May 2002 Archives

Desk Inventory


I should be polishing an article that's due, but I'm distracted by the number of things on my desk. Here's an inventory:

  1. laptop
  2. scan converter
  3. digital camera
  4. DV camera remote
  5. telephone
  6. memo holder
  7. file box full of notebooks and maps
  8. keyboard
  9. wacom tablet
  10. flatpanel monitor on top of cardboard box
  11. card file
  12. four dictionaries
  13. wooden puzzle box used as bookend for dictionaries
  14. manekineko figurine
  15. keitai charging cradle
  16. mug full of pens
  17. mug empited of coffee
  18. glass of water
  19. calendar
  20. desk lamp
  21. audio CD
  22. empty case of data CD
  23. mini DV tapes (2)
  24. file folder with credit card statements
  25. book Tod finished reading yesterday
  26. notepad and pen
  27. bank statements to be filed

I think that before I can get down to completing this article, I must tidy my workspace!

2002 FIFA World Cup

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The 2002 FIFA World Cup starts tomorrow. The papers are full of articles about hooligans and what's being done to avoid trouble. Extra police are on alert, of course.

To support that, pachinko parlor owners have agreed not to install any new machines during the World Cup because the law states that police must be on hand for such installations, so this frees up a few patrolmen for Cup duties. How quirky!

In a positive spirit, one town council printed up a pamphlet for shopkeepers with tips and phrases to help them greet visitors (including "England are a great team" spelled out in katakana.) I've noticed more signs and directions for visitors--little "Welcome to Tokyo!" stickers on the train doors, and a multi-lingual poster explaining the guide symbols in the subway system.

There's a special "hooligans" list that Immigration authorities are using to check all incoming visitors. Two British men on the list were turned back from Turkey earlier this week; yesterday another one, arriving from London with 175 game tickets was deported. A few men from Mexico were arrested for attempting to steal someone's wallet.

The general press is full of stuff like this--but not too much info on the upcoming matches, the rivalry between teams, or why this is at all important in the world of sport. And not a word of what's going on in Korea, where the tournament is being co-hosted. Maybe I'm just not reading enough of the Sports section.

Container gardening

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The joys of container gardening are not to be overlooked. On my tiny balcony, I've got a healthy dose of nature. And most of it is edible: mint, rosemary, sage, basil, marjoram, thyme, parsely, bay. What's not edible is flowering: daisy, lavender, marigold, impatiens, pinks, petunia.

It gets my attention every day. I water it, pluck dead blossoms and harvest herbs for dinner. It pays me back by bringing a smile to my face when I brush my hands across the scented plants.

Unveiling mediatinker

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It's been well over a year since I registered my domain but haven't worked on a site for it...the shoemaker's children and all that. Today I've completed my professional website, to complement my personal site and this one.

I'm pleased to unveil media tinker. It needs some additional tweaking, but it's "done enough" for you to take a look. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Sapporo Lion Ginza

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From the street, it's pretty unremarkable, just another Sapporo Lion beer hall with a display of plastic food in a big, modern building.

But stepping inside this place was a surprise. This beer hall was designed and built by Eizou Sugawara in 1934. It's gorgeous. It's an art deco cavern. At the far end, a tall bar made of German marble and flanked by five foot tall planters (no plants anymore, but the historic photos showed them brimming with foliage) is the hub of action. On the wall behind the bar a mosiaic of glass tiles depcits half-nude women harvesting wheat. Grapes hang above them and in the distance is a brewhouse.

The ceiling of the room is stone. Once white, it's been aged to a patchy, nicotine brown. But the discoloration doesn't diminish its beauty. The stone weeps in intricate layers of angular forms downwards, forming pointed archways and capping the green-tiled columns that support the ceiling.

The walls are covered in brown tile, with large glass mosaic still lifes between each column. It was apparently extremely challenging work to create the glass and the art; the restaurant's own description said it was done through trial and error. The experiment was successful--the mosaics are charming.

The lighting is delightful. Two rows of large, frosted glass globes etched with overlapping circles run down the center of the room. Attached to the angled part of each column, just above where the stone meets the tile, is a light fixture of extreme beauty. Six frosted glass globes--some white, others pale blue, rose or green--hang from a wooden armature that looks like a double cross. The hanging pieces are made of wooden cubes and plum-sized colored glass beads. It's a shining example of Arts & Crafts style.

The floors are tiled in blocks of colors that look like throw rugs. Pale green, bright blue, brick red, black and white dominate and all are pockmarcked and cracked. But considering that this building rode out the war and numerous earthquakes, a cracked floor is almost expected.

I'm kicking myself for not having my camera with me.

My kitchen sings

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My kitchen sings a symphony of morningtime domesticity.

The watery swish and thump of the washer sets the tempo for an 18 minute concerto. The coffemakers clucks and chirps melodiously. The psst of spray cleaner on the countertop, whisper of sponge, and the legato smoothness of water from the tap join in the chorus. The tinkle of last night's late night glassware set in the drainer accompanies the mellow clunk of ceramic mugs ready for the finale.

Just before the washer ends the program with a shrill warning beep, the coffemaker gives its highly anticipated solo performance in a last, throaty boil and the mugs beat a one-two timpani as they are set down for filling.

Get me out of here

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I'm itching to get out of Tokyo for a daytrip.

In the first two years we lived here, we often went for hikes or short trips on the weekends. We travelled all over Japan on these little jaunts.

But the last two years have been more settled--on the weekends we have social engagements, work commitments, volunteering activities, meetings. So we don't just go away any more.

But I miss travelling and seeing new things. There are so many places in Japan that I haven't been and many that I'd like to revisit. I must start planning now...

Astronomy links

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I've always been fascinated by things in the night sky; when I was a little girl I wanted to be an astronaut. I memorized sky charts and read all the classic science fiction epics.

Living in a city, I don't get to see the night sky, so I content myself with NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day and take delight in reports like today's about an image of the universe (pictured here) just 300,000 years after the Big Bang (that's about 15 billion years ago) from the Cosmic Background Imager.

Maybe someday I'll be a space tourist. Until then, I've heard that there's good stargazing along some of Japan's coasts.

Food news

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Two articles in today's news:

Police raid firm in Mister Donut case
Gov't to abolish Food Agency

The juxtaposition generates amusing ideas about what the Food Agency is doing. Covert food ops, no doubt.

Slogging blogging

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What's happened to my schedule? It's a quarter to 4 in the afternoon and I'm just now realising I didn't blog this morning. Maybe all the computer troubles around me are throwing me off kilter.

Yesterday's chicken-waving session with MJ didn't yield any useful results and today I'm in my office fighting with Premiere 6. It doesn't work with OS X at all, so I have to boot into OS 9 and run it there. It works, but what a pain.

I can't wait til all my apps are OS X native. Maybe then I'll blog on time again.


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Ack! It's 11:45 in the morning and haven't blogged yet today. I've been caught up in writing an article and answering e-mail. Now I have to leave to go wave a dead chicken at MJ's computer so forgive me if all I give you today is a photo series. This is Denzuin, an old and famous temple near our house where Tokugawa Iseyasu is entombed.

Children's procession

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As we prepared to leave the house yesterday morning, we heard drumming echoing around the neighborhood. "Hey, let's go find that!" I said. I'm always interested in local festivals.

As it turns out, the drumming came to us. We left the building, we saw a parade of children and parents pulling a little shrine at the end of our street. They were just turning the corner and heading towards us.

Realising my camera was still upstairs, I dropped my bags, grabbed my keys and dashed. I sprinted up the stairs, ran into the office without taking off my shoes (I'll have to clean the carpets extra well today!), and made it back downstairs just in time to snap a couple of pictures. The kids looked like they were having a good time, especially the girls beating the drum. The fathers who were doing the bulk of the pushing and pulling looked a little tired--it was warm yesterday and they'd just come up a hill!

Caution, subtitles

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In video stores in Japan, foreign movies make up the bulk of films for rent. And they come in two varieties: dubbed in Japanese and subtitled in Japanese. Which means the unwary English speaker sometimes ends up with a subtitled movie where the original language isn't English.

As an example, we rented Jackie Chan's Accidental Spy. It incorporates Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Turkish, English, and French. Fortunately, the key plot points are given in English by a reporter who seems to turn up exclusively to do so. And it's not necessary to follow the plot in a Jackie Chan movie--it's the action sequences that are the fun, anyway.

I'm usually pretty careful to check the "country of origin" on the tape, since that's the only clue about which language the film's in. Accidental Spy fooled me completely--it had the English title (instead of the Chinese one) and I didn't check!

Tax office efficiency

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Yesterday I went to the tax office; I needed to pick up a copy of a form I'd failed to fill in at tax time.

I pondered for a moment over which office to enter--the none of the complicated kanji combinations on the directory in the lobby exactly matched the one on my letter--and finally decided to choose the office closest to the front door. It was a good choice.

A young man leaped up to help me and handed me the form I needed. As I moved towards the end of the counter to fill it in, he gestured me to the center of the counter, saying there was more room there. Then he proceeded to find me a sheet of carbon paper and clipped it between duplicate forms.

After I'd finished filling in the form, he looked it over, then reached down to a closed file box at his feet and pulled out my tax return. He checked everything over, made copies and told me that my refund would be transferred to my bank account in June or July.

Now that's good service.

Tod's new toy

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Tod's new toy--a blowtorch. It's the perfect partner for our grill. Although it looks like he might be about to scorch the swordfish he's cooking for our dinner, really the blowtorch is just for lighting the charcoal.

This is a cleverly designed device. It's a torch head that fits onto a standard "gas bombe" canister. That makes is very convenient for refueling since you can buy canisters of compressed gas at every convenience store. The torch uses it up pretty quickly (about 35 minutes of wicked-hot flaming per can) but if you're just lighting a fire, it lasts for quite a few grilling sessions.

No doubt the blowtorch could be used for other things, but so far it's just our grill-lighter. Maybe I'll experiment this weekend with some creme brulee or lampwork beads.

Tropical tastes

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I think we're in for a tropical summer. First, Mango Colon. Now the candy shelves are crammed with tropical fruit flavored goodies:

  • Pineapple KitKat is pretty tasty. The pineapple flavor is strong and a little plastic, but not bad. I like KitKat and this is a nice change.
  • Mango Cream Pocky is excellent. Pocky is a classic--thin breadsticks dipped in chocolate. The mango cream coating has little flecks of dried mango in it that add a real fruit flavor and the slightest edge of mango bitterness.
  • Syun-ka Mango Pudding wafer chocolate is nothing to write home about. The outer chocolate coating is thin and waxy, the wafer is like styrofoam and the mango flavor is extremely subtle.
  • Colorful Stick (not pictured here because I tore into it before I photgraphed) is similar to Pocky, but not as good. It's a mix of tropical fruits and the sticks are coated with multi-colored sugar crystals in white chocolate. Beware pretty candy--it rarely lives up to its promise.

My head hurts

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Today I'm going to complain about the symptoms of migraine, since that's pretty much all I can focus on this morning. I am nauseated, everything sounds too loud, and light is much brighter than it ought to be. On top of that, I feel stupid and slow.

Don't ask me to remember anything important, to speak fluently in any language, to move gracefully, or to concentrate on a task for more than 45 seconds.

Fortunately, I have shiatsu scheduled for this morning and no deadlines today. I think I'll go lie down now.

BSE again

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Just when I was starting to think it might be safe again, another Hokkaido cow tested positive for BSE. It's been five or six months since the last known mad cow. Good thing I'm not overly fond of beef.

But I was looking forward to some yummy yakiniku on our grill this summer. Oh well, my Korean barbecue can wait. Maybe next year...

Cat in peril

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5 am. A cat is crying outside. Its wails echo through the neighborhood.

My dark, sleepy mind conjures a sad scenario--a young cat, abandoned by its owners, stuck in the gully where the Marunouchi line runs, unable to climb out. The trains haven't begun for the day. I imagine phoning 119 to report this. Then wonder if they would help. What would I say? I think of words in Japanese. They don't really make much sense.

The wailing become hoarse as the cat continues to seek help.

I rise from my bed and step out onto the balcony. The source of the crying is a block or two away, and low. Maybe on the tracks. Maybe on the streets above the tracks. But I am not dressed for the morning's grey drizzle and I step back inside and close the door.

Should I have gone to save the cat? Later, after coffee and a shower, the trains are bringing commuters from the suburbs. I don't hear the cat again.

While Snow

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In a tiny alley bordering Kausuga 2-20, is the White Snow restaurant. The noren was out as we walked past at lunchtime yesterday, so we slid open the wooden door, ducked under the curtain and tried our luck. What a delight.

It's a classic place that could be 50 years old, or five. An L-shaped dining bar surrounds the tiny kitchen which is screened from view by a cabinet full of dishes and foods. Handwritten paper strips hang over the bar; each one bears a different menu item and price. Bottles of soy and other sauces, little jars of toothpicks, and napkins stand evenly spaced along the upper edge of the counter.

To the left of the counter, several low tables rest on a tatami dias under two paper-shaded windows. The room is dim and comfortable. And although White Snow's deserted on this Saturday afternon, we know they do a steady trade in the evenings--there are two dozen "keep bottles" on the shelves, mainly sake and a few whiskey, each with a date and its owners name written in indelible marker on the bottle.

At the end of the counter where we sat is the altar of popular cuture. A television rests loudly on a high shelf where most patrons can keep up with the televised national obessesions of food shows (daytime) and baseball (evening). It broadcast a "wide" show of talk and variety while we ate. Below the TV are several shelves of knicknacks, books and magazines. And who is making an offering at this altar? It's Happy, the ever-cheerful dwarf of legend. He's got a bucket of red silk roses in his arms and looks thrilled to offer them to the gods of media.

Speaking of the gods of media, if you haven't read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, I urge you to try it. It's a dark, funny, and thought-provoking story of old vs new. A book certainly worth your time.

Stepped Down

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Today I breathe a sigh of relief. Last night, I stepped down co-leader of DigitalEve Japan.

I'm so proud of what the group has apccomplished during the last fifteen months. We've grown hugely from 90 members to almost 450. We hold events at least twice a month, publish a newsletter, manage a library of technical books, and have a fledgling mentoring program. It's really heartening to see women in IT coming together to share their experience and knowledge.

I was touched by all the compliments and thanks I got last night from members old and new. The steering commitee presented me a huge bouquet of flowers and I was applauded. It was a nice send-off.

But stepping down doesn't mean I'm abandoning DE-J. In fact, I'm not even leaving the "inner circle" of team leaders. I'll be leading the technology team. From now, I can focus my effort on the techn side of DE-J, instead of the general management of the group. MJ, our web content coordinator, is anxious to start hounding me to upgrade web stuff. And I'm ready and raring to go. The tech team looks like it will expand by a few members and we'll really get a lot of work done in the next few months, I hope!

Custom birthday gift

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<kuri> devin, my mother would like a hint about what to get you for your BD.

<devin> oh, ok... um...

<lyd> elephant beer steins

<Nemix> elephants would be good as a beer stein.

<lyd> filled with Stein's elephant beer

<devin> hmmm

<devin> a pair of shorts

<devin> or a book

<lyd> or a short pair of books

<kuri> the ultimate gift being a pair of short books about beer and elephants.

<lyd> heh

<devin> yeah!

<devin> by a man named stein

My mother's creativity comes through again in this pair of diminutive books. Inside are six tiny beer bottles and a china elephant. The end papers are decorated with elephants and beer steins, and the covers are made of mulberry paper. Would you guess that Mom's a master of theatrical props?

The gift box also contained two pairs of shorts. Mom's whimsy is tempered with praticality.

Latte Disguised

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You know Latte, Sony's cute white Aibo pet. Meet LonLon--Latte dressed as a panda to promote Suntory's oolong tea.

Suntory's gone all out with its LonLon campaign website devoted to silly Flash games, clips from the TV commercials, a contest to win a keitai strap and some very kawaii LonLon wallpaper.

Translating interview

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Translation is slow and painstaking work. Not my favorite, but I'm faced with an e-mail full of Japanese answers to my English interview questions.

It's easy enough to get the general meaning of text by reading for the nouns and verbs. but the nuances are in all of the joining phrases and particles. Using ga instead of wo casts the entire sentence in a different light. Conjugations are key, too. "Can not know" and "do not know" are close but not exactly the same, are they?

I need to quote this interviewee for my current article but in English, not in Japanese. So I'm sitting here with my dictionaries, grammar books and online translation aids trying to get the shades of meaning right. I will never be a professional translator, that's very clear!

Japan Gensuikyo

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Japan Gensuikyo is a national anti-atom bomb, anti-nuclear organization that was founded in 1944. They do grassroots awareness and fundraising for vicitms of nuclear war, nuclear testing, and disasters like Chernobyl. They call these people hibakusha.

Yesterday, they began their annual march from Tokyo to Hiroshima. They take a rather long route--curving around the country to spread the word--with plans to arrive in Hiroshima on August 4th, just before the anniversary of the bombing and in time for the 2002 World Conference against A & H Bombs.

Japan's international affairs

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Japan's international political affairs seem quite parochial. North Korea, South Korea and China get into snits about various slights in ways they would never fuss with othercountries.

As some examples, everyone complains when Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine, where the war dead are entombed. Diplomatic letters fly across the sea from the neighbors and complaints are strongly made and relations are strained.

The North Korean spy ship that sunk in Chinese waters after being fired on by Japan on the high seas might be raised--if China smiles upon Japan and says yes. But North Korea is pissed off that Japan would dare accuse them of spying (though the US military confirmed that the ship started out from North Korea). Who will China support?

I don't recall the US's neighbors being so tetchy about things.

Advance summer

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Today the weather is forecast to reach 28 degrees (82 F). It seems like a good day to break open the box of summer clothes. Although it's too early in the season for shorts, there are a few favorites that I'm looking forward to unearthing.

But it's also time to shop for there are two dresses that I've worn so frequently in the past three summers that they need to be replaced. I packed them and moved them to the new apartment exactly so I could find their replacements this summer. Shopping online is a bother and a half, but I know the clothes will fit when I buy at J.Jill and Eddie Bauer.

Today is Tod's birthday

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Today is Tod's birthday (his 33rd, though he swears he's only 31) and we have many festivities planned--mainly involving food.

First up, an American breakfast with eggs, bacon and toast to celebrate and to fortify for the day ahead. Then a cake to be decorated and other birthday surprises to be taken care of. Perhaps we'll take a walk after lunch, or watch a movie. Friends are coming for dinner; they're making lasagne, so I just have to do the appetizers, salad and bread before they arrive.

I think I'll go start the bacon...

Taste testing sweets

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Taste testing two new sweets may not be the healthiest way to begin a new day, but it is entertaining.

This "sugar milk" flavored Petit Toast (118 yen for a 40 g cup) has the identity of a breakfast food but I'm not fooled. The toast nuggets are about an inch square and lightly coated with a sugar glaze on one side. They are pretty bland, which is a disappointment made more bitter by how cute and inviting the package is. Petit Toast also comes in "consomme" flavor, which I suspect would easily subsitute for a salad crouton.

The joys of Collon are not to be missed. I have a secret fondness for (vanilla) Cream Collon that dates back to my first trip to Japan. How can you lose with a creamy center, the texture of fluffy bakery icing, nestled inside a roll of
crispy wafer? Mango Citrus Collon (98 yen for a 60 g box) should be a winner but the flavor is too sharply acidic and lingers on the tongue with a tingling aftertaste. But I might be biased--I don't think mango goes well with the coffee I'm using to cleanse my palate.

Yoshi meets Shinzou

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This is Yoshi. He's a 22 year old musician who recently married my wild friend, MJ. He also spent yesterday afternoon building me a bookcase while she and I chatted and made dinner. What a great guy.

Yoshi is balancing his wedding gift on his head. Aren't they cute?

Good god, time flies.

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Good god, time flies. Is it really the first of May already? Seems like yesterday was oshogatsu.

Lately start of every month has been creating a bit of a panic in me. What have I done with my time? Did I accomplish anything last month? What am I going to do this month? What are my goals? Where am I going?

Choose "(d) don't know" for all of the above.

Ah well, I may be directionless and floundering, but I have a clean house, numerous interesting, wild, and silly friends, and I eat well.

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