Sunday, January 31, 2010
Meanwhile I scored this hot beverage from a vending machine near the field house...
A blob manages to recreate a very complex rail system
Researchers in Japan have shown that a slime mold can design a network that is as efficient as one developed by humans over many years: the Tokyo rail system. Furthermore, the slime mold can build its network in a day.
A slime mold is what scientists refer to as a single-celled amoeboid organism. When foraging for food, it spreads out as an amorphous mass and then builds tubular connections between the food sources.
Scientists in Japan set up an experiment where they laid out 36 bits of food in a pattern corresponding to cities in the Tokyo area and put a slime mold, Physarum polycephalum, at the spot corresponding to Tokyo.
As they reported in Science, after 26 hours the slime mold had created a series of tubular connections that matched, to a great extent, the rail links among these cities.
Monday, January 25, 2010
By Leo Lewis, Asia Business Correspondent
Desperate Japanese housewives
raid 'belly-button cash'
Japanese housewives, the invisible puppet-masters of Asia’s biggest economy, have begun raiding their stashes of “belly-button money” - the secret hoards of cash, stocks and financial assets they skim from the family budget and hope their husbands will never discover.
And, faced with long-term economic strife, those housewives who cannot bear to break into their hidden funds to pay for daily necessities are going to ever greater lengths to protect them – chiefly by serving bean-sprouts for dinner and slashing their husbands’ okozukai pocket money.
But financial hardship has forced many to use the money to make ends meet. The annual survey of housewives’ financial arrangements by Sompo Japan DIY Life Insurance showed that the average hesokuri – belly button – stash has plunged by 20 per cent since 2008 to an average of just 3.7 million yen (£25,000).
The Sompo survey also reveals alarming insights into why the housewives are so attached to their secret money: a good proportion are hiving-off the funds in the hope that they can secure a divorce at about the age of 50 and enjoy their late middle age in financial comfort and away from their husbands.
In some cases, through the use of judicious investment and first-class subterfuge, housewives who answered the survey have managed, over the course of some decades, to create secret belly-button portfolios worth over £1 million.
Alarmed by the country’s anaemic recovery, and by the relentless decline in wage packets that has continued unabated for 18 months, the housewives have made other dramatic changes to daily life. Spending on luxury goods and dining-out has tumbled sharply. At home, more and more are replacing meat with tofu and resorting to cooking a “nabe” – a watery, vegetable-heavy stew - for the main family meal.
Sompo’s annual survey of housewives is closely watched by Japanese economists: consumption represents half of Japanese GDP, and the traditional structure of Japanese households mean that the wives tend to wield absolute control on how all the family income is spent. Minoru Sugiyama, a Sompo spokesman, said that as the economy was getting worse “both the sentiment and actions of consumers have lost their vigour.”
Married male workers in Japan are broadly resigned to the fact that their salary will be handed directly to their wives each month and controlled by them. The best a man can hope is that she will be generous with his pocket money and allow him enough cash for beer, golf and a bit of pachinko (vertical pinball) gambling.
The housewife survey also offers guidance on the likely fate of the twice annual “bonus” lump sums that company employees receive as a regular part of their salaries. The bonuses themselves are expected to be smaller than in previous years and 70 per cent of women said they would use the entire sum on savings and loan repayments.
And in a heavy blow to the spending ambitions of men across the country, nearly 50 per cent of the housewives surveyed said that they did not plan to return a single yen of their husbands’ bonuses to them as pocket money.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Learn From Postwar Tokyo
The standard approach to residential redevelopment projects is to take ground zero as a starting point — even if it means creating it. This often translates into shifting people from substandard but incrementally developing environments into apartment blocks that cut them off from their social networks and livelihoods. These projects often become housing-centric and blind to the relationship between neighborhoods and economic development. They end up benefiting the construction industry much more than the population they are supposed to serve.
Haiti’s shattered urban landscapes were about communities, street life, resourcefulness, aspirations and dynamic local exchanges. As we have seen in the Dharavi area of Mumbai (the setting of “Slumdog Millionaire”), poverty often generates creative responses and initiatives. Local actors tend to produce piecemeal development that directly supports neighborhood-level activity.
As we consider how to rebuild Port-au-Prince, we can find an alternative to the usual top-down redevelopment model in postwar Tokyo. The Japanese government didn’t have the money to rebuild housing and so focused instead on roads, sewage and rail transportation. It also encouraged lenders to give families money to build homes. A decentralized and highly participatory urban redevelopment process produced areas of low-rise, high-density structures built with local skills and material. This not only strengthened communities but also stimulated the local economies. Tokyo today has a landscape that is futuristic and yet retains many traditional Asian urban features including street markets, small-scale businesses and family enterprises. The incremental redevelopment of Tokyo was thus intricately connected to the rise of its middle class.
If aid in Haiti aims specifically at regenerating local economies, if it promotes existing skills and collective initiatives, if it consults with grassroots groups and residents directly, it may well bring about a real transformation.
Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava are founders of URBZ — User-Generated Cities.
Monday, January 18, 2010
I asked my friend Mizuho to explain this cartoon to me, an advert for Pasmo, maker of smart cards that pay for things like metro and bus fare and vending machine drinks. I've used mine to buy printer paper at the stationery shop, lollipops at the AM/PM convenient store, and to pay the 150-yen admission fee at a small Japanese garden near Tokyo Bay (Kyu-Shiba-rikyu, a pretty little place not too far from the better-known Hama-rikyu gardens). It seems Pasmo card readers are popping up everywhere. Anyway...
I can't recall Mizuho's translation verbatim, but here's the gist:
1. Bye now...Thanks for lunch...
2. Wait! Come back! You forgot your Pasmo card!
3. Oh dear. You needn't have bothered... I could just buy another one...
4. Whaaaat? You can't just keep buying Pasmo cards. They're plastic! You're destroying the environment! And look, now you've offended the cat.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Here's Conor and me outside Freshness Burger on Meiji-dori (in Higashi, not too far from where we live), fighting jet lag from the previous day's flight from New York (14 hours -- a killer). Conor had his usual -- double burger, no cheese, no nothin', just the pan and the niku. Dylan took the picture with my iphone.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
It's confusing for them I think, though Conor is very philosophical about it. A couple months ago, when we weren't sure if we would be leaving after the two year contract was up and I was trying to prepare my 9-year-old for a possible move ("we might stay, and we might go -- we don't know" I told him, "but either way, we'll be fine!" and he seemed to appreciate the situation) Conor said to me something like, "Ya know Mom, we will always go to New York to visit, but if we leave Japan, we won't ever come back, so I want to stay in Japan, so we can have both." (Pretty deep, coming from a 9-year-old, no?) Dylan is another story -- at 7 years old, he seems a bit less clear on what he thinks and how he feels about our life, and he's more emotional by nature, more dramatic. He flipflops between "I hate Japan" and "Japan is my favorite now." I roll with it.
This post was supposed to be a series of pictures taken during our time in New York, but then I remembered one of my new year's resolutions: write more for the blog. So thanks for sticking with me this long. I hope you consider the following shots your reward. Happy New Year.
And now, scenes from a cold late December day in Manhattan...
An amusing discovery while walking down Lexington Avenue near 42nd Street (check out the traditional Japanese New Year's mochi cake in the window, the tiered thing with the red fan sticking up out of the orange)
Serious shopping at The Compleat Strategist, a board and fantasy game geek's paradise at 33rd St. between Madison and 5th aves.
Terry bought Carcassonne (a hit at my brother's house)...
...and some tiny D-and-D figures for the boys
Empire State! (Despite how cold it was outside, the line to get to the top was 3 blocks long! Terry and I hadn't been up there in 20 years, and the kids have never been up, but this was clearly not the day for it)
Herald Square! (The boys always love a good street performance. I ducked out early to go buy bras at a nearby Victoria's Secret shop. I normally wouldn't mention this except that when Terry brought the boys there to meet me, Dylan asked, "Why are we in a knickers store?" Only he didn't say knickers, he said knickahs. My little English lad... this is what happens when you go to the British School.)
Next: Union Square...
Brussel sprouts at the Greenmarket
This was better than tea on that frigid day.
Looking north up Broadway at the corner of 13th Street
Finally, a chance to see Fantastic Mr. Fox (great flick!). I had forgotten just how ginormous Regal Cinemas is...
Seeing the boys off (it was back to the burbs, and dinner with the grandparents for them, while I had a little more time to myself)
Crossing Fifth Ave. at 18th St. on my way to meet Susan at El Cocotero for some tasty arepas
Venezuelan beer to go with the Venezuelan cuisine
Heading back to Brooklyn a few days later...this time in the Buick we borrowed from my grandparents (I still say trains rule)
View from the bridge of our old co-op home, The St. George Tower. Sublet ending, thinking about selling...