‘SS’ Social Network Launched

Experimented with ning.com to create a kind of sounding board for product ideas: a thought tank, if you will! Drop by the site here:


Here’s the first post for the record:

Since the web is such a wonderful read/write medium, it’s the perfect place to get lots of folks together and talk about products you like and why you like them? The goal here is to narrow down what makes a good product great in order to go out and make tons more!

I work in the software bizz so here is a list of what I think are five great software products I use daily and which I can’t leave home without:

1) RSS Menu (www.edot-studios.com) – Mac OS X only (sorry Windows & Linux folks) – this is the way interface should be done – totally transparent interface with all your newspaper, journals, podcasts available at a click of a mouse in the OS X menu bar. Bingo!

2) WordPress (www.wordpress.com) – blogging software done right – straight up interface and very easy to use. I store what I read for futher reference here and then access it through an RSS feed subscribed through RSS Menu, the software described above. This is a nice round tripping of information posting and retrival

3) RapdMetaBlog Widget (http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/blogs_forums/rapidmetablog.html) Whoops! OS X once again) – this is the third piece of my personal information trinity. I read something I like, select it, copy it, hit F12, paste it into this widget and post to my wordpress blog with the source citation for reference and copyright integrity. Totally seemless way to get information quickly with no fuss or muss unlike booting a browser and going through an alternative drawn out ritual.

4) Ubuntu Linux (http://www.ubuntu.com/) Finally a Linux distribution which has a single CD install and that works pretty much right out of the box. If you have an old Windows or Mac box acting as a footrest unable to handle the overhead of OS X or Vista, you’ve just found yourself a deal. Installing Ubuntu gives you everything you need in a box for FREE: email, VOIP (Skype included), Office apps, Firefox 2.x browsing, streaming music, streaming video (need to install a little software add-on called Automatix (http://www.getautomatix.com/) What is the base hardware required? Bottom line: 512 MB of RAM and a 600Mhz or greater Celetron or PowerPC processor circa AD 2000 (you can get by with less but it would not be fun)

5) Flock – (www.flock.com) this is an attempt at browser convergence bringing together online blogging, digital photo archiving and a browser in one package! Runs nicely on Ubuntu and everywhere else (OS X too)!

So now it’s your turn to inform! Turn us on….please!

A foreigner links Japan to its soul

By Martin Fackler
Monday, February 19, 2007
International Herald Tribune:
MATSUE, Japan: As snow silently fell on the miniature garden outside, Bon Koizumi sat on the same tatami mat floor where, more than a century before, his great-grandfather had penned some of Japan’s best-loved traditional folk tales. It was the perfect image of Japanese repose, except for the sepia-toned photo of Koizumi’s ancestor, whose bushy mustache and aquiline nose showed an unmistakably Western face.
His great-grandfather was Lafcadio Hearn, the Irish-Greek author whose wanderings brought him here after a career as a muckraking journalist in the United States. And while Hearn lived in Matsue only 15 months, this castle city on Japan’s remote coast still claims him as its favorite son, displaying his face on park statues, street signs and local brands of beer, sake and even instant coffee.
Hearn’s colorful descriptions of this medieval city and its ancient tales of gods and ghosts first put Matsue on the map in the 1890s. Even now, Matsue remains a popular tourist destination, thanks to Japan’s enduring fascination with Hearn, who married a local samurai’s daughter, took Japanese citizenship and died in Tokyo in 1904.
Many countries have favorite foreign observers, who are embraced for shedding light on the local culture in ways that native authors cannot.
For many Japanese, Hearn’s appeal lies in the glimpses he offers of an older, more mystical Japan lost during the country’s hectic plunge into Western- style industrialization and nation- building. His books are treasured here as a trove of traditional legends and folk tales that otherwise might have vanished because no Japanese had bothered to record them.
“At a time when Japan was obsessed with gaining material wealth, it took a foreigner to warn that it was losing something else,” said Koizumi, 45, a college professor and advisor to the city’s Hearn museum. “Lafcadio Hearn is a way for Japan to regain touch with its soul.”
That small museum — three rooms displaying old books, photos and manuscripts — and Hearn’s former house, where Koizumi sat as he spoke, are some of ten or so sites scattered about Matsue that appear in Hearn’s books. Others include Buddhist temples and a shrine with mossy stone fox statues.
Takeshi Hatano, a 44-year-old consultant from Tokyo who made an hour detour here during a business trip to a nearby city, said that only a foreigner had the foresight to preserve folk tales a century ago, when Japanese were dismissing them as superstitious.
“We grow up reading Yakumo Koizumi’s ghost stories,” Hatano said, using Hearn’s Japanese name. “He loved Matsue, and Japan, and told us to love them.”
Matsue appears so often in Hearn’s books that most Japanese naturally associate him with the city, even though Hearn cut short his stay here to escape the bitter winters. Hearn spent most of his 14 years in Japan in another provincial city, Kumamoto, and Tokyo before his death at age 54.
Matsue’s Hearn connection led the national government to proclaim it one of Japan’s three top international tourist cities, with the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara. City officials say last year, the Hearn sites helped draw 8.1 million tourists, mostly domestic, to this city of 150,000, nestled on a lake near the restless green Sea of Japan.
Matsue also promotes Hearn with festivals of Irish cooking, classes in Gaelic language and, next month, its first St. Patrick’s Day parade, rare in Japan. The 300-strong Hearn Society of Matsue invites scholars for conferences. The city also hosts a national speech contest for high school students to read Hearn’s stories in English.
The Matsue mayor, Masataka Matsuura, says Hearn gives his city a unique appeal in an era when chain stores and malls are making Japanese cities look more alike.
“Tourists come to find the same original essence of Japan, which Hearn found here,” said Matsuura.
Hearn’s writings show he was enchanted as soon as he set foot in Japan in 1890. Born in Greece to an Irish father and Greek mother, Hearn made his name writing for newspapers in Cincinnati and New Orleans about macabre murders and exotic local legends, but ran into social disapproval after marrying an African-American, scholars say.
He found Japan to be a crimeless, almost utopian society — a “fairyland” populated with “the most lovable people in the universe,” as he wrote. He looked for the source of Japan’s “strangeness and charm” in the ancestor worship of its native Shinto religion, whose most venerated shrine is in Izumo, near Matsue.
But it was Matsue, dominated by its “grim castle, grotesquely peaked,” as Hearn described it, that provided a perfect setting for his celebrated retellings of Japanese ghost stories. Generations of Japanese have been spooked by his images of haunted Matsue, says Morio Nishikawa, a professor at Kumamoto University who specializes in Hearn.
In one popular story, a phantom under a Matsue bridge hands a boastful samurai a box containing his son’s severed head. In another, a mother returns from the dead to feed her infant in a Matsue graveyard. Scholars say these were local legends that Hearn heard from his Matsue-born wife, Setsu, and wrote in English. They were later translated into Japanese.
As Hearn’s descendant, Koizumi has become Matsue’s de facto steward of Hearn’s memory. Besides the museum, Koizumi leads tours to Hearn-related sites and runs a summer camp for children to learn about Hearn. While growing up, his only connection to Hearn was the Irish folk tales his father told at bedtime. Koizumi started looking for ways to promote Hearn about 20 years ago because he was afraid young Japanese were forgetting him and Japan’s traditions.
“Children now are losing touch in their virtual world of video games,” he said.
Natsuko Omura, a sophomore at Matsue Kita High School, said there was some truth to these concerns. She said she and her friends had heard of Hearn but don’t talk about him or read his books.
“I don’t understand Hearn,” said Omura, 16, who won the city’s Hearn speech contest last year. “He’s a little strange.”

Aids in action: slow motion!

A 3-D X-ray crystallographic image showing the broadly neutralizing antibody b12 (green ribbon) in contact with a critical target (yellow) for vaccine developers on HIV-1 gp120. Scientists have captured an image of the AIDS virus in a biological handshake with the immune cells it attacks, and said on Wednesday they hope this can help lead to a better vaccine against the incurable disease. REUTERS/NIAID/Handout

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Reversible-Destiny Lofts


The Discomforts of Home: Reversible-Destiny Lofts by Arakawa and Gins

an exterior of reversible-destiny lofts (2005)
arakawa + gins
photo by masataka nakano

(this article first appeared in the december 19, 2005 issue of newsweek international)

An innovative new housing project in Tokyo aims to keep residents sharp by throwing them off balance. Duck!

Most people, in choosing a new home, look for comfort: a serene atmosphere, smooth walls and floors, a logical layout. Nonsense, says Shusaku Arakawa, a Japanese artist based in New York. He and his creative partner, poet Madeline Gins, recently unveiled a small apartment complex in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka that is anything but comfortable and calming. “People, particularly old people, shouldn’t relax and sit back to help them decline,” he insists. “They should be in an environment that stimulates their senses and invigorates their lives.”

With that in mind, Arakawa and Gins designed a building of nine apartments known as Reversible Destiny Lofts. Painted in eye-catching blue, pink, red, yellow and other bright colors, the building resembles the indoor playgrounds that attract toddlers at fast-food restaurants. Inside, each apartment features a dining room with a grainy, surfaced floor that slopes erratically, a sunken kitchen and a study with a concave floor. Electric switches are located in unexpected places on the walls so you have to feel around for the right one. A glass door to the veranda is so small you have to bend to crawl out. You constantly lose balance and gather yourself up, grab onto a column and occasionally trip and fall.

Even worse, there’s no closet space; residents will have to find a way to live there, since the apartment offers only a few solutions. “You’ll learn to figure it out,” says Arakawa. Ten minutes of stumbling around is enough to send even the healthiest young person over the edge. Arakawa says that’s precisely the point. “[The apartment] makes you alert and awakens instincts, so you’ll live better, longer and even forever,” says the artist.

Completed in October, the apartments are now selling for $763,000 each — about twice as much as a normal apartment in that neighborhood. Arakawa and Gins have received dozens of inquiries and are now in the process of showing and interviewing potential buyers. They have a certain celebrity cachet: Jakucho Setouchi, an 83-year-old popular author and respected Buddhist nun, bought one on the top floor.

Built by Takenaka Corp., a leading Japanese contractor, the apartments actually meet every building-code requirement. The artists are not worried about possible injuries or lawsuits, but make sure each buyer understands “the concept” of the building before he or she signs the contract. This isn’t the first time Arakawa and Gins have created seemingly hazardous structures; 10 years ago the pair opened the Site of Reversible Destiny — Yoro Park, a theme park in Gifu, central Japan. The popular tourist spot consists of attractions designed to throw people off balance, made up of warped surfaces and confusing directions. Visitors often fall — but so far nobody has sued.

Arakawa and Gins hope the Reversible Destiny Lofts will catch on outside Japan as well. Each unit is made up of large concrete blocks that can be preassembled, making the Mitaka complex a prototype for mass production. In fact, Arakawa says, they are in talks with interested parties in Paris and New Jersey about building similar complexes. Their ultimate goal: to turn an entire community into a Reversible Destiny town, where people of all ages live, work, study and play in their unsettling buildings. “It will be a revolution,” says Arakawa. “This will change the way people live.” That is, assuming people don’t mind living with sloping floors and no closets.

(c) 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

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