Passion for Pizza

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I love a good pizza, especially if its baked in a proper oven since it gives the crust a very unique texture. A friend of mine, Nasser Al Sulaihim, is so passionate about the art of pizza making that recently he actually made his own pizza oven. The oven is similar to the one I’d posted about in my Pizza Connection post but while that one was flown in from Italy, Nasser made his own oven himself!

Oven making

I’ve made a collage of the oven in its various stages of design and production and its really impressive. He’s a really talented guy and you can follow him on Instagram to see how good he is at building stuff.

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Cox and Kings Global Services – Kuwait

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Yesterday a family member needed to renew their passport so we went to the newly opened Cox and Kings Global Services office in Sharq to submit an application. The visa and passport services of the Indian Embassy have been moved from BLS International to Cox and Kings.

The good thing about the move is that they’re now in 3 locations in Kuwait so that makes it easier for those living in the suburbs. We went to the branch in Behbehani Complex in Sharq and got our work done in less than 15 minutes.

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They’ve got a whole bunch of value added services [link] including passport delivery which I think is quite convenient if you don’t have the time to go there or work in a double shift job. There are 6 counters to submit your applications and a mini snack counter that also serves coffee.

Here are the locations; Sharq, Fahaheel and Jleeb Al Shuyoukh (for some reason many Indians refer to Jleeb Al Shuyoukh as Shuwaikh)

Quick Trip To Kerala

I made a really short trip to Kerala during the Eid holidays last week to attend to some personal matters.

I knew I had a tight schedule but while packing my cameras I figured I’d get some free time to go out alone but that didn’t happen.

Here’s some of the few photos I did take during the week I was there.

Cormorant

Boatman

Navigating

Vigil

Another thing I found out that most of the bars in Kerala have now been shutdown due to some court order and that means getting a drink with your lunch means you’d have to go to a place that’s above 4 Stars. Quite a shame really as there are many hotels in Kerala that have a nice ambiance but the alcohol bans keeps out the clients during lunch time like this place below.

Honda City 2014 – Review

City 01

A couple of weeks ago the local Honda dealer contacted me asking if I wanted to take out the new 2014 Honda City for a test drive. So I picked up the car first thing on a weekend morning and used till noon for some personal errands.

First Impression:
Now the Honda rep informed me that the new 2014 was a radical change from the previous model but I  thought it was just the usual marketing jazz. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The 2014 model looks leaner and with each iteration it’s catching up to the design cues of its bigger siblings.

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Exterior:
My test model had a metallic black paint job with beige interiors. In the catalog its listed as ‘Crystal Black Pearl Golden Brown with Ivory interior’. The 16 inch alloys shod with low profile radials were stylish too.

Now as a technology geek here’s what I loved about the City; the list of options that it came with. I drove the EX Spec version which is the top of the line for the City.

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Interiors: 
The inside was a stark contrast to the highly polished black exterior and it felt bigger than it actually was thanks to the light color. One strange thing I noticed when I got into the car was the absence of buttons on the dashboard, not even for the HVAC controls. When I switched the car on I realized that all the buttons are touch sensitive and light up when the car is turned on. Otherwise its just a glossy black panel that looks very clean and smooth.

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Features:

  • Key-less entry and ignition. This is one of my favorite features in any car and after driving my own car for the past 6 years I’ve become used to not using the key or even taking it out of my pocket.
  • 7 Inch touch screen entertainment console with audio, video and Bluetooth hands-free.
  • Steering controls include; Paddle Shifters, Bluetooth hands-free, Cruise control and Radio controls.
  • 12 Volts power sockets in the front and back, 2 USB ports and even an HDMI port. I’ve never seen an HDMI port in a small sedan before. I later on found out that its possible to mirror your Android or iPhone to the LCD and interact with your device from the car’s LCD screen. Its a neat feature and I wish I had an MHL adapter to try it out. Here’s a video demo of the system.
  • Bright back-lit instrument panel and digital readouts for current mileage and fuel range etc.

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Driving Experience:
I drove it for about 3 hours while I was doing my errands and it felt nimble and fast in the city. Most of my work that day was in the city limits and I only had to get on the express way a couple of times to go to Salmiya and back to the city. Like all VTEC engines, this too was rev happy and even though its only a 1.5 L car the high rev-ability makes it easy to push it to the limit. If you’re not careful you’ll find yourself exceeding the speed limit on highways without even knowing it.

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Comfort: 
Driver’s seat and steering is adjustable so you’ll find your desired position quickly and there’s a small armrest in the center so you can lean your elbow for long drives. Even with the front seats pushed back my wife and mom had enough legroom in the back seats and with the rear AC controls they were comfortable in the summer heat.

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Practicality:
I didn’t have any stuff to carry around that day and most of the shopping was already done for the week but the boot is quite spacious at a class leading 538L and is deep so like the previous City it too can swallow a couple of large trunks or a whole week’s worth of home shopping.

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Overall I was really impressed with the car and its amazing how many features are finding their way into smaller sedans nowadays. By the time I handed over the car at the showroom I had a smile on my face coz it was a breeze driving the City around town on a busy day.

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Test Version: Honda City 2014 EX Spec. Retails at KD 4895 and comes with a Honda warranty of 3 years or 100,000 Kms.

Showroom: Al Rai Safat Alghanim Mall, Al Rai, 4th Ring Road,  P O Box:6474, Zip:70458 Shuwaikh Phone: 24964000

My review of the 2013 Honda City last year. [link]

Playing with Fire and Light

A couple of weeks ago, a few friends of mine arranged a night photo shoot to have some fun with light painting and long exposure shots. We headed to this abandoned building in the middle of nowhere and a brave volunteer worked his magic with just some steel wool stuffed in a whisk and swung on a chain. Here’s what I got. I loved the results and can’t wait to do some more of this.

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Here’s something I tried while I was playing around with the 2 axis head on the tripod. I set the exposure to around 10 seconds and then moved the camera on X and Y axis while focused on a string of street lights. This might make a good wallpaper for my mobile phone.

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There was this structure that I lit up using a flashlight and managed to get the stars in the shot as well. The yellow haze is light reflected off clouds from the street lights and just above that the stars are visible.

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Towards the end of the session we played around with one of those LED key-chains and got the following samples.

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While I was editing the pictures I remembered that I’d taken some similar pictures of the Fire Dancers at this year’s Sand Sculpture expo so I figured those would fit into the theme of this post. So here are some shots from the event.

Fire dancers at Remal Festival 2014

Fire dancers at Remal Festival 2014

Fire dancers at Remal Festival 2014

Fire dancers at Remal Festival 2014

Fire dancers at Remal Festival 2014

Fire dancers at Remal Festival 2014

Lahore Shahi Qila – Pakistani Food

Shahi Qila

I decided to write about this place after my second visit there a couple of days ago. Shahi Qila is a little Pakistani restaurant in Sharq area and it’s almost invisible unless you actually go looking for it. The place is so nondescript that my friend didn’t even know the name of the place even though he loves the food there.

Tikka Chicken

On both visits we ordered; Chicken Tikka, Channa Masala (Chickpeas) and fresh Rotis. The food is typical Pakistani fare with copious amounts of spice and oil. I love the Chicken tikka and channa masala at Khyber but this is now my current favorite place if I’m in the mood to get hot and sweaty for lunch.

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The chicken tikka lacked that tangy flavor that you get in Khyber but its perfectly grilled and has the right amount of charring. Unfortunately I didn’t try anything else at Shahi Qila so I can’t recommend more dishes but the chicken tikka and channa masala combo is a must-try.

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The place may look like a cheap joint on the outside but once you go down to the dining area on the lower floor you’ll be surprised to see that its neat and spacious. Prices aren’t too bad either. There were four of us and the bill was 5 KD. Parking can be a problem during working days so it would be better to park across the street near the police HQ compound and walk to Shahi Qila.

You can find the place in the map link here [Google maps]

Shahi Qila
Al Shoafaat Building,
Umer Bin Khatab St.
Sharq
Tel: 22470965

Thaikkudam Bridge – Live in Kuwait

I was looking forward to seeing Thaikkudam Bridge perform live ever since I saw their videos on Music Mojo. The band itself has around 14 members and they’re all on stage on various instruments and its both insane and awesome at the same time.

Their songs like Nostalgia, Illayaraja Medley and Fish Rock would be familiar to most people but on stage they had almost 3 hours of non stop numbers that varied from ethnic songs, classical Hindustani (or Carnatic? I’m not sure) and some Blues and Reggae numbers to Rock influenced tracks. Overall a very memorable experience and hope to see them live in concert again.

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Wasabi Power Battery – Review

Wasabi power GX1

This was one of those posts that’s been in draft for a while now. I just checked my order date on Amazon and realized I bought this set back in May 2012. I’ve been using it regularly ever since so this is probably a good testament to how great these batteries are.

These are just third party batteries so there’s no in-depth review or technical analysis but I’ll just quickly focus on my experience with these batteries.

Initial hesitation:
I needed extra batteries for my brand new (in June 2012) Lumix GX1 but there were two issues that kept bugging me.
1. Expanding/exploding third party batteries – I read in a few articles about how power cells from knock-off battery makers or non-OEM manufacturers could either swell up inside the camera or just simply explode during use or charging.
2. Non- Functional battery power level indicator – The initial batteries that came out were not encoded with Panasonic’s proprietary ‘smart chip’ so some users reported that the camera will not display the remaining charge in the battery and so you might face an abrupt  shutdown while shooting.

Keeping both these points in mind I took the plunge anyway and was happy to find out that both issues were non-existent in Wasabi batteries. So far they haven’t exploded and both of them display the power level perfectly.

Wasabi power GX1 box

What I like: 
. First and foremost, the Wasabi packs in 1500mAh power as opposed to the 1010mAh in the OEM battery. This translates to more shooting time and there were times during my vacation when I didn’t have to charge them for more than a week.
. You get amazing value for money for the 30 odd dollars that you pay. The pack includes two batteries, one wall charger and a 12 volt DC charger that you can plug into your car.
. The charging unit is much smaller than the Panasonic one and it plugs directly into the wall so you don’t have the hassle of packing an additional 2-pin cable.
. The charging unit has a very simple ‘Red for charging’ and ‘Green for completed’ indicators that are more intuitive than the Panasonic’s Morse code indicator.
. The car charger is a handy thing to have but I’ve only used it once as most of the time I leave home with both units fully charged.

Where to buy it from:

I bought mine from Amazon for about 30 USD and then spend another 7 or 8 KD for shipping from NYC. This is the item as listed on Amazon [link]
They’re also available from Mr. Babu for 14.5 KWD which includs shipping so this is definitely a better deal. [link]

Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 Fish Eye for MFT

Samyang 7.5 00

When I first bought my DSLR one of the lenses I thought of buying was a fish-eye lens. At the time a fish-eye lens from Nikon was prohibitively expensive and I gave up the idea of buying one altogether. Lately I’ve been concentrating more on my Micro Four Thirds setup and that’s when I found this Samyang lens. I contacted AAB World to see if they carried this brand and they turned out to be the dealers for Samyang as well. They were quick to loan me a test lens and I’ve been playing around with it the last couple of weeks. This post will focus on the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 and then I’ll add some photos taken with it over the week.

Samyang 7.5 01

Whats in the box:
The lens comes snugly packed in a plastic shell which keeps it from getting damaged during transit. There’s a leather (or leather-like) lens bag included in the box. There’s no separate lens hood since there’s a protective hood built on the barrel itself.

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The lens:

Its a fully manual lens, meaning there are no CPU contacts on the lens that communicate with your camera body and infact your camera will not even recognize that there’s a lens attached. On the Lumix you have to select the ‘Shoot w/o lens’ option in the menu before you start shooting.

It has an aperture ring marked from f/3.5 to f/22 and it turns easily with a solid click in each position. The focus ring is well damped and does not move from its position once you’ve set it to the desired distance. The lens can focus from .19 meters to infinity but I wish it had a marking for 1 meter as well. Overall the lens is very solid and feels like its worth twice its actual price.

The lens has a focal length of 7.5mm and in Full Frame or traditional 35mm format that would roughly translate to 15mm, which is really pretty wide. The lens is sold re-branded as Rokinon, Bower and Vivitar in some markets but essentially its all the same lens. They come in two colors; Black and Silver and in mounts for MFT, E Mount, Fuji Mount etc.

Its available at AAB Studio for KD 94.950 which is reasonable comparable to online prices and plus you get a local warranty too.

Shooting:
This is where everything you know about composition goes out the window. Due to the characteristic distortion on this lens the image will wildly vary depending on which axis you point your lens at. Using the conventional ‘Rule of Thirds’ concept may not always yield good results but that’s up to you to decide. I found that I preferred symmetry in some pictures while in others I didn’t. Using this lens is a lot of fun and a great learning experience. You can see the effect of tilting the camera in this short video that I took here;

Tips:
. This lens is ultra wide and has an angle of view of 180 degrees so make sure you’re not holding the lens barrel or your fingers will wind up in the frame. If you hold the camera too close to your body even your feet will be visible in the frame.

. If you’re shooting at higher apertures like f/11 or f/16 focus is not an issue and you can leave it at Infinity but if you’re shooting closer objects at f/3.5 then it would be wise to use the magnified focus window on your screen (if your camera has that function) so that your subject is in sharp focus.

. Since its a manual lens you’ll have to keep in mind a few parameters like the Aperture setting on your lens, the ISO and Shutter speed on your camera body. Luckily I was able to use the exposure meter on my GX1 and managed to properly expose the majority of the shots in the way that I wanted.

There’s almost no limit to what you can shoot if you’re creative with a fish-eye as you can see from this [link] and here are a sample of the photos I’ve taken with this amazing little lens.

Fisheye Bridge

Fifth RingTraffic

Banking Complex

Warp Speed

Salmiya Tunnel

Prestige Avenues

Avenues Dome

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Final Thoughts: 
This is a high quality lens that’s both affordable and easy to use. Its compact dimensions doesn’t take up much space in your bag and you’ll always have it handy. I loved the lens so much that I’m actually going to buy the lens used in this review. Contact AAB World to see if they have this lens in your camera mount specifications.