Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Post- and the Pre-

The sense of entitlement is pretty strong right now at the school where I work. This is mostly because we are in a between phase where there’s not much that can be done.

Last week was a full week, but it comes post-school trips which, as I’ve mentioned before, leaves the students feeling that school is something that interrupted their trip. and pre-midterm exams which means there are no clubs and it’s understood that there will be no homework.  It’s also understood that students are not supposed to be held after school as they should be home studying. (Insert canned laughter here.) That’s especially true this week, in the two days before the exams.

Making things even worse, my classes have no mid-term exams which means the students don’t take them that seriously until the end of the term when I do have an exam. Because of this, some students expect to have a free study session before the exams and are surprised when one is not forthcoming.

(Note: it is possible to get free study in my class, but it has to be earned by finishing work early.)

This leaves the more troublesome students feeling as if they don’t have to do anything because they feel as if they are untouchable. The school trip made them forget how school works and the mid-terms protect them from immediate consequences.

The result is one of my students insulting a colleague and then turning the word “magnetron” into a dirty word by reversing the “g” and the “n” in “magne” which makes it sound like a bad  Japanese word. This normally wouldn’t bother me that much as about a thousand years ago I was a teenage boy, but this kid isn’t in junior high school and wouldn’t drop the joke, even when I was trying to explain an assignment to the class.

I finally told him that if he didn’t stop saying the word he’d get in trouble. He played dumb, mostly trying to get me to repeat the word, but I finally got him to shut up when I told him no one was going to get a chance at free study until he stopped talking. (I also told him that if he asked “why” again I’d give everyone a writing project.)

I suspect that when the final project starts he and his partners will come up with some kind of lewd invention. That’s when the fun starts, though, as there will be no restrictions on how late I can keep them after school–the record is 6:30 p.m. if you’re counting–or how much homework I can give them. For example, I can have him write the bad word and the word “magnetron” 5,000 times.

And yes, I’ll either count them all or give him numbered sheets of paper so that he doesn’t have to count by himself.


What Plans May Come

As June arrives, despite all efforts to stop it, I already find myself thinking about the middle of June and the end of July.

The middle of June involves writing exams and recording listening sections and putting it all together. There’s also time spent recording listening sections for other exams and, on occasion, for the Japanese staff.

This means I’m already assembling the pieces of old exams and deciding what kind of work will be on my exam. Students pass around old exams–last year, apparently, there was real shock when the first listening was something different than expected–and we have to take care to change the test completely, or change enough answers to throw the students off.

For July I’ve already begun to plan how to spend the time during my house arrest, which starts at the end of July, after all my responsibilities at the school where I work have finished and the obligations the company I work for says I have begin. There are about 10 days of house arrest to fill before I start using up the part of my paid holidays that will be falling off at the end of my official employment year. (I started with the company in mid-August which means my holidays reset in August.)

I’ve chosen to wait 10 days because that means my “open” paid holidays meet up with the “planned” holidays my company gets to decide. (Long, long story there.)

To prepare for all this I’ve been assembling the projects I’m going to revise and submit and am writing them down in a book dedicated to the house arrest schedule.

There are also some house arrest days at the end of August and beginning of September before the start of actual work begins, but those aren’t as annoying as I’ll be preparing the for the start of actual work I’ll be able to escape from house arrest.

At least until the next school holiday when house arrest starts again.

What Sleep May Come

It has become a tradition in the school where I work to let sleeping students sleep, so long as those students don’t belong in the class where they are sleeping.

If they do belong to the class, they are woken up right away and sent to their seats.

If they don’t, as long as they are not in another student’s seat, we have fun trying to figure out how long they will sleep before waking up and realizing they are in the wrong room.

In my case the record is 15 minutes. Fellow students attempted to wake the student and, after he didn’t wake up, I checked to make sure he was breathing. Once I confirmed he was breathing, i started class. After 15 minutes he suddenly woke up and looked around. He seemed confused as to why there was a foreigner at the front of the class. Once he realized what my job was, he then looked around and realized he was in the wrong class. He then made production of getting ready slowly as if to prove he were still cool, rather than groggy looking with drool stains on his face.

As I’ve mentioned before, something like this happened to me last week. Two students arrived late, one after the other, as they woke up and realized they were not where they were supposed to be. At least one remained in a semi-awake state the remainder of the class as he’d clearly been woken up before reaching a proper level of REM sleep.

The other had apparently gotten a proper amount of sleep as he had a lot of energy. Unfortunately it was not positive energy. Just noisy energy.

I confirmed with my colleague that they had been asleep in his class and not running around the school. Mind you, it didn’t matter what they were doing. All that mattered was they were late.


Meat and Potatoes, More or Less

Sweet Sixteen it ain’t.

There isn’t much love for the 16th wedding anniversary. Even we didn’t do that much for it–I neglected to add it to our calendar as I was more concerned about national holidays–although, in our defense, we did, technically, celebrate it twice.

Even tradition isn’t a big fan of the 16th. The lists of traditional anniversary gifts are fairly detailed until the 15th wedding anniversary (lace, ivory, crystal, very small rocks), and then they skip to the 20th as if they are so shocked you’ve made it that far they don’t know what to say for a few years.

(Note the librarians at the Chicago Public Library seem to have recommended gravy boats as gifts but, well, yeah. Well.)

In our case, we already had a few bottles of wine on hand and She Who Must Be Obeyed stocked up on French bread and cheese, beer, and a few other side dishes.

However, our natural laziness resulted in an anniversary dinner of chicken nuggets, bread, cheese, beer and potato chips. (She Who Must Be Obeyed counted our beer festival trip as our wedding dinner.)

Because I felt we should do a little more I offered to cook pork steaks tonight. However, once again we opted for cheese, bread and potato chips as side dishes (which means, technically, I served mean and potatoes) along side wine and Guinness beer.

(Note: in our family, beer and wine count as vegetables.)

It turned out well. The pork steak was just at the edge of over-cooked (which means I over-cooked it) but the girls snarfed it down rather quickly.

She Who Must Be Obeyed also broke out a secret cache of cheese made from Yuzu and jalepenos–A near perfect beef food–and we enjoyed some quiet time together.

Next year is our 17th anniversary. Unfortunately, tradition won’t care for a few more years, which means I’ll need to start thinking of some original ideas.

Visit After Visit After Visit After Visit

One of the problems you have in the Japanese National Health Insurance scheme is that you eventually have to balance your own skepticism versus the doctor’s knowledge. This is especially true when the doctor is paid by the visit and not by the procedure.

The main effects of the latter are that doctors keep you coming back again and again for follow up appointments. Dentists have been known, for example, to clean a few teeth and then dismiss you whilst setting up an appointment to get a few more teeth cleaned. I’ve recommended that She Who Must Be Obeyed get a little more skeptical after a few dentist visits.

In my case, I’m balancing x-rays that even I think are scary versus the sense that I’m being milked for cash. I’m also weighing the amount of time I spend in the lobby waiting for five minutes of procedure and consultation.

A couple weeks ago, I ran out of patience with the wait, but this week I got in quickly and I was the only weakness in the system. I ran my hospital card through the machine, got the receipt and walked to the correct part of the hospital. It’s only when the receptionist asked me for a document and I gave her the wrong one and then someone brought the correct one that I realized I was in such a hurry I hadn’t waited for my hospital card to be spat out.

I only went to the appointment because the x-ray two weeks before had been obviously wore than the first one after I broke my toe. The recent x-ray, though,  looked much better than the last one but even I could see the unhealed part of the break. When the doctor scheduled another appointment I must have sighed in a knowing way and he assured me I only needed two more visits.

I didn’t tell him that he might only get one. And he’d only get that because seeing the bone worse off than it had been before scared me into doing more follow up than I’d planned.

Now I have to deal with glowing in the dark. Five x-rays in two months will do that to you.



2015 LE Edison Mina Extended–First Impressions

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Birth-Mark“, the protagonist, Aylmer, marries the beautiful Georgiana. She is perfect in every way except for a hand shaped birthmark on her face. (Body 10/personality 10/face 9.9). Aylmer obsesses over this one flaw and that ruins his perception of the rest of Georgiana.

That’s kind of how I feel about the Edison Mina Extended. It’s beautiful and elegant. It just has a scrawny neck and that ruins my perception of it.

The pen is the 2015 Limited Edition version of the Mina and is made from a gorgeous Denim Ebonite that won’t be available again for one year. Ebonite (hard rubber) is one of my favorite pen materials as it has a warmth to it that other pen materials don’t.

The pen is about 5.8 inches long when capped and 5.03 inches long when uncapped. This makes it slightly shorter than the regular Mina as, in order to add the production number to the finial, Edison Pens had to flatten the Mina’s normal rounded ends.

The Edison Mina Extended. You can see the production number and slightly flared end on the cap.

The Edison Mina Extended. You can see the production number and slightly flared end on the cap.

The pen is slightly flared at the ends which reminds me of the special pens expert Pen Spinners use (often in my class; long story). Edison also included a new style of nib, which, unfortunately, may be the cause of the fatal flaw. (Note: I’m terrible at pen spinning and have therefore never attempted to spin this pen, although the temptation is there…)

My biggest complaint, and it’s very close to being a deal breaker, is that to get the flare and the new nib style the pen is left with a surprisingly small section down near the nib. If I’m measuring it correctly it is only 8.4 millimeters, which is only 1 millimeter thicker than a woodcase pencil. As a result, I find myself holding it up by the threads.

Although the steel M nib is well tuned and writes well, the pen quickly worked its way into my “back up” pen case and out of the regular rotation.

In “The Birth-Mark” Aylmer’s obsession with Georgiana’s small flaw leads to tragedy. In this case it might lead to an early pen sale.

A close up of the Denim Ebonite.

A close up of the Denim Ebonite.

Either Damned or Cursed by a Positive Development

I surprised a teacher by telling him how good his class was. I’ll almost certainly regret that, but it is part of a plan.

In the past, when I’ve had bad classes I’ve done my best to report both good news and bad news. I do this because I recognize that having someone drag their problems into your work day can be a real pain as it used to happen to me more times than it should have. (More on that in another post.) It’s very easy to abuse that outlet and, over time, the homeroom teachers cringe as soon as one of us walks in the classroom.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that one of the times I brought good news, the teacher was happy I thought he might cry tears of joy. Mind you, his class was never good again, but I made his day at least once, and that good news helped me deliver bad news.

What’s unusual this year is that the homeroom teacher was the one who delivered the bad news. He told me the class were worse than my bad class last year as he visibly shuddered at the thought of teaching them.

However, they seem to be made up of mostly students from one of my better classes, albeit with a few unknown unknowns thrown in.  However, today they were pretty good and everyone did the writing and speaking (although i suspect one student cheated on the final speaking project). This is unusual enough for the first class after school trips that felt I should deliver this news to the homeroom teacher. At first he seemed to think I was lying, then he acted genuinely pleased that I’d brought good news.

Mind you, June is coming along with hot weather that is often accompanied by rainy season (note: it appears that it may actually rain during rainy season rather than before it in the season in which it rains.) When June arrives temperaments change. If nothing happens before summer, it almost always happens after.

Until then, I’ll keep saying nice things about the class every time they deserve it. Until it’s time to not be nice.


The Josephs Who Did Not Remember Pharoah

It may by the weather, or maybe I’ve added too much sugar back in my diet, but lately I’ve been in a mood at the school where I work.

Last week there were thrown papers and today I was pretty close to throwing them again when I taught the same lesson with a different class. (Luckily, a few students started moving about that time.)

For the second class today, I tried a different approach to that lesson and got better results, although with a class that behaves much better than the others.

Third period is when I started to see the effects of last week and when my mood started to manifest. Last week the high school second years were off to Okinawa, Kyushu or Shikoku as part of the school trip. They return as seasoned and weary world travelers who suddenly no longer feel the need to quietly endure the banalities of the local milieu.

I eventually dragged them through the lesson and had a few hours to recover and plan for the next lesson (and a few tomorrow).

Then sixth period rolled around and the students there suddenly forgot who I was and what I’m capable of doing when I’m in a mood.

First, no one had erased the board from the previous class. Although each class has designated board erasers, no one would fess up or accuse another. I told them that if I had to do it, I’d add time to the end of class. They forgot who I am and tried to call my bluff, making class 52 minutes instead of 50.

One student showed up with no paper, pencil or textbook. Every other word out of his mouth involved references to male genitalia and/or female body parts. I told him to shut up or get out.

Then, one by one, two missing students, who were apparently still asleep in their homeroom, slowly dragged themselves to class about 10 minutes late (more on things like that in another post).

Eventually, as I was working through the lesson, there came a point where I had to do some talking and try to elicit answers from the class. After a few attempts to do this, a lot of students weren’t listening so I implemented “Plan J” (named after a former colleague). I told them to translate every English word on one of pages into Japanese and that no one could leave until everyone was finished.

They eventually finished and then I assigned the homework.

The real surprise came when the bell rang and Mr Genitalia tried to leave. I reminded him he owed me two minutes. The prompted a reaction from the two who arrived late, as they’d missed the earlier drama.

The best part is, it isn’t even June yet. That’s when the real fun usually happens.


Remembrance of Ideas Past

Some of them are crappy ideas, but some of them are worth salvaging. That said, if they were such good ideas, why didn’t I remember them?

Since early May 2014 (in fact, I started May 2, 2014) at the recommendation of a podcaster I listen to regularly, I’ve been making daily lists of ideas. The ideas vary from blog post ideas, to article ideas, to business ideas, to ideas for other people. (Some of which I have passed on to those people.) This lets me test pens and ink (I always record both) and use up my stacks and stacks of inspiration.

The basic rules are that I have to produce at least 10 ideas a day and no single idea can be more than a couple lines in the notebook I’m using. I have to fill the page, which means I often end up with 12 or more ideas. I also have a rule that I have to catch up any days I miss before I can move on with the current day’s ideas. The record is 40 ideas after a record setting four days off.

I  haven’t counted, but I should be somewhere around 7,300 ideas.

I have taken breaks, especially during National Novel Writing Month and exam time at the school where I work. I have, unfortunately, made this a daily habit and not the morning habit I’d originally intended.

Also, there is some repetition of ideas as a good idea manages to resurrect itself a couple of times. (I pay attention to those.) And sometimes an idea gets repeated but transformed each time like the secret message in the Pass the Message game.

I alternate between lists of random ideas and lists focused on one topic (for example, improving smart phones, fountain pens, 10 ways to improve Japanese pen shows, and dealing with clutter).

Where I’ve failed is on mixing and matching the ideas to create new ideas. For example, combine gourmet pizza delivery with gourmet ink to get a service that delivers gourmet inks. You request the blend, we deliver. I wrote that down as idea number 6 on August 22, 2014. (Now, of course, someone else is doing something similar.) For all I know, we both stole it from someone else.

Note: I don’t get annoyed when things like that happen. It tells me I’ve got some good ideas. I either need to act on them or just start posting them for others to use. 

The next phase is to implement more of the blending and mixing. I’ve decided to dedicate Sundays to doing nothing but pulling random ideas out of the old notebooks and playing with them to see what I can make from them. That’s how I discovered the one that came true and that I’d passed the two year anniversary.

There’s still the problem of storage of all the old notebooks. I’ll have to come up with some ideas for dealing with those.


Dust and Sun and Sports

I didn’t call someone an asshole today, although I did think that’s what they were. I also suggested to the man next to me that we throw plastic bottles at them to get them to sit down.

I actually consider this an improvement as it means I may actually be maturing.

I grant you, though, the evidence for this maturity is open to interpretation.

Today was sports day at our youngest’s school. My job was to arrive early with a tarp and claim our place in the shade. I managed to secure a prime location that provided shade until after lunch (and then put the sun behind us rather than in our faces). Because it was at the edge of a raised garden, it also provided a step that served as a comfortable place to sit.

Our  youngest participated in several events: the 100 meter dash (last in her heat after getting caught unprepared by the starting pistol); a couple dances; a gymnastics performance that involved athletics and dirt; and long relay.

Her team finished last (out of two) by 10 points.

(Note: I do not understand how the points are given but every place seems to get ponts.)

Although I found a place in the shade, I sacrificed by usual photo spot.

This worked out, though, because a few people near the front were standing. Even worse, they were blocking the lane our youngest would be in. I mumbled a few swear words and noticed the guy next to me was annoyed by them, too. That’s when I recommended chucking PET bottles at the people standing in the way. Oddly, he seemed to think this was a good idea, or at least gave it a moment’s thought.

In the end, I just moved to a better angle. That was probably for the best.