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The Workhorse

Canon 60D

In the world of cameras, only Sony are doing anything that really interests me right now. By putting big(er) sensors into small(er) cameras, they’re improving image quality without sacrificing portability. They’re improving low-light and noise performance without having to go to ridiculously high ISOs or invest precious R&D into new noise-reduction algorithms. They’re doing the right thing, or at very least, moving in the right direction.

It all started with the RX100, released just last year, a compact camera with a non-detachable zoom lens and a comparatively massive 1-inch sensor, the largest in its class. It was the first camera to put a big sensor in a body that was still extremely pocketable, and it was the first camera that offered anything close to the low-light performance of cameras with much larger sensors.

Not surprisingly, the RX100 received rave reviews despite the slightly higher price point — it was decidedly an “enthusiast compact” camera, and the price reflected its status, but it was still on the expensive side for people looking for an alternative to similar cameras such as the Canon S100 or S110, both of which retail around the $300 mark — by comparison, the RX100 is easily twice that price.

Regardless, the RX100 was a big hit with the wider photographic community. Someone at Sony must have decided this was a worthwhile path to pursue, because half a year later we saw the introduction of the RX1, the first camera to put a full-frame digital sensor in a compact camera. Not much bigger than the RX100, the RX1 is stil a hell of a lot more compact than any other camera with a large sensor, let alone a full-frame DSLR.

Like the RX100, the RX1 comes with a non-detachable lens, but unlike the RX100, the lens on the RX1 is a fixed-focal length lens (commonly referred to as a prime). The lens permanently attached to the RX1 is a 35mm f/2 Zeiss, and I for one am glad Sony chose to go with something decent for their choice of lens. Thanks to the combination of quality glass and a full-frame sensor, image quality, low-light image quality and noise performance all improved markedly.

The only real downside for consumers was the price: at close to what you might pay for a comparable full-frame DSLR, the RX1 is out of reach for anyone who actually wants a full-frame sensor in a compact body without the convenience of interchangeable lenses. You’d have to be a serious enthusiast (or flushed with cash) to fork out for a camera you bought for its size alone, especially when you can get a professional DSLR for around the same kind of money.

Nevertheless, like the RX100 before it, the RX1 was heralded as a breakthrough in digital camera technology simply because it was the first camera to include a full-frame sensor in a compact-like body. It, too, received rave reviews, despite its expensive price tag.

By this time, Sony had caught onto what consumers really wanted: DSLR-like image quality from compact cameras. The RX100 II followed with improvements to the general formula, including a new image processing chip for even better noise performance, coupled with the same big sensor in a compact body. Around the same time, Sony also released the RX1 R, a variant on the original that removed the anti-aliasing filter in favour of more effective resolution and slightly sharper images at the cost of possible moire when capturing certain lined patters.

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Funemployment

http://thedoghousediaries.com/5468

Comic via Doghouse Diaries.

The fashionable thing to do after you graduate, I’m told, is to get a job and start paying off your HECS fees. Either that, or go back for more education, either in the form of an Honours/Masters degree or a PhD in the field of your choice.

But apparently I must have missed that particular memo (or more likely, fallen asleep during that particular lecture), because thus far, I’m still as unemployed as I was when I started my degree.

Part of the problem lies in the fact I’m still very unsure about what kind of job I want, and is compounded by the fact that a Computing degree doesn’t necessarily mean I should get a degree doing something with computers, although in this day and age that’s more or less inevitable. I’m fairly sure I don’t want a full-time “programming” job, as I’ve never really liked programming. I’m not really interested in graphic design, 3D modelling, or web development, even though a large part of my degree was doing web stuff.

I remember when I was getting close to graduation the first or second time, and a colleague was asking me about what kind of job I was going to end up with after I graduated. I replied with not a little melancholy that I’d probably end up doing websites for clients, which would lead to my eventual suicide due to how depressing that life would be. I don’t really know what it is, by web development has never really appealed to me. I can get by hacking my own WordPress theme and fiddling with the occasional bit of PHP, but building websites for others is an unimaginable level of hell.

It should have been the precursor to my post on time a month or so ago, but I didn’t get around to writing a thing on the kind of job I want. Like the vast majority of people, I could probably just get some 9-5 job doing some horrible drudgery, only to come home and have a few hours to myself before going back for more the following day, but that’s no way to live. A better alternative would be to find something I find interesting, something stimulating, something that won’t leave me wanting to kill myself when 5:30 rolls around. The reality is, I probably wouldn’t mind a typical 9-5 job, it would just have to be something I enjoyed doing. Which is kind of why my current situation works pretty well, which leads on nicely to the next part.

The eagle-eyed among you would have noted my use of the word colleague earlier, a strange term to use when one is unemployed. But maybe for my particular situation, unemployed isn’t exactly the right term. I have and have had a job since 2007, just one that isn’t full time. I mostly work on the weekend, with a few days during the week here and there. The current arrangement I have works pretty well, actually. I get plenty of time to myself to do whatever I want — sleep until noon, get up, play some DotA 2, eat, play some more DotA — and because my daily expenses are pretty low, I can even save a little money on the side.

Did I tell you about that time I applied for money from the government to assist my Uni studies, but because I had been at Uni for too long, they wanted me to start proving I was looking for work? And that entailed a mandatory visit to an employment agency to help me get started, which felt really wrong? Not because looking for work is something I detest, but because that visit to the employment agency felt like I was using resources would could have been better used helping the less able and less fortunate to find work. My Centerlink payments stopped soon after that, because I felt like there were people that were more deserving of the government’s assistance than I. No, this isn’t some kind of high-horse that I’m sitting on, just a recognition of the fact that as far things go, I’m pretty lucky. And besides, I found my current job on my own when I was still in high school, so I didn’t really need the help of an employment agency to find work1.

And what about that time I was almost suckered into a pyramid scheme? Now that’s a truly enthralling tale for another time.

With very little idea of what kind of job I want, you could say the job hunt is proceeding as expected.

That’s not to say I haven’t been looking for a suitable full-time job. There was even a job I applied for, way back in July. Unlike other jobs, I kind of wanted this one: I thought I was a pretty strong candidate as it suited my previous experience to a T, the pay was great, and it would have meant moving out of my parents’ house and becoming independent. But even though I thought I was a pretty good candidate, HR apparently didn’t think so. My interpretation of the feedback I received essentially boiled down to “HR is more concerned with protecting themselves and their managers than finding the best candidate for the job” — that may be reading between the lines slightly, but that one job application made me so angry about the entire process that I haven’t bothered looking for or applying for anything else since.

Perhaps I wanted that job more than I let myself think I did, but either way, I’m enjoying being semi-unemployed. The right job will come along eventually, and until then, there’s plenty of other heroes to get good at in DotA.


  1. Not to mention, their offices had a really off-putting vibe to them, too. Not like creepy or anything, but I was a little weirded out by how they measured their job performance as the number of people they had gotten employed. That’s important, for sure, but how does job happiness factor into the grand scheme of things? It made me wonder about whether they actually cared about getting people in jobs or whether they just worried about lumping sacks of flesh with other sacks of flesh. 

Welcome to Dinovember — Thoughts on creativity — Medium →

I’ll skip right to the good part:

Why do we do this? Because in the age of iPads and Netflix, we don’t want our kids to lose their sense of wonder and imagination. In a time when the answers to all the world’s questions are a web-search away, we want our kids to experience a little mystery. All it takes is some time and energy, creativity, and a few plastic dinosaurs.

via Welcome to Dinovember — Thoughts on creativity — Medium.

Nvidia’s ShadowPlay and One Angry Earthshaker

fraps movies settings

Occasionally, I put gaming-related videos on YouTube. For all of those videos, I’ve used Fraps to capture in-game footage, and as far as software-based capture tools go, it isn’t bad. I’ve been using Fraps for a few years now, and for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy with it.

That said, there are a few things about Fraps I don’t like. For starters, it creates massive files on disk — it works out to be about 1.2GB/minute for 720p footage at 60fps. There’s no option to record at arbitrary resolutions, only your display resolution or half size, whatever that turns out to be1. And enabling Fraps usually kills my FPS, which usually gets me killed in whatever game I’m playing. The frame rate drop I experience in certain (read: more recent, more demanding) games turns me off recording unless I really want to, otherwise I’d probably record far more often than I do. That, and the massive hard drive space requirements for recording.

But like any in-game capture tool, the worst thing about Fraps is that I have to manually enable it whenever I want to record something. That’s fine if I know something cool might happen in advance, or when I know I’m going to do something which I might need footage for later, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve done something epic and wished it has been recorded. So many times I’ve missed out on capturing some real Kodak moments, and all because FRAPS wasn’t recording. The “workaround” for this, if you can call it that, is to have Fraps running all the time — but when gaming sessions go for hours on end, I have neither the hard drive space nor the low-FPS tolerance for that to be a viable solution.

shadowplay settings

Enter Nvidia’s ShadowPlay.

In Shadow Mode, ShadowPlay automatically records everything in the background. It records up to the last ten minutes of gameplay in the background, which you can then save to disk if you want by pressing the appropriate key combo. Do something epic, and want to have a permanent record of it? No need to gripe about not having Fraps turned on and recording to your friends over TeamSpeak, because ShadowPlay already recorded it for you. All you have to do is save the recording.

ShadowPlay is also great because it doesn’t produce massive files when recording footage. It uses the GPU to transcode your recordings on the fly to H.264 (which is why you’ll need a GTX 600 or 700 series graphics card), resulting in reasonably-sized files, and best of all, there’s no performance hit that I’ve noticed thus far. (For comparative purposes, 1GB of hard drive space gives me roughly three minutes of in-game footage with ShadowPlay at 1080p/60fps, compared to under a minute with Fraps at 720p/60fps.) There are alternative software capture tools that can perform similar compression on your recordings, but those use CPU power instead of a dedicated H.264 encoder built into the graphics card. And since my CPU is a few years old now, I don’t really have those CPU cycles to spare when I’m gaming.

ShadowPlay has a manual recording option too á la Fraps, in case you want to go down that path. But having something sit in the background silently recording my every move is great, and means I don’t have to think about what I’m going to be doing next and whether I want to have that on file for later. It’s like having an instant rewind for anything.

There’s always room for improvement though, and ShadowPlay is no exception. It needs the ability to record voice input, for starters. If I’m communicating hilarious things over TeamSpeak but all the recording captures is my teammates’ responses, then that’s not very useful. And I have to do some more thorough testing, but I’ve had a few recordings with a number of graphical glitches too. Then again, Nvidia have labelled it a beta for a reason, so I’m sure it’ll get there.

But for now, ShadowPlay is pretty great. Reasonably-sized files, little to no performance hit when recording, and the best part is, it means I don’t have to worry about turning on Fraps before doing something cool. What’s not to love?

ShadowPlay makes recoding game footage an afterthought, which is what it should be — because you’re supposed to be playing games, not thinking about whether you want to record what you’re doing in games.

About the video2: OK, so, there was this one game of DOTA 2 I was playing, right. We had an Earthshaker on our team who wanted to play him like a carry — constantly going 1v1 against other heroes. Dude thought he was invincible, even after he died three times in the space of two and a half minutes. After he died he’d usually ping-spam the map, resulting in our Death Prophet getting worked up and shout at him over in-game voice. It was hilarious, right up until the point where Earthshaker revealed he had a mic after all, but apparently only used it to abuse other teammates over voice. We lost the game, of course, but it was really strange. Almost like the dude was drunk or something.


  1. Since I game at 2560×1440, the native resolution of my display, half size turns out to be 720p, which works out well enough for YouTube purposes. 1080p would be great, but recording at full size and then down-sizing is too much work. 
  2. I had to upload the video to Vimeo because YouTube blocked the audio because of the Lady Gaga going on in the background. But the audio is kind of the best part. And yeah, sorry about having the not-very ad-free Spotify going on in the background. (The new Lady Gaga is just OK, IMHO). 

The iPad mini

iPad mini white

I have this weird thing where I’ll keep a tab open for days, weeks, even months, if there’s something even potentially interesting that I can’t deal with right now, but want to do something with eventually. Before you ask, yes, I have heard of bookmarks, but ask any nerd and they’ll tell you they do a similar thing with their browser tabs. It’s not uncommon to have umpteen tabs open at any one time — and of all the stuff I have backed up, I’d be pretty devastated if I lost all my tabs. I could potentially get them back, but that involves trawling through days, maybe even weeks of internet history.  When you visit as many websites as I do, it’s hard to tell what you had open as a tab and what you were merely browsing out of curiosity.

But I digress. I’ve had two tabs open for close to a year now, and as much as I’ve wanted to write something substantial about the iPad mini, there just isn’t anything worth writing about. Not because the iPad mini is boring or anything, but because I just haven’t been inspired to write anything worth publishing. Because when it comes down to it, the iPad just isn’t as interesting as the HP TouchPad was, back in the day. WebOS was just so bad and so good at the same time, you know?

I’ve owned an iPad mini since it was first released around this time last year. It wasn’t my first tablet, but it is my first iPad. I honestly don’t have anything else to say about it that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but with the new iPad Air coming out riding on the coat tails of the iPad mini, I thought I’d take a moment to write about how I’ve been using it.

I think the most telling thing about the iPad is that it hasn’t replaced my computer. That’s telling because I see a lot of older, mature folk replace their clunky Dells with futuristic, touch-enabled iPads, even if they don’t run the same programs as their old computer used to. Why? I’m not sure, exactly, but at a guess, it has something to do with how intuitive Apple has made iOS (and then turned everything upside down with iOS 7, but that’s for another time).

But as much as I enjoy using the iPad, it hasn’t replaced my computer. If all I’m doing is light web browsing and catching up on my Instapaper backlog, then sure, I’ll pick up the iPad over the MacBook Pro any day; the iPad is lighter, has a much longer battery life, and lets me concentrate on one thing at a time, for the most part. It’s kind of like the Kindle, in that regard. For everything else, there’s the Mac: for switching between any of my umpteen open tabs, writing content into browser text boxes, and doing any other kind of serious work.

I tried writing one of the MacTalk daily news posts on my iPad mini one time, and while it was OK, the software keyboard really hindered the process by needing to switch between the various keyboards to access special characters. I could have worked around the issue by using a hardware keyboard or using an app that offered an extra row of characters, but that would have required a little extra preparation on my part, something I wasn’t able to do at the time.

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Winning (and losing)

Dota Dire Ancient Gone

If there’s a universal truth, it’s that people don’t like losing. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that losing sucks; anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying or a sadist.

The question is: do I take winning too seriously? There was one time, years ago, where a friend and I were playing Left 4 Dead. We were in a co-op match with two other folks, and I was shouting obscenities into our team’s text chat in an attempt to get the other players on our team to do something useful. After the match, the friend I was playing with pointed out “that guy” that was trying to get the team to win. I pointed out that “that guy” was actually me, and things were pretty awkward from that point on.

I’ve played a number of DotA 2 games now. As of writing, dotabuff says 249 real matches, with perhaps an extra 10-15 versus bots on top of that. At the moment, my win-loss ratio is sitting just under the 50-50 ratio, at 124 wins to 125 losses. Anecdotal evidence (i.e. the dotabuff profiles of a number of friends who have played hundreds of more games than I have) leads me to believe the matchmaking in DotA conspires to keep you around a 50-50 WL ratio, but with a good enough team, you can beat the odds.

Despite what you may believe, the number one influencer on your win-loss ratio isn’t yourself. At least, it’s not about yourself as much as it is about other players. For example: if another player on your team, in a different lane, decides to die repeatedly to one of your opponents in the early game, then that opposing hero now has a level and gold advantage. And even if you’re playing to the best of your ability, there’s very little you can do from preventing that opposing hero from dominating the rest of the match. From there, your fate is all but sealed: the opposing hero which received early kills dominates teamfights, and hence wipes the floor with your team. Eventually, through no fault of your own, you lose. Good game, sir.

But I’ve played enough games of DotA 2 now to realise that it’s a little more complicated than that. I’ve seen my share of impressive comebacks and last-gasp pushes that result in a win to know that the balance in DotA is incredibly delicate. What one player does or doesn’t do can tip the scales in your favour, or lose you the match. Didn’t deny the tower when you had the chance? You lose because the enemy all gained gold. Didn’t carry a TP scroll when pushing? You lose because a Nature’s Prophet decided to teleport into your base and demolish your ancient with his army of trees. Spent too much time jungling instead of pushing with your team? You lose because your team just lost that 4v5 teamfight, the enemy pushed, and you lost a tower and barracks.

Don’t get me wrong, good team work is of the utmost importance in DotA 2. It’s why I gently push others to be the best they can be if they’re having a bad game, because good teamwork means you can bring a game back from 9-0, their advantage. 30 minutes in, and it’s 16-32, still their advantage. We’re behind in kills the entire time, but when we finally take their ancient, the scoreboard reads 44-54, still in their favour. You’ll notice I went 2-17 in that match. I contributed almost nothing to that game, and yet we won. So how does that work, exactly?

Teamwork.

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My iPhone Home Screen

iphone 5 ios 7 home screen

Updated 1/11/13 for a few more iOS 7 app updates

It’s been a year since the last time I wrote one of these, so I figured it was about time I updated the previous post with everything that’s changed during that time.

IOS 7 brought a massive list of changes, first and foremost of which was a massive overhaul of how everything looks and feels. Some people absolutely hate it, but I like it, for the most part — it makes everything fun.

Anyway, let’s talk about some apps.

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Tough Crowd

Remember that one time where I managed to get a Divine Rapier as Drow in a public game? Good times, good times.

Remember that one time where I managed to get a Divine Rapier as Drow in a public game? Good times, good times.

Hi. My name is Benny Ling, and by the time you read this, it will have been a week since the last time I played badly in DotA 2.

It might not be the end of semester (at least not for me, thanks to some fortuitous mechanism), but once again I find myself playing games when I should be doing something else. I’ve dipped my toes into the world of Los Santos in GTA V, I’ve wandered through the tall grass in Pokémon X, and I’ve fed the opposition in highly-strung matches of DotA 2.

I remember it almost as if it were yesterday, even though it was actually 29 days ago. I was playing Faceless Void, and for those who aren’t familiar with DotA, Faceless Void is what they call a “hard carry” — that is, he can carry the game, but only if he gains a significant advantage in terms of gold (and therefore items). Faceless Void has this really cool ultimate ability called Chronosphere which temporarily stops time within a sphere, where only he can move around — once you get the right items, you can do some real damage to the opposition who were unlucky enough to be caught in your Chronosphere.

But hard carries, by their very nature, are incredibly easy to kill right up until the point when they get their items. Think of them like a Magikarp before the awe-inspiring Gyrados — the Magikarp has essentially no defences, and no real attacks. Almost any Pokémon can KO a Magikarp, but it takes a much stronger Pokémon to take down a Gyrados, the evolution of Magikarp.

It was in that fateful game that I experienced, first-hand, how tough the DotA crowd can be. We lost that game, of course, but it was honestly the second time I had played Faceless Void in a public game. I did OK the first time I played (well, we won that match, anyway, and I was 9/9/6 in terms of kills, deaths, and assists), but what I’ll always remember is the abuse I copped because I played badly. Some of it was my fault — like the time I managed to trap an allied hero in a Chronosphere and get him killed — sure, but the team as a whole was doing pretty badly. Only two heroes out of five had any kills at all, and by the time our ancient fell, the numbers weren’t exactly pretty.

As much as I deserved some of the comments — “Faceless doesn’t even have boots” — I was made to feel as if I was the sole reason our team was losing, when it was really our shared fault. Two other heroes had died more times than I had, so I could hardly be blamed for our eventual loss, right?

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Small visual update and RSS migration to FeedPress

Just a quick update: I’ve migrated this site’s feeds from Feedburner to FeedPress. You shouldn’t have to re-subscribe or anything, and if you’re already subscribed via your favourite RSS reader (I’m using Digg Reader these days after the great Reader-pocalypse of 2013), then you shouldn’t have to do anything. And if you’re not already subscribed, what are you waiting for? Subscribe today — it’s honestly the best way to keep abreast of the infrequent updates around here.

Secondly, there’s been a slight change to the visuals of posts. I’m slowly working towards the gold standard of how I want my blog to look, but until I find a really great theme I’ll just continue to customise this one. If stuff looks a little off, it’ll most likely be a temporary thing. Probably. Unless I don’t notice.

As you were.

Made in Australia for iOS 7 →

Instead of writing some epic thing about stuff you probably don’t care all that much about anyway, I thought I’d substitute one of my monthly pieces on here for something I wrote over on MacTalk.

I dug up a few apps designed for iOS 7 by Australian app developers, emailed a few guys, and asked some questions.

It took a little longer to write than I would normally spend on the news, but I think it was worth it.