User interface stories from a Tokyo hotel

In Aza’s recent blog, he was looking for examples of good, and bad, user interfaces.

Here is the bath/shower tap that I found in my hotel here in Tokyo yesterday morning. After quite some trial-and-error, I’ve figured out that with this one tap, you can:

  • shower
  • or bath
  • or both
  • while adjusting temperature for each *independently*!!
  • and with a safety red button (visible on top left) which you have to press before you can raise shower temperature above 40C to avoid accidental scalding. Note the lack of scald control on the bath tap, as its not needed.
  • and with a separate water on/off lever (visible on top right), once you get the shower water temperature just right, you can leave the temperature knobs set, and the shower temperature will automatically be perfect tomorrow morning! 🙂

While it does do all of these things quite well, and I do now like it, it was more of an IQ test then I needed in a pre-caffeinated, jet lagged state, first thing yesterday morning.

Putting hot/cold taps by the shower head, and another set of hot/cold taps by the bath spout is (probably) more complex to install, but would have been more intuitive to use, imho. Also, as a nit: while the red “scald-prevention” safety button makes sense, the other two red dots are only for alignment; using the same color red for those confused me into thinking they were also for safety / hot water. Took some experiments to backtrack and figure out one was shower, one was bath, and the extra red dots were decoys. And yes, I got quite wet in the process! 🙂

UPDATE: I just discovered that part of the tap pivots!?!?! Part of it sticks out so far that I bumped into it while showering. At first I was worried that I broke it, but after some playing discovered its hinged and is designed to swing fully back to the wall in either direction. Thats good, because it makes standing in the shower much easier now. Of course, I’ve no idea why the water-into-bath tap had to protrude that far in the first place; somehow a shorter, non-pivoting, taphead seems like it would have been easier. John 12mar2009

Expiry dates on food

When traveling, my packing-list includes emptying out the fridge before heading to the airport. Fortunately, I have almost nothing perishable in the fridge (chocolate, cliff bars, coffee, beer, vodka all last a *long* time), so this is quick.
However, when throwing out the last of the milk, I noticed the expiry date:

  1. A typo; ARP should be APR! Huh!? I always assumed those dates were all computer timestamped, but is there really a human putting in a new expiry date every day? Has anyone else ever noticed something like this?
  2. Since when did milk last over a month? This milk was bought slightly over a week ago (approx Feb 20th) and claims to be good until April 5th, which is approx 6 weeks!?! How is that possible? I’m used to milk only being good for a few days.

If you don’t already know of it, check out It answers all important questions like how long will pizza safely last when frozen / when in fridge / when left out at room temperature. 🙂

A taste of Burning Man 2007

Burning Man 2007 happened in the Nevada desert again this year. While a bunch of my friends, and some work colleagues did go, I ended up not going this year. Instead I stayed at home, working, and living vicariously through video snippets and the occasional news headline. It was interesting to note how easy it is to find street parking, and also commute to work, while Burning Man is going on… and how for days after it ends, the city is packed with absolutely *filthy* cars!

In the news, Arsonist burns The Man early; organisers rebuild on-the-scene

For mechanical inventiveness, there’s a trebuchet for launching burning pianos, Dance Dance Immolation, Spider-walking Transporter, Synchronized flame throwers, and the DMV showing off some art cars.

For large scale, there’s the Oil Derrick being installed, being enjoyed up close, being burnt up close and being burnt from 1 mile away.

…and of course, for spiritual, there is The Last Temple.


Le Dome du Marais, Paris

Even though its mentioned in the latest lonely planet, its an upmarket place, with good food and wine. Make sure to reserve a table, even if you just call ahead that same day. They have enough tourists & non-locals come through that they speak reasonable english. Ask for a table in the dome room, against the wall. Nice scenery and the people watching can be good too.
Like all french restaurants that care about their cooking, they do “extra mini courses” between the official 3 courses on the menu, so when you add up the little snack courses before and between the other courses, it turns into a 6-7 course meal. All very very tasty, and very filling! They have a full time wine somalier who is quite a personality, loves his job, and is good at it. Unless you *really* know what you are doing with wines, just tell him what you do/dont like about wine, and how much you’re willing to spend, enjoy the interaction and follow his advice.
While the food and wine was all good, the desert left me speechless. Something orange-and-lemon, as best as my french understanding could take me. At first glance, it looked like a tumbler glass containing orange segments in foamy orange juice, and a small baked cake with a small dollop of cream on top. However, it turned out to be *way* better then that.

The orange foam had the same consistency you would get by pouring Coke into a glass too quickly… except the foam was orange coloured, not Coke-light-brown. And the instead of the foam collapsing down, like Coke foam does, this foam remained in unchanged shape all the time. If you closed your eyes, and moved a spoon through it, the spoon would meet *no* resisitance and you wouldnt be able to tell when you were moving the spoon through foam or not. It was that light! Then I noticed that the orange segments were not just any old broken chunks of orange. Instead, they were all perfectly formed complete segments, each individually peeled of their skin. And the orange juice was mixed with some sort of orange liquor. The dolop of cream on the side cake also had some orange zest added, so had a mild orange flavour to it. The cake was some variation of a lemon pound cake, and it was sitting in a little white baking dish, and the cake sitting in a few mm of lemon liquor. The transition from light orange foam, to stronger orange to strongest orange juice, to light orange cream, to light lemon cake, to stronger lemon liquor…. was all just awesome. Dont know how else to describe it.

Even now, 2 months later, I still think about that desert… and need to go back again!

Le Dome du Marais
53 bis, rue des Francs Bourgeois
75004 Paris
ph 01-42 74 54 17
open tues-sat

Paris Car Culture

Obviously local environment, and local culture, influence what people look for in car design and car usage. After living in California for 9+ years now, and then arriving in Paris for a couple of weeks, I found the car culture differences between Californian cars and Parisian cars quite amazing. More then I realized from previous trips.

  1. Tiny streets, tiny parking spaces. By tiny, I mean that villages in West of Ireland have bigger roads. Simply fitting your car down these narrow one-way streets, with parked cars lining each side of the road is a challenge in a small car. VW Golf counts as big. Very common here are Smart Cars, small, fast, practical city cars, and the fact that there are some made in France is probably helping too.
  2. Expensive petrol/gasoline – hence an interest in hybrids. So what new, thats all the rage in California too, right? Well, then I spotted this. Turns out that electric cars have reserved spaces throughout Paris, and the parking meter includes a recharging plug for the car!

Aikido in Paris

Went to a lunchtime class taught by Gerard Blaize, 7th dan. There were just over 25 people training, of which only about 5 including myself were not in hakamas! For me, that felt like a large class, especially for a lunchtime. The very very advanced level of training felt a little daunting at first, especially as a complete new firstime visitor to the dojo. However, everyone was relaxed, friendly, welcoming, and the training was inspiring and educational. Despite the language barrier, it was really wonderful. All in all, quite exhilarating.
They have classes 5 days a week, including various lunchtimes, see their website for details. Additional useful info:

Nearest Metro stop is Gare de l’Est

Phone: or

Fresh Croissants…

So, if life in Paris is all about cafes and bakeries, why am I having breakfast like I was still at home? So…

Fell out of bed this morning, and still half asleep, wandered down the street to the local boulangerie… While standing in line, trying to decide between all the yummy pastries and breads, I noticed lots of people would buy a baguette, and they all did the exact same thing. They’d be quickly handed a narrow paper bag with about 2 ft of baguette sticking out the top, pay, put change in pocket, turn to leave and then *chomp* take a bite out of the top. Now happily chomping, they would march through the crowd to the sidewalk and out to continue their commute, proudly carrying their baguette in front of them. While I was there, not one baguette left the store intact, and they sold a *lot* of baguettes. In London, the sterotype is bowler hats and umbrellas. In the US, the stereotype is jeans and a latte-in-a-paper-cup. Looks like in Paris, it should be baguettes-with-a-bite-out-the-top?!?!

Ambled back to the apartment, through crowds of people carrying baguettes-with-a-bite-out-the-top, to have orange juice, some fresh strong coffee, fresh croissants and pain au chocolat. mmmm…. Great start to the day!

Just found a list of boulangeries to try out: This could take a while!!

Sidewalk cafe, watching commuter traffic in Paris

Commuting back from the office on a brisk winter Monday evening, as we were coming out of the metro, I saw a sign “Commuter special: Belgian beer + plate of chips 5euro”. Interesting retro designed cafe, right there at the very top of the metro steps. How could we resist? Perfect place to sit while we decided what to do for dinner. Two minutes later, we are sitting at an inside table in the cafe, looking out the window at the traffic, sipping our beer, waiting for the fries and contemplating the day at the office.

Looking out the window, I realized that the cafe was on the corner of a couple of streets, with evening rush hour traffic in full swing just the other side of the metro steps. It was all behind us as we came up the metro steps, so I could only see the surface roads now for the first time. Slowly, I realized it was a 7 road intersection. And a complete free-for-all.

There were no lights, no stop signs, no yield signs, no roundabout in the middle, no lines in the road. Just a large empty space where 7 roads meet. So, for example, cars zipping through from R.duTurbigo to R.Beaubourg had to duck-and-weave around cars going from R.Reaumur to R.Bailly. (Click on street view for better perspective). It was all done at a fast pace, with no indicators, no horns, no squealing brakes, and amazingly enough, no accidents! It just looked like a busy smooth flowing intersection, until you looked in detail and realised that there was no stop-and-go in the flow because there were no lights controlling any cars entering the arena. All of the 7 roads seemed to have similarly large volumes of traffic, adding to the whirling dance-of-hubris feel.

In a nod to practical reality, at least the city planners explicitly did not paint any road markings in the center of the intersection. At first, I thought that added to the hazard, but I later changed my mind. Beats me what way they could have painted lines, anyway, even if they wanted to. Honestly, I now think that if they had painted lines in the intersection, that would give people a false sense of security, some sense of “what is right, what is wrong”. Instead, by leaving it completely unmarked, all drivers were equally on edge, equally unsure of his right-of-way status, which is probably the best you could hope for. Each road connecting in/out of the intersection was painted correctly, but when they reached the edge of the intersection, the road-line-painters just stopped.

Once the initial surprise wore off, and I stopped wincing at some of the near misses, I noticed some interesting details:

  • There was a traffic island on the NorthEast corner, so cars going from R.duTurbigo to R.Reaumur had to do a U-turn around the island, all in the middle of the arena. It wasn’t painted, had no signs/bollards, so was easy to miss in all the excitement, yet no-one hit it.
  • There were pedestrian crossings all over the place. Mostly, they were near the edge of the arena, and conveniently blocked from sight by advertising billboards on the sidewalk. This meant that a driving zipping through the intersection had to also be prepared to stop suddenly at the zebra crossing if they turned the corner and found a pedestrian right in front of them. And the car behind had to be prepared for that also!
  • Occasionally, a car would weave through the arena to reach its chosen exit road – only to realize that it was the wrong exit road! At that point, they just stopped and reversed back into the arena, until they had a clear shot at the correct exit road. They would then swing forward to the correct exit road and leave. This happened 6+ times while I watched, and no-one even honked at that.

Despite all the duck-and-weave driving, there were no accidents over the course of the beer-and-chips. Not sure what it says about the standard of driving in Paris, the same situation in Ireland or the US would have been a complete demolition derby disaster. If that cafe ever setup a streaming webcam, it would be well worth watching! I left the cafe, carefully looked both ways before hurrying across the zebra crossing, and vowed to never drive in Paris!