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Ceterum censeo… » Japan

Ceterum censeo…


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  • Michael's Blog
  • Michael's Curriculum Vitae

  • Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 24

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 25


    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 20

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 22

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 24

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    04/25/2013 (6:25 pm)

    Photo archive: lost ninjas

    Filed under: Japan ::

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    Digging through some old photos, I found this one.
    koka-lost-ninjas.png

    Because lost ninjas is hilarious…


    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 24

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 25

    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 20

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    03/06/2010 (3:16 pm)

    The Leaky Pool

    Filed under: Personal, Japan ::

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    In my more visual moments, I imagine professional engagement as a pool. It’s a rather mystical metaphor, so naturally, it’s a rocky pool, high in the mountains somewhere, in the depths of a forest, surrounded by ferns and moss. A pool with hidden objects that cause the random eddies so much a part of the way I think. A pool which is by turns refreshing, nurturing, murky, overgrown, full of unseen slimy things, and fundamentally mysterious.

    The pool itself is fed by rainwater, underwater springs and other streams. To move from metaphor from applicability to analogy, it’s fed by the workplace culture, the passions of those who contribute to the professional commons, and the bloody-minded tendency of people to engage which absolutely anything into which they put significant effort.

    From this pool comes the streams that turns the turbines that power work. This is what makes people do something more that phone it in. These streams create solutions that can be by one or more of wide ranging, creative, and even effective. And depending on the environment, these streams change from trickle to torrent to waterfall.

    Of course, a critical observer might wonder what sort of a rocky mountain mountain pool has an underwater spring which isn’t a stream. Or what sort of an isolated mountain pool powers a turbine? The clear answer is: “Shush, you git.” (A well read observer might note a similarity to other metaphors, such as, say, a bank, to which I answer “I said visual, not intellectual.”)

    The pool has an odd combination of fragility and robustness. At root, it’s the result of a happenstance combination of rocks, dirt and dead things, that happen to form a bowl. The water is ready to run away at any moment. The outgoing water is readily diverted, into new streams, or dribbling away into the ground. And should one of the base rocks moved, the whole pool breaks, and the pool drains away. Pushing the metaphor, maybe the pool reforms later, if the rocks fall right. A different pool, possibly smaller, but possibly bigger.

    As an unrelated note, have you ever noticed that professionalism is right at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

    This would suggest that it’s a bad idea to ask someone going through a protracted moving process to take on challenging work. A much better idea would be to put such a person on tasks well within capability. Let them bed down into their new home. Then, after a couple of months, they’d be ready to deal with some of the more difficult challenges that present themselves in software development general, and exacerbated for large projects.

    Forcing the water to flow, well, that’s a tricky one. Certainly, external pressures can force water out of the pool, for a while. But you run the risk of people starting to think things like “Is this my problem?” or “Why do I care?” or even “Is this a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?” Nothing destroys a metaphorical pool like a few misplaced rhetorical questions.


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    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 24

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 25


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    12/28/2009 (9:52 pm)

    Stick a fork in me, I’m done

    Filed under: Japan ::

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    And here it is… my time is up. It’s the last day in the office. In a couple of hours, I’ll hand in my pass, walk out the door, and have nothing more to do in Japan. Well, except get out of the country, get back to Sydney, get a home, and get back to work.

    Stats:

    • 345 working days in a Japanese Office
    • 191 project related issues
    • a six figure project investment (best guess)
    • 2.57 GB personal archived material
    • 2401 archived project emails in 589 folders
    • 10 flights between Nagoya and Australia
    • 13 (14?) excursions around Japan
    • 4040 km driving in Japan

    Accomplishments:

    • There’s a number of SDLC milestones that have been reached while we’re here, and I had some involvement in some of them. Test planning was one I was most involved with. Getting the Australian development team running as well.
    • Understanding an alternate programming world view. There’s a whole different set of assumptions here, which changes a lot of the imperatives which drive Australian IT.
    • There have been a few times when I’ve been able to explain things to people in Australia, and then seen them explaining things to other people. Very rewarding.
    • My kanji comprehension progressed to “decoding”… not really reading, but able to get the sense from most sentences after some study. (This was certainly progress, but… I have decidely mixed feelings here.)

    Regrets

    • I haven’t learnt Japanese. Specifically, I can’t hold a conversation. I was so bloody confident about my plans, and they turned out to be bollocks. Well, sort of. It’s like I was insisting Beta was better well into the late 80s. While I learned some things, the opportunity cost turned out to be huge, and I didn’t learn the right things. I got bummed out and fell off the study wagon a few months ago, and haven’t gotten back on since. Far and away, this is my single biggest regret about my time here.
    • I don’t feel like the work I’ve done here has been noteworthy. There’s the whole fish out of water thing, sure, and I’ve done what I can. I just feel like anyone could have done the things I’ve been here for. (In fairness to myself, a) I’m here to observe rather than do, and b) I tend to feel that way most of the time.)

    Learnings:

    • I’ve got an accent. Who’d have thought it? In fact, it turns out that not only do I have much more of an Aussie drawl than I’d realised, I also have a mish-mashed culture of idoms and expressions, ready to confuse the unwary.
    • A certain degree of tolerance of other viewpoints.

    Memories of Oddities

    • The paperwork required to take photos in the office.
    • Japanese climate control. Who thinks that 25 degrees is a good temperature for a train?
    • Occupational Health and Safety reports warning on the dangers of papercuts.

    Admirable Japan work practices:

    • Estimation of development effort. Estimates were produced within one week of specifying requirements, and they seem to have been remarkably accurate - well below 10%. This was prompt enough to give users feedback for scope control. This rapid turnaround of estimation was easily the most impressive software development practice I’ve seen.
    • Experience premium. The experienced staff have been in the same domain for 10 years or more. They know how the systems work, and what’s going on. What’s more, there is a clear progression of younger staff getting that experience. Building this background is a part of the corporate culture, not an accident of history. Australian workplaces with key man risks would benefit.

    Annoying Japan work practices:

    • Those dammed affirmations.
    • Half sided nemawashi. Nemawashi is the process of sharing an idea with everyone before asking for a decision. It’s a combination of informing stakeholders, seeking advice and building support. It’s a good thing to do, but it’s often limited to the the explicit customers. Which is not my group in Australia… Australia is the customer’s customers.
    • When all you use is Excel, the whole world looks like a grid. And it’s not even a spreadsheet, it’s a grid. Imagine using grid paper to make sure a hand written document lines up nicely.
    • The software development I’ve seen has been heavily prescriptive, with everything that implies. There are valid reasons, though, and they don’t have anything to do with software development.

    Things I’ll miss:

    • Iced coffee, available at any vending machine.
    • Internet connections… 100MBps, no download limits, for about twenty dollars a month. There were cheaper options available that still beat Australian premium plans.
    • Japanese fashion. Hair and outfits in particular. Where Western fashion tends towards a natural appearance (with notable exceptions), Japanese fashion is deliberate to the point of contrived, and undiscerning to the point of incongruous. And it’s just a common part of going around town. I consider it the same as long hair on women… I know it’s a lot of work, I wouldn’t (*cough*didn’t*mumble*) do it myself, but bless them for putting in hard yards.
    • Having so many things to do and see… travel, festivals, events, and generally different experiences all over.
    • Making shit up. I’m particularly proud of the Australian fire beetles, which absorb heat from the sun during the day, and release it at night, and have been known to start fires. Some seasons they get into city buildings, making the summer in the city extra hot.
    • Being a foreigner.

    Things I have missed:

    • A variety of foods… Bread that isn’t white bread. Yoghurt. Curries with more than 2 pieces of meat. Steaks.
    • Having people understand what I’m saying when I go off on a rant about something. (Actually, even in Australia, people don’t always understand my ranting, but at least they understand the words.)
    • Not being a foreigner. (It’s complicated.)

    Resolutions:

    • I do intend to resume studying Japanese. This time it will be with a focus on sentences from both business and entertainment sources. First though, I need to regain a desire, rather than feeling obliged not to waste the sunk costs.
    • It has become clear to me the importance of an active engagement when moving to new areas. I believe this is the reason I enjoyed Nagoya more than Sydney. So on the return, I’m intending to engage more. At this stage, I don’t really know what this means.

    Conclusion:
    It’s been hard.
    It’s been good.
    It’s finished.
    I’m ready to go home.


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    12/21/2009 (7:25 pm)

    Affirmations from the Company Man

    Filed under: Japan ::

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    In general, the Japanese are just like any other people, and the workplace is comparable to workplaces all over the world. There are differences, sure, often noteworthy ones, that make for interesting cultural notes. But there is much more that is the same than is different.

    That said, let’s talk about some differences.

    Affirmations are Fun.
    The Company Loves Affirmations.
    Keep your Affirmations Handy.

    Periodically, an A3 sheet will be passed around, with everyone invited to make a comment about how they support the theme of the month. The final sheet is hung up on some handy wall for the next six months or so. Delightful, no?

    Everyone make ECO Friendly Actions!
    The Power is Ours!

    I’m fairly sure that the sheets are never looked at again… but the company plays a long game. It’s possible that there’s a warehouse filled with filing cabinets somewhere, which every affirmation ever made, back to Taiichi Ohno (pioneer of Just In Time manufacturing) and his commitment to consider his health when drinking.

    Drink Driving is a Guilty Sinful Crime
    Drink Driving is Naughty.

    These things really annoy me, for a number of reasons. There’s the implication that I need a prompt to stop being a menace on the road. The completely unnecessary intrusion into non-work issues rankles. The childish nature of the exhortations is also a factor. Mostly, though, it’s simply none of their beeswax.

    Reduce Calories so Team can Win Prizes!
    The prize was a picture of the Japan Skiing Team.
    (By the by, this last one is for a calorie reduction contest. Everyone filled in whether they ate more or less than the target calories for the day. Points were awarded for everyone who stays below the target. Extra points are given if everyone is below. Given that calorie counting is such a toxic meme, this one really bugged me.)

    My responses have progressively been…

    1. “really?”
    2. “… uh, ok.”
    3. did not meet targets (regardless)
    4. “No.”

    EDIT: Updated HTML with a missing apostrophe, so some missing paragraphs and a picture show through.


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    12/17/2009 (10:41 pm)

    The Incident of the Failed Fax

    Filed under: Japan ::

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    The following events are a true story. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

    It was a late Tuesday afternoon - the sort of day that makes you wish it was another day. The office shuffled along it’s daily course, like a spinning top in the office. I was immersed in miscellaneous paperwork. The Chief was taking a call, just like any other call. The words drifted around, merging with the background of office noise, protected by politeness, preoccupation, and incomprehension.

    It all seemed pretty quiet. But, you know, Lady Fate can be one spiteful dame, and she was brewing up a mess of trouble for me.

    “Michael, Ang, can I speak to you?” We looked, surprised by a tone of sharpness in the Chief’s voice.

    “Yes.”

    “Sure”

    We quickly gathered our notebooks and scurried to the briefing desks. The Chief sat down, a grim expression on his face. Ang and I shared a quick glance, wondering what was coming.

    “I’ve just been on the phone with Customer Service department. They handle incoming calls. Is either of your address… ‘Kakuozan, Otanacho Trentesept’?”

    Not what I expected. What was coming? I raised a hand. “Yes, that’s me.”

    Beside me, Ang relaxed. Fair enough. Clearly, I was on my own here. No reason to bring anyone else down with me. I tried not to wilt under the bright fluorescent lights of the office.

    “Did you send an international fax on October 13th?”

    “er… I might have… well, yes, I did send a fax to Australia around then.” I couldn’t work it out. What was going on? Should I have obtained approval before using the fax?

    “The fax was sent to the wrong number.”

    Clearly, I was out of options. Time to step up and take it like a man. “That probably was me. I tried to dial out, but wasn’t sure which numbers to use, so I guessed a couple of times. I figured if it was wrong, the odds were it wouldn’t go through. I guess I was wrong.”

    “The gentleman has called the Help Desk and complained that he was bothered, and that all his fax paper was used up.”

    “…” I wasn’t sure if it was ok to smirk. My face may have reached its own conclusion.

    “He would like an apology and replacement fax paper. I think probably he will not understand English, so I will go to him and apologise. But you may need to come along with me. I will let you know.”

    “Really? Where is he?” I’m sure my jaw hadn’t dropped. The Chief would be sent out to apologise in person for this?

    “I don’t know… the phone number is 052, so it seems somewhere in Nagoya.”

    “Oh.”

    “Please be careful when sending faxes. This is not the first time it’s happened in Toyota. What makes it worse is that IS have been asking other departments to be more careful.”

    “Oh.”

    “So please be careful when sending faxes.”

    I pulled myself together. “Ok, of course… so how much does fax paper cost?”

    “I think he is not so much worried about the paper. He just wants to give Toyota a hard time.”

    And there things broke up. It seemed I’d scraped through. I shrugged to myself, and returned to the day’s work.

    But Fate’s spiteful work wasn’t finished. I should have known it’s rarely that easy. Half an hour later, amidst more phone calls, the Chief asked for the number I’d used. A few minutes later, we were back at the desks.

    “Will you ever need to send a fax to this number again?”

    “Well… probably I won’t, but they could…” I stopped equivocating. “No, I don’t think so.”

    “I have been talking some more with Customer Service. They have been reviewing the call tape, and… hmmm… I don’t know how to say this… do you know the word ‘yakuza’?”

    Ang and I shared a glance of more or less open disbelief. “Really? Yes, we know it.”

    “Yes. They have listened to the tape and now they think that he is not a responsible person. So they advise we take no further actions here. They are the ones who deal with customers, so we agree. But it is very important to never send another fax to this number again.”

    “Certainly.”

    “Normally when this happens, when someone calls to tell us about a fax they did not expect, they are being generous, and telling us the fax was not received correctly. But this gentleman is not so nice. So the best thing is to not do anything further…”

    There it was… I could see the light bearing down on me…

    “…If you need to send a fax, please ask Misato-san to send it…”

    There was more, but I was finished. Benched. Fax license revoked on the spot. Busted back to the ranks of the rookie non-faxers, and rightfully so. All I could hear was the laughter of the fax.

    Remember… friends don’t let friends damage the company reputation with faxes to wrong numbers, forcing their boss to travel across the city to apologise for trivial events.

    There are 16^5 stories in the city of Nagoya. This has been one of them.

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