August 2006


I ran across this article that discusses the economic reality of why people in America don’t use the public transportation. I find it meaningful because he address the value of the commuter’s time, which he purports to be the most important variable and is usually ignored by those that try to get people to adopt mass-transit.

Basically, it boils down to this: if I can drive there faster than I can get there via mass-transit, I will drive because my time has real (i.e. economic) value to me. This is more pronounced the more money you make, because your time is appropriately more valuable. Also, even if it takes the same amount of time, most people will choose to drive because time spent by yourself in your car (where you can control your immediate environment) is worth more to people than time spent on a bus or train where you are crowded with other people you’d rather not be with if you had an alternative.

In his analysis he only discusses the US, comparing places like NY where it makes sense for most people to use mass transit, to Moab, UT where obviously no one uses mass transit. What I find most compelling about it though, is that even though he never mentions it, his tenets seem to apply perfectly to Japan, where mass transit is almost ubiquitous and is used by practically everyone.

Let’s look at some of his conclusions and see how well they apply to Japan and to my commute to school here in Austin:
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I’ve decided to try and use my communting time on the bus to and from campus every day more effectively. Up until now I have been reading books on my older Sony Clie, mostly Sci-Fi books that my brother emails to me in text format. There’s still a near-endless supply where that came from, but I’ve decided that I could put that time to better use by studying Japanese. I’ve always intended to learn technical Japanese, mostly because even though I have years of experience speaking Japanese and speak it primarily at home, I’m embarrased that I can’t even do the most simple explanation of my research or any chemical/scientific/mathematic discussion without being instantly flummoxed by my lack of pertinent vocabulary. Now I do have some photocopied pages from a textbook on technical Japanese terminology, but I don’t have the title page so I don’t know the actual name, author, or publisher of the book. So this is all I have to go with currently. Still, it’s a lot for me to learn before I go on to more.

So to make use of my Clie, I’ve found the nice little program KingKanji that lets you make and use flash cards to study on your palm. It works great and I love it. It comes with lots of vocabulary lists, but unfortunately they are all “Japanese 101-202” level stuff, so even reviewing them gets really boring. I was hoping that some enterprising Japanese student would have some vocabulary lists that I could use, but I didn’t find anything. So I’m making the flashcard files myself from the photocopied book that I have. To get an idea of the vocabulary I’m working with, here is the list on page 13: 化学的諸量 (various units of measurement in chemistry):

モル [モル] /mole (M, amount of substance)/
比容 [ひよう] /specific volume/
アボガドロ数 [アボガドロすう] /Avogadro’s number/
分子 [ぶんし] /molecule/
粒子 [りゅうし] /particle (not subatomic)/
原子番号 [げんしばんごう] /atomic number, Z/
…のモル分率 […のモルぶんりつ] /mole fraction of …/
…の質量分率 […のしつりょうぶんりつ] /mass fraction of …/
…の容積分率 […のようせきぶんりつ] /volume fraction of …/
…の重量モル濃度 […のじゅうりょうモルのうど] /molarity of …/
濃度 [のうど] /concentration/
平均自由行程 [へいきんじゆうこうてい] /mean free path/
行程 [こうてい] /distance, path length/
熱力学的温度 [ねつりきがくてきおんど] /thermodynamic temperature/
絶対温度 [ぜったいおんど] /absolute temperature/
セルシウス温度 [セルシウスおんど] /Celcius temperature scale/
気体定数 [きたいていすう] /gas constant, R/
ボルツマン定数 [ボルツマンていすう] /Boltzmann constant/
熱 [ねつ] /heat, Q/
仕事 [しごと] /work, W/
内部エネルギー [ないぶエネルギー] /internal energy/
エンタルピー [エンタルピー] /enthalpy/
エントロピー [エントロピー] /entropy/
熱容量 [ねつようりょう] /heat capacity/
比熱容量 [ひねつようりょう] /specific heat capacity/
熱伝導率 [ねつでんどうりつ] /thermal conductivity/
浸透圧 [しんとうあつ] /osmotic pressure/
…の化学ポテンシャル […のかがくポテンシャル] /chemical potential of …/
溶解 [ようかい] /dissolve, solution/
溶解性 [ようかいせい] /solubility/
溶解度積 [ようかいどせき] /solubility product, K = [Ag+][Cl-]/
化学平衡 [かがくへいこう] /chemical equilibrium/
溶液 [ようえき] /solution (usually aqueous)/
溶質 [ようしつ] /solute/
単位 [たんい] /unit of measurement/
平衡定数 [へいこうていすう] /equilibrium constant/
難溶性 [なんようせい] /insolubility/
適用 [てきよう] /apply (a concept or principle)/

You’ll probably notice that some of these terms towards the end are not units of measurement. They are other pertinent words that I put in on my own. I think it’s pretty interesting how some words like specific heat capacity have full kanji words, but others like entropy are just transliterated. I wonder what characters they use for entropy in, say, Chinese? Probably something like ‘chaos’.

This is pasted directly from the flashcard file, you can see that the encoding is pretty simple. The first is the word in kanji, then in brackets is its reading in kana, and then between slashes is it’s meaning in English. You can set the program to show which of the three you want so you can quiz on English, reading, or kanji. Also it has different modes for learning, quizzing, and reviewing the lessons. Quite a good program, in my opinion.

When I get a little farther, I’ll start posting these flashcard files on a seperate page. I don’t know if anyone will use them, but someone might (if they are able to even find it…)

Have you ever had trouble rememering all the station names on the Yamanote line in Tokyo? Well, here is a song that will help you remember them. Fast-forward to the 4:00 minute mark. Quite a catchy tune, if I do say so.

Political commentator George Will has a very thought-provoking editorial about the political history and ramifications of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Will doesn’t particularly condone the visits, nor does he demonify them. This is by far one of the more objective viewpoints I’ve ever seen on the whole problem. Will makes a very poignant observation at the end:

The controversy about Yasukuni should not mystify Americans. With their comparatively minor but still acrimonious arguments about displays of Confederate flags, Americans know how contentious the politics of national memory can be, and they understand the problem of honoring war dead without necessarily honoring the cause for which they died.

Update: My friend Mitch did a detailed analysis on this editorial showing that it really isn’t neutral, nor does it really have much to do with the Yasukuni problem in the first place. I won’t pretend to be an expert or even slightly knowledgeable in this area, so I’ll bow to Mitch’s superior knowledge and intellect. I think what caught my eye on the article is that it was the first time I had ever read anything that wasn’t a spittle-flying condemnation of Koizumi and Yasukuni, since I don’t really read any Japanese right-wing news or literature.

Which is more funny: someone purposely trying to be funny by lampooning martial arts, or martial artists that seriously think they are doing real technique but instead look like they are trying out for the ice capades? You decide.

Mullett Swordmaster

or:

Qi Power

… of wisdom were never spoken. That is all.

The other day I was browsing through various videos on YouTube, and I ran across some clips from Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first star role in a big action movie. There were quite a few clips, but the ones that I really liked were this classic line (evidently this is originally a quote from Ghengis Khan, which is certainly plausible) and the climactic battle near the end of the movie. Watching it brought back some nostalgia from 80’s action movies, so I got hold of a copy and watched it. Maybe I’m getting wierd, or maybe it’s just that Hollywood spewing out nothing but crap for the last decade has really lowered my standards, but I really enjoyed it. It’s probably one of the best action epics I’ve ever seen. James Earl Jones and Mako (Makoto Iwamatsu, r.i.p.) give excellent performances, even though their screen time is pretty short. And Arnold? He wasn’t bad at all. He plays a very convincing barbarian (don’t know if that’s a complement or not though).

Another thing that really surprised me is that the majority of the swordwork seemed, well, solid. It wasn’t the clang-swords-together-until-I-stab-you-because-that’s-what-the-script-says that is the de facto standard in movie fight scenes, and it wasn’t the gymnasticly-impressive-but-ridiculous type of thing that is the norm in kung fu movies and the new norm in post-Star Wars Ep. I and The Matrix Hollywood. Take this scene where Valeria kills a couple of Thulsa Doom’s guards. You just don’t see that kind of fight scene in other movies. In fact, a lot of the sword work seemed somehow familiar. It turns out there is a good reason for that.

So according to imdb, the ‘sword master’ for Conan the Barbarian is someone by the name of Kiyoshi Yamasaki. Certainly Japanese, and most likely a Japanese martial artist, which would explain the familiarity of the swordwork I saw. So a quick google search found this site, which explains that he is an iaido and ‘tate-do’ instructor in Anaheim, CA. There is an old post on e-budo that explains most of his background with links to other pages with info on him.

Bonus: He also did the fight choreography for the 2nd Conan movie Conan the Destroyer, the Conan spin-off Red Sonya (although I wonder if he willingly admits to this one, since this movie is universally lampooned), and Dune. I’ll have to check up on those too, although I might need an antacid to get through Red Sonya.

Also, it turns out tate (殺陣) is the Japanese word for stage combat, which makes sense. The Japan Tate-do Society even has a dojo in Shinjuku.