Anniversary of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake

105 years ago today, at 5:12 a.m. in the morning, San Francisco got hit by “the big one”. The devastation is well documented here. The earthquake was bad, but the fires afterwards did most of the damage – a bad combination of broken gas pipelines causing fires, and most fire hydrants not working because of the broken water pipelines.

Just around the corner from my home is one hydrant that DID work. Because of this hydrant, refugees in Dolores Park were safe, and houses beyond this point were protected from the inferno, so the neighborhoods have lots of houses from before 1906. More details here. Nicknamed “the golden hydrant”, it gets a new layer of gold paint, and some flowers, in a ceremony at 5.12am every year on this day.

Japan: two weeks later

Still having a hard time grasping the scale of the earthquake in Japan. Most of the news in California is focused on the nuclear power plants at Fukushima, but the following struck me about the earthquake:

Its great to see Wikipedia and GoogleCrisisResponse spreading timely information, which is really important in situations like this.

This is two weeks later.

We get earthquakes here too, which raises the question: if an earthquake happened here in the bay area, could you be fully self-sufficient for at least 72hours? San Francisco Dept of Emergency Management has setup to help people prepare.

UPDATED: added today’s story about the dog. Searching building wreckage is dangerous, more so when its floating at sea, so I’ve lots of respect for the people continuing to do this day after day. joduinn 02apr2011.

Food experiments in Japan: Cheese KitKats

No visit to Japan would be complete without some strange (to me) food experiments.

Last time I was here, I was surprised to find I actually liked Strawberry KitKat, and RedBean KitKat, so was lulled into a false sense of confidence when I bought these.

Turns out they are white-chocolate-combined-with-cheddar-cheese flavor. Vote: Instant Yuk. Tried a couple of times over the next few days, but there was no way I could make these palatable, so had to toss the rest of the pack out.

Earthquake during brunch in Tokyo

This morning’s brunch was interrupted by the building gently quietly swaying, without any warning. It started gently enough, and because I’ve been on enough trains recently, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the room doing that. At first. Then I wondered maybe it was a train/truck driving by, until I remembered that despite all the nearby traffic in this large busy city, I’ve never felt any vibrations/rattles in the hotel at all.

Oh, that’s right. They get earthquakes here too.

Um. Wait. I’m on the 12th floor. In a city where I don’t speak the language. For lack of any better plan, I quickly finish getting dressed and put on my shoes. By then its all over. So I sit back down and finish my coffee.

(ps: reports it as 6.6, while the Washington Post reports it as 6.9, which would make it equal to the 6.9 earthquake that hit Loma Prieta in 1989.)

Monjya boat around Tokyo bay

While in Tokyo, Gen and a bunch of his friends in Tokyo organized a “monjya boat” dinner around Tokyo bay after work. (If you don’t know what Monjayaki, click here and here!)

Quite an unusual experience. Small little boat, with one low cabin of all glass windows. Freezing cold outside. Roasting hot inside. Crowded, with groups of 4-6 seated on the floor around a small low table, all packed close to each other. There was a cooking surface in the middle of the table. The cooking surface was gas powered (you could see the flames), with a plastic hosepipe heading under the mats – it looked like we were all sitting on stockpiles of fuel. The crew politely warned us to not put anything under the table as it got hot and would burn. Once everyone started cooking, the cabin heated up *fast*.

You cooked the meal yourself with bowls of ingredients that the crew on the boat gave you. The joke was that no matter how you cooked it, or what ingredients you were given, it all tasted the same! It was all the food you can eat, and all the beer you can drink – but you dont get any more until you have proven that you have finished what they gave you already. It was oddly yummy, and lots of fun. At our table, most of the cooking was done by Gen and his wife, but I managed to cook one without burning it – anyone who knows my cooking skills understands the enormity of that!

The conversations were great, and it was really interesting to meet others in the Tokyo software business, including some expats. The background of the water-level views of Tokyo made it even more wonderful.

Randomly while we waited for our boat, there was a guy standing there blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back – in a giant chicken costume! Turns out he was on our boat. Something weird about watching a guy nervously being walked down the gangwalk to a boat at night tied up in a chicken suit. His group were taking good care of him but we never figured out if it was a birthday party, some work initiation/promotion party, or the beginning of some bachelor party.

(Here’s a quick photo Gen took of us all heading back to the train afterward – with Gen invisible behind the camera!)

monjya yaki dinner

Great great evening, and many thanks to Gen for making this happen.

Don Quijote in Tokyo

No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a few hours wandering lost inside a DonQuijote store. Best done late at night, after food and a bar or two. Their website doesn’t give you any idea of the madness that awaits you – and there’s no real way to describe it! You have to see it to believe it!

My personal favorite this year was the brightly colored stuffed-bean-bag-pigs cascading down from the ceiling. Sorta like what some travelers bring as neck pillows on airplanes, only…worse? better?

Last year while I was in the same store, my favorites were

  • the AA battery that you could recharge by plugging into a USB port
  • the USB plug-in fragrance dispenser
  • the savings bank with motion-sensor activated mouth
  • the full-size R2D2 robot-trashcan – press either pedal to open its head!

Real-time traffic status: San Francisco and Tokyo

On the bus from Narita into downtown Tokyo, I noticed the traffic signs show real-time traffic updates. By contrast, in the San Francisco area, traffic signs are fixed displays, so most people use Google maps to get live traffic updates on their phones.

Both approaches use yellow (slow traffic) and red (stopped traffic) indicators, so they felt very similar to each other. Having the info displayed on traffic signs seems safer – after all you don’t have to look down at your phone while driving. But I wonder how the Tokyo signs display info about traffic outside the immediate area.

Anyway, the differences and the similarities, struck me as noteworthy. Click the thumbnails for more detailed photos, and let me know what you think!!


Trying an experiment this year instead of the usual tent.

Some friends of mine had these last year, and they were great. Obviously, well insulated means warm at night, and cool in the day – all wonderful things at BurningMan. However, they also kept the dust down, and kept the light out, so you could actually get some sleep after the beginning of sunrise.

Lets see how this experiment goes. So far, we’ve got all the parts cut, and taped. We’ve even tried some initial test placements, but never yet actually put it all together yet. Just in case, we’re still bringing tents from last year – after all, “what could possibly go wrong”!?!


Stay tuned – I’ll let you know how it went.