Photography course: Day 1

After receiving the payment for the use of my photographs in Metropolis a couple of months ago, it was a toss-up between spending it on a camera lens and enrolling myself on a short photography course.

I took two short photography courses many moons ago when I was still in the Philippines. The first was basic photography and the second one was black and white. Both were aimed at the absolute beginner and were geared toward film photography (digital was still out of the price-range of hobbyists then). Although I had heaps of fun in both classes, I wasn’t able to make the most out of them because I didn’t have an SLR camera.

I used my point-and-shoot for the basic photography course and wasn’t able to maximise learning about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. After all, most those settings are chosen by the camera for me and there was no way for me to adjust them. The black and white course was slightly better in that I managed to borrow the instructor’s camera and at least have some practice with it. Trouble was, I only had the camera to practise with when we have to do our photo assignment. Given a limited time to shoot, grapple with the idiosyncrasies of the camera, worrying about the subject for my photographs and trying to remember what I have remembered on the first course, it was small wonder that my photographs were rather simplistic and not particularly attractive at all. Heck, I was happy to be able to a sharp photo using manual settings during that time as opposed to the fuzzy ones I had the first few times. I didn’t care about lighting, composition and all the other things that would make a good photograph.

And so I opted to try for another photography course again, this time with a SLR and better idea of what I’m signing up for. I originally wanted to join last February’s session of the Melbourne Camera Club course but was told that it was quickly filled up and would I want to be register my interest for the August one? I said yes and I got contacted by email toward the end of May stating that if I am still interested in joining the course, could I forward my application and $250 payment by snail mail as the class is now quickly filling up and there are only 9 spots left!

I mailed my application and payment on the same day and crossed my fingers. People who don’t get on the August class would be offered places for the one in February next year but I don’t think I could wait another six months! Luckily, I was able to get on the class this time around and we had our first lecture last night.

There were several club members who welcomed us to the course, gave us our course materials, name tag, club’s programme of events for the rest of the year and a survey form. The class was bigger than the one I attended in the Philippines. Whereas the Alcove classes only had about 10-20 students, the one last night probably had 40-50 participants. This class also seem to be more diverse in terms of age and interests.

Although the topic for last night’s lecture was about the basics like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, lens and exposure, I still got some gems out of the session. It was good to see how a lens hood could make a difference when shooting against the sun, how to use AE Lock to meter, what settings to use for particular photographs and how to use different settings for the same scene to change the impact of a photo. Some of the examples used throughout the lecture were the instructor’s own photos and it was interesting to hear the stories about the photos as well as see his creativity at work. Questions from other participants also added to the lecture – the questions that particularly stuck me were where to focus when taking a landscape photo (1/3 into the scene if I remember correctly) and how to remember the relationship between higher ISO and noise (one club member had a particularly good analogy of imagining it as a volume control on a radio, the higher the volume, the more the noise).

Since we started slightly later than scheduled, we had to rush the last few minutes of the lecture and went into overtime for about 10 minutes. Robert, the course coordinator, then reminded us to bring our camera on Sunday since we would be having a hands-on session and would be taking about a dozen photographs. He then asked how many people would be using film cameras (a couple), and advised them that it might be better not to load the film prior to the session so that they could practise the settings on the camera without wasting film. He also asked for the survey form back where we are asked what kind of camera we would be using and what sort of photography we are interested in. After a few more reminders, the class was ended and most everyone quickly spilled out into the night.

Nothing mind-blowing in this first session but it was interesting nonetheless. Although I can’t wait for the practice session on Sunday, I still have to find time to look for and read my camera’s manual, get the concepts to stick and probably get some practice in.

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 8:04 am  Comments (4)  

Mobile photo dump

At the risk of this blog being all about food, I did a photo dump from my mobile and found more food photos. What can I say, we absolutely like to eat!

This is by far the oldest photo in the batch and is so far my first and last attempt at Spanish Flan or as Filipinos know it, Leche Flan. I think the finished product looks decent but it was on the bland side. It wasn’t creamy enough nor was it sweet enough. Definitely not one of the best that came out of the our kitchen. If I ever have to make one again, I would have to look for another recipe to use.

With winter well and truly upon us, our usual breakfast of cold sandwiches just have to change. We wanted something to warm us up in the morning and I don’t remember anymore how I came up with the empanadas but I recall searching for recipes online. Some of the recipes mentioned using frozen puff pastry instead making my own and I did just that even if it’s technically not the proper way of doing it.

Well, the empanadas worked well and we’ve been having them for several weeks now. I’ve used two brands of puff pastry and I find the most thing I have difficulty with is estimating the amount of filling to put in. Too much filling and the filling would spill out as it bakes, too little and we’d end up hungry before lunch.

While we were in our weekend away at Brissy, we frequented the food courts for some fast food. We found a Japanese shop at Wintergarden on our second day called Hanaichi and decided to try the limited menu mainly because of the number of people queueing in front. With the price ranging from $6.20 to $6.70 a bowl, it’s quite affordable as well. I gave the Chicken Hanaichi a try after seeing so many other customers order it and I must say that although I initially had misgivings because of the amount of greens it has that it’s almost like a salad on rice, the accompanying karaage chicken with the sour cream made it my favourite. Gabriel, on the other hand, was consistently a Katsudon fan.

Another thing we tasted in Brisbane was the Wicked Banana at the Southbank markets. It’s basically a banana that had a thin strip of chocolate injected at its center. They had different kinds of chocolate such as milk chocolate, dark, hazelnut and a few more. However, we only ever bought the milk chocolate ones and hubby loved it so much that he bought one again when we visited the market again the next day. Having the combination of a naturally sweet banana paired with chocolate though gave him the inspiration to create his own version. He bought a bottle of chocolate hard tops, sliced a banana and had the chocolate as a topping. I must say it’s his favourite snack at the moment that he keeps stealing the bananas I’ve been buying for baking!

I like my salmon occasionally and rotate through a few recipes. Unfortunately, hubby doesn’t like salmon and hasn’t taken to any of the recipes I’ve cooked. However, I recently tried this recipe that’s supposed to be simple but yummy. I marinated the slices overnight then baked it in foil packets. I gave Gabriel a small slice as usual and lo and behold, he actually liked it enough to ask for more! With this small miracle, I wrote the recipe a review and said that even my salmon-hating hubby liked it. After typing up my review, I proceeded to read the comments of the other reviewers and found out that most of the other reviews were the same. Something along the lines of even husband who won’t eat salmon loved it. Gabriel jokingly then said that the recipe’s title should be changed to Salmon Hater’s Grilled Salmon. Yeah, maybe they should!

Published in: on August 2, 2008 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Our quick Brisbane jaunt

Raquel posted about our impromptu trip to Brisbane earlier. I’ll just add some more to it here.

Click here to view photo album

When I was still working in Sydney, my Pinoy friends there told me that they’d happily move to Brisbane because it was apparently just as nice as Sydney but warmer. So, when Raquel and I were trying to come up with a place we can go to for a bit of walking, I thought of Brisbane. They supposedly have these very nice parklands within the city and at the same time, it’s not as cold there as Melbourne even in winter.

We were blessed to have had three solid days of good sunny weather while there. It was warm enough that we didn’t have to wear coats while walking outside even at night. I definitely loved the Roma Street Parklands and the South Bank Parklands. There was a lot of shady green trees and the body of water nearby was marvelous. I wish we had these two parklands right here in Melbourne. I also enjoyed our catamaran ride up and down the river.

What I didn’t enjoy was the cigarette smoke! It seemed like everybody in Brisbane smoked. Either that or the streets and sidewalks were just a lot narrower and all the smoke just gets trapped. I couldn’t enjoy our walks around the more populated areas of Brisbane because of this.

Apart from that, I thought Brisbane was a nice city to live in. It’s a big enough city while only about an hour away from either the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast. The weather was pleasant even in winter and the flora there was literally a lot greener than what I usually see here in Melbourne. I can see why a lot Pinoys would want to move and stay there. Specially the older folk.

However, at the end of the day, I still prefer Melbourne to Brisbane. I’m glad to be back.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 11:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brisbane break

We’ve been planning a trip to the Gippslands since last month. I’ve pored over brochures, surfed for information about the area for countless hours and we’ve both filed for a one-day annual leave to make a long weekend out of the trip. Wilson’s Promontory looks like a dream in photos and hubby and I could benefit from a little bushwalking so I was really looking forward to the trip.

The only thing that prevented me from booking accomodations is the niggling feeling that the weather may not cooperate and we might end up staying indoors at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. We decided on waiting one week before the scheduled trip before booking anything to see what the weather forecasts would say. Unfortunately, the forecast wasn’t encouraging at all – rain, windy and cold. I don’t mind the cold so much as it’s the middle of winter here and it’s to be expected. But to bushwalk in the rain while being whipped by strong winds? No, thanks.

I didn’t have a plan B at all and had hubby come up with something else. The forecast for the whole Victorian state wasn’t particularly good and so we either have to cancel everything and just stay home or go interstate. Gabriel had a brainwave and came up with Brisbane. We’ve never been there but we’ve heard good things from people who’ve been and it’s nice and warm there. Of course I thought he was kidding at first but quickly found out that he was serious! A frantic search and booking of flights and hotels followed and we’re all set, with no idea of what to do there or where to go.

We left a cold, dreary day in Melbourne and arrived to a perfect, sunny day in Brisbane City. We took the train from the domestic airport to the city (something you’d expect a major city like Melbourne would have but nope, we have to make do with a shuttle here).

Click here to view photo album

Anyway, we stayed at a fantastic serviced apartment at M on Mary where we got lucky and got a room with a view. We walked around the city, watched The Dark Knight at Myer Centre, ate heaps at Hanaichi (won’t they open a branch in Melbourne soon?) and did the touristy thing by riding the ferry and going on the City Sights bus. We also visited the weekend Southbank Markets where hubby discovered the Wicked Banana, which is a banana injected with chocolate in the middle. Our feet were always sore at the end of the day but we had lots of fun and enjoyed the sunshine. Good thing too, since it was pouring down and we got soaked when we got back here in dear old Melbourne.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  

Baking my first cake

Between bouts of Nintendo DS game playing and sleeping, my time is being occupied by another hobby recently. I’ve borrowed a copy of Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook from the library and got inspired by the beautiful photos to try my hand at baking.

Aside from muffins and the occasional quick bread, I haven’t done much use of our oven. Although hubby likes his sweets, he’s not that much into cakes and with me not being a sweet tooth at all, there was just no motivation to progress beyond what I’ve been doing. However, Gabriel has been hankering for some pound cake lately and couldn’t find a Sara Lee version anywhere so I thought it might be a good opportunity to learn how to make one.

First though, is the problem of equipment. Hand mixing is fine for muffins and quick breads but I don’t think I could cream butter and sugar with just a wire whisk. So after several days of researching mixers, going to the shops to compare prices and going back and forth between getting a handheld one and a stand mixer, I finally settled for a basic Breville Wizz Mix. While shopping, I also got myself a pastry brush, cake tester and a rolling pin (for when I try my hand on pastries and breads).

Next, I scoured the Net for a suitable recipe and bought some ingredients. Since we have some leftover yogurt in the fridge, I decided that my first try on cake baking would be for a pound cake using yogurt instead of the usual sour cream. Then there’s the problem of creaming butter and sugar, I just don’t know how to do it and there’s nobody who can teach me!

Enter YouTube with instructional videos galore. When I first read about creaming with sugar and butter until the batter is light and fluffy, I didn’t believe it possible or if it is, what does light and fluffy look like? What if I don’t mix it enough? How do I even know what is enough? As it happened, I shouldn’t have worried about not mixing enough.

Once I started the creaming process, I found that I need to get a bigger bowl if I’m to do this again. Next, I had some difficulty with the bowl wandering about in the counter top at first but I soon got used to controlling the mixer’s speed and direction. The rest was easy and an hour later, I have baked my first cake. Ten minutes of letting it cool on the rack and it was time for the taste test.

Hubby and I shared a fragrant slice and pretty soon decided that it was too sweet for our tastes. We also noticed that the cake was too crumbly – some searching on the Internet later suggested it was caused by too much mixing.

Anyway, there was no way for us to finish off a whole loaf and I brought the rest of the cake to the office. I left the cake slices anonymously on a plate and when I checked on it an hour later, there was only a small half slice left. I guess that was a good sign although I suspect that some people were just feeling peckish and thought morning coffee goes well with a piece of cake.

Would I be baking another cake? Perhaps, although I’m mighty glad I didn’t plonk out major cash for a stand mixer. After seeing the amount of sugar that goes to into a cake, the experience reaffirmed my preference for muffins and breads. What’s my next kitchen experiment going to be? Stay tuned.

Published in: on July 16, 2008 at 10:55 pm  Comments (2)  

Finished the Gears of War

Gears of War is one of those popular games that came out for the Xbox 360 during its early days that I’m really interested in playing. Unfortunately, I had no intention of getting the Xbox 360 so I had to wait till the PC version was released.

Even though it was available for a while now, I didn’t buy it immediately because there were other games I was interested in. Also, I had to pay a subscription to Xbox Live just to play it online, so that was a downer. I have no intention of paying a subscription. In the end, I just wanted to play the single-player campaign. I heard good things about it.

It started out great. The graphics were amazing. The musical score was very engaging and inspiring. At first, I had a bit of trouble getting used to the new cover mechanic introduced in Gears of War (and made popular by it) but I soon got used to it, though sometimes annoyed by it.

However, it was only half-way through the game did I recall a very important reason for why this game was so popular. A lot of reviewers said that they enjoyed the game mostly because of the co-operative play. That is, because they were playing through the levels with a buddy.

I was playing by myself. No buddies. I played the game on the easiest difficulty level possible and yet it was still very hard not to get killed multiple times in some areas. Those parts really frustrated me. I died mostly due to those creatures that cause instant kills. And the worse part of it is that whenever my character gets killed, I had to sit idly in front of my PC for more than 10 seconds while the game reloads. What the?!

I could see how the game is a lot easier if I have an actual thinking person as a buddy in the game helping me out instead of the stupid AI buddy I had that only always gets itself taken out of action.

It was very very frustrating that I had to jump out of my chair in rage a few times. But I pressed on. I wanted to beat the stupid game. The end boss was specially difficult but eventually, I was able to kick its stupid butt.

In the end, I wasn’t so happy with the game. It looked gorgeous but there wasn’t much in terms of story. I also felt that the game design could have been a lot better. Now that I’m done, I can finally sell this game on eBay. Good thing I haven’t even used its free one-month subscription to Xbox Live. Maybe that will help sell the game at a higher price.

Now that’s out of the way, I can finally go back to playing the game I really wanted to play for the past week but never had the chance — Assassin’s Creed!

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 11:36 pm  Comments (2)  

Back pain

It started yesterday late afternoon. I had just finished the module I was working on when I began feeling mild discomfort from the bottom part of my left shoulder blade. It felt similar to the pain of having had my back exposed to cold night air for too long.

It progressively worsen during the night. From mild discomfort, it soon became unbearably painful at times. Unlike my previous back aches that stop aching if I lie down, this one actually persists even when lying in bed. There was practically no position or pose I could take that would make the pain go away. I was able to position myself so that the pain would at least be bearable.

I also noticed that inhaling deeply also intensified the pain. It seemed that any movement of my lower left back ribs triggered the stabbing pain. All I can do was wince and really grit my teeth to stop myself from screaming in agony. I had hoped that the pain would be gone the next morning, but no. If anything, it seemed worse. Anything I did made me wince in pain.

It was a difficult day at work today. I was making groaning noises at my desk as I’m coding. Most of my office mates were concerned for my well being, I’m glad to report. They were trying to convince me to just go home and get some rest or go to a doctor to have my back checked out.

I know that it was most likely just a muscle strain from bad posture or something but I decided to go see my doctor anyway. Just to be sure. Might as well go since I was long due for a check-up anyway. I was supposed to go back to my doctor for a follow-up check-up after three months. That was back in February last year. So I was a bit embarrassed to show my face there again but I could not have my back not checked out.

At the doctor’s clinic this afternoon, the doctor confirmed that it was just a form of muscle strain. The medical term for it escapes me right now. He said that I could either see a physiotherapist or just try to weather it out. The other piece of good news I got from going to my doctor was my blood pressure dropped since my last visit last year. And this was despite my being stressed about the pain I’m feeling.

Now, I’m home and the back is still painful. It seems like sitting really straight is the only position that provides the least pain. I’m tired from enduring the pain and I just want to lie down and sleep but I sort of dread lying down. I just hope tomorrow is a better day.

Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 11:46 pm  Comments (4)  

Sightseeing around medieval Jerusalem

I’ve always been a big fan of first-person shooter games (such as Doom, Half-life and Unreal Tournament). However, I only recently noticed that I’m no longer into it as much as I once was.

Nowadays, I’m finding myself enjoying the sandbox-type games a bit more. These are games that allow the player to roam freely and explore the gaming world and environment. Sure, there are still game objectives but the player is allowed to proceed in anyway they wish and not be railroaded into a predetermined path in the game.

What I like about these games is that I sometimes feel like I’m actually moving about in that virtual world whenever I’m playing. It’s as if I’m taking a virtual tour of that virtual world. This is specially true for sandbox games that are also first person shooters because I’m viewing the world through the eyes of the character. But it doesn’t have to be first-person. I enjoy the world just as much in third-person view.

An example of a third-person sandbox game is a game I bought recently — Assassin’s Creed. It’s basically a game about an assassin (think Medieval-era ninja) on a mission in Jerusalem during the time of the third crusade! I love medieval history and biblical history. Playing this game allows me to see what it was like to be in that world and move around it! It’s amazing! The graphics is almost realistic and the sounds are very convincing. It really puts me into that world. Right now, I’m just enjoying a little bit of sightseeing around medieval Jerusalem.

I think it’s a lot easier for you to see what I mean rather than me explaining what the game is about:

Well, the gameplay shown in the video was for Xbox 360 but it looks just as gorgeous on my PC. Also, the setting in the gameplay above is in the city of Acre and not Jerusalem but you see what I mean. I can’t wait to advance in the game so I can see not just Jerusalem but also Acre (as seen in the video above) and Damascus.

Another game that gave me great pleasure in just exploring its virtual world is Oblivion. It’s basically a first-person fantasy role-playing game. There are different cities and locales to explore in that game and it really is an escape to another world.

Other similar games I’m interested in getting in the future are Burnout Paradise and Grand Theft Auto 4 (GTA4). Burnout Paradise is actually a driving game. But unlike other driving games with fixed race tracks, this game allows the player to drive around an entire virtual city. You can drive anywhere and take short cuts. You don’t even need to race anybody. You can just have a virtual joy ride around the city which looked marvelous. As for GTA4, the virtual city is modeled after New York City. So, if you want to see what it’s like to be in New York, you can do so by riding around in car, walking or taking a taxi in GTA4. Unfortunately, neither of these games are available on the PC at the moment. But I’ll be picking these up once they are.

I heard that there is actually a Simpsons modification out there for the Quake 4 first-person shooter game. With this modification, the player can move around the entire town of Springfield, home of the Simpsons. I got to get myself that game and that modification.

I just wish there are more games like these which will allow the player to have virtual tours of virtual environments. Actually, it doesn’t even need to be a game. There should just be a program that allows the user to explore fictional places and even actual cities in first-person view. It’s like seeing the world without leaving your desk.

In the meantime, I’ll be going back in time to the twelfth century to look around Jerusalem some more.

Published in: on July 9, 2008 at 12:42 am  Comments (2)  

Midnight run to Kmart

DSC01051Raquel has recently been hooked on playing the Nintendo DS (which we have to thank Alma and Shane for). The first DS we have was a hand-me-down from my brother two years ago. This is the non-“Lite” model which was a bit bigger but we didn’t mind because neither of us used it that much until recently.

Now that Raquel is more addicted to playing the DS, I thought it was time for her to upgrade to the newer, lighter and sexier Nintendo DS Lite. I figured it would be a nice birthday gift, too. The timing is also good because the major shops are all having a big toy sale around this month.

After a lot of research, we have concluded that the DS promotion offered by Kmart is the best and the most bang for our buck. The DS package deal included the actual DS portable, of course, a DS game from a selection of four games and a starter pack (includes case, screen protectors and earphones). The Kmart promo started July 3, Thursday, with a special 12 midnight opening day.

In order to avoid running out of stock of the black DS Lite, we decided to go to Kmart on the midnight of the first day of the sale. That meant staying up late on July 2, Wednesday, to go to Kmart when it hits midnight.

I thought it would be the best time to go. We usually sleep late anyway so staying up till midnight to go to Kmart shouldn’t be such a big deal. Also, I thought that by going to the midnight launch, we’ll avoid the crowd of people wanting to buy heavily discounted products.

With the idea that it would just be a quick hit and run, I didn’t even bring my coat when we drove to Kmart on Wednesday night. I didn’t even bother to bring my iPod (which I usually have with me so that I can listen to my podcasts whenever there is a lull).

When I stepped out of the car, I was immediately greeted by very cold air accompanied by gusts of wind. I regretted not bringing a thick winter coat right then. I was just thankful that I at least had a jumper on and warm jogging pants. Then when we finally entered Kmart, I was dismayed to see the place packed with shoppers! There were long queues for the check-out registers so I decided to quickly find and get the DS and head straight for the register queues.

Unfortunately, the DS couldn’t be taken right off the shelf. All gaming consoles like the Xbox 360, Wii and DS must be taken from the lay-by service counter. The problem was that there were a lot of people wanting to buy gaming consoles that night. This resulted in one very long queue to the lay-by counter. And it was a slow going queue because a lot of people in that line also wanted to avail of the lay-by service which require some paper work!

We ended up standing in line for two hours! I finally got the DS at past 2 AM. That’s right. Two o’clock in the morning. That’s two hours I could’ve spent listening or watching podcasts if I had brought my iPod with me. My legs and feet were also so tired and stiff by the time we got to the counter. I was just thankful that we could pay for the DS on the same counter and we didn’t have to queue up at the check-out exit counters again (which still had long queues at that time).

When we got out to the car park, I wished that I had parked the car nearer the Kmart entrance. The air had grown a lot colder since we got there two hours prior and the wind was blowing a lot more, too. It was freezing and I didn’t have a coat!

By the time we got home, I was hungry, freezing and feeling a little ill. I had to call in sick the next day because I felt like I caught the cold. Still, I’m just glad that Raquel is very happy with her new DS Lite. It makes all that suffering seem worth it in the end.

Would I do this kind of thing again? Unlikely. But if I ever do, I’ll probably be better prepared. Next time, I’ll be bringing drinks, snacks, a stool and maybe something to read, listen to, and/or watch.

Published in: on July 5, 2008 at 10:14 pm  Comments (2)  

Hamthology Volume 2

DSC01043A year ago, I participated in a comic book anthology by a community of amateur artists/writers from around the world. It was called Hamthology, Volume 1: The Quest. The first time round, I submitted a short story about a busker scraping a living in Victorian-era Melbourne.

This year, we have Hamthology, Volume 2: Choices. It’s not exactly out for sale yet but I have just received my complementary copies yesterday! I didn’t draw a comic story this time but I did write one. I had my brother draw the comic instead. It’s about a young Filipino boy wanting to possess the ability to become invisible by acquiring a legendary stone.

I was so excited when I finally got my hands on it. It definitely looked a lot better than the first book. As it should be. It’s good to know that there was an improvement over the first one.

Even though I didn’t actually draw a comic this time, I’m still very proud of our second book. At least I was able to help out in an artistic capacity by adding the shading to our comic.

Update: Hamthology 2 now available for sale!

Below is a quote from Bryan Wong, our editor-in-chief:

Hi everyone!

I would like to announce that Hamthology Volume 2 is now available for online purchase! The collection features seven stories focusing on the choices that people have to make, and the consequences they have to deal with. It also includes many pinup art as well. The whole book was put together by a wide range of artistic and writing talent, all from our own pOnju backyard, including Akira Hasegawa of Tsunami Channel fame and Wish 3’s Sylvia T. Leung!

You can go to lulu directly to purchase the graphic novel.

You may also visit our official website to learn more about the book, the contributors, and see previews.

Published in: on July 1, 2008 at 10:18 pm  Comments (2)