In the 50’s, 60’s, cigarettes were sold in boxes somewhat like bigger versions of matchboxes, where the covers slide out of the base boxes. The covers were varied and colourful from the many brands that were available. For simplicity, we will just call them “kotak” (boxes), although in actual fact only the covers were collected.
“Kotak” were avidly collected; there was “555”, “Rough Rider”, “Captain”, “Craven A”, “Player’s”, and many more, all stuffed in a ubiquitous Jacob Cream Crackers (“kiam piah”) bisquit tin.
Each kotak had a value that was generally acceptable and agreed by all the children then. Or maybe only by the neighbourhood children, since our neighbourhood was essentially the whole wide world (“www”) to us then.
For example, “Rough Rider” may be worth only a few points, since it was a cheaper brand, widely available then. Whereas “555” may be worth more points, as a more desirable brand.
The things to note are:
a. Smoking was widespread and common then, with many different brands available, making for a collector’s dream with the numerous varieties of empty cigarette box covers.
b. Jacob Cream Crackers bisquits were standard fare for most families, with the familiar bluish-green patterned rectangular tins used as storage boxes for many things, including the “kotak” for kids.
c. It is amazing to think that way back then, even kids can have a common understanding and agreement on the acceptable value of each brand of cigarette box, without Internet or other mass media communication to reach that consensus.
The “Kotak” game is generally a boys’ game where two or more participants will agree on a starting value of say 10 points. Each player will then produce his share of 10 points’ worth of cigarette box covers. These are then lined up (each standing upright, side-by-side) across a quiet street (there was hardly any busy street then), with one end declared the “Kepala”, or “Head”. To identify the kepala easier, a cigarette box cover is placed on top of the first box cover, like a flat roof over it.
To establish the starting order, all players then had to do the “scissors-paper-stone” thingy. Actually, in our time, it was “stone-water-cup”. The loser had to start first and while standing behind the line-up of “kotak”, he would throw (fling) a flat “striker” to a distance away from the line of kotak. The winner of the “scissors-paper-stone” thingy get to throw last.
Here the things to note are:
a. The “striker” is like your carrom striker today, except that each kid had to make his own, usually fashioned out of a discarded terrazzo tile, into a round disc. There is no rule for the size, but you would want to have a balance of size and weight, as the reason will be obvious shortly.
b. Whoever flung his striker the furthest away from the lineup of “kotak” would have the first chance to throw at the “kotak”. So now you can understand why you wouldn’t want your “striker” to be so massive that you cannot throw it far enough from the lineup, such that you may end up being the last kid to get a chance at hitting the “kotak”.
When all the players had thrown (flung, like a pebble skipping the water surface) their strikers, the player whose striker is the furthest got the first chance at the “kotak”. This time, the aim is to strike the “kotak”. Assume the “kepala” is to the left of the player facing the lineup. If the player struck the “kepala”, he got to keep all the “kotak” in the lineup; the grand winner, so to speak. If he did not strike the kepala, but say the fifth box from the kepala, he got to keep all the kotak to the right of the that fifth box. So the game can get very intense as each player took his crack at the lineup. Usually, if you are the last player, there would be nothing left for you.
What a simple and interesting game! Look at the lessons to be learnt:
1. How much “wealth” you start with (number of kotak) depended on your personal diligence in scouring the neighbourhood and collecting your kotak.
2. You quickly learn that it did not pay to be too greedy or ambitious to make a massive striker such that you could barely fling nor control it easily.
3. You had to learn by trial and error and continually make improvements (grind against the coarse road surface; tough work!) to your striker, to improve your winning chances.
4. While the game was essentially a game of skill, there was the element of luck as in real life. The kid who won the “scissors-paper-stone” thingy had the privilege of flinging his striker last, away from the lineup.
5. There is also the need to strategise and to take risk. For example, there is no need to always fling your striker the furthest, since you may want to take a calculated risk that the furthest two players may miss their mark. So you fling your striker nearer to the lineup and take your 3rd position to throw at the lineup.
6. If you lose everything, you need not despair for as long as you are prepared to work hard to go out and start collecting the “kotak” again.
Wow! How many kids’ games today provide so much for so little?
This gallery is now linked to “How Not To Be Embarrased By Your DSLR“.
I am not a professional photographer ( yes, that’s obvious, isn’t it? ) and these are simply my amateur photos taken to compare a DSLR (my Canon EOS 500D) with a Point-n-Shoot (“PNS”), in this case my iPhone 5.
The EXIF data are shown below each photo. The photos were taken with the DSLR set at Shutter Priority to demonstrate my contention that high “Shutter Speed” is the beginner’s best friend.
I just pushed the shutter speed to at least 1/2xfocal length (1 divided by 2x focal length) to ensure that all my handheld shots will be reasonably sharp. The results are not meant for the professional’s eyes but rather they are to be viewed through the eyes of a beginner and see if they are acceptable “keepers”. At the same time, you should not be embarrassed when comparing your DSLR shots to the PNS (iPhone 5), but I must admit, there are a few where the iPhone shots may even be considered superior! You be the judge.
Here are 91011 tips¹ to save money from my personal experience. But let’s get something clear first, to avoid unnecessary quibbles about spending money. These tips are NOT meant for you to stop spending. It’s about spending less than you need to; it’s getting the biggest bang for your buck. And these are things that I personally do (or will do soon) so these tips are not some rehash of some other articles from the Internet.
OK, let’s start, in no particular order other than whatever comes to my mind first.
Throttle down your aircond. My family is one of those who cannot live without aircond and I’m not here to tell you to fix ventilators to replace your aircond. I just want to point out a fact about coolness and comfort. A common definition of “room temperature” is 27 deg. C. Since coolness and comfort are subject to personal preferences, we can generalise that a comfortable cool environment is between 24 deg. – 26 deg. C.
Aircond is for comfort and not to freeze yourself.
Personally, I think 25 deg. C is cool enough for me without causing undue discomfort. Now quite a number of you will start disputing that (including my son) and claim that you need to set your room aircond much lower than that ( and especially your car aircond ). But why? If you have been to a temperate country (or locally to Genting or Fraser’s or Cameron ), you’ll recall that when the ambient temperature is 24-26 deg, it’s already cool enough; and at night when the temperature drops lower than that, you really have to wear warm clothings. Here’s what I think. If your room (or car) aircond needs to be set at a “lower” thermostat setting before you feel cool, then your aircond needs to be serviced. It is simply taking too long to bring the room temperature down to your required set temperature. The filters may be dirty or the refrigerant needs a refill. The physics is simple. If you feel cool in Genting when the ambient temperature is 24 deg, there’s no reason why you won’t feel the same, if your room aircond has brought the room temperature down to 24 deg. Service your aircond, set your thermostat to 24-26 deg and not any lower. While you are at it, set to Auto so that the blower fan will also be throttled down. Aircond is for comfort and not to freeze yourself.
Upgrade to 3-phase. If you’re like me with more than 3 airconds, you may benefit from changing to 3-phase power supply. When we were on the original single-phase power supply, our monthly electricity bill was hovering around RM450-600. After changing to 3-phase, our monthly bill is now less than RM400. My December bill is only RM242.50.
Shop online where possible. I have stopped going to Low Yat Plaza for my gadgets and gizmos. No more car jams, tolls, parking aggravation.
No more car jams, tolls, parking aggravation.
Recently I bought a cassete player with USB output (for converting my tapes to MP3) and a 50-feet HDMI cable (for my home theatre) from online shops and they cost me less than if I were to buy locally. Delivery by parcel post and no import duty. And no sweat. In fact, you should be able buy almost anything, from books to clothings to the latest electronic gadget online today; usually at a lower cost too.
Try eating slower. If you have been spending too much on food and putting on too much weight in the process, try eating much, much slower. Chew, chew your food. You will find that you need less than what you normally eat. How to beat that? Save money and save your health. It seems to be working for me.
Look for house brands. Do you know that the larger retailers like Tesco, Carrefour (previously), Watson and even Guardian have house branded products that are much cheaper than the equivalent global brands?
House branded products … are much cheaper than the equivalent global brands.
I buy my cat food from Tesco (branded Tesco). My wife found Guardian mouthwash at about 50% cheaper than the equivalent Listxxxxx brand. Oh, incidentally, I’m sure you know that salt water would make just as good a mouthwash, right?
Last minute sales or near-expiry date products are generally much cheaper, if your consumption is immediate or imminent. For example, you know that confectioneries and doughnuts go real cheap just before the store’s closing time each night. And many stores start marking down the prices of goods whose expiry dates are approaching. I’m sure you know this yourself. But you must be agonising over the expiry day and wondering if it’s still fit for consumption right? Educate yourself on shelf life and expiry date (not the same) at Wikipedia, and then read this Time article. Now make your own decision.
Be a vegetarian. If you have been contemplating to be a vegetarian, now’s the time to do it, especially when food prices are skyrocketing. No, I don’t mean eating at the fancy vegetarian restaurants that are just as expensive as regular ones.
If you have been contemplating to be a vegetarian, now’s the time to do it.
I mean, common sense will tell you that an ordinary vegetarian meal will cost less than a meal with fish or meat or fowl. In fact, most vegetables can be grown easily at home too. I plan to do that and will write about that in a future article. But beyond our individual pockets, you might want to re-think your dietary choices if you read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals.
Use energy saving lamps or LED lamps. I was debating with myself whether to include this or not, since it does introduce the problem of safe disposal of the energy saving lamps. I will investigate this further in the local context and report in another article. But for the purpose of saving money, this is now beginning to be achievable. For a long time, it was frustrating to buy a more-expensive “energy-saving” lamp for long-term savings only to find that the lamp’s short life has made any savings a fantasy. It was in fact more costly. But today, the lamps seem to last longer. We use these energy-saving lamps for our perimeter lighting all night long and that doesn’t seem to hurt our electricity bill much. By the way, night-time perimeter lighting is reputed to deter break-ins a lot.
Spend more time at home. Have a hobby (photography?), home theatre, music, books or even the Internet. No reason to go out more than you should. Entertain others and yourself at home
¹ Make your own household cleaner with Garbage Enzyme.
I have almost forgotten about this. Looking at the prices of detergents and cleaning liquids nowadays, it’s time to revisit this great way to be “green” and save money along the way. The method is well-documented in many websites. These clear instructions are from BMS Organics.
11. Use Gas for Heating
If LNG is cheaper in your location than electricity, use gas for heating purposes such as boiling water, instead of electrical kettle. In addition, when using the electric rice cooker, start with hot water to reduce the time required by the electric cooker to cook the rice.
This is a TV series that could easily fall below most viewers’ radar as it is quite unlike a typical Hollywood US blockbuster series. No, this is a Norwegian TV series, written and produced by Norwegians and with a Norwegian cast, except for the main actor and the occasional guest stars and shot on location in Norway. But consider these:
The main actor is Steven Van Zandt of The Sopranos fame.
It is rated 8/10 in IMDb.
The location is a Norwegian village, Lillehammer, featured in the 1994 winter Olympics, and the series title is an anglo-play on the village name. The location, scripts and cast provide a welcome relief from the usual Hollywood fare, nicely contrasting the peaceful, gentle lifestyle of the locals with the wild gangster of New York.
Lilyhammer is a Norwegian television series, starring Steven Van Zandt, about a fictional New York gangster, Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano, trying to start a new life in isolated Lillehammer in Norway. Wikipedia
After testifying against his former Mafia associates, the New York mobster, Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano is put under the Witness Protection Program and resettles in the tiny Norwegian village of Lillehammer. His savvy cunniness and ruthlessness soon have him carving out a business empire in his adopted home. The series follow his exploits and the excellent casting and scripts make the series very watchable.
The series started out as a Netflix original series that premiered in USA in February 2012. It has just started its second season run here on Astro. A two-thumbs up must-see.
I set out to accept a rights shares issue for a stock we owned. Since the rights shares acceptance document required a RM10 revenue stamp as well as payment for the lots by Banker’s Draft or Money Order, it seemed logical to get both the revenue stamp and Money Order from the Post Office, rather than get a Banker’s Draft from the bank and then get the revenue stamp from the Post Office.
Skipped 62 positions! Then karma took over.
I arrived at the Post Office just after 10.30am and took my queue number. Good grief! My number was 3185 and they were currently serving only 3025. That’s 160 positions down the queue! Never mind, I was in high spirit and I settled down to wait patiently. However, by 12 noon, the number called was only 3110. Then I noticed that quite a number of people couldn’t wait and had left, so that quite a few numbers were blown. That’s when a light bulb lit up in my head and I started paying attention to the calling pattern. 3116- counter 6! 3116- counter 6! Two times. No taker. Next number. 3117- counter 6! 3117- counter 6! Again, no taker. And so it went on, until someone claimed a position. 3122- counter 6! 3122- counter 6! No-one. 3123- counter 6! I stepped to the counter confidently, and got served! Great! Skipped 62 positions! Then karma took over.
“Intgerity is doing the right thing even when no-one is watching”.
Now, many of us ( and all Politicians ) mouth the word, “Integrity”, but how many of us really know what it means? It was my son, way back when he was in Primary 6, who told his mum and dad that his teacher taught him that “Intgerity is doing the right thing even when no-one is watching”.
Wow! The sheer simplicity of the definition belies the profoundness of that idea.
So it is clear that my personal integrity was lost this morning at the Post Office. And what was my karmic consequence?
“Sorry sir, the server has problem and I cannot process the money order application”.
“Sorry sir, the server has problem and I cannot process the money order application”. Can you beat that? After I was smirking and congratulating myself for jumping 62 positions, and after standing at the counter twiddling my thumbs for 10 minutes, the counter clerk told me she’s getting errors from the server and cannot proceed. Can I come back later in the afternoon, she asked.
OK, no problem, my high-spirit was still largely intact even though it was dampened slightly. Never mind, go and take my lunch and return later. And that’s what I did. Upon reaching home,
I received a SMS from my son which mentioned a potential disaster.
I received a SMS from my son which mentioned a potential disaster. Another setback. Stay cool. After lunch, I prepared to go back to the Post Office. As I opened the car-door, the alarm went off. I slammed shut the car-door and turned off the alarm. Then clicked the remote to unlock the
And no matter how many times I clicked the remote to set/reset the lock/alarm, the red light remained ON.
door, but I noticed the car alarm red indicator lamp was still ON. And no matter how many times I clicked the remote to set/reset the lock/alarm, the red light remained ON. That would mean the alarm is primed and will sound if I open the car door. Gosh! Yet another setback! I finally broke out of my paralysis and yanked open the car door, despite the red alarm indicator lamp. No alarm sounded. What the…..??? Started the car engine and the alarm light went off. Strange indeed!
From 10.30am to 3.30pm, and I still couldn’t get my Money Order.
I arrived back at the Post Office at 3.00pm and looked for the counter clerk because she told me that I need not queue again; just to go straight to her. She was not at her seat. Her colleague said she was on tea-break and will be back at 3.30pm. Ouch! Another long wait. Finally she returned and I promptly went to her, but she said the server was still down. Grrrrrr! From 10.30am to 3.30pm, and I still couldn’t get my Money Order. No choice but to walk some distance away to the nearest CIMB Bank branch to get my Banker’s Draft, instead. That warrants another story, another time. Finally got my Banker’s Draft and went back to the Post Office to post the rights shares application letter at 4.30pm.
So boys and girls, remember the moral of this story and never compromise your integrity. ‘Nuf said?
By the way, when I reached home, I received another SMS from my son to say that the earlier potential disaster was a false alarm. Be grateful for small blessings! Looks like my karmic reaction to the momentary lapse in my integrity has run its course…for now.
There are very few things in Life that are as humiliating and demoralizing as when a guy with an expensive, massive, mean- looking DSLR takes pictures beside his spouse who is snapping away on a tiny point-n-shoot camera and then friends go “wow!” looking at the spouse’s snapshots and saying “uh ah, not bad” at the guy’s should-have-been-awesome photos. What is wrong with this picture!? … pun intended. If that sounds familiar to you and you can relate to it, or better still- if you do NOT wish to be that guy, read on.
First attempt with DSLR in AE mode.
No-one is watching, set the DSLR to full auto.
Spouse’s compact point-n-shoot camera.
Same scene taken with iPhone 5, just for the heck of it.
From the above, it is easy to see that except for the first photo, the rest are actually quite acceptable “keepers”.
What went wrong?
If you attend a photography class with a live instructor to guide and hold your hands, so to speak, this scenerio may not apply to you; lucky you! For the gung-ho, teach-yourselves (almost everybody else), this one’s for you. Remember, this is strictly for the NEW newbie. If you’re already ahead of the class here, just shut-up and post your comment at the end of the article.
1. Forget about everything that you’ve read elsewhere or what other “lessons” you’ve been taught about the creative modes of your DSLR.
The absolute first thing you’ve got to focus on is how to get a really “tack-sharp” image. That’s pro-speak for a super sharp in-focus image.
You can try everything that the books or instructor tell you, but you will lose heart and interest if your photos turn out any less sharp than someone’s simple auto camera.
2. The secret to a beginner’s DSLR camera getting a sharp image is Shutter Speed. Some experts will tell you something like shoot at your len’s sharpest aperture. Right, but what’s that and why? Think about it: the reason your picture is blurry is usually because of shaky, unsteady hands. The second most likely reason is because the subject is not perfectly still ( the kid/pet is simply behaving as a kid/pet or the breeze simply will not pause for you or life is just being unkind to you ) . So you see, as long as you have a sufficiently fast shutter speed, much faster than your hands can shake, much faster than the kid/pet can move, much faster than the flower can flutter in the breeze, you’re already 95% home. OK, I made that up. I don’t know the percentage but I certainly know that you are more likely to get a decently sharp image than not.
3. Yes, there are probably myriad other reasons why a picture is not sharp, but I dare say the above 2 reasons account for 98% of all new-newbies’ bane. Yes, I made up that percentage, too, just so you can get the picture, get it? And don’t tell me the problem is “out-of-focus” because I’m assuming you’re humble enough to engage your camera’s auto-focus. You just have to check that the auto-focus is indeed focussing on your subject of interest. My Tamron wide-range (18-270mm) lens is notorious for its misbehaving auto-focus at critical times. Yet, I can’t bear to part with it. Sigh! But that is another story.
4. And, oh, the book/expert tells you to use a tripod to eliminate that shake and vibration. But I’m addressing the 99% of new-newbies who have just unwrapped/unboxed his brand new super duper DSLR and who can’t wait to create the highly anticipated brilliant photos he sees from his books/magazines. Who uses a tripod in the first 100 days of trying out his DSLR for the first time? C’mon!
5. Here are the guidelines for Shutter Speed priority or Time Value (Tv) on the dial of a Canon DSLR.
A good rule-of-thumb is that the minimum shutter speed, secs., = 1/focal length (mm) of the lens used. For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, then the minimum shutter speed is 1/50 sec. In practice, a newnewbie is well-advised to use 1/125 sec for a hand-held shot. And as your focal length gets longer, the vibration risk gets higher with the increased magnification. So while the guideline prescribes min. 1/200 sec for a 200mm lens, say, push the shutter speed as high as your aperture will adjust to maintain correct exposure. If you find that you need a higher speed than your aperture will allow, you may need to adjust for a higher ISO setting to get that speed.
Save in RAW, if possible, so that your less-than-perfectly exposed picture has a chance to be saved. On the other hand, if you used too slow a speed and your picture is blurry due to shakes, it’s game over.
In Tv mode for Canon (S-mode for Nikon), set the shutter speed faster than the rule-of-thumb prescription and check the exposure to see if the aperture can handle the selected speed for a given ISO. If not, then dial downwards the speed until the aperture value stops flashing. If that is not possible without going below the rule-of-thumb value, stop! Increase the ISO and try again to get the fastest possible speed.
Remember, we are talking about a new newbie just wanting a tack-sharp photo and it’s not about stop-motion, panning, special effect or whatever. Just a tack-sharp photo that you won’t be embarrased to show off, side-by-side with your spouse’s P-N-S photo. So just start with the fastest possible shutter speed. Aperture Priority (Av) and everything else can wait.
If you still get rubbish blurry shots, then maybe take a step back and dial in “Full Auto” on your DSLR. Look, no-one needs to know. It’s your own private classroom, after all. After each shot ( quite nice shot, isn’t it?), check the photo information to see all the data and learn. Use your DSLR in Full Auto as your private tutor. You can’t fail.
And I just have to add this parting shot: take as many shots as you possibly can. Memory storage is cheap now, not like expensive films in the past. You could even set your camera to take continuous shots. I read somewhere that even the Pros do it. It’s not a matter of “kia-su”. It gives you the increased odds of getting a keeper. The rest you can just delete before you show off your terrific photo to everyone, right?
There you have it. Your first 100-days of embarrassment-free, confidence-boosting DSLR photography adventure begin.
You ought to be able to do better (with your fancy DSLR) than this shot taken with my iPhone 5, while a steady breeze is gently rocking the flower.
Footnote: On the issue of gender. This article refers to a male DSLR-hotshot-wannabe simply because I’m male and I’m writing largely of my personal experience. No disrespect is meant to any female reader.
You hate the incessant tape hiss of your old cassette tapes, right? Well, good news! Audacity has a noise removal feature that will minimise your tape hiss to an insignificant level when you convert your tape recordings to MP3. Here’s how to do it:
1. Follow the setup procedure described below, in the earlier tutorial.
2. This time, after saving your recording as an Audacity Project file ( .aup ), scroll through the length of your recorded waveform to locate a silent passage (ie. between songs) which is essentially the background tape hiss. Highlight/select this portion of the waveform.
3. On the Audacity top menu, select “Effect” -> “Noise Removal” -> click on “Get Noise Profile”. That’s the portion of tape hiss which you highlighted in Step 2.
4. Next, on the Audacity top menu, select “Edit” -> “Select” -> “All”. This will highlight/select the whole recording.
5. Finally, on the Audacity top menu, select “Effect” -> “Noise Removal” -> “Step 2 ……… stay with the default settings, Noise : remove” -> click “OK”.
6. Audacity will now do its magic; it will scan the whole recording and remove whatever “noise” that’s comparable to the “noise profile” . Depending on how long is your recording, it may take a few minutes to complete this process.
7. Now you can export the .aup file to MP3, minus the irritating tape hiss. That’s it. Enjoy!
If you are a music lover and if you are now a forty-something or more, chances are that you will have a treasure trove of precious cassettes ( and maybe vinyl records or -gasp!- even 8-track audio cartridges) that you want to archive in your hard disks or thumb-drives. Well, here’s a neat way to do just that.
Things you need:
1. A cassette player with line out (or at least headphone output); preferably a stereo-player with USB output for easy connection to a PC.
Most cassette players should be adequate. I bought a no-frills stereo-player with USB output for USD18.00 online that does the job well.
2. An audio capture software that converts the tracks to MP3. There is a free software, Audacity, that will do just that.
The cassette player which I bought online came with Audacity on a CD but it was an old version. You can easily download the latest version from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
Audacity is such an awesome software that you can easily get lost in the multitude of functions and features. Stick with me here, and I’ll walk you through the mere essentials you need to get our immediate task done.
To me, Audacity is to Audio that GIMP is to Images/Photos; you get the picture.
1. Load your cassette into the player and connect the player to the PC with the USB cable. Do this before starting Audacity so that the software can recognise a USB device is connected.
2. Start Audacity.
a. Choose 2 (stereo) input.
b. Set USB device as your input. Do not select stereo mix for your input. If there is no USB option available, choose Transport > Rescan Audio Devices.
c. On the “Advanced” tab, in the “Default Format” section, make sure the drop-down menu is set to “2 channel 16 bit 44100 Hz”.
d. Enable the Meter Toolbar and select Monitor Input. Start your cassette trial playback and aim for a maximum peak of around –6 dB.
e. Stop and rewind your tape and you’re ready to go. Start the player and simply press the red Record button in Transport Toolbar to start recording from the player.
f. Save the project as a Audacity Project File ( .aup) and then export as MP3. That’s it!