August 22, 2008

Japanese Serow – Prefectural Animal of Nagano

To avoid the mid-day heat last month, I explored a trail that runs along a ridge at the base of the highlands above Chino, Nagano. The level trail is cut into the steep rocky slope just a dozen or so meters above the roads and houses, shaded by a heavy, mixed forest, with frequent spaces providing nice views of the valley and the Yatsugatake mountain range beyond.

Last Monday, having just arrived from Tokyo and needing to walk from the train station about thirty minutes to where I teach, I decided to take the trail again-- my third time. To my surprise, I came upon what at first I thought to be a deer-- but it was black. I then noted its terrier-like bearded head and small spike-like horns-- a mountain goat!

I took about ten photos-- none very good, sad to say, as I wasn't very close. It curiously watched me the whole time, even enduring when I unwittingly and repeatedly used the flash (it was heavily shaded where we stood). I later learned that such a sighting is quite rare, especially so close to the city. Locals even suggested I contact the local newspaper.

It looked very healthy and strong-- and moved powerfully and gracefully up the hill when I tried to get a bit closer. It looked a lot stronger and more powerful than the photos and descriptions I have found on line. The site that I felt gave the best description is here.

August 21, 2008

Tokyo 'Net Rooms' Offer Help

This is my letter to the editor regarding 'Behind the News: Is communal living the key to a happy society? 19 August 2008

[note: I had to remove the link to this article, as after a few days the paper's articles are archived, and require a fee-- sorry. Lesson learned. Next time I will at least summarize what what in the article. If you do need to find it for any reason, go to: It's a 525yen monthly fee.]

Dear Editor: During my recent trip to Tokyo, I was amazed at the intensity of the city-- while at the same time noticed those who stuggle at the fringes of this massive 'machine'.

I wish the Tokyo 'net rooms' and related projects success in helping those who find themselves outside the limited graces of our increasingly cold self-seeking society. Sadly, we rarely notice those who have fallen 'off the grid' into isolation, destitution, desperation and despair-- except briefly when some turn to crime, suicide or random acts of violence.

We all benefit from our connections to our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and fellow citizens-- nationally and internationally. However, 'intentional communities'-- a broader term of which the article's mention of communes is part-- increase our interdependence. They increase the power of 'us' when so much energy is being channeled into 'me'.

More than an aid for those who are desperate and have nothing, cooperative living is also an option for those who have everything and want more. Having experienced living in Christian communities in nine countries for nearly forty years, I see cooperative living as a powerful, beneficial, caring, loving alternative for our world-- as opposed to the 'New World Order' of selfish dog-eat-dog materialistic aggression and its ultimate fulfillment in war.

Where are more entrepreneurs of love?-- the World needs you!

Bruce, Nagano

August 08, 2008

Tokyo Ueno Zoo

Andrew was determined to see the zoo-- the one place he'd really wanted to see last last year when we did a walking tour of Tokyo on the hottest day in recorded Japanese history.
Ueno Zoo is in the large Ueno Central Park-- full of not only trees and fountains, but also home to the National Art Museum, performing arts centers, various other art museums and a science and natural history museum. Photo at left in part of a set found here-- the National Museum, a fountain and a home-less man-- of which there are many.
I love zoos-- and this was of the most pleasant I've been to-- surprisingly spacious for the center of Tokyo and uncrowded, in spite of it being a holiday. There were lots of trees, pleasant enclosures for the animals and.... oh, don't feed the gorillas.
I've posted a set of thirteen zoo photos on Picasa.

August 07, 2008

Out and About

Well, Andrew and I are off for another summer holiday adventure. We always meet lots of interesting people and they often visit this site, so... HELLO! Welcome.

To see how we will be traveling, check this post from last year:

Holiday Hitching Japanese Style

We'll post our adventure's story and some photos in about ten days.

August 01, 2008

An Ode to My Phone-Camera-- and Moving On

For several years, nearly all my photos have been taken with the nice 3.2 megapixel camera in my Sharp cell phone. Given good light, a steady hand and an immobile subject, I was able to get some good results and move them to my computer via the flash memory card.

Here is what I learned from using this camera:

If you always have your camera with you and easily accessible, you'll get lots of shots.

The more photos that you take, the more likely you are to get something special.

Holding the camera with two hands and resting on something solid makes clearer pics.

Here is an article that incorporates much of what I learned:

A Dozen Ways to Take Better Camera-Phone Pictures

However, for low light and action situations I wanted something more than its tiny lens, so a few months ago I began to research to see what I needed and how to get the best 'bang for my buck'.

... see my search in part two: DSLR or a Digicam?

DSLR or a Digicam?

I'd seen digital SLR camera prices tumble since I first looked at them. However, I questioned if, in the course of my day, I would walk around with such a large camera. Was I ready to become Mr. Photog?-- Or would I end up with the camera buried in my bag or, worse, left at home?

Price was my main determiner. I could only afford to get one camera, so I needed one that would serve my purposes-- not necessarily my every desire for a 'super' camera, but one that would capture what I wanted to save or share of my life-- a 'story-telling' camera.

I found two articles that I feel are especially well-written intros to digital cameras. The first calls getting an SLR-- with through the lens viewing and a much larger sensor to capture the image-- a 'no-brainer'-- unless portability is an issue: Snappy Reflexes

And a second, more in depth article-- with the author's

Quick Points for Readers in a Hurry

Here are some links to my 'products' taken with my cellphone's camera:

100 Pics on Picasa

A Few Fotos on Flickr

next, part three: I Finally Decide

I Finally Decide and Get a Canon PowerShot

While I looked long and hard at finding a used Nikon D40, Canon Rebel EOS XT, or Pentex K100D, my need for portability and adaptability-- a camera that I would always have with me and one that would also take videos-- tipped the balance in favor of a non-DSLR for me-- for now.

So I started looking for something with as many as possible of the following attributes:

lots of settings, including full manual
standard SD memory card
AA batteries
at least a 5 mega-pixel chip

Apparently, the image quality the chips delivered had leveled off at about 5 MP, with not much difference in further tweaks the manufactures had done to get 6 or more mega pixels of information on them.

I finally decided that the Canon PowerShot A-series met all my conditions, and I set out to a large electronics store to see a A-570is that was on sale-- then to the second-hand section of a large camera shop. There I found what seemed to be a super deal on a Canon PowerShot S2is-- so cheap that I snapped it up and was out of the shop without even testing it.

But before I was home I was having second thoughts as the Canon 'S' series cameras are nearly as large as a DSLR-- then I found that the sensor was dead. I was actually relieved, both that it was guaranteed and that I wasn't stuck with something that I wasn't totally happy with.

I got my money back and instead chose a used six-megapixel PowerShot A540 at an equally good price. It was actually less, so I got a high-speed SD card, some rechargeable AA-batteries and charger and a camera case to wear on my belt-- since the PowerShot isn't really shirt-pocket size.

Next: Using My New Baby

Using My New Baby

I have been very happily snapping away with my new (used) six-megapixel PowerShot A540 for some weeks now and am satisfied with both the quality, ease of use, portability and even the videos we took of a family reunion.

Note: to see this camera's reviews and specs you can go HERE or HERE.

Something that I use much more than I expected is the bright viewfinder. It's necessary when bright sunlight washes out the LCD screen, but I use it much more often than just for that. It zooms in and out with the optical zoom, but not the digital zoom-- which I usually don't use anyway. With it, I can more easily stabilize the camera, my eye pressed to the viewfinder and two arms forming a kind of tripod.

I'm glad for the added stability, for I think I missed something that, in hindsight, I perhaps should have held out for-- image-stabilization. That little 'is' after the model number seems to make quite a bit of difference in sharpness for shots in low light or action shots-- think kids. It means I need to crank up the ISO sensitivity a bit, which adds more 'noise' to my images.

Do I still wish I had a DSLR?-- sure! But I think I'd also be using a second back-up camera to be able to catch the shots when I couldn't lug around the 'brick'. In fact, I'm still using my cell phone camera. People are often more at ease with the informality of whipping out my phone, and at other times my PowerShot is-- in my backpack-- Oh well.

I'll keep you posted on my further adventures and let you know as soon as I can upload some of my new photos.