Monthly Archives: June 2015

You Don’t Mess With a Man’s Cookies

(Note: I’ve got the nagging feeling I’ve written about this before but that may be because I’ve told the story before. I’ve searched former posts for it and haven’t found it but the nagging feeling persists. Sorry, then, if this is a repeat. If it is, I prefer to think of it as a revision.)

One night, when I was in Albania, I went to war with a mouse.

I don’t remember why I was in the hotel, but because it was my home away from home I must have been in the capital getting my monthly stipend. I also don’t remember why I had a box of cookies but they were either from a care package or I was returning to Albania after my three weeks in Washington D.C.

As I was going to bed I remember seeing a mouse scurry away. I didn’t think much of it because I chased him away. Then, in the middle of the night when I was either half asleep or half awake I heard something tapping on cardboard. I realized the mouse was after my cookies.

I turned on the light and picked up my bag. I swatted at the mouse but it did one of the best jumps I’ve ever seen. It leaped out of the bag, one hopped on the floor and flew into my pillow.

Because I was half-asleep or half-awake and was protecting my cookies. I picked up the pillow and tried to bludgeon the mouse to death inside my pillow.

I then got the brilliant idea of flushing it down the toilet. Part of my brain also felt I could contain it in the bathroom. I carried my pillow to the bathroom and tried to simultaneously bludgeon the mouse and dump it in the toilet. It his the toilet, hopped out and disappeared into the wall.

I moved the cookies lower and zipped the bag closed. Once I was convinced my cookies were secure, I went back to sleep using my bludgeoned pillow.

Some time in the middle of the night when I was either half asleep or half awake, I felt the mouse run across me as a kind of final “I’m still here, human” gesture. For some reason that didn’t bather me and I fell asleep.

In the end, because the cookies were saved, I considered that war a draw. I only hope I’ve outlived the mouse. If I haven’t, at least I got to eat the cookies.


Spelling in Translation

Today’s post will have lots of bad words, but don’t worry, I’ll spell them so that young children can’t understand them.

The Japanese language suffers from two fatal weaknesses.

The first weakness is that the people don’t have middle names. This means as a child you rely on force of expression rather than the presence of your middle name to know you are in trouble. There’s a huge difference between “DWAYNE LIVELY! GET IN HERE!” and “Dwayne Edward Lively, get in here!” The latter doesn’t even need to be shouted.

The second weakness, especially if you’re a parent, is that because Japanese is a phonetic language you can’t spell words to hide them from your kids. Growing up in the USA all of us remember our parents spelling words to hide them from us. “That Kathy is a B I T C H.”  or “I think that Kathy is  P R E G N A N T” (often they try to use code to hide the actual words “I think that Kathy is PG.”) Or “I think that little S L U T Kathy is having S E X with that little S H I T Bobby.”

The problem is we eventually learn to spell and when we talk with our friends, we interpret the sentences as “My M O M thinks Kathy is a fucking bitch.” (Note, when you’re in junior high, “fucking” is attached to many phrases.) Or “My O L thinks Kathy got knocked up.” or “My O L thinks Kathy and that asshole Bobby are fucking.”

(Note: Kathy is a fictional character with a name chosen at random. Any similarity to an actual Kathy is unintentional and purely coincidental. Bobby really is an asshole, though.)

In Japanese, parents can’t spell the words because each letter in the alphabet represents an actual syllable in the word. For example if they spell “yariman” (slut) or “kuso ama” (unpleasant bitch) they have to actually say “Ya Ri Ma N” and “Ku So A Ma” which helps the child pronounce the words correctly rather than disguise their meanings.

I believe this is why Japan doesn’t have a lot of bad words and most of the profanity is implied through tone.

This of course, is why I want to teach Japanese parents English. I went them to be able to say “Y A R I M A N” and “K U S O A M A” rather than teaching those words to their kids.

Karas Kustoms Brass Bolt–Heavy, Man. Heavy.

When all is said and done, writing with a pen and weightlifting ought not have too much in common.

A while ago, probably thanks to Massdrop, I bought a pen that looks awesome but is too heavy to use comfortably.

The pen is the brass version of the Karas Kustoms Bolt. The Brass Bolt (as I like to call it) looks a lot like an old school syringe. It is made of machined brass and holds a Pilot G2 refill–in this case a black .38. Like all Karas Kustoms pens it is well designed and perfectly machined. The worst I can say about the looks is that I can see the line where the two sections join.

This is a pen, not a syringe.

This is the Karas Kustoms Brass Bolt not a syringe. You can see the joining line in the middle. 

Rather than simply pressing the nock on the pen to deploy the tip, you have to press and twist. This, in theory, prevents the pen from deploying in your pocket or your bag and thus making a mess. Unfortunately, it also adds an inch or so (2-3 centimeters) to the length of the pen and throws off its balance.

I’ve written several sets of morning pages and my daily 10 ideas and each time I’ve found the pen awkward to use. The brass makes it 2.85 ounces (81 grams) which means it weighs more than my both my Tactile Turn Mover and Shaker pens combined (they are 2.4 ounces or 69 grams.) It also weighs almost as much as my Karas Kustoms Ink fountain pen and roller ball with the caps posted (3.6 ounces or 102 grams).

(Note: I never use them posted.)

The Ink Roller ball (top); the Bolt (middle) and the Ink fountain pen (bottom). All the weight is in the middle.

The Ink Roller ball (top); the Brass Bolt (middle) and the Ink fountain pen (bottom). All the weight is in the middle.

Because the Brass Bolt is so long and heavy I find I have to choke back on the pen. If you look at the picture above, I have to grip the Bolt next to the threads on the other two pens in order to get it to balance right. I also find that extended writing makes my hand and wrist sore. It’s also a thick pen, which changes my grip.

Once again, all the weight is in the middle.

Once again, all the weight is in the middle.

Also, although the bolt mechanism is an interesting conversation piece, it seems to solve a problem that isn’t that much of a problem. In all the years I’ve used and carried ball point pens–which, yes, I still often do–I never once had one deploy in my pocket. In fact, the only mess that ever came from a ballpoint pen is when I accidentally stuck one back in my jeans pocket without un-nocking it. (It left an interesting star pattern on my jeans and my leg.)

Although it’s a beautiful pen, and I wish I liked it more, the brass Bolt is not long for my collection. If I’m not comfortable using it, I won’t keep it. I’ve heard that the aluminum versions are much lighter and much more comfortable to use. I may try one of them some day and do a little more writing and a lot less weight lifting.




Tales of the Phantom Knife

I sent a knife to the USA for warranty repair (because that’s the only place it could be done) and now the knife seems to have disappeared.

This wouldn’t be a problem except that the company, despite having an email contact form and a promise to replay to emails in four days, never actually answers any emails.

A little research on knife forums has convinced me that I’ll have to call them. This, however, bothers me for two reasons: 1) I hate dealing with such things on the phone and 2) the only times I can call are the middle of the night.

Combine those two things and the results are incoherent sleepy babbling (as opposed to just regular incoherent babbling) and lots of hastily assembled notes that have to be carefully organized and referred to on the fly and not always in the order they’ve been organized.

Then there’s the problem of hearing things correctly:

Them: What’s that tracking number again?
Me: LE22VB3359JP
Them: What?
Me: LE22VB3359JST
Them: What?
Me: Just answer your f@#king email.
Them: What?
Me: Lima Echo two fiver Victor Bravo Tree Tree fiver niner Juliet Sierra Tango
Them: Well why didn’t you say so?
Me: Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo You.

That latter sentence is another problem. Because I don’t like making such calls, I find I have very little patience during them. If I don’t get an immediate positive response I usually end up having an angry response. This is especially true when the knife arrived three months ago and I didn’t even get an acknowledgement that it had arrived. All I have is information from the tracking number saying it had been delivered.

Eventually I pick a Monday, get up early and try the phone call. Until then I need to practice meditation, deliberate breathing and counting to 10 before I speak.

Granted, none of that will make me less angry, but it might keep me from swearing, at least for a little while.


Not a Day for Creativity or Self-Discipline

There’s no nice way to say it: I’m useless on Friday’s.

Granted, I have great intentions. It’s the start of the weekend a chance for new projects and activities and a chance for more reading and writing and a chance to study something new.

However, first I deserve a cup of coffee and a short rest. Then maybe I deserve a nap and if I don’t take a nap I deserve to play a couple rounds or three or four or more of a game. A couple hours later, after I finally get frustrated at my lack of success at the game I get another cup of coffee and break out a notebook and pen to do some writing.

First, though, I deserve a chance to check a couple newsreaders and peruse a couple pen and paper blogs. I also deserve a small snack to go with the coffee.

After that I shift the notebook and pen back front and center to do some work. But first I deserve a chance to watch an episode of a mystery drama.

Before I can get back to the notebook and pen it’s time for supper and I have to herd our oldest and youngest to the kitchen and get them to set the table (this process would require another post).

After supper, because it’s Friday, I deserve two fingers of bourbon but that requires me to first pose the glass with the notebook and pen and post it as part of my bad ideas series on Instagram. That is followed by sipping the bourbon and editing the picture and actually posting it.

At that point it’s time to start thinking about these blog posts. That requires another round of gaming or another finger of bourbon or a quick read of some pen website or another.

Eventually I sit down to write these posts and, if I’m lucky, I manage to think of a topic. If I don’t, there might be more games and more pen websites. Eventually I think of something, write it and go to bed.

Being that useless can be tiring, and I deserve a good night’s sleep.

This Year the Stress is Not Mine

I’ve written before about how this time last year I was stressed because I’d decided to change things and was waiting for them to fall apart.

This year, though, the stress isn’t mine.

Once again we decided to have our students film two minute “television” commercials for original inventions as their final project. This process involves first screening the inventions to make sure 1) the inventions aren’t just modifications of an existing product (in other words, no “These totally aren’t Google glasses” glasses or iPhone 12s) and 2) the inventions don’t already exist. For example, a couple of my students tried to use “Memory Bread” but I said they couldn’t use it because Doraemon already had some.

The students then had a chance to prepare their scripts and visual aids and polish their presentations.

This week, though, I started filming. Unlike last year, I’ve made friends with one of the computer lab teachers as they also serve as the “Keepers of the Cameras”. This means I’ve already got cameras and tripods reserved which removed a lot stress. I’ve even moved an entire class of students to make it easier to access the few open rooms we need for filming.

The new teachers are feeling the stress a bit more, as are the students as we’ve emphasized that they will fail if they don’t do a good job.

Last year several students taped their scripts to the backs of their posters. Because I didn’t have time to have them do their videos again, I let them get away with it. This year, though, because I have more time, I let them finish their commercials and then tell them they have to do it again.

Today’s only glitch was that I had students misunderstand my instructions. I told them I’d give them two takes to do their commercials. I meant that they could stop once and start again. They interpreted it to mean they could do a crap job today and get a second chance.

Once I corrected this misunderstanding, the performances suddenly improved and a couple pairs hurried back to finish.

I just relaxed and let them do their work.



The Sacrificial Lamb Faces the Sacrifice

Today I got to watch a person who was showing physical signs of stress try to wave the company’s flag for a few hours.

I’ve written before how the company I work for likes to send observer’s at the worst possible times. Today our observer arrived and we were shocked by a couple things.

First, it was only one guy. Usually we get two visitors, one foreigner with no real authority and one Japanese with slightly more authority. I do not know if that means the school where I work only gave permission for one visitor or if this was a case of symbolism over usefulness. (i.e. I’m here to show the flag and pretend I’m here to critique these people who’ve been teaching almost as long as I’ve been alive.)


Second, the observer looked stressed and even had physical symptoms of stress. We do not know if this is because of the less than friendly greeting I gave them this time last year or if there are other things going on behind the scenes (or both). Either way, we usually treat the foreign observers well because they don’t have much more authority than we do so I don’t think it had anything to do with us.

Third, the observer only stayed a few hours. Mind you, this is not a problem as nothing cramps your style more than having “the man” hovering over you at all hours, but usually, to make the trip worth his time, the observer stays longer than a couple hours. The goal is to get a feel for working conditions. (Which got worse as some “genius” at the school decided to lock the air conditioners at a surprisingly warm level. This may have driven the observer away, too.)

Then again, I like to think the observer was scheduled to be there all day but decided to take the afternoon off.

I hope that’s what he was doing.


There’s No Accounting For Taste in Office Pens

The school where I work has always been very good at providing good pens for the staff to use. The pens they provide are so good there’s now an “I took X” sheet we are expected to fill out every time we take a pen.

My dilemma, of course, is “do I take two pens but only sign for one?” Luckily for my conscience, I don’t use the kinds of pens they provide. (In other words, we’ll never know what I would do.)

The pens cover all the categories from waterproof pigment pens to gel pens to ordinary ball point pens.

The black pens. Uni-Ball Signo UM-100; Uni PIN water proof; Zebra Jim-Knock; Zebra N-5000.

The black pens. Uni-Ball Signo UM-100; Uni PIN water proof pigment pen; Zebra Jim-Knock; Zebra N-5000.

The blue pens: Uni-Ball Signo UM-100; Sakura Pigma Micron 03; Zebra N-5000.

The blue pens: Uni-Ball Signo UM-100; Sakura Pigma Micron 03; Zebra N-5000. The Sakura is very tempting…

Before I went full pentard with fountain pens, the pens I used to mark exams were either a red Signo UM-100 or a UNI PIN water proof (an older version).

The main requirements for a marking pen are: thick line that doesn’t bleed through on to other papers; good ink supply; a tip that doesn’t suddenly go dry; and a tip that doesn’t jam up as you mark harder in harder in increasing frustration. (The UNI PIN were especially bad at the latter test.) The problems were that over time the Signo built up gunk around the tip and needed to be wiped off and the marker-style tip of the UNI eventually wore down or got smashed in frustration.

I eventually moved to a red Pilot Vanishing Point filled with Pilot Red Ink for marking. It was comfortable to hold and had a decent ink supply. Although the ink supply wasn’t as good as a ballpoint or a gel ink pen, stopping to refill ink every now and then forced me to take a break and gave me a chance to find some whisky. (The timing of whisky to exam marking will be dealt with in another post.)

This year I’ll be marking my exams with a TWSBI Mini loaded with purple ink. There’s no particular reason for this other than 1) purple is one of the school’s colors; 2) it’s an excuse to use the pen more and 3) I’m interested in seeing the psychological effects of the purple ink on the students; and 4) I’m always looking for ways to use up my ink supply.




Pay Me For My Time and Time and Time Again

I am technically paid by the month but I think it’s time to start paying me for my time. Specifically, I think it’s time to start paying me for repeating things to teenagers.

There are three things I need to be paid for.

First, what typically happens in class is I introduce a topic and give instructions. With lower level classes I write the instructions on the board (although that may soon be replaced by typing them into a computer and “posting them via projector). I then walk my students through the instructions and turn them loose. I then spend five minutes explaining the instructions students who weren’t listening and apparently can’t be bothered to look at the board or ask a friend what’s going on.

Second, if I’m using a lesson in the textbook, I have to repeat the page number several times before the “What page are we on?” questions stop. (Note: this happens even when the page number is on the board.) Some students never figure out what page they are supposed to be on. If I instruct them to memorize the conversation, inevitably at least one pair will fail to get that memo, so to speak, and will try to use their books. There then ensues a conversation something along the lines of:

Them: Really?
Me: Really.
Them: Really?
Me: Really.

Finally, I’m looking to get paid at home because I have two daughters. The teenager is worse because she’s developed what I call  “teenage hearing” and “teenage answers”. Teenage hearing requires a sentence to be repeated several times before it is acknowledged. This is true even if the teenager is not wearing headphones.

Once teenage hearing is breached, teenage answers take over. For example:

Me: Go to bed.
–several repetitions have been skipped–
Oldest: hai.

(Note: “hai” is Japanese for “yes”, but as a teenage answer it means “I hear that there are words coming out of your mouth and that it is in my best interest to give a response to that you will think I care however this will not actually prompt me to change any of my current behaviors.)

(Note: “hai” is properly said as softly as possible so that She Who Must Be Obeyed cannot hear it in a different room.) The conversation then changes to:

SWMBO: Go to bed.
Oldest: hai.
–repeat several times until SWMBO gets angry–
SWMBO: I said go to bed!
Oldest: I said I heard you why do you keep hassling me!
–She Who Must Be Obeyed officially “loses her shit” and an argument ensues guaranteeing oldest more time awake before going to bed.–

Eventually all school projects get finished and our oldest goes to bed. Then the process starts again the next day. (I also need to get paid for that repetition.)


Homemade is Not Always Best Made

Today was Father’s Day which meant I got to be lazy. Granted, this is not much different from my usual Sunday except that today I didn’t even try to pretend to be busy.

My Father’s Day meal was homemade pizza–lovingly made by She Who Must Be Obeyed and our youngest whilst our oldest pretended to study for exams–which got me thinking about the things I like when they’re homemade and the things I don’t.

I like homemade pizza. It’s a lot of work, especially as we don’t have a proper oven, but the results are usually tasty. SWMBO has developed a system involving pan frying and toasting that produces very good results. I taught her to make crust from scratch and she moved on from there and modified the system a bit. My only complaint about homemade pizza is that there never seems to be enough left over for breakfast. Someday I’ll have to save some and see how it tastes cold.

I don’t like homemade French fries. More specifically, I don’t like making homemade French fries as they require something like 27 different freezing and thawing and drying and frying steps over a span of weeks in order to produce one small order of properly cooked fries. I’d rather buy them frozen and deep fry them than work out the math and chemistry required to make them from scratch at home.

Homemade ice cream is awesome. I vaguely remember being disappointed a couple times that I was getting homemade ice cream instead of Neapolitan but I also remember always liking the homemade ice cream. SWMBO found a decent recipe that involves cream and crushed Oreo cookies, but I’m looking for a proper ice cream maker and a lot of rock salt.

Currently we have a device for making homemade snow cones but I’m not a big fan of the syrup the Japanese use. I’d rather get an ice cream maker.

Homemade hamburgers are problematic. First they depend on how well you form the ground beef patties so that they don’t shrink into a little ball that doesn’t fit the bun. Second, they depend on if you have proper buns are not. I’ve had the little chunk of burger between two slices of white bread before and it was not the greatest experience.

The argument that it tastes the same is just wrong. If it doesn’t look the same it can’t possibly taste the same.