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Europe 2010: Day 5 – Oxford July 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Day 5: Oxford

We figured it’d be cool to visit one of the oldest universities in the western world. Oxford is in Whileshire which is conveniently an hour of train ride from Bath. So we started the day with a train ride from Bath to Didcot Parkway and then the connecting train to Oxford.

First destination was Oxford Castle. The castle was part of a few battles but it became a prison for last few centuries. The coolest part was climbing the spiraling stone steps up to the tower.

After stopping by a Spanish restaurant for some paella, we headed toward Oxford. As I mentioned to Suzanne how unusually quiet the place was, we made a turn and boom! People everywhere… Oxford wasn’t a sleepy college town I had imagined. We walked toward Christ Church College which probably is the best known part of Oxford. The place was used to film some Harry Potter scenes. I can see why. The place was medieval and just reeked with old traditions everywhere you look. There main court was huge, surrounded four sides with high walks and old buildings. The center was a little lilly pond with a statue in the center. I imagined that the court yard can appropriately used to film scene where Harry Potter learns to fly the broom. Another highlight was this long dining hall. The walls where adorned with old paintings of famous Oxford people. The only one I recognize was William Penn– founder of the state of Pennsylvania.

Next, we visited St. Mary’s and climbed these narrow stairs to the top of the tower. It was interesting negotiating the space with other visitors in cramped spaces. The top had nice views of the town.

There were a few other places I wanted to visit, but we decided to head back. We walked through a few very busy blocks of town on our way back to the train station. That area of town was extremely commercialized and modern, a bustling contrast to the old and traditional Oxford that I had imagined. Too bad, because it kinda shattered the images I had in my head of Oxford. You know, like scenes from the old movie “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

Day Trip to Yosemite March 6, 2009 at 7:28 am

A few days ago, my buddy Vince came up for a visit. So we decided to do a day trip to Yosemite to take some pictures. The drive there back wasn’t bad, very doable for a day trip.

The best part about driving to Yosemite is how the first glimpse of the valley takes your breath away when you make through the bend of the road. Yosemite seems to always sneak up on me, every time.

We grabbed lunch at the Ahwahnee hotel and then headed out to do the scenic thing. The water falls were flowing at full force. We abandoned our plan for a hike to Nevada Falls because of the heavy snow on the trails up the mountain. Looking back we should’ve tried a flat trail like Mirror Lake instead. I regretted that we didn’t do any hikes…

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“I See Everything In My Head” January 5, 2009 at 5:49 am

We spent two nights at my sister in-law’s on a short trip to LA after Christmas. On the last night, Suzanne was out late seeing an old friend. I was putting the girls to bed when they asked for a story as they often do. At home, sometime instead of reading books I would tell them stories– some true accounts and some I make up. So, I was looking around at the new surrounding for things to work into my story (I usually make things up as I go) when I saw a ceiling fan. That gave me an idea.

So I made up this story of a boy who woke up and discovered himself all sweaty on a sweltering summer day. He got ready for school, but grew increasingly uncomfortable in the hot morning. He kept complaining about the heat to his mother and didn’t want to go to school. His endless whining throughout breakfast gave her an idea. She gave him a shoe box and told him that it was magic! This magical thing in the box will instantly make him cool and comfortable. But there’s one condition: he cannot open it until he gets to class. Otherwise, the magic will not work. The boy got excited, grabbed the box and sprinted out the house. Along the way, he bragged about the magic box that will make him cool to every friend he encountered.

By the time he got to school the entire class knew about the magic box. As the boy sat down in class, anticipation built and all eyes were on him. The boy excitedly put the magic box on his desk, took a deep breath, surveyed the entire class and then calmly removed the cover. His eye bugged out, mouth gasped as he reached in the magic box with his hand and grabed its magical content: a paper fan which his mother made and inscribed with crayons “I love you, mom!” The boy raised the fan to show all his friends in pure delight. The collective excitement of the students exploded in a thunderous applause.

The end…

Katelyn and Allison were cracking up as I finished the story– just the feedback I was looking for. Allison then excitedly jumped out of her bed, made a fist with her hand, put it on the middle of her forehead and excitedly said to me: “Daddy, when you were telling the story I see everything in my head!”

Well… with a response like that, I guess that story was magical to me too.

40D Flash Failure January 4, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Around last Thanksgiving, the internal flash on my Canon 40D camera started to act up. I couldn’t get it to pop up. At first I figured that I messed some configuration or something. I kinda ignored it for a few weeks; I tend to avoid using the flash as much as I can anyway.

So finally with some free time last week, I finally looked into the fixing the problem. When I digged into the configuration of the camera, it became clear that it incorrectly detected the attachment of an external flash! This explains why I couldn’t get the internal flash to pop up. Figured it had to be some mechanical issue like a pin getting stuck or something. I used one of those air canisters to blow some air on the horseshoe to clear out any dirt and sand. When that didn’t work, I used a tweezer poking around the horseshoe. Lifting the metal plate on right side revealed this tiny pin. Giving the pin a little wiggle via the tweezer did the trick. The pin popped up and the camera no longer detected an attachment of the external flash– the internal flash popped up just fine, finally…

Don’t know if this is common, but other 40D owners have definitely seen it. Found a useful thread on flickr with very insightful discussions.

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Christmas @ Historical Park December 8, 2008 at 5:26 am

We took the girls to see Santa at the History Park this past weekend. They got to meet with Santa, did some art projects, rode a trolley as well as a handcar and posed for snapshots by their old dad. The highlight for the kids was when Santa arrived in this old fire truck. Santa was basically mobbed by the kids as soon as he stepped out of the truck!

It was the first time I’ve been to the place. The park houses and preserves quite a few Victorian buildings. It has a running cable car and a barn that contains countless historical artifacts from the gold rush era. There was this old cable car operator that was nice enough to indulge me and posed for a few pictures. Overall, it was a much more enjoyable alternative than going to the malls, at least for me anyway. Plus, the place was a goldmine of photo opps… 🙂


Afternoon In The Park October 13, 2008 at 9:41 am

park (3 of 6)

Afternoon Hike October 5, 2008 at 10:29 pm

This past Saturday, I had a rare afternoon which I didn’t have to tend to the girls. I took advantage of it, grabbed my camera bag and headed out for a hike at Rancho San Antonio. The rain the night before cooled the afternoon but not enough, fortunately, to leave mud on the trails. The highlight was the view at vista point at “High Meadow” and my encounter with a pack of deers on my way back.

It was a nice way for some quality time alone and decompress…


License To Kill September 18, 2008 at 8:04 am

We were looking at the photo books we made recently in bed last night, when I casually (honest!) mentioned to Suzanne about Canon releasing a new full-frame camera. I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a full-frame awhile, but these babies cost an arm & a leg. So, I was describing the camera to her (with no ulterior motives, of course! ;), when Suzanne said

I don’t care how much it costs, just buy whatever it takes to get good pictures. These photo books are worth it!

Alright, I’m blogging this as proof. Got a license to kill… our budget, baby!

Shutterfly Photo books September 17, 2008 at 11:43 pm

As employees here at Shutterfly, we get to make some of the company photo-related products as freebies. These past two weeks, Suzanne & I have been busy making photo books.

We got the first two this week. Oh my… they are simply amazing products. Suzanne & I are thrilled with them. The printing is National Geographic quality. The background is simply gorgeous (the icons on our web site don’t do them justice at all). The book binding is great. Quality is top-notch (I’m not claiming this just because I’m an employee). These are coffee-table quality books!

It’s a great way to breath new life to photos that normally sit on your hard drive as idle bits. It’s such a more fun and liberating way to organize and make prints. A photo book like these instantly elevate the sentimental values in your photographs. I believe we found the best method for presentation. No more stuffing 4×6’s into a shoe box or a clunky photo album. I highly recommend you checking out Shutterfly’s photo books.

Most of all, the photo books really give me great satisfaction because it really showcases the photos that I took myself!

Maui: August 2008 August 17, 2008 at 11:28 pm

We returned to Maui this summer after our wedding there 8 years ago. It was mainly a family vacation but we scheduled it so we got to celebrate our anniversary on the island. It was a quiet celebration at Roy’s, one of our favorite Hawaiian fusion restaurants.

The girls are bigger now, so traveling with them is so much easier & less hassle. Also helps that we traveled a little lighter this time. Airlines these days charge hefty fees for additional or over-weight baggage.

The girls had blast, spending most of their time in the pools & beaches. We pretty much stayed put at the hotel most of the time. We didn’t even make it to Kea Lani (hotel where we stayed when we got married) as planned. 🙂 Katelyn got around the pool by herself this time, good to see those swimming lessons paying off. In fact, she’s pretty much like a fish. Allison too enjoyed it more since she’s much more comfortable in water.

We hooked up with a few friends. My buddy Vince flew over from Oahu; hanging out with him and his friend Vijack made us feel less touristy. We also hooked up with our friends, the Truongs, for a few days. Our hotels were close by, so the girls got to swim with the Truong boys. It was a shame our stays only overlap for a few days. One highlight of the trip is a sailing trip with Alex & Nicholas. The kids were super excited we spotted dolphins & turtles. It was a first snorkeling experience for our girls. It was a kick for them to see the fish & corals in the water.

Another highlight was a trip to Haleakala summit with Vince. Haleakala is a dormant volcano in Maui. We started out around 2AM up the windy road and made it to the 10,000 feet summit while it was still dark. Dozens of other tourists crowding at the the little shelter– it was very cold and windy. Dawn broke and we saw a glorious sunrise (my last memorable sunrise was at Bryce Canyon in Utah). Wow– sunrise above the cloud! Vince & I spent the next 4 hours snapping pictures, including some with us jumping up & down at the top of the world. That was great fun.

We also took the girls to a luau at the Sheraton, it was way overrated for me. But it was the first for the girls and they enjoyed it. They even went up the stage with Suzanne to do the hula.

As with other family trips, I found I was so busy having fun with the girls and I barely have time to shoot some real photos. In fact, I had all but one opportunity to shoot sunsets. So the night before we left, I spent 2 hours in the middle of the night shooting some night photography. It was cool to walk the emptied beach at night under the moon light. Plus I don’t have too many chances for night shooting.

Below is a few shots, check out more here @ Flickr or here @ Shutterfly.

Kung Fu Allison June 7, 2008 at 10:48 pm

sifu Allison

Our Lives In Pixels June 3, 2008 at 4:29 am

shutterflyI use Flickr for sharing my photographs. While I like the social aspects of it a lot, I always find the page rendering to be too minimal for sharing (after all these are pictures not search results).

Shutterfly is a “personal expression” site and is one of few sites that store photos in full resolution, with no storage limits. Your photos are guaranteed never to be deleted. All free of course. Check out the photo books, they’re pretty awesome!

This isn’t meant to be a shameless plug. But Shutterfly is beta-testing a new photo share service. It’s very cool and super easy to design pages and render photos. Since I started to upload pictures on a monthly basis mainly for online storage, now I can effortlessly share them and make prints all in one place. I’ll use Shutterfly for family photographs but I’ll definitely continue to use Flickr for my other type of photography.

Anyway, check out Our Lives In Pixels of regular updates of our family pictures…

Dayout in The City May 12, 2008 at 11:11 pm

A Saturday few weeks ago, Suzanne & I ditched the kids and spend a day in the city. For lunch, I brought Suzanne to Ti Couz for some French crepes. It was okay, wasn’t as good as I remember. It was probably at least 10 years since I last dined there. I just remember I had the best sangria there then.

We then headed to The Legion of Honor Musuem for the rest of the afternoon to catch the Annie Leiborvitz 1990-2005 exhibit. For those who aren’t familiar with her work, Leibovitz is well-known for her gritty and provactive portraiture of pop icons like Bob Dylan, Demi Moore, Mick Jagger etc…

The exhibit was excellent but was a bit over-crowded. Worst was the fact photography was strictly prohibited. 😛

Day @ The Zoo March 23, 2008 at 6:28 pm

This Saturday was a beautiful, typical Californian spring day. So we decided to take the kids and spend the day at Oakland Zoo. Kids had a fun sun-filled day and I got to snap a few pictures.

Horsies March 5, 2008 at 5:59 am

This past weekend I drove the girls to Palo Alto for them to check out some roaming horses on this open pasture. The girls got to feed and pet a few horses, they always enjoy that. I got to snap a few shots, and I enjoyed that.


Holiday Getaway January 6, 2008 at 11:01 am

We spent this past Christmas with a big get-together at Tahoe. I mean big: four families! The cozy cabin I got was barely big enough to accommodate all of us. The weather was nice so the kids went out and played snow pretty much every day.

We probably had the most fun spending the afternoon sleighing at a snow park on Echo Summit. We also spend a day at Squaw Valley; the kids went snow-tubing while I snow-boarded with some of my cousins. Snow-boarding this time wasn’t as fun as I remembered– yet another subtle reminder of me getting old! We stopped and checked out Emerald Bay along the way. Too bad we were in haste and only spent a a few minutes snapping pictures; the place was simply breath-taking.

It was a nice break for everyone and it was timely for me after a few stressful weeks on the new job. I especially enjoyed the opportunity just relaxing and snapping some pictures on a snow-covered landscape.



Ansel Adams December 17, 2007 at 1:52 am

ansel For the last few months, I spent some of my free time exploring Ansel Adams– reading books, browsing the web and watching documentaries on this amazing man. I figure I’d write something about my take on Ansel Adams.

In the pixel-rich age of today, it’s all too easy to forget that photography is a relatively new art form. In the early parts of 20th century, many in the art world simply did not accept it as a form of fine art: photography was thought to be too mechanical and that there’s little in interpretation one normally finds in art. Adams himself had doubts in the early years as he spent years hedging between photography and music. But it was inevitably that Adams embraced photography, and once he did, he became instrumental in establishing it as a respectable art form.

Adams had an eureka moment one morning in the early years as a photographer. Adams wrote of the pivotal moment of his career:

“The silver light turned every blade of grass and every particle of sand into a luminous metallic splendor; there was nothing, however small, that did not clash in the bright wind, that did not send arrows of light through the glassy air. I was suddenly arrested in the long crunching path up the ridge by an exceedingly pointed awareness of the light.

The moment I paused, the full impact of the mood was upon me; I saw more clearly than I have ever seen before or since the minute detail of the grasses …the small flotsam of the forest, the motion of the high clouds streaming above the peaks…

I dreamed that for a moment time stood quietly, and the vision became but the shadow of an infinitely greater world — and I had within the grasp of consciousness a transcendental experience.”

In devoting the rest of his life trying to recapture that singular transcendental experience, Ansel Adams developed into a visionary photographer. He had the keen ability of visualizing an image and had the ability of capturing that visualization with his camera. He once said:

“the photographer’s objective is not the duplication of visual reality… Photography is an investigation of both the outer and the inner worlds. The terms shoot and take are not accidental; they represent an attitude of conquest and appropriation. Only when the photographer grows into perception and creative impulse does the term make define a condition of empathy between the external and the internal events.”

One of the many things I admire about Adams’ photography is his capture of dramatic light and intricate shadows. There are so many layers to an Ansel Adams print. There’s the ever-present sense of awe, but usually at the same time a sense of stillness, peace and quietness, all adding to the photograph in a dramatic but harmonious way. They are unique that way!

Adam’s autobiography unfortunately was short of a total honest retrospective. He intentionally left out the darker but important parts of his life. For example, he suffered a total melt-down that lasted 1.5 years. Even at the peak of his game, he suffered self-doubts of his abilities as an artist. He also didn’t even mention his intense love affair with Patsy English, his dark room assistant. She was the great love of his life, but in the end Adams decided against leaving his wife Virginia. Without other sources, I’d have missed out on darker sides of an imperfect and complex man.

Contrary to popular belief, Adams didn’t capture mainstream fame until the late years of his life. Impossibly it seemed but the fact is that his photography didn’t really achieved financial stability for the artist until the late 70’s, only a few years before his death! He was still doing commercial gigs for the money until when he was in his 70’s. It is a rather sad fact. I believe his belated success was due to environmental movement becoming mainstream in the 70’s. Adams was an environmentalist long before the term was even coined. Many times his work was used in campaigning for establishing national parks and reserves. So it’s appropriate that the environmental movement called into attention Adams’ landscape photography. By the time of his death in ’84, his photos had became iconic! The name of Ansel Adams became closely associated with western American landscape. For me, like most people, Yosemite and Ansel Adams are synonymous.

When I look at a Yosemite scenery or a photograph, I think of Ansel Adams.




Delicate December 2, 2007 at 9:20 am


I spent parts of Saturday morning doing some macro shots in the back yard. I’m happy with the shot above, capturing the water droplet on a flower; I called it “Delicate”. I got to use Live View on the Canon 40D for the first time, and I came to appreciate the feature. I can’t imagine using the view finder for prolonged sessions of macro shooting– too much strain on the eyes otherwise..

Macro November 25, 2007 at 9:44 pm

I’m finding myself shooting more flowers lately. So too bad, my camera lens collection is currently missing a macro lens. Well last week I decided to rent a Canon 100mm macro lens. Yesterday, it came via UPS and I finally had some free time to use it this afternoon to do some shooting. These are my first macros ever and am happy with the results. See if you concur.

I’m hoping to have some free time to do more shooting with it this week.

Flickr & Color Management October 18, 2007 at 6:47 am

imageTonite, after processing some of the pictures of the kids I took earlier in the evening, I uploaded a few of them to Flickr. In the process, I discovered something a bit troubling. The uploaded images on Flickr looked washed out! I looked closely at the settings in the Flickr upload tool and discovered it resizes the uploads due to size limitation. While JPEG is a lossy compression, resizing should not produce visible differences between compressions– otherwise, the format would be useless.

After reconfiguration, I re-uploaded a file in its entirety. I looked at the different sizes on Flickr and again, the image simply didn’t look faithfully replicated! Could the bits be altered I thought? So I downloaded the picture and compared it against the original JPEG. No difference in file size, good! I viewed the 2 files in Photoshop and they look identical, again good!

This meant that there is a visible difference in the rendering of the images on Flickr in the browser. A partial screen dump above shows the browser on top of Photoshop, both displaying the same image of the same size. The difference in coloration is obvious. But at this point I no longer suspect Flickr and began to suspect the browser; so I loaded the original JPEG file into Firefox & IE. Eureka, I see the same difference between the browser and Photoshop.

I didn’t get it, while I understand HTML is limited to web color space, I always thought JPEG is rendered in the browser without such limitation. Then I remember reading about Safari rendering JPEGs better than other browsers. I hit Flickr with it and bingo– chalk up more love for Apple from me! Safari rendered the image faithfully!

It turns out some systems (devices or software) are built without color management. Vista and Safari render photos faithfully because just as Photoshop, they have color management and will take into account the embedded ICC profiles in their rendering algorithms. Whereas other system like IE & Firefox and my printer, don’t have color management and render photographs with unpredictable color maps.

This was a lesson in color management for me. For a good example on color management in web browswers, check out this article.