Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Japan Trip

I recently came back from Japan. What was supposed to start off as a 12 day trip turned into a 17 day trip, as some expected equipment did not arrive in time.

Here's my photo album:

...And a map of where I worked and stayed:

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Highlights of the Trip:

Unfortunately, I worked nearly the whole time. 16 of the 17 days were spent in that data center, and there was very little time to goof off. Which is a shame that I spent so much time flying over to that country from Switzerland, only to spend the whole time in the data center.

But here are some cool things that I managed to squeak out, despite the 70 hour work weeks:

Roppongi is the place where all the US Navy sailors and marines go, when on shore leave. This means that the businesses of the area cater to the foreign interests especially. There are many english speaking establishments there. There are also some street corners that are very shady. The four of us went to go find a place to get a drink, and we ran the gauntlet.

There is one street in Roppongi that could best be described as "running the gauntlet." Many of the establishments, in order to get you into their bar, will have men on the street corner, asking you to come to the club. They are very pushy, and usually don't take no for an answer. They are usually inviting you to "Gentlemen's clubs" or strip clubs, but occasionally, they invite you to just regular bars.

After walking 5 meters and telling 7 or 8 of these guys to buzz off, I pulled the "Quebeqois Act," only I don't know French, so I had to substitue with German, instead. What I call the "Quebeqois Act" is when you act like you don't speak English, but you actually do. I walked the street, in German, "No, I don't speak English. Only German. Go away" I thought I had figured out how to get rid of them. Suddenly, this Nigerian with PERFECT German called me on my bluff, inviting me to his club. You can't win here.

Toy Park
I did manage to visit the Toy Park in Ginza. It took me a few tries to find it again, and I did do a lot of extra walking in Ginza. I don't mind getting lost. Toy Park is a store that has lots of cool Japanese toys -- four floors of neat Japanese toys you can't find in the US or Switzerland. I bought ¥20,000 worth of toys, including some 3-D puzzles for Jake, two train sets for Joey, a transformer of some sort for Joshie, and a Kimono for Cecilia.

エアロフライテックシリーズ の Qスカイ
(AeroTech Series Q-Sky)

Toys for me? Oh heck ya. I've recently gotten into small remote controlled aircraft. (I will write about the "Ghetto-Copter" in another issue) While at the Toy Park, I bought a nice little remote controlled airplane that can be flown indoors. The plane is made of Styrofoam and weighs not much more than a few pieces of paper. Aerotech's Q-sky. Here's a commercial on YouTube.

Of course, the instructions are written for Japanese, by Japanese. And they are hilarious. Here is the instruction page. These are the actual instructions that came in the box -- really, I'm not making this up. Click on it so you can see the images up close. Since you don't know Japanese, I will translate the captions for you below.

Let's go through the instructions: starting with block one:
  1. Don't wear the airplane as a necklace

  2. Don't put the controller between your legs, you never know when it's going to blow up and damage your dangling bits.
  3. Don't use it as a karate chopping block. Nobody will be impressed.
  4. Dogs are not allowed to fly remote control airplanes.
  5. If you score a touchdown, don't spike the plane.
  6. Magicians are not allowed to use their special powers to influence the flight.
  7. Do not pick your nose while flying the plane with one hand. We are not impressed by your ability to multitask.
  8. Don't shout out your window telling your neighbors about your plane. They probably won't be as impressed as you think they will be.

Return Trip
On the way back, I was blessed with mostly clear weather over Siberia. Yes, Russia is big. The trip from Tokyo to Zurich is a 12 hour plane ride. The flight begins with a direct north route, about 45 minutes going over the Japan Sea, and reaching the Russian coastline. The next 9 hours are flying over Russian territory. The most amazing thing is that I saw absolutely no signs of civilization until Vazhki (sp?).

For a long time, the world record for a glider flight was a ridge flight, starting from Pennsylvania, down to Tennessee, and back up. Relatively recently, this long distance glider flight record was broken in Argentina, in 2003. I have wondered if the Ural mountains would serve as a good opportunity to break that record in Argentina. With the length of the Urals, and the long daylight of the summer months, it might actually be possible:

This flight over Russia gave me the opportunity to see the Urals from altitude to let my imagination wander. It appears that the urals are very rocky to the north, and more smoothed out to the south. There appears to be a significant gap between this rocky northern part, and the smoothed out shorter southern part. Also, I noticed that there is no prepared terrain anywhere nearby. If you land out, you are landing out in the trees, maybe 1000 km from the nearest rescue team. Hmm. Maybe somebody else can attempt that record.

Here's a rough estimate of my flight back over Russia. I should have taken some pictures, because I will not likely ever be able to see this view again. Here's a map of what I'm talking about. The orange line is the proposed record-breaking flight, and the blue was the flight path my jet liner took. The blue marker shows where the Ural mountains break, and the pink-ish marker shows the first signs of civilization that I saw along the trip.

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