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June 29, 2006

Not-so-Superman

Mid-day

Uh-oh. I think I broke my body.

Yesterday my regular one-hour run took just over forty-five minutes (same distance), and I was hardly breathing hard. Likewise, during yoga I found that I am suddenly able to stretch things further than I have ever been able to stretch them.

Could it be that my childhood dreams of having super-powers were suddenly realized.

Alas - probably not. Last night I fell asleep in a strange position, staring at the computer screen (watching a DVD) as I waited for Tomoe to come home from work late (she never did come home). I awoke this morning unable to move my neck - even to put on a shirt (luckily I don't really have any reason to leave the apartment until Monday).

I have to say though, that as bad as it feels now, ten hours later, it is much better than when I woke up.

* * *

This photo is another from my attempt to use up the roll of film that was in the camera that was in the closet for ten years. I took it on my way from the apartment to the camera kiosk.

* * *

Finally, as I write the title of this post, I am reminded at how ticked off I was yesterday when I found out that a new Superman movie was coming out! How can I concentrate on outdoor stuff knowing that Superman is "in theaters now"? (like every kid, I was a big comic collector, and one of my favorites was the Man of Steel series - I wonder how much my #1 is worth now...)

June 28, 2006

A Few Good Men (or women)

Attention

I have been wondering what to do with this site for the two months while I am gone.

What about updating? While in the wilderness I am allowed a pen and paper, so I may just write some letters and pay mom to post them for me (assuming she can figure out how). If there is anyone else in the US who would be willing to type my handwritten letters (I will pay if need be) and post them on the blog, let me know - SOON.

A lot of people have guest writers. I have toyed with the idea, but my first choice for guest writer would probably have my mom boycotting my site. I may still allow her access - but I will also give Tomoe the ability to cut her off at the first mention of.... (well, I can't mention it).

But the guest writer thing is so... so... glah (yes - that is "glah", not "blah" - although it is that too.) I was wondering what would be a good, interesting twist to the guest writer thing. I thought it would be interesting (for me at least - because this blog is all about ME) to have any guest writers actually pretend to be me. That is, to write their posts as they think I would. If I whine too much - be whiny. If I talk about Awii and Klee too much, talk about Awii and Klee. If I crab too much about the stupidy of our consumption culture, do that.

Or maybe you can just use the photos I will have prepared as a cue - write a post that fits what you think the photo would make me think about.

Of course, in order or that to work I would have to actually have more than three fans - although I do have more than a few readers.

Anyway, if anyone wants to write some stuff on my blog let me know. I will have photos prepared all you have to do is add text, related or not.

Let me know by Sunday, because I leave Monday.

Note: Comments will be closed, simply to save my server from filling up with comment-spam notifications (I wont be able to delete them). I will still have to worry about regular spam, but am reluctant to disable the email address.

* * *

This photo is one of my "test" shots I took walking around my neighborhood yesterday with the little 35mm no-zoom, fully automatic, point and shoot, ten-years-in-the-closet film camera I will be taking with me on the adventure. The film in the camera was a little old, so that's why the colors look cool.

June 27, 2006

Productivity

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"I am soooo frikin' productive today."

That is what I felt after I spent the entire morning doing something I have been procrastinating for weeks... shopping. Yes, that's right. The only thing I "produced" was waste.

I had been putting off the shopping for my up-coming "Great Adventure" ever since I was told that I need sooo much stuff. Partly I put it off because I hate being in Shinjyuku for more than 30 minutes unless I am sitting in a cheap izakaya. Partly I put it off because I can't mentally justify spending the money, and partly I put it off because I can't justify the waste.

In my defense though, I have the money, and spending it on this will make me happier than spending it on, say, a cell-phone. And if things go well, it will not be a total "waste", because I will get a lot of use out of what I have purchased. Still, buying things feels bad and annoys me. (Note: it is not spending money that annoys me so much as spending money on things. I freely spend more than I should on food, travel, video rental, Internet and other "services" that do not accumulate in my apartment.)

So, I'm sure your dying to know - "What did I buy?", and more importantly, anthropologists of the future will be thrilled to have this record of the consumption and waste-production habits of people in 2006 who are getting ready to go on a two month out-door leadership training course.

Hiking boots. I had been resisting this for a long time, because I already have a pair of (kind-of) hiking boots that have never caused me problems. I even contacted the course adviser who said "You should be OK." Somehow, I don't trust people as much as I would like to though, and I decided to be safer than sorrier by getting some boots that wont make my trip hell (I have never spent 18 days in a row hiking in the mountains, so I have no idea if my current boots are up to it). Of course, I now have only one week to break them in - so I guess I am screwed either way. (I have a lot of walking to do this week! I think I will take both and ask for advice - wear the flimsy low-top ones? or wear the un-broken in ones? Or carry both and mix it up?

So anyway, I bought a pair of spiffy Columbia Goretex lined boots for only about $90 (last-year's model). I was totally willing to spend up to $200, since I will have them until I die, but these actually felt the best and quality-wise I doubt there is much more difference.

I also bought - and this is what I am most excited about - a pair of BB VeeStop "refillable" break shoes and pads to replace the worn-to-the-bone breaks I have now. (While I am gone I will be lending my bike to a friend's son who was "inspired" by Tomoe and I riding around Japan. He wants to try it as well, and I would hate it if he flew off a cliff while listening to G-Love and cruising down a vol canoe.) These allow me to replace just the cartridge pads, and keep the old shoe. I know it is such a *small* thing, but at least least relieving some of the pain I feel every time I buy a whole new set.

I also bought (and this pissed me off the most), a new headlamp. My trusty old head-lamp-for-the-rest-of-my-life was stolen a few months ago out the pocket of my bike bag. After much humming and hawing, I decided on the Petzl Tikka Plus. I really liked my old Tikka (one model down on the chain, and bout $10 cheaper), but that one only had one setting, and this one has an "Economic" setting as well - less intense, and (According to the box) 30 hrs more battery life. Considering that 90% of the time I had my old lamp on was for doing something close up - making camp, looking for a beer in the dark, reading a book as I walk down the street, etc., I figured this would be worth it in the long run - assuming it is not stolen.

I also bought a pair of bike gloves. The feeling still has not returned to my ring and pinky fingers since my last trip. These gloves are designed to relieve pressure on the Ulnar nerve. I hope that this does the trick, and that I don't need surgery. - at least it's not a brain tumor.

Finally, I got a few cheap synthetic shirts and a pair of shorts to "whisk" the water away. Although I have never needed them before, I am hoping I will notice the difference after using them. Although, I am pretty sure my skeptisicm and cynicism will ensure that I won't notice as big a difference as people who actually believe that outdoor sports just aren't even possible without the latest North Face gear.

How did people ever make it out of Africa without all this gear anyway?

Oh yeah - I almost forgot. I was wondering what to do about a camera, since there is no way I am taking my mammoth D70 and mammoth lens with me for 2 months of kayaking, climbing, and hiking. I was considering getting some disposable cameras, but Tomoe reminded me that she had an old Canon point and shoot film camera from ten or so years ago. So today I bought a new battery and a role of film to "test it out". That is where I am headed next. (What if I find that I don't even need the D70? - it's dangerous territory I'm getting into)

June 25, 2006

Making it my job

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The photos are from Kusatsu, a small but famous onsen hotspring village in Gunma, near the Nagano border.

I stayed a night there on my latest Japan bike tour. It was a great surprise, as I did not even know it existed (my original plan was changed at the last minute when a local told me that the route I wanted to take only went to the top of the mountain, but there was no road on the other side. This caused me to take a detour which passed by, to my delight, this little town deep in the mountains.

I camped there for the night, after a day of unexpected climbing, thinking that in the morning I would get up and cruise down into Nagano. It wasn't until I visited the "onsen Museum" in Kusatsu that I saw a 3D sculpture of the area and realized I had to climb another thousand meters or so to the top of a volcano.

That was a great day.

As for the night in Kusatsu, it was raining when I arrived, and I didn't see anyplace sheltered to put up the tent so I decided to handle it after I had taken a long bath and a few hours resting in the most famous onsen (also the most expensive at 600 yen - there are several free baths in the town, but while they are great for soaking, there is no place to wash up with soap, and more important for me at that time, no comfortable room to rest in as I eat dinner, drink a beer and read a book.)

My plan B was to sneak back to the onesen after it had closed and put up my tent under one of the roof overhangs. Luckily the people at the front desk were able to show me how to get to a park with a covered picnic table. Of course, the picnic table does not move, and the roof only covers the table, so I ended up putting my tent on top of the table.

Around 2 am I was awaken by a polite but forceful "sumimasen!". It turns out that the neighbors had called the police alerting them of a freak who puts his tent on a picnic table in a park. The police, however, were very friendly and understanding. I explained that it was because of the rain, but I can move if they want. They said no, that would be too "kawaisou" (means "poor", as in "poor Kevin has to sleep in the rain".) They said that as long as I promise to leave early in the morning, they would explain to the complainant that I am a nice gaijin - which explains why my tent is in the park, since, as they told me, Japanese people only camp in campgrounds.

So I had a good night, and finally, after years of touring Japan and sleeping in parks, parking lots, temples, and graveyards, I have had my first run-in with the law.

* * *

I have never really thought seriously about being an actor - although in grade-school I was far-and-away the best actor, which pretty much guaranteed that I would not get to be "God", but rather had to settle for "Moses" because he had the most lines and was the "main" character. I still remember some of the lines.

Since then though, I have never really thought about being an actor. Until, that is, when I see Brad Pitt or some other actor with a ripped (but not too pumped) body and think "I could look like that too - if it was my job". I have often fantasized at how great it would be to be able to spend guilt-free hours running and training every day.

For most of us, working out is something that has to be done in our "free time". For some reason we dedicate the vast majority of our waking hours to someone else's dreams, and focusing on the health of our employer's company. We then try to focus on our own health, and make all of our own dreams come true in the few hours left over. Of course, if we have a spouse, partner, or kids, spending time with them tends to becomes second priority to our employer's goals, and the dreams and health may get pushed further back on the priority list.

While I have been making a huge effort these past few years to focus on my own dreams (and it is and effort - it's much harder than just living the status quo), my efforts at taking care of myself physically, and meeting my own physical expectations and urges to be fit, still falls more to the wayside than I would like.

Much of it is because, although I enjoy running, weight-training, and now yoga, doing these things usually seems to be a purely "luxury" act - i.e. only for personal pleasure, not really contributing to the success (which includes financial) of the "big dream". As such, working out every day makes me feel better physically, but even when I don't have a 9-6 job, the mental stress of knowing that that time spent doesn't work toward a financial goal prevents me from spending more time, or enjoying the time I do spend as much as I could. Thus the jealousy toward actors who *have* to work out and train as a *part* of their job.

Well, all of that is changing, and I am loving it.

No, I am not becoming a model, and actor, or even a porn star. But my "big dream" does require a higher degree of physical fitness than does web-development or sustainability consulting. As a new adviser / marketing guru / potential partner, and (even better) willing investor mentioned, a key difference between making the dream a regular dream and a WOW dream (my words, not his), is my image. I gotta come across as a god, a superman-like-being who knows and can do anything related to the dream (above and beyond the physical requirements).

For the past two months I have focused on creating a lot of guilt-free free time for myself to work on the dream, and have been taking advantage of it by working out 2-4 hours each day (a little less on weekends), doing yoga, running, weight-training, and biking. I feel great physically, and want to do more. Still, I was not free from the "guilt" of working on myself when I could have been working on "the big dream". I could not *enjoy* the workout time to its fullest.

Today, however, my workout was long and guilt-free. I think I even worked out harder now that I have a larger goal than just "to make me feel good and healthy" (which doesn't require as heavy of a workout). I wish that my own health was enough to motivate me, but sometimes I guess we gotta see the $green$ as well.

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June 24, 2006

My apartment is a nature reserve

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I am worried that we will be kicked out of our apartment because the Ministry of Environment will declare it a nature reserve. As I commented to Tomoe today, as much as we complain about living in Tokyo, citing a lack of nature and beauty, I am so amazed, every day, at the fascinating events happening just within the confines of our three room apartment.

As I wrote recently, a new visitor appeared in my garden - maybe or maybe not related to one of our boarders last year.

The garden itself is a source of constant joy and wonder. Last year it was pretty straightforward - some spinach, some komatsuna, and some radishes. Of course it was all "edible" (and the radishes were really good), but it was worth much more to me to have the pleasure of watching the moth larvae and aphids convert my garden into their own little city. I even invited some of the larvae in through the window and later raised the moths in my home - they, like Awii and Klee, were free to fly around the room or return to their always-open cage as they see fit.

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The spinach was much too small to make anything more than garnish for a single dinner for Tomoe and I, but to my delight, I discovered what a spinach seed looks like while on the spinach plant. So did Awii and Klee and they loved it (it's prefect because not only is it tasty and fresh, but it also includes the joy of picking at something).

I also had some nira, transplanted from Tomoe's mother's garden. Last year I felt like a failure because the nira was all but dead after the transplant. This year, however, it is growing strong - the only real "people food" crop we have this time.

Along with the strong nira, this years garden has taken on a much different, and much more fascinating personality. (Keep in mind, please, that this garden consists of three planters placed on the landlords roof, just outside my window.) It has a total surface area of less than one square meter. Yet, I am drawn to it every day. The first thing I do in the morning - after swatting away Awii and Klee, who begin climbing, exploring, and picking at my face and ears at the first sign that I am even half-awake - is to go to the kitchen, open the window, and gaze at my garden for a minute or so. I find myself repeating this up to ten or more times each day.

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The reason the garden is more interesting this year is that not only did I plant the "cash crops", but I also planted anything I could find that looked like it might grow. A lot of kitchen scraps, some beans, bird-seeds, and green things I never looked up, etc. and, in addition to these "experiments", I never pull anything out that happens to appear on its own. It's amazing what can pop-up in one square meter on the roof of an apartment in Tokyo. Some are "just grass", but they are growing tall and strong. A daikon found its way here somehow (in the kitchen scrap?), this guy is all over the place, and my favorite so far is a lone mushroom that dropped in for a visit (ask Tomoe how excited I was that morning!).

plant1

Of course, I did have "problems" this year getting some of the kitchen scraps, beans, and bird-seed sprouted. I would plant something one night, and open the window the next morning to find it had been dug up. At first I suspected the sparrows which frequent the garden when the window is closed, but one night I opened the window to see something small like a squirrel scamper away across the empty roof. The only thing is, squirrels are rare in Japan (Japanese friends are always captivated by the big plentiful squirrels that would come right up to your hand for food in Michigan). I am guessing that I have at least one rat in my little eco-system as well. (Without telling Tomoe, I have been leaving seeds for this little guy as well.)

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Finally, I have been checking daily on the progress of a little wasp bee "stingy thing" nest growing outside the bedroom window. Usually when I check it is empty, but I see that it is still growing, so I know that someone is working on it. Today was the first day that I actually saw the construction crew. There are only five or six of them now, and I know I will probably have to relocate it once it gets bigger, but how great is it to wake up every morning eager to see their progress!

baby2

June 23, 2006

Just when I thought...

a stroll in Nakano

Just when I thought I knew everything about... dendrochronology!

Reading more of Jared Diamond's book Collapse today as I walked to the market (to recycle some cans and bottles, of course), I was expecting my most interesting find of the day to be something about the stages between the North American south-west inhabitants' 11,000 year-old hunting-gathering lifestyle, and their pre-collapse, agriculture-based lifestyle in 1100 A.D.

Instead, I was left in awe, shaking my head in disbelief at just how simply ingenious dendrochronologists (Greek roots: dendron = tree + chronos = time) are with the methodologies they have developed for using tree rings to build very exact historical data.

Of course every school kid knows that counting the rings on trees tells you how old the tree is. School kids that even pay the slightest attention also know that thin rings mean years of drought, wider rings mean more growth, and scars from fire or what not can help indicate some climate related data from years past.

When I was a school kid though, I apparently was too busy wondering if I would get to sit next to Jessica the next time the desks were rearranged, to hear our teacher tell about how dendrochronologists can also use a combination of live trees, dead trees, and wooden beams used in construction of old buildings and what not to create tree ring records dating back for thousands of years.

Read on and be amazed at how simply ingenious it is. (for those who already know this - I feel sorry for your childhood which was obviously devoid of the perils of unrequited love).

* * *

So, lets say you have a big tree in your yard. It is estimated to be about three hundred years old. According to family lore, your great great great great great great grandmother once buried her beloved (dead, of course) parakeet at its foot. Now, the city has decided that they need to widen the road in front of your house in order to accommodate the expected increase in single-occupant SUV traffic headed to the new Big-Box store down the street. The tree will have to come down.

The future Big-Box site is an area which has, until now, been "just a forest" - inhabited only by animals n' stuff (what a complete waste of space!). It doesn't take long, however, before construction crews unearth the remains of an ancient structure, complete with stone tools, dishes, and human and animal bones. Following orders, the crew secretly relocate the remains to an illegal dumping site in the dark of night, lest those wussy "activists" find out and pressure the city into halting progress and economic growth in favor of a bunch of dead people whose culture was not even fit enough to survive into the year 2006.

A year after the big-box is built, all that remains of the tree that once marked your great great great great great great grandmother's pet parakeet's final resting place is your living room coffee table - a two-inch thick slice from the base of the trunk - now beautifully lacquered with lots of persistent toxic chemicals which bring out the "original luster". The parakeet's grave is now home to your TV/VCR/TIVO/DVD/Home Entertainment Center remote control, three empty beer cans, and a pizza-stained place mat.

Two years later a member of the original construction crew, now lying on his death bed with cancer caused by a lifetime of exposure to "show me the absolute proof that it is dangerous" asbestos, suddenly feels guilty about the way they hid what might have been an important archaeological find. He tells his son, who later tells one of his many dendrochronologist drinking buddies.

So what can the denrochrologists learn? (assuming they are not too drunk).

Well... this just made my day.

What they have:

  • Well preserved wood from an ancient ceremonial hall of unknown age - but presumed to be the oldest evidence of civilization in the area discovered to date.
  • Knowledge that there are probably other structures buried in the area. - After a long battle, well publicized bribing of government officials by Big-Box and, most importantly, revelations that a friend of the daughter of the Big-Box general-manager's cousin is... *gulp* GAY!, public sentiment finally tilts (just enough) against Big-Box allowing archaeologists to dig under the parking lot. (Until now, the public was vehemently against excavating the parking lot because it would mean they have to walk further to get from their car to the store.)
  • A 2 inch slab of a newly cut tree believed to be several hundred years old.
  • Pieces (in the museum) from houses built by the earliest European settlers - unfortunately, those settlers were an illiterate bunch, and there are no records of exactly when they arrived.

How can they tell how old the buried structures are? Based on my limited understanding):

  1. Check out the rings on the coffee table, carefully ignoring any rings that could have been prevented with a coaster. Let's say there are 400 rings, indicating of course, that the tree is actually 400 years old. This means that the tree felled in 2000 (to make the math easy) was "born" in 1600.
  2. Look for patterns in the rings that indicate drought years and wet years. It may be something like "7 thin, 3 thick, 5 thin, 1 fire-scared, 1 thin, 3 thick", a pattern which occurred when the tree was, say, 50 years old (1650).
  3. Look in the rings in the beams of the old City Hall. They look for the same "7-3-5-1-1-3" pattern in the wood. Let's say that pattern occurs 50 years (1650) before the tree was cut. This tree also happens to be exactly 400 years old.
  4. Count back from that 1650 pattern. Once they find the pattern, which occurred 350 years after that particular tree was "born", they now have ring records dating back 750 years.
  5. Look for patterns in wood from the Big-Box excavation site that match 700 year old rings in the Town Hall beams. And the process continues for even older and older beams found under the parking lot.

image taken without permission from The Ancient Bristlecone Pine

Eventually, those god-like dendrochronologists not only have tree ring records dating back thousands of years, providing insights into past civilizations and climate patterns in the region, but they will also have sobered up now that they finally have something to keep them busy and out of the bars.

As for you and your coffee table, the city is "persuaded" to claim the rest of your yard, your house, everything in it, and your children under "eminent domain" - in order to build a new "Ancient American Fun Land" amusement park (your children are required to play the role of "naked native kids").

* * *

Now, I'm sure that even this simple attempt of mine to share what I only learned about today is full of errors. If so, please don't contact me or tell me. I like to revel in my own false genius.

Jeez I have too much time on my hands!

Trees

June 22, 2006

Remembering Me

Not Skinny

Through a series of complex hapenins n' stuff, I ended up going through my archives - reading what I wrote about a looooongg time ago. Dang I used to be a better writer! (but my photos were not as good then)

Anyway, since I am running out of quality material these past few years (or else am feeling too self-conscious now about having more readers than I ever dreamed possible), I may go through my past postings and pick out things that have some special meaning to me, or that I think are especially delicious.

One is my reaction to a quote from an email I received from my mom back in April of 2002. It is interesting to me now because 1) I think I may actually drink more beer now than I did then; and 2) I hear a lot of similar talk about macrobiotics and raw-foodism and what not recently.


I guess I should not have had the beer tonight. It appears I would have been better off with tea.

From: Janet Cameron

Glad you have given up beer--it's a bad expensive habit. On the other hand tea cures all sorts of stuff like death

(Note: I am 100% convinced that there are great health benefits to both Macrobiotics and Raw-foodism compared to an average junk-food diet - but I am very reluctant to give cause-effect type healing attributes to the diet alone (as is often portrayed by advocates). I am guessing that there may also be a tendency for people who eat that kind of a diet to have a more health-conscious attitude, which leads to beneficial lifestyle choices, the sum-total of which is feeling better, a positive attitude, and less susceptibility to illness.)

* * *

Also around that time, my blog was a do-it-yourself programming project. I didn't even know what a "blog" was until after I started writing on mine. It led me to do a little research into this "blog" craze, and my reaction was:

I have been looking around at a lot of other web logs, and it appears the only thing they ever talk about is other web logs. Apparently it is a huge addiction in the online world. I guess I should have known that being a "web developer" and all...

I was soooooo friggin' cutting edge back then! What happened to me?

* * *

Which leads to my final remembrence - when I introduced my blog to Tomoe (via instant messenger):

What the experts are saying about The Bastish-net:
kevinwcam: have you seen the bastish-net?
tomoekawuk: what does that mean?
kevinwcam: bastish?
tomoekawuk: oh! you are the webmaster of it?!
kevinwcam: Its my site.
tomoekawuk: that IS cool!
a stroll in Nakano

Generations of Friends

baby1

So last summer I had a little visitor to my garden. She hung around for a few days looking, I hoped, for a place to settle down and raise a family. Once she disappeared however, I didn't see any egg-ish gifts left behind. Even if she had, according to my sources, her eggs would be there all winter and hatch in spring.

Fast forward to two days ago. As I sat and stared at my pathetic garden, as I often do, I noticed a little mantid nymph sitting on my bean stalk. He was not much bigger than the letter "I" that you see right here.

I am guessing my garden is was just a stopover as he/she tries to strike out on his own, as I found no evidence of his brothers and sisters as seen in these photos.

It's amazing to think that he will one day be big enough to catch and eat a bird.

As of this morning, he appears to have moved on, and I don't know if I will find any of his siblings in the coming days, but I can take comfort in the fact that some of his cousins will probably be showing up in our kitchen soon. (from a post I made November 8, 2005)

I learn something new every day. I had no idea that my new friend (now seemingly gone for good) is actually related to my old friends, the cockroach. Of course, we as humans tend to like the praying mantis much more than a cockroach, or most other bugs for that matter. One reason is that we identify with them simply because they, unlike most other insects, can turn their head -this makes them appear more "human" to us. My how simplistic the human thought process is!

Via a Science Friday interview with Piotr Naskrecki about his book The Smaller Majority (newly added to my "really, really wanna read and hope I get to it list").

Ninety percent of the known species on Earth are smaller than a human finger. We'll talk with zoologist and photographer Piotr Naskrecki about the Smaller Majority the title -- and subject -- of his new book.
baby3

June 20, 2006

Nifty Tricks

I thought this was a nifty trick.

  1. Stare at the gray dot in the middle of the image for 20-30 seconds.
  2. Move your mouse over the image and stare for 5-10 more seconds.
  3. Move your eyes a bit, or focus on another point in the image.

NOTE: May not work in your RSS reader. IF that is the case, don't get all b****y like some readers

Try it out before it becomes as ubiquitous as those miniature city-scape photos (unless it already is and I just haven't noticed it yet.) You can see a tutorial about how to do this at JohnSadowski.com

* * *

Big thanks to everyone who congratulated me on the completion of all the hard work it took to convince Tomoe to marry me (it took eight years!), and congratulated her in building up the courage. We thought about maybe going out to dinner or something last night to celebrate, but Tomoe had to work late (and got in trouble for coming into work late). We decided it is probably better just to wait until the weekend - figuring that the exact day is not so important. Likewise, we have decided that our anniversary is not "June 19". Rather, it is "June". So any time in June is acceptable to celebrate - even if we miss the exact day.

Special thanks to Chucky for the home brewed stout. It has been so long since I have enjoyed real beer - you know, the kind with actual flavor!

* * *

In the last news, I was invited to give a second lecture today, but unfortunately I was not able to get it done in time. I decided to just "wing" it with what I had, but I left a little too late and got really held up at Kinkos making copies of the handout, so I missed the whole thing.

It teaches me that I should have a few presentations in my back pocket "just in case" someone wants to hear me talk.

June 19, 2006

Sometimes life is like a bad movie.

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My life is like a movie - nothing really funny happens, so I guess its not a comedy, certainly no aliens or demon possessed child, I am not a cowboy, and there is not really that much drama... so I am at a loss to figure out what genre it would fit into, but I do recognize some small aspects that Hollywood tends to employ every now and then. Maybe it's a not-so-romantic, not-so-funny, not-so-dramatic romantic comedy drama.

Take last Thursday for instance. I had been out late the night before running and drinking with the hash. I got home around mid-night, showered, and spent some time chatting with Tomoe. I probably didn't get to sleep until past 1 am. Although I usually tend to pass out around midnight, I told myself its not that late. I should have been more careful though, because the next morning... (this is where the movie plot part begins) continue reading...

I SLEPT IN AND MISSED MY OWN WEDDING!!!

Luckily, Tomoe also slept in and missed the wedding. And we wasn't completely an accident. In fact, we woke up with the alarm, looked at each other and decided (without actually talking about it) that we should really just sleep longer and get married next week.

So, that's what we did today. These photos are our only wedding photos, but I probably wont ever put them in the "Weddings" section of my portfolio if I should ever become a professional photographer. It would have been nice to try for a better photo, but we had to go a little further away to file the paperwork than expected, and Tomoe was already late for work, so immediately after taking this photo, she hopped on her bike and took off. Come to think of it, I didn't even get a chance to kiss the bride.

(NOTE: The second picture is meant to have some proof in the future that she was, at least at one point in time, happily married)

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June 18, 2006

Connections and Collapse

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I know, I know, I'm way behind the times. I happened to be into BookFirst (one of the big bookstores in Tokyo That has English books - and a much bigger selection than the local library where I have been getting most of my "physical" reading material lately) and happened to see Jared Diamond's Collapse for only 2,000 yen, which is pretty much equivalent to the cover price (unlike Kinokuniya where there is a big markup for foreign books). It's one of those books that had been on my list for a year or so, so I picked it up.

After a mosquito-filled evening in the park (to ensure I am not distracted by the computer) I scrapped the content I had been thinking about for my second Environmental Science lecture at the University. (Yes, after my brilliant lecture Friday I was invited back if I had anything else to talk about - mainly though, this is because the students who were supposed to be giving their final presentations on Tuesday weren't in class Friday, and the instructor had nothing prepared so he needed to fill some time.)

Anyway, I didn't know what to talk about, but I like talking so I told him I would try to figure something out. Reading the first chapter of Collapse, about Bitterroot Valley in Montana, I had found my material.

There is really no groundbreaking new information in that first chapter, but Diamond draws a really great picture of the complexity involved in making environmental or "sustainability" decisions. Not only does he give clear and compelling descriptions of some of the unexpected side-effects of logging (a stream running through the deforested area does not have the benefit of shade, causing the temperatures to rise and effecting fish spawning behaviors), legacies of forest-fire prevention strategies a century ago (and how they skew people's view of what "natural" is), mining, invasive species, agricultural practices on soil quality, social conditions leading the development of those practices, and climate change on water for irrigation, but he also draws the societal connections - he develops an easy to follow story about how these things effect the people living in the area, and some social and economic factors involved in the decisions made regarding the environment. What's even better, he presents his story from various view-points - making the developers', miners' and loggers' view-points as compelling and human as the family farmers' and week-end environmentalists' viewpoints.

In very a very short time, he presents a clear image of the complex web of social and ecological interactions that influence decision making with regards to environmental policy without drawing any conclusions as to what is "right" or "wrong". This is something I am always longing for - to get a clear, coolheaded, unbiased insight into "the other guy's" reasons - but can rarely find in our current polarized society where we are inundated with misinformation and spin from both sides.

Granted, this is just a single chapter that can hardly be thought of as a "complete" view of such a complex socio-ecnomic-ecological system, but If I could somehow adapt this forest chapter into a lecture even a tenth as brilliant as he writes about it, it could very well be the most important thing the students learn in this particular class.

Or so I, as the would-be brilliant lecturer, would like to think.

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June 17, 2006

G, I love riding my bike and listening to G Love

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In any bike tour over 2000+ meter mountains, there is always the dilemma of "just how do I make the loooonnnng boring downhill crusing more exciting?"

Well, something I discovered this time - the first time I brought my new (used) iPod with me - is that listening to NPR or a Berkley Intro to Economics podcast is NOT the answer.

Yes, before I left, I filled my iPod with all the great podcasts I used to listen to as I rode my bike to work and back - lots of NPR stuff, some ABC news stuff, NewsWeek, and some of the courses I have been following from Berkley's open course podcast directory. (Animal Behavior, Nutrition, and Economics). Just because there was more room on the iPod, I threw on some of the albums I bought from iTunes recently but had not had enough time to listen to - fully expecting that I would never listen to them.

The reason I was putting the more informative stuff on there was to make the urban stretched more enjoyable. A little to my surprise, the time I was least interested in listening is when I was concentrating hard on riding up the mountains, even though that was the time I was going slowest, sometimes at 8km/hr or less. (partly this was because these are some of the best times to really concentrate on your surroundings - your riding slow, there are no cars around, and copious vegetation to view and birds to listen to)

Anyway, I found that when you are riding down a mountain - especially a looonnnngg mountain, with a 40 - 60 minute curvy downhill cruise, with no cars, starting above the tree-line, passing through small villages, and ending in a more urban zone - the best thing to listen to at these times is....

G Love.

Of course, you have to be sure to arrange the songs in alphabetical order, rather than the order on the album (my iPod seems to have arranged them like that by default so I was lucky).

Imagine, if you can, reaching the top of a 2,000 meter mountain pass. You take a minute to look around, to rest, and to meditate on the joy that lies ahead of you. Then, slowly (for the dramatic effect), you put in your ear-buds, double check to make sure the iPod is secure on your belt, and hit play.

The first song is "Astronaut". (Listen to a sample from Amazon and feel what I feel)

As you place your hands back onto the handle bars, and your feet back onto the peddles, the dong begins...

Hit it G

There is a pregnant pause - silence- as your muscles work to get your bike started - the little push needed before it all starts to flow.

As you begin to pedal, still at the top of the hill, the music breaks into a simple adrenalin starting guitar riff...

Just when gravity begins to take over, and the ride really begins, a second guitar adds similar momentum to the song with a simple scratch on the strings, and within seconds the drums have started and the music is in full swing, in perfect sync with your bike which is now effortlessly cruising at 20km/hr and gaining speed with every second.

Before long G Love breaks in with his lyrics, interspersed with drum breakdowns and guitar riffs... perfectly timed so that just when you hit 50km/hr he is singing

... it's a good time to blast off to space.

Flowing effortlessly, as the bike flows effortlessly into the first curve, into the refrain

Right about now
Awwww, Mama I'm an Astronaut...

And you really do feel like an astronaut, flying down the mountain... or maybe even better, knowing that you made it to the top relying on nothing but your own strength, power, and hard work.

If you listen in alphabetical order, the next song is "Don't Drop It" (Amazon) - a much mellower song, just as the initial adrenalin is wearing down, but still "grooving" enough to work well with the frequent turns that are common at higher altitudes. It's a good rest before...

"Love". Once again the tempo picks up - this time much more "free and joyfull" than the hard core adrenaline pumping "astronaut". The tempo, chords, and lyrics are perfect as by now the turns are a little less frequent, like the song, the road flows more evenly. (You can see a complete video of "love" at the G-Love site - click on "media >> **LAUNCH NEW PHILADELPHONIC VIDEO PLAYER**". To my suprise, the video depicts him riding his bike, turning on his iPod and enjoying the song as he rides - obviously feeling *exactly* as I feel when I hear it riding down the mountain! I - SWEAR- I never saw this video until just now! It's as if he made the entire album to be listened to by bike.)

By the time Love is over there may be a little more traffic if you have passed any tributary roads on the way down. You are feeling high and having fun. "Booty Call" (Amazon) is perfect. Mellow, yet "beautiful", telling a fun story.

neither one of us wanted to give love a try
but we would talk, talk, laugh and have a ball
but then we got drunk and fooled around and had a booty call
a booty call
aint nuthin wrong with a bootycall
everybody like a bootycall
now and then

And let's not forget the ultra catchy refrain which, once you hear, will keep popping up in your mind at the most inconvenient times.

sing
i can tell that were gonna be freinds
i can tell that were gonna be freinds

By now, even though the bike may not be slowing down, your hands are getting tired, and your getting used to the "thrill" it's perfect timing for the mellow regae beat of "Give it to you" (Amazon), followed by the most mellow of all, "The Hustle" (Amazon / video), perfectly timed to coincide with the very bottom of your adrenaline rush and the point in which you start to see more houses, cars, and other signs of civilization, signaling that the "adventure" portion of the ride is over.

After this, it doesn't really matter as much, but the songs keep coming with the perfect combination of tempo that matches the still downhill cruise, and a mellowness such as the next song, "Front Porch Lounger" which contains the perfect lyric for riding into the sunset:

And I'm going
Where the summer never ends.
Yes I'm going...
On my way, on my way

Followed of course by the mellowest of all, "Lovin' Me" ((Amazon)

And although they tend to blend into each other in the last half of the ride, how could I not mention the oh so fun beat of "Back of the Bus" ((Amazon)

In the back of the bus its a make out session
she's got the salad an I've got the dressing

All the cool kids in the back of the bus
Rubba dubba scrubba bubba
Whatchu talkin' bout gus?
breakin the rules
I hope we don't get caught sha la la la la la la la la

June 15, 2006

Faith Based Carnivorism

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One of my favorite blogs, Environmental Economics, has posted a follow-up to a really great conversation they are having (littered with some less-thoughtful babble) about the economics and ethics of eating meat.

The economic facts cited regarding eating meat are all sound. - Namely that the only reason meat is so dang cheap now, allowing us to eat so much, is that corn subsidies skew the market. If we were really paying full price for the beef, including all the externalities, it would not be as cheap or widely consumed as it is today.

The thing that really gets me, though, about the arguments against him is people equating religion with the ethics of not wanting to harm living, scientifically proven sentient beings.

I mean, as far as I can tell, religion, or faith, as we know it in our day and age, is basically believing in something despite the fact that there is no scientifically validate-able evidence for it - or in some cases, believing in something despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against it.

In this case, some commenters claim that the authors bias toward not causing pain to other living sentient creatures is a "religion". How? Where is the faith aspect? Are the commenters trying to say that believing that animals can feel pain is a "faith-based" belief? I'm sorry, but lets take a look inside one of these poor creatures and see all the nerves. Yes it is scientifically proven evident that animals feel pain. Is the commenter saying that animals don't have thoughts, and that believing they do is "religion"? Sorry again, animals have brains and many animals have IQs higher than that of infants. Although I don't condone it, anyone taking the stance that killing animals is OK because they are not as smart as humans would also have to condone abortion, and in fact, post-natal abortions (and cannibalism?) on the same grounds.

There is no "religion" involved in believing that animals can suffer, and not wanting to be the cause of that suffering. On the other hand, the belief that animals are somehow fundamentally different than humans because they "don't have souls" *is* a faith-based religious belief - were it not, one would think that there would be abundant empirical evidence that 1) humans have "souls", and 2) Animals do not. So isn't the argument *for* eating meat more of a religious argument?

How long will it take before people begin to see that we are not the only living creatures with a right to live on this earth? How long will it be before people are enlightened enough to see that most of us don't need animal products, and even for those that may, that they don't need so much that justifies our unbelievably inhumane treatment? How long will it be before people feel the same way about enslaving cattle and birds as they once did about enslaving people?

I wonder if it is only with the advent of our modern religions that people have come to believe that disrespect for other living beings is the norm, and that having respect for other living beings constitutes "religion".

*Confession. I ate chicken this week. And I am feeling the guilt. I am relatively sure the chicken was grown in a tiny pen where it spent it's entire short life... a life I would rather die at birth than experience... Yet I do it, for some reason, because I am too week to stand up to the social norms, or to wait until I get home from the restaurant to eat my less-destructive, less-pain-inflicting vegan meal... What makes it feel worse was that I was with a fellow "eco-minded" individual and strategic eater... it's not like we pressured each other into getting the chicken, but for some reason I didn't feel like "making a stand" or what not, and just because it was easy, I ordered the chicken. I can only hope that it's instances like this where, upon reflection, I clearly had no reason to contribute to the torture of chickens, and my reflections on those instances, that perhaps will one day free me from the mindset I have inherited from such an illogical society.

*Confession update. I went out again with the same eco-minded individual and his partner Friday. This time we made it a point to choose a vegetarian friendly place (vegan is still *way* to far out there for Tokyo to comprehend). Anyway, this time we had veggie curry with nan-bread, so I feel all cozy and warm now...

Like the cherry blossom

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I'm an incredibly calm guy.

I spent the morning looking over some DVD recording of lectures from may year in Sweden (looking for any material I can steal for my lecture Friday), and as I fast-forwarded through them, one thing really stood out. The people around me are jumping all around wiggling and what not. I am almost completely still through the whole video. It's almost as if I was dead - although I was completely engaged, I just looked dead.

Other things I noticed are how loud some people talk.

I also, for the first time, took a look at all the short self-intros we gave in the first week of the program. It was interesting watching to see who lived up to the impression they made then, and who blew that impression out of the water. I was also interested to see how much of a stud I was back then... and that I was wearing the exact same t-shirt that I am wearing as I write this (of course, I only own about three t-shirts)

The final thing I noticed was that I had my iBook in the class... it brought back memories of when the display and keyboard used to work... oh how time passes quickly, and my iBook is like the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom.

June 13, 2006

Less bad news, more good.

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My brain tumor seems to be subsiding, and I am learning how to use a computer without a keyboard (only mouse). It is actually a little easier than you would expect. There is a little keyboard viewer app which allows me to click on the letter I want to type, and if I need an upper-case letter (because I can't click on the shift key and a letter key at the same time, and Caps-lock doesn't work) I have to find that letter in some other file, copy it, and paste it into wherever I want to type it.

Don't worry though, I am not typing this on the broken keyboard...

In other news, I just got back from an Environmental Science course at a University here in Tokyo. I have been asked to give a little lecture Friday and since I have so much time on my hands, I thought I would see what the class is like today. I can't wait to give the talk - talking in front of people scares the crap out of me, but that is exactly why I love it... what a rush.

Anyway, there is also talk of me getting some part time work as instructor there in the fall. That would be su-well.

In other other news... no other news. (I have lots to tell about the bike trip, but I am trying to put it into coherent chunks.)

Negativity? Trolling? Truth?

I'm back!

Meaning, I've made the switch back... to PC (for the time being).

I am currently just using a laptop on loan from a client, and downgraded to Photoshop 6, but I am amazed at how much faster it runs than CS ran on my iBook! And not just photoshop... everything works at the instant I click it. Not more waiting for the mail to open, or that new browser tab to appear.

Although I can't count on having this loan compupter for long, and am reluctant to get too settled in, I have been looking at PCs and find some which seem to be very comparable (I can't really say for sure that they are better) than the new MacBook, but I am dang sure that the apps I use the most (Photoshop, email, Firefox, and text-editor) will work faster on the PC. For one thing, from what I read, Photoshop, which already runs unbelievably slow on my iBook, would be even slower on the new MacBook. Mail, which I was never happy with is slower than Outlook (I see that already when comparing my work mail on PC to my personal mail on Mac. And as for text editing, UltraEdit has long kicked BBEdits arse. I kinda forgot about it for a while until I started using Windows again for work.

I'm pretty excited about it. But strangly I am still not convinved that I should buy a PC - mainly because the MacBook can run Windows wich would make it possible for me to have Mac in the bacground for the rare time I have to test somethin on a Mac browser (as if any clients or clients' clients actually used Mac).

Of course then there is the issue of using Mac hardware which has, in my experience, proven to be much less reliable than my old 2001 Dynabook (which would still be workable if I had not somehow cracked the screen - as oppsed to the iBook screen which crapped out because it was cracked inside and scotch-taped together before I got it. But the MacBook is a newer Mac, so maybe they got better...

June 11, 2006

Nothing to worry about

Japan Villiage

So, on the trip I lost the feeling in my pinky and ring-finger. I attributed it to the way I was holding the handle-bars or something, but after a day of not riding it does not feel any better. Anyone (mom) who watches' those scare-news-shows like 20/20 and Nightline that has heard about a killer disease that starts with the loss of feeling in your pinky and middle finger?

At first I thought it might have something to do with the tick I found sucking my blood a few days ago - I pulled him off in the morning and later in the afternoon I saw what I thought might have been the "Lyme ring". By the time I got to a hospital a few days later though, it was gone. The doctor was clueless and told me "Don't worry, in Japanese people Lyme disease only causes the rash, but none of the other side effects such as muscle and joint pain". Perhaps he did not notice that I was not Japanese.

Anyway, I got some antibiotics for the Lyme disease "just in case", but am pretty sure it is not related to the numbness in my fingers. It sounds awfully fast for symptoms to show up...

Doing some web searching about the numbness, I have determined that it is either a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome, TOS, MS, or a brain tumor. So nothing really to worry about there.

In other news, my iBook which shipped with a defective screen and scotch-taped inner components is finally unusable. In an unexpected twist however, this time is was my fault - well, Klee's fault really. She dumped a glass of water on the keyboard and now it does funny things. I had hoped it would dry and be OK, but so far no-good.

All bike trips end early

Chichibu

I try to rationalize it - to appease the voice in my head whispering "failure... failure..." - by citing some obvious reasons that I, after only 530km, would have boarded a bus today at 6pm to take me those last 170 km home.

My bike bag broke, making it more difficult to carry all the things I didn't need to bring in the first place - culminating in the loss of my water and some of my food somewhere between Suwa and Fujimi. I got lost before the Suwa mountain crossing causing my to loose a valuable hour. Combined with my late start, it almost assured that it would be impossible to make it to where I had to be in order to make it home one time tomorrow (not to mention the time lost trying to cope with the broken bike bag). Even if everything had gone according to plan, the plan was a bad one - requiring me to take the Koushyukaido 200+ kilometers from Suwa to Shinjyuku. While in the city is actually not that bad, relatively speaking, there is no joy spending ten hours riding on this narrow, car-crowded road in mountainous areas with no "prize" - i.e. an onesen or glorious downhill ride - awaiting me at the end.

But then, as the bus pulled into Shinjyuku terminal, I felt something strange... comfort or relief. Could it be that I actually missed Tokyo? As I looked out the bus widow, I saw the overcrowded streets as I only do when returning from the much more civilized countryside. People, people, and more people. Some happy, some bored, some overworked, some in a hurry, some not, but all of them... all of them seemed to fit in to their environment.

Maybe I was OK with returning to this city I love to hate because - having spent a week traveling through places in Japan where interaction (facilitated by a bike with bulging bags and a big bald foreigner) comes much more easily. Perhaps the increased interaction leads to understanding and means that I am that much more equipped to observe the people in their environment with the same wonder as I did the insects and plant life I saw in the various ecosystems along the way.

Maybe it's a yin/yang balance thing... too much time in either place and I need more time in the other. So is Tokyo yin or yang?

Then again, maybe it was just because I couldn't wait to see Tomoe and the birds.

One thing I do know however, is that I am ready to go back out tomorrow next week.

June 04, 2006

Off to Nagano

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So I'm off by bike for a business trip to Nagano for a week. This time no train or bus - straight from my apartment, across tokyo and Saitama, through Chichibu, and over the mountains and into Nagano. I was supposed to leave a few days ago, but some unexpected work popped up and I thought it would be good to pay the rent this month.

This time I am alone, so I should have much more time to take photos, and there should be fewer photos of Tomoe.

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June 01, 2006

The Commute

The Commute

Believe it or not, the thing I miss about going to an office is the commute. No really.

But not the train commute, and thank God I don't have to drive.

I miss the bike commute. Last month I went into the client's office much more than I do now (only twice in June) so I was really getting good at shaving off valuable seconds and minutes to the point where riding the bike to work only took five minutes more (40-45) than taking the subway (35-40).

Now, the subway has the benefit of providing time to read, but biking has the benefit of listening to NPR podcasts. What's more, on part of the route Tomoe and I take (she rides it every day now) we get to cruise down a beautiful, wide, car-free path around the Emperor's palace. It was especially invigorating a few weeks ago when the flowers were blooming and the air was a bit crisper. Now, as summer sets in, that particular portion is still nice, but Tomoe is complaining that she needs to find another route to spice up the commute.

For some reason the other people in the office are always amazed that anyone would ride a bike -gasp- 40 minutes! Which, I guess, is part of the fun - doing something different. (remember now, this is a sustainability consultancy that, in theory, believes that more people should commute by bike.)

Of course, we do have the luxury of living quite close to the city center (yet as nice a neighborhood as they come in Tokyo), which means that we can reach most activities within a 45-60 minute ride. What is unfathomable to me is that some people working on our office actually take the train for over an hour to get to work.

I actually used to do this - back when I first came to Tokyo I lived 50 minutes and two transfers from my 4-days-a-week job. One day a week I had a 1.75 hour commute each way with three transfers and 15 minute walk at one of those transfers. Needless to say, that was not my favorite day.

After a few months of that, I changed jobs to where I worked only a 7 minute train-ride from home. Very quickly though, I moved to a 30 minute, one-transfer ride on a major in-bound line. Again, it sucked. It especially sucked in the summer when the train was full of sweaty men in suits, stuffy air, and steamy windows.

That is when I first started biking to work. That bike trip was also 30 minutes exactly. Despite the crappiness of riding a bike with a suit in the summer, I kept it up because it was much better than that crowded train.

I eventually changed jobs to where I was working about 25 minute direct train ride (on the same line) from home. The difference was that this time I was one of the few people taking the train out of Tokyo. There was always a seat, and it was always pleasantly cool. When this happened I lost the habit of biking to work except for in spring and fall when the weather was nice and I could follow the river right outside my window right up to the office door, passing through one of the most popular parks in Tokyo along the way.

The ride to work now is not nearly as nice, even with the section riding by the palace, but we have become more accustomed to riding with cars, and because we are riding through the middle of the city the drivers are a little more aware of bikers (especially at that hour there are a lot of bike delivery people)

Even still, when Tomoe gets on her bike to head to the office, I am often setting out on my morning jog, running in circles, but I still feel a bit of jealousy that she actually has an actual destination.