Lost in Translation

Because I'm currently in Japan, I'm used to seeing strange contraptions that are intended to simplify your life by making everything in it more complicated. In the bathroom, this means toilets with bidets and sprays and heated seats, and probably motorized seats too (so you and your boy/girlfriend can finally stop fighting over that classic issue. But this was new.

I stepped into the bathroom of my hotel room, and sitting on the wall right next to the toilet was a remote control. Quietly and happily sitting in its bracket, it brandished three big buttons:


Okay. "Bidet", I know. I avoid it, and suggest you do too, unless you enjoy a spray of warm water that feels it's trying to give you an enema. And "stop", that's obvious. But "shower"?? I mean, these silly Japanese designed a freaking remote control to start the shower before you even got in?? I suppose I could see the point: you could start the water from the taps without worrying about getting sprayed from the showerhead, or you could turn on the water before you got in so that it could have time to warm up to the right temperature.

Huh. Clever.

So let's see. I turned the showerhead away (towards the wall) and pressed it. There I was, standing in the bathroom, intently watching the bath tap fixture and showerhead, ready for the adventure ahead. Nothing happened. Instead, I saw a little tiny hose in the toilet move out, point at me, and spray me in the face. (From my yelp, you could tell that I was evidently not ready for the adventure ahead.)

This is why accurate translations and icons/buttons are so very important. Don't say "shower" if it's not about the shower; instead, write "intrusive gush of water where you'd least expect it". Geez, imagine the surprise I would have gotten if I had actually been seated on the throne.

Head for the Hills!

Lunch was at the Yokohama Sky building, home of the world's second largest Sogo. But we were up on the 28th floor, at El Torito -- nice to have mainstream Mexican food, since I've been off it for about 3 months now.

So here I am, chilling on the 49th floor of the prestigious Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. Were I opening up our Japanese office (as my ex-supervisor did), I would definitely have chosen this location as well -- as a member (roughly 600 USD/mo), you get access to a set number of meeting room hours, unlimited workspace hours with WLAN, and refreshments in the fridge, nap room (which they called "meditation room"), lounge, library, everything. It's just so damned gorgeous in here, and the view from up here make the Tokyo Tower look pretty disappointing.

I just wish my camera battery hadn't died this morning, and that I hadn't left the charger back in the Tokyo hotel. Dammit, but maybe I can squeeze a few more shots out of it.

Tokyo to Kyoto, Yo

Today was a long day: two meetings, train rides galore -- and hell, they ain't cheap -- in the sweltering heat, and my first-ever Shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Kyoto in the west.

My first night in Japan was spent in the crazy-busy hustle and neon-world of Shibuya/Harajuku, gawking at strangely-dressed and -costumed Japanese teenagers. By contrast, my second night was spent in the serene peacefulness of Kyoto / Arashiyama, sitting on a boat on a lake on a cool evening watching traditional ukai fishing. This cormorant fishing method is really something worth seeing.

[ Oh yeah. We wandered into a tiny Japanese restaurant that night, where I sampled some of the best tenzaru soba (cold noodles) and various tempura vegetables in my life. But the real treat was a plate of assorted sashimi ordered by my colleague: toro, some kind of fish similar to red snapper, a special kind of ika, and a single piece of a very rare ebi. Yum. ]

Pimp My Flight

I've never been a big jetsetter, and still don't consider myself one, but China Airlines got it into their heads that I was worth one of their Dynaster Flyer Gold statuses. Hey, who am I to argue, right? It's really not a big deal. I mean, mostly the "added benefits" are really "reinstated services" -- they've just removed the restrictions on things that you should have gotten anyway.

Like, being able to get through the check-in line quickly. Instead of actually speeding up their check-in process, they just let me skip the line. Or, like increased weight allowances for baggage -- now I get 30kg for short flights instead of 20kg, big whoop. Before, they would hurry you through check-in, collect your boarding pass, your flight stub, some baggage tag scanner code slips, and then stuff it into your passport and off you go. Now, I noticed that they take the extra time to carefully arrange them in a cascading manner (so you can see every item in the bunch), all nicely aligned. Alright, because I'm so anal, I'm really appreciating that.

But most of all, I'm liking the pimp VIP lounge that I get to rest in, read papers in, watch HDTV in, have complimentary snacks and drinks in, and get internet access in. This way, I can enjoy a drink, rest up, and blog. Like now. Cheers!

Learn Something New

Something new I learned at work on Friday: ants cannot survive 30 seconds in the microwave. They kind of melt, sort of, but everything is intact. Like, their bodies are still their bodies, but it's like they're wet and plastered against the inner surface of the nuker machine. Yeah, I thought it was pretty neat too.

We'll Be Right Back ...

I have another gripe on an otherwise gorgeous Friday: commercial breaks on Taiwanese TV. Back home, TV commercials came on in a very obvious way. The show stops on a scene, then quick pass through black before the first commercial comes on.

But not here. There's no fade to/from black, oh no. Here, they pounce on you. All of a sudden, you're no longer watching a show, you're watching some ad about a dog carrying a notebook computer around. And the first few times, you're not even sure where that handover is; maybe there really was a dog in the show carrying a notebook, you can't tell anymore.

Heck, sometimes (on the movie channels) you get instead a 5-second delay where it tells you to "take a break" from the TV and goes to ads. Sometimes it's a picture of a little tropical island with a swaying palm tree, sometimes it looks like a blue-ish screensaver. But more often, you don't even get that courtesy. You get an immediate scene change, straight from movie to ad.

And they choose the most inopportune scenes to change in, like -- in movies I've seen before, so I know -- they put them in the middle of a scene. In a vital scene, one that could be pivotal to the movie plot. And I'll tell you that more than once, I've been shocked to see that they've even cut it in the middle of an actual conversation. Like, one person asks another the no-bullsh!t-cut-to-the-chase question about something, and then the other person ... nothing, they do nothing. Because it's that damned dog carrying the notebook again.

Harajuku Girls?

So. Business trip to Tokyo and Yokohama next week. I'm there the whole week -- Sunday to Sunday -- but meetings are only Monday through Thursday. So I have Friday through Sunday to re-acquaint myself with this city; haven't visited since 1990!

Question is, since it's been 15 years already, what should I do around Tokyo? Already one day (Friday) will be taken by my colleague driving me around the countryside, and he suggests to use the other day(s) to go around the city. What else?

Taiwanese News

I'll say this much: Taiwanese TV news sucks.

It's like watching tabloids about current events. Big attention-grabbing fonts and letters on every screen cut, and not like CNN ticker-style informative type either -- it's like the kind you see when people are first playing around with colours and fonts on their word processor or something. And then you get the orchestral hit samples (like in Windows) to give emphasis on "shocking news", but done in a super cheap low-budget production kind of way.

And heck, the stories they cover. They're all depressing and/or alarmist news (as if the world is about to end in a horrible way) or it's largely insignificant or unimportant to the general population (like some old lady in a little town somewhere had a flood in her basement and lost her collection of puppets or something). With all of these, they seek the most useless opinions from the most under-educated people, and then represent them as if they were the norm/popular expression.

Please. And this is how the general population gets their current events??

We can talk about camera work too. Those damned cameramen spend a lot of time shooting scenes of people crying, or some part of their body that is really uninteresting (like their hands) that perhaps one might watch if one were listening to them in person to infer more (like if they were rubbing their hands together while talking). They always seem to focus on something you'd find rather irrelevant, like if you were actually on-site, but suddenly lost interest or let your mind wander. Imagine all that, with the camera stability of the Blair Witch Project or some W5 hidden-camera expose.

Taiwanese news sucks. It's no wonder I keep the TV on in the channel 65-76 range (and #5 for CNN).

Drunky Drunk

Here's one: what kind of drunk are you? Some people get yappy, some get quiet, some get violent, but I think most become just more friendly.

Me, I get "happy" usually. Sometimes a little obnoxious, even sometimes very very mellow, it really depends on the environment that I'm in at the time. (For instance, getting a buzz in my house is different from being buzzed at the club.) But all in all, when I get some alcohol in me, I'm just usually very goofy and just generally happy.

There's a theory that your behaviour when you're drunk is based on what you perceive that drunk people "should" behave like. So in a way, it's a projection of the "proper drunk behaviour", enacted by you. What do you think, is this accurate?

No Better

Last night, I worked out some frustrations at the gym, and then came home and cracked open a bottle of red and drank about 1/3 of it with my new wine glass. Well, one of them; there are four in total. Slept well.

Today was better. Had a good breakfast, took my vitamins, got through a bunch of stuff at work. Afternoon brought some bad news from an internal meeting, about the future direction of our location if we don't fix things quickly. Nothing we didn't know already, but with more pressure this time.

And then it got worse. Turns out my Edward Scissorhands victim has quite a few issues with me -- with my title, with me being (7 years) younger than him, with me having a different outlook and approach than him. It's all there, in an email he sent privately to our director. The director's response (where he simply quoted the whole of that original email)?

"Figure it out on your own, kids."

(No, not literally, but pretty much that's what he meant.) So tomorrow, amidst my full day of meetings and other tasks that he's just shrugged off, I have to figure it all out with him. Lovely.

Maybe I go and finish off that bottle tonight.

To No Avail

Huh. Had a rough morning, work-wise, which put me in a real dark mood. It's really more directed at one guy than at the predicament that we're in, but that doesn't make me feel any better. Felt just jumping over the desk and lunging at his throat with some kind of Edward Scissorhands contraption, but I didn't. (Plus, I would have to spend several days fashioning that kind of weapon first anyhow.)

And get this: even a grande caramel macchiato (no foam, with whip, naturally) is doing nothing to help my mood. When you're in a downer kind of day like this, what do you do?

Project Wheel Reinvention

You know when you need to overhaul your computer, you need to backup all your stuff, right? Contacts, calendars/appointments, email archives, bookmarks, documents, music, photos. Even stuff you never realized might be important, is. So you know when you back that all up, then you wipe out your machine, and being the completely-fresh reinstall process?

That is not the right time to realize that you didn't back up your stuff properly, and that now you have to revert to data that is between 1 and 4 months old. Dammit.


Frolicking. Remember how, when you were a kid, you used to frolick? I LOVED frolicking! It was the absolute best, especially in the summer sun, sprinkler on or no.

That freedom, that sheer freedom, of frolicking without a care in the world. Never minding which way the wind blew, which angle the sun shone from, where the waves were lapping. Frolicking was the joyous outburst of pure bliss, the epitome of carefree expression.

But it's a sad fact: I haven't frolicked for quite some time now. I'm really gettin' the itch, if you know what I mean, for a real good frolicking. Maybe after the rains have stopped, I shall.

Down, Girl

Yesterday, though the Sony Ericsson makes no claim that their W800i is compatible with Apple computers, I plugged the USB data cable into my Powerbook and my phone. And, as with all peripherals plugged into Mac OS X, it worked great: the Memory Stick Duo in the phone showed up as a removable drive without fuss.

So I setup up the phone as a Bluetooth device for my Mac, and no problems: now my phone is a file vault, and I can sync contacts and calendars with it, and it can also act as a remote control for my Powerbook! Fantastic. I had several applications open, connecting to the phone via USB and Bluetooth. Life was rolling, comin' out Milhouse.

And for some reason unbeknownst to even my little peanut brain, I just grabbed the phone and unplugged the USB cable without first unmounting it from Mac OS X. Wow, the Powerbook did not like that: I got a shaded-grey screen of death, which told me to hold the power button down for several seconds and let it reboot.

I did, and it did. But it didn't completely, which I felt was a little unfair, since I did do what it told me to do, and I figured it was only right that it should hold up its own side of the bargain.

But it didn't. All the apps that were running at the time of crash have now decided to side with the computer in protesting that I so violently yanked out the volume when they were so happily using it. That means ... no more access to IM (Proteus), music (iTunes), email (Mail), contacts (AddressBook), calendar (iCal). That also means ... I'll need to do a full archive-and-install these next few days to get her back up and running again.

If it were Windows, I would gripe for a few minutes, and then accept my fate because of my choice. But this is a Mac. I expect more. I paid (slightly) more, and it hurts to see that I'm getting this kind of Window(s) treatment. But for some reason, a strange suspicion came over me. I checked it out, and I was right: my baby is just over a year old, meaning the warranty is out now. If she behaves and recovers, I'll buy her a little cupcake or something.

Fighting Back

They left me alone for a while -- maybe they simply forgot, amidst surviving the typhoons -- but they seem to have come back again. And this time, I'm not taking it lying down.

Here's what I heard: when a mosquito bites into you, you're supposed to flex. And apparently, your flexed muscle will hold the mosquito's tube in there so that they can't escape, forcing blood into him/her. The rumoured result is that you can actually make the little bugger "pop" from the blood pressure. And I heard this from a whom-I-thought-was-relatively-reliable source.

"Really?" I asked.
"Not sure," he admitted. "That's what someone told me."

So much for that. But I have a different theory.

I figure that if you feel the mosquito bite in already, you should just let them finish sucking your blood, and then reward it with a cruel and sudden death. Death by hand, death by foot, death by whipping towel, death by electricution, I don't care. Just death.

Why do I suggest this? Because mosquitos have to inject some gunk into your bloodstream before sucking the blood out. This gunk (there's a scientific name for this) stops your blood from clotting (which I presume would kill it) while it's sucking or digesting or whatever. So it sucks out your blood when it's mixed with some of that whatever-stuff in it. I figure that if you kill the mosquito once it bites, chances are it's already injected you with junk, and that's going to create a major mosquito-bite-welt around the puncture. Instead, let the bug suck some if that stuff back out in their normal course.

Then smack the crap out of that thing. And bask in the primal glory of being the hunter.

Cost of a Typhoon Holiday

So Friday was another typhoon holiday for us, announced to cheers around the gym where I was. And since a day off in itself isn't that fantastic (especially if the weather just sucks and anywhere you want to go means you have to get drenched even with your raincoat), I decided that I deserved to treat myself for every typhoon holiday. Why not? Something to lift the spirits on a downer moody kind of day, right?

Well, it turns out this holiday, I had a big treat in store, somewhat unexpectedly. Wandering around looking for a suit (for work), I stumbled into the basement of the Shinkong Mitsukoshi mall and into fnac (a French consumer-electronics-retailer-slash-bookstore). And there it was: the w800i on display. I giddily approached the display case and inquired.

"Is it released already??"
"No, not yet, sorry." A look of disappointment must have flashed across my face.
"But sir, if you like, you can pre-order it today for pick up on Monday."

The price they were asking was about $5 USD more than the best price I could find online, and I had the comfort of dealing with a major retail chain, and having my spot in the queue saved so I wouldn't need to line-up and fight for the limited stock with the rest of the gadget-hungry folk!

So tomorrow, I should get a call that my phone is ready for pickup. I'll finish up my personal trainer session, shower, scoot on over, and happily plop down my AmEx for the $17,800 NTD ($555 USD). And then I take my new baby home.

Hurray for typhoons!


I have my new raincoat with me, and a full helmet too.

I bought a two-piece one made by Jump, which is one of the popular brands around here. (I avoided those one-piece trenchcoat kinds, which I call "raindresses".) I wore the jacket last night for the first time, to dodge some light rain. It has a mesh lining inside, and a vent in the back, which is good: the mesh prevents sticking to your skin, and the vent vents hot air as you ride. And there's a little arm pocket for ... things that you would normally put in an arm pocket if you had one. I don't remember much about the pants, but they're just pants -- no shoe protection. This suit came to $700 NTD, originally $790, because I downright suck at bargaining.

The helmet I bought is the Zeus 508, which is a full helmet that flips up. It's silver and it actually fits my head (as in it's small enough). And I'm using my old workout glove when riding, to lessen the callouses on my gas hand (right hand).

Actually, all this stuff together makes the bike a lot easier to ride, and makes it react better to me, letting me ride a lot faster as well. The glove makes the throttle more responsive to my hand, and the helmet blocks out the whistling and extra noises. The jacket, it's just for looks, so I can turn heads at how cool I am.

It's awesome. I look so cool (not). Even cooler with the jacket (really not). And now, I'm equipped now to handle the upcoming typhoon. Except for the workout glove part.

A Touch of Classical

When do you listen to classical music? I don't mind it, but I don't seem to ever find myself in the mood where I want to have it playing in the background or whatever. Maybe I'm missing a good opportunity to be playing symphonies or some orchestral piece??