Thursday, October 25, 2007

Yaay! Gadgets! Boo! Blatant Inconsistency!

So, thanks to bOING bOING, I found the supremely geeky Wired Test special section is available online as a PDF. Hooray! But there's a rather glaring inconsistency that makes me really wonder how much, if any, editorial oversight went into it.

On page 58 of the PDF (Page 81 in the print version), they endorse paying $130 for a 4-foot Monster HDMI cable on the grounds that the ends fell off the cheap Chinese cable they compared it with (and found no difference). It's clearly a bit tongue-in-cheek, but okay. Then, just 7 pages later, they review a $100 Belkin HDMI cable, and complain that it's too pricey, albeit more rugged, and they'd rather save $80 and get a cheap $20 no-brand cable. Er, what? How is the Belkin cable too expensive, but the Monster one worth it?

I'm not taking a position on whether either of these cables is overpriced (not here, anyway), but I don't see how you can take seriously a review from a magazine whose editors can't even maintain a consistent editorial position for 7 pages.

Don't Take Pictures in Japan in Summer

My nifty little HP927 has a handy feature on it that gives you advice about the picture you just took-- if it was out of focus, or if you should try shutter priority or aperture priority or the like. Because of it, I learned something new-- that CCDs are fairly temperature-sensitive, and if you take pictures too far outside their ideal operating temperature, you'll get poor (usually grainy) results. Unfortunately, that temperature range apparently does not include "Japan in the summer", because about 80% of the outdoor pictures I took there caused that warning to pop up. It's a bit frustrating, because there's only so much I could do to cool things off, and pouring cold water over it (my personal favourite method of cooling down) was probably a warranty violation of some sort.

The Street of Plastic Food

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that every restaurant in Japan is in need of plastic food to put in a display case in its front window. On the 27th of August, we visited Kappabashi-dori, where Tokyo restauranteurs go to buy their plastic food replica pieces. It's an amazing place-- full of restaurant supply stores where you can buy anything from a small ceramic rice bowl to a full kitchen's worth of pots and pans..

Walking around, I found a knife shop that had some of the most impressive knives I've ever seen. The proprietor seemed to be very flattered that I wanted to take pictures of the knives; from what I could tell, one of his assistants actually made them. I particularly like the crab. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Walking My Feet Off In Japan

Since I got to Japan a few days ago, I have done nothing but walk everywhere. For a place as teeming with trains as this one, that may sound surprising, but in fact there's very little else to do to get around here besides walk. Taxis are godawful expensive, and buses are confusing, a bit. Anyway, my feet are SORE.

When we got in on Sunday, we first checked into our hotel, a Japanese-style place called Kikuya Ryokan. Well, we tried to. As a matter of fact, I ended up going almost exactly the wrong way until a very nice gentleman with very poor English pointed us in the right direction. Then we headed over to Yotsuya for Mass-- we were late, a bit, but it was okay. A very nice church it was, with a design in the roof that echoed the imperial chrysanthemum.

Yesterday, we found out that pretty much nothing in Tokyo is open on Monday. So, um, avoid Tokyo on a Monday if you're sightseeing is the lesson here, I guess. Instead, we visited the National Science Museum, and saw some very cool exhibitions on the history and peoples of Japan. Then, out of sheer boredom, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano, more or less because it was there. We took in a very gorgeous shrine, the Zenkouji Shrine, and then headed back. The train was about 100 minutes or so between Tokyo and Nagano stations-- look that up if you want to see how far that is. It's pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Today we started off with a tour of Asakusa's most famous temple, the Sensoji Temple. The street leading up to it、Nakamise-dori, is full of shops just ready and waiting to part the unwary from their vacation cash. Then we headed over to Harajuku, and saw the Meiji Shrine, created by Emperor Meiji, who opened up Japan to the world shortly after Admiral Perry made it a moot point anyway. From there, we took in Tokyo Tower (3m taller than the Eiffel Tower, but only because of its antennae mast. ;-) A brief stop in Shinjuku for dinner, and then back to the hotel.

Tomorrow is still up in the air a bit. We'll just have to see how it goes.

No pictures yet, I'm afraid; we have to use the hotel's computer, and I don't know if I can use it to upload (anyway, this keyboard is a pain, as it keeps shifting randomly into Japanese-- which I could probably type, but you probably couldn't read. :).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

All this needs is a book...

All this needs is a book to combine all my favourite hobbies:


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bujold, and Zen Christianity

Having been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books for some time now (read: Since I found "The Vor Game" on clearance in a used bookstore in the late '90s or so), I was a bit nervous about her fantasy books. It's been my experience that generally a good SF author doesn't do fantasy well, and vice-versa, but then Bujold's strength has always been her characters, and a good novel of any genre (or no genre at all) needs those. But who wants to read Miles-in-some-vaguely-medieval-land? But maybe she can write more than just Miles...

Anyway, last night, wanting something to read with my dinner (at Pho Duy... if you're ever in Fort Collins, CO, check it out, it's cheap and fantastic), I dropped into the library and checked out The Curse of Chalion, and as usual, I was being an ass. Although Miles still has first claim on my reading attention, I think the land of Chalion will be chomping very strongly at the bit behind him, to mix a metaphor or twelve.

I was struck mightily by the protagonist's discovery that his sainthood (one of the nice aspects of a fantasy world is you can define a saint to your liking-- and incidentally, remove all doubt as to whom the word applies) is dependent not on action, but emptiness, of telling the gods, "Here I am, use me as you will." Cazaril says, when trying to explain sainthood to an ex-saint,

It has to do with the shape of your soul, not its worthiness. You have to make a cup of yourself, to receive that pouring out. You are a sword. You were always a sword. Like your mother and your daughter, too-- steel spines run in the women of your family. I realize now why I never saw saints, before. The world does not crash upon their wills like waves upon a rock, or part around them like the wake of a ship. Instead they are supple, and swim through the world as silently as fishes.

This is a very Daoist idea right there. And if Bujold weren't clear that gods were involved, I might let it go at that, but it strikes me that this very thing is also a very historically Christian idea as well-- Empty Bell gives several examples. One Monk of St. Benedict tells us, "Prayer unveils its own emptiness before God." If I were less lazy (see below), I'd find more quotes, but you get the idea.

More thoughts ought to come later.

(p.s., I said "Zen Christanity" rather than "Daoist Christianity" mostly because I'm lazy, and I thought it sounded better.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

Steampunk Star Wars

I can't find it now, but there was a very funny blogpost about how you can invent your own genre by taking a generic noun, and adding the word "punk" to the end. Mostly, it was a complaint about how ubiquitous "steampunk" is. That said, here's a great re-imagining of Star Wars in a steampunk style:

Monday, March 26, 2007

Go cry, emo bird.

The title, of course, refers to this picture.

Apparently, there is now a breed of moth that lives on the tears of birds. Wow.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Supergirl on the Web

Because StumbleUpon rocks, I found this awesome Internet art meme from early February 2007. The discussion started with a few rants about Supergirl in her latest incarnation, and ended up with a challenge (as well as the first, and extremely worthwhile entry in what ended up being a pretty huge drawing meme). I'm a sucker for things comic-book-y (which is why I read Chris' Invincible Super Blog), so I looked through all of them to find the ones I liked the best. I present the list here, with commentary.