Masters of the Universe

Recently I read an article sent in by a friend of mine: What price the new democracy? Goldman Sachs conquers Europe

This is The Goldman Sachs Project […] to create such a deep exchange of people and ideas and money that it is impossible to tell the difference between the public interest and the Goldman Sachs interest.

It’s an interesting article, a realistic conspiracy theory. It made me think there might actually be guys sitting right now in a board room having a conversation like this:

Mr. Pink: “So what are we gonna do today?”

Mr. Brain: “The same thing we do every day Mr. Pink, try to take over the world!”

Except Mr. Pink probably isn’t an idiot in this story…

Lady Homare of Greystoke

The other day as we were watching TV, my girlfriend was saying that 沢穂希 (Homare Sawa), captain of Nadeshiko Japan the national women soccer team, should really keep her hair tied up under all circumstance lest she look like an ape…

To which I replied that comparing her to a monkey is a bit harsh, but she does look a bit like the Earl of Greystoke, Lord of the Apes. As she looked at me dumbfounded, I realized she had never heard of the original Tarzan apart from the Disney adaptation. So I dug out a torrent of the movie Greystoke and we watched it together.

The movie is just as good as I remember it from my childhood. It was Christophe Lambert‘s first major movie role. It was also Andie McDowell‘s first role so next up on the movie list is “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.

VIE for Valeo in Kohnan / Kumagaya

valeo logoI get a lot of Google traffic from French people whenever a job posting comes up for a VIE contract (special government high-profile trainee contract for European citizens in French companies abroad) at the place I work.

All this traffic goes to a much outdated post I wrote over 4 years ago just before coming here and I thought I’d make an update for the new arrivals or just people researching the living conditions here before accepting the job.

So if you are considering coming to work for VALEO in Kohnan – or Kounan, or Kōnan depending how you romanize 江南 – you must be asking yourself 3 questions:

Where is it?

Kohnan is in northern Saitama prefecture, some 55km north-north-west of Tokyo proper – see map below. It used to be a town by itself but has since been absorbed by the bigger city of Kumagaya which explains the dual Kohnan / Kumagaya naming conundrum. The factory itself is pretty much in the middle of the countryside with not much around, meaning: you will not go out for lunch or coffee break unless you have a car, the closest Starbucks being 15km away anyways…

View VIE for Valeo in Kohnan in a larger map

Where can you live and how to get there?

Tokyo – First out, do not expect to live in Tokyo and commute by car. Unless you are an expatriate with all expenses covered by the company, the cost of parking in Tokyo and highway tolls everyday is way way out of your budget. You can live in Tokyo and commute by train though, like I do now, preferably in northern Tokyo close to Ikebukuro station. Commute time from Ikebukuro station: 1 hour train + 20 minutes company bus.

Kumagaya – The most popular place to live among VIEs here. A bigger country town with a respectable number of restaurants and bars which will keep you entertained at least on weekday nights. Relatively good train connections to Tokyo with the Takasaki/Shonan-Shinjuku line taking you direct to Shinjuku/Shibuya in 1 hour 20 minutes. The town is 7-8km so you can come by bicycle when the weather is good. Commute time: 20 minutes by public bus + 5 minutes walk.

Higashimatsuyama – Second popular spot, I lived there for 2 years while I was myself a VIE. Small country town, not many restaurants, almost no standard bars although there are plenty of hostess clubs… The Tobu-Tojo line will take you straight to Ikebukuro in 55 minutes and with a painless train change to Shibuya in 1 hour 35 minutes. Only good point is it is cheaper than Kumagaya so you can have a bigger apartment and there is a company bus that picks you up from there and drops you inside the factory. I would not recommend it though unless you are the quiet type… (note: the area around the station is being renovated with a cinema complex and new apartment buildings as write this post, so there might be a little bit more animation in the near future) Commute time: 20min by company bus.

Kawagoe – The new frontier, only 1 or 2 Valeo VIEs live there. Big lively country town halfway from Tokyo and the company. There are tons of places to party and the place is culturally active (nicknamed “The little Edo”, there is a whole neighborhood that still has traditional buildings from the lat 1800’s, a rare sight in Japan). The Tobu-Tojo line will get you to Ikebukuro in 30 minutes and a change with the Fukutoshin line to Shibuya in under 1 hour. I would argue that this is the best compromise between commute time, cost of living and closeness to Tokyo for partying in the weekends. Commute time: 30 minutes train + 20 minutes company bus.

Additional points

One thing to keep in mind is that Kumagaya/Higashimatsuyama is 1h30 away from the ski stations which are open from mid-December through May. Bring your snow gear with you or plan to buy some here because there are snowboarding trips organized every weekend of the season.

If I could hit a big reset button and do it all again, I would probably choose to live in Kawagoe. Kumagaya is good if you hate living more than half an hour away from work. There is very little point to living in Higashimatsuyama…

If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to reply to you.

Update: As of May 2011, I no longer work for Valeo.

Driving school and discrimination awarenesss

As I said in a previous post, I do not have a driving license it every now and then I get itchy and think about getting one. So the other day, feeling itchy, I scanned the web to find driving schools close to my new home in Ikebukuro and found the Koyama driving school.

Interestingly, they claim to be the only driving school in Tokyo to cater to the gaijin population by offering a curriculum entirely in english. So I checked out the prices on the English and Japanese versions of the site for basic manual license:

  • Japanese: ¥302,950
  • English: ¥398,630

Wow, those bilingual driving teachers sure come at a big premium don’t they? Well if you compare the detail of the prices here’s what you find:

koyama-japanese

koyama-english

So if you actually compare the detailed split-up, the english textbooks cost ¥18,900 compared to ¥5,250 which I can understand. All the lesson/test fees are the same. The only other difference is that the entry fee is ¥83.000 more expensive if you sign up in english…

Now the interesting thing is not that it’s more expensive, I would consider it normal to have higher lecture/training fees in english language in Tokyo. What’s shocking is that there is so little awareness of “discrimination being bad” in this country that no-one thought it a bad idea to write down the price hike for this special service (which could be justifiable) as a random meaningless admission fee.

Suffice to say, I will not be bringing my business to this shop…

Softbank’s “summer scam” campaign

Softbank is launching a fun summer campaign with its cute mascot お父さん:

Use your Softbank 3G phone overseas this summer and get a chance to win one of 100 flower-necklace-wearing-お父さん straps!

softbank-summer-campaign

Way to go Softbank! It’s a classy move, trying to lure customers into using their cellphone overseas at ¥200/min and potentially incurring ginormous phone bills, all for a chance of winning a ¥150 keitai-strap…

MOSDO – MOS Burger x Mister Donuts

mosdo! - donut burgers

Mister Donuts x MOS Burger = MOSDO!

Starting May 12, MOS Burger and Mister Donut will start a joint marketing operation mixing their respective products:

  • MOS will have burgers with a hole in the middle of the patty
  • Mister Donuts will sell  burger shaped donuts – reminiscent of Mamido burger I reported about a while back (sorry, I still blogged in French at that time)

mosdo-box

At first I thought they were doing a horrible frankenstein-esque combination of donut buns and meat patties… Gross…

Business cards and QRcodes

Still on the same line of thought as my previous post, I was designing my 名刺 – well, more of outsourcing the design to my brother – and had a hard time with QRcodes that might be interesting to some people.

my meishi

So I wanted my business card to have the classic human readable info on one side, and machine readable on the other. Not so impressive in Japan where QRcodes are everywhere but I like it.

So I did a little reasearch and hit a pot-hole: there is no universal QRcode vCard equivalent standard. As explained here, DoCoMo and SoftBank/au each have their format which are not cross-compatible. So you have 2 solutions:

  1. Make your code a URL link to a .vcf file on your website. Has the advantage that you can change the data without reprinting the cards, adapt the file format to the phone via referer checking and log access (I’d love to see business card conversions in my Google Analytics stats). Downside is conversion is not as easy and you’re not sure if the phone will be able to read the vCard file.
  2. Combine the 2 vCard-like formats in a single QRcode. No stats, but this will work in all phones if you follow my instructions.

I’ve looked into the second solutions and found out by testing that you can combine the 2 formats in one QRcode but only if you put the Softbank/au type first. I guess it cannot have any characters (even a linefeed) before the MEMORY: tag. Then you can use a line of dashes to separate the 2 and make it more easily readable. The end result should look like that:

MEMORY:
NAME1:Doe John
MAIL1:john.doe@softbank.ne.jp
MAIL2:john@doe.com
TEL1:+818036542234
------------------
MECARD:N:Doe John;TEL:+818036542234;EMAIL:john.doe@softbank.ne.jp;EMAIL:john@doe.com;;

Paste that into a QRcode generator and you will get a nice PNG image like this:

QRcode vCard for John Doe

I’ve tested it in 3-4 keitais and it worked nicely. Try it with your phone and tell me the results.

Business card at a job interview

Expanding on my previous tweet, this is of course from a Japanese “business practices and manners” point of view…

american psycho - business card scene

When arriving at a job interview, as with any business meeting, your interviewer will usually give you his 名刺. It is considered polite in Japan to accept it with 2 hands, bow, place it neatly on the table and answer by giving out your own 名刺.

Note: to anyone about to work with Japanese people: always have at least 2 dozens business cards with you at all times!

But in the case of a job interview, should you present your business card if it is from your current employer? In a way, you are betraying your company by looking for a new job. Moreover, the guy already knows you, he has your resume on the table already…

I’ve always been confused with this and am not sure of the appropriate behavior. Maybe I should make myself a batch of personal business cards for such occasions where it is not acceptable to present yourself as your business-self:

Superman – associate @ SuperFriends

As opposed to:

Clark Kent – reporter @ DailyPlanet

Meta-tags proposal for the new DiggBar

Many think the DiggBar is evil. I don’t. I find it ingenious, especially the digg.com pre-pending which will automatically generate a shortened URL for you as well as a “Submit to Digg” button if the page URL has not been submitted yet.

prepending digg.com for the digg bar

unsubmitted diggbar

However, when you submit a link to Digg by this way, the title and description of the item are empty by default, placing the burden to fill up these fields on the submitter. He needs to go back to the page, copy the title, copy some text of the article or make up a better description, which is all a pain and poses a big hurdle…

Digg submission - all empty

Digg offers a way for webmasters to create a link that will pre-fill these fields with the data you want your readers to use. This is done by simply setting some parameter in a URL to put as target of the link:

http://digg.com/submit?url=example.com&title=TITLE&bodytext=DESCRIPTION&media=MEDIA&topic=TOPIC

But this process is not compatible with the DiggBar and its URL pre-pending feature. What we, webmasters, need is a way to define these values that will work everytime.

Why not Meta tags? Step 1 of the step 2 in the screenshot above is Digg downloading the page to check it really exists and provide potential thumbnails for the submission. At this stage they could read a couple of meta tags in the <head> of the page and use that to pre-fill these fields.

<meta name="digg-title"  content="My title here" />
<meta name="digg-description" content="My 350 characters excerpt." />

It would then be trivial to write a WordPress plugin that generates these meta from your post title and excerpt (or similar concepts in other CMS platforms).

If you think this would be a feature you would like to see, I invite you to digg this blog post: http://digg.com/d1p1YV

Funny dog toys from Japan

I’m going back home to Paris with the girlfriend for a week after Golden Week so of course the usual shopping lists start dropping in my mailbox. They are mainly filled with tech related stuff and gadgets that are quite a bit cheaper than in France (with a VAT at 20%, it’s hard not to be competitive…) – like digital cameras, or just not available anywhere but in whacky Japan – like USB humping dogs.

But this time I got something really original. My brother asked me to bring him back a special chewtoy for dogs that he wants to offer to a friend of his. I found the design so cool and original I wanted to share it with you guys.

doggy-teethdoggy-lineup

There are 4 different types and they go for ¥238 on Rakuten. Pretty awesome.