Saturday, December 31, 2005

holiday season and its grief

snow-convered sign at the onsen in Tochigi prefecture (栃木県)

Good times bad times. Without expectations there will be very little disappointment. But somehow the end of year always manages a bit more than typical sorrows. When broken down in terms of spacetime, a year is an almost random span of time that can be disregarded as nothing more than what it is, a collection of days. But it's human nature to reflect on all the things done in the year.

I miss my family and wanted to be with someone. I've had my big love in the past. It's hard to tell if it was my biggest love ever or there will be a bigger one. Heart gets broken and yes it is going to grow back bigger than it was before. But some parts will never be. Years gone by, just how long it takes?

With her on Christmas it only made it lonelier than otherwise. Physically there was this warm body but is that how far it extends? Can a warm body be enough? I have acomplished a small feat in repressing being with other people, in other words, I have been through the most solitary one year of my entire life, by choice. I don't know what the next year is going to be. But I think I will go with the flow.

See you in 2006!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Alone in the Wilderness

taken from
Documentary tells the story of Dick Proenneke who, in the late 1960s, built his own cabin in the wilderness at the base of the Aleutian Peninsula, in what is now Lake Clark National Park. Using color footage he shot himself, Proenneke traces how he came to this remote area, selected a homestead site and built his log cabin completely by himself. The documentary covers his first year in-country, showing his day-to-day activities and the passing of the seasons as he sought to scratch out a living alone in the wilderness.
taken from
"Alone in the Wilderness" is the story of Dick Proenneke. To live in a pristine land unchanged by man... to roam a wilderness through which few other humans have passed... to choose an idyllic site, cut trees and build a log cabin... to be a self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available... to be not at odds with the world, but content with one's own thoughts and company... Thousands have had such dreams, but Dick Proenneke lived them. He found a place, built a cabin, and stayed to become part of the country. This video "Alone in the Wilderness" is a simple account of the day-to-day explorations and activities he carried out alone, and the constant chain of nature's events that kept him company.

There is no way I can compare my curent lifestyle to what Dick started in his 50's for some 30 years up until 1998, but that must be what it's like to search for an answer. Being away from all humans for so long, what courage and determination! People like Dick Proenneke and Ellen MacArthur inspire me. The farther away from civilization, the truer the view.

torrent link for "Alone in the Wilderness": MVGroup
about Ellen MacArthur: MacArthur sails into record books

season greetings

I'm not a skeptic but have always wondered about Rudolph. He went from being made fun of, called names and an outcast to mr. popularity in no time. Was it because Santa asked him to guide the sleigh? How much of a flip-flop can those other reindeer be? So this is Christmas, no flying reindeer, no Santa, only an overused simple phrase,

Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


This warms my heart. A 10-year-old student is totally in love with me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

one more day

Just one more day I will have to decide whether I want to renew my contract for one more year or call it quits. Well actually the current one lasts til next March. So lots to think about. To stay or to go?

Friday, December 09, 2005

Solar Maximum when the sun's poles switch, which results in strong solar flares and CMEs (coronal mass ejections). The effect on earth can be devastating. It can destroy billions of dollars worth of satellites hence the core of modern information infrastructures.

Scientists became aware that the sun went through cycles and changes by observing sunspots, the darker, relatively cooler areas of the sun. The number of sunspots can be an indication of the degree of solar activity. The average number of visible sunspots varies over time, increasing and decreasing on a regular cycle of between 9.5 to 11 years, on average about 10.8 years. An amateur astronomer, Heinrich Schwabe, was the first to note this cycle in 1843. The part of the cycle with low sunspot activity is referred to as "solar minimum," the portion with high activity is known as "solar maximum." The year 2000, it is believed, will be the solar maximum for the current solar cycle. source
It last happened in the year 2001.

The Earth's magnetic field prtects us from these flares, well, to an extent.

Solarmax is an IMAX film capturing this very event. Click for its official website. The film itself falls short on explaining the phenomenon but is amazing on the screen. Combining footages from the SOHO project, NASA, and a series of time-lapse recording, it delievers a solarmaximum punch of visual pleasure for the sky enthusiasts.

When asked what they'll do for the holiday, a student of mine said that she is going to Choshi to see the first sunrise of the year. Choshi, highly accessible for me (a 30-min drive), is the first place where the sun rises in Japan. Quite a romantic little idea I say, frigid but probably worthy.

Choshi and its first sunrise of the year.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

like reading? (Google)

This concerns you and me. I hope you like reading.

What Lurks in Its Soul?

By David A. Vise

Sunday, November 13, 2005; Page B01

The soul of the Google machine is a passion for disruptive innovation.

Powered by brilliant engineers, mathematicians and technological visionaries, Google ferociously pushes the limits of everything it undertakes. The company's DNA emanates from its youthful founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who operate with "a healthy disregard for the impossible," as Page likes to say. Their goal: to organize all of the world's information and make it universally accessible, whatever the consequences.

Google's colorful childlike logo, its whimsical appeal and its lightning-fast search results have made it the darling of information-hungry Internet users. Google has accomplished something rare in the hard-charging, mouse-eat-mouse environment that defines the high-tech world -- it has made itself charming. We like Google. We giggle at the "Google doodles," the playful decorations on its logo that appear on holidays or other special occasions. We eagerly sample the new online toys that Google rolls out every few months.

But these friendly features belie Google's disdain for the status quo and its voracious appetite for aggressively pursuing initiatives to bring about radical change. Google is testing the boundaries in so many ways, and so purposefully, it's likely to wind up at the center of a variety of legal battles with landmark significance.

Consider the wide-ranging implications of the activities now underway at the Googleplex, the company's campuslike headquarters in California's Silicon Valley. Google is compiling a genetic and biological database using the vast power of its search engines; scanning millions of books without traditional regard for copyright laws; tracing online searches to individual Internet users and storing them indefinitely; demanding cell phone numbers in exchange for free e-mail accounts (known as Gmail) as it begins to build the first global cell phone directory; saving Gmails forever on its own servers, making them a tempting target for law enforcement abuse; inserting ads for the first time in e-mails; making hundreds of thousands of cheap personal computers to serve as cogs in powerful global networks.

Google has also created a new kind of work environment. It serves three free meals a day to its employees (known as Googlers) so that they can remain on-site and spend more time working. It provides them with free on-site medical and dental care and haircuts, as well as washers and dryers. It charters buses with wireless Web access between San Francisco and Silicon Valley so that employees can toil en route to the office. To encourage innovation, it gives employees one day a week -- known as 20 percent time -- to work on anything that interests them.

To eliminate the distinction between work and play -- and keep the Googlers happily at the Googleplex -- they have volleyball, foosball, puzzles, games, rollerblading, colorful kitchens stocked with free drinks and snacks, bowls of M&Ms, lava lamps, vibrating massage chairs and a culture encouraging Googlers to bring their dogs to work. (No cats allowed.) The perks also include an on-site masseuse, and extravagant touch-pad-controlled toilets with six levels of heat for the seat and automated washing, drying and flushing without the need for toilet paper.

Meanwhile, the Googlers spend countless hours tweaking Google's hardware and software to reliably deliver search results in a fraction of a second. Few Google users realize, however, that every search ends up as a part of Google's huge database, where the company collects data on you, based on the searches you conduct and the Web sites you visit through Google. The company maintains that it does this to serve you better, and deliver ads and search results more closely targeted to your interests. But the fact remains: Google knows a lot more about you than you know about Google.

If these were the actions of some obscure company, maybe none of this would matter much. But these are the practices of an enterprise whose search engine is so ubiquitous it has become synonymous with the Internet itself for millions of computer users. And if the Google Guys have their way, their presence will only grow. Brin and Page see Google (its motto: "Don't Be Evil") as a populist force for good that empowers individuals to find information fast about anything and everything.

Part of Google's success has to do with the network of more than 100,000 cheap personal computers it has built and deployed in its own data centers around the world. Google constantly adds new computers to its network, making it a prolific PC assembler and manufacturer in its own right. "We are like Dell," quipped Peter Norvig, Google's chief of search quality.

The highly specialized world of technology breaks down these days into companies that do either hardware or software. Google's tech wizards have figured out how to do both well. "They run the largest computer system in the world," said John Hennessy, a member of Google's board of directors, a computer scientist and president of Stanford University. "I don't think there is even anything close."

Google doesn't need all that computer power to help us search for the best Italian restaurant in Northern Virginia. It has grander plans. The company is quietly working with maverick biologist Craig Venter and others on groundbreaking genetic and biological research. Google's immense capacity and turbo-charged search technology, it turns out, appears to be an ideal match for the large amount of data contained in the human genome. Venter and others say that the search engine has the ability to deal with so many variables at once that its use could lead to the discovery of new medicines or cures for diseases. Sergey Brin says searching all of the world's information includes examining the genetic makeup of our own bodies, and he foresees a day when each of us will be able to learn more about our own predisposition for various illnesses, allergies and other important biological predictors by comparing our personal genetic code with the human genome, a process known as "Googling Your Genes."

"This is the ultimate intersection of technology and health that will empower millions of individuals," Venter said. "Helping people understand their own genetic code and statistical code is something that should be broadly available through a service like Google within a decade."

Brin's partner has nurtured a different ambition. For years, Larry Page dreamed of tearing down the walls of libraries, and eliminating the barriers of geography, by making millions of books searchable by anybody in the world with an Internet connection. After Google began scanning thousands of library books to make them searchable online, book publishers and authors cried foul, filing lawsuits claiming copyright infringement.

Many companies would have reached an amicable settlement. Not Google. Undaunted, Google fired back, saying copyright laws were meant to serve the public interest and didn't apply in the digital realm of search. Google's altruistic tone masked its savvy, hard-nosed business strategy -- more books online means more searches, more ads and more profits. Google recently began displaying some of these books online (, and resumed scanning the contents of books from the collections of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the New York Public Library and Oxford. But legal experts predict that the company's disruptive innovation will undoubtedly show up on the Supreme Court's docket one day.

From Madison Avenue to Microsoft, Google's rapid-fire innovation and growing power pose a threat of one kind or another. Its ad-driven financial success has propelled its stock market value to $110 billion, more than the combined value of Disney, Ford, General Motors, and the media companies that own the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Its simplified method of having advertisers sign up online, through a self-service option, threatens ad agencies and media buyers who traditionally have played that role. Its penchant for continuously releasing new products and services in beta, or test form, before they are perfected, has sent Microsoft reeling. Chairman Bill Gates recently warned employees in an internal memo of the challenges posed by such "disruptive" change.

Microsoft also worries that Google is raiding the ranks of its best employees. That was threatening enough when Google operated exclusively in Silicon Valley. But it grew worse when Google opened an outpost in the suburbs of Seattle, just down the road from Microsoft headquarters, and aggressively started poaching. Microsoft finally sued Google for its hiring of Kai-Fu Lee, a senior technologist who once headed Microsoft's Chinese operations. Lee is now recruiting in Asia for Google, despite a court order upholding aspects of a non-compete clause that Lee signed while at Microsoft.

Google's success is neither accidental nor ephemeral. Brin and Page -- the sons of college professors who introduced them to computing when they were toddlers -- met in 1995 at Stanford, where they were both Ph.D candidates in computer science and technology. They became inseparable and set out to do things their own way. Professors laughed at Page when he said one day that he was going to download the Internet so he could improve upon the primitive early search engines.

Seven years ago, Google didn't exist in any form beyond a glimmer in the eyes of Brin and Page. Then in the fall of 1998, they took leaves of absence from Stanford, and moved their hardware into the garage and several rooms of a house in nearby Menlo Park. Armed primarily with the belief that they could build a better search engine, they have created a company unlike any other.

With Brin and Page setting the tone, Google's distinctive DNA makes it an employer of choice for the world's smartest technologists because they feel empowered to change the world. And despite its growing head count of more than 4,000 employees worldwide, Google maintains the pace of innovation in ways contrary to other corporations by continuing to work in small teams of three to five, no matter how big the undertaking. Once Google went public and could no longer lure new engineers with the promise of lucrative stock options, Brin invented large multi-million-dollar stock awards for the small teams that come up with the most innovative ideas.

A good example is Google's latest deal -- a far-reaching, complex partnership with NASA, unlike any agreement between a private firm and the space agency, to share data and resources and employees and identify ways to create new products and conduct searches together in space. Although NASA is a public entity, many of the details of the partnership remain hidden from public view.

Despite all that has been achieved, Google remains in its infancy. Brin likes to compare the firm to a child who has completed first grade. He and Page gaze into a glittering globe in the Googleplex that shows billions of Google searches streaming in from around the world, and notice the areas that are dark. These are the places that have no Internet access.

Quietly, they have been buying up the dark fiber necessary to build GoogleNet, and provide wireless Web access for free to millions or billions of computer userspotentially disruptive to phone and cable companies that now dominate the high-speed Internet field. Their reasoning is straightforward: If more people globally have Internet access, then more people will use Google. The more books and other information that they can translate into any language through an automated, math-based process they are developing now, the more compelling the Google experience will be for everyone, and the more wealth the company will have to invest in their vision.

Supremely confident, the biggest risk that Brin, Page and Google face is that they will be unable to avoid the arrogance that typically accompanies extraordinary success. founder Jeff Bezos jokes that Brin and Page are so sure of themselves, they wouldn't hesitate to argue with a divine presence.

But the fact remains that they are human beings, and inevitably, both they and Google will make mistakes. Unless any of these prove lethal, however, Google -- through its relentless focus on disruptive innovation -- appears likely to wreak havoc on established enterprises and principles for many years to come.

I know there are more than enough articles about Google but this one sums it up quite well in terms of its dawn, ongoing struggles, succsses, ambitions, as well as likelihood of the future, ours.

source: Washington Post

Monday, December 05, 2005

Chie Ayado

One of my students lends me an album by a fairly well known Japanese jazz singer, Chie Ayado. Here is my attempt to write a review.

album reviewed:
"Best", 2002
1. Over The Rainbow
2. Oleo
3. Tennessee Waltz
4. Route 66
5. Yozora No Mukou
6. Spinning Wheel
7. Every Breath You Take
8. Moon River
9. Leaving On A Jet Plane
10. Everybody Everywhere - band version
11. Woman Of Ireland ~MNa Na h-EIREANN
12. Get Into My Life - solo version
13. Slow Dancer
14. Low Rider
15. Get Back
16. You Are So Beautiful

She has a very deep, clear, and strong voice. One can hardly believe the voice comes from a relatively small Asian woman. But I had the chance to see a live performace by another Japanese jazz singer in New York, who also has a voice that might be categorized as a spinto, in other words a lyric soprano or tenor. Recently, Ayado has been gaining ground in Japan.

While I enjoy her resourceful voice, the way she uses her vocal vibration is overdone. That really really gets on my nerves. She does a number of cover songs, which is not new in Jazz. But there could have been better selections.

Some songs recommended, but there are better jazz singers out there, perhaps plenty. You probably find this review somewhat biased, and it is. I was told repeatedly she's great. However since I put on the first track of the CD I got disappointed, sorry you Ayado's fans out there. That first track doesn't belong there.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

land o' quakes

Nothing short of spectacular here, although not to be proud of by any means. Eight sizable earthquakes within a span of 30 hours, smallest one being a 4.1. Look at that 6.5!

Normally the shocks of the frequency of such begin to wear off as I've been in the land o'quakes for a while now but this one takes the cake for me. They were fairly spread out and isolated sequence of four occurrences, starting from way South, to East, back to right-off mainland South, then way South again.

source: USGS

Friday, December 02, 2005

need for knowledge

Remembering when I was a kid I could not understand why in the world some adults would get up butt crack of dawn just to reach for a newspaper, or turn on TV news. Now it hits me that I read so much news and so many articles, it ought to be the equivalence of two papers a day.

In an effort to clean up some junk in my bookmark, I found these links of interests. Here are just science topics. I fail to get excited when it comes to politics.

Meet the man who will save the internet
Machines are catching up to human intelligence
Japan's 5 TV Stations to Start Webcast With Dentsu
Records we'd rather not be setting
Unto us the Machine is born
Possible miniature solar system discovered
Molecule gives passionate lovers just one year
The Science of Meditation
18 Tricks to Teach Your Body
Saturn's moon 'a primitive Earth'
The New History of Black Holes: 'Co-evolution' Dramatically Alters Dark Reputation

The many faces of the nearest star


Launched ten years ago this week, SOHO (the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory) still enjoys an uninterrupted view of the Sun. Twelve sungazing instruments on board the spacecraft have explored the Sun's internal structure, the extensive solar atmosphere and solar wind, and discovered over 1,000 comets from a remarkable orbit around a point about 1.5 million kilometers directly sunward of planet Earth itself. At that location, known as a Lagrange point, the gravitational influence of the Earth and Sun are equal. With scientific instrument teams distributed around the world, the SOHO operations center is located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Mission operations are planned through March of 2007 to allow the study of a complete 11-year solar cycle. Contributions from SOHO's instruments are represented in the colorful montage image. Happy tenth anniversary SOHO!

Credit: SOHO Consortium, ESA, NASA
Image Montage: Steele Hill (GSFC)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

sad story

It must have been a pretty deep kiss. True story, one time, a 15 year old kisses her boyfriend. Little does she know it would be her last kiss. The poor soul dies from an allergic reaction. No she's not allergic to boys, nor him the least bit venomous. She kisses him with the force of a woman longing for her war-ridden husband to return. It burns in her veins, be it youth, or simply the desire to touch another human being. Who knows what kind of relationship it'd turn out to be has she not kissed him. Actually if the kiss is a bit more casual it would allow enough time for the paramedics to rush her to the emergency room, where she would have a close call but quite surely come through...*

There are a million ways to die, but this is one of a kind.

SAGUENAY, Quebec - A 15-year-old girl with a peanut allergy died after kissing her boyfriend, who had just eaten a peanut butter snack, hospital officials said Monday.
Canada of all places has made international headlines these couple of days. Still, no news is good news. And I've always admired Canada for that. The only time you see Canada on the news is when it's decriminalizing recrational drugs or legalizing same sex marriage.

*strictly fiction. i see it coming up in small talks. if you want to read news, follow the link below.

AP via Yahoo!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

welcome to the 80's

Gameplay is a little jerky here and there but certainly worth a try if you're dying to kill some time. The good thing about it is you play directly in your browser! Note: it uses Java and is completely free.

Over 800 video games from the famous NES console available on 1980 games. The section "arcade" on this site offers you the chance to play the great 80's classics. These old arcade games are gaining a new lease of life thanks to an emulator that restores them to how they were upon their release.
Reminiscing the past
familiar titles:

Saturday, November 26, 2005

street fashion

There is this website with snapshots of "interesting" fashion in the street of Tokyo. Sometimes I feel like I live in a different world. Wait a minute, I do.

Visitors are a few clicks away from a closer look into the heart of Japanese colorful democracy of fabrics. For better or for worse, 'til death do us part...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!

How does a Turkey drink her wine?









In a gobble-let

Spare a turkey this Thanksgiving! To those of you celebrate Thanksgiving, give thanks! Have a good one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

desktop screenshots

current desktop:

old desktops:



Yes I have a widescreen computer. Don't hate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

latenight confession

cant sleep. 1 of 3 reasons is I'm coughing like a terminally ill man. the other two cant tell.

one time when i was drivin a u-haul truck in bklyn i hit a parked car causing damage to the side mirror. one of those powered ones. musta cost at least 200 big ones. i just left. nor had i the proper license to operate such a large vehicle, didnt stop them renting me one for moving those uhaul mathafo'ers. musta been 5 years ago.

Monday, November 21, 2005

PI in Japan's parody

Political Incorrectness at its best.

Tokyo Breakfast is the name of a spoof TV sitcom pilot produced in 2000, seemingly intended for Japanese TV viewers, although the characters all speak English. The show is a parody of Japanese family life, making bizarre connections to African-American culture by having the characters use the term "nigga" with alarming regularity and familiarity. It also parodies Japanese culture itself to an extent with references to things like Japanese Animation and an almost futuristic display of technology.

The film, produced by Mike Maguire and Tom Kuntz, appeared in the 2001 Ohio Film Festival and also spread as an Internet meme.
Click for the six minute famed online video.

IMDb's Tokyo Breakfast page

comment: in all fairness, the so-called black culture is not exclusive to Japan. Other Asain countries have that hip hop influence also and some kids going all out in their blackness is not at all uncommon, although it's becoming a serious epidemic in Japan among teens in particular. While there is nothing wrong with the culture and style itself, copying without understanding the essence is disgraceful. Believe me, there are Asain Americans who call each other nigga all the time in New York City. Not a joke, or is it?

The worst of the said subculture is, not unlike hardgay, while something might be considered a fad, on the other hand, is not accepted as part of its own. One example would be a freind of mine from home who is black, went out with a girl who is Japanese, after dating for two years and spending one year planning for their wedding had to call it off since the girl's parents wouldn't allow it. The girl is my age, 28. Sad, on multiple levels, but true.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Isaac Newton

the alchemist!

Nova Newton's Dark Secret:
Nova website: here
Magic or Mainstream Science?
An interview on Newton's alchemy with historian Bill Newman

Wiki's page on alchemy:
Alchemy is an early protoscientific practice combining elements of chemistry, physics, astrology, art, semiotics, metallurgy, medicine, and mysticism. These practices were usually used outside of what is now known as the scientific method, however, alchemy can be regarded as the precursor of the modern science of chemistry prior to the formulation of the scientific method.

The most well known goal of alchemy was the transmutation of any metal into either gold or silver. Alchemists also tried to create a "Panacea", a remedy that supposedly would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely. The "Philosopher's stone" was believed to be an essential ingredient in these goals. This mythical substance was hypothesized to have the ability to do both. A third goal of many alchemists was creating human life.
Wiki's page on Philosopher's Stone:
The Philosopher's stone, a longtime "holy grail" of Western alchemy, is a mythical substance that supposedly could turn inexpensive metals into gold and/or create an elixir that would make humans younger delaying death. The Great Work, or Magnum Opus, refers to the quest for this stone. In addition, making the Philosopher's Stone is understood to confer a type of initiation upon the maker, and this initiation is the proper culmination of the Great Work.It is also known as the materia prima, or the magnum opus.

comment on the program: Nova barely scratches the surface on this one, making one wishing for more.

torrent link


I can't help but feel I have betrayed some of my friends whom must have been thought of as having been consequently abandoned by this guilt-ridden loner of a guy. There is pleasure in pain, mental in my case. When I was leaving for Japan in 2003 I said I'd return in a month but I haven't. It's now almost 2006. I care about these people I grew up with in highschool. But we are worlds different from basic views of the universe (or lack thereof) to life decision processing methodology, proactive as well as retroactive. I don't claim to be better than anybody but maybe they're a little less thoughtful. I don't spend my time thinking about nothing but "fun". Fun is, what it is, fun. I've been accused of being overly serious. Maybe a meant-to-be loner with a cunning set of social skills. Solitary lifestyle: eight months and counting.

People I used to care so much about who have somewhat fucked up lives or fucked up philosophy are farther and further away. I could laugh at their tasteless jokes but at the end of the day I know deepdown I felt there was no place for me. Taste of course is maybe the most subjective idea when someone doesn't see its value it's pretentious. However there are things you don't enjoy you just can't go on pretenting you do forever. Even though you do once in a while, a guilty pleasure. I admit I have downright terrible tastes in music. I found myself thinking of the girl I last dated, in the picture, and why past relationships ended with no apparent reasons, probably a bunch of them I involuntarily refuse to recognize. Bottom line, I think I deserve it.

yet to see to believe

In a nutshell: smarter men are willing to marry relatively dumber women. This leaves a deficit of smarter men for the smarter women to marry. This problem is not unique to Japan by any means. Does the the preference for equally well educated spouses run more strongly in some Western countries as compared to other Western countries?
Where is my smarter woman when I need her now?

article from
Dearth Of Suitable Males For University Educated Japanese Women

Pachinko in Japan

are surprisingly owned mostly by North Korean. A good source of income no doubt, perhaps the entire military budget.

Another badly-kept kept secret is that the North Korean economy relies on pachinko. In 1994, Japanese police testified in court that about 30% of the pachinko industry was controlled by North Koreans. If this is true, it would account for a massive amount of the $600 million sent to the Communist state from Japan each year. read on
It is an open secret in Japan that pachinko is one of the pillars upon which North Korea's economy rests. Police and economists estimate that up to 30 percent of the pachinko industry is controlled by North Koreans living in Japan, many of whom fun nel a portion of their profits across the Japan Sea to their homeland.

While pinball parlors might seem an unlikely underpinning for a national economy, even one as shaky as North Korea's, consider the numbers: Japan's 18,000 pachinko parlors ring up annual sales of $280 billion.

No one knows exactly how much profit there is in the shady, mob-connected world of pachinko, or how much of the game's proceeds wind up in North Korea. In 1994, Japanese police testified in parliament that $600 million or more was being sent to the world's last Stalinist state, much of it derived from pachinko. Japanese media and economists also have placed the number in that range, though some say it may have fallen by more than 80 percent. read on

Got the stories from this guy

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A 6.9 quake

hit off the east coast of Honshu (Japan's main island) causing a 50cm tsunami to reach a couple of towns along the coast. It happened early in the morning around 6:30am. At the time I was woken by the shaking and it lasted the longest of any quakes I've ever felt before, roughly a minute or so. Actually it could have been 30 seconds, which is still really long in earthquake terms. This is also my first tsunami-inducing quake. No injuries were reported so far.

edit: Another 6.1 hit today (Nov 16 around the same time in the morning). A little strange, two in a row.

U.S. Geological Survey's Preliminary Earthquake Report:
A strong earthquake occurred at 21:38:54 (UTC) on Monday, November 14, 2005. The magnitude 6.9 event has been located OFF THE EAST COAST OF HONSHU, JAPAN. The hypocentral depth was estimated to be 30 km (18 miles).

A strong earthquake shook northern Japan early Tuesday, triggering a small tsunami that struck coastal towns about 200 miles from the epicenter. There were no immediate reports of damage.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 6.9, hit at 6:39 a.m. (4:39 p.m. EST Monday) and was centered off the east coast of Japan's main island of Honshu, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and Japan's Meteorological Agency.

Tsunami waves of 12 and 19 inches hit the city of Ofunato, and 4- to 12-inch waves generated by the quake struck at least four other towns in the area, the agency said. Tsunami waves are often barely noticeable in the ocean but can rise to greater heights once they reach shore.

Ross Stein, a geophysicist with the USGS in Menlo Park, Calif., said the swell amounted to "a surfable tsunami."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ice Hotel

It sounds like a very nice and romantic place to be. Discovery channel did a special on it. The ICEHOTEL is built and rebuilt every year with thousands of tons of ice and snow in the little village of Jukkasjârvi in northern Lapland, Sweden.

Intro taken from its website:
In Swedish Lapland, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, lies the village of Jukkasjärvi on the River Torne. Jukkasjärvi in Saami (Lappish) means "meeting place ", which is what the former Saami village has been for half a millennium. ICEHOTEL AB, the company that runs ICEHOTEL, has worked with tourism since the mid 1970s, and offers a wide range of activities such as white-water rafting, fishing, visits to a Saami camp, reindeer and dogsledding tours. Before ICEHOTEL, very few tourists came to Jukkasjärvi during the long, dark, cold and snowy winters. In 1989 however, Jukkas AB (now ICEHOTEL AB) decided to look upon winter as an asset instead.

A review from an English traveler:
Finally been & done it! It took a hell of a lot of organising, but tying everything up before going was well worth it. Doing it outside a travel agent also paid off big time! If you book the package through an agent you are tied to the trips they include. Often too long & before your ready & have acclimatised. You need 3 days. A good idea if you make your stay in the Ice Hotel itself, your 2nd night. You can then look at the Suites when your shown around & request one particular that you like. It may not be available but you could be lucky. It is despite the extra cost a very good idea to have a warm hotel room (Kaamos) as well as the Ice Hotel. This gives you somewhere to rest & relax, otherwise your things are in a locker in the warm,changing,Loo area. The night you stay in the Ice Hotel you can get your room after 6.30 pm all visitors leave by then. However it is Minus 5 & you can't take your things in your room as they would freeze. So you find most people busy with activities or The Vodka Ice Bar until it is time to sleep. You then collect a sleeping bag & liner to take to your room. You undress in the changing room & make a b-line for your bed & bag! It is quite comfortable & snug once in, but the mattress is hard!!! That actually bothered me much more than the cold. If you haven't slept ina sleeping bag since you were a child? It is a little claustrophobic, but the rooms are lovely. Good idea to sit warmly clothed & lie looking around "it is lovely" We had a suit, & it was worth the extra money. We had a drape of Ice with patterned snow flakes & free Fall written in with the bed cut in to the wall around 4 feet off the ground. It all glistens & sparkles & is an experience. You can turn your light off at the edge of the bed & they wake you between 7.30-8am with a hot fruit drink a little like Ribena. Booking the Hot tub privately is also a good idea. sitting in hot water with minus 30 plus outside & often snowing "is lovely" looking at the stars. Make sure you get the temperature right before you leap in & be aware it is much hotter at the bottom than on the surface! I got roasted & had to get out while my partner spent 20 mins pilling Ice & snow in to get the temperature down. Add more logs after your in & adjusted. The trips are very very expensive for us. ( the Swedes earn around 4 times our salary, so its about the same as it would be here for us, but as we are on much smaller incomes, it feels hard. An hour & a half Snowmobile (not to be missed!) is around £95.00 The Hot tub private around £75 (book last of the day & they will leave you until whenever. We came out around 3 in the morning, no one bothered us. The same with the Dog Sled again around £80-90 I think for an hour & a half. The 3 & a half hour trips & overnights out are much more expensive again. But your away from the Ice Hotel for a long time. OK if you have 3 days, but with 2 your not going to see it all. Better you book the outings the days after you arrive, you will have accustomed yourselves to the temperature better & got the feel of how much clothing you need. They say 3 layers. Believe me if your Dog Sledding Snowmobile you need more, especially on your feet & hands. You will need a face mask! Scarf around your chest & at least 2 pairs of socks. The little heat pads you get in the ski shops are a good idea, especially if you suffer from cold extremities!.. A meal for 2 in the restaurant will cost the best part of £100 with no booze! There is nothing else in the town. Apart from a little supermarket & believe it or not a Hamburger take away caravan! But at minus 30 ish it's gonna be cold before you start.! We bought stuff in the supermarket & made sandwiches Hot chocolate & cake in our hotel room. There are tea/coffee things & a hairdryer. The restaurant closes at around 11pm so the night you go to the Theatre "if you do" you won't get in to the restaurant. They are helpful they will make & leave sandwiches for you. The menu is mainly Fish & Reindeer. My partner won't eat either. they did Chicken for him on request. No problem Breakfast is wonderful the bread is fresh made with fresh yeast, there is so much, if you eat well, to be honest you really don't need much else!... We went in to Kiruna, there is very little there. Nothing of any particular interest. A supermarket a linen.tableware shop, a very nice tea rooms with good food & a nice Coffee/Chocolate/gift shop run by an extremely sweet Gay guy who is so, so helpful & very amusing! It cost around £20 each way in a cab although there are buses. Believe me you don't want to stand around waiting in that weather! In the Village by the Ice Hotel there is a nice little church & beside there a plot of land the Sami people keep a few tents & reindeer. Sadly at a distance these were the only ones we saw. You need to go up in the the mountains with them on a trip to see more. Beware very cold. Hotel room are very warm & cosy, lovely & clean. When you start getting booted & suited to go out "it will become unbearable!!!" As you dress open the windows & doors let it air & freeze down to make it comfortable to dress. As you leave shut up again It will be cosy again when you get back. Drinks are around £7 a time, ice bar or bar anywhere in fact. Beer more than £5, so be prepared. Just to let you know we went to Stockholm on the way. The round trip plus the Grand 5 star Hotel was around 4oo each which was great Stockholm very nice . We will definitely go again & spend longer, but it made a good start to the Kiruna trip & also helped greatly with cost. Thistle Hotel groups tour operator on-line lets you book round trip with days away! So they did our round flights although we only stayed with them for the 2 days in Stockholm & then went off to Kiruna buying the tickets Stockholm-Kiruna-Stockholm. Great time. I would do it again & change little that I organised!. There is a train to Kiruna from Stockholm over night & I think I would add a day to do that next time "simply for the views!" Had too much trouble finding out how to book this time. But I think would be worth the try. Hope this helps. Sam

Unlike the visitors, I'm really interested in actually living there. Imagine with the vehicles I have (in my dream), especially the WRC STi, I can slide on ice for a very long time. A constant subzero temperature, now that warms my heart.

ICEHOTEL English page
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Pictures from websites, here and here.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It never hurts

to do a little cheery daydreaming.

If you won the lottery, what would you do? By the way, in the U.S. the powerball pays out as much as $340 million, as opposed to Japan's stingy loto6, a mere 15,991,200 yen (=135K US dollars) to the most recent winner.

Fourty precent of which would go to my mom, dad, and two sisters for 10% each. That leaves me sixty precent to work with. Say, in the case of the freakish powerball, it roughly comes out to be $120M after tax. Here goes:

  • One daily driver, Honda S2000 hardtop, agile, comfy, lightly tuned. Standard specs: 2.2L I4, 6 Speed Manual Horsepower 240.

  • One track-day machine, Nissan GT-R R34, fully tuned by HKS, NISMO, A'PEXi, BLITZ, MINE's, or JUN, whichever ends up with most torque. Z-tune specs: 500 hp, 400 lb-ft torque, 2.8-liter race-bred engine.

  • One supercar, McLaren F1 LM, production car's landspeed record holder up until 2002, top speed 240 mph. Specs: Mid-Engine/RWD, 6-Speed Manual, V12, 680bhp @ 7800rpm, 520lb-ft @ 4500rpm, 0-60mph: 3.5sec.

  • One fun car, the original Mini Cooper (61-69), rebuilt from the engine on.

  • One off-roader, Subaru World Rally Team car (WRC 2005 Prototype). specs: Flat 4-cylinder, 16 valve, turbocharged, 300bhp @ 5500rpm, 60kg-m @ 4000rpm, Prodrive 6-speed electro-hydraulic.

  • One traveler, Cessna 172, (160hp) Lycoming O-320-H2AD l4 piston engine, Max speed 232km/h (125kt), max cruising speed 226km/h (122kt), probably the easiest to fly passenger vehicle.

  • One un-purchasable, SR-71 Blackbird (unarmed), horizontal flight: 85,068.997 ft (25,929.031m), Max speed 2,193.167 mph. (Mach 3.31).

And then I'd travel the world in these vehicles, but probably end up in a pile of wrecked metal, completely worthy.