The North Face Nordic, a cheaper alternative to the Nuptse

If you want to be like Goku chances are you’ll be spending a few grand on a second hand Supreme X North Face By Any Means Necessary jacket. Many people would know the jacket as North Face’s most recognizable product, the Nuptse. This makes it a common item for collaboration with brands like Gucci. Though the all black colorway is closest to Goku’s, this jacket is most commonly seen and recognized in a two tone colorway.

Men’s 1996 Retro Nuptse Jacket

The Nuptse starts at $320 even without any hypebeast collaborators, a hard sell for most people especially if you’re not in love with retro fashion. I’ve only seen the Nuptse on sale once at Pac Sun.

It’s not very well known but North Face sells another similar puffy called the Nordic. You can’t find it on their website and there are few online listings of it. The Nordic has bomber style collars and cuffs with four colored panels instead of three making the black part shorter. The difference is obvious with the pictures here but in person everyone is going to think you’re wearing the classic North Face jacket. Here’s the deal: the Nordic is on Amazon for low as $170 depending on the color / size and it’s also found at outlets for $160. It’s basically a half price Nuptse.

The North Face Men’s Nordic Jacket

The picture here makes the black section at the top look oddly short but in person the jacket’s style looks correctly proportioned. Fun fact: The 92 Nuptse has like three and a half colored panels, the more common 96 Nuptse has three.

92 Retro Anniversary Nuptse Jacket

The Suite First Class on ANA with Points is Impossible

So you got that Amex bonus and you want to go to Japan first class. As a savvy traveler you also know that nicest first class offering is from ANA, first class called “the suite”. The most efficient way to do this is by transferring your Amex points to airline points, a 1 to 1 conversion on a normal day. ANA however only allows round trip purchases with their points, and they charge 180,000 points for that round trip. But Virgin Atlantic can book ANA flights too, and they can book one way flights, and they only charge 60,000 one way! That’s a great deal. Checking a random date, this is a $16,500 dollar product one way, that’s an exchange rate of 27 cents a point. Typically points are worth only one cent making this one of the most efficient uses of points anywhere! The catch: it comes with a whole bunch of restrictions due to the difficulty of getting a flight.

1. You need to fly to / from JFK.

ANA operates 3 first class routes to / from the United States at JFK, ORD, and LAX. ORD does not have the new first class. Two of the three flights from LAX have the new first class but LAX only has confirmed first class until OCT 31. They haven’t decided if they’ll continue. First class seems to be going away in a lot of places, which is very sad in my opinion.

2. You can’t be picky with dates.

These seats are extremely rare. From JFK there is currently one first class award opening in the middle of August, a year from when I’m writing this. No first class availability on the way back. The furthest you can book a flight is a year out and I had them check the whole year. Japan has a great public transport system to augment commuting by walking but it’s over 90 degrees in August so it won’t be comfy walking around. Be ready to take whatever flight is open but I personally wouldn’t go during the Summer. There are openings before the OCT first class cutoff from LAX but tourism to Japan currently requires a visa and a travel group sponsored by a travel agent. Slim pickings to say the least.

3. You’re flying solo.

You can of course book another seat somewhere else on the plane for a traveling companion but the odds of two award first class seats being available on the plane are slim to none. Bummer because the center first class seats have a wall you can lower.

4. You’re only going first class one way.

Take first class whichever way you can, get a business class seat for the other flight. The stars would really have to align for you to find first class award seats a reasonable timeframe apart, the next first class opening is probably at least a month away.

5. It takes multiple attempts and time to get a ticket.

Award seats become available randomly to my knowledge. The United site provides live availability at this link by selecting book with miles. Look for ANA numbered flights, ANA flights with a UA flight number won’t count like DEN-NRT (UA 143) though as discussed earlier only JFK has first class. This is a really tedious process since you can only look at one day at a time and it takes forever to load. So if you want first class usually you have to call ANA first, wait on hold, have them check each month for first class award seat availability, then check on UA’s site to see if partners have access to the ticket, then call Virgin Atlantic to book the ticket.

Finding the Best Ryokan for the Most Authentic Japan Vacation

So lets say you dream of Japan, a far off world with vastly different culture and lifestyle. You want to take a vacation there but want to experience traditional houses with paper walls, eating and sleeping on the floor,,, that kind of thing. Well a hotel ain’t gonna give you that experience, you want a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast type thing where you can really be immersed.

Well many of these often cater to Japanese domestic tourists, their websites are in Japanese (if they even have a website), and it’s not like you have many friends that could recommend you a place to stay across the world. How would one go about selecting a Ryokan? Many of you know that I have an obsession towards the Michelin guide (probably because of my obsession towards food) but here’s a little known fact: the Michelin Guide used to also review hotels. And when they were in Japan they also reviewed Ryokans.

The Michelin Guide is a… difficult source. They only have the latest recommendations listed on their website and often it’s impossible to find past recommendations without the physical book. I dream of one day compiling the Michelin Collection and creating a database but that would cost literally thousands of dollars for the more rare editions. Currently if you search for a hotel in Tokyo on their website, no Ryokans will show up. An article written in 2021 on “The Reinvention of the Ryokan” also has no Tokyo entries. I know Michelin guides were created to encourage driving but I guess I’m looking for a diamond in the rough, a traditional place to stay in the most urban part of Japan.

I’m really set on Tokyo because that’s where everyone visits. So let me spell out what I’m really on the hunt for: A Michelin recommended Ryokan in the city of Tokyo. Hotels used to be rated with “pavilions” if you’re curious and Ryokan recommendations have those pavilions stylized to look like traditional Japanese housing in the old red books. According to Wikipedia there are 10 Michelin Rated Ryokans in the Tokyo, Tokohama, and Shonan area. Here’s the real problem and the reason this is a “deep dive”: that Michelin Guide resells for about $150 to $250 right now.

The sourcing on Wikipedia brings us to the Wayback machine, where we can see a press release from 2011 on the 2012 edition. In this press release they only list one Ryokan called Sekiyo in Shonan, not Tokyo. I know from searching for the Michelin Guide that other editions of the “Tokyo, Tokohama, and Shonan” area guide have been released so I presume that the other 9 mentioned on the Wikipedia page are from other years.

Take a look at these Amazon listings: The 2013 guide is in Japanese, the 2011 guide is in French, the 2012 guide is hundreds of dollars. The Michelin Guide has release a modern Tokyo edition in 2022 being its 15th edition implying guides as far back as 2007. The press release for the 2022 edition makes no mention of hotels. I cannot even find one for sale and I suspect this is because from about 2013 onwards I only see Japanese editions, they may only be sold in Japan which of course makes a lot of sense from their marketing perspective.

I’ve also found a green guide that highlights places to stay but the green guide focuses on attractions while the red guide focuses on hotels and restaurants. What I really want to get my hands on is the latest Michelin Red guide with a Tokyo Ryokan recommendation. From what I can tell, there are no online PDFs available for purchase and no previews of their contents listed. So when you need to scan a collection of books you don’t have and can’t afford, you go to the library.

My local library system, the Denver Public Library has Michelin Guides but none on Tokyo. My ace in the hole access to the Harvard Libraries often helps me with rare books but I guess they didn’t think the Michelin Guides were important enough because they don’t seem to have any in the Harvard Library system.

So honestly, I’m left with the scraps here. The 2013 books on I think are all in Japanese. The 2012 red book is the latest one I know of where they rated Ryokans but it’s really expensive. The 2011 book I can only find in French. That brings me all the way down to 2010, without even knowing if they recommend a Ryokan in here, if it’s in Tokyo, or if that Ryokan even still exists. For what it’s worth I see 2011 in French, 2009 in English, 2008 in English and that almost completes the history because from what I can tell they started in 2007.

So I’m going to purchase all the English ones from newest to oldest in my search: 2010, 2009, 2008.

2010 edition has no Ryokans. To be continued…

Three Days of Happiness Essay: The Tragedy of Himeno

Warning: This Essay Contains Spoilers

After the review by Gigguk, I decided to give Three Days of Happiness a read because the message of living life to its fullest resonates with me as a core belief. The story follows Kusonoki who decides to sell his lifespan. It’s determined that he likely won’t live a very fulfilling life and he’s offered the equivalent of three thousand USD for his remaining 30 years. Kusonoki accepts the offer and sets off with 3 months left. In the end he finds love and lives more in three months or arguably even the final three days than he ever could have in thirty years.

I personally loved the ending and thought it was a satisfactory resolution to the story’s conflicts except for one: his childhood friend Himeno. They’ve known each other since infancy and became closer after Kusonoki saved Himeno from falling off a viewing platform. A key memory for Kusonoki is his promise to marry Himeno at the age of 20 in the case neither were taken but he hasn’t seen her since she moved shortly after their promise. Miyagi, a near omniscient observer working for the life selling service, informs Kusonoki that Himeno is living an unhappy life as a single mother and high school drop out. Himeno would jump to her death in a few years time. Both at the top of their class as children, Kusonoki and Himeno are now similarly miserable.

Himeno’s last contact was by letter three years ago. Now desperate to reconnect, Kusonoki uses the address to find her and the two catch up over dinner. At dinner Kusonoki breaks down telling her that he’s sold his lifespan and is dying soon. Himeno thinks he’s going crazy but believes him as she knows her childhood friend well enough to catch him in a lie. Himeno then disappears after going to the bathroom but leaves Kusonoki a note:

At the viewing platform, I had meant to have you wait below and fall right down next to you. Maybe you would say you didn’t realize but I always despised you. For never responding to my cries for help then casually appearing before me now, I couldn’t hate you more. So now that you consider me someone you can’t do without I thought I’d kill myself.

However she changes her mind believing that getting revenge on an insane man would do no good. She closes the letter telling him she hopes it’s true that he’s dying soon.

It’s revealed that Miyagi knew of these details and the suicide she informed him of earlier was exactly that scenario. Himeno was plotting to jump from the viewing platform to convey the message that Kusonoki failed to save her this time. It would seem this tragedy is caused by their separation, an unavoidable situation as it becomes apparent that they needed each other.

The original timeline predicted by Miyagi shows us that no path could have possibly led to a good outcome for Himeno. Originally she commits suicide as an act of revenge, in the actual course of events she leaves him, and had she potentially accepted him back into her life Kusonoki would be dead in a few weeks. While it appears there was no way out for Himeno, her character is entirely culpable despite the situation.

The cries for help Himeno refers to was her singular letter to Kusonoki. Kusonoki admits that writing the letter was far out of character for Himeno. It’s easy to see the difficulty in directly asking for help from a childhood love when pregnant with another man’s child. Regardless Kusonoki failed to recognize the benign  letter as a distress signal, as she made no mention of hardship. Not only that but Kusonoki can’t be blamed for Himeno’s actions or circumstance, he wasn’t even in the same vicinity. And now that Kusonoki had finally come, Himeno believes it’s far too late.

Taking a step back from the situation, they’re both in their early 20s and Himeno had no awareness of Kusonoki’s impending death upon meeting. It was likely that she interpreted his sudden appearance as an attempt to make good on their marriage pact 10 years prior. From the age of 20 the two potentially had the rest of their lives to support each other. In the original timeline, had Kusonoki not sold his life, the two could have lived happily ever after if Himeno could muster the realization that her hatred was unfounded. Himeno not accepting Kusonoki and instead committing a suicide revenge scheme is a primary factor in why Kusonoki’s life goes downhill after college making the rest of his life in that timeline worthless.

Now for the real character flaw: Kusonoki admits that he’s going to die very soon. It’s obvious at this point that Kusonoki is facing the gravest misfortune and Himeno hasn’t been there for him either. In retrospect, had she found him, Kusonoki may not have decided to sell his entire life span. She too unknowingly failed to save her friend. The difference is that now, Kusonoki tells her in no uncertain terms that he’s facing his demise, no cryptic letters involved. This was her chance to save Kusonoki when he couldn’t do the same for her. Instead, in a completely hypocritical reaction, Himeno disappears and leaves a letter praying for his impending death.

Kusonoki actually saves Himeno’s life as she doesn’t commit suicide in front of him as predicted; though the theme of this story values lifetime happiness over years so Himeno is far from saved. This characterization may have been necessary because the author needed a reason to end her potential as a love interest. However, the first half of the story from the opening scene revolves around the ray of hope that was their childhood relationship. This part of the story is highly unsatisfactory to me and I consider it a loose end blocking a gratifying resolution.

It’s a matter of taste, I personally don’t like pure tragedy. The tragedy of Kusonoki’s death is reconciled by the fact that he traded for a net profit in lifetime happiness. The Tragedy of Himeno, is just a tragedy.

Seatbelts Supporter Kit

For those of you that don’t know, the Seatbelts are a band that performs the soundtrack for Cowboy Bebop. They’re not really an active band that performs together often, more like a group of musicians assembled by the composer, Yoko Kano, to perform the OST.

They’ve performed live a few times after the anime came out and they also released a concert during the pandemic on YouTube. With the release of the Cowboy Bebop live action TV show, they’ve assembled once again!

Yoko Kano released a seatbelts supporter kit with their online Pandemic concert. Details are difficult to decipher since the site is in Japanese but each supporter kit comes with a numbered shirt. Yoko Kano has number 1, the band members have the following numbers, and the supporters have numbers up to about 2000. It’s also worth noting that these shirts are issued, not owned, so if they ever ask for it back you’re obligated to return it.

The box came all the way from Japan and the back side was plastered entirely with Japanese stamps. Opening the package revealed a letter, one part in Japanese and the other in English, with the shirt behind uniquely folded to expose the numbering on the sleeve. I wear a US men’s size small/medium so I ordered a Japanese size large. It’s a bit big but if it shrinks a bit in the wash I think it’ll turn out fine. I still recommend going a size up from US size though a Japanese medium may have fit me better at 5’8″ 135 lbs.

There Are No Good Beginner Keytars Sub $1000

TL;DR:

  • Korg 100S2, Roland Ax-Edge: too expensive
  • Alexis Vortex, Roland AXIS, Roland Ax-7: no voices / midi only
  • Yamaha SHS-10: not instrument grade
  • Yamaha SHS-500: poorly designed
  • Yamaha SHS-200: too rare
  • Roland Lucina Ax-09: doesn’t look like a keytar
  • Yamaha SHS-300: Met the minimum for essential features but honestly just not good enough overall (my factors of consideration being looks, build, design, and voicing).

My most recent obsession has been keytar. I can play piano, I can play guitar. I can’t play piano well enough to be in an orchestra, I can’t play guitar well enough to be in a band, even in my dreams. So in an attempt to go jam with my friends and live out my dreams I figured I could master the keytar; how hard could playing with one hand be? Primarily I just want to quickly jam out to some synth solos I come across. I found that there are really no keytars that meet my requirements which I think are pretty basic requirements. In this article I’m going to overview what I perceive as the entire keytar market as found by a beginner consumer. If there are more keytars that aren’t on this list, they’re not easily found. If I’m missing any sub $1000 keytars let me know.

I figured that a beginner keytar should at least…

  1. Work as an instrument stand alone. This mean’s I’m not going to include midi-only keytars. It should have its own voices ready to use. Beginners probably don’t have the software prepared to power a midi-only instrument. I actually do have some setup ready for that since I use a launchpad but I’d much rather “plug and play”. The Alexis Vortex falls into this category and so do the the cheaper Rolands like the AXIS and the Ax-7… and the Mad Catz Rock Band 3 keyboard.
  2. Look like a keytar on stage so I’m not going to include basically strap mounted keyboards. The Roland Lucina Ax-09 fits into this category in my opinion, some of you may disagree but it’s my article and I want a keytar, not a keyboard with a strap.
  3. Have at least something close to instrument grade build quality.

So here’s what I found that matched all my requirements:

1. The Roland Ax-Edge

Wow, this thing looks so cool. Did I mention it’s over a thousand dollars?

2. Korg RK100S2

This one is my favorite and the most instrument like of all the options mainly because it’s made of wood. If I had a thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket, I’d get this one.


Now every other sub-$1000, non-midi-only, keytar basically comes from the same Yamaha lineup:

2. Yamaha SHS-300

This is probably the defining entry level keytar at the moment. It retails at a reasonable $200 and has a front facing speaker for casual jams alone or with softer instruments. However it doesn’t really look like a keytar, it’s small and would likely be out of place on stage. Second, it only has twelve voices: 3 synth, 3 piano, 3 other. This is currently my top contender and if they have it at my local guitar center I will likely pick one up. Though seriously my first keyboard from the 90s had 100 voices.

3. Yamaha SHS-500

This is the 300’s older bigger brother. It has 30 voices which I find much more acceptable and though it looks slightly bigger, I still don’t like the look. People honestly might not recognize it has a keytar on stage, more of a strap mounted keyboard though in Yamaha’s defense they don’t advertise these as keytars. Now the main problem with this keytar is well covered by keytar youtuber Pink. The instrument was made by retooling the VKB-100 Vocaliod from Japan. This means that the design of the instrument is not made for purpose. Buttons, knobs, and features are in weird places such as the speaker being on the back. To learn more about the shortcomings of this keytar’s design see youtuber Pink and the Keytar Cat.

4. Yamaha SHS-10

This may be the most famous keytar. It was released in the 80s and it’s the grandfather to the two SHSes above. The keytar is small but the shape is more recognizable as a keytar than its modern equivalents. I’d be getting this one if the build quality wasn’t awful. These currently resell for over $200 and most of them have broken battery covers and most importantly broken strap buttons. If the strap button breaks off well… you just have a keyboard.

5. Yamaha SHS-200

The SHS-10’s larger variant. I believe it’s more rare than the SHS-10 and in my opinion it looks so over the top that I like it. It has stage presence, works stand alone, and has a variety of sounds. I expect a perfect example of this to sell for around $300. However as of this writing there are only two available on eBay, neither of them are in fully functional condition and one of them is across the Pacific ocean in Japan.

My Favorite Spirits

Alexander Murray Benrinnes 23 Year Old 1995 » Get Free Shipping | Flaviar

Whiskey: Alexander Murray & Co. Single Malt Scotch Whiskey 23 years

Hakushika Junmai Sake 300ML

Sake: Kuromatsu-Hakushika Junmai Ginjo

Jinro Grapefruit Soju Price & Reviews | Drizly

Soju: Jinro Chamisul Grapefruit

Casamigos Blanco - Best Local Price | Drizly

Tequila: Casamigos Blanco

Tito's Handmade Vodka - Buy Online | Drizly

Vodka: Titos, cheap and clear tasting. Don’t need anything else in a Vodka. My favorite drink but I guess save the boring ones for last.

 

My favorite brandy, gin, rum, and cognac are to be determined. I’m not a fan of many of those right now, but I suppose all the other spirits have grown on me eventually.

Buying Your Way Into Harvard

When people ask me how I got into Harvard I half jokingly tell them I bought my way in. Harvard allows “non-degree candidates” to take classes via their extension school for a nominal fee of three grand or so. Pass some extra hard “gatekeeper” courses with a B average and they’ll let you into a full on degree program. They’ll even let you try again (for another nominal tuition fee of three grand) if you fail the gatekeeper courses the first time, though you’ll have to get your GPA up with more classes if you fail. Any why shouldn’t you be able to? Perseverance is a virtue after all.

In all seriousness this program is excellent. It has a flexible schedule and allows those of us with less than stellar GPAs to earn our way in. Everyone I’ve met at the extension school has been brilliant. Most of them are already in a career. I’ve met lawyers, augmented reality designers, and Harvard researchers as fellow students in my degree program (ALM Software Engineering).

The secret right now with the COVID pandemic is that they’ve waived the residency requirement. Usually one must attend classes in person for at least part of their degree. If you want a Harvard degree without quitting your job or taking a three week vacation, now is the time. However, residency is a blast. If you’re under 30, I highly recommend the Summer School for your residency. It was an absolute never ending party and you get to live in the Harvard housing system.

Alright but is this a “real Harvard degree?” Honestly, the only people I’ve met that trashes the extension school are not part of the Harvard community. If your degree raises some eyebrows during an interview, tell them to forget Harvard and explain all the amazing things you got out of your education. It is after all, an amazing education.

My one complaint: the degree naming. The diploma itself is in latin so no one will be able to read it but your degree will be in “Extension Studies”. For example “Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies”. Though no one studies “Extension Studies” at the extension school and the liberal arts education of my program consisted of one business writing class outside of the other 10 or so computer science courses, this naming scheme somehow prevails with very real consequences for people who need to meet strict hiring qualifications. If their intent was to separate extension degrees from the other 11 Harvard schools literally watermarking EXTENSION across the diploma and transcript would have been a better approach than misrepresenting the concentration.