Sunday, 29 November 2009

Welcome back to Photography Happenings!!

I started a website and e-newsletter service called Photography Happenings back in 2000 when the internet was not what it is today. Electronic bulletin boards were popular, as well HTML websites with blinking text (it gives me a headache just thinking about them!). We were using modems with dial-up speeds of 28.8 kbps, and photography information were more readily available in printed magazine than on the web.

A new dawn? Perhaps!

The Internet has come a long way since then. Fancy flash animation, rapid propagation of discussion forums, RSS feed and blogging have completely changed the online landscape. Now in Web 2.0 where interactivity and social connectivity rule, everyone has instant access to information unlike 9 years ago. When I ran the Photography Happenings site, I had e-newsletters to about a thousand subscribers in a monthly digest format. With so much new releases every other day, a monthly format is no longer enough today. And people today are so well-connected digitally, virtually any news is old news in a couple of days.

Now that I’ve managed to squeeze out some time from my day job (yes, I’ve one), I’m restarting Photography Happenings as a blog. Sure you might have heard some of the news announced already in some other sites, but I’ll add my opinions and comments in addition to the announcements, which hopefully will make them more useful to you.

Welcome back to the new Photography Happenings blog at

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

What's Saab with that?

If you think about continental cars, you'd think about luxury brands such as Mercedes, BMW, Audi or Volvo. If you're feeling rich, perhaps marques such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Zonda, Maserati, Bugatti or Aston Martin will interest you. If you're feeling mainstream, be sure to check out Volkswagen, Peugeot, Citroen or Renault. If your taste runs a little more niche, you might even want to look at Jaguars, Alfa Romeos, MINI or Landrovers.

But what on earth can possibly compel someone to buy a... Saab?

Saab is the Swedish car-maker that hails from the land which gave us Volvo, Ikea and Abba. But unlike its more famous compatriots, many drivers never even heard of Saab. It's almost akin to saying Lada when you mention Saab to mainstream drivers whose knowledge of continental cars are limited to the big luxurious three (that's Mercedes/BMW/Audi for you).

Saab was the spunky Swedish car company unlike anyone else. For starters, it was initially owned by a parent company company which built planes. Not just commercial planes - Saab AB built kick-ass European fighter jets such as the Gripen/Griffen. But sometime in 1989, Saab automobile was purchased by General Motors and lost its soul, churning out cars which did not possess as much character as the original models. An entire series of corporate mistakes saw Saab's sale tumble.

Don't bother visiting your nearest Saab dealership for these Saab.

But there are scores of motoring enthusiasts who still like Saab cars, with yours truly being one of them. Sure Saab might have lost some of its soul with the GM engine and such, but it still has plenty of character left. I might not like its dull instrument display or the number of buttons on the dashboard, but it has the coolest cup holder I've ever seen (tip: if you're in a Saab, make sure you get the owner to demonstrate how it unfolds). The design of a Saab is distinctive, and it has a Scandinavian handsomeness to it, even though I hate the chrome around the current Saab 9-5.

But what I truly like about it - is how it walks softly and carries a big stick. You see, it may not look like it, but underneath the Swedish gentleman appearance lies the soul of a raging Viking. Saab is one of the strongest proponent of turbocharging, from way back in the 1970s. And the way Saab cars are designed are different - the turbos are not the crude and loud business you find in Japanese rockets.

Looking good topless...

Instead, Saab built the turbos to deliver the maximum amount of torque in the mid-range, which makes it very easy to overtake another vehicle on the move. So while you're driving in the city, most of the instances when you need fast pick-up are during the moments you wish to overtake, and the Saab makes it a real breeze. Say you're traveling at 40km/h behind a truck - simply signal out and tap on the gas, and you'd be hitting 80km/h before you know it. The pick-up in the mid-range is simply unbelievable!

If you buy a Saab, you're either an engineer, architect, doctor or dentist. Or you could be a motoring enthusiast. If you belong to the latter group, you probably tuned your Saab to deliver even more power. The thing about the Swedish is that they're pretty prude when delivering the stock cars, but everyone knows that they're really Vikings in disguise, waiting to be handed their horned helmets and a club. Saabs can be easily tuned by flashing the ECUs with a different set of software, and that reprograms their brains to release the Viking within. By swapping a few parts out and reprogramming the ECUs, some Saabs can achieve in excess of 500 bhp under their bonnet!

By the way, Saab has been acquired by Swedish sports car manufacturer Koenigsegg in 2009, stopping the rot from GM's ownership. I suppose Saab cars are going to get even faster... and hopefully the acceleration applies to its sales figure as well. So if you're thinking of owning a continental brand that does spell yuppie (spelt as mercbmadui), and you cannot handle the flamboyance of a Alfa, consider a Saab. Yes... even if you're not a doctor, engineer or architect.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

When ignorance is bliss

"I didn't know it was impossible, so I went ahead and did it."

Knowledge can pave the way for even greater progress, but sometimes knowledge can become a dogma (a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true). When you are told that the parameters of possibilities are limited, that knowledge inevitably directs your thinking and actions within the possible areas.

This is especially true in some societies where authority is deemed as the final word, either due to respect or genuine belief in the dogma. When someone authoritative or senior says that this is impossible or ridiculous, people tend to concur and consider options or actions in the realm of "possibility". With the advent of the internet and online forums, this phenomenon becomes ever more acute, with some individuals lording over the online discussions and perpetually dominating the forums with their opinions and silencing dissenting voices with their mastery of the language or sheer dedication to posting lengthy verbiage and discussion beyond what others are willing to commit. Such individuals may not be truly knowledgeable in their fields, but their voices are loud enough for them to perceived as the authority. Their advice might not be correct, but many would be willing to listen to their 'advice'.

The rise of the online community raises another ugly head - which is that of the lazy individual who scours forums/websites for the answer. Rather than trying out the hypothesis to discover the answer, many turn to the keyboards to seek the wisdom of the masses. While searching online certainly can harness the power of other users, many important discoveries in the history of mankind run counter to the beliefs and common sense experience of the masses.

The online forum said, "That darn thing can never fly!" Yeah right...

Had the Wright brothers gone online to seek opinion of their plane design, they would be derided by the others in the forum (fictional of course). Had Eratosthenes conferred with Homer (an authoritative figure in ancient Greece, not the Simpsons!), he would have laughed at his own notion that the world could indeed be round (the Greeks believed the world was flat, and that you'd sail off the edge of the world if you go far enough!). Galileo Galile didn't believe the Catholic Church authorities and challenged their "truth" that the Earth is the centre of the universe.

The point is this - if you didn't know that it cannot be done, you will attempt to do it. It may sound foolish, but the fact is that many "truths" are not scientific or empirically impossibilities. When someone says something cannot be done, think whether the statement was in fact referring to "probabilities" or based on nothing more than the experience of the masses. The next time when you hear that something is impossible, perhaps it's better to turn a deaf ear. If you listen only to the masses and ignore your inner voice, you will only be as good as the masses. Ignorance can be bliss.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford

I always believed that life works in strange ways, and I'm sure looking back at how your own life turned out, you'd agree as well. If we can see life as a linear journey starting with birth and ending with our death, the path we take reads like a decision-making chart with numerous forks along the way.

Each decision we make has the potential to change our life in drastic ways.

Looking back, it's easy to see the impact of each of our decision in our lives. "I can't imagine what my life would me had I not done this or that..." That's something we catch ourselves saying from time to time. And yet, without the foresight of an oracle, we can't know for sure the impact of our choices. But looking back in life, it almost seems incredible how the decisions we took worked together in a linear fashion to put you where you are today.

That is why Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford collage resonated very strongly with me. Jobs talked about "joining the dots" in life, and how seemingly trival and unrelated choices came together in his life to make an impact, and how you can never plan to "join the dots". It just happens in life, and the best way to live your life is to do things you truly believe in, knowing that somewhere along the way the dots will all connect to make sense.

Stay true to yourself, and the dots will connect in life for you.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Running a business with your heart

My friends know I love coffee... and Starbucks especially.

It may seem sacrilegious to associate Starbucks with good coffee, since the coffee chain is seen as a mass consumption product rather than the typical romantic notion of a barista pulling perfect shots of espresso behind a bar counter in a Italian coffee joint. But I genuinely enjoy Starbucks - both as a coffee drink and a place to unwind and chat with friends and associates.

But with the bludgeoning popularity of Starbucks, it is becoming more difficult to love it as a coffee place when the outlets are perpetually crowded and noisy. It was facinating to me then, when I came across the book "Pour your heart into it - How Starbucks built a company one cup at a time" by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.

The book contains a riveting account of how Starbucks was born - first as a coffee bean retailer and then as a specialized coffee shop in Seattle, serving only coffee connoisseurs. And how Starbucks expanded into the worldwide chains, while coping with the challenges of rapid expansion.

For many companies around the world, growing too quickly is a demanding task. How do you cope with the finances? How do you balance between long-term growth and accountability to the stock market? How do you manage staffing issues? How do you ensure communications within the company? How do you keep morale up while being increasingly alienated from the staff? How do you ensure your customers continue to see you as a coffee specialist instead of a chain food outlet? How do you differentiate yourself from the competition in a playing field as open as coffee houses? How do you make decisions that do not compromise your integrity as a company?

For any one managing a company, this is a great book to read. Howard Schultz delivers a candid account of the growing pains of Starbucks, as well as providing great advices that runs against conventional business wisdom. The truth is - we can run the daily operations with our minds, but the guiding principles should always come from the heart.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Amazing wildlife photos and experience

National Geographic has always been synonymous with great travel and wildlife photography, and this short video about the adventures of a wildlife photographer with National Geographic encompasses everything romantic about the life of the contributing photographers!

"Adventures, excitement. A Jedi craves not these things." said Yoda. Obviously the National Geographic photographers are low in the Force quotient!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A new name in the marketing landscape...

This is probably one of the most significant posts in my blog... announce the arrival of a new name in the marketing landscape...

That's right... I've set up a marketing communications company.  What does Orange Cactus Project do? Well... companies provide goods/services to consumers, and while sales push the products to the consumers, marketing attracts consumers to consider buying the product.

When companies approach advertising agencies for marketing their products, usually companies end up expecting ads to sell their products. It may happen, but often you'd need more than just advertising to sell the products. At OCP, we start with the product/service and analyzing the target consumers, and we craft out a campaign idea. Then we propose the right media and marketing tools to help you achieve your marketing objectives.

Click image to see enlarged version

In a nutshell, we're a marketing communications company with the right selection of tools to bring the message across. There's a saying, "when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." We have a wide range of marketing tools and the marketing experience to make sure that your company's marketing interest is best served.

Click image to see enlarged version

Visit us at our website today to view our portfolio!


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Multiply your strengths to become the greatest!

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts"
- Aristotle, Greek philosopher

Michael Jackson was probably the best-known performer of all times. He was a singer, dancer, songwriter and performer all at once, and no other artiste can match his stature in the entertainment scene since. He possessed an incredible and distinctive voice, he could write his own songs, his dance moves were legendary and his rapport with the crowd was unbeatable. The world had never seen a performer like Michael Jackson, and it is doubtful that we’ll see someone like him any time soon…

Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computers, has an incredible life story. Voted by Fortune Magazine as the “CEO of the decade” just yesterday, Jobs founded Apple in the late 70s and was dismissed from his own company in 1985 following a power struggle with the board of directors. He started a couple of businesses (including the computer animation company PIXAR), which were purchased by Apple and he was reinstated as the CEO 12 years later after he was fired. Since then, Steven Jobs revolutionized the music and mobile phone industries with Apple iTunes and iPhones.

Behind the dramatic rollercoaster life events, Steve Jobs is essentially a technologist, designer, businessman and most importantly – a visionary. He’s very much in tune with the latest technology, he loves design (he took calligraphy lessons in college which lead to Mac systems having superior font types), and his business acumen is stunning based on his track record.

And if I were to mention “famous martial artist”, more than half the people asked will immediately think of Bruce Lee. The late Hong Kong movie star was probably best known for his martial arts prowess, followed by his career as a movie star. Bruce was also a philosopher when it comes to the study of martial arts. It was well known that Bruce pioneered his own blend of martial arts Jeet Kune Do by studying and distilling the other martial art forms which he was familiar with. Just like Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee was a phenomenon that stirred the world like never before.

The people I have listed above are doubtlessly incredibly talented, motivated individuals and celebrated as icons. They are considered to be the best in their respective fields, and their works either become the benchmark standards or stand as a legacy of their achievements. However, they compete in areas that are packed with talented individuals. What makes the list of people stand out amongst their competitors? Why are they regarded as exceptional individuals instead of others?

The answer lies in their incredible mix of talents – not just isolated talents, but in the way they have combined and fused their talents to exponentially increase their value. If Michael Jackson had just been a great singer, he would just be one of the numerous notable singers in the world. If Bruce Lee had not combined his love of martial arts and movies, he’d just be another martial artist master. If Steve Jobs did not have a love for design, he’d just be another technologist churning out run-of-the-mill machines instead of great products to change our lives.

So the next time you read about someone exceptional, think deeper about why they stand out amongst those who are merely good at what they’re doing. In all likelihood, the truly fantastic possesses a combination of traits that let them excel ahead of their field. Likewise, you can step ahead of the competition by looking at your strengths and weaknesses, and work not just on reducing your soft points, but on cultivating strengths that will catapult you right ahead of everyone else.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Hey... watch it!

Christmas is coming... and so is your big fat bonus. Thinking of giving yourself a treat? Reward yourself with a IWC ceramic pilot watch. Made from high-tech production process, ceramic is the hardest substance on earth after diamond. So while these watches are real tough, avoid fighting with your wife while wearing them cuz she WILL win with that diamond you bought her.

Let me know if any of you are interested...

IWC Pilot Chrono Ceramic TOP GUN edition (44mm)
Mint condition with everything as per AD would supply. Warranty card dated 27th October 2008.

Condition: MINT
Accessories: Complete with boxes (including outer brown box), original IWC strap, instruction manuals, and warranty card
Price: S$8,800

IWC Pilot Doppelchrono Ceramic - LIMITED EDITION (Ref: 3786)
The IWC Pilot Doppelchrono Ceramic Limited Edition Ref: 3786. Limited to 1000 pcs only - completely sold out.

The 44mm Doppelchrono LE features double-chronograph captures split timings, and it features the cut-open date window found in fighter jet plane displays. The second-hands is finished in striking red for easy reading, also inspired by fighter jet cockpit displays. But the most significant technical advancement in this watch is in the ceramic case, which is very difficult to manufacture. Even the chrono pusher buttons and back are made from Titanium!

Condition: MINT
Accessories: Complete with boxes, original IWC strap, instruction manuals, and warranty card (unfilled – which is a big plus)
Price: S$18,800

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Retro never really went away - fashion revisits itself every 30 years.

Humans are funny… we try so hard to out-do ourselves and make things better. And with technological progress and the digital edge, everything seems so nice and perfect. And we start to bemoan “the loss of spirit” with digital audio CDs and digital cameras. Suddenly everything analogue becomes in vogue and cool again… vinyl records and film are “in” once more!

Of course, if you wanna be with the in-crowd, make sure you’re fashionable all the way. Having some half-xssed film camera from your dad’s drawer isn’t gonna cut it (seriously it only makes you look old-fashioned!). For true retro coolness, you gotta reach into your grandpa’s drawer for his ancient Leica rangefinder. But most probably you’d find something like this…

Say hello to my latest toy… it’s a Canon rangefinder. According to the records, this camera was made between 1955-1956. Japan surrendered in 1945, so this camera was made in the industrial era after World War II. For the uninitiated, the Japanese industrialization took off by imitating/copying the best products/practices from other countries. The Canon rangefinder cameras were virtual clones of the superlative Leica rangefinder cameras from Germany.

If you shoot with this camera, I assure you that you will be the king of coolness during the next photo outing. Sure you photos will probably not be as good as the Canon/Nikon full-frame digital whatever DSLR, but hey the chicks will dig Joe Cool's retro chunk of metal more than a nerd’s DSLR any day. If you don’t have a dog to walk or a baby to carry, a cool retro rangefinder like this is a great way to strike up a conversation with the nice girls you meet. Oh… here’s fashion tip… your clothes should come from the modern era… do not try to match 1950s clothing with the camera. That ain't so hot ya know?

It’s a great camera to play around with, and yes… it still works perfectly when you load film in. And guess what? It’s not that expensive… for the price of a nice digital compact you can own a piece of history for yourself. I guess there’s more to life than being really really really good-looking.

Here’s a website if you want to find out more about the Canon rangefinder cameras.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Super White

I've been busy lately with a couple of business ventures, but when a friend sent me this YouTube link, it had me in stitches. No kidding... I think every Singaporean will get the joke. But hey... if you're a prude or under-18, please do NOT click on the link and complain about this tasteless and crude pun. Remember... it's crude for the prude!