Monday, May 21, 2012

Olympus OM-D E-M5

On average, people update their smartphones at least every 2 years. I purchased my Olympus E-P1 when it was first introduced nearly 3 years ago. (See old blog post here.) So I figured it was time to update my camera to the latest and greatest, the Olympus OM-D E-M5, which is still mostly unavailable in most countries due to high demand. This Monday, I went to a specialist camera store well-known to camera geeks in Hong Kong, called Man Shing (萬成), in Mongkok and picked up my silver E-M5 (black was not available) body-only (no lens).

Then I decided I might as well grab the Panasonic f/1.4 25mm Leica Summilux lens as well. (I already have the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake, so it could be argued that this was a fairly redundant purchase.)

Many accessories are still not yet available: for example, I couldn't find a spare battery or the optional grip even at such a specialist store as Man Shing (website: here). Still, ended up spending a bit more than I'd expected.

Here is the EM-5 with the Panny Leica mounted. In my opinion, the EM-5 is not as pretty as the E-P1 but being a 2012 model, it has many important advances over 3 year old technology.

The camera is so extensively customizable, it'd take me a week to effectively learn the control layout and optimize all the programmable settings.

Fortunately, a leading website has put together a 3 page guide to getting the most out of the E-M5, see here. 30 minutes later and a quick charge of the battery, I was ready to get my first shots.

The E-M5 is supposed to be vastly superior to the E-P1 in many different ways, but probably the most prominent are control of noise level for available light shooting and speed of autofocus (supposed to be the world's fastest as of 2012).

So, here are two images taken just after dark with the Panny Leica wide open at f/1.4. Nothing special in terms of composition, that'll have to wait for another day.

Small worlds

I've talked about taking table tennis coaching lessons with Crystal Huang at LATTA before, see - for example - prior posts too many degrees of freedom and structural reform.

Just this weekend I was in Shenzhen and visited a small-ish ping pong club that I've never visited before, called 大家乐乒乓球馆 (see picture above). It's a bit hard to find, being on the 3rd floor of a building behind another building, and co-located with a badminton club next door.

I took lessons on both Saturday and Sunday with coach Huang Lin Ling (黄琳玲) who co-owns this club.

At 100 yuan per hour, she is a more expensive and higher level player than any coach I've taken a lesson from before. She is a two-winged looper - backhand and forehand - and has a wicked backhand serve. Doesn't matter what you do or where you place the ball, she will loop it with devastating power from either side. (She was on the Chinese national team at the 2nd team level.)

Anyway, she was asking about how I got coaching in the US, and I mentioned my coach was also called Huang, Crystal Huang. But I didn't know Crystal's chinese first name. I said Crystal represented the USA at the Beijing Olympics.

Huang Lin Ling then proceeded to describe Crystal down to a tee, including forehand rubber choice. I was amazed. Turns out they were both of the same generation and teammates at the provincial level in Hunan (湖南). They knew each other well. Crystal emigrated to the USA as a teenager. Huang Lin Ling went on to the Chinese national team. It's really such a small world!

As I mentioned above, the club is rather small. It has two "wings". One contains a row of tables:

The other wing contains 5 individually barriered courts:

Although it's smaller than the South China club (世纪南华乒乓球俱乐部), see post here that my friend Liang Liung first introduced me to way back in 2009, the air-conditioning at this smaller club is much better, a major consideration given the heat and humidity of southern China in summer.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


It's the end of the semester again. Here's a panorama from the front row of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) Convocation at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC) on Friday.

This reminds me of simply how large the university is. This event is just for SBS. And it's just one of the multiple convocation events being held at for the constituent colleges of University of Arizona as well as ones for the university itself. You couldn't possibly hold a combined graduation ceremony where everyone's name can be read out. Just isn't practical.

I attended, representing a small Master's degree program in Human Language Technology (HLT) that I run for the department of Linguistics.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

40 days, 40 runs

Run rabbit run

Dig that hole, forget the sun

And when at last the work is down

Don't sit down, it's time to dig another one

Did you know the number 40 has special significance across various cultures? For example, 40 is mentioned umpteen times in the bible. Basically, 40 has both a literal and an idiomatic meaning. More precisely, or perhaps less precisely, we can interpret 40 to mean "many of something" or simply "umpteen".

Today, my run streak has met its original goal of 40 consecutive days: a literal interpretation is intended in this case. At the outset, I said:
"Last 7 mornings, I've gotten up and run. I don't know how long this streak will last, but now that I've begun it, I'm tentatively hoping and aiming for 40 days in a row."
(See older posts: at the halfway mark 20 runs, 20 days, and after the first week 7 mornings, 7 runs.)

The goal was simple. Run a bit every single day. Enough to tax the cardio/muscular system, but not hard enough to impact one-day recovery. I should point out because of the shortness of the runs, this falls under "just exercising" (this can't really be considered training yet).

However, I set certain pace goals. On some days it was hard to begin never mind complete the workouts. For example, on days I worked late at the office, and felt dog-tired; at 11pm, I had to go out and complete the run before midnight. Other days, I didn't get enough sleep the day before or had done other significant exercise and still felt fatigued: in other words, I knew my legs were toast even before I started. Still, the very idea of keeping the streak going had "legs" of its own if you will. I persevered.

Almost religiously, I recorded all the runs into my spreadsheet:

Cumulative statistics are rather unimpressive. Just 165 km and 13,600 kcal burnt at an average pace of 5'07" per km for a total of 14 hours, 7 minutes and change. However, with an eye on my diet, especially during the 2nd half of the streak, I've managed to lose 2.5 kg (or 5.5 lbs). Another 1 kg and I think I'd be ready to start proper training.

As you can see by the chart below, the first twenty days were spent at the comfortable 7.0 mph mark (8'34" mile pace = 11.3 km/hr or 5'19" km pace) (when running indoors). As the spread of points show, by the end I was able to run for 40 minutes (or more) at that speed.

From day 21, I decided to up the speed on the Woodway Desmo treadmill to 7.5 mph (8'00" mile pace = 12 km/hr or 4'58" km pace). (This is not your ordinary gym treadmill, but an extremely expensive treadmill costing close to $10,000 that claims extremely repeatable and accurate speeds. Its slat design also feels very different from a belt-based treadmill.) I have to say running on a belt-based treadmill feels significantly easier than a Woodway at the same speed for some unfathomable reason. For example, I ran on a hotel Precor on day 33 at 7.5 mph. It felt as easy as 7.0 mph on the Woodway. This brings into question my treadmill runs from earlier years: for example before the 2010 Tokyo marathon, I was regularly running from 10K up to an hour at an indicated 13 km/hr on a belt treadmill at a Konami gym. And that was at sea level. What would be the Woodway equivalent at an altitude of 2400'(730m)? I have no idea.

Breathe, breathe in the air

Don't be afraid to care

Leave but don't leave me

Look around, choose your own ground

For long you live and high you fly

And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry

And all your touch and all you see

Is all your life will ever be

0.5 mph (or 5'19" to 4'58" km pace) may not sound like much of an increment. But it put me over the edge. Threw me for a loop so to speak. Biomechanically, cadence and stride-wise, 7.5 mph felt quite different. Breathing also seemed like hard work. I could have stayed at 7.0 mph, but to improve, one has to explore the discomfort zone. It took days before I found the foot speed comfortable. Breathing took even longer. (This seems to make sense to me (a non-sports scientist): neuromuscular adaptation is probably faster than adaptation in the aerobic system.)

For example, on day 21, I ran for a planned 15 minutes continuously at 7.5 mph (after running continuously for 40 minutes at 7.0 mph the day before). However, I was unable to match this 15 continuous minutes at 7.5 mph (never mind build on it) until day 39. Some days, if I had trained for a couple of hours the day before, I could only manage 3 or 5 minutes at a time at that speed before being forced to take a short walk break. On days 39 and 40, I finally passed that initial mark on consecutive days.

Although I regard my 40 days as a minor achievement, I don't yet feel 7.5 mph is "my speed" on the Woodway Desmo. Therefore I've decided to continue the streak for one more week to see where it takes me.

Update: Actually, I only lasted 4 more days. Managed 20 mins straight at 7.5 mph on the Woodway on day 42 but broke on day 45. A low pressure system brought in dust storms, culminating in one that swept through Tucson at 75mph (120 km/hr). Triggered my asthma (from childhood). I was simply done: cut down to size, reduced to wheezing when climbing one flight of stairs to my office, only the twin miracles of Ventolin and Flovent preventing me from feeling like merely breathing through a straw.