Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How To Create A Sticky Blog

A few quick tips

Identify your audience. Write for your audience. Keep it fresh, keep it updated. Feed your beast!! Use attractive graphics and photos in your stories so they stand out from the crowd. Adding additional blog add-ons to make reading your blog a pleasurable experience so visitors stay on your blog longer. More on which blog features to add and the "How To's", go to: How To Create A Sticky Blog - Advice and Pitfalls. Here is the link

As for a couple of good books on this subject, here are two unconventional and entertaining books by the girls for the girls:

The IT Girl's Guide to Blogging with Moxie

No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog

And if you are still looking for more ideas, check out my complete lists of blogging and photography books

Happy blogging and I look forward to hearing your success stories!!

P.S Just published a travel story on Half Moon Bay Read it here

Looking for Guide Book on Great Surfing Spots in California, Surfer Magazine's Guide to Northern and Central California Surf Spots

Friday, December 26, 2008

Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass.....

Just came across this book and I am so excited:

The last few blog entries have been about food and good recipes and not much about photography. Well, it is that time of the year, the holiday is about getting together with friends and families to enjoy good times, good food. I was born on the island of Penang in Malaysia. Penang is the "Pearl of the Orient" and also "Gastronomie Capital" of South East Asia. Naturally my food and recipes have revolved around the many Asian spices and ingredients.

Green mangoes and Lemon grass, how can one go wrong with that!!!

Green Mangoes and Lemon Grass: Southeast Asia's Best Recipes from Bangkok to Bali

Amazon has it for $16.47 New. Not bad for a great recipe book with 100s of recipes from Bangkok to Bali.

Bali is a gem of a place, one of my favorite holiday destinations.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Simple Green Salad with Homemade Asian Dressing

I thought I share my recipe for a light green salad that is easy to make and original:

Simple green salad (young spinach, watercress, basil). Add thin red onion slices, mandarin oranges (canned Mandarin oranges will do, drain well), Trader Joes almond slices and cranberry pieces, tossed in my home made Asian dressing :)

Dressing: (mix well and toss in green salad mix above):
freshly squeezed lime juice
fish sauce (it is very salty so use sparingly)
a dash of crushed red peppers
freshly ground black pepper
dash of fine sugar
a little olive oil.

There you have it, a light green salad with a touch of Asia.

A good Asian Cookbook to have as reference is the Chinese and Asian Cookbook by Linda Doeser.

The Complete Step-by-Step Chinese & Asian Cookbook

by Linda Doeser

Also check out my two other recipes:

How To Make Mouth Watering Singaporean Fried Noodles

How to Steam Up Delicious Pot Stickers

Bon Appetit!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Book List

I love books and lots of them. Books are definitely my most precious possessions despite the internet revolution. I am not about to give up my right to hold a beautifully bound hardcover book in my hand and curl up with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine on my couch in front of the fireplace. My evenings could not be more perfect. Nor am I ready to migrate my entire life to the web and do all my reading with my eyes peeled to the computer screen. I am old fashioned in that sense. I am convinced in a decade or so, real books are going to be in short supply and much sought after. I want to keep collecting these precious books and add to my library. In my utopia land, I am surrounded by books that span wall to wall and floor to ceiling and my wine cellar is just a stone's throw away.

Of my sea of books, I have many favorites. Since I am passionate about photography and colors and could spend my life in a little cabin on a vineyard, you can probably imagine what those books might be.

Here are a couple of my all time favorites:

1. Homestead (The World As Home) by Annick Smith.

I was very moved by the poignant story of her life journey and the time she spent living in Montana's beautiful countrywide. It is as if you are taking the journey with her from the time she was in Seattle to her move to Montana during the cold winter. The book also chronicles her friendship with Norman Maclean of the Big Blackfoot in A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition. Homesteadis a rivetting read and it is hard to put the book down. I had stumbled on the book in a little quaint bookstore on Third street Promenade in Santa Monica.

Another book by Annick Smith and William Kittredgethat I like is The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology "This collection of vivid and compelling literature ranges across Montana's literary landscape in descriptions of explorers' discoveries, stories from mining and agricultural frontiers, and powerful memoirs from Native Americans, as well as unforgettable images created by contemporary writers." well said by one of the readers.

2. If you are looking for another good story to read this holiday break: Vintage Feastng by Joy Sterling.

Vintage Feastng

A book of personal recipes in the wine country and tending to vineyards and the winery business. How despite having graduated from Yale and a long journalism career, Joy Sterling answered the call and returned to the family vineyard outside Sebastopol in Sonoma county, California and lives the life of a vintner. It is a wonderful book of great recipes, stories, landscapes and nature's garden.

3. A Phaidon photo book on Dorothea Langeby Mark Durden.
I am not much of a portrait photographer but Dorothea Lange's work reminds me of what humanity is and what photography is all about. You have seen her works in exhibits, especially "The Migrant Woman". Numerous books have been written about her and her photographs of the Great Depression. She is definitely the people's photographer extraordinaire holding all of us to very high standard!!

4. Fine Art Nature Photography by Tony Sweet.
On my To-Do List for 2009 is to learn more about fine art photography where advanced techniques such as multiple exposures on single frame is used to creative vibrant image capture. Tony Sweet's book on Fine Art Nature Photography offers insights on his mastery on the subject. It is definitely very Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse.

5. Mastering Black & White Photography by John Garrett.
If you wonder how one could take such beautiful black and white imagery and if you want to learn the master's techniques of traditional darkroom, John Garrett's book is a wonderful book full of ideas and inspiration that offers many "ah-ha" moments.

6. Finally, a book on Yoga. Hatha Yoga Breath by Breath by Godfrey Devereux.
I am a great believer of wellness and healthy living and am learning yoga. This book is a valuable reference for "anyone wanting to experience deep and lasting benefits of yoga practice" to borrow the words of the author. It has detailed step by step instructions and explanations on each pose from beginning to intermediate to advanced in addition to indepth write up on hatha yoga. It has been a great companion book for me. Unfortunately Hartha Yoga: Breath by Breath is no longer in print so look for a used copy. Alternatively, get the Dynamic Yoga: The Ultimate Workout that Chills Your Mind as it Charges Your Body also by Godfrey Devereux.

Happy reading this holiday season.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

While researching for a tablet to buy, I stumbled upon this YouTube video on Speed Painting by Nico Di Mattia. I was spellbound!!

LOST - John Locke - Speed Painting by Nico Di Mattia

As for the tablet, I decided on the Genius MousePen 8 x 6-Inch Graphic Tablet. I needed a larger drawing area and this one looks like it will do the job well and it costs much less than famous brand. See the picture below:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Dorothea Lange, here is a book to add to your shelf

I love books, and they are definitely my most precious possessions despite the internet revolution. Nothing beats curling up on the couch in front of the fire place with your favorite book and coffee or wine and spend my evenings that way.

I am not much of a portrait photographer but Dorothea Lange's work reminds me what humanity is and what photography is all about. You have seen her works in exhibits, especially "the Migrant Woman". Numerous books have been written about her and her photographs of the Great Depression. She is definitely the people's photographer extraordinaire holding all of us to very high standard!!

American photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) was an overtly political photographer, who used her camera to capture an era of social change and struggle in America. Her iconic photographs document the intensity of human life and the power of human emotion. Lange's impact on photojournalism can still be felt today......

Tired of studio portraiture, Lange began working for the Farm Security Administration in 1935, where she created many of the photographs that define the Depression and Western migration of farming families in the popular imagination. Included in this collection of photographic essays is one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century--the Migrant Mother, also known as Migrant Madonna, taken in California in 1936.

DOROTHEA LANGE provides an elegantly produced introduction to the acclaimed social realist photographer, whose photographs continue to serve as a powerful testament to the trials and depths of humanity."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I am so inspired!!

I am crazy about colors and all I can say is "WOW". The book is simply amazing, full of wonderful ideas if you like to explore Photoshop and tinkle with the many tools it offers like me. It looks like I have barely touched the surface...Top project to work on this holiday :)

Photoshop CS / CS2 Wow! Book

by Linnea Dayton

"Ever since Photoshop version 2.5, Photoshop CS / CS2 Wow! Book has enlightened and inspired graphic designers, illustrators, and photographers around the globe. This newest edition delivers the familiar award-winning mix of explanations and step-by-step tutorials for creating both commercial and fine-art images, with tips and beautiful galleries that distinguish this book as the most inspiring Photoshop resource around........ You’ll learn the most innovative techniques for creating and enhancing images, graphics, and type, including:

• How and when to use the new features in Photoshop CS and CS2, including the Spot Healing Brush, Lens Correction, Lens Blur, Vanishing Point, and Variables
• How to build your skill with familiar Photoshop features such as blend modes, adjustment layers, channels, and filters
• How to focus attention on the subject of a photo, retouch a portrait, tint an image, or convert a color image to black-and-white
• How to bring out your inner artist with Photoshop’s sophisticated brushes and vector-drawing tools
• How to create dazzling special effects for type and graphics—from custom textures and realistic materials to animation and rollover for the web
• How to build a striking layout or a seamless composite, including the little details that make a big difference in the art of creating illusions
• How to keep your creations organized with layers, layer set or groups, layer comps, and Smart Objects""

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The "Nifty Fifty" Camera Lens

If you are interested in low light photography and can't afford the fancier and more expensive lens, I would strongly recommend the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II (see link) and below is why. (Remember it is not the lens that give you a great photo, but rather your ability to see and imagine how the light falls on your subject and capture that poignant moment. Lens is just a tool)

50mm f/1.8 II, often called the "nifty fifty" by pros. It is the best value for money lens out there. 50mm is the normal focal length, so no distortion (as opposed to if you use a wide angle lens to shoot a large group photo). It is very inexpensive < $85 today, (mind you, I bought mine 2 1/2 years ago when it was selling for $65 on Amazon, so interestingly, same lens, but it has gotten more expensive). With an f stop of 1.8 (hence a fast lens), and if you use a tripod, you have all the tools you need to get very natural photos in available light. You could spend a whole lot more on fancier lens, but this will do the job for a fraction of the price. I have many other better lens, but this is the one I will always have in my bag, because it is very light, no problem with handheld, it will perform admirably where other lens can't (e.g. in low light).

Happy shooting.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We Are Living in an Internet Spiral

Pike Place Market Blur, I love the unintentional result

Today we seem to be in a tricky spiral. We get sucked up into this internet world, willingly or unwillingly. We find ourselves migrating more and more of our daily lives to the web each day. Today, our lives are increasingly an open book; we bank online, we shop online, we make travel arrangements online, we post pictures of ourselves, our friends and our families online, we blog, we laugh, we cry and we seek out someone at the other end to listen. We are "connected" to everyone who has internet access 24/7, whether we consciously want to - or not. We implicitly trust the other person at the other end, that he or she has no malicious intent and that they at least will treat us in the good and noble way we treat them. While we are connected in this World Wide Web, every second, web hackers try to get access to our PCs and steal our personal information. Every so often, we were prompted by our computer that it had successfully blocked an attempt to gain access. It freaks us out and we rush to Frys or Best Buys, to buy a nicely boxed web internet security software...Norton, TrendMicro, Zone Alarm or McAfee just to name four of the hundreds out there, forking out $39.99 a pop. We hope this will finally give us a piece of mind. To our dismay, we find ourselves embarking on a never ending merry go round journey of spending more and more money protecting our information as newer and more sophisticated internet viruses and worms flourish across the World Wide Web each day preying on us as soon as our digital guard is breached.

We would like to appeal to the good side of our peers at the other end of the World Wide Web that they would not hijack our information for their personal gains. That is the premise of most people who have migrated their lives online. Unfortunately, the digital assassins of the hacker hordes are constantly waging a war - seeking to harvest their thirst for instant gratification and financial gain as they monetize the information they are able to gather from our PCs. They are working faster than our paladins of security can mount defenses. Over and over again, even with web security software already in place on our computer, we are alerted of fresh attempts across the internet to gain access to our information. Each time, we freeze and then dash out to see if we should fork out another large sum of money to buy newer and more current AntiVirus software. We just don't want to have to through these frequent adrenalin rush again. To me, this just sounds like a bad musical chair between the hackers, the Anitvirus software manufacturers and you and I. It is going to end badly one day with once again us, the consumers left holding the bag.

I am just an ordinary gal who is very alarmed by how readily everyone has embraced the internet and swiftly migrated their lives online. I appreciate the many good things that have come out of the internet revolution that is moving us forward - whether we want it or not. No doubt, the power of the internet is evident in the recent historic election that is putting the first African-American President in the White House. A mighty feat indeed. The internet has also provided a voice for many ordinary folks whose lives are impacted by sweeping decisions made by a powerful few on the Hill. It has allowed them to have a say and hopefully initiate positive change. I am not arguing against using the internet totally as it has greatly increased productivity for many of us. I am merely asking if it isn't time that we draw a line in the sand on how far and how emcompassing we conduct our daily lives on the internet so the bad does not overwhelm the good. Is it perhaps not time to step back, take a stand and think hard where we really want to go from here.

Be suspicious when everyone is complacent as the saying goes. I fear this is one of those monsters that will blow up in our face someday. Has anyone considered this possibility?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lake Union and Center For Wooden Boats - A Visit In The Rain

It was a wintry morning as we drove up north on I5, I had with me a tiny umbrella and a small backpack full of camera gears (well, my mindset is still very much that of an island girl from sunny Southern California, never needed a raincoat then, and don't have one now). I was convinced that at some point the rain is going to stop and the sun is going to pierce through those rain clouds. Shall we say I was secretly hopeful my trip would not be in vain.

I got out of the car (I was getting dropped off) at the parking lot at Joeys. The rain was coming down hard still, making little pools out of sidewalk around the Lake (Union). My camera backpack and I huddled and we walked sheltered by my little umbrella, sizing up the view as if ready to jump into action as soon as the weather permits.

I was in a pensive mood, deep in my own thoughts, surrounded by a sweeping view of big yachts that line the dock in the near view. It was still early and there was not a soul on deck. In this bad economic climate, these mega yachts are probably a rather expensive toy for the fortunate few. I often wonder about the amount of diesel they consume just to be out in the water but I guess we all have different goals in life, who am I to judge.

As my eyes scanned the horizon to the left of me, gorgeous sailboats appeared in my view. Like a little girl I walked as fast as I could and soon arrived at a covered wooden porch for a quick shelter from the rain. The charming shelter turned out to be a workshop for students at the Center for Wooden Boats, a place to work on boat carpentry. The view of the wet wooden platform leading to the Center was quaint and beautiful. I took out my beloved Canon A1 and loaded a roll of TriX 400 and proceeded to shoot a few frames. Armed with my Canon 10D in my other hand, I snapped a series of shots as I walked down the wet and slippery walkway, composing my shots of the many elegant canoes in bright red, blue, and white and wooden sailboats tied to the marina platform. Raindrops were still falling around me, and the water danced with little round circles. I was geedily happy as I clicked the shutters away.

It was indeed a trip in the rain good for my soul


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Digitally Speaking

I spent a big chunk of my day today digitally rendering a few of my still life photos using art filters in Photoshop. I like the artistic filters more than others, such as the stylised (glowing edges), mosaic tile texture and neon glow filters. I often adjust the parameters like brush size and intensity in each makeover until I arrived at the image I like. I usually start with a still life photo I took of my favorite subject. Most of my stock worthy ones are on Fotolia for sale, and the unique non stock ones (well to the eyes of the beholder anyway) are getting a second look and worked on digitally. The process is fun and it often consumes me for a couple of hours. I feel like I am a child playing with crayons again.

Below is one of such digitally rendered art. It came from a still life photograph of two pastel colored acrylic cups. Colors and light are my two favorite subject matters in photography and art and one could imagine I love Henri Matisse's art. I have always been so awed by his use of colors and light in his paintings and his art. The walls of the cups in the image below seem to crackle and shimmer with light. I am going to see about putting this image on a couple of cool items on Zazzle

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Not So Funny Story, What Was I Thinking

Last August, I spent a week in Oregon, primarily along the coast around Seaside and Astoria as well as the famed Oregon Willamette wine country near Yamhill and Newberg. I rented a car for a week and decided that I would play tourist for a change and enjoy the beautiful countryside even if it was your typical sizzling hot summer days.

The highlight of my week long holiday was my trip to Oregon's Willamette Valley where vineyards and wineries are plentiful on both sides of route 99W. I did wine tasting at the famous Maresh Red Barn Vineyard where a charming red barn marks a beautiful vine country landscape. The Pino Gris was beautiful, crisp, light, with a hint of fruit. The Pino Noir was equally magnificent.

This was the last day of my week-long holiday and I was heading off to Portland airport the same afternoon. It seemed like a perfect ending to my little sojourn that I should get a bottle of my beloved Pino Gris to bring home to California, and I did.

I had traveled light, as best as I could but I still had one too many carry on bags after a little shopping here and there. So I quickly checked in one of my heavier cabin luggages which I had packed ahead of time that morning. I did not think too much about the bottle of Pino Gris in my hand, thinking I will just stuff it in inside my hand carry messenger bag together with my digital camera. This way I can be sure the bottle does not break, and I have it close to me (still thinking of how good it was when I tasted it). I stuffed the Pino Gris inside my hand carry bag hurriedly and proceeded to security gate.

"Madam, is this your bag?"

I thought, good God, what have I done now? what did I put in there that they needed to check? He grabbed my messenger bag and pulled out my nice bottle of Pino Gris (unopened, Oregon wine label clearly visible) and said: "Madam, this is not allowed, 3oz of fluid maximum!!" he exclaimed.

Of course, what was I thinking? I hit my forehead as I realised what he was referring to. My mind was racing, I was thinking how not to lose my precious Pino Gris.

"Well, do you want to go back out and put the bottle in your check in luggage?" he asked. No, I don't want to go back out and have them find my luggage that was probably sitting on the conveyor belt somewhere waiting to be loaded and cause unnecessary grief to everyone. Furthermore, what would my bottle of Pino Gris become after it has been thrown about inside my luggage as it was on its way to the plane's cargo hole assuming the bottle does not break? I cringed to think what it would taste like if it survived the flight.

"Did someone drop you off?" he then asked, "may be you can go back outside and give it to them?" No, a single woman enjoying a nice holiday alone must be somewhat out of the norm. "Did you buy this from the airport store outside? may be you can return it and tell them you will buy it at their store after security gate?" Good try, but this was a very exceptional bottle of wine that I could only buy from the vineyard. He was clearly trying to help..........

What do I do now? Go back out and drink it all? I suppose I could, but a warm Pino Gris would ruin my palate forever, seriously, not mentioning that that was not my idea of enjoying good wine. Out of utter frustration, I said to the very helpful security guy, "you know what, you guys drink it, it is on me, it is very good" To that he looked at me and smiled and replied " Madam, shall I discard it then?"

"Do what you need to, Sir" I said (respectfully).

As I walked away, he dropped my precious bottle of Pino Gris into the black plastic container with a big label "DISCARD". Ouch!! That really hurts.

What a traumatic experience! When I was paying for the Pino Gris, they were asking me if I wanted a chilled bottle and if I was planning to drink it right away. That was the omen!!! I should have taken up on the suggestion and savored every drop of it sitting in charming garden just outside the tasting room, that would have been more satisfying than my mishap with airport security.

Moral of the story, drink your bottle of wine before you go through airport security unless there is world peace. Alas, I just don't see that happening anytime soon.

If you are looking to buy a gift for someone who wants to learn more about wine and wineries, below are two books I highly recommend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Prologue

What have we become, I have been asking myself lately. We are glued 24/7, to our laptops, so eager to share our innermost feelings with strangers on the World Wide Web, making friends across bandwidth without any reservation. Our addiction to the World Wide Web has become our first and sometimes the only love we profess, to the detriment of people we really care and people who love us. Privacy did not seem to matter in this ever changing world, we seem to embrace everything as a step forward for mankind. Sometimes I feel the aliens have landed and there is no place to hide from the ever powerful eyes of Google Earth.

I yearn to run away, to a kind of utopia, with a soulmate, and a friend or two. Warm sea breeze, turqouise coral seas, and I would write a book, or work on one of my creative projects under the coconut trees. May be I am being unrealistic, yes, I guess you could say I am unrealistic as this goal has been as illusive as ever. I know what it is like as I was born on an island where many tropical islands line the seas surronding the peninsula. I spent days in the turquoise seas swimming and snorkling and rainbow colored tropical fishes come to play. My hotel room was a hut standing on stilts in the sand, with a bunk bed on each side. Each morning I would be awaken by the gentle songs of the ocean. If you had seen what I had seen, you would understand why I am dreaming to go back to my utopia. I need my soul back and I wonder if you do too.