29 December 2006

Weird Ghibli Installation

Today I was wandering around Shiodome (on the way back from Comiket!) and I ran into this totally bizarre installation which was from Studio Ghibli. It's a little bit of Ghibli-esque old-style mecha design... in the middle of a skyscraper district!

From Ghibli at Shi...

Check out my album for more photos!

26 December 2006


Well, there's nothing like writing holiday cards for training you how to write your address. Although most of the cards I sent have my return address in English, eventually I just buckled down and learned the Kanji.

It's a lot easier to write the name of the neighborhood as 元赤坂 than as Motoakasaka. Also, both my work and home addresses have the name of the neighborhood twice, once in the building name and once in the address itself. So, with Kanji, my entire home address is

but in English it's
107-0051 Tokyo-bu Minato-ku 1-7-4 Motoakasaka Leito Court Motoakasaka #603

Don't worry, this is only a temporary apartment, so it's OK that it's on the Internet ;-)

25 December 2006

I'm legal!

Woo-hoo! I went to the "Foreigner Management Bureau" (aka Immigration) today and picked up my Working Visa. I can now be paid!

Tomorrow morning I'm going to go to Minato-ku building and try to get my Gaikokujin Tourokusho (Alien Registration Card), which is the gateway to lots of things, like getting a bank account, renting an apartment, and (the most prized of all) getting a real Japanese cellphone (I still haven't decided whether to go DoCoMo, au, or Softbank yet though -- anybody out there with Japanese cellphone experience?).

18 December 2006

I had to do it

So, I tried Tokyo Mexican tonight at a place called "La Jolla" in Hiro-o. The truth is... it wasn't bad. The tortillas (the thing I was most worried about) were fine, and the green tomatillo salsa was actually really good, tart and fresh. The red salsa... well... tasted more like Bolognese sauce. But overall it was OK, and they even had a real selection of Mexican beers (Carta Blanca, Negro Modelo, Tecate...).

17 December 2006

Do they have these in the U.S.?

I was wandering around in Kamakura today, and the surfers all have these on their bikes so they can carry a surfboard to and from the beach. I've never seen 'em in the U.S., do they exist there?

16 December 2006

Japanese Grocery prices

I was wandering through a grocery store tonight and saw some amazing examples of the Japanese predeliction for beautifully packaged, expensive food. Here's the extreme version: a single abalone for $27.

As you can see, especially when it comes to seafood, Japanese are quite aware where their food comes from.

Check my picasaweb for more examples (scroll to the bottom).

13 December 2006

Second Life

Nicely summarized. Thank you, Joystiq.


12 December 2006

Wow, they have Engrish in Japanese too

Tonight's TV program: Japonica Logos. These guys run around Japan looking for examples of badly written Japanese. Then, they make fun of it on the air! Some examples from the recent show were "Do not go into the batting cage alone" (a typo, meant to say "do not enter together"), a sign on a faucet that says, "do not drink this bottled water," and a sign on a door that said, "do not enter while standing." Of course, all these examples of Japanese Engrish are accompanied by ludicrously over-dramatized music and three trash-talking hosts - this IS the country that gave us Iron Chef, after all.

09 December 2006

Flash vids

http://www.joshuaheld.com/ -- Teletransport

http://badaboo.free.fr/merryxmas.swf -- Shouldn't be watchable... but somehow...

04 December 2006

Yay! The Japanese government likes me

I got my Japanese Certificate of Eligibility today... It means I'm almost ready to work in Japan! (I just have to change from my visitor's visa to a working visa, which hopefully I can do without returning to the U.S.). In the meantime I have a *very* official-looking document to my name. Like virtually all Japanese pieces of bureaucracy, it has my picture embedded in it and everything ;-)

This is very exciting because it leads down the road to... lots of stuff. Once I get my working visa, I can apply for the Alien Registration Card, which will let me rent an apartment of my own, get a cellphone under my own name, buy furniture... you know, everything! :-)

02 December 2006

Cool comic


Far away, and yet...

I was eating breakfast today at one of the local cafes (it's a Tokyo branch of Seattle's Zoka coffee roasters, http://www.zokacoffee.com/), which always has jazz playing (they have live jazz every so often, in fact). I was studying there so I settled in for awhile and eventually noticed that there was a commercial completely in English coming over the radio.

After listening a few more minutes, I realized Zoka's in Tokyo was playing... KKSF from San Francisco. Those English commercials were for local San Francisco businesses. Heh.

For the benefit of non-Kanji-readers...

...here are a few words you will encounter on Japanese laundry machines:

普段ふだんfudannormal, or everyday (often the default wash cycle is labelled this way)
注水ちゅうすいchuusuiflood, or filling-with-water
行程こうていkouteidistance. This is often used in combination with chuusui to indicate how much to fill the tub.
毛布もうふmoufublanket (these have special washing instructions)
洗濯石けんせんたくいしけんsentakuishikenlaundry detergent

27 November 2006

My head is exploding!

I was at work around 9pm tonight, trying to figure out how to best approach improving the database system we use with various of the team members. All of a sudden I realized that I had simply absorbed TOO MUCH INFORMATION! today and needed to go home.

I started the day in sales and executive meetings for Polygon, then was introduced at a staff meeting, then met the database systems group, then got my laptop set up for WinXP on the Polygon network (which uses static IPs, wow it's been a long time since I've encountered that). But most of all, the entire thing was going on in Japanese, so I'm constantly interspersing that with learning new words and trying to express my ideas "nihongo de".

Whee! Oh, and happy birthday to me (I forgot until 10pm).

24 November 2006

Fight Club no apaato

Polygon rented me a temporary apartment to use until I can figure out where in Tokyo I actually want to live ;-). It's in akasaka-mitsuke, a tony shopping district in central Tokyo, so it's very convienent.

The apartment itself is quite nice, even if it's small. But the one disconcerting element is that everything in it could have come from Ikea... I don't know if you remember the scene where Edward Norton's character looks around his apartment and sees the Ikea catalog pop-ups on everything, but that's definitely what I feel like. It's all nice and everything...

By the way, there are Ikeas in Japan now (two, both in outlying towns around Tokyo), and apparently they're doing gangbuster business -- much more so than in the US, Ikea represents a huge price/performance win for Japanese consumers...

Photos of apartment are here.

My meishi

Yay! My meishi (business cards) arrived yesterday... Here are pictures:

Front (English)

Back (nihongo)

23 November 2006

I'm here!

I've gotten to Tokyo, I'm in my temporary apartment, and I've slept! I still love being here, this is gonna be great!

I stopped by Polygon Pictures last night, and met approximately a billion people whose names I've already forgotten. Afterwards, we went to a going-away party for Motoko Mukaiyama, one of the admins at Polygon, who's moving to Vancouver. Thus, ironically, the first thing I ate in Japan was... pizza.

Polygon also got me a keitai (cellphone), so that I can be a functioning member of society ;-). I'm off to dinner at Yoichi's house for tonight. jya --


21 November 2006

And so one life comes to an end as another begins

Well, this is at. I'm crashing at an airport hotel so that I can zip over to SFO first thing in the morning. I get on a plane and move to Japan.

It'll be a great adventure! There are a load of new people to meet and a ton of vocabulary to learn. I'll get by on infinitely less space and eat more sushi and less pizza.

I'll miss a ton of people here. I have found so many people that I like and that I have a great time with here in the Bay Area... I hope I can meet up with lots of you in Asia! Come visit.

Good night... next post probably from Tokyo.


P.S. Tenacious D was awesome.

18 November 2006

There's a lot in the air

So for me, I'm pretty focused on the move-to-Japan thing that's happenning in my life within the next 72 hours. That's going apace, I've almost got all the clothes sorted out. Through Ken and Shin I met Kumi who works at REI - my last-minute clothes shopping there was much more economical thanks to her intervention!

A couple items helped me snap out of the tunnel vision on my own life, though. My friend Lauren took a header off of her bike on the way to work this week and broke both of her elbows -- ouch! "Breaking your elbow" (which actually I hadn't known was possible) means snapping off the little part at the end. They can't actually do much about it, just send you home with slings, but Lauren couldn't bend her elbows very much for awhile (to the point where eating solid food was tricky). She was getting better during the day Friday, but what a way to ruin a week.

Far worse, another friend's father passed away, on my friend's own birthday. That's not a happy coincidence to have in your life. Hugs to Mike.

Tonight we watched Lilo & Stitch at the place where I'm staying. It was a great movie, and the events of recent times made thoughts of families, whether born or made, be much on my mind.


As a last get-together, my friends Scott and Dan and I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which I had never seen) Wed night. What an awesome movie. Intelligent, literate, and yet had both good characters and real heart.

It's humbling to think I work in the same entertainment industry as those folks.

15 November 2006

out of the house

Like the perennial teenager, it took me longer to get out of the house than I thought! but it's done. The tenants are moving in, all my stuff is in storage. the great part about the new tenants is that they're bring new energy to the house -- Tony proposed that if I pay for the flooring, he'll pay for the labor to install a new floor in the kitchen. Sounds sweet to me, I hope it happens.


the last couple weeks must have been getting to me. i woke up this morning and had NO idea where i was. none at all (i'm staying at a friend's house in half moon bay). i remembered i was in the middle of moving, but really didn't remember driving over the hill late at night.


yesterday i forgot to eat. when i finished the last stuff i had to do around the house, after the walkthrough with the new tenants, i realized it was 10:45pm and i hadn't eaten anything since breakfast (and i needed to drive to half moon bay) (and i had a car full of stuff -- so i didn't really want to park on the street in SF). it turns out... in-n-out serves until midnight on weekdays. a very happy fact in this case altho i'm not a frequent fast fooder.

SO tired of moving

I am so tired of moving I can't even explain it. At this point it seems like it's been going on forever...

I got 5+ hours of sleep last night, and only 3 the night before that. Today I was so busy I didn't even have time to eat! At 10:45pm tonight I finished up the last errand o'the day and thought, "Hey, I should eat something, I haven't had anything to eat since the croissant for breakfast!"

Hopefully tomorrow will be the last day of moving (although not of packing). I guess it better be the last day, the tenants are moving in!


Urban Camping, in a way

Last night I camped out in my own house. I had already moved all the furniture out, so I crashed in my sleeping bag on top of a foam pad in my bedroom (which was otherwise empty). The setting definitely made the "change of life" very real. The house was all echo-y.

14 November 2006

Shutting it all down

I just bought my ticket for moving to Tokyo: I fly on Tuesday, 21 Nov! I'll turn the house over to the tenants tomorrow, and deliver my car to the buyer Thursday afternoon. Ella has a new home with Lauren, I miss her already :-(.

That idea from a few months ago of moving to Tokyo is looking pretty real this evening.

13 November 2006


My house is so empty. It looks huge when it's empty (and it didn't look small before!).

I am so tired.

I was up til 4am packing, then got up at 7 to go grab some coffee, rent the U-Haul, hire a couple of Mexican dudes down on Cesar Chavez to help me, move my furniture into the truck, drive to San Mateo, move the furniture into the storage unit, drive back, drop off Luis and Angel, drop off the truck, drive home and fill the car with stuff for Goodwill, hit Goodwill and drop that stuff off, then come home.

Of course, all that remains today is to fill the car with the forgotten items (mostly from the garage), plus the Goodwill things that wouldn't fit in the first run, run the first down to San Mateo and the second to Mission and 11th, verify I really have somewhere to stay after tonight, and come back.

Whee!!! Moving!!!

Empty House Full of Memories

Moving is always bittersweet. It's bitter because the move itself is, of course, a pain. But it's sweet because it dredges up so many good memories.

I'm sitting here in a packed house, ready for tomorrow's truck to take everything to the storage space in San Mateo. Everything is empty shelves and boxes now, but somehow that's even more evocative of all the good times I've had here. I'm remembering the dinners, the parties, the times hanging out with roommates, the times late at night talking with a friend. I'm thinking of all the friends I've met since I bought this house in 2000, and all the old friends I've seen in it.

Someday I'll come back to this house, and I know it will still be full of good memories for me then.

No Kitty

As part of moving to Japan, I had to find Ella (http://picasaweb.google.com/leovitch/Ella) a new home. She's taking her time to settle in over at my friend Lauren's place... but in the meantime, there's no one to greet me at the door when I get home. Profoundly lonely!

I found Ella's kitten pictures today while cleaning up for the move. Must take to Lauren...

10 November 2006

Re-edits are fun!

The new slasher film, Office Space:

30 October 2006

Leo's News

Many of my friends have already heard this, but it's time to put a note on the board. I'm moving to Japan in the next few weeks!

I've been fascinated with Japan and Japanese culture for many years, and have been keeping an eye out for a chance to move to Japan for awhile. An opportunity came up to help out at Polygon Pictures, a Japanese CG house which is run by a friend through SIGGRAPH activities, Shuzo Shiota, so I'll be leaving my current job and moving to Japan over the next few weeks.

I'm really excited about finally getting a chance to put my (rudimentary) Japanese skills to work, and to learn a lot more about the culture and the people. I'm finishing up work here in the U.S. this Friday, 3Nov06, and I expect to actually move within a couple weeks after that. Stay tuned here for more updates!


22 October 2006

Stuff Going Out

Yesterday afternoon/evening I had a "Come Take My Stuff" party. It was great to hang with the crew and to see a few folks I haven't seen in forever (Karen and KT!) before heading off to Japan.

...I still have most of my stuff, though. Looks like a storage unit for sure!

18 October 2006

A look at the global game industry



27 September 2006

The Hand of Buddha

The Hand of Buddha

Not about China

For men. Really.


26 September 2006

The Two Chinas (China: 4 of 5)

Wuxi is a "medium-sized" Chinese city, but when you're downtown, you could be pretty much anywhere. Givenchy and Dior, Citibank and Nike surround you, and smartly-dressed, high-income young people swarm around you to get to the shops and stimulate the economy. Moms struggle to keep the youngsters in line and kids demand new toys. Even though Wuxi isn't the cutting edge of international cities in China (for that, go to Beijing), the downtown shows a future direction for China: brand-conscious and consumer-oriented, rapidly increasing in wealth and confidence. Egalitarian for opportunity and especially for gender.

This China is reinforced by the bank-built skyscrapers, the export industries, and the miles and miles of high-tech indsutrial factories that surround Wuxi.

The other China is still lurking around, though. The bureaucrats are omnipresent, playing an even bigger role than in Japan. Scarily, their promotion depends on real estate: the more impressive industrial parks built on the mayor/governor/director's watch, the greater the chance he'll be promoted. While this sytem, when it works, produces rapid development in a way we can't imagine (the line at one presentation was: "everything takes half the time in China"), it has a built-in tendancy to overbuild, an expectation that demand for real estate will come into existence merely because the buildings are built, and a built-in tendancy to collusion with the real estate moguls.

Going with that is the lack of trust in the market. In China, 1/3rd of the GDP is still from state industries, and the government's reach extends far outside of that third. Decisions about which industries are valuable, which shows should be shown on which channels, and a million other items we have long since assigned to the market's invisible hand are still governmental fiat in China. The Chinese I met are *very* educated about the outside world, so they understand this well; they're just not ready to let all these elements of culture loose.

I'm betting on the first one, though: the Chinese I met were all hard-working, enaged in their lives and their country, and looking for help in order to build it. As they move up the socioeconomic scale, they'll create a domestic market for products which will dwarf any other national market -- there are, after all, a billion Chinese people -- and most of the products to fill it will, convienently, already be built in their own factories.

Chinese Traffic (China: 3 of 5)

China drives on the right-hand side of the road (a gift from the brief American occupation at the end of WWII). That put it a big step up from Japan in my willingness-to-drive book because my ingrained instinct of moving to the right works. But even so I'd much rather drive in Japan than China -- Chinese drivers are terrifying!

For starters, you have to imagine a world where all the lane lines separated two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction are just gone. China's roads actually have perfectly fine lane markers, but they aren't relevant to the driving habits of China's drivers. We had a number of taxi and private drivers over the week in China, and every single one of them casually drifted around the road based on conveience, attention, and guesses at upcoming traffic. Breakdown lanes, it turns out, make handy passing lanes. Who knew?

This tendancy to wander on the road might not be so scary if it wasn't for the fact that China has a smaller "personal space" for cars as well as people. Cars on a Chinese road drive *incredibly* close together. It's routine for cars moving at the speed of traffic to be only far enough apart that the rear-view mirror doesn't hit the other car.

When you're in that situation, the role of a car horn is considerably changed. In the US, even on our relatively belligerent east coast, honking the horn means "I think you did something wrong." In China, there's far too little space to wait and honk only when the other person has actually done something -- you honk pre-emptively to make sure the other driver or rider doesn't do anything. So, in China, the meaning of the horn becomes simply "I'm here". We had a particularly noise-making taxi driver on our way to the giant Buddha tourist wier who honked, on average, every ten seconds.

Thankfully, the speed of traffic is usually 40-50mph instead of the 70mph I routinely drive in the US. But the scariness level is more than matched because the 90% of Chinese who don't own a car are also on the road riding a whole variety of scooters and bicycles (and usually without a helmet, to boot). It's one thing to be only six inches from another car with both of you weaving in and out of traffic without concern for lanes -- much more frightening when you add vulnerable humans riding bikes and scooters to the mix. The biggest roads have separated lanes for scooters and bikes, but many of the streets are a complete jumble.

Sadly, this does seem to give rise to a lot of traffic accidents -- we saw several during the week, and everyone had a story of a friend or relative who had been involved in one.

China isn't lawless -- everyone stops for red lights. But once the light at an intersection is green, everyone proceeds directly from where they are to where they're going. Details like left-turn lanes (again, nicely marked on the road) are cheerfully ignored if it can produce a 1-2 car advantage.

So, compared to all that, merely learning to drive on the left seems easy. Japanese car rental, here I come!

China Likes Their Cars (China: 2 of 5)

The biggest scary thing I learned on my trip to China is: China is car-oriented.

I had been to Japan and Hong Kong before I went to China, and so my impressions of Asia was necessarily colored. I figured China would be pretty mass-transit-oriented. It's so not true.

Shanghai and Wuxi, the towns in China were I spent my time, are very much developing along the lines of sprawling factory towns like Chicago. The fertile plain that once surrounded Shanghai is now fertile with the crop of export-oriented factories, each on their own multi-hectare plot of land complete with parking lot and truck dock. There are shiny new multi-lane separated roads running through these industrial parks speeding the always-weaving fleet of taxis, trucks, buses, and private cars on their way.

To be fair, China still uses a lot more alternate forms of transport than the car: a lot of people take company shuttle buses, bicycles, or scooters to work. That's what accounts for the fact that only about 10% of Chinese own a car. But the other 90% of Chinese want a car, and given the rate of development of the economy they're going to get one before too long.

China already has a lot of car-oriented infrastructure: besides all the boulevards, the major cities such as Shanghai are plumbed with freeways, bridges and tunnels. But as China sees the factor-of-five explosion in cars they'll get over the next decade, and as even more of the rural population comes to the cities to work in those shiny new factories, the traffic levels and pollution levels of today will seem like faint memories.

China is Big (China: 1 of 5)

At my last stop on the trip to China, Shanghai University School of Digital Media Arts, one of my hosts asked what I thought of China so far.

After thinking about it for a minute, I said, "It's big." More than anything else, this trip changed the incredible size of China from an abstract to a concrete fact for me.

Most of my trip was in Wuxi, which all the books (and my hosts) described as a "pleasant, medium-sized town on the shore of Lake Taihu" *. I arrived after dark, so didn't have much chance to assess the town. Since I had never heard of Wuxi before this trip, I was asking my translator, Super, about the differences between Wuxi and Shanghai (which is China's biggest city, about two hours' drive from Wuxi). Wuxi doesn't have shopping, Wuxi doesn't have traffic as bad, Wuxi has better food because it's on the shore of the lake, etc., etc. Finally, I asked, "How many people live in Wuxi?" "Oh," he said, "it's medium-sized, about 5 million people."

Hmm, about the size of the entire San Francisco Bay Area (five times the size of San Francisco itself; about the size of Chicago). Later, during the day, we were being bussed around from point to point in the city, and the size of Wuxi was reinforced: this place is *huge*. Mile after mile of new, high-tech factories line Wuxi's recently repaved streets. It combines a parade of familiar brand names (Sony, Panasonic, Goldstar) with Chinese companies whose names we've never heard (Wuxi Electric Coil Company). But either way the factories stretch on and on.

Of course, Wuxi is hardly unique as a industrial growth engine in China: you can choose Suzhou, Hanzhou, Guanzhou, Guangdong, Shanghai itself, Tiantsu, Xingdao, Chengdu... In fact, that's the real point: in China, a five-million-person rapidly-growing wunderkind industrial city isn't anything to remark on.

That's because... China is big.

* One of the wierdnesses of language translation: All English-language guidebooks refer to it as Lake Taihu, but in fact, 'hu' is the Chinese word for Lake, so "Lake Taihu" is really "Lake Tai Lake".

09 September 2006

Push! Struggle! Assist! against confusing UIs!

I've been playing Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (Push! Fight! Support!) which is a totally awesome rhythm game where you control a three-man male cheerleading squad attempting to cheer on people in the course of their everyday lives in Tokyo (elementary school kid in a dodgeball game; office lady trying to win the eye of the rising young executive; or my favorite, a violinist fighting stomach flu). A bit wacky for American tastes, don't expect to see this in BestBuy anytime soon.

This game has the a flagrant example of bad UI purely through layout (certainly this is exacerbated because I'm playing it in Japanese). After the startup screens, you're presented with the choice at right, with the top choice highlighted.

It turns out this is the game difficulty screen, which you might have guessed. What you probably wouldn't guess is that the difficult choice is on top, and is the default! The top button says "kakan ni ouen" ("to boldly support") and the bottom button says "kigaru ni ouen" ("to cheerfully support"). Several people I've talked to about this game -- and myself, before I looked up the ideographic characters in a Japanese dictionary -- commented on how hard the game was. That's because we were playing it on the "hard" setting, misled by the default and the ordering of the buttons on this screen! Like most games, you're better off learning the rules via the "cheerfully support" setting before tacking the harder "boldly support" option.

UI lesson of the day: always put the "easy" choice at the top, and make it the default!

07 September 2006

Durable *and* Absorbent

My friend MJ just introduced me to Perry Bible Fellowship.

My favorite: http://www.pbfcomics.com/?cid=PBF105AD-Durab_Inc.gif#174

04 September 2006

Sad Story

About a depopulated village in rural Japan. It happens to be near where I went to language school in Kanazawa.


Text also available at:


20 August 2006

Eloquent comic

Sometimes abstracted line art can express complex concepts far better than prose.


19 August 2006

Whew! SIGGRAPH 2006 Trip Opus finished

Whew, finally finished off the last of my SIGGRAPH 2006 trip report. Check it out at http://www.stoneschool.com/Work/Siggraph/2006/.

Best of Show:

  • Image Enhancement by Unsharp Masking of the Depth Buffer

  • Single-pass Wireframe Rendering

  • Morphovision

  • 458nm

Cheese on a Plate - ya gotta love it

We went to see Snakes on a Plane Thursday night (opening night) in San Mateo. What a riot! The movie is deliciously cheesy and well aware of that fact, and of course the opening night audience was rockin'. When Samuel L. Jackson's credit came up... the crowd went wild.

It's so fun. The only character that has anything approaching depth is Jackson's; everyone else is, as they say, "straight from Central Casting." The surfer dude; the tough grizzled veteran cop; the geeky "snake expert doctor"; the stewardess out to hook the surfer dude; the veteran stewardess about to retire; the smarmy co-pilot... you know, the people you need to create a cult classic!

Obviously the most remarkable thing about Snakes on a Plane is that they managed to manufacture a cult classic even before it opened. The extensive pre-release information on the internet, the fact that Jackson has been promoting the movie like mad and specifically has been hyping up the over-the-top factor, and the extensive fan sites pretty much have taken it from "upcoming" to cult before the first weekend numbers are even in. I love the fact that the SoaP website has GIF files with pre-created transparency, so you can all the more easily construct your own fan websites with the characters from the movie comped into other scenes.

Snakes on a Plane isn't for young kids - there are really a lot of shots of snakes, and of snakes biting people in some painful places, as well as a sex scene which must have been put in just to make sure they got an R rating. But if you're not bothered by that, sit back and watch the cheese fly. This is entertainment.

13 August 2006

Hakkaisan Honjyozo

Today we tested the best sake yet! True Sake recommended the Hakkaisan Honjyzo and it was the new winner. It's dry, but with quite a bit of bite and taste. It would actually be better as a sipping sake (i.e., not with food), although no doubt some extremly skillful chefs can find some good food to serve with it.

Hakkaisan is the name of the sake brewery (eight-seas-mountain) and the Honjyozo designation means that the sake has had some added distilled alcohol, which obviously gave it some more kick, but it's not clear why that should have given it the extra bite. In any case, highly recommended!

09 July 2006

True Sake cont'd

So today at Gilles' screening we tasted the Tokubetsu
Junmai Senchu Hassaku from Tsukasabotan, recommended as a favorite by Kumiko at True Sake. It was very good, less dry than the Hakkaisan or the Otokoyama but with a wonderful, full taste.

According to http://www.eat-japan.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=294&Itemid=116, this sake is named after samurai Sakamoto Ryouma's Eight-point Point for returning power to the emporer during the early Meiji period. Tsukasa botan apparently translates as "Chief Peony", I'll have to refer you to eat-japan for an explanation of that one.

08 July 2006

Botany of Desire

The best thing about Michael Pollan's 2001 book The Botany of Desire is the author's own desire -- he's an avid gardener, and his love of growing things both intersects the narrative at many points and informs the rest of it. It's like listening to a friend describe a favorite band's concert -- whatever lacks the plot may have, the enthusiasm of the teller makes up for them.

Not that there isn't some genuinely interesting plot material in Botany. The book tells the story of the relationship between us humans and four particular plants -- the Apple, the Tulip, Marijuana and the Potato. While I thought it failed at the promise of the subtitle (A Plant's Eye View of the World), the story about Johnny Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) alone was worth the read.

Surprisingly, Johhny Appleseed's historical figure is somewhat aligned with the myth we all learned in school. While he wasn't quite as selfless as a schoolbook said (the real Johnny Chapman planted trees in order to have apple trees for sale to later settlers when they arrived), he was indeed a frontier raconteur, eccentric as all get out (he preferred sleeping outdoors to indoors, even in winter), and that rarest of items, a frontier vegetarian who considered shoeing a horse to be cruelty.

The best part of the apple story though, is the reason why those pioneers longed to buy Chapman's apple trees and found their orchards: the primary use of apples grown in America before WWI was to make hard cider.

Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. The identification of the apple with notions of health and wholesomeness turns out to be a modern invention, part of a PR campaign dreamed up by the apple industry in the early 1900s to reposition a fruit that the [prohibitionists] has declared war on.

There's a nugget like that at the heart of each of the four sections of the book. The "breaks" in tulips that made them exquisitely valuable in the Dutch Tulipmania of the seventeenth centry was because of a infectious virus; in eliminating the virus, we have also eliminated the beautiful breaks. Marijuana, of course, had many uses throughout history, but indiscriminate drug enforcement in the U.S. has squashed the non-drug uses and perversely created super-plants capable of producing THC in previously unknown concentrations under artificial indoor cultivation. The potato section is mostly a rumination on the dangers of monocultures, which devastated Ireland in the potato blight of 1845-1848, and how genetically modified potato strains may either be the savior from or contributor to that fate -- if only we knew which.

The fact that there really is something at the heart of the story of these four plants drives the book but Pollan's enthusiasm for the tending of the earth is what makes it readable along the way. To that point, a little bit of gardening interest of your own is probably critical for this book to be worth reading; I'll certainly be giving it to my gardening friends!

25 June 2006

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

I just finished Michael Chabon's new book, "The Final Solution," a little tidbit of a detective story set in WWII Sussex. It's an entertaining enough read, but ultimately pretty unsatisfying. I think there were two reasons I didn't really like it.

One, it relies too heavily on the protagonists' reputation, which is simply stated in the text. There's not enough direct evidence or actual anecdote related to that, and instead there are too many omniscient-voice statements like, "...his sense -- a faculty at one time renowned throughout Europe -- of a promising anamoly." Reading all of these sentences made me want to read a different book about the Old Man when he was actually famous instead of this book about his retirement -- after all, wouldn't have wanted to watch a series about Columbo doddering about in the old age home.

Secondly, and probably more fatally for most current audiences, is the resolution of the central mystery regarding a series of numbers that a parrot repeats ad infinitum. [mild spoiler] The end of the book reveals that... we don't know what they are. The last utterance of the book by the young boy, combined with the book's title, gives a pretty clear hint as to their true significance. But for any mainstream audience, especially a non-Jewish one whose acquaintance with details of the Holocaust is weak, I think that hint, and thus some of the power of the book, will be lost. Yes, it's bad to talk down to your audience, but if you want to rely on a particular practice from the death camps for your resolution, you should introduce that bit of history to the narrative somewhere.

17 June 2006

SketchUp acqusition makes more sense now

A few months ago, Google bought SketchUp (http://www.sketchup.com/), a cool but very quirky 3D modeling program. It wasn't obvious why this made any business sense, although it was great becase they started giving away SketchUp for free.

Now it makes more sense -- with the latest Google SketchUp and the latest Google Earth (http://earth.google.com/earth4.html), you can directly export from SketchUp into Google Earth. So, what they're hoping is that by providing a free end-ser content creation tool, they'll get lots of people to model various buildings in the world and contribute the results to Google Earth (the new Google Earth also supports Collada input, meaning you can use any of the mainline 3D modeling packages like Maya, Max, ro XSi as well).

If they're successful at creating a critical mass of data -- which seems likely, if you haven't played with Google Earth, it's really fun -- then they'll control the most complete dataset of 3D models of the planet. Yet another brick in the "organizing the world's information (and serving AdWords against it)" architecture!

04 June 2006

District B13

My friends Bill and Dave went to see District B13 in Sausalito last night. It was the right demographic fit -- it's definitely a guy's movie. Action, action, action. Really fun movie with great stunts and action sequences. The French director (Pierre Morel) embraces modern editing style and makes it do for action movies what 28 Days Later did for horror films.

It was a double-plus bonus for Dave (a European film fan), he got a French flick and an action movie in one outing!

We went to Rustica in Sausalito for dinner afterwards, pretty good as well -- very friendly place.

28 May 2006


I just finished Doris Kearns Goodwin's excellent biography of Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet, "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln." Perhaps later I will write about the insights from the book, but for now, I will do as the author did, and reprint these words in their entirety:

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that, government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

- A. Lincoln, November 19, 1863

21 May 2006


I was fortunate enough to get invited to a screening of the new Pixar film, Cars, yesterday. Since it's not out yet I won't talk about the film -- but I will say two things:

  • One-Man Band, the short that plays in front of it, is beautiful just as Bill Polson promised!

  • The trailer for Ratatouille is awesome! It was my favorite thing of the day.

  • The outtakes at the end are the best ever. I know we got kind of tired of the idea when I was at Pixar, but now that I'm just a satisfied audience member :-) I can just sit back and think they're awesome!

16 May 2006


Another E3 survived! Because I had a fair number of meetings this year, I actually went to the show three days in a row, something I haven't done for a long time.

Check out my writeup.

14 May 2006


While I was down at the E3 conference last week, my friend Onny met up with us and took us to hang in K-town, the large korean section of LA.

For dinner, we went to this awesome yakitori-style place. It's dark and (in the inner room) smoky, there is no sign in english on the outside, and there is no menu in English on the inside (we had to rely on lots of negotiation with the waitress). They have a whole variety of small foods, grilled meat on skewers, donburi-like food, noodles and stews, and lots of other little greasy treats (not a health food restaurant). We ordered blindly (including asking for one of what they had at the next table, which turned out to be chicken gizzards over a vegetable bed) and had a fine meal washed down with an "O.B." (korean beer, it stands for "Oriental Brewery" which is kind of funny in its own right).

I can't tell you the name, but it's in the mini-mall at the corner of 6th and Berendo and the outside (like the inside) is decorated with vintage asian movie posters.

Afterwards, we hung at the H.M.S. Bounty, a bizarre neighborhoody bar a few blocks away on Wilshire. It's in the ground floor of a residence hotel, and a fair number of the patrons look like they live there in more sense than one. Very friendly -- Onny was regular enough to know the bartender -- except for using the restroom. You go next door into the other property to use the restroom, and you've stepped into a set for Max Payne. The old russian desk clerk glared up and me and said, "the bathrooms are downstairs". Downstairs means a echo-y trip through harsh flourescent lighting, marble hallways, and numerous umarked wooden doors. Cool place, we called Dickson and Ken to come join us!

13 May 2006

True Sake

So, after getting shit from my friends at E3 because I live within six blocks of the place and haven't been there yet, I finally got to True Sake (www.truesake.com) tonight. True Sake is a premium Sake (Japanese rice wine) store in Hayes Valley in San Francisco, and supposedley has the best selection of sake in North America.

I can't vouch for that, but they certainly have a lot of great-sounding sakes. I got a bottle of the Otokoyama (man-mountain) because the manager suggested it was similar to Namahage, a sake I've had at restaurants and liked; and a bottle of another recommended dry sake, Hakkaisan (Mt. Eight Seas, I think? I'm a little iffy on the middle kanji). We'll try one of them at Gilles' tomorrow and we'll see what the reviews are!

06 May 2006

Firefly -- so fantastic, so depressing

I just finished watching the DVDs of Joss Whedon's "Firefly," easily the best science fiction I've seen since I saw the original Star Trek as a child. This show is just awesome, with a great ensemble cast, razor-sharp writing, and lots of humor placed intrinsically within the character interactions.

So, of course, I now have post-cancellation depression. Our culture must be truly doomed when something this high-quality can't even make a second season. And it's not like it was from some unknown new artist, either -- Mr. Whedon has made Fox plenty of money in the past. Is it stupid network executives? Is it a lack of patience?

Three season's worth of Firefly episodes would have created the next great science fiction franchise after Star Trek and Star Wars -- all the ingredients were there, we just needed enough episodes to make syndication viable. Instead, we have only one gem of a season and one pretty good movie (Serenity). Well, I'm certainly thankful for that!

17 April 2006

Awesome Rube Goldberg creations

From bumpers for a Japanese TV show called pitagora suiichi


15 April 2006

Couloir Article on Vallée Blanche

Couloir magazine is a magazine for serious backcountry skiers/snowboarding/showshoers/etc. So when I saw their Winter 2006 issue had an article on skiing i Chamonix, I was psyched. We went to Chamonix in 2002, and I figured that Couloir's reporters would have some awesome hardcore of places we missed.

Instead, it turns out, the article had the benefit of making us feel like total studs!

My friends and I skied with Vincent Lameyre (their guide). He auditioned us on two lesser ski areas to evaulate our skills and stamina - routine for guides. ... Of the 15 of us who hoped to ski the Vallée Blanche, Vincent was taking eight.

Sweet! When we went, we were six people and all six of us skied the Vallée Blanche multiple days.

Groups with cross-border ambitions do the first part of the Vallée Blanche ... and then angle to the south to skin up the Col de Toule, as small pass right on the French-Italian border. ... We had neither the legs nor lungs for this detour.

Heh. On the last day we were in Chamonix, Oren, Justine and I took this route (see Snowboarding to Italy on the website).

Wow, I guess the next time we go we'll have to write an article of our own!

24 March 2006

Dream or Nightmare? You decide

So last night, I woke up in the middle of the night from a dream where I went back to work at Pixar. The movie we were working on a was a new Star Wars movie. The Empire is trying to build a big weapon, which was a giant cigar shape that sits underneath a Star Destroyer (I guess they hadn't come up with the Death Star thing yet). At the end of the movie, the star, Bruce Willis, hotwires the device so that when the Empire fires it, it blows up.

18 March 2006

The Pay-to-send Email World [was: RE: nytimes: goodmail]

I've thought through schemes like this any number of times (it's not a new idea, contrary to what Dyson implies in her article), and many of the things I value about the internet become unworkable if most internet email shifts to a pay-to-send basis. Unfortunately, you actually have to think about it to realize that.

Running a mailling list like friends@ourshareddomain.com [note to blog readers -- this discussion thread was moved over from a thread on a mailing list I'm on] is one of the things that will go away in a pay-to-send internet -- current membership totals about 30, so sending a message to ourshareddomain.com means somebody has to fork over $0.30. Well, who's gonna be the person to fork out that $0.30? We have no way to make you pay at the moment you hit send. This discussion thread is just about to cross over the $1 point. Would you pay $1 to be part of every email thread on the hiking alias?

Advocates of pay-to-send schemes claim, "Oh, no, you can still send free email, it's simply that free email won't have the little icon next to it." Yet, Goodmail and other pay-to-send scheme advocates claim they're going to resolve the spam problem. Well, they only are solving the spam problem to the extent that covered recipients ignore all email without the little icon. So, they're lying about their side effects: for them to achieve the benefit they promise (fixing the spam problem), free email must be ignored. So much for friends@ourshareddomain.

Don't think that will happen? One of the geniuses of this idea as Goodmail is advocating it is that they're going to share their revenue with AOL. Once that happens, your ISP will have a vested financial interest in making it harder and harder for you to read free email (after all, they'll be "solving the SPAM problem" for you). Their motivation will be to start quarantining (i.e., not sending to your mail client by default) free email.

The scotchnight problem recurs over and over when you look at a pay-to-send internet: evite; topical mailing lists e.g. sourceforge.net; alumni networks at your college; the mailing list for a condo homeowner's association; the expixar mailing list; the neighborhood association mailing list; etc., etc. What happens in that form of the internet is that all players in the internet will be highly disincented to relay email in any form whatsoever.

A second problem has to do with open standards. Goodmail -- and all of its' proprietary competitors -- have strong motivation to make their network closed, requiring their own software in order for you to share in their revenues, because it represents real money. That is, they are motivated to make it so that non-free email cannot be relayed except by their own software. If Dyson is right and their are multiple competitors, the nightmare will unfold: to be a viable ISP, you need to have five or six different proprietary email relays installed, and somehow sort out which mail should be processed by which relay, and have revenue-sharing agreements in place with those five or six companies. That speaks to what the pay-to-send proposal in this form is really about: providing a new revenue stream for large ISPs.

The pay-to-send schemes allows ISPs to collect money for sending spam, rather than no one being paid for it. The large ISPs are willing to see this experiment run because if it's successful, they and the new companies will share in taxing the senders of Spam.

Dyson asserts without proof that "I also think it [Goodmail] and its competitors will eventually transform into services that more directly serve the interests of mail recipients." Of course, she has to state that without proof because there is no evidence any such thing will ever happen. She's asserting the equivalent of, "Give some more money to the beleaguered phone company, and they'll probably decide to share some with you." Both by logical deduction and historical precedent, she's wrong: they will keep that money and be thankful they're being paid for the spam they deliver.

Lastly, Dyson makes the counter-economic assumption that because the ISPs are making money, they'll be more vigilant in guarding against Spam. Unfortunately, the pay-to-send scheme that we have long experience with -- the Post Office -- demonstrates nicely why this is false. In every country, the post office is highly motivated to promote the sending of junk mail, because it is their primary source of revenue. The fact that it costs $0.20 or so to send me a piece of junk mail has clearly not stopped a deluge of companies from deciding to assault my mailbox. The post office makes sure there's no effective way to screen it, because effective screening of junk mail would put them out of business (you can register for "no junk mail" at the post office: all that does is stop mail that isn't specifically addressed to you. So by the Post Office's definition, the AOL disks I periodically receive are not, repeat not, junk mail).

Some people might still prefer the pay-to-send internet, because one thing you can't deny is that the Nigerian and Chinese spammers will largely be gone. Like postal mail, your overall volume of email will be lower than the current internet. Like postal mail, most of email will still be junk, but like postal mail, the delivery service will have been paid to bring you the junk. And like postal mail, you won't trivially send emails to 30 friends, you'll have to find some cheaper, easier way to get a hold of them, like email used to be.


On Mar 18, 2006, at 9:35 AM, david fix wrote:

I don't know about the merits of her position but this argument strikes me as sophistry.

"What shocks me most about the opposition to Goodmail is that people who claim to believe in the free and open Internet, with its welcome attitude to innovation, want to shut down an idea. That's wrong."

From: Bill Polson
Reply-To: ...
To: ...
Subject: nytimes: goodmail
Date: Fri, 17 Mar 2006 21:33:43 -0800

This seems reasonable to me, but on a recent hike I advocated something like this and got an earful from a fellow hiker. No names, but he hikes too fast and knows way too much about cooking and obscure technologies.



March 17, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor

You've Got Goodmail

A COMPANY called Goodmail Systems thinks it has come up with a potential (and partial) solution to the problem of spam and fraud on the Internet. According to Goodmail, market forces are the answer, rather than the kinds of ineffective regulations that have so far failed to solve the problems.

What Goodmail is proposing is a sort of FedEx for e-mail. For a penny or less per message, the sender gets guaranteed delivery for mail and the promise that it will stand out in the user's mailbox. The recipient pays nothing. (Goodmail, of which I am not an investor, has tested its system with the participation of a few companies, including this newspaper.)

Internet service providers like America Online, which receive and process mail in bulk, can share in Goodmail's revenue if they want, as long as they promise to pass the mail to their customers without filtering it for spam. The payment encourages AOL to adopt the service and to display a "certified e-mail" icon to users on each "stamped" message, indicating that the message is wanted and safe.

Goodmail's customers have to prove that recipients want their mail, and Goodmail checks the sender's mailing behavior and manages the quality of the mail through a system that makes it easy for recipients to complain about unwanted messages. Too many complaints and the senders lose their accounts.

This all sounds perfectly sensible to me, but Goodmail has been met with a barrage of criticism and calls for a de facto boycott from several nonprofit and public interest groups. These organizations seem to think that all Internet mail must always be free, just because it was free before. Yet they pay for computers and Internet access and office supplies, just like everyone else.

Goodmail, in my eyes, does not raise moral issues. It simply wants to make the Internet a better place — and yes, make a little money along the way.

Of course, the critics say, this is the first step. Pretty soon all mail will cost money, and then the free, open world of the Internet will be closed to poor people, nonprofits and other good guys, while multinational conglomerates fill their ever-growing pockets.

I agree that pretty soon sending most e-mail will cost money, but I think that's only right. It costs money to guarantee quality and safety. Moreover, I think the market will work, and that it will not shut out deserving senders, if we only let it work freely.

In fact, I hope Goodmail succeeds, and that it has lots of competition. I also think it and its competitors will eventually transform into services that more directly serve the interests of mail recipients. Instead of the fees going to Goodmail and AOL, they will also be shared with the individual recipients.

There's no question that we need to try some new approaches to e-mail. The current situation — where the Internet is ridden with spam, most mail is unwanted and some is objectively dangerous — illustrates a market failure. When the Internet began, it was a small community, one that needed neither markets nor regulations. The people on the Web mostly behaved well, and things worked.

But the Internet has become mainstream, which means we have abuse and crime and freeloaders. We need a way to deal with the abuse. Spam filters are imperfect, partly because the senders of "bad" mail are getting better and better at defeating them. And those who take advantage of the Internet aren't paying for the costs of their abuse.

Instead, the recipients' Internet service providers are paying the cost of spam filtering, and recipients are paying when legitimate messages get caught in those spam filters.

Senders should bear the costs of sending mail, and it should be the senders' duty to figure out whether each piece of mail is wanted. Ultimately, I believe, Goodmail or its successors will develop a mechanism to rebate some of the fees to the senders whose mail is wanted. That's why I don't worry about individuals and nonprofits being squeezed out.

In the short run, AOL and others will serve as the recipients' proxies. If they don't do a good job of ensuring that customers get the mail they want, even from nonpaying senders, they will lose their customers. And in the long run, recipients will be able to use services like Goodmail to set their own prices for receiving mail.

In my case, I'd have a list. I'd charge nothing for people I know, 50 cents for anyone new (though if I add the sender to my list after reading the mail, I'll cancel the 50 cents) and $3 for random advertisers. Ex-boyfriends pay $10.

What shocks me most about the opposition to Goodmail is that people who claim to believe in the free and open Internet, with its welcome attitude to innovation, want to shut down an idea. That's wrong.

If people like those little stamps that mark their mail as safe and wanted or as commercial transactions, then let the customers have them. And let other companies compete with Goodmail to offer better and less expensive service.

Goodmail isn't good because it's new, but neither is it bad because it's new. If it's a good model, it will succeed and improve over time. If it's a bad model, it will fail. Why not let the customers decide?

Esther Dyson, an investor in technology start-ups, is the editor of Release 1.0.

QotD: [GameDev] Design Docs

"At the onset of development, completed design docs are not always very useful to us, as we're not yet sure what will be fun."

-- from the Post-Mortem of Harmonix's "Guitar Hero", the best game of 2005 IMHO, published in Game Developer magazine

17 March 2006

Snow on Mt. Tam

Last month we went hiking up Mt. Tam into the snow. Dan Lyke has some photos here, it was amazing.

15 March 2006

Proud to be a Member

I'm only halfway through it, but already the March 2006 issue of the Commonwealth Club newsletter has knocked me up side of my head twice. Daniel Pipes, a Middle Eastern scholar who was living in Egypt in 1979 when the Oslo accords were signed, has a scathing article called "The Palestinian-Israeli War." Robert Fisk is a "mouse journalist" who has been sneaking around Iraq (and Bosnia and Afghanistan and...) in decrepit rental cars and getting shot at for 20 years.

While I don't rush to embrace either's worldview, they both have been up close talking to the participants more often than I have and have a logic to their point of view.


I couldn't find either printed article anywhere on the web; your local library may be able to oblige (or you can borrow my copy when I'm through!). However, the Commonwealth Club has the audio archives of the lectures online.
Pipes' lecture is at: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/05/05-11pipes-audio.html
Fisk's is here: http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/05/05-11fisk-audio.html

02 March 2006

Brain Training and Seniority as a determinant of Ranking

So this evening at Scott & Amy's house we checked out Brain Training, a "game" for the Nintendo DS that alleges to try and keep your brain fit into old age. It's a series of simple puzzle and math games that really is kind of akin to doing crosswords puzzles to "keep the brain sharp".

The UI was a little difficult for us only because I can't read Japanese fluently, but in general the UI of Brain Training is super supportive. It very clearly tells you where to click next and when you should get ready because the "test" is coming up soon. It reminded of a persistent difference between Japanese and North American games: Japanese games are often easy, with an emphasis on putting in your time rather than insight and/or skill.

Brain Training has some drills that require thought, or at least attention, since one of the raison d'etres for it is to keep your mind sharp. But in general it very gently guides you through a series of exercises which, if followed, promise to decrease your "brain age". The most obvious analogy is to Japanese RPGs, which typically reward time and effort rather than any particular skill.

Today it finally occurred to me to congruous this is with the postwar Japanese culture: in the traditional sarariman structure, your place within the company is mostly determined by seniority, with individual merit and/or achievement having only a minor effect. These sort of games that kind you very strongly through them are an entertainment equivalent, where the 60 hours of gameplay will surely be rewarded by saving the universe, whether or not you applied any special insight along the way.

Of course, the sarariman culture is collapsing in the post-buble Japanese economy and currently Korean and Chinese fashions are all the rage there. Who knows what systems Japanese games will reflect in ten years?

27 February 2006

Beautiful imagery of decay


via Brett Tribble and mefi

26 February 2006

Country Music poh-try

A poor girl wants to marry,
and a rich girl wants to flirt.
A rich boy goes to college,
and a poor boy goes to work.

-- Charlie Daniels band, from "A long-haired country boy"

24 February 2006

VW Advertising

Volkswagen has sure done a lot of great ads over the years.

And now they have more: http://www.leftlanenews.com/2006/02/22/vw-strikes-again-un-pimp-my-ride-videos/

19 February 2006

Snow On Tam

Our hiking group decided to head up Mt. Tam today to try and catch some snow... we were successful beyond our wildest expectations! Here's a sample, catch them all at http://www.flutterby.com/archives/photo.cgi?id=elph0158.

13 February 2006

sf haiku

everyone is
easily spiritual
sunrise ocean beach

05 February 2006

Ants and Turn-of-the-Century Thinking

This morning I was reading Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn. I saw the movie version of Kwaidan a few years ago, and have also seen a lot of references to Hearn as one of the first interpreters of Japanese culture in English. It's definitely a neat collection of Japanese ghost stories.

However, the last essay in the book is about Ants, and sheds light both on Hearns' wide erudition and on the thought processes of turn-of-the-century thinkers. In addition to being a journalist and writer on Japanese culture, Hearn was very current in the scientific ideas of his day. In particular, in this essay he expands on some theories by Spencer to the effect that ants represents a more evolved form of social evolution than humans, because the sexual function of workers and warriors is cut off in gestation. Spencer believed this is what enabled them to function selflessly for the good of the colony without concern for their own reproductive ends.

Spencer believed humanity was, over time, evolving more and more sophisticated social mechanisms, and saw ant social organization as a kind of prototype of this. Thus Hearn says, "... it should not appear improbable that a more highly evolved humanity would cheerfully sacrifice a large proportion of its sex-life for the common weal, particularly in view of certain advantages to be gained."

What I thought fascinating about these passages is how they showed that even widely educated, open-minded men of the turn of the century had no ability to dissociate sex and reproduction. They clearly saw that an ever-increasing human population presented a tremendous, and in the limit insurmountable, challenge. Since they saw reproduction as an unavoidable consequence of sex, they were forced to contemplate re-engineering the race as the way out of the challenge.

Growing up as I have in the era when the Pill was known and condoms were cheap, I've always seen that there are ways to achieve "certain advantages" (i.e., not growing the population) without the wholesale abandonment of a sex life Hearn and Spencer were suggesting. These widely-read individuals were able to think about re-engineering humanity in the womb -- but not to imagine that sex and reproduction would be separable choices.

Yet, the change Hearn and Spencer were seeing as desirable -- zero population growth -- has been achieved in the first world, and in our children's lifetime will almost certainly be achieved globally. And perhaps even more surprisingly, as with ants, much of it has been accomplished by physiological manipulation implemented via diet -- the Pill. Maybe ants were more of a prototype than we care to think.

26 January 2006

"Japan Year in Review -- Pop Culture Revolution" Report

For the last eight years, the Japan Society in SF (http://www.usajapan.org/) has held a "Japan Year in Review" lecture/panel series. Last night they had their 2005 wrapup focusing on Japanese Pop Culture. This one ended up being more interesting than I expected! There were only two panelists, but they both had a lot to say. Here are the highlights:

Kaori Shoji is a Japanese journalist. Her headline for 2005 was "the rise of the otaku" -- in her opinion, last year saw the Otaku move from being a reviled, un-talked-about figure in popular culture to being the central figure in it. She cites a couple causes for this, among them the rise of a new group of (mostly Korean) male romance stars, such as Bae Yong Joon. The characters portrayed by these stars are not work-obsessed, not pushy, and not misogynist -- they're sensitive, caring, and must wear (try Google-image-searching Bae Yong Joon -- all of his characters wear glasses).

She traces the evolution in the role of the otaku this year to the book "Train Men" (I haven't yet been able to find the web reference for this book yet). In the book, an otaku ends up dating a "intimidatingly" beautiful woman, and constantly text-messages his entire group of otaku friends about what he should do/say next ('constantly' meaning, every five minutes in the middle of their dates). His group of friends bands together to be available for advice all through his dates, and turn what could be somewhat disgusting into a charming display of devotion. She also talked about the rise of "Maid Cafes" (where the waitresses are dressed in maid costumes and/or anime character costumes); the concept of "moe", the emotion behind patronizing the cafes; and the increasing patronage of them by both male and female otaku.

The other panelist was Eric Nakamura, the editor of (the LA-based) Giant Robot magazine. Eric talked about the broadening out of various toy companies' product lines; specifically, he mentioned that Medicom (the company behind Kubrick figures) has started making furniture, coin purses, and bags; he had some slides with examples there, but I haven't been able to find any references on the web to it (I've emailed him to see if I can get some references).

The other neat phenomenon he talked about was Gaisei and the Design Festa. If you know about Komiket (the huge market held once a year for amateur comics) that's a starting point for talking about these. Design Festa is like Komiket but for physical objects -- some of the entrants are more like crafty things (hand-knit caps) but many are more along the lines of Kubricks or other figurines. In addition to the booths of items, Design Festa is a contest with prizes awarded to some of the best entries.

Takashi Murakami, the visual artist (http://www.takashimurakami.com/) sponsors a higher-end event called Geisai ("gei" refers to fine arts). Geisai (http://www.geisai.net/) has the same quality of being an event in a huge convention hall where hundreds of booths are set up by attendees. At Geisai, what they're showing is their art, so it's kind of like a beauty contest for artists. Especially given the sponsorship of Murakami (who just had a huge exhibit in NY), it has much more of an explicit connection to fine arts than the other event. Geisai isn't curated (it's "pay to display" as one poster on livejournal put it), but it has a very organized competitive element -- the judges examine what's on display at the conference and award prizes in various categories to the winners. Like most art contests, the primary prize is publicity though -- Eric talked about a couple examples of the price runups some of the winners saw in their art.

Both speakers discussed a few other things as well, such as the increasingly US distribution of muji ("no-brand") products -- they're sort of Japan's Ikea, their non-logo-logo is their trademark. They're being sold at the MOMA store in NY and the MOCA stores in LA. In general the above was the most interesting, though!

09 January 2006

Double taste violation

This morning on the way to work on the 101, I saw a Hummer (with of course a single person in it) with... spinny hubcaps! It was such spectacular bad taste I laughed out loud in the car.

08 January 2006

Display PostScript

A friend asked me about the history of Display PostScript, which Jack Newlin and I wrote together with Adobe when I was at NeXT. I thought I might as well post the reply where people can comment on it!


Sure, I've forgotten most or all the proprietary stuff I knew back then :) besides the key proprietary element was what we now call Type 1 Fonts -- they (Adobe) decided to publish that stuff a few years after I left NeXT.

Basically, we actually made the window server a PostScript interpreter, and sent over a binary-encoded form of actual PostScript calls. To get efficiency out of it, we created new PostScript operators that were array versions of many of the calls so that you could draw more per primitive, but you were still sending a program to the sever that was interpreted by the interpreter.

There was one PostScript thread per connection (kind of obvious) plus some thread to handle user input. And of course, all of the windowing operations were implemented as new PostScript operators (newwindow, movewindow, sizewindow, etc., etc.). You could supply PostScript callback procedures to be called on user events in your window to filter, process, or do whatever to them (including passing them back to the client). The model was very similar to Sun's NeWS server, which we were influenced by, but they put a lot of emphasis on doing much of your application event-handling in PostScript, whereas we regarding PostScript-level event handling as the outlet of last resort (I gave a talk at SIGGRAPH once called, "Why PostScript is my least favorite programming language").

Obviously, picking PostScript defined the 2D graphics model pretty clearly. The other wise choice we made was to choose Porter-Duff compositing as the basis of all image combination operations supported by the system. That allowed programs to be very independent of the framebuffer depth and provided a much more powerful layering system as well.

Frankly, though we got it all working pretty well, I don't think actually using a language interpreter was the right idea. I think the stream-of-asynchronous-procedure-calls model, as implemented by X or by OpenGL among others, is a better model for that kind of performance- and memory-sensitive interface. I still think PostScript was a great (2D) graphics model, so we chose correctly there -- it's just that with 20-20 hindsight I would have defined a procedural interface with a clear mapping to PostScript, but which wasn't directly tied to a language interpreter.

Peter Graffagnino, who took over for me when I left NeXT, certainly thought so -- in Cocoa, that's kind of it works. There's a DPS procedural layer, and it's not subject to redefinition by the window server's PostScript interpreter, which allows a more efficient interpretation of the protocol stream and a lighter memory overhead. You can still pass PostScript down to be interpreted a drawn, but that's not the usual interface to the window system.

Hope that helps!


On Jan 7, 2006, at 12:11 PM, Justin Ryan wrote:

hey leo, i noticed on your website that you worked at NeXT on
DisplayPS technology. I'd really like to chat with you about this, if
your knowledge of the technology is not overly proprietary. I mostly
want to understand more about this, as I've seen that a number of
f/oss projects are striving to move the f/oss user interface into the
new world of non-x11 display drivers on unix.