The Problem with Faith

Why do I get so upset when people believe in something like ID? Faith is important in many peoples' lives, so why can't we just live and let live? This is a question that was recently asked by a friend of mine who is generally smarter than I am. It's been bothering me for a while now, so I feel I have to get out an answer.

Let me try to explain the problem I have with faith. Faith is belief without proof. Religions teach people from an early age that faith is a virtue and doubting is a sin. This is one of my biggest issues with religion. Faith is NOT a virtue. Blind belief should not be something that people respect. I understand that faith in some things makes sense, but faith in and of itself is not a good thing. Respecting faith because it's faith is akin to tolerating intolerance.

Faith is what empowers suicide bombers. Faith is what keeps stem cell research from its potential. Faith is what encourages people with AIDS to not use contraception. And in any of those three previous statements I could have used a different word: Ignorance.

If there were a god and He were truly wise and just, I find it impossible to believe he would not reward intelligent skepticism more than blind faith. On the subject of ID, this same friend said that many rational people believe in ID to some extent. If there really are plenty of rational people who believe in ID, then there really are only two explanations. The first is that they don't really know what ID is. I explained previously that it is creationism re-branded. I was not exaggerating. If they know that and still believe it then they might as well believe the world is flat because I don't know how to talk someone out of that much crazy. The second explanation is that they believe in a creator of some sort that had a hand in designing us. A belief in god is not something I'm going to attack in this post, but denial of evolution is just ignorant. I see the options as a few categories.

1. The person believes in creationism. The earth is only a few thousand years old, etc.
2. The person believes that there is a god or designer who designed all that exists. The person denies evolution for the most part or totally.
3. The person believes there is a god or designer who may have had a hand in evolution. The person does not deny evolution, but thinks god helps it along with some greater purpose (humans ... or perhaps bananas).
4. The person believes evolution has happened without the need of any divine intervention.

I believe anyone in the 1 and 2 category is severely deluded. The rational people my friend spoke of must be those of group 3. I think that those in this category suffer from a earth-is-the-center-of-the-universe complex and a lack of education in genetics and evolution, but certainly these people are rational and just a few books and perhaps a bonk on the head will land them in category 4. Basically, if you deny evolution in favor of a biblical explanation, you are not rational.



An Interview with Dawkins

This is a pretty good interview that covers some important points. The questioner is kind of a douche who clearly hasn't read anything by Dawkins, but he's polite enough to let the man talk. Enjoy!
Part 1:

Part 2:


Merry Christmas

And for your viewing pleasure... Cosmos

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Peace out.


You've got to be kidding me

This is one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen in politics. Words fail me.


A Concise Annihilation of Intelligent Design

Let me explain to those who aren't quite solid on this topic. It's very simple. Evolution is science and Intelligent Design is not. I think it is really important for everyone to understand this, because there are a lot of very powerful and rich people making a lot of noise in the name of ID and Creationism right now. In fact, an ID propaganda film starring Ben Stein is coming out early next year. Click here for a rather scathing pre-screening review. Anyway, on with the annihilation.

1. Intelligent Design is Creationism. You know: Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, man and dinosaur living together. That's all there is to it. It isn't some new theory spawned by scientists with some top secret evidence proving wrong evolution. It is Creationism re-branded. The Dover trial, in December 2005, included some remarkable revelations about the book intended for use in the teaching of ID. Upon investigation of the previous versions of the manuscripts for this book, the prosecution discovered that the earliest versions, until 1987, looked a lot like creationist books. So they wrote a script counting the number of times the words "creation" "creationist" etc appeared vs the number of times words like "designer" or "intelligent design" appeared. The results were a remarkable 1:1 trade off in 1987 switching from all creationist to all ID. Why 1987? Because that is exactly when the Edwards vs Aguillard trial resulted in making it illegal to teach Creationism in schools. For a much better retelling of the story of this trial and how badly the Dover school board lost, click here.

2. Evolution is not random. The most common arguments against evolution by ID proponents go along these lines: "xyz is so complicated, it couldn't have evolved by random chance." And that's true! Evolution is not random! It is the process of natural selection. Whether that is through sexual selection, a slight advantage over a predator, a slight advantage over prey, better resistance to disease, or just genetic drift caused by any number of things, it is not random. Now lets take an example of a made up creature, the burbox. If a burbox has a child who is slightly more attractive than other burboxes, lets say through a brighter purple horn, it may get the chance to mate more than the competition. Over time (many generations) it's possible that almost all burboxes will have developed a brighter purple horn. Now many may say, "but that is random! What are the chances that a burbox would evolve the more attractive purple horn!?" But this is the wrong question! Think of it this way. If you have 100 random letters, the chances that a given letter is 'A' is 1 in 26. Okay, so what are the chances that in that sequence, you'll spell the word 'CAT'. Pretty low, right? Actually extremely low. What about the word "ELEPHANT"? Impossibly low. But again, this is the wrong question. Instead we should be asking, what are the chances that in those 100 letters, a word will be spelled? While the particular observed mutation has a low probability, a mutation actually has quite a high probability. If this is interesting to you, read some Richard Dawkins.

3. Stop saying things are irreducibly complex! This is the central argument of ID and it is related to the previous one claiming things are too complicated to happen randomly. This argument says that certain things that have evolved, like the human eyeball, are so complex that they could not have evolved. There are a few major problems with this. First of all, if you think this is true, you probably haven't done any research, and you probably have no imagination. Just because it seems impossible to you, does not mean it is impossible. The eye, in particular, has a well documented evolutionary path. And science doesn't pretend to have all the answers. Things are constantly being discovered and theories reworked. The most unbelievable thing about this argument is not just that they think these things are too complex to have evolved, but that they then jump to the conclusion that they must have been designed by someone! Now if that doesn't strike you as a logical fallacy, just ask yourself, "who designed the designer?" If you say, "no one, he is God!" then well, I think you just proved me right that ID is not science. This argument can be summed up like this (ill use the Eye example. Notice the logical fallacy even if their assumption was true.):

X is true [the eye exists]
(bad) Assumption:
Y does not imply X [evolution did not bring about the eye]
Z implies X [a designer must have done it!]

Whaa?! Where did Z come from?! I guess one of their assumptions must have been that Z is true [there is a God .. oops, i mean designer], but even with that as GIVEN, it does not logically lead to their conclusion. Can we finally move on here people? It is so ridiculous that this stuff is still a topic of conversation and people are trying to get it into the schools.

Please educate your friends and family. If you sit quietly while your friends believe this bullshit, you are part of the problem.


Embarrassed to be American

Evangelical Christians in America are constantly reaching new lows. This video is so ridiculous that to any rational person it would be comedy if they didn't know its true intentions. For those who don't want to watch or aren't link-click happy like I am, it's about a letter written from a kid named Josh who is going to hell (after his death) to his Christian friend Zach. Zach didn't tell Josh about Jesus and because of that Josh is going to hell. It's meant to guilt trip Christians into telling everyone they ever meet about Jesus and to scare those who don't believe into the heaven-hell ultimatum. This kind of propaganda really makes me sick.

And a teacher in North Dakota had the audacity to show this video to her health class. It appears a Jewish student in the class has a parent or two in a law firm. Oops!

Choice comments on the video on GodTube:


Thanks, asshole. Try the capslock button. And what exactly is JUST about punishing one man for another's lack of action?

it scared me at first to watch it.....than i relized tht i need to reach out to my lost friendz

I'm sick beyond the ability to create a PG response.

Just in case any (both?) of my readers think that this kind of unapologetic mindless evangelicalism is a rare thing, I think I must remind you that you are living in a dream. Just because the big cities on the West coast seem to be relatively lacking in the crazy department, doesn't account for the rest of the population, particularly the South.

I can't recommend enough this documentary [trailer here]. I really think everyone should watch it as soon as possible. It will shock you how things really are in America. I mean the comical creationist museum, which depicts man and dinosaur living together, had 250,000 visitors in 5 months!

Sane people, no matter their religion, should be appalled at this state of affairs and lack of rationality.


Today's cool stuff

First, imagine the tenth dimension. This is a very cool flash video about dimensions 1-10, and while it isn't the accepted way that string theorists think of the dimensions, it is still quite interesting and thought provoking. Link.

Monkeys are cool. Some chimps beat a bunch of college students in a memory test. I highly recomend that you watch the two videos in this article. The second one in particular blew me away. The chimp memorizes 10 numbers way faster than I could. Link.

A duck billed dinosaur was discovered with soft tissue in tact! This is huge and could change a lot about what people know about dinosaurs. Link.


Ron Paul

It turns out I might be a republican after all. I just never had seen a real one before. In a perfect world this man would win the nomination, but I'm not going to hold my breath. If you are voting in the primaries take a look at Ron Paul. He's the only one with any new ideas and apparently the only one who reads history out of all the republican candidates. Limited government, non-intervention foreign policy, lower (zero) taxes, no IRS, no department of homeland security (yay!) ect ect.

He's extremely consistent (for those anti-flip-floppers) and has always voted against the war in Iraq and raising taxes.

He's the only republican candidate who is against the war (70% of the American public are now against the war ... what are the other 30 thinking?). He's the only one who seems to realize that it is our foreign policy that has caused the hatred toward our country. The other republicans take a cheap shot at that and accuse him of saying we caused 911, but if they'd take their heads out of their asses and listen, they'd understand that we caused the hatred, and the hatred caused the attacks. It's really frustrating to watch these debates sometimes, but at least he's doing well on the internet (so was Colbert, so a lot of good that does).

As Bill Maher said, it's unusual to hear this kind of logic from someone who is actually going to be president.

Check it out:

There are a lot of youtube videos of him. Enjoy.

EDIT: I was really tired last night when I wrote this and now I admit that I really haven't done a whole lot of research on RP. I'll look more into him and post again later. But I do stand by the fact that he is the coolest republican candidate.


The Fragility of Ecosystems

This is stolen from John Hawks Anthropology Weblog.

Darwin on the food chain:

From the Origin, second edition, pp. 73-74:

I have, also, reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease (Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. From experiments which I have lately tried, I have found that the visits of bees are necessary for the fertilisation of some kinds of clover; but humble-bees alone visit the red clover (Trifolium pratense), as other bees cannot reach the nectar. Hence I have very little doubt, that if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that "more than two-thirds of them are thus destroyed all over England." Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, "Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice." Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!


TED talks and why TV is the new tobacco

We live in an amazing time. Just a few years ago the only access for a layperson to inspiring information from cutting edge science and technology was.. nothing. Books were out of date, and not everyone can go back to school. But now the internet is finally achieving what TV never could. Good intelligent content is not being overrun by mainstream pop culture. They can live in parallel. The niche markets of the internet are huge and growing. I read about interesting new inventions, scientific discoveries and interesting political opinions and debates every day. I credit my newly found intellectual connectivity not to blogs, although that's where most of my information comes from, but to RSS. I read hundreds of headlines a day in mere minutes and pick out about 10 articles or blog posts to read. This takes me just an hour a day and I learn so much more than what I would get from an episode [popular hour long TV show].

I think the Hollywood writers strike is a great opportunity for everyone to finally cut their TV watching habits. Do you really need to see the shows you watch? Why TV? There is so much more quality content on the web without the interrupting commercials. If you desperately need to see a show, wait for it to come out on DVD and netflix it. I have no qualms with this service, used in moderation (no more than 2 at a time!) I understand that some shows, like movies, can be intellectually and emotionally fulfilling as well as a good time killer. But I think TV is a seriously horrible thing. I think of it as I think of smoking. It is a waste of time and money. It isn't good for you, but won't really hurt in moderation. Where smoking pollutes with smoke and chemicals, TV pollutes with noise (especially commercials). Both are antisocial; sure you can do it with your friends, but is that a good argument for smoking? What about your non-smoking friends that you force to breath your smoke or listen to your sports channel?

Going to a restaurant with a TV playing (especially with sound) is as annoying for me as sitting in the smoking section. I can't concentrate on my own thoughts let alone a conversation. Sure I could try to ignore it, and I do, but at the end of the day when I'm tired from work it's hard and frustrating. And frankly I shouldn't have to.

Japanese TV is so horrible. It is complete trash. I often get youtube links from friends in America with clips from TV shows here that are amusing, but a few amusing sketches does not make up for the horrendous editing, directing, acting and mindless chatter that spews out of NHK. Dramas are the only saving grace of Japanese TV, and even those, like anime, quickly become tiresome when you see enough to establish the cliches and you realize that each new show is just a rehashing of old ideas with and characters.

American TV's strength is what makes it worse, in my opinion. In Japan the TV is easy to not watch. It is so bad that I never even consider watching it. But American TV has quite a bit of good content. The great satire of Comedy Central and FOX [the Daily Show, Colbert Report, South Park, the Simpsons, Family Guy], and the addictive dramas of today [24, House, Grey's Anatomy ...] make it hard to not watch TV. But I challenge you to do just that. The Daily Show is mostly available online now, as is the Colbert Report. Rent your favorite dramas and shows with netflix and save time and money! Stop buying into the currupt cable companies that artificially raise prices. Say no to intrusive advertising and yes to useful content generated ads that you will actually use from time to time.

If you don't know where to look for good content on the web, let me point you in a very good direction. I spend most of my time watching talks, seminars, reading design, tech and science blogs, and occasionally a few comics. Recently I came across what is what I consider the most inspiring, informative and stimulating collection of videos I've ever seen. They're called TED talks. TED is a meeting once a year of 1000 remarkable people and each one gives an 18 minute talk. I've watched about 30 and over half have been good enough to recommend to everyone. Here is a list broken up by category. Watch at least one please. They are all about 18 minutes on average. Please leave comments!

Bonobos, Chimps, and the Origin of Man.
Susan Savage-Rumbaugh: Apes that write, start fires and play Pac-Man
Jane Goodall: What separates us from the apes?
Zeresenay Alemseged: Finding the origins of humanity
I love just about anything in this catagory and all these are well worth a watch. Check out just how amazing Bonobo's and Chimps are in the first two videos. I promise you'll learn something new. Also, listen to the guy who found the oldest child ancestor of modern humans and why that is so important to our understanding of evolution.

The Human Brain.
Jeff Hawkins: Brain science is about to fundamentally change computing
Vilayanur Ramachandran: A journey to the center of your mind
I love reading about neuroscience as much as I love reading about paleoanthropology. And in case that doesn't mean anything to you, that means I love it a lot. The first one is Jeff Hawkins (famous for designing all kinds of hand held devices), who has a great new way of looking at how the brain works. The second is about new discoveries in how the brain works based on rare brain injuries and their bizarre results. I think these two videos have changed my outlook on things more than any other TED talks. Truly amazing.

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?
This is a great video about why we should be concentrating less on math and science and more on dance and the arts in school. This really clicked for me and I really got chills at the end. I never learned how to draw or paint. I never learned how to dance or sing. I had to choose and go way out of my way to study music. Is there a reason why learning Geology in elementary school is required but no one ever taught me any pencil shading techniques? I could go on all day on this one alone.

Architecture and Design.
James Howard Kunstler: The tragedy of suburbia
This is a great and funny talk about the horrible state of American suburbia. Anyone who has been to Europe or, well most of the world outside of the US, knows that there are amazing places in almost every city or town to hang out. These places are not malls, but natural city centers created by good architectural design and city planning. I love architecture, design and the idea of city planning, so this one really hit home for me. I also love the way things are set up in Europe. Japan, unfortunately, is another story.

Greener Design in Buildings and Cities.
William McDonough: The wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle
Once again I love the idea of city design. I always had a dream to do a real life sim city type of thing except to make everything really good for the environment and create a really great place to live for everyone. I always thought it was a far fetched idea, though, because no one can create a city from scratch without a government helping them out. Well, it turns out China is the one doing just that.

Global Warming and Green Tech.
John Doerr: Seeking salvation and profit in greentech
John Doerr gives a great and emotional talk about how many great things have been happening in regard to green tech, and why it's still not enough. One amazing example was Walmart going green. I hadn't heard about this, but it certainly has changed my impression of the "evil" giant.

Old Laws Governing a New Medium.
Larry Lessig: How creativity is being strangled by the law
This video really describes the problem with the way the government and big corporations are looking at digital content. It kind of speaks for itself. If this kind of thing interests you, it is a must see.

The Third World Myth.
Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen
This is great. It really shows a new way to look at statistics and how things have changed drastically in countries like China recently. Also a good tech demo. For those of you who think that the "third world" still suffers from short life expectancy and extremely low income, check this out.

Energy and Biology.
Juan Enriquez: Why can't we grow new energy?
Good video about how we really haven't advanced much in energy production and we really should reevaluate what energy is and how we can make it.

Fabrication and Building things with DNA
Neil Gershenfeld: The beckoning promise of personal fabrication
Paul Rothemund: Casting spells with DNA
These talks overlap a little because the guys are working in the same group. This has huge implications. I am most fascinated by the DNA building blocks and programming because I think this is truly a huge step toward a Star Trek style replicator. I predict by 2050 we'll have 3D printers in every home and in another 50 years replicators that can make food (although I think not out of thin air).

Pandemics and hope for the future.
Larry Brilliant: TED Prize wish: Help stop the next pandemic
This video is really inspiring. I don't have a whole lot to comment on, but I really think you should watch.

Photosynth Tech demo.
Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Jaw-dropping Photosynth demo
This is amazing. I think Photosynth really has potential to change the computing world. Imagine if you could go anywhere from your computer just by harnessing the power of the millions of photos from everyone on the internet. Imagine the power here. You could potentially tour a city before going there, or see what things look like in real life instead of just the map. Integration with a mapping program would be the ultimate here, but you could take it one step furthur and allow time travel into the past. Images tagged with dates could allow you to see buildings that are no longer there or see how a landscape has changed over time.

"Self Aware" Robots.
Hod Lipson: Robots that are "self-aware"
These robots are programmed to figure out their own structure by experimentation and then they have to figure out how to move. It kind of reminds me of the game coming out Spore where you can create a creature and the game figures out based on the limbs you give it how it should move.

Marketing and Design.
Seth Godin: Sliced bread and other marketing delights
David Pogue: When it comes to tech, simplicity sells
Seth Godin really tells it well for those of you interested in starting a business or anything like that. The basic idea is that in the modern market, ordinary doesn't sell. You have to be remarkable or you'll be ignored. Playing it safe is risky. Then comes David Pogue (NY Times video blogger/comedian) who gives a funny talk basically just bashing Microsoft and Praising Apple for design choices. It wasn't too informative but I found it entertaining.

Cheap Architecture for the Third World
Cameron Sinclair: TED Prize wish: Open-source architecture to house the world
Good story of how the internet can really do amazing things. Not much to say here, just watch it for yourself.

Ways the World Could End.
Stephen Petranek: 10 ways the world could end
This is 30 minutes and fairly interesting, but you probably won't learn anything new.


Partial Virtual Reality

I've always wanted to design games. I am constantly writing down ideas for games and trying to design new ones in the hope that some day I'll have to power and money to get them made. One game idea I had a long time ago in high school I haven't given much thought since then. Basically, it's just a shooter that you can play online from the computer or any console (I knew consoles would get connected sooner or later) and everyone would play together despite the different medium. But what I reaaally wanted was to have real life arenas like laser tag where people would wear VR helmets. They can see all the terrain and real people, but they can also see virtual people playing from the PC's or consoles and they can see explosions, items ect. probably with some opacity to keep it safe. I think this would really drive up the laser tag industry and I know people would pay to play.

The reason this came back to mind was Façade. There is this VR social game where you interact with virtual people in a real environment. I think this is the closest thing I've seen to my idea ever. Pretty exciting. It's definately not a shooter, but its a step in the right direction for VR. Why recreate the whole environment when adding to it would be easier and much prettier. It's like a movie I once saw (can't remember what it was) where the guy had this old house he wanted to renovate and he had painted a picture on glass so when you stand at the right angle you can see his vision. Except in VR you're always standing at the right angle!


お誕生日会 The Birthday Assembly

Today I went to one of my favorite schools. This school is great because the kids are good and I do almost no work. The English adviser is really professional and does all the preparation, and I play with the kids almost all day. I always feel exhausted and happy when the day is over. The only hard part is balancing my time spent with the 1st-2nd grade crowd vs the time with the older kids.

Today was お誕生日会. Quick Kanji Lesson! Skip if you don't care!
=== Start Lesson! ===
お誕生日会 = おたんじょうびかい = O TA N JO U BI KA I
お, or 'O' is a polite prefix. This is Hiragana, not Kanji.
誕生日, or 'たんじょうび', or 'TANJOUBI' is birthday (OU is a long O sound, not a diphthong)
会, or 'かい, or 'KAI' is meeting, assembly, gathering, etc. It's also the root of the verb 会う, or 'AU' which means to meet.
=== Lesson over! ===
Every month of the year, this school has a birthday assembly. They seem to always fall on Thursdays, which is the day I am usually at this school, so I have seen quite a few of them. All the students gather in the gym and the ones born in that particular month come to the front. They sing a catchy song with crammed in lyrics based on the month - one part crams 10 syllables into 5 eight notes (十一月に生まれた, 'those born in november'). Then the piano goes into a soft background melody reminiscent of Mr. Rogers and one by one a student announces the names of the students rhythmically, followed by their response (HAI!) and everyone claps three times. It's all quite cute and very well organized (by the strict music teacher).

During the song, the principal takes a picture of each student. After the song, each birthday boy and girl is asked a question. The question is different each month - The one right before summer vacation asked what they are going to do and why, and today's asked what comedian/performer they like and why. One of the sixth grade boys does it like an interview. He announces the question once and gives an example of how to answer, then he gets on his knees and holds his hand out like a microphone in front of the students one by one. If they freeze up he says something like '特にないそうです' which basically means the person has nothing special to say. The whole thing is very charming and I really wish I could better share the experience. I don't think a video from my little camera would capture it well enough.

I hope I'm there when they do it in January! Teachers join in!


The state of the web

We’re so far from state of the art, we can’t even see the state of the art from here.
-Douglas Crockford on the state of the web
I can remember when I was a freshman in college I though I should make a new web browser and a new standard to replace HTML with something that supports modern advanced graphics and user interaction along with server interaction (like AJAX). The standards we use that govern the stale beauty of the web are all at least 8 years old. There has not been any real innovation in browsers or web standards and the web continues to fall behind the cutting edge every day. Some may point to AJAX as innovation, but it took 5 years after being implemented for people to discover it. AJAX was discovered because web developers were up against a wall. The web lacked the ability to move further and allow innovation and people began digging deep into the code to get every last drop of functionality.

Let's be realistic. All AJAX does is allow transfers from the browser to the server and back without reloading the page. That's it! The fact that people (myself included) were excited when AJAX was discovered is a sign that we really were up against the wall. But we didn't break down the wall. We just moved it back a few inches.

Since it's discovery, the web has been populated with richer applications, but the browsers weren't designed for these heavy applications. Things are getting as big as they can, and this is about as good as it will get. We are back up against the wall, and there is no way to break it down. Computers get faster and graphics are more amazing now than ever, but the browser cannot and will not take advantage of that power without some major changes.

The Solution: A New standard
Let's say all the brightest people get together and make a new standard. It will kill the horrible mess that is HTML, CSS, and Javascript.
Problem #1: Different Browsers
A new standard would have to be implemented by all the major browsers. This is yet to happen for simple things like CSS and it is very unlikely that a huge overhaul would be accepted by all the major browser makers.
Problem #2: Current websites and developers
It's a miracle! All the major browsers decided to upgrade to the new standard! Oh wait, none of the websites take advantage of it. People still code for the same thing they have been all this time! The next major hurdle is convincing the world of developers and basically the whole world to come to the new standard. Sounds unlikely, but let's roll with it.
Problem #3: Old browsers
Another miracle: The entire business world is onboard! Unfortunately a large percentage of people on the web do not upgrade their browsers regularly. In fact, a large amount of people still use IE 5.5 and 6!! The estimation Crockford gives for these people to either upgrade their computers or die is about 5 years. FIVE YEARS!! That's like 35 dog years and a whole lot of time in the computer industry.

Another solution: Proprietary
There are great advantages to a proprietary internet.
  1. The portal (browser) could be updated at any time to stay state-of-the-art.
  2. There is only one source of bugs for developers to worry about, rather than all the major browsers (and old versions).
But the problem is that it might not be free, and that it will not be open. The openness of the web is a big (lonely) win. Another problem is that even if this did happen and it was well done, it does not replace the internet. Few developers would develop for both the web and this proprietary solution, and given the choice between the two, the bigger is best for business.

The New Standard Revisited:

So it's going to take 5 years for people with IE 5.5 and 6 to drop dead? So we better have something done before then! Here are the things we have to address:

  • Support on all major browsers. This is unavoidable and I don't think this is impossible. I think it is very difficult, but with a great standard that addresses all these problems, it might just happen.
  • Backwards compatibility to not leave old browsers in the dust. I don't see the problem here, honestly. Here are the four cases
    • Old sites on the New browser: This isn't a problem. The new updated browser will support old sites AND new sites.
    • Old sites on the Old browser: Not an issue.
    • New sites on the New browser: Not an issue.
    • New sites on the Old browser: This is the only real issue. One solution is to code the site twice and give the old style site to the old browser, but a better solution would be to have a create the new standard in such a way that it can be trivially (automation) translated into the current HTML / CSS / Javascript mess we rely on today.
  • Future compatibility. The reason all this is necessary is that the web is built on standards made by people who either didn't think ahead, or didn't think ahead far enough. The email standard is taken from a bunch of researchers who didn't care about security because they didn't have to (only a handful of people were connected at the time). The new standard needs to be created in such a way that new additions and corrections can be added without too much hassle. I don't really know how this can be done between behemoth companies and the 4 or 5 major browsers, but anything is possible.
  • Mobiles! The standard should keep in mind the mobile world.
  • Graphics and interaction. The standard should be able to take advantage of high end graphics while not limiting or crashing slower computers. Scalable graphics? High end sites?

So this is a pretty bleak outlook on the future of the web, but that's the way it is. I might come back and edit this later when I think of more (smarter) things to say. It's midnight and I'm tired! Comments are welcome.


Wash your hands (and other stuff).

From Boing Boing:

How to wash your hands:

1) Turn on the water and get it to a temperature you like.
2) Lather up using soap. (Soap does not kill germs. A bar of soap is a great medium for growing germs. The surfactant action of soap helps the running water flush the germs away. That's how it works. It's purely mechanical. Antibacterial soap is a waste of time and money, and just helps breed antibiotic-resistant bugs.)
3) Rub your hands vigorously together, paying special attention to the fingernails, getting up onto the wrists, for as long as it takes you to sing one stanza of The Star Spangled Banner or two verses of Little Mattie Groves.
4) Rinse off the soap with the running water.
5) Dry your hands with a paper towel.
6) Use the expended paper towel to turn off the water.


Read a good quote recently..

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
- GK Chesterton

Reminds me of a lot of the Ender's Game series. I can really only recommend Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow to people. Also the De Vinci Code, although I haven't finished it. I always felt this way about sci-fi and fantasy. This is why it is hard for me to read one author for very long: The author bleeds through the text and I feel like I'm reading someone else's fantasy.

I need another good book to read. Thanks Jen and Kai for the Mark Twain book! I recommend A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court to everyone.


I'm really looking forward to Leapord. I may not be able to afford a new Mac for a while, but that's ok. Here is a list of the 300 some features in the new OS. Of course things like Spaces and Time Machine are awesome, but I already knew about those. One of the notable small features I just discovered:
  1. Japanese-English Dictionary

    Translate English to Japanese and vice versa. This capability is now built into the Leopard Dictionary.

  2. Japanese Language Support

    In Leopard, the Dictionary application supports the Japanese language right out of the box, with an industry-leading Japanese dictionary and thesaurus provided by Shogakukan. The dictionary contains over 200,000 words with rich descriptions and examples, and the thesaurus contains 25,000 words covering 6,000 categories.


I've started using Google Reader for my RSS feeds. Until now I've actually been checking all my individual blogs and sites for updates, but the list just keeps getting longer and longer. If you're like me and you check a ton of sites each time you log in, you should just get an RSS reader to show you all the updates in one place. To add a subscription just put the URL of the site and it will find the RSS feed for you (if there is one). If you don't check a whole lot of sites, well, let me give you a few things from my list:

XKCD - A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language. Amazing.

Penny Arcade - A webcomic for gamers. Usually too inside-jokey for me but sometimes great.

John Hawks weblog - A blog of paleoanthropology, genetics, and evolution. Always interesting and updates regularly.

Things of Interest - Some good short stories. I discovered this recently. Good stuff.


The Difference

Check this out for a nice short sci-fi read. Found it through XKCD.


No means no!

Translators take a lot of liberties. Not everything translates directly from one language to another. Let's take one of the first words we English speakers learn as children: "No"

All of these Japanese words can, at times, be translated as "no."

いいえiieNo [opposite of yes]. Sometimes "you're welcome" as in "it's nothing"
ううんuunThe casual form of いいえ.
Example: "Do you have a pen?" "No"
だめdameNo [it is forbidden]. Also can mean "it's no good" to express failure.
Example: A mother to a child who tries to do something bad: "No!"
いやiyaNo! Expressing disgust or strong prejudice.
Example: A guy tries to kiss a girl who doesn't like him: "No!"
違いますchigaimasuNo [it's different]. Often used with いいえ.
違うchigauThe casual form of 違います.
Example: Guessing the card "is it this one?" "No"
そんな事ありませんsonna koto arimasenNo [that is not so]. Expresses firm belief that it is not so. "That" is a verbal concept.
そんな事ないsonna koto naiThe casual form of そんな事ありません.
Example: "Japanese has more words than English" "No [it doesn't]"

Other examples of words with many translations are "me" and "you." This gives many Japanese people the impression that Japanese has more words than English, but in reality, English probably has more words than any other language (not counting languages where you can put words together to make new words).


Why I wear old clothes

I haven't bought any clothes since I moved to Japan. That means everything I wear I either got for Christmas, or I brought from the US over a year ago. Why? Is it because I'm too poor/cheap to buy new clothes? No! I go shopping for clothes quite often. But I always come back empty handed. I drew a diagram to explain part of the problem: selection!

A typical Japanese mall has a horrible ratio of men to womens clothing. Half the men's clothing is brand name suits and other ridiculously expensive things I can't afford, and the other half is thickly coated with Japanese 'hip' style (my favorite new addition: fake double shirts. It looks like layered shirts but its really just one! why God why?). There is usually more space devoted to furniture in a MALL than men's clothing. And to make things even better, on the rare occasions I actually do find something decent, it rarely fits. But I suppose that's my problem.


Someone call the patent office

So I haven't been posting lately because I feel like I'm in the middle of my vacation summary, but I just don't feel like writing anymore about it. So I guess it's over.

Anyway. I had an idea today for a feature I would love to see in advanced cell phones.

GPS + Voice Recognition

Think of it. First, you mark places with custom labels such as home, work, the movie store, or any place. The location can be marked with multiple points and serves as a general area.

Then you can tell your phone something like this:
"Remind me when I leave work to call Jane" or "Remind me when I get home to clean the bathroom"

It would listen for the words you used to mark the locations, and key words like "when" and "leave" and it could just repeat the recording at the time the event occurs. "Remind me [when] I [leave] [work] to --> call Jane <--" When the GPS detects the phone has left "work" it buzzes and says "call Jane"

Of course you wouldn't even need GPS for some obvious things. I wish setting alarms was this easy:
"Remind me at 5pm tonight to go home!" or "Wake me up at 7 tomorrow morning"

These things are all quite possible with modern technology. For once I really hope someone steals my ideas.


Vacation Part 2: Bremen

From Germany we took the train to Bremen, Germany. It is one of the few cities in Northern Germany to not be heavily damaged during the war. Below is the train station, which I thought looked cool enough for a picture.

This building is (I think) what used to be the Rathaus or government center. It is right across from the church (two towers visible in the following picture) and in the middle of the famous town square. We ate lunch across from this building and the church. It seems like everyone eats lunch outside in Germany, which I really like with the weather we had. I never see this in Japan, especially in Tokyo. I once went to a beer garden in Shinjuku, but it was on the top of a building.

The building at the end of this street is the one in the picture above, and the two towers are the church. I love wide open streets with shops that aren't cluttered by cars. This is another great European tradition I wish I saw more of in Japan and America.

This windmill was visible from a bridge . There are paintings set up larger than a person that seem like they might still be in progress. Very pretty.

Window shopping for meat and cheese. The vast array of meats, cheeses and breads made me miss Germany before even getting off the plane. I found myself looking in bakeries all around where I lived only to leave each one empty handed and disheartened. I suppose it could be the water or humidity that prevent good bread from being made if it didn't last very long. At least I hope there's a good reason, because the bread here just doesn't cut it.

More to come!


Vacation Part 1: Amsterdam

I've been busy lately. It all started over a month ago when I went to Nagano to teach for 4 days. I had a great time but it was a lot of work. The man who hired me put me up in his guest room and his wife fed me three big healthy and delicious meals a day. I taught three groups: 2nd grade (with some 1st graders), 5th grade and 4 old ladies (one of them not so old). This ran about 6 hours a day in 2-2.5 hour classes. It was exhausting, but rewarding at the same time.

The day after getting back from Nagano, I flew to Amsterdam. This is the view from the hotel room:

We walked around a lot and I noticed that Amsterdam is the dirtiest city I've ever seen. There are good reasons for this, like the huge amount of tourists, but that doesn't change the fact that I would never want to live there. I guess it falls in the same catagory as London and New York for me.

We stopped to brake our fast at a nice little place with some omelets on toast and some delicious coffee.
This is just a random picture of scenery around a canal. The canal systems were all planned and built a long time ago. There are four main arcs and some parallel canals that were built like a giant windshield wiper from one side to the other. The four main arcs all lead to the bigger body of water.
We toured the Heineken museum and had quite a few beers. I'm not the biggest fan of Heine but after the first two they start getting better and better. This brewery wasn't in use very long because Amsterdam expanded quickly after it was built and it was too hard to get trucks to and from it.


We saw other museums like the Rijk's Museum and the Van Gogh Museum. I liked the Rijk's Musuem but I'm not a huge fan of Van Gogh. I enjoy looking at old books and music, artifacts and some styles of paintings. I like Rembrandt and the Rijk's had quite a bit. After Amsterdam we went to Bremin, Germany. I decided not to come back to Amsterdam for the last leg of my trip because it was so expensive and dirty.


Internet Voting

My old computer security prof at UC Davis, Matt Bishop, was in the news. The University of California did a study on the security of California approved voting machines and it appears that the machines failed miserably. They were even hackable from the voting terminals themselves.

I'm sure that they are better than the machines used during the last presidential election, though. I did a project on voting machines for a computer ethics class about how bad the system was. Votes were tallied on node machines which were unprotected. The votes were tallied in an unencrypted text file. People in my class said they thought a big conspiracy of vote manipulation was far fetched. They missed the point that it would take just one person five minutes or less to change thousands of votes with notepad. Sorry.. too lazy to find links at the moment.


Some things to think about

This is a good article I came across just now: Losing My Jihadism.

I also read this blog every now and then because of posts like this.

Google is leading the way (followed by other big names like Yahoo!) in killing the horrible duopoly of internet service in the US by pledging to bid 4.6 Billion dollars on a new spectrum if the goverment forces the "owner of the spectrum bands to allow access to any device, meaning that users would not be locked into subscribing to a carrier in order to use a mobile device, such as a smartphone." I knew I wasn't the only one upset about having to choose between cable internet with TV I don't want and DSL with a phone plan I don't want.

The US candidates for the presidency are embracing technology to try and get their messages out and have meaningful debates that answer questions from real people. People sent a massive amount of videos into YouTube to ask the candidates real questions about a variety of issues. A small number are going to be played in a debate.

Meanwhile, Japan is still using campaign law from the 50's. The use of internet for campaigning is illegal in Japan. Here's a choice quote from a Japanese student: "YouTube is more casual; you watch music videos or funny videos on it, but if the government or any politicians are on the web it doesn't feel right." Give me a break! I don't even know where to begin on what's wrong with this statement. Instead, let me mend this quote for a bit of perspective: "The TV is more casual; you watch music videos or funny videos on it, but if the government or any politicians are on the TV it doesn't feel right."

So if they can't use the internet, Japanese politicians can hand out information, right? Wrong. Pamphlets can only be passed out to 3% of the voters. The only way they can get their message out is the old fashioned loudspeaker. Let me be perfectly clear: I HATE the loudspeaker. I really loathe the intrusive and relentless noise blasting at every major train station in Tokyo. I can handle some people bowing and handing out pamphlets, but turn the damn speaker off! I literally could not hold a conversation a hundred meters away from some political speaker near the exit of Ikebukuro station in Tokyo. Come on people! Organize a venue at a stadium or park and get people who want to listen to come! I miss the laws against noise pollution in the US.


上野 Ueno

One of the places I hang out the most is Ueno. There is a park, a zoo, some museums, and lots of places to eat and hang out. It's pretty close (20 minutes by train) to where I live. I wouldn't say
I love Ueno, but I certainly am getting used to it. Here are a couple pictures taken from the park.

There is a museum of Western Art here with a lot of famous works such as the ladies in the boat, and the thinker. No pictures are allowed inside, so I just shot the copies outside. The actual thinker is quite small, which surprised me. This is an enlarged copy.


Exciting Weekend

It's been an exciting weekend from mother nature. Yesterday was one of the strongest Typhoons to hit Japan in decades and the strongest on record in July. It was supposed to hit Tokyo, but changed directions and went North East. 4 or 5 people are dead or missing.

Just 20 minutes ago I felt my first earthquake. It was level 6 in Niigata-ken, which is north west of here on the coast. In Tokyo it was level 3. I found myself just sitting here not quite knowing what to do. If it were more serious I could go under my table, but my first instinct was to see if it was on the news. I feel a bit sea sick.


In Japan...

  • The sun is red.
  • The moon is yellow.
  • The traffic light is blue.
  • People don't hand money to the cashier, they put it down on a tray for the cashier to pick up.
  • People don't make eye contact with strangers on the street, let alone say hello.
  • Slurping ramen isn't just polite, it is the only way to eat ramen.
  • Fruit is expensive and each one is perfect. No touching unless you're buying.
  • Cigarettes and beer are sold in vending machines.
  • Living with one's family until marriage, even past the age of thirty, is common. It also creates a lot of disposable income that boosts the market for gadgets and clothes.
  • Walking while eating is rude.
  • Fixed Do solfege is taught in schools and every child plays the recorder.


It could happen

Imagine a computer in another universe. This computer is so powerful and can hold/manipulate so much data, that it can simulate an entire universe the size of our own. Someone just needs to create the initial starting conditions and rules and set it in motion. It would be like an infinitely more complex version of Conway's game of life. If such complex simulations were possible, is the simulation of the universe any different from the actual universe? Is a simulation of life the same thing as life itself? I mean down to the smallest particles, of course. I think the difference is negligible. If living creates were replicated so exactly in a computer, it is essentially the same as the real thing.

A computational system capable of such a feat, while amazing, would have to be staggeringly more advanced to do anything realistic with the data it computes. It is relatively simple to apply basic laws and rules to a system, but to analyze and see what things are arising in the system is exponentially more difficult. If our universe is a simulation, which I think isn't impossible given a larger universe with more resources (storing more data than we have particles), it is unlikely that whoever created the simulation is even aware of our existence. Such a tiny speck in time and space, sentient life has probably gone unnoticed in this demonstration. We might even be just the beta version. Maybe light was supposed to go faster.



Friday was a long day. I woke up at six for my hour long commute (1 bus and two trains) into the heart of Tokyo for my new school. This is my fifth regular (as in not temporary) elementary school. It's basically in the political heart of all of Japan, so there are many kids who speak English. One sixth grader is from San Francisco! My other four schools are in a very educationally progressive area of north Tokyo. I would not be surprised if it is the best place for English in public elementary schools in all of Japan. This new school has a high average English ability, but the mean is still a little lower than my other four schools.

Class was easy. It was my second day at the school and my first time with each of the classes I was teaching. I did my self introduction, questions, and an easy lesson (days of the week). The more I teach the more I realize that I'm the best with 3rd-4th grade. I can handle the other levels, but 3rd and 4th are the perfect balance of high energy and ability.

It was the hottest and most humid day yet this year. I played basketball at lunch and even some 1 on 1 with this sixth grader. He was pretty good and can actually palm the ball (it's not full size). I went a little easy and kept it at a tie (I don't like to let people win), but I was sweating like crazy in the heat. I left work pretty early (2pm) because this school contracted with my company directly instead of through the BOE. That means I can leave whenever the principal says it's OK.

I had some time to kill, so I cruised over to Ikebukulo (north west Tokyo, the gateway to where I used to live). I had been there Thursday night with Andrew Bush and Tim Rogers. We went to a music studio and they practiced while I messed around on keyboard a little. I don't think I could ever be in a rock band. Even if I spent the time to get good at guitar or something, rock just doesn't give me the feeling in my gut that I get when I listen to or play really good jazz.

So I killed time by walking around Bic Camera. It was getting dark, but still really hot, humid, and now rainy too. I went to the Sunshine mall. This place is like an American mall. It has one of four or five Burger Kings in Tokyo, Cold Stone, 3 or 4 McDonalds (no, really), Eddie Bauer, Gap, Toys R Us, and much more. The layout and feel is similar to American malls, but one look at a womens clothing store will clear up any confusion.

At 5 I went up to Fujimino (where I used to live) and killed a couple hours at Mr. Donuts. At seven I played a variation of soccer they call futosaru. This is a word in katakana, but I don't know what foreign word it's supposed to be. What's Foot-sal? Two of my Fujimino schools and another school played for a couple hours. It was awesome, and I was sweating more than anyone else there. I don't think Japanese people sweat very much.. or maybe I just sweat a lot. My friend Marc came too, because he teaches at the third school now.

The teachers told me that the kids have been coming into the teachers room and asking to get me back. The new English teacher doesn't speak Japanese and the level of tension has slowly been escalating as the kids start loathing English. I don't know what the hell that company was thinking putting a teacher who doesn't speak any Japanese in rural elementary schools. It's plain irresponsible. I would have liked to stay in Fujimino, but I can't deny how interesting and educational Tokyo has been. If for some reason I were to go back again now, I think I'd be a much better teacher.

After soccer I went drinking with one of the schools. Many of the people from last years staff came to hang out. It was pretty nostalgic. I had to go early (11pm) for the hour long train ride home. The bus home from the station ends kind of early, so I had to walk a half hour to get home. I could hardly believe I had gone to school that morning. It was a really long day.


I Love the Food

When people ask me what I like about Japan I usually have two fast answers: The trains and the food. So here are some things I've eaten recently. First is Monjayaki. I'll explain what it is some other time, but rest assured it's quite good. Many foreigners think it looks really gross, but until hearing that from someone it had never occurred to me because when you eat it, you see it being made (or you make it yourself) and so you know what the ingredients are.

I love tonkatsu! This is a photo from the place I used to go all the time in Fujimino. The old guy that runs the place loves me. He even took me out to sushi once before I moved. The tonkatsu (breaded pork), rice, soup, pasta and salad all ring in at 680 yen (~$6). Awesome.

Dessert in Ueno! There is a great little dessert shop in Ueno that is always crowded. I've been there twice and both times I had to share a table with strangers. Man this is good stuff though. It's a little pricey, but worth it once in a while. This one has mochi, icecream, red beans, Japanese orange and some other things I don't know the names of.



I'm making a poster about California for my schools and have discovered some interesting things, some of which I knew and some I didn't.

California has the worlds oldest, biggest, and tallest trees:
  • Methuselah, an ancient Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains, is about 4,838 years old.
  • General Sherman, a Giant Sequoia in the Sequoia National Park, is 1,487 cubic meters.
  • Hyperion, a Redwood in the Redwood National Park, is 115.55 meters tall.
California has the highest and lowest points in the contiguous US, and they are only 76 miles (123 km) apart.
Anything interesting you think I should include in the poster? I'm of course going to talk about Hollywood, Disneyland, and Silicon Valley. Anything else that would impress little kids?


Major Differences - Status Levels

Sempai 先輩 means senior, superior or elder, and Kohai 後輩 is junior. The Sempai-Kohai system is the most profound difference in culture I have encountered in Japan. Built into the Japanese language are different levels of politeness that affect not only word choice, but conjugation and grammar.

In English, we generally speak differently around different groups of people. I can remember in middle school when I first started noticing that I had a 'family mode' and a 'friend mode'. As I grew older I noticed the line blur when talking with my siblings, but I still speak a certain way around the adults in my family that is different than how I speak to my friends. This pales in comparison to the levels of Japanese speech.

First of all, Japanese has multiple levels of polite speech. Many young people can't even speak the higher levels well. Foreigners around the college level becoming proficient in Japanese are often better at keigo (polite speech) than the Japanese of the same age. The rules seem simple enough: When speaking to someone older than you, you speak politely. When the other person is younger (and not a stranger), you speak casually. But this carries over outside of work into everyday situations - including bars or parties. I've seen men speaking politely to other men that look the same age, but are actually one or two years apart. The older man responds in casual Japanese. To a foreigner, this might seem like a somewhat cold or distant, even odd conversation, but it is quite normal in Japanese. It isn't always like this, and people make mistakes, but in general it is easy to tell who is older in a conversation by listening to how people speak.

This can create weird issues with people who don't know each others age. Or as one of my friends brought up, it can be awkward with people in the same year in school but of different ages (something common in college). Does one use keigo or not? It isn't always easy to tell.

In English, we generally speak at the same level as the counterpart in the conversation (except perhaps in extreme boss-employee relationships). If Bob is talking to Jim politely, not using slang or anything like that, Jim responds the same way. If they are friends or are familiar they might both speak casually. But if one of them spoke politely and the other was casual, almost even rude, it would not be right for a variety of reasons. Keigo is hard for me to get used to, and I usually end up speaking casually to my elders because by habit, I speak the same as the other person. Luckily no one thinks anything of it because I am a foreigner.

Perhaps the most impressive benefit of the sempai-kohai system is the affect it has on those in school. I've never seen such apparent respect and admiration for the upperclassmen as I did when I was teaching in middle school. A middle school first grader (7th grader), who was particularly naughty in class and an all around brat, was the uncomplaining servant and follower of his 3rd year baseball club sempai. I saw him get things for him, speak politely, and obey various orders. Equally amazing was the lack of abuse of the system by the 3rd years. They didn't really treat the younger kids poorly, but they did demand their respect and service. I haven't spent a whole lot of time at middle school and none in high school, but if what I observed is common, it may just make the system all worth it.



I've always had a fascination with teaching. As far back as elementary school I remember wanting to design the curriculum, tests and homework assignments. The same stale format over and over creates a dull class with little incentive for learning, and I had ideas to fix that. I never really wanted to be a teacher, but I always wanted to control how things were taught. Naturally, because I was 10 or so, my ideas were silly. One idea was to give multiple choice tests with a hint that each answer a-e had an equal number of occurrences. What would this accomplish? It would boost the confidence of kids in the 95-100% range (that was me at the time) and it might make the test more interesting for other kids. In retrospect, it would probably do more harm than good for those with poor scores, but I still think that adding a little something different to things very routine is vital for learning.

In my 6 months teaching before moving to Tokyo, I learned a lot. I became quite confident. I learned to leave my pride at the door and become a shameless comedian. But in my short time in Tokyo I've learned something equally important. I've learned, by watching some truly great teachers, how to apply that confidence (and shamelessness) to really teach English well. I'm not a great teacher, but I can confidently say that I am very good in the right circumstances.

This week I've been putting my new found knowledge to the test. I am on a week long break from my usual schools and teaching at an elementary school in Saitama (up north a little). The first couple days went pretty well, but I think today was very good. I taught 5 classes and 4 different grade levels. My best class was 4th grade. Here's the gist of what happens in one class:

Greeting. In a low energy class (not 4th grade, but maybe 5th or 6th) I'll open with something like "STAND UP!" ... "SIT DOWN!!" ... "SIT DOWN!" and so on, changing my intonation trying to mess them up.

Self Introduction (I'm only here for a week and I teach each class once, so every class has a self introduction)

Numbers 1-50. 4th graders mostly know numbers, but they aren't solid. Having students repeat numbers with flash cards is boring, but this is how a lot of people teach. One of the Japanese teachers in Tokyo showed me some good ways to make it more interesting. I write the numbers as I say them and the class repeats. Then sometimes I write them really big or small and the class has to say "too big!" or "too small!" I throw in things like "too fast!" and "too slow!" and even "upside down!" and they get into it instead of mindlessly chanting from 1 to 50. Then I erase quite a few numbers in a row / column and such. I call on some kids to come up and write in the missing numbers I say out loud. This stresses how hard it is to hear the difference between 13/30, 14/40 and so on. It also introduces "one more time!" and "I don't know". After a few volunteers I switch to something completely different. The class is only 45 minutes so I don't want to waste too much time.

Colors/Fruits/whatever review. Today I did some color review. Just some color flash cards. 4th graders know the colors so it is easy, but sometimes I'll have the card upside down or something to refresh "upside down!" This whole thing only lasts like 2 minutes.

Head shoulders knees and toes. This is a fun song with any age group willing to be a little silly. 6th graders won't do it, but 4th grade is usually willing. 3rd grade loves it. We repeat all the words a couple times then just start into it because they all know it already. Then at the end I say one more time! and speed up faster and faster until it's basically impossible. In a good class I'll hear some "too fast!" but sometimes I have to be the one to say it. Then I'll start singing it reaaaaally slow until someone says "too slow."

Simon (Michael) says. This game is fun for any grade level. The higher the grade the more complex the game can get, such as me doing the wrong pose on purpose. With 4th grade I just say "touch your [insert body part from 'head shoulders knees and toes' song]" or simple things like "hands up" "jump" "clap" etc. After about 3 or 4 games the class is over!

"Stand up!" "Thank you very much!" "Goodbye!" "See you!" And I'm out.


Thank you Akihabara

I work about 5 minutes by train from one of the biggest and most famous places for electronics in the world: Akihabara, Tokyo. Today, I finished my quest for a new camera. I splurged a little and I saved a lot. Retail is 400 bucks. I got mine for 280, but the menus are all in Japanese. Luckily, there is a lot of Katakana, so it's pretty easy to read.

Behold, my new pet
The Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-T100

So you'll start seeing more pictures and maybe even videos soon.

Back to the previous entry on employment.. My friend just got back from France. She called me up and when telling me about her experience, she said she was shocked at how bad the service was everywhere she went. People didn't care about the customer, she said. They only care about their lunch break, or what they're going to do after work. They only work 35 hours a week and get two months of vacation! I tried to explain that it is probably just the service jobs and low paying dead end jobs that have such poor service, and that the US is not so different.

It seems to me that Japan and France are polar opposites on this issue. When I was talking to her it was 9:30 PM and she was still at work. Ouch.


Random Stuff

Here are some random facts you probably didn't know (about me). I had one revelation recently that inspired this list, and as I began to compile it I forgot the original thought. Enjoy the randomness:

I love browsing stationary stores.

Recently I've been playing Starcraft (PC) and Final Fantasy XII (DS Lite) quite a bit.

I played soccer on Friday with my old coworkers in Fujimino. Actually it was what they call futtosaru (foot-sal?), which is a combination of indoor and outdoor soccer. It's outside on a small turf field. Each team has 6 people and there is a big net around the field to catch the ball.

I planted rice with my friends Sho and Panda out in the country side on Sunday, literally getting knee deep in Japanese culture. My arms are sunburt.

I know pi to 35 digits. I'm not really proud of this. I was bored in 8th grade and had a competition with my friend. He won.

My last phone bill was 150 dollars because I send about 5-10 emails a day.

One of my schools has 2 really cool male teachers and 5 beautiful female teachers.

I play piano almost everyday before I come home.

Two of my four schools don't let me speak any Japanese in front of the kids.

I never ironed a single thing in my life before coming to Japan.

I can say the 50 states in alphabetical order in 20 seconds. (I'm not proud of this one either)

I'm worse at dodge ball than 6th grade elementary school students.

Major Differences - Employment

Japanese people take their jobs more seriously than Americans. Here, the job is the focus in life. It isn't just a way to make money, like it is to so many of us. Many people only have friends from work or college. People don't really go out trying to make new friends once they enter the workforce. Some of them will spend 10 hours a day at the office because it is shameful to leave first. I've heard from a guy who works at Sony, that people there will just stay at their desks even if they aren't really doing any work. People will come in on holidays to win points with the boss even though he isn't there. They come in hoping someone will notice and mention it later on.

On the positive side, people seem to take much more pride in their jobs and they become close with those they work with. For this reason, there aren't really low quality places to eat with employees who don't care. Mc Donalds, for example, is full of workers in clean uniforms who are very polite. The place is clean, and the food is decent. I actually eat at Mc Donalds here, but I wouldn't even set foot in one in the US.

It seems that the occasional drinking party with the staff is more or less mandatory. This is where people can let go and drink heavily. They can get things off their chest they wouldn't want to say in the office, such as grudges or romantic feelings. They can make fools of themselves and none of it will matter the next workday. What happens at the drinking party seems to stay there. This is true for teachers too. I've been to a few of these nomikai's (drink gatherings) and they're actually pretty fun. I feel kind of bad, though, for the staff that has family they want to get home to. I've never heard of anyone bringing family or a significant other to any drinking party or school function. It amazes me how they can dedicate so much time to work and keep it seperate from their personal lives.


Major Differences - Travel

This is a map of the JR EAST train system. This doesn't include Tokyo Metro or other trains.

Quite possibly my favorite thing about Japan is the train and subway system. A wise friend of a friend once said that when you get off a train in Tokyo, check the schedule and check your watch. If there is a discrepency, reset your watch.

Despite the prompt trains, I never use the schedule. Trains come often enough that just going to the station and waiting for the next one is good enough for me. During the winter, seats on the train are heated. During the summer the air conditioner is always on.

There is no rule against eating and drinking, but I've only seen it happen once or twice in all my time here. There is, however, a rule against talking on the phone . This is a rule I've only seen foreigners break, because they didn't know or they didn't care. In Korea there is no such rule, I'm told, which explains the occassional Korean chatting away on the train in Tokyo.

I almost never see people give up seats for the elderly. In my first couple months here I gave up my seat for many people, but usually the response is met with suprise and rejection. They think they are being polite by refusing the gesture, but it just makes the situation akward with us both standing by an empty seat. As a result, I don't really give up my seat anymore.

For those who plan on visiting Japan, I have some important advice: Do not rent a car. The roads are small and the traffic is heavy. The trains are significantly faster and cheaper. Everywhere I've ever been in Tokyo is within a short walk of a station. There is one major problem, though. The trains in Japan stop around 12 to 1. As a result, it is not uncommon to go out drinking as early as 6pm. The night starts and ends much earlier in Japan. I am very used to this now, but it took me quite some time to catch on.


First Post

Welcome to my new blog. I created this blog for a few reasons:
  1. I haven't posted on my old blog for about 6 months, so I figured I'd start fresh.
  2. My old blog had a stupid name. Apparently no one uses or even knows the word kokaku. Never get your names from a dictionary.
  3. I have moved since my last blog!
So here is the link to my previous blog for those who want to check it out.