Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

Denali 7. WOW!

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Day 6.

July 9th, 2012


It starts with another crystal clear view of Denali during a 2am pee, but even when I get up later it is still clear.

Panorama I stitched together with Photoshop

For part of the morning, Denali is wearing a small beret of cloud but no matter. The range is as clear as could be as the moon makes a slow daylight journey over it.

Hard to see the moon in pictures, but it’s there above Denali.

I spend the bulk of the morning just watching the light move across.

I am in a heightened and constant state of utter awe for the entire morning. I take a lot of photos. I rig my Gorilla Tripod to my treking poles as a makeshift tripod.

I realize that this day is why I came here! This is my gift from Denali! I savor it.

I was so concerned that I get a good picture that I spend 15 mins cranking the handle on the weather-band radio which has a USB power output, to get just enough charge on my iPhone to get the above picture. I crank and crank and crank, get the one shot and it dies… This is perhaps the one day, I wished I had a better camera. I don’t mind not lugging a huge lens around to get close-ups of bears, but I do wish I could have given the mountains and sky more justice.

The day is clear and warm, and after lunch I look at the broad green slopes that lead up the north side of Mt. Galen and I decide to take a walk. I decide NOT to commit to climbing Mt. Galen. Just a walk in that direction that might end up on the summit.

Photoshop panorama of Mt. Galen

I’m prepared either way. I get to a point further North than I’ve yet been and am looking up the slopes when, BAM! There’s a bear. Smack dab in the middle of where I need to go to approach the mountain. I have time, and he is plenty far away, so I sit and watch him to see what his intentions are. It quickly becomes clear that napping is the order of the day for him. I keep an on him as he shifts positions in his snoozing. The term “lolly-gaging” comes to mind. For fierce beasts these things can get pretty silly.

This is again the age-old paradox: The beautiful landscape can kill you. The terrifying predator is cute. etc. It is disturbing to think how accurate Disneyland’s Country Bear Jamboree actually is.

The fact of the matter is that in the environment I was in, a bear would first appear in the landscape as a fuzzy caterpillar. That’s what I would look for, perhaps because I grew up with caterpillars and can see them more easily. It reminds of a time when I was a teenager, shortly after moving to North America from Japan; I was riding my motorcycle at night, and suddenly there was a deer right in front of me, and I had to swerve rather violently to miss it. The thing is that it took several seconds, after I was safe and the adrenaline was dripping off of my brain, to realize that it was a deer. The alarm thought in my head was “That’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen in my life!” Now that I knew to look for fuzzy brown caterpillars on the hillsides, I was seeing the bears.

At one point, I think he’s gone, but then his head pops up as he is apparently doing the back-stroke in the bushes. It becomes clear: Mt. Galen, by the Northern route, is off for humans today.

This is the thing about this place: You don’t try to alter the environment to your wishes. You adapt to it. You evolve. You change. And it’s not about being powerless or weak. It’s about being attentive and in tune. I’m not saying that I am. But I am beginning to hear that I am off key…

I took some time, while I waited, to use another piece of equipment that I bought at REI in Anchorage. My Sanitary Trowel. I haven’t been bringing that up, but yes, I have been using my trowel from time to time.

A scoping of the river valley to my left reveals that it is open, so I cut down to the river and continue exploring upstream. After quite a bit of picking my way up the river I hear a trotting sound and a caribou comes jogging almost right up to me. I see him before he sees me and when he does see me he stops and does a kind of “Oh Shit!” and then buries his head in a bush, almost casually, as if to play nonchalant.

My first sensation is relief that it isn’t a moose, followed by “what do I do now?” The valley here is narrow enough that it’s hard to simply move around each other, and my prime directive in Denali is to not alter the behavior of wildlife, so I began to calmly back away, as I gingerly get my camera out.

He turns and trots back the way he came, and I turn and move downstream a bit more quickly.

After a bit though he turns around again and tries to pass me on my right.

He stopped and looked right at me basically posing for a picture, while we both seemed to be feeling an awkward sense of, hoping no one was looking, because this was NOT how we were supposed to interact. There was a weird sense of embarrassment. And wonder… Embarrassed wonder.

He gives up and backs off again before trotting past me on my left with an almost audible “Fuck it!”

I wonder if all the moose tracks that I’ve been seeing are in fact caribou, so I go over and check…

…and these are indeed quite different.

When I get back to camp, there is a ground squirrel near my tent who seems to have had it with me. He is “cheeping” and running around. I explain to him that I’m leaving soon and am sorry if I’ve caused distress. Every once in a while he pops out to check things out, or he just “cheeps” at me when I’m in my tent.

All in all, an AMAZING day…


Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

I am one of the hordes of people in New York and other cities who listens to an iPod or other listening device almost constantly when “out and about.” I’ve had some form of what used to be called a “personal stereo” device since the end of the ’70s. And my use of them has increased along with the increase in the quality/utility of these devices. Currently I use both an iPhone and an iPod (I need the larger capacity of the iPod to keep all the music I need to carry for professional uses).

So I am very used to the rather Cageian phenomenon of whatever I was listening to becoming a surprisingly perfect soundtrack for whatever was going on in the “external” world. I’m frequently amazed by how shuffle seems to be controlled by some kind of deeply intuitive, sentient intelligence. I remember an afternoon, walking around Paris and my iPod seemed giddy with the excitement of being there, and was shuffling up an almost painfully perfect playlist.

But I had something very interesting happen yesterday…

I was on the subway listening to the podcast version of “This American Life.” The story was about Haiti, and during one particular section there was a scoring track of what sounded like some kind of Mariachi-esqe band. It didn’t really occur to me that it was a bit incongruous, mostly because it was fairly evocative emotionally, and the musical choices in TAL are often surprising.

But I happened to look up and was surprised to realize that the musicians were not in the podcast. They were on the A train. Three elaborately costumed gentlemen; two guitarists and a small accordion were playing right in front of me.

The effect of this was heightened by the fact that I was listening to my iPhone with my Etymotic hf2 in-ear earphones (yes I know they’re pricy but I’m sticking these things into my head repeatedly. I’m going to skimp?), which cut out almost all sound from the outside world. If I run out of things to listen to (not likely) I can turn the pod off and pretend I’m in space ala 2001: “Open the iPod-bay door HAL.” or walking around in a personal anechoic chamber.

This isolation allows these beauties to actually protect my hearing when I’m in the sonorous bowels of New York’s subway system. But it also means that for the external world to interject, it has to put a band of Mexicans three feet from my head…

Ahh New York…

Ahh 2010…

Ahh Ira Glass…

Ghosts on Google Maps

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

One of the most interesting collisions between an implementation of a technology and the state of the art, is the Street View feature on Google Maps. I love it. I play around with it a lot. Wandering around streets near locations I am headed towards or places I know well. It works really well on the iPhone so I often check out the Street View view of places where I am. I was doing this last night while at the Westbank Cafe with Akiko celebrating Tater’s girlfriend Kelli’s b’day.

I was looking at Street View with Tater, which was interesting because it was snowing last night in NYC and the Street View shots show a beautiful summer day and the construction on 42nd Street, that’s going on there now, is non-existant. But then we noticed something very strange going on with the bus across the street.

It’s like some kind of spirit photography or something. The bus appears to be running over some kind of alternate reality of itself. If you poke around on Street View you see a lot of this same kind of weirdness. It’s reminiscent of the kinds of things you see in early photography, when exposure times were longer. But it comes from the fact that we don’t really have a way of capturing images in a way that would solve this. Its a collision between the nature of conventional photography and the nature of virtual reality. Unintentionally artistic.

All maps contain a hint of time as well as space, but Street View (and Satellite view for that matter) amp up the sense of time to the point where it becomes spooky and weird.

It also reminds me of the extreme photography of Michael Wesely. He does long exposures. VERY long exposures. Years long. Here’s a blog with some of his pictures. I saw some of his “Open Shutter” photos at MOMA here in New York a few years back, and they had a profound effect on my sense of time. The more something moves the less you can see it in the pictures. Trees turn into trunks that slowly fade to sharp points. The sun is a series of rough edged streaks across the sky. There are no people.

Time… hmmm…

Now I’m imagining a Street View made from multi-year exposures. No cars or people. Scaffolding becomes a ghostly veil on buildings. Some entire buildings are only faintly there…

I was standing on a street corner here in New York a while back and the Google Street View imaging van passed right in front of me. Something happened later that day and I forgot where I was standing when it passed. So I don’t know but I could be out there somewhere in Street View. Maybe I’m right on a stitch and half of me is blurred into a parking meter, or another person… Or maybe they’ve updated that street again since then and I’m gone…

I actually kind of like that I don’t know. But if you happen to see me, stop and say hello…

iPhone 2.0

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

So this is the first blog posting I’ve written on my iPhone. It is the old “classic” or “original” “non-3G” iPhone. The big change is that it’s now running the updated operating system that allows it to, amoung other things, run applications, like the one I’m using to write this. My iPhone is now more useful by several orders of magnitude. One of the main reasons for this is that even without GPS, the iPhone can figure out where I am, enableing applications to give me location specific info about movies, eateries, etc. It also gives me more ways to access various social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook… for better or worse.

Somehow, a bogus new posting message got sent out today as I was setting this up. Sorry. Can’t promise it won’t happen again, but I hope not.

In any case, expect more, perhaps shorter, posts from your humble blogger.


Going back to some Japan Thoughts

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Ok, so I’ve been lazy about the Blog. Here I am climbing back into the saddle.

So I waxed rather rhapsodic about Japan while I was there so here are some things that SUCK about Japan:

• Relative rarity of free WiFi networks (Australia, or at least Melbourne, also SUCKs on this count)

• Rarity of AC outlets in Airports, trains, train stations. There are coin operated cell-phone charging stations which are cool, and I understand that free plugs aren’t ubiquitous in the States either, but if you look, you can usually find power to snitch in the US. This leads to another thing: I understand that the power needs are different, but if every little calculator can have the little photo-voltaic cell on it, why can’t my iPhone have a flip top that provides a trickle charge. I don’t expect it to be able to run it, but it would slow the battery drain. Wouldn’t it? (I’m setting this up for my bother Joel to comment on it).

• Shu-den. The last train. For all the glory of Japanese mass transit, it doesn’t run all night. On the way back to the hotel one night in Tokyo, Akiko and I were on the last train on the Sobu line into Shinjuku. We were changing there to the Yamanote, but the Yamanote line was delayed. Because the Sobu train was the last one of the night, they waited for the Yamanote line to arrive. When we got off the train, it was already full. As we stood there across the platform from it, it filled up to the point that people were hanging out of the doors. When our train finally showed up, it was full and MOST of the people got off and tried to get onto the now completely full Sobu train. The scene on the platform as our train pulled away was something out of a high-concept disaster movie. The number of people trying to get on was at least two and a half times the packed capacity of the train.

I don’t know the numbers on this but if the MTA here in NYC can run trains all night, why can’t there be some service late night in Japan? Is there a downside? Sound? Wear and tear? Capsule hotels will go bankrupt?

Speaking of sound: • Sound trucks. Japanese politics features a very vocal radical right-wing, called the Uyoku. As opposed to the radical left Sayoku, Both of these are boarder-line terrorist organizations, and whereas when I was young the Sayoku were the ones demonstrating against Narita airport and the constitution, by the time I was living here in the 80s and 90s it was the Uyoku that was making all the noise. To over-simplify completely, the Uyoku are Neo-Nazis. They’re intensely nationalist. They don’t like foreigners. And they would like us to operate on the basis that the 2nd World War is still on, and that Japan should be much more aggressive towards the Russians in terms of certain islands which are in northern Japan or southern Sakhalin, depending on who’s telling the story.

The MO of these guys is to drive around in black panel vans with white and red slogans written all over them and late 1930′s Messerschmidt loud speakers on the roof. The guy in the passenger seat then proceeds to shout into a hand held CB style microphone and what you can hear through the distortion of the tortured amps is a stream of Mussolini style tirade. They often have a posse which consists of a small parade of men marching behind them in military fatigues, helmets and white gloves, holding various banners and flags.

I was eating my lunch in the court-yard of the theatre in Mito many years ago when one of these parades went by. One of the marchers came over and stood over me, watching me eat my rice-ball. After awhile he asked if I liked Japanese food. I told him that I did, and he walked away as if I had validated something about his life. I was a bit confused by the encounter, but I don’t think I was as confused as he was.

Akiko and I ran into such a parade in Shibuya on our way to see Kayoko’s play and the sound bouncing off the glass sides of the valley of high-fashion retail was mind melting. I didn’t make out ONE SINGLE WORD of what this knucklehead was saying. I don’t know what the issue was, or what he was trying to convince me of. I suspect this has ceased to be the point of these trucks. They’re a form of right wing punk rock. I don’t know their politics enough to know if I agree or disagree with them anymore. But I don’t like their punk rock.

• Misogyny. There’s a lot of it in Japan. It’s everywhere. You see it in the behavior of both men and women. Almost everything I say about liking the basic state of being in Japan is predicated on my being male. I often wonder if Akiko would like Japan if she hadn’t been somewhat inoculated to the misogyny by growing up here.

• Racism. There is a truism that I hold to about living in the United States that states that, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t benefit from being a white person. This is mostly because I’m treated in with a modicum of respect and normality. I assume in an emergency, that I’ll be able to communicate reasonably with members of the Police. for example. In Japan this gets complicated because there is a kind of positive racism in that I’m actually held in some weird form of respect just cause I’m white. This has dissipated over the years just because it’s not the rarity it used to be, but when I was a kid it was SO easy to take advantage of being European that a lot of us didn’t really notice the extent of the effect. I remember that the first few black people I had contact with in Japan, had radically different experiences as “Gaijin”. Some of it was novelty but there was an ugly edge to it. Hip-Hop culture’s hold on vogue has changed this considerably, but there’s a generational issue. The official bureaucracy is not hip to Hip-Hop. The historical situation concerning Koreans and Chinese is an absolute horror story. One has to be careful. To say that Japanese people are racist… is racist. I know many Japanese people who are very sophisticated about these issues. I’m talking about general social tenancies here, which I acknowledge is dangerous.

The upside to the Japanese attitude towards gender and racial equality is that there is a relative absence of political correctness. People are more likely to indicate their attitude, and you know where people stand, but the underlying ambient level of discrimination is undeniable, and unacceptable. It’s not that this isn’t also true of most other countries, including the States but I believe Japan is shamefully behind, in terms of equal pay and other tangible issues.

• Localized technology. I don’t know exactly how to talk about this yet. It’s something that I really noticed on this last trip and I’m not sure I can be clear here but it has to do with Japanese society’s tendency to create a great deal of innovation that is fundamentally self-involved. It’s like the Americans making cars that only appeal to Americans and then expecting everyone to buy them.

There is this canard about Japan not being able to innovate. I think this is bunk. This is a society that can come up with five, distinct, cost-effective ways to package a rice ball without the seaweed touching the rice, that can be unwrapped without touching the rice directly. The six years I was gone saw a transformation in the way hot cans of coffee get sold out of vending machines. The new trains have these very user-friendly data screens that let you know where you are and how long it’s going to take to get you where you’re going. The thing that gets me is that the layout is reversed depending on which side of the train you’re on. In other words, the whole layout is reversed to make sure that the map is oriented the way the train is actually moving. The next station on the map is in the same direction as the train is moving. This is a small thing, but it’s the kind of thing that makes a difference between technology that’s adjusting to humans or the other way around. The iPhone (which I love) has a flaw in this regard: When it’s in Landscape mode, the volume rocker is reversed relative to the volume indicator on screen, and Apple is the master of this game.

Think for a moment about the latest development in toilet technology that has an actual impact on your life (not in the area of cleaning the toilet). No really. Think about it. It’s probably the development of cheap, readily available toilet paper. I’m willing to bet thats what it is, and I don’t remember a time when this wasn’t the case. This means, that I’ve NEVER seen forward movement (excuse the pun) in the technology of routine bowel evacuation. This is not true in Japan. When I was a kid, the throne style “western” toilet was a relative rarity. Now a toilet that doesn’t have a built in bidet, and automated washing set-up with air-drying and seat warming is a relative rarity. I’ve seen these things introduced in little news items in the States as an example of “those nutty Japanese”. I have never seen such a clear example of “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

Mocking these things makes us look like the filthy ignorant Neanderthals we probably are, but the broader point here is that the innovation that has lead to things things is not permeating world culture. This is the thing I can’t put my finger on, but there’s something self involved about making something that only a Japanese person would find useful. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that of course, but somehow I get the feeling in Japan that it’s not coming from a passion towards the Japanese way of life, but a fear of going out and playing in the bigger playground. It is the old Japanese insularity, and it feeds the conflicted sense of superiority (look at our cool stuff)/inferiority (oh you wouldn’t be interested) that lies at the heart of so much in Japan.

Ok. Thats it for now.

Gotta go do some stuff.