Pursuing Minimalism

Sep 19 2017

'White out' by Matt Wiebe on Flickr

‘White out’ by Matt Wiebe on Flickr

August 3, 2017: the day my copy of Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things arrived on my doorstep.

Sasaki’s earned a reputation as one of Japan’s leading bloggers about minimalism, documenting his 5-year journey towards reducing his possessions. My curiosity got the better of me, and since Japanese self-help writers tend to be less aggressive than their Western counterparts, I figured I’d see what he had to write on the subject.

I devoured the book in 2 days.

The advice seems blindingly obvious: The more you own, the more you have to manage (that is, store, repair, keep clean, etc.). And just having an item in your view subconsciously triggers your mind. You can’t glance your eyes past a stack of unread books without some part of your brain noting it and filing it as something else on the to-do list. Your possessions drain your mind, besides their drain on your bank account.

Somehow, Sasaki got to me. I grokked his perspective, and it felt right.

Importantly, importance matters and remains personal.  I’m keeping my iRobot vacuum because I vastly prefer it to manually vacuuming myself (and it’s now my only vacuum). Sasaki doesn’t need a car, because he lives in the middle of Tokyo, where every conceivable shop is within a 15-minute walk or train ride.

In any event, I’ve spent the past month and a half paring down my board game collection (selling those that I’ve never gotten to the table), selling unused furniture, throwing away duplicate cables (how many spare HDMI cables do I really expect to use in the near future?), and doing the one most time-consuming thing: I bought a small desktop scanner and have been scanning all the paperwork I have in filing cabinets and banker’s boxes.

Why do I write all this? Because on Sunday, after scanning (or tossing) over half of my papers (credit card receipts, mortgage notices, RPG design notes, etc.), I stood up, stretched, and felt a strange emotion.

I felt free.

I know that’s a strange, loaded word to use. I’ve tried to think of a better one, but it truly felt—and still feels—like freedom. There’s less stuff rattling around in my head. I can actually formulate a plan for the evening, remember it all, and stick to it, because there’s nothing else to interfere with it.

It’s been revelatory.

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Hello, again.

Sep 19 2017

'a White Room' by Richard Schatzberger on Flickr

‘a White Room’ by Richard Schatzberger on Flickr

My, this place is dusty.

I’ve been gone from this site for over three years now. Much has changed since then, personally and globally. I’ve moved houses, switched employers, abandoned a couple of hobbies, and taken up a couple of new ones.

Three years ago, I felt like I didn’t need a personal blog. Social media didn’t quite replace blogging, but it made blogging less relevant. I didn’t need to post occasional thoughts here; I could get a lot more conversation out of a post on Google+ or Twitter. And, granted, that’s where the conversation still takes place.

Well, now I’m pursuing new things, and this place should serve as a welcome repository for my thoughts. Blogging serves as a useful tool in that way, I think. I don’t write essays on other media; I can here.

I plan to write about minimalism, drawing, and creativity, and write an occasional movie or book review.

Let’s do this.

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My Backup Solution

Sep 29 2014

This is my backup solution and process.

My Laptop

I have 2 external hard drives: External Backup A and External Backup B. One is at home and one is at my parents’ house.

Every Monday, I plug my local External Backup drive into my laptop and clone the laptop’s data to it. I use Carbon Copy Cloner on the Mac; you could use rsync on Linux or DriveImageXML on Windows.

Most weeks, this takes less than half an hour.

Whenever I visit my parents–which is every week or two–I bring my local External Backup drive, and swap it out for the one at their house.

The Data Core: Dealing with a Large Drive

'Engineering plans storage, 2001' by seattlemunicipalarchives on Flickr

‘Engineering plans storage, 2001’ by seattlemunicipalarchives on Flickr

I have more data than just what’s on my laptop, though. I have movies, anime fansubs, backups of my YouTube videos, and backups of old data. That’s why I set up a 12 TB RAID 5 array connected to a Raspberry Pi running ArkOS.

The RAID 5 array ensures that if any one drive in the array dies, not only does it continue to work, all the data on that drive is still available. I can even replace the drive while it’s running. Plus, it’s not 1-for-1 mirroring, so every drive I add gives me the full capacity of that drive.

Explaining that set-up is a bit outside the scope of this article, but suffice to say: I have a bunch of data on a separate drive.

So I have another set of external drives, which also live at my parents. Every 6 months, I bring those back with me, and run a set of scripts to backup that data, putting all my photos on one drive, all my YouTube data on another, etc.

These are Linux shell scripts; if you’re on Windows, you could download Cygwin and run them in a Cygwin shell. They’re of the following form:

rsync -ruv —ignore-existing –exclude=”.*” /Volumes/matrix/Photos/* /Volumes/Photo

The -r option is recursive (copy folders within folders within folders), the -u option skips files that are newer on the target drive, the -v option displays each file it’s copying, the —ignore-existing option skips files that already exist on the target drive, and the –exclude option skips any hidden files on the source drive.

If you want to do a dry run, which lists every file it plans to copy and a summary of the disk space required but doesn’t actually copy any data, use “-runv” instead of “-ruv”.

Those drives then go back to my parents’ house.

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1920’s Faust (movie review)

Feb 03 2014

Faust (1926 film)Wow.

It’s rare to come upon a movie that is such a masterful tour-de-force. Faust fires on all cylinders, creating a work that’s innovative, artful, and complete.

Faust’s first few minutes are composed almost entirely of complex special-effects shots, showing angels and demons riding through the air. This in a film made in 1926.

We then see a conversation between an angel and a demon, a bet that any mortal can be corrupted. The bet centers on a pure man, the eponymous Faust, who works tirelessly to cure the Black Death. The devil goes to him and offers him a truly devilish bargain.

Here’s where Faust elevates itself above so many other films. We’re so used to obviously lopsided “devil’s bargains” that we forget how clever they’re supposed to be.

The devil offers a 24 hour test of the devil’s every supernatural power. The devil points out all the good he can do: heal the sick, rescue those in peril, stop wars. Faust agrees, and it works! He heals the sick. Throngs come pleading to him. A girl clutching a cross reaches out to him…and you can see the horror in his eyes as he realizes that he cannot touch her. The crowd around sees this, and they realize his limitation. They spurn him. He rushes back to his house, tries to throw himself from the roof, and the devil intervenes: No! Faust agreed to a 24 hour test, not less!

Again, it’s devilishly brilliant. Of course the devil won’t let him off that easily.

The devil then shows Faust the other things he can do: return to youth! A flight to the other side of the world! Beauty and love! Faust, being human, tries it all. And when the 24 hours are over, you can guess how he responds.

And we’re only halfway into the film.

One of the most pleasant attributes of Faust is the clarity of its presentation. The plot moves with singularity of purpose from high to low, from temptation to revelation. You always know where you are, and you never know where you’re going to go.

I won’t spoil the ending; suffice to say it shocked me and felt perfectly appropriate.

Unfortunately, some of the minor actors fall into the over-the-top affectation of so many silent film actors. However, the leads act with solidity and grace. I felt their emotions.

Wow.

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Go Goa Gone (Movie Review)

Jan 27 2014

Go Goa Gone PosterIt’s as though Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K. watched the first Hangover movie, looked at each other, and said, “You know what that needed? More zombies.”

I watched Go Goa Gone on my flight back from Japan, so I was in a loopy mood, so my apologies if this review is overly charitable.

Go Goa Gone tells the story of a few brain-daed young Indian men who excitedly decide to crash an ultra-hip party on an island in the ultra-hip Indian state of Goa. They arrive, the party is even crazier than they imagined, drugs pass from person to person (though the protagonists abstain), and everyone falls asleep.

The next day, everyone who took drugs is a zombie.

Cue a comedic zombie survival horror movie. Unlike, say, Shaun of the Dead, which focuses on character relationships and personal journeys, Go Goa Gone is more of a comedic set piece. It’s about the marriage of a college frat boy movie with the constant threat of things trying to eat you.

Fortunately, the film maintains a certain level of intensity, just enough to drive the characters forward and create genuine tension. These people are not in the right frame of mind to fight off zombies, and being Indian, they don’t really know the “rules” of fighting zombies. This provides a clever solution to the problem of characters in a zombie movie acting like they’ve never seen a zombie movie.

Fundamentally, though, Go Goa Gone is a comedy. It’s mostly a collection of jokes and brief scares as zombies leap out.

The filmmakers were smart enough to keep the horror at the right level of intensity. The movie rarely terrifies, but it delivers a few scenes of characters searching through empty houses where you just know a zombie is going to leap out any second.

The actors deliver wonderfully broad performances, never annoyingly over-the-top but just ridiculous enough to create conflict and generate a few laughs. Even better, there are no song-and-dance routines. I suppose you could count one rave sequence, but it’s…well…a rave sequence, so the actors aren’t square-dancing and looking at the camera.

None of the special effects will shock or horrify. While effective, most of the zombies are just messy-faced extras. While this lack of gore might disappoint some viewers, it also ensures you’ll never be distracted from the on-screen action. These are all simply zombies.

There’s absolutely no depth to the film, other than exploring very bad decisions made by a few characters. Instead, it sends up both party movies and zombie movies, and does so very effectively.

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Sherlock with Naked Women and Werewolves: Review of Strippers vs. Werewolves

Jan 20 2014

Strippers vs. WerewolvesEvery so often, I feel a need for a dumb, fun movie. I want a movie that will entertain with flair, not necessarily with spectacle but at least with energy. It’s almost always dumb.

Strippers vs. Werewolves isn’t dumb.

It begins with a very cheap shot of a strip joint exploding in a ball of flame. It then cuts to a long shot of a man entering another strip joint, and as he passes by the various girls scattered around the floor, we get little vignettes for each one. This one trips, that one pushes away a customer, and this other one looks out over the tables with her brows furrowed. For each, a name pops up. We now have a sense of our cast, and we’re 2 minutes in.

I was impressed.

The film then progresses into its main plot. A pack of werewolves roams the streets. They’re basically local mafia, with the added horror that they’ll rip your foot off, then eat it in front of you.

This works partly because it’s a British production. These feel like Shakespearean actors, radiating intense presence. Of course, a few play simple buffoons, but the others…you can feel their history and their desires.

The werewolves soon cross paths with the strippers. This would be a one-sided matter, except that the strip club’s owner knows one of the werewolves. Their history goes way back. This is personal. And it gets even more personal.

The tense nature of the plot is marred somewhat by the special effects. the werewolves look more like punk vampires with mutton chops than beast-men.

Fortunately, the tone frequently bounces out of intensity into a light-hearted parody of its subjects. The werewolves are mostly frat boys, the strippers are mostly not very bright, and one of the strippers’ boyfriends is an overweight, perpetually nervous vampire hunter. One of the movie’s running gags involves phone conversations between the two, as she’s just trying to get a piece of information from him while he’s frantically defending himself from anonymous vampires.

The plot also plays to the lopsided nature of the conflict. The werewolves outmatch the strippers physically and (most of them) intellectually. The strippers have to outwit the werewolves, which only stalls for time. You really wonder how they’re going to get out of it–and they don’t all get out of it–and the ending feels satisfying.

While not high art, and not complex, Strippers vs. Werewolves delivers an alternately tense and light-hearted horror experience.

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Japan, Day 10: Final Oddities

Jan 13 2014

Shibuya

Shibuya

Today, I awoke comfortable. I felt used to Japan now. It wasn’t home, by any stretch, but it felt familiar.

My plan for today was simple: visit the Imperial Palace, then head over to the fashion disticts of Shibuya and Harajuku. And they were all on the same Yamanote Line.

First, the Imperial Palace. I had already visited a week prior, to discover the Palace was closed on that day. Today, I knew it would be open, and I already knew the way. So I stepped out of Tokyo Station, walked through the financial district, and walked through one of the gates.

I discovered that the Imperial Palace isn’t really there any more. Almost all of the buildings have burned down over the centuries. Only a few guard houses remain, plus the massive stone walls; the rest is acres of gardens and lawn. It’s beautiful, and historical, and well worth an hour or two of walking, but definitely not as striking as I expected.

So I headed back to Tokyo Station and took the train over to Shibuya. This is one of the two biggest fashion districts in Tokyo, and it turns out this is more the formal shopping area. Right outside the station is Shibuya Crossing, a massive intersection where all the pedestrian traffic gets a green light at once. (serial experiments lain fans will recognize it as the place where Mika, Lain’s sister, freaks out).

Shibuya is an experience. Imagine hundreds of people crowding the streets, all showing off their fashion sense. Imagine if about 10% of them have no fashion sense. It’s a carnival of trendy style.

It is also, however, exhausting. If you want to shop for fashion–and there are dozens of large and small stores nearby–it’s heaven. Otherwise, it gets old quickly.

So I walked back to Shibuya Station–passing the statue of Hachiko, a dog who waited patiently for his master at this station every day, even after his master passed away–and took the next stop. I wondered how it would be different.

Gothic Lolita

Gothic Lolita

Harajuku is absurd and insane and wonderful. This is the home of Japanese street fashion, of wild outfits and poofy hair and layers of makeup. Just outside the station, one long street provides two blocks that are absolutely chock full of outlandish fashion, from hot pink sweaters to six-inch platform shoes.

It’s also full of young men who proposition girls for “a little modelling work.” About a dozen of these guys prowled just this two-block stretch of streets.

Further down, the streets turn into quiet shopping districts, still offering the latest fashion but without quite the high pressure.

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Japan, Day 9: Ueno Park

Jan 06 2014

Black and white roof

Black and white roof

I awoke early today, before my alarm went off. my mind full of the events of the week. I had only a few days left in Japan.

I’d spent about 45 minutes the night before looking over my plans for Tokyo. Now that I was spending a full day there (tomorrow), plus half the day after before catching my 5:30pm flight, I had options. I would visit the temple and museum complex at Ueno, the Imperial Palace (now that it would be open), and the fashion districts at Shibuya today and tomorrow. I’d spend my final half-day in Akihabara, buying a few final gifts for myself and friends.

Thanks to my early awakening, I arrived at Kyoto Station at 8:15am, over an hour before my train was scheduled to depart. Huge crowds of school students lined the platforms waiting forlornly for their buses, despite the pouring rain.

Unfortunately, most of the shops hadn’t opened yet, so I contented myself with perusing a book shop. I recognized only a few of the manga and light novel titles.

I then wandered into a nearby miniature grocery store and bought a few snacks and a Pocari Sweat for the train ride. Japan truly is a convenient country.

Then up to the platform to wait for my train. A group of the mentally disabled stood nearby, waiting for a train. I looked around to see how they were treated. Most people ignored them, a few stared, and one guy actually took video of them.

However, when their train came, the local train station attendants leapt into action. One checked the cabin to ensure nobody was getting off. Another laid down a small ramp so the wheelchairs could enter the train easily. It was lovely.

My train came about 10 minutes later, and within minutes it was speeding me towards Tokyo. The train ride was uneventful, though I learned a wonderful fact: while the north side of the train faces Mount Fuji, the south side faces the ocean.

I arrived in Tokyo, hopped on the train to Ueno (which was surprisingly full, despite the early hour; only about 12:30pm), and exited the station to find my hotel.

And I was almost immediately lost. I had written down the hotel’s name and address, and had found its approximate location on one of my printed maps. But I didn’t have step-by-step directions. Thankfully, a large map stood outside Ueno Station, which I approached and oriented myself.

About twenty feet away, a man stood on a car, talking into a microphone attached to loudspeakers on the car. I caught the words “America” and “Nihon” and realized it was a political speech. Apparently, they still do them that way. He had a crowd of about three.

I found out where the hotel was supposed to be, a few blocks away, turned, and started walking. It took me a few minutes, but eventually I turned a corner and there it was. Half a block away from the adult video store. Hmmm.

I entered, hoping the guy at the counter could speak passable English. Turns out he was a black guy from Namibia. Not a problem. I was a bit early for checkin, so I left my bag and headed back outside.

GroundUeno Station sits next to a large park complex that includes several museums and temples. I spent all afternoon there taking pictures of the temples and exploring the museums, which included artifacts from all over East Asia. One pot, for example, is dated to about 10,000 B.C. Wow. Welcome to Asia.

I also threw up in a museum bathroom! Yay for foreign food!

In fact, there’s a story. My stomach was so upset that, when I had my fill of museums and walked around the nearby neighborhoods looking for dinner, I walked right in to a TGI Fridays. I craved normalcy. I ordered a Jack Daniels Burger from a server–who was the only person I talked to during my entire trip who couldn’t speak a word of English–and when it arrived, my stomach practically got on its knees and thanked me. I wolfed it down along with the fries and an iced tea, and my stomach was calm as could be the rest of the night.

I then returned to the hotel to check in. The neighborhood was a bit worrisome, but the hotel lobby was well-furnished. My key came with an eight-inch block of lucite. I got onto the elevator with a hotel staff member who lurched to one side and wheezed the whole way up. We both got off on the same floor, and he turned to me, stared with his good eye, and gargled something in my general direction. I blinked, then he asked where I was going. I showed him my pink block of lucite, and he pointed with his good arm down the hallway. I murmured, “Arigatou,” turned, and saw that he had indeed pointed me to my room.

I entered. It was larger than my room in Kyoto, at least. Though this one had unidentifiable stains on the duvet. And two ads for porn next to the TV. And the window looked out on a giant AC unit that grumbled the whole time I was there.

But you know what? This is part of the adventure. I have only one more full day in Japan. I’m going to make the most of it. Tomorrow: the Imperial Palace and the fashion district.

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I Pledge for 2014

Jan 01 2014

By the middle of the year…

  • Everything I eat will be raw or homemade (unless I’m at a restaurant).
    • I will eat at least 3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
    • At least once a week, I will drink a little wine and eat some fish.
  • Every day, I will exercise for at least 20 minutes, write for at least 30 minutes, and meditate for at least 10 minutes.
  • At least once a week, I will draw.
  • At least once a week, I will practice a musical instrument.
  • I will transform my back garden into primarily a vegetable garden. I will harvest, eat, and preserve those vegetables.

By the end of the year…

  • I will adopt a pet.
  • I will read twice as many books as movies I watch.
  • I will study three books, reading them deeply for insights. This may be the second or third time I read them.

Here’s how I will do this:

  • Every Friday, when I get groceries, I will buy some fish and a lot of salad. I will make a fish-and-wine meal that weekend.
  • Every weekend, I will make a large meal that can be used as leftovers for the rest of the week.
  • I will default to a salad for dinner every night. I will keep a pantry of things to put on that salad (fruits, nuts, tuna, etc.).
  • Every evening, after dinner, before I do anything else, I will exercise (jogging the neighborhood on nice days, doing Tai Chi otherwise), then meditate, then write.
  • I will set aside one evening of the week for musical practice. (Not that I’ll spend the entire evening on it.)
  • I will set aside one evening of the week for drawing practice.
  • I will set aside two weekends in early spring to transform my garden. I will invite friends and family over on one of those days to help, and feed them.
  • I will keep a pile of books next to my bed. I will go to bed early enough every night that I can spend some time reading before going to sleep.

And I will not beat myself up if I don’t always manage this.

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Japan, Day 8: Kyoto and Japanese TV

Dec 30 2013

Today was, in some ways, a bust.

Kyoto

Kyoto

I explored Kyoto, but found little of interest. I ended up wandering Kyoto Station, which is itself a marvel of engineering. To give you an idea of its scale: the extreme west end of the station consists of a department store that’s 13 floors high. Not just 13 floors up; it goes from floor 1 to floor 13. And that doesn’t even reach the top of the station.

No, at the very top of the station is a sky walk. I ascended, huffing and puffing, and crossed a walk that’s 230 feet above the ground, walking 1,500 feet from one side of the station to the next.

I then wandered the two adjoining shopping malls for gifts. Found some fun things I won’t spoil here.

Honestly, I felt down. I was ready to get home. It’s not that I disliked Japan; I actually felt like I had a handle on it. I only had a few more days before leaving the country. I frankly wanted it to be over with.

So I watched some Japanese television. Hotel TVs only get standard broadcast channels, so I was limited to 7 or 8 channels. Mornings are filled with programs for young children: equivalents of Sesame Street or Blue’s Clues. Even these are, of course, distinctly Japanese. The stories focus on characters making mistakes, then apologizing and re-integrating with their peers.

Afternoons see shows that have no exact American or European equivalent. A few hosts will produce short segments, usually travel-related. They’ll visit a restaurant or a temple or a workplace and see what it’s like. The other hosts are filmed while they watch these segments, and we get to see their reactions (laughing, surprise, etc.).

It shows off Japanese culture very effectively.

Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station

Evenings are filled with news shows and talk shows. These talk shows are also different. Each episode usually includes either a large number of guests, 10 or 15, or many hosts and a few guests (the one I saw had 7 hosts and 2 guests). Like in the afternoon shows, the guests will watch pre-taped segments and we see their reactions, then the group will discuss it for a few minutes.

These shows usually also include a game show segment, though it’s all for fun. One asked each guest a trivia question with a numerical answer (“How much did the Atlas V rocket cost?”), which the guest had to answer to the correct order of magnitude using buttons that controlled a big display of numbers.

The guests are all celebrities of various degrees. But here’s the interesting effect: because celebrities are already on television so much, they aren’t much in the news. News shows focus on actual news.

There’s a lot of news, too. I’d estimate every channel broadcasts news every 2 hours, plus a full nightly news program lasting an hour or two.

Of course, there are also occasional dramas, comedies, and (occasionally in the afternoon and late at night) anime episodes. But most of the airwaves are full of talk shows.

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