Lord of the Dance

I had an interesting experience this evening.

There was a dance class promoted on an internal mailing list recently in work, and it took place today. It was advertised as being taught by a hip-hop dancer, who was then hyped up with a link to a video of her competing in a dance-off. I took this as an indication that the class would be much like the once-off class I took in Dublin a year or two ago with a visiting Googler from Mountain View. At that class there had been a group of both men and women, beginners all, working through the first section of a choreographed hip-hop dance routine. It was energetic and challenging, and everyone had fun.

Today, though, I showed up to a pilates room. There I found seven or eight very slim and prim-looking ladies with all the appearance of being ready to put on a ballet performance. Someone’s taking this fun little class a bit seriously, I thought, surprised by the dance shoes and lycra where I expected to see skate shoes and baggy jeans. A stereo played some music that, rather pointedly it seemed to me, was not hip-hop. I assumed the real music would arrive with the teacher, and that this music must just have been left in the stereo from before. People introduced themselves. I won’t pretend that I didn’t detect just a little surprise when I said I would be taking part. The class started.

You’ll be shocked to discover this—as I was—but it did not appear to be a hip-hop dance class.

I followed along anyway. As instructed I began clumsily mimicking the teacher’s graceful movements in time with the music. I stretched, and folded, and swept my arms out in wide arcs, and so on. I wondered if there was any way that this was somehow going to segue into a flurry of popping, locking, and stomping.  It didn’t seem likely. I slowly touched my toes. How much would my dignity suffer if I were to pretend that, yes, this is what I had come here for, and stayed through to the end? I slowly, smoothly, stood back up straight. If I just ran right out the door and never returned, how hard would it be to get another job? I held my hands out behind me and carefully bent forward at the waist. Was there any chance that most of the people here hadn’t noticed me, all tucked away at… the front of the class?

The instructor started to move around the room, giving hints individually to the other students. I hoped she wouldn’t address me. There was still some small possibility that we could all get through this without anyone acknowledging that I had actually showed up. I was relieved to have her completely ignore me.

The first track finished. The teacher began to speak.

“Ok, next we’re going to…”

“Excuse me,” I interrupted.

“Yes?”

“Um… This isn’t exactly what I expected. I think I might just… leave?”

She didn’t argue.

To be honest, I’m still undecided on the new job idea.

Tickets for BBC Recordings

Living in London allows you to do some things that were never really available at home. For example, I now have the realistic prospect of participating in a TV game show. One of the ones that you watch with incredulity while sitting at home with man flu, perplexed by the incompetence of the participants. Who hasn’t dreamed of laying the intellectual smack-down on the contestants of Wheel of Fortune?

I also now have the ability to order beer in quantities smaller than a pint and not get a look of deepest suspicion. That was never an option at home.

Something I’m more immediately interested in than either the game show or the girl’s drink is to watch a TV recording. I’ve done this at home (where “home” refers to Dublin here; I’m still adjusting), but back there you’re limited to a handful of middling quality shows.

London, on the other hand, is the home of the BBC, and is the location where many of the best shows in the world are recorded. It would be a boon to be able to know when tickets for these shows—which are invariably free—become available.

Good thing this listing has an RSS feed then. It’s just one more reason to love the BBC, and the Internet.

Big Changes

I can’t remember the last significant blog post I wrote—in fact I’ve been pretty thoroughly out-posted by one of my more prolific WordPress plug-ins recently—but in the time I’ve been away one thing stands out as the major change in my life. One experience that is entirely new to me. One thing that has changed my perspective on things. One adventure that I had never dreamed of embarking on. One effort that took months to complete, but is finally done.

I’ve grown a new thumbnail on my right hand.

It’s a little lumpy in places because the old nail was still there during much of the new one’s growth, and it’s still uneven at the free edge. But when I look at it I still get that sense of pride in one’s own achievement. It may be crap, but I made it myself. From scratch.

There is not much to tell about the time in which I grew the nail. I damaged its predecessor around the time that the closure of Google Dublin’s software engineering section was announced. My infected thumb gave me all the motivation I needed to skip out on most of the group therapy sessions that ensued from that news. Instead I spent my time waiting in doctors’ offices while swigging from a bottle of children’s strength painkillers.

Once the whole process had kicked off I pretty much relegated the nail growth to a background task. Given the anguish that accompanied the original injury, the bulk of the recovery was surprisingly easy. Even the protrusion of my injured appendage predicted by adage failed to occur. This sore thumb remained resolutely in place.

In the weeks that followed I made plans for the future—plans which confidently assumed the presence of a full complement of digits. I met new colleagues and awkwardly shook their right hands with my left. I bid farewell to the friends and colleagues who had helped—or at least failed to actively hinder me—with my recovery.

Last week I packed up my possessions in the manner of one who has been reduced to a single useful opposable digit. All of it was boxed up and stashed in my parents house to await the movers—people who, as professional relocators, are presumably in prime shape to use all of their thumbs.

Then, only seven days ago, I flew to London to start my new life with my new thumbnail.

Japan, in photos

I was in Japan the week before last, spreading my time between the futuristic wonder (and slight creepiness) of Tokyo and the cultural enlightenment (and slight discomfort) of Kyoto.

The trip was initially planned as what turned out to be an overly-ambitious meeting of Join Me in Tokyo. In the end, that event never happened. Or, if you want to look at it more positively, it happened with only one joinee (me), one sort-of joinee (Eileen), and one non-joinee (Eileen’s brother Joe, whom we had invited on the supposition that this was going to be a group event). I hope—and think—that Joe didn’t feel entirely like a third wheel for the week as a result.

This was all of our first time in Japan. In fact it was our first time in Asia unless you count the 75 minutes I spent in Singapore and Hong Kong airports back in January of 2006. Eileen was in China for the two weeks before our time in Japan, making her the closest we had to a native guide. Aside, of course, from the days on which we had actual native guides.

Japan is best summarized by a sentence from one of our guidebooks: all of the stereotypes are true. It’s at times like this that I particularly regret the common misuse of the word literally, because I want it to be clear what I really mean when I say you could literally set your watch by the trains. We got one-week railpasses for the Japan Rail trains, which gave us a Star Trek-like ability to move from any place in Tokyo to any other almost instantaneously (at least by Irish standards).

The train stations are fun too, for the tiny lengths of time that you need to wait between trains. Every station has its own jingle that they play before announcements, and I swear that some of them were so long they should have been split into movements. One of them (Shinjuku?) was a direct rip-off of the theme tune to ‘Allo ‘Allo.

Vending machines are ubiquitous, though unfortunately the famous “used panties” machines were removed from Tokyo some years ago during a half-hearted crackdown on sleaze. I hasten to add that I was interested in these for reasons only of cultural interest. I fear that even the mainstream proclivities of the Japanese are still a bit exotic for Western tastes.

The disinterested visage of Tommy Lee Jones graces many a machine, but thankfully these proffer only coffee and other drinks, rather than the aforementioned undergarments.

Our first day involved a pleasing abundance of Japanese oddities, taking in as we did the Tokyo Anime Fair. Said fair included the terrifying reproduction of Pikachu (above); skimpily-clad ladies with large-eyed anime heads (not pictured, for your sanity and mine); and advertisements for the best named movie since Samuel L. Jackson’s high altitude snake battle: Turd on the Run.

I’ll allow you some time now to come up with the best “the runs” pun. Feel free to share in the comments.

Done? Okay, I’ll continue.

The following days took in:

  • a day in Nagoya in which Eileen and I met Eileen’s school friend Trisha and her husband Max, ate lunch in a 61-story train station, and failed to get a seat in very out of place–feeling Denny’s;
  • dinner with Eileen’s old exchange student Saori and her non-Anglophone husband (whose name I didn’t properly hear on first introduction, and then felt too embarrassed to ask later) who apparently met at a UFC match in the Tokyo dome, which I think is the best first-meeting story I’ve ever heard;
  • a visit to the Studio Ghibli Museum—monument to such works as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and basically every other good film to have come out of Japan after Akira—where we were treated to a screening of a new short film which from the looks of it I imagine made approximately no more sense if you could understand Japanese than it did to us.

After those hectic Tokyo days, we teleported (i.e., took the Shinkansen, which is the closest thing you can get to teleporting right now) down to Kyoto for two days of relaxing old Japanese culture. Kyoto apparently has a population of about 1.5 million people who felt the need to build 3,000 temples, giving it one temple for every 500 people.

Kyoto is also home to Nijo castle, which I will now describe for you in 1,000 words:

That picture was taken from inside the castle, looking out on one of the illuminated corner keeps. I think my camera found this place to be one of the most challenging of the trip—I ended up with an impressive collection of muddy, dull, underexposed snaps—so I’m quite happy that at least one of them came out reasonably well. Aside from the constant fear of imminent ninja attack, I found this castle quite calming.

We stayed in a different Ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) for each of our two nights in Kyoto. I liked these for two reasons. First, I spent the whole time pretending to be Seán Connery in whichever movie it was where Bond was in Japan (You Only Live Twice?) Second, sitting on the floor for all meals, like a child gawping at Saturday morning cartoons, can’t help but make me happy. I recognize that it takes some amount of mushiness of mind to  pretend simultaneously to be a child and James Bond. I don’t care. Presumably Bond was a child once.

The first Ryokan also provided me with the requisite Engrish, its elevator indicating that you should go to the ground floor to find the “robby”. This was supported some time later by a train station directing us to the “escarator”.

For our one full day in Kyoto we met up with Rikako and her three friends. Rikako was an exchange student who stayed for some time with some of Eileen and Joe’s extended family. Apparently she was treated quite well in America, leading the three of us to benefit quite a lot more from the Japanese etiquette of reciprocation than any of us deserved.

Rikako brought us out to lunch; spent the day showing us around two of the most impressive of Kyoto’s absurdly numerous temples; and finished up by bringing us to dinner at a very loud and colorful conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. All of this joined by what appeared to be quite expensive taxi rides. And in the middle of all of this, her mother met us to give us each a gift of some traditional Japanese sweets. I am a fan of Japanese etiquette.

The following day started with drinking samurai tea in Kyoto and ended drinking sake served by ninja in Tokyo. In between it featured the purchase of a kimono, a sighting of the magnificent (and needlessly large) Mt Fuji, and a dinner that felt like an episode of Fear Factor.

Said meal was no doubt my own doing. I ordered a set menu, as did Eileen, giving the chef quite a lot of freedom to push the boundaries in the many courses of the “Chef’s selection of…” variety. The waiter asked us both if we had any allergies or food preferences. Eileen wisely informed him of her distaste for eel, and of her (half-assed) vegetarianism.

I on the other hand responded with the short-sighted statement that, “I’ll eat anything you give me.” If any statement has ever sounded like a challenge to a mischievous chef, that was it. My meal opened with a snail the size of a Buick, so rubbery that after finishing it I’m now confident I could smuggle tyres for a living by carrying in them in my gut. Then followed the brief respite of a delicious (though still essentially raw) beef steak.

And finally came the main event: the chef’s selection of ten pieces of sushi. Two of these ten were the head and body of a raw shrimp, and one of their friends was a discomforting mush that I determined to be sea urchin. I set the magnificent-looking (and as it turned out, magnificent-tasting) tuna sashimi aside, as a potential reward for successfully keeping down the shrimp and urchin. Then I faced off against the shrimp.

To give you some perspective, I’m the guy who used to be delighted when he could find a pizza on an Italian menu that had only one topping that he had to ask them to leave off, rather than the more usual two or three. I once refused to eat my own dinner because someone else‘s contained prawns, which frightened me with their scary insect looks. It’s less than two years since I first willingly ate some tomato. And I still have a list as long as both arms of things that I will refuse to eat.

That’s the guy who was sitting in a Tokyo restaurant, snail in his belly, staring into the face of a raw shrimp. The shrimp stared back. It looked like concept art for a new Predator movie, and it smelled like a fisherman’s boot. As the actress said to the bishop, putting that thing in my mouth was the most daunting prospect I could think of. So I did.

If you’re squeamish, I advise you not to have read the preceding paragraphs.

The following day Eileen had to leave before Joe and me, since she was returning to her Chinese study trip rather than going directly home.

Joe and I took in an origami museum, which featured more cranes than I’ve ever seen before in my life. It seems that in traditional Japanese origami, as opposed to the modern and less Japan-centered art, they really stick to variations of a small set of old designs. Hence the sunflower above, on which every petal and every leaf is a crane.

I would have liked the opportunity to see some of the more impressive modern creations that you see so often online: long-bodied dragons, beetles locked in battle, wizards and dwarfs, and all the other pieces that shatter the self-esteem of us amateurs. Still it was fun to see the older side of the art, and we did get to see the president of the gallery folding some pieces. He had all the speed and precision you would expect from an innocuous-looking elderly Japanese man: i.e., he was clearly some sort of origami ninja.

We topped off the trip with a lazy stroll around a gorgeous Tokyo park, and one last night in a hotel that looked like a cross between the inside of the Death Star and Starfleet Command. All that remained was to survive the flight home, and to spend longer writing this blog post than I spent in Japan.

To London

And now to the subject that brought me here to post. Feel free to ignore the previous post in which I indulge the ubiquitous blogger’s fallacy that everyone, or even anyone, cares about site upgrades.

The big news around these parts is my impending move to London. Behind this news is a host of recent negotiations and manoeuvrings and compromises which find themselves spread across the whole spectrum from boring to confidential, but the result is the important part and the result is that I will not be living in Ireland for very much longer.

From my perspective this is what the Chinese call a crisitunity. It has been thrust upon me to a degree. Left to myself I would have been happy to stay inside rationalizing the familiar. But I’m glad it has come about. Assuming all the difficult details can be worked out, and I have no reason to suppose they can’t, this will be quite an adventure.

London is close to home; I already know people in the office; I have friends in the city and in the rest of the country; it’s easy to get to lots of other places from there; and it’s such a huge city that there’s a lot going on. It does have the disadvantage of it being virtually impossible for me to live as close to the London office as I do now to the Dublin one. Even if I moved into Buckingham Palace I’d be a little farther than I’d like, though maybe then I could get a horse-drawn carriage to work…

Expect irregular, infrequent, and poorly-composed blog posts throughout the transfer and when I’m there. So pretty much what I manage to produce right now.

A New Project

I have a confession. I’ve been seeing another blog. I didn’t mean to get drawn away, but I can’t help it. It just happened…

Actually, you know what? I’m going to stop the whole seeing someone else/seeing another blog thing right now before it gets tedious.

Here’s what’s up. I’ve decided to take on a new challenge. I got a book earlier this year called, “Dream It. List It. Do It!” It’s a spin-off from the life-list site, 43things.com. In the simplest terms, it’s a long list of things that people want to do in their lives. Some things are small, like “buy a new toothbrush” or “go disco dancing”. Some are big, like “run a marathon”. All in all there are probably around 2,000 – 3,000 of these goals in the book, covering a huge array of things that people want to do.

I’m planning to do them all.

If you’re interested in seeing me make a fool of myself along the way—and honestly who doesn’t love to see someone repeatedly fail?—you can follow along at the project’s dedicated blog, the unwieldily named dreamingitlistingitdoingit.com. I’ll see you there.

Surviving With Very Little Toothpaste

I’m in London for what I was shocked to figure out will actually be my longest ever visit to the UK. I’m staying here for a full seven days—practically an aeon when surrounded by funny-coloured buses and pastie shops. England for me occupies a dedicated spot in the uncanny valley, similar—but not similar enough—to home.

For example, at home I expect toothpaste to come in a tube that’s more than three centimeters long.

2009

Happy Still Relatively New Year! I know it’s a week in, and I realize that you may feel hurt by my neglecting you for this long, but as always I have a really good excuse.

I was pretty unwell for a few days spanning the ’08/’09 switch-a-roo. I was laid up in bed being attended to by my carefully appointed transition team. Special thanks to my nominee for Secretary for Buying Me Soup, whom I won’t name because it occurs to me that I haven’t actually asked her yet if I’m allowed to talk about her on the wild-wild-web. She’ll appreciate being called whom anyway.

So here we are, a week into the year, at the point where most people are already starting to give up on their overly-ambitious resolutions (“Exercise how often?”; “Spend how long with Grandpa?”; “Limit myself to how many class A’s?”) and I haven’t even written any. What’s more, I’m not meta enough to make that a resolution itself (though I’m meta enough to make that joke—go figure).

I’m usually a proponent of starting on changes as soon as you think of them instead of waiting for some arbitrary time to pass. Think of it as starting on November 4 instead of January 20. No sense in lazing about with three cigarettes in one hand and a glazed leg of ham in the other, staring at a calendar and waiting for permission to stick a patch on your arm and step on an Obese-B-Gone™ treadmill.

The trouble is that this year—or rather last year, sorry—I was holding off on making any big attempts at changing anything while I waited for the conclusion of some career wrangling I’m trying. The short version of that story is that I’m trying to move into a new job that I have described as, “Same company, same office, same desk, same team, similar work, and it’s taken over six months to get this far with the switch”. I wanted that whole rigmarole to be over before I picked up and moved on with my life from there. So the plan went.

I had expected that to be reasonably close to wrapping up at the end of the year, but it appears that it’s going to drag on for another bit. I now realize that there’s no reason for it to keep getting in the way of me making plans, so it happens that I find myself here at the start of the year thinking about what I’d like to do with myself in the near future.

Expect news of what transpires.

Catch You on the Flip Side

Wow, I’ve managed to have my life entirely overtake my blog for the last while. All sorts of fun and interesting things have been happening in work and life and, sadly, will likely remain undocumented. I just wanted to drop a short note here to mention that I’ll be disappearing to California early tomorrow (or, most likey, not tomorrow, since you’re probably not reading this on the day that I posted it) and I’ll be away for three weeks. I expect there’ll be some Twittering from me, but no blogging.

Michael Winslow

If you already know who Michael Winslow is then I’m very impressed and I think that we should be friends. You’re a cool person and I like you.

If you don’t know who Michael Winslow is, but you realise it when I say the name Larvell Jones, then we can still be friends, but I’m not so likely to call you to see if you want to come out to play.

If you’ve got this far and you’re still none the wiser, and if I say, “Jonesy from Police Academy,” and then I go on to say, “the guy who made all the delightfully amusing sound effects,” and you still sit there like a gormless idiot and mutter something about being, “not really that into Police Academy,” well then I think we have a ourselves a problem and it might be best if you just leave and go sit somewhere and think about what you’ve done.

Anyway, all that out of the way, I went to see Michael Winslow at the Tivoli last night. For a man who can impersonate an argument going on in another room with loud bass music in the background, or who can reproduce an entire scene of Star Wars with a convincing facsimile of what probably took tens of Skywalker Sound engineers a few days to make in the first place, he does a surprisingly terrible Irish accent.

That was the only drawback though, and it really isn’t a show about impersonations. Its about making familiar sounds, but sounds which you can’t properly imagine coming from a human being. It’s about thinking, “Hey, this guy’s as good as Hendrix, but that schmo Hendrix had to use a guitar,” or, “It’s true, waves crashing on the beach do sound like that. But shut up, because I drank a couple of pints and I want to last until the end of the show before needing to go to the bathroom.”

Of course there’s the drawback that I can’t now just steal some of his jokes to make myself seem funnier. I’d just sound like a retard making beeping noises. Oh well.

Apparently he’s got a new show with Bill “Jello pudding—eating mother-fucker” Cosby coming out soon, which may be worth a look, although it would make me quite concerned that it might open up a temporal wormhole between now and the 1980s, given that much 80s in one place.