Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Korean Food

Its been a little while since I was in South Korea (and quite a bit has happened since then too) but as I was browsing through my images I came across a few that reminded me that I should put up some more of my experiences there (and perhaps help the tourist trade a little bit). My older pages on my last trip there (where I stayed for 4 months) are here.

One of the things that I loved about Korea was the food, its often a simple case of providing tasty ingredients together in a colourful and tasteful combination.

Fresh vegetables and leaves feature highly as does sea food (especially along the coasts ;-) While we were in Pusan we had a number of very tasty dishes like this one.


which is basically sea squirt served with some vegetables and of course some chilli paste.

Its wise to remember the Chilli for those who are not use to it. Even if you are brave of heart and tongue if you've not spent some time getting used to it then a sudden hit will result in having to deal with more than just the hot mouth for a few minutes. A local toilet seemed to be giving warnings of this (if a little too late)


too late chill Warning

But if you get the chance to go to South Korea do it by all means! Don't restrict your eating to the fancy western looking places but if you are able to have a go at communicating you'll find some really excellent food there.

And Busan is beautiful by night up on the hill too!


have fun!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Australia day 2009

I was reading today in The Australian, that Mick Dodson (a man I admire for taking leadership and personal interest in Aboriginal issues in Australia) has said that

To many indigenous Australians, in fact most indigenous Australians, it really reflects the day in which our world came crashing down


I think this is a fair comment with quite a ring of truth about it. He goes further to say that


Many of our people call it Invasion Day, but I think Australia is mature enough now to have a conversation about that, and let's get on with it, like we usually do.


So I'd like to participate in that mature conversation and begin by raising with the following points which I think need to be considered as a premise:
  • while for much of human history (certainly western recorded history) Australia remained isolated geographically, this situation was not going to remain so forever.
  • there is some suggestion that there have previously been indigenous human inhabitants in Australia genetically different to the indigenous inhabitants met by Cook and the English explorers.
  • certainly much of the actions of the early colonists (and colonial government) was reprehensible and distasteful to us today (perhaps even then). However this is perhaps only so from particular religious view points (such as Christian and perhaps Buddhist views), certainly fights over territory are nothing new in human history and the losers of such disputes can face either death, slavery or (if lucky) assimilation.
  • choice of words is not accidental, so invasion or colonisation or migration or displacement are all words which could apply but which need to be thought about carefully (unless we're not after intelligent discussion, but rather a screaming match).
  • everyone and every culture undergoes change, like it or not we are exposed to other humans eventually
  • what would it have been like if the other culture which encountered Australia and spread its influence into there was any other culture (say Chinese, Japanese, or even something like the Assyrian or Roman cultures)

So as well as dealing with what has gone on, lets not loose sight of the fact that at some stage the Indigenous people of Australia were going to meet other humans. Because they had not been developing (and exploring outside of their world) it was likely someone else of greater technical skills was going to be the explorer.

No matter what, their world would be changed forever. But then our world (the entire planet) has been changed several times over, so perhaps we've just had a little more experience in getting used to changes (maybe).

So, indigenous people can remain in the stone age if they choose (and I think there exists room for that, although some leaders Mr Dodson among them hold that they should not) and accept the attendant limitations of that choice (such as access to medical educational and other modern resources). Perhaps we can even provided a sheltered location for them, away from exploitation of our culture or those from their culture who would seek to exploit them.

However if you want to modernize then like it or not you must accept the limitations of our existing culture and join with it. From that point you can attempt to steer it (as does anyone else) through the channels available such as politics, science and academic inputs.

You will however need to persuade people and provide acceptable alternatives.

No matter what, life is never static for long so you may as well get used to change.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

do it in house if you can

It seems that organizations are slowly learning (well in the Darwinian way of the dumb die out mostly) of the need to keep business critical elements to themselves.

Why? well because no one will take your business as seriously as you do for one.

Case in point: I once worked for a large organization who developed all their IT requirements in house. We worked with Oracle products and using Oracle Forms and other Unix tools (like SCCS for revision controls tied into a forms based software quality control system) and we made almost everything our organization needed ourselves. Not only did they work but as I later traveled the world in different organizations I came to realize were ahead of the pack.

But then the bean counters started to make interesting decisions about "outsourcing" and suddenly what we estimated could be done with a modest expansion of people, was turned over to a contractor and an off-shore provider doing much of the work. The long term people who worked for the organization began leaving and there started a rapid cycle of employing "training vultures" who joined, got trained and left. The sense of team which had existed vanished and worse noone really knew what things were or what their history was.

The cost estimated by the contractor who "won the bid" was several times what our old team had estimated, and funnier still (years later) I heard the project went over budget by some many millions of dollars.

So when I read this mornings paper that a similar organization has made another "cost saving" outsourcing decision I felt that it was sad to see we're still wasting our resources.

Deakin affected by IT scandal

Andrew Trounson | January 21, 2009

Article from: The Australian

THE $1.5 billion fraud scandal at Indian technology giant Satyam Computer Services has paralysed a $75 million project with Victoria's Deakin University to create an information technology development and learning facility in Geelong.

The scandal also puts in doubt lucrative training contracts that were expected to flow to the university.


I'd really like to know when the managers will stop "saving money" for the organizations and realize that its no simple equation to value having your own reactive and responsive IT staff. The answer is that you must invest in your staff and organization and build core competencies in house if you are going to run your own business. If you let other people run your business ... well you get what they want.

I've worked for a multinational software company in Tokyo with a development section in India and even though we were one organization (unlike above when it was an external contracting developer) we still had problems and issues in unifying the development desires of Tokyo with the development realities in Bangalore.

Further IT industry in Australia is suffering due to the "allure" of off shore money saving in developing countries. I think that its great that places like India are taking leaps and bounds in software development, taking their own futures into their own hands. But isn't this this is exactly what we should be doing?

If its worth doing right ... do it yourself, if its business critical, then don't let it out of your sight.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

new lightweight cameras

Well I must say that I'm getting excited about the developments in digital cameras. I've been anticipating what the Panasonic G1 micro 4/3rds format can do for my world and after reading the latest post from DPReview about it I'm very keen.

I've made this composite overlay (scaling the cameras to be same dimensions) which I reckon represents the size difference.

I have been pleased with images taken with my 10D, but after using compact cameras for so long I'm tired of heavy lumps. For example (as mentioned in my previous post) the 10D together with my Tokina 12-24 makes 1.3Kg slung off my shoulder, while the Lumix weighs around half at 630g.

With a big sensor and incorporating the improvements that have happened in sensors since the 10D its not surprising that it makes images that outdo the 10D.

Just in case you don't know what I mean about the sizes of sensors, most digital SLR cameras have a sensor which is called APS sized (because there was a film called APS) and when chips were expensive to make the camera makers tried to save money by making is another "format" called Four Thirds (of 4/3'rds). {Note: its perhaps worth mentioning that APS film less died because it was smaller than 35mm and had no significant other advantages}

As you can see from this figure while the 4/3'rds sensor is smaller than the more common APS its still rather larger than the more common sizes presently used to gather the light for your 10MegaPixels. In fact its more than 4 times the light gathering area of the sensor in cameras like the Canon G10.

Signal processing helps the camera makers get the most out of their small sensors, but if you've got a bigger better signal to start with you can make better and cleaner images with your RAW files.

Here's an example. Using RAW processing and some software I can make much more from the files my camera captures and open up new worlds of photography for me (and anyone else who owns one). On this file I was initially disappointed by the conversion (in camera JPG and from RAW in photoshop) as below:


Taj Mahal one corner


I've recently been finding that I can take my basic RAW file and with little effort in Photoshop and Photomatix get it to look like this:

tone Mapped Taj

now that's more like what I saw at the Taj on the early morning we were there.


Roll on future!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

SMC skype phone: my brief review

Skype is so handy ... but sometimes I'd like a PC free version ... and so I found this phone by SMC. I didn't find many reviews worth a dam on the net (here's about the only one), so I thought I'd put this up.

The short version answer:

well its ok, it does what it says but try to get it cheaply on Ebay if you can cos its not perfect. If you get it for under $100 then I'd call that fair. Belkin seem to make another but aside from it being black and this being white I can't see the difference.

Overview

The phone is a stand alone (doesn't need a PC) handset which connects to the internet by 802.11 wireless networks. If you have (say) an ADSL connection at home and you're using a wireless access point to allow your computers to get out onto the net then this phone will be able to use that and get out ... voilla you have a cordless phone (without a base station) that allows you to use most of the functionality of Skype.

I'm someone who lives out of my own country a lot and so for some time I've been making use of Skype to stay in touch with people back in my home country (Australia) while abroad. Actually I've even come to use it to make quite some international calls to places no matter where I am, so I think its fair to say its opened up global type communications for me in general.

I've always used skype out of my laptop and have relied on bluetooth headsets for when I would like to be able to move away from my desk (and when I don't want to carry my laptop along with me). Chords just have a way of getting tangled and eventually yanked out of the socket or (worse) dragging the laptop tumbling off the desk.

Being a long time Skype user I have considered a few options of having a dedicated physical "telephone" sort of thinggy for Skype but so far most of those have been expensive and often required a dedicated PC to connect to ... which sort of means my PC has to be on all the time.

As a laptop user I also have a wireless LAN around the home (and at some of my friends and family's homes) so when I found there was a few stand-alone WiFi Skype phones I thought I'd like to try one. I hoped that it would save me needing to port my laptop along to keep in touch or have it on and in the way when visiting.

If you're a Skype user (and a reasonably confident) computer I'm sure you'll have no problems and hardly need to look at the manual, in fact it all operates in a way which seems natural and consistent to both Skype and normal mobile phone interfaces.

The phone connects to wireless networks easily enough, and has a neat (although perhaps a little primitive) management system for managing the variety of networks you may encounter. The major protocols are supported and it all seems to work happily with DHCP connections. I did have one odd situation where the WLAN address was other than the typical 192.168.x.x and there after the phone would not connect back to any other WLAN

Next, size. As you can see it fits neatly in hand, being not much bigger than some mobile phones, its quite light too.

Generally I like it and it does what it should, but (isn't there always a but?) there are some issues which I thought I'd try to make clear to potential buyers (and perhaps the companies could take notice too but I'm not holding my breath on their being any kind of iterative cycle of development and feedback happening).

As you can see from the picture, the buttons are quite small and located quite close together. I don't have big hands or fingers and I find this is something I have to take care of, someone with bigger fingers and hand may have difficulty and need to pay attention to what they are pressing.

This isn't really a problem in practice as the Skype phone does not support texting (or the Skype chatting). So you won't be typing much in to it.

This is also a significant point for people who use skype for its chat facility (people like me) because while you appear online, if someone chats to you they get an obscure message saying that you are using an older version of Skype which does not support chat.

odd

The manual documents the phone well enough, but if you are experienced in using electronic or computer devices then you will find that just picking it up and doing "what comes naturally" will work. Navigation of the Skype menus is easy with the joystick and the buttons. I've found (though its not in the manual) that you can just start typing the names (using the keypad to key in names using normal SMS style input methods, and then the contacts list starts to shrink just like using skype on the PC. Once you've got the name selected you can call by just (intuitively) pressing the call buttong (with the green phone icon).

The phone charges with the typical mini USB cable (like on many digital cameras and compact hard drives) and so can be charged from your PC or with the charger which it came with. I really like this move to using mini USB as a charging standard, my MIO Navigator uses it, as do a few other things I have around the house. It also means I can use the Mio navigator's in car charger to charge the phone on the way to the in-laws place and use an camera USB cable to charge it while there too. Nice

Audio quality

My bench mark for audio quality is the basic simple headset which plugs directly into the headphone / microphone socket on my laptop. The SCM phone is nearly as good as that, and my testing seems to indicate that people say that the audio quality their end is ok but lacking in 'fidelity'.

From my perspective (the caller) the sound quality is acceptable (though not as good as my headset) and certainly loud enough. Interestingly it seems to never be as smooth as on my PC so perhaps the CPU on the phone is not as fast as it needs to be to cope .. dunno.

There is a headset connection available too, it uses the single 2.5mm cordless phone headset plug type. I've tried it with a Paltronics that I bought on "that auctions site" but frankly the sound quality sucked.

Quirks and Issues

As I mentioned above sometimes the phone has had difficulty in re-attaching to other networks and has required a battery out reset.

Definitely I think it is unwise to have the phone 'logged in' to Skype and have your PC logged into Skype. It will operate and both the PC and the phone get the call but the PC will respond to the signal faster and it can take a few seconds for the phone to start ringing. When you answer one (you can't answer both right?) I get a missed call on the other one. So you need to remember to quit the application on the PC before turning on the phone, and turn off the phone when using the PC ... I think there isn't much option for this other than to have multiple accounts which then becomes a hassle.

Overall I find the phone nice and worth while.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Google linked with global warming

Hi

I heard about this today and my first thought was "what a complete load of twaddle".

So I googled it and got this link to a CBS article. Reading it, the "professor" apparently likes to simplify his models as he suggests that

a typical search on a desktop computer generates about 7 grams of carbon dioxide, which is comparable to bringing a kettle to boil

Clearly he forgets many things, like how much water is in the kettle (did you fill it only to use 250ml), is this an electric kettle or a gas one? There will be an enormous difference as the electric one (which itself releases no carbon) will actually result in the power station releasing many times more than the gas one.

But aside from that the next thing which comes to mind is "Right, why only google? Do you think Alta vista will generate less?" After all, hes put the blame on Google and they are not the only search engine.

I mean seriously if we wish to consider our global energy consumption how about we mind the pounds and let the pennies remain insignificant. Despite the well-intended-ness of the saying "mind your pennies and the pounds will look after themselves" the problem is that they don't.

  • I live in an apartment with an elevator, perfectly healthy people use it to go up one floor rather than walk, how much green house gas is that?
  • every bit of junk advertising you get costs energy in making and delivering it..
  • What about that printed copy of your news paper?
  • Heck, do you run water while you're cleaning your teeth? (think of the energy needed in pumping and treating that water)

My advice is to stop worrying about the trivial and be more concerned with stuff you can fix, walk or bicycle to work; reduce unrequired car trips and while your at it unrequired poor driving (which uses more fuel) and wasting resources (which all need energy and thus generate green house gases).

sheesh ... where do all these folks come from, an alternative dimension?

Google has actually addressed this question, and the answer they have is here.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

back country ski bindings

Since I've been living in Finland (not many down hills here folks) I've been getting into cross country skiing and learning heaps about the different bindings for off track cross country work. After a little rooting around with trying the field I've found what works well for me.


No surprises its the New Nordic Norm BC binding and boot system! (pictured below)


If your familiar with the older types of off track cross country bindings like the trusty (rusty?) 75mm Nordic Norm 3 pin system you will notice some differences straight up, like the lack of the 75mm wide tag at the front of the shoe.

This results in a binding which (like the original intention of the the three pin system) does not crimp the shoe (with its binding strap around the heel) and gives a solid mount to the ski which prevents squirming around while allowing easy pivot.

You can see how easily it kicks this in the small video below.



If you don't happen to be so familiar with Cross Country Skiing this will also show you the basic style of getting along the flats.

You can see in this closer crop how my boot lacks the familiar wedge at the front, and seems to be just sitting on top of the ski. This not only makes walking easier (when not on your skis) but they pivot easier on the binding too.

With the behind the heel Telemark style binding you need to have the cable tight to ensure that your toe does not move around in the wedge and this means some resistance and boot sole deformation.

With this system I can get better kick and surprisingly good boot to ski contact. I can even side step up steep icy hills (my ├ůsnes ski's have metal edges) without having my ski flex away from my boot. I've never felt my feet more planted on my skis.

In complete contrast to this the most popular bindings among off track snow workers here in Finland is this system. Its a variant on the 75mm Nordic Norm binding that is designed to work with modified gum boots.

Now (so the old farts here tell me) since ski conditions in Finland are quite flat the need for better (tighter) connection to the boot is not really needed. (well perhaps they just pick boring lines and hope for the best on the downhills?)

Either way they then have good boots for walking around in the deep (sometimes wet) snow and for extended trips they have these neat felt liners which keep your feet warmer. They're removable too so you can swap them for a dry set and dry the others out after a days skiing / working / hunting. Its a practical solution and seems popular here (I wonder how well it would work in an envrionment like the snowy mountains in Australia).

For those unfamiliar with the 75mm NN style, the boots have a wedge on the toe to slide into a wedge shaped binding. In the image below there is the NN boot on the left and my regular hiking boot on the right.


Anyway, back to the BC bindings, the author of this article about the 75mm style NN boots admits to not knowing much himself but quotes Steve Barnett (author of "Cross-Country Downhill" and "The Best Ski Touring in America") as praising the system, saying:

Barnett reports that the boots are powerful enough to drive larger skis, saying "I'm currently using them with skis as big as the Atomic TM26 (97-62-88). That is a very capable ski, and it works well with the SNS BC system. It is easier to ski a ski like that than a smaller, less turn oriented one with the system boots and bindings - not harder. This is currently my favorite combo for mountain tours."



perfectly consistent with my own experience

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

choosing hiking cameras

prependum

shortly after writing this article I started using the Panasonic G1 camera. Where I had previously used my coolpix. The G1 is barely larger than the Coolpix, perhaps more fragile than the coolpix but weighs about the same. So as a packing camera its got the most important criteria ... low weight and high quality. Not only does the G1 exceed the image quality of any digital camera I've ever had its compatible with a wide vareity of lenses by adaptor. Please read about my experiences with this camera perhaps starting here.

If you enjoy taking your camera with you on hiking trips rather than hiking to take your camera gear somewhere then I'm sure that you've wondered just what camera should you take along. Of course you can carry a 6x9 film camera or even a 4x5 (that's inches folks) field camera, but it might be more of the case of taking your pack hiking to carry your camera.

(a curve ball for the open minded is an older "folder" 120 film camera like this. For around $100 used 20 megapixels is obtainable, used right I think you'll be amazed with the results ... if you can tolerate using film).

I'm personally always torn between the desire to carry less and the desire to have the best image quality. The major considerations are
  1. weight
  2. size
as a trade off with a useful and good picture quality camera.

After struggling with choices years ago in 35mm cameras I settled on a backpacking choice of a single light body with 24mm and 50mm lenses. I use Canon 35mm cameras and there were a number of good (and light) bodies to choose from. I could put my EOS 1000 into my backpack at a cost of only 500g and both my lenses (EF50 f1.8 = 190g and EF24 f2.4 = 270g) are light and produced great image quality.

Then along came digital and I started to use a compact Canon IXY 20 which weighing only around 200g with a lens opened my eyes to what compact should be. Images were totally fine for web and email (my entire site when I lived in Japan was done with compact digital) but lacked the ability to make decent prints when you had an "ohh that's nice" picture which begged to be printed to at least A4 size and put up on the wall.

Like this:



Luckily I had my 4x5 film camera on this day ... so I didn't have to make any compromise (well actually I planned to go there and take this photograph so it wasn't just an accident). So I was hooked on compact convenience but often needed more.

I eventually started using a Coolpix 5000, which gave me image quality nearly as good as low resolution scans of 35mm film and with compact and digital convenience. Eventually I bought a 10D and tried using my Canon EF lenses on that, but this left me a little disappointed as the sensor is not the same size as film resulting in different behavior of the lens (24mm is no longer wide).

When compared to the coolpix 5000 the 10D edges ahead in picture quality but only just!! Here is 2 segments from each (as discussed in the above article), can you see a clear distinction?



I can't see much, and unless you're printing right to the maximum size (32.5 x 24.4 cm in the case of the CP5000) you just won't see it in prints and you certainly won't see it when resizing for the WWW.

Now these are both older cameras (with the 10D being newer than the CP5000), todays cameras are better (just compare them in DPReview). The high quality compacts of today are better than the equivalent compacts of 2001, so this comparison (to the date of writing) remains consistent.

What hasn't changed much is the size relationships. So as long as you get a compact which produces quality images (and there are a some) then for a hiking camera you don't really stand to benefit all that much in images, but its the lump in your hand that you really see (and feel) the difference between a DSLR and a compact.

If you've been scouring DPReview for your comparisons between cameras you may be used to looking at their presentation style of images. So I've put a comparison of both cameras here in the photo to the right to make it clear just how much difference there is between a DSLR like the 10D and a compact.

They don't just look different, they feel different. Its not just numbers and pictures when you hold them in your hand.

Here is a DPReview-esque side by side view. While there is not an obvious difference in image quality there is rather an obvious one in size.

Not only does a DSLR like the 10D look humongous compared to the little 5000 it weighs nearly double too, around 800 VS 415 grams and still no lens!

Its at the point when you're packing your backpack that you ask yourself, will I prefer to carry the bulk or the compact?

I find that people seem to get lost in details when choosing their cameras. I regularly read many camera forums and see people getting caught up over issues like 10th of a second difference in 'shutter lag' or is the viewfinder really sharp and responsive. When really at the end of the day its the pictures which you will be looking at after the trip.

If your camera stays in the middle of your pack(because its annoying to stop and ferret it out) rather than taking pictures what good is it?

If you like to take landscape images there is a good chance that you'll also be someone who prefers wide angles. The CP5000 has an effective 28mm wide angle. So to get similar results on the 10D I need to use a lens which is 17mm. There are lighter lenses than my Tokina 12-24 lens (the one mounted on the 10D in the above image) which weighs more and is bigger than my CP5000 (but not all fit my 10D and either don't perform well or cost nearly a thousand bucks). At 560g it weighs more than my 24 + 50mm lenses combined and in my opinion is not as versatile bright or sharp.

So it seems that while DSLR cameras offer some advantages, once you're used to the paradigm shift of compact and fully functional cameras why would you want to take the boat anchor?

Keep in mind that before digital that 35mm was the best quality minature camera you could buy, that was the reason that it became so popular! Makers like Pentax (MX and LX series) and Olympus (OM series) made excellent 35mm SLR cameras which were so compact that they were barely larger than compact cameras. They had superb optics and were great photogrpahic tools. You don't realise how compact these cameras are until you hold one. I'd show you a comparison except mine was stolen a few years ago.

Anyway, in reality if you're not doing sports or some other specialized field of photography you simply don't need an SLR camera (and if you are, then leave that at home on hikes and take a good compact!). So if you can get past the "need" to have a DSLR for your hiking camera you need to look for a camera that has:
  • Good image quality (not just megapixels, often 6 is enough)
  • RAW image capability
  • compact size and weight
  • flexible viewfinder options
  • good camera controls (there are really only three: shutter, aperture and focus)
  • rugged design

Just to get you started here are a few cameras (of the many which) which I think fit the bill well

  • Nikon Coolpix 5000 (perhaps even the later P5000)
  • Canon G series compacts (5, 6, 7, 8, 9 10)
  • Sigma DP1 or 2 (so many professionals are praising the big high quality sensor in this one)
  • Ricoh GRII
  • perhaps soon the Micro 4/3's cameras which are smaller as they are not reflex cameras (the R in SLR).

When it comes to what makes a good digital camera for image quality one of the most important things (and least marketed) is the size of the sensor, if you read this article, I try to explain some of the issues around sensor sizes and cameras.

Lastly I'll suggest that if you want to consider getting a good 35mm compact camera to take along you will be surprised at what they can do to capture a scene on a sunny day. Compacts like the Olympus trip 35 and Nikon 35 Ti are very capable cameras and can produce images which can rival that from the DSLR (Ken Rockwell has even posted his findings). This is no exaggeration, as simple maths tells us that a 2400dpi scan of 35mm film (which is 36x24mm) is around 8 megapixels.

I'll leave you with an image taken by a friend of mine with an Olympus trip 35 in 1974. This shows just how well you can capture scenery with a compact camera.



enjoy