August 30, 2010

Well, in 12 Hours

...I'll be on the flight home.

 I'll have to hit the ground running as school starts tomorrow and I start at UPS again on Thursday. However, it will be good to have air conditioning, a mattress, and general normalcy with no mishaps on the horizo....

...Oh frack me.

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Turret Hunt, and Other Misadventures

 My attempts to hike up Mt. Fuji had all been stillborn due first to blisters, then thunderstorms. Visits to other places of interest were cool but marred by the sudden death of the blackberry's camera.

Using my laptop at a Toyoko Inn in  Sendai,  I found a simple fix online (remove, then replace the battery). Now that the cameraphone was again working, I was determined to get some more pictures.

With only three days left on my rail pass and less than 200 dollars available, I  hopped off the train from Sendai  and onto a random bullet train not headed back to Tokyo. Around 10PM JST I got off at Sakurandai, and got a hotel.  The next morning. I got up early, wandered around a bit and explored the station.

Sakurandai station is unusual for a Shinkansen station in that it is in a relativity small town. 

Off in one out of the way wing of the station is this austere platform which services Sakurandai stations only other rail line...

The Koumi Line, run by JR East. 

A little research showed that the terminus of the Koumi line (Kobuchizawa) was also the terminus for the Chuo line. A little more research confirmed that this was the same Chuo line that begins at Tokyo station. So I took the Koumi line to the end keeping my eye out for anything interesting.

The Koumi lines trains are not electric, but diesel, and they vary wildly in age with the most modern one I saw being decked out in the image of the rail lines mascot/cartoon spokesperson...
Waku Waku?

Several of the stations are so tiny they don't even sell tickets. The conductor does. The line seems to service mainly farming communities.

As the train approached Aonuma station, I noticed something intriguing, and got off.

Aonuma is a no frills station, and had no coin lockers for my  bag.
However, I was able to avail myself of the stations restroom.

Note, Aonuma station is not equipped with even a single western style toilet.

The Koumi line has narrow gauge rails.

Rice paddys require elaborate irrigation systems, and the area is crisscrossed with irrigation and drainage ditches moving water around. .

The mushroom cloud in the background may be steam from  Mount Asama, which is about 60 miles distant.

Or it could be a thundercloud, but that would be foreshadowing.

This is what I saw that interested me.
Nope...No Idea. It looked like a turret off a European castle...if not for the windows it could be a silo.
I figured I'd try to get to it and hopefully see cool stuff along the way.

There are lots of fish in these fast flowing ditches and fish and tadpoles in the ricepaddys. The don't show up on the blackberry's camera though.

Walkie walkie....pant pant. (it was in the low 90s and humid, but still way better than Tokyo)

AHA! Getting closer! Still no idea.
Theme Park?
Volcanic Research Institute?

After a while or two, a town..Usuda. Both pictures were taken from the same spot in opposite directions. .

Quite suddenly, the flatness comes to a halt.This pic was taken from the bridge barely visible in the uppermost of the two photos above.

I was pretty sure that the turret was at the top of this or an adjoining hill. I wasn't sure it would be at all accessible, but at the other side of the bridge I saw this...

A shrine entrance with serendipity stairs!

Lots of stairs...

With special bonus stairs at the top...

...that arrived at a tunnel of Torrii...that led to more stairs still..

However, those stairs were washed out.

At the top of those stairs the grass was more than two feet high.

There was a stage, suspended over a small cliff, but  seemed to be in poor repair, and was not likely to hold my weight.

Further down the path, an abandoned and dilapidated house. Presumably belonging to the family that once maintained the shrine below and just beyond the stage.

The purification fountain is dry,  the paint is faded, and there is a good deal of rot.

Someone left some sort of offerings.

Inside through a gap in the screen the shrine seemed to be in decent shape. I wonder if it is used. In any event it is guarded by faithful carpenter wasps.

At the top of another washed out staircase and through a patch of Kudzu I found a little park, with a carefully manicured lawn  in stark contrast to the dilapidated shrine 70 feet below........and there was this monument.

...and this, next to a Mausoleum.

I was at the top, so I began looking for a way down less dangerous than the way I came, and then...

"AHHAHAHA...I found the....wait what?"

I did not expect this.

Wandering around it, I found that it is unstaffed but open to the public, it has power, but most of the lights don't work. A flight of stairs goes to the upper decks. The AC is blowing hot air, which makes the observation decks a bit unpleasant in August. There were several electrical outlets on the midlevel observation deck...some of which worked and I was able to charge the Blackberry for a while. The side opposite the shrine has a small park and playground.

As  to why there is a rocket on this hill, well there is this display case facing the entrance in one of the "stabilizer fins".

It's a sort of museum dedicated to Osumi, Japans first satellite. However, there is no other display or information aside from a chart displaying various constellations.

The view from the mid-level observation deck....shows the most awesomest looking playground slide ever

Not ~ 15 minutes later.

From the ovenlike upper observation deck, about 100 feet up, a view of the bridge I had crossed earlier.

Leaving the park I stopped at a drugstore and got directions to the nearest station. This turned out to be Usuda station, in the town I had passed through earlier. It is a full station with a bicycle garage.

It has a full service ticket office and is staffed. It is a two platform station, but one must walk across the tracks to get to the second platform. Note that Suica cards are not usable out here.

The interior is small but sports a stove for use in the winter.

The trains along this line come in 90 to 120 minute intervals, but my timing was good and I was soon on my way.

After a while,the train entered the mountains and  arrived at a somewhat larger town, Koumi.

Koumi Station is a fairly large two story affair, built to be a shopping center like many other train stations in Japan.  Its first floor contains a post office, a grocery store and connects to what appears to be a much older restaurant.

Most of the station building is vacant however and  is blocked off. There is a skyway that leads to a park on top of the cliff behind the station, but curiously does not connect to the stations second platform....which must be accessed by crossing the tracks.

Walking up the mountain brings one to a school, a few offices, several houses and the aforementioned park.

In the restaurant, there is a total dearth of plastic display food, or menus with pictures, or English.  Lunch was excellent. I tried their ginger ale....which was much like a ginger bomb going off in my mouth, It actually went good with the curry.

I walked downhill a ways and came to this bridge, which is interesting as the arches appear to be water mains (well they sound like it...).

From the observation deck one can see the paved river below. Erosion control, flood control and mitigating landslides is important.

Aside from two gas stations I did not see a single chain store of any type in Koumi.

But there is a whole lot of water being directed through the town.

After walking downhill quite , a ways, admiring the scenery and rapids, I noted the weather was changing.

I realized that the next town (and station) was closer downhill than Koumi was uphill.

Managashi is a quiet little burg.

And its station has a shelter! Woot!

After the thunderstorm passed, with about an hour before the train arrived, I noticed off in the distance, a shrine. So I headed over to see what was there.

Along the way I stopped and examined a dilapidated, abandoned farmhouse. I was curious as to how they were built.
Mud over bamboo thatch, covered in what looks like a thin layer sheetrock, but is probably closer to stucco.

At this point the bottom fell out.

I took refuge under a cypress tree, which was surprisingly efficient at keeping the rain off.

Of course it was in a graveyard...

...but was just short of my goal so when the sun came out again I went over to the shrine.

Behind the little shrine there was another set of steps, but these petered out in a glade, where I found a rather large cage trap perhaps for boar or even bear...neither of which I particularly wanted to meet.

...and so I was quickly back to the station and on my way.

I hopped off again at a full service station in a little village in a gorge around dinner time, hoping to catch a bite to eat. However, there were no restaurants near the station. 

There was a sawmill....but that wasn't the same.

Not pictured, the smell of freshly cut cypress.

I just wandered around for 90 minutes till the next train came looking at the scenery.



This tiny town of about 50 buildings had a seriously elaborate system of levees breakwaters and other hydraulic management systems.

The levees were 40 feet high in places. I guess when you live in a gorge in the mountains in an area prone to hurricanes, flash floods are a real concern .

These warning sirens would seem to suggest that even such measures can be inadequate.

The station in this little town is graced with this fellow, who is IIRC a traveling monk from the Kamakura period, but I can't find his name.

With night falling I hopped on the next train out and I arrived at Kobuchizawa well after dark, and left around 9 on this, the exact opposite of a Shinkansen. 

After a 3 and a half hour trip into Tokyo, I did manage to get to Ueno in time to get on the last train to Yotsugi and so even got to sleep that night. The mark of a successful day!

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Sendai Station

Demonstrating why the Blackberry's camera is of somewhat limited use at night...

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False Advertising

There is no duck flesh to be had in this Sendai establishment.

Though their seafood soup is good.

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Seen in Sendai Station....

The new E-5 series Shinkansen is not yet in service. Although capable of 360kkph it has been downgraded to ~300 due to noise pollution and wear on the overhead power cables. One result of the attempt at dealing with the noise is that the shinkansen tracks between Omyia and Sendai have much higher sound barriers, which makes for a very limited view of the scenery.

There is a way around this unpleasantness which I availed myself of on the way back from Sendai, and again as I took the Nagoya line from Omyia.....

Previously on this trip, I'd assumed these new double decker bullet trains were, like the Nozomi, not open to users of the JR rail pass.

This is not the case.
The JR Rail pass works just fine and the second deck  is available in  the non-reserved cars as well. If you can get a second deck seat, go for it!

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August 22, 2010

QUICK! To the Tsunderemobile!


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The Washinomiya shrine is said to be one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan. According to Wikipedia it is located in the town of Kuki which was once the town of Washinomiya.

This is not entirely correct as a walk through Kuki will attest.

There is a city map at the city center which does not include Washinomiya. I gather that Washinomiya was annexed by Kuki, not renamed, and is some miles distant. I got on the train and got off at Higashi-Washinomya...which is NOT the station one wants to get off at if one wants to see this shrine. Washinomiya Station is on the Tobu line and one should transfer to it at the station in Kuki. However, it is not covered by the JR rail pass and as I was able to get directions to the shrine I decided to hoof it.

At a fairly brisk pace, the walk from Higashi-Washinomiya takes about 2.5 hours. (Possibly less if one refrains from walking in very large circles.) The directions seemed unduly complex, given the fact that I was standing on country roads in rice paddies, but I soon realized that there are irrigation ditches that are impassable and these cause the roads to change course multiple times.

The elaborate nature of the irrigation system was interesting...

...and very understandable given the needs of rice, as well as this bit of trivia which, being as I'm a coastal southerner interested me greatly.

Eventually, I passed the water traps and  began entering a less rural area area which had its own hazards...

Two tigers, a penguin and a Texan polar bear from Hawaii...Just don't make eye contact...

And eventually after getting directions from 2 convenience stores and a police box, I saw the wrong side of Washinomyia Station.

If you look back and see this...YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!

Turning left as one exits the station on the side without the bridge takes one  on a pleasant and short walk down a road parallel to the tracks which curves to the right and ultimately to this bridge...

..and after crossing it, about a block further will put one in the parking lot to the shrine.

I was completely unprepared for the scale of the place.

The Tori is massive and leads not to the shrine, but to the path to get to the shrine.

Along the way there are a couple of small alters/ shrines such as this one overlooking a pond.

After a walk of at least a hundred fifty meters one comes to the purification station, complete with helpful instructions.

At that point one is in the main part of the shrine....

And beyond this, two more gates each of which  leads to a path through the woods

Fairly long paths...

Each of which passes by these small prayer houses/ shrines.

The place is huge.

It is also very important to the Shinto religion and gets well over a hundred thousand visitors on New Years.

I spoke to a shrine maiden who was selling fortunes and asked her some questions to the best of my ability. She was very patient and helpful despite the language barrier.

She was adamant that this is THE oldest Shinto shrine in the Kanto region. I gathered that this place honors most types of spirits hence the large number of shrines (and the little garden in the courtyard...with a shrine beside it.)  There was a lot I did not get, but she got out a pamphlet and circled certain headings that I can look up in my Kanji dictionary. She seemed quite happy that a fat ugly American  was asking her questions...that pertained to the shrine.

This may seem odd, what else would one ask?

Well there is one other thing about this place, (scarcely worth mentioning of course).

This, you see, is the view from just outside the front gate...

And this is a frame grab from the opening credits to Lucky*Star.

Some time ago someone put this piece of trivia in Newtype....and the 'pilgrims' began arriving....and life got very strange for this August and solemn place....


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Fukaya Station

It should be noted that while it can be accessed via Blackberry and is very convenient, Wikipedia is an imperfect source of Japanese rail line info.

One result: I belatedly realized at one point day before yesterday that I was on the wrong train, going the wrong way. I began looking for an interesting looking stop to get off at and was soon obliged by the appearance of a most atypical Japanese train station.

The station and several buildings in the town square are very late 19th century English in character. I think the train station may actually be restored to its former exterior appearance, though the interior is quite modern.

The phone booths are new but have the same look.
There is also, in the park adjoining the station, a monument...
To a man of some considerable substance...

I feel really inadequate right now.

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Things to Look Out For In Kurihama

Kurihama is all the way at the end of the JR Yokusuka Line. The Keisei Line also dead ends here.

There is a helpful map by the Keisei Line train station.

Yeah...That random encounter table can be a beeotch.

(It's a Godzilla dear....get in the Taxi)

There is a less menacing attraction though, and it is of some interest to history buffs...

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My Trip to the Konbinri

I got off the train last night after two days of train bumbling and realized I was out of both clean clothes AND laundry detergent.  So I went down to the Lawsons 100 across the highway. As I approached I noted a great hue and cry from behind the convenience store and dozens of women in kimonos were heading into an adjoining alley.

The property behind the Lawsons actually opens into the rear of a shrine I had noted earlier while figuring out how to get to the guest house from Yotsugi station.

Last night however it was much livelier and every bit of space was being put to good use.

The pictures are not the best as I disabled the flash on the Blackberry out of courtesy. I was the only westerner present and there was no other flash photography happening, I was also concerned I might dazle the drummers on the tower who were in tight, highly elevated quarters. 

Not pictured..the very loud drum music and singing.

...and the smells of all the fried and shaved ice concessions.

Most everyone in traditional garb danced around the dais in a sort of konga line.

One interesting thing I noted as I left, there is this shed next to the Lawsons with a chrysanthemum emblem and red spinny lights kind of like on a police box, but it is always locked. Last night it was opened and I found out what it was.

It's a little fire station manned by the local VFD, just to deal with the potential of a fire during a shrine festival.
It contains a hand operated fire truck cart.

The moral of the story? ALWAYS bring a camera anywhere you go around here as even a trip to a convenience store can become something really cool....or, as in Lilly's case, something entirely 'other'.

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Moleskin...Yay! (Thx Bob!)

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August 17, 2010

Send Some Get Well Comments

... to Wonderduck who is having his two of his duck teeth pulled...and that's an awful thing.

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Been a bit off for two days.

I Could not log on yesterday as the Japanese internet said the blog did not exist.

I overslept a wide margin...In fact I slept almost 17 hours.
Funk was due in part to dehydration, sunburn and blisters and also due to bad news from school that is unrelated and therefore is hidden behind spoiler the spoiler tag.

As I've mentioned previously, ODU has also formally stopped recognizing CLEP credits.

I don't mind the fact that I've had to drop out several happens...but this is pure maliciousness.

I'm already having to retake classes because most of my transfer credits have been retroactively rejected (though in fairness there weren't many of those) or because I took the clases too long ago.

I have options of course. I can drop the minor...or the major as, by a fluke of scheduling,  I'm closer to getting a major in Asian studies than a major in Oceanography. However, I really did not spend the last decade and a half trying to get a degree that ends in "Studies".  My other option is to storm into the deans office with a bag of angry weasels and a glue gun, but my current location rather precludes that option.....

Tomorrow I plan to be leaving early for Kurihana, and Kamakura. Wednesday or Thursday I'll be hitting the bullet trains on a two day bumble, though I'm still undecided as to which way I'm headed, north or south. I've got 11 more rail pass days, and the Typhoon and its associated rains are now quite cleared up. Money is tight but hotels in Japan are pretty cheap.

Next week I'm going to try to  get my Fuji pole.

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Yotsugi Crib

One of my neighbors directed me to this Japan Times article on Yotsugi Crib.

It turns out that I'm staying in Sadao Saitos' old room. He left the week before I arrived.

Here is a picture looking into room 8....

...I keep the computer on the bed when I'm awake in part to clear the tiny desk for studying. As the bed is at my shoulder level its actually more comfortable to stand when on the computer anyway. (The chair and table are sized for an American elementary school. ) The two bags in the middle of the rack under the bed keep my nonperishable food items ( mostly curry sauce, Ramen cups and irradiated rice) off the floor and away from any vermin.

Views of my office...

...Tiny desk is tiny...but I have a desk!

This picture, taken by holding the phone against the wall, over the desk while standing outside the room, gives a good sense of scale, via the shirts, slippers and suitcase.

Clean laundry on hangars or in suitcase, dirty laundry in bag...see mom? I CAN keep them straight! 
There is no vent in this room and therefor no ventilation aside from having the door open. This room has the only non sliding door on the #104 side and opening it more than a crack blocks the hall, so the fan was a very welcome purchase. ( ~20 bucks at Don Quixotes...I even got a floor discount!). I imagine it is quite pleasant in the winter though.

Bedtime sees the computer migrate to the desk of course. The folded up dungarees are my pillow and the bare linoleum is about as luxuriously soft as one would expect, but I'm too broke to justify buying a futon and besides, the heat would make any bedding really rank really quickly. If you choose this place bring a sleeping bag, which can be washed in the futon washer at the coin laundry around the corner.

The heat ensures no sheet is needed and the fan even keeps it from being too unpleasant.

The common area is tiny and used by both sides as there are 15 people living in the two units and kitchen/refrigerator space is at a premium.

There is, off camera, two large dorm fridges, a TV, a microwave and a rice cooker stored in the pantry just visible to the right. I should point out that all the toilets are western style, so the place is ahead of the curve to begin with.

There are 4 showers each with a tiny  changing room slightly larger than a phone booth. Remarkably, the shower stalls themselves are very roomy American sized showers with powerful vent fans and glorious waterpressure. These are the biggest shower stalls I've seen at any hostel in Japan.

This particular one consumed a can of Ajax and a plumbers snake shortly after I arrived. Several of the tourists seem to think that it is the landlords job to clean up after them....This is not the case.  It is also important to remember that about half of the people here have jobs and HAVE to get there on time, so if one is a tourist please show a little courtesy to those who are actually on a schedule.

Yotsugi Crib is super Spartan but perfectly livable, especially if one is a tourist on a budget or a student. In either case one will not be in ones room that often as one will be out seeing and doing stuff.  For 28,000 yen it is about the cheapest room one can find. Even 18,000 yen for one of the 'Rukia specials'

... gives one a private space.

The only places I've seen cheaper are shared rooms and barracks type accommodations. This is to my mind a rather better option.

Just remember when following the directions given that Yotsugi Crib is not a stand alone guest house but is located in rooms 104 and 105 of Crest Plaza Apartments. This is important.

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August 15, 2010

Is Google Having a Holiday Where you Are?

Just asking....
UPDATE: This is the banner I was talking about.

Image used for fact finding purposes only.
I was just curious if these were regional.

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Image Test

The camera arrived from the US yesterday, but was broken in transit. However, judging by the images in the last post, it looks  like I've solved the issue of getting at the images in my Blackberry. It also appears that the Blackberry camera is better than I had thought.

More pics to follow:

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Comiket 78

Well, today was the last day of Comiket 78.
After some thought, I decided to once again brave the river of fandom I had navigated last year. Instead of queuing up before the gates opened at 10. I arrived a bit before noon. I also took a different route which had the benefit of being simpler. It only involved transferring from JRs Yamanote line the Yurikamome, at Shimbashi station. This line runs near the Tokyo Bay waterfront and has spectacular views of the harbor. Additionally, Kokusai-tenjijō-seimon station is much closer to the Tokyo Big Sight than the other stations, this being the view from the station entrance...

Click Here For Supah size
The line this time of day no longer wove multiple kilometers through the convention district, indeed there wasn't much of a line at all until the entrance at which point the traffic quickly became the shoulder to shoulder 99 degree+ mass of humanity I had experienced previously. While things do thin out a bit in the dealers halls moving from hall to hall is a tightly packed river of people that will sweep one along as it goes up and down escalators. Pictures are not allowed in the con proper, though, I am told, there is a specific  area on the roof, where, if one receives permission from the cosplayers, one can photograph them. I certainly did not press the issue but I note that the rules regards photography were widely ignored by the locals as the end of the con approached.

It was also hot, incredibly hot. Be advised if you go that the air-conditioning system gets pretty much overwhelmed by the combination of Tokyo in August, all doors being open and the body heat of nearly half a million people. I understand that people did pass out from the heat, one seemed to be receiving first aid as I walked by. I was sweating so profusely that one of my  concerns as I browsed was sweating on the product ( another reason,  that a man should always have his towel!).  I noted many people dramatically holding cloths over their noses in response to the  smell, but I'm pretty sure that drama was the actual motivator there. 

An enjoyable if exhausting day. I even made a few purchases and still got away for under 40 bucks.Unfortunately, this left me holding an inconvinient pile of damningly geeky items. Therefore I astutely purchased a 350 yen bag in which to carry them securely and ride home on the Tokyo train system at rush hour without any of the embarrassment of being considered an otaku or something...

Oh wait....

Lunch was 350yen Tonkatsu curry from an automat, and dinner was a 600 yen tempura bowl...because I splurged.

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August 09, 2010


My JR Rail Pass has kicked in today!

All the JR lines are now free for the next 20 days as are the bullet trains. My finances are limited to around 40000 yen for the rest of the trip so only one or two hotel stays are possible but I can travel much farther afield. 

Comiket 78 is the 12th, I stopped by Gamers today to pick up the program and discovered that its price has more than doubled from last year to 4600 yen (over 50 bucks!) This takes a big bite out of my available funds so unless I can figure out what is wrong with either my ATM card or my vacation pay and get the missing money I'll be going to that show blind (If I go at all). 

My camera was indeed left in the other bag when I consolidated my luggage to avoid extra bag fees. It is in the mail and I should have it by weeks end. I'm going to take my laptop down to N-Cafe (which I just learned has laptop service) this week and try to re-download a widget to access the pics on my blackberry. One way or another there will be pictures here in a few days. 

Today there is much rain. So, given that parks, castles, and general roaming are out of the question I'm going to be zipping between shops in Akihabara...because I'm enough of a geek that I need to  visit these places at least once on a trip. 

On the `domestic` front:
My very quiet Japanese neighbor introduced himself to me and made good use of his limited English to accurately announce that "OH MY GOD YOU ARE SOOO FAT...You are SOO TAAAAL." " Why you come Japan when you are so OLD!?" He also thanked me for cleaning the shower and admonished me for buying toilet paper which he feels is the landlords job and (I gather) having tenants buy TP will encourage the landlord to shirk his duties. (I should note that no other tenants have complained).

Walking to the station in the rain, I noticed that today was trash day but it took looking for me to figure out WHICH trash day it was. No one had taken out the trash last week and It really needed to go out. However, this neighborhood has a 4 category recycling program and only the correct category can be put out.

Now I was not provided with a chart or calender soooo...I poked about the neighbors trash and convinced myself that BURNABLE-KITCHEN WASTE was the right one to put out. I should have this all figured out by the time I come back. I need to get a trash calender if no one else in my wing is gonna do this. 

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August 08, 2010

A Few Quick Links

I'm trapped by the rain so here are a few links of note. Some of them are quite sobering but I highly recommend them.

Via Jerry Pournelle comes this worrisome piece on Inflation and the fall of Rome. The fact that seems to be timely is whats worrisome.

Baldilocks has the first two in a series of posts up on racism, the political weaponization thereof, peer pressure and the cages of the mind. These are both long posts but they are really important IMHO. They're here and here. (Due to a Typepad glitch both links take the reader well down the page).

The Kepler Space Telescope has discovered 140 Earthsized planets in the last couple of weeks! More here.

Ray Bradbury speaks (via The Anchoress)

Neo posts on the use of 'decoy Jews' in an attempt to try and protect actual Jews in Amsterdam, and how this is provoking consternation amongst those who say that taking action against those who harass Jews is....discrimination (no really).

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Old Warbirds for Sale

Go look at what the Duck is up to

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