Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Film news at Photokina

The German Photokina camera exhibition is in full swing, and there's a couple of interesting film developments:

  • Epson has finally released the successors to their V700 film scanners, creatively named the V800. They promise better optics, 6400dpi resolution(1), LED back-light and better film holders. The changes are welcome, and while it's certainly not worth replacing my V700, I'm very happy there's a successor waiting for me if it would break.

  • Some three years after Leica said they'd not release any new film cameras, they've ...released a new film camera: Leica M-A 

    The M-A is the brutally minimalist version of their MP film camera. With no electronics of any kind, there's not even a battery holder. You'll need an external light meter or rely on Sunny-16 for this one. Intriguing idea, and probably a lot of fun to use, though if I could afford a new film Leica I'd likely pick the M7 or MP instead.

#1 Note that the current V700 promises 4800 dpi but doesn't achieve more than about 2200-2400dpi in practice. We'll see if this is a real improvement or just a marketing figure.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Phone Payments

Apple, like Google and others before them, are launching a phone payment system. We have a system for phone payments here in Japan already. It's based on "Felica", the standard card system in Japan. It's a precursor to the NFC-based payment cards used all over the world and to the phone payment systems introduced by Google and now Apple. Most domestic phones have it built in, and it's quite popular.

Yes, yes, we love our phones. That doesn't mean we need to use them for everything.

And I don't understand why that is. Why do you want to have your commuter pass (that's the most common use) or small-payment card as part of your phone? Instead of a separate plastic card in your wallet or a card holder? Yes, your phone is always with you, but then, so is your wallet. And a card won't break or lose power. I see these scenarios in my mind:

You're on your way to work. The subway turnstiles are crowded as usual. You juggle your bag and coat to take our your pass. Just as you swipe it you get bumped from behind and you lose your grip; it drops hard to the floor, and gets stepped on for good measure. You pick up your..., and realize it's dead. It refuses to turn on and the screen has a large, glittering spiderweb of cracks around the corner where it fell to the stone tile floor. The insides make a sad little maraca-like sound as you futilely try to shake it awake. Not going to pay anything with this for a while. Or make calls, check email or throw birds at pigs.

...wallet, and realize it's not just dusty, it even has a footprint on it. You vaguely wipe it off as you hustle to the train and realize it may be time to actually wash it one of these months.

Also, for all that I love my phone, for all that I love the power, knowledge and convenience of our digital world, I am also acutely aware of just how rickety and error-prone our software ecosystems are. Our general-purpose computers, tablets and phones are beset by software problems big and small. They're not the most reliable of machines:

You stand in line to buy a lunch bento at the convenience store when you realize your phone got a software update. Unfortunately, it seems there's a problem; your... payment app keeps crashing. You repeatedly try to restart it, and even reboot your phone, but it doesn't help. As the line behind you grows longer and more annoyed you dig frantically through your pockets for small change to pay for your food.

...favourite game keeps crashing. As you pay for your lunch and walk back to work you darkly ponder the prospect of a whole lunch break without flinging a single irate avian.

So no, I don't want Mobile Felica, Google Wallet, Apple Pay or any other way to pay with my phone. I don't want to use my phone as a house key either, or as a workplace security pass. I prefer a life where I don't entrust all the most important and sensitive functions to the single least secure and reliable thing I own.

Local feline
It's a cat. I hear the internets likes cats. And it's taken with a phone. I hear the internets likes phones.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Diving And Drowning

We've back from the Netherlands and Amsterdam — and I haven't posted about Okinawa yet, to say nothing about the summer festival at the local temple, my birthday and other things… I'm drowning in unedited pictures and unfinished posts and I don't see a way to really catch up. I'm hereby declaring Blog Bankruptcy.

What will that mean? I will no longer even try to write long, single posts about things like travel. At this pace I'd be posting about our summer holiday in December and New Year in July. And I won't try to keep things in chronological order. Instead I'll post bits and fragments when they're ready, in whatever order they come.

And with the drowning bit out of the way, here a few pictures from underwater Okinawa. As you may remember I went to Okinawa this summer to tutor at OCNC, a computational science summer school. I won't say too much about the school; it was fun and very educational for me as well as (hopefully) for the students, but it was work, not play, and the details aren't really interesting to others.

But we did have some free time during the course, and Ritsuko came to Okinawa towards the end so we could spend a weekend together. And we spent much of that time snorkeling.

Cape Maeda is a famous and popular diving spot. It's easy to get to, easy to get in the water, and fairly shallow so it's good for snorkelers as well as beginning divers. The only drawback is its popularity; during weekends you hardly see the fish or coral for all the divers, snorkeling tours, boats, and swimmers.

Cape Maeda
The stairs down to the water at Cape Maeda.

The wildlife here is very used to humans. Many tour guides feed the fish to get them close, so some species really crowd around you hoping for something to eat. These batfish aren't quite that familiar with people, but if you wait a while you have a good shot at getting a picture.

Blue Cave
The Blue Cave is a famous spot at Maeda. It's a seaside cave going back a few tens of meters into the cliff, ending with a small opening to land. Below the surface the world turns a brilliant clear blue colour — when the view isn't obstructed by people, that is.

Fish (surgeonfish, perhaps) crowd around a float off the Maeda coast. The waters here really are this lively.

A fellow tutor finds a few moments to relax in the warm water.

Manzamo is another spot. north of Maeda. Unlike Maeda, though, it's not that easy to get to. The divers' entry point is a fairly rugged cliff at the end of some slippery rock formations. Nothing for beginners. There's a small sandy beach to one side, but you can only enter during high tide and to get there you have to use a narrow path through the rocks and dense brush; that makes me nervous what with the Habu snakes and all.

But the effort is worth it — wonderful, wide fields of coral sloping down to the sea shelf where it suddenly drops to several tens of meters of more. Divers can even see sea turtles here. And there's rarely any other snorkelers around so you can explore in peace and quiet. I didn't have much luck with photography this time, with the memory card full of near-misses. But it was a memorable experience, with lionfish, a stone fish and many other sights.

Crown of Thorns
A Crown of Thorns starfish is eating a coral.

Crown of Thorns
Some mixed corals along the sea bed.

A bright-blue starfish.

After the end of the three-week course I met up with Ritsuko at the nearby Rizzan Resort, a family-oriented resort hotel just down the coast from OIST.

Rizzan Hotel
Rizzan Resort hotel. Yes, it's big; and yes, it's a bit loud and in-your-face. But the atmosphere is relaxed and easygoing, and the young families crowding the place seemed to have just as much fun here as we did.

The wedding "chapel" at the Rizzan — it's not consecrated or anything. Wedding events is a major part of business for resorts. All wedding guests stay at the hotel for the ceremony, the couple get married and can spend their honeymoon right here. Many guests would need to travel wherever they got married anyway, so this may even end up less expensive than a regular wedding overall.

To our surprise, even the beach just outside our hotel had a fair amount of marine life. We took a quick snorkeling tour as well. It was fun, but unfortunately we had to wear vests so no diving down for pictures.

Close, but not quite
A clown fish almost manages to avoid detection in his anemone.

Small seascape literally a couple of meters from the hotel beach. People were swimming right above, never realizing this kind of scenery exists below.

Titan Triggerfish
A Titan Triggerfish.

Living Under a Rock
A busy ecosystem literally living under a rock at the hotel beach.

Picasso Triggerfish
A Picasso Triggerfish.

A whole school of …something rushes right past us.

Sunset at Tancha bay.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Poster Pro-tip

We're packing for a trip to the INCF conference in Leiden in the Netherlands. I'm presenting a poster, and I thought I'd give people a quick tip or two, in case you didn't already know about this.

There's many great sites out there to help you make a good poster(1) and teach you how to present it. I haven't seen a lot of practical tips on actually bringing the poster to the venue.

1) Use a real poster carrier. Preferably buy your own. Really, they're lighter and thinner than a cardboard tube, there's no end caps to lose, and the strap makes them much easier to carry. And with your own tube you can mark it so it's easy to find in a sea of similar ones. To my surprise, they're also really cheap. I got a new one for this trip at Daiso for just 200 yen. I don't think a cardboard tube that size is any cheaper.

2) Don't just shove the poster into the carrier. It can scuff the edges and it makes the poster hard to get out again. Roll it up, wrap a sheet of copy paper around the middle and secure it with tape. It'll lie loose in the carrier and drop right out into your hand when you open the tube.

Poster packing
My poster is ready to go, snug in its own carrier. I printed a second copy cut it in two and rolled it up into packing paper to go in my carry-on. If I forget the real poster in some airport bathroom I'll still be able to do the presentation.

3) Make a backup. Always. You don't want to be the poor sod that's rushing about in a panic trying to find a place to print out an A0 poster the morning of the conference. The world is a big, scary place for a poor, helpless poster, and anything can happen on the way. You may lose your luggage (not all airlines allow you to bring it into the cabin), and you can so easily forget the poster in the airplane, in a cab, or in a bathroom. Never mind that it can get stolen, run over or destroyed in any number of ways.

The best way I know to backup is to print a second copy. Design your poster so you can cut it either lengthwise down the middle or sidewise into three pieces. Roll these pieces together into a short tube that will fit into your carry-on. Sure, a visible seam is a little annoying, but it's much, much better than having no poster if something bad happens to your uncut copy.

Here's the poster I'm presenting. Notice how I can easily cut it down the middle without
destroying anything. With a bit of tweaking I could have cut it lengthwise instead.

4) Don't bother bringing tacks, tape or anything like that. I've never been to a conference where such things weren't abundant. A couple of thin ink pens in different colors is a good idea, though; you may find a mistake or something on your poster and they'll let you do last-minute corrections or clarifications.

All done, ready to go. See you in a week!

#1 I actually favour dense posters with plenty of information. I want to be able to read and understand the work without having to ask the presenter anything. They may be absent of busy talking to somebody else, after all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Another month, another vote

Time to vote again, this time in our national elections. I'm happy that Sweden makes it easy to vote as a foreign resident. The first time as a foreign resident voter I had to get myself a voting packet; I got one from our embassy in Tokyo during a business trip. From then on, I get one sent to me automagically before every election. I don't need to register or do anything as long as they have my current address.

My postal vote for our national elections. It's a simple and straightforward process.

As a foreign resident, I can only cast a ballot for the national election; I can't vote in the regional or local elections as I don't actually live in Sweden. On the other hand, long-term foreign residents in Sweden are allowed to vote in the local elections but not in the regional or national polls. It seems reasonable to reserve local elections for the people actually living there.

Japanese foreign residents only won the right to vote in the 1990's, and they have to register with their local embassy to vote. On the other hand, nowadays they're apparently allowed to vote in local elections as well as nationally; I guess at the last place they lived in Japan. I'm not allowed to vote even in local elections, as the right of suffrage is limited to Japanese citizens. This, too, is a reasonable standpoint, I think.

The process is simple. I get a blank ticket and voting envelope, a cover envelope, and a third envelope to put in the post. I write my preferred party on the ticket and put into the envelope. On the cover envelope I write my name and personal ID number, and I ask two people to verify that I am who I am, and that I put my vote into the cover envelope myself. I seal the outer envelope and the witnesses sign the back(1). This goes into the outer envelope that I drop off at the post office.

It's quite quick and painless; very similar to how absentee ballots work inside the country. And unlike most Swedes, I don't have to suffer through months of political campaigning, junk mail, advertisements and all the rest. I can find out everything I need quickly and easily through the net and decide on my vote without a 24/7 bombardment of hyperbole and vote-getting initiatives. In fact, as I've now already cast my vote I can sit back and enjoy the frantic final month of campaigning with amused detachment.

What's going to happen, by the way? Well, the sitting center-right coalition will lose. A don't-call-us-a-coalition between the Social democrats, the Greens and the Communists will win. That seems pretty much clear already. The interesting questions are:

  • Will the we're-not-a-coalition-really reach majority or will they need the support of other parties?
  • Will the Social Democrats cross a line and give the Communists a minister post?
  • Will the racist Sweden Democrats get the deciding balance of votes in the parliament, and if so, will the Social Democrats breach their promise to never rule with their support? And in that case, will the we-were-never-a-coalition-anyway fall apart?
  • Will the Feminists manage to get seats in the parliament, and if so, how will that change the power balance?
  • Will the arch-conservative religious Christian Democrats lose their seats or not? What about the other small parties?

If the Social Democrats accepts support from SD to form a government, it's likely the Greens and the Communists would refuse to join. A minority Social democrat-Green-Communist not-a-coalition would probably fail to get support from elsewhere due to the Communists. A Social Democrat-Green coalition might get support from center right parties, but that would kill their own internal support base.

We could get into a situation where no viable combination of parties could form a majority government. And you need a positive show of support in the parliament to form a government now, so a minority government with implicit support is not really feasible. But this all crucially depends on the small parties — who gets in and who gets tossed out. A few tenths of a percent of votes will potentially completely reshape the political landscape this time around. It's going to be entertaining to watch.

#1 the only minor issue I've had is to explain the difference between signing your name on one hand and printing your name below that on the other, for people that always use inkan for verification and don't even have a handwriting signature.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Still Alive

Just want to make a quick post to assure people that yes, I'm still alive and I do intend to start posting here again. The good news is that the summer heat has finally loosened its grip on Osaka. The bad news is that the reason is an approaching typhoon. I may have to take a rubber dinghy to my Japanese lesson today.

In a few weeks I will attend INCF in Leiden in the Netherlands, where I'll present a poster about our modelling work there. As I vaguely promised some performance data in our abstract, I'm very busy actually generating that data in time for the conference. I'll probably give up on doing proper full-size posts about this summer and just do a few picture posts later on.

Sunset over Tancha, Okinawa.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I'm Done

I know, I haven't written anything here all July. No post about Okinawa or about anything else. I also haven't emailed friends, or worked on my side projects, or read any books, or studied Japanese. It's summer, again, with temperatures in the 35°–40° range, and my body shuts down in this heat. Constantly tired, constant headaches, no strength and no appetite. This is one time I wish we'd live in cooler, breezier Okinawa.

The cikadas are out in force again. I think this is a "kumasemi"; perhaps the most common species here in Kansai. In parks and wooded areas they're so loud they drown out all other sounds. You can't even talk to other people without shouting.

I've long thought that I'd eventually get used to the summers here. But no, I realize that I won't. If anything it's worse this year than usual. Up until last week it was still OK, but now it's all I can do to push through at work, then quietly collapse the moment I get home. Yesterday I was falling asleep right at the dinner table.

Air conditioners are only marginally better than nothing. Belching ice-cold, clammy air into the room may make it cooler, but it sure doesn't make you comfortable. You can sit and sweat in the heat, while wearing thick, woollen socks because the floor is freezing. An effective cooling system would probably have to completely replace the air instead of just trying to mix cold and hot, but that would be like living in a wind tunnel; not sure it'd be any improvement.

I give up. Better to accept the weather than try to fight it. Sleep, rest and relax, and avoid any non-work pressures. I'll post, or keep in touch, if or when I feel up to it. If I don't, I won't. Other things can wait. Looking forward to autumn.