October 10, 2006

Mirror Mask

This was a movie that I actually watched, over dinner after a long day coding. I was interested in this one because it is from Neil Gaiman, who I once saw open a Magnetic Fields concert with a reading, and the Jim Henson Creature Shop, which has done excellent work on all sorts of things, including geek favorite Farscape.

The visuals for this movie are excellent. The soundtrack and music is very well woven into things as well. The film is an adaptation of a children's story, but I have really been into media targeted at young adults lately. Garth Nix's Shade's Children, for example, is just an excellent book in that category. I still have fond memories of John Christopher's Tripods Trilogy from my youth.

The main character, a 14 or 15 year old girl named Helena, is going through a typical sort of thing in these movies: her mother is in the hospital and she dreams herself into a fantasy land to avoid the pain and guilt from their last argument. Or so I thought, but this one does turn out to be a bit different. Anyway, it was really a nice movie, not insulting in talking down to the audience, and really excellent imagination and visuals. I give it two fins up!

I'm not really sure how many fins fugu have, but it is probably somewhere between one and three.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Another movie I had on in the background while programming. An interesting film, headed up by George Clooney. I enjoyed it, but found the discussion on the wikipedia page to be pretty interesting also.

Capote

I do not remember exactly when, but while programming over the weekend I had Caopte running in the background. It was a really interesting movie. Breakfast at Tiffany's and perhaps In Cold Blood.

Also, the last time I was on a trans-continental flight, I watched Mission Impossible III, which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman as a creepy villian (and was easily the best part of the movie.)

Gallery Hopping in Tokyo

On Saturday I met up with my friend Fumie Hiratai and we went gallery hopping with another friend of hers. Fumie is a very good guide to the art scene in Tokyo. We met when she was working at NII, but she is an artist and was able to give up her job at NII to focus on art full time. She's been working on large paintings that end up in hotel lobbies and large corporations lately, I think.

We met up in Ginza, a very nice area of Tokyo that reminds me a lot of SoHo in more ways than one. Ginza is rife with art galleries, but similar to New York, the real avant-garde artists are pushed farther out as the rents go up, and like to retailate by moving to more and more inaccessible parts of the city. Fumie wanted to go to some more modern and independent galleries, so the first place we headed was the Inoue building in Kayabacho.

The Inoue building is very interesting. It is an older building situated on the Kamejima river. (The link to the map is courtesy of the Masataka Hayakawa Gallery, which I do not think that we entered. The building has these interesting "井" grillwork signatures on the exterior. The majority of the building is devoted to galleries, with at least three or four of them, and a very interesting bookstore that just opened the week we went there. The proprieter was a very congenial fellow that we spoke with at length.

We went to the Taguchi Fine Art Gallery for the Kim Taek-sang exhibition Hue of Time. In general, I liked the concept, but I didn't really think that it was great art, or anything that I would want to spend large amounts of money on to put up in my house. I do think I could do a fairly decent impression though if I took some time to find some nice ceramic tiles and some paints that I liked. It is an idea anyway.

After the Inoue gallery, we took a long walk over to a very interesting building over near the Sumida river. It was a converted factory space, butted up against an in-use factory of some kind. Floors 2 and 3 were devoted to some strange engineering offices. Floors 5, 6, and 7 are art spaces. There are a bunch of interesting galleries there, such as the Zenshi Gallery, the Shugo Arts Gallery, and the Tomio Koyama Gallery. For the most part, I wasn't inpired by the art that we saw, although I did in general like Ikemura Leiko's Pacific exhibition.

"Hello Kitty is an icon that doesn't stand for anything at all. Hello Kitty never has been, and never will be, anything. She's pure license; you can even get a Hello Kitty car! The branding thing is completely out of control, but it started as nothing and maintains its nothingness. It's not about the ego, and in that way it's very Japanese." (Tom Sachs, artist)
from QuotationReference.com
There was one piece that really struck me though. It was a work in the Tomio Koyama Gallery (which I found to be the most interesting) by Tom Sachs entitled Promental shit backwash psychosis (I think this is it - but the inscription that I remember does not show up.) The shocking, and thought-provoking, part of the piece was the inscription over the Burberry pattern and Hello Kitty (look Andy, I know how to use Wikipedia too!) image. I do not recall exactly, but it went something along the lines of
Chill out Japan, or you'll get nuked again.

It gave me pause and it is very interesting to think about the Hello Kitty brand (and concept!) shone against the light of the incredible popularity of Burberry and other brand goods here in Tokyo. In what ways have brand goods become an end-goal in themselves for some segment of the hyper-consumer population of Japan?

I did a lot of walking on Saturday, but it was very interesting to hit these smaller art galleries. I look forward to doing it again sometime.

October 8, 2006

Weatherman

A Nicholas Cage vehicle, pretty slow-paced and fairly enjoyable. I didn't like the Nicholas Cage character - Dave Spritz, I seem to notice a lot of Dave characters and people in the news getting bad publicity for our shared name (particularly the Duke LaCrosse player accused of rape recently) - very much. But I did understand his motivations, and liked the internal dialogue approach the movie took.

I applaud the movie for its unsatisfying ending that does not tie things up neatly and solve all the problems. That is how life goes, and it is nice to see a movie not have a happy (but not unhappy either) ending.

Movies on FuguTabetai.com

I'm starting a section for movies that I watch. I can't really say that I am a movie buff, but I do enjoy movies. What I used to enjoy most about movies was going to see a movie with my movie buff friend Carl Sable at the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem, New York. That place is great because you can get food with your movie, and the crowds are usually lots of fun.

Anyway, now that I am living in Tokyo, I do not see movies in movie theaters; it is quite expensive here, about twice the price as movies in New York. I do watch movies at home though. I particularly like to start a movie and work with my laptop, answering email or doing some programming when I come home for the evening. Documentaries are nice to watch in this way, since there isn't much action and you often can follow the movie quite well just by listening to the dialogue. Foreign subtitled movies are not possible to watch in this manner.

In this section I'll post comments on random movies that I watch (or don't, as the case often is) while I'm in Tokyo.

October 1, 2006

Adventures in Cooking: Omurice

I haven't had the time to cook since I got to Japan. While I was at IKEA the other day buying a new sofa, I also picked up a Skänka wok for about 2,500 yen. I thought it would be a good time to test it out.

I'm big fan of Omurice. (Omelette rice - basically fried rice wrapped up in an ommlette.) I thought I would give cooking some Omurice a go. Based on this recipie for Omurice I started on some Omurice of my own. I also added a paprika and some bacon to the mix, and for the sauce in addition to ketchup I used some Tonkatsu Sauce which is just amazingly great.

I didn't do such a good job on the Omelette part, but the rest of it was just great. I ended up with six "omlettes" but that's only because I had six eggs. I'm also left with a lot of fried rice, so I'm set for the next week. As long as I don't get tired of it...

September 30, 2006

Who killed the Electric car?

So I watched this interesting documentary today. I like the idea of Electric Cars. I think they suit the needs of maybe 80% of the commuters in America today. I'm really surprised that they were shut down so fiercly by the automotive and oil industry.

Anyway, it is an interesting documentary, and well worth the rental.

It has been a long time since I've had some time to relax, so I also went to Jiyugaoka to do some shopping (my little sister's birthday is coming up) and I spent some time at Starbucks reading "Keritai Senaka". Since I quit drinking coffee I just haven't been sitting down to read, which is a shame. I'm going to try to put in some time reading that book. When I'm done with it, I think I'll try to take on one of Murakami Haruki's earlier works in Japanese. It is, if nothing else, good practice and a humbling experience.

September 28, 2006

My new Fågelbo Couch

I bought an IKEA sofa-bed. It is large and dominates my living room, but I love it because I can lay down on it, and it can transform into a bed as well. I was really impressed that the delivery company also assembled the thing. Many thanks also to my friend Andy for being at my place to receive shipment. And oversee living toom redecoration.

Now my apartment is pretty packed. I've got to think about how to change things around so it is less crowded, but I'm really happy with this sofa. It has a built-in storage compartment also.

September 22, 2006

Sumo Wrestling In Tokyo

On Thursday, Andy and I went to the Sumo Tournament in Tokyo at the Kokugikaikan. We had box seats for two, and got there pretty early. While we watched the early matches of unranked (and lower-level ranked) Sumo wrestlers, there weren't too many other spectators around. We did get a great boxed lunch though, that came with five commemerative tea cups with Sumo wrestler names on them. Also, hot tea brought to our box.

It is absolutely crazy, but it turns out that Sharon Stone also was there when we were. I think I saw her; the blond down in the very expensive seats, I imagine.

I really enjoyed watching the Sumo matches. The last two matches of the day were Kotooshuu, a Bulgarian Sumo Wrestler who is quite popular, and Asashoryu, a Yokozuna wrestler who I've also heard of before. Asashoryu did the Bow Dance at the end of the day, since he won his match. I was a little sad that he won his match, because I was totally looking forward to throwing my zabuton. Usually if there is a big upset that people are unhappy with, they will throw their zabuton up in the air. We didn't get that chance though.

The Sumo experience was really great. We ended up spending just about all day there, which was a bit tough because of the seating arrangements, but I'm glad that we saw the younger Sumo wrestlers also. I think I also now have a better grasp of Sumo. I'll try to catch it on TV if it is on some time. The people sitting next to us were quite nice too, and Andy also got a great picture of himself with some Sumo wrestlers.

Just for completeness sake, you might want to surf over to GoneLiving.com and check out Andy's entry on our Sumo Funtime Adventure.

September 17, 2006

Tokyo Disney Sea

My friend Mayumi invited me to Tokyo Disney Sea a few weeks back. Monday the 18th is a national holiday in Japan (the respect the day of the elders holiday) so for the long weekend she was planning to go with a friend of hers to Disney Sea. I had never been to any of the Disney lands in Japan, or amusement parks for that matter, so I thought it would be fun to go. I invited a friend of mine, Taka, to round out the group.

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September 14, 2006

IPSJ in Shinjuku Day two

Wednesday was the final day of the IPSJ meeting. I've got more comments on the papers that I saw that day below.

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September 13, 2006

Information Processing Society of Japan Natural Language Meeting

Notes from the 2006-09-12 to 13 Information Processing Society of Japan meeting. The Information Processing Society of Japan Special Interest Group on Natural Language Processing holds bi-monthly meetings all around Japan. Two months ago, the meeting was in Hakodate. This time, the meeting was in Shinjuku, very close to where I live, so I decided it would be a good chance to attend and see what research is going on in the field in Japan.

It was really interesting. All but two of the presentations were in Japanese, which was a very nice chance to get up to speed on technical Japanese, and to see how presentations here go. It was pretty tiring too though. I also had a chance to talk with some of the member of the 情報爆発世界ニュース group that I'm involved with.

If you are interested in reading some very surface comments about the papers that I saw on Tuesday's session, click to read more...

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September 10, 2006

Somebody doesn't like my bike...

So this morning when I went to grab my bike to go home from Jiyugaoka (why I was headed home early this morning is another story entirely) my front tire was entirely flat. This is actually the second time this has happened, and it was strange because the tire itself was not punctured, the air had just been let out of the tire. So it looks like someone doesn't like my bike. Or, more accurately, someone doesn't like where I park my bike, and is going to great passive-aggressive lengths to let me know. They could try something more direct, like a note, but I guess it is more fun to keep my guessing. I'm pretty sure now that this isn't some spontaneous leak in the tire though, since when I filled the tire up with air again it was as good as new.

On the ride back home, the front tire was making some really interesting squeeking sounds. I rode past two police officers, just sitting on their little scooters and waiting for something to happen, and thought "I bet a white guy riding by on a bike with a flat front tire will get their attention."

Sure enough, a few seconds later the two officers pulled me over (I think I could have given their scooters a run for their money if my front tire had air in it though! I can't imaging police officers in America on those little 50cc motorbikes.) and checked on the bike registration. Since I registered the bike with the police when I purchased it, everything was fine, but it was a little scary. I forgot the first rule of being a foreigner in Japan when it comes to police: don't speak Japanese. Anyway, the two guys were nice, and just concerned that I would crash my bike because of the tire. Since I only lived about two minutes away though, I didn't think it was a big worry. They let me go on, and one of them thought it was very important to tell me that someone was "teasing" me by letting the air out, since he didn't find any damage on the tire.

Is that a common itazura in Japan? I guess maybe on the level of keying someone's car?

Anyway, I put air in the tire this afternoon, and my bike is as good as new. It is still about two feet too short for me though. That is getting to be annoying. I would not want to ride in a triathalon on it, that's for sure!

September 9, 2006

Kuhonbutsu Taiko pulling festival

On Saturday afternoon, I went to my local temple, Kuhonbutsu, and they had an interesting festival going on. They hooked up a large Taiko drum to a huge set of ropes, and pulled it through town. Kids from all over the place helped pull the drum (although it was mostly the large man in front doing all of the pulling!) and nice music was being played in the truck at the front of the procession. It was really interesting!

August 25, 2006

Awa-Odori in Kouenji

I'm finally getting around to posting about the Awa-Odori festival that I went to a while back. I'll post-date it so the date is correct though.

The Awa-Odori is a kind of dancing festival that is from a part of Japan called Awa. I don't know where that is. This particular Awa-Odori (Odori means dancing) festival took place in Kouenji, in Tokyo. I went with some friends from work, and really had a great time.

I've posted some pictures up to Flickr, so take a look!

August 18, 2006

David Huang and Alana Evans' Wedding

On Friday, August 18th, 2006 David Huang and Alana Evans were married in beautiful Del Mar, California. The wedding was held at the Powerhouse, a beachside community center with an excellent view on the beach. David and Alana first met back in high school, either at a track meet that Michelle and I were running in, or after track practice. They were introduced by their friend Aftab, a fellow runner on the track team, who also married them. The ceremony was very sweet, they each exchanged their own vows, and rings of Stainless Steel that David Huang made himself.

August 17, 2006

Salk Institute in San Diego

On August 17th, 2006, Ron deVilla, Michelle VanNoy, and I went to the Salk Institute for a tour. The Salk Institute was designed by Louis Kahn in consultation with Dr. Salk, who developed a vaccine for Polio. It is a really beautiful and flexible building for lab spaces.

August 13, 2006

Omak Stampede Indian Encampment

On Saturday I went to Brewster to pick up my mother's parents, and then we drove to Spokane for cousin Hanny's birthday party. It was nice seeing Hanny and her kids (Jordan has really grown!) and meeting their dog Jake, who was just a blast to play with. Jordan spent some time playing Galactic Civilizations II, a great turn-based strategy game that everyone should buy. We drove back to Brewster in the evening, barely avoiding some deer on the three hour trip, and then on Sunday I went to Omak to visit the Indian Encampment at the Stampede.

The Indian Encampment is a neat thing where there are some tradiational teepee encampments, and there is Native American dancing judged over different groups. It was really interesting. There is great drumming and singing to go along with the dancing. I stayed for a few hours and watched that, and have some pictures and videos here to share.

Stampede weekend is a lot of fun overall, the little town of Omak is full of people that weekend, there is a big carnival, and lots of things to do and see. There is a lot of (sometimes kitschy) shopping, and food stalls. I had fry bread for the first time, and while I thought it was good, I didn't think it was good enough to be the scourge on the nation that is has been made out to be.

August 11, 2006

The World Famous Omak Stampede and Suicide Race

After SIGIR ended, I flew to Spokane, WA, where I rented a car and drove out to visit my grandparents in Omak, Washington. The Omak Stampede is a rodeo that is held every second weekend in August. In 1935, the Omak Stampede Publicity Chairman (Claire Pentz) was searching for an exciting event to add to the then young rodeo. About that time the Grand Coulee Dam was being built, and it flooded out an area where the nearby Colville Indians had run a traditional wild and dangerous race as a rite-of-passage. After discussion with the local Tribal leaders and Rodeo board, the Suicide Race was born.

The race has changed little since the first running in 1935, outside of some safety measures that have been taken. The riders now have to wear life jackets, and the horses undergo a thorough physical and testing to make sure that they will not balk at running down the steep bluff and swimming across Okanogan river. The race itself is a no holds barred race down a 225 foot very steep sandy bluff to the river, then swim across the river and race 500 feet into the finish line at the Stampede Arena. Riders have to be at least 16 years old, and are almost always young Indian men. The horses are also well vetted to insure that they will be able to complete the race. Sometimes horses show up without riders, and sometimes horse and rider don't make it to the finish line, but generally injuries are uncommon (but not rare.)

The Suicide Race is the final event in the Omak Stampede Rodeo. It was just pure luck, but I arrived in Omak on the start of the Stampede. Since I had never been to the Stampede before, and I won't likely have another chance soon, I thought it would be a good idea to experience it this time around. I got tickets for Friday night - it was surprisingly cheap! Only $20 for good seats near the "chutes" (I was told they are good seats anyway.) The chutes are where the riders and horses come out. There was lots of riders on bucking broncos and later on bulls. The Suicide Race capped off the evening.

I'm not really sure how the riders are scored, but it was pretty fun watching. I've got a set of pictures about the Omak Stampede on Flickr that you can check out.

I've also got a few short videos up on youtube.com from the stampede.


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