Here be dragonfruits

Dragonfruit in Japan is bright purple on the inside. SY wanted to see, since his Chinese dragonfruit, while larger, is grey inside

unopened dragonfruit
unopened dragonfruit
opened dragonfruit
opened dragonfruit

My family’s visit to Tokyo

My parents and sisters came to Tokyo and stayed with us from Christmas to New Year. They returned home today. In such a short time we were not able to see much of the city, but they did get to see a few interesting places. I made a Google map to remind them.

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Geek fun in the sun

Karen and I joined some of the Tokyo Linux users, ignored the suggestion from Linus, and went to the beach (well, it wasn’t quite a beach; but it was beside the water) for a barbeque instead of downloading the latest kernel (although we did have a wireless network connection).

I am sure “the goodlooking people” watching us did laugh. Most of us were not “pasty white”, but we were easily identified as “nerds” by our choice of sports: hard disk shot putting and keyboard disassembly races. I almost won the hard disk shot put: I made the furthest shot, but it was off target, went out of bounds, and almost decapitated another geek. After a brief argument about the rules (no extra points for maiming does not seem fair) I was given another try, but my second shot was pathetic in comparison. In the next game I discovered that my head is not a good tool for disassembling a keyboard.

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Saint Patrick’s day in Tokyo

Yesterday was Saint Patrick’s day, and I am sure there were many parades in many cities around the world. But in Tokyo the parade was today, because we were all too busy yesterday.

I heard about the parade on Friday when I met Bob, another Northern Irishman in my office. He said he would be in the parade, so I decided to join him. I had never been in a Saint Patrick’s day parade before, and may never be again.

When I arrived it was just like any other Saint Patrick’s parade in a large city: a massive crowd of green-clad people who had never been to Ireland. I did not have any suitable green atire, so I was wearing my blue Irish Free Software Organisation T-shirt. I didn’t really fit with the theme, unless you could see the logo on the T-shirt. But I went in anyway.

Inside the assembly ground the official parade looked much stranger than I did. Guinness, Baileys, and a couple of Irish pubs provided the alcohol connection; a couple of leprechauns and some ladies with large shamrocks tied to their heads provided the bizarre green connection. But nobody else seemed to fit. There were marching bands, but not the kind we have in Belfast: no sashes and bowler hats; I’ll check back in July.

Just as I was thinking that it was nothing like Ireland, a gang of men in paramilitary outfits walked in. That was more like it! They turned out to be a band from some part of the US military, so they still had the “freedom fighter or terrorist” ambiguity.

I found Bob and we joined the parade as part of a group representing an Irish pub. I don’t go to pubs often, but this one was near my house so I had some connection. We walked up and down the road while lots of onlookers waved and cheered. It was a bit surreal.

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Powerless Cyclones

The Dyson vacuum cleaner is better than other vacuum cleaners because it uses little cyclones (like a tornado) to create the lower air pressure while also ensuring that the dirt is thrown to the side of the container and out of the air flow. Other vacuum cleaners use a fan to extract the air from the container, but the dirt gathers towards the fan and blocks the air path, so the suction is reduced.

So cyclones are better.

I had a look at some vacuum cleaners today and saw that most of them claimed to have some kind of “Cyclone”. I wasn’t convinced, so I dismantled a few of them, and was annoyed at my discovery: almost all had fake cyclones! They produced suction using a big fan, just like non-cyclone cleaners; but they had additional bits of curved piping to make the dirt spin around in little powerless cyclones. The dirt still gathers in the path of the air flow, so they still lose suction. But the casual observer would see the spinning dirt, just like they see in a Dyson. Most people would probably not notice that it was spinning much slower than the Dyson dirt. And at half the price of a real cyclone cleaner, most people would probably fall for the trick.

I didn’t buy a vacuum cleaner: I bought a floor brush.

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A little Free Speech

I went to the GPLv3 Conference in Tokyo today. Well, part of it. Today was only my second day in my new job, and I couldn’t really spend the whole day at the conference. But I really wanted to be at the conference in the afternoon since they asked me to participate in the panel for ” International coordination of Free Software Movement”.

I expected the panel to be a question and answer setup, where the panel members responded to questions from the audience. But that isn’t what happened. Instead the panel chairman talked for 30 minutes, and then handed the mike over to me!

That wasn’t what I was expecting, but it wasn’t a problem either. I spent fifteen minutes saying my bit, then passed the mike on to the next guy.

The following panelists had interesting things to say, and I learnt a few things too. I didn’t know that pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing than they do on research, although I wasn’t surprised to hear that. I was amused to hear that all maize (corn) was effectively genetically engineered millennia ago in South America.

But the quote that stood out the most was not a new fact, but it was a nice opinion: “education is not just about skills; it is about building values and building a citizen”. Somebody needs to start repeating that back in the UK.