October 2002 Archives

Crappy shalloweener

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cabbage.jpgThere's not much doing in Japan for Halloween, which suits me just fine. When I was a kid, I trick-or-treated mainly at houses where I knew the families; I loved creating my costume and the sugar buzz was nice, but the actual trick or treating wasn't all that thrilling.

Tod & I used to deliberately go out to dinner on Halloween to avoid the begging children back when we were in the States. All sorts of strange monsters appeared at our door--and I know there weren't that many kids in our neighborhood.

So tonight, in a similar spirit but uninterrupted by greedy rugrats, we had a nice dinner and I made Tod hunt for his trick-or-treat surprise. It was a pot of ornamental cabbages on the veranda. He's comments on ornamental cabbages (and dogwood trees) every time he sees them, so I figured he might like to have some of his own.

For our treat, we'll be sipping on hot cocoa in a few minutes.

(Thanks to Eric Bishop of Weston, PA, for amending my blackboard to read "Crappy Shalloweener" at a Halloween party circa 1982. That phrase is in my annual holiday vocabulary right alongside "bah, humbug." Love you, Eric!)

Updating Zousan.com

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I'm procrastinating. For some reason, I just can't get myself started on the video editing. So instead, I'm fussing with The Zous' weblog today. It's all converted to Moveable Type and I've added a new postcard to Zousan's Post Office.

Maybe tomorrow I'll manage to get motivated to start capturing from the tapes.

Cyberterrorist in the backyard

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In 1995, the Aum cult attacked Tokyo's subways with sarin nerve gas. Since then, they've regrouped, renamed themselves Aleph and have focused on computer technology.

In April of this year, the CIA listed Aum in a report to a US Senate committee on potential threats. "[Aum] is the terrorist group that places the highest level of importance on developing cyber skills." So what is Aum getting up to?

A year or so ago, there was an article about how a Japanese government IT project was being fulfilled by an Aum-connected contracting company. Oops.

Fruit or meat?

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The first couple of years we lived in Japan, everyone on my holiday gift list got yukata, silly Japanese foods, washi books and other tidbits from the land of the rising sun. Then I realised that they probably didn't want them and the effort to purchase, pack and ship them really wasn't appreciated.

So now I send food from catalogs.

When I was a kid, I used to think that the food baskets from Harry & David and Omaha Steaks were extremely lame, though I admit to liking the little sausages. Now I realise how truly great these gifts are (at least for the gift giver). Everyone eats!

So if you're on my gift list, now's your chance to weigh in: fruit or meat for you this year?

Not so bad...

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OK, I might have bitched about it yesterday morning, but the results were good. Our web retreat brought 9 women together to learn about web site creation. It was an interesting group with lots of different experiences (though many seemed to involve men wanking in public).

MJ & I had fun team teaching and our students all seemed to gain confidence. I expect to see some great sites soon. :-)

But I'm still not going to teach another workshop.

Not again...

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I'm off to yet another DigitalEve event. This time it's a web retreat in Saitama. I'm assisting MJ with ten students hoping to learn Dreamweaver.

I swore that I wouldn't teach any more DE-J workshops. They take so much time to prepare. I figured that assisting with this one would be a breeze--just show up and help--but I've revised documentation, made photocopies, organized the travel details, provided the instructor's computer, and consulted on scheduling.

This time I double-swear: NO MORE WORKSHOPS.

No recovery at restaurants

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A report issued by the Japan Food Service Association says that restaurant sales from April through September slumped 6.6% compared to the same period a year ago. They blame it on people staying home for the World Cup and during the summer rainy season, but I don't buy that.

I think it's another indication that the economy is not recovering and that people are being more frugal.

To back me up, there are also these reports this week: air conditioner shipments were down 10.1% (blamed on the cool summer weather--felt sweltering as usual to me); Matsuzakaya department store announced its profits were 16.6% lower than last year; and Tokyo's consumer price index fell again for the 37th month in a row--down another 0.8%.

Headcold

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I caught a cold while I was in Ireland--maybe I carried it with me from Japan, I don't know. I wrote it a poem to appease it, which didn't work very well and since it's still raging on, I thought I'd share the poem with you all.

Headcold

Crunchy lichen rimmed caves
Conceal a monster or machine
Blasting butter jonquils.
A trumpet in the distance--
Elephants? A flute's whine?
Dogs bark to be released
Into the wooly grey atmosphere
Of the rosy windowed world.

--KMcQ

Why does the US dictate NTT's fees?

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TOKYO --The telecom ministry said Tuesday Japan intends to hold talks with the United States in Washington on Monday over a U.S. demand to have Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT) cut hookup fees charged on non-NTT carriers.

"We would like to hold talks in Washington early next week," Kaoru Kanazawa, vice minister of the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications, told a news conference.

I guess the US-based international long distance carriers complained. Or maybe the US doesn't want its telecom companies to get any big ideas about higher hookup fees. Who knows? I don't and I'm really confused about why the US government thinks it can make requests like this--they don't even own any telephone companies anymore.

But I shouldn't complain. I've benefited from their last intervention with NTT. Internet access in Japan is superfast and very cheap because the US bitched about NTT rates being prohibitive to broad acceptance of the 'Net by regular folk. So now I pay monthly fees of only 3,700 yen to NTT and 2,300 to my ISP for 8 Mb ASDL! Cheaper than in the US, and faster, too.

Media hype

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Arriving back in Japan, I checked the local news. The top headline:

Soga observes crested ibises on Sadogashima Island

"OK, what's this all about," I wondered. Is Soga a minister I've never heard of? A famous ornithologist? Are the crested ibises of Sadogashima more important than other ibises?

Then I read the story:


Sunday, October 20, 2002 at 18:00 JST
MANO -- Hitomi Soga, one of the five Japanese nationals on their first homecoming since being abducted to North Korea in 1978, enjoyed observing crested ibises Sunday on Sadogashima Island, Niigata Prefecture.

Soga, 43, and her supporters visited the Sado Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center in the village of Niibo. (Kyodo News)

Geeez, it's just the Japanese media making the most of the North Korean abductees. There are tons of stories about them--will this couple register their marriage and three children in their hometown? This woman visited the site of her abduction. One abductee's father said his son was told by the North Koreans that he was useless and should go home to Japan--but later retracted that comment. One abductee is married to an American defector.

With all this trivia about a dozen people filling the news channels, I wonder what else is going on in the country? What is the government (through their tightly controlled news kisha) hiding with all this "news" about what these dozen people are doing on their visits to their hometowns and the sites of their abductions?

How to beat jet lag

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I don't feel jet lagged at all today. I slept for 12 hours and woke up with my headcold still raging. Maybe I am jetlagged, but I can't tell becasue of the coughing.

To kill time until I could go to bed again, I took Ferry, my laptop, to have her broken CD-R/DVD drive replaced. Now I'm upgrading her to Mac OS X. Tomorrow I'll install applications. The fun never ends.

Tadaima!

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A ten day vacation away from Japan is 40% travel. I've just ended a 25 hour door-to-door travel day and am looking forward to a long bath, dinner and a good night's sleep.

Once I'm rested and caught up, I'll fill in the missing entries (Oct 12-19) with all my Ireland exploits & the poetry I wrote at the workshop.

5 senses minus 2

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Today's work session got us to use senses and dreams to help give our poetry fresh images. But my headcold has bolluxed smell and taste, so my poems are missing something today.

This afternoon we went out to The Arches, a series of natural stone bridges at the coast. Very pretty and scary to walk across them!

We were to use the environment as a inspiration for a poem. I turned my back on the arches and the ocean and wrote about something inland. This isn't finished, in fact, I'm not at all happy with it, but here's what I wrote:

Hills of Beara

Hounds gnaw on bones, waiting so still, so long
Abandoned by masters, transformed by time
They've greened a half-barren velvet.
Stone dogs ignore the progress of ways
Tangled through their grey paws
And gaze at the vast, lapping water dish.

--KMcQ

Descriptive words

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This morning we began our day by making lists of words that we think are beatuiful, annoying, and terrifying/dangerous. Could be the word itself, or the thing the word stands for.

We read our lists aloud and were encouraged to jot down any words that we heard that struck us. Theft of words is allowed in poetry. For the rest of the week, we discovered words from our lists in one another's poems. It was neat.

Our assignment for today was to think of an old object that was worthless but dear to us and to describe it in detail, and to use metaphor at the end to show that it was important.

Mohair Sweater

Golden hair matted over crimson knitting
Unstitched rows repaired with clumsy knots
See-through elbows let in breezes
Buttons waggle in frayed holes.
It warms only my imagination
But I still buy clothes to match it.

--KMcQ

Meta 4

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This morning we focused on metaphor. Here's an easy way to create interesting metaphors. Make columns for object, abstract and adjective. Put five words in each category. Mix as desired.

concrete abstract adjective
heart
head
finger
book
page
dream
luck
worry
joy
intelligence
cold
brilliant
dangling
babbling
gritty

So we could have a brilliant finger of dream or luck's dangling book. Interesting.

Our poetic assignments for the day were to use metaphor to describe a person and to write an ode to an object. Here's my ode.

Ode to my earrings

Treasures of Tanzania with a ten dollar price tag
Now threaded through my ears, you were born
Frozen soil of an exotic homeland,
Streaky plums rimmed with ice.
You are a cloudy sky pierced by lightning.

Pinging against my neck, you've become
Ghostly leaves of a petrified tree,
Fluttering kites of stone and silver.
You are shiny black scales of an ancient fish.

In muffled chimes, you confide your secrets
The cargo route of cardamom,
A tarot card signifying temptation.
You are antenna tuned to world history.

--
KMcQ

Memories

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After introductions, (brief since 2/3 of the people in this workshop are my immediate family) we jump write into reading and writing poetry. Today's lesson is memories.

After writing out 25 sentences beginning with "I remember" we choose one to expand into free written prose recalling as much detail as possible. And from there we craft a poem. My sentence is "I remember carving a reduction print in my chilly studio with tea to warm my hands." And here's my poem:

Errors in Alignment

Blank sheets glow on the drawing table
Dare me to begin; I print in reduction.
Alone in my studio, time is a canvas.

Cream of wheat smells like wallpaper paste
The steam warms my hands as I work.
Heat's off again, ice forms on the glass.

Knife squeaks and rattles as it scratches down the surface,
Curves and lines pushed deeper by cold fingers.
Mirroring what I've patterned, how many mistakes?

Curves of linoleum yield to a soft breath
Grey inside and out, canvas's remainders.
Time passes, I tilt and balance on wobbly legs.

Pepper's prickle cracks the chill.
I break in my bruise-colored kitchen
Push back winter at the stove as the water boils.

-- KMcQ

Trip of Trials

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j-zous.jpgWe're off to Ireland for a week-long poetry workshop taught by my sister and her colleague, Jack McGuigan.

The trip to London was one of physical challenges. I bruised a toe while making the bed before we left. On the plane, the people sitting behind me dropped their bag on my head instead of putting it into the bin. Later in the flight, the drunken woman in front of me tipped her ice into my shoe, then, not realising that the stuff under her seat was not hers, she tried it on.

Once we arrived in London, we had a better time. Our friends Moritz and Franziska hosted us for the night. We had a wonderful paella. Their daughter loved her omiyage--a brand new Zou, of course--and may have loved Zoupi even more. I had to hide him before we left the next morning.

Our flight to Cork was uneventful but after we arrived, we learned that the bus to Anam Cara was overbooked--we didn't have a seat. A flurry of questions and phone calls had us on a bus to Glengariff (where's that!?) and Jenn & Jack drove out to pick us up at "the pub down the road from where the bus drops you--it has a man's name Johhny D's, maybe?" It was John Barry's and we were very grateful to have a pint after the long trip!

Regulars

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No matter where in the world you live, it's a good feeling to be become 'regulars' at a favorite restaruant.

Our restaurant is Ampresso, an Italian place with fabulous food only 5 minutes' walk from our house. When I walked in last night, the staff commented on the haircut.

If that weren't enough to assure me that we are valued customers, Satoru Ito, the owner and head chef, shared his recipe for a delicious sauce that goes with tuna carpaccio. He drew it in pictures with English and Japanese captions then explained it all to us step-by-step. Plus he gave us a litre of the special soy sauce from Kyushu we'll need to make the sauce. I guess we'll be making a lot of tuna carpaccio!

After dinner, Ito-san treated us to cake and coffee. Could you ask for anything better? What a nice guy!

Ito-san, who loves to fish and lived in Italy for a while, has a website. It's mainly in Japanese but there are lots of pictures and some of his Ampresso recipes.

1010

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At university (which I say instead of 'in college' in deference to my non-American friends for whom 'college' is a two-year technical skills course), my crazy thespic friends, Karen Klick in particular, were fascinated by a science fiction puppet animation called Thunderbirds.

By the time we were watching, Thunderbirds was 20 years old and the puppetry and effects looked extremely cheesy. But it was fun and every October 10th (and sometimes twice a day) I remember the code for "acknowledged" that the International Rescue team used: tenten.

Now that I think about it, I suspect Karen liked the show so much becasue she bears a distinct resemblance to the sexy blond secret agent, Lady Penelope.

Endocrine disruption

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According to an investigative panel presented earlier this week, as much as 80% of Japan's food supply may contain Diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a suspected endocrine disrupter.

DEHP is used to make plastics flexible and it's a big component of vinyl and some food packaging. In low levels, it's not likely to harm you too much, because the body can break it down pretty quickly. But high level, long term exposure in rat studies did nasty thing to the poor rats, like kidney damage and reproduction problems.

Of course, rats aren't human. Should we worry? Maybe not about this specific problem, but the combined chemicals and manmade things in our environment have got to have an affect on us.

I've always had a suppressed urge to run away to the countryside and live more in harmony with nature,eating grains I grew, using energy from renewable sources, raising animals for food and clothing but I'm not sure I could give up my computer. Articles and reports like this make me think about it more seriously.

The right shade

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Cosmetics companies have it tough. They all have to create subtly different shades of the same few colors: pink, red, orange.

Of course, its worse when you have to decide which one looks best on you. I've had some successes since I cut my hair and decided to "level up" on my look (I sure do feel less dowdy and middle aged than I did a week ago!).

Yesterday I found dark, dark burgundy shade from France that smells like berries and make me look like a 1920s film star. And from Japan, a more moderate rosy pink that's more in line with my natural lip color.

Unfortunately I have to make a decision to either look great or get kissed. Tod does not appreciate lip prints on his cheeks. Hmmmm.

Looking in my closet

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I'm a minimalist when it comes to clothing. I don't have a huge closet full of things I don't wear and I'm ruthless about culling things I don't like or items that I've worn out.

Because I do actually wear my clothes out. And looking through my closet the last few days, when the changing weather has had me digging out fall things, makes me realise I pretty much need to chuck all my stuff and start over. My pants are stained and fraying; my skirts have holes in them. My tops are faded, and fraying at the cuffs. Excepting a few things I bought this year, I dress like a ragamuffin.

So I think today I will go shopping. I'll head to Marui Model--the shop for large sized ladies. The sometimes have attractive things and sometimes just dowdy old tents.

Bits and parts

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I've alawys loved walking through the warrens of Akihabara where stalls sell all of the bits and parts for building your own electronic gadgets. I've often thought that it would be fun to turn some of the pretty, blinky shiny things into art.

Well, I finally have a project idea that combines art and tech. Now I need to figure out how to wire minature TFT monitors together to work with a single video camera. Then I can put together a parts list and actually shop in the warrens, instead of browsing.

The first trick will be getting enough electronics clue to be able to detail the plans. Anyone have a favorite reference on how to build your own array of video monitors?

Romayne, aged 10?

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Romayne.jpgI'm not sure how old she is in this photo, but this is my grandmother. She was born in 1916 and grew up outside Philadephia and in New Jersey.

Sometimes I wish I had my costume reference books with me. I can't date the picture from the clothing, because although the big collar with plaid trim is from the 20s, its quite possibly a hand-me-down. Romayne was second youngest in a family of 14!

Thanks, Mom, for finding this photo and scanning it.

Reflections of previous generations

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ameri.jpgMy last big style change reminded me of my mother circa 1976. The latest one is my grandmother, Romayne, at age 6.

In one of our family albums, there is a black and white photo of Romayne with a hairstyle very similar to my new one. She's standing outside wearing a patterned dress and chunky lace up shoes. Maybe it was the first day of school or a birthday. I suspect her sister cut her hair with the aid of a bowl. Mine didn't involve any bowls.

I wonder if after my next style I will look like my great-grandmother?

Household forensics

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Because there are big chunks of time when Tod is awake while I'm sleeping, every morning I look around the house to see what's changed. Sometimes I get a very clear picture of what's gone on while I rested.

For example, if I peek into the sink and find a wooden bowl dusted with a bit of salt, I know Tod had a snack while he was working. If I check in the rubbish bin, I'll probably see the packaging for his favorite pepper-coated popcorn.

Earlier this week, I was out of the house for nearly 24 hours. When I came in the next morning, I saw Tod's sneakers at the door. Not his usual work shoes. He was in bed in a t-shirt. Not his usual pajamas. His laptop was near the bed. I concluded (correctly) that he hadn't gone into the office the day before.

This morning's clues have me confused. Two square zabuton floor pillows are on the sofa. Tod must have been lying down in the living room and using them to prop up his head. The pocket door between the kitchen and hall is partly closed.

I wonder what was going on last night?

Rain, wind, sun

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At 7:00 am the sky was cloudy and by afternoon it looked like we were in for a good, long rain. It was pouring buckets when Tod called at 5:00 saying everyone was being sent home early because of the typhoon.

The rain slowed at about 7:30 and we went out for dinner. The wind was blowing nicely and everything smelled fresh and clean. By the time we finished eating, we finally had our typhoon. We walked home through gusty winds and driving rain. Typhoon 21 was a bad one, the strongest in 60 years. Two people died during the storm, a ship ran aground, 270 flights were cancelled, and there was a blackout of almost 12,000 homes in Kanto.

Despite the dangers, there's something delightful about bad weather. On the way home, I smiled, ran and danced in the rain. I laughed as I wrung my skirt out before going into the convenience store. After arriving home completely soaked to the skin, we put on cozy pajamas and laid in bed with our laptops.

This morning the sky is clear and blue.

Gratitude and haircuts

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Props to Yoshi who is now featured in two sections of the video project. In addition to letting me bump into him on the street six times during retakes a few weeks ago, he let me and MJ film him ringing up my purchases at 7:00 this morning. I wonder if anyone (aside from you) will notice that he's an extra twice over?

The filming schedule is harried this week because I'm getting my hair cut on Thursday evening. So every shot that features me will be taken before then. And if I forget one or we have a production disaster, I'll just have to be creative with the editing and voice overs. The pressure to do it right is actually quite exhilarating.

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