29 April 2007

So three firsts came up today.

#1: I ran over a pigeon on my bike

I spent most of today on a long bike ride out along the Tamagawa river. There are various rec paths on both sides of the Tamagawa. At one point, there were a whole flock of pigeons on the path. When I'm riding and I encounter a pigeon in the road, because it's so hard to predict which way the pigeon will move, I generally stay moving towards the pigeon -- that way, whichever way it moves, it'll be out of the way.

Except this pigeon never moved! It just stood there in the road, even as all the other pigeons took off. It stood there so long that... I ran it over. I don't think I actually hit the bird itself, just it's feathers, because when I looked back there were feathers everywhere but the pigeon was flying. Still, I was amazed -- I've never seen a pigeon not get out of the way, whether it's a car or bike that's coming. That was an amazingly lazy Japanese pigeon.

#2: I saw a falconer in real life

I've heard of falconing as a hobby of course, but I had never before actually seen a falconer live. Along the other side of the Tamagawa, when I was headed back home, I saw a Japanese man training his falcon. He would hold the bird and feed it, then walk about twenty feet away and gesture the falcon to his glove. When it came, he'd give it another small piece of meat.

The falcon was beautiful. I don't know enough about falcons to know what species it was, but it was fairly large, maybe 20 inches from top of head to tip of tailfeathers, and had dark feathers with a golden hue; it was a stunningly beautiful and graceful bird.

Of course, when he was away from the bird, it was totally free. It's amazing that it didn't just fly off.

#3: I encountered my first (petty) crime in Japan

A few weeks ago I bought a rear splash guard for my bike. Rainy season is coming, and I know I'll need it by then. It installs without tools, but I just hadn't gotten around to attaching it to the bike.

This morning I thought I'd attach it, so I took it down with me. When I test-fitted it, it turned out to block the view of my tail light. That's no good, but I realized I could probably fix it if I rearranged the position of the tail light. So, I put the splash guard on the rack where I usually lock my bike, I figured I would finish installing it when I got back.

When I got back, the splash guard was gone. Now, in the U.S., I wouldn't even think of that as stealing -- I left something unlabelled, not attached to my bike, and in a public area. But in Japan, that's full-on theft; people here just don't steal stuff left around. As an example, Friday night on the way to a nomikai (drinking party) we saw a cellphone lying on the ground. After talking about what to do for a minute, we left it where it was -- that way, if the owner remembered where they dropped it, they could come back and find it. That's how Japan usually is, so when my splash guard was gone, while I'm not heartbroken or anything, I was pretty surprised.

22 April 2007

Sigh, I remember when the Mac had *better* internationalization than Windows...

I've now been using both the Mac OS X and Windows input managers daily for months, and I've come to the reluctant conclusion that Windows now has a better Japanese input manager (for those of you who don't do the languages thing... "input manager" is the piece of software for Asian languages that allows you to type in multiple keystrokes to create a single character from the tens of thousands available).

The Mac still has an edge in terms of copy/pasting text, but falls down when some Kanji (notably the one for "ku" or "Ward", as in "Meguro-ku / 目黒区" often turns into an empty square symbol, even when other Japanese characters don't).

But the bigger differences are that the Mac OS X input manager is missing a couple convenience features that Windows has.

The most important by far is that Windows assumes a string of characters starting with a capital is an English phrase. So, when you're mixing a short English phrase in the middle of a long Japanese sentence, you just begin your phrase with a capital and you're done. On the Mac, you have to explicitly leave Japanese entry mode and return to English entry mode, which takes some extra keystrokes but even more than that, requires a mental shift (you have to always be aware which input manager mode you're on, on both OSes).

The other annoyance is that on the Mac, you can't exit Japanese mode mid-conversion. That is, if you've typed a few characters but haven't hit space to convert yet, the cmd-space sequence that normally changes input manager modes doesn't work. So if you mistakenly types a few characters, you have to backspace over them or hit escape, then hit cmd-space, type your English characters, and hit cmd-space again. Windows will let you exit from Japanese input mode at any time.

Mac OS always did much better at this in the past; it feels like another example of Microsoft patiently copying the good features over time.

P.S. However, yes, overall, I still prefer the Mac OS X user experience. ;-)

17 April 2007

Google Calendar keeps getting better... now, about resources....

Google Calendar keeps getting better and better. I'm slowly converting the project management staff here over to using it, because of it's universal accessibility and sharing features. The latest awesome addition is daily weather icons -- totally great when you're planning weekend events!

Now if they would only make resource scheduling (i.e., conference rooms) work decently, the world would actually have a viable alternative to the groupware calendar in Outlook. The current way of scheduling conference rooms or other resources is a half-supported hack...

16 April 2007

Just better in Japan, Vol. 1

I've been meaning to post for awhile about some of the things that just plain work better here. Here's #1!

On the inside of the cupboard door under the sink in Japanese kitchens, there's a knife rack. Now, it only holds 4 or 5 knives, depending on the rack, so maybe you'll have another knife rack somewhere as well, but it's just incredibly useful. The knives are very safe; because they're hanging, you can even put them away slightly damp and they'll dry; they're out of the way, and yet they're extremely convienent.

While there are plenty of aspects of Japanese life that are incredibly inefficient, there are also a fair number of things like the knife block that are just unmitigated wins! Hopefully if I keep writing about them people in the rest of the world will pick up on some of them ;-).

15 April 2007

Tokyo is awesome

Last night after the Kurosawa festival we went to a neighborhood called shimokitazawa that was really interesting. It's a center for performing arts, with a lots of venues and low-cost theatres. When people are in college, their friends who perform are always over in shimokitazawa so it was a very college-student feel.

But the truly cool thing is that shimokitazawa has a Short Film Theater.

It's called Tollywood (in katakana) and they show nothing but short film programs (this is almost as exciting as the left-handed guitar store). The run arious different programs of short films all the time, many of them animated, and they've managed to keep the doors open for quite a while. Starting next month, they have a series of short film programs from various animation schools around the world (Goebbelins, Supinfocom, etc.) which I'm totally looking forward to.

Their URL is http://homepage1.nifty.com/tollywood.

11 April 2007

ACM Member Grades -- a good idea?

I'm not sure if these new ACM Member Grades are a good idea or not, but I decided to apply for the first one anyway. I need three endorsements, if anybody who's ever worked with me has a minute to spare head to this URL and if you fill out the form I may become a "Senior Member"!

09 April 2007

It's a Whole New World of Consumer Electronics

I just bought a new TV to help complete my integration into Japanese society... and so that I'll have something to play Wii games on :-). It's a 32" Sony Bravia LCD, and there were two things about it that were different from all other TVs I've ever bought.

1. It has an Ethernet port. I'm not really sure quite what that's for yet. It also has two HDMI ports, two D4 ports, and a D15 port for a computer hookup.

2. The instruction manual (otherwise completely in Japanese) comes with a copy of the GNU General Public License. According to Wikipedia, it runs embedded Linux with various GNU libraries, necessitating the license.

06 April 2007

"k*ik*n" or, In Japan, single-letter errors are fatal

I've been observing for awhile that Japanese is far more sensitive to single-letter mistakes than English. In English, while there are some words that are only a single letter apart (e.g., ball, bell, bill, bull), usually there's quite a distance between words. If you try to change the third letter in 'ball,' 24 out of the 25 possible changes are gibberish; only "bail" is a real word.

In Japanese it's quite the opposite, and because of some recent vocabulary I learned I came across a great example: k[ae]ik[ae]n. That is, take two-syllable words in Japanese where both syllables begin with k, one syllable ends with i and the other with n, and the vowel in the middle can be a or e. There are four such possible words, and it turns out all four are real words:

会見かいけんkaikeninterview, audience (as in "audience with")
快感かいかんkaikanpleasant feeling *

* In fact, かいかん has another full homonym, 会館, meaning "meeting hall"

And it keeps going. If you reverse the syllables and go for k*nk*i, there are four other possible words, all of which are also real words in the language:

県警けんけいkenkeiprefectural police
見解けんかいkenkaiopinion, point of view

This definitely starts to show why the Japanese are so fond of wordplay and puns; the language is just full of opportunities to use single-letter errors for humor! But man it's tricky when you're learning.

01 April 2007

Wow! Sakura

(not an April Fool's ;-)

Wow, this weekend was Sakura (Cherry Blossom) time in Tokyo. It was unbelievable -- I had heard Sakura was beautiful, but I really wasn't ready for *how* beautiful. I took a *lot* of photos this weekend, now mostly online at my Picasa site, but here's a sample!