Enormous Subway Stick?

I just got the following email from the study abroad office at my University. Please post suggestions for a response in the comments section. Let’s see who can get the best combination of goofy and believable.

Hey Roy,

Sara from study abroad…hope you’re doing well. hate to take up your
time, and i’m not sure how “for real” this question is, but it’s my job to
get them all forwarded to you guys who are better equipped to answer these
questions than I am! Umm, feel free to just give him a silly answer if
you want! Thanks!

Sara ******

email: Matt****l@hotmail.com
subject: Ask the Expert
firstName: Matt
lastName: ******
message: Is it true that in Japan in the subway stations there is a man
who pushes people into the cars with an enormous stick?

Japan Tourist Visa News

The Taipei Times is reporting that Japan is granting

visa-free privileges for Taiwanese tourists between March 25 and Sept. 25 will not be subject to any change despite protests from China.

Although currently only planned as a temporary measure, it may develop into a permanent policy of visa-free entry as citizens of many countries enjoy. As a US passport holder I can enter Japan for I believe 90 days (although I have only been there with a longer term visa), and Hong Kong citizens were granted a permanent exemption just last year. Both Taiwan and Korea currently allow Japanese tourists to enter without visas for a limited time, but the policy is not reciprocal. This may not be very fair, but I would imagine it is because those two countries are more interested in the economic benefits of tourists from Japan than vice-versa, something which is gradually changing.

Although a significant minority of Japanese citizens are opposed to an increase in foreign tourism (mainly due to incredibly misleading media reports on foreign crime), it seems that the government policy is strongly in favor of it.

When asked whether these visa exemptions might be extended to Chinese mainlanders, a Diet member replied “Due to a difference in the requirements for visas from Taiwan and China, we are unable to allow that.” What this really means is that they would be worried about illegal immigration from Chinese nationals overstaying visas but not particularly worried about visa overstayers from Taiwan or Korea, both countries whose standard of living is now close enough to that of Japan to lessen the temptation significantly.

Taiwanese and South Koreans form the two largest groups of tourists to Japan and rarely overstay visas, the paper said. [Taipei Times]

The article also mentions that

The Japanese government has to amend its Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to implement a new visa policy for Taiwanese tourists.

The law stipulates that visa-exempt entry is only available to Japan’s diplomatic allies. Although a significant number of foreign tourists arriving in Japan are from Taiwan and South Korea, Japan cannot lift the present visa restrictions because of the law.

I imagine that the big problem with Taiwan is their quasi-statehood coming back to bite them in the ass again. As for Korea, I just realized I don’t know if they’re an official diplomatic ally of Japan. Does anyone out there have an idea?

Tech Workers of Japan, Unite and Come to America!

This is a story I came across during my recent trip to Japan:

Nichia Corp, the Japanese manufacturer of the blue light emitting diode (LED), this month agreed to pay 840 million yen ($8 million) to a former employee in compensation for his invention of the technology to make the blue LED, which has turned a once minor chemical company in rural Japan into a virtual world monopoly in the production of the blue LED.

The court-mediated settlement of the dispute over the inventor’s demand for a huge amount of compensation drew wide public attention not just as industrial news but as an event of major social impact prompting a rethinking of individuals’ position in organizations in Japan in general, and engineers’ in business corporations in particular.

It also has prompted businesses to consider a system to adequately compensate for employee inventions, something that has been left in the dark in the past but has assumed crucial importance in this age of growing importance attached to intellectual property rights.

At the time of his invention, Nakamura was given a mere 10,000 yen bonus. What I saw on TV was a livid man holding a press conference and saying, “It’s as if the court is telling me to go to America. America is a society which actually rewards creativity.” There were also interviews on the street where people said he didn’t receive enough. Any thoughts?

Earthquake Resistant Desk

The Yomiuri reports that Kokuyo is about to release a new earthquake resistant desk designed to withstand twice the weight of a ordinary school furniture. I imagine with it’s ‘protection panels’ and ‘catching bars’ it can protect from all sorts of calamities.
Earthquake Desk
Available in sizes from 105 to 180 centimeters and avaliable in maple or cherry, the price ranges from ¥25,200 to ¥31,500.

I checked the Kokuyo web site for more information and on a cursory inspection didn’t find a listing for this item, but they did have this wonderful diagram of all the things in an ordinary office environment that can fall on you in the event of an earthquake.
Crisis

いろんな迷惑メール Spam I get in Japanese

日本語のインターネットにハマってる僕の受信箱にはいろんな迷惑メールが入ってきます。掲示板などに自分のアドレスを何も考えずに書き込む僕にも非があるとは思いますが、こんな謎めいたメールはいったい何を商売してるのでしょうか。

件名 : あの~?

メールくれましたよね?最初は迷惑メールかと思ってたんだけどよく見たらそんな変なア
ドレスじゃないのでメール返してみたんですが、
以前どちらかのチャットか何かでお話したかたですか??

UPDATE: Due to popular demand, here’s the English translation.

I get a lot of spam in Japanese these days. Here’s one example:

You e-mailed me, didn’t you? I thought it might be spam, but since it’s not a weird address I decided to reply. Did we chat somewhere before?

And that’s it. Not trying to sell anything. I’m scared.

NY Post

The New York post, bastion of fine journalism

A Tennessee preacher and his sisters got into a brawl after the women broke a church rule and wore pants to services.

Reba Storey said that when she and her sister walked into the Assemblies of Jesus Church in Bristol, their brother, the Rev. Clarence Love, told them, “You’re not wearing pants in my church, you demon.”

Storey replied, “I’m so glad I serve a God who can work through my pants.”

They all faced assault charges, but Judge Bill Watson tossed the case, ruling, “This is the most ridiculous case I have ever seen in the court system.”

Amen.

While most of the paper is probably best used as toilet paper, their NYPD police blotter is required reading.

Police smashed a gambling ring and arrested a bookmaker at an East Flatbush nail salon, authorities said yesterday.

Cops swooped down on the nail salon at Clarkson Avenue and East 51st Street about 12:40 p.m. Thursday.

Police arrested Jean Develus, 67, after allegedly catching him taking bets over the phone and recording them on betting slips.

Cops also confiscated a slot machine, $232 in cash, betting slips and a calculator. Develus was charged with promoting gambling, possession of gambling records and possession of a gambling device

Oh my god, a calculator. I better be careful, I think I may have a spreadsheet program installed on here.

Japanese Pencil Carving

While I was searching for the manufacture of my what I thought was Japanese mechanical pencil I happened to stumble across this gallery of Japanese pencil carving artwork by Mizuta Tasogare and Kato Jado.

1

3

4

The rest are pretty awesome too.

Update: It seems that Boingboing mentioned this back in March. So much for discoveries.

Mechanical Pencils

I have a fantastic mechanical pencil that I got in Japan, which I guard carefully because I don’t know where and when I might be able to get more. Since the label had completely rubbed off I had no idea who the maker or what the model number is so I was just looking around on the web to find out. It turned out to be a discontinued Staedtler 925.
Steadtler 925
Although a German manufacturer, I haven’t been able to find a single English language store online that seems to sell this model. Although discontinued, it has been replaced by a slightly different model of the same number.
New Staedtler 925
Hopefully I can find an art/drafting specialty store that carries these, because I haven’t been able to find any other mechanical pencil with the same kind of comfortable, solid feel and reliable mechanical performance of this one. Most mechanical pencils, even those from a reputable manufacturer like Pentel, tend to be made of plastic, which wears down to slipperiness and lacks the proper heft to really write comfortable.

Now, pencils may seem like an awfully mundane topic in a world of wireless internet, robot dogs, and digital cameras, but it is also worth appreciating the hundreds of years of evolution it takes to perfect such a commonplace device. My borderline obsessive quest for a particular pencil illustrates well how important little variations of material or ergonomics can be in such a daily use device. Realizing how rare it is to find even a mechanical pencil that truly lives up to one’s expectations of quality makes even more remarkable the intricate high tech devices all around us.

Anyone with even the slightest interest in engineering, ergonomics or the history of technology is strongly encourage to read Henry Petroski’s book The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, a book which is far more interesting than you would expect.