Japan as They Saw It

Lately, I’ve also been exploring the Internet Archive’s rich collection of books written by British and American visitors to Japan in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Until the 1850s, Japan had been shut off nearly completely from the rest of the world for more than two hundred years, and people elsewhere were eager to learn about the mysterious country.


The most recent email from the Internet Archive highlights a book being written about the impressions of long ago foreign visitors to Japan had on that country. A fascinating idea, that showcases the usefulness and entertainment value of old books.

The website for the book is here.


On the Outer Side of Places

But we live near the Oakland end of the Bay Bridge, whose other end is in San Francisco, and it happened that on the anniversary we walked along it in the rain. The bridge is divided into west and east spans by Yerba Buena Island, which it tunnels through. The eastern span was badly damaged in the 1989 earthquake, and after many delays and overruns, its replacement opened two years ago. It’s the widest bridge segment in the world, with five lanes of traffic in either direction on one level. And on its south edge, an eleventh lane, for cyclists and pedestrians.


Charlie Loyd is a person with a tinyletter, and the most recent delivery of this newsletter is a fantastic read.

I once visited the bay area, and was impressed as rode a rented bicycle across the Golden Gate bridge. However, it was when I peddled over to the Bay Bridge, that I was stopped in my tracks. I was stunned at the scale of it. It was like standing at the base of the CN Tower, trying to imagine that humans could have constructed such an object.

The piece of writing jumps from the Bay Bridge to Hokkaido tunnels, to Polaroid cameras, and it then enters into deeper matters of large human endeavors. Enjoyable read.

Time Lapse Galaxy


I love time lapse videos. My favorite part in this one is at 1:42 when I can see the movement of clouds sped up. I understand clouds a whole lot more from this image.

Mass Mediated

Tsuyoshi Anzai’s Distance adopts an optical illusion inducing a media anachronism. He conceived a New Video Player which induces the viewer to perceive a video, even if it is just an object nearby projected through the “camera obscura” mechanism. The resulting dualism of visibility/invisibility of the object is then a perfect analogue analogy to the digital screen.


An art exhibit about mediation, with an accompanying video that gives a more powerful sense of being mass mediated without all of the distractions of everyday life. This feels like an updated version of “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

artist’s website: http://an2ai.net/gallery/distance/



I Don’t Know

My trouble is usually not that I think otherwise, but that I don’t entirely know what I think. And not knowing what to think is itself sometimes cast as shameful.


Just passing this one along to promote the act of saying “I don’t know” more often than I normally do.

What I’ve Been Reading, Playing, and Listening to – End of Year 2018

It’s been a while since I catalogued one of these, so I’ve probably forgotten quite a bit.


  • The Four – Hidden DNA of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google
  • Capitalist Realism – Excellent book about where we are today
  • Net Smart – Howard Rheingold
  • Essay in Aesthetics – Jose Ortega y Gasset
  • Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring – read for the first time with my kids, they were enchanted
  • Technically Wrong – Sara Wachter-Boettcher
  • The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
  • Grant – Ron Chernow


  • Overwatch
  • Minecraft
  • Tokaido – beautiful board game that is slow and not overly competitive
  • Starbound – beautiful and deep pixel game in the style of Stardew Valley


Listening, Spoken

  • King Arthur: History and Legend
  • Great Minds of the Medieval World
  • Understanding the Inventions that Changed the World
  • The American Civil War
  • Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, Scandals
  • Great Explorations
  • How Conversation Works


Driving with Phone in Hand

In this spring of this year I decided to use parts of my lunch-hour to observe drivers in downtown Calgary to see, generally, how many drivers are using a smartphone while driving. The quick answer is that it’s about 7%.

Texting while driving is something that worries me a lot. I’ve done work in the past about digital environments and presence, and I know that while someone is texting, they are simply not fully present behind that wheel – no matter how good of a driver they think they are.

I see people texting and driving all the time, so I decided to do a bit of observing and find out what the numbers are like. Calgary is especially suited for this because there’s a “plus 15” system throughout downtown, a second story walkway that offers several enclosed bridges overtop of roads, where an observer can see clearly into moving vehicles.

My goal was to observe 5000 cars over the spring and summer, however, because of life and then a change in my working conditions, I stalled at 900. It doesn’t look like I’ll get back to counting cars anytime soon, so I may as well post some results before this project becomes a distant memory.

I observed for 10 sessions, usually 100 cars at a time, for a total of 62 cars out of 900 that were holding a phone in their hand. This is 6.8%.

Two things were surprising to me, that this was a lower % than I expected (my initial guess was 10%), and that the results for each session were very consistent (6-8 per each 100 car session).

There were some limitations and worthwhile notes to make:

  • obviously, this is a small sample size. Although the consistency is enough for me to feel satisfied.
  • This is downtown driving, which might be different than suburb driving.
  • I didn’t count cars where I couldn’t see one of the hands – potentially missing many phones.
  • I also didn’t count professional drivers (taxis, work vans, buses, etc.) because of course they would never text and drive.
  • All observations were early afternoon on a weekday. Results might be different at different times or on weekends.
  • I tried to be objective, but there’s no denying that I am very anti-texting and driving, and that could have skewed numbers somehow

7% of texters is high, especially because I drive past several hundred other drivers even when I simply go up to the grocery store, and it only takes one to cause an accident.

For me, the fact that people simply can’t pull themselves away from the screen, even while operating a moving vehicle, is the best argument for mass deploy of self-driving cars. The sooner the better.

Link to my spreadsheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1RjkWEEYb32ku4yVfLJMlcBRpkWhPna7W9ur_051hRD4/edit?usp=sharing