Sunday, February 27, 2005

Japan #11 - Lazy Nara pics

(At the end of August/beginning of September 2004 I took a pleasure trip to Japan. I meant to have all the blog postings done in the first week, I'm now on track to have it done within 90 days months of the trip.)

By the time I got to Nara a day later after Kyoto, I was starting to feel ill (probably had something to do with the five pounds of raw fish I ate earlier in the week). As well around this time, I came to my wits end with another aggravating bit d'Nippon: the absolute dearth of places that accept credit cards. If you picture the U.S. in the early eighties, you'll get the picture. I was particularly tweaked since I could walk down to the end of my street and pay for a Big Mac with my credit card, but in Japan, I had to pay cash for my friggin' $300 hotel bill! There were a variety of reasons why we didn't bring a mountain of money, but my last few days were none too pleasant due to this issue. It was also about this time that I realized that 400MB worth of SD card (more than 300 pics worth) was not nearly enough and I had to take pictures sparingly until I got to get taken on an SD card at Akihabara a couple days later.

Nara is home to several pagodas and a giant, impressive Buddha. I tried in vain to get a picture that would convey the sheer size of this Buddha, but it was all for not. Since it is enclosed in a building barely bigger than it is, it's impossible to get a picture with any apt size comparison.

This was, also, the first time that we had slept on tatami mats in a hotel that sported an onsen instead of a traditional western bathroom arrangement (the rooms didn't have a bathroom, there was shared restroom on the floor (which was a real joy to go to in the middle of the night), and a shared (though gender separated) bathing areas in the basement). The mat setup was somewhere between the comfort level of a normal bed and camping in a sleeping bag. I didn't have any problem with it, and I can picture sleeping in that fashion on an ongoing basis, except for one fact: it's amazingly difficult to scrape yourself off the ground, especially when you're still groggy (and hungover...from jetlag). While at the hotel, I also had a bit of a revelation, I was going to save this bit for later, but since I had the revelation here, it's a good time to bring it up.

I, along with many other Americans, had been raised to believe that Japanese are neat freaks. Although this is true to a certain extent, sitting on a stool in the onsen got me wondering as to how many butts that thing had seen (lots) and how many times it had been sanitized (not lots). I then remembered back to Hiroshima at the okonomiyaki bar where they had a two liter tupperware jug of mayonnaise that had obviously, from it's sick, semi-translucent, yellow color, had not seen the inside of a refrigerator for several hours, or possibly days. This in and of itself might be forgivable except for the fact that the handful of times I had seen mayonnaise in Japan up to Nara, it had been in the same condition. Then I recalled that public restrooms rarely had hand tissues (though at least half had soap) and that, despite the army of vending machines in the country, I found myself carrying backpacks of garbage because of the lack of garbage cans (slash recycling centers) in the country. At that moment, sitting on that porous, warm, moist, germ factory of a stool, that realized that the legendary Japanese cleanliness was at best, half true. (Compounding this fact, I heard a second hand story about how some restaurants offer free to use chopsticks that rest in a sickly, never changed pail of water that patrons put and retrieve their used chopsticks from when they want to eat, yummy!)

Well, enough complaining, how about some pictures!

At a restaurant we went to, the patrons would purchase sake and put whatever they didn't finish on the shelf with their name on it. At least that's what we were told, it still seems hard to believe. Sake goes down pretty smooth, so I can't picture anyone not being able to finish it, and, from what I know, unsealed, unrefrigerated sake would go stale before too long.

Nara has several beautiful pagodas. This is a shot from the our onsen enabled hotel room.

If a town in the U.S. had the number of deer that Nara does, there would be sharpshooters about. It was pretty entertaining though to see the deer going after silly school kids playing around with the deer treats they sell on the street (the deer are quite aggressive, especially the bucks).

This is the giant Buddha, it took up just about the entirety of the huge building pictured below...

My buddy's wife makes a successful attempt to make it through a hole that is the same size as one of the Buddha's nostrils, in a support pillar in the building . I'm about twenty years too old to come close to trying it.

(When I decided to wrap this post up, I discovered I had started writing it back in November, ugh.)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Lazy IT Bank People

From A New Cyber-Security Breach:
The U.S. official said that federal law enforcement is investigating the loss of several Bank of America data backup tapes that were being transferred across country by air when they disappeared in December. "We are proactively sending letters to [at least 1.2 million] impacted cardholders," said Alexandra Trower, spokesperson for Charlotte-based Bank of America.

And these tapes weren't encrypted why? Whenever I see a story like this, I figure there's an IT guy behind the story who is going to be in the unemployment office the next day. For a stupid screwup like this, the CIO should get canned. I work at a facility where I can get away without encrypting the tapes (though it's only a checkbox away from doing so) because the costs to acquire the hardware and software to retrieve the data outwiegh the benifits from doing so; a bank should know better. This reminded me of a couple stories last year about virus infections at some major banks. No excuses for something like that, some stupid IT person should get the boot!

More IT winners here.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Have I mentioned that I hate M$

I've been busy busy busy. It looks like I talked my boss into making me get certified on the Microsoft database product, and since it would be just a few tests away, I'm going to shoot for updating my MCSE to Windows 2003. I'm dreading this pretty good; after about the twentieth time you cram your head full of crap to puke back up on a certification exam (and then promptly forget), your brain is like "couldn't I have been a garbage man or something, this sucks".

Well almost nothing in my job sucks worse than developing the omnibus licensing package for Microsoft products. This has to be done once every two or three years and it consists of patching together the right combination of twenty different products within a half a dozen purchasing options from Microsoft. This is roughly the equivalent (and is every bit as exciting) of going into Walmart to buy toilet paper and having to buy 20 different types of toilet paper that go bad within a year (maybe) at different subscription levels to have it delivered to your house. I've never had a less pleasing brain cramp than trying to figure that stuff out, and apparently M$ has caught onto this and now has not one, but three certification exams at a $100 a pop on how do to licensing for their products. UNBELIEVABLY THRILLING!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Isn't that the case?

From John Derbyshire on Diversity on National Review Online:
The whole affair, in fact, was running on estrogen. The general atmosphere was that peculiar mix of insistent niceness and angry menace that women are so good at. We are frail, sweet, and sorely oppressed, and you had better be nice to us... OTHERWISE WE WILL SMASH YOU TO PIECES.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Anime a go-go

Jill states:
I dont get all the hype about anime....what's all the excitement about. Me..I prefer the ole bugs bunny toons. ;)
I was going to put up a quick comment before I realized this point really deserves it's own post. Anime fanboys (and fangirls...fanpersons? screw all that) generally fall into the following categories:
  1. Kids. Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon are rarely considered real anime by any anime fan, but if you go to the anime section at Suncoast, it's there.
  2. Japanese fanboys. These are people who have a fascination with Japanese culture and all things in it. These types are extremely unreliable when it comes to spotting bad anime, and are usually the first to offer their opinion on which one's they like. Although I have one foot firmly in this category, if I get an anime suggestion from a fan boy, that tells me it's probably unwatchable crap.
  3. ADD Junkies. These types usually love anime as a form more than anything else. For them the pleasure is in watching lots of pretty colors moving around. I can say that I have one foot firmly in this group as well. Members of this group can also be separated by the fact that they are junkies for ALL animation. I have Warner Brothers, Pixar, Disney, The Simpsons and Futurama DVDs in addition to my inextensible anime collection.
  4. Eurotrash. I went to watch Spirited Away at a local theater a couple years back. I was expecting families and the aforementioned 'Japanese fanboys', but instead it was full of Michael Moore lovin', goatee wearin' Eurotrash. These types have no love for the anime form apart from the fact that it isn't American.
  5. Perverts. Yeah, I wish it wasn't so. It's not unusual for me to tell someone who is vaguely unaware of anime that I like Japanese animation, and their first response be "oh, that tentacle porn stuff...". If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you probably don't want to know (Do an unsafe Google image search for the word 'tentacle'. A hint: your first hits will have nothing to do with octopuses). This genre, for all that some might find appealing, brings down the already shaky reputation of anime fans.

Writing this article up reminded of the geek hierarchy chart over at the now defunct Brunching Shuttlecocks. For anyone who feels themselves in any way geeky, this is worth checking out.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Journey to the Middle of Nowhere

Welcome to scenic central Michigan!

Shortly before I was done recovering from the flu, I had to drive off to one of my company's operations in the middle of nowhere Michigan. I'm being intentionally vague since I know any mention of the actual place will show up like a rash on Google. I've made it abundantly clear to anyone who will ask (and many who don't) that I love Michigan about as much as I love a fresh dog steamer. During the last presidential election cycle, I was waiting for one of the candidates to say
I know this place has a lot of electoral votes, but I hate this hole; whatever isn't covered with rust belt blight is besieged by hillbillys living in the middle of nowhere. So screw you and your stinkin' electoral votes, even I can't talk up this dump!
Yeah I'm bitter. I guess what makes it worse is the extreme love that the natives have for the place. I've yet to meet an Ohioan who wouldn't take or leave the place: it just happens to be someplace to live. Michiganers, on the other hand, think they live in some midwestern panacea. Many natives don't even know anyone who has even gone to Michigan State (or Michigan U, WTF ever), but that doesn't stop them from exhibiting a level of fanaticism only outdone by the hicks and hayseeds who live south of the Ohio River (or occasionally, in it).

I know: "Poor Sandmich, he has to go to nowhere Michigan and drink beer, eat one pound steaks, and watch Cartoon Network, all on the company dime! Boo-friggin' whoo!"

I'll have you know though that I did some work for a guy who was complaining about having to go out to Arizona on occasion. On top of that, the guy's wife works for a company that curses them with having to go to Japan a couple times a year: BASTARD!

But Arizona? Try a four hour drive through the rust belt wastes in the middle of winter, it's a FRIGGIN' RIOT! Only having the Chemical Brothers cranked up to a brain jelling volume can you cut through the travesty of the situation. They did finally get DSL at the hotel, and it worked ONE night. And I used that to post a blog entry about the editorial content of USAToday. Of course reading USAToday makes me realize there are things lamer than central Michigan.

(On a side note, I visited a grocery store in this rustic hole and the produce was at least half as much as it is a Cleveland stores, and it actually looked edible. When I told a bar fly I was from Cleveland (but I always quickly add: "grew up in Cincinnati!"), the first thing he says is "Oh yeah, poorest city in the country". Thanks...)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Glad he cleared that up!

A DeWayne (DeSandmich?) Wickman over at USAToday has taken it upon himself to resolve some myths about the civil war. How about a little fisking?
Relegating the celebration [of black history] to the shortest month of the year gives short shrift to the many contributions blacks have made to this nation.
Good golly, not that bildge again! How does that even count as a thoughtful aside? I was waiting for him to start talking about how pool is a racist game, while bowling is his favorite. (Like his aside, the joke is too tired to flesh out here).
Myth No. 1: Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.
Oh geez. I guess the South seceeded once Lincoln was elected because the didn't like his choice in hats! After some left wing bilge that only the likes of Jefferson Davis would find acceptable, he wraps up his 'argument':
Slavery was actually ended on Dec. 18, 1865 - eight months after Lincoln's assassination, when the Constitution's 13th Amendment was ratified.
Five years after Lincoln was first elected, slavery was ended, it's just a HUGE COINCIDENCE! How about myth number two?
Myth No.2:The Civil War was fought over states' rights, not slavery.
It makes you wonder why all those black soldiers in the Union were fighting for "states rights" and not their freedom! Give me a break, what was the 'state right' that was worth dying over by the thousands a day? Forestry management? Interstate road maintenance? C'mon DeWayne, sit on that egg for a month or two it'll come to you!

Too many latter day liberals perpetuate these myths in, what I can only believe is, an effort to remove any credit white America might get for ending slavery. Of course in the process, they denigrate the heroic efforts of American Blacks during that time period. Also in this train of thought, the South is given a pass; after all, if the North was doing nothing to help free the slaves, then the South wasn't fighting to keep blacks enslaved.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Mr. Cheeks the Frenchman

Probably no one reading this has ever seen the Ultimate Muscle cartoon (except for my one brother who I forced to sit through my DVD), and I must say you're missing out on life. Like many Saturday morning cartoons, it is coproduced in Japan and the States in order to mitigate the high costs of making animation. Unlike many other series (Yu-Gi-Oh, etc.) the scripts for the American variation of the show were obviously written from the ground up in the States. The show was rife with puns, cultural jabs, and double entendres (the lead character is named "Kid Muscle" and his trainer's name is 'Meat'). It is also full of male adolescent humor as well, so it's a show with something for everyone ;)

One of the more memorable bits in the show was an appearance of a character named Monsieur Cheeks. And before you come to any conclusions, he's exactly what you think he is:

There were two solid episodes which burned through every word or phrase that in any way meant 'butt'. I'd love to have them on DVD, but it looks like Fox has lost interest in pushing out DVDs of the show.

Anyway, for anyone (like me) who has the Gamecube game of Ultimate Muscle, although Mr. Cheeks isn't playable (which is a shame since is super move is...well...), he does make a cameo in the audience of a stadium match.


In another decades delayed realization, New Order's "Regret" is one of the greatest pop songs ever written. I've always been a bit of a Brit-Pop fan, easily making British radio superior in every way to American radio in my mind (not that that would be big effort!) . However, like many music niches, it all starts to sound the same after a while, but at least New Order, Duran Duran, James, and Coldplay have a couple of decent songs to distinguish the brand; "Regret" being a prime example of course.

New Order rockin' as hard as a Brit-Popper can (i.e., not very)

Big Gov "Health Care"

Since I can still barely operate a keyboard, I'm putting up this lazy link, from The
The answer is clear. If you are a woman with breast cancer in Britain, you have (or at least a few years ago you had, since all medical statistics are a few years old) a 46 per cent chance of dying from it. In America, your chances of dying are far lower - only 25 per cent. Britain has one of the worst survival rates in the advanced world and America has the best.
If you are a man and you are diagnosed as having cancer of the prostate in Britain, you are more likely to die of it than not. You have a 57 per cent chance of departing this life. But in America you are likely to live. Your chances of dying from the disease are only 19 per cent. Once again, Britain is at the bottom of the class and America at the top.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

I'm down pretty bad with the flu right now, so in lew of any further posts, here's a picture of a fish carved out of a melon.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Screw Job

I've always thought the pricing on anime in the States was criminal. $30 for one disk with three half hour episodes and no extras? Add to that, that the Japanese love to buttress their episodic anime with minute and half worth of credit filler at the beginning and end; and of course TV has to cram nearly ten minutes worth of commercials in and you're left with about an hour's worth of material on a $30 disk. Even the outrageous pricing that Paramount does with it's Star Trek products doesn't match this level of chutzpah. It is all the more unfavorable when you go into the store and you realize you can pick up whole seasons of Futurama or The Simpsons for not much more than a handful of anime episodes!

I was looking forward to checking out anime prices in Japan, figuring that the inflated Stateside cost was a result of repackaging, rewriting, multiple dialog tracks, etc. Boy did I get a kick in the teeth when I found that the stuff was being sold for TWICE the amount that it is in the States!

Madlax says: "You can pay a dollar a minute to watch me run around in my hot pants and shoot people, or you can save some money and call a porno line."

Ah, but what do the Simpsons sell for in Japan? Amazon Japan has a whole season listed at around $83, a bit stiff if you're used to paying $40 (or less) in the States, but still a steal if you're used to getting soaked for more than $100 for a season of anime from Blockbluster.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Bottom of the Barrel

(Unrelated update, from here : "The United Nations estimates that by 2050, 42 percent of all people in Italy and Japan will be aged 60 or older. ")

From TCS: Tech Central Station - Tokyo Tax Trouble:
By issuing tens of trillions of yen of new debt each year, the central government allowed the outstanding burden to balloon to over 600 trillion yen by the end of fiscal 2004. When the IOUs issued by central and local governments are combined, total national debt is about 160 percent of GDP, making Japan the most heavily indebted industrialized country.

It's nice to think that "phew, someone is worse than us!" But this leads to a complacent attitude one usually gets from a lack of competition. This turns into a race to the bottom of the barrel to discover who sucks worse. It would be better if there was competition among the industrialized nations to improve their governmental and economic situations rather than the other way around.

I recall during the eighties when the U.S. was all worried about Japan overtaking us. In what fashion they were to overtake us, I have no idea. My family owned way too many crappy American cars for me to have any sympathy for the spoiled, upper middle class brats that paraded around on TV, complaining that they might actually have to make a decent product at a decent price.

But for whatever 'threat' Japan ever posed (at least since WW2!), their current bout of economic malaise has been quite a bit more harmful to the American economy. We'd all be better off with improving economies for all, and larger more healthy markets to sell to.

Apple computing

From Opinions from PC Magazine: Rethinking the Small Form Factor:
If indeed the market for small PCs skyrockets, you then have to ask yourself, 'Why the heck does Apple have to be the company that once again lights the fuse?' How humiliating.
Apple has been a company I’ve had a problem getting my hands around for the longest time. They don’t dominate any particular market segment they’re in (by all rights, they shouldn't even exist) but everyone licks their boots when it comes to designing products. Remember E-Machines copying the old iMac? And everyone already knows we would be using DOS web browsers were it not for the Mac GUI.

One can easily make the case that they dominate the portable digital audio market, but they don't dominate, and aren't a major player, in the audio electronics arena. By all rights, Sony should have been schooling Apple and everyone else on how to build those things. (Of course Sony has its head so far up its arse when it comes to digital rights management that it's amazing they even sell a digital audio product...of sorts).

If I were a CEO at Micro$oft, Sony, or Dell, I would be deeply upset at what my R&D dollars are buying me: "Don't you idiots I already pay for, know how to design anything?!?"