New to Owl Order? Click here for 2009's best posts! 00:00:00

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Happy 2-Years!

Wishing everybody a happy 2010!

Owl Order is officially 2 years old. Throughout 2009, I've managed to come up with 89 posts (excluding this one you're reading) with at least 7 every month. Cool eh?

Some of most memorable stuff this year featured in this blog.

Things I Did in 2009

1. 24 February. Got featured in a newspaper article. My 5-minute fame. (Length 2/5)

2. 28 February. Held solo Chinese Calligraphy exhibition (Chinese version). Lost RM800. Gained priceless experiences. (Length 2/5)

3. May, June. Bought a new phone. Shopped online for the first time. Went online by phone for the first time. Boy, the world is changing.

4. June - August. Did summer internship, which I really enjoyed. Most well-spent holidays in my entire life. (Length 3/5)

5. September - . Went out of Asia for the first time. Went to UK for the first time. Took intercontinental flight for the first time. Experienced any season other than summer for the first time. Studied overseas for the first time.

6. September. Tried beer for the first time. December. Tried gin and vodka for the first time. Got drunk for the first time. (Length 0/5)

UV filter
7. October. Used an SLR for the first time. (Length 2/5)

Nonsense Posts

Posts without points. Simple as that.

1. 7 January: Disable toilet (Length 1/5)

2. 17 January: KTM says -- Use Your Brain... Later (Length 2/5)

3. 13 September: Dad Has Got A New Phone (Length 5/5)

4. 2 February: My Disgusting Things (Length 3/5)

5. 4 August: Singapore Policies and Fertility Rate (Length 4/5)

Most Memorable Tweets

The most significant posts on Twitter. All have lengths of 0/5.

1. (13 June) Hell hath no fury like the KTM commuters.

2. (26 August) Pissed people pisses me off. That's so weird.

3. (9 October) My 10-year-old sister was playing a game called "Sexy City" on Facebook. What. The. Hell.

4. (27 October) So I clicked on this website. And a "virus scan" started, telling me I have hundreds of trojans in my Linux computer.

5. (31 October) 'Trick-or-treat!' 'And who are you supposed to be?' 'An illegal immigrant from a poor Asian country.' 'Whoa.'

6. (13 November) Electronic engineers have lousy English. We say things like 'I is big', 'V is high' and 'we is I are'.

7. (18 November) It took me 20 years to notice what a big head I have sitting on my neck!

8. (26 November) Why do British newspapers give that much description on rape cases? I wear tight briefs and it hurts, y'know!!! I'm switching to boxers.

9. (10 December) I thought it was bad when my 10-year-old sister applied for a Facebook account until I received an invitation from my 7-year-old cousin.

10. (12 December) Two shots of vodka, one of gin and two cans (440ml) of beer. In one night, I've taken more alcohol than I've ever did in my entire life.

PS. While most of my favourite Facebook updates are also Tweets, there's one exception. (25 December) Some hot chic meet me beneath the mistletoe. NOW.

Photo Posts

Pictures say a thousand words (each), so just let them do the talking! I've managed to pull off a lot of photo posts this year with even more coming in 2010, so enjoy!

1. 17 June: Goodbye Edusquare (Length 5/5)

2. 27 August: When My XPERIA Camera Surprises Me (Length 3/5)

3. 24 November: Photo Editing -- Behind the Owl's Eyes (Length 4/5)

Business School, South
4. 13 December: Sights of UoN -- Jubilee Campus (Length 4/5)

Seeing Double
5. 23 December: Sights of UoN -- Lakes and Waterbirds (Length 4/5)

Well, I think that's enough to celebrate the coming new year.

Once again, wishing everybody the best of everything in 2010. See you next decade!

Note: click here for 2008's best posts.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas in UK

If you've been wondering how Christmas in UK is like, you've come to the right place. I went to this awesome place today. It's so lovely, it's so warm, it's so homey, there's just no better place to go this Christmas.

Where is it?

My room.

I hope your Christmas is more meaningful than mine.

Merry Christmas!

Metal Snowmen
Click for high-resolution photo.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Sights of UoN -- Lakes and Waterbirds

Note: High resolution images of some of the following photos are available. These photos are marked with [HiRes] tags in their captions. Click on the photos to view their higher resolution images.

The University of Nottingham is famous for its lakes in at least four of its campuses around the world.

Trent Building and the Lake
[HiRes] University Park Lake. Recycled photo from A Jog Around the Lake.

And I am truly honoured to have visited three of them.

[HiRes] Malaysia Campus Lake. Recycled photo from Sights of UNMC. Boy, that was quite a long time ago!

All of them have doubtlessly breathtaking sights. So good it's worth registering with the university just to visit the lake everyday. And I'm not kidding.

Jubilee Lake
[HiRes] Jubilee Campus Lake. Recycled photo from Jubilee Campus.

One thing that has been synonymous with the Nottingham University Lakes are ducks.

But then again ducks are synonymous with most lakes.

The lone duck
[HiRes] Duck in the lake. Duck, lake, lake, duck. I nearly typed "luck in the dake" just now.

I prepared some of my better shots of the university lakes and ducks today. I've talked pretty much about them in so many of my previous posts, so I'll leave the talking to the photos today. After all, they do say thousands of words.

Keep in mind that the following photos are taken in multiple sessions in different locations, spread across the span of three months. Just like my previous photo post, they have been given as little digital-editing as possible -- 'enhancements' made are rather subtle levels/brightness/contrast tweaking to compensate for under/over-exposure, other than the usual resizing and watermarking.

So, er... Enjoy. Quack!

University students feeding the waterbirds in front of Lakeside Arts Centre. Taken sometime in early autumn.

Ducks at lawn
[HiRes] Just look at the amount of geese they have in University Park. It's no shit that you step on some (shit) every so often. Autumn.

Jubilee Lakescape
[HiRes] Jubilee Lakescape. Early winter.

Rainy autumn day
[HiRes] University Park Lake after a heavy autumn rain.

Wotcha lookin' at?
[HiRes] University Park Duck: "Now, what are you lookin' at?". Autumn.

Stop Staring!!!
[HiRes] "The way that booty movin' I can take no more... Damn, you's a sexy chick..." Hang on, I think they're drakes.

Business School North
[HiRes] Jubilee ducks in front of North Business School. Early winter.

[HiRes] Jubilee Lake comes with a small waterfall. Early winter.

Seeing Double
[HiRes] Seeing double.

Sunset silhouette
[HiRes] Oh yes, there are swans in Jubilee Campus.

Pondering by the lake
[HiRes] Swan in deep thought. "Why do I honk instead of quack?"

Swirly Mirror
[HiRes] Delicate drips...

Click here to see more University of Nottingham posts.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

My Definition of Growing Up

High school is an all-important part of my life. But one thing I didn't like about high school is that so many students back there think they're so matured and grown-up, they can do whatever they want.

But I so disagree.

Growing up isn't about realising that Santa Claus and Tooth Fairies don't exist. So instead of turning in early during Christmas Eve, you hid behind the door to catch your parents putting presents under the Christmas Tree. How grown up is that?

Growing up isn't about thinking Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are childish and stupid. Yeah, you prefer watching Transformers the movie instead of the animation. You collect figures of Megan Fox instead of Optimus Prime Trucks and Bumble Bee Cameros. Great. But so do 12-year-olds.

No, not eating candies isn't proof that you're a grown up. Neither is giving up your favourite childhood toys like Lego. Nor finding yourself embarrassed singing nursery rhymes.

No. If you ever think those are reflections of growing up, you are so wrong. And so not grown up.

Growing up is about sharing. Understanding that the world has done much to us, and it's high time we give something back. Less of "I want"s but more of "do you want"s. Even more of recycle and energy conservation, as tokens of appreciation to Earth, the mother of all.

Growing up is about taking responsibilities. Knowing what you should do to play your part in the society. Doing what is best for everyone. Keeping everyone's best interests at heart.

Growing up is about discipline. No giving in to stupid temptations. No two more minutes in bed and let the child be late at school. No 'I can always do it tomorrow', because we know our time is precious. No such thing as 'rules are meant to be bent and laws broken' because we know that they exist to keep the world in one piece.

Growing up is about appreciation. Appreciating what we have. Be thankful for what we get. Why else do parents keep asking us to lick our plates squeaky clean? And you think cartoons and animations don't appeal to adults? Think again -- even Dan Brown thought it appropriate to mention few of Disney's cartoons like Snow White and Little Mermaid in his Da Vinci Code.

Growing up is about respect. Learning to listen to everyone. The old. The young. The smarter. And the dumber. Because all their opinions count. Grown-ups don't fight with their parents -- only teenagers do. Grown-ups don't betray their friends nor bully their siblings -- that's child-play or baby-act.

So if you think you're all grown up, think again. Like it or not, maybe you aren't that mentally grown up, after all.

PS. I wrote this to justify that me loving Lego and 'My Bonnie' and cartoons and candies and Goofy do NOT make me any less grown-up than I am.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Sights of UoN: Jubilee Campus

Note: High resolution images of some of the following photos are available. These photos are marked with [HiRes] tags in their captions. Click on the photos to view their higher resolution images.

Last time, we've seen some rather noisy and heavily edited photos of the night views at Jubilee Campus, one of the few UK campuses of University of Nottingham.

Recycled photo, taken from the (ROT13) FYE post.

Today, we're visiting the Jubilee Campus again -- in broad daylight. With sufficient light, the scenes do not put too much strain on the cameras and they get to perform at their best, eliminating the need to digitally enhance (enhance, yeah right) the pictures. Most of the pictures here are produced as honestly as possible, with little more than resizing and watermarking done in the photo editor.

The future is here
[HiRes] Except this photo, and a couple more. See Behind the Owl's Eyes for more information. This banner can be found throughout Jubilee and University Park Campuses.

Perhaps the most eye-catching structure in Jubilee Campus is the Aspire. At night, it is illuminated with yellow lights, its glowing steel skeleton standing out from the dark skies.

During the day, it is equally intimidating, its tip reaching for the heavens.

The straight and the diagonals
[HiRes] The Aspire and the 'Lego Buildings' silhouetted.

Day or night, it always strikes me as a large Olympic Torch. Perhaps they'll decorate it further for the London 2012 games?

Coming down the rank, we'll find the Sails. That's in need of a more official name -- I have no idea what they're actually called. The Sails are some weird devices on top of certain buildings in the Jubilee Campus. Their direction can be altered by gusts of stronger winds.

Who's Taller?
[HiRes] The Aspire and the Sail.

I think there are about 8 sails in total. I never actually counted them.

The Sails
[HiRes] 4 Sails in line, flanking the Atrium (the glass section in the middle). A photo produced by a very dusty SLR camera -- there's a little curved line (fabric?) to the left of the second Sail from the right.

The Exchange
[HiRes] The Exchange Building and its Sail.

Most people will also show interest towards the library. As mentioned before, the library floor is a single spiral going upwards, and it looks like a cone-screw half pushed into the lake.

Spiral Reflected
[HiRes] The cone-screw reflected on the lake surface.

[HiRes] Close-up. That's really some modern architecture.

That, and its extravagant name.

Jubilee Library
[HiRes] Entrance to the Jubilee Library, yelling its 'proper' name -- The Sir Harry and Lady Djanogly Learning Resource Centre.

Among the other less well-known buildings, my favourite are the two 'Lego Buildings'.

The Reds
[HiRes] The 'Lego Buildings', sunset.

One is the International Office (the taller one), while the other is officially named the Amneties Building.

Located right next to the Aspire, they form a small cluster of bright red structures near the middle of the campus.

Jubilee Lake
[HiRes] The Reds reflected on the lake.

I have no idea why I like them so much. Maybe because the Chinese traditionally like red. Or maybe because of my interest in Lego. Maybe they look a little like the Malaysian layer cake cut into triangular pieces. Or perhaps their very bricky appearance gave me an impression that they can be dismantled and rebuilt quickly to a very different appearance. I don't know.

Block of Plastic
[HiRes] The sharp-prism-shaped International Office. Maybe it'd make a penta-prism for a huge SLR if it were made purely of glass?

One thing's for sure. These two buildings are pure geometrical fun. They look so different from different angles. I just can't get enough of their photos.

[HiRes] Wide-angle lens exaggerated the architecture of the building.

I initially thought they were identical twins, like the Petronas Twin Towers and Singapore Esplanade, to name a few, but they turned out cooler when I realised they weren't.

Maybe they were, but the builders dismantled them into huge Lego pieces and quickly reconstructed them overnight.

Opposing Geometry
[HiRes] Closer look of the 'Lego Buildings', showing their obvious difference in shape.

Simply astounding.

But wait, there's still more.

The silver building is the Sir Colin Campbell Building. I call it the Dumbbell. No pun intended -- I gave it its nickname far before I knew its proper label.

Colin Campbell Building
[HiRes] Sir Colin Campbell Building, AKA the Dumbbell.

There's this newly built Nottingham Geospatial Building.

Nottingham Geospatial Building
[HiRes] The Nottingham Geospatial Building, just opened a few weeks back, I think.

Nottingham University Business School (NUBS) South Building. Yes, I know I've given nicknames to the Legos, Dumbbell and the Sails, but NUBS is officially named NUBS.

Business School, South
[HiRes] NUBS South.

Even the Halls of Residence are cool.

Melton Hall
[HiRes] Melton Hall, built curved, facing the Jubilee Lake.

Jubilee Campus isn't all about the architecture too. When we let nature take its course, some beauties will be revealed eventually.

Sunset at Jubilee
[HiRes] Sunset at Jubilee Campus.

By the lake
[HiRes] Jubilee Campus's lake. More photos of lakes and ducks to come.

University of Nottingham Jubilee Campus. One hell of a campus.

Click here to see more University of Nottingham posts.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


Note: High resolution images of some of the following photos are available. These photos are marked with [HiRes] tags in their captions. Click on the photos to view their higher resolution images.

Few weeks ago, I created a blogpost with a seemingly meaningless title, '(ROT13) FYE'. If you were to take time to Google or Wiki ROT13, however, the title becomes crystal clear. If it doesn't, you may have to visit Google or Wikipedia for a second round.

I recently picked up photography, and every single photographer out that dreams of a single, ultimate tool -- the Single Lens Reflex camera, or SLR.

[HiRes] Nikon and Canon are the two leading manufacturers of Digital SLRs. I recently paid a deposit of £80 to loan a Nikon D70s for 10 days.

What are SLRs? Well, to put it in laymen's terms, SLR is a big, ugly, heavy, bulky yet expensive camera. If we have sleek and shiny cameras so much smaller and lighter, why do we still need SLRs?

After loaning an SLR for 10 days (paid £80 deposit) from the university Photosoc, I can tell you, there are many, many reasons SLRs still survive in the market today.

My Nikon Coolpix 3200 and the loaned Nikon D70s. Both are very old cameras released in 2004 and 2005 respectively. It doesn't take a genius to notice the rather poor image quality of this photo as I obviously couldn't use the SLR or Coolpix for this shot.

1. Interchangeable lenses and filters

Needless to say, most SLRs come with interchangeable lens. You can easily equip a general zoom lens for a camping trip. Or pick up a high-quality prime lens (non-zoom lens) for photos with ultra high detail levels. Shooting at night? No fear, grab a fast lens with big aperture. Whether you're shooting something small like an insect or something far like the moon, there are always suitable lenses you can use. Why isn't a single zoom lens enough? The zoom lens is too complicated -- there are too many elements within. The more times you refract light, the lower quality your picture becomes, to put it simply.

Furthermore, you can fit different filters to your lenses for improvement in photo quality or simply to create special effects.

UV filter
[HiRes] The UV filter that came loaned with the Nikon D70s

2. Low noise, high sensitivity

Traditionally, cameras use films, typically the size of 36mm by 24mm. When photography gets digitised, films were replaced with digital sensors. Some digital cameras (full-frame cameras) use sensors measuring 36mm wide, but producing such big sensors are expensive (it's common to see full-frame cameras costing more than US$5k), so for compact cameras, small sensors are used (about 5mm width). Using small sensors has another advantage -- lenses can be made smaller too, further minimising the weight and size of compact cameras. However, smaller sensors come with severe disadvantages, including noise, while bigger sensors have much lower noise. This is because the amount of light absorbed is roughly proportional to size of sensor, while noise is relatively unrelated to sensor size.

Left -- 100% crop of an ISO200 photo by my Nikon Coolpix 3200. Right -- 100% crop of an ISO1250 photo by the loaned Nikon D70s. The SLR produces noticeably less noise for more than 6 times the light sensitivity.

Because of the same reason, SLRs have higher light sensitivity (read -- higher ISO), allowing photographs at dimmer conditions.

3. Depth of field (DoF)

Have you ever wondered how professional photographers blur out the background? One can blur out the background by turning on "macro" mode of compacts, but what about bigger objects, such as a person? Macro mode doesn't work further than, say, 20cm away.

Nikon Coolpix 3200
[HiRes] Taken from (ROT13) FYE post. Nikon Coolpix 3200, my good ol' compact.

SLRs can easily blur out backgrounds (or create bokeh effects) because of their bigger sensors -- their optical infinity is very much larger than a compacts', and blurring can be manipulated easily before infinity is reached. Superzoom cameras can manage a little of this by zooming in, but SLRs are still leagues ahead.

D70s has a DoF preview button beside the lens mount.

4. Dynamic range (DR)

Have you ever taken a picture only to find that the bright parts are too bright and the dark parts too dark? That's because your camera has poor dynamic range, while human eyes have superb DR. SLRs are still no match for human vision, but they're much better than compacts, thanks again to their bigger sensors.

View from Coates Road Auditorium, University Park Campus, University of Nottingham captured using my Sony Ericsson X1. This picture exhibits rather poor dynamic range and a large amount of flare due to poor sensor and lens quality.

From Coates Auditorium
[HiRes] Better dynamic range with much less flaring.

DR of SLR still poor? Hook it up to a tripod, capture a sequence of photos using exposure bracketing, and apply Hi-DR processing on your computer.

5. Speed

How fast does your camera start up? How long does it take for your camera to focus? And to save your captured photo?

SLRs are superbly fast. Startup is fast because the lens is not collapsible, saving the need to expand the lens. Startups usually clock beneath half a second (typically ~0.1s). SLRs use a special focusing algorithm so efficient (phase-detection) auto-focus is done before you can say 'click', literally. Saving photos take such little time it's hard to believe your photos are even saved at all.

6. Battery life

As a compact user, I'm always haunted by the dilemma of whether to keep my compact turned on in case of a photography opportunity or to turn it off to conserve power. Compacts use a lot of power when they're on because they need to provide live-view feedback to the LCD screen. Hence the LCD, sensor, focusing motor, processor and exposure/WB sensor (if any) are all turned on, drawing current from the pathetically small battery.

The days I spend with the SLR, however, I needn't worry about that. Since SLRs don't need the LCD if live view is not used, the sensor is not used until the shot is actually captured. Focusing motor, sensors, mirrors etc all are inactive until the shutter button is semi-depressed. Basically almost everything is turned off before the shutter button is pressed? This explains the SLR's power economy. Added with the bigger battery, SLRs typically last for hundreds of shots (normally >500) in one charge.

The Nikon D70s I loaned lasted for more than 1k photos before screaming for juice.

7. Optical viewfinder (OVF)

The optical viewfinder is the little camera hole you look through when you're taking a picture, before LCD live view became popular. Optical viewfinder is within the definition of SLRs -- both the sensor and the OVF share the same main lenses. OVF is useful because
a) it does not require power to operate and can be used without turning on the camera
b) vision is direct from main lenses, requiring no processing, saving power
c) it does not fade out when operating under bright sunlight
d) it isn't affected by lag or poor refresh rates

8. Flash

Compact Xenon flashes are pathetic, with reaches of, say, 3m? SLR flashes have much further reaches (ie. much brighter), and being positioned higher from the lens, chances of getting red-eyes are reduced.

Built-in flash popped up.

If, by any chance you would need an even more powerful burst of light positioned even further away from the lens, you can always fit an additional flash gun on your SLR. While front-facing flashes create harsh shadows behind objects, flash guns can be adjusted to fire to the ceiling, lighting the scene from the top, removing the shadows.

I'm not a fan of flash, though.

9. Flexibility

Everything can be tuned. This is in line with traditional pre-digital-age SLRs, allowing the photographer to have everything within his hands.

So you semi-depressed your shutter button to auto-focus, but it locks its focus on the wrong object. Or maybe it flashes a red light and tells you auto-focus failed because it's too dark. While situations like these rarely happen on SLRs, you can always switch to manual focus and problem's solved.

Light-painting can be achieved by using extremely slow shutter speeds. Possible to be created using a decent prosumer/superzoom, though much harder.

SLRs have shallow DoF (shallow focusing). Want deep focusing, like compacts? Just turn the aperture down.

SLRs have lower noise level. Want more noise, like compacts? Don't know why you'd want that, but just turn ISO (light sensitivity) up.

10. Out-of-camera processing

AKA presence of RAW format. Recording in RAW instead of regular JPEG allows processing to be done on the computer instead of in-camera. Parameters like white balance and noise reduction can be tweaked easily this way. Pictures captured using RAW also tend to have higher details than JPEG ones.

There you go. 10 reasons for SLRs after 10 days with one, and I'm not even that experienced a photographer. Sure it's bigger and heavier, but it's a small price to pay for the big jump in image quality. As for price, let's just say the first SLR I was interested in merely cost RM1.7k with a kit lens, the price of a superzoom, perhaps even cheaper -- entry level SLRs offer most (if not all) of the reasons mentioned above.

I miss the D70s already.