Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Living Appreciation #1 - John Williams

John Williams was born in New York in February 1932 and is currently 83 years old.

To say he composed the music of my childhood would be an understatement, as his film scores for Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in particular have been so embedded in my mind that they are evocative of a time and place and a feeling more powerful than most pop songs of the same time.

Not only is his film music special and memorable and so closely associated with each film he scored, but his compositions have also transcended the films they inhabit to become instant mood setters or sign posts to certain moments in time.  His simple theme for the film Jaws came to represent the shark in Spielberg's masterful thriller, but it's also used all the time now to convey any impending danger.  His score for 1978's original Superman movie is now synonymous with flying and breaking free from earthly constraints and soaring.  The recent movie trailer for the new Jurassic Park film called Jurassic World featured just a few moments of his original score, and instantly viewers were transported back to that magical summer in 1993 when we first believed dinosaurs were back roaming the earth. And a burst of his original Star Wars music sent tingles down my spine while I watched the 88-second trailer for the new Star Wars movie coming later this year.  A glimpse of the Millennium Falcon and John's music transported me back to being 8-years old and watching Episode IV for the first time in 1977.

Mr. Williams has been awarded many prizes, including 5 Academy Awards, over the years for his film scores.  But you can't quantify what his music has meant to me over the years.  And he's still reaching out to new generations of movie-goers, with his music for the first three Harry Potter films setting a tone that the other composers would follow and make that music and indelible part of their childhoods as well.

The whimsy and adventure and emotion in his scores for films as diverse as E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List, and Star Wars show that he is a man of extraordinary gifts as a film composter and conductor.  Many people talk about this band or that singer being the "soundtrack to our lives" and for sure I have a few of those as well.  But I spent much of my youth watching movies, and re-watching movies on this new 1980s technology called a VCR, that Mr. Williams's music is truly the soundtrack of my life and I want to say "Thank you" for so much great music and movie moments over the years.  I can't imagine a world without your film scores.



Introduction to the "Living Appreciation" series

One of the main reasons I wanted to start blogging again was to commit this series to paper, so to speak, and share my appreciations with everyone.

So many older entertainers, singers, actors, directors, novelists, etc have laudatory and praise-filled pieces in magazines and online media AFTER they pass away.  It's only natural to honor their memory.  What I would like to do with this series is say many of the same nice things about some of my most favorite people while they are still alive so they can appreciate the praise while their still living.

I'm going to concentrate mostly on those performers and experts in their field who are over 65 years old.  Despite the sudden departure of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman recently, those are unexpected and tragic, I would like to focus on people who've had a long career and hopefully a fulfilling life.

I have the first 3 or 4 subjects already in my head, but after that I'll just be winging it with whomever comes up that week getting the slot.

I hope you enjoy!
-Jason

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Yahtzee & Dice with Buddies

I roll dice everyday.  Many times a day in fact.  But I never actually touch real dice.  They're virtual dice in two of my favorite iPad/Smartphone apps - Yahtzee and Dice with Buddies.

I've always loved playing Yahtzee.  But it's one of those games you really can't play on your own so much.  You can play for a score, but you need another player there to witness your awesomeness and compete against.  One place I used to always spend hours playing Yahtzee was on airplanes that have that screen in the back of the headrest in front of you so you can watch movies and play games, etc.  I always picked Yahtzee and would play against the computer for hours of my trans-Pacific flights.

So I was really happy when I got my first smartphone in 2010 and I saw that EA and Hasbro had made an official Yahtzee app for iPhone, Android and tablet.  I bought it immediately and it soon became my go-to game for waiting rooms, long lines, anything where I needed to occupy a few minutes doing basically nothing.  I amassed some pretty impressive stats over the next few years and would challenge friends and co-workers to play whenever I could, since the AI in the app became rather predictable.

Then, about a year ago, I saw a new app on Facebook called Dice with Buddies.  Like "Words with Friends", it was a simple Yahtzee rip-off, with two distinct differences.
1 - You had a chance to use a "bonus roll" after the three standard rolls of each turn.  You could win free bonus rolls by playing well in the game, but you could also buy as many bonus rolls as you like thru in-app purchases, for about .17cents per roll or about $2.99 for 18.  This opportunity, of course, changes the game drastically and so it isn't as "pure" as Yahtzee, but I found myself playing it almost exclusively because of
2 - You play against other real people.  There is no computer opponent.  You take a turn and then wait for your friend (online or real) to take theirs.  I have one friend in America and we both like to play so much that we usually have 6 or 7 concurrent games happening at once.  Plus, the time difference works in a way since we usually have time to see that day's moves and then make our own before the other person wakes up.  I also play against a few people in Japan and a few that I met thru the game and I have no idea where they live or what language they speak.
This aspect of always competing against another real person and the ability to bonus roll yourself out of tight spots has me hooked and I play about 1 to 2 hours everyday.

And again, my stats are pretty impressive if I do say so myself.  I have a 67% winning percentage and am already a level 9 after only playing for about 9 months.

The ONLY thing I've never been able to do in all the "Challenges" that the Yahtzee app gives you to complete is be a "minimalist."  That means scoring 5 points exactly in a game.  It might sound easy, but it's terrifically difficult.  In order to score 5 points in a game, which is the lowest score you can get, you have to put a zero in every category except "Chance" which simply counts up the number of your dice and gives you a score. And in that category, you have to score a 5-of-a-kind (Yahtzee) in ONES after already having put a zero in your ONES category AND your 5-of-a-kind category.  I don't try to do it that often, but it's really hard and I would love to hear from anyone that has been able to do it.

OK - enough about my Dice obsession...  but if you want to play, my DwB name is JasonJapan.  See ya and thanks for reading!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Wow - it's 2015 already...

Hello!  Ohisashiburi desu ne.  Long time no see - no write - no blog.  I stopped writing in this space way back in 2011 and 2012, but here it is, three years later and the blog still exists.  Google or Blogspot or our internet overlords never saw fit to delete this blog.

Which is good, cuz recently I've felt an urge to get back to writing.  And starting tomorrow, I will have 5 weeks of vacation with little to do each day.

So I have some plans for this space...  I'm not sure who will be reading, but I guess my first series of posts will mostly be for me, but hopefully of interest to others as well.

I don't think my writing in the next few weeks will be too Japan centric, so if you mostly follow me for my vids and thoughts on Japan, then these may or may not interest you.

Anyway - if you are reading, I appreciate it, and if you want to leave a comment, I will do my best to read them and reply as needed.

More soon,
Jason

Saturday, March 03, 2012

SW toys for PM 3D

Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 7Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 1Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 2Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 3Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 4Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 5
Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 6Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 8Star Wars omake (toys) for Phantom Menace 3D in Japan - 9

SW toys for PM 3D, a set on Flickr.

A cool set of 12 mini Star Wars toys just came out to promote the March 16th opening of the Phantom Menace in 3D.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Closing this Blog at end of 2011

Hello All -

I started this blog, when blogging felt like a new thing, way back in the summer of 2004, when I had just arrived in Japan to start what ended up being 5 years with the JET Programme.

I blogged and posted quite a bit back in those first few years - writing as a way to let friends and family back in the States know what my life was like in rural Japan.
A funny thing happened along the way - my family rarely read my posts, but I started getting comments and page views from an ever increasing number of strangers who were simply interested in life in Japan. I think this happens to many foreigners who come to Japan and start blogs or vlogs on YouTube to keep in touch with their friends back home only to find that their musings and experiences are of interest to many more people than they ever thought.

I started my own channel on YouTube back in late 2006 and it grew slowly at first until I started to blog specifically about being an ALT in the JET Program in early 2008. My YouTube channel became more and more popular and my time spent here posting text grew smaller and smaller.

I also joined FaceBook and now Google + and I feel like a lot of the links and material I would have posted here back in 2005 or 2006 I now post almost daily to sites like Twitter and Google +. So I'm seeing less and less of a reason to keep this blog going.

Of course, the archive of my experience as a new ALT I think still holds some value. Maybe I am the only one who finds my early postings amusing in their wide-eyed angle on things, but I think I would like to preserve these writings for myself, if no one else.

So my plan is to move (cut and paste) the early years of this blog to an archive I will set up at my newly revamped website - JapanJuku.com

I will forgo the postings of pictures that are no longer public, and simple updates about current events or daily trivia. But the postings about my life as a new ALT I will move to the new site so perhaps others can learn from them or chuckle along with me at their innocence.

I don't think this will happen quickly, so like the title of this posting states, I'm thinking this blog will remain open until the end of this year.

But after that, please keep in touch via my other sites - YouTube (I hope to go back to posting videos in the fall), Twitter ( @TaishaJason or @JapanJET ), and you can follow me on Google + at Myargonauts Jason.

I really, truly have enjoyed this blog over the years, but it's time to move on. I thank you for reading, and I hope to see you over at JapanJuku.com (opening again in September) or one of the other sites soon.

Peace,
Jason