Friday, December 28, 2012

Less smoking in Japan

I was very pleased to see this sign in a local restaurant last week. Many restaurants are smoking anywhere, some have dedicated areas (but no physical separation), some even have enclosed areas. This sign says that starting from Nov 1st, the whole restaurant is no-smoking. This is from a cheapo ramen chain called 天下一品. I've no idea if this is across the chain or just my local but it's nice to see some movement in this direction.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thinking in your head is hard!

A few weeks ago, when I was reading something on my phone, Sean asked me what I was doing. "I'm reading", I said. "But you're not saying anything", said Sean. "I'm just saying it in my head when I'm reading". Since then he keeps asking me if I'm reading in my head.

So I asked him, "can you think in your head?". He got a look of intense concentration for about 20 seconds, kind of like constipation and finally said, "no". But he tried really hard!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Won't somebody please think of the first-time buyers


From the Indo today.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, junior finance minister Brian Hayes said the deal would not be extended in December's Budget, and buyers must act before the "train will have left the station".

"This is an offer of a lifetime, it won't come again," said Mr Hayes. "All our futures are based on getting the property market going again. People need to act fast to avail of it."

"Jesus, won't somebody please think of the first time buyers, they're so cute and helpless, with their floppy ears and their big round eyes."

He didn't actually say that last bit.

He apparently did say, "all our futures are based on getting the property market going again."

Maybe when he says "all our futures", he just means his mates who bought 50 apartments off the plans in 2006.

Let's give Brian the benefit of the doubt and assume he really means that the future of Ireland is based on getting the property market going again. Then you could rephrase that as, "we've been in govt for 2 years now and we have done fuck all to replace the fantasy economy of the previous 10 years with a real economy built on something other than selling badly built houses to one-another using Germany's savings".

By giving all first time buyers a 5k/year tax break you just push up their bidding power by 10s of ks. You transfer wealth from our govt (that is cutting back on health and education) to landlords and investors trying to cut their losses in a falling market (owner-occupiers don't benefit unless they're selling up and leaving the country or something).

Of course this is not news to these people, this is the intended result (unless they really are mind-boggingly stupid - I give that about a 20% likelihood) and they know that no one is ever going to argue against helping first-time buyers. Every first time-buyer is a voter and the child of 2 more voters.

A rising property market can be either a bubble or the result of real prosperity. It's never the _cause_ of real prosperity (for the majority at least, whenever there are losers, there are of course some winners). Trying raise it directly is just a bad idea. It's a bit like trying to treat low blood pressure with a bicycle pump and a needle. You may well cause a brief spike in pressure but you're not going to like the end result.

Cross posted on

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Top parenting tip for allergies.

Here's my top tip for parents of kids with allergies, like gluten intolerance or nut allergy. When they're old enough to understand the first Superman movie (but not old enough to know any astrophysics), tell them that you found them in a field, just like Superman. You discovered later that they came from an alien planet that was destroyed in an explosion. This planet orbited a star made of gluten, peanuts or whatever (a star made of bee stings might be pushing it a little), that's why it makes them sick, just like kryptonite makes Superman sick.

They'll want to know about their super powers, I have no advice for you here, it's going to vary from kid to kid, be creative.

Emphasise that it's a secret (or they'll probably get a kicking at school) and see how long you can keep this up.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Recipe: Not exactly mapo-tofu

This is inspired by mapo-tofu but ends up quite different, it's got more meat and less fire. It's really easy to cook (because I use sauces from a jar) and my kids love it.

It take about 5 mins to prepare and maybe 20 mins to cook and with rice is enough for 3 people.

Instead of rice you can also serve this with soupy noodles, just not too soupy or you lose all the meat into the depths of the soup.


You will need:

  • 600g of firm tofu (if you're in Japan, that the one with "もめん" written on it)
  • 300g of minced pork
  • Lee Kum Kee Chill Garlic Sauce
  • Lee Kum Kee Black Bean and Garlic Sauce
  • 1 spring onion
  • 300ml of chicken stock
  • cooking oil
  • (optional) ground sichuan pepper (or sansho in Japan)

Lee Kum Kee sauces seem to be all over the world, except Japan where they're actually hard to find, even in Chinese markets. I got mine in the basement market in Ameyoko in Ueno.


  1. Chop the tofu into cubes about 1-2cm on each side. Leave that in a for now.
  2. Put some oil in a frying pan or pot (you'll need a frying pan with high side, a wok would be even better). Get it hot enough for frying.
  3. Fry the mince until it's brown.
  4. Make a hole in the middle of the mince and in one table-spoon of chilli sauce (more if you like spicy) and one of the black bean sauce and then mix them right through the mince. It should take about a minute to get the mince fully coated in sauce.
  5. Check the tofu. The bowl probably has lots of water in it now that drained out of the tofu, pour that out.
  6. Add the tofu cubes and mix them around so that they are covered in meat and sauce.
  7. Add the chicken stock.
  8. Turn down the heat and let the whole thing simmer for 10-15m. At the end, there should not be much stock left. Give it a stir every few minutes to stop things sticking.
  9. While it's simmering, slice up the spring onion thinly.
  10. Serve either sprinkled with the spring onion and the sichuan pepper or let everyone add it to their own portions.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Racism in Japan

I've been in Japan for about 10 months now and I don't think I've
experienced any direct racism in that time... until now!

We were driving home from a holiday, it was a long drive, we'd already
played I-spy and had moved on to shiro tori. This is a game where each
word has to begin with the ending of the previous word. E.g. sushi ->
shinobi -> bideo (video).

By the way, in Japanese, shiri tori is written 尻取り, according to that's 尻=ass and 取=take. Not an ideal name for
a kids game and every time I hear しまじろう shouting "尻取りをしようよ”
I can't help but wonder if there are some unspeakable 2chan images of

Anyway, it was Sean's turn and he was struggling for a word that
begins with "pa", so Midori decided to help him out. "I'm mama", she
said pointing at herself, "and this person is...?", pointing at me.

"Gaijin!", shouts Sean.

The correct answer was "papa".

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Venting about simple-minded taxology

I thought this analysis of the evils of tax was funny. It's so one sided.

  1. There's no mention at all benefits come from the taxes collected. I wonder how Marcie's business would do without roads or educated, healthy workers for examples.
  2. I also think it's awesome that Marcie has found a line of business with absolutely no competitors and that the only barrier to growth is the govmint stealing her money.
  3. That's presumably why every cent saved in taxes will translate into a job created by her without that job being lost somewhere else.
  4. Finally, it's also awesome that as she grows her business the market doesn't become saturated and she doesn't have to give an increasing portion of her money to advertising executives so they can shoot cocaine into their asses.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Movie: おっぱいバレー (Breasts Volleyball)

I watched Oppai Baree the heart warming story of young, inexperienced school teacher in a small Japanese town who motivates a group of uncoordinated, dorky, teenage perverts to train hard at volleyball with the promise that she will show them her breasts if they win just one match in the high school championship. WTF? Yes, seriously.

As sentimental, formulaic movies go, it was OK. It ticked the usual boxes: training montages; slow motion scenes with inspiring music; a set back at the last minute; the wisdom of some older and/or more dead person leading to the realisation that you have to try your best anyway, followed by running to get there just in time.

It was entertaining enough though, the end wasn't entirely predictable and it kept me guessing. Will their secret get out? Will she be fired? Will they win? Will they get to see her breasts if they do? Will I? Will my kids stop talking about it and shaming us in front of parents and teachers? The answer to the last one is "yes", it took about a week.

Harmless fun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Imaginary cycling arguments in Japan

Cycling on the road in Japan has had an unexpected impact on my imaginary arguments with drivers.

The most obvious problem of course is that the drivers probably only speak Japanese. While I sometimes try to conduct my simpler arguments in Japanese, at my level it's pretty much a waste of time for everyone involved. Happily, since these arguments are imaginary, I can just pretend they speak English.

A slightly less obvious problem is that a stock justification for cyclist doesn't work in Japan. Occasionally I take up a whole lane because there isn't enough space for a car to safely overtake and I'd rather they didn't try. If I was in a car, I would be taking up that space all the time.

In many countries, one more bike really is "one less car" (like it says on the stickers). That's not the case in Japan. When I don't cycle, I get the train. If I stopped cycling entirely I would get the train every day. I don't own a car here, I don't want to - parking would be expensive and I don't fancy being stuck in the queues I see every morning.

So best case, it's "one more seat on the train". However since I'm usually travelling around peak, the reality is more like "one more standing space on the train". Even in an imaginary argument, that's an embarrassingly poor justification.

I'm probably not even saving much energy by biking (if any at all) but I am keeping fit, saving money and time.The problem is that these are pretty selfish benefits. For a good imaginary argument you need to be way up on the moral high ground and I don't appear to be. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced that cyclists on the road in Japan have the moral high ground at all.

Slightly inspired by watching this video this morning.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Fiscal compact and bijou.

Why not just call it a pact? Then they could cut their palms with a dagger (good German steel of course) and sign in blood. Seems more fitting while signing away the last of a nation's sovereignty.

This started out as a response to Dermot Frost's post explaining the contents of the compact but since I want to share some of this anyway and it got a tad long, I made it a post in its own right.

Does it attempt to explain how if these rules had been in place we wouldn't all be boned right now? Because there's absolutely no connection in Ireland's case.

The "correct" solution involves counting private debt as well as public debt since it's always private debt that's involved in a Bubble. We were model ECB citizens right up to the end, until the shnitzel hit the fan, we didn't breach the rules of the Stability and Growth pact (Germany totally did). We probably didn't even go outside the new limits, although I haven't checked (wikipedia has all the numbers).

Chances of private debt being counted are ≤ 0, maybe for good reasons but then what's this compact for? Italy and Greece?

Also, what's the benefit for us in getting ESM support? Without it, we'd still be in the euro and default would be unacceptable (to Germany). Cynical as it is, that's our trump card (our even trumper card was when the debt was still private but we swapped that for a stick of gum and a pat on the head).

If we default we become lendable again. Our market rates only went nuts when we took on all that debt and became an obviously bad bet. We'd still need to ditch the Croke Park agreement but that would be easier in a default situation too.

And if we didn't have ESM and we don't default then we might be forced to drop Croke Park too. Win-win.

Eddie Hobbs links to a very interesting paper. It explains how Euro central banks operate (there's a weird exchange of Irish Euros with German Euros and stuff) but also a very interesting argument about Germany.

I already think that Germany got the interest rates it needed and we got screwed as a result so they owe us. But this points out that Germany has done exactly what China is criticised for. It pegged its currency to another (or an aggregate of others) and was able to stay grossly undervalued for years.

I bet an economist could "prove" that both my grievances are mathemtically equivalent in some economic model.

The paper also quotes from the Maastricht treaty that set up the Euro which has various bits recognising the need for solidarity and mutual support in a currency union. Which is not surprising given that booms and busts, especially in smaller countries were going to unavoidable.

I'll read the whole doc at the weekend but if I was going to be in the country, I think I'd be voting no.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I am l33t hax0r, VISA beware.

I am trying to book a very important flight and Verified by VISA is, as always, causing me trouble. I can't remember the password. So I go through all the crap to pick a new one but the Submit button does nothing.

I look in the java script console and find ValidationCheck undefined. I find where it's being called. It takes 4 arguments and if it returns anything except 0, the user gets an error.

So I type into the javascript console function ValidationCheck(a, b, c, d){return 0;} and press Submit. Bingo, (somewhat surprisingly) it works, my new password is accepted and my flight is booked.

VISA, test your basic functionality before releasing new versions. It seems unlikely that this has been broken for long so also VISA, don't update your website at the weekend.

It galls me that part of my transactions payed for the continued existence of these gits.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kids are so easy to trick!

When it comes to shower time, there's often a fight in our house, first over whether it's shower time at all and then next over who has to go first. Recently the who goes first issue has been resolved by "spin the sword". Whoever the toy sword ends up pointing at has to go first.

On Monday night, Sean was fighty but Riona wasn't so I washed Riona and then came back for Sean. "But the sword didn't point at me", he complained. Crap, we hadn't done the sword thing and Riona was already washed. With nothing to lose, I sat Sean down for a solo game of spin the sword. He saw nothing wrong with this plan. It took just two spins to get it pointing vaguely in his direction. He gave me a slightly miffed, "it's a fair cop gov'nor" look and came quietly to the shower.

I should make more of an effort to get up to all kinds of shit while I can get away with it. I'll miss this time when it's gone.