Sunday, May 31, 2009

We're in Tokyo!

I'm sitting in Shinjuku overlooking the city as I type this. I don't have time to write much now, but definitely will later - probably starting tonight. The weather's been a big bummer so far (including on our landing, which was one of the scariest and most amazing I've had), but today's supposed to be better, and so far, anyway, I do see some sun poking through. I hope.

Friday, May 22, 2009

An A380 flying over my train

Seemed a little more impressive in person.

I have upgraded my template.

Good Lord, do you know how long it's been since I put a new template on this blog? Ok, a little history. If you check the sidebar, you see that my first post here was actually in 2003. At the time, I think Blogspot only had about 3 themes, one black, one white, one something else. I had the black one.

I think it was in 2005 that I switched to "Dots" or whatever they call it, and I tweaked it a bunch (made it wider, added the awesome ajax labels until Google broke it, etc.) but web design doesn't stand still. I needed a change. And I needed to go big and bold. So here you go. VoilĂ .

Like the giant header? I do. Lots of other cool stuff below the surface, though. And I'll be adding more soon - lots of stuff from my old template got deleted when I upgraded. C'est la vie.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Evangelion cell phone - gear up for Evangelion 2.0!

It seems amazing, but about 15 years after the series first debuted, Neon Genesis Evangelion is still going... and going... and going. The 26 episode (plus two movies) series is now being retold in the form of four new films officially dubbed "Rebuild of Evangelion", the first of which was released a couple of years ago, with the second coming next month. I was lucky enough to see Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone in Japan on our last trip there, and it was amazing - if you were already a fan of the series. (Anyone else would have missed a lot of what made the original series so great, as the new movies are just all action.)

Anyway, the marketing blitz for Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance is in full swing. This cell phone was just unveiled today - do want!

Follow the link to see more of the Sharp SH-06A NERV Evangelion phone. And still more on NTT DoCoMo's official site.

What's so cool about this? First of all, how about a 10 megapixel camera? (I know, megapixels aren't everything... but they're something.) The display is WVGA - 854x480, and capable of 16.7 million colors (no dithering). No western phone comes close to that. Of course, things like GPS, bluetooth, microSD expansion, etc. are all standard.

I'd actually buy this if it were available here. Yeah, I admit that sometimes I'm kind of a dork.

By the way, while Evangelion trailers are always a bit of a letdown (I guess they figure they're not aiming to capture new audiences anymore), here are a couple for the new film for those who are interested. There have been at least two official ones released in the last couple weeks - and yeah, that's Utada Hikaru singing in the second one. Her version of "Fly Me to the Moon" was actually a B-side to the single for "Beautiful World", the theme song to Evangelion 1.0.

Can you tell I'm in full Japan mode as I get ready for our trip later this month?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hey, R*

Sorry for being cryptic, but this is for a specific person (or people). You know who you are. I don't, though, so email me and tell me. Are you friend or foe? I didn't think I actually knew anybody there anymore. (Not anybody that didn't want to break my kneecaps, anyway.)

P.S. If you're friend, I hope this doesn't scare you off. I'm just curious.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MOSDO - Mister Donut donut burger

Here's one of those "only in Japan" things that I just can't wait to try later this month.

Yes, a donut burger. Just went on sale today!

It's actually not as disgusting as it sounds. It's really just a way for MOS Burger and Mister Donut to cross-promote. It's actually got a clever name - "MOSDO" - which is both a play on Mister Donut's common abbreviation "MisDo" and a way to incorporate MOS Burger into the name. The "burger" itself is made of a donut bun, green tea sauce, green tea whipped cream and a chocolate patty. There's also a strawberry version.

It's basically just a really complicated - and probably super sweet - donut.

Oh, and the fries? Kinda like a churro, but with real potato mixed in. Weird!

It's all being promoted by former Morning Musume members and now just general cuties Nozomi Tsuji and Yaguchi Mari. (Yes, you too can turn being cute into a celebrity career in Japan!)

Here's Tsuji's commercial:

And Mari's:

It's kind of funny how they're both snapping cell phone photos to post on their blogs.

I'm actually intensely annoyed by ads like this in Japan (no offense to the girls). It's a common template: hire some celebrity, then make them act as if you've "surprised" them with your product that everybody already knows about and that you've no doubt told them they were promoting or they wouldn't have agreed to be in the ad. Who does Mister Donut think they're fooling?

Still, I'm jonesing for some donut burger.

Friday, May 08, 2009

This will make you throw up

Something super hypnotic about it, though...

Untitled (2 axes) from Timothy McConville on Vimeo.

And I wonder how he actually did it. Anyone figure it out? A co-worker (who's a filmmaker) and I were talking about it - just swinging a camera around wouldn't act like this.

Side note - my first thought watching this was "wait, where's the axe?" Oops.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Silent Hill and Centralia, PA

I'm not the first to write about this, and there's no particular reason for me to do it now. But this is one of those real-life stories that's seeped into popular culture without most people even knowing there's truth behind it. And it's got all the elements to make for bona fide folklore.

This is also my excuse to show the trailer of one of my favorite video games of all time, Silent Hill 2. If you never played this game, it's a story about a guy who gets a letter from his dead wife telling him she's waiting for him in the town of Silent Hill. He loves her, so of course he goes, fighting his way through his own version of hell to find her. The game is one big emotional mindfuck, which is something this series has always had over every other horror video game series out there. Even if you don't like video games, if you're into art or film of any kind, you should be able to appreciate this.

You might remember the movie from 2006. Like most film adaptations of video games, it was somewhat dumbed down and a lot more straightforward in plot than any of the games. But it wasn't too bad. There's a full trailer on YouTube, but I actually think the first teaser they released was a lot more creative (and spooky):

One thing the movie did do, though, is attempt to explain a little bit of the town's backstory - which from what I remember is one of the first few games' central mysteries. (It was later explained in more detail in the PSP game Silent Hill Origins.) And that backstory was lifted by screenwriter Roger Avary right out of Centralia, Pennsylvania.

Centralia was a town in Pennsylvania coal country, with a series of mines running beneath the town. In 1962, one of these mines caught fire, and the coal began to burn. It hasn't stopped burning since.

The fire and smoke were never as thick from a visual standpoint as they are in Silent Hill, though there were and are pockets of thick smoke on the outskirts of town.

Centralia, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists (though about 15 die-hards still live within the old town limits). It can't even really be classified a ghost town, which it was through much of the 1980's. The fire and smoke drove most of the residents out, and the government no longer puts the town on official maps. It even lost its zip code a while back. One of the most amazing images of the town today is simply the Google map satellite view:

50 years ago, that would have been a bustling town filled with structures. Today, most have been torn down and the ground turned to dust. Nothing grows there but the hardiest of plants because of the heat. It's somewhere between a desert and a lava flow.

The old Route 61 - the main road running through the town - has buckled under the heat of the underground fire, and was closed years ago.

This is one of those places that really does have a series of "ROAD CLOSED" signs across it, like you see in the movies. The entire town is bypassed by Route 61 today.

I've never read that the original Team Silent used Centralia, PA as inspiration for the first Silent Hill, but I like to think they did. It was a Japanese-developed game about an American small town, so they clearly did some research. Regardless, though, the story of Centralia is one of those sad but unbelievable stories that seem somehow unique to this country.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Doc Martens: England vs. Thailand vs. China

JANUARY 2013 UPDATE: I've gotten a new pair of UK Docs and they are a lot different from what I describe below. Feel free to continue reading this earlier post, but be sure to read my thoughts on the latest revisions as well.

This is one of those blog posts borne out of my own frustration. Apparently I'm not the only one, as this has become one of my more popular posts since it was originally written.

I started with a simple question: are British-made "Vintage Collection" Doc Marten's really worth the extra cost over the standard shoes?

(Side note: did you know there are Doc Martens now that cost more than $1,000?)

I couldn't find an answer anywhere, so I took a chance on a new pair of Vintage Collection Doc Marten 1460's:

All Doc Martens used to be made in England, but like every other company in the world, they're trying to cut production costs. They now outsource their standard shoes and boots to either China or Thailand - I've seen both on the current market, though the Thai ones seem more common in the United States these days. Due to the proverbial "popular demand", they now produce limited quantities in England again and sell them as the Vintage Collection.

I wondered if the cost difference ($65, or about 60%) was really worth it. Both my wife and I already have pairs of Thai-made Dr. Martens, and other than the vague psychological oddness of wearing such an iconic British punk boot made in Southeast Asia, we've had no problem with them.

These are my self-darkened cherry red Thai-made 1490's, which are just the 10-hole version of the 8-hole 1460's:

I love them. I don't wear them a lot - I wear a lot of black, so it's tough to really pull off a red boot without looking like some sort of gothic clown - but I still love them.

And these are my wife's black 1490's:

If they look significantly different than my 1490's, it's mostly the size and age. Hers are a lot more broken-in, and much smaller.

I went nuts looking for differences in the Made in England boots. Here's what I found:

  • The biggest difference is the leather. Vintage DM's use Quilon, supposedly a "reissue" of the original DM leather. It's harder than the leather on the Thai and Chinese Docs. It does have a more substantial feel. On the downside, it takes forever to break in. And just a vanity thing, but my boots have developed creases in odd patterns as they've broken in - they just look weird. This leather is also not quite as shiny as whatever's on the Thai version, which can be a plus or minus depending on your outlook on life.
  • The PVC sole is slightly darker on the UK boot. It's not as big of a difference as I thought it would be from the pictures on DM's web site, though. I doubt most people would even notice while you're wearing them, especially as they age. It's definitely not a reliable way of telling a pair of UK Docs from Thai or Chinese-made Docs from afar.
  • The soles/insoles are a little different. Honestly, I have a hard time believing the Vintage Collection DM soles are period-correct. They are extremely hard. It's like walking barefoot on concrete. Given DM's rep for comfort, this can't be right. The Thai boots are way more comfortable.
  • The English ones say "Made in England" on the sole, insole and tongue. The Thai/Chinese ones obviously don't.
  • The 1490's and 1460's differ in this, so you don't see it in the photos of our 1490's, but the new 1460's sometimes have a top collar (a "lip" around the top of the boot). The Vintage Collection ones don't have this. Oddly enough, though, neither do some of the Chinese-made boots. There seems little rhyme or reason on the non-English ones.
  • This seems a little inconsistent from one color to another, but some of the new Thai-made 1460's have a Dr. Marten's logo stamped into the side. (The 1490's all seem to have this too.) The English 1460's are logo-free.
  • The sizing is a little different. The Thai boots run a little bigger than the UK ones, and for me are more comfortable. (My feet are kind of an "in between" size for the UK, so size 11 is a tiny bit too small but size 12 is too big. The Thai size 11 fits perfectly; the English boots pinch my toes.)
  • The yellow side stitching, which is a big part of the DM look, is actually a little sloppier on the English boots. The stitches themselves are of inconsistent length, the overlap is on the outside (rather than the inside where it's not as obvious), and on mine, at least, the overlap is really pretty poorly done and the thread is kind of frayed already. You can see it if you open up the photos above.
Most of those things are minor, with the important differences being fit, sole, and leather. Honestly, just to walk around in comfortably, I like the Thai ones better. The UK DM's look and feel more like "real" vintage DM's when you hold them in your hand, but they are a little bit sloppily made, are uncomfortable as hell and take forever to break in.

They literally made my feet bleed in several places walking around for a week straight with them on in Tokyo. And that was after a month of breaking in, including oiling/waxing. (They're now a bit better, though I still won't wear them every day.)

A little bit about the Chinese Docs... I actually don't have a lot of experience with these but I did see a few pairs in Tokyo last month (June 2009). The leather actually seemed Quilon-ish, moreso than the Thai Docs, although otherwise they looked like the Thai version. Not sure about the sizing. I do know some people have complained about quality control on the Chinese version, but I can't speak to that. The Thai ones seem well-made in my experience.

Hope this is still helpful to some people. I'm actually somewhat disappointed in my UK Docs and I thought about selling them for a while. They're now a little better broken-in, though, and I've got some good insoles for them so they're comfortable enough and I'm confident I'll be able to wear them long enough to wear them out. I really wouldn't buy these expecting them to be like the ultra-comfortable old Docs you used to read about or wear, though - just because they're made in England doesn't make them just like the old ones. I think the now-standard Thai version is actually closer to the original ideal at this point.

UPDATE! Ordered a new pair for yet another trip - still can't do a lot of walking in those UK boots - and they ended up being Chinese. So now I can directly compare all three versions - UK, Thai and Chinese.

So far, I might like Chinese the best! They're sized and shaped like the Thai boots, with the same more comfortable insole, but the leather is more similar to the UK version (as mentioned above in my earlier experience). A little bit less shiny than the Thai leather and just a tiny bit harder off the bat - but not "woody" like the current UK leather. I'm sure every factory is using leather sourced close to the plant. I don't really detect any other difference from the Thai version. These are very comfortable.

I'll update/rewrite this post again further to do a more direct comparison of all three in a few days. One thing I didn't mention enough before is the difference in size and shape between the UK and Thai/Chinese Docs - they're really just using a totally different template. I'd recommend going up a size on the UK ones - I don't think they're true to size, and that's one problem I had. I'm a US size 12, and a UK size... 12? That's not right. But I bought a size 11 for my UK Docs and they pinch, even a year later. My size 11 Thai and Chinese Docs are fine, and holding them up to each other, it's clear that the Thai and Chinese ones are just bigger. Pics coming soon!

One new pic for now. Some people in the comments have claimed that Thai/Chinese leather is "thinner" than UK leather. That's just factually incorrect:

That's Thai leather on top, UK leather on the bottom. If anything, the UK leather's thinner. UK leather's just harder; it's perception if you think it's thicker, because it isn't. In any case, it's 100% fact that the Thai leather is at least the same thickness as the UK leather.

It's harder to directly compare the Chinese leather because of the top collar on Chinese 1460's, but from the eyelet area (which is doubled on both boots), it looks the same.

(Note: due to a few bad apples from the UK who clearly have a political agenda, I've yet again been forced to turn off comments for this post. Sorry! I'll try turning them back on in a while. Everyone needs to realize that this is a xenophobia-free zone and a 100% non-political post before commenting.)

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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