Sunday, November 26, 2006

The British Museum

I stopped in at the British Museum this afternoon. The place is enormous! I could have spent a whole week here and still not have seen everything. Given the short time available I opted to see the Japan exhibit. It's a pretty nice collection of stuff - some of it dating back to over a thousand years or more. It was interesting to see a samurai sword from 1100AD that was still razor sharp. There were also lots of ancient buddha statues, paintings and scrollworks.

Unfortunately, I forgot to borrow my friend's camera, so I have no pictures. It's a shame, too. The new renovations they made to the main entry hall are gorgeous. It's an incredible airy space. Here's a link to a brief description of the Japan exhibit. There's also a link to some of the items on display. If you click on the "related objects and information" pictures on that page, you can explore quite a bit of what's in the exhibit.

Gotta run -friends are nagging me to play a game. (They're reading over my shoulder right now and say that's an awful thing for me to say... fortunately they know I'm joking. Hey, I'm joking, really! Don't leave! Sheesh. I really must run.)

Oh, one more thing before I run - here's a nice link to all the Japan images on the museum site.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Day trip to Rye

On Friday we drove out to Rye. The drive reminded me of travel in Okinawa. Even though we weren't going too far (maybe 70 miles), with all the stop-and-go traffic and small meandering roads outside of the city, it took several hours to get there.

Rye is quite nice - it's a very old village. It has some very very old building (things from the 1300s). Here are a few pictures I snapped while borrowing my friend's camera.

This last picture is of a small door in the side of one of the original gates to the town. It was built in 1300 and is about 50 feet thick!

Bond in London

What better place to watch a James Bond film than in London?

This theater is across the street from where I'm staying on Upper Street. I haven't actually seen the movie yet, though.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Fatality at the Underground

This afternoon, on the way back from the Science Museum, the underground route we would normally take (the Picadily line) was unexpectedly closed. There was just a handwritten message on a large whiteboard sign saying it was closed due to a customer "incident". One of the people I was traveling with remarked that that meant someone had been hit by a train. Sadly, it turned out he was correct. It was reported later on the BBC news. And just earlier today (before the accident) I had noticed a sign saying to be careful boarding and departing the underground cars. It said there were some 500+ injuries and 5 fatalities per year.

It got me to wondering at what level do we accept the negatives that go along with certain conveniences. For example, when any building project of a large magnitude is undertaken, it is pretty much known statistically that x number of people will be injured in the process and if the project is large enough, x number of people will be accidentally killed. So, is the person giving the go ahead for the project consciously accepting those deaths as part of the cost?

Or take the invention of the automobile as another example. I had once read a book that posed the question, (I'm paraphrasing here) "Given the number of deaths annually from automobile accidents (in the tens of thousands), if someone had originally presented the idea saying, 'Hey I have a great new invention that will drastically decrease how long it takes to travel. The only bad thing is it will kill about 40,000 people in the US each year.' Would people have embraced it as a good idea?" I dunno the answer. It's something to think about.

I suppose I got to thinking about this more since I started reading a book called Freakonomics on the flight over here. It's an interesting read and takes some very unconventional looks at cause and effect in society.

On the Streets of London

I'm on a short trip to London for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Unfortunately, due to trying to travel light (just one carry-on bag and nothing else), I didn't bring my camera. So as of yet I don't have any pictures to share.

I do, however, have some thoughts. They're not as interesting as pictures, perhaps, but sorry, that's all I've got right now.

I'm not sure why, but for some reason even though London is an international mix of people from all over the world, they all generally dress in the same dark color scheme. When looking at a busy city sidewalk or a packed subway car (called "the underground" or "the tube") it's nothing but a sea of black and navy blue. I'll have to try to get a picture of it just so you can see I'm not exagerating. Last time I was here I had brought along my bright yellow goretex rain coat (since it does rain a lot here) and made a note of trying to spot someone else who was also wearing some colorful jacket. Over the course of a day walking the city's streets, I saw just one other person wearing a jacket that wasn't a dark blue, black or brown. It's a national phenomena.

I arrived in London in the mid-afternoon and grabbed a quick bite to eat at Pret A Manger. It's a chain of sandwhich shops that seem to be everywhere in the city. In all the times I've been to London, I've always noticed these shops but had never actually eaten at one. Today when I finally did, I was pleasantly surprised. All their sandwichs are made from all natural ingredients, fresh each day on location and they taste great. They even have a vegetarian selection. They also have vegetarian soup which was great. Plus, at the end of the day, any left-over sandwiches are donated to the homeless. They average donating 12,000 meals each week! I also greatly enjoyed reading their napkins. This is what is printed on it:

"This ugly brown napkin is made from 100% recycled stock (pretty white napkins are bleached which can result in environmentally damaging toxic waste). If Pret staff get all serviette-ish and hand you huge bunches of napkins (which you don't need or want) please give them the evil eye. Waste not want not."

I only received two napkins, so I didn't give the girl behind the counter an evil eye...

After eating, we went to the Science Museum where there is a history of video games feature going on called Game On. They have all sorts of classic video game machines and home arcade systems set up for hands-on playing. It was very interesting to see all in one place the evolution and progression of the machines. They even have one of my favorite arcade machines there - Discs of Tron. I haven't played that game in years, but I did manage on my first playing here at the museum to get the furthest I've ever gotten on this game and surprisingly got to enter my initials for the highest score on the machine. There were all sorts of extra details about the making of some of the games - so it was a very interesting exhibit. Unfortuntely, by the time we finished up at the video game exhibit, the museum was closing for the day, so we didn't get to see anything else.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Moody Heron

At the risk of boring you all with yet another heron picture... here's yet another heron picture.

I can't help it, they keep hanging out outside my window.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Dancing Egret

Here's a whole series of pictures (in reverse chronological order) I took a few weekends ago when the snowy egret was fishing outside my condo window. The one thing all the pictures have in common is the egret was jumping. At one point I planned on weeding out some of the pictures, but I found I enjoyed looking at the whole series even though they aren't great photos (and I'm not the best at making choices like that), so I finally decided to just post the whole batch of them. Some of the pictures remind me of snippets of certain karate kata.

I included the last photo with a mallard duck also in the frame just to give a better idea of how small the egret actually is.

Note: I moved all the photos to another web page so the viewing of this page wasn't so slow with all 20 photos. If you want to see all 20 pictures, click here.

Hiking Find

I completely forgot to mention this interesting find from my hike on Saturday. At one point I was wandering off the beaten path along the bank of a river and something on the ground caught my eye. Oddly, it was an MP3 player! Also on the ground was the headphone plug - but no headphones - it looked like the wires had been cut off. I'm not really sure how someone could have lost the player, along with having the headphone cord ripped apart, and not have noticed it.

So, I put the thing in my pocket and promptly forgot about it. I just noticed it again tonight, so I dusted it off, replaced the battery and surprisingly, it works just fine! In addition to having enough memory for 64 MP3 songs, it even plays FM radio and has a built-in microphone for recording spur-of-the-moment ideas. The whole thing is quite small - about the size of a lighter - in fact, that's what I first thought it was when I saw it on the ground.

I wasnt sure how the MP3 files could be transferred to the thing - I couldn't find any obvious connectors or sockets for plugging in a cable. Then I decided to pull on the thing and it turned into a USB drive! It looks like this when pulled apart:

So, it's really quite simple to transfer stuff to and from it. It's a pretty cool design - I feel bad for the person who lost it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Buffumville Lake

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day - I couldn't imagine nicer weather for this time of year. Some friends and I went for a hike around Buffumville Lake. Since it is hunting season, for safety we decided to pick a place that would definitely not have hunters.

(The leaf in the foreground of the above picture was intentional. I was goofing around with my camera near the end of the hike and I decided to take a bunch of pictures with a leaf in front of the lens. It turned out to not produce any interesting photos. I only include this one as it shows the name of the place where we hiked.)

Near the beginning of the hike I saw this smoke stack off in the distance. I'm not sure what it was - perhaps an old mill.

All along the lake there are beaver-damaged trees. This picture captures an attempt to help finish the beaver's work. Alas, the power of a triple side-kick was not enough - the tree remained where it was.

Since all the people I was hiking with also practice karate, whenever we passed a good-sized fallen log, someone would suggest practicing a kata on it. In this poorly lit picture, I'm doing Naihanchi Shodan. I took a few pictures of other people practicing kata, but they came out even worse. That purple fringing in the backlit part of the picture is quite terrible!

I was experimenting a bit with my camera on this hike and as a result didn't get much worth posting. In this last picture I was trying to capture the clastrophobic feeling with all the branches. Im not really sure if it worked. It definitely looks better in full size.

East Beach, Charlestown, RI

I had some free time on this overcast and foggy Sunday afternoon, so I drove down to East Beach in Charlestown, RI.
It's a barrier beach that has a salt pond on one side and the ocean on the other. It's a couple miles long with a sandy road down the middle usable by 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Here's a view of the salt pond side:

And the road down the middle:

And the ocean side:

Since it was a fairly iffy day weather-wise, the parking lot was completely empty and for long stretches of time I had the beach completely to myself. There were only a couple people fishing scattered along the several mile length of the beach. There were lots of deer tracks along the edge of the road down the middle of the beach, but I never spotted any deer. I did manage to sneak up on this log and catch its picture:

There were a few sanderlings running about on the beach. These birds tend to stay along the edge of the surf, waiting for a wave to crash, quickly running along the edge of the wave as it retreats, picking up little things to eat.

I'm not really sure why, but for some reason these things liked to stand on one leg quite a bit of the time. They would even go so far as to hop on that one leg rather than walk with both legs. At one point I thought maybe the birds were missing legs, but later I saw them with both feet on the ground.

I took quite a few pictures of the sanderlings...

Since this is a barrier beach, they restrict where you are allowed to walk, as can bee seen in this picture - the small sign
says, "Keep off dune". Oddly, they don't seem to mind that fisherman drive 4 wheel drive trucks up and down the beach. They actually issue permits allowing this. You'd think that would contribute to erosion a lot more than people walking.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fortune of the Week (4)

Finally! I got an actual fortune this week rather than some words of advice...

"Your infinite capacity for patience will be rewarded sooner or later."

Of course, as luck would have it, this is in direct contradiction to another fortune I got a few days earlier - "If you want it... take it."

Good thing I don't take these things seriously - otherwise I'd be paralyzed with conflicting information.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Name that duck

Yet another bird picture that was almost good. This one I took while leaving my condo this morning. I was driving out of the condo complex and noticed this small duck in a canal on the side of the road. I snapped the picture out my car window, but unfortuntely there was a branch in the way - hence the yellow cast on the top portion of the picture.

This picture is a bit clearer (even though there are still some branches in the foreground on the lower right), but not as interesting a pose as the previous one.

Can you identify the type of duck?

Bogu Kumite Video

If you are interested in seeing the not very pretty sight of me being totally overwhelmed in my first bogu kumite match from last night, you can view a portion of it here. Also on that web page there's a very good description of the whole point of using the bogu gear and how it applies to karate (and even zen). I'm not sure how long the video will remain on that web page - the web site gets updated fairly often - so if it's no longer there when you take a look, sorry.

Oh, and in case you can't pick me out in the video, I'm the person who is constantly being hit and who keeps backing up.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Dreaded Bogu Gear

As I mentioned a few days ago, I picked up a set of bogu gear and was looking forward to using it. Tonight in kumite class I learned first-hand why people say they hate the bogu gear. I wouldn't go so far as to say I hate it, but it's not exactly a fun experience either. It is, however, definitely a worthwhile learning experience and I look forward to trying it again.

Before the bogu kumite match tonight, I didn't really know what to expect. I've been taking kumite classes regularly for about a year now, but those are all controlled matches where action stops when a "point" is scored and all hits are meant to only lightly touch cloth or skin. I have never watched a bogu kumite match.

So, here is how it went...

We had a regular kumite class first. Then, for the last few minutes I was to wear the bogu gear and face Sensei in a match. After I was helped into the gear and it was all snuggly tied, Sensei explained to the class what they were about to see. I listened intently hoping to get a better idea of what I had gotten myself into. He mentioned something about how in Okinawa it was not uncommon for people to be thrown about, perhaps into walls, through windows, etc. I then thought - "Wait a second! Did I just hear that right?" My immediate thought was he must be joking. He continued on, explaining how the match usually proceeds - you start about 10 to 15 feet apart and then rush at each other, punching, kicking, etc. and never stopping until someone falls to the ground in which case the two people are pulled apart, placed 10 to 15 feet apart again, and pushed towards each other. This goes on for 3 minutes. Now after hearing this, I wished Angie hadn't tied my gear on securely behind my back with a double knot. Maybe there was still time to take it all off. Sensei then asked if I had any questions and I resisted the urge to ask if this was all some kind of joke to scare me half-to-death.

So, with that explanation complete, we bowed to each other and the match began. I don't really remember many details of the actual fighting other than repeatedly being hit in the chest and thinking the chest protector wasn't really doing that great a job of protecting my chest. I think I spent most of the time backing away, trying to get far enough away to throw a kick (probably I was also hoping to just get far enough away to stop from being hit). I think I might have remembered once to actually try to block something.

It was a very eye-opening experience. It was completely different from the regular kumite class - there was no comfort zone of getting to pause each time a hit was scored. In this case the opponent was constantly there, forcing me to deal with a very unpleasant situation. Having never been in a real fight, I'm only guessing here, but I suspect this bogu kumite is a much more realistic portrayal of how a real fight would proceed. So, in that way, I think it's a very worthwhile experience and there is much to be learned from it.

And, in the end, I'm happy to say, the gear did its job well. While the force of a lot of the hits were felt, there we no lasting injuries or even bruises. Of course, Sensei was going easy on me. I would not want to suffer the full force of his hits even when wearing the full bogu gear.

Oddly, the whole experience in some way did remind me of playing ice hockey. If you've ever played hockey you might know what I mean. There was the same feeling of going full tilt for a short period of time until you are totally out of breath, stuggling against someone else all while getting violently knocked about (but also being protected by a bunch of gear). Obviously there are a huge number of differences between the two activities, but the base emotional feeling brought back some memories of when I used to play hockey.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Full Moon Tonight

It's a nice clear night tonight - good time to take a picture of the full moon.

This picture was taken at 5:39 PM. f5.6, 1/320 sec at 400mm.

Heron Eating

I'm not certain, but it looks to me like the heron is eating a baby flounder...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bogu Gear

This week I received the final piece needed to complete my karate bogu gear set - the helmet, or Men, as it is called in Japanese. I look forward to getting a chance to use it in the kumite class, although just about everyone I've talked to who has actually worn this stuff before say they hate it.

I got the chest protector when I was in Okinawa this summer, but I still haven't actually used it. I've had the gloves (kote) for a while - they used to sell them at the dojo - and I use them in kumite class all the time. The helmet came from BoguBag. I was very surprised with how quickly the helmet shipped. BoguBag is located in Idaho, but just about everything they sell ships directly from a partner company called Koei Budogo, a large kendo retailer in Japan. My order was processed on Friday and I received it on Monday - direct from Japan! That's faster than I normally get packages from places in the US.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fortune of the Week (3)

These fortune cookie fortunes lately are more words of advice than fortunes. Here's the one I got today:

"Reach out your hand today to support others who need you."