Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sunset photographs

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Camera shopping

warning: emo post

I have a Tokina 28-105mm K-mount lens that I purchased for my microscopy work.

For a few months, I've itched for a digital SLR. However, I realised that there is not much point in getting one unless I am prepared to fling out loads of money for the lenses suitable to my style of photography.

Getting an ancient, very simple film SLR would be give more bang for buck. Those with only four controls- film advance, aperture, shutter speed and shutter release. The less electronics the better.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a camera shop. I brought my lens with me just to be absolutely sure it is a K-mount. While an assistant took my lens to 'the back' in search of a Pentax camera, I wandered around the premises. I stumbled upon a room with its display cabinets stuffed full of Leica goods. Talk about a treasure trove…

The chap returned from the dead, triumphantly clutching a black camera with my lens attached to it. "This is the only Pentax we have at the moment," he said.

For months, this lens had been all alone. Once a potent piece of optical equipment, it now spends most of its time in a quiet corner of my bookshelf. Seeing it attached to a camera was like watching a long-orphaned child reuniting with her biological mother. It was quite emotional.

Look, it's black and red!

Compared to modern SLRs, the camera was remarkably compact. The objects that governed its size were the film canister, film take-up reel, pentaprism and mirror box. No film advance motor, no batteries for the motor, no flash.

I looked through the viewfinder, and was delighted at how large things appear; electronic viewfinders of digital consumer cameras are just too tiny to be satisfying. I cocked the shutter by winding a sprung lever and released the shutter. The metal curtains sprung open and close with an orgasmic click.

Finally, the inevitable question came. "So, how much for this camera?" The salesperson went to his manager in the treasure chamber, where they turned the camera around in their hands for a few moments while conferring among themselves. He came back with news.

"$225 for the body only, with a 3-month warranty."

I convey to him that I like that camera, but $225 is much more than I expected. "Have you got any K-mount Ricoh bodies?" I ask him. They don't; they only stock the best bodies- nothing less than a Pentax, and as a consequence, nothing less than $200.

I thanked him for his time and exited with the orphan-lens in my bag and disappointment in my heart.


Right now, I am looking at the things available on ebay. They are not as expensive as buying from a shop.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Lepidoptera portraiture

Author’s notes
Warning: due to the large quantity of highly detailed images, please exercise patience.

Except for the two photos indicated, all images have not been cropped. The remarkable magnification was achieved with optics alone. Photoshop was used to only watermark and resize.

A moth visited me yesterday night. It was a decently sized creature, with a wingspan of about 4 cm. I cupped it in an upturned food container and slid the lid on. The creature flitted maniacally in the clear box, hitting the sides and changing directions haphazardly.

Fridgey the Moth

Trapped within a box which once contained green curry, the moth could see it was being carried along through the house. Its captor stopped in front of the fridge and pulled the freezer door open. The door’s magnetic and rubber seals unstuck with a fridgey sound. Cold air washed out of the chilled space, its motion marked by a turbulent cloud of cascading mist.

The box with the moth was put into the cold space and the door shut. It became dark.

In the mercilessly cold freezer, heat rapidly ebbed away through the container walls. The moth’s core body temperature dropped steadily. Being a cold blooded animal, its metabolic rate was directly dependent on temperature. As the box cooled, the moth stopped fluttering in the darkness. It perched itself on the floor of the container and folded its wings.

The temperature continued its inverse-exponential decline. The moth went to sleep.


From El Salvador to Kuala Lumpur, it is said that the powder shed from a moth’s wings can cause blindness.

It’s actually not powder, but scales from the moth’s wings. Let’s take a closer look.

On Wings of Gold

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This is a 100% crop of the previous image. The magnification of this image on screen is approximately 400x.
Note the fascinating shape of the individual scales.

And the face of the mo(n)th:

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Frontal view

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Side elevation

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Note the curled up feeding tube (proboscis). That device is used for sucking nectar from plants.

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Note the long thin hairs growing from the compound eye’s surface.

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This is a 100% crop of the previous image. The magnification of this image on screen is approximately 400x.
Each unit in the compound eye has its own cornea, lens and photoreceptor.

Fridgey the Moth did not wake up from his sleep. We would like to give it a big 'thank you' for contributing to today's enlightening post. We will never forget you.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Beijing AND Malaysia

With reference to this and this:

I will be going to Beijing on the 23rd to 31st December 2006.

Best thing is that I start work in January '07, so I will have time to go home for a spell before flitting off to Beijing.


With that issue settled, I can relax.

I can write endlessly long blog posts without feeling guilty that I should be trawling job-ad sites more frequently. I can fiddle and experiement with my camera without worrying that I am not marketing my skills well enough.

Come to think of it, I can do any damn thing I want (just like before) with one less cloud of uncertainty.

I'll be off to do some lens tests...


Friday, October 20, 2006


English translation available below











陈一维:是辆Mazda RX7。我也会去摸。



Act 5


Characters: Ms. Hu, Lao Chen
Scene: a restaurant
Language: Mandarin

Ms. Hu: That guy at table 10 is cute. Such a pity…
Lao Chen: (looks up at table 10 and sees 4 men) The one in the blue shirt?
Ms. Hu: Yup, blue with stripes.
Lao Chen: How do you know he’s homosexual?
Ms. Hu: I noticed him when I was clearing the table. His actions are a bit feminine.
Lao Chen: Maybe he is heterosexual, but a bit girly.
Lao Chen: Try your luck, go get his phone number.
Ms. Hu: Yes, and tell him it’s you who wants it.

(Table 10 prepares to leave. The man in blue goes towards the toilets. Ms. Hu and Lao Chen wait beside the bar.)

Ms. Hu: Definitely gay.
Lao Chen: What? I wasn’t looking.
Ms. Hu: He walks with his hips swinging.
Lao Chen: Oh.
Ms. Hu: And he kept staring at you.
Lao Chen: (Disconcerted) Err…

Characters: Ms. Hu, Lao Chen
Scene: a restaurant
Language: Mandarin

(Near closing time, the restaurant was empty except for a few slow customers. Lao Chen was squatting in the bar replenishing the fridge.)

Ms. Hu: [The manager] is weird. He just went out and touched someone’s car.
Lao Chen: Huh?
Ms. Hu: He went outside and fingered other people’s car.
Lao Chen: (arranging beer bottles) Well at least he’s not fondling other people’s wives.
Ms. Hu: Haha, he would not fondle wives.
Lao Chen: Only husbands.

(At the end of the night, both were preparing to leave.)

Lao Chen: (looks outside) Oh, no wonder he fondled the car.
Ms. Hu: What?
Lao Chen: It’s a Mazda RX-7. I would have fingered it too.
Ms. Hu: (looks outside) It wasn’t this car earlier. It was a truck.
Lao Chen: A what?
Ms. Hu: 卡车
Lao Chen: Oh. Then he is really weird.

(End Act 5)

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Photography of celestial objects


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Bad spelling intentional
Panasonic FZ-30, 15s, f/3.2, ASA 400

Taking this photograph was an adventure. I wanted the image brighter to catch the fainter stars that MUST be lurking out there, hence I needed to expose the sensor for a longer duration.

However, because the earth rotates and because I do not have an equatorial mount (as used with astronomy telescopes), the stars will track across the sensor, smearing points into streaks. So I had to keep the exposure time low.

To that end, the aperture and sensor’s sensitivity were maximised. Increasing the ASA number produced a lot of noise, so the in-camera noise reduction was increased from ‘low’ to ‘standard’. The Panasonic sensor is notorious for its horrible noise, and it lived up to its name here.

Much of the noise was manifested in red colour, which made noise removal remarkably simple- using Photoshop, adjust (read: randomly fiddle with) the levels of the ‘red’ channel.

Focusing was another major pain. The FZ30 uses a fly-by-wire manual focus ring that instructs a motor to adjust the focal length. Added to the fact that the focal range goes beyond infinity (it can actually focus converging rays) means that focusing needs to be performed on something bright but still sufficiently far away (like a building over the horizon).

All these can be cured with money:

Mount a Canon EOS 30D (or a hacked 300D) with an EF 50mm f/1.8 lens that has focal distance marks.
Set the sensitivity to ASA 800 (you can actually do it at ASA 3200, but let’s not be too radical)
Set the lens to manual focus, and turn it to infinity.
Set exposure time to 5s.

The resulting photograph would be almost certainly noise-free, properly focused and free of star-trails.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

How hot is the curry?

Diagonal Slash

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Read more about the real diagonal slash method here

As a part-time waiter (I spend the other part of my time taking photos and erm… never mind), this is one question I find amusingly annoying.

“How hot/spicy is [some dish or other]?”

For the first few weeks, I had to resist the temptation to blurt something daft (from a business and customer service point of view) but mercilessly logical. Something like, “depends on how much spiciness you can tolerate, doesn’t it?”

Now I just say “moderately spicy, but we can make it mild” and let the customers figure out what my moderately spicy means to their sensory system. And anyway, those who spring this question usually end up asking for it to be mild. Wusses. The heroic ones will usually ask for the food to be made spicy. No probing question, just straight to the point.

To be pedantic, the question ‘how hot is the curry?’ is fundamentally flawed. The adjective ‘hot’ lies in the taster, not in the curry. The curry contains capsaicin (the active ingredient of chilli), but that is all. In no way is the ‘hot’ property imbued in the curry. It is how the taster reacts to capsaicin that results in the ‘hot’ sensation.

Sliced Chilli

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The good thing about ‘moderately spicy’ is the phrase’s vast coverage. No one will ever complain about the food being too mild or too hot (except for the tossers, or if the cook had been wanking. But that’s another story altogether).

Marzipan Cuboids Drizzled in Molten Chocolate

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

English translation available below

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When I finished my Sunday dinner shift, I changed into my walking shoes and left the black leather shoes at the restaurant.

It was late when I arrived home, so I took a quick shower and prepared to sleep. My portfolio for the next day’s interview was already printed and arranged on my desk.

I woke up very early on Monday, took a cup of coffee, had a small bowl of noodles, washed my face and prepared to leave. Tidied my hair, put on the clothes, knotted my necktie and slid into the suit.

It was upon putting on my socks that I realised that my black shoes were not here.

Ma chibai!” I cursed, covering my face in dejection. I seem to be quite proficient in Hokkien to be able to use it in such tense situations.

Die. How am I supposed to go for an interview in walking shoes? Then I remembered I had another pair of shoes that David gave me six months ago. It was a bit tight, but anything is better than nothing.


Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from the interviewer. He said I had successfully made it to the second interview, and I’ll be meeting a national director on Monday. There are only two candidates left in this game, and the probability of success (and failure) is 50%. The Beijing trip will depend strongly on this.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Aphid Voyeurism

This creature was less than 1 mm in length.

I'll be doing more of these things.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006


English translation available below


如果得到这份工年底就可以和家人,亲戚们到北京去玩。加上给自己买一个好照相机,搬家,买一辆手动转述Honda Civic。。。



The moon is brighter in mid-autumn

I've got an interview on Monday and I'm a bit nervous. This job looks very promising: extremely technical, multinational engineering consultancy, superb location and good money.

If I get this job I'll be able to go to Beijing with my family and relatives at the end of the year. And get myself a digital SLR, move to a better place, buy a manual transmission Honda Civic...
Stop fantasising!
If I don't get it I'll continue searching.

Not being able to go to Beijing because I am jobless is a pitiful reason; I must not disappoint myself.

I'll get back to my preperation for the interview.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Updates - Beijing; Nokia 6510; Mother Goose Suite for piano duet

My family and relatives are going to Beijing at the end of the year. Twenty of them. I’d love to bring that number up to twenty-one.

To do that, I need to raise money for the air ticket and accommodation. This means I need to get a full-time, professional job A(F)SAP.

As a further incentive (apart from the trivially obvious merry-making with the cousins), May has promised that if I go, she will hand over her Nokia 6510 for a long term loan. I demand only three functions from a mobile phone- calls, text messages, alarm clock. This little thing from half a decade ago has the advantages of being aesthetically pleasant and having Snake 2 installed.

Who cares about colour displays, funny ring-tones and horrible little cameras?


And here is something from Monday’s concert at the music faculty. Due to the inherently short attention span of the internet-generation, only the highest energy portions have been posted.

Mother Goose Suite for piano duet by Ravel, performed by Bonnie Brown and Stefan Cassomenos (excerpts).

Watch those pedals!

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Monday, October 02, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada - a review

Jolene mentioned it was good, so I did not object when the said film was suggested. This is called ‘faith’.

My review will consist of two parts: one without spoilers, another with.

Watchable. The big screen doesn’t do much difference to the viewing experience. Do not think too much while watching it; this is not a joint lecture by Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking – it’s a Hollywood production.

Ethics demand that I warn the reader that the following text contains spoilers. Stop reading if you do not want to know the plot.

The essence of this plot is an unremarkable country girl in a big city kind of story. Not surprisingly for this kind of a plot, the protagonist is thrown into an environment where she does not fit, but manages to survive and then outrun the competition. In the process, her new lifestyle draws her further and further away from her friends and her love life also starts to fray. Of course, everything ends well with close-ups of the key cast smiling at their memories, and everyone being happy. A typically fuzzy, "awww"-inducing ending.

One important issue that appears to crop up is the transient nature of happiness when living the high-life. Of course, one cannot be sure if that is just an artefact of the plot or an intentional highlight by the director.

In this film, conformity is a presented as a good thing. In particular, satisfying the boss’s and colleague’s demands and fashion sense are of grave importance. The portrayal is such that the boss’s perception of the protagonist becomes a looming substitute for happiness. One scene which highlights this is where the boss wants something impossible done, and when it was not done, the demanding boss expresses her disappointment at the protagonist. The protagonist turns teary eyed and weepy even though it is no fault of hers.

Note of warning: don’t even ask where the protagonist got her clothes from. That question is beyond the scope of the film and this film review.

Memorable scene: the entire office panicking to tidy up when they learn that the boss will be arriving several hours early.

Predictable scene: the protagonist’s phone rings; she looks at it, ponders a moment and tosses it into a nearby body of water. And walks away with a spring in her step.