A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
Sunday morning, dark and early, I extracted myself from bed around 5:30 am, finished packing some ceramics samples, almost finished packing clothing, and carried everything down to my car after a quick shower. I think I actually left home around 7:30 if I take into account the quick stop at Lighthouse Cafe for a necessary dose of caffeine... I had to stop at Seatac airport for about 30 minutes to pick up frequent flyer tickets I redeemed for part of my upcoming trip to Japan. Somehow, 8:30, I got myself on the road, nearly nonstop to the Bay Area As I recall, I made one stop for gas and greasy food somewhere in southern Oregon, one secondary and another stop for gas and windshield insect removal just about 30 minutes shy of the big box hell known as Emeryville, California, where I had booked a week at Extended Stay America. I think I was all checked in by about 9:25 pm. I think 13-14 hours including stops is pretty good for 800-some miles.
The night before, I had been volunteered to take advantage of a cache of mushrooms scored by my graphic designer, Jennifer, who has previously done some work for a Portland-based fancy mushroom distributor. I cooked for Jennifer and three other friends various little treats, including porcini korokke or croquettes (which were pleasant tasting though I faced some texture issues that I haven't had before), a potato-dough based pizza featuring more porcini and some good buffalo mozzarella, a side dish of portabellas sliced and cooked with garlic and rosemary, and another side dish of golden chanterelles which were seasoned with sage brown butter and adorned with crispy sage leaves. We had sumibi-yaki of white matsutake and all the other available mushrooms, served with dipping sauce choice of yuzu-ponzu I had tossed together or ginger and soy sauce. I also made a little salad with my signature yuzu honey vinaigrette, which had some pine nuts and a little bit of browned bits of mushrooms, as well as some nice tomatoes. Leftovers mostly went home with guests, as I was leaving town for the week. Everyone went home by around 11:30 and I put myself in bed a little after midnight, where I tossed and turned and briefly woke to turn on the heat and put on more clothing after an unknown period of time, so I was impressed with myself for waking up early and mostly successfully getting on the road without panicking and without forgetting anything more than a pair of pants.
Friday night was Jennifer's birthday party, which I attended after trying my best to finalize last-minute arrangements for my little trip. Alas, many things suffered due to biting off a little too much for the last two days of the week.
The first day here was only moderately productive, but I met with one lead and made a few other calls, set up an appointment to show off ceramics to someone, and so on. I am now stopping in a Palo-Alto based cafe to feed my information needs, as the Extended Stay America has no meaningful internet access in the room and I don't have a dial-up provider. I had intended to do this in the morning but the spot I found in the Oakland area had pretty unreliable connectivity so I had only about 15 minutes of usable access. I thought about some sort of dial-up plan, but I think I am happier to spend the $3-5 in a coffee shop for internet access with a nice cup of coffee than I would be to sign up for another subscription service for something I don't really want anyway.
I'm a little nervous about all the stuff I have to cram in to the next two weeks in the United States... I'll try not to think about it too much; it'll only make things worse.
Most of the expensive e-commerce framework packages that I've been investigating recently left me not very happy, but I don't want to lose any more potential orders by neglecting online ordering, and I don't think I'll have the problem licked anytime soon, since I'm still planning to go to San Francisco and Japan over the next few weeks.
There are a few adequate "happy medium" solutions, such as the systems that are offered by Yahoo and bCentral. With the amount of time I have available to invest, they offer just enough functionality to make me feel like it's worth the monthly service fee, giving me some time to implement something more suitable for my needs. Both Yahoo and bCentral are offering the service without a setup fee for now, so I decided to give bCentral a try. So, after all of my headaches, I have a temporary ordering solution for my dragon beard candy and I can probably use it for the ceramics too. The quick templates are a little ugly, but it'll work for now. Since there is a SSL solution already built in, I can accept credit cards, but I'll be doing manual processing for now.
I was wincing a lot when comparing the various off-the-shelf ecommerce frameworks because so many of them seem to have been written with a developer-centric mentality, more focused on what the developer thought was the most elegant implementation rather than on the most streamlined, comfortable user interaction experience. Most of them have clumsy methods for handling different shipping and billing addresses (which is also true for bCentral), and that's not very nice for someone who is selling a lot of items to the gift market.
Although I'm not absolutely thrilled with bCentral's solution, it's a lot less of a commitment at $24.95 a month than the $500-600 solutions that still only get me 80% done. At this rate, I've got 20 months to find or develop a better solution. My only concern is how customers will react to the distraction of being switched to another domain, but I think it won't affect most people. Also, to my knowledge, bCentral doesn't make it easy to handle orders to Canada. It treats the shipping costs as the same, which they are very much not. I think I have a workable solution for this, but it requires some user cooperation.
Anyway, I'll soon see if it makes it easier for people to order or not.
For three days I was doing in-store demonstrations of the dragon beard candy... first in Bellevue, then I spent Saturday and Sunday in Beaverton during the Japan America Society's Japan Festival. With the help of a little bit of discounting on the part of Uwajimaya, and a more festive atmosphere, the Beaverton sales were pretty decent, and mostly justified the long drive and overnight hotel costs. It was nothing like the first weekend of sales at the Chinatown festival, but it sure didn't hurt.
I benefited also from the September publication of the Japanese translation of an article about my company and the product in Yuuyake Shinbun. A few people commented that they had read about the candy, though, as usual, many were unclear about their source. Someone even thought they had heard about it on TV. The most amusing thing was that I suddenly picked up the ability to talk about my product in machine-gun fashion (kikanjuu-no-you-ni) in simple Japanese... it was particularly challenging when I was trying to explain the price discounts that involved a lot of the number nine.
The best thing about the festival itself was that someone had set up a stand to serve freshly-made tai-yaki, which are a Japanese answer to waffles shaped like fish... snapper... they were offered stuffed with anko or with custard cream. They were so good. I haven't had fresh tai-yaki since....well... March, when I was in Japan plotting my escape from Microsoft. I couldn't help myself. When I took a little break, I ate at the restaurant neighboring Uwajimaya called Sambi, where I had a little set meal with pretty good vegetable croquettes (yasai korokke) and other things which were perhaps less exciting. Actually both before and after I ordered I saw two staff members taking breaks who turned out to be eating the same thing, so it must have been a worthwhile choice.
I tried to be adventurous and find a hip place to get a small late dinner Saturday night, but when I arrived at the first place I was interested in, it was closed for a private wedding reception. I ended up at an unremarkable but cheap pasta-focused spot and had some manicotti in a heavy marinara sauce. I tried wandering around looking for a low key place to get a drink and possibly socialize, but I made the mistake of going to the Portland equivalent of Pioneer Square, not knowing any better, and it was all noisy places for people far younger and more drunk than I am or wanted to be... so I just wandered back to the hotel.
“Dinner“ on the way home was a little sad... I ate an entire bag of “saya bean“ baked snacks, had a little blackberry kefir, and a bottle of gogo no koucha (milky bottled tea), snacking while driving. I got home late enough that real food wasn't worth the energy. I am feeling a little heavier in the last week or two, so I think I need to get myself back to exercising more regularly and eating less excessively and less irregularly.
Last night I got to see Yoshika, a Kobe jazz vocalist, at Jazz Alley in Seattle. It was a rare show without a cover charge, since it was sponsored by the sister cities program and Japan America Society. Actually I called Kazue to find out if she was up for seeing the show at the last minute, and it turned out she was already on the way, so I ended up kind of crashing her party. I probably would have gone on my own or perhaps would have drafted some other friends had that not been the case, but hopefully I didn't cause too much trouble. It was a small networking opportunity, too, since the other folks there were JAS members.
It was a pretty nice concert, though I think the first set was a little stilted... maybe the songs were too unfamiliar to the local musicians who accompanied her to allow for much improvisation. Things loosened up in the second set and timing improved when the set list featured more standards.
Sunday turned out to be a pretty successful day for demoing at Uwajimaya. I sold more than usual, and a couple of customers bought multiple units. I'm hoping this is thanks to fall festival celebrations, but i'll take it, regardless of the reason. In celebration, Amelia, Dirk, and Jennifer along to Fu Kun Wu, which is a bar that serves vaguely medicinal drinks in Ballard. It proves yet again that Ballard is where all the ingenuity in Seattle food and drink seems to be concentrated.
Today I spent a lot of time sorting various papers into files. I got started in the evening yesterday, but I made a much bigger dent today. I've been a little too haphazard with documents since getting started with my business, and I don't want things to get any worse.
My web project is too frustrating. Even the off-the-shelf solutions I've been checking out seem to leave plenty of room for headaches.
I had a slight change in plans for my departure to San Francisco, due to the fact that two key clients I want to meet with are on vacation this week and I don't want to go down to meet them without an appointment... accordingly, I'm now planning to head out to SF on September 20.
Fortunately, as I was starting to call for appointments, I found one customer who was willing to make a buy... apparently, it was a good fit for an upcoming event... I didn't expect such a quick commitment. That particular customer has some interest in the ceramics I've imported, as well.
Late in the week, my sales broker alerted me to some customer interest from a very large company... If that works out, it would be very favorable to long term revenue for my company. It will take a few months before I really know what's happening, but the possibility is very encouraging.
Today I dropped by the Aki Matsuri at Bellevue Community College, presented by an Eastside Japanese group. It was kind of surprising how many familiar faces I ran into. Even my attorney was there. I also did a little networking with some less familiar faces... Hopefully I didn't annoy anyone too much.
I think I didn't get enough sleep the last few days... I'm so tired tonight. I think I'll just be mellow and sleep early...
I've been enjoying myself perhaps a little too much recently, spending too much money and being too sociable. Saturday I met Amelia and Dirk and we stopped at Sambar, which remains one of my favorite little not-so-secret spots in Ballard. Sunday morning I went with Kazue and an out-of-town visitor of hers to the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery, and we stopped at Le Fournil for lunch on the way to Bumbershoot. We saw Quasi Nada after some fumbled attempts to find stages which had active performances, which was definitely a good find. Kazue and her friend headed off to Zinzanni and I later met up with Jennifer, who arrived as I was listening to the Crooked Fingers show, and we found ourselves snacking on Bumbershoot food just in time to watch Soulive, which had occasional guest vocals from Reggie Watts of Maktub fame and some cameos from a couple of east coast hip hop artists who ended their appearance with a few crowd-pleasing get-out-the-vote-and-get-Bush-out jabs. Later I met up with Kazue and her frend Yukiko again and we tried to make another stop at Sambar, but I didn't realize it was closed Sunday, so we ended up at the Chinese-apothecary themed Fu Kun Wu and each had a drink concocted with some potentially medicinal herbs. Even Monday, when I was running a demo at the Bellevue Uwajimaya, I skipped cooking and had a light meal at the I.D.'s Maekawa, and much later made a quick stop at Triple Door to say goodbye to Kazue's friend.
The fact that I'm able to plug so many spots visited over a two day timespan is probably a bad sign for my wallet, but I'll try not to wallow in regret.
On the business side, I need to head out to the San Francisco area is getting more urgent, so I think I'll head off later in the week or very early next week. I will hit a half dozen spots down there and do my best to get some initial orders. I had intended to meet up with my sales broker today, but when I arrived, I realized that Labor Day weekend extended through Tuesday for most of the showrooms down there, so I'm going to make better use of time this afternoon.
After wasting way too much time on web code for my yuzumura.com store, and I'm more inclined than ever to buy a partial solution so that I can get something up faster. I've lost a good four weeks trying to spin my own, and although I've got an almost usable solution, I just don't think I'll be able to afford the investment in time required for the harder work. I certainly predicted this as a possibility, but I guess my geeky stubbornness did me more harm than good. I've been writing code and simultaneously evaluating some off-the-shelf solutions that get me 99% of the way there and have hopefully been tested better. I remind myself again I shouldn't be wasting time on things that aren't going to be direct revenue drivers unless there's a bigger strategic purpose for doing so. Even when there is a big strategic purpose, the lost time isn't necessarily worth it at this stage.