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.