My travel experiences in Vancouver and Seattle. Where are they?

I’ve told myself time and time again that I would do a short write up on my experience of my recent solo trip to Vancouver and Seattle. But I haven’t found the right time to actually sit down and do a good and proper write-up. It was a significant event that happened this year, months of planning at the very least. Surely there must be something that I would like to share right? Yeah, definitely but not now.

After getting back from my trip, I am swamped with work. And next week I about to start school again for two weeks, attending an intensive module daily from 9 am to 4 pm. That would mean that I need time off from work, and that means that when I come back, I will be swamped with even more work. But there’s more! I have my annual reservist training right after that for another week. So I won’t be in office for 3 whole weeks!

Work, school, reservist training and so much more. I just haven’t found a conducive time and place to just clear my mind and write whatever it is that I want to write. This blog is not dead. It will never be. But I think the norm will be long periods of inactivity, possibly months at a time. Well, at least I am not writing for an audience. Rather, this is just a place to chronicle my life, snippets of it, not a full autobiography. 30, 40 years from now, this blog would be valuable, not in monetary terms, but in terms of the life’s memories and experiences.

Science Bucket at Singapore Science Center

The Science Bucket was the last assignment for the Semester. Each of us were tasked to perform a science demonstration in front of a live public audience at the Mendel Auditorium at the Singapore Science Center last Saturday. It is an open event, where anyone who visited the Science Center on that day were free to pop by and see our demonstration done live. Each of us were given 15 minutes to do the demonstration and explain certain scientific concepts for a lay person to understand.

For my science demonstration, it was all about eggs. I demonstrated the strength of the eggshells by explaining the shape that rise to its strength. I then demonstrated that the eggs are stronger than most people would imagine by stacking thick books weighing 12 kilograms in total on top of just 4 eggs. It was a fun demonstration that involves enthusiastic young volunteers to help me stack the books on the eggs without breaking them. I was quite amazed by their enthusiasm. Almost all the young children sitting in the auditorium were clamoring for a piece of the action and an opportunity to take part in the science demonstration. And it wasn’t just my demonstration that piqued the most interest. Almost all other science demonstration performed by my classmates needed volunteers and we had no shortages of that.

It was a really long Saturday. Our day began at 8am in the morning, ending all the way till 4.30pm. But it was an eye-opening experience. It was my first time performing a science demonstration in front of a live audience. I was a little nervous, but I was more excited to perform it, probably because of all the kids who were so keen in learning science through our demonstrations that we did on that day.

At the end of the day, everyone was so relieved that it was finally over. The amount of planning was just insane. It took weeks of planning, delegating who do what, when. And we also had to do our own rehearsals to make sure that our science demonstrations works and to iron out any kinks along the way so that when it comes to the actual day, the programme would run smooth as butter. And it did run smooth as butter. Everyone chipped in and no one complained about anything. Everyone was helpful and cooperative and despite knowing each other for 4 months, organising the Science Bucket and going through it smoothly was a testament to our bond and friendship we have cultivated since we first started school.

Now that the semester is over, we have one more module that all of us will be taking, and that would take place in June. It will be an intensive module, meaning it will take place the whole day, everyday for 2 weeks. And then it would be over. In addition, this would be the only module that all of us will be seeing each other again, before going on our separate ways. Some of us are full-time students, and they will be continuing their studies in ANU, taking different modules from the part-timers. It would be the last time we gathered together. Looking forward, I think I will be a little bit sad to see them go. But I know that we will all continue to keep in touch in the months to come. At the end of the day, each of us will graduate from the course. That is everyone’s end goal.

Tinkering with my new GoPro Hero 5 Session

So I just got my GoPro Hero 5 session and had the chance to play around with the settings and even did some recording outside. It attached my Session to the Capture POV from Peak Design stuck to my bag and started recording my walk from the train station to the office.

Video quality is quite good. I set to 2.7k resolution at 30 frames per second. The video initially looked slanted, especially if I raise my left arm and the strap is raised. That’s because the Capture POV is attached to the left strap of my bag. I also realised that because the GoPro uses a fisheye lens, the best view is pointing the GoPro directly straight ahead. If its point at an angle, the fisheye effect from the lens will exacerbate the slant ness I see in my video.

Walking causes vibrations. More than I expected. Every footstep I made caused small vibration that even the image stabilisation can’t seem to handle very well.

Even if image stabilisation is enabled, the vibration is kept to a minimum, but the video suffers from a wavy-like effect. The image stabilisation is done through software and not hardware and it has to ‘guesstimate’ the level of compensation is needs to apply to reduce vibration. This is why image stabilisation is not available in 4K mode as the GoPro will not have enough room on the edges to compensate for the vibration.

Video files are huge. At 2.7k resolution, a simple 8 to 10-minute clip is close to 4GB. It really eats up the available space in the microsd card fast. I will definitely encounter space issues when I’m in Vancouver. No doubt I will have to resort to offloading some videos to my phone to make way for more videos to record. Then there is the hassle of uploading to the cloud before downloading is again to your PC.

Though I just made a kick-ass gaming PC, using Adobe Premier Pro just crushes my PC like tin can. The software is extremely resource-intensive. I’m starting to realise the need for an i7 CPU and 64GB RAM. I can’t even preview the final video in real time after adding simple effects and layers on top of the video before the final render. Rendering a 2-minute clip at 2.7K resolution takes more than an hour. And I don’t even want to begin mentioning about the warp stabilisation effects applied to the videos. It just takes so darn long to analyse the clips. That being said, the software is still usable, but just so darn slow sometimes. And it has nothing to do with the inefficiencies of the software, but rather the deficiencies of my hardware that is causing the slowdown.

One trick that I read is to line up all your clips for final render into one coherent clip that are satisfied with. Only then, you apply the warp stabilisation, colour correction, fisheye lens removal and any other effects that you’d like to add. You may be able to preview the video at 1/8 resolution (highly pixelated and borders on pointlessness in checking the final result before the final render) but at least it’s better than nothing.

I have added my GoPro clips into Adobe Premier Pro. My main aim right now is to see how well the image stabilisation done in Premier Pro as compared to GoPro itself. Is it worth spending time allowing Premier Pro to analyse the video and apply its own algorithm to reduce vibration. Also, I am trying to see if removing fisheye lens effect would result in too much cropping on the edges, causing my videos to lose significant real estate.

There are still aspects of video editing I have yet to experiment on, such as adding captions, titles and wording into the video and how best to transition one clip to another in certain segments of the final video.

To cap things off, as I was using the Session attached to my bag strap, I was quite happy that not many people notice me wearing it or even when I am in the midst of recording. I was able to switch off the LED light on the front of the Session, so that no one will realise that I am actively recording. Add that to its dimunitive size, and the device actually disappears from view.

GoPro Hero 5 Session. The Next Best Thing to a DSLR or an MFT

Previously, I talked about how it pains me for having to ditch my MFT camera in my upcoming trip to Vancouver. As I am going to do lots of hiking (weather permitting) it is just not practical for me to lug or my camera gear to my hike. So the next best thing to not miss capturing the best moments there, I got myself a GoPro.

It was a pretty difficult decision to make, especially when deciding whether to get the Hero 5 Black or Hero 5 Session. Eventually, I settled for the Hero 5 Session. I initially had reservations about getting the Session over the Black. The biggest reservation was the fact that the battery is built in, and therefore cannot be changed once the battery is unable to hold a charge. But I really like the size of the Session. It measures just an inch on all sides into a small little cube and it’s more discreet than the Black. I don’t need a touch screen, a feature only found in the Black, and while the swappable battery is a major selling point for me, I decided that size and discretion is more important. This thing is so small that it just disappears, allowing you to record videos without being intrusive. Most of the features in the Black are also found in Session, with the exception of geotagging and higher pixel count when taking photos. But I can live without these features and at the end of the day, it doesn’t affect the quality of the videos. Both models perform just as well with Session at a much cheaper price point.

So I got it from Carousell. Apparently someone was selling it for only SGD380 instead of the usual retail price of SGD450, which is a nice discount to have.  I haven’t had any problems with it so far and I am charging the device as I type this entry. It is brand new and sold by a retail storefront at Kallang.

With the capture POV mount from Peak Design, that allows you mount the GoPro on your bag strap instead of wearing the chest harness, I can imagine shooting my hiking trips would be awesome.

Pains me to ditch my camera for my upcoming trip

Early on while planning my trip to Vancouver, I made a firm decision to ditch my Olympus camera and all the lenses that I own. I wanted to pack light. I am doing a number of hikes around Vancouver, some of which are pretty challenging. So it is a no-brainer that lugging your entire camera gear while hiking in those magnificent but challenging trails will be unfeasible.

Everything was fine and dandy when I recently volunteered to cover a 3-day conference as a photographer. I gladly accepted it, since firstly, I have never covered such an event as a photographer before. Secondly, it has been quite a while since I used my camera that extensively. I must admit though, my interest in photography has waned a little bit ever since I got the camera a couple of years ago.

As I completed covering the event, I uploaded all the photos I shot to Lightroom and started reviewing them one by one. I had to select the best to submit to the organiser of the event. At the same time, my annual account subscription for Smugmug was due, and it started prompting me via email to renew my account or risk having all the photos I have taken and showcased on the website deleted. Begrudgingly, I renewed, despite the fact that the website has become inactive for quite a while and I rarely uploaded new photos to showcase my works nowadays. As I renewed my account and checked the website that everything was running the way it was, I looked back at some of the photos I took and I was suddenly hit by a pang of nostalgia. It made me realise the true purpose of why I took up photography. And the true purpose was that I just love to travel, and what better way to chronicle my adventures through pictures.

All of a sudden, my interest in photography was reignited. As I reviewed the photos that I took during the conference, it also made me realise something else; those photos look pretty good. Not award-winning, but pretty good considering the camera and lenses that I have. I made me realise also that I have some pretty good camera gear and those were meant to last. I spent a significant amount of money buying those gear years ago and now it’s been largely unused.

So now that my interest in photography have been rekindled, I am facing a dilemma. To bring or not to bring my camera? The answer is pretty straightforward actually. I simply cannot bring my gear, since I have firmly made my decision to pack light. On a practical side of things, it would simply be too cumbersome to bring my camera along for the hike. Now that makes me sad. I have to rely on my iphone 7 Plus, now that it is the only device that could take photos. And the trails that I am hiking in Vancouver will no doubt offer exquisite views of the surrounding landscape, views that I will be unable capture in all its glory. That makes me really sad. The iphone 7 plus camera would no doubt take good photos, but it will be a little trickier and I will always have that nagging feeling that somehow I will miss something along the way.