March 2012 Archives

Visiting Google, the Masters of the Universe

I must admit, i'm a bit of a Google fanboy, always have been. They burst onto the scene in 1996, during a time when giants such as Yahoo! and MSN were in the ascendancy. With a ton of ingenuity (their search algorithm is still a closely guarded secret) and a pinch of luck, they have matured into arguably the most influential dot com of current times and the forseeable future. At work, i playfully label them the Masters of the Universe -- the Internet is a huge tangle of information, and the ones who control how we find said information, controls the sandpit. 

I was happy to accept their invitation to spend a few days in their Singapore campus this week; to meet several of their regional and US CPG leads and to learn from them. But not before i was taken on a tour around the office, for a taste of the famed Google workspace culture. Open, functional, and aesthetically pleasing, the workspace makes creative use of the available space. Uncommon meeting areas abound. More coffee machines than you can shake a stick at. An in-campus restaurant run by an award-winning chef. A massage parlour (!) Sleeping hammocks.

Does all of this help Google do what they do? On the evidence, it certainly doesn't hurt.

View the full photoset here. Click on the images below for the large version.

Google Singapore

Google greets you in the reception area

A meeting space

An uncommonly useful meeting area

Vanity wall

Google vanity wall, in one of their many pantries

Food by award winning chefs

In-campus restaurant run by an award winning chef

Fancy a game of foosball?


IIUM Rector's Cup 2012

It was my honour to be invited to adjudicate the Grand Finals of the IIUM Rector's Cup 2012 last night. Not only for the chance to have my mind stimulated for the evening, but i was also excited to reconnect with some old friends whom i've not met in years. 

Debating was a large part of my university experience; for 6 years, i was involved in every way possible, and i think more than anything else during my early adulthood, it shaped me into the person i am today. It was refreshing to see the latest batch of debaters coming through the program, and performing so admirably well under the spotlight -- the great tradition of the International Islamic University for producing great speakers is assured, at least for the next couple of years with young talent of the caliber on display last night.

Taufik Albar

The great, Taufik Albar. Now with white hair and a couple of wrinkles.

Azahan & Latif

Azahan Azad and Muhammad Abdul Latif, enjoying a light moment

Old friends, reunion

Products of the IIUM English debating program, reunion

The metaphorical apple and cigar

What does a cigar and an apple have in common? Very little, except when you put them next to each other. Then you realize that both have their place in the creative process. Some of the world's most creative people, most determined people in the world have smoked cigars. Churchill. Hemingway. Kennedy. Twain. Cosby. Marx. Capone. Jordan. All creative geniuses in their own way. Then you think about Apple, the brand, not the fruit, and you have one of the most dynamic, and yes, creative, brands of ALL TIME.

A cigar and an apple. They have more in common than you think.

An apple and a cigar

The Hanging Gardens of Mid Valley

I was recently reading about one of the seven wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It was an architectural and agricultural masterpiece, far beyond the commonly available technologies of the day. It was famed for its beauty, a multi-tiered vertical garden with walkways across the sky, and long creepers and light overflowing over the ledges. Perhaps it looked something like this.

The Gardens, Mid Valley.

Geometric Jumbling

Siti Aishah, Amarin Heavenly Thai

Perhaps one of the best Thai restaurants in town, the Amarin has become a favourite lunch time visitation for the family whenever we're in Mid Valley. The clear tom yam soup is gorgeous, the fried tauhu fritters are delectable, and the pandan wrapped chicken is the best i've ever had. We love it.

Siti Aishah Kassim

Geartalk: LR2/Mogrify for Lightroom 3

I've been scratching my head for some time now as to how to export my photos from Lightroom 3 with a black (or white) border. Not just the border, but to add value to that border by including copyright information and also basic EXIF data. Short of manually typing everything in by hand, there was no easy way to do it. Until i found LR2/Mogrify by Timothy Armes. It's donationware (means, it works perfectly for 10 exports at a time; to get unlimited exports at once, a small donation is requested). It's a great little script, and after fiddling with it a bit, was pretty easy to customize for my purposes. Might tweak it a bit more, but i generally have it where i want it.

See what i've been able to do with it so far. Click for the larger version where the watermark and EXIF data are clearer.

(In)Famous Fishead Curry


Noticed this boy fixated on the LCD screens hanging from the ceiling of the local supermarket. His expression is priceless -- the jaw-hanging innocence of youth, completely captivated by what he is looking at. Adults rarely ever have the same look on their faces.


Street magic, rojak pesembor

Right on the streets of KL, magic happens on a daily basis: food vendors in tiny shacks, or vans, or stalls who with a wave of their hands, create gastronomic masterpieces that you have to taste to believe.

This particular maestro is preparing the popular dish called "rojak pesembor", a combination of deeply fried delights, hard boiled eggs, thinly sliced marinated calamari, julianned cucumber, raw beansprouts and topped off with a dressing of sweet spicy peanut sauce. Can you taste it yet? Sure you can, it's magic.

Street magician

The Naughty Chair

In the daycare my son attends, they have what's called a "naughty chair". It's the place all the naughty kids go to sit and take a time out. I've seen my son sit on this chair a few times when i pick him up, and i'm not ashamed to say that i'm kinda proud of him. It takes a lot of guts to challenge authority and do what he wants, despite the consequences. Of course, i disapprove of the stolen pencils, the pulled pony tails of other kids and refusal to finish his veggies; but that's besides the point, it's the principal that matters.

To sit alone, aside, against the wall, both literal and metaphorical.

The naughty chair

Izham Cheong, Dad

It must be 8 years now, since dad packed up the family and left the shores of Malaysia for greener pastures abroad. A wise decision, he claims. To get away from it all and enjoy his golden days. I only get to see him a few times a year now as a result of the decision he made, though i don't begrudge him it. Of course i miss him, and it's taught me to treasure these fleeting moments all the more. 

A father

Hot Air Balloons

Took a day off from work to de-stress and go for a photosafari at the 4th Putrajaya International HAB Fiesta 2012. Arrived at 5.30am, and was astounded to find a long line already formed to buy tickets for the hot air balloon rides; not bad considering the tickets only officially go on sale at 8am. The organizers were very considerate -- they passed out stubs with numbers on them at 6.30am, because there are only 300 tickets on sale per session. Therefore, people who knew they wouldn't get tickets wouldn't have to keep on waiting in line. All 300 stubs were given out at 6.30am, with many others not getting one.

The event itself was quite fun, well organized, and blessed with fantastic good weather. Photographic conditions were optimal, and the bonus of having a buttery creamy low cloud cover gave otherwise boring photocompositions some texture and perspective.

Taking a walk around the park, i was quite impressed by the layout, water fixtures and overall quality of the location. The Rukunegara Obelisk (Millenium Monument) was particularly interesting, and from there, i got a great all-around view of the area.

Very fun, and not just because of the balloons. Click for larger versions. View the full photoset here.

Balloons, balloons in the sky!


Balloons, balloons in the sky!

Getting ready to go

Balloons, balloons in the sky!

Firing the balloon

Balloons, balloons in the sky!

Millenium Monument, Putrajaya

Look, mama, in the sky!

Look mom, in the sky!

Piercing the sky

This is KL. A mish mash of concrete and flora, with some stark landmarks that reach into the sky. It's home, where i earn and break my bread.

Kuala Lumpur Cityscape

Sleeping on the streets

It's not an unusual sight in any of the major metropolitan cities of the world -- people sleeping on the street. You can't automatically assume that they are homeless. They might just be tired, or in transit, or just need a place to lay their heads down for a moment. What i do wonder about is whether you dream when you sleep on the streets?

Street sleeper

The Lottery Man

I have a lot of respect for lottery ticket peddlers. I suppose it's because of what they do. They aren't selling small pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. What they are selling are dreams, small, translucent, temporary dreams that make you feel good, that allow you to fantasize, that put a small little smile on your face and heart. For that little moment, however brief it may be, everyone who buys a lottery ticket imagines what it would be like to win. That's what a lottery man sells: hope.

The Lottery Man

In the fresh vegetables

Grocery shopping is fun. You get to whizz around aisles with a large cart, throw into it food you want, and get to see all sorts of colours and people. On a rare day, you even bump into a celebrity or two; they are people too, and just like the rest of us, need to eat. What's there not to like about it all?

Fresh leaves

My best photo of Mia

It was a bumper weekend of usable photos of Mia, including this one that is probably the best photo of her i've taken to date. Really, really enjoy this photo, it fully captures her essence, i feel.

Taken with an Olympus E-PM1 45mm f1.8


The best thing about Mia

Is that she allows me to photograph her without a fuss, and if i catch her in the right mood, the camera just loves her. Saturday mornings, when the family is lazing around, and light is pouring in through the window -- that's the best time. 

Click to enlarge. First two shots with a Zeiss Distagon 28mm f2, the 2nd two with a Olympus 45mm f1.8. 

Saturday morning soiree

In the light

Saturday morning soiree

Not even 1 years old yet, and she knows to head-tilt the lens

Saturday morning soiree

My pillow!

Saturday morning soiree

In a playful mood

From 51 floors

Once upon a time, Menara Maybank in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia used to be tallest building in town. Now, of course, it's been eclipsed by one of the tallest towers in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers. It's a rare treat to be invited to the 51st floor of the building, and even rarer to be there with near perfect, near unlimited visibility. All the way to horizon, to the mountain range that makes up the valley of Klang, it was mine to see. Breathtaking.

As far as the eye can see

Judith's Hands

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands. What type of life they've led, what person they are. A labourer will have rough, calloused hands. The hands of a baby will be smooth and silky. The hands of an impatient person will have bite marks along his cuticles. The hands of a person who values appearances will be beautifully manicured. The hands of a drug addict will shake and tremble. The hands of a concert pianist will be long and elegant.

And, so, what can we say about these hands, Judith's Hands?

Judith's Hands

Geartalk: Low-light with the Zeiss Distagon 28mm f2

A lot of wide aperture lenses, f2.8 and greater, claim to be low-light capable. You have to take a lot of that with a grain of salt. Yes, their apertures can open up to f2, to f1.8, even to f1.4 and f1.2, but in reality, a majority of the photos taken at those apertures suffer from a lot of softness around the center, and almost certainly softness around the sides. There are very few lenses that perform well at their maximum apertures, in low-light. Happy to report that the Zeiss Distagon 28mm f2 ZE is one such lens.

The only problem i had with the lens in low light was focus accuracy and even focus detection. Shooting at an event today that was held in the the effective basement of Menara Maybank, i often found myself having to trust my instincts and poor eyesight for accurate focus; the Canon 5D Mark II failed to detect focus, and thus didn't give out the audible beep nor did the in-viewfinder light indicator light up. There just wasn't enough light to offer enough contrast for the focus detection to work properly. This plus the fact that the default viewfinder screen is not ideally designed to assist in low light MF, and i had a really tough time. I'm a glass half-full sort of guy, so the tough conditions, i took it as a challenge and a learning opportunity.

The following are the results. Click on any image for the full size.

Mohamed Adam Wee, CMO

Mohamed Adam Wee, CMO


An impish grin

Our resident sports expert

Our resident sportsman


Michael Buble?

Emcee for the day

Preparing to speak


Friends and colleagues


Ladies, in attendance

All smiles.

Silky, honest smiles

Photoessay: Jalan Tun HS Lee

Whenever in KL, the most famous street that everyone wants to visit is Petaling Street, the heart of Chinatown. But just a couple of hundred meters away is a real gem that locals swear by. A place where you can find just about anything you want, all you need to do is know who to ask! What makes the place so appealing is that it's the crossroads where cultures meet in KL -- the proverbial melting pot. In the north, you have the Chinese coffeeshops, to the west, the South Asian community, slightly to the east, you'll find some Malay restaurants, and oddly south, you'll find one of KL's best steakhouses, run by a German. It doesn't get more cosmopolitan than that.

All shots taken with a Canon 5D Mark II with a Carl Zeiss Distagon 28mm f2 ZE. Full sized set can by found on my Flickr.

He's been here all his life

This man and restaurant has been here so long, his father used to sell noodles to mine

Coffeeshop lunch

A common sight during lunch hour, packed restaurant on Tun HS Lee

Noodles by the window

Noodles by the window

An impromptu butcher

A butcher in the middle of the city

Cow's head

A cow's head

Older than my father

The rustic architectural charm of Tun HS Lee

Chinese pastries lady

Since i was a boy, i've been buying pastries from this lady

Geartalk: Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f2 ZE

I've been looking for 24mm or 28mm prime lens for several months now, and after much consideration, testing, and consultations with friends with experience, i finally decided to pick up the Zeiss Distagon 28mm f2 ZE for my Canon 5D Mark II. I spent several hours hands-on testing my shortlist of options: Canon 24mm f1.4L II, Carl Zeiss Distagon 35mm f2, Canon 28mm f1.8, and in the end the Distagon 28mm won. The focal length was just right, the image quality outstanding, and the overall feel of the lens during operation, perfect.

The other thing that drew me to this lens was that it produced images that had a unique "pop" to them; a high degree of micro-contrast in the plane of focus makes the subject seem to "come out" at you from the photo. That coupled with an absolutely creamy bokeh, and you've got something special. To my eye, the next best thing i've seen in the same focal length is a Leica Summicron-M 28mm f2 ASPH; but those cost 4x more. 

Here are some sample shots i took this evening, indoors and dusk lowlight, ISO100, f2.0 on all photos.


KL Stock Exchange, almost HDR-ish in presentation (but isn't)


Ladies off from work


Sharmila, notice the absolutely delicious bokeh


Souvenirs from London


Judith, notice the lines along the edges -- straight and sharp as a tack


An icon of our times. As Zeiss is in the world of lenses and light.

Photoessay: BMW Malaysian Open 2012

Watching women's tennis on television has generally been an underwhelming affair for me; i personally feel the men's game is much more exciting with drama, power and several top players who seem to take turns to give other a black eye on the court. Only after watching the women's game live at the recently concluded BMW Malaysian Open did i begin to appreciate the charm of the contest.

Kristyna Pliskova

Kristyna Pliskova

Petra Martic

Petra Martic

Watching the crowd watching the games was also a fruitful exercise. People from all over the world follow these matches; the international flavour is quite intense. They all have their favourites and are not afraid to make their voices heard during the match. Screams of "You can do it!" or "Good shot!" reverberate through the stadium after each point. The mumblings in the crowd after a poor shot or questionable line call rumble in a low drone. All part of the entertainment of watching the match in the stadium, things often lost in translation on TV.

The ladies on the court hold center-stage. The crowd certainly have a story of their own to tell, equally compelling.



Iron Man



Geartalk: Manual focus experimentations

I handled my first camera when i was a young boy, it was a 1980s Nikon rangefinder. My father taught me how to align up the image in the viewfinder to get focus, and when i got it right, magic happened. I regret not having any photos from that time in my possession; if only i knew as an adult i would find photography such an interesting activity.

Since those early days, i think i've been spoiled by the digital revolution and the power of technology that among things have given us a blazingly fast auto-focus (AF). Even the most sophisticated DSLRs can be operated easily by pointing it at the general direction of the subject and pressing the shutter release. All things else being equal, 9 times our of 10, the AF will nail the focus. If it doesn't, it's probably a problem with the photographer rather than a problem with the camera.

Ever since i handled Ming Thein's M9-P rangefinder, i've found myself being attracted back to my roots; the engaging effort it takes to manually focus my shots. From a practical perspective, it serves a good purpose too. Using AF does make composition slightly unwieldy, because you constantly have to refocus on the focus point, something that's resolved with MF because once you set the focus point, you can leave it and shutter release without issues or worry that the camera will autonomously refocus on the wrong point.

With that in mind, i decided to go out for breakfast this morning, determined to force myself to MF my shots. It was a little bit slow, but not terribly so. And a heck of a lot of fun. Here are the results. All shots with 5D Mark II, 50mm f2.8, ISO400.





A crying girl

I've never been the type to give in to extortion or blackmail. And, sometimes, that's exactly what a baby does in order to get her way: she cries and cries and cries. Screams and yells, with the intent to get you to change your mind and give her what she wants. In this case, a way out of her baby pen. No way. It's your bed time, and by God, you will stay there because that's your bed.

A crying girl

To Black or not to Black. White is the question.

As i process my photos, i often come across a photo that asks the question: would this look better monochrome or in colour? To answer the question, i generally tend to just convert it anyway, and see the results. If i like it, great. If i don't, no worries. Only cost me a few seconds of extra time. Occasionally, a photo looks nice either way. Such as this one. Shot at the BMW Malaysian Open 2012 (view the full photoset) with 100mm f2.8, 1/2500. 

Which do you prefer?



Geartalk: Camera Awesome by SmugMug

Though i don't use them, i have a great respect for the lads at SmugMug. A smaller, more nimble version of Flickr, they company is powered by an incredibly passionate and talented team. And now, they've launched Camera Awesome, a new iPhone app that looks to be a real category killer. I'm a devoted user of Camera+ and SnapSeed, but after a few hours of testing, Camera Awesome takes the cake, by quite a good distance i might add. I won't reinvent the review wheel, so check out some of the great reviews being written about it. Review 1 Review 2 Check out some of the photos taken with it

Taken with Camera Awesome, filter Noir.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from March 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2012 is the previous archive.

April 2012 is the next archive.

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