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Robots - The Final Chapter

....or is it?

overcast 71 °F
View RTW Oct - Dec 2014 on tdeits's travel map.

Tuesday was the day for Robin's talk at the University of Tokyo, so getting ready and getting over there consumed most of the day. U Tokyo is a pretty standard university campus, with one attractive and unusual feature - a beautiful 17th century garden and pond (shaped like the character for 'heart').


The talk went well - both Robin's and the U Tokyo team are friendly rivals in the DARPA Robotics Challenge so there was considerable interest in his work on robot locomotion. Here's Robin in action.


After the talk we were treated to a tour of their robotics lab, which is just stuffed with robots. We watched an HRP-2 as it opened the door to let us in then loaded a cart and pushed it out of the room. We were served a beverage by a Willow Garage robot (sadly, not a beer - robotic beer delivery being the Holy Grail of robot/human interactions, of course). And saw their Baxter and the robot that did the barista demo at Japan Robot Week. Oh, and another Willow Garage robot. All of these critters in a single lab! Finally, we were introduced to one of their latest projects, a humanoid robot with movement controlled by cables and electrical actuators. Here's Robin getting to know it -


This robot is intended to help understand human movement, so it is being designed to be as close to human in structure as possible. Does knowing that make it seem a little less creepy? I didn't think so.

We also got to see the robot under development for the DARPA Robotics challenge, but we didn't take any pictures; friendly rivalry only goes so far!

On the way out, I spotted another cool UAC


We headed to the Ginza for a shabu shabu dinner including Waygu beef to celebrate, and wandered the Ginza for a while.

This was our last day as a group; Robin and Michele head home tomorrow and I head to Korea the next day.

What a start to the adventure!

Posted by tdeits 15:59 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo university uac robots Comments (0)

Google Maps rules in Tokyo!

another travel tip

View RTW Oct - Dec 2014 on tdeits's travel map.

The Tokyo public transportation system can seem somewhat intimidating - like this.


However, Google Maps is astonishingly good at giving accurate directions with train departure times to the minute and accurate fare info as well. We used it dozens of times including some where time was short, and every time we were able to get where we needed to go. High five to Google!

Posted by tdeits 16:18 Archived in Japan Tagged maps Comments (0)

Last of Japan, first of Korea

rain 63 °F

Robin and Michele took off on Tuesday, and so I had Wednesday to do a little more exploring in Tokyo.

I spent the day at the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art, which has a pretty nice collection of Western art and Japanese art dating from the 20th century on. I particularly liked this Braque.


Here are a couple of pieces by Japanese artists. This is Kazuma Oda in 1916 contrasting s new skyscraper with the traditional Japan.


On the other hand, here is a screen by Kokei Kobayashi that celebrates a Western import, corn, in a traditional Japanese medium.


I also visited the Tokyo Craft Museum which had a special exhibition on celadon pottery which had some amazing modern craftsmanship as well as some quite ancient pieces. There were three vases in essentially the same shape, one from the 13th century and two modern reinterpretations; they are nearly identical but I kind of liked the old one best; it had just a bit of variation in glaze that seemed more natural. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed so no pix.

I wrapped up the day with a final sushi meal. By popular demand (i.e. one comment) here's a picture (by the way, this cost $15 - not bad!


Up early tomorrow for flight to Seoul.

Posted by tdeits 06:52 Archived in Japan Tagged art food Comments (0)

First day in Seoul

sunny 68 °F

I had an early flight and managed to get on a local train to the airport rather than the express, so I was under a bit more time pressure than I like. Fortunately, check in and security went efficiently. This was my first leg outside the Delta system, using Korea Air. Unfortunately, I couldn't check in in advance online or by phone - there isn't seamless transfers of info among the systems.

Anyway, off I went on time. Here's a pic of the seat and of the nice big TV in business class on Korean Air.



This was only a 2 hour flight so we had time for a meal and that's about all. I had bibmbap. I was presented with a bowl of vegetables and meat and a package of rice. I started by putting some of the rice in the bowl and then picking up a few veggies. The flight attendant, who was a very cheerful soul, saw me and immediately came over to help. She took my spoon and put all of the rice in the bowl and then spent several minutes carefully mixing the various ingredients to her standards. Only then was I able to eat. Pretty cute. I googled bibimbap up later and found that it literally means 'mixed rice' so I was just doing it totally wrong.

Finding the apartment was a bit of a challenge. My host suggested taking a taxi to the address. I took the train and subway to the nearest train station. Here's a picture of the very futurey train station at Incheon Airport.


I hailed a taxi but after some time talking to online interpreters the driver wasn't sure where the apartment was. There is a volunteer interpretation service called BBB that you can call if you need help with the language-and boy do I need help. 5 ways to say thank you depending on who you are talking to? After much back and forth he was able to deposit me in the vicinity of the apartment without being able to identify the building. I emailed my host Sangwon and he came over and led me to the door and introduced the place. Very comfortable, off the main road on a side street. Here's a shot of the neighborhood.


Sangwon then kindly drove me out of Seoul (no, took me in a car to a place outside of Seoul, not banished me....) to a country inn for dinner. It was a beautiful old building. We sat on the floor and dish after dish kept appearing. Tofu with kimchi, beef with vegetables, half a dozen pickles/treats (one was a somewhat sweet dish of tiny dried fish-surprisingly good), kimchi fried in an egg roll type wrapper, sliced pork with scallions, more kimchi, a rich pork-based soup, and on and on. The dishes kept coming so fast that I only had time for one representative picture-yum.


It was pretty dark so I wasn't able to get a good picture of the inn, but here's one try.


Time to crash.....

Posted by tdeits 18:03 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

A contrast in shopping centers and a Giant Rubber Ducky!

sunny 69 °F

Before I went to bed on Thursday night, I did my usual ritual of getting things recharged. My computer, my phone, my backup phone battery, my wifi router, my camera all need regular attention. About the router - Korea has a similar system to Japan. You rent an unlimited data wifi router that is pocket sized and it provides internet and internet phone everywhere - it's extremely convenient and not too expensive - about $6/day in Korea, a bit more in Japan.

Anyway, I had to use my voltage converter for the first time (Japan runs on 120 v like the US and most places have US-shaped plugs). Plugged it in and pow! the distinctive odor of deliciously smoked circuits. It looked like it had blown out both my voltage converter and my computer power supply (which wasn't plugged into the computer at the time - clever me).

So my first order of business was to find replacements. I googled electronics stores and found out about the Electronics Market - an entire district in Seoul devoted to that kind of stuff. So it sounded like a piece of cake. Off I went, and got on the train in the wrong direction. This turned out to be a good thing because I got off a station adjacent to something called Lotte World Mall. I decided to return after taking care of business. It was about 45 minutes by train and foot to the market. It is a huge hodgepodge of stores .


There are hundreds of small stores, some specializing in things like home security, cabling, LED lighting etc. and a whole lot of stores that all seem to sell iphone covers. Here's a look at one of the indoor corridors and one outside street. These capture less than 10% of the extent of this crazy place.



Add to that dozens of deivery carts, bikes, motorycles, vans and trucks shuffling boxes in at out at breakneck speed, and it's a pretty entertaining place. Unfortunately, not a place where I could begin to figure out who had what I needed. Finally I stumbled upon a computer store that was several stories high and after finding the sales department I worked with a very patient guy and aided by google translate we were able to identify my computer power supply and a converter. To get ahead of the story, the charger was just right but the 'converter' was almost the exact opposite of what I wanted. It performed no transformer function to step down voltage except to two USB ports and was incompatible with Korean outlets - it was designed to allow Koreans overseas to charge their equipment, not the other way around. Fortunately, by juggling my computer's usb ports, I was able to get back in internet road warrior shape later that night.

Headed back flushed with success, I stopped for lunch at a street stand in a small night market (mostly closed during the day). Lunch was mixed tempura of vegetables, sausage, octopus and dumplings with a side dish of two kinds of tofu in a spicy red pepper sauce. Everything was tasty - the sausage was a type of Korean blood sausage called sundae - be warned if you hanker for hot fudge in Korea! Six bucks.


Walked off the meal by retracing my steps to Lotte World Mall.

Talk about the alpha and omega of shopping experiences! The mall opened about a week ago and it is astonishing. Here is the atrium of the 7 floor section devoted entirely to high-end and very high-end everything.


A shot of the cosmetics department


and one of the atrium from the other direction.


And this is only about one third of the place. There is a separate 7 floor section that is much bigger and caters to a wider audience. There is an amazing video display in the atrium of this part that consists of a dozen independent giant led screens that are raised and lowered up and down the atrium and show a coordinated picture across them all as they move. I have some video, but not the patience to convert/trim/upload at the moment. Footage will be available upon return for the price of a beer.... Speaking of which, there is a nascent craft beer industry in both Japan and Korea - I saw craft beer bars in both places, though they tend to only serve one beer of a given basic style. Still, it's a start.

But enough shopping - what about the Giant Rubber Ducky!?!

Wait no longer-


Yes, it is that big! This is the Rubber Duck Project which is touring this critter around the world.


There are hundreds of people taking selfies and other-people-ies and just sitting and admiring the spectacle.


I actually was a bit hungry on the way home and I saw a restaurant near my apartment specializing in pork hocks. sounded interesting, so in I went. Ordered by pointing at random at a menu on the wall in Korean figuring it probably would contain pork hock. And did it!


I ate and ate (some of the condiments include raw hot peppers and raw garlic as well as what I think was raw pork liver in hot peppers-yikes. When I was slowing down, the waiter brought over two diposable plastic gloves - huh? The folks at the next table let me know that protocol was to put on the gloves and then pick up the giant bone and gnaw on it to your heart's content. I then faced a cultural question; is there a doggy bag tradition in Korea? Googling wasn't much help (!) but I did see what appeared to be styrofoam containers near the pork cutting area in the window of the restaurant so with brilliant gesturing I was able to get the staff to box the remainder which will be breakfast for days to come. I probably walked out with 1 1/2 pounds of leftover pork!

In a food-induced coma, I fell into bed.

Posted by tdeits 18:55 Archived in South Korea Tagged shopping seoul electronics Comments (0)

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