Here comes a new challenger

New technology time!  My favourite time, really.

For documenting my time in Japan, my camera is something I carry with me all over the place.  I still use my Sony A300 DSLR regularly, but there’s one problem: it’s a heavy, obtrusive camera.  I feel the need to cart a wide angle and telephoto lens everywhere I go, and feel self-conscious touting it around stores looking for hilariously misspelled English to take photos of.  Additionally, some things like festivals can’t be completely captured as a still frame, so the addition of moving pictures (which I’ve coined the phrase “mopics” for) would be more than handy.

Yes, there are camera phones, but the image quality and response time always feels sub-par.  The other downside of phone cameras in Japan is that as an anti-pervert measure (by law?) the shutter noise cannot be turned off.  This is apparently a regional change to the Japanese version of the iPhone too.  Needless to say, although my objectives are pure (honest!), you don’t always want to break the dead silence of a packed train carriage with the tell-tale shutter noise.  Cameras without a phone feature, strangely, do not appear to be subject to this ruling, and can be run silently.  So, I decided it was time to take the plunge and look at the compact camera market.

After a bit of asking around, I ended up with Sony’s very slick new TX7, which I’m extremely happy with after three days of extensive use.  For around AUD $350 via Amazon Japan, not only does it include a wide range of impressive still shot features, but also the ability to do HD 1920×1080@60i movies!  These look absolutely gorgeous on the TX7’s 3.5 inch touchscreen – running eerily smoothly, they almost look hyper-real.

The sad part is that my three year-old laptop lacks the horsepower to display high quality movies smoothly.  So, I’m reduced to viewing them on the camera itself or converting them to a lesser format.

The video functions seem to perform very well in low light, too.  Although I don’t know if this clip runs in 60i on YouTube, try cranking the quality up to 1080p and tell me how it looks.  Unfortunately, my machine can only handle up to 720p.

The camera itself is slightly larger than a credit card, and 1.7cm thick.  It’s easily pocket-able along with my mobile phone, and easy to grab when the occasion demands.  So finally, I have a “go everywhere” camera I can use without diving into my backpack to grab my SLR.

You may also be surprised to find out that this camera can even take photos!  As well as taking a fairly decent shot for a compact camera, it’s got a couple of new modes I was pleasantly surprised at.  The first is a panorama (a.k.a. stitch) mode.  Stitching photos together is nothing new, but the joy of this camera is that it does all the processing inside the phone almost instantly.  Select a direction to pan the camera, press the shutter button, start smoothly swinging the camera around – a handy gauge tracks how fast you’re moving the camera and how much room you have left in your arc – and the stitched image appears almost instantaneously.

When I was a boy, why, we had to stitch our photos together in the snow!  With no shoes on!  Uphill!  It built character, I say.

But this is way easier.

The other feature of note is a HDR mode, processed in-camera.  HDR is the process of taking three separate shots of the same scene at different exposures, then later combining the shots together to try to “correct” the problems of under and overexposure in parts of a scene with varied lighting.  Usually, I have to do this manually via software, but the TX7 does it quickly and automatically, all in-camera.  The results don’t give you nearly as much control as a program like Photomatrix, but for the minimal effort required, it works a treat.

Anyway, that’s the quick introduction to the new member of the blog.  It really is amazing to me that they stuffed so many features into such a small box.  Hopefully I’ll be able to put it to good use soon to show some aspects of Japan I haven’t been able to until now.

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They pulsed with the might of the almost psychic

In Akihabara (a.k.a. electronic geek heaven) last weekend, the following interesting assembly could be spied in front of Yodobashi Camera’s flagship store: about 30 people standing in a loose mob playing their Nintendo DSes.

I wish I had brought my DS with me to see what they were doing.  I tried to surreptitiously look over the shoulder of multiple players, but the glare off the screen defeated me each time.  There were no signs advertising what they were up to, or even if they were playing the same game.

There’s something intriguing about seeing such a large number of people wordlessly sharing the same experience.  Once we can embed something like a DS in our brains, enabling us to communicate thoughts instantly over wireless protocols, the creation of a psychic class of humans will be complete.  Likewise, a non-psychic class will also be instantly, unwillingly created.  Those who don’t have a DS-like implanted chip will be forever on the outside, knowing that whatever we can’t join in with must be totally, life-changingly amazing.

For now, our crude psychers have to stand around on the street, leaning against trees and trying to look nonchalant, manipulating their thoughts over the air with cheap plastics, electronics and manual dexterity.   It will have to do for now.  Sigh.

It’s okay to geek out now and then

For the fans of Japanese animation out there, you might like these coin lockers advertising the Neon Genesis Evangelion movie that came earlier this year.  You can (or at least, could) find this in Akihabara, technology paradise, where coin lockers are in plentiful supply for all those giant robot figurines you’ve been “investing” in.

I’ve also just realised that besides now, the sum total of my manga and anime-related postings is only one other time!   You’d almost wonder which country I was actually in.

I will eat your Sol

It’s Astronomy Day!  Astronomers read for free.  Astrologers can read for free too, but should then bang their head against their nearest spirit totem, saying “Why must I always believe in lies?”.

So, I’ve complained about the kanji (Chinese characters) from time to time in the past.  Specifically, that there’s a lot of them to learn (around 2000 for basic literacy); that before you learn them, there’s no clues about how to pronounce them; and that each character has the nasty habit of changing pronunciations between words, sometimes as much as 10 or more different ways.

Sometimes though, I really like them. Like today.

With a solar eclipse upon us on July 22, naturally there was a bit of talk in the office about it. As I learned today, in Japanese, solar eclipse is translated as nisshoku, and it looks like this written in kanji:

Breaking it down:

means the sun.

means to eat.

Which means that a solar eclipse is… “eating the sun”.  When they were handing out awesomness quotas to words, “eating the sun” got the mother lode.

So a lunar eclipse would be…?

Yep, eating the moon – gesshoku.

If only more things could be so logical and poetic at the same time.

Postscript: sadly, because of bad weather in Tokyo, looks like no-one here will see much of anything tomorrow.  I will just have to imagine the spectacle of cosmic limb being ripped before cosmic limb before being consumed by the bloody, dripping maw of the moon.

Or, it will get dark for a little while.  I forget which.

Whereupon my childhood fantasy gland explodes

I don’t like to drop The Science on you too much, but scientifically speaking, the only way this could possibly be cooler is if this was wailing a power chord on a Stratocaster on top of a windswept cliff in a circa 1987 music video:

Gundam

That’s right: Japan has finally built a giant robot.  This is the long-awaited 1:1 scale model of one of the robots from the extremely popular Gundam cartoon series. How big is it? Plenty big enough to crush me and the other 400 puny humans taking photos on this particular afternoon:

Gundam observes puny humans

As you’ll see, it’s not quite open yet.  The structure has been complete for about a week or so, but won’t be fully open until next month.  Actually, it gives me an excellent excuse to go back for a second look because each night it will light up, move, spew smoke and kill everyone in a one kilometer radius (probably).

Gundam

The attention to detail is incredible – check out the decals on the arms and legs.

Gundam

Gundam

Honestly?  If civilisation has to end, I think I’ve made my choice about how that should happen.

Gundam

You can find some shots of the Gundam all lit up during a test run too, which I’m deeply enviously about since I’ll have to wait until I go back again next month – me and half of Tokyo, most likely.

If you happen to be in Tokyo and want to see Gundam, go to Daiba Station on the Yurikamome line then walk to nearby Shiokaze Park. When your gob has been smacked, you’ll know you’re there.

Behold, the distant present!

One of the cool things about living in Japan is how much earlier all the games come out here. Decades earlier. So get ready to suffer in your jocks: I’ve got Mario Kart!

What’s that? You already have Mario Kart? It’s out everywhere around the world already? Well… okay then, smart guy, is your “Mario Kaato” box in Japanese?

So, I believe that puts me 318 cachet points up for the all-important win. And just to pile on a few more points, rather than a steering wheel, the Mario Kart accessory is interestingly called a “doraibingu handoru” (driving handle) in Japanese.

At any rate, I’d been hanging out for this version of Mario Kart for ages, trying to recapture my misspent youth with the original Super Nintendo version. Unfortunately, my nostalgia gland omitted to remind me how freaking frustrating Mario Kart can be at times. Still, it’s great to justify playing games as Japanese study, even if the only words I really need to know are “last lap”, “you lost”, and a healthy sailor’s vocabulary.

One day son, all this will be yours

In Odaiba, a very popular leisure spot in Tokyo, there’s the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.   There’s lots of great stuff there but the crown jewel is this:

A honkin’ big globe.  The really cool part is that this globe is animated, and can download feeds of real-time weather data to display clouds and the like.  Not only that, but it can cycle through different types of data, like thermal images, or night light maps, or data overlays.

Thoughtfully, there are some reclining chairs in the viewing gallery below so you can lie back and watch the world go by:

I really, really want one of these for my living room.  Slight problem though – I would have to rent the apartments of my both next door neighbours, as well as those above and below.  And then there are some pesky walls in the way.

But this is Japan, the land of miniaturisation!  I sit by my letterbox, eagerly awaiting the news that I can own the most educational disco ball ever created.