Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Shorter cables

I travel a lot and I one of the things I constantly do is refine what goes into my backpack (and luggage). For this trip, I decided to add a refinement — reduce cable clutter.

Apple gives you 1m USB to Lightning cables when you buy the iPhone or iPad. Its nice, but folding this all is quite a burden even when I have a cord pouch to organise it all. For almost a year now, I’ve had to carry an Apple Watch charger as well.

So why not get shorter cables? Apple makes 0.5m USB to Lightning cables which are much shorter and are all I need. After all, I’m charging on the desk with an Anker 5-port USB charger. Apple decided against making a 0.5m Apple Watch charger, so I’ve settled on the 1m Apple Watch Magnetic Charging Cable.

This is a good setup. I’m saving space when it comes to folding cables. The desk looks neater no matter where I am. I found one caveat though – the 0.5m USB to Lightning cable might not be long enough for you to charge your device on a plane. For this, I still have a spare 1m cable that is attached to my powerbank.

The iPad as a camera

I’ve been walking around Paris recently and it’s becoming quite common: the iPad is used as a camera. I’ve seen tourists do the same thing in Munich as well, but not as common as in Paris.

Beyond just taking photos with a larger screen, people are doing entire tours, with video and audio. I’m unaware if there are such guides, but people are walking around with the iPad 2 in portrait mode and are recording their experience. There are so many experiences to be had in Paris, so it is not surprising that people want to take it home and their iPad’s have become the device they turn to for it.

I’ve always thought that the large screen on the iPad makes a perfect “back” for a camera. When I first started carrying my Canon G10 (a point&shoot, with zoom, that has controls like an SLR to some extent) I was always trying to use the viewfinder. A trait from shooting with SLRs and dSLRs all the while. Today I’m quite happy to use the larger LCD display to compose my photos (largely out of frustration of not having a viewfinder that covered more of the frame).

I notice LCD composition generally becoming the trend. Many cheaper digital cameras don’t even come with a viewfinder any longer. People are used to using larger LCDs for composition with their touchscreen phones (like iPhone’s, Androids, most of Nokia’s touch devices, etc.)

So why does the iPad 2 come with an inadequate camera/video camera? The iPad 3 will definitely improve on this, as will future revisions. I think Apple just had no idea that people would take on using such a device as a camera…

FWIW, around conferences, I’ve seen people use Playbook’s and Xoom’s to do the same thing (but that, I’ve always presumed is the alpha geek crowd using their devices).

I don’t want to ride a horse since we have no camera

We were in Penang over the weekend for a bit of R&R, a little bit of work, and a lot of eating. We stayed on the beach and on our last afternoon, Sara saw that you could take the horse for a ride on the beach. Guided, of course. I told her to go for it, and she protested, saying we had no cameras on us at the moment.

To which I decided, that we do. In my pocket I carry a HTC Google Nexus One and a BlackBerry Bold 9700. She had on her an iPhone 3G. So between us, we had three rather capable cameras, that do video to boot.

Sara on a horseMy strategy was to do still images with the Bold 9700, and take video using the Nexus One. I have to say the results were quite pleasing. They’re not of the calibre of my Canon PowerShot G10 (which I always seem to have in my backpack these days), or of any of my SLRs (which I’m carrying much less nowadays as I don’t have time to focus on making pictures), but they seem to get the job done of capturing the moments.

I have heard praises of the iPhone 4 and the Nokia N8 (from a camera perspective). I’ve been going to events these days, taking photographs with my Nokia N900, and they seem to be passable, suitable for on-screen viewing. You’re probably wondering what about print, and to that I have a retort: when was the last time you made a print of a photo? I’ve got about four years worth of holiday photos to print for my mother, and we’ve still not gone on to this batch operation.

Today, we are capturing our moments with our most personal devices, the mobile phone. There seems to be a megapixel race in the mobile phone space, like there was in the camera space, but all this gets reversed eventually (see Canon G10 vs G11 for an example). Its about sensor size. It is about the optics. Its about the value-add of having built-in geo-location. It is about the apps.

What makes the iPhone 4 a great phone camera? Not only it’s amazing quality, its HDR capabilities, but also the apps you can use to make better pictures, in-phone. While I was in Istanbul, a colleague was stitching panoramas with his Nokia N900. I’m sure Nokia knows this, with regards to apps on the N8 in the Ovi Store.

Where does this leave pocket camera manufacturers? The low end of what Canon/Nikon make will become less and less useful, as more consumers ditch the second device, and go for the integrated solution. Is the iPhone 4 or the Nokia N8 there? I’ve not played with either for a significant period of time, so I cannot judge.

The Two Apostles But the Nexus One, the BlackBerry Bold and the Nokia N900 already perform better than the first digital camera I owned (a Kodak, from about ten years ago). Heck, they even perform better than the standalone cameras from about five years ago. The image of The 12 Apostles, which has been printed for a gallery show, was from my second digital camera, a Kodak DX3500, and taken in 2002. It was a mere 2.2MP camera!

A very smart photographer Stuart Murdoch once told me “the best camera is the one that you have on you” (someone’s decided to trademark this age old wisdom, unfortunately). His colleague Nigel even discouraged putting on lens caps on lenses, because you never know what you’re going to miss with the lens cap on. Stuart is also the man famous for the “mophone” tag on Flickr – he loved shooting abandoned shopping carts using phonecam’s of yesteryear.

So, when will I look back at this post and say I’ve stopped carrying my Canon G10 equivalent and just rely on whatever is in my pocket? I don’t doubt that SLRs will go out of fashion (they have their uses), but I do think that pocket cameras will eventually disappear and have SIM cards in them. I’m all for device convergence.

Here’s to the age of the phone cameras!

Inspired by the Chinese work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit

I’ve been going around China for much of my vacation, and one thing that amazes me is the work ethic of the Chinese people.

China is well known for having its one-child per family policy. Once you leave the main hub cities, you are generally allowed to have two children, especially if the first child is a girl.

When you visit a trader, you see a husband and wife team running the store. They also usually have at least one child, who joins them at their store. What happened to the grandparents you might ask? Quite simply, living the entrepreneurial dream and also operating stores of their own, hence finding no time to look after their grandchildren.

What amazed me? A child sleeping on a trolley cart, with just a little cloth to act as a blanket. Another child sleeping on cardboard, with just a little cloth to act as a blanket. Children no older than three, helping their parents sort out items they have received from wholesalers.

I read in the newspapers about the story of a cobbler who went to Shanghai. He earns about RMB1,000 per month. He spends RMB300 per month on rent (he shares a room with four others), and he spends another RMB300 on food (he says he has two man tau for lunch). He saves RMB400 per month. That’s a 40% savings rate. He has a family far away from Shanghai (about 8 hours by train), and he’s OK with living away from them.

We went to get a massage. It was to last a total of 90 minutes and it would cost us a mere RMB75. Do you know what a massage therapist gets paid? RMB17 per customer for 90 minutes of hard work. None of them are also local, preferring to come from towns about 5 hours away. There are no benefits, there are no rest days, and there is no daily wage – if you have no customers, you’re straight out of luck. You do however get lunch or dinner depending on which shift you take.

Quick calculations show that at RMB17/90 minutes, if you can massage 4 customers a day, you walk away with RMB68/day. Do that for 22 days (an average work month), and you’ve got about RMB1,500, without tips. This is more than a Foxconn employee making high value items like iPhones, iPads, and more get per month as a base salary! Yes, there have been increases recently (sometime in May 2010), and you can make a bit more via overtime.

There are showrooms and warehouses that do not ever close. They operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can go in at anytime you please to take a look at their products.

Traders or workers, everyone does their job with lots of zeal and a smile on their faces. They’re working hard. They’re saving hard. The entrepreneurial spirit is just alive and kicking.

All this provides great inspiration. It makes you want to strive as hard. The Chinese work ethic amazes me, and there is a lot to learn from them.

Aside: It makes you wonder if a country like Malaysia, who is in the middle-income trap, will reach such greatness? Do we have the work ethic? Are we willing to sacrifice for greatness? Are we willing to work hard for great reward?

There are already 10 million English language speakers in China. There are over 300 million learners of the language. Malaysia still flip flops on what language to choose.

Thai Airways, good for business travellers

Found a postcard, and decided that I should send it along to her. Called up the wonderful reception, and they said I should bring along the postcard to the concierge.

At the concierge, I was told that I would need to pay 20 THB for postage. I asked if they could charge it to my room, and they declined. I waved a USD$1 note, and they said I’d have to change it at the reception.

Walk along to the reception, and I ask if they can give me cash out, and charge it to my room. Highly obliging, the receptionist, starts processing to give me my 20 THB. Its taking far too long, and I think to myself, maybe its easier to do a FOREX conversion. Without realising, I was thinking aloud, and the receptionist insisted that it was no hassle at all.

Two paw prints later, I had a crisp 20 THB note in my hand. I walked back towards the concierge, and handed it over to them.

What’s ironic about this whole transaction? In a couple of hours, I will be going down to settle my hotel bill. It will cost a magical sum of only 20 THB, and I will settle it with my credit card :-)

And here’s why flying Thai Airways might make business sense. Their planes reach Thailand early in the morning (9am, had my flight made it previously, or about 3am when coming back earlier). Their planes leave Thailand for other destinations pretty late – generally, the layover is about ten to eleven hours. They provide you a hotel (the Novotel Suvarnabhumi), at a cost to them.

So lets say I have a ten hour layover. I might need sleep for about 4-4.5 hours. It still allows me to have business meetings in Bangkok for about 3 hours, without any issue. Maybe even more, if the meetings are held at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi!

Their flights are pretty cheap. So cheap, that the next time I fly them, and if I’m going to India, its business class, or no flight at all. And when planned properly, maybe have many a meeting at the Novotel.

Internet access isn’t cheap, but its typical of a hotel: 150 THB for half an hour, 200 THB for an hour, 500 THB for 12 hours, 700 THB for 24 hours.

I ask myself though, why bother? When I’m done, I can head over to the airport, check in early, and visit the beautiful Royal Silk Lounge in the airport. Emphasis, on beautiful – its much better, IMHO, than the Singapore Airlines Lounge, in Changi. The food (and magazine/newspaper selection) doesn’t seem to be, but the ambience, the chairs/sofas/couches, definitely are.

All this thinking, reminds me of the shrewd startup style thinking that business travellers in startups should have.

Checking in photography equipment?

I’ve been on what I consider, a blogging break. In reality, I’ve been working, and then having a modicum of a social life, finding less and less time to write blog entries. I have morsels of half-baked ramblings saved, so expect a load of posts to show up soon…

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For a comeback…

I have been checking in my photographic equipment. I already carry a backpack with 2 laptops and various other tech gear (it probably weighs in at around 10KG, which airlines can frown at). Of late, I’ve also started carrying a briefcase. Where does my camera gear fit? In checked-in luggage of course!

This can be anywhere in the reigns of 3 Canon bodies, a 30/1.4, 50/1.4, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8, 17-40/4, and a couple of flash units. Not exactly the cheapest of equipment, as I’m into good glass (read: L).

However, the one place I don’t tend to check equipment in, is when I fly to and from the US. The TSA have a silly rule that says your bags must be unlocked, or else they will break the lock for you. This has naturally led the paranoid me, not want to carry any professional camera gear into the US.

And today, my paranoia proves right. I found out that Matt (WordPress fame) lost his camera gear, as did another blogger.

Yes, this is on a certain particular American airline, but I wonder if its just baggage handlers that are dishonest with them, or baggage handlers that are dishonest in general? Also note that insurance tends not to pay (afaik, anyway) if your camera equipment or laptop gear is checked-in.

What are options for the technophiles in us, that fly a lot?