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Digital cameras are getting more sophisticated yet cheaper by the day. They’re now in the range of 10 megapixels and, as a consequence, resulting photographs are now getting bigger in file size, as well.

This poses problems in terms of emailing photos to family and friends, as a huge file would slow down the sending/receiving process.  The same principle holds true for web pages, blogs or social networking sites (e.g. FaceBook). Out of consideration and courtesy for other people, it is common netiquette practice to resize photos prior to emailing or posting them on the net.

A quick, easy and free way of doing this is by using IrfanView.

IrfanView is a compact, easy-to-use image viewer that you can download for free (I can’t seem to stress that often enough!) from IrfanView.Net. IrfanView is actually a lot more than just an image viewer — you can also use it to do minor adjustments in colour, contrast, saturation — but for the purposes of this post, I’ll limit the discussion to the topic of resizing the photographs only.

Let’s say I have this photograph of the stained glass roof of Mutrah Market in Muscat, Oman. I used my D40 to take this photograph and the original file is 3.53 MB in size.

First, I open the file using IrfanView.

Then I click on Image | Resize/Resample. Or, alternatively, just press ‘Ctrl+R,’ i.e. hold down the ‘Ctrl’ key and press the ‘R’ key at the same time.

You can set the size manually, specifying the dimensions in pixels, cm or inches. You can set new size as percentage of the original. You can choose the option “Best fit to desktop”. You can also choose one of the standard dimensions in pixels: 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, etc.

Let’s try “Best fit to desktop”. Click on that, then click OK. Just leave the other options untouched, if you’re not sure what they mean. (Other options include preserving aspect ratio, applying sharpen after resample, resample vs resize.)

Now click on File | Save As. See that submenu on the right? For JPEG/GIF option, move the slider all the way to the right, to 100.

This way, you save the resized pic, say, on your desktop, ready to be sent by email, while you preserve the original file, in case you intend to print it or edit it at a later time.

In this case, I rename the file to stained_glass.jpg and save it to my desktop. I check on the file and I see that it’s still huge — 1.04 MB.

So I resize it even further. This time, using the resized file (currently 1.04 MB in size), I resize it even further into 50% of its size. Then I save it as stained_glass_Mutrah.jpg. (Same steps as above.)

This time, when I hover my mouse next to the new file, I see that it’s now been reduced to a more managed 346KB.

Good enough for posting on this blog, good enough for emailing. As a general rule, I keep my photos within 150KB to 300KB in size for uploading and emailing.

You can experiment with various settings to see what works for you. Just remember to click on ‘Save As’ instead of ‘Save’ in order to preserve the original photo.

My only complaint about IrfanView is that it’s only for the Windows environment. I’ve emailed the author, Irfan Skiljan, to ask if IrfanView has a Mac version and he was kind enough to reply (and promptly at that!) that sorry, there is no IrfanView for Mac at this moment. Now that I’ve switched to Mac, IrfanView is one program that I sorely miss, a view shared by many other Mac users who’ve previously used IrfanView somewhere.

Linux users, however, can use IrfanView. Even though there is no native-Linux version of IrfanView, the website says you can use IrfanView in conjunction with Linux programs like WINE, Windows Linux emulators and Linux-based virtual machines.

With the continued strengthening of the Euro, you can expect a holiday in Paris to significantly dent your bank account. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to stretch the power of your (limited) amount of Euros. Here are 10 tips which I hope you’ll find useful:

1. Pick your hotel wisely and be prepared to lower your expectations. Next to the airfare, your hotel bill will take up a huge chunk of the total cost of your holiday so use the internet to your advantage and do some research on possible hotels to stay in long before you travel. Read traveller’s reviews in various websites but take them with a grain of salt, as some of the reviewers have very unrealistic expectations, e.g. complaining about ‘Ikea-type furnishings’ in a 1-star hotel.

You must keep in mind that hotels in Europe are a lot more expensive but much smaller than hotel rooms in Asia. So if you have a limited budget, work within your budget and try not to expect too much so you won’t end up disappointed. Just think of your hotel room as place to sleep in, after a long day of walking and sightseeing. But be warned: smaller hotels tend to not have lifts, so be prepared to carry your luggage to your room on narrow — and often winding — stairs!

If it’s winter or spring, you can save a bit more by opting for rooms that don’t have ensuite baths. It will be so cold, it won’t matter if you don’t shower daily. [For the info of our non-Malaysian readers, most Malaysians shower twice a day. Everyday!]

You’d also save a lot of time and money if you stayed in a hotel that’s close to a Metro station.

2. Use public transport whenever possible. The metro is a very cost-effective and efficient way of getting around and is much, much cheaper than taking a taxi. Arm yourself with the RER/Metro/RATP map — check with your local Alliance Française before leaving for Paris or ask for one at the nearest Metro station upon arrival, or get a copy of Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement from a newsstand. At the Metro station, ask for directions from the information counter and make sure you get on the right train going to the right direction, as some trains share the same track but go to totally different destinations.

Buy your tickets in carnets from the train station or from a newspaper vendor. A carnet of 10 tickets only costs €11 or , effectively, only €1.10 per ticket. If you buy a single t-ticket, it will cost you €1.50. You can also use the same ticket for the bus. Train tickets to and from the airport cost a lot more so if you are going to the airport, be sure to specify it upon purchase.

3. Consider buying a Paris Visite Card. Depending on how long you intend to stay in Paris and where you intend to go, you might want to consider getting a Paris Visite card. Not only will it give you unlimited travel on the bus, metro, tramway and RER networks in Paris and its suburbs, the card also comes with some special offers. The Paris Visite pass is valid for 1, 2, 3 or 5 consecutive days in zones 1 to 3 (close suburbs). Airports (Orly/CDG) and Versailles are not included in the zones covered by this pass.

Prices for the Paris Visite Card vary, depending on the validity:

Price Adult 1 Day (12 and over): 8,50 €
Price Child 1 Day (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 4,25 €

Price Adult 2 Days (12 and over): 14 €
Price Child 2 Days (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 7 €

Price Adult 3 Days (12 and over): 19 €
Price Child 3 Days (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 9,50 €

Price Adult 5 Days (12 and over): 27,50 €
Price Child 5 Days (from 4 to 11 inclusive): 13,75 €

Check out Paris Info for more information on this card or to buy from them online. The card can also be purchased in all Paris Metro, RER, Transilien SNCF stations, bus terminal ticket counters, RATP Boutiques, RATP sales desks at Orly and CDG airports and Paris tourist offices. You can also buy your pass in certain travel agencies and tour operators overseas.

IMPORTANT: Before buying this card, plan your trip carefully and estimate how often you’ll be travelling by train or bus because it might be cheaper to buy individual tickets if you won’t be taking the train or bus that often.

4. Get a Paris Museum Pass. If you’re into museums and culture, buy a Paris Museum Pass. It will allow you to visit as many times as you like more than 60 museums and monuments in Paris and the surrounding area, such as Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Sainte Chapelle. Click here to see the full list of museums and monuments.

With this card, you also save time by not having to queue to buy tickets. In certain places, holders of this card go through a special entrance. For instance, when visiting the Louvre, there is a special entrance at the Richelieu passageway, instead of having to queue at the main entrance at the Glass Pyramid.

Prices, as of this writing, are:

Price 2 Days: 30 €
Price 4 Days: 45 €
Price 6 Days: 60 €

To get an idea of the savings that you get from buying this card, if you are buying the 2-day card (€30), you can already recoup your investment from the cost of admission to the Arc de Triomphe (€8), Louvre (€15) and Musée d’Orsay (€8) alone.

But plan your trip properly because the card is valid for the consecutive dates specified on the card and those cannot be changed. Many museums are closed on Monday and Tuesdays so it may not be very useful to use a 2-day card on those days. Do your homework beforehand to make the most of your card.

Children below 18 are allowed FREE access in most of the museums and monuments included in the Paris Museum Pass itinerary. But, seriously, how long do you really expect kids to keep quiet in a museum?

5. Go to places with free entry. Some places in Paris actually offer free admission every day, all year round.

* Musée national de la Légion d’honneur et des ordres de chevalerie (National Museum of the Legion of Honor and the Orders of Knighthood and Chivalry) – 7th arrondissement
* Musée Bible et Terre Sainte (Museum of the Bible and Terre Sainte) – 6th arrondissement
* Musée – Librairie du Compagnonnage – 6th arrondissement
* Musée Curie – Institut du radium (Curie Museum – Institute of Radium) – 5th arrondissement
* Musée du Parfum-Fragonard (Perfume Museum) – 9th arrondissement
* Théâtre musée des Capucines-Fragonard – 2th arrondissement
* Musée de la Préfecture de Police (Museum of the Police Prefecture) – 5th arrondissement
* Arènes de Lutèce – 5th arrondissement
* Atelier Brancusi – Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou (Atelier Brancusi – National Museum of Modern Art) – 4th arrondissement
* Le Plateau – Centre d’art contemporain (Centre of Contemporary Art) – 19th arrondissement

Most places are also free on the 1st Sunday of every month but that also means mammoth crowds on those days, so go early!

6. When dining out, take the set menu. If you eat at a café, brasserie or restaurant, opt for the Plat du Jour (Plate of the Day) for the best deal. It normally comes with a starter, the main course and a dessert or coffee. Prices, as of this writing, range from €12 to €17 in brasseries and cafés. If you choose to take à la carte, that same amount (€12 to €17) can only get you an appetiser or main dish or, sometimes, just the main dish.

7. Have breakfast outside. If your hotel room rate doesn’t include breakfast, do NOT take up the hotel’s offer for breakfast at some ridiculous price of €20 or so. Instead, go for a walk and look for a nearby café or pâtisserie (bakery specialising in pastries and sweets) or boulangerie (bakery). Have a cup of coffee (from €1) and a croissant (€1.20) or half a baguette (€0.80). Or try one of the flaky pastries. From the flaky, buttery, layered goodness of the pastry and croissant, you can tell that they don’t scrimp on the butter! And don’t worry about the calories — just walk it off!

8. Eat crêpes on the go. Crêpes are a cheap, fast option when your tummy starts growling. Prices range from €3 to €5, depending on the topping, which can be sweet (sucrée) or savoury (salée). Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread, is a very popular sucrée option, while the ham and cheese salée option is like a meal by itself already.

9. Ask for water. Practice saying “Un carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait” (a ka-raf-DOH, sil-vu-pleh). That’ll get you a small bottle of purified tap water, more than enough for 2 persons, when you dine in a café or brasserie. And it won’t cost you a single cent, believe it or not. Photo of the carafe d’eau from Paris Breakfasts.

A 500ml bottle of Evian will set you back by around €3 in a café; €1.60 if bought from a vending machine. In comparison, a cup of coffee (un cafe) costs around €1. Oh, and if you want coffee with cream, ask for café creme [ka-fe-KHEM].

10. Take a package tour. Many package tours include fare, lodging and meals, sometimes even entrance to a few well-known spots. The upside? After taking everything into calculation, this might just prove to be the cheapest option. However, I find it a major disadvantage to have to follow the tour group’s schedule. You will, more likely than not, end up not having enough time to stay in the places that you’re most interested in. Ask around a bit before committing to a package tour because some unscrupulous tour operators spend very little time in the popular tourist spots — with very little time to even take photos — but set aside hours for shopping.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am recording this for posterity.

At 2 years and 3 months, the twins can:

  • identify the major colours;
  • identify common animals and some of the not-so-common ones, like the flamingo;
  • identify fruits;
  • identify shapes and state the shape of objects;
  • understand the concept of numbers and counting;
  • count up to 10 in English, Malay, Spanish and Arabic;
  • count objects;
  • have a vocabulary that includes words like tusks, beak, clouds, stripes, crane (for construction, not the bird), and excavator
  • sing nursery rhymes like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “Row Your Boat”

One time, I showed them a photo of a swan that I took in Amsterdam. That same night, we went to a neighbour’s house and Twin1 excitedly exclaimed ‘Swan!’, pointing at a small ceramic swan inside the display cabinet. I never expected them to be able to associate the photo of the real thing with its ceramic equivalent.

That’s not an isolated case. A couple of months ago, they saw a CD with an illustration of the Petronas Twin Towers. Later that week, we were driving past the real thing and the twins excitedly pointed out to me “Twin Towers.” I was surprised how they recognised the actual building based on a simple line illustration of the world-famous landmark.

I’m their mother and tend to be biased, so I dare say that the twins’ recent development has been quite phenomenal 😉

But kidding aside, people often ask me how I raise my children — if there’s a special nutritional supplement that I give them, or a certain book that I use, or a special commercial method that I follow. And I always answer “no”.

Tips on Boosting Children’s Intelligence

Many articles state genetics and the environment to be the main factors that determine a child’s intelligence. Genetics is something that we don’t have much control over. We can, however, provide an environment that will — hopefully — nurture, stimulate and boost our children’s intelligence.

Twin 1
Twin 2

For my part, what I always do is talk to my children constantly, even when they were still infants. Whenever we are in the car, I point out objects to them — bus, car, tree, clouds, balloon. I also read to them a lot, even if all it entails is pointing out details in the pictures and illustrations, as younger children have shorter attention spans. I found this simple method to be very effective for building up their vocabulary. It’s as though they keep all those words in their memory for the first 2 years of their lives and, by the time they start talking, the floodgates open and all those words just come tumbling out.

I have read that some exposure to music early in life can also boost children’s intelligence. Hence, I play the occasional classical music to them, especially during infancy. And I sing to them a lot — nursery rhymes, silly songs that I learned when I was a child, songs from “The Sound of Music” (Do-Re-Mi, My Favourite Things, The Lonely Goatherd) and “Mary Poppins” (Fly A Kite, Stay Awake, Supercallifragilisticexpeallidocious). There’s something about the repetitiveness and the rhyming of the words that makes my children love nursery rhymes so much, especially when I do the hand movements while singing. They make a very captive and appreciative audience, mind you 😉

I’m also always on the lookout for new input — the littlest things like ants marching in the backyard, a spider web, a bird’s nest — which I point out to them and describe to them in as much detail as I can.

I let them touch, smell and feel new objects — sand, flowers, water, fabrics in a textile shop, sheepskin at Ikea — even when they were still babies.

As they get bigger, I explain to them how things work or how things are made (at this point, it helps to watch Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel once in a while!) , in order to arouse their curiosity towards the world around them and to whet their appetite for learning.

I also allow them to ‘help’ me in the kitchen, measuring flour, breaking the eggs into a bowl, stirring the batter, setting up the table. Of course, with three sets of ‘helping hands’ in the kitchen, it can get chaotic sometimes, and ended up in my forgetting certain key ingredients (like sugar!) at one time or another.

Even though a lot of experts frown on TV, I do allow my children to watch TV. But I make it a point to watch TV with them, to make sure there’s nothing objectionable with the content of the shows that they watch. If I see anything that is morally not right, I immediately point it out to them and explain it to them, if I have to, so that they’ll know it’s not okay. I encourage them to watch shows like How Do They Do It or Mythbusters, which they thoroughly enjoy. And — this may sound surprising to many of you — I blocked Cartoon Network because I don’t feel that cartoons like ‘Cow and Chicken’, ‘Ed, Edd and Eddy’ and ‘Tom & Jerry’ are suitable for children. I’ve noticed that my children tend to get more aggressive (i.e. hit each other and fight) when they watch shows like ‘Tom & Jerry’ and ‘Teen Titans’. I personally prefer ‘Blues Clues‘ and ‘Dora The Explorer‘, which entertains kids from 2 to 10, even ‘kids’ in their mid-30′s hehe! 😉

I strongly encourage my children to engage in all forms of play that involves the imagination — to engage in pretend play using whatever materials we have at home, to stare at clouds and think of what they closely resemble, to ask questions that start with “what if…”. So when it comes to toys, wooden blocks and Lego or any other toy that can be joined together or that involves imagination, such as cooking toys, are must-have’s. I even allow my boys to pretend to cook, to a lot of people’s horror, as they say “it’s only for girls”. I also make them homemade play dough from all-purpose flour, cream of tartar, cooking oil, salt and some food colouring.

And yes, I always try to answer their questions, no matter how silly they are. This is no easy feat, as they tend to ask me questions all at the same time!

Finally, I make it a point to ‘catch’ my children doing something right. And when I do, I praise them for it to reinforce such exemplary behaviour. You’ll be surprised at how effective this can be. Very soon, you’ll find them alerting you of the stuff they did, such as putting their clothes in the laundry bin without being told, sharing something with their siblings, stuff like that. It’s a very refreshing change from the kids’ telling me – “Abang pukul Adik” (Big Brother hit Little Brother) or “Kakak tak nak share” (Big Sister doesn’t want to share). Of course, this does not mean that I don’t scold them when I catch them doing something wrong. I still do. But when I put a lot of emphasis on the positive things that they do, I find that they do more of the stuff that earns them praise and hugs and kisses from Mama and less of the stuff that makes Mama go mad 😉

Perhaps you’re wondering what it’s like to travel with 5 kids. To put it mildly? STRESSFUL!!!

The packing alone is daunting. I always try to minimize the amount of luggage that we have to take along but, at the same time, I learned the hard way from past trips that it’s safer to bring some extras rather than run out of, say, diapers or baby formula in a country where packages are labeled in a totally different script such as Thai or Chinese or Arabic.

Here’s my packing list:-

  • Swimming clothes
  • Goggles
  • Kickboards for the bigger kids (1 each)
  • Arm bands for the twins
  • Sunblock
  • Day clothes (1 per day + 2 extra per big kid)
  • Night clothes (1 per night + 2 extra each for the twins)
  • Underwear (2 per day per child)
  • Spare towels
  • Diapers (4 for daytime + 2 for nighttime x 4 days x 2 toddlers + 10 pcs extra, just in case)
  • Band-Aids
  • Medicated oil (for tummy aches & insect bites)
  • Baby oil (can be used as moisturiser, also for hair)
  • Head-to-toe wash
  • Slippers
  • Toys (to play with at the airport, in the plane, in the van en route to/from the hotel)
  • Pencils and paper (to entertain them when the toys get boring)
  • Pokemon trading cards (kept them out of my hair during the entire flight)
  • Travel Monopoly kid’s edition
  • Assorted crackers & tidbits (because kids get ravenous after playing in the beach/pool)
  • Instant noodles (for middle-of-the-night-tummy-growlies)
  • 1 pack of Koko Krunch
  • 1 carton fresh milk
  • Milk bottles
  • Milk powder
  • Bottle brush
  • Liquid detergent (for washing the bottles)
  • Charcoal tablets (crush and dissolve in water, for the bigger kids) and/or oral rehydration salts (as diarrhea can strike anytime!)
  • Passports

Don’t you feel exhausted just by reading this?? And these are just the stuff that I had to pack for the kids! 😉

It’s a good thing that the bigger kids could pick out their own clothes already. So all I needed to do was to make sure they made suitable choices and then pick out clothes for the twins.

It’s a good thing, as well, that the kids have outgrown their asthma, so I no longer have to bring any nasal sprays or aspirators. For some reason, all five of them went through an asthmatic phase when they were babies. The twins were hospitalized at least once when they were about 8 months old. RoundBoy had to be rushed to the clinic in the middle of the night almost every month for like 6 months in a row. He also had an asthma attack when we went to Fraser’s Hill when he was about 3 years old.

Most of all, it’s a HUGE relief that the twins don’t have any stuffy-wuffs or blankies that might get misplaced before, during or after the trip. Several parenting sites recommend getting kids attached to a toy or blanket, so they’ll have something familiar to hold on to when they have to be left in a daycare centre or have to go on a trip. I did try introducing all sorts of soft toys and pillows to the twins but they never got attached to anything, unlike MyEldest who had his yellow horsie, OnlyGirl who had her pillow or RoundBoy who had Tiger. So that was one thing less to worry about.

Sanity-preserving tips when traveling with children:

Sanity-preserving tip #1: A few days before the trip, prepare a checklist of the things that you need to bring. Review the list a few times to make sure you didn’t miss anything and tick each item as you put it in the bag.

Sanity-preserving tip #2: Pack the food and ‘entertainment’ items (toys, books, colour pencils, etc.) in a small bag, preferably one that’s waterproof, and separate from the diaper bag, if you have a lot of kids like me. Once you reach your destination, make a quick trip to the local grocery store to top up the contents of the food bag – buy some drinks in small tetra packs as well as a few bottles of mineral water, buy a few packs of yogurt and keep them in your hotel room’s mini-fridge, buy a few sweets. I don’t usually buy sweets for my children but I make sure I buy a few rolls of Mentos (the tutti-frutti type) for the twins when on the road because Mentos can avert chaos.

Sanity-preserving tip #3: Prepare the clothes in sets – shirt, matching pants/skirt & underwear – so whenever the kids need a change of clothes, you just grab one set and not have to rummage inside the bag for the rest of the clothes.

Sanity-preserving tip #4: Bring basic medication for yourself and the kids – charcoal tablets or oral rehydration salts for diarrhea, some paracetamol, some oil or ointment for painful tummies or insect bites, medicines for your family’s specific condition(s), such as asthma. But keep in mind the latest airline regulations on the 100ml limit on liquids.

Sanity-preserving tip #5: Stuffy-wuffs and blankies can soothe children especially in a strange hotel room, but it can also mean major tantrums and last-minute frantic searches if a stuffy-wuff or blankie goes missing. So if you have to introduce your child to a teddy bear, for instance, try to keep an identical teddy bear as a spare. You can always give it away later on.