Friday, March 23, 2007


Just came back from a short outing to the second largest city in Japan, Osaka. After a number of minor incidents including getting scolded by a cab driver because the hotel we chose to stay at had taken a name that he found deceptive of the location it actually was in. I promised to tell his complaints to the hotel staff but in the end I chickened out and didn't...

The main objective of this outing was the Universal Studios Japan amusement park. After visits to Disneyland, Disney Sea and Hello Kitty Puro Land I was curious how this would hold up to the rest of 'em. It wasn't bad at all even if Disneyland is kinda in a class of it's own. The park had reasonable space to move about in and the rides were mostly entertaining enough for me to recommend anyone in the area to possibly check it out.

But what struck me the most was how basically all of the rides seemed to be built on the principle that water is sprayed at you at one point or another. Ok, there were a couple of rides that let you stay somewhat dry throughout the ride, but most of 'em managed to in someway fit in liberal sprayings of water on you. This to the extent that I almost think that "Waterworld" might be a better name for the place than "Universal Studios Japan", granted they had a show based on the underestimated Kevin Costner movie from way back in the place, but still. Ok, the movie wasn't that great and it had Kevin Costner in it, but it's still not as bad as it's been portrayed. It's basically a copy of Mad Max on water and we all know and agree that Mad Max: The Road Warrior is a classic movie, I mean, it even has one of those rare, but always great male rape scenes in it. But alas, I digress...

You take the Jurassic Park ride and, no surprise, a dinosaur pops up and sprays water in your face, you take the Spiderman ride and Hydroman sprays water in your face, in the Shrek 4-D adventure they spray water in your face all the time. Someone in the development team at Universal apparently must have thought that water spraying is the greatest thing ever and kinda ran with it...

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"So, do you want to hear about my problems now?!"

Place: Indonesia
Participants: Luke and Mr. J

Luke is wandering alone in the resort hotel area, catching up on some reading and generally taking it easy on his own (the reason why we suddenly have moved the setting to Indonesia will be explained in a later post when I have a little more energy).

Mr. J happens to run into Luke and starts to ask a number of personal questions in the vein of "How are you doing?", "No, how are you really doing?" and "Is everything ok with you and your girlfriend?". Luke gets a little surprised by these questions since he has given no indication that there is any reason to believe that there are any problems and basically repeats; "No, everything is fine" a number of times in slightly different variations. After a little while Mr. J gives up and a short awkward silence happens after which Mr. J throws out the question; "So, do you want to hear about my problems now?!".

Please let that sink in for a moment. "So, do you want to hear about my problems now?!"

Mr. J also has a very distinct way of asking questions in a sort of passive aggressive way that is hard to properly convey here in text. It really has to be experienced to be understood and is quite fascinating in a disturbing kind of way.

I find it very sad and very funny at the same time how Mr. J desperately tries to fish for problems in the hopes of creating a bonding opportunity, realizing that things are not really going the way he hoped but still not giving up and manages to steer the conversation into his problems.
Luke was so surprised by the turn in the conversation that he could only throw out a "yeah... sure...".

And yeah, let's not go into the specific problems in question at the moment since those could possibly take weeks to lay out properly in text...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

WHATEVER!!! ("Whatever"-management)

It is a very exciting time in my company now. The company is changing from a small (less than 10 people) family type company into a larger (around 20 people) more corporate setting. This means of course that there will be changes in the company culture and things have to be done a little more organized and less ad hoc than earlier. Since I joined the company relatively recently and came from a larger (real) corporate organization it is not any big shock for me and since El Presidente is seriously committed to this change I am not the least bit worried.

That our management (read: El Presidente) is committed to this and is willing and able to lead this change makes it much easier to do this difficult transition and I have realized that there are things that I need to learn to about working in a coporate environment.

Let me give an example on how El Presidente leads by example. Since we are a small and the staff is relatively young this becomes even more important. The younger people need to learn how management interaction works. Scenario is as follows:
Junior staff is asked directly by El Presidente to arrange some minor thing, say conduct some minor background research for a pitch to a potential client. He/She runs into some minor problems that he/she needs advise on how to solve to meet the demands of El Presidente. The junior staff sends out an e-mail laying out the questions and suggests a time that they could briefly talk and any issues can be resolved. The mail is not extremely short, but concise considering the issues in question.
The reply from El Presidente comes quickly (very important in a coporate setting) and is very concise, consisting of one word:
"WHATEVER" - please note capital letters.
End result, junior staff becomes sad and a little scared. Issues are still not resolved. However, the junior staff has learned a valuable lesson in how things work in a mature coporate setting. The formal name is, if I'm not mistaken, called "Whatever management". This word also is used verbally often by El Presidente, sometimes followed by a "I don't care".

You might for obvious reasons feel interested and want to try this method yourself, but please use caution since there are situation where this is not the recommended method. Just saying or replying to e-mails with "Whatever" might be tempting and could actually be useful from time to time, but there are specific conditions that need to be met to handle this the best possible way:
1. You must delegate some work to someone in a junior position compared to yourself
2. You must set tight deadlines for this task
3. Task must be vague enough that questions must arise for said junior staff
4. Question comes; now is the time to use that "Whatever" for maximal effect.

Doing this towards people in a senior position is not advised.
Exciting times of change now. My current project team consisting of Luke and The Boy have quickly adsorbed this style and it has been proven very useful. You're never too old to learn something new!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Crazy Bunch

On Friday this week we had something that can be most suitably be labeled " a carnival of incompetence". Basically a minor chain of continuous incompetence over an extended period of time that culminated in an intense outbreak of incompetence.

I am not completely certain of the scale used to measure incompetence, but this would end up on the higher end of the scale, we're talking incompetence that if it would be an earthquake easily would level even the sturdies built cities...

Anyway, the story behind that is tied to my current project that I've touched upon a little earlier and surely will have reason to come back to more later on, but I thought I should spend today's post on some of the merry pranksters that make my office so interesting and unintentionally funny from time to time. So, make sure you sit comfortably and have a refreshments handy (whisky would be my personal recommendation) and I'll give you a brief description!

Ok, first and foremost, we have El Presidente, the CEO and co-founder of our little company. Actually a pretty nice guy at most times, but has some problems with his temper. Depending on his mood of the day things can become a little blown out of proportion and cause grief and bodily harm. Fortunately, the main target of his agression is not me or the people working on projects, but there has been collateral damage... The main target is the co-founder and vice president, Mr. J.
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 5
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 6

Then we have the co-founder and vice president, Mr. J. He is a very serious person that likes to drive his teams into the ground. Often with soul-crushing mind numbing work that is completely pointless and anyway gets scrapped when El President lays his eyes on it. He's also a hopeless masochist that time and time again puts himself in the line of fire of El Presidente's wrath. A complete lack of humor also makes for many amusing situations. He is often the source of many of our incompetence related accidents... I probably need to devote an entire post to more in detail describe the relationship between El Presidente and Mr. J since it is too complicated to describe here quickly, and there's plenty of humor there I wouldn't wanna simplify here.
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): -2
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 10

Then we have Mr. K who just started in the company in a managerial position. Actually a very reasonable person with common sense. It's still a mystery to us how such a person joined our company... The main discussion in the office regarding him is whether he's gay or not, not that it is anything that anyone in the office would have any problem with, but it vexes us.
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 5
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 4

Then we go further down in the organization...

We have Ms. A in a mid-level position, actually a very nice japanese lady in her early forties. She is also very very Christian... I personally am not too hot about religion and that opinion is shared by most of my colleagues as well. Standing by her desk feels more like you entered the Sistine Chapel by mistake... There's the bible and some other illustrated biblical book, various copied proverbs lying around and Christian themed screensavers. I have not been directly affected by this, but there has been incidents when she tells people how God guides her business decisions...
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 4
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 7

Then comes the Texan, one of the least modest people I have ever met... Actually a very nice guy and someone whom I share a number of interests with, but not a very modest person to say the least. Although this very much fits my image of people from Texas, as a European person I don't know how much is prejudice, but anyway. He's also the person responsible for us in the office having to endure a "sexual harrasment" training later this month... To add to the irony, he will be out of the office the time we have the training...
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 6.5
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 3

Moving slightly down in the organization we have Luke, one of the people in my current project team and together with had to endure the recent tsunami of incompetence. He looks like he was rejected from the Ramones with the phrase "get a haircut!". He's also the kind of person that never is in any hurry, stress just never seem to be able to reach him. However, beneath the ragged looks and slow manners is an extremely sharp brain and unexpected interest; wine and cooking....
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 8
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 3

To continue with the people in my current project team, we have the Boy. A half-japanese, half eastern European guy in his early twenties that insists that he's Japanese because that's what his passport says. He's a pretty thin guy, but the amounts of food that he can down at lunch time never ceases to amaze me, we're talking pretty large volumes here... His hunger is so great that it has a gravity of its own and it happens that I get pulled into it as well on occasion.
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 7
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 1

Another source of great amusement is Mr. M, also a young guy in the early twenties who for some reason seem to think that he's much better than the other people at the same level as him. For some reason he's also very open about his love life, or rather, his lack of a love life. He has confided in several people that not only has he never had sex with anyone, but he has never even kissed anyone in his whole life... What surprises us the most is that he actually volunteers this information by himself without being pressured into it at all. I believe that I will have plenty of opportunity to get back to this topic again later on...
Intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 2
Un-intentional Amusement Level (1-10): 9

That's about half of the people in the office and I might gradually introduce newer characters as they make entertaining appearances (which I am sure of), but to start the drama of, I think these will do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Canceled trains...

OK, I probably should begin with saying that I actually really like the public transportation system in central Tokyo. The trains go on time and if they happen to be one minute late they profoundly apologize for it (where I come from trains can be delayed hours at end without any form of apology...). The semi-public JR (Japan Railways) train company work very well with the different private subway lines and train lines that are available. Basically, if nothing happens, taking the train is a breeze!

If you have problems with crowds it makes sense to stay out of the rush hours though since things can be pretty messy... For myself, I'm such a veteran now that I hardly raise my eyebrows or hesitate to enter a train that, for the untrained eye, would look fully packed. It's usually relatively brief and not too bad unless you happen to end up next to a homeless guy or a drunk.

Yesterday though really tested me... The main line I take to and from work is called the Yamanote-line (any readers familiar with Japan most likely knows of this line). It is a very convenient line that circles the central areas of Tokyo and the trains come with a frequency of a few minutes, so there's hardly ever any concern about waiting in case you happen to miss a train.

However, yesterday an accident had occured just by the time I was going home and the whole line stood still for several hours. Instead of the Yamanote-line, they referred us to another line that took a similar route, which might have been ok I thought and actually went to that platform... I actually stood in line for that train for several minutes until I realized that I would never survive such a train ride, the amount of people waiting to get into that train was overwhelming...

People going to prison have more relaxed train rides than that, with the risk of being distasteful and stepping over some unseen boundaries I almost think that the trains to Auswitsch were carrying a lighter load of people per capita than that train would have.

In the end, I took a taxi home... Wouldn't you?
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