Thursday, February 28, 2008

That's What I Call REALLY Rare

Last night at dinner my host ordered squid sashimi. Squid isn't my favorite, but if he wanted it, I would eat it.

The sushi chef reached behind him, fished a 14" specimen out of the tank, cut up half the head, and put it front of us still slithering a little. One of my dinner partners poked at it playfully with his chopstick, watching the tentacles wiggle a little. I took a bite of the cut-up portion.

It was actually really, really good, the only time I ever enjoyed squid sashimi. I didn't notice when it stopped wiggling, but I was well into the sake by then. The first part of this YouTube video is actually pretty close to what I experienced.

Actually, eating "almost dead" food isn't all that uncommon in Japan. Besides squid, there is a fish that is sliced up, put on a small stake, and presented in front of you with his gills and mouth still moving. You eat the flesh off the living bones, watching your prey slowly die as you eat. I don't like the taste of this one so much. Similiar YouTube video here (not for the faint of heart).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Airports: Europe vs. Japan

After my harrowing experience in Barcelona and Charles DeGaulle airports last week, I thought I would compare it to flying domestically in Japan (Tokyo Haneda to Hiroshima):

There really is no comparison. The sad part is that in terms of efficiency and service the U.S. is closer to Europe than it is to Japan.

Your Petro Dollars at Work

See what's going on in Dubai.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sort of Like 'Second Life' for Kids

Daddy, the server is running slow! - My six-year old daughter

My daughter doesn't know what a server is, but she does know when Club Penguin is running slow.

Club Penguin is a junior on-line community that is owned (through acquisition) by Disney. It is played through a browser with no special software required. Each member gets a penguin (naturally) that they move around the on-line world.

You can interact with other penguins, but the main attraction to my daughter is exploring the world, playing games to earn "money", and then using the money to buy clothes, wigs, hats, a better house, or even a pet (called a "puffle").

The site is moderated and there are no ads since you have to pay about six bucks a month (you can start playing for free, but to buy anything you have to get a membership). Unlike Second Life, the only way to earn money is through the on-line games.

Overall I have to say that I am satisfied with this sort of play for the following reasons:
  • Working With Computers - She is learning about the internet, using the address bar on a browser, and understanding that she is tied into a larger network.
  • Understanding Earning, Spending and Saving - She sees all the things she wants to buy for her penguin, and understands she has to "work" (play games) to earn money , and then save the money until she gets enough to buy the object she wants.
She doesn't interact yet with other penguins, but I see that one coming down the road eventually.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Avoid CDG

On my way into Europe I connected through Charles DeGaulle Airport, where I and a few others on the same connection were met by an agent, who took us to a car on the tarmac and took us directly to our next gate. No problem.

On my return, I had no such luck. Even though my incoming flight was 45 minutes late and I had barely an hour before my next flight, no agent met me. And it took me nearly the entire hour to make it to my next connection, leaving me a whopping 5 minutes before the door practically closed on my ass. What's wrong with CDG? Let me count the ways:

  • No Signs - Apparently the French are lazy or just poor planners (probably both). CDG recently re-opened wing 2E which was rebuilt after it collapsed and killed four people a few years ago. I arrived in terminal 2F and THERE ARE NO SIGNS IN 2F SHOWING THE WAY TO 2E! This is ridiculous. The two wings may be numbered close together, but these terminals are over half a mile apart, and there is no train, bus or people-mover between the terminals.

  • Leaving the Airport to Connect - To connect between these two gates, you actually leave the airport, go through baggage claim, and enter it again. Maybe this is true in other airports, but there are at least signs pointing the way!

  • Closed Information Booths - Seeing how there were signs to every other terminal except 2E I was getting panicked until finally saw an "Information" sign. Relieved, I trotted to the booth, which was CLOSED. This was on a Friday morning at 9:45, working hours for the rest of the world. But not in France, where the booths are apparently open between 1:30pm and 1:45pm, after lunch and before the afternoon smoking break.

  • Typical French Help - Seeing that the info booth was closed, I figured I would ask airport workers. Of course there were no workers in the airport - probably a strike that week - so I finally asked someone at a coffee kiosk. I said "2-E?", got a blank stare, then tried "deux E?". She looked at me with a confused look, but I knew she understood what I was saying. I did a sarcastic "Thank-you, you have been REAL helpful", which got a reaction from her, which means she understood everything I said in English. I picked a random direction and lucked out.

  • Multiple Waits Between Wings - While I headed in the right direction, I wasn't home free. Not only did I have to pass through passport control, but also the security line. At passport, I waived to an agent who was close by signaling my flight was leaving in less than 30 minutes. He shrugged and pointed me at the end of the line. The same thing happened at the security line when I had 15 minutes left (damn French - even another European next to me in line made the same comment: "My flight is leaving very soon and no one cares").

Of course luck would have it that my gate was the farthest away after security. After running and running - and running some more - I finally made it to my gate where the stand-by passengers were just finishing getting on the plane. Luckily they had not released my seat or they would have written a new definition for "Ugly American".

So next time, I am connecting through Heathrow or Amsterdam. I am finished with CDG.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Getting Here is NOT Half the Fun

I knew I was in the Air France line from the smell emanating from the line. How is it that the country that gave us Louis Pasture and the germ theory can’t figure out how to take a daily shower? Actually “line” is something of a misnomer. Besides soap, queuing has not been invented yet in France.

I finally elbowed my way to the front of the line and got onto the plane. I found some French guy sitting in my seat, and already on edge, I ended up shouting at him. The guy quickly surrendered his seat and retreated down the isle. After sitting, I figured out that I had the wrong seat after all, but seeing as I was already occupying the space, and the since the guy didn’t bother to defend himself, I decided to stay where I was.

I settled into the flight and started watching the in-flight Jerry "Louis" movie marathon when the steward and a gentleman dressed in Chef’s whites approached my seat.

“Monsieur, seeing how you had the incident with the seat, we have brought Chef Vichy out to make sure we have appeased you of any remaining anger.”

“You know, I’m not really hungry.”

The chef twisted his mustache nervously. “Perhaps we can tempt the Monsieur with some wine and fromage?”

“You have any Grand Crus?”

“But of course, we have Pomerol, Graves, St. Emillion…”

“What year is the St. Emillion?.

“Um, 2003.”

“What are trying to slough off on me?!!”

The Chef went pale. “I’m sorry, I just happen to remember that the Captain has some 2000 in the cockpit stock.”

“Cockpit stock?”

“He and the co-pilot finish two, sometimes three bottles over dinner. I assure you it is quite good.”

A bolt of turbulence just hit the plane. I ordered and drank the entire bottle. It was quite good and the turbulence seemed to go down with my anxiety. After dinner the aircraft starting filling with smoke, but I stopped worrying when I figured out it was cigarette smoke. I called the steward over. “I thought this was a non-smoking flight?”

“Ah, you Americans are very na├»ve in the ways of culinary art. This is not “smoking”, this is the last course of dinner: the nicotine course.”

Trying to ignore the smoke around me I tried to watch the rest of the Jerry Lewis marathon and fell asleep during “Cinderfella”. Luckily the wine and the movie put me out for the rest of the flight.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Another Year, Another Cellphone

I didn't have any issues with my Samsung Blackjack - or maybe I just got used to it. My main complaint was that it was 3GSM only and didn't work in Korea or Japan. So I asked my company to upgrade me to the BlackjackII, which I hoped would give me a nice upgrade along with its quad-band functionality.

And my impression? Hmm, so-so. Not really all that different from the BJ1. They replaced the flywheel on the side with one on the front, which I was initially excited about, but I ended up not liking. It is too "slow" and they don't provide a way to update the speed (imagine using a very slow mouse with your computer and not having the ability to adjust its speed).

It has a nicer "surface finish" than the first generation and looks more stylish, which makes up for its slightly thicker size and a few extra ounces.

The updated Windows Mobile 6 is nothing to write home about, and the internet connection seems slower to me than my BJ1.

Overall it's an okay phone that I will be happy to be using on my trips to Japan and Korea. It isn't a blockbuster, but maybe that is because the iPhone upped the ante.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Ultimate Gratifier

All of us are searching for the “ultimate gratifier” – that person that will fulfill our every wish and desire; the thing that fills us with Total Purpose.

In Freudian psychology, this usually represents the subconscious needs we didn’t get fulfilled from our opposite-sex parent. Whether this is true or not is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that our lives are spent either searching for this ultimate gratifier, or subconsciously attempting to manipulate others to provide the missing needs.

When people attempt to transfer these needs to another person, it starts off well. But when that person doesn’t live up to our expectations – turns out not to be the Ultimate Gratifier - we get pissed.

For some people these days this Ultimate Gratifier is Obama. They are projecting onto him “hope” or “inspiration” or whatever else they have missing from their lives. So what is almost as scary as these people willing to vote for someone without experience is that these same people will be severely pissed when he doesn’t live up to expectations (if he became President).

No matter how much people are in love at the beginning of a relationship, if it is going to last a full four years, it needs to have realistic expectations; it can’t last on idealist projections and empty promises. And those relationships that try to last on idealistic expectations usually end up in the most bitter of divorces.

Update: I am not the only one applying psychological principles to candidates. Michael Weiss applies Gestalt Theory on the why McCain is doing well: McCain the Gestalt Candidate

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Good Game

Some quick observations of the Superbowl:
  • The game was WAY better than the commercials this year.

  • I was happy to see the Giants win, although I started off not caring who won. That late forth quarter catch was really exciting and I was jumping up and down.

  • The Bud Lite commerical with Will Ferrell gets my nod as the best ad. A couple of others I noticed, but didn't knock my socks off. The FedEx "Carrier Pigeon" was a good idea that wasn't quite executed right.

  • Was that a quick game? Seemed like it to me. Or maybe it was because it was interesting for a change.

  • Half time was really good. Tom Petty rocks.