Tokyo Container Quartet

Posted February 27, 2006 at 8:49 pm | 3 Comments


Tokyu Hands is my second favorite Tokyo retail chain. It is narrowly edged out of first place by Don Quixote, which offers a comparably dazzling assortment of bizarre and outlandish merchandise, but is slightly cheaper and has a cuter logo. Though I didn’t consider this a factor in my comparison, Don Quixote is also the only store I’ve seen in which sex toys and pornography are shelved only a few steps away from children’s toys.

In any case, while browsing Tokyu Hands (an activity that can easily occupy an entire afternoon), I happened upon these fabulous containers:

Tea     Sugar

Salt     Coffee

A Trio of Japanese Sandwiches

Posted February 26, 2006 at 8:48 pm | 2 Comments

Well, I suppose I can try

try to eat this sandwich

This sandwich is fresh, home made, and delicious. We want you to try to eat this sandwich.

I never paused to appreciate the flexibility of sandwiches until I saw the label on this one.

the great thing about sandwiches...

The great thing about sandwiches is you can enjoy a variety of tastes with no fuss. Ham, lettuce, eggs, tomatoes, choose whatever you like depending on how you feel.

I found other sandwiches that beat this one in taste and freshness, but confidence? Never. This was one confident sandwich.

confident sandwich

You won’t find sandwiches anywhere else that can beat ours
in confidence, taste, and freshness.

Free Your Mind to the Deli

Posted February 22, 2006 at 8:06 pm | 3 Comments

There’s a Japanese proverb about Mt. Fuji that is often quoted in tourist guidebooks: “if you never climb Mt. Fuji, you’re a fool; if you climb it more than once, you’re crazy.”

I’m not sure if it’s worse to be foolish or crazy, but I guess I fall into the second category, since I hiked up Mt. Fuji twice last summer. The first trek up the mountain was a considerable struggle, but the second time around it didn’t seem so tough. My calves and lungs had adapted somewhat, and more importantly, I was confident that I was capable of the challenge, having accomplished it before.

The lesson I took away from this alpine adventuring was that humans are extraordinarily adaptable. At home in the States, I had always been a fairly stringent grammarian, but after living in Tokyo long enough, I developed a certain immunity to language mistakes. After a few months, I was no longer bothered (or even particularly amused) when I noticed the writing on the side of my saucepan that said “it supports people loving all cooking.”

I think it’s all a matter of conditioning. When you’re surrounded by signs and labels in a foreign language, and are effectively illiterate, you are so relieved to see something that you can understand that you willingly forgive mistakes. You also begin to realize the incredible difficulty of translating between English and Japanese; with my own understanding of Japanese being so abysmal, I was in no position to judge Japanese attempts at English, so I soon lost interest in poking fun at poor spelling or grammar.

What still fascinated me, however, were snippets of “Engrish” that gave glimpses into the Japanese psyche. The phrases that I found interesting may have had grammar that was completely correct, but they used combinations of English words or notions that would never be constructed back home, revealing differences in cultural attitudes, and taking on an almost poetic quality.

“The words make sense,” I often found myself thinking, “but the concept doesn’t.”

Splendid Double Harmony is here!!

I suppose understanding the Japanese spirit is also a matter of conditioning. After a few months I would pick up a bagel sandwich and glance at the wrapper, which said “BAGEL IS THE ESSENCE OF LIFE… AND LIFE IS THE REASON FOR BAGEL,” and it wouldn’t even faze me.

“Of course,” I would think to myself, “naturally, bagel is the essence of life.”

This was a dramatic shift in attitude compared to my first trip to a Japanese convenience store. On the way from the Narita airport to my orientation program in Hayama, our bus parked at a truck stop where we disembarked to buy snacks and drinks. I wandered the aisles fascinated, transported to a mysterious wonderland of enticing alien products in shiny plastic and aluminum packaging. A few months later, when I would step into a Lawson to pay my utility bill, I wouldn’t even give the rows of Collon or Calpis a second glance.

Evidently, I am among the privileged ranks who are allowed to buy this “Exclusive Elite” coffee from a vending machine.

Fortunately, before I reached a point at which I failed to notice these things completely, I managed to capture a number of little gems. Over the next few days, I will post some of my favorites. I’ll begin with a “deli” theme:

This is a nice hot deli from Pizza Hut. It makes you smile and be happy! Enjoy the deli while it’s hot. Try with Pizza! You will surely say “Great!” and want to buy it again.

Poet Your Mind
to the World
Free Your Mind
to the DELI!
Why don’t you
take a Rest?
at the CORNER before
Your Real!!

One Percent of One Percent

Posted February 17, 2006 at 12:56 am | 6 Comments
EE Times Cover

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the EE Times Story on me and MC Plus+ made the front cover of this week’s issue. I guess it’s not too difficult to get the cover spot when you’re competing against stories like “Optical Transistor Restructured for Double Duty” and “Gallium Arsenide Dielectrics: Set to Surpass Silicon?” Still, it was a thrill to be on the front of a magazine for the first time.

Unlike German television, the EE Times does have certain decency standards. At one point during my interview, while discussing RLPK Records, I had the following exchange with the reporter:

Monzy: Encouraging kids to study engineering is a noble goal, but unfortunately those songs are fucking terrible. Can I say “fuck” in the EE Times?
Reporter: Hmm… [Pause] That question hasn’t really come up before.

Evidently, the answer turned out to be “no”; you’ll notice a lot of bracketed edits in the interview, almost all of which correspond to profanity. Too bad — maybe the EE Times could broaden its readership if its stories had headlines like “Gallium Arsenide: Kicking the Shit Out of Silicon” or “Titania Nanotubes: Fuck Yeah!”

Anyway, here’s a scanned PDF of the article.

Geeks: The New Pimp?

Posted February 15, 2006 at 3:37 am | 10 Comments
Interview I finally acquired a copy of my appearance on German TV, and I was amused to find all of my song’s explicit lyrics fully intact. At one point during the TV shoot I recall asking my interviewer if it was OK to say English swear words on German television.

“Of course it’s OK,” she said. “You can say German swear words on German television.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “Sometimes I forget how ridiculous our FCC is.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, “in Germany I think the only rule about network TV is that you’re not allowed to show an erection before 8 PM.”

Rapping in Conference Room

I smiled and resisted the temptation to ask her what time of day my clip would be airing, recalling the tenacity with which the cameraman had pursued that all-important crotch closeup (which, you may notice, made it into the production edit).

So my lyrics were left uncensored; since I don’t speak German, the only parts of the clip I could understand were me saying things like “asshole” and “bitch.” Fortunately, one of the members of my “nerd posse” was kind enough to provide an English translation:

Taff Hosts

“Geek Rap”

Pro 7 “taff” 12/28/2005

(Loosely) Translated by Karl Gumerlock

Female Host (FH): In every school, there are the cool people, the smokers, the jocks, and the by far least-loved group of them all: the nerds. They really only exist so that you can copy off of their homework, right?

Male Host (MH): That’s true actually, was it really like that at your school?

FH: Mmm, sometimes.

MH: Sometimes, indeed. But this isn’t the case in America, where the nerds, who are also called “geeks,” try to show that they, too, have got it goin’ on. Therefore, a small, elite group has come together to try their hand at rapping about everyday life.

FH: Yep, you heard that right, something that you normally only hear from the gold-toothed mouths of real big tough guys.

[Cut to video footage]

Female Narrator (FN): Rappers are conventionally muscle-bound, bejeweled hunks; gangsters with huge cars and half-naked women. These guys, however, are mama’s boys. They have no cars, no muscles, and, of course, no women — the “geeks”, or “Streber” in German. Now they rank themselves in their own way among the “cool” people — they rap, and purposely in such a way that no one else can understand them.

[Rapping segment in English, German subtitles]

Monzy: We rap to a very limited audience. It’s pretty much like an inside joke — few really understand it. And to pick up on all of the references, you’d probably need at least a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.

FN: Monzy is a star of the new scene. The Computer Science student at the elite Stanford University raps about computer circuitry, robots, and academic literature — all things that are important to him.

Monzy: Geek lifestyle is naturally a bit different from that of a gangster. Instead of huge cars and girls, we have Red Bull and computers, with which we spend late nights coding. But we, too, have a hard life: we’ve got assignment deadlines, professors that breathe down our necks, exams we’ve got to worry about…

FN: Ah yes, the hard knock life of a student. What would 50 Cent have to say about this? The 28-year-old rap star grew up in downtown New York. He lost his mother when he was a child, and was shot nine times. The story of his difficult life was adopted straight to the big screen.

Monzy: Well, I’ve never been shot before, so I can’t really rap about life on the street like 50 Cent does. I grew up in sheltered Minnesota, but my life has its own share of struggles and challenges, and that’s what I try to express through my art.

FN: One of these challenges takes the form of a rival from the East Coast. As is usual with big stars, Monzy takes shots at his competitor, MC Plus+.

[Rapping segment in English, German subtitles]

FN: And because Monzy is so unbelievably cool, he, of course, is popular with all the girls at his school. Honestly.

Monzy: You know, for me, as one of the biggest stars of this scene, it’s not too difficult. But some of the other guys, they have a hard time.

FN: Monzy goes even further. Although he used to be president of the math club, he now talks big about becoming a rap star.

Monzy: Yeah, I think geeks are in. Geeks are the new pimp.

FN: Excuse me?

[Film rewinds]

Monzy: Yeah, I think geeks are in. Geeks are the new pimp. [Narrator actually says: “Yeah, I think geeks are the up and coming, we’re the new stars.”]

FN: Good thing then, that none of the established rappers have heard about this yet. Otherwise people like 50 Cent might feel like their turf is being threatened. And that, they would absolutely not warm up to.

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson: People who get in my face, I’d kill them, if my bodyguards didn’t keep me from doing so. [Noticeable disconnect here between English and German dialogue]

FN: So, Monzy would rather continue rapping with his geek friends, rather than risk being attacked by the hip-hop establishment — so that he may, tomorrow, continue to play video games.

JK and JN
Cruisin' on Bikes

Staying in Shape the Data-Driven Way

Posted February 13, 2006 at 1:54 am | 6 Comments
Garmin Forerunner 201

One of the coolest Christmas gifts I got this year was the Garmin Forerunner 201, a GPS wristwatch designed especially for athletes. It keeps track of your running or bicycling routes by logging timestamped GPS coordinates, and you can hook it up to your computer to download the data logs.

The software that ships with the Forerunner is pretty good for viewing aggregate statistics and tracking your performance over time, but it doesn’t allow you to visualize your routes in a particularly compelling way. However, the software does offer the intriguing capability to export your workout history to an XML file, so I decided to see what I could do with the data. Forerunner Logbook Software
Monzy's Running Log

After taking a little time to familiarize myself with the Google Maps API (and borrowing code from a number of clever web developers), I put together this Running Log. It lets me play back my runs on an overhead map, along with per-mile splits and an altitude graph.

Unfortunately the altitude data isn’t particularly accurate; I noticed several runs in which the initial and final altitudes were quite different even though the run started and stopped at the same point. But the resolution of the latitude and longitude data is great — most of the maps can even correctly show which side of the street I’m running on.

Let me know if you find any bugs or have ideas on how to improve the visualization. There are a number of features I’d like to add, but I’m hesitant to invest too much development time in it while I’m supposed to be writing my thesis proposal.

And be sure to revisit my log later this week, when Chris and I will be attempting a heart-shaped run for Valentine’s Day.

Holiday Hacking

Posted February 9, 2006 at 7:16 pm | 1 Comment
Circuit Debugging Every winter, the CS department has a contest in which each floor the Gates building competes to produce the most festive holiday decorations. This typically involves some form of yuletide geekery, such as Christmas-themed video games, robots in Santa hats, or pine trees decorated as Turing machines.
This year, inspired by that mad genius in Ohio, I built a computer-controlled light display that could be synchronized to music. A PC running Winamp drove 10 relays, each of which was connected to a string of Christmas lights. The circuit was fairly simple; a microcontroller accepted serial commands from the PC and switched a series of FETs, which in turn switched 120V reed relays. It’s probably inadvisable to run 120V AC through a breadboard, but I covered it with a cardboard box so that I could assure everyone that it was perfectly safe. Circuit SketchLight Control Circuit

Lights Display

To set the light show to music, I wrote a Winamp plug-in that allowed you to record a sequence of light transitions by pressing keys on the keyboard as the music was playing. While listening to a song, I would “play” the computer keyboard to produce a corresponding light pattern, and the performance was recorded and automatically played back the next time the same song was loaded.

Check out the video of the construction process and the final results.

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