Monday, February 28, 2005

Dear Dad

I have come across a lot of stories recently about people losing loved ones, and a common theme is that there are things they wish they'd said, but now it's too late.

I was thinking about this today as I was cycling along, and I remembered something I wish I'd said to my dad while he was still alive. I don't know why this particular incident came to mind, and I did say something at the time, and quite loudly if I remember rightly. But I never asked the really important question.

So here it is. An open letter to my dad.

Dear Dad,

I know you're dead, but there's something I want to ask you. It's about something that happened when I was about 12. Well, it's about several things, really, but this is the one incident that sticks in my mind.

I'd got into the truck, ready to go down to the farm, and you casually tossed (yes, TOSSED) a brown paper package at me. "Hold this," you said.

(What were you THINKING?)

"Can't it go in the back?" I asked, and you said, "No, you hold it. I don't want it to rattle around."

So I held it. (I was a good girl. Why did you do this to me?) You got into the truck and off we went.

As we were driving along we were chatting. You went quite fast, not slowing down for bumps. (YOU DID NOT SLOW DOWN FOR BUMPS.) And at some point I started throwing the brown paper package from one hand to the other. Then I accidentally dropped it on the floor, and you frowned and said, casually,

"Oh, I've been meaning to say; you'd better be careful with that."

"Sorry," I said. "I hope I didn't do any damage. What is it, anyway?"

"You would know if it was damaged," you replied, and snorted. (You thought it was funny!) "It's detonators. And they're a bit old, so a bump could set them off. That's why I asked you to hold them."

I froze, and clutched the package to my chest to keep it safe.

You glanced sideways at me. "And don't let them get too warm," you said.

That was when I got upset. By the time we got to the farm my arms were aching from holding the detonators as far away from my body as possible and trying not to move them when we went over a bump. I had aged several years. You thought it was funny, and kept telling me not to worry, it was just a bunch of old detonators and we would blow them up on the farm. (UNSTABLE, OLD detonators, Dad. And you'd given them to your precious 12-year-old daughter to hold.)

But Dad, I SAW what happened when you decided, another time, to blow up some old detonators. Because they were dangerous, you said. Better not leave them lying around, you said. The kids might have an accident, you said. (IT WAS JUST AN EXCUSE TO MAKE A BIG BANG AND SCARE THE SHIT OUT OF GRANDMA.) You blew them up in the shed, you big dummy, and I saw the hole they blew through the neatly stacked pile of new rubbish bags, and the black marks around the walls. I saw your singed eyebrows. I heard you too, as you came into the house.

"Whoops! That made a bigger bang than I expected!" you said. I thought you'd never stop laughing. It wasn't one bang, Dad, it was a series of bangs, and Grandma and I thought the house was being attacked by someone with a machine gun. (No, we didn't know what a machine gun sounded like, but we imagined that's what it sounded like.)

I won't start on the gelignite. At least you never asked me to hold the gelignite.

Dad? Dad? Are you listening to me?

You were always doing stuff like that, Dad. Maybe you thought you were making up for the lack of movies and TV. Maybe you thought that since we never got to see James Bond confronting a ticking time bomb you'd supply us with first-hand experience of what it felt like. Or maybe the detonators weren't that old and you knew they were pretty safe but just wanted an excuse to blow something up, and you were teasing me. I don't know. I'm sure you had good intentions. (I never thought you didn't care about us, Dad. If anything, you cared too much.)

But Dad, there is something I've always wanted to ask you but never did, because every time the topic came up I was too mad to be coherent. And then you went and died and it was too late, and I've never been able to figure it out.


Your loving daughter,

P.S. I'll admit the detonators did make very satisfactory bangs when they went off, but I still didn't think they were funny.

P.P.S. Dad? Just one more thing. After your funeral your friends kept coming to visit, to tell us how sorry they were. (You made a lot of seriously eccentric friends in your last years, Dad. Where did you find them?) When they learned my name they knew all about me. It was shocking how much they knew. They told me you were really proud of me, and that you talked about me all the time. I had to pretend that I knew that.

But Dad, I'd thought you were ashamed of me. That's why I told you so little about my life after I left home. How come you never told me?


I am always coming across the claim that we should all drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Drinking water is supposed to 'flush you out,' 'get rid of toxins,' and so on. People write and talk about the benefits of drinking lots of water as if this is a proven scientific fact and we should feel bad about not taking proper care of ourselves if we don't drink the mythical eight glasses of water a day. Lots of people do feel bad about it, I've noticed.

(Aside: The 'getting rid of toxins' thing always triggers my bullshit detector, and I am particularly fond of a Michael Leunig cartoon in which a man is standing with his arms out and looking down at his body, which is erupting gunk from various random places and apparently falling apart. "Look Beryl!" he is saying delightedly. "The toxins are coming out!")

Anyway, back to the water thing. I looked it up, to find out what scientific research has been done, and found this. If you can't make it through the whole thing (it is worth reading, though) this part from the concluding comments is enough to at least stop you from feeling bad about the amount of water you are not drinking:

Despite an extensive search of the literature and many personal inquiries and discussions with nutritionists and colleagues (see SEARCH STRATEGY, end of article), I have found no scientific reports concluding that we all must "drink at least eight glasses of water a day." On the contrary, there are publications that state the opposite (38, 46, 52), and skepticism about 8 X 8 has begun to appear in the lay press (5, 7-9, 20, 39, 58, 78, 88). Not only is there no scientific evidence that we need to drink that much, but the recommendation could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough.
So there you go. The next time someone tells you that drinking eight glasses of water is essential in your daily life you can repeat that last sentence to them:

"OH YEAH? Not only is there no scientific evidence that we need to drink that much, but the recommendation could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough. Bite me."

(You might need to rehearse.)

Totally irrelevant funny link: If your computer screen is dirty you might like to try this. (Warning: uses Flash, and takes a while to load.)

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Librarianguish writes about seeing the movie Supersize Me, and mentions the fries that don't decompose. And that reminded me of the first time I bought sliced bread in a Japanese supermarket.

The first thing to surprise me was the size of the slices. They were slabs, not slices. You could barely get your mouth around one. In NZ you used to be able to choose from bread that had been sliced for sandwiches (thin) or toast (thicker). In Japan a 'normal' slice of bread is about three times the width of a toast slice, and will dislocate your jaw if you're not careful. There is no way it will fit into a toaster, which is why, I suppose, nobody has toasters here. They have toaster ovens.

The second shock was the taste and consistency. It was like biting into a giant white sponge. I didn't spit out my first (and last) mouthful, but it was a close thing. I stared thoughtfully at the rest of the slab in my hand, decided I wasn't all that hungry, mourned the waste of Vegemite, and threw it in the bin, putting the rest of the packet on top of the fridge. I hoped someone more culturally acclimatised might eat it. Then I forgot all about it. It was the middle of July. Temperatures were around 35C and it was very, very humid.

About two weeks later I noticed guiltily that the packet was still there. I opened it gingerly, holding it well away from my face, and that was when I discovered the amazing and magical everlasting property of Japanese supermarket bread. It was still soft, spongy, and white. There was no mould, it hadn't gone stale, and it looked and felt as fresh as the day I'd bought it.

I wondered briefly if it would be useful for, say, wiping the floor. Then I chucked it in the bin, except for one slice that I broke up and put on the wall, for the birds. A few weeks later it was still there, still fresh and spongy and mouldless, untouched by sparrows, crows, rats, itachi, or any other wildlife. Perhaps they didn't realize it was food. Eventually I decided we didn't really need these lumps of white sponge stuff decorating the wall and threw them away, too.

But how do they do it? How do they manage to turn something as simple as bread into some alien, inert, indestructible and non-biodegradable substance? And WHY?

There is a lot more variety these days, although ordinary supermarket bread is still pretty much the same. But you can buy decent bread if you know where to go. Until a few weeks ago we had to go into Osaka or Kobe to get our supplies, but then a new bakery opened near our house and we were ecstatic to discover that they make and sell the real thing. You know, the sort that tastes good, smells good, goes stale after a day or two, and grows mould thereafter. I know, because I checked.

I never knew that stale, mouldy bread could make me so happy.

UPDATE: After writing this I went downstairs to make dinner, and discovered, finally, a use for Japanese supermarket bread. Not that I had any when I needed it, of course, but after I'd sliced my finger and was dripping blood everywhere and had soaked through half a roll of paper towels waiting for it to stop bleeding it occurred to me that this was the perfect moment for a slab of Japanese supermarket bread. If I'd had a slice I could have just rested my finger on it and bled dry, and not ended up with blood all over the kitchen.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Instructional posters

The Funky Drummer has posted a wonderful photograph of a Japanese sign that shows you how to build a snowman with a cigarette butt sticking out of its head. It even tells you how long it will take.

They're good at making instructional posters, here. Too good, sometimes. In my bank, until recently, they had big graphic posters that instructed would-be criminal types how to conduct a successful robbery of people using the ATMs. It used to make me nervous. Whenever I used a machine I was sure the guy who came in behind me was studying the little pictures and mentally rehearsing dropping a ¥10,000 note on the floor behind me, calling pleasantly and pointing, telling me I'd dropped some money, and I, like a FOOL, would bend over to pick it up and he would bop me on the head and grab my wallet. All the time I was pushing buttons and being addressed in a squeaky voice by the ATM I'd be telling myself, If someone points at some money on the floor and smiles nicely, DO NOT THANK HIM AND PICK IT UP.

But then I'd wonder, but what if it is mine...? and mentally slap myself. EVEN IF IT'S MINE, BECAUSE HE MIGHT HAVE CHECKED OUT THE POSTER AND CAN'T HELP HIMSELF.

I was glad when they took those posters down.

I feel sick

When I was a child I looked forward to growing up and being able to eat a WHOLE CAN of sweetened condensed milk without anybody stopping me. I loved sweetened condensed milk, and my mother would never let me do more than clean the empty can with my finger, and lick.

In Japan, sweetened condensed milk doesn't come in a can. It comes in a tube. Tonight I remembered my faraway dream and bought a tube of sweetened condensed milk. I held it over my open mouth and squeezed. Nobody stopped me.

Oh, what exquisite pleasure!

But I must say the experience was kind of disappointing in the end, because I have, boringly, managed to attain some wisdom along with age. I stopped at about a teaspoonful and ... well, maybe two teaspoonfuls. Well, it could have been three, I suppose. Definitely no more than four.

Perhaps I haven't attained quite enough wisdom. I don't feel very well.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The mystery briefcase

Tinyhands has been worrying about his behaviour on a date, and reading that reminded me of the worst ever date I had. I am not saying that Tinyhands was an awful date. I'm sure he wasn't, despite what he thinks. But this guy I went out with ... well, Tinyhands can take comfort from this story.

This happened a very long time ago. In fact it was so long ago that it was before I'd figured out quite what a date was. In any case, in NZ, at least amongst my friends, we didn't really talk about 'dates'. Dates were things that happened to Americans in women's magazines. We just went out with someone, and didn't have a list of rules to follow.

In my case, this particular time, I didn't even realize it was a date. I was very naive and very inexperienced. (I'd fairly recently sprung myself out of the very strict cult I'd grown up in, where holding hands before you were married was a no-no. Going to the pub was a no-no. Going to a restaurant/pub with a man I barely knew would have sent me straight to hell if I'd known what I was doing and it's a good thing I didn't.)

Anyway, this guy, who I met through a bunch of friends, asked me out to dinner. Thinking he was asking me out to dinner with the bunch of friends (i.e. that this was something everybody had arranged and I'd just missed it), I accepted. I didn't particularly fancy him. I thought he was nice, but that was all. I didn't really know him.

We arranged a time to meet, and on the day I didn't take too much trouble over how I dressed, thinking there would be a dozen or so others I knew there and that this would be a 'chatting with friends' sort of thing rather than a 'snag a man' sort of thing. In any case I thought I was unattractive to men so never bothered. (Why I thought so is another story, and not a very interesting one, but I was resigned to this sad fact about my life and it didn't worry me particularly. That I turned out to be at least partly wrong was a mixed blessing.)

The guy, let's call him Rob (because I think that was his name, although I may be misremembering), turned up at the appointed time after he finished work, and we set off for the pub. We were going to walk (planning to drink meant driving was out), but then a bus came along and we took that instead. He then left his wallet on the bus and we chased it all around the city in a taxi until we got it back.

That was the first thing. Not bad so far. Not great, but not bad. I'm a forgiving sort of person, and we all make mistakes.

We got to the pub/restaurant (late) and somewhat to my surprise there were no other friends there. It was just him and me. I felt a little awkward at first, but it was all right, really. We sat down to eat, and as we were eating I asked him lots of questions and he talked about himself. He also talked about his job (in a hospital), and about the volunteer work he did in civil defence. I was only vaguely aware of what that meant, but that was all right.

Rob was not a boring person, so that made up for my lack of conversation and we had a good time. Also, he didn't ask me too much about myself, for which I was grateful. I wasn't very good at that. So we had a nice, normal evening, and I thought what a nice man, he is interesting, and could be a good friend. (Because I didn't believe any man would be interested in me as a woman, remember? That didn't even enter my head.) We stayed until closing time.

All in all a reasonably successful evening, right? But wait! It wasn't over yet.

We paid, left, and started to walk home, keeping an eye out for a taxi. But after we'd been walking a while Rob suddenly realized he'd left his briefcase back at the pub, and after much forehead slapping and apologizing from him we turned around and went back. We weren't sure if anybody would still be there.

They were. The lights were on and some staff were cleaning up. We went in. Rob went ahead and asked about his briefcase, and I hovered in the doorway. He talked with a couple of guys for a bit, and then turned around with a relieved expression. "It looks like they've got it!" he called to me.

I went forward and stood beside him as he was thanking them. But one of the guys suddenly got coy.

"How do we know it's yours?" he asked. "Perhaps you'd better describe it."

Rob described it.

"But that could be any briefcase," said the guy, looking sideways at his workmate. "Perhaps you'd better describe what's inside it. Then we can be sure. We don't want to give it to the wrong person, and there's nothing in it to indicate who it belongs to."

Rob hesitated and thought about it.

"Er.... there are quite a few civil defence pamphlets," he said.

"Yeeees... And...?" said the guy.

"Er... a couple of magazines," said Rob, and named the magazines. (Nothing to be ashamed of, but I can't remember what they were.)

"Yeeeeeees... And...?" said the guy. I noticed that he and his mate were both looking very alert and interested.

"And, er... and a couple of scientific journals," Rob said.

"That's right! Aaaand...?"

Rob shifted from foot to foot and looked at the floor.

"Er... mumble mumble," he said, and we all leaned forward and demanded,


(Yes, including me, because by now I was really, really curious.)

"Andtwohundredcondoms," muttered Rob.

"That's right! TWO HUNDRED CONDOMS! It's definitely your briefcase!" said the guy.

He handed it over.

"Here you are, sir," he said, and looked at me. I stared back. I felt like a rabbit caught in headlights. I was in shock, and my eyes had popped out so far they were drying up. "Enjoy the rest of your evening, ma'am," he said, politely, and I boggled.

Rob and I left, not looking at each other. (And I just know those two guys collapsed into howls of laughter the moment the door closed behind us.)

And that was it, really. Rob walked me to my door in silence, and all the way home I was totally incapable of speech because the only thought in my head was a great big question, and I couldn't ask it:


And he didn't speak either, most likely because he was as embarrassed as he'd ever been in his life.

He never explained, I never asked, and while we saw each other once or twice after that, amongst friends, we never talked much again.

I lost touch with him years ago, but if I ever meet him again I am going to ask. I'm not young and naive anymore. I'm not easily embarrassed, and I don't care if I embarrass him. I want to know, because I've thought and thought and thought about this, and even though I'm not the innocent I used to be I've never been able to come up with a good reason (or even a bad reason) why anybody would carry two hundred condoms around in a briefcase.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

My favourite accident

Pimme wrote about a police car chase, and it reminded me of one I saw here. It was brilliant. It went like this:

I was cycling along a small side street one fine evening, minding my own business, when I heard an amplified voice telling someone to pull over. I looked around and couldn't see a police car, but I pulled over anyway, just in case. And it was a good thing I did, because immediately there was a great revving of engines and screech of tyres and a van came hurtling around the corner, closely followed by a police car containing four policemen. Both vehicles just missed me.

The two of them zoomed up towards the next corner trailing a hideous cacophony of sound - the voice yelling, siren wailing, engines roaring. My mouth was still hanging open, so I closed it, got on my bicycle, and started to pedal up to the corner to catch some more of the action (you would have too, admit it). But as they disappeared around the corner there was the sound of screeching tyres and a loud crash, then screeching tyres again and another loud crash.

And then silence.

From start to finish the whole thing had lasted less than ten seconds.

When I got up to the corner I saw that the van had rounded the corner too sharply and hit a power pole. The police car had done exactly the same thing and crashed into the van. The driver of the van was looking dazed, and couldn't get his door open, and the policemen were all frantically trying to get their doors open and failing, too. Everybody was trapped. It didn't just sound like a cartoon, it looked like one, too!

A group of spectators had gathered. Everybody was standing well back and trying not to laugh, not always successfully.

After a few minutes the police finally got a back door open and the two policemen in the back got out. The two in the front indulged in some undignified contortions to squeeze over the seats, and followed. One started trying to open the van door, and the other three took charge of the crowd. They strode around masterfully waving their arms and trying to get everybody to go away. I got the impression they would have liked to arrest us all.

I wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying, but it seemed to be something like, "Move along, move along, nothing to see here! And IT'S NOT FUNNY!" The spectators' faces were quite clearly responding, Oh yes it is! That was better than TV! Do it again!

I've always wondered what their official report looked like. "We apprehended the suspect by immobilizing him between our vehicle and a power pole."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Free the bloggers!

Today is Free Arash and Mojtaba Day.

(Click the button to find out what this is about.)

Scary chemicals

I guess it makes sense that cockroaches are deeply interested in sex. After all, they say that if you see one cockroach that means there are probably twenty or more babies somewhere that you didn't see, and those babies had to come from somewhere.

I didn't realize they were quite this interested, though:

A single female roach (is) capable of producing as many as 2 million offspring a year.
Two million? TWO MILLION? Our house isn't big enough for two million cockroaches!

But it's wonderful that the clever anti-cockroach scientists (registration required, or use BugMeNot from the sidebar) can use this weakness against the cockroaches. I'm all for getting rid of the horrible little buggers. The cockroaches, I mean, not the scientists.

On the other hand, think about this:
In the long and seemingly futile quest to build a better roach trap, researchers have identified the come-hither chemical of the female German cockroach and produced a synthetic version that makes males come running in fewer than nine seconds.

and this:
The compound that lures males to their potential mates is so powerful that cockroaches near death from starvation will forgo peanut butter for a chance to copulate
And now think about THIS: how long do you think it will be before a clever scientist gets it into her head to identify and produce a come-hither chemical that does the same thing to men?

(Pause, so you can think about it.)

I must say that as a woman I'm a little apprehensive. Call me old-fashioned, but a nine second warning isn't long enough for me. And if the man in question is near starvation he's not going to have time for preliminaries, is he? So the burning question in my mind is this: What will deflect him, if peanut butter won't?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Coal Tar soap

Ultraviolet wrote about her favourite scents, and about smells that make her feel sick, and it struck me that there is one smell that I greatly dislike but which makes me feel happy.

Have you ever smelt Wright's Coal Tar soap? My maternal grandparents always had it, for using after working in the garden. They really believed in the disinfecting power of Wright's Coal Tar soap. So do I, and so would you if you smelt it. It's truly horrible. I have never met anybody else who uses Wright's Coal Tar soap, and my grandparents died quite a while ago.

A couple of years ago I was in NZ, and on a whim I went into a chemist and asked if they had any Wright's Coal Tar soap. To my astonishment they did, and the saleswoman brought it to me. I stared at the familiar packet, then held it up to my nose and took a good whiff.

I was whisked efficiently back to being about five, and blissfully happy.

"GAWD! That' horrible!" I said, and from the depths of my childhood enquired, "Does anybody actually buy this stuff?"

"Not many do," replied the woman, and she sounded far, far away. "But occasionally someone asks for it. That's why we have it."

"My grandparents always had some," I mumbled. I sniffed the packet again and stood there, wrapped in memories.

After a while the saleswoman asked, "Um, are you going to buy it?"

"HELL, NO!" I said. "Er, I mean, no, thanks." I handed it back. "I just wanted to smell it. I didn't believe it could be as bad as I remembered. It is, though. Thanks."

"Anytime you want a sniff, just pop in," she said, grinning, and put it back on the shelf.

I wish I'd bought it, now. You can't get it here. But I know why I didn't. I knew how my suitcase would smell if I'd tried to bring a bar of Wright's Coal Tar soap back with me to Japan. And while it's lovely to remember my grandparents fondly now and again, I don't really want to be haunted by them.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

What is a stock, anyway?

Today I printed out the paper I'm proofreading, with all the changes so far, and took it to Denny's to read it over and also to rewrite some parts. Denny's is my favourite place for this sort of thing. I used to study there all the time. It's the only place I know of (including my home) where I can get a whole large table to myself and spread out my papers and really concentrate on what I'm doing. The refillable coffee is helpful, too.

When I'm reading over something I've proofread I tend to mumble as I read. It slows me down. This means I don't skip bits by reading too quickly and can catch more mistakes. At Dennys they're used to me sitting in there mumbling to myself, though, so I didn't worry about my reputation. They already know I'm not a normal customer. And anyway, they probably consider it a major improvement over my behaviour when I was studying phonetics and phonology. I remember giving a waiter a horrible fright one day when I was trying to find out what an ejective sounded like by following the instructions in my textbook. He appeared rather unexpectedly beside me to offer me more coffee just as I got it right, and from the look on his face I suspect he thought I was about to throw up all over him.

I've got to the fun part of the proofreading job now, though, because when I met my client on Thursday he explained some of the concepts in his paper to me. Now I've finished with the nitpicky grammar and vocabulary I can work on the text itself, making sure it hangs together logically and that it's presented in the best way for his particular argument. His ideas have apparently been floating around in my head when I think I'm not thinking about them, because last night while I was in the bath an idea suddenly bubbled to the top of my brain, and as soon as I was dry I emailed him. "I don't really know what I'm talking about, and feel free to laugh your head off, but what if...? (blah blah blah)," I wrote. "I think you might need to change your argument a little if I haven't misunderstood completely."

Then I went to bed, and woke up this morning thinking, Nah, it was the glass of wine I had with dinner, what was I THINKING, I don't know this field at all, he'll be laughing at me ...

But this afternoon he wrote back to say that he'd been thinking about it too, and he thought I was right, and perhaps he needed to change this and this and that and adjust the introduction and the conclusion accordingly, and what did I think? So now I'm feeling exceptionally clever and smug because this man who is an expert on economics and financial matters is asking me for MY opinion. I think I've made up for the footnote fiasco.

Do you think I should break it to him that actually I'm not entirely sure what a stock is?

Not weird

Last night The Man asked me how much I wanted to charge for the proofreading job, which I was at that very moment pretending to work hard on although actually I was using it to write a poem.

"I don't know," I said. I shrugged.

"Well, I have the price list here for X company," he said. (This is a large company here that does that sort of thing.) "Their quote for proofreading is ¥xxxx per 250-word page. How many words is it?"

"Er..." I got my computer to do a word count. "6210."

"OK... that's about 25 pages, which means... ¥xxx,xxx," he said.

I boggled. (I would be writing the actual numbers here except that I can't remember them. It was A LOT.)

"What a rip-off!" I said. "If I was working on this as hard as I pretend to be I'd have been able to do this in two or three days!" I thought for a moment. "That is, if I'd understood it in the first place and didn't need to ask him so many questions."

"Yes, but you do twice as good a job as they do," he said. "You check the logic and the academic language and all that, too. They don't. They just check the grammar and vocabulary. Plus they charge extra for a 'native check' which is what it should be in the first place."

This is true. The 'professional' companies that do this sort of work are often fairly useless. I've done work that they've ALREADY done, and found huge problems. In fact we did a job directly for one of these companies once, but they never asked us again because we found so much wrong with the paper they'd asked us to translate (not just proofread) that the writer got mad and they lost a customer. He objected to us removing 50% of his writing because it was repetitive. He insisted that he had a 40 page paper. We told him no, he had a 20 page paper, and that would be only after he'd fixed the holes in his logic. You could not write like that for an international academic journal. It would never be accepted. He needed to do THIS and THIS and THIS, and then bring it back to us and we'd polish it up to make it publishable.

He didn't, and it wasn't published even though by this stage the English was perfect (but the logic was still crap and the same things were repeated again and again). A year later the factory he'd 'studied', and had written such a glowing and optimistic 'research paper' about (all expenses paid by the company, heh) collapsed spectacularly all over the international business pages. (It was a Japanese company and the factory was in the U.S.) We laughed, but of course he wasn't around to hear us laughing and we weren't getting any more work from that place either so who shot themselves in the foot that time, eh? Sometimes insisting on doing a good job isn't such a good thing.

Anyway, back to the point. Which was... ? Oh, yes, I remember.

The Man asked me what the least amount was that I'd be happy with for this job. I thought about it. "Oh, about ¥50,000, I suppose," I said. "But really, he could pay less and I wouldn't mind. He's your friend."

"That's not nearly enough," said The Man. "Think how much time you've spent on it!"

I thought guiltily about the poem.

"Well, YOU arrange it then," I said. "Yeah, that's it. I've decided. You're in charge of the money side of things. Don't bother me about it. I don't want to know."

The Man stared at me. "But... don't be silly! If you know you'll be paid well for this doesn't it give you that extra push to do a good job? It's only natural, after all. And he said he'll pay whatever we ask. Won't it give you incentive to do it better if the payment is good?"

I was about to say yes, because The Man is always right, but stopped. Was it true? I knew when I took on this job that I would be paid for it. I know the guy I'm doing it for is very rich. If he wasn't paying much, would I still do my best?

I thought about it.

"No, for this kind of work it doesn't make any difference," I told The Man. "I agreed to do the job. If I wasn't going to do my best then I would have said no in the first place. I mean, really, how can I decide how much is too much work for the money I'm getting? I'm going to correct this problem but not that one? I don't think so!"

The Man told me that this made me weird and different from most people. I told him that I didn't think so and that he was having a logic hiccough.

Today I talked to a friend about this, and asked her what she thought. She agreed with me. This means, of course, that I am right.

So now that I've proved that I'm not weird I will get back to the paper. I only need to rewrite the ending and I'll be finished, nearly. There are just a few more questions, a couple of paragraphs the guy needs to rewrite in order to make the logic work, and a couple of suggestions I have that might make it just that bit better. Then I'll do a final check and make sure the references are all listed properly. I hate checking references. Hate, hate, hate it. I'm not looking forward to that bit.

But if the paper is published (which I think it will be), I'll be just as proud of it as he will be, and there's nothing weird about that.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Significantly different

Over at Pratie Place, Melinama has issued a challenge: to write a love poem in which virtually every word comes from an article in the Wall Street Journal.

I do not have access to the WSJ, so instead I have written a poem in which every word is taken from the paper I am currently proofreading. This paper has been written for a financial journal, so I think it qualifies. It certainly wasn't easy, particularly as I decided that I wanted my poem to rhyme.

I'm not quite sure, however, whether this qualifies as a love poem. Perhaps it depends on how you interpret it. You will have to decide for yourself.


Significantly different
Merging as equals
They further divide.

Exchanges are negative
Confidence diminishes
Competent performance
They cannot provide

The horizon drifts
The universe shifts
Insufficient data
Is on display.

Behind the phenomena
Unsuitable behaviour
A sensitive analysis
Can show the way.

Hitherto successful
Rigid requirements
Are completely excluded
A deliberate effect

The following hypothesis
Is carefully constructed:
Relax the criteria
Could this be correct?

Encouraging potential
Lingering attention
Traditional requirements
They mostly reject

Facilitate alternative
Unsuitable behaviour
A volatile relationship
They carefully select.

A sensitive procedure
With maximum risk
Leads to speculative rise
From between the balance sheets

The calculated spread
Is conspicuous and positive
Dramatically successful
A venture to repeat!

It's all a giant puzzle.
Reject the strict criteria!
Reverse the expectations!
(Subsequently doubt.)

Significantly different
Statistical anomaly
Negative -
Positive -

Friday, February 18, 2005

Language expert

Tonight I met the writer of the paper I'm proofreading. He needed to explain some difficult bits to me so that I could understand them enough to rephrase the bits that needed rephrasing, and it was getting too tricky via email. He is a friend of The Man's, but I don't know him all that well so I was a little tense. It can be delicate, proofreading someone's work. Some people don't take it well, even when the work is not written in their native language and they know I'm trying to help them to express their ideas as well as possible. It still can feel like criticism.

At one point I went into great detail about why I found the numbers on one page terribly difficult to understand. I told him I had spent half an hour or so puzzling over one particular sentence which suddenly included the HUGE number 45312. Nothing added up, I told him. I'd read over the charts and graphs, and reread the preceding section and the section following, but it just didn't make sense. The sentence was wrong anyway, but I couldn't fix it because I couldn't understand the numbers. Four hundred and fifty three to the power of twelve was just too big a number to fit anywhere. I was completely baffled.

He explained patiently that the 12 was a footnote number.

The floor did not open to swallow me up as I so suddenly and devoutly wished it would, so I crossed out a word in the offending sentence and said, "OK. That's better. Now, my next question in on page fifteen." I flipped the page.

Then I looked up and accidentally met his eye, and after a long pause during which I could tell he was trying very, very hard not to laugh he told me solemnly that my question had made him feel a lot better about all the red ink I'd been so generously decorating his pages with.

It was a relief to let out that big snort, really. Much better for me than banging my head on the wall, too. And after we'd let it all out and wiped our eyes we could relax and settle down to some serious work, and the tension was all gone.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Working with Google

I'm working hard at the proofreading job, and since I have absolutely nothing interesting to say because my brain is full of confusing statistics, I thought I'd pass on a few Google tips instead. Most of these are things I'm finding very useful as I work.

1. You know to use double quotes if you want to search for a phrase rather than a word, right? You didn't know? Well, say you want to look up post-listing negative drift. Try it without quotes, and with quotes. See the difference? The first one will give you about 150 hits, and the second, one hit. (And that one hit, incidentally, was exactly what I was looking for.) NOTE TO TEACHERS: This feature is very useful for tracking down plagiarism.

2. Google Scholar. For academic searches. Brilliant.

3. If you don't know the meaning of a word, go to the Google search page and type define: word into the search bar. For example, if you type define: opportunist you will get five definitions, of which the second is my favourite.

4. A search page for Mac users.

5. And one for Swedish chefs.

Back to work.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Tonight I had my customary Tuesday evening out with friends, and somehow the conversation got around to weird foods we have eaten. One friend confirmed that fugu testicles are disconcertingly mushy as well as tasteless, and said that even months later she sometimes involuntarily remembers and wants to barf. Another said that the worst thing she has ever eaten was very recently, and she was misled because it was given a fancy French name. It turned out to be fish semen. Once she knew it was fish semen it was perfectly obvious, but by then it was too late. She had eaten it all.

The friend who ate the fugu testicles also added that they were disconcertingly large. "Where do the fish KEEP them?" she asked. "I've had boyfriends with smaller ones that that!"

There was a long pause as we contemplated the size of the circle she was making with her forefinger and thumb, during which I became VERY glad that thought bubbles don't actually exist. I mean, who would want to eat dinner while a procession of balls was passing over the heads of the group of thoughtful-looking women at the next table?

Back to front and inside out

This story is just too weird.

'There's plenty of evidence that time may run backwards,' says Prof Bierman at the University of Amsterdam.

But perhaps this explains why I'm having such trouble reading the news these days, and everything seems to be happening the wrong way around.

Monday, February 14, 2005

How I became a Bad Aunt

Somebody asked, in comments, the origin of my blog name. It's simple, really. It is a description.

I have a ridiculous number of nieces and nephews, as I come from a family that breeds like rabbits, and there are a lot of us. Early on I tried harder and often felt guilty about my lack of success. At one stage I even wrote a little book which I sent to the children of one of my brothers. But this has remained the high point of my auntliness, I'm afraid. My family keeps popping them out, and I keep forgetting their names. I shall be forever a Bad Aunt.

I've stopped feeling bad about my Bad Auntliness, however. Some things are just not meant to be, and my nieces and nephews seem to be doing just fine without me. I have become the Occasional Bad Aunt, who crashes their lives now and then, sets a lot of bad examples, then flies back to the other side of the world, helped along by the great sighs of relief from my siblings as I wave goodbye.

Here is a page from near the beginning of the book:

And here's a page from near the end. This is my brother.

My fellow bloggers, forgive me. I couldn't help it.

(Note to my regular readers: This blog entry is not written by Badaunt. She is never this mean. It was written by Badaunt's evil twin, who steals other people's words.)

Yeah this is my firts post. I'm writting this especialy to bring you all upto date.

In terms of me, I am having a definate idenity crisis. I mean definately. As a descent human being I am actively unaware of what's happening around me.

But just because so I don't do it for nothing, I've been pouring over my books and trying to define providence on my labtop computer. (First I had to get the lab out from under, though. You never know when he might hickup.)

While I was working on this, I found the mother-load of resources and gave it two thumps up. And just encase you didn't know, the cat shit somthing awful in the liter box. He can do whatever he wants so he can just do it, and that should be obvious to all but the most hard headed idealist. This leads to the bigger question though, where does this type of animas come? (The defination is non existant.)

But I haven't told you about me. I have a 36 inch waste. Afterall, I live near a dessert. So I need to get a bigger pear of jeans. But you guys are the adders and abettors, and vise-versa. I need more excersize. I should add, after the debarkle with the cake everything got a lot simplier.

Who were creator's of this idea, anyway? The citizens have given away the reigns of power. They got there due.

I've noticed that human's have a tendency to take photo's of anything interesting. Animals are very very discrete.

You know, I've been thinking ... he hasn't paid in awhile. It is dissapointing. He told me a bold faced lie, and I need to use the money as a fair. Also, I'm wondering just whom is this person whom does the hair dying. It makes me roll my eyes inside.

I'm feeling to week to go on.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Today I met a friend for lunch and then we went to a big new(ish) shopping mall in Osaka so she could see an interior design place I'd told her about (she has a new(ish) apartment). She found a wonderful bench carved in a rhinoceros shape, perfect for sitting on while you tie your shoes, that might fit her genkan, but she wasn't sure of the measurements so didn't buy it. (Yet.) After that we wandered around checking out the shops, and in the bath goods section of one shop I picked up a jar of cream. The label said:

Fermented Soybean
Forskin Essence

For a moment I didn't feel very well. Then I went to find my friend. "You have to see this," I said.

Cost of the cream: ¥1050
My friend's expression when she read the label: PRICELESS.

(Neither of us bought it.)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Popup comments

I've just enabled the new popup comments system on Blogger. This means that to read comments the peek-a-boo thing will still happen and you'll see them on the same page, but when you hit 'post comment' you'll get a popup window.

Twas brillig

I've just come back from Denny's (of the large tables and refillable coffee), where I spent the last three or four hours working on a proofreading job I somehow agreed to do. Actually I didn't agree to anything, come to think of it. The Man agreed for me when his friend asked if I'd be able to do it. The Man has great faith in my proofreading abilities.

I have finished four pages, and spent most of my time staring into space with a big question mark hovering over my head. I know about academic writing and how to do it, but I don't know the first thing about economics. This is an academic paper for an economics journal, written by an economics professor, in his second language. I feel as though I'm proofreading Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky.

Not that he's a bad writer; in fact he writes better than most native speakers. I'm having a lovely time making notes like, "Are you sure slithy is the right word here? Do you mean grobish, perhaps?" and, "Did the toves gyre and gimble in the wabe or a wabe?" and, "Can you prove that his thought was uffish? Citations, please!"

I've done this sort of thing before. I used to proofread articles for a laser research scientist. These would be published in international journals, and he told me that he liked my proofreading best of all because the editors never changed anything once I'd finished with it. Not understanding a word of what I'm proofreading apparently gives me some sort of advantage. His previous proofreader was scientifically trained and always missed something, probably because he understood what was intended. I didn't understand anything at all, and insisted on having everything explained to me, preferably with simplified diagrams showing the relationships between the various concepts or objects he was talking about. He would go through some complex explanations, and I'd simplify, simplify, simplify, until I was able to say, "So you mean the laser shoots out here, hits that square thing there, and goes through that blob, bounces off the mirror, and scatters over here and here and here?" and he'd stare disbelievingly and say, "Er, yes, but..." And I'd say, "Well in that case this word should be to, not at.

What used to make me laugh about the laser scientist's papers is that every time I did a job for him he'd make me promise solemnly that I would not divulge anything of what he'd written. It was secret until it was published. So I would promise faithfully that I wouldn't tell a soul about what happened to the dynamic properties of the output thingummy when a double mirroring non-linear technique was used to stimulate the whatsit.

Now what?

The Man went past the bookstore again today, and because I'd been asking if he could remember the writer and publisher of the book I wrote about yesterday, he bought it for me.

Is this my Valentine's Day present, do you think? Other women get flowers and chocolates. I get a textbook that tells me how to kill people.

I got the title slightly wrong in yesterday's entry, but I'm not going to tell you the correct title because I don't want weirdos to find out that I've got it via a search. And suddenly this seems much more likely than before, because having performed my own search I have discovered something rather disconcerting: I am in possession of a rare book.

Yes, that's right. This deadly little tome is worth several hundred dollars.

It is also banned in several countries.

So what the HELL am I supposed to do now? What do you do with a valuable book you don't really think should be in circulation at all? I mean, I just opened it at random and discovered detailed instructions on how to decapitate a person cleanly. But there are only four copies available that I could find online, and ... well, if I hold onto it for a few years do you think this could be my pension?

What would you do?

Incidentally, if you want to guess the correct title of the book, PLEASE don't do it in comments. Send me an email if you must. (Do comments show up in Google?)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Dangerous books

Today I was surfing the web and came across this story about a man whose apartment collapsed because he had too many magazines and newspapers in it. I looked around my room and started to feel nervous. Tomorrow I'm going to tackle some of the books I have piled up around here, I promised myself. Nobody should have this many books in one room. Besides anything else, it's dangerous.

And speaking of dangerous books, The Man and I were in Osaka last Friday and he took me to one of his favourite second hand bookstores, where they also have a few English books. I was browsing the shelves and came across a large black book called How to Kill People Without Enjoyment. "Look at this!" I laughed, and picked it up. I thought it was a mystery, or perhaps something humorous. But it wasn't. It was a textbook, and it actually had instructions about HOW TO KILL PEOPLE (I didn't get to the 'without enjoyment' bit) and it had PHOTOGRAPHS AND DIAGRAMS AND EVERYTHING. I mean, if you actually wanted to kill somebody this book had about a thousand different ways to do it, in meticulous detail. It was all very dry and technical, so that you could easily forget this was a book about KILLING PEOPLE and not about, say, gardening. Except that you couldn't forget, really, because the pictures weren't of flowers and trees but of expressionless figures with knives between their ribs, or wires around their throats.

I put the book back down. Then I thought, nah, it can't be! and picked it up again. But yes, it was still telling me which ribs were the best ones to stick the knife between, with diagrams of the angle to use, and which sort of knife worked best, and how to do it quickly and quietly without being caught. There were whole sections on poisons and bombs and how to rig a car and so on. I stared into space for a while wondering how on earth this book had ended up in a little Japanese secondhand bookstore.

The Man calling my name brought me back to earth, and I guiltily put the book back on the shelf. (Just looking through a book like that makes you feel guilty, I found.) He introduced me to the young people who ran the store. The beautiful young woman told me, in English, that she really enjoyed The Man's visits to the store. "His talk is very interesting," she said. "He is very attractive." She smiled gorgeously.

I wondered if I should slap her face, but she was obviously totally unaware that this was not really an appropriate thing to say. She was complimenting me, I think. (Unless she wasn't, in which case perhaps I should go back and buy that book after all.)

When we got home I tried to find the book on the web, thinking I might be able to find out something about it. I couldn't find it. Perhaps it was privately published. I didn't check who the publisher was. I intended to, but got distracted by a huge long disclaimer in the front about how the publisher wasn't responsible for any abuse of the information within the book.

I know that there could be a legitimate reason to buy a book like that. Murder mystery writers, for example, might buy it so they can add some realistic detail to their novels. But what I really want to know is this: What kind of person wrote it?

The Hole

Yesterday I finished the last of the grading. I was feeling a bit guilty when I took it in. I thought it was late. But when I handed it in at the office the very polite guy told me that no, in fact I was early. The grading isn't due until the 18th of this month. However, he added, somewhat embarrassed, the syllabi were due ten days ago, and I don't think we have yours yet...?

Whoops, oh dear. I don't know what he was so embarrassed about.

Last night, well, early this morning really - after spending far too long getting the vacuum cleaner (two entries back) just right - I finished writing the syllabi, and today I took them in.

While I was in the part-time teachers' room, just me and the secretary instead of the usual 15 or 20 people crowded in there, I suddenly realised that this was the perfect opportunity for me to take a photograph of The Hole. I waited until the secretary was busy with something on her computer, whipped out my camera, and took the picture. Then I quickly put the camera away and went back to the photocopier, hoping she'd think the flash came from the computer. I didn't want to explain why I was taking a picture of a hole in the floor.

I've been wanting to write about The Hole for a while, but didn't think anybody would believe me without a picture.

The Hole appeared a few years ago. There used to be a power outlet in the floor, where you could plug in a computer. Then for some reason it was removed, and the metal lid over it was removed as well, and we were left with The Hole. The Hole is not very deep, but is a little wider than the wheels on the chairs in the teachers' room, and is positioned right behind one of them. We cannot rearrange the seating as there isn't space.

What this means is that if you have the misfortune to get that chair (the teachers' room is frequently very crowded and you don't have a choice), and you are sitting there innocently working away and just happen to push back your chair a little too far (which isn't very far), one of the wheels in your chair will go down The Hole and you'll lurch back, screaming loudly. The chair doesn't actually tip all the way back, just enough to make you flail your arms around in an undignified way and crack your knees under the table.

About two years ago, after numerous complaints and near-coronaries, the university finally decided to do something about The Hole. I don't know why it took so long. Maybe they had to form a committee. I think it took a committee to come up with a solution like this.

They put a warning sign next to the hole.


The funny thing is that this solution worked, sort of, at least in the sense that nobody complains about The Hole anymore. The chair still falls into it periodically, and the victim screams, flails and cracks his or her knees, but that just creates an opportunity for everybody to have a good laugh, and for someone to quote the sign:


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Much ado about alot

Recently I've been surfing blogs, and there is something I want to tell some of you. (You will know who you are.)

Alot is not a word. Whatever gave you the idea that it was?

You are free to use it, of course. As a language teacher I understand that language is constantly changing. Words change and develop over time, new words are coined, and language usage changes. Trying to freeze language at one particular time and place in its development is a waste of time and energy. It doesn't work. So if you think that alot is a word, and many of you clearly do, go ahead and use it. It may even become a word if you use it often enough. SEE IF I CARE.

But before you go, tell me this. If you're going to join articles to determiners (or quantifiers, or whatever you want to call them), what's to stop you also using afew? Alittle? Abit? And will you stop there? Are you going to start on nouns next? ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE MY JOB IMPOSSIBLE? AND ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE THE "A" SECTION OF THE DICTIONARY ABSOLUTELY HUGE AND USELESS? Because if you are, I want some advance warning so I can look for another job.

Now that I've got that off my chest I think I'll have aslice of toast and acup of tea.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Vacuum cleaner

Climate change due to greenhouse gases is going to destroy the world as we know it.

Greenhouse gases could breathe life into Mars.

Is anybody else thinking what I'm thinking?

Leg blur

I am far too obliging a person. This is why I ended up today sitting in the kitchen stripped down to my underwear with one leg sticking out in front of me and balancing a kilogram bag of rice on my ankle. I was doing it for a friend.

This friend is preparing a pamphlet which gives advice about gentle exercises for elderly people. She has been asked to do the layout and sketches for the pamphlet, and needed someone to model some of the exercises. She said she'd take photos and then sketch from those.

I had to strip down to my underwear because she wanted to get the muscles right. I warned her that she was being wildly optimistic if she was expecting muscles, and I was right. I found these 'gentle exercises for elderly people' embarrassingly strenuous, and the photograph with the bag of rice, particularly, had to be taken quickly, before my leg turned into a trembling blur.

The pictures are hilarious, and you can beg all you like but I am absolutely NOT going to post them.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Focus Group

Today I took part in a Focus Group.

"A Focus Group?" The Man asked, as I was preparing to leave. "What's that?"

"It's when someone asks a group of exceptionally intelligent people to explain things to him," I said. "Naturally he wanted me to be there."

"What will you be explaining?" asked The Man, after he stopped laughing.

"Internationalisation in Japanese universities and what it means for part-time foreign teachers," I said. "That's what his PhD is all about. Well, I think that's what it's all about. I'm not exactly sure. I wasn't really paying attention. I accepted because he's a nice person and I know how hard it is to study and work at the same time, and I wanted to help him."

"Uh-huh," said The Man, doubtfully. "Will there be drinks?"

"Um," I said, trying to look innocent. "He might have said something about refreshments..."

"I see," said The Man, knowingly.

"IT'S NOT LIKE THAT," I said. "We're a FOCUS GROUP. He said we didn't need to prepare, just sit around and talk about our experiences. I have lots of experiences I can talk about. I contributed to the internationalisation of one of my universities last year, twice, when I initiated conversations with Japanese English professors!"

"What happened?" asked The Man.

"Well, one turned out to be deaf, so not much happened that time," I replied. "And the other conversation turned out a little strange. But that's OK. I asked him if it was all right for me to bring my cynicism, and he said it was essential and please don't leave it at home."

"Oh, I see. A gossip session! You are going to sit around and complain about your jobs!" said The Man. "Isn't that what you do every Tuesday and Thursday evening after work anyway?"

"Well, yes," I said. "But this time will be different, because we'll be a FOCUS GROUP."






Etc etc

(It was both.)


Our train station is famous in Japan because once or twice a year, on a slow news day, one of the TV stations will turn up with cameras and crew and explain to a nationwide audience that we have the biggest illegal parking problem of any place in Japan.

Within a week of this happening the embarrassed local government sends trucks around gathering up illegally parked bicycles and taking them somewhere inconvenient across the city, where it holds them for ransom, closely guarded by cheerful, semi-retired old men. The last time I liberated my bicycle from such a kidnapping I had to pay nearly ¥3000. I've had to do it three times since I've been here. It's not always after the TV news snippet. Sometimes it's at the end of the tax year, when they're trying to balance the city budget and are drumming up a little extra cash. Kidnapping bicycles is a profitable business around here.

The really stupid thing about this is that it's actually cheaper to risk the kidnapping than to pay parking fees, as long as your bicycle is not kidnapped more than twice a year. (I sat down and calculated this after my first exasperating ransom payment.) Not only that, the legal parking is inconvenient. You are likely to be assigned a parking spot so far from the station that you might as well walk from your house in the first place, and since the main reason for me to use my bicycle to and from the station is to save my back from carrying all the books and papers I have to carry for work, there isn't much point.

A few years ago they tore down the wonderful old friendly and traditional shopping area on our side of the station to make way for a modern, ugly 27-storey building, four floors of shops and the rest apartments. This was pushed through by the local government, hand in glove with the local construction industry and therefore also the local yakuza (mafia). The local people - EVERYBODY - opposed it, which is why it took twenty years to happen, but pressure was brought to bear, the mainstay of the opposition eventually collapsed (amid whispers of bribery and threats) and in the end the aging storekeepers sold out. Some took up offers of places in the new building, but many didn't. They moved, retired, or sold their businesses, and the atmosphere of the community changed.

These days, our wonderful modern building is held up as an example. Other city government officials visit in little clipboard-carrying groups, muttering to each other and taking notes on what not to do when you want to develop an area. Half the shop space in the new building is either empty or taken up by game parlours, they haven't been able to rent out many of the apartments, the crime rate has soared, community feeling has all but disappeared, and local shoppers flocked to the other side of the train station where the old shopping street still survives. It's a lot friendlier over there. Our side of the station is now famous for having one of the highest bag-snatching rates in Japan.

This new building, we were assured beforehand, would take care of the bicycle parking problem. A new underground parking area would be built for commuters, and besides that there would be parking for 8000 bicycles around the building. Some of this parking, of course, would be reserved for the people who lived there, but the rest was supposed to be for shoppers.

Our skepticism was well founded. The underground parking is expensive, inconvenient, and closes at some ridiculously early hour, nine or ten o'clock at night. Hoards of commuters are still arriving home after that, and where are they supposed to park? We're not told. Most people park around the station or around the building, illegally. The city employs a small army of semi-retired men who patrol the free parking area around the building from before nine in the morning (when the shops open) stopping people from parking there. What this means is that part-time workers (mostly women) who start work after nine o'clock, can park there, but early starters can't. They have to park illegally elsewhere.

I only need parking three times a week for work, and a local coffee shop owner right next to the station told me that I could use the reserved parking space outside his shop, no problem, don't worry about it. That is very sweet of him and I feel privileged. I think I'm the only person in this area who has free, legal parking for my bicycle at any hour of the day. My bicycle hasn't been kidnapped for a few years now, and the only price I've had to pay is the truly horrible coffee I feel obliged to drink once or twice a week at the ABC Coffee Shop.

Following are some pictures of bicycles parked around the station and around the new building.

On the right side is the ugly new building (you can't see how ugly it is close up), and on the left is what is left of the old shopping area. The supermarket on the left is closing soon, and will be torn down for yet more 'new development'.

There is no way all these bicycles belong to shoppers. At least half of them will still be there after the shops close. The parking area is supposed to be inside the wide bars on the right, but there is never enough space. This photo was taken around six in the evening, and there are some gaps. Earlier in the afternoon there were none.

This is the other side of the building. See the bars? Inside those is the 'legal' parking area for shoppers. All the bicycles behind the power pole are parked illegally. That is most of them, as they extend around to the other side of the building.

Across the road from the previous picture, every bicycle is parked illegally. That white signboard thing in the middle of the bicycles in the front is NO BICYCLE PARKING sign. These signs are all over the place, and get in the way when you park your bicycle.

This is the other side of the station, looking towards the Coop supermarket where we do most of our shopping these days. The Coop is on the right, and a bank on the left. The Coop has two bicycle parking lots, neither of which is visible in this picture. They are usually both full.

This is from the inside of one of the Coop bicycle parking lots, looking toward the Coop.

The Man tells me these are not very interesting photographs. I've told him they might be interesting for people who don't live here, you never know. In any case, they are the only ones I took today, and you have now seen a small fraction of our local bicycle parking problem.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

New look

I've changed the template for this blog. Somebody told me that on his computer the text was difficult to read against the background. I'm trying to keep it simple (in keeping with the name) and have used a standard Blogger template. I've also tidied up the links, although there are some more I want to add.

Is this easier to read? Comments and suggestions welcome.

News of the day

I came across a variety of stories in my wanderings around the Web this morning.

The Pope has been auditioning for a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. I think he needs to work on the horrified expression. He looks too happy.

We've been having our own bird problem. We feed the local sparrows on the garden wall, and in winter they get very demanding. We started this as a way to attract more interesting birds to the garden, like the bulbuls and warblers we see occasionally, but it backfired. We are now regularly visited by a tribe of hungry sparrows and two very stupid turtledoves. When the weather is cold the sparrows are particularly insistent, and congregate noisily in the tree, waiting for us to feed them. When we go outside and walk over to the wall, under the tree, they get so excited they tend to lose control of their bowels.

Yesterday I came home and there were several dozen sparrows waiting in the tree, as usual, but a few shy birds were reluctant to come too close and waited over on a neighbour's house instead, watching me beadily. My camera doesn't have a great zoom, but I got a picture of them anyway.

In other news, if this Antarctic ice sheet disintegration business carries on we'll be looking for a new place to live, preferably on a hill. Living below sea level probably isn't very wise when the sea levels are threatening to rise five meters. I am confused about this, however, because in another story a glaciologist says that despite the retreat of ice in the Bay of Whales, recent research shows the Ross Ice Shelf “is either stable or even advancing slightly.” I'm guessing the Ross Ice Shelf is not the one they're talking about in the first story, but they don't say. I will be keeping an eye on Real Climate to see what they have to say about these stories. Maybe they can explain it all to me.

And finally, good news for bald men. You are cleverer than the rest of us. Dear Leader says so. You do not have hair sucking energy from the nerves in your head and hampering your brain activity.


Proof that I don't live in a flash neighbourhood.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Vegetable songs

There is a young guy who works in the vegetable section of the supermarket. This guy is mentally challenged (I don't know what the current PC word is for this) and always very serious about his work. While he is restocking the vegetable displays he keeps repeating the name of the vegetable he is working with, very loudly and in a sing-song voice. When The Man encounters him, he joins in, which makes the guy sing louder. They stand there grinning at each other and chanting, "Hoorensoo, hoorensoo, oishii hoorensoooooo!" ("Spinach, spinach, delicious spiiinaaaaach!") louder and louder, and then the guy ducks his head shyly and gets back to work. It's an interactive shopping experience.

We always stop to chat with the vegetable guy when we see him out in the street, too, and he tells us in minute detail where he's going and what he's doing and what time he will start work tomorrow and what time he finished today and what vegetables he stocked and which customers he spoke to and what time his train is and what he'll have for dinner. The Man listens intently and asks questions, and I watch them both. They converse with all the seriousness of a couple of high powered businessmen discussing a multi-million dollar contract. This always makes me happy.

Winter also makes me happy, especially days like today with cold wind and deep blue skies and enormous fluffy clouds.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

More about toilets

The funky drummer is complaining about Japanese toilets, and even has a picture up so that you can sympathize more effectively. Well, I have a message for the funky drummer:

You obviously have not been here long enough, or at least not as long as I have. I am now capable of squatting with my feet flat, no balance problems, perfectly comfortable, and reading a book for twenty minutes if necessary (which it can be if I've been eating too much mochi).

Practice, man, practice!

One day I'm going to be one of those old ladies who congregate in doorways catching up on gossip, all squatting flat-footedly with their knees under their chins and their knickers showing, waving their arms around. And how much more integrated can you get than THAT? It doesn't matter how many Kanji you know. If you can't squat it doesn't mean a thing. You're out of the loop. Nobody is going to tell you about Tanaka-san's granddaughter's best friend's older sister's abortion while you're towering over them like that.

(The only time I can't squat is when I'm wearing bulky sweatpants, which tend to bunch up around the backs of my knees and cut off circulation. This can lead to a 'stand up and fall over' problem which is inadvisable in a Japanese-style toilet cubicle. Concussion plus foot-in-toilet is not a pleasant combination, particularly if you haven't flushed yet.)