Category Archives: Reviews

Too Wicked?

Oh My Gosh..

Is it possible to get too much Wicked?

The entertaining musical Wicked is currently playing in Perth, after seasons in Melbourne and other Australian cities.  Our whole family just could not resist going.  After all, we were hooked after seeing it on Broadway and then later in Melbourne.  Unfortunately, we just missed out on seeing it in Japan which I’m sure would’ve been a blast!

Last Saturday, we made our way through an extremely happening and crowded Burswood to join the packed Burswood Theatre to watch Wicked again.

It’s such a well done, well produced show – I still am taken aback by how smoothly everything runs, how fantastic the set and costumes are, how memorable the songs are that take you on a rollercoaster ride, the clever story and how the story weaves around The Wizard of Oz.  It’s awesome. 

But for some reason, I was not blown away this time. 

Maybe the initial euphora of the first time viewing the show and ensuing excitement has dissipated. 

Or maybe I’ve listened to the Official Broadway Cast recording so many times that anything different makes me think it’s not right.

Or maybe the tempos were just a tad fast on Saturday night, giving the feeling that they were rushing through parts of the first act.

Or maybe it was me being annoyed that Bert Newton got more applause as the Wiz than the other musical theater performers.

Or maybe it was the guy sitting next to me who didn’t clap after any song until the very end of the show, obviously having being dragged there by his partner.

In any case, if you HAVEN’T seen Wicked before, definitely go – it’s worth seeing at least once!  And by going, you’re “voting” with your feet and money that productions like this should continue coming to Perth.

And if it’s too expensive, you might want to try the Wicked lottery tickets each day, or keep a lookout for some cheap last minute discounted tickets that are going around now.

Only with the Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.8

Wow, what a few weeks it’s been.

I’ve sold my Nikon D80, crop mid range zoom and wide angle zoom to fund an upgrade to a D700.

I absolutely LOVE the low light performance and robustness of the new camera body.

BUT…

I’ve lost a lot lens and focal length range!

So, on a recent family getaway, all I had was my 50mm.  At first I thought it was going to be very restrictive and I would not be able to get the shots I wanted, but in the end I think it’s been a very liberating experience!

No more having to play with 2 variables of distance to subject as well as zoom for viewing angle.  No big heavy zoom to lug around.  And I found having no zoom has FORCED me to be more creative in my shooting and composition.  I was very happy with the results and don’t think I missed out on too many shots where I needed a different focal length.   It forced me to think more about the shot and pre-visualise it instead of just standing on the spot and twisting the zoom ring.   And now it’s really made me think twice about whether I should get the 24-70 f/2.8 at all.

The only complaint about the Nikon AF-D 50mm 1.8 is that the bokeh can sometimes produce circles with quite a hard circumference line in conditions with spots of light coming through (like light through the leaves of a tree).  Besides that, it’s extremely good value and every Nikon shooter should have a 50mm!

Here are a few of my favourites from our trip away…

The Sassy Cookie

At work I’m always on the lookout for new places to get cake.

Yes, cake.

I think this needs to be added to all management training – people underestimate the power of cake – people love it, it brings people together, it motivates them to come to meetings 🙂

I recently found out that there’s a new cake place near my work – The Sassy Cookie.   It’s a quaint little corner shop that’s been fitted out in a vintagey/crafty/Perth Upmarket style.  

Yes, I’m sure it’d be a hit for mums for morning tea after dropping off their littlies to school.  But would a box of various cupcakes (some even gluten free) stand the litmus test for a bunch of computer nerdy engineers?

The answer is yes – it seems so!  Although each cupcake is a little pricey and they didn’t have discounts for multiple, they did taste nice 🙂

Website here: http://www.thesassycookie.com.au/

D700 Unboxing

Finally!

I finally ordered a D700 from T-Dimension a week ago.

And then, as a nerdy nerd, I tracked its progress every hour across the globe..  well, from Hong Kong, to China, to Singapore then to Perth.

And then I waited as it got held up in customs.

And then I rang Fedex, bugging them about why it’s been sitting in Perth for a day without me hearing anything.

And then I decided to drive TO the Fedex depot in Perth, and just demand that I want to pick up my camera.

And after paying the import duty, I had to wait nearly 30 minutes whilst they tried to locate my parcel.

And then it was IN MY HANDS!

Even though I missed out on getting it cheaper, I’m glad I did, because I’ve since found out that many Hong Kong (and probably other) stores have a very small supply of Nikon gear in their inventory, and that’s it – they don’t know when they will get more from Nikon because there’s a worldwide shortage due to the earthquake and tsunami.

After unboxing, the things I immediately noticed:

It was REALLY HEAVY!  I thought, “How am I going to lug this thing around?”  I can’t even hold it with one hand easily!!  I think I nearly strained my wrist holding it with one hand.   Heavy is good for one thing though – it’ll help you steady the camera when hand holding a shot.   Besides that, the only other positive I can think of is it’ll help me burn more calories when I take photos due all the lifting I have to do!

It was BIG!  Well, bigger than the D80 I was using before.  Definitely not inconspicuous at all.  With a small 50mm or 85mm on there, it’s OK.  But I dread to think how big it will be with a 24-70 zoom.  Luckily it still fits into my camera bag.

It felt PRO!  The rubbery texture, the metal housing, the number of buttons and dials.   The lack of “scene” modes like Portrait, Landscape, Sports – that’s right – no more hand-holding.  You need to be comfortable with Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program and Manual modes.   And then going through the menus – the sheer number of configurable items – do we need ALL these things to be configurable?

One of the first things I did was put on my 50mm f/1.2 manual non-CPU lens.  Amazingly, the D700 can automatically set exposure for the lens, and although there is no autofocus, the in-focus indicator in the viewfinder works which helps report if the camera thinks the image at the focus point is in focus.  Sweeet!

A more detailed review with some shots to follow…

Henning plays the Sibelius with WASO

Wow!  My favourite violin concerto.  Henning, a young and talented violinist that I had the pleasure of seeing a masterclass of last week.  Good combination 🙂

Henning played it through effortlessly – letting his violin sing the passion that’s in the Sibelius, as well as hitting the technical work. 

I loved the attention he gave to the conductor and orchestra during the performance (and joining the string pizzicatos in the 3rd movement).  I was amazed at the way he hit the jumps to the high notes and fingered octaves in the first movement and arpeggios in the last movement with no problems.  But I was most surprised by the volume of sound Henning is able to produce from his violin.  I don’t think WASO played with a smaller orchestra for the concerto – it was the full thing.  But I heard Henning with no problems.  

How?  I’m guessing great bowing arm and wrist, full bow hair on the string, and playing next to the bridge but without scratchiness.  The only fault I can give was I wished there was a bit more space in between some of the phrases in the first movement – they nearly rushed into each other.  But the second movement was so soulful and well played it’s inspired me to get the notes back out and learn it.

The Perth audience applause was great, and Henning treated us to not one, but TWO encores!  The first encore was played by Henning leading the string section.  I believe this was “La Melancolie”, composed by Norwegian violinist Ole Bull (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ole_Bull), when Ole’s wife passed away.   Great to hear something not so passionate, and more subdued.   The second encore?  I don’t know – let me know if you know what it was – it was nearly sounding improvised at some bits.   I would have loved to have hear him play the Ysaye Ballade (like Vengerov and Vadim) but it was not to be.
Violin/piano score to La Melancolie here – https://urresearch.rochester.edu/institutionalPublicationPublicView.action?institutionalItemId=4056&versionNumber=1

Tim Minchin vs WASO at Kings Park

Ahhh..  this is one of the great things about Perth life.

A beautiful Summer (no wait, warm Autumn) evening, picnic, great food and drink, great company (my Wifey!) and watching a concert in the outdoors!  

Last weekend, Perth people had the pick of either Michael Buble at the Sandalford or Tim Minchin with WASO in Kings Park.  We opted for the Tim Minchin and weren’t disappointed! 

The lyrics were sometimes bitter and offensive but overall great story telling and social commentary on what our lives and culture has become.  Some of his songs are really clever and combined with his piano playing remind me of Ben Folds (ahh..  someone else I need to see live).  As the sole main man on stage all night, Tim definitely held his own with a confident stage presence. 

And it was awesome to see Shaun Tan’s “The Lost Thing” being shown on the screen during interval.  At first I didn’t know why, but Wifey informs me it’s because Tim did the narration for it – unfortunately, something that couldn’t be heard at interval – will definitely have to seek this out later.

But the whole concert going experience just reminded me of what a nanny state WA, or Australia has become.

Check out this sign on the way in – warning you of foul language ahead!!!  I wonder if any of those older richer VIPs or people who were there as WASO only fans got offended at all 🙂  I didn’t see anyone walk out though, which is a good sign!

And this sign made me LOL – do we really need to be told how to arrange our picnic rug?


More here:  http://www.timminchin.com/

Updating the map on the Garmin Nuvi 260W

A few years ago, I bought my Dad a Garmin Nuvi 260W GPS.   It was a good GPS in its day – but I think now its interface is a little basic.

Well, it seemed to be working fine for my Dad until he wanted to go to some place up in Landsdale.   And for some reason, the Garmin GPS just did not want to navigate to a specific address up there.  It was as if the address did not exist.  Actually, it seemed like there were only 2 or 3 addresses on Landsdale Road!   What happened to all the other houses and businesses?

I thought that it would be a good time to update the maps on his GPS.   Luckily, when I registered the Nuvi, we were informed that he could get one free map upgrade!  Awesome!   (Although, I was thinking – shouldn’t EVERYONE get free map upgrades for their GPS?   I’m somehow getting free updates for my TomTom GPS on the iPhone.  Aarghh, it seems that some recent purchasers do get free lifetime map upgrades – http://www.smarthouse.com.au/Automotive/Navigation/E3S5J9V3)

So, the GPS was connected, I pressed the buttons to update the map, but no..   I got an error message saying that there wasn’t enough memory!

What the?!?

I’m scouring the net trying to figure out how to get around this.

There was some text on the Garmin website that said “In some instances, your Garmin product might not have sufficient memory remaining for you to load an update to the same map Data originally included with your Garmin product (or purchased separately, as the case may be), in which case you will need to select reduced map Data coverage for your updates.

Unfortunately, when going through the screens to download the maps, I only have one choice – full coverage of Australian and New Zealand!

In a similar thread on the Garmin website, someone seemed to indicate that the software will assist you in freeing up some space – but I didn’t see any prompt like this, maybe it’s for the Windows version only?

Some other posts on the net start delving into removing or moving files off the GPS.   And I started playing around with this.   One useful thing about the Nuvi is that the files inside it appear as a USB drive.   So I could see that it only had 33MB free of 250MB.   Not good.

I first copied ALL the files over to my laptop, and then progressed to deleting off Voice and Text files for languages that my Dad wouldn’t need and deleting off the example images in the JPEG folder.   I might have even deleted the gmapprom.img and gmapprom.sum files (the pre-loaded maps).

And then it was all OK!  The update worked fine.  The GPS still booted up and had maps on it.

And it found the weird address in Landsdale that my Dad was looking for.

So, if you’re having problems updating maps – check out how much free space there is left in your GPS, take a backup (copy) of everything on there, clear out unnecessary files, and google “gmapprom.img” if you need to move the pre-loaded maps off.

Bike Cat, Flaps and Ping Pong Bats with The List Operators

OMG!  Last night Wifey and I ducked into the Fringe World festival in Perth to catch a show.

The vibe in the Fringe World courtyard is so cool.   That area outside the Perth Art Gallery was so dead and unused, but the bar, food and chill out area with the loungy cushions and hanging lights has really created a real arty..  Melbournesque atmosphere.   I wish it was there permanently!

We grabbed tickets to see The List Operators, a Melbourne comedy duo.  We weren’t quite sure what to expect and although there were some slow moment, I was literally in tears with laughter many times during their show thanks to some some slapstick, audience interaction and rude sketches 🙂

The atmosphere inside the Spiegeltent was all that I expected and more.  I love the cozy booths that line the inside, and the wooden floor feels really nice to dance to!

When I got home last night, I was straight away back on the Fringe World website, thinking of what show we can see next.

More info:  http://www.fringeworld.com.au/

Sigma 1909 HR STS Bike Computer Review

After a year of serious cycling, I have finally bought a bike computer.  So far, I’ve been getting by by using TrailGuru on the iPhone for post trip analysis, or asking my fellow riding friends during the ride, “How fast are we going?”.  Not very scientific or useful.  Sort of like driving a car without a speedo, or having a bank account without transaction history.

Yesterday, my eBay purchase of the Sigma 1909 HR STS arrived! 

This little computer does speed, cadence and heart rate – all wirelessly too!  I definitely wanted speed so I can maintain a good pace which is useful when cycling in a pack.   I heard that cadence was useful to make my cycling more efficient.  And heart rate should be useful to improve my fitness.

First Impressions

I was worried that the screen would be quite small, which would make it hard to look at when cycling.  But no, when I unboxed the Sigma, I was happy to see a large clear display!

The wireless sensors seem a bit big, but I’ve heard that they are smaller than the Cateye wireless ones, so I’m not complaining.

Packaging all looks professional, instructions were very clear, all good!

Nice things about the Sigma package is that you get O rings as well as zip ties – you can choose which way to secure the parts to your bike.  It also came with a sample tube of Buh Bump heart rate monitor electrode cream!

Installation

The Sigma website actually has videos showing you how to install the sensors on your bike.  You gotta see the video once – it’s useful, but moreso because it’s all done in cheezy simulated slomo.  The actor must’ve had a ball recording this.

Mounting was pretty simple thanks to the clear instructions.   I just had some problems with the magnet on the front wheel.  It seems if it was mounted the correct orientation, the magnet jutted too far out and kept hitting the sensor. I couldn’t move the sensor any further away from the spokes.   So I’ve temporarily mounted the magnet facing the other way on the spoke.   Not ideal but it’s still registering OK.

Very small gap between magnet and sensor

One nice feature about the sensor – it seems to make a small clicking sound everytime the magnet goes by.  Not sure if this is the magnet relay inside the sensor or an actual click from a speaker, but it makes it easier to tell whether the sensor is working or not.

The cadence sensor was quite easy to install and didn’t seem to get in the way of my shoe at all.

Sigma cadence sensor

Operation

At first I wasn’t sure how to turn the device on or off!  But it seems to be always in standby, turn on when it detects movement from the sensors, and goes back to standby automatically after some period of not being used.

Speed and cadence worked fine for me.  Actually, I noticed I ended up pushing myself more on my ride to work today because of the computer!  So it must be doing something right 🙂    And it was nice to see the cadence so that I could keep it around 80-90rpm.  

The speed and distance sort of matched up with TrailGuru on the iPhone.   Yeah I know, a pretty short commute to work and “slowish” because of traffic lights, intersections, etc 🙂

The thing that didn’t work for me though was the heart rate monitor.  I had it strapped on, and I did wet it before I started (and it was pretty wet when I finished), but it didn’t register anything!  No heart rate.  I’ll need to investigate another time – maybe it was in the wrong location on my chest, or maybe the shape of my chest is not conducive to strap on heart rate monitors.  Hmm..

So for AUD $129 off eBay, the Sigma 1909 HR seems like quite a bargain.   Especially when a Cateye RD400DW double wireless without a heart rate monitor goes for the same price on eBay and the Polar CS400 and CS500 ones with heart rate monitor go from $349 to $399.

I’ll need to try different positions for the HRM strap and see if it makes any difference…   and try that sample Buh Bump cream!

More info here: http://www.sigmasport.com/en/produkte/bikecomputer/topline_2009_wireless/bc1909/

MyTown iPhone Game Review

The multitude of functions of the iPhone have introduced a whole new range of games.  MyTown, made by Booyah,  is one that combines location (GPS), map information (where buildings and businesses are) and social networking together to be a location-based game.  Some think of it like Foursquare, or an expanded version of Facebook’s checkin facility.

But I like to think of it as real world Monopoly that you play on your phone!  Sounds geeky right?

Booyah claim that it’s the most popular location based social game ever.   Big call!

I think the original idea was when you’re at some place (cafe/restaurant/business/anything), that you fire up MyTown and check in to say that you’re there.   You get a bonus for checking in to properties when you’re actually physically closer to it.  You can also receive items for checking in at places.

Radio City Music Hall - one of my properties

The next aspect to the game is purchasing properties.  At first I didn’t get this at all.   I mean why would you want to buy your local deli, cafe, bar, etc?  It’s definitely one way of saying “I like this place!”, but buying virtual properties lets you earn rent and create items.  Rent gives you money which lets you upgrade and decorate your properties.  Items lets you earn more money or items.   There’s only a fixed number of properties you can buy and you’re also constrained by how much money you have (well, the initial parts of the game) – but you unlock “slots” more as you play the game more.

Since MyTown must host a massive database of every property in the world (HA!), they can keep track of how many people check in at each one and calculates a popularity rating which can affect the current “price” of the property.

Besides upgrading, buying and selling properties, you can also create “items” at your properties – depending on what type of business it is.  I don’t see the point of this side of the game unless you’re into levelling up.  I’ve persisted for a while – for exmaple, getting my Gas and Convenience to 16 skill points.  But so what?  So I can unlock more items?  Little Miss 11 plays this game too but hasn’t even touched this side of the game.

Creating items and increasing your skill level

So when I started playing, I just had a few local popular businesses.  Then I started checking in more often when I was out and about around Perth.  And adding places like Burswood Casino, Subi Oval, Greens & Co, etc to my property portfolio.  But I wasn’t earning much cash at all.

Burswood Casino

Then I found out how you can “game” the system. 

Seems like you can turn off Location Services on your iPhone/iDevice for MyTown (or just play it on a non-GPS iDevice), and then when you start up, it asks you which city you are in.  You can put it any city in the world! 

Turning off Location Services for MyTownChoose any town you want!

It seems to make sense to buy the most popular properties in the game, and they seem to be the ones that are closest to the default location of each city.  Actually, if you look at the list that comes up, many people end up choosing Abilene, Texas and then checking in and/or buying the first properties on this screen or anything closer than 100m to where you are in Abilene, Texas.

Choose properties less than 100m away

Take a look at Abilene Educational Supplies!   The problem with this now is that the property rankings in MyTown have nothing to do with how popular the property is in real life at all.  In my eagerness to get more money, I ended up buying properties like this in the U.S. (Bitsy’s Flowers, Quiznos, Hoofbeats), and famous tourist destinations like the Apple Store in New York, Statue of Liberty, etc.

Hoofbeats - one of the most popular and valuable properties

And now I don’t really play the game much anymore.

I think they need to do a few things:

  • Stop people checking in and buying places that they aren’t actually at.  It means the whole property popularity thing has no meaning.   But then again, it’s a game right?  Not some official data collection service.
  • Change the UI.  The styling, colour and graphics need to be slicked up.  Maybe it’s meant to be targeted towards kids – in which case it’s fine.  
  • Perhaps see who just checked in at a location like Facebook or Foursquare?  But maybe this is not the intent of the game.
  • Increase the social aspect of the game.  At the moment I can “visit” someone else’s set of properties and send them a message, but that’s about it.  Would be nice to see common properties, or set up tasks/challenges like We Rule Quests or FarmVille.

For older players (like me!), I think I’ll be content in just checking in in Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare.

More info here:  http://www.booyah.com/products/mytown