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Saturday, 27 February 2010

Sights of London: Remembrance Day at Westminster Abbey

Note 1: 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.

Note 2: Various facts obtained from Wikipedia. All external text-links lead to the related Wikipedia articles.

The Remembrance Day is "a day to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War".

11th November, 2009. 11am. I was in the school library. It was quite noisy, for a library it is. The tapping of buttons on keyboards. Shuffling of busy footsteps. Thumping of shutting doors. Beeping of entrance barrier.

Until an announcement was made -- two minutes of silence was to be observed.

And all of a sudden, time came to a halt. I stopped in my tracks, along with dozen others. The poorly hushed whispers were gone. I could hear my heart thumping loudly. It was bizarre. Everybody was staring at their feet silently -- everybody was serious, not a single smile to be seen. The same solemn expression was mirrored across every face. Even the occasional ring of phones were missing -- the two-minute silence is observed in unison throughout UK.

For the first time, I could hear the computer's fans whirring away from the computer room.

Two Chinese girls came out of the bathroom, saw the situation and exchanged looks, wondering what happened. Boy, was I glad I wasn't one of them.

And then...

"Thank you."

And just like that, time resumed.

Mere seconds later, the library returned to its noisy state. The fans were inaudible again. It was as if nothing happened.

While Remembrance Day is strictly a one-day event, activities leading up to it (or around it) can last for weeks. Collections of donation, for example, and sales of paper poppies (the flower frequently associated with Remembrance Day) were seen since early October. Advertisements were even put up to raise awareness of the event.

That following weekend happened to be the weekend I went to London. I was greeted with thousands of small wooden memorials at the front yard of Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey
[HiRes] Façade of Westminster Abbey.

Those memorials represented donations from members of the public, I think (I may be wrong). Any one could "buy" a small cross, sign their name on it, and the cross would be put up prior to Remembrance Day. One could then look up on a list of crosses put up on notice boards and try to locate their cross.

Poppies 1
The many wooden memorials at Westminster Abbey. Visitors who have donated will usually try to "reunite" with their memorial for a short photo-shooting session and perhaps a small prayer.

Interestingly, some of the crosses were blank. I guess they put up memorials that weren't sold out by Remembrance Day as well.

Poppies 5
[HiRes] Close up of the crosses. The words "In Remembrance" were printed, but note the different handwriting on different memorials.

Some organisations went great lengths to decorate their memorials.

Poppies 2
[HiRes] Poppies on a memorial cross.

While the Malaysian Army is rarely involved in deadly wars these few decades, things are different in UK. I have lost track of the number of British soldiers who have died in the Afghan War since I arrived.

Poppies 4

This is not taken lightly in the UK. The death of every single soldier is published in newspapers nationwide and announced repeatedly on radio stations. However boring they may be, I can't help but be disturbed by how we human resort to violence to solve problems.

Mourning for Heroes
[HiRes] Mourner.

Especially when the soldiers who died were all around my age. They bravely sacrificed their lives (literally) for their country while I screamed at the sight of a cockroach.

Poppies 3


Monday, 22 February 2010

Ambigrams! 3

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.

Didn't expect to see another ambigram from me after my last one? Well not me, but I surely didn't see one coming so soon.

My last ambigram described in that post is this.

Angels - Final
[HiRes] The last ambigram, featured in Ambigrams! 2 post.

I was so pleased with this ambigram that I edited it further.

Angels V2.0
[HiRes] Version 2. Notice the redid halo.

Even after reaching V2, I was still interested in pushing GIMP a little further. This is the result.

Angels V2.1
[HiRes] Version 2.1, my current Linux wallpaper. It's called "desktop background" instead of wallpaper in GNOME, actually.

And I was finally satisfied.

But less than a week after that, I designed yet another ambigram. I volunteered to design an emblem (or banner) for my team in a game called Utopia, and one day, when I was bored in class (again), I started doodling our team name.

Miracles Illusions First Draft
[HiRes] The first draft. Note how I tried to match the different letters of the two words on the top left corner, and the designs I considered for the final letter (e upright, s reflected).

I originally designed it curved, but immediately realised the challenge in mirroring a curved surface using a computer (I normally snap a photo of my designs to digitise them). I then redrew the design, this time straight. I could simply reflect the ambigram before curving it digitally, if at all.

Miracle Illusions Draft V2
[HiRes] The many drafts after the first.

As mentioned, I normally take a photo of the drafts and do fine editing with GIMP. But the whole process took too long that night and I got fed up. The result wasn't too satisfying too. This obviously isn't the professional way of doing it -- painting with brush and paper is simply easier than pixel-by-pixel editing. I knew I had to try something else.

So I stripped the entire design down to consist only of horizontal and vertical lines, curves (all of a single common radius), and one single diagonal, shown at the bottom right of the picture above. I then digitally drew a long horizontal line, a vertical line, and a single curve, which were easy. Then, referring to my draft, I copied the lines and curve, pasted them, and arranged them into a digital version of the ambigram. For the diagonal, I simply copied a horizontal and rotated it.

Not long after that, this came out.

Miracle Illusions V1
[HiRes] Version 1.

I wasn't really happy with it that night. I thought the words were illegible, the design too digital and the lines too solid. But until I obtain the required skills and tools to produce more professional-looking ambigrams, this may be the best I could do. I posted it to Flickr and informed my team mates about it and went to bed.

The next day, I received feedback from my team mates -- while they weren't exactly crazy about it, they accepted it more readily than I did. After taking another look at V1, I changed my view on the design. It wasn't so bad after all -- all of the letters were quite convincingly transformed, even the harder ones (except perhaps the first L of the second word), and both words can be read quite effortlessly. The reflection was simple, but iPhone-ish classy. They were reasonably long words, and I didn't have a say on them (someone else decided on them) which made the achievement even greater.

I then gave it a makeover, coming up with several different images with slight tweaks.

Miracle Illusions V1.01
[HiRes] Version 1.01. By skewing the reflection, I turned it into shadow instead.

Miracle Illusions v1.02
[HiRes] Version 1.02. Gave it a white second layer because I thought the text of V1.01 was a little hard to read.

Miracle Illusions v1.03
[HiRes] Version 1.03. Toggled the colours of the front and back layers for more contrast.

And finally, I can rest my pen (or mouse, more like), for V1.02 and V1.03 look real good for my standards. So good that if it were designed by someone else my age, I would have seen him as a genius.

Miracle Illusions V1.02 in Utopia
Version 1.02 in the Utopia game.

OK, I don't see myself publishing new ambigrams again, at least for the next couple of months.

Or so I think for now.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Sights of London: Big Ben and National Gallery

Note 1: 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.

Note 2: Various facts obtained from Wikipedia. All external text-links lead to the related Wikipedia articles.

One of the must-sees of London is the Big Ben. It is just a short walk away from the Buckingham Palace, whose photos I put up not long ago.

Big Ben
[HiRes] The "Big Ben". The non-Tower portion of the Houses of Parliament seen here was under maintenance.

It is actually not 100% accurate to call the Clock Tower Big Ben. Big Ben is the name of the bell which chimes every quarter of an hour at the Palace of Westminster. Similarly, the clock in Nottingham's Council House is called "Little John", an obvious reference to Nottingham's connection to the tales of Robin Hood.

Big Ben
[HiRes] Who's taller?

Anyway, the Clock Tower is actually part of the Palace of Westminster. The Clock Tower itself, being so famous, has been mistakenly referred to as Big Ben for so long now, the name for the bell has been extended to mean the Clock Tower.

Big Ben
[HiRes] The Big Ben isn't too far away from the London Eye.

The Palace of Westminster (more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament) itself is simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, I have returned from London without any satisfying images of the Palace. Maintenance works were under way when I visited, which made things worse. Check out images available at Wikipedia here.

Close Up
[HiRes] Details of the face of the Clock.

[HiRes] Opposite the Big Ben.

Just across the River Thames is the London Eye. I never knew that so many high-profile London landmarks are within sight of one another.

London Eye
[HiRes] Thames from the Westminster Bridge.

Also close by is the Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey
[HiRes] A turret of the Westminster Abbey.

It is easily one of the most famous churches in the world today and was featured in the Dan Brown novel Da Vinci Code. Da Vinci Code film makers were unable to shoot at Westminster Abbey though, and Westminster scenes were shot in Lincoln Cathedral instead. More photos of both Westminster Abbey and Lincoln Cathedral to come in the future.

Then there's Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery overseeing it.

National Gallery
[HiRes] The National Gallery, seen from Trafalgar Square.

National Gallery
[HiRes] The National Gallery.

The National Gallery is an art gallery, housing a good number of paintings and some sculptures.

National Gallery Facade
[HiRes] Façade of National Gallery.

[HiRes] Pillars.

I spent a good hour in the gallery but didn't catch any photos, as photography is generally prohibited in art museums.

The Cavalry Museum was also nearby.

[HiRes] Shot at some place not far from the Cavalry Museum, I think.

Cavalry Museum
[HiRes] Panorama, the Cavalry Museum on the right.

Coincidentally, I came across a policewoman on a horse that very same day.

Proud to be a Policewoman
[HiRes] "I'm riding on a horse. All you have is your stupid SLR camera."

Sunday, 14 February 2010

We've Come So Far

The Chinese is one of the oldest surviving civilisation today.

With thousands of years of history, we naturally have stories to tell. Stories of love. Stories of treachery. Stories of an ape going to Europe.

We've also been through more than most. Decades of suffering. Centuries of war. We've endured hundreds of years of racism. Some of our ancestors were treated so badly that mass immigration was initiated. At points in history, we were even mistreated by our own leaders. Lives were lost in the millions.

But we the rice-eaters also made great achievements despite the chaos of the past. We're credited with some of the most innovative inventions, such as the compass.

And more recently, our hacking skills. Even Google was stunned.

We've evolved from writing on tortoise shells to bamboo rolls to scrolls to rice paper. Every single one of the thousands of Chinese characters has a history to tell.

Our language stands in the centre stage of the world, along with English and Spanish. So strong is the Chinese language that Chinese words are often used as tattoos for non-speakers. This is a great achievement -- I personally wouldn't risk some stranger tattooing the words "I'm an idiot" on my biceps in some strange language I don't understand.

We've come so far. Yet we're still going on strong.

I know I have nothing to do with the history of Chinese, but I'm proud of my heritage nevertheless. After all, I may have a part of the story in the future.

Happy Chinese New Year everyone.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Sights of London: Buckingham Palace

Note 1: 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.

Note 2: Various facts obtained from Wikipedia. All external text-links lead to the related Wikipedia articles.

November, 2009. I went to London for a short trip. I had my borrowed Nikon D70s with me and was very looking forward to that day. It was a great opportunity to take the SLR for a spin before turning it back in.

Diana Memorial Walk Plaque
[HiRes] Princess Diana Memorial Walk, not far away from Buckingham Palace.

The short visit to London was very eventful. So eventful that I was too emotionally occupied for photography. Luckily, thanks to the great sights of London and the surprisingly cooperative weather, I still managed to pull off some satisfying shots despite not being able to put my entire heart into it.

The first place my friend and I visited was the Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace
[HiRes] Façade of Buckingham Palace.

It was conveniently located just some 20 minutes' walk away from Victoria Coach Station, central London, where I disembarked from the tiring midnight bus.

Gate, Buckingham Palace
[HiRes] Main gate of the Buckingham Palace.

And I thought Buckingham Palace was in Buckingham.

Most people recommend visitors to catch the Changing of Guard, but we were too early for it (we arrived at 6am in the morning and the Changing takes place at about 11am).

Photo caught from a site unknown to me some 10 minutes walk away from the Palace. I assumed they were the Queen's Guard in training.

Bayonets pointing to tall headgears
[HiRes] Caught in the same site.

Nevertheless, there was still a great deal to look around the Palace. There are all sorts of pillars with ornaments and statues all within sight of one another.

Carvings on pillars
[HiRes] Ornament on a pillar just outside the Palace.

[HiRes] This looks quite classical. Must be hundreds of years old.

I spent quite some time wandering around, clicking away, and to be honest I'm not entirely satisfied with my collection of photos yet.

Queen Victoria
[HiRes] Queen Victoria.

Ebony and Ivory
[HiRes] Ebony and Ivory.

Not that the photos turn out bad, but I think I missed a lot of good opportunities.

Reaching for the sky
[HiRes] Reach for the sky...

Caught this though.

Malay States Wreath
[HiRes] A carving of a wreath, saying "Malay-States".

Perhaps I should visit the place again some time. More photos of London coming up.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


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.

A panorama (formed from Greek πᾶν "all" + ὅραμα "sight") is any wide-angle view or representation of a physical space, whether in painting, drawing, photography, film/video, or a three-dimensional model.

Or, in laymen's terms, panorama photos are photos with big width-to-height ratio, and are often combined images of two or more shots.

If you've been following my photo posts for the past few months, you may realise that I have a tendency to shoot photos in portrait (or vertical) rather than landscape (horizontal).

However I recently discovered an open-sourced Linux panorama stitcher called Hugin. And I immediately realised that while landscape photos don't appeal much to me, ultra-wide panoramas are simply breathtaking.

I've played around with Hugin a lot for the past few days and I think I've gotten the hang of it. However, I still need more field-practice when it comes to shooting. With any luck, I may post some quality panos here soon.

Here's a little preview -- a cylindrical projection of my 3-in-one-room, the kitchen, dining room and living room.

54, Sillitoe Court
[HiRes] 54, Sillitoe Court. I'm gonna miss this room some time soon. Stitched image of 8 photos. Click on it for the high-res version, it's worth the extra loading time!