Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why can't I get nice paper in the USA?

Still on the Japan thing...

In the Motomachi shopping street in Kobe, there is a small stationary store. In there, I found and purchased a pad of paper of the sort I used to get when in college. It was smooth, high quality and with fine graduated graph lines.

I spent the rest of the week doing my job (which is why I was in Kobe in the first place), jotting down my thoughts and designs on this pad of paper.

What occurred to me was that the reason I stopped using paper in that fashion, is not because computers got so much better at taking notes but because the quality of the paper and the nature of the gridlines printed on them has gone dramatically downhill since the early 1990s. Bad paper is no fun to use.

If anyone has a line on a good supply of really nice linear graph, log-lin and log-log paper of the sort available in the Manchester University bookstore circa 1990, without having to fly to Japan, please leave a note here.

Sorry, but Kyoto is not all it is cracked up to be.

In the past week I have spent 2 days in the air, 1 free day in Kobe, 1 free day in Kyoto, 1 free day in Osaka and 4 non-free days working in Kobe.

In the past I've also spent a couple of days in Yokohama, Kumagaya and Tokyo.

Kyoto is the one with the reputation for being the idyllic temple city. Yokohama, Osaka and Tokyo are the big noisy cities. All most people know about Kobe is that it had a really bad Earthquake a few years ago.

However on my trip to Kyoto, I found it to be louder, busier and less pleasant than any of the other cities. It did indeed have the shrines and temples and I visited some. Rather than being idyllic, they were plomped down in the middle of this noisy city with ugly buildings all around.

Yokohama, Osaka and Tokyo are indeed big, shiny cities with much shopping to be had. However Kobe, as a place to stay for a short trip, seemed to be the best of the lot. It's quieter, you can walk the city and for the tourist who doesn't want to try to hard, there is the Motomachi shopping street, the Sannomyia center gai shopping street, the Sannomyia hondori shopping street and few shrines and gardens of its own.

Kobe seems to be so horribly underrepresented on the internet and so if you Google for "Motomachi" you get things about Yokohama and if you Google for "Motomachi Kobe" you get no pictures of a wide convered shopping street with many good stores, which is what it is.

So if you Google for it and this page comes up instead, trust me, it's worth a visit. I got my daughter a Kimono there. Something I never managed to find in Yokohama.

Oasaka has a way better techy store, but techy stores don't make the family happy when you get home with a box of USB sticks for gifts.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Isn't Photostitch Nice?

I just tried out photostitch, which is the photo stitching together utility that came with my camera.

The view from my hotel window when panned and stitched together, looks like this.

It is looking at Kobe up the coast North-East ish, with Mount Rokko in the background on the left and the Pacific Ocean on the Right. Zoom into the raise road bit and you can see the same truck twice, because I was panning the camera right to left as it drove right to left.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Tampopo Omlette Moment

This morning, at breakfast in the hotel, I had my Tampopo omlette moment.

Tampopo in this context is a Japanese film concerning one woman's quest for the perfect noodle. There is a scene where a vagrant breaks into a restaurant and makes her an omlette, with some very deft wrist work to make the thing fold itself into a folded omlette shape, with all the well done skin on the outside and the soft stuff on the inside.

Google, being google, alters its search results based on where you are. Here it is in Japanesse..

And here it is with subtitles, like nature intended..

Well there was a guy at the breakfast buffet doing exactly that and he made one in front of my eyes. He made it look easy, but I doubt it is. Wifey will be most dismayed when I get back and go through the eggs trying to recreate the feat.

It tasted yummy by the way, but tomorrow I will be brave and try the fish bits with rice breakfast. It's easy to get it right since it is a buffet and you just copy the Japaneese person in front of you in the line. They seem quite surprised to see a Gaijin wield a pair of chopsticks competently.

In fact they seem quite surprised to see a Gaijin at all. I haven't seen a western face in the place since I got here. There are plenty in Tokyo, but I guess Kobe is a bit off the map for westerners.

The Bullet Train Breakfast Cereal Mystery

My post today is heavily influenced by my locale. Kobe, Japan. Things I thunk today are very influenced by my experiences since landing at Narita airport yesterday and will be for the next week while I'm here.

Japan, as a whole is very clean, efficient and non stinky (except for some of the fish). But as I rolled my suitcase towards the Narita Airport train station to get on the Narita express, I came across a musty smell. The smell continued on the train.

I hurried through Tokyo central station, since I had exactly fifteen minutes to get from whatever platform I was on to platform 19 to take the Shinkansen to Kobe. But the smell persisted. It remained on the bullet train. 2 hours 54 minutes later, I was in Shin-Kobe station. I transferred to the subway and the smell persisted. It didn't stop until I emerged from Sannomaya station and walked through town to my hotel.

I spent most of the 2 hours 54 minutes on the bullet train trying to drag up what the smell was. Towards the end of the trip I got it. It was the dry musty smell that you got from a British breakfast cereal I ate in the 70s. It was yellow, shaped like pillows and they don't sell it anymore. But there is no doubt, that it was the smell was. I can't remember what it was called.

So it occurred to me that the reason they don't sell it anymore is because JR (Japan Rail) buys up the stocks of this cereal and uses it to clean the trains and tracks.

That is what I thunk today. Well yesterday, since I was tired and went to bed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Flour Measurements

The balance of these cogitations have been to do with food in some way. This one is not going to rock the boat any.

It is possible that I have seen every single TV chef that broadcasts over DirectTV (and latterly normal TV - we dumped the dish) give a talk or speech that explains the importance of measuring your flour by weight.

They are not mistaken. The density of flour varies with its compaction, with humidity and possibly with the phase of the moon. So weigh the stuff and you can't go wrong.

Why is it then, that they go on to spend the remainder of their TV cooking career dishing out flour using measuring cups? How is anyone supposed to know what 1 cup of flour is if they don't tell you how much it should weigh?


On another topic, I have taken to putting the word sexy into the labels for my posts in the hope that someone might be more likely to read this thing, given its enhanced prominence in search terms. Don't be alarmed. It's just me attempting to manipulate the popularity of my posts through means other than good writing.

Hope Sproings

I am about 45 minutes into watching Hope Springs. Wifey seems to have control over the Netflix queue.

I must send my commiserations to Colin Firth. He has been hopelessly typecast as an English accented romantic lead male and is doomed to spend the rest of his life doing it unless drastic steps are taken.

I recommend a season of panto to release the grip.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why Can't Public TV Makers Resist Adverts?

A lot of TV is commercial. It is paid for through advertising and sometimes through fees. The adverts are too numerous and generally repetitive and annoying.

However there are a class of TV channels free from such a hindrances to the quality of their programming. Namely public and state TV stations. The ones I'm most familiar with being the BBC in the UK and public television in the USA.

Why is it then, that when given control over the airways, and with no need to waste their on air time with advertising to pay their wages they can't help themselves but create advertisements anyway? They advertise themselves. I've just sat through 10 minutes of OPB (Oregon Public Broadcasting) advertising its own shows on the create channel. I've seen them take a commercial break in the middle of a show and advertise the show I'm watching. What do they expect me to do? Make the decision to watch the show? I'm already watching it. It takes a special kind of stupidity to advertise a show during the show and the people at OPB clearly are swimming in that special kind of stupidity.

The BBC are no better. They do exactly the same thing.

What's worse is that unlike commercial advertisisers, they don't have to pay huge fees to for access to the air time. So they make one advert and run it for month after month, year after year as if somehow, through repition, we will finally crack and watch the channel we've been watching already. Odd that.

In the UK I saw the BBC run a series of adverts about how great they were because they don't have adverts. They seemed quite proud of their no-advertisment lie.

So when I'm in charge of the world, rest assured I'll pass an edict that channels can't advertise themselves at all. Punishment would be harsh and might involve forcibly watching old Coronation Street episodes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Best Restaurant In Oregon

What and where is the best restaurant in Oregon? If you like food and happen to be in Oregon, this may matter to you.

Well I have an answer. It is Tina's of Dundee, Oregon. That's down in wine country on highway 99, south of Portland.

You can google for it and find stuff out about it, but the best thing to do it save your money and go there. Myself and wifey escaped $130 lighter, including tip, but it was worth it.

In my career, I've wined and dined clients and customers around the more expensive restaurants in Portland but they don't come close. I won't bother reviewing the food, the ambiance or the service, there is plenty out there on the interwebs. Don't all go at once.

English Toffee Pudding

The night before last, in celebration of a birthday of a family member, we (me, wifey, 1 daughter, 3 stepdaughters, 2 boyfriends of stepdaughters and 4 members of another family we know) went to eat at a restaurant called the "Claim Jumper".

This is one of those places where the menu is huge, yet familiar. They cover all the typical US style food groups.. Pizza, beef, pasta and some others like lamb and fish. I had the pot roast which was nice enough, but there were about 5 too many types of vegetable on the plate and there was way too much of it. I ate about half.

Where they had gone out on a limb is the inclusion of a bipolar dessert menu. It could be either huge or tiny, but nothing in between. Given that I had wisely passed over the last 50% of my main course, I had left space for dessert, but only one of the tiny desserts stood a chance of fitting in my distended belly. Some others in the party chose from the large end of the menu and were faced with a mountain of cream over sweet chocolately things.

I opted for the "English Toffee Pudding" from the tiny end of the menu. Now I know what this is supposed to taste like. I'm a native of the UK and my mother used to cook it. It arrived on a plate, with a small puck of the cakey bit, suitably dribbled with the toffee sauce and a dollop of ice cream on the side. Everything looked as it should, except it was a bit small, but that was ok, it was supposed to be small.

The shock came on eating it. Following the predictable but OK main course, this thing was a revelation. They, despite 5000+ miles of separation and a cultural gulf you could drive GMC Sierra through, managed to make an English Toffee Pudding better than any I had eaten back where they were invented.

Go there. Skip the starter and entree and head straight for the English Toffee Pudding. Trust me, you won't regret it.

The Joy of Four Wheeled Shopping Carts.

I happen to live in the USA, but it was not always thus. For the first 30 odd years of my life I lived in the UK, where all 4 wheels on shopping carts are free to rotate.

On moving to the United States, I found that the miserable, cheapskate supermarket owners fitted their shopping carts with fixed wheels on the back and rotatable wheels on the front.

Now any schoolchild who's done basic physics knows the principle of mechanical advantage. Trying to steer a cart by moving the wheels at the front left or right, by applying torque to the handle at the back doesn't give you much of it, mechanical advantage that is. Turning corners in US supermarkets is more an issue of muscle than finesse.

So some 8 year years after landing in this fair-but-politically-dumb continent, I wandered into the local IKEA with wife and sprog in tow, to find genuine Euro style shopping carts with all 4 wheels rotatable. Shopping was fun again. I could glide the cart around corners. I could push it sideways, I could steer with one hand and best of all, I could laugh internally at the native USAians stuggling to comprehend the new found degrees of freedom offered by thier shopping appliance.

The meatballs were good also.