Saturday, October 21, 2017

cinematography!

You may recall that, in my recent review of "Blade Runner 2049," I mentioned the great Roger Deakins, who has made a name for himself as the go-to cinematographer for some of the best-known movies out there. Over at the Crash Course channel on YouTube, a new video on cinematography just surfaced, and I think it's worth a look-see.


I'll be seeing "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" tomorrow morning, so expect another review sometime in the next day or two.



duh

Just how stupid are people?

This stupid.




Friday, October 20, 2017

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Net woes

For the past three days, my internet connectivity has gone to shite. I've tried all the fixes I know (admittedly not that many), but the time has come to call in a specialist to see what the hell is going on. I'll be doing that this morning, before I head out for work.

More updates soon.

UPDATE 1: the problem may be with the ancient modem to which I originally attached my computer. The modem was already in my apartment when I moved in. It has four lights on it that tell you the modem's status: power, link, data, and LAN. The LAN light is out, and my MacBook Air laptop was sending me confusing messages earlier today, e.g., that there was no internet connection even though some websites were loading on my browser. I suspect the lack of Net connection comes from the lack of LAN. I had also had a router attached to my computer setup, and that led to the paradoxical message that I had a strong Wi-Fi signal but no Wi-Fi connection. Something is definitely Not Right. The modem has a customer-service number printed on its underside, but the number is no longer in existence. The modem's manufacturer, Tellion, has a website, but when I tried the number listed on the website, that also failed to lead to anything. Given how old the modem is, I suspect Tellion no longer exists.

Anyway, I've written a long email in Korean to my company's HR department. A coworker in my office recently had almost exactly the same problem, and HR helped her by sending a repairman who simply replaced the recalcitrant modem with a new one. I'm hoping that, if I get a new modem, it'll lead to much faster internet-connection speeds than what I've had thus far. My ancient apartment building's Net connectivity has been molasses-slow since I've been here; several trips to Speedtest.net have confirmed this.

UPDATE 2: the HR department will be sending someone to my place on Monday, so I can look forward to three more days without internet.



Wednesday, October 18, 2017

can too much exercise kill you?

A recent Chicago study apparently concludes that too much exercise can be deadly:

Too much exercise can kill you, scientists have revealed.

White men who work out at least seven-and-a-half hours a week are nearly twice as likely to suffer from heart disease than those who do a moderate amount, a new study shows.

Researchers in Chicago assessed exercise patterns over the course of 25 years and made the surprising discovery that very active white men are 86 percent more likely to experience a buildup of plaque in the heart arteries by middle age.

But this didn't apply to black men, they discovered.

It was suggested high levels of exercise over time caused stress on the arteries leading to higher coronary artery calcification - CAC.

However scientists warned people should not stop exercising.

The team from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Kaiser Permanente looked at the physical activity trajectories of 3,175 black and white participants in the longterm CARDIA study and assessed the presence of CAC.

The presence and amount of CAC, is a significant warning sign to doctors that a patient may be at risk for developing heart disease and a signal to consider early preventive care.

Dr Deepika Laddu, assistant professor of physical therapy in the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, said: 'We expected to see that higher levels of physical activity over time would be associated with lower levels of CAC.'

However they found that at the top level of exercise, there was no extra risk for black men, but an 86 percent increased risk for white men.
Unique to the new study is the evaluation of long-term exercise patterns, from young adulthood into middle age.

It's almost circular to say that "too much" exercise can kill you: the moment you use the modifier too, you are, by definition, talking about something that passes a boundary, moving you from modesty to excess, or from safety to danger. So of course too much exercise can kill you: too much of anything can kill you. Viewed in that way, the article isn't saying anything revolutionary. The racial differences pointed out by the article are interesting, however, as is the number of hours per week defining the deadly threshold for exercise.

I walk about 3.5 hours per day, but I haven't been to the gym in weeks, so I'm not sure that all my walking qualifies as "too much" exercise.



funny how that works

The more you try digging into Trump, the more it seems to blow up in your face.

BOMBSHELL REVELATIONS ABOUT RUSSIA AND OBAMA’S DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

The Other Russia Scandal

Russia Tables Turn

New Documents Show Clinton-Russia Scandal Dwarfs Anything on Trump’s Side

And finally, Styx:




Please do keep hammering the Russia thing, guys.





Tuesday, October 17, 2017

le grand fuckup*

I know that French authorities are normally better than this, but this is a point-and-laugh kind of moment:

"French intelligence texts jihadist by mistake, inadvertently warning of surveillance operation"

A French intelligence agent sent a text message by mistake to the mobile phone of a jihadist, inadvertently warning him that he was under surveillance and undermining an investigation, it emerged on Friday.

The target of the probe, described as an “Islamist preacher” based in the Paris area, immediately understood that his phone was being tapped and his movements monitored.

He called the agent to complain and warned his contacts that they were under surveillance. As a result, separate investigations by two different intelligence services came to nothing, M6 television reported.

“It was undoubtedly the worst mistake the agent ever made,” M6 commented. Interior ministry sources confirmed the report.

The intelligence officer had meant to send the text to a colleague last Saturday. It contained information about the Islamist and the progress of the investigation.

It was only when the Islamist decided to have some fun at the officer’s expense and phoned him minutes after he sent the text that he realised what he had done.

The two agencies involved, the Central Territorial Intelligence Service and the General Directorate for Internal Security, were furious over the mishap.



*In this context, the French would most likely use a term like "connerie" to describe a major fuckup. (This is also why the French giggle whenever they hear the name "Sean Connery.") There may be worse terms, but I'm not up on my French slang.



Monday, October 16, 2017

awful, but also stupid: your homework for today

Look up "Natalia Borodina death" on Google. Her death is tragic for her son, but the manner of her death should serve as a good moral lesson regarding parental responsibility (a mother's first obligation is to keep herself alive) and the superficial flaunting of one's bodily assets.

Another sad convergence of Darwin Award and Instant Karma.



Sunday, October 15, 2017

"Blade Runner 2049": review


[NB: NO SPOILERS.]

Québecois director Denis Villeneuve has earned my trust. I've seen and reviewed his films "Sicario" and "Arrival," and while I didn't find either of those films to be perfect, I found Villeneuve himself to be a competent director who is rapidly earning a name for himself as the Sam Mendes of science fiction. That's good news for those who like brooding, thoughtful, slowly paced productions; it's not so good news for people expecting the sequel to 1982's "Blade Runner" to receive the JJ Abrams treatment. (I'm already on record as saying that Sam Mendes has been the kiss of death for the James Bond franchise, but that's because I don't think Bond movies should be sleepy, moody soap operas.) Villeneuve is a good match for what the story of "Blade Runner 2049" is: an exploration of what it means to be human.

It's no spoiler to note at the outset that star Ryan Gosling plays K, a blade runner working for the LAPD who is also a new, more pliant generation of replicant (relax: K's replicant status is established within the first few minutes). K's job is to "retire" (i.e., kill) older-generation replicants—"androids" that can pass for human. K stumbles upon a truth that, if allowed to reach the public, might lead to a replicant revolution, and he pursues the mystery behind this truth. This is what drives the film.

The plot takes the form of a literal journey for K, leading him through a variety of atmospheric settings ranging from the familiar urban blight of L.A.—not much changed from the first film—to a vast junkyard in San Diego, and eventually to the ruins of Las Vegas. While seemingly simple and linear, the plot has a few built-in twists, one of which is a massive head-fake that I found reminiscent of the twist at the end of "The Dark Knight Rises."

"2049" evokes other movies and TV shows as well, especially "Battlestar Galactica," which treaded very similar philosophical turf (cf. Athena and Hera from that show). In both "2049" and "Battlestar," it could well be that the term "android" is a misnomer, as the replicants (or Cylons) in question are similar to humans at the molecular level, not mere constructs of metal and plastic and silicone. One of the major tropes in the new film is intelligent simulacra, running the gamut from artificial animals (you'll recall these appeared in the first film) to an artificial girlfriend, the latter of which leads us to one of the most uncomfortably weird prelude-to-sex scenes I've ever seen in a movie (shades of Spike Jonze's "Her").

Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard, when we finally meet him, is a bit of a paradox: his presence is absolutely crucial to the plot, but he comes off as largely feckless. That said, Ford plays the role with a grizzled soulfulness that adds layers to the performance he gave in the first movie. "2049" also features a cameo by Edward James Olmos as Gaff, who's still making his origami animals, and another cameo by an uncanny simulacrum of 80s-era Sean Young (Young was involved mainly as a consultant; otherwise, her on-screen presence was evoked the same way the late Peter Cushing's was in "Rogue One," i.e., via digital motion capture).

We get a solid performance from Robin Wright as Lt. Joshi; the previews make her seem like one of the bad guys, but the truth is more complicated. Dave Bautista—as "protein farmer" Sapper Morton, a former military medic—once again proves he's got actual acting chops and isn't just a mass of muscle who grunts for the camera. Ana de Armas, as K's holographic girlfriend Joi, is both winsome and emotionally sophisticated. Joi asks us to ponder the question of just how human an AI can become. Sylvia Hoeks is all beauty and deadly menace as Luv, the right-hand aide/assassin working for Wallace, played by Jared Leto. This was, I think, the first time I had ever watched Leto at length, and I came away thinking of him as a fine, nuanced actor. His Wallace heads up the Wallace Corporation, which bought out the Tyrell Corporation (from the first film) and took over the engineering of replicants.

The musical score for "2049" comes to us by way of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch; the soundtrack is mainly a homage to the music of Vangelis from the 1982 movie, which means that Zimmer was kept from foisting some of his more annoying musical tendencies on the audience. (I thought Vangelis's score was quite good, except for those moments when he went over the top with the damn saxophone during the awkwardly rapey "romance" scene between Deckard and Rachael.) I was actually surprised to learn that Villeneuve's normal collaborator, nutty composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, wasn't involved with "2049." The scuttlebutt is that Jóhannsson had originally been signed on, but he was dropped in favor of Zimmer, et al., and was forbidden to comment on the matter. In any event, the score does a good job of evoking the mood of the first film, and the final scenes of the movie give us a direct tribute to Vangelis's work. While I don't think this soundtrack is as memorable as the one from thirty-five years ago (has it really been that long?), it's serviceable.

Now we come to the matter of cinematographer Roger Deakins. If you've read the online chatter and watched some videos associated with "2049," you'll have seen or heard Deakins's name come up in discussion. The man is considered a god in Hollywood, and I'd have to agree that his evocative visuals are more than half of what makes the movie. "2049" definitely deserves to be seen on a big screen, so do catch it in theaters if you can. Deakins has, unsurprisingly, worked with the above-mentioned Sam Mendes; he has also collaborated with the Coen Brothers on their films. He brings a rich color palette to "2049" that instantly calls forth the appropriate mood.

Overall, I recommend "Blade Runner 2049" if you're into movies that thoughtfully chew over big issues like the meaning of being human, even if "Battlestar Galactica" got there first and explored almost exactly the same question, in almost exactly the same way, just a few years ago. Watch the movie for the strong direction and performances, for Roger Deakins's visual stylings, and for a story that seems to be headed in one direction but suddenly swerves left and heads in another. Does the film settle the question of whether Rick Deckard is himself a replicant? I suppose you'll just have to watch the film and draw your own conclusions.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Harvey Weinstein's inadvertent dragnet

As the Harvey Weinstein scandal continues to explode, more and more male Hollywood stars are being dragged into the spotlight as sexual harassers themselves, or as people who helped quash accusations of harassment. Among them: Ben and Casey Affleck, their buddy Matt Damon, George Clooney (and much of the male cast of the early "ER," including Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, and Eriq La Salle), and now even Seth Rogen. As I've said before, there's little reason to be surprised at how truly dirty Hollywood is. My only practical question is whether any actual good is going to come out of this mess. Will sexual harassment in Hollywood begin to wane as a result of all this negative exposure, or will this end up being a mere kerfuffle that blows over, allowing things to go back to "normal"?



a tantalizing review of "Blade Runner 2049"

With no spoilers! Enjoy.


By the way, I watched "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" a few days ago in preparation for my upcoming viewing of "2049."




aspirin recall

If someone can find a news article about this in either the English-language or Korean-language news sources, I'd be grateful, but from what I understand after having spoken with the staff of two different pharmacies, there has been an aspirin recall in Korea, which is why you can't currently buy aspirin in any of the pharmacies. This has been going on for months, and possibly as long as a year. I didn't know about this, mainly because I had been buying my aspirin from Haddon Supermarket, but it seems that Haddon is now defunct: I went there on Friday morning and found the place shuttered. Because I was confused about how no aspirin at all is available, I asked my favorite pharmacist today (she works in the Mido Building, where I used to work) whether there was only one brand of aspirin sold in Korea: I reasoned that a total recall wouldn't be necessary if several competing brands were available. Sure enough, the pharmacist confirmed that only Bayer aspirin is sold at all pharmacies throughout the country. A bad batch of aspirin was manufactured (in country, I assume) and distributed; when it was discovered that the batch was bad, a recall was instituted, and the government halted aspirin manufacture. That's where things stand now, and the pharmacist didn't know when aspirin would return to the shelves.

This is a very good example of what happens when you don't allow for free-market solutions. If Koreans had had the choice among several brands of aspirin, each manufactured at its own respective facility, there would have been no nationwide recall of all available aspirin: consumers could have simply switched, temporarily, to another brand. As it stands, the situation is almost funny unless you've got a severe headache.

UPDATE: I found this Korean-language article on the recall. If you run it through Google Translate, the English is surprisingly clear, although I can't vouch for its fidelity.



Ave, John!

A touching remembrance.



barrier broken: 115.0 kg

[NOW UPDATED!]

This morning, I weighed myself and came in at 115.0 kg, which means I've finally broken through the unbreakable 116-kilo floor that has plagued me for so long. You'll recall that I reached 116 kg (down from 126 kg) back in mid-May, at the end of my Seoul-Busan walk. I regained some weight over the ensuing months, but I managed to keep from regaining everything I had lost, never going up further than 119 kg. For the past several weeks, I've been fluctuating somewhere in the 116-118-kg region, and this week, thanks to a bit of fasting plus continued creekside-staircase exercise, I finally got down to today's weight. This is good news because I'm now off to see the doc, so maybe I'll have some (good?) blood-pressure and blood-sugar numbers to slap up later today. Fingers and tentacles crossed.

In other news: I'm working a full eight hours today, then I'll be seeing "Blade Runner 2049" either tonight or tomorrow morning.

NB: earlier, this post announced "115.5 kg" as my new weight, but I've been exuberantly diarrhetic this morning, so when I weighed myself again just now, 115.0 was the new weight. This just goes to show you how much your weight can fluctuate thanks to liquids, so yes, I'm mindful of the fact that my new weight might be only the most temporary of losses, and that it might not represent true fat loss.

UPDATE: back from the doc, and while my blood-sugar numbers were so-so at 160 (the doc said this was "okay" for someone of my size and current state of health, who has eaten breakfast, but I suspect that 160 is the very, very high end of "okay"; see more here), my blood pressure turned out to be the lowest it's ever been: 120/75. That's healthier than a horse, so of course I'm celebrating by having pizza and Coke for lunch. I'll be back to exercising tomorrow or Monday. For the moment, though, I must party.



Friday, October 13, 2017

ugh

This is a porg. It will be prominently featured in this December's "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

Kill me now.

One of the great virtues of "Rogue One" was that there were no fucking cute aliens. Instead, there was a tentacled, Lovecraftian horror called Bor Gullet whose mind-melding technique could drive you insane. My kind of alien.

ADDENDUM: porg memes are popping up all over the Net. Here's a good one:


Two more amusing porg memes:







Thursday, October 12, 2017

"mindfulness" is bullshit

If the concept of mindfulness isn't utter bullshit, then it is, at the very least, overhyped—or so argues this article, titled "'Mindfulness' Is a Meaningless Word with Shoddy Science Behind It." A taste:

The benefits of meditation may have been seriously overhyped, a group of psychologists, neuroscientists, Buddhist scholars and mindfulness teachers warn—and the evidence to support mindfulness as a treatment certainly has been.

A new study by a multidisciplinary group of researchers at several universities calls out the "misinformation and propagation of poor research methodology" that pervade much of the evidence behind the benefits of mindfulness. They focus in particular on the problem of defining the word mindfulness and on how the effects of the practice are studied.

[...]

Much of the research around meditation and mindfulness has serious flaws, the authors state. Among those flaws: using various definitions for mindfulness, not comparing results to a control group of people who did not meditate and not using good measurements for mindfulness.

"I'll admit to [having drunk] the Kool-Aid a bit myself. I’m a practicing meditator, and I have been for over 20 years," David Vago told Newsweek. A research director at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Vanderbilt University, he is one of the study's authors. "A lot of the data that's out there is still premature," he said.

The revelation is particularly disconcerting in light of how big of a business meditation has become. A veritable industry, the practice brings in around $1 billion annually, according to Fortune. That industry includes apps, classes and medical treatments.

My advice, when it comes to Zen meditation, at least, is just to keep things simple and truncate any lofty expectations. Zen, in the literature, often refers to itself as "nothing special," which is a crucial point to remember. Don't go to meditation looking for miracles. It's just sitting, after all—the attainment (or maybe the non-attainment!) of "ordinary mind."

(My essay on Zen meditation is here.)

good, stupid fun

Watch this dude try to damage a riot shield with various throwing weapons. I have to say: he's got a mean throwing arm (or arms: with some weapons, he throws two-handed). I wonder if some of those throws took several takes, or if the guy really is that good.


ADDENDUM: Adam Celadin, a Czech, turns out to be a champion knife thrower. So, yes: he really is that good.





the not-so-mainstream view

Is Trump stupid? See here.

Is Trump a racist? See here.

The year is coming to a close, and I did say that I would give Trump a year before passing any sort of definitive judgment on the man. A quick preview of my thoughts, which I'll flesh out more fully in late January, would be something along the lines of: he's not the reincarnation of Hitler, nor is he the clown/idiot that the left makes him out to be. That said, he doesn't pass the beer test, and in a few months, I'll explain why.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hollywood, Weinstein, and the epic Twitter rant

Wow. Just read the whole thing.

Some perspective: the rant is epic, but if you're already cynical about what a fucking cesspit Hollywood is, then the rant doesn't really tell you anything new. I came away just wishing the dude would get it over with and name some damn names—blow this wide open and expose everyone for the frauds they are. (Again: such exposure won't tell us anything new, but we'll at least experience the Schadenfreude that comes with shining a harsh light on vermin and watching them scurry desperately back into the darkness.)

ADDENDUM: do read the comments, many of which take the ranter down a peg or three.



"Baby Driver": review

"Baby Driver" is a 2017 action-comedy-romance-thriller directed by Edgar Wright (of Cornetto Trilogy fame) and starring Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal (lately seen in Marvel's "The Punisher" TV series). Elgort plays a talented getaway driver nicknamed Baby. Baby has a black foster father named Joseph (CJ Jones), with whom Baby communicates via sign language. Joseph is confined to a wheelchair and has a reached a point in his life where Baby now takes care of him. Baby works for crime boss Doc (Spacey), who plans and executes a series of bank heists—always with a different team of robbers, but always with Baby as the driver. This shows us the degree to which Doc trusts Baby. Baby, meanwhile, stores his ever-growing pile of cash under the floorboards of Joseph's residence as Joseph looks on sadly.

Much of the movie is devoted, albeit implicitly, to the idea of burning off bad karma: Baby's foster dad thinks Baby should leave the criminal world he's in; Baby is fantastic at what he does, but he's also basically a good kid who could be aiming higher in life. On the other side is Doc, the devil on Baby's shoulder, promising Baby the high life if the young man continues to be Doc's driver. Baby works for Doc because he's indebted to him, but even after paying off his debt, Baby is still Doc's darling, and there are consequences to saying no to Doc. And even if Baby manages to free himself from Doc's clutches, there's still his criminal past to reckon with.

The main artistic conceit of "Baby Driver" is, as so many reviewers have already pointed out, that the movie is filmed in the syncopated manner of a music video. A series of songs provides a pulse-pounding soundtrack that defines the rhythm of the action, and this style works well for the several car chases that punctuate the movie. For all the action, though, there are frequent lulls, and these are necessary so as not to overload the audience's senses. Some of the car chases—especially the one at the beginning of the movie—showcase some truly amazing stunt driving on the level of "Ronin" or "The French Connection." Artistically speaking, the movie is fun to watch and very engaging.

As a noir-ish romance, the movie works fairly well, but the film fails to answer the question of how a basically good kid got roped into a life of crime to begin with. All we know of Baby is that he's got debts to pay, and that he wants out, especially after he falls in love with diner waitress Debora (Lily James). The other element that makes the movie work is the cast: Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx embody differing degrees of menace; Eiza González smoothly switches from feline grace to deadly fury. Kevin Spacey's Doc is strangely likable yet hard to read, which is, I think, the note that Spacey was going for. Doc ends up having more layers to him than seems obvious at first blush.

Wright doesn't build tension to Tarantino-ish levels, but he does film car chases expertly. While I didn't come away thinking that "Baby Driver" was the deepest of films, I thought it was entertaining enough. (I did, however, easily predict the death—and the manner of death—of one major character about a minute before it happened. While I got some satisfaction from detecting the telegraphed moment, I have to shake my finger at the director and screenwriter[s] for making the moment so obvious.) If you're in the mood for some watchable stunt driving with a bit of karmic metaphysics thrown in, this is your film.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Nutella-and-Brie grilled-cheese sandwiches

These sandwiches weren't as good as I thought they'd be. I'm pretty sure I did everything right in preparing them, but the execution just didn't live up to the concept. Hélas.






Monday, October 09, 2017

"21 Jump Street" and "22 Jump Street": one-paragraph review

The movies "21 Jump Street" (2012) and "22 Jump Street" (2014) star Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as former high-school enemies who become friends when they both decide to join the police force. Because they're still fairly young-looking, they get assigned to the Jump Street project, which involves going undercover and investigating schools where newfangled drugs have suddenly appeared (the guys infiltrate a high school in "21" and a university in "22"). Rapper Ice Cube plays the cops' perennially angry captain in both films, and the movies smuggle in some cameos by the original stars of the "21 Jump Street" TV series, including Johnny Depp, Peter DeLouise, and Richard Grieco. Both movies are throwbacks to 80s-style teen comedies, with a strong dash of stoner comedy in the mix. The sequel isn't as good or as funny as the original, but I appreciated the nudge-wink self-conscious humor of both scripts, which made it clear that the writers were well aware they were rebooting an old series for mainly cynical reasons. Hill and Tatum make for a good comic pairing, and while neither movie is particularly groundbreaking in its ideas, the scriptwriters do attempt to transcend, at least a little, the typical jock/nerd dichotomy that fueled so much 80s-era teen comedy. Both "Jump Street" films are slightly smarter than you'd expect them to be, and the action moves along at a healthy clip. Another bonus is the addition of wait-do-I-know-that-guy stars to the cast: Dave Franco—brother of James Franco—appears in "21," and Wyatt Russell—son of Kurt Russell—has a major role in "22." All in all, this wasn't a bad way to spend 221 minutes. I was thoroughly entertained, if not exactly enlightened.



Sunday, October 08, 2017

grilled cheese and tomato soup

yesterday's trip to No Brand land

No Brand is the house brand of the Korean chain store eMart, which is something of an omnibus store along the lines of Walmart. While eMart has large stores, there are also small, scaled-down branches like the eMart Everyday in my building's basement. A coworker alerted me, a few weeks ago, to the fact that eMart also has a No Brand store over at Express Bus Terminal Station, so I finally went there yesterday to check it out.

The store's layout is very much like that of a Costco big-box store, but smaller, and the prices as are low as my coworker said they would be. I saw, for the first time ever, a reasonably sized rice cooker on sale for under W30,000; most appliance stores sell such cookers for almost double that price, or higher. The same went for certain pots and pans.

As I wandered up and down the aisles, I grabbed at certain items like ricotta cheese, No Brand cola (which my basement grocery no longer sells; No Brand cola has only half the sugar of regular Coke, but it's just as good of a drink, in my opinion), and a Nutella knockoff that I was curious to try. I also found what I had come there to find: No Brand grill franks, my old friends. They were hiding in one of the refrigerator sections, so I grabbed three packs' worth of franks and trotted over to the cashier.

The cashier's area was a bit of a rude awakening: the lady at the register asked me to remove my items from my shopping basket—a task that eMart employees normally do themselves. She also pointed to the area where I could pick out my own bags; from what I could see, only paper bags were available, which was a bit of a disappointment. Ah, well, I reasoned: you have to put your own items onto the conveyor belt and bag/box them yourself at Costco, so how is this any different? So I swallowed my pride and did what I was told.

And just like that, I was out of the store with my goodies. I'll have to go back and buy some other items, but at least the store had the hot dogs.

When I got home, I immediately opened up the faux Nutella: it turned out not to be bad at all, although I wish the store had sold the larger, Costco-sized tubs instead of the half-sized ones. Several months ago, I had seen a video for a decadent grilled Nutella-and-Brie sandwich that I'm now going to have to make. I think the No Brand Fauxtella will work just fine, although the texture isn't quite as smooth.

No Brand products tend to be hit-or-miss for me: sometimes, as with the Fauxtella and the hot dogs, they're a big hit. At other times, as with the No Brand Pringles and cheese-ball knockoffs, the results are fairly shitty (the ricotta turned out to be edible, but to have the gross consistency of elementary-school Elmer's paste). All in all, though, I'm fairly happy with my haul—especially when No Brand cola costs only W330 per can. That's cheap.

out with the old

My mission to find a new bandanna to replace my old, faithful one was successful:


Today, I went to the Dongdaemun (East Gate) district, where you can find all sorts of clothes and clothing-related items. It was late on a Sunday afternoon; many of the stalls in the open market were already closed, but the big stores were still open, so I slipped into the crowded Migliore building, asked a convenience-store lady where the bandannas were, and escalatored my way up to the fifth floor. I found a handkerchief seller, but she said that, if I was looking for the truly large bandannas that you can wear on your head, I'd need to try a hat seller. So I found one, and sure enough, she had the black version of my current bandanna—or something that was close enough.

Now I'm good for another few years. Meanwhile, I'm thankful to my old bandanna for its faithful service, but I could tell that its time was at an end once the fabric began fraying and tearing not long after I had gotten back from my long walk. You'll note that, on Day 26 of that walk, there was no hole at all in the middle of my bandanna, which goes to show that the new holes represent a cascade failure in the fabric. This is the same way in which human beings who are in good physical shape die: they're healthy as horses until, one day, they're suddenly kaput when all their systems crash at the same time. If such people are lucky, this happens in their sleep. I'm not sure whether my old bandanna is now asleep, but it's certainly in or near the grave. I might get it patched up and use it until it really is just rags, but it may be better to go full-on "Blade Runner" and simply... retire it.



Saturday, October 07, 2017

calling all geography buffs

From a YouTube channel that I subscribe to, I learned of the existence of a fun site called Country Quiz. Go to the site, fill in your name (the site asks for no other information), then start playing. The idea is that you have to guess what country is being referred to. You're given two types of hints: one is visual; the other is lexical. The lexical hint comes in the form of, "This country's name has [X number of] letters in it." The visual hint comes in the form of a slew of photographs showing wildlife, landscape, people, and even flags. If you think you know the answer, type it in the space at the very bottom. I was able to get the first twelve challenges correct, all in a row, without cheating. After that winning streak, I lost my courage and left the site so I could enjoy my 100% record. Admittedly, some of the challenges are easy, e.g., when one photo shows you the leaning tower of Pisa, or another photo shows you the Taj Mahal. I loved the photo spread for South Africa, though; I was able to guess that country based on what I knew about its wildlife. That was a thrilling moment. (So was Mongolia, which I was able to guess thanks to all the pictures of steppe with mountains in the background, plus a shot of what was obviously the Gobi Desert.)

Go challenge yourself!



pardon the bloglessness

I've been spending the first day of my three-day weekend trying to stay off my still-aching feet, which means I've done little more than lie in bed all day and watch YouTube videos on my phone (via WiFi, of course—I don't squander data). My brain is mushy, and now that it's evening, I've suddenly got a wild hair to go out to the local No Brand store* ("No Brand" is eMart's house brand, you'll recall) and buy those fantastic hot dogs (pic in this post), which are no longer being sold in my building's downstairs grocery.

If the hunt is good, I'll show off some pics.



*It was a coworker who tipped me off to the existence of the store.



Friday, October 06, 2017

why "The Hobbit Sucks," parts 1-5

I found an interesting video series narrated by a Canuck who has many a bone to pick with Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy. The first video, Part One, goes over problems of characterization and always returns to the basic premise that expanding the story into a nine-hour trilogy was a fundamental mistake, an opinion with which I heartily agree, even if I did end up liking parts of that trilogy. I've watched Part 1 of the series and will soon delve into Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5. For your edification and delectation, I've embedded all five videos here.










Annoyingly, the title of the video series seems to depend on which label you're reading. The videos themselves seem to be titled "The Hobbit Sucks," if the thumbnail images are to be believed. Meanwhile, the titles below the videos and superimposed on their frames say "Why The Hobbit Sucks," so you're on your own when it comes to nomenclature.



stewing in the office

A coworker documented the putting-together of today's budae-jjigae lunch, which almost everyone seemed to love:


One employee described it as "the best budae-jjigae I've ever eaten," which was high praise. The coworker who took the photos (she sent me nine; I'm displaying only one) went back for seconds and thirds. Another coworker said he normally avoided budae-jjigae, but that he'd have some "because you made it." A few people had only a single bowl; one coworker, recently back from Japan, where he had eaten a ton of salty food, said he wouldn't be able to take the Korean stew without suffering heart palpitations. A shame, that.

A single bokkeum pan of budae was enough to serve the entire office; I had prepped twice as much in case people got super-hungry, but I think that, however much people liked today's stew, this was probably not their favorite Kevin-crafted dish. I'll be taking home the raw ingredients and making another batch of the stew for myself, and I'll consume it over the course of next week. We have a short week thanks to the national holiday of Hangeul Day, which is Monday: it's the day on which South Korea celebrates the invention of hangeul, or the Korean alphabet. The writing system was developed and promulgated by King Sejong and his council in the mid to late 1440s; originally called Hunmin Jeongeum, or roughly, "correct sounds to edify the people," the alphabet helped, at least somewhat, to democratize knowledge: before the invention of hangeul, the written language on the peninsula was Chinese, which was much harder to learn, thus making it the sole province of the rich, the educated, and the privileged. Koreans call hangeul a "scientific" alphabet, which it sort of is. It has flaws and limitations, to be sure, but it perfectly captures Korean phonemes, even if it's a disaster for rendering the sounds of other languages like English and French (strangely, hangeul is great for rendering Spanish).



...and all I got was this damn blister

The blister isn't nearly as bad as the one that haunted me from April to May this year, but it still hurts like a bitch.

2 pics from the walk home

First is the enormous 63 Building on the island of Yeouido. Next is a daytime shot that contrasts with the early-morning shot that I took on Day 1 of the walk. The flags are out, I imagine, to celebrate Chuseok.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Pepple on Catalonia

Philosopher John Pepple, who self-identifies as a leftist but is critical of the left's inconsistencies (hence the title of his blog), offers some good thoughts about Catalonian independence, including the idea that we shouldn't be cheering too quickly because the history behind Catalonia's current drive has its own particular traits.

I, for one, can see why Spain is desperate to keep Catalonia within the fold: it's one of the richest and most economically vital regions of the country, as well as the seat of politically and culturally significant Barcelona. Aside from that, I know little to nothing about the situation and its history, so I guess it's time to get reading.



Incheon Walk, Day 4 assessment

I'm back at my place. This felt like a long day.

Pedometer stats:

446 min of walking time
45,940 steps (103 steps/min—brisk!)
22.71 miles walked (dubious)
3570 calories burned (gross)

Weight: 116.0 kg (where I was on May 17 this year)

If I'm not mistaken, today's walk was just under 30 km by a hair. I didn't get turned around in Yeouido, so I don't think I added any distance to what Naver had calculated. As you see above, I didn't really lose any weight during the trip: I was 116.5 kg for my cousin's wedding on the Saturday before the walk (9/30), and after four days' walking, I appear to have lost only a half kilo. That's largely thanks to eating and drinking a lot of junk—sodas and candy bars and whatnot. As I mentioned earlier, I was wrong to think I could "eat with impunity" this time around: I wasn't wearing a huge backpack, and there were no challenging hills to complicate my day, so my daily calorie burn was much lower than it had been during the spring.

Lots of rude assholes along the Han today. The bike path normally has three lanes: two lanes for bike traffic and one lane for pedestrians. Many Korean bikers, however, bike the way they drive: they seem unable to hold their lane, and they constantly swerve into the pedestrian lane.* As if that weren't enough, several ajummas walking toward me insisted on walking on their left side of the path, i.e., my right side of the path. There are signs spray-painted on the ground every few hundred yards saying "Walk on the right." I think I'm going to design a tee shirt that says "WALK ON THE RIGHT" and start carrying one of those startlingly loud spray-can horns that you hear at ball games as a way to get people walking on the proper side of the fucking path. Much of the rudeness, as is true in other countries and cultures, seems to be an urban-versus-rural thing. Once you're out of Seoul, people are generally more polite, although there are still some lingering dickheads even out in the middle of nowhere.

Overall, though, despite the occasional rudeness along the way, this was a good walk, and I'd like to do it again. A half-scale version of the walk is doable on any given weekend: I can start on any Saturday, finish on Sunday afternoon, take a cab to a nearby subway station, and train back into Seoul by evening. While the walk's endpoint is fairly anticlimactic, that final 20-kilometer stretch along the Ara Canal is quite beautiful, and definitely worth the hike.

The weather turned out better than I had thought it would: before the trip, my phone's weather app had been forecasting "partly cloudy" for all four days of the walk, and while there were indeed clouds, most of those days were fairly sunny, too. Temperature-wise, I couldn't have asked for better conditions. This was a far cry from the beginning of August, when my original attempt at walking to Incheon ended in disaster. Today, an easterly** breeze blew in my face nearly the entire way along the Han; at times, the pleasant air currents distracted me from the pain radiating out of my poor, abused feet.

I suppose the lesson, here, is that long-distance walks need to be coupled with fairly strict diets if the goal is to lose weight. Along with that, there needs to be some way to make such walks more energy-consumptive: add some hills and/or wear a heavier backpack.

Thus endeth another walk, and I can now say that I've trekked along the entire Gukto Jongju, from sea to shining sea. Alas, back to reality: we proles have to be in the office tomorrow. Joy. I'm planning to make massive amounts of budae-jjigae for my coworkers, but I'm going to rest first before I get up again and go shopping.



*For what it's worth, I kind of understand the rationale behind swerve-happy Korean driving: it's a function of opportunism. If you settle into any given lane, you're more likely to get blocked in by traffic and to lose the opportunity to break out of a slow lane and slip into a faster one. You see this same sort of "maximizing of probability" in many flying insects like gnats and mosquitoes, which buzz erratically in an effort to maximize the chance of landing on warm, mammalian flesh. It's a shame, though—not to mention damn annoying—that Koreans take this zigzaggy behavior onto the bike path. But that's Korea: nothing is linear here.



Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Incheon Walk, Day 3 assessment

Pedometer stats:

380 min of walking time
37,167 steps (97.8 steps/min)
17.42 miles walked (dubious, but felt like it today)
2711 calories burned (gross)

I'm chilling in the EG Hotel, in a much more expensive room for the night. Everything is perfect except for the computer's keyboard, which has a wonky space bar that is currently making typing a chore. Today's walk was short but somewhat painful, which made it feel longer than it actually was. My right foot's blister continues to grow and ache and throb, but visually, it's still little more than a tender spot on my sole.

Early in the walk, I met up with my friend Brian, who lives in the Incheon-ish area, east of Incheon proper. As chronicled in earlier posts, we walked and talked and partook of Bundaberg ginger beer, that heavenly ambrosia. The spiders weren't out on their webs in the early morning, prompting me to wonder where they had gone, but as the air warmed up, they began appearing at their posts, and that's how we managed, at long last, to get that magnificent shot of one of the largest such spiders I had ever seen.

Brian and I parted ways after a while, and I finished my walk solo. It was, according to Naver, about a 28-kilometer trek back into town. Technically, I'm in western Seoul; the city is wider than you might think. Tomorrow's final leg will thus be from Seoul to Seoul, about 32 or 33 km (or longer, if I get confused in Yeouido again). My feet will be a blubbering mess by the end, if today was any indication, but it will have been worth it, even if it means foot pain for the next week or so.

This is my first time actually retracing a large part of the Gukto Jongju; it feels strange to pass by landmarks that I had passed only just the other day. With a lighter backpack on my back, and with the overall flatter route, I don't feel I'm losing much weight this time around, despite the caloric expenditure. I said earlier that, like during my big walk, I could eat with impunity, but I think, this time, that my bad dietary habits are merely nullifying the effects of all the walking. We'll know more when I step on the scales Friday morning. I do know, though, that my resting heart rate is once again dropping significantly, which is always a good thing.

I'm dead tired, so I think I'll end here for tonight. Up at 5:15AM for the final leg.



fud

I ended up checking into the expensive-but-nice EG Hotel. The place is great for W90,000 (it had better be); no problems to report. The helpful ladies at the front desk pointed me across the street to where all the restaurants are; I chose a Chinese place (with actual Chinese staffers barking nasally at each other in Chinese) and ordered the gganpunggi plus gun-mandu. The chicken wasn't very crunchy, but I enjoyed the small, flavorful dumplings. The service was frazzled and confused; it took a while to get napkins and chopsticks, both of which ought to have been on the table from the get-go.

The final photo below shows something I haven't seen in years: Shasta brand black-cherry soda! This was truly a holy-shit moment for me; Shasta, like RC Cola, takes me way back to my childhood. The can's design looks different, more tricked-up and modern, but the soda's taste matches what's in my memory.



the Brian

I met my friend Brian on the trail today. It's Chuseok Day, so the bike path was empty of the usual holiday crowds. Brian strolled alongside me as I limped eastward; we talked about this and that. At one point, we sat down, and Brian lifted two bits of treasure out of his backpack: bottles of Bundaberg ginger beer—and still cold, no less! That was very considerate. I responded by offering Brian some spicy jerky and trail mix, but I think I got the better end of the deal: the Bundaberg really hit the spot. We ate and drank and contemplated the airplanes taking off almost directly above us as they departed the nearby Incheon International Airport.

The pic below shows Brian as he's just about to leave and head for home. His son was waiting for him at the house, and his wife had to work today, but Brian and the fam have plans to see the Korean relatives on the morrow. I was happy to stroll and talk with Brian for a brief while, and I'm sure we'll meet again soon.

is gun control the answer?

An interesting exploration in WaPo.

OK, I lied

I lied about the "no more photos" thing. I've got a decent spider photo for you.

I met Brian on the trail today, and he gamely used his hand to allow me to focus my cell camera on one of the largest orb weavers of my hike. At last, a clear pic!






Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Vegas redux

A commenter writes in (slightly edited) re: my first Vegas post:

Re: the automatic weapon in Las Vegas. Not illegal at all. Just expensive. Really expensive. The licensing (notice "-ing," not simply "license") is quite prohibitive. Cost of weapon is entirely on top of that. And generally, a fully automatic weapon costs several multiples of an equivalent, semi-automatic-only version of the same weapon.

Re: Fog Of War. Yes. Again, yes.

Further thoughts:
- Shooter attacked about the whitest event there is in the USA: a country-music event. By a white guy. Seems statistically unusual.

- The shooter is over 60 years old. That seems to be WAY outside the usual statistics of shootings.

- Automatic weapon. I wonder if it will turn out to be a weapon that was manufactured as full-automatic (read: this guy had sufficient funds at his disposal to (I'm guessing) legally obtain a fully automatic rifle), or he modified a weapon that wasn't manufactured as automatic (read: he followed through on some involved planning going back quite some time ahead of today's events).

- The female "roommate," a.k.a., "The Person Of Interest." Every account I read listed her weight (at 4' 11") as 111 lbs. Even when the height wasn't listed, she was listed as, "[name], 111 lbs." Not much to comment on there... that her weight was there and not her height just caught my eye... and the weight ALWAYS made the story text... the height didn't show up until the fifth article that I read.

- I'm curious how hard the reports will push this story once something unflattering to the left comes up. Statistically, he's likely to be a Bernie Sanders voter (white guy who shoots lots of other white people in 2017).

- I still can't get over the shooting [being at] a country music event. Again, about as white as you get (in terms of audience). And the shooter (it appears right now) was (at least) fairly white. And he was over 60. The age alone makes this an unusual puzzle.

Over on YouTube, Styx comments:


Phil DeFranco:


Paul Joseph Watson, pointing out hypocrisies as always:






Incheon Walk, Day 2 assessment

NB: NO PICS FROM HERE ON IN.

Just as happened on my big walk, I've acquired a blister on Day 2. Humorously, it's in exactly the same spot as last time: on my right foot, on the pad between my third and fourth toes. Hurts like a bitch, but again, as before, I'll just walk on through it. One either gets used to the pain, or the pain goes away after a while; phenomenologically and functionally, there's no practical difference. Not for me, anyway.

I'm at Techno Motel in Incheon. At W50,000 a night, it's more expensive than Dream Hotel had been, but at least the plumbing seems okay: no weak toilet flushes and no leaky/splashy sink drains. My walk tomorrow will be significantly shorter than either today's or yesterday's walks: Naver has my distance for tomorrow at 25.87 km. I cheated* today and took a cab from the seaside to the motel; the cab ride was so long that I began to think that walking that distance, after having walked about 30 km to reach the shore, would have been insane. To get the cab—because there were no cabs by the shore—I reinstalled my old nemesis, Kakao Taxi. This time around, there were no fuck-ups, and the cabbie proved friendly and chatty. I told him about the current walk, then tied that in with my April/May walk to Busan. The driver was suitably impressed, and he said he envied me. He also said he was an avid mountain hiker, and he recommended a spot at Seorak Mountain where you can pay W7000 to spend a night in simple lodgings, and spend your day both eating down-home mountain-style food and hiking up and down various trails, which are apparently quite beautiful this time of year.

Having now done the entire Seoul-to-Incheon route, I can characterize the Ara Canal trail as mostly flat, with only a few exceptions. Terrain-wise, the path is the temperamental opposite of the Nakdong River trail, with its monstrous and unending inclines. If the Nakdong is an angry, writhing Korean dragon, the Ara is a dragon that is stretched out and taking a nap. My blister, then, is simply the result of raw distance and time—and my weight, of course.

I met some traveling companions along the way today: tons of bright, poison-colored orb weavers, and quite a few praying mantises adopting various kung fu poses. I even got a picture of a dragonfly. The arthropods were out in force. During one tree-lined section of the route, I saw an orb weaver in almost every tree, and I began to think of each spider as a sort of guardian demon for its respective bit of vegetation.

My feet were hurting by the final ten or twelve kilometers; I managed to keep a respectable pace, but I think that that effort is what brought on the blistering. I'll be curious to see how much worse things get by the end of the week. We have to work on Friday, so I may be limping into the office the way one of my coworkers does (he injured his ankle earlier this year, then re-injured it during our recent retreat).

Naver Map's phone app hasn't been as accurate this time around: the GPS plot of my position keeps bouncing around, so I'm forced to navigate in a more old-school way by following the blue line of the plotted path and ignoring the constantly shifting dot that marks my progress across the map. To help with navigation when it's hard to reckon direction by the sun, I installed a compass app, a while ago, that has occasionally proved useful. But overall, it's hard to get lost when you're following long stretches of waterway.

There doesn't appear to be a stone to mark the end of the Gukto Jongju: instead, as you see in my photos, there are indications on the ground that show both a start (at 0 km) and an end (at 633 km) for the cross-country path. A large arch with the English word "FINISH" is the threshold through which you pass on your way to the final (or first) certification center. The seaward view is a bit anticlimactic: the ocean panorama is interrupted by offshore islands and some far-off structure that looks like a causeway or a bridge or something. If you cast your gaze due west over that man-made structure, you're looking out at the sea. Once I had stamped my final stamp, I stood around for a few minutes before walking a half-kilometer up to the hyugeso, the rest area where I ate a ddukbaegi bulgogi meal, bought some sodas, then used Kakao Taxi to summon my ride.

Oh, yeah: when I Kakao'ed my driver, he called me, before arriving, to say that we'd be passing through a toll area on the way to my motel, so I'd need to pony up for that. I told him that that would be no problem. When I actually met the driver face to face, he said he'd suddenly heard that, because it's the Chuseok holiday, no toll would be charged, and we could just drive on through the toll area. I ended up giving the driver a huge tip for his entertaining banter, and for his kind offer to deliver homemade songpyeon, special rice cakes, right to my hotel room.

So now, it's the two-day walk back to my apartment, and I won't be taking any photos. Day 3 will be shorter, as I mentioned above. Day 4 will be the same as Day 1, and I'll likely be staying once again at the Dream Hotel. Here's hoping I get a better room this time. Either that, or I'll pick a motel in the neighborhood that has a raunchier name and, I hope, better facilities.

ADDENDUM: I forgot my pedometer stats. Here they are:

462 min of walking time
46,109 steps (99.8 steps/min)
22.93 miles walked (dubious)
3558 calories burned (gross)



*While I felt a twinge of guilt about taking a taxi, I reasoned that I had still managed to walk the rest of the Gukto Jongju. I have now done the full 600-some kilometers. (633 km, according to the signage at the seashore.)


Incheon Walk, Day 2, 86-90

Incheon Walk, Day 2, 81-85

Incheon Walk, Day 2, 76-80

Incheon Walk, Day 2, 71-75

Incheon Walk, Day 2, 66-70

Incheon Walk, Day 2, 61-65

Incheon Walk, Day 2, 56-60