Manhole Covers in Japan

On only two counts do I really stand out from the crowd.

● One is that I like running. Well, I have learned to like it. And I like it so much that I enter various races.
● The other is that I like foreign travel. I engross myself in it to such an extent that, before I go somewhere new, I often try to learn the language.

To date that means that I have learnt and forgotten some Greek and some Portuguese, although I did find that my elementary skills in both of them were particularly helpful when I visited the respective countries. My knowledge of Japanese and French is good, and I have retained lesser skills in German, Dutch and Spanish.

And then sometimes these two passions combine. I find myself doing training runs, or actual races, in foreign countries. I even have my own private log of 10km running routes across the whole of the UK, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan. I ran the Geneva Marathon in 2018.

As I’ve been getting older I tend to limit my new adventures, and I have given up starting on any more new languages. I’m now a creature of habit, spending quite a bit of holiday time in familiar places like Japan, France and Switzerland.

Photographs showing sunrise over the marina in Yokohama. And Paul running on a rural road in France at the back of CERN near Geneva.Photographs showing sunrise over the marina in Yokohama. And Paul running on a rural road in France at the back of CERN near Geneva.

In Feb 2024 I visited Yokohama for the first time. I have established some training routes in my adopted home city of Fukuoka, but this year I needed to map out a 10km course in Yokohama. Naturally, I started that by having a look at Google maps. Most of my running is done in central London. And in order to minimise interference (and to stay “in the zone”) I have learnt to follow footpaths by rivers and canals. Fewer road junctions and fewer traffic lights to contend with!

My routes in Fukuoka take me up to the coast line near the Dome (the baseball stadium), and it turns out that my 10km route in Yokohama took me directly to, and then along the coast towards the marina. There’s even a prescribed route marked out on the footpath from Rinko Park to Yamashita Park.

a diagram (set into the footpath) of a prescribed route

Unfortunately it didn’t fit my plan as I had to cover 2.5km just to get to Rinko Park, and another 2.5km back to the hotel. I covered part of the prescribed course, down to Zō no Hana Park next to Yokohama Marina, and then I headed back again.

I run early in the morning. Up at 5.00am and usually out hitting the pavement around about 6.00am. The official Yokohama coast line route starts in Rinko Park at the Angel Bridge (just visible on the right in this photo), it goes down past the Intercontinental Hotel (the high, bow shaped building) and then off to the marina and beyond.

part of the Yokohama coast line route

As I passed the military facility at Yokohama Port (in the twilight) I noticed one of the decorative manhole covers that can occasionally be found in Japan. On the way back, with the morning becoming brighter, I noticed a colourful version of the “standard” Yokohama municipal design. Inevitably that meant that I wanted to go back later in the day, get some decent photos, and see if there were any more.

manhole cover - Yokohama municipal design - natural metal

manhole cover - Yokohama municipal design - mainly coloured in shades of blue

I walked the 5km along my coastline route (taking in the main entrance to the port) and I came back a different way.

manhole cover - Yokohama port design - natural metal

And that was a surprisingly good decision! I stumbled across the Pokemon one!

manhole cover - multi coloured Pokemon design with Pikachu and Raichu

The Japanese Navy has now retired the Nippon Maru, a fully rigged sailing ship, and it sits alongside the quay. And the pavement right next to the ship has its own specially designed manhole cover. This one is probably unique.

manhole cover - Nippon Maru sailing ship design - natural metal

Finally, half way back to town (the central station is the centre of Yokohama as far as I’m concerned) I found the Moomin one when I wasn’t even looking for it.

manhole cover - Moomin in forgraound backed by a cruise ship and Yokohama city skyline - mainly coloured in shades of blue

I have seen others in the past. For me, they are a lovely curiosity rather than a passion to be pursued. But for some people, it is a passion! They even have a name for it – an enthusiast is called an operculist.

The Cardboard Box Game

At the end of the day at Barcamp London XII everybody returned to the large social space in order to take part in:

The Mysterious Mystery Game

Scarlett put in her second appearance of the day, and co-opted @TheHodge (her dad) to help out.

The mystery bit was quickly cleared up. The teams all had cardboard boxes to work with, and the challenge was to build a fictitious product within a limited time, just 20 minutes. A full explanation of the rules is here.

Team names were required and @TheHodge reminded us all, that humorous names might lead to more points. However, as there were a handful of youngsters present, the team names should be “most creative and child appropriate”.

That idea was immediately seized upon by one group who named themselves Team Most Creative And Child Appropriate. Another bunch of mad cap creatives came up with Team Do Not Look Into Laser With Remaining Eye.

Scarlett distributed a “mystery word” from the hat, and each team was compelled to match the single word they were given. A little leeway was allowed. However, the product and the storyline had to be largely faithful to the assigned mystery word, and the box had to remain principally a box. No Eiffel Towers allowed!

The team’s box could be modified and decorated, to aid an imaginative sales pitch. A panel of judges would listen to each pitch and judge the products on originality, positivity, and humour.

There’s a recommended strategy for product development. It’s widely known in the tech sector, and (with a lot of software engineers in the room) you’d be forgiven for having expected some adherence to:

  • Identify the Problem
  • Research and Analysis
  • Developing Specifications
  • Concept Generation and Evaluation, and so on

“Nah! You don’ wanna do dat!”

Time was of the essence, and the room of 70 people erupted into deeply animated discussion, cutting, colouring, laughing and pointing. And laughing some more.

You could almost see the light bulbs illuminating above some people’s heads. At times it was frenzied, and at other times it was comical. This is the most fun you can have with a post it note, a marker pen and a cardboard box!

Assigned the word “Hollywood” Team Do Not Look Into Laser With Remaining Eye built a working pinhole camera, while Team Lion next to them had the word “Music” and designed a unique Boom Box which was a real, authentic box, an eco-friendly, compostable box!

Perhaps the easiest word drawn from the hat was “Fashion”.

That led Team Semi Colon Drop Tables (that’s a great joke, for people who do databases and SQL) to build the latest in fashionable cardboard attire. The problem was that Sean was up at the front of the room to present, and had nearly finished speaking even before Jairo managed to reach the cat walk wearing his delicate outfit!

The other easy word in the hat was “School”, especially given that the event was in a school which we had hired for the day. Team Dynamic Duo warned us “don’t eat toads, they taste bad and might be poisonous” and delivered a few more golden nuggets.

This photo of Team Lion shows the atmosphere well. In the foreground Hugh is smiling broadly, flanked by seriously analytical Dan, and determined engineer Paul. Behind Dan, Jonty from Team Do Not Look Into Laser With Remaining Eye is holding the pinhole camera to his face, whilst over on the right David from Team Dynamic Duo appears to be trying to climb into his box!

Arguably the hardest word in the hat was “Healthcare” but that just inspired Team The Them to work even harder. They built the portable artificial intelligence nurse.

  • P – Portable
  • A – Artificial
  • I – Intelligence
  • N – Nurse

A revolutionary medical device designed to redefine the diagnostic experience – a synergy of innovation and compassion. Cleverly presented to the judges, with a vaguely human version of a synthesised voice, the dialogue struck a chord with everyone. It was a great rendition of the stunning sarcastic voice of GLaDoS. The guys are not playing with their phones, they are trying to adapt GLaDos to handle part of the presentation.

Team The Them were worthy winners, and Scarlett awarded the prizes, a collection of Lego toys.

Every team also “won” a massive box of chocolates to share, and we all agreed that the first half of this proverb is most definitely true:

Irish proverb – “A good laugh and a long sleep are two of the best cures for anything.”

After an exhausting day, and a good night’s sleep, the chair @proactivepaul can confirm that the second bit is true as well.

Three Big Rocks

What can you really achieve as a public speaker? If you’re lucky or skilled or both, you may be able to connect with your audience and leave them better educated on the issue of the “Three Big Rocks” and avoid the problems of the “Condom Test”.

In the UK, the typical audience member will remember only three things. At the end of seminars I have a habit of asking some of the ordinary audience members “what are the three things that stood out from that talk”? On one memorable occasion (many years ago) I was an ordinary delegate at an upmarket event in the posh part of Berkshire, and I remember afterwards asking three people in succession about the “Three Big Rocks”. Each and every one of them failed to articulate even one single message that the seminar had sought to deliver. I don’t know if that was a failure of the speaker, the delegates, or the UK education system.

Front cover of The Green Skies Report featuring a twin engined passenger jet and seom plant life in the foreground

On Thursday 7 September 2023 I went to the “in-person” launch event of the UK Green Skies Report. It appears that the “Three Big Rocks” philosophy is something unfamiliar to the chair, the moderator, and the experts on the panel. In most presentations, the audience will remember the first thing you said, the last thing you said, and will forget everything in the middle. For this reason I open my speeches with the “Three Big Rocks”, and close them with the “Three Big Rocks”. In the middle I tend to expand the discussion of each key issue, and attempt to avoid the introduction of any new material which is tangential to my objectives. If I want my audience to remember one thing, then that one thing gets headline billing at the start and the end of my talks.

I have a style guide for my speeches and it starts with “when I get to the end of this meeting, how will I know if I’ve had a good meeting”? My early draft of any presentation then lists the “Three Big Rocks” that I want to focus on. I have objectives, written down in black and white. Once drafted, I apply the “Condom Test” to my scribbly notes.

If you have ever worked in marketing, you may already know about the “Condom Test”. Take any piece of marketing copy, remove the name of the product (say) “Time Machine” and in its place substitute the word “condom”. It works like this . . .

“Our time machines put you in control of your own destiny.”

. . . becomes . . .

“Our condoms put you in control of your own destiny.”

If the sentence still makes sense, in ordinary English, then the sentence is telling the consumer nothing about your product. It’s word soup. It’s a collection of wasted space on a page. It’s a missed opportunity to educate your prospect about the value of your offering, and instead bore them to death with platitudes.

I tried the “Condom Test” on the first couple of pages of The Green Skies Report. For example:

Government should heed the advice of industry experts and public bodies and introduce price support schemes, such as a Contracts for Difference scheme, for Condoms, to provide price stability to the market and support inward investment into a domestic Condom industry.

That sentence still makes sense, in ordinary English, and tells the reader nothing about the product, only that there is a desire to conduct political lobbying, but the validity of the “should” statement has not been articulated.

Had I written it, it would have said something like:

There are compelling reasons why the Government should implement these three industry panel recommendations:

  • Recommendation A – Reason 1, 2 and 3
  • Recommendation B – Reason 1, 2 and 3
  • Recommendation C – Reason 1, 2 and 3

No platitudes, three big rocks, each backed up with three reasons!

This particular “Green Skies” event was attended by a few dozen industry insiders, and a couple of dozen industry outsiders. As an outsider, I felt lost within minutes of the start. The chair began with “we are delighted to be delighted today about delightful things and this delights us”. No big rocks yet!

a modertaor and two experts seated on stage

The moderator then asked the first panel expert a question which was six questions in one, to which the panel expert replied “that seems to be six questions in one”. No big rocks there either! At the start of the discussion there was no meaningful introduction of the subject, certainly nothing that would have educated an industry outsider, and there was no opportunity for either of the experts to have (say) 60 seconds to introduce themselves.

A bad start was followed by a short formal discussion, mainly about lobbying and about how allegedly “brilliant” the UK is on the subject of “condoms”, and that lasted only 15 minutes. I for one did not have time to pick up the report beforehand and read it, and I was surprised that the short discussion omitted any clear indication of what the report said. It was an exercise where three people on stage engaged in mutual back scratching. I also gained the impression that they thought everybody in the room was an aviation expert and/or sustainability expert. The ordinary Joe Public was completely overlooked. There then followed a very long Q&A with the audience. Some of the questions were not questions. A two way dialogue between Panel Expert A and Overt Insurance Lady enabled her to say “insurance” several times.

When BigWig in the audience (from BigCo Airline) hijacked the discussion and started a long-winded comment, not a question, followed by a two way self promotional dialogue with the moderator, I pictured in my head this cartoon which I have often seen in the past:

cartoon - expert on stage - moderator addressing audience saying - we have time for just one long-winded, self-indulgent question that relates to nothing we have been talking about

In this case, it was more a long-winded, self-indulgent non-question, tangentially on topic but designed to raise the profile (and improve the public perception) of BigCo (which has a bad reputation). I walked out when it became clear that BigWig was not being shut down, and was getting more than his fair share of air time. This was not an audience Q&A session, but a sales fest for unashamed boasts.

The “Three Big Rocks” is a concept which Stephen Covey introduced in his book “The 7 Habits”. Today, what were the “Three Big Rocks” that the organisers wanted the audience to take away? I have no idea! This was not a presentation for an audience, and certainly not for an audience of outsiders. It was an industry event staged for the purpose of preparing a press release which in the next few days will be touted around national and international press outlets. That’s what lobbyists do. And I had been caught in a trap which I ought to have foreseen. They wanted press coverage, and they demonstrated little interest in providing informed debate for the delegates.

The biggest rock I took away from that talk is that I won’t be going back again.

The Viral Toot

The viral toot, or the nearest thing I have ever had to a viral toot, was a humorous comparison of Windows, MacOS and Linux labelled “How To Fix Any Computer” which I posted on 4 Aug 2023.

The Toot

The joke leaflet image was something I found many years ago. And, recently whilst searching my image library for something else, I stumbled across it again. So I put it up on Mastodon.

joke leaflet - see full text in the blogpost

The Alt text is:

How To Fix Any Computer

Windows – Reboot.

Did that fix it? No? Format hard drive. Reinstall Windows. Lose all your files. Quietly weep.

Apple – Take it to an Apple store.

Did that fix it? No? Buy a new Mac. Overdraw your account. Quietly weep.

Linux – Learn to code in C. Recompile the kernel. Build your own microprocessor out of spare silicon you had lying around. Recompile the kernel again. Switch distros. Recompile the Kernel again but this time using a CPU powered by refracted light from Saturn. Grow a giant beard. Blame Sun Microsystems. Turn your bedroom into server closet and spend ten years falling asleep to the sound of whirring fans. Switch distros again. Abandon all hygiene. Write a regular expression that would make other programmers cry blood. Learn to code in Java. Recompile the kernel again (but this time while wearing your lucky socks).

Did that fix it? No? Revert back to using Windows or a Mac. Quietly weep.

The Response

Within a couple of hours, my post had already exceeded 40 interactions on Mastodon. About a month ago I discovered that stops reporting more than 40 notifications and just says 40+. This is the best example I can provide right now, just imagine it says 40+ and not 26.

a mastodon info panel reporting 26 notifications

27 Oct 2023 edit . . . further down my latest viral toot shows 40+

I also learnt that when you have a viral toot your timeline becomes tediously unmanageable. A few dozen replies, a few hundred boosts and a few  hundred more favourites. The first handful of replies (mainly from people I already know in real life) where in character with my humorous intent. Once you have many interactions it actually becomes difficult to scroll down the page, spot the ones with text rather than boosts of the image file, and read them all.

The Fallout

Then over time, the replies increasingly went toxic! As if I alone was singlehandedly responsible for the entire ecosystem of computer operating systems and the adverse effects that it has on some users.

Around 24 hours after posting I gave up examining any of the responses. And the comments, the boosts and the favourites continued at quite a pace. This screenshot from my mobile phone shows more than 1,000 interactions in the first 5 days. Some of those 45 replies have still not been read and never will be.

screenshot of a mobile phone - as at 9 Aug 2023 - showing the toot with 45 replies 473 boosts and 696 favourites

What I did learn is that popular people with Mastodon accounts (like Stephen Fry) will simply not have the time to check all the interactions, and (assuming the responses become toxic) will not even want to. That has been my experience.

Here’s another example:

screenshot of a Stephen Fry toot promoting the play Bleak Expectations

As soon as I saw that toot I booked tickets. Two weeks later my family and I had a splendid night at the theatre, with Stephen Fry and others.

Later on, back on Mastodon, I scrolled through some of the replies to Stephen’s toot. The 3rd reply and the 9th are basically “Oi, Stephen, Alt text, do the Alt text!”

Yes, it’s nice to have Alt text. I have been building websites since 1997 and I use Alt text. However, on social media platforms the ability to add Alt text is a relatively new innovation. Give us time to adjust please! Especially older folks like me and Stephen Fry. In any case, the text in Stephen’s toot largely explains the image file, and that’s acceptable to the Mastodon community on GitHub. If the toot already tells the user what’s in the image, then users who have screen readers do not need to hear the same thing said twice.

Neither Stephen Fry nor I need brutal replies. We’d like to contribute more to social media in general, Mastodon in particular, and make it a nicer place. Not a toxic swamp like the one that bird site has become.

The Result

On 31 Dec 2021 I stopped using Twitter (18 months ago). More recently I gave up on LinkedIn (mid July 2023). I had been posting to LinkedIn roughly once per week (business tips, health and fitness tips, etc) and I was getting toxic replies. I don’t need that! I deleted all my LinkedIn posts and I won’t be adding any more.

The next time I have a viral toot (assuming I ever have another viral toot) I will stop checking the interactions. Human nature made me do it the first time. Those toxic interactions have ensured that I will now carefully pick and choose the intensity of my online communication. I want Mastodon to be a better experience than the others.

The 27 Oct 2023 Edit

Another one went viral today. It seems that humour is the magic sauce.

The above screen shot was taken 6 hours after the toot was posted. It shows 933 boosts and over 1,300 likes. No, I haven’t even tried to read the reponses.

The text says “public service announcement – in order to spell banana on a mobile device you need to draw a banana on your keyboard” and the Alt Text says “a mobile phone keyboard overlaid with yellow lines, resembling the shape of a banana, as the user moves from B to A to N to A to N to A”.