June 30, 2004

iTunes Mixup

I bought Cliff Hillis' Be Seeing You on iTunes after hearing a track from his latest album on KCRW.

The first track was a bit of a surprise, though -- a weird acapella/world/carribean gospel thing, instead of the jangly pop that I was expecting. OK, I think, maybe Mr. Hillis had a recent religious experience. So, I jump to the next track.

Track name: Second Dimension. Song: acapella version of Psalm 137 (Rivers of Babylon). Next!

Track name: Grounded. Song: Acapella version of the Lord's Prayer.

At this point, I'm pretty much convinced I've been tricked into buying a Christian music album (It has happened before!)

Fortunately, the remaining tracks are fine. After poking around a bit, it turns out that Apple has gotten their wires crossed somehow. The first three tracks are actually from "Acapella Scriptures" by Wayne Pascall. Emailed Apple about this almost a week ago and am still waiting for resolution.

Oddly, though, iTunes isn't the only place that has the tracks screwed up. Audio Lunchbox has the exact same problem, even though they appear to be totally unaffiliated with Apple. There must be a central company that is doing encoding and digital distribution to various vendors. Would love to know more about this...

Posted by pmk at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2004

For Minnie, Wherever I Might Find Her

In Japan, cute is king. Or maybe kawaii is queen. Nevertheless, I am regularly surprised at where kitschy cartoon characters turn up.

I spotted Minnie Mouse serving as a seaweed scoop at a local sushi shop recently. I wonder what sort of scuttwork Mickey had been assigned to...

Posted by pmk at 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

Performance Anxiety

I've been taking Suzuki Method cello lessons for about three years now, first in the US and now in Japan. Every Wednesday I drag my cello onto the subway and head to the Suzuki studio in Ochanomizu (10 stops, 1 transfer).

My instructor here is Yoshihiko Terada (He's the guy with the cello. On the left), an instructor of some note, apparently. He speaks English comfortably and, having flown around the world teaching, has an easy command of both pedagogical and musical jargon. My jokes tend to be lost on him, but I have the same problem with native speakers of English, so it's probably me.

At our last lesson, Terada-sensei informed me that "they" (whoever that might be) were really looking forward to my performance of the piece we were working on. This was the first time I had heard anything about a performance. When pressed for minor details like, oh, when this might take place, he became vague.

I'm going to push for more information at my next lesson, but he has inspired a major case of performance anxiety. The closest I've come to any sort of public performance in the past decade have been sales calls and project kickoff/closing meetings!

Posted by pmk at 6:53 AM | Comments (2)

June 18, 2004

DRM Considered Harmful

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is technology that, under the guise of protecting innocent artists, gives away basic rights that consumers have had for a few hundred years. Since the RIAA hasn't (yet) been able to eliminate fair use rights directly, they are using a combination of technology and legislation to prevent you from, say, being able to copy your new CD onto your iPod.

Cory Doctorow, of Boing Boing fame, has posted a great little rant he just gave at Microsoft Research on why DRM will never work, is harmful to society, artists, business and Microsoft itself.

It's worth reading all the way through. If you care about DRM already, it will help you articulate your thoughts better the next time you bring it up at a dinner party (as an aside, why don't I get invited to more dinner parties?). If you don't care about DRM, I bet you will by the time you get done reading.

Posted by pmk at 4:36 AM | Comments (6)

June 16, 2004

What's Your Internet Birthday?

I was doing some vanity surfing the other day and started wandering what the earliest surving pmk Internet "footprint" (email, Usenet post, etc.) was.

After much digging, I found this post on Usenet, dated 1992-11-08 22:09:08:

Subject: Newton's Method

I recently read the book FRACTAL PROGRAMMING IN PASCAL and have a question relating to the generation of Newton's Method fractals. The following code fragment iterates the equation z^3-1=0:

xsquare= x * x
ysquare = y * y
denom = 3 * ((xsquare - ysquare) * (xsquare - yswaure) - 4 * xsquare * ysquare)
IF denom = 0 then denom = 0.0000001
x = (2/3) * x + (xsquare - ysquare) / denom
y = (2/3) * y - (2 * x * y) / denom

This does, of course, work beautifully. However, with my high school calculus skills, I am unable to understand WHY. Could someone please e-mail or post a step by step explanation of each part of the above fragment? Any help is appreciated.

There must be slightly earlier stuff floating out there, some of it from gagme and others from "borrowed" accounts, but this was the best I could do.

What's your Internet birthday? Did you come into the online world with a whimper or a primal scream? Or a nerdy maths question?

Posted by pmk at 12:38 AM | Comments (2)

June 15, 2004

Coke C2: Meh.

Coke launched Coca Cola C2 here in Japan last month. It's a "half-diet" cola that has half the calories of regular Coke, with supposedly all of the taste.

The marketing push has been fairly strong. Advertising is on every vending machine (which, in Tokyo, means you see a C2 ad every 5 feet or so). Many vending machines have had Coke Classic removed and replaced with with C2 to try and push the product.

I finally got around to trying it today after lunch today. It's less sweet. A lot less sweet. This is in stark contrast to Diet Coke, which has always seemed sweeter than normal Coke to me.

The initial taste is just bubbles and a little bit of artificial something. In the middle, it actually comes very close to the taste of Classic Coke. But once the bubbles have died off and the initial rush of real sugar (well, corn syrup) has disappeared, you're left with a mouthful of sweet/bitter aspartame.

The mouthfeel of the whole thing is definitely diet. Full calorie sodas have a slightly thick/syrupy mouthfeel that aspartame (or a little sugar + aspartame) just can't seem to match.

While not a total disappointment like New Coke or (for me) Vanilla Coke was, C2 seems to be a product looking for a market niche. If I really care about calories, I'm going to be drinking Diet Coke. If I want the taste of Classic Coke, I'll probably just drink that. Something that tastes sort of like real Coke, but also has 60 calories per (dimunitive, Japanese-sized) serving, just doesn't seem like a big win to me.

Posted by pmk at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

Japanese Restaurant Scam

A video that uncovers the scam that the Japanese have been perpetrating on unwitting foreigners around the globe. Click to launch:

Posted by pmk at 12:27 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2004

Tuna Overload

An admission: I went a little tuna crazy yesterday at Sushi Zanmai. They offer a "maguro zanmai set" for 3000 yen (about $27) that features:

  • 2 pieces of maguro (red, not so fatty tuna)
  • 2 pieces of chuu-toro (medium fatty tuna)
  • 2 pieces of o-toro (very fatty tuna)
  • 2 pieces of seared chuu-toro
  • 2 pieces of negi-toro
  • 1 tekamaki (tuna roll)

Originally we were going to order one of these and share it, but then I got worried about having to fight with the two girls over which pieces of fish I was going to get, so I decided to get my own.

I'm glad I did -- it was wonderful, but it was also a bit of a disappointment, becuase after eating half a tuna, I only had room left for a shrimp and an uni before I felt like I was going to explode.

Picture of the set stolen shamelessly from this Japanese blog. Thanks, whoever you are!

Posted by pmk at 7:30 AM | Comments (1)

June 12, 2004

Men Without Pants

We had sushi lunch today with Khanh at Sushi Zanmai. Zanmai has two location in Tsukiji, open an unheard-of-in-Japan 24 hours a day, with great prices and very fresh fish. Fine dining, it ain't, but it's definitely delicious.

After finishing up lunch, we were walking back to the station when I spotted a crowd of men and women marching towards us. The guys were, without exception, pantless. Instead, they were sporting loinclothes and happi that (usually) covered up said loinclothes.

I'm told this sort of attire is common at various Japanese festivals (matsuri). It was clear from the staggers and bellowing laughs of these guys that this particular event involved a fairly significant amount of alcohol.

Apparently I was lucky, though -- This fellow gaijin has pics of random Japanese guys walking around with their loinclothes flapping in the breeze. My eyes!

Posted by pmk at 11:17 PM | Comments (1)

June 11, 2004

The Last Train Post For Now, I Promise

So, Yukari redeemed herself somewhat by bringing me some maglev omiyage.

My "linear original stamps" came in a really cool folder. Oddly, though, the print quality is a little shoddy, especially on the stamps themselves. They look like they were printed on a ink jet printer, circa 1992.

Posted by pmk at 2:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2004

A Lost Glove

A few nights ago, we went out to an Italian place in Omotesando for dinner. I rode my bike, while Yukari took the train from work.

Walking home, I handed Yukari my bike lock, to put into the backpack. Got home, went to bed and then got up bright and early the next morning to go running.

Coincidentally, part of the running route took us along the same streets we had walked home along the previous evening. As I was puffing along, I noticed a brown, cotton glove on the sidewalk that looked remarkably like a glove I keep in my biking backpack to use when I need to futz with the chain or other greasy bike parts.

Nonplussed, I kept on running for another 20 feet, until it hit me that that probably was my glove, fallen out of my backpack the previous evening when Yukari put my chain in. I went back, picked it up and ran with it the rest of the way home, no doubt further cementing the weirdness of foreigners in the minds of passing Japanese.

In Chicago or New York, the glove would have been urinated on, torn apart by a pack of wolves or otherwise disappeared. Here, it was waiting for me on a busy sidewalk, right where I'd left it.

Posted by pmk at 1:30 AM | Comments (1)

June 9, 2004

I Love English

Any language where you can produce a meaningful sentence like:

The whole mouse story is pretty fishy anyway.

gets bonus points in my book.

Posted by pmk at 7:26 PM | Comments (0)

Life's Little Injustices

Japan has been working on building a maglev (also known as a "levitating, superconducting magnet train of pure awesomeness") since before I was born. They still haven't put one into production, but there's a test track outside of Tokyo where they've pushed 580kph. If you can read and write Japanese, you can enter yourself in a lottery to ride in the test car once or twice a year (last go around there were 100 riders chosen from 8,000 applicants). Otherwise, you have to be a VIP or know someone to get to ride.

Riding on the maglev has been near the top of my Japan "to do" list since I got here. I mean, jeez, I still haven't received the flying car or the jetpack I was promised, so surely a ride on a floating train is not too much to ask for...

Luckily, one of Yukari's acquaintances used to work on the maglev project and promised to get us in, but he told us it could take a year or more. So, imagine my consternation when Yukari told me this morning that she was going on a field trip to Yamanashi to ride on the maglev. This is the same Yukari who refused to even investigate how to sign us up for the maglev lottery. Oh, the humanity!

Posted by pmk at 5:56 PM | Comments (1)

June 8, 2004

Perils of the Narita Express: Part Deux

Landed at Narita on Monday, fought with the immigration officials, got stopped by customs (which, by the way, happens to me everywhere) and then headed to the train station to catch the Narita Express back home.

Although I hopped on email and IM while waiting for the train, I was careful to sit where the train would pull up, so I didn't miss it this time. Huzzah!

Unfortunately, about 10 minutes into the ride, the train slowed down and eventually stopped at the town of Narita. First there was a lot of "please wait" and various apologies over the loudspeakers, but everyone clearly expected the train to start moving again.

Then, after 30 minutes, the conductor started moving through the train, herding people off. He got to me and it was obvious that he was dreading trying to explain this to me. Five seconds into the tooth-sucking noise + constipated face ritual that many Japanese seem to practice when faced with impossible situations, I volunteered that I understood a little Japanese.

I didn't get everything he said, but managed to decipher that things were "very difficult" and that the train wasn't going anywhere, he didn't know when it would be moving again and that another one would not be forthcoming in any sort of reasonable timeframe. I asked him how I was supposed to get back to Tokyo, and he told me "keisei" and then marched me out of the train.

Unfortunately, I had no idea what he was talking about. When I asked another employee on the platform, I got the same answer. So, I gave myself over to the Japanese group dynamic and followed the rest of the sheep up the stairs and towards the station's lobby. As I waited in line, to get my money back, apparently, I glanced up at the signs hanging from the ceiling just outside the turnstile. "Keisei Line", said one, causing me to mentally slap my forehead (try it sometime, it's quite a trick). Of course: the Keisei subway line.

I got my money back, along with a lengthy, but obviously proforma, apology, trudged down to the Keisei line station and got on the subway. Almost 4 hours after getting on my original train, I finally dragged my sorry butt into the apartment. The only luck I had through the whole adventure was that it stopped raining right as I came out of Hiro-o station, so I didn't have to walk up the hill in a downpour.

The sad thing is, I recommended to my seatmate on the flight, a McKinsey consultant from Germany on his first trip to Japan, that he take the train, instead of the bus. The bus would have been a nightmare, since we landed right at the beginning of the morning rush hour, but if he got stuck too, it still might have been faster. Sorry Wolfgang!

Posted by pmk at 11:49 PM | Comments (0)

June 3, 2004

Perils of the Narita Express

The Narita Express runs from Tokyo Station to Narita Airport in just over an hour. It's cheap, by Japanese standards at least (about $25 each way), runs frequently and lets you avoid the parking lots that the Japanese call "highways".

I'm on the train on my way to catch a plane to Germany. I was supposed to take the 7:15 train, but missed it and ended up on the 7:30, despite the fact that I was at the platform at 7am.

Problem was, I plunked my butt down in the first seat I could find on the platform, took out my laptop and started IMing, checking email and hacking code. At 7:15am, there was still no train in front of me. I figured it must be running late. Then, at 7:17am, I catch, out of the corner of my eye, a red blur: my 7:15am Narita Express!

Turns out, the 7:15am is only a 6 car train and I was sitting where car 9, had this train had one, would have pulled up. Not one of my brighter moments. Luckily, a ticket for the Narita Express is good all day, although seats are reserved, so you may end up standing if there are no open seats.

Posted by pmk at 6:12 PM | Comments (2)

June 2, 2004

Saints, Protect our Servers

Only in Italy:

A friend of mine sent me some pics of the servers in their Milan offices. The rack is scattered with saint cards, apparently to improve uptime and protect the machines from various evils (nasty Lutheran viruses, perhaps?).

Update -- The saints in question are:

  • St. Anthony Abbot
  • St. Mark the Evangelist
  • St. Pasquale
  • St. Roch (Patron of the plague-stricken, aka anti-virus)
  • St. Gabriel Possenti
  • Saint Peter

Here are some more saintly machines:

Posted by pmk at 3:28 PM | Comments (2)

June 1, 2004

Hiroo Twilight Panorama

A view out over Hiroo and Roppongi from my office window. On the far left is the Red Cross Hospital, on the far right, Roppongi Hills. Click on the image for a much larger, very modem-unfriendly version:

Posted by pmk at 5:55 AM | Comments (1)