Saturday, April 21, 2007

I am macho

Instructions to anyone who wants to become macho like me.

1. Sit on your bum many hours a day doing math research.

2. Have your wife cook you mountains of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

3. Do little to no exercise.

4. Repeat above for 8 months then move to Japan.

5. Bask in the exclamations from your Japanese in-laws proving that you are indeed macho.

In an upcoming post, how to fix it.

Renting in Tokyo

My wife and I are looking for an apartment in Tokyo. It's a bit difficult because we're doing so from across the country, in Tottori prefecture. Tokyo is a fairly "racially pure" city, having a foreign population of just under 3%. So perhaps I shouldn't be pissed off with the nervousness of some of the landlords with renting to a foreigner.

The first place we called told us, once they found out that a foreigner was involved, that they would have to see us in person, and would give us their decision as to whether we were accepted after 5 days. Unfortunately, this was not possible for us, as we were not going to make 2 trips to Tokyo, nor would we go to Tokyo earlier and stay in a hotel for 5 days. I can't say whether this is a standard request or not, but I suspect not, as it came after the revelation that a non-Japanese was attempting to live there.

The second place we called was a little less concerned with my race, until the very end, when my wife was asked whether I was white or black, and from which country I hailed.

I suppose this is not out of the ordinary. Coming from a country where many cultures are the norm (at least in cities one one-hundredth the size of Tokyo), I can't even imagine a situation where questions like these would be possible. I would have hoped though, that the qualms these landlords have about foreigners would be evenly spread over each race, and not favouring white guys like me. Just because I lack some pigment in my skin doesn't mean I'm a good person. I'm an atheist for goodness sake!

Anyhow, I'm being told I should take a bath now, so I will.

I hope in my next post to tell you that I've got an apartment. I've got my white fingers crossed.

Friday, April 13, 2007

iPod skins

I just ordered a skin for my iPod. I hope it gets to me before I leave for Japan. It's a painting of Fuji-san by the same guy who painted this:

Of course, the guy's name is Katsushika Hokusai; his being some of the most recognizable Japanese art for those of us from the West.

I came upon the GelaSkins site after marvelling at the amazing art of Audrey Kawasaki, who designed a couple of skins for the company. I headed straight for the site to buy one of her skins but, although very nice, I think they were possibly a bit too feminine for me.

Since I'm heading to Tokyo in a few weeks, I thought the Tokyo subway map skin would be useful. However, after thinking about it for a moment, and realizing that the back of my very small iPod would be covered with the entire subway map of one of the largest cities in the world, and noting that they didn't include a magnifying lens, I opted for Fuji-san.

Here's a variant of the Tokyo subway skin. Kinda cool and it really screams Japanese at you.

If you've got an iPod and you want to protect it with some scratch-resistant 3M-made ultra-thin art-covered vinyl, then check out GelaSkins.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Reactable

I discovered this at the GelaSkins blog. This is extremely cool. A surface which generates sound determined by the type and position of certain custom blocks. Take a look:

There are more movies at YouTube. Search for "reactable".

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Finished some books

I've been addicted to Twitter recently (see widget at top right), and have neglected my blog. I like Twitter's immediacy, and its diary-like feel. I have an awful memory, so this will be a record of my life (including the meaningless little things I do every day) that I'll be able to refer to when I need to. (Until of course, Twitter blows up and all my data is lost. I'll have to check for an archive function but I don't think there is one yet.)

Anyhow, I've finished a few books recently, and wanted to jot down some words about them. First, the somewhat inappropriately-named "Adult Manga" by Sharon Kinsella. This is not about "adult" manga - rather, it's about manga written for adults, a quite different thing. I sometimes felt a bit self-conscious reading the book on the bus. In any case, it was an interesting introduction to Japanese manga. There were a few annoying spelling and grammar mistakes, and sometimes the book felt a bit disorganized. However, if you're interested in the history of manga, how it's produced, how its production has evolved over the years, and what the future holds for the manga industry, then you should enjoy the book. There are a few black and white panels here and there, but don't expect much in terms of illustrations.

I was initially hesitant about reading this book. I read a review at Amazon written by a Japanese person, which criticized it heavily, and without thinking, I took the side of the Japanese person. The reviewer of "Inventing Japan" by Ian Buruma, wasn't happy about the manner in which Japan was portrayed. However, upon reading the book, I see that it falls squarely in the realm of books that I typically read about the United States and Canada. I read Chomsky, Barlow, and McQuaig, authors who are typically critical of government and big business. Buruma points out numerous flaws in Japan's governments and armies from the time of Perry's black ships to the Tokyo Olympics in the 60s. But he doesn't directly criticize Japanese culture or the Japanese people. He possibly criticizes a certain class of Japanese people (the same people who get a finger pointed at in Chomsky's books) , namely the ruling class, which all too often is much too susceptible to bad ideas and rampant corruption. I enjoyed this little book (the main text is just under 200 pages) and would recommend to anyone with a mild interest in Japan. Quite a turnaround from my initial reaction. But it just proves that we shouldn't judge something until we've consumed it, no matter what our first impression.

The last book that I finished is a science fiction novel by Cory Doctorow, "Down and out in the Magic Kingdom". It's hard to know how to describe the book; the premise is so bizarrely original. Most of the book takes place in and around Disneyland in California. People are able to backup their minds and memories, and duplicate bodies are easily regrown. So, if you get into a car accident, you can have your backup "self" imported into a new body. You can also "dead-head" to any particular date in the future. This is not time travel; this is going into some form of suspended animation until 100, 500, or 1000 years from now. If you don't like what you wake up to, you can dead-head for another century. These ideas get a light treatment by Doctorow in this book, but that's what makes it enjoyable. Science fiction is often much too pedantic and drawn-out. Doctorow's writing makes his futures seem palpable and believable. I read this book via email using the DailyLit project.

There. I've finally written another blog post. As I'm frantically trying to finish my math project, I'm also reading some great books: Crypto by Steven Levy (which covers the modern history of cryptography), and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (an interesting alternate history of the second world war.)

Heading off to Japan in a few weeks! The flavour of my posts will no doubt change quite a bit. Stay tuned!