Roo in Japan

I was in Japan last week for business.  While we had been talking about the possibility of going for a while, I found out less than 24hrs before getting on a plane (Jenn was very understanding).  This was my first time across the Pacific Ocean, and with a 14hr leg (single flight) in my trip, I set a new personal record for being stuck on a plance (in economy no less).  The time delta was 14hrs meaning that at 7am in Japan, it was 5pm the previous day at home.

I was staying in Tokyo, near Shinjuku at the Hyatt Regency.  It turns out this was very close to the Park Hyatt that was featured in the movie Lost in Translation (which if you haven’t seen, is a good movie).  The Hyatt was a nice hotel, certainly meeting western standards for space.

Since I was there for business, I was a little concerned about making the right first impression.  I found a few links that helped me not feel like a total idiot.  Generally the Japanese people feel very polite, the bowing really struck me.  The general care they take presenting you with a bill is quite nice, it is done similar to the business card exchange which is very ritualized.

Thankfully, the company we were visiting is a little less traditional and tends to style itself after a Silicon Valley business.  One thing that I would try to do for another trip is make sure I have a few small token gifts from Canada to share with my hosts.

Since the employees of the company were Japanese, we were using a translator.  While some of them did speak English, there was a varying level of abilty with the language.  Since I don’t speak any Japanese the translator was a huge help.  Anyone who has head me speak knows how quickly I can go – this won’t work with a translator.  It took some getting used to, breaking ideas down into short snippets that could be translated without losing any of the technical content (just because they don’t speak the same language, doesn’t make them simpletons).

On day 3 I noticed that the translator was fixing my errors in naming folk by adding -san,  and I was honoured to hear Andrew-san a number of times.  I’ll go out on a limb a little here as I don’t know, but it also seemed to take a little time to break down some of the trust barriers – this may be a cultural issue, or just the standard technical problem of everyone is an idiot until proven otherwise.  By the afternoon of the 3rd day we were all jamming at the whiteboard discussing issues, and it was clear that there was understanding (both ways) even without translation.

We had dinners out as a group (without the translator) and there were enough folks with both English and Japanese on both the customer and IBM side to help things go smoothly enough, they were also especially helpful in instructing us how to eat dinner as many of the dishes were unfamiliar.  We ate in restaurants with low tables but with a cut-out below for your legs, we also removed our shoes before entering the eating area.  While the food was unfamiliar, it was all good. My best guess after the fact is that the meal was ichijū-sansai style.  The soup was cooked at the table and I couldn’t help but compare it to a DIY meal such as fajitas (which I always want a discount on as I’m doing part of the worK).

It was cool to see that Bunnie was in Japan at the same time, and blogging about both food and some of the neat things to see in Japan.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to explore some of the things he talked about, but it did help me get my head around the culture a little more.  In the little time I did have free, I did a little souvenier shopping – while I could navigate the subway and the stores, the language barrier was significant. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to find a 100 yen shop (dollar store), but did explore a few of the 10+ story department stores.  I ended up buying a few things at a shop on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices  which gives an amazing view of the city.  In the elevator ride down it was a pretty tight right with about 8 other people, but none of them were above the level of my shoulder – Japan isn’t built for people who are 6 feet tall.

I had been told that McDonald’s was “the same, but not the same – you have to try it”.  The menu certainly had some unfamiliar selections on it such as Ebi Filet-O (shrimp burgers).  When I got to the airport the food selection was pretty limited but there was a McDonald’s so I figured why not?  The double Big-Mac and fries, tasted the same (or possibly better) than the ones I’m used to.  I did also eat out of one of the ubiquitous vending machines, the ice cream was very good.

While I was there the weather was mostly overcast, but around 10C to 15C.  During the day I’d forego having a jacket which made me stand out in crowds.  Generally the Japanese were bundled up in jackets as it was considered “cold”, but as I was primarily in the office (24C), subways and stores I found it hot if I had a jacket on.  It did cool off in the evenings, and many of the commuters had very long trips (1hr+) which might have required more variation in clothing.  In the evenings I did wear a jacket, I’m Canadian – not crazy.

It was a good trip, but I’m really glad to not be on a plane and staying close to home for a while.

Fantastic Contraption

I ran into this flash based web game a while back, it sucked up a couple of nights while I compulsively played through the first 18 levels. I was going to post about it back then, but decided against it as there are plenty of other discussions about fantastic contraption out there already.

For the geek crowd, it should probably be renamed to fanatic compulsion.  Today I saw that two of my coworkers had just recently come across it (one of them with a physics background no less!) – they were both clearly trapped by this meme-like game.  Consider this posting a warning – it is a huge time suck.

The game allows users to save their contraptions, and share them with others via a link – so a little internet searching will find you solutions to view if you need hints.  As well, once you complete a level, you can see the solutions others have saved.  Pretty neat how 5 simple elements can be combined to create so many solutions.

Astute readers may notice that I’ve posted a Google Chrome screen capture.  This was actually taken running on Ubuntu using Wine.  Instructions came via LifeHacker, but be warned lots of things don’t work (like any https:// connections).  There is of course also CrossOver Chromium, but this is basically Wine linked to Chrome – so it suffers the same shortfalls.  I used Chrome here because for whatever reason, the flash engine included with the Wine setup is much faster than the one embedded in my Firefox (same machine).  I have more opinions on Chrome, but will save them for a future discussion.

Wikipedia

So the other day while I was posting about my experience setting up SlimRio I found myself referencing Wikipedia as I often do while blogging.  I’ve always felt that Wikipedia is a great resource, but I had never really bought into the culture or gotten overly excited about its existance and what it represents.  At IBM’s Impact 2008 conference one of the ‘keynote’ speakers was Jimmy (Jimbo) Wales, and one of my coworkers who was also there was very excited about being able to hear Jimbo talk about his part in helping create Wikipedia.  His talk was interesting, but it didn’t change my thinking about Wikipedia.

The event that did changed my thinking about Wikipedia, was my first attempt to edit and update a page.  I had noticed that the Rio Receiver page is tagged as an orphan – it only has 1 link and requires at least 3 incoming links to change this status.  After my edit to the SqueezeCenter page to add a reference about SlimRIO it now has 2 links.  I had assumed I’d need to register and all of that nonsense, but Wikipedia allow for completely anonymous edits so I was done in a matter of minutes.

We often forget the web is a scary place.  If you find it on the web news it must be true, like the recent United Airlines share plunge triggered by bad reporting.  Wikipedia does invest in preventing and reporting abuse, however the sense of responsibility when making an edit is still quite something.  Giving back to the community is one of the reasons I have this blog, Wikipedia is another outlet to do the same.  Where the two activities differ is in the scope.  A blog is effectively an indepedent news source, whereas Wikipedia is a community effort.

I think I finally “get it” about Wikipedia.  It has me thinking more about crowd sourcing and Amazon’s mechanical turk – I don’t think we’ve tapped the full potential of this idea yet.