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Howdy. I'm Justin Hall, a freelance writer living in Oakland California. I spent much of the last two years living in Japan, researching the social impact of new technologies and electronic entertainment. Now I write articles, contribute to Chanpon, Game Girl Advance and TheFeature.

Thanks for stopping by this old web site.

My memories of


Thus spake:
> Matt Haughey on recruit an airline ally
> Sandy on Optimal Optio
> Liz on self-motivated to live
> Liz on Seeking Translation
> Austin on The Quickening
> Joao Paglione on more time for media notes
> Joao Paglione on a weakling with an indulgent mind
> Christine on worked up
> strategy rules games on Jane's NY Post
> anne on Booking Tokyo Seoul
> j on ever throbbing
> William on four for five
> Quietmob on totalizing projection

waka waka! by Robin


Photo by: Robin Hunicke

I saw this girl at the Tokyo Game Show wearing these totally rad glasses. I asked if she was a game designer; she said she was just talent, a model, a booth babe sort of. But she looked like a young artist! Quirkily arrayed. I encouraged her to take her funky wardrobe and make some software. Then my disappointment was offset when she offered to let me wear her glasses after I heaped praise on them. And Robin snapped this photo!

October 2004

face front archives

I write for Game Girl Advance quite often - here's a list of my last few posts there:


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September 29, 2003

recruit an airline ally

Today I gave Jane my advice for rearranging flights. Recruit the operator to be your ally - "Hi, I need to get home as soon as possible, and I'm broke. Can you help me save money and travel sooner?" Present the larger problem, instead of focusing on the cost or fare class of this or that ticket, this or that routing. They have the computer and the knowledge of the system, you have need for their help.

The second piece of advice, if you get an operator who is not being helpful, thank them for their time, wait a few minutes, and call back to see if you find someone more sympatico. If you're so broke that $150 is a big deal to pay to change a ticket, then it's worth it to spend an hour trying to save that money. If you have a good story to tell, or an odd flight routing strategy to test, often its just a matter of finding an airline operator who will be sympathetic or excited to participate in that with you. Unfortunately for Jane, I've found that I can bond better with operators in the United States, better than I get along with phone operators in Japan. But she is much more polite than I and that should serve, if she can manage to work a bit of self-interest into her language.

Posted by Justin at 08:26 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 28, 2003

Optimal Optio

After years of faithful and fabulous service, my Nikon CoolPix 880 conked out. It actually happened a few months ago, around the time I bought a Sony PC101 video camera. I thought I might carry that smallish video camera with me, and use it to take still photos.

It takes decent shots and it is decently small. But video cameras demand extra batteries, power chargers and spare tapes, and that's a lot to carry for an entire day on the town. If I know I'm going to be doing some taping, I'm glad to have it all on hand. But for a casual dinner or a night out, I don't want to bring a shoulder-breaking load of video journalist equiment.

Still I demand the capacity to take photos. I love writing, and these pages are filled with my words. But my photos too are an invaluable part of my personal journalism. I love being able to look back on the mists rising off of the sulfer baths, the belt buckle of my grandfather's friend, the kids at the Davidson Gospel festival. I look back on all my recent text entries, and I long for a small ready digital camera.

Japan feeds that hunger, with plenty to photograph and ample electronics stores. We've been staying near one of the many Biku Cameras in Sibuya. I decided to buy a new, small digital camera my first day in Tokyo, so I could use it during my next month travelling in Asia.

pentax optio sI went to DPReview.com, and browsed the ultra compacts and compact digital cameras. I've very much enjoyed Nikon, I've been impressed with the size of the Casio cameras. Reading reviews of the cameras I admired, the Pentax Optio S came up repeadly as the best camera in that category: small and able. (Pentax Optio S on DPReview, Pentax.com, and Amazon.)

The nearby Bic Camera had the Pentax Optio prominently displayed; the salesman said it was his best-selling model. It was small but had a good heft in my hand. Slightly annoying joystick nubby thing for navigating the menus, but it had a good responsive interface and English menus.

For someone used to a thirty month old digital camera, there's been some notable improvement in these young devices. This camera is faster than my old CoolPix to boot up, take and store pictures. It records short videos like the old camera, but this one recordsd sound. And you can annotate photos with 30-second sound clips. I discovered much to my delight that I can pick a custom startup photo, and I can set the camera to "meow" loudly when I turn it on. Yee-hah!

The buttons have been neatly simplified. The form has shrunk, while becoming more powerful. I'll have to see if it can still take capture good magic moments, but I'm already getting a good feeling from the early shots I've seen with and without flash.

The store ordered an English language manual for me. I bought a 64 meg SD memory card. Total - around $500. It's a lot of money, but if I can sell just one or two photos I take on this trip, I should be able to pay it back. Either way, it should make for better web posting (my first picture posted from the camera, besides the picture below, is a picture of a capsule hotel for a piece about luxury capsule hotels for Chanpon).

This is a photo I took of Robin, using her giant old digi-cam (a MVC-CD1000) in Shibuya. She's an avid photographer herself, and she loves the 10x zoom on this thing. The camera has a CD burner in back; each photo taken is immediately burned onto a CD. Wacky! And large.
Posted by Justin at 09:01 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 24, 2003

self-motivated to live

three?  four!
Cerulean bathtub with a view - photo by Matsumoto-san, the bellboy happy in English after a forty day trip last January to snowy New York city.
Just landed in Tokyo, fortunately with a pocket full of friends. Jane and I are travelling for the next few days in the company of Alan, Robin and Doug. Robin has a fantastic shiny head of hair, dyed warm metallic colors. Doug is on his way, from what I hear, he'll be bringing a bag containing only a single pair of pants and a bunch of power supplies. With my new efficient travel regime, I have more gadget adapters than undergarments for my month-long voyage. Fortunately for all involved, there are many robes in the floating kingdom.

The next few days will be solid wall of video game footage and conversation. And then? Freedom. Freedom surrounded by power cords. In spite of my desire for untethered electronic roaming, I am glad the GameBoy Advance SP is rechargeable.

All my talk of technology neatly obfuscates a confusing life, busy with travel and unsure of standing. I'd recently considered myself a careful man, not accustomed to purchasing and repurchasing things lost on the road. But I'm losing things as I move. Even when I was sitting still, I was only preparing for a chance to shuck burdens, so I could feel relaxed as I age. Movement and change once still seem liberating.

Deadlines focus my freelance writing - knowing in advance how much time I have to complete a project. I'm discovering that deadlines in life are mostly unassigned - you really have to be self-motivated to live.

Posted by Justin at 07:26 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 22, 2003

Seeking Translation

I snuck out with Alan to see "Lost in Translation" - an excellent tale of traveller bonding and romance between fast friends. The film is set in Tokyo, which makes it like memory for me. Jane explores these issues in her review for Chanpon.org: Nothing Lost in Translation. I posted my reflections in the comments. Great film! Well recommended. I love Bill Murray. Pretty faithful to Tokyo, the experience of landing, feeling distance, and looking for love.

Now I'm headed back, with Jane. We're experimenting with some independence these days - she seems to work better when I'm not hovering overhead with my own deadline loads and particular anxieties.

Right now I'm pretty fucking excited to be going to Tokyo again. Each time I return I know more people. Either Tokyo is getting more crowded, or the Tokyo Game Show has become a relevant place for world traveller convergance.

It's late, and my brain is drained. Instead of packing and writing today, I went luggage and supplies shopping. I'll be on the road a month - Howard convinced me to ditch my regular cotton boxers in favor of Ex Officio travel undergarments and Woolite. Three pairs in rotation, wash in the sink, they dry in four hours. What the heck - trimming my road load. Stuffing that into a new Briggs and Riley suitcase. Built tough, with attractive features. I wonder if it costed too much? "Don't skimp on tools" (howard). I travel once a month for at least a week!

Projects? Serious Games Newsletter with Ben from Digital Mill. New article up on TheFeature about new game-ready mobile phones: New Devices, Same Games. Covering the Tokyo Game Show for Game Girl Advance. And covering the World Cyber Games for the South China Morning Post, again. Last year I had a great time following the fourteen year olds on the Hong Kong team; fancying myself a sports reporter I saw their character reflected in their play style. Anyone have any gossip on them?

Posted by Justin at 07:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 20, 2003

The Quickening

I wrote some months ago about needing to get my financial affairs in order. I decided that it was worth at least $240 for me to arrange my books - $80 for new financial record-keeping software, $80 to learn how to use it, and $80/hour for someone to look over my finances once I made them presentable.

I bought an updated copy of Quicken Home and Business, a software program for tracking your income and expenses. I carry that around on my laptop and download my credit card transactions from hotel rooms in Seoul or Switzerland (it's a good idea to check your Quicken on the road, while you still have a chance of remembering that KABUSHIKIGAISHIYA NIHONKA is the name of the place you bought your PlayStation 2).

I've actually been filing my accounts with Quicken since 1998. I have a lot of data that I've been just cramming in this program. Somehow I ended up with three year old un-reconciled transactions and 19,000 in an account labelled "Loose Change." It was time for me to get my Quicken in order, to better separate business and pleasure, to bill my clients for expenses, to keep track of invoices and payments.

After months of asking about, I finally searched the web for "Quicken Lessons." There were some cheesy CD-Rom tutorials, but I wanted personal tutorial. I found The Jackson Group, a small firm in New York City that specializes in Quicken-related financial services; in my case, examining people's personal Quicken account files and teaching them how to better use the software. I needed concepts in personal financial management - I didn't want to know, "how would I use that function," but I wanted to know, "why would I use that function?"

I sent Ken Jackson a copy of my five year old Quicken file. He reviewed it for a day, and then this afternoon we had a productive and entertaining hour long phone tutorial. I've shared some of what I learned below.

Ken is against automatically downloading transaction histories from banks and financial institutions. "You end up having to fix the transactions yourself nearly all the time," he observed, "so you might as well enter them by hand."

I was flabbergasted - I use my credit card constantly so I can just download the transaction information without having to save too many receipts. But I must do a better job of reconciling my accounts then. Ken pointed out that I can call my credit card company to follow up on a charge - they might have more information on the type of business it was (like MIOFURAZA where I spent $78.55 in April last year - what was that?).

Reconciling is key - without fully indexing all the transactions, the reports are generally meaningless and you can't keep up on your balances. In addition, indexing something with a payee of "ATM Deposit" is a useless holdover from automatic downloading - I should be changing the payee to reflect my client name, so I can search and read reports easier.

I've been at a loss with what to do about ATM withdrawals for as long as I've been tracking my spending. I can't imagine saving all of my cash receipts. I tried entering each of my cash purchases in on my Palm back in 1998; that lasted about two days. Ken confirmed what another freelance writer Douglas Rushkoff told me years ago, for cash spending on business-related expenses, you estimate how much you spend on small transactions in a month, and save receipts from big cash purchases. So maybe I spend $20 a month on technology magazines; I can use a scheduled transaction to deduct that much from my "Loose Change" account every 30 days. Or if I take a $60 cab ride, I save the receipt and deduct it from Loose Change for that month. Then I reconcile my ATM withdrawals with what I've spent on business from my Loose Change account - the leftover money, the un-accounted-for cash I put into a category for personal spending. This is a great relief - somehow I thought I had an obsessive-compulsive hangup that I should use this software to track absolutely everything, so nothing can come out uneven! I couldn't abide by that so I was just mis-handling my cash accounts. Ken gave me a good way to sort that out.

This seemed like a no-brainer after Ken explained it to me: put expenses and reimbursements related to clients in the same category. Then you can check to see if anyone is behind in paying you. I hadn't been using Quicken to track clients and expenses since creating new categories for each client seemed unwieldy. Ken briefly explained Quicken's system of Classes, a good way to add a second layer of categorization on top of the categories. Set up a class for each client, and then each transaction can be filed or sorted either by class or category. This would remind me that I still haven't billed that particular guy for those plane tickets!

Ken also looked over my list of categories for all my transactions - a mish-mash of unwieldy Quicken defaults and over-specific niches I cooked up in 1999. He suggested I print out that list and pare it down. Then when I hire an accountant to look over my books with me, she can tell me whether certain categories are tax-deductible or tax-irrelevant. Ken suggested one specific here, that I separate out my telephone charges by office, home and mobile.

It was a great experience, if only for helping me get some perspective on a giant unwieldy personal financial data file. He was a patient teacher, ready to show me higher level financial record-keeping concepts tailored for my freelance lifestyle. He had perused my data and he had good suggestions on how I could better use the software. He also had tricks from years of using Quicken. It sounds like most of his business comes from maintaining people's Quicken and QuickBooks files for them. I was glad that he helped me feel more self-sufficient as my own financial manager. He charged $80 for an hour of consultation.

I have at least a half-dozen solid hours of Quicken customizing ahead. I don't mind geeking around with this software - it's reasonably intelligently designed and the information contained within is relevant to me. Once I get my routine down and my record-keeping better established, I believe I should update and revisit my financials every week or every two weeks. Jonathan is in the habit of making Sunday his billpaying/Quicken day.

Once I've got a month of better Quicken use under my belt, and I've combed over 2003's transactions, I'll consult with a CPA. My short term goal is to begin paying quarterly income taxes! And from there I want to reduce my five-figure credit card debt. So much of Quicken is designed to urge you to invest and track your investments. For now, my investment is me, and I need some investment tracking.

Posted by Justin at 04:18 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

more time for media notes

Between the governor's race in this state of California, and the budding presidential contest threatening the hegemony of sad news from the Mid East, there's an exciting load of political bluffing and wrestling to keep up with. Some of my favorite media theater!

kurtz.gifBut it can be overwhelming: difficult to keep up with the flood of stories, let alone keeping up with diverse sources of news! Fortunately, there's Howard Kurtz's Media Notes from the Washington Post. He reads newspapers and web sites and compares their coverage. It's a fantastic way to surf the news and to get a sense of some media bias and spin. (I first wrote about Kurtz on bud.com- 'tis the season, again!)

Posted by Justin at 02:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 16, 2003

a weakling with an indulgent mind

It flashed in my mind - this might be my worst nightmare, as I dropped my left contact lens on the well-trod floor of the men's room at Los Angeles airport.

But I am a weakling with an indulgent mind, not like my French friend who spent four hours in immigration detention since he was born in North Africa. The computer surrogate immigration official demanded his credit card number, as part of their record keeping. They keep all the bits of information about you in a file, he said, nothing to worry about unless you plan on doing wrong.

My friend's strength of character was reflected in his retained humor and penchant for waxing philosophical in spite of his rude entry into Les Etats-Unis. He was happy to talk about Philip K. Dick's distopian visions that presaged the tangible pessimism that many bring to face biometrics; the convenience of machine tracking all movements of goods and bodies. "Some day we will all be born with a single phone number we carry for all our lives," he recounted the 70s-era phone company utopia with Dickian dis-wonderment. Most people would happily make the choice to be barcoded, I observed, for the sake of shorter lines.

I was driving him down Sunset Boulevard in a blue Ford pickup, because it was the car they could deliver quickest this morning at LAX Budget rent-a-car. It was still early then; the avocado-tomato burrito in my bag was only one quarter eaten. One of my favorite foods where I live are the breakfast burritos near gate 7 at Oakland airport. Today I wondered if that means I travel too much.

Typically I buy a single avocado-tomato burrito before a pre-9am flight, and then eat eighths or quarter bits until I find a foodsource in my destination. This sustained me for most of a day during my recent trip to Oregon, for example, where the sensual taste of mingling cheese and avocado sustained me in a neighborhood still celebrating access to microwaved burgers.

Today the only burrito bite I had in Los Angeles was in Mimi Ito's office at USC. She was characteristically patient and brilliant, sharing her recent research into communications in realms of relationships and technology. I showed up to help move Chanpon to a new server; ChrisW agreed that WestHost looked formidable so we chose them.

I made it home with help from Richard D. James. My French friend I last saw at Le Petit Four in the company of his countrymen, most of them having ordered some kind of red meat to be served rare. I wondered, will I ever wear that contact lens again? No doubt.

Posted by Justin at 12:04 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 13, 2003

worked up

don't express strong emotions with cars
appetite for destruction
three beers before three sausages
what's got me worked up?
all obstacles are within us.

Posted by Justin at 11:55 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 12, 2003

Jane's NY Post

Jane posted photos and links from our recent New York city trip:
Umami Tsunami: New York City, Fall 03. I added my few cents in the comments.

Posted by Justin at 06:21 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

Booking Tokyo Seoul

Today Jane and I booked tickets for our 2003 Asia Fall Tour

Two weeks from yesterday, we leave for Tokyo.

Then after two weeks, we leave for Seoul.

Two weeks later, back to San Francisco.

September 23 - October 8 [Tokyo, Japan] Tokyo Game Show, family and friends

October 8 - October 22 [Seoul, Korea (Republic of)] World Cyber Games, family and friends

Looking forward to some travel in parts of the world I enjoy, at a more leisurely pace than five days or a week allows. Four weeks away from home base is daunting. But the promise of the people we'll see is invigorating.

We don't yet have writing assignments for our time abroad; if we can gather our thoughts we'll sell stories to magazines or web sites. Definitely, our notes will appear on our personal web sites, and on Game Girl Advance. The UAL tickets would have been $601 for San Francisco-Tokyo; the Seoul leg added just $47. Funny that way.

We'll have a chance to study two regional gaming scenes. We'll travel cheap maybe and we'll linger with good people. Even if the money isn't forthcoming, I have to imagine this is a worthwhile debt to incur for the future of freelancing.

Posted by Justin at 10:14 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 09, 2003

ever throbbing

New York is throbbing as ever; people ask me, how do you make money? Nearly every day here. I'm meeting some strangers, we're interviewing gameheads. Video cameras computers, lugged between event and party; we're carrying our tools and documenting what we see.

I'm accustomed to immediately spewing my reflections online. But our theme ("the cultural impact of video games" and "the role of new york city in the cultural production of video games") has staged our production on hard drives and magnetic tape until we have a chance to properly spin it all into a reflection of our worldwide wandering.

In the immediate sense? I'm tempering my hunger and anxiety that comes from "how do you make money?" questions. Trying to gather as much stimulation as I can for the brief time I'll have to process it all. So far, data gathering exceeds production and promotion time. If there's any lesson I'm learning from the rapid patter and project visitation, those that aren't yet friends need a handle for what Jane and I do. And maybe we can fashion that handle in print and phone calls from the West Coast again - "Hello, I met you outside of that event. My project? I'm interested in your project." Brockman said something like, "Find people in your generation doing interesting things and work with them." A few of those people might be in Manhattan.

Briefer notes? Tokion's conference is over; notes TK. Stayed with Souris and Silvio (introduced by Wayne). Saw a fingerprint phone there. Now staying with Eric; ate with Ethan, Anil & Alaina, Greg & Karen, but not yet Kitao. We won't be in Austin this week. Two days until my next deadline; two weeks until we might leave for TGS. GK's been pushing against People magazine. Mom had her hand surgery; so far so good.

Posted by Justin at 09:49 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 03, 2003

four for five

Friend GK is four for five in successfully having letters to the editor of the NYTimes published. Here is his latest, about the lump sum payment of $140 million to the head of the New York Stock Exchange: A Working Life in America.

Posted by Justin at 05:45 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 01, 2003

totalizing projection

Hello! Somewhere in the last few years I laundered the garb of a wandering web-based beggar and now I can be seen in a pair of black shiny freelancer's shoes (I bought 'em used). Back then I was honored to write and have a place to share it; the web motivated me to "over-share" in the parlance of my generation. I pumped stories through my fingers daily and occasionally when asked about my plans I said, I hope to get paid for this.

Hah! I get paid for the side-effects of an internet expression addition. Curiosity about tools and machines and a penchant for watching people has me paid to observe and note the habits of highly gadgetized human communicators.

Recent death is threatening to upend my sense of value in life and work. My ancestors may be responsible for my overdrive optimism and a tendency to aggressive production. Most members of my family have found graduate education, companies and stricter professions to drive their potential. I've somehow tried to train myself outside of that structure.

I asked Jane tonight, what are your dreams? My partner at my side begs a constant question; what do we make? It nags at me - I can't imagine how we live if I don't see what we make. When I'm quieter I remember that she washed my feet after a long day at Bass Lake, and I remember that my restlessness likely comes from a day away from my productivity pacifier. I may not achieve much in the course of most days, but stroking the keys and filling the wires gives me a sense of continuity.

with Clementine; photo by Chris HeckerBut I call it a pacifier because there are bigger questions to consider; questions I have been trying to explore offscreen, when my mind is my own. Death makes a life vacuum and amplifies passing moments. How nice it would have been for Jane's mother to meet her grandchild. How nice it would be for my mother to spend some time with her own.

The largest creations seem to be children; but I don't feel prepared yet for parenthood. Should I train my mind to that task, if I see it up ahead? Should I plunge and let beautiful life, family and friends surprise me? Any child of mine would have a wonderful assortment of aunts and uncles, miscreants and miracle-workers. Imagining childmaking is less hard with pregnant popping friends nearby, but this enormity of supporting other life razes all the smaller plans of work and bill paying. Until I manage courage or stability, the search for a surrogate totalizing project continues.

Posted by Justin at 11:30 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack
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