The Brainroast

Semper Fervere. (Translation: I'll always try to put something interesting here - probably only to me, at irregular intervals. Hopefully it's interesting to you, too.)

Not sure whether C is making natural progress or stimulated by much conversation with my parents, she’s now using conjunctions, asking questions, showing ability to anticipate and even making up a lot of in-situ stuffs on her own now – here’s a sparse sample of what conversation with her is like these days:

Me: let’s go there
    我地去嗰度。
C: how about let’s go there instead?
   不如去嗰度吖?
Me (spent the next minute persuading her to go my way – she finally agreed)

——————-

C (spontaneously): grandpa and grandma are getting onto a plane and flying to HK tonight
                   爺爺嫲嫲今晚搭飛機返香港。
E (my dad): yeah, grandpa and grandma are flying to HK tonight, from tomorrow you’re returning to school
            係呀,爺爺嫲嫲今晚搭飛機返香港喇。聽日小朋友要返 Hanna 姨姨度喇。
C: (long 5+ seconds smooch on grandpa’s face)
E: :)

——————-

E (pointing at some green toy): is this geen green geen?
                                係唔係 geen green geen?
C: you did that on purpose!
   你特登嘅。
E: :D

——————-

Me: papa’s papa is grandpa
    爸爸個爸爸係爺爺。
C: what about grandpa’s papa?
   噉爺爺個爸爸呢?
Me: …
Me: grandpa’s papa is papa’s grandpa!!
    爺爺個爸爸係爸爸個爺爺囉。

——————-

J (my mom): want some cheese?
            要唔要食芝士?
C (runs to cheese)
C: forgot to take a plate
   唔記得攞碟添!

——————-

Me: want to press to go-out button? (turn on alarm)
    禁唔禁去街制?
C (held by me, held the button to turn on the alarm)
Me (walked away)
C (pointed at the alarm): oops, forgot to close the door (cover, actually)
                          咦,唔記得閂門添!
Me (walked back): …

——————-

C: 月光光,照地堂,爺爺你乖乖瞓梳化!
E: …

——————-

Me: C you’ll be a big, big girl soon!
    你就嚟係大大個女喇!
C: papa, are you a big, big, big, big, big, big girl?
   爸爸,你係唔係大大大大大大個女呀?
Me: papa is a big, big, big, big, big boy.
    爸爸係大大大大大個仔呀。
C: so mama are you a big, big, big, big girl?
   噉媽媽你係唔係大大大大個女呀?
K: yeah mama is a big, big, big, big, big girl!
   係呀,媽媽係大大大大個女。

——————-

Me: we’re going to downtown tomorrow!
    我地聽日去 downtown!
C: what’s there to see in downtown?
   downtown 有乜嘢睇呀?
Me: large bus, lights in high ceiling… *(lunch at Le Meridien)
    有大巴士,高高的燈燈

——————-

C (takes out the digestives): C wants to eat digestives
                      C 想食消化餅。
Me: they’re mama’s so we have to ask mama
   消化餅係媽媽架。 要問過媽媽先。
(2 hours later, K returns)
C (from afar with her toys): C wants to eat digestives!
                               C 想食消化餅!

Ready for more abstractions

Thursday March 29, 2012 @ 10:02 PM (EDT)

During the past month, we witnessed an exponential growth of complexity and variety in C’s speech – what we may find amusing today probably won’t be any more in mere weeks from now. Is she ready to understand some more abstract concepts (like, “later”)? We’ll see…

Here’s today’s scorecard from 7:30am to 8:10am, and from 6:30pm to 9:15pm:

During the morning changing time:

C (while making an “angry” face): 小朋友唔 happy ,小朋友嬲。。。喺地下着就唔嬲。
C: kid isn’t happy…kid is angry…won’t be angry if (I) put on (the socks) on the floor.

C: 我唔着呢個褲,着呢個褲。
C: I don’t put on these pants (pointing at one pair of pants), put on these pants (pointing at another pair of pants)

During dinner:

C: 公公點解唔食紅蘿蔔呀?公公點解唔飲湯呀?媽媽點解唔飲呀?
C: Grandpa, why don’t you eat the carrot? Grandpa, why don’t you drink the soup? Mama, why don’t you drink?

After dinner:

C: 呢個唔掛到。。。爸爸抱,做高高的大人!
C: Cannot hang this (curtain) up…papa picks (me) up and become a tall tall adult (lit.big person)!

After laundry:

C: 呢個係爸爸嘅!(重複五次)
C: This (T-shirt) is papa’s! ( * 5 different T-shirts)

When reading a “hide item into page” baby book:

C: 收埋骨頭。。。喺呢度!
C: Hide the bone…it’s here!

Upon opening a baby wipe box:

C: 咦,冇嘢睇嘅?
C: Eh? Nothing to see here?

During oral hygiene routine:

C: 牙刷去咗邊。。。喺呢度。
C: Where did the toothbrush go….here.

C: 洗手先。。。嘩,好熱!嘩,小朋友隻手好濕喎。
C: Lemme wash my hands…wow, very hot! Wow, kid’s hands are very wet, hm"

During lotion time, when she puts a bit of lotion on each of her 5 fingers:

C: 好似爸爸噉。
C: Just like papa.

When she could not twist open the lotion bottle:

C: 小朋友唔拎到,爸爸開,不如。
C: Kid cannot twist open, papa open, how about.

And the quote of the day is….

C (after climbing into the empty laundry basket): 不如爸爸推?
C: how about papa push?

Me: 好呀。
Me (pushed): Yeah.

C (after climbing out of the basket with a little help): 爸爸入去。
C: Papa get in.

Me (climbed in): 好呀,跟住呢?
Me: Sure. Then?

C: 爸爸自己行。
C: Papa move by yourself.

Me: …

In this chapter, we’ll briefly visit the protocol we communicate with. It’s intended to be just a short outline of what is required to conduct basic communication.

Since the full protocol specification is a fast moving target, this will the the first as well as the last attempt to enumerate the vocabulary of this protocol apart from the prototypical version.

Version (yrs, updated daily): 1.25

The protocol consists mainly of spoken Cantonese words, with one or two exceptions, e.g. of ‘Head’, which she pronounces as ‘Aht’. As demonstrated by this example, although the protocol contains the same vocabulary in both directions, the same word in the upstream direction can sound somewhat different and often ambiguous when compared to the downstream direction, thus context must be taken into consideration when used.

Here’s a list, by no means complete and in no particular order. Words without an observed pronunciations are only understood but not observed. Also, since S/N can be low at times, it’s likely there are words with non-trivial meanings that are yet to be recognised by us.

There are 5 prominent usage of these words, all are understood, but only the first 2 forms are observed.

  1. noun
  2. verb
  3. verb object
  4. subject verb object
  5. questions with yes/no answer or ‘where’

Note that the in-built fuzziness of the protocol complicates its usage by sporadically altering part(s) of words by insertion and/or deletion.

Word Meaning Proper Pronunciation Observed Pronunciation Remarks
鴨鴨 duck ngap ngap dap dap her old bath toy, fell out of favour
拍拍 slap pak pak
燈燈 light dung dung
花花 flower fa fa wha wha loves to touch
請請 ‘respect’ gesture with an open fist enclosing a closed fist ching ching a popular Cantonese gesture toddlers are taught
door/gate moon
close sahn typically used with door or light
open hoi typically used with door or light
刷牙 brush teeth chahd nga
媽媽 mother ma ma ma ma
爸爸 father ba ba ba ba
爺爺 grandfather (paternal) yeah yeah ya ya
嫲嫲 grandmother (paternal) ma ma ma ma
公公 grandfather (maternal) gung gung
婆婆 grandmother (maternal) por por poo poo
mum mum meal mum mum mum mum a meal, not just any food
O O Nutrios O O ouuuw
飽飽 bread bao bao ba ba
baby biscuits bang bid #2 favourite food
奶奶 milk nai nai na na
水水 water sui sui
眼鏡 eyeglasses ngan gang
eye ngan of humans and most animals and toys, loves to poke :(
耳仔 ear e jaie of humans and dogs with large ears
鼻鼻 nose bay bay bee bee
mouth hull
head tull used interchangeably with below
head head head aht used interchangeably with above
面面 face meen meen meen meen
麵麵 noodle meen meen meen meen #1 favourite food
hand sull
foot gurg
兩隻 two leung jeg usally used with ‘hand’
大髀 upper leg dai bay usually used with 拍拍 (slap)
膝頭 knee sut tull see above
肚臍 navel toll chee
膏膏 ointment go go can put ointment on head and face under supervision
book suee anything she can flip
rice fahn
魚魚 fish yue yue both the swimming ones and the ones on dishes
菜菜 veggie
狗狗/wouwou dog gull gull/wowwow wouuwouuwouuw
貓貓 cat mao mao ma ma
熊仔 bear / panda hung jai
兔仔 rabbit toll jai
sophie giraffe sophie sophie the toy we use to refer to all giraffes with
雀仔 bird jerk jai djurdjurd her most favourite critters
squat mull usually used before below
stand kay usually used after above
walk haang aah
地地 ground day day dee dee
街街 the streets/outside guy guy da da
blueberry blueberry blueberry
香蕉 banana heung jiu ah de any veggie shaped like a banana, e.g. zuchini
橙橙 orange chang chang
diaper peen bid very convenient when we ask her to bring us a 片
baby baby baby bebe anyone from age 0 to age 5
抺抺 toilet papers mahd mahd mahd mahd
花洒 shower fa sa
落雨 rain log yue usually used with above as ‘shower water’
吹吹 blow chui chui blows air from mouth upon hearing, or upon seeing dust on the ground
put bai ba usually used together with ‘table’
戒指 ring ghui jee her favourite to be put on the big toes
車車 car chea chea from toys to the real things on roads
草草 grass cho cho
樹樹 tree shue shue loves to touch
打韆鞦 swing da chin chull either a real one in a park or my makeshift one
瀡滑梯 slide sir waht tae either a real one in a park or my/mama’s makeshift one
騎膊馬 sitting on my shoulder kea bog ma on my shoulders only
shoe hai ah loves to touch the bottom. argh
sock mud mad
cloths sahm now she has a favourite and prefers it to anything else wearable
pants foo boo
口水肩 bib hull sui ghin loves to put on
cough cut coughs when heard
hum 親 hurts hum chun uses with head and face regardless where on her body is hurting
E 起棚牙 show the teeth E hay pang nga will show teeth with mouth shut when heard
醜樣 make ugly face chull yeung will make a face exactly identical to above when heard
舉手 raise hands ghui sull
mark 大眼 eyes open wide mark dai ngan
mark 大口 mouth open wide mark dai hull
眨眼 blink eyes jahm ngan will repeatedly perform for 5-10 seconds
食完未 are you done chewing (and swallowed)? sig yuen may open mouth let inspect
好唔好味 is it tasty? ho ng ho may responds with nods or ‘mmmmmm’ for ‘yes’, no response for ‘no’
自己 self jee gay usually used with eat and brush teeth
give bay usage: object give target
樓梯 stairs lull tae her #1 favourite activity
匿埋 hide lay mai she’ll start looking for whoever she’s told is hiding
邊[度] where bin [doh] often used with above
邊個 who been goh
乜嘢 what mud yea
pee pee pee also means the potty
ngg poo ngg also means pee
櫈櫈 chairs dung dung a favourite place to be, especially those office chairs that can spin
table toy toy
eat sig
drink yum
piano kum her #2 favourite activity
波波 ball ball ball boo boo her #1 favourite toy
抱抱 pick up poll poll boo boo
錫錫 kiss sag sag
瞓覺 sleep fun gao her #1 least favourite activity before 8 pm, eventually climbs to the #1 favourite spot near 9 pm
瞓瞓 lie down fun fun can be used on floor, people and many more things
點蟲蟲 touch insect dim chung chung a popular Cantonese game toddlers are taught
拜拜 bye bye bye bye repeatedly open and close fist
揸住 hold ja jue very useful, especially with diapers
up surng
sit chore
look mong
come lay
go hui
play woan when used with ‘with baby’, it means going to daycare
kick tag ded usually used with ‘ball’
姨姨 auntie yee yee e e female human beings who are not babies, mom, or grandmothers
星星 star sing sing
電視 television din see di jee often sounds like “ah de”, banana
box hub
push tui usually used with ‘box’
robot robot robot the Roomba we have…an absolutely fearsome monster
番梘 soap fahn gahn it actually means baby body wash to her
錫錫 kiss sag sag it means ‘sticking head out to get kissed’ more than ‘kissing’ most the time
飛吻 blow a kiss fay mun
quiet quiet quiet shhhhh!

Scotch-Smoked Salmon Tortiglioni

Sunday January 23, 2011 @ 10:48 PM (EST)

Inspired by Cooking with Booze

  • dice a shallot and pan-fry it in a bit of extra virgin olive oil
  • add chicken broth, white wine (chardonnay) and boil, around 200mL each
  • add 250mL of light cream, about 100mL of milk, 2mL of butter, enough Parmesan cheese and a bit of starch to thicken
  • add chives
  • add shredded scotch smoked salmon
  • pour on top of cooked pasta (I used what we have in the kitchen, Tortiglioni and a bit of Spaghetti)
  • add black pepper and some more cheese

Review: maybe we’re fans of garlic – we’ve concluded that some should be added next time. Otherwise it tastes great!

finished product

Recent Dishes

Saturday November 20, 2010 @ 11:26 PM (EST)

A few recent dishes I tried at random.

Steak “Fusion”

Rib-eye steak with soy sauce, black pepper, teriyaki sauce, cremini mushrooms and a bit of red wine.

Verdict: fusion failed. Shouldn’t have added the teriyaki sauce. Tasted weird. Teriyaki sauce and rare steak don’t mix, at least at home.

steak

Fried Rice with 6 Exotics

Rice cooked with less water than usual, fried with sea urchin, eggs, kai-lan slightly microwaved, Chinese-flavored barbecued pork, conpoy and dried garlic. No salt as it’s provided by the pork.

None of these ingredients are really exotic, I just like adorning dishes with fancy names :)

Verdict: Smash. Hit. Probably more to do with the ingredients than my cooking skills.

fried rice

Thanks to the mom-in-law for the choice of kai-lan as the vege. It could have been frozen veggies.

The F-Strap

Saturday November 20, 2010 @ 11:48 AM (EST)

The R-Strap and its followers

Ran into the Black Rapid R-Strap system the other day and found it to be a great idea: it saves your neck from carrying the camera in your front yet allows access to the camera as quickly as any neck strap. However, I don’t like the fact that it’s not tripod-friendly, plus the price is a bit steep at $70 for a strap. In spite of its tripod annoyance and the price, needless to say this is a well-executed great idea and deservedly became an instant hit.

After the appearance of the R-Strap, a lot of action straps sprung into existence, attempting to ride its wave. Here’s what I’ve found (arranged alphabetically):

Camera Slingers
Dan’s Sling Strap
Immediate Action Sling Camera Strap (needs a few clicks)
Link Delight Q Sling Strap
Luma Loop
Mzungu Quick Draw
Nirobi Sling Strap
Op/Tech
Pap Strap
Quick Strap
Sun Sniper
Y-Strap

Save a few, most of the above straps suffer from a fatal flaw that would eventually make the camera drop if you’re not careful – they tie the strap onto the screw itself yet don’t allow free rotation, so, little by little the camera would wiggle and eventually get unscrewed from the strap, and there goes your $5000 equipments.

As I was gazing at the pictures on the “Immediate Action” strap site, I realized I had the necessary hardware lying around, so why not make it a DIY?

My Take: The F-Strap

First, a USD $15 wrist strap I bought from Hong Kong. I was ripped off and these can actually be had for $7.
$15 wrist strap

Let’s extract the base, who needs the rest of the strap? The plastic feels like ABS and has given me some sturdy, trouble-free service during its hand strap tenure. So I reckon it should do the job well.
base extracted

My trusty and comfy Smugmug neckstrap, included in my membership. You can use any camera strap you want. Some of the above companies actually make good plain old neck straps.
$0 Smugmug neckstrap

Simply screw the base into the tripod mount and tie your strap to the base. Note that the strap is not tied to the screw itself, thus the camera, although not free to rotate, does not risk unscrewing itself at all.
done

Unlike the R-Strap, my strap still exposes a tripod mount hole therefore a tripod can be used without first unscrewing the strap. Here’s the Manfrotto RC2.
with Manfrotto RC2

Have used the set-up for whole days of camera carrying. Seems to work well for a total of around $10. Scratch that – I’d say it works better than a few $40 options above.

I’ll name my strap the F-Strap. The F stands for “Frugality” for me, but you can use any F word in its place.

F-Strap II

Now to accommodate a Gimbal Head, I’ve switched from the Manfrotto RC2 to Arca-Swiss quick release system. It has a more confidence-inducing grip and seems to be more supported by various companies. They warrant posts of their own so for now I’ll just say I’ll never look back to the RC2.

Here’s the updated version with the plastic base replaced by the Kirk L-Bracket:
on Kirk L-Bracket

The strap attachment points seem to be a bit far apart and the camera isn’t free to glide up and down like some of the $40 options. I’ll see if a trip to the Home Depot can resolve it. I expect it to be just another $5.

First (Recognised) Words

Sunday October 31, 2010 @ 04:09 AM (EDT)

At this moment, we have confirmed Charis’ Chinese vocabulary to contain:

鴨鴨
“duckie”. Her bath toy. Although she now likes playing with the shower and her baby wash way more.
拍拍
“smack”. Whenever she hears this she’ll smack with her open palm on whatever we present to her.
燈燈
“light”. Just say 燈燈 and she’ll look at the light – usually upwards. Very handy when I want to reach her normally very concealed neck area (that’s the reason I taught her the word)
花花
“flower”. Taught by my dad.
請請
some obscure chinese gesture, moving 2 mutually-clasping fists back and forth. This one by Kathy’s mom. To make this action more useful I’m starting to incorporate it into combos.
閂門
“close the door” – to her it means “push the door” without a specified direction. Does it as she enters the washroom.
刷牙
“brush teeth”. She’ll open her mouth and let me clean the inside. Every single time. :D

For some reason she hasn’t started recognising 媽媽 (mom) and 爸爸 (dad) yet :( She’ll look at us when we ask where 媽媽 and 爸爸 is, but we still think her responses are due to multiple strokes of luck.

My own lobster pasta recipe

Monday May 10, 2010 @ 12:48 AM (EDT)

It’s been quite a while since we last made our own dinner. From the day our baby arrived, our dinners have always been prepared by either Kathy’s mother or some random cook in a restaurant we go to/buy take-out from.

I’ve long been wanting to do something to ease this dire situation. So I volunteered to cook on Saturday, something I haven’t done in months, so we can be on our own for dinner. I suggested pasta and got the nod from Kathy.

So, off to the local supermarket for ingredients. I was totally improvising – thinking that I’ve had enough pasta to know what to buy. Brought home some onion, celery, brown mushrooms, some Alfredo sauce (which is just a premix of cream, cheese, and a small amount of garlic). Then I looked for recipes that make use of these ingredients plus whatever I could salvage from the kitchen.

It’s when Finagle striked: the search returned no suitable match. Well, big deal – let’s combine the results here and there, and create my own Lobster Spaghetti recipe. It’s more fun this way, anyway!

Combining recipes to improvise your new one is so easy that anyone who can hold a spoon can do without any effort. I think as soon as our kid can handle chopsticks, we’ll teach her to do it.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • around 700 g of lobster, shell included. You can use as much or as little as you like, substitute with scallops or crabs or shrimps or crayfish, really.
  • 300 g of mushroom
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 50 ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • 20 ml of dry cooking wine. I used rice wine as my cooking booze as there wasn’t cooking wine in hand. It worked.
  • 200 ml of cream and some Parmesan cheese. I cheated and used some Alfredo sauce in place. It worked.
  • 500 g of spaghetti (use only made-in-Italy ones. According to Kathy, they’re the best)
  • salt to taste. Bonus if you use truffle salt.
  • garlic to taste (those added in the pre-made sauce was insufficient to my taste)
  • basil and/or rosemary to taste. I used both.
  • liberal amount of black pepper – we like it spicy!
  • parsley to sprinkle

Steps:

  1. Clean, slice and dice all the veggies.
  2. Clean and boil the lobster. No need to kill it first – just put it into boiling water head-down. Nobody has proven that a lobster will suffer less pain if it’s killed by physical means before we make it swim.
  3. After 20 minutes, scoop out the boiled critter and discard much of the water, leaving only as much as needed to cook the pasta. This way, we save some time because the water is already hot, and the pasta will taste better because it has the lobster umami.
  4. Add half of the olive oil (it prevents our pasta from sticking to the pot) and as much or as little salt as you please to the hot lobster water. Let boil and add pasta. Cook and drain.
  5. Heat up a frying pan and pour the remaining olive oil to the warm pan. Wait for it to get hot, then pour all the basil/garlic/rosemary/black pepper/mushroom/onion/celery into it. Turn and mix repeatedly. Add your choice of cooking booze.
  6. Now that the lobster has cooled down a bit, it’s a good time to de-shell it. Dice the meat to any size you fancy. Or remove and marvel at the quantity and quality of tomalley or roes of a May-harvest Atlantic lobster. Just don’t spend too much time.
  7. When you think the mix has been sufficiently cooked, add the seafood and the sauce, mix and stir thoroughly.
  8. Add sauce to pasta, sprinkle with parsley

Verdict:

Got an 8 out of 10 from Kathy. She suggested I use less Rosemary, dice the onion to smaller bits, and pre-mix the spaghetti with the sauce before serving. Overall it’s a thumbs-up considering she’s an expert in culinary arts. (well, at least compared to me!)

A small step that I took, a giant step towards our sorely missed dinner independence.

Some pics for you photo addicts:

Living lobster:

Swimming lobster:

Cooked lobster and lobster soup:

Top row – Alfredo sauce, spice/herb mix, extra virgin olive oil, rice wine.
Bottom row – onion, celery, mushroom, spaghetti:

The stirfry:

Lobster meat:

Lobster tomalley and roes:

Sauce, almost ready:

End product:

HTC Magic

Sunday November 22, 2009 @ 05:07 AM (EST)

My Windows Mobile experience

Since the mid 90s, a mobile device of some sort has always been part of my life – from an ancient Apple Newton MessagePad 110 to the mountains of Blackberries I used to use at work at my previous employer RIM, to the latest in MS Windows Mobile phone. Yet I’ve never felt impelled to write about any of them, until now.

In 2007, going through my Crackberry withdrawal, I spent USD $420 on an HTC “Vox” (Dopod C500) Windows Mobile Smartphone in Hong Kong. 3G networks did not exist in Ontario back then, so I was opting for an EDGE phone, in the spirit of not spending money on unused features. Also, coming from a Blackberry at the time, a real keyboard with tactile feedback was a must, so I chose this phone because it’s among the handful of EDGE-only smart phones with a hardware keyboard. On specifications-alone the Vox looked plenty good. The CNet review was downright astonishing.

Little did I know, that my years at RIM spent with various incarnations of the Blackberry made me a mobile phone snob – in the first two months of owning this new phone I swore by it (while trying to figure out ways to work around numerous annoyances), but by the third, I swore at it – which was unfortunately already too late because I couldn’t sell the phone at even 1/2 of the original price. The processor was slow, the home screen required an ugly hack just to display the day of week, flapping rubber lids that could never stay closed, battery life gradually dwindled to minutes when EDGE was used, a light sensor that made the screen dimmer under sunlight (which is totally backwards), a keyboard that always skipped the first key that was typed and delayed half a second for every subsequent keypress, a crappy browser, buggy sync, the keyboard “rails” that also functioned as an extremely efficient dirt magnet – I can go on and on – its only redeeming quality seemed to be the availability of Opera Mini – this application singlehandedly gave me the resolve to not spend, and possibly waste, another pile of cash on a phone. “Give it two years, at least wait for 3G”, I kept telling myself.

It turned out, for a snob, I could tolerate a lot of phone torture. I’m either extremely patient or masochistic, or both.

Mini-review of the HTC Magic

Two years came and went, HSDPA finally arrives in Canada, and I had an Android-powered phone squarely in my cross-hair. Although my faith in HTC waned during my Vox ownership, the newer HTC hardware seemed to be okay, so why not give it another chance. A trip to Pacific Mall landed me a SIM unlocked, contract-free, Rogers-branded HTC Magic, for quite steep a discount at CAD $400, tax-included (thanks Danny!). To put things in perspective, it’s cheaper than the Vox, the phone that has inflicted excruciating misery upon my well-being for the past two years.

The HTC Magic is the second Android phone. Its touch screen interface some say is an iPhone wannabe, and I don’t dispute that. What I like is its tight integration with Google’s services, and its open architecture with a Linux kernel and a development kit that runs on the JDK. It’s essentially a breeding ground for a hacker community. Not to mention universal rave reviews (this time, real phone review sites instead of CNet are consulted).

Feature-wise, it has all the usual features standard on 2009 phones, and more: touch screen, camera, WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth, GPS, Compass (having a compass is very important, as it allows applications that does Augmented Reality, such as Google Streetview and Layar), and a central application repository, a la Apple’s AppStore – only less Draconian.

Although it does not have a hardware keyboard, it does not seem a necessity anymore. My Blackberry withdrawal was complete. Perhaps I should thank my horrid HTC Vox experience for a speedy withdrawal. Anyhow, software keyboards nowadays can give tactile feedbacks via vibrations, which work sufficiently well enough. I can live without no-look typing and the shortcut keys.

In actual use, it reminds me a lot of my previous handhelds – mostly features that I’m fond of. Palm III’s navigability and form factor (and Dopewars and Bejeweled!!), Blackberry’s push-based email, HP 200LX’s RPN graphing calculator that I can install from an app, and a normal phone’s battery life.

Here are a few screenshots of the HTC Magic after minimal customization (mainly involving screen widgets and application launchers):

before screenshot 1 before screenshot 2 before screenshot 3
(before you ask why I installed the Tube map, I believe it should be on everyone’s handheld just in case, even for those who don’t visit London frequently)

After owning the new phone for a month, I’ve learnt about its quirks and annoyances – relatively very minor compared to those of the Vox, mind you. Maybe it doesn’t have a standard headphone jack and does not support sending iCalendar invitations, but I don’t listen to music on phones much and can always use the browser to send invites. It does not yet work with Flash (some consider it a blessing!), but it has just been included Android 2.0 and the rumour is it’ll be backported.

Overall, I have difficulty finding fault with the Magic. There are some, but I’ve worked around them through installing a custom ROM, which as a bonus also delivers various enhancements. Read on.

Obtaining “root” access (or “Quirks, and an easy way to fix ’em”)

Around a third of my time spent of a “smart” mobile device revolves around one application – the “Notepad”, regardless whether it was the Newton, the Palm, the Blackberry or the Windows Mobile phone. (the HP LX was an exception as I used its Lotus-123 as a glorified notepad). It follows quite naturally that good text input is an important functionality. Unfortunately, auto-correct is integral to text input with a software keyboard, it’s the nature of the beast.

Often, I need to enter unusual words or acronyms into my notes and the Magic unfailingly insists on adding them to the dictionary, which is bad because over time, the dictionary will be full of words that are only meaningful the first time they were used, making auto-correct inefficient. Adding insult to the injury, the user dictionary can only be emptied but not modified. Simply asinine.

It turned out it’s not Android’s keyboard that’s at fault but rather, it’s HTC’s custom software. To fix this, I decided to obtain “root access” to the phone so that I can perform deeper customizations impossible on a stock phone – such as replacing HTC’s software keyboard with Google’s.

After setting up the Android SDK and following these very simple instructions on xda-developers’s Android forum, I obtained root access. I played around with the “rooted” Magic by performing the following customizations previous impossible:

  1. Remove all Roger’s applications rubbish (“Home”, “My Account”, “Ringback”, “Ringtone”, “Shop”)
  2. Add a Silent.mp3 ring tone to the phone (which does not play anything) to silent the spammers and the fax machines (without root access, custom tones can only be put on an SD card)
  3. Sym-link the phone’s start-up sound effect to Silent.mp3, so the phone can be turned on in stealth
  4. Enable the root prompt on the device
  5. Download an application to adjust CPU frequency to achieve better performance and battery life
  6. Enable Android Market for paid applications

All seemed to work well, and completed within 30 minutes. I was ready to perform the ultimate customization: flashing to a “community-enhanced” Google stock ROM “Ion” with the Android keyboard, that cherry-picks desirable HTC features. After a bit of research, the Ion Hofo ROM appeared to fit the bill.

Custom ROM

After wiping of my user data plus about 10 minutes, my Magic was running the enhanced Ion ROM! I was flabbergasted by how smoothly it went, how well all the hardware worked, and very pleasantly surprised by some unanticipated enhancements. In short, it’s everything in a mobile phone that I wanted, and then some.

  • Android keyboard and a customizable auto-correct dictionary! Yay.
  • Multi-touch zooming/unzooming in browser!
  • The camera app now can geo-tag the pictures!
  • Google Voice search. Although its practical value is yet to be seen, it’s very fun to use!
  • A myriad of languages instead of only English and French. It’s more for resale value than anything.
  • HTC features – QuickOffice, Exchange sync, PDF viewer, boot logo, even its keyboard that I dislike – but it can be switched off, and may come in handy.
  • HTC Hero ring tones!
  • Android Market Enabler included!
  • Slicker icons!
  • A built-in widget to toggle Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, Wireless Sync, and screen brightness!
  • The built-in Google apps (e.g Gmail, Gtalk, Calendar, camera) expose a lot more settings in their customization menus!
  • ip-table-enabled kernel to support tethering with the Wifi tethering application already included! (but with a phone this good, I doubt I’ll tether much unless I have to use a full keyboard)

Despite all these new features, the Ion ROM made the phone run both faster and with a longer battery life, thanks to some smart CPU frequency management. Kudos to the hackers who created this piece of telecommunication art.

Downsides:

  1. Camera seems to only operate under auto white balance. It mostly works okay so it’s what I can live with, especially when I get geo-tagging in return.
  2. Lost the ability to “Use only 3G networks”, but I haven’t run into a situation where the phone would revert to 2G on its own, so who needs that?
  3. The default Rogers Access Point setting is erased so there’s no wireless data. I panicked for a minute, did a quick search and then entered the following to make everything work again:

Name: Rogers
APN: rogers-core-appl1.apn
MMSC: http://mms.gprs.rogers.com
MMS Proxy: 10.128.1.69
MMS port: 80
MCC: 302
MNC: 72

Here are some screenshots taken with the Android SDK after installing the community Ion ROM. They look very similar to the “before” shots because it’s the way I arrange my launchers and widgets and after all, Roger’s ROM is just a customization bastardisation of the original Ion ROM made by HTC.

Note the Microphone button on the Search Widget. It’s for Voice Search:

after screenshot 1 after screenshot 2 after screenshot 3

I’m very pleased with the phone now and it should keep any phone buying urge at bay for at least the next 3 years. You read it here.

Camera Bags

Saturday September 26, 2009 @ 01:53 AM (EDT)

Going through bag after bag is an unavoidable chore for anyone who uses a camera with non-negligible heft. After going through 3-4 camera bags, I think I’ve finally found an all-round match.

The Optexes

When I bought my first digital camera in 2001 (a venerable HP 912) from Future Shop, I was also sold a “matching” camera bag like every unwitting consumer. It was an Optex camera bag. Not exactly cheap for what it offered – the capacity/bulk ratio was too low, access wasn’t convenient, uncomfortable, and as a bonus looked ugly as hell. Used it for the trip to New England and Europe – then I made it stay at its rightful place, in the closet, to hold other underused equipments ever since.

My second digicam bag was an Optex belt-mounted pouch that’s just enough to hold my then A80 in 2004, a few extra memory cards and AA batteries. Perfect for its purpose as an all-in-one pouch for a small compact – albeit slightly bulky. Extremely convenient. Used it for the trip to Portugal and Spain, although later sold together with the camera. Wouldn’t hesitate to get a similar bag if the need ever arises again.

Sling bag by Roots

The transition to a DSLR finally arrived in 2004 and of course together with it came another bag. Roots sling bag which to this day I’m pretty contend with, being able to hold a DSLR body, 2 small zooms and a small flash (or 2 larger zooms, no flash) batteries, lens pen and a few filters.

It works pretty well as a run-around bag if I know in advance the lens choice with the condition that this choice also happens to be small. Made it a snap to engage the camera by just swinging it around. Works well for trips where the hotel room is usually nearby and not a lot of personal items are needed on the go. Brought it to California, Yosemite and Shanghai, Hong Kong, etc.

Tamrac Adventure backpack

Most other times however, I need to pack more than just photographic equipments. The search began again and the Tamrac Adventure 6 did the job marvellously. Holds a DSLR body, 2 small zooms (or a small zoom plus a small flash), 2 small primes, lens pen, some filters, extra batteries and memory cards, lens cloth, plus on one occasion an engagement ring.

The non-photographic compartment can hold my passport, a small book (passport-sized Japanese detective novel), handkerchiefs, a pack of tissue paper, titbit in a ziplock bag, a cap or two, a sunglasses case plus some odd items I must have missed. I could use it to hold an additional small zoom if I don’t need to bring as much personal items. The sides hold 2 small bottles of water. You’ve guessed it – it’s the main walking bag and I used this over the years for trips to Vienna, Maldives, Japan and then to Patagonia, each of these trips only needed a limited selection of lenses. It at least looks sufficiently compact for what it can hold, and I expect it to continue to be my main all-purpose bag for a while.

Crumpler Keystone

My odyssey for bags could have ended here, if the DSLR body or the lenses didn’t get bigger, or if I lived in the ideal world where the lens choice is always small and known. Then came this trip to Hong Kong for a dear cousin’s wedding where I were to document the entire day, plus a short walking/hiking trip around the city, on top of preparing to take some random shots I’ve fancied for a while.

So I needed a bag to store mostly photographic equipments, but with a large selection of lenses. It needs to be reasonably secure (cannot be opened from your back for the peace of mind), not too big and make me look like an astronaut on the moon. Bonus if it can hold a small computer.

The search narrowed down to LowePro Flipside 400 AW, Think Tank Urban Disguise 35, and Crumpler Keystone. The Think Tank was quickly eliminated as I found shoulder bags to be not very comfortable for long walks – it has a harness that converts it to a backpack, but then I also found it too rigid and with a low capacity/bulk ratio. Then the Flipside 400 was also eliminated because of its astronaut look – at the same time the Crumpler was on sale at 25% off at Henry’s, so I drove there and picked up the last one left in store.

The recommended configuration is a DSLR body, 3-4 lenses, one accessory and a 12" laptop. Here’s what I put in: K-7 body with neck strap, AF-540FGZ flash, DA10-17, DA*16-50/2.8, DA*50-135/2.8, FA50/1.4, FA35/2, DA40/2.8, Vivitar 2xMFTC, spare Li-Ion and AA batteries, hand strap, Pelican memory card case, some filters, lens pen, Joe Demb Flip-It, sunglasses case, AND a 9" Netbook. I also managed to stuff in an extra CD in one occasion. The strap it has on the outside for my tripod is a pleasant bonus. Although I still cannot fit in all my lenses, this is enough configuration for most shootings. It only needs a side net to store a bottle of water to be perfect. Here’s a picture of the Keystone in all its glory, with contents (low camera phone image quality)

Crumpler Keystone

Crumpler also claims that its bags “don’t scream camera bags” thus are more secure. Might be true a few years back, but with almost all camera stores selling them these days it can hardly be the case. More, if I were a thief and saw you holding a camera that remotely looks like a DSLR, I’d assume your bag was full of expensive lenses and accessories regardless of its shape and form.

All in all except for the first Optex, these bags are all highly recommended, each fulfils a different purpose. I think my journey for bags will end here – I cannot imagine at this moment that I’d venture beyond what they can do. :)

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