Saturday, November 15

Make it your own

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I took this picture in the neighborhood of Roppongi in Tokyo. [It is kind of the nightlife center of Tokyo...and the mecca for foreigners looking to have fun (with a bunch of other ex-pats). I have a bad attitude about the area, but its not really worth going into.] My girl recently started going to a new salon there, and I discovered this little playground festooned with robots nearby. It was dope and I hope to tag alone again next month and snap some more pics.

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As anyone who has read this blog for a minute will know, I have a little thing for track bikes. I continue to see them in the streets and outside shops more and more often. The fad/movement shows no signs of flagging with the release of a new toy. (JB...that is the bike I was trying to explain the other day.)

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That's right, now you can buy your own 1/9 scale track bike from PedalMafia for a measly $30. Not only that, but they sell optional parts you can get to customize your mini-ride.

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[via: PedalMafia blog]
If and when I see this in the shops, I might have a hard time not throwing away some hard-earned cash on it. I have resisted buying toys for a while, and there is only one good way to reward myself for such good behavior – buy some toys! Until then, I have will to settle for PedalMafia's online application.

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Yup, you can build your own virtual track bike. So far I have thrown together four, but I will show some restraint and only show you my two favorites. And it is very possible that, since I have no practical knowledge of these bikes, that I have embarrassingly misplaced some part. That would be really sad, but if that is the case...please do tell. (I'm looking at you JB) I would hate to remain ignorant.

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You can try it out yourself HERE. All the items are way on the left, so make sure to scroll on over. If anyone wastes as much time as I did, feel free to send the pics my way.

So customization seem to be the name of the game, from bikes, mobile phones, and all the way to cars – see Ferrari's Carrozzeria Scaglietti program for evidence.) And let's not forget sneakers! Nike introduced their NikeiD program years ago, and now Puma has its Mongolian shoe BBQ, and Reebok and Adidas have both had different schemes running in the last year or so. Well...not to ruin the suspense, but I finally did it after debating about it for a long time.

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I have to explain, there are two different types of NikeiD's you can do: (1) you can use their Web site and select from the options available or (2) you can go to a NikeiD Studio and have a "Design Consultant" help you and there are "special" options that are not available online. Wanting only the best, I always hesitated going the online route but there was a problem – there was not iD Studio in Tokyo. (Well, after I had mine just opened last month in the new Nike Sportswear store in Harajuku, but that's a story for another time.)

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Until very recently the only iD Studio has been in Osaka. And wouldn't you know it, I had an opportunity to go there this past September for the first time since 2002. I knew I would only have one afternoon there...after spending time with my girl's family and before heading back to Tokyo. My only goal was to go to the NikeStore...never imagining that I would have a chance to make a shoe.

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But...since we didn't really have much to do, my girl and her brother encouraged me to go bananas. But I knew they would be patient only for so long...I figured an hour max before there would be trouble. (Not really enough time...but since I didn't even make a reservation and it was such a spur of the moment thing, I was game!)

So, with no real time to prepare I sat down at the terminal and started working. It was a given I would make an Air Max 90 (if there had been the Air Max 87 I would have had to make a tough decision) the only real question was whether or not they had mesh available: and boy did they ever!

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They had white and black mesh available so those were easy bases to work from. But I quickly ended up wasting quite a bit of time trying out some wacky lime-centered colorways. After regaining my senses, I decided to take a more conservative path. The Design Consultant was not all that helpful and I have no idea if I used any of the "studio only" options. But at that point I was getting signals to wrap things up, so I said I was done.

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All of the colors came out a little darker than what I had expected, but I can't really complain. I am pretty happy with the results. They provide two lace options and I was sure I would like the blue better than the red...but I like the red a lot. And of course any sneakerhead worth his sole can see the influence the original Infrared 90 colorway had on my shoe. What can I say...I like the classics.

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In addition to the two laces that came with it, I can easily see some crisp white or black laces spending some quality time in there. But for now, I am really enjoying the red.

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I am not sure if I will ever do another pair of iD's again...but I am happy I did at least one. I to think that at some point, you will be able to customize shoes even more – either online or in a studio and more options and colors would be a nice start.


Here is a great video for my favorite track of DJ /Rupture's new mix album Uproot. I might do a more complete review of the album in the near future. For now...enjoy.

That's it and I'm out.

Thursday, November 6

Book Corner: Making the case for a long attention span

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am a big fan of Neal Stephenson’s writing. Since I first read his groundbreaking work Snow Crash, I have eagerly awaited each new novel. So I approached his latest effort Anathem full of high expectations.

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Let me assure you, Stephenson did not disappoint. From its comedic and slightly confusing start, to its verging on hopeful ending, the reader is led every step of the way by the likeable main character Erasmas, or Raz for short.

The story is set on the planet Arbre, which has a 7,089-year history that is somewhat similar to Earth’s. One of the largest differences is that there are two separate groups of people on the planet that interact under only the strictest of rules.

On one hand we have the “Saecular World,” which goes through endless cycles of booms and busts, world wars, and climate change. At the time of the story, it is a consumer culture with people forever distracted by blazing advertisements, “jeejahs” (advanced mobile phones), and all the food contains “Allswell” (a type of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant).

The people are for the most part aliterate or illiterate, and receive all their information coming from “speelys” (a type of advanced television). There are some educated people – who often become leaders – and artisans as well. Religious groups possess a lot of power, but are split into countless factions.

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On the other hand, we have Raz and his friends, which live in one of many “concents” (a type of walled monastery) that are dotted around the planet. This group, called the “avout” – made up of scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians – have taken oaths to stay cloistered for one, 10, 100, or 1,000 years.

Raz, who entered the concent when he was eight years old because he liked books, is a Decenarian (Tenner), and is allowed to visit the Saecular World once every 10 years. The only other time an avout leaves the concent is when whatever government is in charge at the time needs help solving a crisis. And wouldn’t you know it, but a crisis is in the making as the story begins.

So, with that brief sketch of the novel’s story, you might see that Stephenson is working with some pretty conceptual stuff. And once he starts talking about string theory, “new matter,” and high-level math, the reader is bound to learn something whether they want to or not.

The book tackles such weighty topics as the conflict between science and religion, as well as comments on today’s culture here on Earth. Stephenson was quoted as saying, “As far as culture and politics are concerned, the important theme is long-attention-span vs. short-attention-span thinking.”

The avout, especially the Centenarians (Hundreders) or Millenarians (Thousanders), have a very different relationship with time and it allows them to do things that others can’t.

Inside Anathem
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But don’t think this is all work and no play. For as much as Stephenson writes incredibly technical and challenging novels, he is also a big fan of adventure stories. Every one of his novels to date has at least one badass character, and Anathem is no different.

The reader meets the avouts from the concent of the “Ringing Vale” just at the right time. We quickly learn that they practice the concept of “vale lore” or “vlor,” a short jump from the English word valor. While some concents have been studying geometry for thousands of years, they have been working on their own unique martial arts – and they use it to devastating effect.

As great as this novel is, it is not perfect. There is a dead spot about three quarters of the way through that is tough to get through. That 50-page section – dealing with divergent realities – is the most abstract and challenging part of the book. But, once you make it through that, it is a tremendous, adrenaline-pumping race to the finish.

As you may have noticed, Stephenson created a lot of new words in the novel, so many that there is a 20-page glossary – not to mention 25 pages of math lessons that are interesting, but not strictly necessary for the reader to understand. But the words soon become second nature and you stop looking in the back about halfway through the book.

But I have to warn you, because you forget there are 45 pages of filler at the end, the grand finale may catch you by surprise. It was not the best feeling to eagerly turn the page, only to find the start of the glossary.

But, I went back and re-read the last couple pages a bit more slowly and it did provide a satisfying ending – even though I could have read at least another 100 pages.

The World of Anathem

Sunday, November 2

Knowing without understanding

I'll admit it, I can't understand everything I see in Japan. I am always improving, but it is taking longer than it should. Oh well. Luckily, a lot of the time, complete understanding is not really necessary. Case in point.

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I always loved this sign in my girl's hometown. We always end up visiting the local supermarket where I encounter these 16 people encouraging me to "Take my time shopping" (but way more polite). Even if you can't read it (rest assured...this sign I can read) you can understand the meaning. On our last visit to her hometown, I spotted another sign I enjoyed, and it takes no reading to understand.

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Homeboy looks like he is having way too good a time popping pills! But even without the English writing, the slowest person would peg this as a drug store.

Moving on...

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This is the cover to the Keep Watch Vol. 2: Teki Latex put out by Mishka NYC brand. The mix is really good, although a bit of a slow starter. You can read an intro and download it HERE.

The mix by Teki Latex – being the Frenchie that he is – reminded me of this post I have been meaning to put together for the longest time. See...I have this fascination with foreign/non-English hip hop. The following clips (none of which are new) come from different countries and artists. And they are able to pull "it" off with varying degrees of success. The French for their part, seem be able to do just about anything and look good while doing so.

We have a chubby guy (in two different pairs of colorful Nike's) who infects everything he touches with rainbows. He ain't trying to be nothing he isn't. And he pulls it off with aplomb. I love the electro-vibe of the song.

This is Afasi & Filthy and all I know about them is that they are from Sweden. I do like the beat and can enjoy it, even though I don't understand one word. But, I feel like they are trying just a bit too hard, fronting in some way. It is a small thing, but I'm pretty sure these two homies check the mirror on the way out the door for a bit longer than Teki Latex.

Sexfemman seems to be another Scandinavian rapper, couldn't really find that much info on him. (Didn't look all that hard.) I like this song better than the last one. But again, there seems to be a false vibe of trying to be "down with the streets" here as well. Being down is not necessary to make good hip hop. The sparse beat – featuring a well used tambourine of all instruments – is slick enough to stand alone. (But maybe I am reading all the wrong stuff into the track. How would I know??) [both clips via - Discobelle]

One of my favorite tracks that I have stumbled across knowing absolutely nothing about the artist. This is Peter Fox (according to the meta-data and the fact that he says his name multiple times) and I like the way his German just cuts through the dense track. I love the building of momentum with the cellos in the verses that burst in varying ways into the chorus. The video ain't too shabby either. There is no pretense here...just an artist making a good song. [via Kanye West]

That is about all. No big statement about non-English hip hop. Its just something that has been floating around in my head for ages. For me, if you don't try to emulate something, and just put out good music I will give it a listen.

CAUTION: Since I really know nothing about any of these artists, I really don't guarantee my judgement over their entire bodies of work. I only know these track which could be their best or worst would I know??

Until next time.