playing with my camera

2017-05-12 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Upgrading the focusing screen on my digital single-lens reflex camera breathed new life into it. I am excited to use what is now a much easier tool to toy with.

Heavy rains yesterday washed away the pollen and dust in the atmosphere. (Much of the dust blows in from deserts in China.) This morning, sunlight pierced the crisp cool air, and laterally illuminated moist vegetation. I took pictures on my way to work.

Lensbaby lens emphasizes one part of the image by blurring the rest. See that only the trillium in the center is in focus, although the rest are at roughly the same distance from the camera.

The Lensbaby company is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. Maybe they and Professor Clark are enjoying similar weather today.

See how the tree is in focus while the surface of Ohno Pond is blurred. Just showing you the optical characteristics of the lens. Not that my composition is great.


Reflection on water is clear but the surrounding rocks are blurred.

My photographs of architecture are almost always in postcard-perfect focus. The Lensbaby might arguably draw the audience towards a section of the building, such as my office show here.
The blurred images are wildly distorted.

Distortion can stimulate fleeting interest. Here is a night shot of lightfish swimming from the city lights of Sapporo.

camera focusing screen

2017-05-08 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Finally, after 3 years of procrastinating (actually 2 years and 11 months but equally embarrassing), I replaced the focusing screen on my camera.

Focusing screens are located beneath the pentaprism on single-lens reflex cameras. This photo shows the camera placed upside down, so that the focusing screen (the rectangular frosted sheet of plastic with etched lines) is viewable on the bottom of the photograph.

Some years ago, shortly after purchasing my camera (a
Pentax K5), I replaced the factory-original focusing screen (pictured below) with a rule-of-thirds grid pattern (pictured above).

My new focusing screen is a
Canon screen (model Ec-B, split-image) that was modified by a company in Taiwan. I wanted split-image focusing because I am used to it, my lenses are manual focus, and my camera's autofocus algorithm is slow in displaying its results.

requires dexterity rather than knowledge of tools. The photo below shows the focusing screen removed from its metal frame.

A close-up photograph of my former focusing screen (a Pentax type ML-60) shows that my new screen is roughly on focus.

A split-image focusing screen has a circular area in the center. The circle is split into 2 halves. When an image is in focus, the image appears perfectly through the circle.

The picture below shows the view through my camera's viewfinder. This photo was taken by another camera looking into the viewfinder. Look at the edge of the white book. The 2 semicircles cut through the letters "M" of "COMIX" and "R" of "HARTA".

When the image is out of focus, the image is broken side by side. See how the edge of the white book is shifted horizontally.

With split-image focusing, the focusing technique consists of (a) finding a line or an edge, such as a person's face against a blue sky, and (b) turning the focusing ring on the lens such that the line in (a) is connected.

In the picture below, I focused on the inside (closer to camera) edge of the button on the 2nd (middle) valve of my trumpet. I used a low F number at a relatively close distance to achieve shallow depth-of-field. I am satisfied that my focusing screen is accurate.

Focusing is much faster and easier than before! With manual focus, split-image focus is my favorite!

disorganizing my office

2017-02-12 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- I tidied up my office. Although to you, the pictures below probably appear as if I disorganized my office.

Cleaning is crying. I threw away a hand-held massager that my mom gave me a year after I went to the United States. That was 30 years ago! A battery leak corroded the terminals beyond repair. I kept the massager (which worked great for aching eyes) for sentimental reasons. Until today. Sob ...

Move everything out into the hallway. Most of it made its way back, because I couldn't bring myself to throw it out.

I removed posters I had outside on my hallway wall. The map of Indonesia was a gift from my former roommate. I saved that map, but tearfully discarded the others.

Hard for you to believe, but this is better than before.

repair power supply

2017-02-10 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Our family has bought oh almost 100 Apple Macintosh computers over the years. Maybe over 100. I am disappointed that my 3-year-old laptop (a 15-inch MacBookPro) came with a power supply that is poorly designed compared to its predecessors. The cable broke several weeks ago. The same afternoon I bought a new one at the local Yodobashi camera store. Today I finally got around to repairing the broken unit.

Took a while to crack the case open.

The cable broke at the base of the strain-relief collar.

Ready to tin the cables on the power supply side.

Tinned, soldered, and heat-shrunk (is that a word?). I mean "heat-shrink tubing shrunk and applied".

I gave up re-using the original strain-relief collar. The repaired unit is for office use only. Works fine as long as I don't yank the cable.

LED lights

2016-08-10 LINCOLN CITY, OREGON, USA -- I replaced the reverse lights of our pickup truck. The new lights are whiter and brighter. Apart from feeling safer in poor visibility, I don't expect a difference in driving, but I do feel happier about our truck.

The rear light assembly and the factory-original incandescent reverse light bulb.

The new LED reverse light bulb.

Side-by-side comparison of new and old light colors, intensities, and beam patterns as seen reflected off the interior surface of our garage door. Left: new LED is whiter and brighter. Right: old incandescent is yellower and dimmer.

I wanted to also replace the headlights. In Oregon, people drive with their headlights on even during daytime. At night, headlights are crucial because the highways are not lit. For some time I had noticed that our headlights seemed dim, partly because my eyes are aging, and partly because many other cars have whiter brighter lights. Alas shipped me the wrong part, so I have to send it back. Better luck next time.

keroppi day hopper

2014-05-17 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- Over 20 years ago on an iMac-DVD running OS 8, Noriko and I enjoyed “Keroppi Day Hopper”, a software application developed in the USA for children. The software manufacturer did not update the application, so it stopped running when the operating system evolved to MacOS 10. I resurrected “Keroppi Day Hopper” by installed Windows 98 on top of Parallels 9 on my latest laptop running MacOS 10.9. Noriko and I enjoy watching the pictures.


tesla electric car

2012-12-27 TIGARD, OREGON -- Tesla, the all-electric automobile manufacturer headquartered in Palo Alto, California, markets its vehicles by displaying them at shopping malls across the country. All vehicles are configured to order. Prices are fixed. In the beginning Tesla built 5 cars a week. Their production facilities in Fremont, California currently assembles 400 per week. 17,000 customers have bought, or are waiting delivery of, their Tesla. The wait is 9 to 10 months long.

I have been reading about the Tesla cars. This was the first time I saw one. I’m not alone -- the local maintenance shop in Portland (located on 72nd Street in Tigard) does not have a sign outside because the Tesla employees want to concentrate on servicing vehicles. If they had a sign, then passersby would drop in to see cars. The maintenance facility does not display or sell cars. Most customers talk to sales representatives at shopping malls, or go online to place their order.

Tesla display at Washington Square Mall.

Tesla’s 4-door sedan with sunroof. There’s nothing under the hood.

The trunk is capacious too.

Tesla is an all-electric vehicle. Not a fossil-fuel and electricity hybrid. This is your toy car that runs on batteries. Except you get in and drive it.

Their core component is a battery slab between the front and rear axles.

2 electric motors are placed adjacent to the rear axle.

I don’t know why the shock absorbers are so tall.

Electric motors generate full torque from low revolutions.

Tesla’s Roadster is a 2-door cabriolet (open car). Acceleration is rumored to be phenomenal.

I’m too tall for the cockpit. My eyes come at the top edge of the windshield.

Oregon dealer plates. We can buy Teslas in Oregon now!

In several years, prices are expected to drop to $30,000.

prime dates

2012-11-22 SAPPORO, JAPAN -- I am obsessed with primes. Prime numbers that is.

My birthday 617 (06-17, June 17th) is prime. Is yours? Don’t know? Don’t worry, I made a list of all days in the year that are prime.

01-01 01-03 01-07 01-09 01-13 01-27 01-31
02-11 02-23 02-27 02-29
03-07 03-11 03-13 03-17 03-31
04-01 04-09 04-19 04-21
05-03 05-09 05-21 05-23
06-01 06-07 06-13 06-17 06-19
07-01 07-09 07-19 07-27
08-09 08-11 08-21 08-23 08-27 08-29
09-07 09-11 09-19 09-29
10-09 10-13 10-19 10-21 10-31
11-03 11-09 11-17 11-23 11-29
12-01 12-13 12-17 12-23 12-29 12-31

Did you know that New Year’s Eve (12-31) and New Year’s Day (01-01) are both prime? Can you find another instance of 2 successive prime days? The answer: 03-31 and 04-01. And that’s not because I put a 0 at the beginning of the day of the month. (I’m an engineer and use ISO-8601.) Even if I didn’t (and used 11 for January 1st and 41 for April 1st) we still get 2 prime days in a row.

This also means that, in Japan, both the calendar year and the academic year start and end on prime days.

You notice that there 59 days that are prime, including 02-29 (the leap year prime). So 1 in every 6.203 days is prime. That’s more than 1 a week. However, the distribution of primes is uneven. Although both months of January and May have 31 days, January has 7 prime days, while May has only 4.

110 format camera

2012-07-31 SAPPORO, HOKKAIDO -- While shopping for something for work, I found (on a discontinued items table) a 110-format camera. A toy. A steal.

I want the Pentax auto100 super, a miniature single-lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses for 110-format film. I wanted one but couldn’t afford it when they were being manufactured. They now have fan clubs in Japan and in the UK. I’m looking for a used specimen in useable condition.

Lomography manufactured a limited run of 110-format film. I bought 3 rolls of black and white that I hope to develop myself in the fall.

annular solar eclipse

Noriko and I went to Tokyo to attend a big trade show that covers online learning technology. We also had fun watching an annular solar eclipse!  Here are 3 photos I took from the rooftop of Noriko’s sister’s house in downtown Tokyo. Weather was haze and clouds. The smoke you see on the pictures isn't the corona, it's water in the atmosphere.

The pictures were taken at a time very close to the peak of the eclipse at our location (2012-05-21 07:33 Tokyo time) using different exposure settings.

We were all thrilled to watch the best astronomical show in hundreds of years.

For the occasion, I wore a T-shirt that I got at a total solar eclipse in Hawaii in 1991. That was a blast, too. It happened before Noriko and I were married. I went to Hawaii with my mom. We drove up and down the big island of Hawaii and found a sunny spot. Some people who stayed at their hotels weren’t so lucky. Weather is the name of the game in amateur astronomy!

scientific proof that santa claus does not exist

As a result of an overwhelming lack of requests, and with research help from that renowned scientific journal SPY magazine (January, 1990) --here is the annual scientific inquiry into Santa Claus.
1) No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
2) There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million according to the Population Reference Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.
3) Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 millions stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc.
This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
4) The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison - this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
5) 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.
In conclusion - If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now. Merry Christmas.

the first 24 hours at fukushima

Read IEEE’s coverage on the first 24 hours at Fukushima. There’s more to the story than what the Japanese government, power companies, and media are telling us.

massive solar flare!!

Check out Popular Science’s article on a massive solar flare that happened yesterday!
Just watching the video is fascinating enough.
Of course this means my amateur radio friends are having a headache but that’s another story.

online magazines

Here are a couple of online magazines that I enjoy:
Popular Science (I’m a geek, and proud of it)
Scientific American (I’m a scientist, and proud of it)

These websites keep me informed about the (sometimes dark) world of ours:
Frontline (investigative journalism at its best -- Japan’s journalists should cry in shame)
Newshour (formerly the “MacNeil Lehrer Newshour”)

An article about my former colleagues:
SRI shows the benefits of shrinking tech by CNET

TED talks

Looking for intellectual stimulation? How about a TED talk video. They come in English (challenging -- the content can be complex, and the talkers assume a native-speaker audience) and other languages including Japanese.

prime numbers

I’m fascinated with prime numbers. Prime numbers, or primes for short, are natural numbers that can be divided only by 1 or by itself. By definition, 1 is not prime. 2 is the only even prime. 17 is prime, and so is 617 (my birthday is 17 June). But my month of birth (6), year of birth (1961), and date of birth (19610617) are not.

This year, 2011, is prime. The next prime year is 2017.

So what are dates this year are prime? According to, they are:

2011-01-09 (that’s 20110109 written in yyyy-mm-dd format)
2011-04-29 (it’s a holiday, too!)
2011-05-13 (wow, 2 prime dates 2 days apart! -- these are known as twin primes)
2011-06-19 (aw shucks, my birthday isn’t prime! in fact I need to wait until 2027-06-17 for my prime birthday! and the one after that is 2036-06-17! neither of these are twin primes *sob*)
2011-08-23 (4 primes in the month of august!)
2011-10-23 (my mom’s birthday is prime!)

My birthday (17) is a member of the only sexy prime quintuplet (5, 11, 17, 23, 29). Sexy prime quintuplets are a set of 5 primes satisfying the condition (p, p+6, p+12, p+18, p+24).

speech recognition may improve your pronunciation

My PhD research was in applying automatic speech recognition technology to nonnative pronunciation learning. My systems worked but they were cumbersome and showed only text and audio. Now people at have built an online system where you watch videos and practice your pronunciation. Use a computer that has a speaker (or headphones), a microphone, and web browser, and Flash.

interview with an old timer

The “Transistor Gijutsu” (“Transistor Technology”) magazine is celebrating their 555th issue with a delightful interview with the inventor of the 555 timer IC (integrated circuit) designed in the 1970s. The interview is in English with Japanese subtitles.