• No trains or buses from Narita to Tokyo after the category 3 typhoon = chaos for thousands

    I touch down at Narita Airport on schedule and feel lucky to have just missed Typhoon Faxai, a category 3 storm which had passed through the area hours earlier. I'd received a note from the airline that, depending on how fast the typhoon was moving, my flight (which was scheduled to land just after 3 pm) could be canceled or delayed, but we left on time and the updates during the flight suggested all was clear.

    As a resident of Japan, I get to use the special "reentry permit holder" lines at immigration which tend to take about 5 minutes to get through, which is incredible compared against the sometimes hour-long queue for visiting foreigners. Once through customs, I have to decide how to get home. Some airports offer no transportation, Narita for all its faults (mostly that it's so far from Tokyo) offers many. I bounce between taking the Narita Express train or the Airport Limousine bus. Both options will get me to Shinjuku for about $40 and take roughly an hour and a half. From Shinjuku station, I can transfer to a local line and I'm walking in the door of my house about 15 minutes later. I tend to prefer the train because I'm tall and the reserved seats have more legroom, but it runs only once an hour, while there tends to be a bus leaving every 10-15 minutes so the bus is often more convenient. Anyway, my point is as I was walking off the plane at 3 pm I expect to be home by 5pm.

    As I approach immigration I'm shocked by the giant crowd flowing into the lines blocking the entire entranceway. The airport greeter, an older gentleman who usually just reminds people to fill out their forms, seems a bit flustered by the crowd. I tell him I have a reentry permit and ask him how to get to the line for that since it's blocked by a few hundred people. He kindly lifts a barrier strap and points me towards a smaller, yet still much larger than usual, line. It takes about 15 minutes to get through immigration. I assume all of the delayed flights from the morning must have just landed at once. The immigration agent confirms that to be the case, and says it was quiet all morning until just now. I thank her and head down the escalator expecting to pass through Duty-Free and be on a bus moments later. Instead, I'm met by an even larger crowd just outside of customs that seem confused and panic-y.

    I think to myself, what a shame all these first-time visitors don't know how to quickly get out of there like I do. I quietly laugh at their collective n00bness and walk up to the bus counter to buy a ticket. I realize that while the counter is fully staffed all the lights are off, the employees are holding "Closed" signs and sending people away. I've never seen that before but didn't give it much thought either as I beeline for the escalators that lead down to the train platform. This plan is immediately thwarted by a strap across the escalators, which are also turned off and a Japan Rail employee shooing people away. "All trains canceled," she tells me.

    I look around at the crowd and the chaos and it starts to hit me that something strange is going on. I pull out my phone to check Twitter or the news and don't find anything useful. I overhear a few conversations that suggest all trains and buses had been canceled due to the typhoon throwing debris all over the tracks and the highways being closed. Surely there had to be other options for the likely tens of thousands of people arriving at the airport, right? I walk outside the Arrivals terminal and am immediately struck by both the 90+ degree/80% humidity weather and the longest taxi line I've ever seen in my life.

    I could guess that there were 3,000 people in the line and that might be a bit conservative. I stand there sweating, partially from the heat and partially from immediate stress of not knowing what to do next. A taxi from Narita to Tokyo was likely to cost 30,000 Yen (about $300) which was not appealing, and that line made it even less so.

    I check twitter again and as luck would have it a journalist I follow in Tokyo just retweeted Yan Fan, who was already in the taxi line and asking if anyone else was at NRT and wanted to share the fare into Tokyo. I reply immediately – "Me!!"

    A few tweets later and we find each other though unfortunately she'd only just gotten in the line recently herself and wasn't too far along. Yan introduced me to the others she'd joined with and our quick math suggests that we'll each be on the hook for 10,000 Yen (about $100) which was more than double the $40 I was expecting from the bus but was fine considering the circumstances and much better than having to foot the whole bill myself.

    A half-hour later when we've moved maybe 10 feet and the reality of the situation began to hit us. The "#standedatnarita" hashtag was filling up with similar stories and photos of people stuck, without any option to get anywhere. The crowd was growing by the moment. The heat was oppressive, with no breeze of any kind. While Japan usually operates like a finely oiled machine, this was a Grade A clusterfuck. We realize that the reason the taxi line is moving so slow was that there are no taxis to speak of. Every 5 minutes or so a single taxi rolls up, a few people pile in and the whole line takes a step or two forward — then we wait another 5 minutes for the next single taxi to arrive. At this rate, we weren't going to get a taxi for hours. The 4th person in our group bails, saying they were going to try to find some other option, but we quickly replace them a coworker of Yan's who had coincidentally just landed as well.

    Some people were opting out of the line and taking hotel courtesy buses either to just crash overnight and hope the trains and buses were running the next day or maybe to have better luck getting a taxi at the hotel. We debate the idea and decided it's too risky. None of us wants to spend the night in Narita. The line we are in is on the ground floor, at Arrivals — for people who have just arrived in Japan.

    Someone tweeted that they had gone upstairs to Departures and were able to grab a taxi that was dropping someone off in just a few minutes. We send one of our crew up to scope it out, they report back that it seems possible. So we decided to go for it. We jump out of line and head back into the terminal. People behind us probably thought the line was moving now! Once we get to the 4th floor Departures area and look down, the scope of the crowd waiting at Arrivals takes on a whole new level of insanity, but we don't have time to linger or take photos as we rush towards the area where taxis are dropping people off.

    Unfortunately, we weren't the only ones rushing over there, the airport police are aiming for the same place. At this point I need to explain something about Japan – this is the land of zero flexibility. If something that is being done by three people can more efficiently and easily be done by one person, rest assured it will forever continue to be done by three people because that's how many people the policy says should be doing it. Ironically it's this unwillingness to make decisions on the fly that caused me to move to Japan in the first place to help run Safecast when the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power station melted down in part because the people running the plant looked disaster in the face and rather than adapting to quickly changing circumstances decided to follow the rules in the book, word-for-word.

    But that's a different story. Currently, at NRT taxis are dropping people off on the 4th floor at Departures, and are then expected to drive down to the 1st floor to pick people up at Arrivals. However, the entire airport is almost gridlocked. A driver we'd spoken to earlier had told us it took him almost 45 minutes to get to Arrivals from Departures. This is probably why so few taxis are down at Arrivals — they are just leaving to get away from this chaos. On top of that planes are continuing to land and buses and trains are still shut down. Taxis are the only way to reduce the growing number of people waiting outside. But the rule is that taxis are supposed to go down 4 floors before they pick anyone up, and the police are there to enforce that rule. As we walk up with our luggage we see the cops stepping in front of people trying to get in taxis, jumping in front of other taxis that had just loaded people in, blowing their whistles, and generally ensuring that a messed up situation remains messed up.

    We are momentarily defeated until we spot an empty taxi one lane over, almost about to pull out of the drop off area. With the police focused on people curbside we decide to go for it. We run out across a lane of traffic to the other side and through the window ask the driver if he can take 4 people to Tokyo. He looks at us, looks at our bags, looks at the cops, then back to us and says "get in!" We pile in as fast as possible loading the back up with our suitcases and struggling to close the back door. As the latch finally engages we can see a pair of police officers walking towards us waving their hands. "Let's go!" we cried, and the driver hits the gas. Very briefly, as he can only move a few feet, because that's all the room there is between us and the car stopped in front of us. We look back and the police are still coming, then look ahead just in time to see a barricade that had previously been blocking the onramp for the highway being pulled away. "Highway is open!!" the driver says, and he makes a hard left and guns it out onto the open highway, not a single car ahead of us. We've escaped!

    As we drive away from the airport we can see the oncoming lanes are completely packed, and dead stopped. Those people are going to be missing some flights for sure. It was at this point the driver laid out the hard truth for us. The roads are still mostly closed, so the usual hour and a half drive is going to take closer to 3. Also, the rate is doubled. We can expect a final charge of around 60,000 yen. We gulped, and nodded, knowing the only other option was back at the airport and we didn't want any of that. We were glad he'd taken the chance to rescue us.

    Air condition blasting and finally headed home, we rip into leftover snacks from our respective flights — snack bars, chips, fiery Cheetos — you know, travel comfort food. We check the internets and see how much of a disaster things remained at the airport. I accidentally caught a fellow not to be named traveler licking Red No.5 off their fingers — "this is a low moment for me" they said. "Don't worry, the secret is safe." We sank back into our seats, scanning the side of the road for further evidence of the typhoon that put this all into motion hours earlier.

    We had to drive quite far out of the way to get in due to road closures but also gave us a chance to reroute to a functioning train station on the edge of Tokyo rather than going all the way to the center. This let us dump the expensive taxi and go our separate ways on local lines without anyone backtracking which made more sense anyway. Final taxi bill was about 8,000 yen each. Just after 9 pm, I walked in the door at home, feeling like I'd escaped a war.

    Image: Twitter/Sean Bonner

  • How about we fix America by just turning Oklahoma into a giant lake?

    In this time of national trauma and political chaos where everyone is being a total shit to each other and the only thing all the sides can agree on is that they can't agree on anything – we need something to unify us. Something that, as a country, we can shed partisan differences and rally behind. Something like building the railroads, sending a man to the moon. Something that crosses party lines and is pure and perfect, like inside plumbing and laughing at people who call soccer football. Here, our politicians and political parties have failed us.

    My friend Morgen and I have an answer.

    Turn Oklahoma into a lake.
    (more…)

  • Switching to a straight razor

    I stared, face lathered up, sweat dripping, hand shaking, into the fogging mirror in my bathroom almost every day for over 2 weeks before I built up the courage to actually put the 4" razor to my face and take a swipe.

    The fact that I hadn't shaved on any regular basis for any period in my life because of the bloody mess that inevitably ensued didn't help matters, but mostly I was just afraid of slicing my jugular wide open and being mocked after my death for as the idiot who even attempted this in the first place.
    I took a deep breath and went for it. (more…)

  • Back issues of COILHOUSE now available digitally

    Coilhoussss

    The fine folks at COILHOUSE magazine (mentioned many a time here in the past, and who featured Xeni and Boing Boing Video in issue 3 have just put made available for the first time all five back issues as DRM-free PDF downloads. Issues are $5 each or $20 for all five, with promises that the funds from this will go directly into the production of issue number 6. The COILHOUSE team are some of my favorite people; if you missed picking up the printed versions when they were available, now is your chance to catch up.

  • Pakistani Actress Veena Malik schools a mullah about Islam

    [Video Link] Veena Malik is a Pakistani actress who appeared on the very popular Indian TV show Bigg Boss (the Indian version of Big Brother). In the clip above, a mullah tells her she brought shame on Pakistan with her behavior on the show, and that 100% of Pakistanis agree with him. The mullah also admits he didn't watch the show himself, but knows all of this to be true.


    Veena responds by pretty much mopping up the floor with him. She points out out how her religion backs up her actions, where he's in violation of the same rules he's taking her to task for. She also says if he wishes to defend Islam, there are countless targets more deserving of close inspection, but here he is instead wasting his time complaining about an actress.

    It's fantastic. The world needs to see more of this. Go Veena!

    (via soupsoup)

  • Tsunami vs Japanese Harbor

    [video link] This eyewitness video of the March 11 tsunami striking Japan shows how, in under 10 minutes, a harbor in Oirase Town, Aomori Prefecture goes from business as usual to, well, gone. While other videos have shown massive destruction or endless floods, this one shows a huge dry area that completely fills with water, making it easy to see just how much water was being pushed around. It's so hard to believe this actually happened. The guy filming it must have been scared to death.

  • XKCD's radiation dose chart

    radiation.jpg

    [click chart to embiggen] There has been much talk of radiation exposure levels in the news, and here on Boing Boing, this past week. But it can be hard to wrap your head around what those measurements mean, and how they compare to things you may have already experienced in life. Well, it was, until XKCD created this exceptionally helpful chart showing exactly how much radiation exposure you might encounter by doing something like flying from LA to NYC, getting a chest x-ray, hanging out at Chernobyl, living near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, or sleeping next to another human being. This rules.

  • RDTN.org: crowdsourcing and mapping radiation levels

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    One issue that has emerged during the nuclear crisis in Japan is that there isn't always a reliable source for radiation levels from specific areas. RDTN.org has just launched, an experiment to help address that need. The site allows people to submit their own reads, and maps them out next to data from official sources and measurement dates. This way, anyone can quickly get an idea of what is happening on the ground, first-hand. The site is brand new but should be very useful going forward.

    Also worth noting and specific to what is going on in Japan right now, JapanStatus.org is "a dashboard of accurate, sourced information on the situation in Japan following the March 2011 disaster."

  • The Silver Lake Badminton And Adventurers Club

    [Video Link] – I've just stumbled across the pilot episode of The Silver Lake Badminton And Adventurers Club. I found it very amusing, and not just because I live in Silver Lake (a neighborhood in Los Angeles). From their brief history:

    Founded in San Francisco in 1947 by Remi BoncÅ"ur, Sal Paradise, and Dean Moriarty, the organization that would become the Silver Lake Badminton and Adventurers Club was originally intended to foster team building and leadership skills amongst intrepid young adventurers through the ancient sport of Badminton.

    Headquartered in the Mission, the club boasted amongst its members, Brick Bradford, known for his long toss, shorthand, and jetpack. From the Deep South came the tag team of brute strength and graceful agility, Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski. Finally, there was legendary Tom Joad, who it was reputed, could handle a shuttlecock with more finesse than any player in the greater United States. Badminton appealed to the sporting mentalities of these founding members, but the exclusivity of shuttlecocks did not quench their thirst for the true bones of America. The answer came in the form of a murder, a murder that the adventurers followed down the coast.

    The club is on twitter as well, where hopefully they'll announce more episodes soon! [Thanks Tara]

  • Virtual Cafe opens to help New Zealand Earthquake victims

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    The Christchurch cafe is a site where you can buy virtual items you might find in a coffee shop, from a $2 espresso to a $300 espresso machine. This is a creative and interesting way of raising aid donations: 100% of funds raised go directly to the community in Christchurch, New Zealand, which was hit hard by the earthquake last week. I love this idea, and would love to see this kind of thing catch on. It's an inspired way to encourage people to help out financially after a disaster.

  • Coffee Common: roasters roast one other at TED

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    Last week I was excited to announce the birth of Coffee Common, a project of coffee enthusiasts (one of them being me) coming together to improve the experience of coffee for both industry and consumers. I mentioned that to kick off the launch, the project organizers and a handful of baristas from around the world will be spending this week in conjunction with the TED conference talking about (and serving) a few noteworthy selections from a select group of roasters.

    We narrowed our list to the roasters we know have beautiful coffees with clarity and balance on their offering menus—and, who would be able to produce, roast and ship enough coffee to meet the needs of the thirsty TED attendees, at their own expense.

    Normally, these roasters would consider each others competition, but the Coffee Common project is about collaboration. So we had an idea. We could write a short introduction for each included roaster, or we could assign each participating roaster the task of writing the intro for one of the others – knowing very well that one of the others would be writing theirs as well. This sounded much more interesting to us. After all, your fans can gush about you, but what your competition says may be more telling. So with that in mind…

    Intelligentsia – introduced by James Hoffman of Square Mile Coffee
    Stumptown – Introduced by Benjamin Kaminsky of Ritual Roasters
    Has Bean – Introduced by Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture Coffee
    Square Mile – Introduced by Trevor Corlett of Madcap Coffee
    Ritual Roasters – Intriduced by George Howell of Terroir Coffee
    Terroir Coffee – Introduced by Steve Leighton of Has Bean

    More introductions will be posted soon. As TED kicks off today and everyone will finally be together in person, we'll be posting interviews, videos and dishing out the info throughout the week on coffeecommon.com and on twitter @coffeecommon.

    (photo of Ritual Roasters by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

  • Operation "Libya White Fax"

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    After observing the growing unrest and correspondingly violent crackdown in Libya, a group of hackers conceived and launched Operation Libya White Fax: while the internet and data connections are being throttled, cut off and censored, phone lines are still open, and fax machines are still working. So, with a list of numbers that have fax machines on the other end, and one fax document packed with timely info, time-sensitive information on how to route around censorship can get to people inside Libya.

    The information document is online [PDF mirror] and so is the list of numbers to send it to. The info is coming from We Re-Build's main Libya page and will be updated as needed. This document helps people in Libya learn how to connect to dial-up internet, and route around the government-ordered communication blocks. In a time like this, that can make all the difference in the world.

  • Coffee Common Launches




    (photos by Kyle Glanville)

    I take my coffee pretty seriously. So the idea of some of the most respected names in the coffee business—who, under normal circumstances, consider one another competition—coming together to work towards a common goal is very interesting to me. As a consumer I'm always trying to get my hands on really delicious coffee. As an enthusiast, I'm constantly annoying my local baristas with questions. As an advocate—well, my advocacy work to date has consisted mostly of caffeinated rants to friends. But a few months ago, the opportunity to explore that a little deeper presented itself.

    In December, my friend Stephen Morrissey, who works at Intelligentsia, called with a crazy idea. In 2010, they provided coffee services for the TED conference in hopes of spreading the word about really good coffee. Stephen also happened to be the 2008 world barista champ; he knows about really good coffee. His idea for this year: rather than just serving coffee, the goal would be education. Rather than employees of a single company, the bars would be staffed by some of the best baristas in the business from all around the world. Rather than beans from one roaster, various skilled and talented roasters would be contributing the best they had to offer. This wouldn't be advertising for a single company, it would be advertising for coffee itself. But does anyone really need to learn about something as ubiquitous as coffee? And would something this weird even be possible? Turns out the short answer to both questions is yes. (more…)