Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cherry blossoms started to bloom!

F1000066 This will be short since I need to wake up in 5 hours to catch a plane to the US but I just wanted to drop a line and mention how the cherry blossoms started to bloom in Tokyo. It was brutally cold on Friday and may be that will slow down the blooming but it has started… and it is pretty! I took this picture of the cherry blossom tree in front of the Secom SC building with my cell. If you happen to be in Tokyo watch out for the cherry blossoms next week. I think it will be the best time for going cherry blossom watching (お花見).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Got milk?

F1000064 Then you might want to get over to Roppongi, to “Motoyama Milk Bar”. I stopped by before watching Departures/おくりびと purely by luck. The “milk bar” which actually has a quick service window and a sit-down indoor patisserie is very close to Roppongi Hills though it is about a floor lower. You just need to walk into the building on your left when you are standing right at the entrance to Roppongi Hills (where you would be looking directly at the giant spider statue). Take the escalator down one floor and walk outside – you can’t miss the huge cow right outside the “milk bar”. The milk is actually from Hokkaido (it tastes really nice) and they also offer fried Hokkaido potatoes as well as milk and desserts made from milk. Check it out if you find yourself in Roppongi…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Another bit of information about the fashion model robot…

MSNBC posted this video:

It contains almost the same information as before but the video has new information since it has her walking in the actual “fashion week”. Yes, it is clear that we are very far away from having her replace human models yet but still, I like the video ;)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Just back from watching Departures/おくりびと

Wow… This was easily the saddest movie I have ever seen. The whole theater was crying almost throughout the movie and I am not going to lie, I shed a tear or two as well. OK, let me rewind things a little bit…

So, today was a holiday and making use of that, I went to Roppongi to check out おくりびと with subtitles at Toho Cinemas Roppongi. The movie is by no means a short one but it is really, really well made. The pace is set just right so that you don’t get bored but you do get to see a very deep story. The casting was done perfectly as well and I did not see any obviously bad choices. What can I say? If you get a chance go and see this movie. Your life will be better for it… I am enclosing the trailer below.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

HRP-4C: The female model robot

robot model I have seen many, many different kinds of robots designed and built in Japan but this is the first time I am seeing a model designed specifically for the catwalk. The design differs from the earlier models where the focus was clearly on interaction (where there would be a touch screen or the face would be very detailed but the rest of the robot would not be) or on demonstrating technology like walking  (where the face would not be detailed a-la Honda’s Asimo or the body would be covered with cables). Developed by Japan’s AIST, This “lady” puts the focus on looking like a person – albeit a person wearing some sort of protective suit. The face is said to be designed based on anime characters as looking too much like a human would be “uncanny”. The height and the weight though, are based on research into Japanese women and the robot stands at 158 cm and weighs 43 kilograms.

I am definitely intrigued. I don’t yet know where she will do her first runway walk but I will try to find out and go. I know that it is supposed to happen next week (the 23rd of March), somewhere in Tokyo.

You can see the press release (in Japanese) here, and watch her demonstrate some of her capabilities here, here, and here. The  press release went out today and it was covered by media outlets all around the world so a quick search online can give you articles in your own language :)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thinking of doing an internship in Japan?





Now that the internship season is approaching I thought I would put down a  few tips for anyone interested in applying for an internship at a company in Japan:

  1. Doing an online search to see which companies may be offering internships is a good idea. Recently the number may have dwindled a bit because of the slow economy but that by no means stopped everything.
  2. Different companies may have different company cultures – some are more traditional than the others on issues like dress code, etc. If you have strong preferences one way or the other make sure you find out this bit of information about the companies you are applying to.
  3. Pay attention to the location of the companies you choose. Tokyo is a huge city and not everyone likes living in the center of the hustle and bustle or living in the more suburban parts.
  4. Apply early!!! People don’t seem to get the idea that the process for getting a visa is LONG. The company you would work for needs to get permission from the government in order to get you a working visa and that can take 3-4 months.  I cannot stress this one enough. It is very very important to act early.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There may be others from other countries working in companies you are considering or there may be someone (not necessarily “international”) working on a topic you like. Fire off an email to them asking about their experiences. In the worst case, they would be too busy to respond but in the best case you can form a connection with them and connections are important.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“No Postage Necessary if Mailed to the USA” ??

P3100016 OK, this was a surprise. While I was living in the US I saw envelopes like this many, many times. You know, “No postage necessary if mailed in the USA” but this prepaid envelope that I received from an organization in the US (at University of Chicago, surveying PhD graduates) is actually claiming no postage necessary for mailing internationally to the US. I wonder how they coordinate this. I mean, the cover has things in English and French so I suppose in countries where English or French is the most common language the post office may be able to read this but how about countries like Japan or China ? Of course just being able to read is not enough. How does the post office in the country of origin, in this case Japan, get paid for the cost of sending this letter? Do they just charge through the US Embassy? :-P

Monday, March 9, 2009

Japan Security Show 2009

P3060009 Last Friday, which as a day was not a very pleasant one as the amount of rain was, well, unreasonable to say the least, I had a chance to visit the Japan Security Show at Tokyo Big Sight. The show was a lot of fun though and I saw a lot of interesting stuff even though the commute there and back was painful at times. I even managed to snap a few pictures though only after did I see a sign loudly announcing “No photographs”. This is the second time something like this happens to me in Japan – the first case being at Akihabara trying to record a video of maids singing on a stage… That … was embarrassing.

P3060023 First off, lets start with getting to Tokyo Big Sight. I blogged before about this since I went there before in order to see the robots exhibition last year and that time I used the Yurikamome Line (which keeps on referring to itself as the “New Yurikamome Line” but it is not so new I am told) which not only can get one much closer to Big Sight than Rinkai Line which we took this time but it also offers a really nice view including the Rainbow Bridge. Heck, it even goes ON that bridge. The catch? It takes longer to get there AND it is more expensive and since we were pressed for time we took the Rinkai Line (臨海線) from Shinjuku.

P3060011 What was on display? Well, quite a few different things I guess. Not just alarm systems etc. when one thinks of security but also components for such systems such as improvements on camera technology, motion sensing, as well as research related to security such as automatic detection of suspicious activity or automatically counting people in a given area. You could see big hitters of the security world like Secom as well as more general electronics manufacturers like Sony and of course key makers – physical security is as important as ever and it shows. Actually one of the coolest things I saw at the show was a key which has a “Did I lock the door?” indicator which automatically lets you know whether or not you forgot to do just that.

This is something I could definitely use…


Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Japanese shower radio


I bought this little radio to listen to while I am taking a shower. One thing I did not take into account was, well, the fact that the shower is like a metal box, reinforced to be a safe room in the case of an earthquake, and therefore it has almost zero reception of electromagnetic signals like radio waves. The door is not metal though and the radio does get some reception from there but out of the whole range I get only one channel loud and relatively clear – America’s Forces Network (AFN) on AM. The songs are nice and stuff but the ads/infomercials they put in the middle can sometimes be a bit weird for anyone not in the army, like telling soldiers that “sexual harassment creates friction which affects the running of the engine that is the army” or that their family members may be under the jurisdiction of local authorities but the service members are under shared jurisdiction with the army. It is not quite as weird as the AFN TV that I could watch at the hotel in Seoul but still… interesting experience… If you live in Tokyo you should be able to pick up the signal too – just search on your AM band.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A great explanation of the “Subprime Mortgage” issue

Until I saw this video I only had a vague idea about how this crash came about. This is a great explanation, even if it takes 11 minutes to do so! Yes, it is not related to travelling and not directly related to Japan but I think it warrants being posted on here since this crisis affects, as it says in the video, everyone!