Category Archives: Misc

Where have I been all your life?

Y U NO RITE?

I’m back in Finland and Joona is busy “sliding east” so if someone hasn’t noticed it yet, this blog is on hiatus until further notice. Updating will resume whenever something truly interesting happens. In the meantime, for those interested in the adventures of random Finns in Japan, I redirect you to our friend Tommi’s blog about livin’ it up in Nagoya (Also found under the “Links” section).

-Antti

Reclaiming ‘Nerd’

Man, it’s good to be a nerd these days.

I recently had one of my pseudophilosophical meditation moments and came to think how hard it would be to have to hide or downplay a part of your personality continuously. In particular, I’ve been intrigued by the people I know who still feel the need to avoid talking about their more nerdy pastimes in order to avoid ridicule, or at least in order to believe being able to avoid ridicule.

I don’t think nerd is an all-encompassing term. It can be used to characterize a certain amount of interests, hobbies and attitudes towards things, but I fail to see how, in its present usage, it could ever include all the traditional negative meanings the word supposedly implies. I like to use nerd as a quick description of myself, and then later elaborate on as to what about me actually fits within that definition. Nerd is so loosely used nowadays that it really doesn’t mean much on its own. To some, simply knowing what a motherboard is will be proof of nerdhood, while others will require you to have been a part of the cabal and have glasses repaired with duct tape.

Personally, I’ve been extremely lucky throughout my life to always have found friends that shared some of the same hobbies and passions as I did. I was never bullied at school, and was never a recluse or even anti-social despite being a weirdo. Disclaimer: I don’t think weirdo has a negative connotation either. Partly because nobody has ever, to my knowledge, stamped the term nerd on me as a viciously negative label, to this day I utterly fail to connect it to the pool of detrimental personal traits. Again, I have been extremely lucky in this respect.

It really happens

Even as a kid, I clearly identified the things I enjoyed, and those I didn’t. Through sheer coincidence, I always received enough support around me to be able to relish my hobbies without being afraid of people not liking me. Or being able to effectively ignore those who did. Granted, I always did other things to complement the nerdy stuff. I’ve always liked sports, and immensely enjoyed football, basketball, floorball and every other team sport we played at school. This allowed me to avoid being profiled as something or other and let me fully enjoy all aspects of whatever struck my fancy.

During the France years, I don’t remember anyone ever ridiculing me over playing video games or studying, which is what I did most of the time. I liked those things, and everyone else seemed to readily accept that fact. Back in Finland in ’98, one of the first things I noticed at school were how getting good grades could get you criticized and badmouthed. This felt weird at the time; the experience at my school in France had been abundantly different. Either the shift was culture-related, an extension of Finnish jealousy, or the same thing would have happened wherever I had been at that age. “Someone is better at school, let’s make him feel uncomfortable.” That sentence did not specifically apply to me.

In the last years of primary school in Finland, I managed to gather a group of friends around me who generally enjoyed the same things as I did, something which allowed, among other things, for my general nerdy nature to flourish. We created a self-sustaining circle of people large enough to support each others’ non-conventional hobbies and shield us from the criticism of others – or at least make it less poignant. I was properly shielded. As long as there were other people who accepted what I did and liked to do, life was relatively easy.

Joona and I attended a couple of Java programming courses at the university of Helsinki at ages 14 and 15, respectively. Despite being called boy geniuses by a friend’s dad, the boy couldn’t keep up with the genius. While Joona attentively listened during lectures and passed both courses with the highest grades, I mostly slept in my seat, wrote down funny quotes from the lecturer and failed both classes. I’m pretty sure not everybody at school was pleased with us leaving two times a week during normal classes to go to the university, but I was absolutely oblivious to whatever comments may have floated around behind our backs. Sometimes it pays off to be socially as blind as a bat.

© Penny Arcade

My life in this fluffy duffy Turingian world of charm continued well beyond the age where I was old and confident enough to stand by my beliefs and fields of interest no matter what other people around thought about them. In high school, during military service or at the university, it has come as a surprise to nobody that I’m a nerd. It’s not something I shove down people’s throats, but I’m not trying to hide it either. Why? Because I’m proud of it! I have things I like, and I like liking them. Either deal with it or don’t deal with me. If someone thinks less of me because I like computers, video games and comics, they either need to be educated slightly on the issues or, if that fails, they can fuck off for all I care.

My closest group of friends still comprises mainly of the people I got to know during my primary school years. The sense of security and acceptance derived from such a close-knit group of friends allows for a very strong sense of self-esteem – even bordering on arrogance in certain situations.

As an interesting anecdote, we got a reminder a couple of years ago of how some people, especially those young and confused enough to still look for their place in society, have a tendency to interpret the word nerd as an insult.

It was probably 2008. We were playing Mölkkygolf, a Big Bang Theory-like but purely Finnish sport, in a public park, during a warm summer night. When I say night I positively mean night, not evening. After a while, a cohort of drunken teenage mutant ninja turtles girls strolled past us. While most of them were wary and preferred to keep their distance to a gang of older weirdoes who were throwing wooden blocks towards other wooden blocks in the dark, one girl was intrigued by the admittedly crazy looking game. Whether this interest was genuine or purely alcohol-induced is hard to tell. Actually it’s not hard to tell at all. The latter. Concerning the obvious questions as to what the hell we were doing in a park at this time of the night without copious amounts of alcohol (we only had a few beers), our immediate answer was that “we’re nerds, it’s what we do”. Since that one girl wanted to try the game, we quickly explained her the rules, the basics of which she never properly grasped, and thus she partook in our Mölkkygolf match for a few rounds until eventually growing tired of it.

Upon leaving with her merry friends, she shouted back in our direction: “You’re not nerds! You’re actually really nice guys!”, as though those two things were mutually exclusive.

Without a second of reflection, I retorted – and I wasn’t the only one: “Of course we’re nerds!”

Befuddled, she quipped with one last fading cry from the distance: “What!? So you want to be nerds!?”

Yes. Yes we do. That’s who we are, and we like it that way.

-Antti

Not Fasth Enough

This spring has been a good spring for Finland, and me, when it comes to ice hockey. Naturally, I’ve also experienced the frustration of being on the other side of the world when all the good things have happened. Last night, the Finnish ice hockey team won the IIHF World Championship for only the second time ever, after losing finals in six different championship tournaments (Olympics and World Cup included) between 1995, year of the last championship, and 2011. In late April, HIFK, the only group of burly men I’ve ever called myself a fan of, won the Finnish championship after a 12-year drought. You had to be there. I fucking wasn’t. And as an additional bonus that only I give two shits about, we will get at least one Finn as a Stanley Cup champion in June. Sounds like a moderately good hockey year for Finland. But let’s get back to the IIHF World Championship.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dll9THt4Vgs

After a very satisfying win over the Swedes in the final, the country erupted. A score of 6-1 helped right all wrongs that our Western neighbor had inflicted upon us in the rink during the years, and people partied all over Finland until dawn. This shows how much unparalleled joy was drawn from winning, and serves as a premise to the following rant.

Äbäwäbä näin kolmelta aamuyöstä

What really grinds my gears is that some people feel an obligation to criticize the significance of the game, of the tournament, and of the victory. They somehow feel it is important to analyze ice hockey from an international perspective, and point out how this actually means nothing and everybody should calm down and go to sleep.

It’s true that ice hockey is a relatively insignificant sport internationally. Less than a dozen countries realistically compete for the championship, which, to trivialize it even further, is held every single year. In addition to this, the best players in the world have often little interest or possibility to join the tournament. The NHL playoffs are still ongoing, with arguably the best teams and players still competing in North America. Even players whose teams never made the playoff phase are either injured or find it very difficult to find motivation to play in a yearly tournament after playing a season just short of 100 games (pre-season included). Even Teemu Selänne has stated that the reasons given when opting out of national team duty are often just excuses. These are the facts. I don’t argue against facts. I argue against idiots.

Some besserwissers, often Finnish football fans, feel the need to point out how, objectively, we should not give a fuck about the IIHF World Championship. “Why do Finns get so excited about a sport that only a few countries play?” “Stop the hype, the tournament is worthless!” “There are so many sports that we neglect and instead concentrate on stuff that nobody else in the world cares about, like ice hockey, ski jumping and javelin throw!” I remember my basketball coach 15 years ago telling me that there are more registered ballers in Spain than there are hockey players in the world. He made the statement to prove a point about basketball being meaningful, whereas hockey supposedly wasn’t. I disagree.

What's not to like? © Mika Ranta / Helsingin Sanomat

Choo choo, here comes the clue train, last stop is you

Sports are not something that people can forcibly try to enjoy just because they’re internationally popular. Might as well tell a Finn not to enjoy salmiakki (or even better, Salmiakkikossu) because nobody else in the world does either. Countries and cultures have their own traditions, games they’ve played for decades or centuries and that the locals happen to be interested in, no matter how much they are bashed on the head with ridiculous slogans to the contrary.

Should all countries strive to only play and follow the internationally important activities, like football? And how do you measure importance, anyway? By prominence per country times amount of countries? By the amount of money circulating in the major leagues? By the amount of registered players worldwide? I bet cricket and ping pong would score pretty high on the latter. I haven’t really heard anyone complain how Finns don’t concentrate more on cricket.

And let’s suppose all governments made an effort to promote sports directly relative to their worldwide notoriety. Smallish, nationally and culturally relevant but internationally obscure sports (sumo anyone?) would slowly fade, and in the end we would be left with football & pals. How exactly would this achieve anything positive?

In general, I hate the widespread football vs. ice hockey mentality going on in Finland. Unlike some, I fail to see it as a zero-sum game. Why would enjoying ice hockey somehow be detrimental to football? Football is big, but we suck at it. Ice hockey is small, but we’re good at it. Personally, I like both games. Promoting football in Finland is certainly something I’d like to see increase. However, the key to that certainly is not to cry a river over everything ice hockey.

History will be made. © Yle

I know the world is global and international, but ignoring all locality in a field such as sports is beyond ludicrous. Finns are often internally accused of trying to suck up to other, larger countries and constantly wondering how others see us. Isn’t downplaying the importance of ice hockey, to us a nation, just an extension of this sycophancy? “Let’s play what everybody else plays, then people will respect us!” How about we just keep on playing a game that others don’t care about and be proud of it. Never mind the tournament, never mind the players, in 2011 our team won!

People get emotionally involved in sports even though they’re not actually responsible for any of the events that unfold on the field. The first purpose when following sports is to draw enjoyment from something that other people achieve. Rational thinking is thrown out of the window anyway. Why should we, as a nation, feel guilty about getting excited over a world fucking championship? Oh, wrong sport. And wrong championship. And too excited. Who the fuck decides these things? Despite all its shortcomings as a sports event, winning the IIHF World Championship Tournament is not entirely without merit, and even if it were, the only thing that matters is that people care about it. Watching sports, getting excited by sports and celebrating when your team wins is not a novel concept. If you can’t accept that, just pull a hood over your head and flee to the mountains.

-Antti

The author is a dead sea monkey and ice hockey enthusiast

Defective Buyer’s Goggles

VR

Lately I traveled to Turku and back by train. To my astonishment, the trains were late only by roughly 5 minutes. I suppose that is an acceptable performance on a warm, sunny Easter afternoon. Anyway, what I did not agree with is the reason (or lack thereof) why it costs more to take the Pendolino train instead of the Intercity 2 train. Normally the Pendolino would be a bit faster (maybe 5 minutes on this distance) so the difference in price (like 15% more) would be somewhat acceptable, but now the online reservation system (which still cannot be used during the night) suggested that the traveling time would be the same no matter which train I took. Great.

Unfortunately I did not want to wait for at least two hours before the next cheaper train comes so I decided to hop on the more expensive alternative. So what was I paying for? My guess is that because the two types of trains are equally fast, one of them costs more. Or maybe I pay more to have the exquisite on-board WLAN capabilities and no possibility to transport a bike at my disposal. Sweet.

It gets better with differing regional tickets from long range tickets. To be honest, I do not even know if it is possible to buy a single ticket from Turku to the nearest train station to where I live (update: you can). If not, I have to buy another ticket, the regional one, which may cost quite a bit compared to the ticket I already had. Even though, looking at the trip on a map, I might have just passed the station I was going to. Ah, if only we were in Japan where it usually only matters where you get on and where you get off. That way passing one station and then going back would not result in a penalty. Sounds fair, right?

Bubble Bobble 2

One of my all-time co-operative favourites, Bubble Bobble, finally came a while ago to Xbox 360 as an arcade game. Of course, I bought the game, after reading a couple of assuring reviews saying that the same good old playability was still there and that the new version merely had new graphics, maybe extra music and perhaps some new and innovative gaming modes. If anything, I hoped the game to be like the good old versions of NES and Amiga.

However, what the reviews did not say (or pretty much lied about) is that the playability is nothing like it used to be. How can they even claim that? Not even having a million monkeys and enough time would make the game playable in any commonly understood way to understand the definition of playable. To be blunt, I would have rather burnt the money.

DRM

Ah, the wonderful ventures of software companies and Digital Rights Management. The idea is good (no piracy), but unattainable in real life: DRM with software usually just ends up bugging the Average Joe. Maybe the only way to get rid of this is to make it easier (users are lazy) to actually buy the product instead of using one’s favourite BitTorrent client and service to get it. Perhaps application stores that are tied to the operation system will provide an answer to this dilemma.

Now that Sony has some trouble with their Playstation Network, it seems that some people even have trouble playing their games offline on their own consoles. And that is partly due to excessive DRM systems. Not to mention Sony’s earlier achievements in making people angry. Anyone remember Sony’s rootkit-based protection system on some of their CD albums? The system was not only illegal but it also spawned new malware to abuse the holes left by the rootkit.

The irony is that pirates play the games and listen to the albums without ever noticing such minor caveats.

I probably need to start to wear my set of Imagination Goggles +6 to understand the full logic behind these business decisions. Or maybe they could ask me or any other possible customer next time? I know, it is doubtful, but I could gently point them in the better direction.

- Joona

Happiness Resule

Lesson learned: One should never buy second-hand shoes. About a month ago I spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon cycling to and around Kichijoji looking to buy some sneakers. The location was originally chosen because there was an Oshman’s next to the station, which I knew carried some items of interest. Instead, I got lost on the way – what a fucking surprise – and ended up going to a nearby Mode Off. Those who have read previous entries about Book Off should be able to sense a pattern here.

I think often of these lines, both when I am glad. I think of them when I am sad, because their rhythm teaches me that the timeless.

Besides enjoying some of the best Engrish pieces in a while, I also managed to find second-hand basketball shoes that a) fit me like a… glove? and b) only cost ¥1500. In retrospect, the price alone should have risen some suspicions on my part, but I was too naive and desperate to think clearly: my sports shoe dilemma had finally been solved and for only a fraction of the expected price. Turned out later that the problem persisted, and as an additional lesson I learned that second-hand shoes vendors are about as dangerous as second-hand car salesmen, though to a lesser financial degree.

I went on a trial run the very same evening to test how the shoes felt and how my right knee responded to strain. I got as far as a kilometer from the apartment before the increasing pain in my knee forced me to withdraw. During the depressing walk home, I realized that the feeling I was experiencing did not quite adhere to the image I had about what walking should normally feel like. It literally felt like bits of me were falling off with each step, which was partly true. The shoes, while having shown no issues when tested in the store or for the first kilometer of running, had begun disintegrating rapidly. I made a damage assessment at home and could hardly contain my disappointment when the results of my small excursion clearly indicated both that running is still a no-go and that I payed ¥1500 for the privilege of throwing a pair of old Nikes in the trash, the collection times of which are abhorrent. The previous sentence makes perfect sense. Read it again.

"What you've done is a perfect example of shoe... FRAUD?"

Two weeks after the incident I returned to Kichijoji, walked straight into Oshman’s and bought the Vibram FiveFingers I had been aching to try ever since a friend at Gaidai had run the Nara Daibutsu Marathon with that specific type of shoe. I was also projecting unrealistic expectations towards the FiveFingers putting less stress on my knee since they require a different, more natural (?) running technique.

Promotional picture. Luckily the colors are very neutral and fit_any_kind of clothing.

Until today I had only used them for walking and cycling. In these two areas, they definitely get the job done. Also people tend to stare at my feet now, which is an upgrade (or actually downgrade) from them staring at my face all day long. This morning marked the moment when I finally gathered my courage and embarked on a new test run. It ended up putting some extra effort on my leg muscles not only because I hadn’t run in four months but also because it’s not really possible to step heel first when wearing these things due to a lack of cushioning. However, I did survive the ordeal and rewarded myself with a nice bowl of tonkotsu ramen afterwards. Compared to the rubbish from Mode Off, I’ve been really satisfied with these shoes, for now. The only thing I’m concerned with is their lifespan. When used almost daily, I wonder how long these expensive footgloves can actually last.

-Antti

La complainte de l’heure de pointe

Cycling produces so many stories daily that it would kill me to report them all, but what happened on Thursday alone caused me to generate enough bile to be worth mentioning. It appears that unified regional elections are coming up in Japan, something which can no longer be ignored anywhere when traveling around. This is due to the fact that Japanese live in a world torn in two: In the world of balance nobody says a thing, and in the world of ruin all communication consists of yells and grunts. The vans that drive around the city with loudspeakers repeating the name of their supported political candidate forever are part of the fucking world of ruin.

My day started on a really bad note when I got stuck in traffic behind a slow-driving bullshit-spouting van just before arriving at work. I know that after what happened in Finland a week ago it’s just a pot and kettle issue but is there seriously any merit in campaigning by only raising awareness of a candidate’s name? Especially when the method raises irritation levels accordingly. “Ooh, a name! Sounds great! I’ll vote for that name!”

The part that completely destroyed me and almost made me fall of my bike was when I ran into three campaign assistants in my neighborhood later in the evening. Again, their sole purpose was to wave, smile, and repeat the name of their candidate in keigo while riding bikes. Only, this time, there was nobody out to hear them, which made into a spectacular performance in futility.

弱肉強食

I have alluded before to the fact that cyclists are essentially above the law in Japan, not entirely unlike Steven Seagal is in his movies. Traffic lights don’t apply to cyclists, and neither do car lanes. The pavement is essentially a no man’s land where survival of the fittest is the reigning life philosophy. While I take advantage of these characteristics all the time, I do take great pride in seeing where I’m going. I can’t stress how important this is. Many a day have I had the urge to yell at people unable to leave their goddamn mobile phones alone while cycling and who consequently swirl wildly in every direction.

Today, there was a different type of retard who just suddenly swerved from the pavement to the car lane without looking and almost run into me. The guy didn’t bother turning his head to see if there was someone coming from behind and, in addition, he had noise-cancelling earphones on. What the fuck? There are two senses needed to know what happens around you when riding a bike, vision and hearing. If you can’t bother using the former and just arbitrarily cancel the other, I am required, by law, to run you over. Why do people have to behave like tools?

Luckily, one cyclist managed to provide me with entertainment as well. As I was cycling home from my weekly Muteppou ramen dinner, I was overtaken by a policeman who was hauling ass on his bike. It was dark so obviously no front light – which is required by law – was needed. Clearly this wasn’t standard procedure, as only seconds later he burst into ongoing traffic and ran through a red light just to prove my earlier point. What I realized two minutes later was that he had caught up with a car and was reprimanding the driver about something or other. It didn’t really occur to me to pull over and ask for details.

Let’s recapitulate: He drove at the maximum speed his legs allowed with no protection or lights while breaking every imaginable traffic law within the time span, only to catch up with someone who had presumably committed a minor infraction. That’s either an incredible expression of diligence or a ridiculous attempt to exert authority. I’ll never know which, but in any case I couldn’t contain my laughter for a good while afterwards.

Update: JapanProbe also posted an article that proves I’m not alone with my opinion on the campaigning methods of Japanese politicians. One of the finest examples of drunken gaijin behavior.

-Antti

Suddenly, Ramen – Part I

I began compiling this post originally in mid-February, but never managed to properly finish it before something quite unexpected happened. This led to other things triumphing over the enjoyability of swallowing  wheat flour in different forms as a writing topic. By now I’ve managed to lengthen the original ramen compendium so much that offering it as one wall of text would be nothing short of disrespectful towards the readers.

This first post will concern the disappointments I’ve experienced when visiting a couple of the most highly touted noodle shops on the web. The shops weren’t on the web though, only the touting.

Ramen Jiro ラーメン二郎

Ramen Jiro, originally located next to Keio University in Tokyo, is an institution. It’s a place that I have planned visiting since I first began preparing a trip to Japan circa 2004, and if I opened, the ancient notepad file would still say something along the lines of “Jiro: Epic ramen place, gotta visit.” Right. Instead, 7 years later, it crushed my dreams. I’ll admit that I didn’t go to the original ramen shop in Mita yet, something I’ll have to do in order to confirm my doubts about the franchise and reach the ultimate status of food critic critic.

The one and only Ramen Jiro Mita Honten

My point is, that each and every ramen connoisseur (I hate writing that word because it feels wrong) whose report I have read so far have blogged about the Jiro experience as some kind of holy grail. In addition to fully explaining the eating procedures and acting like the go-to besserwissers in the field of gaijin ramen eating, they have without exception emphasized two things that I cannot agree on in a million years:

-The serving is huge and eating it is a challenge -> take it slow -> it’s like a marathon -> you might die

-The experience is beyond precedent -> best ramen ever -> worth the half hour + queue,  etc.

The bear is right. Listen to the bear.

二郎池袋

I will hereby debunk these exaggerations accordingly, starting with size. On my first trip, I went to Ramen Jiro Ikebukuro, hungry enough to eat a side of cow. I was starving at that point, and while the queue at the Ikebukuro shop was manageable, I still had to wait about 20 minutes before being able to enter the premises. That made me both angry and frustrated, leading me to contemplate ordering the 大 (large) serving, which, according to different sources, would be retarded. I was losing confidence in the normal size being able to satisfy my hunger but eventually put my trust in random internet writers and decided the standard size would probably be large enough.

Although I did order it with W 豚, or double pork, arguably the only positive aspect of the evening. Double pork, for the only time in Japanese history, adhered to the idea that there was actually meat in the food. I would estimate a good couple hundred grams of pork meat. No chashuu, just plain, boring, non-fat pork. I’d rather have fat than pork in there but actually being able to experience eating meat, as opposed to just being teased by the idea of seeing five grams of meat in the bowl, was a novel experience in a ramen shop. I also ordered the にんいくましまし (extra extra garlic) which basically meant that people in the same car on the train were not going to be very happy that night. Or the next morning.

Picture shamelessly stolen off a Japanese site until I can find mine

When I finally received the bowl, it became apparent that the serving was large for ramen shop standards, but calling it a challenge is a travesty; it’s an offense to ramen as food, to challenges as a concept and to me as a binge eater. I rolled my sleeves up, dug in and about 15 minutes later the bowl was on the counter, the table wiped clean and a tall gaijin sneaked out of the door full, but disappointed. I understand that the bowl might be tough to finish for a Japanese high school girl, but if eating is such an ordeal for self-proclaimed “ramen lovers” , I can only suggest for them to avoid Jiro altogether. Or eating, for that matter.

Off to the second point, taste. Boring. Just. Really. Boring. The broth was not up to par with some other とんこつ pork bone broths I’ve had, the garlic made everything taste like garlic, which was not necessarily bad, the pork was non-fat and bland and the noodles simply too thick to taste like anything. I knew beforehand that the thickness of the noodles could prove to be my demise as I don’t really get the point of udon or other tasteless wheat products.

The entire experience could best be summed up as nothing special.

二郎三田本店

Because of the elongated timeline during which this blog post has been written and in contrary to a paragraph further up, I did manage to go to Jiro Honten in Mita later on. さすが三田本店, it was slightly better than Ikebukuro. I once again ordered the double pork version but this time only a regular amount of garlic and あぶらましまし (extra extra fat) instead. I know the general expectations of Jiro shops never circle around cleanliness or hygiene, but I still failed to appreciate the fact that my bowl was overflowing with broth and fat in such a ludicrous way that my hands were dripping once I had moved the bowl down from the counter and to the table. They could probably use larger bowls.

The broth was tastier at Honten, which could be partly caused by the extra fat I ordered, the やさい (vegetable topping) did not only consist of sprouts but also included cabbage, and the pork was really fatty and tastier in general. Compiled thoughts about the Honten: The price is right and the food is enjoyable, but most of the hype is unnecessary and the 40 minute queue is hardly worth it more than once. The previous review still stands.

Tukumo

Another interesting and supposedly unique ramen experience was Tukumo in Ebisu, a ramen store renowned for their cheese ramen. Allow me to explain the premise: Cheese is my muse. Cheese is what keeps me happy in this world. Also, the left side of my brain is cheese, though the doctor may have made that one up. I made the doctor up. Lost my train of thought there, back to the story.

Anyway, in Japan, cheese is a rare commodity and by consequence, I’m constantly suffering from cheese busoku. I was delighted when I heard that there is a place bold enough to combine cheese and noodles into some kind of master dish that can shatter palates and destroy the minds of the weak. Imagine my disappointment when the cheese was only there for show and the miso-based broth tasted like nothing. The extra toppings (chashuu and aji tamago) did their best to compensate for flavor but were quite overpriced. For those who absolutely want cheese in their ramen, it’s either Tukumo or DIY, though.

Cheese? In my Ramen? It's more likely than you think!

While the above reviews may seem harsh and an unnecessary attack on two renowned ramen shops, I can assure that they are still both worth visiting, if only once. They merely do not live up to the hype in my books. And because the hype, especially concerning Jiro, goes to preposterous heights, I had to exaggerate accordingly the other way. Some internationally less known and better alternatives will be presented in Part II.

Ramen.

-Antti

The Hidden Art of Presentation

Today at work I had the opportunity to take part in our company’s quarterly kickoff meeting where the CEO tells us commoners about the current situation of the company. This includes, but is not limited to, refreshing our strategy, declaring new goals and objectives and further strengthening our commitment to the company’s mission and vision. Naturally, all workforce is present as this is such a high-scale event to graciously set us off on our next thee-month journey.

Anyway, being a relatively new company listed in the Nasdaq OMX stock market, we had the rare opportunity today to learn about different rules and regulations that deal with working in such a company. I thought, perhaps, I will actually learn about what harmonized disclosure rules and having inside information might mean in my case. In addition, having a break from dealing with customers’ possible problems (or rather, specified features depending on the interpretation) with our software product was a welcome breeze of change during the day.

The man responsible for this ground-breaking lecture introduced himself as a director from a Finnish authority that is responsible for regulating stock exchange in said stock market. My hopes were high at this point, him being an expert on the topic and me knowing nothing much on the subject. I was certain that he was well prepared and had most likely given the same lecture to thousands of people before. And knowing the usual quality of presentations given at any corporate events I have attended so far, it could not be much worse than those!

But no. Right during the very first few seconds I realized my hopes had cruelly been trampled upon. There they lay, bruised and battered. To say the least, I felt ashamed and flustered at the same time as I was listening to the man giving his speech about what I thought to be his daily topic. He clearly had too much nonsense stuffed in his 45-minute lecture consisting (originally, as he reminded us) of 88 slides. He skipped back and forth, repeated himself over and over and even went so far as to casually belittle himself to try and shred off even the last drops of credibility that still lay there somewhere. 10 minutes into the lecture I hoped to be back in my cozy corner dealing with server errors. I could have learned more in 5 minutes by reading the rules and regulations summary instead.

I wonder what the underlying problem really is. It is not impossible to not add every word you are going to say to those PowerPoint slides. Granted, it is tempting, but hey – why not even try doing it differently for once. Giving excuses for the presentation’s quality while giving it is in my opinion nothing short of unacceptable. And even if the material is bad, the presentation does not have to be, right? Perhaps there was something else involved, like maybe telling the man 5 minutes before that his time would be, what, one third of what it was originally going to be. Even then there would have been too much nothing. Instead of merely wasting time, we would have also been bored to death. And while I am at it, always use a remote controller to switch slides and have a goddamn laser pointer at hand! Is this not common sense?

Today’s man in black is unfortunately not the only one guilty as charged. I see this happening every time. Even our official presentation slides – the ones shown to our potential customers – have so much text I could not even begin to fathom who bothers to read them. Is the point to just have the slides play their little game somewhere in the background? I would rather use no slides and a chalkboard instead! I understand that in the world of universities and knowledge, scientific publications and qualifications come first and not every professor is an able speaker. But why does this happen in the corporate world as well? There are plenty of courses available at different universities or commercial organizations on how to communicate or give presentations. If that is a no-go, then have someone else do it. Even if I do not like giving a speech, I would definitely and absolutely really strive to make an effort to make it worthwhile to listen to me. And why purposefully undermine your own credibility while giving the presentation? That is beyond my comprehension.

Finally, all of this made me think of the costs incurred to any kind of company having such wonderful learning opportunities. Let’s make a quick assumption that on the average an hour of any kind of work would be billed at the rate of 100 euros per hour. Thus having 100 persons present for one hour would cost said company in terms of lost income at least 10 000 euros. Somehow, I see a point in having an expert work his ass off at making that one hour’s education not only excellent but almost damn perfect. Talks of reducing costs and improving on efficiency mean little to me if the savings can so easily be out-weighed. Why not pay a qualified lecturer 5 000 euros instead to actually get the most out of it?

All in all, I did learn a few things about the topic of the lecturer. And in the end (after the notorious Thank you slide) he had reserved some time for questions which proved to be a whole lot more educating than the presentation itself. To sum these up for my own future reference:

  • key phrase of the day was “relevant impact on investors’ qualified opinion on the value of the company”
  • inside knowledge is any knowledge or information that could affect the situation described within the key phrase
  • rules and regulations must be followed precisely and they are strictly enforced
  • disclosures have to be simultaneous and well-distributed
  • any information regarding the key phrase should be made publicly available without delay
  • any publicly listed company should have some kind of policy on how to deal with the above

Over and out. Time to sleep.

- Joona

Medium Tank

As I was rummaging through Japanese news trends at work today, I came across a couple of interesting articles concerning the consequences of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and reports thereof. Again. Indeed, time is not yet ripe for me to post a wall of text about ramen, so I’ll rather use this post to provide some food for thought to outside observers.

I accidentally stumbled upon Gakuranman who had, to a large extent, published what I have been thinking and repeating to nearly everyone during the past three weeks:

“…The foreign press was scrambling for anything they could get, plastering the headlines with emotive words and shocking pictures. Fear mongering over the possibility of a repeat Chernobyl was rife as well as doomsaying about nuclear fallout over Tokyo, 200km south of the affected area. Misinformation about the units used to measure radiation levels began to spread, quickly overshadowing the plight of the people in the stricken areas of northern Japan. Even previously respectable newspapers seemed to be gripped by sensationalism and unable to report the basic facts needed to keep people free from worry. Many expats living in Tokyo and other areas left the country or moved further south due to pressure from relatives and embassies.

Something amazing was happening on Twitter though. Those of us in Japan and able to understand Japanese noticed a stark contrast between the relatively calm Japanese media and foreign press. We began translating live press conferences of the Chief Cabinet Secretary and linking to official radiation readings posted by Tokyo Electric Power Company. People with an understanding of nuclear radiation pitched in and started fleshing out our knowledge on the subject and others went into the stricken areas to volunteer at the shelters. A team of citizen journalists had assembled and were disseminating information that was not only factually correct, but balanced and peer-reviewed. A far cry from the exaggerated coverage by many professional journalists and in some cases, reporting that bordered on the unethical.”

I disagree with the last sentence, however. Most of the Finnish reporting that I saw during the first week following the catastrophe wasn’t even borderline unethical. Or journalism. There was a line in the sand somewhere, but they couldn’t even see the sand. Reporting professionals had moved out of the sand and gone into another region altogether.

Why not have a séance? Why not go mad?

I was able to identify myself with all of the actions mentioned above, from translating live press conferences to moving south due to company pressure. This was particularly important to me at a time where I’m beginning to doubt myself over my own attitudes vis-à-vis being scared shitless. After reading this article in the Yomiuri Online, it seems clear that being paranoid is the popular way to go:

“…Because of all this, I am now seeing patients visit my consultation room saying they are worried about radiation.

One said, “No matter how much I wash my hands, I can’t shake the worry that they might be tainted with radioactive substances.”

“I felt nauseated after drinking tea made with tap water,” another said.

In one extreme case, a person had been refraining from deep breathing out of fear of inhaling radiation, and they panicked after feeling a pain in their chest.”

Maybe those people aren’t wrong after all. Maybe I should forget everything I know and get frightened of everything for no rational reason whatsoever. I don’t think I could, though. There’s something wrong with my brain. I am utterly unable to make the connection between something that is not happening and what it might not cause in the future. If you stop breathing now because of the fear of radiation, you will most likely die sooner from the lack of oxygen than you would from thyroid cancer later on in life. Then again, if you follow Fox News, you might as well think that Fukushima is in downtown Utah. Parodia on mahdotonta, koska he tekevät sen itse.

But to mirror and expand the feelings of both writers quoted above, I think it is ludicrously selfish of people who are fine to project their paranoia around at a moment where actual people are in real peril. There is a difference between being worried about your family who was possibly swept away in a tsunami three weeks prior and being far from the epicenter, in perfect health, worried about a potentially large number of some radioactive unit you heard on the news and could not possibly comprehend.

On a lighter note, the situation in Nakamurabashi is becoming dire. Granted, chashuu was 30% off, but the supermarket at the station had now run out of both natto and beer. I long for the comfort of the grave.

-Antti

Stories of Old

I was able to get the old “Somewhere Far Beyond” blog back online. Although nobody really cares about, oooh, earthquake!