Tag Archive | learning

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…

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.

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.

New Year’s Resolution

It’s amazing how quickly Christmas went from everywhere to nowhere in the span of just a day. I don’t remember what it was like so much in America, perhaps I never really paid attention. It seemed like to me, in the fuzzy memories knocking around in my head that there was at least a day or two of “Christmas Hangover” in the general culture.

If I’m wrong be sure to let me know or else I’ll never learn. Anyway, over here it was quite stark. Christmas isn’t quite as ubiquitous as it is in the states (despite what conservative media would rather you think). Still, in one stint in a coffee shop I heard at least five different covers of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas”. It’s Japan’s most over done Christmas song by far. The very next day, however, everything was gone like I’d shifted into a new dimension that had no such thing as Christmas while I slept. It was sudden is what I’m trying to say.

Of course now that Christmas has come and gone it’s swiftly approaching time for the next real big holiday in Japan. New Years. Did you know Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan? I know weird isn’t it…

The first three days of January are holidays though. If translated the titles of said days off are “First three days of the new year”. That’s hardcore. The new year is a time for reflection on regrets and hopes for the future. And that takes three days in Japan apparently. It’s a time to visit shrines (Shinto) or temples (Buddhist) and get your fortune told. Last year I think I got the “sorta lucky” general fortune. Hopefully this year will be a little better. I probably have to go to a better shrine though. (Some are luckier than others but those are usually packed)

Of course in America we have the tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions. Promises we make to ourselves that we typically cast aside after a few weeks to a few months. This too is tradition. Last year my resolution was to be better to myself. Open ended promises are better because they’re far easier to break without anyone noticing. I did quit smoking though so I guess we can call that a success. It’s been 4 months as of this writing.

So chalk it up as a victory, how can I build on that? I think when I made the resolution last year I was thinking only in a physical sense. This year I think I’ll continue the same idea (recycling completely/semi-failed resolutions is also tradition) but I’ll try to be better to myself mentally. This is a difficult task in such a soul sucking pit of concrete hell that is Tokyo (just kidding but not for real though). Hopefully I’ll be able to escape for a day or two in the new year, depending on if I can get a bullet train seat. I should probably check into that sooner rather than later.

Anyway, as a tangible goal, my resolution is to finish my book started in Nanowrimo season. And by finish I mean extend, edit, and release it into the wild. Either to publishers/editors/agents (will give it a shot but I think Japanese mythology based supernatural crime noire is rather niche’) or into the gaping suck-maw of the self-publish market place. I’ll need readers and maybe someone who can draw/computer-up a cover for it. So if you’re interested let me know.

Tune in tomorrow for Chapter 3 since feedback so far has been pretty positive. And I still need to practice using the delayed post feature to see what that’s about.

Stay Creative. V(^_^)

Edit: Me no good with mobile WordPress app. Rargh…

How “Calvin and Hobbes” affected my life

Well it’s Christmas in Japan. So I’m feeling a little nostalgic. As you can tell from the title I’d like to talk about what is one of my favorite pieces of creative property, let alone favorite comic strip. It’s a little known fact that I can not be friends with any American male of around the same age as myself if they do not agree that Calvin & Hobbes is the best newspaper comic strip ever created.

Rather specific requirements but it’s that serious. Well, if they never heard of it for some reason I suppose to can’t blame them for such a deprivation. For the uninitiated, and those of you that didn’t bother to click the link to Wikipedia up there, Calvin & Hobbes was a newspaper comic strip about a young boy and his stuffed tiger/best friend. Both characters were named after medieval aged thinkers so already the bar is set rather high. I’ll be including some visual examples because that makes for a more entertaining piece. However, I want to be clear, I am not taking credit in any way, shape, or form.

Calvin & Hobbes is the sole property of Bill Watterson and perhaps his newspaper syndicate. I don’t know the rules. What I know is they certainly aren’t mine and that statement is a whole lot more than some of the sites I pulled these images from will acknowledge. So with all of that out of the way on to why I love this comic.

Calvin Imagines

Let me show you a strip that doesn’t have much story but I think speaks very well to the heart of the strip. A little boy with an overabundance of imagination.

KaZam!

Bill Watterson left behind a legacy about how popularity and quality can defeat entrenched rules and traditions in a creative medium. The strip above is a color Sunday strip. What I didn’t know at the time (being a young child of course) but Calvin & Hobbes broke from the standard format on Sunday allowing Watterson to create strips the way he wanted on Sunday’s. Without delving too much into the details (because it’s kind of boring)  Sunday comics were a big deal and newspapers liked to cram in as many as they could and so there needed to be a certain standard. Watterson got an exception for C&H which allowed him to do some really magnificent things with the format.

This taught me that if your work is better than good you can get away with a lot. (I didn’t say they’d be absolutely wonderful lessons, just ones that I learned for better or worse)

Calvin’s humor

Hats....

I love the subtlety of the interactions between Calvin and Hobbes here. I always imagined that Hobbes really came to life in the world of these strips. It’s never explicitly stated but that’s the charm. This strip kicked off a long arc about the terrible haircut, hiding it from his parents, and trying to cover it up (with a yellow marker of all things!). I like the comedic timing that Hobbes displays in the last frame and have included it in a lot of jokes I make with friends. Still makes me laugh to this day.

Maximum subtlety, minimum effort

The answer is yes...

A simple night camping. Ah the wonders of youth.

What was that?!

There is so much story between the third and fourth panel there. This is something I try to put into my own work. Usually there’s always something lying there underneath the surface that I’ll absolutely refuse to point out directly. I think it comes from a desire to be as good at it as this.

Calvin’s Vocabulary

Too smart for his own good

Another of the things I loved about the strip is how smart Calvin can sound when he’s talking to Hobbes and yet he fails constantly at school and does things that are borderline mentally-handicapped like drive a wagon off a giant cliff. (Sled in the wintertime).

This duality really made me feel better about the fact that I really didn’t enjoy school. Like ever, at all. Plus it developed a love of language in me just trying to figure out what the hell he was saying.

Skewed  Views of Parents

This one I’m maybe not so proud of. Calvin’s view of his parents (whom are never named in the comic other than Mom & Dad) is fairly detached and aloof at times. This says a lot about the late 80s and 90s and about my own situation which was objectively fucked up, though, not the worst thing ever that’s for sure. But I liked Calvin’s parents. They always seemed like a couple that had been trapped into their relationship by their (unplanned?) child but stuck it out in a dysfunctional yet loving way. Guess I gravitated to that dynamic.

I'm so doing this to my kid someday

Yup, pretty much me at that age

Calvin was a writer

Yep. Calvin wrote stories. I wonder if that had any effect on me as a child?

Nah.

Calvin could make me cry (in a good way)

This still chokes me up a bit when I read it. If you’re a fan then you know there can only be one thing that’s coming. If not, I apologize in advance but hopefully you’ll thank me later.

I present to you: The Raccoon Story

Oh fuck…I’ve got something in my eye…..Excuse me *sniff*

Calvin was me

That’s a strange thing to say perhaps. I think C&H was about a certain demographic to be sure. Suburban white kids that liked to play outside. That was me and everyone I knew growing up. That’s just how it was. However, my best friend’s father would cut out the strips and hang them on the refrigerator. I owned every single book that they put out but almost never read it in the newspaper. Later you would see crazy things like car stickers of Calvin pissing on various things. Those were not officially sanctioned by the way.

And that is one of the reasons why I think C&H didn’t dominate the popular culture and also why it stayed so good. Bill Watterson wouldn’t let it. I can tell you, if you bought anything Calvin & Hobbes related that wasn’t just a book of the strips then you were paying a grifter. Calvin and Hobbes was never licensed for merchandise because the creator didn’t believe in it.

Today we would call something like that hipsterish but back then it was golden. Would Calvin and Hobbes have become crap and derivative if it hadn’t ended when it did? I’m torn of course. On the one hand I remember how sad I was to learn there would never be any more C&H and how much trouble I put my mother through to find the last book on offer. Which was just a collection of old strips with commentary from Watterson, like a DVD commentary before that was even a thing. I admit I was disappointed. I didn’t want it to ever end.

It was honestly, my favorite thing ever at the time. How could I not want more?

Looking back, perhaps it’s for the best that Calvin and Hobbes remained pure. All I know for certain is that I can not read a single strip without grinning like an idiot from ear to ear. I remember the first time a saw a collection was in the dorm room of my Big Sister. She let me keep it and started my love of the comic. The first time I can remember throwing up in the car on a family vacation was while I was reading Calvin and Hobbes. I kept that book despite the vomit stains crinkling the bottom half. Pretty much there is nothing else so integral to my childhood.

Someday I can see this as being the proverbial “back in my day” story that all adults seem to collect somewhere along the way. Though, for what it’s worth, I hope that someday I can have children that I can introduce to Calvin and his best friend Hobbes. And then to my grandchildren.

Merry Christmas everyone.

30 days have come and gone…

So there it is. My halt on all alcohol at the border of my metabolism has been lifted. The thirty day quarantine has passed. So what have I learned? How do I feel?

Good questions. It has also been three months since I gave up smoking, another notoriously difficult vice to part with. I will admit that alcohol was more difficult to do. I suppose that it’s due to the fact that I knew I was able to drink again at the end of the time limit. I thought about it a lot more. Put myself in situations where I would be tempted more often. Smoking was a choice I had to make forever and more obviously a good idea.

Therein lies the problem though. Alcohol is far, far, far more socially acceptable than smoking is nowadays. When I told people that I quit smoking, the response was always immediately positive. Smokers were surprised, but not that I would quit but that I was able to do so. Reactions were almost completely reversed with drinking. Immediate shock followed by the inevitable question “Why?”. As if it was unfathomable that I would even consider doing such a thing.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this got annoying very quickly.

However, to be fair, everyone I met felt I was doing a good thing and actually treated my choice as something to be respected, far more so than smoking. Smoking was always more of an “it’s about time” vibe compared to drinking’s “I’m impressed you can pull that off.” Again this probably goes more to the social acceptance of drinking in my peer group. Not that this is a bad thing, I certainly hope I didn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable about showing up to drink events trying to be sober.

I think I learned some things about myself and about alcohol. I learned a little about what I was like when I got too deep. I should probably be pretty thankful that I still have as many, or any, friends as I do based on that knowledge. I learned that I don’t need to be drunk to be a fun person to be around. I do take longer to warm up to a crowd than I think I used to, but that is likely just because I’d usually show up everywhere already two or three in the bag.

I saved a fair bit of money this month. I hope I can maintain that. Lost some weight, not much but I noticed if no one else did. I’m still pretty lazy which is the next thing I need to work on I wager. Blamed the drink and the smokes for that in the past but it’s hard to shove off on them completely. I did a lot more writing but that drifted off due to other things. (*cough* Skyrim *cough*) But I don’t need to be drunk to write, just drunk to think it’s good!

Actually I’ve gotten some lovely feedback recently so I’ll try to provide more. Thanks everyone.

In closing, my goal was not to give it up forever, but to try and reign back the amount. I could see myself approaching the proverbial cliff on the metaphorical runaway wagon train. I think I’ve managed to steer away from the edge but now I’m just moving parallel, once false move and I could be headed there again. If that happens I suspect I’ll have to jump off all together.

To cut through the tired cliche’ I don’t plan to give up alcohol completely. That could be a mistake on my part for sure. My goal was to stop drinking at home, alone, building my tolerance so that when I go out with my friends I drink to the point of blacking out. If I can’t manage that then I’ll have to face facts and give it up for good. That would be hard I suspect, but I think that the people around me are good enough to support me in that.

Thanks to everyone that supported me this last month. If I start to lose it again, or go to far, please tell me to cut that shit out. Maybe this time I’ll listen.

Is adding “Japan” to your fiction a turn off?

I’m going to come out and say that for me it is. I’m not talking just about anime fan fiction. I’ve seen some stuff in published material as well that turned me off. Now this is a hard feeling to pin down and even more difficult to avoid being hypocritical about. I confess, I put a lot of “Japan” into what I’ve been writing lately. Part of the “write what you know” school of thought. I live here, so it goes into my writing. Call it my “Japan period” if you’d like. Like Picasso’s blue period. I’m sure it’s just as good.

Of course the last thing I’d like to come off as is some how “superior” or “better” or “outrageously more talented” than the lovely fan-fiction writers or anyone else that uses “Japan” to flavor their work. Hell, I started writing by doing fan fiction pieces about a computer game I was playing at the time. I’m not here to crap on people.

However, and maybe I’m just more easily attuned to it, often times “Japan” is used in a way that adds little more than “Woah, cool!” to the story. I keep putting “Japan” in quotes because I mean it as taking something that should be a normal part of a story or movie or whatever and just throwing in something “Japanese” for the hell of it. Case in point, every time I see someone use a katana instead of a more practical weapon makes me want to slowly twist needles into my eyes. (Watch Audition if you don’t get the reference)

Exception: Kill Bill doesn’t count since I love that movie and it’s pretty tongue lodged firmly in cheek about the whole thing.

It doesn’t even need to be “Japan”. It can be any culture that isn’t your own. I just bring up “Japan” because it seems to me to be the culture that gets the most abuse in this manner. I’ve read a lot of Haruki Murakami because I like his style. He’s certainly not an author for everyone but is probably the only modern Japanese writer anyone who doesn’t bother to harvest enjoyment from Japanese popular culture has heard of. All of the books I’ve read have a certain “Japan” quality to them but understandably it doesn’t jar the senses, at least not for me.

Murakami is from Japan so he writes truths about his home and tells stories that would fit anywhere. That’s the main point. Cutting off some dude’s head with a katana doesn’t make the story any cooler than if it was done with a Scottish broadsword. If the story is lame then the “Japan” spice isn’t going to save it.

I guess my problem is that I’ve run into too many things that try serve up dog poop and think a little dash of wasabi will make me forget it’s a pile of crap.

Am I wrong? Right? A super nerd dork jerk that should just shut up and go die in a hole because how dare you say katanas aren’t cool? Let me know.

16/30