Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Bought a New Phone



Yes, you heard that God Damned right. I have just bought a new phone.

Actually before this, I do not actually own a phone. Since that incident-that-we-shall-not-speak-of-again, I have not got myself a replacement and up till now, I have been using a spare phone provided by Chun Chow.

As I was doing my usual aimless strolling at Times Square, I came across their newly opened wing of Digital Center at 3rd floor, and in conjunction with their opening, they have some really interesting offers, like RM1 MP3 players. That was where I chanced upon Philips 192, a phone which would never appeal to anyone else out there but me.

MY NEW PHONE




IT IS A PHILIPS. SCREW NOKIA AND SE




I talked to a friend through MSN. Here was how it went, and somehow it summarized everything about the phone.

Friend: Philips huh? So what can the phone do?

Me: Well, make calls, and SMS?

Friend: Yes yes, but besides that?

Me: Ermm.. like what?

Friend: How is the bluetooth? Got 3G? Can connect to Wifi?

Me: No bluetooth. No.. none of the above...

Friend: Ohh... Can it play MP3?

Me: No...

Friend: The camera, how many megapixels?

Me: No camera..

Friend:.....

Me: It is pretty basic. Got it for RM98.

Friend: The FUCK. Is that even a phone???

Me: !!!!!

Friend: You know Robin, you are ridiculously, hopelessly, helplessly weird.

Me: I know.


Surf the internet? I have got my own trusty Lappie.

Listen to MP3? I have the M:Robe (click), which functions pretty well still.

Camera? Hello? Do I have a camera?

So why do I need all those things in one phone? Would they not be redundant, and is it necessary for me to fork out that much cash for everything that I have already owned?

Well sue me for not being crazy over phones like any normal guy would. I mean come on, a phone is a phone, if it makes calls and does texts, then it has served its purpose well enough.

IT LOOKS GOOD. IT FEELS RIGHT IN HAND.




Why I bought this phone?

1) I do not have a phone now. I need a replacement.

2) It has the basic functions of calls and texts. More than enough for me.

3) It does not have all the whistles and bells like other phones which I would not use anyway. I like it easy and simple.

4) It looks good, and feels damned good in hand too.

5) I like the slim, small, and light weight (less than 60g, with battery !! WTFFFF) design. I love it black too.

6) It is damned cheap. RM98. Cant ask for a better deal.

7) It is an original Philips product, and I have a long trust and following of Philips as a reliable brand.

8) All simplicities aside, this phone has an incredible battery life that lasts stunningly up to 10 days. No kidding. It means I only have to charge it three times a month !!

I AM LOVING IT.





I guess this particular phone is quite an interesting choice, because it does show who I really am. I cut all the crap, and go straight to the point most of the time. I enjoy simplicity, and I find joy in keeping things to the basics. Life is complicated enough, lets not make it any worse.

I am so loving my new phone.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Bug's Life Through My Lens


It is weird how ungodly late I slept the night before this, and yet I woke up impossibly early, even before the sun rose. I readied my equipment for my next photography experiment at the nearby park for some garden shooting. I called this an experiment rather than an adventure because I was mainly trying out what the new flash unit (FL-36R) is capable of and the impact it could impose on my photo outputs, especially macro.

Yes, I know it is quite difficult to wake me up for normal working days, but for camera related activities, no alarm clock is needed for me to get off bed, and I even did it more than willingly.

PETALS





Note: I found this tip somewhere online, to create a stunning flower, simply add water !! It works, right?


I am still currently stuck with my kit lenses, with no dedicated macro equipments. My usual combo of tele-zoom lens + close up filter still serves me well on my macro attempts. The magnification factor achieved is marginally greater than using the standard zoom lens + close up filter, but still the enlargement was not exactly true life macro of minimum 1:1, and somehow as I zoom in closer to my subjects, the photo quality suffers overall softness and chromatic aberration. The tele lens is not designed for macro shooting purposes, yet I forced it to do so for me, so please do not expect miracles to happen.

You will not see the overblown sizes of spider's eight eyes in this entry, and I have thought of stacking another filter, but hey, it would be a wise move to just grab a real macro lens to get the job done effectively.

BUDDY BUDS




Mounting my flash on the camera it gave the assurance of steadiness, since I could shoot at much higher shutter speed, mitigating the problems of camera shake. But there comes other problems such as getting the amount of light and direction from where it was fired right, and this was no easy task. I tried not to fire directly onto the subjects, and most of the time I found that what worked best was tilting the flash 45 degrees or further up and fire at reduced intensity with the omnibounce diffuser placed tightly over the flash. Some situations it worked well, but there were a few times direct flash could accomplish more desirable results. I am still new at this, but trying not to overblow the picture (too high in contrast and exposure) was quite a challenge.

HAIR OH HAIR



BELALANG




I liked how the flash could illuminate and reveal the details in the parts of the subject the natural lighting could not, especially the shadowy and darker parts. And I also quite fancy the additional boost in contrast and colour complementing the purpose of bringing out the focus on the subject.

Flowers and plants are easier to play around with, since they do not move. And you can have as many trials as you can to get that perfect shot.

COME CLOSER AND I WILL BITE




Unfortunately, bugs are rather different. Most of them would be very shy and hid under leaves or branches. And should they appear at the right spot for you to photograph, they won't stay there for very long. The most you could get would be just a few meagre attempts, hence quick thinking and response are essential to produce good results. You may think that focusing and capturing those pictures of insects are easy, and macro seems unchallenging, but I would like to point it out to you otherwise. The spiders in this entry were rather tiny, each of them sized less than a puny 1cm. When a lens is placed that near to it, you will have a few issues to work out: you will have focusing issues since the subject is so small. Even moving your lens back by just 0.5cm of the desired focal zone, you will miss the shot entirely. You have to be dead steady as a wood to get spot on focus, and that imvolves holding breathe techniques (as you breathe you move your whole body). I guess it is difficult trying to explain it here, once you have done macro before you will realize it is nothing simple.

SPIDY




Oh and the risk of scaring them away as you place your lens closer... and also the blood sacrifice you have to make to the ever hungry little vampires we call the mosquitoes. You see, you can't raise your hand and smack those 5 mosquitoes that just landed on your neck, because if you do so, the bugs you were trying to photograph would be spooked and well.. there goes your opportunity.

Damned mosquitoes.

Anyway, like I have mentioned in my earlier entry, this was just a trial run to familiarize myself with the flash. It was a great fun to work with bugs and plants, and certainly it was nice to capture a glimpse of depleting nature in this giant city of Kuala Lumpur. I would not say that those pictures are good example of macro, sicne it was not taken with a true macro lens, and somehow technically it suffers especially when amount of details being resolved by the lens is concerned. Nonetheless, I do like bugs as the way I see them through my lens.

I believe I would have more luck locating more interesting bugs (those uber colourful ones) in Kuching gardens. Here, maybe I will have to run into the forest for something more interesting.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Unexpected CNY Greetings


So I was venturing into random places and shooting landscape pictures of KL under rare and stunningly breathtaking skies on the first day of Chinese New year. Then I bumped into hot French chicks who wished me Gong Xi Fa Cai, and joined them for a glass of drink. Just as I thought things could not get any more interesting, I am afraid the day's adventures have not ended just yet.

I went back to my place late in the afternoon, grabbed a quick shower, transferred the pictures, processed a little, uploaded to Picasa, composed a blog entry and published on the spot. Then, I reorganized the equipments in my camera bag, bringing only the pancake and the standard zoom kit lens. I dragged my tripod along, and stormed out the house for the second time of the day as the sun was laying low on the horizon. I was making my way to the Ampang Lookout Point to snap some night scenery photographs. Yes, my current landscape obsession has not ended, and my itch on clicking the shutter has yet to be satisfied.

LAMB CHOP SPECIAL




It was my first time to the Ampang Lookout Point, hence I did not know exactly what to expect, or how to prepare for this particularly spontaneous session. I guess staying alone in my room having instant noodles for dinner would be too depressing to take in, so doing something unusual and challenging with anything to do with camera was the best remedy for me surviving my Chinese New Year alone. I have been wanting to take night shots, but apparently not many vantage points were available for Kuala Lumpur.

The Lookout Point is also famous for its restaurants. I was expecting to fork out a large amount of cash for having dinner there while waiting for the sun to set. Surprisingly, the food costs really reasonably. I had Roasted Lamb Chop Special which was quite huge in portion, served with steamed vegetables, ham (fake ham dammit) with cheese and crinkle cut fries, and the combo for RM15 only. I would not say there was anything worth to shout about the Lamb, but hey, paying RM15 for this dish was something you would seldom find in KL. At least I was not eating instant noodles while wallowing in my miserable room.

I finished up the dinner, and I did enjoy it I must say. After that, the sky was gradually turning darker, as I climbed the Lookout Tower to its peak. I set up my tripod and was ready for shooting.

KL VIEW FROM LOOKOUT POINT

Note: You have got to click to enlarge the images. The smaller size displays somehow over-compressed the details, and the photographic effect is compromised.









Like usual, lets go on with my grumbles. I was not very happy with this shooting session. Why?

1) Annoying Kids from HELL.
Seriously, kids should be prohibited from entering the tower for the risks of being mauled alive by angry photographers. It was dark, hence I set up my camera on the tripod to utilize the long time exposure (setting the shutter open for more than 10 seconds). Even the slightest vibration could render the picture blur and useless. And imagine those devilish kids running around, jumping up and down... thomping the ground, while laughing like goblins. There were times I was so tempted to just BREAK their legs with my tripod and I kid you not. The other photographers present shared the same sentiments. Because of those kids, NONE of my pictures come out sharp dammit.

2) No Tele Lens
I was shooting landscape, little did I realize the necessity of my tele-zoom lens, hence I left it at home. And goodness gracious, the KL Tower and KLCC Twin Towers looked so puny from such a distance !! Even at full zoom on my standard zoom kit lens, they looked too tiny. I shall bring the tele lens the next time I visit this place again and get more prominent shots on those landmarks. Those towers looked so insignificant in my current shots, and they just do not stand out.

MAXIMUM ZOOM




3) Hazy Blur
I thought the sky was very clear and haze free the earlier afternoon when I was shooting the KL city randomly. For some unexplainable reasons, there was a thick haze blanketing the horizon, causing an uncomfortable whitish tint on the whole picture. No matter how I tried to set the focus, the picture could not come out tack sharp, and the loss of detail and sharpness was too obvious. All I get in the end was soft picture, and this was just a disappointment. The sky was less dramatic as it was in the afternoon, making the sunset rather dull and uninteresting. I was also hoping for more interesting lighting on the sky.


Nevertheless I did what I could, and maybe I shall do better the next time should the weather permits me to do so.

ARIA AND NILOO





On my way back, at the LRT station, I bumped into two smiling faces. One very pretty lady, and a very handsome looking guy. They were both cousins, and they came from Iran. It started with friendly smiles, and the next thing I know we were chatting away like friends. And here comes my second official Chinese New Year greeting of the day, they wished me Gong Xi Fa Cai too !!!! Gossshhhhhh....

It was so special because this was my first time having people not from Malaysia wishing me Happy Chinese New Year. Even when I was alone in Perth last year, none of the Aussies, NONE at all I tell you, wished me Happy New Year.

PANORAMA ATTEMPT





And to think that I get strangers to greet me, and accompany me throughout my two important events of the day, I think God answered my prayers in very strange ways. In my prayers the night before, I asked for strength to go through the New Year on my own. I said I was afraid I would not make it. Well, what happened was more than I had ever hoped for. Those two encounters, first with the French girls and then the Iranians, they made my day.

So how have your Chinese New Year 2009 celebrations been?

Monday, January 26, 2009

French Girls Wished Me Gong Xi Fa Cai


I kid you not when I mentioned the title of this entry as "French Girls Wished Me Gong Xi Fa Cai". More details on that somewhere in the middle of this entry.

So it was the first day of Chinese New Year, and celebrating it away from home was not exactly something exhilarating. Plenty of people gave me that one kind of look as if I was doomed to hell if I did not make it home for this auspicious celebration. I know it is against traditions and God knows what other forbidden unspoken rules out there to be away from family, but hey if I was given a choice I would definitely have made the right one.



Note: Click on the picture to see its awesomeness.

Under my given circumstances, which I do not wish to discuss openly, it is crucial I do not make it home this CNY. All I can hope for would be understanding and encouraging words from people who found out that I am not going home, but unfortunately that is too much to ask for and all I have received so far were reminders of how my parents would miss me, how it was a horrible thing not to abide by the tradition, and gosh, I just wish people could be less depressingly demeaning to talk to sometimes. Stop asking questions when I do not feel like answering, and please, stop with the lectures. They just made me feel a lot worse.




I planned on waking up as early as 7am to make it out from the house to satisfy my itching lust on snapping pictures. Nevertheless, being alone on the first day of CNY was more saddening than I thought it would be, so I got off bed around 10am. Storming out the door with an unexplainable smile on my face, I took the LRT to Plaza Rakyat Station. It was disturbing how so many people told me how empty and ghost-town like it would be on first day of CNY in KL. Apparently those were merely fictions, the LRT was jammed packed like any other usual days, and the streets at the heart of KL was flooded with massive traffic. You would think that many of those people walking around were not Chinese? Think again. It was comforting to know I was not alone in some strange ways.





The sky was breathtaking on this first day of CNY, and I gladly made full advantage of it by going full on landscape mode with my camera. I have been wanting to just walk around aimlessly and snap random pictures of the scenes as I see and come to it, but this was always less exciting when the sky was blanketed with thick ugly white clouds. Sky was dramatic and clear today, and somehow it calmed my soul as I looked deep into it.




In the span of just a couple of months, I have come across 2 abandoned motorcycles, most possibly being stolen and both were left approximately at the same spot, near the Dayabumi building. This particular one had the front tyre being ripped off. I find it rather inviting as I was staring at it under the hot sun, hence I turned my LCD monitor on for the live view and lay the camera low on the ground to capture this shot. The angle was slightly off since I was having difficulty of viewing the monitor under the strong sun glare, but I do like the turnout of the picture. I have to stop bumping into these kind of things, it is getting scary I tell you.


As I was walking away from that missing-tyre bike, I was stopped by two gorgeous looking girls. They were asking for directions to the Lake Gardens, and I asked them for specific spot since the Lake Gardens is quite a huge area covering the Bird Park, Butterfly Park, Orchid and Hibiscus Garden, National Monument, Planeterium, National Mosque and many other tourist attractions.. all congested in one spot. They opted for Bird Park, and since I was not doing anything and not in any urgency to go anywhere, I offered to guide them to the Bird Park, which was quite a walking distance away from where we met.




Apparently both the girls came from France. One was studying, and the other was working and both were stationed in Singapore. Since it was CNY holidays, they came with some other friends to explore Malaysia. It was great seeing people coming from other countries and doing the tourist things in Malaysia. Then Sonya asked if I was Chinese.. I said I was.. and the next thing she said to me shocked me out of my bananas...

"Xing Nian Kuai Le... Gong Xi Fa Cai !!!"

She spoke FLUENT Mandarin I tell you!!! This was the first Chinese New Year greeting I have had (the ones I received few days before the holiday, and through phone or SMS do not count ok?) and it came all the way from France !!

How unexpectedly sweet and charming.

VIRGINY



SONYA



Note: Sorry if I get the spelling of the names wrong girls.

Apparently she studied Mandarin before, and can converse very well in it. That somehow put me to shame, since my Mandarin is... ermm.. nowhere near something I could be proud of. It was nice meeting them and getting to know them a bit better as we were on our feet to the Bird Park which took us almost 30 minutes.

Arriving at the Bird Park, I asked if I could join for a glass of cold drinks at the Hornbill Restaurant & Cafe (situated in the Bird Park) and they agreed !! Therefore, I took the opportunity to snap their pictures. They were waiting for another friend, and as the friend arrived, I went off.

So there you have it. My first day of Chinese New Year 2009. Who would have predicted that I would be greeted by French girls. More importantly, as I looked into the sky, it was blue. And I smiled.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gong Xi

To all my beautiful readers (and lurkers/silent readers) who celebrate the coming Chinese New Year, I would like to wish you all Gong Xi Fa Cai.




May your coming year be filled with wicked amount of prosperity, awesome health stats and heaps and heaps of orgasmic times.

Now let me sink my teeth into some mandarin oranges which I have shamelessly stolen from the office.

Pun Choi


Apparently I am still very new to West Malaysia, and there is always new opportunity for me to discover something interesting and unfamiliar to me. Recently, in conjunction with the coming Chinese New Year celebration, my crazy bunch of colleagues suddenly decided to drive for one and a half hour from our office to Sungai Buloh battling the fierce festivity massive traffic, just to have a sinful feast for dinner. The famous food for Chinese New Year was a Hakka dish, which is called Pun Choi.

APPETIZER




ATTACKING THE APPETIZER




THE PUN CHOI

Note: Click on image to see the ingredients better in enlarged view.







ATTACKING THE PUN CHOI





In Hakka, it simply means dishes on a plate. A plate is an understatement, there should be an adjective describing how massive that one pot could be to contain all those food inside !! Basically Pun Choi is an "all in one" concept dish, served in one gigantic pot. The food generally contains chicken, duck, pork, fish, abalone, prawns, mushrooms, vegies, and God knows all many other wide variety of stuff, everything jumbled up together. I find this style quite unusual, but I loved it to bits !!! Who cares about how many courses you have in one meal, one round can settle once for all. Convenient, no?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Pole Dancer


Ten years or more ago, when you speak of pole dancing in this oh-so-closed minded society of Malaysia, people would quickly associate it with strippers and nude clubs catered specifically to hook cash from ever hungry perverted desperate old men. Not that these things would be anywhere near legal locally, but still it was quite known everywhere.



Note: Click picture to see the huge thighs more clearly.

Who on earth would expect that pole dancing has become the latest fitness buzz? Apparently Marcus has pointed out to me that it has already becoming a trend in Singapore, and God knows in Malaysia too. I have nothing against pole dancing really, it is one respectable sport if you ask me. But somehow, the thought of it being popularized here just does not seem to click in any sense.



HEYY What were you looking at???

I mean, come on. Imagine a 12 year old girl who has just discovered sex and attraction, and she saw the pole dancing performance demonstration in the public. The way the guys ogle and drool over the demonstrator/instructor could give the little the impression that pole dancing was one way to become popular and gain attention. I just can't help but thinking what if the little girl looked up to the mother and asked her... "Mommy... can I be a Pole Dancer when I grow up??"

Que sara... sara....




Was that.. Jane... or Tarzan?


So I was at the Youth 09, which plenty of boring activities all jumbled together in one gigantic hall at PWTC. Only a few notable events, and one of them was the pole dancing of course. Man, you should see how all the eyes were glued on the instructor's legs. It did look really toned, but somehow seeing it from my pictures made it look.. bloated. Eyes can be deceiving, no?? Nonetheless, I would not dare to think of having a girl with thighs bigger than mine !!!

Yikes.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Back to Butterfly Park with Revenge


Side Note: Click on image to open enlarged view.

Over the weekend I have had the privilege to try out an external flash unit borrowed from a dear friend, an FL36R, the lower end Olympus flash designed to complement the DSLR system. It was not my first time using external flash, and I have come to know some of the functions and controls through my previous limited experience with another copy of flash, which was FL50 from Chun Chow to shoot my colleague's baby (one month old). Having it again in my hands, I was anxious to try on something different.




People have had the conceptions on Flash being an important equipment mainly for shooting people and portraits, especially in low light situations or indoors. True enough flash has become a necessity in above-mentioned conditions, but it is definitely not limited in such usage only. Application of flash if used creatively can add drama and depth to almost any kind of photography, and FishTan has kindly pointed out to me that it could work wonders in macro photography too. Since I have been craving to do some macro lately, I brought the flash unit with my Ollie and gang to the KL Butterfly Park to have a quick test run.





At first I have little faith in the flash being able to aid much in my style of macro shooting, since most of my shots are performed outdoors anyway, with adequate sunlight and brightness. However, after one full session with the flash mounted tightly on my E-520, without a doubt I can conclude that the flash made a whole world of difference !!! It improved all my shots in virtually every single aspect, and eliminating a handful of my previous complaints about the limitations of my current equipments on macro shots.





Before I go into details on how the flash has improved my pictures, for those of you who has not followed my blog before, here is my set of tools I brought along for the shooting:

[Olympus E-520 body] + [40-150mm Zuiko f3.5-4.5] + [Hoya Close Up Filter +4] + [Olympus FL36R flash] + [Cheapo Phottix Flash Diffuser]

Do keep in mind that I did all the photos on this entry without a dedicated macro lens, and I have devised my own method of capturing macro with my tele lens with close up filter mounted. All the time, manual focus was engaged since AF does not work with this combination. The magnification factor was quite stunning, but somehow still not as great as the real macro lens.




Alright, so how did the external flash aid me in the butterfly pictures? I shall itemize the reasons.

1) Constant and Evenly Distributed Exposure

Working with ambient lighting can be extremely tricky when the butterflies love to hide under branches and bundles of leaves, casting terribly distributed shadows and brightness over the wide wings, causing metering to be a disaster for the camera. You can get streaks of bright lights along one end of the wing, and a completely dark shadow cast on the other. With flash, you create your own lighting onto the butterfly, placing the light evenly on every contact parts. The result was surprisingly pleasing and details on the darker portion of the wings were generously captured from the slight reflection from the flash !!

2) Elimination of Blurring due to Camera Shake

Engaging the help of artificial lighting can help boost up the shutter speed, and this in turn resulted in less blurring chances due to camera shake, even at telephoto (zoom) end of the lens. I shot everything in manual mode, and I deliberately set the shutter speed to 1/100 seconds or higher to prevent any shaking blur, and I was very happy with the results. Couple the flash with the built in Image Stabilization system, all I was worrying was getting my focus right, and I was able to shoot comfortably without shaking. This reduced my stress by a great deal !!!!




3) Ability to Use Base ISO 100

Without the aid of flash, there was no other choice to boost up the shutter speed but to increase the ISO setting. Higher ISO number up to ISO 800 is undesirably detrimental to the picture quality, and Olympus is known for having this issue prominently in comparison to other brands. However, with flash mounted, I could achieve similar shutter speed and brightness even at ISO 100 !!! This directly imposed an enormous improvement on the photo output, since the details captured using base ISO of 100 was nothing short of stunning with any Olympus camera. The sharpness was seriously outstanding bringing out the potential of the lens. Noise was absent.


4) Ability to Adopt Higher Depth of Field

With the external flash, I did not have to worry about slow shutter speed due to the F-number/aperture setting. I can increase the F-number to F-8 flexibly to achieve greater depth of field, which was very significant in macro to cover wider area of the frame in focus.




5) Prevention of Overexposed Background

Since it was under bright daylight, there are chances that the background could appear extremely bright against the subject, causing a backlit situation. Without using flash, you will either get the subject underexposed with a properly exposed background, or your subject correctly exposed with an overblown bright background. Referring to many guides to photography, one simple way to eliminate this problem and accomplish the right balance between the subject and the brightly lit background is to fire the flash.

6) Beautiful Colours

I have always thought that applying flash, an artificial sort of lighting effect on the subjects could render the output rather less realistic and colours not as convincing as non-flash results. Fortunately, I was proven very wrong in this regard. The colours captured by flash was very well controlled, and the balance it was able to achieve was incredibly accurate. The subject illuminated very natural looking colours, but slightly punchy in one sense, creating the popped out look which was very cool though unexpected. Being able to darken the background could further bring out the colour brightness and separation.


On the whole, I was very, very happy with the session. I have decided to purchase a unit of external flash soon, and now I am still deciding if I should be getting an FL36R or an FL50R. FL50R is the higher end version, with faster recharge rate and significantly more powerful, but judging from this butterfly shooting session, the FL36R did sufficiently well. Worth noting is the fact that the FL50R costs twice as much as the FL36R, and somehow I do not see the necessity of buying such a powerful system. Nevertheless, I shall think carefully before making the move.




For those of you who owns a camera but without an external flash unit, I highly recommend you to get one. It expands your possibilities in many ways, and with currently available wireless flash systems you can create a wide array of creative lighting effects on your pictures. In comparison to my previous attempts on Butterflies here (click) and here (click), there is a notable difference.

Flash !!!!