Thursday, January 27, 2005

My Height Dilemma

So, I've been trying to stand up straighter. If you know me, I'm a bit of a slouch. Well, that's not a good example to set for my students, so ever since I came here, I've been standing up as straight as I can as often as I remember.

I even checked it out in front of a mirror. It turned out that even when I thought I was standing up straight, I was still slouching. When I actually stand up straight, it feels like I'm leaning backward. It's weird.

I wish I had started doing this all those years ago when my father warned me about my posture. He said that if I kept slouching like that, it would be permanent. But, of course, being the genius I am, I didn't listen, and now I'm paying the price.

I have two students that slouch, and every time I see them I want to grab them and make them stand up straight. It drives me crazy. But that's not my dilemma.

The problem I have is this: Japanese doorways were not made for someone as tall as I am. When I'm slouching, there's no problem. When I'm standing up straight, I hit my head.

I hit my head a LOT. The first few times, it was kind of funny (not so much for me, but bystanders tended to laugh). I mean, how could I forget to duck? And yet, I keep forgetting.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Pavlov's Cat

I found that I have an unfortunate Pavlovian reaction to a certain sound.

I woke up the other day, before my alarm (it happens sometimes, even with only five hours sleep). I was sitting there, groggy-eyed, trying to plan my day, when the alarm went off.

I immediately leapt into action. Belying my previously sedentary status, as quick as a flash, and with the accuracy of a surgeon, my hand flew to the snooze button. Before I had fully realized what I had done, my OTHER hand had grabbed my cell-phone and flipped the lid open. The cell's alarm is synchronized (within a few seconds) with my clock radio, and my hand was already in position when the first beep sounded. Click. Snooze.

Alarms taken care of for now, my hands grabbed the blanket and pulled it around my body, and I was out like a light.

Nine minutes later, the alarms went off again, and I got out of bed. But the thing is, I was AWAKE before they went off the first time.

Darn habits.

NJ: If You Do The Wine, You Do The Time.

worst pun ever

This was linked from the local JET Yahoo Group, but since it has expired on the original site, I'm posting a copy from the cache here:

English teacher busted for using black and white copy of 1,000-yen note

ODATE, Akita -- A high school teacher has been arrested for using a black and white copy of a 1,000-yen note to pay a fare to a driver, police said Saturday.

Kazuya Ito, 31, an English teacher at Akita Prefectural Kosaka High School, is accused of using counterfeit currency.

His boss was apologetic about the incident. "It's not the kind of thing that a schoolteacher is allowed to do for fun, as counterfeit money incidents are serious problems. We apologize to our students and to their parents."

Ito handed a black and white copy of a new 1,000-yen bill to a driver in Odate at around 10:30 p.m. on Friday, police said.

The driver was initially unaware it was fake because it was dark inside the vehicle. However, he later noticed that it was black and white with the other side being blank, and alerted police. Ito had asked a transportation company to dispatch a man to drive his car after he got drunk with his colleagues.

The teacher used a copy machine to make a copy of the new 1,000-yen bill, and affixed a photo of a colleague to the watermark position, investigators said. Ito teaches English at Kosaka High School and is the homeroom teacher of a third-year class. (Mainichi Shimbun, Japan, Jan. 15, 2005)
Even I, with my color-blind eyes, can see the Japanese 1,000-yen bill (approx. $10) has color on it (check out this great page with pictures). And of course, the other side was BLANK. Additionally, it had a PHOTO OF A COLLEAGUE in the watermark position.

I say, if you can't tell the different between a black and white photocopy of a bill and the real thing, you have no one to blame but yourself. I mean, no one has ever passed the $1,000,000 bill, have they?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Don't You Hate It When...'re talking to your girlfriend about something you two did together a long time ago, and halfway through you remember that it was with your previous girlfriend, but you've already halfway convinced her that it happened and that she is the one with the bad memory? download a Not Safe For Work file, because you're at work, and you'll forget the site by the time you get home, but then you forget about the file, and you open it when you're cleaning up your desktop, and you happen to be at work again, and you forgot to turn the speakers off? sell your region-free DVD player right before moving to another country (because you are an IDIOT), and then you get DVDs for Christmas, and then you see what looks like a great player on someone else's blog, but then find out that Best Buy doesn't deliver to Japan?

I hate it when that happens.

Monday, January 03, 2005

NJ: Free Million $ Idea

Because I love you all (and because I'm far too busy to do it myself), I'm going to give you an idea of mine, free, GUARANTEED* to make you a millionaire! Just remember my finder's fee (10%) when you hit the big time:

Microwave Lids®
Tired of messy splatters in your microwave every time you heat up a can of thick, delicious [INSERT CHILI SPONSOR HERE]? I know I am!

Tired of having to use [INSERT PLASTIC SPONSOR HERE] wrap to cover something you're only going to microwave for a minute? You better believe it!

Try a new Microwave Lid©!

Microwave LidsTM are flat, to cover any open container, and come in several sizes to fit your needs!

Microwave LidsSM are made of microwavable plastic a space-age clear polymer that wipes clean with a damp cloth!

What are you waiting for? Run to your nearest [INSERT STORE SPONSOR HERE] and pick up some, today! Right now! Go, go, go! Storm the front!

*Guarantee not guaranteed.

NJ: Writing

Well, I didn't finish NaNoWriMo, but I came close (well, at least past the halfway point), but it was pretty bad. Although, now I can't stop thinking about writing. Whatever I'm doing at school when I have free time (like reading, or studying Japanese, or working on the blog, or catching up on my e-mail, etc), I always think: I could be writing right now. I could be in Japan for up to three years, and I have a couple of free hours each day at school. How many books could I write in that time?

Sigh. Where are my priorities? Originally, I was coming to Japan to become fluent in Japanese. I think I've learned more about English than Japanese since I've been here. And now I'm thinking about writing a novel (or series), in English. When will I study? When will I practice? It all comes down to choices. I've basically stopped browsing my favorite sites (because there will always be more Internet, and it will still be waiting for me three years from now), and I can't remember the last time I watched TV. My biggest time-consumer now (besides work) is reading. I unfortunately started reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, which is very long (and getting longer), so it will take a while to finish it. On the other hand, as I'm reading it (and bear in mind this is a very successful series), I keep thinking: "I could write better than this." I had the same thought when I read Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series, which is another very successful series. It seems to me that publishers will print just about anything no matter how crappy, given it is long enough and follows the standard formula (at least for the first book).

On the other hand, I'm always thinking "I could do it better than that," not just for writing. Sigh. Hubris; what a cross.

Both Jordan and Goodkind waited until they were older than I am now before they started. Jordon reasoned that he hadn't had enough life experiences yet. This is a philosophy I agree with, so I have no problem waiting another ten years or so, and just work on the back story in the meantime.

It's not even that I like writing (which I do, I love it), and it's not that I need someone to read it, it's more that I HAVE TO do it. I'm constantly composing prose in my head, I just need to start writing it down. :-) I don't think I would ever take a year off to write a book. Ideally, that's what professional writers do: make their living by writing, and nothing else. I just couldn't imagine living that unstructured a life. Sure, I would start off planning to write from 8am to 5pm every day, but more likely I would surf the Internet and write e-mails more than I would research and write stories.

I think it is far more likely that I would write for maybe an hour a day, either in the morning or after work, while maintaining a full-time career. It's that kind of pressure that I thrive in. It's like I'm a river: if I'm constantly rushing, I'm a force of nature, but if I slow down, I grow stagnant.

I remember when I was very young, I really wanted to grow up to become a writer. It's all coming back to haunt me now. :-)

NJ: Germany

I was asked why Germany is called Germany in English, while it's called Deutschland by the people there. So here's the trivia for you:

(abbreviated from )
Italy is pronounced Italia in Italy. Spain is pronounced Espania in Spain. Israel is pronounced Yisrael in Israel. Paris is pronounced Parie in France. Jerusalem is pronounced Yerushaliyeem in Israel. Rome is pronounced Roma in Italy. And to top it all off, Germany is pronounced Deutschland in Germany. If it's called Deutschland, then why do we call it Germany? If it's called Roma, then why do we call it Rome, if it's called Espania, why do we call it Spain, etc?

Well, the short story is that when we first took the names into English they sounded like what they were in the language we took them from, but over time, since the sounds of languages change, the words become more and more different. The reason Germany has nothing to do with Deutschland is because we got it from Latin Germania, the name the Romans gave to roughly that part of Europe, rather than what the people occupying the area called it. The deutsch part means people if you go way back.

Break Time!

Two weeks with no new posts? Time for an update!

I'm currently at work.

I'm a teacher.

My students are currently on break, and will be for another week.

There are no classes.

And I'm currently at work. With no students. And no classes.

The mind boggles.

This is also the difference between CHO-ALTs and KEN-ALTs. KEN-ALTs get less vacation time, but they get travel days, and can take the breaks off without using vacation days (for example: THE MONTH OF AUGUST). CHO-ALTs get more vacation time. Technically. But if we want to take the breaks off, we have to use vacation days. Even though we are OF NO USE TO OUR SCHOOLS. In reality, the KEN-ALTs get more than twice as many days off per year. Sigh.

I have nothing to do at school. No assigned tasks. Basically, I can do just about anything I want. Ideally, I'm using this time to study Japanese (and I am), but I could just as well be watching movies on my laptop. Or reading books. Or taking naps. It makes no sense.

I work at two different schools: a close one on Mon->Wed, and a far one on Thr->Fri. Well, on the last day of actual work, the far school said I didn't have to come in during the break, and I should go to my close school instead. I relayed this information to my close school (I could have kept my mouth shut, but ethically I couldn't. Stupid ethics). They said that if my regular Thr->Fri school didn't need me, I didn't have to come in, although I was welcome.

Now, since I have no money because of the tax fiasco (around $3500.00 withheld so far), I can't afford to go anywhere, so I'm spending my break studying Japanese. And since I can study at work (and there's a heater, and coffee), I would probably come in anyway. But it was nice to hear that it was optional.

Except it isn't. The next week, I was told that there was a miscommunication (really? Never!) and that if I didn't want to come in on Thr->Fri I had to take vacation days. So, I have to come in. And they lied to me. Grrr.

I mean, I would probably come in ANYWAY, if it were optional, but it's not! It doesn't make any sense.

My predecessor got around this restriction by going on cultural study trips during the breaks, and I may do that for the Summer, but mostly I just want to stay at home and study Japanese. Sure, there's no heat, and I have to make the coffee myself, but I can also study while wearing my pajamas, laying in bed, in comfort.


NJ: RSS feed readers

If you don't like checking my blog only to find I haven't updated, get an RSS feed reader.

If you use Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 (like most people), I recommend Pluck. It's what I use personally first upgrade to Firefox and then get Sage*.

If you use MAC-OS, or Linux, or Firefox, or Opera, or're on your own. I don't have experience with other RSS feed readers. Leave a comment and cure me of my ignorance.

*Update, March 25th, 2005:

After MONTHS of careful tweaking and fixing, trying to get Pluck to work just right, it eventually DELETED ALL OF MY RSS FEEDS! I'm certainly not going to track them all down again and re-enter them into Pluck! How stupid would I have to be? It has taken too much of my time already.

Please, PLEASE, don't use Pluck! Uninstall it if you have it. It has committed the ultimate software sin: not being worth the price (in this case, FREE). It has negative value.

NJ: Why Kill Bill Vol. 1 Is The Greatest Movie Ever...

...and Kill Bill Vol. 2 is a disappointing sequel.

My favorite movie of all time is Kill Bill Vol. 1. This movie is so well made...the mind boggles. The soundtrack, the pop-culture references, the non-stop pace, the cliff-hanger is about as perfect a movie as can be made today. It's an over-the-top man-plus style romp with a super-human death-machine heroine. The a disappointment in comparison. It's a good movie, but it's hard to follow the original.

The Soundtrack
I will listen to the CD of the soundtrack, and enjoy it for what it is apart from the movie it came from. I don't think there's a bad song on it.

Vol. 2's soundtrack....there's not a memorable song on it.

The References
Let's look at what the two movies reference (with help from the IMDB):
Vol. 1:
50 references total.
10/40 Tarantino/Non-Tarantino. That's a 1 to 4 ratio.
Vol. 2:
43 references total.
14/29 Tarantino/Non-Tarantino. That's close to a 1 to 2 ratio.
See where I'm going with this?

The first movie had more cultural references to begin with, and few (1 in 5) were references to Tarantino's own work. The second had fewer references, and frequently (1 in 3) they were references to Tarantino's films.

This led me to define the second film as: SELF INDULGENT.

The Pace
In Vol. 1, I don't think there is a wasted moment in the entire film. It starts with a bang (literally) and never stops until the credits roll. What scenes can you cut out? What scenes run too long? I think it's just about ideal.

Recently, I saw the uncut version. I must say, this is an example of a director not understanding why his film is a masterpiece, because the uncut version is a step backward (see also: the director's cut of Donnie Darko). The only thing I might have left in is the very brief confrontation between the final 88 member (the one she sends home to his mother). She faces him on the floor with the others and cuts off his mask (which is why he isn't wearing it when they rush up the stairs before the fight in the dark). She sees he is a kid and doesn't kill him (he does the same hands-up gesture that he does later). On one hand, this makes seeing him again later a bit more humorous which alters the flavor of the scene a bit, but not too detrimentally. On the other hand, leaving it out is fine too.

Anyway, in the first movie, the Bride kills at least 41 people (or as many as 59, depending on who did the counting). That's a lot of action for 1:51.

In Vol. 2......sigh.

The scene at the wedding. Can go. Entirely.
The scene at Bud's work. Can go. Entirely.
The scene with Esteban. Can go. Entirely.
The pace is so slow....(too slow, compared to the first one)...and there's a lot of wasted screen time. There are many, MANY parts that can be left out, and not only would it not be detrimental, it would be an improvement. Why is the scene at the wedding so important? It seems...self indulgent.

In the second movie, the Bride kills 1 person. ONE. Another person dies for sure, and there's another fight scene or two, but that's not very much action for 2:16. It's 25 minutes longer than the first one, with fewer fight scenes, less action, fewer cultural references, and more Tarantino indulgence.

The Ending
The first one ends with a fantastic cliff-hanger. It's perfect. How can you follow that?

The second one ends with...a whimper. Sigh. The conversation with Bill toward the end is great (especially the Superman speech, which is fantastic), but the actual end...just sort of tapers off.

There are people who will say that the second one is better (fools!) or that it makes the first one more enjoyable (they didn't get the first one in the first place), but these people must be Tarantino fans. If you are a big Tarantino fan, you will view the Tarantino indulgences as a good thing. If you are simply a movie fan, they aren't.

Now, I LIKE the second movie. It's good. But the first one is GREAT, and anyone who says the second one is better just hasn't done the math. I look at it like I looked at the Matrix trilogy. The first movie stands alone, cliff-hanger and all, complete and separate from anything else. The sequel is good, but I can't think of it as part of the original.

So that's what I think, and you are certainly welcome to your wrong opinion. :-)