January 4th, 2009


"Cheating" with geocaching

After spending lots of time inside with friend and family, we had to get out again. What better way than to go geocaching?

I chose GC1ERNF, which is a photo-search through an area where you're allowed to go off the paths. Looked fun enough, and with 7.5 km, quite the ideal distance for us. We were a bit late getting started though, which was also because we had to select an 'optimal' route along all of the points, using Google Maps.

It was cold but nice. At the fishing pond near the parking space we found lots of people ice-skating. They were playing ice hockey, but there were also people just skating in circles for the exercise. And there were people shoving an old TV across the ice... WTF!?
Anyway, further into the nature preserve, we were all alone -- there were no other walkers in sight. The gound had been soggy and muddy, and we would have slipped ankle-deep in the mud if not for the frost. But that didn't mean the going was easy, because the mud had frozen up quite uneven. But it was nice -- the (relative) silence, the frosty landscape, the waypoints... But it was a bit of a pity we had to do one stretch twice (to and back). Guess that couldn't be helped.

But between points D and H, we found out that Google's aerial photos were outdated. Instead of a lake/large pond at the centre of the preserve that we could walk around, the conservation society had cut a canal between the lake and the river. Now I knew where those photos of people wading thigh-deep into the water had come from!
Given the temperatures, we opted to keep all of our clothes on and stay away from the water. And it was getting late too -- by that time it was 15:20, and in one hour it would be sundown. There are few things I dislike more than getting stuck in a nature preserve without any light. (One of those things is getting stuck in a nature preserve without any light while there are semi-wild cattle about -- luckily those had been taken in for the winter in this particular case.)

Grumily, we set off back again, to walk around the lake. But then we discovered that we had enoug information to calculate the longitude of the cache location! I created a waypoint with the correct longitude to the north of the preserve, and one to the south. Then I created a route between the two -- my GPSr then draws a line between the two.
So now we knew that the cache had to be on that line somewhere... Checking the topographical map (again on the GPSr) we selected a likely spot.
After another brisk walk, we had arrived on a position along the line. I aligned myself north, and looked straight ahead -- just as we suspected, there was a spot that could fit the hint straight ahead. As we didn't have to stick to paths, we just cut across the terrain (clambering over a barbed wire fence that had fallen down) and lo and behold: there was the cache!

The cache-layer tried to outsmart us by letting the most obvious route go through the canal so that we had to go around -- but we outsmarted him by deducting the cache location and cutting the route short! We were back at the car at 16:00 sharp, with only 5.8 km on the track-counter. Ha!

Finished series: Kurozuka

We've finished watching Kurozuka. My first episode review is here.

In the 12th century, Kuro, the younger brother of the shogun, is trying to evade the assassins his brother sent after him. He and his retainer Benkei stay the night at the villa of Kuromitsu, a woman who lives all by herself in the valley. It turns out that she is a vampire, pursued by a sect that is obsessed with immortality. They attack while Benkei is gone, and the only way for her to save Kuro is to share her blood with him, thereby making him immortal as well.
But they get attacked again, and when Kuro wakes up again, it's a thousand years later, after the fall of civilisation. Japan is ruled by the Red Emperor, who is (also) looking for vampires -- this search takes the form of having his troops shoot down everyone they meet, too. Kuro gets involved with the resistance, because they know about the Red Emperor and Kuromitsu...

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The series is pretty brutal. Blood is splattered liberally, and lots of grunts are mowed down in various nasty ways. The Red Emperor and his henchmen aren't afraid of a bit of bloodshed either -- the bodycount is enormous. The fights are quite well choreographed. When Kuro goes into 'bullet-time', this is visualised very nicely.
The visuals are very good, though it took me quite some time to get used to the spindly legs of the characters. Movements are fluid and fast, and the digital effects are quite good -- especially in the last few episodes, where all the stops are pulled.

But even then, it was kind of hard to get into it. There were a few episodes that left us wondering how it would continue, but most of the time it seems like a random collection of random violence. There's little method to the madness, and the plot (such as it is) does not really explain why things are as they are. Which makes the brutality hard to stomach, because then it is cheapened. The creators used violence as an excuse to get out of doing any character development or building up believable motivations.

Good points:
- Great visuals and animation.
Bad points:
- Endless string of random violence;
- Pointless plot.

All in all, a 5.5. If you like your anime bloodthirsty, this is for you -- just don't expect a plot that explains it all.

Finished series: xxxHolic Kei

We've finished watching xxxHolic Kei, for which I did not write a first-episode review. It is the second season for xxxHolic that I reviewed in full here.

There's not much to write about this series that I haven't already written about the first season. But still there are some differences: whereas the first season sets the stage and introduces the 'rules' of the spiritual world that Watanuki has entered through his part-time job at Yuko's store, the second season is more about how Watanuki deals with it. He accepted the job at Yuko's store for a reason, and this time the stories show how he and his two friends (the stoic Domeki and the cheerful Himawari) get into and out of trouble again.
As the apotheosis closes in, the stories get to be more and more intertwined: something that Watanuki gains in one episode plays a pivotal role in another, which gives this season a feel that is a lot less episodic than the first. That's great to watch.

Other than that, much has stayed the same: the character designs, the music, the voice acting, the animation. So if you liked the first season (and there is a lot to like there), you will like the second season even better. I'll give it an 8.