Kagoshima

I was about 5 kilometers south of Kagoshima yesterday, so it was a relaxed trip towards the city center today. I cycled around the port area and wandered around the city a bit. I used my time today to take care of a bunch of loose ends, and most of the things I wanted to do are done, except that I can't transfer my money back to Holland because the banks are closed on weekends, which is stupid.

In the afternoon I met Nishi to talk about our plans to travel to Yakushima. He took me to his place, and kindly offered me a place to stay. Excellent! Nishi has some awesome cool stuff in his place like a 3d mouse, an awesome desk chair that doesn't make you want to get up ever again and even an iPad! I am liking the iPad more than I want to admit...

In the late afternoon I went out again and took this timelapse of Sakurajima. Unlike last time there's no focus problems or exposure issues, but the upload to Youtube seems to have reduced the quality a lot. I found out that the battery of an S90 lasts for about two hours when taking a photo every 10 seconds. I spent my time reading a book while the camera was taking photos. During the time lapse I had two weird encounters with old men. They both tried to start a conversation with me on separate occassions, and both times they started mumbling to themselves and spoke in such a weird accent that I lost track of what they were saying. Strange.

Posted in Photography , Spirit of Japan | Tagged , ,

Meanwhile, in another parallel universe(!)

Holland has mountains, and all people have died from a horrible virus a couple of years ago, leaving behind an abandoned country!

Today I cycled to Nagasaki city. In the morning I passed by the Huis Ten Bosch Dutch theme park fairly early, and it was still closed. I took a couple of photos and moved on. I cycled for at least an hour towards the south when suddenly I saw this in the distance:

That's weird

More Dutch buildings? That's strange. The only Dutch-related area in Japan that I knew of was the Huis Ten Bosch theme park. I of course could not resist a little investigation. Finding the entrance alone was difficult enough as there were not a lot of signs, and I ended up climbing a hill with some farmland on top. Going down on the other side of the hill I suddenly found myself in an abandoned Dutch village.

Foliage overgrowth
More foliage

Then I noticed a sign:

"Holland Village"

and it all clicked into place. Yesterday at Huis Ten Bosch, while talking to the funny Dutch guy with all the strange bicycles, he told me he'd been doing his job for as long as HTB existed, and even before that at its predecessor, Holland Village! This place is the predecessor of Huis Ten Bosch and used to be a Dutch-themed theme park! Now it's completely abandoned and there's nobody there! I love exploring abandoned places, so suddenly finding an abandoned theme park at the side of the road is like discovering gold! I took my time and went around taking a lot of photos. I tried to find information on this place but couldn't find much more than this Japanese wiki page.

I like this
Abandoned escalators captivate me
"Escalators don't break. They just temporarily turn into stairs"

It's weird enough to find a Dutch village in Japan, it's even weirder to find it abandoned and looking like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.

Nobody home
Future City
Even this place was abandoned
Disaster struck

I then came across a tiny little storehouse.

Loeki de Leeuw

I'm not exactly sure when this park was abandoned. The foliage growth, escalators and signs made me think that it couldn't have been more than ten years ago. But this storehouse uses some logo's that I've only ever seen in old Holland when I was little, maybe twenty years ago. I really can't tell.

Morbid curiosity got the better of me, and I checked to see if the door was unlocked. It was. I slowly opened the door, and as I did so a medium-sized (that's very-large-sized for Dutch standards!) spider crawled away from me. When I entered I saw this:

Boo

The store was completely empty, except for two of these dolls, slightly mutilated. There was nothing on the shelves, which was too bad, because I was kind of hoping to find a souvenir thingie from 20 years ago. No such luck. In the middle of the store there was a staircase left unfolded that lead to the attic. Thinking "oh well", I climbed the stairs and peeked my head up into the attic, and then got the shit scared out of me by a gigantic spider.

GAAH

By Dutch standards, this spider is the size of a small moon. It was far enough away, but considering that I couldn't see anything as I was climbing the stairs, I consider myself lucky that it was far away and didn't jump on my head. o_0

Ghost town

Abandoning my quest for souvenirs I returned to my bicycle and found my way back to the main road. I'm very happy with today's find. You can find the rest of the pictures here on Picasa. Note that I used my S90 compact camera today, which does focus and expose properly, unlike my 50D+18-200mm.

I'm in Nagasaki now, at a park in the port area, sitting under a tree, relaxing. I'm taking a forced break tomorrow. Why this break is forced I will tell you the day after tomorrow, when I will hopefully have another nice story to tell :)

Bon appetit!

Posted in Photography , Spirit of Japan , Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

Time lapsing with the S90

Now that the CHDK firmware is available for the S90 I can try my hand at some time lapse videos.

The focus went a bit wonky when it got dark. Next time I'll put it on manual focus instead.

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Relaxing

I'm not doing much today. I woke up at 8AM and hung around the youth hostel while my laundry was being laundrified. Then I took off on my bicycle, struggled with my gears as I went down the hostel hill and cycled into the city center. I bought lunch at a convenience store and cycled onwards to a riverside park, where I spent most of the day doing nothing. The temperature was just perfect in the shade and I enjoyed finishing a book called The Zahir, which was a very inspirational read. Besides that I picked up a new road-map-book for the next stint of my trip. It'll still take 2-3 days from here until the northernmost tip of Kyushu, but I think I can navigate that without maps.

My little friend the caterpillar
A random park in Hiroshima
Road-map-book-thing

On a very awesome note: the CHDK firmware is available for the Canon S90! I was waiting for this for a long time, and now it's finally there, thanks to the great work of some creative hackers. Besides being able to play Sokoban, Mastermind and Othello on my camera I can now take time lapse videos in very high resolution without connecting my camera to a PC. Excellent.

I've had plenty of time to think, and I am definitely forming a good picture of my situation in my mind. Right now I've identified that my issue is not so much the issue of leaving Japan or not, but rather a choice between following my dreams or accepting reality. If I follow my dreams then I choose to do what I really like: Cognitive Science. This means going back to study, which for me is the easiest to do in the Netherlands, as I get money to study until I'm 30. That doesn't mean that I ruled out the possibility of studying elsewhere though. The other option is, generally speaking, getting a job, which for me means getting a job in Japan, because I really like it here. If I choose a life of comfort it'll be in Japan.

Obviously I haven't decided yet, although formulating my problem in slightly different wordings makes it a choice between something epic (following my dreams) and something boring (getting a job), which is a whole different perspective. That's all I'm going to say about my choices for now, as I like to take a bit more time to think about this myself.

Changing the topic, here's some statistics of my trip:

  • I've been on the road for 22 days.
  • Approximate distance traveled: 1600 kilometers (I'm missing a couple of days because of cyclocomp mishaps and because I forgot to write down my daily stats)
  • I blow my nose about 20 times a day. I'm a snot machine.
  • Maximum speed: 55.4kph
  • Highest daily average: 18.6kph (this drops rapidly at the end of the day because I have to find a camp site or discover the path to the hostel)
  • Longest distance traveled in one day: 118 kilometers
  • Hottest day: 05/04 at ~27C
  • Coldest day: 04/16 at ~4C in the snow!
  • Number of nights spent camping/hosteling/business hotel: 5/10/6   (and 1 homestay and 1 capsule hotel)

Tomorrow there's only one thing I want to do: visit the Peace Memorial Museum. After that I'll move westwards again towards the tip of the main island of Japan, where I will somehow cross over to Kyushu. Today's the sky's been looking a bit gray-ish, but I'm hoping the weather will get better again after a couple of days. I really need to camp more and internet less.

Posted in Cycling , Photography , Spirit of Japan , Thoughts , Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

HDR

A lot of people dislike it, but I am big fan of teh pretty colorz.

(Taken with my Canon S90 at ISO80, the only usable setting on this camera for HDR)

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Ah, the view...

Definitely going to miss it...

(Photoshop: increased saturation, adjusted layers to remove green haze and sharpened the image a bit)

Posted in Daily Life , Japan , Photography | Tagged , , , ,

Power trip

Today I went cycling (nothing surprising there). I started with the idea of going some place new, which is quite difficult after living in the same place for four years. I ended up going east towards Yokohama for quite a bit, on a horrible road with many hills along the way and nothing of interest to see. Just boring shops, cars, restaurants and people. It's the plain boring side of Japan that I like to avoid if at all possible. I changed my direction and continued southward, thinking that Enoshima must be near, but it turned out to be 10km's away, and the road going there was just as crowded and boring as the one I rode on before.

Enoshima is a great reward though. Whenever I'm there I get the feeling that it's just about ten times better than any other place in the Tokyo vicinity. It's lively yet peaceful, lots of cats around, lots of watersports going on, and a beautiful view no matter if you're on the beach looking at the island, or on the island looking in any direction. I walked around on the island for a while, taking a path I hadn't taken before, and I ended up on the other side of the island without climbing the big hill in the middle, something I previously thought was impossible.

I spent about an hour on the island, walking around, taking photos and relaxing. When I noticed the sun starting to set I prepared to head back. It's still about 25 km's back to Atsugi from there, and it does get cold here in the evening.

I don't know what happened on the way back, but somehow I was able to go way faster than usual, without even trying. The road back to Atsugi is about 12 km's along the seaside, and then another 12 km's inland. The seaside road is straight, flat and without much traffic lights. In front of me was a pro (silly looking) cyclist on a fast bicycle, whereas I was in half-touring mode, front luggage holder mounted, side bag, heavy coat on because of the cold, yet at every traffic light I caught up with the pro guy. Must have looked quite funny to the cars passing us by. I'd say normally I do about 20kph on the straight between Atsugi and the seaside, but this time I was consistently able to do 30kph on the seaside road, and 25-28kph on the inland road. Perhaps my training is paying off...

...or maybe not. During the final stretch of the trip I found my legs not hurting at all, but my arms really started to hurt. I should train those more. Arriving at home (and after climbing 5 flights of stairs) I noticed my legs.. I think I pushed myself a bit far cause I couldn't really calm down even an hour after sitting at my desk. Kinda weird considering that I didn't feel any special strain on my body during cycling. Guess I should be more careful. Well, I'll close this post with this panorama photo (clickable!).

(Note: all photos were taken with my Canon S90 compact. I left the big cam at home this time.)

Posted in Cycling , Japan , Photography | Tagged , , ,

Monkeys!

Today was one of those days that starts out simple, and then gradually changes into something unexpected. My plan for today was to fix my bicycle's gears, which have been behaving wonky for about a week. I can't use my highest gear at the front. I decided to fix it myself, so armed with a bunch of tools and a positive attitude I walked towards my bicycle. Thirty minutes later I gave up. I went to the bicycle shop at the other end of Atsugi, and a boy no older than 14 fixed the problem in less than 10 minutes. And charged me 1500 yen for it. Well, serves me right for not trying harder, I guess.

Since I was at the other end of town anyway I decided to take the scenic route back with my now-fixed bicycle. A long time ago, when I still cycling regularly for exercising purposes, I used to have two favorite routes. One of them was the flat straight road towards the seaside, and the other route would take me towards the mountains, going over a fairly large hill (twice)  and then back to Atsugi alongside a small river. The second route is way shorter but much harder because of the differences in height. It's also much more scenic. And, as I found out today, also a lot of fun to drive in winter.

This image shows my favorite hill in Atsugi. It's a nice long downhill, starting from an industrial and residential area suddenly opening up into a small countryside valley that suddenly comes into view right after the downhill starts. After you reach the bottom you still have enough speed left to turn left and follow the road, which zigzags and goes down a bit more right after that. It's quite refreshing, but don't take my word for it, watch the video instead.

Since I was feeling exploratory today I decided not to take the normal route back after crossing the first mountain. Instead I explored the area for a way towards OoYama, the really big mountain, which I knew was possible by looking at Google Earth. Eventually, after cycling uphill for a ghastly long time, I reached the highest point, and proceeded downhill through a very tiny tunnel, finally passing the second mountain that I wanted to cross.

The tunnel exit was quite steep, and my speed was high, so when I suddenly noticed a monkey crossing the road a mere 50 meters in front of me I hastily tried to brake as hard as I could. I didn't hit the monkey of course, but I did manage to follow it up a hill and shot a couple of pictures before it disappeared. As I was standing on the hill I noticed another monkey running across a field at the opposite end of the road. I never knew monkeys were this close to Atsugi, only 20 minutes away by bicycle. Brilliant!

Monkey bugger walking away from me!
monkey monkey monkey
Field monkey watch out!

I walked around the area a bit, and shot some more photos. Somehow I don't feel like it's winter at all. Seems more like autumn to me. The trees might agree with me, cause a lot of them still have their leaves, or are only starting to lose them.

Middle of nowhere.
The monkey scene
Hidden mist village

I have to admit I was annoyed at my S90 today for not being fast enough. Taking it out of my pocket and waiting for it to start up takes too long. Waiting for focus takes too long. Adjusting the ISO takes way way way too long! It's so frustrating when you see the monkey disappear around a corner and your camera is still trying to focus.. Guess I should've brought my 50D. I also got a chance to try out the iContrast mode on the S90. It seems to work well in exactly the kind of situation as shown below. I can't speak for other situations though, and I still suspect it might make the image worse if there's not a lot of dynamic range in the picture.

Just imagine, all of this wouldn't have happened if I was able to fix my bicycle myself! :D

Posted in Cycling , Photography | Tagged , , ,

S90 addendum 2

S90 mini-review

S90 addendum

I've been using the S90 for a couple of weeks now, so I thought I'd post an update.

First of all, I've been getting majorly annoyed at the huge delay between taking a photo and being able to adjust the settings for the next pic. Usually the workflow is like this: take photo, review, adjust settings, take next photo. The time between viewing the image on screen and being able to use the dials again is just too long. I want to be able to adjust the exposure compensation immediately when seeing the last photo on screen. I pray to Canon that they can make the camera more responsive in the next firmware update.

Speaking of exposure compensation, I've changed the lens ring's default function to adjust the exposure. In P and Av mode I adjust the exposure compensation with the lens ring, and in Av mode I adjust the aperture with the back ring.  This way is really intuitive for me to use, and I like it a lot.

Last thing I like: adjusting the white balance with both control rings is absolutely brilliant. It's a feature I never felt I'd need, but now I can't go without it. I wish my 50D was as easy to adjust as the S90. It's so intuitive.

Update: I shared some photos of my cycling trip today here at Picasa. All photos taken straight from camera without any editing.

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S90 addendum

Last weekend I had some time to go out and play with the S90, which I mini-reviewed a couple of posts back. I'll report on the trips later, but before that I wanted to share my impression of the S90 after using it 'in the field'. One of the trips was a mountain hiking trip on which I didn't bring my 50D. The other trip was by train, and I brought the big cam as well. I didn't use it. Part of the reason was that the weather wasn't exactly glorious, and neither were the sights along the way, so I never really felt the need to try to take a better photo of something. The S90 sufficed in every case.

Seems average so far, but the interesting bit happened when it started to become dark. Usually that's when the weakness of compact cameras comes to light. Not this one though. I kept on shooting outside during dusk, hand-held. The IS worked great. Forget about the low-light mode though, the image quality is just too poor. I'd rather risk taking three or five shots at a slower shutter speed at a higher quality setting. One of them will turn out well.

I should note that the exposure meter is rather shit during dusk. This is no news to me cause it's always been shit on Canon compacts, but it might surprise people who actually expect this to work. In my case I frequently use an exposure compensation of -1 or lower to make decent shots at dusk time.

One of the tricks I use with my 50D when taking HDR photos without a tripod is to switch the camera mode to high-speed continuous shooting. This, combined with IS and high shutter speeds, usually results in three photos that are either perfectly aligned or can be adjusted easily (and automatically) by software. During my hiking trip I came across some sights that I thought would look great as HDR photos, so I tried the same trick on the S90. Definitely a bad idea. For one thing, the 'high-speed' mode is still too slow to make the photos align perfectly, and you'll see some artifacts. What's worse is that you really can't use high ISO values for HDR shots, cause the noise shows up very clearly when mixing the photos together. It's not an area where compact cameras are very good performers, and not even the S90 can change that. Forget about hand-held HDR photography with this one. Then again, only crazy people would try such a thing anyway.

I should note that the S90 has its own dynamic range improvement setting called (iShitYouNot) iContrast. I turned it on during the hiking trip to see if it's any good, but I didn't really make a fair comparison with iContract on versus off.  Looking at the photos I shot with iContract on I didn't notice any nastiness, but opinions on the net seem divided on this one. In my case I only shot landscapes and trees, which might be just the thing that iContrast can improve on. I wonder if it works just as well on people, though..

One last thing I have to mention here is the speed of the software. Specifically the start-up time and the time it takes for the buttons to respond again after taking a photo. It's too long. Way too long for comfort. After taking a photo it shows up on the display quite quickly. Then I review the photo, notice that the exposure was not so good, say a bit overexposed perhaps. I immediately grab the exposure compensation dial and start rotation it, but nothing happens! The camera doesn't return to shooting mode at all. First I have to half-press the shutter button to get rid of the photo review screen, and then I still have to wait a while before the buttons start to respond. It's the same thing for the zoom lever and the lens control ring. This is a minor annoyance that I would never even notice if I didn't like this camera so much. I just wanted to mention it here so other potential buyers know what they can expect.

Summarizing, the S90 is a lovely little camera. I've never used a compact camera better than this one, but there's still some minor annoyances. I won't let that bother me from taking a lot of photos with it.

Lastly, here's three different pictures taken with the S90, unedited. I chose these photos in particular because they also show the less good parts of the camera (and of the photographer, but that's a whole other story :P)

IMG_0226
ISO 80, F/4.5, 1/500s
IMG_0351
ISO400, f/8.0, 1/10s
IMG_0577
ISO200, f/8.0, 1/400s

Update: I've been playing with the iContrast a bit, and it seems to have a tendency to lighten everything in the photo, and in the case of the photos I tried it with, it lightened them too much for my liking. I wonder if this might be the reason why I though the light metering was a bit off during dusk time. If that was when the iContrast kicked on that might explain why most of the pictures I got during dusk time were too bright. I'll keep it turned off during the next sunset and see how it goes..

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