polemicist: a writer who argues in opposition to others  

20061023.0939 Otaku A Go-Go

I could be said to be a JapanOphile.  Maybe it's part of the american techno geek stereotype, I'm not sure.  I was raised during the "paint it black and call it Ninja" period in marketing.  Anime was still new, strange and forbidden fruit when I was a teenager.  We had been weened on a steady diet of Speed Racer, Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers on the television and corporate executives reading the Book of Five Rings for wisdom on hostile acquisition strategem.  One generation before us still bore the burden of World War 2 and the racially oriented propaganda that it had shoved down that generation's throat about Japanese culture.  But not us.  We'd sneak into Chinatown & buy low quality nunchaku and shuriken with our lunch money from disreputable shopkeepers any chance that we got.  If we could talk our parents into it we'd end up at a variety of dojos for Aikido, Karate, Kendo or Iaido.

As we got older we discovered sushi and Kurosawa films.  Some of use spent outrageous fortunes on high tech video game gadgetry with no english instructions in the flashy graphics.

 Later still the internet opened a floodgate for manga and anime and this led to a dearth of translation services.  And this is of course where many people drop out.  I, however, have decided to go for it and to try to learn the language.  I've been told that if you actually go there - you can easily get lost since you can't read the street-signs.  So I started off learning to speak Japanese and to learn to ask for directions.  Turns out it was a lot easier than the Chinese I took in high school.  So it started to stick to me.

Watching these guys has helped a lot too.  It's always best to hear the language in the context of people just hanging out with each other or speaking to random people on the street.  They also turned me on to the work of this fine gentleman whose tale is an interesting one as he turned social activist in order to fight for the same rights entitled to any other Japanese citizen.  It was an eyeopening experience reading about how Japan is just as racist as the United States and how they are the only developed country in the world not to have any laws against racial discrimmination.

Learning to read and write Japanese can be difficult.  But two of the three written forms are actually phonetic, so it's not as hard as you might think at first.  Learning to speak japanese is a bit easier, in particular since, as with martial arts, no effort should be wasted.  That is to say that conversational Japanese leaves a lot of words out.  Half of the conversation resides in subtext.  It's very terse as languages go.  You can convey a lot of meaning with very few words.  This is fortunate when you don't know a lot of them yet.

Of course, I still get a lot of weird looks from people when I break out the nihongo lingo.  I don't exactly look the part.  And there's always the neverending array of expressions that seem to say "why would you go & learn something like that?  That's weird."  It's just that kind of close-mindedness that compelled me to do so to begin with.  (See Ugly American below...)


20061019.1101 Is that thing on? 

 What exactly has happened to Rock Concerts?  I remember them being a lot cooler.  Am I just old & jaded now or is something seriously missing?

I went to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers last night.  Aside from the stadium being renamed after an airline and a whole variety of modern advertising devices being installed - it's about the same as it ever was and yet subtly different.

The parking lot was pretty average - tailgate BBQ's sporting 8" hibachis with 4 foot flames shooting out of them dangerously close a vehicle's gas tank, beer bottles everywhere, and crunchy looking people as far as the eye could see.  So far so good.

But inside... Well let's get this part right:  The band was great.  No they didn't play the 5 songs I wanted to hear - but that's my problem.  The songs they did play were awesome and they put on a great show.

As for the rest, well..  One thing I've noticed since you're not allowed to smoke in these places now is that you can see a lot more clearly.  This is not always a good thing.  Sure, when you're trying to make out the band from the nosebleed section it's a little better - but I was in the first section off the floor - and so I would normally see just fine.  What I did get a better view of were all the drones in the audience.  Welcome to Generation Lithium.  Virtually no one was dancing, moving, jumping around or anything.  They were a bunch of zombies busy taking thousands of terrible pictures of the show with their Camera-Phones.  A great number of them spent the majority of the show texting each other.

There's one of the things that I thought was off...  They didn't need to text each other since I could actually have a conversation with someone while the show was taking place. (!?)  I counted 6 cabinets for the guitar and 6 more for the bass.  There were times when I couldn't make out what Flea was playing - and I thought that I should have really been more feeling the notes in my teeth, rather than straining to pick him out.

I remember seeing Deep Purple play with a wall of white leather Marshall amps.  You didn't hear the music as much as it smacked you in the face.  I have to say I really missed it.  There are apparently laws in place and set limits to how loud the music can be these days. ( So much for getting Disaster Area to play my birthday party...)

No pyrotechnics, no lasers, no bubbles, and no dancing girls.  There was tissuepaper confetti and a lot of video screens and LED based spotlights.  So the music was good - though short - and the rest was very bland.  Something was missing.

20061016.1115  Highwaymen Abound

 So this weekend I drove about 13 hours.  This is typical when I go to my ski cabin.  There wasn't snow - this was just a maintenance trip to prepare for the upcoming season.  

What I noticed on the way back was that for about the 6th time in a row a main highway road was closed down to one lane - under the pretext of road work.  This introduced at least a one hour delay in my trip.  There were no less than four MA State Troopers and they had about 10 people pulled over as I inched by.  What's worth mentioning is that there was absolutely no road work going on.  It was a weekend after all.  But the restaurants just off the exit were hopping with all the cars that turned off to avoid the delay.  Coincidence?

This was a recurring theme on the entire trip.  Time after time we passed in and out of 'work zones'.  In none of them was any work taking place - but the police were staking them all out.  So why is this?  Why the pattern?

Well you see, legislation is something that spreads across America quickly.  If a new law goes in somewhere uncontested, then it's likely that it will start being enacted just about everywhere so that legislators can appear to be effective.

 In this case the law in question is the "Double Fines in Work Zone" law.  I am not familiar with the wording of the actual laws from state to state, but it would appear that what is required for this law to apply would be the posting of a sign designating an area as a "work area".  Whether actual work ever takes place would assumedly not be included in this law.  And generally it's a safe bet that it couldnt be used as an effective defense.

So the result?  Anywhere that is generally patrolled for speeders and other traffic infractions has been designated as a "work zone" in order to double the potential revenues brought into the law enforcement agencies.  All those people who were pulled over were stopped for driving on the curb to go around the delay.

If memory serves me correctly - this law started out about 10 years ago.  Ever since then there's a section of I-95 in Georgia that's got some cones scattered along the side of the road & a permanent sign designating it as a work area.  I, nor anyone I know, has ever seen actual road work taking place anywhere near there.

So here we have a law that was intended to protect the people who have to shovel hot tar all day from flying rocks kicked up by speeding traffic - but it's being completely abused, systemically, by any law enforcement agency that has it available.  Ahh, the march of progress....



20061011.1618 Kill Your Television 

 First there were rabbit ears & all of 7 workable channels.  The dial went to 13 but there was a lot of static out there.  UHF was a joke - the best I ever got was Kung Fu theatre with no sound - nice to fall asleep to, but we didn't fall asleep with the TV on back then because they got really hot when you left them on for a while.

Back then TV's were expensive.  They still are.  But now we pay for cable too.  Paying for what used to come through the air for free - so we won't have static anymore.  And hey!  No commercials.  You solved that by paying for the cable right?  Then channel by channel cable networks started showing commercials too.  So we're paying to watch annoying ads.

But the other side of it was that we got a whole bunch of new channels.  Each dedicated to a specific genre.  Sounded really cool until you realized that they each had about 3 shows a day that they'd play over & over all day long.  Same amount of content - but you didn't have to miss it because you could tune in later & it was assumed that they'd eventually get more shows.

But that didn't happen.  Instead they now have 3 shows a day that they recycle over & over but the genres don't make any sense.  SciFi shows wrestling & drama shows.  Arts & Entertainment shows nothing but reality TV about bounty hunters, tattoo artists and street magicians.  The news channels do nothing like investigative journalism - they just read any press release they're handed.  And MTV hasn't really shown music videos in years.  They had M2 for that - which now also no longer plays videos.

So now the free TV is going away.  Instead of rabbit ears you can use anywhere you get HDTV which does almost nothing.  Hi Resolution Vacuous Content.  A million pixels of Ad Space that you get to pay through the most convenient orifice for.  You've got to love progress right?



 20061009.1115 Ugly American

I like to travel.  When I was about 15 my parents sent me to stay with friends in the English countryside for 3 weeks.  I worked in their winery making mead & black currant wine.  On the weekends I would go into London & stay at their flat & explore.  It was a very formative experience for me.  I was young & ignorant and thankful that they (mostly) spoke the same language.  But the food in England is abyssmal.  They take the best ingredients in the world and proceed to boil all of the flavor right out of them.  So when in London & not able to get into pubs I would frequent the McDonalds.

I mention this with a serious degree of shame.  It was the only time in my life that I've done this.  The novelty of having to acutally buy ketchup packets because the english don't eat ketchup is not exactly what I would now refer to as 'indulging in the local culture.'  (Though it is the reason why I now eat fries with mustard - I acquired a taste for it there & haven't gotten over it.)

But now that I'm an adult I try to leave the country at least once a year - usually for snowboarding trips.  And I find myself getting utterly disgusted with my friends who eat at an American Burger Franchise on these trips.  I mean, if I'm in Switzerland - I'm going to have fondue instead of a cheezeburger.  Wouldn't you?  If I'm in Austria I'm going to have some brats before I reach for a McRib, no? And in Japan - if I eat meat at all it's going to be Kobe beef - not a chicken nugget.

What is it about Americans that when we travel to other countries we have to pretend we're not really there?  The cliched expressions like " that's weird.  We don't do it that way in the states - we do this: ..." followed by an explanation that the locals really aren't interested in.  (Do some role reversal in your mind of someone from any country telling you that something you do every day is weird, followed by an in depth, unsolicited description and think of how you'd feel on the receiving end of it.)  Then there's the observable fact that the non-smoking section anywhere is populated exclusively by Americans.  And of course, the ritualistic meltdown of someone who can't speak the language and isn't willing to try at all.

When you add these things together, it doesn't surprise me at all when I walk into a bar and some guy starts yelling at me obscenities about our president.  (It doesn't matter who that President is... though it's been more common lately)  And I've learned not to even try to engage in a debate because generally speaking your average european is far more politically and historically savvy than 95% of the people I know.

But the thing is - the way that I dress & groom myself make it impossible to even say "take off, you hoser! I'm from Toronto, eh?"  No one buys it for a minute, no matter how many times I use the word "took" while referring to headgear.

My only real advice on the subject is this:  If you're going to another country - want to be there.  Treat it like an adventure or a college level language & culture class.  SOAK up the experience.  Learn the language - or at least how to order a beer & ask where the bathroom is.  Try to speak it and apologize a lot when you get it wrong.  It might be annoying but not as much as demanding that they speak yours right off the bat.  Try as much of the food as you can get into your face.   Be nice to the people in who's country you are a guest, especially if they're not nice to you.  It's usually your fault and your ignorance of the reason why is your problem - not theirs. Do it all & make it a part of you.  Do it now before we export stripmalls & make the rest of the world into a Disney food-court.  And if you're not willing to do all that - then stay home & watch the Travel channel.



20061006.0928 How Extreme Is YOUR tape-measure?

 The original point of this page was simply to test out the google technology stack and to see what it has got to offer.  In the spirt of that I've enabled the uber-beta mode - or whatever they call it - where I supposedly get the "beta of the beta" .. whatever that's supposed to mean...  Alpha version maybe?  Or is it simply an extension of the software industry's general approach to customer satisfaction...  i.e. "We're not supporting you.  We will use you as our SQA team, and whatever you complain about will be factored in with what everyone else is complaining about & we'll approach solving the problems - focus group style"

Most people do not actually take the time to read software licenses.  I do.  They are written in legalese, are ridiculously long and tedious, and are designed for your internal buffer to overflow so that you lose consciousness for the moment that it takes to slip in the clause that says that you're not granted a license to do anything at all nor are they responsible to you in any way ever.  That way you are utterly liable to be sued & have no recourse whatsoever to sue them. 

I guess that's all part of selling intangible goods, eh?

By the way - in case you didn't know.  Software Development is my bread & butter.  So I'm not just a hater - I'm also a Player.  But the actual day to day reality of software & what industrial lawyers define it to be are very different animals.

All of that being said - I'm not down on Google.  I've got this page here for free right?  I actually like the tools so far.  I've been impressed enough to use them more than twice.  I'll keep on using them until I find something better - or they yank it on me.  100Mb is a decent chunk of space to hold one man's opinions and should take me a while to fill up.

I suppose what triggered my ranting subroutine is that "newest of the newest" nonsense.  Nothing can ever just be what it is in a capitalist society.  Everything has to be doctored up and spun.  It's got to be shiny and marketed in some slick way.  The word "extreme" has been overloaded in advertising for way too long - and now it's slowly creeping it's way into product specifications.

At what point can the marketing people sit outside in the hall while the scientists actually hold a meeting on what's going on in truly qualified quantitative terms?  I guess I'm just saying that I'd prefer more precision.  Give me measurements, not adjectives.



 20061003.0929 It doesn't take a genius to know what's Real... 

So I've been watching videos from MIT lately.  They can be a little dated, but they're still very engaging.  But the problem that I have with them is that they're all in RealPlayer format.  Aside from the apparently really low quality of the codec, and the annoying ad screens that you have to parse through to get the free player from their website, I encountered the added grief of not being able to offline view the program this morning. 

 I'm big on bringing my laptop in the car & using it to play lectures and text to speech books while I drive back & forth to work.  But as I walked out to the truck this morning, listening to a lecture on the Origins of the Universe - the connection dropped at the base of my driveway and I had to pull up a Douglas Adams authored text file to fill the silence and the space between my ears on the way to work.  

OK so bully for me and my backup nerd supply but not so great for RealPlayer, eh?  I'm sure there's something I can probably do to grab the whole file locally - but trying to just save the file from the web site apparently only saves a link to the video - not the actual video...

 It's likely that I'm the dumbass in this equation though.  I don't suppose that the students at MIT would have this problem.  Or if they did - it wouldn't be viewed as a problem but rather as a temporary challenge.  I just need to quit my whining & go fix it eh?

 But then the point rather is that there are other technologies - for example QuickTime - that are far superior in this capacity.  That the MIT faculty fails to note this gap is a bit suprising.


 20061002.1531 and the test goes on....

OK, so I'm allergic to myspace...  I hate people who post my picture on it if I'm at a party or something.  I generally create my own web sites from scratch every single time I make one - so the idea of a "Blog" is really boring to me.

 Of course, if I keep following this line of logic then any kind of blog I created would obviously be boring too.  And I actually do read a few myself - so what the hell - I can give it a try.

 This is beta technology from Google & so this is a kind of beta site for me too - to try thing whole thing out.  I'm usually the technophile in any given group - so to take on luddite qualities at this point seems counter-intuitive.  I must just be getting old & set in my ways or something...

 But I still hate myspace.

If for no other reason than, have you actually seen some of the gigantic messes that people actually slap together & call a web page?  Mighty Zarquon - they know not what they do!


 20061002.0938 testing the google technology stack

This is a simple test of the new page creation tools.  I'm trying to see what the big deal is.

Is it any good?

Is it worth using?

Should it affect the price of desktop software applications that do precisely the same thing?

Should Adobe give away 2Gb of hosting space along with every copy of Dreamweaver or GoLive?