Saturday, December 09, 2006

Geek Test

Step back, mundanes!

My computer geek score is greater than 100% of all people in the world! How do you compare? Click here to find out!

That is right, I am a computer god. Sadly, I would have done better on this test a few years back, before I got married and realised that there is more to life than computers and beer.

I am moving this weekend, and have no real time to blog, but I was scrolling through the newly created Planet TLUG and saw that Keith had posted his test score, so I had no choice but to take the test myself.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

Of the coming of the Dems! Or at least the leaving of the GOP.

More interesting commentary on the midterm elections can be found over at Politics Schmolitics, or on your television thanks to "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report", but I'd just like to express my appreciation to my fellow Americans for booting the party of War, Graft, Morality of the Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do variety, Pomposity, and Arrogance out of Congress (and probably the Senate too, though the results are still out as of right now).

I hope this can be a new beginning for America. Let's start trying to undo the damage that has been done to the reputation of our great country. Let's go back to our Boy Scout roots and strive to leave this planet cleaner than we found it. Let's beat the fundamentalists back the only way we can, with the force of our ideas, not of our arms. Let's raise wages in America, hold corporations accountable for their behaviour, do away with the tax loopholes that help the rich while strangling the middle class.

In short, let's make America great again. Let's remake the country into what we claim it is: a shining city on a hill, the last hope of freedom.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I'm Still Alive

she said. "But do I deserve to be? Is that the question?"

Yes, I know. It has been many moons since last I graced the 'Sphere with my lyrical yet powerful words. Sorry 'bout that.

I am alive, and doing quite well. So well, indeed, that I have had zero time to keep y'all informed. But as time presents itself, fear not! for I shall write many a blarticle!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Oh My Goodness Now What Have I Done?

I've been drinkin' again and havin' too much fun. (Ugh, my head...)

I found this in my drafts and decided just to post it as is. Fun enough. :)

Way too much has been happening lately. Lyani left for Bulgaria last week, and I was fortunate enough to have the busiest schedule of my young life, in terms of Stuff to Do After Work (StDAW--use that with my blessings). You miss your wife a lot less when you do not have any time to think. :)

So, recap:

  • Sunday, 10 Sept. - I went to the little park near my house to practise a little football (AKA soccer AKA サッカー). I started juggling, but between the tall grass and the guy shooting baskets nearby, I couldn't maintain my focus. So I went over, introduced myself, and asked if I could shoot around with him. He said he didn't mind, and we had a good time playing some good old fashioned basketball. It took me back to my childhood, trying to dribble on a gravel court. He invited me to play some ball tomorrow night (Tuesday) with a few of his friends at a gym near Maihama Station.

  • Monday, 11 Sept. - I cannot remember doing anything, but that seems unlikely, thinking back on the week.

  • Tuesday, 12 Sept. -

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Japan: The Cleanest Nation on Earth

But how!?

In my albeit limited experience, I have yet to find a country with cleaner big cities than Japan. You walk down the street, and you might have to go half a block before you find as much as a discarded cigarette end. And this is in Tokyo! Population 35 million people, one of the world's financial, technological, and fashion capitols.

The reasons for this are approximately (in my highly scientific study which involved asking myself--margin of error plus or minus 1.27) twofold:

  1. Japanese people follow the rules (this is not precisely true, but I'll come back to that in the expanded explanation of this item), and

  2. The city governments employ people whose soul function is beautification of the city (other cities do this too, of course, but I'm not talking about garbage men garbage persons sanitary technicians and Parks and Rec staff).

Hanami at Kenrokuen, KanazawaRight, so to go into more detail on point one. I claimed that Japanese people follow the rules, and that is almost true, if a bit of a simplification. I have witnessed the following in Japan: at 03:30 in the morning, in a sleepy part of town (Kanazawa, which is pictured at left because I can), not one but several pedestrians stood on a street corner, waiting for the signal to change to "Walk", despite the fact that there were a) absolutely no cars on the road, and b) even if there were, you could see roughly a kilometre up the road in each direction any way; at a specific subway station (Minato Mirai Station, if you must know), there is a sign asking people to line up in twos, and people actually did it, in a line so straight that my high school gym teacher (Coach T, for those Stauntonians in the know) would have wept tears of joy.

But yeah, despite these arbitrary examples and the fact that Japan has no crime, etc., it is not entirely correct to say that the Japanese obey the rules. Nay, me bonnie lass! They obey not the rules but the conventions, and there is a slight different. Japanese society is a rigid and formal beast, where "the nail that sticks up gets pounded down" (and I really need to find out how to say that in Japanese! Matthew?), and the law of the land means naught when it runs up against societal convention. An excellent example is this one: Japan, like any halfway civilised country, has traffic laws. One specific traffic law is that when you are approaching an intersection and there is a huge white line painted on the street, preceded by huge white letters proclaiming tomare (that's 止まれ, meaning "stop!!!"), you must stop your vehicle behind the bloody line. You know, just like in America? But here's the kicker: sometimes the intersection has only a stop sign (as opposed to a stop light), or you are in a position to make a legal left-hand turn on red (you did know that they drive on the wrong side of the road here, right? what is it with these sodding island countries and the left-hand driving!?). If you stop behind the line, you can't see very well, so you might not be able to make your turn and you might be (gasp!) five seconds later to wherever the hell you are going in such a damned hurry, jackass! (I'm talkin' to you, punk!) If you stop at the very edge of the intersection, you can see, but now you have to go to the carwash to clean the entrails of the poor pedestrians who were in the crosswalk out of your gleaming grille. So what do you do?

2001 Honda Civic EX sedanIn America, the compromise I have seen accepted by most drivers is simply to stop behind the line (in case there are pedestrians in your crosshairs or a copper is lurking nearby, ready to add to the city's coffers and meet his quota serve and protect by writing your arse a ticket), then creeping forward to a better vantage point and finally making the turn right in front of me, jerk! (See, I may miss my car, but I don't really miss driving, at least not in the city.) But the Japanese, ever efficient, have decided that this momentary pause is foolish, so they just roll right up to the edge of the intersection before stopping. Of course, if a pedestrian is crossing, the driver will deign to stop his one-tonne steel death-chariot rather than have to go to the carwash (not because the driver cares about your life, you see, but because going to the carwash would make him later than just waiting for your slow arse to shuffle across the road, grandpa!). The only problem is, of course, if a pedestrian is planning to cross--nay is taking his penultimate step on the sidewalk, when out of nowhere roars a Toyota, shooting for the last centimetre before running the risk of getting hit by cars on the intersecting road (again, because it would make the maniacal driver of said Toyata late to the pachinko-ya). Pedestrian, prepare to dive for your life, suckah! And if you lose your balance and fall forward, making contact with the trunk of the Toyota, hoping for nothing more than the preservation of your pathetic life, you will be sworn at in language that would make a yakuza blush.

Note, the above did not happen to me, ever. Oh no, I'm just speaking hyperbolically--er, hypothetically. Right. Bastard driver.

Oh yeah, the whole point of that rant, ostensibly anyway, was to point out one example where all Japanese drivers follow a convention that is actually in violation of the "rules". In fact, I'll bet that if a Japanese driver were to stop behind the sodding line, he would promptly be rear-ended, at which point the aggressor would get out of his car, angrily, and ask the law-abiding citizen just what the hell he was doing stopping so recklessly.

But luckily for us all, convention and law agree that littering is not a nice thing to do. Industrial pollution and illegal dumping of toxic substances? A-OK!

Er, right. Sorry. What I meant to say is that most people do not litter, because if they do, they will be pounded down. (In fact, I would be most happy to administer the pounding, but more on that later.)

Back to my second point (remember that?), the fact that there are people walking around the city, paid handsomely (well, probably not; in fact, I doubt they make a living wage) by the various and sundry city and other local governments to clean up trash. And not only do they clean up trash, they clean up bloody trash cans! No, for real. I have seen old ladies scrubbing public trash cans vigorously with a rag, juicing those suckers with vigorous-looking red cleaning fluid from a spray bottle.

Of course, the reason that city governments can afford to pay little old ladies to clean public trashcans is that the city of Tokyo has approximately three trash cans (one in Ginza, one in Shinjuku, one in Shibuya; none in Roppongi, naturally). I am damned serious, you can find yourself walking for hours in Tokyo, looking for a place to throw away your chewing gum wrapper (happened to me today, in fact). Luckily, convenience stores usually have cans out front for empty bottles, cans, PET bottles, and burnable and non-burnable trash. Of course, that does not help you when you are in a train station or walking down a street in bloody Nishi-Funabashi, where there are no convenience stores in a five kilometre radius!

OK, I am a staunch beliver in proper garbage disposal. In fact, when Lyani wants to irritate me, she claims to have spit her chewing gum down a storm sewer drain. I separate my trash into more categories than anyone: burnable, non-burnable, recyclable paper, recyclable metal, recyclable glass, recyclable plastic, batteries (nope, I don't just throw them in the non-burnable like the rest of you eco-criminals out there), biohazardous waste... oops, I guess I did not really mean to reveal that last one. I am not doing experiments on creating a master race fusion between cats and frogs! Nothing to see here, move along. And so forth.

Captain Planet, he's our hero
Oh, right, so I was simply making the point that I am pretty much Captain Planet. And yet wild fantasies of wanton littering have been known to play through my fevered brain when I have been holding my spent Snickers wrapper in my hand for better than an hour, looking for anywhere to dispose of the damned thing. Lemme tell you, I have been pretty tempted to stuff stuff like that right into the omnipresent recyclables bins (which, of course, are only omnipresent until you actually need to recycle a bloody Fanta Grape can). Haven't done it, but wanted to.

Contrast this with most other cities in the world. I will pick on Sofia, Bulgaria here, just because it is where I made the observation first, but I am sure it applies to Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, and Beijing as well (oh yeah, and Moscow; sorry 'bout that, Vladimir Vladimirovich). Sofia has public trash bins literally every thirty metres. Two to every city block, I am not kidding. And yet, what do you see next to these lavishly placed bins? You guessed it: trash! Mounds and mounds of the shite.

So thanks, Japan. Viva la conventionidad socialistichen! Ета правда!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Day that "Crikey!" Lost its Ring

I am a little surprised myself, but this news actually makes me sad:
Reports of the Australian wildlife television presenter Steve Irwin's death have long been either exaggerated or expected. On previous occasions, Irwin, known worldwide for his Discovery Channel programmes, was allegedly killed by a black mamba and a komodo dragon. This time, sadly, the reports were true - the barb from a stingray punching into his heart in what most experts regard as a freak accident.

Steve Irwin, the Crocodile HunterSay what you will about the man most of us knew simply as "The Crocodile Hunter", but he was a great lover of our planet and the astonishing variety of flora and fauna that lives on it.

This article has a lot of great Steve Irwin quotes, if you are interested.

Rest in peace, mate.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sapporo Bound, Part II

In which our intrepid travellers board JAL flight 1021 for Sapporo's New Chitose International Airport.

As we left off last time, Lyani and I were sitting at gate 16 in Tokyo International Airport, waiting to board our plane. I was blogging away, trying frantically to catch up to the present--or so Lyani said. She cracked a joke about the piano player in this episode of "Family Guy", who is singing a narrative account of the Griffin family's post-apocalyptic journey, which rapidly becomes real-time (warning: Lyani and I think this is the worst episode of "Family Guy" ever). Our plane had pulled up to the gate, and I finished my blog entry and powered down my laptop.

Ask the PilotAnd now, let me take this opportunity to introduce you to one of the most amazing aviation sites on the Internet: I learned about it from the superb "Ask the Pilot" column on (the Pilot, alias "Patrick Smith", also has a book out, which I would highly recommend that you buy from Amazon!). Patrick Smith is an airliner pilot (currently on furlough, thanks to 9/11 and the havoc that our heavy-handed, inept attempts at "securing our airports" has wreaked on the airline industry) who writes about the joys of flying--interestingly, what excites him the most is not the defying gravity bit, but the fact that you can get on an airliner in Boston and step off halfway around the world--speaks frankly about security as it applies to commercial aviation, and dispenses much wisdom on the safety of modern air travel (hint: flying is the safest way to travel by several orders of magnitude). He also makes heavy use of the aforementioned (you wondered if I was going to remember to get back to that, didn't you?) in his column, linking to photos when making a point about specific models of planes, airports, etc. But, most exciting of all (at least for this geek) was the revelation that every aircraft has a registration number--usually located on the tail--that stays with it from the day it is built to the day it is retired from flying. This identifier even persists when one airline sells the plane to another! And wouldn't you know it, allows you to search by registration number!

JA752J, Boeing 777-346So I made sure to write down the registration number of our Boeing 777-300 (actually, thanks to, I learned that not only was it a 777-300, but it was a 777-346!) so that I could search for photos of this exact plane to see where it had been. Well, I am writing this from our hotel in Sapporo (the Hotel Monterey Sapporo, which I would highly recommend if you ever find yourself looking for accommodations in Sapporo), which has a broadband Internet connexion, so I have access to all the photos of our lovely plane that my little heart desires. If you, gentle reader, would but clicky clicky upon my photo of our plane, at right, you will be whisked away to the magical world of, which offers a bountiful harvest of photographic documentation of the very plane we rode to Sapporo in! Ain't technology miraculous?

The plane, it would seem, is pretty young, as the earliest picture I found on dates from 2003. And in fact, with a quick Google search, I found this page, which has a listing for our plane indicating that it was delivered to Japan Airlines on November 13, 2003. Amazing what you can find out with Google these days! (It seems that Patrick mentioned a way to find the production date of any airliner, provided you knew its registration number, in one of his columns, but I cannot recall it right now.)

Anyway, I think I am done geeking out now about information technology, so let me move on to the flight itself.

As I just noted, our plane was pretty new. And it looked the part: the seats were clean and unworn, the inner fuselage was spotless, and even the metal frames of the seats (the part that is bolted to the cabin floor) were shiny. Contrast this to the condition of the plane during your last domestic flight in the US, and don't give me the "but that plane was older" spiel, because a) it probably wasn't, and b) so what? you can replace seats, cabin panels, carpet, etc. We sat in the very back of the plane, where the side columns of seats were only two abreast, and it was an ideal place to sit. Well, other than the fact that JAL did not have passengers board by row number, which meant that we had to wait for people who were sitting in the front of the plane, but who had gotten on before us, to stow their carry-on baggage and get out of the aisle before we could pass. Come on, JAL, show some of that Japanese optimisation that made Toyota the world's most successful automotive manufacturer! Oh, but while I am on boarding, let me just say that other than the sub-optimal ordering, the process was amazingly smooth. When the boarding call for our flight sounded, a huge queue immediately formed (of course, it was one of the neatest lines that I have ever seen, Japanese people being the proficient queuers that they are) behind the gate. Lyani and I were probably the hundredth people in the queue, and we figured it would take all day to get on the plane. The line did not move at all for about five minutes (I think they were pre-boarding the elderly, disabled, and mothers with small children), but then it started moving, and it moved as fast as we could walk! Unbelievable! They had a pair of train station-like turnstiles in front of the entrance to the Jetway, and you just walked up and handed your boarding pass to the attendant, who stuck it into the turnstile just like you would your train ticket. It then popped out the other side and the attendant grabbed it and handed it back to you with a smile and a "arigatou gozaimasu". The process could have been completely automated, but leave it to Japanese companies to make sure that o-kyaku-sama (the customer-god) does not even have to go to the trouble of inserting his own boarding pass in the machine! :)

The coolest thing was that, from the moment we entered the airport to the moment we left on the other end, not once were we asked for photo identification! Contrast this with America, where you must show your photo ID at check-in, again at security, and possibly a third time at the gate, despite there being no laws on the books that require such a thing. Japan's approach to airport security was as close to perfect as I have seen: no making you take off your shoes, no confiscation of your tweezers and nail clippers (having my pocket knife taken was a little on the silly side, given the size of the blade and the fact that I could have easily improvised a better knife from materials readily available on the plane, but the way they handled it took the sting out of it), and best of all, no surly security personnel blaming you for the fact that their job sucks. Japanese airport security screeners probably have a crappy job, but they certainly do not let o-kyaku-sama see that written on their faces. They just screen for explosives and machine guns and let you through with no hassle and no sinking suspicion that Big Brother is watching you.

Oh yes, the flight. That is what I was supposed to be talking about in this entry!

Hello, blue skiesLike I said, the cabin was clean and well-appointed. We had a decent amount of leg room, our tray tables were clean and in good shape, the cabin service was excellent (the flight was just over an hour, so there was only beverage service), and the flight was smooth. The weather was gloomy and overcast in Tokyo, but we shortly climbed above the clouds into a brilliant blue sky (pictured at left), puffy clouds below and not a care in the world. We spent just about an hour above the clouds, though we were flying at a low enough altitude to catch glimpses of the scenery below through gaps in the cloud cover. As we were leaving the northern coast of Honshu, the clouds gave way to reveal some lovely bits of coastline, and then we were over the Tsugaru Strait (the bit of water separating Honshu from Hokkaido and connecting the Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan.

Map of HokkaidoIt took longer than I thought it would to cross the channel, it being only about 20 kilometres across. Of course, now that I look at a map of Hokkaido (pictured at right), I see that to fly to Sapporo, we would have probably been flying not across the strait proper, but rather across the large "bay" of the Pacific Ocean between Honshu and Hokkaido. In any case, we flew over the ocean for a few minutes, then made landfall on Hokkaido, and less than five minutes later, we were landing at Shin-Chitose International Airport (or CTS, in IATA parlance--not SAP, which turns out to be a small airport in Honduras, and also the reason why I could not find any direct flights from HND to SAP when I was searching on Travelocity and its ilk).

From Shin-Chitose, we took an escalator into the B1 level of the airport and walked through an underground passageway to JR Shin-Chitose Station. After discovering that JR Hokkaido still does not accept Suica, we purchased two tickets for around 1000 yen (just under $10 US) each for Sapporo. We boarded the train, found seats (thank goodness!) and settled in for a train ride that took just under an hour.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Lyani and I got to Sapporo. I love Japan's public transportation system: we got on the train, rode it right into Haneda, flew to Hokkaido, got on another train, and got off in Sapporo within two blocks of our hotel. Now that is convenience!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sapporo Bound, Part I

Like two masochists in Hokkaido, we're Sapporo bound! [1]

Haneda control towerLyani and I woke up at around 07:45 this morning (actually, I got up by instinct at 06:30, but whatever), packed two backpacks, and set out for Haneda Airport. We stopped by Becker's Coffee Shop at our station to pick up a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant sandwich apiece, then hopped on a Keiyo Line rapid heading for Tokyo. We got off at the next stop, Shin-Kiba, transferred to the Rinkai Line, and rode it for a few stops to Tenouzo Isle Station, where we walked around the block to the Tenouzu Tokyo Monorail station. Once on the monorail, it took about 25 minutes to reach Haneda Terminal 1.

Japan AirlinesHaneda is an old airport, built in 1931, rebuilt--I assume--soon after the war and turned into a US Army Air Base. Haneda was turned back over to the Japanese in 1952, and served as Tokyo's international airport until 1978, when Narita International Airport (AKA New "Tokyo" International Airport, though it is a 60 minute express train ride from Tokyo) was built. However, you would not know that Haneda was not constructed five years ago from the terminal, which is conveniently connected to Tokyo's world-class public rail system, clean and up-to-date, with widescreen TVs and computerised displays everywhere. We had purchased our tickets through H.I.S., Japan's most popular travel agency (I just made that statistic up, but it may well be true), so we had a voucher sheet. Had we bothered to read it, getting our tickets would have been as easy as marching up to one of the many available automatic ticket machines, inputting a confirmation number, and selecting our seats from a touchscreen. Since we did not know this, we just asked a handy JAL attendant, who proceeded to walk us over to another JAL attendant who was standing in front of the automatic ticket machines, who then proceeded to enter our information in the machine and ask us about our preferred seats. We chose two in the back (the plane had three columns of three-abreast seating, except in the back, where the last two rows were two-abreast), one by the window and one on the aisle--I prefer the view from the window seat, but Lyani likes to be able to get in and out more easily. I should have paid attention to see what kind of equipment we would be flying on, but I will see soon enough. I guess it will be a Boeing 727, but it could also be one of the smaller Airbus models--I forget which model numbers are smaller at the moment.

After we had gotten our tickets, I confirmed with the attendant that our backpacks were both small enough to carry on, and Lyani inquired about liquids, then we approached security. I am happy to say that the Japanese extend their courteous brand of service even to airport security. I took the stuff out of my pockets and placed it in a small plastic tray that was helpfully provided ahead of the main security line, then walked up to the metal detector and x-ray machine. There was a table in front of the x-ray machine, and a security person, who I asked if I needed to take my laptop (on which I am currently typing this blog entry, at gate 16) out of my backback. She confirmed that I did, and pulled out a tray for it. I then waited to be called through the metal detector, as per standard operating procedures, which seemed to puzzle the security personnel a bit--I guess they expected me to walk on through right after depositing my bag. I went through the metal detector without incident--and there was no mention of removing my shoes--but when I got to the table on the other side of the x-ray machine, the security guy told me that the x-ray machine found something, and asked if it was OK to look through my bag. I said sure, and then he asked me if I had a knife or anything. I told him that I did not think so, at which point Lyani walked up, and said that she thought that it might have been my keychain that set it off--the key to our apartment is this big metal wafer. She pulled it out, then discovered that right under it was my Swiss Army knife! I had simply transferred it from the bag I carry to work to the stack of stuff to pack this morning, and Lyani had packed it without a thought. To me, it is more a tool than a knife, since I use the screwdrivers and so on all the time at work, but almost never the knife blade. And to Lyani, it did not seem like a "weapon" at all, probably because the blade is about five centimetres long.

Most of you probably have a story like this, where you inadvertently packed some verboten item in your carry-on luggage, only to have it discovered and subsequently confiscated by security. The story always ends something like, "and that is how I lost my heirloom Buck knife, passed down through my family for five generations." Of course, this being Japan, the security guy apologised profusely for inconveniencing me--the idiot who had accidentally packed a prohibited item--and whipped out an envelope with attached paperwork, which he started filling out. He asked me if it was OK for him to take the knife (he used the polite Japanese "o-azukattemo yoroshii deshouka?", which means something like, "is it acceptable for me to take temporary possession of this item for processing?"), put it in the envelope, and have it returned to me in Sapporo. I could not believe my fortune--I thought my 800 yen bought-from-Don Quixote knife was a goner for sure. I just had to write my name (actually, Lyani wrote it for me, as my handwriting is barely decipherable by fellow Americans, never mind Japanese people who don't even use the Latin alphabet to render their written language), and we were on our merry way, but not before the entire security staff apologised again for delaying us, ever so slightly.

And that is my big Japanese airport security horror story. Not so harrowing, is it? Granted, we did get to Haneda at 10:00 on a Friday morning, when it was almost devoid of other travellers, but I was very impressed with the polite and professional treatment we received at the hands of the security staff.

And by the way, while I was waiting at the table on the other side of the x-ray machine, I noticed a strange scanning machine. No sooner could I wonder what it was used for then did a security guy walk up to it, carrying two litre bottles of green tea. He placed the bottles on the machine, which started a progress meter moving on its small display screen. The progress meter took less than four seconds to complete, then it flashed a green light and displayed the Japanese equivalent of "all clear" on the screen. So this is Japan's response to the foiled UK terror plot involving liquid explosives: rather than ban all liquids from carry-ons, they simply ask each passenger if they have any PET bottles (in Japanese, this is literally "petto bottoru"), which they take over to the screening machine, then promptly return. So no need to sacrifice your liquid refreshment in the name of security, just come to Japan! :)

Our plane just rolled up to the gate, and it does indeed look like a 727. I will do my best to find out, then report back. So fear not, dear readers, you shall soon know what kind of plane I will be riding!

Just back from the JAL desk: it is a Boeing 777-300 (in Japanese, that is "Bo-ingu nana-hyaku nana-ju nana dashu sam-byaku", in case you were wondering). Surprisingly, the girl had to look it up--I just figured she would have known. Of course, I should have known just from looking at it if I was a real airliner geek. Planes and trains fascinate me, and I like to find out as much as possible about them, but I don't have the hardcore geekitude to memorise the different models by sight. That reminds me, though, of a story from my childhood. I grew up in a remote valley in Virginia, which was great for Air Force and Navy test flights by virtue of its remoteness. The planes would roar down the valley, often in speeds at the excess of the sound barrier (how do I know? from the sonic booms!), flying low enough to evade detection by "enemy" radar. Some citizens group distributed literature on how to spot the planes and call in to some complaint line. You had to tell the complaint line what model of plane it was, so they knew which military base to complain to, so the literature contained profiles and outlines of the planes as seen from the ground. I loved looking up, a sheaf of papers in hand, and determining what model of plane was buzzing our peaceful little farm. Of course, I never called the complaint line, because I did not want the planes to stop conducting their training runs in our valley.

M1A1 AbramsLater, when I was in Junior High in Staunton, my friend Ian had an awesome military hardware encyclopedia, which we used to flip through for hours, dreaming of how we would equip our armies if we had an unlimited budget. Sad to say, when the (first) Gulf War lit up CNN in 1991--I was 11--it was like pornography to Ian and I. We could not get enough of Bradley and M1A1 Abrams tanks, A-10 "Warthog" anti-tank planes, TOW and Tomahawk cruise missiles, and bunkers in the sand. There was a Gulf War video game released around that time for Super Nintendo, where you would cruise around in an Abrams, looking for Iraqis to blow up. Of course, the final boss was none other than Saddam himself. Ian and I would play that for hours on the small black-and-white television out in his playhouse. It was a perfect simulation for us.

Anyway, back to the present... it is almost time to board the plane, and "cat /proc/acpi/battery/BAT0/state" tells me that my battery has only 13060 mWh left, so I'd better end this entry here. Join me next time for info on the actual flight.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Roof, The Roof, The Roof is on Fire!

Because of the extreme heat, you see.

Sapporo BreweriesSo, it has been hotter than Helsinki around here recently, so Lyanka and I have decided to do the traditional Japanese thing and flee Tokyo for the more temperate climes of Hokkaido, specifically the grand olde citie of Sapporo. Some of my more cultured readers may recognise Sapporo as the name of a beer, and indeed the lure of visiting the Sapporo Brewery was a major factor in my desire to get my vacationation on in Sapporo. While we are on the topic of beer, and beers named after cities, let me just point out that the Kirin Brewery was established in Yokohama (only several blocks from our old apartment, at that) with help from one Thomas Glover, a Scottsman that I am proud to call one of my illustrious ancestors. Whether this claim contains any actual veracity is an investigation left to the reader. Longtime readers of the jmglov blog may recall that Lyani took a "field trip" (I would have called it a "feel good trip" instead) to said brewery, an occurance which I promptly chronicled here.

Yebisu BeerOh yeah, and beers named after cities: Yebisu, which comes from Ebisu, which is the same word, except the Japanese deprecated the hiragana for "ye" a long time ago (there was a "ye" character in the manyogana, if you are a hardcore Japanese or linguistics--or Japanese Lingistics--geek), as per this fine page (after linking the aforementioned page, I noticed that it belonged to none other than Jim Breen, fellow TLUGger, founder of the EDICT project, developer of the smashing WWWJDIC dictionary interface, and all-around fine human being). And what, pray tell, is my connexion with Ebisu / Yebisu? Well, that is where one Japanese office of Pricewaterhouse Coopers Japan is located, and said office handled my visa when I started working for Amazon.

So anyway. Off to Sapporo and the beer halls thereof we are, and not a day too soon, for they say "autumn weather" is coming to Tokyo next week. I will, frankly, believe that when I see it, since last year we had to use the air conditioner into the first week of November, and only had to crack the heater on a week or two before Christmas.

In other news, I have been playing a lot of football recently. I played with the FC chaps (and in this case, FC stands for "Fulfillment Centre", not "Football Club") on Thursday night, the Rabid Arsenal Supporters Clubbe (or R.A.S.C.E., or NAMBLA) on Sunday afternoon, and the HQ chaps on Tuesday night. Tragically, I had a sore thigh muscle that I didn't know about on Tuesday, so the first time I took a right-footed shot, I felt it, but good. The upside was that I got to use my left foot a lot, and found that it was not the inferior tool that I had remembered. Of course, it could have just been born of necessity, but I had a few Beckham-like shots with some really nice spin off my left. Anyway, three outings, three goals. Which is nice, since I had a nice long string of goalless matches before that.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Don't Step on the Backs of My Blue Suede Shoes

Or how the Japanese have not yet learnt the difference between shoes and geta.

I have to thank both Ota and Lyanka for many of the insights contained herein; I am little more than a synthesiser of their collective brilliance.

GetaAn interesting thing happened sometime after the war: Japanese people started wearing Western-style footwear. I mean, Western-style footwear other than boots, which soldiers (and probably factory workers) had been wearing for a while. Previously, most people wore geta (pictured at left, clicky clicky for the larger version), if they were a member of the samurai or merchant classes and wearing yukata--zori if they were wearing kimono or waraji if they were commoners.

All three of these types of traditional footwear are in the sandal family. Waraji are the forerunners of Birkenstocks: sandals made of hemp or straw. Zori are closer to flip-flops, lower and lighter than waraji, and with cloth straps instead of straw or hemp ones. Geta can best be described as platform sandals; they are basically a thick block of wood on short stilts, with cloth straps on top to bind the whole thing to the foot. Geta were excellent for the upper classes in feudal Japan, who wanted to keep their colourful kimono and yukata out of the muddy streets when they strolled about town, lording it over the commoners.

But why are all three forms of Japanese traditional footwear a type of sandal (i.e. having no back and attached to the foot only by two straps starting in the back third of the sandal and meeting between the big toe and the second toe of the wearer)? The answer is rather simple: the Japanese have not worn shoes in their houses since time immemorial. Westerners who have ever visited a Japanese friend (or even one of those new age hippy types who asks you to take your shoes off inside the door) know what a pain it is to take off your Western-style shoes when you come in, then put them back on when you leave. Or, if you are one of those new age hippy types or a Westerner who has lived in Japan and thus thinks it is a wonderful idea to ban shoes from the house (Ota and I rolled that way back in uni), you know what a pain it is to deal with your footwear, especially if you are going in and out a lot, carrying groceries in or some such.

One benefit of sandals is that they are very easy to take on and off, so they suited the Japanese lifestyle perfectly. You'd roll up to your house (or someone else's, if you were visiting), pause a moment in the genkan, turn around so your back faces into the house, and simply step out of your footwear and up into the house. Japanese houses have elevated floors, but genkan, or entranceway, is at street-level. And that is where you leave your shoes whilst inside the house.

When the Japanese started wearing Western-style footwear (i.e. shoes that enclose the entire foot and not just the bottom), they did not do away with the tradition of leaving their shoes in the genkan. Instead, they came up with a very Zen solution to the problem: allow the shoes to become sandals. Japanese people tend to ignore laces on their shoes--they tie them once, and then never untie them again. When they want to take their shoes off, say in the genkan of a house, they just pull each foot out. When they want to put their shoes back on when heading back outside, they just step down into the shoes, mashing the backs down so they can slip their feet in. At an izakaya, a Japanese beer hall where you usually sit around a lowered table and thus must take your shoes off, it is very common for the restaurant to provide a shoe horn or three, which people will happily use with their tennis shoes (or lace-up Oxfords, in the case of the sarariman), rather than going to the bother of untying and retying them.

Japanese shoes, circa 2006The result of this is that Japanese people's shoes take quite a beating. The backs of the average person's shoes are pretty ravaged, and it is not uncommon to see guys walking around with the heel of their athletic shoes so mashed down that their shoes have essentially become clogs. Seriously, where the back of the shoes should be, you just see the heels of their socks, with the heels of the shoes crunched under the feet. Shoes into sandals, you see. I realise this might be a bit difficult to picture, so please refer to the image at right (and clicky clicky, of course).

But there is another interesting side-effect of the traditional footwear. You see, when wearing a sandal, having an absolutely perfect fit is not necessary. If your heel and/or toes hang over the edge a bit, or if you have an extra few centimetres of "flip" and "flop" to your step, it is not a big deal. And that mentality has persisted. You often see guys in athletic shoes that are clearly several sizes too big, flopping around like clown shoes. And you also see girls rocking ill-fitting Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks (Manolos? Manonos? I can't tell.). Too big? No problem, let 'er flop. Too small? No problem, let your toes stick out the front. To heighten the comic effect, girls rarely fasten the back strap of their heels (if their shoes have a back strap).

So all shoes are backless in Japan, at least in the mind of the wearer.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Van Hella-Stupid Movie

And other high-brow media commentary.

Van HelsingI could hold out nae longa! After many months of resisting the siren song of "Van Helsing", I finally caved and watched it. And yes, to answer your question, it was every bit as awful as everyone who had ever seen it warned me it was. The only good thing about it was a few bars of awesome gypsy music in the soundtrack. I really like gypsy music, and if you do as well, you should immediately run out and buy "Le Violon Rouge", which features some amazing violin music in the gypsy style, as well as Samuel L. Jackson--"That's one #!@#!#@! red-@#%@%$ violin, ^$#$%@@*#@!". Well, not really. I mean, Mr. Jackson is in the film, but he is not his usual badass self. Well, a little, but he does not drop any F-bombs. I think. Hell, just watch the film!

Oh yeah, back to "Van Helsing". Total crap, and you all told me that, yet I still watched it. Why? Well, I have a certain soft spot for vampire fiction--if they make a film, novel, TV series, or lyrical poem containing vampires, I will most likely watch or read it, as the case may be. Oh yeah, and aliens! Almost as cool as vampires. Now if they would just make a movie about alien vampires, or something like that... heh heh.

In other media news, Lyani and I are still watching "Lost" at a pretty good clip--we are now about ten episodes into Season 2. And let me just say, the big "one of your favourite characters is going to die in the next episode!" stunt was pretty weak.

"Lost" is basically like junk food--you know it isn't good for you, but yet it is so delicious that you can't stop. The only thing I will give the writers of the show credit for is an interesting plotline and not being afraid to make us hate all the main characters. Of all the main characters, there is only one guy that I have never had a "I hate this guy!" moment about, and Lyani is the same way. Predictably, the one non-hated dude is different for each of us! :)

I have slowed way down on my reading as of late, both because my daily time on a train has dropped from close to three hours to 15 minutes, and because I am trying to spend my free time studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test , or JLPT (日本語能力試験, for you Japanese-speakers out there). These four letters, arranged just so, strike fear into the hearts of students of Japanese everywhere. The test has four levels, starting at Level 4, which is pretty trivial, and climbing up to the next-to-impossible-even-for-native-speakers Level 1, or ikkyu. I am going for Level 2, which is described thusly:
The examinee has mastered grammar to a relatively high level, knows around 1,000 Kanji and 6,000 words, and has the ability to converse, read, and write about matters of a general nature. This level is normally reached after studying Japanese for around 600 hours and after completion of an intermediate course.

Lyani, of course, having just completed her Jedi training, has set her sights a notch higher. Yes, she is attempting the vaunted Level 1:
The examinee has mastered grammar to a high level, knows around 2,000 Kanji and 10,000 words, and has an integrated command of the language sufficient for life in Japanese society. This level is normally reached after studying Japanese for around 900 hours.

10,000 words! I don't think I even know 10,000 words in English! Interestingly enough, Lyani attended a lecture back at the IUC given by a professor of Japanese Linguistics, and he said that knowing 10,000 words in French, Spanish, or Italian would cover 95% of the language in general use. In Japanese? 10,000 words buys you a paltry 80%! This should not surprise anyone who has ever studied Japanese--as soon as you think you have a good basic vocabulary, you try to do something (open a bank account, buy tickets on the ferry to Okinawa, whatever), and realise that there are a bunch of words specific to that thing that you don't know.

So wish us luck, gentle readers! And if we don't make it, say a prayer for our passing...

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Importance of Being Busy

Oh my. The past week has been jam-packed. Here is a brief summary of what went down when and with whom:

Empress MichikoFriday, 21 July: Lyani and I went out to Ginza after I got home from work, ate at Friday's (sometimes I need burgers and fries--it's part of the American DNA, I think), then saw Empress Michiko on our walk back to Ginza Station.

Saturday, 22 July: After Lyani's English lesson in Yokohama (she is teaching English to a Japanese girl), I hopped on the train and met her in Ueno, where we proceeded to visit the Ueno Zoo. Outsanding animals included two very active polar bears, scores of penguins, a sweet Hokkaido brown bear who was chewing quite contentedly on a stick, languidly lounging tigers who still managed to look quite menacing, Japanese monkeys (which I have also met in the wild, regrettably--they are mean little buggers, with the stick throwing and screeching), and a massive, evil-looking alligator that scared the ever-living crap-ola out-a me-a (don't know why I got all Italiano there).

Sunday, 23 July: Lyani and I rode the Keiyo Line train one stop to Kaisai-rinkai-koen. The park is a nice enough place by itself, but we went specifically to visit the exquisite Tokyo Sea Life Park. I just love that site's tagline for the aquarium: "If they look tasty, you've been in Japan too long!". Heh heh, very funny. Except that Lyani actually overheard a 10 year old boy looking at some fish and remarking to his father, "美味しそう!", which my Japanese-reading readers will read as "oishisou!", or "they look tasty!". True, true. I dug the massive tuna, the hammerhead sharks, the many brightly-coloured tropical fish, and the weird things that are found in the deep ocean. Lyani enjoyed the marine animal puppets in the gift shop.

Monday, 24 July: I volunteered myself and Ota to give a presentation at the TLUG technical meeting on Saturday. I started feverishly coding up a Missile Command clone for our presentation.

Tuesday, 25 July: Lyani watched "Mission: Impossible III" with a colleague of hers from the IUC, then I joined them and a couple other IUC grads at Friday's (I know, I know... but it is so delicious!) for food and drinks... can you say "la cerveza mas fina"?

Wednesday, 26 July: I found out that I would be working Sunday night and Monday morning, as we had a scheduled power outage for an electrical circuit test, as required by Japanese law. I was less than thrilled at the short notice, but there was not any shikata, so I resolved to ganbaru.

Thursday, 27 July: Lyani and I, fearing the fierce summer heat of August, bought plane tickets to go to Sapporo for a long week-end. Hurrah!

Friday, 28 July: I came home from work, hacked mightily on the Tokyo Missile Command source, then had supper with Lyani. We watched a few episodes from the first season of "Lost". It is certainly interesting, but in a slightly cheesy, "I wonder what will happen next?!" way. The acting ranges from decent to downright excellent, though, so I guess that is something. We'll keep watching, maybe it gets "awesome" at some point. :)

Saturday, 29 July: I met Ota at 12:00 in Ginza. We walked to the Renoir Cafe, which is right across the street from Wall Street Associates, where TLUG meetings are held (well, actually, this meeting was the last one at Wall Street for a little while, since they are growing so fast they need their conference room for office space). We sat in Renoir for almost two hours, feverishly reviewing the code that we would be presenting. Went to the meeting, which was great: Junichi Uekawa's presentation on running Linux on his MacBook was so cool that it was all I could do to keep from walking down Ginza-dori to the Apple Store right after the meeting to pick up a MacBook; Ota and I did pretty well on our presentation, given the almost criminally negligible amount of preparation we did; I finally met in meatspace two TLUGgers who I have known for a few years online; beer was consumed at the ensuing nomikai (drinking party, but y'all should know that by now); wireless networks were sniffed at the izakaya; and a good time was had by all.

Sunday, 30 July: I went and played football with a few chaps from work, and a bunch of rabid Arsenal fans. Despite not having touched a football in almost a year, I thought I played pretty well. My fitness was horrendous, but I was better on the ball than I used to be. I think that I am more confident and more patient, and I don't rely solely on my pace to make progress towards the goal. I also played much better defence than is typical, and passed with pretty good precision (including one incredibly cheeky back-heel). I didn't get any goals out of four chances, but I felt pretty good about the way I had taken them (one shot drilled at the keeper, one just wide, a high cross that I could not quite put my head to, and a waist-high volley that I couldn't find a striking surface to play). Best of all, I had a really good time, and spoke more Japanese in the two hours we played than in an average day at work.

After football, I went home, had a big bowl of Lyani's kick-ass chili, then went in to work. Mauro and I undertook the Herculean effort of shutting down all computer and electronic equipment in the entire FC (which is, remember, four times the size of the Tokyo Dome) by ourselves. We accomplished our mission by 23:30, and made our respective ways home.

Monday, 31 July: I hauled myself in to work at 04:35 (I had to catch a taxi, because the first train doesn't roll through Maihama until 05:15). I stopped in at the convenience store right by Ichikawa-Shiohama Station, for to buy some breakfast (loosely defined as a donut and a pint of orange juice), and found three policemen in there. Apparently, there had been some sort of robbery. Mauro stopped at the same convenience store just after I did, and found it closed, so I guess the policemen must have taken the store clerk "downtown" to get his statement. Anyway, Sato-san joined us in the morning, so the three of us were able to get everything booted up and running by 08:00, when production started. In other news, I was sore as hell from the previous day's football--apparently if you do not use muscles in a while, they sort of get weak. Huh. Who'd a thunk it?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Damn the Weather

Full speed ahead!

At least, I wish that was my attitude. A more appropriate statement might be, "damn the weather, I'll just stay in bed!" Hurrah.

Witness the desolation that is my extended forecast:

Extended forecast

All residents of the Kantou chihou may hereby blame me for angering the weather gods by brazenly suggesting that the rainy season was over. My bad, y'all.

Hopefully this nasty weather will blow over before the Fuji Rock Festival commences next weekend. Not that I am personally planning to attend, but I would not wish that kind of buzz-harshing on anyone!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Tokyo wa yoru no shichi-ji

"Tokyo wa yoru no shichi-ji (the night is still young)" is the name of a J-pop song from back in the day. The band is called Pizzicato Five; you can groove to the video here, thanks to YouTube.

The reason that I bring this up is that the title means, "In Tokyo, it's 7:00 PM", which, if you ask me, is when Tokyo is at its best on a summer day. It just so happened that last night, I was leaving the dentist's office at about 18:30. Ginza is a pretty cool place to be any time, I guess, but 18:30 last night was almost magical. It was just before dusk, and the oppressive heat of midday had retreated just enough to make being outside comfortable, like a warm blanket draped around your shoulders. The crowds of shoppers that had been swarming all over Ginza since early afternoon were almost gone, and it was still too early for the club-hoppers and other denizens of the night to be out. There wasn't much traffic, either, so Ginza was strangely quiet. Add a sun slowly setting through the omnipresent haze of pollution, and you have a brilliant moment.

Getting off the train at Maihama, I was once again treated to one of Tokyo's elusive glimpses of heart-breaking beauty. Tokyo is a big city, and is afflicted with all the numerous unpleasantries that go with urbanity: unpleasant smells, a constant cacophony of noise as people, cars, and giant television screens compete for your attention, and so on. But every once and awhile, the city gives you a brief reward for putting up with its shit, and just such a reward was long overdue.

As I exited Maihama Station's north exit, the sun was setting off to my left, staining the sky a brilliant pink / orange, while the elevated highway climbed to meet it. Truly a breathtaking view, and I am only sorry that I did not have my camera on me (though I suppose I could have snapped a low-res picture with my keitai that would not have done the scene justice).

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Japanese Dentistry Illustrated

Well, a summer thunderstorm swept in and cut short Lyani's and my photographic excursion. I guess I should not have mentioned in my blog how the rainy season is "over". Nor should Lyani have taken her umbrella out of her purse. Nor should we have had the audacity to want to take some pictures under a blue sky. Consider us punished, Oh Great Weather! Anyway, we got a few pictures, so we should be able to post a pictorial sometime soon--though we might wait until we are able to get a few more pictures. We'll see what the weather has in store tomorrow.

Anyway, the main thrust of this entry is to describe my first encounter with Japanese dentistry. Don't worry, I emerged unscathed. Sometime last week, Lyani and I realised two things: 1) I pay a reasonably large amount every month for health insurance (which includes dental coverage), and 2) I have not been to the dentist since just before we moved to Japan, last September. (Speaking of which, if you find yourself in Columbus, Ohio, I highly recommend Dr. Barbara Hanson; and I hear that Sarah Zarick kid is supposed to be pretty good, too!)

Moving to remedy this situation, Lyani did a little bit of Googling, and came up with an English-speaking dentist in Ginza, one Dr. Hitomi Hayashi. Lyani made me an appointment for 17:00 this evening (Saturday, 15 July, 2006). I left the house at 16:00, walked down to Maihama Station (luckily, the rain had subsided, and even more fortunately, it had taken the edge off the heat--which reached 32° today, and felt like 40° once the humidity was factored in), rode the Keiyo Line to Shin-Kiba, then switched to the Yurakucho Line and got off at Ginza 1-chome (-chome is a standard counter in Japanese for city blocks). The dental clinic was right across the street from a branch of my bank, the ubiquitous Tokyo-Mitsubushi Bank (well, technically, it is now the Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank, but I am still irritated with the name change following the acquisition of UFJ Bank, so I am sticking to the old name). I crossed the street--which was made easier by the fact that the street had been closed off to traffic, which I am assuming happens every weekend afternoon in the busy shopping district of Ginza--walked into the building, caught the elevator up to the forth floor and walked into the dental clinic, and immediately thought I was in the wrong place. The clinic looked more like a beauty salon than a dentist's office, with young, stylish ladies sitting at a counter in the waiting area, examining literature and touching up their make-up (which is something that Japanese girls will do anywhere, including the train, sitting at a table in a coffee shop, etc.), and a receptionist in a pink uniform behind the counter. Luckily, I noticed right away that the literature the stylish ladies were reading all had to do with the bleaching, straightening, or other manipulation of teeth. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, since Ginza is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Tokyo (the other place that leaps to mind when I think of the word "trendy" is Omote-sando); why shouldn't dental clinics located there be très chic?

Effective C++, 3rd EditionI walked up to the counter, introduced myself, and mentioned that I had an appointment for 17:00. Being a first-time patient, I had to fill out a brief questionaire and supply my contact and insurance information. Luckily, they gave me the English-language version of the questionaire--I can muddle through that sort of thing in Japanese, but it takes lots of second-guessing and doubting myself. The questionaire was actually a lot less involved than the new-patient paperwork at US dentists would be. I finished the questionaire, and had to wait for about ten more minutes until they were ready for me, but that was no problem, since I had brought along my well-worn copy of "Effective C++" (wow, thanks to Amazon, I just realised that there is a 3rd edition of this venerable book--I guess it is time to upgrade--good thing there is a TLUG meeting next week-end, where I can auction off my copy of the 2nd edition). The only downside of the wait was that the trendy leather chairs in the waiting room were not very comfortable.

Right, so after ten minutes, a dental tech popped her head into the waiting room and called my name, in surprisingly good English. I was not terribly surprised that she spoke English--after all, I specifically chose this dentist since she advertised that she was English-speaking--but I expected that her assistants would speak so-called "katakana English", which is English, but pronounced according to the rules of the Japanese sound system. I am sure you have all heard katakana English on Saturday Night Live: "you rai-ku mo-ah sushi, Mistah Sumisu?" (say it out loud and you should get the picture).

I went into the examination room, and had a seat in the chair. The chair itself was a bit different from the American ones; American dental chairs tend to be all-in-one affairs, with the sink basin, the examination light, etc. all attached to the chair. In this case, the chair was free-standing, with the sink basin attached to a table on one side, and the light and other stuff on the other side. The dental assistant used a control on the table to the right (where the sink was) to recline the chair so she could have a look at my choppers. The reclining process itself was pretty cool: the chair went up about 30 cm first, then smoothly reclined while a leg support came up from the bottom. Kind of like a Barcalounger on the Starship Enterprise. And while this was going on, the sink swung up from the table and positioned itself conveniently.

After an initial look at all of the surfaces of my various molars, premolars, canines, and incisors (heh heh, thanks, Wikipedia!), I went into another room for the dreaded panoramic x-ray. The x-ray was pretty much just like the ones I remember from American dentists' offices, but instead of the bite wings that they put in your mouth to keep your teeth apart for the x-ray, the tech just stuck a toothpick sideways between my front teeth. Whatever works, I suppose. From there, it was back into the exam room for cleaning, polishing, and flossing.

The cleaning was done completely using an electric tool, in contrast to the manual scrapers that I was used to Stateside. The cleaning tool spewed water to keep the teeth from getting too hot, so the tech had to use the suction hose in tandem. The cleaning tool emitted a high-pitched whine not unlike the cry of the dreaded drill. Luckily for me, I did not have to be introduced to the Japanese version of the drill, as my x-rays came back clean.

The polishing process was the same as the American version, except the dentist did not have the sweet bubble gum flavoured paste that I fondly recall from my childhood. They offered raspberry mint, green mint, and wintergreen, in order of increasing "cool feeling" (direct translation from クール感).

Flossing was a little different. They used a really thick gauge floss, which they worked between the teeth, then pulled out from one end, instead of popping it back up between the teeth (hopefully you can imagine what I mean, as I cannot think of a better way of describing it without resorting to ASCII art).

So, that was my visit to the dentist. The best difference from America of all? With my insurance, the checkup only set me back ¥4000--about $35 US!

Mushi Atsui

The Japanese have a great phrase to describe the weather during their infamous summers: 蒸し暑い (mushi-atsui). The word means something as prosaic as "humid", but it has a really great sound that seems to sum up the violent heat and humidity that comprise a typical Japanese summer day: moo-she au-tsoo-ey. Looking at the two words that make up the phrase, the literal translation would be something like: "steaming hot", which is more like it.

Since I am writing about how to describe a Japanese summer day, you may correctly surmise that the rainy season (梅雨, tsuyu) has passed us by and left us in the wrenching grip of summer. The rainy season is usually three weeks of solid rain, but this year, it was an odd one. It was something like five weeks of drizzle for three days, clear for two days weather, which just made us nervous, since we were expecting the "real" rainy season to start any day. It is certainly true that the fear of something is worse than the thing itself.

Anyway, this morning, I woke up at around 9:00, after a pleasant evening with the Amazon IT crew and our assorted wives and fiancés at El Torito, a decent Mexican restaurant that Lyani and I used to frequent in our Yokohama days. Of course, this particular El Torito was not the one on the 26th floor of the Yokohama Sky Building (alas!); this one was located on the ground floor of an unassuming, five-storey building by the Nishi-Kasai station on the Tozai Metro line. But the tacos were still tasty, the quesadillas quality, the enchiladas enticing, and the spicy sauce spectacular. Oh yeah, and the Corona was on special: la cerveza mas fina indeed! Best line from the evening? One of my colleagues is upbraided by his fiancé: "If your back has hurting, why did you go to the pachinko parlour instead of the chiropractor?" Replied my colleague, "Well, it wasn't hurting then!"

But back to this morning. Lyani decided to make pancakes for breakfast, so while she washed a few dishes, I headed around the corner to the Daily Yamazaki convenience store to pick up some milk and butter (doing my part for breakfast). This was at 9:30 in the morning, remember. So the moment I step out of the shade of our apartment building, the heat slams into me. It was like a physical force, an angry, animal thing that wanted to prevent me from making any progress. I swear the heat was so intense that it was like walking into a stiff wind. Good thing I only had to walk a block and a half, because two blocks in this heat is enough to make the average pedestrian look like he has just been swimming.

I arrived at the Daily Yamazaki with a modicum of sanity still intact. Daily Yamazaki is a chain, which usually means that its stores are staffed with teenagers working part-time, but this Daily, situated as it is in the dodgy end of a suburb, is run by an older couple. It reminds me of the outskirts of Kanazawa, which had a decidely "village" feel. Anyway, I picked up my milk and butter, paid, and the old lady at the counter thanked me for my patronage. I exited the store and turned for home, passing the husband, who was stocking the cigarette vending machine outside the store. He gave me a hearty "thanks" as well. That is one thing I like about living outside of the big city: people are actually friendly. In Japanese cities, sure, people are polite, but they are polite in that distant way that shows that they don't give a damn if you choose to shop in their convenience store or the one next door.

Well, Lyani and I are getting ready to head over to the station / Tokyo Disneyland area for to take some pictures. So, if your luck holds, you might just get a pictorial entry later today or tomorrow, showing you our neighbourhood.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006, Part III

After lots of bitching and moaning about my old commute, I should probably bring you up to speed to the walk in the park that is my new commute.

I stroll out of the house at 07:30, my cup of coffee in my hand and my bag slung over my back, and walk over the bridge, through a pleasant little neighbourhood, and to the station, where I catch a train at 07:45. I sit down, open my book, and read for the eight minutes or so that it takes the train to reach Ichikawa-Shiohama Station. Then, I walk the 200 metres to work.

So my hour and a half door-to-door commute has been shortened to just half an hour. And I really do enjoy having those extra two hours a day--it makes you feel more like a person, instead of a robotic worker who just goes to work in the morning, comes home, eats, and sleeps.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Workin' for the Man Every Night and Day, Part 2

I got my wish: the second half of tonight's Argentina-Germany match heated up, and how!

Argentina wasted no time in going ahead, with Roberto Ayala leaping into high into the air and laying out almost horizontally, a metre and a half off the ground, to hit a screaming header past a defenseless Jens Lehmann. 49th minute, 1-0 Argentina.

After that, Argentina seemed to give up on offence, while the now doubly-motivated Germans kicked their own attack into high gear. I am only surprised that it took them so long to equalise, with the magnificant Miroslav Klose heading it home in the 80th minute. The goal was Klose's fifth of the tournament, putting him two goals clear of Hernan Crespo and (of course) Ronaldo in the running for the Golden Shoe.

And then the unforgivable-yet-typical: a huge error by the referee. 88th minute: Maxi Rodriguez makes a brilliant run, penetrates the area almost to the baseline, and is brought down from behind by a German defender, causing me to leap to my feet screaming "PENALTY!". Alas, it was not to be, as the referee not only pointed the wrong way, but produced a yellow card and wrote Rodriguez's name in his book to boot. Apparently the hapless Rodriguez was thought to have dived, but the replay shows otherwise: the German defender applying a textbook tackle from behind that should have earned him a yellow card and a penalty for the Argentines. I guess I should not have been surprised, as the referee had already handed out three yellow cards, only one of them warranted.

The penalty shootout has just ended, with Germany coming out on top, 4-2. So by that I guess you know that regular time ended in a 1-1 draw, and neither of the two additional 15 minute periods could separate the two sides. You hate to see a match go to penalties, but I have to say that the result was fair here. Germany deserved to win, as they were the only team playing hard for the last 90 minutes of the match (as in, from the 50th minute through to the end of regulation, and then for thirty minutes of extra time). Argentina simply did not look a credible threat after they scored in the 48th minute. Sure, they deserved the penalty, and that probably would have won them the match, but it would have been a fluke, as Germany dominated the second half offensively.

Lehmann was spectacular in the shootout, stopping two penalties to net Germany their well-deserved win. 2002 Golden Ball winner Oliver Kahn was giving him instructions before the shootout, and those instructions must have been great. I just wish that Kahn could help his team out between the sticks instead of just on the sidelines, but I guess some things just are not to be.

But where the hell was Messi? Why did Pekerman (who I will now call "Peckerman" until the end of time) put Cruz in in the 79th minute for Crespo? Cruz, as Mauro's brother pointed out, is like the guy you put in the match if you are leading 3-0 and want to make him feel better about himself. But not when you are tied 1-1 with Germany and you are taking out your only decent forward because he is dog-tired. You go to Messi. Every. Damn. Time! What the hell?!

Workin' for the Man Every Night and Day

00:46 Saturday morning. Most people awake at this hour in the Greater Tokyo area are likely either happily drunk, or relaxing in front of their widescreen LCD TVs with a fine domestic brew, watching Germany play Argentina. I am, alas, at work. Luckily, the nature of the work that requires me to be here from 20:00 Friday night to 08:00 Saturday morning is also of a hurry-up-and-wait nature, which allows me the privilege of stealing more than a few glances at a nearby TV (well, nearby after I moved it there), ice cold o-cha in hand.

The match has been goal-less thus far--as of the half-time break, with the best chance going to Argentina when Hernan Crespo took delivery of a nice long ball deep in the penalty area at around minute 25. He fought for position with the German defender, backing in and getting ready to make some magic, when the referee's whistle stopped play prematurely--Crespo indicated for the foul. From the subsequent replay, I really did not see that Crespo had more of the defender than the defender had of him, and it was a shame that the referee saw it otherwise, because frankly, when Hernan Crespo is one-on-one with a German defender, he is going to make something happen that ends in the announcers screaming "GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!!!!"

I hope there is a bit more offence in the second half. Argentina has had all of the ball (67% possession as of the last stat I saw, ten minutes from half-time), but has only generated one real chance from it. Germany's defence is tight and physical, but methinks the Argentines can break it down with just a little more patience. Oh yeah, and a little more Messi. Why he does not start is beyond me, as he is the finest young player I have seen in this tournament so far, and that includes Christiano Ronaldo's overrated ass.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

jmglov Fails to Impress

Remember a couple of days back, when I made some (rash) predictions about the outcome of last night's games? Yeah... not so right about that stuff.

I said that Germany would beat Ecuador 2-1. Germany did in fact win, but 3-0.

I said that England would beat Sweden 1-0. The actual result was a 2-2 draw.

These outcomes definitely force me to take another look at my knockout stage predictions.

I picked Germany to play Sweden, and England to play Ecuador, both of which happened. That is about as far as my predictions will hold, I think.

I had Germany beating Sweden 3-0, but after the way the Swedes played in the second half against England, I have confidence in them getting a goal against the tight German defence. And the Germans are not going to find the kind of space against Sweden that Ecuador was happy to yield, so shave a goal from them. Final score? 2-1, Germany.

England finally discovered their offence against Sweden. They may have lost Michael Owen, but frankly, he has not made much of an impact thus far anyway. I do not think he will be missed against Ecuador. Ecuador, on the other hand, looked hopelessly outclassed by Germany. They could not find the German goal at all, and I don't think the going will be any easier against England's top defenders. So let me go way back on my initial statement and revise it to 2-0 England.

Other predictions? Argentina, baby. Semifinals at least.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Maradona, Part II

And to think I was about to blog about something other than the World Cup. Yes, I was sitting here on the floor while Lyani flipped through the TV channels, getting ready to blog about our move and so on, when what to my wondering eyes should appear than a story on Diego Maradona. Specifically, a story making fun of Diego Maradona. Needless to say, I had to watch that.

Apparently, Maradona was pulled over by the German police for speeding, en route back to his hotel after Argentina's win over Serbia on Friday. Heh heh. The best headline I found with Google News was this one:

"Maradona's Joy Proves Short-Lived"

Also, the Japanese show had some great footage of Maradona waving his towel and yelling like crazy to support his team, then stopping for a minute to say some nasty things to a younger guy in an Argentina jersey who was sitting in front of him, then go right back to celebrating. Classic.

Sorry for making fun of your countryman, Mauro, but you have to admit that Maradona is a bit much these days. :)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mad about Football

Then again, the Japanese may just be mad.

World Cup fever has led to the following silliness on Japanese television (in order of increasing incredulity provoked):

  • Countless tarento with magnetic models of football pitches, sliding around magnetic likenesses of Japan's "star" players to represent possible formations.

  • The highlights of the Japan-Croatia and Japan-Brazil matches. Before they happened. Simulated by the tarento playing Winning Eleven against each other. Needless to say, in their "simulations", Japan won both matches. Also needless to say, Japan did not and will not win either.

  • The international robotic World Cup (or some such), in which teams of 30 cm tall robots play football. Awesome! Needless to say, a technical university from Osaka beat a German university rather handily in the finals.

The only thing missing was a match between two anime all-stars teams. Can you imagine, Gundams, Evas, and Patlabors one one side, Kenshin, Hokuto no Ken, and Howl on the other. Sugei!