Category Archives: Lessons

Things I say when I’m 38…

I’m waiting for my stomach to settle before going for a late night jog at the hotel gym, so I am listing down some things that sometimes cross my mind at this age before my bad memory wipes them out:

The friends that I knew at 18 would be my good friends forever, are still my good friends today. And we still crack the same jokes.

I have unfollowed many friends on Facebook, and unfriended more than a few. I think life is too short to just “know” people, we ought to get to know them really well or don’t bother at all.

I’m glad I got to experience the music of the late 70s to the 90s, and I think today’s music is just abysmal. I’m also glad for Spotify which allows me to listen to just about anything on demand, and Taylor Swift is a nobody to me.

I do enjoy being right in situations (“I told you so!”), but it’s more important to keep your mouth shut because you see how poorly everyone, including myself, take any criticism.

I can only respect people with real skills. People who can do honest good work with their hands, and who work to make things better for others. Everyone else is just a talker and I really don’t wish to spend much time with them.

I don’t know why I’m still learning the violin even though I’ll never be a great, or even good musician. But I admire the patience of my teacher who has stuck with me for so many years, and that’s something to learn too.

I’m not afraid of death or lousy bosses. But I’m afraid of bringing up my children poorly.

I’ve been writing a lot since I was a child. But oddly, I’ve found that I have never written any good fiction… or more like I have no motivation to write stories from my imagination. I just prefer to read fiction than to create it.

I really dislike insincere people and you can usually tell them apart immediately. You know, the type that when they are introduced to you, talk to you for half a sentence and then look away to talk to someone else.

I’ve noticed that most bad/inconsiderate drivers tend to be quite unpleasant-looking too. It’s a habit of mine to drive up next to them to take a look out of curiosity.

I have many mixed feelings about my time in journalism. But through it, I learned one important thing – history always repeats itself and you’d better not be stuck there when the bad cycle happens again.

When I was young, I made my passion my work, and I sacrificed my passion in the process (eg. photography). Now, I think it’s better to just make your work a passionate endeavor.

Life is usually about making the best of your current situation and praying every night to God for help.

Why and how to buy a UHD TV

This is not a great time to buy a new television for your home as the industry is in transition from the old full HD 1080p standard to Ultra HD (UHD) standard, otherwise also known as 4k TVs.

But if you’re like me, whose faithful Samsung HDTV died after six years of service and it needed to get replaced, you would still have to figure out what type of TV to buy. I learned a lot of things when I was TV shopping back in June and am finally putting down my learnings here for people getting all confused about 4k, UHD, Full HD and all that jazz.

TV-buying is not as easy as buying a PC or a smartphone, so here’s the crash course.

blacklist uhd
The Blacklist TV series streams in Ultra HD on Netflix. Look at the 2160 resolution at the upper right corner as an indication of UHD streaming quality.

I’d cut to the chase and say “Get a UHD TV”.

There will be plenty of people who say otherwise, usually with the following three reasons:

  1. 1080p is good enough, you cannot tell the difference between Full HD resolution and Ultra HD resolution.
  2. It is hard to find UHD or 4k content today.
  3. UHD is a fad, like 3D TVs

One such article is this. To those naysayers, I’d say this: You’re buying a TV that needs to last for at least five years, and technology and the content business are going to change rapidly in that time frame to catch up with today’s limitations of content.

If you’re on a tight budget, do buy the cheapest 1080p TV you can buy as it is a very mature and commoditized platform. Otherwise, go for UHD for future-proofing because you don’t change TVs every year.

I can still see those fat pixels on 1080p!

Saying 1080p is “good enough” is a little like people in the early 1990s telling me a VGA monitor (640×480 pixels, 256 colors) is good enough for computing use and I don’t need higher resolutions.

From 1990 till the mid 2000s, I was never satisfied with computer monitor resolutions because I could see the blocky pixels at my normal viewing distance. Today I’m using a 2560×1440 27″ Dell computer monitor and it’s all great.

Maybe it’s because I used to be a photographer, so I’m more eagle-eyed than the average Joe. But I can make out the scan lines or pixels on a 1080p TV screen even at a 2m viewing distance. The pixels jump out at me when I go TV shopping because the viewing distance is even shorter.

And in the age of “Retina” screens where we expect to buy devices where pixels are no longer discernable, 1080p screens fail in that aspect, especially if you have good eyesight (or properly calibrated spectacles). On smartphones, ultra high resolutions are great but drain battery life and are often not discernable in quality difference. Obviously, televisions are a different matter as they are so much bigger and don’t run on batteries.

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UHD pixels are four times smaller than a 1080p pixel, in screens of the same size. Image from Samsung.

On a UHD screen, each pixel is four times smaller than a 1080p screen pixel. A UHD display contains 3840 x 2160 pixels (8M pixels)  vs a 1080p TV’s 1920 x 1080 pixels (2M pixels)

That’s a phenomenal improvement if you ask me, in terms of reducing pixel visibility.

But how can you tell the difference?

Just try this when you go TV shopping. Look at the TV demos in the store and focus on the Samsung or LG logos that usually appear on an upper corner of each demo video. The same video is played on 1080p and UHD screens, and you can see how jagged the logos are on the 1080p screen compared to the UHD screen.

Whether you are using 480p, 720p or 1080p content, the video upscaling used in UHD TVs (or at least in the Samsung HU7000 I purchased) is great for non 4k content and you will get a picture with less “jaggies” and the colors appears more solid as the pixel density is increased (the faint black lines between each pixel have been further shrunk).

Of course, if you’re watching 480p (Standard Definition) content from cable channels, it’s going to look blotchy on any 1080p or UHD TV because the source content is so low resolution to begin with.

Do not use SD content as your basis of buying any TV – many of us can already receive free-to-air HD content from Mediacorp if you get a DVB-T2 tuner for your compatible HDTV. And hopefully, StarHub will stop charging extra for most of its HD pay channels and make them part of the basic package.

Netflix is the future of television and it’s UHD-ready.

While Netflix is not officially launched in Singapore, many of us are already on the service through workarounds like VPN or subscribing to ISPs like Viewqwest and MyRepublic. It’s an amazing content service with a wide range of movies, TV series and animation, and everything is ready on demand.

To anyone who tells me that there isn’t UHD content to be found anywhere, you need to go experience Netflix. It is slowly ramping up 4k/UHD content with TV series like House Of Cards, Breaking Bad and The Blacklist, and if your fibre connection is working well, it’s a religious experience watching UHD content streaming into your home in ultra sharp glory.

But you do need the latest 2014 UHD smart TVs from Sony, Samsung or LG and you can check the list here. These TVs have the latest Netflix apps that will stream UHD content with the right video decoders. (Note to fellow Singaporeans: My friend Sherwin reminded me that if you’re in Singapore, only Samsung UHD TVs allow for region switching to access the Netflix USA app, so you’re out of luck with other brands if you need Netflix.)

I don’t think you can stream Netflix UHD to your PC (yet), and Apple TV doesn’t support UHD resolutions, only up to 1080p. You also need to be a bit savvy and know how to sign up for Netflix outside of the USA, so here’s a useful guide.

Netflix will not be the only UHD streaming service forever, I’m pretty sure as competition heats up for subscribers, there will be other players coming in to offer UHD content in Asia.

I’m not sure if there will be much of a future for 4k Blu-Ray packaged content, since people are transitioning to streaming instead of filling up their houses with more discs and jewel boxes.

UHD is not a fad, it’s here to stay

3D TV was definitely a fad and although TV makers did so much marketing around it, it never took off. Personally I think 3D movies or TV content is silly because the effect is never fully immersive and you need to wear special glasses for it. I don’t know of any one who owns a 3D HDTV and actually uses that feature frequently.

4K and UHD is clearly a march towards the future, just as we went from CGA screens to VGA to today’s 4k computer monitors, from 286 PCs to Core i7s.

In TVs, we’ve gone from 480p cathode ray tubes to 720p to 1080p in less than 10 years, and I’m pretty sure 4k will be adopted even more rapidly than 1080p as upgrade cycles shorten and TV component prices continue to fall.

So how do I shop for a UHD TV?

Size

Go for at least 50″-sized screens (yes, even if you stay in a small HDB flat) because that’s the current popular size and the argument that you should not have large screens in a small room no longer holds true when you have really tiny pixels. Playing the new Destiny console game (Xbox One or PS4) on a big UHD screen is just awesome, people.

55″ seems to be the current sweet spot for viewing distance of 2-3m in a living room, and above that size, prices start to get really really high. There are 40″ UHD TVs but I think at that size, you’re better off with a cheap 1080p model.

Also, do prepare to mount the 50″ and above screens on the wall, instead of placing it on a TV cabinet. You save a lot of space and it’s just a better experience. Make sure the TV is mounted with the center of the screen aligned to your viewing height when you’re seated on the couch (for most people, it’s between 1m to 1.3m from the ground up to the center of the TV screen)

Price

At this juncture, UHD is still a premium feature so it’s not going to be cheap. These days, a 32″ HDTV can be gotten for under $600 (pretty amazing value!) so paying over $2500 for a TV may seem exorbitant.

But if you shop around carefully, an entry-level 50″ or 55″ UHD TV is going to be comparable to a high-mid-range 1080p TV of the same size.  I paid around $3100 for my Samsung 55″ HU7000 and received a $500 shopping voucher as part of Samsung’s promotion, so it was cheaper than their premium 1080p TVs.

There are just two things to remember about price

Never accept the suggested retail price. Haggle and ask for a discount with the salesman because they have margins to play with. And shop around at several places for your intended model and you will realize how discounts can vary depending on the store manager.

Wait for good seasonal promotions, either during IT Shows or holiday periods. And don’t go for crappy freebies like free speakers or DVD players, go for cashback or shopping vouchers that have real value.

Avoid the frills

You don’t need useless 3D, you don’t need fancy ultra-thin bezels (they’re already so thin!), and you probably don’t need upgradeable CPUs for your TV. I’m still not sure about the value of fancy curved screens, but I like my screens flat like a painting.

You need a decent amount of HDMI and USB ports, but HDMI ports are easily expanded if you use a UHD-ready AV receiver (otherwise known as the stereo amplifier to the layman)

And chances are the TV makers have a basic, no frills UHD model waiting for you (they do realize not every TV buyer is a fool).

Yes, go for Smart TVs

Most UHD TVs should be smart TVs with inbuilt apps, and you always have to make sure they come with Netflix app with UHD streaming capability (check this list again!). Hulu is also another great streaming app service for the latest US TV series. I don’t use my Smart TV function for browsing or games but the software is frequently updated with the latest firmware and apps.

It is also way more convenient than hooking up an external box to stream Netflix too.

For Singaporeans using Samsung TVs, you do need to change your region setting to USA through a simple step from SG to USA to be able to access the Netflix app download. At this juncture, I’ve been told other TV brands do not support such region switching so you can’t access Netflix yet on them.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of UHD TVs, you can focus on testing the desired models.

Don’t trust the demo videos. Bring your own USB stick.

Demo videos (UHD or 1080p) tend to look good on almost any TV because they are carefully edited and calibrated to do so. I also noticed that these videos avoid showing uniform swaths of colors and show many night scenes so you can’t discern screen uniformity of colors.

My suggestion is to download HD or UHD trailers online onto a USB stick and bring them along to plug into the showroom TVs. Look for motion smoothness, overall color rendition and listen to your gut feeling!

Also remember to download these simple grey and red screens I’ve created to test the screen uniformity – look for uneven patches across the screen and along its edges. The showroom TV will not be the same TV that is shipped to your home, but it gives a good idea of the general quality of the TV panel.

By the way, sometimes you do get lemons: I had a poor experience with the original Samsung HU7000 I purchased as it had really visibile vignetting across the screen edges, and kudos to both Gain City and Samsung customer care for getting me a decent screen replacement. I suspect the original set came from a batch with poor QC, but at least I’m really happy with the current replacement.

All the best with your TV shopping!

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A Practical Guide For Motorcycle Owners In Singapore

Now that you’ve decided you want to ride a motorcycle, passed that really difficult Traffic Police riding practical test and have purchased your dream machine, here are some ownership tips that I’ve learned from others, or from trial and error over time.

Many people think that owning a motorcycle is easy and low-maintenance, but to be honest, it’s not.

A motorcycle requires a minimum amount of TLC and your personal time because it needs to be road-worthy and safe to ride. It is also easily stolen or vandalized. Many great motorbikes are works of art and deserve to be properly cared for. Some of the tips here may sound shallow but they’ll resonate with more experienced bikers who will get it.

Updated 28 July: Added “Lane-Splitting”, “Modding” and “Upgrading”

Continue reading

Image from Wikipedia

How to drink to lose weight and save money

There is one common thing that I’ve frequently observed among people who find it difficult to lose weight and those who wonder why they don’t seem to be able to save much money – they’re simply not very self-aware of their own habits, and they often complain that it’s hard to lose weight or save money.

This post is more on our drinking habits, so I won’t talk much about how to save money because it’s different for everyone. Some people have big necessary bills to pay, some have big unnecessary bills, and some people find it tough to get a good job. (What I do each month is to simply carve out my forced savings the minute my pay cheque gets deposited into my bank and transfer it into another account.)

Now to jump to my conclusion about healthy, economical drinking – just drink plain water all the time (duh).

People know that plain water is beneficial to the body, but you need to look at the economics of commercialized water – you may not be aware of how much money you are literally pissing into into the urinal and helping to fund the huge advertising campaigns of beverage makers to get you to drink even more sugared water. Continue reading

Upper Peirce 31 dec 2013

Goodbye 2013, when meaningless gained meaning

Upper Peirce 31 dec 2013
Upper Peirce Reservoir, 31 Dec 2013. It was a surreal scene with mist and light rain, as if we had stepped into another dimension.

I’m glad to see 2013 come to an end. It’s been a year of many new experiences, many learnings and even more sobering realizations of the human condition. You might say that’s a good thing, but it wasn’t a fun year.

The biggest change in me this year came with the Great Clean-Up Diet, where I discovered how easy it was to lose weight (and keep it down). I still can’t believe how this massive transformation came about due to a bad case of bad foot fungus – I was forced to examine my entire diet and exercise regime and that’s when the snowball started rolling. Continue reading

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Losing Weight: Technology Can Help

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Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS watch
Garmin Forerunner 210 GPS watch

For those who aren’t on my Facebook, I’ve decided to make my book “Anyone Can Lose Weight” free instead of USD1.00, and you can download it from this page. At the same time, I’m going to post more blog updates on weight management as this is still a learning journey for me and people keep asking me new questions which make me think “Hmmm, that’ll make a good blog post”. What’s really encouraging is that more people I know are starting to count their calories or at least rein in their eating habits, and they’re seeing pretty quick results. Losing weight isn’t a tortuous process, just read my book (which is really an edited compilation of my earlier blog posts) to find out how.

I’m a geek by nature and when it comes to weight management, it’s only natural that I seek out the latest technology to make it easier and more fun.

Obviously, you can lose/manage your weight without spending a cent at all (remember to buy new running socks though!) but it’s interesting how technology has advanced in the past few years to enable weight monitoring on a daily basis, across different platforms (PC, smartphone etc) in an increasingly seamless way. Remember what you’re about to read is purely optional, and is really catered for the geeky folks out there. Continue reading

cakes cakes

Guide To Dieting in Singapore

cakes cakes
Dieting in Singapore – you can have your cake and eat it you know. Just know how many calories are in each slice. (About 100kcal)

When I first started counting my calories, I got quite a few responses from my friends. Some feigned mock horror, others said they couldn’t be bothered as it was a chore. To amuse myself and to annoy my Facebook friends, I posted regularly on the horrors of high calorie content in our local foods, and what do you know, some of them started calorie counting too. Sadly, most gave up after a while.

Anyway, in the past four months, I’ve dropped about 5.5kg from the time I swore to change my diet. On the bright side, I can see my jawline again, most of the spare tyres around the tummy and chest has disappeared and my waistline has contracted by over an inch, reversing a 15-year trend.

The bad part is now most of my usual work and casual clothes are now baggy and I have to buy new clothes.

To some people that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Anyway, some friends have asked me to share my diet plan and other tips, so you read this earlier post (My Mid-Life Food Crisis) first on the science behind dieting, and my new learnings as follows: Continue reading

Attitude Determines Destiny

destiny

Last weekend, I was swimming with the family at Bishan pool when I heard a China-born swim coach remind his young students “态度决定命运!”. It means “Attitude Determines Destiny”.

It was such a fascinating statement that I stopped swimming to listen further and I kept brooding on it. I went home and did online research, finding out that it was the title to the following saying (I’m not sure who the author is)

态度改变, 行为就会改变

行为改变, 习惯就会改变

习惯改变, 性格就会改变

性格改变, 命运就会改变

Change your attitude, and your behavior will change.

Change your behavior, and your habits will change.

Change your habits, and your character will change.

Change your character, and your destiny will change.

How true! All these, many of us know in one form or another, but it had never been laid out to me in such a clear, logical manner. I spent the rest of the weekend discussing this with Isaac, stressing to him how every step (attitude, behavior, habits and character) are essential to building one’s future. Of course, I don’t know how much he will remember of this conversation, since he is still young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.

I’ve always wondered if being a journalist was a good thing, because there was so much unhappiness during my SPH bond. But one thing that was beneficial was that it led me to meet so many different types of people in a very short time, and sometimes I got the opportunity to tell their unique stories.

As I looked back at people I’ve met over the years, the four steps manifested themselves in different ways, but always had similar roots in habitual behavior.

There was this army major, who spent his time blaming young NSFs for his mistakes of poor judgement.

There was this girl, who couldn’t help but keep making the wrong decisions in love, breaking up other lives along the way.

There was this person, who kept lying and covering up in almost everything at work, until it became chronic and known to everyone else.

There was this person who spent his time plotting against others, but never actually doing any real work. As far as I could tell, he didn’t really have any real skills either.

There was a writer who was addicted to plagiarism, but somehow was always let off the hook.

The pattern continues, and you get the idea. People who do the things they shouldn’t do, keep doing it until it becomes a fixed habit. Then they get stuck, because they really can’t stop.

What was the attitude that led to the behavior in the first place? The idea that they can get away with it? That it was an acceptable thing to do to survive in this cruel, unforgiving world?

Some will scoff, saying that you can’t be a goody-two-shoes if you want to rise to the top, because the bad guys always get ahead. The question needs to be asked – do you want to rise to the top, and where is the “top” anyway?

The peak of a corporate firm? Or the peak of your technical skills?

The peak of being a multitasker? Or the peak of being able to live with contentment?

The peak of being able to fool everyone (eg. cheating pastor of a big church)? Or the peak of self-awareness and humility?

How then, did such attitudes get planted? Through upbringing? Through peer influence? Through multiple failures or successes in life?

I don’t know, and I worry for my children as I seek to put them on the right path God instructed parents to. I keep making mistakes in parenting and I keep asking myself if I am doing right by my kids. I look back at my own life, and I wonder what did my mum do right so that I didn’t grow up with the wrong values.

Or was it that I was blessed with righteous and caring bosses in SAF, SPH and Microsoft that led to my current outlook on life? I’m not saying that I’m great at what I do, but my bosses all taught me the unshakeable values of doing my best no matter the size of the assignment, and being brutally critical of my own work and behavior because there is always someone better…..You know, there are few greater blessings than having wise mentors.

Or is it genetic? Are chronic liars and competitive people born that way?

Again, I don’t know, but all I know is that shaping my future, and hopefully my children’s values, all starts with my attitude, and for that, I thank the nameless coach for such precious wisdom. I’m not saying that man is in full control of his life – God is. But we have been given free will to decide what kind of life we want to lead, and what is our attitude that will please God and men?