A week of important decisions and output

There is something about the corner of this 50-storey building that thrills me.

It’s so sharp. So determined to cut through the air. So confident. You can’t help but admire an attitude like that.

sexy corner

It’s the corner of a building bordering Hamarikyu Gardens, photos of which you’ll find below.

But before we get into that, I have a favour to ask of any readers connected with the University of Sheffield (my uni) – my kohai (person in class below me) Alice is a lovely girl, and has entered a competition to help promote the university. To win, she needs a decent number of views of a Youtube video she and several other of my kohai made – so please go and watch it – it’s here (don’t be fooled by the black opening) Thank you.


I’ve got podcasts coming out me ears this week.

First off, I’m really enjoying my private podcast (that’s the one that shows up to the right of the Daily Mumble). In particular, this one got some attention this week. It’s about my renewed determination to improve my Japanese.

I’ve since restarted my personal Japanese podcast (feed links in sidebar of The Daily Mumble), and am using that to update my long-neglected Japanese blog.

With language study, I firmly believe that if one is meeting repeated failure due to a ‘lack of time’ etc, you have to figure something out that fits in with existing routines. This does for me.

I’ve also finally got the sumo video out, which underwent a major re-write following a private viewing for *Twinkle*!! This is not meant to be taken seriously.

(If you subscribe to Japan Podshow you’ll find this in the feed.

Then accompanying that, we have episode 11.5 of Japan Podshow. I don’t feel this is up to standard, and think this is mainly due to the fact that it was recorded outside of the studio where we were limited in what we could do. Still, that’s OK.

I drew the artwork on the Hibiya and Ginza subway lines, in case you were wondering. I do enjoy drawing elephants!

I just have to finish off the full interview with Nathan of Hear Japan for Making it in Japan – should be able to do that tomorrow.

I’m determined to start running again – and have run for the past two days, and will again tomorrow (GPS route with embedded photos of this morning’s jog here, courtesy of the iPhone).

I was happily surprised by how the iPhone handled this spider (which incidentally I blogged about this morning over on Dannychoo.com).

Japanese Spiders

After the run it was off to Hamarikyu Gardens with *Twinkle* and a friend visiting from Madrid. I blogged this photo too.

Hamarikyu Gardens Tokyo

Here’s a shot of Tokyo Bay from above, with Hamarikyu in the foreground (taken on the iPhone again. In fact all of these were).

Hamarikyu and Tokyo Bay

Also this week I met up with dear friend Paul P back in Japan for a quick visit, with CNet / Japan Times journalist friend Rick to discuss Augmented Reality apps (he might use some of the info I provided in a JT article next week), oh, and continuing to correspond with Ian the documentary maker regarding film-making. Who knows what the future holds.

The day job is going OK.

Eyes are tired though, and the Macbook needs to be seen to – the sound card seems a bit dodgy, i.e. all system audio turns into loud static pops after lengthy editing sessions. Not good. Just need to get to a time when I don’t need it for video editing all the time, like the beginning of November when Japan Podshow is done.

Things are good though. Exhausted, but excitement and motivation levels are high. Gotta make the most of the time we’ve got!


Saying RAAAAAA to life

SistersA week between Mumbles…. how about that?! I think Twitter‘s to blame. I wonder what the global impact of Twitter has been upon blogging? If my performance is anything to go by it’s not insubstantial.

Is this a good thing? I’m inclined to think it is, and it isn’t.

The nature of Twitter means it can be done on the road, no need to sit down in front of the computer – thus providing us with more time to do stuff out there in real life.

However, it also means that there’s less motivation for us to think things through. Big decisions get compacted down to a single line of text, responded to in kind.

For me personally, whilst I am now posting here less regularly, I’m not thinking that this marks the demise of the blog. Far from it. Thanks to Twitter, blogs are far more likely to be read – if you write something of interest! (I’ll have to figure out how to do that 🙂

With only a few minutes to spare before I head off to do my regular bit of voluntary work at the town hall, this post will also be a little twitter-like.

The pace has really picked up. For the past couple of weeks I’ve had every day pretty much fully booked, going from work at 7pm to meet someone / attend an event – weekends have also been filled with ‘stuff’.

Work too has suddenly become a lot busier, with the departure of a colleague leading to a whole new area of responsibility – and a whole new area ripe for improvement. As I’m taught the new systems, I’m finding myself constantly looking for ways in which processes can be streamlined – as with many SMEs in Japan, there is so much room for improvement. I like to work in an environment where people say things like ‘Hey! That might work, let’s give it a try!” instead of what is often heard in Japan, “oh, you’d have to speak to so and so about that …but we’ve always done it like this so I don’t think it can be changed”. I’m fortunate in that there is a degree of the former in my workplace.

PigeonThe bird table / window ledge I made last week (of which this isn’t a picture, this is a pigeon that was unimpressed by the cherry blossom) is now sporting a wealth of vegetation, with lavender, parsley and assorted flowers now bringing a great splash of delicious green to our bedroom / winter workspace. The birds remain happy, devouring all the food I put out for them. It’s not uncommon for up to 14 sparrows to be seen fighting over the seed. I was going to live-stream some video from it yesterday, but it seems the birds realised that – and boycotted the event. I guess they’re not happy with being paid peanuts.

My efforts to create a large network of friends in Tokyo continues to be a great success. This week I was fortunate to attend a party at the Appliya offices – Appliya being a rising star amongst iPhone / iPod touch developers. It was inspiring to hear about their culture of creativity, and to meet so many individuals who are doing what their passion inspires them to do. (I also got an interview for the upcoming podcast with Genkii, who were all over the news earlier this week with their 3D virtual world for the iPhone).

I also met up with Karamoon, an online acquaintance of several years who, until now, I’d never met. He’s working hard to bring about a Tokyo BarCamp [@tokyobarcamp – this is a very exciting project and I’m sure will be a great success. I’d encourage others interested in technology in Tokyo to attend, especially those who’ve not been to a Barcamp before now.

Cherry BlossomYesterday *Twinkle* and I hosted a little cherry blossom party – unfortunately we were a week early so the cherry blossoms that fill the entire glass-doored wall to our East were yet to bloom (although as can be seen it’s only going to be a couple of days before they do). Yesterday also so saw the Himonya Park Cherry Blossom festival take place – all around the pond were groups eating and drinking on the traditional blue tarps. There was dancing, a display by the fire brigade, food stalls, drumming, and a plant sale.

International boat race - the German / Japanese teamOh, and an International Boat Race: England vs. Germany vs. Japan! Germany, represented by our good friend Daniel, won by a mile. Well, by about 300 metres. England (me) were second, and Japan (our neighbours) took a relaxing detour around the fountain.

Last night I attended the sayonara (goodbye) party of a good friend @papadimitriou, someone whom in a very short space of time I’ve found to be a great source of inspiration. Whilst at the party we remembered that we were supposed to be taking part in the weekly podcast Japan Tech Talk – kudos to our host Robert in Nagoya for dealing with the drunken rabble that called in! [photo courtesy Andrew Shuttleworth]

The podcast is coming on. I’ve uploaded the first mp3 file – it’s not an episode in itself, just a kind of promo – although it’s real purpose is actually to establish the feeds and entry in the iTunes podcast directory. I’ll let you know what it is when Apple are done reviewing it.

The live-streaming marathon all went very well. I’ll be posting a video review of that once I, er, well, hang on, I think we need a new section…


…manage to edit the video.

Don’t tell my old MacBook, but it’s soon to be replaced.

I say ‘old’, but actually the only old bit about it is the motherboard – virtually every other part has been replaced at least once during the last 18 months. I’m replacing it as a) the small screen makes audio / video editing difficult, and b) it just doesn’t have the power I need for editing videos – the other morning I spent a good deal of time editing a multi-track video in Screenflow, only to lose all my work when my macbook ran out of memory and panicked. Even editing RAW files from my Nikon DSLR in Adobe Lightroom has been causing problems lately, with regular hangs when processing those that I uploaded to Flickr yesterday. With over 20,000 photos in my iPhoto09 library, loading that takes forever too (just since the upgrade from 08) – meaning I’m reluctant to look at my photos.

Macbook ProMy new baby will be a bit of beast: the 17″ Macbook pro. I’ll be going for the default 4GB of RAM etc. They claim the battery lasts up to 7 hours – I’ll be putting that to the test when it arrives next month. My current MacBook will be passed on to *Twinkle*. She doesn’t seem all that thrilled, even though I insist that it’s basically ‘new’ due to all the repairs it’s had!

We also have another new Mac in the family (inherited from my sister-in-law) – an old iBook G4 (1Ghz/640mb) with a broken DVD drive. Having bought an external DVD drive for it I’ve been able to install Leopard – it runs no problem, although admittedly we’re only using it for the internet and iTunes. I plan to use that as our live stream server when the birds are feeling co-operative.

This means we now have a spare Toshiba laptop …which has just found a new home following an accident my friend had yesterday with a cup of water and their own laptop.

Anyway, I’ve long wanted to get into video production, but without a powerful-enough computer for anything other than the simplest of edits it’s something I’ve held back on. I look forward to branching out into this field with the arrival of the new one.

Another field I’ll be branching out into is singing jazz.

Yes, I know, I can’t sing (I’ll be making a point of this in our podcast).

Yesterday, one of our cherry-blossom guests, a chap in his early 50s, spotted my Samson Condenser Mic and became interested in what I was doing. Turns out he has a ton of studio gear, and regularly produces CDs for local jazz bands. For some reason he asked me to go along to the next session and see what it was like – and then (following practice) to record a song myself!

I’ve often wanted to be a singer, despite not being able to sing. I’d like to take lessons – but it’s not enough of a priority at the moment.

Oh, one final thing – I’m currently listening to Miracle In The Andes. It’s a powerful story. Shocking, gripping, inspiring.

Anyway, I’d best be off. Since I started writing this post I’ve actually cancelled my voluntary work, need to focus.

Incidentally, we have beautiful blue skies in Tokyo today, it is just glorious.


Woken by the warmth of the sun

First Ume

Not a great photo, but one of the first blossoms I saw this year.

It’s been a super-productive day today.

It started on a really positive note, with the warm sun streaming through the trees, through the glass doors that make up a whole wall of our bedroom, and onto my face. It made me realise just how fortunate we are to be living here – and living here legally too what with our new contract having come into effect yesterday.

At about 9am Twinkle and I headed out, she for work, me for Naka-Meguro for a couple of hours of voluntary stuff at the city hall – providing feedback and suggestions for a section of their English website. I enjoyed that, and it gave me a good opportunity to stretch my language muscles (although they couldn’t strain so far as to give a coherent description of RSS. I’ve found that both here and in the UK people who don’t visit a lot of websites often have trouble getting their heads round the concept, which is kind of understandable. In the end I just borrowed a lan cable and demo’d my MacBook’s RSS reader. That worked!).

Following that there was the really exciting changing-of-address thing at the post office, the returning of a video, the long-wait-to-not-get-served-at-the-overly-busy-Softbank-store*, and the paying of multiple bills at the convenience store. On the way home I stopped off at the little local tofu-makers for the first time ever, and had a nice chat with the owner who kindly went through all the names of the different kinds of tofu with me.

(*Softbank have just launched an ‘iphone for Everyone’ campaign, which sees subscribers to a 2-year contract getting a free 8GB iPhone. My friend bought one today – I don’t think *Twinkle*s that far off doing so either)

I was also able to listen to 6 short podcasts – 3 episodes of J-Wave’s Power Your Morning, and three of Takumi Yamazaki’s Takuraji (both highly recommended for Japanese listening practice, being short, easy to digest and interesting).

This afternoon I actively used productive procrastination to tidy the house and make a great lunch, then get on with working on illustrations for a new website (using permanent marker and watercolour pencils, a scanner and photoshop) – I’m very happy with the results. I now know I will publish a picture book within two years.

I then spent a good deal of time faffing around with code, affiliate accounts (thus the links to Amazon on this blog), and setting up / linking new social networking sites for the podcast. I’m pleased with the results. I also fired off a few emails to prospective interviewees, and am delighted to have received a positive response (just a few minutes ago).

I also read a little more of Branson’s new book, Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur.

The only unfortunate thing that did happen today was this evening when I accidentally ran the bath without turning the water filter on (we turn it off when washing the bathroom as that’s one thing that the bonus chemicals are good for!). Going into the bathroom I was hit with the smell of chlorine, and sure enough my skin is now about as dry as a hair-dryer in the Sahara dessert.

Right now I’m listening to Dick Gaughan, whose album ‘A different kind of love song’ was the first one I ever owned (copied from my brother actually). Hauntingly beautiful. Handful Of Earth is another of my favourite albums.

OK, bed time now. Night night.

Conformity, Eric Clapton and tiltshift taxis

Tiltshift TaxiI’m sitting in one of the two Starbucks near Kudanshita station. Whilst the one outside exit 2 is a place for colleagues to go and chat, this one is definitely for reading and studying. All around me there are salarymen and women buried in their books, some with highlighters in hand, marking passages and copying extracts into notebooks. There’s 22 of us in here. It’s almost silent. My key taps are almost disturbing the peace.
Whilst I’m not a great fan of conformity, at times I’m grateful for it. Especially so on the morning trains. It’s almost unbelievable how silent a packed carriage can be. Hundreds of people wedged in, the only sound is that of silent breathing. You rarely hear a phone ring as everyone conforms to the Manner Mode policy (Mana~ Mode being Japanese for silent mode) – I estimate that I only hear a phone actually ring about once a week on my commute.

I think that whilst the silence is partly the result of conformity / fear of being the nail that sticks up, it is also a manifestation of an individual and collective effort to preserve sanity. Being jammed into a mobile sardine tin with so many people is not natural, and, were the ears to be bombarded with noise, were we to be constantly reminded that we were in this overcrowded tin, I’m sure that for some, claustrophobic panic would not be far off.
However, with silence, no matter how crowded the train, the journey can become the perfect opportunity to take a few minutes to meditate. With or without iPod, if you close your eyes, you could be almost anywhere – including nowhere.

There is one thing that I really do object to though, and that’s those people who deliberately push really hard against you when getting on, when there is blatantly no need to do so. They step on the train, turn around to face the open door, and then push backwards to make space for the 30 other people to get on who aren’t actually there. My impression is that they have a lot of pent-up emotion, and this is one of their few chances to let it out through silent violence.Eric Claption and Jeff Beck

So, I went to see Eric Clapton and Geoff Beck last night. I’ve not listened to Clapton for many years – perhaps since I was a teenager, but with the offer of a half-price ticket and good company at the gig just five minutes from the office, I thought it daft not to go.

Ten minutes into the show I was having a good time, feet tapping, head nodding, charged memories of teenage years coming back to me. Crikey, he really is a great guitarist, I thought.
Being a concert for the ‘mature’ generation (and being in a seated venue, Budokan), most people sat quietly, clapping when prompted to, cheering between songs. There was one man on our row however, who seemed pretty insane. Dressed in a bright white shirt, he spent much of the concert yelling declarations of love at Clapton, and booing when Geoff Beck took the lead. He also played the drums on the rail in front of him, sending vibrations along the entire row. It was quite amusing to watch, although had he been next to me I think I would have pushed him over the edge of the balcony ☺

Following the concert, I made my way to the Ariake Washington Hotel, next to Tokyo Big Site out in Tokyo Bay. *Twinkle* works for an events company that has spent the past six months organsing a three-day nanotechnology conference, and part of the deal has been to stay in a hotel next to the venue during the show.

I’m a big fan of that part of town. Being on one of several relatively new man-made islands, there’s a lot of breathing space around the venue, and some really interesting architecture. The trainspotter in me loves the monorail too. Unfortunately I didn’t get many photos as it was dark when I arrived, and it’s raining this morning. I did however find some prime tiltshift shots – one of which is shown above. I’m quite pleased with my miniature taxi.
It’s been a busy week. I’ve spent much of my spare time trying out different microphones and voice recorders. With the reassigning of the house contract from *Twinkle*s sister to us there’s two month’s deposit to pay, thus not much money for recording equipment, so in the end I decided to work with what I’ve got, and bought the Belkin TuneTalk Stereo – a mic attachment for a video iPod. On the whole it’s very good, but (and this is a BIG but), it does pick up the sound of the iPod’s hard drive whirring into action every 20 seconds in quiet environments. However, when used with an additional external mic (I have a really cute little stereo Sony) it’s fine. My old Video iPod has finally found a new vocation having been almost redundant since my acquisition of an iPhone last September.

The best mobile audio recorder I’ve found yet though is actually the iPhone itself. The sound quality is definitely good enough for my purposes, and having installed Griffin’s excellent iTalk app, transferring files to my computer via wifi is ultra simple, and pretty fast too – thanks to the MacBook’s ability to create it’s own wireless wifi network, I don’t have to be anywhere near an existing network to make the transfer (for some reason this doesn’t work for all apps, e.g. iAnki Server seems to require a standard wifi network). The length of recordings is only limited by iPhone disk space, although in reality it’s actually determined by how much battery life you are prepared to sacrifice! I can see myself getting that 12,000yen battery pack that have in the Apple Store in due course (the name of which I forget).
I’ve also been trying out the new version of Garageband that comes as a part of Apple’s iLife09. I’m really impressed by the new equaliser settings – and the number of loops and effects too (I didn’t realise that these had to be installed separately after installing Garageband from DVD – the download was over 1GB – thank heavens for 30mbps internet connections!).

Anyway, I’d best be off to work. There’s no internet connection here at Starbucks, and as yet I can’t upload via the iPhone’s 3G connection. Yet.

Teddy on the slopes

When coming to Japan last year, I had to make some harsh decisions, such as what to leave behind.

One victim of BA’s baggage limit was Teddy. Not wanting him to get lonely, I left him in the very capable hands of mum #2 in Monmouth.

Since then he seems to have got up to all sorts – including getting drunk at New Year and having an affair with another teddy.

His latest escapades have seen him out in the #uksnow – a setting that I think suits him pretty well.

Thanks to Mum#2 for looking after him – and sending the photo!