Posts tagged review

2011 Year in Photos

The year everything changed – 2011

Here’s looking back the 12 months in photos from blog entries excerpted over the year.





Surprisingly no photos and no entries in April.









iRobot Roomba 780

What happens when you have a Cambodian maid who insists that you cannot correct her, nor tell her what to do? We’re nice people, really nice. I know a lot of people think I’m too soft. Maybe. I know you came from far away, away from family to work in Malaysia. You eat the same food we eat, you get to sleep at 9pm and our little house is only… ah, I’ll save that for another blog post.

Anyways, sans maid, what to do when you’ve an infant around the house who is starting to crawl about? I’ve also a bustling studio in the living room area at times and cleaning up is always a chore. From friends, relatives and my own parents, I’ve got good reviews of the iRobot Roomba 581. In fact, an aunt of mine has a veritable army of iRobot Roombas and Scoobas cleaning her house.

As Malaysia never gets the latest stuff, I noticed the 7-series robots being sold on Amazon. While waiting for my 581 to be delivered, Aetis, the Malaysia distributor and reseller had the 780 in stock! So I switched and got the 780 instead. Am I glad indeed!

Biggest difference I noticed between the 780 and the 581 is battery life. My parents had their little 581 for 2.5 years now and the poor guy would only be able to clean about 2.2 hours before “Please charge roomba” would be announced (This only happens when it can’t find the docking station). My 780 in casual tests has gone for about 4+ hours before needing a recharge. This meant that I could clean over 1,500 square feet without a recharge. Your mileage will vary of course. Run-time will depend on the amount of carpeting, obstacles, furniture and of course, dirt! The HEPA filters also are a big improvement and the new AeroVac series 2 bins are easier to clean and seem to hold a ton of crap vacuumed off my floor!

Overall, another improvements on the 780 vs the 581 seems (no scientific test here) to be a slightly smarter in navigating the furniture and is slightly faster cleaning rooms for the 780. It’s specifications say the 780 is quieter but it’s still noisy and you might not want it to clean your house on schedule at 3am for example.

Results wise, I will say the the Roomba 780 out cleans the maid anytime. The floor is cleaner than even me sweeping and vacuuming. Of course it can’t clean certain corners and areas it can’t get to won’t be clean but it does perform as advertise – 98% clean! The low-profile robot also gets under most of my furniture, including Lorenzo sofas, Ikea Effektiv cabinets. See the photo below where it is cleaning my home-office. The big benefits to me is that after a studio shoot session, I can go download photos, take a shower while the little robot cleans up after me or that I can let it clean the rooms while I’m out for lunch.

Starbucks Via

Instant Starbucks coffee?



The main draw of Starbucks has been the “Third place”. A place to hang-out, to meet friends, business associates, to ponder the meaning of life and the universe, that sort of thing. To turn that experience into a instant cup of coffee you make at home just doesn’t seem like it would work. Introducing Starbucks Via!

To me, it doesn’t.

Let’s get back to basics. The coffee at Starbucks is average. Worse on some days and better on some. The beans aren’t the freshest and the barista’s skill plays the other part. Some days, I actually insist the barista remake my latte or cappuccino. Instant Via tastes quite poor actually. I actually find it’s made from over-roasted beans and it tastes overly bitter, flat and lifeless. You pay RM12 per cup because it’s the whole experience. The ambiance, the place, etc. I can’t see myself paying RM2.50 for this tiny satchet that doesn’t really taste much better than Nescafe Gold! Two strikes.

If you’ve taken the red pill in the world of coffee then you would know the truth out there. Stale beans make lousy coffee. It’s unfair to compare Via to my week-old roasted Five Senses of which the difference is like night and day. I compared to Nescafe Gold and Alta Rica as well as house brands such as First Choice and Jusco selects.

The results? Not good. They all taste rather similar. I would have expected the Via to stand out a bit. After all, there’s a taste promise that goes with the Via. In Italian, Via can have many meanings, but for me, Starbucks Via means way, and it’s way out the door. Doesn’t make my coffee grade one bit.

Book Review: Speedliter’s Handbook

One of my favorite photography lighting books is Joe McNally‘s Hot Shoe Diaries. Joe can really write and its a great book with lots of inspiration and stories behind how each picture is made. Sometimes, you do want a book that’s specific to your camera system and covers the nitty-gritty details in configuring your small flash units. There are many books on lighting and flash but only a couple are really good. If you want a good flash and lighting book that is Canon specific, there’s only one good book and it’s this one. The Speedliter’s Handbook by Syl Arena. Joe McNally started me on multiple flash units and others like Louis and Syl has gotten me to journey down the e-TTL multiple speedlite path. As you start to wander down this road, it’s indispensable to have a book like this.

What I love about this book is that it’s big but not too big. You need space to have nice readable type and space for diagrams, before and after shots as well as some in-between shots for various settings or configurations. The pages are printed on quality paper and it feels good in my hands. There’s technical information and jargon along with clear concise explanations that beat the crap out of those boring Canon manuals. In case you need to shoot penguins, the infamous Canon flash penguin makes a cameo appearance! The best part about the handbook to me is the shoot sections where Syl’s goes through various setups with various flash configurations. The section starts with a single flash and moves on until it gets fun, scary and crazy… like with his gang-light. There’s detailed explanation on each shoot and setup so that you will understand what goes on, why the photographer is doing so and why each piece of equipment is used. Nothing could be clearer or simpler than that — you just need to duplicate the setup and you’ll be able to get the similar effect.

And for those readers who love getting new gear, there’s also plenty of that in the book along with photos showing the effect of each. I know getting new stuff won’t necessarily help you become a better photographer, but sometimes, new, shiny stuff will at least encourage you to get off your butt and shoot more. It’s not a really cheap book but it’s packed full of information. The amount of knowledge gained more than outweighs the investment — yes, it’s really an investment because you can start with one camera, one lens and one flash along with this book and grow your way up!

If you are a beginner, the book is clear and concise enough that you can understand it. If you’re in the middle of working out how to use your flash, this book will help you. Even if you’re a professional, I think this book still has something to teach you. I love the way the information is laid out as there’s plenty of basic to advance information provided for you. Syl starts with the basics and moves all the way down so this really IS the handbook to own if you intend to use small flash in any way (yes, including parking it on top your camera).

My opinion is that this is the book Canon should give you when you buy a flash unit from them! If you have one flash and am looking to improve your lighting, buy this book before you buy that second flash unit. If there’s anything this book doesn’t have is that there’s no rebate coupon for a 580EX II… or a lighting how-to DVD but then again I do wonder when Syl’s going to have a workshop down in Malaysia. Joe’s been here so come on down!

Buy this book from Amazon today!

MeatWorks at Solaris, KL

It was a random day and a random passing that I chanced upon a restaurant packed with people. My guess is if there’s a crowd, the food’s got to be something. So, a couple of weeks later, it was time to get back there and check it out. It’s a pretty neat concept, a restaurant and deli combined. You can get a well cooked steak or you can buy a rack of ribs and broil them to your taste back home. So off we went.

The place is very nicely done with modern touches and a white, cheery interior. Lots of glass and unfinished brick walls surround a cement render floor but softened with the touch of white-washed wood. Pretty neat but it gets a bit messy in some areas where you have marble and stainless steel. Definitely a standout decor but I think it’s a bit overboard. Could have been done better with a tighter theme. This a case where the original theme wasn’t strictly followed and things got a bit out of hand.

We ordered a soup and starter to go with the main course. The flat-bread with was great. The bread was crisp on the outside but soft and chewy inside. The olive and feta cheese and tomato with a hint of smoked flavor went nicely with it like a horse and carriage. Lovely. The mushroom soup was pretty ordinary and could be better but no complains. The starters were served when we had no plates and plates only showed up after we started eating. This service lapse was what foreshadowed what is to come. A serious lack in service quality at the demanded price.

The main course arrived. We had rib-eyes, t-bones and ribs on the table. First thing that struck me was that the plate was a sickly green in color. Eating consists not just the taste of the food when you put into your mouth but also the aromas and the visuals. This isn’t your RM9 “coffee-shop-western-food-corner” so I do expect a visual feast. After all, our eyes are sense number one. A white plate would have allowed the colors and meat to stand out and draw your eye in but I’m left trying to eyeball the dish and my camera’s trying to white-balance the sucker. Thankfully the ribs came on a white plate but the other dishes weren’t so lucky. Service failure number two was not even bothering to put the plates for the right people. We all gestured when the server announced “Medium rib-eye steak” but that guy insisted on pass the plate to me to pass it on. That’s failure number three. Handing your customers the plate to put onto their own table! I don’t think even the coffee-shop western food does that!!

My rib-eye steak was supposed to be medium. It was well done in one corner. Forgivable but can be improved. The greens were seriously undercooked and unless I was bugs bunny, the carrots were a no go. Flavors, well, I might ask “what flavors?” Salt, pepper and not much else. There was a bowl of sauce on the table that the waiter just unceremoniously placed without any word. When asked what was it for and what is it, all I got back was “sauce”. My God! The ribs were nothing to shout about but pretty decent. All in all, the food was average. I would say that the food is a big let down due to the way the MeatWorks is selling their concept and their food. Beeftopia indeed. Far from it I would say. Maybe for some who have not had some really nice steak might be satisfied but I am seriously let down. Honestly, I can name several steak houses who can do better steaks but MeatWorks does not get my recommendation.

Final service failure came when I called for the bill. The waiter is either deaf or does not understand English. Had to raise my volume several times until he nodded. Probably he could also tell that I was a tad annoyed at repeating myself five times. He just disappears and I don’t get the bill for the next twenty minutes. Well, enough is enough. At over RM300 for four main courses, I definitely expected better and that kind of service will never get my business again.

The Bee, Jaya One

One early Saturday morning, we found ourselves near the vicinity of Jalan University. Needing breakfast, we made our decision to head to Jaya One. We arrived at the Bee about 9:45am in the morning. It seems that on weekends, they only have their brunch menu which excludes their burgers. So much for that. The Kitchen is also not open till 10am.

Oh, well, it’s only another fifteen minutes. Ordered a latte which came in decent time. The latte was done reasonably well. Probably the beans weren’t as fresh but still pretty decent. Starbucks can pull a decent latte too but their beans are weeks to a month old. Would I expect a cafe like the Bee to have fresher beans? Possibly, but I don’t know the traffic pattern or output to judge.

The waitstaff seem to be rather disorganized and are unable to keep up with even four tables occupied. Our food arrived after a fairly long while – like twenty-five minutes. It’s not like they were full but I’d hate to be sitting there when the place is overflowing with people. Taste wise, nothing to shout about but overall good filling meals. The banana-peanut butter toast was pretty unique and flavorful.

Done with our breakfast (or brunch), we called for the bill. That took another ten minutes and we decided to put it on the card. The nice thing about my Citibank Visa is that the points can be used to buy anything. Of course, the rate isn’t fantastic — they’re a bank and they’re out to make money from you but if you gotta use the money anyway, might as well build up the points to get something… like a new lens or refrigerator, etc. Back to the Bee. The credit slip took them another fifteen minutes to produce for us to sign. Overall, waiting for service, waiting for food and waiting to sign the credit card slip took longer than our entire meal.

Bottom line (NPS-like) is I don’t think I’d recommend friends to the Bee, or at least I’d be neutral which means “negative” in NPS-speak. Food-wise ok but I’d need to try the burgers so means I’d be going back, at least one more time. If the service-delays persist, it’ll be my last.