Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy kids

These children are a delight to watch. I saw them at the Lilydale Lake yesterday where our camera club held its year-end picnic. I first noticed them playing together by the lake. They had a puppy called Max, which was just as high spirited as the children. The children were always together; they laughed a lot, and they made up games as the day passed. There were no manufactured toys, no handheld video games, and no MP3 player. The children were just enjoying each other's company as they ran after each other, chased after their puppy, or explored different parts of the park. They even posed for a photograph when they saw me taking their pictures. I wonder how often one gets to meet such children these days.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas in July... and November

In Australia, there is such a thing as celebrating Christmas in July. It has not really caught on, thank goodness, but some businesses actually try to promote that. This year, my daughter's chemist is having their Christmas party tonight and it is not even December yet. The idea is that you get these parties out of the way so that you can have more time for your family as the big day approaches. Christmas season is starting earlier and earlier now, and it is not just the shopping malls that are the culprits. Even the radio has started playing Christmas carols. Today is only the 28th of November. I'm not sure if I can last till Christmas.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Something funny happened last night

I attended a friend's birthday dinner at the NGV last night. It was held in one of the gallery rooms. At an opportune time, I walked with a couple of friends to the gents. We had to pass through a some other galleries with 17th century painting displayed on the walls. As we walked, we heard church hymns being played in what sounded like piped in music. The sound of pipe organ and opera-pitch voices seemed appropriate for the ambiance. I was beginning to enjoy it. One of my friends naively commented that it was "classical" music. As we entered the gents, the music seemed even louder, and I thought it was quaint of them to pipe the music into the toilets. Upon leaving the toilet, a security guard pointed out to me that the phone in my pocket was ringing. I picked it up and saw that it wasn't ringing but the music player was switched on. I even commented to my friends that my player was playing the same music as the gallery's piped music! What a coincidence! Hallelujah! Surely there must be a divine message in this strange coincidence! But guess what? It was my mobile phone Mp3 player all along and there was no piped in music....

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Pink Lake

This is surreal: blue sky, but pink reflection. This is the Pink Lake, which is near Dimboola, on the way to Adelaide. I have made this stop many times, but this is the first time I have seen the lake so full of water. Every time I passed this place before I had only seen a thick crust of salt which crystallized out of the sea water that somehow has been trapped there, although this place is nowhere near the sea. It so happened that the sky was very cloudy on that day, so it made the shot all the more interesting. (The pink colour of the water comes from a pigment secreted by microscopic algae. The intensity of the pink varies with the amount of water in the lake. When the lake is drier more light is reflected from the white crystallized salt reducing the impact of the pink)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The VET system - a lesson for Malaysia?

VET stands for Vocational Education Training. VET in Australia is highly structured and it provides formal recognition for people who choose to have a career outside of the university system. The NTIS (National Training Information Service) sets the framework for quality in training, the qualifications awarded, and gathers the training packages for various industries. Private training organizations subscribe to the NTIS for accreditation. By this means tradespeople are able to maintain a good standard of workmanship in their vocation, which also means that they can charge a uniform fee for a standard quality of work. The fees are normally high but regulated and reasonable, which results in a win-win situation for both the tradesman and the public at large. It is a win-win situation because this system provides a good career path for vocational work, while at the same time it enables the public to enjoy a high quality of services.

Look at what happens if such a system does not exist. Malaysia is a good case in point. In Malaysia there is a virtual absence of systematic training and assessment for vocational work. The quality of work is generally poor as unskilled workers undercut skilled craftsmen by offering much lower prices. Therefore the career path for vocational work is shunned and viewed with disdain. Instead, everyone tries to get a university degree. This results in a gross oversupply of university graduates, who become underemployed and whose careers aspirations are seldom fully met. With a fast growing population, Malaysia is missing out on the opportunity to create a service industry that can certainly contribute towards the GDP.

Government by Man, Mammon, or God

Basically the system of government throughout the world can be viewed in one of these three contexts: socialist, capitalist, or theocratic. It used to be that governments see themselves as provider of service and care for the people; i.e. the socialist context. Governments then acted in the interest of the general public, not Big Business.

As people became more and more materialistic, they allowed mammon to take over, in the name of capitalism (with controls given to Big Business). This is based on the over-simplified supply and demand theory. The supply and demand scenario is probably best exemplified by the new blockbuster movie called "2012" where one has to pay 1 billion euros to buy a place on the modern ark which is built to withstand the physical annihilation of planet earth. In a very capitalistic country, one's education and wellbeing depends on the ability to raise money.

A theocratic country is one where the country is governed by religious teachings. Unfortunately that too can be a problem if the religion teaches hatred and encourages its people to destroy anyone of another religion. Only God knows that human beings are not able to govern itself properly. The reason is simple: God gave mankind dominion over the earth, but He did not give mankind dominion over one another. Check with your pastor.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Love the nagger

When we remind our children to tidy their rooms, we are accused of nagging. When we remind the other family members to bring their own plates to the sink, we are said to be nagging. The list goes on and on. I say that nagging is a misused word because an occasional loving reminder invariably appears as a bothersome nag to the other person. That "nagger" is a loving parent who quietly does all the housework while the others sit around waiting to be served. Very rarely do you find a household where everyone chips in for the chores out of a sense of shared responsibility. Sharing chores is only something you might find in a scouts camp or while visiting another person's home.

Back to the nagger... just observe the person doing all the chores at home. Occasionally, he or she feels that it would be good if everyone chips in to do his part. That is love in action, isn't it? But no, as soon as a suggestion is made, everyone says "you like to nag", without sparing a thought for the parent or the spouse who does all the work. I say love the nagger; your nagger is not your servant but somebody who loves you and cares for you and deserves your respect.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Different value systems

What would you say if somebody you see every day does not honour a commitment he has made to you? A friend of mine runs a cafe in a popular shopping center. He has a certain customer who comes in every day for coffee, all by himself. This has been going on for about a year now. My friend sometimes chats with this guy; let's call him Ernie. Ernie claims to operate a car workshop. Recently my friend decided to engage him to do a bumper repair job. Being a trusting person, my friend immediately paid Ernie for the bumper, and expected to pay him the remaining upon completion, even though one does not usually pay anything up front for such a job. For what usually takes less than three days, it has been at least three weeks now since Ernie took the money. Till now my friend does not even know when the bumper is going to get fixed. Ernie still comes to the cafe for his usual coffee and he seems the least perturbed by my friend's constant querying. I cannot understand a person like Ernie. He does not seem to have a conscience. He does not feel a sense of responsibility towards my poor friend after accepting the part payment.

I said to my friend that Ernie just has a different value system. My friend disagrees. He says if the table were turned around, he is sure Ernie would feel equally mad. This is where my friend got it wrong. My friend's value system is: don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you. Ernie's value system is: "what's YOUR problem, mate?" Pray that you do not meet many Ernies in your life because it is exasperating; you simply cannot deal with people who cannot make a commitment and keep it. Ernie just keeps giving my friend a new excuse each time he fails to keep his last promise... and then goes on to make a new one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Processed food

Here's a little "food" for thought. Two days ago I bought a packet of pre-marinaded fish and one of pre-marinaded octopus from a supermarket. I did not have time to cook and the items looked fresh and good. This is the first time I have bought pre-marinaded seafood. Well, they tasted fine, alright. However, my wife broke out in an allergic reaction the very night. And it was not due to the fish or octopus, as she have had those before. It must have been due to some chemical preservatives that have been added. If you care for your health, I think it is best to avoid all processed food that supermarkets love to sell. Even unprocessed food uses a lot of chemicals in the production process. Processed food is therefore much worse, especially processed seafood. One hard lesson learned. I shudder to think what sort of chemicals are routinely added to all our foods in the supermarket. No wonder supermarket chains in Australia are fighting for the right to open a pharmacy in the store.

A tropical paradise

Once upon a time, there lived a peace-loving people whose kind and gentle nature was known throughout the world. When travelers journey through this place, they did not talk about the beautiful weather or the unspoiled landscape. They talked about the friendly smiles, the genuine hospitality, and the slow and unhurried pace of life. It was a tropical paradise and I loved this place. I thought the whole world was full of people like that.

Time passed. I grew up and traveled to many places in the world. The people I met were different. The world out there was not filled with the same gentle people I knew and admired. Returning to the tropical paradise, I was even more alarmed that the gentle people I once knew have been replaced by greedy, callous, and corrupt people that I never knew existed before. In their drive to enrich themselves, they have polluted and destroyed the environment. Through corruption and mismanagement, they empty the public coffers. The utopian world of free public health care is slowly replaced by privatized hospitals. What used to be quality education is replaced by poorly run and sometimes dubious institutions from primary schools to colleges and universities. A peaceful society now lives in barricaded houses with hired neighbourhood security guards, numbed to escalating crime, and harassed by the very people who are there to serve and protect them. A tropical paradise, like the Garden of Eden, has disappeared.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What makes a good camera

Only a few days ago I was thinking about what kind of camera I would like to get next. I thought it would be a terrific idea to get a really good point-and-shoot. That will do nicely when I go on a holiday. It will save me from carrying a lot of gear. Oh yes, it must have an articulated LCD for me to get those type of shots that you don't normally get looking through a viewfinder. But it must have a really good sensor; at least an APS-C or a Four-Thirds sensor, because I am a firm believer that a good sensor makes a good camera.

Tonight at the camera club my appetite for a good sensor is further increased. Ron Cork showed pictures taken on his Europe trip. The pictures taken in low light at high ISO strongly convinced me that the crucial factor in today's camera lies in the sensor. Technology has blurred the gap between cameras on things like shutter lag, image stabilization, and ease of use. Lens technology is nothing new and you'll always get what you pay for. Gimmicks like face recognition, water proofing, and ultra-zoom are just that: gimmicks.

The distinguishing feature lies in the sensor. I believe even the sensors used in the best DLSR's today are still evolving. In the D700, it has reached a point where you can take most pictures in low light condition without using a tripod (there you go: less gear to carry on your holiday. Just make sure you have a very fast lens, though). I mean good pictures and not grainy ones you get when you bump up the ISO in a cheap camera. I believe there will come a time when one can shoot in any lighting condition without using a tripod or a fast lens. It is unlikely that such a super sensor will be cheap or available soon, I think it is better to get a fast lens as my next acquisition, instead of chasing after a dream camera. It is like buying a computer. You only buy the fastest processor to suit your needs at that time. As I am still learning how to shoot well, I think I could live with my humble D90 for some time yet. I could do with a fast lens though, and I think I'll forget about getting a point-and-shoot camera now, no matter how good the successor to Panasonic LX3 or Canon G11 comes long. Someday I'll go after the best-in-class sensor. Just not now.

Notes to myself: How to do a better slideshow

Tonight at the camera club I was very impressed with the slideshow that Ray Goldsmith put together. He started by saying that it is time to write a book; what shall he write? I realized that he was saying he needs to start off with a theme. I recall that my best slideshow efforts were those that started off with a theme. I had a mental picture of what I wanted to do in the slideshow. For example, in Derby Day, I wanted to include clips from the movie My Fair Lady, and I wanted to use the movie introduction as my slideshow introduction to give it a spoof. In the Rhododendron Gardens slideshow, I wanted to show a peaceful walk through the garden using "The Garden" hymn as the theme song. It worked very well indeed. Other slideshows I did which were just "ordinary" were uninspiring because I started without a theme. I simply put all the pictures together and then added a sound track or two. So now I must remind myself once again when I do my next slideshow: I must start with a theme.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How much is the doggie in the window?

I walked in the King's Arcade today and paused to admire a tiger skin on the big display window. It was too small to be from a real tiger. It was probably the skin of another animal but dyed to look like the skin of a tiger. Next to it was a leopard skin, also of about the same size. My gaze turned to the third skin, which was black in colour. I thought it looked like a dog. Sure enough, it was that of a large black dog, which had chosen the display window to take a nap. The head was partially hidden from view. I wonder if the shop owner did that on purpose. It certainly caught my attention and my imagination. Life is full of interesting surprises if you look hard enough.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Motivated to gamble?

Can anyone be motivated to gamble? We can say that a person is motivated to make money by gambling, but can we also say he is "motivated to gamble?" We are motivated to do something when that something is the end result by itself. If we say a person is motivated to gamble, then it implies that gambling is the end result; it doesn't matter if he wins or loses. It seems strange to me when a friend of mine said to me today that some people are motivated to gamble. I really have to think about it. I may be wrong. I think we can say a person is addicted to gambling, or he has a gambling habit. However, he should not excuse himself by saying that he is motivated to gamble, as if it is a wonderful thing he is trying to achieve.

I know I am just making a mountain out of a molehill here. I hope all my children will be smart enough to recognize that gambling is an addiction and an antisocial behavior. No one should be motivated to gamble, even if there is such a thing. In life we are sometimes motivated to take a gamble but to gamble for the sake of gambling.... isn't that a costly indulgence?

My Picasa online album

I have decided to go with Picasa for my online album, not because it has the most impressive layout to display my pictures, but because it is the most practical for my needs now. I have included the link here on my blog page. What works well for me is that I can keep reorganizing my folders. All the folders I have set up to display will be automatically synchronized to the online album. That saves me a lot of work. I can also block the display of any pictures in the folder without moving them out of the folder. On the online album side, the display is fast (pictures are preloaded for the viewer) and easy to navigate. It is also supereasy to fire off an email directly from Picasa to anybody or any group on my mailing list when I feel like sharing some photos in an album. My only gripe about Picasa is that the display is oh so bland! I hope that the next time Picasa does some upgrade they will take a page out of pbase.com

Thursday, November 5, 2009

He and She

Of all the surnames I have seen or heard, I probably encountered the most interesting ones today. A mother and her daughter came into the post office to pick up registered letters for her family. Her surname was "She" and her husband's was "He". They are Chinese, by the way. She told me how she often introduces herself: "Hi, I am She and my husband is He." It just sounds like a joke, doesn't it? Perhaps it would be even funnier if she is "He" and he is "She".

The couple have two daughters and no son. So the daughters are called "He", after the father. That doesn't sound quite right, does it? Perhaps they should consider themselves lucky because their male cousins in the maternal line will have the surname of "She". He is lucky and She is not.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Forgive us our debts

The Lord's prayer says "... forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Various translation refers to the word "debt" as "sins, trespasses, or wrong doings". This verse reminds me of the parable of the man whose debts were written off by his master, yet he very quickly turns around and demands payment from another servant who owes him some money. How often we feel justified in demanding restitution for a mistake done against us. If only we can practice humility more often, and work together to rectify a mistake, it would be much more pleasant all around for everybody. The next time a cashier gives you wrong change, or a waiter brings you a wrong order, think of the Lord's prayer. How about if somebody knocks your car and you are not in the wrong? Or if a workshop repairs your car and it is still not running well? Or somebody makes a false accusation? "Forgive us our debts (wrong doings), as we forgive our debtors (those that do wrong against us) ..... "

Monday, November 2, 2009

The rice cooker

As I get ready to go out for a walk just now, I nonchalantly measured some rice into my rice cooker and set it to cook. It occurred to me then what a wonderful appliance the rice cooker is. It works all the time, faithfully delivering perfectly cooked fluffy white rice. It never needs maintenance and it runs for years before it breaks down. Well, it never really breaks down, to be honest. It just suffers from cosmetic aging and you feel obliged to replace it when you remodel your kitchen.

The rice cooker is indeed a great marvel of kitchen productivity. When I was small, I used to cook rice in a wood fired stove. I had to light the fire, keep it going until the rice is cooked. Then I had to remove the wood so that the rice doesn't get crisp. Cooking rice was a chore then. Now it is just a flip of the switch. Even tried cooking rice over a gas burner? It isn't any easier.

Like our parents, the humble rice cooker is always there when we need it. We often forget that it is ever there, except when we want to scoop rice out of it. It never breaks down; it never fusses. We often fail to appreciate what it does for us, just like how many of us fail to show appreciation to our parents. Yes, it could do with a little more respect too.