Roadtrip Playlist

I’m about to embark upon a nearly 1100 mile road trip.  To where?  I’m going to keep that a secret for now, except to say it’s one-way.  😉  To keep me going, I’m taking some CDs along.  These aren’t necessarily my all-time favorite albums, but these will keep me energized, alert, and happy on the long drive.  These should also be enough albums that I can listen to them all without having to repeat any.

Artist Album Title
Björk Homogenic
Chelmico EP
Cibo Matto Hotel Valentine
Matthew Dear Bunny
Matthew Dear DJ-Kicks
Jimmy Edgar Color Strip
Elbow Giants Of All Sizes
Filter Amalgamut
Jamiroquai Automaton
Chaka Khan I Feel For You
King Krule 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
Lush Gala
Erlend Øye DJ-Kicks
Parliament Funkentelechy vs. The Placebo Syndrome
Perfume Triangle
Pizzicato Five Happy End of the World
Robyn Honey
Safety Scissors In A Manner of Sleeping
Siouxsie Sioux Mantaray
various artists Even A Tree Can Shed Tears (Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973)
X-Ray Spex Germ-Free Adolescents

An alternative to Kouhaku?

For the past seven years or so, I’ve watched Kouhaku Uta Gassen  (紅白歌合戦 literally, Red and White Song Battle), Japan’s big annual New Year’s Eve musical extravaganza. Kouhaku runs from about 7pm to midnight in Japan, which is roughly 2am to 7am California time. Usually it’s a lot of fun, but the 2018 edition seemed to be a little tedious, and it seemed even more so this year—a combination of spectacle over substance, too many references to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (and I get it, the Olympics are a big deal), and not enough variety in the music.

After the 2019 show, I was heading for bed (having been awake for over 24 hours) when I saw what seemed to be another music show coming up on NHK, so I taped it to watch later. The show turned out to be Masashi Sada’s Midnight Talk Show (今夜も生でさだまさし). It was held in a large auditorium—possible a sumo venue—with the host and co-hosts sitting in the center. In some ways it was like a town hall, with the hosts fielding questions from the audience.

However, Sada and some guests did perform some music.

1. Sada sang and played guitar, accompanied by a small band.

2. Guest Hiromi Iwasaki (岩崎宏美) sang a song.

3. Sada sang again.

4. Guest Nira Shinji (新羅慎二) sang a song and played guitar.

5. Everyone returned to sing an ondo style song, and were joined by an older man (who was undoubtedly someone famous, but I didn’t catch his name) and four young women in sparkly dresses. The audience also sang and danced along.

I had never heard of Iwasaki or Shinji before—both were good but I was particularly impressed with Iwasaki.

Compared to Kouhaku, Sada’s show was a considerably more laid-back and casual affair. There were no screen captions, not even the usual karaoke style lyrics seen on every Japanese musical show. The guests carried handwritten cards with their names on them to show to the camera, and as each song began, someone off camera held up more handwritten cards bearing the song titles. While these performances weren’t nearly as glitzy as those at Kouhaku, they seemed much more sincere, and I would rather see an evening of performances like these than another overblown Kouhaku spectacle.

Romaji vs. Hiragana

For students of Japanese, unless you’re only learning enough to go on vacation—“Hello! Nice to meet you! Where’s the bathroom?”—you’ll eventually need to learn hiragana.

Japanese uses four writing systems: hiragana, a set of 46 characters and their combinations that represent syllables; katakana, a similar set usually reserved for writing foreign names and words; romaji, or the western alphabet of ABCs; and kanji, logograms that represent words and concepts.

Yokohama written in hiragana よこはま
Yokohama written in katakana ヨコハマ
Yokohama written in romaji Yokohama
Yokohama written in kanji 横浜

Adults typically know 2000-3000 kanji and learn them starting in first grade and continuing through high school. But first, everyone learns hiragana. Kanji found in children’s books, important signs (such as in a subway station), and kanji that’s rare or have nonstandard pronunciations often have small hiragana—known as furigana—next to them so they can be read by anyone.

But after Japanese-language students have learned hiragana, the continued use of romaji creates more problems than it solves, and can be a hindrance to learning new words and speaking Japanese properly.

Japanese uses double vowel sounds in many words. When an O sound is doubled, this is usually represented by adding a hiragana U (such as in the word Toukyou, the phonetic spelling of Tokyo), but there are many times when a doubled O is represented by adding another O (such as in the word Oosaka, which is the city of Osaka).

Japanese language books that use romaji do not always use the same system to represent doubled vowel sounds. You might see Toukyou in some books, but I’ve also seen Tohkyoh, Tōkyō, Tôkyô (or any number of other diacritical marks), Tookyoo (which looks like it should sound like “two cue”), or just plain Tokyo.

When an English-language publication that’s not a dictionary or teaching guide uses a Japanese word—for example, the city of Kobe—I have to look it up in a Japanese dictionary to see if it’s really Kobe, Koube, or Koobe (the answer is Koube) so I do not pronounce or spell it incorrectly. Similarly, bento is bentou, Noh is Nou, ramen is ra-men*, jiu-jitsu is juujutsu, sumo is sumou, tofu is toufu, and so on. A similar situation happens with double N syllables, which may be spelled with a single N. Someone not checking the spelling may say feathers (hane) for half-price (hanne), or ask a store clerk for his or her hand in marriage (kon’yaku) when all they really wanted were some yam cakes (kon’nyaku). And even romaji is not rendered properly in romaji:  it’s really ro-maji*.

But don’t these variations sound pretty much the same? Wouldn’t context tell the listener what the speaker means? It could, but you might still say to your friend that you spent a wonderful afternoon under the clouds experiencing a kuusou (daydream) but he might think you soiled your pants (kuso means shit). Or you may wish to tell the police you were the victim of an oshiiri (break-in) but leave them with the impression someone sat on you (oshiri means buttocks). Even if a mispronunciation doesn’t render an embarrassing word, it does sound odd to the Japanese ear, not unlike Allo Allo’s Officer Crabtree wishing everyone a “good moaning”.

Someone in favor of romaji said to me that each dictionary and study manual usually have guides at the beginning indicating how words are to be spelled or read in Japanese. That’s fine, but different books may use different systems, and many serious students of Japanese will use multiple dictionaries. It takes far less time to learn hiragana than an endless series of romaji systems.

Even if we get past the problem of proper spelling, by seeing words written in romaji, the learner may be tempted to pronounce it according to the rules of his or her native tongue. For example, mitsu (honey) consists of two Japanese syllables, MI and TSU, but seeing it in romaji makes it tempting to pronounce it MIT-SU. Doing so also makes the T sound like a germinate consonant, making it sound to Japanese ears like MITTSU (three). Arimasu (to exist) is A-RI-MA-SU, not AR-I-MA-SU; combining an R sound with the first A gives the speaker a distinctly Western accent, since Japanese R sounds tend to be flicked with the tongue, and it’s difficult to do this with a preceding vowel.

And despite our best intentions, it’s still easy to want to say the English spellings of shogun as show-gunn, Kyoto as KEE-yoto, futon as foo-TAHn, karate as kuh-RODDY, and karaoke as carry-oh-kEE. Seeing words in hiragana, even ones familiar to English speakers, forces one to sound them out and pronounce them correctly.

The more you rely on romaji, the more mistakes you’re likely to make (which can be difficult to unlearn), and the longer it will take to get used to reading Japanese. If you see Japanese words in newspapers or magazines and want to learn them, look them up in a furigana dictionary for the proper spelling and pronunciation. After all, if you work as a consultant for your boss and you make a trip to Japan and you’re eager to show off your new language skills to your Japanese hosts, you definitely do not want to introduce yourself as your boss’s koumon. Komon means consultant, while koumon means gate … or anus.

*In katakana words like ra-men and ro-maji, doubled vowels are often rendered not with a second vowel, but with a line called a chouonpu.

Creating Art with S Memo

In the last year or so, I’ve been creating art—mostly portraits—using S Memo on my cellphone. S Memo is like a simplified version of Microsoft Windows Paint: you get some drawing tools (pencil, brush, marker), an eraser, a text tool, a customizable color palette, and an undo function.

The whole thing began when I decided to surprise my friend Steve with a portrait of him. He has a bright smile and wears John Lennon glasses, so I did a quick portrait and texted it to him. He loved it, so I began doing other pictures and sharing them with him, and he encouraged me to keep doing them. He had a visitor from France and showed her some of my pictures, and she even commissioned me to do her portrait!

Left: the first S Memo portrait of my friend Steve. (Sep 2016)
Right: portrait inspired by Japanese entertainer Akiko Wada. (Dec 2017)

Alas, when I finished Steve’s friend’s portrait, I moved my finger to hit the save button. It got too close to the screen without touching it, but close enough to draw a gash of color right across her face just as I hit save. This is because my phone has a capacitive touchscreen, which relies on an electrical charge in my finger, so direct contact isn’t always necessary. This is also why I can’t use a stylus on my screen, thus limiting precision for drawing or creating custom colors. You can only save one custom color at a time and there’s no eyedropper tool to retrieve it if you need to use it again later. Even if I come close to recreating the custom color, the act of merely lifting my finger away from the screen is usually enough to cause the color to shift slightly.

Anyway, I told Steve’s friend I’d fix the mistake in GIMP and send it to her. After that, I began using GIMP to fix minor errors and mistakes, but Steve insisted that was cheating. The whole point of these portraits, he said, was they were done on a cell phone app with all the its limitations. Fixing them in GIMP was akin to fixing vocals in Autotune. I agreed and stopped using GIMP.

Since then, I’ve had to rethink how I do art with S Memo. I have to plan the order in which elements are drawn. I’ve gotten better at recreating custom colors, though they are never exact. I am much more careful about how I hit the save button. But despite these limitations, I can be more spontaneous and thus better enjoy the process, and not worry as much about creating an exact portrait of anyone.

Recently on Radiopanik (Dec 4 edition)

Here’s a selection of music I heard recently on Radio Panik, an online radio station based in Belgium.

“Grues” by Moussu T e lei Jovents

“Green & Gold” by Lianne La Havas

“Points” by Ruth Anderson

“Neon” by Baleine 3000

“En Léger Différé” by Mickey 3D

“Eight Corners” by Gastr del Sol

“Hot Tea To Tepid Tea” by Inaniel Swims & Sorry Sorrow Swims

“Metatron(ic) Rock” by Richard Pinhas

“Aubade” by Miya Masaoka Trio

31 Days, 31 Horror Films

Inspired by my friend @crisismattie, who tweeted his favorite 31 horror films in celebration of October and Halloween, I’ve created my own list.  Because there are more than 31 horror films I like, I’ve excluded some of the most popular and well-known titles (such as The Bride of Frankenstein, Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Exorcist, and The Omen) in favor of more obscure or lesser-known films.  I’ve also thrown in a few Honorable Mentions at the end.

Click image to enlarge!
Click image to enlarge!

The films are, in chronological order:

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari 1920
2. Nosferatu 1922
3. Freaks 1932
4. White Zombie 1932
5. Island of Lost Souls 1932
6. The Old Dark House 1932
7. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948
8. Them! 1954
9. The Mole People 1956
10. The Giant Claw 1957
11. The Tingler 1959
12. The Manster 1959
13. Village of the Damned 1960
14. Gorgo 1961
15. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die 1962
16. Attack of the Mushroom People 1963
17. Manos: The Hands of Fate 1966
18. Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell 1968
19. Yōkai Monsters: Spook Warfare 1968
20. The Invasion of the Bee Girls 1973
21. Theater of Blood 1973
22. The Incredible Melting Man 1977
23. The Hunger 1983
24. Ravenous 1999
25. Bubba Ho-Tep 2002
26. Ju-On: The Grudge 2002
27. Taxidermia 2006
28. The Host 2006
29. Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl 2009
30. Rubber 2010
31. Dead Sushi 2012
HR The House in Cypress Canyon (radio play: listen) 1946
HR Beasts (television series) 1976
HR You’re Going To Like Rodney (radio play: listen) 1980

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Eurovision Song Contest 1963

Here are my choices for best songs at the 1963 Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in London, England on March 23. Except for the winning entry from Denmark, I had not heard any of these songs until now.

My Rank Country Title, Artist Eurovision Final Ranking
1 Sweden “En gång i Stockholm”, Monica Zetterlund 13 (tie)
2 Denmark “Dansevise”, Grethe & Jørgen Ingmann 1
3 Austria “Vielleicht geschieht ein Wunder”, Carmela Corren 7
4 Germany “Marcel”, Heidi Brühl 9
5 Yugoslavia “Brodovi”, Vice Vukov 11

Jogobiz—The Case of the Missing Sales Rep

I used to work for a drug store chain and was in charge of ordering sodas. Once a week, a rep from each of the major companies would show up, check our inventory, ask if we had any sales coming up, place an order, and then a day or so later a truck would appear with our order.

Once, a rep from one company (let’s call it Dyspepsia) had not appeared on his usual day. I wasn’t overly concerned; we had plenty of stock and no sales coming up for Dyspepsia products. But on his regularly scheduled day the following week, he did not show up again. I called his number and spoke to the company operator, who put me through to his voice mail. I left a message.

The next day, I hadn’t received a response, so I called again. Spoke again to the operator, who put me through to his voice mail again. I left another message.

And the same thing the next day.

And the same thing the day after that, only this time I was unable to leave a message because the voice mailbox was full. I pressed “0” to return to the operator and told her I was unable to leave a message with my rep because his voice mailbox was full. She sent me back to his voice mail.

Again, I pressed “0” to return to the operator and told her again I was unable to leave a message with my rep because his voice mailbox was full, and please not to send me back there—was there someone else to whom I could speak? She said to hold on a minute, then sent me right back to my rep’s voice mail!

We were now running low on Dyspepsia stock—not only were we losing sales, Dyspepsia was also losing sales, though they were probably unaware of this.

I gave it one last try. I called Dyspepsia again, explained again to the operator that my rep’s voice mailbox was full, implored with her again to let me speak to someone else, but she sent me again to my rep’s voice mail, which was still full.

Not knowing what else to do, I called a Dyspepsia office in the nearest major city, which was Los Angeles. I explained what had happened and said I didn’t know whom else to call. The operator took my name and number and said she have someone contact me.

An hour later, I received a call from the secretary for the Dyspepsia VP of Marketing for the West Coast. She apologized profusely for what had happened and said she had gotten hold of my rep, and I should be hearing from him very soon. She gave me her direct number and said if I ever had problems like this again, to give her a call.

An hour after that, a Dyspepsia truck arrived, as did my rep. He looked at me sheepishly and said, “Why didn’t you call me?”

I countered, “Why weren’t you checking your messages? Why haven’t you been coming to check my inventory? Didn’t you think it was odd that you hadn’t heard from me?”  He merely shrugged and walked away to supervise the delivery.

This rep had, until now, always done a pretty good job. I have no idea why he stopped visiting our store and wasn’t checking his voicemail. Even if he’d been in some debilitating accident or had been abducted by aliens, never to be seen again, didn’t anyone at Dyspepsia think someone should be handling his accounts? What if I hadn’t called the Los Angeles office? How much time would’ve passed before I heard from my rep? I bet Dyspepsia’s competitors would’ve been more than happy to fill those empty shelves with their product.

Though an iconic, major company like Dyspepsia is in no danger of going under any time soon, other companies may not be so fortunate. Even in times of optimal demand, a company can lose sales and customer loyalty through a series of easily preventable circumstances: in this case, a combination of an experienced sales rep having a major lapse of attention and a poorly trained operator. But both can be traced to apathetic, incompetent, or even arrogant management.

Official: List of Artists and Songs for next Jogovision Song Contest

The following is the official list of participating countries, performers, and songs for the next Jogovision Song Contest.

Country Artist
Language English Translation
Argentina Nieve y Niebla
Nací Para Boogie
Spanish I Was Born To Boogie
Australia Keylime Meringue
Don’t You Know It’s You I Like?
China (PRC) Jìng Lin
美丽的国家 (Měilì de guójiā)
Chinese Beautiful Country
Egypt Nabil Ramzy
Ma Grand-Mère
French My Grandmother
Finland Saarinen Sisarukset
Finnish The Fairies
Greece Zenon Papadakis
θεά (Theá)
Greek Goddess
Iceland Svanhildur Sigurðardóttir
Happy Happy
India Everett “Everybody” Singh
एक विनम्र पत्थर (Ēka vinamra pat’thara)
Hindi A Humble Stone
Israel* Natbag 3000
Waiting For Sunshine
Jamaica Prudence Moore
Every Time I Turn Around
Japan* Oto Collection
レインボーボーイ (Reinbō Bōi)
Japanese Rainbow Boy
Netherlands Oosten en Westen
Dance All Night
South Africa Jalamba Ladies
Ungathanda Ukudansa?
English, Xhosa Would You Like To Dance With Me?
United Kingdom* Leesa
Time For Jettin’
United States of America Wylmaaa B.
Mama’s Girl

*2011 Contest participant.

Venue and host to be announced.
Website: Jogovision Song Contest
Watch JSC 2011 on YouTube.

Eurovision Song Contest 1994

Here are my choices for best songs at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Dublin, Ireland on April 30. Except for the winning entry from Ireland, I had not heard any of these songs until now.

My Rank Country Title, Artist Eurovision Final Ranking
1 France “Je suis un vrai garçon”, Nina Morato 7
2 Hungary “Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet?”, Friderika Bayer 4
3 Cyprus “Íme ánthropos ki egó”, Evridiki 11
4 Germany “Wir geben ‘ne Party”, MeKaDo 3
5 Russia “Vechny strannik”, Youddiph 9
6 Ireland “Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids”, Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan 1
7 Estonia “Nagu merelaine”, Silvi Vrait 24
8 Poland “To nie ja!”, Edyta Górniak 2
9 Netherlands “Waar is de zon?”, Willeke Alberti 23
10 Austria “Für den Frieden der Welt”, Petra Frey 17

Greece and Cyprus did give each other 12 points this year. While there were some good songs in the contest, the majority seemed to be rather bland ballads that all sounded alike. Not the strongest year for entries. Cypriot singer Evridiki was my choice for 3rd best in the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest.