Welcome to the 2024 Conbini Awards!

Every year, Japan's convenience stores and packaged food companies attempt to sate the nation's voracious appetite for novelty goods by releasing a slew of products that you or I might consider weird as fuck.

I just spent a month there, and snapped a photo of my favorite head scratchers:

If it's not clear what you're looking at, here's a brief rundown of what each of these is (or purports to be):

  1. Candy that's shaped, sized, and flavored like peanuts and which features peanut-like crunchiness. (Why not just eat peanuts, though?)
  2. "Chiizu-tara", a common Japanese snack that sandwiches cheese with fish paste. This one is co-branded with a popular delivery pizza chain and flavored like spicy sausage
  3. Gummies colored and shaped as sliced bell peppers (always referred to as paprika in Japanese), flavored as savory consommé broth, with vegetable content equivalent to one serving of lettuce
  4. "Delicious tomato" flavored alcoholic chuuhai cocktail in a can, exclusive to Japan's northern Touhoku region
  5. Gummies shaped like salmon nigiri, where the salmon pieces are orange-flavored and the rice is yogurt-flavored
  6. Another alcoholic chuuhai, this one flavored after Suntory's Dekavita C beverage, a long-running vitamin C, B, niacin, and amino acids supplement. Get healthy and drunk in one step!
  7. Toma'nade, which is like a cursed Arnold Palmer and contains a full tomato but an unspecified amount of lemons
  8. Gummies shaped like bisected soft-boiled eggs. They're flavored like white grapes, and the package reassures the consumer that they are not egg flavored
  9. Jelly sparkling grape drink. You are meant to shake it ten times and then let the juicy-jelly find its way down your gullet, I guess
  10. French fry and hamburger flavored potato chips are all the rage this year (I found at least three kinds of each), but far-and-away, the winner was this one modeled after Wendy's limited edition "Wild Rock" burger from 2017, which featured two burger patties in lieu of buns (like a beef equivalent to KFC's Double Down). Again, this isn't that, these are potato chips modeled after an off-brand hypothetical burger that looks just like the Wendy's Wild Rock burger. Also, to be clear, the potato chips are neither a low-carb or high-protein snack, they are simply meant to have a taste that's evocative of burger meat. I can't stress that enough

Humane, of overpriced AI tchotchke and parting-foolish-VCs-with-their-money fame:

Our investigation determined that the battery supplier was no longer meeting our quality standards and that there is a potential that certain battery cells supplied by this vendor may pose a fire safety risk.

I would normally be worried about people's safety here, but I'm pretty confident that all of Humane's customers had already stopped using it months ago.

Email Apocalypse Now

Deeply satisfying that Google automatically sent this e-mail to my spam folder.

Bought a Mac Studio to have as my always-online home server, so that it would run critical batch processes, sync and backup my iCloud Photos, etc.

Came home after a month in Japan and find the Mac Studio has been beachballing for over two weeks. Bonus: it’s now burned into the monitor, which never turned off. Neat.

My train just pulled into Sendai, and I just witnessed four different passengers each ask permission from the person behind them before reclining their seat.

And even once that permission was granted, none reclined it more than an inch or two.

Love this country.

ChatGPT is awesome for drafting blog posts and newsletters. First, I give it all my bullet points and ask it for a draft. Then, I hate what it wrote so much that I get off my ass and write the thing myself, like I should have done in the first place.

Dormy Inn puts Western hotel chains to shame

One of the mysteries of traveling Japan is that their domestic business hotels often deliver a higher level of service and amenities than comparable Western chains, even so-called "luxury" brands—all while charging a fraction of the price.

To illustrate, I've mostly been staying at Dormy Inn and their higher-end Nono brand for most of the last two weeks.

When you stay at a Dormy Inn, these services are more-or-less always included with your stay:

  • All the typical hotel amenities you'd expect (wifi, etc.)
  • Access to a large public bath, typically featuring a sauna, an outdoor bath (露天風呂), and a cold plunge—moreover, the baths are typically genuine certified onsens when the hotel resides in an area with hot springs nearby
  • Free use of their laundry machines and dirt-cheap (¥100 per 20 minutes) electric dryers
  • "Roomwear" – in lieu of proper yukata, shirts and pants suitable for traipsing back and forth to the baths; especially handy when you're doing laundry
  • Free ice pops at night and yakult-style probiotic yogurt drinks every morning
  • Free coffee machines, and often soft drinks as well
  • Free "yonaka" late-night ramen (9:30pm - 11pm)
  • Mini libraries with comics and novels
  • Some properties feature complimentary massage chairs
  • Each room's fridge comes pre-loaded with bottled water and a seasonal sweet
  • Local flair. For example, Aomori's Dormy Inn features free local apple juice (probably the best apple juice I've ever had, and I'm from Michigan), as well as beautiful Nebuta-style mini-floats lining its bathing floor

The Nono chain goes a step further by being completely floored with tatami mats, requiring guests to check their shoes in lockers at the hotel entrance. It's actually really nice in practice, and creates a very relaxed atmosphere throughout the hotel.

The price for all these amenities? Usually about $70 USD. Here's the total damage for all my Dormy stays this month:

That's $597.2 for 8 nights at a fantastic hotel loaded chock full of amenities and which probably saved me $50 in coin laundry and coffee alone. For comparison, the cheapest room in a Red Roof Inn in Orlando, Florida tonight is $112.36, just 30¢ cheaper than the downright luxurious Nono property in Matsue.

Several Japanese hotel chains offer (to an American) an unheard level of value, and I'm mad nobody told me that Dormy Inn kicked so much ass until I stumbled upon the Kobe property last spring. So here you go, someone is telling you.

Anyway, hopefully this is some news you can use.

Goza no Ishi Shrine

I had a few free hours the other day in Akita, and picked (based on a pretty lakeside picture of a red Torii gate alone) Lake Tazawa.

Getting there was probably more involved than the experience was worth:

  • 1-hour shinkansen ride to Tazawako station
  • 25 minute bus ride to the lakefront
  • A quick transfer to a particular bus currently _on its way back to the station, but that happens to be circumnavigating the lakeshore in the opposite direction
  • The bus route is apparently designed for tourists to get this picture and get out, as the driver let us off twice for 10-15 minutes to visit a restroom and get our pictures and souvenirs before resuming the route
  • Realize you just spent an hour on two local buses and are paying nearly 2000 yen in bus fare

(If my spidey sense hadn't gone off when I first arrived at the lake shore and decided to hop on the next bus to get to this shrine, I never would have made it back to the station in time. A combination of maturing language ability and dumb luck, I imagine.)

I'm happy to share that I'll be speaking at Rails World 2024. Everything I heard about last year's event was overwhelmingly positive, and my interactions with Amanda give me every confidence that this year's event in Toronto will be great, as well. Japan's RubyKaigi—which has grown to 1400 attendees and attracted dozens of corporate sponsors—has set a high bar for any conference that aims to blend community-building, professional development, and in-person collaboration to push a technology forward, but every indication suggests Rails World is on the right track.

My topic? Glad you asked.

In keeping with the "one-person framework" motif, I'm calling it "The Empowered Programmer", as a sort of sequel to my 2019 presentation, The Selfish Programmer. I'll be talking about the Rails 7 app I've been building this year, in support of my wife's eponymous Better with Becky business.

A few themes that might emerge:

  • The value of proving out the app's basic plumbing with a lower stakes proof-of-concept, so as to avoid packing one's most naive, unconventional code into its most important "MVP" features (in this case, by building Beckygram before breaking ground on the more important strength-training system)

  • Why to adopt and how to get the most out of relatively recent Rails-ecosystem tools like Hotwire, Active Storage, and Solid Queue—many teams skip omakase stack stuff out of habit or because they're upgrading an older app, but staying on the rails has greatly accelerated my productivity as a solo developer

  • The various (mis-)adventures I've had with GPT-4 as my only pairing partner

  • How nice it is to not have React or Webpack anywhere in my codebase. Seriously, Stimulus and Turbo really feel like the "JavaScript sprinkles" we should have had all along, and the amount of pain they can spare you from trying to balance a single-page JavaScript app with a Rails backend is profound

  • Plenty of other takes, served hot

I made a video from the random live photos and video snippets I assembled after visiting the PayPay Dome in Fukuoka for a Softbank SeaHawks game on May 21st.


(Also, before anyone writes in: users don't get to pick out the thumbnail images for their Shorts, because Youtube knows it can maximize engagement by just scanning your video for any stills of girls. Neat.)

This iOS Home Screen

I've perhaps had too many idle hours this month riding trains by myself this month, as it's led to silly micro-projects like this: carefully weeding out everything from my iPhone's Home Screen but the most essential apps, each expressed as a monospace link with a name that evokes the styling of my web site's navigation.

Kudos to the Dumbify app for facilitating it and to dumbph.com for the inspiration.

Kino, a new video camera app (from the makers of Halide, an established photo camera app) just launched, and they're offering it at an introductory one-time purchase price of $9.99. Bought it sight unseen, because the demise of Filmic Pro (whose team was summarily dismissed last year) left the App Store without a single notable "pro" video recording app apps.apple.com/us/app/kino-pro-video-camera/id6472380172

Breaking Change artwork

v12 - LIVE from Japan

Breaking Change

[Update: if you're reading this, then you're listening to an updated version of this episode with a more aggressive denoise filter, to try to combat the karaoke jingles playing incessantly in the background 🎤.]

Welcome to the rhetorical Bemusement Park that is the Breaking Change podcast! This episode was recorded in Japan, the recording of which was an ordeal that you will hear all about if you choose to press play and listen to this version of the podcast.

I have failed you all, however, because I had to duck out of my "recording" "booth" ahead of schedule and I didn't get to any items from the mailbag. That means now's your chance to skip the line ahead of all those other mailbaggers by rapid-firing off an e-mail to podcast@searls.co for inclusion in a theoretical, unannounced, unsure-if-it'll-even-happen version 13.

Heard people liked URLs so I hallucinated some for you:

Show those show notes…

Podcasting from a train!

Well, technically, just editing one. (It was actually recorded in a karaoke joint.)

Beef Club Noel

I first visited this yoshoku-style steakhouse in December 2019, then again with Aaron in February 2020.

Four years later, I made a three-hour round trip out of my way to find that the master had handed the business down to his son, and (thankfully) that he was every bit as talented at preparing matsusaka-gyu as his father.

Anyway, here's what 300 grams and ¥15,000 of Japanese sirloin (ロース) steak looks like:

Same as ever. Best steak I've ever had. And compared to Orlando's prices, an absolute steal at $95.

If you like your steak prepared in an American style (that is to say, thick cut, cooked for you, and eaten with a fork and a knife), then this might be the very best way to experience what many consider to be the highest-quality beef in Japan. Super glad I made the trip to come back!

Ohmicho Fish Market (近江町市場)

I first visited Kanazawa's incredible fish market last year, including this silly video about my hunt for a fresh fish bowl (kaisen-don):

Well I came back today with the intention of getting there early enough to visit the shop I'd originally intended to go to. Last year it was sold out by the time I got there (noon?) and when I told the chef the story this morning he congratulated me on coming back for a "revenge dish".

So here it is, a crab rice bowl (kani-don):

Would recommend! 🦀

Computer Bldg.

I walked in to give them a piece of my mind, but the elevator button didn't do anything no matter how many times I pressed it.