Keep this one quiet

The reason Brian and I needed copies of Soul Calibur III, for what it’s worth, is that Andy is having a Halloween party at his place this weekend. (Sidenote: there apparently will be a carved-out pumpkin with a tap there: a “pumpkin keg,” if you will.) We’ve been instructed, as a sort of pre-party thing, to use the character-creation abilities of the game to craft our favorite characters, so we may face off with our creations.

The only way you can really get an edge with a custom character—face it—is by somehow causing your opponent psychological anguish. Andy succeeded in this by telling me of his first plan, which was to create Motoko Aoyama (my favorite character from Love Hina) and defeat me with her. [Pics of her from the manga—she was made extremely ugly in the anime, IMO—are hard to come by; this cheap crop job is the best I’ve been able to do in the last couple minutes.] Now that the damage to me is done, he’s graciously letting me build her.

I had no idea how I was going to get Andy back for that, though. And then Brian played “random create-a-character” against me this evening, and lightning struck. It’s so perfect, and the name tells it all: No Pants Man.

The only thing worse than fighting against No Pants Man, it turns out, is losing to No Pants Man. Brian turned my vision into reality, and we wound up with a dancer who wields a tambourine and frickin’ dances around the screen when he wins a battle. I must emphasize that he is not wearing pants while he does this.

No Pants Man is much like a good speech: the name in the character select screen gives your opponent a good idea of what’s coming (“Oh no, you didn’t…”), the battle just confirms his/her worst fears, and then his dancing around after a victory reinforces the fact one last time. I can say with complete certainty that No Pants Man is as psychologically damaging a character as will ever be created.

I can’t wait for this weekend.

Have I told you about my condition?

You know that movie, Memento? You remember the main character, who couldn’t convert his short-term memories into anything more permanent?

That’s me, just one step removed.

My memory has never been anything to write home about, but this is taking it to a whole different level. Yesterday Marin gave me an envelope and asked me to pass it off to our office manager, once she got off the phone. I’d turn around—so the envelope was out of sight—and then completely forgot about it. I even said “goodnight” to the intended recipient as she headed out the door for the evening.

Or, today I was supposed to call Toys R Us to have them hold two copies of Soul Calibur III for Brian and myself. Hah! It wasn’t until the end of the work day, when I was telling Marin about how I’d be going to Albany to pick up a copy of Soul Calibur III, that I realized my error.

Take those two examples, and imagine several days chock full of events like them. Unless I have some contextual clue that I need to do something, odds are that it won’t get done. I’m living my days out in a state of permanent, total distraction.

Even the stuff I do “remember” doesn’t get done: projects at work, summaries of my trip to Japan, cleaning my room, the book I’m reading (why I bother reading—I don’t retain much of anything anything, mind you—is beyond me) all lie half-done.

I did go to the ballroom dance practice this evening, though, and was rewarded with a major boost to my spirits. I enjoyed watching the “samba line” performed by Charles, Nihal, Ashley and Britta (they’re planning to infiltrate the U of O dance this weekend, and intend to perform this samba line for the first half of a samba—breaking out their actual samba during the second half of the dance), and enjoyed even more watching everyone else be amused by the samba line. Janis and I shared a cha-cha that devolved into a west-coast swing (Janis also enjoyed commenting on how I’d comment on the music, but never actually dance); I managed to make Robin laugh during the last waltz, which is somewhat unusual… We’re always glad to see each other, but we rarely have much to talk about.


I understand from my comments that people actually want to hear more about my trip to Japan. If I’ve learned one thing from my business courses, it’s that if a couple people give you feedback, there are… er… a couple people out there that feel the same way. Yeah. I haven’t forgotten, but when you have something you actually want to do justice, it takes more effort to do it—unlike my normal posts—because a half-assed late-night rant just won’t cut muster.

Continuing this half-assed late-night rant: I absolutely love saved state web browsing. (If you have a blank look on your face right now: imagine that your web browser remembers what page(s) you had open when you quit, and automatically reopens that page/those pages to the same places the next time you open that browser. That’s “saved state.”)

The reason behind this random proclamation? I was browsing the web this evening, and had a handful of tabs open to various pages. My body then, rather suddenly, demanded that I go to bed right that instant—so I shut down my computer and headed upstairs. (I’m still not smart enough to follow what my body says exactly, which is why you have this bed-based post.) No need to worry about bookmarking where I was, no need to remember how far down I had read an article—they’ll be waiting for me, in the same place, when I get back. (Also: no worrying about what pages were lost the next time my browser crashes!)

My browser of choice, which of course saves state, is a niche one: OmniWeb is slow and uses a behind-the-times rendering engine, but, by gum, it lets me use the internet on my terms. I’ve also become accustomed to its vertical, picture-based “tab drawer” (imagine pictures of each page along the left or right edge of your browser, instead of a row of text near the top)—I don’t feel so constrained to limit the number of tabs I use at once.

[If you’re using Firefox (and I would, if I were on a PC), you might try SessionSaver, which apparently allows Firefox to pull similar saved-state tricks. Assuming it works, it’ll change the way you browse. Seriously.]

I’m also in the process of falling in love with NetNewsWire, an RSS newsreader for the Mac. It’s so much easier to have a program check when websites are updated than to do so yourself, which is the habit I had fallen into. I’ve noticed that, with NetNewsWire, I take far less time reading about the goings-on of my various web haunts—and, as I’ve lamented in the past, there’s just not enough time in my day anymore.

Not that I do anything useful with that time that y’all would be able to see, though. I have, however, just today finished the complete initial implementation of the work program that I’ve been slaving away on: initial tests (with live data—a first!) indicate that I’ve sped this one bottleneck process up by 770% (being extremely conservative, believe it or not). The step before that process also appears to have improved, though so far by a much less spectacular (but still substantial) 41%. I’m happy with those results.

Someday I might even be able to talk about what I did.

My hand is cramped

I’ve just finished writing down everything I could remember about my last few days in Japan. I’m afraid that it’s nowhere near as much as I could have written down, had I done so sooner… but what am I going to do about that now? (Answer: ask Brian what happened.)

Anyway, the grand Japan writeup can now continue, after I get some sleep. Dang I’m tired.

…and life intervenes…

Yeah, so this whole “Japan extravaganza” is still happening—it’s just not happening very fast. Taking care of Grandma, Yoshi, and Calliope (mostly Yoshi, who loves marathon walks) really ate a good chunk of each day this last week. Work has been starting to expect me to actually put hours in, too (me: “huh?”), so I was feeling a bit squeezed last week.

Amusing tidbit: my dad usually feeds Yoshi and Calliope a bit of cheddar cheese (part of his breakfast) each morning. Last Sunday, the first day my folks were gone, I forgot about this—and the animals seemed a bit off all day. Monday morning I remembered, and so gave them a bit of cheese—and they did much better the rest of the day. [Sidenote to the tidbit: a slice of cheddar cheese, and a small glass of milk, is surprisingly filling.]

This evening I actually sat down to write about Day 1 of the trip (gasp!), but then discovered that my notes abruptly ended after Day 10—of 13. As I am fond of saying, my brain is an iron sieve (“first it leaks, and then it rusts”), so I turned my attention towards writing down the fleeting memories I have of those unrecorded days. If I didn’t, you would have found the end of the story rather undeveloped; now you’ll simply be able to compare my narrative to swiss cheese.

I’ve recently started looking into the world of RSS newsreaders, and so have—for the first time—looked at this site through the RSS feed that Movable Type so nicely sets up for me. I think I’ll have to write some CSS to accompany that feed, ’cause that was about as generic an experience as I could imagine.

Japan – Day 0: day of flight

[10 September (US)/11 September (Japan)] I began my trip by frantically finishing up my database program (with advanced stop-gap features) for work—that’s right, I was furiously finishing my program the morning of the flight.

[Through a major miracle, the damn thing would actually work while I was gone.]

I picked Brian up an hour later than we planned, thanks to my accursed program; my saving grace was that we had enough wiggle room figured in for me to get away with that. At Andy’s we met Myles and Betsy, who gave us a lift the final leg to PDX. Before that, though, Andy packed, Brian copied plans into the notebook he was bringing, and Betsy played Kirby: Canvas Curse on Andy’s DS.

Our flights, incidentally, were booked with Northwest. When we left for Japan, Northwest’s mechanics were on strike—and there had been news about a handful of their airplane tires blowing out. (Another story featured a Northwest flight that somehow clipped its wing on another plane […].)

We grabbed a bite to eat at a PDX pizza parlor while we waited for our flight. Andy chatted some with a UW professor and (?—my memory’s rusty) grad-student sitting at the bar about the football game playing out on a TV. After eating we hit the restroom, and then discovered that our plane was boarding—so we just walked on. It was easily the most pleasant airport experience I’ve had; that’s saying something, because I haven’t really had a bad experience yet.

On the (full) plane we discovered that we shared row 31 with two friendly gals on the left, a Japanese lady (stuck between Brian and Andy) who didn’t seem to care to interact with us… and the professor and grad student we met in the pizzeria.

In 2000, when I went to Europe, the plane was equipped with three LCD monitors at the front of each section of the plane. This allowed them to give you a graphical depiction of where the plane was and which direction it was going—effectively squashing any kid-like questioning of are we there yet? and how much further?. Time has certainly changed plane travel: the plane we took to Japan had an LCD monitor for every seat, in addition to the three at the front; in the armrest was a controller/remote controller. Using the controller, we could choose to listen to music, watch a variety of on-demand movies, or (the killer feature for the three of us) play Reversi or a trivia game against others aboard the plane.

Brian defeated—there’s no nice way to phrase it—me handily in Reversi; the outcome of trivia matches were much more random, depending on the types of questions asked. At its peak, we were playing trivia against “Hans” and “J” (the professor and grad student) and a handful of others in the plane. Trivia is most entertaining when you can interact with the other contestants, I’d say… so it was nice that most of us were in a row.

A bloody eternity passes. Ten hours later, we’re almost to Japan… but “weather” (the remnants of a typhoon) forces us into a holding pattern for an extra forty minutes.

Our first thought of Japan, as we’re stepping off the plane and looking out windows: This looks like Oregon! (Then the 90% humidity hit us.)

One customs official making sure Andy’s bag doesn’t have false walls later, and we’re free to roam in Narita. Our first order of business was to call the hotel and let them know that we’ll be a bit late; Brian exchanges some money and then enters into epic battle against the NTT phone. (Turns out that the Tokyo area code is “03,” not “003” or “3.”) We then pick up our two-week Japan Rail Pass—which gives us free access to all JR lines (handy!)—and hop on the Narita Express for Tokyo-eki. [Japanese lesson: eki ~ station.]

The Narita Non-Express failed to impress us. Andy started questioning why our train was stopped for extended periods of time; the Japanese businessman who had the misfortune of being seated with the three gaijin promptly fell asleep.

Tokyo-eki (as was Narita, and as would be every train station) had bilingual Japanese/English signs, and so was quite easy to navigate. We made our way from the top-secret ultra-underground base where the Narita (non-)Express stopped, up to ground level and the famed Yamanote line. [Incidentally, as far as we’re concerned: “Yamanote green” is a legitimate name for a color.] We hopped the Yamanote for Ikebukuro, where our first hotel—the Crowne Plaza Metropolitan—was located.

The Yamanote was decently packed, and we found ourselves standing in the center of the car with our bags. The experience reminded me quite a bit of London’s Underground, though I recall (perhaps erroneously) a decent number of the seats on the English trains were oriented front-to-back, whereas almost all of the Japanese seats were on the sides of the car oriented left-right. [The reason for the Japanese arrangement, we’d note later, was that the seats get folded up during rush-hour so they can cram that many more people in each car.]

Our hotel has a swank front desk area, and a handful of expensive restaurants located on the lower floors. The bellboy shows us to our room*, which uses magnetic insert-and-remove cards for the door, and we crash fiercely. Our room is on the 24th floor, however, so we end up having a pretty good view of the city (this shot was taken later, during the day; we arrived sometime around 8:00 pm, and so were actually greeted with city lights):

That’s right: city all the way to the horizon.

[* One of the neater things about Japan is that good service is a basic expectation, and not something that is rare and needs to be rewarded. In other words, the service is almost always a cut above—and you never tip for it.]

The Japan blow-out… begins now

Yah, I’ve been a lazy ass w.r.t. my blog. Sorry. [Incidentally, the lazy way to write with respect to is one of the best things to come out of my math education.] I was horribly short sleep and off-schedule last week, and this week my folks are on vacation—leaving me and my sister taking care of Grandma and the animals. Except that Marin’s in school, so it’s pretty much me. [Actually, she’s been quite good about helping; I’m just mouthing off.]

Here’s a pro-tip: if you’re going on vacation and you have a shitty memory, take a pad of paper and a pen, and make notes of what you did. I did that, so I now have the ability to regale you with some tales. I also took pictures—modern science worked image-stabilization miracles, and they actually came out OK—so my tales might have some pretty pictures to bump up their length.

Oh, and I have a terrible habit of switching tense mid-paragraph (sometimes mid-sentence), which most likely will rear its ugly head in the next fourteen (or so) entries. Please overlook that.

Dance practice

Dance practice. Arrived late. Was glomped by Sofie, though I didn’t remember her name [ (-_-);; ]. Danced a fun west-coast swing with the non-engaged Jenny (there are two of ’em; the engaged one didn’t call her wedding off) to a remixed version of Stayin’ Alive, which would typically be a hustle… meaning that it was a pretty fast WCS. Jenny taunted me with her advanced syncopations, which might end up being my tipping point for actually trying to dance more with the music, rather than just to its beat. Had a funny waltz ending with the engaged Jenny: the song ended while we were doing flip-flops, with Jenny on my right side, so I pulled a (decidedly non-waltz) move out of my bag of tricks and tucked and spun her out. Since it’s not a waltz move, she wasn’t really expecting it… hah. I’m crazy like that. [This is one of those things where you not only had to be there, but you had to be me… so don’t worry if it’s not amusing to you.]

After the practice ended, I wound up chatting with Sofie, Sam[antha], and Jon in front of the Women’s Building for a good while. Sofie was waiting for Amy (another dance regular, who wasn’t there tonight) to come pick her up; Sam was marveling at the freedom of having a driver’s license (?—she got her license this last summer, despite being close to graduation); Jon was talking about the psycho-physics classes that test his sanity.

I can’t begin to say how glad I am to be done with the whole school thing. Studying for actuarial exams (even when I’m actually studying) is just so much more pleasant than the constant stresses of college. I’m almost certain* I’ll never** follow in Eric’s footsteps and head to grad school. And I say that despite his assertion that he’s become a member of a “vaguely Seinfeld-esque group” of grad students—that part sounds pretty cool, actually.

[* “never say never,” right?]

[** hah]

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