Rat? Or a middle-aged man?

My colleague gave me this hand-written card along with some sweets for the new year. I tossed the card on my desk and there it remained for a couple of days, turned sideways.

I glanced at it one day and made a startling discovery:

Hand-drawn illustrration of Year of the Rat greeting
Mouse, or ojisan?

This was definitely unintentional, as when I pointed it out to her it took her more than a minute to realize what I was talking about. And then she said, “A western ojisan, possibly! Not a Japanese one.”

Preferred pronoun: he

Nana has been wanting to buy a Roomba since we moved, and last week she spoke to a salesman at Bic Camera about the various models. She also was interested in the Braava model which automatically mops the floor. (We have all hardwood floors, no carpet.)

The salesman told us the Roombas need 10cm of clearance, so we decided to measure the clearance under our bed and sofa before proceeding.

Yesterday we were preparing to go to Bic again, and I measured the clearance under the bed: 8cm, and not a millimeter more. The sofa is fine at 14cm.

So we talked to the same guy again and he said (despite varying appearance) all the Roomba models are the same height. I confirmed this with the spec sheet and in fact they’re all 9.2cm. Nana told him to let the maker know we wanted a slimmer model. He said that was a popular request, but the spec hasn’t changed on that for the past 15 years.

So we looked at other makers. We thought we might find a Panasonic or Hitachi. They had models on display. We couldn’t find the specs, but they looked about the same size as the Roombas (and I hadn’t brought a tape measure). Then we found one that clearly said it was only 5.7cm high. It was quite a bit cheaper than the Roombas — only one-third the price. Nana asked the salesman about it and he confirmed it’s a Chinese company: Ecovacs.

We looked around a few more minutes, but it was clear this was the only one that would fit under our bed. And we were surprised to discover that it combined the sweeping and mopping functions, so we don’t need two separate machines. For the price we knew we couldn’t expect much, but we decided to take the leap.

Not a Roomba

The moment we got home I unboxed the thing. “Do they have instructions in English?” Nana asked. I pointed to the quick set-up guide: it’s all diagrams and iconese. Within a couple of minutes the robot was scuttling around our flat, quieter than we’d expected, and Nana had immediately decided it was a “he.” “Where is he now?” she’d ask. And when he got tangled up in anything, she’d say, “He has to learn to do that.”

(I’m not sure how much learning capability this cheap model has, but we were joking about its giving all our information to the Chinese.)

Nana would take to following him around the flat, worrying where he was from minute to minute and going to watch as, for example, he was busy pushing all our shoes around in the entrance foyer. “That’s more entertaining to you than the TV, eh?” I asked her. (I’d include a video of her following the thing around, but she’d have my head for it.)

Robot vacuum stuck on the pedestal
Easily fooled

Things that he gets caught on or confused by:

  • The table pedestal
  • The chair legs, unless we push them close to the pedestal
  • The window blinds
  • Electrical cords
  • The bath mat
  • Papers or other bric-à-brac on the floor (as in my den)

I’m sure we’ll discover more to add to the list.

After leaving him to charge up all night, we’ve set him going again this morning. We’ve left the bedroom door open, but so far he’s ignoring the allure.

X-T3: The Unboxening

Fujifilm X-t3 with zoom lens and accessories

Nana reminded me recently that the consumption tax rate will increase in October from 8% to 10%. “Is there anything you’ve been waiting to buy? You should get it before then.” Well. Carpe, as they say, diem. We talked about the TV and the vacuum cleaner, and then I mentioned that I’ve been waiting to buy a camera. She has heard me mention this from time to time, and I’ve just been putting it off in recent months because I spent so much on a bike tour of England and Scotland.

That conversation was a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile, the TV has been on the Fritz, coming and going. Mostly it works OK but occasionally it blanks out. When this happens I remind Nana of the tax increase. Today I seized the bull by the horns and said we’re going to Bic Camera. She agreed, but I overheard her talking on the phone with her mother about it and she has seen right through me.

Anyway, we got to Bic in the late afternoon, after stopping to get shinkansen tickets for next month’s Tour de Tohoko. I was following Nana and didn’t realize we went right by the TVs on our way to the cameras. Bic Camera has scaled back the camera department recently (go figure), and so after a couple of minutes looking around in vain for what I wanted, she asked a worker and he guided us right to the spot.

I already knew what I wanted but I wasn’t seeing it on the display. With a little looking around I found a price tag listing the camera and lens combo, but again, there were none on display. Nana noticed the tag and expressed some astonishment at the price.

A saleswoman came along, a Fujifilm employee, and she pointed out the special offers and rebates available. I could get 10% points (usually 1%), or if I wanted the five-year extended warranty, then I would only receive 5% on points. An easy choice, since there’s no money out of my pocket. There’s also a cash rebate through the end of the month on the camera and lens combo amounting to almost $200. Then she guided me through all the discounts I could get on the add-ons since I was buying everything at once: the memory card and neutral filter, mostly. She came with us to the checkout and when I presented a credit card, she talked the cashier into letting me keep most of the points. (There’s apparently a hit to your points if you pay by credit card. Not a bad way for a retailer to deal with the fact they have to pay a percentage on credit card sales.)

Bic Camera shopping bag
Wotcha got inna bag, dad?

So with the camera in the bag, I guided Nana back to the TV floor. She looked around for a couple of minutes. A 60-inch 4K Japanese brand TV can be had for considerably less than what I had just dropped on the camera. Nonetheless, after a quick look around during which she spent more time looking at wall mounts than at televisions, Nana declared that our current TV was still working. Well, OK. I know by now how to recognize when I’m removing sand from a beach with tweezers. We left the store and went to dinner.

Fujifilm camera box
The box

Fujifilm X-T3
The naked camera

Unboxing the Fujifilm X-t3 and accessories
All the bits n bobs

Language choice on camera screen
English please

Fujifilm X-t3 with zoom lens and accessories
Ready to roll

It took a minute to pair the camera with the app on my phone. It took considerably longer to attach the strap to the triangular loops on the camera body, and I ended up using a screwdriver to complete the job. But with that done, I was ready to hit the mean streets of Shinjuku in search of first light — the first images with my new camera.

Ladies on the sidewalk in kimono
On the fly

Sometimes a shot walks right by before you recognize it for what it is. The camera turned on in a second and I was able to capture a fleeting image on the fly.

Tokyo Metropolitan Goverment building with Olympic illumination
Tokyo Metropolitan Goverment building with Olympic illumination

My goal for the evening was Tocho — the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. It’s been illuminated the past few weeks in honor of next year’s Olympic Games, but I haven’t been able to get a good picture of it. I shot off several and my new toy was up to the task.

Tokyo Government Building and police box
Tocho and koban
Nishi Shinjuku Park House Tower
The ol’ homestead

I watch stuff like this

I watch stuff like this and I think, Yeah, I don’t have to throw away that rusty pair of scissors in the closet.

Also: I bet they have a pair of scissors like that at the Y100 shop.

Also also: I bet it’s about $170 to get a pair of scissors in that size made with rosewood handles and watered steel quenched in the blademaster’s own viscera …

Time Zones and Geek Levels

Seafood omelet, lox and a schmear

On our way home from visiting my family, we had a two-hour layover in Seattle. We decided to stop in a café since Nana hadn’t had any breakfast. We were working on the Eastern timezone and so wanted some lunch, but in Seattle it was still breakfast time. So we ordered a local IPA and had a seafood omelet and a lox and a schmear.

That turned out to be too much food for us, as Nana only finished half the omelette and didn’t have any of either the sourdough bread or the bagel. But I was eager to sample the lox in Seattle, so I did my best to plough through it all. (As a result, I skipped the meal service on the flight home, but that was no great loss.)

A little early in the morning for that sort of thing?

Anyway, as we were enjoying the food and the IPA, I noticed that one of the waitresses was upselling on the beer. Whenever a patron ordered a beer, she would suggest a shot of bourbon for an additional $5. Where I come from that’s a boilermaker, and I was amused to hear the waitress pushing them at 9 a.m. local time. (I did not verify if everyone having alcohol in the café was, like us, working on a different time zone.)

There are levels of geekdom

The other thing I noticed while we were enjoying the food and drink was that the two waitresses kept talking about a machine that wasn’t working. I didn’t hear what machine they were discussing, but they were agreed that it wasn’t showing any sign of power. “I pulled out the plug and then plugged it in again, and I reset the breaker,” one of them said.

I briefly thought about offering to have a look, but to be honest my geek is more on the software side of things. Give me a couple of hundred thousand pages of content to be repurposed and I’m all over it. Sorting out a shorting bit of commercial kitchen hardware? I didn’t even have a continuity tester on me.

I think the ladies really needed someone like this guy:

(There are hundreds of these videos, and I can sit and watch them for hours.)

Jingle Bells: Preludes and Nocturnes

Thanks to Romain for this variation on a holiday classic:

That performance definitely reminded me of Schroeder playing Jingle Bells for Lucy. Unfortunately, this is the only copy I could find in five seconds of searching:

Then there’s this macabre version:

Happy and/or Merry (in roughly chronological order):

  • Hanukkah (2-10 December)
  • International Day of Disabled Persons (3 December)
  • Chalica (3-9 December)
  • Saint Barbara’s Day (4 December)
  • Saint Nicholas’ Day (6 December)
  • Bodhi Day (8 December)
  • Feast of the Immaculate Conception Day (8 December)
  • Human Rights Day (10 December)
  • Saint Lucia’s Day (13 December)
  • Zamenhof Day (15 December)
  • Las Posadas (16–24 December)
  • Saturnalia: (December 17–23)
  • Yalda (21 December)
  • Soyal (21 December)
  • Pancha Ganapati (21-25 December)
  • Yule (21 December-1 January)
  • Mōdraniht: or Mothers’ Night (22 December)
  • Dongzhi Festival (22 December)
  • Solstice (22 December)
  • HumanLight (23 December)
  • Christmas Eve (24 December)
  • Christmas Day (25 December)
  • Anastasia of Sirmium feast day (25 December)
  • Malkh (25 December)
  • Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (Day of the birth of the Unconquered Sun) (25 December)
  • Newtonmas (25 December)
  • Saint Stephen’s Day (26 December)
  • Boxing Day (26 December)
  • Kwanzaa (26 December–1 January)
  • Saint John the Evangelist’s Day (27 December)
  • Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December)
  • Saint Sylvester’s Day (31 December)
  • New Year’s Eve (31 December)
  • Watch Night (31 December)
  • Hogmanay (31 December–1 January)

A million stories

Night view of Shinjuku, Tokyo

There are a million stories in the city. This is one of them.

Nana had an interview today, while I slaved away at the day job. She had previously arranged for us to meet for dinner at オサカナバル (Fish bleu) in Shinjuku. As it happened, she arrived in Shinjuku two hours before our reservation.

While she was passing the time waiting for me, I was quietly blowing a gasket at the office because a departing colleague had gone over my head to request a favor of the CEO, without even bothering to ask me first. Granted, I’d have said no, but that was out of company policy and accounting rules rather than my own mandate. When the CEO agreed to the request, he didn’t take those things into account, which left my own boss scrambling.

In that mood, I arrived for the feedbag. How did it go?

Glass of IPA craft beer
“W” IPA
Osakana Bleu Fisherman's Plate
Osakana Bleu Fisherman’s Plate

Shrimp salad
Shrimp salad
Tako and mushroom
Tako and mushroom

While Nana had been waiting for me, she did some shopping. This is what I found when we got home.

Souvenir bag
Souvenirs from my trip
Fujisan whiseky
Fujisan whiskey
Fujisan whisky
Fujisan whisky
CD of Ornette Coleman jazz
Ornette Coleman

Not bad, but lacking in maturity. As you can see, I have the situation well in hand …

Blue juice

We had a farmers’ co-op or some such from Kanagawa marketing in our building’s event space over the weekend. We picked up some spuds, onions, a zucchini …

A package of Kiku Imo Aojiru
Potato Power

Among the offerings was a powdered drink made from potatoes, a variation on 青汁 (Aojiru, literally “blue [that is, green] juice”), a vile-tasting beverage usually made from kale that was made famous by the campaign まずい!もう一杯! (Awful! I’ll have another!)

According to the young couple hawking this miracle drink, it was not only good for gout, it would also help lower my blood pressure and help me to lose weight. I’m pretty sure I even heard the phrase “effective for women’s ailments.” The most startling claim, though, given that they’d stuck with the “Aojiru” moniker, was that it was 美味しい! (Delicious!)

Nana was sold. We picked up a packet of 10 to give it a try.

So how is it?

Each morning, Nana mixes me up a packet with water. The first surprise was that it is green, like its famous namesake. Where does green come from potatoes? The next surprise was that the flavor was … not delicious, but actually rather bland.

And as for the rest of the claims? Well, I’ll be through the first batch about the middle of next week, by which time I expect to have lost at least 10kg and have a full head of lustrous hair.

Mazui Aojiru
Mazui Aojiru — why is it green?