Burning Man Emergency Services by the numbers

Every year at Burning Man, Emergency Services handles a range of incidents. Here’s an infograph showing incident data for the last 3 years, broken down by incident type.

The source data is freely published on afterburn.burningman.com, but I really like how they visualize the data. This layout is immediately familiar to burners and is visually intuitive – more incidents of a specific type == larger area for that type. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version, and spend a few minutes skimming details; it was interesting reading!

The authors (GOOD and Hyperakt) end with “Try not to get flown out by helicopter”!

Excellent advice! 🙂

Burning Man Film Festival, San Francisco

The Burning Man Film Festival was in the Red Vic theatre on Haight Street this weekend; I almost missed it, but stopped by tonight to watch a few hours of assorted short films. This was a good way for me to remember the sights and sounds of it all – and of course, there was the inevitable mix of funny, sad, strange and very personal stories.

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/6vMmNe0-hSA&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&border=0One story that struck me particularly was “Burn on the Bayou” about Burning Man 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast. This brought memories flooding back of people leaving Burning Man as news of the destruction spread; some driving all the way from Burning Man in Nevada, some flying to the nearest still-working airport, then figuring out something; some people trained disaster professionals going to do what they’d been training for, some people just going because they had to do something to help. Most ended up living there for months – one person from my camp moved there for a few years – and this became the start of Burners Without Boarders.

Five years later, the reconstruction continues. There are still BurnersWithoutBoarders helping along the Gulf and now facing the new problems caused by the BP oil spill. There are also BurnersWithoutBoarders in Haiti and other locations. If you are able to donate time or equipment or money, check out their website; these are hardworking folks in very trying circumstances making a difference each and every day.

Flight disruptions because of Icelandic volcano

The Icelandic volcano eruption is still causing significant travel disruptions in Europe, and looking to get worse. The news is covered with stories of entire countries closing their airspace for the first time, photos of stranded travelers in airports, stories of people taking taxis from England to Switzerland – all sounds bad. Even RelEng is impacted by these flight disruptions: we’re all meeting in Toronto this week, but sadly Rail is stuck in Moscow.

flightradar24.comThis picture from flightradar24.com posted a more understandable summary of the scale of the disruption. The combination of flight data with maps summed up the situation in a very intuitive way, and I really liked how they did this. Nice job, flightradar24.com .

(Oh, and before you ask why close entire country airspace for “some dust”, you should check out the stories about BritishAirways Flight#9 and KLM Flight#867 during other volcanic eruptions. Both ended well, but still…)

Watch this space – at some point focus of news will shift from the flight and economic disruption of this eruption to how this will change weather patterns.

HOWTO: travel on the Tokyo metro

The Tokyo subway and train system is massive; as someone who could not read/write/speak Japanese, I found its a little daunting at first. However, with the following three techniques, I quickly found it very easy to get around.

1) Print out this PDF of the subway map on a *color* printer. Or download the official Tokyo Metro Android app. If you plan to travel by train outside Tokyo, I found this app really helpful.

Carry it always! I found it invaluable when lost, asking for directions, or even just trying to confirm if I was on the correct train going the right direction. When language barriers get in the way, pointing politely to a printout map does wonders!

2) Learn the codes for your planned route.

On the subway map, each route has a different color. Also, each station has a name in Kanji, a name in ASCII, and a letter-plus-two-digit code. For example, in the bottom left corner of the map, you can see the station “Nishi-magome” is on the red “Asakusa” line, and has the code “A01”. To be precise, its really one code per line per station, so some bigger stations have multiple codes: for example, Shibuya has three subway lines, so the same one station is called “Z01”, “F16” and “G01”, depending on which subway line you are using.
These letter-plus-two-digit codes are clearly posted in every station, and on all maps. I found these codes much easier to remember then the real Japanese names of the stations, so these codes became essential for me to quickly figure out if I had missed my stop, if we were now arriving at my station, or if I was on train going the wrong way.

For example:

  • from my hotel to the Mozilla office: go from “Z01” to “Z05”.
  • from my hotel to Hombu Aikido dojo: go from “F16” to “F12”, change platforms to the “E” platform, where the same station is now called “E02” and take train to “E03”.
  • from my hotel to Akihabara “Electronics town”:  go from “G01” to “G09”, change platforms, and then go from “H08” to “H15”.

3) Get a commuter ticket.

This lets you avoid the hassle of buying tickets at crowded ticket machines, and having to figure out exact fares on each subway trip. If you are in Tokyo more then a day or two, its well worth it for convenience alone!

There’s two big brands of commuter tickets: “Suica” and “Passmo”. Within Tokyo, either can be used on any subway. I’ve been told they both also work on buses, and can even be used in some shops like a debit card also. If you are going outside of Tokyo, “Suica” can also be used on trains in some other cities, check for details here.

  • You can buy Suica or Passmo cards at any train station. Official train company offices seem to want some simple paperwork filled in. Instead I bought my Suica card at a newspaper stand on the west side of Shibuya station. Prices are all the same.
  • when entering the subway, wave the card over the sensor in the turnstile as you enter. (This works even if your card is in a wallet/handbag!) As you walk though, the display on the far end of the turnstile shows you how much credit you have left.
  • when exiting the subway, wave the card over the sensor in the turnstile. As you walk though, the display at the far end of the turnstile shows you how much the fare was for your trip, and how much credit you have left.
  • to recharge your card, look for a ticket machine with the Suica or Passmo logo, press the “english” button on the top-right corner of the display, then just follow the prompts.
  • more details, and photos here.

4) Note carefully which station entrance and exit you need.
I never really thought of this before Tokyo, but the train stations are huge – multiple city blocks. If you come out the wrong exit without paying attention, you can be very lost, and very far from where you were going. In frustration, I’d find myself walking back to the station, reentering, and then walking around inside the station until I found the correct exit. Save yourself this headache by looking for the name of the exit before you start your journey.

5) Note carefully the platform marking, and follow those instructions.
The overhead signs were bewildering to me. However, the color coded markings on the tile floors were really helpful. Follow what others are doing, stand in the right color coded platform area, and you will be perfectly located when the next incoming train stops and opens its doors. Every time. Yes, really.

With a map, a memorized series of station-codes and a commuter card, I found getting around Tokyo on the metro super easy and super efficient.

(UPDATED to add references to the new Tokyo Metro official android app and the Hitachi national rail app. joduinn 25mar2015. Fixed broken links 10apr2018)

barbershop terminology, and queuing theory, in Tokyo

Normally I buzz/cut my own hair, so haven’t been to a barbershop in years. However, traveling for a month in Japan with only carryon bags meant no hairclippers, so I went looking for a barbershop.

In US, and Ireland, for buzzcuts, the terminology is
#1 (3mm length)
#2 (6mm length)
#3 (9.5mm length)

In Japan, for buzzcuts, it seems the terminology is:
#1 (1mm length)
#2 (2mm length)
#3 (3mm length)

I discovered this difference while *in* the barbers seat, and yes, thankfully I was able to sort it out in time, despite the language barrier!

The place I went to near my hotel (QBHouse) put a lot of thought into making a haircut as quick and cheap as possible. For example:

  • Each shop has a green/orange/red traffic light outside – you can see it for blocks away. Green = no wait. Orange = waittime of 5-10mins. Red = waittime > 15 mins, go do something else in the area and come back in a few mins. Because of this traffic light system, they dont need much space for waiting customers, and also customers feel like it takes less time to get a haircut, so they return more frequently.
  • All haircuts are the same price and you pay by putting money ((1000Yen ~= $10USD, exact amount only) into a machine at the door as you come in. Tipping is not allowed. There’s no cashier and they dont take no credit cards, hence lower overheads.
  • Instead of washing hair, and hence drying it afterwards, they use a retractable vacuum and sterilizing equipment instead. This speeds up haircut time, and also saves on plumbing costs.
  • They aim to get you seated-cut-and-out within 10mins, so slow/complicated haircuts like bleach/dyes are simply not done, which improves accurate traffic light predictability.
  • Each hair-cutting-station is cleverly designed to be very compact, and also something that the barber can keep totally clean in a few seconds between each customer… further reducing wait times.
  • Instead of having a few large stores, they instead have many small stores (2-3 hair-cutting-stations, and waiting space for 3-4 people, seemed typical per store). They can then afford to have multiple smaller stores in the same area. This makes it more likely that there is a store within a few minutes walk of you whenever you decide to get a cut. In case its busy, there’s going to be another store nearby you can try instead, and because of the external traffic lights, you can tell if its busy by looking from a distance.
  • By being open for long hours, (10am->8pm, not closed for lunch), they spread the user load to reduce wait times even further.
  • All the focus to improve efficiency and reduce overhead means that each store can quickly be profitable, even if there are other branches nearby. Also, because they are each small, its easy to make guesses in new areas, and less painful to cut losses on unprofitable stores.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but after last week’s fun and games with wait times for queued pending jobs, I dug this up again, as the analogies seems interesting. Cheap to use. Low wait times. Streamline setup/cleanup between jobs. Lots of small “cheap” stores make it easy to scale up, or reduce down, as needed.
What do you think?

[UPDATED: fixed links to external sites that had moved, updated photo. joduinn 15nov2010.]

Directions to Hombu Dojo, Tokyo

While in Tokyo, I went to train at: Aikikai Foundation / Aikido World Headquarters / Hombu Dojo
Address: 17-18 Wakamatsu Cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0056 Japan
Phone: (+81) 3-3203-9236, Fax: (+81) 3-3204-8145
Email: aikido@aikikai.or.jp
website: http://www.aikikai.or.jp/eng/index.htm (with class schedule, instructor roster, etc).

As I got lost each time, I’ve put these notes together to help me (and anyone else who’s reading!) next time.

First, print out this PDF of the subway map on a *color* printer. It was invaluable when lost or even just trying to confirm if I was on the correct train going the right way. Take note that on the subway map each station has a name in Kanji, a name in ascii, and a letter-plus-two-digit code. These letter-plus-two-digit codes are clearly posted in every station, on all maps, and were essential when trying to quickly figure out if I had missed my stop, or if I was on train going the wrong way.

Take the metro to Wakamatsu-kawada (“E03”).

Note: if coming from Shibuya (“F16”),  you take the brown Fukutoshin line to Higashi-shinjuku (“F12/E02”), and change there to the Oedo line. However, some Fukutoshin trains are express trains and do not stop at Higashi-shinjuku (“F12/E02”). According to their schedule, 1 train in 3 is an express train, but I managed to get on an express train *every* time I’ve went to Hombu. The platform displays will tell you if the next train is express or local – now that you know to look!!

  • in Wakamatsu-kawada (“E03”), take the Kawadocho exit
  • turn left and walk down the sidewalk of this main road
  • continue walking down this road for approx 5mins, when you should see a large “Eneos” petrol/gas station on the left hand side, just as the road slightly bend to the right.
  • a few buildings after the Eneos, there is a pedestrian crossing, and also the entrance to a lane on the right hand side. Cross over the road at this crossing, and then start walking down the lane.
  • after a couple of minutes walking in a straight line down this lane, you will see the dojo on your left hand side. It looks like this: (photo has creative commons license on wikipedia, see details here).
  • walk in the glass door, and introduce yourself to the staff in the glass booth on the right hand side. They will handle all the registration, schedules and fees.

Once inside, the main dojo mat space is on the 3rd floor, and looks like this:

Class was intense; 60-65 students in what felt like very crowded mat space. The students were all great to train with and were quite friendly!! One student claimed that the morning classes had 100+ students, which seemed insane to me, already there was soon many people . However, it did explain the racks of white gi outfits drip drying after class.

Netbooks being disruptive in Tokyo

A few days ago, I visited Akihabara here in Tokyo – otherwise known as “Electric Town”. When you come up from the Akihabara (H15) metro stop, the first store right in front of you is Yodobashi Camera Store. Don’t let the name fool you; its not just a camera store. Its huge – I’ve been in many smaller shopping malls in US and Ireland.

They had everything from 103″ TV (unstitched – its truly one giant LCD screen, not a collection of smaller LCD screens) to computer chips to robots to freestanding washing-machines being demo’d *running* on the sidewalk outside the front door. I remember one really long aisle just for computer mice, while graphics tablets were in the next aisle. The rest was a blur.

The bit that really got me was the netbooks. They took up most of the ground floor, and were definitely where most of the lights, shouting, bell-ringing and crowds were. It was quite overwhelming – reminded me of some rowdy bazaar-like atmosphere.
The range of netbooks available was dizzying; I tried to count but kept losing track – say 25-50 brands? All the usual brands I knew, but then many more I’d never heard of before. There were plenty that were too small for me to ever use – keyboards so small that I had a hard time clearly hitting one key at a time with one finger. There was a few machines that had keyboards acceptable for short periods. The HP2133 had an outstandingly great large keyboard – I was surprisingly even able to touch type on this, and came away convinced I could use it as my primary daily keyboard!

The interesting part for me was the two ways you could buy these netbooks. Some people were paying the $200-$400 for their new netbooks. However, most people were buying them as part of a data-only plan with a cellphone provider. One typical plan I saw with eMobile was:

  • 2yr contract
  • $50-ish for the netbook (eeePC, or HP or lenovo or…). Some vendors gave you the netbook for free.
  • free wireless-data card, specific to that cellphone provider
  • $50 per month for unlimited data usage anywhere in Japan, no roaming fees
  • 7.2GBMbps (megabits per second) wireless connection in every major city in Japan (gaps in coverage in portions of countryside). Even you only get half that, 3.6GBMbps, with a bad signal somewhere, its still faster then what I get in my house in San Francisco.

Its not technically a cellphone, but with that kinda bandwidth, skype and a bluetooth headset, whats the difference? And with those kinds of deals, who needs home DSL or home cable anymore?

This is definitely a big new disruptive trend in computers, and I’m happy to see this spinning up as a side-effect of the OLPC project. We live in interesting times!

(Side note: for a machine that is basically a web browser running on a keyboard-screen-wireless-connection, I was disappointed to see how many were running WinXP with the default bundled Internet Explorer. It might have been somewhere in the smallprint, but I didnt see any being demo’d running linux or with Firefox pre-installed!)

UPDATE: fixed typo on units of connection speed – sorry about that – wireless connection of 7.2 GigaBytes per second would be quite amazing. Also, didnt know this was available within the US, I’ll investigate that! joduinn 14mar2009

Changing timezones across Zimbra / OSX 10.5 / iCal / iPhone

One of the drawbacks of working when newly arrived in a new, different timezone is how it complicates coordinating meetings with people in other timezones. Being here in Tokyo, this is my first time working while on the other side of the International Date Line and it took me a while to get used to that.

Adding to the confusion, I’ve had trouble keeping all my various electronic calendars in sync with each other; some calendars were in one timezone, some in another timezone, while some ignored timezone and displayed meetings at mixed times. Having finally figured it out, I’m posting here in case others find this useful, and also so I can remember what exactly to undo when I get back to MountainView. 🙂

  1. In Zimbra: click on the “Preferences” tab, and select new timezone from the “Default Timezone” popdown list. Click “save”. Logout. Login. Notice the calendar map existing events to the new local time.
  2. In OSX 10.5 10.6 on my MacBookPro: click on clock/timer on menu bar,  and select “Open Date & Time…”. Select the “TimeZone” tab, pick your new home timezone and then close that dialog box.
  3. In iCal, go to Preferences->Advanced, make sure that “Turn on timezone support” is enabled and close the dialog box. Now, back to the iCal main display of calendar events, in the top right corner, click on whatever timezone is written in gray font above the search box. This will show a popup list which includes all time zones already enabled in iCal, and has “Other…” at the bottom of the list. If your new timezone is not listed, select “Other…”,  add it to the list, and click “ok”. Now back at the iCal main display, make sure your new timezone is selected in the popup list. Notice the calendar now display existing events in the new local time.
  4. In iPhone: go to “Settings->Mail,Contacts,Calendars”. At the bottom of the list, select “Time Zone Support”. Make sure “Time Zone Support” is “on”, and set “TimeZone” to your new local city. Notice the calendar now display existing events in the new local time. UPDATE: With iOS4.1, I noticed that the new timezone did not change as expected. I went into “General->Date&Time”, turned off “Set Automatically”, then turned it back on,a and presto the timezone changed as expected. joduinn 13nov2010
  5. Add one test calendar entry into the iPhone and another into Zimbra. Force a sync, and confirm you can see both test entries in iPhone, iCal, and Zimbra – and all are at the right time.

Finally: Get the FoxClocks addon. Its accurate. It takes up very little screen space. Its a real gem. And it handled all the Daylight Savings changes this week just perfectly in “real world testing” (ie when I watched the US-times change Sunday and then re-asked someone in each timezone what their new time was!). Because of my calendar woes, I missed a few meetings this week, but things would have been much worse without FoxClocks!

User interface stories from a Tokyo hotel (#3 in a series)

Tonight’s homework was figuring out the combined washing-machine-and-tumble-dryer here in the hotel room.

Each of the 4 big dials on the left, and the 5 smaller buttons in the middle, are actually interconnected multi-state buttons. By repeatedly pressing one of those buttons, you light up different parts of text on the big buttons, or text above the smaller buttons – and also restrict what choices all the other buttons can make. To add to the fun, there are buttons that seem to duplicate functionality. This all felt needlessly confusing.
On the cool side, you can program this to start washing ‘n’ hours later, it has a button to enable “low noise washing for night operation” and all the buttons have braille on them.

For all the complexity and high tech stuff around here, it feels low-tech to have to guess how long a specific mix of clothes will take to dry, and then set that time on dial#4. By contrast, my dryer at home has a built-in moisture sensor, and will automatically stop when the clothes are dry. Of course, it has a few buttons to allow you customize cycles if you want, but the defaults are good enough that I usually just throw clothes in the washer or dryer, and press the one “go” button.

After all my clothes came out clean and dry, I treated myself to some coffee with milk and biscuits:


User interface stories from a Tokyo hotel (#2 in a series)

Here’s another one. The ubiquitous “Do Not Disturb” signs you see hanging on hotel room doors all over the world.

I didn’t think anything of it until I was heading out, tried to use my “Do Not Disturb” sign, and realized that something was wrong. My “Do Not Disturb” sign was not hanging on the inside handle of my hotel room door as expected. Instead it was somehow stuck *on* the inside of my room door.

Turns out the door is actually metal, coated with wood-like veneer, and the “Do Not Disturb” sign is basically a large fridge magnet in the shape of a “Do Not Disturb” sign.


  • its easier to throw this sign anywhere on the door, instead of threading it on the door handle
  • normal signs can swing when opening/closing the door and fall off the handle, or get caught in the door frame. Using a magnetic sign avoids all that.
  • this is designed so the old way of using this sign still works – you can still hang it on a door handle if you want to.
  • the *shape* of a “Do Not Disturb” sign is important. If they had made this in a regular rectangle fridge-magnet shape, I would have ignored it, assuming it was a permanent sign inside the door, along with the signs for fire escape routes, and posted room rates.


  • more expensive to make then a “normal” paper sign
  • designed too well to look like a “normal” door sign. It looks so convincingly like a “normal” paper sign that every sign I’ve seen posted in this hotel so far were all hanging on the door handle like usual. I suspect most people don’t even realise the sign is also a magnet.

So, while I like the idea, it seems like people just keep using the sign like it was the cheaper paper version, so not sure if this counts as a “success”.