Friday, January 18, 2013

Wristwatch Resurgence

I always carry a phone, and I've done so for the past fifteen years. Even my first feature-phone had a nice, accurate digital clock. There's a time display in the corner of my computer screen at all times. My N7 tablet, too, shows the time whenever it's switched on.

But now I've started using my old wristwatch again. I haven't used it for ten years or more. My watch — a plain, inexpensive one I bought as an undergraduate — has languished in a drawer. Why would I start using it again?

What does your watch say about you? This one says "I'm too lazy to get a new watch, so I just use this scratched-up one I left in a drawer."

The picture, by the way, is not lit by flash. Window light comes from the top of the image, and a mirror reflects light back from the bottom. The dark background is my turned-off phone and a sheet of black paper just above the camera makes sure it's not reflecting anything recognizeable.

A few months ago my wife got her long-broken watch fixed. I suddenly found myself asking her what time it was rather than check my phone. It was much easier to ask her than to dig out my phone from some pocket or another, turn on the display to check the time, turn it off and return it again. So on a whim — and to stop annoying her — I got a new battery and strap for my old watch.

And as it turns out, it really is more convenient than the phone. It took me no time at all to get back into the habit. In fact, I find myself checking the watch even when I'm using my tablet or my laptop, with a time display right in front of me. You can use it with your hands full, and even inexpensive watches are durable and water resistant, so you can use it in the rain, on a wet beach, a dusty, windy field or anywhere else you don't want to take out a fragile, expensive phone.

I never liked metal straps. They're heavy and slippery so they need to be tight or the watch slides around on your wrist. Leather straps tend to get dirty and dingy-looking, especially in summer. I got a silicone strap this time, and it works really well. It's plain and subdued, and easy to keep clean. The material is a bit grippy, so the watch stays in place without having to tighten the strap at all.

This got me to think about what it means to wear a watch. It is convenient, but I did get along just fine for over ten years without one. A watch is as much ornamental as functional today, and really one of the few accessories that are commonly accepted for men; perhaps the only one universally accepted in any situation. Swatch took that to heart, and is making a fortune selling watches as accessories rather than as functional devices.

Prestige brands do the same thing, selling expensive timepieces with ostentatiously complex precision engineering that appeal to both the design sense and technical fascination of their customers. Never mind that a simple quartz watch is more accurate and reliable; they're desirable because of their expensive, intricate and unreliable mechanical design, not despite it. I can't deny that I find it tempting as well.

A few months ago I saw (and sadly did not take a picture of) a collection of "watches" made entirely out of polished stone and hardened leather. They were beautiful but no longer told time, and had completed the trajectory from functional device to ornament. I doubt that will catch on, though; a watch without timekeeping is just a bracelet, and it's the functional aspect that makes a watch interesting and universally acceptable as an accessory to men as well as women.

And there's a watch line for every use and every taste it seems. There's rugged weather- and shock-proof watches for outdoorsy activities; sports watches with timers and step counters; expensive and less expensive diving watches that handle high pressures, salt water and, sometimes, helium contamination; discrete, expensive watches that signal you're monied gentry; ostentatious, expensive watches that signal you're a banker or used-car salesman; inexpensive, colourful watches to match any style you care to dream up; travel watches that handle multiple timezones and set the time automatically; vintage watches for hipsters and retro; geek watches with barometers, smartphone connection and calculator functions1.

Goth and cyberpunk-themed watches. Watches with designs so extreme you need a manual to tell the time. Watches related to cartoon characters, anime or popular music acts. Watches emblazoned with whatever brand you want, from expensive designer labels to vehicle makers and models to camera brands.

Whatever your interests, whatever your style, there's a good chance there's a watch out there that will fit you just right. If, that is, you decide to actually wear a watch. Me, I find it convenient, and I like how it looks. I think I'll continue wearing mine.

#1 As a twelve-year old I would have sold my kid brother into slavery for one of those.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Notes and Notices

It's been a busy few weeks. Had a dentist appointment yesterday. Good news is, one wisdom tooth is fine; there's no need to remove it. Bad news is, the other wisdom tooth will need actual surgery to extract, so I now have a referral to the Osaka dental university hospital. Oh, joy.

Last week was another trip to Tokyo, a research program symposium at Tokyo University where I presented our previous project. Went OK, I think. People sometimes feel a bit frustrated with two- or three-day project-related research meetings; as a project member you've heard all the presentations before and you lose days away from work. But to me they are actually very productive. With no distractions and with nothing much to do but think, it's a good place to solve work-related problems. This time did not disappoint.

Just before leaving for Tokyo I got my three-year researcher visa extension. Good to know that no matter what happens I'll be able to stay for the time being. Also got the new, spiffy foreigner registration card. Apart from the general spiffiness (it's a lot less cluttered and easier to read) there's some useful changes associated with it. Most important, perhaps, is that you no longer need a re-entry permit if you're staying abroad for less than a year. One less thing to worry about whenever I travel.

Still working on the pictures I took in Bangkok. I can say that almost all shots are digital; Bangkok really cries out for colour, so bringing black and white film was a mistake. I'll post about the trip when done.

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year Picture Post

We're back from a pleasant, balmy New Year in Bangkok. After a week in the warm sun the apartment feels colder than usual; so much so that we're considering getting ourselves a kotatsu again, floor heating notwithstanding.

Today is the first working day of the year — and of course the last working day of the week. It'd be an understatement to say things are quieter than usual; the morning train didn't even fill all seats, and while the office isn't empty, things are very quiet throughout the building. Half of Japan is probably taking an extra vacation day today.

Anyway, I've only barely downloaded the pictures I took on the trip, so a real post about our trip will have to wait. Here's a monthly pick of pictures for the past year. As usual, the actual date taken may be earlier than the post (film shots may be a month or more before I get around to posting them here). Also, due to time constraints and other issues I really don't have a lot of pictures to choose among for many months, and the quality unfortunately reflects that.


New Year
People queue up to celebrate the new year at the local temple. We didn't do it this year for obvious reasons.


Sakaisuji Honmachi
Going to work on a cold, miserable Osaka winter morning.


The Robot Revolution is here, and we got ourselves a Roomba. Never got around to post about it, but the short take is, it doesn't replace normal cleaning, but works OK as a complement to it. If you normally vacuum three or four days a week you may now have to do it only once. And it's great for cleaning under beds, couches and other hard-to-reach places.


Fashion Statement
Everybody enjoys balmy spring weather after a cold winter. Including stylish, well-dressed — for Osaka that is — young punks on a sunny morning.


I went on a business trip to Tokyo, and shot this distinguished-looking gentleman on the subway on my way back.


Still no time to play. So here's Shinagawa from the same business trip.


Tuna and Cheese, cooked in the can
Tuna and cheese cooked in the can, just as nature intended it. Unexpected new menu item at one of our favourite eating place, and really tasty, especially with a beer.


Akashi Kaikyō Ōhashi
Things were finally calming down a bit, and we went on a day trip to Akashi, down the coast from Kobe. Here's Akashi Kaikyō Õhashi. And it's just insanely big close up.


Counter Seats
We tried to escape the Osaka summer heat with a three-day trip to Hakodate in Hokkaido. Unfortunately, we arrived in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave. Oh well, the trip was a success anyhow. Here one excellent seafood restaurant.


I left Kyoto university and NAIST, and started a new job at OIST in Okinawa and AICS in Kobe. Here's some of the grad students at NAIST preparing for the Ekiden footrace. I miss having students around; they were by far the best part of working at NAIST.


Kobe Port Tower
Kobe Port Tower and the Maritime Museum. We go to Kobe every other week to eat and walk, and from November, Kobe is also my place of work. Nice town, within easy commuting distance from home.


Another business trip to Tokyo. Here's a wintry evening along the Yamanote line in Hibiya.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013