Monthly Archives: March 2016

Either Laziness or Adaptation

I probably got a lot more done today by not doing what I’d planned. However, I managed to be lazy in a surprisingly rigorous sort of way.

The plan was to go to the bank and get some cash and then, just out of curiosity, check out the local branch of Maruzen bookstore to see if they had the ink I’d already sold. (Sort of. Money had not yet changed hands.) The branch, despite being part of a fairly posh department store, manages to be one of the best stationery shops in the area. They have everything from expensive pens to cheap pens to “Draw you own comic book” starter kits with dip pens, ink and examples.

I found the ink I was looking for and despite cleaning all the bottles off the shelf, was pleased when the lady running the pen section not only didn’t sigh and tell me I could only buy one bottle of one color every seven years, she tried to find a fourth color for me.

This meant that half of the things I’d hoped to accomplish had already been accomplished. Despite that, I walked back toward the station determined to head down to Tokyo. However, by the time I reached the end of the shopping street (a couple blocks from where I started) and approached the station, I suddenly didn’t have the energy to complete the rest of my tasks. Instead I did some shopping for random food and snacks and then went back to the shopping street to have lunch.

After that I ended up at my other favorite stationery shop, Kimuraya, which is the kind of store where the shelves are stacked high enough even I can’t see over them and the only way to find something is to get lost. I found some dip pens and ink which meant I’d accomplished almost all the rest of my intended tasks.

That meant it was time to go home, after, of course, a short pause to try out the new Gelato place on the street.

Tomorrow I actually have to go down to Tokyo. I’m meeting someone though, so the only way to alter the plan is to convince them to come up here.


Busy and Unproductive Days

Today was oddly busy and yet oddly unproductive. The only things accomplished involved old forms and getting the girls out of the house.

As part of my “work” days I’ve decided to update a spreadsheet I’ve been using for over a thousand years. (Note: I made it in 2,000 at the end of the last millennium; this is a new millennium; a millennium is a thousand years; therefore, I’ve been using it for over a thousand years. That’s math.)

Updating the spreadsheet accomplishes a few things: it makes the spreadsheet more usable; it satisfies my “work” day requirement; and it is completely useless to the company I work for. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Of course, dealing with Microsoft always involves swearing, but this time there wasn’t as much as usual. There was some tedium and the promise of swearing later when I find the mistakes I made today. (There will also be swearing when I attempt to use it on my tablet.)

The other accomplishment was getting the girls ready to go. Our oldest, in addition to going full vampire, has also gone full teenager. This means the brain damage is real as is her self centeredness. (Her grandfather gave her some money. She’s spent some and doesn’t see the need to go see him and thank him in person. In fact, she doesn’t understand why she needs to thank him at all.)

In other words, she’s not only the center of the universe, she is the universe.

(Note: She probably inherited this from me, said the man who writes a daily post about his life.)

This attitude disappointed She Who Must Be Obeyed who got angry. This prompted back talk from the vampire, er, our oldest, which increased the anger. I helped pack the care and sent them on their way.

(Note: Because I’m obligated to work, I technically have to be available to be sent out which means I can’t leave town without a vacation request that uses paid holidays. This may actually be the only good thing that came out of this “work” day nonsense. re. earlier comments about self-centeredness.)

Now I have a few days by myself. I’m sure I’ll think about doing something productive.

The Fail and the Lesson

One of the odd things I’ve remembered now that I have a high school student in the house is the way I became a vampire in high school.

Our oldest is now a vampire and today that caused some problems.

I’ve mentioned before how I tend to reverse “polarity” so to speak during holidays. That involves staying up later and getting up later. As Benjamin Franklin wrote: Late to bed, eventually to rise makes a man, something, something wise. (No, really, look it up.)

As our oldest has become a vampire and I’m shocked by two things: 1) how fast it happened and 2) how merciless it is.

That’s what led to today’s Fail and Lesson.

Our oldest, enjoying a very rare actual day with nothing to do, made plans to meet a friend. However, complicating this was her also getting up early (5:00 a.m. ish) to see off another friend who’s moving to a high school in another prefecture where she will study soccer and probably end up on the Japanese women’s national team some day.

After our oldest came home, She Who Must Be Obeyed encouraged her to go back to bed and then I was instructed to wake her up at certain time so that she could meet the friend.

I made breakfast, hung the laundry, did my “work” for the day (no really, I did actual work that will help me with the school year) boxed some ink, filled in some mailing labels, washed dishes and made lunch for our youngest.

Our oldest woke up at 2:30, which was three hours past the time she was supposed to leave and well past her meeting time with her friend.

My reaction was something along the lines of “How did you get there I thought you went out oh crap I was supposed to wake you up why the hell didn’t you set your alarm if today was so important to you?”

She rushed out and eventually met her friend and a good time was had.

I felt bad about things until I found out that she had, in fact, set her alarm, but had slept through it. Unfortunately, no one else in the house heard it or we’d have found her asleep.

Now, though, having slept until the mid-afternoon, our oldest may have turned full vampire. We’ll find out in the morning when we expose her to sunlight.



The Pens and Cases of Others

It says a lot that I’m more interested in my students’ pen cases than I am their actual education.

In my defense, I do actually attempt to educate them and then use the “free” time I have whilst they are working to spy on their pen cases.

The most interesting collection, which earned the owner bonus points, featured a red Mead Composition Book, a Mead standing pen case, and Sharpie Accent Highlighters. He didn’t have any fountain pens (the Mead notebook was the hint) so he didn’t get full bonus points, but it was a very manly try.

The ugliest pen case, that was still kind of cool, was some kind of red creature. The eyes were on the side of the bag and the mouth and teeth were the opening for the pens. It then had long, colorful arms hanging off the side. The arms were long enough and floppy enough, at least to my eye, to 1) allow the owner to tie the pen case to something and 2) be annoying and get caught in stuff.

The other pen cases were small and sleek and carried only a few pens and pencils and cost their users several points. (Only a few? Really? Here’s “only a few” points. Your homework: go buy some pens.)

The fuzzy My Melody and the fuzzy Hello Kitty pen cases lost points for being fuzzy and obvious. At the least the My Melody appeared to stand and to hold a lot of pens.

If Japanese phones and tablets didn’t have built in audible “shutter” clicks on their cameras (even in manner mode) I’d have quietly taken some pictures. (Now that I think about it, I should have taken some video. Maybe next time.)

Of course, I could also ask permission to take pictures of all these, but that might make me seem kind of creepy.


Special Delivery With Scattered Inventory

The variety room could best be described as 1) earthquake aftermath, 2) where the stolen mail goes or 3) signs of struggle.

This means I’m either the most disorganized ink dealer in the world or I’ve got more business than I expected. I definitely have more inventory.

Because I’m reselling inks that are, as of right now, only available in Japan and are, as of now, only produced in fits and starts by a company that knows they will sell locally and couldn’t care less about exports, I tend to have to acquire bottles of ink as they come available. My research method for this involves frequently checking the website and buying stuff when it’s no longer marked “sold out”.

I also tend to order a substantial amount of stuff I know will sell as the popular inks disappear quickly. When, I started this small little service, for example, the available “flavors” from the morning were unavailable by the end of the day. Other inks always seem to be available and I find myself as their biggest cheerleaders.

This acquisition method means I have stacks of ink, and the boxes they came, and the extra packing/protection material filling up a corner of the variety room.

A photo posted by DL on

This particular store has 20 flavors of ink in four series: Japanese Birds; Japanese Crustaceans; Japanese Insects; and Japanese Fungi. Each series has a variation of blue, orange, and brown, with other series having black, green and gold and each has a picture of the fungus/creature that inspired the color.

This means the stacks include pictures of insects. Given the insect friendly nature of the stacks, I should probably be worried that insects will see this as a welcome sign. For example, at the top of this picture you can see a pair of rhinoceros beetles: 

A photo posted by DL on

Rhinoceros beetle, Kabutomushi in Japanese, is an awesome brown ink, by the way, if you’re looking for such a thing…

I have a few packages to send out on Monday, and hope to convince a few more people they can’t live without the ink currently in a box in my office.

Someday, if sales remain consistent, I plan to approach the store for a better deal and a more regular inventory. (Slim chance, but worth a shot.)

In the mean time, I’ll be watching the website for more bugs and more fungi.




Once More into the Break

I resolved one challenge today, more or less, and then ended up starting a couple more.

I’ve mentioned before how I’ve been tinkering with Excel and MS Word to make files do what I want them to do and trade a lot of work and swearing now–Cortana, make this sh#t work–for only having to swear at the students then–work you little sh#t. (Something like that. Although, officially, nothing at all like that. Really.)

As expected, I found an easier way to do what I wanted to do and that, oddly made the linking unnecessary. I did it anyway because 1) it is still useful and 2) helps me satisfy two “work” days instead of one.

The project partially passed phase two in that the main file works on my tablet and the linked file works when everything is brought back to my desktop computer.

However, my success (in so far as it can be described as such) created a level of overconfidence that led me to try to fix something that isn’t broke. I’ve used the same spreadsheet to record and tabulate students marks since I started at the school. The form has gone through very little change as it does exactly what I need it to do. The only changes I’ve made were to record the scores in class using a tablet rather than recording marks on paper and entering them in computer later.

The problem with the latter system is that I often put off entering the marks until the last minute. However, the form does have a couple limitations, the main one being is that it can only handle one term at a time and there’s no way to keep a running score of how the student is doing for the entire year.

My confidence has led me to experiment with this. This means that I’ll have some “work” to do on Monday, and that the neighbors are probably about to learn a few new swear words.


The Less Laid Plans Often Go Well

One of my odd skills as a teacher is that the less I prepare, the better I usually am at my job.

One of my former colleagues called this form of teaching the “golden doorknob method”. This means that as soon as you touch the doorknob and open the door, the lesson suddenly comes to you and you put on a lesson that’s one part improvisation and one part pure luck.

Part of the secret is to always act as if what you’re doing was always part of the plan. For example, on a couple occasions in the past, as a result of bad note taking, I’ve started to write a lesson on the board only to have a student point out that they’d already done that the class before.

My usual response is something resembling a smile followed by “I know. I’m just trying to scare you” (whilst hiding my shock and fear lest the students see the former and smell the latter). At that point I give the students a short assignment that keeps them busy long enough for me to scribble together a plan on whatever piece of paper happens to be available.

Other tricks I’ve learned, when I’m not sure what has gone before, involve an impromptu “book check” where I grab the textbooks of my better students and see which parts of the book had been completed in past classes.

The most difficult situations, oddly, often involve plans. Despite my advanced preparation, no matter how slowly I work through a lesson,it often happens that a class burns through everything and finishes all the work 20 minutes before the end of class. They then, in only five minutes, burn through the extra assignment brought in case they finished early.

You may remember, back when you were a student, how slowly the final five minutes of a class seemed to take. I assure you, fifteen minutes is a lot worse when you’re a teacher.

This even happened at the demo lesson I gave at the open house of the school where I work. My entire lesson was over with 20 minutes to spare and I made a big “I meant to do that” performance and had them turn the speeches they’d done into conversations with a partner. (Remember, there were parents watching all this.)

Of course, every now and then these skills fail. That’s when it’s time for a short rest and/or writing assignment.

Perfection is the Ally of Making Work

When it comes to making things with Photoshop, I usually can’t stop tinkering. On days like today, though, that might actually be a good thing.

In the past I’ve done things like combine two pictures of our girls to get one photo with both of them looking good and in focus. I’ve also pasted in a face on She Who Must Be Obeyed to have all three of my girls looking at the camera at the same time. (This is nearly impossible, which makes many photos of them look like an album cover where no one smiles and at least one person is looking in the wrong direction.)

I’ve also, in fits of boredom, tinkered with photos of my friends to practice my photo editing skills. These “simple practice sessions” have resulted in a friend’s head being pasted on our oldest (back when she was our only) to show my friend holding himself as his own baby (that made sense at the time, more or less). The sessions also provided photographic evidence that a person involved in Canadian politics fathered Anna Nicole Smith’s child.

Today, though, my Photoshop powers were applied to evil purposes or, more specifically, my job. My plan was to whip together a simple waiter’s pad graphic to satisfy the terms of my imprisonment. However, that turned into something more complicated.

Once I got started, the perfectionist urge took over and instead of just drawing in a few lines and some numbers and hitting save I had to add a restaurant’s name at the top and a place for the waiter’s signature at the bottom and then I had to add a serial number.

It took more than an hour, but I suppose that satisfies my “work” day. (Keep in mind, I’d already premade this week’s “work” but couldn’t resist once I started playing.

Tomorrow, I’m tempted to add the graphic to a worksheet involving a waiter and customer. I don’t have to, but it will give me a head start on next week’s “work”.

Lots of Walking; Lots of Pens; Lots of Ink

Two amazing things happened today. A wife didn’t kill her husband and I didn’t buy anything.

Well, I didn’t buy much.

As I have become an unofficial tour guide for pen and stationery related locations in Japan, I met a couple today to show them around some good spots in Ginza and then lead them to Shinjuku where the real damage could occur.

I led them to the usual haunts: First we went to the way-too-trendy-looking Ito-Ya G and it’s more interesting cousin Ito-Ya K. After that I led them to Euro Box and its collection of vintage pens. This was where I was in the most danger as the husband was knowledgeable about which pens were worth the money and I started doing the math: don’t feed kids two weeks = one pen. (Something like that.)

At Euro Box, the husband spotted a pen he thought a friend might be interested in. This prompted several texts but then we moved to the Pilot Pen Station (which is apparently in its last days) and found a place for lunch.

Responses to texts arrived and I led them back to Euro Box where the pen was purchased and then back to Ito-Ya K where a converter was purchased. This interested me because the converters for older pens are hard to come by in the USA and the clerk was handing them out like candy. (I’ll have to go back and get more, I guess…)

Then it was off to Shinjuku and Kingdom Note. Since I am the unofficial distributor of Kingdom Note inks in Europe and the USA I was disappointed to see there were no flavors available I didn’t already have. My guest managed to acquire the last bottle of an OMAS ink the store had and we’ve declared that “The last bottle in Japan, if not the world”.

In fact, that may become one of my advertising points: Join Lively Pen Tours, find rare inks (disclaimer: rare ink finds are not guaranteed; in event of rash discontinue use immediately).

I also encouraged him to buy some brands of notebooks I like.

The gentleman’s wife was underwhelmed by all this, but had the patience of Job. This is good because the kind of advertising I don’t need is “See famous pen sites, buy an expensive pen, die at the hands of your spouse.”


The National Holiday Work Day Blues

Anything worth doing isn’t supposed to be easy, but I’m not sure if my making it difficult actually makes something worth doing.

Even though today is a national holiday here in Japan, I spent the bulk of the day working. If I do the work today, then I don’t have to do much work tomorrow. (Although, officially, I’ll totally be working hard.) Because the company I work for has decided to trap me at home during the days when I’m not assigned to the school where I work, I have to show some evidence of work tomorrow.

However, because I have other plans, I went ahead and did this week’s work in advance, sort of like someone preparing their meals for the week on Sunday so that all they have to do is unwrap and reheat for the next seven days.

The first part was easy: make a couple worksheets, make a badge graphic for a worksheet I won’t even need until almost a year from now and find a way to update the spreadsheets I’ve been using for over a decade and make the data they produce more robust and more easily accessible whilst making sure it’s usable on my tablet.

That’s where the difficulties began. My master plan was to create a system where I could simultaneously record speech scores and have the data linked to individual forms I could print and give the students. I also wanted to be able to change the formatting and fonts on a whim without having to change each individually.

A few hours later, I finally figured out the best way (thus far) to produce the forms for the students. There were a lot of web searches, a lot of experimentation and no small amount of swearing. In general, with things like this, I tend to learn as I go. I’ll struggle with one way of doing something and then finally figure out what I should have been doing.

Tomorrow, or the day after, I’ll sit down and probably figure out what I’ve been doing wrong. By then, though, I’ll have probably abandoned the project in favor of a different idea.