Flickr Photo Story Challenge

Another weekly addition to the anthology of Chuck Wendig flash fiction writing challenges. This week we were to write a story about three photos taken randomly from Flickr. These are the ones I got.

Photo 1 / Photo 2 / Photo 3

Here’s what I wrote!

The first alarm I’d set went off. I snoozed my phone back to sleep. The second alarm I’d set went off five minutes later. I managed to snooze it as well without opening my eyes. The cycle of alarms went on like this for about thirty minutes. That’s usually the amount of time my brain takes to activate. I started to calculate how much time I had to waste in bed. I was on vacation, so I let the dance go on for a while past my normal limit.

My father banged on the door to my room once. He didn’t believe in the over expression of emotions but his displeasure communicated through that one act well enough. I buried my head in the cool sheets wrapped around me. I tried to ignore the nagging thought that I would miss breakfast if I didn’t get up right away. Once I felt the tug at my stomach, however, I gave up on the idea of more sleep. So I threw off the covers and stomped over to the window. The early morning sun blasted into my room after I opened the curtains. It drove the winter chill away from my bones and the cobwebs of sleep from my mind. Behind me, the third alarm I’d set went off.

When I came downstairs my father was in the kitchen poking at a cast iron skillet with a plastic spatula. Bacon sizzled within the skillet, the fat popping and snapping. I poured myself a cup of fresh coffee while my father carefully pulled finished strips out to set aside on a thick pad of paper towels.

“Need any help?” I asked before taking a sip of my coffee. He shook his head.

“Got to make the toast yourself though,” he said. I put my cup down and went to a cupboard to get a few slices of wheat bread to feed to the toaster.

My father was wearing his favorite hat while he continued to cook the bacon. Brown, cracked and wrinkled as he was, he called the old fedora his ‘driving hat’. He added a few fresh strips to the skillet.

“Today’s the day, isn’t it?” I asked as I set the bread on the journey to become toast. My father dropped the skillet down on the stove with a bang. A small fire flared up as some grease spilled but it went out quickly. The stench of scorched fat hung thick for a moment before my father reached up and turned on the vent. The fan hummed like a nest of overweight hornets.

“Yes that’s right,” he said. He adjusted the hat on his head making sure it was on tight. The toast popped up from the toaster so I grabbed a plate from next to the stove. I added some bacon to the toast and then went to sit at the counter with my coffee. My father soon finished cooking so he turned off the heat and set the skillet aside.

Instead of loading up a plate for himself, he went to the window across from the stove and stood staring out at the driveway. I looked at him as I crunched on my bacon and sipped my coffee. He stood there, with the yellow sunlight staining his face, for about two strips of bacon, half a piece of toast, and most of my coffee. He turned away as I got up for a refill. As I poured my second cup of joe my father got his breakfast. I wondered if his cough was getting better, it didn’t sound quite as ragged as before.

He took a seat next to mine, after moving the box packed with the dinner glasses first. He glanced at the newspaper headlines as he ate but flicked the pages back and forth not settling on any article for long.

“What time are you meeting the collector?” I asked.

“He told me around eleven,” my father said.

“Sure going to miss that old car,” I said around the last bite of my toast. My father grunted a noncommittal response.

“You want me to follow you so I can give you a ride back?”

He shook his head without taking his eyes off the paper.

“Your aunt said she’d give me a ride,” my father said, “We’ll probably stop for lunch in town.” I’d finished my breakfast so I stood up to take my plate over to the sink.

“I’ll try to get the garage finished before you get back then.”

“You’d better,” he said. He finished the last of his bacon then handed the plate over to me. My father set the paper aside, grabbed his keys from the counter, and headed out the door without another word.

While I was finishing the dishes I could hear the old engine roar to life, sputtering only a little in the cold air. I went to the window to watch my father pull his classic car out of the driveway for the last time.

Chinese New Year 2012, Year of the Dragon

Well it’s that time of year again. The beginning of the new Lunar calendar and the only time of the year that I take a interest passing interest in horoscopy (horoscopoppy?). Yep, I love following the new Chinese Astrology/Zodiac readings. Hopefully if I say Chinese Horoscope Zodiac enough times it’ll drag some of those delicious hits off of the googles into the space here instead of one of those “well designed” sites that are chock full of astro-magical goodness.

Anyway to bring it back on track, I guess I like the Chinese zodiac better than the boring Western style (I’m a Virgo by the way) for a few reasons.

1: The horoscopes are only given once a year, at the start. I guess this gives the people coming up with these things more time to make up some more interesting assumptions. The old western style horoscopes need to be cranked out every week or month or day in some cases. Seems needy to me. Nope, once a year is good enough for me. Month to month? Week to week? Don’t have time for that much bullshit in my life thank you kindly.

2: The actual Zodiac is much cooler. For example in the western Zodiac I’m a Virgo, the virgin. Lame. In the Chinese zodiac I’m a Dog. A Water Dog in fact. So the best damn kind of dog in all of the Dog Space-Time Continuum. (Golden Retriever is on that list. Thesis proved.) And don’t get me started on other combinations.

Fire Monkey. Boom! Metal Dragon. Double Boom! Need I go on?

3: Because it’s based on year and not month it’s a good way to figure out someone’s age. I’ve actually seen bouncers use it at clubs as a test when people try to pull the “I left my ID card at home” excuse. Really sneaky and would never work with the other zodiac.

So I’m a Dog and apparently Dogs and Dragons don’t get along very well. Too much awesome I guess. But fortunately the more you look around eventually you’ll come across a prediction for the year that isn’t so bad. The majority seems to think that it’s a bad year for my money and my health, but a decent year for my job and my social relationships. So….cool? Money I can see, been spending a lot. Hopefully my health will get better though, I’ve stuck to working out and gave up the other bad things in life so should be ok. We’ll see. Going to try and expand the job thing as well. So bring it on Dragon. Bitch.

Well the other thing about Chinese New Year is it’s kind of a big party. I went down on Monday to Yokohama’s Chinatown to catch some of the festivities. I’ve been to the area before but didn’t really explore very much. The weather was pretty bad for enjoying time outside and taking pictures but I think I managed to come away with a few decent shots. Also I stitched together a pretty crude first video from my new camera. HD capability but it sucks down battery power like a Roppongi bar fly does drinks.

Here’s to the new lunar year. Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Fitocracy: Turning Fitness into an RPG, A Noob’s Perspective

I used to be a pretty unhealthy guy, looking back on things honestly. Still am for a large part. I wish I still had my old registration card that had my post college/pre Japan picture on it. I was a skinny bastard.

Some people lose weight over here but not me. Back home I had access to decent racquetball courts and a five day a week aikido habit. In Japan, however, racquetball is as elusive as a unicorn and aikido schedules did not match well with my work late, party hard life style that I adopted until fairly recently. I drank, I smoked a pack a day and the most exercise I got was a vigorous session of xbox. I’m pretty amazed I managed to increase my average weight by only 10kg. (Sounds much nicer than 22lbs)

Jump cut to August 2011, I quit smoking and have managed to stay quit ever since. This year I also made the decision to quit alcohol. It’s only been about 19 days but it’s not in the counting at this point. So logically trying to get in shape is the next step.

This is where Fitocracy comes in. It’s a concept that is becoming rather popular nowadays, Gamification.

In case you didn’t have time to check the video in the link (Why not? It’s good!) I’ll explain. Gamification is when in order to provide incentive and entertainment value to activities, elements of video games such as points and levels are added where there typically are none. In general that is. It’s an interesting concept that I think could have some great effects in areas like education, but I’m not going to open that debate up here right now.

So how does Fitocracy use this idea to make fitness fun? Simple really, points and levels!! The site has a database of common exercise techniques and allows you to add as many or as few as you want to do and adjust things like weight (if using dumbbells for example) and reps. Fitocracy does the smart thing and doesn’t really try to track your weight beyond using your body weight for certain exercises.

What I mean is the only thing you get for doing an exercise is an amount of points based on  some calculation that they’ve come up with. With points come levels and with levels come…well I don’t know actually. I’m only level 5 right now. I’ve seen people with badges for certain achievements though.

Another thing they do to make it game like is adding quests. I like these because some are designed around building a balanced exercise regimen. Just for example, there is an early quest humorously titled “No Chicken Legs Here!” which rewards the player for completing focused exercises that each hit a different muscle group in the legs. There are other little touches that I’ve learned are included to encourage proper fitness development, like limiting reps on weight exercises to encourage players to move up to heavier weights.

All in all it’s a pretty fun little website though you really only get out of it what you put in. There are no substantial rewards for levels or points and it works on the honor system. You input your workouts yourself so it’s easy to cheat, but then you’re really only cheating yourself. It’s also still in beta so bugs are a bit rampant still and the interface can be clunky and confusing at times.

I’ve still got about 8 invites left so if you want in send me a message over facebook and I’ll try to remember to get around to it. (Actually I just want to build my point lead some more, muahahahahaha!!!)

Good:

  • Helpful for people that don’t know what they’re doing.
  • Provides great incentive to work out.
  • Fairly robust social network scene already with people giving tips and help. (If that’s your thing)
  • Allows you to create and save regular routines.
  • They’re against SOPA/PIPA

Bad:

  • Beta mode so still some bugs and design flaws
  • Only get out what you put in. It won’t exercise for you.
  • No rewards other than better health and self confidence. (Not that bad when you think about it)

A trip out of Tokyo

Last week I was given a gift. A ticket out of the city for a day. So not knowing what to do I went where my friend suggested, a little place called Hamamatsu. This sleepy stop on the shinkansen line is famous for eel and gyoza. Neither of which I was able to sample on the trip.

Getting there took about four hours by the slow train as our magic escape tickets did not allow access to bullet trains. Given our need to return the same night that left us only about 4 hours to sightsee. Fortunately it was well worth it. One or two stations away from Hamamatsu is the Suzuki Motors main factory and museum.

I was not expecting to be so entertained by a museum about a car company. One floor was dedicated to making a car from the start in a board room design meeting to final manufacture. There was even a robot!

The next floor was the grand history of the Suzuki motor corporation. Unfortunately the museum began to close as we were only halfway though this part and the final tour was rushed. This was a sad thing as the history floor was much more interesting, and entertaining!

After we were ushered out to the tune of “Old Lang Syne”, (so many places use that song to indicate closing times here!) the sun was setting and so was our time for the trip. We wanted to go to the observatory of the tallest building in town but it closed before we could get there. C’est la vie. Anyway, lots of pictures with my old crappy camera to follow. Enjoy!

Wherein the future is discussed.

So it’s been a few days since I quit drinking. I haven’t really had much trouble staying away from it though. Everyone’s been pretty supportive and that’s really helpful. Most are still in the “eggshell” phase I think, which is when friends of the alcoholic try to act very carefully around the recovering addict lest he shatter into a million pieces at the slightest gust of wind or whiff of booze. It’s sweet but unnecessary.

I have been staying up much later than I would normally, however. It’s not such as bad thing though as I’ve been trying to focus on where I want to go in the future. I’ve only got about two months on my current visa at the moment and a less than solid footing on my renewal chances. So things are a little nervous which is the best time to quit drinking, of course.

I’ve been trying to focus that energy that was usually suppressed by the warm fuzzy blanket of spiritous liquors on something productive. To whit I’ve got it into my head to try and learn from scratch how to use the various products that Adobe has to offer in the realm of creative computer wizardry. This is an expensive proposition, however, as even the most basic package they offer can cost over $1000 if you want to buy it outright. I think it would be a good investment in skills for the future despite requiring a level of investment higher than most developing nation’s average income several times over.

I mean I have the money, but it’s hard to complain about spending it without coming off as callous. I digress.

I’ve been dabbling with iMovie for a little while now. Nothing special but I’ve learned the system well enough that the actual creation of the movie takes very little time. It is a little limited in its ability to correct problem footage which is a shame because my camera is pretty crap. So you can see what I’m talking about, this is a movie I shot last month of a band I’ve talked about before briefly. Kazumi Struts:

Now the video quality was pretty junk, though a lot of that is my camera, but it looked pretty bad until I added the filter to make everything kind of dark. That seemed to help the focus for some reason. Also it is easier to make a smoother video. I guess that’s key, simple is best when it comes to iMovie.

This one I made in Adobe Premiere Elements. A much more robust, though still hamstrung program. It’s not exactly the full version which is probably well beyond my scope at the moment. Keep that in mind. I am in no way good at this stuff. But it gives me something to do instead of drink so I’ll take it.

This clip is a bit longer as I could make a few more clips look good enough to leave in. Some were so bad that I had to cut them. Given the video quality on display here you know that’s pretty bad.

Premiere felt like it could do more but was harder to wrap my head around. A lot of the adjustments to quality had to be left to the program itself. It could be that I just haven’t figured out how to do manual control of things like color saturation and sharpness but there was at least some option for it made obvious in iMovie. Also Premiere is a beast of a performance hog even in the limited form. It would lag on occasion, crashed once, and took over two hours to process and upload to youtube.

It’s obvious that Adobe has more room to grow I’m just worried my little macbook air won’t be able to handle anything more intense than a grainy iphone movie from the bottom of a well at midnight. So yes, expensive hobby I’ve decided to pick up.

I want to try out the polling feature of this blog space so I’ll pose this question:

I’ve also been on a bit of a workout kick with Fitocracy. Which is kind of fun.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Song Shuffle

Just a quick one to keep the blog from dying from neglect. Off to Hammamatsu tomorrow for a much needed escape. Chuck Wendig is helping his loyal followers keep the writing muscles fresh with this week’s flash fiction challenge. Here’s my entry before I hit the sack.

Love Lockdown

“I’ve never had what you might call a “stable” relationship,” Frank said. “Nothing crazy, mind you, just nothing healthy.”

“That’s why most people come to us,” the orderly said. He had difficulty keeping the heavy boredom of a long day out of his voice as he scratched down Frank’s insurance information.

“There was this one girl though, a long time ago,” Frank said. A thin smile tugged at the corner of his chapped lips. The orderly snapped the pen against his clipboard breaking Frank’s concentration.

“The doctor will be with you shortly,” he said before leaving Frank alone in the examination room. Frank squirmed a little on the hard examination table. The crinkle of the butcher paper under him sounded far too loud in the tiny room. He cracked the knuckles on his right hand, then the left before standing up. Frank paced the room looking at the various objects scattered on the shelves lining the wall. Tongue depressors, latex gloves, cotton balls. Everything seemed normal to him.

The door clicked open causing Frank to jump. A short bald man with thick glasses strode in still looking at familiar clipboard. Frank wondered for a moment how the man could see through the thick mass of wrinkles that made up his face.

“Mr. Sterling?” The doctor said, looking up at Frank. When he saw the doctor’s eyes Frank sucked in a sharp breath. The doctor’s eyes were covered with a milky film and seemed to stare right through him. If the doctor noticed Frank’s reaction he gave no indication of it.

“Has my assistant explained the procedure to you?”

“Mostly,” Frank said, “Are you sure this will fix my problem?”

“That’s the hope Mr. Sterling,” the doctor said, “I’ll remind you again, the procedure is highly experimental.” Frank swallowed hard. The sound was laughably loud in the still room. The doctor smiled and reached out a hand to Frank.

“Don’t worry,” the doctor said, “I haven’t lost a patient yet.”

“And you can reverse it at anytime?” Frank asked.

“Well it will take a few weeks for the incisions to heal,” the doctor said, “But after that the procedure should be fully reversible after a short stint of drug therapy.”

Frank looked around the room and scratched his freshly shaven head. He wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for, a sign perhaps. Or maybe an escape. The doctor waited, arms folded across his chest, while Frank came to grips with his decision. After a minute or two Frank sighed, his shoulders slumped.

“Let’s do it,” he said. The doctor smiled once again and held out a hand to guide Frank out of the room.

“Don’t worry son,” the doctor said, “It’ll be over before you know it.”

New Year’s 2012

So thing’s been pretty heavy around here recently. Back to our regular programing!

So I went out to Yokohama for New Year’s to see some fireworks. Now, I was expecting some fireworks on the same level as the last time I went to Yokohama. These were nothing quite the same but still pretty. Anyway here’s what I got.

Kinda lame wasn’t it? Yeah. I saw a video of the show down at the countdown party and to be fair it was pretty cool. A lot of the fireworks were small bursts in time with the music. It looked much cooler up close. Also, if you watched it all you might have heard me narf to myself about if a certain song was Nine Inch Nails or Led Zeppelin. Apparently it was the new cover version of a Led Zeppelin song done by Trent Reznor, frontman of NIN.

So my confusion was justified and I felt compelled to clear that up for some reason. Moving on.

After that we went from Yokohama to Tokyo to visit a shrine. For the uninitiated it is a Japanese custom for people to visit a Shinto shrine sometime in the first few days of the new year. You chuck some money into a bin, usually one of the lucky though near worthless 5 yen coins, clap your hands twice and make your wish/prayer for the new year. (I bet you can guess what mine was)

You can go anytime in the first three days or so, however, since most people are out and about that night, or just awake when they usually aren’t, many people go to shrines shortly after midnight. We went to Meiji Jingu, which is the shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor who ruled during the Meiji Reformation during the Meiji period. So pretty important dude. (Even though I misspelled his name throughout the entire video I made (>_<) )

Isn’t iMovie neat? So this shrine happens to be one of the most popular shrines to visit in the largest city in the country so…it’s crowded. We had to wait at least an hour and a half just for our one minute prayer ritual. But like climbing Mt. Fuji, a wise person does it once and only a fool does it twice. (Unless you’re into the exercise when it comes to Fuji, I know some people like that.) It was an experience let’s just say.

You can also buy all kinds of charms, knick knacks, fortunes, etc. after you make your prayer. I bought a Hamaya which literally means “demon-breaking arrow”. Which sounds pretty cool when you think about it.

Pretty wicked no? Apparently I’m supposed to return it to the shrine for burning next year or all it’s luck protection powers will be for nothing. I’d like to think that it stores up the bad luck and if you don’t burn that shit it’ll all come back to you at once. A whole year’s worth of bad luck? No thank you.

Anyway it was a fun time and certainly something I’m glad I got to experience. As far as starts to a new year, this one wasn’t so bad. Questions, comments? Leave them after the pictures and debut of my terrible movie. (^_^)

Warning: some NSFW language.