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

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.


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.


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:


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:-


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:


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


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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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.

  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.