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I just got a phone call from a Dreamhost tech support agent, yes, an actual telephone call with a human voice. The tech asked me if I received their notification that they were about to turn off their QuickTime Streaming Server. She said they sent out an email a month ago, but I never got it. Well this is horrible news. I chose Dreamhost for my website only because they supported QTSS at a reasonable price. I even stuck with them when they broke their server and it took me weeks to get through to the guy who could fix it. The tech said that QTSS had not been upgraded for years and they could not perform security updates to the OS on their servers. I don’t believe it. QTSS is written in Perl and there is no reason why it would break with an OS upgrade.
I don’t know what I’m going to do now. The agent said suggested I convert to Flash video. No way. QTSS isn’t supported on iPhones and iOS devices, and neither is Flash. I’m not going to convert to another dead format like Flash. I could migrate to another web host, but the monthly fee for QTSS alone will be more than what I pay Dreamhost in a year. I will probably have to convert to HTTP Live Streaming, but it’s going to take a while to get that running. So in the meantime, all my video content is offline.
It is worth noting that my BlogTV service was the first video blog on the internet. Other people used video on their websites, but I was the first person to use streaming services that integrated with standard blog software. It is starting to look like that blog software, MovableType, is also heading for obsolescence. I suppose this is the disadvantage to maintaining a site for so long. I have tried to keep everything online, and I’m even attempting to resurrect some of my first web pages from the early 1990s. It is easy to support legacy content written for simple standards like HTTP 1.0. But it’s increasingly difficult to maintain some of the more complex, server-side systems. I suppose Dreamhost isn’t to blame for the obsolescences of QTSS. But it doesn’t really cost them anything to keep it running. And I paid them a hell of a lot of money over the years. I expected more from them and they’ve disappointed me before.
BlogTV is back on the air with a strange Halloween festival in Japan. Well actually, the festival in September, but I thought the creepy theme was appropriate for the Halloween season. This video is 5min 17sec and entirely in Japanese, but it will be fairly obvious what’s happening despite any language barrier.
FujiTV dispatches a reporter to investigate a strange festival on a remote island of Miyakojima, far down the Okinawan island chain. Miyakojima is closer to Taiwan than Tokyo, traveling there takes 17 hours on a ferry. Our intrepid reporter gets off the boat and walks toward the island village. A couple of kilometers from town, some guys are milling about. He asks what’s up and they tell him, it’s time for the Pantou Festival! They’re weaving straw and fibers, cutting thick mats from local vines, and making the Pantou costumes. But the primary ingredient of the Pantou costume is mud. So they’re digging a big hole, stirring up the dark black mud, and mixing it with sticky leaves and straw. Of course a scary wooden mask of an ancient design is required to complete the costume. The reporter leaves the Pantou people to prepare and walks towards town.
At the edge of town, a children are waiting, Pantou is coming this way! They spot the three dark figures walking down the road, they’re dressed in leaves, straw, and mud, with a crazy sprig of leaves and branches coming out of their head like a horn. And now we see what the festival’s about, Panto chases after the kids and smears them with mud. Everyone runs in terror, trying not to get smeared in the sticky mud. But Pantou catches them and gives them a big smear right in the face! Apparently this is some sort of harvest ritual, smearing the children with earth will ensure their health and prosperity, and that of the whole village.
But our reporter has traveled a long way to see this festival, so he gets the full treatment. All three Pantou men gang up on him and sit on him, so he’s covered in mud from head to toe. Well at least now he doesn’t have to worry about getting caught, once you’re muddy, Pantou will leave you alone, his job is done.
Some of the little children are too young to be chased, so their mothers offer them up to Pantou, some of them he gives a muddy embrace, some he just gently daubs on the cheek, some of them, pow! right in the kisser. Mom gets a little daub of mud too. The looks on some of the kids faces are just priceless. One little kid is crying, even though he’s barely muddy at all. Some of the kids are just terrified.
But Pantou is not just after the kids and their mothers. Panto makes a house call and rolls around in the entryway, gettting mud all over the floor. I don’t know how the old guy was chosen for a visit by Pantou, but he seems to be taking it in stride. At least there’s not too much of a mess to clean up. [Update: I found out that newly constructed houses are visited by Pantou, I guess it is a sort of initiation.]
But to pass on a Japanese tradition, it must be handed down in the family. One of the Panto actors has a new child, this is its first opportunity to meet the demonic mud man. He gently extends a muddy finger, and wipes it lightly on his child’s face. And then again, a little less gently, on his wife’s face.
The Pantou men chase after the villagers for two days, with endless replenishment of buckets of mud, seeking to leave noone unbesmirched. The festival winds down at sunset, as Pantou chases down the last stragglers. And then Pantou disappears into the night, until the next year’s festival.
Summer is ending, and the season of summer festivals is coming to an end. One of the world’s greatest festivals is the Nebuta Festival in Aomori, at the northern tip of the main island of Japan. When I was in school in Japan, all the students went to the festival, but I was sick and had to stay behind. It is one of my greatest regrets that I missed the spectacle, and I am determined that one day I will travel to see it. And again this year, I missed my chance, the festival was a month ago.
But for some people, when summer ends and the festival is over, preparations for next year are just beginning. This video from NHK Newsworld (in English, 3min 24sec), shows a “nebuta-shi,” the artist that makes the grand Nebuta floats, as he assembles and paints his work, taking a full year from concept to final execution.
Nebuta are quite unique, they are gigantic paper paintings draped over a wood and wire sculptural frame, and illuminated from the inside. The translucent paper is painted in opaque black ink and bright watercolors, the light shines out from within, creating a bright, dramatic visual effect against the night sky. Click on the image below to see how the Nebuta are constructed, painted, and presented at the festival.
Sometimes it seems like the people living on this planet are inhabiting completely different planes of existence, they live in entirely separate worlds from each other. I was recently reminded of this when I saw two TV commercials that ran right next to each other.
The first commercial, for Liberty Mutual Insurance, was produced by the Hill Holliday advertising agency. It is a “corporate ad” so it is not intended to sell a specific product, it is intended to associate a positive image with the corporation. But the image this company is promoting is startling in its difference to other advertisements, it shows what can happen when people do kind things for each other.
The first time I saw this ad, I was sucked in by the sweet singing, and the portrayal of simple acts of kindness. But when I saw it again, I took a closer look at the editing and camerawork, and decided it was a minor masterpiece of cinematography. We see someone doing a kindness for a stranger, but the camera centers not on recipient of that kindness, it focuses on a third person who witnesses it. In each successive scene, we follow that third person who is inspired to his own action, which is then witnessed, and the cycle of kindness is repeated again and again. It took me several viewings to notice the catch, the final scene is the same as the opening scene, the circle of kindness is complete. When I saw the catch, I burst into tears. This commercial vividly shows the cause and effect cycle of good karma in action, if only one person is moved to an act of kindness by having viewed it, the world is a better place.
But my good mood was shattered mere moments later, when a commercial for the Hummer SUV came on. It shows almost the same scenario of cause and effect, but from a different angle. Someone commits an act of unkindness, which perpetuates another cycle of unkindness.
Here we view the direct effect of the unkind cause, the woman responds by buying a big SUV, now nobody’s going to get in her way again! The commercial accompanies these actions with an obnoxious cacophony of cartoon sounds of boinks and cash registers going kaCHING, over a raucous song. After the woman buys a monster truck, she straps her child in the passenger seat, we see the look of self-satisfaction on her face, and the camera pulls way out in the distinctive ending of every Hummer commercial, we see the earth from orbit, above the ozone layer the Hummer SUV is destroying. The goal of this commercial is to sell Hummers, and if one person decides to buy a big fuel-guzzling, high-pollution SUV instead of a normal car, the world is a worse place.
As a buddhist, I can see these two commercials as representations of different states of being, we call it the “10 Worlds.” The woman who buys a Hummer is in the world of Animality, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and she wants to be a bigger dog than anyone else, with a bigger car than anyone else. Her selfish act might bring one brief moment of satisfaction, but it places her firmly in a cycle of bad karma. The Liberty Mutual commercial represents the world of Bodhisattva, where a person takes pleasure from the happiness of others. This is the path to enlightenment. Buying a big SUV will never give you the same pleasure as a simple act of kindness, of handing a lost toy back to a child.
A devastating Tornado hit Iowa City late last night. I had no idea what was happening, I knew the storm was serious, since I went out and collected a few hailstones and posted a picture. But soon the storm subsided, the emergency sirens stopped blaring, and my cable TV was off the air, so I just went to bed.
The next morning, I was awakened by a phone call from my sister in Oregon, asking if I was all right. I was barely awake and I could only think to myself, “what the hell?” She said there were news reports of a huge tornado striking the city, this was the first I’d heard of it, but I reassured her that I was fine. Within a few hours, TV news started reporting the true level of devastation. I am releasing a Fair Use compilation of some local TV news clips, click on the image to play the video clip.
Live news coverage originated from the most heavily damaged building in downtown, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. It seems that whenever a tornado strikes in Iowa, the local church is always destroyed. I had a strange wish that I could have been there in person to witness it, I could have been the heathen anti-theist buddhist bellowing at the fleeing parishioners, “where is your god now?” News coverage showed other local landmarks that had been flattened, like the old Dairy Queen. I had to laugh at the wreckage, it was splattered with blood-red cherry syrup.
But I should not make light of the situation. Millions of dollars of property was damaged and destroyed. Low income housing areas near the University are devastated, and many hapless young college students are now homeless, having lost their first independent homes. A sorority house was destroyed, and the sisters put on their bravest smiling faces for the camera, as they described being in the house as it was torn apart. That was one block from my childhood home, I used to deliver newspapers to the sorority on my paper route. I wonder if my childhood home is undamaged, it is a historic Victorian house in the oldest neighborhood in the city.
I noticed a short interview with a woman through the broken window of the hair salon where I get my hair cut. The salon wasn’t badly damaged, just some broken windows and fallen ceiling tiles, they should be back up and running before my next haircut appointment in a couple weeks. Next to the hair salon is a liquor store, the local student newspaper The Daily Iowan reported that their wall collapsed and students looted it (archived PDF story). I suspect that looting was more widespread than generally reported. The storm struck the downtown area late at night, just as the bars were full of students soaking up liquor. Newspapers reported that after the storm, crowds of thousands of students wandered through the downtown streets, but this is not particularly unusual for any Thursday night in the bar district. As the weekend approaches, city officials seem most concerned with directing the student population away from the closed bar district.
I was shocked to see the damage at the auto dealers. The worst damage was out by Highway 1, a few blocks from the storage facility where I have almost everything I own in a storage lockup. I frantically called them and was relieved to hear that the buildings were undamaged and my stuff is safe.
As I watched the unfolding story of my hometown’s devastation, I had mixed feelings. I hate this town and am desperate to move away from here, I try not to engage with the city in any way that might form more attachments, yet I discover that I am more attached to this town than I care to admit. This makes it even more difficult to move on. This town is full of people who pass through, and in their short time here, they form attachments to institutions and landmarks that are obviously all too impermanent. It is time for me to move on, and stop caring about this town. And that is the hardest thing to do of all.
Once again, one of my best video art projects has been shamelessly plagiarized, this time by Aaron Valdez. Oddly enough, Aaron Valdez lives in the same city as I do, yet he claims he has never heard of the only other local video blog, my BlogTV project. It is not likely to be a coincidence that he produced a video artwork identical to my work within 30 days after my video was circulated widely around the web. Valdez has submitted his act of plagiarism to video exhibits and contests and uses it as an example of his best work.
It appears that Aaron Valdez took advantage of the technical problems that forced my BlogTV server off the air in July. Almost immediately after my video was no longer available on the web, he posted his own version, since the source that he plagiarized would not be available for comparison. But Valdez did not expect the resurrection of BlogTV, which provides incontrovertible proof that I was publishing videos using this technique at least 2 years before he stole my idea.
If there is any thing in the art world that will make you an instant pariah, it is plagiarism. I’ve been in the same position myself, I produced an artwork that I was convinced was totally original, and then someone pointed out it was almost identical to some other famous artwork. I was sure I had never seen that other artwork, but I could not eliminate the possibility that I had seen it before, so I withdrew my artwork and destroyed it, sacrificing a considerable amount of work on the piece. I could not condone even the possibility that I had committed plagiarism. That is how someone with a sense of honor would have handled the situation.
But it is obvious that Aaron Valdez is a shameless plagiarist and has no sense of honor. I contacted him and gave him the opportunity to respond, but he defended his act of plagiarism and believes he has done nothing wrong. Perhaps Aaron Valdez should consider his karma before he declares he has the right to profit from stealing the work of other artists and misrepresenting it as his own original idea.
The BlogTV server is back on the air! You can now browse through the BlogTV Archives and watch some of the videos I have presented over the last 3 years. However, performance may be substandard over the next few days as Qwest works out a few bugs with the poor quality phone cabling in this area. We Apologize For The Inconvenience.
Soon Qwest will no longer be an issue. I’ve already started work on the new blog server at a pro webhost. It will take a while to migrate the content to the new server, but it will be worth it in the end. Soon I can stop futzing with the technical details and get back to work creating new content. Stay tuned to this channel for upcoming announcements!
I am testing a new method for presenting videos on this website, and I need users to test it on PCs, to insure compatibility. This new method will allow me to put up a “poster frame” with an image from the video, so you get a little preview of what the video is about. This should make a much prettier website, but I have had some problems with Windows compatibiity, so I would especially like to hear from PC users. Note that you must have QuickTime 6 installed to see the video. Comments are up and running, so even if you’ve been discouraged in the past by my disabled comments, they will work now. If the video fails to launch, leave a brief comment about what you see, and I will be better able to debug any problems.
Disinfotainment is back again with another video from Japan. This little piece of fluff was produced by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is a short film (3min 25sec) in English, about traditional Japanese toy tops.
I love traditional Japanese crafts, and I love toy tops, so I love this little film. It’s produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so of course it is a piece of propaganda about how Japan is exporting happiness in the form of one of their oldest traditional crafts. But if you can get past the first half of the piece, and don’t choke on the cloying tone of the narrator (who seems to be addressing 2 year old kids) you will see some lovely, innovative designs for tops.
I had a chance to play with a Japanese top on my last trip to Japan. A friend took me to a theme park in Nikko called “EdoLand,” where a woman in a kimono was demonstrating wooden tops of the style that was popular 150 years ago. I asked her to show me how to spin the top, it was was an unfamiliar shape and as big as my fist. She showed me how to wrap the thick rope around the top, and how to toss the top and make it spin. So I gave it a whirl, I tossed the top at the circular wooden platform, it bounced right off and hit the poor woman right in the stomach! I decided I better leave the tops to the little kids.