Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Yes, I Can Use Chopsticks!

I didn't bring my laptop to school today because I was too tired this morning to pack it up, so I didn't think that I would be blogging. Well, I read something on Ryan's blog that made me laugh (as usual), and I couldn't resist posting it. It's funny because it's so true.

The teacher took a CD player into class and we listened to that as I stood there watching it. We did this for two of the classes, then in the third one the CD player wouldn't play.

At first I thought the CD player picked up on the sheer stupidity of the situation, having a foreign native English speaker standing 10 feet from this recording of native English. Anyway, it wouldn't play so the teacher panicked. We delayed class for about 10 minutes while he played with it.

I knew what he was doing, but decided not to say anything. For some reason, after lunch he became stupid. He would press play, then fast forward to the track, then press stop rather than pause. Over and over again.

Finally he turned to me and said in a sweat, "What are we going to do, the CD player won't work." Please understand the CD was only a recording of the actual text. Nothing special. The text I have in my hand.

So the only logical thing for me to say in return was "It won't work? I don't know what we can do."

This went on for about 5 more minutes until one of the bright students, or rather one of the students who would actually speak in class, spoke up and said "Ryan sensei could read the text." Finally the teacher looked at me and then the CD and then at me again and asked politely.

I said "I will try, I'm not very good at reading and speaking English, I have only been doing it for 30 something years." He looked confused so I started reading.

That's like asking a motivational speaker to come to your job and then playing a DVD of them rather than having them actually speak.

Monday, December 13, 2004

JET lag

There's this comment on the Festivus entry:
You have inspired me to not go into JET. Thank you. Good luck with your CBS and a very good, but not a fantastic blog ;)
Posted by Royce
I think there has been some confusion.

I LOVE the JET program! Living in Japan is an adventure. I would highly, HIGHLY, recommend the JET program to everyone with a college degree.

I may complain a lot about my particular situation, but we have a saying in the JET program: ESID, Every Situation Is Different. It's true that I'm spending more than my fair share of time in the barrel (that's part of my CBS; it is, in fact, what CBS means), but virtually all of the other JETs I know are having a great go of it.

On the other hand, there are many positive aspects to the JET program that I simply don't write about. I enjoy complaining, so that's what I do. I think it would be boring to gush about what a palace I live in and how good the food is here and how much fun I have. Boring boring boring. Although maybe I should take pictures of my house and post them, a sort of virtual tour. It is a really nice place. :-)

NJ: Non-Journal Tag

To help myself resolve the internal conflict of what I want my blog to be, I'm adding a new tag: NJ

I'll put this at the beginning of the title for posts which deviate from my more pedestrian (and less interesting) journal entries (i.e. the "what I did today" posts).

This way you can just skim the titles until you see NJ: and won't have to waste your time reading the boring stuff, and I won't have to spend extra time composing posts whose sole intended audience is myself. Everyone wins.

Until Blogger implements categories, this is the best I can do (short of running my blog on my own server; what I should say is: this is the best I can do with the least amount of effort).

Adventures in Coffee Making

Here in Japan, every Junior High lunch comes with a bottle of milk (an actual glass bottle; trying doing THAT in America!), the size of which is standardized. So some companies make mixes that can be added to the milk and sell them in small packets sized appropriately for the bottles.

A while ago we had coffee flavored mix (in Junior High...), and there were packets left over (I guess some students hadn't acquired the taste for coffee yet; give them time, they're only twelve).

Today, of course, I mixed the coffee flavoring into the milk I used in my coffee.

To recap so far, I've made instant coffee using coffee instead of hot water, and now the sugar and milk is replaced with sugar and coffee flavored milk.

It certainly passes the spoon test (the spoon test is where if you have a spoonful of your coffee, you can't see through the coffee to the spoon; I may have to change this to: if you put a spoon in your coffee, it stands up).

Now, if I could only get that caffeinated water to make the coffee in the first place...


So, I need to lose weight again. Is it because I stopped exercising during NaNoWriMo? Is it because it's winter and human beings generally gain weight at this time? Is it because I've taken to eating nothing but microwave pizza with extra cheese?

Of course not! It's all because of Festivus, which we celebrated this past weekend. That one day of eating lots of turkey and stuffing is surely the sole reason I have gained five pounds.

Let the feast begin!

After Festivus, fellow Asahi JET Lewis hosted the after-party, where I got to meet Santa! The picture may look a bit blurry, but actually it was Santa himself who was out of focus. I blame the stress from his work at this time of the year.

I also took some video of people playing an EyeToy game, but my lame phone records the audio in an obscure codec, and I'm not motivated enough to convert it.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A Pain in the Back

I was going to post about my recent back pains that won't go away, and my hesitation to see a Japanese doctor about it (and other problems), but then I realized that that would be a "What I Did Today" crap post, so I'm going to spare you. Now don't you just wish all bloggers were as considerate? ;-)

Stuck In the Middle With You

I go back and forth between two extremes of what I want my blog to be. Originally, it was my journal, a place to store my random thoughts to get them out of my head and lock them up in electrons where they couldn't hurt anybody. But then, unfortunately, people started leaving comments. Of course, this was because I put the ability to do so on my blog, so the fault is mine. Having the ability to leave comments is just the Thing You Do on a blog. However, if it were up to me, comments would be treated more like entries (people could edit their comments, leave comments on other comments, etc, but I digress).

So, now I think about what I write. If I ramble, it means that I think my thoughts are more important than your time. You won't know if my thoughts are crap or not until you read them, and that takes your time, whereas if I took MY time in the first place, I would reconsider writing such crap posts.

Which means that either I post streams of consciousness that my not be relevant (or even coherent), or I don't post at all (not to say I can't think of anything to write, or don't have fun stories to share; I just second guess myself out of posting them).

I'm still trying to find the balance.

The McDonalds Metric

From the guestbook on yesican...:
This isn't a whiny website at all compared to some I've seen (in fact I rather liek it). There was one I read a few years ago in which a guy was complaining about how there was no McDonalds in his town, and the third time he mentioned it in one page he had to qualify it with "It's not that McDonalds is that important to me but it just shows my isolation"! THAT was truly the king of whiny websites.
What a great measure of isolation! Not only is there no McDonalds in my town, I think the nearest one is close to a 30 minute drive away. Whereas, in most towns, there would be one closer than a 30 minute walk. Not that I'm whining... :-D

There Was No Spoon

You might be a geek if...

I'm grading papers, and the question was: Why was Hiroshi surprised when he ordered curry at a restaurant?

The answer was: Because there wasn't a spoon.

And I thought of The Matrix.

It has me.


Well, I've found new motivation to lose weight.

Today in class, the crush (you remember her, right?) came up and demonstrated a new word she learned: HUG. I don't know who keeps selling her those English phrase books and dictionaries, but they must be stopped.

Anyway, she put her hand on my stomach and commented on how big it was. And then she got the other kids to say it too.

So now my students call me "big belly", and if being mocked by middle-schoolers isn't motivation enough to start losing weight again, I don't know what is.

Worst. Class. Ever.

So, today was another "Here's the lesson plan, but you run the lesson" days. I was given the lesson plan and instructions to run the lesson approximately 10 minutes before class began.

So plenty of time, there. Grr.

Anyway. Words fail me as I try to describe in text the behavior of the students that period. Here's as close as I can come in one sentence: "In America, children that disruptive would not be allowed to come to school, period."

There were a few particularly disruptive students, and the other students around them followed their lead, resulting in a situation where almost no learning was taking place.

If I were not an ALT, and it were truly my class, I would have asked those students to leave, or sent them to the principal's office, or smacked them in the head with an eraser (grrr). However, us ALTs are specifically forbidden from disciplining the students in any way (probably because some ALTs in the past could not refrain from choosing action #3 above). And the JTE, the only one in the room that had the authority to discipline the students, wouldn't.

And now they're asking me if I want to renew....hmm...

Financial Update

Not that you care, here's an update on my financial situation.

First, the consolidation loan. It was approved, but it hasn't been completed yet. So, my Stafford loan interest has gone up. I wonder which interest rate will apply to the consolidated loan? The letter that they supposedly sent to inform me that my application was missing the phone number has still not arrived. Quick reminder on the lack of phone number, here's what the instructions said (copied and pasted):
  • Item 3: Enter your permanent home address (number, street, apartment number, city, state, zip code). If your mailing address is an RFD, post office box, or general delivery, you must list both the street address and mailing address.

  • Item 4: Enter the area code and telephone number for the address listed in Item 3. If you do not have a telephone, enter N/A.
I entered my permanent U.S. mailing address on line 3, and since I don't have a phone number for it, I entered N/A on line 4. EXACTLY how the instructions told me to. This is the part that they said was wrong (said ON THE PHONE was wrong, when I called, because as I said the letter has still not arrived).

So, we'll see. I may still need a lawyer. I wonder if I can sue for emotional stress? I mean, my hair IS falling out (I found out at the MYC that, despite what I read on the internet, not everyone's hair falls out when they come to Japan, and when it comes to Fukui, it's just me). My lifespan is probably measurably shorter now from dealing with this. They should pay.

Second is the tax situation. A reminder: I'm paying 20% tax in addition to normal withholdings for health and social insurance. After everything is taken out, my take home is closer to 60%. This is because the Japanese government is requiring us U.S. JETs to file a form that says we are U.S. residents for tax purposes (form 6166). Well, it's just U.S. JETs, and it just started this year, so the kinks haven't been worked out yet. I found out that I'm the only one who is having so much taken out of his paycheck (most places haven't taken ANY out). So, with the winter break coming up (which everyone else gets off when the students are gone, but I don't, so I have to use vacation days, don't get me started), everyone else can afford to take trips and do things, while I get to spend my free time huddled in a blanket in my room, rationing what meager food I've managed to save up so far.

Not that I'm bitter at all. But it gets better! I read this in the Fukui JET newsgroup (from a message about double taxation, emphasis mine):
Finally, some contracting organizations have been threatening to or actually withholding tax from JET paychecks until they turn their forms in. This is a contract violation and any JETs experiencing this are encouraged to contact CLAIR through the JET Line for help in resolving this issue.
That's me they're talking about. I accidentally started a panic when I mentioned my situation in the newsgroup, thinking (erroneously) that others were going through the same thing I was. So, it turns out that they shouldn't have been withholding any taxes all this time. Sigh.

Hopefully they won't withhold any more. I received a letter from the I.R.S. that certified I was a U.S. resident, but it didn't say 6166 on it anywhere, so we'll see in eight days when I get paid again.

Sigh. And in the meantime, my bank account is in the triple digits and falling. Guess I don't have enough afterall to buy myself a PS2 for Christmas.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


My stats tracker tells me that I've been getting up to 20 unique IP address hits on this blog per day. Well, I usually come here to post, so that's one. Do I know 19 other people?

Thomas posts comments, and Chelle did too, so that's two more. Hmm.

Curiousity didn't kill the cat, but it did leave him sterile, so I should probably let it go.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004



A Watched Coffee Pot Never Boils (drips?)

You know you're addicted to coffee when you see someone starting a pot, and you WAIT by the pot, watching it, so you're sure to get a cup (the coffee doesn't last long in this office).

^Shortest Post Ever! (For me at least)

Long and Winding Road

So, I'm still at work. I just finished grading papers, which is why I'm still here. I still have to do the English Bulletin Board, which is why I shouldn't leave, but I'm going to anyway.

Unfortunately for me, I gave the assignment, so it had to be me to grade it. The second graders are learning "There is" and "There are" so I described my bedroom ("There is a table in the center of the room. There are books on the table..."), and the students had to draw what they heard. It was a pretty difficult assignment (intentionally on my part), but more than I expected got perfect scores.

And some of the drawings were quite cute. :) Here's a picture of part of one (I should have scanned it, but that would have meant stopping grading and going to the other room. Snapping a quick picture with my phone was much faster). On the far wall are two posters. Most students just put squares with the word ポスター (poster in Japanese) on them.

Since you probably can't read Japanese, that's my name written there. Should I change my online avatar to this? :D

John Lennon

So, we're doing Beatles stuff here (I now know more about the Beatles than I ever thought possible; example: when John started a journal in '69, I know verbatim what the first four entries in it were.).

Today, I wrote up the lyrics to Imagine. As an English teacher, it really bothers me that he says:
"Imagine there's no countries"
It should be: "Imagine there're no countries" or "Imagine there's no country"

The problem with English is that it's so complicated. The problem with ME is that, now that I'm learning more and more what the rules are (whom vs who for example), I can't turn it off, mentally.

Sigh. The song will never sound quite the same to me.


I have a complaint.

I have, quite possibly, the worst chair in the building.

I'm going to call it the scrub chair from now on.

I really, really want to swap it for a really nice chair in the teacher's room that hardly anyone uses (that's probably why it's still nice), but everyone would see the difference.




Yesterday, when it was time for lunch, I grabbed my hashi case from it's usual place, and....empty?

I found my hashi in the dish drain. They were mostly dry, except the handles, but that may have been from the other silverware. Did someone use my hashi?

At least they must have washed them afterward. It's not as bad as the time I found my toothbrush was wet, but still...where's the line?


I know I probably mention this every time, but today was CURRY day for lunch!

I love curry. Of course, it's different here in Japan than it is in America, but it's still pretty good.

However, I made a terrible misjudgment. Usually, I try to eat with the students, but when it's something I don't think I'm going to eat much of, I'll stay in the teacher's room (I don't want to set a bad example by not finishing my lunch; the students are REQUIRED to finish their lunches).

Today, I saw a bowl of vegetables and a plate of vegetables. I stayed in the teacher's room. D'oh!

I didn't realize it was curry until it was too late.

By the way, the plate of vegetables....was fruit and vegetables. Mixed. Apples, pineapples, pickles, cabbage, with a cottage cheese/mayo dressing. It was...interesting.

I didn't finish the pickles, but other than that I ALMOST finished my lunch again. So far that's three really close calls and one finish. I'm getting better...

Random Observation

I got myself a glass of water, and when I went to put ice in it (yeah, I know it's winter, but I'm wearing a sweater, cut me some slack) I saw that the cubes, which previously were normal sized for the tray, had shrunk.

I also remembered that when I had placed ice cubes in the holding bucket in my freezer at home, they shrank there too.

What's the deal? Growing up, we had the problem with the cubes GROWING as frost built up on them. Has the technology for freezers changed so much?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Tales of Woe

So, it's still around the beginning of the month (my busy time, and I am brain-fried already), and in addition, I'm having a run of financial difficulties. The other day, I was going to go buy some new clothes (since, at the moment, I don't have enough to last me one full business-week (which is five days)). Before that, though, I stopped to drop off my two suits to get dry-cleaned. They weren't filthy or anything, and I hardly ever wear them but I hadn't had them dry-cleaned since I got them, so it had to be done. Along with the two suits, I took a jacket and a blanket (the cleaning place, of course, does non-dry-cleaning stuff too).

Well, first I was told that I would have to pay extra for the black suit. Why? Because black is the official color of formal suits here. So, I have to pay extra. Just because. Then, I had to pay extra to get some special treatment to counteract sweat or something (I wasn't consulted about this). This extra treatment costs nearly as much as the dry-cleaning. In the end, what I thought was going to cost me close to $25-$30 (based on Internet searches for average prices). The actual cost was closer to triple that.

I know, I know, Welcome to Japan.

So, that wiped out my budget for new clothes this pay period. Next paycheck is still two weeks away, and I may run out of food before then, but anyway. It's an adventure.

In similar news, I found out that I may be the ONLY ALT paying 20% off the top in taxes every month. I mentioned in an ALT on-line group that I still hadn't heard back from the I.R.S. and that ~$600+ a month was a bit much to bear, and I got e-mails saying "How much?!" I chocked it up to being a CHO-ALT (I work for the town I live in) instead of a KEN-ALT (working for the prefecture), but it doesn't look like the other CHO-ALTs have the same problem. Anyway, after a lot of searching, it turns out that my paperwork was filled out incorrectly, so I'm resubmitting it today, so in another month it should be taken care of.

This will put it after this next paycheck, so I will have had 20% taken out for five paychecks, which is 100% of one paycheck. So, there's that.

The biggest bummer about this whole thing is that I won't have any money this Christmas. Not for presents (I'm not into that whole 'presents' thing anyway; if I want something, I'll go buy it myself! If I can't afford it, I probably don't need it), but for travel. Originally, I wanted to go to the Tokyo region for the holidays, but since I'm basically living from paycheck to paycheck, and I won't have those yummy school lunches to live off of during the break, at this point I'm just saving up for food money. Happy holidays to me, indeed.

The thing about having Charlie Brown Syndrome (CBS) is: at least life is never dull. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

1st of the Month

Yay! I'm back! Time for a second cup...

But first, it's the 1st.

The 1st of the month is when I pay my bills, specifically my credit card bills. For some reason, most of my credit cards don't have the option to pay themselves from my checking account. WHY? Do they WANT me to miss a payment? It's as if they WANT an excuse to assign extra late charges and increase my default interest rate. Why would they want to do that?

Theoretically, I should be able to start paying them off now, since I am gainfully employed and all. The problem is that I pay so much in taxes (which I should be exempt from, lucky me, if ONLY THE PAPERWORK WOULD GO THROUGH!) and sundry that I don't really have much left over. I can barely afford to pay the interest every month, and when those nice introductory rates wear off in the near future, I'm basically screwed. Of course, my Bank of America account (which I use to pay my credit card bills in America, because I can't really afford the currency conversion charges of sending yen over, yet) will run out of money in about two months anyway, so it's pretty much a moot point. [UPDATE: Scratch that, I forgot to account for this month's bills, so I will run out of money in about one month] [UPDATE AGAIN: Also, I forgot to budget in the fact that I will have to actually start paying off my student loans now, which will take another $600+ out of my paycheck, which is $600+ more than I already can't afford. I have a feeling it's going to hit the fan in the very near future.]

I'm on such a tight budget right now that it affects nearly every aspect of my life. Need new clothes? Well, maybe a shirt this month, I'll get more next month. Need food? Well, what gives me the most for my yen? Too bad there's no CostCo in Asahi. Want to go out? Maybe once a week with my girlfriend (but that means cutting back the rest of the week on things like food). Want to go on a trip like all the other ALTs? Too bad, get used to disappointment. Have to use the bathroom? Better hold it until you get to school; you didn't have enough money to purchase toilet paper this week. It sounds bad, but really, it's worse than it sounds.

Right now, my budget is around $100 a week for food and sundry. It sounds like a lot, unless you live in Japan (example: milk is $8 a gallon). I can get by, but just barely. Of course, I wouldn't be in this situation in the first place if I had stayed in America and gotten a job in the Computer Science field (average take-home for a new graduate is about twice what I make here). I have a low-paying job in a high-cost-of-living country. Not a good combination. I don't regret my decision, I'm just saying it was the harder of these two paths (but since when was life supposed to be EASY?).

So, I can afford the minimum payments on my credit cards, but not much more, which is extremely unfortunate. I'll end up paying MORE in the long run. Credit is a trap to keep people poor, and I fell in. :'(

Worse than my credit cards, though, are my student loans. I'm having a real problem with my loan managing company.

See, since I'm in grace (since I only recently graduated), my interest rate is lower than normal. I'm trying to consolidate my loans now, to lock in that lower rate. Well, it takes time to consolidate, and even though ALL my loans are through one company, it hasn't consolidated yet. Part of this problem is because I didn't include my phone number on my loan application.

Keep in mind, it does not list "phone number" among the REQUIRED information, but there you go. My number is for Japan, so I put my mom's number, but then had to change it because I couldn't have the same number twice (once for me and once for my 'family member' reference). So I put "N/A" as the instructions tell me to. But, don't let the actual instructions get in the way of bureaucracy.

Also, there is no way to submit the application either electronically or by fax. OTHER loan applications can be submitted by fax, why not consolidation loans? I had to physically mail it there. Ridiculous! I paid extra to rush it (time is money, especially in this case). What's worse is that I didn't include my Perkins loan, which would have lowered my interest rate overall, but would have taken longer to process, thereby putting me AFTER the deadline where my Stafford rate increases, which would defeat the whole purpose.

Anyway, after submitting my consolidation application and waiting, I decided to check on it by going to the company website. It told me that there was a problem with my application. This was about a WEEK after they received it (close to TWO WEEKS since I sent it, snail mail being what it is).

Just so you know, part of the required information was an E-mail address. Why didn't they E-MAIL ME to let me know that there was a problem with my application?

I called them up and asked them that. They said they don't do that; what they do is send the application back with a cover letter explaining the missing information.

Keep in mind, my interest rate GOES UP December 11th. Not a lot, but enough to take it above the line of inflation, so that time will no longer pay off my loan. This is a critical difference to me. This is thousands of dollars to my wallet.

Here's the timeline so far:

Nov 6th: I Sent application.
Nov 11th: They received my application.
Nov 19th: I discovered that they found a problem with my application.
Nov 23rd: I finally manage to get them on the phone to correct it (time zones...oy).
Dec 1st: Today. Nothing to report. Still waiting for loan application to be approved. STILL waiting for previously mentioned cover letter to arrive.

Now, if I weren't so computer literate, I might still be totally unaware that my application was on hold. If I hadn't checked the website, I wouldn't have known there were any problems. Like I said, the letter from them still hasn't arrived. I wonder how they sent it such that, three weeks later, it's still not here.

My question is: WHY DID THEY ASK FOR MY E-MAIL ADDRESS? Clearly, that would have been the obvious method, if what they wanted to do was notify me in a timely fashion. That, however, does not seem to be their goal at all.

I wonder if, as a loan management company, they make more money from higher-interest loans. In which case, it would be to their benefit to try and delay my consolidation loan until the interest goes up (10 more days). If that happens, I wonder if I have any legal recourse?

I hate to sound like a typical litigious American, but can I sue them? If their policies are such that it biases them toward higher interest loans, that sounds like an unfair business practice. Since it is a federally guaranteed loan, I can't refuse to pay it or declare bankruptcy (I don't have enough money to declare bankruptcy anyway, my net-worth is around -$50,000).

Sigh. I wonder if my money problems are the real reason my hair is suddenly falling out. I like to think that I'm a stress-free sort of person, but upon reflection, I think I'm just in denial of how bad the situation actually is.

Does anyone know a good lawyer?


So, it's test day here in Japan. Finals, today and tomorrow. Which means I have no classes. However, I still have to go to work (it's all about presence).

So far, I've read all my e-mail and all the blogs I regularly frequent (that are work safe). That's one hour down....

Besides studying Japanese (which, it turns out, you CAN do too much, after which your brain asplode), I brought a few books to pass the time, but I'm not in the mood to leave the computer just yet. However, with NaNoWriMo over (weep), I suddenly find myself with much more free time.

So, just now, I decided to start drinking coffee again, something I've been trying to cut down at work (and instead, I've been going to sleep at reasonable hours, which works much better). But...tragedy...or is it?

There was no ready-made coffee just now, so I resorted to instant. However, whomever opened the coffee this time didn't just poke a hole in the seal (as is usual), but tore the seal off entirely. Normally, I shake the can over my cup, and it trickles out slowly...slowly. This time, I applied the same motion and WOAH! Too much! Seriously, it filled maybe close to half the cup (and this is a big cup). Even for me, this was too much, and I thought about pouring some back, but...well...it was ALREADY in my cup. What could I do?

I went ahead.

I added some sugar (more than usual, to go with the more-than-usual amount of coffee), and hot water. It took a while for the coffee to dissolve; I think it was close to the saturation point for the water.

At this time, it resembled....chocolate syrup.

I added milk. It didn't lighten the coffee as much as I expected. The coffee became slightly less ink-black and more of a dark charcoal black.

And I'm drinking it now. The sugar...cannot be tasted. The milk...I don't know. The coffee...the coffee is definitely detectable. The image of chewing the grinds in my mouth comes to mind.

I wonder if this will affect me in any way...

Work It

I think the coffee is making my body vibrate so much that I'm actually traveling backward through time. Oh well; I'll take advantage of the situation and post to the blog.

Here's a repost from a comment I made on Cyberdave's blog.

The problem with not programming very often, I've found, is that your brain has all these excess cycles to spend on other things. Mine keeps songs playing in my head. Several. Simultaneously.

So far, it hasn't driven me mad, or if it has, the change wasn't noticeable.

Right now I've got [Barenaked Ladies' "When You Dream"] going, and the OutKast "Hey Ya!" (Shake it like a Polaroid picture) song, and of course Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" which has been playing nearly non-stop in my head since I saw a flash video with it, several months ago. I even figured out how to play mp3s on my phone (which, technically, won't do that [but it can play SD-Audio; one Panasonic-made SD-Card-Reader from Amazon and a slightly-hacked SD-Jukebox later, and voilà!]), and so far the only song I've put on there is Daft Punk's. Seriously, that song is like...my anthem. I love it on several levels.

Wait...ok. Better now. Thinking about it, I had to load up Winamp and put that song on repeat. Ah...sweet, sweet repeat. Winamp needs a new feature: I'd like to only listen to the center of the song. If you've heard the song, you know what I mean. If you haven't...well, it starts with a sort of puzzle (part of the reason I love the song so much). If, the first time you hear the song, you can figure out what it's trying to say before it tells you...there is a joy. But I know the answer, having heard the song before, so I'd rather just listen to the middle. Anyway...

Wait...ok. Better now. I had to turn up the volume, to help drive all other thought from my brain. Ah...bliss. I wonder if there's something subliminal in this song.


Even farther back now. I've finished that cup of coffee...I wonder if I'll stop going back now or if momentum will carry me even farther. Anyway...

Well, THAT was fun. :)

Sometimes, to alleviate the boredom of being a Human Tape Player, I'll do voices. As in, when I read the sentences from the book, if the speaker is a female, I'll do a high-pitched voice. If the speaker is a female CHILD, I'll do a high-pitched squeaky voice. Today was one of those days, but a bit different from before.

See, usually when I read aloud from the book, the students repeat after me. Today, when I did the voice, ALL THE MALE STUDENTS DID IT TOO! Every single one of them, spontaneously, simultaneously, decided to do the same squeaky voice as I. It was impossible to keep from laughing at the unexpectedness of the situation.

Later, in a different class for the same level (first grade) (so, same teaching plan), the JTE picked one part for the class and one part for me (it was a dialog). Of COURSE the part chosen for me was the girl. I think the class enjoyed that, although it was a bit embarrassing for me.

In other, less happy, news, I did something today that I regret. At the other end of the spectrum from the first graders, the third graders have a pretty good beginning grasp of English. Today I graded pair-work, where each pair composed a dialog taking place in a shop. One student was the customer, one the clerk. I had to grade them on a scale of my own choosing.

It went like this:

If you fulfilled the assignment as expected, you got "Good". That was the baseline grade.

If your pronunciation was too far off, or you made too many grammar mistakes, you got marked down to "Fine" (or theoretically worse "Poor" if you were completely incomprehensible). No one scored lower than "Fine".

If your pronunciation was really good, AND you made no grammar mistakes, AND your situation was very creative, AND your volume was loud enough, etc, you got marked up to "Pretty Good" or "Very Good". No one scored higher than "Very Good".

However, I wrote the scale on the board. And I included the theoretical limits above and below, like "Excellent" and "Fantastic", and "OK" and "Fair".

This was a mistake.

See, once the students knew about "Fantastic" (the highest theoretically possible mark), they were disappointed with anything less. I tried to explain that, so far, no one had scored higher than "Very Good" and that "Good" was, by definition, not 'Bad', and was what most people got. But each was convinced that they were "Fantastic", and heartbroken to only get "Good".

Whats worse was that it was kind of arbitrary. If the people before them were "Very Good" it was hard to measure up. If both were "Good" but one was better, the other might be marked "Fine". It's how they were in comparison to whomever came before them, which sucked.

Afterward, I was reminded of a teacher of mine at University that I resented. In a course that I thought I was going to score a 4.0 in, I scored a 2.5! How? Hadn't I done all the required work?

Well, of course I had! But, compared to other groups in the same course, I had done JUST the required work, and no more. So, I scored a 'C'. I had so become accustomed to scoring 4.0s by doing exactly what was required that I had thought that was the norm, but of course it didn't used to be that way.

And I ended up doing the same thing to my students. Live and learn, of course, and these students can't resent me too long, as the school year ends in a couple of weeks, but still I regret not being more clear.

The WORST part was, I stayed after school to do this. Since tomorrow is a test day, I won't have any classes, so I fit as many as I could in today (technically against my contract, but hey, "Welcome to Japan"). On finals week, the days leading up to the tests are extended by one class period, so I stayed after for that period to fit in one more class.

I spent my private free time doing something I regret to my students, because I was trying to help them. Sigh. And I'll probably stay after tomorrow, too, to help grade papers.

NaNoWriMo Final Update

Well, still going backward, but at least I'm slowing down. Hopefully this will be my last post before I spring forward again.

It's the last day of NaNoWriMo. 1 hour, 35 minutes remain...

I did not finish my novel. I'm only short by a few words, too. (By 'a few', I mean, 'a few hundred'. Of course, any large number can be 'a few hundred' if your definition of 'a few' is large enough. Ten hundred (1000) is technically made up of hundreds (ten of them). To be more accurate, I could say that I'm short closer to a hundred hundred (10,000), or to be even MORE accurate, closer to a hundred-and-fourteen hundred (14,000)).

I thought about posting what I DID finish, but it's crap. I was re-reading it, and I thought "If you weren't YOU, would you care what happened at church camp when you were 12?" I barely care NOW, and it was ME.

Sigh. I think I've reached the limits that coffee can take me back. I thought about writing, and then drinking more coffee to take me back this far, to continue writing, but of course that would undo what I had written last time, so it would be futile. That's a disadvantage of a Groundhog Day style time loop: anything you create will be undone by the start of the next cycle. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

My Sister Is Famous!

So, I was wandering around the Internet Movie Database, and lo! My sister Lila's name is actually on there now.

Quick link: http://us.imdb.com/Name?Vlavianos,+Lila
Direct link: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm1748845/

She doesn't have any biography information yet, but it's a start. :)


So far, her name hasn't made it to The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia which calculates someone's degree of seperation from Kevin Bacon. So, we don't know her Bacon Number yet, but it will likely be very high (that's rare). It should make it over in a few weeks...

Now she has a picture on her IMDB page.

Also, check out the trailer for the film (she's the one in the chair).

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Blogging Monday

There's only five (instead of six) classes on Monday, so I'm taking an hour to blog, so everyone knows that I'm not dead yet. I wish I had been doing this before, because I find that I didn't actually write down (or type down) any of the things I've been meaning to blog about in recent days and weeks. Sigh.

The times will be all wacky because when a topic occurs to me, I'll draft a stub on my blog, and fill it in later when I have time, but the time-stamp will be for whenever I first drafted the stub. For example, it's almost five pm now, but the time-stamp for this post is four pm.

Anyway, I think the posts themselves are wackier than the timestamps, as I'm having heavy coffee withdrawal* symptoms today, and I'm not sound of mind enough to reasonably edit my own posts.

*I've been misspelling withdrawal (as "withdrawl") for as long as I can remember, and after the "dieing" debacle of the other day, I looked it up. Turns out I've been wrong this whole time. Bummer.

Comic Books

There's a lot of manga in Japan (collective gasp!), so it's on my mind recently.

I recalled a conversation in college about a comic book series called The Watchmen. I managed to get my hands on the entire series (twelve comics), and read them all the other day.

Suddenly, I feel the urge to write comic books. I've been feeling a lot of creative urges recently (anything to avoid actually finishing one of my stories, I guess). Unfortunately, I never learned to draw well (and probably couldn't with my palsy hands now, anyway).

Also, I never learned how to emphasize the wrong words in a sentence, so that pretty much leaves me out of the running, ne?


I love coffee. If you're doing something as crazy as NaNoWriMo, coffee is your friend. If you're lucky enough to work in an office that provides free coffee, you can stay late and write and drink coffee. It's like Starbucks, where you have to make the coffee yourself, and there's no pleasant background music, or even necessarily other people; so, it's not like Starbucks at all.

I've taken to adding instant coffee to my coffee. Is that a bad sign?

The coffee in this office....makes me want to bring my own from home. Which I might do. As it is, I pour myself a cup (my cup is a bit larger than average [maybe 2x normal size], so I guess I use up more coffee than my officemates), and then add about as much instant coffee as I would have if I were using hot water instead of coffee. Coffee is supposed to be fizzy, right?

Then I add milk and sugar, and anyone who doesn't is a FOOL! Sugar is another stimulant! Caffeine and Sugar! TWO GREAT THINGS THAT GO GREAT TOGETHER! Adding milk removes bitterness (from the coffee, not from me), and cools it, so I can drink MORE, FASTER!

That being said, we're out of instant today, so I'm forced to drink plain, ordinary, unenhanced, drip coffee. Sigh. :(

The reason I mention all this is because I just poured myself a cup, so it's fresh on my mind. And in the time it took to write this, I finished my cup, but that's more a comment on how slow I type with shaking hands than it is a comment on how much coffee I drink, right?

NaNoWriMo update

So, as I previously mentioned, I keep having ideas for stories, and each one whispers write me...write me...

I realize why, of course. I feel quite silly that I didn't see it before.

My brain is trying (successfully, so far) to avoid the WEEK TWO WALL! Every time I get to week two in a story, my brain comes up with what looks like a BETTER story, and says WORK ON THIS ONE!

It's hard to argue against your brain.

Right now, we're in negotiations. We may end up doing four short stories that all end abruptly for no reason. But hey, NaNoWriMo isn't about the QUALITY of the stories, it's about the QUANTITY of the words! To be specific: 50,000 of them. So, I may let it slide this time; but next year, it's ONE STORY ONLY! And I'm posting that here so that my brain can complain next year and claim that I never said that.

Baby steps, baby steps. This year I'll do 50,000 words. Next year I'll do 50,000 words and CLIMB OVER THE WALL.

Hair Loss the Easy Way!

I previously mentioned that I've noticed a lot of hair loss recently. While my girlfriend assures me that A: she doesn't want to marry a bald guy, and B: I've been losing hair for a while, I've recently discovered some interesting facts.

I was researching information on Propecia and Rogaine. Propecia was my first choice, because it's just a pill you take (one more pill along with my vitamin supplement and allergy medication would probably go unnoticed in the morning) and because it causes some men to experience certain side effects that I don't know how well I can describe considering that my younger brother reads my blog. Let's just say that, as time goes by, a particular appetite of mine hasn't been decreasing as I was led to believe it would, and is in fact getting stronger every year. If I thought this particular appetite was intense when I was, say, 18 years old, I had know idea how bad it would become 12 years later. It's supposed to be declining! And it's not as if I can find any medication that would serve, intentionally, as ... well, as an "appetite" suppressant. There's not enough money in this particular niche market (it's the same with reduction surgery; nobody offers it). Pfizer makes an appetite ENHANCER, of course. What a world we live in.

Anyway, now that I've shared far too much and everyone reading is cringing and asking WHY? WHY?, it turns out that Propecia ideally works on baldness that forms on the back of the head, which I don't have (yet...?). Rogaine (called Regaine, here, which I thought was a knock-off marketing strategy, but it turns out that I'm just ignorant) is the same way. Neither works for baldness that starts above the temples.

So, in researching these drugs, and their availability here in Japan, I found a site that talked about hair loss in Japan. It's actually very common, and so far no one I've found knows why.

Is it the water? There's definitely SOMETHING in the water. I wouldn't want to drink it un-boiled, and there is a tendency for crusts to form on anything that is exposed to water on a regular basis (you should see my toothbrush...) (Note to self: buy whole-house water filter)

Is it the shampoo? The Japanese have much thicker hair than westerners, that's for sure. However, I have the word of a native Japanese who traveled abroad to America that American shampoos are stronger. Maybe it's just a chemical incompatibility between the two.

Is it the food? The climate? The stress of living abroad? Lots of hypotheses, few answers, and no word on whether it will grow back if I leave the country. Hmm...

Darth William

Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I recently sent to my good friend George! (See link at right)

So, I have a problem. Well, yes, I have many problems, thank you for pointing that out. This particular new problem....I don't know how to handle. I've been whiling away my many excess hours I don't spend working playing Half Life 2. Whoops, I meant to type that I've been reading up on people that work in the software industry; sometimes it seems as if my fingers have a life of their own. NO IT DOESN'T EVERYTHING IS FINE MOVE ALONG NOTHING TO SEE HERE.

Anyway, here's the problem (and I'm sure it will be as shocking to you as it was for me): I want to work at Microsoft.

I'm not sure when it happened. One day, I was a happy-go-lucky programmer hell-bent on staying independent and blazing my own trail. I was going to move to Alberta, Canada and start my own software company. That was the plan.

And then, my brain took me aside one day and told me it had changed its mind.
Brain: I don't want to start my own company.
Me: You don't?
Brain: I want to work for Microsoft.
Me: What? Are you kidding me?
Brain: No. I'm dead sexy.
Me: ...
Brain: ...
Me: Did you mean to say that you're dead serious?
Brain: Yeah, what did I say?
Me: You said you were dead sexy.
Brain: Really? Like that guy from that movie?
Me: Yeah, 'Austin Powers'.
Brain: Oh.
Me: Yeah.
Brain: Hm.
Me: Anyway, what brought about this change of heart?
Brain: (Pauses for a moment in thought)....I think....yeah, I'm pretty sure...that it was 'Austin Powers 2'.
OK, I admit, my brain is pretty slow. EVENTUALLY, it told me its reasons, including security (steady paycheck vs unpredictability of owning a business) and the superior treatment programmers receive vs just about anywhere else in the business.

But, but, but....isn't Microsoft .... _EVIL_?

Is it? I don't know. On one hand, I disagree with a lot of their business practices. On the other hand, they have remained profitable every year for far longer than it would seem possible (see also: every other software company in existance). And the business side has a responsibility to remain profitable. And technically, they always follow the letter of the law (if not the spirit). So...evil? Can I go to the dark side? Work for the evil empire?

Apparently so. Oh, sure, I'll tell myself that it's because I want to help change the company from the inside; work to make a superior product; make the world a better place; etc, etc, etc. In reality, it's simply because the other Microsoft programmers I've talked to speak of Microsoft as this...I don't know, holy place or something. Not something that should be avoided, something that should be strived for.

Sigh. I don't know. What do I do? I feel I'm setting myself up for a fall now. The worst part is, it'll be, like, four or five years before I'm even ready for a programming job. I'll be in Japan likely for the next three years (well, two years, 8 months), then one or two years getting my masters (I first thought "Hey, I can get my masters in one year!" And then I thought "Why would I want to rush it? There's so many courses I haven't taken yet!"). So, I'll be 35, and just starting out in the field. Kind of a hard sell.

Ideally, I'd like to live in Canada, and work for Microsoft, programming games. However, as far as I know, there are no Microsoft programming jobs in Canada, and gaming jobs are with subsidiaries of Microsoft (which may not have their philosophy re: coder comforts). So that's not going to work. So, here's what I'll have to do: Move to Canada, start my own software company, and hope to be bought out by Microsoft! Sounds like a plan, ne?

I need coffee so bad right now, it's not even funny.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

What could it hurt?

So, you may have noticed a distinct drop-off in the number of my posts, starting this month. That is to say, I haven't posted at all this month. That darn NaNoWriMo!

I'm taking a break from writing stories to write a post, so you know I'm still alive and well. Who knew I had so many stories inside me? I may have to switch my novel to a collection of shorts. See, I was under the impression that creativity dwindles as one ages. I'm already in my 30s; I shouldn't be having so many creative thoughts that I can't type fast enough to jot them down. Of course, I'm re-learning the DVORÁK keyboard, so I'm typing slow anyway...

This morning, I wanted to start my novel over. Again. I already did once, because I realized my previous story (about super-genetically-engineered humans, vampires, cyborgs, nanites, World War III, time travel, evolution, tribal society, big business, AI, love and loss, possibly aliens...) would take too long to finish (more of a 15-book serial than a novella). So, as I was biking to work, up a hill, in the rain, on a windy mountain road with no sidewalks and plenty of blind corners, with a cliff on one side of me and a wall on the other, and traffic whizzing by - barely missing me, I thought a story about a guy biking to work, up a hill, in the rain, on a windy mountain road with no sidewalks and plenty of blind corners, with a cliff on one side of him and a wall on the other, and traffic whizzing by, who gets HIT BY A CAR AND DIES would be an interesting story. And I could keep the first page of my previous story:

Phoenix, can you hear me?


Well, at least your sense of sarcasm is still intact. Try to relax; there may be some discomfort during this process. How do you feel?

I feel...nothing.

Mm. Can you remember where you are?


Can you remember your name?

You called me Phoenix.

So I did, and so your reasoning skills and short term memory seem to be functioning as well. Is there anything else you can remember?

...I have the most exquisite memory of my death.


That was a bit melodramatic, don't you think?
The idea was of a guy, as he lay dying, revisiting his life and his memories, the good and the bad, the mysteries he never solved, guided by two opposing spirits (angels and demons) who were in reality just aspects of his own personality. Sort of Illusions, but with death (or more death). Illusions is a great little book by Richard Bach (of Jonathon Livingston Seagull fame, not Richard Bachman of Turner Overdrive fame [or was that Stephen King?]).

Unfortunately, I overslept this morning. In the sense that, if I can remember what I dreamed, I've had too much sleep. I knew it was going to happen, too. Last night, when I went to bed (at around 1am, because I was playing a game my younger brother told me about, called schiffbruch, which is German for Shipwreck, which tells you pretty much everything about the game) I figured that I wouldn't be able to get up at 5am like I normally do. So, I reset my clocks for 6:30.

Big mistake.

My body knows when it wants to get up. I woke up briefly at 6am, having already, in my mind, overslept by an hour. Unfortunately (and here's where I made my mistake), I didn't get out of bed immediately. I went back to sleep.

The problem is, my brain sleeps dyslexically. This is true. I have REM sleep before deep sleep. Usually, it's the other way around. So, I was dreaming when my alarm went off, and it stuck in my mind. I was dreaming of a murder-mystery. I hit snooze [TABOO!], so I could finish the dream.

By the time I came fully awake, I had already worked out the victim (a woman, disguised as a man), the location (a theatre [for plays, not movies]), the suspects (a star (male) and another man, possibly the director?), and the detective (myself!). In the shower I worked out who the killer was, and the motivation (she committed suicide, because of depression over her lover's infidelity (the director), and tries to frame him for her murder; he then tries to pin it on the actor).

Anyway. Now I have THREE stories going on simultaneously in my brain. And I haven't even touched all my notebooks that I brought from America, which are crammed full of other plot ideas and story points. Sigh. What to do?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Devil is in the Details

Part of my job entails walking around the classroom and making sure that the students are writing down proper English. Today, I actually chuckled in class when I saw that one of my students had made a minor spelling error.

The student was transcribing a dialog involving "two tickets to a rock concert", and had misspelled the word "rock". Being family friendly, I can't say what type of concert he had written, only that I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Speaking of My Brother....

I saw this today. It's a clip of Kevin Rose from The Screen Savers on G4TechTV.

In it, he 'overclocks' a toothbrush. The part that reminded me of my brother was towards the end, when he found a way to file down the tip of the $6 toothbrush so it could use the heads from the $100 version. :D

Anyway, back to work for me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


It's that time of the year again.

Both of my parents told me that they read my blog. I don't know if my brother reads it; maybe one of them can pass this along then:

Dremel has come out with a pumpkin carver set.

If you already have a Dremel and cutter, you can just download some patterns.

NaNoWriMo update

I am now officially registered at NaNoWriMo. I'm really going to do it. I've even added a participant graphic to my sidebar, so that proves my dedication (actually, it proves what a computer nerd I am, because I took all four graphics they had and put them in a random-script).

I'm even starting to sketch out plot points. For some reason, I shipped a lot of my old notebooks here to Japan instead of storing them; they all have bits and scraps of stories I wanted to write but didn't have time. I'd say I haven't had time to read through them yet, but that's becoming less of an excuse for me (I do, after all, waste several hours each day just laying in bed, unconscious [maybe aging isn't what's making my hair fall out]).

It turns out that a lot of JETs write books while they're here. I do tend to have bouts of free time here at the office between classes (more so this week, as I've been kicked out of some classes as they prepare for midterms thr-fri; yesterday I had only 1 class). So, "write for an hour" could just be one more thing I do at work, like "study Japanese for an hour", which I do now because I have an external deadline (monthly JET tests). So, with the external deadline of NaNoWriMo, I might get it done.

Here's a link about writing: http://www.mb.com.ph/YNCP2004091118182.html

It's mostly centered on Grisham, who would write two hours a day every morning BEFORE WORKING FULL TIME AS A LAWYER! So, no one can say they don't have the time (including me).

It's all about persistence. Here's a great quote on that:

Nothing takes the place of persistence.
Talent will not.
Nothing is more common than
unsuccessful people with talent.
Genius will not.
Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not.
The world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence alone has solved
and always will solve
the problems of the human race.

- Calvin Coolidge
Here's a question though:
Should I put my novel-in-progress online? If people wanted to see it, I supposed I could put it up on the forum, but I think I would be quite embarassed if people actually knew how poorly I compose fiction. Of course, it may be a moot point, as it's nearly November 1st, and I don't have a plot yet...

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

As Long As I'm Here...

As long as I'm posting pictures anyway, here's a couple more:

Which direction is the center in?

Here's a nice cozy TWO WAY STREET. I was actually in a mini-van going down this street with one of my fellow teachers when a truck came the opposite way. To this day, I'm not sure how we passed each other, but we did. Japanese vehicles must come with that Harry Potter lever thing.

Japanese cheesemakers...don't feel the need to tell you what kind of cheese they're making. It's just CHEESE. We've got SNOW brand cheese and CGC brand cheese, slice-style cheese and melting-slice-style cheese.

Blessed are the cheesemakers...


Let it be known that on this day, the 27th of October, the year 2004, Phoenix did finish an entire Japanese lunch for the first time.

Here's a picture:

In case you don't recognize my hashi, you can still tell it was my lunch. Japanese lunches are served with a bowl of whatever is for lunch, and a separate bowl of rice. If you look closely at the two bowls, you should be able to see that they BOTH have a few grains of rice in them. This is because I dumped my rice bowl into my other bowl, something NO JAPANESE WOULD EVER DO. The Japanese don't mix their foods like us Westerners do.

Truthfully, though, I must point out that today's lunch did not have any seafood in it. I've come close to finishing a lunch before, but it had these little fish... It's hard to explain, just look at the picture:

That's a little snack pack of fish and almonds. Yum yum!

Anyway, today's lunch was rice, gyoza, bean sprouts, milk, tea, an orange, and whatever the main dish was (something with tofu chunks, I forget the name). It was NOT the best meal I've had in Japan, but it wasn't impossible to eat (there were moments, though, with the bean sprouts...).

It was also a lot of food. I'm stuffed. Unfortunately, I didn't skip breakfast like I usually do (and as it turns out, skipping breakfast wasn't the key to finishing a school lunch, so live and learn), so I'm a bit bloated right now. Honestly, it seems to me that the Japanese people eat much more food than us Westerners; I guess their metablisms must be naturally higher, since obesity isn't an epidemic here.

Anyway, I'm going to try not to move for a while, and just digest.

*'Owaru' means 'Finish'. When I first posted this in 2004, I could add that info as a title in the link. Now in 2008, I'm reposting with updated picture links, and those kinds of titles are disabled. Thanks for the update, Blogger! Perhaps you'd like to give me a papercut later and pour lemon juice on it.

Busy Me

OK, so I plan to write a novel in a month, while working full time. Let's take a closer look at my schedule, shall we?

Assuming I get to bed by midnight, and wake up at 6:30am, that's 6 and a half hours gone just for sleep.

It takes me about 15 minutes to wake up, go to the bathroom, and wash my hands.
It takes me about 30 minutes to prepare, eat, and clean up from breakfast.
It takes me about 30 minutes to brush my teeth, shave, and shower.
It takes me about 15 minutes to choose an outfit and get dressed.
It takes between 10 and 25 minutes to commute to work, but less just say 15.

My morning routine has taken more than an hour and a half (I really am that slow in the morning), so that's 8 hours gone.

I try to be at work by 8am, but work officially starts at 8:30, so let's say it's 8:30. I often work until 8pm, but sometimes I get home as early as 6pm (work officially ends at 4:15pm, which is to say, I stop getting paid at 4:15pm, but I will keep working until I'm done). So, let's say I work until 6pm.

Work took about 10 hours (seriously, this is true), so that's 18 hours gone.

The advantage is that I can often study between classes, and I study a lot. Japanese, programming, design; I'm addicted to learning. This is not necessarily the good thing educators would like us to believe, but that's an argument for another time.

Now that I'm home, there are basic maintenance things I need to do (laundry and stuff like that). Let's say I do one load of laundry every other day (it feels like it's every day). How much work does it take to do one load? Sorting the clothes (5 minutes), starting the washer (1 minute), hanging up the clothes (10 minutes), folding the clothes (20 minutes). Let's say, about a half hour total. Split over two days, that's about 15 minutes a day. So, let's round that off entirely.

We're still at 18 hours. We've got six hours left to spend.

Dinner time. Assuming I eat at home (because I'm trying to save my money). Well, I have to go to the store. I go to the store maybe twice a week (actually, it's probably more often than that, I'm estimating conservatively). I usually spend about an hour there, shopping around. So two hours spread over a week. That's close to 15 minutes a day, let's round it off.

Then I have to prepare dinner, eat, and clean up. Let's say I can get prep time down to 20 minutes or so, and clean up 10 minutes or so. That's a half hour total. I'm not counting eating time because I will usually multi-task while I eat.

We still have five and a half hours left to spend.

Often, I will work on things I couldn't do at work. I know how sad it is to spend 10 hours at work, and then come home and work some more, but there it is. I am forever researching things to put up on the English bulletin board or activities for class or materials that I might give to the slower students. One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Japan in the first place is because I want to write educational language learning software. So, even though a lot of what I do is technically work related, it's also personal. Now you know. Anyway, I'll spend one or two (or three) hours on that.

We're down to three and a half hours to spend.

I try to exercise an hour a day (I'm trying to get back down to 180 pounds). Which is to say, I ACTUALLY exercise maybe 20-30 minutes a day, and then quit. Which is to say, I STRETCH for about 20 of those 30 minutes, and ACTUALLY TRULY REALLY exercise only about 10 minutes. So what, how many minutes do you exercise? Do you even exercise 10 MINUTES a day? Don't judge me. Even only 10 minutes makes me feel better. I would like to move this to the morning like I used to do (I was getting up at 5am before, to do this), but I haven't gotten my body to go back to that old routine.

Now we're down to three hours to spend.

I usually spend these on pleasure. Reading for pleasure, listening to music for pleasure, watching TV or movies, or talking on the phone.

Now you know my schedule (more intimately than you wanted; if you think blogs should be limited to more interesting content, start your own). I can squeeze some novel writing time in there.

The goal in life isn't to become rich or famous or change the world. At least, MY goal isn't. My goal is to pack each day full of minutes.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

More Earthquake News

For you non-Japanese people, a couple of links for you:

In summary:
Thousands of people still stranded, plummeting temperatures, and aftershocks.

"The misery of residents in Niigata Prefecture is not expected to ease. Powerful aftershocks have been forecast, along with near-zero temperatures and rain. There is no sign that water, electricity and gas supplies can resume anytime soon to the stricken areas."

Additionally, they estimate there is a 40% chance of a level 6 aftershock within the next week. Level 6 is pretty high on the Japanese scale, and it would be a major earthquake on its own, if it were not an aftershock.

Sometimes it feels like it's the end of the world here, but I know it isn't, because the schools are still open.

Welcome To The Jungle

So, more fun times here in Japan. We had some earthquakes on Saturday, the most severe earthquakes in nine years. 21 people are confirmed dead and more than 1,500 injured.

We're talking "massive landslides that may have buried countless people, children crushed by collapsed houses, elderly people in shock and power blackouts to at least nearly 100,000 households. About 65,000 people remained in shelters Sunday to spend a second uneasy night."

"Three big temblors registered upper 6 on the Japanese intensity scale of 7" which is over 6 on the Richter scale. They hit one after another: 5:56pm, 6:03pm, 6:34pm.

The last major earthquake in Japan occurred nine years ago, in 1995. The Kobe quake killed thousands, while this one didn't, so at least there's that. Estimates for damage if the quake had been in Tokyo were around 7000 dead.

Here's a fun picture. Note the upside down car.

Now, remember that this comes on the heels of the Mega-Typhoon, now with 75 dead, 14 missing. More than 220 people are dead or missing from this season's typhoon attack. The last time that more than 200 people died from typhoons in a single year was 1982. This past mega-typhoon was the worst since 1979.

And, just for equal time, here's a picture (from the great YesICanUseChopsticks site) of the typhoon. Covering all of Japan.

Now, don't you just wish you were here?

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Who Wants $100,000?

So, I'm in Japan, right? But I don't read or speak Japanese (yet), so in order to understand my favorite manga (Naruto), I have to download the scanlation into English. I was on a site to do that (NarutoFan.com), and I clicked on a banner for FatScripts.com, a place that sells scripts for web pages. One script was for a HotOrNot site. If you don't know AmIHotOrNot.com....welcome to the Internet. Anyway, reminded of the original, I went back to AmIHotOrNot.com, and saw a banner that said:

"We're giving away $200,000 at VOTE or NOT!"

Giving away? What's the catch?

Apparently, no catch. Here's the rundown:
  1. Sign up to win $100,000.
  2. Refer your friends.
    If one of them wins, you ALSO win $100,000.
    The deadline to register is coming up soon!
  4. Please vote on November 2.
So, that's it. They don't spam your or sell your information, they just want everyone to vote. So, if you haven't done so already, go to http://pg13z58.VOTEorNOT.org (that's my link), and sign up.

And I sincerely hope you win. :D

Thursday, October 21, 2004

God's FAQ

[Note: This is copied and pasted from Google's cache of http://www.godsfaq.com/ because I thought it was interesting, and I don't want to see it vanish.]

Many people worship, or claim to worship, or at least believe in, God. That's me. Now seems as good a time as any to answer some of the frequently asked questions about me.

Q: Are you really God? How can I be sure?

A: Yes, I am. There is no way to be sure, however. As with anything, you have to make your own judgments, and blindly following what anybody says, whether it is I, or a priest, minister, or preacher, is foolish. You can be assured that what I say is correct, and please check the facts. Those with uncritical minds are doomed, anyway.

Q: What about some kind of miracle to convince me that you are God?

A: There are many reasons why this isn't going to happen. First, I don't go around violating the laws of the universe just to convince some ignorant bonehead that I am who I say I am. Second, I really don't care if you believe it or not -- if your thinking is so limited that you must formulate absolute opinions, there is not much I could do that would convince you -- and you'd be unworthy of my time. Third, you were drawn to this web site for a reason -- trust me to be a little more subtle than performing parlor tricks like some omnipotent magician.

Q: You don't fit the notion of how I imagine my God to be. Why is that?

A: You're in trouble already. You've formulated your opinion based on what you want God to be, and (worse) what you've heard or read from others. This is very unlikely to match what I am actually like, and this can only get you in trouble. The worst thing you can do is to use my name to justify your own beliefs and opinions. If you have the strength of faith in yourself and your own convictions, fine. I don't like words put in my mouth. I don't like the weak and ignorant invoking my name to defend their opinions or beliefs.

Q: What about the Bible? Isn't that more authoritative than this web site?

A: No, of course not. The testaments have been through enough revisions and translations that even if the original were authoritative, there'd be room for huge mistakes. You can get as much out of it as any ancient storybook, but keep your critical thinking facilities engaged while you're reading it. This goes for any documents and books of the faithful. If you read it in context and with an open mind, you can get something out of it, and I encourage you to do so. However, if you follow it blindly, or (worse) use your interpretation to justify your opinions or actions, you will be sent to Hell.

Q: Is there a Hell?

A: Well, not per se, especially if you imagine a Hell of the fire-and-brimstone variety, there's no such place. However, it's difficult to explain what really happens when you are judged unworthy. Since it's beyond your experience, you don't have words to express what happens. The souls of the unworthy are destroyed, and it's painful, though not in the sense of "pain" that you are currently familiar with. Trust me, it's not pleasant.

Q: What about Heaven?

A: This is a concept that nearly everybody struggles with, since it's hard to imagine what could make you happy for all eternity. Most of these concepts are based on physical reality (like eating chocolate on a comfortable couch) that really have no bearing here. Imagine, for a moment, that you and your family are sent to the mythical Heaven. Does your family never argue again? Is it all pleasurable all the time? Don't be silly. Soon, you'd be tired of that, and be ready to destroy something just for a change of pace. Those who are judged worthy are given the opportunity to live again, after any punishment or reward they deserve.

Q: How can I be judged worthy when I die?

A: You have free will. Your life presents various challenges and opportunities for you to make decisions. How you make those decisions will determine your worthiness. In both small and large ways, you decide whether to make the lives of others around you more pleasant or less pleasant. It's as simple as that.

Naturally, that can be complicated in and of itself, and it's possible to make wrong decisions without meaning to. Those looking for assurances about hitting some kind of mythical threshold for getting into Heaven should look elsewhere. It's not a yes/no decision, it's a continuum. The better of a person you are, the better things will go for you. If you're an asshole, it might be time to rethink your approach.

Q: What about faith?

A: Whether or not you believe in me has no bearing on how you will be judged. There are many kind-hearted atheists. Do you seriously believe that I will damn them to Hell due to their lack of faith? Of course not, I am not the shallow, self-serving twit that some have imagined me to be. Frankly, I rather resent the implications.

Conversely, there are many self-proclaimed God-fearing people who are responsible for a great deal of evil, and not only have every bit of faith in me, but also have faith that I support what they are doing and that I will forgive them all their sins. I don't forgive anybody for evil choices they have made. It's far better to make better choices in the first place.

To be blunt, those with no faith at all usually spend more time doing good, and the faithful do a tremendous amount of damage, so if you have to choose, you're better off without believing.

Q: I believe that if I ask for forgiveness, you will forgive all my sins. Do you?

A: Of course not. This idea was started by a church who used to sell forgiveness for cash, for Heaven's sake. If you sin against your fellow human, it's a blight upon your soul that you, yourself, must attempt to correct.

Q: Why do you allow suffering in the world?

A: I have provided you with every tool you need to completely prevent suffering. Humans are more than capable of preventing harm from natural disasters, eliminating cancer and other diseases, and eliminating social ills. It's not my job to save you from every possible harm -- that's up to you.

Q: Which is correct, Creationism or Evolution?

A: That's kind of like asking to compare dowsing with geology. Creationism is a belief, and evolution is a theory based on scientific evidence. Like dowsing, Creationism is a belief that manages to persist in the face of contrary evidence, based on small minded fools who either cannot, or will not, adequately formulate and test a scientific principle. Evolution, like any scientific theories, is regularly tested against new evidence. If you're uncritical enough to have been drawn in to believing in Creationism, you need to expand your world view and learn about the scientific method -- before you're sold a perpetual motion machine. Before you get too smug, it's just as silly to mindlessly believe in evolution without understanding its context within a scientific framework.

Q: What's a "Christian Death Threat?"

A: Some people are so insecure that they cannot tolerate views that differ from their own. It's not a phenomenon unique to Christians, by any means, but it's certainly not uncommon for Christians to lash out at anything not perfectly matching their world view. Some are just stupid, others either don't want to or cannot understand alternative points of view, and react with unfounded rage. Strangely, this is contrary to their own beliefs and teachings, but such is the hypocrisy of the small minded.

Got a question for God? e-mail him at god@praytome.com

Ignorance, BAD! Argh!

On October 19th, Thomas posted a list of the 100 most commonly banned books to his blog. This led to a discussion in the comments about American Puritan values and the desire to protect our children. Here's a clip from my responses, so you have an idea of what you're missing:

What the world needs now is not "love, sweet love" (although that's another thing that there's just to little of), but an intelligence booster shot.

People whom nature would have culled from the herd in times past are living and breeding now. Blame advances in medicine, or the general plenty of the USA, but America is becoming the hub of stupidity. In countries where medicine is not as advanced, and resources not as plentiful, people in general seem to be more capable of critical thinking (but then lack education, sigh).

Thank GOD (if there is a god), or Al Gore, or whomever, for the Internet(s), a place without borders, or rules, or arbitrary leaders so out of touch with reality that they are unable to function. Of course, there is also chaos and anarchy and a great number of sites with content I disagree with. But so what? Suffering a little chaos in return for freedom is a bargain.

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
This quote is sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson, which is just further evidence to fuel my belief that people are either stupid or ignorant. What Jefferson said was: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Actually, browsing wikiquote.org's Jefferson page, I found this quote:

I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason.
  • Letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller (1814) who had been prosecuted for selling the book Sur la Création du Monde, un Systême d'Organisation Primitive by M. de Becourt, which Jefferson himself had purchased.
How on-the-spot is that, eh? Actually, reading Franklin's quotes, I agreed with a lot of what he said. There is definitely a commonality of opinion between us. I pondered for a moment that I might have been born in the wrong era, but then I remembered: there were no flush toilets or computers back then; so I snapped out of it.

[Note: This may not be my most-researched post ever, but it's got to be close.]

Whoops! Forgot to include this link: http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/buzz/archives/003574.html

It's a post about the FCC. Particularly, I enjoyed the comment by Ron Toms, about a third of the way down the page. Here's a clip:
To live in a truly free society, you have to be willing to be offended occasionally. ... Are my children's eyes and ears safe from offensive things? God I hope they never are. Unlike so many people in America today, I want my children to learn how to THINK.

America Yes, Bush No

From an article in the Asahi Shimbun:
A recent cartoon in the French daily Le Monde shows a person, whose round head represents the Earth, looking in horror at a big, mean-looking elephant running with a gun slung across its fat torso.

The headline of the article with the cartoon says, "America Yes, Bush No." The elephant is the official mascot of the Republican Party of the United States.

The Asahi Shimbun recently ran the results of an opinion poll conducted in 10 countries about how they view the United States. The headline of the story with the cartoon pretty much summed up the overall poll results.
The opinion poll mentioned can be found here: Survey: 8 of 10 nations favor Kerry in election.

What a Coincidence!

So, everyone knows that my <gulp> 30th birthday was last week, right? Did you make sure that everyone you know also knows? Did you write to your congressperson? Is my birthday STILL not an international holiday? Sigh.

Anyway, it's ALSO the 30th birthday of PASCAL! That's right, Pascal, my very first HLL, the programing language that influenced the way I thought about programming and design.

Long live us both!

More Fun Conspiracy Stuff

Personally, I'm not into these things, but if my mom reads my blog, this is for her. A little flash video regarding the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.



Every once in a while, Bash has such a good quote, I have to bring it here:

"A woman has a close male friend. This means that he is probably interested in her, which is why he hangs around so much. She sees him strictly as a friend. This always starts out with, you're a great guy, but I don't like you in that way. This is roughly the equivalent for the guy of going to a job interview and the company saying, You have a great resume, you have all the qualifications we are looking for, but we're not going to hire you. We will, however, use your resume as the basis for comparison for all other applicants. But, we're going to hire somebody who is far less qualified and is probably an alcoholic. And if he doesn't work out, we'll hire somebody else, but still not you. In fact, we will never hire you. But we will call you from time to time to complain about the person that we hired."

The More Things Change

...the more they're different.

Not that you care (this is my blog and I get to decide what I post here. If you don't like it, get your own blog, and then send me a link), but I'm changing from showing the last 7 posts on the main page to showing the last 7 days.

Previously, I felt hindered. I always wanted to make each entry count, as if that mattered. So, I ended up not posting a lot of stuff, because it was too small.

How dumb am I? While I won't be as extreme as Dave Barry (who sometimes posts a single sentence [or less] and a link), I'm moving away from the novel-sized posts of the past.

Speaking of Dave Barry and novels, in that order:

Dave Barry is taking a time out, starting next year. Read the sad, sad truth here:


As for novels, November 1, 2004 is the official kickoff of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30. I, for one, have always wanted to write a novel, but never had the time. I'm thinking, if I stop watching TV altogether, I might have up to 30 minutes free each day. How many minutes does it take to write 1/30th of 50,000 words? (That's 1667 words, or about 56 words a minute for 30 minutes a day. Currently, I type 80 words a minute, read 350 words a minute, but only think about 30 words a minute). Find out all the fun details here:


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Please Pardon Our Dust

Right now, currently, at this very moment, we are experiencing what is technically called (and I'm NOT making this up) a Mega-Typhoon [EDIT: Link updated 10/22]. This typhoon has a radius of about 800 kilometers. To put this into terms that anyone can visualize, it's about the same as 100 Babylon 5 stations placed end to end. According to the map on the TV right now, the center is JUST missing my house, and I mean just barely.

The entire country is pretty much shut down right now. It's weird to realize that, given the small actual physical size of Japan, a SINGLE storm can close all transportation nationwide. Of course, it is a single BIG ASS storm, but still.

So far, 17 people have died and 20 more are missing. [EDIT: New totals are at least 65 dead, 21 others missing; read updated link above for more information]

The house shakes in the wind, like an earthquake. The roof is leaking in several places (these places are almost all located directly above where I was hanging my laundry, which is an amazing coincidence if you ask me; good thing I have a clothes dryer...no wait, NO ONE has a dryer in ALL OF JAPAN!). Not to sound like a whiner, but I hope work is canceled tomorrow, because I very literally have nothing dry to wear.

I'm trying to figure out how to protect my books. And computers. Sigh. Too many of both.

There are now two different locations in my house where I can look at where a wall should be, and see light from outside. That's probably not a good sign.

Three times now, a vehicle has driven by with a bell or a siren or something. Apparently, that is the signal to evacuate to the shelter. No one told me. It hasn't passed by in a while (perhaps because the wind has gotten much worse, and it's not safe for them). In any event, I'm not worried, mostly because I don't know where the shelter is anyway. Haha! Just kidding!

Right now, there are no lights on in any other house on my street. My street, by the way, was mentioned specifically on the news. Unfortunately, the news is in Japanese, so I don't know where everyone has gone.

For trivia buffs, the Japanese name their typhoons like we name our hurricanes. This typhoon is named the Japanese equivalent of "lizard". Did anyone else think of Godzilla?

On the positive side, I just deciphered some of the kanji on the side of the lemonade I'm drinking. It says: Alcohol, 5%. So, at least there's that. :D

Saturday, October 16, 2004

When in Japan...

...do as the Romans.

It's Sunday, and I'm at work, and it's lunchtime. I don't want to go into too much detail, but if you ever come to Japan, and you decide to have a sausage with your lunch, you must remember this: IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU NOT LOOK AT THE SAUSAGE WHILE YOU EAT IT. Let's just say that things the Japanese think are essential sausage ingredients....well, let's just not get into it, shall we?

Excuse me for a moment while I brush the hairs that are falling out of my head off the keyboard so I can continue typing... I really should do something about that soon; either shave my head or wear a hat or something.

OK, where was I?

I'm grading papers now. The students are learning "I think ..." and one boy wrote "I think Phoenix is very handsome." I don't recognize the name of the student who signed in the "I think so, too." box, but at least no one signed in the "I don't think so." box. :)

"What's that grinding sound?"
"That's me changing gears."
My students are awesome. At the BBQ on Friday, each table built their own fire and cooked their own food as a group. It was a lot of fun! But unfortunately for me, when I eat meat I prefer it to be burned. As in very very well done. But, since we were cooking as a group, when a piece was semi-cooked someone would grab it and eat it. Nothing was getting done enough for me. :(

Occasionally I would spot a tiny piece that had been overlooked and was now kind of crispy, and I would grab it. Well, my students are pretty smart, and they saw what I was doing. Moments later, I heard "Sensei! Sensei!" and when I looked I saw that they had, as a group, collected ALL the little burned pieces into a pile for me. :D It was awesome.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

On The Second Day

So, I just logged into Blogger. On an impulse, I decided to read what I had written in my profile (I really wanted to see my blogs per week ratio)....and it turns out that Blogger automatically updates your age. At the top of the page, it says:
  • Age: 30
  • Gender: male
So, it's official now. I have seen it in print. If it's on the Internet, it MUST BE TRUE!

Technically, it's also still my birthday in some parts of the world. I've decided that in the future, I'm going to stick with the 48-hour birthday idea. This way, I can break my diet two days in a row. :D

So, what is it like now that I'm 30? Well, I'll tell ya, it is a bit different. This morning, when I managed to finally crawl out of bed and go downstairs to take my shower, when I saw my reflection in the mirror, the very first thought that went through my mind was:
"I'm gorgeous!"
Seriously. Sometimes you sleep just right or toss and turn just right or whatever, and when you get up: masterpiece. I looked like a model. I almost ran back upstairs to get my camera.

The thought of calling in to work actually crossed my mind.
"Sorry, I'm too handsome to come in to work today."
Today, however, is not a normal day. It's a BBQ, and only one class all day. Plus, since it IS still technically my birthday in America, I consider this BBQ kind of a birthday celebration. As in, "It's Phoenix's birthday! Let's all take the day off from school and have a BBQ!" So, I had to go to work, which meant I had to get ready.

I hated to ruin it, but as soon as I shaved the spell was broken; I no longer had just the right amount of stubble. Then, I still had to shower, and the sad thing was that when I was done, my freshly washed, clean hair did not look as good as my day-old morning hair. Pity.

I think these examples illustrate a personality 'defect' of mine: I have a self-confidence problem; I have a self-esteem problem; I have a self-image problem.

My problem is: overabundance.

Let me give you a third example: Some of the students have crushes on me. This is normal, and it happens to just about every JET. One student in particular, though, is more obvious than the others. Sometimes she'll corner me after class and ask questions, or come to my desk during the lunch break and practice English. The other day, she came by and told me she had been practicing her English and wanted to show me. Well, she had a phrasebook, and she practiced phrases like:
  • "You're cool."
  • "Let's go dancing."
  • "Would you call me sometime?"
She might have even said "Do you come here often?" but I can't recall for sure. There were many many phrases. Some were so outrageous that I would chuckle nervously and glance around at the other teachers, as if to convey with my facial expressions that I was not, in fact, dating this 12-year old, despite some of the things she was saying. (This is one of those things that I thought I had blogged, and then quickly forgot about, so unfortunately I can't recall most of the phrases used).

Sometimes she would say things SO extreme (spit-take inducing, had I been sipping water at the time) that I would just stare google-eyed, speechless. She would stare back for a moment and then smile and say "Just kidding!" She did this a lot; apparently she thought that, no matter WHAT you say, if you follow it with "Just kidding!" it will be OK.

Tangent: I was painfully reminded of my own lack of Japanese ability, because I remembered Ellen DeGeneres' line about people who say "Just kidding!" She doesn't like them; she wants to say "Oh, really? Well then, you don't know how to kid properly, because we should both be laughing." So, in my mind, that phrase has kind of a negative connotation, but I couldn't express this because of my lack of Japanese. Sigh.

So, anyway, after she left, some of the other teachers said "You know that girl? She likes you."

Now, it was SO obvious that it didn't even occur to me to be sarcastic about it and respond with something like "Oh, you think so?" or "What gave it away?" and instead I opted for the simple "I know."

The whole point of this anecdote being: how I feel about the situation, vs how I SHOULD feel.

How SHOULD I feel? Flattered? Complimented? Reassured that, despite the fact that I'm in my 30's, the girls still dig me? [tangent: am I the only one who thinks the references to my getting older are, well, getting old? I've been 30 since YESTERDAY, give it a rest already Phoenix!]

While it's great that this girl thinks I'm awesome, the fact is I already KNOW I'm awesome. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that there are other students who DON'T have crushes on me; don't they know how awesome I am?

So that's my problem: too much self-confidence. Side-effects include: euphoria, happiness, glee, smug condescending attitude toward everyone else, and the urge to think oneself capable of controlling the weather or other God-related abilities.

I would seek treatment, but I doubt that even I could find a doctor smarter than I am.