The First Shinkansen

The First Shinkansen:

 

I am a sucker for vintage industry promotion films, the kind of thing the third grade home room teacher would show as a treat on a dull Thursday afternoon. The soundtrack was warped, the film was scratched and patched and sometimes got stuck, but it was all fun.

Japanese rail fans love to post vintage photos and I came across this tweet with a fascinating video of the very first Shinkansen test car being pushed by a steam engine to the test site. It’s easy to forget how important the Shinkansen project was to Japan leading up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Even if you do not understand Japanese you can sense the importance of it all from the film clip: scrubbed technicians performing their jobs, testing the infrastructure and of course watching that first Shinkansen train whoosh past at full speed.

It’s hard to believe that the Shinkansen project almost didn’t happen. I wonder how happy the project team felt when the first Shinkansen whooshed by. It must have been a great day. The future arrived at 250 km/h.

(Via Ata Distance)

The tweet Joel includes has the video of the train. I love this stuff.

Cute toddler walking around in the breakfast joint would turn, lock eyes with someone, and assume a great defensive basketball stance *child not pictured

From whimsical to utterly terrifying, Japanese folklore has a monster for everyone

From whimsical to utterly terrifying, Japanese folklore has a monster for everyone:

Image: PIE International

I love monsters of all sorts, but some of my favorites are the traditional monsters from Japanese folklore collectively referred to as yōkai. These creatures vary wildly in size and temperament from anthropomorphized household objects like karakasa—a lost umbrella with one eye and a long, floppy tongue that hops around looking for its owner—to the large and terrifying Gashadokuro, gigantic skeletons that wander battlefields and other areas where corpses have been left to rot without proper burials, snatching up and biting the heads off of unwary travelers just for fun.

If you want to look deeper into this endlessly fascinating (and frequently delightful) animistic tradition, the online yokai database is fun to click around, and there are several books on the subject in English, like PEI International’s Yokai Museum and Yokai Wonderland, collections of yokai-inspired art from the Edo period through the present day from Koichi Yumoto, Japan’s premier collector of yokai art. On the fictional front, manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, who died in 2015, made a career of interpreting traditional monsters for a modern audience; his most famous creation, GeGeGe No Kitarō, has inspired countless comics, six different anime adaptations, and a series of live-action films. Personally, I like the live-action Yokai Monsters movie series from the late ’60s, whose kitschy creature design should hit the sweet spot for fans of Sid and Marty Krofft.

(Via The A.V. Club)

The difference there is betwixt honor and honesty seems to be chiefly in the motive. The mere honest man does that from duty which the man of honor does for the sake of character.

William Shenstone, Of Men and Manners, 1764

Performance Reviews are a Waste of Time

I dread linking to anything posted on Medium, but Performance Reviews Are A Waste of Time by Xavier Shay echoes much of my feelings about how useless they are.

I enjoyed Jamie Thingelstad’s article write-up:

Formal feedback mechanisms in companies are hard. I’ve come to think of performance reviews as an organizational insurance policy. The process and mechanism for them insures that a bare minimum of dialog is happening. I really don’t know of anybody that feels that they are an effective way of leading and managing teams. I think that is summarized in the common refrain that there should be nothing new learned in a performance review.

(Via Weekly Thing Newsletter Archive Feed)

Back when I was a manager and my direct reports were local-ish (I rotated weekly between the three cities in two countries where they were) I had to do the annual review and instituted formal quarterly reviews.

They sucked. They were one of the many mistakes I made as a manager.

However, I found more value – and I am told my team did as well – in the concept of “Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around”. This was hugely informal and unintentional. I didn’t want to be holed up in my office all day. My team was doing the kinds of technical work I enjoyed but from which I had to step away. And I valued their input and ideas in an ersatz Socratic Method to help with the bigger picture stuff.

I liked, trusted, and valued my team, so why wouldn’t I want to be closer to them than my offices offered?

Many modern workplaces with remote workers don’t necessarily have that benefit. Tools like Slack can’t really make up the gap, especially if your team is global. The formal performance review still fits poorly.

I should have seen the performance review as a company insurance policy back in the day.

Interestingly, I was contacted not too long ago by a colleague who felt “railroaded” by a sudden bad performance review. I advised challenging it with the formal HR process with plenty of CYA (Cover Your Ass). Turns out the supervisor involved had nothing to back up their position but my colleague had plenty to refute.

The bottom line is as always: protect yourself; document everything; use the HR system to your advantage; and don’t accept the premise.

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