Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Portal Earworm

As I know that there are some of you reading this now who are closet masochists, I will share my latest earworm with you. If you've finished the videogame Portal, you will have seen this. The credits at the end of this game are some of the best game credits that I have ever encountered. I thought the team did an amazing job with these - and now, I have the song stuck in my head. Mind you, I first saw these credits a couple of weeks ago - and now after two weeks of peace, - BAM - the song's in my head. Enjoy!

Monday, March 24, 2008

For the Love of Your Dog

Our dog, Samantha, has been in Chicago since mid-February vacationing with my in-laws. Truly, she is only there as we were out of town for several weeks and clearly could not take her with us. I was going to pick her up this last weekend while we celebrated Easter with our family there, but as a result of our brains misfiring simultaneously, we didn't get around to looking for plane tickets back to Chicago until the price of one ticket exceeded what I normally would pay for three. Ugh. So - as a result, Sam's still in Chicago - and had a wonderful Easter luncheon at my aunt and uncle's house with both my side of the family and my husband's parents. Though nobody is pressuring us to pick her up - we do miss her a lot.

I came across this video yesterday and it definitely brought a smile to my face. Though the dog in the video, Jerry, is no longer around for his owner, it's obvious that during his time here, he was very much loved. It took two years for his owner to complete the machine in this video. It's awesome. Sam would love one of these contraptions! Jerry was a lucky dog.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why Are Obnoxious Lines Tolerated?

This weekend, Anime Boston 2008 is going on at the Hynes Convention Center. My husband and I were downtown Friday and Saturday and strolled over a few times to check it out. We did not pre-register for this event and fully expected to have to stand in line to register and obtain convention credentials. What I didn't expect was a line that was more than six hours long at 3 pm on the first day.

Clearly, I wasn't going to spend that kind of time in line when the NCAA tournament was going on and there was a perfectly good barstool at Champions with my name practically written on it. However, we were curious as to what exactly was going on with the lines at Anime Boston 2008. A wait of over six hours for people who had not yet registered was ridiculous (especially in a “cash only” operation, as this was). What we found out was even more disturbing. The people who had pre-registered and who had, as a result, already paid for their admissions, had to wait more than three hours to get their credentials and get in the doors. There was a three hour wait for people who had already paid for their admission! We walked to the front of the line to see exactly how long the line actually was (OMG it was long) and to see what was causing the ridiculous wait times. (I don't work anymore, but somehow, you can't quite beat the consultant out of me).

The Anime Boston 2008 promoters only had 6 computers in the registration room and each person in the huge line had to register themselves on one of them.

Are you freaking kidding me? We spoke with the staff person who was standing in front of the registration room and he said that they only had six computers for registration. He acknowledged that the line was long but then added that he thought that the line was moving “a lot faster than last year.” WTF? That's your benchmark? So you sucked last year - and this year you think you suck just a little less - and you declare a small victory? Wow.

We watched some basketball at the bar and then went back at 8 pm and even though registration was supposed to be open until 10, they weren't letting anyone that was unregistered into the Hynes Convention Center. The two men at the door claimed that the convention exceeded fire safety codes and too many people were in the building. When pressed, one admitted that the line for registration was still very long and since registration was closing at 10 (in 2 hours) they weren't letting more people onto the end of the line. In all seriousness, as the one security person told us that stuff about fire safety codes, people were streaming out of the convention center. He (one security guy) was supposed to be scanning the credentials of all of the people who were walking into the convention center, but he missed at least a good 30% of the ones that walked in with us. I somehow doubt that they truly had a handle on how many people were in that building at that moment.

We bumped into the assistant treasurer of the con in the elevator of the hotel on Saturday morning and asked him about the registration situation. He acknowledged that it was far from smooth but that they had a few more computers for Saturday and he'd hoped it would go smoother. We took a peek. Fail.

What I found amazing was that the people in line - many decked out for the occasion in serious Anime attire - seemed to have no problem standing in line for 3-6 hours to get in. The only people who even looked befuddled by the situation were the parents who accompanied minors as chaperones. When I found out that the reason for the lines was that the promoters were completely inept and had a less than mediocre registration process running, I pretty much gave up. Why would I want to hand over $50 for weekend admission to a convention run by jokers? Apparently, there were thousands of people who found this treatment acceptable. It's actually similarly run at a lot of conventions like this one. That's sad.

If I was an exhibitor at Anime Boston 2008, I would definitely be miffed that hundreds and hundreds of potential customers were spending many hours of their day sitting on the floors of the second floor of the Hynes Convention Center instead of inside the convention itself throwing around their currency. That's not even taking into account the many people who showed up with the intention of attending, who left as the line was ridiculous.

Would I have been a little more interested in waiting in a crazy line if I hadn't just been in Tokyo earlier this month? No, not even a little bit.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Got Their Bases Covered

I spied these in Kowloon in front of the Art Museum. One was up against the building and the other was facing it on the other side of the walkway. Considering that the only things in sight moving on that walkway were pedestrians and small carts, I'm thinking they could have gotten away with one sign that just said "Beware."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I'm a Social Addict? Wha?

I came across a short but interesting post called "Social Addicts: How do Hardcore Facebook, MySpace and Twitter users differ?" by Max Freiert by way of Techmeme today. I was amused when I got down to the bottom of the post and read how an "addict" was distinguished:

"In this analysis Facebook and MySpace addicts were defined as any user who logged into either site at least 21 days in February. Twitter addicts were defined as anyone who went to their twitter home page at least 10 times in a month. The less stringent qualifications for Twitter addicts was necessary because of the multiple channels used to access the site (mobile, desktop applications)."

Hmmm. Interestingly, though I was enamored with MySpace before Facebook opened up to the masses, on average, I only check my account over there once every 2 months or so. So clearly, I am not a MySpace addict. Whew. Twitter & Facebook, however, are a different story. If both the Twitter and Facebook sites went down for a couple of days, however, I wouldn't miss Facebook nearly as much as I would miss Twitter. It wouldn't even be close. So fine, by the measures used in their analysis, I would qualify as a Twitter and Facebook addict. Who knew?

At any rate, this analysis that was done looked into which Internet sites the addicts of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter visited "substantially more than the average internet user" and then drew conclusions about what actually seemed to interest these people. As someone who has used all three sites, I wasn't surprised by the findings. I don't want to just give the punchline away because I think the information about the individual sites visited by the users was interesting and worth a look. However, I will say that the addicts of the three individual sites were described, in no particular order, as a) "somewhat vain" b) "focus more on engagement" and c) "interested in fostering communication and exploration." Somehow I think you can match the site with the descriptor without too much trouble yourself.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Best Post-Flight Thus Far

Last Thursday, I flew from Beijing to Hong Kong. My husband and I were staying at the Four Seasons Hong Kong for a long weekend, but were arriving separately. My flight was arriving first from Beijing and he would follow much later from Shanghai. As I'd never been to Hong Kong as an adult and I knew I would be tired from my time in Beijing, I decided that it would be best for me to just have the hotel arrange for an airport transfer.

I actually do this a lot when we travel internationally or when I am landing alone. (We did this for every new city on this particular trip). When in a foreign country and alone, I feel safer having the hotel arrange for a car to pick me up at the airport and take me directly to the hotel. I can be more free about my means of transportation when I have a traveling companion or when I've already been to the city and am comfortable with the taxis or public transportation options. The cost is clearly going to exceed the cost of a taxi in most (but not all) cases, but I believe it's worth the extra cost to ensure my relative safety and to cut through the trouble of figuring out where to go to find transportation to the hotel. After Immigration & Customs, I'm usually tired of lines anyway.

My flight landed at the International terminal, and immediately upon exiting the jetbridge (4:05 pm), I saw a woman with my name on a placard. Back in the U.S., you usually don't see your limo driver until after you have exited Customs with your luggage. She wasn't actually my limo driver though. She was my cart driver. Apparently, in Hong Kong, upon arrival you can pay to have someone drive you via a quasi-golf cart from your arrival gate to Immigration. Surprise! She was very nice and greeted me with, “Welcome to Hong Kong!” I must say, after a few days in Beijing, a sincerely friendly person was exactly who I needed to see. She placed my bag in the back of the cart, helped me into the back seat and whisked me to Immigration. When I say “whisked,” I mean it. Hong Kong International Airport is gorgeous and huge, but it really just flew by me as I sat in the back of this cart. She finally stopped at Immigration. After the cart trip, I was very glad that they arranged it for me as we covered some serious ground. The airport is huge and we passed several people movers on our way through it.

At Immigration, she handed me my bag and said she would meet me on the other side. As we passed everyone on my plane via the cart and there was perhaps a dearth of landings at the same time, there was no line at Immigration. Immigration didn't seem to even take a minute. Then I handed her my bag again and we walked through Customs without a word from me to anyone. After Customs, she handed me off to a representative of the Four Seasons Hotel and said “goodbye.”

The hotel representative took my bag from her, greeted me and asked me to follow him. Small talk was polite and seemed sincere. We did not walk very far from the Customs exit, took an escalator down one flight and walked outside. A nice black Mercedes Benz S-Class was waiting for me with a very amiable driver. I got in and looked at my watch. It was 4:20 pm. I was off of the plane at Hong Kong International Airport, through Immigration & Customs and into the back of a comfortable car in 15 minutes flat. Wow. Honestly, I think the walk from my gate to Immigration alone would have taken at least 15 minutes - and then I would have been greeted with a line of other travelers from my flight. Wow.

Once in the car, the driver held out a silver platter with three nicely rolled up wet face towels with which to refresh myself. He also let me know that the bottles of Fiji water were new and were meant for me to enjoy during our trip to the city. The drive was really nice. There wasn't any traffic at all and the driver was more than pleasant and would inform me of things like the names of bridges we passed.

When we reached the hotel, I was greeted at the car door by one of the front desk personnel and a porter. I was told that they would take me to my room directly and I could complete the check-in process there. She had all of the paperwork with her as well as my room key. The check-in process was efficient and friendly. When she left my room, I looked at my watch again: 5:05 pm. No joke.

I went from disembarking the plane to sitting in a beautiful hotel room in Hong Kong in an hour flat. In addition, everyone in the chain that “handled” me was friendly and polite. They greeted me by name and made the entire process as painless as possible.

If you're going to be in Hong Kong anytime soon, I highly recommend the Four Seasons Hotel - it's wonderful. If you're going to stay at the Four Seasons, I also recommend that you have the hotel arrange your transportation from the airport. They basically handled my “transportation” from the arrival gate all the way to the hotel and handled it exceedingly well. It was a well spent HK$900 (approximately US$115). I've had a lot of hotels arrange airport limo service for me in the past, and there's a level of service that you come to expect from them. The airport transfer arranged by the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong far exceeded my expectations.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Name the Summer Game Sport

Spied these two Beijing Summer Olympic mascots in an outdoor exhibit in Hong Kong. I can't personally figure out the summer Olympic sport in which they are engaged. Hmmm.

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Comfortable Destination: Tokyo

I am always happy to spend more time in Tokyo, Japan and was very fortunate to get to visit again last week. Tokyo is alive and well and when you walk the streets of Tokyo, you can almost feel its heart beating. It is beautiful and awash in both history and technological advancement. You can find almost anything you want in Tokyo and can experience a broad range of experiences within it confines. As an American, I find it very easy to navigate Tokyo and I also find the locals, in general, to be polite, pleasant and civil. When I want to be immersed in Japan - in its traditional foods, sounds and surroundings, I can be and when I need something familiar from home, like Banana Pancakes and Applewood Smoked Bacon, I can have those too, exactly like I would back home - and it's almost effortless.

There's some serious order to the chaos that goes on in Tokyo. People stand on the left side of escalators and walk on the right side - everywhere. No cell phone conversations take place on the subway trains. People actually follow queues and walk/do not walk signs at crosswalks (for the most part). As clearing your nose with tissue (or anything else) in public is considered impolite, the people with colds all wear face masks as they mingle with the masses. Posted prices in stores are generally followed - there's no wasted effort in haggling over every little thing. The residents have a definite understanding of “personal space.” There are a lot of formalities surrounding things like introductions, business card exchanges and drinking customs. It's all very civil.

With that being said, its people aren't boring either. Its citizenry is diverse and expressive both in person and appearance. The general sense of style is very good. Get onto a subway car at Roppongi or Shinjuku or Ginza and look around and you're bound to notice that even though people have diverse tastes in their personal appearance and clothing styles, they all look very put together. You could practically pick almost any one of them out of the crowd and take a photo for a magazine spread. No matter the age demographic, they generally make an effort to look “good” in Tokyo. There's a sense of having to always save face in Japan which probably fuels this to some extent. There's something about being surrounded by people who care about their outward appearance and understand personal space that is comforting. Even in a huge crowd, you don't feel like you're going to get crushed.

The city is highly navigable by train, car or foot. Signs are often posted in both Japanese and English. On the trains in particular, not only are station names written in Western characters, but the audio announcements are made in both Japanese and English. I never feel lost in Tokyo.

For me, Tokyo is a comfortable destination and it's just a lot of fun. I don't know much Japanese, but have learned enough of it to comfortably go shopping and to apologize and explain to the locals that I really don't know much of their language. I've found that if you're polite, the locals will really try to understand your English even though they have absolutely no obligation at all to do so. Most of them understand enough English to make communications very easy. They're generally pleasant folks. In Tokyo, I am humbled by how good the general grasp of English is and by how willing the people are to try to converse with me in English.

I was very sad to have to leave Tokyo again and am already looking forward to our next trip back.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mitsukoshi Food Halls

While in Tokyo, it's imperative for me to take a stroll (or two or three...) through the basement food halls of the major department stores. It seems that all of the huge department stores have food halls in their basements (Yes, plural basements - most have 2 basement floors jammed wall to wall with food). I know that this is the case in other parts of the world also, but it isn't this way for us back home in the U.S. so I take a stroll when I'm in the area and pick up a few provisions for later.

I brought my Flipcam on one such walk through the two basements of Mitsukoshi in Ginza. Again, I warn you to not watch this if you have any issues with motion sickness. It bounces around a lot and frankly, I couldn't see what the camera was filming. Also, please forgive the ticking sound that is heard in certain parts of this video. I think the camera was hitting a button on my coat. (Sorry!)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Saving Me on a Long Haul

Since last fall, there has been one piece of clothing in my wardrobe for which I have been very grateful. Very grateful. Lucky Brand Jeans created the Lola 5 pocket sweatpant last year and I can't imagine a better pair of pants to wear on a long haul flight.

These pants came out in black and I purchased two pairs. They look like black jeans. They are styled just like the regular Lola Bootcut jeans, but they are made of a material that, though called “sweatpants,” seems to me to be more akin to something in between a well-worn t-shirt and a cotton sweatpant. They are forgiving to your curves and are very flattering (if I do say so myself). If you saw a woman wearing these pants, you honestly would never guess that they were basically sweatpants. They're wonderful.

I've been wearing them on domestic flights and have found that wearing them is a great way to look put-together while being ultimately comfortable. Last week, I wore a pair for the first time on a trans-Pacific flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. That's a LONG flight. The Japan Airline flight attendant offered me pajamas to wear during the flight - a top and a bottom - but there's something about wearing the airline's PJs that never really sat well with me personally. I declined the PJ offer and settled into my seat wearing my Lucky Brand Lola sweatpants and a Tommy Bahama half-zip sweatshirt (another long flight necessity for me). I honestly don't think I would have been more comfortable in a pair of pajamas.

The Lola 5 pocket sweatpant is no longer available on the Lucky Brand Jeans website. I suspect it's a seasonal thing. I sent an email to the company to find out if and when they will make their return, because if they do, I will certainly be a buyer. In the meantime, I noticed that they are now offering the Mimosa Wide Leg Terry Pant which, unlike the Lola Bootcut, has wide legs but is of similar construction. I suspect they are comfortable as well but I haven't made it into a Lucky Brand Jeans store to see a pair for myself. When I get back into the U.S., I will have to check them out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Crossing the Street at Shibuya Station

Took a short Ninja video while crossing the street in front of Shibuya Station in Tokyo. I included a pic that I took from the Starbucks on the opposite corner. If you are prone to motion sickness, please don't watch the video - you won't like it much. I just find the sights & sounds on that corner to be interesting. There are huge TVs overlooking the intersection that blare sound into the area. Add to that all of the people passing, the street performers and vehicles & you're there.

(Pic is from…071fbf.jpg)

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Not-So-Stealth Asakusa Walk

Please do not watch this video if you have an issue with motion sickness. I was at the Asakusa Kannon Temple in Tokyo today and thought I'd use my FlipCam to take a Ninja video of some of the sights and sounds found on Nakamise-Dori which leads up to the Temple. This street is lined with little shops selling all sorts of things. I held the cam up to my chest so it looked like I was just holding a camera against myself. I couldn't see what I was capturing on video. In addition, it bounces a lot.

This temple area is very different from the area surrounding the Meiji Jingu Shrine on the other side of town which is totally serene and surrounded by a wooded park. It is beautiful nonetheless. As always, Tokyo is treating me well. It's a great city.

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