Trip to Penang

26 12 2008

Last week I suddenly decided that I needed some time to myself and took a drive in  my car to Penang.  Leaving Kualal Lumpur, I took the old trunk road out of the city to Tanjung Malim. A long time ago this was  called the KL-Ipoh trunk road. From there I decided to get on the North South Highway heading north. I used to do this quite a lot in the 90’s. When the desire struck me, I would throw a few clothes into a bag, load up with film and get into my car with my trusty Nikon FE. When I first started going on these sojourns, I decided that I would not have any particular destination. I would take my car onto the trunk roads out of the city,often heading northward into Perak , only stopping to look for accomodation at nightfall. It was really fun. There was no pressure of reaching a certain town. No hurry. Just the pleasure of driving and photographing the countryside. How I wish life was still that simple.

This time around I had decided i would end up in Penang Island and made a prior booking with a hotel there. This time around I brought along my Nikon D80. I must admit the trip was not as fun and fulfilling as my trips in the 90’s but it’s a “starter”. I hope this will be the first of many unplanned sojourns of the future. No destination, just point my car to an open road and drive aimlessly.  I can’t wait for the next drive, but first there are things I need to “fix” but that’s for another blog.

I shall write more on my trip to Penang soon. Took lots of interesting pictures. Here’s the first of many.

scenic-point

The picture was taken close to midday from a scenic point just before entering the tunnel north of Ipoh. The view in the picture is looking back towards Ipoh city. The rather harsh lighting is due to the fact that it was 12.30 p.m when the picture was taken. If you ever find yourself driving north past Ipoh, slowdown just before you reach the tunnel above Jelapang toll plaza and stop here to catch some great views of the Kinta valley. More pictures soon.

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Cheap Image Stabilizer

13 12 2008

In photography, one of the greatest factors to affect image sharpness is camera shake. By rule of thumb, camera shake will affect your picture sharpness when the shutter speed falls below the reciprocal of the focal length. For example if you have set your lense’ focal length  at 80mm, camera shake will be evident when the shutter speed falls below 1/80 seconds. And since nowadays almost everyone uses a Digital SLR with a crop  factor, you’ll have to multiply the focal length by this factor. So at 80mm, the shake will start becoming evident at speed below 1/120 second. You can see how this affects  low light photography.

Most Point and shoot cameras have what is touted to be an image stabilizer but in all honesty they merely boost the ISO rating of the camera to improve low light sensitiviy of the sensor. So all you get is a sharp but grainy picture. But those of you who are lucky enough to  own the latest point and shoot cameras will enjoy true Image Stabilization (Optical Stabilization, Vibration Reduction are two other proprietary names by which this technology is referred to) in which either the sensor or one of the lense elements is vibrated at a higher frequency of normal camera shake thus vastly reducing it’s effects.  Those owning DSLR’s have the luxury of buying lenses or even camera bodies which come with a built in image stabilization system. But these come at a cost. And there are still a lot of perfectly good cameras and lenses out in use that do not have image stabilization. So how do you get around  the problem in low light situations? Bring a tripod? Yeah you can do that .  .  .  . but this guy has come up with an ingenious but simple idea. Watch and learn.

Why does it work? Well, to put it simply, it’s because the taught string acts as a damper to the vibrations you introduce to the camera. Try it and you’ll be surprised. This is really K.I.S.S. in practice.





Interview with Bernie Ecclestone – Honda’s retirement from F1

8 12 2008

Bernie Ecclestone, the owner of the Formula 1 brand name recently gave an interview on why Honda retired from the sport. Here first is the interview.

So Ecclestone is of the opinion that the teams are spending way too much money getting their cars to be competitive. But Bernie, it is a COMPETITION! A RACE to see who crosses the finish line first. 2nd place does not cut it.  It has been that way since the first Olympics when men raced against men. The Modern Olympics is all about winning. The cost of research and development for swimsuits alone can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everything is about the competition, about winning.

So if you put two drivers with their own team of mechanics and ask them to win a race no matter what, guess what they will do?  The engineers will try their best to get thier driver into the best car, spending all the money at their disposal to doit. And the driver will push the car to it’s limit  just to win the race for the whole team.

While I do agree the cost of running a team is astronomical (Honda spends in excess of ₤200 million a year!) I cannot blame them for having the competitive streak. I certainly wouldn’t want an engineer who says to a driver “Sorry you’ll just have to make do with 700bhp”. I want an engineer who will say “Let me work on it tonight and get you that extra horsepower”. Maybe Bernie should just give up the brand name to someone who is younger and understands the sport. I am sure there are other ways to whittle down spending without dousing the competitive spirit of the racing teams.





Honda quits F1 for 2009 Season

6 12 2008

Today, citing economic woes brought on by the current financial crisis Honda announced today that it will not participate in the 2009 Formula 1 season. The company further clarifies that it will also stop being an engine supplier for the sport, something it has done successfully in the mid 80’s and 90’s. Honda started with Formula 1 in 1964 but pulled out a few years later after a fatal crash involving one of it’s driver. It then rejoined the sport as engine suppliers to the Williams Team and later the McLaren Team. In 1987, the Honda  Ra166E turbocharged engine that was used in the William-Honda FW11 was already producing in excess of 1000 bhp. All from a 1.5 litre engine! Since then, rules and regulations were put in by organizers to limit the perfomance of these engines and chassis. But even nowadays, the Honda  RA807E V8 normally aspirated engines produce some 700 bhp from a displacement of 2.4 litres. That’s close to 200 bhp per litre!

alainprost_mclaren-honda_1988_1024

But I remember the Mclaren Honda (pictured above) best because they were successfully driven to many victories by my favourite F1 driver of all time, the late Ayrton Senna, and his team mate Alain Prost. Notice that back then slick tyres were really slick. No threads whatsoever! Senna had actually once driven in the wet on these tyres to win the race! Here is Senna in the Mclaren Honda MP4/4 in Monaco.

In 1988, the the Mclaren-Honda driven by these two superb drivers won 15  out of a total of 16 races from 15 pole positions. To date this is the most dominant car in any Formula 1 season. Honda left Formula 1 altogether in 1992 but returned again in the year 2000 as engine suppliers for the British American Racing Team (BAR) which they finally bought over in 2005 to become a Factory Team. And today after 3 full seasons Honda has called it quits. I have read somewhere that Honda spends ₤200 million a year putting these cars on the grid. The pullout by Honda will remove 4 cars from the starting grid next year. The 2 cars fromthe factory team and the 2 I hope the hard times will not affect any other teams and that Honda will eventually return to the sport.





Proton goes back to Mitsubishi

5 12 2008

Today’s Star online (I don’t buy the hard copy anymore) headlines carries this story. I wonder why? Proton has recently developed it’s own engines, namely the 1.3 and 1.6 Campro engines which powers the New Saga and the Persona. Proton started assembling cars way back in 1984, and now boasts it’s own line of cars. Back then, Proton was also tied to Mitsubishi and all their cars and engines were in fact rebadged Mitsubishi products which of course were not Mitsubishi’s latest.

My question is, will this bring our car industry back to being  a mere receiver of “hand-me-down” technology from Big Brother? Or will Mitsubishi be sharing all their latest and best technology with us this time around? What do you think?

Is there something wrogn with the cars currently in Proton’s stable? The Saga looks decent enough but I am not sure about it’s performance and fuel consumption figures.





The Great Crash of 2008

4 12 2008

The signs are everywhere if you just care to seek them out. The Kuala Lumpur Composite Index or KLCI has lost more than 45% of it’s value. Just look at the graph below which represents the performance of the KLCI over the last year.

365maincomposite1gif

The Malaysian Stock exchange closed today with the index at 847, down from a high of ovr 1500 points just early this year. The New York Stock Exchange has taken a similiar beating losing some 47% of its value.

Just today I read this report on almost all the news portals. The following is an excerpt taken from Yahoo.

Private jobs and services slump show recession toll

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Private employers slashed an unexpectedly high 250,000 jobs in November, the most in seven years, while the service sector that powers most of the economy posted its worst slump on record.

The reports on Wednesday were the latest signs that the job market is nowhere near a bottom as the U.S. recession enters its second year and the entire economy was still in a state of trauma after the worst financial crisis in a generation.

“The severe damage to the service industry is another indication of the extraordinary force of this recession,” said Pierre Ellis, senior economist at Decision Economics in New York.

Just imagine that, 250,000 jobs were lost in the month of November alone. The only reason we in Malaysia don’t hear any of this happpening is because nobody is telling us. A colleague of mine told me that he heard a group of men discuss the separation scheme (read severance pay) their company will soon be offering.

All over the world production of goods is slowing down causing a spillover effect on services. With less or no goods to be transported, delivery services are taking a beating too. Look at the headlines early November.

DHL to cut 9,500 U.S. jobs

The firm will end deliveries within the U.S., but will continue shipments to other countries.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Global delivery company DHL announced Monday that it was cutting 9,500 jobs as it discontinues air and ground operations within the United States.

DHL said its DHL Express unit will continue to operate between the United States and other nations. But the company said it was dropping “domestic-only” air and ground services within the United States by Jan. 30 “to minimize future uncertainties.”

With the little data before you, this should not come as a surprise. 250,000 more people jobless means 250,000 people demanding and consuming less goods, leading to even less goods to be delivered. I am no economist but I do not think it would take a genious to figure out that soon we in Malaysia would be severely affected by this global phenomenon, regardless of what our desperate leaders are trying to tell us.

There is much more depressing data out there but you’ll have to look for it and analyse it for yourself. Here is an article written by Robert Reich who is America’s 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His article is the inspiration for my posting today.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Great Crash of 2008

If this isn’t a Great Crash I don’t know how to define one. Stocks were down another 7 percent today. Since the peak of last year, major stock indexes have dropped 47 percent. We’re in range of the Great Crash of 1929.

Why is the Great Crash of 2008 happening? First, because investors are beginning to understand the enormity of the bubble economy that began to form in the late 1990s when all contraints were lifted on borrowing in order to buy everything that was assumed to be increasing in value — starting with houses and including securities and shares of stock themselves. So-called “margin requirements,” first instituted in the wake of the Great Crash of 1929, were all but abandoned, as big banks and hedge funds found ways around them.

Even more important, investors are starting to fathom the emptiness of American consumers’ wallets. Retail sales last Friday and Saturday — the first days of the Christmas buying season — were disappointing. Had retailers not discounted to the point of taking losses, sales would have been abysmal. In other words, consumers have gone on strike.

Why have they gone on strike? Not because of the difficulty of getting credit. Most consumers can barely afford to pay the interest charges on the debt they’re already carrying. Consumers have gone on strike because their earnings haven’t kept up. The recovery that officially ended December, 2007 (the National Bureau of Economic Research now tells us) was the first on record in which median earnings declined, adjusted for inflation. Since then, many people have also lost their jobs or are working part time when they’d rather be working full time, or else know they’re in danger of losing their jobs.

The speculative bubble still has some air in it; asset values will continue to drop before they hit bottom. That will take at least a year, possibly two. But don’t expect asset values to bounce substantially back, even then. The only way to revive Wall Street is to revive Main Street, and the only way to accomplish this is to get America back on the course of rising median incomes.

I shall leave you with this. The current accepted remedy for dealing with a recession is to spur spending which creates jobs, which puts more money in the hands of the people, which in turn spurs more spending.It is this philosophy that is driving the cuts in interests rates or  rate cuts.. Rate cuts are actually the cutting of the basic lending rates which banks and Financial Institutions have to adhere to when giving out loans.  Read here how low the rates have come down in the the UK. But with  interest rates already  at historic lows, the government of Malaysia does not really have this mechanism at it’s disposal. Instead it has cleverly reduced the minimum limit for contributions to the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) from 11% to 8%, hoping this extra money will spur it’s working populace into a spending spree thus saving the economy from a recession. Think it will work?

I am not sure really, but the best advice I can give to those reading this article is to be wise with your earnings, get your EPF contributions back up to 11% ( you didn’t need the money before, so you sure as hell don’t need it now), be on the lookout for a good investments (pick up stocks of companies which have very strong fundementals or are the backbone of the economy i.e bluechip) and spur others to do the spending. hahaha!