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Archive for February, 2011

Stuck in Finland without a Passport Saga contd.

If you haven’t followed my saga of being stuck in Finland without a passport, here are part 1 and part 2.

After returning to Paris, I wrote a complaint to Blue1 explaining what happened and sending them the link to my blog articles. Last week I received the following e-mail:

Dear Mr. Suzuki,

Reference is made with thanks to your e-mail of 14th February. It is with concern that I learned of the facts that you have brought to my attention and on behalf of BLUE1, I regret very much the inconvenience you encountered on the occasion of your recent trip to Helsinki.

When it comes to travel documents, According to the EU regulation, entry into to one Schengen member state gives free access to all the others.  The carrier is not supposed to check any passengers ID-documents when travelling between Schengen countries. Exception though is in force a from 1st of February 2011.When departing from France boarding card and any proof of identity shall be compared upon boarding. That is the reason why the presentation of your driving license was fine with us.

I don’t understand why the check-in staff in Helsinki refused your boarding on the basis of inadequate  documentation.  Please rest assured that the matter will be reviewed with the BLUE1 station management in Helsinki airport.

I realize the difficulties that you encountered on this occasion and as a gesture of concern, I have the pleasure to credit your United Mileage Plus account with 3000 miles.

Despite the circumstances and with my extended regrets, I hope that we will have the pleasure to welcome you again on the SAS Group airlines.

Kind regards,

Jean-Yves Proust
Manager Customer Relations
Region Western Europe
SAS – Scandinavian Airlines
Mommaertslaan 20A
B-1831 Diegem
Belgium

Quick internet search shows that an airline mile is worth roughly a cent, so Blue1 paid about 30 dollars for their part in the catastrophe. It’s interesting to note that according to them, the mistake was made by the Helsinki airport and not their airline. This seems like a typical example of miscommunication amongst large organizations and misinterpretations of existing regulations.

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Teaching/Learning to live life healthily, sustainably

I am often inspired by Sir Ken Robinson’s view on education, challenging the existing paradigm of science and math above arts and the humanities. I agree with his point of view that the existing educational systems are too heavily focused on employability and our misguided sense of what is intellectual. While he proposes the radical rethinking of school systems to prevent teaching children out of their creativity, I’ve been wondering about what else is missing in exiting curricula.

First is health. Nowhere in during my education did I ever learn how to read the nutritional facts on food products or the relation between calories, kcal, and effects on the body. While highschool biology was fun, it felt more like introduction to biology for people who would want to be biologist rather than for the rest of us. A course, or at least few classes focused on the human body (and not just naming the bones and muscles) and how it interacts with the environment and food would be a great science class which would not only teach science but also get students to start thinking about taking care of themselves. Right now we are too reliant on marketing and cereal boxes to learn about cholesterol, trans-fat, etc.

Second is sustainability. Most people in the US probably don’t know how to read an electricity bill except for the seemingly most important part: dollars. This is due to a combination of factors: electricity bills often use technical terms and units that people haven’t learned (or retained their learnings), bills are often overly complicated and the utilities make no effort to simplify them, people simply don’t care about their electricity bill, etc. We all agree that we need to live more “green” but most of us aren’t taught to understand what that actually looks like. Renewable is good, nuclear is dangerous, coal is bad, hybrid is good but electric is better, etc. The knowledge most of us have are formed through informal communication and mass media, neither of which are scientifically in-depth. Everyone should know how to measure their own consumption beyond the financial and the effects they have on the environment.

There are fews issues in trying to teach this in school (and I imagine highschool is the right time for these materials).

First is that both the science of health and sustainability are not established sciences like biology, physics, and chemistry. There are still a lot of controversies over the studies and new discoveries are made everyday. I prefer that we teach this in schools with the appropriate caveats because science is not absolute but a constantly changing body of knowledge. I went through most of my education believing that what we were learning were absolute laws of nature, not our interpretations of physical phenomenon. Knowledge is important, but what’s more important is that we know and question the sources of such knowledge.

Second is that because it’s a constantly changing and updating fields of science, those who teach it (along with those who create the textbooks) must constantly learn themselves and that may be more difficult than teaching students. A professor I worked with once stated that in order to learn something new, we must first unlearn what we know, and that is ofter harder than learning. To have highschool teachers constantly stay up to date with the scientific frontier maybe a tough endeavor, especially when they are often already overloaded.

Lastly, the value of teaching these material to everyone who goes through compulsory education would be tremendous, but not realized for a long time into the future. If we can get a generation of people to be more health conscious and live better, the societal cost of healthcare and lost productivity due to sickness will decrease significantly. If we can get a generation of people to live more sustainably, the long term effects would much greater than a slightly more fuel efficient car. However, changes won’t happen overnight. Students have to learn, grow up, and come to a place where they are making decisions for themselves (and possibly others) before these effects happen. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start today. In fact, we need to start today, because the forecast into the future looks bleak these days.

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What the heck is design anyway?

My talk at TEDxNHH is now online on YouTube:

This is where I launched the TEDxNHH Design Challenge that I wrote about few months ago. Since not all the slides were captured on the video (I had about 150), I’m not sure how clear the presentation is. Nevertheless, thank you very much to the organizers of TEDxNHH for getting this video online.

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No longer stuck in Finland without a Passport

Every plane should have a piece of wood stuck to the seat so one can knock on it (touch for French people).

I am writing this blog post on the flight from Helsinki to Paris. I am now on my way back to Paris, and the only imaginable things that could prevent me from returning home is a catastrophic accident or strike in Paris.

Since I wrote last, here is what happened regarding my forgotten passport saga.

Thursday morning, as planned, I went to the Japanese embassy first thing in the morning to see what they could do for me so that I could fly on the same day. Not surprisingly, they never heard of a situation where a citizen forgot his passport in another country, a near impossible situation made possible by Blue1′s mistake in letting me onto their Paris-Helsinki flight. The consulate at the embassy presented three options for me:

  1. They could prepare an emergency passport for travel which has to be approved by the foreign ministry in Japan. This would allow me to fly back to Paris.
  2. They could consider the forgotten passport to be null and void and issue me a new passport. This could be done at the discretion of the embassy. This would also allow me to fly back to Paris.
  3. They could issue a emergency return pass which would allow me to fly only to Japan and nowhere else. This could also be done at the discretion of the embassy, but I would not be able to return to Paris without first going to Japan.

Obviously the last option was beyond consideration as my backup plan of having the passport mailed to me was much more practical.

All the options listed above required me to get two passport pictures, a copy of my passport from Paris to prove that the passport still existed (which is weird since option 2 would consider that passport to be null and void), and my Japanese document that is like a hybrid birth certificate / proof of residency (戸籍謄本か戸籍抄本). This document is the only national ID system in Japan (I think) and is used for almost everything official in the country. It’s also incredibly antiquated. As it’s never expected for anyone to be carrying this document around, they said that a faxed or scanned copy would be good enough with a signed promissory note stating that I will mail the original at a later date.

At this point, doubting that I would be able to assemble the documents, I asked my girlfriend to ship my passport overnight.

As I was leaving the embassy, I realized that not only do I have the copy of my passport on my iPhone, I once scanned and mailed the Japanese document to a translator to acquire my French residency card. I then went to the nearest photo store to have my passport photo taken. As I was exiting, the embassy called me to tell me that the emergency passport was unlikely to be issued by the foreign ministry since it’s reserved for humanitarian purposes (i.e. in dire straits) and Japan was entering a Fri-Sat-Sun three-day weekend (by this point, the Thursday working day in Japan was over). When I told the consulate that I may have the Japanese document in Paris, he informed me that it would have to have been issued within the last six months. At this point I knew that the document was older than that but in hopes that maybe they might be nice enough, I went to the nearest cafe with WiFi to assemble the documents.

It only took few minutes to have the digital copies of my passport and document ready to be sent to the embassy. However, since I was instructed to send the scanned copy from France, I decided to send it to my girlfriend and have her e-mail the files to the embassy.

After confirming that the e-mail was sent, I returned to the embassy in hopes of acquiring a passport that day to fly back that evening. Not surprisingly, the consulate wouldn’t accept the document. At this point, the only thing the embassy could do that day was issue me an emergency return pass which could take me to Japan. If I wanted a new passport, I would have to get someone from Japan to visit the city hall to get the document and then have that faxed or e-mailed over to the embassy. Since Japan had entered a three-day weekend, the city hall would not be open for another 80 hours.

At this point I pretty much gave up on the embassy being able to help me so that I could fly that evening. They told me that I really should not take the risk of having my passport mailed but at that point, it was already en route to Finland.

I spent the rest of Thursday at the Aalto University Design Factory participating in the class for ME310 (Finnish version of the course I teach in Paris) and joined the students and teaching team for SUDS (evening get together with food and alcohol). The evening for some reason turned into a night of drinking and YouTube Karaoke where I was the DJ responsible for picking songs that everyone might enjoy. It’s not easy picking songs that Finns, a German, and a Latvian may know. We also played the translation karaoke game where one had to translate and sing a song of their native language into English and make it sound good (I sang Linda Linda by The Blue Hearts since it was nice and slow). I again crashed the evening at my friends place.

Friday was also spent at the Design Factory, a quiet day of working on my laptop and having some discussions with my colleagues there. The passport arrived just after lunch which had me dancing around for a few moments in celebration. At this point, I had already booked the last EasyJet flight at 20:45 so I ended up killing more time in the Design Factory before taking a taxi to the airport. Everything at the airport went so smoothly, making the nightmare of the past two days seem even more surreal.

Now I am wrapping up this blog post on the three-hour flight back to Paris and praying that the rest of the trip will go as smooth as the last few hours.

Some lessons learned and points of interest:

  • I should never ever forget my passport. Period.
  • There seems to be a serious lack of knowledge by the airlines and their employees about the proper regulations for traveling within the Schengen region. They really need to do some employee education.
  • Finnish bureaucrats suck, just like most other.
  • Friends are awesome to have. If I had to have this happen to me in a country, Finland would probably be my first choice tied with the US.
  • The entire saga lasted roughly 48 hours, but it felt much longer than that.
  • I didn’t pay for food at all during my stay in Finland, just 80 euro cents on pastry to use the free WiFi at the Cafe. The rest were covered by free Design Factory leftovers and breakfast at my friend’s place.
  • In fact this mistake was relatively a cheap one financially. I spent 15 euros for passport pictures, 80 cents for WiFi, 8 euros for two trips to the Design Factory, 27 euros for a cab, 56 euros for overnight shipping, and ~100 euros for another flight back to Paris.
  • Professionally, I missed the design reviews for my course and meetings with some Swiss visitors.
  • It was interesting to participate in another version of my course (ME310) being taught in a different country. Same philosophy and content, very different context.

Enough interruptions to the regularly programmed life. La vie de poisson Japonais continue.

Added in Paris: Of course the RER trains were under repair and the substitute buses were a mess. I took a cab home, something I rarely do. Sleep time…

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Stuck in Finland without a Passport

This is a story in which I made a mistake, and Blue1 airline also screwed up making the situation even worse.

I am currently in Helsinki, Finland for what should have been a one night, one day business trip where I arrived on the evening of Tuesday the 8th and left on the evening of Wednesday the 9th.

On Tuesday, I ran a workshop in Paris from which I left straight for the airport. When I got to the airport, I realized that I forgot to take my passport. As both France and Finland are in the Schengen Area, I wasn’t sure if I actually needed to have my passport to travel. For those who’ve never heard of it, from Wikipedia: “The Schengen Area operates very much like a single state for international travel with border controls for travelers traveling in and out of the area, but with no internal border controls.” Traveling in the Schengen Area is similar, though not identical, to traveling within the American States.

As it was too late to return to my apartment to grab my passport, I decided to tempt fate and try boarding the plane with my American driver’s license. The Blue1 agent checking my ticket at CDG didn’t think twice before accepting my license and allowing me to board my plane.

Fast forward to the next evening, after finishing all the meetings in Finland, I arrived at the Easy Jet (I booked a different airline for the return trip to maximize my stay in Helsinki) counter only to be told that they couldn’t accept my American driver’s license to board the flight. I explained that Blue1 had no issues accepting my license for the trip which brought me to Finland but the people manning the counter wouldn’t budge from their policy.

At that point I walked over to the Blue1 counter to ask if their company policy allowed people to travel with an American driver’s license, and they told me that it’s no problem. As the last flight on Blue1 to Paris had already left for the evening, I decided that the early morning flight on Blue1 would be my backup plan and walked back to the Easy Jet counter to make one more plea to let me board my original flight. After I explained that Blue1 was fine with me traveling with just a license, this time they called the Finnish border control to verify. After a while, two men who looked like they haven’t smiled in the last decade came over and assessed the situation, looking over my license and the copy of the passport I had stored on my iPhone. Then they informed me that I could not travel without a valid passport or travel identification from my government and suggested that I get in touch with my embassy. They also told me that I was not legally allowed to be in their country without a passport and that they could arrest me and fine me, to which I could only respond, “I guess all I can say is please don’t.” To make situations worse, they then called the Blue1 counter informing them that I was not allowed to travel without a government document and instructed them not to allow me to fly my driver’s license, effectively eliminating my backup plan.

It turns out that European nationals from within the Schengen area are allowed to travel just with their national identity cards but foreigners are required have their passports when they board the flights. Blue1 definitely screwed up in allowing me to get on that flight from Paris to Helsinki. At the same time, traveling within the Schengen on bus, car, and train has absolutely no passport control or checks for any form of identity.

(Note added later: For those that don’t know me, I should add that I am a Japanese citizen currently living and working in Paris)

At this point, I had three possible solutions:

  1. Go to the embassy first thing in the morning and apply for an emergency travel pass, which can be issued within the same day. This would allow me to travel back to Paris on Thursday night. However, there are some major challenges with this as embassies often deal with lost passports, not forgotten passports, which is almost an impossible situation since I shouldn’t be here in the first place.
  2. Have Blue1 courier my passport to Helsinki as they fly multiple lines throughout the day. My girlfriend in Paris has my keys so she could actually get my passport to them. This would also allow me to fly back to Paris on Thursday night.
  3. Have my girlfriend overnight mail my passport to Helsinki. This was the least preferred of all the options as I’ve had terrible luck with packages in the last few months (both my birthday and Christmas gifts from my mom were lost in the mail, I’m violently knocking on wood now), and I wouldn’t be able to get back until Friday night.

I then again left the Easy Jet counter for the Blue1 counter where the people were already aware of their special instructions not to let me fly without my passport. I inquired about the possibility of them couriering my passport as it was partially their fault that I was in this situation, but they told me there was absolutely no possibility. Then I asked them to at least cover my return flight as I had to forfeit my Easy Jet ticket, and they told me that I would have to contact Blue1 directly because they were actually a customer service company that Blue1 had outsourced to.

Without anything else I could do at the airport, I am now at my friend’s apartment writing this post. My plan now is to go to the Japanese embassy first thing in the morning and explain my situation in hopes of getting something that would allow me to travel on Thursday. If that fails, I’m going to get my passport shipped overnight in hopes to catch the last flight out of Helsinki on Friday. Of course in the meantime, I’m missing important work engagements back in Paris.

In the end I’m glad that I have friends that are being extremely helpful and that I can keep a sense of humor about it. After it’s all said and done, this is going to be another one of those stories that becomes a notch in my helmet, and it doesn’t compare at all to my check box saga in terms of impact and severity.

Here is to hoping for a better tomorrow.

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Traveling with an iPhone and without a data connection

Living in France, I often travel to other European countries where I am out of my French Orange network and roaming. Like any other country, data roaming is very expensive and I don’t do it. That also means no Google Maps or Web Access, two things that are handy while traveling. As my frugal self, I’ve started to use the following ways of getting travel relevant services on my iPhone without data roaming.

Map


There are several offline map apps available for the iPhone and I use CityMaps2Go. Since the Google Maps data is licensed from various different data providers, it’s not available for CityMaps2Go. Instead the data is sourced from Openstreetmap.org, a collaborative user-generated map like Wikipedia, and new cities are added all the time while the existing ones are constantly updated. When I first started using it, the quality of the maps for some cities weren’t that great (or non-existent) but now they have gotten much better. Since without data roaming, you can’t use AGPS, you have to rely on GPS to locate yourself which is rather slow but not useless. The app is not free but it is one of the best 99 cents I’ve ever spent. One thing to remember: you have to download the individual maps of each city so do it before you leave with a WiFi connection since the data is often rather big (20~180MB per city).

Guide Book

You can buy plenty of travel guide apps online but even at few dollars, they may seem costly when WikiTravel is free. How do you get WikiTravel easily on your iPhone? Use Read It Later. Read It Later is an app designed to download websites onto your iPhone so you can read articles and websites when you are out of data connection. They also have a FireFox plugin so you can select articles to download from your computer. Do remember to download the articles on your iPhone while you have data connection. InstaPaper is an often mentioned alternative to Read It Later which will probably also work just as well (but I have never tried it yet).

( I just checked, and there are offline Wikitravel apps which will download the entire database minus the photos, but it is not free and rather expensive at >$5)

Screen Capture Note Taking

Did you know that pushing the hold and home button simultaneously on the iPhone takes a screen shot and stores it in the Camera Roll? This is the perfect functionality for clipping websites from Mobile Safari, which has an obnoxious tendency to refresh every time you launch it (and losing the data that was previously loaded). While in the hotel, I often look up several restaurant information on tripadvisor and clip it to make a decision later while roaming the city (there is an app for tripadvisor as well, but it doesn’t work without a data connection). You can just show the address to a taxi driver if necessary. It’s also useful when the CityMaps2Go map’s resolution is too low or does not have the point of interest in its database (which is common).

WiFi discovery

If you desperately need to access the internet while on the go, I’ve found eWifi to be a much more powerful alternative to iPhone’s native WiFi connection tool. It’s nowhere near perfect, but if you just need to find something quickly, it’s very useful.

Do you have any other apps, tools, hacks you use while traveling without a data plan.

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Shooting for dreams

This is a post in which I challenge conventional wisdom about how we should live our lives.

Few months ago when I presented at TEDxNHH, few of the speakers talked about the importance of finding your dreams and shooting for them. I’m sure you’ve received similar advices from speakers, parents, relatives, and/or close friends. It’s a message that is often delivered and seemingly important.

But I disagree.

The one implicit assumption about shooting for one’s dream is that one knows for sure what his or her dream is. Many people have vague notions about their dreams, but how many people know for sure what their dreams are? Do you?

And when you reach that dream, what’s beyond it? Do you find more dreams to pursue? Or do you spend the rest of the days content and happy? What the movies never show are what lie beyond the happy endings.

I only have vague notions of what my dreams are. Instead of trying to define what exactly it is and being wrong, I’m trying to find the properties of what my dreams may be. Some of the things I’ve identified so far: working on something meaningful, being part of something bigger, consistently trying new things, working with people I enjoy being around, doing many things at once.

I believe that what is important is not finding that one dream and shooting for it, but living the dream itself. If you aren’t living the dream, start making some changes towards what you think is closer to your dreams, or start believing that what you are doing is your dreams.

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