I like learning new things: I have broad interests and I enjoy expanding my horizons. And there are enough free online courses and MOOCs that it’s really easy to dip your toes into something new for free and without a lot of up-front commitment.

So the course “Japanese Culture Through Rare Books” is right up my alley, in the intersection of my interest in Japanese culture and history, and books/bookbinding/printing. I’m looking forward to learning all about this!

In 2018, we watched 54 series and ‘specials’ — mostly series though. Looking through the list, I see three series that we awarded a score of 9 out of 10. Two of those were actually aired in 2017, and they are continuation of previous series, so maybe they are disqualified? On the other hand, we only watch series when they are completed, so that means that no series from the Fall season could ever qualify.

There is Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen, a continuation of a previous series, and aired in the Winter season of 2017. It is a delightful conclusion to a very interesting series about how Rakugo, the traditional story-telling, fared into the modern Japan. You do need to have seen all the previous seasons. While I recommend the whole trio of series, it’s not quite the AotY.

There is 3-gatsu no Lion 2nd Season, another continuation. Again, a superb conclusion, but again not sufficiently stand-alone.

My anime of the year 2018 is Hataraku Saibou (“Cells at Work”) which is hilarious: it shows cells having every-day ‘jobs’: the red blood cells are dressed like delivery people, carrying boxes of oxygen to other cells. A sneeze is a rocket launch, etcetera. And it’s also quite educational: I learned some things about the human immune system too! Every episode is fun and had us laughing out loud.

Some honourable mentions:

  • Darling in the FranXX: Basically, the second coming of Evangelion. Recommended for mecha-heads who can appreciate a bit of distopian setting;
  • Violet Evergarden: Post-war (equivalent of WW1) drama with a girl who has only known war coming to grips with civilian life.
  • Hakumei to Mikochi: Heart-warming series about a paid of mini-people making their life in a mini-world.
  • Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou: A pair of girls travel through the war-torn ruins of civilisation, probably the last two people to be alive… It’s very slow-moving and philosophical at times.
  • Houseki no Kuni: A world where people made out of gemstones live. They are regularly attacked by ethereal beings that look like Buddhist iconography. Super interesting setting.

What’s the best anime you have seen in 2018?

So I have a modest dice collection — certainly not on par with some of the people in the Dice Maniacs Club! But one of them had their dice displayed in a capsule toy machine, and I thought that was really cool. I could imagine people coming over to play an RPG, and having to randomly draw a capsule with dice from the machine for the session…

And the wonders of the internet mean that you can easily find those machines for sale, too. Cheapest I could find was EUR 50, the nicest one was EUR 75.

And it’s a fun idea, but not EUR 75 worth of fun. Maybe, some day, but not now.

We’ve started planning our vacation for 2019. At the end of March, we’ll be flying to Tokyo. After a few days there, we’ll rent a car and drive to the coast near Enoshima.

And after that, Hakone and then onwards to the Fuji Five Lakes area. With a bit of luck, we’ll make the most of the cherry blossom season…

I was reading through a set of articles about things that used to be A Thing and are not anymore — stuff like the walkman, VCRs and i-mode. Another one is the pinball machine.

Of course, being the age I am, I played my fair share of pinball. In my teenage years, we preferred the arcade video games, but during my time as a student, there were some bars that we frequented that had pinball machines. In the early 90’s, pinball machines were feeling the crunch from video games. In response, pinball machines were adding more and more digital effects, often using a LED matrix display. Wouldn’t it be fun to play pinball again?

It turns out that there is a Dutch Pinball Association. Their clubhouse, which houses 120 pinball machines, is in Veenendaal, which is only half an hour by car away… And they had a ‘Funhouse Friday’ coming up, just an open house from 15:00 until 23:00, with all the machines on free play. Entrance fee was EUR 10 for non-members, and I sent them an e-mail to ask if one could just go there as a non-member, pay the fee and play.

It was possible, but you’d have to get invited by a member first. And the person in charge of the clubhouse decided that he’d invite me! Such hospitality, I really liked that. But it turned out that there were more people interested in an evening of pinball: Klik wanted to come, as well as a friend of ours. And I didn’t feel like it was proper to take advantage of the hospitality by showing up with three people instead of one.

So we got a membership. And they have a semi-professional kitchen as well, so you could even have dinner there! Which is what we did.

The view from the bar area. There were three ‘corridors’ like this, and there was also a line of pinball machines along the far wall.
There was a good spread of machines: some really early ones, and more “modern” ones, including some that I played a lot in the early 90’s.
Left: Klik playing Black Knight 2000. Right: Friend O. playing Tommy.

Such good fun! We’ll definitely do this more often, perhaps we’ll get good at pinball eventually…

Some months ago, there was a new Pokemon introduced in Pokemon GO: the Meltan, a metal type. It was first shown during the Chikorita community day, and turned out to be all Ditto’s. And with the launch of Pokemon Let’s Go on the Switch console, Nintendo introduced a way to transfer Pokemon to the Switch, and the reward is a box that spawns Meltan.

There was a special event that coincided with the launch of the game on the Switch, that allowed you to catch a Meltan without a Switch connection. It was a nine-step special research, and it required quite some special things, like battling in 10 raids. And while the quest would stay once you started it, the event that spawned the pokemon you needed to catch ended some time ago.

I had already resigned myself to not being able to finish in time, but then on the last evening my RPG session was cancelled, so I could walk around and do a few raids (in one case just throwing my raid pass in the raid and walking away). With only one hour left on the event, I finished up all of the required “research” and managed to catch Meltan!

But Klik lagged behind in the number of raids, so she was still working on it. And the going was slow, because the pokemon needed were not spawning regularly! But this Saturday, as we were returning from dumping some old bookcases, I saw a Cubone on the radar — so we turned the car around and drove to the spot indicated. Sure enough, there was a Cubone and she could finish the seventh step!

The eighth step involved catching two Anorith or Lileeps, and two Kabuto or Omanyte. The Anorith are spawning regularly around the gym behind the house, so that was easy. And there was one lucky Omanyte spawn that evening around here too… But that last needed pokemon was elusive! Until tonight, when someone remarked on the local Pokemon GO WhatsApp group that there was an Omanyte near the petting zoo. So we jumped in our shoes and went there without any detours. Sure enough, it was there!

So now we both have our Meltans!

ProductTank

Last week, I was in Copenhagen to visit our office in Lyngby. I’m going to take on some of the product management tasks for the product they make there, and my visit was mainly to talk to the product manager there to see where I could contribute.
They had already planned to go to a meet-up of ProductTank, a local chapter of a global (IT) product-focused group, loosely affiliated with two annual product management conferences. As PM, you’re often working in isolation, so it’s always interesting to meet up with peers and talk about our work and learn from each other. So we went to the meetup together, to see what it is about.

At the start, I thought it was a bit intimidating: lots of people who do the same work, but have lots more experience. The person giving a presentation also used phrases like “As we all know…” and I didn’t know. So it felt like I was a newbie who still had so much to learn.
But during the informal discussion, there were quite a few things that some of the other people attending said that told me otherwise. Apparently, some things I find completely obvious were received as interesting suggestions to improve their way of working. Of course, I have the advantage of having a process defined that helps me: it is the result of many years of product experience, so I don’t have to re-invent those wheels myself. But I also understand where those processes come from and can sometimes point out improvements.
So perhaps I shouldn’t be so intimidated after all: I do my work well, and perhaps I have more to bring to the table during such discussions.

Vacation planning

So, every once in a while, I get a question from a colleague or acquaintance about vacationing in Japan. We have been there quite a few times ourselves, and it’s a big country, so people want to know where to go and get some “insider tips”. Often, people have already done some homework, and they can point to some trips prepared by tour operators.
I get that you want to see a lot of different things from the place you are visiting — especially from the Netherlands, Japan is far away, and I guess most people would visit only once. But those trips have a lot of travel — and sitting in the train is interesting the first time, but after three trip in a Shinkansen, you know the drill and I think you would be better served by spending more time seeing the sights. And why would you schedule an excursion to Nara and Fushimi Inari on the same day? Both those places can be enjoyed for a full day by themselves!

I guess that I’d rather spend some time at a place to really be there, instead of hurrying along, take a few pictures and then go to the next place. It makes it hard for me to give advice. Perhaps I should think of a ‘recommended itinerary’ that I can just give to people as inspiration, as a starting point?

Spiel 2018 trip

Every year, when the end of October looms, it’s time for Spiel, the largest tabletop gaming exhibition in the world! It’s held in Essen, which is about a 90 minute drive from our home, and we have been attending on a single day for some years now. We prefer going on the first day (when everything (and everyone!) is still relatively fresh), but it wasn’t clear until late whether klik had to work on Thursday evening. But her lesson on Thursday was cancelled because everyone was out, because it’s the fall vacation here — so we could go on Thursday after all.
We set out at 09:00, which would see us arrive at the fair about 30 minutes after opening. When we started going, quite a few years ago, we could always park close to the fairgrounds themselves. Later, it got busier and we had to park in a parking garage a bit of a walk away. We were aiming at that again this year, but everything was full as we arrived. And since every road towards the fair had been jam-packed with cars, it took us a long, long time to get to the off-site parking where we could park and grab a shuttlebus. Next year, we might leave earlier, and we’ll go to the offsite parking straight away — it’s conveniently just off the highway (for future reference: exit 26 of the A52), and the shuttle buses are quite frequent.

So we were off to a bad/late start, but we had an excellent day anyway. We didn’t have enough time to look at everything (ain’t nobody got time for that!) but we managed to hit all the stands I had marked up as being interesting before we joined B&G for afternoon tea, so after that we just wandered the halls. Mainly halls 4, 5 and 6, because they’re not as crowded, and that’s where all the ‘odd’ stuff is: the first three halls are large hard-core boardgaming companies, but the halls with the larger numbers are the smaller publishers, RPG companies, cosplay accessories etcetera. It’s a bit more chaotic, but I find it more interesting.

Spoiler Inside: Photos of (some of) the loot!

It’s always kind of exhausting: lots of walking, lots of simuli, but it’s always a lot of fun. We’re going next year, too.

Daylight Savings

So we’ve gone back to winter time (the ‘actual time’ with 12:00 being the time when the sun is highest in the sky. There’s the usual grumbling (“The government is messing with our clocks again!”) but I really like daylight savings time. Our schedules are not set up such that 12:00 is the middle of your day: rather, you spend more time awake in the PM than the AM. So DST really means that you have more daylight in spring and fall after your working day.