April 30, 2004

Stolen Strad

A 1684 Stradivarius Cello belonging to the LA Philharmonic was stolen last week. The instrument, which was used for the premiere of Dvorak's cello concerto in 1896, is valued at $3.5 million.

If you have the instrument and are having second thoughts, you can leave it at the concert hall's artists' entrance "no questions asked" (surrrrrrrrre -- I believe that).

More details here

(Thanks Barry!)

Posted by pmk at 1:29 AM | Comments (1)

April 29, 2004

Incredible Bike Messenger Video

Guns N' Roses not withstanding, this is an incredible video, shot from a helmet-mounted camera, of what I can only assume are bike messengers "drag racing" through (and eventually out of) Manhattan.

Laugh as they wave each other through red lights! Cringe as they cut off taxi cabs! Marvel as they physically assault NYC buses!

Dialup users need not apply -- 20+ megabyte file.

This post is dedicated to Andrew Curry.

Posted by pmk at 6:14 AM | Comments (4)

April 28, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

It seems that 3 months ago, a woman walking her dogs in New York City was electrocuted (think RAID - kills bugs dead) when she stepped on a manhole cover that somehow was wired into the Con Edison power grid. Freak accidental death, you say.

Well, ConEd decided that maybe they should do a little snooping around to make sure no one else gets a little jolt. CNN reports:

The company inspected all of its manhole and service box covers following Lane's death and found "no stray voltage at 99.95 percent of the equipment," according to Con Edison spokesman Chris Olert.

Well, Phew! Given that the city has 260,000 manholes, that equates to only 130 electrified manhole covers in the city. Happy walking, New Yorkers!

(Thanks, Doug!)

Posted by pmk at 2:07 PM | Comments (6)

April 27, 2004

Talking Garbage Trucks

In Tokyo, the garbage trucks scream "Please Be Careful! Please Be Careful! Please Be Careful!" whenever they back up. Or turn left. Well, they actually scream "gochui kudasai!" but you get the point. The trucks seem particularly angry and loud early in the morning, but that's probably just me projecting.

Japan, however, is not a quiet country. And it's not just a function of the population density. Speakers are everywhere: on trucks, in restaurants, mounted on lamp posts. The speakers aren't reserved for emergency godzilla attacks, either. Everywhere you go, you are bombarded with a constant audio stream, reminding you to be careful, be mindful of others and experience pure shopping pleasure. Even in Azabu Juban, a very upscale neighborhood, a constant patter of mindless information rains down from cleverly hidden speakers.

I wouldn't be surprised if someone growing up in this environment would develop a fear of silence. Maybe that's why my wife likes to leave the TV on, even when she isn't watching it?

Posted by pmk at 3:15 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2004

Steampunk Manju Kasutera Machine

(Reed Stevenson points out that manju are typically steamed, not griddled. We've ID'd the cakes as a form of kasutera.)

Kasutera are a type of small cake. In this case, they were filled with red bean paste. Walking around the streets of Hakone, I spotted this decidedly steampunk kasutera maker.

Driven by a single motor hooked up to a bicycle chain, this machine would drop a ring down on the hot griddle and fill it with cake batter, then red bean paste, then more cake batter.

The cake would then rotate for half a turn on the hot griddle until it was flipped. Once the cake made it around and was fully cooked, an operator would lift it off the machine, drop the cake into a box and put the ring back in the machine, where it would crawl up a chain, get dropped back on the griddle and the whole process would start up again.

I watched this thing for about 15 minutes, waiting for it to jam up or otherwise fail. It worked flawlessly. Software developers could take a lesson or two from this machine's bug-free operation.

(click for a larger pic)

PS - The cakes were tasty.

Posted by pmk at 3:41 PM | Comments (4)

April 25, 2004

A Study in Contrasts

A restaurant and bar located right next to each other in nishi azabu (西麻布):

The small heap of white stuff in front of the restaurant menu is salt. You see small mounds of salt in front of businesses from time-to-time in Japan. Salt has purifying qualities in Shinto, the native religion, but the explanations I've seen for this practice have a much more prosaic bent:

Restaurant proprietors used to put salt in front of their stores to attract the cows and horses that potential customers traveled with/on. The livestock would stop to lick the salt, giving the potential customer pause and perhaps enticing him into the shop.

Given the high cost of salt in pre-industrial economies, I have a little trouble buying this, but I'm happy to suspend disbelief.

Posted by pmk at 5:48 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2004

Phone Phone Phone!

One of the neat things about living in Japan are the cellphones. Cellphone tech here puts the US and Europe to shame.

My phone, the Casio A5403CA, is the source of the shakeycam pics on this site. Camera is 2 megapixel, has a flash and the camera writes out to cute little mini-SD cards.

The phone also has really sexy GPS mapping software built-in. You can fire it up, tell the cell phone it's OK to turn GPS on, and immediately get a map of where you are, complete with buildings, train station locations and other goodies. For a few bucks a month, you can subscribe to a service that will overlay door-to-door directions on the map as well.

The one downside, for me at least, is that the phone cannot be switched into English mode -- the entire user interface is in Japanese. Oh well!

Posted by pmk at 8:20 PM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2004

Who Wouldn't, Really?

From gawker's to-do list:

Hear MoveOn.org founder Eli Pariser and Moby discuss MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country at Barnes & Noble. Politics schmolitics, we just want to throw bloody, raw meat at Moby's glistening, milky-white vegan-skull.

(Thanks Ted!)

(After-the-fact-update: Moby was a no show. Glad I didn't fly back for this.)

Posted by pmk at 8:22 PM | Comments (1)