Free E-books: The Baen Free Library

If you like (mostly science) fiction, you should definitely check out the Baen Free Library. On the home page you will find a mission statement by the head “librarian,” Eric Flint, who explains why the books in the library, even though most of them are also available in paper form, are made available for free download. After ordering several paid subscriptions in order to read sequels to books I found in the free library, I can say that I agree with Mr. Flint’s reasoning 100%. I greatly admire what these people are doing.
Over the past couple years I’ve read every book available for download in the Free Library (I prefer RTF format files, which I usually convert to text in Word and read on my laptops or cellphone), and although the Belisarius series and the 163x books, among others, are old favorites, the book I enjoyed the most is Sisters of Glass.
Mind you, a lot of the books in there aren’t so hot, but then again, its all FREE so I can’t really complain. Besides, half the fun of going through any library of books I don’t know is separating the wheat from the chaff.
If you like the works you read for free, you might want to check out their paid Webscriptions and subscribe for their paid stories, as I have in the past, although there is no obligation to do so. One really cool thing about the webscriptions is that they will often offer a free download of the works you purchased to someone of your choosing. Like I said, checkcheckcheckcheckcheck-cha-check it out .
Note: I don’t profit in any way from linking to these sites, I just think they kick ass and deserve more recognition.
Update: BTW, one of the reasons I liked Sisters of Glass so much is that it read so much like a Gibson novel (my first post today spurred this one) – so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually did write it.

Fishing Awaji Shima

The gokai, AKA bloodworm, is a nasty looking worm that looks pretty threatening. In addition to its abundance of legs and segments, it has a vein running the length of its translucent body that pulses blood down from head to tail. Its mouth looks like the Predator’s, and when you touch it the worm will whip around and try and bite you.
It only took me three days to work up the courage to pick up the whole worm without using pliers. Actually, I guess it doesn’t really hurt if they bite you but it looks like it does. So what can you catch around here, along the coast where everyone goes to dip their lines? You can catch as many fish as you like, as long as you don’t mind that they’re all going to be small.
The Japanese fisherman has a different mentality than the casual American sports fisherman. When he goes fishing, he means business. Armed with his 20 foot rod, bucket of chum slurry, and 5 hooks on his line all baited with either krill or gokai, he methodically plucks 2-3 inch fish from the seawall and puts them in his bucket. Using his flourescent, multihooked squid jig, he tirelessly snags cuttlefish that occasionally protest by spitting out their oily ink. He stares suspiciously at the passing stranger carrying a fishing pole, practicing his telepathic “go away, dick” stare, sneering in contempt of his meager 6 foot freshwater rig. Yes, the Japanese fisherman plays for keeps- none of this catch and release nonsense for him. If it’s edible, it’s getting cooked and eaten tonight. The reason that there are few big fish out there is that they’ve all been caught and eaten already, most of them before they had a chance to get big.
That way of fishing is not good enough for me. Fishing is about going out and relaxing, having a good time with friends and about connecting with nature. Fishing is about catching fish in unexpected places and ways, developing your own personal methods. Fishing, done the right way, leads to epic adventures and ridiculous tales recalled over sizzling barbecues and beers. That’s why were taking fishing back on Awaji-shima. Instead of going for two inch fish off of the seawall we are going to target the 20 pound carp, jumping mullet, and catfish that swim in the scummy river. We will hook the bass, trout, and char that lurk in the freshwater dams. We will close in on the big fish that eats the abundance of small fish that everyone at the seawall hunts relentlessly. Then, perhaps, the man with the 20 foot pole will look up and realize he has been missing out on something when he sees us having the time of our lives fighting to land something that we don’t intend to eat. Perhaps the next time he catches one that is too small, he will release it to fight another day.
This strange looking horned-triggerfish, called a kawahagi, quacks like a duck. It will live to fight another day.

Starbucks Clone

It was bound to happen, right? I mean, many successful chains and brands have to put up with people ripping off their designs or ideas. In-N-Out was ripped by Volks in Japan (which doesn’t even serve anything you can get at In-N-Out), Dr. Pepper has Mr. Pibb, Dr. Grip pens were copied by PHD, but the mother of these has to be The Original Tommy’s World Famous Hamburgers. I wish we had taken photos, but when I was 10 years old, Kohei, my dad, and I took a survey of the Los Angeles area looking for Tommy’s knockoff restaraunts, and what we saw was a wealth of not-so-subtle immitation: Tommie’s, Tammy’s, Timmy’s, Tomy’s, Tom’s, and Sammy’s are just some of the “Original World Famous” hamburger joints where we ate at. The amazing thing is that the buildings all copied the look of a Tommy’s joint, but they all lacked the funky soul of the real thing. By the way, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, the next time you’re in So Cal do yourself a favor and stop by here, or make your own with this recipe and if you truly want the authentic recipe, refer to FAQ no.4 on the official site.
Yes, love it or hate it, Starbucks is a very successful company which you wish you had bought stock for 10 years ago. I wonder how many people sit down here, leisurely sip their coffee and read their newspaper, and walk out, only afterwards noticing that this place isn’t Starbucks but a place that uses a very similar font and color and goes so far as to immitate the circular mark of Starbucks, replacing the crowned Medusa mascot with a stylized cup of coffee. I wonder how many people never notice this and continue to believe that they are drinking at Starbucks, when in fact they are doing no such thing. This immitator isn’t even the best one I’ve seen. That one is called something like “Coffee Factory” but I think it has a slight edge because they also dip into the boba drink market (that would be “bubble tea”). If you are driving down Bolsa Avenue in Little Saigon, it is in the strip mall with Taco Bell and Hair perfection. Not that I recommend this place, as I have heard that their coffee sucks, but if you’re going to Taco Bell anyways…
Immitation is not the highest form of flattery- it is a justified form of slight theft. Parody, is an outright bitchslap.

Well Done

Back in January, in this post, I wrote about Japan’s de facto online price comparison site, Much like and other American equivalents, kakaku is constantly expanding their listings – from all manner of new and used electronics to insurance plans, hotel rates, and sports equipment. Even so, I was surprised to visit their page for the first time in quite a while this morning and find their newest listing: Funeral services.
I’ll translate the instructions for you:
STEP 1: Select desired funeral plan and region. Plans available are Cremation Only (I assume there’s a further choice of Regular or Extra Crispy), Family and Relatives, Standard (40 people), Standard (100 people), Company, or Special (musical themed or non-religious themed, etc.). Regions are currently limited to Tokyo and Kanazawa.
STEP 2: Make more detailed choices.
STEP 3: Receive a quote.
Quick! Easy! We’ll only charge you half the price of a new car to think up a special Buddhist name for the afterlife! Yes, I know I will go to hell for writing this. Satan, beware.
On a more serious tip, though, there’s a listing for a place in Tokyo that will burn a body for you for the modest sum of 136,500 yen ($1,250). Something to keep in mind.

Ask C. Buddha: Celebrity Dreams

Jen e-mailed about the newly-created Nick Nolte’s Diary and asked why celebrities are “always writing about dreams and feelings and flowery shit.”
Well Jen, that’s simple. Celebrities are, for the most part, total fucking pansies with a shitload of free time between making horrible movies, getting jasmine-infused honey colonics, and modeling for “charity.” As for the “vivid dreams” which are a trademark of their web writings, celebrities can obviously afford better drugs and booze than the rest of us.

Phuket Breeze

It was a glorious sunset over the mountains and we walked the endless rows of fruitstands and tourist giftshops in search of seafood. As we neared the plaza concentrated with seafood stands, a young man approached and invited us over to one of his tables. Other stall owners caught movement out of the corners of their eyes as they performed various tasks – wiping down tables, setting out plates – and also came over to beg our patronage.
“You want snapperfish?”
“You want crab?”
“Good seafood! Best!!”
We were the very first customers of the night in the whole plaza, and we were being greeted accordingly; we quickly became the center of a very large and growing crowd.
“We have freshest fish!”
“Lobster good!”
“Seafood stew!”
We were inundated with the pleas of a dozen business-hungry vendors. What a wonderfully empowering, yet embarassing sensation! How to choose among them all? We listened to more pitches:
“You like Tom Yum soup?”
“We have noodles, sir!”
“Japanese beer!”
In a fit of desperation, the solution suddenly came to me:
Nobody seemed to understand this brilliant concept, so I demonstrated, hands raised in the air, I started jumping up and down. My, how they got into it.
As the crowd got even larger, filling with jumping bodies wearing aprons and chef’s hats, I glanced sideways at my companions. They both looked kind of shellshocked, and I admit, it felt a bit like being trapped in a House of Pain video.
A real asshole, at this point, would have led his companions away and made everybody feel stupid for performing tricks for free. I, however, was hungry, and judged the winner of the jumping contest on the spot. We ended up having a very mediocre seafood dinner at his stand, so I learned something valuable that day: How a high a person can jump is a poor indicator of their cooking skills. I learn new things every single day, I tell you.
For the next trip somewhere similar, I’ll have to think of a new benchmark. Any suggestions?

Kushiyaki in Shinsekai

Shinsekai means “new world”, and I can only imagine how striking this area must have been when it was new, a long, long time ago. Giant puffer fish(not called fugu in this area) lounge around a dense arrangement of lights, some street looking Japanese people hanging around, dark alleys cutting between the subdivisions on the block, and attractions reminiscent of carnivals in their heyday. Glare and inky darkness create a dystopic atmosphere in Shinsekai, bringing back snippets of Chinatown, Blade Runner, The Replacement Killers, Idoru (William Gibson), and other Noir works. I wonder how the food was in those world’s back alleys- Either Gibson or Stephenson wrote that most of the food available in his Shinsekai-like neighborhood was made of processed krill…
There must be about 10 different joints where they serve kushiyaki (skewered-fried food in the same family as shishkabobs and corndogs, but of different parentage) under the gaze of Tsutenkaku Tower, but the best looking one was the one where all of the locals were waiting to get in, right down this street. A huge counter surrounds the kitchen that runs down the middle of the length of the izakaya. The kushiyaki runs from 80 yen (regular fried pork cutlet and beef tendon- this item isn’t kushiyaki- stewed in a miso stew) to just over 200 yen per skewer (for more expensive stuff). You can sample so much for quite a reasonable price. The majority of the kushiyaki are prepared by frying them in panco, the bread crumbs that are used to coat tonkatsu.
It is unusual in Japan to have one of those food experiences where you wonder “Is it safe and sanitary to eat this?” (unlike the typical uninitiated gaijin question “Isn’t it supposed to be cooked/ not rotting/ dead when they serve it?”). Japan is typically the land where they will thourally package everything at least four different ways and use disposable wetnaps for every meal. Here, in the kushiyaki joints, the dipping sauce is shared in communal troughs with strangers and friends alike. Pools of swirling oil shimmer on top, and other random detritus can be seen floating, suspended in the collodial middle of the sauces thermoclamatic strata, or felt on the bottom by probing the benthosphere.
Like all wonderful late night culinary adventures, this place is best enjoyed over several mugs of beer. Beer tastes better with kushiyaki, and vice versa. And if you have any urge to satisfy your curiosity regarding something you would usually never eat, the beer will help you to go for it, and also serves as something to wash a bad experience past your mouth and into your gut. Using this very method, I was able to overcome killing, cleaning, and eating a live shrimp that quivered as it was digested inside my stomach, eat pig’s feet (the best thing I ate in Okinawa BTW) and other parts of the hog in their recognizable states that are usually reserved for the production of sausage, develop an appreciation for hormone (intestines) and every other type of innard prepared the proper way (I will never like cooked liver or kidneys, ever), and started to crave basashi (horse sashimi), grilled horse meat, and basashi liver. If you are content with eating exclusively out of McDonalds and convenience store food and have a need to use wetnaps before and after every meal, you will probably never understand what I’m talking about.
Oh, and just in case:
*Basashi should be enjoyed by wrapping it in a shiso leaf with paper-thin slices of tamanegi (onion) and dippped into shoyu with shoga (ginger) mixed into it. Wasabi is optional.
*Basashi liver is best enjoyed with paper-thin tamanegi slices dipped into shoyu with a few drops of goma-abura (sesame oil, the reguar stuff), and wasabi is optional.
*Like any other type of food, there is high-quality hormone and low-quality. If you eat bad hormone you will definetely know it, and the same is true of the good stuff because it will taste pretty good.
*Thanks to J for pointing out the mistakes in this entry.

Roadkill in Japan

Have you ever thought that your presence in this world wouldn’t be missed much if you suddenly died? You may be right. Whoever ran over the black cat and just left it there in the middle of my parking lot so all cars coming in or going out would run over it again and again, fuck you.
I wrapped it in my carwash towel and placed it in a nearby caged dumpster; luckily today was trash day.
This roadkill thing really gets to me, though. Roadkill is never cleaned up in Japan. When my pal Gatson’s dad came to visit, he observed this is because “it’s no one’s job to clean up roadkill in Japan, so it just stays there.” Pretty smart guy.
I remember a dachshund that got run over at the exit ramp of a highway in Osaka. The ramp had a traffic light that you almost always needed to stop at, so over the period of six months or so, I got to see this dog corpse in varying stages of decomposition. The most revolting stage was the maggot infestation, which happened fairly early on. Toward the end, it looked like a mummy with two big gaping eyeholes in the dessicated skin still stretched over its skull. The funny thing was that I never caught a whiff of it, even when it must have smelled really ripe, cause that’s just how fucking rank certain parts of Osaka get all year round.

Monkey’s Uncle

As in, mean ol’ uncle Pete:
“New” giant ape found in DR Congo
Somewhere, Michael Crichton is raising a glass of wine and thinking, “I told you so.” And I for one give him full props – he even got the country right! It sounds like the primatologist, Shelly Williams, got extremely lucky she didn’t end up like Misulu:

Something struck him lightly in the chest. At first he thought it was an insect but, glancing down at this khaki shirt, he saw a spot of red, and a fleshy bi of red fruit rolled down his shirt to the muddy ground. The damned monkeys were throwing berries. He bent over to pick it up. And then he realized that it was not a piece of fruit at all. It was a human eyeball, crushed and slippery in his fingers, pinkish white with a shred of white optic nerve still attached at the back…
…And he saw Misulu. Misulu lay on his back, in a kind of halo of blood. His skull had been crushed from the sides, the facial bones shattered, the face narrowed and elongated, the mouth open in an obscene yawn, the one remaining eye wide and bulging. The other eye had exploded outward with the force of impact.

Bad, bad monkeys!

Capoeira: Getting Inverted

Yesterday we went to a capoeira meet at the Budokan at Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka. We were invited by Adam’s pal from Kumamoto, Luke. We were supposed to meet other friends there, but they ranked because they are weak/married, etc.
Luke is a fascinating man who was born in South Africa and has travelled around the world studying various forms of martial arts. He has the kind of posture, a way of movement, that says: Hardcore. Basically, he was more focused than most of the instructors that showed up for the meet, and that impressed the hell out of me.
This being my first exposure to capoeira (commonly defined as an Afro-Brazilian dance form that incorporates martial arts moves), I brought along my aging camera and did some damage. Check out the extended entry linked below for the rest of the photos.

Continue reading “Capoeira: Getting Inverted”

Hi, Huck!

Huck is coming to Japan next week. I’m going to make everyone practice their greetings in English in big, loud voices so Huck will be happy to meet them!
I am such a good host. I feel like the future of East-West relations lies in my hands… CRUNCH! Ooops! I killeded it mama, I killeded it! Waaaa!