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Archive for November, 2005

Lost Nov 27

Finally got through to Mum and Dad today, firstly to give them the good news that I’m coming home for a week, and secondly to figure out why they had not been answering the phone.  I knew that they were off to my cousing 25th wedding anniversary so that would account for most of the weekend, but I was starting to get a little worried. After the series of events earlier this year I always get a little worried if I cannot get hold of them.

Ended up that the phone system was down because of the nasty storms that have hit the North Island, it odd that in a time of modern instant communications the house is still connected by two bits of copper wire strung up and over the hills.  Been there for the last 37 years and likely to be there just as long again.  They are really happy that I going to be able to come home as am I.  The one drawback of global communications is that for all the good news that can flow across the electrons there is also the bad news, and today was to be another one of the times that I wish I had gone all the way back home as I feel so remote now.  Jan Smith died during the weekend, oddly I never think of her as Jan Smith, from the age that we could first speak she and phil have always been Aunty Jan and Uncle Phil.   They were not even related to our family, but as one of the original families of Papa Aroha they have been a part of my life always.  

As we grow older we stop using the childhood affectations that we grew up with as part of asserting our independence and establishing ourselves in the adult world.  So they became Phil and Jan, but for some reason I never think of them that way, Uncle and Aunty just roll off the tongue more naturally, maybe the affectations stuck because they are a reminder of times of innocence when neighbours were more than just people living next to each other.  In the small valley of Papa Aroha neighbours worked and socialised with each other, they were each other friends, companions and colleagues.  For us children it was an extended day care system with a gang of children wandering around turning up in who knew which kitchen for lunch or dinner.  We never knew that we were almost always under the watchful of someone within this extended family.  

Now as the seasons change faster than I can keep track of the season of autumn is approaching those who were there watching me grow up.  Living in a country where the change of seasons is revered and spectacular I cannot help but reminise that perhaps we should slow down and appreciate.  Good bye Aunty Jan I will always remember you.

Thanks Giving Japan Style. Nov 24

I’ve always believed (and written about somewhere) that one should always steal the best holidays and make them their own. Songkran (Thai New Year) is brillant, and if you like a good water fight loads of fun. Actually 3 whole days of water fight fun, no way you can stay dry. Thanks giving is also another one of those holidays that should be adopted.

Its a great excuse to get together with friends or family, or both, cook really great food and eat it all together! Thanks to all those american friends I picked up I can no longer eat turky without cranberry! And cold turkey sarnies that next day, with mayo and cranberry. Yum stuff. It didn’t seem right to celebrate thanks giving with raw tuna (which I love), so a turkey hunt was in order.

Perhaps I should have thought about adopting this holiday a little earlier, or at least prepared for it a little earlier. I did finds my Turkey, but he was frozen solid, like industrial strength frozen, and there is just not the demand to have fresh turkeys on hand incase some silly New Zealander turned up to buy one for thanks giving (which in theory New Zealanders have never heard of such a holiday)

Careful reading of the instructions showed that either 24hours in the fridge, or 2 hours in water would result in a cookable turkey. As time was passing buy and turkey needs a nice slow roast I would like be eating at 3am in the morning. Not quite what I had planned. Solution turned up in the form of a fresh chicken, some sweet corn, sweet potatoe, instant mashed potatoe, brocolli and carrots.

Pleased to report microwave oven on the oven setting does wonderful job of roasting chicken. So now that I know where to buy my meat, I am going to plan christmas just a little bit better!

More than a haircut Nov 18

19 Nov 05

Well missed the friday posting as I was at home and did not feel very inspired to do anything, but thats another story. Saturday dawned bright and clear so the plan was to do a little shopping and get a hair cut.

Now I can hear you all saying, what the big deal with getting a hair cut. Well firstly I don’t speak Japanese, and alot of japanese people don’t speak english. They learn it as written at school, but speaking it is quite another thing. Second I am a little bit fussy about my hair as being rather fine it can be turned into a dogs breakfast with very little effort on eithers half. Thirdly I had been thinking of growing it out, so didn’t want them to cut it too short. With all these silly thought running around in le brain I ventured out my front door, walked 10 metre, and entered the local hairdressor! Wow how is that for convenient, and I thought have one at the top of the road in London was pretty easy.

After establishing that yes they could speak a little english and I would like to get my haircut now (in future on Saturday and appointment might not be the worst idea floated), and if I could wait a little bit they would sort it all out. oh and the price would be 5000\, which given I’ve paid more in the Gentry at Canary Wharf didn’t actually shock me. Its surprising how fast you adapt to expensive prices.

A few more conversation via an interpretor determined that I didn’t want it cut to short, and yes it had been quite a while (two months) since it was last cut, then it was off for the hair was. Some confusion arose as chair is fully automatic and with a touch of a button you are lowered, straighted and positioned for a hair was, a delicately smelling cloth/tissue over you eyes and nose to stop splashing and put you in your own little world. A folded towel over your knees and the shampooing began. Well what a shampooing, my hair must have been cleaned to within an inch of falling out, and I am positive I’ve gone a shade blonder. The shampoo, massage rinse must have taken a full 15 minutes, and i mean really great head massage, not a quick we’ll rub your head a few times and call it a massage western style, I am talking putty by the time I got out of the chair.

Even today on Monday my hair has never felt this clean (and i shampoo everyday). Back to the cut, the girl did a fantastic job and not rushed as all like other places, then it was back for another shampooing, then back to the chair for a full back massage. When I walked out of that place I was so relaxed I didn’t even mind that the price had gone up a little. For an hour of being pampered and getting a haircut, Totally worth it.

Internet Security Nov 17

I was on the phone the other day to my mum about pictures of the boat and got asked about internet security and should someone unplug there modem. After a little thought I put together the following information to try and clear up some of myths.

Broadband vs Dial Up.
Most of the “security alerts” that you will hear about these days are related to people who have PC’s with a broadband connection. Broadband is defined as high speed always on connection. “Always on” means that you are permanently connected to the internet in some form. Even this can be a little misleading. Lets define this even more that always on means:
Your internet connection equipment (USB ADSL Modem or ADSL Router) is powered on.
Your computer which is connected to the above equipment is powered on.

For example if you have a broadband connection but you have turned your computer off then you are “safe” from hackers. Safe is a relative word which I will go into later. Modern computers do have the ability to be woken up by remote control, but this is not used in the home environment. Turn the power off a the wall if you want to feel “extra” safe. No one can hack a computer that’s got no power!

When you have broad band and your computer is turned on extra precautions over and above dial-up need to be implemented for safe and responsible computing.

A dial up connection is literally just that, you computer must dial a phone number to talk to an internet company, then spend some time “negotiating” how they are going to talk. After this you are connected to the internet. It is during this time that you are connected to the internet that you need to be protected from hackers and I make some suggestions later.

Many myths with some facts abound about hackers particularly over dial up. Firstly hackers do exist, but going after dial up users is hardly worth their effort as they have to “wait” for you to dial up and connect. Second, they have to be fairly sophisticated as each time you dial the internet you will be allocated a different IP number which a hacker uses to track your information. Third the volume of data that can be transmitted over a dial up connection is very limited compared to broadband, if a hacker was able to install a program to grab information from your PC its going to take a very long time to transmit it all back to them.

Now some facts. It is possible for malicious persons to inadvertantly get you to install spyware/dialup software onto your PC. A very common trick I saw in the UK was to replace the internet dial up number from being free phone to premium rate. I don’t know if this existed in NZ but a couple of simple precautions are always be very careful when a site (particularly if it looks a little dodgy to start with) asks you to install software. Second set your dial up conection to always ask you when it wants to connect to the internet. This way you are always in control of when your computer is connecting to the internet and it will also show you the number its calling.

Dial Up Protection.
Always, always have a decent anti-virus software package installed and do keep it upto date. Many can be set to automatically update there virus signatures. Don’t pirate a copy, go and buy one, they are not that expensive and you will get support if you need it. Protection from viruses is the number one security problem faced by the IT industry.

Keep upto date with security patches from Microsoft. The last few years has seen a huge number of security patches released and is the bane of large IT deparments responsible for patching hundreds of computer. For the home user life is much easier and with Windows XP it is almost automatic. Under you security settings you can tell Windows to automatically update your machine. Even nicer is that it will do it in the background over a period of days slowly downloading the patch in the background.

Install some spyware software. I recommend for home users the product below.
http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/
Its small and simple and does the trick. Microsoft have launched there own anti spyware program, but the verdict is still out on how good this will be when fully available.

That basically does it security wise for dial up users. Broadband users have a different set of problems due to the fact that generally they are always connected to the internet (remember connection and computer turned on). This makes them far more susceptible to attack as they will have a known IP address and the hacker has time and access on there side. The addition of firewall software will go along way to stopping an attacker.

Without explaining indepth about firewall, ip addresses and ports, let just say that the internet knows how each type of application talks across the internet. ie your email program (port 25) talks differently from your browser (port 80). There are 1000’s of these ports all recognised internationally. What your firewall does is block those ports that you do not want to use. This stops hackers from accessing your PC. Windows XP now has a firewall built in and it seems adequate, there are other 3rd party products such as Zone Alarm and Black Ice.

When you install a new program onto your PC which need to access the internet (for example MSN Messenger) your firewall software will typically ask you if you want to allow the program access.

That covers basic internet security, if I remember more I’ll write it down. One other piece of advise is do not store bank account numbers with passwords on your PC. ie do not create a document called for example “passwords.doc” then store your bank acccount access number and password in it. Thats not secure in anyway, and I mean burglers or any dishonest person with phyical access to your PC.

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I’m Lovin it. Nov 16

Well actually I’m eaten it, and i do not mean McDonalds. Now over the last 6 weeks some of my comments may seem rather harsh on Japan. If they are, well I am sorry, but its not been easy for me adjusting here and culture shock is not something easy to deal with. My later comments are now more along the lines of observations of just how different things are. This is similiar to my observations on Britian and Ireland when I lived there. Observations and inevitably drawn from comparisons and I would just like to be clear that these comparisons should in no way been taken to infer superior/inferior status. Just different.

So on clearing that up how about a positive note on Japan. Well I have one huge one. The Food is FANTASTIC!! We will leave pricing for another day, but back to core fact, we all need eat and this is a country that know how to eat. I don’t mean in huge quantities like certain american food chains I recall, I mean in sheer quality and variety.

Lets take for example the humble, ever available bento box. Now I get mine from Pororoca across the road, its a supermarket chain here that also does loads of ready food, think waitrose salad bars and deli bars etc, but much better. The selection of different boxes is impressive, but get this, they change on a weekly basis depending on the season. Okay, rice is rice is rice (or is it, another time on that one), but what you sprinkle on the rice can change, at the moment the special is crab rice which is totally yummy, then you get the protein selection changing all the time. Its never huge, but more than adequate. A typical box will contain a pork ball, a piece of salmon, a chuck of chicken, and something else. All in convenient two/three bite sizes. All for the princely prices of £3. When you have finished paying for it you can nuke your tray in one of the microwaves provided in store, if you time it right the box is still hot when you arrive so no nuking required. Talk about fresh.

And they taste fantastic, thats why 6 weeks later I am still getting my lunch there, the variety and taste changes so just when you think you might be getting a little tired of something its been replaced. No more pret-a-manger standardisation, (no wonder they failed here), where the avocado chicken sandwich you had today tastes like it did 4 years ago!.

Today lunch was slightly different with tempura prawns on rice with octapus, cucumber/seaweed pickle. sooo soo yummy, and hopfully healthy! So yep I am Lovin it, and I’ve started to learn how to cook Japanese style myself.

Lets take for example the humble, ever available bento box. Now I get mine from Pororoca across the road, its a supermarket chain here that also does loads of ready food, think waitrose salad bars and deli bars etc, but much better. The selection of different boxes is impressive, but get this, they change on a weekly basis depending on the season. Okay, rice is rice is rice (or is it, another time on that one), but what you sprinkle on the rice can change, at the moment the special is crab rice which is totally yummy, then you get the protein selection changing all the time. Its never huge, but more than adequate. A typical box will contain a pork ball, a piece of salmon, a chuck of chicken, and something else. All in convenient two/three bite sizes. All for the princely prices of £3. When you have finished paying for it you can nuke your tray in one of the microwaves provided in store, if you time it right the box is still hot when you arrive so no nuking required. Talk about fresh.

And they taste fantastic, thats why 6 weeks later I am still getting my lunch there, the variety and taste changes so just when you think you might be getting a little tired of something its been replaced. No more pret-a-manger standardisation, (no wonder they failed here), where the avocado chicken sandwich you had today tastes like it did 4 years ago!.

Today lunch was slightly different with tempura prawns on rice with octapus, cucumber/seaweed pickle. sooo soo yummy, and hopfully healthy! So yep I am Lovin it, and I’ve started to learn how to cook Japanese style myself.

Did the earth move for you? Nov 14

Well at 6:30 this morning it was certainly moving for me! Wishful thinking really as I was fast asleep in a lovely dream when the dream started to shake on me. Actually it felt more like the bed had a vibrate system installed into it. I oddly seem to recall waking earlier that night trying to find the remote control that would turn off my vibrating bed. Given the sheer number of remote controls that I do have for turning things on and off in the apartment this is not such a mad expectation, what was mad was that it took awhile for me to figure out that I didn’t have one. Suspect was very deeply asleep.

However let me assure you that I have not installed a vibrating mattress complete with remote control. Actually given the way that Tokyo rocks and rolls who needs one. It ended up being a 6.9 Richter scale quake something in the pacific, so don’t really know what the strength would have been in Tokyo, made the water in my glass wobble and the spice rack in the kitchen rattle, but that was about it. Truth be told it felt alot better than the other building I lived in which rattled all over the place.

After doing a little bit of reading on this subject today I found that Tokyo has a tremor every five minutes. Now that’s alot of shake rattle and roll. It may explain why I was having terrible nausea for a few weeks. It started just after I moved into the apartment at Park Axis, or there abouts. I noticed it the first night that the room seemed to have taken on quite a wobble while I know I was stationary, it would also hit me whilst sitting at my desk, in meetings and for no apparent reason. It felt very much like when you have been on a boat for awhile and then go back onto dry land. You are stationary but your ears want to party without you.

It was occurring so often and for such a period of time it became disconcerting. I figured best to just get used to it, definitely caused some discomfit particularly once whilst I was in a demonstration. You try demonstrating project server when the room is spinning and wobbling on you, and not miss a beat! Was very worried that may the apartment building I was in wobbled alot, and I had just signed a two year lease!! arrrhhhh.

Anyway very pleased to say that I seem to have got used to it, and basically I’m just very sensitive to earth tremors. I am still conscious of the buildings doing the Maranga on their own, but I guess I’ve just learnt the steps to this particular dance.

Japan Today Article.

The Pavement Menance Nov 12

A few weeks ago I wrote about the little old ladies and their amazing ability to take up an entire pavement. Well I have come across another phenomena which has a similar result, but is about 40 years younger. Its the Japanese girl and her mobile. Or more specifically sending email/text messages on her mobile. The first time I actually realized what was happening was when walking out of "The Garden" (Japanese supermarket, equivalent to Waitrose) a young women was walking in front of me at an impossibly slow pace.

How slow? Think mold and how it lives such a breakneck lifestyle. (parties, drugs booze etc) What could possible cause someone with no obvious physical disability, object blocking their path, sun glaring in their eyes, (or other such impediments) from walking at a pace that made 80 year geriatric grandmothers feel sprightly and energetic in there zimmer frames.

Additionally this girl managed to block the entire exit way for anybody who was moving slightly faster than 1 degree above absolute zero Kelvin. Well after doing a quick duck and dive around an obstructing potplant I found the reason. Its called a mobile phone in messaging mode. The UK has taken to sending text messages much the same way as they have taken to European and Australian lagers, (in huge, money guzzling quantities, best enjoyed with friends). A whole lexicon of language has been developed to facilitate the rapid transmission of thoughts via a 12 button keypad. gr8 huh! In fact chavs have taken it to be there own dialect, and we are not going there today.

The Japanese written language however does not lend itself easily to the compression of words to basic forms. (HALT – before someone jumps at me, actually the Japanese written language is the quintessential compression of words, with one Kanji character forming a whole word/concept). However to put these into an electronic device the word must first be spelled out in part Hiragana and then the correct Kanji character selected, end result is the full spelling and correct reading, but just as it would normally be written. It actually quite something to see this being done as fingers are flying all over the keyboard and menus popping up with possible matches of words, the selecting them, then the words moving around again and the next word put in.

Here in lies the problem, such concentration must be given to the creation of a text message that the operator loses all physical awareness of the surroundings until such time as the send button is depressed. Now in sloppy english a misspelled word is often overlooked and many of us will correct it whilst reading. Here a miss spelled word could result in who can imagine what. I wonder how many divorces have occurred because your "Mother in-law is in the car" became your "Mother in-law is a cow".

On Saturday I came across the situation where the girl on the train was engrossed in a message and when we pulled into the station the girl on the opposite side of the door was also engrossed in a message. With eager anticipation I wanted to see what happened when two such improbable objects collided. Alas whilst they remain oblivious to that behind them the "Japanese girl with text message" has evolved to be able to detect on-coming objects. I suppose those that did evolve got wiped out at the pedestrian crossings and that’s Mondays story.

Pavement Problems Nov 11

A very interesting phenomena that I’ve discovered in Tokyo is the ability for little old ladies, or two girls to take up the entire pavement. Spend a little time walking around and you will come across the situation where you find yourself walking behind either of the above. For on coming foot traffice they are able to move and make way for the other person. HOWEVER, they are totally oblivious to people behind them. Well not completely oblivious because the second that you try to make it around them by ducking through the gap they move, so you swerve, they counter swerve. You duck, they dive, you dive, they counter dive.

All of the above achived without a single break in the conversation and no acknowledgement of your existance at all. I”ve seen the above happen in Europe a few times, but never with such complete determination, wide payments or consistancy.

Another observation along these lines was pointed out to me by someone else, and may also explain the above. In the UK when you walk through a door in front of someone you hold it open for them. There is a rather complex system of etiquette involved here regarding do you hold the door, how long should you hold the door etc etc. General rule is that if the person is just behind you and not holding the door open will result in it slamming into their face you hold the damn door open. Simple, polite, curtious.

Well watch yourself here kiddies, your likely to end up with a case of probiscous dooritis, ie a bloody nose as no one will hold the door open for you, correction swinging door open for you. (lifts are another story). Its possible that given the sheer number of people here holding open doors could result in your being stuck there for eternity. oh and for those thinking chivelry, well this non door opening is very equalatarian, everyone is likely to leave it slam into your face, men, women, boys, girls, and watch out for the little old ladies, they are particularly vicious!

Where Trains Run on Time Nov 10

Observation is a very powerful thing, or at least it is when put into the hands of someone cabable of using it. Left with me its abit like one trying to drink beer out of colander, you might get a little bit by licking the bowl, but most of it will run down the drain. So what did do with the bit I did manage to lick at. Well let me give you a bit of background information. The station where I catch my train to work serves two different lines, the Mita and Nombuku, with the Nombuku being the one which will deliver me safely to work.

Being rather careful I checked to make sure that I got onto the correct line so and to A) be at work on time and B) not end up somewhere where no ones speaks english and all the signs are only in Japanese. This little trick did get me to work but it took a few days for me to realise the everyone always got onto the train and the platform was empty. I noticed this because one thing more noticable than a blonde gaijin on the train, is a blonde gaijin standing all alone on the platform being started at by all the passengers who are being happily wisked off to the corporate enslavement.

The second moment of observation came to me that once I was on my correct train and at the next station (Shirokanedai Takanawa) there would often be a huge exodus of people (actually read wave can sweep you along) rushing out and across the platform to either enter the train waiting or line up (in a very orderly fashion) in front of the doors. After seeing this a couple of times I began to wonder was it possible that this other train was due to leave the station and was waiting for the incoming train so passengers could swap lines. Nah way to co-ordinated.

Well folks I finally got the courage up to try, so this morning I got on the “wrong” train and joined the swarm of people rushing across the platform at the next station. And guess what withing 30 seconds a bright/clean and very empty train appeared on the “correct” line. It appears that the trains do run on time so well that you can literally just walk off one onto the next.

This is not something I would recommend you try in London.

A distinct lack of Christmas Nov 08

Okay, bad news on the whole culture shock thing. NO CHRISTMAS!! I could live with having to figure out how to roast something with no real oven, and do roast tatties and sweet potatoe, but not having a bloody holiday to celebrate it on. Well thats just rude! I should have examined the holiday schedule a little closer before I sign the transfer contract. In hind sight I guess easter is off the calendar as well. (10 minutes later), yup its confirmed, no easter as well!

Well I suppose it had to happen sooner or later with all this wandering around that I’d stumble into a place that does not have my fundamental holidays. Hey I’ve been stealing everyone else’s fundamental ones (like thanks giving), but it does beg the question why not steal christmas as well. Its basically a fairly good one to steal. Well other than the having to buy all those presents, then being with all those relatives, but then there is the plus side of receiving all those presnts and being with all your family, so I guess the deciding factor would have to be Christmas dinner.

Now the confusing thing for blondini here is that I saw Tokyu Hands (big home improvement store) selling all sorts of crimbo decorations in the seasonal department, so it sorta figured that Christmas tree’s equalled christmans. Subsequent investigations have determined that Xmas is celebrated with gift giving and dinners, just you don’t get the whole day off. Closer examination would determine that they did steal the best bits of christmas. Well almost, they day off would have been nice, and lets not forget boxing day to recover from over-indulgence.

i wonder if I can take the monday off?

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