Monthly Archives: November 2014

Slogging Into Oblivion and the Unreadable Mess

Despite my best efforts, I managed to eke out 50,399 words to “win” National Novel Writing Month. I’m not sure it was a good idea.

Part of the problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that NaNoWriMo requires a level of seat-of-the-pants writing that, after a point, becomes useless. Now, part of this was my fault, as I chose to continue writing a work in progress. which meant I was doing pure free-writing on something that had been planned.

You can see a clear demarcation in the book between “gave thought to this” and “Run, Forrest, Run!”

I suspect that if I had just sat down and started writing from scratch, the process would have been easier, albeit a lot less coherent. (Not that it’s very coherent now.)

I ended up with repeated passages, lots of under-description, lots of over-description and the entire last third of the whatever-you-call-that mess is random quotes, random scenes and bits of dialogue. I included back story that was unlikely to make it into the final draft. I also included notes about scenes I needed and things I needed to remember. “Protagonist (not his real name) would try to figure out X’s location the week before her death.” This seems like basic stuff, but it took me 30 days and 50,000 words words to realize it.

November is also, even for us in Japan, is not a good month to attempt something like this. I’ve got school functions for the girls, karate tests, final school projects to mark and have to make two final exams. In the USA you’ve got Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It’s almost as if the creators of NaNoWriMo wanted you to prove you are a writer by forcing you to write in the worst conditions possible. (Next year’s NaNoWriMo: NaNoWriMo on icy spikes). It’s all got the feeling of a double-dog dare followed by “You wanna be cool, dontcha? Well, dontcha?”

I did find that I had better luck writing sections by hand then entering them into the main file later in the day. (Of course, my handwriting was an issue but only a small one.)

If I do it again next year I’ll do one of two things. 1) I’ll start 100% from scratch and see what happens. Twice now I’ve tried to complete works in progress and had mixed results. (Last year I stopped after three days and 3500 or so words). 2) I’ll do the 30 days in October and post the results in November.

Oh, I also won’t have a daily blog to worry about (maybe just a twice or three times a week blog).


The Slow Drip Drip Drip of Loss and Annoyance

The school where I’ve worked for 14 years is slowly but surely trying to remind me I’m not part of the group. It’s doing it through sanctions on technology.

When I first arrived at the school, every teacher was given a school laptop for their desk and a network password. The laptop I had was old and practically made of stone and wood but it let me print, store files on the server and use the internet.

For one year, when the school made an attempt to modernize beyond the Optical Character Recognition system it uses for final marks, we could even enter final marks from our desks via a school intranet. (Well, most people could, but the laptop I had was too old to use the software and I had to go downstairs to the computer room.) To make matters worse, the program was shockingly unintuitive and the company went out of business meaning there was no longer any tech support. The school, therefore, switched back to OCRs.

Then, one year we showed up and the laptops were gone. Full-time teachers had shiny new laptops but we were informed that part-time teachers would no longer have them. (Remember, I’m technically part-time and work AT the school not FOR the school.) Instead, three computers were installed in the office for the dozen or so part-time teachers to share.

Luckily, I was able to bring my own computer and use the network and printers. All was still good (and in English).

Then we got the new school and full-time teachers had shinier newer laptops and the dozen or so part-timers had access to eight laptops we were expected to share. I decided to use my own computer (to free up a school one for someone else.) Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that our personal PCs had been blocked from the main server. We could print and use the internet, but we couldn’t access files. One teacher couldn’t access the network at all. We blamed Linux, until another teacher proved he could connect with a Linux system.

Then last week, our personal PCs were blocked once and for all forever from the network. We can’t even print.

I was told that this is because the IT people are convinced that a rash of viruses is the result of personal PCs on the network. I have my doubts about this (I think it’s memory sticks and people with less computer savvy) and it all smacks of “Pay attention to ME! I’m IMPORTANT!” bureaucratic rock pissing by the IT people.

That said, the sanctions will be lifted once I prove my computer can have safe sex with the school network.

Until then, I’m living back in the age before even punch cards. (Luckily I have lots of fountain pens.) My other plan is to grab a school laptop and hold it hostage until sanctions are lifted.

edited 11/30/14 to fix typographical errors.

This Friday is Not Black

To this day I find it very strange that I only miss about half of the things that go on during a a US Thanksgiving. Well, maybe two-thirds.

Although Japan has Labor Thanksgiving Day on November 23rd, it’s mostly just a day off and not that big of a deal. For the US Thanksgiving, I’m working and keeping track of players in my NFL fantasy league.

I do miss spending time with family as we stuff ourselves blind. I definitely miss pecan pie, although She Who Must Be Obeyed can make a terrific one (once we take out a personal loan to buy all the ingredients). She can also make some terrific pumpkin tarts (pies are too difficult as Japan has not discovered pre-made pie crusts) so she makes smaller versions.

For a meal we usually load up on chicken, cheese, bread and wine (or beer) and She Who Must Be Obeyed makes mashed potatoes. It is possible to get turkey if we order it in early October, but we don’t have an oven big enough to roast it and the neighbors would freak out if I started a fire and tried to deep-fry it. (Actually, She Who Must Be Obeyed would probably freak out some, too, now that I think about it.)

I also miss falling asleep watching football–aka “spending time with the guys”. I also remember going to see movies in the evening once a few of us got tired of all the “family time”. (I miss spending time with the family only to a certain point.)

I definitely miss the turkey sandwiches made from leftovers.

I don’t miss the endless loop of Christmas songs, especially as the Christmas shopping season apparently begins in early July now. I don’t miss all the Black Friday nonsense. Keep in mind, Black Friday hadn’t yet become a contact sport when I was in the USA, it was just crowded and cranky. Keep in mind, though, I typically never bought Christmas presents until the last minute, so I only experienced Black Friday a few times.

Japan’s Black Friday doesn’t happen until after New Year’s Day. It’s quite frightening when it happens. (But that’s a future post.)

Listening Past the Giggles and Glitches

As technology advances, I find myself losing patience with things that not too long ago worked really well but now have problems. This is especially true when it involves work.

One of the things we do at the school where I work is record our own parts for the listening portion of the final exams. This is a process that’s changed since I’ve been at the school.

It used to involve headphones, a four channel mixer and cassette tapes. That system required long recording sessions in which every word had to be perfect. If we made one mistake we’d have to do the entire section over. I remember more than once reaching the very last question and then mumbling or stumbling or forgetting how to read English and having to start the entire process over.

One of our number had a habit of improvising off script leaving the rest of us to wonder where the hell we were and what the hell we were supposed to say next.

If anyone got the giggles the entire process ground to a halt.

Note: if you’ve never had the giggles, you’ve never experienced the joy of trying cure them by reciting sad images like “dead puppies; cats squished by cars; starving children eating dirt” and instead causing the entire room start laughing and be unable to stop. That’s great.

I guess you had to be there.

Nerves frayed and we quickly learned to make listening sections shorter.

That gave way to a nice recording studio in the sound and light booth of the school auditorium. We had good mics and proper equipment and if we made a mistake, we just redid the bad part and spliced the new part in later.

The new studio, however, didn’t solve the problem of the giggles. One teacher usually had to leave the room when another teacher made a “BEEEEEP” sound or the recording session couldn’t be finished. One time a teacher had funny names in the listening and we laughed so hard he ended up changing the names.

The other problem was that right around December exams, students start practicing for the Christmas show in the auditorium and we end up having to come back another day.

The new school, however, was supposed to solve this with a brand new, sound proof recording studio. Unfortunately, it’s the old computers and, for some reason, the old computer doesn’t like the new room and has decided to add a buzz to all our recordings. (Old computers can be really temperamental that way.)

There’s a way to fix it, but it adds a step that shouldn’t be necessary. I actually found myself getting annoyed about that. Then it brought hope that a new computer will appear some day with a quieter fan.

There’s also no cure for the giggles, though. Technology can’t solve those. Even dead puppies don’t help.

Fifty Miles Afoot Afloat Like It Or Not

Back a few hundred years ago (give or take) when I was in the Boy Scouts in Colorado, a few us brave young men set out on an epic quest to hike 50 miles over Rabbit Ears Pass, do a day of service and bask in eternal glory. Two days later we were begging to go home but no one would let us.

I vaguely remember we had prepared and distributed various foodstuffs. (I remember peanut butter in a tube and fake potatoes for some reason.) After we assembled at the starting point, the hike began with a gear check that involved scout leaders convincing us that things like portable games and large books wouldn’t be as useful on the trail as something like water.

They also tried to convince a few hikers that jeans and a long sleeve shirt would be more useful in the woods than shorts and a t-shirt.

We started the actual hike with lots of energy and maintained it through a marsh area that is apparently the birth place of all mosquitoes. (Luckily, country mosquitoes aren’t as fast as city mosquitoes and it was possible to kill four or five in one slap.) We also maintained it through the revelation that the maps being used by the leaders apparently predated the actual formation of the mountain which, as you might imagine, kind of complicated the path.

I don’t remember where we camped the first night, but by the time we reached a US Forest Service campsite on day two (or maybe day three, I don’t remember), we were all pretty much like “Well, we’ve proven our point. That’s enough manliness for us. Time to go home.”

Unfortunately, our scout leaders played a dirty trick on us by having our parents waiting for us at the campsite. Our parents’ only job was to tell us they weren’t going to take us home. Even my own mother was like “Suck it up you little pussy. Stop whining and act like a man. The only way you’re getting home is through the forest. I don’t care if your feet fall off while you’re doing it.”

For the record, my mother never actually said that, but it was STRONGLY IMPLIED.

In order to earn the 50-Miler Award, we were also required to do 10 hours of service. That meant the next day we helped park rangers clean and maintain the camp. This turned out to be a lot harder than we expected. By the end of that day we were all pretty much ready to get back on the trail and wait for our feet to fall off.

The rest of the hike was mostly uneventful, except for having to change paths because the main road was blocked by an endless series of fallen trees. We finished with a burst of energy and a sense of accomplishment. We also got a patch (and a lingering distrust of adults and park rangers).

Sometimes It’s Just Too Easy

Today was the first day of exams, which is kind of confusing since classes aren’t finished yet.

Basically, in the school where I work, the high school third graders (US 12th grade) graduate two-thirds of the way through the year. In order to do this, a few things happen:

First, the students finish early (classes finished last week) and start exams.

Second, if anyone is going to fail it gives the powers what are a chance to pressure the teacher into changing the marks/giving a second and/or third chance. There is no rhyme or reason for this, except possibly money (but that’s just me being cynical) or sending good athletes to university (also me being cynical).

Third, the early schedule allows time for a quick make-up examination that is part of the pressure from the second reason.

Whatever the reason, there’s a a lot of pressure to pass the students and, in defense of the school, most of the students are going to pass anyway. In fact, the only way to fail is to not attend class, although exceptions have been made for that (see second reason above).

Part of the problem in my class is that most of the points are based on work and performances done in class. However, I’m still expected to give a final exam. To help mitigate this, I make the final exam worth only 25% of the final score and let students know, within reason, what will be on it. Also, because there’s not a lot of grammar, my final exam is pretty easy as there’s not a lot to study. If anyone fails it’s because they fell asleep and didn’t finish all the questions.

By the middle of December, the students know if they are going to graduate or not. There is much rejoicing.

There is, however, one final twist. Although they know they are going to graduate, and although no more scores are given, the students are expected–sort of–to attend classes at least two more times in January.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter if they don’t as there’s no way to punish them.

The Apple Falls at the Last Minute Near the Tree

She Who Must Be Obeyed was angry at our oldest today. Naturally, it was my fault.

This is the time of year when pressure hits from school and, in our oldest’s case, her clubs. It’s exam time, study time and, for reasons understood only by music teachers, performance time in brass band club and with her piano lessons. Eventually, something gives, and that something has been studying. Or at least our oldest thinks that’s what’s going to give.

She Who Must Be Obeyed entered an epic rant backed up by evidence and displayed for a jury of one (me). Her evidence was our oldest’s study charts. Basically, two weeks before exams, each student is given a sheet of paper that acts as a planner. They are supposed to map out their study schedules and then record their actual study time.

She Who Must Be Obeyed pointed out that according to her schedule, our oldest tended to study a little at first and then (LOOK HERE!) she studies a lot in the last few days before the test. (It is STUPID. It doesn’t make sense!) She had two tests worth of proof and two blank days with no studying on the current schedule.

It was at this point that I placed the blame on nature rather than nurture. I pointed out that our oldest’s schedule pretty much matched my normal study schedule:

Deny, Deny, Deny, Panic, Deny, Panic, Accept, Stay Up Late, Study.

In fact, that pretty much describes every paper I wrote at university. (Except you have to add “research” before and after “Stay Up Late” and change “Study” to “Write”.) We’ve helped her skip past a couple of the “Deny” phases by confiscating and hiding her Nintendo 3DS, but this has added a level of “Anger” and “Terrible Twos” to the mix.

Naturally, this tendency toward putting off the inevitable has been part of my genetic contribution to our oldest’s psyche and will have a great influence on her as she enters “The Age of Perfect Knowledge of Everything (and my parents are stupid)” (ages 14-25). I told She Who Must Be Obeyed that our oldest would eventually grow out of it. (Since girls develop faster than boys, she’ll probably grow out of it before I do.)

She Who Must Be Obeyed didn’t consider nature a valid excuse. I’ll worry about that later, naturally.


Just Because You’re Sick Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Out to Get You

When the issue is carefully examined, there’s little doubt that my children are trying to kill me.

They don’t necessarily realize they are doing it, and the way they are going about it is quite inefficient, but they are doing it nonetheless.

This is partly my fault, as I allowed them to 1) go outside and 2) attend school. (Yeah, there’s that “send your kids to school or you go to jail thing” but that just means the girls have accomplices.)

While they are out, especially when they are in school, the bring home lots of germs. Those germs are then transferred to She Who Must Be Obeyed who then transfers it to me. (Does that make her an accomplice too? I’ll have to think about that.) In fact, the most colds I’ve ever got happened in rapid succession after our oldest started kindergarten. The illnesses tapered off a bit and then our youngest started kindergarten and the cycle of illness started again.

Now the culprit is their selfish desire to “go outside” and “do things” and “have their parent’s watch”. The result of this is that She Who Must Be Obeyed and I travel to various crowded facilities where we are exposed to illnesses from other children and their parents, illnesses we’ve not yet developed immunity to. (The other families are out to get me too?)

Yesterday, for example, we went to a Rhythmic Gymnastics competition with our youngest. Today, I’ve got a fever and received a couple visits from my “Albanian Friend“. I had to cancel my karate class, which angered my karate sensei (who recently discovered email but hasn’t learned to spend all his time on his phone checking it).

Now, I’m putting this post out early so that I can get some sleep. I’m not sure I like doing that, though, when our girls are still awake.

I’d tell them to go to bed first, but that would just earn me an eye roll, from pretty much everyone else in the room.


This Competion is Not a Sport

Today we watched freezing pixies compete in a competition whilst we tried to stay warm and pretend we were interested.

Today was the annual competition for our youngest’s Rhythmic Gymnastics club. We chose this club because we knew she needed an outlet for her energy and because she liked to dance and is naturally flexible. We also chose it because it didn’t require the personal loans and endless debt involved in putting her in ballet lessons.

Rhythmic Gymnastics is one of those competitions that suffers because its appearance overwhelms its substance. What the competitors due requires balance, flexibility and stamina. If they are using props it requires hand eye coordination and timing. The problem is it all looks so silly, especially when props are involved. It’s also had to take seriously a sport where the competitors lose points if their hair bun comes lose. (Well, technically that’s true in Sumo, too, but, well.)

This same thing applies to Synchronized Swimming which, physically, is one of the most challenging competitions in the Olympics. It just looks silly. (At least in Rhythmic Gymnastics the competitors don’t wear Halloween mask nose plugs.)

The other issue, in the case of your youngest’s club, is that for reasons I don’t fully understand, Japan believes all gymnasiums (gymnasia?) should be unheated in winter. This means the competitors have to practice and perform on a cold floor in a cold gym (sit on a cold floor in your underwear and you’ll understand the pain they suffer) while the audience also freeze. To make matters worse, the benches in the gymnasium were designed for small people and had low backs, as if they were spare bus stop benches the builders happened to have lying around.

Our youngest got 16.30 points out of 20, which put her in the top half of the competitors but way out of the top 10. Although she has a lot of fun doing the performances, she’s still a bit sloppy. She doesn’t stop her spins crisply and her jumps still seem more lazy than strong.

Most importantly, though, her hair stayed in its bun.

The Panic Caused By Old Things

Last week our oldest came home from school in a panic. The panic was caused by technology and it was partly our fault.

The week before our oldest asked us if she could take our “new” video camera to school to record brass band practice. (Note: New, for us, means “made in 21st century”.) We, of course, said no. We weren’t going to let her take the camera to school, especially for something that wasn’t important.

She, being a teenager, thought that asking us several times in slightly different ways would make us change our mind. Oddly, it didn’t. Instead, we compromised by sending our old video camera, complete with our last unused cassette to school with her. She Who Must Be Obeyed gave her a quick overview of its use and off to school she and the camera went.

Then, around lunch time, our oldest came rushing into the house in a panic. She did rapid fire explanation that sounded something like the “feinahattoistuhyutuuhysonocamwewoerastosot.” To which I replied, “Why are you home from practice?” Eventually I realized there was something wrong with the camera, but our oldest was in such a panic she just kept repeating what she’d said before. I checked the camera and everything seemed fine.

Our oldest, however, being a teenager and therefore assuming I must be an idiot, ignored me and took She Who Must Be Obeyed’s point and shoot camera. An hour or so later, our oldest came rushing back with an explanation similar to the one before. This time, for some reason, there was no sound on the playback. My response was “Why are you home from practice?”

Eventually, our oldest went to practice and stayed there. When she came home the third, and only official time, I passed her off to She Who Must Be Obeyed who, after some time, finally diagnosed the problem: Our oldest has only ever handled a digital video camera. She didn’t know you had to rewind the tape on an analogue camera before you could watch the recording.

With that solved, we got to watch the recording. That left us with two problems: 1) We couldn’t transfer it to computer for her and 2) we still don’t understand why the point and shoot didn’t record sound.