Saturday, March 18, 2023

Something funny happened

Hi, is this on?

Yes, so it's been a while. Turns out I'm sticking with Mastodon this time around, so a lot of random thoughts I'd have posted here now go there instead.

Also, my Japanese lessons involve a lot of short essay-writing nowadays. After I spent several hours writing something in Japanese, I'm not really in the mood to turn around and do more writing in another non-native language.

Meanwhile, here's something that happened.

Another winter holiday in Osaka. Midosuji is decorated with light from Namba up to Nakanoshima every December. Very cool, and lots of people stop to take pictures at dusk.

Ritsuko's phone was getting old. It's a Pixel 3a that's out of support by now. We've both long liked the Google Pixel series; they're the best unlocked phones you can get in Japan. The phone market here is still broken, with most new models available only from the providers, and only if you sign up for an account. Anyway, she picked the Pixel 6a.

It's a solid choice and a great mid-range phone. But unlike the earlier Pixel phones, Pixel 6 onward have an optical fingerprint sensor embedded in the screen, rather than a capacitive sensor on the back. That optical sensor works fine for most people, but is erratic or even unusable for some. It's seems related to having dry or cold hands, or shallow prints. Unfortunately Ritsuko is one of those people.

She understandably didn't want a phone without a fingerprint sensor, and we didn't want to return the phone — it's a good phone, bought at a nice discount. Our solution: she took my year old Pixel 5 and I got the 6a. The 5 is far more "premium" (and cost twice as much) and still decently new; and it has the capacitive sensor that works well for her.

Big Friendly Duck made another appearance! Rainy, but otherwise a fun evening.

So, I had a high-end phone for almost a year, and now a mid-range one for a few months. What's the actual difference between them? 

So first the obvious things. The 5 is a bit smaller and shorter, a bit lighter and just a little thinner. The 6a has a larger screen and a larger battery. That's not a reflection on quality or price; it's just a design difference. Phones come in different sizes and which one you prefer is personal. I think I may prefer the larger screen on the 6a.

You do what you do with what you have. I hope they arrived OK.

Things that makes no difference at all.
The 6a has a faster CPU, but I can't detect that in use. The Pixel 5 has a more premium screen, but when I put the phones down side by side, match the brightness and show the same image, I can't tell the difference.

The Pixel 5 supports one oddball satellite navigation option and some older wireless standards the 6a lacks; the 6a has support for Wifi 6. None of which matter at all to me (and I suspect most other people). The 5 has 8GB memory to the 6a:s 6GB, but Android is really good at managing memory use so again, I never even notice.

Stuff that differs but doesn't really matter. The 6a camera is slightly better to my eyes. They're basically the same hardware but the 6a has some newer tweaks. Bluetooth also seems to be a bit more stable on the 6a (not that the 5 is bad or anything). And the 6a speakers are louder.

The Pixel 5 sandstone-textured back looks and feels better, more premium. The 6a does look fairly striking in white with a black camera stripe. Either way you're going to cover the phone with a case anyhow.


Actually important differences. This is the points you'd actually care about when choosing a phone.

The Pixel 5 has wireless charging. The 6a does not. This is the one thing I miss. It's so nice to put the phone down on your desk and let it charge without messing with cables and gradually wear out the USB port.

And finally, the fingerprint sensor. The back sensor on the 5 is reliable and fast, and great when you hold the phone in your hand. But it does suck when it's on your desk. The 6a sensor works fine for me, but some people have lots of difficulty with it. And the front screen location is truly useful — you can unlock the phone when it's sitting on a table without picking it up.

25000 yen, or 40%. That's how much more expensive the 5 was compared to the 6a. The actual difference is even larger as we bought the 6a on sale. That's a fair amount of money.

In the end, was it a fair trade? Yes, I think so. I'm as happy with the 6a as I was with the 5, and Ritsuko got a major — and much needed — upgrade. Would I consider getting another "budget" model the next time? Again, yes. Nothing about the 6a feels cheap or compromised in any way. 

Phones are a settled product by now; for the most part they all do the same stuff, in the same way, as any other. And the 40% premium for a high end phone feels frankly a lot to pay for, in my case, wireless charging and nothing much else.

Reflections. On phones, that is.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Friday, December 23, 2022

Christmas, Hokkaido and A Certain Kind of Woolly Mammoth

Merry Christmas! Long time no see! 

Things have been quiet around here, but I have been busy writing — homework, in Japanese, for my teachers' eyes only. Every couple of weeks I write a short essay on something, anything, just to work on my skills. Writing is probably the best way to improve your grasp of a language, but it does take forever and a half to finish anything, leaving me with little energy to write anything here as well.

Christmas light festival in Sapporo.

Meanwhile I've also become active on Mastodon. It is a distributed social media system that can be used as (but is not limited to be) a sort-of replacement to Twitter. I tried it once before but gave it up. Due to certain shenanigans at Twitter lately there's a lot more people and more activity there now, and I find myself sticking with it.

My address is I mostly follow other people but I also tend to post shorter comments that just don't fit well in a blog like this. Another reason I post here less nowadays I guess.

Toya train station.

In other news, Japan has had another round of "Go To Travel!", a travel promotion system to help the hospitality industry recover (and promote bad English slogans, but I digress). You get a heavy discount on your travel costs, and vouchers to spend on site. 

The promotion is well designed; at check-in the hotel hands you 3000 yen of vouchers per person and night to spend. But you have to use them by the next day so you really have to spend them locally on food and drink, gifts and so on, not take the vouchers home to pay for groceries. It makes sure more of the money is spent in local travel destinations, not just the major cities.

Lake Toya, a crater lake in Hokkaido. To the right is an island in the center of the lake. In the far distance you can see Mt Yotei, another volcano, and already snow-covered even though we had no snow in Toya yet.

The lake village is a strip of resort hotels along the shore, then a few streets worth of houses behind them. Shame about the view, but I guess it pays the bills.

A cozy cafe with good coffee.

We took the opportunity to stay a night in Sapporo, then two nights at Ko No Sumika, a ryokan by Lake Toya in Hokkaido, about as remote and free of people as you can find without ending up camping or something — COVID is still very much a thing on one hand; but we do want our creature comforts on the other.

First place I've stayed at with coffee filters and an actual coffee grinder. Made the morning coffee before breakfast all the more enjoyable. 


We had a traditional dinner the second evening.

It's a cool place (literally - bring warm clothes). There's absolutely nothing there except the crater lake. You have no choice but to relax and take in the scenery. The place has an onsen of course, and each room has its own bath with a view to the lake.

It wasn't cold enough for snow, but the views were still very beautiful, and the whole trip really relaxing. Even the train ride along the coast is an event with lots of views - if you go, do take the train, not a shuttle bus.

A view from the rooftop onsen. Life could be worse.

It's been a very pleasant mini-holiday. Three nights is perfect - long enough to experience a place, but not so long that you get bored, or have to make arrangements for your plants at home or anything like that. We're already planning another one for next year.

Mt. Yotei at sunrise

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Coffee surgery - the aftermath

How did the coffee plant pruning turn out? Exceedingly well!

This was the plant right after cutting the trunk:

The coffee plant right after cutting the trunk.

And this is the plant after one month:


The plant almost exactly one month later.

OK, so the camera and the light are both better in the second picture. But it's still fair to say cutting that trunk has done the plant a world of good. There's lots of new, dense growth and little to no leaf browning. 

That last may be in part because I'm more restrictive with watering; a Reddit post suggested a common cause was overwatering. I now wait until it seems dried out, then way for one more day before I completely drench the pot. It certainly seems to work.

The cuttings didn't fare nearly as well:

Yeah, that didn't work.

No idea what went wrong. I still want a second plant so I may try again in spring. Will need to first look up a better way to do it — this time I just dipped the cuttings in growth hormone then pushed them into the soil. I also tried putting one in water first, but it never formed roots either. Anybody know how to take proper cuttings, let me know.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Coffee Plant Surgery

Some of you may remember my coffee plant? I first got it in 2016, from the UCC Coffee Museum in Kobe. It came with us to Okinawa, where it thrived in the hot, humid climate. A few years ago it even gave me enough coffee cherries that I could brew a cup of my own homegrown coffee.

But as I noted above, the regular typhoons and other weather have been a bit harsh on it. Over time it's become decidedly lanky, with long branches and sparse foliage. This is what it looked like yesterday:

Life's been a bit rough for it lately. Long branches that catch the wind so it loses leaves every time we get a typhoon coming through. When most leaves are lost the branch dies. You get a ball of foliage at the top of a janky, unstable trunk.

Sorry about the picture, by the way; it's a cellphone, and we have another plant right behind it (that we also cut at the same time, for much the same reasons).

Actual coffee farms cut down their plants every five years or so. And they do it in part to avoid the plant growing too tall and lanky; a shorter, denser plant produces more coffee and is easier to harvest. So, this is what my plant looks like now:

The coffee plant cut down. It already had this new "side branch" coming out of the base, so I cut it above that point. Hopefully this will let it handle the Okinawan weather better, and grow a thicker, more stable trunk this time around.

I know it's the right thing to do, but it's still nerve-wracking. I have no idea if it will survive this. So, to give it a bit more of a chance I took some cuttings as well:

Six cuttings. Let's see if any of them survive. If all of them do, I have no idea what to actually do with all of them; our new balcony is large, but not so large we can keep half a dozen coffee plants around.

If we're unlucky, they will all die. If we're lucky, the main plant will survive, and perhaps one or two of the cuttings will take root. If we're too lucky, they will all thrive and I'll have more plants than I need or want. Not a bad problem to have; by next spring we'll know.

Friday, September 2, 2022

A tale of a single-dish restaurant

In November last year me and Ritsuko are out on a walk in Naha on a rainy Saturday when we run across an Italian restaurant called Pastida. We're looking for a place to have lunch, so we go inside.

It's an interesting place. They serve lunch only — in fact, they're renting the space from an izakaya that opens at night. And they serve only one single dish, pasta Bolognese. No side dishes, no salads; if you don't feel like Bolognese, you need to go somewhere else.

It was very tasty; a real Bolognese with bits of meat simmered in a wine sauce, fresh pasta and topped with lots of Parmesan cheese. This was my lunch:


Spaghetti Bolognese

I've been back in Osaka for my summer holidays, and Ritsuko happened to see a magazine article about a pasta place in Kansai run by a young couple. It was a small place serving only lunch, and serving only a single dish: Spaghetti Bolognese. Not just the concept, but the picture looked very familiar. 

And when you search online there's a lot of these restaurants around. Here's a picture from Google Maps:

Spaghetti Bolognese


The pasta, the cheese, the plating, and yes, even the plate is almost exactly the same. Hmmm. 

It turns out these restaurants are way cooler than I thought. They are not chain restaurants, but they all obviously get their pasta from the same place. That place is Bigoli (also a name for the type of pasta they use). This company makes a single thing: fresh pasta and Bolognese sauce. But what they sell is a restaurant in a box.

You buy a license from them, and you get everything you need: the food, the plates and cutlery, printed menus, promotional material and so on. Yes, you still need to find a good location and come up with a name, and you still need a license to serve food and learn how to prepare this properly. 


This seems to me to be a pretty good way for somebody to dip their toes in the food service business; to figure out if they really want to do this sort of thing long term. Starting any kind of business is a big financial risk and lot of work; at least here you start out without having to figure out what to serve on top of all the rest.

If you look at the list of shops they have, there's single-dish restaurants like above. But there's also cafes and bars that add this as their one proper food dish. A low-workload way to add a proper food item to their menu.

Two reasons I don't feel cheated: First, they don't hide this. When you actually look a the menu, they clearly print that the food comes from Bigoli. In fact, they make it a point of pride. Second, the Bolognese really is quite delicious. They make this one dish and they really do make it well. You can even order online if you want to try it at home.

Chain restaurants — fast food, especially — get a bad reputation because they serve low quality or unhealthy food, not because the food has been prepared beforehand. "Ghost kitchens" (multiple online order-only "restaurants" all served from one physical kitchen) try to fool you and trick you into thinking you're getting something you really are not. 

This is doing neither. It is a healthy amount of good quality food. And they're open about it having originally been prepared elsewhere. This is fine by me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022


Ginowan has a large fireworks show every year. It's normally in April, but due to you-know-what-virus it was postponed to July this year. 

Good thing: we can see the area right from the balcony. So we set up with dinner (homemade rice bowls) snacks, folding chairs and camera with a tripod. 

As it happened, the first typhoon of the season passed by just the day before. The weather was still really bad the same morning, but they insisted it would go ahead as planned. The rain let up literally minutes before it was due to start — a testament to just how good short-term weather forecasts are these days.

The fireworks happen near Tropical Beach and is sponsored by JAL, and by the resort hotel next to it. The view from the hotel is probably pretty spectacular. 

I elected to take just long-exposure shots this time around. Typically 4-10 seconds per shot. You treat the fireworks much like you'd treat a strobe; you control the brightness with your sensitivity and aperture, not shutter speed.

The display was designed by Junko Koshino, a clothing designer. It did feel more focused on creating interesting patterns than on just big explosions. And the long exposures really bring that forward, I think. These fans look as good as a still picture as they did live.

Trees with leaves, I think

Cool overlapping patterns

A dandelion fluffball and an orchid. Welcome to summer!