Tuesday, May 27, 2014

ユー・アー・マイ・ゲスト (You are my guest!)

There are days where Japanese people won't speak Japanese back to me. First, they switch to terrible English, and then I start speaking quickly. Then they stop understanding me. If the person talking to me would have stayed in Japanese, then we probably would have been able to communicate better. So, sometimes I ask myself what's it worth learning the local language? In Rome, Italians let me struggle with their language and listen with a smile, give me a slow and simple reply. I learned from the smile that they appreciate that I am speaking their language. However, after 15 years, I still don't know how to read Japanese people's feelings (when it comes to language).

I don't clearly know the reason for the switch to English, but I think it's tied to the Japanese concept of convenience. Everyone knows that Japan is best at transportation, services and mail, but if you live here, you can see that there are also a ton of tangible things that make life easier. Food comes in easy-to-open packages, there are vending machines everywhere, and restaurant menus have 'recommended' in big letters. By the way, Japanese people almost never make changes to their order (like "Hold the pickles!") They just completely take the food how it is. You're probably wondering what this has to deal with the English-switch.

My earlier examples show that this culture is all about doing everything for the guest or partner. It's very important in Japanese culture to give wonderful and happy feelings towards your guest, and make sure they don't lift a finger. So, of course the person trying to help me, the English-speaking foreigner, is going to do their best to speak English - it's for my benefit!*

*Update: When I translated this and ran it by my Japanese friends, they couldn't see the connection between physical convenience (vending machines, small menus) and the convenience of using the guests' language, so the content is quite different from this post.



Friday, May 23, 2014

Japanese engineering

I've lived in Yokohama, Japan for 2 years and want to point out some little efficiencies that have been thought up by clever people. You probably know about the two-flushing toilets (big, small) and the fact that some toilets' refill tube protrudes out of the tank so you can wash your hands.

You may even know about the microwaves that also double as ovens (it took me 6 months to get the balls to put metal in this thing...works just fine!)

That's right: I made a collage to show
how to change toilet paper.
You know those stupid dildo spring things that fall apart all the time? None of that here. Just upward-folding tabs for one-way transfer in and transfer out of tp.

Mine is one of very few with no bidet

After a certain size of dwelling, it's pretty common to find the toilet in its own separate room from the shower and bathtub. You don't have to breathe in your girlfriend's methane-y deuce while you take a shower!

Speaking of baths, lots of tubs make you bend your legs, but submerge more of your body. Not only that, but this console (there's also one in the kitchen) lets me draw a bath at whatever temperature, volume and time I want. There's also a reheat button so I don't have to draw more water. Eco friendly, AND tech-sweet!

While they certainly sell washers that also dry laundry, most of us air dry our clothes. There's a panel that gives you control over a regular bathroom fan, drier fan, and of course you can set the strength and time. If the wetness doesn't evaporate, don't worry, the moisture falls into the bathtub.

Right over the front door is the kitchen fan duct, with a light to remind you it's still on. The doors have attached mailboxes for personal deliveries. Doorbells have attached intercoms and cameras, and this has been a standard everywhere I've been.

When it comes to food, I'm not completely satisfied with the portions designed for much smaller adults, but there is one final moment of genius. Trash is separated by burnables, plastics, and recyclable stuff, and Japan would really appreciate it if you put your stuff in the right place.
That arrow left-of-center shows where to tear
Every snack bag has a notch

Little glass spice bottles, soda labels and medicine bottled all come pre-perforated so that you can strip off the label and go about your business. My medicine bottles in the US required soaking them and growing out my fingernails to scrape them off...because fuck privacy in the United States, right?

This certainly isn't the most interesting of topics, but the fact is that a few people bothered to think about small innovations to minimize everyday bullcrap like the savage chip-bag tearing, the losing-the-toilet-paper-bouncy-rod-mid-duece, and the more-important aversion to house fires and water-wasting. Thank you, engineers!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Age of Entertainment

The future is here! Okay, I want to state something that may or may not be obvious: in 2014, we are at the apex of entertainment. You can Google search for a video on just about anything. Want only short videos? Check. Also, 'google' is a verb in the English language now, as well as all the other text/chat terms in the world's languages. Videos longer than 20 minutes? Check. It's also the world's best signpost to free porn, which is at an all-time high, by loads.

Why the hell would you hop a bus or drive out and buy music, movies or games on a disc anymore!? Sure, you miss out on that excitement of unwrapping it and the good whiff of that new electronics smell. But instead of all that, you can download that shit in about 2 minutes, with money that doesn't even exist! Our devices are getting less and less unique-looking with Apple's success at creating an ever-shrinking rectangle, and game consoles being mistaken for printers in their boxiness. It's really easy to see why some of the future flicks of the past and present show bright rooms with almost no furniture and square panels everywhere.
Y' know wh'um talkin'bout *nudge nudge*

For the last 10 years, everyone has been able to be an instant hit with a million-person audience via Youtube or Vimeo or some other free service with the standard. White girl with a dirty mouth? People laugh at that! Korean teenager who dances typical girl dances?  Even the dumbest ideas make money (I'm looking at you, "What does the fox say?")

*You'll also notice that I make you click on the links for pictures. Personally, my web browser usually has a minimum of 10 pages open at the same time. One page at a time is for the birds! If you don't already do this, try holding CTRL befo' you clik da link.

Games are pressed onto 50GB discs now, which is roughly 71x as large as a CD, which was only 2 generations, or 15 years ago. The newest generation of games have run out of significant graphic and sound processing leaps and have shifted on the finer details of realistic textures, like reducing the shine on human skin, and rendering individual strands of hair. Voice acting still remains a question, but since almost every game has been vocalized since the last generation, the tech doesn't really factor in.

Though luckily, Lara Croft is still fine as fuck.
My favorite thing about all of this is that the dearth of available entertainment means that it means it is harder to stand out. This explains nonsense garbage like LMFAO and What does the Fox say? But there are also really serious investments into quality. The sophisticated audience is stronger through the internet community.

There were always those days in class where your teacher brought in some hokey lo-fi documentary that would cut just before the lion got that goddamn gazelle. Or the one where they make up a cute story about the mother cat and her naughty kittens, and there are sound effects when the kitties fall. I rolled my eyes when I was 6, and I think the extra few members of the audience you snag with such pandering isn't worth the change in tone.

So among all the trash that FOX shows and Discovery Channel shits out, like "Bad Teachers" - a series dedicated to cutting down the most important profession for humanity, you get something like Planet Earth or Cosmos. Cosmos is a remake of an 80s Carl Sagan series of the same name. Science gets updated, and with better cameras and special effects, the explanations can evolve, too. The new host gives a very personal homage to Sagan, and quits the name dropping after that first segment in a very classy way.

I'm not gonna lie, it's a cherry on top that the host, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is black. He grew up with the advantages of middle class, as my children will, and now they'll know an incredibly successful black nerd. I would like the series anyway, as it does shit like cleverly overlapping the facts we vaguely remember from school with another topic like Social Studies. One episode was about the age of the earth, and during one scientist's research, he uncovered the poisoning effects of lead. He then went against the big gas corporations and...well, that's why our gas is 'unleaded.' I had always wondered why it needed to be specified.

http://www.cosmosontv.com - you'll like what you see!

There are still a couple hokey things about the show, but the biographies are interesting and most of the graphics augment rather than simply sensationalize.

Either way, it's nice to be in a position to enjoy all this crazy entertainment.

At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...