Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Claire L. Evans

Claire Evans is an impressive young lady. She collaborated with the Jona Bechtolt on his side project, YACHT in making some pretty sweet tunes. And they also created the first manila envelope-type Macbook Air laptop sleeve (AirMail).
So at that point, she seemed like just another quasi-famous cute girl hipster who had the talent and opportunity to make art that was heard in iPods and blogged about in "cool hunting" websites. Not uncommon. And I assumed she was probably not super smart.. isn't that that a generally accepted fact about adolescence-extending hipsters?

But then I recently discovered her Urban Honking blog about science and space. This topic isn't really up my alley; in fact, her posts are more difficult to read than that of Kevin Kelly's The Technium. Think NASA, the Hadron Collider, etc. But as far as I can tell, her writing is quite technical and she possesses a working knowledge of what's going on in that field. It's pretty nerdy actually, but it's cool because she's interested in these topics and doesn't make a big show of it. She even has a column in the reputable Good Magazine!

Here's her LinkedIn profile.

Claire, you're my quarter-life stage hero, proving that having an interest in the popular arts and interest in academia aren't mutually exclusive, and that you can excel at both! Which you do.

Nice specs, btw.

Bibles and Siggs

Bible cover by a British design agency. Who knew the Bible was ever cool?

I used to own Siggs but got annoyed by their hard-to-twist-off caps. I switched back to BPA-free Nalgenes. They're cheap too. This one's tempting though. It's their hippest endorsement yet!

Monday, September 29, 2008

How Banks Work

Fail! One of those conundrums that is seemingly impossible to fix..

Friday, September 26, 2008


I really hope these little things live up to the hype. Gonna try some in Dallas this weekend!

Edit 9/28:
Not really worth $3.25 apiece. Just the current food trend..

Journey of a New Camera Purchase

I've been shopping around for a new digital camera and learned quite a bit in the process. My little Samsung NV15 is sleek, chic, and tiny, but after fiddling with and using only the manual settings, I have found that I still don't have enough freedom.

Previously, higher end cameras that had impressed me were the Panasonic Lumix LX2 ($300-400) and the Ricoh Caplio GX100 ($400-500). They both are known for their wide angle lenses (28mm) and have around 10 MP. The Lumix is a cheaper version of the Leica D-Lux 3 ($800? $1200?), so it sports a Leica lens. Reviews of both are generally quite positive, stating them as all-around good cameras at that price range. especially for the singular Ricoh. Plus, both have deliciously classy all-black bodies. My photography-inclined friends Justin and Gideon own these cameras, respectively, and they love them.

Then, I thought, if I'm looking for a camera in that range, why not up the quality to that of an SLR? Cause point-and-shoot digital cameras will never compare. SLR camera buffs are everywhere and mostly annoying, but hey, it's silly to stay away from a hobby because it's too popular or ubiquitous. That'd be great if more people learned how to take better pictures. I toyed with the idea of getting an SLR (Canon Rebel XSi full kit for ~$400!! It won an entry-SLR Gizmodo comp, and is an improvement over the XTi.) for a day or two, but decided that it's so much bulk. And not to mention the added price of getting lenses and accessories. I'd immediately look into a wide angle lens and perhaps a very fast lens - $hundreds.)

During a Craigslist search, I was distracted for a moment by how cool old rangefinders look, and made the impulse purchase of a Canon QL19. QL17's are the top of the line and are available in a very rare all-black body. Dazed from too many Flickr camera finder visits and the growing allure of film made me confident that I could master using completely manual settings with enough time. After buying a few rolls of black and white Tri-X film and a special battery, I come to find out that the shutter doesn't work. Big disappointment.. I'm gonna stay away from film for a while.

Back to 2008. The new Sigma DP1 has recently caught my interest, as it is hyped for being the first digicam with a sensor size that is close to that of an SLR (APS). I'd previously only heard of it as a lens manufacturer. The photo quality is excellent, as it is equipped with a revolutionary Foveon sensor. Technically, the sensor is only 4.6 MP, but with the new sensor technology, the translates closer to 14 MP. And the body is also a no-frills, sexy all-black. But with a price range of $600-$800, it's definitely out of my economic league.

So, with the Samsung still in my possession, I finally thought about what kind of photos I like to be shooting. About half of my photos I take in low-light settings, and the quality is so-so. Anything about 100 ISO is pretty noisy/ugly on my camera, and even with the longer shutter speeds, I can't escape blurriness because most of my subjects are awake people. So even with a tripod (blech!), my preferred method of always using a low aperture will not do the trick. There is no good way to handle this issue in Photoshop, unless I want to manipulate them to look crappier/more artsy. The photos I take in sunlight turn out pretty well, and I tweak them in Photoshop.

Instead of getting an all-around good camera by paying more money, which is easiest, I did more research into this. Turns out the aforementioned Lumix and Ricoh fail miserably in low-light settings (according to dpreview). And that the Fuji Finepix F-series are renowned for their performance in low-light settings. They range $200-300 and have rather unspiring silver bodies that don't stand out against all other digicams. That's why I've previously ignored them. But acording to Wikipedia, the f30fd/f31fd, which came out at the end of digicam dark ages (2006) takes better photos at high ISO settings than the fancy-pants Sigma DP1! And better than the Lumix LX2! And get this, even better than the new Lumix LX3 ($400-$500)! I'm floored. The Finepix f100fd, which came out at the beginning of the year, boasts a wide angle lens (wooh!) and an insane max ISO of 12800! This and the latest, f60fd, both boast 12 MP, which, according to sources below, isn't an awesome thing. Not sure how I feel about that, but this is the series I'm looking at now.

One bit of important info I picked up along the way:

A higher megapixel count does not correspond to increase in photo quality!
In fact, they may decrease quality. It's a big fat myth! To get your monies! To see a significant improvement, one needs to quadruple the number of megapixels! If you are not blowing up and printing your pictures, a lower MP count is fine. Or precisely 6, as this site explains. NYT tests the myth too. What matters more is sensor size. This is why SLRs take the highest quality photos (in regards to digital).

And lastly, it's not the camera!


Edit 9/29:

Perhaps I should be patient and hold off until the end of the year, as Fuji has announced a new sensor that will beat out the previously heralded Super CCD- the Super CCD EXR! Rock! Can't wait to see how high the ISOs will go!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Letterpress Fancy

15 minute Etsy finds:

And.. the very first listing of the search!:

Obama gets all the cool election posters, for sure.

Claire Nereim

$58? Grr. Still in love. (Only 16 prints left.)

Edit 10/1: I communicated with Claire and we worked something out. So I ended up getting it after all. Thanks, Claire! You and your designs rule!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Eiffel Chair

After a week of longing, I finally got my hands on an Eames.. replica for $40. I think it's from the same era though. Salmon is not my favorite color for furniture, but it happens to complement my current wall color (sage, which is also not a favorite). Two wrongs can make 1 right! Thank you Craigslist, for helping me not drop $200 on the real thing..

Canon(et) QL19

Today's impulse buy on eBay.

I really dig the boxy metal cameras of the 60s-80s, and this one is no exception. I found a posting for this in CL for $100, and knowing that eBay would provide more of a steal, made one bid on one in better condition, and got it for $10.28. Not bad for something that would look great on a shelf if it's non-functional. That's Plan B, anyway. I'm hoping I'll be inspired to learn more about photographic basics with this around.. also hoping that it works this time around. I held on to 2 Soviet-made Zorki's for a while, but eventually gave them away this year. With a bare-bones understanding of exposure, the rolls I took were greatly disappointing. Hard lesson is that you have to work those old things to squeeze out good photos. I had really hoped it was magic. And really, old cameras have lots of issues and need to be repaired most of the time, but I don't have the patience or knowledge for that. I figure that since people manage to take brilliant photos with POS Holgas and toy cameras, I can handle a few malfunctions on an old camera with an MSRP >$200. The QL19 comes with some sort of light meter (I think, I can't quite understand the specifications, too much math!), but even so, some sites suggest using your P&S digicam to determine shutter speed. Easy as pie!

The only thing that stinks is the 45mm lens size (50mm is standard, close to what the human eye perceives). I think I would prefer to take wide angle photos, and have been drawn towards the Ricoh Caplio GX100 and Panasonic Lumix DMC digicams for their wide angles/shorter focal lengths. If I decide I don't have the guts to use an SLR, I'll probably upgrade from my little consumer Samsung P&S to one of these.

I've also come to find out that cheap old medium format cameras can easily be had! And I'm not talking about Holgas or Dianas. (Although, there exists the Seagull TLR, which is made in China and seems moderately more reliable than a Holga.) Yashica TLRs, for one. You can find them for under $100 on eBay. I have to read up more on them, but they seem perfectly functional, if not a bit tedious to operate. With their old-timey looks, it makes for a more valuable, but also more expensive display object than the Canonet. I will probably force myself to hold off on this venture until I feel more comfortable with film, since medium format is a totally different beast. What a shame it is to purchase something and be ignorant of how to fully utilize it.

Another dilemma: film vs. digital? Film is the much more expensive choice, since I am learning to take decent photos on my P&S and then editing them moderately on Photoshop to create the desired effect. I've come across tutorials on how to lomo-ize or holga-ize your digital photos, but as effective as they are, it makes for a poor substitute. Not that I'm a film purist, but it's definitely more exciting to explore the differences in cameras than to manipulate photos. So all you need are funds and time!

Photography will probably never be more than one of my many interests, because of the money spent on developing film, on the camera itself, lenses, etc. and effort to master the art isn't really worth it to me. I'd rather be good at something a bit less popular and widespread, heh. I love to enjoy other people's good photos, and my various interests have always been so fleeting. Some of my Flickr contacts take such lovely photos that floor me. I wish I knew how they do it. What irks me is that it's the person behind the camera, and not the camera itself. How do I get better? And is it worth it? I figure I have my lifetime to work on my photo skills, so as long as I'm improving, there's no rush.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Credit Crisis!

NYT article about marriage and money It's crucial to find middle ground!

Suze Orman taking questions on the Freakonomics blog!

Economics is fascinating, but I'm way over my head trying to understand exactly what went wrong with these giant failing companies. This author foresees a credit crash and foresaw the subprime mortgage crisis.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Friday, September 12, 2008


Yesterday, I went for a warm stroll down the dangerously sidewalk-less and hilly Clawson Road, near my house. There are some wonderfully charming old houses situated along there, and I miss seeing them most of the time because I'm in my fast car. I took some photos with the intention of forcing myself to learn how to edit in Photoshop. Here's my favorite.

Oh to have the funds and courage to live in a house with so much character! Nice dream

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Holga Hunt

Photo by Angie at Pinkie Style
Been debating whether or not it is really worth the effort to own and take photos with a Holga. They are so warm and instantly loveable. But the process can be a headache. Of course, it's possible to reproduce the effects with Photoshop (or with one click on Flickr Premium Picnik mode), but I don't have the time to fiddle around to find the right settings, and if I ever do, the ersatz copy will never feel as satisfying as the real thing (if I ever figure out how to do this too).

The endlessly charming photo above is 35mm film taken on a "hacked" Holga 120N (medium format film, the regular Holga model). That's why you can see the sprockets, as the entire piece of film is exposed. You have to use rubber bands, coins, cardboard to adapt the camera, and also count the number of clicks (35) to know how far to manually advance the frame after each shot. In addition, you cannot get them developed normally at the pharmacy. After taking out and rewinding the film in a completely dark space, you have to ask for a contact sheet and then scan the negatives into your computer- otherwise, the pharmacy will crop out the sprockets, as they usually do with 35mm film.

Here's the much more vibrant original. (How do they protect their photos from being copied / spaceball.gif?)

Taking sprocketed 35mm photos is my first choice, but it is also a lot of work with too many avenues for failure. And developing medium format film is simply much too expensive, especially using a toy camera that delivers satisfactory results less than half the time. It's not uncommon for an entire precious roll to be ruined because of a giant light leak in the body or from improper film installation. This craft requires a lot of money down the drain to perfect! And, since the plastic camera is so cheaply manufactured, parts can break anytime.

A 35mm version of the Holga recently came out last year, with 2 versions: 135BC - Black Corners, like the original 120N Holga, and 135PC - Pinhole Camera, with no lens. (Pinhole cameras have an infinite depth of vision, so they can make neat shots like this and this. But I think most of them just turn out blurred and hazy. You can make a pinhole camera out of virtually any container.) I toyed (ha!) with getting a 135BC, because it's much cheaper to develop, with the same vignetting, warmth and unpredictability of photos taken by the original, but you can't really modify the camera like you can the original, when you do get bored of the same settings. And there is something undeniably special about a square photo.

So, I don't know if I will get anything Lomo-related. Sure they're cheap, $30-$70 per camera, but you definitely have to make up for it with experimentation, much more money for film, and hard work.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Energy Balls Revisited

In an effort to rediscover the joy of making one's own food, I've revisited old recipes and after a trip to Hobby Lobby, printed and compiled them in a portfolio notebook. Success has been made in regards to natural popcorn after a fiasco with spilled kernels, a giant pan and burnt results. I've been making a lot of and experimenting with the recipe for an "energy mix," as it is a quick and convenient way for Brook to get some food in his belly on the way to work or during his breaks. I've added dried goji berries to the latest batch (Mom brought them to me last time, they are very cheap at Chinese supermarkets). See original recipe I made up from memory below. There aren't any measurements, because I prefer to eyeball it. There isn't really any easy way to mess up this recipe, so it's best to vary it according to what you would eat. The first time I made these was sophomore year, in the Duval house, and while they were a hit, I lost the paper recipe during a move. I think I will try to add some molasses in the next batch so that maybe I can roll them into bite-sized balls. (And tone down the PB, as Brook mentioned that he is getting tired of the taste.) In addition to being an outlet, I am very pleased that I can create something so healthy and tasty for not too much $ and time. I am convinced that the best recipes fall in this category!

No-Bake Energy Balls

Steel Cut Oats - this will make up most of the dry ingredients
Seeds: Pumpkin, Sunflower, Flax
Wheat Germ
Dried fruit: Cranberries, Cherries, Goji Berries, Raisins, Cherries

Peanut Butter


For easier chewability (think of all the whole grains and seeds in it!), put the oats in a food processor for a bit until they are chopped. Once you reach a desired consistency, roll them into balls and refrigerate to set. Or, press them into a 9x9 baking pan and cut into bars.

I stumbled upon this Larabar recipe, and it looks good and much more economical. Just need a food processor now. Larabars impressed me from the start, as they only have 4-5 ingredients, all natural and either fruit or nut. Plus, they taste great. (They also seem to be quite popular in the Raw Food Movement Community.)

Eating out and buying fancy health food is exciting at times, but not really sustainable at my current economic level. I say this just as Brook and I have made reservations to 3 fancy restaurants during Austin Restaurant Week, each meal costing $25/$35 per person...

Eames love

Everyone loves Eames.. and I can't help but give in to this furniture porn. How can I not? They're so iconic. Drool. Furniture has rarely been so inspiring to such a wide audience. Sure, it may be exorbitant to own these items, but I believe that beauty is still worth striving for in well-designed material objects.

Flickr search

I'm so tempted to buy a set of these japanese toy replicas, cause I'll never be able to afford the real things. Come on, paycheck! (Ooh, here's a nice green one /"eiffel" chair on eBay!)

Bonus! Philippe Starck for Kartell Louis Ghost Chair. I've loved these ever since they came out. Playful mash of old and new.

Bonus 2! Mini family on mini Eames chairs.

Monday, September 08, 2008


From Anne Enright's Yesterday's Weather:

"Rubber", she says, “provides us all with an elastic amnesty . . . to pick up dead things, to engage in sexual practices...”

“Nothing is incomprehensible,” she writes, “when you know that life is sad.”

NYT Review

Bonus! Vonnegut quote:

"All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being."

Friday, September 05, 2008


“We just like to use sounds that annoy people,” [Ethan of Crystal Castles] admits with delight. “Especially in the earlier songs, like ‘Xxzcuzx Me’ — that was just to annoy everyone. It’s really strange when people tell us it’s their favourite song.” Article.


I can't even find the song online, it's so displeasing.

Crystal Castles // Good Time
Sea and Cake // Coconut
Blitzen Trapper // Furr

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Your Money or Your Life

As you may have guessed, I've been on a real finance management kick. I recently sent out a long-ish email to my peers about the urgency and importance of opening up a retirement account right now. I hope that I can contribute to my 401k and IRA each year as I enter through life's more challenging stages. Reading about individuals or couples who have resurfaced after handling unspeakable amounts of debt (think $50k and up!) is encouraging, because it means that you can dig yourself out of nearly any financial situation if you take control. That's what every financial book says- it's just a matter of having a doable plan, time and diligence. I don't ever plan to get into "bad debt" via credit cards (mortgages or student loans do not count) and I hope that my future spouse won't think this is OK in any situation either.

I keep hearing that finances is the #1 cause of divorce, and I am now starting to understand why. I'm not miserly, nor do I have a problem with overspending, but I do have concerns about being with someone who has a more liberal attitude towards spending and debt. I do NOT want to be the person in the relationship always being the "strict" one by curbing spending, and being in charge of all finances because my spouse isn't interested or responsible enough to manage them. Absolutely unacceptable. I can probably do it, but a burden like that takes a real toll on relationships. Learning finances even in a stable marriage is a good idea, not just in case of divorce or being widowed. Typically, from my limited experience, Asians are much more frugal and save a lot more than any other ethnicities. Yeah, it's a more boring way to live (safe is boring sometimes), but how wonderful it is to never experience the weight and worry of huge debt over the majority of your life. That freedom is definitely worth stretching pennies over and resisting rabid consumerism for me. I look at my parents and see that they live simple lives, but have been able to put their kids through college and travel and live comfortably. Of course, they were very poor right after they graduated, and worked odd and low-paid jobs for a while before landing high-paying jobs at booming tech companies. Still, because of excellent planning, I am quite sure they are set for retirement, and even though my Mom is no longer employed and is in school again, they will probably never be in want of money. Even if they did somehow run low on funds, they have an amazing ability to live with few needs and nearly nonexistent wants.

I have yet to develop a balanced attitude about finances, because I am successfully thrifty for a spell, then I go out and splurge on nice things because my bank balance looks healthy. Hopefully I will be able to stick to a budget and also not try to gain so much satisfaction from purchasing things. For all my life up until now, I haven't worried much about money, because I've always had enough and my parents provided for me. One thing I've learned since graduation is that you shouldn't wait for things to happen to you, because they never might, especially when it comes to healthy finances. Instead, actively work towards personal goals. I don't make a ton of money right now, but if I save, tuck away funds for retirement, start an emergency fund, and spend wisely, I will be in a financially secure situation in no time, especially since I have NO debt to my name. Ideally, my future spouse will be in a similar situation before seriously discussing marriage.

Suze Orman article about Marriage and Money

Pertinent when you are not on the same page financially as your significant other:

"In fact, there should be no "I do's" until you and your sweetie both appreciate the importance of living a financially responsible life. If your partner can't see the value in that, then you need to seriously question how this will play out in a marriage.

If you do find you are poles apart, it's time to dig in and work together to resolve any important differences. Don't attack. Help each other grow and learn, through calm conversations and a lot of listening. Quite often, people are financially irresponsible because they grew up watching their parents make all the wrong moves. So they simply never learned how to do things the right way. That's something you can be compassionate about, and help your honey to overcome."

As I was raised in a Christian family, I was warned against putting my security in money (or other things, people), and advised to trust God for everything. I realize that I have to be careful in learning shrewd financial decision-making not to rely on my knowledge to propel myself higher in life. I just think it's a shame that so many of my peers have bad money habits and debt because of their parents; they either didn't support them or modeled bad handling of finances. In this way, my parents gave me a significant head start. They always paid off all their bills in full on time, taught me to never spend money I didn't have, tithe, start off investing low-risk (low-return), and save. I'm still working on the saving part, as it's so tempting to take advantage of being employed and single and young. These days I'm not so big on going out and buying overpriced drinks or paying covers, but it would be nice to own some modern furniture, more artwork, nicer bike parts, nicer kitchen supplies, and lots of books on my to-read list. But with the serious thought of possible debt incurred through marriage to someone in debt plus the wish of wanting to own a nice home and raise kids eventually, my random spending habits seem immature and irresponsible. Everyone else my age who is single is living this sort of good life, so it's difficult to reign myself in, but I'd rather have a head-start than be on the same sad page as everyone else in a few years.

Another part of me is sick of all this money business and not looking forward to the increased complexity of managing finances with a mortgage, family, increased spending, more investments, debt repayment, more paperwork, etc. Can I juggle these matters successfully based on sheer effort and a little research? Maturity seems really difficult, and I hope that I will embrace all the responsibility it entails and not just survive, but thrive.

----- Mom's Response ------

Dear Frances,

Thanks for sharing the blog with us! Now I know more about what you think of us.

Daddy and I don't worry about retirement because
1. we saved
2. we can live real simply
3. as a pastor, daddy can never retire as long as people needs him to teach/preach
4. we trust that as we do our part (#1), God will take care of the rest

It is really a good feeling when we have extra and can share with others, like what some people do to us from time to time. You know what I mean?

Remember the 10/10/80 rule? Tithe 10%, save 10%, spend the rest.

Love, mom