Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Photo stories: Odori Park drummers

Saturday, 27 June, 2015

I recently went on a business trip to Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. I was attending the ISO standards meeting for Technical Committee 42, Photography. Sapporo is a lovely city – it has the cleanliness and efficiency of Tokyo, without the overwhelming crush of people. And everywhere people are friendly and willing to help you as a non-Japanese speaker.

In the centre of the city is Odori Park, a long-thin block-wide park which runs east-west for a dozen or so city blocks. I was staying very near the park, and in my spare time it was the obvious place to go to enjoy the ambience of the city. The park was full of people… simply enjoying the cool early summer. There were many people just having picnics, sitting on the grass and chatting, or playing frisbee, skateboarding, enjoying ice cream cones, or playing music.

Sapporo drummers

I spotted this group of three people simply sitting on a bench and playing drums, looking like they were having a fantastic time. They played for several minutes as I wandered around, and I kept being drawn back to them to listen and absorb their evident joie de vivre. I walked off, intending to leave the area, but was suddenly struck and inspired to go back and ask them if I could take a photo.

They were still drumming, and I held up my camera and smiled at them, gesturing what I wanted to do. They smiled back and nodded at me. I stepped in close and took this picture. I showed it to them on the back of the camera, and they laughed appreciatively, never stopping their drumming the whole time. I said, “arigato gozaimasu”, and continued on my way.

Photo stories: In Step

Wednesday, 22 April, 2015

In 2009 I went on a holiday to England and Wales with my wife. We hired a car from Heathrow Airport, and began our trip by driving directly away from London. The plan was to do a loop through Cornwall, up to Wales, then across and down to London via the Cotswolds. We hadn’t booked any accommodation in advance except for after we got to London, and we spent two weeks driving to wherever took our fancy and finding a place to stay for the night.

In step

After several days we ended up in Shrewsbury, just on the English side of the border with Wales. It’s a lovely city, with the famous Shrewsbury Abbey just across the river and outside the walls of the old medieval city. We liked it so much we stayed thee two nights, giving us time to spend an entire day walking around and absorbing the architecture and atmosphere. The weather was intermittently drizzly, and at one point in the early afternoon the rain got quite heavy. We took refuge in a cafe which served gelato, and spent half an hour or so sitting and eating the sweet treat.

While sitting, I watched the people walking past outside. As this couple waked by, sharing an umbrella, I grabbed my camera and took this candid shot. I have no idea who these people are, but this is one of my favourite photos from that trip, as I feel it captures something about the couple, and the way they quietly work together to withstand the British drizzle. Whoever these two are, I hope they are still happy together.

Photo stories: Piazza San Marco

Wednesday, 15 April, 2015

I took this photo in Venice, on my first trip to Italy in 2001.

Piazza San Marco

Venice is an amazing place. Sure, it’s hyped up, but for me it lived up to the hype and then some. It is pedestrian-oriented and there is something amazing and interesting around every corner of the maze-like warren of streets and canals. It buzzes with activity, but even though many of the people you see are tourists, there is a definite local atmosphere if you just head a few steps off the main tourist strips. Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) is of course as far on the tourist strip as it’s possible to get, but this also makes it a colourful and fascinating place. It gleams at night with lights and people and sounds – it’s something to just immerse yourself in.

I took my Canon T70 35mm film camera on this trip, with a small selection of lenses and a cheap aluminium tripod. I am very glad I took the tripod, because I took quite a few shots at night, requiring slow shutter speeds – this being one of them. Being film, I had to estimate the exposure with a bit of help from the camera’s light meter and then hope that the pictures turned out okay when I got home and had them developed.

I set up behind the tables at this cafe, aiming at Basilica San Marco on the right, and the opera singer with small group of musicians on the cafe stage at left. The photo turned out better than I hoped. I like the blur of the moving people in the square, which adds some of that atmosphere of activity which you feel when really there.

I scanned the digital image from a print of the negative. This is one of my most viewed photos online. A while back I was contacted by the Victorian Department of Education (from the Australian state of Victoria), who requested permission to reproduce this photo in an exam paper. Since it was for educational purposes, I granted them permission, and they sent me a copy of the paper. It appeared in a geography paper, with questions about the use of land and buildings in this area.

This is not actually my favourite photo from that trip to Italy. Maybe I’ll tell the story of that one another day.

Photo stories: Fujin noodles

Thursday, 9 April, 2015

Since I started talking about individual photos with my latest photo, I thought for the second one I’d go to the other extreme in one sense, and show the first photo I uploaded to Flickr:

Fujin Noodles

I took this photo in January 2006, just a few hours after landing in Tokyo on my first visit to Japan. This was my first business trip with Canon Information Systems Research Australia, the company I’ve been working for ever since. Being a subsidiary of Canon, we have plenty of contact with the head office in Tokyo, and staff often take business trips over there.

I was travelling with a co-worker (that’s him blurred on the right, holding the spoon) who had been to Tokyo before, so could rely on his experience in getting around, and in finding a place to eat on the night we arrived. Being January, it was very cold – much colder than I am used to even in midwinter at home. There was snow on the ground. We caught a shuttle bus from Narita Airport to Shinagawa, where our hotel was. After checking in, we were hungry and so ventured out to find a place to eat.

My companion spotted a random ramen restaurant not far from the hotel and we managed to squeeze into some seats at the bar counter you can see here. The meal was hot and delicious, freshly made by the cooks behind the counter. I took this photo with a compact IXUS30 camera, which was the first really decent quality digital camera I owned. (I actually bought it for my wife before I started working for Canon.)

I like the perspective lines in this photo, and the balance between blue and red light across the two halves of the image. The slight tilt and the blurring of the motion of some of the people give it a sense of motion and busy-ness which matches my impressions of that meal. That, and memories of the hustle and bustle on this first night in Tokyo make this one of my favourite photos from that short trip.

Photo stories: Dee Why sunrise

Sunday, 5 April, 2015

I thought I may as well start with the most recent photo on my Flickr stream:


This photo is a result of my quest this autumn to catch a great sunrise. Sunrises and sunsets can be beautiful and can make fantastic photos, but you have to catch them with the right weather conditions. And for really good sightlines and scenery, you can’t beat the sun rising or setting over water. The problem is, I live on the east coast of Australia.

If you live on a western coast, you have the luxury of watching the sun set over water. You can have a leisurely day doing whatever you do, and judge the weather conditions to see if there will be a spectacular sunset, and then go photograph it at leisure. If you live on an eastern coast, you need to catch the sunrise. You need to wake up before dawn, peer outside to try to guess the weather conditions, then head out anyway because you can’t tell. You arrive at the coast in pitch blackness, while nearly everyone else is still asleep, and you hope that the sunrise will be worth it. And more often than not, the weather is cruel.

The best time of year to do this peculiar form of self-torture is autumn, just before daylight saving ends. The weather is still warm enough for early mornings to not be freezing cold, and the late sunrise means you only have to get up around 5:30, rather than 4am or so in summer. This autumn, I’ve made five pre-dawn treks to various beaches, hoping for that elusive golden sunrise. Each time I’ve been more or less disappointed.

I can still get some photos that I like and am proud of, and this photo is one from my most recent excursion, on 30 March. I think it turned out well, and is pretty good for the timing, which was about 20 minutes before sunrise. However, very soon after I took this photo, a storm rolled in from the south and thick cloud obscured that pink glow on the horizon. I never saw the actual sunrise at all, and I didn’t get the sort of photos I was really hoping for.

But still, no photographic trip is a complete loss if you look at it the right way. I still took some photos, of clouds and swirling ocean and wave-washed rocks. And I was up early and had the whole day to look forward to! I love cramming as much into a day as I can, so this was a good start.

Facebook makes change that everyone likes

Saturday, 11 January, 2014

Social media giant Facebook has rolled out a change to how its newsfeed and sharing system works and, in a surprising development, users actually seem to like it. Several “share this if you like the Facebook changes” memes have popped up and spread widely across the social network. Bloggers are generally very positive in their comments about the change, and it’s hard to find anyone saying anything negative.

“I really like it,” says tech blogger Howard Freeman. “The UI change is clean and intuitive, it’s easier to find the stuff you want to see, and it just plain looks nicer. I’m seeing exactly what I want in the newsfeed, and my posts are being shared with exactly who I want to see them. I was skeptical at first, but they’ve really nailed it this time.”

Privacy groups went over the changes with a fine tooth comb. “We expected to see ridiculous opt-out changes that seriously impacted your ability to control who sees information about you,” says EFF spokesperson Wendy Smith. “Instead they made changes that even the most casual users were well-informed about and realised were exactly what they wanted. More control, more options, and it’s trivially easy to adjust the settings – although honestly, they’ve automatically changed to a setting which is exactly what every user wanted. It’s a big win for everyone who uses Facebook.”

Facebook programmer Cody Williams was taken aback by the response when the changes were rolled out this week. “We expected people to rant against these changes, start boycotts, and all that sort of stuff. I like the changes myself, but I can see that changing what people are comfortable with can cause some difficulties. I thought users would complain about the way all the controls moved around, the completely different menu system, the comment system, and the new graphic design. However, reaction seems to be good – everyone I’ve heard from appreciates the same improvements that I do.”

Even hard-core tech critic Samantha Bourne struggled to find anything to criticise in the changes. “Look, I think that thin line under the new menu bar is just a shade too blue. That’s all I have to say. Excuse me, I need to share something with my Facebook contacts.”

Book roundup

Saturday, 28 December, 2013

I’ve just finished reading The Music Instinct by Philip Ball. This is one of those books that immediately makes me think that it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I learnt more about music by reading this one book than I probably knew just before I began.

I’ve never known much about music theory. I learnt to read music at school, but never became competent at playing any instrument, or gained any of the theoretical underpinnings of how music works. I have basically just been an uneducated listener. I never really understood why scales work the way they do; why there are tones and semitones. I didn’t understand chords or chord progressions or the principles of accompaniment, or of tension and resolution in musical composition. After reading The Music Instinct, for the first time in my life I feel as though a veil has been lifted from my eyes and I can, for the first time ever, see some of the underlying structure and theory behind music.

It’s more than just music theory too. There are chapters on how music elicits emotions, the psychology and cultural biases of how we interpret what we hear, and what, if anything, music might mean in some sense. It cites many psychological studies which reveal astounding and surprising things about how we perceive music. Every chapter and paragraph was full of fascinating information. I am going to keep a copy of this book handy in the future, and will no doubt refer to it again and again. I highly recommend it.

And speaking of book recommendations, I want to share some other books which I have enjoyed reading recently – and ask any of you reading this to recommend some to me. I will pre-empt some of this by saying that for this purpose I am really only interested in non-fiction. I’m interested in most subjects: history, geography, science, sport, music, travel…

My list:

  • Venice: Pure City, Peter Ackroyd. A wonderful picture of Venice and its history, which made my trip there last year immeasurably richer and more enjoyable.
  • The History of England, Volume 1: Foundation, Peter Ackroyd. I bought this after enjoying the above book by the same author, and found it a fascinating telling of the history of England up to the rise of the Tudor dynasty. I recently got the second volume and it’s next on my to-read list.
  • Leviathan, or The Whale, Philip Hoare. Everything you ever wanted to know about whales and more, told in a compelling style. We all love these creatures, and this book explores that fascination.
  • On the Map, Simon Garfield. A series of vignettes about various maps through history, interspersed with information about how maps are made, what they tell us, and what makes them so fascinating.
  • Ingenious Pursuits, Lisa Jardine. The story of the scientific revolution – basically a history of science around the 17th century, covering names like Newton, Halley, Hooke, Boyle, Cassini, Huygens, Leeuwenhoek.
  • Atlantic, Simon Winchester. Tales of the first ocean that western civilisation encountered, how it was explored, crossed, yet remained untamed, including its roles in commerce, migration, and war.

Band Practice

Wednesday, 18 December, 2013

I was at my last drum lesson for the year last night, and I mentioned that I was trying to get the guys together for some more band practice over the Christmas/New Year period. In a year and a half we’ve so far only managed to actually get together as a group and play songs twice, which is pretty miserable – though understandable given most of them are busy parents with young kids and so on.

My teacher suggested that I could try joining the music school’s adult band program. They actually have two different programs: they match you up with other people who play different instruments according to your tastes in music, then they either give you a set list of about ten songs to learn, or they let you pick your own songs. You attend a roughly 2-hour practice session at the school once a week for some number of weeks, which is attended by a teacher who helps everyone with the songs. And then at the end they book you into a pub to play an actual gig!

My teacher said at the stage I am at with my drumming, I am definitely ready for this, and it will improve my drumming enormously. He says I really need to start playing with other people to develop that part of my experience. I’m going to consider it for a while and try to get my friends organised enough to do some more regular practice together. If that turns out to be too difficult, then I may go for the music school program…

Stay tuned.

Drum progress

Tuesday, 12 November, 2013

Tonight at my drumming lesson my teacher said, “Okay, it’s time to work on your weaknesses.”

Normally he’s very encouraging and tells me I’m doing great – to the point where I’ve started to take it with a slight grain of salt as I know there are things I need to improve on. So it was quite a change this time.

My weaknesses are practising in time with a metronome, and transitions between grooves and fills, and grooves and other grooves.

I’ve tried practising with a metronome, but I find I just can’t stay in time to the clicks. I can play along with a song and keep perfect time. But when it’s just a metronome I drift all over the place and can’t home in on keeping beat with the clicks. I don’t understand why I find this so difficult – it must be some cognitive thing where I can’t process the solitary clicking noise into my beating time. My teacher suggested I start with a fairly slow beat – something I can easily keep pace with – and just let myself drift around with it, and keep going, not worrying too much about trying to stay on the pulse of the metronome. He thinks after a while I’ll naturally drift into time with it and start keeping an even beat in time with the clicks.

And to practice keeping a groove with fills for whole songs, I am to play along with random songs, and just try to keep the beat for the whole song, throwing in whatever fills I feel like when it feels like the song needs one. Don’t worry about copying the song’s drumming exactly, just do whatever I want as long as I stay in time throughout. That should be fun, at least, not like metronome work!


Thursday, 29 August, 2013

241/365 Eastern Water SkinkI’ve had a couple of good days for spotting wildlife. I saw this fellow sunning himself on a rock as I was walking home from work today, just 50 metres or so from where I saw the brushturkeys yesterday.

This is an Eastern water skink (Eulamprus quoyii). It was maybe 40 centimetres long. I managed to poke my camera fairly close before it scooted away.