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.