Five Things (I Would Photograph If I Were Any Good)

The first digital camera that I owned was an HP Photosmart 635 camera back in the early 2000s. It ran on a pair of AA batteries, took SD cards no larger than 128MB, and started disintegrating after the first six months of rather light use1. The experience was not particularly great, so I generally didn't want to use the camera very often. Later, when cameras started appearing in phones, the image quality was so poor that I often refused to take a photo because the pixellation would "ruin" my memory of the moment. In 2006, when I first visited Japan, I borrowed a friend's Olympus digital camera and was quite impressed with the results. Later that year I bought a Canon A95 and used that to take about 2,200 photos2 over the span of 7 years. It wasn't until Nozomi joined the family that I actively wanted to take pictures of the people, puppy, and places around me … which meant using a 4th Generation iPod Touch more often than not.

Over the intervening years, I've taken far more photos than I can keep track of. iCloud tells me that there are 24,818 pictures in my library, but these are just the ones I've kept, which is not the same as the number I've taken. The images that are blurry beyond recognition, horrendously out of focus, or just plain awful seldom see the next day. When "the cloud is the limit" to the number of pictures a person can keep, it's more important to ensure that every photo we keep has value in order to reduce the amount of visual checking and rechecking that goes on later. One thing that I can say for certain is that since 2011, my pictures have become noticeably better. Subjects are in better focus. The rule of thirds is observed a lot more. I try to frame static subjects when the opportunity arises. The use of focus to have the subject appear sharp while the background is blurry has also proven quite enjoyable and is easy as heck with the prosumer Canon DSLR we picked up before The Boy joined the family. However, this is pretty much the limit of what I can do to make a good picture. 90% of the photos I take are simply not worth sharing.

So, being Sunday, today's Five Things will involve five subjects that are not family and that I would like to learn how to photograph properly.

The Night Sky

Night photography has proven quite tricky with the DSLR and all but impossible with the phone. When the moon is shining bright, illuminating some fluffy while clouds from above while a city illuminates them from below, I am often awestruck by the beauty of it all. Light against the darkness. The contrast is easy to appreciate. Unfortunately my knowledge of ISO levels, exposure times, and other night photography techniques is insufficient to adequately capture the fleeting moment where the distant city, the fluffy clouds, and the incredibly bright moon are balanced "just right".

Parks from 15cm (Above the Ground)

Many years ago I wondered what the world looked like from Nozomi's point of view, as her eyes are generally just 15cm from the ground when we're out for a walk. So I started taking pictures with my phone at her level to reveal a world of giants. Trees that are impossibly tall. People that are skyscrapers in an of themselves. Grass that is tall enough to obscure a discarded bicycle just metres away. Some of the pictures did turn out quite nicely, but a lot had the wrong focal points. With a bit more practice and perhaps a better use of a mini-tripod, I'd love to create a series of images that can be shared with the world.

Historic Locations Permeated By Modern Tech

When Reiko and I take the boy to castles and other historic places around the area to introduce him to the history and culture of the country, I am often amazed by how many people are experiencing the location through their phones and/or tablets. The contrast intrigues me. To capture this in an image — or series of images — would be incredibly interesting.

Janitors

One of the many things that visitors to Japan often comment on is the lack of litter in the streets despite the ever-present dearth of garbage cans. While many people will hold onto their garbage until they can find an appropriate place to dispose of it, some people will "accidentally" drop things on the ground and just keep walking. When this happens, a janitor will usually be along in a matter of minutes, find the refuse, and take care of it. These people can also be seen sweeping stairs, cleaning public washrooms, organizing magazine racks, and just about anything else that would involve keeping a place tidy and organized. A lot of Japanese people that I talk to barely notice the janitors who keep our public areas clean for barely minimum wage, but I tend to see them everywhere I go and occasionally stop to thank them3. I would love to capture some of these people doing the things they quietly do in a well-framed image that conveys not the action being performed, but the human behind the broom. The images I've captured thus far have been fraught with lighting errors and focus problems.

Distant Worlds

What science-loving geek wouldn't want to take pictures of distant planets? The better the resolution, the bigger the smile. There's no denying that the earth is pretty amazing and has a lot of subjects to photograph, but the universe is a big place. There's a lot more we can all see and share with each other.


  1. Being single and a workaholic, I didn't really have many opportunities to take photos outside from one or two road trips every year.

  2. 2,200 photos according to the internal counter, which I have never reset.

  3. Most janitors are not accustomed to being thanked, which is a shame.

Nighttime Treks

With the summer humidity here, Nozomi is back down to just two walks per day. Being a miniature dachshund has got to be rough. Everyone in the world is a giant and concrete at 15cm is always a warm surface just looking for an excuse to be hot. That said, it’s not all bad. Nozomi does have a pretty easy life, even by dog standards.

Nozomi Enjoying a Walk

Last summer Nozomi and I would generally head outside a little after sunset for her evening visit to the park. The air is relatively cool and the grass feels nice on bare paws. However, because of all the changes that had happened in such a short time, Nozomi would want to return home within the first five minutes of her walk. She was completely uninterested in exploring the park or being outdoors. This year she can’t get enough of the outdoors.

In the evenings we have a set route that she seems to enjoy quite a bit. We head to the park where she al it’s immediately jumps on the grass for a quick uphill pee. Then we head to the baseball diamond so she can walk around the edges of the outfield and catch up on all her puppy smells. As we come around to the last corner, though, she turns left to walk away from our home. Instead we travel south to another pedestrian path and take the long way home, stopping every so often to greet neighbours or sniff something of interest. The look on her face as we conduct this trek makes the journey worthwhile.

She’s clearly a happy and energetic Nozomi again.

Nine

Nozomi on the Bench

My puppy dog turns nine today and doesn't look a day over five. Silly as it may seem, I want her to receive a present with every birthday. She was given a new sleeping cushion when she turned three. Two years ago, because she was feeling a little left out after the boy arrived, I brought her for a walk to her favourite park, surprised her with some nice treats, and didn't bother her too much with photo requests. This year … she'll likely be bored as I'm in Tokyo for the day. All is not lost, though. Nozomi always gets her walks so long as there isn't any rain and I'll see that she gets some cucumber with dinner as it seems to be her favourite vegetable by a wide margin.

This weekend she goes to the groomers for a bit of a trim and I'll see to it that she gets a nice treat afterwards.

Topics

Earlier this evening, while Nozomi and I were out for an after-dinner walk, I was thinking about some of the things I might write about today. As with most days, there were a number of topics that I could write about, but only enough time to focus on one. To make matters more complicated, the subject couldn't be too complicated, otherwise any attempt to write intelligently on the subject would be ruined by my inability to remain consistently conscious when sitting down1, which is exacerbated further if sitting on my bed. So with all of this in mind, what could I possibly choose to write about today to put the bow on another week?

One of the more interesting challenges that I've started running into when planning the day's article is writing about something different from the 2,800+ other posts on this site. With over a decade worth of writing published on this site, choosing something that is relatively untouched is by no means easy. I'll admit that there are a number of recurring themes that pop up from time to time, either involving the boy, the day job, or my mental state, but I do try to write about something different whenever possible. This isn't so much for the benefit of people reading the blog, but more for the enjoyment of writing.

Today's possible topics involved the monthly Windows Magazine that I used to collect and look forward to every month as a teen, sleeping in a room with a server, the challenges of taking good pictures of children or puppies, and the purpose of desktop backgrounds on machines where you almost always fun applications full screen. All of these are worthwhile, but only one can be chosen. As you have probably guessed, the topic I went with for today was "blogging about topics".

For the first few years of blogging, I would often make a quick text note with my HP iPaq, then write the post one stroke at a time on the train ride home. With every day involving at least 140 minutes of train time, it seemed logical to use the time to write. Being alone for over two hours of every day is now a luxury that I sorely miss, so writing is generally started on the phone with some poorly-typed notes while walking the puppy, then completed on a device with a physical keyboard.

Not a day goes by where I don't think about how to improve the way I write posts, and not a day goes by where I don't think about writing better as a whole. The latter requires practice and focus while the former is something I don't have an answer for. Having the preliminary notes written before the blog post itself generally seems like a good way to let the mind think about a subject for a while before there is time to write. Using mind maps and other writing tools would certainly lead to better posts, but these things often require a pretty large time commitment, which is something that I cannot negotiate with the family when people require attention. Speech to text doesn't seem right, either, as it would mean talking to a computer and thinking less about the words that get put on the screen.

What I would like, however, is a small application that would keep track of the blog ideas I jotted down for a given day and hide them around 3:00am so that the next day would start with a blank page. Throughout the day, I'd want to go back to the application and maybe jot a note down or add a link to a picture. When the time comes to actually write at the end of the day, I could then look at the application and all the disparate notes that were written throughout the day would be loosely attached to a topic thread and I could write from there. This would be similar to a mind map, but slightly less structured.

I would write something like this myself if I had the time. Naturally, it would also fully support publishing items directly to 10C. Unfortunately there just isn't enough time in the day, so I'll continue to think about how to improve my writing while doing the writing.


  1. This will probably be a topic for another day.

Neighbourhood Vaccination Day

Last week a postcard arrived in the mail addressed to Nozomi, "care of" me. In big letters the document announced that it was time for everyone to have their dogs vaccinated for rabies, and that pop-up veterinary offices would be set up around the city to make the mandatory shots easier to receive. A schedule showed the nearby community centre would have a vet on hand for one hour today, and I booked some time off at the day job to make sure Nozomi would have her first-line of protection for another year.

A lot of cities in Japan require that non-human members of the family be registered with the local government and must be done so within two weeks of moving. The paperwork is a nuisance, but the city generally makes up for it by making an effort to ensure that every registered animal in the area has the basic set of shots every year at a discounted rate. Today's shot was priced at 3,400円1, which is about 100円 cheaper than one would pay at a vet. The discount is real, though not particularly compelling. What was compelling, however, was the proximity. The vet (mostly) came here, rather than us going there.

Background aside, Nozomi and I made our way to the community centre at 1:30. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and Nozomi was more than willing to trot along at a decent pace as we followed the pedestrian walk that winds through the neighbourhood. Along the way we met a dozen smaller dogs and a good many more larger dogs. It seemed that everyone who had a canine companion wanted to be first in line.

Fortunately there was little need to worry about lineups.

Typically when there are community pop-ups in Japan, I generally plan to stand around waiting for a minimum of half an hour or more. This wasn't the case today. As Nozomi and I walked up to the injection site a vet approached us and asked for the postcard. He asked a couple of questions, wrote some notes on the card, then asked me to sign it. Almost as soon as I was done writing my name a needle came out. The shot was over before Nozomi could even react with more than a quick head-turn.

Once done, I stood in line to pay for the service and pick up the requisite evidence that the little puppy was good for another year. All in all, the walk to the community centre took more time than anything. I'm not accustomed to this level of efficiency when the city is involved. Last spring when we registered her with the city the entire process took 45 minutes and involved writing her name, my name, our street address, the type of dog she is, and whether she's been fixed or not. Things that could really be done online rather than in person in a stuffy office with slow-moving bureaucrats.

As Nozomi took the injection rather well, we went for a bit of a walk to a different park afterwards so that she could enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. The older she gets the more relaxed she seems to become.


  1. 3,400円 works out to about $30.50 USD.

Briefly Young Again

Nozomi and I generally stick to the same walking routes when we go out together. In the morning we get into the park and head west, where she can enjoy a great deal of soft grass and shade from the trees that tower overhead. In the afternoons we head south so that she can go up and down some hills that are just steep enough to encourage her to work a little harder. In the evenings we walk east onto the baseball diamond where she can enjoy a large expanse of safe, flat land after the sun's gone down. This regular pattern was stumbled upon after several months of sluggish walks where Nozomi would let me know in her way that she wasn't interested in continuing her outdoor explorations after covering about 100 meters of well-trod lawn. She's going to be nine years old next month, and she's clearly less interested in exploring all the smells of the park in one go, which is why we have three routes that are taken at three different times of day.

This evening, as we made our way to the baseball diamond, something in the distance caught my eye. The park is not very well lit after leaving the paved paths, so I wasn't quite sure what the object was, but my imagination filled in the gaps to reveal what could be a forgotten tennis ball. Over the last couple of years I've tried at times to get Nozomi to play around a bit like she used to without much success. While she still enjoys having her stuffed dog Kodama around, the toy is really more for smelling than anything else. She ignores balls and ropes completely.

A Forgotten Tennis Ball

As we got closer to what I believed to be a ball, I tried to get Nozomi feeling a little excited. I used a playful voice and asked her some nonsensical questions about running shoes and whether she stretched before coming out for a walk. My goal was to encourage her to get closer to the object so that I could see if she wanted to have some fun again like we see other dogs doing in the park from time to time.

The goading paid off. Sitting forgotten in the middle of the outfield was a relatively new tennis ball. I kicked it over to Nozomi and she responded instantly, jumping into the path of the spinning object and claiming it as hers with a playful growl. I managed to wrestle it away with some misdirection then tossed the ball a couple of meters, hoping she would chase after it. Chase she did. For the first time in quite some time a youthful, playful puppy was enjoying a warm evening outside with a ball and a game of fetch. This was the first game I taught her many years ago when we lived in Kashiwa, before the big quake hit. Watching her chase after the ball in much the same way she chased after the stuffed heart-shaped toy that she would chew on in the pet shop before we brought her home was like therapy. She growled playfully when I would approach. She wagged her tail just like she used to. Her eyes smiled with delight.

Sadly, this wasn't to last. In less than five minutes she was exhausted and wouldn't chase after the ball anymore. She wanted to continue with her walk and get home for dinner. Given that this was the biggest workout she's had in months, I can't say I blame her. This will not be her last workout, though. Not by a long shot; I brought the ball home.

She'll get another chance to chase and play tomorrow … if she's up for it.

Mornings in the Park

Warmer temperatures have made the mornings a lot more enjoyable over the last two weeks and this has resulted in longer walks with the boy and, more often than not, Reiko as well. In addition to the fresh air and exercise, these walks are an excellent opportunity to explore the neighbourhood together. The boy is as curious as anyone his age would be, which means there are new discoveries and a barrage of questions every couple of minutes … or seconds. Fortunately he does stop for air every once in a while, which allows me to make use of the nice Canon camera.

The Boy Surveys the Park

As one would expect, Nozomi is also enjoying the springtime weather. Over the next few weeks her winter coat will begin to shed, which will make her appear younger, thinner, and much cooler. Time permitting, she'll also get a proper trim.

Nozomi in the Park

With two days of idyllic weather forecasted for the weekend, Reiko and I have made some tentative plans for a pair of picnics. One day we'll go to a nearby park with a large number of cherry trees and ample space for the boy to run. The other day we'll make the trip up to Inuyama to enjoy the park surrounding the castle with the in-laws. Camera batteries will be charged. Memory cards will be prepped and ready to go.

This weekend is going to be fun.

A Conversation with Nozomi

Not a day goes by where I don't chat with Nozomi about whatever happens to be on my mind. This generally happens when we're out in the park for one of her walks, and typically when there aren't too many people within earshot. For reasons I can only guess at, my neighbours generally do not talk to their dogs aside from issuing commands like "sit", "stop", and "come on". Maybe their conversations are limited to their homes.

Today marks 40 years since my parents braved driving through a final winter storm so that I could be born in a hospital. Despite the round number, growing list of responsibilities, and crippling home-owner's debt, I don't feel my age. If anything, I feel younger today than I did at 35. Perhaps the boy has something to do with this. However, it's because of this youthful feeling that I often find myself enjoying moments where the devices are put away, the distractions are minimal, and the current activity is the singular focus.

Clouds Above

This focus happened a couple of times today, once when I took the picture above, once when the boy and I were playing together, and again when Nozomi and I were outside after dinner, with the stars above shining brilliantly despite the light pollution that obscures all but the brightest celestial objects. It was this last moment, when Nozomi and I were alone in the park and observing our separate interests1 that I shared with her my unrealistic desire to explore the universe.

While she sniffed grass and leaves, I explained how the local solar system could keep me busy for years and the nearby star systems for decades. The problem of travelling vast distances at relativistic speeds was brought up as well as a couple of options for how humanity might get around going insane during the years, decades, or centuries of travel. Challenges with food and energy production for long periods of time kept the one-sided conversation going longer than Nozomi was willing to listen, but we could certainly walk and talk at the same time. And then, as was to be expected, the ultimate fantasy was declared:

This would all be easier if I were a Q.

Q, the fictional, omnipotent race of beings from Star Trek, can do anything they please regardless of how impossible the desire might be. Time travel. Going from one side of the galaxy to the other in a heartbeat. Reading a book while enjoying a cup of coffee on the surface of the Sun. All of these things are possible and more. Of course, being Q would also make a person immortal. With this sort of potential, now it becomes feasible to explore the galaxy … and the next one … and the one after that. Nozomi could come with me. I could ensure she never aged a day ever again. Heck, with the power to do anything at all, I might just solve Brexit2 before heading off to Andromeda to see what happens when a pulsar is absorbed by a black hole.

These are the sorts of conversations that I enjoy having with Nozomi when we're outside. She doesn't get to share her ideas very often, though she does send clear signals when a topic isn't to her liking. A few months back I was talking about how we needed to find a better shampoo for her to use during baths. As soon as she heard that last word, she was as far away from me as her leash would allow and pretending to be incredibly interested in some fallen leaf that was just out of reach.

Her honesty and patience are both wonderful.


  1. As one would expect, Nozomi is interested in what's on the ground. I am interested in what's above.

  2. First order of business: fire all of the politicians.

The First Month

It's been a month since the family and I moved into our new home and, like so many time-related milestones as of late, it feels both longer and shorter than the actual time that's passed. Short, because 30 days can pass in the blink of an eye as a person with all the responsibilities and expectations that come with adulthood. Long because a year of house design, construction, and planning can mess up a person's perception of being at a place. Everything is far from perfect but, all in all, this has been a very positive move for the family.

The Park

One of the biggest perks of the new home is proximity to a very well-maintained public park. The places that Nozomi and I used to frequent these past seven years would see a landscaping crew come by three to four times per year, meaning that the grass would often be tall for most of the year with collections of garbage under many of the bushes thanks to litterers and weather patterns. Here, though, it seems there are neighbourhood groups that take turns cleaning the public space every Sunday. More than this, the vast majority of dog-walkers here actually pick up after their pets! Nozomi is certainly enjoying this new place to explore.

Nozomi's Smile

The boy also likes going out to the park, walking along the paths, and touching anything he can get his hands on. With my new role at the day job — if it can be called such anymore — I'll be working with people in different time zones a lot more often. This means that I'll have the opportunity to work from home a great deal more than in the past, making it possible to bring my son out to this park to learn more about the world around him. It's interesting to watch him explore everything for the first time, as I've come to take things like leaves, sand, and discarded stones as they are. For him, though, all of these things are unfamiliar and interesting.

Which raises a couple of questions. While the boy is exploring the park, I'm often watching his reactions as he tries to piece language and objects together. He's just 15 months old and already walking up and down stairs, hills, picking up sticks that are long and awkward, and all the other things that kids will do while learning about their own boundaries and quickly surpassing them. I will not over-protect him while he's discovering some of what this world has, as I fully expect he'll fall or injure himself from time to time. These are important lessons to learn. But I do wonder whether I'm too relaxed about him doing stuff from time to time. I see other parents worry and fret over just about everything … but that can't be good for either party.

I will watch to make sure the boy does not do anything that'll break bones or leave a mark, but I want him to understand that the world is here to explore, enjoy, and share with others, be they human or something else entirely.

Hopefully the next 300 months are as enjoyable as this first one has been, though I know there will be trials ahead.

Eight

Today Nozomi marks the completion of eight orbits around the Sun and I find it absolutely astounding how fast the time passes. She's been a part of the family for almost 20% of my life and somewhere north of 99% of hers. When she first came home in 2010 she was an incredibly energetic ball of untamed energy with teeth sharp enough to cut through kitchen chairs. While her energy levels have certainly come down with maturity, her wonderful personality has remained incredibly consistent.

Here she is at 90 days:

Nozomi Age 90 Days

And then on her first birthday:

Nozomi Age 1

Two years later, at the age of three:

Nozomi Age 3

Last year:

Nozomi Age 7

Just a few days ago:

Nozomi Age 8

While the boy has had several thousand pictures captured in the 15 months he's been here, Nozomi's picture catalog eclipses his by a wide margin. It's often hard to choose which photos to share, but these five are some of my favourites.