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My new job: first impressions

15 Mar

I started this post mid-March and it was overtaken by… work. And when I wasn’t at work, I was tending to home chores and my family (in that order, sadly.)

Your mission, should you decide to accept it

Our CEO phoned me late January with a job offer I could not refuse. My first reaction was to run away, of course. What, acting Head of Marketing and Communications at W3C? Why me? Who else if not me; I was going to be the only full-time person remaining in this team.

That isn’t the fullest representation. I have been in this team for 10 years and 16 in the Consortium; I have both historical corporate knowledge and a better insight of the job than would a new recruit. Also, I was readily available.

I had twenty hours to think about it, sleep time included, and come up with a yes or no. My mind was already made; I could still run away if it didn’t work. Or not, and simply go back to what I was doing before. So, I was going to do that! (Image below via Andrei Sambra, for April Fools day)

cat meme: deal smells fishy, where do I sign?

Bittersweet February

I thought how big the shoes to fill were; an impossible accomplishment. I focused on what I would bring, and how to leverage past practices that I had witnessed without ever paying great attention. I felt dwarfed by the gigantic responsibilities and tasks ahead. After all, this was a position I never thought about for myself.

I thought with much guilt about immediate commitments such as a family vacation which was going to start almost right after a week of travel and meetings in Tokyo. Basically, that gig was going to start without me. How very atypical to begin a new job by a week to wrap-up as much as possible and prepare for travel and meetings, by a week in near-isolation as meetings and meeting-related work takes place, and by two weeks incommunicado touring Japan. So early February, my predecessor stepped down, and covered for me impeccably till I came back. Fast forward to March 2015.

March was brutal

March was brutal. I returned fully rested from an excellent fortnight of quality time with my loved ones, having appropriately kept my mind off work, while bracing myself for the next big thing.

  1. Loads more e-mail. I unsubscribed from some lists but subscribed to a bigger bunch.
  2. Meetings as a heartbeat. 10 to 15 hours of teleconferences and one-to-one meetings each week.
  3. Time sink. If all goes as planned, this is time well invested. Early start of work days, as usual, but days then dragged into the nights. I chose to give myself a hard stop: midnight every day, through May at most.

What I learned

I realised in the first week that I couldn’t do all I wanted. I had massively underestimated the amount of time I would have (cf. list above), and overestimated my ability to organise myself and the amount I could deliver.

When I told my CEO, this was the quote he laconically reminded me of:

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” ― Bill Gates

What I realised next, was that the more I wanted to achieve the fastest I was. I have always prided myself for being a keen optimiser of processes, but in this case it was different. It was partly due to setting unreasonably high goals in order to get as many done as possible, but primarily thanks to a sharper understanding of things that had suddenly become mine. The closest analogy is a flip being switched and light shining in a formerly dark room. I take informed decisions quicker, the big picture I see is bigger, this is all quite encouraging.

The amount of required reading is staggering as I move from operations into strategy. I expect this will subside as this is partly necessary as I’m wrapping my head around new things, new expectations, new concepts, etc.

In two months I hired three people part-time, shifted into different and new gears, identified our next priorities and planned for as many as possible, handed over most of my former job duties, and, I have not freaked out too much.

Vacationing tips and suggestions for Japan

7 Mar

Here are a few general tips and extensive recommendations in/around Tokyo, and outside of Tokyo, since I compiled the data for Anne (he asked nicely!).

There is not much about food and restaurants as it is far more subjective than sight-seeing. However, I’d say that it would be a mistake not to buy Melon Pan (a pastry, the size of a bread roll) daily at the very least ;)

What to see?

The recommendations below are partly supported by a set of 130 photos of our June 2013 Japan vacation. I think they’re outstanding ;) Regardless of their intrinsic quality, they will still give an idea of the places. I’ve used also photos that Vlad took during our trips there.

What to see and do in Tokyo

Shrines:

You’ll see shrines, big or small, everywhere and in cases, in the most unexpected places. Discreet, shrunken and squeezed between two tall buildings, standing proud and quiet surrounded by lots of space at the edge of which resumes the agitation of the city and city dwellers.

Step inside the gates when there are, look at the fountains, the statues, the ema (votive wooden plaques) and omikuji (prayer paper ribbons tied to trees, or strings), fire and incense, paper lanterns, etc. It’s a striking contrast compared to the modern and bustling city in which you’ll find shrines.
Dragon silhouette

Shibuya day and night:

There is a plethora of shops and restaurants, but in particular, there is the “scramble crossing” which is truly impressive.

It consists of three huge zebra crossings where masses of people, just like opponents in battle march against each other, then mingle mid-road and avoid each other until they reach the opposite sidewalk and eventually yield to traffic.
Crowded Shibuya Crossing

Kabukicho and Ginza:

At dusk and night because of the emblematic vertical neon lights. This is Kabukicho:
Kabukichō

Shinjuku:

If you can afford such a hotel (we found good deals, twice, using booking.com), I highly recommend a short stay (or long, if you have the budget, you’ll want to stay there forever) at the Park Hyatt.

It spans the top of three towers with the eye of Sauron:
Shinjuku Park Tower

You could see these views:
From the 47th floor, at night

Akihabara:

The district to go to, of course, to fulfill your cravings of hi-tech gadget purchases.

Odaiba island:

Take the Yurikamome monorail from Shimbashi (find a spot near the front of the train, never mind if you have to stand, the journey is worth it. You’ll travel trough sky scrapers, next to a three-mast ship, you’ll loop in the Rainbow Bridge after seeing it coming close, you’ll see the big ferris wheel of Odaiba).

There’s a giant Gundam statue near the second Odaiba train stop; it’s quite a landmark (a 18-meter tall robot) with its big feet squarely planted in the ground.
Gundam!

Another landmark is the Statue of Liberty. It’s pretty anytime but perhaps it’s prettier at dusk, or at night, because it’s lit in colours of gold, or greenish, against the Tokyo skyline beyond a water expense. The Rainbow Bridge is lit as well and adds some beauty in the background of the statue.
Statue of Liberty & Tokyo skyline

Another highlight from the Odaiba area is the Miraikan museum of emerging science and innovation. Admission fee of JPY 620 If you do three things while there, let it be contemplating the Tsunagari project (LED-equipped gigantic globe dangling from the ceiling), the Asimo exhibit/demo (a Honda 10 to 15 year-old robot that walks, runs, dances and sings) and the Androids.

Tsukiji Market:

Vlad said they plan to move the gigantic fish market somewhere else –it’s currently near-ish Ginza and they made space farther away for it, I don’t know when the move occurs.

Tsukiji Market is quite something! The most hard-core will show up at 4am and hope to be added to the list of the lucky few that can accompany the workers during the tuna auction. Otherwise, until 2pm you’ll see the exterior market areas teeming with humans; most selling fish and fish-stuff, others buying it, and yet others transporting Styrofoam crates on mopeds and other vehicles.

The noise, the smell, the cramped space all make for a memorable experience. No smoking, no luggage, no hindering allowed. You will probably be shoved and pushed, but it’s part of the experience.
Crossing the busy Tsukiji Fish Market

For a break, you can try to get a seat at Yonemoto Coffee. A very small and very authentic coffee shop that serves excellent coffee and plays old jazz music. It looks like it is preserved in an era in the past. Even the owner looks like time has passed and not taken him in its journey forward.
Great ambiance in the morning at the Yonemoto Coffee

Roppongi hills:

Maybe, to get a sense of the skyscrapers and where the white-collar workers go. There’s a giant spider, Maman by Louise Bourgeois, at the foot of the Mori Tower. It’s one of the five or so permanent locations for the impressive and creepy sculpture:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maman_%28sculpture%29#Permanent_locations
Maman & Mori Tower

Observatory decks:

Here are some of the buildings on top of which you can see Tokyo and the Tokyo cityspace crawling as far as the eye can see:

45th floor of The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building:

It’s free. You can look down on the Shinjuku Park Hyatt (the top of the three “eye of Sauron” joint-buildings is occupied by the hotel where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson filmed “Lost in Translation”):
Shinjuku Park Tower

Bunkyo Civic Center:

There’s a free observation deck on the 25th floor open 9am-8:30pm daily. We spotted Mount Fuji as the sun was sinking, a reminder that however big Tokyo is, there is this mountain looming, yet dwarfed at the left of the Shinjuku area Tokyo Metropolitan Governement Building (twin towers that are fairly recognisable).
http://www.whereintokyo.com/venues/25352.html

Mori Tower:

Miku Café, 52nd floor. Free admission. You’ll get such views as:
Tokyo cityscape from the Mori Tower
Tokyo panorama from the Mori Tower observation deck

Tokyo Tower:

9am-10pm. There’s an admission fee. You can purchase a ticket (JPY 900) to reach the main observatory (150 m) or walk the stairs (we didn’t, they advertised it was a 13-minute climb and we weren’t up to it), and then purchase another ticket (JPY 700) to reach the Special Observatory (250 m). We didn’t spot Mount Fuji this time, as it remained enshrouded in clouds from the late afternoon till dark, but it’s visible if you’re lucky.

What to do and see in Tokyo [continued]

Yoyogi Park, pond, Meiji Shrine:

Meiji Shrine is where the souls of the Meiji Emperor and Empress are enshrined. It is also where they celebrate traditional weddings which processions you can witness. The Jingu Naien Iris Garden (there is a small admission fee, I forgot how much) might be worth of visit if the flowers are in bloom.
The bride and groom II
Meiji Jingu Naien Iris Garden

Harajuku, and Takeshita street:

These are natural next steps after Yoyogi Park. At the Harajuku exit of Yoyogi park, there’s an emblematic bridge where teens dressing according to Harajuku fashion (rock, punk, gothic, lolita) gather and hang out on Sundays.
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3006.html

Takeshita Dori is a small cramped street full to the brim with fashion shops and crepes take-away outlets. This:
Incredible pancakes !

Tokyo Imperial Palace Park:

Tokyo Imperial Palace  & reflection

What to see and do near-ish Tokyo

Enoshima:

45 minutes away from Tokyo center by train. It’s an island near Tsujido and Kamakura. It was described to me as the Mont Saint-Michel of Japan. It’s beautiful. If you’re lucky with the weather you can see Mount Fuji bigger and more impressive than anything you’re prepared for.

Kamakura:

If you’re at Enoshima, go next to Kamakura. There’s a giant Buddha that everybody goes to see. I went to Kamakura last month, at last (5th time in Japan), but we didn’t go see the Buddha. We went to a sanctuary instead, specialised in money laundering. Well, sort of.
http://asia.amateurtraveler.com/money-laundering-at-zeniarai-benten-shrine-kamakura-japan-daily-photo/

What to see and do outside of Tokyo

Kyoto:

We stayed there several days in June 2013 and loved it. We found that many people wore the traditional outfit. Far more than in Tokyo, I mean.

Gion:

Go to Gion, in the city center. You’ll see geikos and maikos.
Geiko & maiko

Yasaka shrine and pagoda:

Go to Yasaka shrine not far from Gion, it is astounding. There is a pavilion decorated with hundreds of paper lanterns. It’s a wonder at night.
Yasaka Jinja dance stage

Nishiki Market:

Visit the Nishiki (covered) market not far from the city center.

Then, further away from Kyoto city center:

Inari Fushimi Taisha:

You need to walk some amount of time through the path of the thousands torii at Inari Fushimi Taisha. The path goes up the mountain for a long while (spans 4 kilometers and takes approximately 2 hours to walk up, dixit wikipedia). We were there under pouring rain and stayed as long as we had the heart for.
The path of thousands of Torii

Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion:

You also need to see Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion.
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3908.html
Kinkaku, the Golden Pavilion

Other Kyoto highlights include:

  • The Nanzen-ji and the Philosopher’s path, as well as the nearby Ginkaku-ji (the Silver Pavilion).
  • Arashiyama in the western suburbs of Kyoto (you need to take a train) for its bamboo grove, and famous bridge.

The Kyoto tower, close to the train station, wasn’t particularly exciting. Done with Kyoto!

Miyajima for Itsukushima island:

A famous and beautiful landmark is the floating torii.

There’s a ropeway to reach Mount Misen and if you’re lucky with the weather it’s breath-taking (we have rain and heavy clouds, sadly, but that was February).

We had not idea, but the island is full of deers! We later went to Nara, with a goal to see the deers (which we did, of course), but we had had a preview of the white-tailed deer already.

We stayed at Kurayada Hiroha, the most enchanting ryokan, but quite pricey (check the rate via booking.com). My favourite hotel of our February trip! Rooftop hot tub (one for men, one for women, separated by a fence) next to indoor hot tubs (same, separated ones for men and women) were excellent.

Kobe:

Kobe appears to be a narrow flat expanse of city bound by the sea on one side, and a steep mountain on the other. We had such bad weather, and stayed just one night and one morning, that we only got a sense of the mountain side of things by seeing advertisements in the subway. They advertised a ropeway from which it looked like the view on the city was lovely. I don’t know if you’ve been to Hong Kong, but the view reminded me a little of what you see from Victoria Peek.

What we went to Kobe for was two-fold: eating some of the world-renowned Kobe beef (it was delicious. I had no idea beef could melt on the tongue), and a few illuminated landmarks at the harbour (port tower, a ferris wheel, the oriental hotel shaped like a cruiser ship, the roof of the Kobe Maritime Museum shaped like a meshed sailing ship) which were beautiful at night. I’d say that it’s a photographer’s type of visit; beyond the photographs to be gotten, the area was deserted in the evening and it was quite a walk to reach it, and not so much an interesting one.

There is a Chinatown in Kobe, which looks pretty but little, and the district of Sannomiya appeared to us to be the heart of the town. You need to take the subway from the Kobe traing station to Sannomiya anyway. The night life in Sannomiya was lively. Loads of restaurants.

I read that there is an onsen resort nearby Kobe, but we had no idea, so I’ll leave it to you to investigate. Onsen is the term for hot springs as well as hot tubs. They can be indoors, or outdoors (roten-buro). Some allow mixed bathing, but from my experience, it isn’t common. And still, from experience, it appears that none allow tattoos to be visible.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsen

Shiga Kogen ski resort / Jigokudani Monkey Park:

Speaking of onsen, one of the highlights of our February stay, because of the winter/snow, was seeing the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park, bathing in a roten-buro:

We took the train to Nagano and from there took another that got us close to the Shiga Kogen skiing domain. A combination of taxi and walking got us to that monkey park (small admission fee). I’m not sure how it looks in May and if it’s worth the hassle of transportation. It takes about 1.5 hours between Tokyo and Nagano and then another hour or so to reach Yudanaka.

We went to other places in February –Hiroshima, Nara, Himeji– and although each place was fine, they didn’t make it to my highlight list.

General tips

Sim cards for visitors:

I used the provider b-mobile twice already (June 2013, February 2015), and will use them again.
http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/english/product.html

Money:

ATMs are found in convenience stores (and there are millions of them in Japan –7eleven, Lawson), BUT, oftentimes foreign bank credit cards are not accepted.

ATMS that will accept foreign bank credit cards are found in Post Offices and there is a saying that wherever you are in a reasonably-sized city, there is a post office within 500 meters of where you’re standing. However, Post Offices business hours are 9am – 5 pm.

Always carry cash with you. Some stores and restaurants accept credit cards, but they hardly ever post a sticker on their door advertising that they do. In fact, I have not seen such stickers there. Some hotels even will ask you to pay cash, but that is a minority. Do not presume that you will be able to pay with a credit card.

You’ll need coins for train station lockers and some vending machines. You’ll need bills for vending machines, train tickets and pretty much anything.

Train station coin lockers:

Small: 35 x 43 x 57 cm (prices vary, around JPY 300)
Medium: 57 x 43 x 57 cm (around JPY 500)
Large: 117 x 43 x 57 cm (around JPY 700)
Some stations only have S+M. Most stations have as many S+M and less L.

Japan Rail Pass:

http://www.jrpasses.com/en/price-japan-rail-pass/jr-national-pass.htm

This is a must get if you’re going to travel places outside of Tokyo. The bullet trains you can get on with the JR pass are probably as fast as those you can not get on, and just as comfortable and reliable. Each train in Japan, including subway and local trains run like clockwork. Quite a change, when you’re from France and used to the lousy service of the SNCF (French Railways)!

This railway timetable and route search, although not great-looking, was highly useful. There is an app for smartphones but it requires access to data (nothing offline), and works with JR main lines, local trains and subways:
http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

Transportation within Tokyo:

Get a Suica card (or Pasmo) and recharge it anywhere. One card per person. I have no idea about babies (my son is 7yo and we had to get him a card as well; he paid child fare). There’s a JPY 500 deposit to get the card, and some fee that they might retain (smallish) when you return the card.

The advantage is double: you can recharge is everywhere and you will save loads of time by not having to purchase a train/subway/bus ticket. Suica works in all the train/subway of the great Tokyo area. You can even use it as a payment means at some convenience stores.

More general tip:

There is a @JapanCheapo twitter account and website japancheapo.com that a couple of my colleagues in Japan have referred to and that appear useful.

#sketch: ink and dip pen

10 Jan

A couple experiments with dip pen and ink. Black and colour ink.

Woman close-up, black ink and a few colours, spread with a water brush pen. Not happy yet, but it was fun!

Woman close-up, black ink and a few colours

A small bouquet of roses, black ink, colour pens, spread with a water brush pen. I love the flowers, but hate the watercolour smears! Oh well, next time I’ll use less colour ink.

A small bouquet of roses, black ink, colour pens, spread with a water brush pen

Rêve : règlement de compte chez les Steam Punks

9 Jan

La scène se passe à une époque contemporaine, à quelques détails prés, avec des gens pour la plupart étrangers dans la vraie vie.

Nous sommes donc un petit groupe de jeunes cool, dans un Far West des temps modernes. Et on se mettait à protéger une nana qu’on connaissait à peine, de son lourdot de mec qui l’enquiquinait.
On va donc, en calèche (Far West, oblige), se planquer dans une grange immmmmmmmense.
Le plan c’était que la nana blondinette et moi nous planquions parmi des piles de coussins emmêlés, en comptant que l’enquiquineur allait me trouver d’abord. Mais finalement on reste tous ensemble sur la calèche à l’attendre, décontractés et bon-enfant. Un gars de notre bande met de la musique (moderne). De la musique qui swinguait plutôt bien ! Sur une vieux système sono en bois poussiéreux et grand comme une orgue d’église. Ça envoyait du gros son. Je me disais que ça allait mettre à mal notre “planque”, ce gros son.

C’était très steam punk, ce rêve. Même les pistolets étaient en cuivre. Des voitures du début de l’ère automobile circulaient dans la grange, sur un sol de terre et de poussière. Manquait plus que des boules d’amarante sèche qui roulent nonchalamment en arrière-plan. Ont circulé aussi un camping-car comme celui de Barbie, ainsi qu’un trente-huit-tonnes de nos jours, bien rutilant, qui lancé à vive allure a écrasé un petit carrousel blanc. Un trente-huit-tonne et un manège –dans une grange– c’est pas typique !

Bref. Le vilain arrive ! Un grand maigre brun habillé en cowboy. C’est la nuit, à ce moment dans la grange (alors qu’au moment de la collision trente-huit tonnes / manège, il faisait soleil *dans* la grange.) Alors, on essaie de plaider avec lui, mais comme il était en état d’ivresse, c’était pas facile facile. “Allez, arrête de l’embêter ! Elle ne veut plus de toi” etc. Mais va négocier avec un mec bourré…

D’un coup, il sort une arme ! Mais la petite blonde en sort une aussi ! Hop; je m’en saisis. Il me tire dessus !

Pfff, des balles en caoutchouc, même pas mal.

Je lui tire dessus –merde ! des balles en caoutchouc aussi; ça rebondit sur lui. Mais à force de le canarder, une des balles en caoutchouc finit par lui perforer la peau.

On se met à couvert dans la calèche pour recharger. Il recharge aussi. On ne sait pas où il est planqué. Il a dû sortir de la grange.

Ah, il revient. On est prêt. Il titube toujours et a l’air clairement moins déterminé. Un peu comme s’il ne savait pas ce qu’il faisait là ni pourquoi il tenait un revolver. À ce moment ce n’est plus moi qui tiens l’arme de notre camp, c’est un ami (Olivier, dit “Le Jeune”). Ce que je tiens, moi, c’est une timbale en fer remplie d’eau bouillante, que je verse sur la tête de notre ennemi. Il devient rouge homard et s’écroule à terre, se tortillant et passant de homard à rouge cramoisi. Olivier en profite pour s’approcher et lui mettre une balle dans le cou à bout portant, alors que je commençais à dire “Bon, pouce, il a l’air d’avoir eu son compte, là.

C’est là je me suis réveillée en sueurs.

Alors, ça vient d’où, tout ça ?

Je me demande si la blonde n’était pas inspirée du personnage de Zezette dans le film “Le Père Noël Est Une Ordure”, et les cowboys d’un bout du film “Retour à Brokeback Mountain” qu’on a regardé sans voir l’autre jour. La grange immense, je ne vois pas, ni le camping-car Barbie. La sono type orgue est peut-être inspirée des églises à Rome dont j’ai traité les photos récemment. Le groupe de jeunes cool était constitué de gens de l’association ParisWeb, sans que ce soit eux (quoique celui qui met la sono, je crois bien que c’était Sébastien Delorme, l’ancien président), et j’ai lu récemment qu’ils vont préparer la 10ème édition de leur conf, cette année. Olivier quant à lui, fait certainement partie du casting car on en avait parlé à la maison. J’ai fait ce cauchemar la veille de l’attentat à Charlie Hebdo le 7 janvier. Donc, rêver d’armes et de tirs n’en est pas une conséquence.

Comme dit Vlad, c’était le Grand Zapping dans ma tête !

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