Monday, December 25, 2006

Working On Christmas

For the first time ever I worked on Christmas Day. I think it was the first time I've worn long pants on Christmas. It's definitely the first time I've worn a long sleeved shirt and a tie. At least it was quiet. Each lesson was only one person, and two of them didn't turn up.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: 1 minute
Current media: Same as the last post


I'm off to Thailand (and possibly Laos) soon for about a week. Internet connectivity will be sporadic at best. I'll be back on the 2nd.

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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: He Died With A Felafel In His Hand

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hyde and Seek

Completing the trifecta of classic horror stories I've been reading recently is The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, perhaps better known for Treasure Island than this work (I hadn't know RLS was the author of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde until I read the introduction to the collection). It was by far the shortest of the three, so much so that while reading Dracula at one stage I worried that there wasn't enough room for the third story, but at a mere 70 pages it's a relative lightweight.

Jekyll and Hyde is much more like Frankenstein than Dracula, again being about a scientist who brought forth something he couldn't control. The difference here though is that while Frankenstein's monster was separate from himself, Jekyll's monster was his own darker side.

Frankenstein's big idea was don't overlook the humanity in that which appears monstrous, while Jekyll and Hyde is about not overlooking the monstrous in what looks human. Hyde is Jekyll freed of his inhibitions and as he would say nobler self, a man who only answers to his desires.

Jekyll though is not free of blame in this story. He sought the freedom to be his darker self. And when he realised it might be a problem, he kept on going to the dark side, until ultimately he was unable to come back.

Overall, a warning not to succumb to the temptations that exist in each of us.

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Writing time: 51 minutes
Time since last post: 51 and a bit minutes
Current media: Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Story of Ami

I've been trying to decide if I was going to put this up on the blog, and have decided to, since some people already know, and it was somewhat of a new experience. Anyway, here's the story.

On Mondays, I usually meet up with two of the teachers I've met here (K and J to protect the not so innocent) and we spend the evening at some bars in Umeda. The Monday before last (the 11th) was the last Monday before payday, so merriment was a bit more free than usual. Indeed, instead of going our separate ways and heading home at midnight on the last train, we decided to go to a bar near J's place and then crash at his place.

So after catching the train to Tsukaguchi, we started walking from the train station to the bar J liked (Mamasita's for the record, a nice place, but does have a cover charge). On the way there was a girl about to get on here scooter. We suggested that she come with us to the bar, and I believe K started wheeling her scooter towards the bar.

The girl's name was Ami, and while at the bar we talked a fair bit (about two hours, although I don't recall enough talking to fill all that time), but didn't really communicate as her English was only a little better than my Japanese. We did get a little touchy-feely (holding hands, or one might say I copped a feel or two) and we swapped phone numbers. J, K and I left the bar a little after Ami did, and a little bit after we got back to J's place I got a call from her.

I didn't call her back for several reasons: an uncertainty on what to do, how to communicate without a common language, my usual poor memory for these things meaning I didn't really remember what she looked like (short, Japanese, female), and the main one, fear of the unknown. I think I left it too long, because when I did call her on the following Monday, under pressure from K and J, the little I got from the phone call was "eigo, ie, bye bye".

Ah well. 'Tis better to have loved and lost, and all that, etc, etc. (Love is overstating, but you get the idea).

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Writing time: 27 minutes (typing, I've been thinking about if I should write it or not and what I would write since the morning after)
Time since last post: a little bit
Current media: still none

I had an idea for a project

Today while doing a voice session I had a really good idea for a project, but I don't think I can really do it over here. I'm putting it up here so that in a few years time I can look back and remember it.

Anyway, the idea is as follows. Get a bunch of old refedexes or UBDs or any book with street maps for your city, one for each year, or as often as they are released. Find some interesting part of your city, and get the map for that part each year. Scan in the maps, and make a video out of the images.

Not particularly original, but it would be interesting to see how the city has changed over the years. The challenge would be getting all the old refedexes.

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Writing time: 2 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: None

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More thoughts on Kids Classes

Monday was my third week of regular kids classes. I've learnt almost all of the kids names (although I did get Haruka (a girl) and Haruki (a boy) mixed up). I've got into the swing of the activities. I'm more energetic in the classes. This weeks lessons went OK. The kinder lesson was naming actions (he's running, she's jumping, etc). They definitely understood the words but were more interested in doing the actions than in saying what they were doing.

The juniors went a lot better than I was expecting. This weeks language was relatively tricky (is the x in the room? Yes it is/ no it isn't). I started out by making sure they understood yes it is/no it isn't (is this a ball?, is this blue, is so-and-so a girl?, etc) before moving onto the actual language involved. I think this helped a lot as the rest of the class went pretty well. I think it helped that their was one kid who really got it and led the others.

The seniors went much the same as last time. They're capable, but I'm not sure how motivated they are. They do get very competitive at times though.

I did do a few things a bit different this week. I cut out some of the singing, and switched around some of the timing and changed the games a little. A few of the ideas came from some co-teaching lessons I had on the weekend, as part of a transition for some kids classes I'm going to be taking over from one of the teachers who's leaving soon.

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Writing time: 28 minutes
Time since last post: a few hours
Current media: Torchwood 1x10 Out of Time

Back in Drac

One of my recent literary achievements was finally reading Bram Stoker's Dracula (the original, not the novelisation of the movie (seriously, they made a new book out of the movie that was based on a book)). As far as stories go, it was pretty dry. The suspense wasn't that great, although to someone who hadn't been exposed 12 combined years of Buffy and Angel, a passing interest in Vampire: The Masquerade in it's various incarnations, and other pop culture vampire bits and pieces (for example, someone who read it when it was first published) the mystery of the book would be much greater. The great mystery in the 2nd part of the story is pretty obvious to the modern reader.

It's the oldest book I've seen that was written as if it was made up of the several characters different views of events (I'm sure some more literary type will tell me that there are older examples of this).

The one bad bit in the matter is the actions of Dr Van Helsing. From the start he was pretty confident he knew what type of creature he was dealing with, but he did not do everything he needed to do to protect Lucy. He took some half measures, and delayed her demise, but he only got serious about the matter after an innocent life had been lost, and more were likely to follow.

Similarly, later on they miss the obvious similarity of the symptoms that Mina Harker is suffering from with those that afflicted Lucy. In such a situation where they are taking great pains to piece together all the bits of knowledge they have, this stuck out like a sore thumb.

Overall, Bram Stokers' Dracula is not the best of stories, but is pretty important for all that it has inspired.

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Writing time: 19 minutes
Time since last post: half an hour or so
Current media: iTunes shuffle of all the track 5s - currently Ooh Child by Nina Simone


On Sunday I went to Kobe to see the Luminaire. This is a light display that is a memorial to those who died in the 1995 earthquake that devastated Kobe. When I first saw the posters advertising the event at my local train station I thought it was something similar in spirit to the Christmas lights we have in Australia. However, while I was talking with a student about going he told me it was actually a memorial. He also gave me some advice on how to find it in Kobe.

So, with a somewhat more sombre mood than I had planned on, I caught the train after work to Kobe. I wandered in vaguely the right direction, until I found some signs for the event with maps on, then wandered a bit more to make sure I was heading in the right direction. After a while I found some streets closed to traffic with a throng of people walking along, but there was a fence stopping people from just hopping in. So I followed the fence to the entrance, and started walking.

The route follows an s shape, going up one street, down the next and then up another. The first two streets aren't that impressive. One or two buildings put some lights up, but that was it. The good stuff waited until the third street. The street wasn't that much, but at the end was a covered walkway type area filled with lights.

The walkway went on for quite a while, and then you come to the big round lighty thing, as well as the souvenir stands, lottery stands, and food stands. I picked up a prepaid train ticket and part of a Christmas present for someone (I know who, but don't want to ruin the surprise).

Here are a few photos. More can be found here.

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Writing time: 27 minutes (I got a bit distracted reading other tabs)
Time since last post: 3 days
Current media: iTunes shuffle of all the track 5s - currently Ugly Men with Beautiful Women by Tripod

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Believer's Bleak Default Option

Because of the general lack of English literature available in Japan, I've started reading newspapers again. My paper of choice at the moment is the International Herald Tribune, partly because it's generally thicker than the other English newspapers, and also it has a more world wide focus so I get to hear some things that are going on back in Australia.

I was somewhat outraged by one of the editorials that appeared in it a few days ago. It was titled Atheist's Bleak Alternative, and you can read it yourself here. Written by Jeff Jacoby, it laments the lack of religiosity in modern society, as reflected in the lack of religious iconography and verbiage on this years run of Christmas cards. A large number of cards don't even have non religious Christmas images like Santa Claus. An interesting phenomena to note, but nothing to get to riled up about.

Mr Jacoby takes it a step further, and complains that this lack of religion, specifically Christianity is a major problem, resulting in moral relativity and an inability to install positive values into society.

The part that really got me annoyed was the following quote:
That is because without God, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong, but that a transcendent creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that God does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord."

I'm sorry Jeff Jacoby, but murder is not inherently wrong just because God says so. It's wrong because it harms others by depriving them of life. If God had said "Thou shalt murder", would it be our moral duty to whack everyone we could? That would be a religion I hope no one would follow. Similarly, kindness to others is good because it makes life better for others and ourselves.

Additionally, the suggestion that without the fear of God people would do bad things with no remorse is quite frankly insulting. I don't go around killing people because I know that it hurts them and is an act of violence. I don't need to be told by some man in the sky. I can work that out for myself. If the only reason you don't go around killing people is because God says not to, then you sir, are a very scary person. I treat others well because I respect them, not because I hope to avoid eternal punishment by doing so.

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Writing time: 71 minutes (I stopped to watch the latest BSG)
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: Battlestar Galactica 3x11

In Soviet Russia, Cookies Eat Santa

Today I had my first kids class at my regular school. I'm covering for one of the other teachers while he's on holidays. Anyway, during the lesson, which was seems to just be learning some basic vocab (eat, drink, presents, cookies, map, etc) one of the kids piped up with "Cookies eat Santa" instead of "Santa's eating Cookies". This immediately made me think of the good old Russian Reversal. I did say "In Soviet Russia, Cookies eat Santa", but not surprisingly, it was lost on the kids.

In other news, after about a week, my sore throat is almost gone, but a bit of a cough and a lot of phlegm remains. Hopefully that will be gone soon.

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Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: 13 hours
Current media: None

Friday, December 15, 2006

Some Quizes

I just did some online quizzes. These are a bit geekier than your average on-line quiz. Anyway, here are the results.

You are OS2-Warp. You're plagued by feelings of abandonment and disgust for your backstabbing step-brother.  Oh, what might have been.
Which OS are You?

You are .swf  You are flashy, but lack substance.  You like playing, but often you are annoying. Grow up.
Which File Extension are You?

You are You are a know-it-all.  You are trustworthy, most of the time.  You are  versatile and useful.  You like volunteering.  You are free.
Which Website are You?

I like the third result, can kind of understand the first, but was a bit shocked and annoyed by the second. Ah well. They're just silly quizzes anyway.
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Writing time: 1 minute
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: iTunes shuffle of all the track 7s - currently Polka Power! by Weird Al

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Holy Shit That's Fast

I don't think I've truly realised how fast the Internet is over here in Japan. Now, I have some idea. Except for the blurring to prevent incriminating myself, this is an actual screen capture. Please note the speed. I will admit this only lasted for about 30 seconds, but it is still none-the-less impressive.

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Writing time: 7 minutes (had to touch up the picture a little)
Time since last post: "go" days
Current media: none

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Something Really Messed Up

I saw this article on the BBC news feed today and am trying to decide if I'm disgusted, revolted, or just plain shocked. A woman has been charged with aggravated murder of her own baby. The weapon of choice? Microwave oven.

As this has yet to go to trial, I won't comment specifically on the woman, as at this stage it is inappropriate to make assumptions of guilt, and innocent until guilty still applies. However, the idea of killing your own child is reprehensible.

And putting a baby in a microwave? Well, I know how a microwave works. I've had fun putting CDs in a microwave (don't leave it on long), as well as other objects. There's even a joke "Curiosity didn't kill the cat. A three year old with a microwave did". I should hope that ignorance is not part of the defense strategy.

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Writing time:17 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: The Daily Show December 6

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Coup No 2

Fiji's had a coup. This is the second coup of 2006, and Fiji's fourth. Like Thailand's coup, this one has been building up for a while, but was a lot more public, with negotiation going on between the military and the Prime Minister for quite some time beforehand. Some pretty good background reading can be found here, here, and here.

I don't know as much about what's been going on in Fiji as I do about Thailand, but again I disagree with the idea of the military stepping into politics and trying to control or influence the elected government.

I just had the idea of keeping all military facilities outside of the actual country, on islands and atolls and that sort of thing, but that is perhaps a bad idea for a few reasons. They include the fact that it isolates the military from the people, and two, isn't really practical for most countries.

Anyway, I once again state my support for democratically elected governments, the ideal of a non-political military, and hope that regular government is restored to Fiji soon.

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Writing time: 10 minutes
Time since last post: 10 minutes
Current media: iTunes shuffle of all the track 3s - currently Tribute by Tenacious D

Kids Lessons 2: The Regulars

On Monday I had my first regular kids classes. It was a help shift at a kids school. I had one class of each of the three big groups, Kinder (3-6), junior (7-9), and senior (10-12). It was exhausting. The juniors were the most exhausting. The classes had 5 kids for kinder, 6 for juniors and 3 seniors.

All of the kids were kind of into it, and had various levels of success. The kinders could name the things (presents, bells, other christmassy things), but usually dropped the "there are" from
"there are n items", but got the general idea. The juniors were a bit better, but their language for this week was a bit easier. I did get mixed up with the flashcards I was meant to be using, so for the first activities used some of last weeks. I realised halfway through so I just got the extra cards and put them in the pile. The kids didn't notice.

The seniors were OK. They got a bit mixed up when I said "How are you today?" instead of the expected "How are you?" (there's a bit of a ritual for starting the lesson that includes asking "how are you?" The rituals a bit different for each level.) so they answered "Monday", but I realised what was happening and rephrased. I had been told the seniors were not quite so outgoing and willing to compete, but this group were, although it is a smaller group. It's also odd that of the three, a boy and a girl have the same name.

The schools not far from my regular school, so travels not really an issue. It's just sort of a front desk and a room, and the teachers room is essentially a closet. I'm probably not going to spend that much time in there, in any case. The classrooms outer wall is a glass wall to a hallway, so I could see people (parents presumably) watching me and the kids, but I didn't worry about them.

On a related note, since I knew I'd need lots of energy for the classes, I had decided to load up on sugar, and the best source I had was a packet of musk sticks (thanks Justin). The staff member (I can't remember her name (Etsuko or something like that)) asked if the kids could try some. I said sure. Maybe one or two out of the 6-10 who tried some liked it. Most people over here (gaijin and locals) have not appreciated the taste.

I did make a bit of an impression while juggling some paper balls between lessons, so next week I'll take my juggling balls in with me.

Anyway, that's my adventure in kids classes for this week.

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Writing time: 17 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: iTunes shuffle of all the track 3s - currently Rock Me by Steppenwolf

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Repeal Day

As the ad at the end of The Onion's podcast has been telling me for a week or so, today is the anniversary of the repeal of prohibition in America. The ad has only been part effective, because while I know it was an ad for some type of alcohol, I have no idea what brand or type it is.

Anyway, prohibition was a bad idea, and seems to have inspired some of the modern prohibitions on other chemicals people choose to indulge in, which are just as effective as the prohibition on alchohol back then was.

Anyway, cheers (or kampai, as the locals say).

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Writing time: 8 minutes
Time since last post: a little while
Current media: Red Vs Blue

Rent A Coder No Longer So Attractive

Every so often, I check the newest jobs on Rent A Coder to see if there's any good jobs available. In recent months though, not much has shown up. Most of the jobs fall into one of three categories. 1) Bigger than I'm willing to do because of lack of knowledge and or time, 2) the maximum bid is too low to be worth my time, or 3) just plain scum.

It's category number three that is really making me think about not checking Rent A Coder for new jobs. When this sort of job is the majority of work available, I'm not so keen to be a part of it.

Some recent examples of less than noble jobs include someone's semester long project (with a deadline of 3 days), someone who wants their company on Wikipedia, and someone wanting you to run their Google Adwords campaign because they have been banned for breaking the rules.

I've taken one job where I went in not quite sure about the buyers intentions, and after doing a small job with them and then turned down further jobs because I didn't think they were doing the right thing.

I have heard of similar sites that I may check out, but I expect that they'll be of a similar nature.

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Writing time: 15 minutes
Time since last post: a few hours
Current media: Stargate Atlantis - 3x12 Echoes

It's Christmas in Japan

Despite not being a majority christian country, or a decent minority christian country, or even a we like to call ourselves christian but don't actually go to church or anything like that country, Japan is still getting ready for Christmas with lots of lights go up over the place, as well as other Christmasy things. The KFC near my place has Colonel Sanders is a Santa outfit.
This was taken from the staffroom at work on Friday night when there was some sort of event happening at around 7:30ish. In any event, it was all over by the time I got off work at 9. And if you look carefully, the decorations in the trees are indeed four leaf clovers. But, what the hey, they're foreign, right?
This is the Osaka JR station in Umeda. I meant to get some photos of the Hanshin station as well, but forgot to.
This is a house I can see from my balcony. It's the only one with visual range with such decoration.

This is just a photo of a big intersection in Umeda. It is intentionally blurry, to try and convey the sense of hustle and bustle (and not the fact that it's so cold my hands shake at night).

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Writing time: 13 minutes
Time since last post: 4 days
Current media: none

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Good Lesson

Yesterday I had a really good lesson with a student. The main reason it was so much better was that she was really enthusiastic and put a lot of effort into the lesson. The differences between the lesson with this student and other students was remarkable. The lesson was about the news, headlines that sort of stuff. For this lesson I have started introducing the 5 Ws before introducing the rest of the language, as it's really useful for getting the language down. Normal I just tell the students the list, and then apply it to the language. But this student once I mentioned the 5 Ws started guessing them.

Anyway, having a student that motivated and keen was really good and it had an uplifting effect on me. Here's hoping there are more like that.

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Writing time: 21 minutes
Time since last post: 0 days
Current media: The Colbert Report- November 28

Friday, December 01, 2006

Final Word Count

As yesterday was the last day of November, it was the last day of National Novel Writing Month. This was the chance for my last ditch effort to reach 50,000 words. Since I needed about 47,000 words, it didn't really happen. The final total word count was 4,117 words. This included some words that came from the brilliant idea to present a long conversation as a transcript, which of course had to include a bunch of extra data such as time of recording, a list of participants and other formalities. The conversation was also formal, and so allowed the reuse of some of the extremely long names and titles I'd created for just such a reason. I'll try and keep working on it, but will slacken off the pace a bit.

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Writing time: 13 minutes
Time since last post: 2 days
Current media: The Daily Show Nov 28