Some thoughts on a quiet day

Sitting here reading a book on a snowy holiday in Tokyo, I look around and realize that the world is such a small place. Moving between countries as easily as people used to go from town to town, talking simultaneously to people on 3 continents, sharing a piece of news with my family at home while hearing it halfway around the world, it all shows me how amazing the world has become. There are many problems, likely more problems than solutions, but there is still hope. It is that hope that I stick to and I am sure many others do as well. The changes I have seen in my yet short life do not seem to be for the worst as the daily news tends to portray, but generally for the better. Knowing that there is risk and often pain to change does not mean that it should not happen and that we should not continue to grow and learn. This seems true for both our personal and public spheres. To quote a phrase that will date me a bit, “Don’t believe the hype!” Live in hope, bring hope to others, and not only accept but revel in our differences. It is diversity in all of its forms that makes the world interesting, and it is from diversity that the world will find its strength in the future. Back to that tea and a book on a snowy Tokyo morning.

Shooting Winter Photos in Shinjuku Gyoen

Over the weekend, I went to one of my favorite spots in Tokyo to wander and shoot photos. Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑) is one of the nicer parks in Tokyo and is a good place to see the seasons as well as grab interesting snaps. Famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring and turning leaves in the fall it can get very busy at those times making it virtually impossible to take any wide shots without including at least a few other photographers. Luckily, the park is relatively barren and cold during the winter and is generally underappreciated.

This time I went out with my friend Nori near closing time at the park and we got to wander and shoot a bit. It was quite interesting in the park with the sun dropping creating long shadows and the dry grass to take on a very deep yellow. I would recommend it to anyone who is in Tokyo this winter and wants to get away from the crowds and just shoot.

Rainy Morning in Tokyo

Waking to the sound of hard rain outside the window is always strangely comforting to me, just as it was this morning. I woke up quiet early and just listened to the rain while I drifted in and out of sleep. Strangely enough, It is always especially easy to appreciate the rain from a warm comfy bed when you do not have the prospect of a day of work ahead. I just enjoyed the feeling for a while longer.

Later, walking back from the station, the rain really started up. Shifting from a steady rain to a sudden torrential downpour, it could have really made my walk home uncomfortable had I not been ready. In my water-proof jacket and hiking boots there was just one more thing needed to make the walk perfect. Donning my headphones and turning on the music, I threw up my hood and marched out into the rain to “Baila Me” by the Gypsy Kings. The surrealness of the flood waters and warm sunny music intermingling in the cool early dawn carried me through the rain, almost allowing me to transcend the achilles heal of my rain gear, the water soaking through my pants and running down my legs into my waterproof boots. Even this could not spoil the moment. I walked boldly into the monsoon.

Stopping at 7Eleven on the way home, squick, squicking on the tile floors, buying a dumpling and some grapefruit juice, dripping from every surface, I could not help but feel that all was right with the world. Feeling sorry for the 7Eleven staff mopping the floors I went home. Getting back to the apartment, I threw my sodden pants in the dryer, took a hot shower, put on my house clothes and ate my breakfast in contentment. Ah, life.

Impressions of my first few days back in Tokyo

I have been back in Japan for the better part of a week and my general impression is that not much has changed. In Tokyo people still rush slowly, the trains create the illusion of order and people still like the 80’s. I guess that I am probably best equipped to adjust because there does not seem to be much to adjust to.

Wandering around the east-north part of Tokyo feels like familiar ground, the area I called home for quite a few years. As I look for a place to live I remember having gone through the same selection processes many times and still have an innate fear of being rejected for my non-Japaneseness. It hasn’t happened yet this time, but it feels just around the corner. Once in the past when looking for an apartment I found a listing that actually said “Pianos OK, Pets OK, Foreigners NO”. I was not too happy to be put below pianos and dogs as suitable tenants as I am sure that I am quieter and speak better Japanese than either. I will have to see how it goes this time.

Starbucks still seems to be the only true bastion of non-smoking, so the reason I got into Starbucks in the first place is being further reinforced. How people can want to cover the aroma of coffee with cigarette smoke I will probably never truly understand.

Everywhere I go I am inundated with ads for useless, so-called “cutting edge” devices and gadgets, things like full compact sized cameras that double as unusually large phones and phones whose biggest feature appears to be the ability to print Christmas and New Years cards directly from your phone to a home printer… I would really be excited to sign a 2 year phone contract for a phone with those features! No wait, I wouldn’t. I tend to like to think more than 1 month in advance.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being here, but the image definitely does not match the reality. Luckily, it is the reality that I am used to.

Tablets: iOS 4.2 for the iPad

Wanting to get a first crack at the new iOS 4.2 and never being afraid to try new things, I upgraded my iPad as soon as the upgrade was available. I really wanted to get my own impression of it before too much showed up online, and of course it is always nice to be an early-adopter (there are risks of course, but on my personal machines I am not too worried). I found an advantage at work in IT a few times by early-adopting or beta testing new technology or software on my personal machines then being ahead of the curve when it became generally available. This time, as I am between jobs, I am just doing it to keep in practice and because I do enjoy experiments.

Ok, now on to iOS 4.2 on the iPad. After the update I found no problem with my data and had no need to sync all my apps, media and data back after the upgrade so it was pretty painless. It took a total of about 20 minutes to be back up and running. That being said, making a backup of your iPad before any upgrade is a very good idea and I highly recommend it. Time to fire up the ol’ iPad and check out the new features.


This is a big one! Having used my iPhone 3GS with multitasking for quite a while now it always chaffed that my iPad could not do it. There have been so many times I have been tempted to double-click the home button to switch programs and realized I couldn’t. No longer! While writing this blog I have already switched over to Mail to read and respond to a few messages without a hitch. Multitasking on the iPad is much like on the iPhone was in iOS 4.1 but it includes volume, brightness and AirPlay controls. The brightness control is great and makes reading in different conditions much easier. AirPlay seems to be working fine, although it will take and update for the AppleTV before it will be really useful. It appears that the AirPlay control is available in a large number if programs, not just in the Video app or YouTube.


Although AirPlay seems to be available in a variety of programs and is one of the exciting features for me it will not be easy to review until the inevitable AppleTV update comes. Still, it looks to be a great feature and a lot of fun when playing with the iPad at home.


This will be a really nice one when more wireless printers support it but it also works through printers shared on OS 10.6.5 or higher so it is fine for most Mac users. I am not sure how the support will be added for Windows users. Several built-in programs now have an option to print, with the notable exception of the iWork suite which has not yet received the update it will need to be able to print. I think this will be a huge feature for enterprise, although it seems contrary to the paperless nature of the move to iPad. Oh well, there are still times when one has to print.

Mail, Calendar and Notes Enhancements

These are big. All of the enhancements that iOS 4 in other devices brought are present and very welcome in iOS 4.2 for iPad. Threaded mail, combined inbox and multiple exchange account add a lot of functionality that was sorely missing in the iPad. I personally missed all of those things on a daily basis and I am only using my iPad for personal use at the moment. The calendar also saw a large update, allowing invites and working properly with MobileMe and finally automatically syncing subscribed calendars. The birthday calendar even had a nice little upgrade. Notes was always less useful than it could have been, but with iOS 4.2 it now allows you to easily set and write notes to a variety of services, meaning you can have the notes on your devices synced up through MobileMe, Gmail, Yahoo, etc across devices. This one little change might affect many of the 3rd party note app makers on the app store.


Well, I am not big on games but I know that the addition of GameCenter to the iPad will be a very happy enhancement for many users. It seems to work well although it still remains to be seen how much cross device gaming will be possible. I can’t see an reason why it wouldn’t work, but I have not seen it working yet.


There are a lot of small changes in 4.2, one of the most personally useful being the word search feature in Safari (it is a bit confusing but the search window doubles as a web search and a page search). I am sure that people will be picking apart all of the little changes in thousands of blogs over the next little while so there will be (and already is) a lot of information available.


I personally have not seen any iOS 4.2 specific issues so far. Battery life, network connectivity and media playback all seem fine so far. I have been using my iPad for over an hour for reading, surfing and blogging while listening to music while on wifi and still have 95% battery left. Not bad.

Overall, I would say that this was a very important update for the iPad, although it will be a bit less dramatic on iPhone and iPod Touch. I would recommend this update to anyone who wants their iPad to work more like you thought it should.

Oh, is that the sound of more netbooks disappearing?

Sunrise: Easier in the Fall

Sunrise can be one of the best times to grab a camera and get warm shots with rich colours and nice contrast, but for a lot of the year sunrise is just too early. Not so in November. This time of year, before daylight savings changes things, sunrise is close to 8 am. That definitely makes it easier to get up, get ready and head out to my favorite photo spots. The main issue with this time of year is that it tends to be rainy overnight and first thing in the morning, but when the sun does decide to shine it is beautiful. I don’t think there is a better time of year for morning shots. It also helps to be living in such a picturesque city.

The Internet: Why Flash is fading and Adobe doesn’t care

As a start I will say that I have never had much use for Flash. I don’t really care much for web video in general and I don’t play web games. That being said, I have seen some very creative design, photography and videography sites that did employ Flash. For me, the fading of Flash feels like it has been a while in coming and iPads, iPhones and Android phones were just the last nail in a pre-made coffin. Actually, make that second to the last. What of Adobe, the owner of Flash technology? Surely they will keep Flash going and rescue it in some dramatic fashion?

That simply will not happen. Flash Player, the app that Flash web contents need to run, is simply a marketing tool for Adobe. They give away Flash Player only to make content easily accessible and get content creators buying their creation tools. Flash Player is a piece of software that has to be adapted to multiple platforms, needs constant updates and development work on the part of Adobe. If Adobe had an alternative way to sell content creation tools that didn’t involve all of that extra budget maintaining a player that brings in no direct revenue don’t you think they would drop it? Considering everything they have invested in it they will not do it over night but as HTML5 and other open source code grows traction they will definitely transition towards it. Their Flash-to-HTML5 demo showed that existing Flash content could be converted to HTML5 with reasonable fidelity. This is not proof that Adobe is going to drop Flash anytime soon, but it does show that they recognize the potential need to accommodate HTML5, SVG and other technologies as an alternative.

There is no reason that Adobe can’t create a great web tool kit that can create Flash and HTML5 content in a manner that will appeal to Flash developers and other content developers alike. In fact, they will likely have to as HTML5 video continues to gain ground on the web, now making more than 54% of web video available and gaining ground on Flash video in a rapid fashion. With tens of thousands of games available cheap or free on iOS and Android, web-based Flash games have surely seen their peak. As HTML5 and the other open source tools are not controlled by one company and are in fact being supported by many (including long time rivals Apple and Microsoft) as the new standard, Adobe has to move forward and adapt to a web where their monopoly is soon to end, and I am sure that they will make a go of it.

Maybe it will even end all of the Adobe vs Apple stupidness. One can always hope.

Sitting by the fire

No matter how high-tech and efficient life seems to get, nothing really seems to replace the feeling of sitting in front of a fire and relaxing. Whether making love or loving a book, a more comfortable place to do those activities is hard to image. Central heating or space heaters just can’t replace the experience. Although it is true that I might just be sentimental as it is an increasingly rare experience, I believe that it is more fundamental than that. Our link to fire goes back a long way and I can see no reason why we should so quickly lose such a long relationship due to quick progress in heating technology. In truth, I hope we never do lose the ability to appreciate the simple things as we embrace the future.

Mac Mini Server and Apple TV (2nd gen): The New SOHO?

When the new Mac Mini Servers were released many saw their potential for the small office as well as larger enterprise applications. With the services of larger more expensive servers (albeit with less redundancy) and a very small footprint they have a very flexible role. A small office can run two of them (one active and one on standby) and run their basic services such as file storage, mail and collaborative services for around $2000 and if they need more than the 1TB of internal storage the can always use a NAS or attach a RAID solution to the servers and have as much storage as they need. For most small offices who are doing mostly administrative, financial or sales functions this is enough.

Now come the computers. Desktops or laptops, they most likely cost more than $750 without the necessary software and tend to require some form of regular IT support. That is a very conservative estimate of the computer costs. What if you could replace the desktop or laptop with a smart phone that required very little support and could simply be restarted to fix most issues? Or even a tablet, such as the iPad? For most who work in offices either of those solutions would be too small and not really add to their productivity while in the office. They are great productivity extensions but are not the best backbones. There could be one inexpensive solution that would be a happy medium: the $99 Apple TV.

It is not as strange as it sounds. Although Apple TV is marketed as a media device to be added to the home theatre experience, that is by no means the limits of its potential. Built on the same core as the iPhone 4 and the iPad it has all of the hardware needed to be a great productivity tool. The HDMI port allows connection to a monitor of any size, the Bluetooth hardware can be adapted to allow keyboards and touch pads to be wirelessly connected, the network connectivity can give it access to files on a server and the USB port could allow for direct maintenance access. Assuming Apple will build some form of app support into a future update, the addition of a browser, productivity suite and any other business apps needed could be ported and sold for low cost in an app store. Like iPhones and iPads, you would have a stable platform for productivity that used very low amounts of power. Add to that a wireless keyboard and touchpad with an HDMI monitor, you have a 4″ by 4″ machine that stays cool, only has 2 wires attached to it and yet can do everything you need in an office for around $500 including the keyboard, touchpad and monitor. Without the monitor it is very portable.

So you put together a Mac Mini Server with a few Apple TV’s and you can run a small office with a very small carbon footprint that requires minimal regular IT support and costs a fraction of the normal cost of a small office setup. Throw Google Docs and other online services into the mix and you will find the Apple TV’s will perform even better with less local processor load.

Apple has treated the Apple TV as a hobby, but is it a hobby or an experiment? Following their recent success with iPhone and iPad in the enterprise environment they could be positioning themselves for a new kind of enterprise and home market penetration. For users with more demanding graphic and processing needs the Apple TV would not be suitable in the near future, but for those who can use thin-clients or netbooks in their daily work there is no reason not to consider it. I can see Google taking a similar path with its Android OS, Google online services and a small device. It will be interesting to see the way things develop in the next few years as iOS and Android evolve. It is definitely something to watch.

Bike Fashion

Yesterday evening I did one of my favourite activities; I went out for a road ride. My brother and I had a really nice ride along the seaside and enjoyed the beautiful late September weather. My brother recently took up road riding and has really taken to it, he even wears bike gear now. I can understand his initial resistance to wear Lycra; how many guys feel comfortable putting on Lycra and hitting the streets? But like any other activity it is better to wear what is comfortable and works, and on a ride of any length nothing really beats proper bike clothes. Having worn pretty much every combination of clothing on mountain and road rides in pretty much every type of weather I have to say that nothing can really beat the old tight shorts and jersey. It just makes more sense to wear the right clothes for the right sport. Think jeans, Vans and a hoodie on a competitive Olympic swimmer or a guy wearing a Speedo in a skate-park riding a rail and you might see my point. Clothing should be situation appropriate, and fashion sense is relative to the activity or situation (so-called “fashion sense” is by it’s nature really subjective in the first place)