Coffee Genome decoded

So they’ve decoded the coffee genome.  Or at least for Robusta coffee, not the more common (and better tasting) Arabica.  (Read about it HERE.)

What does this mean for the average consumer?  Not much.  But it does give me some comfort to know that people care enough about it to do this research.  Then again, when you read the article it says that the researcher drinks his morning coffee at Tim Horton’s  with “three creams and three sugars”.  I’d have to argue that the result is NOT coffee at all.  Let’s hope his associates have a better appreciation for it.

 

Coffee tattoo on arm of customer

Some people LOVE their coffee

 

Astrophotography, 1st (and 2nd and 3rd) attempt

Not much happening the past couple of weeks.  The weather has been horrible.  Just horrible.  Rain nearly every day and we haven’t seen the sun or blue sky in ages.  Quite depressing, honestly.

A friend of mine posted a really excellent picture of the moon on Facebook recently and this has inspired me to try and take some star pictures.  At least 20 years ago I tried to take some lunar shots on my film cameras.  I found out the hard (and expensive) way that it’s a lot more difficult than it looks.  The background sky is nearly black and the moon especially when full, is extremely bright.  It’s not easy getting a good exposure.  I spent a lot of money on film processing and waited many days to get my over and under exposed shots returned to me.  Never, EVER got a frame I liked.  I gave up.

Fast forward to now and some remarkable things have happened in camera technology.  Digital imaging reduces the cost per frame to nearly zero (the energy to charge the batteries is not free) and camera sensors have progressed enormously.  Most consumer cameras have multiple point auto exposure systems that at least give you a fighting chance at a good shot the first time.  And if you fail, you just delete and try again.  Advanced cameras will even let you choose which part of the frame to expose for.  How easy it is…  Or so I thought.

I then found a blog of a guy that takes some really amazing landscape shots, using the night light to put stars in the background of his work.  Inspired, I trolled the internet for similar work.  There’s no end to it.  You could go on forever looking at these pictures.  And many of them have blogs or instructions on how you can do it too.

I’m currently in an area without much population.  No big cities for about 20km and lots of protected area and parks.  BIG parks.  I thought maybe I could find a spot that has a decent view of the sky and try to see what I could see.  My lovely wife reminded me that there is even an observatory on a nearby hill.  Their website even boasts about how clear the sky is, with over 150 days per year of good viewing.

Well, that was it.  I was hooked again.

The first night I went out, the weather was cold but not completely overcast.  I found a spot along a small road and setup my camera on a heavy tripod.  As I was about to start shooting, a line of cars came down the road and ruined the shot.  Then more cars came.  Then more cars.  I’d pick a road leading to a local theatre and the show had just finished.  I quickly lowered my camera from it’s skyward aim to show the surrounding trees.  I opened up the shutter for a 30 second exposure and let the car headlights light the scene for me.  Hey, take what you can get, right?

Trees lit up by car headlights

 

After the rush of cars had passed and the darkness of the night descended again, I realized that I’d made a mistake in choosing this spot.  The moon that I’d wanted to shoot was on the other side of those trees.  Time to move.

I knew the area pretty well and remembered a clearing not far away.  5 minutes later I was setup and ready to snap some frames.  Bad luck though, as clouds had rolled in.  Scattered, but blocking most of the stars.  The moon too was elusive.  The lens I had brought was good for low light, but not a strong enough zoom to fill the frame.  The moon, even if I could get a good exposure, would be just a tiny dot against the sky.  I’ll have to try another time for this shot.

My tripod was all set up though, and I’d prepared myself for a few hours of exposure to the cold.  Multiple layers with gloves.  I was good to go, all except I had nothing to point the camera at.  I did play with a few features of the camera and discovered that with a tripod, I could take night shots that looked like daylight if the shutter was held open long enough.  Freaky.

Before my second and third attempts, I discovered a way to plan my shots better.  There’s a photographer’s tool called the “Photographer’s Ephemeris”  (not an app, but a real website:  app.photoephemeris.com)  It’s a real blessing for those that want to align their photos of the sun/moon/stars with terrestrial objects.  I could go on and on about this great website, but you’ll have to see for yourself.  Oh, did I mention it’s FREE?

The next two days were both rainy and cloudy.  But both evenings were clear.  Not a cloud.  I found a new location, further outside the city, so I wouldn’t have to worry about cars.  As I was biking to the spot (I have no need for a car) I noticed that I could only see stars from inside the city, but I could start to see the Milky Way.  WOW.  Even through the artificial fog of the streetlights.

The first night I simply pointed my camera and took a few snaps, trying to get a good exposure.  Trying to match what my eye could see.  Not much luck here.   I probably should have taken notes or at least snapped pics in some kind of sequence or progression that I could have followed later.  Nope.  Just randomness.  Some worked, most did not.

I read more and more about astrophotography and compared what I had shot with works by ‘real’ photographers.  My pics really looked like amateur hour.  They didn’t have any detail.  Just a few dots on a black background or over exposed noise, where you couldn’t tell stars from garbage.

The second night I had a plan.  I had read about how the ‘pro’ astrophotographers take many MANY shots of the scene and then ‘stack’ them together.  With computer software to eliminate the background noise, you’re supposed to get more clarity.  That’s where I had gone wrong.  Or so I thought.

Back at the same spot, I set my lens to as wide of an angle as possible.  Taking as many as 30 shots for each image, I was sure that I’d get something useful.  I quickly came home and setup my computer to ‘stack’ the shots.  No luck whatsoever.  The really were not that different from what I’d seen after the first night.  Better, yes.  But not ‘Oh my God’.  The software did make me really open my eyes though.  As it processes, it counts the stars that it finds.  Not the background noise, but the stars that it sees (and verifies with the other images).  Very cool.  In one frame, there were over 84,000 stars!  Think about that.  My brain couldn’t handle it.  I had to open the image and magnify it to check.  Every time I zoomed in closer, there were indeed more stars.  Zoom, stars, zoom in more, more and more (fainter) stars.  A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  Too bad the images didn’t look like much…

I was about to delete all the photos when I had an idea.  Why not take the images from the first night, with wildly different exposures and put them into my HDR software that I use most of the pics you see on this website.  Maybe, maybe….something would work.

Here’s the result:

Milky Way HDR

Ok, now I’ve got something to work with!!

I suspect that I’ll be trying to take many more of these shots, but first I’ve got to buy/beg/borrow a wider lens.  And of course, the weather has to co-operate.  The past week, nothing but clouds and rain.  Let’s hope the sky clears tonight!

Kyoto Panorama Photo (Japan, 2014)

<– Part 1 of Kyoto

<– Part 2 of Kyoto

My last day in Kyoto I decided to try and visit one last temple before catching the train back to Osaka.  Just a short distance from my hotel, it would be an easy way to kill a few hours.  I walked to the temple in staggering heat.  When I arrived I was only focused on finding water and a shady spot to sit.  I guess my trip to the temple was wasted.  I didn’t even have the desire to take photos.  Nearing 40c, it was just too hot.

I decided to head underground where it’s cool, even if not air conditioned.  The perfect place would be the train.  I needed to get to the main station to get back to Osaka anyways, so I started heading there.

Catching the metro was easy enough.  I’d passed the station earlier, so I knew exactly where it was.  Buying a ticket was a no-brainer as the pre-paid card I already had was good for this line.  I waited at the platform for a few minutes and hopped on the first train that arrived.  It was then that my jaw hit the floor.  I had stumbled upon a “Limited Express” train.  This train makes very few stops, hence the name.  To make things more comfortable, this car had plush deeply padded seats arranged in a way that you’d expect in business class on an airline.  Only 3 seats per row, and not very many rows.  Lots of space and comfort!

I found a seat and as the train started to move, the joy I had felt quickly turned to panic:  What if this train wasn’t going to stop where I wanted?  Would I be taken past my destination?  Would I end up in the next TOWN?

There were diagrams of the train’s route above every door.  I was able to see in a few seconds that yes, I would be alright.  The train would stop where I wanted to change trains.  What a relief!

In just a couple of minutes, I left my far-too-comfortable seat and got off at my stop.  I knew I had to change train lines, but since I had never been to this station before, I didn’t know where to go.  I started looking for signs.  In short order I was where I needed to be, or at least where I thought that was.

A train soon appeared and quickly passed through the station without stopping.  An exress, I figured.  Then another appeared, but this one didn’t go to Kyoto Station, where I was heading.  The next one and the next too were not heading there.  I guessed that something was wrong.  Did I get off at the wrong stop?

I found an employee at the station entrance and asked as best I could how to get to Kyoto Station.  He told me “JR Line”.  JR is a private company that has a vast rail network in Japan.  He also said “Station that way” and pointed  over his shoulder.  I thanked him and headed off.

Exiting the station, I found myself facing an entrance to the “next station”.  My pre-paid card doesn’t work on the JR line, so I was forced to buy another ticket to take this train.  The trains really are cheap, so I didn’t mind too much.  Entering the JR station, I looked around.  Not only was I 10 feet from where I had started, I was on the *same platform*.  They’ve built a wall down the middle of the platform and given the new “station” it’s own name.  Wow.

Once at the main station, I bought a ticket and asked when the next train to Osaka was.  “In 8 minutes or 1 hour and 8 minutes”.  I asked for the later train.  I was hungry and wanted to find some Ramen or maybe a few dumplings.

Kyoto station is not extremely large in size, but it is a VERY tall glass structure.  I wanted to take a photo of roof from a high vantage point, so I began to look around.  Riding an escalator up one level, I saw a sign pointing to “Skywalk”.  It led me to another escalator and another and another until I was at the very top of the roof.  The entire length of the station has a glassed in catwalk.  It’s not that great for viewing the station itself, but you can find a really nice view of Kyoto from up there.  Before heading down to the 8th floor, where 5 Ramen shops were waiting, I decided to try a panorama shot.

Here it is (and it’s BIG, so it may take some time to load):

 

Kyoto Panorama Photo  from Main train station

Photos from Kyoto, Japan (part 2)

Here’s part 2 of my pictures from Kyoto.  As stated previously, they’re a bit random!  I really just wandered around the town and stopped whenever I saw something interesting.

There are over 1,400 temples and shrines in this small town so it’s really not hard to find something to shoot.  And even the tiny houses are often made from a very photogenic wood.  I just wish I’d had more time to explore.  I guess that’s a great excuse to go back one day!

Enjoy the pics, and please write in the comments which one is YOUR favourite:

<–  Read 24 Hours in Kyoto Part 1

Kawa Coffee – Kyoto, Japan

After leaving the Imperial palace grounds in Kyoto, I discovered the “Kawa Coffee” cafe, just across the street from the South East entrance.

 

 

I’m always up for a hot cup of coffee, even on a scorchingly hot day like today, when most would prefer it iced.  The name also intrigued me.  In Polish, “KAWA” (pronounced Ka-Va) means COFFEE.  So I read this as ‘coffee coffee’, which seems quite funny!  I was sure that a Polish person was running the shop.   I had to investigate!!

Once inside, I was greeted by the owner, who I quickly realized was not Polish.  Instead he’s a craftsman of fine leather products.  In addition to running the cafe, he also makes and sells these products.

Kawa Coffee cafe interior

After placing my order for a pourover coffee and some delicious sweet beans on toast, I spent some time with the owner.  His level of English is about on par with my Japanese.  Pretty much ZERO.  With the aid of Google Translate, I told him about the ‘coffee coffee’ Polish/English name.  He laughed and told me that he wasn’t aware of this when he named the store.  He simply wrote the English sound to the word Leather, which in Japanese is Kawa.

It took some time, but it was a slow day with few customers.  We spent half an hour “talking” about various things.  Why I came to Japan, how long he’d been in business, etc. etc.  Quite a good experience, but typical of all the stories I’ve heard from friends spending time in Japan.  Initially a bit shy, the Japanese open up quite quickly and before you know it, you’re having a laugh and sharing stories as if you were long lost friends.  (I’m told that alcohol consumption speeds up this process.)

I’ve got to spend more time in this country!

If you’re in Kyoto, you’ve got to go to the Imperial Palace.  And if you’re going to the Palace, why not stop by and have a coffee at the Kawa Coffee cafe?

<–  Previous article “24 hours in Kyoto”

 

Cloud Time Lapse Video, Osaka, Japan

The weather has been dismal here lately.  The sweltering heat has been replaced by thick clouds, even stronger humidity and rain.  Our close proximity to a recent tropical storm has blessed us with a bit of wind.  Yes, I’m thankful for it as it’s the only relief from the humidity.

The air has been so thick that I even took off my raincoat in the rain because I was soaked anyways.  At least the rain doesn’t leave your clothes smelling bad.

Today we saw the first blue sky in quite some time as the storm has now passed.  I set up my tripod and took this time lapse video while I was away.  The glass didn’t reflect light very much, so the video turned out pretty well.

Be sure to look at the upper right corner of the video near the end.  You’ll see some very high clouds moving a completely different direction than the others.  Messed up weather!!

In a few days time, the Typhoon Halong is due to hit us.  The skies are grey once again.  Let’s hope the storm dies out before it gets here.  I’ve only got a few more days left on this trip to Japan.  I’d really like to get outside and enjoy them.  Wish me luck!

Enjoy the video!

 

24 Hours in Kyoto, Travel Photography

I’m recently back from a quick trip to Kyoto, I’m madly rushing to get the photos ready to show you.

This trip happened really last-minute, so there wasn’t much time for planning and I decided to just “go with the flow”.  Most of my time in Kyoto was spent just wandering around the streets, seeing what I could find.  Several times I went back to revisit sites that I’d found earlier, but with better light.  But Lady Luck was kind and presented me with plenty of good photo opportunities.  Sometimes she’s good that way, sometimes she’s not.

This first group of pictures are all from the area directly around the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.  No tickets were available to tour inside the palace grounds, but the park and surrounding area are quite beautiful.

If you know what type of bird (stork or crane) is in the pictures, please write it in the comments.  I’ve never seen a bird behave so strangely.  It seemed like it was trying to tan the underside of it’s wings.  On a blisteringly hot day, it seemed to be trying to get MORE heat from the sun.  Crazy!  But the turtles below the bird were enjoying the shade…

 

 

Read the next blog post “Kawa Coffee cafe, Kyoto” –>

Osaka Travel Photography

Today was my first day off since returning to Japan.  I tried to make the most of it.  Waking up early to “enjoy” the ANA Crowne Plaza’s free breakfast, then running around the town trying to see as many sites as time would allow.

The heat slowed me down a bit, reaching 34c in the early afternoon.  I ducked underground a few times to enjoy the shade and cooler temps.  With so many metro lines cross-crossing the town, it’s not hard to find a spot to cool off.  And many of them have shops where you can pick up a cool beverage to rehydrate.  Just what you need on a day like this.

My first time using the metro was a breeze.  I found a machine outside the gate that sold me a pre-paid card.  Just put in 1,000/2,000/3,000 yen ($10/$20/$30) and it spits out a paper card with a magnetic stripe.  It’s quite similar to the system in Tokyo, complete with English instructions.

As per my usual routine in a new city, I had mapped out the route ahead of time using Google maps.  I don’t have a printer here, so I took down a few cheat notes.  All the lines and stations that I’d need for the trip today.  The metro signs are almost all in English, so really it’s quite simple.  The number of people using the trains might be a bit overwhelming for tourists here, but if you’ve been on the train daily through Shinjuku Station, the crowding on these trains won’t bother you a bit and perhaps you’ll even find some comfort in all the additional space.

Arriving at the Osaka Aquarium, you’ve got to walk past a small touristy mall to get to the main entrance.  You don’t have to go in, but of course, they want you to.  I bought my ticket and entered.  Upon entering the building, you go up a very tall escalator.  Reaching the top, I started to unpack my camera and set it up to take lots of (hopefully) cute fishy pictures.  Turning the camera on, my heart skipped a beat.  There was no memory card in the camera!  Ohhhhhh.  Blunder of blunders.  Here I am about 45 minutes away from the hotel.  The round trip to get a card and come back would be brutal.  I see a staff member and ask her if they sell cards in the shop downstairs.  It takes a few minutes to make her understand, but she gets it.  She says no, they don’t have any but there must be some for sale in the market that I had passed on the way in.  Perfect.  Then I see a sign that says “750m to exit”.  Yeah…  That’s a bit far.  I politely ask her if there is another way to, instead of walking through the entire maze-like aquarium.  She asks me to wait and starts to call people on the radio.  Next thing I know, I’m being escorted through the staff areas of the building.  In 2 minutes, I’m out the door with a hand-stamp to get me back in once I’ve bought a new card.

At the market, no dice.  I search high and low, finding many very interesting things including a petting zoo and the world’s largest ferris wheel, but no card.

Back at the aquarium I’ve no choice but to simply enjoy my time walking around with just a cellphone to take a few snapshots.  As it turned out, my Blackberry’s camera really surprised me.  I won’t spend a lot of time cleaning up the pictures, but I’ll post some of the better ones later.

Of all the aquariums and ‘oceanariums’ I’ve been to, this one is definitely in the top 5 worldwide.  They probably have the biggest main tank I’ve ever seen.  And their star attraction in that tank is a whale shark!!  Sadly on this day, it was receiving medical care in another part of facility.  But it gives you an idea about how big that tank is.

Leaving the aquarium I head back to the mall to take a closer look at that petting zoo.

In Tokyo there are quite a few ‘cat cafes’, and I even visited one to see what they’re all about.  Basically, if your lease forbids you to have pets in your tiny apartment, you can come to a cafe and pay an hourly fee to lounge around and play with their cats.  The one I visited had about 50 cats and plenty of space in a rather large multi-floor cafe.  And they didn’t make a bad cattuccino either (lol).

This petting zoo is a whole new level.  I didn’t go in, but I saw a half dozen cats and small dogs.  Then there are tortoises, rabbits, hares, several large I-don’t-know-what-that-is’s (look like a super guinea pig, but I really have no clue), an owl, a kangeroo and an iguana.  Wow.  Overload….  The Japanese have a reputation for being crazy and ‘over the top’.  I’d say they’ve earned it!!

I did ride the ferris wheel.  It’s not cheap at 800 yen ($8) a ride, but it did last quite a long time and you can sit in an all-transparent car for no extra charge.  They are only 4 of them, so the waiting can be long.  But they’ve got a transparent floor and seats.  It must be quite the experience.  I opted for the normal car and was able to walk right on.  Some that were waiting in the other line, were still waiting when I got off the ride.  Amazing views, I must say.  Osaka is a very large city, but it lacks the huge numbers of high-rises that Tokyo has.  It feels like a much smaller city than it really is.

[UPDATE:  Here are the pics from my camera phone.]

Back in Japan. Hello OSAKA!

I’ve just arrived at the ANA Crown Plaza hotel in Osaka, Japan.  It’s been about 2 months since I was in Tokyo.  After the trip, I could not stop talking about it.  I’m very excited to be back!!

First off, I’d like to thank LUFTHANSA.  I’m sure that this is going to sound like a paid advert, but it’s not.  Honest!  I am a loyal client because they have the best onboard service, period!  Other airlines may have nicer interior layouts/seating (the OLD tiny video screens do need to go guys.  Let’s speed up the rollout of the seatback upgrades) but what can really make or break your onboard experience is the attitude and service provided by the onboard staff.  Don’t understand what I mean?  Take a flight on TAM sometimes.  Their “attitude” is downright embarrassing.  You’ll feel guilty for asking for anything.  And then you probably won’t get it.  Lufthansa staff are the tops in my book, time after time after time.  Great job guys and gals!!

Having spent just a few hours wandering around Osaka, what do I notice that’s different from Tokyo?  Oddly enough, the way people walk.  In most countries, the flow of pedestrians matches the flow of car travel.  If they drive on the right, people tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk.  In Tokyo, this follows true.  They drive on the left and people walk on the left.  In Osaka, they walk on the RIGHT.  Wtf?  I’ve found myself constantly bumping into people because I’m on the wrong side.  How did that get started?

Time to head out and find some Ramen.  I can’t wait!!!!!



 

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