Friday, January 23, 2009

The Gavel!

My first "non-free" app is now available for purchase in the iTunes store for 99 cents. Here's a snippet of its description:

Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.
-West African Proverb

Having trouble keeping order in your meetings? Not receiving the proper level of respect from those around you? Then buy this app! Badger your peers into submission with the constant banging of a judge's gavel or several other thumping items. There's even a Krushchev mode for thumping with a shoe. (Please refer to 1960s political history if you don't know the reference.) And if thumping a virtual shoe at someone doesn't get one's attention, you can always try a real shoe, but this app doesn't include a real shoe. You'll need to supply that yourself.

What this app does include are several virtual items with realistic sound effects: a gavel (in a few different styles), a wooden mallet, a carpenter's hammer, a sledgehammer, a dead fish and more! The attention each item demands will vary depending on the anger in your swing.

Here's a video demonstrating its usefulness:

Check out the full description in iTunes here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Amazing Exploding Bowl!

This morning I opened one of my kitchen cabinets and found this unexpected view:

A large plastic bowl had somehow "exploded" overnight. (Note one of the pieces of the bowl made it's way to the lower shelf on the left.) At first I thought someone must have been playing a joke on me by sneaking into my condo and replacing a perfectly good bowl with this broken one. Although that does seem like the oddball subtle type of prank some of my friends or family might do, I eventually came to the conclusion that the bowl must have exploded on its own.

Here is a picture of all the pieces - it seems the bowl just couldn't take the stress of staying bowl-shaped anymore and tried to unwrap itself. Good thing I wasn't using it for eating hot soup at the time of the breakdown...

I think this embossed stamp on the bottom of the bowl explains it all, though:

And yes, Mom, if that bowl looks familiar, it's one you gave to me full of fruit last year.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Playmobil Security Toy

A friend sent me a link to this toy for sale on Amazon.

It's just what every child needs! The best part about this toy is reading the comments on Amazon. Click on the link above and scroll down to the comment section. They're quite funny!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Kokusai-dori (International Street) is a very popular shopping street in Naha, Okinawa. It's probably the most popular destination in Okinawa and has lots of very interesting shops and restaurants. This particular store, pictured above, has a giant animated white cat attached to the side of the building. The cat's paw slowly moves up and down. It's symbol or good luck charm for successful business. A lot of stores sell much smaller versions of the cat. Also, depending on the color of the cat, it is a good luck charm for different things. This type of figure is called a Maneki Neko ("beckoning cat") and you can read more about them here on Wikipedia.

The sharp-eyed observer might also notice Ronald McDonald and Buzz Lightyear in this picture. They're both a little easier to spot if you click on the photo for a larger view.

Adjusting from Japan back to the US

I've been back for a few days now, and still haven't gotten my sleep schedule back to US time. Today I woke up at 3:00am and couldn't get back to sleep. I finally decided to get out of bed at 6:00am and start my day, but by 11:00 I was dozing at my desk. I figured it might be good to take a short nap, and to my unpleasant surprise I woke up at 4:30 in the afternoon! So much for a short nap.

One of the most noticeable adjustments coming back from the US was the reverse culture shock. After spending a couple weeks in a society where courtesy and thoughtfulness seem to be a way of life, it was a totally jarring experience to encounter American culture again. It started as soon as we got on the plane in Osaka heading back to Detriot. The flight attendants were all American and at first I was wondering if they were all just grumpy that morning. After a while I realized they where just acting like normal American flight attendants. It was such a noticeable difference from the Japanese flight crew going from Okinawa to Osaka. No longer did the flight attendants actually seem care about helping anyone - they were just doing their job and seemed visibly annoyed whenever they had to actually help anyone.

This came as a sharp contrast to Japanese workers encountered both on the plane and in shops. As another example, in Okinawa I was attempting to purchase something with a credit card at a department store. I went up to a cashier, showed her my credit card and asked if I could use it (credit cards usage isn't anywhere near as common in Japan as it is in the US). She signaled that I couldn't use it at this cash point, but then explained I could at a different one across the store. I proceeded to pick up my pending purchases and bring them to the other checkout location, but the clerk insisted on walking me over to the proper register, and also insisted on carrying all my items for me! I don't think that would ever happen at a store in the US.

Even at the McDonald's in Okinawa, they actually deliver your food to your table if it's not going to be available immediately. And they RUN to help you.

I'm also having a little trouble adjusting to the driving back home. Driving on the right hand side is not a problem (thankfully!) but I keep turning on my windshield wipers every time I intend to use my turn signals. In Japan they drive on the left and the wipers and turn signals are swapped in comparison to the US cars. I actually didn't have this problem very often driving in Japan, but for some reason now I've gotten in the habit of the Japanese layout for turn signal and wipers and keep turning on the wipers when I make a turn.


Saw this cool looking Shisa on the wall of an old house in Naha.

Shisa are often found in pairs at the entry way to houses and other buildings, and are also found individually on roof tops. According to the small slip of paper that came with a pair of shisa I purchased, shisa are imaginary creatures (a cross between a lion and a dog) and are believed to ward off evil, protect a house from disaster, and invite good fortune. You can read a bit more about them in a post I wrote a few years ago here.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Path of Pain

I saw (and walked barefoot) this interesting path in a park in Naha.

It is a special path designed to stimulate various parts of the bottoms of your feet. It wasn't so bad at first, but by the time I was about 3/4 of the way through I found I needed to use the handrail.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Tree of Wishes

Another Japanese New Year's tradition is to hang "wishes" on a tree at a shrine. You can purchase a small wooden plaque (called ema) and write your wish on it. You then hang it on a tree.

Pictured above are some of the wishes at Naminoe Shrine. (Click on the picture for a better view. Blogger is still washing out the colors in the smaller versions of the photos when I upload them. And since I'm on the road, I don't have my automated process of generating my own thumbnail images. Sorry.)

New Year's Fortunes

It is a tradition in Japan to buy a fortune at New Years and then tie it to a string at a shrine. The fortunes (called Omikuji) usually give advice for various things, such as how the next year will be, when's a good time to travel, romance prospects, etc. - the usual fortunate-type stuff. You don't know what your fortune will be when you buy it - it could be good or mediocre. I don't know if they give out "bad" fortunes. I decided to remain in the dark about my fortune and didn't buy one.

The above picture is a snapshot I took of some of the fortunes tied at Naminoe Shrine.

Pictured below is another view of the fence of fortunes.

Practice in Okinawa

The main point of this trip to Okinawa is to practice Motobu Udun Di. It's a form of martial arts that involves a lot of joint manipulations along with rolling escapes (ukemi). There's a lot more to it than that (there's a whole kobudo/weapons system as well as a "hard" system of punches and kicks), but the "soft" joint manipulations and rolling is one of the main parts of this form of martial arts.

Today we were at the dojo for 7.5 hours. By the end of the practice, we could barely roll. We were rolling so badly, the sensei stopped and asked us both to demonstrate basic rolling across the room. Ug! Just what we needed - we were rolling badly because we were both in so much pain, and he asked us to roll some more! He also said we were rolling too loudly. That was because there were so many sore spots on our bodies, we instinctively used our hands or feet to slap the mat to absorb some of the impact so it wouldn't hurt so much. Oh well... must try harder.

These tatami mats are quite hard. They are basically made up of layers of tightly woven straw. Here's a picture of a cross section of one mat:

The mat pictured above is about 1.5 inches thick. These mats in the dojo are so old and compacted, it feels like the equivalent of rolling on a very thin carpet layered over a hardwood floor. There's something to be said for rolling on hard floors - it definitely encourages you to improve your rolling technique.

We only have one day left of class here in Okinawa. Rolling on the mats at home will feel like rolling on pillows.

Naminoe Shrine

Here's a snapshot I took of Naminoe Shrine in Naha.

I think this is a good illustration of what some people think of when they think of visiting Japan - picturesque scenes. The reality isn't quite like that - while this shrine is quite beautiful, the picture doesn't reflect reality. This shrine is in the middle of a very busy city. Looking to the left is a major road:

And looking to the right is a trash filled beach, a golf driving range (that's the large net), and lots of concrete buildings:

I don't mean to down-play the beauty of the shrine, but more am trying to put it into context.

Trouble with Japanese ATMs

Here's some advice. If you ever go to Japan and you happen to be visiting over the New Year's day holiday season, make sure you have enough cash on you for the three day period from January 1st through January 3rd. As I unfortunately discovered, all the ATMs that support foreign (i.e. non-Japanese) ATM cards are automatically shut down for this three day period! I even made a pilgrimage to Nomura Securities in Naha, which supposedly had two 7-Bank ATMS (they are usually found in 7-Eleven stores, but there aren't any 7-Elevens in Okinawa) and according to their web site, these were open every day - even holidays - but these too were closed.

Fortunately, we do have enough cash to squeak by for the rest of the trip - we only need to eat 3 more meals and our credit cards still work - but it was a bit of a shock to discover ALL the ATMs we could use were no longer functioning.

Another oddity in Japan is their ATMs do not operate 24/7. Most only work during specific hours of the day. Some even have automatic sliding corrugated metal doors that close when the ATMs shut down for the night. The doors do close very very slowly, so no one should realistically ever get trapped inside, but still it was a bit odd to see all the machines power off at the same time and then the main entry door start to close for the night.