Thursday, March 31, 2005

Aoyama Bochi, Tokyo

Draper

Some Meiji and Taisho-era graves in the foreigners' section of Aoyama Cemetery, Tokyo, are scheduled for removal unless family members are found who will pay the maintenance fees. A small group of people, both foreigners and Japanese nationals, have formed the Foreign Section Trust to work for the preservation of these graves as historical monuments.

In order to build support for their cause, the Trust, in conjunction with some people on the JapanBloggers mailing list are about to hold a hanami (cherry blossom viewing party) at the cemetery. Jim O'Connell has the details.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Farewell to Bigfoot.com

Bigfoot.com was one of the firms that sprang up in the early stages of the Web's commercialisation. It managed to hang in there when the internet boom went bust and the dotcoms came tumbling down, and it's still around today. I stopped thinking of myself as a customer of theirs years ago -- yesterday I finally cancelled my subscription. Here's the story.

"Bigfoot For Life" seemed like a good idea back in the nineties: you could sign up with Bigfoot and receive a free forwarding address that was yours for as long as you wanted it. It didn't matter what your real e-mail address was or how many times you chose to change it, you could always give people your easy-to-remember Bigfoot.com address and the mail sent to it would be forwarded to you. And it was free of charge.

Sometime in, I think, 2001 I received a message from Bigfoot.com saying that they could no longer offer the forwarding address for free, so they gave me a choice: I could either "upgrade" to one of their paid forwarding accounts, or I could switch to a "Basic" forwarding account which would continue to be free of charge, but which would require an "opt-in", meaning that I had to consent to receiving a certain number of commercial messages from Bigfoot's "promotional partners".

In other, less graceful words: If I didn't want to pay for the Bigfoot forwarding service, I could get it for free -- in exchange for getting spammed a little.

I chose to ignore the offer and moved on. It's even possible that I had already stopped giving out my Bigfoot address at that time, I don't remember. I never had a great deal of correspondence that went through my Bigfoot account in the first place, so it was easy enough to shrug off the whole matter.

After a while I did notice, however, that they hadn't closed my account: I could still send messages to my Bigfoot address and these messages would merrily return to me like nothing had ever happened.

At one point I began to notice just how much of the spam I got actually came through Bigfoot. I hadn't received a single legitimate message through Bigfoot in years, yet a fair percentage of my daily spam did come from there. I was too lazy to do anything about it until a couple of days ago when I decided to write to them and have my account cancelled.

The first response from them was an unsigned piece of boilerplate about their commitment to fighting spam and my need to report "the incident" to abuse@bigfoot.com.

I tried again.

This time I was luckier. I got a reply that still looked like a collage of boilerplate bits and pieces, but it showed beyond reasonable doubt that somebody had read my request and picked up the part where I said I wanted to close my Bigfoot account. The message itself dwelled on the evils of spam, on the need to fight it, and on Bigfoot's commitment to fighting it. It also offered me the choice of having my account temporarily suspended while they were fixing the problem. And it mentioned, accompanied with a warning that it wasn't the right thing to do, that I could log in to my account and cancel the subscription.

So I tried that. I requested my password, logged in, clicked on "Terminate Account" in the sidebar and then hit the Delete button.

Didn't work. All I got was a server error.

I went back and tried a few times more. Didn't work. All I got was a server error.

The Terminate Account page also displayed this piece of information:

You are a Basic subscriber and your communication preference is set at opt out.

To re-activate your Basic FREE email forwarding account you need to opt in and receive future mailings from Bigfoot and/or its external business partners. Please click on the "Opt In" button below to re-activate your Bigfoot account.

You can also choose to upgrade your current Basic FREE account to any of our paid subscription plans and continue using the service while maintaining an opt out status. To upgrade your plan please click on the "Upgrade" button.


This reminded me of the basic puzzlement I've felt about Bigfoot ever since I ignored their "opt-in" offer in 2001: True, I guess, my "communication preference" is correctly set to "opt out" because I never "opted in." But why, then, has the service been forwarding messages to me all these years? I'm Opt Out! I should need to "re-activate my Basic FREE email forwarding account" if I wanted to receive anything from Bigfoot!

So, I wrote back to Customer Support. I duly informed them that the Delete button was broken and that it only triggered a server error. In the spirit of enquiry, I also asked them to explain why they kept sending stuff to an Opt Out customer. The acceptable reply to the question would have been that it was an oversight. I can think of a few less acceptable replies, the type that Customer Support would be unlikely to make, but let's not go there, shall we?

I didn't receive a reply to this enquiry, so, after two or three days, I decided to log in to Bigfoot.com and see if the Delete button was working now. I found this piece of information:

You are a Basic subscriber and your communication preference is set at opt-in.

You can use this page to optout from receiving future marketing contacts from Bigfoot and/or external business partners. Simply click on the "Opt Out" button at the bottom of the page and you will be removed from our mailing list

Please note that your Bigfoot Basic FREE subscription may be terminated if you opt out from receiving future marketing contacts from Bigfoot and/or its external business partners.


Sweet! When you ask them to cancel your account, they will subscribe you to their forwarding-for-spam scheme.

I proceeded to the Delete button and found this message:

By terminating your Bigfoot For Life account, you will no longer receive offers from Bigfoot's Promotional partners. However, you will also have to forego the benefits of using any of Bigfoot's services which are available only to those with active Bigfoot for Life accounts.


Fine with me. I clicked on Delete.

This time it worked.

Bye, Bigfoot, and thanks for the ride!

A final thought: if, as a Bigfoot customer, you would like to "upgrade your account", the company will be happy to sell a "quarterly subscription to Anti-Spam Solution" for $5.95 and throw in "5Mb WebMail Storage" to sweeten the deal. To me, this offer looks slightly disturbing. Bigfoot is a company that sells e-mail services: for such a company to sell spam protection as a dispendable extra rather than including it, as a matter of course, in the most basic of its services looks like a desperate attempt at generating some, any sort of, revenue.

Extra links, free of charge: unfavourable reviews.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Speech Accent Archive

The Speech Accent Archive, run by Steven Weinberger at George Mason University, will celebrate its sixth birthday next month. It's an ugly and hard-to-use site, but for anyone with more than a passing interest in phonetics, dialectology or, for that matter, the teaching of English pronunciation to non-native speakers, it's a treasure trove.

With currently 414 speech samples available, the Archive "examines the accented speech of speakers from many different language backgrounds reading the same sample paragraph." Each sample receives a close phonetic transcription in IPA and is subjected to analysis presented as "phonological generalizations". These generalisations list of features which the sample deviates from GAE (General American English), the most widely accepted, "standard" variety of American speech.

Currently, recordings of seven native Japanese speakers are available. Like the speaker from Kawasaki, who is very good, they're mostly far above average and avoid many of the most typical Japanese patterns of sub-standard pronunciation. Click on the "i" icon for an analysis of each speaker's accent.

The Japanese consonant and vowels charts, reproduced from Maddieson's Patterns of Sounds, go some way towards explaining the speech habits that Japanese speakers bring to learning foreign languages.

The Speech Accent Archive requires the Quicktime player.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Yoshitoshi Mori

International dining

This design caught my eye when I happened to be in Okage-yokochou near Ise Grand Shrine back in December last year. The bold and powerful style in which the figure was done appealed to me and I took a photo, intending to look up the artist when I got back home. Viewing the photo on my computer screen, however, I found that the resolution wasn't high enough for me to make out artist's signature. Tough luck.

The other day I tried again. I still couldn't read the signature, but combining some Google searches with a fair bit of trial and error I eventually discovered that the artist was Yoshitoshi Mori (1898-1992).

Gleaned from this page, here's a quick biographical sketch:

Yoshitoshi Mori is the dean of Japan's modern printmakers, and his contributions to the art are almost legendary. In addition to being one of the world's supreme printmakers, he was also an outstanding creator of design for fabrics. He was born in Tokyo and had an academic art training at the Kawabata School of Fine Arts. After graduating from the art school, Mori became a textile designer and dyer of kimono fabrics. When Mori made his first print, he was nearly sixty years old. He had numerous one-man shows in Japan in the 60's. In 1966, Mori mounted a traveling show in America sponsored by The Japan Society, New York. Between 1957 and 1977 he participated in 30 International Exhibitions and group shows. His works have been shown in New York, Boston, Detroit, St. Louis, Pasadena, San Diego, Honolulu, Mexico City, Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Barcelona, and Melbourne. In 1984 he received an Honorary Doctorate from Maryland University. In 1991 he was honored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government for his long years of meritorious service.


The energetic simplicity of his work is something that I find very attractive. There is lots of of strength in pieces such as the Portrait of Shibaraku and the Portrait of Kabuki Actor. Incidentally, I found a print of the Kabuki Samurai for sale. It goes for $1,600.

Bonus links: sosaku hanga, kappazuri-e.