Monday, November 30, 2009

I Think It's Pronounced "Yo-ging"

Seeing as how it uses a different set of leg muscles from cycling, and I'm a larger than average dude, jogging tires me out so much after only a mile or so that it requires a huge mental effort to continue going. So far my distance record is about three measly miles.

Anyways, I just got back from a jog of just short of that distance and noticed afterwards that my mind drifted in and out of moments of lucidity--times when everything was just so plain and understood. Some personal truths were laid bare and other prickly decisions I've been procrastinating on were resolved. Is this the oft-mentioned "runner's high," or what Janissaries felt after a blade dance? No, I doubt it, but certainly something of that nature.

Whatever the case, it's nice to have clarity sometimes.


That's Why They Call Me Mr. Fahrenheit, Baby

It doesn't matter that the levels were specifically manufactured to produce a desired effect. It just doesn't matter.

Prepare to be wowed by Queen's Don't Stop Me Now done up with backing sound effects from Super Mario Bros. 3. Not just the effects though; no, the author has tweaked it so that four different meticulously designed levels are being played to the tune of the track. Seeing is believing:

I am all aflutter. Sorry, but I must excuse myself and go take a cold shower or something.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Coulda Been Millionaire!

How's this for a concept: to better manage your appliance's power consumption each household device's has a bluetooth transmitter that feeds info on its energy use to a central control panel that decides when and when not to turn something on. The control panel gives you readouts on your month's estimated power bill and where to shave cost. In time this panel could also utilize flow sensors hooked into water and gas lines to better manage those utilities too.

Sound good? I conceptualized it a couple months ago at Cafe Nomad, down the street.

Unfortunately for me, a man named Seth Frader-Thompson already invented it and started a company around it a couple years ago. His EnergyHub Dashboard smart thermostat will be undergoing trials next year.

Don't you hate having a million-dollar idea and then seeing some schmuck reach the pile of gold just a bit before you do (two years isn't that long in the grand scheme!)?

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's Nuke-U-Leer

Last Thursday I took a nice little Berkeley Hills ride up Euclid, past Cragmont Park and finally to Grizzly Peak Boulevard and the summit. The day was crisp, cool and wonderful--even the Golden Gate was free of fog in the late afternoon. While coming down the mountain I decided to buzz by the Berkeley Hall of Science and take in the vista one last time for the day, but I noticed something that demanded my attention even more. Right in the roundabout passenger drop-off loop at the museum sits the original electromagnet core of Ernest Lawrence's 37-inch cyclotron.

The importance and gravity of this device can not be overstated. Among its more critical discoveries are the production of the world's first synthetically created element, technetium, and the viable refinement process for uranium-235. The latter is the whopper to me: without this device the uranium refinement calutrons at Oak Ridge could not have been built and, along with them, neither would the atomic bomb. That rusting hunk of metal in the middle of that roundabout was a crucial cog in the research machinery that invented The Bomb. Wow.

It blew my mind.

It's strange to come face-to-face with such history, to be able to reach out and touch it. To some people that artifact is either awash in the blood of tens of thousands or a symbol of freedom and saved lives. You never know what you're going to find on a bike ride, for sure.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Latent Appetite for Blood

Do you recall the first time you laid eyes on Total Recall, the 1990 adaptation (ever so loose) of Phillip K. Dick's short story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale? (Funny-to-me trivia: I read that story on a cold winter night in Kusu at Joyfull, where I often went to escape the sub-zero temperatures of my own apartment. If you ever go to Joyfull you'll understand. That place is what the inside of one of Dick's LSD-induced hallucinations might look like.) It was summer break my first viewing, I was maybe 12 or 13 and borrowed the VHS cassette from my neighbor to watch over and over on those languid days.

No, I didn't just continually watch, rewind and watch again the three-breasted hooker scene.

So I came across a YouTube post from a user who has distilled all the gory violence down into a single video coming in at 3:40. 3:40! Of just straight murders! Willikers! Considering the movie is only 113 minutes long that is a sizable chunk of killing. The editor here included every death, even the Johnny Cab exploding and Cohaagen kicking over the goldfish in his Martian office. Genius.

Then, as if that weren't enough, one of the related links from that video are to this fight scene from a campy '80s martial arts flick called Undefeatable. Yes, it's really called that. It's a solid gold fight scene from the knife-licking opening to the memorable one-liners at the end.

Such beauty!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Popular in Japan

Pink Tentacle blog has the lowdown on publisher Jiju Kokuminsha's ("Free Citizen") recently released 2009 installment of its annual sixty most popular Japanese phrases list and, as always, the entries are a little strange. I had a good chuckle earlier this year at #3 on the list (" Venus on a UFO"), the one that talks about Prime Minister Hatoyama's wife being a loony alien abductee, and got major cred when I told people I knew what a "grass eating boy" was (#5, sōshoku danshi). But really it's #39 that takes the cake for me.

The Yamba Dam project in Gunma Prefecture, north of Tokyo, is a massive construction project costing over $5 billion that's been on the drawing boards since just after the cessation of WWII. Or, rather, it was. Hatoyama and the DPJ kept their campaign promises to eliminate pork from the budget and this overpriced, unnecessary dam was damn near first on the cutting block. One major problem with the dam--at least you'd think it was an issue--was that the lake it would create behind the dam would inundate an entire town, Naganohara. Oddly enough, the people of Naganohara aren't praising the cancellation, they're ruing it. You see, to keep costs down and public support high the contractors hired local residents to work on the project, ensuring plentiful employment and prosperity in the town. Now, with the contractors out of work the people are also out of work, so the citizens can't help but want back the thing that would have destroyed their town.

This is life in Japan, folks: they getcha coming and going.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Japanese Movie Madness

My neighbor from Tottori, Japan, Edward, lent us a few movies from that Land of the Rising Sun and I'm now, after watching them, kind of dreading returning them to him and getting embroiled in the subsequent film talk. Films are, I believe, one of those intensely personal thing that easily rile people when naysayers rip into one's favorite flicks. I admit freely that I'd claw out the eyes of anybody who spoke poorly of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Lost in Translation. The fact of the matter concerning the movies lent to us by Ed is that I didn't terribly like any of them and, in fact, downright hated one of them, wishing there were some sort of bureau I could appeal to in order to get the life I spent watching it back.

In order of least to most unpalatable the movies are Cha no Aji ("The Taste of Tea"), Kazoku Gemu ("Family Game") and Megane ("Eyeglasses"). Actually, I could only stomach Cha no Aji because it was the least bad of the three. Your mileage may vary.

But are they really bad? Probably not. Probably it's just a matter of different sensibilities. From my perspective each movie failed utterly at characterization and plot development. Viewers hardly get to know each character's name by the halfway mark, let alone their motivations or even what they're striving for. Cha no Aji was the only movie with a discernible plot, but even then no introduction of the players was made, no indication as to what they are doing or why. It's enough to make you go blind with frustration.

The key, I think, to understanding Japanese movies is that Western movie-making techniques and devices do not apply in that film industry. The movies are about feeling who the characters are and what they're doing. Since the lifestyle of a typical Japanese citizen is pretty much homogeneous around the country the challenge confronting a filmmaker there is to draw the viewer in with scenes of traditional Japanese life and inject subtle surrealism into the mix. Take Cha no Aji, for example. We are presented with a spot-on typical family that resides deep in the countryside and spends their home time relaxing on the veranda overlooking the garden, playing igo, eating together and doing other slow lifestyle activities. As the movie progresses we discover that mother is a talented amateur animator, father is a hypnotherapist, grandfather is batshit nuts, daughter has visions of a giant version of herself wherever she goes and so forth. Sure, it all sounds pretty interesting, but the way it's presented and the pace of things is infuriating. Oh, I didn't even mention the story threads that are picked up and never resolved!

That movie won multiple awards in Japan somehow. Like I said, different sensibilities.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Laughing Squid blog found a fantastic animation based on Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis' 1970 no-hitter that he achieved while "high as a Georgia Pine" on LSD. The audio is taken, apparently, from a 2008 NPR interview where Ellis gives his detailed and hilarious account of what transpired that fateful day. Truly, this is the most stunning sports achievement made while tripping hard on hallucinogens.


If you need a pick-me-up to stave off the wolves of depression on these cold autumn days (still somehow sunny) and nights then I have a great site for you. It Made My Day features a constantly updating list of funny, quirky anecdotes from folks all over, each one ending with "IMMD." Here's a taste:

I was digging through my old first grade notebook today. In response to a prompt that read “I am happy to be a kid because…” I wrote, “I can sit on the toilet backwards and yell Yeehaw!” IMMD.

I was sitting at a red light when “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins came on. The driver in front of me played the drum solo. IMMD

I was in LA with my family and we hopped on the metro and sat down. The next stop a clown got on and sat down and started making balloon animals for the passengers. The following stop another clown got on. They acknowledged each other with a nod of the head and a glare of the eyes, then started a balloon-animal battle. IMMD.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Going Crazy In One Easy Step

Step 1: Be Unemployed.

The pace of my budding insanity is rapidly accelerating and we have this Great Recession to blame. I think I'm well past the point where I can just enjoy my carefree days of painting purdy pictures on canvas or riding a bicycle around for health and fun. I realize now that I'd do those things anyways, employment or no. Another watershed event came today when I had a volunteer interview at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park and was told I could only expect to get a position as a glorified door greeter because all the other much more challenging and meaningful volunteer positions had been occupied. So it's to the point now where my three years in marketing, two years in editorial and two years in public school education only amount to a doorman.

I can't even fucking GIVE my skills away! How do I price myself lower than free?

At this rate I will be robbing liquor stores by Xmas.


Monday, November 9, 2009

It's Mr. Blobby Time!

Take my word, you always want to check what's coming up next when following a user's playlist on YouTube. Always.

We were munching on some shawarma wraps for dinner while watching old episodes of the BBC sitcom One Foot in the Grave and had expected another episode part to auto-load, but instead got a brain full of THIS:

Mr. Blobby, you sure know how to silence a room. I was completely weirded out when, at about the thirty second mark, fiery conservative British talk show host Jeremy Clarkson makes a cameo appearance as Mr. Blobby's limo driver. Not the high point of Clarkson's career, I'm sure.

Goddamn, that thing's just monstrous! Get off my screen and outta my brain!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oh Nos! Somebody Ran Over the (Pirate) Cat!

Admittedly I don't have a radio and only listen to it streaming online, but about a month ago Pirate Cat Radio--a volunteer-run pirate radio station broadcasting from the Mission and home to the famous Bacon Maple Latte (I bet the Chicago Manual would agree it deserves those caps), which I've mentioned and even blogged from before--has gone off air! At least its actual airwave broadcast has. I suppose that since the station doesn't sell advertising airtime and the cafe front is its only legitimate inflow of cash, in the face of a $10,000 fine they really have no choice except shutting down that operation. Definitely a damn shame.

Their stream is still running, thankfully, so check them out online. Nothing beats the live experience though, and if you have the chance to, head down to 21st and Florida someday and gawk at the DJs through the studio window while eating a vegan bacon maple donut.


Monday, November 2, 2009

The Future Visits the Present...Only to Become the Past

The English edition of the Mainichi News's daily photo journal window featured a shot from Kobe's new-ish Gundam-themed bar named "Axis", a drinking establishment I would very much like to down a martini at. The bar, named after an asteroid base used by both warring sides in the original Universal Century storyline of the historic series, features hundreds of mobile suit models painstakingly assembled by its proprietor and has become a sort of Mecca for local fanboys. With the thought of giant model robot assembly fresh in my mind I was reminded of the 1:1 scale model RX-78 Gundam on display throughout summer in Odaiba, Tokyo. It was taken down in early September, I believe, only lighting the riverside park it occupied for a few months. Financial responsibility for the project was taken by the Tokyo city government and the Gundam license holder, Sunrise Studios, and though the cost of the installation eludes me (Update: the cost was kept secret from the public! Tokyo taxpayer funds were used to construct the thing and they're not disclosing how much!) I'm willing to bet it was at least half a million.

This is typical Japan. For nearly two decades now Japan has been trying to spend its way out of recession by wasting boatloads of cash on public works, many of which are of questionable usefulness. Roads and bridges to nowhere, land reclamation projects in areas with no lack of space, river damming on waterways with no history of flooding and the list goes on. It's like a nightmare version of our Depression Era Works Progress Administration, only without anything particularly useful or beautiful coming out of it. I look around the Bay Area in my minds eye and see the beautiful murals painted at Coit Tower, the Beach Chalet and elsewhere and wonder where their analogs are in Japan. Nowhere, because that cash has been going into the pockets of corrupt politicians and construction company bigwigs instead of anywhere more worthy.

They should at least have left the thing up until it started to show some signs of wear and tear. How unspeakably wasteful.