put through. The machine wobbles, and depending on how hard one nudges (or forces) the cut fruit slices down the main vertical tube, the juicer can shake quite a bit as it tries to slice fruit and drive them through the metallic sieve.

The machine’s not silent. But the motor sound is far less than the din of what you’ll normally hear from a fast juicer.

The juicer is fairly easy to clean too. Disassembling the machine takes just a minute, as also is its assembly, and it’s super easy all round. No really small parts to figure out either. No parts with sharp edges either too. Pretty child friendly!

From what I’ve observed against online notes from other juicer models; the HR1830 does an adequate job at squeezing juice out from pulp, but there are clearly other models that do an even better job at maximizing the amount of juice you can get from the cut fruit.

Soft fruits are easy to juice – up to a point. We tried water melons, but they provided so much liquid volume that it was hard to balance it off with other fruits and to reach an appropriate taste… unless you don’t mind drinking what is essentially gonna taste like melon juice to the max.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Our daily pile of fruits that go into the juicer.

Hannah's interpretation of what is really going on.

Hannah’s interpretation of what is really going on.

I can’t believe I’ve gone from talking about photography and cameras in the last post to kitchen juicers now LOL.

Hannah’s last concert at her Kindergarten was today. Amazing how time flies – she’s had four of these now, and now that she’s at her last year as a K2 student, the concert was preceded by her graduation ceremony too. In the last couple of concerts, the Olympus 75-300mm did the honors, with the 600mm full-frame equivalent reach reaching every part of the stage with ease. This year, the lens of choice for the long shots from our Circle seats was the newly acquired Olympus 40-15mm f2.8.

After about 600 shots, the long and short of it is that the 40-150mm is worth every cent. The E-M1 was set to Single-AF, but hit the correct focusing point. The several stops of light-gathering ability also led to the lens’ most significant advantage over the old Olympus 75-300mm, which meant I could get shots at 1/500s to freeze motion and ISO1600 – a combination of shutter speed and ISO that would had never been possible previously. The 1.4X teleconverter stayed in the bag for most of the concert after I decided I’d rather keep the extra stop of light than lose it to longer reach.

We did have experience a mishap though when it was Hannah’s class turn to perform their dance number on-stage. Specifically, and in part from a misunderstanding on where our girl would be entering the stage from, I ended up taking taking pictures centered on what looked like Hannah when it wasn’t her. Yeah – super dud LOL. Fortunately, Hannah was still very much in the frame; just not centered. The dance routine wasn’t particularly memorable unfortunately too; the performances from the other classes were more interesting, and my casual shots of those performances using the 40-150mm turned out pretty well (won’t post them here on our blog though).

A small selection of pictures!

She chirped after the event that her teacher mispronounced her name.

She chirped after the event that her teacher mispronounced her name.

Kids in motion. Hannah is on the left of the frame.

Kids in motion. Hannah is on the left of the frame.

Waving to us who were all the way far behind at the Circle seats.

Waving to us who were all the way far behind at the Circle seats.

Our family wefie. We take one every year at her concert!

Our family wefie. We take one every year at her concert! Taken witn the E-PL6 and 14mm f2.5G.


I was looking at my tabulation of camera expenditure since 2008 – I am that obsessed over all things tabular – and it’s interesting to see my spending pattern:

Expensive hobby, but the photos of our kids are priceless!

Expensive hobby, but the photos of our kids are priceless!

Broadly, the spending spikes especially every several years whenever I change a camera system or buy substantial new gear. So:

2008: I didn’t track my camera spending before this point, and had owned a bunch of different digital compact cameras, pro-user cameras, and also my first DSLR: the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D. I sold that away and in 2008, bought into the Nikon system with the:

D300 – an M1 Abrams Tank-life DSLR, and with a whole bunch of lenses and accessories to follow later including the…

SB600 speedlight

Sigma 10-20mm Ultra Wide Angle

Nikon 50mm f1.8

Hannah and Mommy @ Nikon 50mm f1.8

Sigma AF150mm f2.8 Macro – took some lovely pictures at the Orchid Garden with it

Street cat at Punggol Park @ Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro

Sigma AF24-60m f2.8 – which is currently with our ang mo bud!

Hannah at three years old @ Sigma 24-60mm f2.8

2009: more lenses and accessories for the D300, which included:

MB-D10 battery grip

Sigma 18-250mm – this was for its time among the first all-in-one travel lenses which could shoot somewhat wide and relatively far along in the focal length too. The lens increasingly faced AF issues, and at this point today, is no longer working reliably.

Hannah @ Sigma 18-250mm

2010: when I bought into a second camera system to accompany the heavy duty Nikon system, starting off with the…

Olympus E-PL1 – which at the end of the year, accompanied us on our Japan trip, and also for my month-long stint in Massachusetts. The camera even survived dunking at Niagara Falls!

2011: no looking back from the m4/3s now! Apart from selling off several Nikon lenses that offset new purchases, the acquisitions that year were:

Olympus E-PL2 – a significant upgrade from the predecessor. The E-PL2 seemed better built, had a bumped up LCD, and the kit lens focused a lot quicker. The camera is a backup-backup m4/3s camera now that I still take out for an occasional spin.

Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 – pancake prime that was extremely sharp in its center image, and capable of lovely pictures. Only issue was that it focused slowly.

Hannah and Mommy in the evening @ Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7

2012: this one was a messy year and also the one where I finally moved away from owning two camera systems. The Nikon D300 was sold away, and in its place:

Nikon D7000 and MB-D11 grip – with hindsight now, a somewhat impulsive buy. The DSLR was a landmark in the Nikon system, offering – at that point – unsurpassed cropped sensor imagery, but it was also at a point where I was seriously considering moving fully onto the m4/3s standard.

Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX – among the most highly rated Nikon primes for the APS-C sensor.

Hannah @ Sigma 35mm f1.8

Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM – my first ‘pro’ f2.8 zoom lens! This lens was considered a much cheaper alternative to the Nikon equivalent that cost almost twice as much.

Hannah and Mommy @ Sigma 70-200mm f2.8

Olympus E-M5 – the real game changer in the m4/3s standard and also for me. The entire Nikon camera system I owned essentially got sidelined because of this camera.

Metz 50 AF-1 MZ 50312OPL Digital Flash – throws up an incredible amount of light. Worked well enough until the camera battery door broke!

Panasonic 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 – owned this lens briefly, with several of the earlier Minton in construction photos taken with it.

Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN – this prime was longer than the Panasonic Lumix 20mm and weren’t as quick aperture-wise, but it focused a lot faster.

Hannah @ Sigma 30mm f2.8

Panasonic LX7 – highly praised rangefinder-esque camera that I got for dirt-cheap from Amazon. Used it for some of those very nicely wide-angle shots of the Minton.

2013: the prime lens year! Sold away some of the m4/3s gear, picked up the:

Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5G – fun wide-angle prime that’s flat as a pancake. Great for wefie shots.:)

Hannah @ Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5G

Panasonic-Leica 25mm f1.4 – still the best portrait prime I’ve got for the m4/3s. Picked it up from Amazon JP and had it shipped here. One of the three highly-rated prime lenses for the system, with the other two the next two lenses below.

Hannah @ Panasonic Lumix 25mm f1.4

Olympus 17mm f1.8 – pretty much permanently mounted onto the E-PL6, and color-matched too. This one’s an all-purpose general photography lens.

Hannah @ Olympus 17mm f1.8

Olympus 45mm f1.8 – the longest focal length prime I’ve got at this point. Capable of rendering nifty bokeh, though best used out of home where there’s space to move around.

Peter @ Olympus 45mm f1.8

Olympus 75-300mm II f4.8-6.7 Zoom Lens – an updated and much sleeker-looking version of a consumer-level zoom lens. Never mind that it’s a slow-lens aperture-wise, but this lens is capable of 600mm equivalent shots on the E-M5. All those crazy zoomed-in pictures of the Minton construction were taken on this one.

Workers at The Minton @ Olympus 75-300mm II. This was shot from an opposite block some distance away.

Olympus E-PL6 – one of the two cameras I tot around these days, and largely as a replacement for the old E-PL2. Uses about the same sensor and processing as the E-M5, and capable of producing images as good!

2014: a lull in spending, finally! No major camera purchases that year, and I sold off most of my remaining Nikon gear.

2015: the year’s not up yet, and at this point:

Panasonic DMC-LX100 – my first (relatively) large-sensor compact with a nice 2.8 aperture. The camera isn’t without its issues, but it still has more strengths to it than weaknesses. As a bonus, works well with the m4/3s flashguns I’ve got.

Nissin i40 – as a replacement for the Metz 50AF-1 flashgun. Perfect in every way – except that the rear dial’s mode markings have started fading off from wear/tear, though it’s only been 6 months.

Olympus E-M1 – got it for a great price, and is really as mint as it can be for a used unit.

Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 Pro – from the same seller as the E-M1! A post on the lens to follow soon.

Kids @ Olympus 12-40mm f2.8

Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 Pro – a very recent acquisition, and largely to take pictures of Hannah’s upcoming K2 Graduation concert this weekend. A post to follow on it soon too.:)

Whew – that was a long post. I think I’m pretty much embedded into the m4/3s system at this point, and the only gaps I can think of are:

A macro lens, maybe.

A ultra-wide angle, big maybe – only because I’m not a fan of ultra wide angles.

The stunning Olympus 75mm f1.8, at some point!


My first impressions of the E-M1 against the E-M5 after several days of use!

The E-M1’s overall ergonomics and handling surpasses the E-M5, easily. The handgrip makes it easier to balance the camera’s weight against mid-length zooms, and the two configurable front and back dials are slightly stiffer and ribbed, and make accidental turns less likely than the E-M5.

Couple of neat functions not present on the E-M5 – including configurable exposure bracketing, built-in HDR, faster top-shutter speed, and WIFI support though its phone-control implementation seems a little more clunky than Panasonic’s on my LX100. Still, I can finally take family pictures using quality prime lens glass and a smartphone remote!

The image processing software in the E-M1 is also supposedly improved from that of the E-M5’s, though I haven’t pixel-peeped to be able to tell where the differences are. Finally, the E-M1 offers better weather-proofing, though I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be bringing this out in rain LOL.

The E-M1’s 0.74x magnification electronic viewfinder makes picture composition much easier than the E-M5’s 0.58x. and with higher EVF resolution to boot too.

Its eye-cup also feels more securely locked in-place in its holder than the E-M5’s. I’m already on my third E-M5 eyecup, with the last two accidentally dislodged and lost. That it’s slightly protruding is both an advantage and disadvantage though: my nose is less likely to come in contact with the rear monitor (transfer of facial oil smudges onto the monitor – eek), but it’s also harder to see the entire viewfinder without having to pan my eyeball about when peering through the viewfinder.

Large and slightly protruding eyecup.

Large and slightly protruding eyecup.

The mode-dial lock is a nice touch – press once to lock, press again to unlock. The mode-dial on the E-M5 is too easy to accidentally turn too. On more than a few occasions, I triggered severely over-exposed shots because the E-M5 dial had without my knowledge switched to Shutter-priority mode.

Mode dial lock - nice!

Mode dial lock – nice!

Much harder to slide the memory card slot cover open!

The On/Off lever is now on the top-left panel, compared to the bottom right on the E-M5’s back. Not a good change since it’s impossible now to fish-out the camera from my bag and flip it on in a single motion.

Different location for the on/off lever now compared to the E-M5. Bad!

Different location for the on/off lever now compared to the E-M5. Bad!

The E-M1 is obviously heavier than the E-M5 though still fairly light for a DSLR-styled camera. Coupled with the 12-40mm f2.8 though is a very different story; the lens and camera is now inching closer to the weight of my last APS-C DSLR with a similar lens – the D7000 with the Sigma 24-60mm f2.8. Coupled with even a light flashgun like the Nissin i40 will make one nervous about hauling the E-M1 about, even with its handgrip. That makes a handstrap or vertical battery grip almost a necessity.

Some casual shots of Peter and Hannah next:

With the 25mm f1.4.

With the 25mm f1.4.

Heading out of home on Saturday morning; with the 25mm f1.4.

Heading out of home on Saturday morning; with the 25mm f1.4.

Using the 12-40mm f2.8. The two kids totally entertained by a collaborative session of Crossy Road. No, there's no such mode of play - but Hannah laughs when her chicken gets run over, and Peter will, watching his sister's reaction, laugh in sync too LOL.

Using the 12-40mm f2.8. The two kids totally entertained by a collaborative session of Crossy Road. No, there’s no such mode of play – but Hannah laughs when her chicken gets run over, and Peter will, watching his sister’s reaction, laugh in sync too LOL.

I wonder sometimes if I suffer from minor GAS – Gear Acquisition Syndrome – a descriptor used among photography enthusiasts who love their photographic hardware as much, if not more, than taking pictures. I do take a lot of pictures at least, even if in the last year or so now, I’ve refrained from posting as many photos of our kids as before, due in large part to my wanting to increasingly guard their privacy as they grow older.

I was again tempted by the larger sensor serious enthusiast models, including the Fujifilm X series (the Fujifilm X-T1), and even Sony’s full-frame Alpha series cameras (the A7 Mark II), both of which were at price-points that were broadly within my budget. But I ended up staying again with the m4/3s family for multiple reasons: that neither of the two other camera systems are still offering lenses with the same breadth or depth as m4/3s, that their lenses are for the most part more expensive and heavier, and finally, the generally more shallow depth of field in the m4/3s system also meant that their cameras are routinely more forgiving of focusing errors than say the full-frame systems.

The Olympus E-M1 is widely regarded as Olympus top-dog m4/s camera that is designed for serious enthusiasts and even professional photographers. The camera is a little long in the tooth now, it being announced more than 2 years ago, but pundits still estimate that it’s a year away from being surpassed by the expected second iteration in the line. I’ve had the E-M5 for almost 3.5 years now, and thought long and hard if I should go for the next-up model this year. The E-M1 uses fundamentally the same sensor as the E-M5, but is otherwise very different in build quality, usability, the absence of a low pass AA filter, and overall performance.

The E-M1, alongside the M. Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 ‘kit’ lens – though this lens is anything but ‘kit’ in quality, goes for around S$2.5K in recommended retail price, and about S$2.25K street price. Ouch. I got lucky finding a nominally used set from someone who bought the set 2 months ago and had barely used it, with a shutter-count of less than 200. I picked it up for S$550 less than street-price for what is really a near-mint set. Good bargain!

Three of the four m4/3 cameras I've got now in possession; the 3.5 year old E-M5, the E-M1 with the 12-40mm and the Nissin i40 flashgun, and the E-PL6.

Three of the four m4/3 cameras I’ve got now in possession; the 3.5 year old E-M5, the newly acquired E-M1 with the 12-40mm and the Nissin i40 flashgun, and the 2 year old E-PL6. The E-PL2 is still in the dry cabinet.

The E-M1 makes it the fifth m4/3s cameras I’ve picked up – four are still in possession, and incredibly, all models from Olympus. The E-M5 is wonderfully light and still offers DSLR-styled handling. So, even though the E-M1 offers function that includes all of the E-M5’s (maybe besides size and weight) and then some, I’m thinking of keeping the E-M5 as a second body for primes when I’m asked to do the occasional event photography at work. The E-PL6‘s rangefinder-esque form factor makes it also a joy to shoot, especially using touch-screen AF and shutter release. Coupled with the 14mm f2.5 pancake lens or the 17mm f1.8 (pictured above), the camera makes for a discrete photography tool that I can fish out in public faces like NTUC Fairprice and not feel too conscious!

Impressions of the E-M1 against the E-M5 in the next post.:)

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’d not initially planned for a trip out of Singapore at the year-end. Changes at work leading to a new job portfolio, that we’d already done a family vacation during the June holidays, and most of all – prudent spending – all pointed to a year-end period where we’d be home bound to do very local things. So, it was mostly on impulse that we decided to find a small block of time where I would be able to get out of work, and then go somewhere.

Tricky thing though is that after that very tough experience with Peter onboard airplanes on our return leg from Santhiya last year – basically, he just couldn’t keep still – we’d resolved not to travel by air anywhere until he’s older and better able to moderate his behavior. With that in mind, our planning planning parameters were:

5 Days trip – that was the longest block I could easily find

Does not involve air travel

Won’t break the bank LOL

We considered a whole bunch of places, including a little known island south of Vietnam, Penang, Langkawi, various other islands off the west coast of Malaysia, cruises, and even our 2012 destination spot again – Telunas – before deciding on that very popular if also expensive Club Med Bintan. Most of our previous trips routinely featured our own itineraries and we basically just made stuff up as we went along. Sometimes, that worked well – like in our Telunas trip. But we also learned lessons from our Santhiya 2014 trip, where we spent seven days there not doing very much, even if half of that time I spent violently sick in bed. Simply put, it’s hard putting together a workable itinerary when you have a temperamental 2 year old boy! This time round, we wanted someone else to do all the planning for us for a semi-short stay, and there’s no better place than Club Med than that.

Vacation spot for Dec 2015.

Club Med Bintan is just over an hour away from Singapore, and is also a popular vacation spot for many local families here, if going by the many blog reviews is any indication. The total damage was a shade under S$2.8K for a 5D4N stay – ouch. More notes and comments to come in the months ahead!

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.

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.