August 22, 2004

Live: From Ishimaru Denki

My brother and his girlfriend have invaded Japan. An obligatory "Yes, I am still alive" post from the NTT B Flets test PC in Ishimaru Denki, a big electronics shop in Akihabara.

More to come. Or not.

Posted by pmk at 9:39 PM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2004

NYC Manhole Covers Strike Again

Long time readers might remember our story on the woman killed by an electrified manhole cover in New York City. Well, the manhole covers have struck again.

A sk4t3r d00d fell on a red hot manhole cover and got herself a nice "DE NOC" tattoo. Of course, the New York Post was there.

Oddly, the branded skater is now considering suing Con Ed, since she wasn't able to make her normal appearance as "DJ L-Train" in Brooklyn. Not, say, because she has a gigantic burn mark on her back.

Posted by pmk at 3:47 AM | Comments (1)

August 12, 2004

The Speed of Light Sucks

We're used to treating the speed of light as instantaneous in our everyday lives. Light is, indeed, very fast -- approximately 300 million meters (186,000 miles) per second fast in a vacuum.

But, move halfway around the world and the speed of light can become a very real concern. Tokyo is, as the crow flies, about 10,000km (6,800 miles) away from New York. If I want to send some data to New York, it moves at the speed of light from my PC to the data center in Manhattan.

If light was moving through a vacuum, it would cover this distance in about 33 milliseconds (.033 seconds). 33 milliseconds is not very long. In fact, according to some theories of the mind, it's just above the theshold of what we can consciously perceive.

But, just getting to New York from Tokyo doesn't accomplish that much. If we send a request there, we'd probably like to get something back. So double it, so we can get a reply: 66 millseconds.

Err, but wait. When we send a signal from Tokyo to New York, it doesn't move thorugh a vacuum, but through tiny strands of glass. Our signal will spend most of its time in these fiber optic cables, winding its way across the Pacific, then across the North American continent, until it finally ends up in a data center in central Manhattan.

Unfortunately for us, though, light moves considerably slower in glass than in a vacuum. A trip that takes us 33ms in a vacuum will take us 1/3rd longer in fiber. Now we are looking at almost 100 milliseconds to get to New York and back again. If you inject 100ms into a one-on-one conversation, very observant folks will notice that something is slightly "off".

Well, 100ms isn't too bad, right? Even if we are using VoIP, most people we call won't notice the delay. Oh, but Tokyo isn't actually 10,000km from New York, because the fiber optic cables that cross the Pacific and the American plain don't run in a perfect great circle route between the two cities. We can increase the point-to-point distance by 50% and probably still be pretty conservative. That brings our total roundtrip time to 150ms.

Throw in a DSL modem, routers, media converters and everything else that sits in the 18 hops between Tokyo and New York, and you've probably got another 50 milliseconds of roundtrip latency on your hands. In fact, it takes 8ms (16ms roundtrip) just to reach the other side of my DSL line. We're at 200ms now, only 100ms away from the point where delays in a conversation become extremely annoying.

In fact, the measured latency between my office and a server in a New York data center is between 210-220ms. The majority of this delay is a direct result of the physics of the universe we live in. No matter how high-tech our routers become, the speed of light is immutable, so this delay is simply unavoidable.

Posted by pmk at 7:46 AM | Comments (5)

August 10, 2004


Some friends were in town from Germany last weekend, so we were doing the grand Tokyo tour. Sushi for breakfast in Tsukiji, temple/crimcram bazaar/human moshpit in Asakusa and trying (unsuccesfully) to see Mt. Fuji through the smog from the top of Roppongi Hills.

You can see Roppongi Hills in the panorama I shot out my office window. For 1200 Yen (~$10.50) a head, you can ride up to the 53rd floor and get some pretty stunning views of the mostly depressing Tokyo skyline.

But, one major win was that the 53rd floor also happens to be home to Kitty Ex, the Hello Kitty 30th anniversary "art" exhibition. While I wasn't going to pay to see Hello Kitty propoganda, the gift store was chock full of incredible Kitty paraphernalia.

When Yukari held up a package of pink stickers with Kitty-chan and the word "Obey", I knew I had to have them.

These stickers are the official coin of the realm. I will be paying all debts, public and private, in Obey stickers going forward.

Posted by pmk at 8:01 AM | Comments (3)

August 9, 2004

Aqua: Water Store and Bar Concept

I give you: Aqua.

This store replaced a women's accessories store (hats mostly) called "Gallerie de Balloon" in the little shopping street near our apartment. We live in Hiroo, an area full of expats on great corporate packages (not us) and old Japanese money (definitely not us), so retail space around here is pricey.

Despite this, the owners of Aqua thought opening a store that sells 80 different kinds of bottled water would be a good idea. As Patrick of points out, they are going to have a tough time come winter unless they decide to break into the popsicle business or something.

The shop has a small counter off to the right, but does not sell bottled water by the glass, so you can't try eight different kinds of, umm, water to decide which one you like the best. Maybe you are supposed to BYOC (bring your own cup) and pop open a bottle of water at the counter with your friends?

The design of the place appears to be avant garde swimming pool. Very blue on the outside, shiny reflective blue and white tile on the inside.

If this place is still in business in January, I'll go buy a ridiculously overpriced bottle of water to celebrate.

The storefront -- my trusty steed is visible on the left!

So many bottles of water. The store has four coolers, all full of fancy-pants bottled water.

shashin o totte ii desu ka?

The "bar"

Posted by pmk at 9:46 PM | Comments (3)

August 5, 2004

Yuki: Zinfandel Cowgirl

My happy-go-lucky sister-in-law, Yuki, quit her job at Renegade Marketing in June so she could go to culinary school.

School doesn't start until this Fall though and cooking school whites can get expensive, so she took a summer job traveling the Eastern seaboard for Ravenswood, pushing zinfandel on unwitting supermarket shoppers. The pay is pretty good, she gets a fabulous job title (Zinfomaniac) and she can listen to as much supermarket muzak as she wants.

One of the downsides, though, is the uniform. The whole campaign has a country theme, straight down to the clothes that they wear in-store. You can't see the perfect-for-the-dog-days-of-summer cowboy boots in the photo below, but the magenta cowboy hat is simply to die for.

(Update: The woman on the left is Rhonda, Yuki's friend. She was originally blurred out, since I figured she was a random customer and I didn't want hordes of flying simian lawyers descending upon my sister-in-law. She complained to Yuki about being all fuzzy, so she's back -- now with even more sharpness!)

Posted by pmk at 12:27 AM | Comments (0)

August 4, 2004

Water Bar

I'm not 100% certain, but while running this evening I could have sworn that a former hat store near our house had transformed itself into a "water bar and store concept" while I wasn't looking. The shop's windows were full of various foo-foo imported water bottles and the name of the place is Aqua.

I'll pop out tomorrow morning and report back.

(Update: this was not an exercise-induced hallucination. Pics to follow soon.)

Posted by pmk at 5:46 AM | Comments (1)

August 3, 2004

Snack Gangsters

These little hoodlums, simultaneously cute and disturbing, stare out at you from almost every konbini shelf.

They've tapped into that primal fear we all share of children with foodstuffs attached to their heads. While I find the young Elton John with the pumpkin strapped to his nogging particularly scary, not even the innocent-looking bacon-headed girl can be trusted.

The good news is this: If I ever get my paper-mache skills up to snuff, I'll be really easy to spot at parties. Just look for the guy with the double-decker shrimp hat.

Posted by pmk at 3:10 AM | Comments (9)

August 1, 2004

Reason Article on Kerry's Civil Liberties Record

An interesting article from those wacky libertarians at Reason Magazine that looks at John Kerry's record on civil liberties. It discusses a number of hot button issues, including encryption embargoes and the USA Patriot Act. The following excerpt from the section about encryption key escrow is a little scary:

Responding directly to a column in Wired on encryption that said "trusting the government with your privacy is like having a Peeping Tom install your window blinds," Kerry invoked the Americans killed in 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. "[O]ne would be hard-pressed," he wrote, "to find a single grieving relative of those killed in the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York or the federal building in Oklahoma City who would not have gladly sacrificed a measure of personal privacy if it could have saved a loved one." Change a few words, and the passage could easily fit into Attorney General Ashcroft's infamous speech to the Senate Judiciary Committee in late 2001—the one where he declared, "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberties, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists—for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve."

Posted by pmk at 12:48 AM | Comments (0)