Archive for May, 2010

cooltiger – The Bread Runner

You may remember that towards the end of the Tokyo Marathon, I was stopped by a family whom I’d never met before, who’d seen what I was up to and decided to prepare some bread to give to me when I passed them. It was a very kind gesture – I was touched.

In an unexpected repeat of events, during the final session of TEDxTokyo at Miraikan earlier this month, another volunteer came to me and told me that there was someone to see me in the corridor. Somewhat surprised, I made my way out and was greeted by Eiko, a.k.a. cooltiger / The Bread Runner. We first met at a party my friend Stu’s place last year – she’s an artist and was working with them on a ‘finger food’ event – drawing the hands.

Her latest project is pretty cool – she’s running all over the place, stopping off at good bakeries along the way to try their fresh bread products, and then documenting it all on her bilingual blog.

So it was that on the day of TEDxTokyo, she’d chosen to run Odaiba – and having seen me tweet from Miraikan, decided to stop off with some very special bread for me from a 100-year-old bakery in Tsukiji. It was delicious – just what I needed to get me through to the end of the day, having missed lunch due to that being the busiest time for us on the live broadcast team. As you can see, I was pretty out of it…!

cooltiger also gave me a Bread Runner card, spreading the word about the project – anyone can take part.

I hope to go running with cooltiger myself when I’m back up to speed. At least that way I can eat a load of nice bread and not put on any more weight!

Changes. Again.

Kamemushi

I find living next to a park a real lifeline, especially at this time of year. The mosquitoes are yet to really start biting, and the Cicada’s yet to start making a racket. We can keep the veranda doors wide open and enjoy the breeze, whilst talking to the rapidly growing tomatoes, sunflowers and magic bean. Gardening’s another thing that helps me escape the city, even if it is in a very limited form (that is, confined to a few flower pots).

Long term, I couldn’t stay in the city. Not when I know that I could be living in a place as beautiful as Herefordshire (my hometown).

This is Herefordshire

As hinted at in my previous post, I’ve been immensely busy, and unfortunately somewhat stressed too. Last week I made the decision to turn things around. The first thing to do was to start to say no to invitations to take part in 3rd party projects. I find this very tough to do, especially when there’s so many fantastic events etc going on. Still, I know that ultimately I’m damaging my long-term prospects, health, and relationships – so I’ve now said ‘no’ three times, and am delighted by that. Look I even have a bit of time to blog!

Feasting Bee

Despite not keeping up to date here, I have been keeping track of the wave of events and emotions that have been washing over me these past couple of months. I’ve been doing so in the form of Audioboo posts (also embedded in the sidebar of The Daily Mumble), and a lot more in the form of private audio recordings on my iPhone.

Hungry Koi

I continue to struggle with questions of purpose, with placing a value on my time, with balancing acts of goodwill with the real need for an income to pay the bills.

The exposure I’ve had over the past few months (including a TV interview recorded at home a couple of weeks ago but which I can’t talk about yet) has been a real eye-opener. In particular, it’s made me realise just how bad my spoken Japanese has become.

Seriously upsetting.

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At the moment I have ‘Joseph Japanese’. This is all very well and good; I can get my meaning across in most situations, speak with enthusiasm and passion on subjects I’m very familiar with, but when it comes to appearing on camera etc, being asked about things that I’m not so familiar with, I just seize up. I lack the vocab and grammar, despite having learnt both at university. The most recent TV interview was a particular shocker – the producer couldn’t believe the difference between my English and Japanese explanations of the same marathon story.

So, whilst I’m kind of on a roll at the moment, and feel that I should make the most of the opportunities resulting from the marathon exposure, I have this growing sensation that this is not what I should be doing at present. If I wanted to, I’m, pretty sure I could generate a similar level of interest again in the future, and take it from there. Thus, there isn’t an absolute need to push ahead with this kind of thing right now. What would be far more beneficial would be if I paused and spent some time (say, 10 months), really knuckling down and working on my Japanese. I’ve learnt that life is cyclical, and chances DO come around again – you can MAKE them come around again, provided you’re prepared and have the necessary skills.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll stop actively seeking exposure, and instead kind of go into semi-retirement. Of course if some spectacular chances do come up I’d be wise to not turn them down.


That’s all very well and good, but there’s still the larger question of WHY I want to be going down this path at all. It’s a question I struggle with a lot. And, after mych thought, I think it’s a question that at the moment I’m not in a position to know the answer to. I just feel it’s what I should do, and that the reason will present itself in due course. Whatever the ultimate reason is, it’ll be a good reason, and will enable me to improve the lives of others in some way. I feel that strongly.


In other news, and to completely contradict everything I said above, I’m probably going to start helping my brother-in-law Leigh (*Twinkle’s sister’s husband) with the tech side of his business, in order to help him capitalise upon social media etc.

We’re also moving forward with the Penguin project. We’ve gone out and bought all the ingredients needed to make a penguin, and have passed them on to a friend who’s pretty good with a needle.

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Meerkat in Harajuku, used by old man to attract young girls. Bunny rabbits used in same way in Akihabara.

*Twinkle* changed her job this week. Her new one starts at 9am instead of 10am, so this means a change in our schedule. The aim is to go to bed before midnight every day, and wake up at about 7am. So far it’s working. I like it a lot.

Along with this, I’m restarting exercising (namely jogging). My right knee is giving me considerable pain however, so I’m trying to develop a different ball-of-foot style of running to lesson the impact.

My idea for touring Japan by bicycle has been postponed until next Spring. I very much want to do that.

Anyhow, have to pop out now to buy some flash cards for japanese language practice. Or should I just use Anki on my computer / iPhone? Maybe I should.

Toodleloo for now.

TEDxTokyo 2010

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Jake Shimabukuro performs live at TEDxTokyo 2010

Without a doubt the one thing that I’ve focused on more than anything else over the past month has been TEDxTokyo.

What is TEDxTokyo?

I was first invited to participate by good friend and fellow tech-lover @SteveNagata. Knowing my interest in live video projects, Steve gave me responsibility for ensuring that TEDxTokyo reached as wide a global audience as possible. What at first seemed like a fairly simple role turned out to be a whole lot more, ultimately providing me with a great opportunity to get hands-on experience of not only live-video project-management & execution, but also of a limited social media campaign.

Just the kind of thing I’d been looking for.

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The first thing I needed to do was decide which service we were to use for the live video stream. My natural inclination was to use USTREAM, mainly due to their reach and integration of Twitter. Thanks to the Tokyo Marathon Project I had a contact at USTREAM in the US who was able to introduce me to the head of USTREAM here in Japan. We had a memorable meeting one morning a couple of months back at the Softbank HQ (Softbank having investing millions of dollars in USTREAM here in Japan), a meeting which resulted in an offer to help promote the event.

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Some of the team responsible for outputting media for display on the auditorium screen

However, at that point I was unaware of the extent of the natural synergy existing between the company producing the video for us on the day (Virgin Earth Inc) and a local live-streaming company, Gotcha Media KK – the two companies that had collaborated to live stream TEDxTokyo 2009. When this became apparent, it was clear that we would be unwise to not enlist their support again: they both knew the systems of the other company, meaning that integration of technology was something that we wouldn’t need to worry about on the day. They also happened to be thoroughly nice people – it was important to be working with ‘good’ people!

The attraction of the reach of USTREAM was still there however, and so in the end I opted to use both companies. Gotcha Media KK specialise in high-quality multi-stream broadcasts (basically meaning that people on differing internet connection speeds can all get video optimised for their local conditions). Also, with them being on-site they offered a more reliable service, with USTREAM unable to offer any tech support on the day. Thus, it was decided that Gotcha would provide our main HQ streams in both English and Japanese, embedded in our website.

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The only presentation I managed to see on the day – amazing techno-illusionist Marco Tempest

With the pressure off us, I was then free to use USTREAM in an experimental manner, and chose to label it the ‘backstage channel’. We would re-stream the main English channel during the main sessions (i.e. when presentations were happening on stage), and then switch to a live mobile camera during break times, with which we would interview speakers, volunteers and participants. Basically, give the audience a chance to see behind-the-scenes and get more of an idea of the atmosphere at the venue.

By this stage I was communicating with USTREAM in the US directly, as it was English speaking viewers we’d be chasing. The deal was that if we could provide them with times at which we could guarantee the quality of our connection (i.e. be on a wired connection using their software Producer-Pro), their marketing department would feature us on their front page. Two days before the event I was able to do that, and sure enough, up went the banner about 18 hours before we went live. They also very kindly provided us with a license for Producer Pro, the broadcast software from the makers of Wirecast that they resell with their own branding.

Here then is a summary of how it went on the day (taken from a blog post I originally wrote for the TEDxTokyo website:

In 2009 Tokyo hosted the first TEDx event outside of the United States. Keen to share the experience with TEDsters around the world, volunteers from Virgin Earth Inc. and Gotcha Media collaborated to provide a live stream of all presentations, in what was another first for TEDx.

Bilingual broadcast
When it came to planning for TEDxTokyo 2010, we looked to see how we could share the ideas presented on the day with a far larger audience. An obvious solution was to cater for local TEDsters by providing simultaneous Japanese translations of the talks. To do this we’d need not only a team of experienced interpreters, but also a lot more cable, double the bandwidth and an even more enthusiastic post-production team to edit the resulting 42 videos.

The day before the event we arrived at the venue with 4 cameras, hundreds of metres of wires, countless computers and a huge array of additional components, all of which were then painstakingly connected together like a huge jigsaw puzzle.

The resulting picture was fantastic. As we went live at 9am hundreds of viewers logged on to our two main high-def streams, choosing whether to watch in English or Japanese. As the online buzz spread (aided by the social media team tweeting out links and uploading photographs from inside the auditorium), so the numbers steadily climbed, reaching over 4,300 unique viewers in 57 countries by the end of the day.

Backstage channel
In another first for a TEDx event, we decided to give our global audience a chance to see behind the scenes between sessions. With the generous support of USTREAM, we set up a third live video channel, interviewing speakers, participants and volunteers throughout the day. Thanks to the wonders of Tokyo’s high-speed 3G data network, we were also able to join the lunchtime buffet down on the shores of Odaiba. This proved to be immensely popular, and by the end of the day this channel had seen over 7,700 unique viewers.

On-demand videos online in hours
A key part of our strategy was to make all talks available on-demand as soon as possible, as, due to time zone differences we were aware that the largest segments of our potential audience (in the US and UK) would be going to bed halfway through the event.

Thanks to an all-digital workflow pioneered by the volunteer production crew, the generous provision of computers by Tokyo 2.0, and the speed of the post-production team from Virgin Earth, we had the first videos up on YouTube within a few hours of the speakers having left the stage. This strategy worked very well, with the videos being viewed over 90,000 times during the following week (partly thanks to Yahoo News picking up on one of speakers’ toilet talks)…

Whilst these viewing figures were not spectacular, I feel it was a big success. I was particularly happy with the USTREAM figures, as that’s where most of my energy had been spent.

The biggest reward was being able to work with such a team of professionals. I was in awe of Drew – the chap behind the Virgin Earth mixer doing live switches between the four cameras in the auditorium. It was like watching an artist at work, composing his next sequence of flowing shots on the fly, directing the cameramen in their movements. I sat there, mesmerised by his array of screens, now and then glancing at my own computer to see the final result of his work as it went out over Ustream.

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Cirque du Soleil

I also found it inspiring to observe Virgin Earth owner Richard Kipnis direct his team. A real motivating leader who kept his cool no matter what came up.

Personally, I enjoyed dealing with all the challenges faced on the day. It was a delight to be able to push technology to its limits and see what could be done on a budget of $0.00. Highlights included our totally mobile broadcast from the shores of Odaiba (using the Emobile network), meeting speakers such as brain scientist Ken Mogi and musician Jake Shimabukuro, and working with Mika, Nick, Dave, Cindy and Paul.

I think next year we could do much better. I’d start the social media campaign a few weeks earlier, I’d blog a lot more and empower others to blog too, I’d utilise mainstream media in the lead-up to and after the event, I’d get the US and the UK to change their time zones so they’re awake throughout the event, I’d finalise the USTREAM set up a lot earlier so that on the set-up day we could do a practice run with all team members – as it was it was a bit touch-and-go (I’d also hope that Ustream Producer Pro had been improved by then, or instead use the Adobe Flash Media Encoder instead).

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Host of ‘I survived a Japanese Game Show’ Rome Kanda (whom I also met for lunch a couple of days ago)

On Demand videos
The Virgin Earth team had the first videos edited and output before the event was over, and had the lot done within a couple of days – amazing given our resources and the number of videos to upload (about 40). It was then down to me to upload them to YouTube, which unfortunately turned out to take a lot longer than anticipated. Limits on the speed at which it could ingest our videos meant that it took over an hour for each video to upload. It frequently failed to save the video descriptions, tags, dates, locations entered, and on a few occasions threw up unknown errors. In the end it took about 15 hours to get them all up (excluding the time it took to actually to upload them, which happened overnight).

Once the official videos were up, it was time to turn to the interviews we’d broadcast over USTREAM (and simultaneously recorded on my Canon HFS11). I’ve only realised this now, but it turned out that there were 18 of these – more than expected. Thankfully the edits were simple – find the beginning and end points, insert title, speaker intro overlay, outro. I then uploaded these to our TEDxTokyo YouTube channel.

(Not the best of interviews on my part. Head somewhat full of live-streaming challenges! Our cameraman was simultaneously tweeting out about the interview with Ken – thus the lack of the top half of my head!)

This year’s TEDxTokyo is now almost done with. Whilst a lot more work than I’d anticipated, I’m glad I was a part of it. I learnt a lot, enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to putting the skills I picked up to good use elsewhere.

To finish off, I’ll embed a couple of presentations that I particularly like. Do check out the full playlist at http://tedx.to/2010playlist.

Joseph

Four Seasons Hotel and the TELL Runathon

It’s the second day of our Golden Week Holiday, when the government cunningly stacks 4 public holidays on top of one another to force people to take a prolonged break from the office. A mighty fine idea me thinks. *Twinkle* and I have been seeing much more of one another lately, and have been loving it. Really feel so fortunate to be together. The week before last we finally made it to the Four Seasons Hotel in central Tokyo. Our stay at what has in the past been named “The Best Hotel in all of Japan” by several industry bodies was a gift from HSBC and the University of Sheffield – a prize in a raffle at the British Embassy last year.

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See the full-size panorama.

It also wins the prize of the most-expensive hotel I’ve ever stayed at, with rooms starting at about 40,000 yen (£278) per night. Want a bottle of Evien water? 1,000 yen (£7). We had complimentary use of the spa – that would set you back 10,000 yen (£70) if you’re an outsider. That wouldn’t include any treatment though. For reference, 38,000 yen is £265. Wasabi ritual anyone? (..?!) What struck me the most was the price of their carwash service – a “Body Courting Deluxe Carwash” was 20,000 yen (£139! Did that mean that they brought some sexy Ferrari along to seduce your Mercedes? Not entirely sure. The other thing that struck me was the notice on the room safe stating,

“This is not for the safekeeping of valuable items”

Hhmm. So it is worth the money? Well, if you can afford it, then ABSOLUTELY! It really is a fabulous hotel. The service is faultless, with staff being so helpful and polite it’s almost embarrassing. They’re happy to engage with you whilst not prying – they must have a pretty good training program in customer relations. (I was also very impressed with the way the porter carried my incredibly heavy rucksack to my room on two outstretched fingers)

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Unlike most hotels I’ve stayed in our room was larger than a shoebox. Much, much larger. In fact, in square metres it was larger than our home. What a treat to have a king-size bed (with a mattress that was the perfect firmness), a bath that could be filled in about 4 minutes (ours at home takes about 40 minutes), a telephone and remote control by the toilet, luxurious dressing gowns, remote-control blinds and armchairs that reminded me of home. The highlight of the room however was the view over the gardens of Chinzan-so. I was stunned that a central-Tokyo hotel *could* command such a view. A little more about the gardens:

The area, also known as “Camellia Mountain”, was the estate of Prince Aritomo Yamagata, a noted politician and state man during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Naming his manor “Mansion on Camellia Mountain” it was the site of important govenrment meetings and conferences of which Emperor Meiji was a participant. Later, Baron Heitaro Fujita commissioned the construction of historic monuments and also developed the beautiful grounds. The Chinzan-so Garden covering an area of upwards to 66,000 square meters is rich in historic remains and artifacts, all relics of the past that shouldn’t be missed when visiting.

FourSeasons_8405 FourSeasons_8413 Twittering *Twinkle* FourSeasons_8386 Twittering Tame FourSeasons_8389 FourSeasons_8458 There’s a couple of restaurants tucked away in the garden, including “Mucha-an”, where they serve very reasonably priced lunches and evening meals from 900yen. Highly recommended. Starters at Mucha-san

The spa is also pretty nice. There’s a fairly large swimming pool, along the length of which runs a large jacuzzi. A couple of saunas, and outside, a lovely little onsen with natural water imported from a hot spring in Shizuoka. It was nice to experience that kind of luxury, to get a sense of another reality out there that is the norm for some.


My presentation at PechaKucha a couple of weeks back has led to the opportunity to work with Mark Dytham & co of Klein Dytham architecture (founders of Pecha Kucha). Next weekend I’ll be managing the livestreaming of a very special event with Cameron Sinclair – founder of Architecture for Humanity. Details to follow. Additionally, I’ll be meeting with a marketing company in a couple of days regarding live streaming events for their clients. We’ll see where that leads.

I’ve made an effort to improve the quality of the mobile live video we can provide by obtaining the converter necessary to use the Canon HFS11 as a livestream camera. Of course, when live streaming in areas where there’s no wired broadband or wifi broadband we’re still limited to the maximum speed that the emobile 3G data network can provide – but having a good image in the first place makes a huge difference.

We also now have the ability to use plug-in mics or the high quality shotgun mic that sits atop the camera, thus improving sound a great deal. Ideal for noisy situations where we’re trying to interview people. For events where we have to be mobile (where the action is a moving target going down the road for example), I’ve created a portable rig out of a modified rucksack, and a Macbook. My field trials show that we can get about 90 mins out of a single battery, so with my two that’s three hours of completely mobile action. If you switch the batteries quick enough you only have a few moments of downtime – the next step will be to get an external battery pack, and exchange the Macbook for a Macbook Air. Prep for TEDxTokyo (May 15th) continues. There’s a lot to do, but I’m sure we’ll be able to pull it off.


When it comes to my life outside of my work at WRP, hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about how I should make the most of my time. With interests in so many different fields it’s difficult to sense where to go next. Are the small successes in some areas indications that I should follow one of those paths, or were they one-off flashes with no real future potential?

I feel that until I choose a single path to focus on, I’ll be left in this current limbo. It’s not necessarily a bad limbo to be in. Actually, I think it’s kind of necessary. I need to try a variety of things to find where my passion and skills can be used to their full potential. It’s important that I filter out opportunities that ultimately are just entertaining distractions, and learn to recognise when something comes along that fits in with the path I *should* take. It’s becoming clear that it’s going to be somehow connected with media / technology / people… (well that narrows it down!)

One danger is that I just sit back and wait, excusing myself by ensuring I’m kept busy with short-term projects, that I ‘don’t have time’ to deal with the bigger picture.


Yesterday I took part in the Tokyo English Life Line 10km Runathon. It was the first time I’d done over about 6km since the Tokyo Marathon. I didn’t feel too confident at the start – on Friday I’d gone for a training run and had to retire a little over halfway through my 1hr session due to knee pain. I was very happy to be able to join Tom (whom I ran the marathon with), his son Jay and parents Ann and Shigeo (visiting from the UK) for the event; Tom and I would run two circuits of the 5km Imperial Palace route, the three of them would walk one one circuit.

We set off pretty slowly, then slowly picked up the pace as the crowd thinned. It wasn’t long before my knee started to hurt as it had the previous day, but I decided to think of it as ‘warm up pain’, that would wane if I kept going. At 7km it was pretty bad, and I began to hobble a little. It was then that I got my iPhone out and plugged in to some running music – having that filling my head helped take my mind off the pain in my knee, and I was able to continue.

This was the first time that I’d used Runkeeper to track my route in a race. This iPhone app has recently been updated so that it now provides in-run feedback about your pace and distance. This was incredibly encouraging as I reached 8.5km: my pace was 4m45s per km, the fastest I’d run for a prolonged period. I realised that there was a chance I could break my personal best, 47 mins set the year before at the same event. And sure enough, I did, coming in at 47mins and 17 seconds.

[In writing this blog, I thought I'd better double check my time from last year, and found this video ...in which I complete the race in 45 mins! So, turns out I was slower this year! Nevermind. Considering I didn't think I'd get to the end I think I did pretty well!]  


We’re staying at granny’s house tonight in the west of Tokyo. We don’t see her often, but she does enjoy us coming to visit. It’s a good chance to relax too – being in a different environment helps me look at things in a new light. The remainder of the Golden Week holiday will see me take time off work, have a few meetings re. live-streaming related stuff, and work with *Twinkle* on getting a project off the ground that we’ve talked about for far too long without doing anything about it. Looking forward to a relaxing but productive few days.