Sakyōbana, crumbling pillar of Heaven

In my last post I explained about the “Pillars of Heaven”, the eight objects sent down by the gods to prevent Iki island from floating around the Sea of Japan at its own free will. Other than Saruiwa the Monkey Rock, most have crumbled into the sea. Of the remaining pillars, my favourite is Sakyōbana, a lava rock formation that looks like a massive, stubby finger pointing up to the sky. You can just imagine this as the remains of a “heavenly pillar.”

Sakyōbana sits just off the coast on the Easternmost part of the island. The cliffs are about 20 meters high, and covered in stiff vegetation, clinging to the rocks as the ocean winds whip at the rock face. It is spectacular seascape viewing at this part of the island. There is not much civilization, and the road runs right along the cliffs so you get amazing views. Also, these cliffs are where these cool sea cows hang out.

At Sakyōbana is a wide grassy field atop the cliff with a memorial sign, a gazebo for windy picnicking, and a shrine overlooking the sea. Here is a 4K video of Sakyobana from the top of the cliffs:

I climbed down the cliff to take some shots of the waves close up. All the rocks are igneous and dangerous. I was on the lookout for snakes, imagining if they popped out and caused me to fall, the lava rocks would tear my flesh before I fell into the big waves crashing into the rocks. It was very dramatic. My wife looked down upon me from the cliff tops, impassive as a stone statue.

The tide was starting to come in, so I didn’t spend that long taking footage of the waves, as the water began lapping at my feet. Here is a 4K video at the water level:

Below is a bit of a gallery. It is just one of the stunning natural spots that Ikijima offers.


Monkey Rock, a pillar of heaven

On the eastern side of Iki, jutting 45 meters out of the ocean is a giant rock formation, somewhat covered in moss-like greenery. From a certain angle the rocks look uncannily like a massive gorilla, solemnly looking out over a nearby cliff. This is the treasure of Ikijima: Saruiwa 猿岩 or “Monkey Rock.”

The Kojiki, or the “Record of Ancient Matters”, describes the creation of Japan by the gods Izanagi and Izanami (the parents of the Sun Goddess). With their jewelled spear they originally created 8 islands, not all are part of modern day Japan. The fifth island created was Iki… but there was a problem. Iki was a “living island” and apparently floated around the sea at its own whim. This was inconvenient for the gods, who preferred that islands stay put. So they cast down eight massive pillars to pin the island, and hold it in place upon the sea. Saruiwa is one of those “heavenly pillars.”

The other seven are not so spectacular — most have crumbled into the sea (I will cover one of the better ones in a future post). But Saruiwa is extremely striking. I wish I had a 50mm lens to give you a sense of how massive the thing is.

Below is a mini gallery from the rock. You can check out a few more photos and short videos, including some from the evening and from the cliff beside the giant Monkey Rock on Flickr.


Sounds of the Monkey Rock

It had been raining for days, so when I went up there the grasses were full of all sorts of life. I decided to take a quick recording. Listen to this while you look at the photos, and maybe you will get a feeling of being there. It was very windy, so I pointed the mic away from the ocean, but you can hear the waves in the background.

The National Mall, Washington DC

I am travelling in the capital region of the United States right now on business. I took a day to walk the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not hot. The wind made it deceptively cool, and I got a terrible sunburn.

I walked the 5km from Union Station to the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, and finally to the Lincoln Memorial. The National Mall is massive. This is America doing BIG at its best. The architecture, design and sheer size of the monuments is awe-inspiring.

satellite photo with line representing walking path
My walking path at the Mall

The Capitol Building had some protestors on the lawn. I didn’t get close enough to find out what they were protesting — being a foreign citizen I didn’t want to get swept up in anything. I was shocked at the size of the Washington monument. I thought that it was just an obelisk. The thing is massive and has an elevator inside! The thought put into the design of the Reflecting Pool and the Korean War monument is amazing. Below is just a few of my pictures. You can see all 45 photos and videos on Flickr →

From the Lincoln Memorial, I took a quick taxi to the White House. There were lots of school groups around on the day. You cannot get tours of the White House as a Canadian anymore. I walked around the north side and the south side, and then to the White House Visitor center, which is open to the public. On my way I was stopped by some very aggressive yelling police (actually, pretty much all the police in DC were like that). Everyone on the sidewalk was told to freeze while they blocked off the roads for some sort of presidential motorcade. Of course, everyone including me took video. I am not sure if Trump was in that car or not, but it was quite an entourage.

DC is a really nice looking city, much cleaner than most of the US cities I have been to. Mind you, I was only in the hipster Adams Morgan neighbourhood, with its tree-lined streets and classic buildings, and downtown in the capitol area. Still, it was pleasant. Contrast it with Baltimore, which I visited the following day. I grabbed a taxi from the train station and we were heading downtown. I could see a massive building with late 19th century copper roofing, similar to the parliament buildings in Ottawa. I asked the driver what that building was — literally the first interesting building I saw — and he replied simply, “Jail.”

I am staying in the inner harbour in Baltimore and it is all under contruction/gentrification right now. Red brick of the old industrial town is giving way to glass facades. It isn’t very reminiscient of The Wire at all, and I am glad for it.

Baltimore downtown

New camera: Canon G7X

New Canon G7X

Before going to Japan in March, I sold my Canon 60D and all my lenses. My intention was to buy a Sony RX100iii or a Canon G7X. I agonized over the differences. I like the Sony’s eye piece and fully flexible screen, but I don’t like their video formats. Also, that screen looks pretty delicate. The Canon’s touch screen was appealing, as was its video pull-focus feature. While at Yodobashi Camera at Umeda in Osaka, I did a side-by-side. In the end, I was able to negotiate the Canon down to just under $400, including a free neckstrap, screen protector and SD card. That is less than half the Sony!

After using it for a couple of weeks, I couldn’t be happier. It is an excellent little machine, super small and with 3 function rings I feel like I have as much control as my 60D. I am glad I bought it and I would recommend it if you are looking for a powerful yet pocketable camera. You can see a selection of G7X pics from my recent Japan trip here.

I plan on using the leftover money from my 60D towards a new laptop.

Shinran and the Buddhist Evangelical movement of Japan

A fifth of Japanese — about 25 million people — identify as practitioners of Jōdo Shinshū, the largest denomination of Buddhism in Japan. My family in Japan are all Jōdo Shinshū, also known as “Shin” Buddhism. I am currently here in Japan, and this weekend we will be performing the 13th memorial service for my wife’s grandmother’s death. This ceremony will be conducted by a Shin officiant, of course. I have participated in the funeral as well the memorials for the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th anniversaries. This will be the last one. Thus, I took this opportunity to explore the history of the sect, the life of its founder, and visited some of the important historical places in Kyoto linked to his life. Continue reading “Shinran and the Buddhist Evangelical movement of Japan”

Random pages of Coupland

Previously I praised Douglas Coupland’s typography, and explained that:

Often when reading Coupland’s books, I use my smartphone camera to capture the unique layouts

I have collected a number of those photos and gathered them together with some commentary in the galleries below. Have a click through, and enjoy some pithy quotes, equally insightful and random.

Microserfs (1995)

jPod (2007)

Extraordinary Canadians Marshall Mcluhan

My short review.

Replacing Flickr

Chad on www.flickr.com

Yahoo’s lack of innovation is one thing, but what really drives me bonkers about Flickr is the terrible video support. Maybe 1 in 10 of my video uploads are successful. I take a lot of short vids on my iPhone and even on my 60D I think they should be viewed within context, alongside the still photos that were taken at the same time. Isn’t that the whole point of having video capability on your digital camera? To enhance the still photo viewing experience with sound and motion? The video problem became so frustrating that I have begun the hunt for a Flickr replacement.

My ideal photo/video sharing site would have the following features:

  • upload videos
  • marking of photos as private
  • uploading from iOS devices
  • activity stream (see below)
  • BONUS: custom domain name

I do not use Flickr as a portfolio site. Flickr fills two roles for me:

  1. Photoblogging: Anytime I attend an event, or even see something interesting while walking around, I shoot and post it to Flickr, oftentimes straight from my iPhone. This is why I like Flickr’s default view of all photos in descending order. It is an activity stream, like a blog. I do enough of this that I don’t want to flood my blog with photos.
  2. Private photo sharing for friends and family: I use the heck out of Flickr Guest Passes. They are great because you don’t have to ask someone to join Flickr to view the private photos, plus they get to see the private photos in context alongside the non-private ones. The only negative for using Flickr to share pics privately is that it sucks for downloading photos, something that MobileMe made quite easy.

I used to use MobileMe for private sharing and Flickr for public sharing, but once I discovered Guest Passes I was able to consolidate my photo uploading. Any replacement should not require me to significantly increase the number of steps in my workflow. Furthermore, splitting off my private photo sharing to another service also is a step backward since I want my friends and family to be able to see my public photos as well.

Over the past three weeks I have spent time with SmugMug, Zenfolio, 500px, ZangZing and Google+. Below are my judgements of each.

SmugMug

The 799lbs gorilla in the photo sharing space. More directed towards pros than casual sharers like myself, SM seems to be eating a lot of Flickr’s lunch lately. Uploading video is smooth and their iOS app is serviceable. Using a custom domain is dead easy and SmugMug offers extensive customization. However, it has an overly complex organization scheme (eg. categories > galleries) and is too dependent on albums. This impacts their privacy options as you cannot mark individual photos for friends/family and have to do so at the album level. It also means that there is no general Activity Stream equivalent. I was able to figure out a workaround using their brilliant Smart Albums to simulate an activity stream. If only their Recent Updates module could filter out photos based on keywords, then things would be simpler. Two other complaints I have are the terrible URL schemes and of course the terrible UI. If I am going to use a tool nearly every day, I want to enjoy using it. That said, SmugMug is a strong contender to replace Flickr.

Zenfolio

Zenfolio has been eating a bit of SmugMug’s lunch recently, mostly due to its relative simplicity. It has a much better UI, but still feels like Windows XP. Zenfolio also offers custom domains. Customization isn’t as extensive, but you can get sites to look decent. It just takes some work to make sure your site doesn’t look like it has been hit with the ugly stick. Like SmugMug, Zenfolio is dependent on folder structure. The Collections feature is nice though, and I might be able to leverage that to make a public Activity Stream. Zenfolio does have an iOS app, but I didn’t bother trying it. Zenfolio is definitely less of a pain to setup than SmugMug, but I think it would be too much of a pain on a day to day basis, at least in the way that I want to use it.

500px

The main thing 500px has got going for it is UX. It is beautiful. And the Stories feature combined with Flow allows me to photoblog and flexibly create albums as necessary. However, with no privacy features, video uploads or way to upload from my iPhone, 500px is out of the running. Excellent for a straight portfolio site though.

ZangZing

Here is another site with a beautiful interface. I really enjoy using this product, but once again, no video sharing and no iPhone app make it a non-starter for me. Also, the uploader requires Flash, which is a major #WTF in this day and age.

Google+

I actually thought I might give Google Plus a try. Here is a product that is optimized for sharing to specific individuals, groups, or the public at large. They do have an iOS app, crappy as it is. The Activity Stream functionality is there. Videos are no problem; and it is being hyped as a new community for Flickr refugees and photogs at large. Maybe I am doing it wrong, and need to spend more time with it, but Plus doesn’t seem satisfying. I think the issue is accessibility. Flickr and other services have a gallery or RSS or other ways to passively view photos. Plus is very album centric. And since most of the people I am sharing with are not on Plus,
it seems I am forced to email everyone for each photo I upload. Moreover, like I’ve mentioned above, I don’t really want to flood Google Plus stream with photos. Even though I update my Flickr feed all the time, I don’t expect people to look at it every day. It should be accessible to the period browse though. Google Plus deserves more exploring I think.

And the winner is…

The result is I think overall, indecision. There is no clear winner. Photo sharing is obviously an area with tons of opportunity for innovation judging by all the alternatives out there. If I was of a mind, I would try and tackle this problem myself. Anyone out there want to tackle this problem with me? 😉

After looking at the competition, overall it seems that Flickr satisfies most of my needs. Despite Flickr’s shortcomings, I am already well invested into it. Furthermore, the Flickr Community (something that I have not talked about) still has a ton of inertia. It is not worth abandoning just yet. It has been 4 years since Flickr introduced video. Is my hope that they will fix it futile? Rather than searching for an alternative to jump to, maybe I should put my energy into petitioning Flickr to solve their video problems.

If you have any suggestions or recommendations for photo/video sharing that you think I should look at, please get in touch.

Above: Obligatory shot of cloudscape from plane window.

Well, I have made it to Kyoto. I will be here for the next three months. I have been here for three days and have almost gotten over my jetlag. It has been nice to be united with my wife and daughter after three months apart.

Kyoto is like my hometown in Japan. I went to school here and lived for a total of 4 years in this town. I have prowled many of it’s streets, and have many memories here. I plan on visiting many of those special spots. Another thing I am looking forward to is using my 60D to take some photos. I have already started if you take a look at my Flickr feed.

I should be able to more blogging while I am here as well. And of course, I still plan on doing Lining Things Up. I might even do a special Japan version, and interview one or two interesting web people from here.

Anyways, if you are in or around the Kansai area, hit me up and let’s meetup.

Yesterday after work I got a frantic SMS. “Got fix to Vanier Cup! Wanna go?” Sure! I thought. I haven’t been to a game of hand-egg since the mid-nineties.

What a dramatic game! The underdog McMaster Marauders — who have not been in the running for the Vanier Cup in 40 years — were taking on the Laval Rouge et Or who were looking for their seventh championship. McMaster owned the first half, going up 23 points. Laval turned on the heat in the second, overtaking McMaster, who were able to tie it up with just a few minutes left. Unfortunately, they missed a field goal in the final 3 seconds, taking the game to overtime.

In overtime each team got a chance at a play from the 35 yard line. McMaster made a touchdown and converted the point. Then Laval had their chance and equalized. Laval was up again and were sacked and the ball was overturned. McMaster had another chance for a field goal to put the game to bed and made it! The crowd went wild and the McMaster players poured onto the pitch. Amazing scenes.

There was some excellent football on display. Great passing, long runs, and the MM quarterback jumping over a guy at full-tilt, avoiding a sacking. It was a loooooong game (nearly 4 hours to play four 18 minute quarters!) but it was well worth it.

See all my photos of the event.