January 2008

Palace School Station

(all vacation entries)

Another set of random pictures from the trip.

Kyoto Imperial Palace
School trip to Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto
view from the tracks, Shinbashi Station, Tokyo

Failsafe Fuji

(all vacation entries)

[Update: Just spotted an older version of the same scene on Google Earth. The pretty picture replaced real information.]

“Hello, and welcome to the third station. We know you all paid for the chance to see Mt. Fuji, but just in case the weather didn’t cooperate, here’s what you should be able to see from here. More pictures are available in the gift shop, along with snacks, film, and batteries.”

Fuji from Third Station

SNL Japanese game show

This is surprisingly well done, especially for live television. The actors worked hard at getting their phonetically-learned lines correct, when most of the audience would never have known the difference.

[update: the copyright gnomes have reclaimed it from youtube; this link might last a while…]

[update: blech, jibjab’s flash player is very poorly written, and absolutely kills my browser. I’ve moved it below the fold.]


Avoiding confusion

(all vacation entries)
Men's Esute

One of the first pictures I took with the new camera was a view from the tracks at Shinbashi Station. Unfortunately, the context was sufficiently involved that nobody I showed it to got the joke. When I take the print to my Japanese conversation teacher tonight, though, she’ll get a good laugh out of it.

Why? Because a number of the younger Japanese women associated with the department are into Esute, which is a style of beauty parlor in Japan. They love to talk about this stuff, but students who Google “esute” in English will find a lot of sites that are about something very different: massage parlors for men.

It turns out that the sex trade was looking for another euphemism a while back, to compete with “soaplands”, “fashion massage”, “delivery health services”, and the rest, and since massage was one of the services offered at women’s esute parlors, they adopted the name.

As a result, potential customers have to make sure they know what kind of esute a particular shop offers. Both of them will have pictures of fashionable young women out front, and attractive young women working inside. So, when I looked up from the tracks and saw a big sign reading “Otoko no Esute”, I knew what Dandy House was offering.

Noise Ninja

(all vacation entries)

I finally got around to making a proper noise profile of my little Canon camera, so here’s a quick sample of how well Noise Ninja cleans up an ISO 1600 image. Note that this is just using the default settings; it’s capable of more aggressive noise reduction, but that can eliminate too much detail in some images.


the view from Decks, Odaiba


[noise-reduced] the view from Decks, Odaiba

Touch my monkey

For the past few weeks, my mother has been calling to say, “we sent you a monkey for Christmas, has it arrived yet?”. Each time, she seemed disappointed that I didn’t have my monkey.

Last night, it arrived. The Powertraveller Powermonkey-explorer universal charger. It’s an external battery for extending the charge on your gadgets, and it comes with a bunch of adapter tips for different phones and toys, a charger with a set of international plugs, and a small solar panel for charging off-grid.

The only additional adapter tip I’ll need to buy is for the DS-lite, which isn’t quite a standard mini-USB. Can’t have my kanji practice tool dying on me!

First on Google!

Based on the complete lack of results on Yahoo, Google, and MSN search engines, I hereby claim credit for coining the term “glompire” to describe the aggressively affectionate blood-sucking fiend who is the heroine of Rosario+Vampire.

Not that I expect there to be very many of them, but you never know. It could catch on.

[Update: screenshot]

Moka the glompire, from Rosario+Vampire

[Q: does Moon Phase’s Hazuki ever glomp Kouhei? I don’t remember.]

Big Hell

(all vacation entries)

Oowakudani is the source of the sulfurous waters piped down to the Hakone hot springs resorts. It’s also a popular destination in its own right, due to the terrific views (1, 2, 3, 4 ) and novel cuisine.

The current name for the place translates as “great boiling valley” (大湧谷). This was an early example of tourist marketing, since until they heard that the Shogun was going to come up and take a look, the locals just called it “the big hell”.

Dear Nolobe,

[Update: just received an apology for the mistake, an updated license key, and a partial refund to bring my price down to the current $39 promotion.]

[Update: I can’t currently recommend this application, for the simple reason that I made the mistake of buying it four days before the release of 9.0, and they charge $29 for the upgrade. Until March, it’s only $39 for a brand-new license, but if I want 9.0, my total cost ends up being $88, which is more than the app is worth. Worse, the updater offered me the new version without mentioning the fact that it would revert to a trial license and require new payment. Fortunately, I was able to revert to 8.5.4.]

Your file-transfer app, Interarchy, is very nice. I particularly appreciate its solid support for Amazon S3. In the latest version, the thing I like most is the fact that permissions settings for uploads are now an honest-to-gosh preference, rather than being buried in some pulldown menu.

I question your decision to make the new version look like the unholy love-child of Finder and Safari, however, especially since your Bookmarks Bar and Side Bar are only cosmetically related to their inspiration, and share none of their GUI behaviors. It looks like a duck, and it sort of quacks like a duck, but it’s really just a cartoon duck, and not worth eating.

And I haven’t the slightest idea why you thought it would be a good idea to have the first item on the Bookmarks Bar be a menu containing every URL in the user’s personal Address Book. Considering that the user can’t rearrange or remove items on the Bookmarks Bar, you’re wasting an awful lot of valuable real estate on a very marginal feature.

Okay, this might not suck

Jodie Foster romances the stone? It could work.

Two-car garage, Kyoto-style

(all vacation entries)
private parking in Kyoto

There's some stupid in my neighborhood

I mean, serious stupid.

...firefighters learned the woman’s boyfriend had given the children a jar of mercury as a gift about a month ago.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that mercury is fun to play with, and I can state from personal experience that it doesn’t taste like any other metal, but we were teenagers at the time, not little kids, and they managed to clean up the classroom without involving a hazmat team.

The Second Coming

…of Minimoni. Sort of. If they start turning into mini-skirted mini-hamsters, though, they’re going too far. Meanwhile, here’s Athena & Robikerottsu:

Their new video replaces the first one as the opening theme of the kid’s anime series Robby & Kerobby. Fear for the future.

MacBook Air

Pretty much every review I’ve seen by someone who has read all of the specs can be summed up as: “this would be a fantastic machine for someone else”. The deal-breaker for me (and I was already lukewarm on the concept) was the lack of ethernet, which means that the spiffy-keen “use the DVD drive on any networked Mac or PC when you need one” feature is crippled by the performance of your wireless network or Apple’s optional USB 10/100 dongle. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so spiffy. Also, if you spring for the outboard optical drive, it ties up your only USB port, and they don’t mention it including a hub.

I can’t see very many people adopting it as a primary machine, which means syncing configurations and data to another Mac. .Mac sync sucked horribly for the entire lifetime of Tiger, and I still see occasional outages for .Mac mail. They claim to have put a lot of work into it for Leopard, but if the Air is really a secondary machine, then they need to add direct sync between Macs as a solid OS feature.

I think the real accomplishment of the Air will turn out to be improving the quality of lightweight PC laptops and tablets running Windows Vista. I expect to see the first round of them in about three months.

Coming soon, to an Apple Store near you...

After the MacBook Air, what next?

MacBook Water: splashproof to survive your eXtreme lifestyle, or at least a spilled latté when you show it off at Starbucks.

MacBook Earth: the natural organic sustainable recycled biodegradable cruelty-free dolphin-safe fair-trade computer. 10% of all proceeds are divided equally between Greenpeace, PETA, and BDS.

MacBook Fire: oh, wait, they already make those.

Google Vacation

(all vacation entries)

I didn’t geotag my vacation photos before importing them into Aperture, and it turns out that it treats those fields as read-only, so that the only way to add that data after the fact is by hacking the underlying SQLite database. What I’ll do is export a bunch of small thumbnail images, tag them with HoudahGeo, and then knock together a small script to insert the tags into Aperture’s database.

Meanwhile, here’s a sample (8MB KMZ file) containing most of the images I’ve posted so far, along with some new ones, exported for Google Earth. You can load KMZ files into Google Maps, but the built-in image links don’t work.

Tonari no Totoro no Kippu Uriba

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This is the entrance to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

False entrance to Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

The false entrance, that is. The real one's over here:

Entrance to Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

Sadly, not only can’t you buy a ticket from Totoro, you can’t get one at the real entrance, either. Domestically, they’re only available at Lawsons convenience stores, and they sell out weeks or even months in advance. There’s a block reserved for foreign tourists, fortunately, but you have to order them through specific travel agencies.

Pennies For Heaven

(all vacation entries)

This is one of the doors leading into Meiji Jingu.

Main door leading into Meiji Jingu

When praying at a shrine, you throw a coin into the offering box and clap, to get the attention of the kami. On New Years Day, half of Tokyo comes to Meiji Shrine to pray, and the crowd is so thick that most people can’t reach the offering boxes. So they throw their coins towards the shrine.

Some throw with more enthusiasm than skill, so the surfaces facing the courtyard are pockmarked as high as you can see.

"Hello", Scott!

Scott informed me that I’d managed to get this song stuck in his head, and it seemed unfair to make him the only one. This is the entire Hello!Project army, circa New Years 2007. The big girls come on stage about 2 minutes in.

Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto

(all vacation entries)

With a name like 二の丸, it deserves two pictures. Sadly, neither of them really show off the actual palace. I’m still sorting through the shots to find one I like. Meanwhile:

Garden at Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto
Building detail at Ninomaru Palace, Kyoto

[Note: the carving is completely different when viewed from the other side, but photography was forbidden inside, so I can’t show you.]

Back on the air!

Gosh, I wonder if the power outage at my co-lo had anything to do with the guy who was wiring up a dozen new PDUs…

Fine dining

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Junsei is a traditional resturant chain in Kyoto, with three locations. The main one (near Nanzen-ji) is built around a traditional garden that is listed as a historical site. Translation: show up well before your reservation so you have time to look around. You’ll have a decent view from your private dining room, but it’s worth a closer look.

Historical garden at Junsei

Attractive Nuisance

No, not this one, even if she is small enough to store conveniently:

Mari Yaguchi

No, I’m referring to this delicious sesame-covered rice cracker, sold under the name Tsubugoma (粒ごま):


(picture taken from the appropriately named Senbei Dai-Suki blog)

It’s the sort of snack where I have to ask myself, “will one bag last all the way home?”. Admittedly, the only store I’ve found them at is over an hour away from my house, but it takes a real effort of will for me to stop eating the damn things once I’ve opened the bag.

Petty Pewter Gods

(all vacation entries)
Statue at Shinshou-ji, Narita-san

Actually, I don’t know what this statue at Shinshou-ji is supposed to be, or what it’s made of. I like it, though, which is more than I can say for the Glen Cook novel I used as the title (or pretty much any of his novels since then).

Dr. Master who?

Apparently Dr. Master Productions has been around for a while, publishing translated manga, but I’ve never heard of them before. Quite by accident, Amazon just recommended their English version of the Catholic schoolgirl fan-service comedy Puri Puri, which I commented on a while back.

They’ve been around for quite a while, and they’ve got some well-known titles, but I didn’t even know that anyone had licensed Puri Puri, much less that they were up to volume 4 already. I have no idea how good their translations are, but at least in this case the story mostly depends on how hot the girls are, so I can recommend it anyway. :-)

That shouldn't have worked...

I bought two albums this week. The first was the soundtrack to Valve’s Orange Box. The second was Melon Kinenbi’s greatest hits, FRUITY KILLER TUNE. Just now, iTunes switched from one to the other, and it took me a good minute to notice.

Okay, at the time I was busy writing a carefully-phrased comment about panty-flashing monster schoolgirls and plot coupons, but still.

Oasis with a moat

(all vacation entries)

One way to keep a public park clean, safe, and beautiful in the middle of a major city with a homeless problem is to surround it with a moat and post armed guards at the entrances. The Imperial Palace East Garden is open to the public, but it’s not a commons, and therefore not subject to the tragedy thereof.

Moat outside Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Hozugawa Kudari

(all vacation entries)
Boats on the Hozu River

Apparently the only thing that’s better than being poled down the Hozu River in late autumn is being there when the cherry blossoms are blooming.

Giving Light

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Lanterns donated to Kasuga Taisha, Nara

The heavily-wooded path leading up to the Shinto shrine Kasuga Taisha is lined with stone lanterns, each engraved with the name of the donor. Some of them have been there for centuries, but new ones keep arriving. I’d love to be there when they’re all lit.

Lanterns at Kasuga Taisha, Nara

My brain just melted...

When confronted with the concept of Winona Ryder as Spock’s mother, it shorted across the generation gap.

Aya, with Melons

There are several enjoyable performances on the Hello Pro Party 2005 DVD. This is probably the best:

Gion Ishi

(all vacation entries)

Like the sign by the front door says, this interesting-looking building in the Gion District of Kyoto is all about rocks (石). The first floor sells crystals and polished stones at prices ranging from reasonable to insane. We never got upstairs, but apparently there’s another floor for custom-carved stones, an excellent tea shop, and an ishiyaki (stone grill) restaurant.

Gion Ishi Building

The single most expensive item I purchased during the trip came from here, and I’m not forgetting about the digital camera. Some time when I can set up my lights, I’ll try to get a decent picture of it.

Tonkatsu Tonki

(all vacation entries)

Most guidebooks will tell you that Tonki has the best tonkatsu in Tokyo. After eating there, I’m willing to believe them.

The trick is finding the place. These pictures are descriptive rather than scenic, so they go below the fold:


Backstreet Girls

(all vacation entries)

Just to be clear, the web site listed in this picture of a Gion nightclub is Not Safe For Work.

Sex-club sign in Gion, Kyoto, Japan

Dear Sony,

[Update: Thanks, guys; the check is in the mail. More new-camera-porn here.]

Now that you’re releasing a 24+ megapixel full-frame 35mm CMOS sensor, don’t you feel a little stupid for making some of your high-end Zeiss lenses for the Alpha line APS-C-only? I doubt you’ve actually sold many of them, given the price and scarce distribution, but still, you had to know that full-frame was a requirement for a serious player in the DSLR market, and your recent announcements show that you’re not just keeping the low end of the old Minolta lineup.

Just to be clear on this: if you put that sensor into a body that’s the equivalent of Minolta’s 7 or 9 series (pleasepleaseplease a 9!), you’ve got a customer here already waiting in line.

Form hell

I didn’t know that the USPS had established a list of 208 standard street name extensions. Until today, I wouldn’t have imagined that anyone would consider importing that list into an HTML form as a pulldown menu.

The worst part is, there’s actually a reason for it…

Cheese-stuffed cheese in a light cheese sauce, with a side order of cheesy bread, and for dessert a cheese-dipped cheesecake

Um, wow. Shin Cyborg Shibata, starring the members of Melon Kinenbi. I may have to buy both DVDs.

[Update: Warning! Do not exceed recommended dosage. Excessive viewing could prove fatal.]

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”