June 29, 2005

Ada Taken Hostage

Our dog Ada has been taken hostage by "Japanese track and field activists". More information as the story develops.

Posted by pmk at 9:04 PM | Comments (1)

ATM Receipt Shredder

Like in many countries, post offices are multi-purpose institutions. You can, of course, buy stamps and send packages, but you can also sign up for insurance, wire money or withdraw money from the ATM.

The nice thing about most of these ATMs is that they accept foreign ATM cards, unlike most ATM machines in Japan, so I use them from time to time as an easy way to bring money into the country.

A few weeks ago, I heard the distinctive sound of a shredder running while I was using the ATM in Ochanomizu. I looked around and saw a woman feeding her ATM receipt into a little shredder next to the ATMs.

It's a great idea. Especially since the ATMs here don't let you skip printing out the receipt. I'd love to see something like this at American banks.

Posted by pmk at 6:39 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

Extracting Video from Cat Brains

An article over at kuro5hin led me to this blog entry about a researcher's work on extracting video from cat brains.

The study, from 1999, couldn't have been much fun for the cats (the description of the preparation process in the paper is remarkably gruesome, even under all of the medical jargon), but the results are pretty cool. They played video in front of the cats, then tried to extract the resulting images from the cats' brains.

The image below shows, side-by-side, what was displayed in the video and what they were able to extract from the cat brains. Pretty cool stuff, especially when you realize that the neurons they pulled these images from could, with the proper stimulation, be used to input imagery directly into the brain as well.

It's weird, I have no interest in Lasik surgery, but I think I'd be one of the first in line for a cranial IO jack.

Posted by pmk at 12:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2005

Test of Honesty

When you dipose of bulky garbage in Japan, you can't just throw it in the trash. You have to pay someone to come and haul it away. This is in stark contrast to New York, where you can leave bulky trash (say, your car) on the street and come back only minutes later to find that someone has taken it away for you, free of charge.

One of the nice things about our apartment complex is they have a regular bulky-trash-hauling-away service. So, instead of calling someone up, you can leave your items in the garbage room, attach a note with your name and apartment number and they'll come by, collect the money (500-1000 Yen, about $5-10) and haul away your garbage.

The Bait

Having just bought a used microwave and vacuum cleaner from a friend, we needed to dispose of our current ones. Yukari attached a note with our name and apartment number, but as I was getting ready to take them downstairs, I realized this would be a perfect chance to test the famed Japanese honest streak.

So, I went and found some scotch tape, taped 500 yen to the vacuum cleaner and the microwave and waited to see what would happen. To my mild disappointment, no one took the bait. The garbage guy came up, told me had taken the 1000 yen off of the vacuum and microwave and that I owed him another 400 yen between the two. I guess there really is something to this...

Posted by pmk at 2:08 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2005

Ochanomizu at Night

This picture was taken from the Ochanomizu Bridge. I'm in the Ochanomizu neighborhood pretty frequently. My cello lesson is here and a favorite restaurant is down the street.

I had taken my camera with me to take some pictures of the restaurant for an upcoming Fugu Diaries entry. On my way back towards the subway, I saw the bridge lit up and reflected in the river below.

I like how the people on the train platform look almost ethereal, since it was so much brighter over there.

Posted by pmk at 1:38 AM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2005

High-tech Koban

Japan is littered with little police boxes or koban like this one. Typically they are staffed by one or two police officers who give directions, yell at kids and stare at posters of all the sarin gas bombers that they still haven't caught.

This koban is located across the street from the Red Cross Hospital in Hiroo. I rarely see a policeman in there, even during the day. It does, however, have a haiteku koban (High Tech Koban) computer kiosk inside. Maybe the friendly neighborhood beat cop has been replaced by a machine?

Posted by pmk at 10:48 PM | Comments (1)

June 21, 2005

What Joy Looks Like

One of the selling points for Yukari and me about moving to Tokyo was the broad availability of cheap fiber to the home (FTTH). Or maybe that was just one of the selling points for me.

We live near the center of Tokyo, which should be fiber ground zero, but, thanks to the foot-dragging of the local condominium authorities, it's been almost 2 years and I'm still limping along on DSL.

All of that is about to change. This is a picture of the NTT guys pulling from a gigantic spool of fiber. They are installing the infrastructure all this week and will supposedly be rolling out service to customers at the end of this month.

I'd gotten wind of this earlier (in fact, I've already applied for service), so when I saw guys with NTT helmets and cable spools, I immediately cornered one of them and asked them if they were laying fiber for FTTH. When he said yes, I told him that I had been waiting two years for this. He nodded and made reassuring noises, all the while thinking to himself henna gaijin: weird foreigner.

Who cares! 100 megabit per second of pure bandwidth goodness will soon be mine. Joy!

Posted by pmk at 5:31 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2005

Fugu Diaries!

I'm proud to announce the launch of Fugu Diaries!

The site will be a collection of longer articles about eating in Japan. The opening article is about Ginjou Kura 72. This tiny sake bar was created by the Kurihara-san, owner of a respected sake store in Tokyo and all-around sake evangelist. They offer 72 different kinds of sake, plus special offerings that change on a week-by-week basis.

Kura 72 is only open this summer, though, so if you want to try it out, you have to hurry!

More here.

PS - Many thanks to Ted Warin and Jen Draper for the original impetus, Andy O'Donnell for the wonderful logo and Marc Phu for his awesome design.

Posted by pmk at 7:19 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2005

Water Is Cool

What would we do without it?

Posted by pmk at 12:31 AM | Comments (3)

June 8, 2005

Teatime in Paradise

Amanpuri, our resort in Phuket, offers afternoon tea. In addition to hot and cold teas (including a knock-em-dead ginger/lemongrass iced tea), they have fruit, cakes and little Thai griddlecakes.

The griddlecakes are about the size of a half dollar and made with a coconut batter in a takoyaki-esque pan. They offered them with a few different toppings. Green onion was my favorite. It was the perfect blend of savory and sweet.

teatime in paradise

Posted by pmk at 12:11 AM | Comments (1)

June 7, 2005

Angkor Monks

OK, so maybe I should have learned something from my other monk picture, but I think if you're a Buddhist monk walking around Angkor Wat in Cambodia, you're just asking for your picture to be taken.

conversing monks at angkor

Posted by pmk at 12:08 AM | Comments (1)

June 6, 2005


Water buffalos, elephants and frogs!

(oh my)

Posted by pmk at 6:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 4, 2005

Elephants: Intelligent, Gentle, Maniacal Eating Machines

While in Chiang Mai, we went to an elephant camp to watch and ride elephants. Supposedly, the elephants in the camp were all put out of work by a Thai ban on logging. Unable to work for their food, they were abandoned by their erstwhile owners and left to panhandle on the streets of Chiang Mai. Enter the elephant camps: instead of harassing tourists (hey buddy, can you spare some hay?) the elephants were put to work entertaining them. Whether this story is true or not, the elephants did seem well taken care of and content with their lot.

Feed Me and No One Gets Hurt

The elephant species, however, must have an incredible PR department. We've all been sold on them as intelligent, gentle beasts. What we're not told is that they are also single-minded eating and pooping machines. They consume over 250kg of food a day. To shovel this food into their elephantine gullets, they use their famous trunks.

Gimme That!

The trunks are strong, "an elephant's hand", incredibly versatile, blah blah blah. Despite all this, though, a trunk is still a nose. Which means that when an elephant comes after that bunch of bananas in your hand with his trunk, he leaves your hand a snotty mess.

Both our guide and the signs around the camp warned against feeding the elephant a banana at a time. Apprently the elephants "lose patience" if they aren't fed at least half a bunch of bananas at once. Even the baby elephant that Yukari fed wasn't interested unless it could have the entire bunch. I wasn't sure what an elephant does when it loses patience, but I was very sure that I didn't want to find out.

We're Feeling Impatient...

An animal that eats 250kg of food every day produces an incredible volume of poop. Elephant poop, as was demonstrated to us repeatedly during our ride, is ejected in bowling ball sized clumps. Not content to just poop while on the trail, our elephant displayed his amphibious nature by also pooping in the river. He was even able to poop while eating -- I suspect this is the Mount Everest of elephant digestive feats.

Based on these experiences, I recommend observing the following three rules whenever you interact with elephants:

  1. To avoid elephant snot, wear protective gloves at all times when feeding your elephant.
  2. Give your elephant whatever it wants, whenever it wants it, lest it lose patience.
  3. Never stand behind your elephant. Period.

Best of luck.

Posted by pmk at 12:26 AM | Comments (1)

June 3, 2005

There's a Buffalo Outside the House!

The Buffalo In Question

Yesterday morning, I heard Yukari open the door to our hotel room and step outside onto the veranda. Then I heard the "surprised noise" -- a noise usually reserved for when there's a spider on the toilet or something.

Instead of a spider on the toilet, there was a buffalo in the yard. The yard, in this case, was the working rice paddy that our hotel is built around. The buffalo was just sitting there, chewing some grass that it had been given by one of its keepers.

I'm Outta Here

Later, we saw what we think is the same buffalo making its way through the resort. Maybe to the buffalo garage for a tuneup. I guess if buffalo burgers show up on the menu soon, we'll know what really happened.

Posted by pmk at 12:52 AM | Comments (0)

June 2, 2005

Porn Silver

Engrish, unintentionally funny English, is the bread and butter of any expat blogger living on the other side of the Pacific Rim. Without it, I'd have to come up with vaguely entertaining anecdotes or thoughtful opinions.

Instead, I can just throw up this picture from the markets at Chiang Mai and call it a day. Thank you, Engrish!

Posted by pmk at 12:27 AM | Comments (1)

June 1, 2005

UNIX Design

If you are doing anything with UNIX and have not yet moved into the lucrative "necklace in a bottle" market, be aware that the Bangkok Night Bazaar vendors are about to eat your lunch.


Posted by pmk at 12:36 AM | Comments (0)