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.