I’ve now had the Lenovo Thinkpad T440s as a work machine for the past 6 or 7 months. Here are some short observations, things I like, things I don’t like, things the broke, etc.
Things I do not like:
The gorram touchpad. Get it out of here! Horrible the way there is like a single button (the size of the entire touchpad), and a certain area for the right mouse button etc. Just unusable in my opinion
The keyboard used to be better… now it resembles something that comes from Cupertino, and is not as comfortable to use as the previous thinkpad-y keyboards
No more nipple buttons! How am I supposed to use the trackpoint (a.k.a. the nipple) without the two buttons below the keyboard? I’m not, that’s how! External mouse is basically an absolute necessity
They’ve slimmed it down so much the keyboard leaves marks on the screen when you have the lid closed. It’ll only get worse, and I hope it doesn’t permanently damage the screen. I do have a screen-filter in between so hopefully that protects the LCD slightly.
Things I like:
Screen is great. 14″, FullHD (yes, It’s not 1440p or whatever). You could get it with either a touchscreen or not. Obviously mine isn’t a touchscreen, as I was buying a laptop, not a tablet
256GB SSD. Not the fastest out there, but I like
Connectivity. With the docking station, I have enough ports to fill my needs. USB 3.0, 2x Display Port (which I have connected to my two external Dell screens), etc. etc. I’ve missed the optical drive a few times. But not enough to get an external drive to lug around
The overall form factor, size and weight
Things that have broken or failed more than once, or annoyed me
This list is longer that I would like. Compared to previous Thinkpads that I have used or owned, this is unusual
SSD. Started failing when I was saving files (for instance), and eventually stopped being detected at boot. Replacement was sent by Lenovo, and I swapped it out. In hindsight, do not do this on your own. The case is a bitch to open. Get their onsite tech to do it.
Keyboard. Broke a button while fiddling with it. A piece of plastic came off and the button was forever broken. My fault entirely. Ordered a replacement keyboard, swapped it out. Easier than the SSD. A bit harder than some Thinkpad models in the past.
The piece of metal that keeps the ethernet cable in place! This is incredibly annoying. For some reason, the ethernet cable doesn’t *click* into place anymore. Something is missing. Not sure this is a warranty thing. I’ll just survive, I think. I use it in the dock about 70% of the time anyway
Issues with the external screens, when docked. I have two Dell U2713HM screens attached via Display Port cables to the dock. Randomly, the screens will go blank, even when the laptop is securely seated (and locked) into the dock. Sometimes resolutions get messed up, so that one screen has a lower resolution. This might be a Windows 8.1 issue too, but still, annoying. Issues waking up from sleep, or power save
Serviceability. I wish it was easier to open the case. Granted, I don’t have to do it. I can get their onsite or whatever to do it. But I liked how you could open the slot for memory, or the hard drive, or whatever, and not have to rip the entire case to bits. Screws are also not enough, there are plastic clips that *will* break if you are not careful when opening the case. I wish it was more like my T410s, where everything, more or less, was behind it’s own hatch and/or easily replaceable
Not available with more then 12 GB memory. Why? Why the I7 processor, but then limit the memory to 12GB? Doesn’t make sense in 2014…
Not sure I can recommend this laptop. There are a lot of annoying things with this machine. When docked, it works mostly great, and with the 256GB SSD, I7 processor, and with it’s dual DP ports supporting large external screens, it is a powerful rig. But a lot of annoying issues. Not sure what I would get, if I didn’t get this one. Apple is out, never liked HP.. what other business type machines are there that I would like? Dell? Always thought they were a bit clunky.. I dunno.
I’ve been the owner of an ebook reader (see the previous post) for all of two weeks now. I have used my kindle nearly daily, and it’s a handy thing to have around. So far, I’ve mostly been reading issues of Linux Journal (who moved to a digital format two years (?) back), the scifi book by MK Wren that I mentioned, and then various tests.
But about the medium. Surprisingly, I fucking hate that there are format restrictions, DRM and all that jazz. Why have two formats that do essentially the same thing on different devices? Profits, probably. Businessy stuff that I don’t understand. There are of course, ways around things like this. I read somewhere that you can root a Kindle, which then enables functionality not found on the retail device. There are various converters for formats, such as Calibre, which enables management and conversion between formats. I have read that the Kindle (un-rooted?) will not eat stuff that has been un-DRM-ified using a converter, or that it will read books that have been converted at all. I haven’t tried the software yet, so I’ll have to get back to you.
The issue of DRM is a difficult one. I do not believe in crippling content and/or software. Your product should be good enough so that people want to pay for it. And I will. The amount of money I spend on software, movies and music in a given year is not a small one. We own several shelves of music, several gigabytes of digital music, and probably in the neighborhood of 500 DVDs and Blurays. I prefer FLOSS, but if it doesn’t do what I need it to do, I’ll probably buy something. I own my copies of Windows, on all of my hardware. And so on. Ok, disclaimers aside, the point I was trying to make is: If your content is good and there is a need for it, people will pay for it. DRM will never be an effective solution, ever. People will always find a way around it.
Okay, done venting!
I’m still miffed that I can’t read my technical manuals or whitepapers, which are in PDF format, on my Kindle. I would really find it useful if I could carry that with me when I go on consulting gigs, so I could pull up any number of manuals when I’m in a server room somewhere doing an install. Yeah, I can use a laptop, but that will run out of battery on most install gigs, and it’s not comfortable to have when you’re behind a rack for instance. Printing them is also out of the question, as they might be hundreds of pages. This is really a use case I can get behind, though, I do admit it is a comfort thing, more than a necessity for me.
I ran into that pesky “out of memory” message, trying to read a tiny 15 MB pdf. I don’t get it. Surely the device has more than 15 megs of RAM, and I hope it doesn’t cache the entire document when you read it. Maybe a slight read-ahead and read-back? Conversion might be the answer here, but, as I said, I will have to get back when I’ve tried it.
As for the content: I have not bought anything from Amazon yet. I have bought The Book of PF (3rd edition) from No Starch (really like their stuff!), some indie content, and then the scifi books through.. whatever it was. Paid by paypal or credit card, then transfered them through the USB to the Kindle. Works fine.
There is in-device buying. I’ve seen ads for $1.99 books on the Kindle, and sooner or later, I’ll click on one. It will be interesting to see if there are regional restrictions on that. I bought the Kindle in the States, sure, but can I buy books from Amazon when I’m in Finland? Amazon.co.uk tells me to go to Amazon.com (eerily similar to my first tries of buying a Kindle). I simply don’t understand this. I get it that they need to like.. pay distributors and what not, but.. Just let me pay you for your stuff! I have the money! You have the stuff! Let’s transact!
You can also move content by sending an email to your “Kindle email address”, which was created when you first registered your Kindle. Also, you can probably use Wifi (haven’t tried it). USB is fine for me.
Even if I have to live without content from Amazon’s stores, there’s still plenty for me to read, and plenty of good publishers that provide me with cheap, compatible books.
So I’ll start out by saying that there wasn’t a real.. flaming need to get an ebook reader. I just wanted one. And I am at a point in my life where I can get things that I want.
It’s also painfully difficult to get ebook readers in Finland. They have this mantra here. “There’s no point in publishing/selling ebooks, because nobody clearly buys them!”, which leads to “Nobody buys ebooks because there are no ebooks/readers to buy”, which leads to..
There are a few readers that you can get in Finland. Sony has had a few models available at Verkkokauppa.com for a while now. There are also some less known brands (to me, at least), like Bookeen. No idea about their product. But try to find a non-secondhand Kindle, or Nook or Kobo or some such device. You can’t! Or if you can, I stand corrected. The Sony products have not been attractive to me. Perhaps just because of the brand, or the format support (they do support epub, more on these later), and have things like a MicroSD slot and so on. The Bookeen models apparently su pport both epub and mobi, which sounds great! If anyone has experience with the Bookeen brand devices, please comment. They are cheap as dirt (54,90€ at Verkkokauppa), which makes me slightly suspicious, but the format support is intriguing.
A great segue! The formats. There are two big formats. Epub and mobi. Epub is used by a lot of vendors. Mobi is used primarily by Amazon on their Kindle-series devices. PDF is almost universally supported (though, there are limitations), as are some image formats and common text formats. Some support doc, and docx, even xml-type formats.
So what format should you go for? I went for mobi, and the Kindle ecosystem. Why? Well, mostly because of reviews. Amazon seems to have a fair selection with reasonable prices. There are probably the same amount of mobi-formated books, so that’s probably not the main reason.. The Kindle doesn’t even have expandable memory. But the screen is great. It has received near-universal praise, and looking at it in the store kind of sealed the deal.
So why did I buy it in the US? Well because of the price. I paid $99 plus Nevada sales tax, (108 dollars was the total, I think. Don’t get me started on the stupid tax-free pricetags in the states..). I tried ordering one online. I went to amazon.co.uk. It told me I can’t order this product to my country (Finland, for those who are not regular readers). Why? Who knows. I didn’t find a solid reason. The price would have been about right (plus shipping of course), but I just couldn’t buy it. We’re all in the EU, so I wouldn’t even have to pay VAT or customs!
So Amazon.co.uk directed me to Amazon.com. They, quite obviously, have the Kindles for sale. But if I order it from the States, I have to pay the price (around what I paid at Best Buy, where I got it), + shipping + 3.5% customs fees, + 24% VAT on the product + shipping. Which makes the price.. well not so attractive.
I knew I was going to the US sooner or later, so I decided to wait. Like Chuck Norris.
Because of reviews, I ended up with two finalists: The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, and the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2 (released in 2013). Basically both have impressive batteries (they promise ~8 weeks with 30 minutes of daily reading, and some wifi-use). The Nook supports the epub format. The Kindle supports the mobi format. The Kindle is said to have a slightly better screen. The Nook, on the other hand, has a MicroSD card slot (supporting cards up to 32GB).
In the end it was the screen, and the physical appearance of the Kindle that sealed the deal. It’s simple, minimalistic, and not so plasticky and round as the Nook. I bet I would have been equally pleased with the Nook, had I not compared them side by side, and read all those reviews; most of them giving the Kindle a very slight edge against the Nook.
So once I had traveled the 20 + hours (door to door) to Vegas, I set out to find a Kindle. I weighed different options, looking up stores that were near to The Venetian where I was staying. It was either a Frys, or a Best Buy. Both had the product in stock, with the same price (or close). It was Sunday, so Best Buy won by being open (and closer). I waked 2.3 miles (according to Google Maps) to get to the Best Buy on S. Maryland Parkway. After stopping by the Starbucks on Flamingo, which I had to do to prevent accute dying (it was nearly 40 degrees celsius!), I finally got to the store. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I ordered it online, and selected store pickup. All this worked fairly well. I did have one issue. Best Buy offers two options for us foreign devils: 1) Order it to a US address (not sure if I could have ordered it to the hotel?), 2) Pick it up from a store. Another caveat was, that if you wanted to pay by credit card, you had to use a specific billing address provided by Best Buy in their handy “international customers” guide. I did run into a problem. I couldn’t type a telephone number that it would accept. It just told me “Please enter a valid phone number in the format (555-555-5555) or something to that effect. I tried all manner of combinations, fake and real, but nothing would pass the mechanical devilry that was their online store.
On the left hand side there was an option to “chat with a best buy customer support agent”. I considered my options. I could have just walked over, called the store.. .But being the antisocial prick that I am, I decided to give the chat a whirl. After a short wait (maybe 2 minutes max?), Jennifer came online, and within a few minutes, I had a working solution. Apparently the dashes were not needed (despite the instructions), and the number she gave me was.. something other than my own. I don’t care. It worked. I thanked Jennifer, and waited for the confirmation that the Kindle was waiting for me at the store.
All this happened on time, within a few minutes of the store opening at 11 AM.
At the store, I had one last look at the models, confirming my selection. I went to the online pickup counter, where I presented my ID and credit card, and was handed my Kindle. All in all very smooth! I can recommend this method to anyone visiting the states.
I did want a cover for my precious device. I opted for an “official” leather Kindle case, at a slightly salty $39,90 + tax. It does look great, so there is that. And closing the lid also puts the device to sleep, so I’m okay with this.
Initial impressions of the device are as expected. Charged it, which took a while. Turned it on, and it wanted a wi-fi connection to register the device, whatever that means. I logged on using my existing Amazon account (to maximize my surveilance footprint), set the time, and I was pretty much done.
I had previously purchased the VODO Otherworlds Indie Bundle, which included a number of ebooks in various formats. Conclusions: mobi format works fine, as it’s the native format. Comic-book formats (cbz and whatnot) do not (at least without conversion), PDF’s work… partially. I started reading a PDF course book that I had, and it crashed the Kindle at page .. 65 or something. Out of memory. The file was.. 15 megs maybe? Surely it can’t really be out of memory??
I googled around, and found that PDFs sometimes do that, because they have various scaling issues for the 6″ screen. The fonts might be screwy, the zooming so on might not work. So PDFs work.. with some limitations. Why I was able to load the file, and get to page 65 (maybe it had some specific content on it?), eludes me. The solutions to this were mostly to use some software to convert the PDF to mobi or something. Haven’t tried that yet.
That’s kind of a big minus for the Kindle. PDFs are everywhere. Most of the technical documents I read are in PDF format. If I can’t have a decent solution to reading them, that’ll be a bummer.
Ok, this is really long. I’ll conclude by saying: The screen is great. I have not recharged it, after the initial charge, and I read daily. During the evening, I can read without disturbing my SO, since the screen is slightly illuminated. I can use a very low brightness setting while reading at night. Something like 4-7. The 8-week battery promise is with brightness 10, and some Wifi, so I ought to get a good battery life like this.
The screen is very easy to read at any brightness level, and it is very fast to refresh (none of that full page blank and reload of the first ebook readers), and it responds to touch nearly instatly (to turn the page; there are no physical buttons)
All in all a nice product, with a minus in regards to PDFs. I just bought some scifi that BoingBoing had recommended, and I’m in the middle of one of those. In native mobi format. I also pre-ordered “The Book of PF” 3rd, edition, which was available in mobi-format as well. Looking forward to reading that!
The move starts in a few days. We’re pretty much all packed now, just a few things from the kitchen, some clothes, some stuff on the balcony left. We’re living on microwave dinners and plastic utensils. We got rid of our dishwasher because the new place has one already. We still have a 120cm bed, and a desk (the desk is gone, thanks M!) that need a new owner. Should we not find one, we’ll take em to Kierrätyskeskus or somewhere, so they can be resold or recycled. If you know me, and want either or both, and can pick them up, just get a hold of me before the weekend.
Not really looking forward to the actual move this weekend. It’ll be tough, long days. And after that, a week of things finding their correct places, living out of boxes.. Bleh.
What I am looking forward to, is the new home office. I’ve already made some plans in my head as to the networking in the house. There’s an 8 or 10 port patch panel in the foyer, which I can use to network the different rooms at least to some degree if necessary, though, I will be taking my cable internet connection with me. My carrier also offers “ethernet” to my apartment, at 100/10 (the cable connection is 200/15 or something), and I might end up switching to that, should the cable connection prove shitty or unreliable, or uncomfortable to connect. I’m not sure whether I can get the cable modem near the patch panel, then take the ethernet from the cable modem to the patch that goes to the home office. There, from the wall, it’ll go to the OpenBSD pf-machine, and from there to my home network. If I can’t get the cable modem near the patch panel (depends on whether there is an antenna connection in there), it’ll have to go somewhere near the antenna wall sockets (there’s one in every room, luckily), and then onward from there.
I’d like to have the modem in there, near the patch panel obviously. There’s a power outlet there, and plenty of space. But I forgot (being the idiot that I am) to check if there’s an antenna output in there.
I could go all crazy and get the ethernet as a redundant connection and do some magic on the pf-box so I can switch to that if the cable connection goes down. It was like 35 bucks a month for the 100/10, I think. There was a slower, cheaper alternative, which could function well as a redundant connection, or say, I could provide an airgapped guest WLAN or something absurd like that.
I’m thinking of mounting the TV on the wall. I might just do that, too. Expect pictures.
I’m still reading ‘Diamond Age’ by Neal Stephenson. Last 30 pages or so. I think I see the endgame already, but I’m not entirely sure. It’s gotten pretty convoluted, in a cool way. I’m pretty sure I’ll tackle “The Baghdad Blog” next. Should be a quick read.
The inevitable thing that everyone has to post about: Steam on Linux!
I’ll relay my personal experiences here in very short form. I first downloaded Steam when it went open beta before christmas. I was doing this on my Arch workstation, that ran on the radeon drivers. Steam was available through the AUR, and was installed as easily as ‘packer -S steam’. Really. Granted, since I am running a 64-bit system, and steam is a 32-bit application for linux, I had to download some packages from the multilibs repositories, but that’s a minor inconvenience. The main point is the client worked right out of the box. I could log in using my regular steam user account and i saw every game in my library. Some games were separated under the Linux category. These were games that I owned, that were Linux compliant. What a great feature! Also, I was happy to see that going to the Steam Store, there was a separate ‘tab’ for Linux games. Very good and non-intrusive choices from Steam.
Then come the problems.
The installation location for the games was not changeable. By default, they went to something like ~/.local/share/Steam which sits on my SSD on my installation, and was not a proper location for larger games. Adding a location was available in Steam through Steam -> Settings -> Downloads & Cloud -> Steam Library Folders. On Arch, this did not work, and the UI bugged out by showing a steam error popup that was unreadable graphical garbage. This is most likely an ATI issue, or it was fixed in an update, because it works through the UI on my Intel-based Thinkpad T410s.
When adding the steam library folder works, I am unable to choose where games are installed. I was able to circumvent this by symlinking the default steam library location to another location on a different drive
You cannot remove the default steam library folder. See 1 and 2.
TF2 installed correctly, but had some audio issues which were dealt with in the Arch wiki. Using Radeon drivers, gameplay *worked* but was unplayable due to low FPS. Everything worked, don’t get me wrong. I could look for online games, join the game, play the game, but I got shot in the head a lot, because FPS was, like, 10.
Using fglrx propietary drivers resulted in TF2 not launching, and steam/tf2 having some sort of segfault shit-fit (based on steam.log). Trying different versions of fglrx and even xorg did not improve the situation. Based on some of the stack traces I read, it seemed to have something to do with OpenGL. The game would attempt to launch, blank the screen for a fraction of a second as if it were transitioning to fullscreen mode, and then give up. To the credit of the Steam client, it did not crash, and i was able to resume my session without a hitch.
But as noted, there are several awesome features, and the client itself works rather solidly. OS integration was working too, as I was sent a gift by Anteuz, and i was able to redeem the gift using a steam:// link in linux. That worked fine! The chat feature works, though I’ve had it crash once, but that’s to be expected in beta software. I’m working on reporting some of the bugs, as long as they are not already reported (I think they are). I’d like to try this on an Nvidia card, but I don’t have a machine with such a card. Both our machines at home that are able and willing to play run ATI/AMD. The cards we have are the 6850 and the 4850.
I was also toying around with Xubuntu 12.10, and I had somewhat of a better experience, but TF2 would still not run, and crashed with the same errors. Client installation was about the same, but less UI issues than in OpenBox in Arch.
The only game that I owned that I really got working on either machine was the indie game Cogs. It worked.. fine. TF2 worked but with low FPS.
The last day of 2012. The world didn’t, much to everyones dismay, end. Or maybe it should have already happened, as the Mayans didn’t account for leap-years, which were implemented much later (and have happened some 500 times since). If those are added in, the world shoul have ended 7 months ago or something. Of course the whole issue was a bunch of horse shit to begin with, but that’s not important now.
A lot of things happened this year for me. I traveled to New York for a second time for HOPE 9. I’ve learned a lot of neat tricks on my own time, and at work. Mostly related to, what else, computers. Assembly 2012 Summer came and went, and i found myself thinking about 2013’s Assembly a few days ago. Tickets come on sale in like, 6 months! I got a few certificates. My grandfather passed away. My son turned five. I moved from AMD to Intel for the first time since 1999.
What’s in store for 2013 then? My father turns 60, and we’re celebrating that in a big way. Work goes on, I hope, and i’ll become even more proficient at what I do. But that’s a constant process, really. There’s so much to learn, and luckily I’m still very young. And I don’t even have a brain tumor, as an MRI pointed out! See, I participated in this voluntary study, in the control group and..
I haven’t written very much in the past few months and that’s all really down to “being busy”. I’m not entirely sure that I have been more busy, but work has certainly been taking up a lot of my time lately. I haven’t had much time to work on personal projects, although I’ve done some which I’ll detail later. I got rid of the Primera for instance, and am now sporting a brand new Honda Civic, which delights me greatly. The Primera served me well, don’t get me wrong, but it was getting a bit too old for my tastes. I needed blue LEDs.
About the projects. My HTPC has gone through a number of updates, which I’ll probably write a separate blogpost about. To sum things up, I’ve upgraded to a 3TB Western Digital Caviar Red, and even more recently, to XBMC 12 ‘Frodo’. Both have been stellar so far. As I said, I upgraded my personal PC to an Intel Core i5, which I’ve already written about. The SSD is still rocking like a champ, and makes using the machine so much more flexible. I also added 8GB of RAM just because I felt like it. Having that 16GB just feels right, you know? Oh, and I updated my home gateway to OpenBSD 5.2 yesterday.
Today will be spent among friends, but also with my boy. Hopefully it will be a relaxing time. Like, Suntory time?
I don’t know what else to say right now, and end-of-year wrap-up’s are boring to read anyhow. But I will mention some of the upcoming posts that I have brewing:
The HTPC now
I’d imagine a few posts about vSphere 5 since that’s been a bane and a blessing of this year
Something esoteric and quasi-existential about Solaris, BSD and maybe Linux
Probably something wildly ranting and political in nature that i’ve been taking notes about in my hipster Moleskine Pacman 30-year aniversary notebook
In all, the year in hindsight was not all rotten and shit.
A writeup on my trip to New York in July 2012. I’ve separated it into a few topics, so you can read what you want, or all of it if you are bored.
Travel, Security & Airports
Finnair gets a slap
First of all, i’d like to slap Finnair with a huge wet fish. I had some .. curious issues trying to fill in my data for the flight. By data, I mean the supplementary data that is required to travel to the US. I did my ESTA-thing, and was approved for travel. That system, even thought it costs actual big-people money, works fairly well. Finnair on the other hand, which took 742 euros of my money for a roundtrip, did not work too well. I got an e-mail a 2 weeks before my trip telling me that I need to add some information. I was provided with a link to do so. I edit my information and hit save. Nothing happens, though it did submit something. Close the little window, and hit confirm on the main page: “Your reservation number 123456 could not be found”. Yes, literally that message. Tried IE. Tried Chrome. Tried Firefox. Same result.
So I decide to call Finnair. The phone-call costs 3.15€ per call, plus local per-minute fees. Not exactly cheap, considering that Finnair isn’t usually the cheapest choice in tickets either…
A peppy-sounding woman answers, and I describe the issue to her. She offers to take my information and feed it to the system over the phone. I tell her every single item, and spell any names and such. I didn’t spell New York to her, but more on that later. So i ask her whether the information is on time, and she tells me she doesn’t know, but that she thinks it’s 72 hours prior to travel. This actually applies to the ESTA-form, afaik, and not this supplementary information that the airlines send to the relevant US authorities.
At the end of the call, she tells me to check the website again to see if the information is there and correct.
Rest assured, it was not. Let me itemize some of the things that were either missing or incorrectly typed:
My middle name was missing, even though i gave it
My passport number was missing two characters
My passport expiry date was incorrect (i even got an error saying that my passport is now expired and that i should contact Finnair!!). She typed 2012 when she was supposed to type 2013, making my passport expired
The destination city was typed incorrectly. Now, i may be anal about this, but if you work for an airline, or in the travel industry, even as a temp, you should know how to spell New York.Hell, if you are a human being in the western hemisphere, you should know! But no. She spelled it New Yourk. In my mind, this was the stupidest, though perhaps the smallest, of all the faults she had made.
So after a short moment of perplexion, i redial the Finnair customer support number. I think I got the same Woman, because she neither confirmed or denied when I inquired about whether she was the one I talked to earlier. I tell her the information is incorrect, and start out with the ‘New Yourk’-issue, because that stumped me the most. She started out by telling me: “Oh that’s a small mistake..but I’ll go ahead and correct it anyway”. I then described the other three issues (perhaps not so minor, eh Finnair?) which I asked her to read back to me once she’d typed them in. She then tried to cover her ass by saying “Some of the information we type into our systems don’t show up on the website, so don’t worry”. I could understand if it was my choice of meals on the plane, or what color luggage I was planning on checking in, but what would be the point of having two separate systems that integrate partially? I mean you could do it that way, but it just sounds weird to me. Then, I’ll disclaim that I’m not a code monkey so i don’t know how they (don’t?) think.
I still didn’t trust her, but decided not to check the information online anyway. I had this theory where, if i open the thing online, it wipes out some of the fields she’s typed in on their end. Sounded plausible at the time..
Now, I am a cautious person by nature. Some might call me neurotic (and be correct in their statement), or even paranoid. But when it comes to dealing with US three-letter-agencies, I tend to want to err on the side of caution. They’ve turned away people at the border for tweeting jokes, so what would happen if my passport number was incorrect? I also bet that Finnair is completely void of any responsibility for any missing or mis-typed information, through some EULA or other agreement I must have mentally signed when I woke up that morning and thought of Finnair. And the amount of .. emotion I would have felt should I have been turned back at the border after paying for everything.. would have been substantial.
I also sent in a complaint to Finnair through their webform (yeah yeah, the irony). I checked the box saying “Yes, I want to be contacted on this issue”. After a while, i got an e-mail saying (or maybe it was on the website after i submitted the form?) that their complaints department is very busy right now, and that someone would get back to me within 28 days. Two weeks after I have returned from my flight. OK, fine, I’ll wait. I’ll also blog about what they say.
The funny did not stop here. A short while later, i get an SMS from Finnair, saying, roughly: “Hello! You’ve recently sent some feedback to us. Would you like to fill in a questionaire on your experience? You could win Finnair Plus gift-cards (or some such trinkets /note) for your troubles!”. Needless to say, I filled in the questionaire, vitriolic content flowing through my literary veins.
I don’t think I’ll win any gift-cards.
Samsonite gets a cookie
I bought my single most expensive piece of luggage before the trip. I was getting tired of lending bags, or using crappy supermarket-quality bags. I bought the second best Samsonite they had on display, at roughly 200€. A black, hard-shell stroller with four wheels. 10 year warranty. Absolutely worth the money. Lightweight, tough, easy to move around. And the obligatory TSA-approved lock, so they can open my bag when they want to!
The plane both ways was a Finnair-owned Airbus A330-300 (tail number OH-LTO i think?). The planes were clean, looked “right-out-of-the-factory” for the most part. Neatest part for a geek? Every seat, even in economy, had their own entertainment system in the seat in front of you. And best of all? It ran linux. I’ll add some pics later, which I was able to snag when the guy in front of me fell asleep on his screen, causing it to reboot. The screens got fairly hot, but all in all they worked flawlessly. The screens were resistive touchscreens, maybe 8 inches in size? Also included was a small wired remote with a small lcd-screen. The flipside of the remote had a qwerty-keyboard. The features that I looked at and tested were, in no particular order:
Movies and other video-type entertainment
SMS and E-mail cost two dollars a pop, which is highway (uh.. mile high?) robbery. It costs a shit and a nickle for them to send it out, seriously. I’m gonna look at the email headers later to see what i can deduce from that, as to the route it took etc. Sending and receiving was fairly straight forward, and it asked you to swipe a major credit-card before you started. This felt a bit odd, but since it confirmed each charge separately, I felt pretty safe using it. There’s something about sending an SMS at 11 km above Greenland that tickles my geek-buds.
Also offered was a phone-call option, (the remote/keyboard would have functioned as phone). Sure, phones have been on planes since.. the 80’s? But anyway, first flight i’ve been on that has these ammenities in economy class.
Movies had a fair selection (maybe 30 movies in different categories), all worked fine. Earbuds were included and waiting on the seat on both flights. Again an improvement from the rip-off 5 or 10 dollar charge for those shitty 2 cent chinese headphones on most flights.
So all in all, Finnair gets points for the flight.
The airport at Helsinki-Vantaa here in Finland is pretty much the same. They’ve added a new security measure, which involves scanning your passport, then walking into a small booth (not a scanner as far as I know), and then facing a camera which takes your picture. It automatically adjusted for height, and when the picture was taken, it opened the other side so you could pass.
JFK was about the same too, though the TSA has changed some of their uh.. policies. I was at Terminal 8, which is the Finnair terminal, both ways. No nudie-scanners that I could see, so I didn’t need to decline any such invasive radiation based scanning of my body. Too bad, I wanted to see how that worked out, declining that is. I mean, a trans-altantic flight gives you enough of a dose as it is. I see no reason why anyone would like to get irradiated a second time at the airport with technology that is possibly unsafe (or at least not extensively tested), and noteveneffective.
The TSA signs were pretty funny, stuff like: “Good news! If you’re under 12 years old, tighten your shoelaces! You won’t have to take off your shoes at the security checkpoint!” and “If you are born on or before this date in the year 1937, you will not have to take off your jacket and shoes”. I for one am thrilled. In only fourty some odd years, i’ll be able to travel without taking off my shoes!
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was pretty much the same, though I was processed by a rather humorless TSA “officer” (why do these guys and gals still have badges? I’m pretty sure they are not all law enforcement trained). He took my passport, scanned it, and asked some questions. I’m not sure he looked at me in the eyes once. Would that be a sign of weakness? Was he just not interested? What was the score here. I don’t know, but it felt rather strange. And for some reason, he stamped the “Welcome to the USA” stamp in the middle of two pages. Was he looking away when he did the stamping? Perhaps.
On the way back we experienced a heavy thunderstorm which hit JFK head-on. Eventually, a blue light started flashing outside, and they announced that the airport was now closed. All eight terminals of JFK. In the end our plane was like two hours late.
During the wait, we were sitting in the Mastercard lounge, which didn’t have wifi. That was the first thing they announced when we got to the lounge. Most people turned around after hearing this, but we just came for the comfortable leather seats. The wifi would have been pretty great though, but it appears nobody had internet at the airport, not wirelessly at least.
Back at Helsinki-Vantaa, we went through the same “airlock” with the self-adjusting camera. Fast and easy, though I fail to see how this increases security.
Hackers on planet Earth 9
So 13-15th of July was Hope #9. The theme was surveilance. Oh boy, where to start?
So the layout was the same as most years, with a few minor changes. There were three main tracks, and a fourth un-scheduled track. The tracks ran on the 18th floor of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York. We also had the Penn Pavilion for us, which consisted of a ground floor, and a mezzanine level. The ground floor had signin and security, as well as the music area, and the mezzanine had vendors, hackerspace area, chillout area, art installations and a bunch of other stuff.
I volunteered again, as I did during the Next Hope (the last hope, in 2010.. yeah, the names are confusing :), though this years experience was, I’m afraid, a bit less exciting. Maybe I’ve changed, or maybe it was really different? I helped out during loadin on thursday, and then did some shifts helping out the AV crew during friday-sunday. This year though, the organizers were either too distracted or there were “too many” volunteers. Work was harder to come by than in 2010, and it was hard to find the people who actually knew what they were doing, and what needed to be done. Also, there was a certain.. clique this year. People who had banded together and gotten special vests (STAFF!), special “all areas access”-cards and such paraphenelia that they paid for themselves. That’s okay, I’m all for that, but it kind of serves as a separator between the have’s and have-not’s. And yeah, I’m probably being too serious, as people always keep telling me, but some of the guys there were clearly above the rest. Man, some of the volunteers were hard to even talk to or get eye-contact, because they were so into their role. Think earbuds and CB-radio. Think walking around like you own the place.
And by no means does this apply to all of the volunteers. Just a select few. Anyway, I felt a little out of my league, and out of place. I didn’t do nearly as much work as last time around. Didn’t really feel like it either.
Okay, but enough whining. On to the talks. There were so many talks that i attended, that it is hard to pick out the best ones. I really liked the Prometheus Radio Project talk, the William Binney keynote (ex NSA dude), and Space Rogue’s Media Hype talk (Great hacks that never happened). There were other great ones as well, but there’s some of them. There were over 100 talks, of which you could see roughly.. a fourth maybe? Unless you were Schrödinger’s Cat or something. The talks were all filmed and recorded, and you can buy them from the 2600 store. Some of the speakers have released their slides, look on twitter for instance. Check the #hope9 tag for some of them.
The tickets this year were not electronic. Instead, we got a purple “Passport”. Inside you could affix stickers, or get stamps from different groups or people. My definite favorite was the one I got from Space Rogue; the L0pht Heavy Industries-stamp. Here are some pics of the passport and stuff:
In the vendor-area there were some new faces. Hackers for Charity (the Johnny Long-project if i’m not mistaken?), the EFF, the FSF and others were present.
I got a bunch of schwag from the conference, mainly stickers and shirts that i bought or received through donations to the non-profits. I was sad that I couldn’t get some of the EFF shirts without becoming a member. That’d be kind of pointless (and not even possible?), since I’m already a member of EFFI here in Finland. But we need cooler shirts here too damn it! The “I Fight For The User” shirt was especially nice.
New York in general
On the last full day, we went to see the World Trade Center site. The new building, One World Trade Center, was looking mighty fine. It’s now the tallest building in New York, and it’s not even finished yet. Awesome building!
We also visited the Museum of Natural History in the uh.. upper west side of town (i think that’s what it’s called), which was well worth the 19 dollar entry fee. So many exhibits and things to look at you would have needed hours to go through it all.
Wireless was still a pain to find. The hotel apparently had some kind of deal, which was 10 dollars a day. I wish I had seen that when i checked in. Oh well. I resorted mostly to the classic “attwlan” or whatever the Starbucks one is called, and other such places (Burger King was pretty good with Wifi too). Intertubes were slow, and laggy. I don’t have roaming data in my contract, because it’s usually prohibitively expensive. Not that we should complain. The Americans are getting ass-raped by their carriers. They pay some insane sums to get small scraps of data. Sure, they have uh.. “4G”, (not really), but who cares if you have a 1G cap? Even residential DSL connections are capped, which is something I will not stand for, even if I don’t download a lot of stuff…
I set one goal for the trip: Try as many fast-food places as possible. I tried: Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Five Guys burgers and fries. Out of those, Five Guys had perhaps the best burgers, while Taco Bell had the most bang for the buck (cheap as hell, and rather filling). Burger King had good fries at times, and KFC had tasty little Chicken Bits. Pizza Hut had just released the garlic bread pizza, which we of course had to try. It was pretty good too.
TV over there is still insane. Like five or six commercial breaks per hour of programming. And the ads are so fucking inane. Two seconds of content and the rest is warnings and advisories. Why, I had no idea that Cialis doesn’t prevent me from getting HIV!
All in all we walked a lot, and saw the city. I plotted some of the walks we did, and ended up at nearly 40 kilometers of walking, just inside one city and about four days. Great trip, but I don’t know when I’ll be back. It’s pretty darn expensive to go there, and Hope is now kind of.. I don’t know, been-there-done-that? A 3000 euro trip for the two of us is not something you can just go out and do. It takes saving and planning.
I think I’m going to look at the European conferences next. CCC or some of those events? At least the flights are cheaper.
Ok, this is one monster of apost, best to end it here.
My thoughts on faith, religion… whatever. Controversial topic to some people, or to most people? Kind of like how much you get paid in Finland. I don’t think so. I speak about both issues freely, sometimes to the chagrin of others.
I’ll start by telling one of my favorite anecdotes. When our son was born prematurely (on week 27), we were at the ICU for weeks, because he didn’t really have any lungs to speak of, and was kind of the size of a carton of milk anyway. He made it fine, to those not in the know, but still, it was touch and go for weeks.
While they were doing sterile operations, like changing incubation tubes or other such stuff, parents were asked to leave the ward and go to a waiting room. The room had a TV, a couple of sofas, a guestbook (filled with the most horrific and the most brilliant stories). Just a room to spend half an hour in while you couldn’t be with your child. One day in the waiting room, we were joined by a middle-aged woman. We talked for a moment, and then she asked, as an aside, if our son had been “emergency-baptized” as soon as he was born prematurely. Apparently, this is something where your child is baptized right away by a priest or whoever, so that if the child dies, his/her soul goes to heaven. A kind thought, but since neither of us, the parents, belong to any church or subscribe to any system of belief, we answered “No, our son has not been baptized”.
What does this charming example of the human race do? She stands up, fire in her eyes, and nearly shouts “Your child is going to hell!”. She then promptly storms out of the room, leaving us, literally, gasping.
I had no words for the situation. Now, mind you, i wasn’t a “new” atheist or agnostic (more on this later) at this point, so i wasn’t stumped by her reasoning. I was simply amazed that someone would do this at a children’s ICU-ward. I rarely have good comebacks when people say something “smart”. I’m also not a violent person by nature, though, if i could go back, i would probably beat the everliving crap out of her for the sheer fun of it.
So what made her do it? Her religion. Her beliefs. Her conviction. She was absolutely sure that an unbaptized child will go to hell. She was not angry at our child, but at us. The non-believers. We had, with our ignorant actions, condemned this poor young-soul to hell. How dare we?? We had no right. I saw this.
But then, I don’t feel pity for people like this. I feel hate. Anger. That’s the kind of person I am. So sue me.
Uh okay. So what do i believe in? I don’t believe in a god. Or gods. Or the Bible, or the Koran, or the Talmud or anything else of that sort. I believe in science. I believe in scientific methodology. By definition, that makes me an atheist. Something that is counter to the theist idea, that include belief in a god or gods. I do however accept that there are things we do not understand. That doesn’t make it supernatural, or imply the existence of a mythical god-figure. There may very well be a force beyond our current understanding, that manipulates what we perceive as reality. But it still doesn’t make it a god. It just makes it something that we do not yet have the terminology or science to grasp.
Atheism, to me, is not a belief system, though a lot of people want to say it is. It’s a way of thinking based on rational thought. I don’t believe there is no god, i know there is no god. It’s the difference between belief and knowledge. I think that sums Atheism well enough for me.
Then what is science really? It’s a current best guess. Theory, based on theory, based on experiment, based on theory. We’re constantly revising what we know, because we accept we are not perfect. We accept that we know a humble tiny little piece of how the universe works, and we’re trying our best to figure things out. Some theories last longer than others. We do not need absolutes, just current estimates and theories.
Religious people work with absolutes, as far as I’ve been able to understand them. An age old adage says, “If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people”. If there’s something you don’t understand, you consider it, ask other people, look at other angles and so on. Or do you just say “no, god did it”. Or “god works in mysterious ways”. That’s just a piss-poor way of saying “I don’t want to understand” or “I don’t need to understand”. “These things are not meant to be understood by me.” You’re essentially saying you are too stupid to understand how things work, and that you’re okay with it. If that’s okay for your, to not be able to reasonably look at things then… I’m very sorry for you.
I used to think that I’m an agnostic. An agnostic does not make up his mind, but waits for evidence to either side before making up his mind. But since there is not conclusive evidence toward either side; and how could there ever be conclusive evidence, ever in an issue as complex as this, you don’t make up your mind. But this is pretty much a cop-out, as I’ve come to understand it. Even if there isn’t evidence that conclusively proves that there is no god, can i really honestly accept that possibility? Can i honestly accept into my world a supernatural being that created and controls everything? No. I can accept a force beyond our current understanding that may to the uneducated mind seem omnipotent. But anything can be explained through science. Just not current science.
So I’ve perhaps come to understand that I’m purely an atheist. If i need the label at all. But i definitely don’t accept the possibility of a deity of any kind. The mere concept is ludicrous.
So what about the afterlife. Dying. Creation? Evolution? Let’s look at my thoughts on these issues.
When you are born, in fact, before you are born, your consciousness is born. This can be proved by looking at EKG from a fetus. At some point, when enough stem-cells have been tasked to form brain cells, a chemical process happens which triggers electrical activity in the clump of cells that will be your brain. They will eventually take over involuntary and voluntary functions that you need to survive and act. The fetus will move it’s hands. It will kick. It will toss and turn. When the child is born, these will be augmented by a whole host of amazing feats that us humans take for granted.
We know there is electrical activity happening in the human body. When you die, this activity eventually ceases, within 24 hours or so [uh edit here, after the brain stops getting oxygen, it stops working after a few minutes or so]. Don’t quote me on this, by the way, but let’s say that for the sake of conversation at the moment. According to physics, energy doesn’t go anywhere. It may transform, but it exists just the same. You burn a log and you get heat. Same way, the energy that kept you going has to go somewhere. It may just dissipate into the surroundings, or the tissue, or it might do something else. There’s no evidence for any of this, so it’s just speculation. As far as we know, when you die, you cease to exist. You don’t conceive anything anymore. Ergo, there is no afterlife, because there is no you there to comprehend it.
Creation..well can we just put this to rest already? It’s 2011. If you believe a magic fairytale-guy created the world by thinking about it in a week, or even thousands of years, you’re crazy and you should be institutionalized. There is enough conclusive evidence to say that the universe was created some 13.7Ga ago, and we have visual evidence of other solar systems that are in the process of forming planets to say that this didn’t just “snap into existence through some magical fucking being”. It’s still an ongoing process that we have the privilege to study and look at.
As for life, well, we’ve already created ‘artificial bacteria’ in labs. We’ve created something that wasn’t created through natural process. Sure, we haven’t yet simulated how life came to be from a goo of amino acids, water and various elements, but we have enough supporting evidence to say this is exactly what happened. We have evidence for evolution. Sure, there are holes in a number of species and how they came to be, but that doesn’t negate the other, valid evidence that we have. We can point to a rock or a fossil and say with a high degree of certainty that it is n years old.
And because our knowledge of evolution isn’t complete, as few things are, it’s still just a theory. And that doesn’t bother me in the least. It can be a theory as long as it has to, but theory doesn’t make it any less real than something written in a book 1800 years ago. Theory just means we don’t fully understand everything, so we make certain hypothesis based on research and empirical evidence, until we can fill out the gaps with enough confidence. Which we may never! And that’s the great thing about science.
I don’t get scared of the unknown, i take it as a challenge. I want to learn more. I don’t settle for explanations that take away an amazing process, and instead explains the end result as magics created by some guy in the sky?
One of my favorite quotes is ‘Epicurus’ Trilemma’ (paraphrased by me and summarized by David Hume) :
If God is unable to prevent evil, he is not omnipotent
If God is not willing to prevent evil, he is not good
If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, why is there evil?
This is the best god damn evidence that there is no god. If you want to worship a god that is petty and childish or downright evil, like a child killing ants with a magnifying glass.. well..
So i’m having one of those weeks again. Let’s start by describing what happened last Sunday. I was walking to the store to pick up some necessities, when i noticed that my Nissan had been broken into. The shotgun-side front window had been busted to shit, and my GPS was gone. Now yes, i made a mistake by leaving it out in the open. I was naîve, thinking that my GPS was safe in a car in Helsinki. I’ve always kept it out, but i guess i now live in a neighborhood populated by a bunch of junkies.
Anyway, it was far from a clean job. The window was shattered to a million bits inside the car, and half of it had dropped inside the door. Cleaning it up just so i could drive it to work and put it in the garage was a bitch. So yeah, i decided, instead of taping a black plastic bag over the broken window, i decided to drive it to a safer place. Who know, maybe the same fuck would have come back for my 1994 Green Day “Dookie” cd that i still had in the glove compartment. He also left a 100 euro inverter. I guess it could have been anyone, but my money is on some junkie looking for his next fix of cheap drugs (Subutex or some such stuff). A GPS like that retails for 150 euros or so, and on the black market it ought to fetch 30 bucks? Maybe 40? And that gets you what? In Helsinki, maybe a fourth of a gram of cocaine (probably not his brand of poison), or a few pills of subutex or some benzos.
Anyway, as soon as i noticed what had happened, i pick up my Galaxy S, and call the insurance company to ask about what to do next. However, as i’m slightly shocked by the events, i fumble, and drop my phone, which hits the asphalt with a resounding thump. Perfectly flat on its screen. I pick it up, and next thing you know, i’m picking out small pieces of glass from my hand. Great. Broken car. Broken phone. Phone still works, so i make the call anyway. Insurance company tells me to call the cops, and take the car to a shop for repairs.
Now, all this hinges on the po-lice. The five-oh. Come monday, i look up from their site how to make a report, which can be done either at the station, online or over the phone. I’m adviced by the site that i should not use the electronic form if the crime involves someone breaking in somewhere. Someone broke into my car to steal shit, so i figure i’ll call them instead. On the fourth call, someone picks up. Here’s the dialog:
Me: Hey, i need to make a report. Someone broke into my car.
5-0: Yeah? Well you need to fill out the online form
Me: But.. it said..
5-0: We can’t take reports like this over the phone. Either visit a police station, or fill out the online form.
I was stumped, but then again, my faith for our men and women in blue is .. minimal to begin with, so i was not altogether amazed.
So i look up the online form thing. I have to authenticate using my online banking codes. Fine, that’s fairly standard in things like this where you need to be sure who’s doing what. I fill in my info, and it says “Sending this information [insert name and social security number here] to the requesting site. Again, standard practice. I’m then taken to this 90’s rendition of a website, with a simple html form asking for different kinds of information. The first bits of information requested? My name and social security number, which i just authenticated to be sent over for. But hey, okay. Can you make a report under some other persons name? Doesn’t make sense to me why you’d authenticate as John Doe, and then make a report under the name Jane Doe, with her soc.security number. That smells illegal, you know?
So i fill in the fields, which are by the way, limited to like 50 characters. Try describing anything in 50 chars. Try writing the model name of the stolen items in 50 chars. There was also a field which asked how i wanted a copy of the report. The options were “by snail mail” or “i’ll pick them up”. I hit “by mail”, and then decide to click the “info” button next to the field. It says “You can get it by email (but that’s unencrypted mind you!), by mail, or you can pick it up”. There’s no field for “email”, and since the buttons are radio-buttons, i can’t de-select the choice i already made. I was stuck. Fucking sucks. I send it in anyway, and i get a date and time, a reference number. I then file a report with the insurance company. This is a PDF-file, with fillable forms. I then *print it out* because my insurance company doesn’t offer an electronic way of sending in stuff. There are rumors of an email address that accepts stuff, but it’s not public or i didn’t find it. So i then proceed to fucking fax over the form to the insurance company. *bepbepbeeep* Hey look, it’s the 90’s calling. Yeah? Okay. They said they want their technology back.
Jesus fucking christ.
Then i drive over to the car repair shop, so they can take pictures and get an estimate over to the insurance company. So far all good. Two days pass. On the third, i get a call from the insurance company, who say they have not heard from the police department. I then call the police, who give me the run-around, and finally forward me to the documents department. They spend a good 15-20 minutes searching for my report. They ask for my name. They ask for my social security number. The date and time i sent it in. The city i live in. None of these apparently produce any results, and i’m left to wonder whether they ever got the report or not. I try to offer the clerk the reference number that i got after i filed the report. Her reply? “No that’s useless. I can’t do anything with that”. So what, either she’s incompetent, or the reference number is.. a random generated number to make me feel better?
Also, i’ve never made a crime-report. And there should only be one person with my name and social security number in the entire country. So how can it be this difficult to find my report? This is beginning to sound like the work of some big IT service provider.
I was also told that “No the documents are not sent to the insurance company unless they request them (which they also don’t automatically). So i either have to ask the insurance company to ask the police to get the documents, or wait for the police to send the documents to me, so i can i guess..uh.. fax to the insurance company.
All this has yet to happen. No nothing from the po-po. The car guys are waiting for the insurance company, who are waiting for the police. So i’m stuck until they do their thing. Great.
..as for the phone
As i didn’t have a company phone (or i did, but i gave it away to a colleague when i got the galaxy s), i decided to get one ordered for me to replace the now-fucked Samsung. I wanted the Galaxy S 2, but they didn’t have it in stock, and i’m a very impatient man, so i got the HTC Desire Z (the HTC Vision elsewhere). That’s the qwerty-slider. I’ll write something about it once i’ve had a chance to use it first. It seems solid, and they physical keyboard is a nice thing to have around. Also, it supports Cyanogen Mod 7.1.
Yesterday i had a delightful meal at Kabuki in Helsinki. It’s probably the best Japanese restaurant in Helsinki (or so i’m told). I don’t have anything to compare to, but i did like the food.
Let me describe the place. It’s a pretty inconspicuous-looking place at the corner of Lapinlahdenkatu and Työmiehenkatu. Walking in, you’re greeted by someone from the staff, who asks you to remove your shoes, as the restaurant is shoe-free except for the vestibule. There are eight tables, two of which are .. i guess Japanese-styled, where you sit on the “floor”. That area is actually raised from the floor, but anyway. The restaurant opens at 17:00, and we had one of the low floor-seat tables booked. The place was booked for the entire evening, and people kept walking in asking for tables without reservations. I’m not sure how much in advance you have to do your reservation, but it’s not a place you just walk in to. And this was on a Tuesday!
Sitting down was not an easy task for some of our entourage, but we all eventually found our places. I’m a small chap, so i found it rather comfortable to sit cross-legged at that low table. They had, as i mentioned, 6 regular tables, but we wanted the Japanese experience, whatever that may mean.
We ordered assorted drinks first, including some “Japanese” beer, called Asahi. Which was actually made in the Czech republic, which was printed with the smallest possible font at the bottom of the label. But none the less.
The menu can be confusing at first, because you kind of have to flip back and forward if you don’t read Japanese. On the first two pages, you have the kanji (?) and the english versions of the dishes, but then when you get to the other dishes, which are combinations of different things, you just get the japanese name of the dish, but with a number, that corresponds to the first two pages. Confused? Good. Anyway, we managed to get some appetizers ordered, including Ebi Furai (deep fried scampi, flounder, and octopus), Yakitori (chicken skewers), and some dish with fresh tuna that i missed the name of, possibly the Sashimi Moriawase.
The main courses were ordered next, along with a beaker of warm Okunomatsu Junmai Ginjo sake. This was our waitresses recomendation, out of the three standard sake varieties. It was a warm, very sweet liquid, which wasn’t overwhelmingly strong, but not something i’d drink on it’s own. With the food it was alright. They had an 81 euro premium sake, but we decided not to order that, even though we were on the company dime.
I had the Sukiyaki, which was one of the two “table-made” dishes (the other being Yakiniku). Basically, they bring out a cast-iron pan, and turn on a gas-stove which is at the center of your table. When the pan has heated, the waitress brings out a tray of different items. She started out by taking a small dollop of fat, to see that the pan was properly heated. After that, she started piling on the different components: very thin slices of beef, leeks, chinese cabbage, bamboo, shitake mushrooms and noodles, adding the Sukiyaki sauce as she went. The sauce consists simply of sake (or mirin, which is not as alcoholic?), sugar and soy-sauce. With everything simmering away in front of us, she brings a cup with a raw egg inside, which she informs me, is for dipping. She tells us to wait a few minutes, and then enjoy. Totally awesome!
The beef was absolutely succulent. Marbled to perfection, and cut so thin you almost couldn’t see the slices (Seinfeld reference, never mind). The sauce made everything soft and sweet, and you then started picking up pieces with your chopsticks, dipping them in the raw egg, and then eating it. An absolutely delightful dish for 18 euros.
Dessert consisted of green-tea ice cream, which was rather odd-tasting, but not altogether bad. Two from our group had red-bean ice cream, which was equally odd, but not repulsive either.
All in all a great place to eat, if you remember to book in advance, with fair prices and good service. The only thing that was kind of weird was the decor, which consisted of hockey-jerseys, clubs and skateboards filled with signatures. How does this fit in with the theme, i have no idea. But it’s not stifling or bothering, so i guess.. rock on.