And for my 43rd BD, the wife got me this:

LG G Watch R - what a mouthful LOL.

LG G Watch R – what a mouthful LOL.

And I like it.:) Ling every year has a lot of difficulties thinking of the right gadget/toy to buy for me. There were two memorable BD presents mishaps of this type, including an expensive electronic shaver that shredded my chin and turned it into a bloody mess, and an Android Transformer tablet that was gimped because it was a Wifi-only model. But she really did a lot of homework before deciding on this year’s: and the present was perfect! I never had an interest in the early Android-based smartwatches, e.g. those in the Samsung Gear S series, as they were invariably clunky, not of the right form-factor, and/or offered poor battery life.

The LG G Watch R is LG’s most recent attempt at an Android smartwatch, and in my evaluation, they have got it more right than its competitors. For instance:

Round and flat form. The Samsung Gear watches were rectangle-ish, and while stylish as dress-watches, just weren’t the right shape for me.

Better battery life than many of its current competitors, and probably on account of its OLED technology that makes for not just a nicely saturated display, but also more power-saving.

As Ling accounts it though, this watch was extremely difficult to find and even buy here in Singapore. Very few shops carried it, and the couple of ones that did were located in inconvenient locations, especially considering that she had to buy the watch in relative secrecy and with two kids in tow.

Now, if only the watch was a little more water-resistant, it’d be a full replacement for a crusty old Casio swimmer-capable watch that I normally wear. As it is, this new LG watch will probably have to stay at home in our upcoming Koh Phangan vacation later this weekend.

 

Ever since picking up the iPad mini Retina in June this year, my mobile data usage has shot up significantly, and each month at about its fourth week, I start having to put very close attention and ensure that I don’t bust the data limit given in my current mobile phone plan.Case in point: a couple of weeks ago while at Hannah’s K1 concert, I browsed for about an hour or so while waiting for her class’ turn on stage – and within that period, chalked up almost 200MB of data usage. And mind you, these were just browsing through the bunch of hobbyist discussion forums I follow. I guess it’s a sign of how much I’ve been using the 7.9 inch tablet on the go.

That got me started thinking seriously about subscribing to a dedicated mobile broadband plan. I was fairly certain what the upper limit of my usage was. But there aren’t that many providers of such services here in Singapore, and in Singtel and M1’s case, their pricing tiers and bundled mobile data are roughly in the same ballpark. Starhub provides a bit more data along its price tiers, but that increased data limit loses its luster as their package with tablet device deals seemed a little higher than its competitors. Since a new tablet was going to come with the subscription plan I was interested in, the big decision to make was which tablet. My preference was to go with an approximately 8 inch tablet again, but:

Samsung Galaxy S 8.4: regarded as one of the best ~8 inch Android-based tablets currently available. Slim, light, gorgeous screen and a decent processor. The discounts going with the bundled package though weren’t particularly attractive against what you’d pay on retail. And while magazine reviews reported on its long battery life, actual user reports were less sanguine.

Galaxy Nexus 9: which was released at just about this time. Unfortunately, none of the telcos offered this tablet alongside its packages – possibly at least on account that the LTE versions of it weren’t available yet.

iPad mini 3: Apple’s update to the Mini Retina I’ve already got, but from all counts, is a very minor bump with its addition of Touch ID.

iPad Air 2: Slimmer, more powerful version of the iPad Air from last year.

The new iPad mini 3 was dropped from consideration quickly: I really didn’t want another mini that was nearly identical to the one I’ve already got, specs wise. The decision came down to the Galaxy S 8.4 or the iPad Air 2. The latter package offered attractive discounts against what I’d pay on retail, but the price of a package with the 64GB model was still pretty hefty. And as the app stores go, as ardent an Android fan I am, the reality remains that tablet apps generally just run and look better on iPads than Android tablets.

iPad Air 2 Gold Edition

iPad Air 2 Gold Edition

So, the iPad Air 2 it was. And having used it for a week now:

Screen’s good, and the color gamut is quite different from that of the iPad mini Retina, and also the iPad 4.

The iPad Air 2’s processor is reportedly loads faster than the previous iPad generations. In normal use, things do feel just a tad more responsive, but the difference isn’t large enough to startle.

The device is thin. In fact, so thin that you’ll want to protect the tablet quickly with a good case! My first iPad slowly broke down after Ling accidentally stepped on it years ago. This new iPad will probably just break in two if the same happened.

Touch ID took some configuring, but once properly setup, has worked very well. Loads more convenient to unlock the tablet now.

Battery power does indeed seem to expend itself quicker than the mini or iPad 4.

All in, the iPad Air 2 is quicker, smoother, and more pleasing to use. Just a pity on the shorter battery life and also form factor – if only this device came in an 8.4 inch size!

 

One of the main reasons why I started moving in 2010 to the micro four-thirds system was the general sizing of the camera bodies and lenses. Basically, the removal of the reflex mirror found in traditional (D)SLRs meant that camera bodies could be made smaller, and the smaller imaging sensor also meant that lenses didn’t need to be quite so big to cover a larger sensor. Things have changed quite a bit since then, since we now have full-frame mirrorless camera systems, and debate continues to rage among enthusiasts and loyalists of different camera systems on the merits and disadvantages of different systems. For the moment though, the truisms that still apply are, that generally micro four-third systems compared to full-frame systems…

Occupy less mass/weight

Lenses cost slightly less than the full-frame equivalents (thought not always)

Handle low light images less well

What has also changed is the emergence of larger sensor compact cameras too. The initial wave of models weren’t very good – they tended to be bulky, slow, and using batteries that didn’t give quite the same life as micro four-third systems. That has also been changing too, which brings me to this post: that I’ve been revisiting the most recent and upcoming range of large sensor compact cameras and exploring if this is the right time now to get one. I still have the almost two year old Panasonic LX7 which I bought for cheap during a crazy discounted offer on Amazon, and several of those wide-perspective shots of The Minton development in progress were taken on that little compact. But the camera has never been a low-light wonder. Heck; there’s a perceptible loss of detail even at the lower ISO settings already.

The bunch of models I’ve been keeping my eye on include:

Sony RX100 III

This compact features a 1″ sensor that reviewers have raved about, is in its third iteration already, and Sony managed to squeeze in a small viewfinder to it even. I’ve been playing with a demo set at the Sony showroom @ Nex. The compact feels solidly made, and the rear LCD screen is sharp, bright and colorful. The viewfinder though is a little clunky in actual operation (one has to first pop it up, then pull it towards oneself for it to work). The camera is available now but also dreadfully expensive at USD899. Ouch.

Canon G7 X

This yet-to-be released compact looks like Canon’s answer to Sony’s RX100 above. The upcoming compact uses a 1″ sensor, shoots as wide as the Sony but also offers a slightly further zoom at 100mm compared to Sony’s 70mm. Interesting. The CIPA rated battery life is worrying though at just 210 shots, compared to the 300+ shots that the Sony can muster. The expected retail price is substantially lower than Sony’s too at USD699.

Panasonic LX100

Of the bunch of large sensor compact cameras, this is the one I’m most interested in. Unlike the Canon and Sony models above, this fellow uses a nearly m4/3-sized sensor, a max aperture range of f1.7 to f2.8, built-in electronic viewfinder, and a reasonable battery life rated at 330 shots by CIPA at the moment. And as a bonus, it offers 4K video recording too. The general feeling among enthusiasts is that this is the one compact that could give the equivalent large aperture and pricey lenses in the m4/3s system a good run for the money, since the sensor is almost to m4/3s and max aperture is right there too at f1.7 to f2.8. Ticks all the boxes, excepting size – it’s larger than the above two models, which significantly reduces the space advantage in comparison to my E-PL6. This forthcoming compact is priced similarly to the Sony at USD899.

Panasonic GM5

This one isn’t a large sensor compact, but an interchangeable lens camera of the same breed as the line of m4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. I included this forthcoming model here only because it’s a baby-sized camera that allows you to leverage on the full range of m4/3 lenses. The second iteration of this camera also improves on a bunch of things off the first generation: including a viewfinder and a hot-shoe! Size-wise, it’s about the same as the already diminutive RX100, and is expected to be pegged at the same asking price as the LX100 – USD899.

All very tempting. Gonna be hard to decide which of these four if I eventually find myself deciding to pick up one of these at the end of this year!

 

 

Earlier post in this two-parter here.

A desktop PC would have easily been able to hold a solution that was quick, offer storage solutions as large as its case can hold. Except that if the thing was possibly gonna go into a TV console, I was going to be limited by how big the case could be; especially along the height and depth dimensions. Of the major casing manufacturers, many offer their own unique line of mini-ITX casings. After a lot of exploration, the ones I shortlisted included the Elite 110 and also the SilverStone Sugo SG05. Of the two cases, the Elite 110 was a little taller and wider – which were fine – but more seriously, deeper – which while would have meant a very tight fit into the TV cabinet with very little clearance for cables. The SG05 was a much more comfy fit, though also a less-widely carried model at Sim Lim shops. Very nicely too was that the SG05 was able to hold video cards of up to 10″ in length. It wouldn’t fit the fastest cards that money can buy, but pretty decent solutions nonetheless of the GTX X60 variety.

The rig as configured from existing and new parts from Sim Lim were:

Silverstone Sugo SG05 Mini-ITX Black Casing. The casing wasn’t of the screwless variety, The casing offered space for an SSD, a 3.5 inch HDD, and even a slim DVD bay (unused after assembly).

Silverstone SFX Series ST45SF-G 450W Gold series. Not much options here, as I needed a slim-profile PSU. The casing actually comes bundled with a similar wattage PSU but of the bronze rating, but that was out of stock too. So, paid a little more to get a more power-efficient and higher-rated PSU.

Intel i5-4460. Slightly less quick than the i5-4670 that’s in the desktop rig. I’m not intending to do photo editing or video rendering on this machine though, so a slower i5 was just fine.

Xigmatek Praeton LD963 Low-profile CPU Cooler.  A normal full-sized CPU cooler wouldn’t have fitted in!

Asus H97I-Plus Mini-ITX motherboard. I was originally intending for a H87i motherboard but that wasn’t available at the store I was picking up the bundle from, so went with the newer and very marginally more expensive H97i board.

Kingston DDR3 1600 MHz 8GB RAM. Went with the cheapest 1600 MHz value-RAM I could find.

Western Digital 4TB Green HDD. I’ve had a lot of luck with the Western Digital Green HDDs, compared to the couple of Seagate Barracudas that all failed because of (apparently) batch issues at manufacturing. I swapped this HDD for an older 2TB drive from my desktop rig though – 2TB should suffice for the moment. Added one of my spare OCZ 160GB SSDs to it as the primary bootup drive.

Palit 2GB DDR5 GTX760. The same card to my desktop rig.

Microsoft All-in-One Media keyboard. Compact keyboard with a built-in trackpad. Would had been perfect – were it not for that there’s no function-lock key. Arrgggh.

Casings in this class are very compact, which meant very tight quarters to mount components, cables and connectors around. Still, after a couple of hours installing Windows 8.1, and transferring nearly a TB of family video and pictures, the unit was good to go.

The SG05.

Installing stuff onto the primary drive of the SG05.

Cable management? What cable management LOL.

Cable management? What cable management LOL.

Installing Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, just for the heck of it. Check out the download speed: not quite 1 Gbps as the connection has gone through two routers before reaching this PC, but very good for our needs.

Installing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, just for the heck of it. Check out the download speed: not quite 1 Gbps and just a shade under half that as the connection has gone through two routers before reaching this PC – but still very good for our family’s bandwidth needs.

The rig all ready to go, and sitting inside our bedroom TV console.

The rig sitting inside our bedroom TV console.

The first TV that gets the honors in hooking-up is our Master Bedroom’s TV panel – the old Panasonic Viera plasma 46″ from our Rivervale home. Oddly, though the Viera supports 1920×1080 resolution, I couldn’t get it to display at that resolution without losing about 5% of its left and right edges, resulting in a very odd though resolution of 1768×992 resolution. Tinkering around the Viera options though revealed a 16:9 Overscan option, and disabling that from the default enabled setting sorted the 1080p problem nicely.

All done and finally ready for an Assassin’s Creed IV: Blag Flag stress test.:)

Long-post, so split into two parts.

Back at the end of last year, I did my every couple of years routine of assembling a new desktop rig to see me through the next stretch. That PC now sits comfortably in its own corner at our workroom, and has worked very well for 8 months now without any issues. Interestingly, when I did a routine check on its internals, there was noticeably less accumulated dust and dirt inside it than I’d expected. Which made me wonder if it’s because our Minton home is less dusty than our old Rivervale place. In any case, at some point, I’d be thinking very hard about making a couple of custom dust filters and putting it at the vents of this machine.

Another PC project I’d been thinking of putting together since moving in has been a PC that would be connected to one of our two flat-screen TVs. The motivation for this came about when Hannah started expressing interest at the start of the year to see photos and videos of herself when she was a toddler. Now, most media players can do that to a degree, but format support remains iffy, and the user-interface is also clunky. Forget about scrolling through several thousands of pictures in each folder, and file searches too. The PS3 fares somewhat better with its support of video and picture formats but not by much. So, this home pictures and video rig would had to be based off a PC configuration and running a traditional desktop operating system.

The main challenge though was figuring out a suitable size for it. My requirements for this rig varied over the months, and they went something like this:

Compact enough to fit into our customized TV console deck, or sit on top of it.

Can run full HD content well.

Offer internal storage options of reasonably large capacities (as in a couple of TBs), and preferably chassis space for both an SDD as primary drive and a separate HDD for media.

Can be dual-purposed to run 3D games with some future-proofing.

The last requirement one was especially tricky, as 3D games require decent graphic processing unit cards, and those things are not small, and more significantly, require significant cooling apparatus and ventilation space to keep them operating optimally too. The PC market has seen a selection of miniature PCs, especially from lines like Asus EEE PCs, Zotac Mini-PCs, and Gigabyte Brixes. The EEE PCs are very stylish, compact and would have been a pleasing and futuristic accessory that would go well with the cabinets. But while their line of machines would not be able to drive anything beyond simple flash-based games.  The Zotac and Gigabyte Brix mini-PCs offer a decent range of configurations and choices, with their top-line solution available here being rigs that include an i5/i7 processors alongside Iris Pro 5200 graphics. I found the Zotac models rather drab-looking externally, and favored the Gigabyte models for their strong paint jobs for the casings.

A Gigabyte Brix in  exciting red!

A Gigabyte Brix in exciting red!

A Zotac - not as interesting looking.

A Zotac – not as interesting looking.

The Iris Pro solution was interesting, as it’s widely regarded as one of the current quickest integrated video solutions for small form-factor PCs. It would have run current 3D games somewhat well but wasn’t especially future proof against upcoming content – and more worryingly, the early reviews of the Gigabyte Brix models with the Iris Pro noted serious heat and noise issues. Gigabyte had just announced a new Brix model that would feature a quicker and dedicated graphics card based off the GTX760, but that model wasn’t available here yet – and judging from the prices of the American pricing, would have probably cost about S$1.5K once memory and storage solutions had been included in. These mini-PC models too typically also offer a single-bay for storage options: which would have meant that I’d have to go with a 2.5 inch HDD (slower program and operating system access than an SSD), and also limited to 2TB in capacity too currently.

More in the next post!

 

It might be the company I keep, but I rarely see or hear of many friends who still listen to classical music regularly anymore, if going by social media posts is any indicator. Just earlier this year, I shared a couple of Youtube videos of live recordings of pieces I enjoyed – including a lovely rendition of Handel’s Lascia Ch’io Piango aria as sung by New Zealander Hayley Westenra – and not surprisingly, very few seemed to respond to it. Not quite like the ‘Likes’ any one of Peter or Hannah’s pictures would routinely enjoy.

I’ve still continued eMusic’s subscription service since my last post about my love for the classics 4 years ago now, and picking up to a dozen classical albums each month under its service package – most of which I’ll go through, select, and pack them into the car audio for listening. If it weren’t for this service, I don’t think I’d ever discover much lesser known classical composers like Johann Fasch, Jean-Marie Leclair, Charles Villers Stanford or Pietro Locatelli. I’ve generally steered away from the well-known works from the mainstream composers on eMusic on the other hand – there are only so many versions of Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s London Symphonies, or Beethoven’s Piano Concertos I want to acquire!

Interestingly and perhaps reflecting also of young people trends, there are fewer manufacturers of dedicated MP3 players these days, what with many preferring to get their music fix via smartphones. Two of the holdouts still releasing updated models regularly are Sony and Cowon. My last MP3 player was a Cowon C2 which I bought from Amazon last year in March and had it shipped here. That little unit produced lovely audio, a very wide range of customization options, and a battery that seemed to run forever – and whose touchscreen zonked out last month. Arrgh. That was my second Cowon MP3 player over the last 5 years, and the first one also failed though for other reasons.

I wasn’t keen to return to Cowon players any time soon again, even though they are still routinely among audiophile’s favorite choices of personal audio units. I was however interested in trying out an Android-based MP3 player, if nothing else that they routinely come with larger touch-based screens, great customization options, and also running off an operating platform I was familiar with and like a lot – if also on the other hand, at the expense of usually shorter battery runlength and also overall stability.

The Sennheiser Momentum hooked up with the Sony F886.

The Sennheiser Momentum hooked up with the Sony F886.

So; in came the Sony Walkman NWZ-F886, and accompanying it a Sennheiser Momentum On the Go – that was picked up early this month. There weren’t that many choices for Android-based MP3 players, quite unlike the almost bewildering range of headphones out there from dirt cheapo ones under $10 to premium ones that have everything and cost a few thousand moola. And after a fortnight of use:

Customization – hooray!

Svelte form factor. Compact, light, and its case that oozes confidence and density – none of that creaky stuff that you get with cheap plastics. Very premium-looking too.

Pretty good audio – and almost as good as the Cowon players.

Android runs well on it. No lag or stuttering observed in music playback. Haven’t quite stress-loaded it with other apps though (no intention to).

Reasonably high-resolution screen for me to squint at the album covers.

Charges quickly.

On the other hand:

Battery isn’t as cracked up as others have suggested. I’m maybe squeezing about 15+ hours of it with some light usage of the screen and scrolling about albums.

Finger-print magnet.

Somewhat low screen viewing angles.

Dated Android OS at 4.1.1, even with the most recent firmware update.

Uses Sony’s proprietary charging and data cables.

On the overall, I’m pretty happy with it – not that I would have had much other choices if i wasn’t!

Discovering Schubert's Overtures - thanks to eMusic.

Discovering Schubert’s Overtures – thanks to eMusic – and also all of Rossini’s Overtures, part of Christian Benda’s series of recordings with the Prague Sinfonia Orchestra.

 

 

Six months ago I picked up the Google Nexus 7, that very compact Android tablet designed by Google. The tablet is still very much alive – to/fro from home and work every day, and inside the side pockets of my berms over the weekends. Something happened though that I didn’t anticipate when I bought the Nexus 6 months ago – specifically, that I’d start developing Old Flower Eyes (short-formed to OFE for this post) earlier this year. For our Ang Mo buddy, Old Flower Eyes is a literal translation of a Chinese phrase that describes Presbyopia. The funniest thing is that I only realized I was gradually developing OFE in February this year, though the farsightedness started around the end of last year already.

As for what to do with it; the optician I went to to consult if I needed a pair of progressive glasses shared – with a chuckle – that a pair of such glasses will nicely solve the reading difficulties I’ve got, but I shouldn’t get them yet – because my eye-sight has yet to worsen to the point it won’t get worse. Gaaahh.

in the mean time, the Google Nexus 7 and its compact screen was making it harder to read things now. Oh, I had a custom ROM installed on it that allowed for a generous re-sizing on-screen fonts, but it wasn’t fool-proof, and many a time, the font had to get so big, that a simple web page with any length of text would mean a lot of scrolling just to get to the end of it. I’d initially intended to pick up the third generation iPad mini at the end of this year to replace the Nexus 7 then, but the worsening eyesight basically brought forward that purchase, and I settled for an iPad Retina Mini LTE; the second generation model in its series.

The Google Nexus 7 and iPad Mini Retina, both from 2013's line-up.

The Google Nexus 7 and iPad Mini Retina, both from 2013’s line-up.

The new iPad still fits nicely into the side-pockets for most of my berms, though not into the pockets any longer – not quite like the Nexus 7 which could fit easily, and even the jeans backpockets. The battery runs for quite a bit longer than the Nexus too for my usage pattern, though iOS 7 still feels constricted in how far I can customize the look and feel of the tablet, especially coming out from the Android OS. It’ll be interesting to see how the iOS 8 fares, though judging from the many preview articles about it now, it’ll still be some ways off from the sheer customization possible only on Android.

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.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Peter reached out and pulled Hannah's hair, leaving her just a little crossed with her baby brother.

Pictures like these are why good prime lenses are worth every cent.

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.

Check out the stack of coffee capsules of differing blends.

Check out the stack of coffee capsules of differing blends.

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:

desktop

All my harddrives are labeled with masking tape with information on manufacturer, capacity, and month/year of purchase. Makes it easy for me to see which drives are nearing end-of-life and needing replacement.

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.=)

 

Ling was sharing a story that she posted on Facebook just this morning. Conversations with Hannah again.

H: Mommy, what’s the fan for?
Mommy: To cool us down when we feel hot.
H: Orh.
H: It can also blow my hair dry.
Mommy: Yup.
H: Mommy, what’s the fan for?
Mommy: No more already.
H: No, it can also blow the mosquitoes away so that they won’t bite me when I’m sleeping at night.
Mommy: Oh, okay.
H: *giving me a cheeky grin*

It might just be a thing about young children, but they sure are fond of saying or pointing out the most obvious things! Or maybe she just likes an audience, and goes about chatting to everyone who is around her, and to herself when there are none within earshot. To be fair, we’re of mixed feelings here. On one hand, we’re thrilled that she’ll go out of her way to engage with us. On the other hand, we wonder if she’s just a little too friendly and without restraint! On a couple of occasions now when we’re out of home at shopping malls, she’ll bring along Disney character stickers, and give them out to other children she walks past. And we’ve observed before too that she has no compunctions telling others off when they do things she believes to be wrong – like shushing other children in the public if they make too much noise around her and if Peter is trying to nap in his pram. So far we’ve not had angry glares from irate parents in return yet, but who knows.=)

And of Peter; we were again reminded last week how quickly stronger he’s grown compared to Hannah at coming to six months old. It often takes the both of us to apply his facial creams to deal with his drool rash, and when we’re arm carrying him, he’ll continuously struggle to break free – and we’ve found ourselves having to exert a lot of energy just trying to keep him from tumbling off our arms. I guess it comes down to gender; many parents have shared before how more energetic baby boys are compared to baby girls. I imagine how different we’d be feeling if Peter had come first before Hannah – we were would be appreciating how much easier Hannah is to carry than her brother.

Several more pictures too taken over the last fortnight, including on my birthday.

Dinner at one of our favorite restaurant hangouts at Hougang Mall - Ichiban Sushi. We like the clean ambiance, and good family-friendly selection of Japanese cuisine. Mommy has become quite adept at eating with one hand and cradling Peter with the other.

Dinner at one of our favorite restaurant hangouts at Hougang Mall – Ichiban Sushi. We like the clean ambiance, and good family-friendly selection of Japanese cuisine. Mommy has become quite adept at eating with one hand and cradling Peter with the other.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Peter reached out and pulled Hannah's hair, leaving her just a little crossed with her baby brother.

Shortly after this photo was taken, Peter reached out and pulled Hannah’s hair, leaving her just a little crossed with her baby brother.

Peace on earth reigns when Peter finally naps.

Peace on earth reigns when Peter finally naps.

Hannah wearing the Baju Kurung at the newly opened Bedok Mall - she enjoys dressing up!

Hannah wearing the Baju Kurung at the newly opened Bedok Mall – she enjoys dressing up!

Helping herself to the complimentary birthday ice-cream at Lenas.

Helping herself to the complimentary birthday ice-cream at Lenas.

Hannah has quite taken to the child-oriented Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 for kids; this was at Toys R' Us at Tampines Mall on Tuesday. I'm a little tempted to get this for her - it's really loaded up the gills with child-friendly applications, several of which are quite educational.

Hannah has quite taken to the child-oriented Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 for kids; this was at Toys R’ Us at Tampines Mall on Tuesday.

About the latter – I’m a little tempted to get the Tab 3 for kids for Hannah – it’s really loaded up the gills with child-friendly applications, several of which seem quite educational, and it helps that the tablet comes with parental controls for accessibility and the like – e.g. to control usage. Hannah enjoys her gadgets time, but at least she doesn’t pine after them too much, which at least removes my concern about addiction to these toys if we were to get her one at some point later.