Monthly Archives: April 2016

Thin Bits of Ruination

I bought a pen because I knew I wouldn’t be afraid to ruin it. Today I tried to ruin it.

The rabbit hole that is pen addiction consists of several steps that lead the addict from “Who the hell would ever use a fountain pen” to “why would anyone ever use anything but a handcrafted fountain pen made of gold harvested from asteroids”? (Something like that.)

One of the steps involves taking control of your pens by learning to do basic maintenance on them. This step usually comes after the step where you start using bottled ink and well after you learn what a good pen feels like. At this point you learn to straighten nibs and widen the gap between the tines and maybe even change nibs. You also remove the nib for cleaning.

In my case I’ve been interested in learning some basic nib care and to do so I bought a cheap fountain pen that I’m not afraid to ruin. My plan was to use a few tools I’ve acquired over time to tweak the pen and make it better and then change inks. That said, if it had been perfect I wouldn’t have messed with it, but it was kind of dry and didn’t like working on smooth paper.

I tried soaking it in pen flush but that didn’t work so I finally decided to try some brass sheets I acquired a while ago to clean out the tines and, hopefully, make the ink flow smoothly.

The problem is that poking around on your pen, even a cheap one, with bits of metal is not a natural act. (It’s kind of like a dentist scraping a metal hook around your teeth and gums in the name of “hygiene”: even though you know it’s supposed to be helpful, you’re kind of worried about long term damage because “metal hook”.)

I cleaned and flushed the pen and was surprised to see how easily it cleaned. I then had to poke around at it with the sheet of metal.

Whatever I did, it seems to have worked. The cheap pen is working well. Now I need to know if it was the cleaning or the ink change that made it work.

Frozen IPad and the High Tech Lessons

Something’s going on in my house and as near as I can tell it involves education and nearly frozen iPads.

As I’ve mentioned before that, despite her relative average scores in math, our oldest earned entrance into a high school with a science focus. (Note: She may have been recruited to play flute in the brass band club; more on that in a future post.) Because of this, we’ve entered her into a correspondence math course that involves doing assignments on an iPad that’s been sent by the education company. This apparently makes it easier for us and the company to enforce a level of immediate accountability.

However, when the iPad arrived, it was surprisingly cold, as if the courier was also delivering frozen pizzas and couldn’t be bothered to carry a separate box or bag for the iPad.

That’s one explanation, anyway.

I’ve always maintained that one of the Tokyo region’s dirty little tricks is that it always get’s cold one more time. However, even I didn’t expect it to drop into the 50’s (15 Celsius) at the end of April. I also don’t understand why the iPad was cold enough to get condensation and/or preserve raw meat.

Of course, once the iPad was extracted, wiped down and warmed, it fell upon me, apparently because I own an iPod touch and that makes me, by default, an Apple “Genius Bar” worker, to deal with all technical issues.

The problem with that is that Apple tends to deny that problems exist. This means that you are often on your own when dealing with an issue, which also means my main solution to all problems is “turn off then turn back on”.

This time, though, the problem was with the Apps store. My only solution in that case is “do something else for a while”. Sure enough, after a suitable delay, the app store started working again and our oldest was able to download the software and start studying.

One that began I was unable to help as her math level is already higher than mine. (She’s still doing math with numbers, but there’s a lot letters involved.)

I just hope she doesn’t need any help with that. If she does, I’ll just refer her to the iPad.

Hurry Up to Wait

I almost fell asleep, then I fell asleep, then I took a walk on my injured foot.

Today was the one week follow up  appointment for my broken toe. I had an appointment slip and my hospital card and that earned me a surprisingly quick check in using an ATM-style device. I was sent right to the waiting room where I turned in all my papers.

I was then surprised when I was called for my x-ray after only a few minutes’ wait. At that point I began to hope that I wouldn’t be there that long.

That’s when the wait began. Several people were ahead of me in line. The hospital has a white board that lists the doctors’ names and their rooms and has a couple inexplicable numbers on it that are occasionally changed. I think the numbers have to do with the waiting list but I’m not sure.

While I waited I tried reading but quickly began to drift as my brain began shutting down. I tried watching television, but someone had set it to an NHK documentary which is a bit like injecting barbiturates directly into someone’s bloodstream. Eventually I started dozing off and tried to find a position where I wouldn’t fall over and land on the floor, fall forward and smack my face on the chair in front of me, or drool on myself.

I finally had to stand up and pace a little, which is funny when you have an injured foot, but right after I sat back down my name was called.

The doctor asked me how my foot was (sore, but usable) and showed me the x-rays which seemed to show little improvement but no new damage, which the doctor seemed worried about. It also seemed to have set in a normal position and were healing normally.

I’m now scheduled to go back for another follow up in two weeks. I’ll probably go to that one, but avoid any appointments after that as Japanese doctors tend to try to bring you back as they make money per visit and want you to visit a lot.

A Little Less Conversation A Little More Food

I had a big lunch because history has taught me that there wouldn’t be much food at supper. I didn’t count on the drinks coming slowly. I also didn’t count on there being rules.

I also didn’t count on my food trying to kill me.

Tonight was the welcome party for new teachers at the school where l work which meant everyone assembled at a bar for drinks and food. However, I spent part of the afternoon hunting for bottles of ink. I also had a sneaking suspicion that there wouldn’t be much food so I had something called the Chicken Chicken Platter for lunch. This involved two pieces of what e’d call “chicken fried chicken” back home and some chicken nuggets, salad, soup and rice. Then I decided to have ice cream because Baskin-Robbins was having a sale.

A group of us met for pre-drinks and then went to the party. We were impressed by the live seafood we had to pass on our way to our room but dismayed when our welcome was an unusual rule. Although the restaurant was “all you can drink” they required that the first drink be beer. After we finished a glass of beer we could order other drinks.

I do not understand why this was so but I suspect it was a way to force us to do the Japanese tradition of everyone pouring everyone else’s drinks in the spirit of camaraderie.

Then the food started trickling in and we quickly discovered two problems: 1) the food was only trickling in and 2) the drinks were only trickling in as well. We quickly learned to order extra drinks, but the wait left us with little to do but converse. Those of us who’d gone to the pre-party were, of course, relaxed and brilliant, but everyone else was way behind and, quite frankly, struggling.

Eventually, even those of us who’d attended the pre-party found ourselves struggling to remain relaxed and brilliant without the distraction of food.

The food itself posed an interesting problem. We had to grill it ourselves and, at one point, we were served fresh clams. They went on the grill and sat there doing very little until a couple of them decided to explode and spray shell fragments around the room.

Luckily no one was injured. The truth is, though, if the drinks had come faster, we’d have probably laughed about it and done our best to make the rest of the clams explode. Instead, we just ended up talking about how dangerous it was.

Hurry Up To Wait and Wait To Work

The truth is, I’d be willing to pay money to make my work schedule a bit more difficult but that would actually make it easier.

To be more specific, one of the things I don’t like about my Monday schedule is I almost get it all over with and then have to wait. I teach first, second and third period with only the regular breaks and then all of a sudden it all comes screeching to a halt and I have little to do for the next three hours except some token planning and trying to keep myself entertained/awake.

This seems awesome, especially compared to the much more difficult schedule of teachers in the USA, but it has its drawbacks.


I personally would rather have all my classes in a row. In fact, I’ve volunteered to teach four hours in a row each school day if I could get them all done before lunch. This would allow me to be finished at lunch time and then all I’d need to do is take some time to plan the next day’s classes. I’d have more classes than I have now, but I wouldn’t be obligated to have to just sit around and get distracted by stuff in the office. (Or, in many cases, be the distraction.)

Note: We used to have a busier schedule at the school where I work but then the laws changed slightly and that caused our hours to be reduced to under 29.5 hours a week.

Note 2: This is a bit inside baseball/evil empire but, technically I am obligated to be at the school where I work for at least six hours each day for five days in a week which should add up to 30 hours. However, the five minutes of break I’m officially allotted do not count as part of the 30 hours which means I fall under the magical 29.5 hours “full time” voodoo level and am not eligible for full time benefits and salaries. 

Note 3: I was actually lucky to get some benefits the company I work for when I started at the school where I work. Confused? Welcome to Japan.

I suspect that once I settle in to the new schedule I’ll find ways to make my down time more productive. I’ll always wish, though, that I had more work and therefore more free time.

Anything That Could Be Wrong Is

We learned a lot today. It all started with a phone call and a few rejected button presses.

After we added our oldest to our cellphone plan we, as always, discovered a few charges that we are sure were totally an accident/and or, something we weren’t told we’d have to reject or we’d be paying for it. (It’s also possible that the store clerk tapped it in Morse code and we didn’t notice.) We also had to correct our oldest’s name as they’d misspelled her family name (despite our having repeatedly corrected them when they said it wrong).

She Who Must Be Obeyed started pressing buttons on our phone and sighing a lot and then pressing more buttons. After a few minutes she started speaking to someone and that led to a few interesting discoveries.

First, we learned that our cellphone company thinks our phone number is our old number that we haven’t had for over 15 years. That number was acquired via the company I work for but they abandoned that service a couple  years after we started on it and we’ve had a different phone number since then. (This is similar to what happened when I tried to get a new bank card.) That involved a long discussion that took a shocking twist when the lady on the other end of the line insisted on speaking to our oldest.

She Who Must Be Obeyed pointed out that our oldest is only 15 and there was no reason in hell for her to have to get involved with this. That led to our second discovery: apparently during the long process that resulted in a wrong name and “accidental” charges, our oldest’s phone number got listed as the official phone number, essentially making her head of household. This meant they needed her permission to make any changes.

After clearing up that mess, we then added her to a service that lets her use Wi-Fi hot spots provided by our phone provider because they totally require us to do that rather than making it default. That, however, required me to get on the phone and answer several questions to prove that I am who I am even though the person couldn’t see me and all I did was repeat information She Who Must Be Obeyed had already tried to give. (To paraphrase a friend of mine: Could someone please tell me how, HOW, Japan became a major economic power?)

In the end we think we got it all sorted out. We’re sure something else is wrong, but we’ll deal with that when we figure out what it is.

Deservedly Mindless Distraction Day

In the past, on days like today, I’ve pretended to care. Today I couldn’t be bothered. Today I put my butt in a chair and started playing.

Well, I did something resembling work, sort of. But I did it in a way that allows me to deal with it at another time.

Using the excuse of resting my injured foot, I decided to play a game for a good portion of the day, especially as it was the game’s Asian anniversary weekend and that meant there were lots of special rewards.

That, however, turned into a much longer gaming session than I’d planned, even though I was’t playing particularly well.

At some point, however, I managed to inventory all the ink I have in stock (exact amount: a lot) and then put off doing things that will get it off the floor in the variety room.

This, of course, was the real reason for all the gaming: avoid making decisions. However, I didn’t just play games to do that, also cleaned a pen, which took longer than I though as it had collected gunk from the past and from the ink I was cleaning out. In my defense, it’s one of the pens I plan to sell and I want it in the best shape possible.

At some point during the day I made lunch for myself and our youngest and then told the youngest to do dishes. (I consider this work as it’s my job to teach “self-reliance” and “responsibility” and lots of other polysyllabic words like those.)

Oh, and in keeping with my tradition of watching final episodes of television series, I watched the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That seemed to be an important thing to do today.

Nap Attacks in Odd Positions

For want of a sofa I fell asleep in my hands at my desk. How I did this I do not know, but I think it was because of my rolled up sleeves.

One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve experimented with upping my carbohydrate intake a bit is that I’m once again starting to get the insulin produced carb crash at work. Today’s manifested itself in odd ways. I set my elbows on my desk and fell asleep sitting up with my face resting in my own palms. I do not know how this was possible except that I must have had the perfect balance of angle and weight distribution. It also helped that it was warm enough that I’d rolled up my sleeves. This prevented my elbows from splaying and my face from dropping to the desk.

It is more or less understood that falling asleep at your desk is acceptable in the office of the school where I work. This is pretty cool, however it was better in the past.

My office in the old building had a pair of sofas that were old and as questionable as the used sofas that end up on the porches of rental properties in college towns. They also were comfortable and it was easy to lay your head back and take a short nap. Other teachers would just lie down and occupy an entire sofa when they napped.

Unfortunately the new office, despite having better lighting, better chairs and less ancient dust, lacks a proper place for a properly questionable sofa. There are a couple sofas out in the main office, but they are way too public. There is also a “rest area” downstairs, but one colleague says it is occupied by janitorial staff and when he walked in the reaction was something like this so he didn’t stay very long.

This means, if we want a nap, we have to sleep at our desks and rely on a lucky convergence of rolled up sleeves and proper angles, or put our heads down and risk drooling on our desks or using our arms as pillows and ending up with odd patterns on our faces.

Or we could go to bed earlier, but that’s not likely to happen.

Culling and Cleaning and Second Thoughts

I never change except in my final decisions, especially when they involve getting rid of stuff.

After limping back home after work, I spent some time cleaning pens as I prepare them to be sold. (Or more accurately: before I attempt to sell them.) The decision to sell these particular pens was reached after several fits of mind-changing.

Both of the pens are reasonably new, but neither of them is that interesting to me anymore. I have other pens I like better and have no particular use for these anymore. They’d already been removed from the every day carry rotation and mostly resided at the office while I used up the ink in them. That said, I still like writing with one of the pens, but I’m getting tired of maintaining it. Also, it’s not the kind of pen you can just toss in a bag and expect it will come out well when you get where you’re going.

The main hindrance to the cleaning is my lack of knowledge of how to properly take them apart and tune them. I’ll wash them, flush them and soak them in pen cleaning solution but I’m not confident enough to yank out the nibs and clean the feeds. Oddly, a higher level of maintenance skill is one rabbit hole I’ve chosen to avoid. I can do basic stuff, and want to learn a few other things, but mostly I’m happy doing the basics.

Now the pens will go into short term storage whilst I clean and ready a few more to be sold. Now that they are desk pens I find I don’t miss carrying them around. That’s a good sign. However, the act of cleaning brings back a lot of memories and gets me worried about sunk costs and if I’ve got my money’s worth out of them and if I’ll get what I think they’re worth.

The problem is, what they are worth changes depending on the memories that get brought back.

What Toe On Yonder Desk Breaks

I didn’t leave the doctor many options so all he did was apply some tape.

Yesterday I mentioned my most recent moments of left foot destruction  and although it was sore and an impressive shade of purple, I had little trouble walking to work (well, I was limping, but it was more annoying than anything else.

On the way home from work, though, I knew something was wrong. The sore toe suddenly developed stabbing pains in places one would not expect stabbing pains (because one totally expects stabbing pains in other places) and I did a short zig zag on the street before finally deciding I’d better go the hospital and get an x-ray even if it meant paperwork and a long wait.

Somehow, and with a little help from a translation app, I managed to fill out all the required forms and then was escorted to the back of the hospital where I turned in a form and waited.

Eventually my name was called and I found myself in front of a young doctor who had me take off my shoe and sock so he could assess the damage. His first reaction was “Damn, that’s nasty.” (Although he said it in a more Japanese “Hmmmm. Yeah. I see.”)

He then poked around on my foot to establish where it was and was not sore and then sent me for an x-ray. After that there was more waiting before he called me in and showed me the inside of left foot. Even my untrained eyes could spot the break which, for the record, doesn’t look as impressive as the break I got a couple decades ago. The break on the “Little Piggie Who Had None” had an obvious angle off the normal toe line. (I was pleased to see, though, how well that had healed.)

Note: the current break is near the inner joint on my left fifth middle phalanx, as if I know what that is.

This led to the next problem. The doctor said there wasn’t much he could do except tape the two little piggies together. A cast was right out and I turned down the flexible metal splint that would probably keep me from wearing shoes. He applied the tape and sent me on my way (although I have to go back for another x-ray one week from today).

I limped home and haven’t done much since I got home. (Yes, I’m exploiting an excuse to be lazy.)