Making My Infrared Dumb Devices Smart with Google Home and Broadlink RM3

Author: mirai  //  Category: Life in general, Techie Stuff


Fast Tube by Casper

 

Introduction

A few weeks ago, I started a home automation project using my Google Home Mini.  With it, I was able to control “Smart-enabled” devices such as my Philips Hue and Sengled light bulbs, but I wanted to take it a step further by being able to my TV, DVR, ceiling fan, (non-smart) ceiling lights, and air conditioner -all of which work by controlling them with an old fashion 20th century infrared red remote control.  So I did a search on the internet to see if anyone else had tried this, and behold! I found several people who have converted their aging dumb devices, into 21st century internet aware smart machines -well sort of.  Thus began by mission to be able completely automate my home with Google Home.

Little did I know at the time that this would be no easy endeavor.  Although the components that I needed to accomplish my goals were relatively inexpensive and readily available, it took a lot of brain power,  and jumping through the proverbial hoop to make it happen.

Being a Johnny-come-lately, I soon found out that one very vital component called the Hue Bridge Emulator, which acts as the glue per se, to bring of the components together to talk to each other and work in harmony, had been debunked earlier this year, and was no longer available to use.  I immediately sought an alternative solution, but information was scarce. The majority of those who were able to get this to work, did it with use of the Hue Bridge Emulator within the Home Assistant Home Automation application – a free open sourced system.

After literally days of scouring the internet, watching several YouTube videos, and experimentation, I found one person who was able to do it without using the  Hue Bridge Emulator.  Instead, he used an Android device running app called “RM Bridge”, which acts a communication conduit between Home Assistant, Google Home, and IFTTT.  This sounded like the holy grail solution I was looking for, and even went as far buying a 6 year old Android phone from an internet auction for around $15.

However in the time it took to have it delivered to my door steps, I managed to come up with an even better solution that didn’t require an Android device, nor the Hue Bridge Emulator.  I don’t know if anyone else had managed to figure it out before me, but there was no information (that I could find) that indicated it.  So either this was still unscouted territory, or someone got this working but not sharing the love.  So being a good Samaritan,  I found that it’s my responsibility to educate others on how I did it.

What You’ll Need

You’ll need to the following:

  • Google Home (about USD $50)
  • Broadlink RM3 Blackbean IR blaster (about USD $30)
  • Home Assistant (a free download -latest and greatest version is best) running on Linux or on a Raspberry Pi device. (I have not tried it on Windows, but it probably can be done as well)
  • An IFTTT account (cloud service- also free at IFTTT.com)
  • Some kind of dynamic DNS service (I use no-ip.com, but any will do fine)
  • and of course your IR devices AND their IR remote controllers (if you have lost them or broken them, then sad day for you, as you’ll need them to teach Broadlink how to control your devices)

Now, I am not going to go through the specifics on how to install and setup Home Assistant.  There are PLENTY of videos and tutorials on how to do this.  I will only show how to set up Home Assistant as it pertains to getting Google Home to communicate with the Broadlink RM3 Blackbean.

I am going to go under the assumption that you know how to, or already have done the following:

  • Set up port forwarding on your home internet router
  • Set up dynamic DNS (duckDNS, no-ip are a couple of free dynamic DNS services)
  • You have setup and installed Home Assistant, and have a fair understanding on how it works and how to edit the YAML files.

So if you haven’t done these things, or don’t know how, again, there are PLENTY of videos and tutorials on how to do this, so bookmark this page and come back when you are ready.

 

Let’s Get Started

First thing you want to do is point your Home Assistant Server to the Broadlink (going forward, I will refer to the Broadlink IR blaster as just “Broadlink” as there are many incarnations of it)  I am using the RM3, but RM1/RM2 and Pro version “should” work too.

To point your Home Assistant the Broadlink, you’ll need to open the configuration.yaml file and enter the following lines:

switch:
  - platform: broadlink
    host: IP_ADDRESS
    mac: 'MAC_ADDRESS'

 

Make sure that your syntax and spacing are correct, otherwise you will have problems restarting your Home Assistant server.  For IP_ADDRESS, you’ll need to enter the IP address of your Broadlink.  This IP address should be static, because if it changes, your Home Assistant server will no longer be able to talk to it.  I basically reserved an IP address on my router, so that if I need to reboot it, or if some cluts  trips on the power cable, it will get the same IP address no matter what.  Refer to your router’s user manual on how to do IP reservation if you don’t know how.  You’ll also need to provide the MAC address as well.  On Windows, arp -a at the command line is your friend.  You’ll need to restart your Home Assistant server for the changes to take affect.

Home Assistant Setup

Now, go into Home Assistant and click on the services icon on the bottom left of the page.  It kind of looks like a TV remote control. You’ll then be taken to the ‘services’ page.

Click on the down the down arrow within ‘services’ and you will given a list of all of the services available.  You’ll need to choose ‘broadlink.learn_command_IP_ADDRESS’ (where IP_ADDRESS is the address of your Broadlink.  This tool will allow you to capture the IR signal code from your devices’ remote control.  You’ll need these codes to ‘teach’ Home Assistant how to control your device.

Next, click on the “Call Service” button.  This will put your Broadlink into “learn mode” and a little LED should light up indicating that its ready to learn the IR code. If your Broadlink doesn’t light up, you’ll need to check your IP address or MAC address setting within your Home Assistant’s configuration.yaml file.  If you are sure that the settings are correct, try using the Broadlink app for IOS or Android and make sure that the hardware is working properly.  If everything is working properly, the Broadlink should respond like this (see pic):

Broadlink LED indicator

 

If all is working well and your Broadlink is in standby mode, take the remote control for the device in question, and point it at the Broadlink, and press the button that you want want Home Assistant to learn.   If successful, the LED light will go off. Don’t press the button too long, otherwise you’ll get repetition which could be bad.

Next, you’ll need to go into  Home Assistant, and click on the “Overview” link on the left hand side. You’ll be taken to the Home Assistant default view page, where you should now see “Broadlink Switch” and “Received Packet” in one of the windows on the page.   You should also see a long string of seemingly random letters and numbers that may run off the page.  Something like this (see pic):

Captured IR Code

If your code is long and runs off the page, you’ll have be careful when copying it.  If you copy only part of the code that’s showing, your device will not behave correctly, so make sure you copy the entire code.   The way to do this is to place your mouse pointer BELOW the code, just above the “DISMISS” link, and highlight everything all the way up to “Received packet is:”.  This will ensure that the entire code is copied.   Then, you should paste into notepad first so that you can delete the extra stuff that you copied before pasting it into your yaml file(s).  If successful, the code should be fairly long and end in one or more “=” signs.  Here is an example of a code that changes channels on my TV:

JgDMAG44DQ4NKgwPDSoMDw0pDQ8MKg0PDCoNDg0qDSoNDg0qDA8NKQ0qDSoNKQ0PDA8NDg0qDQ4NDg0ODQ8MKg0qDQ4NDg0PDA8NDg0qDA8NDg0ODQ4NKg0ODQ8MDw0ODSoMDw0ODQACmG43DQ4NKg0ODSoNDg0qDA8NKgwPDSkNDwwqDSoNDg0qDQ4NKgwqDSoNKgwPDQ4NDg0qDQ4NDg0PDA8NKQ0qDQ4NDwwPDQ4NDg0qDQ4NDg0PDA8MKg0PDA8NDg0ODSoNDg0ODQANBQAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA==

As you can see, it can get very long, so make sure you copy everything.

After, you have edited what you copied to notepad (so that you only have the IR code, you’ll need to copy the code into your yaml file.  There are several ways you can do this depending on how you want to activate and control your device, but since the end game for this tutorial is so that you can send a voice command to your device via Google home, I will show you how to create a script to do this.

Teaching Your Home Assistant New Tricks

The next step is to create a button within Home Assistant so that you can control your device with Home Assistant.  This part is very essential, because if  Home Assistant doesn’t know how to control your device, neither will Google Home.

You will need to open your scripts.yaml file.  You can also put this in your configuration.yaml file, but if you have a lot of devices with a lot of buttons, then your configuration.yaml could become very cluttered very quickly, which will make it difficult to troubleshoot and mange if there is a problem.

I guess the best way to explain how to put this into your scripts.yaml file is to show you a sample of what I have.  Below is the IR (infrared) code for the power buttons on my TV and DVR.  Since my DVR acts as the the tuner for my TV, I want them both to power on at the same time, so I put the IR code for both the TV and DVR under the same entity:

tv_dvr_on:
  sequence:
  - data:
      packet:
      - JgD+AW44....
      - JgDMAHI5Dg8....
   alias: TV and DVR Power (on)

Please note that I have truncated the IR codes because they are super long and would take a half a page each.  This is just to give an idea as to what a script for a button may look like. This is what it looks like in my text editor:

script yaml entry

This is what it looks like in my front end interface:

TV Power Button

Once the scripts appear in the front end of your Home Assistant, the next step is to test it.  Click on “Activate” next to your switch to send the command to your device to see if it controls your device.  If it didn’t work, the problem is likely with the IR code.  The best indicator is to see if the the LED blinks on the Broadlink.  If it blinks but your device doesn’t do anything, you’ll need to recapture the code.  It took me a few tries to get this right.  If it doesn’t blink at all, then there may be a syntax error somewhere, or the Broadlink doesn’t recognize the code as a legitimate IR code.  You need give it few tries.

If your button worked then we can move on the fun part -getting Google Home to call the script using your voice command!

However, before you start, there are few prerequisites.  Unless your internet provider gave you a static public IP address, you will need to create a dynamic DNS account.  Basically what this does is assigns a name like yourserver.duckdns.com to you.  This name is then mapped to your public IP address, so instead of having to remember a long series of numbers like 192.100.203.101, you simply have to remember your DNS name.

Now the other catch is that unless you are a business hosting your own on premise website, or are paying a lot of $$$ for premium service, you are most likely provided a dynamic IP address by your internet provider, which means that your public IP will changes periodically.  For IFTTT to work, it will need to know where to find your Home Assistant server at all times.  In order to do this, you’ll need to subscribe to a dynamic DNS server (most are free for their basic package -if you want something more customized and personal, then there’s a charge).  The service will then most likely require your to download and install a small piece of software on your OS to send updates to the DNS services, which will remap your public IP to DNS. And every time your public IP address changes the software will update the DNS service with your new IP address.  This is essential in that if you don’t do this, then eventually IFTTT will not be able to send commands to your Home Assistant server because its public IP has chnaged, and everything will stop working.

Another thing you’ll need to do is to create port mappings on your home router.  Most routers will have this functionality. A few may not, so definitely check!  Port mappings are a way for your home router to direct requests from the internet to specific web-enabled servers, devices, or services on your home network.

In this case, you want to tell your router that any requests coming in on port 8123 or 443 (if you are using https), needs to be sent to homeassistant_ipaddress:8123 or 443.  If you know how to do this, then proceed, otherwise look for some tutorials on how port mapping works and how to apply it to your home router.

If you are not clear on any of this, then stop here and learn more about dynamic DNS services and port mapping or port forwarding and how they work otherwise nothing else will work right.

 

If This Then That

If you ever did any command line scripting or any programming using BASIC, then you’ll feel right at home with using IFTTT.  An IF/THEN statement is a conditional statement that exists in most programming languages, and IFTTT has simplified it so that that even non-programmers can do simple conditional statements.  In other words, IF something happens THEN do something.  In this case the IF is going to be your voice command to Google Home, and the THEN will be the activating of the of the corresponding script that you created earlier, and that you’re going to link with IFTTT.  Example, if I say, “Ok Google, turn on my TV”, IFTTT will send a command to my Home Assistant server to activate the “turn on the TV script” and then the magic happens.  As I said in the beginning of this write up, I scoured the net for a device or service that’ll link Google Home with Broadlink and this is it! Sounds cool right?  Let’s get started then.

Firstly, if you haven’t already, you’ll need to go to ifttt.com and create an account. This takes about 2  minutes and its really easy.  If you have a gmail or facebook account, then its even easier.

Next, you’ll need to enable both Google Home and Home Assistan to communicate with IFTTT. To do this, edit the configuration.yaml file to point your Home Assistant server to the right IFTTT account.  To do this you’ll need to enter the following lines:

ifttt:
  key: xxxxx-x-xxxxxxxxxxxxx

To get the key, you’ll need to do the following:

  • Login into you IFTTT account (if you haven’t already)
  • Do a search for “Webhooks”.  This is basically an applet that makes API calls to specified systems or services.  In this case, your Home Assistant server.
  • Click on the Webhooks applet
  • Click on Settings in the top right corner
  • scroll down a bit and under “account info” you’ll see a URL like this:

 

 

 

The last portion of the URL is your key. Copy it and paste it next to “key:” in your configuration.yaml file. Save/check/restart.

Next, you’ll need to link the email account that is associated with you Google Home account to IFTTT.  You do this by doing the following:

  • Click on the menu on the top right corner and select “settings”.
  • Scroll down a bit and you’ll see an option to link to a gmail account.  Click on it and enter the same gmail account that you used for Google Home.

 

Creating API Calls from Google Home to Home Assistant Using IFTTT

Next is the part that brings it all together.  First thing you are going to do is create the condition or the trigger that makes the magic happen.  You do this by doing the following:

  • Within your IFTTT account, click on “My Applet” at the top of your screen.
  • Next, click on the “New Applet” button on the top right of the page.  You should now see this:
  • Click on “+this
  • Next you’ll need to choose from a choice of services.  In the search field, type “Google” and you see “Google Assistant” as one of the choices of services.  Click on “Google Assistant”.
  • Then, select “Say a simple phrase”

 

This is where you are going to enter your voice command.  If you want Google Home to turn on your TV for example, you’ll enter what you want to say here. For example, you could keep it simple and say “turn on the TV”, or you can mix it up and say something like, “it’s show time!”  You are given three different ways to tell Google Home to turn of the TV.  Theoretically, you could create a lot more phrases by creating multiple applets, but for for the sake simplicity, we’ll keep it down to just three.

Next, you’ll enter a response that you want Google to say back.  Example, you can have it say, “Ok, powering up the flux capacitor”.  Here’s what my applet looks like.  As you can see, I have chosen to keep it simple and boring.

Once you are satisfied with your commands for Google Home, next you’ll need to link it up with an action you want Home Assistant to take.  To do this, do the following:

Click on “Create Trigger” to save the conditional.

  • Form the screen below, choose “+that”
  • From the next screen, do a search for “WebHooks”:
  • Click on the Webhooks applet.
  • Then choose “Make a web request”

Now, this is where things can get a bit complicated for some, but if you’ve already successfully completed all of the steps above, then it should be very easy and straight forward.  In this applet, you are going to tell IFTTT to send commands to your Home Assistant so that it can operate Broadlink to send the proper commands to your device.  Here’s how to do it:

When you open your “webhooks” applet you will need to fill in the fields needed for IFTTT to properly send commands through your router to you Home Assistant server.

In the URL field, you will need to enter the public URL (DNS name) of your Home Assistant server followed by the port number. If you are not using SSL, the default port is 8123, otherwise you would type https: instead of http and no port number at the end, as https generally uses port 443 by default. You’ll type the path were the api hook is, followed by the command, then your api password of your Home Assistant server, if you have one.  (The api password is set in the configuration.yaml file.)  So the URL should look something like this:

Example: http://yourserver.example.com:8123/api/services/script/turn_on?api_password=your_password

Under method, you’ll be using the POST method.

Under “Content Type”, select Application/JSON (the screenshot above is incorrect)

Next, you are going to point the Webhook applet to your script.

Within the “Body” field, you’ll type the following:

{ “entity_id”: “script.your_script_name” }

where your_script_name is the name of the script you created.  If you have forgotten you can easily find this by going into the services page in Home Assistant and finding the script name in the right plane.  You can then simply copy and paste it replacing “script.your_script_name”

 

When you’re finished populating all of the fields with the CORRECT information, click on “Create Action”.

Optionally, you can choose to have IFTTT send notification to your mobile every time the command is used, but it can get grating after a while so I suggest not using the notification feature.

 

And that’s all there is to it!  You should now be able to say, “Ok Google,” give your command, it will magically happen!

One thing about IFTTT is that it’s not exactly screaming quick nor accurate.  Sometimes it can take up to five seconds to process a command.  But my personal experience with it has been good.  On average it takes 1 to 3 seconds to process a command.  Sometimes its pretty instantaneous, while other times it doesn’t work at all, and I would have to say the command again.  I assume that IFFT will get better and faster as time progress and more people sign on to it.

There’s another similar service called “Stringify”, that is more accurate, faster, and MUCH more easier to use.  The only issue is that it currently supports far less services.  I am currently experimenting with their version of Webhooks called “Maker”, but it’s been hit and miss.  I figure that it was due to my lack of knowlege and not the service itself.  Hopefully I can get it to work, because its much easier to configure, but for now, IFTTT is the go to app for me.

Happy Googling!

Police Harassment

Author: mirai  //  Category: Life in general, Rants and Raves

With all of the events happening in the States with the police brutality, I am somewhat thankful that Japan is relatively safe, and I don’t have to deal with all of that.   But with that said, foreigners are not exactly free from harassment.

I have been stopped, questioned, delayed, and racially profiled for no good reason other than the fact that I am not Japanese on several occasions now, and its always the same excuse from these clowns….we’re just trying to prevent crime.  Yeah right.  The Japanese police aren’t known for being the righteous squad, often being in the headlines for corruption and committing public nuance and indecency crimes themselves.

Yesterday during my lunch break, as I was trying to scout a place to eat during my break, a police car with two officers slowly rides up beside me.  As this was happening, I began to think oh no, here we go again…here comes the endless line of questioning.  Where are you from?  Where are you going?  Where do you work? Do you have ID on you? etc. etc. 

I came up onto an intersection, and as I was about to cross the street, the officers in the car turned left in front of me, so I stopped.  At that moment, the police car also stopped and police officer in the passenger seat, rolled down his window and stuck his head out… here we go, I thought.  He gave me this really odd and creepy smile and waved me across.  I hesitated for a second and proceeded to cross the street, but as I did this, the patrol car moved forward as well, so I stopped and signaled to the passenger to just go ahead, but he kept signalling to me to go ahead.

At this point I was getting annoyed and suspicious.  I looked up at the traffic light to see if it was still green to make sure that I wasn’t giving them some kind of excuse to stop and detain me as they usually do.  I had the green light and so did he, but since I was a pedestrian, I had the right of way.  But I decided not to go forward because these guys were obviously trying to get me to do something so I would arouse suspicion.  I stopped in my track, crossed my arms to give them a clear indication that I was  seriously annoyed at them.

So here we were, both playing chicken at the intersection, both refusing to move.  All I wanted to do, is to just have a nice quiet, uneventful lunch, and it appeared that that wasn’t happening.  So, instead of crossing and risking getting stopped for some stupid made up reason, I started to walk back the other direction.  It was only then the officer rolled his window back up and proceed.  What an asshole!

As I read the news today, I found yet another story about police brutality in the States.  Although the police are a bunch of racist, perverted, drunken assholes in Japan, at least they don’t beat or kill innocent people, so I guess the situation  here is not as bad as it could be, but it sure is annoying.

 

Found an old friend (wrist watch from the 80’s)

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Life in general, Rants and Raves, Techie Stuff

In my previous entry, I talked about looking for an old Alba watch that I had when I was in elementary school.  It was an Alba/Seiko Y749-5030A.  After scouring the internet looking for someone who may know where I could find one, I lucked out and came across someone who happened to be selling the Y749-5020A. It isn’t the exact same model that I owned but functionality-wise, they are pretty much identical.  The only real difference aside from the color, is that the 5020A comes in a 50 meter water resistant casing as opposed to the 100 meter water resistant casing that the 5030A’s have, and they come with a metal bracelet instead of the silicon watch band.  I prefer the silicon over the medal bracelets, because bracelets not only feel heavier, they don’t fit as well on me.

I decided to bid on the watch anyway, because I figured that this would probably be the closest thing I will be able to find to the model that I use to have.  It was in excellent shape.  As a matter of fact, like the Person’s watch that I bought a few weeks ago, it was a dead stock, which means that its pretty much brand new and never been worn.   The seller was selling it for about $60 USD which is an excellent price considering that they use sell for nearly twice as much back the days.  i know this, because the watch came with the original Alba price tag still attached.  I didn’t want to spend too much over the $60 asking price, although I had the option of ending the auction early and winning the watch, if I spent $10 more.  But I decided risk it and waited the 2 days for the auction to end.

While waiting for the auction for the Y749-5020A to take its course, I did some research on the Y749 movement, and found that it was used in many different model watches.  I could have spent a lot less and settled on another used Y749-5000 series Seiko watch, but it wouldn’t be quite the same.  After all, what I am really looking for is the Y749-5030A, which seems to be much more rare and elusive than the other Alba models.

I also was able to find out that the movement inside Person’s watches are also made by Seiko and based on the V701 movement which are used in MANY Seiko and non-Seiko brand watches, which was somewhat of a surprise to me, although I think I may have known this and had just forgotten.    This particular movement seems to be so common that they are still being sold today.   Since I gutted an old Person’s watch that I had cannibalized to repair a very old watch that owned since high school, I now have a shell available that I can pretty revive into a working watch.  So I went onto eBay and bought a new V701 movement for about $21 USD (including shipping to Japan).  Once it arrives, I can repair the Person’s watch and I will then have 3 Person’s watches.  I might even paint it a different color so that I would have the same watch in 3 different colors.

After two days of waiting, the auction finally came to an end, and I was the winner.  Being somewhat of a rare find, I was a bit worried that someone might outbid me at the last moment, which would have been heartbreaking, and I contemplated paying the extra $10 so that I could end the auction.  But I decided to take the gamble, and it paid off.  So now, I own an Alba Y749-5020A.  It brings back so much memories from my childhood, even though its not quite the same.  One thing that I immediately noticed is how compact this watch is.  The Casio TS-1200 thermometer watch is also pretty small and compact, but look noticeably larger than the Alba.   I will continue to search for the Y749-5030A  in the hopes that I will be able wear the same exact model watch I had as a kid , but the 5020A is still a great find.  And being able to hear that cricket-like alarm again makes things all the better.

 

 

Reviving an old friend (my favorite watches)

Author: mirai  //  Category: Life in general

When I was a kid, I had an affinity for wrist watches.  I’ve owned MANY of them.  Usually, anytime I would go to Japan, I would have my mom or grandmother buy me a new watch.  I can remember one of my very first watches, which was an Alba/ Seiko chronograph sports watch.  I got it when I was nine years old, and  I seemed to recall that it was about $80 USD, which was a lot of money for a wrist watch, especially for a nine year old.   I LOVED that watch, because the alarm sounded really cool.  It somewhat resembled the sound of a cricket, or the door alarm on most modern Honda cars.  It was cool because it it was water resistant to 100 meters, which was equivalent to many expensive diver’s watches sold at the time.

 

I also loved it because it had 4 function buttons.  Being a nine year old, I thought that the more buttons a digital watch had, the better.  My 10 year old best friend at the time seemed to agree because he owned a Casio which only had 3 function buttons and deeply envied my Alba/Seiko.

 

I owned that watch until probably about my first year of junior high school.  I use to wear it 24 hours a day: in the shower/ bath, when I went to bed, when I went swimming….absolutely everywhere.  Eventually the rubber gasket on the watch back gave away and water got into it, rusting the movement inside.  I was very sad by this and wanted another one just like it.  But unfortunately, they discontinued that particular model, and Alba/Seiko where carrying only the metal bracelet version on that model which I didn’t like.

 

The next watch I got to replace my Alba, was a Casio TS-1000 thermometer watch.  This watch was super cool in that it had a bar graph thermometer built into and it was also water resistant to 100 meters like my old Alba/Seiko.  This watch was the predecessor to the current G-Shock models, yet it was not big and gaudy like the G-Shocks.  It was very light weight, compact, and easy to wear.  The only drawback was that it only had 3 function + 1 adjustment button, and the alarm wasn’t as cool as the Alba/Seiko.  Instead of the cricket like sound, it was a boring beep-beep sound.

For some reason, I am not sure what happened to my TS-1000.  I don’t know if I broke it (which is unlikely, given that I am usually pretty good with taken care of my belongings) or if I lost it.  But shortly after returning to the States from Japan, I seem to recall it going AWOL under unknown circumstances.

 

When I went back to Japan the next year, they had replaced the TS-1000 with the TS-1200.  Basically, aside from the graphic thermometer being curvy, the functions remained pretty much the same.  I did like the TS-1200 a bit more though because of the curvy bar graph thermometer.  I kept the Casio TS-1200 for several years until it wore and broke for pretty much the same reason why my Alba/Seiko did: worn rubber gasket causing water to get into the watch and rusting the movement.

 

Before my first year of high school, I bought my first watch on my own.  It wasn’t a Seiko or Casio, nor was it a digital watch.  It was a very plain looking no-name analog watch made by a Japan Domestic Market-only fashion brand maker called “Person’s”.  The watch was branded as Person’s model F-B, other than that, the watch maker is pretty much unknown. There was nothing too particularly fascinating about this watch, other than it looked cool..at least to me it did.  It was a plain Jane round faced analog watch, but instead of  numbers on the faces, it had world flags.  For me, this was what was the main cool factor.  It also kind of looked like an expensive diver’s watch with the adjustable gold colored bezel, and it was also capable of being submerged to 100 meters.  Aside from being a no frills, single function watch, it was the most expensive watch I had ever owned at the time at a mind blowing $120 USD.  And like my previous two watches, I also wore this absolutely everywhere.

 

This watch lasted the longest of every watch I have ever owned.  Although the silicon band gave out pretty early and had to be replaced several times over it’s lifetime, The watch lasted  over 20years of hard abuse.  It eventually gave out over ten years ago, but I kept it around in the hopes that someday I may be able to fix it.

Since the old days I have owned many different types of watchers from Swatches, Fossils, and Honda Racing PIAA racing watch, all of which I still own but don’t carry quite the same fondness that I had for the above mentioned 3 watches.

 

This drove me to do a search for the other model of watched that I owned, like the Alba/Seiko and the Casio Thermometer watch.  I found both the TS-1000 and TS-1200 on eBay, and they looked to be in excellent condition, so I decided that I had to have one.   The watch was in like-new condition, but the seller was selling it for a bit more money than I wanted to spend: $150 which is more that it was brand new back in 1982, so I offered a cheeky $95.00 instead and amazingly the seller agreed to give me a whopping $55.00 discount.  A few days later it arrived in pristine condition, and I loved it.

 

Now in full nostalgia mode, I decided to pull out my old gold bezeled Person’s flag watch and see if I could get it working again.  I popped open the back and it looked to be in pretty bad shape.  The rubber gasket had fully perished, the copper elements had corroded and turned green from moisture, and the watch stem had rusted and broken in half.  Amazingly, after replacing the batter, it started ticking again, but the hour hand no longer moved.  Most likely this was due to a rusted or perished gear.  I was truly saddened that this watch that had been with me for nearly 3 decades was in such tired shape, but I didn’t want to just throw it in the bin.  Despite it’s simplicity, and somewhat mundane appearance, it’s still a really good watch.  So I looked on the net to see if there was anyone selling the same model, in the hopes I may be able to scavenge some parts from it to get mine working.  In the process, I found two.  One was a used model that had an ugly green band, but was in good working order.  The other seemed to be brand new, still in it’s box and also had red hands and bezel, but with a cool black and red stitch band.  Of course, I bought both.  The new one for my collection, and the used one to cannibalize to revive my  old 30 year old friend.  After I got the used flag watch, I inspected it, and it was in excellent mechanical condition, and it only cost $30USD.  It was in such good shape that it was almost shameful to pull apart.

 

I completely removed the movement from the watch casing and began the transplant.  The hands on the donor watch was red so I attempted to swap them for the gold hands on my watch so that the hands matched the bezel color.  This operation was tedious and I wound up damaging the very fragile and tiny second hand.  I order a replacement which I am waiting for in the mail as I write this.  After about two hours of fiddling with the tiny watch parts, I managed to complete move of the newer movement into the old 30 year old casing.  After closing up the casing, everything worked again as it did when I bought it nearly 30 years ago, minus the second hand which I will replace later.

 

So I now, own 2 of the 3 the watches I had previously owned during my childhood, and I am on the hunt for the Alba/Seiko.   Unfortunately, I had a feeling this is going to be somewhat of a hunt as this watch model is pretty rare.  It’s based on the Y749 movement, which several models of Seiko, Alba, and Pulsar watches where made from, and I only have a very fuzzy picture from a catalog I found on the internet to go from.  I would even settle on the Alba Y749-5020A model which is looks to be the more expensive 50 meter WR version of it.  I would only accept this model because it comes in a very cool black and red color scheme which is my favorite.  So if you are reading this, and know where I can get an Alba Sports chronograph watch model Y749-5030A (black with a white inner bezel) or the Y749-5020A 50 meter version (black with red inner bezel), please let me know in the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Tachishon” -What we shouldn’t be teaching our kids

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Comic relief, Life in general, Politics, Rants and Raves

 

I have been in Japan for nearly 20 years now, and still, not a day goes by where something doesn’t shock or amaze me.  And today is no different.  But before I go into my rant over the event that shocked and amazed me, I will need to give a bit of some background info into the culture of child raising in Japan.

 

In Japan, there is this weird and frankly very disgusting culture of urinating in public.  Of course, many people here find it to be a lewd and completely repulsive habit, but at the same time it has been accepted as social norm in this country.  As a matter of fact, many parents even go as far as encouraging (yes…ENCOURAGING) young boys to pee in public.  When little Taro wants to go pee, usually the mother (yes MOTHER…keeping it real) who would escort the boy to a nearby bush, wall, or ally -or even sometimes right out in the open for everyone to see, pull down his pants, and encourage him to pee shamelessly while others watch.  Go ahead Taro, mommy’s too tired (and lazy) to take you to a restroom and teach you the proper place to urinate.  Fast forward 30 years, and now this young boy is a middle aged man who thinks it’s okay pee anywhere he sees fit, like a stray dog marking his territory, because that is what he was taught to do.

 

A few years back, I remember reading this story about a man who had urinated in the same elevator at train station EVERY DAY for nearly six months.  He had caused over one million yen (or ten thousand US dollars) damage to the elevator after it corroded beyond repair.  Can you imagine having to use that elevator and the unbearable stench it must have created?  The funny part is that he had the nerve to dispute the cost of the repairs in court, siting that many of the urine-damaged parts should have been recycled.   If I were the judge, I would have given him some jail time in addition to several months of community service for being a public menace.

 

You may be thinking that this is an extreme case, and perhaps it is, but I can also testify that urination in public is a regular occurrence.  If you don’t believe me, I would be happy to escort you to the ally next to my grandmother’s house which was apparently a favorite peeing venue for those who would drink at nearby pubs and bars, and wanted to quickly relieve themselves outdoors.  Fortunately, those pubs and bars have gone away over the years, but the rancid odor from past patrons still exists.  And on any given night in Shinjuku or Shibuya, its almost a certainty that you will see a drunk or perhaps sober man urinating in public somewhere.

 

So by now you are probably wondering what this event is that’s got me up in arms.  Well, tonight as I was walking home from work, and hiking up the long flight of stairs leading up to our neighborhood Shinto Shrine, I heard an election campaign van for Masako Shirai, a local assembly person for the Japan Communist Party (I kid you not -this is real), blaring her name and campaign slogans from the loud speakers on the top of van.  Not knowing why this van was even parked there, I was initially pretty irritated that this woman would make such a racket in #1. an otherwise very quiet and uneventful neighborhood, especially so late in the evening, and #2. parked right in front of a Shinto Shrine.  I am not a religious person, but I do take offense to those who disrespect a sacred site such as this.  A lot of people take that Shrine pretty seriously and to disgrace it with noisy campaign rhetoric spewing from loud speakers is pretty deplorable and disrespectful.

 

As I got to the top of the stairs, I spotted the van immediately and walked towards it.  I wanted to tell the people who were campaigning in that spot to move to a different location because they were obviously disturbing the peace.  The loud speakers were really that loud.  But as I got closer to van, I immediately noticed that no one was in it.  The repetitive campaign slogan and the calling out of Masako Shirai’s name was on tape which was infinitely looping. Arg!  What a major annoyance and no one to complain to about it, I thought to myself.  I looked around the van, and at first it appeared to be completely abandoned despite it running with all of its lights on, and the loud speaker going.

 

As I came around to the other side of the van, that’s when I spotted HIM.  A small little man who appeared to be in his 60’s or 70’s wearing a Masako Shirai campaign jacket facing away from me and towards a pile of leaves in front of the Shrine.  It was quite obvious what he was doing, so I waited until he was finished.

 

As he finished up and pulled up his pants, he turned around and spotted me standing next to the campaign van.  I glared at him in anger, and before I even said a word, he began apologizing profusely.  I pointed to the Shrine, and explained to him that little kids play in the very spot he just urinated on.  I also told him that he was repulsive and that a man his age, wearing a campaign jacket, and driving a campaign van that endorsed a public official should be ashamed of himself.  I then pointed to a life sized picture of Masako Shirai that was plastered on a large sign on top of the van, highlighted by no less than 10 spot lights, and asked the man, do you think she would approve of you defacing my neighborhood and a religious monument.  He bowed deeply and again apologized profusely.  I then told him never to come to this neighborhood again EVER, or I will write a very lengthy letter to Ms. Shirai  and perhaps her opponent, about his actions tonight.

 

He crawled into his van sped off quickly in shame.    I didn’t want to be so hard, but I was genuinely irritated that this man would drive into my neighborhood and just pull down his pants and pee -disrespecting our local landmark which is respected by many of the residents in our neighborhood.  I hope it teaches him that we are not his toilet and to think carefully the next time he has the urge to relieve himself in a place other than a toilet.

Whitney

Author: mirai  //  Category: Life in general

It was a Sunday.  I had just just woken up at around 10AM and trying to get myself out of bed.  I figured that I would go down to the kitchen have some sausages and eggs and spend a nice quite uneventful day watching TV or doing whatever.

Buzzz!…my iPhone letting me know that that I have mail.  Ugh!  Mail from work, no doubt!  Dammit!  It’s a fricken’ Sunday and I had work the day before.  Can’t a guy get any rest around here?  I stared at the ceiling for minute or so, trying to postpone the inevitable -reading my email and perhaps having to work from home, or worse yet, go into the office.   Buzzz!  Okay! Okay already!  Picked up the iPhone and saw the tragic news on the screen in bold white letters across a dark blue background. OMG!  Whitney Houston is dead!

I wasn’t particularly a huge fan, but I did like her music.  The news kind of hit me the same way that the news of Steve Jobs, Heavy D, Amy Whinehouse and Joe Frazier’s death hit me a few months earlier.  A brief moment of shock and disbelief, then an odd sense of acknowledgment:  Steve Jobs -because he had been sick and recently resigned as Apple’s CEO,  Amy Whinehouse -because she was known for her substance abuse, and drunken on stage escapades .  Joe Frazier -well, maybe because I have it in my head that all fighters die relatively young, plus he was like 66 years old.  Heavy D was more of a surprise because he was pretty young, but somehow I had it in my head that he was still overweight and that perhaps that was the cause of his death.  The real cause of death turned out to be a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in his lungs).  Whitney Houston ranked in between Amy Whinehouse and Heavy D on my shocked and stunned meter.  My immediate armchair autopsy reveal the cause of death to be substance abuse, but of course it could easily be something else.

I remember the first time I heard Whitney Houston’s music.  It was the summer of 1985.  I had just returned to the States after spending a month visiting my cousins and other relatives in Japan.  I was severely jet lagged and could not sleep, so I spent most of my nights watching all night music videos on TV.  Back to the Future was the biggest movie that summer and the music video for Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News had just ended.  I was about to turn off the music channel to play some video games that I had bought in Japan when opening bars for You Give Good Love started playing.  For some reason, the first few notes of that song always grabbed my attention, even to this day.    I sat and watched through the entire video and thought, what an awesome song!  What an awesome voice!  But what really caught my attention the most was the way Whitney looked in that video.  She didn’t look like your typical 80’s pop star.  Mind you, my image of the typical ’80’s pop star was tons of makeup and ridiculously big hair.  She might have fit into the big hair category, but she looked very ordinary and at best, cute in that video.  Not overly done or overly  sexy, but cute, for the lack of a better term.  I really liked the look and the song; they were very refreshing, and for music in 1985, very different.  She was definitely ahead of her time because that song could have easily been a hit in 1990 or 1995 or even 2000, not like the other songs of that time, where you would think, oh, that’s so 1980’s! A lot of her music was timeless.

Since that night, I always looked forward to seeing that video.  And I totally blame Whitney Houston for making my jet lag last over a month that summer, but it was all good and a lot good memories.  She was a nice change from Madonna and Cyndi Lauper who were on TV constantly that year.  Of course, as the course of time progressed, Whitney Houston changed her looks several times (sometime in a single video) and at one point did look very 80’s, but her music was always remained iconic and different.  It was what I listened to when I needed to really unwind.

So yes, we’ve lost another icon, but her music will live on as well as her legend.  Rest in Peace W.H.


Fast Tube by Casper

 

Ladies and Gentlemen…WE GOT HIM!

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Life in general, Politics, Rants and Raves

And its about time too….  Way to go Obama!

 

One Month Later

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Disaster, Family and Friends, Life in general, Rants and Raves

Its been just over a month since the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami shook Japan and claimed over 13,000 lives (and counting.)   Although almost everything is back to normal in terms of transportation and electricity, life in Japan has changed quite a bit since.  The Japanese government is claiming that they have removed and destroyed contaminated crops and livestock, people are very cautious about buying anything produced in the northern areas of Honshu (the main island) due to the spreading of the radiation.

Supplies are slowly returning to the stores; it’s still a bit difficult to find 2 liter bottles of water in my area because people are still hoarding despite the number of messages from the government and ad councils telling people to be more considerate and only but what they need.  My local liquor store always seem to be in supply of water because they have a 2 bottle per family per day limit, which is very smart, although they must have a hard time controlling that.  If people have the strong desire to hoard, they’ll find some way to do it despite the local policies and restrictions.

Electricity has been on constantly in my area (knock wood), but that could easily change when the summer heat hits and people start using more electricity to cool their homes.  I conscientiously try to limit my use of power around the house.  I even contemplated shutting down this blog server, but decided to keep it up and running because it has been a very effective means of communicating to my family, friends, and relatives who read it.    Internet has been the only reliable means of communication during times like this, as mobile networks and land lines tend to easily get flooded by people frantically trying to get through to people in earthquake stricken areas.  As long as electricity stays up, I should be able to communicate to the outside.

As for the radiation, so far it has only effected us a minimal level.  As I mentioned earlier, people are being more cautious about where their food comes from and not drinking from tap water whenever possible.  The Japanese government is now saying that the power plants could take several months to a year to deactivate, which means that it could (probably will) continue to spew harmful radiation into the ocean and atmosphere.    Although thoughts of permanently leaving Japan has crossed my mind, it is a lot easier said than done, because I am so deep rooted here.  It would take take a lot of time and effort for me to relocate elsewhere….time and effort that I am not quite ready to commit just yet.

It’ll be a very long time before we are fully recovered.

A Small Sense of Normality

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Disaster, Life in general, Rants and Raves

Its been 17 days since the big earthquake, and there have been literally hundreds of subsequent earthquakes since.  We even had an earthquake early this morning, but of course it was no where close to be being as bad as the one on March 11th.   Sometimes I feel the building shaking even when the building isn’t shaking.  Even little rattle, every little sway makes me think we’re having another earthquake.  But even with all of this, I feel that a small sense of normality is returning.

I no longer have to take taxis and the bullet train to work (although I did kind of enjoyed that).  I am able to find small bottles of water here and there, and there is no real shortage of food.   My area doesn’t seem to be too effected by the schedule power outs.  Although I am grateful to have electricity on tap 24/7 (or at least when I am at home),  I would be more than happy to do with out if it meant that it would help someone else out.  Right now, I only use the dining room lights with a single LED light bulb to conserve electricity.

The hoarding and the glutenous behavior still continues, which saddens me.  I wish that people would realize that there are people and small who rely on stuff like fresh uncontaminated water, yet they still buy water and milk by the case, and I still see empty shelves at the supermarket.

But the one thing that makes me sick the most is the whole Tokyo Dome fiasco.  For those who don’t know, Tokyo dome is a huge indoor sports arena located in Tokyo.  It is often used to host night events like big sporting events and concerts.  The Tokyo Yomiuri Giants baseball team was suppose to have their opening night game there this week, but several people as well as government officials protested that they should really consider canceling in consideration of the current power outage situation.  However league owners say that they will only merely postpone the game, and will eventually hold an indoor game with full lighting sometime within the next few weeks.  I don’t understand why there is a need to have a night game in an indoor arena.  Baseball is an outdoor sport that is intended to be played during the day.  And guess what?  If you have the game at an outdoor stadium, or even in a plane Jane ball park, people will come!

I don’t think these people will ever understand unless their electricity is shut off for several hours day..sad and childish indeed!

 

In the Midst of Chaos

Author: mirai  //  Category: All Posts, Disaster, Life in general, Rants and Raves

It”s been crazy, to say the least. It’s amazing how one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, can become a third world nation overnight. No food or water at the stores, long lines to get supplies, power rationing and scheduled outages, no gas, public transportation crippled during peak hours, and bone shaking aftershocks in the middle of the night currently sums up the situation now.

Japan has gotten a lot of praises for being a nation of model citizens in times like these because there has been no violent crimes or looting, which usually takes place after major disasters like this. As a matter fact, there have been reports of vending machine owners opening up machines and handing out free drinks to people to help out. For the most part, I agree that Japan is a very admirable nation in that respect. However, there is one thing that Japan is extremely guilty of which is really starting to affect the many, and that is hoarding.

Within 12 hours of the first M9.0 earthquake, it became absolutely impossible find bottled water ANYWHERE.  It’s wasn’t as if buildings crumbled  and that the water was shut off (at least not in my area), and yet people here felt compelled to run to the super market and hoard.  I agree that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, it is important to reasonably stock “enough” food and water so that you can survive a week or two, but there are bounds of reasons for everything.  Buying out whole shelves of milk for example is completely illogical and irrational.  Milk is a perishable food that cannot be stored for long periods of time, so whoever decided to stock milk is a complete idiot and just made it difficult for everyone else who really needs it.

In addition to food and water, people are also hoarding fuel.  This has caused public transportation to stop or limit their services in may areas.  What really makes me upset about this, is not only the fact that people are taking more than they need, but they needless waste it.  Case in point, on the way to the airport yesterday to pick up family, I was overtaken by so many people needless speeding (going speeds exceeding 130km/hr) when they should be conserving fuel.  Another case in point. one of those cars that overtook me was a Lamborghini Diablo.  REALLY? a Lamborghini during a time when people are lining up 2 to 3 hours to get gas…REALLY??   Some people just don’t get the graveness of this situation.

Transportation has been steadily getting worse, because the company that owns the troubled nuclear power station in Fukushima prefecture, started rationing power to different areas of the country, while other areas are left completely without power for 3 hour blocks.  Being a very power hungry nation, Japan highly depends on electric power to run its vast network of commuter trains.  Without these trains, the nation is pretty much crippled. People are unable to get to work or home, traffic lights cease to function cause mass gridlock on the roads, and homes are without heat and electricity for several hours at a time.

Luckily for me, I live in an area which seems to be exempt for the schedule outages.  I am not sure what the reasoning behind this is, but I am not complaining.  Some have speculated that its because there’s a large community of senior citizens in this area, including senior citizen homes, so a three hour outage may cause too much grief and hard-aches among the elderly.

Unluckily for me, I depend on the bus system to take me to the station every morning, and this morning I found a sign at the bus stop saying that they were limiting service from today.  I had no choice bu to take a taxi to the station everyday last week.  Admittedly, it was pretty nice to be able to take a taxi to the train station and then the bullet to Tokyo where I work, but I would  trade that just to regain a sense of normality.