Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I didn't get to watch the 紅白歌合戦 this year. First New Year's Eve in a long time where that didn't happen.

On the other hand, this is the first year I get to go to Kim's New Year's party...

Happy New Year, all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How Japanese Addresses work

...and other cultural opposites. Via


What the...?

For Black Friday this year, Target set up a lot of displays of merchandise that they don't normally carry. One of the displays was of Hello Kitty housewares; the Hello Kitty clock radio, the HK toaster, the HK water cooler, the HK sandwich maker, and the HK gumball machine, if I recall correctly. (A far cry from what is available in Japan, of course. Hello Kitty body-fat monitor, anyone?)

Here's a picture of the packaging of the toaster:One thing about this particular thing always caught my eye. Now, Hello Kitty has no mouth. What the heck is she doing with the grape-jellied toast, just shoving it against her face?


P.S. I'm not kidding about the Hello Kitty Body Fat Monitor.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

From around 1984, the first ever Macintosh game

Here are some scans of the first ever Macintosh game, released at around the same time the 128K Macintosh was introduced in 1984: "Through the Looking Glass", by Steve Capps.The game was something of a chess-based twitch game.
(Click picture for larger, readable version)

After clicking on what piece you'd like to move as, it's you as Alice against all sixteen of the opposition. Capture them before they capture you.

Here's a video of what came on that disc: A maze game, a digital morphing clock, and the game itself -- all 25K of it.

More info here.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Something to make you think.

I recall reading somewhere a while back that one of the first things that happens after a plane crash is that someone is tasked to come along and scrape the name of the airline off the wreckage.

I note that all reports of the terrorist incident this week refer to the flight as a "Northwest Airlines" flight...even though Northwest Airlines no longer exists in any meaningful fashion.



Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day

It's more than a little disconcerting to show up for work before 7:00 AM only to see a Fox 9 News truck parked squarely in front of the employee entrance. First thought: "That can't be a good sign. I wonder what happened...?"

Turns out it was a "human interest" piece about returns the day after Christmas. This was forced to morph into something else when the anticipated crowd of people at the service desk failed to materialize.

I managed to avoid the cameras. I've already been on TV three or four different times, in a couple different countries...I had no problem passing it up this time. (^_^)

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Friday, December 25, 2009

A quick response to comments received about the previous post



Bonus weird Wikipedia link of the day:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas.

I was going to post a photo of myself dressed as Santa at one of the Christmas parties I had to do as part of my last job in Japan...but naaah. NO one wants to see that, right?

Random St. Olaf Choir memory

SCENE: After choir rehearsal, some time during my senior year at St. Olaf

Rob: (Walks up to Dr. Armstrong) Dr. A, can I ask you a stupid question?

Dr. Armstrong: Oh, come on, Rob. There's no such thing as a stupid question.

Rob: Would you like to play Lieutenant Worf at a "Star Trek How to Host a Mystery" party?

Dr. A: (Grabs Rob by his jacket and shakes) It REALLY IS a stupid question!

Dr. A: (pauses)

Dr. A: ...Yes.

And he did. And fun was had by all. Me, Erik, Andrea, Joy, Chris, and Dr. A. Dr. A later commented that one of the weirder things about the evening was being in Mellby Hall, which during his student years at St. Olaf was a women-only dorm.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Okay, I've managed to record all of my St. Olaf Choir home concert tapes to (rather large) files on the computer. Next: Dig up all my old concert programs, so as to name the new MP3 files correctly.

Since they're somewhere in the basement, this will be an order of magnitude more difficult than actually transferring the tapes in the first place.

I keep on finding things which I had forgotten that I owned. A lot of Neon Genesis Evangelion collectibles -- I bought a lot of them until the last two episodes bent my brain. Star Wars toys bought but never opened -- I can only assume that I had thought they would go up in value, but I don't recall actually thinking that, ever. Lots of bargain CDs, which I have never listened to. (Some of them were purchased from musicians who played at Barnes & Noble, back when I worked there and helped host the Saturday evening music events. They don't do those anymore.)

I'd set up an eBay account, but I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't get jack for most of this stuff.


Monday, December 21, 2009

More Hi-Fi information

More stuff from the back of the record album:

This Mercury STEREO record has been cut with variable groove spacing and electronic groove depth control, thus producing a 2-channel disc of exceptionally wide dynamic range, reliable stylus tracking throughout the frequency range, and startling clarity and definition of instrumental timbres.
Not that there are any instrumental timbres on this album anyway...

This almost makes me want to dust off the old turntable and try to find some way to hook it up into the (new) receiver.
This Mercury STEREO record should be played according to the RIAA standard with a stereo reproducing cartridge having a stylus tip not exceeding .7 mil. For best results, be sure that your two loudspeakers and amplifiers are correctly balanced in terms of output and phase, and that the loudspeakers are placed in the room so as to provide an even "spread of sound" from one to the other.
Ah yes, so the RIAA once had a purpose other than suing their ultimate customers into the ground.

I wonder what the ratio is of people who primarily listen to music through a big stereo system with speakers that have to be "placed in the room so as to provide an even 'spread of sound' from one to the other", to people who primarily listen to music through tiny earbuds that do a crappy job of reproducing strong bass lines. (I pretty much fall into the latter category, alas.)


Just when I get settled into a routine...

For the past couple of weeks at work, I've been working the closing shift. (Holiday hours, we close at midnight most nights, which means I work until 1:00 AM.) This will continue up until Christmas Eve.

I grumbled a bit when it started, but after a week or so my mental clock adjusted. Of course, this means I don't get to bed until, say, 2 or 3 AM and don't get up until 10 or 11.

Although it works for now, I start working opening shifts the day after Christmas. Oh, well. Could be worse, I guess.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Things I need to remember

Events this night (which I don't need to go into) have reminded me of a lesson I learned back about 10 years ago, when I was still working for St. Paul Public Schools:

Sometimes, you can't afford to wait for good luck to come your way. At those times, you can make your own luck.

And then I went to Japan.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blast from the past

In my collection of LPs and 45s (people under 30: LPs and 45s were types of black vinyl discs that people used to listen to music), I have this:It's a stereo recording of "The St. Olaf Lutheran Choir", conducted by Olaf Christiansen (Mercury Records SR-60636). The fun thing about it is reading some of the notes on the back of jacket:
HI-FI Information
This recording was made simultaneously in stereo and monaural in a Hollywood recording studio with Harry L. Bryant at the engineering controls. The choir was set up in standard concert grouping. Five Telefunken U-47 microphones were used as follows: three were placed approximately 15 feet in front of the choir, and 10 feet above the floor. One was suspended 25 to 30 feet in front of the choir, 16 feet high. The fifth microphone was used for solo work. The session was recorded on Ampex tape recorders at 15 inches per second.

David Carroll
Mercury Recording Director
Harry L. Bryant
Recording Engineering
Imagine the same sort of thing for your average pop singer today. "This recording was made digitally in an LA studio, with the vocals recorded separately from the rest of the tracks. The artist recorded over 20 takes before we decided to auto-tune the whole thing..."

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Friday, December 18, 2009

In which there is not much of substance at all

A few months ago, I had planned out in my head an entry or a series of entries about the history of the Valkyrie/Veritech/Jetfire toy, and had even taken pictures for it. However, I realized in a timely fashion that even I didn't wanna read something like that...

The only thing one would learn from those non-existant entries would be that I bought waaaay too many of these toys.

(Note: Of the three toys pictured, two were sold off before I came home from Japan. Guess which one I kept?)

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Uh oh.

I've noticed a small but growing tendency to start conversations at work with phrases such as "Back in MY day..." This is not a good thing. Luckily, when I abruptly stop after saying something like that, everyone else thinks I was making a joke. Or they're just humoring me. Either way, I can deal with that.

Coming up on two years since I put that map thingy on the left side of the page. This year's hit count is more than double last year's count. Thanks to all for reading...


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'd sit in the quad, and think, "Oh my God..."

Two Ole Choir home concerts digitized, one to go...followed by some Christmas Festivals. Gotta dig up some concert programs, to make those ID3 tags...

I do miss being in choir. My years in the St. Olaf choirs were some of the happiest in my life. I made a few good friends -- not many, but that was more because I was (still am) kind of an introvert than any other reason. The people in choir were almost all easily approachable and friendly...and we were all working together for that common goal.

One year, before one night of the Christmas Festival, I signed up to do devotions before the performance. (We did devotions before every performance...sometimes silent reflection, more often one or two choir members giving food for thought. One memorable one from that same year brought up the idea of God as a verb.)

I took as my inspiration something a choir member said during the PBS broadcast of the 1989 St. Olaf Christmas Festival. He was talking about the Randall Thompson composition "Alleluia", and he discussed how Dr. Kenneth Jennings (then-director of the choir) described it to them.

The text of Thompson's Alleluia is simply the word, alleluia, over and over again until a final "amen." Dr. Jennings told the choir to think of "alleluia" as an endless river of praise to God, and to sing the Alleluia is to dip into that river for a short moment of time.

I extended the metaphor to mean the St. Olaf Choir itself. Begun almost a century ago as a church choir, nowadays the choir is made up solely of students of St. Olaf College, and thus is renewed completely every three years. During our time in the choir, be it one, two, or three years, we join in a mighty river of singing -- of praise, and of beautiful music. Upon graduating, we leave that river behind us, knowing that it will continue flowing far past the point where we depart, and we will never touch upon it in the exact same way again.

What I wouldn't give to be part of that once more...

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Whilst working on my latest project (importing old St. Olaf Choir tapes to MP3), I listened to this CD for the first time in a while. It's archival recordings of F. Melius Christiansen conducting the St. Olaf Choir.

It's kind of...humbling, perhaps, to listen to choral works that I know and have sung, being conducted by the original composer, and sung by the group that he wrote them for. It's also very interesting to hear how interpretations have changed in the ensuing decades.

I recall a tour concert in Moorhead, Minnesota, with the entire Concordia choir in the front four rows, and F. Melius' son Paul Christiansen sitting in the back row. I didn't see it myself, but people in the audience said that when we began singing our signature song, "Beautiful Savior" as arranged by his father, Dr. Christiansen leaned back and closed his eyes in bliss...only to open them with an angry glare when Dr. Armstrong inserted his "luftpauses" in the last verse.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My current project:

Trying to hook a tape deck up to the computer, so as to convert my old St. Olaf Choir tapes to MP3/AAC/CD... Now to dive into the basement to see if I can find my old audio cables.

11:48 PM edit: Cables found! Also tapes of St. Olaf Christmas Festivals, a Dorian Festival, and All-State Choir...

Random bit of fluff...

Found my electronic dictionary today, after a week of not being able to find it -- it was in my car. It's fairly old, now, and the newer ones have a lot more features -- a touch-screen interface, so you can draw kanji rather than look it up by radical and number of strokes (difficulty: writing it in correct stroke order), an English-to-English dictionary, etc. But I don't really need all that. (Maybe the Eng.<->Eng. dictionary...but since it's a learner's dictionary, probably not.)

An old college friend once mentioned to me how amazing it felt to live in a foreign country and suddenly not have to tote around your dictionary any more. It's true, it's a rush when you realize that you can actually communicate (albeit at a very elementary level) without technological crutches.

My latest milestone passed in the quest to understand Japanese was noticing that whoever did the official English translation for the manga "Nodame Cantabile" was not at all versed in Japanese culture, and in some spots showed a very tenuous grasp of the language...

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Random retail commentary

"Disney Princesses Cash Register toy? Somehow I doubt the Disney Princesses would be working retail..."

"Thank you for calling, this is the Toy department, can I help you?"
"I'm looking for the Toy department..."

"I'm calling from corporate, I want you to put something on hold for me. It's the --"
"Okay, just give me the stock number."
"I...don't have a stock number..."

"I want to get one of the netbooks in this week's ad."
"Oh, we're out of stock."
"Well, I'm calling from corporate, and our system shows you have four left."
"If we have any left, they're on hold for other people."
"Well, take one off of hold, and put it on hold for me."
"Okay, how long do you keep things on hold?"
"You're calling from corporate, don't you know?"*

*I didn't actually say that last line.

Quote 1 was said by me, and 2 and 4 were conversations that I actually had. I heard number three when I was telling others about number four, and we were pretty sure it was the same person.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Am I forever dreaming...

I've been digging through my CDs and DVDs, trying to get a handle on what I still have, what I sent home from Japan, and what I don't have anymore. I've been finding a lot of "why did I bother sending THIS home" discs, however. *coughMorningMusumecrapcough*

I have a lot of Utada Hikaru's CDs. She was one of my favorite Japanese artists. However, now she's trying to gain a foothold in the American music scene, and in order to do so, she's changed up her style and sound into electronica/dance music, which is just not my thing. Angela Aki's taken up the number one spot on my Japanese music prefs nowadays, anyway.

I also have a lot of single songs/albums from artists who were flavor of the day for varying periods of time...Hajime Chitose, Nakashima Miyuki, Nana Katase, and several others that have never made a splash outside of Japan.

One pleasant surprise for me was uncovering a couple of video game soundtracks, of all things. Katamari Damashii, because all the tunes on there are really jazzy and catchy, and ICO.

ICO is this really atmospheric game for the PlayStation 2. Very little dialogue, beautiful graphics, challenging puzzles, and a very intriguing setting. The game soundtrack includes one song with vocals (in English, even), that uses some abstract imagery, fitting in very nicely with the game itself.

The island bathes in the sun's bright rays
Distant hills wear a shroud of grey
A lonely breeze whispers in the trees
Sole witness to history

Fleeting memories rise
From the shadows of my mind
Sing "nonomori" - endless corridors
Say "nonomori" - hopeless warriors
You were there
You were there

Am I forever dreaming
How to define the way I'm feeling

You were there
Countless visions they haunt me in my sleep
You were there
Though forgotten all promises we keep

Slaves to our destiny
I recall a melody
Sing "nonomori" - seasons lit with gold
Say "nonomori" - legends yet untold
You were there
You were there

Happiness follows sorrow
Only believing in tomorrow

You were there
Countless visions they haunt me in my sleep
You were there
Though forgotten all promises we keep

The island bathes in the sun's bright rays
Distant hills wear a shroud of grey
A lonely breeze whispers in the trees
Sole key to this mystery

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The Laws of Anime

Nothing much today, just a link to the Laws of Anime, a list some people put together long ago...yet they still apply, most of them.

Some samples:

#3 - Law of Sonic Amplification, First Law of Anime Acoustics

In space, loud sounds, like explosions, are even louder because there is no air to get in the way.

#11 - Law of Inherent Combustibility

Everything explodes. Everything.

First Corollary -

Anything that explodes bulges first.

Second Corollary -

Large cities are the most explosive substances known to human science. Tokyo in particular seems to be the most unstable of these cities, sometimes referred to as "The Matchstick City".

#17 - Law of Transient Romantic Unreliability

Minmei is a bimbo.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Winter is finally here

Picture 1: An atypical Kagoshima winter day (note the still-verdant greenery)

Now that the snow is (finally!) falling here in Minnesota, I realize that I kind of missed Minnesota winters. Sure, I was also glad to not have to deal with the difficulties -- winter driving, badly insulated apartment -- but there was a small bit of homesickness in living in a Japanese winter.

This first picture was taken during the one three-day period when we got snow in Kagoshima. That's three days in three YEARS that we had snow on the ground. I feared for my life when walking to work. Narrow roads + people inexperienced in winter driving = a lot of slip-sliding around.

Picture 2: A typical Tottori winter

Living in Tottori, which is at about the middle of Honshu, on the northern coast, I could look forward to snow every year. Not nearly as bad as the winters of my youth, of course. It was at first amusing then somewhat annoying when my boss would refuse to let me drive during the winter. I've been driving in snow a lot longer than she has...

(I should clarify: It was a company car, so they could set any rules they wanted to, and that was okay. There were enough dry days during winter that I could still go to the grocery store, etc.)

Now, finally, a Minnesota winter. I'm sure that come tomorrow, when the time comes for me to drive to work, the nostalgia factor will be long worn-off.

I'm reminded of a Scott Hansen comedy routine I saw years ago. He said something like this: We all feel the same way about winter. We all feel the same way about that first snowfall. We open the curtains, and look out at that soft white blanket covering the ground, and we all think the same thing. "Oh, $#!+."

Break out the shovels!

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One good thing about a full-time-ish retail job

One good thing about working at a largish retail job for 30-40 hours a week is that it leaves me too tired to go out and spend lots of money on things I don't really need. Even today (Monday), my day off, I was out shopping...and didn't buy anything.

(I'd better get off the internet before I find something I want--too late...)

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Have you ever done this...?

Sometimes, I forget that I own something -- a book, a CD, something -- and I buy a second one by mistake. I haven't done this often, and usually when I have done it, it's something that's of minimal cost. Once I bought the same album from the iTunes Music store America and Japan ("Blue Planet," by Donna Lewis -- certainly worth buying once). (Now that I think about it, the copy I got from the Japanese iTunes store was free, from the Japanese Coca-Cola MyCokeRewards site.)

But, once, I spent a bit more.

These are two copies of the same movie, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? I bought the first one, on the left, when I was living in Kagoshima. I first bought it because I was (and am!) a fan of Macross/Robotech, and this movie will most likely never have a legitimate U.S. release due to a combination of factors (Harmony Gold being difficult to work with, limited demand for older anime movies, etc.). It's labeled "Perfect Edition", but the video is kind of choppy and skippy...

Anyway, when I was leaving Japan for the states after the end of the JET Programme job, I unloaded a lot of DVDs and CDs and other stuff that I had purchased (and I had purchased a lot. JET paid almost too well). I thought I had sold this one back too, due to the video quality being not the best.

Fast forward a few years...Now I'm working in Tottori, and I have a car, and easy access to electronics/toy/CD/DVD shops (actually just one. All in one store. DeoDeo...). Fortunately for me, I have a much more limited budget, and far more awareness of how limited it is.

When I saw that they had re-mastered DYRL, I decided to pick up a copy. (It took me about six months to convince myself to buy it, actually.) The newer edition had perfect video and sound, but didn't have the trailers and other extras that the earlier edition had. Still, I figured that I had already given up the other DVD, so what the heck.

Fast forward again, to about June of this year. I'm back in the states, and going through boxes of stuff in my parents' basement that I had sent home back in 2004...and I come upon the earlier copy of DYRL.


Normally I wouldn't have reacted so extremely, but that first DVD was ¥7800, and the second was ¥6800. What with the fluctuation of the exchange rate, that's about $68-$70 a piece.

Well, at least it's a good movie...

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Been a long, strange week

Maybe I picked the wrong time to try to increase blog posting frequency...

So, last week I got called in to work Monday, and ended up working all parts of the store except softlines (clothes) and Food Avenue (in-store café). That included pharmacy and electronics, which was fun.

Then, on Wednesday, I was scheduled for an eight hour shift in softlines, where men almost never work (and are certainly never trained). Fortunately, it was a quiet night so I had few opportunities to screw up, so that went well. I did the best I could, which is more than some guys have done when thrown into softlines. I recall one guy getting so angry that he spent his entire shift hiding/hanging out in other areas of the store, just talking/complaining to other employees.

I'm scheduled for closing shifts for most of the holiday season. This is fine, except for the way that my brain insists on waking up at around 7:00 AM after working until 12-1 AM the night before. Yeesh.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Regrets? I have a few...

One of the things I regret having to do before leaving Japan was the selling off of my DVDs and CDs. I figured that I'd need the money, and the cost of shipping them all safely back to the states would've been impossible. That was before I found out about this:

Anyway, I did put a number of my favorite songs on my iPod before I had to unload them. I was listening to it while driving to work yesterday, when the song 島唄 came on, reminding me of what I sold off...

This CD was also where I got the song 花 from, the song I tried to sing for that NHK talent show a while back. Both songs were covered by 普天間かおり, who did remarkably non-bombastic versions, especially compared with the more popular versions...

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Thank you gifts

In America, on occasions when employers/companies/etc. give thank you gifts to their clients/employees, what do they give, usually? Fruit baskets? Gift certificates?

In Japan, the gifts can be cleaning supplies, coffee sets, Kobe beef (for when you're REALLY grateful), or this:

A gift case of beer.

Got that for Christmas 2007/New Year's 2008. Took most of 2008 to finish off -- even in Japan, I wasn't that much of a drinker.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Even the road construction is polite

In Japan, as in most places, most of the heavy road construction is done on the night shift. Even though they aren't inconveniencing all that many people, they try to be exceedingly polite about it. Witness this inflateable light standard, standing at the beginning/end of the construction area:

工事中 --> Construction in progress
ご迷惑おかけします --> We apologize for the inconvenience

The workers were bemused when, on the way back from the convenience store, I asked permission to take this picture.

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Random retail complaining

So, when did it become acceptable to open any and all packages in the store, then just leave them there for others to not buy? I know I've been away for the larger part of a decade, but really -- is this all right now?

The more polite people ask me if it's okay to open up something to look at it, but are genuinely surprised when I tell them no. (Some people proceed to open it anyway.)

However, the normal kind of person who does this just rips open things. The more evil kind of people rip open one, then take another still-sealed one.

Lately I've been seeing people unscrew the lotion and hand soap pumps, then pulling the pump entirely out of the bottle to sniff the contents. Sometimes they don't bother tightening the cap again after they decide not to get it, which leads to spillage and entire shelves of product rendered unsellable.

The only other running complaint I've got right now is that people who decide they don't want something after all often not just dump it wherever they are, but also hide it behind whatever's there, as if they were ashamed for doing it. Hey, if you're embarrassed, don't do it! But, I've seen that behavior since my first retail job over 20 years ago, so whatever.

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