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Tuesday, February 05, 2013


Beware, very poisonous bug

Almost two years ago when I hadn't been long in Penang I got a rash on my face. It spread from my cheeks up higher and surrounded my eyes. It wasn't sore but it concerned me so I went to the doctor. Unfortunately the doctor didn't get off his fat bum to take a look at it. The best he could do was to prescribe an analgesic and I had not even complained about pain. That rash cleared up by itself after a short while and I decided I wouldn't return to that particular doctor.

Just recently another similar rash appeared on my face and also on various parts of my body. I figured it was probably the same thing and probably harmless so decided to wait and see. After a few days it wasn't getting better and seemed to be spreading so I went to a different doctor. He prescribed an ointment and some antibiotics which I used as directed.

A couple of days later the ones on my face had cleared up but the others still weren't any better.
The one on my hand had developed what looks like blisters and was quite painful. The one on my chest had spread first to the side of my body and from there onto my arm. I decided to return to the doctor. He said that normally this kind of rash should clear up after a couple of days therefore it could be something more serious. He was concerned that I might have shingles and that concerned me. I'd prefer to avoid shingles if I can. He referred me to a specialist.

The specialist said it was not shingles and was, as the previous doctor had suspected, from contact with an insect. However, I had had an allergic reaction to  the insect's poison. He gave me an antihistamine injection and a different ointment. He says it will take about ten days to clear up.

I asked him a few questions. I thought he said it was a 'rose beetle' but from my search on the web that is not the one. I found the correct one under 'rove beetle', however there are many species of rove beetles. I had to search 'rove beetle Malaysia' to get a description of the one that I had come in contact with.

Between the doctor and the internet I have learned to following.

If these little bugs land on you, don't slap them. You will spread the 'juice'. Maybe I did that, I don't remember. The best way to get rid of them is to blow them off. Even if you don't slap them they can still spread their 'juice' on you. I found a movie on youtube that showed one in a container and over four minutes it excreted quite a few times.

What do you do after you inadvertently slap one? Well there seems to be some disagreement. One page online suggested washing it with soap and water, another salty water but the doctor said that adding water to the poison can help it to spread. He mentioned that someone washed their hands and then their face and spread it to their face. I'm not sure what you are supposed to do.

Maybe the best thing is to make sure you don't attract them. These creatures live in the paddy fields. They are useful there as they eat smaller insects. However, during heavy rain or floods the beetles may migrate to drier areas—like my home. Generally homes in Malaysia don't have insect screens. These beetles are attracted to light and apparently they like high-rise buildings on a hill that are surrounded by jungle. And I thought this was such a delightful place to live.

As I am writing this I feel something crawling across the back of my hand. It is a natural reaction for me to brush it off. I stop myself and blow. Fortunately it is an ant. I'm writing in the daytime and the rove beetles usually come out at night. Somehow I think I need to change my habits.

So, just how bad is the 'juice' of this little creature? On so many sites I found it stated that the toxin is 12 times more toxic than cobra venom.

I hope I don't ever inadvertently eat one.

Saturday, August 25, 2012



Here in Penang I often see people who are very good at multitasking. It's amazing what they can do on their motorcycles.

This morning while stopped at the traffic lights I looked in the side mirror and watched a young woman write a text message on her phone. She managed to finish before the lights turned green.

It seems most male motorcyclists here smoke as they ride their bikes. I saw one this afternoon doing even better. As he took off, his left hand was controlling the bike; his right hand held a newly lit cigarette and at the same time he was using it to very thoroughly pick his nose while doing a u-turn on a busy road. He safely completed the u-turn and rode off carefully inspecting the boogie as he went.

I'd love to bring you photos of these amazing feats but my multitasking skills are not so good. I can only manage the driving.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


Brand new key

I got the landlord to replace one of the locks to the front door of my flat. I was given only one key and as I share this place I had to get another cut. I asked at one of the hardware stalls at the morning market if anyone there cut keys. 'No, you have to go to Chulia Street or Pulau Tikus. But they might be closed until after Chinese New Year.'

I'd seen the one in Pulau Tikus before, working on the street, but each time I drove down Burma Road now there was no sign of him. I decided to leave it until I returned from my Australian trip.

Back in Penang I managed to get a parking spot opposite his stall. I had a small child with me and had to cross a busy road. He was getting ready to leave on his three-wheeled scooter. I signalled for him to wait and he did.

Got the key cut and we chatted. Jason was wearing a t-shirt that looked like a team shirt for a Myanmar sporting team. I asked if he was Burmese. 'No,' he said. 'We exchange shirts with members from other teams.' Jason was an athlete who swam for the Malaysian team in the Asian paralympics. He says he retired from swimming because in Malaysia success is not based on ability. 'You mean on who you know?' I asked. He nodded agreement.

I told him about the 100 Strangers project and he was happy to participate. Small dilemma for me. I only had my TZ10 pocket camera with me. My G2 was in the car but I didn't want to keep him waiting while I crossed the road twice with this child so I decided to go with the TZ10. Perhaps it's not as good a shot as I would have got otherwise but never-the-less, here is Jason.

This picture is #6 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page. My 100 Strangers set.

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Friday, March 30, 2012


Comparing M4/3 lenses

This blog has not been updated very regularly lately. It was intended to tell of my life in Asia. I'm still in Asia but lately I'm not doing much that I consider to be particularly different. What I am doing is becoming more involved with photography as I get to know my Lumix G2 camera and its lenses. If you want to see what I'm doing these days, my flickr page is updated regularly—much more than this blog.

The camera I have chosen is one of many micro-four-thirds cameras that have become popular for their quality images and compact size. There are now many lenses available for M4/3 users and recently I was asked about the ones I have used. I've decided to put my thoughts down for the benefit of anyone who may be interested.

When you buy your camera it will probably come with a kit lens. It will be a basic lens and if you only have one it is the one to have. But if you only ever have one lens, why buy an interchangeable-lens camera? I'd suggest buying a compact camera with a more flexible lens—a camera such as a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 which takes great pictures just the way it comes out of the box.

The kit lens that usually comes with the Lumix range of M4/3 cameras is a 14-42mm lens. It does what it's intended for and some people continue to use this lens after they have another but I have to say I rarely do. You can check out pictures taken with this lens here. There are some great shots. Make up your own mind.

If I was starting over again, I would try to buy my camera with just the f1.7 20mm pancake lens. A pancake lens is one that is designed to be compact and if compactness is the reason you are buying your M4/3 camera this one won't add much to the bulk. I find this lens very useful. It gives sharp images and a wide angle of view—but it doesn't zoom. The maximum aperture of f1.7 means it lets in a lot of light. I often use mine to take night shots without a flash. This wide aperture also means it will blur the background for those of us who like a shallow depth of field. It can be used for portraits but it is best to not get too close to the subject or it distorts the face just a little. Better to stand back a bit and then crop the image if you wish.

When you start with a new camera I think it is best to stick to just one lens and get to know it really well. Take your time and learn what you can and can't do with it. Then ask yourself what you want to do that this lens doesn't do for you. I enjoy photographing wildlife and also candid photography and therefore a zoom will get me much closer to my subject than the pancake lens. But how much zoom do I need?

I opted for the Vario 45-200mm zoom lens. I love it. The image quality is great. Once I started using it I rarely took it off my camera. Just occasionally when I am shooting birds or something else small and in the distance I lust after a Vario 100-300mm which gives 50% more zoom power. Until recently I'd never used one of these but my flickr friends who have one speak highly and their pics support their enthusiasm. Is it worth the extra cost? Depends on how important it is for you to shoot distant smallish subjects. One possible downside of this lens if you travel frequently is that it weighs 520g compared to 380g for the 45-200. On the other hand it's a lot lighter than an SLR lens with similar zoom power.

If you start with the 20mm pancake and then add the 100-300mm zoom, that means you don't have anything to cater for focal lengths between 20mm and 100mm. There are several options available to fill those gaps.

In my previous blog post I wrote about the Lumix workshop I attended in KL. This gave me the opportunity to test out two Leica branded lenses. First I got my hands on a Leica DG Summilux 25mm f1.4. I really like this lens. I used it for portraits and for wildlife shots although at 25mm it wasn't really suited to subjects in the distance. I had a high success rate with this lens even though I'd never used it before. I didn't use it in low light but with an aperture rating of f1.4 it should be even better than the 20mm pancake lens.

Next I tried the the Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f2.8. No one showed me how to use it. I wasn't aware that there was a switch to change from close to distant focusing. I still don't know which setting I was using. Maybe I should have looked more closely at the lens but I didn't. My success rate was very poor but the good shots were excellent. I could see it had potential.

After the workshop Panasonic offered us deals on all their lenses. I can't afford to buy multiple lenses. I had three lenses on my shortlist. I decided that if the deal was good enough I would buy one. The 45mm macro lens was the best deal in my opinion so I went with it. It has replaced the 45-200 as the lens that spends most time on my camera. I still have a low success rate with this lens but the good shots are stunning. It is not just a macro lens, with the flick of the switch it becomes a multi-purpose 45mm lens. This is a good focal length for portraits on M4/3. It gives great detail so if someone's skin is as blemished as mine, beware. It is very honest. I would have difficulty lying about my age when providing a portrait made with this lens.

All the above lenses are made by Panasonic but micro-four-thirds is not just Panasonic. It was developed by Panasonic and Olympus together. Other manufacturers are also making lenses for M4/3 cameras.

I've tried only one other lens and only for a few shots. That was Olympus M Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f/1.8. It's a great lens. If you feel the need for a 45mm lens and shooting in low light is more important for you than shooting macro than go with this one. Perhaps eventually I'll own both this and the 45mm Leica macro lens. But for now I'll stick with my 20mm f1.7 for low-light shots. Compare prices, for what it does, the Olympus lens is a good buy.

Since I started writing this I have had the opportunity to use the above-mentioned 100-300 lens. I want one! But it doesn't come cheap and for the moment I'm still getting to know the 45mm macro lens. So, for now it will remain on my wish list.

What else is there? Lots. Panasonic has, I believe, three lenses for wide-angle photography. There is the rest of the Olympus M4/3 range that I have not even mentioned. There are M4/3 lenses made by other manufacturers. Amazon list about a dozen. If you want to be adventurous you can buy adaptors to fit SLR lenses to your M4/3 camera. That opens up so many possibilities. Here's a group that explores that option. At this point in time, I know next to nothing about all these lenses so you'll have to do your own research if you want to go down any of these tracks.

Have fun and happy shooting.

Please note: links in this post will take you to examples of pictures by various photographers taken with the camera or lens mentioned.

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Friday, December 02, 2011


Lumix @ KL Bird Park

Back in 2007 I visited the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park for the first time. I wrote about it in a blog which can be found in the archives for June '07 if you're interested. I was annoyed at the time because of the misleading advertising which still persists. It may be the 'World Largest Free-flight Walk-in Aviary' (sic—from their website) but a large proportion of the birds are kept in cages, some with wires that make photography challenging.

I'm coming to terms with it a little more now because, having spent most of the past year in Malaysia, I've come to realise that misleading advertising is part of the Malaysian way of life. Despite this I've felt an urge to return to the Bird Park because it provides an opportunity to get my newer cameras close to some interesting birds. So when Panasonic announced they were running a workshop for owners of Lumix G series cameras at the Bird Park, I jumped at the opportunity.

The workshop started with some instruction from professional photographer Aaron Kok.

The guy who was sitting next to me told me he always shoots in Intelligent Auto. I suspect many of the participants do the same. I guess that Aaron was aiming to give us enough knowledge to be more confident in using some of the features of our cameras.

My neighbour had only one lens, a 14-42. His wife had a similar camera with a 14-45, ie almost the same lens. I have a 14-42 lens too. It is the one I almost never use. Panasonic have come up with a good marketing strategy here. They make the full range of lenses available to you and give you time to play with them. Perhaps you'll become attached to them and buy one or two. And to give you a focus for your photography they had a competition. Prizes were given (not sure what) for the best shot in model, macro and wildlife categories.

I wasn't quick enough. There were a limited number of lenses. By time I got to the table the 100-300 extra-long zoom and the macro lenses were all taken. I settled for the 25mm f1.4 lens. Perhaps it is not the lens of choice for wildlife photography but I'm glad I was given the opportunity to try it out. I'm told that at f1.4 it is the lens that lets in the most light in the entire micro-four-thirds range from Panasonic and Olympus. I love what I do at night with my 20mm f1.7 lens without using a flash. This one would work in a similar way for closer subjects. At 25mm it is a good lens for portraits. So I spent a bit of time with the model. Was that exciting? To be honest, I was getting more excited by the bokeh (blur) this lens created from the light filtering through the trees. It's a great lens for keeping the subject sharp while blurring everything else so it won't be a distraction.

After I had more than fifty shots of the model I decided to try the lens on birds and whatever else I found in the park. You could say it does a good job but to be honest, my preference for this job would be the 45-200 zoom lens that I already own (or perhaps the 100-300 lens that I am still yet to try).

We had a total of three hours for our free shoot. I returned after about one hour in hope that someone had returned one of the aforementioned popular lenses. They hadn't. I hung around waiting and that was when I met Alexis who became stranger number four in my 100 strangers project.

Chatting with one of the support staff, he offered to loan me his own Leica 45mm f2.8 macro lens. I hadn't long fitted it to my camera when a hornbill landed on the verandah of our workshop venue. At first I was disappointed but quickly remembered that this lens is not just for macro. I got one or two good shots of this bird. I also noticed that the model was sitting around now. Everyone had moved on. I asked if I could take a few closeups of her eye. Hey, I was doing real macro! I played with this lens for another hour or so and took a few good shots but I have to admit that a lot of my pics could have been better. I trust more consistent quality comes with practice. Once again, for distance shots, my preferred lens is the 45-200 that I already own.

We each submitted our pics for the competition and Aaron offered his critique on each one. When he reviewed the model pics he insisted that a good portrait must have the subject looking straight at the camera. I was interested to learn more about Aaron. When I returned home I searched for him on flickr. He doesn't appear to be there. I did a general search and found a website for an Aaron Kok, lifestyle photographer. It must be a different Aaron Kok. On the home page of this site are three portraits of a child. In only one is the subject looking at the camera.

And what did I learn from the day? I don't usually shoot in Intelligent Auto. Since I got the G2 I mostly shoot in aperture priority. But in a sense I use it in an auto style. I need to pay more attention to the settings, make sure they are appropriate for the photo I want to take and adjust if necessary. I took a lot of not-so-good shots on the day and one or two good ones. Hopefully I can improve the proportion of good ones.

My better shots of the day are gradually being added to my flickr photostream or you can see them together in a set. Please note that if you use these shots to assess any of the Lumix lenses, what I post on flickr has been processed. It is not the way they came out of the camera.

Panasonic tell me they are planning a G series workshop in Penang. I wonder what the venue will be. In any case, I'm interested.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011


Guarding the gold

We were walking up Campbell Street in Georgetown's Chinatown district. This street contains several jewellery shops that deal in gold. In our group there was a three-year-old boy. We passed a security guard who put a hand out to give the child a 'five'. The boy didn't quite get it right so I stopped to show him how to do it. I wasn't even thinking about the stranger project but his Mum said to me, 'This guy—for your strangers.'

Hey, yeah. Why not?

I asked if I could take his photograph and put it on the internet. He was happy about that. Like my previous two strangers, he didn't have internet so was not able to check out his photo or the project for himself. In the photo he is trying to look serious to fit his role but actually he was a friendly guy who smiled a lot except when the camera was pointed at him. I asked his name and he pointed to his name tag which simply stated 'Wahar'. Don't know if that is his personal or family name. While he liked to chat his English was only basic.

He was carrying a gun which he assured me was loaded. I took a couple of shots trying to get the gun in the picture. There's another on my flickr page that shows him up close without a gun.

During our chat I learned the following about Wahar: He is 65 and unmarried. He was previously in the Malaysian army and proudly showed me a photo of himself in uniform and with a guard dog. He and two colleagues guard a row of jewellery shops in Campbell Street.

This picture is #3 in my 100 strangers project. Find out more about the project and see pictures taken by other photographers at the 100 Strangers Flickr Group page. My 100 Strangers set.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Sam Shield

13 November 1940
19 October 2011

Once there were seven.
Now there are five.

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