Tag Archive | Japan

Return of the Coffee Review: A Maxim Adventure

I’ve been staying up way too late recently. I’ve also been able to sleep in very late but that’s mainly due to a sharp decline in my “working schedule” due to a number of students either moving away, going on long trips, or just…vanishing into the maw of the city. Which means they don’t answer my emails. But I’m happy and healthy and progressing in things I love which is nice.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, coffee.

Now since most of my business takes place in coffee shops I’ve become quite an expert on coffee. Like did you know that most coffee shops call the wringings from the cleaning rag a “small regular coffee”? Now you know.

So usually I get tea at most places. Being from the South, however, I have an affinity for ice tea which takes far more work at home to produce. (Wait for the tea to cool? Why I never!) This lack of willingness to exert any effort on these beverages is what first led me to the idea of the “instant” coffee sticks. You might remember when I reviewed those with the Blendy coffee stick brand. In fact as I write this I am drinking from a cup of 1/2 calorie Blendy blend brew. Which, hilariously, is in fact literally only about half as much powder as a normal stick. Cheeky bastards.

I was in the store the other day when this other brand of coffee sticks caught my eye because they were on sale. For about 10¥ less than the Blendy brands. So, thinking there might be a blog post in this somewhere I snatched up a box of each type they had on offer. Not the best idea perhaps given my financial prospects lately but we have to press forward. Read More…

Never apologize

A rather harsh title some might think. Of course I think you should apologize if you’ve done something demonstrably wrong or misguided.

“Oh, seems you’ve set my house on fire.”

“Yeah, sorry about that but there was a sale on kerosene at the hardware store…”

“Well, as long as you’re sorry….”

Now that situation is a time when you should apologize. Lord knows I learned that the hard way.

No what I’m talking about is something I’m starting to see more and more as I try to focus my efforts away from boozing and snoozing to creative creation. This is the idea that “the artist” shouldn’t apologize for his or her work. That’s not to say that should the work be crap it’s OK to accept that and not want to improve. You should apologize only to yourself, the audience doesn’t want to hear that junk.

It’s like dogs and fear. The audience can smell fear in the artist. Apologizing is like kicking the chum bucket over the side of the boat then diving in after it. You’ve just got to push forward. I’ve picked this idea up from spending a lot of time with musicians lately. In music you can’t stop when there’s a live audience staring at you looking for a good time. I’m sort of a writer and I’m lucky in that I have things like spell checker that keep my outrageous mistakes to a hopeful minimum.

The average person is more skilled at picking out spelling mistakes, however, than out of key notes. At least, I can’t, but that has more to do with my complete lack of musical talent and taste. Though if you stop the show to apologize for the wrong key on the downbeat (I’m just making shit up here) then I think you’ll have bigger problems on your hands. Like refund hungry drunk people with glass bottles in ready supply.

It’s good to hate your mistakes and want to improve. Heck I think everything I make is garbage but that’s because I have self-esteem issues stemming from my lack of reptilian pets in my younger days.

Still reading? Good. Strive to improve in all you do but as long as you’re creating, never apologize.

I went for a walk and took some pictures! Camera deets: Nikon d5100, 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G lens (yes it’s a kit but it’s the good kit). Coloring and effects done in Lightroom 3 & Photoshop CS5.5 (Legal copies to boot! Shocker!)

Sorry about the watermark but you can’t trust the internet these days.

*looks at the post title*

Shit….

It ain’t easy being creative.

This is a difficult subject. For one it is going to be hard to keep from sounding like a hipster that thinks his farts count as “performance art”. The perpetual coffee shop space taker with computer turned to the wall so no one can see that the “script” he’s writing is actually just dicking around on a series of ineffectual social media outlets.

That being said, it’s hard to be creative.

Now at first glance it would seem to be a golden age for the creative type. The internet allows the “artist” to run free and open with her soul stripped bare, spilling its rainbow sparkles of creativity all over the place. This marvel of modern technology is a vast garden where the seed of beauty can be nurtured into a full grown tree of magnificence. Sounds great doesn’t it?

The problem I see is at the same time the worst part. In the current age of human development we are collectively as rich as we’ve ever been. This is where I’m going to start sounding horrible but it’s true. If you are reading this right now chances are pretty good that you’ve managed to surpass the worry of daily survival. Your life expectancy is probably on the far end of the scale so you can afford, like me, to think on matters pertaining to the creative.

That’s a good thing. It should be commended. However, it changes the idea of what it means to be a creative person trying to earn a living through what could be called art.

Is it a good change? Perhaps. In the past only the true masters of their form survived into today. People that were so extraordinary that their names entered into history. That’s a tough act to follow. In Shakespeare’s time there were certainly plenty of other people writing plays, some memorable, some not. Though the average person would be hard pressed to remember anyone other than the immortal bard himself.

Today, by contrast, fame can be thrust upon anyone at anytime for any reason. These flare ups can be brief or they can lead into a substantial career. The problem, I think, is that while in the past it was certainly hard to make it through life as some manner of artisan there was a certain level of skill required to even make a go of it. Today with the internet more often than not fame and success are awarded despite quality of product.

However, (this is going to sound really pretentious I bet) the people that think themselves to be artists tend to hold back their work because they have convinced themselves that in order to be successful their craft needs to be on the level of the old masters from history. On some level this is true simply because the art consuming populace has the same requirements for greatness engrained in their minds. Also, thanks to the internet, the market for creative work has been flooded with low quality material that can swamp and fatigue the average consumer.

Then your typical starving artist has to deal with the internal pain of witnessing some of that mediocre swill succeed through some combination of luck and lowest common denominator. To add more misery to the pile the nature of the internet is progressing towards a market where the artist will have to compete against free. Anything that can be digitized can be traded for a monetary price of zero. This is hard to fight against and more and more it’s becoming a trend in some areas that are legitimate businesses as opposed to pirates.

SOPA/PIPA Disclaimer: I did not support these bills because they overreached to violate civil liberties. I don’t think pirating is healthy for the creative content production industry, however. 

So what can some jerk like me do about it? No seriously, I need some ideas….

One option is expansion of the skill set. This is easier said than done since “art” of any sort requires a great deal of practice. To take writing for example, it’s been said that every writer has about a million words of crap that they need to get out before they can produce quality work.

A million words. For reference, at this point in this post it is only just over 700 words and it’s already feeling over long. I haven’t keep track of my own personal count but I doubt I’m very close to that number if I want to be honest. So I’ve taken to branching out.

This is what brought me to write about this subject tonight. I’ve recently thrown quite a lot of money at shiny things that are marketed as being useful for the creation of artistic products in this crazy share space we call The Internet. I’m lucky to be able to have this money though it did cost me a family member and was only given to me due to failures of a paternal nature. I hope that it will not be wasted money. That is what gnaws at me now. If I fail at this venture then will I tarnish the memory attached to this money? Should I have given it to charity? Again it is hard to talk about these issues without sounding as shallow as a mud puddle on a hot summer’s day but that doesn’t stop them from bouncing around my head.

There’s a quote going around the internet recently from the NPR radio host Ira Glass. I’ll just add it here because it’s pretty good but long.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” -Ira Glass

This is pretty good advice that I haven’t really been following recently. I’ve always been drawn to the Jack-of-all-trades formula even though the cautionary addition to that phrase is “master-of-none”. I’ve been trying to branch out and its hard going. I feel overwhelmed at times. My biggest worry though is that my taste is no good.

Thanks for sticking around this long. Feel free to post a comment. It makes me feel like I’m running through a golden field wearing a cape of rainbow sprinkles riding on a magic unicorn.

Where’ve you been?

Yikes it’s been awhile since I’ve spent some time at the old creative computer here and gotten something done that wasn’t exploring a magic dungeon for doodads of ultimate power (Skyrim/Torchlight), exploring barren wastelands for ammo and new slapdash instruments of ranged death introduction (Borderlands), or dealing with the vast minutia of my modest for a lone-wolf-space-manufacturer business empire (EvE).

Yes I’ve been playing a lot of video games lately. Which is awesome because I bet the rest of you wish you had time to piss away at something so frivolous and entertaining.

Also I was sick as a dog on a spoiled meat bender for most of the week. That, was not awesome. I got better though. Sort of. I’m still off the sauce, however. Even more committed to it now since I saw a man take a running drunk header down two flights of stairs in a major train station.

Ever take a large fruit, a melon of some kind, tie it up in a pillowcase, and thwack it against a slab of concrete with all your might? I imagine that sound is very similar to the one this poor soul’s head made against the unforgiving stone at the bottom of the stairs. I know he was drunk because I know the body kinesthetics involved in the floppy arm non-response he was able to muster as he tried to grab the hand rail. Sober people tend to have the cognitive ability to arrest forward momentum or at least redirect it before it becomes akin to diving head first into an empty swimming pool.

I didn’t stick around for several reasons. One, it was late and I had to catch my train. Staring at an accident scene is not worth missing out on sleeping at home. Two, it was in Shibuya, one of the busiest stations in town, as such there were easily one hundred other witnesses. So if he did survive he would get help. Three, there was a lot of blood and that is not fun to deal with. I think the guy was dead as soon as he hit. We are some fragile bags of meat ambling about surrounded by constructions of our own creation that could crush the life from our bones in an instant. We are a dumb species when you think about it. Just wish I could get it out of my head.

Here are some pictures I took of Gotanda. Not the most popular part of Tokyo but I spend a lot of time there.

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)

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.