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    Friday, June 30, 2006

    sunset



    my friend is not well, and I feel very sad.

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    Thursday, June 29, 2006

    musical peace

    wind chimes in the woods



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    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    I am so happy

    It's such an exciting time of life. I feel so gripped by enthusiasm for the endless possibilities that life offers - it's difficult to know where to direct my energies. If only the days were longer!!

    As you know, this summer, I have chosen to devote pretty much all of my spare time to getting to grips with 2,042 kanji. This is proving to be tremendously exciting. I'm on target at the moment to complete the task in 8 weeks. I plan to move on to step 2 (where I learn the readings) when I get to Japan. I am determined to return to the UK in Sep 2007 with a good working knowledge of all the kanji. I know I can do it (I've even bought a touchpad thing, whatever you call them, electronic pen and paper that plugs into your pc, so I can use that fantastic Heisig review software).

    We have so much potential. We just have to educate ourselves. I find learning so exciting. The pleasure it gives me to meet people who know a bit about Japan, and to be able to offer an informed opinion. Ok, so I've only studies at undergrad level, but that is a world away from you're average Joe.

    Another area I am devoting a significant amount of time to is finance. I am attempting to educate myself financially. I'm onto my third book now in the space of about a month - quite a rate for me, especially considering everything else I've been doing. I feel so fortunate to have had the experience of buying a house, having had a nice car on finance, having had a tedious job with 'career prospects', and having had huge debts which led to bankruptcy - I am so grateful to have gone right through this system that many people spend their entire lives in, failing to see that it could be any different. It's not their fault; I blame our education system. Did you ever learn about credit cards at school, and what a bad idea they are? I know I didn't.

    My family have often joked in the past that they are relying on me to be the rich one. Well, the past few months have seen some interesting developments in this area, as my thinking has changed, and I've realised that it is perfectly possible.

    I do find it difficult to reconcile my support for environmental and ethical movements with this desire to be financially free. Why? It's the popular connection between money and capitalism and more specifically, nowadays, consumerism.

    I don't like consumerism. From an environmental perspective it has devastating effects. Think of all the plastic rubbish we buy from China, think of all that pollution in the name of economic development, (did you see that BBC documentary on it last night?). All these huge off-road cars congesting our inner-city streets, burning precious fuel and pumping out harmful gases. I don't like these things, thinsg that I can;t help but associate with those who have more money than sense.

    Thus, to be seen to be aiming to become 'one of them' is quite painful - it's the last thing I want.

    Thankfully of course, being wealthy does not mean that one need buy into this mentality. Being wealthy is not, in itself, a bad thing. It's what you do with it that counts, right? So why do I want to be financially free? So I can but an Audi TT (must admit, I do rather like them)? So I can have houses in several countries and spend my time choking the atmosphere by flying between them all?

    No, the reason I want to be wealthy is so that I can quit work asap, in order that I can devote myself to good causes and charity work, through which I can experience really meaningful and rewarding work (even if it's just working here at the Welsh Garden Project for free!). I'd like to be wealthy enough to give substantial amounts of money to charities that I believe in, and spend significant amounts of time on the front line. I'd also like to be able to pay my sister back the 1000 pounds I borrowed off her 7 years ago - plus 50% interest!

    It would be wonderful to be able to help family and friends, and spend my time helping others, rather than spending it working to make some big company rich, in the hope that one day I'll get a nice pension.

    Then there's creativity. Photography. Writing. Videos. The sharing of these online. They excite me so much. That's what led me back to the keyboard tonight. I went to bed about an hour back, then thought I'd just watch a short video on my iPod. A video podcast, made by someone just like you or me, and posted online for download on a regular basis. I watched one, then another, and another, and ended up watching over 15 video shorts. I subscribe to a lot of Podcasts now, both audio and video. 29fragiledays. TechToysTokyo (teehee), about 6 Radio 4 feeds (Start the Week tops the bill in my book)... I find it fascinating listening to and watching other people, and even more fascinating to listen to and watch other people through the eyes of other people. Technology really has had a huge impact upon my life, especially such things as RSS feeds, which mean that everyday I am exposed to a while host of different ideas and opinions, without having to spend hours hunting down different sources. Lazy? Maybe. But to be honest, time is just too precious to be spent trawling the net, I'd rather have it come to me, and then take it all in whilst chopping logs in the beautiful Welsh countryside.

    I am immensely grateful to have the opportunity to live and work here on the Welsh Garden Project. I really do feel blessed.

    And there's so much else I want to do. All these history books on the shelf (that I've wanted to read for ages) may go untouched, as I keep on ordering others from Amazon that I want to read even more!

    Gawwww life really is fantastic! And my God, am I lucky to have met *Twinkle*, who shares many of my passions. (No, not just that!!) I have no problem with committing myself to her. It's taken me a long time to reach this stage, it's been a long journey, full of great joy and great sorrow, but not a single moment has been wasted. Even those years that I thought at the time were spent carelessly, I now see were oh so necessary for me to reach this point where I am today. That being, on the verge of a whole new chapter with eyes wide open to embrace the opportunities ahead.

    Hee hee. I really am happy.

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    What do flies do when it rains?

    It's been raining today. Non-stop. I rather cleverly left my Tilley Hat on the branch of an oak tree this morning. Soaked to the core, just as I was after an hour or so spent extracting a tree stump from the meadow with my bare teeth. All this rain though led me to think,

    "What do flies do when it rains?"

    I found the answer just outside my window.

    This wee beasty has been sheltering in the same spot since about 11.30am. Couldn't see any sign of tea or coffee being served under that leaf, which leads me to believe that either (a) flies don't drink tea or coffee or (b) they do, but the cost of importing fly-size teacups from China is prohibitively expensive. One imagines it would be. Duck Tax and all that. You'd have to order about 6 months in advance too, and time it to coincide with the annual migration of Mr. Quack. I wonder if swans ever find illigal immigrants in the form of fleas and the such like tucked away in their tail feathers when they arrive in the UK?

    There's a huge number of tits around at the moment. I've always loved photographing tits, but more often than not have found the results to be quite dissapointing. Need a good telephoto lens so as not to be spotted by the bird. If you are detected, you tend to end up with shots like this.

    All legs and no breast.

    Ocassionally though, you're lucky, as demonstrated here.

    What a great Tit shot.



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    Monday, June 26, 2006

    TOMATO!

    Indeed.



    Well, it's all very exciting here! I'm having rather a jolly good time actually, studying KANJI! I'm up to 299 now.

    Split some logs too, with a great big axe, and shouted RAAAAA whilst beating my big hairy chest, then swung from a few vines and picked some elderflowers. Had an afternoon nap (insert silent "k" if necessary), had a bath (first since Easter), more kanji then a deliiiicious chocolate pudding.

    BANANA!



    Most victims of murder meed their fate very soon after meeting their executioner-to-be. Whether it be a store clerk killed in a bungled robbery, or a racist knife attack on the streets of Bradford. A terrible thing to occur, but imagine:

    A murderer who does not kill their victims swiftly. A murderer who, once they have their victim, holds them for years on end, constantly telling them that they're going to be murdered, on such-and-such a day. When that day finally comes, they kill their victim, often using a lethal injection consisting of a cocktail of three drugs, one of which (designed to paralyse) causes so much pain that even vetinary associations have outlawed its use in the putting down of animals.

    Unfortunately, such murderers are not uncommon. They come in the form of:
    The US, Singapore, Japan, North and South Korea ...and 67 other nation states worldwide. Whilst China tops the international league table for murder by the administration, the US, comes in at No.1 in the list of countries that carry out child executions. Why am I not surprised?

    Murder is wrong under any circumstances. There is no justice in taking a life in payment for another.

    "Since 1973, 123 prisoners have been released in the USA after evidence emerged of their innocence of the crimes for which they were sentenced to death." [link]

    Makes one wonder how many innocent victims have been murdered by the state.

    On that happy note, I bid you good night.

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    Saturday, June 24, 2006

    Remembering the Kanji

    Big decision made as to what I am going to achieve this summer:

    I am going to learn the MEANING and WRITING of 2,042 kanji.

    My intention is to learn 250 per week. That's about 36 per day (but will aim for 50 to make up for days off when I'm naughty).

    How? I'm gonna use the Heisig method.

    An extract from an interview with Heisig:
    "I broke the kanji up into pieces. I began with the simplest pieces, went through the entire list, saw what I could make with it, add another piece, and then go through the entire list of kanji once again. I kept a little diary of what I was doing, and exactly 30 days after I started I had finished writing all the characters, I had learned them all. Then the word got out at school."

    Needless to say, the Japanese language teachers poo-pooed his method, saying he had a photographic memory ...which he didn't.

    I've talked about the Heisig method before now, but no matter how much exposure it gets, it deserves more. I first started using it in 2003. Unfortunately, I was in a very bad space at the time, and my motivation soon flew out of the window. But not before I'd learnt the meaning and writing of 300 kanji in 3 weeks.

    What I learnt in those three weeks has really helped me over the past two years at uni. Whenever we have learnt kanji using the standard methods adopted by Japanese language teachers that I previously looked at through the eys of Heisig, I have had no problems remebering the meaning and writing.

    The book is worth buying for the introduction alone! Talk about inspiration...! You must read it!! In fact, the whole of section one of the book is available for download in .pdf format - I reccomend you at least read the "Notes to the 4th edition" which is enough to make anyone feel they can conquer the kanji! Download it here

    Unfortunately, the Heisig method is not compatible with the classroom. It is a method for self-study only. And, as you don't learn the readings until Book 2, it's not much good for those grammar classes where you have to read out loud. However, if you put aside short-term goals of passing exams, and think long-term (i.e. being fluent in all kanji), then the Heisig method is so superior to the standard methods of teaching that it deserves to be awarded a night in bed with me.

    So, here I am, 3 months without university work. The perfect opportunity to learn all 2,042 kanji - 3 months is how long it should take given about 4 hours of study per day, which is what I intend to put in over the next 10 weeks (with a couple of weeks off here and there). This way, when I get to Japan I don't have to waste hours learning kanji when I could be doing far more exciting things. If I can recognise and write the characters already, the readings will come a lot easier.

    I'm excited. Unlike 2003, I know now that I can do it.

    James W. Heisig - Remembering the Kanji - Buy it / read reviews on Amazon
    Read another review here and another here. Interview with James Heisig on how the method was born, here

    Download a kanji review program designed specifically for use with the Heisig method here. This is a GREAT tool and makes the learning process much easier (an electronic pad and pen for your computer is a must, 15 quid from amazon).

    Also, try recording your stories onto MP3 and putting them on your iPod. I've found that very beneficial.

    I think I'm gonna have to have a kanji counter on here to keep me going... so, today the figure is: 172 down (1,870 to go!)

    Update - 6 weeks into the course: 999 down, 1,043 to go! I can do it!!

    Update - week 8: 1550 down, 492 to go!

    Update - 5 months after starting the course:

    So, by week 10 of my study program, I had managed to learn the entire 2042 kanji using the Heisig method. Admittedly, many of them were a little haziy in my memory, but I found that after one review they were straight back there, I could write them no problem.

    I then did absolutely no proper study / revision of the kanji for about 10 weeks, due to everything involved in coming to Japan.

    I'm now 8 weeks into my Japanese language course at Rikkyo university, Tokyo. I had this idea that once I got to Japan there would have some amazing kanji-learning tecnique, but of course there isn't. Just like back home, it's a case of "here's the kanji you need to know, now go and learn them". They do have kanji tests, but these are voluntary. I failed the first one (you need 75% to pass) due to lots of really silly words like "semiconductor" being included, and found that in the end the whole process was most unpleasant and utterly demoralising.

    I then approached my sensei and asked her what she thought about Remembering the Kanji. She basically said that she thought that using the Heisig method was a very good idea - if it worked for me, I should use it.

    Thus, I have begun a systematic revision program using the book Remembering the Kanji Vol. 1, a pad of paper, and the revision program that goes with it that is available for free here.

    It is astonishing how these kanji are flooding back to me. I must admit that when looking at the kanji for the first time in months I am lost - I can't recall the meaning. BUT, one quick look at the story associated with it and BAM! it's back in my head, as fresh as a daisy.

    The next task of course is to learn the readings. Unfortunately Remembering the kanji Volume 2 (which teaches the readings) is currently out of print, although the author, James Heisig, told me in an email (what a thrill that was!) that they are due to be reprinted early next year (2007). There are copies out there on Amazon etc, but they are very expensive. I've managed to locate a copy in California for 6,000 yen (£28), but it's taking its time getting to me.

    Basically, the message is, I continue to thoroughly recommend the Heisig method as the best way out there of mastering the Kanji. It brings them alive, and makes you love them!

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    Friday, June 23, 2006

    Fruits of our labour

    It's about three years now since I first arrived at the Welsh Garden Project. It was a complete jungle then, having been left untouched for many years. My task has been to beat back the brambles, and help restore its former glory.

    Thus, today it was immensly satisfying when one of the Ladies of the Manor harvested her first beetroot and carrots, which were planted not that long ago in a deep bed that I created in January this year.

    Just look at that colour. Boodaful!




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    Look what the cat's dragged in

    There I was, merrily skipping through the house and into the conservatory where the chainsaw spanner is kept, thinking what a lovely day it was and how shiney the sun looked, when I nearly trod on this...



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    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Organ Reconstruction

    It's not all pulling out brambles, oh no. As you can see in this video, I've also had time to reconstruct an electric organ with a sledgehammer. That was fun!

    Whilst in the garden today, I learnt about the tragedy that is Sierra Leone, a place about which until now I knew nothing except that it has the world's shortest life expectancy (@25.9 years). Learnt that in a Japanese newspaper class. I also heard about the horrendous land-grab currently going on in China, "Worse than the Japanese invasion of the 1930s", and similar crimes in India and South Africa. All very grim. Makes you realise how blessed we are in the West, with our relative security and access to social welfare. The inequality in this world is just staggering.

    Hmm, on that happy note, I'll be off.

    xxx

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    Confirmation

    I've just received the following email:
    "Dear exchange student who is nominated as JASSO scholar,

    This is to let you know that you are officially granted the JASSO Short-term Student Exchange Promotion Program Scholarship."
    Wooppeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

    Stinging Nettles and Binge Drinking

    It's wonderful to do some hard physical work again. I like that feeling, at the end of a long hot day on the Welsh Garden Project site, of being completely physically knackered. Covered in dirt, feeling the after-effects of close encounters with stinging nettles [click here for video of stinging nettle eating competition] and climbing roses that you forgot were hanging down from the trees under which you were cutting the grass and pulling bracken. So much more tired than feeling mentally exhausted from a day of Kanji Revision. Unfortunately though, I can't escape that one either. "Tsukawanai to, wasurechau" as they say - "If you don't use 'em, you'll lose 'em". How true.

    Listened to a BBC documentary series called 'Alchohol' this morning whilst pulling brambles from below the Eucalyptus tree. It really is appalling how much damage the stuff does. Not just physically, but socially too. Even worse than the binge-drinking culture that has emerged in the UK in recent years (unseen anywhere else in the world), is the way in which developing countries such as India and Kenya are being exploited by the drinks industry. In Africa, it is often poverty that leads people to drink. In India, the rise of an affluent middle-class (beneficiaries of the IT / callcentre boom) means that more people have money to spend - a fact that the drinks companies are only too aware of, and only too eager to exploit. The big shots are buying up hundreds of local breweries, and investing heavily in advertising campaigns in a bid to make mass-consumption a part of daily life, in places where until now culture and religion have shielded populations from addiction. The issue is of such magnitude that, according to some estimates, alcohol-related illnesses (whether they be physical or social) will come to replace HIV AIDS as the world's No.1 health problem.

    It's bad enough here in England. Government statistics show that there is a clear link between the increase in alcohol consumption and the increase in violent crime that we've seen in recent years.

    Moving on... I knew I shouldn't have mentioned hard drives packing up the other day. Tempted fate didn't I? Yesterday, my 300GB External drive crashed, "...corrupted and unreadable". All my music and videos that I've aquired / shot since last September, gone. Or so I thought. Thankfully, after hours spent hunched over the keyboard, I managed to fix it (was surprisingly easy actually. Shame it took me about 5 hours to figure out how to do it). I'm now backing it all up onto 25 DVDs. 2 hard drives in one week... fingers crossed a third doesn't pop.

    I'm feeling a bit worried about the amount of 'stuff' I have to do this summer. It's the kanji that are really stressing me out. I also have to build a new website for a venture that *Twinkle* and I are launching later in the year. Time time time... It's only about 10 weeks till I leave for Japan, not that long at all. It's going to be very odd going back this time. In addition to the fact that I know far more about the place and language than I did last time I was there (thus fundamentally altering my relationship with the country), there's going to be the whole 'settling down' type thing, which I didn't have last summer as that was but a holiday. As of September, Japan will essentially become my main base, puntuated only by 10 months 'away' in 2007/2008 for my final year at Sheffield. Kind of exciting, kind of scary.

    I don't see myself living in Japan forever though, unless it undergoes some massive changes, both social and environmental. Place is too trashed. Institutionalised racism lives on, far closer to the surface than here in the UK, frequently rearing its ugly head, and that's something I don't think I'm prepared to live with long-term, and is not something I want my children to become victims of. The looming population crisis may force fundamental change, but even if it does, the process will of course take time.

    Still, as I've said before, as a theme park, it's a great country. As a homeland, it's kinda screwed.

    tarra

    Today's photo selection:

    My rather groovy nephews, and their mum, who also happens to be my sister. Grandpa also features in the first shot, fishing for newts in the High Security (childproof) Rose Cottage Pond.





    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    September 11th - This Was No Terrorist Attack

    It was early afternoon on September the 11th 2001. I was in my room on the fourth floor of the Swiss hotel where I worked, watching the news on Japanese Satellite TV. What I saw, I didn't quite understand. It appeared to be a plane flying into the World Trade Centre - had the news finished and a disater movie begun? Soon after that I switched over to the BBC, just in time to see the 2nd plane hit. I now realised that this was no Hollywood production.

    A few weeks ago my attention was drawn to a video released by the CIA. It wasn't long, just 5 frames shot by a security camera the moment that a hijacked Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

    Watching that video, I thought it was a bit odd that the 'aeroplane' appeared to be lacking in wings or a tail - all I could make out was a white pencil mark (full video here).

    It was only when I heard about the film Loose Change 2nd Edition, that I was reminded of what I had seen a couple of weeks beforehand. Watching that film has completely changed my view on the events of September 11th.

    September the 11th was, put bluntly, pre-meditated murder on a huge scale, planned and carried out not by terrorists, but by the US Government with military precision.


    I strongly urge you to watch this film. It is not right that the public history of the events of September the 11th is what it is today, that this was a terrorist attack. We turn a blind eye to so much evil in this world, but I feel that this is something of such great importance, that we all have a duty to educate ourselves on what actually happened that day.

    There is ample evidence to back up this claim, a claim which is apparently gaining significant recognition in the US. President Bush knows it too - check out his loss for words when asked what he thinks about the idea that he knew about the attacks prior to September the 11th.

    I would like to point you in the direction of the Loose Change website. On the Evidencepage, select one of the events as detailed at the bottom of that page. E.g. WTC

    There you will find evidence associated with everything said in the film, from numerous sources. There is so much stuff out there that will shock you, but so many people are unwillingly to question the "Official version".

    I'm not going to discuss all the oddities indicating that this was NOT a terrorist attack. There's just too much, you should see the film yourselves.

    I will though, just mention a few things:

    There is ample evidence, including first-hand reports from firefighters and workers in the WTC that its destruction was not caused by two aeroplanes flying into the towers. As we all know, they were designed to withstand such an impact, and withstand them they did. There is, however, a lot of evidence pointing towards a CONTROLLED DEMOLITION. We're talking explosives planted throughout the building, detonated remotely to bring both towers down. Watch the video, you'll see the explosions for yourself. Eye witnesses describe bright flashes of the sort seen in controlled demonlitions. The people who manufactured the steel said themselves that it was not possible for those buildings to have been brought down by fire. Those fires caused by the jet fuel would have had to burn at a much higher temperature and for much longer to have caused such damage. Look back in history at previous (far more serious) fires in skyscrapers around the world - the buildings are gutted, but WITHOUT EXCEPTION, they remain standing. Until September 11th. Once again, it's all in the film.

    There's a film out at the moment called 'United 93'. When I first watched the trailer I felt pretty shocked that such a movie had been released.

    Now, I think, "What a load of bollox".

    Local reporters who arrived just after the crash stated that there was "No sign of debris, no sign that a plane came down". This was no little 2 seater either, we're talking commercial airliner here. What other major air disaster can you think of where there has been NO WRECKAGE. I mean, no engines, no section of fuselage, nothing. Eye witnesses describe a hole in the ground about 20ft diametre - and no sign of skidding before the aeroplane came to a halt.

    The coroner said "I gave up being coroner after 20 minutes as there was no sign of bodies". Does this sound like any air disaster you know of?

    The phone calls - they couldn't actually have taken place. No signal at that altitude. American Airlines inadvertaintly backed up this fact by announcing, in 2004 that they had just succeeded in developing a technology whereby people could make phone calls with their cellphones. See the article here (Or watch the film here).

    As for the Pentagon - now there's a joke. Minutes after the plane hit, government agents arrived at local businesses, seizing CCTV footage and prohibiting people from describing what they had seen. These tapes have not been released - oh, except for the one that shows something remarkably like a missile hitting the pentagon, as mentioned above.

    Once again, no sign of skidding, no major reckage - just scraps of metal that could be picked up by hand. Perhaps the biggest give away though is THE HOLE THAT IS TOO BIG FOR AN AEROPLANE TO FIT INTO! ...and where did the wings go? And the engines? And what about the smell of explosives that members of staff reported? (Once again, watch the film for more).

    There's other 'oddities' too, one of my favourites being the FBI's claim to have found the passport of 'suicide pilot' Satam al-Suqami, in the wreckage of the WTC. They claim that whilst the flight-recorders (made out of some bloomin tough materials) were destroyed (a fact that a firefighter who helped them find 3 of the 4 denies), but somehow, this paper passport managed to fly out of the pilots pocket, through the explosion and onto the streets of Manhattan below.

    At the end of the day, it's not for me to say what did or did not happen on September the 11th - it's for you to make your own mind up. However, having seen the film, and had a look at a lot of other material available out there, I will never again believe the story that this was a terrorist attack. This was pre-meditated murder by the US Government.

    Look at just four examples what they have been able to do thanks to 9-11:

    - Invade Afghanistan
    - Invade Iraq (without UN sanction. Both of these invasions have resulted in huge economic gains and access to oil)
    - Pass numerous bills enabling the government to monitor and control our actions and words in ways which are so invasive that pre-September 11th they simply would not have gathered enought votes in Congress / Parliament to make it into law
    - A huge increase in funding for 'intelligenc' agencies.

    The film is 1hr20min long. You can download a small .mp4 version (suitable for iPod or PC), or you can watch the high-quality streaming version.

    The download page is here: http://www.seeloosechange.com/

    Another site which I feel is an important tool for people who do wish to educate themselves about what happened that day is http://911proof.com/. I find it difficult to read, I must admit. Not because of the choice of font, but because of the volumes of evidence that point towards the murder of thousands by the US Administration.

    I think we all owe it to the victims of the attacks to not accept the bullsh*t that the government feeds us on this one. Watch the video, tell your friends, and spread the word. A crime like this can't be ignored.

    [EDIT] This edit comes to you following an email from a friend of mine who, having seen Loose Change 2nd Edition, started to look further into the events of 911.

    Whilst Loose Change may be a good watch to get you thinking, it's not overly scientific. Here's a few links which are more scientific in nature.

    Steven E Jones

    A critique of the film

    Robert Bowman [one] [two] [three]

    Monday, June 19, 2006

    Birmingham

    Ever been to Birmingham? I have an idea it's the UK's second largest city, and until last week it was my second choice for the location of a nuclear waste reprocessing plant made out of lego (first choice being Borth, the grimmest town on Earth, located on the west coast of Wales. It looks like this when it is at its most exciting).

    It would seem that Birmingham is not actually as depressing as one is led to believe by the bus station (it was whilst on a coach there that a fellow passenger decided to start vomiting into a carrier bag. "Perfectly natural reaction" I thought at the time).

    But that was then.

    Now, I know different, for I have met The Bull.


    Is that not the horniest bit of bronze you've ever seen?

    Not only that, I have now had the pleasure of getting up close and personal with a fabulous piece of architecture that I have long desired to stroke, the outer wall of Selfridges. Check out this mirrored wonder.




    In fact, *twinkle* and I enjoyed Birmingham SO MUCH that we missed the last direct train back to Hereford, and ended up having to travel via Timbuctoo West in order to reach home that night.

    So there you go, that's my fabulous in-depth review of Birmingham. Well, Birmingham city centre anyhow. I don't know about the suberbs, although they do look pretty grim from the train. Nice canal though, oh, and Cadbury's Bournville factory of course, could go for a swim there and get some really sexy oompa lumpa to lick the chocolate out your earholes etc. If that sort of thing turns you on I mean. Can't say I've done it myself, although that's mainly due to the lack of Oomp Lumpa's in these parts.

    hmm, must be bedtime. I'll leave you with a picture of a water lily in our garden pond. Should cleanse you of all those dirty thoughts.



    Microsoft Office 2007 Beta

    I downloaded Microsoft Office 2007 (Beta) a couple of days back, and so far, I like what I see. It has some pretty sexy interface features, quite a departure from the usual 'File/Edit/...' menu system of pre-2007 editions.

    Only one snag though, the documents created with it are in advanced formats that "reduce file sizes, improve the recovery of corrupt or damaged files, and improve integration with external sources" - thus, pre-Office 2007 versions of Word etc can't read them (although I could choose to save documents so that they are backward-compatible).

    So, if you get sent one of these new-format documents that will eventually rule the roost, either

    a) download Office 2007 (Beta) here, or
    b) download a plugin here for your existing Office programs to enable them to read documents created with Office 2007.

    Then I don't have to do anything myself ;-p

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    Looking back on my 2nd year of university

    So, yes, It's been a busy week.

    My final exam, Contemporary Japanese Society went well. I broke my previous record (set only one week prieviously) for the most A4 pages filled with drivvle in a 3-hour exam: 20. My three chosen topics were the unecessary and unjustifiable bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (first strike of the Cold War, rather than final strike of the 2nd World War). Second was the consequences of Japan's rapid economic growth in the 1960s and 70s (pollution, death-by-overwork etc), and third was, er, oh yes, What impact does the existence of minority groups have upon the notion of Japanese homogeneity? Oooh I got so worked up in the exam I could have strangled the entire Japanese cabinet.

    Results are out in about three weeks.

    As soon as the exam was over it was off up to the road to the Japan soc BBQ (Photos here). That was really nice, seeing everyone one last time. Not just everyone from our year and the year below, but a lot of the exchange students too. It was so satisfying in a way, as last September, at the beginning of the academic year I set myself a few goals.

    The first was to end my three years of relative lack-of-girlfriendness, and meet someone who was (a) wonderful (b) sexy (c) intelligent (d) kind (e) liked cooking, washing up and ironing (f) half-Japanese, i.e. Japanese, but with a Western outlook upon such things as self-fulfillment and individuality etc (g) had an 'alternative' education. (h) was a nymphomaniac There were a few other provisos too, but for security reasons they can't be disclosed here. It is extraordinary that the girl whom I met in the first couple of weeks is all those things and more.

    My second goal was to help create a much stronger community within SEAS, involving Japan Soc. I felt very happy to have been a part of the process that saw barriers broken down that I had felt were detrimental to my student experience in my first year. Last Friday's BBQ was confirmation for me that that had been achieved.

    The class of '94 at the BBQ - next time we see one another will be in Japan!

    A third goal was to do well academically. As I said above, results aren't out yet, but I feel quite happy with how I did, and I'm hoping to end up with a high 2:1; I doubt I'll get a First.

    A fourth goal was to be one of the 50% of our year that will receive a scholarship worth thousands of pounds for our year abroad next year. I am happy to say that I have achieved that goal, or at least I think so. I've received a congratulatory email from my Sheffield-based year-abroad co-ordinator, and I've received some kind of notice from Rikkyo saying congratulations, you have been nominated for a scholarship, 'but the official announcement is yet to be made'. If I really have got the scholarship it really is fantastic news, as the initial one-off payment of 150,000 yen is more than enough to pay for my beautiful Sony A100 Digital SLR!! Tee hee, I'm so naughty! Mind you, if I don't work hard this summer it will have to go on much more boring things, like rent.

    Another task I set myself was to get to know everyone on my course. In our first year, we were divided into three groups and so didn't really form a strong "Class of 94 group id". That changed this year, and I'm happy to say I feel very comfortable with (almost!) everyone - what a lovely bunch of folks. I'm so grateful that we all get on, having heard some real horror stories from other years.

    So yes, all in all, a mightily sucessful 2nd year at Uni. Thanks to all of you who made it possible :-)

    Do camels have willies?

    Recently, a friend of mine went on a trip to Jordan. Upon her return, she presented me with a gift, in the form of two .jpeg images.


    Being a regular Mumbler, she knows how much I rely on people searching for "Horse cock" on Google - they account for just under 10% of all traffic generated through search engine queries, despite the initial lack or any equine erections on TGW.

    Thus, whilst in Petra, she very kindly photographed these Jordanian specimens, for display on TDM. Until now, we have only had the plastic penises for entertainment.

    I thank that dear Mumbler for her thoughtfulness.

    She also mentioned that she'd had a look under the camel that she was riding, in case it leant itself to internet fame, but it appeared to be lacking in genetalia. My thinking on this is that this is the result of a tactical maneuver by the camel to avoid having its dongolong chafed by the scorching sand that its hooves throw up.

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    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    That's the way to do it!

    Before we go any further, I just want to clarify something.

    TGW is a FOOTBALL FREE ZONE!


    They'll be not a word of all that commercial rubbish going on across the water. It's bad enough not being able to see where you're going when driving around the UK, your view being obscured by 56 million flags sticking out car windows wherever you go... Do they know how much additional fuel their motors are having to consume to compensate for the wind resistence? I dunno... and we call it "Culture"! What a misnomer!

    Well now I'm back, from outer space... well, from Orcop actually, a wee little village in the Herefordian countryside that has a 5-mile technology exclusion zone around it. Can't get a signal for a mobile phone round there, let alone internet. Not that the internet would have been much use, as upon arrival mum and dad informed me that the computer (bought in 1999) had packed up. I thought that it would probably be something simple, you know, they'd forgotten to plug it in etc, but no, it was a wee bit more serious.
    "Operating System Not Found"

    and then, when I ran the recovery disk,
    "Hard Drive Not Found"

    I know absolutely nothing when it comes to the internal workings of computers, but somehow managed to remove the hard drive and find the problem - one of the chips had erupted, pubescent-spot stylee. Dead as a dodo.

    The following day I managed to locate a second-hand 7-year-old 16GB hard drive, a rarity in these days of drives with the memory capacity of a blue-whale's stomach after it's been sick following a night of heavy drinking. Re-installed Windows 98, and all is tickety boo. Not a single piece of data lost, mainly due to the fact that in over 5 years mum and dad have managed to not put a single file in "My Documents". Anyway, lesson for you all there folks, HARD DRIVES CAN DIE for no apparent reason and completely out of the blue, so make sure you buy Joseph Tame's backup Software rrp$999 , Paypal at bottom of page...

    Anyway anyway, that's by the by. I'm back on Broadband at the Welsh Garden Project, where I'll be based for the next 10 weeks or so, with a week off here and there doing STUFF as one does when the summer comes.

    *Twinkle* (previously known as *Cough*. I was threatened with a lawsuit by Benelin, thus the new identity, which is far more fitting me thinks. Far too cute to be a Cough...) has now departed for Sheffield, having spent a week with me in the South. Thus, you can look forward to the Tame winging (surely that should be spelt 'winjing"?) (Update: See comment below) about being sad and lonely 'long distance' this and 'boo hoo' that. Still, we have messenger, and I'll be popping back up there at some point to ensure that we remain in good health :-p

    Yesterday we travelled back in time to a local village fete, you know, the type that used to be held in every community about 500 years ago, in order to raise money for the parish church. Village fetes are still quite common out in the sticks, and judging by yesterday's experience, haven't changed much since their inception under the Romans in the 4th Century BC.

    This particular village fete was, true to form, held in the garden of the local Mr. Darcy, in order to raise money for the church. It was opened by the vicar and the local MP, who had a big hat on like mine to keep the sweltering sun off his bonce.

    The highlight had to be those bastions of Bristish Culture, Punch and Judy.


    Mind you, their routine had changed quite a bit since my day. THIS Mr. Punch put the baby in the microwave. Not only that, he dangled it out the window, saying, "If it's good enough for Michael Jackson it's good enough for me!"

    I'm not sure if the three and four year olds got that one...

    Here's a little video clip for those of you who are yet to experience the wonders of traditional British puppetry.



    Another classic attraction was the 'throw the wet sponge at the little boy'. Here he is, firmly secured, just waiting for me and my mighty overarm. I spent 25 quid (at 30p a shot) lobbing lumps of sopping foam at his little nonce. Ah, the satisfaction when I scored a direct hit! (note sponge in flight, on the right)



    Next up it was the coconut shy, 6 balls for 30p. *Twinkle* managed to knock one off straight away, although I swear there was a bit of gender discrimination going on, as when it was my turn, the man running the thing applied a fresh coat of Superglue! I managed a really hard, direct hit, but the ball just bounced off and flew into the bushes, knocking a badger unconscious, in a manner that reminded me of the concrete-filled tennis balls that I was forced to chew on as a kid.

    Following that, we had tea on the terrace, which we sipped with our little fingers pointing up in the air, as one does at these events. It was all so civilised.

    Last night we went to a local beer festival, which was a right laugh. Mainly because everyone was drunk and doing rather mad dancing. Oooh, that reminds me, you'll never guess what my mum and dad did the other night: they got my girlfriend drunk! This is my girlfriend who has a sort of allergy to alcohol (even the smallest bit can make her ill). They seduced her with a glass of strong Herefordian Cider, convincing her it was juice. Thing is you see, in Japan, "Cider" is non-alcoholic apple juice. She went rather red, and was quite a handful in the caravan in which the two of us were resident that night.

    Anyway, I must get on, I have all sorts of stuff to do tonight, such as pluck my nasal hairs, for tomorrow, I start the gardening.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006

    daily mumble on hold

    apologies for the lack of mumbles. The hard drive in my pc has died, thus, I have no internet access (apart from here at the Apple shop in Birmingham!)

    Things should get back to normal at the end of the week once I'm back at the Welsh Garden Project site!

    joseph

    Friday, June 09, 2006

    One more day of school

    So, this is it, the final day of my 2nd year at the University of Sheffield. Today, at 1.30pm I shall take my last exam - Contemporary Japanese Society - held in the very same exam hall that my War and Peace exam was held in, in January. Back then, I wrote
    the exam was held in a tin shack built in the 8th century BC, which remained as cold as it had been in the ice age.

    The heating system was broken. It was only at 11.30am, that is, with just thirty minutes of the three-hour exam left to go, that the invigilator apologised to us for the lack of heating and said it had just been fixed, and the place should start to warm up soon.

    In front of him, the 150 statues frozen in the pose of students hunched over examination tables didn't react. Oh, except for one, whose nose fell to the ground and shattered into a thousand shards of ice.

    Thankfully it's sort of summer now so we shouldn't have that problem. This time, the lack of air conditioning and a couple of hundred stressed out students will probably result in us being roasted alive, hurrah!

    I'm not overly confident about it. Just looking forward to it being done with, then we have the big end-of-year Japan Society BBQ, where the remaining budget is blown on giving everyone a bloomin good time. After that, it's back here, and pack for tomorrow's trip to Bristol for Jojo's birthday party, then back here Sunday (via Hereford to get the car), and then back down to Hereford on Monday with all my stuff. Busy Busy Busy.

    Anyway, must get on with reading through my notes.

    joseph

    p.s. recommended website-type-thing of the day is a collection of photos by a Scottish Mumbler who, in Flickr circles, goes by the name of AnotherView. He really has got some wonderful images in his collection from around the world, and I thoroughly recommend you go take a peek.

    Wednesday, June 07, 2006

    God is a Sony Employee

    There's no doubt about it, God is a Sony employee.

    How else could this miracle have happened? The miracle that is the release of Sony's Alpha100 Digital SLR camera.

    I just received an email from Sony, announcing next month's release of this beautiful bit of kit.

    And beautiful it is. Check out these specs. (You'll find the official Sony site here).

    Incredible. I've been planning to get a digital SLR for some time, and here we are, the first entry-level (i.e. affordable) digital SLR with some truly sexy capabilities. And ofcourse, I'll get 10% off with my Yodobashi Gold Point card, then I might get it tax free as well, being a gaijin, possibly...

    oooohh I'm so excited. How am I expected to concentrate on this article, "Is Japanese Capitalism Post-Fordism", with the A100 on my mind...?

    [UPDATE]

    oooh, that review, I didn't realise it was 6 pages long. Oozing sex all the way through...

    Mind you, that piece on Japanese management turned out to be really interesting. never buy a car from Toyota, that's all I'll say. Worse than Vietnamese sweatshops those plants are. Same goes for Nissan. Lean production? Management by stress me thinks...

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    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    Monthly Fish Meeting

    Fishfinger News Service (London)
    The monthly FWI (Fish Women's Institute) meeting was held yesterday behind the big rock just downstream from the fallen tree in the River Monnow.

    The 4 attendees were treated to a talk by Big-Charlie, well known for his recent partication in the TV series "I'm a Fish Get Me Out Of Here", in which participants are put into a pond notorious for its high number of Big Creatures sticking their rods in.


    The participants, who are airlifted in with the assistance of Harry-the-friendly-stork, arrive without packed lunches; the goal is to try to survive for as long as possible without giving in to the temptation of biting on any of the worms left dangling just below the surface by the Big Creatures - these worms are now known to be the cause of numerous dissapearances of fish throughout the country.

    Big Charlie, who lasted for 2 weeks on a diet of green slime and a discarded tube of lipstick, won the competition when he became the first (and only) fish to escape the pool, by building an otter poo-propelled rocket that lifted him out of the pond and into the adjacent river. The footage of his dramatic bid for freedom has since shot to number one in the DVD charts.

    Following Big Charlie's rousing speech about character-building, in which he told the tale of his father who became the first fish ever to shop at Ikea (in order to buy a special glass bowl for his mother's pet plankton), the group of 4 lady fishes debated the ethical dilemmas surrounding the use of the latest products to be released in the Loreal FishSkinCare range, since it emerged that the company also produces cod liver oil-based supplements.


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    Monday, June 05, 2006

    Exams and blue chimneys

    Why hello there. Tis a pleasure to be back. I've had a few days off feeling rather lost. Still, now those 27.5 years are over, I'm ready to carry on writing.

    What's been going on then? Let me see... erm, oh, yes, I had a couple of exams. The first, Postwar Japanese Politics, went well me feels. Having revised quite a bit for it I found that I could comfortably answer about 6 of the 8 questions offered (but only had to answer 3 of them). I smashed my all time record and managed to fill 19 pages with utter rubbish in the three hours, and still had time to finish the last sentence, unusual for me.

    Japanese Language IV was the other exam. That was not nearly so enjoyable. "Rather Bloody stressful" would be putting it mildly, especially as when I opened my pencil case to start writing, I discovered that I'd left my lucky pen at home. I was not happy. Having revised a lot, and I mean, alot alot, I'd got it into my head that I'd be able to understand the translation and comprehension pieces without too much difficulty. That was true to a certain extent, but in a couple of parts I just found myself swimming in a sea of kanji compounds thinking "Have I accidentally walked into a Chinese exam". Never again will I forget the word for "goods". As for the write-an-essay-in-Japanese bit, well, I cringe to think of it. I only wrote about 2/3 of the minimum requirement, and didn't have time to check it over at the end.

    Results are out in a couple of months.

    In news related specifically to The Daily Mumble, I'd just like to point out that we now have a wonderful array of links down the right hand side (unless you are looking at the page which has this entry on and no other). The first of the four categories will change on a regular basis as I surf the interwww on my Toshiba bodyboard, and come across stuff that I find to be vaguely interesting. Remember, at times when I'm supposed to be revising (like now) this is likely to be VERY dull, as when I'm supposed to be revising almost anything other than what I'm supposed to be revising is incredibly fascinating.

    The Daily Mumble is now Technorati-tag enabled, as you can see from the links at the bottom of this post. One day I might even be able to figure out how to use these to create categories or build an elephant with, but for the time being clicking on them will take you to an external page that is full of 'stuff' on the internet (blogs/photos etc) that shares the tag you clicked on. Got it? Good. Feel free to ignore it completely. It's only for those who use the internet far too much and have nothing better to do with their time.

    ...Which seems to be rather a lot of people. Last month saw a record number of you, 20,201 to be precise, wasting your company's time by visiting TGW. 'Horse' (4.42%) followed by 'Cock' (4.15%) remain your favourite key words, you filthy bunch.

    I now have over 9,000 photos on flickr, the majority of which are very dull (such as my latest addition, an ancient French farmer I met in Brittany called "Yeves", not half as exciting as the inside of this chimney at Alton Towers. The blue, by the way, is natural, not a photoshop job. Is that because the sky's blue?


    I must say, I am really looking forward to getting a digital SLR. Fickr has been a true inspiration.

    *Twinkle* and I have one more week together in the Broomcupboard. She's been here since Easter, although I do let her go into the kitchen now and then to do the washing up. I'm leaving Sheffield on Saturday, the day after my final exam. She'll be staying here over the summer to write her dissertation. It's going to be a bit odd not having her around to, er, do the washing up.

    My summer is looking a bit busy. I have a HUGE list of things to do on the wall (I mean the list is stuck to the wall, not that I have lots of things to do whilst being stuck to the wall myself. That would defy the powers of Blu-tack) including learning all the kanji I was supposed to have learnt last year and generally getting up to speed for Rikkyo University.

    Anyway, by now you may have gathered that absolutely nothing of any interest has happened of late (and you still read this far...?)

    It's all change come the weekend though, and I must say, I'm getting a wee bit anxious.

    tiddlypom raaaaaaaaaaa

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    Thursday, June 01, 2006

    a precious friendship

    My phone rang a couple of hours ago. It's quite unusual for anyone to use my landline. Must have only rung about 10 times these last 9 months.

    It was a family friend, known through the Waldorf School, and the person whose husband introduced me, about 6 years ago now, to John John, the reality-defying John John whom one never quite knows which country is in at any one time.

    John John is a man of a thousand tales, from the times he hitch-hiked around the world in the 1960s, to when he was an ambulance driver in the Australian Outback ...or when he was meeting VIPs in any number of exotic countries.

    For the last few decades John John has been 'based' in Japan, and his apartment in Tokyo, the legendary Umenoki Manshon (Plum Tree Mansion) has served as a safe base for me to retreat to during every one of my five trips to the country. John John has always welcomed me to his home, asking me to treat it as if it were my own; without him there I really don't know how I would have made it through the very tough times I've had over there.

    Without John John my Japan would be a very different place. Not only did he introduce me to people who have since become an integral part of My Japan, but also, it was through the bicycle tours of western Tokyo that we used to take together that I first began to put together the jigsaw of Japan in my head and heart. I have an awful lot to be grateful to him for.

    Today, my friend updated me on John John's condition - he was hospitalised last week having returned from Tokyo with suspected Pneumonia. Unfortunately it is not good news - he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I spoke to him earlier today, he sounded pretty genki, considering all that hospital food he's having to eat. I'll be going to see him soon. He's certainly not leaving us yet, he has to finish his book first, extracts of which I've heard and loved, and you will too.

    Hmm, well, certainly puts things in perspective eh.

    love, joseph x

    Essay result shock

    "The author has written a largely descriptive essay that has little in the way of critical analysis or originality. The author is advised to consider how an essay should be structured and, in particular, the importance of an introduction that should demonstrate a grasp of the question and define the scope of the essay.

    Unfortunately, there has been little attempt to answer the question and thus the essay cannot be considered a success."

    I was, I must admit, a little stunned at first. Perhaps the results sheets had got mixed up? I protested. It was agreed that it was a little unlike me to get such a low mark, and so a phone call was made to the lecturer who's assessed it to see if he was available for a chat.

    I then started to read the first page of the essay that I'd handed in a few weeks back. ...and sure enough, it was lacking in an introduction! What the hell was I thinking?! It simply is not an essay. It's basically a bedtime story about Minamata, utterly lacking in structure, analysis, or originality. (Still, if you want to know about Minamata it is quite informative, clear here for a copy).

    I was then able to have a chat with the Lecturer concerned, and I must say, he was mightily helpful. Recently, I have had a tendency to lose track of where I'm going in essays, to have no focus; he made a few suggestions as to how I might tackle this issue.

    Well, I just have to put that behind me now.

    My first exam is in 17 hours.

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