My Lego Dream House

It all began when Kalinda shared her lego tree house with me 18 months ago. Kalinda and I were in Macau when she bought a mini lego tree house set. Despite being a 100% city-dweller, I find tree-houses intriguing. I guess it is a boy’s fantasy sanctuary. It is like a secret hide-out, tuck far away from the concrete noisy cityscape.

I started doodling different tree-house designs. 5 months before my boy’s birthday, I decided to design a nice lego dream tree house for Elkan. Getting the right lego blocks is the biggest challenge for me. It’s actually very expensive to buy parts in Hong Kong and Singapore. Some blocks cost as much as HKD10/unit. I calculated that it might be cheaper if I hire someone on ETSY to build one for Elkan and myself.

I found a US-based Lego artist on ETSY and paid him USD800 to produce 2 tree houses. However, the experience was dreadful and unpleasant. The artist promised 7 weeks but the entire order arrived 2 months late. Worst, it arrived in broken pieces. It was nothing like the structure I ordered. I had to report the cases to ETSY and got the seller’s store frozen for a couple of weeks until he completed the delivery.

Disappointed with the delivery, I decided to rebuild the tree-house on my own based on my sketches. Thankfully, with all the right materials, I managed to reinstate the original tree-house within 4 hours. (Poor Elkan, he took almost one long week to rebuild his house.)

Lego is a great hobby and an addictive one. I found my zen while constructing my tree house. It is a great stress-reducer and it helps me to focus on my thoughts. I relate this to the artistry of bonsai. Building lego takes lot of patience and time. It also sharpen one’s aesthetic, problem-solving skills and sense of balance.  It is a very rewarding indoor hobby.

I decided to tear down the original tree house (as I found it too bare and clean) and rebuild a brand new dream house. I wanted a more rustic version. I went to “Lego Paradise” at In’s Point Mall at Yau Ma Tei to pick up new parts and electrical components to furnish the interiors of the tree house. In’s Point Mall is a must-visit destination for all lego lovers!

I took 2 long weeks to create a brand new tree house. For parts that I couldn’t find at In’s Point Mall, I ordered them over Taobao (which offers much cheaper than the shops in Hong Kong!)

I love the final result. It is simply beautiful and stunning (certainly much better than the original one which I designed). I put in many details into the landscape. The most challenging task was laying the electrical cables and connecting the lights.

The final structure stands 75cm tall, 42cm wide and 52cm deep. The structure sits by a small stream on a rocky valley. It is a 2-storey tree house with a dual-twist water slide, secret waterfall chamber and an underground bunker. Every section is well connected with footpath and ladders. All the interiors are lit with lights (activated by a remote controller!) To keep out the dust, I custom-made a giant acrylic box to house the lego.

I am already thinking about my next lego project. It will be something close to my childhood love – a multi-terrain caravan with secret compartments, living space and weaponry.

Visitors Season (165th-167th)

Visitor-season is here again! And this week, I had my 165th-167th unique Hong Kong visitors. I have been keeping an “unique visitor counter” since the first day I moved to Hong Kong 7 years ago.

This week’s visitors are really special and dear to me. Dendy and Shin arrived with a big entourage from Indonesia and I spent 2 very enjoyable days with them. It is so good to have them here. Just love catching up and chatting with these 2 dynamic and amazing couple! The last time they visited me was when I was in Shanghai (April 14th, 2008! Read blog here.) just before I moved to Hong Kong 3 months later. Mmm..maybe it is a sign.

On the same day I bid farewell to Dendy and Shin, I welcomed another special visitor at the office. Qiaoqiao is my cousin-in-law from Xiamen and she works for a TV-media company (potentially she could be a very complementing business partner of my agency too!).

I love visitors. Especially when they mingled with my little sheep. :) Thanks for dropping by!

My 164th Hong Kong Visitor – A very dear buddy from India!

Always happy to know a friend is in town! And even happier when it is a friend who I haven’t met for almost 10 long years! This weekend, an ex-colleague (from VOXmedia) and a dear friend from India arrived in Hong Kong for the first time! Raghu and I used to work in a Singapore company where he was a SA and I was leading a small design department. We last saw one another in 2004 before the company crisis. Over the last 10 years, we stay in touch briefly on Facebook. He was one of the nicest and most sincere guys in the company! And boy, I am extremely happy to host him in Hong Kong!

Thanks to my blog, it seems that Harshad has a fan-base! Raghu mentioned briefly about Harshad and I asked Raghu to teach me some really “bad words” in Hindi so I can abuse my brother from another mother. I asked Tracy to call Harshad but my dear clumsy house mate dialled Harshad’s mother in India instead! When I heard a lady on the other end, my first impression was “Gosh! It is Harshad’s secret girlfriend!!!”. I started to tease her but all she replied was in Hindi. From the tone, it seemed she was pretty pissed and I handed over the phone to Raghu. He spoke with her for a while and from his face, it seemed pretty serious stuff. Only then we found out that was Harshad’s mum on the other end! Of course, we laughed madly and she didn’t find it amusing at all! What a joke!

The weather was cooling and I brought them to the Victoria Peak for a short scenic hike. In the late afternoon, Kevin (another ex-colleague) arrived from Beijing and joined us for a quick drink at my office in Central.

It was a great gathering. Raghu hasn’t aged a bit (see photo below dated 2002). Later that night, I went home and dug out all the old VOXmedia photographs dated back to 2002. Goodness, it is true! Raghu is almost the same as I last saw him 10 years ago! Must be the beer and whisky or the magical Indian gene!

Great to have you here, buddy and see you soon! Oh yes, I must connect you to Harshad!

DJI OSMO Review – Promising but is it worth the switch? (Updated)

After 10 months of eager anticipation, I finally got the new DJI Osmo handheld gimbal camera last Friday evening! When it was announced 3 weeks ago, I was impressed by the numerous positive reviews given by established sites and forums. All the videos from DJI channel were promising and I set a pretty good level of expectation about this. So the big question is: For those who owns a Gopro 4, is it worth the switch to Osmo? 

By now, you would have guessed that I am not going to sing praises about DJI’s latest gadget. Despite owning the impressive DJI Inspire 1 and the Phantom P3 Professional drones, I must say this is not as satisfying as the drones. After all, this is DJI’s first attempt in handheld action cam. The gimbal works great but there are other things that are rather disappointing.

29 Oct – This is another updated blog. After posting a rather negative first review 4 days ago, I have done more tests against Gopro 4 on Feiyutech 3G and read a couple more readers’ comments. They are all very good discussion and debates. Here are my final assessment: 

On a fairer note, there are indeed many good points about the DJI Osmo that I didn’t mentioned in my earlier blog as those features are very well-covered by other reviewers. 

1) Integrated body. Its sexy design and lightweight body. The overall packaging is very well-protected. The case really comes in handy! Osmo (422g) is slightly heavier than GoPro 4 + Feiyutech G4S (348g) but you can’t feel the difference.

2) The gimbal is superbly smooth and the camera captures more details in the background too!

3) It is a blessing to be able to change the exposure settings easily on the phone. This helps a lot during the recording!

4) It offers bigger screen-play on the phone! This is important as it is very difficult to see how the camera pans on a small Gopro 4 silver screen.

5) The refresh rate is much better than the Gopro. During a trial in my office, we can’t see any flickering light from the ceiling fluorescent tubes. Unfortunately, the flickering appeared on our Gopro 4.

6) At the widest angle, there is no distortion on the Osmo. The Gopro 4 offers a wider angle but it does have the spherical distortion at both ends. So, it is really down to preference

Here is a video shot by another user (Helipal). From the test video, it seems that the Osmo is more vibrant, stable and sharper in the video. It is a great comparison video for those who are thinking if they want to switch or not.

There are many imperfection about the new DJI Osmo that I want to share with the readers. I am a little surprised that these flaws weren’t commented by other reviewers. Here are some of issues that I would like to share:

1) Osmo Camera cannot be used on Inspire 1 Drone
It is already written under the FAQ section of DJI’s website, you cannot use the Osmo camera on the Inspire 1. However, you can use the Inspire 1 camera on the handheld gimbal.

2) Poor Average camera performance in indoor-lighting condition (Standard ZenMuse X3 Camera)
The image quality is pretty average in semi-bright indoor condition. When I zoomed in at 100%, it is quite noisy and not very sharp. (See photos at 100% cropped). To be fair, GoPro 4 performance just as bad in dim conditions.

3) Tilt-issue after short panning 
Like most handheld gimbals, after panning for a while, the camera will tilt slightly (the horizon will not be leveled). I have to press the button to level the camera. It is quite disruptive to re-level the horizon during a video shoot.

4) Poor microphone recording
Of all the bad points, I feel this is the worst. It is of unacceptable quality. The Osmo in-built microphone is really soft! Recording is low and very muffled. You might want to add an external microphone to capture the sound.

5) Poorer Battery Life 
I have used for only 20 minutes and the battery life is already 50%! Understand that the Osmo battery has to power both gimbal and camera (plus wifi to the phone), the power-hungry Osmo is not going to be a good travel camera to bring along with unless I carry extra batteries. Unlike the Osmo, the GoPro 4 and Feiyutech gimbal has its own battery – that’s why the gimbal lasts longer than Osmo.

Battery compartment is also poorly design – DJI has to include a tape at the end of the battery so user can pull out the battery. The spring inside doesn’t seem to work to push the battery out.

6) Panning motor noise captured in the video
Osmo allows user to pan the camera via a joystick. However, the panning motor noise is also captured in the video. It is so loud that the motor sound was also being captured by the GoPro 4. Come on! Seriously?

7) Tight Handphone Grip (only on the iPhone 6+)
If you are using iPhone 6 Plus and you have the official iPhone cover on, you might find it extremely tight to fit the iPhone 6 Plus onto the metal grip. There is very little allowance for a iPhone cover. The metal fits perfectly with the iPhone 6 Plus so you might need remove the cover if you want to grip both corners of the phone. What I did was grip the phone by the side.

So the question is: Should you buy it? 

I say a big YES, if you don’t have a Gopro 4 and are looking for a gimbal+cam, this is the perfect gear for you (provided you are not using the camera for underwater diving or extreme sports. Osmo is not weather-proof!) You will find this very smooth and easy to use! The camera X3 performs slightly better than Gopro 4 in some of our tests. However do note that the microphone is way way more inferior than the Gopro 4.

For those who have a Gopro 4 and are not sure if they should fork out USD649 for the Osmo, my take is the improvements on Osmo may not justify the price difference. For that, you might consider buying the new Feiyutech G4S at RMB2,100 (about USD330). Also, do note that you may need to fork out extra $$$ to attach an external microphone on the Osmo (if audio is important for your shoot),

Overall verdict – Osmo is promising (it is afterall DJI’s first attempt in handheld camera) but don’t expect it to be at professional grade as some of the videos you saw on Youtube were shot by the higher end X5. It is a new category and isn’t here to replace Gopro in the extreme sports segment. Osmo has its issues but it is no doubt a great traveling and vlogging video-recording tool.

And yes, I hate it when someone call this a high-tech selfie stick. It is 100% more than that!

Er…what’s the name of this toy? 风火轮, 電動雙輪平衡車, Hoverboard, Mini Segway or WTH?

Since the day we brought this toy into our office 3 weeks ago, I received so many notes from interested parties where to get this unnamed toy/vehicle. I prefer to call this the “HoverWheels” or a “H-Cruiser” as it is shaped like letter H with one wheel on each side. However, it is more popular known as the “Mini Segway”, “PhunkeeDuck” or “電動雙輪平衡車” depending on which side of the globe you are residing in.

Originally designed and produced by a company in 浙江 city (Zhejiang China) sometime mid of 2014, this vehicle created a storm and fever in the United States after Justin Bieber, Jamie Foxx and Jimmy Fallon were seen cruising on them. By early 2015, the fever spread from the USA back to Asia. Sadly, there isn’t any official name (read story here) or inventor’s credit for this toy and you can find over 20 brands and 100 online shops selling them. Most users call it a “Mini Segway” as it uses the same design and user-logic as the original Segway. 2 days ago, Xiaomi (the Chinese phone company that bought over Segway) launched the new Ninebot Segway.

Is it easy to handle?  Yes, for someone who can’t balance on skateboard, I must say this is a very easy wheeled-board to handle. (My 11-year-old son took less than 10 seconds to master it!) Most people take less than 3 minutes to master. All you need is to stand firmly still on the board, lock your knees and let your mind guide your path. Many users suffered the scary “wobble effect” on first trial. Don’t worry, it is common (happened to all 90% of first-time users). You do not need to tilt or apply too much force to cruise on it. Don’t get too impatient to speed off, just let your mind and body move the vehicle slowly.

Once you got the hang of the control, you will be able to move yourself in the direction your mind tells you. Don’t over compensate the thrust as it will throw you off balance. Just be calm, very still and sense the “pressure” to move. A lot of users tend to over-lean forward/backward on their first attempt. Always have someone beside you to hold you. One advise – NEVER embark the vehicle when it is off. Always turn on the vehicle before stepping on it! And always disembark from the back of the board. It is much stable we find. 

Comparing this with electric scooter or skateboard – It is more fun, cooler (watch the cool segway dance below) and addictive to ride on this. This becomes a “bonding toy” between colleagues in our office. It brings people together! We had so much laughter and fun cruising on this. It is like a brand new stress-reliever, just hop on and wheelie free!

Where can you buy one? In Singapore, you can order online at Falcon Website at SGD699. However, do note that this toy comes in many other configuration and price range depending on the specs you wanted. Most of them comes from China-factory-direct and it is advisable that you consider these buying tips before making a purchase:

1) Size – It comes in 5 different sizes – 6,7,8,9,10 inches. For better balancing, I recommend size 8,9,10-inch for adults.

2) Battery – It comes in different capacities – 10km, 15km, 20km, 25km. The weight will affect the distance it can travel on a full charge. If you are heavy (say 70kg to max weight of 100kg), it is advisable to get the 20km configuration. Do also note that there are 2 types of batteries – China-made and Korean-made. If you want to have a peace-of-mind, always request for Korean-made-imported batteries (from LG or Samsung), it is only RMB80 difference. Most take around 1-3 hours for a full charge.

The only problem is (like the original Segway) once the batteries run out, it becomes a heavy 12-15kg liability that you have to carry. So always watch out for the distance and the battery warning signal. Unlike the electronic scooter or skateboard, you can still ride on them manually even if the battery is flat.

3) Power – It comes in 250W and 350W. The higher the power, the stronger it can overcome steeper slopes and uneven terrain. Some sellers try to confuse with 700W engine – actually what they meant were 350W-twin-wheel power. So, do ask if you are unsure.

4) Wheels – It comes in both solid rubber and air-pump wheels. The air-pump wheels help to cushion the vibration over tougher terrains like sand, grass and gravel paths. So far, only 10-inch board comes with air-pump wheels. The others come in solid rubber wheels. Watch the terrain test by another user below.

5) Colours & Designs – There are just too many variations. Some even comes with colourful LED lights, remote switches and bluetooth speakers. It is a personal preference and it won’t impact much on the cruising experience or performance. Currently, many sellers on Taobao and EBay are offering generation 3 or 2015 edition. So, do get the latest model.

6) Weight – From 10kg to 17kg. The weight increases according to the specification. Double-capacity batteries weigh more than single-capacity model. The larger the size, the heavier. No matter what configuration, it is not a light vehicle to carry once the battery is flat.

7) Speed – 10km/hour to 16km/hour. So far, I haven’t seen any model going faster than 16km/hour. Some models come with a beeping warning when users cruise at the highest speed. At 12km/hour, it is pretty insane and difficult to make a sharp turn. So, always cruise with care to avoid injury.

8) Price – from USD200 to USD1,500! Don’t let price, brand and outer design/colours fools you. Always check and compare the internal specification before committing. Even the picture looks the same, it doesn’t mean the internal configuration is the same build. Always chat with the seller to find out more.

If these are too much for you to consider, you might just want to wait for the new Xiaomi Ninebot Segway! (九号平衡车) Taking pre-order on 3rd Nov 2015. However, it only accept orders in selected China cities.

If 2014 is the Year of the Drones, I bet 2015 is the Year of the Mini Segways or Hoverboards! You must give credits to the Chinese – they have been inventing really cool stuffs lately! Guess we will be seeing lots of these unnamed vehicles on the road after Christmas this year! For those who have Taobao Accounts, you might want to go to this shop (click link) to browse!

A Little Pinky Birthday Prank on Elkan (Updated – Hovering with the family!)

Elkan celebrated his 11th birthday 4 days ago. I got 2 nice birthday gifts for Elkan but they were in transit from two different parts of the world. As the gifts won’t arrive on time and not disappointed him, Felicia drew a couple of clue cards and left them beside his bed.

As usual, my little prankster was hyper-excited and too impatient to wait for the arrival of his gifts. Over Facetime, he kept pestering me about the gifts. I told him I will reveal one of them to him. (Of course, I didn’t reveal the real answer.) When I told him I got him a very nice skateboard, he was super happy. However, the second he saw the photograph of a pink Hello Kitty skateboard, he was dumbfounded! Yes, you know, it was the “WTH-YouGottaBeJoking” expression. What a priceless hilarious moment!

Of course, he tried very hard to conceal his disappointment as I saw his “grateful-but-puzzling” expression. Both Felicia and I continued with our act, trying to convince him that Hello Kitty was the next big thing for man. Of course, he wasn’t very convinced but accepted this cruel fact that his daddy got him a limited edition Hello Kitty skateboard from Japan. He must be wondering inside “my god, what a big generation gap!” or more likely, “WTH my parents were thinking?”

I love my boy so much! And I glad he accepted the gesture prank with grace.

3 days later – the shipment finally arrived from Hong Kong. Elkan was so excited to unwrap his gift! There isn’t any pink Hello Kitty skateboard. It is what he is wishing for – a mini electric 2-wheel balance-board (aka mini segway, e-cruiser, 风火轮, 電動雙輪平衡車, hoverboard, airwheels, hoverwheels, Smart wheels, phunkeeduck and 20 other names)! I was about to give Elkan a short tutorial over Facetime but he mastered the board within seconds! He is such a natural!

This afternoon, Auntie Bay Bay made a surprise appearance at his house with another pink-wrapped gift! Both of them went wheeling at the void deck (the other mini Hoverwheels is a gift for my cute nephew, Didi!). Of course, they attracted lots of attention. Even Felicia gave it a try!

Later in the evening, Felicia and Elkan brought Didi’s hoverwheels to my mum’s birthday dinner! What a special day (Back to the Future) to get the whole family to experience the joy of hovering! After the dinner, the children and old folks tried on the wheels. I must say they were doing extremely well! Happy to see the folks at home having so much fun together! Wish I can be there with them today! Enjoy and I will see you folks very soon!

World’s First Twin-Lens Instant Camera – Mint InstantFlex TL70

Great things take time and It is definitely worth the long wait. Thanks to the passionate staffs at Mint, I managed to be one of the first few lucky ones to get hold of the world’s first twin lens instant camera – InstantFlex TL70!

When it was first announced back in March 2015, I fell in love with its timeless design instantly. Inspired by legendary twin-lens classic, Rolleiflex, the new InstantFlex TL70 offers hobbyists the best of both worlds; with an iconic leathery body powered by today’s most affordable instant-films (Fujifilm Instax Mini – about USD0.80 per film). Users of the now defunct Polaroid SX-70 pay up to USD3.50 per film manufactured by The-Impossible-Project. There is also a big time difference for instant photo development between the two. The Impossible Project films take about 20 minutes to develop while the FujiFilm films take less than a minute! Under such comparison, the new InstantFlex TL70 is a much more attractive and affordable option for those who are into instant manual-photography.

Priced at USD319, the TL70 does cost a lot more than the usual FujiFilm instant camera, however, it provides more control for those who are familiar with manual camera. It comes with a built-in flash, 2 shooting modes (auto or bulb) and a wide aperture range of f/5.6, f/8, f/16, f/22, f/bokeh with special bokeh. It also feels good and solid in the hands – not too heavy or light (at about 560g including batteries). For those who enjoy lomography or instagram effects, you will like this camera. Don’t expect to get “picture-perfect” shots in the first few trials as it takes a couple of tests to get familiar with its settings. The camera comes with a small photography-guide-booklet to teach beginners how to get nice shots.

The TL70 reminds me of another classic-looking camera by Fujifilm, Instax 60 Neo. I tested the InstantFlex TL70 alongside against it today. Loading the film cartridge and camera batteries (3 AA) was no-brainer but it took me a much longer time (30-45 seconds to compose the shot) with the TL70 as I need to adjust the focus and aperture to get the right lighting. Despite the extra effort, the TL70 produced a photo with much stronger depth and softer mood. Taking photo with Instax Neo was much quicker (less than 5 secs) and easier to focus. Using automatic mode, Neo produced a 100% focused and guaranteed-sharp photography but it was lacking in terms of depth and mood. I took a second shot with Neo (without any flash) but it turned up too dark.

Throughout my first 2-hour trial, there were a couple of limitations I faced using the TL70. These are standard limitations with all waist-level view-finder-cameras. Due to the position of its view-finder, I was unable to take a food shot from the top. Under dim lighting, it was difficult for me to look at the subject through the view-finder (thankfully, Mint added a magnifying glass on top of the view-finder window). The TL70 doesn’t come with any accessory or bag, It was a little uncomfortable for me (considering I have bigger hands than my female friend) to handle the knobs on the camera without any neck strap.

Overall, I love the TL70 (if not, I won’t even blog this in the first place). It was quite an amazing moment when I saw my first shot coming out from the view-finder. Without any doubt, the TL70 provides more options (multiple exposure, bulb setting, aperture setting) for creative photography. I am pretty sure Mint will produce more accessories (coloured filters, special lens, camera straps and bag) for hobbyists to enhance their shooting. If only FujiFilm produces black-&-white instant films, this will be the perfect instant camera for all! Till then, this will be a very cool camera to carry around. For me, I won’t bring it out to rowdy big parties as it will take up to 45 seconds to focus and compose the shots. I will use it for small gatherings between good friends/families and solo trips. Thank you Mint for this beautiful product. It is worth the wait! (For those who want to get this, click here to order:


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