Tuesday, February 27, 2007

There's always a catch. Or two.

How to live to be 107:

  • regular dawn exercise
  • low-fat diet
  • cigarette smoking
  • decades of sexual abstinence

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Quite a long time ago I clicked on the 'bulk mail' folder in my Yahoo mail, and discovered that I'd been getting a whole series of spam mails with really interesting headers. I saved these headers (and didn't bother reading the actual spam, so I don't know what it was for), with the idea that at some point I would do a series of blog posts using them as titles. Then I lost interest.

I just found the file again, and here they are, for your amusement.

Hi, nailhead spot
Hi, neatfooted
Hi, Mississippi catfish
Hi, opal matrix
Your health, nimble-toothed
Hi, oath purgatory
Your health, parrot disease
Your money, palm weevil
Your future, old-gathered
Your cash, mid-Victorianism

(I am fairly sure they were not aimed at me personally. I am not, and never have been, a parrot disease. Nor am I nimble-toothed)

Looking at these reminded me of a program I used to have on my old Mac, which ran OS 9. I wondered if there was a version for OSX, did a search, and there is! Naturally, I downloaded it. (I noticed there is a version for Windows now, too.)

The interface of JanusNode has changed a little, and I still haven't quite figured it all out, but I have discovered I can now generate insults. I asked it to generate a couple of insults I could aim in the general direction of spammers, and it did, rather eloquently, I thought.

You are nothing more than a poor sad dittohead, you psychotic abomination! May a stranger's god make you ooze neurotic brain tissue, you odious turkey!

(RadioactiveJam might find this function useful.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

New duck

There is a new duck on the block. Either that, or this is a penguin, tipping forward and sneakily pretending to be a duck.

It seemed a bit lonely. The other, ordinary ducks were further down the river.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


It has been a dramatic couple of days. Yesterday morning I (or rather, The Man) discovered a REALLY BIG lump in my breast. I went straight to my GP, who got me a referral to a breast cancer specialist at a big hospital. That's where I was today.

Or rather, that's where we were today. The Man came too, to hold my hand and to interpret the difficult bits.

I spent the day sitting or lying topless in various examining rooms with strange men poking at my boobs. I learned a lot, and one of the things I learned was about the bit in the web page I read in preparation for the mammogram which said,

Having a mammogram requires that you undress above the waist. A wrap will be provided by the facility for you to wear.

I learned that that was not written for Japan, or at least not for the (very good) hospital I went to. There was no wrap. And while I was barely conscious of it at the time, there is something surreal in the memory of sitting half naked in a chair and having a friendly and entirely professional conversation with a man I had never met before. Well, with three different men, actually, at different times.

I now know that I have not one lump but several. They are cysts, and harmless. Repeat that out loud, friends, and rejoice. Say it after me:


Didn't that sound good?

The specialist told me these cysts are very common, although ones as large as mine are less so (but equally harmless). One is almost 5 centimetres. (We gaijin always have to do things bigger and, er, better.) He said that often they shrink on their own, but sometimes they grow bigger. If they get too big or are in an awkward place they can be uncomfortable.

He offered to aspirate them on the spot (suck out the fluid with a needle and collapse them), and I asked if that would be better for my health. He said it made no difference, but most people don't like them being there.

I thought about needles. I thought about lumpy boobs.

I decided to go with the lumpy boobs. Why spoil good news by passing out? The specialist told me that my GP can do the aspiration if I change my mind later, anyway. It's simple. I can get this done on a casual walk-in visit. You know, walk in, ask him to stick a needle into my ... I don't feel like finishing that sentence.

But anyway, I'm thinking that if I grow these things big enough maybe one day I'll end up with cleavage!

More seriously, this incident provoked a lot of thoughts about mortality, the easy way we take the wondrousness of life for granted, the nature of panic, and a lot of other things. For a woman, finding a lump in a breast is a plunge into nightmare of dire possibilities, even though, as I learned from the ever-reliable Dr Google, chances are pretty good it will be benign. I was lucky. It did turn out well.

But for me the really good news is that I got over the panic BEFORE I knew the results. This was a new and entirely welcome experience. I was pleased with myself, especially since when I had a similar scare a few years ago (in that case an ovarian cyst), I was a mess for a week, waiting for some test results. And that was the week AFTER the doctor told me she was more than 99% sure it was harmless - the tests were just to make everything 100% sure. I lost several kilos waiting for those results, and had trouble sleeping. The difference this time is that yesterday morning I was a panic-stricken acid-stomached mess and really annoyed at myself (starving yourself is not a rational response to a crisis), but by last night (still the same day we discovered the lump, and before knowing anything about this alien thing that had suddenly appeared in my body) I ate a decent dinner and then slept like a baby. Today when we walked into that hospital I was calm. I was ready for anything.

So yes, it was a scary experience, but it turned out to be a good one, too, in more ways than the obvious one. I'm counting it as progress. I do not want to be a coward forever, and that was a step forward.

Getting over the needle phobia is the NEXT step.

(And yes, I know that sounds like a contradiction - that I was 'ready for anything' and then didn't want to have the cysts aspirated because I am scared of needles. But needles as necessity are one thing. Voluntary needles because I 'don't like' some harmless cysts are something else ENTIRELY.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

News from New Zealand

A national statement (whatever that is) was released which says that New Zealand has no state religion. The response from some religious groups has been ... odd.

At the weekend Destiny Church and Vision Network of evangelical churches expressed outrage that the statement said there was no state religion.
What is there to be outraged about? As the Commissioner for Race Relations pointed out, this 'outrageous' statement about NZ not having a state religion is not some new law. It's just a statement about the way things are.
...the State seeks to treat...all faith communities and those who profess no religion equally before the law. New Zealand has no state religion.

"It's a statement of fact as far as I know."
I can't be the only one who is puzzled by the reaction. Where is the outrageous bit? Were the evangelicals so ignorant of law that they thought NZ did have a state religion? Maybe they are outraged that the groups consulted when drafting the statement included Rationalists and Humanists. Ouch.

I suppose the evangelical churches could be outraged because they don't want to tolerate and respect the human rights of other religions, or of non-religious people, but to suggest such a thing would be unkind, and probably intolerant, so I won't.

But that's not all! The evangelicals are not the only ones objecting to this statement, and this story made me sit up straight and go, "Eh?"
Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims at a national forum in Hamilton yesterday all objected to the word "tolerance" in a draft National Statement on Religious Diversity.
(That's the bit where I said, "Eh?")

This statement came from a Buddhist:
Ms Buchanan said: "Tolerance is a low virtue. I don't want to be tolerated, I want to be respected and understood. Tolerance is what I do when I have a sore tooth."
Oh, I see. She has a point, don't you think? Well, except for the tooth bit. (Is it only me? When I have a sore tooth I don't tolerate it. I go to the dentist.) But aside from that, I think she is right, and I have decided to demand respect and understanding, too. NZers should be instructed to respect and understand ME. And if you insist on placing me in some sort of group (because you have to have a group to be respected and understood, or even tolerated, apparently), WE EXPATS demand to be respected and understood. There should be special classes at school just so that children can learn all about how wonderful expats are so that we can get the respect and understanding we are entitled to. We're sick of going home, telling people about our marvelous adventures, and seeing eyes glaze over. It isn't fair.


And if you want to know why I am entitled to these things, I have an answer ready.


It's all the answer you're entitled to.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Simple, eh?

Jason Kottke posted about folding an origami Post-It Note box, and challenged his readers to follow the simple instructions and then post the results to Flickr.

'Simple,' he said.

Several people did post their pictures to Flickr, but I will not, because things didn't quite go the way they were supposed to. I blame the Post-It note, which was not square to begin with. I had to cut it. Also, it was a rather small Post-It note anyway, made smaller by cutting to make it square, and it made my fingers feel like sausages trying to fold that thing. To make matters worse the sticky bit kept ... sticking.

I have made a very small collapsible Post-It Note Box.

Thing the Fourth

The Editter has written about her holiday down south in New Zealand. One of the pictures is of the lupins around Lake Tekapo, and it brought back a memory, which I will call Thing the Fourth, since it is another thing you did not know about me.

I used to hitchhike, in New Zealand. And I loved it. Not having the money to go anywhere was just an excuse, really, a way to justify doing something I wanted to do anyway that everybody said was dangerous and a young woman on her own shouldn't do. Actually the most dangerous thing that ever happened to me was being picked up by a bad driver, and I wasn't hitchhiking alone that time. Most of the time I got picked up by very kind people who told me how lucky I was to have been picked up by them, because YOU NEVER KNOW, it's terribly dangerous, do your parents know you're doing this? (The answer to that was no. If I was traveling from home I used to get my mother to drop me off at the bus stop, and as far as she knew I was on a bus.)

On one of these hitchhiking trips I'd taken the ferry from Wellington to Picton on my way back to Dunedin, where I was living at the time, and then had to face an interminable wait for the next ferry to arrive because the cars always got off first, which meant there was no traffic for the hitchhikers by the time we got onto the road. While I was walking along (because walking is less boring than just standing there, and also the hitchhikers needed to space out a bit because we'd started off all in an intimidating clump) I met up with a Swiss woman who was also hitching, and we started chatting and decided to join forces. She wasn't feeling very well. She had tropical ulcers, which she'd picked up in the Philippines and had had treated there, but they were back.

We had a great trip, anyway. Our first ride was with a guy in an antique car who had passed us (and all the other hitchhikers) several times, going back and forth along the road, and was obviously going nowhere very fast. We were pretty surprised when he stopped. He told us he couldn't take us far, he was just tuning up the car, but perhaps we'd enjoy the ride anyway. We did. It was a great car, although it didn't go very fast. We waved at other hitchhikers as we cruised slowly past, feeling like royalty, and they did gratifying double-takes when they saw us in the car. They hadn't even bothered to stick out their thumbs, the same car had gone past so many times.

I can't remember if there was another short ride or two after that, but the longest ride we got that day was all the way to Christchurch, with a professor of geology. That was also fun, because he taught us about the landscape we were seeing, took us to see a seal colony, bought us icecream, and was generally an interesting and entertaining person. But my Swiss friend was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and feverish, so when we got to Christchurch we asked him to drop us off at the hospital.

At the hospital she caused a minor sensation. It's not often you get tropical diseases popping into A&E in Christchurch. Every doctor in the place wanted to look at her legs. I sat in the waiting room and watched reruns of Faulty Towers, which appeared to be on a loop on the monitor. I think I saw four or five episodes, back to back. I tried to imagine what it would be like if you were waiting for serious news.

"I'm afraid we had to amputate."

"BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA aha aha ... ha ... ha ... pardon?"

Penicillin put her right (no, they didn't amputate), but she was not able to walk easily, and the hostel we stayed in wasn't that comfortable for a sick person, so the next day we decided to hire a car to go on to Dunedin, where she could stay with me until she recovered. We found a car hire place that had a really cheap deal, which made the decision easier.

So we stocked up on chocolate and drove to Dunedin. We went via Lake Tekapo. It was not exactly a shortcut, but neither of us had been there and we wanted to see it. It was summer, between Christmas and New Year, and the lupins looked just like the ones in The Editter's photo.

In fact the colours were what impressed most of all. It must have been a dry summer, because the vegetation was not green but brown, aside from the purple of the lupins. It was an overcast day, but not grey. The sky was white. And the lake (which is fed by a glacier) was a unearthly shade of translucent green. I had never seen water that colour before. With the purple ground, green lake and white sky, it was like being on another planet. It was stunningly beautiful. And cold.

On the way back (via Timaru) we even picked up our own hitchhikers, a couple of German guys who had, it turned out, been standing by the side of the road for half a day waiting for a car to come along. I have never had such pathetically grateful passengers. I thought they were going to kiss us when we offered them chocolate as well.

"Didn't anybody tell you this isn't a good place to hitchhike at this time of year?" I asked.

"Well, yah," they said, "But when they said there wouldn't be much traffic we didn't realize they meant two cars a day."

And before you ask me whether you're actually allowed to pick up hitchhikers when you're in a hired car, I will tell you, no, it is not allowed. It was written in the contract I'd signed, so picking those guys up was probably some sort of crime. But I discovered that when a couple of hungry, shivering Germans wave frantically at you from the side of a long stretch of empty road you don't worry about things like that, especially when you haven't seen another car for well over an hour. Those guys had miscalculated badly.

What was I supposed to do, drive past and wave?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Thing the Third

Carrie has a great picture up on Flickr of a quilt her grandma made her when she was thirteen. Her grandma hates to sew, so the quilt is a special one.

This reminds me of something, which I will call Thing the Third, since it is another thing you did not know about me.

I have a glory box, given to me by my grandma. It is at my brother's house, in New Zealand. That's what she called it, when she gave it to me. A glory box. I was sixteen. I have always been a little embarrassed about this, but I realize now I have no reason to be.

I am also no longer embarrassed about my glory box being full of doilies.

My grandma was an exceptionally keen lace-maker. She tatted and also crocheted. She especially liked to make things for me, and this is why I have a huge collection of doilies (both tatted and crocheted) that she made for me.

I do not know why she singled me out for quite so many doilies. I'm sure my older sisters never got quite so many, but perhaps she thought I was the sort of person who needed doilies. Every time she gave one to me, over a period of years when I was a child, I would admire it, because they were beautiful and insanely delicate, and because she had taught me how to crochet and I knew how much work went into each one and could not IMAGINE sitting still for that long; it was one of those miracle Grandma things. Then I would put it away, carefully wrapped in tissue paper.

As the years went by I still thought they were beautiful, but could not imagine ever having a lifestyle where doilies would fit in. I never told Grandma this, though, and she continued to give them to me on a regular basis. I wasn't quite sure what to do with them, so I kept putting them away carefully. When she also gave me the glory box, I put all the doilies into that. And when I left home, I left the box at my brother's house.

And there it stayed, a sad symbol of the sort of person my grandma had hoped I would become. I don't think I really understood that at the time, though. I just thought it was the sort of things very old grandmas did. It always seemed to me that my grandma was from another world, and in a way she was. She was born at the end of the 19th century, and was in her seventies by the time I was born. She was always old, as far as I was concerned, and her way of thinking was mysterious to me. I didn't expect to understand her, although I loved her dearly.

The doilies have languished at my brother's house ever since I left home, still carefully wrapped in tissue paper even though I told my sister-in-law she could use them if she wanted to. I guess she is not a doily person either. Most of them are a lovely sort of antique-looking ecru, but the ones Grandma made when she was nearing the end of her life are a lurid pink. The stitching is still delicate and beautiful, but the colour is almost frightening. There are not so many of those.

Each doily represents many long hours of patient work.

My grandma died when she was 94, about 20 years ago. I had forgotten about the doilies until just now when I was looking at Carrie's pictures. The picture of the quilt, and Carrie's story about it, made me think.

Doilies do not in any way fit into a Japanese home, but I adored my grandma, and I have now decided that ONE DAY I will have a doily lifestyle. I do not care who laughs at me, or how ill the pink makes people feel. They will have to get over it. Every stitch in those doilies was made with love, by my own little ancient grandma, especially for me.

If I'm going to be completely honest, though, I sort of wish my grandma had been a quilter.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Drama queen

Today while I was doing housework (or thinking about doing it, or not doing it, depending on how you view the matter) I happened to find a rather amusing video on YouTube. I laughed so hard that I had to watch it again. And again.

And then I started to worry about that last cat, which was apparently really frightened, had the world's worst hairball, or ... something. The poor creature seemed to be stuck in a state of pure horror. I do not like cruelty to animals, so decided not to post the video until I was sure that the cat was not being tortured. I mean, really, no HAPPY cat says, "Oh, my dog!" and recites gibberish poetry. That was a severely messed up cat.

Who messed it up?

Further fossicking around YouTube revealed what had caused this awful reaction, and to my great relief it is safe to post the video. It may not seem clear from the first video, but as you can see from the second one, that cat (Oh, long Johnson!) is not being tortured.

Both videos follow. Enjoy the laugh free of guilt. As you will see in the second video, that last cat is pure drama queen.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Five things, but not really

Pkchukiss has tagged me to tell you five things you didn't know about me.

Thing the First
Recently I got hand eczema. I didn't know that's what I had, because I'd never had it before. All I knew was that I woke up one morning with the most unbelievably itchy hands EVER. I wanted to get some needles and dig them into my palms, they were that itchy. I had scratched my hands raw in my sleep, particularly on the fleshy bit of the palm next to the thumb on my right hand, and on the fleshy bit of the palm down from the little finger on the other hand. Some fingers were also affected, and the side of my left hand. I itched and itched and itched.

I thought, of course, that I was dying. I had some terrible, terminal disease that manifests as itchy hands. My body was riddled with, um, something, and it had come out in my hands. It was too late for me. This awful Thing was going to spread all over until I was a seething mass of itchiness, and then I was going to die.

(Either that or I was about to become very, very rich and then give away all my money.)

I decided to consult my favourite doctor just in case there was a miracle cure, and within a couple of seconds my mood had flipped from the depths of despair to overwhelming relief as I discovered that I was not going to die after all, at least not yet. What I had was, it turned out, something quite common and treatable and not serious, although extremely irritating. The advice from Dr. Google was to see a dermatologist and get some steroid cream.

I was too busy for that, so I followed the OTHER advice from the good doctor, which was to use the greasiest hand cream (non-smelly) I could find, and wear cotton gloves as much as possible. This I did. I found white cotton gloves at the ¥100 yen store, smothered my hands in greasy hand cream, and wore the gloves at the computer and at night (to stop me from scratching in my sleep). I looked like a Japanese taxi driver, and The Man teased me, but it worked.

The hand eczema is clearing up. It took a couple of weeks, but it is almost gone now. It now looks like I burned my hands in a couple of places, but they stopped itching so much after the first couple of days and since then the redness has lessened greatly.

Who would have thought that there was a kind of eczema that only afflicts hands?

Thing the Second
I make fabulous custard. My custard has no frills - it is so simple it is like baby food, but it is the sort of baby food that makes you want to be a baby again. You taste it, think, Well, that's not so special, it's sort of ... nothing. Perhaps I'll have another little bit to make sure, it is kind of smooth and, er, comforting ... and the next thing you know you have eaten so much you feel a bit bulgy. But just one more spoonful won't hurt, will it?

One time, for a party, everybody was asked to cook and bring something. I can't cook well and didn't dare attempt anything fancy, so I made custard and stewed some apples. You can't get cooking apples in Japan, so I used ordinary sweet apples and added lemon juice. Then I made a huge amount of custard. I made a BUCKET of custard. Right after making it I felt foolish. Who takes ordinary, plain, no-frills custard to a party?

At the party I was a bit embarrassed to bring out my offering, but I needn't have been. It may not have been very glamorous but it disappeared like magic. The best compliment I got was from an English bloke who took his first mouthful while he was telling me a really interesting story about his travels. He spooned in some custard, his eyes lit up, he went bright pink with pleasure, and he completely forgot what he was talking about. The expression on his face told me that he had been transported straight back into childhood. An angelic smile spread over his face, and he lost every bit of sophistication he had acquired on his extensive worldly travels.

"Mmmmmmmm, custard!!!!!" he said, wonderingly.

He didn't need to say any more than that. He glowed, and spooned up custard like a greedy, happy child. I looked around and saw that almost everybody was reacting the same way. It was brilliant. Custard is a great equalizer. People were shoveling it in as if they had been deprived of custard for twenty years, and perhaps they had. They probably thought of custard as food for children that they were too mature for, and had never thought of making it for themselves.

I certainly hadn't expected that reaction. What a relief! Custard is not a grown up thing to take to a party, but it turned out not to matter.

Here's how to make my really simple custard:

This makes a lot, but the original recipe (from an old housemate - hi you, if you're still reading!) was never enough. I made three of these for the party, and it vanished amazingly quickly. There weren't THAT many people, and everybody had already eaten a lot of very good food before the custard and apple came out.

You will need:
1 litre of milk (whole, none of that low-fat rubbish)
3 eggs
3 dessert spoons (about) of sugar
3 dessert spoons and a bit (about) of cornstarch (depends on how thick you like your custard - if you like it thick make it four spoons)
vanilla essence
a good book

- Break the eggs into a saucepan, add the sugar and milk, and beat it until it grows bubbles. Then beat it some more. Beating it a lot will make it smoother in the end. Do not stint on beating. Beat with vim and vigour. (Pretend it's your boss if that helps.)

- Put it over a very low heat, and stir constantly until it is warm (not hot)

- Mix the cornstarch with a little water, and pour it slowly into the mix, stirring all the time.

- Keep stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring, all over the same very low heat. This is where the book comes in. Stirring constantly is boring, and a good book is helpful at this point. You can read and stir at the same time. DO NOT STOP STIRRING WHEN YOU GET TO AN EXCITING BIT. DO NOT USE MORE HEAT TO HURRY THINGS UP. You do not want lumpy custard.

- When the custard starts to thicken, put down the book and stir more concentratedly. Do not let it boil, and stir it carefully to stop any lumps from forming and to stop it from sticking to the bottom. Stir thoroughly and with passion. Put your heart into it.

- When it seems thick enough, take it off the heat.

- Add a bit of vanilla essence.

(You can stop stirring after that.)

When it cools it will thicken quite a bit more. It is good hot or cold. (But it will be baby food. Do not expect it to be fancy. It isn't.)

For the stewed apple, slice a couple of apples, use the juice from a lemon as well as a DRIBBLE of water (you can add more if needed), cook until it's mushy, and then add enough sugar to make it NOT TOO SWEET. This is important. The custard will be boring if the apple is too sweet. It needs a bit of tartness.

Serve with a little stewed apple at the bottom of the bowl, and a huge dollop of custard covering it. My plan at the party was to fancy it up a bit by sticking a completely unnecessary strawberry or slice of kiwifruit or something on top, but I forgot, and then when I remembered the custard had all gone.

Things the Third, Fourth and Fifth
To follow, eventually. I interrupted writing this to make some custard, then ate so much I have to lie down for a while.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Under the apple tree

The book I am currently reading is The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch, and now and again I have to lay the book aside and let my brain have a wee rest. 'Having a wee rest' in my case, at least, means letting my brain free-float through the mess of thoughts, facts, misconceptions, dreams, fantasies and other assorted detritus that have accumulated inside my head. Today while I was resting my brain, a thought popped into my head, unannounced. That thought was, "Scientists are too serious. They need to be funnier."

This is not, of course, true. Some of the funniest people I know are scientists. (This is not always intentional.) However, it is true that the public conception of science is that it is serious as well as very, very hard. Why do you think the idea of the mad scientist is so appealing? We want scientists to be human, and absurd, and funny. In fact they often are, but they also have an image problem.

The next thought that popped into my head (unannounced, again) was that the history AND the popular conception of science would be a lot different if Newton had been funnier. I mean, let's face it, he was not a particularly amusing person. I think it would be great if he had had a slightly different experience under the apple tree. (Maybe, in a parallel universe, he did.) Imagine if the history books read like this:

Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree one day when a whoopee cushion landed in his lap. Thus Newton discovered the Law of Levity.

Think about it! The history of science would have been changed forever. Einstein would have been famous for discovering the Law of Relative Levity (explaining how things get relatively funnier the further you are away from them - banana skins and whoopee cushions are good examples, entirely dependent on the position of the observer), and physicists would be working on a Unified Law of Levity RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.

Unfortunately this thought ground to a halt around about that point. Apparently my brain had rested enough, and I went back to reading all about what is wrong with Solipsism.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Technological genius

A couple of weeks ago I helped a friend to spend a lot of money. Do you know how much fun that is? Believe me, it is. We went to the Apple Store in Shinsaibashi on Monday and she plonked down enough cash to make me feel dizzy. She had been saving ¥500 coins for the last year or two in a piggy bank, and it is amazing how much you can save in ¥500 coins relatively quickly, if you are determined about it. She has been VERY determined.

However, she did not pay for her new computer in ¥500 coins. I tried to be mature and not show my disappointment, and on reflection she was probably right. I don't think they would have appreciated it. Instead she had the coins changed into notes, and used those, to buy one of these, the biggest, 24-inch one, and one of these, the 'smaller' one. (30 gig.)

A day later her new toys were delivered, and I was there when they came. She wanted my help with setting everything up, and while I didn't think I would be much help, who was I to refuse an offer to play with someone else's new gadgets?

The delivery man dumped (but gently) the enormous box in the genkan, and left. My friend and I stared at it, intimidated, and decided to have a cup of coffee.

But eventually we got the computer upstairs, unpacked it (which took almost as much time as what followed) and plugged it in. I was a bit worried about the wireless mouse and keyboard (how do you connect those?) but then we switched on the computer. (This turned out to be the only time I consulted the manual - to find out where the power switch was.) The familiar chimes rang out, and we laughed. It worked! I love it that everything comes pre-installed. And as it turned out I didn't have to know anything. On the screen appeared diagrams about what to put where (batteries, mainly), and a couple of minutes later everything was working.

In fact I am not REALLY sure why I was there, because after that the new computer only wanted to talk to her. The only time when I might have been a little useful was perhaps for the bit where I initialized her new external hard drive (her new backup system), twice (because I did it wrong the first time) and plugged it into her old computer to back up all her old data. I just dragged it over to the new drive. That was easy, but she seemed to think it was all terribly mysterious, so my techie aura remained intact.

It even remained intact when we got to the bit I had been a little worried about, which was getting the new machine connected to the Internet. I didn't have a clue. The Man did ours when I was at work one day. I had even asked him to go with me to my friend's place because this whole business made me so uncertain (he refused - he was too busy), but my worry turned out to be unnecessary.

"Which is the modem cable that connects to the old computer?" I asked my friend, eyeing the spaghetti of cables behind the desk.

"This one, I think," said my friend, untangling some of the cables. "There are three coming from the modem, and ... let me see ... yes, this is the one that plugs into the computer."

"Three?" I asked, a little alarmed. "Oh, one will be the power cable, and that's the computer one, and the other is the, er, the other is, er, the cable cable. I suppose." I didn't feel very clever.

"Shall I pull them all out?"

"NO," I said. "Just the one plugged into the old computer. We'll switch it to the new computer."

She unplugged it and passed it to me.

I looked at the plug, and looked at the variety of hubs on the back of the new computer. One of them looked the right shape, so I plugged it in.

Then I stared authoritatively at the computer. Nothing happened. What was I supposed to do next?

The computer stared back unhelpfully. My friend hovered behind me, totally confident in my abilities and waiting for the magic to happen.

I launched Safari. I was pretty sure there was more to this than just plugging in the modem, but YOU NEVER KNOW. And it's true, you DON'T, because it turned out that in fact plugging it in WAS the only step necessary. I typed in google.com and the Google search page came up.

"Um, that's it," I told my friend, hiding my shock. "You are online."

"Oh, you're so clever!" she said, "I could never have done this by myself."

"Actually, I think you could have," I said, and I wasn't just being modest, either.

The next thing was to get Eudora, her email program, working. She wanted to be able to access all her old mail. I told my friend i might need all her cable provider details.

I downloaded the latest version (sponsored mode - getting the full version could wait a couple of days) and installed and launched it. Then I found her old Eudora settings file and double-clicked it. My friend had left the room, and this was a good thing because I let out a very rude word when the new program responded to my little experiment by crashing.

Before attempting to launch the program again, I moved all her old mailboxes and things over to the new Eudora folder, trashing the new ones. Then I double clicked the settings file again, somewhat uncertainly (but I didn't know what else to do). Astonishingly, the new program launched and everything worked. How did that happen? I mean, I wanted it to happen, but how can it be that you can jump from a very old version on a different system to the latest version and still have everything intact like that? It was amazing. All her old mailboxes were there, the settings were there too, and no mail was lost.

My friend came back into the room.

"Here's your email," I said, smugly. "I don't need your provider details after all."

Now she thinks I'm a computer genius.

After that we set up the iPod. Easy.

A few days later another friend wanted me to help her to set up her new iPod, too. She is so intimidated by new technology I think she was afraid to take it out of the box by herself, and she'd heard how helpful and impossibly knowledgeable I was.

I told her it was a piece of cake, but she didn't believe me, so I went. I was pretty sure that when she saw how easy it was my reputation would suffer. But still my techie aura remained intact, because I installed Firefox onto her machine as well and showed her how to use tabbed browsing. She now thinks I am a technologically advanced person and I have no doubt she will call me whenever she has a problem. That in itself could be a problem, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. (Besides, I showed her how to force quit a program instead of pulling the plug when something didn't go the way she wanted it to, and I'm fairly sure she won't be having problems any more.)

But she also thinks I'm a genius because I introduced her to Miette's Bedtime Story Podcasts. She was enchanted at the selection offered, and also with Miette's story-reading skills when she experimentally listened to a little of one story, and when I subscribed her and she saw the archives in iTunes she could not stop clicking "GET." I tried to tell her she could always download the rest later, but she'd gone click mad and stopped listening to me. She ended up with over forty stories on her iPod, and I do not expect her to surface for a while.

Miette is one of the reasons my old 4 gig iPod is simply not big enough anymore. I keep getting 'cannot sync' messages because my iPod is full, and have to unsync stuff I haven't heard yet. I do not seem to have time to keep up with everything I want to listen to. I want a new, bigger iPod.

But if I get a new, bigger iPod, it will take forever to sync because my computer is a little too old to have USB2 and the new iPods don't have Firewire. Actually, it appears the iPods have not had Firewire for a while. I hadn't realized.

Bloody Apple. They make things easy, but only if you keep up.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Small bird

Today I have had fun watching the Mr. Deity series on YouTube, courtesy of Dispatches from the Culture Wars. They posted one episode, and I went to the source and watched them from the beginning. They are hilarious.

Also, I have ALMOST finished a book that was passed on to me by a friend, called Bangkok Tattoo, by John Burdett. I am enjoying it so much I do not want it to finish. It is a mystery, but set in Thailand, with a Thai narrator (or at least half Thai), so it is a little different. Funny, too. Now I want to read the first one.

I told The Man that he would probably enjoy this book. He likes mysteries, and it has an Asian flavour. I told him the writer's name so he could look it up in the Japanese bookstores and find out if it has been translated.

"I'll never remember that name," he said.

"Yes you will," I said. "You just have to figure out a way to remember it. For example, you can remember 'John' because it's such a common name, and for Burdett ... well, just think of bird, because I like birds, and then think of a female, or small bird, because I'm a small female bird. It's not a usual bird. It's a birdette."

He laughed. "That is far too complicated," he said.

A while later I asked if he could remember the writer's name, and he instantly replied,

"John Burdett."

"See?" I said. "I TOLD you my way would be easy."

"That's not how I remembered it," he said.

But he refused to say how he remembered it, and I think he was lying.

It's funny how the most useful mnemonics are quite often a lot more complicated than what you're using them to remember.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

We're all mad here

Today I met some friends and we were talking about the scandal surrounding a particular 'mook' (magazine/book) published recently here in Japan about foreigners and crime. One of my friends had bought it and had it with her. She is going to use it for her cross-cultural studies. It is truly unpleasant, and there is an article about it at Japan Probe.

However, after finding that link above, I started clicking on other links from there, and eventually ended up watching this video and feeling ... better is probably not the right word. What IS the right word? I can't REALLY say this stopped me from wondering what on earth I am doing in this mad country, but it did make me laugh, especially the second part.

In the first part of the video I worried about the older man, as did my Japanese friend when I showed it to her (ABUNAI!!!), but the MISSION II section had us both in stitches. We were especially enchanted by the kanji coyly covering up the crucial bits throughout. 尻 (shiri, says the hind one, and 金 (kin) says the one in front.

In case you were wondering, the entire practical joke was dreamed up by a 17-year-old lad who wrote in to the programme (his letter is shown at the beginning), who thought it might be funny if they did something like this. 17-year-olds are ruthless.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Think of a random number between 1 and 20.

Write it down.

Now read the comments.