Jambox: 白い夏と緑の自転車赤い髪と黒いギター by the Pillows

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We’re going through a bit of a heat wave at the moment, which made me remember one of my favorite songs by the Pillows. The title is a mouthful, but it translates to “White Summer and Green Bike, Red Hair and Black Guitar.” Love the imagery.

I had intended on having a write-up on ConnectiCon done by now, but I should’ve known better since I do most of my writing on weekends. I edited the photos for it already, so there’s a good chance I’ll have it up early next week. This week has actually been really productive for me otherwise: I’ve starting laying out pages for our next guide in InDesign, and I scripted, thumbnailed, and sketched pages for a 6 page comic that’s due at the end of the month. The project it’s for is under wraps so I can’t really offer any previews, but I did tweet some preliminary studies for it:



(Ignore the shoulder/arm situation. Blech) This is the first time I’m producing a comic in Photoshop, and I have to say that I might actually prefer it to Manga Studio, which had been my go-to all this time.

I have a meeting later with a friend to talk about future Culty stuff. I’m in the middle of brainstorming a way to help people import and play Japanese games without needing to know the language. A major litmus test for thinking up a new product or service is the question “would I personally use it?”, and in this case my answer would be a resounding yes. Let’s hope others feel the same way.

Shop Talk: About Writing & Staying Inspired by Ray Bradbury pt. 2

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“…my Muse has grown out of the mulch of good, bad, and indifferent.”

This is the second part in my series of takeaways from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.

Previously I talked about how I ended up with Zen in the Art of Writing, and how we often downplay or ignore things we love because of others. Not anymore! Here are some ways to find ideas along with ways to keep em’ coming.

Recipes for Muses
Here are some things Bradbury recommends for finding inspiration (or muses, as he calls them!):

  1. Word association. One of Bradbury’s reoccurring exercises is to have a list of words and jumble them and think about them very carefully. Use your favorite nouns to generate story ideas.
  2. Read poetry every day. I don’t normally seek out poetry to read (it makes me feel dumb), but I think I might try this since it could help with word associations.
  3. Read essays. About anything and everything. Learn about bees. About dentistry and surgery. About stuff that you love but also hate (and also feel indifferently about). Learn!
  4. Pay attention to the fives senses. Help your reader become more immersed into the world that you are building.
  5. Read authors you want to emulate. Then read authors you don’t.
  6. Immediately write down any inspiration. This is easier than ever thanks to mobile devices and cloud storage. I dump any little idea that strikes me into Evernote. I have a note that just says “dolphinarium” thanks to a stupendously shitty documentary on an African aquarium I watched the other night. Can’t wait to use it.
  7. Muses can be found in anyone passionately telling a story. This is such a new and exciting concept to me. Have you ever talked to somebody whose eyes lit up when telling a story? That’s good stuff right there. Inspiration does not have to come from people doing what you do. It can come from anybody who feels strongly about…whatever they feel strongly about. Personally I love learning about how comedians test their material to up their game. Jerry Seinfield is a huge role model when it comes to perfecting your craft.

Keeping Muses
As important it is to find inspiration, it doesn’t matter if you don’t try to keep it. Here are some ways to avoid running out of creative fuel.

  1. Write with a love for life. Is this a cliché? I have no idea. A lot of the creative people I see online are brooders. I’m pretty sure this is worth trying, though.
  2. Figure out your characters’ desires (and in what way they want them). Ask your characters questions and see what their answers are.
  3. Feed your muses consistently. That shouldn’t be too hard if you follow the previous list!
  4. Surround yourself with friends that support, not ridicule. This is an important one. I am grateful that I have supportive friends both online and off. It’s still sometimes scary to say “hey! this is my idea!” but they help make it less scary.
  5. Write until you feel relaxed and not self-conscious or influenced by greed. This is a hard one to dissect. Basically, build up your writing muscles until it becomes second nature. Write for yourself without censoring. Don’t write what you think will sell.

What do you think? Right off the bat I’ve found several useful techniques that I can apply immediately. I found that watching documentaries on Netflix really gets my imagination going. Ice Age and aquariums and space and Alaskan parks! So many stories to tell. Best start writin’.


Next up: Getting In the Way of Your Own Story. Self-sabotage and how to avoid it – something I’ve been guilty of over and over in the past.

Other posts in this series:
About Writing & Staying Inspired pt. 1

Jambox: Magic Color by AMIAYA

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We’re going to ConnectiCon this weekend, so I thought I’d share some cheesy Shibuya-kei pop. AMIAYA are twin models/singers/fashionistas. I love the crazy costumes and sets in this video. People hate on over-the-top Japanese sets, but I don’t know, I live for that stuff. Visual sensory overload.

Shop Talk: About Writing & Staying Inspired by Ray Bradbury pt. 1

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I once watched a TED talk about inspiration, and how it hit a writer so hard that she would hear it coming as thunder in the distance – so great and powerful that she dropped everything to sit down at her desk and let the inspiration flow through her. She herself was just a vessel through which these ideas poured from. I think that is my favorite interpretation of inspiration: loud, wholly-consuming, restless and the cause of many sleepless nights.

I discovered Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing in a small used bookstore during my trip to Boston. At that point I’d already decided I wasn’t going to buy anymore books. I had in my arms four other books, also chosen impulsively, and was making my way to the cashier so as to prevent any more spending. But there was Bradbury’s little book, thrown in a clearance bin. It became book number five.

It was the first book out of my pile that I decided to read, late at night when trying to unwind. It woke me back up. This book wakes the reader and demands that you do what you were put on Earth to do: create and live an inspired life. It expanded on the ideas I heard from that TED talk however long ago. Step by step, you follow Bradbury through his career in the form of short essays that he wrote for his various titles.

Even though I was reading for “leisure”, I started taking notes. This is important. These thoughts are crucial. People need to know this stuff!

And so I humbly present to you a Shop Talk series focusing on takeaways from Zen in the Art of Writing. The interpretations might evolve over time, which is why I enthusiastically suggest you obtain a copy for yourself. This is the first part. I hope you’ll like it.

Finding Your Passion…and Ignoring It

Bradbury’s story starts out with a sad tale of childhood bullying. His favorite comic was looked down on by his peers and they let him know. He ripped apart his book in an attempt to be normal. He tried. He couldn’t. He picked his comic back up and put it back together, and it was at that point did he realize he was his own person, with his own passions that consumed him.

Later on, as a writer in his early twenties writing for money, the same pattern emerged. Bradbury tried to conform to the standards of what was expected of science fiction at the time (which I, uh, totally didn’t know was a thing). One day he let loose and wrote what struck him.

“I sent it off to Julie Schwartz, my pulp agent, who liked it, but said it was not a traditional tale and might be hard to sell. Weird Tales walked around it, touched it with a ten-foot-pole, and finally decided, what the hey, to publish it, even though it didn’t fit their magazine. But I must promise, next time, to write a good old-fashioned ghost story! I promised. They gave me twenty dollars, and everyone was happy.”

Why do we do this? Why do we ignore inspiration when it strikes? Inspiration and your various passions will continue to gnaw at you as you try your hand at a normal life. Anything that has ever blown our minds was undoubtedly something thought up “outside the box”. Don’t betray the things you love because of outside influences.

“I went back to collecting Buck Rogers. My life has been happy ever since. For that was the beginning of my writing science fiction. Since then, I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

That’s right. Anyone criticizes you? Pack up your dinosaurs and leave the room.


Next up: Recipes for Muses. Learn techniques to find inspiration and ways to stay inspired.

Out & About: Weekend Trip to Boston, MA

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Earlier this year I got a Facebook message from my friend C. I originally met her when we were both studying abroad in Osaka. We became good pals but went our separate ways at the end of our stay. Six years later, I get a Facebook message from her inviting me and Roy to stay at her place for the weekend. So we went. And picked up right where we left off. Thinking back on it, it was the first time I spent any time with C on American soil.

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We took a stroll in brutal heat down Moody Street. It slowly dawned on me that I’ve already been there before a couple years ago for a steampunk festival. What are the odds? We decided to catch up at Solea (which has an unfortunate website) and ordered a few tapas and beer. The sun was furious outside, but the food was so damn good.

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C mentioned that she’s been to a few breweries and had fun at the Harpoon Brewery (their website is better) tour some years ago. We took a trip into the heart of Boston to see if we could catch their last tour. Well, we couldn’t catch anything. The place had expanded and was packed to the gills with crazy people. We got a sampler and squeezed into a corner where the noise level was somewhat more bearable. Roy grabbed a few growlers:



Is this a common contraption used at breweries? Maybe it pours in a sterile environment. Or serves as a gimmick. All I know is that Magic Hat’s method of filling growlers is shoving it under a spout until it overflows. I guess it could be more complicated than that.

Heads spinning from the crowds at Harpoon, we decided to take it easy and make food together for dinner that night. We wanted to channel our Osaka days and make okonomiyaki.

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C had home stayed with a family for her second semester abroad, so she picked up a few recipes from her host mom. Roy and I were deeply impressed at her eye-balling skills. Home cooking is the best when you’re confident enough to abandon measurements. We spent all night chopping, cleaning, and cooking. We stayed up until 3am talking and drinking from our growlers. C had me download Zed’s Alchemy, which is splendid in its simplicity.

The next day we spent a lazy morning playing games on various devices. C showed us her incredible Ni no Kuni file – she’s aiming for 100% completion, which means she’s already beaten the game and is now going after post-game bosses. I didn’t even know there was post-game material. I stopped playing somewhere around the graveyard area. The game has way too many decisions to make.

so much fucking kimchi

Finally mobilizing, we went to a Korean grocery store known as H Mart. (You thought I was kidding when I said I liked grocery shopping?) This place is awesome. It has a food court and an incredible kimchi section. There was so much stuff to look at. They were generous with samples, too. Roy picked up some garlic stems and he’s been eating them almost every day since we got back.

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This…is also a thing that happened.

We also took a quick trip to Kung Fu Tea, which has a hilarious reputation for shitty service but awesome beverages.



It lived up to the hype. Roy asked the girl at the counter a question about one of their drinks. She looked at him like he had personally pissed all over her cash register. The bubble tea we got was good, but it was good in the way that dumping a vat of syrup into your tea is good. If you go there you might want to ask for less sugar, if you can muster up the courage to do so.

Until next time...!

And thus concludes another trip to a neighboring state. It was short but worthwhile, and it definitely won’t be six years before we see C again.

You can view the places we visited on this here map I made.

Jambox: Golden Sea by French Films

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Ignore the fact that the video looks like Instagram threw up all over it. Play the song and open a new tab in your browser. Catch up on some webcomics. What’s a summer without a little dream pop?

Shiso Corner: What is Agoo?

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Okay, so it would be an incredibly specific pun on behalf of Animal Crossing. But I’m still not convinced it would be entirely out the question!

So, a little abit about agoo:

Agoo is a specific type of black pig with mysterious origins, but mostly likely it was introduced to Okinawa from China, and traces of it have been found in Okinawa as early as the Yayoi period (300 B.C.E!). It’s defined by its black body and small size. Agoo has a high fat-to-meat ratio, but apparently has only 1/4th the amount of cholesterol compared to other breeds! Sadly, the original breed is dying out as it’s not very sustainable due to lack of offspring and overall small yields of meat. This means most agoo nowadays is part Berkshire or Landrace.

For Japanese linguaphiles, agoo can be written as either あぐー or アグー, but the hiragana version is the trademarked (um, seriously?) word associated with the food type. The katakana version is the name of a brand that breeds pigs to have 50%+ blood of the original bloodline, as seen in this overly helpful chart:

pigs!!!

Click through to see the Agoo brand site

You might also notice that agoo itself is a weird word, and that is because it’s in the Okinawan dialect instead of standard Japanese.

I don’t know why my brain made the mental leap from Agnes to Agoo, but it’s not entirely crazy, right? I’m gonna get all Maury on her and ask her for a blood test next time I visit.

Source

Shop Talk: Feedly Review

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I was an avid Google Reader fan, so when I heard about it kicking the bucket I was clearly inconsolable. A friend suggested to me to try out Feedly, which I’ve adapted to and have been using ever since. I was grateful for the Google Reader support and imported all of my feeds without any issues.

My goals for a good RSS reader:

  • Ability to browse articles quickly
  • Ability to organize and save articles directly to Evernote and Instapaper
  • Can share articles via social media or email
  • IFTTT support

Around the same time I had picked up an iPad mini and downloaded the Feedly app, which also synced to my iPhone. The stars must have aligned, because I love reading Feedly on the iPad instead of the desktop. It’s aesthetically really sleek and swiping through my stories feels elegant. I love that you can customize the look and feel of it too – it even lets you pick what font to read in.

Feedly isn’t a perfect Google Reader solution, but I’m beginning to think that’s okay. I can accept something that’s different and not a complete swap out. It integrates with Instapaper, a function I didn’t think I’d use but has actually turned out to be quite handy. It also has the usual social stuff along with a bookmarking function.

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Another great feature is when you have to click through a blog post in order to read more content, Feedly actually has a little clean up button (which functions like the Clearly Chrome extension for Evernote) so you can focus on the content without all the distractions.

Before cleaning up the content

Before cleaning up the content


 
After cleaning up the content

After cleaning up the content

My biggest issue with it is the lack of being able to search through old posts – a feature which I loved about Google Reader. There was also a period of time where I had to keep connecting my Google account, which is annoying when you have two-step authentication turned on. It no longer does it as frequently but every update seems to require logging in again. Still, when both of my mobile devies are up to speed it means I can view Feedly on my iPad and switchover to my phone seamlessly.

Feedly for the iPhone

Feedly for the iPhone

The iPhone version of Feedly is a natural extension of the app, using the same touch gestures to browse. I really enjoy using long swipes to mark several articles read at once. I also love that you can “undo” marking the articles as read. Sometimes I’ll mark a majority of articles as read and “undo” the gesture on just the headlines that keep my attention. And despite the smaller screen size, the articles are still easy to read and navigate.

Feedly for Desktop

Feedly for Desktop

The desktop version is my least favorite version of Feedly. It comes with a little Feedly icon on the bottom right of your browser so you can easily add new sites, a feature which I actually turned off in frustration because it was interfering with web development. On top of that, the mobile versions of Feedly don’t offer an easy way to add new feeds: you have to paste the feed URL into a search bar, which doesn’t seem intuitive to me. If I were the type to regularly add sites to my reader, this would be a huge issue for me, but I try to be very selective of which sites follow, so I only rarely find myself encountering this annoyance.

Overall, I like Feedly a lot. It’s not Google Reader, but I’m okay with that. I like having a visually pleasing app to browse through my news every morning. It makes me feel fancy. I might not be such a big fan of it if I had to exclusively use the desktop version, but I think it’s a great solution for those with mobile/tablet devices. Even better, IFTTT just announced Feedly support, so I’m incredibly stoked to conjure up some recipes to share with you soon. Stay tuned!

P.S. If you still haven’t found the right RSS reader for you and are afraid of missing future Shop Talk material (reviews, advice, tips, etc), fear not! I can let you know whenever I have a new article by emailing you directly.

Jambox: Your Fine Petting Duck by Devendra Banhart

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2jXArthGRY
if he doesn’t try his best / please remember that I never tried at all

I’ve had Devendra Banhart’s Mala album on regular rotation ever since it came out earlier this year. The self-disparaging lyrics and mellow music are fitting when you’re feeling a little down. I especially like this song’s theme of a woman trying to get back with a man who knows he’s a terrible person. The mid-song tempo change and German lyrics keep it interesting. In my head, I picture a woman and man separated by a fence where the grass is greener on her side…

Stuff! Evan Dahm’s Vattu on Kickstarter

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I just donated to Evan Dahm’s Kickstarter for a PDF of his latest work-to-be-published, Vattu. I only recently read his acclaimed Rice Boy and am insanely impressed by Dahm’s world-building abilities. I am slowly making my way through Order of Tales, which has had a permanent tab open on my iPad so I don’t lose my spot. His characters are well written and bear an emotional weight that matches the epic plot lines. Some of the character designs are reminiscent of Tove Jansson.

What I like about this particular Kickstarter is the lack of over-the-top stretch goals. Dahm plotted out the logistics of the exact book he wanted to get funded, and he made it happen. I get stressed for other artists who are throwing in crazy work for themselves just because people have donated more than they anticipated. Time is finite but there is no ceiling on the amount of money you can make.