Saturday, December 31, 2005

Clichéd title: The End is Near

It seems just about every other person is wrapping up the year 2005 with the typical annual report and a New Year’s greeting.

Well I can’t not do that, can I? I don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb, like an erect penis in a room full of eunuchs, like a big bad wolf among three little pigs, like a glass of orange juice in a pub, like a colour photograph in 1948.

Really, I can’t be stuffed to summarise my year in a few paragraphs, in part because the weather in Melbourne is being a bit bitchy today. The metrological department’s latest update says max temperature in the metropolitan area is 33; yesterday the estimated maximum was 42. That was frightening.
Fine. A mostly sunny day with a moderate southerly wind extending throughout
this afternoon.

Max 33

Suburban Temperatures
Laverton        Max 30     Yarra Glen     Max 42
Tullamarine     Max 42     Mt Dandenong    Max 38
Watsonia        Max 42     Scoresby        Max 36
Frankston       Max 31     Geelong         Max 28

UV Index 12 [extreme]

My highlights

Happy New Year.

I hope to get some good photographs of pyrotechnics later tonight. Failing that, I can always snap bad photographs of pyrotechnics.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Photography of rose petals

Rose Petals

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Click here for Deviant Art entry

My current Windows desktop background

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To shoehorn an infinite sum of functions into the exponential function

Expressing the exponential function as an infinite sum of algebraic functions:

We will attempt to shoehorn the exponential function, elegantly expressed as e^x, into the infinite sum by finding suitable values for all a’s. Or more accurately, try to shoehorn the infinite sum of functions to fit into a simple function.

One of the better known characteristics of the exponential function is that its derivative is the function itself. It is the only function that exhibits this remarkable property, and we will take advantage of this.

As already mentioned, the derivative of the exponential function is itself, thus the above two expressions are equal.

In the process of differentiating, something happens around the a(0) term: the constant function becomes zero after differentiating, and there is nothing left to pair with a(-1)x^-1.

Comparing the coefficients of all powers of x (all terms with x^2 must be the same, and all terms with x^3 must be the same, and so on for all x^n):

The left side of the equations come from the original function, and the right side from the derivative.

The zero at a(-1) appears to cause all a’s with negative subscripts to be zero. This will be proven by induction- firstly, show that a(-1) is zero. Then, show that a(n-1) is zero when a(n) is zero, for all negative n integers.

a(-1) is zero, which is already shown.
Then, establish the relationship between the coefficients of powers of x. This is merely differentiation of a power function.

Since x is not necessarily zero, and (n-1) is never zero for negative values of n, if a(n) is zero, then a(n-1) will be zero.

Putting these two parts together, all a’s with negative subscripts can be proven to be zero, since a(-1) is zero, then a(-2) is zero, then a(-3) is zero…

Now, the infinite sum can be simplified slightly by removing all a’s with negative subscripts.

Again, comparing the coefficients of the powers of x:

Looking at the set of equations, one can see that all the values of the a’s are closely connected. If a(0) is known, then a(1) is known, then a(2) is known, then a(3) is known…

The task now is to extract the value of any one of the a’s, and the value of all others will fall into place. The simplest would be a(0).

The exponential function’s function value is 1 when it’s argument is 0.

All the x’s and their coefficients vanish into thin air when x is given the value of zero, leaving a(0) standing very alone to accept it’s fate as one.

Using proof by induction, it can be easily shown that a(n) = 1/n! for all non-negative values of n (bearing in mind that 0! = 1).

First, show that a(0) is 1, which has already been done.

Then show that if a(n-1) = 1/(n-1)!, then a(n) = 1/n!.

Using the relationship between the coefficients of the powers of x,

Now, we are ready to reveal the transcendental function e^x as an infinite sum of algebraic functions, as an infinite-order polynomial.

end note:

I had previously found the value of e to be the infinite sum of the factorials inversed, using the Taylor series expansion. From that earlier result, it is not apparent at all that the exponential function is as easy as sticking in a power of x into the summation. However, now that this stronger result has been shown, that earlier result would not surprise anyone.

From a certain point of view, proof by induction is very much like a recursive function used in computer programming. Induction starts from the trivial case, and advances forward step by step; recursion starts from an arbitrary location as dictated by the function inputs, steps backwards until it arrives at the trivial solution, then marches back forward to the starting location to return the value.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Evil little puzzles

-complicating a simple problem with biggish words like metastable state, control input, activation energy and domain.

Most of us would probably have seen some of those little clear puzzle boxes in our lives. Housed within the little cube would invariably be a collection of little chrome spheres and an ‘environment’ for the spheres to move in.

Often, solution of the puzzle comes when the spheres are put into some specific locations in the environment. A typical puzzle might have a surface with dimples in it, and the spheres would have to be manoeuvred into the dimples.

The states (location) of each ball can be described using two orthogonal directions parallel to the main plane of the environment, and the height of the ball is the gravitational potential energy of the ball. As one can imagine, a ball’s gravitational potential energy is a function of the location of the ball, with the domain being the area bounded by the plastic box.

This particular problem requires that the balls be placed in the holes around the big hole. A brief inspection of the environment will show that the target holes are not as deep as the central trap, which implies that the global minima of the potential energy function lies within the central trap. Each of the target holes are a local minima, which means that a ball within the target is merely in a metastable state. Jerk it hard enough (give it enough activation energy) and it might roll out of the metastable state into the global minimum.

The difficulty is that there are many balls, and it is very possible that there will be one or two within the central trap at any one time. To relocate the balls away from the central trap, one would need to give it sufficient energy to jump out of the potential well. Unfortunately, this energy will also be supplied to the other balls, and they might jump out of their metastable target holes, and in turn drop into the central trap.

Control of the system is done by manipulating the box. There are 6 degrees of freedom in the control inputs: translation in 3 directions and rotation in 3 directions. However, the system itself has far more than 6 degrees of freedom (each ball can move independently of other balls), even if we neglect spin and potential energy of the balls. In short, it is impossible to deterministically control the system using the 6 control inputs- solution of the puzzle appears to be merely a probabilistic event.

Having noted a few characteristics (metastable state, global minima, activation energy, controllability) that contribute to the difficulty of these puzzles, we can go on to design harder and harder puzzles.

Of course we want the solution to be a metastable state. Once arrived at the solution, the balls should stay where they are unless jerked out of place. If the solution is in the global minima, the puzzle is almost trivial, which makes it less of a puzzle.

To make life difficult for the player, the global minima can be made to be very low compared to the metastable states. This would imply that sending a ball from the global minima to a metastable state requires a big bump, potentially disturbing other balls in the system.

Also, to make balls in the target metastable states easy to accidentally dislodge, the activation energy required to jump out of the metastable state can be made very small. This being the case, any small disturbance might easily remove the ball from its desired position.

Finally, use many balls to ensure that the 6 control inputs cannot fully account for all the balls’ behaviour.

If these concepts are taken too far, the puzzle will be impossible to solve in a reasonable time. Try shaking a room to try getting all 6 x 10^23 molecules of air to one corner of the room.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A list of the cars I've driven

Seeing that my brother is publishing his war stories, I think I’d do that too.

Audi A4
BMW 328
BMW 735
Ford Falcon
Ford Laser
Holden Commodore
Honda Accord
Honda City
Honda Civic
Hyundai Getz
Hyundai Santa Fe
Isuzu Trooper
Kia Carnival
MB E-class
4 of these from 2 generations
Mitsubishi Grandis
Mitsubishi Lancer
Nissan AD Resort
Nissan Pintara
Nissan Pulsar
2020km over 6 days
Perodua Kancil
Perodua Kelisa
Perodua Kembara
Proton Gen 2
Proton Perdana V6
Proton Saga
Proton Saga Iswara
Proton Satria
Proton Waja
Proton Wira
7 of these commonplace cars
Suzuki Vitara
Toyota Camry
3149km over 9 days
Toyota CorollaI’ve driven 5 of these, all from different generations, from the LE to the latest model.
Toyota Harrier
Toyota Prado
VW Beetle
VW Beetle (new)

I have driven 57 cars.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Photographs from Sydney

I am back from Sydney. From the 12th of December up to yesterday, I have accumulated a grand total of 3Gb of images, about 2300 images. Here are 11 of them, all have not been manipulated in any way except for resizing (on Photoshop).

Sydney Road, Melbourne

I live along Elizabeth Street, which is morphs into Royal Parade, which then renames itself to Sydney Road, and subsequently becomes the Hume Highway, which leads into Sydney. Easy isn't it?

North Melbourne train station

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Circular Quay, Sydney

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I forgot my tripod, which is a punishable offence in some states. This is one of the better photos; some others are too fuzzy. The point of light in the sky is probably Venus.

Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney

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A typical long exposure shot of a busy street. I put the camera on the balcony wall, which explains the sharp image.

Central train station, Sydney

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

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I made it a point not to obsess over the typical far shots. Anyone can get them on postcards.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

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This is the kind of shots a 10x zoom can help you get.

1984, George Orwell

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An Empty Ferry

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Sunset over Sydney, Watsons Bay

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Somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne

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The sky was too bright even with the camera set at 1/1000 and F8.0. I shot through my sunglasses, which would explain the strange tinge.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

An open letter to Barrister Chong, and anyone else who's interested.

I'll be going to Sydney very shortly. We'll be driving there, stopping overnight at a border town (state border, not national border) before going on. Journey is 1000km, one way.

My ticket back is on the 20th of January, departing the Melbourne aerodrome at about 2.45pm, and arriving in Kuala Lumpur at about 8pm the same day.

Been rather busy bringing my family and being brought by the family around. Will make contact with you later, probably closer to the 27th December, assuming they do not get the extension of stay to the 28th Dec (MAS says the flight is full; we'll see if anyone drops out and lets them in).

Well, got to run now. Breakfast, pack up a bit, and we'll be off on our 1 Mm trip (M- prefix denotes Mega, as in 1,000,000 or 1000 k's).

As ob!ique is sometimes caught saying,

We is speak soon!


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Photos from Brisbane

I'm back in Melbourne by the way.

Background colour saturation reduced using Photoshop

Several flaws touched up with Photoshop, including distracting reflections in the glasses and an ink smudge on the fingers

A thinly sliced bit of grape and a few other intact grapes, in a shot glass

Mt. Cootha

A puppet doll acquired from Indonesia.
Background desaturated using Photoshop.

Click here for large size image

Hibiscus at sunset, right after a shower has cleared

The same flower, closer up

A crop of the previous image- reproductive organs of the hibiscus

Parents at my graduation in Melbourne

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

A test drive: Nikon FM2 SLR

Over dinner two nights ago with my family and my granduncle’s family, talk turned to cameras. It turns out that he used to shoot with the kind of cameras with a folding front and a collapsible cloth bag, from well before my (and probably our) time.

Yesterday at granduncle’s place, I asked him to show me his camera. He took a typical photography bag out, and unzipped it. And holy cow, it was a Nikon FM2!

My reaction was initially greater as I thought it was the professional F series (as opposed to the mid-range FM). I had recently read an article about Nikon’s latest professional film camera, the F6, and thought this was the second generation professional Nikon SLR.

I fiddled with it for a while, before remembering to ask granduncle about the other camera, the older one. He fished a leather pouch from within a cupboard, and unveiled it. Viewing it for the first time, right in your hands, is like suddenly finding out your aunt has a Lotus Elise. Not a rare gem, but more like an uncommon jewel you never knew existed.

The next thing I did would not be entirely surprising.
I took a few photos of the cameras.

Uncle’s Olympus C-60 zoom, my Olympus iS-1000, granduncle’s Nikon FM2 (with 50mm prime lens) and Zeiss Ikon

It turns out my granduncle has 50mm and 35mm prime lenses. No zoom, just fixed, precise optics. I was given a brief tour of the camera, and it was reasonably simple to use, contrary to my initial expectations.

A lever cocks the shutter spring, unlocks the shutter release button and advances the film, all in one pull. A ring around the lens adjusts the aperture, while another ring adjusts the focal length. A knob near the lever and shutter button sets the exposure time. That is the extent of the main controls- shutter speed, aperture, focal length and shutter release.

That night, I decided that I need to borrow the FM2 and shoot a reel of film, just to get a feel of it. It’s the same emotional drive that prompts me to ask people for a test drive of their cars, new and otherwise.

[Long winded portion relocated to end of entry]

To shoot with a fully manual camera does help give a very intuitive feel to the parameters of a camera. For me, it does help to click in the values on a knob, and to see the range and interval of the said parameters in one glance. On digital and newer consumer cameras, the adjustments are done by nudging an up/down button, and the value on a screen changes accordingly.

There was also the satisfaction of feeling the camera responding to inputs, of feeling the shutter speed control dial clicking into its notches, to perceive the shutter spring being cocked into place, and the film advancing by one frame as the lever is pulled around. And then, when the shutter button is depressed, the spring pinging back to unleash the shutter for as long as is preset. (By the way, this FM2 is the first commercially available camera to give shutter speeds of 1/4000 second)

Shooting with prime lenses (without zoom) was also good practice for my composition skills, since there is no zoom to assist in the composition.

I was at Dreamworld while I was using this camera, and was heaving this heavy bag of camera, lenses and flash unit around. There was a particularly fascinating train around the inside of the theme park. It was a real steam engine, with hissing steam valves, wet, soppy steam pistons, heavy cranks and a large boiler. The driver had even invited me to the front of the train onto the track to get a better view of the mechanical parts while the train stopped at a station. I missed a close up of the hissing, steaming and dripping pistons because I was out of film. Crap crap crap crap.

The film being exhausted, it was time to rewind it and get a new reel. Strangely enough, the rewind crank felt particularly tight. So I exerted a bit of force, and it cranked a few cycles before loosening abruptly. Not a good sign. I consulted the user manual, only to find out that I was too late- I did not depress the rewind button at the bottom of the camera case.

Fark- probably broke the film’s sprocket holes, and I would not be able to rewind it and get a new reel.

When I got back, an uncle put the entire assembly in a specifically designed light-proof bag and opened the case. Turns out I had pulled the strip of film out of the canister. The loose film was then put into the film box (thank heavens Kodak uses a black tub). Thus I can conclude that the rewind button engages a (reverse) gear set to pull the strip of film backwards into the canister.

The dark bag in question is a multilayered plastic-fabric bag with several zips. Two soft gloves sewn onto the bag surface allow manipulation of the contents by feel. The gloves are similar to what one sees in fume chambers in biological research facilities, where the operator can work on objects with his hands while staying behind a glass pane.

It was great fun shooting with a manual SLR. If the photos come out good enough, it might well be time I acquired a second-hand manual SLR of my own. That, or I borrow the camera every time I go to Brisbane.

[start rambling (relocated from above)]

A tiny button cell powers the camera’s light meter, which shows up as +, - or 0 in the viewfinder. I was told the battery has been in there for years already. With this exposure aid, the aperture and shutter can be set accordingly.

Focus is helped by a split lens. If the object in the viewfinder is out of focus, the object does not line up along the split in the lens. When perfect focus is achieved, the split is not visible. Around the split lens is a strange microprism layout. Objects out of focus will show up as a smear on the microprism area, the fuzziness being much greater than the normal out-of-focus smear.

It is quite slow to get perfect focus compared to auto focus cameras, causing subjects, usually humans, to complain about tired faces as a result of prolonged smiling, usually jokingly.

After getting the perfect focal length, there is the exposure to sort out. 1/125 seconds of shutter is recommended, and the aperture adjusted from the lens. However, being unfamiliar with manual control, I sometimes find myself in areas too dark or too light when 1/125 is not sufficient, and have to reduce it to 1/30 or raise it to 1/2000.

In total, the subjects complained more.

However, these delays can be reduced significantly with some experience as my granduncle demonstrated.

[end rambling]


Monday, December 12, 2005

A long walk in Brisbane

On Sunday afternoon, I took a long walk in Brisbane’s commercial district and surrounding areas.

My initial plan was to walk to the train station and catching a ride into the Central station, but my aunt offered to bring me to the station. Then she said, “why not I bring you into the city, it’s not very far by car.” So at about 2.30pm, I dropped off at a random location in the city centre.

As I walked around, I saw a book shop, Borders. Naturally, I got sucked into their magazines section. I spent close to an hour reading Racecar Engineering and Autocar, both imported from the UK and very costly to purchase, about $19 and $12 respectively.

With a not-very-detailed map in hand, I then headed in the general direction of the Story Bridge, a rather prominent landmark in the Brisbane cityscape. After several wrong turns (some major roads do not have pedestrian walkways) and rude phrases, I finally found the pedestrian and cyclist entry to the bridge. It was considerably inland from the riverside, since the bridge is high above the water to allow passage of river traffic.

A wide-angla shot of the aforementioned bridge [image source]

The Story Bridge is a steel truss bridge, a little like the Sydney Harbour Bridge- just a little. With my Olympus film camera, I took some (hopefully good) photos, including macro shots of a truss’ rivets with the sky and more trusses in the background. My usual style- macro subject in the foreground with a hopefully engaging background scene.

The reel of film ran out after several frames, so I had to reload. This particular camera is very, very difficult to reload- it does not accept the film tip readily. And the film, which has been rolled up for a long time, does not willing lie flat while I close the cover. I usually use a small blade to keep everything in place while I shut the cover, retracting the blade progressively.

I was unfortunate not to have a blade with me. I sat down on the bicycle pavement, in the shadows of the trusses to avoid the harsh afternoon sun. To one side, across a railing was empty space. Out of sight below me was the river, murky and muddy, with who-know-what lurking in its depths.

To the other side, separated by another measly railing, was heavy traffic. Trailer trucks thundered past, pairs of huge gleaming exhaust stacks standing erect in a phallic symbolism of manhood, turbo-diesel engines roaring and whining, 26 tyres rolling along towards their ultimate destination of serving the capitalist economy.

As the wheels thumped past expansion joints along the bridge, they made a grand, booming thud. The bridge reverberated with the booms as each axle crossed the joints, just barely noticeable, but enough to give one a fleeting sense of seasickness.

I solved the problem after I thought to use the cheapest, least important card in my wallet as a blade substitute. More film, more photos!

After descending the bridge from the other side, I walked along a meandering walkway on the bank of the meandering river (it’s almost a fractal!). A long walk later, I found out that there were no more bridges across after South Bank. I had to cross back over to get home to my aunt’s place, so I backtracked and found a reasonable bridge to cross on, walked inland to get to its entry point and walked across that. Nothing as eventful as the Story Bridge.

I checked my route on Google Earth, and it’s about 13 kilometres, without the finer scale meanderings. The Architect pointed out in no uncertain terms that it’s not even a marathon distance.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Painting with words

I’ve not done this for a while, to simply write with no aim and no plot. Just to compose a few paragraphs of long-winded imagery, hopefully vivid. Regardless, it was satisfying while the muse was with me.


The weather was particularly hot. Heat from the sunlight was exaggerated by the unfriendly humidity and total lack of neither wind nor breeze. Contrary to her usual expectations, it was quiet. A few cricket-like creatures squeaked, but apart from that it was completely silent.

Presently, a white Mercedes-Benz van drew to a graceful stop outside her front gate, the driver being skilled enough to not bring it to a jarring halt. Very unlike films which tend to portray a stopping vehicle with its nose diving into the front suspension members, and then springing up violently upon coming to a stop. Not so in the real world where drivers are less shabby with their control, and particularly not so with this particular driver of the white van.

She climbed into the vehicle after the driver had loaded her luggage into the rear storage space and pulled the heavy sliding door open with a whirl of roller-bearing noises, gesturing with his open palm inviting her to climb abroad. A welcoming kiss of air-conditioner breeze greeted her.

Having pulled the sliding passenger door shut, again with a whirl of roller-bearing noises, the driver walked around the vehicle to enter from the forward-right door. Stepping up into the cabin via two steps, he had enough thrust to propel himself upwards before letting his bottom plop gracefully into his seat in what looked slightly like a parabolic path.

He turned around, and cheerfully addressed the passengers in general, “to the aerodrome then,” - he did not expect a reply, nor did he get one. Passengers, especially individual passengers, rarely ever reply. The exceptions are the kind of people who are inclined to shout “yes!” when the master of ceremony asks if everyone “is having a good time.”

But then he thought those kinds of people tend to talk too much anyway, so he did not mind that his passengers were quiet. He engaged first gear, gave the engine a bit of revs, slipped the clutch and they were off on their way to the aerodrome.

She sat in her seat, not really paying attention to neither her fellow passengers nor the passing cityscape. Allowing herself to relax, the coolness of the air conditioner dominated her senses, and she was happy enough at that. The aerodrome, the flight and what lay ahead were put out of her mind as she savoured cold breeze.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Results are out

Overall, I'm satisfied. Not over the moon, not with HRM, but happy enough. The major project is particularly satisfying since it's a 2-subject lump of work (A & B) that came out together, with a 90 at H1. Much less depressing than last semester's results (that's why they were not shown off here, duh)

Code Semester Year Description Mark Grade
325209 2 2005 Human Resource Management 065 H3
436414 2 2005 Optimisation 075 H2A
436436 2 2005 Advanced Computational Mechanics 081 H1
436493 2 2005 Major Project & Professional Practice B 090 H1

Brisbane is hot. Damn 9 7 bloody hot.


Futtprints is back online

Foot Foot's photoblog Futtprints was the first photoblog I discovered, in the era when the Saffron was still actively publishing. Yes, Saffron probably is still my favourite blogger, even if she’s retired from the scene.

The photographs by Foot Foot are refreshingly varied, with macros, scenery, portraits and what appears to be street photography. The sepia photos depicting everyday life in our towns and cities are particularly enchanting; especially those that manage to convey a quiet, historical stillness about them.

In the middle of the year, Foot Foot’s photo entries slowed down to a trickle, and then stopped entirely. It was frightful.

Anyway, she is back with what she calls a “sweet little thing”, in fact a Canon EOS 350D Digital Rebel. Yeah, now you realise that envy actually has a pressure that builds up in the cranium.


A general, handwaving guide to digital photography - part 3

Continued from section 2 (white balance, light metering, exposure compensation)

Topics in section 3
Point of view
End note


Used without care, the flash is a very dangerous tool. It can very easily ruin your white balance, brightness and contrast. While I do not usually use flash, I can make some general remarks based on mathematical arguments.

Not surprisingly, the flash strongly affects objects closest to the camera. In fact, the illumination is inversely proportional to the square of the distance. Double the distance, and it is only one quarter as bright. Triple the distance, and you get 1/9. Quadruple the distance, and you only get 1/16

As you can see, the flash’s effect decays very rapidly with distance. If you have several objects (usually people) that would make up the foreground, and you want them evenly lit by the flash, it is best to make sure that they are all about the same distance away from the camera/flash. Otherwise, objects further away will be darker than those slightly in front.

The use of flash is not limited to dark situations. It can be also used to illuminate comparatively dark areas (usually the subject). A common application of fill flash would probably be to illuminate the subject’s face while under intense sunlight from behind/above. Without fill flash, the face would be cast in a dark shadow. To use fill flash, simply turn the flash on, as opposed to automatic or off.

Point of view

Our view of the world usually takes place from a vantage point about 4 to 6 feet above the ground. For novelty’s sake, you could try to shoot from a low point or a high point. While doing so, you might look a little cuckoo to people around you, crouching low to snap a ground level shot, or holding the camera high in the air and clicking blindly. But who cares of what others think, as long as you might be able to get a special flavour into your shots.

For the high vantage point, I like to use a tripod. Extend the legs fully, but do not unfurl them. Set the timer to 10 seconds (2s is too much of mad rush), hoist the camera above the scene and wait for the shutter to click. This is a bit tricky- you will need to get a few initial shots to figure out the composition while you tweak the camera’s angles. Alternatively, you could stand on a chair, hold the camera above your head and click away. Remember to review after each shot to improve learning via feedback, which is particularly important if you are trying to compose shots blindly.

Apart from shooting from different locations, there are many, many ways to add a dash spice to your photos. You can try shooting through gaps and holes, such that the windowsill or foliage frames the subject. Or experiment with glassware, wire mesh and cast iron grilles, mirrors, stainless steel pots, crystal goblets, lace curtains, grass. Anything and everything goes. After all, the digital format does not cost you money beyond recharging the batteries and replacing them when they finally wear down.

End note

Do your own experimenting; I’ve already contaminated (but hopefully not constrained) you with a little of my style.

Most of us do not have the kind of equipment we would like to have, which is really not surprising. Worry not if you do not have a tripod, or a 50mm prime lens, or a cable release shutter, or an Olympus E-300. This is a clichéd but true concept- the most expensive equipment will not guarantee satisfying shots.

As the diligent reader (anyone who worked through 2000 words is probably diligent) might already have noticed, the theme of this guide is experimentation. Beyond a meagre few technical pointers to give one a bit more freedom of choice, there is little else that I can do to magically aid one’s artistic sense. May fortune be on your side (especially in uncontrolled situations such as metrological conditions).

“And don’t point the camera in the same old ‘square-up’ full frontal way. Tip it, angle it – try something different!” - Weatherburn

“[…] go on a walkabout, determined to look anew at what’s outside your front door. At first this may involve a conscious and almost frustrating effort; but once you’ve run a few reels of film through the camera (or fired continuously with that digital camera) you’ll realise you’ve been walking around, perhaps for years, without “seeing” much at all. […] To take interesting and arresting images of your familiar surroundings will take careful observation, concentration, and imagination – but all the while you’ll be developing the important habit of visual awareness.” - Weatherburn

Thank you for reading. It was a pleasure doing this.

Further reading:

Photography for Beginners”, by lewcid. strongly recommended
Deviant Art

Deviant Art has loads of marvellous photographs (and drawings, paintings, computer graphics). Browse through them; take a close look at the ones you like. Try to see what kind of tricks the artist used to make that photo. Is it the contrast? Colour coordination? Framing?


Rob Weatherburn, “A Photographic Philosophy”, “Australian Photography” February 2005 p.34-37

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What I found in the letter box this afternoon

Dear Graduating Student,

Congratulations on completing your studies and a warm welcome to the University of Melbourne's global alumni community. [...]


So I'm done then.

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A little tour of Brisbane

I will be flying to Brisbane this evening to visit some relatives (father’s sister and mother’s uncle and cousins). After a few days, I will be meeting my family at the Brisbane aerodrome.

A short bit of touring later, we will hop onto one of those tubular bits of aluminium alloy to fly back to Melbourne in time for my graduation.

After that, the plan is to rent a car and look around Melbourne and Victoria, and then perhaps take a 12 hour drive to Sydney to look at more things, before my family flies home from the Melbourne aerodrome around the 25th or 26th of December.

My initial flight of 25th December from MEL to KUL has been postponed to the afternoon of the 20th of January. However, this flight might even be entirely cancelled, pending many factors that I can’t be bothered to list out.

The photography series “A general, handwaving guide to digital photography” will probably be suspended for a while. At any rate, I have not completely drafted the last 2 topics, so I’ll have something to do on my 2 hour flight to Brisbane, apart from reading the general relativity book.

Which reminds me I need to get my family to bring the Olympus C740UZ along. Carl Zeiss lens with 10x optical zoom, and 3cm focal length on super macro are not specifications to trifle with.

Time to sleep; need to pack, pay bills, tidy up the apartment (parents coming- you understand my problem right?) tomorrow. Not to mention the early lunch at 1pm with a few friends.

Enough verbal diarrhoea. My next entry will be from Queensland.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A general, handwaving guide to digital photography - part 2

Continued from Section 1 (Taking advantage of the digital format, Photo composition, LCD and viewfinder use)

Topics in Section 2
White balance
Light metering
Exposure compensation

I personally like to use the P (Program, I guess) mode on the camera for all occasions. It is automated, but with a large scope of adjustability. The features I find most useful to tweak are white balance, light metering, exposure compensation and flash.

White balance

White balance is the mechanism for which the camera compensates for the colour of ambient lighting. Without it, indoor shots under incandescent lights will appear overly yellow and fluorescent lamps will give a sterile blue tinge. White balance usually comes with settings such as tungsten, fluorescent, daylight, cloudy and of course, automatic.

If you want colours of the sky to be reproduced faithfully, it is recommended that the daylight setting be used. This way, any deviation from white daylight is clearly picked out, like sunset blasts of orange, the silver lining of clouds or the simple blue sky.

Light metering

Light metering is the mechanism by which the exposure is to be adjusted. By measuring the brightness of the image, the shutter speed and aperture is adjusted to allow the correct quantity of light to enter the camera.

Spot metering only considers the light in the middle of the frame, and adjusts the shutter and aperture to expose the middle of the frame perfectly, without regard to the surrounding brightness. Spot metering is usually denoted by a dot within a rectangle.

Spot metering is particularly useful if the composition has parts with very different brightness. The following example will illustrate the point.

In this scene, the background is a sheet of paper with a bright light behind it. The orange and the coffee press are placed in front of this bright background. Spot metering was used, and the metering was done on the orange (by holding the shutter button halfway down) and then recomposing the image to move the orange away from the centre.

The result is that the orange is well exposed, and the background washed out. If spot metering was not used, the background will probably be properly exposed, and the subject will be very, very dark. This might be good for snapping silhouettes though.

Have a go at spotting the background, the subject, or even the boundary between the subject and the background. In particular, putting the spot metering box on the boundary between the light and dark elements can give an in-between exposure, and the degree of which can be adjusted by moving the spot area slightly towards or away from the bright region.

Exposure compensation

The process of exposure compensation probably comes somewhere between light metering and shutter release. By setting a negative EV (exposure value), the shot becomes darker. Likewise, a positive EV results in a brighter photo. The exposure compensation icon/button on most digital cameras are either marked as EV or with a +/- sign.

I find exposure compensation useful when intending to capture the clouds in a bright sky. If the blue sky is overexposed, it appears whitish on camera, minimising the contrast with any white clouds. By darkening the scene slightly, the sky retains its blue hue, making the white clouds stand out well. In general, negative EV is good for, but not limited to, situations where brightness makes a colour fade, thus reducing its impact.

Very similarly but for the opposite effect, I sometimes use positive EV in still life macro shots when I want a slightly off white background (usually a few sheets of paper) to look whiter than it actually is.

A fine example of the use of over-exposure of the background. The white background is a sheet of paper.
By Tan Yee Hou; more here

If unsure of the outcome, it is usually safer to just shoot a series of the same shot with range of EV and review the results later. Some cameras have a bracketing function, which will shoot several frames of the same scene, each one with an increment in the EV within a user-defined range. Alternatively, one can manually step the EV up or down through the desired range.

Coming up next
Point of view
Macro photography

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I have not been pondering much about mathematics lately, which might come as a bit of a surprise considering the great strides I have made in advancing my understanding in the previous months.

I guess now that I have achieved my target of getting the hand of real numbers and continuity, there is no real drive to move forward. True, there are other much, much more exciting topics such as topology and differential equations, but now that I’m graduating, I don’t think I’ll be able to loan from the university’s library.

I’ve still got a brilliant book on general relativity though. Gravity- an introduction to Einstein’s general relativity by James Hartley. That book is part of the reason I have not been doing much mathematics.

Also, I’ve been sucked into an interesting vice. Of all the bad things I could pick up, I managed to scoop up Blizzard’s World of Warcraft (WoW). It’s a massive multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG), and it’s a in a huge huge huge realm. The map feels a lot like Google Earth. You zoom out, and out, and out, and you are lost. You can’t find which location to zoom in back on. Bloody hell, the game’s very addictive. There are even professions which your character can develop. Mine’s a miner and blacksmith.

Fortunately, I do not play it on my computer. While he is on holiday back in Malaysia, The Computer Engineer has left his belongings at The Architect’s apartment, including the high performance computer. The WoW software belongs to The Computer Engineer, but The Architect has rights to access the online game. So I sometimes hop over to his place two floors down from my apartment to play.

By the way I’m a level 7 Gnomish paladin going under the name HamSapMonk. I don’t know which server though.

I’ve been cleaning and tidying in anticipation of my family’s visit in mid-December. I came across some precious poetry written by my cousins and god-sister, when they were about 12 years of age. By some quirk of nature, I have somehow been nicknamed 婆婆, while my brother is 公公. These pieces were written for my 19th birthday in 2002. I'm still so chuffed.

mini 群,


I'm intend to keep these masterpieces, for their (and my) grandchildrens' reference. Ob!ique, I'm keeping your postcards too.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

A general, handwaving guide to digital photography - part 1

Keywords: general, hand-waving, digital

Side note: The term handwaving is used in mathematics and physics to describe arguments that are not mathematically rigorous. [wikipedia]

Author’s note

Many thanks to Metria, Lucia and Yvy for suggesting and encouraging this project, and to Yee Hou for allowing his photograph to be used here.

This guide will be published over several periods due to its rather frightening cumulative length.

Some additional attention has been given to shooting sky-dominated scenes, in the white balancing and exposure compensation sections.

Topics in Section 1:

Taking advantage of the digital format
Photo composition
LCD and viewfinder use
Coming up next

Taking advantage of the digital format

One main advantage of digital photography over film is the negligible cost of snapping photographs, so long as you have memory in your cards to store them. Added to the fact that not all photos turn out to be good photographs, it makes perfect sense to shoot the same scene several times. We’re not talking about family portrait “one more, just in case” shots, but intentionally different compositions to find the best shot and to learn from experience.

Try it with portrait rather than landscape alignment. What about putting the subject slightly off-centre in the frame? Should the horizon be perfectly level, or do I want it slanted? How much to slant the horizon? Should I focus on the foreground or the background? Can I recompose the shot to remove that coconut tree from the girl’s armpit? Put some thought into the composition before clicking the shutter release.

Shoot shoot shoot. Experiment.

After every shot, review it just so you know what is happening and learn from it immediately. Even if it’s uninspiring, do not delete it until you see them all on a computer- the camera’s LCD is not sufficiently detailed to judge which photo is better.

Look, you got that digital camera because it allows you to shoot at almost no cost, and review photos on the spot. Do not waste that investment.

Photo composition

Many photography books, tutorials and guides recommend the rule of the thirds. Divide the frame into 3 vertical portions and 3 horizontal portions. Major features should lie along these lines- the horizon one third or two thirds of the way up the frame, and the coconut tree one third or two thirds to the left of the frame.

However, I personally find that this is not a very reliable rule. It might be that this system of thirds was derived from the Golden Ratio. I fiddled with my calculator and found that the proportion is 0.61803 compared to two thirds, which is 0.6666.

Regardless of the actual derivation of the thirds, try putting the horizon (or any other major feature/boundary) at the one third or two third marks, then shifting it up and down (or left and right) a little to suit your preference. Don’t forget to shoot them all, just to be sure of the results.

Also, break the rule of the thirds as and when you like. Experiment with the horizon in the dead centre, or sliding all the way from the upper left corner through to the bottom right.

Photo composition sometimes feel very much like creative damage control. The background scenery is beautiful, but in the foreground there may be annoying road signs, diseased dogs wandering about, dumb tourists milling about mindlessly, power and telecommunications lines on poles, an unwelcomed tree… the list of potential spoilers is endless.

After choosing your intended foreground and background objects, check if there are objects that are not part of the desired photo. You may have to zoom in and out to find the best zoom to fit the frame between two offending lamp posts, or juggle the frame left and right to avoid both the rubbish bin and the edge of the billboard.

Do not dedicate all your attention to centring the subject or putting the horizon on the one-third mark. Spend some time observing the rest of the frame, which is where foreign objects will turn up and ruin your photo.

LCD and viewfinder use

Since the LCD is where you would be reviewing most of shots in preparation for the next, it is best if you know what sort of behaviour your LCD exhibits. I know of a Canon A70’s LCD that consistently gave me over-bright images, deluding me into thinking I’ve got the right exposure when in fact the photograph was too dark for my liking.

If your viewfinder is not an electronic one (with a tiny LCD in it), avoid using it for composing the photo. The LCD shows the exact image that the sensors pick up, but the viewfinder might not be perfectly matched to the main lens’ zoom. Thus, the viewfinder’s frame might be too small or too large, seriously messing up your composition. This recommendation does not apply to SLR users, whose viewfinder image is an exact duplicate of what the film/sensor will see.

Coming up next

White balance
Light metering
Exposure compensation

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Yee Wei attacks McCartney over fur statements

MELBOURNE (Australia): Tan Yee Wei has vowed to never ever listen to Beatles songs. This came about after reading a BBC article regarding Sir Paul McCartney, a member of The Beatles.

The engineering student, who is expected to graduate soon, also said he would cut ties with all fans of McCartney.

The BBC article claims that the Paul had vowed to boycott all Chinese goods after watching a video of dogs and cats being slaughtered for fur. In an interview with the BBC, Paul and his wife Heather had made generalisations about the Chinese population.

“This is just disgusting. It's just against every rule of humanity. I couldn't go there (China),” McCartney was quoted by the BBC regarding the slaughters. The Beatles band member said the killings were like something out of the dark ages, and that “they’re just sick, sick people.” He had also remarked that people should boycott Chinese goods “if they want to consider themselves a civilized nation.”

The McCartneys had previewed BBC footage scheduled for screening on Monday (28th November), and were reported to be aghast and close to tears. Heather is known to be a vociferous animal-rights campaigner.

“I think they are very shallow, short sighted people to make statements as these. One would have thought that a knighted artist would have more sense than this,” said Yee Wei. “Frankly, I’m disgusted. This is against every known code of ethical conduct.”

“It’s totally irresponsible of them to make such sweeping, under-informed, unjustified and baseless generalisations. It’s up to them to say what they want in privacy, but they do need to show some maturity and respect for others if they are to speak publicly,” he continued. “I guess all musicians, over the hill and otherwise, are just insensitive, generalising jerks.”

When asked about his stance on Paul McCartney, his music and his fans, Yee Wei vowed to boycott all of them. He said he did not want to associate himself with “an immature person” such as McCartney.

“People should not listen to McCartney if they want to be regarded as responsible global citizens with more than just air in their cranial cavities.”

Yee Wei was also alleged to have said that “the McCartneys are nothing more than wankers, attention-seeking media wankers.” However he denied ever making said such an inflammatory remark when questioned by Reuters. - TYW


I’m not implying that I condone painful animal slaughters, but McCartney’s emotion driven generalisations were too juicy to ignore. If I ever turn out to be a journalist by profession, I’ll be the kind of hack who writes news articles that I myself would not read. Trivial, sensationalist, celeb-chasing, irresponsible, paparazzi driven stories like stuff one might find in The Herald Sun (Australia), The Malay Mail (Malaysia) or The Sun (UK). Yellow journalism is the new black.

For context, read the original BBC article, McCartney attacks China over fur.

PS. - don't take this seriously.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ugly girls? No.

[transcribed from memory]

Tuesday evening, after dinner with The Architect and The Computer Engineer at a nameless shopping mall in Melbourne, while walking along the railings at the upper floors, The Architect pointed out that the glass panelling used on the railings were quite ugly.

“The print on the glass is ugly,” The Architect declared his orientations.
“Ya… it’s actually quite bad,” I answered, seeing the light. Pointing to the colour theme on the metal railings, “And these colours don’t go very well together too, olive green and brass.”
“Definitely ugly,” concurred The Architect.
“Impressive how ugly things can get…”
“Well, they actually go well together - ugly with ugly.”

The Architect later reported that a trio or a quartet of girls were staring at us with evil glares. They must have mistaken our comments on the interior decorations to be about their physical appearance. Poor girls.


On the way back after exiting the aforementioned nameless shopping mall in Melbourne, we were discussing Chinese New Year. The Computer Engineer mentioned that he will probably have to get some new clothes.

“Oh I hate shopping, especially for clothes. That’s why you see me in these same clothes all this while.”
“Me too”
“Haha, same here.”
“I like shopping for food though. That’s a lot more fun.”