Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Changing domestic helper

In Hong Kong, it's so common for a couple to go to work. Therefore, it's again popular to hire a domestic helper to take care of the kids, like cooking and bringing them to school and some other interest classes, etc.

After one or two contracts, we will usually need to change the domestic helper. It is because they will want to come back home to see their own family. And it's also nice in the sense that the reliance on the helper could be reduced a bit. You know, sometimes the kids would love the helper more than the parents since they just spent more time with each others!

Recently, after a lot of prayers, our handover process is smooth and nice. It's also partially due to the fact that I resigned from my job to help the transition. Originally, I anticipated that the kids would suffer most, but then I found that I also suffered. I mean when I went to supermarket, I don't know what I should buy, and which brands that we were using, etc.

Therefore, switching is still a good thing, for you have to reduce the reliance on a certain helper like what I have mentioned in the first place.

Monday, December 29, 2008

All in one printers

I've been using this kind of printers for more than six years, it's just convenient!

First of all, the output quality is good. If you buy photo-paper for it, it will really print photographic quality output! The only downside is the price of the ink and the paper, but it could be very convenient if you were asked for photographs at night for the homework of kids.

It features photocopying capability. You don't even have to turn on the computer to use this function. The output really likes photocopy in some cases. Of course, if your model is like mine which only has a roller type scanner, you could not easily make copy of thicker stuff.

Next is the fax function. Yes, it's not exactly high tech stuff, but it could be handy for some cases. Fax is still very popular!

Finally, the scanner function is not bad especially for converting your paper photographs into digital. Other functions like OCR are useful sometimes. Storing a backup copy of important document by digitalization is a nice thing too.

Overshooting and Realignment

Sometimes we overshoot. We actually have a tendency to overshoot, or our environment forces us to overshoot.

For example, when you want to buy a lunch to fill your hungry stomach, the restaurants, fast foot shop or whatever will usually offer more than you wanted, but since you have no choice, you will end up buying more than you needed, eating more than you wanted. The side effect is not just about spending more, but you actually waste something, or you ended up with more fat inside your body. All these could be harmful in the long run.

We all want a balanced life. But when you go to work, you will be pushed to spend more time in your work than you might want. Yes, that could bring you more money but that could eventually squeezed all your schedule and you ended up with no time to spend.

When all these become excessive, it's time to realign ourselves. To find out what we really wanted, to make sure that we're doing what we wanted. It's not something that we could never change, but instead, awareness is the key.

Overshooting means that, we are working for others. We are trying to fulfill the goal of other people, more than for ourselves.

So, act now, do realign your life and your priority. Define your goal and act accordingly, the choice is really here, and the decision is yours.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Asus P535 Ring tone tricks

If you put MP3 ring tone in the Mini SD card of a Asus P535, you will know there will be some issues.

When you connect your mobile phone to the PC, it then becomes a card reader. And the Mini SD becomes accessible only through the USB port, but not to the mobile phone itself. That means you cannot see the Mini SD card, you cannot access the file through any installed applications, etc.

Another important implication is that, the MP3 ring tone which is stored in your Mini SD will not be accessible, that means when there is incoming call, the ring tone cannot be used and you will fall back to the default ring tone. That could be confusing enough. You might not even recognized that it is your phone which is ringing! Since the P535 recharges via USB, you will even lost the ring tone during charging! That is troublesome enough if you use your MP3 files for alarm!

To solve the problem, one of the easiest way is to put your MP3 ring tone in your phone instead of to your Mini SD. Of course, it is not a very smart idea since MP3 ring tone could be quite large which wastes valuable memory spaces.

A better way is to set the USB to ActiveSync mode, and your Mini SD will remain accessible by the mobile phone, and thus the ring tone will still be accessible.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Butterfly - Personal Time

It's pretty hard to have some personal time when you have your own family. However, it's still possible.

As an amateur astronomer, I still try to go out after all the kids slept, and then I will try to rush back home before they usually wake up. Of course, this could be really hard, but then it's still possible.

And there's some easier way. For example, when my daughter is having interest class, I will usually try to bring her there if I am on leave, and then before I picked her up, I can walk around and have some personal time, too. I have tried to do solar imaging outside, I have tried to take photographs, etc.

This time, my daughter is having a piano class at home, and then I took my camera outside to have a 30 minutes walk, here is what I got:-



It's not something special, but to me, it's good enough to have some personal time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Macro extension tube testing

Nothing special, just to try it out. Light source is always a problem so I took some brighter objects, using ISO 1600, but I was too lazy to setup a tripod, so the focus is not very good and you can see the shake!



It's one of the LEDs of my cable modem.



It's a switch, nothing special.

Last Day

Last day means a departure from your comfort zone.

Last day means a termination of certain relationships.

Last day means reaching a certain goal.

Last day means leaving some people alone.

Last day means running for another goal.

Last day means a beginning of certain relationships.

Last day means going for new challenges!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Free lighting?

Recently, my home building is having some renovation work on the drainage pipes. With the overhead work, and to avoid "unwanted people" to go inside our home via these mesh of bamboo, they placed quite a number of spot light around.

This is my living room window at late night, I didn't turn on my own light. You could see that it's actually enough even to read newspaper.


The kitchen is even worst, you can cook without turning on a light. Luckily, none of my sleeping rooms are affected.

As an amateur astronomer, we knew that there are some research work which shows that excessive lighting might actually increase theft instead of decreasing them. But I'm pretty confident that this type of lighting is another story altogether. Anyway, I just hope that it will finish really soon.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

NAS is getting popular in office and at home, for they're small, convenient and probably suitable for small offices when they have no MIS person.

I got a chance to try out a model from Taiwan:



It features a 500MHz+ CPU with 256M memory. Obviously it's running Linux inside, you have so many features, and some of them are truely attractive.

The casing is made of metal. Installation of a SATA hard drive is simple and secure, the mounting is made with excellent fit and finish. The casing serves as a big heat sink and you can actually feel the warmth. It comes with a backup software and it works quite nice.

The performance is not great, but it's enough for normal users. If you have more than 10 active clients, I would recommend you to look for something else. Having said that, it's stable even under relatively high loading.

The bottomline is that, it's really convenient and powerful for a home user.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Modifying a ceiling light

Disclaimer: Don't try to follow the steps here if you are unsure and feel even a very slight hesistation about doing all these work. It could be extremely dangerous or even fatal if you are not properly trained. Household electricity is not a joke, so please consult trained technicians and asked them to do it for you.

Before doing anything, switch the power off and test before placing your hand on any of the wires. Some very poorly connected wires can still carry electricity even when switched off! So, be extremely careful.

First question: why?

It's simple, if you ever used a similar ceiling light like the one below, you will know why. This is some very old technology, you have a transformer inside, you have a starter, and if you have circular big tube light inside. If any one of them gone wrong, it won't even turn on. Frequent failure is the prime motive! Nowadays when energy saving light bulb is so cheap and popular, it does not make sense to use this kind of old technology any more!

As you can see in the picture below, I have highlight a screw in which the transformer is attached. You actually have two screws like this, one on each side, and you can use any one of those for fixing the light bulb socket.


First of all, remove all those old technologies:-


Then attached the light bulb socket there in any one of the fixing screws, since they're originally decided to fix a heavy transformer, the small socket with the small light bulb is definitely fine:-



Connect the wires, nothing can go wrong since it's alternating current:-


Done! It's now so simple and elegant, you have a single light bulb to go wrong. You can switch to a higher power one to have a brighter room, you can easily replace damaged bulb, and it's instant on as well!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Extension tube for macro photography



Another item which I ordered from Deal Extreme is a Canon macro extension tube. This one is truely cheap and you don't have to consider before buying one. The closest alternative should be the one from Kenko and the Kenko is a step up from this one for sure, since the Kenko will allow you to change aperture, and it also retains the auto-focus ability of the lens. Of course, it comes with a price. Guess what, the Kenko is 10 times more expensive! That's why I buy this one without any thought.

To adjust the aperture, you can put the lens on your DSLR without the extension tube. Set the aperture of your lens (say in Aperture Priority mode), then press-and-hold the deep of field preview button on the camera, and then remove your lens at the same time. Done.

To adjust the focus, remember to switch your lens to manual focus mode, and you can do it by hand. People always said for macro photography, manual focus is always desirable. Simple, right.

For macro photography, we are interested to know the magnification of your setup. I've found a method to find out the magnification here. To skip all the detail, here we goes:

1. Find out the original magnification of your lens here.

Suppose we are using a 50mm f1.8 II lens, the maximum magnification is 0.15

With this value, we can calculate the effective built-in extension (X) by solving this equation:

X / 50 = 0.15

So, we have the value of X = 7.5mm

And now the new magnification is the length of your extension tube.suppose it's 25mm so the new effective extension will be X + 25 = 32.5mm

So, put the value back into the magnification equation:

Maximum Magnification = 32.5 / 50 = 0.65

Simple? Yes!

Here are some of my first shots:

An illuminating switch:-


Guess what?


That's it, the same lens without the extension tube:-


All hand held, and very rough focusing.

Bulk pack battery from Deal Extreme

This is my first order, items are quite nicely packed and it arrived pretty quickly, too.

In this order, I bought two packs of cheap battery:




They are LR44 and CR2032, and they are probably the most common models. As you could see, these are big packs and I expect that they can last for years. Given they are so cheap, it's good to keep some at home and when they're needed, I can always find them immediately.

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Three Little Pigs - Core value of a family

From the story of the three little pigs, you can see the importance of the core value of a family.

The first significant core value is diligence. The mother advised the little pigs that the world outside could be very dangerous, and they have to be hard working, to build themselves a secure home so that they can protect themselves. Of course, diligence is not something you can really teach, this is something which the receiver has to exercise themselves. It is more like an attitude than some form of knowledges that you can own, but it's more like your being. From the examples of the three little pigs, they exercise different degree of diligence. Whether that's enough or not, depend also on what you will actually face. A straw house could be strong enough if you just want a shelter under the sun, a brick house could be insufficient if you meet a strong earthquake but a straw house can survive you otherwise!

The second core value is cooperation, or the family relationship, or the brotherhood among the three little pigs. Obviously when they face big challenges, they will seek help from each others! This is again, not something that can be given, but it's more like a transfer of the "culture" of the parents, and when they're small at home. I would say this is the real core value of their family. Since no matter how the reality turns out, the brotherhood, a great family relationship, is going to help! Wisdom might not, diligence might not, but great relationship always help!

This is love.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Drain Pipe Opener

It's actually a strong acid which is used to dissolve all kinds of stuff stucked inside the pipe, like hair, cloth, tissues and whatever normally water insoluble stuff.

Today I used one bottle again, and I found the U-tube was very hot. This bottle seems stronger than the others, for the smell, and the sound was both stronger. And on the bottle, it shows that it's the enhanced version, no wonder why. The U-tube was so hot to touch even with a glove. I was a kind of worrying.

After I guess around five minutes, I went inside the kitchen and checked again... what a mess! The U-tube cap was on the floor... obviously, it was heated by too much that it expanded and thus got loose from the upper threaded pipe! I used two layers of gloves and a lot of newspaper to suck up the mess... and then I used a lot of water to clean the floor... the floor was very clean afterward, you know, those were very strong solvent, able to clean virtually all kinds of dirty stuff and stain!

Just be extremely careful when you use this kind of strong acid, everything can happen!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thailand Style Curry Crab



My wife heard from our colleagues that Thai Curry Crab is very nice, so we went out to try. The shop is located at the basement of Pioneer Center (始創中心) in Mongkok. Other than the crab, we ordered a couple of other dishes and they are all quite nice.

The place is clean and tidy, and comfortable, even for my kids. For nice curry like this, we shall have some garlic bread but it seems unavailable. So, we got plain rice instead.

Later, the colleague of my wife went there to try, and she reported that the quality is great as well.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Canon DSLR Eyecup

Last weekend, I managed to lost mine. This thing is not exactly loose, but it could be detached accidentally without big problem, and it's not uncommon. I searched some local photography forums and there are simply so many people to have a few of them dropped over a few years of active usage.



There are some third party cheaper alternative in ebay, but they are not a lot cheaper. Today, I got one from a shop near my office during my lunch break, and it's selling at $70 HKD, i.e. less than $10 USD, not too expensive especially considering that it's an original accessory, right?

Actually, the camera works without this thing, but of course, you would want it back just to make the camera look more decent.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sensa Cools (清熱酷)

Chinese used to have a concept called "hotness", and I'm diagnosed to be a "hot" person. That means if I eat something "hot", my body will not feel comfortable afterward. Syndromes like mouth ulcer, pimples are the normal results.

"Sensa Cools" is a product to solve this problem, especially after we eat "hot" food. Spicy food is considered to be "hot", deep fried food, etc. Before that, I used to drink "Isatidis Seu Baphicacanthus", but I just want to see if there is any alternative.

"Sensa Cools" is very nice to drink, the taste is good and it smells good as well. It's quite expensive, but if it works, it worths.

I will report back soon.

--

After a few days of testing, it's pretty effective so far. However, the effect is not as powerful as traditional herbs tea.

Friday, October 24, 2008

When a notebook becomes a netbook



Many years ago I bought a Sony Vaio U3, and by then there's no such thing as netbook. This is a notebook at that time with a very small size, a 933MHz CPU, running 256M memory (later upgraded to 512M), and a 20G hard drive. I love it because it is so small and portable, but yet it's running Windows XP and I had also installed Linux to it.

Recently, I have a chance to put it along with a netbook side by side, and it's indeed even smaller than that! The configuration is similar as well!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Disposable Contact Lens

Contact lens is very good for sports, hiking, beach and other out door activities. Conventional glasses are not very convenient for they can come off rather easily for sports, and they are not so comfortable with heavy sweating.

Contact lens could be inconvenient for daily work, especially when you have to look at the computer monitor for very long. Your eyes will feel very dry after prolong usage. Disposable contact lens is a very nice choice since they are usually thinner and thus we feel better even for longer usages.

For myself, I will not use contact lens usually unless for sports, and out door activities. Therefore, disposable contact lens is my prime choice! They are inexpensive and easy to buy as well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Physical lock

If you ever study computer science, you will know the importance of a "lock". If there is concurrent access to a piece of data, you will probably need a "lock", or else you will be run into trouble.

Okay, let's move to a more realistic example.

A few days ago, there was a broken light bulb inside my home, so it's natural to buy a replacement one, right?

But due to the busy schedule, I didn't do so immediately. And someone else was buying that for me, nice thing, right?

However, no one ever told me that a new bulb is already in place. Guess what, I bought one on the same day without knowing this fact!

Therefore, it's funny enough and so now we ended up to have several of them at home. It's a good example of the need of a "lock", or to make it simple, it's the importance of communications.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Photography as a way to capture motion

Video is the default means to capture motion. However, with amateur video equipment, it's hard to add much creativity. Other than zoom in for close up and zoom out to get the overall atmosphere, there is not much that you can play with. You can change the capturing angle as well, but then it's highly limited because stability will be compromised. Of course, we can do video editing afterward, but then it's another story. Video taking tends to be more boring than photography in general.

To take photographs of moving target, it could be real fun! But then the successful rate could be exceedingly low. However, with digital technology, we can do continuous shooting at high frame rate! That significantly increase the chance of taking a good shot.

Large aperture lens (faster focal ratio) helps, for it requires shorter exposure time which increase the chance of success effectively. And at the same time, the background blur which is a result of depth of view is also a very nice effect.

A good and fast focusing motor will also help, so it's always nice to get the lens with faster focusing performance. A camera with fast frame rate is also desirable. Finally, image stabilization is also useful, even when you pan to follow your moving target.

Real life video taking, as compared to professional movie recording, has another big difference - the capture background voice. In that regard, you can hardly have much control over it. People tends to remove the voice channel and put in background music instead. But then for photography, it's not an issue at all. Finally, well captured photograph could become a great reminder of important moments. No media can be better than your memory in terms of the faithfulness, and this kind of photograph can really trigger your lost memory and then the missing frames could be filled up by your real (reminded) memory.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Mobile phone without a numeric keypad

This is the first time that I chose a mobile phone without a numeric keypad, and I would say it really brings some inconvenience.

First of all, if you want to find a phone book entry from the address book, you will miss the numeric keypad. For example, when you want to search for a friend with a name that begins with "S" you have no short cut. Of course, for most of the time, you will only call a small subset of people, you can easily locate them from the recent dial list. And for other less called numbers, you can also use the stylus to write.

And here comes another problem. Actually, when I was using Palm OS, I always wonder why there's a special area for writing, especially when full screen writing is supported. Now I understand why! Suppose I wanted to write by the stylus, I have first change the input mode! And this mode changing action requires several clicks on the screen, and that's troublesome enough when you just want to enter a single letter, in order to speed up the searching! That really defeat the purpose, it's just not speed up.

Another usage on the numeric keypad is quick dial. With my more traditional phones, I can always define several numbers which I always call, and then I can make a call by simply press and hold a single button!

Frankly, I guess all these could be solved, for example, by defining different way of this quick dial by using the stylus. Or even simpler, to make the button on the touch screen bigger!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Power of Chatting

Sometimes when we got emotional issue, we would feel much better after chatting with friends, why is that?

Other than the support, as well as comment and advice, I believe there is another quite important reason which might not be well recognized. Other than God, you yourself should be the one who understand the situation the best, and at the same time, with most detail information. However, that does not necessarily mean that the above information is well organized, and sometimes this messy situation can be a major cause of emotion problem!

So, when you talk to your friend, you will organize the messy data yourself before you can present them to others. Actually, by doing so, you can effective identify some good solutions to the problem.

Of course, I am not trying to say that the advices from friends are not as significant, however, this part is often neglected.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Prime lenses and Composition

Yesterday I did some imaging outside with only two (50mm f1.8 and 200mm f2.8) prime lenses.

I found that by using prime lenses, we will be forced to learn how to design the composition very seriously. When using a zoom lens, I found myself more limited to those standard styles of framing, what I mean is that, I will try to encapsulate some background to an extend such that they are just enough to record the context of that snapshot. It's very real that it's quick and simple, but again, it's just quick and simple, but in the lack of creativity.

However, with prime lenses, it's another story entirely! Prime lenses usually have bigger aperture (faster focal ratio to be exact), and thus, you can have more control on the depth of field. This is certainly another great way to control your composition, you can design how much you can put into "focus", and therefore, to dilute the effect of the background framing.

I hate to say this, but in the days with heavier air pollution, it could be a good trick to hide the dirty stuff.

Prime lens have a fixed field of view, but by moving yourself forward and backward, you still have some limited control. Since you have to move, you will be more serious when doing the decision. And with such limitation, you will be forced to be more creative. To give a simply analogy, please think about this scenario: if you have unlimited resource, you will not be very creative.

With a zoom lens, you won't move too much usually, so that's another kind of limitation to your creativity. But with a prime lens, you will be prepared to move always. Remember that by moving, you are not just changing the field of view, but also the shooting angle! And that's where creativity comes in. When you're more willing, or prepare to move, the more flexibility that you will have.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Power of Interviews

Interview is not really a very accurate means of finding suitable candidates, but when we have no better ways, it's still a very common procedure in a recruitment process.

When you are going to have interviews, that means you are about to give up your current position, or at least you have some motivations to change. In that case, you might be easily in a position that, you think your current position is not very good and promising. However, in this kind of situation, how can you find something good out of your existing position?

Interview, by itself, could be a good way. Why is that?

Interviewers will ask many questions to understand your ability, your attitude, your experience and so on. Through these questions, you might re-discover what you have learned in your current or past positions. That's a good side-effect of an interview. You will easily think all the skills/ability/experience that you have is so common, but that most probably apply in your current company as well. A common skill in a certain place could be entirely valuable in another place.

Even negative experience could be great for the potential new employers, since you have learned from the expensive mistakes from your past/current employers, and these expensive experience will certainly bring benefits to your potential employers. In this sense, even negative or failures could be great.

So all these are the power of interviews.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Home Photo-copying: Photograph and Copying

I guess we have been in a situation like here: we wanted to make photocopy at night but...

1. the multipurpose printer cannot do the job, since the document to be copied is so thick and it cannot be feeded into the document scanner

2. if you just take a photograph and print it out, the resulting copy does not look like photocopied at all

So, the problem becomes how to make an image from a digital camera, to look like a copy made by a traditional photocopy machine? Let me outline the steps:

1. Take a snapshot of the document with a DC, does use flash, and try to use an even light source; macro mode works out nice

2. Copy the image to the PC

3. Use your image processing software to crop the surrounding, just keep the document at the center

4. Change your image into gray scale

5. Adjust the "level" to make the histogram nice, i.e. the whole dynamic range is used

6. Do a "stamp" filter, it can be found under "Sketch". That's even a "photocopy" filter in photoshop, but it does not work as nice as "stamp"

7. Print it out

I guess you will be surprised by how much it looks like a real photocopied document!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Spherical Light Bulb



I have been using this kind of light bulb for very long, I used to think they are really an integral light bulb with a spherical glass shell outside. However, as you can see from the above, they are not. They are more like normal light bulb with a glass shell.

This morning, one of the light bulbs has the glass shell dropped from the ceiling. Thank God that there is no one there at that time. I turned the light on and it still works, but of course, I have removed it from the socket (took the above shot) and throw it away.

Therefore, if you have these kind of bulb, better check periodically to see if their glass shell is loose or not, otherwise, very serious accident could result.

An interesting online shop

When I wanted to buy something which are unavailable or they are just too hard to find locally, I will go for ebay usually, but I come across this nice one today:

http://www.dealextreme.com/

On future checking, it's a Hong Kong based company! It offers free shipping for most products, and their pricing is very competitive. I didn't actually buy something from them until now, but I found their "uncensored" user reviews extremely useful, it's simply more useful than ebay rating, for it's just more product oriented. Negative product comment can be found easily, so those were not fake reviews.

And better yet, this is a real company, rather than most ebay sellers who are just doing home based business. Another plus for those who are new to internet shopping.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Work for the Pulse?

To work is to survive. Of course, it's not the whole truth, but it's a very good part of the reality.

If you got a job like most of us, the salary will be given to you periodically, at least hopefully. However, there are so many auto-pay request, there are so many bills of all kinds which will follow nearly immediately after your salary comes into the balance.

So the salary is just like a pulse in your bank account, the balance will jump up suddenly, but then it will go back to normal level fairly soon.

If you think that you are working for the pulse alone, you will be very likely to lost interest about working or even your life... Therefore, one should learn to enjoy our work, as well as to appreciate what we have behind all those payments - your family, the happy faces, your toys, and more importantly, try to help the needy!

It's not just a pulse.

Blogging and Life

My first blog is a very personal one, and I never try to let other people to read them. Somehow I even think that it is a channel in which my past self and communicate with my future self. Of course, I won't try to hide it from any one, but the prime purpose of that blog is for personal use only.

I will try to get my mind organized while writing them down, and at the same time, I will use it to organize my daily life, like what tasks are pending and how's the progress, and how can I solve some problems step by step, as well as how to come to a big goal by breaking it down into smaller manageable pieces. Feels like a programming approach?

Finally, a blog will be a very good record after all. Therefore, my first public blog is dedicated for astronomy, since it's always nice to have all kinds of observations recorded, as well as to store the photographs, if I have taken some during the observation sessions.

If you asked me, blogging can be like bookmarks in life.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hiking and GPS



We simply cannot rely on GPS when hiking, there is no alternative for a good experienced leader plus a good map/compass.

As you can see, the initial part of the GPS log is quite messy. This is where you have so many tall trees around you and therefore, the signal strength are relatively weak and so the accuracy is highly compromised.

When we are in the open areas, the track is very accurate, however, in those places, you can actually see where is the way ahead.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Prime focus lenses

Prime focus lens is simple to use in the sense that you do not have to (cannot) zoom, they are great in terms of quality. Modern zoom can come close, but for demanding applications like astrophotography (absolute point light source), prime lens is the choice.

However, for daily purpose, as you will know, prime lens could be very hard to use especially when you have to catch some special moments. In that case, you cannot afford the time to swap your lenses, but for static targets, they're still superb!

Some people might think prime lenses would limit your creativity since they are not so flexible, however, I would say the more limited the situation, you will even need more creativity. I would say it's another world entirely.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ubuntu: Creating DVD image from a DVD

I've tried several ways but this one is the simplest:

sudo apt-get install k3b
k3b

and then follow the instruction on screen, basically, you are copying a DVD but you click on the option "to create image" only. And job's done.

Paypal

I have been using paypal for more than 6 years.

Paypal is very convenient if you buy/sell 2nd hand products online. It's pretty secure if you use it correctly. For example, once I bought a rather expensive thing, and the my credit card company called me to confirm the payment. You can say that it is the credit card company which did a great job, but then I would also say, it works perfectly together with paypal. I never got any problem about paypal within these years.

Paypal has quite a heavy charge. To help to lower this charge, I have two paypal accounts. My first account is a personal account, with this type of account, you can pay by using your credit cards and they will charge you nothing. You can receive money from other without paying to paypal as well, however, that limits to fund which is already in paypal, i.e. non-credit card fund. So, I usually use this account to receive money of this type and I won't withdraw money (i.e. transfer to your bank account) out from paypal so that I can use the balance whenever required.

My second account is a Premier account. This kind of account will be charged by paypal whenever you receive money from any one. However, this is the only way to receive credit card fund, so sometimes when I have no choice, I will use this account. So if you are an active seller of 2nd hand stuff, or an active ebayer seller or something alike, this kind of account is a must.

Acquisition

It could be a natural thing, and it could be a bad thing, and it could be great thing. Just depends.

Acquisition usually means the injection of money, and new management. However, injection of money does not necessarily mean that the employee could be benefit. For example, the new management might want to have return in the shortest time, so they might decide to cut non-earning business in order to make the whole organization to have net earning. In that case, it really depends on what is your existing position. At the same time, with the injection of money, financial control will most likely to become tighter.

Acquisition could mean a bigger organization, like in a merger. In that case, if you are working in the relatively smaller half, actually, you will have a better chance of promotion and you can even go further than before. However, if you are considered redundant, your position is at risk. Of course, if you put politics aside, the stronger one could still survive, however, politics is always something very real and actual, so simply could never ignore it.

Acquisition could mean a change of the core business, like if the acquisition is a listed company. In that case, the investor is just buying a listed shell, so any one in the original business is going to be squeezed to the absolute minimum until it can still earn money but yet with the least expenditure. In that case, the original staff are going to suffer most likely.

Acquisition usually means new management. So, if you are already very close to the original management, you might not be in a good position after all, especially when the old management is still around with lesser influence.

Every count, I would say, but with a different weighting. Hard work, capability and attitude are always important, but they could have different weighting in different settings. Call it luck? I won't, at least it's not sheer luck, call it controllable? Never should it be.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

MiniSD for my Asus P535

Just got a 4G MiniSD for my mobile phone Asus P535 from ebay.

Before I go for ebay, I checked for the price of MiniSD from a nearby shopping center, and I found that only one or two shops are selling these cards. Vendor either go for SD or MicroSD, and MiniSD is becoming far less popular. 2G MiniSD are selling at $138 HKD.

And then I checked the price from some local vendors via their website, and I found that 4G MiniSD are selling at $188 HKD.

ebay has MiniSD selling at quite nice start bidding price, while the "buy it now" price is already cheaper than the local shops, I aimed for one which would be ended within 24 hours. After several bids, I got it at $9.55 USD which means $75 HKD only and since the seller is from mainland China and I'm from Hong Kong, he even sent the card to me via express service, and I got it on the next day after payment.



For $75 HKD shipped, it includes a SD adapter as well as a USB 2.0 card reader. It comes in a Kingston packing with life time warranty! Frankly, it's more than what I have expected.

Remarks: Later I checked that I might be cheated by a fake product, yes, I can copy 4G worth of data to that card, but it's not covered by warranty nor I have any guarantee on the quality, so the data is at risk when I copy my data there:

Check here:

http://reviews.ebay.com/Beware-of-FAKE-1GB-2GB-4GB-8GB-USB-Flash-Drives-on-eBay_W0QQugidZ10000000000706427

Mine is not a USB flash drive, but the description is just so similar. I have discussed with the seller and he agreed to refund most of the price paid, so I was just like buying a USB card reader. To be fair, I still have a 4G card to use at a very low price and the seller never said it's a real Kingston. Of course, this kind of "wrongly labeled" products should not be sold in any case. Just exercise caution when you buy from ebay.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Natural Mosquito Repellant

My home used to have some mosquitoes during the summer, however, after keeping a plant called geraniums (天竺葵), the problem was about solved completely.



It's not only pretty effective in my case, it's also very easy to keep. Once I have gone for a 5 days trip, I have asked my wife to give it water, but then she forgot. When I was back, it's still around and kicking! So, just be sure to give it water once or twice a week, let it to enjoy some sunshine and that's it.

Of course, YMMV, since there're so many types of mosquitoes around.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Notebook computer vs. Mobile phone


With the fast growing popularity of Netbook, we really have to re-think the whole thing from a "user case" point of view.

I have been using a very small notebook PC (Sony Vaio U3) since 4-5 years ago. Why I was buying that smal notebook? It's because I understand that mobility is the first most important thing when buying a notebook computer! For anything which is either too big or too heavy, you won't be using it very soon.

As a mobile computer, you will want to use it for:
  • Presentation: so it can run OpenOffice.org or any other presentation software, and it comes with a VGA socket to connect to a projector
  • Email: you will want to stay connected when you are away from home and office, so it should be able to let you connected to the Internet, etc
  • Web browsing: you will want to check your web based email like gmail, etc.

The best computer is the one which you can use most, it's available everywhere. So, portability is the king here. If you have a very powerful notebook which can virtually replace your desktop, but it's too big and too heavy, I believe that it will end up as your desktop PC.

However, the above situation seems to change a little bit with the advancement on mobile phone. Now my mobile phone is Wi Fi enabled, it comes with a web browser, and you can check email with that. You can even open your presentation file there, so it seems like it virtually replace my notebook?

Yes, nearly, I would say... the last bit is the VGA socket, I would say!

Frankly, it's about to replace some of the functions of my desktop PC. For example, if I just want to check email or so, I would now simply use my phone, since it has virtually zero boot up time. That alone makes it the prime choice for checking email. However, if you need to make a long reply, a notebook/netbook or a desktop PC will still be the better choice.

$2 Dollars shop

I am talking about $2 HKD (1 USD ~= 7.8 USD) shop, inside this shop, 95% products are selling at $2 HKD each. While most $10 shops are changing to sell more expensive items, this shop is still maintaining a rock bottom price!

So, where is it? Here you are:-



This is a map generated by Google Map. So, what can you find there?


All the above are bought there. Glue, instant glue, duct tape, compass, scissors... and other than those, they have those small key chain type red laser pointers (including batteries!), correction tape, correction fluid, marker, velcro tape, stickers... and many other stuff!

Be sure to go and have a look, you will have some surprise there. Of course, pay attention when you buy from there, some products could be defective. I don't know about their exchange policy, but at $2 each, I dare not to go back to change.

USB charging

Recently, there is more and more devices to support re-charging via a USB socket, this is a very good sign indeed. Currently, I have two MP3/MP4 players, two mobile phones like this. And better yet, some even share a cable with the same sockets. That's really convenient.

Convenience is a factor, but the other concern is environmental protection. We have so many chargers or transformers at home, to dig out which one to use is wasting time, it's also hard to organize, and then since most of them are proprietary, you will never be able to use them again in your future devices, so they ended up in the rubbish bin even if they're still functioning properly! Worst yet, you have already paid for it, both for itself as well as the environmental price!

So, I suggest all of you when you buy a new digital product, other than looking at the functionalities and features, price, etc... look at its charging interface, give priority to those which use a standard interface like that of a USB! That helps yourself, as well as to protect our lovely planet Earth.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

An alternative way to look at time

Modern humans always need to wait. We wait for bus, and then on the bus, we wait until it brings us to the destination, etc. If you do nothing during these wait, your life is effectively shortened. So what can we do?

Firstly, some people might suggest you to find something meaningful to do during the wait. For example, to bring a book and to read it whenever possible. This seems to be a reasonable suggestion, provided that you always have something meaningful to read or to do during the wait. With mobile technology, you can use your mobile phone, or even on the Internet at any place and at any time. Not bad, right?

Secondly, some people might suggest you to minimize the amount of waiting time. For example, instead of taking public transportation, you drive your own car. That could cut the waiting time effectively. However, you cannot do anything other than driving, except maybe listening to music and radio.

So which way is more time saving?

By taking public transportation, given that you have something meaningful to do, or to read, you are wasting zero time during the wait. This is what exactly pipe-lining do inside a computer CPU, the functional units are always busy. So with this metrics, public transportation is better than driving.

However, we are isolating the single event of transportation under this setting. Suppose you are going to catch a train or a flight after the drive/bus, if you missed the schedule, you are going to waste even more time! So, in this situation, wasting a little bit time for driving, you save a lot of time waiting for the next train/flight.

Therefore, there is no single rule which yields the best result. The idea behind is to maximize the meaning of your waiting time, and at the same time, try to minimize your waiting time. Like the above case, instead of driving yourself, maybe you can take taxi which you save virtually the same amount of traveling time but yet, you still have the option to read/do anything meaningful during the traveling.

Indoor wireless phone

I have been using a indoor wireless phone at home for so many years. At the beginning, they work flawlessly, but then as they got more popular, the situation changed. Sometimes the handset would get disconnected from the base, and sometimes we would hear a lot of noise. I believe that this is because our neighbors are using something similar.



About one or two years ago, I've upgraded to a 2.4GHz model and all the problems were solved since then. It's not just about the frequency of the wireless signal, but it's also better algorithms behind. I'm not trying to talk about the technical detail, and actually, a real good product shall not put the end users into the technical detail.

In short, this kind of wireless phone will give:

  1. better voice quality, no more noise
  2. far bigger range, I can even use the handset down stair, something like over 100m away
  3. no more disconnection from the base station
I have introduced an audio based baby monitor before, you know what, sometimes I can still hear the conversation from my neighbors who should apparently be using the old school wireless phone. And it is just impossible with a 2.4GHz one!

Re-chargeable battery

I've started using re-chargeables back in more than 10 years ago. I started using these batteries since the first day I owned my first digital camera. Re-chargeables are not only economical and environmental friendly, they are also very nice for high current draw applications. If you ever used regular disposable batteries in a digital camera (high current draw device), you will know what I mean.

My first set of re-chargeables are only 1300mAh, and with technological advancements, they go up in capacity steadily. You can find 2700mAh (or even higher) batteries these days.

However, there is a very big problem with re-chargeables. If you ever charged up your battery, leave it inside a box for a few weeks, and then you put it in the camera, you will find that the battery is already nearly 30-50% discharged! So, it's always good for us to charge up the batteries just before using.



Not until we have Sanyo Eneloop! This is being sold as "Ready to use Rechargeable Battery", and it's real. You bought it home, and you can use it without charging. Why is that? It is because it can hold its charge for a very long period of time!

This is very convenient indeed, since you can always charge up your batteries, leave them in the case, and use it any time you wanted. Unlike the old days when you have to charge just before using, and you know, charging up batteries are not exactly a very fast thing, it can take up to a few hours. So in case you have some sudden events that you want to use them, it's virtually impossible. But Eneloop solves all these!

Eneloop is not very good in terms of capacity, they are rated at only 2000mAh, however, you can safely expect longer actual life than even 2700mAh batteries due to the self-discharging characteristics.

I know there're some other brands out there, but I didn't try and so I couldn't say much. But Eneloop is just 30-50% more expensive than conventional re-chargeables, so why risk? Sanyo has been a great brand name in terms of re-chargeables, and Eneloop is just revolutionary.

I have many sets of them at home, and I'm going to replace all of my conventional rechargeables. Highly recommended, and you won't look back.

Have a look at their product website:-

http://www.eneloop.info/

Typhoon Information

Every summer, there will be typhoon coming to Hong Kong and even if they are not coming exactly to this small place, they are going to affect us quite a lot. For examples, if you got kids at home, you will want to know whether they will need to go to school or not, and there could be sudden holiday if the typhoon comes close enough.

Therefore, it's always nice to know more in advance. The first page that I am going to introduce is, of course, the official one:

http://www.hko.gov.hk

There is a page inside which tells the latest (predicted) track:

http://www.hko.gov.hk/wxinfo/currwx/tc_pos.htm

The official website tends to be conservative, and there is another unofficial one here:

http://www.hkcoc.com/observatoryhome.htm

And when there is typhoon coming close enough, you can find various tracks as predicts by different observatories and therefore, it is very useful. What is even more interesting is that, they will show the chance of having different typhoon signals within certain time frames (like within 24 hours, 28 hours, etc). Of course, there is no guarantee on the accuracy of the predictions, but from my experience, they're pretty great indeed!!!

Actually, the above two are great enough, but let me introduce the third one:

http://metocph.nmci.navy.mil/jtwc.php

And it tells when it's just a tropical depression and when it is very far away.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Internet banking authentications

I guess that I am just like most of you, we have more than one internet banking account for we are usually dealing with more than one banks. Internet banking is really convenient and far more powerful as well, however, security is a great concern. Just like what people said, the more powerful you are, the more responsibilities which you will need to hold.

Some banks offer very simple authentications. A user name plus a password is all that is! I have experience of using one of these accounts, and later I found that my account was disabled suddenly, you know why? It is just someone or I myself, I don't know and I guess that I will never know, had attempted to login with wrong passwords for three times! Hey, what if some people just blindly guess the password, and then s/he can disable my account forever? I called the customer support and they insisted that I will have to go to the bank, to fill in the form personally, in order to re-activate that account! As you would know, I have never done that and I prefer to leave it disabled forever!

Another bank is just a little bit more interesting, other than user name and password, they will ask for my birthday... I guess that it's not that more secure, but then they also limited the range of services that I can do. If I need to do something more dangerous, they will need me to apply for a security device which generates a one time password whenever needed, and then I will need to bring along that (small) device and to use it every time I wanted to login. Secure, but still not very convenient, right?



A third bank uses a similar security device, but instead of using it only for dangerous operations, they request their users to use it every time even for operations as simple as checking the bank balance. Secure enough, but of course, it's troublesome to keep the device around with me always.

Finally, this is what I appreciate most. This bank uses simple user name and password for login, and you can do safer operations without anything else. However, when you are about to do some dangerous operations, they will send you an SMS which contains a one time password! Hey, that effectively replaced that small device, and I will always have my mobile phone with me. Not more extra burden. Quick and simple, and yet secure enough.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Integrating GPS and Google Earth

The application which I used is called VisualGPSce, and it runs without problem on my Asus P535, and it generates NMEA file. Free download is available here:

http://www.visualgps.net/VisualGPSce/default.htm

This application is very simple and easy to use, and it shows various useful information as well, like your speed (very accurate as from my test), your altitude, and of course, your location plus a number of other readings. Try it our yourself!

Before you can use these data inside Google Earth, you will need to convert it to kml format, there is a free online tool for the conversion:

http://www.gpsvisualizer.com/map_input?form=googleearth

And it's just that simple, the path can then be shown like below:



Pretty simple and interesting!

Linux as a recovery tool

Yesterday morning, I received a call about computer problem. Apparently, it's about computer virus infection or Trojan horse, and therefore, I asked the victim to download an anti-virus software in order to remove the offending files.

Later of the same day, I was told that the situation could not be solved in that way and I asked the victim to backup all the files to another media... by then at night, I was told that the computer could no long be booted up. I asked the victim to bring the whole computer to my home for inspection.

Of course, I am not trying to recover that Windows XP, knowing that it was seriously damaged. And while I was waiting for that poor computer to arrive my home, I burned a Ubuntu Live CD and I know it's probably the easiest way to get the files back. Ubuntu is a very user friendly Linux distribution, and it's also very powerful, it's available for free download from here:

http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu/download

And you can even request for a free CD from them. Anyway, it's so easy to use, just place the CD in a CD/DVD drive and then change the booting priority inside your BIOS setup to boot that drive first and you are ready to go!

After at most a few minutes, you will see the user interface. The user interface is very easy to use and intuitive. You can plug your removable hard drive, or any thumb drive or whatever is big enough to hold your important rescued data. It's simply plug and play, a new drive icon will appear on the desktop for you to access that drive.

Then, I asked the victim to select the dead Windows XP partition and then all the files were shown up! Yes, it's that simple. The next thing to do is to select all the important folders and do a copy and paste to the removable media, and it's done! You can even burn CD/DVD if you got no removable hard drive or something similar.

It's easy! Just try it out, and I know it's a very good first experience with Linux!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Strength and Weakness

Let's face it, it's just normal, and we have to live with them!

Further, we need to appreciate them! We are not perfect, but it's not necessarily bad. I am not trying to speak good for evil, what I am trying to say is that, we are just human being, and we have our limitations.

Our spouse couldn't be perfect, and at the same time, it could be our imperfections which brought us together! We can help each others. If our spouse is perfect, s/he does not really need you, and might not be able to appreciate your existence.

So learn to love our spouse, completely. By complete, that includes the strengths and of course, the weaknesses.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Looking/listening to your kids remotely

Nowadays with the internet and plenty of other technologies around, you can really look and listen to your kids virtually any time and any where. Of course, just like any other information, they're readily accessible any where as well, but then the problem now shifts to your availability, or some people prefer to describe it as your attention.

Let's begin with the probably cheapest way. Let me introduce an interesting router from Asus. Mine is a WL-500b which I bought for over 5 or 6 years ago. What's so interesting about it is that, it comes with a USB port so that you can hook a webcam there directly. Of course, not all webcams are supported, but then since it's an open source router, you can always find suitable driver yourself. I've a Philips ToUCam Pro for planet imaging with my telescope and it works without modifying the firmware. This is the Asus router:-


So if you are interested to the firmware of the Asus, you can go here:

http://wl500g.info/

It allows you to use higher resolution image of the webcam, let you use your router as a file server, ftp server, web server, and even audio streaming server, etc. It's just too powerful. And the Philips ToUCam Pro:-


I guess most people will need a router at home, and the good thing about this combination is that, you don't have to turn on your PC to look at your home.

Of course, IP Cam is readily available these days, and some of them can even stream video with sound, and you can pan and tilt it remotely as well. But as you can guess, it comes with a price. So now I can tell you that the above combination is far cheaper, however, it's not as powerful as well. Therefore, it boils down to your own choice and budget.

Soon after that, I found that I want one more camera, and so I went for a wireless IP Cam:

It's a very simple model, again, it works and it's cheap. It's around 120 USD like four years ago, and at the time, even wired model costs higher! But as you can see, you need a wire for electricity so wireless IPCam is not very meaningful indeed. You can also carry ethernet signal with power socket, so...

I've plugged my Wi Fi IPCam via a timer switch, so I don't have to turn it on every morning before I go to work. And more importantly, I won't forget to turn it on, too.

Beside this IPCam, you can see another device beside it, and this one is for audio. However, this model is not internet capable, and it is just a radio transmitor so that you can listen to your kid while you are in another room:-


And this is the mother unit. It's single duplex, or I should say, it's one way only. You can hear your kids from another room, but they will not hear about you, so it's good to keep the kid's room quiet.

For audio streaming across the internet, I used Skype but as you can immediately realize, I will need to turn my PC on while using it. At the home side, I turned on the "auto answer" mode so that I can call any time from my office, and I usually leave the connection there until I wanted to leave my office. The bandwidth consumption is very low and thus there's no problem for the internet these days. I can remotely switched off my PC when I wanted to leave as well.

Skype is also available on WM6 so that you can listen to your home any time by using a mobile phone, via 3G network, GPRS or even Wi Fi.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Watching news with the kids

News report should be pretty boring to kids, however, you can always make it interesting to them. It's very simple, too.

My kids are 6 and 3 years old, and of course, they're more interested to cartoon than anything else. To make them watch the news report and to care about their own world, I will explain the content of the news report to them, and to ask them how they feel and what they would do after knowing these.

When they saw the report of fire incident, they will know it's extremely dangerous to play fire; when they saw the report of flooding, they will know that we will need to protect the environment as well as to pray for the victims; when they saw the report of war, they will know that fighting is definitely not a good solution for conflicts.

Our world is flooded with entertainments of any kinds, and it's time for us to diversify the inputs to our kids, so that they can grow up in a more balanced environment, and not to be exceedingly self-centric.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Small headphone



I actively used this small headphone for over one year, this is a very cheap one at around $12 USD. It's from Audio Technica. The first thing that you will notice when you see this headphone is that, the cable is super short, by short I mean that from the plug to the Y joint, it's just 30cm long! In the good old days it would be totally useless, however, MP3 players have got extremely small so that they can sneak inside your shirt pocket, or clipped on your collar, it's right about the right length. Long cable is messy and unnecessary.

The sound quality is not bad, while I won't say it's good but at least it wouldn't be the weakest link when portability is concerned. Nowadays when we're all suffering from lossy MP3 as well as cheap MP3 players, quality is not a major concern when we're on the go. For better sound quality, I have two bigger headphones, one on my office desk and another one in my home. This headphone, despite being cheap, it can beat nearly all mobile phone headset hand down. That's why I still have a separate MP3 player inside my pocket when I'm going out.

Instant Messaging: Introducing pidgin

If you use more than one IM (Instant Messaging), you will soon realize that it's hard to keep up all accounts. It's simply troublesome to keep a couple of them running at the same time.

If you have similar problem, take a look here:

http://www.pidgin.im/

This is an excellent software to solve your problem. In short, it supports multiple IM protocols so that with this single application, you can send/receive IM from them all at once in the same user interface.

As the above page shown, it supports all popular IM platforms like MSN, ICQ, Google Talk, QQ, and actually anything that you can think of. Better yet, it's available on Windows as well as Linux. Get your copy now and enjoy!

Simple Lunch


I begin to take this kind of lunch for more than half a year. I do it for a couple of reasons:-
  1. I am too lazy to go out for lunch especially when no body else will go out together with you, all colleagues who will go out for lunch left my team already.
  2. I am too lazy to bring a lunch box. Actually, bringing a lunch box has a number of problems. First of all, people say that microwave is not good for health, secondly it's easy to forget about it when you go out early in the morning, thirdly, this kind of lunch box is not tasty indeed, fourthly, sometimes when you decided to go out suddenly, it's hard to treat the lunch box, and the list simply goes on.
  3. It's better for health. Hong Kong food shops tend be salty and oily.
  4. It's slightly cheaper, but it's not a good reason, you go to work for money to eat and to survive...
  5. It's simple and quick.
However, most people will find the taste of instant Oatmeal very hard to accept. Yes, I'm in the same boat. Even if you can stand it for a couple of days, it's hard to keep on.

I have been eating this kind of lunch for more than half a year, so I would like to share how I did it. I love to eat very very much, so if I can stand this kind of taste, this kind of food, I believe most people will do as well. So, here is how:
  1. Add raisins: this is again very simple and easy to do, however, the improvement in taste is simply huge! You have something tasty to chew and it really helps! Some rasins could be mixed with dust and sand, so I suggest you to rinse them with hot water before mixing with those instant oakmeal. If I were to add rasins, I will use warm water to mix everything.
  2. Use low fat milk: milk has a magical effect on oatmeal like raisins, it also adds more vitamins and minerals to your simple lunch. Low fat milk is less creamy and not as attractive, and therefore, you can add some corn flakes to the bowl as well. All these could improve the feeling inside the mouth. Believe me, you really need something to chew in addition to the muddy oatmeal. Personally, I would love cold milk.
  3. Add dried beef/pork: similar as the above two, and the effect can be surprising. It's just another dimension of "enjoyment", of course, it's also the least desirable way since it adds more salt and fat. They will be nicer with milk than water.
  4. Breakfast cereal: there are so many options that you can choose from. If you like chocolate, if you like Horlick, just go for them. They will be nicer with milk than water.
Last but not least, persistence is the king. And other than the boring bowl of muddy stuff, I will always eat a small apple afterward. That will bright up the boring day.

Remarks: The above photograph was taken with my Asus P535, the quality is not bad indeed, very much comparable with my first DC in terms of image quality especially when noise is considered. I've uploaded the original image without scaling and cropping, so just click on it for full size.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Digital photograph backup

My first DC was a 2M pixel model and each photograph has size around 800k, and the next one is a 5M pixel model which will generate photograph of around 1.5M, and it also generates 640x480x30 fps movie clips and they can easily go beyond 100M. My latest camera is a 12M pixel DSLR, and if I shoot in raw, each photograph will take up over 10M of disk space.

Originally, I use CD-R as my backup, however, they're simply not big enough after I bought my second camera, so I upgraded to use DVD-R. And soon I found that they're still not big enough for I use 2G memory card so that a DVD-R is not much bigger indeed.

I always keep my photographs in the hard disk for easy access, and of course, backup is a must so where else should I place my backup?

1. Facebook: Yes, they allow unlimited photograph upload, but of course, the resolution is just too low as real backup. However, it's always nice to have some more backup copies. When you lost your real backup, it's better than nothing at least.

There's a Picasa plugin for easy upload to facebook.

2. DVD-R: This is not the best way, but what's good about it is that, you can backup your shots, and then store it somewhere else, like your parents' home, etc. It's always nice to keep some off site backup. DVD-R is not a very long life media, so I suggest you to re-do the backup after like 2-3 years. But then after 2-3 years, we probably have some more even better (cheaper and bigger) options, like what we did in the CD-R age.

3. Hard disk: I found this is by far the best media for backup, store the real copy in the hard disk inside your computer is good, but it's just not enough. Today you can buy 250G hard disk at relatively low price, so it's always a very nice idea to buy a few hard disk and put them inside an external USB/Firewire enclosure. The good thing is that, they're fast and easily accessible. Another good thing is that, you won't access it everyday and you can keep it inside a safe place, and that can really extend their life time! And better yet, in case of fire, you can easily take them with you!

4. NAS: it's just another form of (3), small NAS is very affordable these days. Some even support RAID for added security about your data. So it's not bad to keep one at home, both for storing your digital photograph, but also some other important data.

5. Hard copy: don't get me wrong, it's always nice to hold hard copies on hand, it's both easy to look at, and they won't go away as easily as zero and one in any digital media.

Personally, I did nearly all of the above options. Redundancy is always a good thing for your important data. Digital photographs are far easier to keep than film, but then they're also far easier to lost, I mean to lost everything all at once simply after a hard disk crash. So, we really need to have some real safety measure to keep them. I hope the above tips would be useful to you and welcome to share your thought, too.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Lowlands of Holland vs. Red Snow Lotus (紅雪蓮)





I first heard of the Chinese version in Xinjiang (新疆), and with the really beautiful scene around. The Chinese version was performed by a number of singers, and the one above is not the best in my "ears" but then it's the only version available from youtube. Personally, I recommend the version from Gao Ying (高櫻), and you can try to search it from Baidu (百度), a great Mainland China search engine.

The English version should be pretty original, and even more primivitely performed, the music is simpler as cleaner. Somehow I would like it to be performed by a lady, but then the performer from the above youtube video did a great job as well.

Reducing the annoying spams

Background:I have been working in the same company for more than 8 years, and I am the local department head with a team of around 15 people maximum. The team members come and go, and obsolete email addresses are forwarded to me, and therefore, my mail box is always flooded by spam. To worsen the situation, I'm the recipient of the popular alias like "info", "hostmaster" and "support".

I receive 100+ spam each hour on average, and after a typical weekend, my mail box will be flooded with over 5000 spam messages. And that is a result after moderate spam filtering, I mean using those less than aggressive filtering software so that I won't miss real email.

Solutions:
  1. Hey, there's no possible real solution. All you can do is to reduce the trouble, recenly, I managed to reduce my inbox from ~1500 to less than 50 after a single night. So that's nice enough, right?
  2. Forwarding your email to gmail: this could be a real elegant solution, the spam filtering from Google is doing a very great job. Usually only around 30 out of 1500 were left after their smart filtering algorithm. However, I won't recommend it as the first solution since it might not be very good for you to use a gmail account instead of your corporate email account. The company policy might also prohibits you to do this. However, this could be a real good backup in case your own spam filter wrongly kick some of your valuable real email as spam. This is always nice to have two sets of filtering algorithm working in parallel, and it increases the chance that the real emails can pass through.
  3. Emails from ex-colleagues: We can filter inside thunderbird (or whatever email client you use) by the receipient and put them into separate folders. In most cases, those email addresses should not be receiving useful email any more, so a vast proportion of email from those email addresses were spam. So, you don't have to keep looking at them daily, you can scan through the title/sender around once or twice a week and that's enough. Similar, email from "info", "hostmaster" and any popular email aliases can be treated like this. But you better divide them into seperate folders.
  4. Mailing list: if you're developers of any open source projects, these mailing list could be a major source of email. They're not spam, but they feel like spam when you don't need them. So, setup filters to put them into different folders accordingly. After that, treat them like newsgroups, i.e. you go there to read and reply only when needed.
  5. Date filter: most real people will have the computer set correctly, so you can filter email older than around one years ago, as well as to send those later than next month directly to the trash folder safely.
Simple techniques work out the best, at least you will have a very clean inbox to begin your day if you do the above. Of course, some of the techniques there is just to push the problem forward, i.e. to let to scan through the pile of trash once or twice a week, but then it feels much better for you don't have to be forced to clean up the trash everyday.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Effectiveness of BlogUpp!

I have just checked the statistics, and here are what I got:

Total outbound impression is: 20.7k
Total outbound visit is: 55

Total inbound impression is: 14.5k
Total inbound visit is: 17

The click rate is very low as I can see, and this could be explained by the fact that my astronomy blog is too specific and thus general blog readers might not find interest.

But as BlogUpp! always emphasis, content is the king.

Your longest focal length lens

We always want something more powerful, but then we have so many constraints which limit what we can get. To name a few: your budget, your usage pattern, the portability, etc.

Last Sunday on an event, I brought along my Canon 200mm f2.8L with me. It's an indoor event so that the faster aperture is really useful. To increase the chance of success, I used ISO 1600 of my Canon 450D for all the shots. Don't get me wrong, I can use ISO 800 or even lower, but then the chance of a successful shot reduced. And in that event, I could not use a tripod, and I need to stay around 10-20m from my targets, and they are moving. So, a 200mm lens would be about right.

After using it for around an hour, I found that it's about my limit for continuous usage. My arms are so weak, I have to admit, but it's always a hidden constraint when you build up your gears.

If you plan to use your lens for astrophotography like me, you will be further limited by your mount. The mount is nearly always the heaviest component of your whole setup, and therefore, it plays a very important part in terms of portability. Given a mount, its loading capacity defines how heavy you can go, and it also limits your effective focal length given its tracking accuracy.

For me, 200mm is also the limit for my Takahashi TG-SP II, both in terms of loading capacity and tracking accuracy for longer exposure like a few minutes. Of course, if I were to use shorter exposure like under 5 seconds, I could use a heavier lens with longer focal length.

Therefore, you should know the whole thing before buying a particular piece of equipment, this is usually even more important than the limit of your bank account.

Asus P535 - Wi Fi

This is not exactly a new model, actually, it's over 1.5 years old. But on comparing to the recent model like P320, this one is nothing bad indeed. Its faster CPU alone worth the apparently older age, and Asus upgraded the operating system to WM6, so you don't have to do it by yourself.

I got this one from i-cable at $2080 (HKD), and they even offered me one more battery as well as a 1G mini-SD card for free. What attracts me most for this mobile phone is not just the price, but the built-in GPS, as well as Wi Fi.

My home has a Wi Fi network, and I've a small notebook computer (Sony VAIO U3). However, I found that I'm not using it as much as I expect, due to the boot-up time. You know when I wanted to check your email box, I would rather boot up the desktop PC. So now you know in that case, a Wi Fi capable phone is the best! No more boot up wait, and with the web browser of the mobile phone, you can check email, and browse your favorite forums any time!

Wi Fi is so nice that it's basically free if you have an access point at home and in the office.

Other than web browsing, and checking email, there are other interesting things to do as well. For example, my Asus P535 comes with Skype. Last time when I change my indoor wireless phone, I was tempted to get a Skype capable model, but I didn't do that finally. Now, it comes as a free bonus! Other than Skype, you can use Google Maps which is very nice to use. Of course, you will want some off line software map if you really want to use it outside, but Google Maps is great enough for planning how to get to your destination. So for entertainment, you can see watch online streaming television! My Asus P535 delivers extremely smooth playback here.

I always think the mobile phone to be the only really necessary electronic gadget that one would always bring. So, it's always nice to put as much as functionalities to it provided that it's still portable enough, and at a suitable price point.

Why another blog?

Right now I've an astronomy blog, a birding blog, a hiking blog, a Christianity blog, and some more actually. So why one more?

It's because I have so much things to write about. My other blogs are very dedicated on one particular area and that's not enough to cover all other aspects in my life. Therefore, I will leave all other topics here.

So far what I have in my mind are:

1. Computer, IT related as well as consumer electronics, like mobile phone, MP3 players, etc
2. Digital photography
3. Politics
4. Finance and stock market, etc
5. Hong Kong related topics
6. Product reviews
7. News
8. Including but not limited to point 1-7

And at the same time, all other cross discipline topics. So if you love to read about them, please be sure to come back regularly or when you have time.