Friday, October 24, 2008

How To Buy Your 2nd Mountain Bike

The Perfect Ride. Canon XT/350D, 10-22mm, 1/60 f/5, ISO400.

We’ve all made mistakes with our 1st mountain bike, perhaps buying a cheap, heavy, klunker that didn’t fit right. Now you’re ready for your next bike and are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. While you may have bought your first bike as a complete bike set from the showroom, your next bike is likely to built up, ie. buying the frame, wheels and other components separately. This gives your bike a more personal feel and you end up only paying for what you really want on the bike.

Do your research
There is more to building a frame than welding a bunch of metal tubes together. Full suspension or hardtail? Aluminum vs. Titanium vs. Carbon vs. Steel? V-brakes or Discs? It comes down to personal preference, riding style, riding conditions, and sometimes even marketing hype. Websites like www.Mtbr.com have a wealth of information and reviews.

What I ride: The 2006 Santa Cruz Superlight. Single-pivot full suspension aluminum bike with V-brakes. I travel with my bike and I need something light and simple.

Going places with my bike. Hoisting my Santa Cruz Superlight across a bamboo bridge in Northern Thailand. Taken by Laura Liong with my Pentax Optio 43WR, 1/160 f/6.9, ISO 64.

Don’t buy cheap components
Go Shimano XT or XTR if you can afford it. Upgrade lesser parts to at least Shimano XT, particularly the rear derailleur and cassette. LX is ok, but XT components are much more durable and are much more pleasant to use than lesser components like (shudder) Alivio. The cheap cassette on my first bike wore out after three months. The cheap headset on my 2nd bike needed to be changed after just 2 weeks. By comparison, most of my Shimano XTR parts have been with me since 2002. Sure, parts do wear out over time, but good components last much longer and will pay for themselves over the long run. You'll also get a more positive riding experience.

What I use: Shimano XTR except for SRAM X0 twist shifters and rear derailleur.

Get Fit
A proper bike fit is more than straddling the bike and checking the clearance between your crotch and the top tube. It is best if your bike shop can do a proper fit, otherwise websites like www.competitivecyclist.com have a mountain bike fit calculator that uses a few simple body measurements like your inseam, torso, forearm length, and give you output such as what standover height, top tube length, stem length you need. It’s free and it takes about 20 minutes. It is well worth the time and effort. You may find out that your dream bike manufacturer may not make a frame in your size. For example, I liked the Specialized brand, but they didn't make a frame that would fit my long torso/short legs body. They made a 15.5" frame that was too cramped for me and a 17" that didn't have sufficient standover clearance. I had to look elsewhere.

Ride it
Finally, there’s nothing like riding the bike you want to buy. Ideally, your buddy is your size and has your dream ride that you can borrow, otherwise your bike shop should let you take a quick spin around the parking lot. Sometimes, a quick ride is enough to reveal that your dream ride isn't it all what you thought it was going to be.

Updated: 26 Oct 08 (expansion and clarification).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When Gear Lust Strikes

AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f1.4G

Nikon has announced a new 50mm lens with a ‘Silent Wave’ motor, the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S, but at $USD 440, it ain’t cheap.

With the announcement of this new lens, it occurred to me that I could now get a pretty good deal on a used non AF-S 50mm f/1.4. I began researching the older, non-AF-S 50mm lenses, like the f/1.4 and the f/1.8. Then it struck me. When would I use this lens? While it sounds like it will make a good portrait lens on my D300, I prefer to do portraits with a zoom lens like my Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8. For general low light photography, I’ve found the 50mm focal length to be a little too long on my D300, and I’d be better off with a Sigma 30mm f/1.4. I suppose I could benefit from the sharpness of the 50mm prime lens for product photography, but that’s not really my thing, and I don’t do much of it.

In the end, the urge to buy something new and shiny has given way to reason (for now ;)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How To Grow Your Hair Long

Want to look like this guy? Josh Holloway as 'Sawyer' on Lost (ABC). Image from www.tvscoop.tv.

It was about a year ago that I resigned from my job as an airline pilot and decided to keep my hair long. I thought it would be cool and in keeping with my new career choice as a photographer. I also thought it would save me money from getting regular haircuts and having to buy and use gel and other styling products. I also thought it would simplify my life, not having to worry about styling my hair and just tying it up in a ponytail every morning. All my assumptions turned out to be wrong!

Had I known what I know now about keeping my hair long, I might have decided otherwise. But it’s hard to find information about keeping long hair for guys. My sisters turned out to be a big source of information. Here’s what I’ve learned:

0-2 months: Hair in your eye
From here on out, hair will either be poking you directly in the eye, or covering your eyes when it grows out. You’ll need to do something to keep it from irritating you. It’s too short to tie back, so your best bet is an ‘Alice Band’, a horseshoe shaped headband. Buy a couple. They break and you’ll also need one for the bathroom for when you wash your face.

4-6 months: Hair in your mouth

You may have heard that it’s best not to cut your hair if you want it to grow fast. That may be true, but I had really short hair and the back was growing out faster than the front. I found it best to trim the back every couple of months so that the front could catch up.

It is probably still a little too short to tie back, so wisps of hair will escape your ponytail and end up in your mouth when you are eating, or simply drift across your face, irritating you to no end. A combination of the Alice Band to hold up the hair in front and tying a high ponytail will keep the sides in check.

8 -12 months: Hair touching your chin (aka ‘The Sawyer’)

Finally, the front has grown long enough to balance the back, and so you don’t really need to cut it anymore. It’s now long enough to be tied up into a high ponytail so it is out of your face. And it’s now sort of ‘cool’ looking, kind of like the guy in the picture. Quite frankly, Josh Holloway would look good with any kind of haircut and if I looked like him, I wouldn’t have bothered with the effort of growing my hair long in the first place.

How to cut your hair like Josh Holloway. www.hairfinder.com

But was it worth it? Long hair is more prone to falling out and breaking, so whatever money I save on haircuts will go towards buying products like hair conditioners and strengtheners. It hasn’t simplified my life either as I’ve now got to put up with the hassle of where to put all that extra hair when I do sports.

Hmm… Well, maybe having long hair is cool, but having NO hair is kind of cool too. Vin Diesel looks good bald. I might give that a go when I’m done with the longhaired look.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Great Singapore Housing Bubble

Written by me
... with a little help from my retired Investment Banker wife


When my wife and I quit our jobs and sold our house last year, it was with the expectation that housing prices were near its peak and would soon fall. We were wrong and prices continued to skyrocket to new all time highs. Basically, housing prices doubled from late 2006 to early 2008. Now, at a time when we are facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the latest URA statistics of private residential property show that prices have dropped for the 1st time since 2006, but by only 1.8%*. Is this an accurate reflection of the private property market in Singapore?

Working out at our old house in better times.

It all began with the sub-prime housing crisis in the USA. The banks lent out easy money, and as long as property prices continued to rise, the party could go on. Sound familiar? Well, the same thing has happened in Singapore, with a twist.

We had a unique phenomenon called the ‘En Bloc sale’. In simple terms, an ‘En Bloc sale’ occurs when the majority of owners of a housing development, such as a condominium, get together and collectively sell the condo off to a developer. The developer, in turn, then tears down the existing structure and rebuilds a new condo with greater density, and sells those units off at a profit. This was possible because older condos didn’t have the same population density as new condos. Developers could buy out 1000 people, and build units in that same plot of land that can house 3000 or more.

En Bloc fever reached its peak in 2007, and created a double whammy. En Bloc sales removed housing supply from the market and created short term demand from En Bloc’ers seeking new housing. New houses can’t be built overnight, and this added fuel to soaring property prices.

With easy lending policies, individuals began borrowing money to buy more property, hoping to cash in on the rapidly rising property market. In an environment of unprecedented demand, it worked, and some individuals doubled their money in a relatively short time. In 2007, 14,811 units were taken-up, compared to the average annual take-up of 6,600*.

Our Lotus at the old house. (We sold both and are now debt free, but we now live in a rental and drive a Hyundai).

Are we ripe for the Singapore housing bubble to burst?

The Fundamentals: Supply vs. Demand
There is strong upcoming supply. Over 31,000 units are already under construction: 15,000 to be completed by 2009, and most of the balance should be completed by 2011. This significantly outstrips the 6,600 average annual demand**. (Take-ups in the first 3 quarters of ’08 (Jan to Sep) was 3,890 Units, just under the statistical annual average*).

Market Sentiment: Accelerating The Fundamentals.
When the property market was booming, sentiment was so good that any excuse was used to talk up the market, regardless of whether it had any real impact: F1, IR. There seemed no end to blue skies. Now, there seems no end in sight for the current crisis. There is global asset deflation. Singapore GDP growth for 2008 was projected at 6.5% at the start of the year, now, we are hoping for around 3% for the full year, i.e. down more than 50% from the projection early this year. The Singapore stock market is down more than 40% since the start of the year; Singapore property stocks have fallen up to 70%. Job insecurity will start to sink in and unemployment will rise. Expatriate influx will slow. Private property rentals will drop. The banks will further tighten lending standards. Overextended individuals holding multiple properties and small property developers will go bankrupt.

We used to have lots of fish in a big pond. Photo © Laura Liong

When will the bubble burst? Not this year, and perhaps not even the next, but it will happen. I'm not a property expert, but it is my humble opinion that the writing is on the wall, and it is plain for all to see.


* The Straits Times, Money, 16 Oct ‘08
** Credit Suisse, Singapore Property Sector Review, 29 Sep ’08.

Friday, October 10, 2008

End of Days

End of the Day, Gobi Desert, China. Pentax Optio 43WR, 104mm (35mm equiv.), 1/400, f/3.9, ISO 50.

It’s been a tough week for the world financially, and my wife and I have not escaped unscathed. Our savings, put aside in various investments have shrunk considerably. To top the week off, I had my first DNF in a race ever. I pulled out of The North Face Ultra 100 in Singapore last week. That was very disappointing, considering the amount of training time I put into it. Let’s hope next week looks a little brighter.