Monday, February 8, 2016

Platform Details - Echoes of the Past

I started this blog to post old text with new comments - so this post is a little different, but it's certainly looking back, so it fits category-wise.
These are  not attractive pictures by any means, but they record things commonly seen in the past that have nearly disappeared.  Above is (obviously) a kind of sink, which can be especially nice in the summer.  These used to be very common but are now quite rare.
Above - a spot where a public telephone stand used to be.  With cell phones and whatnot, people hardly ever use public phones these days, so they are becoming rare, although they are still to be found here and there.
It took me a minute to notice this - the sawed off metal posts in the middle - but noticing them, I got an immediate flashback to the way they used to have advertising on poles between platform seats.  This type of (fiberglass) seat is gradually being replaced by new types and the small advertising space these used to provide has been (on JR in any case) replaced with larger ad space - typically advertising upcoming concerts by overseas artists.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“Automatic Noise Cancellation Mechanism”

OK, so this one isn't strictly looking back in the way my previous posts were, but it's looking back at the past four or five years of my putting up with a strange high-pitched whining noise my monitor was making, and it seems like it would be suitable put this text in here, so... here it is:

November 19th, 2014

“Automatic Noise Cancellation Mechanism”

About four or five years ago, my monitor started emitting a faint, constant, high-pitched sound (whenever on) that was initially very irritating, but buying another monitor wasn't in the budget, so I just put up with it, and - over time - the noise began to be less noticeable.

I stopped thinking about it - until I began noticing that my ears were ringing at night... but I got used to that as well, until the ringing noise began to get louder (and harder to ignore).

And so I finally went out (yesterday) and got a new (used) monitor and noticed something quite extraordinary when I first used it.  I hooked up the monitor, thought “Great!  Finally I'm free of that d*** high-pitched sound!” and then I turned on the monitor, fired up the computer, and put an ear near the monitor to make sure it was quiet.  It was, but....

It was then that I was surprised to notice that my ears were ringing fairly loudly!  Thinking about it later, it occurred to me that there was a (seemingly) clear conclusion to be reached from the following sequence of events:

1) High-pitched whine from monitor is irritating.

2) High-pitched sound unchanged, but strangely less noticeable over time.

3) Ringing in ears at night after shutting down computer grows louder over time, while monitor whine (with computer on) becomes ever less noticeable....

4) New monitor bought, eliminating monitor whine.

5) With initial use of new (used) monitor, strong ringing noise in ears noticed.

Which leads me to this conclusion:  My brain developed a counter-noise to cancel out the irritating noise my old monitor used to make whenever on, and so when the computer was shut down, the counter-noise became noticeable.  And then, with the first usage of the new monitor, the counter-noise automatically started up (as though my brain knows that computer time requires noise-cancellation), but since the new monitor doesn't make the high-pitch whine, the counter-noise itself was quite noticeable.

When I turned on the monitor today (second time since buying it), there was still a little bit of ringing in my ears, but much less than yesterday.  It stands to reason, since something that has developed over the past four or five years isn't likely to disappear in a single day.  Now to see how quickly the night returns to being quiet.

I wish I'd replaced that monitor sooner!



Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Getting Directions"

[2013] Back in 1997, it had just become normal for most people to have cell phones, but there were no "smart phones" (computer phones) with satellite navigation aids and detailed maps, so people were still looking for addresses in much the same way as they had for decades.  The following story about getting directions to a company I had an interview at was written after I had had around twelve years experience with getting weird directions to places (which is why I ended up wanting to write about it).  At the time I wrote it, I had no idea how radically navigation in Tokyo was about to change via technology.

Actually, even now, If you're looking for a company, etc. the old way - just with the address, it's still not very easy, due the way address numbers are arranged/assigned in the city, but even if you get lost the old-fashioned way, when you ask for directions, you run into technology soon enough!  I was looking for an address a few months back... walking down a side street looking at the addresses written on the buildings, when I passed two men standing in the street smoking.  I asked them if they knew where the building I was searching for was located, and - ignoring the building name - they asked for the address, which I showed them from a business card I had.  One of them input the address to his cell phone, a map popped up, and he said "It should be that building down there on the left".  I thanked them, and as I walked down the street, I thought "Hmmmm... maybe it's high time I got a computer phone myself..."

[1997] Addresses in Tokyo are difficult to understand even for Japanese, so companies think that foreigners can't possibly find somewhere with just the address.  The result is, instructions just like what I have below here, taken from a fax I recently got:

To: Lyle Saxon
Thank you very much for your calling.

Our company is located in Wakabadai.
It's on Keio Sagamihara Line.

There is a stair after you got out from the ticket gate.
Go down the stair.
You'll find public telephone on your left hand.
Go toward public telephone and turn left.
Go straight.  You'll find "Sanks" (convenience store).
Turn left and go straight.
You'll find big sign HITACHI top of the building on your right hand.
We are in 3F this building.

Dareka Desuyo

Now, my Japanese friends, don't be too angry with me for not correcting the mistakes, as I'm not putting this here to poke fun at the English, but to ask a couple of questions about this method of giving instructions.

The very fact that it's in any kind of English at all would be a real help for someone who just got here and doesn't know any Japanese, but even then, a copy of a detailed map (this was a fax after all), written in whatever language, would be a great help to anyone, whether or not they can read the names on the map.

In my case, I spent some time on the telephone with Ms. Dareka Desuyo (not her real name), speaking in Japanese, so it might even have occurred to her that I didn't need the kind of directions she gave me.  Besides, even someone who doesn't know any Japanese can compare a written character on a paper with what's in front of him/her and see if it matches or not.

But I think you would have to spend some time wandering around lost looking for a "big green building", or a "big sign HITACHI", to appreciate the frustration of getting directions like these....  In the old days, I would unfailingly get lost, and then call someone at the company and we'd have a conversation like this:

CP (company person): "Where are you now?"

Me (looking around): "Ahhhhh, I'm in front of a coffee shop."

CP: "What's it called?".

Me: "I can't read the sign..."

CP: "Can you see the big green building?"

Me: "I can see three big green buildings actually..."

CP: "What else can you see?"

Me: "There's a restaurant across the street with a red and white sign..."

CP: "...............?  Anyway, stay where you are, I'll come and look for you."

And they would always find me without too much trouble, because I was usually in the vicinity of the company, and the only visually different person in the area.  It's funny now to remember how helpless I felt sometimes, as now, when I'm lost, I just keep asking people around me until I find whatever it is I'm looking for.  Also, when I have an address, I can usually find it with the detailed map of Tokyo (sixty-eight pages!) that I always carry.

[2013] Reading this now, I remember the 1980's experiences that I was partly thinking about when I wrote the above in 1997, and it seems like ancient history to me now....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Introduction, Crowded Trains, and Getting off the Grid"

Back when I started communicating with people via the Internet fairly regularly in 1997, I published a newsletter in which I related experiences from my daily life here in Japan and combined it with contributed text from people in other countries. We all commented on each other's writings, and looking back on it now, I'm finding some elements of it interesting to read from the viewpoint of over a decade later, with the time-warp wall of 2001 sitting in-between. Quoted text (usually italicized) is by someone other than myself, with my text having no quotes. Both are preceded with the year they were written in.

[1997 Scotland] "On the subject of the Japanese being aloof to strangers... when I visit my brother-in-law in London I can't get over how people go about their business and are all crushed together like sardines on the Tube every day and yet don't even acknowledge one another!! Here in Scotland we're a very friendly bunch! Always ready with a smile and a comment about the weather!"

[1997 Tokyo] Well, I can tell you, as a morning passenger on one of the most crowded Tokyo train lines, that when you have as many as six strangers' bodies pressed into you at the same time (not possible? visit me, and I'll prove it to you), it's only a question of protecting yourself from sensory overload and insanity. Never mind how the weather is, it doesn't matter! One crush-rush train ride tires me out more than working all day!! This is one aspect of Tokyo that I would like very much to escape from. (I had a Dutch acquaintance who lived in a nice area and drove to work. She told me just before she moved back to Holland that she could never have stood living here for four years if she had had to go to work by train. I understand that sentiment only too well.)

[2013 Tokyo] The train system in Tokyo has generally gotten better, while people's conduct on the train system has tended to get worse! It's as though tough conditions engendered civilized behavior and better conditions have led to a more self-centered way of thinking and less tolerance for others?

[1997 California] "I just got back from a great weekend of camping and meeting folks from various backgrounds, but who are all strongly drawn to living a step beyond the system - out to the boonies and build yourself a home, dig a well, run some lines, smooth a gravel-dirt road, etc. A h**l of a lot of work, but the benefits far outweight the trouble.
   "I am in the process of preparing myself to 'get off the grid' and do something with solar/wind power. But whatever it is we do, it's our heart's desire, regardless of the price. I'm finding at this late age that I cannot live any other way.
   "Now for the preparation. It will take a few years. First, I will be moving into a live-work space in which the tenants/owners have all expressed some interest in modifying the complex to produce some of its own power from the sun and/or wind. During this first phase, I will learn something about fund-raising. The second phase involves the move out to the 'wilderness'. The third will be spiritually oriented."

[1997] Personally, I like being able to connect to the grid, but I sure would like to get out of the big city for at least three or four days of the week. There is still that element of excitement that I like about Tokyo, but I'm in need of somewhere where I can think. It's not easy to think in Tokyo. Well... you can think of course, but it's a little hard to get into a quiet space and really think in a contemplative way.

[2013] Since the 1997 comment above about it not being easy to think in Tokyo, I've become better at finding pockets of tranquility in the heart of the city that are sometimes created by utilizing selective focus - you focus on the better elements around you and tune out the ones you don't want to think about. This only works within limits of course, but some things that used to irritate me I've come to learn are surprisingly easy to ignore. Acclimatization I suppose....

[1997] A real exchange of different languages in which each person learns from the other is difficult to do. Not impossible, but it requires a real effort from both people. The only really equitable way I've found of doing this is by setting my automatically resetting watch timer to three minutes (0:03-0:02-0:01-0:00/beep-beep-2:59-2:58), so I can do a real 50/50 Japanese and English exchange with someone. For three minutes we speak in English, using absolutely no Japanese, and then "beep beep", and Immediately, even in mid-sentence, we go to Japanese, and use absolutely no English, then back to Japanese after the next three minutes, etc. etc. The interesting thing about doing this, is that after a couple of hours, you lose the sensation of speaking in either language, and it's just talking. In fact it sometimes becomes difficult to remember which language you're speaking in mid-sentence!

[2013] I'm not using a digital watch at the moment, but I still think the above method is a good way to do a language exchange. I experimented with different time lengths - one minute was way too short, two is workable, although still tiring, four feels a little long and something like ten minutes is just way too long. Three minutes is a good balance of each person knowing that they don't have to wait too long to say something in the language not being spoken at the time, and also not getting overly tired forcing themselves to speak in one or the other. If you don't strictly enforce the time like this, then the conversation just about always drifts into one or the other language and then just stays there.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon