Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Around the World in Two Weeks - Last Day Mexico City

The last five days have been quite crazy. I haven't had time to write anything because I've been extremely busy at Labofilms. Initially, we were supposed to attend an open house event for their new subsidiary, Labodigital. Work on the location we nowhere near finished so we ended up helping Charles from Serbromex (the company in charge setting up Labodigital) pull cables through walls, connecting systems together and training some of the staff there.

I can safely say that Labodigital will have the best shop in Mexico. It's a brand new floor on the already existing building of Labofilms. It includes:
  • A state-of-the-art machine room with an Imagica ImagerXE film scanner, our very own MATRIX, a Lasergraphics P3 film recorder and a Sony HDW-M2000 high definition VTR.
  • A client suite complete with a retractable projection screen, a high-resolution projector and an HD client monitor.

Enough of technical stuff. Yesterday, after all the work was done, the manager of Labofilms invited us to a private screening of the new Miami Vice movie. Labofilms has a nice little screening room for about 25 people. The only downside was that the film reels were not spliced together so the movie was stopped every 20 minutes for them to change. Also, instead of the "traditional" soda and popcorn, we were offered Don Julio tequila on ice...

After the projection, we headed (actually, raced) to an area considered the Beverly Hills of Mexico City - Polanco. We went to "the best Argentinian steak resaurant in Mexico City". Let me tell you, I believe it. The steaks were absolutly amazing. One, especially, was so tender, it was like cutting into butter - seriously! You could just slide the knife over it and it would cut. After a very good meal, some beers and tequilas. Headed back to the hotel. The others went to the manager's home but I was too tired to follow (I woke up a 8 that morning and they woke up at 1pm...).

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Around the World in Two Weeks - Mexico City Day 3

Not feeling well last night, I went to bed early to rest a bit. I got up this morning feeling the same, if not worse. I ate my breakfast of pineapple, papaya and melon with a bit of scrambled eggs and coffee at around 9:30 and proceeded to walk around the "zona rosa" while waiting for my colleagues. I ran into Guillaume from Serbromex in a CD shop not far from the hotel. I looked at some CDs and joind him at Starbucks for a coffee. He went off to the office and I continued to walk around.

Minding the time, I sent messages to my colleagues asking if there was a plan for today. After getting no answer, I continued to walk around looking at shops and such. I was feeling much worse at this point with a runny nose and splitting headache. Still with no sign of my colleagues (usually we meet at 11am and it was now almost 4pm), I decided to head back to the hotel to get my laptop and take a cab to Serbromex. On my way down from the room, I spotted them sitting in the lobby. It appeared that Charles would be picking us up soon so we sat at a cafe where I had a lemon tea.

Chuck appeared about a half-hour later with his girlfriend Neyda and we all went out for a bite at Vips, a local chain of dinner-style resaurants. I had a nice soup with chicken, vegetagles and cheese (Tlalpenho).

After lunch, it was time to go to the office (at 17:30!?!?). I was not feeling well at all by now so I stayed in my room with a cup of lemon tea while the others went.

Took a couple of Panadols and slept like like a log...

Friday, July 21, 2006

Around the World in Two Weeks - Mexico City Day 2

Woke up at 8am today to my first moring in Mexico City. It looks very different in the daytime - much less intimidating. Since I woke up early, I decided to take a walk around the area and find a coffee place.

After a breakfast of pineapple, papaya and melon (lots of it), I started to circle around "la zona rosa". It was weird because it was around 9:30 and very few shops were open. I bought a lock for my suitcase and a coffee at a Starbucks-esque place in a mall near by. I was surprised to see a security guard armed with a shotgun as I stepped up to the cashier. Apparently they were getting ready to transport some cash out of there. You can never be too careful here.

After my stroll, I went back to the hotel until Chuck came to pick us up. 20 minutes later and after a some craaaaazy driving, we arrived at the offices of Serbromex. It's quite a cool setup - a long office with two levels. The top level is the administrative area and the bottom level is a suite for MATRIX. Before getting started, Chuck took us out for breakfast (more fruit and coffee for me) and then to a great fruit juice place where you can mix ANYTHING into a juice. I had a Brasiliña - mango, banana, strawberry and some red fruits. While our juices were being prepared, the old man at the counter fixed us some "cocktails".
  1. A melon and alfalfa mix
  2. A fruit salad with banana, melon, granola and honey.
  3. Cactus (prickly pear) juice - very nice!
Now I'm at Serbromex waiting for MATRIX to free up so we (myself, Guillaume, Jonathan and Sandra) can start with some training. The rest of the crew have gone to Labofilms with Chuck.

Around the World in Two Weeks - Mexico City Day 1

After a 18 hour trip across the Pacific from Tokyo , we finally arrived in Mexico City (via San Fransisco).

It's such a huge change going from a country like Japan to a place like Mexico. Truthfully, my first feeling about Mexico City was that I didnt like it. Maybe its because I was tired but I didn' t feel the same excitement as I did when we arrived in Tokyo. Mexico City has a sinister feel to it. It's dirty, and there are cops with bulletproof vests everywhere.

The taxi dropped us off in a part of town that is called the "Zona Rosa". Apparently its a tourist/trendy/gay area with lots of restaurants and bars. Anyway, after we checked in properly, Chuck and Guillaume from Serbromex came to the hotel to pick us up for dinner. One of my colleagues really wanted to eat a huge Mexican steak so we went to a churrasco place nearby. I was so tired I hardly remember what anyone was taking about. We ate a steak (actually just half), had a tequila (Don Julio Reserve - very smooth) and I quickly walked myself back to the hotel as the others went for a nightcap at a live music bar. My sinister feeling of this place was confirmed as I walked passed three teenagers beating up a fourth (and I mean angry beating, not playing around) and abum passed out in the middle of the sidewalk. You wouldn't see that in Tokyo...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Around the World in Two Weeks - Tokyo Day 4

Quite an uneventful day today. Had coffee at the usual place, went to office and basically did nothing but watch my other colleague train our partners in hardware support. We had a talk with Nakano-san about the Japanese postproduction market. He basically spelled out what I've been thinking all along. If you manage to satisfy the Japanese market, you can satisfy the rest of the world. The Japanese are very demanding about everything they do. It must be perfect.

As it was raining like, Hajimi ordered take-away for us in the office. To my dismay, it was grilled eel on rice. I've decided that eel isn't for me. The meat is particularly sweet, something I don't like very much. Nakano-san said that it's quite aa popular meal among office workers as it is said that eel boosts your stamina. I just ate it to be nice...

After we left the office, we went back to the hotel and I crashed for a knap (after putting on some laundry). About an hour and a half later, Nakano-san and a colleague of his picked us up to take us for a site seeing tour around Tokyo. We took the JR (the Japanese Railway service) over the river to a huge mall. Nakano-san explained that it's voted the "#1 destination in Tokyo for tourists". After our host negotiated with the resaurant staff, we got a table on a terasse overlooking the harbor. A very impressive site to say the least.

Looking back at my short stay here, I'm still undecided whether I would want to live here (if I had the chance). Tokyo is not much different from any other metropolis. I think, obviously, that it's the Japanese way of life that makes it stand out as being so bizarre. If I could use a few words to describe the Japanese (based on my encounters) they would be:
  • Ceremonial
  • Perfectionist
  • Patient
  • Innovative
I would have loved to stay here a bit more as a tourist and explore a bit deeper. Oh well, maybe next time. I can probably come here for free with all the miles that I will acquire from this trip.

We are flying out tomorrow at 4pm. Time to trade the "sashimi" for "tortillas" and the "konichiwa" for "hola". It'll be a total of 16 hours from here to Mexico City. Hooray for Business Class!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Around the World in Two Weeks - Tokyo Day 3

Woke up in the morning, had breakfast and waited around for late colleauges at a nearby cafe. We decided to go for a walk to the famous Ginza area before going to our partner's office. Everyone has seen Ginza at one time or another on television or in the movies. It's the place where there is a large interscetion with dozens of huge neon advertisments. Ginza is quite nice but I looks very high-end. You have to go into the back streets to find things other than big names in fashion and fancy restaurants. This is exactly what I did while my colleauges had lunch.

I also visited the Tokyo Mac Shop which is absolutly huge. Its a total of four floors:
  • Ground Floor: Main Boutique
  • 1st Floor: The Genius Bar
  • 2nd Floor: Demo Theater
  • 3rd Floor: All things ipod

After this, we made our way to the office where I spent a good 4 hours with Nakano-san while Hajimi-san and and the others talked business over a coffee.

Finally the day there ended with Hajimi-san offering to take us to Kaiabasha - the "electric city". We took the Metro from Ginza for about 15 minutes. There were not very many people on the train something that was quite weird for Tokyo. Hajimi explained that it was because it's not rush-hour. During rush-hour, he said, they have hired people that keep the peace and actually make a human wall between the platform and the track so commuters don't push each other into the train tracks.

We got off at our destination and were in for a huge surprise. Not only did Hajimi bring us to Akihabara - he made a peronalized guided tour!

Tour 1: The figurine shop - This shop is an 8-story apartment building that contains the largest selection of figurines, dolls and models I have ever seen. There is anything from your typical Disney characters to Manga, historical, aliens, animals, Spongebob, Pixar...everything!

Tour 2: Radio Tunnels - That's not what they are actually called but it's the only way I can describe this place. It's like a fish market but with electronic parts and products. You can buy anything from a lightbulb to a pair of nightvision goggles here. This is a hobbyists heaven...

Tour 3: Tokyo Animation Centre - This place is an exposition of Tokyo's (or generally, Japan's) most well-known anime characters. Hajimi explained that it is a boutique that promotes Japanese animation industy - partially to raise the value of the artform. It's actually quite a small place with huge dolls of characters, 5 information booths with some history and facts, a shop and a recording booth where the voices of famous Japanese cartoon characters put on a show. The weird thing was that all the spectators were sitting cross-legged in perfect rows in from of the booth. What was even more bizarre was that 99% of the spectators were between 23 and 40 years of age...

Tour 4: The Comic Shop - This place is a anime-lovers paradise. The whole place was just packed with any kind of Japanese comic ever imaginable. There must have been tens of thousands of books...all in Japanese.

Tour 5: The Computer Supermarket - Here it gets a bit too much. This building is 10 stories tall and every floor is at least twice the size of a floor in Globus or Manor. The first 7 floors are dedicated to PC's (parts, periferals, cards, fans, coolers, screens, you name it). The top 3 floors are for books, DVDs and a restaurant. I was actually sickened by the amount of stuff there was. Fnac is Paris is miniscule compared to this. Very overdone and very extreme but imressive nonetheless.

After our tour, we went back to the office to pick up our stuff and Nakano-san to go out for dinner. Tonight it was "shabi-shabi" - a word that describes the action of dipping food into a pot of boiling water. Something like suki-yaki. We spent about 2 hours dipping veggies and meat into this pot. Every 5 minutes or so, a waiterss (dressed in a kimono) would come and scoop the floating fat out of the water. Hajimi explained that this meal is very healthy because any fat off the meat melts into the water.

Back to hotel now for a good sleeeeeeep....

Around the World in Two Weeks - Tokyo Day 2

Even though today is a holidy here (the Sea day) we got down to business. Our hosts, Hajimi-san and Nakano-san came and picked us up from the hotel. Before heading to their office, we had lunch in a typical sashimi place. The meal consisted of a variety of sashimi along with Japanese tea and miso soup. It was very fresh and delicious but I still don't like the eel and egg.

A short walk away were the offices - an industrial-looking place on the fourth floor of an office building near Ginza. After a coffee, I started training them on our system. The language barrier caused less problems than I imagined. Both Hajimi's and Nakano's English is quite good. After full 5-hour training session, we went back to the hotel and our hosts stayed in the office to finish some work. Nakano told us he made a reservation at a Japanese (correction: Korean) grill restaurant and told us to wear "dirty shirts"...hmmmm.

After a quick knap, the two came to pick us up again. This time we took a taxi because it was pouring rain and the restaurant was quite far. We arrived at a small door on a little side street and went in. This place had wooden chairs and tables everywhere with little gas grills in the tables (like charbonnade in Switzerland). After a starter of sashimi and soup, we were presented with huge platers of very thn-sliced beef. It's basiclly the same thing as charbonnade but you are also given fish and vegetables to grill. A very nice dinner indeed...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Around the World in Two Weeks - Tokyo Day 1

I arrived in Tokyo yesterday morning at around 9 o'clock. After a 45-minite immigration control wait, we took the bus from Narita airport into downtown Tokyo.

During the bus 40-minute bus ride (3,000¥), I just put on my music and tried to soak up all I could see. Here are some first impressions:
  • When you get on a bus, the people that load up your luggage stand it line and simultaneously bow as the bus pulls away. This happens at every stop!
  • Cars have completely different (and at times, very funny) names here. Will post some later on.
  • It took about an hour to see a European car (Volvo V70) and a European motorbike (Ducati 996).
  • You are not allowed to use your mobile phone on the bus as "it disturbs the other passengers".
  • Triband mobile phones don't work here.

After arriving in downtown Tokyo (Tokyo Central Station) we looked for a cab to the hotel. A taxi-driver getting off his break quickly offered to take us to our hotel in Ginza. The guy actually fit four large suitcases and four passengers in his cab (Toyota Crown)! I was invited to sit up front because I'm "more compact". The driver was extremely friendly and we quickly entered into conversation. Mentioning I was Greek obviously surprised him as its quite rare to meet a Greek in Tokyo. He said that Greek women are very beautiful with a huge smile and a thumbs-up of approval. On the contrary, he does not like Italian women because "they are fat" and he thought that Dutch women are too tall and "look like Frankenstein".

Just at the end of our conversation about Zidane's headbutt incident (the cabbie approved Zidane's actions 100% and said he would have done the same), we pulled up to the Tokyu Stay Hotel. We quickly checked in headed for the rooms to have a much needed shower and rest. This "apartment hotel" is great. In the room, I have:

  • A combined PC/TV complete with LCD screen and free internet access.
  • A funky tea boiler with complementary Japanese tea
  • A microwave
  • A washer/dryer with free detergent (on demand) as well as a steam press for ironing
  • pyjamas and slippers
  • toothbrush, razors, bathfoam, shampoo, etc.
  • weird toilet with butt-washing feaures (which I have yet to try)

After a shower and a knap, we went out for a bite to eat. We ended up in a quaint little eatery not far from the hotel. I had an amazing maguro (red tuna) sashimi and a mixed grill dish (nice except for the grilled chicken skin skewer). Coffee and small-talk with colleagues followed bringing me back to the hotel for more sleep.

It is now, 4am. Obviously jetlag is setting in.

Update: Check out some pics on my Tokyo Flickr set. Will be updated every day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Random Rants About UI Design

These are some quotes that I've dreamt up recently (concerning interface design):

"The intended usage of an application defines the underlying code - code never defines usage."

"Interface defines the code, code never defines the interface."

"It is a sin to design software a certain way because 'that's the way the API was written'."