Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hire Bernie Madoff

After reading this interview, perhaps Madoff should be used like Frank Abagnale, Jr. and he can go to work for the SEC, since they evidently don't know what the hell they were doing. Remember, Madoff only got caught because his sons turned him in after he confessed to them.

Secondary lesson: don't teach your children to be honest if you're going to break the law.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The perfect egg

Here's a great analysis on the perfect soft- and hard-boiled egg. I just tried it out and the egg was perfect. I've still got a small peeling problem, but that's not such a big deal. The article is also a great bit of food science writing.

Next, on to julienne-en-en-ing!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Good hair

Speaking of which, this looks interesting in all sorts of ways:

Do black people really spend that much time in barbershops? I thought the whole "Barbershop" movie thing was a schtick for a movie, but perhaps not. Do all the other white people spend time socializing in barbershops and I just missed out on this?

I like the one by my house, it's very tradition 'old-man' style -- they'll cut your hair only with scissors if you ask, and you always get a hot towel and a straight razor shave on your sideburns and the nape of your neck. Japan still has good ones, and so did Spain. My last encounter in an American barbershop (circa 2005) didn't end well. SOMEbody told this guy his son was a liberal and I spent the entire haircut listening to a rant about hippies and how anyone opposing the Iraq war is a traitor to their country, all while he wielded pointy scissors about my vital arteries.

What's racist? Addendum

Updating a bit on this post about racism in Japan, we have the following clip from a Saturday evening program in Australia, called "Hey Hey It's Saturday":

I think Americans will instantly notice what's wrong here. When I went to Australia last August, it was fun to watch the evening variety shows. TV there is more akin to Spanish or Japanese television than American TV, in that there are lots of shows with minor celebrities sitting on panels. There are quiz shows, talk shows, talking head shows where the celebrities comment on news or amateur videos. The above clip is one of those.

Australian TV is interesting to Americans because there is a lot more profanity used, as well as the culture there being not nearly as politically correct. While I enjoy it because sometimes people get riled up about the wrong things, this clip was way over my line, and it was interesting to see Harry Connick, Jr. as one of the judges give the group a '0' and the short discussion that followed. The Wikipedia discussion of the event is interesting in that the Michael Jackson character is played by a man named Anand Deva (not the whitest name in the world), and that 'Jackson Jive' group was ethnically mixed, and the whole group was made of doctors.

Some points to consider:

  • Australia didn't participate in the slave trade.
  • Blackface wasn't used to mock blacks, as well as appropriate their culture and undermine it.
  • Australia has a troubled history with regards to its Aboriginal peoples, who are kind of like American blacks and Native Americans rolled up into one unfortunate bundle.
  • 'White Australia' wasn't even abandoned completely until the 1970s, allowing for more immigration from Asian countries.
The above clip also shows the 'Jackson Jive' performing on the same variety show 20 years ago, when it won the competition. It's worth keeping in mind the change from then to now. And lest we Americans decide to get on a high horse:

Which kinda leads us to this:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Gone biking

I'm cycling to Hakone today with my friends Eric and Todd. We'll stay one night in a small inn on Lake Ashino and cycle back. Should be good exercise and good fun.

Until I get back, feel free to peruse the photos on the right there, I've posted some aftermath photos of the beach from the typhoon last week, as well as some pics from hiking around Fuji Five Lakes.

Or you can watch these:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

'Liar!' vs. 'You lie!'

Here's an interesting linguistic post on Rep. Joe Wilson's (R - Idiots) outburst during Obama's healthcare speech. Essentially, it boils down to Wilson's using the simple present, whereas most English speakers would use the present progressive. The blogger, Geoff Nunberg, posits that this is something Wilson probably said in his head over and over again. Not that he planned it, but his dislike of Obama being so strong, it just came out. I wonder if it isn't more of a Southern thing, like Wilson was trying to provoke Obama into a duel or something.

While we're going all linguistic on Teabaggers' asses, might as well analyze this one:

Notice the reference to Obama and then the honorific used for Bush. Evidently, this guy doesn't consider Obama to be a President of the USA. While it's common to refer to the President only by his last name, I think it's rather telling that he uses the title with one, but not the other. I can't recall ever seeing people refer to 'Bush' and then to 'President Clinton'.

(for more photos of the 9.12 march, check out Jeff Malet's photo gallery)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Talent vs. Deliberate Practice

I just listened to a fascinating talk by Geoff Colvin at RSA. He's the author of Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. He discusses phenoms like Tiger Woods, Gary Kasparov and Mozart, and how they got to be who they are/were. There's evidently a lot of research on this, as well on what makes average people good at certain things. What Colvin puts it down to is "deliberate practice". But this isn't your normal practice.

Deliberate practice involves two aspects. First is the ability to force oneself to practice. Doing something you don't like is a bummer, doing something you like is fun. Being able to make yourself do something for hours on end, day in, day out, that's what makes Tiger Woods. As well, there has to be a goal to the practice. Colvin discusses the unpleasantness of failing at figure skating for this example. Messing up a jump in figure skating involve you landing on your tush on hard, cold ice. But great figure skaters practice the jumps they can't do. They keep hitting that ice until they get it down. Mediocre figure skaters are ones who only practice the jumps they can do. The lesson here is to aim just beyond your capabilities, at a place that's just outside your comfort zone, but not so far out that you get discouraged and give up hope.

While a lot of time is spent focusing on people at the top of their game, Colvin also talks about more mundane jobs. Like auditors. He discusses how, for most people, they eventually level off at some point, such that an auditor that has been doing the job for five years is about as good as an auditor that has been around for decades. They both have roughly the same ability to spot fraud in a company's books.

In addition, Colving discusses luck and time. One reason Tiger Woods is so great is that he's been doing his deliberate practice since he was 2. By the time he won his first Masters, he was 21. That meant he'd had 19 years of practice. Jack Nicklaus had about 13, and Arnold Palmer had 19 also, but they started golfing at 10 and 7, respectively, meaning they achieved things later in their lives. Tiger also had the luck to be born to his father, who was driven himself. Mozart's father was a noted composer and teacher, who had vowed to bring up his son to be a musician and composer.

A lot of this discussion was about business, but there are lots of possibilities when thinking about education, or when thinking about learning something yourself, and how to plan for success. Anyway, go have a listen and see what you think.

If nothing else, I'd recommend the RSA Events and Lectures to people interested in hearing new and different opinions.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On this day in history...

On this day in 1923, a large earthquake struck O-shima, the large island just to the south of where I live. The timing of the quake, when cooking fires were going to prepare lunch, combined with winds from a nearby typhoon, caused nearly 100,000 deaths in the Kanto region. To put this in perspective, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake killed 3,000, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed 'hundreds'. Nearly all of Yokohama burned to the ground, as did Tokyo. The devastation in Tokyo can be seen above. This is the area that my friends Aaron and Molly stayed when they came to Tokyo. The Great Buddha in Kamakura, which I take nearly all visitors to see moved forward two feet (it weighs in at 93-tons). Reading through the list of places devastated on wikipedia, I recognize all of them, and have visited most. It's truly a reminder of how brutal nature can be, and how a perfect storm of circumstances can bring disaster.

Even worse, in the aftermath rumors blamed foreigners, mostly Koreans, for looting and robbery. Vigilante mobs attacked and killed Koreans as well as setting up checkpoints. Anyone who sounded different was attacked. This included not only Koreans and other foreigners, but people from other parts of Japan with strong accents. Police and the army attempted to protect the Koreans, but some officials were complicit in handing over Koreans to the mob. A number of civilians were prosecuted, but sentences were light and the rest were pardoned as part of the marriage ceremony of Prince Hirohito. The authorities also took advantage of the confusion to arrest and kill dissidents, such as socialists and anarchists.

Incidentally, we're about due for another giant earthquake in this area, as well as a big eruption from Mt. Fuji one of these days. They did estimates of what would happen, namely that any ash fallout from an eruption of Mt. Fuji would halt all transportation between there and Tokyo. That's around 20 million people that will be unable to drive or use mass transit. I better start stockpiling canned peaches.

(The reason the deaths were so much higher in Japan than the other disasters is that most houses were made of wood and charcoal fires were used for cooking. This combination caused a firestorm. For some reason, the Japanese didn't learn not to build things out of wood, which meant that when Curtis LeMay was set loose on Japan, we ended up with this.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

What's racist?

I was discussing the "Mr. James" ad campaign at McDonald's here in Japan with some friends (see here and here), along with whether or not it should be considered racist. I thought that yes, it was rather racist, while another American thought it was all in good fun and that I was being over-sensitive. A Japanese friend thought nothing of it, just that it was amusing.

I had a long screed written about this, but it's probably better to just get the backstory from the above two links. I wonder when is something considered racist/offensive? Does intent factor into it, or can there be unintentional offense? Not to mention the international aspect of this. If something is considered offensive in one country, does it carry over to another as well? Watch this:

It's pretty obvious who the monkey is supposed to be. But in Japan, there isn't the same derogatory association of monkeys with black people -- rather, foreigners in general are associated with apes, with pretty much the same connotations as in the USA. But, monkeys are also cute. And monkeys are also considered clever: a samurai watching a monkey bathe in a hot spring was the inspiration for onsen. So, is the Obama monkey video racist? I guess in one way yes, and in another way no. Another example of this would be the controversy over Little Black Sambo here in Japan. The drawings of an odd black boy with giant red lips and big eyes has definite historical racist connotations, but in Japan that sort of thing is just cute. Yet the book was pulled in Japan about 20 years ago because some people took offense at it.

I guess stereotypes, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. But a little sensitivity from McDonald's Japan would be nice as well.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The perils of working in Japan

I've had a pretty easy time of it here in Japan. It's not hard work, and I've had mostly positive experiences. A huge part of that is that I'm still single and thus avoid all the complications that go along with family life. Like, you know, the death of an unborn child. I don't know what I would have done in this situation, but I do know some of the people involved (not the main person, however), and I used to work for the company. I can't believe this would happen. Well, actually I can. This is how Nova was, and how many smaller companies act. Foreigners are a very vulnerable population, as we are at the mercy of our employers much of the time. Japan has very strict employment rules, so even a small slight can cause huge delays and potentially a non-renewal of your visa. I hope I never have to suffer what this guy has suffered through.

Go read.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

L/km or, I'm not crazy after all!

A while ago, I was having a friendly debate with someone who always has to be right. Being the same type of person, I wasn't giving up, either. We were talking somewhere about gas mileage in cars, and I mentioned my car in high school/college. It was an old BMW with a little computer thingy on the dash that would show different types of data like the temperature, time, average speed and gas consumption. Being American, I stuck a pencil in the little hole and changed the settings from metric to US standard, something I had to do every time the battery got disconnected (or ran out of power, something I often did by leaving the headlights on).

Gas consumption fascinated me, mostly because I always got lower than the rating, and also because the metric gas consumption was listed in liters per kilometer (or 100 km, I can't quite recall). Now, this guy, let's call him M, said that was a stupid thing and couldn't possibly be right. We appealed to his French co-worker who said they measure it in km/L. I was quickly voted down and that was that.

Today I came across this story about a typo on Fox News, and lo and behold, in comments some Australians remarked how mileage in their country is measured in L/100 km, and how it makes perfect sense if you want to figure out how much is needed to go a certain distance. I'd surmise this would be useful going to the Moon or across the Outback, but not so much in suburban America.

Sadly, I won't get to lord this over M. One night he drunkenly berated me for disliking the black vans that drive around waking me up in the morning, telling me I have no rights in this country. Not hanging out with him again.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Money in, money out

I just got my hefty tax return from the government, which will allow me to pay off my shopping spree from being home. And on a whim I bought some tickets to Australia, so this summer I'll be going to visit Ana and Damien in Brisbane, with a stopover in Singapore to see a couple friends there.

So far, I'll leave Japan on July 24th, stay in singapore a couple days, then up to Kuala Lumpur, fly out on the 29th to Brisbane. I'll stay there until the 11th or 12th, then fly back to KL, stay there a day or so, over to Singapore and back to Japan on the 17th. I got the Japan-Singapore leg through ANA, and the KL-Brisbane flight is through budget carrier AirAsia. I've flown them several times before, but only on short hops around Malaysia and over to Borneo. The short trips are nice, but I wonder how they'll hold up on a 7 hr flight.

Of course, there's the small matter of getting from Singapore to KL. I'll have to look at another AirAsia hop, which would be short and moderately priced, or a $10 bus ride that isn't bad, but wastes about 9hrs all told. I also just realized that Singapore won't allow me to take alcohol through, so if my friends want anything, they're gonna have to find another supplier.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Things to do with your free time

Make the largest LEGO ship ever. That's quite impressive. It's a 6.6m model of the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato, the largest battleship ever built. The original fired her guns only a couple times in battle, then was sunk, killing nearly all of her 2,700 crew. It's got kind of a cult following in Japan, as some sort of symbol of big dreams that suddenly go ker-plooey.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Reason #6,835 I'm glad I don't live in the US Texas

Some lawmaker in Texas thinks Asian names are too difficult and suggested they take new names to make it easier on the ignoramuses who think everyone in America is a white Christian. I especially loved this part:

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?” Brown said.

Yes, "your citizens", because people with slanty eyes can't possibly be Americans.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The first weekend home

Mmm, I've had some good beer and food since I got back. I got to the house around 5ish, and headed with my folks to the Friendly Tavern in "downtown" Zionsville. I got a good prime rib with sauteed cabbage and some friend mushrooms. The cabbage wasn't so great, I was expecting saurkraut, but oh well. I also had a great Blue Moon wheat ale and a Sierra Nevada pale ale. The pale ale wasn't so great, it was a little too bitter for my taste. I had another bottle later that night when I met some high school friends and it was really different. Go figure.

Having home cooking was great, Mom's mexican soup was great, and last night Dad cooked up a turkey breast. I'm working my way through my list of must-eat foods. Tonight I'm going to have a Qdoba burrito with friends Sam and Jessi while we watch the Battlestar Galactica finale.

Speaking of which, I'm gonna be late if I don't go now. More on the weekend later.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Travel time sucks

I'm packing things right now and wondering what exactly is wrong with me. I've hardly got anything in my suitcase. The largest thing is a giant backpack I'll presumably use as a second piece of luggage if I end up buying large amounts of clothing and booze to bring back.

I know I'm missing something, but what? Planning on buying new clothes in Indy, so I've hardly packed anything. I've got some old ratty things at home to tide me over.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Upholding the curtains

I'm taking a break from one of my quizzes (hooray for untimed, open-book quizzes!) and browsing through the class forums. We've been discussing morphology, and how some words don't really relate to their meanings once you remove their affixes. One person brought up some words like 'downhearted'. Our text says there's no other relation to 'hearted' (even Firefox spellchecker agrees), but this student came up with 'kindhearted'. I was thinking about 'hearten', as in gaining courage or morale from something.

Another one was 'upholster'. The etymology is quite fun, according to, it came from a 19th century Americanism 'upholsterer', the profession name. And that came from a 17th century term where a person was employed to install furnishings, or to literally 'up-hold' the curtains.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Transporting goods

I made a list earlier of all the things I want to get for myself when I'm home:

creme eggs
reese's pb cups
shoes (oh, Born, how I love your shoes!)
jacket (actually, never got my secret santa present, which a little birdie informs me is of this ilk)
Settlers of Catan
SD flash card

The couscous and lentils are dependent on price. I'm pretty sure lentils are dirt cheap in the US. I might buy a bunch and ship them freight or something to save weight on the airline. Of course I'm going to add a few bottles of wine. Anything I'm missing?

Even better is the list of things people want me to bring back for them. We have Twix, Combos, Frito Lay guacamole dip, and several dozen cadbury eggs. I might just reserve one suitcase for those.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Coming home

Well, I've been bad about blogging here. Too much with life and new classes and work.

But, the big news: I'm heading home from March 20th to April 5th. So anybody with free time that wants to hang out, let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I believe the phrase for this is f'ing HILARIOUS.

In other news, I am actually alive and around, just haven't really done much worth blogging about. Maybe later this week.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Talk about long shots

I once met Italian girl I'd met in a random hostel in a tiny town outside Valencia, Spain in 2001. It was just after Las Fallas, a festival in Valencia where giant paper mache statues are created and burned on the final night. She and I and a selection of other Europeans and a couple Argetinians would stay up til the wee hours, drinking wine on the beach, chatting. I don't have any of the same emails as I did then, and we haven't spoken since emailing a couple times that year.

But tonight I got a Facebook request from her. How strange.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Public Servant Announcement

When I come home in March, you're going to have to get used to metric. Here's a handy guide:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Movie Backlog

I'm watching SiCKO now. The crap people have to go through is appalling. I'm planning on going home for a visit in March, and this movie prompted me to look up my insurance plan. I found this little gem in the FAQ:

7. Will my cover be affected if I return to my home country?
No - provided it is within your chosen area of cover*.
* Except if you are a citizen of the USA, and are returning home. If this is the case, cover will be terminated when the time spent in your home country exceeds 180 days continuous stay in one plan year.

Ah, America.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

Went to my friend Kim's house party last night. I wound up catching a bit of a cold, so it's probably a good thing I caught the first train home and didn't join them in their quest to jump into the ocean at sunrise. Though, I'm told the sunrise was really nice, and Fuji looked awesome at 6:30am.

So Happy New Year, I'm off to attempt to scrounge up some food, hope something's still open.