House calls

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These days we have to practically hide all our hand phones and even the house phone. My son has developed an unusual interest of pressing the buttons and say “hei” – a mixture between hello & wei (must have catch on from the Cantonese serials that my wife watches every afternoon).
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So, even if we have hide the phones, he would look high and low for the phone and still finds it. The solution was to buy for him a toy phone but it does not stop him from “using” the real phone once in a while

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* Ha! Caught red-handed using the phone. Me and my wife spend couple of minutes observing my son. He was chatting away as if he was on call with a stock exchange investor.

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* My wife said “Danesh, what are you doing?” My son soon realised that we been watching him and he sheepishly handed back the phone to Daddy with a big grin on his face

Take great pictures with your digital camera (Part 2)

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Concluding my take on digital cameras…
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1. Batteries: Keep Spares on Hand
Many cameras come with rechargeable batteries. It’s a good idea to buy at least one additional battery (preferably the same model) when you purchasing your camera. Then you can keep on shooting while your spare battery is charging

I opted for a camera which uses the high end AA batteries. Some camera like some of the Sony models uses very unique camera batteries and to buy spare ones can be really expensive. Check yours. I always have 2 spare Fuji Rechargeable AA 2100mAH Ni-Mh batteries in my camera bag. It can last for several days of photographing. Never use the standard AA batteries. It does not have the necessary “juice” fort a camera flash.

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2. Storage
It’s not that hard to stop at a store to pick up an extra roll of film, but you may not find a memory card for your digital camera as easily. So, be sure to plan ahead. You might want to check to see if someone you’re visiting will be able to transfer photos from your memory cards to a CD, thus freeing up your cards for more photos.
I have a 16MB xD card and 64MB xD card. Both came with the camera when I bought it during a promotion. Different cameras have different cards – SD, XD and CF. Note the differences and pricing.
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3. Shoot and Delete
Most photographers eventually come to the conclusion that film is cheap, but electrons are even cheaper. Don’t hold back. Take lots of exposures, and then delete the bad ones. Often you can do that while you are taking photos. If you know your subject moved or someone got in the way as the shutter opened, most digital cameras make it easy to delete that shot to free up space for a better photo. But be careful! You don’t want to delete a prize-winning photo.

One professional digital camera photographer quoted once in TV interview that he will be lucky if he can find one good shot in 36 shots that he takes on a subject. Imagine 1 in 36! With a 64MB xD card, I can get about 84 shots (at 3M) but I would be happy if I get one great shot from that 84 shots.

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4. Experiment: Try New Things
Digital photography is very liberating because you have instant feedback and you don’t have to print anything you don’t like. Before digital cameras came along, you had to wait for the film to be processed before you could see if something you tried was successful. With a digital camera’s LCD screen, you can immediately get some idea if you have the right exposure of that spinning merry-go-round or of the fireworks on Merdeka Eve.
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5. Make Prints
Don’t make the mistake of becoming so mesmerized by glowing pixels that you fail to get prints made of your favorite photos. Even if you e-mail that photo of “little Johnny” after his first haircut, Grandma is still going to want a print to stick in a frame. Plus, the prints you get are real photographs that last. Most inkjet printers use dye-based inks that can fade quickly over time, especially if displayed in bright light.
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6. Don’t Travel with a Brand New Digital Camera
Always get to know a new camera before you entrust it with treasured vacation photos of the family in far away places. Digital cameras can have many powerful features that take a little getting used to, so plan to spend a good bit of time with your new camera, along with the instruction manual (sounds alien here?), before you head off on that vacation.

In other words, do plenty of “test runs” and reading of the manuals before heading off for holiday.

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7. Use the Camera’s Viewfinder and the LCD screen
New users of digital cameras will often immediately start using the LCD screen for composing all of their photos and forget about the viewfinder. That can be a big mistake. For instance, when outdoors where bright light can degrade what you see on the LCD screen, you may not notice when you cut off someone’s head.

On the other hand, using the LCD to shoot high over your head or with the camera very close to the ground can make the impossible shot possible. Plus, on many cameras, turning off the LCD will dramatically conserve battery power

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8. Organize and Backup your Originals
Most people are happy to leave their originals on their computer without thinking of a backup strategy for those precious files. If your hard disc crashes, you can say good-bye to your 1,000 once in a lifetime shots.

Since many personal computers today come equipped to make CDs, writing backup copies immediately is easy and a good habit to develop. Then you can use software like Adobe’s Photo Album to catalog and organize those CDs, with keywords that make it easy to retrieve photos in logical groups. Making a duplicate set of CDs to store at another location is also an excellent idea.

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9. Learn to “half-press and hold” your shutter button
By doing this, you give the camera a chance to focus on your subject and do anything else it must to be ready to make an exposure. Then when you press the shutter the rest of the way, you are much more likely to catch the exact moment you want.

That technique can go a long way toward reducing the frustration often attributable to “shutter lag,” a slight delay in the shutter release that is common to even some of the better digital cameras on the market today

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10. Don’t Stop Learning
After you get your feet wet and have fun taking those “free” digital photos, it’s a good idea to take the time to learn a little about the way a digital sensor differs from film in the way it sees and records light.

For instance, an overexposed negative can often be printed just by putting more light through it, while overexposed digital photos will have little or no detail in the highlight areas. On the other hand, underexposed film will have little or no shadow detail, but underexposed digital shots can often produce very good photographs when the various tonal values are adjusted in a computer

Check through some of the sites in the internet or buy a good photography magazine to beef up your knowledge.

(Some text extracted from here)

Take great pictures with your digital camera (Part 1)

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(My “photo of the month” – getting my son to sit still at one place (and not going for my camera) and getting him to smile. I took almost 10 shots before I got this and it was worth it)
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One of my friends “pinjam”ed my camera for some function. When I saw what he took, I just shook my head. It was boring and sad to say, no creativity of all. Maybe he was new to the world of photography and still learning the high and lows of taking a good picture. Even, I am still learning with my 3.2 MP Fuji (basic) camera and still have a long way to go before considering myself as a pro.

For those like me and my friend, you want to check out these tips to get the best pictures. (Text “cut and pasted” from Kodak. To check the corresponding pictures for each tips, click here)

1. Look your subject in the eye

Direct eye contact can be as engaging in a picture as it is in real life. When taking a picture of someone, hold the camera at the person’s eye level to unleash the power of those magnetic gazes and mesmerizing smiles. For children, that means stooping to their level. And your subject need not always stare at the camera. All by itself that eye level angle will create a personal and inviting feeling that pulls you into the picture.

(My picture of my son is a good example)

2. Use a plain background

A plain background shows off the subject you are photographing. When you look through the camera viewfinder, force yourself to study the area surrounding your subject. Make sure no poles grow from the head of your favorite niece and that no cars seem to dangle from her ears.

3 Use flash outdoors

Bright sun can create unattractive deep facial shadows. Eliminate the shadows by using your flash to lighten the face. When taking people pictures on sunny days, turn your flash on. You may have a choice of fill-flash mode or full-flash mode. If the person is within five feet, use the fill-flash mode; beyond five feet, the full-power mode may be required. With a digital camera, use the picture display panel to review the results.

On cloudy days, use the camera’s fill-flash mode if it has one. The flash will brighten up people’s faces and make them stand out. Also take a picture without the flash, because the soft light of overcast days sometimes gives quite pleasing results by itself.

(Golden rule that I maintained when I am taking out-door photos, I will make sure that the subject is facing the sunlight. Most of the digital cameras these days come with pre-set settings to ease our adjustments)

4. Move in close

If your subject is smaller than a car, take a step or two closer before taking the picture and zoom in on your subject. Your goal is to fill the picture area with the subject you are photographing. Up close you can reveal telling details, like a sprinkle of freckles or an arched eyebrow. But don’t get too close or your pictures will be blurry. The closest focusing distance for most cameras is about three feet, or about one step away from your camera. If you get closer than the closest focusing distance of your camera (see your manual to be sure), your pictures will be blurry.

(Remember when I talked about the optical zoom and digital zoom?)

5. Move it from the middle

Center-stage is a great place for a performer to be. However, the middle of your picture is not the best place for your subject. Bring your picture to life by simply moving your subject away from the middle of your picture. Start by playing tick-tack-toe with subject position. Imagine a tick-tack-toe grid in your viewfinder. Now place your important subject at one of the intersections of lines. You’ll need to lock the focus if you have an auto-focus camera because most of them focus on whatever is in the center of the viewfinder.

6. Lock the focus

If your subject is not in the center of the picture, you need to lock the focus to create a sharp picture. Most auto-focus cameras focus on whatever is in the center of the picture. But to improve pictures, you will often want to move the subject away from the center of the picture. If you don’t want a blurred picture, you’ll need to first lock the focus with the subject in the middle and then recompose the picture so the subject is away from the middle.

Usually you can lock the focus in three steps. First, center the subject and press and hold the shutter button halfway down. Second, reposition your camera (while still holding the shutter button) so the subject is away from the center. And third, finish by pressing the shutter button all the way down to take the picture.

(I still have this problem. So, what I do is that I take extra snaps…after all, there is NO “film” to be wasted)

7. Know your flash’s range

The number one flash mistake is taking pictures beyond the flash’s range. Why is this a mistake? Because pictures taken beyond the maximum flash range will be too dark. For many cameras, the maximum flash range is less than fifteen feet—about five steps away.

What is your camera’s flash range? Look it up in your camera manual. Can’t find it? Then don’t take a chance. Position yourself so subjects are no farther than ten feet away.

(Notoriously famous with my relatives! They will be far away, shouting at me to take their photos and when it turned to be “dark”, they will complaint saying that I do not know to take the picture. Duh)

8. Watch the light

Next to the subject, the most important part of every picture is the light. It affects the appearance of everything you photograph. On a great-grandmother, bright sunlight from the side can enhance wrinkles. But the soft light of a cloudy day can subdue those same wrinkles. Don’t like the light on your subject? Then move yourself or your subject. For landscapes, try to take pictures early or late in the day when the light is orangish and rakes across the land.

9. Take some vertical pictures

Is your camera vertically challenged? It is if you never turn it sideways to take a vertical picture. All sorts of things look better in a vertical picture. From a lighthouse near a cliff to the Eiffel Tower to your four-year-old niece jumping in a puddle. So next time out, make a conscious effort to turn your camera sideways and take some vertical pictures.

10. Be a picture director

Take control of your picture-taking and watch your pictures dramatically improve. Become a picture director, not just a passive picture-taker. A picture director takes charge. A picture director picks the location: “Everybody go outside to the backyard.” A picture director adds props: “Girls, put on your pink sunglasses.” A picture director arranges people: “Now move in close, and lean toward the camera.” Most pictures won’t be that involved, but you get the idea: Take charge of your pictures and win your own best picture awards.

More tips will list in my Part 2 next week (sorry but doing a lot of “cut & paste” stuff this time)

YB Lim to blog and he rocks!

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After Shahrir’s “so-called” one sided (and often testing our intelligence) blog, we have finally one from the Opposition Party.
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Lim Kit Siang has joined the blogsphere and he is humble enough to ask his readers to call him “Kit” (Picture source: AP).

Now, current event blogging should be picking up heat now that Kit has joined in with his comments and analysis on the politic news (some are also shown in the DAP website). This coupled with the brilliants insights from Aiseh Man, Mack and Jeff Ooi (there’s more I know), the understanding of “what’s really happening” behind Malaysian’s politics’ “sandiwara” could be clearer to the common rakyat like you and me.

I have “known” DAP since I was still small. Spending a good of my younger days in Serdang (once a stronghold of DAP), I still remember of the big “rocket” made of wood along the main road. That itself became a landmark to go my grandma’s house. I still remember the time when my uncle was giving direction to someone “After the rocket, go up another 1 km, turn left…”.

When DAP decided to “hold hands” with PAS for the general election, coupled with well tuned propaganda (?) from the “other” parties, I lost respect to Lim Kit Siang and his DAP. I must agree that I occasionally visit his homepage but that too for checking things out (sometimes I just can’t trust our local dailies…some stories are just too good to be true but I don’t blame them).

Now, reading his comments from a very familiar looking template, I find that it is easier to digest some of his thoughts and criticise the rest.

I am not much into politics but unfortunately none of us can escape from the blunders that some politicians do (and they have the cheek to call it as the “right thing” to do). So, sometimes, it is better to have the story from the correct sources to understand the “how, why, who, when and where”.

Until then, I will finish this…with a warm welcome to Kit.

Happy blogging. Remember blogging rocks!

For this Merdeka, let’s do this…

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From the movie “Independance Day“, President Thomas Whitmore gives this speech before the major battle:-
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“Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation.
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We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!” We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”
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So, dear fellow Malaysians, for this Independance Day, let us be united in our common interests and not be consumed by our petty differences anymore.
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After 48 years of Independance, we cannot afford to be.
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(Picture source: TV Smith)

This should inspire us!

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As I was reading about an article about the science of Lance Armstrong, I am truly amazed of his achievements: winning the Tour de France for the 7th consecutive victory.

Whilst science may have proven how he could have done, leave no doubt in your mind that it is sheer hard work and having a very positive mind that brought success to him.

(Picture source: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

From 1992 to 1999, the year of his first Tour de France win, Armstrong was able to increase his muscle efficiency by 8 percent through hard and dedicated training. Ed Coyle (director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin) says Armstrong is the only human who has been shown to change his muscle efficiency.

However, surviving cancer almost certainly made Armstrong a stronger athlete mentally. Sports scientists agree that Armstrong is one of the most disciplined and focused athletes in the world.

Truly amazing!

Playing Hide and Seek

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Hide and Seek. That’s the main game for my son these days…he will hide himself and show himself, smiling when we shout out “Where is Danesh?”

As we are worried that he may hide himself and injure himself, we have managed to reduce his “hiding” places. However he still gets creative. There was once we were in the room and I was busied myself with my computer (as usual). A couple of seconds later (yes, seconds, not minutes), my wife asked me where is Danesh. I turned around and…my son simply vanished. Me and my wife got scared and started to look high and low for him. It was then my wife saw a pair of small feet popping out from the window curtains (which is long till the floor). He was there and he was standing still…waiting for the “magic” word. So, we said “where is Danesh” and immediately, he steps out with a big smile on his face. We all laughed and at the same time relieved.

Nowadays, my wife and I have to keep a constant watch on him otherwise he will do his disappearance act again.

Picture: When we in Taiping, my son found a small gap behind the cabinet and hid (with my wife quietly watching him). My wife called me and whispered to me where my son was hiding (I swear that I could not see him and would not have believed if my wife did not tell me). So, I told the “magic” word and alas, he came out, smiling at us.

The zoom power…

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My friend has just bought a new digital camera and was unsure about the zoom because there was 2 mentioned – digital zoom and optical zoom.
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I checked my photo “database” to show him the difference between a digital zoom and an optical zoom. I did not realise how my digital camera optical zoom came in handy when I took this picture of my sibling way down at the beach in Port Dickson couple months ago.

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This shot was taken from the condominium that we stayed. My dad is holding a fishing rod with one of my sisters whilst my brother is holding fishing net. One of my sisters is “marching” towards them to check out whether they caught anything. The reflection from the sea was great.

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After several minutes, when the sun was blazing of them and the fishes shying away from the coast, they head back to the condominium.

Now, what is the difference you may ask – between a digital zoom and an optical zoom?

An optical zoom actually changes the focal length of your lens. As a result, the image is magnified by the lens (sometimes called the optics, hence “optical” zoom). With greater magnification, the light is spread across the entire CCD (“charged couple device”) sensor and all of the pixels can be used. You can think of an optical zoom as a true zoom that will improve the quality of your pictures.

A digital zoom is a computer trick that magnifies a portion of the information that hits the sensor. Let’s say you are shooting a picture with a 2X digital zoom. The camera will use half of the pixels at the center of the CCD sensor and ignore all the other pixels. Then it will use interpolation techniques to add detail to the photo. Although it may look like you are shooting a picture with twice the magnification, you can get the same results by shooting the photo without a zoom and blowing up the picture using your computer software.

(see: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/digital-camera26.htm)

So, the next time, you are buying a digital camera, remember to check on whether the zoom mentioned is an optical zoom or not. Don’t be confused between optical zoom and digital zoom.

Same source, same date but different impact

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When I was in Taiping, I was watching the news and I could not believe what the Acting Menteri Besar Kedah, Datuk Mahdzir Khalid said about the worsening API reading in Kedah. He said something like this “…tangguhkan dulu pembakaran jerami sehingga masalah jerebu berkurang”.

Just to be sure of what I have heard, I picked this up from Bernama:-

“Di ALOR STAR, Pemangku Menteri Besar Datuk Mahdzir Khalid meminta para petani supaya tidak melakukan pembakaran jerami padi buat sementara waktu ini memandangkan situasi jerebu di negeri ini semakin buruk dengan indeks pencemaran udara (API) semakin menghampiri 100, iaitu pada tahap tidak sihat. Beliau berkata arahan itu bagi memastikan asap dari pembakaran jerami padi itu tidak memburukkan keadaan jerebu, dan menurutnya arahan melarang pembakaran terbuka itu juga perlu dipatuhi semua pihak”
(source: www.bernama.com/bernama/v3/news.php?id=150108)

But surprisingly Bernama’s English version of it on the same date stated this:-

“In ALOR STAR, Acting Menteri Besar Datuk Mahdzir Khalid issued a warning that stern action would be taken against those involved in open burning, including padi farmers”

(source: www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v3/news_lite.php?id=150074)

I gather that someone must have done a (bad?) translation from Bahasa Malaysia to English and as such, the Bahasa Malaysia version should be the correct one (as I heard the same from the “horse’s mouth” in TV).

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The funny part is that Bernama suppose to be the national news agency whom is the source of Malaysian news to the world. I am sure that most of the foreign news agencies would have picked up Bernama’s English version and may even have applauded Mahdzir Khalid’s “stern” stand. But looking at what he really said leaves a bitter taste on the tongue. It is as if Bernama had swept the “dirt” under the carpet.

If I put my own version of Mahdzir Khalid’s statement in layman’s terms, the statement would sound like this:-

“Negara kita sekarang menghadapi masalah jerebu. Oleh itu, para petani diminta tangguhkan dulu pembakaran jerami agar tidak memburukan lagi masalah jerebu. Kalau masalah jerebu telah berkurangan, saya tidak ada masalah kalau para petani nak meneruskan pembakaran jerami kerana bagi saya, asap dari pembakaran hutan di Sumatera dan asap dari pembakaran jerami adalah berbeza sekali. Asap dari jerami tidak memburukan kesihatan rakyat dan tidak menganggu jarak penglihatan. Kalau negeri Kedah dikabungi asap dari pembakaran jerami pula, saya tidak ada masalah dengan itu”

Ok, I am putting my own words here and there. I may even have read his statement out of context but am I? Read between the lines and interpret for yourselves.

As I said, it is depressing to have amateur politicians handling serious situations like haze but being away to Taiping did not help much when we have such “smart” people making “smart” statements in national TV.

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(Picture source: www.kedah.gov.my)

My holiday trip to Taiping – almost a disaster but…

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Although I had planned my trip to Taiping way before the haze was creating havoc in the Klang Valley, I was looking forward for the trip as a way of escaping the choking haze in the Klang Valley.

However, just the day before I was leaving for Taiping, the haze decided to migrate itself to North. I was dread of the thought that I am actually traveling towards to haze rather than away from it. The view along the North South Highway did not ease my fears that I am going to spend my holidays in heavy haze.

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* The haze was so bad that the street lights were up when I was passing near Ipoh. The atmosphere in side my car was gloomy as well

By the time we reach Taiping, the town was covered with a fine blanket of haze but life went on as usual in Taiping. A quick trip to my in-laws house indicates that despite of an increasing API reading in Taiping; people there were generally ignorant of the haze. Perhaps they were so used to the mist surrounding the Maxwell Hill and the hills surrounding the town.

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* A rather disappointing view from my hotel room. I can’t even see the hills! Luckily the room was great, air-conditioned and I spent most of time playing with my son.

Other than going to my in-laws house, we decided not to “move” around much in the haze. So, it was back to the hotel where all of us (me, my wife and my son) decided to take a good nap after a long journey. Luckily for us, it was very windy and rained that night. After the rain, I hopped out to the nearby market to buy dim-sum, dumpling and of course, couple cans of beers. After putting my son to sleep, I and my wife had our “light dinner” at about 1.00 am while chit-chatting.

The next morning was a surprise! The haze decided to take the day off and almost left Taiping clear from haze.

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* It was beautiful and it stayed as such for the next 2 days. We had a good view of the hills and the mist early in the morning.

Sunday to Tuesday was a busy time for me and my family. We enjoyed the various food and site-seeing. Unlike the last time we were here, we spend little time in my in-laws house. It was great as I felt that I spend quality time with my family (hmmm…should do this more often). Interestingly I spend more time sleeping. It was not until my wife pointed to me that it has been a very long time since we took a long break from our daily schedules.

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* Coming back. It rained cats and dogs! Visibility was as bad as driving through the haze but being an experienced driver, it did not pose any problem except for a couple of morons who were driving through the heavy rain without switching on their headlights.

I will be planning for another holiday trip in 2 – 3 months time. Perhaps this time, might go for Penang or Langkawi. It all depends on my project datelines. It also depends on the haze…that’s the last thing I want on my holidays.

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