Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Speaking of Service

I recently commented on a post Snabulus put on Isis' blog. I remarked that, when dealing with any kind of specialty shop, one is bound to find lots of service that is anything but...particularly "experts" that are more likely to humiliate you than help you if you ask for anything beyond the status quo. Arkonbey apparently misunderstood my point and took issue with it, thinking I was claiming there is no good service anywhere. I wasn't. Service is something that comes in many different forms, and its quality (or lack thereof) can depend a lot on your point of view.

Speaking of which...

With a convenience-oriented culture and an advanced level of domestic technology, it is only natural that Japan has some wonderful home electronics shops. Chain stores such as Ishimaru, Yamada, Laox, and K's are large and filled with an impressive array of hardware ranging from simple flashlights to impressively sophisticated home media entertainment centers. Modern Japan seems to have an almost symbiotic relationship with her technology, so it is no surprise that the big electronics shops tend to be busy most of the time. After all, it seems like one can find almost anything there...

...except service. As usual I have come close to pacing a hole in the floor by the time I finally spot a free clerk and manage to flag him down before he either disappears into a crevasse or gets lassoed by someone else. The man, wearing the black-and-white uniform of a lower-level manager, comes over, a smile of recognition on his face. (I am, after all, a very noticeable regular customer here.)

Pointing toward a row of boxes on a high shelf, I tell him my predicament. I want to get a high-speed USB 2.0 card for my newest laptop, the one that is to form the basis of my home studio. The problem is that, as a new machine, it runs Vista (loud bass thrum with tympani). All of the high-speed USB 2.0 cards on the shelf, at least as far as I've seen, only say that they're compatible with up to XP sp 1. I ask if that will be a problem. The clerk sucks air through his teeth a few times before pulling out his handy communicator and paging someone who will be more capable of answering my question.

After a pause of a few minutes I am approached by clerk #2, who is wearing the colors of a regular employee. I repeat my inquiry, and he tells me that there will likely be a compatibility problem, but I should be able to download the proper driver off the internet. In fact, he even takes me over to one of the display machines and proceeds to do a search for a few of the products they carry...and comes up empty. The manufacturers' sites list the products, but there is no mention of Vista driver upgrades whatsoever. There is only a repeat of what's on the boxes, i.e. compatible with up to XP sp 1. Not willing to let it go at that, the clerk starts frantically Yahooing around to see if he can find anything.

That's when I make a Decision. I admit that my experience with Vista is still very limited. My new studio laptop is my first and only contact with it, and thus far I've used that machine only a little bit. Still, since all the new music software I've bought is obviously designed for XP with Vista compatibility added as an afterthought (evidenced by the fact that the instruction manuals all mention Vista but show XP), I've had to wonder whether it's just more trouble than it's worth. This bit with the USB card swings the jury as far as I'm concerned.

"It's okay," I tell clerk #2. "Don't bother. Do you have a copy of XP available?"

The clerk looks strangely relieved...even enthusiastic. "We sure do," he says, and he goes and fetches one. As we walk to the register, he assures me repeatedly that it's a simple matter to remove Vista and replace it with XP. "All your hardware should be compatible," he says. "It should be no problem. But if there is an issue, we can help you."

Someone else apparently doesn't agree, for another clerk sitting at a nearby table immediately perks up. He is wearing the white shirt, black tie, thick glasses, and smugly arrogant albeit geekish look of the Resident Tech Expert. (No pocket protector, though.) He's also wearing a face like a Taliban who'd just wandered into a Miss America pageant.

"" he hisses. "Replace Vista...with XP?" Ultimate blasphemy.

Clerk #2 glances sidelong at the R.T.E. with a whipped puppy look and quietly explains that, due to compatibility problems, I want to switch operating systems. He starts to say that it's an easy process, one that he has already seen if not personally tried, but his ego gets verbally body-slammed mid sentence.

"No!" retorts the R.T.E., still in a hissing whisper. "No! He can't do that! That's a mistake! Tell him that'll only create more problems!"

"What sort of problems?" I ask him with a tone and look that say, "Talk to me, dammit!"

The R.T.E. glares at me warily for a second and then promptly looks down his nose. "Switching to XP may solve the problem with some software and peripherals," he says, huffing with annoyance, "but if you're using a machine designed for Vista, then you could lose all your onboard equipment! Your graphics, your sound card, your disk drives...even if they still work, they won't work very well!"

That doesn't mesh with what I've heard elsewhere, and even clerk #2 seems surprised at the R.T.E.'s spiel. I really want to reply by saying, "Oh, really?" in an equally annoyed tone, but I think better of it. Instead I go back and look through the stack of high-speed USB 2.0 cards again. It turns out that one of them has a sticker on it that says "Vista compatible", so I buy it and give up on the XP least for now. I also apologize to clerk #2. At least he really tried to be helpful.


We have a new beat cop in our neighborhood, and he is a totally different sort from the last one.

In Japan every neighborhood is assigned a beat cop. In rural areas like Namegata he usually lives in the area he patrols. It's his job to get to know all the people there, keep an eye on things, and be available to give assistance when and if it's needed. His base of operation is quite often a police box, known as a koban, that is directly connected to his house. He and his family live as members of the neighborhood even as he takes responsibility for it.

Actually, the last beat cop was notoriously conspicuous by his absence. I rarely saw him at all even though the koban is only a hundred meters or so from my house, and I think I saw him outside his police cruiser only once. That was when he came to our house for the traditional first greeting on assuming his post. My father-in-law naturally invited him in for tea, and he complied. (That's the norm here. There doesn't seem to be any rules against beat cops socializing with their neighbors.) He was a youngish man with curly hair and didn't really have much to say. If he was ever on duty in his koban, he was with all the lights turned off.

I might add that his wife was a frosty [censored] who quickly earned the dislike of the neighborhood with her conceited, stand-offish attitude and ill-mannered way of talking. It seemed clear that neither of them was happy at being posted out in the boonies with a bunch of hicks. The several years they spent with us (in theory) were probably pure torture for them, and they were probably happy to go.

Enter the new policeman. He's an older guy and much, much more like the traditional image of what a beat cop should be like. While making it tacitly clear that he's not one to be messed with, he has been going out of his way to get to know everyone. During his first week with us he actually flagged me down with his traffic baton as I was heading out to Ye Olde Academy, which shocked the heck out of me. I was worried that I was going to get told I had inadvertently broken some obscure law...or just harassed on account of my race. Instead, he greeted me with a hearty laugh, told me he just wanted to say good morning, and asked me if my school was keeping me busy even though it was spring vacation. Yes, he does seem to ask a lot of questions, but he hasn't gone out of line, and I guess it really is his job to know what's going on, not that I have anything to hide anyway.

I've also been seeing him out there a lot, especially in the morning when the kids are going to the nearby elementary school. When I drive by he always greets me with a smile and a salute. I guess if his job is to protect and serve, he seems to be taking it very seriously, and I can appreciate that.


Speaking of serving the public, Prime Minister Fukuda has just managed to override the upper house and reinstate the increased gasoline tax rate. He added a condition that the revenues be used for spending on things other than road construction, but that was small comfort. At midnight last night the price of gas went up about 30 yen a liter (about a dollar a gallon). You should have seen the long lines at all of the gas stations yesterday. It was insane. I bet the station owners were happy, though. I know the local governments are. The general public, however...


  • Thanks for keepin' us up on the lowdown in know of our notoriously insular media...

    By Blogger Hypatia, at 12:41 AM  

  • Actually, we’ve had very bad luck here at work installing XP on our pre-installed Vista machine. Going the other “normal upgrade” way hasn’t been too good either although I’ve done it on one machine with only a few weirdnesses. The problem is with a joint decision between Microsoft and hardware manufacturers to basically do what Apple has done for years. Announce the BIG NEW THING then make sure the NEW THING and THE OLD THING don’t talk well or work well together. (The only exception was the OS 9 to OS X transition and that is now toast as well).

    We’ve entered an age where an operating system upgrade is taking your sanity into new realms. You are better served to muddle through with Vista.

    Interesting news about the local constable. I hope he remains what he seems to be. American police I’ve come into contact seem to treat the public as their enemy and are cold and distant even off-duty in social situations like they are sizing you up as a criminal. I’ve seen it a couple of times and it is annoying especially with all the Constitution squashing going on lately.

    Sorry about the gas tax. I hope they use the cash wisely. Better look into the Ebike (wink).

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:29 AM  

  • Now that is the first instance I've heard of a geek liking Vista...most IT/puter people I know detest it with every fibre of their beings.

    It's nice hearing about your community policeman. London might theoretically be a nicer place if we had one posted every few streets. In reality though, thugs, hooligans, or hooded yoof would probably joyride his car, pee on his doorstep, graffiti his windows. Tis the way things work in the nation of yob culture.

    There is NO respect for authority. They are considering attachign security forces to fire brigades because of violence directed at them - they get shot at, have rocks or bottles thrown at them...all for responding to a fire!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 6:29 AM  

  • Get Vista off of your machine now!

    It's an open secret in the states that it's crap and it's dangerous. Microsoft has totally screwed the pooch on this one. Install Xp until the bugs are worked out. If you need a drivers of any type forget it, they're not available.

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 12:28 AM  

  • Hypatia
    I always thought that ironic. On the other hand, in "insular" Japan we get quite a lot of international news...unless a celebrity gets married.

    Don Snabulus
    Okay, a vote for staying with Vista. I'm glad to hear it from someone who knows.

    I know what you mean about the fuzz in the States. I remember hearing about when W.O.S.C. (when it was still W.O.S.C.) hosted a police academy it got to the point where they had to divide the dining hall into two sections in order to keep the police cadets separate from the regular college students. The reason? The cadets kept picking fights with people. Way to learn to serve and protect, man.

    Here in Japan the traditional computer geeks seem to be ape over Vista. The ones who hate it are the net geeks and the desktop publishing geeks (i.e. the ones that use their computers rather than just play with them).

    No, seriously...what the f*** is WRONG with England nowadays? I mean, really!

    Hmm...Olivia said WHAT kind of people don't like Vista? (;-) and smile on)

    Okay, a vote against staying with Vista. Anyway, I only use my Vista machine in my studio. It has no net connection, and I'm in the process of stripping out all the gingerbread from the hard drive. It was a pretty bare-boned machine when I bought it (which was WHY I bought it), and as long as it runs my MIDI controllers and recording software I'll be happy.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:33 AM  

  • I hear that Microsoft is all ready workiing on a new software because vista was so poorly received. Problem with XP is that most new machines have dual processors or quad processors. XP wasn't designed to run on that type of machine.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 12:38 AM  

  • I like when policemen are like "human", smile and greet.... Here in Indonesia, people are more scared to policeman than bad people.

    By Blogger Selba, at 11:04 AM  

  • Dave
    Really? And just when it seemed like I might start warming up to Vista, too. Then again, I doubt I'll be changing OSes for a while...unless I do what I've really wanted to do and use a Mac G5 as my studio core!

    The good news right now is that I finally solved most of my recording woes with my new, computer-based setup. I was able to lay down both audio and MIDI tracks for a new song with good results. The only problem came when I tried to convert a MIDI drum track to an audio one using my Sonic Cell as both synth module and interface. I'm sure it's something fixable, but I wound up with such awful lag that by the end of the song it was almost four measures behind the guitar parts. Adjusting MIDI, I/O, and mix buffer sizes did not solve the problem. I wound up giving up and playing the MIDI track through Sonar 7's onboard drum synth (which sounds amazingly like the Sonic Cell drum kit I'd chosen anyway!), which worked fine. There are plenty of alternatives to using the Sonic Cell that way, but that's one of the reasons I bought it in the first place!

    That's common in much of the world, unfortunately. There are a great many countries of the world where the police are just another form of criminal gang. A lot of it has to do with either if not both the policemen's salaries and their level of accountability.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:09 AM  

  • It's kind of relieving to come in in the midst of a Vista/XP/Mac discussion when I've spent the last 10 days with people who could care less if the internet ceased to exist this afternoon ;-)

    With a beat cop in each neighborhood, how's the graffiti situation in Japan? In France, it is RAMPANT.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:46 AM  

  • K has been trying to find a USB stick that she can use to transfer MS Office files from a PC at work to her Mac OS X laptop at home. No luck yet. Any suggestions?

    I like our local cop. Only met him once, when he came by to update his book with who was living at our address, but I see him checking up on some of the older folks in the area now and then. He drives a small motorcycle instead of a car.

    My electric bike costs about 10 yen to "fill up". :^)

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:35 AM  

  • Actually, it was beginning the downward spiral before we left in 1989.

    I have a memory of two youths (maybe not in hoodies yet) harrassing us in our car when I was a child. We were going slow enough between the double parked cars, that they jumped at the opportunity to walk with us and shout obcenities through the windows until we reached a cross road. For no reason at all other than they had nothing better to do. And this was on our own street. 20+ years ago.

    There were other things (like nobody puts out Christmas decorations in the greater London area because they'll just get stolen or thrown through your window - again for no other reason than opportunism, but that's a whole blog topic that I really shouldn't do.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 9:11 AM  

  • Nikkipolani
    Welcome back!
    There is graffiti in Japan, but it's not really "rampant". About the only place you find it is under bridges and near stations.

    So how was France? :-)

    It probably depends on the Mac model. Actually, I have had NO problem transferring files between the Music Department Mac and my own Windows XP laptop at work, and I use a variety of USB pen drives including a Sony, an I-o Data, a Buffalo, a "ToteBag", and a very cheap "SanDisk". All of those pen drives interface with both machines, and file transfer is equally smooth.

    The only problem is that Mac does not put extensions (e.g. '.jpg', '.doc', '.exe') on file names, so Windows won't identify the type of a file transferred to it from a Mac. It is a simple matter, however, to add the correct extension yourself. (Believe me, I do it all the time.) In other words, if you copy a Word document from a Windows PC to a Mac the Mac will read it no problem, but if you copy the same kind of document from a Mac to a Windows PC you'll have to add a ".doc" to the end of the file name, or Word won't read it. (It has always worked for me, at least!)

    I realize it's still nothing like the crack gangs and their drive-by shootings in the U.S. back in the late 80s and early 90s, but that is seriously scary. It's even worse considering the gang problem in the U.S. started to fade in the mid to late 90s. How do you suppose all that got started, anyway?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:13 PM  

  • Thanks!

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:14 PM  

  • Oh Good thing it's no on the net

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 2:02 AM  

  • I have to speed read your blog Moody because somehow my computer doesn't like some program on it that jams it up! I was a bit snot-nosed with Hypnotic Voices gal I realize and should have been a bit more sensitive as some people love New Age ideas. I tend to call it as I see it.

    By Blogger Peceli and Wendy's Blog, at 6:09 PM  

  • A neighbourhood constable reminds me of Enid Blyton books. We don't have the luxury of a neighbourbood cop over here though there is a police station in housing estates with bigger populations. Anyway, there's not much of a rapport between them and us. Strange.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 6:38 PM  

  • Hi just dropped by to say thanks for the info. I didn't know what it called, so I was not well informed. I knew he was just pulling my leg there!

    I have no idea what's happening with my comment section. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't ..

    Thanks anyway!

    By Anonymous Andie Summerkiss, at 11:52 PM  

  • Indeed I remember the drive-by shootings but...the problem with the UK is that no matter where you live, you cannot choose your neighbours.

    Even if you live in a million-pound house in one of London's exclusive neighbourhoods (which I did), there is always, always a cluster of council estates round the corner, which you never want to pass in the dark. I will never forget the taxi driver complaining about it to me one day.) I will also never forget being mugged by some delinquents from round the corner. This being a socialist country and all (which other westerners tend to forget), you are never far from an establishment of thugs, hooligans and yobs.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 9:19 AM  

  • An addition to what I was saying is that we had the freedom to choose safe neighbourhoods in both the Dallas and Houston areas. Sure London has safe neighbourhoods, but once again, the ubiquitous estates are always there like a thorn in their side.

    I like to tell my friends here, those who incessantly cite "all the violence in the US" that although I lived in Texas (cue all stereotypes here) for so long, I never saw a gun or heard a gunshot, or had any crime or menace directed towards me.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 9:22 AM  

  • I know what you mean, m'lady. I get a lot of that "Oh, your country is so dangerous," crap here in Japan, too. In the late 80s and early 90s Portland was actually listed as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the U.S. in terms of murder rate per capita. I've never seen a gun wielded for anything but innocent reasons. Friends of mine that live(d) there used to tell me they could often hear gunfire at night. As far as I know, none of them ever witnessed, let alone became a victim of, violent crime.

    On the other hand, during my first month here in Japan three people were gunned down in a neighboring town, and the daughter of an acquaintance got carjacked. Which country is really more dangerous?

    On the other hand, the mixed neighborhood story really isn't as unusual as you might think. In my school days I lived in a moderately well-to-do, suburban neighborhood. Just down the street there were some really notorious low-rent apartments. I worked at Domino's Pizza one summer, and we were warned always to run, not walk, and keep our heads down whenever we had to deliver there.

    At least they didn't shoot at the fire brigades, though...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:33 AM  

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