Sunday, January 29, 2006

... And music.

(Note: this is the spiritual continuation of the Creative Commons post. If you're not interested in that stuff, scroll down to the bottom for my "Untitled piano demo", or just click that link there. Yes, that one.)

To quickly recap: since CC won't be saving musicians from starving, what will?
Answer: money. Well, that was easy enough.

But to get money they need people to pay for their stuff, fans. And to get fans you need exposure.

I can not stress the following point enough: I do not have any answers for this, only thoughts that are still in their infancy.

So how can the 'intarweb' help with the exposure for an artist? Well, a webpage is a good start. A webpage with band info and of course contact/ordering info for those who want a physical CD. What else? Music samples perhaps? You can't make new fans without them hearing your music. This is where I'm a bit torn; specifically which license you should use to distribute it, which I went through before. But whichever you choose, you can find hosting for your audio in various places. But still no money coming in...

Let me divert a bit from the primary subject at hand. Think about the stuff you see on the internet, the memes, the stuff that gets circulated via e-mail, blogs and social networking and becomes huge overnight; think the numa-numa guy, the cow falling when trying to mate. How often is the meme just an audio clip? People's attention span isn't really long enough for just a music clip to start circulating; they're listening, but they're not hearing. The sense that humans primary use with computers is the visual one. So if you'd have an eye-catching, memorable video clip to go with the song... Enter music videos.

In a recent article in the daily newspaper Vasabladet, a director/produced-type-of-guy condemned those who share music videos via peer-to-peer. Said that since they're so expensive to make and everything, people should respect that and not share them. You'd almost think that he doesn't want people to see them. In Japan, a music video is known as a "PV", standing for Promotional Video. A music video to me is primarily a way of keeping the audience's interest for the length of the song. A music video doesn't have to cost that much to make really. I mean, they made Star Wreck 6 on a pretty tight budget, and that's better than many Hollywood-productions I've seen! And if it's silly/stupid/weird enough to get people talking about it, then it doesn't even have to be good. And with video editing software like iMovie easily available, you don't have to break the bank. (Except for the recording equipment, hopefully you can rent that.)

Now let's say that you've made your song and have the video to it made. What next? Put it where people can see it. Face it, you've got practically no chance of it getting on MTV, anyway. Youtube and Google Video are both services that store videos that users upload. There they are converted into a format which most browsers can play, making it easy to be seen. Now it's up to self-promotion and hoping that people will find it interesting. Tip your friends about it, if you're active on forums, make a post asking for feedback or something for it.

Though still nothing rolling in.

It is said by some that live shows are the real future for musicians, but it's not often that you find a good fanbase in your own neighbourhood. Especially if you promote yourself via the web, in which case you might find yourself with your fans halfway around the world. No way will the travel that far just to see some no-names playing live. But with the internet, you can have the next best thing: a live video, accessible to people around the world. Now imagine a payment system for that... Something a bit like the payment system for Google Video. Now most people should see where I'm going.

So now you have your audience, if they're willing to sit through your video and getting interested in the music itself, on Google Video it's just one click away to see what other videos are available from the user. And there then are the recorded live sessions, available for 1$/€ (or something, I'm not good with economics). And if people like it, they can then get it on higher quality media, like DVD or VCD/DivX CD. A mix of free and paid-for content sitting next to each-other, in a multi-tiered media assault. I don't know what that last thing was, but it sounded good.

And with that, I would like to make my own small contribution to the sea of noise. Listen to my "Untitled piano demo" if you want (it's only 2 minutes). If you have any name suggestions, fire away. Sorry everyone for the length of this post.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


I was in a very bad mood earlier today, banging my hand in the desk just because I was on the verge of losing a game of Snood. Not really my style. I started thinking what could have caused the bad mood, and though my first thought that it was just a while since I had eaten is probably correct, it's boring. Instead I have another thought.

As I said earlier, I finished Ouendan earlier last Sunday. What happened next is that I went through the next difficulty level surprisingly fast! Probably due to the fact that I was used to the songs by then. In any case, it went a lot smoother than the first time around, but when I came to the final level a couple of days ago, I just ran into a wall. The first time I didn't even last ten seconds. So, my brain, which was then used to the daily sense of relief from finishing a level or two, was denied that feeling. This might be a good time to check up on terry lin's blogger where he has written quite a lot about it. Apparently it's called homeostasis.

I've linked there before, and I've probably brought it up, but the reason I read it/link to it as often as I do is that that is the kind of blog I would write were I not so concerned with how people would think of me. Just straight black-on-white, no lame graphics, no comments, no hit-counter, no extras. Just the blogger and the reader. With there being no indication whatsoever as to if anyone else is reading it, it gets a more intimate feeling, as if it's just a private conversation between two people (or perhaps monologue since there is no feedback system). While you're there, you can read about masturbation and that time he mooned a statue of an otter.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ghost in the Shell (Stand Alone Complex)

The above is an excellent image, by the way, and I'm kicking myself for not getting the poster when I had the opportunity.

So I just watched the two final episodes of the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex season 2 anime series. To be honest I did get a little teary-eyed for a while; if I told you which scene it might spoil it for you. Besides, those who haven't seen it would probably laugh their asses off.

Alright, for those who have seen it, without revealing too much, it was in the final scene with the Tachikomas. It was the singing that really got to me.

I'm not really interested in anime, it's just the couple that have caught my interest: Akira and Ghost in the Shell. It was a pretty strange path that I took really; it started with me getting interested in the game Oni, which I learned had been influenced greatly by GITS. After long consideration I decided to get the movie. This was a pretty big leap for me, having no previous experience with anime. In hindsight, I would say it was a pretty good introduction.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Loan-words in Swedish

I watched a show about manga on a Swedish channel the other day, and noticed that they in the subtitles used the Japanese word "mangaka" instead of the translated term "cartoonist", "manga artist" or "illustrator". This would have been fine if they hadn't tried to make a plural form out of it with "mangakor". For those not speaking Swedish, that sounds more like "manga-cows"; even though they have the word follow the same system of conjugation as other words in Swedish ending in "ka", the result is strange and confusing.

In this case, I think just a translation would have suited better.

Rhythm, Action

I finished Ouendan on normal mode late last night after an epic struggle with the last level. Now I have an all-new difficulty level to bite into.

I've also started thinking recently that the rhythm action-genre seems to really divide people into those who "get it" and those who don't. I really like Ouendan, and I was also into DDR (or "Dancing Stage" as it's also called), but decided I'd save it for the occasions when I'm home alone since I'm easily distracted when I jump around...

Another interesting thing is that I've noticed myself using phrases that I picked up from DDR and applying them to Ouendan; for example, there are three different scores you can get per "hit" in Ouendan: 50, 100 and 300, based on how close you are to the beat. In DDR it's a similar scheme, and when you go for only the top scores on DDR it's known as PA (Perfect Attack, "perfect" being the best score). That's one of the phrases that I find myself thinking about when playing Ouendan and trying to get only 300-scores. Another one is SDG, which stands for "single digit great/good" (I think it depends on the version whether it's "good" or "great"), which is when the number of "great/good"-scores are below 10 (with the rest being "perfects").

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

In which I talk about...

Even though I sort of miss that time when I was in puberty, I have no wish to go back. Many people look back on those days through rose-tinted glasses and think about how carefree they were. I'm not saying my life is perfect, in fact my problems I have these days are probably more important than the ones I had back then, but the all hormones flowing through me then made me very unstable. I always felt awkward and insecure. As I've grown older (perhaps not yet grown up) I've learned to live with my awkwardness and insecurity, and above all learned to accept myself to a far larger degree than I could before.

押忍!闘え!応援団! (Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!)
I got this game today and I'm completely hooked. If you have a Nintendo DS, get this game. It's in Japanese, but that doesn't matter as you can pick it up pretty quickly without knowing the language. And since I'm studying it it's double-plus good for me!

The premise of the game is that you use the touch-screen to tap in beat with the music, which helps the Ouendan cheer-squad cheer on people who need... cheering. And then there's the stories themselves, which are presented in a manga-like fashion on the upper screen, showing the character working hard as he's being cheered on. Miss too many beats and he/she breaks down in the face of the challenge...

It might sound weird when it's described, but this game has a charm that is seldomly seen.

Poster + frame = ?
I need to get a frame for this neat geisha-poster I got as a Christmas present from my sis'. The motif is of a geisha holding one of those paper-parasols up towards the camera so you can only see her feet. I wish I could find a pic of it online...

And the wonderful wooshing sound they make as they fly by. Love it.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Creative Commons...

There has been much talk back and forward about Creative Commons, the initiative to distribute media under a license that encourages copying.

For those of you not familiar with it, here's the basic rundown of the situation: With the advent of peer-to-peer filesharing, many found themselves distributing music that they didn't have the right to distribute and filesharing became the subject of a big witch-hunt by the copyright holders (in most cases big corporations). Copyright, if I have understood it correctly, comes from that only the copyright holder has the right to make a copy. So how would bands who wanted to use the Internet to spread their music do so without their listeners fearing the smack-down? Enter Creative Commons.Creative Commons allows the copyright holder to attach a license (or rather, a deed) to what they distribute, stating with a short string of text what is allowed. For example, the string: "Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License"* means you can "copy, distribute, display, and perform the work", "make derivative works" and "make commercial use of the work" under the conditions that you "You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor" and "you must make clear to others the license terms of this work". You can also specify other things, such as that the work may not be used for commercial purposes.

If you have surfed the web to any greater degree you will probably have seen the little grey badge somewhere, stating "some rights reserved". Multitudes have jumped on the bandwagon, sticking it on anything that they make, be it music, prose or poetry. Some really good stuff has been released under a CC license, including Finnish hit movie Star Wreck 6: In the Pirkinning. But as it is, it seems as if many attach a CC deed to their productions just to try to give it some credibility, no matter how much or, in most cases, how little work went into it. A thing can also be said about abuse of the CC deed, where it is attached to works that it is obvious that the person distributing it does not own the copyright for it; I have seen this happen myself.

While CC is a nice concept, I can't bring myself to fully embrace it. I think that if the work is of high quality, then it will inevitably be re-distributed over the Internet, whether you want it or not. And if the work isn't of good quality, if people aren't interested in it, then it won't matter what license it's ditributed with. Another thing that it does, is that it breaks down the barrier of conscience. As I imagine it happening, people come across music distributed under a CC license and, seeing as the artist wants people to copy the music, feel less inclined to actually pay for it; the "low threshold" disappears. It's similar with how copy-protection on CDs adds a low threshold: it won't put off those who really want to copy it, but it'll put off Joe Average. I see the same thing, but reversed, happening with CC: Joe Average sees the little CC notice and thinks: "free stuff!", and never thinks about the people who made it, working hard to produce it.

I do believe, however, that in some cases it can be good. But I don't think that it will solve any of the problems that face musicians and artists put off by the bully-behaviour of big media conglomerates.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Review: DS 楽引辞典 (Rakubiki Jiten)

First of all, there seems to be some confusion how the name is spelt. Some sites have it as "rakuhiki" while others have "rakubiki". Well, according to the furigana on the cover, it's "rakubiki", so that's what I'm calling it from now on.

What you should know first and foremost, if you don't have any prior knowledge of Japanese, this isn't for you. The entire interface is in Japanese, the introduction that comes up when you start it for the first time is in Japanese and the accompanying booklet is in Japanese. It quickly becomes clear that this isn't a E-J dictionary for the beginner Japanophile; this is purely designed for the Japanese. There is no kanji-lookup, nor is there any way to find out pronunciations of unfamiliar kanji you see on the screen. These are the two big failings of Rakubiki Jiten that turns it from a must-have into a pretty-neat-if-you're-interested.

The interface is pretty good, you can use the touch-screen to write words either in English or Japanese (you need to specify whether you use hiragana or katakana) and the dictionary jumps to the words that closest match the one you've written. Very nice first impression, but the handwriting recognition can be pretty dodgy at times (I've often had it see "u" as "v" when I haven't written the little foot/serif on it). Luckily you can also enter words via a small keyboard if your handwriting is horrible. There are various buttons around the writing area; on the left side these are, when writing Japanese, choice between hiragana or katakana recognition, and when writing English, choice between letters or numerals; on the right side you will find a button for alternatives when it doesn't properly recognize the input, eraser for when you want to delete a letter you've written, and last on the right is for switching size on the last character you've written. This can also be used in the Japanese input for making the small versions of characters as in じゅう (十), いっせん (一千) and じゃない (of course you can write them too, for those occasions you can use just a quarter of the writing area, as it's neatly divided, and it will usually recognize them as small characters).

There are four different dictionaries to use (the buttons for them encapsuled in red in the screenshot on the right): English-Japanese, where you write words in English; Japanese-English, where you write in Japanese; a Japanese word dictionary where you can look up definitions of words (in Japanese); and the last one is just everything compiled in one lump. I can also mention here that some of the kanji on the bottom screen can be very hard to read: the third button here looks like it's "工" inside a square followed by a "語". It was only through searching WWWJDIC that I came to the conclusion that it's supposed to be "国語".

When you've written in your word you select it from the dictionary list above the writing area and it appears on the top screen. It's only via the Japanese-English option that you can get hiragana pronunciation of words, so you will need to know how the word is pronounced before you can get the kanji for it. A pretty backwards system for the beginner.

When you have the word looked up, there's a small blue button called "jump" at the top of the touch-screen; with this you can select the next word in the translation, but as it only jumps to English words, this is also near useless.

For situations when the text doesn't fit in the top window you can use the white scroll-bar on the right of the touch-screen to scroll up and down. It's a very natural way of dealing with it and I found myself quickly picking it up. The arrows above the scroll-bar provide the same function, hold them in for fast automatic scroll. In the same way you can use the arrows on the sides of the "book" on the lower screen to quickly turn the page; you can also simply drag the stylus from one page to the other, the similar to the way you can wet your finger and drag a page to turn it.

Next to the question mark (which brings up the help, again in Japanese) there are two buttons marked "大" (large) and "小" (small), these set the size of the text in the top screen. You can also choose between two sizes for the text in the "book" on the lower screen, but for that you will need to press the "tools"-tab, suitably marked with a wrench.

Pressing the tools-tab also brings up a whole range of other capabilities that Rakubiki Jiten has. I don't know what all of them are for (as they use kanji I'm not familiar), but some of them are: Pictochat integration, allowing you to send dicitonary entries over the chat, an timed shut-off function, a world-clock that presumes you're in Japan, a calendar, an alarm clock/timer, a calculator, a small picture-book animation thing that you can use to make simple hand-drawn animations (in the same way you can write small figures in the corners of pages in a book and flip through them quickly to have it move), setting for the dictionary word list, notes from the makers of the books that Rakubiki Jiten is based on (presumably), and a set of English phrases (such as "Is there a post office near here"), presumably for the Japanese to use when they want to communicate with English-speakers without actually knowing any English.

In conclusion, it's a nice piece of software, but there is no way that it can replace a real electronic dictionary. If you already own an NDS, and if you have a real interest in Japanese, then you can consider buying it, but don't get it just for the Japan-trip expecting it to enable you to communicate with the natives. You could probably use it in the way that you write in the word in English and show the Japanese equivalent to the person you're trying to communicate with (in which case it would be faster than a traditional dictionary), but I don't think that solution would appeal to the language student. Don't get this instead of a good Japanese grammar/text book.

A weak 3/5. To be honest I'd rate it 2.5, but my interest in Japanese brings it up a bit.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

5 Movie deaths

A couple of death scenes in movies (or TV) that for some reason have stuck in my mind. Note that this might contain spoilers for the movies have you not seen them.

6 Feet Under - Nate Fisher Sr.
The first episode of 6 Feet Under, and the family father is killed in a traffic accident. I remember this scene due to the way it was depicted, from inside the car with the truck coming from the left showing outside in the window.

Platoon - Sgt. Elias Grodin
I remember this scene due to the way the music (which I can't find the name for right now) was incorporated to enhance the scene. When the scene is put in context, with the main character watching from a helicopter as Elias is gunned down by hostiles, even though a rival Sergeant in the platoon said he was already dead, his arms reaching up towards the helicopter.

The Green Mile - Eduard Delacroix
I saw this movie just yesterday, so perhaps that has something to do with the scene still being in my head. In this scene, Eduard Delacroix is about to be executed through electrocution, but a sinister warden, who's task it is to place a wet sponge on his head to increase contact surface for the electricity to run through (I guess), places the sponge without wetting it. The result is a long outdrawn death for the electrocuted, with lots of screaming, and the black hood covering his face eventually catching fire. This is the kind of scene that could give me nightmares even at my age. Just thinking about it makes me feel uncomfortable.

The Godfather: Part III - Don Michael Corleone
The last part of the Godfather trilogy, the last scene. Michael Corleone is old sitting in a wheelchair, if I remember correctly. Then he just slumps down, completely unceremoniously. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Hana-bi - Yoshitaka Nishi and Miyuki, Nishi's wife
Hana-bi is one of my favourite movies, and the ending almost never fails to give me a lump in my throat. Usually for Kitano, death scenes are very graphical, with the camera never hesitating to show everything there is to show, but with this final scene it's pure simplicity: the camera leaves the pair and pans over the sea, the music swelling up to the ending, but suddenly cut off by two abrupt gun-shots. And then, a shot of a child who had been playing in the vicinity, now frozen, just watching in disbelief.

Sure there are more, but five seemed like a good number.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Level up

I got a text message on my phone yesterday saying I passed both the grammatical/reading comprehension and kanji parts of the recent Japanese test! But the points for the kanji part were a bit on the low side... No honorable mentions for that. (Will need to rehearse them a bit more.)

For illustration, here's how it would look when I tell my brother (who is substituted since I won't use his image on the web; it's his tongue, though):

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Rat Incident

I may have mentioned previously that the rural location of the house brings with it the addition of bugs of various kinds, but about a month ago I was surprised by something most unexpected. Perhaps you can guess already what it was.

I went down to the basement to have a shower (the shower is located in what was prevously a sauna), and upon opening the door I saw something brown fall down from the left were some towels were hanging. It quickly scurried away, and left me shocked. What in the world was that crazy critter?!

After having notified my father the following day, he looked around, and surely enough found a tunnel, leading from the the ground outside to the sauna. The rat had apparently dug down through some softer in the vicinity of a pipe and gone through the brick! Flabbergasting!

We put out a rat-trap, but not having any luck we thought the thing had been outside when the tunnel was filled up and blocked. But then I spotted it again some days later, confirming our worries that it was still inside the house. We put up a bigger trap in the sauna, one that was originally designed for minks, moving the rat-trap that was there previously.

It took a while, but it was finally caught in the rat-trap on the last of December, letting us start the new year rat-free. It had been baited with a piece of apple, and it when the rat had gone in it it had crushed it's nose and jaw.

And the damn cat didn't do a thing.