Okayama: Photography meeting, day 1

Today was the opening day of the ISO Photography Standards meeting that I’m here in Okayama for. It’s being held at the Okayama Convention Centre, which is just a few minutes walk from our hotel, on the opposite side of the main train station.

For breakfast we went to a nearby 7-Eleven and picked up some packaged onigiri and a couple of random sweet things and headed back to the hotel room to eat them. After that, I walked the short distance to the Convention Centre, and found the meeting room, where I was early, but the Japanese admin staff had already set up. There were coffee and tea and some simple snacks, including some specialities local to Okayama:

  • Kibi-dango – small type of mochi
  • Ote-manju – very thin flour based shell filled with adzuki paste
  • Yumesen – “waffle” wafers filled with cream, vanilla or matcha

This meeting is a Plenary meeting for all of ISO Technical Committee 42 Photography, which is the umbrella committee for our technical activities in Working Group 18 on digital photography. The whole committee also includes other working groups dealing with photo printing, image stability, storage, and other issues related to physical photography. We only have a plenary meeting once every two years, and in between the separate working groups have their own technical meetings (WG18 meets three times a year). The first part of the meeting this morning was a plenary session, which was essentially administrative business for TC42 as a whole. It was also the first chance for the new chair of TC42 to lead a face-to-face plenary meeting after the 2021 meeting was replaced by a fully virtual meeting due to COVID.

After that plenary session we had the opening session of the WG18 meeting, again more administrative stuff. The main thing for me was discussion and planning of the meeting scheduled for Sydney in October 2024. We needed to decide on the dates, bearing in mind things like technical conferences that some members may be attending around the same time of the year, so there are no travel clashes. We decided on the week of 14-18 October, 2024.

During the lunch break I went by myself to a curry house not far away and had a Japanese curry with vegetables and a fried pork cutlet.

After lunch we had the first technical session. This discussed work on standards related to low light camera performance with simulation of human hand shake (i.e. not using a tripod), the memory model used for storage of digital images by cameras, and definitions of camera pixel-related specifications (like exactly what a megapixel is and how to count them for camera sensors). These sessions took us through to the close for the day, which finished a half hour early, at 16:30.

After the meeting I returned to the hotel and met my wife (who actually came out to meet me halfway) and then a little later we went out for dinner. I wanted to try an okonomiyaki place that I’d found with reviews saying they did a good vegetarian version. It was just around the corner from CBD Green where we had dinner last night, and in fact we’d walked around to have a look at it then. It was a little hard to tell which place it was, as there was no English signage at all, but it looked popular with a queue of people waiting for tables. So we went a bit early tonight to hopefully beat the queues.

When we got there, the place only had two tables occupied out of about ten, so we were seated and they turned the hotplate in the middle of our table on to heat up. The waitress apologised that they didn’t have menus in English. I said we wanted okonomiyaki and my wife was vegetarian, and she said that was okay. She went down a list of options, pointing at the lines on the Japanese menu: beef, pork, prawns, squid, mix, and also the same again with noodles. We opted for the noodle-free versions, I got the mix and my wife the vegetarian. We were looking forward to cooking them ourselves on the hotplate, but we noticed a guy cooking things on a bigger hotplate at the kitchen/bar area. One set of cooked noodles came out for one of the other tables and they put it on their hotplate and turned it down to just keep it hot. Then soon after they brought our already cooked okonomiyaki over and did the same.

Oh well. We still got to add our own sauce and mayonnaise and kelp flakes, and bonito shavings on mine. And it was really good. Although they were a little on the small side compared to other places where I’ve had okonomiyaki before. But they were very inexpensive. The whole meal, plus a glass of beer for me came to only Β₯21,000, or about A$21.

We explored a little further down the street where the restaurant was, as it looked interesting, with dozens of other small restaurants lining the sides. Then we walked back to the station, where earlier we’d seen a take-away crepe place, with a queue of people waiting to order. I fancied one of those for dessert to make the total dinner more substantial. When we got there, there was still a long queue, and I realised why when I saw a sign that indicated that the place was having a one-day sale, and all crepes were only Β₯390. In fact, the queue was even longer than it looked, because we saw a young couple try to join on the end, only to be escorted by a staff member outside the food hall area, to an additional roped off queuing area out in the main station concourse, where more customers were already waiting! So… we decided not to bother queuing up for crepes, and I got a Belgian waffle from another place nearby, a peach and strawberry one. It was very good – crisp crust, chewy interior, and good strawberry flavour in the waffle itself, topped with a peach cream.

Back in the hotel we showered and prepared for another earlyish night, with hopefully a solid sleep for myself this time.

Travel days to Okayama

I didn’t post yesterday because it was a travel day. My wife and I flew out from Sydney to Tokyo in the evening. Before that, we dropped Scully off at a friend’s place. We stopped off on the way at our favourite Italian bakery to get a selection of small morsels: mini cannolis, tarts, cakes, slices, and so on. At their house we had a morning tea while we watched Scully and their dog go berserk playing with each other. The two dogs get along really well and don’t get to see each other very often, so they go a bit bananas when they do.

After a bit of a catch up with our friends, we left Scully there and headed home to finish packing for the trip. We had plenty of time as our flight didn’t leave until after 8pm. I even managed to clean the house, wash and dry all the dirty dishes and cutlery, vacuum, and so on, so that we actually come back to a clean house (for once!).

We caught the train to the airport, where it wasn’t busy at all. We had already checked in and gotten digital boarding passes online, so we went straight through customs and the security check, and were done and inside the terminal within about 5 minutes. So we had plenty of time to kill before boarding our flight. My wife grabbed a coffee and then we walked around the various shops for a bit. Eventually we were hungry enough for dinner and went to a bistro where we both ordered caesar salads, because we didn’t want anything too heavy just before a flight. We boarded our plane and were airborne by 08:30 or so.

The flight was a little bumpy, but fine. It seemed we made some time, because we arrived in Haneda Airport in Tokyo a bit earlier than scheduled, close to 5am local time. The sun was already up and the weather was warm and humid – a big change from Sydney’s current cold and dry weather. We caught a train to Shinagawa and there bought Shinkansen tickets for the bullet train to Okayama. Inside the station we grabbed a pre-packed bento box for me and some kelp onigiri for my wife for a breakfast on-the-go.

We boarded the Shinkansen departing Shinagawa at 06:22. We had non-reserved seating tickets, which meant we had to get on the first three carriages only, which we only realised as the train was pulling in, so we had to dash up the platform to get the right carriage. Many of the seats were taken, and we were lucky to find two adjacent seats in car 2, in a row of three next to a young Japanese guy. The train hurtled us along the tracks to Nagoya, where several people got out and we switched to the other side of the carriage where a set of two seats by themselves had become vacant. We continued through Kyoto, Osaka, until we finally arrived at Okayama just before 09:30.

We checked into our hotel, which was just near the station, but they wouldn’t give us a room until 3pm. So we left our luggage there and went off to explore Okayama. The main sites here are the Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden, which sit facing one another on opposite banks of the Asahi River, a walk of a few blocks from our hotel. We visited the castle first.

Okayama Castle

Built originally in 1597, the castle was destroyed in World War II, and reconstructed afterwards. We went inside, and it’s interesting with several museum displays of samurai-era artefacts, but you can tell it’s a modern building, not something centuries old.

After this we visited the garden, which is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, and definitely worthy of that title it is.

Okayama Korakuen Garden

It’s quite large, built around massive central pond and lawn area, with multiple specialised gardens around the edges: a maple grove, giant bamboo forest, cherry blossom garden, flowering plum garden, iris patch, rice paddies, wisteria walk, cycad garden, and so on, interspersed with multiple traditional tea houses, resting shelters, Buddhist temples, stone lanterns, and many other features. You could easily spend half a day in here seeing it all.

We didn’t spend quite that long, maybe three hours or so, and we skipped a few sections. We left just before 13:30 because we wanted to get some lunch. We found a tiny udon restaurant right outside the south gate of the garden, apparently operated by two little old women who knew about 6 words of English between them. The place only had Japanese signage, but Google Maps tells me it’s called Shiromi-Chaya. My wife had the “Wild Plants Udon”, which was udon noodles with “special wild plants”. I had the Local & Seasonal Tempura Udon, which was a bowl of noodles and a side plate of tempura prawns, squid, and various vegetables, including a strange leafy green thing that I couldn’t identify.

Tempura udon

It was really good, especially for sitting in such a cool old restaurant, getting authentic food made by little old Japanese ladies. The udon noodles weren’t perfectly square all along like ones I’ve usually seen. These were obviously handmade, and slightly irregular, and all tapered to a flat end like a shoelace at one end (but only one end).

After this very satisfying meal we walked back to our hotel. The afternoon had warmed up and the sun had come out after being hazily overcast for most of the day. We completed check in and went up to our room to relax and cool down a bit before venturing out for dinner in the relative cool of the early evening.

And after a wash and a rest we ventured back out for dinner a bit after 18:00. We went to a place we’d passed earlier, not far from our hotel, called CBD Green. It’s a vegetarian cafe, open for dinner until 20:00. We both had the vegetable plate, which was a large plate with eight separate dishes around the edge filled with various things, with a mound of brown rice and beans in the middle. There were all sorts of pickled and sliced and marinated things, as well as a small cup of what turned out to be corn soup. There were a few things I couldn’t identify, including a weird jelly-like substance. But overall it was very good, and certainly a wide variety of flavours and textures.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a convenience store to pick up a couple of things we needed, and I grabbed a chocolate-coated ice cream on a stick for dessert. Now it’s time to catch up on sleep missed on the flight, and hopefully be fresh for the start of my meetings tomorrow morning.

(No comic updates because I’m overseas and don’t have access to my copy/paste template.)

Pre-Japan trip day

It’s our last full day at home before we fly out to Japan tomorrow evening. I was busy with four ethics classes, starting at 9am, followed by three in a row from 2pm.

After the first one I worked a bit on completing Darths & Droids and Irregular Webcomic! strips for the buffer so that they can continue updating while I’m overseas. I managed to get all this done, so both comics will be uninterrupted by my trip. (Hopefully… if nothing goes wrong with the auto-updating scripts.)

Between the classes, I had an errand to run, heading out in the car first to pick up Scully from my wife’s work, and then taking her on a drive across town to a friend’s place. He was the one who gave me my sourdough starter a couple of years back. He said recently that he thinks his starter had died and he wanted to get a bit of mine back to start again. The timing was fortunate and I asked if I could just drop off the whole starter and he could feed it while I’m overseas, taking some for himself, and then I could pick it up when I get home. So I was going over to drop it off.

We made it a contactless exchange, since his wife had COVID in the past few days, and he didn’t want to expose me to it. He’s been busying himself making fermented chilli sauces recently, and left a bottle of a sauce he made from Carolina Reaper chillis for me. I’m actually a bit afraid to try it. I do like a hot sauce, but middling heat is more my style. I won’t try it before I leave for Japan tomorrow, but when I get back I’m going to start by adding just a single drop to a whole meal and stirring it through, to gauge how hot it is.

In travel prep, I recharged the batteries for my DSLR camera. And I looked into overseas roaming for my phone. I’ve never used this before, because it was expensive and I was okay just connecting to WiFi when necessary. But prices have dropped and I think I might just take the plunge this trip, and see how it works It’ll be handy having net access and things like Google Maps just working everywhere. There are a few other housekeeping and packing things to be done tomorrow, but our flight is in the evening, so we have time after we drop Scully off at a friend’s place for dogsitting while we’re away.

New content today:

A really big tourist walk

Today I had two ethics classes in the morning, including the first lesson on Good and Evil with the older kids.

After that I had a busy afternoon planned. A guy who I know via an Internet group is visiting Sydney, with his wife and university-aged son. The son is studying in Melbourne and his parents came over there to visit, and now they’re having a few days here in Sydney before heading home. We arranged to meet at a train station on the north side of the Harbour, and I led them on a walk around the shore, through areas of bushland, historical sites, and lookout spots.

Balls Head Lookout

Scully came with us!

Scully at Balls Head Lookout

We stopped for a late lunch at a cafe along the way, and then continued until we reached the base of the Harbour Bridge and some of the classic tourist views across the water to the city.

Approaching the view

The view

I left them there and walked back home with Scully. By the time I got home, I’d covered almost 15 km! Scully is so exhausted. She had dinner and immediately fell into a deep sleep on the sofa.

New content today:

Lunch at Two Chaps

Remember two days ago I talked about transferring our physical Japanese Suica transit cards onto our phones, in preparation for travelling to Japan? Once the transfers were done, the phone said that the physical cards would no longer work and we could discard them.

Lucky I didn’t! One of them is a standard issue Suica card, but the other one, which we got for my wife when we travelled to Japan together last time, turned out to be a limited issue commemorative card. To be precise, one of these ones, which is currently selling on eBay for about A$130. These limited edition cards are quite the collectors’ item apparently. I did find some others for sale online for prices ranging from about A$20 and upwards, mostly on Asian sites. I might just hold onto it for a bit and see if it’s worth anything decent in several years.

Today my wife suggested we go over to Marrickville for lunch. She was keen to explore the suburb since it has a reputation as a place with a good variety of cafes and restaurants, and we’ve only ever been there a handful of times many years ago. One of my friends lives nearby and recommended a cafe called Two Chaps to us.

We drove over – about 30 minutes – and took Scully with us and managed to grab a table right on the transition from street to indoors, where staff told us we could sit with a dog. The menu is 100% vegetarian. I couldn’t go past the “Corned Beet” Reuben sandwich, which the menu suggested would be good with a side of crispy potato skins. So I had that.

"Corned beet" Reuben

Wow. This was amazingly good. Really delicious, and generously filling. There were other very tempting goodies as well, including mushroom pies and potato and cheddar pies, and a range of amazing looking sweets and pastries. But I was so full after the Reuben that we just had to leave and go for a long walk to walk it off. We walked a loop around several blocks, passing many other interesting cafes and bakeries and things.

Back home this evening I had three more ethics classes on Natural Resources. And worked on another Darths & Droids strip, which now safely brings me to the other side of my trip to Japan. So I have enough buffer to last through the trip, phew!

New content today:

Pre-travel housekeeping

I had some tasks to do today before our trip on Saturday. We won’t be back until July, which is the start of a new financial year. So I need to get some tax stuff sorted out before we leave, to make sure it’s done in time.

Since I’m earning a significant amount of income teaching on Outschool, and they’re based in the USA, that income isn’t subject to pay-as-you-go tax being taken out by the Australian Tax Office. I need to keep my accounts straight and submit it on my tax return, and then pay a lump sum in tax at the end of the financial year. There’s also no automatic contribution to my superannuation fund, so I need to calculate a reasonable amount to pay into it myself, in order to optimise my income tax versus retirement investment and blah blah blah… it’s all really tedious and you probably don’t want to read the details.

Anyway, the result is that I did a bunch of calculations and I had to figure out how to transfer a sum of cash from my bank account into my retirement plan and then do that. The transfer takes a few days because of bank shenanigans, and then I have to submit a form to claim the transferred amount as a tax deduction, before the end of June.

The main reason I’m writing about this today is that there wasn’t much else to talk about – it was a pretty uneventful day. I had a final make-up class for the recently completed Creative Thinking and Game Design course, which one student had to miss because of unavailability, so today’s class was just for that one kid so he could have the final lesson. But both of the other kids showed up briefly in the Zoom call! They must have received an email notification that a class was starting, and they both showed up a bit confused until I explained that it was a make-up class for the one other kid, and they didn’t need to attend.

And this evening I started the next ethics topic with three classes, on Natural Resources. This is a repeat of a topic I did a couple of years ago when I started this course, and none of the students who did it then are still in the classes, so I get to recycle it.

New content today:

Dealing with old Japanese rail cards

We’re starting to prepare for our trip to Japan on Saturday. I’ve been wondering if the old Suica cards that we have from our previous trip to Japan (in February 2018) would still work, and would still have the stored yen on them. Its been over 5 years since we used them. (I just Google searched now and apparently Suica cards stay valid for 10 years since their last use, at which point they expire and any stored credit is lost.)

(Before Googling) I thought I’d ask on reddit’s Japan Travel subreddit, but my post got auto-rejected by the moderator bot for being too common a question. But the moderator bot message did point me at the FAQ, where I found an article about Suica cards. It mentions that there is a “mobile Suica” which you can install in an iPhone’s Wallet app, and you can transfer physical Suica cards into your Apple Wallet as well.

So I tried it using my phone with one of the cards. I had to enter the last 4 digits of the card serial number, then let the phone scan it, and hey presto! I now have a digital Suica card in my Apple Wallet, and it shows me the balance is 1485 yen! I had my wife scan the other card we have, and now she also has a digital Suica on her phone, with a few hundred yen on it. So now we can toss the physical cards and tap our phones to board trains in Japan. And an extra cool thing is that we can top up the stored value completely on our phones, using Wallet to transfer money from a credit/debit card onto Suica. So we no longer have to navigate the Suica recharge machines in Japanese train stations.

This is all very cool, and I’m glad I looked into it.

And… I just had another look in Apple Wallet to see what other transit cards can be added… and it includes Clipper Cards, used in the San Francisco Bay Area! We have Clipper Cards too, because I’ve visited SF many times. I’ll have to transfer those to our phones as well.

In other news, today I had the last three ethics classes of the Documentary Films topic. Tomorrow I start on Natural Resources with the Tuesday kids.

My wife had the day off work, for the King’s Birthday public holiday. It’s weird, this is the first time in my lifetime that we’ve had the King’s Birthday instead of the Queen’s Birthday. It’s amazing how much difference that little change makes. The Queen’s Birthday was just a normal thing that happens every year. But the King’s Birthday feels surreal and strange.

We took Scully on a nice walk in the midday warmth. The mornings and evenings are getting cold, but the middle of the day is still quite pleasant. It’s been a very mild winter so far, and with El NiΓ±o happening now I suspect it’ll stay mild and not get really cold.

And this afternoon I made a few more Irregular Webcomic! strips using the photos I took a couple of weeks ago. I made enough to last this week, which ends with strip number 5000 on Friday. So yeah, I made my 5000th IWC strip. It’s a weird feeling knowing I’ve been making this comic for… over 20 years now. I kind of want to retire it at some point soon, within the next 6 months, or year, or so. But I feel a need to tie up all the storylines I’ve started now. So it’ll be a little while yet.

New content today:

A new running route

I mentioned briefly last weekend that I tried a new running route. I tried it again today, modifying what I did last weekend to add a little extra at the beginning by going around another block, because last week I ended up home before the 2.5 km mark and had to run a bit past it. Today the distance worked out perfectly.

My normal route involves walking up a steep hill from my place, and then beginning the run on a course which is mostly gently downhill, but with three significant uphill sections. The uphills are just before the halfway mark and then two more in the second half. I climb a total of 35 m (according to Strava), but end up at an elevation 30 metres lower than where I begin.

This new route has an uphill section at the beginning, followed by a very long downhill, including a steeper downhill section, and ends with a sustained gentle uphill for about the last kilometre. The total elevation gain is 34 m, but I end up only 22 metres lower than where I begin. It feels more difficult, because it launches straight into an extended uphill, and I get a bit more winded early in the run. It’s good to have a change of scenery though. This route shares no sections in common with my usual one.

Apart from that, I had a lunch at a Thai restaurant with my wife and her family today. Her mother and sister have just returned from a trip to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, so we were talking about that a lot.

And I worked on more Darths & Droids strips, before three ethics classes this afternoon. These were the first classes where I had to tell the students we’d be skipping the next two weeks because of my upcoming trip to Japan. This time next week I’ll be in Okayama!

New content today:

Emoji hemispherism

Today I was looking through the various moon emojis showing different phases. Here they are in the emoji sorting order as displayed on MacOS/iOS*:


And I noticed the various crescent, gibbous, and quarter moon emojis are all named as if viewed from the northern hemisphere. They’re completely wrong from a southern hemisphere point of view.

πŸŒ— is named “last quarter moon”, but to me that’s a first quarter.

🌘 is named “waning crescent moon” but to me that’s a waxing crescent. And vice versa.

And the ordering is backwards. For me the progression of phases over time as viewed in the sky is as follows:


Northern hemisphere assumptions in things are so insidious, and it’s really annoying. Pretty much everything that is ever designed or shown that depends on what hemisphere you’re in is presented as if the northern hemisphere is the default. And so it’s all messed up for people in the south.

( * I also checked the Unicode standard and in that the ordering of the moon phase emoji is given as:


So the same order cyclicly, but starting with the new moon. )

On other topics, today I did a 2.5k run, and clocked under 13 minutes again. But I still feel a bit out of form and need to run a few times a week for a bit to get my times back. I did some housework, cleaning the bathroom and shower and stuff. And spent much of the rest of the day writing Darths & Droids comics. I still need to produce 3 more before next Saturday to have enough buffered for my trip to Japan. At this time next week I’ll be at the airport!

New content today:

Getting creative with pizza

In good news, my cough seems to have almost resolved, meaning for the first time in about a month or more I feel almost back to full health.

I had 4 ethics classes today, and in between went to my wife’s work to pick up Scully, who spent the morning in the office with her. I thought I’d take Scully for a bt of a drive over to the Italian bakery and get some delicious goodies, but I realised I didn’t have all that much time before my afternoon classes began, so decided to just go home.

This evening I made pizza, with broccolini and a pseudo-satay sauce on top, essentially just peanut butter and chilli flakes. I’ve done this once before, and it worked fairly well.

And tonight is online board games night with my friends. We’re currently playing The Castles of Burgundy. I’ve played it before, but a while ago, and I can’t remember much about it.

Not much else to report – it was a pretty busy day, with nothing out of the ordinary.

New content today: