Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Italian steel road bike - Pegoretti Marcelo

Colnago, Bianchi, Tommasini, De Rosa, Cinelli, Pelizzoli and Ciocc. Italian bike names that roll off the tongue and to drool at if you are a cycling addict. When I was considering getting a steel bike to complement my aluminium Cannondale, I considered these names and more - including bicycles made in the USA. Throughout my search, however, one name kept on showing up in people's conversations. If I wanted a thoroughbred race bred road bike, made by an Italian master who had himself been a pro racer, who had built frames that actual pros rode - it had to be a Pegoretti. Dario Pegoretti was one of the first builders in Italy to TIG-weld bikes and his patented blend of geometry, funky long headtube and outrageously painted frames was what appealed to me. And if you happen to surf bike forums often, you will hear his name and bikes mentioned repeatedly by fans who wax lyrical about the magical ride his bikes produce.

Which Pegoretti to choose was going to be easy. I was only considering non-stainless steel (couldn't afford stainless!) and there are only three main steel models - the Duende, Big Leg Emma (BLE in short) and the Marcelo. For the sake of simplicity, the former two models are variations of the Marcelo - the Duende has a softer rear end and the BLE has a massively oversized (and I assume stiffer) rear. Most people I talked to told me the Marcelo was the way to go.

Buying a new Pegoretti was out of the question for me. Firstly, there is a minimum 12 month waiting list and this is not guaranteed. Secondly, prices for frame only for a new frame is about USD4,000 excluding shipping and taxes. As USD4000 is about my budget for a fully built bike, I had to look for a second hand option.

Scouring websites like craigslist, thepaceline forum, and also specialized websites like the Velocipe Salon forum didn't garner any results. Turning to eBay as a last resort - I finally spotted a size 55 Pegoretti Marcelo for just over a grand. Granted, it was an old bike - more than 10 years old - however I was hoping that there was plenty of miles left in the bike which would allow me to experience what was so special about the Pegoretti ride.

After waiting anxiously for weeks for the frame to arrive all the way from the US, I finally had my Italian bike. It needed touching up of the frame for rust spots (see pic below of the frame at my trusty paint touch up shop) and a good spray of anti - rust in the inner tubing plus waiting for parts to arrive but finally (after 2+ months), I finally had a ridable end product.

The final build (an Italian bike naturally has to have Italian parts :) was:

- Campagnolo Chorus 2013 - 11 speed. I decided to try out a compact crank (50/34 rings in the front) to appease my tired knees and went with a traditional 11-25 in the rear.
- Campagnolo Shamal 2-way fit aluminium wheels. Had a difficult time deciding between this and the Neutron Ultras but decided on this instead as these are the top of the line aluminium wheels made by Campy - wheels have a huge effect on the ride of the bike and how it feels.
- 3T ARX PRO stem and Rotundo Pro bars
- Fizik Arione saddle - its tough to find a saddle that fits. After years on the Selle Italia SLR, and experiencing soreness every so often after longish rides, I decided to revert back to the Arione which I used previously on an old bike.
- WR compositi carbon seatpost - a no brainer as my Pego came with it.
- Mizuno carbon fork - came with the bike. Thinking of changing to a Falz or an ENVE 2.0 later.
- Shimano Ultegra PD-6700 carbon pedals - decided to treat myself with some more carbon.
- Continental GP4000s tires - good in dry and wet conditions, durable as well

Weight of the bike fully built was about 8.2kg or about 18 pounds which was a fair bit heavier than my Cannondale. Was a bit worried that I would really feel the weight in the climbs however in reality, I did not feel the weight that much in actual climbing efforts.

The ride this bike provides is smooth and predictable. The major "hits" one feels while riding a carbon or an aluminium frame over uneven patches of road are ironed out and this ultimately gives a more comfortable ride. Handling is very good as well and cornering is very stable though not as fast as my CAAD10. A friend of mine likens a good steel bike to being more of a GT car (like a Maserati Gran Turismo) vs a out and race car (like a Honda S2000). Looking forward to many miles of riding before an upgrade on this one.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

SIDI Zephyr Shoes

Bought my first pair of SIDIs recently after using my old Shimano R087s for a while. After deliberating on how much I wanted to spend, I decided to get one of the lowest models of SIDI - the Zephyr. It uses velcro closures entirely vs the higher end SIDIs which have a cable tightening system. Even though the R087 uses a ratcheting mechanism, I must say that I did not miss them at all. Velcro is fine for me and micro adjustments feels like something that only the pros would need (if at all). Carbon composite sole is a plus to me, I was actually fine with the fibreglass sole of the Shimano.

All I can say is that even though they are made in Romania and not Italy, the quality and fit and finish of these shoes are top notch. The quality of the "leather" is very good and thick vs the Shimanos. Even the inside of the shoe is nicely finished and smooth to the wearer. All in all, I think its a great buy for the money - around 80 Euros.

A few gotchas - a lot of people say the sizing of SIDI shoes are smaller compared to Shimano, for me they feel identical which means if you wear a size 43 for Shimano, go with 43 for the SIDI. I have fairly wide feet and the normal fit is plenty wide enough for me, I see no need to get the MEGA (extra wide) version of the shoe unless you have feet like flippers. The other potential problem for these if you use Shimano cleats is the bolts provided could be a bit short to screw in the cleats. Not a major problem as you can just source longer cleat bolts.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Property curbs in Singapore for foreign buyers

Despite numerous curbs initiated by the Singapore govt, property prices in Singapore are in no way coming down, especially the new properties. Came across an article last Thursday on the Straits Times about property curbs across Asia which was kind of interesting. There was a map showing property curbs in multiple countries, Singapore being one of them.

It is a no brainer looking at this map why prices aren't falling despite curbs on loans, increases in stamp duties etc. If I were a foreigner looking for some place to park my money, a 15% stamp duty isnt going to deter me. If the govt was serious about cooling the market, they should bump up stamp duties for foreigners and PRs to a larger number like 35%. PRs should be forced to sell properties once they do not reside in the country any more. I do not have the data on this but, before you know it, half of Singapore will be owned by foreigners and foreign countries (if it hasn't happened already...).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Big Wet Taxi Problem in Singapore

I am writing this post as we speak at Changi Airport. It was raining this morning and as all Singaporeans know that spells big trouble if you are looking to get a taxi. From home, I tried in vain  to book a taxi for 30min and just gave up.

Where do these taxis go during rainy periods? Do they hibernate or more likely hide at coffeeshops and have their kopi? That and the other half of taxi drivers who just camp at the airport waiting for passengers to arrive could be the reason. I have no idea honestly. It just is frustrating if you need to go somewhere urgently.

The solution? Short of monitoring where taxis go and mandating that each taxi driver has to circumvent the island repeatedly instead of clustering around areas where an easy fare is, I really have no idea. The government should step in or else allocate more cars for everyone and start removing taxis from the road.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Wilson Pro Staff 85 and variants

Since the early 80s, the Wilson Pro Staff 85 (sometimes called the Wilson Pro Staff 6.0 Original) has been winning tournaments in one form or another. Notable wielders of this racket included Chris Evert, Jim Courier (before he went to the Wilson PS 6.6 Stars and Stripes model), Stefan Edberg (after a brief dalliance with the Wilson PS 6.1 95), and of course Pete Sampras, who pretty much used this same racket albeit the much touted St. Vincent model his entire career. Much less known is the fact that the Fed Express aka Roger Federer used this racket at the start of his career beating Sampras in the process in that infamous round of 16 match at Wimbledon in 2001. Since then, Federer has gone on singlehandedly to champion the pro series 90 sq in variant of the original Wilson Pro Staff 85.

I have been using the PS 85 (how I like to  call this stick) for almost 19 years. Efforts to replace it have failed and believe me I have tried. Over the years I have tried nearly all the variants of "Federer's rackets" bar the first few models - the Ncode Six-One Tour, KSix-One Tour, the BLX Six.One Tour and the BLX Prostaff Ninety. I also got the "one off" KProStaff 88, which is honestly a really ridiculous racket - extremely powerful and extremely unwieldy at the same time. Which one did I like? Well I go back to the PS 85 nearly everytime but if I had a choice I think the newest incarnation - the BLX Prostaff Ninety comes the closest. Without lead tape it feels like a slightly head heavy version of of the PS 85 with more power but less controllable and not so nimble at the net. 

Will I be getting another PS 85 variant? I seriously don't think so. There are only so many rackets a man can have! Better to spend the time learning to master these great rackets and getting to know each of their strengths and weaknesses..

Friday, May 03, 2013

My 2012 Cannondale CAAD10

My first bike was one of those "chopper" style bikes - the one that had a gear shifter on the top tube on the bike which I am sure did nothing for gear shifting - but it sure looked cool.

Since then, I have gone through a whole series of bikes - ranging from steel to carbon fibre and now to aluminium. Why downgrade - some might say. Carbon fibre has to be the best material for a bike correct? Well to a point yes. Carbon fibre bikes can be built to be both compliant for comfort(horizontally!) and stiff for responsiveness. It can be made light - oh yes. If you have ever held a carbon fibre frame in your hand you would swear it was all made out of cardboard - thats how light it would feel. However, I still wager that carbon fibre still cannot match the smoothness of a real good steel bike and the zippiness or zinginess (some call it sports car like feel) of a good aluminium bike.

Which brings me to the Cannondale CAAD10 - I have always wanted a Cannondale. Whats not to like about the name - "Cannondale" ;). But those things are expensive. A ready made Cannondale in Singapore will cost you easily USD2k if not more unless you manage to capture a late model variant like a CAAD8 or a CAAD9. But me - I wanted a CAAD10. After taking a few test rides - I just loved this Taiwan built CAAD10 frame (the older CAADs were supposedly handmade in the USA). It was light, it was smooth - relatively anyway and it was responsive.

After scoring a deal on the 'Bay, I bought this size 56 frame and built it up with a Deda cockpit (Deda Zero 100 stem and Deda Newton shallow bars) and seatpost (Deda Zero 100), a Selle Italia SLR (Update in Oct 2013 - I have since replaced this with a Fizik Arione) saddle, SRAM Force components (Update in Oct 2013 - SRAM BB30 bearings failed due to corrosion and replaced at 2200km :( ) and beautiful Campagnolo Eurus wheels. Frame weight was around 1.2kg and total build weight was around 7.5kg / 16.5lbs. I probably could have built the bike lighter by using weight weenie components and by using carbon wheelset but as this bike was meant to be a daily thrashabout bike, I decided to spec components that were tougher on it e.g. aluminium parts throughout. Frame specs-wise for my size 56 - it has a 56cm top tube and seat tube length, a "traditional" 73degree seatpost and head tube angle, a 80cm standover height.
How does it ride you might ask? She (bikes tend to be referred to as females gender-wise) feels very stiff, accelerates very easily and retains speed well. Turn in in corners with the Cannondale fork is very predictable and there is very little "jitteriness" in terms of controlling it. Compliance-wise, it is a harsher ride compared to carbon fibre or steel or titanium over rough roads. To tune the ride for more comfort, you might consider adding a carbon fibre seatpost and or cockpit and or wheels. For me, I just trust aluminium a lot more in terms of reliability in terms of components. I have had this baby for a year or more now and am looking for a change soon. Maybe back to steel again - we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Trading for a living

Today is my 6th work anniversary at my current company. I have been at a job for more than 18 years - solidly at the mid point of a typical 40 year work life.

At some point in a person's life, you might start to wonder if you are becoming redundant to organizations in terms of being a desirable worker. At the beginning of ones work life - after graduation, the prospects seems boundless - there seems to be lots of jobs and lots of opportunities. At my current stage of work life - the reverse seems apparent. You would never consider lower level jobs any more - they pay worse and the higer level positions seem impossible to do.

At such a stage in one's life, you might start to contemplate having a career change - be your own boss maybe and some might consider trading for a living.

What is trading for a living - my simple definition is being able to trade (on the stock market, bonds, commodities etc) to sustain your current expenses at a minimum and prefereably to return a profit - to allow you to save up for a rainy day.

So is it possible to trade for a living? Well if you have never traded stocks before or have made big losses in the past, it is probably a bad idea. If you have traded part time and made a decent profit i.e. never made a loss, it would probably sound to you like a great idea.

Trading <> investing in my book. Investing means putting in the cash into an investment e.g. house, stocks, bonds to achieve returns however with a long term outlook and without constant monitoring of the investment (maybe an hour or two a week?). Trading means having to switch on your computer in the morning/night and monitoring your current positions constantly and looking for new positions to get into. Day trading would require one to track positions in a day and ideally close off those positions at the end of the day to reduce exposure. I dont trade however my impression of it is that assuming that I have 200 dollars of expenses a day, I will have to trade to achieve an average of 200 dollars of returns a day over time - this would mean that I have to trade x amount of single stock   to get a % return e.g. trade $10000 and get a 2% return or the equivalent (less trading expenses) in many smaller trades. 2% seems achievable - in a single day a stock can fluctuate by 2% several times - however it is probably harder than it seems.

To me, a part time job or a job that allows one to have a lot of free time (with lesser pay) is a better option. You can use that free time to research for investment opportunities ie. stocks to invest in. An alternative is to buy a property and rent it out for at least $4400k a month (after deducting property expenses and taxes).

Monday, April 15, 2013

You know things are bad when criminals dont look like criminals start looting Singapore..

Commuters and pedestrians on Singapore roads would undoubtedly have noticed an increase in the number of signs erected by the Singapore Police notifying people of the existence of house break-ins in the area. With this in mind, an article in the Straits Times on 31st March 2013 caught my eye ("Colombian crooks' hunting ground"), which highlighted an increase in housebreaking activity by Colombian crooks in Singapore and of the arrest of the perpetrators.

South American criminals are apparently willing to pay up to USD3,000 for an air ticket to fly to Singapore to have a chance of breaking in to Singapore homes; and were attracted to this country specifically because of our reputation for being one of the wealthiest countries in the world and for Singapore homes being classified as soft targets and a "thieves paradise". As it happens, there have been several previous incidences of South American criminal activity in the past. In the last year alone - several Colombian, Guatemalan and Chilean men have also been captured and jailed for theft.

While Singapore residents must certainly step up efforts to secure their own homes as suggested by the article, and the Singapore Police and neighborhood watch organizations should definitely increase their vigilance, the fact that these crooks have the ability to blend into their surroundings as their "Caucasian looks help them pass off as expatriate residents and they blend in by wearing T-shirts and bermudas" also means that we should step up measures to screen visitors to our island.

Although travel publications frequently praise the immigration procedures in Changi Airport for being the best in the world in terms of speediness and convenience to travellers, I often wonder if this efficiency also translates to it being easier for crimimals to enter Singapore. For example, those Singapore residents who use the automated clearance system at Changi Airport have to scan a thumbprint to verify their identity in addition to scanning their passports each time they leave or enter the country. Do non-residents have to do this as well and if not, why shouldn't they have to do so if it increases the strength of our visitor screening process? These measures together with others that I have observed in place in neighboring countries, such as the use of cameras to record a person's face during immigration entry, should be considered to lessen the probability of criminals being able to enter Singapore while posing as tourists.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Apple woes

A quick glance at Apple's share price now shows USD450 bucks a share. Thats a long way down from less than a year ago when Apple was trading at nearly USD750.

People are starting to say the same things that I was saying a few months ago - what is Apple going to do different from the past, to make their products desirable again. Apple themselves is sending out reassurances to the public with Tim Cook saying things like new products will be launched and promising shorter release cycles for new products. There have been rumors of lighter iPads, bigger iPhones and even an iWatch.

Will any of these increasingly desperate looking maneuvers work? After all, what has Apple done in the past to make their products desirable in the first place? Was it to copy what other companies were doing and releasing products faster to meet customer demand and competitor moves? The answer is no.

Steve Jobs understood that his purpose was not to build stuff that people wanted. His magic was to build stuff that people thought was crazy and did not feel they wanted. I still remember five years ago when the iPhone was launched. Apple a phone company? Bah. And a phone without a keyboard? Like what was that about?

I guess the Apple boffins would be thinking hey, we've done a phone, what else can I get consumers to buy and I guess a watch is a great idea since most people use watches and phones on a daily basis. Do I think an iWatch is a good idea? You know what, I think it would appeal to boffins but I dont get a sense that it would catch on in a big way. I could be wrong though.

I personally think Apple will lose the Phone and Pad war. Samsung's copy drones will just copy the heck out of anything Apple comes up with. Apple will become a middling USD200 dollar company soon. However, Apple has bales of cash in its war chest. If I were Tim Cook, I would be looking to move to another green field to apply Apple's transformation and design genius to.

If I were to give a suggestion to Apple on what would work, it would be for some iCar accessories. Cars are notoriously sucky when it comes with user interfaces and interior design and some manufacturers just do not get it. Like have you seen the interior of the latest luxo barges e.g. Jag XJ, Cadilac etc. A lot of wood, a loot of leather and outdated looking dials and clocks. Apple's expertise on UI would transform how we would interact with a car. Can you imagine a really large iPad like screen in the dashboard area in the middle of the car? Cars of the future would be like the deck of the Starship Enterprise with just a few panels and could be operated using "touch". Now that would cool won't it? Apple, are you listening?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The core reasons behind Singapore's population problems

With all the talk about the population white paper in Singapore, I think a lot of people have lost sight of the bigger issue at hand - the thorny issue of why Singapors are not having more children.

The government recently announced their Marriage and Parenthood Package which gives up more cash handouts for babies born and also announced some changes to parenthood leave - namely dad's can have one week of leave and parents of kids will have a priority while applying for government subsidized flats. They also announced plans to create more childcare facilities, better pre-schools etc.

Will such schemes help? I think the answer is a resounding "No" as the problem in Singapore of why people are not marrying and having children lies much deeper and I feel is linked to policies made in governments past.

First of all, National Service. This is a weird one you might say, why would making men (and not women) do two or two and a half years of National Service cause a parenthood and baby problem? The issue is that all Singaporean men will start their careers much later than Singapore women and non-Singaporeans. A couple things will result. One, the Singaporean woman will have time to concentrate on their careers as a priority and also to get further education. Two, Singaporean women will interact more with foreigners and get married to foreigners (as stated in the population white paper, 40% of marriages occur with foreigners). This number sounds small and not all of the 40% are by Singaporean women I am sure, but what this means is that the Singapore man will have less choice in terms of meeting and marrying a spouse in Singapore. The more sophisticated, educated and some might say better groomed Singapore female has a much higher likelihood to attract a foreign spouse compared to a Singapore male. Three, Singapore men will chase their careers that much more to catch up with the women and thus place less priority on settling down and having kids. The solution to this? Shortening National Service to one year might work and the earlier we do this, the better.

Secondly, the drive towards economic progress. This has been raised several times in the past, that Singapore's endless pursuit of economic growth and increasing GDP has made their citizens focus so much more on their jobs and careers rather than having families and children. Singaporean couples are having either one kid or no kids. Looking around me, it is clear that the demographic of people who have more children now vs in the past has changed. The rich are having more children (or keeping at the same rate of childbirth) vs the poor. Why, the cost of having a child has increased and the rich can afford it for one. They can focus less on their jobs and careers. Most importantly though, their parents i.e. the kids grandparents have more time and energy to help the parents take care of their children. Childcare centers don't raise children, families do. In the past, many families have the pattern of having a working dad and a stay at home housewife. They could afford to do so for one - things were cheaper. Houses were cheaper. Education was simpler. Raising two or more kids without grandparent support is a daunting proposition for families who are not financially well off. There have been calls recently (by the Workers Party no less) to make people work longer and raise the retirement age. This is a serious mistake. If Singapore had a better system to ensure that old people didnt have to worry so much about their own retirement expenses (the existing CPF system is outdated - a pension scheme such as the ones used by countries like Switzerland), my reckoning is that Singaporean couples will be more willing to have children since they would have a support structure i.e. their parents to help take care of their kids. This will never happen though if the Singapore government is so fixated on the economy.

Thirdly, and this has not so much to do with babies but more of taking care of our elderly. One of the big reasons why a country needs population growth is the replacement theory that you need X people to take care of the elderly e.g. 2 children with two spouses to take care of 2 sets of parents. There are several problems in Singapore. Based on observation, Singaporeans largely do not take care of their health or they think it is less important (as compared to their careers maybe) - i.e. they spend less time on healthy activites, exercising, they eat unhealthy. Despite the statistics, I dont think Singaporeans are living longer and healthier and happier especially the men. If both spouses lived longer, they would (theoretically) need less support in their old age. More old age homes is not the answer. Again, some type of a pension scheme would help and not just the CPF Life annuity which is rather half hearted in my opinion. The Singapore Medisave scheme needs to revamped as well. Currently, there are too many restrictions on how we can spend OUR hard earned money. Singapore is already enough of a nanny state without having to nanny its citizens when they are 75 years old!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Why Singaporeans drive the way they do

There have been a whole bunch of news of how bad drivers in Singapore are and theres a perfectly reasonable explanation - you have the
  1. rich towkay or expat who drives like he (or she in the case of the towkays or expat wife or wives),
  2. you also have the typical harrassed executive who after a whole day of being pissed on at work wont take any crap from other drivers,
  3. then theres the totally irresponsible taxi driver and bus driver (why would they they dont own their own vehicles) and
  4. the crazy lorry/pickup/van driver who gets paid by trip;
  5. worst of all, you have the women drivers who are just plain dangerous - sudden and/or persistent braking and generally driving with little road sense and awareness of whats happening around them. 
With this circus on the road how do you expect the "bad driving" situation to inprove? As a guide to new drivers on Singapore roads, avoid the above mentioned moron drivers and vehicle types and also the following passenger cars whose drivers/buyers tend to be the worse culprits when it comes to bad driving:
  • Most Nissan sedans - especially the Sunny and those people who moved on to Latios, Sylphys and Cefiros. Bad drivers who dont know what a good driving car is buy Nissan sedans.
  • Mercedes E-class drivers - they jolly well act like they own the road dont they?
  • Alfa Romeo drivers - these guys and girls think the road is their speedway. Also most likely to "jam brake" to test the reflexes of the drivers behind them.
  • Honda Stream/Toyota Wish drivers - especially those that have been "benged" up.
  • Large SUVs e.g. Toyota Fortuners, BMW X5s - who will swerve into your lane probably because they cant see you while sitting so high up
  • Drivers of a small French make e.g. Citreon C4, Renault Megane tend to be shitty drivers. Same Nissan syndrome as above.
Oddly enough, the drivers of supercars or sports cars are the tamest drivers of all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The most expensive piece of paper in the world

Before you buy a new set of wheels in Singapore, you have to get a Certificate of Entitlement - a piece of paper which accompanies each vehicle that basically allows drivers to use the car for 10 years on the road.

The price for that piece of paper has recently risen to almost SGD100,000 (about USD80k). The last I checked, USD80k could buy your a nice Porsche 911 in the US or the UK easily. USD80k could even get you a house in some places.

That piece of paper is just the beginning. Cars themselves are slapped with a 150% tax when they arrive on Singapore shores. The result? Even a relevatively modest set of wheels like a Honda Civic costs SGD163,000 here.

I must confess that I love cars. My favorite programmes to watch on the telly are the UK shows such as Top Gear, Fifth Gear and Wheeler Dealers. But at the current state of affairs, getting a nice car in Singapore is pretty much the doman of the uber rich or the expats with a fat car allowance.

I have thought several times of leaving this island to go somewhere where sense prevails - somewhere like Australia or New Zealand where prices of things are on a more sensible scale. I guess thoughts like these probably cross the minds of most Singaporeans occasionally. What holds us back is the thought of family that we would leave behind. When push comes to shove, I am sure many of us will reconsider our options in the years to come.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Singapore Punggol East by-election Analysis

I do not want to politicize this blog however, Singapore politics, or at least talking and thinking about politics, has become a hot topic with the recent conclusion of the by-election in Punggol East - a tiny area of land in the north east of the island. The Workers' Party i.e. "the Opposition" in Singapore has been whittling away at the dominance of the PAP over the last few years and with this latest victory in Punggol East - it has won more than just a single seat in Parliament; in my mind, it has sent a very strong signal to the PAP of how disgruntled Singaporeans have become on the current state of things in the country.

There are many reasons being mooted about why the PAP lost - housing prices, the current economic lull, and the malfunctioning transport infrastructure.

To me, one the major reasons why they lost is the issue of the ongoing influx of foreigners. Singaporeans do not want to lose their jobs to foreigners. We do not have any beef with foreigners but when there is a job that can be done by a Singapore worker - a job that he or she could excel at, chooses to do and would have passion in doing if allowed to - we would prefer that the job go to a Singaporean thank you.

I do not have the actual facts and figures but my sense is that foreigners have taken a large chunk of top and mid-level jobs in companies based in Singapore (except the government) and Singaporeans are left holding the scraps. On a side note - homegrown Singapore companies and entities like F&N are being sold to the top foreign bidders. Singapore icons like the Raffles Hotel have been sold to overseas companies with scarcely a thought on why they must be held in Singapore hands.

Some examples where top leadership positions are occupied by foreigners - the CEO of DBS, OCBC and SGX, the new CTO of Mediacorp,  the ex national coach of the Singapore national football team. In my current company based in Singapore, there are approximately 30 people in the office and out of that total - only 5 are Singaporeans.

The fear that I would be replaced by a foreigner or that I could not find a new job in Singapore without being told that the company I wanted to join would rather source for people in other countries for that job keeps me up at night.

The government has always said that it does not believe that social media will self moderate for the greater good. I think that Singaporeans are starting to believe that the current government run by the PAP might not be able to self moderate for the good of Singaporeans.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Olympus OMD camera

Being late to the game, I recently bought an Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera. Like a lot of people, I hate the name so I'm just gonna call it the Olympus OMD for the rest of this review.

Back in 2009, I bought a Panasonic GF1 camera. At that time, I was looking for a smaller camera compared to a DSLR however I wasnt willing to compromise on picture taking capability by using a compact camera. The GF1 was, to me, a perfect choice. It was light, had great picture quality and could do videos better than my DSLR. What drew me to the GF1 most of all however was the fact that it looked retro. It looked and worked (mostly) like a mini digital rangefinder would.

Mid last year, the Olympus OMD was announced and it drew rave reviews from the Olympus faithful but for some reason, I wasnt that interested. I have always been a Nikon user, with occasional dabblings in Canon, Pentax and Fujifilm. I did however love my old Olympus Stylus Mju. So much so that I still have it even though I havent shot a roll of film in years. And I also had an Olymus C5060 briefly which I was ever so impressed with.

With that in mind and also because my GF1 was showing signs of being long in the tooth i.e. the low light capability really isnt that good and the AVCHD format was just giving me fits in terms of editing - I decided to get an OMD.

Playing with the camera briefly, I purchased it in Hong Kong as a body only kit, some things immediately become clear and some things start to annoy me.

First, the really good stuff, the picture quality in low light is really good and the IBIS ("in-body image stabilization") is one of the best of its kind. The picture quality is not Nikon D4 good but its borders on being as good as a D90. Olympus added a small flash in the kit however the power output is rather poor and after a few shots I packed it carefully in the box and do not intend to use it again bar some urgent need for fill in flash. I intend to use the OMD using existing light.

The OMD is probably the fastest micro four-thirds camera that Olympus has ever produced. For years its Pen line, Olympus AF systems had a weird "hunting for focus" behaviour which my Panasonic GF1 never had. AF-speed wise and responsiveness wise, I dont think anyone will complain much about the OMD. Features-wise, the OMD has lots of other cameras licked - it has a pretty good EVF plus LCD, a "virtual horizon" feature, 9fps, tiltable LCD, light weather proofing, a magnesium alloy body - you could go on and on.

Onto the negatives - my biggest grip is regarding the ergonomics and usability. Unless your hands are small, you will find the grip to be slightly awkward to use. Its a little bit like I have to learn how to hold the camera vs having a camera grip being moulded to fit my hand. The eyelet for the shoulder strap eats into my palm each time I grip the camera tightly. Its more of a finger hold camera vs a full in your palms type of camera. The buttons are fiddly.

Olympus (to be fair - the same holds true for all pure play camera manufacturers) is not and has never been good at UI. The OMD has a lot of configurability and settings hidden and disabled. When I first got the camera - I couldn't figure how to set the ISO. One of the first things you have to do when you get this camera is to enable the Super Control Panel (go [Camera] Control Settings in Custom Menu > section D > and enable LIVE SCP). For some reason Olympus thinks that you would want a different setting for each exposure mode - a sure sign of a programmer making a decision vs a photographer. My advice - do a google search on "OM-D tips" and setup the camera once according to how you like to shoot.

To be honest - for all my complaints - I do not think there is a better camera for me. Its retro (check out this pic of my OMD with an old Nikon) and it takes good pictures. Enuff said.