May 2006 Archives

Summer Style

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Tomorrow is the "official" day to start wearing summer uniforms and summery clothing like white dresses and linen suits. So keep your eyes open today, and note that the people in uniform in your neighborhood (schoolkids, policemen, railway & subway folks, construction workers) may all be dressed differently tomorrow.

June 1 kicks off the period for CoolBiz 2006, so businessmen are dressing for the summer, too. To conserve energy, the Ministry of the Environment is asking companies to keep their offices at 28°C (82°F), and workers are requested to dress appropriately - short sleeves, no ties, lightweight suits. CoolBiz style.

The department stores love this, setting up displays of ways to look corporate without a necktie, and the government sponsored a fashion event in Omotesando Hills today. But it's a hard sell. In Wakayama-ken, where the weather is warmer, the prefectural government started CoolBiz last week. According to a newspaper report only 80 of 2300 employees turned up without ties.

So get out your white shoes, press up all that lovely linen and get ready for summer dressing. It's supposed to be sunny and 28° in Tokyo tomorrow.

Lucid Dreaming

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I took a nap this afternoon and had an odd dream.

I dreamt that I was having a nap. My body in the dream was arranged similarly to the way I was arranged on the bed in real life - lying on my right side with my arms loosely folded under my head. In the dream I was wearing a floaty chiffon sundress.

In the dream nap, I dreamt I was dreaming. In the dream's dream I moved my hand along my arm to reposition it better under my head. I felt the fingers on my skin. The dreaming me was aware that she was dreaming and became quite alarmed when she woke a little and tried to move her hand but couldn't. It felt like her arm was numb or held in place with a heavy weight.

I was aware that I was dreaming this dream-within-a-dream and after a moment of panic and confusion, I woke up into the real world to test my hand. It moved (whew) and I fell back asleep to dream of discovering a dining room and bookshelves hidden behind a fireplace in our apartment.

Morioka Shoten

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Moriokia Shoten. Inoue Bldg 2 #305, Nihonbashi-Kayabacho 2-17-13, Chuo-ku.

This evening I attended an opening party. It wasn't at a gallery or a museum. It was the opening of an exclusive word-of-mouth bookstore on the third floor of a delightfully vintage building overlooking Kamajima-gawa in Kayabacho.

Morioka Shoten specialises in early 20th century design, photography, art & photography books - mainly from Europe. Morioka-san, a young man who learned the trade at one of the venerable Jimbocho booksellers, has a small but impressive collection of books by Czech designer Josef Čapek & his brother Karl as well as a wide variety of other interesting books.

I'm looking forward to going back on an evening when it isn't so crowded and hot to spend more time perusing the books.

Swap

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I'm enjoying the idea of trading and swapping things with strangers. In addition to getting a steady stream of excellent CDs from the Creative Perspectives Mix trade, I received a package yesterday as part of the Use What You Have craft swap.

It was such a delight to open the box, which came from Zambia by way of the UK, to enjoy all the little treats my swap partner, LuckyBeans had included.

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A handmade bag just the right size for carrying my sketchbooks and art supplies came filled with Indian recipes and spices (plus the most delicious Madagascar vanilla pods!), and a box of lucky beans to tuck under my pillow.

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A length of beautiful fabric tied with a wooden button and glass beads.

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Miss Shrew, who quickly made friends with the Zous.

I am ashamed to say that I got better than I gave in this case. A more-deserving woman in Germany received a too-hurried package thin on content and without any clever details. But I will do much better next time I play, which I will do again because a box full of mystery presents is the best thing ever.

K Stew

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recipe thursdayWe chuckled as we chopped the ingredients for this "cleaning out the fridge meal", because most of the ingredients start with a |k| sound if you mix the English and Japanese names.

I wasn't sure cauliflower and kabu (turnip) would go well together, but these mild Japanese turnips were an excellent match. Komatsuba, a bitter green leaf similar to spinach but more astringent, and mini tomatoes added a nice acidity to the dish. Kinoko (mushrooms), beef and garlic rounded out the flavors. There's no special seasoning except a splash of leftover Cabernet.

Although it's really beyond the end of stew season, I can't help making them on chillier early summer evenings. I love making them in the oven. After you put them in, covered so they steam themselves cooked, you can leave them alone to do their stewing and there's no worry of an unattended open flame on the stove top.

K Stew
serves 2-4

2 small turnips (kabu)
1/4 head cauliflower
1 carrot
1 bunch komatsuba
1 cup mushrooms (kinoko)
4 mini tomatoes
1/2 cup Cabernet
300 gr stew beef
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
olive oil
water
salt & pepper to taste

Cut the ingredients into bite sized pieces.

In an oven-proof casserole with a lid, brown the beef in a bit of olive oil. Add the garlic and allow to brown. Pour in the cabernet. Add all the vegetables and mix well. Add enough water to barely cover the vegetables. Simmer until the komatsuba wilts.

Cover casserole with the lid and put into a 160 C oven for about an 90 minutes, stirring once or twice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Raindrops

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My urban rainforest. Click for larger version.

I can see I'm going to keep happy during tsuyu by watching the rain on my bamboo grass. The surface tensions between the rain and the leaves form these beautiful rounded drops that sit still on the leaves.

Summer Dust

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summerdust.jpg
Can you see the dust?

I've had the doors and windows open for the last couple of days to admit fresh breezes. Now everything in the house is coated with a fine, gritty layer of crud. This is how it will be for the rest of the season.

I've learned to protect my equipment with dust cloths, but no matter how frequently I wipe things down, every surface will recoat the moment I open the doors and windows. Filthy city!

Pinhole & gardening

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Neighborhood dog

On Saturday, I made a pinhole for the digital camera. It was easy. I drilled a 1 cm hole in the center of a plastic Nikon body cap and attached a pinhole with some black tape. Then a took a lot of photos. The best of the bunch are in a Flickr set.

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Herb garden

On Sunday, Tod & I went for a walk, hoping to take more pictures, and ended up buying 30 plants, two big pots and some dirt. Then we took a taxi home and got all dirty planting an herb garden in the containers. I hope these do better than my previous gardening attempts.

What do you see?

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creative perspectivesWhen you look at a scene, an event or a person, what do you see? Where is your eye drawn? What runs through your mind - consciously or subconsciously? These are hard questions to answer, but I think they are important to improving your creativity. If you know what you naturally prefer, you can strengthen it, or choose to focus elsewhere for a break or a new perspective.

I've been studying my friends' photos and artworks lately to try to figure out what they see - their creative visions.

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Jeremy sees light and shadows played on textured surfaces.

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Jim finds old styles in modern places.

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Lil sees humanity in the non-majority and the elegance of structure.

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Julianne is attracted to color and form.

These are just some representatives of four large bodies of work. By looking more closely I'm uncovering (perceived) secrets of what makes them tick - and I'm starting to discover what I see - color, edges and relationships.

Chocolate-coated Peanut Butter Pie

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recipe thursdayI tried this for a friend's "American Comfort Foods" theme party (also on the menu were Buffalo wings, macaroni & cheese, and eggplant parmesan.) This smooth, light peanut butter cheesecake with a crispy chocolate topping was a decadent ending and very American. We let it come to room temperature before serving, which was a mistake - it softened too much and was difficult to serve in slices. Still delicious but next time I'll serve it chilled.

Chocolate-coated Peanut Butter Pie
serves 8-10

1 graham cracker crust (ready-made of home-made)
250 gr cream cheese, softened
240 ml peanut butter
240 ml sugar
200 ml whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
100 gr semi-sweet chocolate
4 Tbsp butter

Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add sugar and peanut butter 1/2 cup at a time and mix well. In a chilled bowl, whip cream and vanilla until firm. Gently incorporate into peanut butter mixture. Pour into pie crust. Chill for abut an hour.

Melt butter and chocolate over low heat (or double boiler). Allow to cool slight, then pour over peanut butter and spread evenly. Chill until firm. Serve chilled.

Alternate: skip the crust. Pour peanut butter into individula serving dishes, topping each with chocolate. Serve at room temperature with a spoon.

Too common criminals

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The Japanese government passed a law today that will affect me, most of my friends, and over 6 million other gaijin.

Foreigners visiting Japan will be photographed and fingerprinted on entry, including those living here, who will be photographed and fingerprinted upon any re-entry to Japan.

Of course, it's done in the name of anti-terrorism, safety and national security. Since the US has been doing this same thing to its foreign visitors since 2004, Japan was bound to follow. Wasn't it?

No date has been set to begin this procedure. Perhaps some of the groups that have protested can create a diversion before the government can pass the budget and schedule portions of the legislation. But that seems doubtful. This snippet from the Asahi Shimbun does not promise much good:

Meanwhile, Gayle S. Nix, a senior official at the U.S. firm Accenture, said little information is available on known terrorists and that border-control data ought to be shared among nations in the future.

She said resistance to governments holding personal data such as fingerprints will likely ease over time.

Accenture also developed the fingerprint data-management system that the U.S. government adopted in 2004 to track all foreign nationals entering the United States.

Accenture won a bid from Japan last fall to develop an experimental immigration tracking system that includes integrated-circuit chip embedded cards capable of storing the fingerprint data of the holder.

The IC-card system will be used once the fingerprinting requirement legislation is passed.

Won't be long before we're all so comfy with governments "holding personal data", that we'll eagerly line up for our free, legislated RFID tags so our every move can processed to prove we're Good Citizens.

Stop this world! Let me off. What to do? What to do? Get off the grid. Start my own nation. Stop moving about in the world... I don't know how.

Small delights

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The Creative Perspectives mix trade is starting to bring returns. I mailed mine out (finally) before I went to London. Now I've received two in return.

Yesterday Jenn's CD came and today I found Schmeebot's in my mailbox. And they both sent bonuses - the "knitangle", jewelry parts, photos, t-shirts and more. Way cool and so unexpected.

The music is almost all stuff I don't have in my collection, and not what I normally listen to. It's good and the mixes are brilliant. Some highlights: bug powder dust by bomb the bass; only happy when it rains, garbage; lost at sea, the egg; noche divina, natalia lafourcade. Great songs, all of them. I feel inspired to paint and create.

And that was the point. So thanks!

How to Remove a Bee

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Bees are attracted to light and move away from darkness and shadows. If a bee enters your room and buzzes against the inside of the window trying to get back out into the sunny day, and if you have access to the outside of the window, here is a sure-fire method for removing the bee without hurting it.

bee-removal.gif

  1. Turn off all the lights in your room. The window should be the brightest source of light.
  2. Grab a newspaper, sheet of black paper, a large book or something else opaque but easily held. Bigger is better.
  3. Hold the paper against the outside of the window in front of the bee.
  4. The bee will fly out of the dark area and towards a lighter spot, usually still buzzing against the window. Sometimes he'll fly into the room, but don't worry, he'll be back at the window in a moment...
  5. Guide the bee towards the opening of the window by moving the dark spot closer and closer to the open edge.
  6. When the bee escapes, block the window opening with the dark sheet to ensure the bee flies away and not back in.

Alternately, if you don't have access to the outside of the window, you can hold the paper behind the bee to block the light from the room and slowly slide the paper (and the bee) towards the window opening, but this method isn't as reliable. For advanced bee removal from the inside, hold the paper between the bee and the window, but this puts you rather close to the stinging end of Mr Buzz.

ただいま

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Home is where you hang your jacket?

We're back in Tokyo this evening after our week in London. As much as I love to travel, I enjoy coming home more.

Good & Bad in London

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GOOD: clothes
From trendy seasonal frocks to tailored classics, clothes are designed and sized for women with a waist to hip ratio bigger than 1:1 and heights taller than 165 cm. There are even 4 sizes bigger than mine easily found on racks in every shop. I don't feel like a cow here. I like that.

BAD: prices
Pounds spend like dollars or 100 yen, but they are worth twice as much. 1 pound = 208 yen. A 40 pound blouse doesn't seem too expensive until you double the price. Damn.

Restaurant meals are expensive, too. The cheapest lunch I managed was a toasted cheese panini and a bottle of water at 4 pounds (832 yen). Most lunches set me back 8 pounds at cafes and bistros. Lebanese dinner last night (2 mezze, 1 main, a bottle of wine, tea and sparkling water) was 61 pounds - but it was an exception meal and worth the expense.

Tube fare is 3 pounds (628 yen) for a single ride. It's 1.50 (314 yen) if you have a pre-paid Oyster card, but that's still a lot more that Tokyo.

I have been making a casual search for things costing less than 1 pound: small packet of chips, chocolate bars, postage stamps, and not much else. Even a bottle of water is 1.30 (270 yen).

GOOD: food
The variety of food in London is wide and includes a lot of things we can't get in Tokyo: middle eastern, polish, carribean, real tapas. We're having pierogies for lunch today and I am very happy about that. It makes me see that although there's a great variety in Tokyo and it's generally more authentic than what you get in the States, it's still Japanised in many cases.

BAD: the Tube
Perhaps not bad, but laughable compared to Tokyo's subways. The Tube staff make frequent announcements in the stations, telling tales of woe on various sections of line. "Serious delays on the Circle line between Great Portland Street and Farrindon due to temporary speed restrictions." But even funnier, they announce "Good Service" when things are running smoothly. I guess it's big news.

Raw Meat

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"Raw meat," the waiter succinctly announced when he brought us our plate of kibbeh at Maroush on Edgeware Road. None of the other dishes were named or described as they came to table, so I wonder if it was a final warning to the perhaps unsuspecting diner about the nature of kibbeh.

No worries, we knew what to expect and it was gooooood. And the spicy hummus was the best I've ever eaten - silky smooth with just the right balance of lemon and garlic, a peppery kick, and a generous amount of fresh flat-leaf parsley mixed into it. We devoured an entire bowl and could have eaten more, except that the next dish arrived to distract us - lamb-stuffed vine leaves and aubergine cooked in a spiced tomato sauce. Manna in a ramekin.

V&A Overload

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On previous visits to London, I've given the Victoria and Albert museum a pass. I always like to leave a city with at least one good reason to return and the V&A was my sacrifice. But not this time.

It has an abundance of interesting decorative and practical arts. More than enough to spend a full day enjoying. It's big and confusing and under construction, but if you don't mind being lost on the third floor desperate to reach the garden cafe on the ground floor but unable to find a stairwell not blocked off for maintenance, then the V&A is a great place. On the other hand, if you really want to get to the garden cafe from the 3rd floor, you're going to hate it.

I sauntered through the first floor fashion collection to start, admiring and examining garments dating from the 1600s to last year. There are some stunning pieces. A floor length white velvet and fur evening coat-dress from the 1980s took my breath away, as did the bold jungle-floral pantsuit from the 1970s - but not in the same way. I laughed when I encountered the "novelty bustle pad" from 1837 that played God Save The Queen every time the wearer sat down.

Upstairs, I found the textile galleries. I spent most of my time there pulling random "frames" from their cases. The frames are a catalog of textile samples - laces, embroidery, weaving, prints - from medieval to 19th century. The cloth fragments are mounted in very large glass-fronted picture frames and stored vertically, like books on a shelf. You slide them out to look at them. There are hundreds of them. I looked at perhaps 40 before I got too hungry to think

And that's when I got lost. It took way too long to find stairs heading where I wanted to go and I got frustrated. But that's not going to permanently taint my judgement of the V&A. Next time I'll eat lunch before I go...

Tower of London

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The Tower of London isn't a tower. It's a complex of twenty towers built in different centuries, rebuilt in various ways and used for fine and nefarious purposes over its 900 year existence.

It reminded me just a little bit of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Not because they look much alike (though they both consist of great stone and wood buildings) but because they are the same class of place - former palace and prison turned to tourism. And places I've spent time drawing, too. I wonder what other former palaces/prisons exist in the world? Perhaps I should go on a tour and draw them all.

I'm a litle embarrassed to admit that much of my prior knowledge of the Tower came from Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle books, so I spent as much time recalling scenes from the books as I did people-watching. But I wasn't entirely daydreaming. I paid attention, too.

Something I learned today is the historical origin of some familiar nursery rhymes. Mary Tudor, who became Mary 1 of England, was fond of gardening. She spent so much time outdoors that she was nicknamed The Farmer's Wife. She was also a devout Catholic and when she became queen had over 300 Protestant leaders executed. She earned the nickname Bloody Mary for that.

Mistress Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
With silver bells [mass] and cockle shells [awards for crusades] and pretty maids [nuns] all in a row.

Mary couldn't become Queen until she seized the throne from Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane's father-in-law was the architect of Jane's near ascent to the throne. When he figured that the army was going to support Mary instead of Jane, he sent three bishops to preach on Jane's behalf. It didn't work and the bishops ran away to beseech Mary for mercy.

Three blind mice, three blind mice [the bishops], see how they run.
They all ran after the famer's wife, who cut off their tails with a carving knife.
[they were executed]

Springtime in Yorkshire

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The English countryside in springtime is a riot of life. Everything is bright and fresh. Flowers bloom on all the hillsides. Trees leaf out in brilliant green, lambs frollick on hilly pastures, birds sing. The world vibrates with newness.

Lenora, a friend I met in Tokyo who's been transplanted to Harrogate in Yorkshire, extended her hospitality to me and shared her knowledge of local history, flora and fauna as she toured me around her lovely district. We visited Bolton Abbey and enjoyed a long walk along the River Wharfe to see the bluebells in bloom. Along the fringes of forest, they form a dense haze of vivid blue-violet punctuated with white stars of wood anenomes. Now I understand the color inspirations of classic English floral textiles.

Harrogate was formerly a spa town. Victorians travelled north from London on a new train line to take the waters. Today there's only one bath operating and the town is more famous for its civic flower displays, but back in the day, there were grand hotels, an opera house, and the beginnings of several long-standing culinary traditions including toffees (to help remove the sulphur-water taste) and Betty's cafe tearoom.

I spent two days in Yorkshire, but it passed too quickly. Enjoying the scenery of the Dales was a pleasure I hope to have again. I still have the theme song from the BBC's All Creatures Great and Small running in my head.

Sunday Morning, City of London

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The City of London is not the London most visitors come to see. It is the center of commerce and banking with stone edifaces, imposing columns, cobbled walks and atriums in abundance.

350,000 people work here, but only 5,000 live here. And they all sleep in on Sundays, so jet-lagged travellers have it all to themselves. Tod & I walked through nearly deserted streets this morning past shuttered shops that won't open until Monday morning. The only people we encountered were those not speaking British English. It was wonderful to be in such a quiet urban space.

And such an old one, too. We saw a sign proclaiming a street protected by the City of London Police under the Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867. Down the street from our hotel, the pub where we dined in last night has been around since the 14th century. The Bank of England on Threadneedle Street has been there since 1734. the Royal Exchange across the street was originally built in 1571, though the current incarnation was erected in 1884 and it became a luxury shopping mall in 2001 - closed on weekends.

A Rainy Day in London Town

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Did I mention we're going to London? Well, we are. We did. We're here. The weather is cool and wet. The forecast says more cool and wet. Good thing I packed the raincoat I bought last time I was here.

Swimming

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hiratsuka-waves
Hiratsuka, Kanagawa. May 5th. photo by JJ

The ocean was frigid and the waves were fierce but for some of us, swimming was an irresistable temptation.

Roujin results

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My health check results came back. I seem to be healthy, in fact my "good cholesterol" level is really high, so that's good.

But because I know I'll have misplaced the results sheet when I want to review in a year ot two, but it's less likely that I will lose the blog, I've transcribed the results below the fold. Boring, boring, boring.

Tod at the laptop

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tod with cables
Tod sets up a movie for us to watch

I spent the entire afternoon sleeping; this stupid headache will not quit. Tod entertained himself installing OpenBSD on his laptop, and then ordered dinner for us and prepared a movie for us to watch (quietly, I hope) while we eat.

To B2 or not to B2?

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Twenty eight 14mg B2 tablets

A study recently published showed that a daily dose of 400mg of B2 reduced the frequency (but not symptoms) of migraines after two months.

This morning I counted out the necessary number of little tablets and sat them on my desk. It's a lot of pills. I don't think I can keep this up for 2 months. In fact today I only managed 4 or 5. My head promptly revolted with an unpleasant and uncomfortable headache that's persisted all day.

Screencasting

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The latest buzzword among Web 2.0 folks is screencasting."*cue excited, breathy voice* "You know, like podcasting but of your screen." This amounts to making a movie of your monitor while you narrate the action.

Um...sure. I did this in 1996, though it was minor torture back then--multiple programs, extra cables, hardware, scripting and overdubbed audio edited in after the visual were recorded. Now a single piece of software does the screen capture and audio recording. I've been trying out Snapz Pro which took a bit of getting used to, but gives good results. I'm improving with practice.

I've done four screencasts for Collectik with more to come. It is a good tool for training people who are visual or aural learners.

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