Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Getting the flu, and your apartment on fire

I had the flu last week and have not had time or energy enough to do anything blog worthy. It was the first time in many years I got influenza, and it was a long time since I shivered this much. I was shaking like crazy for two or three days. But I was busy at work (had presentations to do etc.), so I spent my days there (at least it is warm), taking extreme care to not infect anyone else, and slept the rest of the time. Now I am fine, though I still cough quite a lot.

Tonight, at 3:16 A.M., I was woken by a Japanese voice screaming: "There is a fire on the first floor! Please calmly run away!" So I calmly put on some clothes, grabbed my passport and my external USB hard drive, and escaped out into the very cold and dark night (minus 9 Celsius). Apparently my neighbors were less enthusiastic, and most took the elevator downstairs (I, following the proper procedure, took the stairs from the 9th floor).

After a few minutes, a fire truck arrived. After a few minutes more, a police patrol car and lots of police men also arrived. A fireman said that it looked like a false alarm, they could not find any fire or smoke. After about 30 minutes, they managed to turn off the alarm, and everyone returned home.

I guess it was a good chance to see my neighbors without makeup, though it was too dark to see much. Two people had animal pajamas (tails, ears; pajamas shaped like animals or cartoon characters are popular here though I thought they were for kids) so perhaps they work for some karaoke place? Since it was 3 in the morning, most people in our building were probably at work, and not so many neighbors were around to be looked at.

Anyway, good thing the place did not burn down.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Busy Sundays

My expectation
On my way home, I walked passed our magic bar (the one I am usually not in when I do magic). I had heard from our owner that he would be there and the place would be open even on Sunday (usually it is closed on Sundays). I was expecting almost no one to be there, and to be able to sit down, relax, talk some magic, and then go home early.

Instead, the place was almost full when I got there, with two fairly large groups of customers. And just as I walked in, someone had called my boss and said they were coming too. In total, another seven people where on their way. Which would be very difficult to handle alone. So I ended up doing magic until sometime past midnight, with no rest. But our part time bartender Aya, who works in a cake shop during the days, was also there with her friends. She left early and did not help out, but she had brought cake!

My boss was very happy that I had showed up. When I was leaving, he said: "By the way, just so you know, I will be here next Sunday too, hint hint...", haha.


On our way back from the nabe party, we saw an oxygen capsule. It said that it was good for people who were tired from doing a lot of sports, and for people with bad hang-overs.

Swedish culture and Japanese food

On Sunday I was invited to some friends who live near "Sweden Hills", a place where all houses have to be built and painted like Swedish houses. They also apparently have a lot of snow already (most snow falls in February, so it is reasonable to expect at least double what they have now towards the middle of February). The snow is higher than a grown person standing.


Rice and egg poured into the broth that is left after eating the nabe.
I was invited to a "nabe-party". Nabe is a Japanese type of food often eaten in winter, and you do not cook it when you are alone, so I rarely eat it. It is quite good. I brought along another Swede, who also lives alone and thus does not eat nabe very often.

Swedish saffron buns, chocolate balls, and alcohol.
He brought lots of Swedish stuff with him, like strong alcohol, and saffron buns that he had flown to Osaka to bake and bring back to Sapporo (he does not have an oven, but his friend in Osaka does).

Rice porrige, considered weird by Japanese people
He also brought "rice porridge" (日本語) which combines rice and milk. This is very weird to Japanese people. They were polite enough to say that "This is not something I would like to eat, but if someone says I have to eat it I could do it without too much trouble".

Mochi, gooey rice "cakes", wrapped in seaweed.
 There was also large amounts of other food available. Like mochi.

Strong liquor and a cake.
One of my presents, chop sticks that can double as a spoon and a fork. Below is a box of chocolate covered marshmallows.
 When we arrived, we were told that in fact this was a birthday party. More specifically, it was my birthday party. Since my birthday is in the end of October, and it is the end of January now, this was something of a surprise. There was cake and presents, though, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Transcribing the Swedish name "Kalle" to Japanese and then back again resulted in something else... No one I know is named Karre.
This is how you spell Kalle, and there are also lots of books by a Swedish author on the table.
There was also a large collection of Swedish books (translated into Japanese) brought forth. In a magazine reporting on books by this author, they had misspelled a very common Swedish name into something strange, which we thought was funny.

More snow festival preparations

The soldiers building the snow festival giant displays are busy every day. On Sunday it was raining, which is not so good for the snow sculptures...

Samurai Pizza

On Saturday I went to a restaurant called "Cheese Cheese". They have good pizzas (they have participated in pizza baking contests in Italy and won prizes). I ordered their "Samurai Pizza", which has miso sauce, cheese, leek, and mushrooms.


When walking to work, some people stopped and suddenly reached for their cameras. They started taking pictures of this bird, so possibly it is a rare bird to see here. I took a picture too.

"Nau!" (Now!)

Kashikiri nau
In Japan, people like to use English words and expressions. Sometimes it becomes a bit strange, such as the "Let's"-craze. There are very large numbers of posters all over the country urging you to "Let's [some noun]". This sounds a bit strange, e.g. "Let's ice cream" or "Let's country fare!".
Our very loyal customer, the owner of our magic bars, and the boss in my bar trying to block them both out when he saw me using the camera.

With Twitter and other similar short status update services (Facebook and Twitter have recently become popular here, and everyone uses the Japanese Facebook-clone Mixi), "nau!" (meaning "now") is very popular. Like "Pizza nau!" (I am eating pizza now), or "Tokyo now" (I am in Tokyo now).

Two magicians performing magic

On Thursday when I went to visit my colleagues in the magic bar, they had put a sign on the door that said "kashikiri nau" ("reserved now", i.e. the whole place is booked for an event and no one else can get a table). I figured I count as staff, so I went inside anyway. It turned out to be a friend who had booked the place for a "Everyone who makes curry in Sapporo"-event.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blog tip: how to batch resize all photos in a Picasa web album

Recently I wanted to resize all the pictures I have uploaded to my blog and Google+ etc. They end up in a Picasa web album, and in the web interface I did not find a "resize" option that you could use on a lot of pictures at once. My Google skills also did not give anything useful (only people talking about how inconvenient it is that there is not batch processing option).

Anyway, I found out how to do it, at least for the size I wanted to resize my photos to, and since no one else seemed to have written anything on how to do it, here goes...

To resize all the photos in a Picasa web album without much effort do this (only works when resizing to sizes you can select as "Default upload size"):

1) Install Picasa.

2) Import your web album in your local installation of Picasa.

3) Click the option "Sync to web" to set it to "On". (Can be found in the upper right corner of the part showing your album in Picasa, and in other places too I think).

4) Edit your default upload options and set them to what you want to rescale your photos to. Tools->Options->Google+ photos->Default upload size

5) If you do not have time to wait for it to automatically sync, you can force syncing by right clicking on the Picasa folder, Online Actions->Refresh Online Status.

All your pictures downloaded from the web album will be re-uploaded with the new size.

Swedish ice cream

Not ice cream (cheese covered bacon wrapped rice lumps)
Yesterday I went out to eat with my Swedish and Greek colleagues again. They like cheap places, so we had unlimited drinking for 800 yen. There was also unlimited ice cream for 290 yen including 18 types of ice cream from many different countries.

Swedish ice cream! Number two in popularity!
There was "Swedish" ice cream, which was quite blue and had the label "mint chocolate". It was pretty good, and it was number two on their popularity ranking list (number one was Belgian chocolate ice cream). Other memorable types included:

Potato ice cream
Potato ice cream (OK, so it is sweet potato, but it is still ice cream that tastes like potatoes...)

Tea ice cream, both green tea (maccha) and Japanese brown tea (houjicha).

Grey ice cream (label was missing, probably sesame seed ice cream).

Grey ice cream with uncertain taste.

Half of the ice cream stock they had.

Internet Coffee?

We have something called "Internet Coffee" in our lab. It looks like some kind of instant coffee.

Woman eaten alive by Angry Birds in Sapporo?!

On my way to work, I saw a woman with birds sitting in her hair. They left her head before I got my camera out, though. I am guessing she was feeding them, but it still looked funny.

Vaguely suggestive titles, and pictures of naked women: My job

We had a conference here that I had to send a two page paper to, and present a poster at. It does not count as a publication (so the motivation to put in large amounts of effort is very low), starts obscenely early in the morning, requires you to be there even though almost all presentations are completely unrelated to anything you do (it spans lots of research areas), etc. etc. So it is a waste of time, but in a positive sense I guess you can see it as "I got paid for playing Angry Birds and WordFeud on an Android tablet for three days", which is not bad.

You have to stand at least three hours by your poster, in case anyone is interested in what you do. I had a total of 1 visitor during those three hours. He gave me lots of feedback on things he though I should do instead of the research I am doing, most of them being similar to "Why do you do visualization of medical data when you can do theoretical data mining on synthetic data from completely different fields?", so not so practically applicable in our project on visualizing medical data.

My poster is pictured above, and has a suggestive title (that still correctly describes the contents of the research) and a picture of a naked woman (at least I think it is a woman, it is hard to tell without skin).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Engagement party

Yesterday I went to an engagement party, since an acquaintance got engaged. There was a lot of really good food, quite a lot of fun and interesting conversation, and generally very nice.
A huge knife used to cut a small cake.

There was also a game of "anyone who loses this round will have to eat Death Sauce (very very spicy thing)". I ended up with quite a lot of Death Sauce, and it hurt. It did not hurt as much as I remember it doing the last few times I had Death Sauce, though.

Two guys ended up dressed almost exactly the same by chance. Checkered shirts, both had hats, same color pants. And when they left, they turned out to have similar coats, and identical shoulder bags! People thought they were dating...

Sushi and alcohol

On Saturday, someone brought children with them to our magic bar. This happens sometimes, but it is not very common. It was nice to do magic for children again. Towards the end of their time in our magic bar, one of the children, about 8 years old perhaps, told me: "Excuse me, but this is not ginger ale [what he ordered]. It tastes very bitter." It turned out that my colleague had mixed something up and poured the ginger ale into a glass with lots of gin in it... Very cute reaction from the kid when tasting gin for (presumably) the first time.

We also had another customer who ordered sushi for 5 people (he came with one friend). He asked for 4 pieces of "Russian roulette", which means super strong wasabi is hidden in 4 random pieces of sushi. We magicians got lots of sushi too, but in the end the guy ended up eating two of the super spicy ones himself... while watching me do magic. It was quite funny to see his face suddenly change color.

I ended up getting only normal wasabi, and this sushi place makes very nice sushi, so for me it was a good day.

Sapporo Snow Festival, preparations

In the beginning of February we have the Sapporo Snow Festival here. The preparations start already in the beginning of January, and I saw the army building huge snow piles on my way to work.

The snow festival contains huge snow monuments built by Japanese soldiers (Japan does not really engage in war anymore, so the soldiers have time to do other things), and it contains smaller (2x2x2 cubic meters) sculptures that normal citizens can apply to make.


The complimentary starter, here boiled horse radish, and an egg from a small bird.
In Japan there is a type of restaurant or bar called "izakaya". They serve (usually) cheap Japanese food and very cheap alcohol. My colleages like cheap things, so last time we went out to eat and drink, we went to an izakaya. You get 90 minutes of unlimited drinks for 800 yen (8 Euro), which is cheap. But then again, you get only cheap beer or cheap alcohol.

This place is known for good "grilled pork on a stick", which we had.

We also had bacon wrapped mochi (sticky rice thingies).

The list on the wall said that this shops most ordered dish was fried shrimp with some form of mayo sauce.
The food was nice, and fairly cheap. We had lots of different food, but here are some of the highlights.

Spice mix

One of my friends gave me a bag with some sort of Indian spice mix. I bought some vegetables and chicken and made some form of soup curry thing with that. I also baked some Swedish bread to go with it, and everything turned out very well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Cat ears when grocery shopping

I ran into this Japanese person who was wearing cat ears, a tail, and a skirt that was very very short from behind but very long from the front. He or she was grocery shopping in my local super market.

More snow

After plowing the few roads inside the university campus, they have to put the snow somewhere so we have lots of small snow hills. This one is high enough to block the second story windows.

The snow piled up between the cars and the pedestrians is almost high enough to block the cars from view (despite the sidewalk being raised about 40 cm by packed snow too). This makes crossing the roads exciting.
The really snowy part of the Sapporo winter has not really started yet, but we do have some snow already.

Collon and School of lock

Today I found the product "Collon", which is only one "l" from being an inappropriate name or something you want people to eat. Not only I, but also one of my friends, immediately noticed that it also looks quite a lot like a colon, it is a whitish tube filled with brown chocolate...

Our coop also sells "School of Lock". I am not sure that they really mean "lock". The "Tokyo FM 38 stations" part sounds to me like the might mean "rock". Which is written the same way as "lock" when transcribed using the Japanese alphabets. Even if they did mean "lock", I still think "School of lock" is strange enough to mention.

Kind of Indian curry

I was bored yesterday since it was "Coming of age"-day, thus we did not have to work. I ended up cooking to pass time. I had received a big bag of "Indian spice mix" from one of our regulars in the magic bar, and I decided to use that. I went out and bought some vegetables and chicken and boiled all of it into something resembling Indian curry.

I also baked some bread, which turned out nice too. Bread fresh from the oven combined with spicy boiled chicken with onion, spinach, and carrots was good to pass time, but not so good for dieting. I need to cook food that tastes bad instead...

Beer for children...

This looks like a beer bottle, and the contents behave quite a lot like beer. The product name is "a drink for children", though... At first I thought that it might be a little bit inappropriate to sell drinks that look and foam like beer aimed at small children. After trying it myself, I suspect it may be an anti-drinking campaign, though. The taste is horrible, and if you traumatize young children into thinking that anything that looks like beer tastes like that, they will likely never drink.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Drinking TBC and eating Creaps

Today the university coop sells a drink called TBC which apparently is a "great supplement drink endorsed by Aesthetic TBC". TBC in Swedish means tuberculosis.

We can also buy "creap".