Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Videotaping myself playing the guitar


I am still having a croaky voice from a recent bout of infection, but I can't wait to try out my Bloggie. One major reason why I chose the Bloggie over the other videocams is the ease of recording myself. From the picture here you can see how the camera lens is rotated over to me. All I need to do is reach out my hand, set the timer to 10sec, and press start.

Here is a sample of my very modest effort. Alternatively, go to http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=109404342417383&saved
video

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to miscommunicate - intentionally

It is easy to miscommunicate; just re-define any word to your own convenience. We can always understand each other because we all share the same understanding of the words we use. Sometimes, however, certain people (read: politicians and scoundrels) think they are very smart and they know more than we do. That is, they know more meanings of a common word than we do.

A case in point is this. There is a report in The Age newspaper today that says Victorian public hospitals are charging Medicare for services delivered on "paid public time." The state insisted that it had sought the federal Health Department's advice that said doctors had the right to private practice. (You and I know that this means doctors can work in government hospitals and get paid for services rendered there, and then work privately and get paid separately there.) Some smart people figured that they can charge Medicare for services rendered during salaried hours, hence double charging taxpayers for the same service. Fortunately the federal Health Department recognizes this double-dipping practice and insists that the state government stops this malpractice - no pun intended.

Now, Victorian Premier John Brumby is fighting with Prime Minster Kevin Rudd to maintain control of the state hospitals. If the above example is how Brumby defines "transparency, openness, and admirability" (his exact words in the present ongoing health reform dialogue with Kevin Rudd), then I am afraid Brumby has to define those three words for us to let us know what he really means.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Workflow on the Bloggie video

In the last couple of years, videocams that use flash memory instead of tapes have seen a dramatic improvement in quality, thanks to new compression technology (H.264), high definition video, and large and inexpensive flash memory cards. The Sony Bloggie is an excellent example. The workflow is simple; all you have to do is to shoot in VGA mode, download the video clip to your computer (just like a still picture) and emailed as an attachment. Every Start/Stop process on the videocam creates one clip. You simply choose which clip you want to use.

If you are into video production, you can choose to shoot in higher resolution. You can use ProShow to edit, combine clips, mix and match still pictures, and produce the final output in any format you choose. This is by far much simpler than using a tape-based videocam.

Long before ProShow came along, I used Pinnacle Studio 7 to do the same work of mixing still pictures and video, and cut a DVD for viewing on a player. The workflow using tapes was much more challenging. It involved a lengthy process of "capturing" the video into a computer. For non-digitized video (pre-DV tape days) you must have a video capture card. For digitized video you must have a Firewire port on your computer. In both cases, you need to have the capture software installed.Next, I used Studio 7 to do the editing, and then did the rendering overnight before burning a DVD. Unless you are dead serious into video production and demand very high video quality, I think videocams like the Sony Bloggie are more practical.

My new Sony Bloggie PM5

Here is a sample video from my new videocam; go to Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/video/video.php?v=108824012475416&ref=nf

I am rather pleased with the video quality achievable with this videocam. Of course, it is possible to obtain a higher quality using DV tape-based videocams, but that's a different story altogether. What I have been after is a videocam that uses flash memory, is compact in size, produces a reasonably good video, very easy to operate and very easy to process the workflow (I will discuss that in my next blog).

Among the competitors for this form factor are: the Flip UltraHD, the Kodak Zi8, the Samsung HMX-U10, the JVC Picsio, and the Creative Vado HD. For various reasons, the Sony Bloggie is the one that best meets my needs. I am sure different people will have their own preferences to dictate their choice.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The voice of God

Hebrews 11:6 says: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

These words are as reassuring to me as was the sermon in church this week. The sermon was about listening to the voice of God. We often hear many Christians say God tells them this and God tells them that. Being a relatively matured Christian, I confess I have never heard an audible voice of God. This week the sermon was in the form of an interview, and at the end of it the speakers were asked to summarize in a few words what they think is most important. The first speaker says "Saturate yourself in the word of God". This makes sense to me. The word of God helps us to know God and if we know Him well, then we distinguish Him from amongst all the noises and distractions. The second speaker said "Be still". Of course, how can we hear anyone unless we pause and listen keenly? The third speaker said we must learn to discern. Is it God's voice, or the devil's , or your own thoughts that are running through your head? All three can happen. To sharpen his thoughts, the speaker said he finds it useful to start writing down his thoughts. That, I also agree wholeheartedly. That's why I blog.

Back to Hebrews 11:6. The Bible says clearly here that anyone who comes to God must believe He exists. That's faith. If everyone can hear an audible voice from God (I'm not saying it never happens), faith will cease to play its intended role.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two monitors are better than one

I have an assembly of mismatched computer accessories on my work top; and I love it. I have two different monitors, an old beige keyboard from bygone era, a Wacom tablet with a pen input device, and a mouse that came as a free gift. The assortment looks quite charming in its own way.

It all started with wanting to learn more about Photoshop from video tutorials. I took an old 15" monitor from our server. My son, who I must admit is much more adept at computers than I am, gamefully set up everything for me. My computer's motherboard already has 2 monitor sockets, so I did not have to spend a penny. I can now watch the tutorials "live" while following the steps on the other monitor. I have tried this out and it is really a breeze.

As for the server, well I had it connected to the monitor of the computer next to it (two CPU's to one monitor). The server is seldom used directly, but when a monitor is required, I just need to press a button to switch computers.


Here's a picture of my workspace.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Victoria housing bubble

Victoria has a crisis, but no one is admitting to it. The Victorian government is silent about it. Newspapers report escalating house prices with seeming glee. It appears that only certain economic malaise deserves government attention, such as a rise in unemployment, a drop in retail spending, or (God forbid!) a decline in GDP. Of course, all these translate into a drop in living standard of the average populace, whichever way you look at it. But there's more. A rise in house prices is much more punishing to the average wage earner looking to own a home, than a similar percentage rise in anything else. That's because a house mortgage takes the biggest bite out of his pay packet. Since the GFC (i.e the global financial crisis of Q4 2008), the median cost of a house must have risen at least 25%, making the median cost of a house close to $500,000. This is slowly but surely creating a big gulf between the older people, most of whom have bought houses years ago, and the young people just starting out in their careers. For the latter, the standard of living has plunged to a very low level, and the government is still not sitting up. Isn't this an economic crisis?

Without a direct disincentive for investors to buy up properties, people will always continue to buy more than what they can use. The government is already doing that with electricity bills: as your usage goes up, you pay a higher rate. There should be no qualms about doing the same for houses: the second house you own should cost you a lot more in stamp duty. Houses should go to families who need a roof, not for people to profit in the get rich game. In my opinion, the best way for the government to address this issue is to remove negative gearing and to increase the capital gains tax or stamp duty so as to discourage people from treating houses as an investment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Carbike" idea

What if we cross a motorbike and a car? We might get a "carbike" that is low in fuel consumption, useful like a car, and fun to ride like a motorbike. Imagine a motorbike with four wheels spread out from the middle, which seats like a motorbike and has a handlebar instead of steering wheel. In fact, it would look like a regular motorbike suspended on 4 wheels. When you ride it, you will get the same exhilaration as on a motorbike, with wind blowing through your hair. But you have the safety of a car in the sense that you are riding on 4 wheels (lower risk of falling over). With a little bit of imagination, you can even create a storage area. Ideally, the wheels should be spread out to the size of a small compact car. I think this would be a great recreational vehicle that is also useful for running errands.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

www.photomalaysia.com

It is becoming a norm these days to do a certain amount of touch up on the photos we shoot. It is hard to draw a line to distinguish what is real photography skill and what is simply digital manipulation skill. A photographer who has zero skill in rudimentary post processing is increasingly left behind in this day and age. On the other hand, there is no limit to what one can do with digital manipulation.

A couple of days ago I looked at some of the online albums of great photographers I have bookmarked. For the first time many of the photographs that I used to admire I now see in a different light. Many are obviously photoshopped and the resulting image would not be possible on a camera alone. I begin to have new found respect for the photos in websites such as www.photomalaysia.com. Some of the images in this website are really good and not heavily post-processed. Of course, there are also many images ranging from beginner stuff to highly manipulated ones, but it was refreshing to me to find many impressive ones that could have come straight from the camera. Kudos to photographers in Malaysia.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My feel good moment

It seems like quite a while since I last had my "feel good" moment in photography. That's the feeling of euphoria I get when I create a nice shot, i.e. a shot that I feel is good enough to add to my Picasa photo gallery. Looking through the photos shot during my recent trip to Malaysia, I managed to find three photos. At last, my "feel good" moment is coming back again. Here are the pictures:

Monday, March 15, 2010

A weighing scale clock

At the Jaycar electronics shop today I came across a digital clock that also doubles as a kitchen scale. I thought that was a really neat idea. It has a smooth and round face, and about the size of a dinner plate. In the middle is a digital display showing time, date, and temperature. At the bottom is another display, which can be used as a kitchen scale. How's that for space saving in the kitchen? You can display the clock, and take it down to use whenever you want to weigh something.

(Note: as a kitchen scale, it has a "tare" function, which basically lets you zero out the weight of a container when the container is used to hold something that you want to weigh)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blessings; be careful how you say it

When a person says "God has blessed So-and-so's son with a wonderful exam result", it can appear different from saying it in a passive way: "So-and-so's son is blessed with a wonderful exam result," or to just say it privately. Let's say your son has also got his exam result and it is poorer than expected. When someone makes the first remark in front of you, you might feel that God is playing favoritism or that you have done something less deserving of God's favour. You might feel hurt.

Christians often openly give praise to God for all good things that happen around us. However, believers and non-believers alike all have their moments of good and ill fortune. The only difference is that for believers, ALL things happen for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. The "all" can be good or bad in the way the world sees it. Our Christian faith helps us to humbly accept what God has in store for us

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Do foreign workers increase a country's wealth?

In the last few years the number of foreign workers in Malaysia has grown exponentially. These are mainly low income domestic helpers, restaurant workers, and field labourers. I wonder if the intake of foreign workers add or diminish wealth to a country. In theory, the use of lowly paid foreign workers is supposed to help free up the local population to do higher paid and more value added work. On the other hand, foreign workers are busy transferring their pay out of the country. Surely it would be better for money to re-circulate in the local economy by not having any foreign workers at all. Would Malaysia be better off having no foreign workers? I don't have an answer; I am still thinking through this.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Requirements for digital image processing

I never thought much about this until I wanted to show someone how to use Adobe Lightroom. I thought it would be a simple task and that the person, who is also a photography enthusiast, would soon be exposed to the joy of digital image processing. Well, it didn't quite turn out to be the enjoyable experience I imagined it to be. I had severely underestimated all the other factors that are needed to implement a successful digital workflow. It doesn't matter what software you use; you need to have a decent computing environment:

1. You need a decent monitor. It doesn't have to be an expensive one, but it should have good colour reproduction, good contrast ratio, and a wide viewing angle. The monitor of typical medium-priced laptop is a good example of what you would want to avoid: the monitor is too small, and the viewing angle is quite narrow.

2. You need to have enough RAM. I am not talking about stuffing your computer to the max, but you'd be surprised how many people have just 1GB to run their Windows XP. RAM's are a cheap way to speed up your computer. Don't scrimp on that.

3. You need to do regular housekeeping on your computer. You need to do regular defrag, clean the registry, and delete unwanted files that build up over time. Otherwise, your computer will slow down over time.

From my own experience, digital image processing doesn't require a high end computer but you need to ensure that what you have will work properly (see above). My processor is a 2.66Ghz quadcore Intel Q9400 (cost ~AUD$600), running Windows XP on 4GB of RAM. Prior to this I was using a 1.6Ghz Intel Celeron E1200 with 2GB of RAM for my work.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Out of memory problem

This might seem like a yawner, but read on... you might learn something new. When my Nokia N73 mobile phone started giving me "out of memory" problem a few months ago, I did the usual thing, which was to delete unwanted files. It happened again a month ago, and I started to delete less frequently used applications in order to free up memory. Mind you, I keep all my data files on a separate 2GB SDHC card. So it puzzled me why the phone memory should be getting less and less although nothing new was added.

This week, the "out of memory" problem cropped up again. I couldn't use any applications on my phone and I couldn't compose any SMS. I could only make and receive calls. I did the next thing I could, which was to google for an answer. I discovered that this is not an unusual problem. As you use your phone, more and more junk files are created. They are invisible to you and the only way to clean them is to practically reformat the memory in the phone. I am happy to say I managed to use the tips I found to free up the memory. I now have about 32Mb free, out of the original 45Mb that comes with the phone. In comparison, I was operating on only 1Mb of free memory prior to this. High five.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Why I love my old car

The next time you feel envious of someone else's good looking car, remember this: hailstone does not discriminate. We just had a heavy hailstorm this afternoon. I was caught on the road with no shelter to turn to. The hailstones were of golf-ball size. Needless to say I now have quite a few dents on my car roof. My only consolation is that my car is now seven years old. At that age, looks doesn't matter. Who needs a new car anyway?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Voice recorder on my phone

During my recent trip to Malaysia I made good use of the voice recorder on my mobile phone. Instead of taking snapshots of people, this time I made a conscious effort to record voice. Now, I can play back the voice of my parents, relatives, and friends. I can even use the recordings for my slideshows.

Here is what I did it. Remember the Ultimate Voice Recorder I blogged about some time ago? It automatically records all conversations on my mobile phone. It did a great job too. The recordings were crisp and clear; much better than what you get when using a videocam. I made 140 calls on my mobile phone on my recent trip to Malaysia. I now have 140 voices of people near and dear to me. My daughter says it is "creepy" but I think it is a wonderful way to preserve memory. If snapping someone's picture is not creepy, why would recording the person's voice be? What is your opinion?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Errors can be a blessing

Our normal reaction is to feel agitated when someone makes a error. It was especially so when the same error was made three times in a row on our flights on Air Asia. In the first case, my wife paid for a seat with extra leg room and she was not given that. In the second case, on our recent trip to Malaysia, it happened again but I managed to point it out and it was corrected at the check-in counter itself. On our return flight to Melbourne, it happened for the third time. We were given normal seats, despite my request to the check-in attendant to make doubly sure (which she failed to do). Seated next to a very overweight lady, I was feeling quite disappointed with Air Asia for failing to deliver time and again. I made a complaint to a cabin crew, who took my booking information and didn't come back until much later. Much to my delight, the cabin crew led me and my wife to the premium class cabin where she said "choose any seats you like." We had the best flight of our life, because the seats are the modern type where you can fold all the way back into a bed. Perhaps I should hope for the airline to make the same seat assignment error every time I fly Air Asia. Attached is a picture of me looking very happy and comfortable in my premium class seat.