Monthly Archives: May 2015

This Zone is Dead for Now

If I liked baseball, I might actually have something to watch other than English detectives.

The end of football season (the violent chess US version) and the end of the college basketball season marks the start of a dead zone for me. Until the start of football season (and by that I mean the real season, not the useless pre-season) there is no sport worth tracking down and nothing worth keeping track of.  Instead of sports I’ve started watching A Touch of Frost, which is annoying in its own way (but that’s another post).

I’m not a big fan of professional basketball as I don’t like the way they limit the defenses and encourage endless scoring. This makes it just a series of wind sprints ending with baskets or a rebound. Also, pro-basketball doesn’t have that March Madness energy. Not fun at all.

Also, as I’ve mentioned before, to me baseball is little more than a bunch of people standing in a field watching a couple guys play catch. This is especially true in Japan where it is the only sport on television right now. The major networks in Japan all share broadcast rights meaning baseball is on TV every night and often preempts the few things I might still watch on TV.

There are exceptions to this: Any time there’s a major figure skating competition it will be shown on Japanese TV as will any major marathon in Japan or marathon relay. There are also a few interesting things shown on TV: major golf tournaments like the Masters’  and the US Open (these are mostly fun to watch to see the leaders choke on the last day). We also get to see international volleyball competitions, international soccer matches and any tennis event where Kei Nishikori is doing well.

Unfortunately, those aren’t as common as I’d like. Eventually, though, football and college basketball seasons start again.

Until then, I’ll keep watching A Touch of Frost and try to forget the lead character is named Jack Frost and is played by Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses.

Shaken and a Bit Stirred

We got a two earthquakes this evening in rapid succession. The first was kind of humorous. The second started scaring us.

I’ve written before about how we used to get enough earthquakes that we got complacent, at least until the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which made us get a lot more serious about our emergency plans and preps.

However, after several months, the aftershocks stopped and my sense is that we’ve had fewer earthquakes. We occasionally get a good shaker, but they don’t impress anymore. In fact, there was one last week when I walking to the station. I didn’t notice it and wondered why all the trains were running several minutes late. I didn’t learn about the quake until I got home.

Tonight, though, we had a small one that my oldest and I noticed. We felt a little shaking and noticed the pull strings on the ceiling lights swaying. She Who Must Be Obeyed and our youngest quickly turned on the news. This is a normal reaction. If I even notice the earthquake, I act as if it’s perfectly normal that everything is wiggling and SWMBO gets very serious.

A few minutes later, we got a bigger one. This one caused the ceiling lights themselves to rock. It went on long enough that SWMBO and our youngest got in the doorway and even I got serious and started eyeballing our emergency kits. After a minute or so it stopped but we are suddenly much more cautious.

Lately, even Kansas and Oklahoma have been going through a cycle of quakes. Although it’s fashionable to blame Fracking, the truth is much more ominous: earthquakes are more common in the Midwest than people like to admit (note, the data in the link ends around 1972).

The bright side is, at least you don’t have to deal with volcanoes. Well, at least not right now.


The Day After and the Last Day

All my students were pretty much brain dead today, but it wasn’t actually my fault. That said, my brain wasn’t much better.

The school where I work is strange in May. There are lots of school trips and lots of disrupted schedules and lots of partial days. During mid-term exams we focus on our final exams and making lesson plans for the final push whilst everyone else is administering and marking exams and they don’t care about anything else. To give an example of what happens, on the day before exams I told one of my homeroom  teachers I had a junior high student who was sitting back, doing nothing and daring me to make him work with a “whatta ya gonna do aboudit?” smirk. The homeroom teacher’s reaction to this news was one part “why is this my problem?”, one part “why are you telling me this now?”, and one part “yeah, how about that.”

(For the record: now that mid-terms are over and I can keep students after school, my student’s about to discover what I’m gonna do aboudit.)

The final push, as I’ve mentioned before, is June. We’ve been at school since early April but still have about half our classes to go because of the strange schedule.

Today, though, was especially strange as it fell after two days of mid-term exams. To a student, in three different grades, the students’ attitude was “Whoa? You’re still here?” and “Why the hell are you making us do stuff?”

I had students sleeping; students pretending to use their phones as dictionaries whilst “secretly” texting; a student who walked in with a smile but no text, no pencil and no paper; students who didn’t bother to bring the handout; students who ignored me when I called on them because they weren’t ready; students who did the wrong assignment when it was their turn to speak and had to do it again.

Granted, they are coming down after an intense couple days, but my class doesn’t have mid-terms exams which means, quite frankly, I don’t care about their previous problems.

June is coming and things are about to change. If they think this ends happily, they haven’t been paying attention.


The Best Laid Plans Abandoned Again

I had a plan. Actually, I have a plan, and it’s a good plan except I’ve never been able to put it into action.

The plan is to write these posts earlier in the evening when I’m still feeling the effects of afternoon coffee and have the energy to dedicate to writing and editing, and to taking and editing photos if necessary. It’s all very simple and would allow me more time to read in the evening and get me away from screens before bed.

Unfortunately, that’s not always how things work out; or, more specifically, that not always how I work things.

First there’s the problem of working after work which is a difficult thing to do. My normal habit is to plop down at the computer and do absolutely nothing useful for an hour or so.

(Note: according to my definition “or so” can last anywhere from two hours up to several hours.)

If I’m really looking to waste time and or get frustrated at nothing, I might play a few matches or so in an online game. If the matches go well the “or so” might only be a half hour. If they don’t well, “or so” happens and I either play longer or rage quit. After rage quitting I might actually get some writing done, but none toward these posts.

Eventually we have supper and that’s followed by the nightly ritual of “Arguing With the Genius Teenager Who Knows Everything but Hears Nothing.” The arguments typically involve proper use of an Asus Tablet during study time. (Note: for me there is no proper use.) This typically ends in a victory for me but it’s annoying enough that I need to read something and end up putting off these posts.

Eventually I sit down to write these posts. That process involves 20 minutes or so of staring at the screen going “okay, so now what?” Eventually something gets written.

Next week the goal is to implement a new habit to write these posts earlier and then post them early.

It’s a good plan. The trouble is, it’s lot like all the ones that have come before. Also, I might have  a new, for me at least, Asus Tablet to play with and that could complicate things.

Every Day is Vaguely the Same

If you ever want to verify that you need to shake things up in your life, keep a diary. If you want to make the sameness even more horrifying, try keeping a log in different colored inks.

I’ve mentioned before how I’m not a big fan of keeping a diary (with apologies to all my history professors who consider such items to be an important part of history which is why I hope historians will some day find my diary and wonder if I could actually fly) but have decided to experiment with keeping a daily log, where I record events and my thoughts on them soon after they happen. To do so, I use different colored inks for different events. Weather is usually done in Noodler’s Midway Blue and Apache Sunset and my morning routing and morning pages are done in either purple or green.

This not only gives the log some visual flair but also lets me test different inks and pens on the Muji paper.

Now, at four months of making regular entries, I’ve begun to notice flaws in the plan.

Part of the trouble is I only have a few inks. After several days, each page looks similar to the ones before and after and I even seem to dedicate the same amount of space to the same events, including meals and complaining about work. This means despite my efforts to make it interesting have instead made it kind of boring.

Also, because my work days don’t change much from week to week, it’s easy to fall into a foolish consistency in the way I describe them and complain about them. Classes are either crappy, ordinary bad, decent or better than normal. I’m wasting time, fretting over wasting time, writing about wasting time or, on occasion, actually doing something. It’s the same “Okay day” metronome click click click that made me stop keeping diaries in the first place.

Now, there are a few solutions to this:

A–Buy more ink.
B–Try different ways of keeping a log.
C–Both A and B.
D–A and B plus buy a new pen.
E–Abandon this and keep a calendar like a normal person.

As much as I should probably choose E and would like an excuse to choose D, I’m leaning toward C. I do like having a personal history on hand to occasionally peruse, but since the log is supposed to be an experiment, I’m feeling the need to shake it up a bit. No more descriptions of food, I’d rather draw what I ate. No more sloppy sketches of the weather, I’d rather make the sun into a character with regular expressions and a consistent look.

Hopefully, in four months, I won’t have chosen E, but there are days.

A Wedding with Bureaucracy but no Counselling

Because of a wedding ceremony, my late grandmother left her church.

I’ve mentioned before how fifteen years ago She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had bureaucratic issues on the day we chose for our official wedding day. That was then followed by two more wedding ceremonies. The first ceremony, the one in the USA, had its own bureaucratic problems.

The original plan for the US wedding was reasonably simple. We’d play dress up and rather than a ceremony there’d be a reception, cake, presents, and sparkling wine of some sort. However, one relative or another insisted we be married in a church even though we were already married.

This seemed like a simple idea, and even I thought it was a good idea, but the Lutheran church involved wasn’t as impressed. They insisted we go through wedding counseling with representatives from the church. This counseling could be done in Japan with a local representative but SWMBO and I would be required to go through individual counseling not couple’s counseling. After my mom explained this my reaction was, and I believe this was a direct quote, “No fucking way.”

After washing my mouth out with soap at my mother’s insistence (as a requirement for continuing the conversation/remaining her son) I explained that all they were trying to do was convert SWMBO. I’ve been subjected to a religious “intervention” before (it’s part of the reason I’m more a supporter of religion than churches–more on that in another post.) and I wasn’t going to let that happen to SWMBO especially as we were already married.

After much negotiation on the US side of the issue, my grandmother threw her hands up and said “fuck this” (knowing her, she probably actually said that) and stopped going to that church.

Instead we went to a Methodist church where the pastor did everything she could (not a typo) to make sure we and She Who Must Be Obeyed’s family were taken care of.

No counseling was required, although there are days I think it might have been a good idea…

NOTE: Correction 5/27/2015. Originally stated we went to a Lutheran church when, in fact, it was a Methodist church.

Signs of a Struggle are Not Always What They Seem

A friend of mine kept house so badly that people used to say that if he ever disappeared police would look at his room and declare there was evidence of struggle. That pretty much describes our apartment right now.

As the weather changes from Static to Pleasant, with periodic fits of Humid and Awesome in the same day, we are in the annual “Changing of the Clothes”. This is a process that involves opening the top cabinets of our closets and taking down several soft cases full of summer clothes. Those clothes end up in the living room whilst they are sorted into various piles: fits, doesn’t fit, could fit, give away to someone it might fit, and yes the baby clothes really need to go so give them away to someone with an actual baby because NO WE ARE NOT. (Something like that.)

Then the winter clothes are sorted into fits, full of holes, you only wore this once last winter, you didn’t wear this at all, and really, you think that still fits? Those clothes are then put in the soft cases and returned to the cabinet above the closets.

The problem is this process requires both our girls to be on hand and that’s not always possible once school starts. Also, because She Who Must Be Obeyed is now working she’s not always at home to sort the clothes. (Note: She won’t let me near them.)

There is also the problem of putting the heavy blankets away in the variety room closet which requires moving the “secondary storage” pile in front of the door and then moving a few boxes and putting the blankets away on top of the kerosene heaters and the electric carpet. Because this is currently a complicated process, we try to do it as few times as possible and won’t do it until everything is ready.

The problem right now is that with the clothes stacked up, we haven’t had time to clean and put away the electric carpet. Also, because we haven’t been able to finish the carpet, we’re also backed up on revamping the emergency supplies which means more stuff is scattered about the variety room than usual.

Yes, there are signs of a struggle, just not what you’d expect.

Backpocket Journal (Tomoe River Edition)–Long Term Review

I don’t remember where I heard about Curnow Bookbinding and Leatherwork’s Backpocket Journals, but once I did, I ordered a few packs of their Tomoe River editions. That was the first problem.

Curnow seems to be a casually run business that generally only sells stuff that’s available (it apparently will take special orders, though) and does so through an oddly complicated process:

They announce what’s available.
You email them and tell them what you want.
They tell you the price including shipping.
You respond and agree to the price.
They send you a PayPal invoice.
You pay.
They send you notebooks.

It took a few extra steps, but they arrived with no problems.

It took a few extra steps, but they arrived with no problems. Each order has three notebooks and a lined insert.

Once this process is over, you end up with three well made notebooks. Backpocket Journals are 3.5 inches (8.89 cm) by 5.25 inches (13.36 cm). This puts them halfway between a passport and a Field Notes notebook. The ones I ordered had rounded corners and cream card stock covers. They have sewn bindings that hold 48 pages of unlined fountain pen friendly Tomoe River paper).

A Backpocket Journal sandwiched between a passport sized MUJI notebook and a Field Notes notebook.

A Backpocket Journal sandwiched between a passport sized MUJI notebook (top) and a Field Notes notebook (bottom).

The Tomoe River paper makes the notebook thinner and flimsier than a Field Notes notebook. At first I was unimpressed because, although they are gorgeous, the Backpockets feel too flimsy to last. The one I used, though, survived over a month in my pocket and my bag with few problems. The only visible signs of wear were some wrinkles, black scuff marks on the cream card stock paper and small tears around the holes for the binding thread. The thinness makes them well suited for backpockets as they conform to any shape back end.

Only perfectionist fountain pen users will dislike the paper. There is the typical ghosting that comes with Tomoe River paper, but only Noodler’s Apache Sunset managed to bleed through, although it didn’t mark the following page. Curnow includes a lined card to serve as backing. I personally never used this as it was just something else to carry, but it does provide a good book mark and adds just a touch of rigidity to the notebook when you’re writing without a hard surface.

I like them a lot and will add them to my rotation of notebooks (I’m using about one a month now) but I’m not sure I’ll get any more, especially as I already have a lot of pocket sized notebooks. I would like to try one of the regular edition Backpocket Journals to see how it holds up, but we’ll see.

The notebooks fresh out of the post.

The notebooks fresh out of the post.



There’s a First Time for Everything

It’s very rare that I find myself feeling relaxed after a school event, but today was one of those rare days. Today was sports day at our youngest’s school and it was remarkable for a series of firsts.

First, I somehow managed to get through a sporting event without getting angry. This is partly because, for the first time ever, I didn’t encounter any aggressive jerks or assholes. I’m not sure why this was, but the weather was almost perfect. It was 27 Celsius (81 Fahrenheit) and not humid at all. This made people more relaxed and calm, I suspect.

Second, for the first time ever, at any school I’ve been to in Japan, the schedule ran on time. Lunch started when it was supposed to and ended when it was supposed to In fact, things were moving so swiftly, I almost didn’t make it back from lunch in time to see our youngest take part in the Typhoon Race (which involves four people carrying a pole around a couple cones and then under and over everyone else on the team. Long story.) I’d budgeted for the usual “Well get there eventually” schedule and arrived fashionably late only to find out I was actually late.

Third, our youngest was chosen to design the flag for her class. This is also the first year the classes had flags.

The flag our youngest designed.

The flag our youngest designed.

Fourth, it was a close contest. For those who don’t know, on sports day the school is divided into the Red Team and the White Team. (Our youngest was on the white team.) Everyone competes in the events and the teams earn points based on how they place in the events. (Some events are individual, some are team events.) The prize is a trophy and bragging rights. This year the white team won by only 20 points. This, I believe, is the closest contest I remember.

The final results at the top. Red 660. White 680. (Notice our youngest's flag on the left.)

The final results at the top. Red 660. White 680. (Notice our youngest’s flag on the right, second from the top.)

Fifth, our youngest, for the first time ever, won her heat in the 80 meter dash. (Each class is divided into heats and the winners of each heat get a red ribbon and their team gets points.) Our youngest traditionally has not done well in the running. Last year she was second; this year she won, although she still has a bad habit of slowing down before the tape instead of running through it.

Our youngest crossing the tape. (After slowing down, of course.)

Our youngest (left) crossing the tape. (After slowing down, of course.) She just edged out a red team member.

After the Typhoon Race, our youngest watches the pole pass over everyone. You can see the red ribbon on her shoulder.

Our youngest in a later event. You can see the red ribbon of victory pinned to her shoulder.

Now we get five months to rest before our oldest’s school has her sports day. I usually don’t get angry during that one. (More on that in a future post.)


Vintage Things and the Dregs of Someone Else’s Past

Someone, I think it was Brad Dowdy the Pen Addict, said he wasn’t particularly interested in vintage pens because there were too many new pens worth having and they didn’t require any special care.

I recently bought a vintage Pilot Capless and although I like it, I’m beginning to come around to the Pen Addict’s point of view. Sort of. I think there are a couple problems with vintage pens.

First, it bothers me that something only a couple years older than I am is considered vintage.

Second, unless they’ve been cleaned carefully, they come with problems that most new pens don’t have. (There are exceptions, but more on those in another post.) In the case of my Pilot Capless I gave it a good water flush right after I bought it and then inked it up with Pilot Iroshizuku Murasaki-Shikubu, a purple ink that’s reasonably safe for using in any and all fountain pens.

At first I was impressed with the pen. It has a Fine nib which is smaller than I’m used to, but it wrote well. In fact, it worked great right up until the moment it didn’t. Half way through a set of morning pages it suddenly went dry. I emptied it out and soaked it in cleaning solution for several hours and then tried inking it again.

Once again, it worked well until it didn’t. I also noticed the purple ink had developed a noticeable blue-black tinge. This led to me cleaning it out again and letting it soak for 24 hours in cleaning solution. The results were kind of gross. By morning a layer of crud from past owners had formed in the bottom of the ink bottle I use as a cleaning glass.

This is gross but I've been told drinking it will give me super powers.

This is gross but I’ve been told drinking it will give me super powers.

Now, it’s been dried and inked and seems to be writing well. The blue-black tinge is gone and it has better flow.

We’ll find out for sure tomorrow, though, when I attempt morning pages with it. If it goes dry halfway through, there will be swearing.

This has led me to be more skeptical of buying vintage pens. That said, I may leave a not with Mr. Fujii at Euro Box to let me know if any more vintage capless pens appear in this store.