Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Background Music Makes My Ears Bleed

I came across a very interesting article over at collision detection about how "loudness wars" are killing today's music. It's a bit technical, but not so much so that a science dimwit like me couldn't catch the drift of it (there are links to more a technical argument from which this article was drawn). Basically it explains something that older music listeners like yours truly have been noticing for years now: older albums, particularly on vinyl, have a much broader dynamic range than music recorded in the last 10 years or so. Newer music just doesn't seem to have the peaks and valleys, the dynamic highs and lows of the old albums we love and cherish. Newer music does, however, seem more intense, and is more apt to grab your attention more quickly, mainly because compression has made it louder. But now an apparent paradox comes into play. Sure, the music is louder and more immediately noticeable, but because it doesn't have much in the way of dynamic range, it's not actively listened to and effectively becomes background music.
I've likely botched this, so please check out the article for yourself.

And, speaking of music that's loved and cherished, please enjoy "Supernaut" by Black Sabbath, accompanied by scenes from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Start Me Up

I made a brief reference in a post back in December to the fact that I was once a professional musician, a rock drummer. By way of proof, I offer the rather poor photo on the left, which somehow manages to be both grainy and blurry at the same time (it's actually a photo of a wallet-size picture, taken with my cell phone, and you can click for a larger view, but it won't help much). (This photo is also evidence in support of my generally dis-believed claim that I once had hair on my head.) In fact it's been about 16 years since I've done any serious playing, and about 10 years since I've even sat behind a kit. How rock 'n' roll has survived my absence these long years is perhaps a mystery fit only to be investigated by my own fertile imagination during late-night bouts of drinking and listening to old Stones albums... But, I digress! You probably didn't notice it, but there was a tremor in the rock "ether" last Friday night...

I don't go out to bars much these days, what with being a "family man" and holding down a "respectable" job and being a "pillar of the community" and all that stuff that "normal" people do. No, these days I might head out to a bar an average of once every few weeks, and then it's usually to do some face-to-face catching-up with the few friends that I have here in Miyazaki. Well, last Friday was one of my rare excursions to the land of sin and salvation that is downtown Miyazaki. I met a Canadian friend at what is currently Miyazaki's "gaijin" bar, a place run by an Israeli friend of ours. I gave my friend a Stones disc I had made for him, and we proceeded to drink beer and talk. My friend plays guitar, and he frequently does live gigs around town in the evenings and on weekends. We talked mostly about music, and as we plied ourselves with beer we began to discuss the possibility of maybe putting something casual together, just for fun, and playing the odd gig here and there. Beer has the magical quality of making the "impossible" seem imminently do-able, and soon I was imagining that, hell yeah, my wife wouldn't have any problems with me dropping a couple of thousand on a new drum kit and spending my evenings and weekends jamming with my friends, drinking beer, and hanging out at bars. A man needs a hobby, after all! (There is perhaps a scientifically verifiable reason why wives, apparently through all of recorded history, generally have a dim view of their husbands' friends, and get visibly nervous when their husbands go drinking with friends...)

Later that night we went to another bar where there was an informal jam happening. There were only a few people there, and they were all musicians. My friend got up on stage and played a couple of tunes, and the next thing I knew I was being invited to play a couple of tunes. I initially declined, thinking that the combination of rustiness, nervousness, and drunkenness would render me incapable of playing anything. Everyone kept insisting, though, until eventually I found myself on the stage with my friend and some other guys. I was sitting behind a drum kit, with a pair of sticks in my hands! My friend started playing Hendrix's version of All Along the Watchtower on his guitar! I couldn't breathe! I couldn't move! You've been here before, moron, I thought to myself, and started playing the drums...

Now, as pleasing as it would be to tell you that I rocked the joint that night, I can't. I sucked pretty hard, actually. But, I had a really good time and this was a pretty good bunch of guys. Once they found out that I hadn't played for a really long time it seemed to become their holy mission to give me as many turns on stage as the other drummers. A couple of guys even insisted that I needed to play, that my very life depended upon it. They were right, of course. They were, and are, every one of them, my brothers. Now if only I can figure out how to sneak a drum kit into the house without my wife noticing...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Who Needs Math When You've Got Common Sense?

[Shamelessly stolen from Chez.]

I suck, have always sucked, and will forever suck at math. I only wish I'd been as cool about in school it as the people who answered the following math questions.

Seek and ye shall find...

And really, if math teachers want precise answers, shouldn't they be a bit more precise with their English?

Very funny, indeed. What the "hard" sciences really need is a few more jokers like this.

Flight Plan: Crash Landing

Between living in a foreign country and being a family man, I rarely get to see any movies while they're still "new". Back home in Canada, being footloose and fancy free and living the life of Riley, I used to go to the movies all the time. When I first started dating my wife here in Japan we regularly went to the movies. (I remember our first "date", actually. She took me to see Deep Impact, which was then a "new" movie in Japan. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I'd seen it several months earlier, in fact the day before I came to Japan.) Since our wedding, however, my wife and I have not even once gone to a movie together, and the last movie I saw in a theater was The Return of the King. (Shit, how long ago was that?) These days I don't usually get to see new movies until they come out on TV, which in Japan usually means about two years after they've finished in the theaters.

Anyway, I want to write a bit about a movie that I saw on TV recently, Flight Plan. It's not a new or recent movie.

I wouldn't call myself a fan of Jodie Foster's movies, but I will say that, generally speaking, I've liked most of the movies I've seen her in. I didn't much like Flight Plan. In fact, calling it an unmitigated turd would, in my estimation, be an expression of restrained subtlety. It's difficult to figure out where to begin, but let's start with the basic "suspenseful" premise that was used to dupe unsuspecting (i.e. "gullible") viewers into theaters: a woman's child goes "missing" on an airplane. Right. First of all, there's nothing particularly suspenseful about something that common sense tells us is impossible. People do not go missing on airplanes. Secondly, if Foster's character is somehow delusional (a possibility the script does its best to put forward), then she's just a crazy woman on a plane. This might hold some suspense for us, but it would be a different movie. To put it briefly, a missing child is suspenseful, a missing child on an airplane is impossible, a missing imaginary child on an airplane (or anywhere) is stupid.

Anyway, defying all logic, the child has, in fact, been kidnapped from under Kyle's (Foster) nose and secreted away somewhere on the airplane. Nobody, not one fucking person, on the plane sees or remembers a man going somewhere on the plane with a young girl in his arms. The man, the kidnapper, as it turns out, is a sky marshal. His accomplice is one of the flight attendants. It's all part of a complicated (i.e. stupidly elaborate and illogical), Rube-Goldberg-device-like plot to extort a large sum of money from the airline and leave Kyle as the (dead) patsy. You see, they killed Kyle's husband and somehow managed to get themselves on the same flight back to the states. Kyle is some kind of airplane engineer, so they know she'll know where to look for her daughter and would have the necessary skills to plant a bomb on the plane. They've bribed a funeral home operator to tell the pilot that Kyle's husband killed himself and their daughter so everyone will think Kyle is crazy. Do I need to go on? For fuck's sake, whatever happened to just sticking a gun in someone's face and saying "give me the money"?

Before we learn the identity of the kidnappers, there's an interesting moment when the plot tries to decoy us with some Arabs who happen to be on the plane. Kyle "remembers" seeing some Arabs "spying" on her. It must be the fucking Arabs! As we learn, however, it's not the Arabs (although, strangely, this movie would have made a lot more sense if it had been the Arabs, negative stereotypes notwithstanding). Having presented the not-bad-guys Arabs, however, this script can't even be bothered to muster some basic symmetry by having them, at some crucial point, help Foster's character. As for the actual bad guy, the sky marshal, at no point in the movie are we given even an inkling as to what motivates him. Is he unhappy with his pension plan? Was he beaten with a toy airplane when he was a child? Does being a sky marshal disqualify you from collecting air miles? We'll never know...

Is it just me, or does economy class on a "movie airplane" seem a lot more spacious?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Brain Dead

Sorry, I've been really busy at work and I've been feeling too tired and too brain dead to post anything the past few days. Hope to be back very soon (that's not a threat, it's a promise!).

Friday, February 16, 2007

Death Metal

You know, I quite like a lot of death metal bands, but recently I've become a bit concerned about death metal singers. I mean, it can't be good for the throat to be singing in that "cookie monster" voice all the time. And if one actually had that as a natural voice, it might be a bit awkward going to the pharmacy and asking for condoms, let alone ordering a beer at the pub...


[This story originally appeared here.]

For some reason, lately he'd become obsessed with mirrors. When he was alone in a room with a mirror he would find himself absently gazing into it. Simple, routine things like brushing his teeth or shaving, tasks which used to take up a perfunctory few minutes of his day, now seemed to last for hours, and he frequently found himself rushing to work or other appointments because he was spending too much time staring into the mirror. His wife began to notice his odd behavior, but didn't comment on it. She thought he was obsessing about the vicissitudes of middle age, worrying about his receding hair and encroaching wrinkles. She empathized, but was unsympathetic. Welcome to the club, she thought. His young daughter didn't notice anything at all odd about his behavior. She liked looking into mirrors too.

In fact, there was nothing particularly vain or narcissistic about his obsession with looking into the mirror. No, it was more like he was looking for something; however, he couldn't put his finger on exactly what it was that he was looking for.

He had a dream. He had just finished brushing his teeth before going to bed, and once again he found himself gazing into the mirror. He studied his face. He looked closely at what was in the background behind him on the mirror's surface. Somewhat irrationally he began to wonder about what might lie beyond the reflective surface of the mirror. When he found himself hefting his ceramic shaving mug there was no turning back. He threw it at the mirror. To his profound shock, the mug smashed through the mirror, taking large shards of glass with it. There was some kind of dark space on the other side. The next thing he knew, he had cleared away all the edges of the shattered mirror and was slowly poking his head through what had once been its surface. He could barely believe his eyes. The other side was like a large corridor, with no apparent floor or ceiling. As far as he could see—left, right, up, down, were what appeared to be windows. In each window was a face. He could see thousands of faces, and it dawned on him that what he was seeing was thousands of people gazing into their own mirrors, each one oblivious to all the others (including him). He found this sight unbearable, repulsive. He became angry. His anger turned to rage, and grew to such a proportion that, by a sheer act of will, he smashed all of the mirrors in the corridor. When he looked again, he saw thousands of copies of his own astonished face staring back at him...

As he emerged from sleep to this side of consciousness he felt a presence, a soft breath on his cheeks. He opened his eyes to find the dark, inquiring eyes of his daughter staring at him. Looking into those eyes, he saw a small reflection of his own face. He smiled...

And the Winner Is...

...not me! Maht over at The Moon Topples has announced the winners of the Vision Fiction Contest (scroll down a bit to read the stories) that I've told you about in some earlier posts. While I didn't win any prizes it was fun to have participated nonetheless. The winning stories really were outstanding. In fact, all of the stories were quite good (well, with the possible exception of mine, which I'll be posting here as soon as I'm done writing this; be gentle, dear readers!).

I want to give special congratulations to my online friend, Emarie, over at Disaffected Housewife, who took third place in the writer's category. Her story, "Eye Exam, 2208", is well worth checking out. After you've read it, go visit her blog!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Introducing... the Book!

Watching the video below reminded me of teaching my wife (bless her heart!) how to use a flash memory stick. If you've ever tried to teach anyone how to use a new piece of "technology", you'll probably laugh as much as I did at this very funny clip.

You can close the book now...
[Via Sivacracy]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Gimme That Giri Choco!

[Note: Most of the readers of this little blog don't live in Japan, and we here at Kyklops are bombarded with daily requests for the real lowdown on the Japanese and their customs. As part of our ongoing mission to slake the thirst of our faithful readers for accurate and complete coverage of the economic and cultural behemoth that is Japan, we proudly present the following article on Valentine's Day in Japan.]

Valentine's is a special day in Japan. Yes, today men all over Japan can look forward to receiving a special little something from their wives. In fact, there's a good chance they'll receive it from pretty much every woman they work with! Yummy... What? No, not that you filthy-minded louts! On Valentine's Day in Japan women give chocolate to men...

Yes, in much the same way that Christmas is for screwing, New Year's is a contest to see who can be the most boring, and Green Day is not a band, the Japanese have taken another Western "tradition" and twisted it to suit their own nefarious ends. (Research is still underway to determine just what those ends actually are...) Valentine's Day in Japan focuses on something called giri choco (lit. "obligation chocolate"), and women in Japan are "obliged" to give chocolate to every stinking scumbag they live with, work with, or work for.

On a possibly related note, when I first came to Japan I was struck by how few of the murders that I read about in the papers were committed with guns. Poison seemed to be rather popular...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Day at the Zoo, Part 2

A few more pics from Sunday's trip to the zoo. As my Japanese students (of English) say, "That's all..."

Another cheerful looking chimpanzee. They really should give these guys some beer or something...

Don't mean to be offensive, but this ostrich looks like he's been eating shit...

"You lookin' at me?"

I swear, I used to be in a band with this guy...

You Can Speak Japanese!!

Most of the dialogue in the clip below (from Scary Movie 4) is in Japanese. Believe me, you'll be surprised at how much Japanese you already know and understand...

[Via Japan Probe]

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Day at the Zoo, Part 1

Miyazaki has a small zoo, the Phoenix Zoo, and I spent today there with my family. Yes, that means I'm going to bore you some more with some pictures. These ones are mostly head shots of a few of the animals we saw at the zoo today.

I suppose different people might have different views, but when I see some of the "higher" species at a zoo (or more generally in any kind of cage) it makes me wonder if it's really such a good idea. This chimpanzee looks to me like he'd, on the whole, "rather be in Philadelphia..."

One of a pair of young elephants recently acquired by the zoo. They make them work, having trained them to do different tricks during regular-scheduled "shows".

I don't know what it is about giraffes, but I quite enjoy looking at them...

Pelican in profile.

This camel doesn't seem to mind life in the zoo too much...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cranes, Drones, Hüsker Dü, Keef, and Neko

You know, I usually don't feel like writing. It's odd, really (because I really love talking). I think it stems from my days at university. They kept making me write all these papers to show that I understood the topic and whatnot. I would write them and they would (generally) praise them. Then they would make me write some more. Why the fuck couldn't they just ask me? Couldn't they see my genius? Well, actually, I'm neither stupid nor naive enough to seriously ask that question. Not here, anyway...

So. While I'm killing time and avoiding writing, please let me recommend to you some music I've been listening to tonight. (Actually I like music a lot more than I could ever like reading and/or writing. That's another story, however... [From the "Did I say That?" Dept.: I may have over-stated myself here...])

I've recently discovered a very cool and interesting Australian band called The Drones. You've probably already heard of Hüsker Dü (there's supposed to be some kind of umlaut-looking thingie over the 'u's, but I can't be bothered finding the right fucking font or whatever just so I can perfectly capture the correct spelling of a fucking rock band--they're fucking good, though). [UPDATE: Copy and paste umlaut goodness courtesy of Maht.] If you don't know Keef (Keith-fucking-Richards!! Talk Is Cheap is the one to look for), go crawl back into your hole. By now everyone must have heard of Neko Case. If you haven't, I demand to know right now what the fuck you've been listening to.

There's more, actually: Comets on Fire (psycho-delic!), ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (So Divided was maybe the best rock album of 2006), Irma Thomas... shit, I could go on forever...

Anyway, here's some pictures I took of cranes. They're ubiquitous in Japan (as is any and all manner of construction).

Here's a crane in Atami.

In Tokyo, cranes litter the landscape (heh, what a stupid sentence!).

Cranes in Nagasaki harbor. This is a repeat pic, but for some reason I really like this one...

[UPDATE #2: I completely forgot about the two cranes in the picture below from the zoo in Miyazaki .]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

For the Birds...

Well, after some initial problems with email, I submitted my entry to the Short Fiction Contest at The Moon Topples. There are some great stories there waiting to be read (scroll down a bit), so by all means head over and check them out.

While I try to get back into "blog mode", here are some more thematically linked photos for you to look at.

A bird of many colors.

Six birds on a rail.

Bird on a wire.

Plague ship?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Shiny Things and a Struggling Dork with a Camera

Not being the most creative person even on the best of days, I have absolutely no "creative" energy to spare on blogging for the next few days. I've committed myself to submitting an entry in a Short Fiction Contest over at Moon Topples and, frankly, fiction has never been something I've really tried doing in a serious way. I will submit something, even if it does turn out to be mildly embarrassing.

In the meantime, as I'm completely consumed trying to come up with an idea for a story, this week's posts will probably consist mostly of some of my dubious "photography". This post is no exception!

Shiny Thing #1

Shiny Thing #2

A shiny thing reflecting a struggling dork with a camera.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gaijin Hanzai Ura File

[Note: So far as I can tell, the primary source for the information below is, and the translations for the picture captions are by "Steve" at that site. I came across this information at Japan Probe. If anyone thinks I've made a mistake in these attributions, please let me know.]

Japan is not really much different from any other place when it comes to things like racism and discrimination (no matter what the Japanese themselves might say). Just like in Canada or the U.S., many foreigners face discrimination on a daily basis. [Disclaimer: To my knowledge, I have never been the target or victim of discrimination, racial slurs, etc. in the almost 9 years I've been in Japan. I have no particular axe to grind on this matter. I should also point out that I'm a member of a somewhat priveleged group of foreigners--I'm an educated white guy from a "developed" country. None of this negates a) the presence of racism and discrimination in Japan, nor b) my right to get pissed off about it and my obligation to point it out.]

Now, it's not the actual fact of discrimination and racism here that irks me about Japan. No, it's the generally lazy attitude of Japanese society in dealing with these problems that is troubling. Below are some scanned pics from a magazine called Gaijin Hanzai File ("Gaijin Crime File"). It's available at Amazon Japan, and other major book/magazine sellers. It's available on the shelves of at least one major convenience store (Family Mart; also check the links/comments at Debito and Japan Probe, above). Check it out:

Back Page:
47,000 crimes by foreigners each year!!

The map, with suggestive images of guns, knives, and syringes, assigns a "danger rating" (危険度) for each country: China: 14, Russia: 5, Korea: 9, Brazil: 8, Colombia: 3, etc. The USA, Canada, Australia and the whole of Europe are conspicuously blank...

Picture accompanying an article about foreigners scamming Japanese for money:
Japanese getting conned: "Theesaway to ze ATM, Meester Managing Director."

And, of course, "sex crimes" by foreigners seem to feature prominently. The picture below shows a black man (clearly with consent) touching a Japanese woman's behind. If you weren't shocked by the above, check out the caption for this picture:

Oi Nigger!! Get your fuckin’ hands off that Japanese lady’s ass!!

Yes, that's what it says. And believe me, there's lots more where that came from, and not just in magazines (Japanese television frequently has some pretty offensive stuff that would cause riots back home...).

What do the Japanese do? Nothing. Zilch. Zero. That this kind of thing is tolerated in a so-called "developed" country is enough to make anyone nauseous. And Japan will continue to tolerate this bullshit until they are shamed by the community they so very much desire to be a leader of.

[Update: I've added a link (above) to confirm that Family Mart is in fact selling the magazine. This link also has information regarding the possible beginnings of a boycott. I also corrected the post title.]

From the Annals of the Absurd

I don't know, maybe I'm making too much out of it, but...

Recently my 4-year-old daughter has expressed some unhappiness about going to her kindergarten. Why? Apparently a couple of kids at the kindergarten, on two different occasions, have told her that they they didn't want to play with her because she's "fat" (futotte iru, in Japanese). Both my wife and I had strong reactions to this. Unfortunately, they were very different reactions...

Now, before I continue I should probably point out a couple of things. Firstly, the Japanese are typically quite slim, especially compared to Westerners. That does not mean, however, that there are no "fat" or "chubby" people in Japan. There are plenty. Secondly, the Japanese are more keenly aware and less tolerant of "difference". (People will debate this point, but frankly they don't know what they're talking about.)

Regarding my daughter, yes, by Japanese standards she is quite big--she towers over her playmates and nobody (not even me!) would call her "slim". I've got no problem saying that my daughter is a little on the "chubby" side, but where I come from she looks perfectly "normal" and only an anorexic psycho would look at her and see a "fat" person. So, on top of being a "half-baby", my daughter is also bigger and taller than other kids (she's bigger and taller than most first- and second-graders here). Since she's been born I've been preparing myself to deal with problems related to "race" and "ethnicity". This "fat" thing is another can o' worms altogether...

My wife, being Japanese, thinks my daughter should start dieting and getting more exercise and the problem will go away. (To be fair, this is Japan we're living in, so I can't just dismiss my wife's views simply because they go against my gut feelings.) I, of course, don't think my daughter has a problem at all. The "problem" is with Japanese attitudes and perceptions, and I don't like the idea of forcing her into some action just to conform with other people's ideas about what is "normal" or "acceptable". She's a sweet, beautiful, healthy little girl. Why mess with that?

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Maht over at Moon Topples has announced a Short Fiction Contest (with prizes!). Any readers of this blog (I'm looking at you Maliha and Emarie!) who are interested should head over there and get the details. It starts today. Time is of the essence. And yes, yours truly is going to give it a shot, so it's worth checking out if only to see what mad scribblings pour forth from the demented pen of Kyklops!