Little House In Ise

The Belly of the Beast
October 28, 2006, 03:22
Filed under: Japan, Robots | Tags: , , ,

Last week I did Giant Robot Training! Woohoo! Safety concerns were very much secondary as we crawled through a maze of cables and climbed poorly attached metal frames covered with many meters of “DO NOT ENTER YOU WILL DIE!!!” tape. I had a headache brought on by clashing, out-of sync, high-pitched, electronic “Mary had a Little Lamb”, “London Bridges” and “Camp Town Races” spewing from the robots racing past overhead. It made the threat of death rather appealing. This may fall into the category of “The Mondays” but it’s hard to tell.

Based on the size and color of that particular robot, I figured it should transform into a Winnebago. Nobody would tell me where the transform button or what the secret chant was. I really wanted to see if there was an icepack in the RVs freezer.

There were a few other folks in training too. One was an Irish guy who has been at the company much longer than me. “The Young Guy”, who just started fresh out of college and a couple of older guys who are in from other companies and need to know how to work with these robots. The Irish guy looked worse off than I was. He had spent the weekend participating in Shinto a ceremony that involved lifting heavy weights in the sun while screaming and drinking heavily. I might have participated had I known about all the yelling — for me, it would have counted as karaoke practice. I should have been clued in by that fact that it was a religious ceremony. The Young Guy had lost his wistful smile early on in the class. I’m sure the thought of falling from one of those platforms probably didn’t appeal quite as much to him. I sympathized, I still haven’t seen the last episode of LOST.

At the top, we stood around a column where the “remote” control cable protruded. We balanced on a grid of 5cm wide braces meant for attaching metal floor plates. Sadly, someone had forgotten to add the floor. The view down wasn’t so bad but the pile of angled metal parts at the bottom was more threatening than all those wasted rolls of yellow tape. Why we had to climb that thing to play with the robot is still not quite clear (my money is on really bad user interface design …) but we were there to work on the “Stalker” (really it’s “Stocker” but the other is more menacing and appropriate for a giant robot). So I learned to train the Stalker and absolutely sweated beads trying to get the damn arm to carry it’s demo payload to the appropriate trio of kinematic pins. All the guys gave me shit, in their “enigmatic” Japanese way, because the UI for the remote controller was in English and they thought I should be able to understand it because of that. A bad UI is a bad UI no matter what language it’s written in. After much stress, I managed to teach the massive beast where to put its little plate and when I put it in test mode the 5 meter long arms rushing past were, ahem, thrilling. I didn’t wet my pants — let’s leave it at that.

I was happy to get that little bit of training out of the way even though it got me out of a couple of crack-of-dawn teleconferences with irritated customers. So back to the people farm and more stories of the weird as I experience them …


初段審査 (Black Belt Test)
October 25, 2006, 21:37
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , ,

Shihan moved my test up by a couple months. He moved it up to last night. It wasn’t a total surprise, I had a couple weeks notice. He didn’t say what to expect beyond tanto dori. In the end it was nothing special in terms of techniques called. He called a long, grueling list of basics, tanto tori and then more suwari waza basics (called zagi here).

The comments were things that I’ve heard before. He said that I rushed and it affected my footwork and posture. He said that normally I perform better than I did on the test. I saw the video and think that the test went well. It felt good — I even remember most of it! The one big, “Oops” moment was a matter of degree. I did an irimi nage that I thought was too hard on my uke. On the tape it looked very direct but not too bad. I’m glad that he was a bouncy fellow though! 🙂

Lab-Coat Mafia vs. the Mouseketeers
October 13, 2006, 15:39
Filed under: Expat, Japan, Work | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

No wild adventures this time. Mind you, it still seems as though I’m writting a trip report after eating mushrooms but such is life in Japan.

The hi-lite of my workday is usually that blissful 45 minute period ironically described as “Lunch Hour”. Like clockwork, the lab-coat mafia appears 30 minutes before the appointed time and delivers bento. Carts of artfully designed lunch boxes are hauled in by men and women dressed in the latest from the Mad Scientists -R- Us  catalog, including surgical masks.

As the Mafia prepared their wares today, a high-pitched shreik broke the rustling of papers and one-sided conversations that make up the normal background din of my office. One of the young ladies in the CAD group had found that a mouse had taken up residence in the back of her snack drawer. The terrified mouse scrambled for cover under the desks that comprise the rest of CAD island. More shreiking and shouting broke out.

The Lab-coat Mafia freaked, no doubt worried that someone had come to take revenge on them for serving spinach every day for a week (import spinch from the States has become cheap — can you say e-coli?). One ran for cover. He made it out safely I think.

Gallent young men bounded from left and right to come to the aid of the poor young ladies on CAD island. It was kinda cute in a, “Thumpers gonna die” kinda way. The rescuing knights caused even more confusion in the mafia ranks. Clearly today’s lunch was not meant to be.

Anyway to make a short story longer, I discovered that the best way to upgrade a crappy old 60s vintage, battleship-grey desk is to fill a cabinet with cookies and then let mice shit in it. I’m still not sure how to get rid of the matching chair. My plan obviously needs work and I _need_ to get a lab-coat.

“Last call for drinks” A Survivor’s Guide
October 5, 2006, 03:20
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , ,


Me again… you remember me, right? No? Hmmm… what to do? Oh yeah! A rambling letter! That ought to do the trick!

In a fit of beer-induced clarity I made another profound break-through in my understanding of Japanese culture. Or at least Japanese stuff. So, of course, you get the “benefit” without the headache, bleary eyes or angry spouse.

Ahem, for a good time call… no, no, not that one. Errrr… Yes! Here it is…

When you feel a desperate need to sing your throat raw, all night long then _don’t_ go to a bar. They have strictly observed closing times, especially in “gods’ country”, and you will likely hear the dreaded phrase, “Last call for drinks” or the Japanese equivalent much earlier than you want. “What to do,” you ask? Well, say no more, this can easily be remedied by packing an assortment of your own favorite beverages into a bag and hauling them over to the local rent-a-car dealership.

Perhaps more detail will help. Imagine a crew of severely impaired Japanese businessmen, business-women and a couple of foreigners (possibly included for comic relief) parking at the local equivalent of Hertz. They stumble through the parking lot and are greeted enthusiastically by a guy in a canary yellow jumpsuit — the on-call night mechanic. The crowd is somewhat rowdy and fueled with various spirits. It is now time to rent a room at the car-rental shop. Fortunately, there is a designated driver (the HR weenie/brilliant singer) who is lucid enough to get the job done quickly and with no loss of fluids. More stumbling, this time through towers of tires and then up the stairs. As we walk up we can vaguely hear the distant yowl of abused cats fighting a death duel. This turns out to be our neighbors. The stairway ends in what looks kind of like an industrial hotel. The room is a medium sized (cozy for ten) karaoke box. The screen takes up half of one wall and the beer takes up the table. Brain-damage ensues.

OK, maybe it wasn’t an epiphany that hit me, more likely it was a microphone, but still this feels like a new level, perhaps a whole new plane of understanding. I’ve got a transcendent feeling, similar to when I first really got Hello Kitty, but with a smaller welt.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far that probably means you’re having a boring day at the office too.

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