8/29/2006 09:45:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|
East Japan Railway Company (JR East) has become the world's first railway company to develop a humanoid robot guide. JR East spent two years working with a Japanese robot manufacturer to develop the droid, nicknamed "I" (which stands for "information"), who the company is now grooming for employment at train stations.
I stands 120 centimeters (4 ft) tall, weighs 50 kilograms (110 lbs) and is equipped with a Suica card (JR's rechargeable contactless train pass) reader on its shoulder and a touch screen on its chest that can display a variety of data. The robot moves around on wheels and is nimble enough to spin around in place.
I's future duties include providing assistance at customer service windows, performing security patrols around stations at night, and assisting station workers with other duties as needed.
As of now, the robot's reception skills include the ability to read Suica cards held near its shoulder and ring telephones to notify representatives of customers in need. The robot can also show customers to reception areas and it can point the direction to the restrooms if asked. Face and voice recognition skills allow it to carry on simple conversations with the people it encounters.
The robot was subjected to about 10 days of testing at JR's research facility in Saitama City at the end of July. However, the droid did not perform very well in the tests, receiving poor marks for awkward and slow movements.
Being awkward and slow does not appear to be a major obstacle to I's employment prospects, though. For the time being, it seems that the robot will get by on charm. "Customers find the robot entertaining," says JR East research director Takashi Endo. "There are still a number of issues that we need to address, but it can be used to create some amusement in the stations."
Cite yer source|W|P|115685555094750295|W|P|EEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!|W|Pfirstname.lastname@example.org/25/2006 10:37:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|Even a brief acquaintance with Japan will show you that despite all the neon and robots it is a nation that cherishes its traditions and is distrustful of change. Many people wiser than I have written about the difficulties of trying to engage with the conservative Japanese mindset and introduce change but, so far as I know, none of them have seen the parallels with Spinal Tap. I'm thinking of the scene where Nigel Tufnel is showing off his amplifier - the one that goes to 11, for when you need that final push over the edge. Marti diBergi says something like "But wouldn't it be more sensible just to make 10 louder and have that be the loudest?" Nigel gives him a completely uncomprehending look, turns back to the amp and repeats "This one goes to 11". My day in a nutshell.
To give them their due, Japanese people always seem to be very impressed by our faltering attempts at their language. When I attempt to say something relevant, I am often told that my Japanese is very good, even though instead of "I need those figures for the three o'clock meeting" I have just said "I enjoy wearing my underpants in the bath".
The thing is, it's not impressed in a way that means "Fantastic, this foreigner is beginning to understand the rudiments of our language. Perhaps meaningful communication between us will one day be a reality instead of a dream!" No. It's more the kind of impressed you see from the studio audience on some dismal TV variety show when they wheel out a dog or a horse that can "count" by barking or tapping its hoof.|W|P|115651321069992987|W|P|A Nation Of Nigel Tufnels|W|Pemail@example.com/25/2006 11:59:00 PM|W|P|Marcus|W|P|Ah so things beginning to get you down, or is this just a humourous way of reliving a bit of stress?
The image of you wearing underpants in the bath is a little surreal, even for you9/01/2006 04:23:00 AM|W|P|Anonymous|W|P|more importantly can you count by tapping your hoof on the floor?8/16/2006 09:37:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|I turned up on Sunday in time to see the last couple of songs She Wants Revenge played. These guys seem to be getting quite a bit of hate from assorted hipsters for being nothing but an Interpol ripoff. I've got to say I find that a bit puzzling, seeing as Interpol are little more than a Joy Division tribute band themselves, but hey, who I am to argue with gobby white belt wearing Americans on the internet? Their singer is one Justin Warfield, who made a great psychedelic hiphop album in the early 90s called My Field Trip To Planet Nine, and also wrote and performed the lyrics for Bomb The Bass' Bug Powder Dust, after which this very blog is named, fact fiends. SWR certainly don't reach those heights, but they weren't especially toxic either.
Secret Machines were next, and one of the bands I'd been looking forward to. They were pretty epic – six songs in a 45 minute set, with next to no audience banter. Live, they were far more powerful than they sound on record, and at the risk of sounding like a MOJO subscriber, really good musicians. I'll take guts and attitude over musicianship any day, but when they come together like they did here, it's a pretty cool thing. Songs like Alone, Jealous and Stoned, Lightning Blue Eyes, and First Wave Intact became a thunderous noise that dwarfed the three guys on stage making it. Definitely someone I'd pay to see play again.
And from the sublime to the just plain pish. To make sure I was in a decent spot to see Arctic Monkeys I moved back to the Mountain Stage in time to watch the last half of The Kooks' set. I understand this second rate 21st century Kingmaker (remember them? Horrible, isn't it?) are doing well back in the UK, proving once again, as if we needed more evidence, that you can never be too mediocre for the general public to take you to their hearts (are you listening, Blunt?). I haven't come across a band that are so clearly going to be booked into the mid-afternoon slot at festivals for their whole career since Toploader.
The Kooks probably think they've drawn a massive crowd, but everyone is here for the Arctic Monkeys. The band play a fast and noisy set, the new bassist does a good job, and Alex Turner's still got a rapport with the audience despite the language barrier. They could maybe do with some time off in the same way as Editors did yesterday, but it really doesn't matter because as soon as they come on stage, thousands of Japanese kids go absolutely batshit mental, and stay that way for the rest of the set. It's only The Streets with an electric guitar, but there's nothing wrong with that.
Down to the stadium after that for Muse, probably the most surprisingly good act I saw all festival. Their new album might sound like Iron Maiden, Queen, Prince and Pet Shop Boys fighting in a bag, but all that overblown pomp finds a natural home on this big stage. Plus Matt Bellamy's guitar has a mirrored finish all over its body. Respect.
Back at the Mountain Stage I catch the end of DJ Shadow's set, which looked and sounded as if it could have been really good, and sit back for Massive Attack. They turn out to be the polar opposite of The Flaming Lips' joyous abandon the previous night. Although they're nominally touring a greatest hits album, most of the set is drawn from the last two LPs. It's dark, paranoid, brooding and brilliant. Safe From Harm gets an extended coda that turns what's supposed to be a song of love and fierce devotion into cold metallic steel. Horace Andy is on hand of course, and proves to be a far better singer than he is a dancer. His Hymn Of The Big Wheel is an early warm soothing bath after the ominous claustrophobia of Risingson, but he soon turns nasty with a threatening Angel. If he was singing this direct to you, you'd be looking for a restraining order. Even Liz Frasier is there, and Teardrop gets one of the biggest cheers of the night.
All in all, it's a pretty decent festival. Different from European ones - people seem to be able to sleep through bands here without being surrounded by empty bottles of cider for one thing. I expect to be back next year though. Some photos here|W|P|115573242792054643|W|P|Summer Sonic - Sunday|W|Pfirstname.lastname@example.org/15/2006 09:10:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|HARD GAY
|W|P|115564388633590545|W|P|Why Japanese Television Is Better Than Yours, part 8759|W|Pemail@example.com/14/2006 07:33:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|First band we saw was The Rapture. I was looking forward to this after seeing them play a gig in a hugely oversold Dublin venue a few years ago, where the audience was jammed in so tight that dancing, or indeed any movement, was out of the question. With their soon come September album already being talked up in the music press, this should have been really good. Instead it was just okay. The way the set list was structured killed the show for me, as too many songs with the same tempo merged into each other and it all became a bit anonymous. The new material sounded pretty decent, but there was nothing there to beat the high watermark of "House of Jealous Lovers" which came in near the end and sent the crowd (me included) predictably crazy. They'll probably never top that, but if you've got to carry a millstone, then having made one of the best singles of the decade is probably one of the easier ones to bear.
Next up were Editors. We saw these in Shibuya back in May, and were pretty impressed. Today, however, they run through almost exactly the same set, even down to the singer having a tantrum with his guitar. Either he's very unlucky with his equipment or it's a little bit of play acting to show how angsty and serious he is. Bless. His stage persona and moves were unchanged as well, the same mixture of Chris Martin and Ian Curtis. Makes you feel queasy even reading it, doesn't it? The one new song is promising, but even that we'd heard at the previous show. In general the songs are strong, and the performance was good, but it's time this lot got off the road and started getting album number two together.
After that it's time to do my husbandly duty and endure Keane, but we get to the Sonic Stage and find out they've cancelled. Curses, eh? Back to the Mountain Stage and we catch the end of the mysteriously high up the bill Scritti Politti. The performance is as dull and thinly attended as you'd expect, so we sit down at the back with another beer and wait for the Charlatans. Despite having been to many many gigs and festivals over the past fifteen years, I've never seen this bunch, so I'm a little interested to see how they are. Turns out they are tight, competent and arse-achingly boring. So boring, we preferred to go back to the Sonic Stage and look at an empty stage where Keane should be while waiting for the Flaming Lips. Just as well we did, because we see a little surprise mini Flaming Lips show, as they come on for five minutes and play a Keane cover, with someone out of the audience on vocals. After that, they disappear, promising us a proper show in a minute, and they don't disappoint. Everything you've heard about the Flaming Lips live experience is true. Wayne Coyne does his "rolling around on top of the audience in a giant clear plastic bubble" thing, while one side of the stage is occupied by a bunch of people dressed as Santa dancing and waving to the other bunch of people who are dressed as aliens on the opposite side. Behind the band there are giant inflatable dancing Santas, spacemen and aliens, glitter cannons keep going off and there's a constant shower of big orange balloons being dropped and bounced around by the crowd. On record, the Lips have their moments but generally leave me a bit cold. Live, however, it all comes together gloriously. One day all rock shows will be like this. Here's a bit of film I stitched together from what I could shoot while evading overzealous security guards, that'll give you a flavour of the experience:
With so many bands peddling adolescent misery and woe, a show like this that's all about joy and elation is special indeed. It was only marred by the Official bugpowderdust wife coming over all faint and us having to leave after 45 minutes. But even that was okay - any more and I'd have been like a six year old buzzing on too much orange juice and smarties.|W|P|115555165825341632|W|P|Summer Sonic - Saturday|W|Pfirstname.lastname@example.org/10/2006 07:37:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|..is a really good blog about things going on here in Japan. Bookmark it here.
I particularly recommend the story about the giant robot squid.
I am blogging to: Anathema|W|P|115520639854851122|W|P|Pink Tentacle|W|Pemail@example.com/04/2006 07:34:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|OFFSHORE by EARLY DAY MINERS
Having listened to altogether too much tasteful Americana of late, last weekend I was in the mood for something different, some new cosmic freakout or experimental rock to blow me away. A chance listening post in Shibuya led me to this record. As the sleeve sticker had it, "a 37 minute epic in six parts". Given my muso nerd tendencies, it had me there and, frankly, didn't have to be anything like as good as it is.
It opens with "Land Of Pale Saints", a driving ten minute instrumental that thankfully doesn't sound anything like the weedy UK former indie act The Pale Saints. There are layers and layers of guitars building on each other in a manner not a million miles from Pelican's instrumental prog metal, augmented by rising and falling keyboard washes. About five minutes in the guitars drop out, and the drums take centre stage, as they will again and again throughout the record. Purposeful and ominous, they lend a foreboding air of apprehension until this too stops, and is replaced by a brief interlude of strings and feedback, signaling a move away from noise and into a quieter place. This stretch, starting with "Deserter", has a hushed, nocturnal quality (most of this record seems to take place in the dark), the same spooky ambience that Daniel Lanois brought to Emmylou Harris' "Wrecking Ball", maybe the best album of the 1990s. The music stretches out, becomes reflective and the first vocals appear, a man and a woman singing together over rolling percussion and a lost harmonica echoing in the dark. The lyrics of "people lost underwater" and a "ruined city" conjure images of loss and floods, and bring New Orleans' recent history to mind, as they must have been intended to.
From here we move seamlessly into "Sans Revival". The assorted instruments come together to make a beautiful shimmering texture, all-enveloping and strangely uplifting, despite the vocal exhortation to "give up". Chiming guitars sound like floating dust motes turned golden by shafts of sunlight penetrating the darkness. The climax is the first moment of silence we've heard on the record, probably the end of side one in old money.
"Return Of The Native" is a quieter, more subdued piece with a broken female vocal, that elides into the instrumental "Silent Tents". The word "aftermath" comes to mind. The previously roiling percussion is slowed down and the guitars become mournful and elegiac, playing long low notes that speak of loss and regret. Eventually the drums fade away to nothing, and a guitar and keyboard hold a protracted slowly decaying note as the sun rises on muddy brown devastation.
The next track "Hymn Beneath The Palisades" brings the record to a close with another powerful instrumental. The martial drumming from the opening returns, with renewed purpose. This rhythm, the snap of cymbals and the discordant notes of the guitars herald a vengeful (re)construction. About halfway through the guitars begin to climb. They fall into step with the drums and redouble in intensity. Something big, dark and dangerous is coming. Just as we think it is upon us, it stops. The record ends, and you know you're going to push that play button to hear it again.
In a just world, the music mags would be celebrating this instead of fawning over Thom Yorke's latest laptop sulk. I don't think I've heard emotion expressed so clearly through electric guitars since Explosions In The Sky's "The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place"
37 minutes. You could spend it watching an episode and a half of a Friends rerun, or you could listen to the best record I've heard all year. Your choice.|W|P|115468808477144365|W|P|Frustrated Music Hack Spills His Pretensions|W|Pfirstname.lastname@example.org/04/2006 10:24:00 PM|W|P|Marcus|W|P|I have no idea how long it'll take me to get this over here. I'll comment once I have listened8/05/2006 11:58:00 AM|W|P|Marcus|W|P|Apparently is not even out in the US yet http://tinyurl.com/hp9ax
(it's an amazon.com link)
In a less related note I'm very very drunk8/08/2006 10:28:00 PM|W|P|Anonymous|W|P|Thankfully? Pale Saints weedy? You have no idea. Stupid, ignorant, prepotent... Pale Saints are great and you don´t know it.
Fer email@example.com/03/2006 07:43:00 PM|W|P|dan|W|P|The cicadas are out in force now. After spending their formative years living underground, they come to the surface at this time of year to reproduce, and don't they let you know it. The male's mating call can reach 100 decibels, and as loads of them emerge together, it's a constant racket. A hundred thousand bugs all shouting "Come here baby! Let's get it on!" at the top of their lungs* to lady insects makes for a fearsome noise. They are the Motorhead of the insect world. I like the sound though. It's a little reminder that, even though we've been here six months and are beginning to get used to the place, we're still somewhere foreign and very different from what we've known before.
Into August now, and this is where people tell us the Tokyo summer really steps up a gear, as if July wasn't bad enough. The heat is okay, but the humidity is way above anything my pathetic pale Northern European gene pool is used to. Just walking a short distance is enough to make me break out in sweat, and sustained exercise reduces me to a horrible sweaty puddle on the pavement. This might be a reflection of my fitness level, or lack of, but everyone else appears to be in the same boat (said boat being afloat on a sea of perspiration, no doubt). The people who used to hand out promotional tissues on street corners (yes, they really do that) are now giving out fans, and the Tokyo population spends its day hurrying from one air conditioned haven to another. At least there are only a couple more weeks to endure. And then it's typhoon season.
I am blogging to: Blyth Power
*they actually do it by beating their hollow thoraxes, but, you know...|W|P|115460192937642180|W|P|Bugs (not bats)|W|Pfirstname.lastname@example.org