Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hole in the Sky

Nothing to say, really. I kinda like this picture, taken here in Miyazaki last October.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Songun Blog

I stand in humbled awe of Songun Blog, "Single-mindedly united as one under the Banner of Songun held aloft by the Dear Leader Comrade Generalissimo Kim Jong Il, brilliant statesman, political genius, and invincible military commander".

I'd always (arrogantly, as I see now) considered myself to be a fairly eloquent guy. Until I read this:
Bush the war criminal warmongering mental retard stupid corporate redneck capitalist cowboy is evil to the point of sucking out the blood of veterans of his criminal wars of aggression, but the Dear Leader Comrade Generalissimo Kim Jong Il the brilliant statesman political genius, prodigious humanist and invincible military commander is a very loyal leader who take the loving care of the veterans of the Revolutionary Anti-Japanese Liberation War and the Fatherland Liberation War.

I am but a worm, unfit to be squished under the Dear Leader's boot.

They've got some pretty snappy videos, too. (Anyone who teaches English to kids in Japan may even be surprised to recognize the melody of the song--"If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!")

And who could read the Song of General Kim Jong Il and not be moved by it's poetic beauty? (Scroll down through the comments for some amusement...)
Mt. Paektu reaches across
To shape our beautiful land.
Cheers resound all over the land,
Hailing our dear General.
He's the leader of the people,
Carrying forward the Sun's cause.
Long live, long live, General Kim Jong Il.

Most impressive! Keep up the good work!
[Original link Via The Ill Man in the comments of Konichiwa Bitches.]

[Update!! Juche Girl rocks!! Juche Girl, where are you? Please update your blog!]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sun, Moon, Sky, and Trees

Here are some photos I've taken over the past few weeks. As you can see, they're thematically linked (but please don't take that as a claim for "art"!).

A rather barren tree with the sun and sky in the background.

The same tree, on a different day, with different light.

A whole mess o' branches.

Another barren-looking tree.

Tree, moon, and sky #1.

Tree, moon, and sky #2.

The leaves of a tree with the moon in the background, early evening.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I've Seen Every One of Them...

It's almost the end of term here so I've been a bit busy this week making and giving tests to the couple hundred ungrateful wretches I call my "students"; too busy to give much thought to any written content here. (Yeah, yeah, "so what's new?" you groan...) Anyway...

I came across the video below while browsing YouTube the other day, and it really took me back to my childhood-- sitting in dark movie theatres with my buddies on Saturday afternoons, throwing popcorn boxes, sticking gum in girls' hair, making farting sounds during "romantic" scenes, and all the goofy stuff boys do (did?).

I've always been a big fan of the "fantastic" on the movie screen, and when I was a kid the master of this genre was Ray Harryhausen. Ray's art was stop-motion animation, and in movies like Mighty Joe Young, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, and One Million Years B.C. (with a very hot, animal skin-clad Raquel Welch!! [swoons with the memory of his first, unrequited childhood love...]) he brought to life on the screen all manner of fantastic creature, big and small. The video below features every one of Harryhausen's creations. It's perhaps a bit long-ish, but if you watch carefully you'll see where I got my profile pic from...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Fitter, Happier

For the past couple of weeks my daughter had been acting like a mean-spirited, spoiled little brat. Then, during dinner yesterday, as I was yelling at her for what seemed like the hundredth time that day for I-can't-remember-what, she stopped me dead in my tracks with the following earnest, deeply troubled words: "Daddy, why don't you smoke a cigarette? It's OK, you know." Ouch. Out of the mouths of babes...

What a miserable prick I've been the past couple of weeks, especially to my little girl, but to my wife as well. Damn the day I lit a cigarette. Tonight after work I formally apologized to my daughter for being mean to her lately. When I asked what I could do to make it up to her, she told me I should come home from work early more often so that we could go to the park before it gets dark. Easy to please. My wife is another story...

Anger management classes are not really an option, but clearly I'll have to tame some of the "ill-effects" of a smoke-free life. Reader suggestions are welcome (but please, comments of the type "once a prick, always a prick", aside from stating the too-obvious, are not really helpful...).

Plan A: Tomorrow at 6am I will wake up and go for a brisk 30 minute walk, and possibly I'll even run a bit (if I don't keel over in agony too quickly). I will do this every day. Soon I will become a lean, mean sex machine, and I will wonder what ever possessed me to smoke those vile cigarettes. My wife will be happy to have such a non-smoking hunk o' manhood for a husband. My daughter will be happy that I don't throw out my back when I carry her to bed. I will be happy because, well, dammit, life will be good and we will be happy and healthy...

Fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Holy Shit, a Techno Band I Like!!

Are The Knife fucked, or what?
[Update: I got new headphones today, so I'm catching up on some listening.]
[Update #2: I suppose it was really "poor form" of me, in this day and age, not to have included a sample of what The Knife is about. Below are two videos by The Knife: "Heartbeats" (2005) and "Like a Pen" (2006).]

Great Drum Fills, Pt. 3

I've written here before about my love for the Rolling Stones. Perhaps one of the truly neglected drummers in rock, Charlie Watts was my personal hero for many years. To my mind Charlie has always been the embodiment of the unspoken/unwritten "rule" that it's the drummer's job to make everybody else sound good. Certainly nobody would ever accuse Charlie Watts of being a show-off. No, Charlie has instead, for the past 40+ years with the Rolling Stones, simply just "laid it down". Fact is, Charlie lays it down better than anybody. So well, in fact, that the rare "flashy" moments often go un-noticed. Well, no more!

Exile on Main St. is, arguably, the Stones' best album. There is no question that this album was Charlie's finest hour. He plays with an abandon that is transcendent. Simply, he fuckin' rocks the joint. He is the star of this, one of the greatest albums in rock 'n' roll history, performed by it's greatest band. It's a bit odd, really, because it's not as though Charlie turned into Neal Peart or something for this album. No, he just did what he usually does, only this time a bit more ...loosely. Anyway, this brings me to tonight's Great Drum Fill:
Drummer: Charlie Watts
Group: The Rolling Stones
Album: Exile on Main St.
Great Drum Fill: "Tumbling Dice"; surely the Stones' best single and possibly the best song to grace commercial radio ever. You really have to listen to the whole song to get the point of this drum fill (it may surprise some people that, yes, there is a point to everything in a good song). At about the 2:20 mark of the song the band "drops out" a bit and then begins to build up to the song's climax. As this is happening Charlie is there, providing minimal backing but building in volume and intensity until at, about the 3:02 mark, the tension releases with a classic drum fill, followed by several more until the end of the song.


[Updated 10/4/13: You'll find the drum fill at the 3:00 mark in the clip below.]

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Me & the Buoys

When we were in Tokyo a couple of weeks back we made a short side trip to the resort area of Atami, where we spent a night in a Japanese style hotel, complete with onsen, dinner served in your room, nothing much to do, etc. Unfortunately I was unable to visit the "Atami Adult Museum" (but it sounds interesting...). It was actually a bit cold and dreary while we were there, but here's a few photos from the trip.

Atami and one of it's beaches.

Some boats in the harbor.

Another boat and some seagulls.

Some kind of harbor/lighthouse thingie.

The water.

Two buoys in the water.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fast Kung Food

In the interests of sharing all manner of high Japanese culture with those not fortunate enough to experience it on a daily basis, I give you Ronald ("Donald" in Japan) McDonald versus the "conbini" (convenience store) giants of Japan. Consider this a "must view". [Via Japan Probe]

There now. Don't you feel positively edified?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Torture Never Stops

So the other day my university has this big meeting for the entire faculty...

I wonder if anyone's ever done a serious study of meetings in the Japanese workplace. What a treasure trove of fascinating information is just sitting here waiting to be dug up by some industrious academic go-getter. In over 8 years of working in Japan I must have attended at least, oh, I don't know, 75 trillion meetings, give or take. There are two or three things that the careful observer will notice about any meeting in Japan, regardless of the occupations of those attending:

1a. Before the meeting a memo will be passed out to all staff who are to attend. The meeting will consist of one or more people reading the contents of the memo.

1b. (Usually for larger meetings) No memo has been passed out before the meeting. Instead, all those attending will be given a thick handout on their way into the meeting room. The meeting will consist of one or more people reading the contents of the handout.

1c. The same as 1b, except that the contents of the handout will also be on display as part of a PowerPoint presentation.

2. It is a requirement at Japanese meetings that at least (but no more than) 20-25% of those attending be fast asleep within 10 minutes of the meeting's commencement. There must always be at least two people sleeping during any meeting (it would be considered rude to be the only one sleeping), meaning that at meetings of fewer than 10 people sleeping is forbidden (although I'm convinced that many Japanese have mastered the art of sleeping with their eyes open).

3. The mere hint of anything that might be considered useful, interesting, or mildly amusing is strictly forbidden at Japanese meetings.

...Anyway, as I was saying, my university had a big meeting the other day. The purpose of the meeting was to instruct faculty on a newly installed database system that we can use to input our published research (yeah, right...) and reference the research of others. This was a 1c-type meeting--big handout and PowerPoint.

Now, friends, know my horror: at these meetings everything is in Japanese--the speakers speak in Japanese, that handouts are written in Japanese, the PowerPoint is (amazingly) no less annoying in Japanese. I'm so tired...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The View from Tokyo Tower

I guess as far as towers go, Tokyo Tower is perhaps not so impressive compared to taller, more modern towers. Still, it is "the world's tallest self-supporting steel tower" (333 meters--hey that's half of 666!!), and if you want a good view of Tokyo and its surroundings, its not a bad place to be. The lower levels of Tokyo Tower feature some of the finest cheesy tourist attractions you'll find anywhere. I recommend The Tokyo Tower Carnival's "Wax Museum" (see the Frank Zappa exhibit!) and "The Mysterious Walking Zone" (strangely, it's not off the top of the tower...).

Anyway, I went there with my family last week and took some crappy photos which you'll find below. There was one amusing moment when, at a display featuring the tallest buildings in the world, my in-laws expressed genuine surprise that a third-world country like Canada could have built what is currently the tallest building in the world, the CN Tower in Toronto. I hadn't seen them that surprised since informing them that Canada has four seasons and that children there actually attend school...

As you no doubt have already surmised, this is what it looks like at the bottom of Tokyo Tower.

The cities in Japan all have a characteristic haze that makes shots taken at high zoom very, er, hazy. This picture is a good example (of a bad picture), but if you look closely you should be able to see Mt. Fuji looming in the background.

Here's a view of some buildings facing, um, one of the four compass directions...

Here are some more buildings from, um, another direction...

Here's a shot taken from a completely different direction...

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Puttin' on the Ritz...

You know, I spend so much time whining and complaining about Japan here on my blog, that sometimes, like tonight, I feel bad and want to give something back to my adopted home. That's right, I'd like to say something nice about Japan.

One of the truly (no shit!) good things about the Japanese is that they have a much healthier attitude toward alcohol, and drinking generally. I'm not saying that they have no problems here with, for example, alcoholism and drunk driving. Nor do I mean to suggest that these kinds of problems are accepted (although it's probably true that they're dealt with more quietly--Japan is not a "let's-talk-about-it" society). By "a healthy attitude toward alcohol" I simply mean that the Japanese recognize alcohol as a good thing in life, and they have no hang-ups about having a few beers in the right time and place. As a culture, I think it's also safe to say that the Japanese are also, on the whole, a lot more tolerant of people who may have had a bit too much to drink (there is, for example, no social stigma involved if you get shit-faced at the office party and make a horse's ass out of yourself--not that that's ever happened to me, mind you...).

Anyway, this leads me to the picture you see on the left, a picture of the back of a box of Ritz crackers purchased here in Japan. You can't see the whole box, but it's basically a variety of recipe and serving suggestions for the product. One of the suggestions is "Ritz with beer", and really, why the hell not? I ask you, however, would Ritz dare to have it's product mentioned in conjunction with alcohol in Canada or the U.S. (I'm not certain about the U.K.)? Why can't a potato chip or peanut company in North America advertise it's product as the perfect complement to beer? Hell, why can't North American beer companies show someone actually drinking their products? Beer is a legal product, isn't it? Why this hypocrisy? Where does it come from? (Yeah, well, those are rhetorical questions, aren't they, because we know exactly where this hypocrisy and others come from...)

It's a fact, ladies and gentlemen, that in several key areas of life, the Japanese are much more socially advanced, more civilized than North Americans.

Music Shopping in Shinjuku

Well, I promised some details about my recent trip to Tokyo, and I'm a man of my word (at least I try to be...). I've got quite a few photos that I'm still sorting through, so I'll break things up into about three or four posts of highlights...

I was very pleasantly surprised when, on the morning of our first full day in Tokyo, my wife suggested that I hop on the train and go shopping in Shinjuku. By myself. I leapt at this opportunity to escape and actually do something enjoyable! I procured the necessary train directions from my brother-in-law (I am a fearless traveller, and was not about to be cowed by the Tokyo train system...). I hopped online for a few minutes to locate my primary destinations (Disc Union and Tower Records). I said my goodbyes, and I was off!

After an uneventful train ride I arrived at Shinjuku Station at around 11 a.m. Perfect! I scouted out the music shops and then had to decide what I was going to do about lunch. As luck would have it, I happened upon an "Irish Pub" (well, about as "Irish" as you're going to get in this part of the world, anyway). Perfect! A tasty club sandwich, an order of fries, and a couple of pints of Guinness settled nicely in my stomach, it was time to peruse and purchase some music!

There are a couple of Tower Records shops here in Miyazaki, and really, any music I want can be had here or purchased online, but the Tower Records in Shinjuku has a lot of "listening stations", which allowed me to sample a lot of different discs during a casual and thoroughly enjoyable three hours. From Tower Records I went to Disc Union, a very cool used CD shop, where I spent another couple of hours browsing before making my purchases. You can see my haul in the picture on the left. In case anyone is interested, at the end of the day I returned with the following albums:
Guided by Voices: Isolation Drills
Primal Scream: Riot City Blues
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Worlds Apart
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: So Divided
Frank Zappa: Trance-Fusion
Roky Erickson: I Have Always Been Here Before
Bob Dylan: Live 1975-The Rolling Thunder Revue
The Allman Brothers Band: Instant Live: Post-Gazette Pavillion-Pittsburgh, PA (not pictured)

I realize that spending an afternoon shopping for CDs might not seem like such a big deal to many people. Anyone out there who's married with kids, however, can probably appreciate that these opportunities are few and far between. My cell phone only rang one time (it was my wife just checking to see if I'd had any problems in transit). It was a great way to start a holiday!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Return of the Dork with a Camera

Just got back from six action-packed days in Tokyo. Details (well, some details) will be coming over the next few days. Right now I want to find out what you guys have been up to...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

I'm outta here for about a week, and I'm not sure if I'll be able to post anything for a while. Hopefully I'll have some interesting pics from my time in Tokyo.

Hope everyone has a happy new year, seeya soon!