"Shades" by Lance McCord

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Lance McCord under a Creative Commons license.

I finally switched to the Mac platform earlier this year, buying a new (at that time) iteration of the iMac line. On the whole very pleased with the new way of life, though of course there have been many hiccups and annoyances along the way (not least in part because I’m still on Windows XP at work).

One of the things I love is that I can keep a bunch of applications open, go for a week without restarting, then open Photoshop or something similarly bloated, and it still reacts quickly. I realize that were I to buy a new Core i7 Windows PC perhaps the same should apply, but my PC experience tells me that Windows just isn’t good at clearing out stuff from memory even after the application is closed. Anyway, I love not rebooting for weeks on end.

However, when I do reboot, an annoyance with my iMac comes to the fore — the iMac I have always starts up with the screen set at its brightest point, even though when I shut down or restart it was at its dimmest point. In other words, the system isn’t remembering my monitor brightness setting. I sort of assumed this would be addressed in a OS update but to date some 6 months later it hasn’t (not on Snow Leopard yet, not sure that would fix it but I kind of doubt it). At any rate, since I don’t reboot that often, not a big deal.

However, recently I’ve realized that even keeping the iMac at it’s dimmest setting is still too bright. I’ve had a couple of freelance jobs of late that have required me to spend long hours in front of the computer (this on top of what is normal for me, which is probably too long as it is), and my eyes are feeling the strain. The way my home office is laid out (practically, unchangeable since the desk is built into the room), I can’t put the device any further away from me. Recently I went in search of some kind of anti-glare device, not liking the idea of draping something over an admittedly sleek form factor but not seeing any other choice.

What I didn’t figure on was that there were software solutions to solve or alleviate the brightness problem — nor did I figure on the fact that this is a common complaint among iMac users. The solution I stumbled onto has proven to be very elegant — Shades, a freeware application from Charcoal in the UK. Shades is very simple, it installs into your system preferences, and gives you a little “menulet” or Menu Extra at the top of your screen — you know, where the small icons for things like Time Machine, Bluetooth, Wireless and Spotlight are (other options for displaying the slider exist). Click on it and you get a vertical slider that allows you to adjust the brightness as a percentage of what your System Preferences brightness setting is. Voila, now I can dim the monitor to a lot lower (higher?) level than I previously could.

Needless to say if I’m working on a Photoshop file or seriously viewing someone’s photography on the screen, I will brighten the display, but for most other applications — like typing this post right now — I need the screen to be easier on the eyes. Being able to adjust this with Shades, without the need for some clunky plasticky thing hanging over my beautiful display, or some film-like stick-on thing I wouldn’t be able to affix properly, is the perfect (so far) solution, especially since glare itself is not a problem in my environment.

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In the process of resurrecting this blog I upgraded WordPress from something like 2.2 to 2.8.6. However, when I finally got around to making a post, all of a sudden I no longer had the ability to post in Japanese. All the Japanese I typed in the WP admin interface for new posts would turn into a series of question marks upon saving, and appear live on the site in the same way.

To fix I first tried following the step-by-step instructions found at a well-referenced post at Japan It Up which explains how to go into one’s SQL database and changing those fields that have Collation to something other than “utf8_unicode_ci”. This turned out to be quite a few, over several databases — rather tedious. And it didn’t work a bit. Japanese was still being rendered as a series of question marks.

More googling turned up a post at WordPress Support Forums suggesting removing or commenting out the

define('DB_CHARSET', 'utf8');

line in the “wp-config.php” file. Seemed counterintuitive to the OP and to me as well, but I tried it and lo and behold, I can once again type Japanese with no problems.

Have no idea if I needed to do the first thing in order for the second to work, or only doing the second thing would have been enough. But hopefully this post will help someone similarly stuck.

For a while there, I was having bad memories of the early-ish days of (my) blogging with Movable Type when there was no easy way to input Japanese nor have it rendered properly.

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Hadn’t been to Kanda-Jimbocho in quite some time, perhaps 9 or so months (that long?), but went there the other week to look for a book for an overseas customer. I ended up buying it from someone online but it was still nice to go to “book town” and wander around. Kanda-Jimbocho was my favorite place from my first trip to Tokyo in 1997 so it’s a place that brings back memories.

Anyway, I was in search of a Tenya (a cheap tempura chain) which I had been to once before, but it was nowhere to be found. Instead, I ran into this rather startling site — the Jimbocho Theater, which is owned by the publishing house Shogakukan (“Magazine and book publication, etc., including 66 magazines, 9,000 books, 13,200 comics, 850 mooks and 5,000 videos and DVDs (as of 2006)”) according to their English website. jimbocho_theater2Apparently it opened in 2007, though hell if I knew.

Of course, this being Tokyo, right opposite on one side was this scene of corrugated tin and vending machines. You win some, you lose some.

On view at the moment is a season of old Japanese films called 日本文芸散歩 (nihon bungei sanpo, or literally, “Japan Literary Walk”). Looking over the films listed on the theater’s site, the movies date from between 1939 (the biopic 樋口一葉 (higuchi ichiyou) about the Meiji-era novelist Ichiyou Higuchi) to 1986 (Kinji Fukasaku’s 火宅の人 (Kataku no hito, “House on Fire”)), and are jimbocho_posterdivided into four thematic groupings like “Writers in the Landscape” and “Student’s Tokyo”. Some of the directors featured, besides Fukasaku, include Kon Ichikawa, Yasuzo Masumura, and Nagisa Oshima. Looking down the list of films and film stills brings back many a fond art-house memory, and a regret my Japanese is still not at a point where I could truly appreciate these.

Lead architect for the theater building was Nikken Sekkei. The exterior was supplied by Takahashi Kogyo, a company with roots in the shipbuilding industry (read this inspiring interview with the founder, a 7th-generation shipbuilder). World Buildings Directory has more background and information about the building. And lots more photos at Got Arch?

Cover of New Yorker Issue No. 3680Yesterday at Book Off I somewhat fortuitously — for I hadn’t even noticed the “foreign books” shelves until I was in the checkout line — picked up for 100 yen an old (2 years ago) edition of The New Yorker — the “Winter Fiction” edition. My commute is a series of short train rides not really conducive to anything more than staring out the various windows — not a bad thing of course, but I’m getting to the point where new visual discoveries are infrequent. As a consequence of my commuting pattern, my reading activity has gone way down. I thought this winter fiction would be sufficiently bite-sized to fill the reading void a bit.

On the way to work I read “The Bible” by Marguerite Duras. I don’t have much intelligent to say about the story itself except that I liked it, and I marveled that I could feel as if I knew the female character completely in the space of two pages (the male character less so, but he was more a symbol of something, a foil for a shoe store clerk). I mentally dragged my highlighting pen over this passage:

In a sense, she was lucky; she told herself that she learned things when she was with him. But those things brought her no pleasure. It was as if she had already known them, so small was her need to learn them.

But more than the story itself I found myself thinking about the short story, and how much I love the form. Short stories are like traveling on a puddle-jumping airplane: when the journey is over, you think “wow that was quick” but all the same, you are in a different place than when you started.

Short stories appeal to my sense that it is impossible to tell the whole story, so why even try.

On the way home I read (or rather started — I finished it at home) “My Father’s Suitcase,” by Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist. This isn’t a short story but rather the text of a 2006 Nobel Lecture (available online here). Though a speech, it reads like an essay — another beloved form.

This piece is wonderful and beautiful in so many nuanced ways — about father and son, and about writing, and books. A paragraph toward the end about why he writes, too long to quote in full here, could easily stand in for my own sentiments, with the change of a few words here and there:

I write to be alone. Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at all of you, so very, very angry at everyone….I write not to tell a story, but to compose a story. I write because I wish to escape from the foreboding that there is a place I must go but – just as in a dream – I can’t quite get there. I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy.

Earlier, Pamuk writes about journeys and traveling:

The writer who shuts himself up in a room and first goes on a journey inside himself will, over the years, discover literature’s eternal rule: he must have the artistry to tell his own stories as if they were other people’s stories, and to tell other people’s stories as if they were his own, for this is what literature is. But we must first travel through other people’s stories and books.

Physically I traveled there and back. My material self was grateful for the security of the home I left in the morning and returned to in the evening, and for the salary earned in between.

Spiritually I got on a one-way train this morning and for this I’m grateful to the writers in question, and for coming to them via an American magazine found in a Japanese bookstore and costing less than a dollar.

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Patterson clone reels

I recently started to process my own film. I’m tempted to add “again” to the end of that sentence, but in reality I’ve done little processing in my life, just a few rolls in school, and a couple of rolls a few years ago in an ultimately aborted attempt to start processing.

For my benefit, and doubtfully for any others’, I’m going to get fairly anal and document some of my experiments, so unless you’re into agitation (of the tank inversion kind) and dilutions you may not want to click the “Read More” link below.

Continue reading »

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Kiyoshi and accordion
Nagaoka Woody 45, Nikkor-W 180mm/5.6, 1/125, f.16, Fuji FP-100B45 instant film

Kiyoshi has been my private English student for almost 3 years now. He has been playing the accordion for about 14 years, having settled on the instrument after unsatisfying tries at the guitar, piano, and violin. Twice a week he teaches beginning and intermediate students at the community center. Because of the volume of the sound the accordion makes, he usually practices outside in the park as shown here. The accordion he’s playing here cost him around $8,000 USD, and was made in Italy. It isn’t the only one he has (though I think the others were not nearly as expensive). Kiyoshi is the father of two elementary school-age daughters, and works in the marketing department of a large printer manufacturing company.

Also (on color negative) here and here.

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