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August 31, 2005

What if everyone listened to NPR?

I have no specific program in mind, but I just thought about how different, wonderfully, informedly, norantly (that's the opposite of ig-norant) wonderful the world would be if everyone listened to NPR at least sometimes. Then my brain almost short-circuits as I realize that if everyone listened to NPR, NPR would not be such a stand-alone great source of news and fair information*, and without such a standard things may degrade to what they are now... and then we would look to NPR as a standard... and then there would be no standard... and then... and then...

What if everyone listened to NPR?

I suppose that the general public (that includes me and you) would be much more well informed. This may not lead to less attraction to worthless, sensationalist news, but it may lead to the brain power needed to resist that attraction. Then what would happen to the other news sources? I suppose market forces would make them more like NPR, and NPR would no longer be the standard. and then who knows, the standard may once again degrade to car chases and Michael Jackson. Can you imagine NBC, ABC, or FOX evening news sounding like All Things Considered? Can you imagine 60 minutes sounding like Talk of the nation? Can you imagine Diane Sawer sounding like Diane Rehm? Neither can I. I can almost imagine a lot of crazy things... but somehow I am too cynical for that.

Still, it makes for a nice exercise. Give it a shot.

Every time I listen to NPR (every day now that I am free), I hear something I feel like shouting to the world. From now I am going to start saving these little links and stories, and once a week I will post them with the modest hope that one more person might gain a little more norance (the opposite of ig-norance).

I promise to post my first list NEXT Friday (this Friday I will be off-line!)

Disclaimer: It has been a while since I have actually seen the nightly news, or the local ABC, NBC, or FOX affiliate's evening news. Perhaps they are now much better than I remember, spending time to cover relevant news from both sides. If so, kindly disregard this post.

*yes, some shows are blatantly "liberal" or "left", but if one listens to enough NPR, the "negative" influence of these shows will be mitigated. Just for the record, I have rarely found anything wrong with Terry Gross' questions, other than the fact that they are often obviously antagonistic toward right-wingers, AND that she pretends that they are not. I just wish she would admit it, and ask similar questions to her "lefty" guests. Just for the record II. I often daydream about myself having the ability to conduct an interview like Terry can. Despite her unacknowledged bias, NO ONE does it better.

Ugly Ducklings

This was a few months ago in Karlskrona. I had waited a long time for the swanlings to hatch, and then one day I came across these guys. As I recall, the mother was quite accommodating. She only threatened to attack my once, and that was after I had gotten extremely close to the little ones.

* * *

The birds are still at Tomoe's parents in Nagoya, but they will be home soon. Tomorrow we leave to pick them up (along with my bike which is taking up space in their yard). I bet you can't wait for more bird photos.

Speaking of birds, the other day Tomoe and I were walking around the neighborhood and we came across an exotic pet pet-shop. There are, in fact, two exotic pet shops within walking distance. One specializes in lizards, turtles, frogs, spiders, and everything creepy crawly. They have some enormous lizards and a huge turtle. Many of them are tame enough to pet.

The other shop we came across yesterday is really exotic. So exotic it's sad. It is crammed full with various monkeys and other strange jungle animals. What was really interesting (and sad) though is their collection of birds. There were toucans, hornbills (interestingly I heard many hornbills in the jungle in Malaysia, but never saw one until I got back to Tokyo), owls, woodpeckers, and all manner of parrots.

I am torn though. On the one hand, they are all kept in tiny cages and I can't be sure, but I doubt that they are bred in captivity, which means that they have been kidnapped right out of their home and now live in a tiny cage in a crowded pet-shop. (Awii and Klee were both hatched and spent their first month in a great shop in Shibuya which took excellent care of them -similar to that one would give a human child.)

On the other hand (remember... I'm torn), it was fascinating to visit the shop, and I'm sure we will visit again. All the birds were extremely tame. As we walk by the hornbill cages, they all jump right up to the front of the cage where they press their head up to the bars begging to be scratched. The same goes for the toucan and most of the parrots. The woodpecker has a long sticky tounge it used to check us out. It's an interesting feeling having the webbing between your fingers licked by a sticky tounge woodpecker. The owl... that was amazing. it is just a big puff of feathers. In order to scratch his head (the raw meat in his food dish caused us to hesitate a bit) your fingers sink two inches into the puff before hitting skull. Then he just closes his eyes and enjoys.

The monkeys didn't seem to anxious to be scratched, but they were very interested in whatever we might be carrying. I don't know how anyone can look at them, the curious looks on their faces as they stare back, and not see their brains working... how can anyone think that only humans have thoughts and feelings?

* * *

Since being back in Tokyo, one thing I am enjoying once again is Barakan Beat Sunday nights on InterFM. For the past few days I have not been able to stop listening to Madeleine Peyroux, who Peter talked a bit about last weekend. I know, I know, she has been around forever... My only excuse is that I don't listen to the radio often. I have even seen her CD in the stores, but for some reason never listened to it. Boy was I missing out!

Anyway, I wish I could remember everything Barakan said about her... something about how when she became famous a few years ago the attention overwhelmed her and so she just disappeared. I think she was found later as a street musician in Paris or something. Now that her second CD is out, she is getting a lot of attention again and so has once again disappeared? Sure, I could do a search on google to find out the story, but...

While in Sweden I bumped into a big fan of another musician I have loved for several years now. Since Lisa Ekdahl herself is Swedish but her international albums are in English, I had never heard any of her Swedish music, nor heard the "story" behind her until my friend told me. Her Swedish style is very folky, and much different than her English, which was when she began getting into Jazz. Both are great, even if you don't understand any Swedish (I can only understand a little of it unless I look at the lyrics. There is an explanation of some of the songs here though) I have even more appreciation for her now.

If you have never heard her, I urge you now to drop what you are doing and visit her website. Click on the "Audio Video" link and watch the videos. "Daybreak" is great, "Now or Never" is awesome. "Vem Vet" is an example of her Swedish work. Hearing how Swedish sounds when she sings makes me wish I had tried harder to learn it.

August 30, 2005

Momordica Charantia L

Kingdom: Plantae � Plants
Subkingdom: Tracheobionta � Vascular plants
Superdivision: Spermatophyta � Seed plants
Division: Magnoliophyta � Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida � Dicotyledons
Subclass: Dilleniidae �
Order: Violales �
Family: Cucurbitaceae � Cucumber family
Genus: Momordica L. � momordica
Species: Momordica charantia L. � balsampear


Via Tropilab

Common name: ampalaya, pomme de merveille, pomo balsamo, balsamini longa, muop dang, tsuru reishi, bittergourd, bitter melon, balsam pear, sopropo, arsorossie, ku gua foo, pare, peria, karela, balsamina, balsamapfel, mara.
Family: cucurbitaceae (gourd family).


Also known as Chinese bitter melon; this tropical vine is a tender perennial.
The fruit is edible when harvested green and cooked. The taste is bitter.

Bitter melon has twice the potassium of bananas and is also rich in vitamin A and C.

Pare is a monoecious climber with dark green, deeply lobed leaves with hairs on it. The dioecious flowers are yellow and the fruits are oblong and lumpy with a light green to greenish-white, waxy skin.


After posting my mystery plant photos two days ago, I felt... incomplete. Not only did I still not know exactly what the plant was (although I knew it was goya and, as Bill commented on my previous post, I knew it was in the cucurbit family, I didn't know the specific variation), but I was also disappointed with the photos. It turns out that my Gallery software is giving them a mysterious yellow tint when it resizes them. To see what I mean, click on any of the photos and you will see that the original larger version has a pretty luminescent green color.

Anyway, to satisfy my perfectionistish desire to get it right -and don't ask me why I need to know the exact scientific name, because I have no reason- after posting my post I spent more time searching for the plant on the web and I went out again yesterday to get more photos. (these photos today still suffer from the Gallery yellowing effect. I think I may have to start resizing them in Photoshop instead)

After some further searching, I thought I had found it when all the linguistic evidence also suggested that this is bitter melon which a few sites equated with the Japanese common names nigauri, tsurureishi, and goya (the Okinawan name, and also the name I knew it by from it's use in Okinawan cooking).

I was almost thrown off when I did a further search came up with these photos, which look nothing like the plant crawling up our staircase, nor the goya sold in the local supermarket. I was especially thrown by image #5. Of course, a closer look at this sketch indicates that maybe the scary looking orange thing is the female gourd of the plant. Or as Rain Tree indicates, maybe it is just what happens if you don't pick the goya soon enough.

The young fruit is emerald green, turning to orange-yellow when ripe. At maturity, the fruit splits into three irregular valves that curl backwards and release numerous reddish-brown or white seeds encased in scarlet arils.

This plant seems to have quite a history not only in Okinawan culture, but also as a medicinal plant around the world.

Via: Rain Tree (very informative)

Medicinally, the plant has a long history of use by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. A leaf tea is used for diabetes, to expel intestinal gas, to promote menstruation, and as an antiviral for measles, hepatitis, and feverish conditions. It is used topically for sores, wounds, and infections and internally and externally for worms and parasites.

In Brazilian herbal medicine, bitter melon is used for tumors, wounds, rheumatism, malaria, vaginal discharge, inflammation, menstrual problems, diabetes, colic, fevers, worms. It is also used to induce abortions and as an aphrodisiac. It is prepared into a topical remedy for the skin to treat vaginitis, hemorrhoids, scabies, itchy rashes, eczema, leprosy and other skin problems. In Mexico, the entire plant is used for diabetes and dysentery; the root is a reputed aphrodisiac. In Peruvian herbal medicine, the leaf or aerial parts of the plant are used to treat measles, malaria, and all types of inflammation. In Nicaragua, the leaf is commonly used for stomach pain, diabetes, fevers, colds, coughs, headaches, malaria, skin complaints, menstrual disorders, aches and pains, hypertension, infections, and as an aid in childbirth.

It's not just people in the jungle who believe this has some medicinal value either, modern scientists are researching it's use with HIV patients.

Also via Tropilab

Bitter melon seems to be supportive in HIV, several proteins (such as alpha - and beta momocharin) have HIV inhibitory effects in vitro. However, they are not cytotoxic.

Map 30 is a specific protein in bitter melon, that is useful in treating HIV infection.

The juice of this plant appears to be abortifacient.

In traditional Chinese medicine the vegetable is used as an appetite stimulant and as a treatment for gastrointestinal infection and against cancer (breast).
Peria is also hypoglycemic (blood sugar - lowering effects).

It has been proven to increase the number of beta cells (those which produce insulin) in the pancreas and is natural support for diabetics.

There is even more in depth info about the specific chemistry here. Thanks to my recent biology text-book review I can now understand a little of what they are talking about. I'm soooo dang smart. Too smart maybe.

And what do I have to add to the vast knowledge found on the web about Momordica Charantia L.?

I love goya in a veggie stir-fry, or occasionally with an egg over rice for breakfast, but I am anxious to try goya juice and goya soaked in brown sugar as mentioned at Wonder Okinawa.

If you live in Tokyo you can, of course, get goya at your local aoyasan or, if you don't feel confident in your ability to cook it, you can probably find it at one of the many Okinawan restaurants.

More photos of goya, photos of Momordica Charantia L, and photos of bitter melon. (of course they are all the same thing, but this is just for google juice.)

August 28, 2005

Mystery Plant

I have already broken my rule about taking any more photos until I have processed all the photos I have from Sweden and Malaysia. I just couldn't resist. This plant from my neighbor's yard has been growing up our staircase and changing every day. I broke my rule in order to capture these current stage which may not be available until next summer.

Unlike my previous two plant posts, I have nothing to say about this one besides telling you that it smells (when you break a piece off) and tastes dang good. Until a few days ago, I had no idea what it was, but then we noticed a clearly recognizable fruit? vegetable? (I wont know for sure until my next self-study text-book arrives). It is obvious what it is now... as far as the generic name used at the grocery store, but I have no plant identifier book, and have not been able to find the scientific name online. So, to tell you the truth, I don't really know what this plant is, nor anything about it other than how it tastes in a certain type of cooking popular here in Japan.

So, I offer a prize to anyone who can tell me what this is. There are more photos of it here, but I have hidden the pictures that make it too obvious.

* * *

This brings up a different issue. I am looking for a good plant identification book, preferably in English, but a really great one in Japanese about plants found in Japan would be OK too. I want illustrations, not photos. The books with photos are all too hard to see. The illustrations can show the plant, the seed, cross sections, close-ups of the leaves, etc... That's what I want. When I was in Sweden I was using a great book but I didn't even know how great it was until I started looking for books in English or Japanese.

I have seen the Makino Illustrated Plant Book, which appears to be the best in Japan, but even that leaves me empty. In some cases, when I look up a certain plant which I know has a number of varieties, it only has an illustration of one of them. What about the others that are slight variants? Obviously I don't know enough to really use that in-depth info now, but I don't want to spend money on a book that I will grow out of.

* * *

In other news, Tomoe is off climbing Fuji with her co-workers so I am home alone. Ooooo to think of all the mischief I can get into. Too bad I am boring. Instead of having a big party, I sit home taking pictures of plants, listening to NPR, and studying Japanese.

Why am I such a Looser?

August 26, 2005

how to hunt boar in the jungle

Under normal circumstances I, being a "strategic eater" (a vegetarian who eats meat in certain circumstances), don't promote killing sweet little wild boars such as the one pictured above. However, if you find yourself lost in the jungle and are sick of eating palm shoots, you may want to feast on roast pork.

Uh-oh, you forgot your gun.

No problem, you can catch yourself a wild boar with this nifty (all be it nasty) little trick I learned (but did not put into practice) while in the jungle. The fact that this uses only what is available in the jungle in ingenious ways is what is really fascinating about this. What follows gets a little violent and what might be considered graphic. If you don't like to read about dying boars, don't continue.

Basic principle: When scared, a wild boar will run straight ahead, regardless of what is in front of it. If there is something blocking the way, the boar will jump over it.


Step 1: Cut some bamboo

Bamboo is a wonderful thing. So is a parang, a sort of jungle machete. The most important thing I learned was never, NEVER go into the jungle without a parang. We used it for everything.

Anyway, back to the hunt. Once you have found an area showing signs of wild boars hanging out, you should start to collect some bamboo. Using your parang, chop the bamboo into pieces about five or six segments long. To cut, swing the parang on a forty-five degree angle, making sure you are always swinging away from yourself.


Step 2: Quarter the bamboo

Cut the bamboo poles into four sections length-wise. To do this you can chop it like you would wood. One hard swing and the parang enters the bamboo. Now you can put pressure on both the handle and the back of the blade as you gently tap the bamboo on a rock or log, letting physics do it's job.

BE CAREFUL though, the green edges of freshly cut bamboo is very SHARP. I had cuts all over my body after a few days. It hurts like a paper cut, but it is deep like a chain-saw cut.

Step 3: Carve spikes

Using your parang again, further chop the quartered bamboo slats into spikes. These spikes should be about two segments long, but you will want longer ones and shorter ones, so don't worry too much about this.

Two points to make note of.

1) The pointy part of the spike should be V shaped, as opposed to "half-v" shaped. This makes it slide into the boar flesh a little easier.

2) The point of the spike should be carved immediately after a joint in the bamboo. If there is too much space between the joint and the point, the spike is weaker and may break under the weight of the boar.

Step 4: bury spikes

bury the spikes in the ground. You will want to have enough spikes that you can cover a wide area. The spikes have to be anchored deep enough that they will not simply fall out when the boar lands on them, so it is good to use your parang to dig holes.

The spike field should be in the path that you expect the boars to follow as they run by.

Step 5: Create obstruction

Now it really starts to get interesting.

In front of your spike field, use your parang to chop down some small trees or palm branches. The idea is not to "hide" the spikes from the boar, rather, to create an obstruction in the path which the frightened boar will jump over. As the heavy boar comes back down to the ground, his/her own weight will help to impale him/her on the spikes.

Step 6: Make noise makers

"I can't wait." You think as you head down to the nearest waterfall for a bath. Later you build yourself a fire and comfortable bed as you dream of the roast pork you will be having by this time tomorrow.

The next morning you wake up early and eagerly stumble down the path to your nifty little creation only to find fresh boar tracks and... some of the spikes are still standing, some have been uprooted by curious boars, but there is no blood, and no pork.

What went wrong? Well, the boar ain't gonna jump over the obstruction and impale himself unless he is scared, really scared. Here's how we solve this little problem:

Cut down some more long bamboo poles. This time, instead of splitting them into quarters, you want to split it in half, but NOT ALL THE WAY. The split should only be about a meter or two long. The result will be that you can pull the two halves apart, but when you let go, the tension from the base of the cut will cause them to slap back together with enough force to make a loud "smacking" noise.

Cut a small stick or piece of bamboo to place in the mouth of your new noise maker, holding it open.

Find a strong creeper or rattan vine thin enough to tie around the small stick, and long enough to reach across the boar path where the other end is tied to a tree. This creates a trip wire. When the boar trips the wire, the small stick is pulled from the mouth of the bamboo and SMACK!, you have a scared pig.

Now, to really scare the pig, make several of these, placing them along the expected boar path every few meters. Remember, if the boar is scared, it will not stop to access the situation, it will simply run straight ahead -tripping the next wire, and the next and so on. Either it will have a heart attack and die right there, or it will be in a panic as it jumps over your obstruction, impaling itself on the spikes.

Step 7: Wait and listen

I have to admit that I am a little unclear about this step. On the one hand, we were told that we should scare the pig in the general direction of the elaborate trap we have set. On the other hand, we were told to lie in wait (downwind) behind a tree truck.

To make sure the pig doesn't see or ear you, just sit. Don't worry about watching for the boar. You can just listen for the noise makers you have set several meters up the path. SMACK SMACK SMACK... as they get closer get ready with your spear.

ooops. Did I forget to tell you about the spear? You should make a spear with a small hardwood tree, a piece of bamboo, and a rattan rope as shown in the drawing.

So, you wait for the pig to come, and then....

You spring. The pig will be impaled on the spikes, but scared wild boars are strong. Before it has a chance to get up and run, you jump out and drive your spear into it's wide open side. Don't try to pull it out and stab it again. Instead, you want to twist the spear to increase the size of the wound. Otherwise, let the thrashing of the pig do the work. The spear will gradually work it's way in and the pig will die.

Although it was not part of the lesson, I thought it would be good to have a big rock handy to smash the pigs skull, ending the suffering as soon as possible.

* * *

Again, I don't intend to promote the killing of animals just trying to go about their lives. No animals were hurt in the production of this little how-to post. Especially not the boar in the photo which is cared for by a friend in Sweden who rescued after it had been hit by a car as a baby. Nor do I oppose the killing (in as humane a manner as possible) of an animal if the situation requires it. After all, there are animals that would kill me if they were hungry. (although I can't think of any animals that would lock me in a small cage pumping me full of drugs, treating me as though I am just an inanimate "commodity")

Just for the record, I myself am a "strategic eater", which is what I have decided to call my almost completely vegetarian lifestyle. I do eat meat in certain occasions. For example, if I am invited to dinner at someone's house and they have already prepared meat. It's better to eat it than to throw it away, but if given the option before it is prepared, I will usually decline.

The reason for this is three fold (there always has to be a moral to my posts):

1) I feel better physically when I don't eat meat. This may just be mental. Regardless, I feel better, and meat is expensive.

2) I don't see any real difference between people and animals in so far as animals feel pain and suffering as well as we do. Why should I contribute to that. I don't feel so bad eating meat that is raised responsibly, by people who care for the animal and do everything in their power to make it comfortable and happy until it's death.

3) Regardless of wether you think treating other living things like crap is OK or not, if you think it is our God given right, or even if you think that animals don't really have feelings, given the current population a meat based diet for everyone is just not feasible. The amount of energy it takes to feed us with meat, not to mention the environmental damage that results from the production methods, just doesn't make sense. Maybe some day we will invent some magic machine that changes that, but as far as I know, there is nothing like that on the near horizon.

There are also times when my curiosity gets the better of me... While in Sweden I tried reindeer simply because I wanted to see what it was like. While in France last year for a friend's wedding, I ate the most delicious raw beef tar-tar plate because there was no vegetarian option. I still fantasize about it. Ohhhhhh that was good. If I am starving in the jungle, I promise I will try to eat a boar. Just for the record.

Finally, I hope no one was offended by the post. I wanted to share it because I thought it was extremely interesting how materials available in nature can be used like that

August 25, 2005

The Jungle is Neutral

It was a nightmare journey - perhaps the most unpleasant journey I have ever done. I had not realized that in the Malayan jungle a mile on the map may mean four or five miles on the ground and that without a track it may take several hours to cover a single mile. Nor did I realize that though a footpath may be marked on the map, it would be completely grown over in a year unless it is kept open by regular use and cutting - and our maps, excellent though they were, were more than ten years out of date.

In the absence of any path the valley of the river provided the worst possible going. The watercourse itself was too deep and rough to follow, and the sides were so steep and so covered with bamboo, thorns, atap (this word is also used for the type of palm used for thatching), and thickets of every kind that our progress was lamentably slow. As soon as the ground was wet we found it almost impossible to keep a footing on the steep traverses, and our hands were torn with clutching at twigs to prevent falling.

The first night found us still beside the Sungei Sempan. We camped on a sandbank several feet above the waterline, as it was the only more or less level place we could find. When we undressed to bathe in the river, we found many bloated leeches stuck to various parts of our bodies. I had been bitten round the waist and neck, since the foul creatures, being unable to get at my legs, had worked their way up my clothes until they could find an opening. I had pulled off scores during the day and did not know any had crawled through until I felt the blood running down my chest. Harvey was very badly bitten about the ankles and hands. He had been using a stick and the leeches had crawled up it to reach their favorite of all places - the weblike flesh between the bases of the fingers. Sartin had also been bitten all over the legs, as they had crawled through the eye-holes of his boots and through the folds of his puttees.

The rain continued, and with some difficulty we managed to make a fire. Harvey had said that bamboo, however wet, will always burn. This is true only when you have once kindled a fire, and I had yet to learn that one must always take a piece of rubber or resin to start the fire. Since our packs were so heavy, we ate up as much of the tinned rations as we could. We then cut a pile of branches to sleep on and made a lean-to-shelter out of our three groundsheets. The rain was coming down harder than ever and we went to bed soaking wet and very miserable. During the night it rained very heavily indeed and the river rose so rapidly that, finding ourselves on an island, we had top strike camp and cross a roaring torrent to the bank, where we sat shivering disconsolately until daylight.

Next day was purgatory. We wasted half a box of matches before we could persuade the sodden bamboo to light; the it started to rain again and we had to give up the attempt to dry our clothes.

To some, the jungle seems predominately hostile, being full of man-eating tigers, deadly fevers, venomous snakes and scorpions, natives with poisoned darts, and a host of half-imagined nameless terrors. The other school of thought, that the jungle teems with wild animals, fowls, and fish which are simply there for the taking, and that the luscious tropical fruits - paw-paw, yams, breadfruit and all that -drop from the trees, is equally misleading.

The truth is that the jungle is neutral. It provides any amount of fresh water, and unlimited cover for friend as well as foe - an armed neutrality, if you like, but neutral nevertheless. It is the attitude of mind that determines whether you go under or survive. 'there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.' The jungle itself is neutral.

* * *

I wish.... I wish I had written that, and I wish the jungle treck was so dramatic. In fact, everything above is slightly adapted from The Jungle is Neutral, a great book I picked up in the Singapore airport to read on the way home. The book itself was a timely find in that it tells the story of a British soldier living in the jungles of Malaysia, fighting the Japanese invaders. I highly recomend it. (and if you are in Tokyo, I can sell it to you used)

My jungle treck was not near as dramatic, although it was great. I highly recommend that too. There was no rain, which also meant that the leeches weren't as bad (I only had trouble after we had set up camp and I changed into my flip-flops).

I will write more about my jungle adventures very soon, but for now I am tired from copying all them words you sees above, and I am sure you is tired from reading them.

Unfortunatly, I didn't get any good photos from the jungle. It's not easy to hack your way through underbrush with a camera around your neck so I didn't take it out often. (It is also quite dark in the jungle.)

August 24, 2005

Malaysia in color

Here are some color shots from Malaysia. The lady in the first and last photos of this post is a friend from my class in Sweden who let me stay at her home in Kuala Lumpur. I also got to see a little bit of the work she does for the Malaysian Timber Counsel. On my last day I visited a commodities exhibition at which she had prepared a display about the rain forest and biodiversity. Between her display and the other booths where I learned about the palm oil, cocoa, rubber, and tobacco industries, much of what I had seen over the week and a half started making sense. I wish I had had an opportunity to learn all that before I cris-crossed the country side so that I would have known more about what it was I was seeing.

I wish I could take all of these photos back and re-edit them. I am learning some really cool (all be it basic) stuff about how to use Photoshop. I feel a little guilty spending so much time watching the Total Training videos instead of looking for a job, but on the other hand, "learn how to use photoshop better" has been on my list of things to do for several years now. For some reason or other, I never really progressed much in that area.

Some other things that have been on my list for a while and I am finally finding time to do include reading a biology textbook. It has been a long time since high-school bio class, where the focus was less on concepts and more on memorizing terminology. Another thing that I now find disturbing about my high-school bio class is that there was never any mention of why it is important to know the stuff. There was no talk about how humans are a part of a very complex system, and that without that system we can not survive, and how almost everything we do now is degrading that system. There was no one to say "Hey, the reason it is important to know this stuff is not so that you can recite the names of all the cell parts, rather, it is important because if you don't know how the system works, there is a much greater chance that you will make stupid choices in your lifestyle that destroys rather than fits with the system."

Granted, even if someone had said something like that back then, there is a good chance I would not have paid any more attention, but at least there would have been some chance.

Even though I didn't really pay much attention in high school, a lot of it is "review", which I remember hearing something about at some point in the past, but reading it now with a framework for how to understand it, and knowing where this information fits within my life makes it much more interesting and sometimes I can't even put the book down... it's better than any thriller I have ever read.

How to make tofu

Some people have expressed an interest in making my famous tofu. Although there are undoubtedly already a ton of recipes on the web, I thought it might be a more efficient use of my time to make some highly detailed sketches (I didn't take photos as I made it) with poor spelling and write out the entire recipe here.

What will you need to make tofu?

soy beans (organic, local, yummy)
water
heat source (I used a gas stove)
nigari (natural magnesium chloride or natural calcium sulfate)
a thin cloth
an empty milk or juice carton
a blender or hand mixer

Step 1: Soaking the beans

Put the beans in water. I prefer to use clean water, as opposed to dirty dish water or the likes. However, "clean" is a subjective word. Some people don't like to use water from the tap because it has crud and scum built up in the pipes for years. Also, tap water may have some chemicals in it, and some people say that the molecules in tap water are "flat". If you are worried about these
things, you can use bottled water from a natural spring. I just used tap water.

The beans should be soaked for about eight hours, until they are soft and delicious.

Step 2: Blend the beans

Notice that I did not specify how many beans should be soaked. When I made it I did it tekitou, meaning "who really cares". In this second step however, you can make sure that your bean to water ration is correct by mixing one cup of soaked beans with once cup of water. In a blender chop it all up sot he beans are as fine as you can get them. I used the "liquify" setting. Go crazy.

Step 3: Boil the bean mush

You will now have a big bowl of bean mush. Pour this all into a pot with another cup of water and cook it over a high flame. Keep stirring it until a thick layer of fine bubbles arise on top. Stop the fire.

Step 4: Boil the bean mush longer

Once the bubbles goes down again, turn the fire onto low and slowly boil it for about ten minutes until there are fluffy bubbles arise again. After about ten minutes, the bitter "green" flavor of the beans should be less noticeable.

Step 5: Pour mush in sack

Hold a cloth sack over a bowl and pour the mush into the cloth sack. This cloth sack should be pretty thin (not like a towel), and it should not have any big holes in it which would allow the bean particles to slip out with the soy milk.

Step 6: Squeeze bean mush sack

Squeeze all the milk out of the sack. Be careful, it's hot. You can use a rolling pin or plate or anything else that allows you to put pressure on the sack of mush without touching it. I got impatient and decided to use my hand. The blisters are just now disappearing.

If you only want soy milk, stop right here and enjoy. If you want to make tofu, read on. Either way, you can put the left over mush into a container for later use in soup or bread or anything your imagination allows.

Step 7: Stir nigari into soy milk

Measure the amount of milk you have managed to squeeze out. The amount of nigari you use should be equal to about one percent of the total soy milk.

Mix the nigari with a little hot water (1:3) to help it blend more evenly as you stir it into the soy milk.

Put the soy milk over a low flame and cook until it is about 85 degrees. Stop the fire.

Stir the milk vigorously in one direction, pouring in the nigari/water mixture all at once (continuing to stir).

Step 8: Pour tofu juice into tofu mold

Make a mold to form your tofu. Traditionally, people in Japan use a nice wooden box with holes in the bottom. We didn't have one, and didn't want to buy something that seems to only have one purpose, yet takes up more space in our tiny kitchen, so we made one out of a soy-milk carton that was waiting in the recycle basket. We washed out the inside of the carton, cut off one side so that it was shallow with a large surface area, and cut some small holes in the bottom and sides.

Next, take a thin cloth (we used the same cloth that we used to strain the bean mush), dampen it, and spread it out in the bottom of the milk carton.

Place the newly created tofu mold with damp cloth into another pan to capture the juice that trickles out. This juice can later be used in soup or cake or whatever.

Pour the nigari / soy milk mixture into the mold.

Step 9: Press tofu

Fold the cloth over to cover the top of the tofu as well.

Traditionally, there is a wooden press placed over this and slowly pressed down to squeeze out more of the juice. As I have said, we do not like tradition, so we made a press with, you guessed it, the side of the soy-milk container which we had cut off to make the mold.

Place this over the coagulating tofu, and either lightly press or, as the recipe we somewhat followed suggested, put a glass of water on top and let gravity do the work.

Let this sit for a while. As the juice is pressed out and the tofu cools, it will start to look just like the kind you get in the grocery store. The only difference is that you have not added any preservatives, you know where the beans came from (assuming you researched and purchased responsibly produced beans) and you have the left-over by-products, such as the squeezed bean pulp, and the squeezed tofu juice.

Also, without taking into account the time spent to make it, this is cheaper than buying tofu at the super market here in Tokyo. Of course, if you figure out your hourly wage, it is actually quite expensive, depending on what your day job is. We realized this, but also compared it to the enjoyment and cost of other activities we could have spent the time doing together. I.e., making tofu was more fun than watching a DVD (and renting DVDs costs more money).

August 23, 2005

Consumer psychology and religion

It has been a while since I have listened to my once favorite radio talk show, "Talk of the Nation". I tuned in again today as I cleaned the apartment. It turned me right back on. What an interesting show!

How high does gas have to go before our behavior changes? And is that tipping point economic, or psychological?

In Gas prices 101, the guest is a marketing guy seems to know a lot about where peoples' limits are when prices are raised. Resisting my urge to assume he uses that knowledge to let businesses know how high they can set their prices before consumers stop buying (yeah, yeah, I know... nothing like that happens because we live in a free market society where the prices are based on supply and demand, right?). Anyway, he talks about the psychological aspects of how we deal with the price of gas at the pump.

He says that we have two prices in our mind, an external price (what we see on the price tag) and an internal price (what we are used to paying.. what we feel something is worth). If we see an external price that is close to our internal price, we assimilate it, but if it is too far outside, we react to it by changing our behavior. In other words, if my internal price for beer in Japan is 211 yen per .5 liter, and internally I can allow for a 20 yen deviation, I will still buy it as though nothing is wrong even if it is 231 yen, but once it hits 232 yen, I start to buy third generation hopposhu instead.

Another interesting thing to consider, is that even though prices are are higher, demand is up 1.5% over last year. Obviously the high prices are not having a negative effect on demand. One explanation they cite is that using gas is so much a part of our lifestyle that we will try to save money in other areas in order to pay for gas. The guest compared this to a coffee freeze in Brazil in the '70s. When the price of coffee rose, people refused to pay and looked for substitutes. Unfortunately, there is no realistic substitute for gasoline. (other than taking a little responsibility for our actions, which most people seem un-willing to do.)

Although the fact that even higher prices does not deter people from messing up the earth, there were some encouraging contributions from listeners. One person wrote in saying that instead of cutting down on the amount they pay for gas, they cut down on the money they spend on other useless disposable income crap. Wall mart has recently said that their earnings are suffering because people are saving their money to buy gas at higher prices. I guess this is better than nothing.

In fact, this seems to me to be simply a small example of what we really need... people to pay the *real* price for what we use. Sure people's dollar will not go near as far, we will have to choose between a new thingamajig from wal-mart, a coffee at starbucks, or taking our kids to school in the morning in a gas powered car.

Finally, they mention how irrational people are when they are willing to drive across town to save $4 on a twenty gallon purchase of gas, but they would not drive to save $4 on a $100 coat that is on sale across town. This is one thing I don't understand, although sometimes I wish I could be blessed with the ability to ignore such thoughts. Every time I buy something, I compare it with how much it costs to make at home, or to buy it closer, how much time and resources are saved, how much I could make if I spent that time working, or if I am not working, how much the free time is worth to me, and how much I think the costs are to other people in far away lands. Sometimes I wish I could just buy things without thinking. Oh how easy life would be.

* * *

They had another interesting conversation with Hector Avalos, author of Fighting Words: The Origins Of Religious Violence, about religion's role in war, death, murder, and everything evil. Do religions that preach peace also promote violence?

Hector stipulates that all religion has the potential to incite violence because they can not be verified by objective means, leaving violence as one of the few ways to settle disputes. He talks about scarcity and it's role in violence. Obviously scarcity of food or water can incite violence, but he shows how the scarcity or real or perceived resources inherent in religion does the same. Some of the scarcity religion creates are:

  • Inscripturation; the idea that God's word is only contained in a certain text, and not found anywhere else
  • Sacred space, where one space is declared to be more valuable than surrounding space for religious reasons
  • Group privilege; when believers believe they have certain privileges that non-believers don't and other fight to get the privilege, or, what seems more obvious to me, people fight the oppression that comes when one group believes that they are more privileged. This includes particularism, whereby every religion differentiates itself from others by saying that they know the truth and the light and the way.
  • Salvation; the idea that you derive some benefits by belonging to a certain religion. When other people don't have access to this salvation, it functions as a scarce resource.

As much as I agree that religion usually causes more problems than it solves (which is why I am so scared when I hear people unquestioningly following "sustainability" as though it were the truth and the light and the way), the theory of scarcity seems a little weak to me. I mean, if all the people of different religions feel that their religion is the "right" religion, and people who don't believe in it will be damned, where is the scarcity in salvation? If I think that only people who have a silver button on their pocket will go to heaven, and you think that only people who have a golden button on their pocket will go to heaven, there is no reason to fight. We can each have our own color of button and each be happy knowing that we will be the one going to heaven.

Of course, scarcity does come into the picture in one way that he did not mention. This is when we look at the financial and political power that comes with having a large following. Since there are only a limited number of "souls", one religion has to fight against another in order to "save" them, and acquire the financial / political resources that go along with it.

Of course, the most obvious question was raised by a caller, and the author evaded it. What about violence that results from economic reasons, yet the leaders of that violence use religion as a means to gain followers, and to make those followers do things they otherwise wouldn't do.

A second guest was Charles Kimball, professor of religion at Wake Forest University; author of When Religion Becomes Evil. He lists five warnings of when religion goes awry.

  • Absolute truth claims
  • Blind obedience
  • Pursuing an ideal time (not sure what this means)
  • The means justifies the end
  • Declaring holy war

Basically, the message was that usually when people think that they are doing what they are doing because they think it is what God wants them to be doing, nothing good can come of it, be it the leader of a nation, or a regular joe like me.

* * *

The photos are from Malaysia.

August 22, 2005

Photo Freeze

I have made a personal pact. I will not take any more photos until I have finished processing all the directories full of photos I have left from Sweden and Malaysia. Most of them are not even material I care to share on the site, but they are good for my own memories. Most of them are out of focus because my favorite lens has been broken. In Kuala Lumpur I took a look at lenses, finding one I really wanted to buy - 17-55mm, f2.8. It was about US$1,000. Since much of the other electronic camera equipment was around the same price as I remembered from Tokyo I figured it would be best to wait and try to find it used once I get back. Instead, I bought the same cheap lens that had broken a few months earlier. It was a little cheaper this time around, and although I figured it will break again, I saw it as a good temporary lens until I get that dream lens.

Now that I am back in Tokyo I find that the lens I wanted is a lot more here. Dang.

I have also been thinking about getting a macro lens, or some kind of adapter or something (I have some vague recollection that there is some type of device available). I have been taking the recent plant photos with my regular lens turned around backward, held close to the camera. I know this is a big no-no because it allows dust and pollen and whatever else to get into the sensor area of my camera, potentially rendering it worthless. But it's just too dang irresistible. I think I can warrant buying a real macro lens or adaptor now that the author of an up and coming guide to medicinal plants of Sweden has asked me to take photos for her book. The biggest problem now is finding the same plants in Tokyo that are so abundant in the Swedish countryside.

Finding the plants from Sweden may pose a bit of a problem, but I am really excited about the diversity of plant life found right here in Tokyo. Sure, many of them are extremely non-native plants sitting in a pot in someone's yard, but I guess that can still be considered a "plant of Tokyo". Once I get through all my photos from Sweden, I hope to start learning and documenting the plant life here in Tokyo, both native and non-native.

Since my excuse for not getting on with my life and doing something useful is that I have too many photos to process, I am taking the opportunity to justify spending many hours watching a Photoshop tutorial DVD. So far it is great, and I am still only on part 1. The only problem is that I now and hesitant to go through all the waiting photos until I finish watching it all... who knows what nifty little trick I will learn that will turn all my out-of-focus crap into masterpieces?

Once I am caught up on my photos, I plan to re-vamp the gallery, and my site. I will then make an effort to take fewer photos, but make them better. I also have been itching to start making photo-essay style posts on the blog, sequences of photos that tell some story, as opposed to simply "hey I saw this and thought it was cool". I don't have any excuse for not starting that sooner, since I have been thinking about it for a loooong time now. I am just going to use the old "no time" excuse. Once I get all my photos processed, and a couple of other small jobs I have promised for some people, I will be 100% responsibility free and will no longer have the "no time" excuse.

* * *

I have not met my birds yet since coming home. Tomoe and I were planning to go to her parents house this weekend to get them and my bike, but Tomoe's work wouldn't allow it. Next weekend she is climbing Fuji with some people from her office, and I will be off working at an organic farm looking for some helping hands. We plan to go get the birds next next week. I guess it'S a good thing considering my ban on taking any new photos until I process those I already have. By the time we get the birds I should be ready to take thousands of photos of them. Until then, you will have to make due with these photos of Hobbe, the bird who sometimes pretends to be evil, taking huge chunks out of my hand. I still have scars. Lucky for him, my love is unconditional or I just might have done something nasty before I left.

August 19, 2005

Be a sustainability consultant!

It's time for some role-play. I suspect that most readers won't understand what I am talking about in some of this story, but my former classmates should.

Imagine, if you will, that you are a freshly indoctrinated master of strategic planning for sustainability. Your newly minted name-cards were delivered earlier this morning, and you are waiting for a meeting in the lobby of your first paying client. You are a sustainability consultant, getting rich and saving the world at the same time. (And they said it couldn't be done...)

Your new client is the American Prairie Conservation Management Board (this is a little fiction.... to my knowledge there is no such organization, but the quotes attributed to them are from a recent news article) . They waste no time with bullskit pleasantries (skit is Swedish, it means poop), instead they launch into their newest great idea. They are looking to you and your scientific TNS framework perspective to advise them on the best way to make sure it's "sustainable".

Their goal is to restore giant wild mammals to North America, like those that roamed the continent during the Ice Agemammoths, saber-toothed cats, and the extinct American cheetah, among others.

Since those animals have long been extinct, the scientists propose repopulating the U.S. with the creatures' closest living relativessuch as lions, cheetahs, elephants, and camels.

Using a strategy called rewilding, the conservationists suggest using these and other endangered animals as stand-ins for long-gone Ice Age mammals.

...

(T)he ultimate goal, the researchers say, is to create a massive "ecological history park," where the large mammals could wander freely, much like their Ice Age counterparts did some 13,000 years ago.

It sound's crazy at first, and dangerous. But you don't let your first instincts get in the way, you do as you are trained and look at it through a systems perspective, asking yourself if it violates any of the four basic scientific principles of sustainability that you have sworn to uphold.

Does it:

Systematically increase concentrations of substances from the earth's crust?

Well, sure there is the carbon footprint it takes to fly them all from Africa over to the US. The last I heard there were no direct flights, so they will have to be brought over via Europe. (sure, they will probably go by boat, but just for fun let's pretend they are flying first-class.) According to the Future Forests Carbon Calculator, each animal's flight (not taking into account the weight of the rhino) will use about 4000 pounds of CO2. This means the imaginary conservation organization should plant two trees per animal.

You feel a little more confident having made your first "consult" and decide to throw in a little free advice, telling them not not to plant the trees in the same area as the animals, because the elephants have a notoriously bad habit of knocking down trees and other things that could be viewed as deforestation.

Then comes the first snag... although the trees are relatively cheep compared to the cost of the ticket, their chief financial officer balks at the unexpected cost -after all, your initial foot-in-the-door presentation promised that it's only strategic if they make a healthy profit.

Luckily, your on a roll. "not a problem", you say, "Instead of planting the trees, you and your staff can just skip one 'everybody who's anybody in sustainability will be there' overseas conference for each animal you bring over."

The financial officer likes this. Not only do you not have to spend money on trees that provide no direct financial return, but you also save all the costs associated with attending the conferences.

One sustainability principle down, three to go. Does this plan:

Systematically increase concentrations of persistent chemicals not found in nature?

After some discussion about wether or not tiger skit is naturally found in the great plains of the united states, and just how long "persistent" is, you interject, reminding them that skit is not a chemical, although you do acknowledge that systematically increasing concentrations of tiger skit is unsustainable. It is decided that tigers should only be fed at the same rate that their skit decomposes.

Other than that, there seem to be no problems. Next, does this plan:

Systematically degrade nature by physical means?

...

Now you start to sweat. You have no idea. On the one hand, you had always assumed that introducing invasive species is baaaaad. But now you have to think wether or not these species are actually invasive. How quickly do they have to reproduce to be considered "invasive"? Even if they are "invasive", does it necessarily degrade nature? There is no way to know. Some scientists say yes, some say no. The conservationists say:

We talk about horses and camels. Horses and camels originated in North America, and there were multiple species here 13,000 years ago. Currently, there are European horses in many landscapes in America, but they're often viewed as pests. We argue that they could be used as analogs for the Pleistocene horses that were once roaming North America, as can the camels.

If these species are actually native to the area, but are now extinct due to human activity, then is it not an act of regeneration to re-introduce them? You're still not sure. After all, the ecosystem has probably changed in the past 13,000 years, regardless of if the change was caused by humans or not, the nature of today is not the same as the nature of tomorrow.

Your gut says that importing these animals is a no no, but there is no proof that it will degrade any nature, and they actually have scientific mumbo-jumbo that says it will actually be good for the ecosystem. And anyway,

We don't know the consequences of reintroductionwhether they're quote-unquote positive or negative. But those questions can be answered through research-driven, experimental reintroduction. ...

We argue that our proposal is based on a couple of facts that are very clear. One is that now the Earth is nowhere pristine. Our economics, our politics, our technology pervade every ecosystem.

So we argue that even though the obstacles and risks are substantial, we no longer accept a hands-off approach to wilderness preservation. By default or by design, we're going to basically decide what kind of world we want to live in.

This seems to fly in the face of the precautionary principle, but then again, what can we ever really be sure of? What if these animals are not brought to the US and they become extinct? What are the long term effects of this? What precautions do we have in place to prevent this other than to introduce them into an area that at one time supported an ecosystem that was home to their ancestors? You decide that this is a little out of your league, being a newbie and all. You tell them that you will consult with your leaders and get back to them.

Finally, you get to the fourth scie... err... principle of sustainability. Does this plan:

Systematically undermine the ability of people to meet their needs?

Oh skit. You suddenly remember seeing an article in this mornings paper about ranchers who are upset that protected wolves are taking their sheep, and along with them, their income and ability to send their kids to an American university. What, you wonder, will they think about a pride of lions living next door? You dismiss this by telling yourself that they can always send their kids to school in Sweden where tuition is free, but at the same time you remember an article a while back about how some bears in Colorado attacked a young girl depriving her of her need for her right arm. Of course it was not the bear's fault, it was just looking for food at the local dump, doing what comes naturally in this ecosystem that has been anything but natural for the past century. What happens when cheetahs, whose ancestors may have once thrived in the ecosystem that once existed, arrive in this new man-made nature?

The client must see a constipated look on your face, because he quickly mentions that

We also lay out what we see as the potential for economic justifications, the most obvious being ecotourism.

And then the aesthetic justification is that humans are fascinated by large mammals. This is very clear, and it extends back to the Pleistocene as well. We see it in cave art from early Americans, right up to today in the names of the cars we drive and the names of our football teams. So there might be a lot of unexpected benefits for further reconnecting humans with large mammals.

By now your head hurts. In an effort to keep yourself from thinking about "flexible platforms", you begin to imagine that everyone in the room is naked... thereby depriving them of their need for privacy. Dang.

What would you recommend?

Keep in mind, if they bring the animals over, they will have future "sustainability" consulting needs, and you will have your first regular client. If the animals stay in Africa, you are back to eating organic instant ramen until you can find another client.

* * *

You can find a much better and fairer overview of this plan, based on on more than my cynicism atJosh Donlan's website at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Cornell University.

Here's a bit:

Currently, a post-Columbian bias blinds us from a paleoecological view of North America, a vista with widespread implications. We envision that the re-wilding North America might entail, among other examples, managing wild horses and burros as ecologically appropriate components of the western landscape rather than pests, and the introduction of Indian Elephants (the closest living relative of North American extinct proboscideans) and African Cheetah (close relative of an extinct North American cheetah) as surrogates of extinct megafauna. As large herbivores, elephants would likely play keystone roles in the landscape as they still do in the Old World and mammoths did in the Americas until just 12,000 years ago. The cheetah would play an integral role in maintaining the adaptive biology of Pronghorn, an ungulate whose speed and life history are now anachronistic in the absence of its former natural enemy.


We propose to bring together a small group of well informed, critical people to explore the biological and social consequences of re-starting megafaunal evolutionary ecology in the New World. In the recent decades, it has become increasingly clear the critical roles apex predators and large herbivores play in structuring ecosystems and maintaining biodiversity. The native megafauna of North America likely played such pivotal roles, both ecologically and evolutionarily. Further, for many of these keystones, species analogs (Asian and African relatives) still exist today; thus making reintroductions a potential option. The goal of this workshop is to explore the justifications and feasibility of reintroducing species analogs of large predators and herbivores to North America to restore the ecological and evolutionary processes that were long present on this continent prior to human arrival. Our purpose it three fold:

  • Elucidate the ecological, evolutional, philosophical, and sociological justifications and obstacles for megafaunal reintroductions in the North America,
  • Identify species candidates that will serve as case studies for reintroduction,
  • Conduct in-depth feasibility studies of reintroduction candidates.

* * *

The photos are just some not-yet-posted portraits of people who made my last year fun.

August 18, 2005

The flavor of tea

I don't know why I didn't watch more Japanese movies these past few years. I just finished an amazing film, Cha no Aji (the taste of tea). It wasn't the most effective to regain my waning Japanese skills since there was relatively little dialogue. Still, like so many movies here in Japan, the cinematography and unpredictably freaky (yet somehow more realistic than American dramas) happenings say so much more.

I never had the patience for (was never any good at) finding the hidden meanings in movies, so I won't pretend to be able to analyze it, but what I can say is that watching it (preferably with a good sound system) gives the viewer a sense of appreciation for simple everyday life and the beauty we often fail to see and hear all around us.

If you are here in Japan, I seriously recommend renting this one next time you are in the video shop (the DVD has English subtitles as well). It's certainly better than any of that Hollywood crap I was presented with on the airplane coming over here.

August 17, 2005

Hot water, tofu, pee and Japanese

Since I have no job, one way I will be killing time here in Tokyo is trying to figure out how I can most reduce my ecological footprint, yet still live the comfortable city life. Just a few weeks ago I was showering with a garden hose that had been left to warm in the sun, allowing us to completely turn off the hot water in the house, saving a lot of money and a little of the earth (?). I have been trying to apply a similar principle here in my new apartment with large east and south facing windows. An old 20 liter plastic bag used to deliver Tomoe's drinking water heats up quickly in the summer sun and hangs conveniently on the shower curtain rod. Without a shower head however, I am forced to pour the water into smaller basin which I can then pour over my body to wash. I have found that washing this way greatly reduces the amount of water I actually use as it's much more convenient than turning off the shower (and then trying to adjust it to the right temperature again when I turn it back on after lathering up.

The only problem now is that last night, the sack of water was laying on the roof outside our window waiting for the morning sun, when we heard a loud crash and commotion from the landlord's house below. The sack had slid off the roof and crashed into their patio. Maybe not the end of the world, but I have yet to introduce myself and asking for my sack of water is probably not the best way to start the relationship. It's also bad because I had planned to ask the landlord for permission to put some planters on the roof (in a more secured manner) in which we can grow lots of the goodies I enjoyed on the farm in Sweden.

The apartment itself is in a good location, close enough to almost anything I will need that I don't need much more than a bike. Despite it's convenient location and relative peacefulness (a few blocks from any major roads), there are a few disappointments. The biggest is that I am quite far from the eco-friendly coop I did all my shopping at before. I can't just take a walk to find locally produced, low or no chemical produce. The coop does deliver however, which I suppose I can look at as a plus. By forcing me to plan and order all my food in advance, I will probably be less likely to eat because I am bored. Also, the weekly order sheet gives more information about the product than is available at the shop, clearly marking each item as organic, no-chem, low-chem, local, etc... as well as when it was produced, and even such things as how many chickens are kept in the pen, allowing me to choose eggs from happier chickens.

There is an old family-run tofu shop a few blocks away I am itching to visit, but I'm sure it wont taste as good as the homemade tofu we whipped up a few nights ago. It's surprisingly easy, although it does take a bit of time. The thing I like about it though is that 1) I don't have to pay for and promote all that packaging from store-bought tofu (just the big paper sack our soy beans come in), and 2) we can use all of the by-products in other dishes, making it cheaper than buying the tofu alone. Home made soy milk has the same benefits since the tofu is basically made out of the home made soy milk.

Some fun things on the docket for future work-less days (besides looking for a job) include making my own sho-chu (potato booze), looking for some affordable, portable solar power equipment (unless this Pee-powered battery can be made to run my iBook and a small electric fan), and making a solar oven. I drink what seems like gallons of tea each day (can't wait for that pee-power) so such an oven would reduce my gas usage considerably.

I also have to figure out what to do about the library here. I live nearby a much bigger library than before, but yesterday when I tried to make a card, they discovered that I have a book overdue from six years ago when I lived in this area as well. In reality, these books were discovered a year ago before I moved to Sweden, and they were returned to the library in another ward, so I have no idea how to track them down now.

Finally, I didn't speak more than three sentances while I was in Sweden, and I read very little, so I have been trying to start a do-it-yourself crash-course in Japanese that includes lots of reading, listening to the radio and audio books, and watching Japanese movies. I'm greatly discouraged at how many kanji I have forgotten the pronunciation of, but at the same time, that might be the best thing to force me to do a thorough review. Hopefully the next few months will see my Japanese improve to spectacular new levels never before attained.

The photos are from around my new neighborhood. The first one is right out my window. Photos of Malaysia and more from Sweden will be coming soon.

August 15, 2005

mixed-reviews

The homecoming reviews are mixed. On the one hand, it is nice to be settled again and in a position where I can start something without thinking about being uprooted again in a month or a week.

I have been looking for some "nature" in tokyo and may have found a fair bit. Unfortunatly, I also found streets crowded with thousands of people buying all manner of crap that they don't need. This causes me to want to stay inside.

Sometimes I have to go out though. Yesterday we took the train to Hadano, the nearest mountains, and had a nice day-hike across a little ridge and were back by afternoon.

Today I had to go out to the new mac shop in Shibuya (what a hell-hole Shibuya is!). I visited the clue-less mac genius to ask about my broken display. They had no idea what the problem was so they suggested that I send it to the factory to get it fixed for a flat rate of $500, regardless of what the problem actually is. After some pressing and about thirty minutes of the expert staring into his computer screen (I dont know if he was really looking at anything or just waiting for me to get fed up and leave) he ventured a guess that it may be just a bad cable. He could try to put in a new cable to see if that is it, but it would take a week, and if that is the problem, will cost over $200 to fix. I asked to buy just the cable so that I can do it myself, but he refused to sell just the cable, basically saying that they want the repair business so they can't sell me the part.

I didn't feel safe leaving my computer to him, and didn't want to leave it there for a week, so I took it home and took it apart to see if I could just find a loose cable or something. No loose cable, but I found why the frame broke so early after I got it. There was a big crack on the inside frame of the display which it appears the manufacturer had actually attempted to tape up! I should have opened it to inspect it right after I bought it.

dang.

August 12, 2005

I... I have survived

I'm back. I have some photos from the jungle, but I can't process them due to shoddy craftsmanship on my ibook where I have my photo editing software. I currently have no monitor to replace it's borken display, so I am posting from my old (and still working great) Dynabook from 1999. I do have one photo that i uploaded before I left, so I will leave you with that.

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