Thursday, August 10, 2006

E-Mail Planet

E-Mail Planet

August 2006

I got an e-mail from someone asking about the name "Watashi," given to a character who features in one of my novels (I think, from memory, though I think uncertainly, the novel THE WIZARDS AND THE WARRIORS.) Given that "watashi" is a Japanese pronoun equivalent to "I," why had I bestowed such a name upon him?

""Didn't know "watashi" meant "I"... Is this why you gave one of your most self-centered and self-aggrandizing heroes, Sarazin Skye, the battle-alias watashi?""

To tell the truth, I have no recollection of any character named "Sarazin Skye," and have no idea where or how any such person fits into the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series. But I do remember giving a character the name Watashi.

In fact, at the time when I named a character Watashi, my Japanese was limited to half a dozen or so vocabulary items that everyone knows: sushi, sashimi, kimono, samurai, geisha and tsunami.

The name "watashi" was something I picked up from an American magazine in which a guy was writing about a sergeant who was his instructor in the United States marine corps, the instructor who introduced him to "watashi," meaning "death."

I have no idea how the instructor came by this term, and perhaps it was his own idiosyncratic coinage, but I remembered it, and bestowed it on a warlike character. For me, if for nobody else on the planet, the name meant "death."

While it is true that "watashi" is a standard Japanese pronoun meaning "I," there are other options, including "watakushi" (the more formal business-appropriate version of the pronoun); a girls-only variant which is "atashi;" a variant for boys and tomboys which is "boku;" a variant which suggests a severe Prussian temperament, appropriate for tough guy intellectuals and stony authoritarians; and, tucked away in the dictionary, there is the lordly variant "wagahai," an archaic term suitable for a daimyo, a great lord, and which, applied to an unprepossessing stray cat, is part of the joke of the Japanese title of the book I AM A CAT, which, in Japanese, is WAGAHAI WA NEKO DE ARU.

Additionally, there is an extremely coarse variant which is "ore," which is the language of the gutter, and which the native speaker of English should not attempt to use.

(At junior high school one day, a female teacher asked a boy to answer a question. His response was "Ore?," meaning "I, me?" This tough dockworker's language, coming as it did from a young teenager, evidently amused the teacher, for she answered, with supreme irony, "Hai, ore.")

In the last few years there has been a scam going on in Japan called "Ore ore." A woman is home alone and the phone rings. And who is it on the line? "Ore ore!" Literally, "I, me!" Your husband, you idiot woman, and I'm in trouble, these bad guys are into me for money, and I'm a dead man unless they get it.

So the woman rushes to the nearest ATM and sends the requested money-for-my-life to the designated account, then, later, realizes that the whole thing was a scam.

You wouldn't think it would be possible to pull a scam like this, but it has worked successfully on many women in Japan.

Recently, one exercise required my students to talk about a scary experience they had endured, and one woman told about receiving a telephone call from her son, who referred to himself as "ore ore."

She panicked, thinking this was one of the bad guy calls she'd seen on TV. As she was on the phone, she saw a car going past in the street, and she got the impression that the driver was looking directly at her. Not only were the bad guys on the phone, but one of them was right outside the house!

As it happened, the whole thing was a false alarm, and the "ore ore" of the phone call was in fact her son.

But one of her middle-aged friends did get hit by the real ore ore scamsters, and got taken for a sum exceeding two million Japanese yen, which is quite a stack of money if you compute it in American dollars, with the dollar currently at about 114 yen.

Another e-mail from somewhere on planet Earth turned up recently in my in box and told me where I could find Fat Freddy's Drop online. Supposedly, you could download files in .rbs format, "the same as .mp3," at:

""If you want to download then select the triangle next to the song, which will fill a text-box in the area "Blog This Track".
You can then use the html in that text box directly, or you can extract the url within it to download manually.""

When I got to the page I found it was labeled as being licensed under the terms of some kind of public commons setup, with a little logo saying "SOME RIGHTS RESERVED."

After finding the text box, I followed the instructions, pasted the text into a text file, then looked for the URL that I was supposed to extract. But, initially, I totally failed to see it amidst the clutter of code, which looked like this:


The very first thing that caught my eye was the words "x-shockwave-flash," and I know nothing about "flash," whatever it is, except that I keep encountering websites which proclaim that they use flash, and that I must download and install flash if I want to continue.

So at first I gave up.

But, later, after a meal break, I took another look, and I realized that I could understand the code, more or less.

The "src," I think, tells you that the next item is the place you will get to if you click on the associated image, which is, apparently, something called a "player.swf," possibly some kind of software gadget which plays music.

Given that I had been told that I should be looking for an .rbs file, the end of the file I was looking for was, logically, ".rbs." Which meant that the URL which I should extract and paste into my browser was:[Fat Freddy's drop Live@Paris] - Ernie.rbs

This worked, and I downloaded the file okay.

Windows XP didn't know what to do with the file, and using Microsoft's online help didn't help at all, since Microsoft apparently knows absolutely nothing about the .rbs format.

However, I right-clicked on Ernie and opened it with my copy of Winamp, which played the .rbs file perfectly.

Once I had downloaded a bunch of Fat Freddy tracks, and had them all in a folder, I tried to play the entire folder in Winamp. But it wouldn't play, though this is a stunt that I can do with mp3 tracks.

So, experimentally, I renamed each .rbs file as an .mp3 file, something that was easy to do because I have my computer set up so all file suffixes are displayed.

I didn't really expect this would work but it worked just fine.

So I had Fat Freddy's Drop, including some tracks recorded live in Paris. And I heard one of the band speaking in a very obvious New Zealand accent, and having just downloaded that here in Japan pretty much brought tears to my eyes.

" ... we've traveled all the way from New Zealand Aotearoa, merci, thank you very much!"

Go for it, guys!

As I mentioned earlier, my understanding is that Fat Freddy's Drop is a bunch of Samoan New Zealanders who have their own laid-back style of reggae.

One of the distinctive features of their music is that songs do not seem to be segmented into mathematically precise chunks, with nobody thinking "a single must run for three and a half minutes, no more, no less."

Songs go on for as long as they want to, finding their own length, and the result has been spectacularly effective in the New Zealand market.

I found some stuff about Fat Freddy's Drop online at:

Rather than my primitive explanation of the music as "reggae," the site gives the following nuanced description:

""On stage, Freddy’s fuse skanking urban Pacific roots, soul, dub, jazz and electronica into hypnotic and thunderous grooves. No two Freddy’s gigs are the same as the midnight marauders improvise and jam each song into mystic supernovas of future funk, fakes and freaky sidesteps.""

Maybe I'll try that one on some of my high-level Japanese students of English one day:

"Okay, you guys, let me run this one past you: what does "skanking urban Pacific roots, soul, dub, jazz and electronica" mean to you?"

Reporting on the success of the band, the site says:

""The Freddy’s traveled to London in December 2005 and were on-hand to pick up the Worldwide Album Of The Year at the Radio 1 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Music Awards 2005, as voted by fans worldwide that tune in to the tastemakers show on the BBC.""

Once I was done downloading Fat Freddy, I downloaded some Stevie Wonder songs as well.

Wondering what might be online, I searched for "rbs" but hit the problem that it's shorthand for some kind of medical problem, and the Internet is littered with web pages about "rbs" which have absolutely nothing to do with music.

But I found an elegant way to get a relevant search result was to search for "rbs mp3".

For my 50th birthday I got, amongst other things, an e-mail in which I took a childish pleasure, an e-mail which assured me that "You are definitely still the smartest guy in the room..."

No longer true, but there is a kind of sweet nostalgia in thinking that such a statement might once have been true.

Also, for my birthday, I got two blocks of marzipan from my sister. Tragically, my wife does not eat marzipan (it's too sweet for her) and my daughter cannot eat (she may have an allergy to nuts, and marzipan contains almonds, so marzipan is off the menu for her.) So I scoffed the lot.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dearest Hugh,
happy 50th - you made it! I have only just realised you are 50 - I thought that was next year! That is because I thought I was going to be 47 this month. I'm glad you enjoyed the marzipan. With regard to the lost stapler dilemma - I think staplers are designed in a similar fashion to potato peelers, pens and umbrellas ie there is an invisibility conspiracy so you have to keep buying more. We have put bright red tape stripes on our beige one. I hope South Korea isn't bomBed as we have 2 homestays with us for 4 weeks (boys aged 10 and 12)and I hope to send them home in 2 weeks before they eat us out of house and home. Mother says you boys were the same at this age. I'm glad to hear that you too are struggling to be 'Top Dog' on the domestic front managing an ankle biter - parenting is a most humbling endeavour. Your girl sounds just fab xxxxCatherine

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I no longer have a copy of the Wicked and the Witless, so this is from Memory. Sararzin Sky was a pet name given to Sean Kelebes Sarazin by his Mother Farfalla, the "Kingmaker" of the Harvest Plains.

The legacy of a not altogether misspent youth...

1:32 AM  

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