May 2005 Archives

1950 camp girl

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Mom circa 1950

It is one of the photos that I look at and think "Is that me, or Mom?" Except that I never owned a checked cap embroidered with Fran on the peak or those funky mid-century fashions, it really could have been me--same hair, same face, same soft arms.

It must have been taken at summer camp or on holiday. Doesn't Mom look like she's trying to be serious but wants to laugh? I wonder who snapped the picture?

Two hour getaway

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A few minutes walk from Shinjuku's East exit you will find a two-hour getaway--quite a few of them, in fact--in the form of love hotels. I don't know if love hotels exist outside Japan but they certainly don't rear their heads in America, so for the benefit of foreign readers, here's a brief description of the neighborhood and the hotel I visited this evening.

Shinjuku's Kabukicho 2-chome is adjacent to one of Tokyo's seedier neighborhoods: Kabukicho 1-chome is all sex shops and massage parlors lining the neon-lit streets; young toughs in suits and over-coiffed hair stand outside to entice customers into their establishments. Not quite as blatant and a bit of a step up, Kabukicho 2-chome is known for well-appointed short-term hotels.

Hotel Tiffard is one of these places, about halfway down the main avenue of hotels. It doesn't stand out among the rest but it seems as good as any of the others. On a weeknight 6800 yen gets you two hours in room 508--equipped with a Jacuzzi, a steam sauna, karaoke service, a vending machine full of toys, and dimmable lighting.

Two points worth noting:

1) Get out before the clock rolls over 2 hours or you will pay for an extra half hour even if you are only 2 minutes past the checkout. If you want a leisurely pace, it's better to pay for the "stay" than the briefer "rest."

2) Be sure to visit Shinanoya at the corner before you head up the street. I swear this place has the best selection of Scotch and bourbon in Tokyo. And not a shabby wine list, either. There were several Margaret River wines I haven't seen before and a good selection of the usual favorites. (Plus some with screw tops, which are handy if you've forgotten your wine pull.)

It feels naughty to return home on the last train of the evening and realise that 20 minutes earlier you were enjoying the best amenities of a hotel room. Piqued your interest? Here's a coupon

Back Arrow

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Me and my arrow

Tod has been telling me for years that my body is freckled with constellations. He is especially fond of one on my shoulder, but until today, I had never seen it.

While I was brushing my teeth this morning, he came in with a china marker and the camera. A few ticklish strokes later and I was ready for my close-up. Sure enough, there's The Arrow.

Call to Podcast

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creative perspectivesRemember the college radio station you listened to late at night? It was an odd mix of musical styles, on-air personalities and funny PSAs...and if you were more than 500 meters from the broadcast tower, you couldn't listen in.

A new project--an online radio station--is taking off and you are invited to play. Hanashi Station seeks people to produce their own online radio programs (podcasts).

Podcasts are downloadable MP3s that you can listen to on your computer or your MP3 player (named after iPods, podcasts actually have nothing to do with Apple or iPod).

Hanashi Station is scheduling 10-15 minute programs to air July through December. Have you ever wanted to have your own show? This is your chance.

Content must be related to Japan, but pretty much any format goes: talk, interviews, readings, environmental sounds, field reportage, news, rights-cleared music. Producers don't have to live in Japan to particiapte; from anywhere in the world you can do a program about any Japanese topic: anime, haiku, gardening, translation, or whatever you like.

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And it's all my idea. Over the last few months some friends have talked about doing podcasting, but nobody has enough time to do anything regularly. MJ, Jim, Tod & I combined forced to put this together.

Hanashi Station will run a six-month trial, with shows going out from July through December. The first announcement yesterday nearly filled up the starting slots, so it looks like there will be more show times added to the schedule.

If you want to podcast at Hanashi Station, please e-mail www at hanashi-station.net

White Pepper Poundcake

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recipe thursdayI made this cake for Tod's belated birthday party a couple weeks ago. It's spicy--Sachiko said she's never had a cake that burned afterwards. My original attempt used Quatre Epices, but I reworked the recipe with plain white pepper because it's easier to find.


White Pepper Poundcake
serves 8

100 g butter, softened
150 g sugar
2 eggs
80 cc milk
200 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp clove
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar; beat in eggs; add milk. Sift dry ingredients and stir into wet mixture. Bake in a non-stick (or buttered & floured) loaf pan for about 40 minutes at 180/350 or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve plain, glazed, with custard sauce, or whipped cream.

Population facts

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I'm working on a film project now that represents the entire world's population - 1 pixel per person - in just under 10 and a half minutes.

To fill the time and make the pixels more interesting, I'm creating brief mini-features of facts on world population, growth, development, density and other things. It's not as dull as it sounds...

Here's a sample from the film. It compares ten seconds of the film (about 103 million people) to various groups. I was surprised at the facts I dug up. Did you know there are more AIDS orphans than there are Mexican citizens? That the number of coffee drinkers in America is equal to the number of people with Herpes worldwide?

Have a look for yourself. This is a draft version--the narration has a glaring error and will be re-recorded later. And the footage is still under review. Comments and suggestions welcome, but please be kind.

playicon.gif Ten Second Facts 7.5 MB 1'10" MP4

Reading Online & Off

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According to the Salt Lake Tribune's recent article, book sales are down, despite an increase in titles. With 175,000 different books to choose from, readers purchased 44 million fewer books in 2004. That's a decrease of about 2% of total book sales (2.295 billion in 2004 vs 2.339 billion in 2003).

On the other hand, Kansas City infozine's latest survey shows that about 6% of American adults have created blogs and 1 in 6 read blogs.

I wonder if there is a correlation to be found here?

If more people are writing for a public audience through their weblogs perhaps they are gaining confidence and skill that lets them cross to the world of paper publishing. It can't hurt to show a publisher web stats that prove you have an audience who is likely to buy your book. That might explain the increase in titles.

The statistics might also explain the decrease in sales. Weblog readers have become used to a free reading experience. If 1/6th of Americans find reading weblogs satisfying, they might be decreasing their available time and desire to read physical books. Why pay for a book when you get stuff just as good for free online?

I'm not saying that weblogs equal books. I enjoy both and know they are different experiences. But maybe readers with limited time or budget don't see the difference as clearly--it all adds up to "reading" for them. And that might explain the decrease in book sales.

Only greed can account for the 2.8% increase in revenue for the book publishers, though.

Jazz in the park

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Laurent in tux and umbrella.

It showered during yesterday evening's concert, but that didn't stop our crowd of 17 sartorially elegant socialisers from enjoying ourselves at the first dress-up event.

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Jim & I danced in the rain. (courtesy of Tracey)

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Yuka and I smile for Jonathan.

Jonathan and Tod took hundreds of photos; a select gallery of 27 images is online.

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Our private classical concert

After the jazz concert at the park, we enjoyed dinner at Kaneko in Komagome. The other group in the restaurant with us were classical musicians. They played for about 15 minutes and finished off our evening on a wonderful note. Tracey captured a few seconds of video on her keitai during this private concert.

Violin solo (150K .mov)
Bolero video (250K .mov)

Toner Wars

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A swarm of chartreuse gnats hovers in the sunlight. The air vibrates with life until the sun goes behind a cloud, then they disappear.

Tired poodle

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Saturday evening, 6:45 pm

Tod says I look like a poodle. I think I exhibit signs of exhaustion.

Creative Achievement

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creative perspectivesWhen I was about 14, I won a prize for a drawing in a coloring book contest. My picture was not a masterwork but it was in perfect coloring book style--big, simple shapes that reproduced well as outlines to be colored in my little kids. I knew what the contest needed and I aimed for that. I think the subject of my drawing was villagers with pitchforks chasing a dragon or storming a castle.

Winning the contest was embarrassing; the drawings were turned into a coloring book given away at the next year's summer festival and the originals were on display in the same room with the juried art. My classmates saw this childlike drawing when I knew I could do better work. Horrors!

Fortunately not all teen art prizes send tremors down the spine 25 years later.

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Helen's prizewinning pottery

My niece has a creative prize to be proud of. Her pottery bowl, Fantasia, has just won the Lorraine Franckiewicz Art Award in a juried exhibit in her town.

Unlike my coloring book drawing, Helen's contest entry shows her true talents. She's been making pottery for about two years and look at the beauty she can create from clay and glaze. This is a prize that is well-deserved. Congratulations, Helen!

Daikon Pancakes

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recipe thursdayThese daikon pancakes were developed at camp on Niijima. I started out with the idea of making daikon mochi, a Chinese dim sum favorite, but after pureeing one daikon, I realised there wouldn't be enough to feed ten people. So I improvised and ended up with these wonderful starchy pancakes. This served ten people as a hearty breakfast and I haven't cut the quantities yet.

I created the puree (oroshi) with an special grater that has large round holes studded with spikes. I think you could do something similar with the fine side of a box grater. Or perhaps a food processor or blender would puree well, but I've never tried that.

Daikon Pancakes
serves 10

3 daikon
2 onions, large
2 carrots
2 shiitake mushrooms
1 egg
2 tsp sesame seeds
1/2 c corn starch (or katakuriko)
1/2 c flour
oil for frying

Oroshi one daikon, set aside to drain. Peel and chop 2 daikon into cubes and boil until soft, then drain and mash until about half is still lumpy (imagine doing this at camp at dawn in a high wind with a fork and stop when you get tired.). Thinly slice carrots & onions (I used the blade side of the oroshi grater) & chop into rough strips. Mince the shiitake. Squeeze out most of the remaining liquid from the daikon oroshi. Combine all daikon, vegetables, egg & sesame seeds. Add starch & flour until the mix is a thick batter. Fry in oil until brown on both sides and firm to the touch. Top with Tabasco or sweet chili sauce or serve seasoned to taste with salt & pepper.

Shrouded

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Another use for Japanese towels

Summer breezes blow dust into all my equipment, so I've sewn two Japanese bath towels into simple covers for my mixer and microphone. I won't win awards for interior decoration, but now I can open the veranda door without worrying about ruining my gear. Function trumps form.

A trinity plus 1

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Yesterday I was feeling moody, so beware the mawkish post today; it's the best I can do before I dig into today's work. But it does have a happy ending.

I count four men in my life who are...I don't even know how to say it. Important to my contentment. They are role models, confidants, friends and I am fortunate--I am married to one, was fathered by another, and the other two are especially dear friends. They are not interchangeable as people, but I'm not entirely sure sometimes who fills which role: mind, body, heart, & soul.

Yesterday I desired a quiet hour with any of them. We'd sit together reading, listening to pages turn and the soft tink of ice in the glass, smelling the freshness of new leaves and the tangy dust of the city. We'd break the companionable stillness to offer refreshments and to read passages aloud.

Sadly, everyone was unavailable. Tod was at work, my two friends are half a world away, and Dad is dead. So I sat by myself and thought about them. I sketched and wrote and contemplated under the summer green of a sakura tree.

Did my hour of reflection set something in motion? This morning, I discovered that they all had reached out to me. I woke from a dream of Dad; Tod had wrapped himself tightly around me as we slept. An e-mail from one friend and a phone call from the other closed up all the gaps.

I feel much less alone now. Thank you, gentlemen.

Macrame

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Spring, circa 1980

Taxi tech

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Technology has revealed two classes of taxi drivers: the old school drivers who have memorised every road, turning and landmark in the city and can optimize a route from any point A to any point B taking into consideration the typical traffic conditions; and the younger generation who rely on car navi systems to tell them where to go.

Tod encountered this yesterday when he took a taxi from his office to meet me at a museum in Ueno, a distance of about 3 km. "Ueno park, please, but not via Chuo-dori because there is a festival going on," he instructed the driver.

The youthful driver punched the coordinates into his navigation system and then consulted it at every pause in the drive. Red light: switch view to a wider area. Stalled traffic: scroll along the route. Waiting to turn: flip on the "street level" viewer to see the intersection.

That driver is never going to learn how to get from Otemachi to Ueno on the back streets, even though he did it yesterday.

Keisatsu

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This morning, Tod & I finally got ourselves to the police station to report the three robberies we've suffered since March. I was a little bit nervous--would they get all "I sorry, no speak Engrish" when we spoke to them in Japanese? Would they dismiss our robberies as trivial? Would we get into trouble somehow?

I shouldn't have worried. After arousing an initial curiosity from all and sundry at the Reception counter, the staff quieted down and a man in a fishing vest took our report in hand and told us to sit and wait.

Tod passed the time reading all the posters in the lobby--aloud. Did you know that over 50% of burglars enter by breaking a window? Or that robberies trend upwards in the autumn? Neither did I. By the time Tod was done with the posters, Mr. Vest emerged from a side door with his colleague, Mr. Briefcase. "Let's go," Mr. Vest said enthusiastically, brandishing a digital camera.

And we were off to study the scene of the crime. Mr. Briefcase opened up his kit and examined the genkan with a strong light (so much dirt!) and dusted for fingerprints with a soft rabbit hair brush and some grey powder. Mr. Vest went downstairs to talk to the management guys and to test the door. He showed Tod how most "auto-lock" lobby doors can be fooled into opening by sliding a paper through the door from the outer lobby and waving it around. So much for security.

But that's not how our robber got in. Mr. Vest spotted a footprint and some dirt on the sill of the window in the lobby that overlooks a small garden. The window had been left unlocked for air circulation, as it sometimes is. The robber scaled the wall, dropped into the garden and slipped in through the window, bypassing the auto-lock door.

After nearly an hour of investigations, a brief visit from the police chief, and a few minutes fingerprinting us for comparison with prints gathered, our two detectives went back to the station.

Mr. Vest told us that they catch about 70% of the burglars they seek; I hope we're on the side of success.

How to Catch a Thief

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creative perspectivesWell, our house robber has struck again after we laxly left the door unlocked when we came home last night (this morning at 5 am, actually). He's ventured farther into the apartment, opening two briefcase bags in the hallway and stealing 5,000 yen in coins from a basket tucked out of sight under a table in the hall.

So now I'm thinking of ways to catch this bastard in the act. Of course I will set up a motion detecting webcam to record any activitiy at the door. Perhaps I will also install a very loud buzzer to wake up not only us but every tenant in the building.

But what I really want to do is to invent a really novel way to incriminate him. I envision a Rube Goldberg contraption that sets off a chain of events when the door opens--a rope tied to the doorknob pulls upward as the door swings out, lifting a ... what would you add to the machine and what would it do?

Niijima Salad

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recipe thursdayA pile of vegetables, three cutting boards and a handful of hungry choppers inspired this hearty lunchtime camp salad. The soft tofu, fresh from the shop, crumbles into a creamy dressing that contrasts nicely with the tang of the pickled carrots and cucumbers. Our crunchy frill lettuce came from a local friend's own garden and the seaweed was gathered from the ocean that morning.

Niijima Salad
serves 5

1 large carrot
2 cucumbers
1/2 tsp ginger, minced
1 slice lemon
1 tsp salt

Thinly slice the carrot and cucumbers (a cabbage grater works perfectly). Sprinkle with salt and allow to stand for 5 minutes, then gently squeeze and drain. Mix in the ginger and squeeze the lemon over. Press under the weight of a soup can while you prepare the rest of the salad.

(adjust quantities to suit yourself)
1 or 2 heads crisp lettuce
1/2 bunch spinach
handful of parsley
1/4 onion
6 shiitake
1 cup takenoko (fresh bamboo shoot), boiled and cooled
1/4 daikon
1/4 cup seaweed, boiled & rinsed
15 ginkgo nuts
1 stalk celery
1 block fresh soft tofu
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
black pepper to taste

Slice the vegetables to your preferred serving sizes. Cut the tofu into chunks and toss well to incorporate into the salad. Top with pickled carrots and cucumbers, sesame seeds and black pepper.

Jazz in the Park

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Press your tux, dust off your jewels. It's a black tie evening.

Sunday May 22, 2005
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm (dinner to follow)
Kyu-Furukawa Garden, Kita-ku (Map & info: English - Japanese

This is a free jazz concert featuring vocalist Miyuki Komatsu held at one of Tokyo's most beautiful parks.

Let's dress up and make it a special event (and a spectacle for the other people attending). Dinner is optional afterwards--I'm thinking of Isou Ryouri Kaneko, a fish restaurant in Komagome. If you'd like to eat with the party, please e-mail me before the 17th so I can reserve sufficient tables.

Why dress up for a concert and dinner? A while back, my friends and I were distressed that we have lovely frocks that we rarely use. Well, that's easily corrected. Jazz in the Park launches series of formal dress events, though the events themselves may not always be formal. Anyone is welcome to attend, just put on your best ballgown, cocktail dress, tuxedo, dinner jacket, or suit.

Coming soon: Dress-up Dim Sum, Ballgowns at the Ball Park, and Fireworks in Frocks.

Altered Books

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My latest page for Altered Books

Altered Books is a poetry project run by my friend and poet extraordinaire, Dan Waber. The idea is simple:

Cut the bindings off of books found at a used book store. Find poems in the pages by the process of obliteration. Put pages in the mail and send them all around the world. Lather, rinse, repeat.

4 hours

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Camping renewed my interest in things I can do in the physical world. I sketched, carved a pen and made ink from charcoal, attempted to make a bamboo flute. It was so satisfying to work with my hands

Now that I'm home, I'm going to try to limit my compuer time to four hours a day (unless I'm working on a job, of course). I have a kitchen timer at my side. This morning, I'm already at 3:38 remaining.

My offline plans today--clean out the clothes closets and organize my summer wardrobe.

Tech minatures

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The boxes caught my eye at 7-11.

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And inside...toys!

More conbini toys. This time not traditional gods, but the modern ones--gadgets. Mobile Figure Collection III is a set of 20 different minature DoCoMo mobile phones with display stands. Some of them fold, some come with the same accessories as the real-life versions.

And I could not resist the Nintendo History Collection. Aside from the cool plasic box, there are 8 different minatures--the Family Computer, the AV Famicom, the Family Basic & Data Recorder. I was hoping for the Family Computer Disk System, but my container held the Namco Soft Set--8 little games in their boxes (some assembly required). I assume they will fit into the computer toys.

Camping meals

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One final sketch before packing up to leave

I am certain we had the most elaborate kitchen of any other campers at the Niijima Camp-jo. We fed between 7 and 12 people per meal every day for a week. When the full compliment of our group was present, we had 4 camp stoves, two fires, and enough pots and pans to require a crew of four dish washers.

Our meals were spectacular--no instant noodles for us. From fruited pancakes to thai curry to daikon cakes to saffron chicken, we cooked up a storm (and in one, too). We ate three meals a day and there was still time for countless trips into town for shopping adventures. We know all the Niijima grocery stores.

Surfers

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Click for screensaver sized version

Niijima is well-known (in Japan, at least) for its surf. But on the morning I took this photo, the surfers were more hopeful than active. They did eventually catch a few waves, but there were better days for hanging ten.

My sweet square

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Tod admires the cliffs near Secret Point

Happy birthday, darling.

After the deluge

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Tod's sneakers dry out on the fireplace

Everything was soaked--mats, sleeping bags, us. What a night of wind and rain.

Beauty al fresco

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Smoothing coconut oil through Rachel's hair

Bring a bunch of girls camping and you get to do fun, girly things. I had the corner on the hairdressing market--brushing and braiding tresses all week. It was fun.

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Trying not to giggle as Tracey applies a mud pack

I also received. Tracey brought along a bunch of facials to soothe our sun and wind burned skin. As I ambled from our site to the communal sinks, I thought "Yikes! I'm walking through camp in a bikini!" Then I remembered I had smears of mud all over my face and a green towel wrapped around my head.

Sashimi windfall

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Tod with unexpected blessing.

5:00 on Saturday evening, a white-clad kitchen worker arrives at camp. After calling out a name loudly and wandering up the path, he stops not far from our campsite. Tracey speaks to him for a few minutes, then goes off to look for "three girls in a tent" who ordered the food.

They were not to be found, so Maeda-san, the delivery man, left the cooler with us. Inside: ika and kampachi sashimi, three beers and some soy sauce. A feast for which the man would not take payment.


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Maeda-san, our benefactor

He returned that evening with some beer and settled in for a snack and a chat. He wanted to apologise for inconveniencing us (by giving us free sashimi?!). We invited him to stay for dinner, he had to return to his kitchen to tidy up. He took a shine to Tod who has the best Japanese of any of the gaijin in our group.

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Vegetables from Maeda-san's garden

The next morning, he brought us a wooden box full of daikon, onions, parsley, and lettuce. He even came back on Wednesday with fruits...we have no idea why, but are grateful nonetheless.

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