Hurry Up and Wait And Wait Then Wait

There was a train delay today that caused me to encounter into a train delay. I was also being clumsy so the delay was probably for the best.

At the start of July we finally got June weather–rain–but it’s been unusually cool this year. However, any time there’s rain, even though Japan has an annual Season in Which it Rains and a proper Rainy Season, there’s always a risk of train delays as certain train lines always seem to have delays as if there’s never been any rain on the tracks before.

This, of course, had to happen the first day of exams. However, on the way to work the only problems were mine. I was pouting at the rain and listening to music and didn’t notice the train signal and was surprised when barricade started to lower. Then I walked into the station with my umbrella still deployed and had to undeploy it before I got on the escalator.

Luckily, there were no problems with the exam itself, although I remain nervous during the listening test. There weren’t even any questions which is unusual as at least one person tries to trick an answer out of us (more on that in another post).

Then, after the tests were picked up and sorted, I found out that one of my students had arrived late because of a train delay and was taking the test in another room. I’d have to wait 20 minutes to get the test.

After the test arrived I headed home and as soon as I got to the station and saw the crowd of people outside the gate I knew there was a problem.

Someone had apparently committed suicide on the tracks about the time I left the school. If I’d left right after I got the main batch of exams I could have probably got home with not problem. Instead of hanging out by the gate I went to buy some pretzels. (Someone is dead and you are buying pretzels? Yes. That’s cold, dude, that’s cold.)

An hour and a half later the police had investigated and cleared the scene and the train finally started running. I had pretzels but didn’t eat them. I mostly napped. Which is also kind of cold.

Now You Know Me and What I Am

The tenth graders at the school where I work are funny people. They are in their first year of high school and as they approach their first final exam in my class, they get, well, kind of funny.

For lots of complicated reasons the classes I teach don’t have mid-term exams. This creates a couple problems for me. First, because they haven’t had a major exam in my class but have had them in others, the students tend to not take my final exam seriously. This is a bad problem for them to have because they need a higher percentage in their English classes in order to get automatic recommendation for university than they do in all their other classes. However, because there’s been no big exams, they don’t act as if the coming exam is important.

Second, because they’ve usually just finished a major final project, they often act as if there’s nothing left to do in class. My job, then, is to remind them that they are wrong.

That was an issue this week with a couple of my classes that, for various complicated reasons, have had lots of extra class time. In such cases I usually offer a deal: if they study my class on the next to last class, I will look the other way at what they are studying on the last class. They should study my class, but I won’t look too closely at what they are doing.

However, if they play or waste time, I take that as meaning they want to study my class on the last day and I prepare a review lesson. It’s at this point that they start trying to test me. I had students laugh at me as if I were joking when I told them I’d give them work on the last day. I had students mock what I was saying by repeating it and laughing. When I pointed out that two guys who were supposed to be studying together had their textbooks open to different units (with one book open to a unit we didn’t study) they just ignored me.

This is partly because many of my students didn’t go to junior high at the school where I work so they don’t know much about me. Those that did are used to my English classes not having much meaning but they should also know that I never bluff (well, almost never).

At the end of the classes, I told them that because too many of them hadn’t studied, i planned to bring something for them to study. Most ignored me.

Then, today, I handed out a work sheet that involved writing a couple hundred words.

Suddenly I had their attention.

One student reminded me that I’d said there’d be free study. I reminded him that I’d said that not enough people had studied and that I’d bring an assignment. However, when he finished the assignment, I wouldn’t look at what he was studying.

They were all annoyed but they were quiet as they finished the assignment. After they finished I checked their answers with them which also kept them from having any free study time.

If this goes like normal, this will be the last time I have this problem with these students.


Starting Off a Good Day in a Crappy Way

Everything was proceeding according to plan this morning, I wrote my morning pages, ate some breakfast even had some to waste. Then I got my migraine spot.

Today spot started out looking like the burn mark a camera flash leaves in your eyes but then then it didn’t go away and started to grow. I guzzled some coffee and took some Excedrin Migraine. In the past I might have sipped some whiskey as part of a homemade version of Tylenol 3 (which is basically alcohol, caffeine and dope). However, there were two problems with this plan: First I got the spot before I went to work and it would be bad to show up even half drunk (or half sober if you’re more optimistic) and Second, a scientist told me my home remedy would ruin my liver. (I was like: but will it cure my migraine and he was like, yeah, by killing you slowly and I was like, that can’t be worse than a migraine but I finally took his advice.)

One of the problems with my migraine spot is it blocks part of my vision of and makes it difficult to read. Not only am I about to be in pain when I get the spot, but I can’t enjoy my last few minutes before the pain because I see anything clearly.

Luckily the Excedrin worked and I didn’t have any pain and I didn’t get the usual migraine hangover. I did, however, feel sluggish and cranky most of the day. When my better bad class of 8th graders didn’t want to study for their final exams, I ignored them and let them not study. (I don’t have to pass the test and the fewer questions they answer the easy it is for me to mark and do the math.)

This also effected the way I taught high school. During a study hall in a last class of ninth graders one of my students was making gestures around his crotch that resembled, well, things involving the crotch and/or the Divinyls. Normally I would have told him to get back to studying, but since it was a free study time, I dismissed it as him studying biology. When he later tried to twist off the arm of a fellow student, I dismissed it as him doing a physics experiment.

Now I’m feeling the hangover set in. It’s time to go to bed.

You Don’t Mess With a Man’s Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Spelling in Translation

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

The Japanese language suffers from two fatal weaknesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karas Kustoms Brass Bolt–Heavy, Man. Heavy.

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

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

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

This is a pen, not a syringe.

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

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

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

(Note: I never use them posted.)

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

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

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

Once again, all the weight is in the middle.

Once again, all the weight is in the middle.

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

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




Tales of the Phantom Knife

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

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

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

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

Then there’s the problem of hearing things correctly:

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

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

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

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


Not a Day for Creativity or Self-Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Year the Stress is Not Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just relaxed and let them do their work.



The Sacrificial Lamb Faces the Sacrifice

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

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

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


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

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

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

I hope that’s what he was doing.