Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Firework festival in Tsuchiura



About twelve days ago two of my Dutch friends visited me, Edwin and Sjoerd. Together with them, we experienced some funny trips, and what I'm about to tell you is one of them. Annett has written about our trips to Kamakura and to Akihabara and Asakusa on her blog.

On Saturday we visited together a huge fire works festival/competition in Tsuchiura, just 15 kilometers to the North-East of Tsukuba. It was supposed to start around 18:00, but when we came there at 16:00 it was already crazy. We read somewhere that almost a million Japanese gather here every year to attend this big circus. When we stepped out of the bus, we were, like on most Japanese publics events, greeted by the many stands with yakitori, yakisoba, chocolate coated bananas and all kinds of sea foods. After walking around about an hour, we finally found a decent place to sit down that was close enough to the toilets, because we wanted to drink some beers.

Actually the first thing I did was going to the toilet, because at that point the queue was only a couple of meters long. This is obviously not very long for five toilets, especially not if you take into account that they had to do for the circa 1,000 people we shared our field with.

When I came out again I must have done something wrong, because the wind blew it shut and it locked itself, and then there were only four toilets left for the whole field. Nice one, monsieur George. However, I did my duty. I informed the nearest police agent, who, as a consequence, started a series of attempts to pick the lock. When I saw him taking care of it I got myself the hell out of there, thereby escaping the slightly unfriendly eyes of the people in the queue.



Unfortunately, it didn't seem entirely trivial to pick the lock, because after several attempts the police agent gave up. Apparently not realizing the scope of this, he did also not inform the rest of the crew that we had a situation here and didn't call for the necessarily backup. Evidently, the number of toilets per human was carefully calculated in Japanese units, not incorporating slight deviations caused by clumsy Dutchmen: we could see the queue grow by the minute.

At this point I started to get slightly paranoid, and had a creepy feeling that the 1,000 Japanese were all talking about that annoying foreigner that managed to lock the toilet from the outside. Luckily Sjoerd was willing to stand up and take some pictures of the queue in my place, because I had made myself as small as possible. Of course most Japanese had no idea about what was going on, and we saw Japanese people knock on the door and listen what was going on in there all the time...

On top of that it started to get very cold, and we had, once again, not taken enough clothes with us. Moreover we were worried about how we would get back, because at some point the million Japanese would want to use the same roads as us (we couldn't go by bike, because Sjoerd and Edwin didn't have a bike here). We therefore decided to leave at 19:30, half an hour before the end of the fireworks. After waiting half an hour at a bus on Tsuchiura station, we decided to take a taxi, being assured by the taxi driver that it was not impossible to get to Tsukuba. We got, however, completely stuck in the traffic, and we had to pay the taxi driver, get out and walk back to the station. There, as luck would have it, we were just in time to catch a bus that went to Tsukuba.

We understood that this was going to take some time (and we all had to pee so badly...), so we sat down on the floor of the bus - not a very Japanese thing to do :). An old Japanese man had sat down beside me. Just when Sjoerd en Edwin were bad mouthing the Japanese in the bus for not standing up for this man, the man collapsed and didn't respond at all anymore. This was very scary, I thought he had died just there next to me. Panic in the bus, the bus stopped aside of the street and opened up its doors. When his family tried to drag him out, he all of a sudden stretched out an arm and responded again. Probably he just lost his consciousness, but it might also have been something worse. They called an ambulance and the bus was on its way again, and we arrived, after a bus trip of an hour, finally in Tsukuba. I had an enormous headache when I came home...

For more pictures, see Annett's picture page.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Biking to Buddha


Already a couple of weeks ago we went out to bike to visit a Buddha statue that was located quite some distance to the South-East of Tsukuba. It is a huge statue, for we were able to see it all the way from Tsukuba. Somebody at work had told Annett that it was quite a bike, and would take us at least one and a half hour to get there. Optimistic as we started off, we thought that if some random person could bike it in one and a half hours, we would definitely be able to do that in just an hour.

We started biking at two in the afternoon, spent some time in a Toys R Us store and arrived there at... 16:57. We had just three minutes left to buy a ticket and go into the Buddha to take the elevator up. We were too late...

Now here in Tsukuba it gets dark rather early, and also rather cold at night. However, since we would just be out for a couple of hours, we were just wearing a T-shirt and a top. On top of that, Annett believed that going the other way would be a short cut and save us a lot of time. To cut a long story short, it became darker and darker and we had no idea where we were. At some point we were really lost. It was completely dark, extremely cold, and we heard thunder in the distant...

We then biked back to a supermarket we had passed quite some time before, and asked the store attendant which of the four possible ways we should take; we had already tried two of them... At that point there was a very kind Japanese woman who asked us where we wanted to go. It turned out she was also heading in to the direction of Tsukuba, and she offered us to drive in her car slowly in front of us so we could follow her! This was an offer we couldn't refuse, and we biked - no we, raced - after her...

After 45 minutes of racing the car stopped and we were able to thank her for her kindness. We were on our map again, and about an hour later we were home again, taking a hot bath to warm up...

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Dutch Voting Computer Easily Compromised

In the Dutch television show "Een Vandaag" the we-don't-trust-voting-computers foundation demonstrated how to hack a Dutch voting computer to steal a pre-determined percentage of votes and reassign them to another party. This shouldn't really come as a shock, since similar problems have occurred and questions have been raised in for instance the USA and Ireland.

Earlier an episode of the television show "Radar" caused the SP party to ask the Minister of Internal Affairs questions about this. Minister Pechtold answered, however, that he didn't see any reasons not to trust the voting computers. Don't you get outraged by this?

In my opinion the real problem is here the use of security through obscurity, and the myth that this is safe. For me it is just another example of a drawback of closed source. If open source would have been used, such obvious flaws would have been found way before. Who can say for sure that our past elections haven't been manipulated? Can our government please wake up?!

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