And shabu-shabu for dinner

This evening, I visited a IBM friend who’s here on assignment. His office is at IBM Asia Pacific HQ, very near the Roppongi-Itchome subway station. After a brief stop there, we walked over to Shabuzen for dinner. Sha-buzen in Boston advertises itself as “inexpensive, healthy, delicious, and fun”; Shabuzen in Roppogni hits three out of those four adjectives.

The food was delicious, especially the Kobe beef, which we had as part of our second order. It was absolutely wonderful, and made the premium domestic beef (the next-to-the-top option) seem like McDonald’s in comparison — and I’d thought the premium domestic beef was awfully good when I first tasted it.

And it was probably healthy — at least we cooked up (and ate) many vegetables. And it was certainly fun.

But inexpensive? No. The base meal would have been &165;4800 each, but when you add a couple of beers at &165;500, and the extra orders…well, let’s just say I’ve never dined in five figures before (even if in yen). On the other hand, the all-you-can-eat Kobe beef dinner was over &165;15,000 per person, so I guess what we had was comparatively inexpensive.

I’d go back cheerfully.

Breakfast at Starbucks

This morning, I overslept a bit (so I guess I’m mostly over any residual jet lag, though I haven’t suffered from it very much on any trip since I started following the melatonin regimen Jane Brody wrote about in the New York Times), but still got downstairs in time to go out to breakfast at 7am, enjoying the glorious early spring weather (the rain vanished overnight).

Our plan was to go back to Jonathan’s for breakfast — they have a set breakfast including broiled salmon and rice for about (&165;600), which is a pretty good deal, especially when compared to the &165;2800 breakfast buffet at the hotel. But when we approached the shop, there was a sign on the door (in Japanese, of course) — all I could read on it was numbers: “03/31/2004” and “00:00-09:00”. I had a bad feeling about the sign, but the door was open, so we went in. And quickly discovered that my bad feeling was right, because all of the chairs and tables were stacked at the edges of the room; I guess they were doing periodic maintenance.

So we headed onward. We tried a couple of coffee shops, but couldn’t communicate well enough to figure out whether they’d have anything I’d eat. Finally, we decided to check out the nearby Starbucks, where I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had balsamic chicken sandwiches available. So that’s what I had for breakfast — coffee and chicken at Starbucks. And then a scone for dessert. And then some delicious fruit from the am-pm market on the ground floor of the IBM Hakozaki building. Total expense, about &165;1000, and it was healthier than what I would have had at the hotel (well, maybe the scone wasn’t the healthiest choice I could have made, but I did pick the blueberry scone instead of the chocolate chunk variety).

Now I’m in the meeting room for the rest of the day (unless there’s enough time for an escape during lunch or breaks). Oh, well…that is why I’m here, after all.

A rainy night in Tokyo

The weather yesterday was gorgeous. Perfect for a day of sightseeing and recovering from jetlag.

Today, on the other hand, dawned cloudy, and the clouds thickened all day. Perfect for a day of meetings in a hot conference room.
Or at least perfect for making me less unhappy to be stuck in a hot conference room. I did manage two quick forays outside during break, but it wasn’t enough.

One of the customs at the TC meeting is to have a group dinner at an interesting restaurant on the first night of the meeting (everyone is on their own for the second night). The host usually picks a cuisine and a restaurant which reflects the locale; tonight, we had dinner in the Chanko Nabe style at Chanko Kirishima, about 2km away from the hotel.

Chanko Nabe is a stew, and it’s cooked communally for everyone at the table. This posed a bit of a problem for our group, because one of our members is allergic to garlic, and I can’t eat pork or shellfish. So they put the two of us together, and one other TC member joined us — it was nearly two, but the restaurant had only planned for three special meals when they set up the portions.

Unfortunately, there was a communications gap between our host and the restaurant (he said that the people at the restaurant mostly spoke very minimal Japanese!). So the appetizers at our table included crab — but that was no real problem, since it was on a distinct plate, and I just didn’t eat it (and my tablemates were delighted to have more).

But when it came time for the stew, the miscommunication got more serious — the surface looked good, but there was bacon hiding beneath. Luckily, we found it before they started cooking, and so they made up a new batch, without bacon.

The food was really good — and there was way too much for us to eat! So we didn’t finish the stew — we did leave room for dessert, though.

I had hoped to walk to the restaurant, but it started to pour just before my meeting ended. The rain was so bad, in fact, that all of us (including me) decided to take taxis back to the hotel rather than swim the five blocks. And we taxied to the hotel, too.

But after returning to the hotel (again, by taxi), a few of us still wanted to walk. So we got umbrellas and headed out. It felt good — until I noticed that my pants were soaked, and I managed to walk into a puddle. Fortunately, that was on the way back to the hotel, so I wasn’t wet long — and now my clothes are drying in the tub and I’m sitting in a fresh yukata. Not too bad a way to spend a rainy night, really.

Live from Kamakura

I’m in Japan this week, attending the IBM Academy of Technology’s Technology Council meeting. The meeting starts Tuesday morning at 8:30am Japan time; most of the US-based members of the TC arrived on Sunday to be sure we’d get here on time in the event of any travel problems, and to allow a bit of adaptation to Japan time.

Bootcamp Day 70 — XM Cafe

XM Cafe is another one of the stations which I’ve been meaning to listen to but hadn’t gotten around to trying before Bootcamp forced the issue.

I’ve been busy enough today that I can’t say I’ve really listened, but I’ve had the channel on as background, and I’ve enjoyed it, so I’ll stop by again.

But not for a while — I’ll be away from XM all next week, in fact.

Bootcamp Day 69 — Chrome

When I told Diane that today’s Bootcamp channel was Chrome, she thought that it was going to be music from the golden age of chrome and fins, the 50s. Of course, that’s not the case — and anyway, Bootcamp’s already visited the 50s.

No, today’s Bootcamp stop takes us to the age of chrome without fins, the disco era.

I missed the disco era and haven’t felt any strong need to remedy that situation (I have yet to see Saturday Night Fever, though I think we saw Flashdance a long time ago). But duty called, and I turned on Chrome when I got to work. I recognized quite a few of the songs, and found that almost all of them set my toes to tapping — it was much better listening than I’d expected.

I don’t think I’ll spend a lot of time listening here, but I could see coming back when I want a dose of energy.

Bootcamp Day 68 — Fine Tuning

I’ve been in the Almaden Institute all day, away from XM (but as a consolation, most of the day was devoted to listening to good and interesting speakers or interacting with good and intelligent people — that, or killing brain cells with wine), so I’ve had very limited time to listen to Fine Tuning today.

But I have been able to spend some time on the channel, and I’ve listened to it quite a lot since getting XM, so I’ll go ahead and blog it today anyway.

Fine Tuning claims to play “the world’s most interesting music”, and that’s pretty accurate. There’ll be classical, jazz, folk, and rock, all within the space of 30 minutes, and they’ll all fit together very nicely. It reminds me of the kind of shows that the most talented programmers put together on WRPI (hi, Jamie!) back when I was in college — I aspired to create this kind of blend, but rarely was as successful.

It’s definitely a channel I’ll return to frequently!

Google continues to amaze me

I have to wear an ID/access badge at work; I find it easier to wear it on a neck strap than to clip it to my shirt. Neck straps often have an imprinted message, so I can make a statement by choosing an appropriate neck strap.

I used to wear one I got at the National Cryptologic Museum (it said “National Security Agency”), but I worried that it was bugged and stopped wearing it.

IBM, of course, gives out neck straps. Some are pretty innocuous; some push various corporate messages; and some commemorate events or organizations. So I have one which says “IBM Academy of Technology” and another one which says “CTRE“.

But the one I wear most often came from a visit to the IBM Haifa Lab. I’m wearing it today, in fact, while sitting in the auditorium during the Almaden Institute.

Someone sitting behind me asked what my neck strap said, and I answered with what I remembered it saying (IBM Research and Development in Israel). But she knew enough Hebrew to be more curious, and so we tried to actually figure it out. The last part was easy (“shel IBM b’yisrael” is “of IBM in Israel”). And after a bit of hunting around, I found My Hebrew Dictionary, which let me verify “research” and “development”. But that left the first word, laboratory: And then a light went on, and I decided to Google for the answer. I used the “character map” tool to type the word into the Google search bar, which got me a page of results. A quick scan of the results made it obvious: laboratory: really means “Laboratory of Research and Development of IBM in Israel”.

It would have been easier to find a Hebrew-speaker, of course (there are several in the room), but Google was more fun.

Bootcamp Day 67 — XM Classics

XM Classics is one of the three channels we usually listen to at home (the others being XM Pops and The Village), so I knew today’s Bootcamp visit would be a good experience. And it has been.

My only real complaint with XM Classics is really a complaint with the display on the receiver — 16 characters of artist and 16 of title is not enough room for the information I want about a piece of classical music (artist, composer, work, movement, conductor, and so forth). It’s often not enough for other music, either, but it’s really limiting when it comes to classical.

This problem isn’t limited to XM; I’ve been importing my CD collection into iTunes, and I’ve found that the information in Gracenote CDDB for classical discs is often messed up, with the composer listed as the artist (probably the most common problem) or other errors — on the other hand, popular music albums are almost always right. I did fix some of the albums when I noticed the problem before doing the import, but there are still plenty which are wrong.

Bootcamp Day 66 — Radio Classics

As I tuned into Radio Classics, I was greeted by “a fiery horse with the speed
of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-ho, Silver!'”

It was The Lone Ranger — and I probably would have enjoyed listening, if I hadn’t had to concentrate on work.

This channel, like Sonic Theatre, would be a great companion on a long trip, but it’s not very good in the office.

Bootcamp Day 64 — Sunny

During my high school years in Richmond, there was only one FM station worth listening to, WFMV/103.7. It played classical music almost all of the time, which was good, but once a week, it went off-format and featured Richmond’s first progressive music show, “Veronica Lake“. But one evil day, the station was sold to “Functional Broadcasting”, who wanted to change the format to “beautiful music”. There was a listener revolt, and the company agreed to maintain the classical format for a while, until WRFK/106.5 (the radio station of the Union Theological Seminary) could go on the air full-time and pick up the classical collection and format.

Sadly, however, Veronica Lake didn’t move to WRFK; in fact, it was almost the first thing to vanish from WEZS (the new call-letters). Fortunately, though, WGOE/1590 had also started to play progressive music (and many other interesting things), and that’s where most of my listening time went (daytimes, anyway; WGOE was a daytime-only station).

WEZS did go all-beautiful-music, of course, joining the majority of the stations on Richmond’s FM dial in that format. For a while, anyway — eventually, FM stations realized that they could make money with more diverse programming, though that diversity seems to have vanished with the onslaught of the megacompanies like Clear Channel.

These days, there aren’t many FM stations which play “beautiful music”, so Sunny probably fills a need. For somebody, anyway. But not for anyone living in our house — one hour was more than enough. It’s back to The Village for us!

Bootcamp Day 63 — XM Kids

Listening to XM Kids brought me back a few years, back to the time when Jeff was still Jeffrey and video meant tapes, not DVDs or TiVo.

I thought I’d feel silly playing kids’ music in my office, but I kept the volume down, and I think I got away with it this time. So far, anyway.

I didn’t particularly like the morning zoo show (but I don’t like that format on regular radio, either), and I was surprised when I heard rap music (and I liked it just about as little as my other exposures to more…um…adult rap), but most of what I heard during the day was OK and much of it was awfully familiar.

I especially enjoyed “Sesame Sounds”, though I would have been even happier if they’d played my favorite Sesame Street tune, Put Down the Ducky.

I don’t think I’ll spend much time on XM Kids, but I might stop by again during Sesame Sounds! It was sure better than Radio Disney — and I didn’t hear any Hilary Duff!

Bootcamp Day 62 — The Village

I’m sure I heard folk music while I was growing up in Richmond, but it wasn’t something I listened to often or voluntarily. That changed in college — WRPI played a lot of folk music. I fondly remember “Mostly Folk”, every Sunday night (I’m amazed to see that it’s still on the Sunday night schedule, more than 25 years later), but there was plenty of folk and folk-rock to be heard throughout the week (groups like Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, and Pentangle come to mind).

Later, I fell in with a group of science fiction fans based at Albany State who introduced me to the joys of live music at Caffè Lena, in Saratoga Springs. I remember enjoying The Boys of the Lough, U. Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels, The Balfa Brothers, and many more; I also liked the food at Lena’s (that means desserts!), but the music was the real attraction. Diane and I had one of our first dates at Lena’s, which is another reason I remember it so fondly!

So I was eager to visit The Village during Bootcamp, and I was not disappointed. Of course, this wasn’t much of a surprise — The Village has been one of my presets the whole time I’ve had XM. But I hadn’t listened for a sustained period before today — I’d tune in, listen for a while, and then move on.

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, The Village played a lot of Celtic music all day, which pleased me a lot. But everything I heard today has been great — my only real complaint is the lack of specific artist/title information on the display during the live shows and the Midnight Special replay.

Needless to say, I’ll be back.

Bootcamp Day 61 — Beyond Jazz

I’ve got mixed feelings about Beyond Jazz. I like a lot of what they play, but when they play something I don’t like, I really don’t like it. As I type this, they’re playing “Cooldown” by DJ Smash, which is the worst thing I’ve heard all day — sufficiently irritating to send me off to another channel.

And they make it easy to go elsewhere — I have heard the DJ a couple of times, but he’s always been talking about what’s on other channels, or what Beyond Jazz will be playing later in the week, not what they’d just played or what would be on next.

The variability is a bit more than I expected, but I’m sure I’ll be back.

Bootcamp Day 60 — Cinemagic

Before I talk about Cinemagic, let me urge you to scroll down and read about what it’s like to fly in space.

OK, welcome back. In some ways, today’s talk at Almaden was appropriate for today’s Bootcamp experience, since most of the music I heard came from science fiction or fantasy movies (“Return of the King”, various “Star Wars” movies, “The Thing”, “Aliens”, and “Escape from New York”, to name but a few).

I was struck by how similar the music was — sure, if I listened, I could usually tell that there’d been a change of movie, but it took pretty careful attention. It did help when they played bits of the dialog between musical excerpts, too.

There was some music from movies in other genres during the day, and even a couple of vocal pieces, but most of the music was what I have to call “pretentious orchestral”.

I enjoyed the day, but there was a lot of repetition, and spending most of the day here was too much. To coin a phrase, “I’ll be back” (yes, I heard plenty of “Terminator”, too), but for briefer visits.

Not the usual guest speaker

When I was in elementary school, one of my teachers gave me a very special treat. When the Virginia Education Association had its annual convention in Richmond, all the teachers at my school went to the meeting and the students got the day off. I don’t know what went on during the day, but they had special guest speakers during the evening — during the year in question, the guest speaker was Werner von Braun. My teacher knew that I was a space buff, and she invited me to come along and hear Dr. von Braun. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember being thrilled to have been able to hear him.

Today was also a very special treat. Bruce Melnick, Boeing’s VP for Florida Operations, gave a colloquium at the Almaden Research Auditorium, titled “What it’s like to fly in space”. Before joining Boeing, Melnick was an astronaut, and flew two Shuttle missions, STS-41 and STS-49. He shared some photos he’d taken on the messions (mostly STS-49), and just talked with us about what it’s like to fly in space.

Most of the time, when I go to a presentation at IBM, there’s a constant background noise — the pitter-patter of little fingers on Thinkpad keyboards. Not today. He held the audience’s attention, well past the time we were supposed to break. I wish I’d taken notes — but I was too wrapped up in the pictures and the talk.

It was one of the best hours I’ve ever spent at IBM.

Bootcamp Day 58 — The Fish

I listened for a very short time and was struck by two things:

1) The style of music doesn’t appeal to me

2) The message, which doesn’t interest me, is extremely strong

This combination of ingredients sent me on my way very quickly, with no desire to return.

Bootcamp Day 57 — X Country

I tuned into X Country late Thursday night, about 9:10pm Pacific time. After listening for a few minutes, I expected to have about the same opinion of it as I had had of The Groove on Wednesday — blah. But I wanted to give it a fair shot, so I kept listening, and the more I listened, the more I enjoyed it. There were some songs I didn’t like at all, but they were more than balanced by the ones I liked, and I was also surprised to recognize a few songs.

Then Rogue Calls ended, and Cross Kin X began, and I really started to enjoy the music. I wouldn’t have expected to hear Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind” on a country channel, but there it was. And it was surrounded by other, less familiar, tunes, most of which I liked.

The channel page leads me to believe that the music varies a lot from hour to hour here, unlike some channels, so other hours might have left me with a very different impression, but I enjoyed what I heard and will happily stop by again.

Bootcamp Day 56 — The Groove

The Groove plays “R&B” headliners from the 70s, 80s and beyond — which is later than the period I listened to R&B music to any extent. So nothing I heard was particularly familiar. And nothing I heard did much for me. But on the other hand, nothing I heard offended me, either.

I doubt I’ll be back.

Bootcamp Day 55 — Fred

When I looked at the Fred page, I didn’t have high hopes for my visit there. But when I tuned in late on Tuesday, I caught the “One Revolution” show, with music from 1982, and I really enjoyed it. I even recognized several of the songs, much to my surprise.

I don’t know if the 90 minutes of programming I listened to is typical or not, but I’m willing to come back and find out!

Bootcamp Day 54 — Sonic Theater

Sonic Theater is a very different channel. It’s not an easy channel to visit briefly, because most of its programs are part of continuing series (some of which, like ZBS’ “Fourth Tower of Inverness”) have been around for decades, and so a one-day listen didn’t let me get into the programming to any serious degree.

I would probably enjoy this channel a lot if I had the time to tune into it on a regular basis and listen to one or more of the particular series every day.

Bootcamp Day 52 — VH-1 Radio

I don’t watch VH-1 on TV, so I didn’t have any particular interest in today’s visit to VH-1 radio. But I’m determined to try every channel, at least briefly, so I tuned in when I got to the office.

And I was mostly pleasantly surprised. When I tuned in, they were running a Melissa Etheridge episode of “Storytellers“; the music was good, and the commentary was tolerable. Later on, I tuned in for Hour Five of “Greatest One-Hit Wonders“including the discussion of the very odd career of ? and the Mysterians.

But the music wandered all over the map (with more rap than I’d like), so I kept wanting to tune away (and at times, I gave up and did go elsewhere).

I might come back for more “One-Hit Wonders”, or other specials, but this isn’t a channel I’ll stay on for very long.

Bootcamp Day 51 — The Move

The Move is another channel I wasn’t really looking forward to visiting. A channel which features something called “Thump Radio” is not aimed at me!

When I tuned in, I found the music more likeable and more interesting than I’d expected. It was definitely full of energy. And it did a fine job of masking the teleconference going on in the adjacent office.

But it wasn’t music that encouraged thinking while I listened — if anything, it drove thoughts out of my mind (hmmm…maybe that’s why they describe it as “trance” and “rave”), so I left soon after finishing my morning pass through my e-mail. I tuned in again during “Radio Chumbo”, and had the same reaction.

There are times when I have something going through my mind and I can’t get rid of it (when I work too late, for example) — The Move might be a great antidote at those times. But otherwise, I think I’ll do my listening elsewhere.

Bootcamp Day 50 — The City

Bootcamp returned to the Urban neighborhood today — in fact, we visited The City, which promises “today’s hottest urban hits and a few of the big ones from yesterday.”

It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, at least when I had the volume way down and the song of the moment wasn’t too bass-heavy. But when I had the volume up a little to help mask the conversations in the office next door, it was just like being next to one of “those” cars — you know, the ones with the thumping bass. The good news, such as it was, is that I didn’t notice any overtly profane lyrics.

There are cities I really enjoy visiting — this isn’t one of them.

Bootcamp Day 49 — Bluegrass Junction

Sometimes, I astonish myself. I don’t know why I predicted a C for Bluegrass Junction. After all, I like folk music; I loved the music in O Brother, Where Art Thou?; and “Orange Blossom Special” has always been one of my favorites. So I guess I must’ve been asleep when I made my prediction for today.

At any rate, I was wrong. I enjoyed listening to Bluegrass Junction all day — it was even good music to program by, and that’s not easy for me to say about music with strong vocals and lyrics.

This is definitely a channel to which I’ll return frequently!

Touchscreen Voting: Quick and Easy — but did it count?

I just got back from voting in the California primary. This was my first experience with touchscreen voting — it was much faster and easier than the old punch-card system was. The system guided me through the process, and at the end, it showed me all of my votes on one screen, so I could be sure I’d voted the way I wanted to.

I just wish I had some assurance that the votes shown on my screen were the votes which actually got into the system — all I have to go by is my faith in the county and state elections officials and the voting machine manufacturer. I would be much happier if the system printed out my votes on paper, and that printout would be used in the event of a recount or a dispute.

This particular election is unlikely to be worth hacking, but November will be a different story.

Bootcamp Day 48 — Buzz XM

Buzz XM may be filled with
“America’s Hottest and Most Controversial Talk Stars,” but as far as I’m concerned,
it’s a waste of bandwidth, like almost all talk radio.

Or, to quote E. B. White, “I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it.”

For that matter, I have pretty low expectations of all of the channels Bootcamp will be visiting this week and next — so any surprises will be pleasant ones. I hope.