Tag Archives: apps

A Tail of Two Cetaceans

Just when you thought the NOVA implosion was history, along comes a new one, this time exploding right from the start. It’s a real blast from the past – perhaps a millenium ago – whose light was discovered less than a week ago by an astronomer in Yamagata.

Nominally visible to the naked eye, Nova Delphini, in the minor constellation Delphinus, the Dolphin, is the first such unaidedly eyeable cosmic event in six years. If you look toward the Summer Triangle, find the apex, the bright star Altair. Continue past the apex, and the Dolphin is basically swimming a short distance beyond (“above” the isosceles triangle vis-a-vis its short base between Vega and Deneb).

I harbor no illusions that the flecks in this iPhone photo are much of anything but “noise,” but the four-star diamond shape in the cloudy area does have a resemblance to the Dolphin. The nova itself probably isn’t visible here.

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I used a delayed shutter release, long-exposure app called SlowShutter, mounting the phone on a stable surface before the shutter opened, then deliberately covering the lens before “releasing (not plunging) the plunger” (picking the phone up to tap the shutter closed; the longest automatic alternative to the open-ended “bulb” setting is only 15 seconds). This exposure was 102 seconds at ISO 3200 (also set in the app), edited again afterward in the iPhoto app for exposure, resulting in the purple hue.

This was a couple nights back. Now that the moon is rising later, Nova Delphini might be visible until midnight or beyond. If you’re really interested, getting out into the country where there’s less ambient light would be worthwhile.

Are We Having Fun?

Jumping from one dolphin dispatch to another, the caption/comment on this Facebook post resonated with me, though some subsequent commenters jumped to the conclusion it was anti-science in tone. It wasn’t necessarily. And though there is potentially great value in analyzing phenomena like fun and play, I think there is something to the comment. I don’t know about the actual porpoise of the writer, but there are a least two kinds of people who might say what the writer did: those who are indeed making a facile anthropomorphic assumption, and those, in all likelihood a little more educated, who with affected humbler-than-thou self-effacement tend to assume only humans are capable of whimsy, or for that matter, evil. And let’s face it: Fun is generally not so fun when you stop to over-analyze it, though the devil of “over-” may be in the d(olphins’) tails. For now, I do think one thing we can rest assured humans fortunately maintain a sovereign, inalienable right to is the bad pun. No other species would touch that.

Taster’s Choice

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Take Five

Upwards of forty downtown Tajimi establishments are teaming up for this first annual upcoming event, similar to a barhopping “machi-kon,” called “Yume Machi.” Over the course of two days, for the ¥3500 price of one ticket (¥4000 the starting day of the event), you can eat, drink, shop or otherwise partake of services at any five participating shops, restaurants, cafes or bars at no extra cost. You get a map of all the stops and a special hand fan to encourage walking from place to place and identify you as a participant.

It’s a good value, a way to try out some places you thought were out of your price range, and maybe even a chance to make some new friends. Event menus for each spot are here. Tickets are available at participating stores and through the website.

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The event flyer and website are also touting a smartphone app that seems to feature coupons and information on area events and businesses. It seems to be a web app and is called “Tono App.”

Now Showing

A Shot in the Arm

Well, ain’t that a kick in the head. No sooner do I do a little cheerleading and blog about a Kickstarter fundraiser, than Kickstarter comes out with its own iPhone app (free!) the same day. The LiveCode project needed something like this.

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Art in the Park

Also kicking off today is the Ishoken Graduate Exhibition. Students graduating from the Tajimi-sponsored ceramic arts school are showing their earthen theses at Ceramic Park Mino through Sunday. A hands-on ceramics lab and design course are also being offered at the facility today.

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I talked to the owner of art de vivre cafe (thanks for the kumquats, Tomo!), a graduate of the program, who said the students come from, and ultimately disperse back to, all over the country, putting careers on hold for a year to concentrate on their art. I’ll try to get up to the show for some photos.

A Shot in the Dark

Finally, a sock-soaking walk in today’s cold rain netted me just this:

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No, this Taita Line train hasn’t rudely run up against a defenseless traffic sign. It’s what’s underneath. This underpass beneath the JR Chuo and Taita lines, with a clearance of just 160 centimeters, was listed on the map below as a little thrillseeking spot (I’ll have more on the map in another post). Having run up against a closed “Honey’s Diner” (perhaps not so ironically, someone else I asked today recently had the same not-so-sweet experience, minus the rain, being, like a frustrated Pooh, unable to gain access to this purported Honey west of the station), this low point was now destined to be the highpoint of my walk. Though I’ve been there before, just for kicks, I ducked by to see.

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My mission, should I choose to accept it: while simultaneously disentangling a complex, insidious snarl of 60′s TV spy and detective drama cliches and characters, to delve into the dark depths of the subversive passageway, track its clandestine comings and goings, assess potential sources of leaks, tease out its secrets, thwart imminent threats, and generally save the planet, being ever careful to dodge nefarious puddles and sporadic dripping train fluids.

Never a second thought. I was game.

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Though the sign states a 1.6 meter limit, the actual height is higher. No need to duck. I walked under it with my umbrella overhead. And there are little side nooks to stand in if a car comes through. And yes, they do. Especially thrillseeking taxis, it seems. Beeping their horns at cold, splishing, dimly lit, umbrella-toting, thoroughly engrossed, picture-taking underpass pilgrims. I half expected Tige Andrews to come chasing after me for jaywalking. At one point I thought I was about to be cornered by an unknown agent on a stealthy new kind of Segway. You can imagine my relief when the silhouette turned out to be an obaasan pushing one of those upright personal grocery carts. Relatively unscathed, and with the security of the free world more or less assured, I eventually scampered back to the safety of Nagase Dori and a rich, hot, foamy cafe latte at art de vivre. You want thrills? I got thrills. I know of an even slimmer chute under the tracks in Toki that will keep you glued* to the edge of your seat, at least until the next Kickstarter commercial.

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*Think about it.

Software Development From All Walks – Not a One-Way Street

A quick word about a Kickstarter donation project you might be interested in supporting.

For over ten years now, I’ve used software called LiveCode to write programs for games and English learning software, quickly create utilities for my Macs, develop apps (in progress) for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and Android, and get a whole range of things done more quickly. LiveCode allows laypeople to develop applications that can be used on Windows, Mac, mobile, the Web, and more, without learning a terribly difficult programming language. Maybe the key word in all of that is “and,” as opposed to “or.” You can basically write the program only once, and deploy to all those platforms at the click of a single button. And unlike with regular programming, you can see your results right away. NASA uses LiveCode for its LandSat satellites. The classic adventure/puzzle game Myst and its sequel were created using LiveCode’s predecessor, HyperCard.

Application possibilities are largely limited only by your imagination. For this blog, I’ve thrown together one quickie that winnows out obscure words from a wordlist and picks three random words to give my posts an occasional kickstart of their own. LiveCode is also a great way to teach kids programming. Users are all over the world. There’s actually quite an accomplished Japanese LiveCode user right here in Tajimi.

The Kickstart that LiveCode’s makers want now is for releasing, alongside the licensed commercial version (with which you can release any product for sale and keep the inner workings private), an identical, free open source version that anyone can use, and any professional developer can easily edit, expand, and add IDE features and platforms to. Anything made with the open source version will have its code open for anyone to see, which shouldn’t matter for personal, in-company or educational use, or to anyone not needing to protect their code as intellectual property. New changes from the open source version will be folded back into the commercial one, too.

Making it open source would benefit many people who otherwise wouldn’t get involved in programming (scripting), as well as people who already use the software. The millions of regular people who can’t program surely have a lot of creative ideas that professional developers or their retainers don’t (or don’t have time for). Giving Joe Shirtsleeve the ability to create apps can realize great possibilities that would otherwise go untapped. Through open sourcing, LiveCode should be better able to adapt to future tech developments as well.

Contributors to the LiveCode Kickstarter campaign currently include Steve Wozniak and Cory Doctorow. I plan to kick in what I can as soon as I’m sure my payment method will work.

Just trying to help these folks out if I can. Thanks for the indulgence.

Update: This site has been put up to show some of what you can do with LiveCode.

Last Chance

Screw it. WordPress app doesn’t play well with shaking sometimes and I just lost all I typed. In brief, the news today is that the world exists. And I made my triennial or so donation to Japanese public welfare bought a bloody lottery ticket (today’s the last chance at a jumbo jackpot).

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Well, the Mayans (their misinterpreters, I know – that’s part of what was lost in the crash) were at least right about my post, now lost in the past. Evaporated. Up in smoke. History.

And I’m outta time.

The End.

Wind in the Road

Let me introduce yet another funky little cafe tucked into the hills and winding backroads of rural Gifu, Fuu.

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This cozy little rustic hideaway, in its third year of business, lacks any significant signage beyond its immediate surroundings, so no one just happens to wind up there. It’s in Azuma, Akechi-cho in Ena. In your navigation software, enter the Japanese kanji (not the usual katakana) for kōhī (珈琲) and then fuu (風).

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You’ll be greeted by the kindly owner and ushered down a hall to a wood slab table in front of a little wood stove, or perhaps to a front room where the morning sun will keep you warm. Another hardwood floored room has a dugout horigotatsu in the middle for warmth.

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The name, the owner will be glad to tell you, comes from the breeze that blows through, giving a refreshing, cooling feeling in summer. In winter, the same draft renders the woodstove the heart and hearth of the place. It gets bone-chilling without it. Still, as it’s on the leeward side of the surrounding hills, the weather is consistently milder than the rest of Ena and Nakatsugawa. You can see some of the dried kindling under the bookcase below. It reminded me of college days when we chopped wood most every morning to stoke the day, and somehow made a fractured axe last all winter in the process.

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There’s a nice selection of books, many about design and style, for inspiration and information. You’ll also find artwork in every nook and cranny. Do let me know next time you find an actual cranny somewhere, by the way. The only ones I’ve actually seen have strangely always been in print, and invariably right next to the words “nook(s) and.” Uncrannily peculiar.

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While the owner’s real pride is a slowly prepared cup of coffee to sip in this idyllic nest in the woods (with a healthy serving of the story of how it all came to be, hacked out from a jungly old bungalow after a life in the concrete jungle of Nagoya), she does serve pasta lunches for those who come on an empty stomach.

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She was kind enough to throw this sweet potato on the wood stove (in foil on the stove above and in the raw below), serving it with green tea after the lunch and coffee, on the house. It was a nice experience, skinny skin and all.

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That heat, something we tend to take for granted even without much domestic central heating here, really became a theme running through it all. Also playing through (which reminds me, Fuu, unfortunately(?) like much of rural Japan, is also surrounded by golf courses) was French chanson music. C’est si bon.

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Antiquey items and of course plenty of pottery for sale line the variegated walls, shelves and staircases.

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Below, complementing a roundtable with all different school chairs à la Momogusa, is an old card catalog salvaged from a school library. By sheer coincidence, someone else on the other side of the world just had the same idea. Maybe it’s just that I used to be a library worker that I thought it interesting. I once checked and corrected my university’s entire general collection card catalog, card by flippin’ manila (get it?) index card. Remember your Dewey decimals, Huey, and never forget, always nothing before something. Only an old-school librarian may get that. Never mind. Throw analog on the fire and curl up like smoldering pages with a good book blog on your Kindle.

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Anyway, the proprietress will be glad to have your company, and only too eager to share her stories with you. She related, for instance, that the fall foliage north of Fuu on route 109 was quite spectacular, and that deer and wild boar (hey, no librarian jokes) roam the hills with abandon and a mariachi band (just seein’ if you’re paying attention). I myself spied an intriguing pair of birds running out of my car’s way which I thought might be rare grouse (raichou), which I recall are the official bird of Gifu prefecture, though perhaps they only reside at higher elevations. They may also have been thrushes*. They seemed brown and spotted, without the long tail of pheasants, and scurried along the ground rather than flying.

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Props to an iPhone app called Strip Designer, which I used to put together the collage of photos at the top of the post. Well done, and it was either free or discounted to 85 yen.

*(Sixties spy spoof/superhero reference alert) Jeepers, I learned through this that robins, would you believe, are the most common kind of thrush. Once again proving that to write will always win over chaos, and a labor of love will always make you get smart. And Robin’s your rich uncle, Bruce Wayne.

Lost and Found

Google’s free new Maps iPhone app was welcome news for anyone around here (and perhaps anywhere) who’d come to expect reliable map coverage for free on their iOS device. That it came with turn-by-turn voice navigation this soon was a wonderful unexpected Christmas bonus. A great big thank you to Big G for that. They may have taken the high-tech high road by choosing to provide it for free despite it not being pre-installed anymore.

I tried out the new navigation, technically still in beta, on my iPhone 5 (iOS 6.0), and was pretty happy. As a driver, I really felt like I was using navigation for the first time. There are new options like avoiding toll roads, and displaying public transportation and walking directions. Extra information like StreetView and online restaurant reviews is easily visible without leaving the app. It quickly recalculated routes when I took unscheduled turns. It even kept working after I turned off the screen by pressing the power button on the top edge of the phone, though in truth by pressing it I intended to shut it down completely as the battery was draining and I knew where I was at that point.

It took me to my destination without a hitch, though the place I was going was closed (the app’s Open Sesame button feature is rumored to be in pre-alpha testing). In fact there is a place in the app that shows business hours (none shown in this case), but the info may simply not have been available.

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I was going to Soya Coco, a cafe in Sogi, above, which a recent magazine listed as being open that day (though closed on cold/snowy days), but the owner came out to tell me it was only open on weekends. The app, like Apple’s (no way around it) half-baked attempt at atlasing, does have an option for reporting new or wrong information. I’ll have to get back to Soya Coco another time.

One oddity the app did display was sometimes skipping names of intersections (not that all crossings have names anyway) when telling you to turn. For example, it would say “Turn right at onto 69.” If there’s no name or landmark associated with the intersection, they could simply leave out the “at.” Now if only the WordPress iOS app would leave out “smart” quotes, life would be peefect. That typo is thanks to the iPhone 5′s changed touchscreen, the worst manifestation of which is an often (accepted up to at least iPhone 4) ignored tap on the space key, prevalent and documented enough now to be considered rife. Ithink it’s actually an pverall issueof periphery taps being ignored. Younormally don’t see it here because I take the time to check and edit.

Other than that, the main downside I experienced was the battery usage and heating of the phone, which is only to be expected, and is true of any navigation app and smartphone. Shutting off the screen (if voice directions are enough) would probably cut down on that. I’d also make sure the app was completely off when I wasn’t actually using it (by double-tapping the home button to bring up the active apps on the bottom of the screen, long-pressing any app icon there, and tapping the red minus badge of the wiggling Maps app). Of course, extended use would really call for a car adapter.

So thank Google for restoring and improving a basic free feature the iDevice had clearly lost. This is some of the company’s bread and butter, pavement they’ve been pounding step by step for years (one of their long-term goals may be to be at the center of a fully driverless road transportation system), and something no one should expect Apple to be able to match any time soon. Tim Cook’s moral compass-guided apology was well-placed. One wonders what Steve Jobs would have said (“That’s not the wrong turn you’re looking for;” “There’s great enlightenment to be found in the middle of the Australian desert, you know”). Credit where credit is due, I’d say. No reason we can’t all have a piece of the pie.

Chic Chicken

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The oniku lunch at Scratch in Toki today, where I had fun catching up with a friend I met by chance. First time I’ve had chicken like this, with big chunks of mozzarella and extra-tiny cherry tomatoes on the vine.

Line Cook

Trying out a new photo editing app called Aviary. Figured I’d kill one bird with two lines and use up the empty space with a quick mild-mannered meme. Under the chicken circumstances, this was the best I could come up with in short order. Just being light and modestly matter-of-fact amusing, not put-down sarcastic.

Red Roof

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Yesterday evening gave us a nice sunset.

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The top one is a little more exposed for the textures in the billowing dark cloud. These are with the iPhone 5, though reduced in size and quality by two apps: PhotoShop Express, and as usual WordPress. No editing other than rotating slightly and cropping. I did decide to change the (uploading) resize setting in the WordPress app to “large,” to take advantage of the new camera, and because I think we’re getting to a point where anyone (in Japan, anyway) who browses the web on mobile (yes, this is a mobile-oriented site) has a reasonably fast connection and an unlimited data plan. Desktop readers should get a better view, too. Thank you, SoftBank, for getting on board with 4G LTE.

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I Cloud

Fittingly, these photos were the first ones I shared across my devices using iCloud. They do take some time to move through the cloud, mainly on the upload side. That may have been because it was the first time and an atypical amount of other things, like apps, was also going up in a ground to cloud surge.

I forgot to try out the panorama camera feature – it would’ve been a good chance as the red extended about 180 degrees across downtown Tajimi’s skyline. Below is the opposite side of the sky, with the library on the left and our good old Himalayan Cedar at work on the right.

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Setting Sun, Getting Rainy and Losing Face

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A few shots of a nice sunset from the other day. No PhotoShopping, no editing.

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Maybe the period between here was the best time to shoot, but I missed it.

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I posted one of these to FaceBook, but I guess I accidentally deleted it. Just a warning to anyone using FaceBook on an iPhone – swiping across other people’s photos in the news feed lets you scroll through them; swiping across your own brings up a “Remove” button that can be activated without touching it.

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In case you hadn’t noticed, the rainy season officially began yesterday. Just like that.