Wednesday, 3 February 2016

I Came Here To Gloat, But Then I Forgot

So I started having another go at a book of cryptic crosswords today.

In the history of this medium I've managed in the order of five solutions.  Five solutions over hundreds of questions and dozens of years.  Not exactly making myself seem intelligent here.

But today I nailed one.  I intuited a question without any adjoining letters helping me.  I was on top of the world (yes, I really am that sad) and then I forgot my briefcase.

Now, before you say anything, it's not really a briefcase.  It's just an A4 wallet that happens to have a lid and a carrying handle.  It's not posh and definitely not leather bound.

What it is, however, is a recepticle for every vital piece of paper and or information that I own.  It used to hold (after today, I will ensure it no longer holds this information.  Not because having your stuff in one place is inherently bad, but this folder is now tainted with bad juju and must be replaced.) postcards for those back home, letters for the same, bank books and myriad other things that identify me.

I was uncontrollably angry with myself when I arrived home without my case.  I don't think I've ever felt the same sense of self-loathing at any other point in my life.  It doesn't help that the case also holds other personal items, stuff that represents a ton of work and other items that represent the irreplaceable personal items we all hold.  What an absolute idiot.

So today I'll go back to that place and try not to forget my own goddamned feet or something.  There will, even in safe old Japan, be some loss.  If it were England it would have disappeared never to be seen again, so at least it turned up at all.  But I'd be foolish to think there won't be any repercussions for my negligence.



Acquires vases, it's said:

Urns

In case you were wondering what the cryptic was.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Canterbury Boots

Since I tried a pair of Predators (TM) (C) (All Rights Reserved.) (please don't sue me) when I was a kid, I've never really stepped (Aha!) outside of Adidas.  They're the right size, but more importantly, the right shape (I have what can generously be described as wide feet) and that counts for a lot when you're running around.

How much does it count for?

The right side has taken a beating
The boots are mostly fine, so I'll just get a set of insoles and re-use them for training or something.
I've had these boots for about a year and this wear and tear is the result of training three times a week with one game a week, which makes these a decent pair of boots in my books.  The shell is fine on both, it's the in-soles that've had it.  I'll replace those in the future, which will give me two pairs of boots because I've now got a shiny new pair of Canterbury something or others (TM) (C) (All Rights Reserved.).

And they actually fit pretty well.  They feel fractionally heavier than the ones you see above, but they have the same wide touch along the balls of the feet and they don't taper too heavily at the toe which is nice for us abnormals.  The stud arrangement seems fine for a hard grass surface, so I expect them to perform well on 3G too.  I haven't tried them on wet ground, but I could see the heels clogging up which is an annoyance, but one shared with all blade designs, (or at least I find it is) so take that as you may.

I did get a small blister on the back of my heels from not tightening them properly.  Whenever I wear a new pair I tend to leave them slightly loose at first, to work out the stiffness in the material, before moving on to proper lacing.  That caused the blister, so don't fret if you're thinking of purchasing them.
Looking good so far.
So would I recommend them?  If you have an Adidas foot (wider feet, wider toe profile, prefer a more supported arch than Nike offer) I would say they're a solid choice.  The arch feels slightly lower than Adidas who tend to offer more support, but they're a world away from the Nike boots I've tried, which have arch support bordering on the masochistic.  Nike shoes are for hooves, not feet.

I can't really comment on their long-term comfiness or their durability yet because I haven't worn them enough, but early indications are good.

Brand loyalty makes sense with boots where it doesn't with other items.  Each manufacturer has a test foot they keep locked away in a vault, that they bring out for new designs.  If their test foot is a plaster mould of a sheep footprint (as is the case with Nike) then your foot is obviously not going to fit.  Internal designs don't change much, so you can be fairly certain a new shoe in the same range will fit if the previous pair did.  At least that's been my experience over the years.

Canterbury have made a smart choice in basing their design off human feet instead of bovine or pachyderm trotters like some of the competition, and these seem to be a pretty decent pair of boots.  If you want to save fifty quid on the Adidas competition, head on down to your local sports shop and try these on.  You might end up liking them!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

How Big is Tokyo?

Check out this link:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/simoncrerar/tokyo-is-a-mega-city#.jal3XqZxko

It's a map showing Tokyo (I live in 'Funabashi,' if you're interested) showing the town relative to other places on Earth.  It covers things like surface area, relative population density and so on, and gives you a visual representation of just how massive this place is.

Obviously, being English the overlay of Tokyo onto the map of England was the one that struck me most.  Absolutely, utterly bonkers.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Let's Talk Sound

So I've written a few times about the stagnation of technology in the personal computing sector.  Mainly the relative lack of innovation in the field of graphics, but occasionally in other areas too.

With the introduction of VR (something I am desperate to jump into) in the coming months I believe there will be a leap forward, both in raw tech and the usage of it.  Naysayers will point to the dismal failure of 3D and dismiss it off-hand, but there are several crucial differences between 3D TV's and the headsets used for VR.  The only downside is how long they've taken to bring the physical items to market, or rather, how far in advance they advertised their products and how much hyperbole they induced.  They started too early and the result is a slight dip of interest just as launch is rounding the corner.  Certainly not ideal.

Anyway, I'll save that talk for another day because I'm listening to music right now.

Music and sound are always the things that set the tone, and add the cherries to the top of any audio/visual work.  Movies are always praised for their sound, but rarely are they about the sound.  The same is true for games, where graphics rule the roost and with the exception of a brief period around the mid to late 2000's they always have.  In fact I would argue that sound is something that you can point to as having been pretty solid throughout the history of computer entertainment, with the advent of modern chiptunes drawing a direct line to the limited audio chipsets of yore.

So I was thinking about the soundtracks that made the entertainment of 2015 compelling for me, and there were a few standout offerings.

The first I'll highlight is this:


This is classic James Bond, or as near as you can come without infringing on copyright.  It's a great song to listen to for the voice alone, but the lyrics work particularly well with the story of the game(s).  Often I'll listen to a movie theme and wonder whether I watched the movie the song is supposed to represent.  Quantum of Solace, for example, is nonsensical to me.  I will concede that it's entirely possible that I'm just me being thick with that example though.  This track is different, it is MGS5 for me.  I wonder what that says about my feelings on the game as a whole...

The next is a game I haven't even played:



This is a game about space trucking and space shooting.  Or rather, truckin' an' shootin'.

Regardless of where or when I hear this, it makes me think of haulin' grimy goods and 'spice,' which is testament to how well the music does its job.  But I also just like listening to it whenever I've got a spare few minutes and need to get something done.  This is gettin' it done music.

I then had to think about the other music I've been listening to that's from games this year, and after a quick think I came up some more tracks from Rebel Galaxy, and then, I remembered this is the year of Hotline Miami 2, which follows up from a trippy prequel that had pounding dance music designed to pep you up.  I listened to the OST for Miami 2 and was pretty disappointed, it's nowhere near as good as I remember it being.  Not a patch on the first.

Your mileage may vary.

I moved on and found the Undertale OST, a game that I intensely disliked (and am the only person on the planet to do so).  It has a cutesy chiptune soundtrack that manages to play well with the themes of the game and also be relatively inoffensive in its own right.  It's not something I would sit down and listen to for the sake of enjoying sound, but if I'm working on something else and want an accompaniment I consider loading it up.




Do not take this to be a tacit endorsement of the game.



Next on the list was something I hadn't even considered, but a podcast convinced me to take a listen.  It's a game from Nintendo, which means it carries certain expectations (that it'll be cutesy and sugary to the point of absolute toxicity) that I'm glad to say it dodges.

It's still pretty light, but it also gets really weird which is something I can appreciate.


Take a listen to that and tell me your brain isn't in a thousand pieces on the floor.  That's some obscure use of an electric keyboard right there.  If only I could have figured out how to do this in music class.

The only problem is that it's so strange I'd struggle to do anything while listening to it, and I certainly wouldn't sit down to 'appreciate,' it, so it falls into that area of the venn diagram where there be dragons.  At once energetic and charming, but nigh impossible to listen to.

And then I thought about the heavy hitters in the music world, the Halo guys.  The ones responsible for stuff like this:



Easily one of the most recognisable soundtracks in games, and an absolutely fantastic thing to listen to, even if you're not one of us.

This year saw the release of Halo 5, (called five even though it's about the 8934783957th game with a Halo name on it) which should have been another landmark moment in orchestral scores.

But it wasn't really.



It starts with the theme tune for the game, which is cheap, but frankly an excellent way to remind people of what is about to happen.  After that quick introduction it jumps into the new arrangements, which are still excellent, but not quite what the original trilogy were.

It's not even fatigue, because no one else does it like this studio, and they only release a new game every couple of years (random mobile phone games and barefaced cash grabs notwithstanding).  It's also not boredom within the album itself because the songs are different enough to be entertaining over the two or so hours.  It's something else.  Unfortunately, I don't have the vocabulary of music or the will to learn it, so I will forever be unable to articulate why.

The new GTA came out on PC this year, but that's primarily licensed music that doesn't really do anything for me.  A lot of people talk about the soundtracks to these games, but being licensed, they're just songs with no meaning to me.

Special mention to Final Fantasy 14, the online one.  I've started dabbling with it this year and I've been absolutely charmed, not least because of the music.  It's orchestral in the same way as Halo, but takes aim at an entirely different area of the brain.  Just like the original Bungie scores, it hits, and is worth listening to.

And that just about wraps up my thoughts on game music for this year.  It was a year of banner releases, giving us the biggest names, a host of new titles and on the whole, a slew of great soundtracks to listen to.

Even during lean gaming years the music tends to be great, but last year delivered on all fronts.  It'll be interesting to see what happens in 2016.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

The Outgoing

I can't remember a time when I've written a retrospective post about the prior year, or something looking forwards, so I thought I'd double down on new experiences and try for both.

The logical place to start is back, (not that time has a 'back,' or 'front,' but you know what I mean) so let's start there.

In terms of job, nothing changed.  I'm with the same company, doing the same work.  The only difference is location.  This year I ended up working with a fun group of teachers, so that's a bonus I didn't have last year.  I'm working closer to home, which means I'm not waking up at six in the morning, I'm sleeping longer every day which in turn led to me being happier overall.  It turns out sleep is pretty important, guys!

I'm still with the same rugby team.  I joined last year and there was a noticeable changing of the guard (I say noticeable, I wasn't there the year prior, so I don't have a frame of reference beyond what people have told me) that ensured we had a decent amount of energy going into the season.  We staved off any mention of the word relegation, and ended the season with two or three wins (I forget).

This year we were forced to play two relegation playoffs, of which I played one (I was busy for the other and could not play).  In all, this year has been incredibly disappointing.  Almost all our points were scored through the forwards, our attack had no flow, we made very few opportunities and made hundreds of mistakes.  Up to the playoffs I had played four or five games (I also had surgery on my ankle this year, which meant an enforced absence for the first few games) and only scored once.  The other wingers on the team had scored once or twice.  The fullback scored once.  I can't remember any of the centres scoring.  We probably scored more points in any two games last year than the whole of this year.

Our defence was not much better.  We were disorganised and, frankly, unfit, so we bled points even during the games we won.

On a personal note I made mistakes and struggled to find form.  It was difficult coming into a team that was already established, after a personal injury, and I will have to put in  a lot of effort next year to retain my position.  Try scoring is an important statistic for wingers, and I did not do enough of it.  The result was my often coming off the wing and working the inside channels like an extra flanker, not exactly conducive to scoring and also an excellent indication of the dysfunction of our attack.

No individual wins a game of rugby, but I will definitely hold myself to higher standards next year in order to try and drag us upwards, particularly in defence where I will suggest using an aggressive pattern (and of course be rebuffed because I'm a foreigner who doesn't know anything).

It's evident that no one else is going to step up to the plate on the pitch, so I will.




Machismo and bravado aside, this year I started a number of personal projects.  The first is a book.  I've been writing a sci-fi (yes, I know, hardly an inspired genre choice) novel that's reached the end of alpha testing.  That is to say, in literary terms, that I've written a hundred thousand words, and that I need to now beat and wrestle those words into a story.

I've seen people talk about their writing as if they were sculptors, finding a story hidden inside a block of imagination, much like an artist chisels away at wood or stone to find the naked Greek man underneath.

Writing, for me, is more like punching a bear in the gonads.  At many points I sat down and fought like a madman, foregoing food and drink (and occasionally sleep) to hammer away at the keys in front of me, thinking I was making headway in felling the beast.  Occasionally it would get angry and fight back, knocking me for six and causing me to seriously reconsider the endeavour.  During these low points I would peruse the internet and look to others who are writing for the creative outlet (as opposed to those looking for financial gain) and see a literal world of people who are better at it than me.  That's always a fairly dispiriting realisation, no matter how times you are forced to reflect on it.

Like punching a bear, this project serves no real purpose.  I'm never going to be a professional author (not smart enough), nor am I ever going to be published (no personal connections).  Despite being willing to go toe to toe with any number of Carnivora for the chance to have a Dream Job (tm) I'm realistic.  Sad face.

As such, I have some modest goals for my book.  They are as follows:

Goal the first, sell one hundred copies.  This is the big one.  The goal that means, in my mind if nothing else, that I'm an author.  I will note it on my CV.  This, for me, will be the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to 'be an author,' and to 'write a book.'  This is a dream I assumed I would target when I was forty and in the midst of a life crisis.

Goal the second, sell ten physical copies of my book.  Possibly with signatures.

Let's get down to brass tacks.  This is a vanity endeavour driven by ego.  The idea that someone might want to read whatever drivel I write, and that I am interesting or important enough for another human being to be entertained, is entirely self indulgent.  I am essentially saying that I am cool, and you are not.  That I matter in some way.  A physical book can last thousands of years and thus secures my legacy as a human of note.

Now that I think about it, maybe I'm having my mid-life crisis early.

Anyway, with the advent of on-demand vanity presses I can sell enormously expensive single copies of the book, instead of bulk buying thousands at a time.  My aim is to sell ten physical copies, each of which will count towards my hundred total.

The third, have a real ISBN number.  This one is probably the easiest to fulfil, but is likely to be the most expensive.  Anyone can purchase an ISBN number, but they're very expensive.  If you go through Amazon or other popular self-publishing services, they can give you numbers and bar codes that look like ISBN numbers, but are only recognised by their respective services, so are not true ISBN's at all.  Sneaky buggers. 

The point of this is to ensure I can take my phone, scan the code, and have it direct to a recognised storefront.  Should I ever meet someone who is interested in my book (an unlikely premise, granted) I want to be able to whip out my phone, scan the barcode of the copy I will carry around with me literally everywhere, and have it direct to a storefront with my name on it.  Did I mention I have an enormous ego?

Fourthly, I want a pucker cover.  I want a cover that is art.  I want it to be a self-contained story that is good enough to go toe to toe with the huge publishing houses and their artists.  This has potential to be the most expensive aspect of the project, but will almost certainly make or break it.  The cover is the first thing you see and most people will judge it thusly.  To get my hundred sales this needs to be perfect.

The fifth and the final, I want a review.  Not a review from the Times, or an online blog.  An amazon review.  I want someone to have read it and felt strongly enough to have left a review.  I don't care what the content of the review is, I just want one.

Notice how none of these goals have anything to do with the quality of the writing or how it is received.  Don't take that to mean I'm assured of my own genius, but rather the opposite.  It is not Discworld, nor will I ever be Pratchett.

It is also my first book.  The first is always a learning experience.  Who knows.  Where I will end up in the future?  One day I might even be adequate.  Now there's a long-term goal.

The rest of my top-secret projects will be revealed at a later date, that's enough writing for one day.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

I Think I'm About to be Assassinated

So I have an utterly, utterly filthy plastic cup that I've never washed (building up immunity) sitting on my desk.  It's so filthy that no matter what I put into it (usually tea, occasionally watery hot chocolate) it all tastes the same.

One of the English teachers I work with took pity on me and washed it out.  Evidently their cleaning liquids were not up to the task, so instead of giving up and telling me to stop being a bridge troll he took the nuclear option.  He cleaned it with bleach.

The nuclear analogy is perfect for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it worked.  The cup is now white.  Whether it's white because the filth has been whitened, or washed away, we will never know.

Secondly, it made a point about my personal cleanliness habits that I will not soon forget.

Thirdly, the area which has been bleached is no longer fit for consumables.  I can no longer drink from that cup.  IT REEKS OF BLEACH.  No matter how many times I wash it out, it won't stop smelling.  I was only away from that goddamned cup for an hour so it can't have been stewing for more than fifty nine minutes, and yet the poison is ingrained.  There is no way it's ever coming out of that damned cup, never ever, ever.

It's a shame because it took me the best part of four years to buy a cup to drink things at work (I only got it because I needed one for the hospital and it happened to be in my bag when I went to work the next week) and I will never remember to buy another one.

And what else is a cup useful for, other than cup stuff?  The cup has been destroyed.

It's also a shame because he's a really nice guy and I don't think he meant to utterly destroy my personal property - he only meant to slyly tell me that my colleagues think I'm a pig (I don't have the heart to tell him I don't give a rats ass) and that I should clean my stuff.

Anyway, it is said that we should learn something every day.  Today I learned that if you BLEACH a receptacle for FOODSTUFFS (drinkstuffs?) you are substantially reducing the ability of that thing to carry the item(s)/thing(s) it was designed to carry.

P.S.  If you're going to try to murder someone who isn't anosmic, bleach is a terrible choice.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Foooooooooooooooooooooood

So it's no secret that food is a big problem for me in Japan.  There are a thousand different types of fish (none of which are predicted to be available in 10 years due to over-fishing) and a thousand different types of rice (who knew there was more than one kind of rice?) but very little in the way of marmite.  There isn't even the option for one kind of marmite, the bog standard marmite in a jar.  Marmite chocolate is fine in a pinch (that pinch being a three month wait for it to be shipped over), but, realistically speaking, nothing is going to take over the crown of the original.  Marmite crisps are something to be avoided.

So we know how things are from an English in Japan perspective; how about the reverse?

In Japan they have all the fish and all the rice, but they also have interesting takes on well known western classics.  If you're a macdonalds person who has ever been on the internet you probably know about the teriyaki chicken burgers.  They're just fried chicken sandwiches with a teriyaki sauce, so nothing mind-blowing.  Unless you've never tried teriyaki, in which case I suggest you go out and find something adorned with said sauce.  You might like it if you like tangy things, but aside from that I can't really tell you what it's comparable to and whether you should avoid it or not.

I am bad at this.

There are also the chocolates, something I am much more familiar with.  The venerable kitkat has made its way here, only to fall over and get covered in green tea.  It's bright green and tastes quite peculiar.  It doesn't really taste like green tea (who would have guessed that a chocolate company pouring chemical formulations into their chocolate would end up with something that doesn't taste anything like the flavour written on the label, shocking!) but it doesn't really taste chocolatey either, so I'm not entirely sure who this is aimed at.

Locals who have never eaten chocolate or drunk green tea?  Good luck finding that person.

There are also seasonal varieties here.  They love the fact that they have four seasons (for some reason that I have yet to figure out, all Japanese people think that Japan is the only country in the world with four seasons, even though they only have three - hot, cold, rainy) and utilise that for some insidious marketing.  In Summer everything is watermelon flavoured.  In rainy, everything is cherry blossom flavoured.  In Winter everything is back to normal, but with a christmas tree on the cover.

One thing I've also noticed is that apples come around this time of year, apparently from up north (Hokkaido) and they're great.  Super sweet, super juicy and enormous.

Artists impression of various apples.  Big ones - Japanese Winter apples.  Small ones, stupid English apples.
The only problem is, and I say this with all the affection for quirky Japanese customs, rituals and superstitions in the world, they are terrible at eating them.  The worst.

They get a knife, peel the apple, then cut it into equally sized slices, then serve them on a plate.

Everyone does this.  Monsters.

It's a fucking apple!  Just eat the damned thing!  Run it under a tap to get all the nitrates, pesticides and carbon nanotubes off the skin, then eat the fucking thing.  Christ almighty.  I could have washed, eaten and thrown away three apples in the time it takes to peel one.  By the time you're done the thing is brown anyway.  What on earth.

Anyway, apples aside, there are a million variations of normal western food out here, I just wonder how long it's going to take someone to make a sushi stuffed Christmas turkey, like a turducken, only with wasabi.

Oh, wasabi.  You should definitely buy some if you have never tried it.  It's possibly the most revelatory food experience I've had since I've been here.  It's part tastebud destroyer (like the worlds strongest mustard), part decongestant.  It's excellent with almost anything you'd use mustard for, I'm told (I don't eat mustard, mustard is disgusting) and obviously great with sushi.  I've also been known to just sit down in front of the youtube with a tube (of mustard), and slowly work my way through it, instead of going to the corner shop and buying some horrendous slop as a snack.

It's probably given me, or is going to give me, seventy bajillion ulcers because that stuff is basically caustic, but damn if it doesn't get the pipes clear.

Try it out some time.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Give Me Presents

I have come around on socks.

And also pants.

So in order for mortals to buy each other Christmas presents there has a to be a well defined price bracket, which in turn means there are restrictions on what can and cannot be purchased for one another.  I cannot, for example, request a jet fighter for Christmas.

Well, I can request all I want.

The point is that socks and pants are lame.  Clothes are pretty poor Christmas presents, and pants and socks are objectively the worst clothes, so they are super lame.

But you know what's worse than socks?  Buying socks.  Who wants to do that?  It's one of the worst chores out there.  If someone could somehow invent a machine that connects to a global system of other machines that humans could interact with in order to remotely buy such items it would alleviate some of the hassle, but it's still terrible.

And because I cannot request jet fighters for Christmas I need a reasonable present idea that can be acquired by anyone.

As such, with a heavy heart, I must declare socks and pants a good go-to Christmas present.

A jet fighter would be cool, too.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Christmas Creep

So the never-ending encroachment of store pedalled Christmas Crap (TM) into earlier slots on the calendar is something people in the West are embracing.  Something you might not expect to hear, however, is the stunning inclusion of this early onset transactionitis in the Japanese psyche.

This picture was taken on the first of November, a crazy thing when you consider that no one even celebrates this shit here.  No one buys this stuff!  Why is it out on the shelves?  It's useless crap in December, let alone November.


And then, on November the third I saw this adornment to my local shopping centre/train station.  What in the world is happening?

This encroachment is a full week earlier than it was last year, bringing it very much in line with England and America.  I wonder if next year they'll start before halloween.

Speaking of halloween, there was a very large party in one of the booze districts of Tokyo this year, and police are very much apprehensive of the trouble it caused.  There were a whopping two arrests this year, which is a zero percent increase year on year.  As a result of the sleeping man (incident one), and drunk man who lashed out at coppers (incident two) the police are going to up security measures next year in Tokyo.

The news reported the fact people were having fun as if it were the literal end of the world, that society had fallen blah blah blah.

So if you ever needed proof that the news is a bunch of sensationalist bullshit designed to scare you, look at Japan.  The country is a thousand times safer than your country in all metrics but they're still trying to keep you terrified of nothing.

The system works!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Scared Straight

So I done gone caught the flu, and done gone forgot to sleep last night (what a time to not sleep!) so I'll be honest, I'm not feeling great.

On the upside, I got to see a car crash into a cyclist today.

On the downside, it was a planned event on school grounds whereby a group of 'stuntmen,' were deliberately hit by a foam padded car in order to show how dangerous cars are.

On the upside it was cool, and the bike was mangled pretty badly.

On the downside it was super hot outside.

On the upside, I'm not outside anymore.

Three ups, two downs.  Ups win.

Anyway, the premise is simple: show the kids what a crash is like and they'll be perfect citizens for the rest of their days.

I quite like the idea of showing something like a crash for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, most of these kids will have never, and likely will never, see something like this in the wild.  It puts a real consequence to a theoretical they've been taught all their lives.  If they ever do find themselves as a spectator to something like this, the 'I know this,' effect will kick in, and all the people will be saved from the bald dinosaurs.
 
It's a bit of a stretch, admittedly, but at least they ask the students what the emergency service numbers are during the presentation, so a conceivable benefit has been realised.
 
The other benefit is employment.  A troupe of unemployed actors get to roll around destroying bikes.  Cool.
 
 
So they teach the kids how to be safe, don't ride without a helmet.  Don't cross the street until the man is green.  Don't stand near the edge of the pavement.
 
And all this great advice will improve the safety of the younglings not at all.  They're taught how to act, (great word incoming) unilaterally, unthinkingly.
 
If the man is red then you wait.  Implied in waiting in modern society is looking down at your phone, headphones in, entirely oblivious to the outside world.  And then you cross on the green man, head down, oblivious to the outside world.  But the green man said go.  I assume you can see where this is heading.  And it stands for so many aspects of Japanese society, working all the way through the corporate favour system they employ, to running a household.
 
Keep your head down and go when the man says to.
 
I would have stayed out longer and watched a few more stuntsmen pretend to get run over, but for some reason it's about a million bajillion degrees outside and I have a legitimate flu' (if it's influenza, why is the flu not 'flu' on account of missing letters on either end of the word?).
 
Also the name.  Statistics show that the death penalty doesn't work, and that's the ultimate in scary straighteyness, so who are they trying to impress with a name like that?  (P.S. It's in English so no fucker knows what it means anyway.)
 
If you think I'm stretching, take this somewhat less extreme example of this principal in action: taking bad kids to a prison to straighten them right up.  The article shows it's an ineffective strategy to say the least.  I wonder if there have been any studies translated into Japanese?  Then again, this little circus employs eight or so people, so best not to rain on their parade.
 
 
 
 
Side note:  Is it just me, or has tech suddenly become interesting again?  For the last decade there's been an incredible amount of stagnation in the tech space, the last great innovation was the move to parallelism in computing then nothing seemed to happen, and now bam.  VR.  3D printers.  Drones (I don't think anyone actually cares about drones, but they have a cool connotation, pew pew gonna' bomb yo' non-European/American freedom hating free speech fuck yeah 'Murica ass).  Space travel  (One way trip to Mars.  Cool!).  4K.  Self Driving cars that only try to kill people a little bit.  Fusion generated electricity within the next two decades (it's only taken fifty years, what's waiting another twenty?).
 
Of these things I want VR and a 3D printer.  4K is a natural evolution and will happen equally naturally.  Who cares about drones?  Who has the space for one in their home when it's not flying around spying on the neighbours?  Or maybe you can mid air refuel them.  100 foot battery change, eternal flight.
 
I would sign up to be the first man on Mars even if it meant I was never coming back.  In a heartbeat.  But that's not going to happen, so I'll settle for the first two.  In a strange way they're entwined, as both require virtualisation in 3D space, and you could conceivably work a design for your printer with VR.
 
I've watched the evolution of VR into a viable product for a few years now, and the obstacles they've overcome have been pretty interesting.  Latency, resolution, fit and feel, brightness - all things that have been designed around and the results look great.  I've only tried static 3D headsets up to now, no tracking with head movements and certainly no controllers that map to the 3D space of the virtual world (punching yourself in the face while trying to scratch your nose is a reality.  I did it.) but they are all things that have been added to the pot.  With the first release of occulus, vive and morpheus (facebook owned, valve owned and sony owned respectively) we'll see a brand new format war that I'm entirely ready to embrace because up until this point, much like 3D in cinemas, VR has been a gimmick.  I want to see what it can do.  Plug the internet straight into my brain goddamnit.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Boris is an Imbecile

This post was originally going to be about funny Japanese mispellings, but then Boris Johnsson (I don't care if that's how you spell his name) came to Japan and that was that.  He's such a bumbling idiot that, at this point, it's become clear it's an act.

After buggering all those decapitated pigs heads, him and his chums must have done some serious drugs, and whereas stick-up-ass cameron decided to try a sober humanoid persona to cover his blattodean for, boris went in the other direction.  He chose the buffoon overalls.

I will freely admit it worked on me for a while, what with the actively harmful peers he mingles with being impossible to respect, his artificial stupidity is the least threatening of the lot.

But it's worn off now.

Grow up Boris.




Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Aurora

So I read a book recently called 'Aurora,' by Kim Stanley Robinson (I think I've spelled that correctly).

It's sci-fi, so if you don't like that genre you can move along.

It's also about an ark, a generation ship travelling through space.

It's pretty good.

The premise is the usual, humanity expanding towards the stars.  The difference is that this isn't an omnipotent ship, the settlers aren't living inside a God like in so many other stories.  Their home is breaking down, as are their bodies at the genetic level.

There's no real explanation for why humanity is failing onboard (genetic deviation is the official cause) but it results in an interesting problem - humanity struggling to move beyond our own system.  This is in direct opposition to almost all other sci-fi where our destiny is to move beyond Earth.  It sets up an interesting situation, and one that almost works throughout.

The problem I have with this book is the main character.  She is said and proven to be rather less intelligent than the previous generation of travelers, and this manifests in her being unable to help fix the ship at all.  She's so stupid that she can't do anything mechanical, theoretical or physical at all.  Instead, she's demoted to being a pep talker, keeping morale high.  It might not sound like a big deal written here, but the tonal shift from technical sci-fi to moralising parable is one that's not handled particularly well.  It only worsens towards the end of the book as it finds new ways to preach.

And that's my summation of the book.  It starts incredibly strong, when the main character is essentially retelling the story of another character, and then it goes downhill from there.

It's worth a read if you like this author and the style, or if you like dour (some might say, non-fantastical and entirely realistic) fiction in general.  Or if you're a baby and like to be preached at.  If not, I'd suggest avoiding it.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

England vs The World (Cup)

So there have been a million column words written about how poor the England performance against both Wales and Australia were.  A few dodgy decision by the referee in the Wales match lost us the game, along with our inability to keep out of our own half.

A weak first half gave Australia the win (has anyone ever come back from a twenty point deficit in a world cup game?), despite a thousand line breaks and half chances.  We weren't clinical enough, we have no finishers.  We have no threats, no pace setting players.  England is a team of average players, working above their collective abilities.

Stuart Lancaster will probably get fired, but I would like to see a new backs coach, and another forwards coach to supplement Rowntree.  I doubt they have the money to hire two dedicated forwards coaches, so he'll probably get axed as well, which is a shame, because he's done well, bringing us from where were were, to where we are.

Anyway, I wasn't surprised to see the ribbing on facebook and the internet by the Australians, we do the same thing once every six decades when we beat them at a sport, but the vitriol from entirely unrelated nations is eye opening.  Everyone knows kiwis have no sense of humour, but the dog dirt they come out with on the internet - what's the antonym of classy?  Because that is them.

The islanders I can understand; they are the whipping boys of the IRB and their relative paucity of resources makes us a target for contempt (fair enough, I can't argue with that), so they're obviously laughing at our expense.

One or two Australians have gone overboard, relating the victory to death, cancer related death and  pope death (I don't understand either), but most have been cool about it.

The surprise winner in the humanity on the internet awards, the one nation you would never expect?  South Africa.  A lot of well thought out, insightful discourse about why we failed, and not a single comment relating our loss to school shootings or gods retribution.  Stay classy guys!


Friday, 18 September 2015

Fiji vs England

So the first game is a few hours away.  I can't stay up for it and it'll definitely be spoiled for me tomorrow, but I've already made my predictions on facebook and I stick by them.

I realise I haven't taken many pictures lately, but I've not been out much.  Also, I inherited a really important picture that I've spent more hours than I care to admit trying to digitally spruce up a bit.  That's a fun but sometimes frustrating little project.


Also, there was 4,613 yen in the pot.

Also , also, phone keypads still suuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Best Guesses

So I went into hospital for four days to have an operation on my ankle.  The hospital was fine, the operation was standard and everything is healing up nice and quickly.

Apart from the insurance company fighting me, and the hospital telling me that I can send money to them via the post to pay for bills, they can't remotely send me money (I'm not eligible for the entire cost of the procedure due to my income).  Funny how it's incredibly easy to give them money, but requires dozens of forms and signatures (each costing more money) and a great deal of difficulty to get money back.

Obviously their tactics work and some number of people don't claim the money back, otherwise they wouldn't employ tactics like these.

Remember, this is a hospital.

Really classy.



Anyway, look at this big old pot of money and guess how many yens are in there.


I took this down to the post office today and found out the value, which I'll reveal at a later date.

The coppers are 10 yen, the gold ones with a hole are 5 yen, the small silver ones are 1 yen with the occasional 100 yen piece in there too.  1,000 yen is about a fiver right now if that helps (it doesn't, exchange rates don't mean anything at the best of time).

How much do you reckon?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Votes Are In

So I went to a Summer festival a month ago, and managed to take a few pictures with a 35mm camera.  As you might expect there were duffers, but I think a fair number turned out alright.  Tell me what you think.


Don't ask what that powder is.


Of course it's been long established that no one likes black and white photographs, but I can't stop myself.  I really like them!


If these pictures were in colour you'd notice the kids drab clothes, but they're not so you don't.  These guys wouldn't stop staring at me (it was a really rural festival so I doubt they've seen many whiteys) so I decided to take a picture.  Unfortunately their mum made them do the 2 finger peace thing which is a shame because that universally ruins every photograph ever.


This dude was chillin' because it was rather hot.  I can imagine it being way worse at the top there, not being allowed to come down.


This festival appears to be about drinking a lot of alcohol then pushing bloody great one ton carts around town.  When they need to turn the thing they need to up and drag it around in a circle.  They have wooden wheels and no steering, so you end up with great pictures like this one.


There are tons of lamps around the place even during the day.  I think it's because they look cool.


Each shrine has a procession accompanying it, including the town old boys who chill out and drink at the back.


Each shrine has different patterns and designs, often but not always involving dragons.


This is my favourite photograph from the festival, and one of my favourites ever.  I wish I was as cool as him.


At night they take the shrines to a local town (pushed all the way of course) and spin it on the spot a dozen times.  It's hard work, especially after hefting the damn things around for 2 days.  After spinning they push them all the way back home.


This is one of the carts with nighttime adornments.  That's where all the lamps go when they're not being carried by hand.


On a different note, this is a duck.

This is another one of my all-time favourite photographs ever.  You'll have to guess where it was taken.  Two internet points if you get it right.  It's very orange but after colour correcting it didn't quite look right, so I put it back this way.  For some reason the colour is intrinsic to the feel of the image, kind of nostalgic perhaps?

Anyway, I went to another festival today but didn't have much time to take pictures so I probably didn't get anything worth uploading.  If, by some miracle they're not all blurred messes I'll put them up sometime in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Another Video

So I had a lot of video from the Roppongi festival (the one populated with rude people) so I made another thingamajig.

I came to the realisation a while ago that I need a good microphone, a tripod and more lenses, but I've also found out that I need another few people with cameras and tripods and whatnot, to take footage of their own so I can smoosh it all together into these fun little videos.  One day when I'm a millionaire!

Anyway, enjoy!


Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Drumming

So Roppongi is famous for being a really expensive shopping district that happens to hold a festival once a year.

You can really tell there's a lot of money in this area, everything is landscaped and pretty and there are even some green spaces to sit on, which is something you're not usually allowed to do in these densely urban areas.

The festival was pretty cool, but the people were terrible.  The thing you can usually count on in Japan is courtesy, but that was a commodity in short supply here.  I was surprised at how many people were being jerks for no real reason, pushing and jostling, cutting into lines, pushing in front of people to watch events like the one below:



Having spent a short amount of time with the public in a serving capacity the reason seems pretty clear to me, with the entitlement of money oozing from every dickhead in the crowd.  It was that or a weird cologne.

Having said that, it was pretty funny watching a dude in a brand new ferrari being stopped at a crossroad.  The other three ferrari's didn't even wait.  He was angry.

Anyway, on a positive note, the performances were quite good when it was possible to see anything, and the music was cool.  It's definitely worth checking out if you don't have much time in Japan, but keep in mind it's tiny and rather simple.  A lower tier festival, C+.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Interstellar Gravity

This is being written on a phone so the Formatting won't allow me to see what I'm typing.  This will probably end horribly garbled but I might just leave it that way, forever a sign of how far we still have to go in terms of phone UI design.

Anyway, I watched 2 movies today, Interstellar and Gravity.

Both are surprisingly good films in their own way, but both suffered from not knowing how to end.  Either film could win worst ending oscar, should that become an award in the future.

So I watched Interstellar first, but let's start with Gravity.

From the way it is filmed I guessed it was a late 3D offering and upon post viewing research I was right.  There are a lot of shots of things flying towards the camera and objects careening past in the foreground, middle and background.  Every 3D film ever made has the same effects, and it's this chronic lack of imagination that caused the doom of 3D cinema.  Anyway, I remember the effects being heralded as revolutionary back when this came out.

They are.  But only in one sense.  For the past decade and a half filmmakers have been obsessed with Blair Witch style shaky cam, the vomit inducing action camera that's supposed to mimic the action of a real head reacting to the scene in front of him, or at the very least a camera down in the dirt where the real stuff is happening.

It's a stupid premise that doesn't work and always requires an even greater effort of suspension of disbelief because the accompanying motions aren't there (shaking seat, craning neck etc) and the screen isn't all encompassing, so only a part of your vision is experiencing the effect.  It is always stupid nd very rarely works.

Stop it.  Directors, stop it.

Anyway, this is an action film with very little shaky cam.  Maybe the tides are turning?  I fear it's just the space setting as there are dozens of shots where the view is as it would be were the viewer the actor (sandra bullock?  She looked familiar).

Also there is a warning at the beginning that sound does not travel in space which is so pathetic and. pandering it was almost a deal breaker.  I nearly turned it off at this point.  I wonder if my version was just the american releasd and all non-american versions did away with that part.

The galling, fucking ridiculous part was that after 5 minutes the debris i space WAS MAKING NOISE AS IT WHIPPED PAST.

For fucks sake the director is an idiot.

Also, 95pc of the film is CG, from the stations to the actors bodids whenever they're suited up.  After only 2 years it already looks bad.  One of the indoor scenes looked like they lifted it out of a demo for unreal engine 4.

The negatives aside , and don't get me wrong, those negatives are glaring whwn I write them down, it's still a good film worth watching.  The actors do their jobs, the pacing keeps motivation up and its incredible brevity mean nothing outstays any welcomes.  You can turn it off 10 minutes before the finish, end on a cliffhanger and actully give yourself a better overall experience.  When they remember their ow in universe rules the sound is superb, the visuals of earth as seen from space gave me the chills I get from NASA pictures and there are several scenes where insignificance comes into play like no other film.

Interstellar is a completely different fish.  It's a much better film and almost competes as a spectacle too.  The problems come when you look at the chronic lack of science that went into this thing.  And the ending.  For Christs sake the ending.

When you talk about a future where Earth is no longer habitable it's always somehow man-caused volcanoes or man-made ice ages but this film steers clear of that by suggesting massive desertification of the american corn belt, and by extension the food producing regions of the world.  Okay movie maker man, one point there because that's something that's demonstrably happening now.

They also cite virulent blights, presumably from intensive single strain farming.  Fine, disease is a constant threat in modern literature.

Then they describe all the major crops simply ceasing to grow.  Erm.

Okay?  If this is what gets us into space then fine.

But then over the course of 2 further hours and several tangents the dxplanations start rolling in.

And then minus 90 million billion minus points.  No.  Black holes do not work like that.  Fine, if you want a convenient device for doing things then have a hole in space, just don't invoke black hole.  Call it something else.  Anything else.  By the ending my brain was bleeding out of my ears from the stupidity.

Look, I get it.  This isn't actually a sciemce fiction film.  I understand that it's just a meditation on family, how relationships change awgrowes older and our responsibilities shaping who we are and become - but if that's your thinly veiled premise then don't dress something up in the realm of science when it's actually mysticism. When you have a population that needs reminding that there is no air in space then I wonder how much the science matters in the first place.  Make it batshit crazy with giant robots, or keep a grounding in reality.  This half and half, increasingly ridiculous universe is so contrived it's painful.

That aside, some surprisingly well acted child characters top off a great cast.  It's a top notch production in that regard.

The sound is superb.  The soundtrack is also excellent.

The effects are good, the space scenes echo gravity in a way that makes me think the director liked it.  There's a new bar for representing space, these films are currently top notch in that regard.

The secret show stealers are the robots.  They're horribly designed in a modern take on the old immobile droids from years past (think r2, or c3po, or even the daleks) but they have so much personality.  The human ability to ascribe meaning and emotion to objects is incredible, and the form of these guys plays into that brilliantly.  They are menacing, endearing, bold and subtle all at once.  And horribly ill conceived for actual spaceflight.

I love it when a director tinkers with expectations, and these droids provide all kinds of tension throughout.

The ending is inexcusable.  From the fake spiritualism (why change tone fully 5/6ths of the way in?) to the ridiculous and sappy ending.  Pathetic.

The symbolism of him forging his own path in the face of familial responsibilities, and him rediscovering himself and his meaning is cool I guess?

No, that's a lie .  The final 20 minutes or so are some of the worst in cinematic history.  The gulf between highs and lows are so monumental it boggles the mind to think that anyone let the final scenes out of the door.

Despite that I still recommend it.  Both of them in fact.  Go watch them!

My whole body hurts from typing this out on a phone.  I dare not go back and read it all.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Disappointing Haul

Got the film back, not very many good pictures.

They were all too dark which isn't surprising considering the people pictures I took were at a late hour, but most disappointing were the fireworks pictures.  None of them turned out particularly well.  At least I know to do something like this all digital in the future.

Anyway, here are the ones I could salvage.


This is obviously too dark.  If I had some kind of flash, or a helper holding a reflector, maybe that would have helped.  It's a shame because the colours of their outfits were quite nice, hence the desire to take a picture in the first place.  Lesson learned!


The smoke in the foreground is alright, it takes up a little too much of the frame though.


Probably the best one of the analogue pictures, a nice gradation from top to the middle, fading towards black at the bottom.

All I need now is a nice scanner and a really nice printer, and then I can start getting high quality copies done!  No need for crappy jpg's on a DVD with that gear.

You can watch the highlights reel here, or see the digital pictures (which I much prefer on this occasion) here.