Moving the blog again. This time to blog.infomofo.com.
this information will come in handy some day.
My Moleskine Notebook is one of my few Savage Indulgences*. Despite the fact that I have readily available at my desk my iPhone, my BlackBerry, notepad.exe, evernote.com, PowerPoint, and countless other technologically advanced offerings that could easily supplant my Moleskine, I still like to have this clunky oilskin notebook with my horribly unintelligible scrawl to refer to in meetings and to keep track of my progress on various ongoing projects. However, due to a poorly thought out partitioning scheme several months ago, my current Moleskine is going EOL, and I have to replace it. Naturally, savagery begets savagery, so I am being forced to leave the air conditioned confines of my office and I must venture into meatspace to do some shopping. However, that doesn’t mean I have to be completely unarmed for such a task…
I’m combinng my moleskine shopping with some other tasks. I need to buy some new pens and highlighters as well, and some sticky tabs for the moleskine. I’m also continuing my search for the Holy Grail of wallets (id window, space for bills, slim); a friend tipped me off to the Bosca Small ID Wallet which looks like it might be The One, and I notice that Saks Fifth carries Bosca. I’m planning to do this all in a half hour lunch break from work, so I’m also going to pick up lunch from one of my favorite food carts, Kwik Meal.
I start out with a tool that Esther just noted on Google Reader earlier today: Text 2 Mind Map. Basically I put my shopping list in a simple text format like this:
4x6 Scotch Pads
Barnes and Noble
Moleskine Reporter Notebook
Saks Fifth Avenue
Bosca Slim ID Wallet
Lamb and Chicken Rice
and I end up with this:
It’s pretty but it’s not quite what I’m looking for. I wonder if there were any google mashups that would do something like this, and lo-and-behold, it turns out this functionality is already built into google maps, in a fashion.
Some quick searches and tags later and I end up with this:
OK, ready to roll.
So it’s a beautiful day out in Manhattan, so it’s starting to look like this whole meatspace shopping might not be so bad after all BUT on my very first stop, I find that the Google Maps search for the Kinokuniya is outdated, and the space is now some kind of horrible tourist trap related to Rockefeller Plaza. While I could blame this on google not updating soon enough, I’m going to be fickle and use this as an example why meatspace shopping is vastly inferior to online shopping.
Internet 1, Meatspace 0.
My second stop (using the Dijkstra’s algorithm shortist path!) is Saks Fifth Avenue. I wait forever for the elevator to go to the 6th Floor, and I look at their selection of Bosca Wallets and I’m horribly disappointed to find that they don’t carry the one I’m looking for. The only id window wallet they have is a bulky brown monster, and isn’t what I’m looking for at all.
Internet 2, Meatspace 0.
I’m on my way to my third stop, Barnes and Noble when I run into a pleasant surprise. While I had been planning to buy my sticky labels at the Office Depot on 43rd Street, I ran into a Staples 2 blocks farther north, which cuts my trip down a little bit. This is an unintended benefit of meatspace, so I am grudgingly giving them a point (However, they almost lost the point for playing a horrible muzak cover of Heart’s Alone). I buy my sticky labels and some Pentel Flair Pens (not the cool japanese pens I was hoping to buy at Kinokuniya, but oh well).
Internet 2, Meatspace 1.
Barnes and Noble is next. While they sell Moleskines at MSRP which is such a ripoff, I still just buy it. Pretty quick.
Internet 2, Meatspace 2.
Any good venture into Meatspace should end with actual meat, and today is no exception. I stop at the aforementioned Kwik Meal, and the line is surprisingly short. It’s lamb and chicken marinated with papaya, coriander, and whatever unearthly spicy goodness that makes this the best cart in midtown during the day.
Internet 2, Meatspace 3.
All in all, it looks like Meatspace is about to win, when suddenly I round the corner on 5th avenue and am treated to Hello Kitty in a coconut bra:
AAAAUGH, MY EYES! It’s a children’s cartoon character dressed up as Maui Hooker! WHY? Meatspace forfeits all points and does not pass go!
Internet 2, Meatspace negative a billion.
My collection of Savage Indulgences includes but is not limited to: comic books, the non-digital SLR that I never use, the fact that I sometimes order from restaurants that aren’t on SeamlessWeb, my love of index cards.
After four days in Tokyo, on my last night here, it is difficult for me to summarize my opinions of Tokyo into one blog post. Tokyo is so many things at once, but I’ll try to break my reactions up, in the order that I experienced them.
Tokyo is terrifying
Landing in Narita Airport, I was exhausted after a 10 hour trip from Sydney (with a transfer in Hong Kong). A co-worker had already advised me which line to take (the Narita Express) which went directly to Ikebukuro, and I knew that my hotel was only one block away from the train station, so I thought I was pretty good. First of all, I didn’t realize how expensive the train in would be. Given that the New York Airport Shuttle runs 7 dollars, I was pretty shocked when I had to fork over 3300 yen for the ticket (about 30 USD). I also had not realized how long the train ride would be (about an hour and a half), and I realized during the long ride between the Tokyo and Ikebukuro terminals, that Tokyo is a much larger city than I had anticipated. Area-wise, it is so much larger than Manhattan, yet 5 or 6 of the major train stations are as packed (or more packed) than Times Square station.
Tokyo is not English-friendly
I quickly found that 50% of the written Japanese that I had been practicing in the workbook in the plane was pretty much useless to me… Most static signs use Kanji of course, rather than the hiragana phoenetic alphabet. Katakana was probably the most useful to know, and of the two kana-alphabets, the one I was the least familiar with after my 1 semester of Introductory Japanese in college. Though the train and subway stations are very good about having English signs, certain things like the fare-calculation maps above the subway ticket machines are in Kanji-only, so unless I had a secondary map with roomanji or hiragana on it, I would basically just take a stab in the dark. Even more difficult than the train stations were restaurants. When by myself, I found myself completely daunted at several places, where they didn’t have an English menu, a menu with pictures, or a single waiter that spoke any English, so I would basically scan the menu desperately for katakana phrases (like setto, keeki) or the very few kanji that i recognize from Chinese menus or my long-dusty mandarin classes; I basically tried to not order anything poisonous or sound like an idiot, and I probably ended up doing both. At one onigiri stand, when I realized that the “setto” that I had ordered required a choice of two different types of onigiri, I pointed at one of the onigiri in the case tentatively, and the girl looked at me, a little nervously, and in broken English said “uh… is… dangerous?”. I have no idea what she was talking about, but just in case I changed my order to the salmon (because I saw the girl rolling a salmon onigiri right at that moment), and an ume (because it was the only thing written in hiragana on the wall… and I hate ume). However, the food was all fantastic, and I was able to get more adventurous with food when I was with my friends who live here (I ate cow heart, raw cow’s liver, assorted beef cuts that my friends didn’t know the English word for, assorted raw fish that my friends didn’t know the English word for,
Tokyo is confusing
Even after 4 days, having mastered the JR lines, the privately-run Toyoko line, and the much-feared chikatetsu, I still don’t understand basic street addresses here. At several times I asked my friends what the names of certain streets were, and they told me that the streets didn’t have names. In fact, all of the maps I see of Tokyo never have street names on them, and the addresses given are some weird combination of numbers and district names. I’ll have to figure this out on another trip, but I’m still totally baffled by the addressing system here. It’s even worse than Florence (which has separate blue and red numbering counters for addresses (which increment independently of each other)).
Tokyo is hectic
Several different areas I went to (Akihabara, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku) had denser foot traffic than Times Square, and not the leisurely, ambling, photography happy tourists you see there, but rather crowds of business men, stylish women, funky-dressed girls, punky-dressed boys, all focused and walking with a purpose to some destination (well OK, in harajuku they just stand around, but that’s it’s own thing).
Tokyo is the fucking bomb
The people in Tokyo are just the coolest population you could imagine for a city of its size. Despite the aforementioned bedlam and Babel, the city is incredibly clean and the people are unerringly polite. At one juncture I was completely lost, and I asked a woman sitting down on a street bench how to get to Ebisu station. Though she spoke no English, she said something which I can only assume meant she was going in that direction, led me through a maze of streets, and then pointed me in a direction and said “go straight” in the best English she could muster. The food, though it may take some embarassing re-orders to get right, is just unbelievably good. The people here embrace technological innovation; you can see people of all ages using the public transportation, using the integrated features of their mobile phones, and the mass adoption of such technologies clearly spurs companies to innovate further.
There are so many small everyday things that strike you as incredibly efficient, and I don’t know if it’s just my tourist goggles, but I can’t help how notice how certain operations in Tokyo are streamlined through the use of technology, standardization, and just common sense, to really improve on small annoyances. The first thing I noticed is that on a reserved train, the conductor does not come by and punch every ticket. He has a computer that tells him which seats are bought, and then he only asks for tickets of people sitting in seats marked as unoccupied on his display. Though it’s not a technological thing, it also strikes me after being in both Australia and Tokyo, is that tipping is just an incredibly stupid custom. OK, I’m rambling now, but there is a lot to like about how things are done in Tokyo; there are so many things they do right here, that really make you think hard about some of the unnecessary bureaucracy we put up with every day.
All in all, I was completely blown away by Tokyo, and I will be coming back the first chance I get.
1. Meditations on Babel
Look at units of measurement. I’m pretty sure that every kid in the civilized world, when they first learn of the differing units of weight, measurements of length, and degree scales for temperature, thinks to themselves at some point… what the fuck? Every seven year old that struggles remembering how many inches equal how many centimeters (and that it’s actually centimeters, you damn Yank), must think to themselves, what purpose do these competing systems offer?
Look at driving. Someone, somewhere, at some time invented automobiles and motorcycles, and through word-of-mouth, demonstration, and those nifty Mitsubishi ads with über-cool music, convinced the civilized world that they were a pretty neat thing to have. Now… how, in the spreading of this idea from person-to-person, did some people decide that it was a good idea to drive on the left side rather than the right or vice versa? If it wasn’t for my local friends and relatives, I would have been turned into roadkill 10 times over now, with my 26 years of experience looking left before crossing a street.
Look at spelling. This topic is too exhausting to cover right now, but the American version of spelling “check” just makes more sense. Right now, Australians spell the bill at a restaurant “cheque”, and then the v-shaped mark that you put in a box “check”. However, when signaling for the “cheque”, they make a “check” in the air towards their waters. Unless this is some sort of hilarious visual pun, then their system is just inconsistent, and silly.
And you don’t even want to know how many power adapters I’m lugging around in my suitcase.
Maybe it’s because I just read Snow Crash or because I’m doing my “Australasian tour” at the same time as everyone else I know, but I can’t help but notice that most of the differences dividing Americans and our pseudo-English speaking brethren here are basically standards issues. So many of these ideas are tied into our concepts of nationalism, and serve as a large part of our cultural pride; I know that a lot of the American spelling differences were a conscious effort on the part of American revolutionaries to rebel from their tea-sipping bastard parents. Is there any hope for a unified system of standards, such that a global coalition could eventually be formed, which will eventually join the United Federation of Planets in the distant future? For the sake of the possibility of First Contact and the Prime Directive, I beg that all people of the world unite behind a common standard! Naturally, we should just use the American systems, as they’re pretty much a global standard, right? While were at it… It’s pronounced “soccer”.
2. The Prophet of Coolness
The great thing about being an American tourist, is that you can be the most out-of-touch loser in the United States, and still be more ahead of cultural trends than every single person you meet. Though not one of these Wallaby-eating Aussies (dat’s pronounced “ozzies”) has heard of “Death Cab for Cutie”, I can tell them with total certainty that they will be huge here in about two months, and they nod eagerly, as if I have shared with them some secret gem of cultural importance; they look around nervously, as I have surely violated the space-time continuum by delivering this gooey nugget, stolen from their future airwaves. Despite never having watched a single episode of last season’s American Idol, I know who won; this information is apparently toxic to the local television viewers here, who constantly beg and barter with me not to reveal this classified information (Note to self: make a t-shirt). In an age of the blogs, Wikipedia, and BitTorrent (for the non-savages out there), it seems that the people here live in constant fear of having their cultural future revealed to them, and only remain ignorant through extreme diligence. At the same time though, they sit enrapt as I regale them with tales of the modern United States, and, by inference, their own dark and unavoidable path. I guess it’s no difference from Californians waiting 3 hours to find out who their Next Top Model or American Idol, or Survivor, or Apprentice is… but I guess I’ve never understood them either.
On a separate note, I also have haunted-looking girls ask me pleadingly to explain what a “Hollaback girl” is. Unable to abate their confusion, I look away, as if I have not heard their question…
Here’s a funny thing I just noticed. One of the Register articles today was posted with the enticing headline “Anonymizer looks for chinks in the Great Firewall of China“. Funny right? Even funnier is if you follow the link through, you will see that the Register has prudently changed the name from “chinks” to “gaps”. Who knows how long the google search page will be live, but I’ve screenshotted it for truth:
Get it? Chinks? China? That British wit gets me every time.
overpriced crap and the fact that it sometimes seems to be helmed by an irrational hegemon who dresses like a flood victim, but I dollaz speak louder than blogposts, and I recently purchased the Intel Duo Core Mac Mini. As I’ve used the little device for about a week now, I figured it was time for the inevitable review (and plus, I’ve been pretty light on the blog content this week, so what the hell).
While my 12″ Powerbook is only about a year and a half old, my headless linux server was pushing 6 years (which is like a hundred in computer years), and after my last move, I think I jostled it to the point that I couldn’t rely on it for basic operations like serving web pages, acting as an ftp server, etcetera. I’d been planning to replace it since November or so, but I put on the brakes expecting Jobs to announce an update to the line shortly. When he announced the new Mac Minis, I was pretty happy with the announced specs, save for the crappy graphics card; and as I was primarily planning to use this for non-graphics intensive operations, I went ahead and ordered the diminutive box within the first hour of its announcement. It arrived much faster than I expected; not only did it ship the same day that I ordered it, but it was delivered in 2 days despite the fact that I selected 5 day shipping. I’ve heard that this is a common experience among people who order in-stock products the same day they are announced.
First off, I found the Rosetta performance to be acceptable. Even before I installed the 1GB of RAM I ordered separately, I found the performance of most apps to be responsive if run by themselves. Non-Universal binary applications like Photoshop were not noticeably slow, and were certainly usable even with the translation hit.
My main criticisms of the system as a whole are:
All in all though, the Mac Mini has restored my faith in Steve Jobs’ ability to pour our Kool-Aid. Drink up, Mac whores!
The minds at Penny-Arcade have a new comic dealing with their newfound feelings at having switched to the flamboyant Apple lifestyle. While they joke about the dangerous path they have set down, I saw the announcement that the two authors of the comic were switching to Macs from PCs to be groundbreaking, and a signal of a big victory for Apple in general.
Here’s some background. Penny-Arcade is the most widely read webcomic around, and they primarily deal with the topic of video games. They have a rabidly fanatical fanbase, and are treated by video game manufacturers as journalists; they have access to sneak previews of new games and consoles, they have been commissioned to make supplementary material for big video games such as Rainbow 6 and World of Warcraft. In addition to this, they have traditionally had a strict anti-Mac attitude; a character in their strip Charles, is typically ridiculed for his love of the Mac platform in general. This has made sense, as they are gamers, and there are… exactly one game (s) available for the Mac that are worth a crap. So I was pretty surprised when they announced over a month ago that they were both looking into buying Apple machines, spurred by the switch to the Intel processors. Though as a Mac fanatic, I am pretty happy about this, it had me a little confused. The switch to the Intel platform has very little impact on the immediate availability of games for the Mac. In fact, due to Rosetta issues, there are reports that some games that worked on old Macs will not work or will run slower on the faster powered Intel Macs.
So… These people were unconvinced by Apple’s switch to BSD, they were unconvinced by Ellen Feiss, and they were unconvinced by Tiger. Why switch now, when nothing has changed from their perspective? How could two users so defiantly anti-switch be swayed by a change of architecture, and the announcement of minor improvements to the basic hardware that they offered before? I have a theory, natch.
I give Eater a lot of slack, because they’re part of the Gawker network which makes a living saying ridiculous things, and because they’re mostly spot-on. However, their recent re-review of Per Se had me scratching my head. Did we eat at the same restaurant? I’m not going to go into their claims of “memorability” or “quality”, because those are subjective things. Personally, I’ve been their twice and found the food to be phenomenal, and I certainly won’t forget either of my dining experiences there any time soon. However, when reading that this man’s colleague, a 90 pound size-zero was still hungry after eating there… I was flabergastified and confustibobulated. It is with a heavy heart that I call shenanigans; and disingenuous shenanigans, the worst kind. Unless that restaurant has changed completely in the past 8 months, there is no way that anyone leaves that place hungry.
My first meal there was a seven course meal, with several courses not even counting toward the total, such as extraneous bread and dessert courses at the end (I believe there were three dessert courses actually, but I may have lost count). This meal took about four hours to complete, and we had so much food that we had to take our last two dessert courses home in boxes, along with a free complement of cookies, chocolates, and Thomas Keller’s signature Macaroons. My second time there, Keller was actually in the restaurant at the time, and our waiter gave us the option of having the “Extended Menu”, which all parties involved that night now refer to colloquially as “The Meal of Death”. This is because there was so much food on the table, in our stomachs, and probably scattered on the floor by our chairs that we actually wanted to die. The waiters seemed to take a cruel delight in serving us our gastronomic demise; toward the end we were no longer eating out of hunger or even enticement, but rather that we were too embarassed to consider sending an unbelievable foie gras terrine or a lobster tail over orzo back to the kitchen unfinished. Toward the end of the night we wondered if Keller himself was preparing us, in a Twilight-Zonesque twist, for our own slaughter, after which he could feed our own fat livers to the next customer; I expected him to come out of the kitchen and force food down our beaks with exquisitely crafted, pearl-handled chopsticks.
I cannot conceive of any person, be they female, 90 pound, hypoglycemic, tape-worm infested, or of any other constitution, that could leave that place hungry. Unless of course, they were picky and didn’t eat the food in front of them… in which case I contend that the moniker of “Eater” is extremely disingenuous, no?