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

Halloween!

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...

Owarimasu!*

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:
http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200410270120.html
http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200410260126.html

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.
  3. REGISTER TO VOTE.
    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 CrĂ©ation du Monde, un SystĂȘme 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.]

[Update:]
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.

http://thewebfairy.com/video/pentagon121.swf

BASH

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:

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/9962760.htm

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:

http://www.nanowrimo.org/

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:
Phoenix
  • 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.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

What the HECK?

It's time for some link fun.

Here's a German safety video. The speech is all in German, but it is still educational if you don't speak the language. These are safety lessons we won't soon forget. Also on that page is a link to a short Little Red Riding Hood video that made me laugh.

Here's a flash video titled Dad's Home that will make you say "What the HECK?"

Phoenix Turns 30

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too--yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.
--The Beatles

Well, it's time to celebrate your birthday, it happens every year
We'll eat a lot of broccoli and drink a lot of beer
You should be good and happy that there's something you can eat
A million people every day are starving in the street

Your daddy's in the gutter with the wretched and the poor
Your mama's in the kitchen with a can of Cycle Four
There's garbage in the water
There's poison in the sky
I guess it won't be long before we're all gonna die

Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday
Happy birthday to you
--Weird Al

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! Wow 30 is a big one. But aren't you glad to be done with all that crap you went through in your 20s?
--My father

Oh, sure. I'm glad those COLLEGE YEARS are behind me! After all, thousands of erudite, available co-eds who desire to explore their sexuality. I'm sure opportunities like that will come MANY times in my life.

Ah, my twenties. When I turned 20, I was still in high school. Prince Charles and Princess Diana were still married. It was before Heaven's Gate, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the OJ trial; before Viagra, the Euro, and the Clinton scandal. So much has happened. So much time has passed. It's got to be, what, like 10 years! That's almost a decade!

Let's get these questions out of the way now.
Q: Wow! Does being 30 make you feel old?
A: No, getting a haircut and seeing that, not only am I much grayer than I remember, I am rapidly going bald makes me feel old. Having trouble reading street signs or reaching my toes makes me feel old. Having a bowl of bran flakes in the morning for breakfast makes me feel REALLY old.

Q: What's the first thing you did on your birthday?
A: Well, it's thursday, so I took the garbage out. Then I went to work. Not many people here know it's my birthday, and I doubt any of them really care, since I just moved here recently.

Q: That's sad.
A: That's not a question. Also, it's inaccurate. I get to have my birthday before my sister because I'm in Japan. :D So, there are advantages.

Also, I stay in touch with people back home (no man is an island). Speaking of people back home: yesterday, the local package delivery woman was at work, and she asked me when I was going to be home. I had two big packages that she needed to deliver. Now, I realize that it's my birthday, but anyone who knows me well enough to buy me a gift would also know that I don't really care for gifts. What could it be? I waited at home at the appointed time.....(Japanese punctuality sometimes being somewhat mythical)...she arrived and brought the first package to my door. As I went to sign for it, I noticed the name on the package.

It was for my landlord.

Q: Haha! Were you disappointed?
A: Of course! I had left work early to wait for the delivery lady. If I had known that the packages weren't for me, I could have stayed at work longer.

Q: Wow, you sound old.
A: Sigh. I know.

Q: How come you don't update your blog very often?
A: How is that related to my birthday?

Q: I'll ask the questions around here!
A: Fine. I don't update my blog very often because, theoretically, I'm spending all my free time studying Japanese.

Q: And in reality?
A: I spend some time studying Japanese, and a lot of time reading other people's blogs. Which is doubly sad, because I keep finding interesting things and want to link to them, but I'm trying not to blog as much. Actually, I'm just not POSTING as much; I'm still blogging mentally. If you've read my old posts, you know I had my filter removed. Well, without a filter, I've got a non-stop stream of consiousness (random thoughts, trivia, Dave Barry jokes, and for some reason music). The blog was my outlet, but not blogging doesn't mean the stream stops. Also, I'm mentally writing blog entries all the time, so sometimes I'm actually surprised to check my blog and find that I haven't posted anything.

Q: Are you going to go back to posting more?
A: Maybe. I started the blog as a kind of journal for my thoughts. I like the blog format (small, condensed posts; efficient). That goal still stands.

Q: Well, I enjoy reading your stuff. Keep it up, and enjoy being middle aged.
A: Thanks, but I don't consider being 30 "middle aged". That implies that I'm in the middle of my life; that it's half over. That would mean I would die when I'm 60! Forget about it! I plan on living to at least 120. So, I'm only quarter aged.

Q: That's the spirit. Any long term goals?
A: Not to die.

Q: Hehe. OK. That's all the questions I have.
A: OK. This was fun.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Customer "Service"

I'm breaking my no-blogging rule to vent an experience I've just had:

So, I live in Japan now, and I thought I should update my mailing addresses on my credit cards, so I can get the bills and remember to pay them.

Due to the time difference, and the fact that some of my credit cards don't have 24-hour assistance, I had to get up early to do this. So, already I'm cranky.

Bank of America was my first one, and it went really well. No problems at all (except where to put the Prefecture information if the State line disappears when you switch to Japan).

Next was Providian.

Sigh.

The "international" number they have on the back of their cards is actually not for Providian, but for Visa International, which can't do things like update personal mailing information, but on the positive side, I wasn't on hold for very long at all. I hate being on hold, ESPECIALLY WHEN I'M CALLING INTERNATIONAL LONG DISTANCE. But, seriously, they picked up within 10 seconds, so it was great.

Then, they transferred me to the Providian "international" number.

Sigh.

The woman who answered was obviously new to the English language. Very new. Now, as an English language instructor, I KNOW it's hard to learn. I SEE all the little inconsistencies in the language that make it difficult.

Breathe.

OK, let me describe the call, so you understand where I'm coming from.

Woman: Can I have your account number please? (Thick accent, but understandable).
Me: (Give her my account number).
Woman: Can I have your name please?
Me: Phoenix Gabriel.
...
...
...
...
...
(Now, I'm a patient person, especially with customer service people, as I used to work the help lines at an ISP, but seriously, I waited maybe FIVE minutes in silence for her to retrieve my information. Of course, it helped that I was distracted playing with my new Canon Wordtank G50 Electronic Japanese-English Dictionary. When I realized how long I had been waiting, I decided to take drastic action.)
...
Me: Hello?
(breathing)
Me: HELLO?
Woman: Can I have your first and last name please?
Me: (BLINK) Phoenix Gabriel.
(WHY didn't she say "Pardon? I didn't quite catch that. I don't understand. Please speak slower. Etc...")
...
...
...
(This time I only wait 1.5 minutes)
Me: Hello?
Woman: Um...
Me: Ma'am, I don't mean to hurry you up, but I'm calling international long distance.
Woman: ...
...
...
...
(Only 1 minute this time)
Me: Ma'am, it's costing me money to wait.
Woman: ...
...
...
...
(Back up to 2 minutes)
Me: Ma'am, is your supervisor available?
Woman: Wait.
(Ah, she spoke! OK, I'll wait for the supervisor)
...
...
...
(Back up to 3 minutes)
(I'm not on hold for this time. At least, there's no hold music, and I can still hear the woman breathing)
Me: Ma'am?
Woman: I'm just bringing up the screen. Wait.
(!!!)
Me: Ma'am, please put your supervisor on the phone.
(click)
(!!!)
(Hold music playing)
(whew!)
...
...
...
(Intermittently, the music stops, and I hear breathing)
...
...
(It's possible the woman does not know how to transfer me to her supervisor)
...
...
(She keeps picking up)
...
...
(4 minutes)
(click)
(Different hold music)
("Please wait for the next available representative.")
...
...
Super: Can I have your employee identification number please?
Me: MY employee identification number?
Super: (Completely unfazed) Can I have your account number please?
Me: (Give her my account number, etc, etc)

After all that, it turns out that PROVIDIAN DOES NOT ALLOW ADDRESSES OVERSEAS! In fact, she tried to close my account because I asked to change my address.

Sigh.

Let's see, I started the call at around 7:10am, and stopped around 7:55am, so I was on the phone for about 45 minutes, so I think my wait time estimates above are a bit too conservative. That was 45 minutes of ZERO productivity, but on the plus side I did get charged for calling international long distance (END SARCASM).

Long story short: Don't get a Providian card. Not only do they have an incredibly high interest rate (among the worst in the industry, but not THE worst [yet]), their customer "support" is appalling, and their policies flaky at best. If you DO have a Providian card, I suggest cancelling it at the earliest possible opportunity.

Dang it, dang it, dang it.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Unfortunate Side Effects

Well, it turns out surgery is not without it's complications.

I noticed the first side effect from my filterectomy today. I have no idea how long it has remained unnoticed.

My brain doesn't pause when I'm eating. That is to say, my BODY doesn't pause when I'm eating STRANGE FOOD. Before, I would look at the food, try to identify it, smell it, try to identify it, take a VERY SMALL BITE, try to identify it, etc. Now, I pick it up and put it in my mouth. It looked like a potato, it must have been a potato. I often chew it for a few seconds before the taste hits my brain.

It's amazing how well my gag-reflex control has become.

Things that look like potatoes often aren't. In fact, almost nothing is what it seems. Before coming to Japan, I knew about onions, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. I'm beginning to think that there must be a dozen or more different vegetables in the world. This is TWICE as many as I thought there were. It's blowing my mind.

I of course went straight to the hospital, but they had never even heard of my condition, and they didn't understand.

"We don't understand," they said. "What do you mean you don't eat everything put in front of you? Don't you know that kids are starving in America?" Apparently, Weird Al was a liar.

I've taken to eating my lunch in the teacher's room on days when I know I will be leaving a lot on my plate. Normally, I'd eat with my students, but I don't want to set a bad example.

Sigh. Sorry I can't blog more. :( I still don't speak Japanese, so it's back to studying for me.