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    Sunday, March 30, 2008

    Multicolour tadpoles

    Yesterday, mum decided to take her easel outside and draw some inspiration from our pond life. Currently, it's playing host to thousands of tadpoles, who are happily developing the most extraordinary gills and reabsorbing their own tails.

    Yesterday afternoon however, the tadpoles were in for a rude shock, as mother tripped over a paving stone and fell in the pond - taking her pots of paint with her! 

    Well, there ensued a great commotion, the outcome of which is a pond now host to a huge swarm of multicolour tadpoles! 

    More tadpoles on my Flickr account.

    Mother. Not a tadpole.

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    Father's efforts finally pay off, netting £1.6 million

    Hurrah for my father!

    In 1990 my dad took up a headship at Staunton-on-Wye Primary school. The school was in long-term decline - there were only 28 pupils, and the local education authority was about to close it down. 

    When Peter came riding along on his trusty steed (old green Volvo) he declared that the school was far from beat. Over the next seven years he battled to get it back on its feet - and succeeded. 

    Thanks to those efforts the government has just announced that instead of closing Staunton-on-Wye primary, they will now be investing £1.6m in building a new school next door to replace the 1862 building.

    Three Cheers for the (ex)headmaster Peter Tame!

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    Sunday morning stuff

    Woke up feeling a bit sad today - is it due to the 'loss' of one hour as we enter British Summer Time? I think not, as it's no loss at all.

    Decided to tackle the sadness and so went for a jog up to the top of Cole's Tump from where one can see most of Herefordshire. Beautiful. Then, coming down the hill I said good morning to two horses, one dog and a human, shared words of Spring and suddenly the sadness dropped away, in an instant. That's how quick change can occur! It is a lovely day.

    Looking down Springfield Lane.

    Checking my bank account a moment ago I found some payments to PTI Europe Region, and then corresponding refunds. I look online, and there's loads of references to such payments. Is it fraud? No. If you shop with Amazon, or AOL, or one of any other 40,000 companies that process payments for then you too may find such debits on your statement as they have made a big boo-boo. See their website for an explanation.

    I'm finally getting my act together re. applying for Lottery Funding for our publishing company, completed the proposal and application form last night. Should be about 6 weeks until we get the result. In the meantime, we need to finalise our entry for round two of the Business Creation Competition, deadline the week after next.

    (thoughts flick back to photography)

    I'm really impressed by Photoshop CS3's Photomerge function (File > Automate > Photomerge). Below is a panorama I took this morning from Coles Tump. Don't forget, when shooting panoramas it's essential you use the same exposure for all shots. Also, to help hide the stitches, try and overlap your images by at least a third, as I didn't do here!


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    Euthanasia: The debate begins

    In a couple of weeks we'll be asked to create a drama for our Japanese speaking class. The theme is Euthanasia.

    I've not given euthanasia much thought before now. But over the past couple of weeks I've come across a few programs on Radio 4  that have touched on the subject, including this morning's Saturday Live (listen again, interview is about 10 minutes in) which had an interview with the sister of John Close (see the 47 minute video about his life and death here).

    Unfortunately I missed last week's interview with Alison Davis, who had wanted to kill herself for over 10 years as a result of suffering from severe spina bifida, but was prevented from doing so by UK law. She subsequently came to value her life once again following a trip to India to meet two children that she had sponsored, and now campaigns against euthanasia.

    It's a really difficult subject, and I just don't know how I feel about it.

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    Saturday, March 29, 2008

    Norwegian Wood reaches a close

    I had a really enjoyable morning today. So enjoyable in fact, that I never really moved on. I'm still there, in this morning, and in Japan.

    Anyone who'd seen me wouldn't have thought I was in Japan. They would have thought I was on my knees in the garden, weeding, covered in mud, getting absolutely drenched by the pouring rain. It was that kind of rain that induces surrender after just a couple of minutes. You're out there attempting to stay semi-dry, trying to make your jacket reach to your ankles, but it's no use. You're getting wetter and wetter, trousers becoming sodden, drips running down your bum, until finally you cast aside the scowl, and burst out laughing, "I couldn't get any wetter if I tried!".

    I only gave my capitulation a moment's thought, briefly looking up from the wood-chip path I was clearing and across the yard to the house. I laughed with surprise at the density of the great globules of water that filled the air. A second later, and my eyes were back on the path, my hands, stained red in new leather gloves forced their way under the mat of bark and roots, prizing it from the black plastic strip below.

    But as I said, I wasn't there. My weeding was almost unconscious - I was in Japan. I was in Tokyo, following the fortunes of Toru Watanabe as his partner in Kyoto, Naoko, became increasingly ill. I became emotionally involved as Reiko told the horrendous story of how she came to be hospitalised, and I was delighted and enchanted by Midori Kobayashi, a girl I felt I'd known for a long time. I was shocked when news came through of the death, and had to stop for a moment, squatting there in sadness, lost in the rain.

    I don't think I've read more than 5 novels in the past 15 years. Perhaps that goes some way towards explaining why I became so involved in Murakami's Norwegian Wood . I've long shied away from it for the simple somewhat silly reason that it was popular. Now I've read it, I feel it has every right to be popular. It's wonderful.

    Another reason I've not read it until now is that it's fiction.
    'I don't have time for fiction, I only have time for books I can learn from'.
    That's what I used to think, but recently, I've been reconsidering. If I think of the few novels that I have read in the past few years, each one takes the form of a vast collection of images, of meanings, of emotions, of relationships. Each one has played an important part in my making sense of certain changes in my life. Given me comfort, offered me advice - just as much as any friend or non-fiction book has done.

    And today, listening to Reiko advising Watanabe on how to deal with his relationship dilemma, it struck me how familiar her words were. Don't take life so seriously. Trust. Believe in yourself. If you are being true to yourself, you have nothing to fear.

    And Watanabe himself - what an amazing person. To have such insight and awareness at such a young age; incredible. A really likeable, genuine and trustworthy guy, one that were I that way inclined I too might well fall in love with. Meeting someone like that is truly inspiring; we need people like him.

    Death appears throughout the novel, and this got me thinking again about what it means to me - you may recall that I was 'studying' death last time I was here on the Welsh Garden Project. One thing I picked up on was that no matter how expected death is, one cannot stop those intense feelings of sadness that accompany the loss of a loved one. If death occurs suddenly and unexpectedly however, the shock can be devastating, moving way beyond any normal sadness and plunging one into a black pit where everyday life ceases to matter. It's something I don't think any amount of thinking can prepare you for.

    Sometimes I think about what it will be like when someone close to me dies. I imagine life without that person, and sure enough, the feeling of loss and sadness is all encompassing. I know I'll get through it, but it will be very hard.

    This makes me think even more, it is so important that I am happy today, that I am grateful for all I have, that I make sure that those around me know just how much they mean to me (*Twinkle* alone has been the recipient of over 2200 of my emails since I left Japan last summer, that's about one every 2.5 hours ever since I sailed from Osaka!).

    Initially, I was a bit shocked by the (multiple) graphic sex scenes. I wasn't expecting them. But then, they were described in such a matter-of-fact tone by the superb narrator, and they were such accurate descriptions of what it really is like to sleep with someone, how people behave, that they ceased to be anything out of the ordinary, and made these relationships all the more real. I didn't dwell on them though. I miss *twinkle's* warmth enough as it is.

    Norwegian Wood is the second of Murakami's novels I've read, the first being the superb 'Kafka on the Shore'. I've since added 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle' to My Next Listen on Audible, so I'll be able to download that in a couple of weeks. (Check out the author's official website here. (I've just kept it on in the background as I like the music!). 

    It's now bedtime, and although I came in from the garden some ten hours ago, somehow, a part of me in still there, hands tearing at the weeds in the wood-chip path, rain falling all around, and my head lost in Toru's vivid world so far away.

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    Friday, March 28, 2008

    Second major photo shoot: Simon

    I got a call early this morning from my agent asking that I ready my camera for another photo shoot for a major client. This was really exciting, and a major step up from my first assignment in February which saw me focus upon dead fish.

    The photos are to appear in next month's Cosmopolitan magazine as a part of their series on the latest fashions for famous reptiles.

    So, this afternoon, close-up lens loaded and batteries fully charged, I made my way to the studio at the end of the garden where none other than Simon the Slow Worm was waiting!

    Yes, Simon the Slow Worm! I could scarcely believe that I had been lucky enough to be chosen from amongst the many professional photographers in the area to work with Simon, who is of course well known for his outlandish performance on the BBC's I'm a Celebrity With No legs!, and his stunning performance at last years Eurovision Song Contest.

    Simon, he's such a tease...

    I got through about 10 rolls of film trying to catch that legendary smile of his, but I think I managed it quite well. Oh, and he did his seductive contortion thing, with the tail flick that so famously caused Madonna to swoon during filming of Evita 15 years ago.

    For the Simon the Slow Worm fans amongst the DM readership I've posted more images from the shoot here.

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    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Tagging and my Photo workflow

    This year I've started keywording my photos. Until now, I've simply renamed them upon import, but you can't describe all that much with a filename alone. 

    This month I finally broke through the 20,000 photo barrier - that's 20,000 photos that actually mean something to me and are not blurred / underexposed / of nothing in particular. With such a large collection I've grown increasingly aware of how important it is to label them as accurately as possible. For example, a shot of *twinkle* may be called 'twinkle_in_london-1243.jpg' - but it also fits into categories such as 'people' 'family' 'holidays' '2008'. Unless I assign those keywords to it I'll only ever be able to find it with 'twinkle' or 'London'.

    Until now it's not really been an issue; I'd either search by filename or simply remember which directory it was in, but as I start to do more with my photos so finding what I'm looking for becomes more difficult - thus my adoption of photo libraries (Lightroom for RAW images, iPhoto for JPEGS) and the adoption of keywording / tagging. 

    It was only last autumn that I switched from shooting in JPEG to shooting in RAW, and this of course necessitated a new workflow. It took quite a bit of fine-tuning but I've got it sorted now. It goes like this:

    1) Download RAW files from camera using Image Capture. These are kept in their own directory separate from all JPEGS.
    2) Rename all RAW files with the excellent Renamer4Mac: I use search and replace, replacing 'DSC' with a name that describes each batch (this means that every photo maintains its original unique number whilst having a descriptive name)
    3) Import in batches into Adobe Lightroom. This is the stage at which I assign keywords.
    4) Adjust levels etc in Lightroom
    5) Export full size JPEGS to iPhoto library
    6) Export small JPEGS with watermark for upload to website via FTP, and to Flickr using the amazing Photonic

    I really enjoy this process. I love organising, and I love adjusting the levels in Lightroom, (something that any camera that shoots in JPEG does on your behalf).

    I've also discovered that when uploading to Flickr, Photonic will automatically convert your keywords into Flickr tags - very handy (except when you inadvertently assign some cat photos the keyword catering). Not only that, but Coppermine (the photo-album database that I use for this website) can also read those tags ...and of course, iPhoto picks them up too. 

    I then back up my photos to two external drives and an FTP server (talk about anal...), before formatting the memory card in the camera (not the computer); this helps prevent corruption of future photo files.

    This evening when musing over photo tagging, I started to think about how I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find blog posts. With about 750 mumbles in the blogger database, the only tool I have is Google - and that's a bit hit-and-miss. Thus, I've finally decided to start using Blogger's built-in-labels. I've not used them before now as they are not so user friendly when you're publishing on your own FTP server (each label becomes a unique html file which has to be republished every time you use that label, thus one blog could result in (for example) 10 files being published).

    So far I've only had time to label this month's mumbles, and I may not bother do the other 700. We'll see.

    Oh, and I've re-admitted non-registered commenters to the fold - a review of past comments has showed that the vast majority of anonymous commenters have actually left a lot of very helpful comments, rather than just banging on about how boring the mumble is. 


    Anyway, I'd best be off to bed. It's been a long day.

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    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    After 14 years they rose again

    Anne Tame the artist, at work

    I'm back on the Welsh garden Project site today. It's good being here and doing some physical work. My hands smell of cow skin, and I have a delicious feeling of knackeredness. Thought I'd take advantage of the lack of rain and get the chainsaw out; spent an hour or so doing a circuit of the garden, dealing with the trees that were felled by the recent gales. With a new chain it makes for satisfying work, quickly cutting through broken boughs and branches to relieve the burden being felt by surrounding trees. It appeals to the tidyman in me too. I like natural-looking gardens, but I especially like tidy natural looking gardens. 

    Opening the garage for the first time in a while, I smelt death. It was a strong smell, no mistaking it. It was rising from the corpse of a large rabbit that must have been chased in there by Taize the cat some time ago.

    Coming back in at lunchtime I found that same cat sleeping with my pet penguin, Pepe.

    What you lookin at?

    The morning-after shot: The powerful Tom has had his way; Pepe is left with conflicting feelings regarding his own sexual orientation. 

    After lunch, it was back out to clear up the polytunnel. 

    But I wasn't really in the polytunnel emptying out last year's tomato plant pots. Instead, I was in that sanatorium in Japan with Naoko and Reiko, as described in Murakami's Norwegian Wood which I'm continuing to listen to, and liking very much. I love being read to. 

    (I've just come across a source for free audiobooks at I'll give them a whizz as it's a while before I can get any more on subscription from Audible).

    I'm pretty good at multi-tasking. As well as listening to a book and clearing up a polytunnel, I was wearing my 'new' patchwork trousers.

    I found them under the bed the other night. They aren't really 'new', as I've already worn them for a couple of years, from early 1994 to 1995. I  got them when I was about 16, and had them coat my legs almost everyday during my year at sixth form college. I think they were supposed to attract girls as they have home-installed zips running almost the entire length of each leg. Unfortunately they didn't really work, and in the end I had to leave the country to lose my virginity.

    Anyway, they still fit me, both in terms of waistline and length, so I think I'll give them another spin.

    Righty ho, on with 'stuff'.

    [edit] it has been pointed out that the cat has had his testicles removed, and thus it is unlikely that he was actually having sexual intercourse with Pepe, which is a bit of a relief as if they had become too close Taize may have taken advantage of his being a cat and eaten him.

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    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Bank Holiday stuff

    Every time I come back to my parent's house I make a point of a) eating mum's home-made chocolate cake, and b) sorting through the stuff under my old bed to see what of my belongings can be given away. As time passes so it becomes easier to dispose of stuff, and it's now reached the stage where all that's left is photos, 40 or so diaries (written when I was age 10 ~ 25), Main Lesson books from the Steiner School, and a large collection of letters from friends before the dawning of email. Oh, and the two amazing jumpers which mum knitted for me when I was about 7 years old, which I'm keeping for our girls (they WILL like dragons!). Come July, it'll be a case of packing these up and giving Yamato Kuro Neko (delivery co) a call - Sheffield Japan Society members being eligible for a discount.

    When having a look for any boxes I may have missed last night I came across a camera bag: in it, the old Olympus OM10 that got me started in photography way back in the 18th century. I thought it had been chucked, and so was pretty happy to see it again. I was even more pleased to find the old flash unit that went with it, which, it turns out, works with my NIKON D40x DSLR. OK, so it doesn't exactly sync - I have to put the D40x on manual and compensate -but it fires. Can't use it at shutter speeds above 1/250 though as the flash fires too late and you end up with a section blacked out as the shutter closes (see example of various shutter speeds, from 1/1000 to 1/300 to left). But yeah, this is great as I've wanted a flash unit for a while now as the built-in flash tends to result in bland images, and new Speedlights cost a bomb. This one's got the 360/90 degree swivel so it can be bounced off any surface, resulting in a much more natural spread of light.

    Just watching my *Twinkle* on skype. She's on the phone to a friend but left the camera on for me to gaze longingly at her. Happy. Haven't been in touch much lately so it's so nice to see her face again. Reassuring to know that I can understand almost everything she says despite feeling that my Japanese has suffered a bit since I left Japan. And reassuring to find that she's even cuter on skype than in my imagination (tee hee). What will she be like in reality I wonder?

    You know I said recently that I'd be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test test this year? Well, I've been thinking a bit more about this and decided that really, I'd like to enrol on some language course or have a weekly private class to ensure that I really do continue to improve. Also, I'd like to take some training courses of some kind. Exactly what kind I don't know. Some vocational courses. I feel that if I'm to make the most of this chance then I need some guidance. It's all very well having skills, but if you don't know how to apply them you're no better off than a hedgehog armed with an aluminium foil helmet being approached by the Wheels of Doom.

    It's funny really, on the one hand I am sick of studying, but on the other hand, the thought of further study/training really excites me. I guess it's because I associate further training with almost immediate benefits to my family. Must be careful not to hide behind "needing more training" though.

    Anyway, I'd best finish off this assignment that's due in tomorrow.


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    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    Orcop Skies

    Garway Hill, as seen an hour ago

    Meanwhile, they're selling the fields around our house for development...

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    Norwegian Wood, Religious Weddings and the Canvas of Life

    Latest addition to my mum's art portfolio

    Fascinating, thrilling day today. It is so great to see family after such a long time.

    I caught the tram at 6.30am, train down to Hereford, bus to Wormelow, car to Orcop. Thoroughly enjoyable journey. Not only did I get to indulge in one of all-time favourite hobbies -sewing patches on my jeans (and this was a MAJOR patch, handmade by my talented friend Suzie H a couple of years back, I've been saving it for such an occasion as today's), but also, I was able to indulge in listening to a new Audiobook - Norwegian Wood by Murakami. I've not read it before, but have long wanted to, knowing how much it is liked by so many of my friends. I absolutely loved 'Kafka on the Shore': I listened to that as I crossed the East China Sea, and found myself identifying with the characters as they made their own journey's West.

    Whilst the narration of Norwegian Wood is not spellbinding in the way that that of Kafka was, I'm really enjoying the story nonetheless. I recognise the characters in people I know, the most prominent example being that of the upper-class womaniser destined to be a bureaucrat, who appears to me as the chap from Oxford university who made it to the final of the speech contest with me last month (to the right of me in this picture).

    I did a bit of PC-doctoring today, getting my sister's webcam working for Skype (secret is to uninstall the Logitec software and let Skype handle the camera itself) which the boys liked (funny seeing yourself on screen for the first time!), and setting up iTunes so she can listen to some of the audiobooks I've purchased from Audible (you can license up to 3 computers to play your DRM-protected tracks).

    Also talked about the wedding quite a bit, lots of good ideas emerging. It's going to be great.

    One 'issue' that comes up for some people is this getting-married-in-a-church business. Neither *Twinkle* or I are particularly religious, and as you know, I am not too keen on traditional Christian notions of an almighty 'God' why do I want to get married in a church?

    Well, as with everything in life, a church wedding only carries the meaning that an individual chooses to assign to it. In Japan, 'church' weddings are popular (although the church is unlikely to be 'real' and the priest may well be a fake). I feel I have been somewhat influenced by the research I carried out on Japanese 'Christian weddings' in 2006/07, in that for me such a wedding does not necessarily have to relate to any religious tradition, and is really very appealing.

    What others may label as "God" I feel is a nameless infinite source; love; an immense energy that fills us, that is us, and all of our surroundings.

    Thus, a demonstration of my commitment to *Twinkle* in the 'presence of God' is for me, not a subscription to norms as laid out in holy texts, but rather, a powerful acknowledgement of our decision to commit to strive to bring our energies, our love, into flexible alignment.

    There's other, somewhat more tangible reasons for having a church wedding too. I want to see my dream bride walk down the aisle in a beautiful white dress -it's in all the movies! I want the experience of church bells ringing overhead, confetti being thrown as we leave the church. I've been influenced by popular culture, and I want to live the dream.

    I also feel that our parents would appreciate a church wedding. Perhaps here again I am influenced by Japanese customs I feel that our wedding is in a way as much an event for our families as it is for us.


    I'm not sure I could have handled a church wedding a year or two ago, but the timing now is perfect.

    It's been a tremendous day of synchronisity. I won't go into details here, but just to say that thoughts that have been circulating within my head have today been vocalised by two people close to me, quite out of the blue. It's all related to where do I go from here? Suddenly, concerns over employment after I return to Japan are made to seem like nothing but minor details that are sure to addressed through the natural unfolding of life.

    These worries have been dwarfed by the appearance of this huge blank canvas that stretches out as far as the eye can see. In front of it is this incredible array of coloured materials and tools for their application. There's a sign there too. It reads:

    Paint your future. Then Live it.

    Aghh! I can't deal with that! Where's the colouring book with the numbered options: 1 for red, 2 for blue, 3 for green? Just choose your picture and fill in as prescribed. I know if I do that I'll succeed, everyone does!

    ...but a blank canvas?! You mean I can paint anything at all? ...But, I dunno what to paint! And what if I go wrong, what if I get the colours mixed up?

    I must work to accept that it's only when artists move away from the colouring template that new colours are created by the mixing of the primaries, its only through experimentation that breakthroughs in style are made - and that it is these breakthroughs that bring great joy to artist and onlooker alike.

    I've not been faced with such a huge canvas before. It keeps on getting bigger too as it is unrolled further by friends, by family, by books, by experiences. I understand that I'm being challenged to pick up one of the many tools before me and make my mark, but what tool I should use, and what colour should I apply?

    It'll come to me. I know it will. I needn't be afraid because I will be guided by someone or something.

    It's also important that I not feel I have to paint the whole picture with a single brushstroke - I'd never dare make that sweep from left to right! If I start small with little dabs, holding a clear idea of what I'm looking to create in my mind, with time the scene will emerge. I may accidentally put a splurge of red where green would be better suited, but that red will come to play an important part, perhaps a little poppy in the field of wheat.

    Hmm, it's very exciting.

    What's even more exciting though, is that in reality, we are all faced with this canvas, every single day.

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    Saturday, March 22, 2008

    Humankind vs. Nature

    I dare humankind to create something as incredible as this:

    ah, ok, so this is pretty close.

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    Friday, March 21, 2008

    Phone call with a personal coach

    Well, that was very interesting. 

    I just had a 30-minute conversation with a life coach based in Thailand, worth $100, or $1000 depending on which literature you check. I paid $1 via Paypal.

    He's published a couple of books, he runs workshops in various countries (including Japan), and has that vital appalling childhood story to start off with (it is pretty bad).

    I think he's a student of the Anthony Robbins school, as much of what he said sounded quite familiar. Nice guy, I did like him. He's got really good communication skills too, making sure he's on the same level as you, and prepared to listen. Budgies twirping in the background.

    It sounds like the crux of his coaching technique is basically helping you set goals, and then making you accountable to him for reaching those goals through some kind of software and phone calls / emails. Of course, he provides guidance along the way (in the form of daily/weekly/monthly coaching sessions), but I realise that at the end of the day, the change will not come from him - it has to come from within.

    I can see the value of this system for someone like myself who has a real problem with procrastination. I feel that I've come a long way in the last year in that I have discovered my foundations,  come to appreciate that fundamentally I am no more or no less than anyone else on the planet, be they majorly 'successful' or living on a bench in the park. I appreciate that I, just like anyone else, have tremendous potential. However, I do still get a bit stuck with acting on that potential. I'm thinking that the main reason why hiring a coach does work is that one has paid a substantial sum of money in order that one can 'improve'. If money means something to you, you will make sure you get something out of it. (This is one reason why I am happy to pay for copy-protected Audiobooks, it makes me appreciate them all the more!).

    So, why not just pay $300, $2000, or $3000 to your local animal rescue centre, and link that to a step-by-step plan for 'success'. Chances are, it would probably have quite an impact. But the dogs won't phone you if you haven't done what you've committed to doing, and they probably don't know all that much about procrastination-busting techniques. "Shall I go to sleep for a while? Naaa, I'll do that later after I've had a lie-down".

    I'm really glad that I had that conversation though. Whilst the final 15 minutes were basically his sales pitch, the call as a whole served to reinforce the confidence that I have in my own potential. Whilst I won't be signing up for any of his courses right now, I can see the value of at least attending one of his seminars in Tokyo later in the year.

    I've deliberately omitted his name here as his web site is truly appalling, an embarrassment to the industry, and very much at odds with the image of the person that I gained through talking with him.

    Ho hum. On with homework.


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    Remains of the Steering Wheel

    The past week has seen my daily exercise routine somewhat curtailed by temporary responsibility for my friend's car (which as no doubt you are tired of hearing, requires a lot of attention). But this morning, the car park refreshingly free of flat tyres, yellow tickets or vehicles supporting such accessories, I was able to get back out to the park. 

    It's a very exciting time of year for the park, with the trees starting to blossom, the hedges sporting some fashionable green leaves, the daffodils trumpeting their fanfare of yellow across a sea of last year's leaves.

    But things must have been extra exciting during my period of absence, as look what is now parked in the middle of the football field!

    Yes, a completely burnt-out car.

    And how about this for a steering wheel? Perhaps a little hard to use when manoeuvring out of a tight parking spot.

    I suppose in a way, given all that happened last week, I should have been surprised that it wasn't the car that I'd been responsible for sitting there in all its naked glory!

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    The ups and downs

    I've been playing with my zoom lens. 1 second exposure, zoom out whilst the shutter is open.

    This was yesterday...

    Strange feeling of finality today. It could be due to my having taken part in my last ever SEAS open day, an event I always enjoy a great deal.

    As with every time, it was interesting watching everyone file in. I saw myself, 4 years ago, doing just the same. Seems like 5 minutes ago, and yet, a lifetime too.

    With that over, and everyone away on their Easter holidays, I feel like the rug has been pulled from beneath my feet. It strikes me how much I depend upon familiarity and routine for a sense of peace.  Perhaps what is disturbing me is not simply the fact that with the holidays my routine has been changed, but rather, it's the fact that although I remain in a very familiar place, somehow, everything is different


    Despite being very fond of them all, I don't socialise with my classmates much. But now I'm not seeing them every day, I'm missing them.


    It's important that I have times like this, when suddenly life seems to have no meaning and nothing really matters, as without these experiences, I wouldn't be able to relate to others when they were having hard times. I can understand how people can feel that there is no meaning to life...

    This is Today

    I stopped writing at that point, as I felt too crappy. I think it was partly tiredness, partly the isolation, partly unhappiness with not getting things done that I'd wanted to get done. 

    Oh, then the car got another puncture, had to change the wheel for the second time this week. I finally sorted out my parking tickets this afternoon. It was a bit of battle with the staff (who are in desperate need of customer service training), but eventually my appeal was referred to the department manager.  Comparing his reply to the correspondence I'd had with the clerical staff beforehand, I was struck by the differences between the two. Here he was telling me that my appeal was being rejected, but doing so in a way that actually made me want to pay, and feel good about it. The manner in which the clerical staff had dealt with me though made me feel like a piece of shit, and made it very hard for me to want to co-operate with them. What a graphic example that was of what the difference is between an inspiring leader and, er, someone who is unaware of how others are feeling.

    After the ticket extravaganza had been dealt with I sent the manager the letter I'd written detailing the appalling customer service I'd received. I explicitly pointed out that this wasn't being sent in anger or pettiness, but rather, it was being sent in the hope that it would mean that others would not have to go what I had gone through (in the past week I've spoken to several university staff members who have had similar experiences to my own, so I know it's not a personal thing!).

    Returning home I couldn't help but laugh when I opened my post: a payslip from the University of Sheffield for £123 - the EXACT amount that the two parking tickets had come to!

    I love working for free...!

    Anyway, my friend is home now, and the car is gone. Phew. More work than a baby.

    Finished the audio version of Michael Palin's 1969-1979 diaries today, wonderful stuff. You know, I'd never truly appreciated just how popular Monty Python had been in the 1970s. With that book finished I couldn't resist but sign back up to; got £80 worth of audiobooks for £14.99 which I'm happy with. They'll keep me going for a while (I'll tell you about them in due course).

    Went to the cinema last night to see The Bank Job. The acting wasn't superb and the story was pretty simple, but I enjoyed it as it was based on the true story of one of the UK's most successful bank robberies - the details of which are still protected under the Official Secrets Act. Why? Apparently such information could do a lot of to the damage to our royal family and government. We only have to wait another 50 years to find out the truth!

    Tomorrow morning I should be receiving a phone call from somewhere in Indonesia. Or maybe it was Bangkok. I think an Anthony Robbins wannabe is going to try to sell me a $1000 self-development package. Eyes Wide Open Joseph, Eyes Wide Open.

    I'm starting to regain a sense of clarity now my list of things to do is shrinking. It's good. It's all good.

    love joseph

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    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    The Family of East Asian Studies and the Opinion of Others

    About a week ago, my case study "Making Students Matter: The Family of East Asian Studies" was published on a new section of the University web site.

    Case Studies Project overview

    The Case Studies project aims to create a library of examples of good practice in teaching, highlighting success stories in order that academic staff across all departments can benefit and learn from one another. In such a large organisation several departments might be faced with the same challenge (such as, 'how can we effectively teach statistics?"), with each department struggling on its own to find suitable solution. If one of those departments did then come up with some new whizzbanging wopaloobop technique, the chances are they would not be aware that other departments might also benefit from this, or, they may be hesitant to approach others and say "We've found the answer! You should do what we're doing!".

    This is where the Case Studies project comes in. It seeks out examples of excellence, and actively promotes them to the wider community in order that all can benefit from the experience.

    Whilst individual case studies may initially seem to be subject-specific, they often have the potential to contain valuable lessons for a wide variety of departments. As is the case, with the SEAS case!

    In my study I basically discuss something that I think has played a major part in making my experience at the School of East Asian Studies such a good one. I quote:
    Joseph Tame, a final-year student reading for a BA in Japanese Studies at the School of East Asian Studies, found his learning experience greatly enhanced by the department’s familial atmosphere. From first contact with the dedicated, friendly office staff, through to his final semester six years later, he was made to feel that students genuinely mattered thanks to a culture of care and respect promoted on a daily basis through the attitudes and actions of all staff and lecturers.

    My article then goes on to describe in detail the little things that staff do to help promote this community atmosphere, which plays a big part in making my learning experience the fantastic thing it is.


    On reading that article, one of my classmates emailed me: "You know, you could be accused of being a complete sycophant". (I looked the word up in the dictionary (!) and found it to mean a yes-man, bootlicker, brown-noser, toady, lickspittle, flatterer, flunky, lackey, spaniel, doormat, stooge, cringer,suck, suck-up).

    Well, yes, they are right. I could. In fact, some people already probably think of me as such. But I would say that if giving someone positive feedback for something amazing that they have done requires that one be labelled a sycophant, I would rather be labelled as such than not give that feedback.

    I asked my friend, "Can you imagine what it would be like if we never received anything but negative feedback from our tutors when our homework was returned to us? Imagine how demoralising that would be!"

    And yet, in a way, that's exactly the situation that many staff are in. I don't know about SEAS itself, but I do know from personal experience that in some departments there is so little positive feedback received by staff that even the slightest compliment regarding their efforts results in astonishing gushes of gratitude, with comments like "That really made my day!" "All we ever get usually is complaints!" "I just can't stop smiling!" "I'll pass it on to all staff in the department!".

    So whether it's an individual, a department, or an entire organisation that has been striving to do something good for you, I feel its really important to express your gratitude. Gratitude is a motivating force, leading to a desire to continue to do well (or even better). Whilst criticism may reap short-term results, long term it can have devastating effects. I am sure that if our teachers had decided to just focus on when we got things wrong, there would be far fewer than 17 of us remaining on our course.

    Finally, in response to the idea that I may be ridiculed or looked down upon in some way for highlighting the wonderful attitude of SEAS staff, I recalled the quote

    "Things which matter most should never be at the mercy of the things that matter least" (Goethe)

    ...And in this case (as in many cases) what others think of me matters far less than the staff being recognised for their work. 

    ...And in any case, if someone was to be so cynical as to believe me to be a sycophant (or lickspittle for that matter), I think I would be something of a fool to attach any importance to their opinion.

    Righty ho, on with the show.

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    As fresh as a Greek daisy. One of the first ever flower-shots I took, back in 1996

    I'm glad I don't usually have a car. Two parking tickets, a blow-out, and now today a section of the front bumper missing after someone reversed into me in the car park. I really am glad that on the whole, cars don't excite me.

    It's been a pretty full-on few days. I was a photographer at a business seminar down south on Saturday - that was in-between the trouser-patch sewing, which incidentally when very well, although when I got home I realised that one of the patches was unintentionally shaped and positioned to look like a big testicle...

    Having had the major Sheffield Graduate Award deadline on Friday, I'd spent much of the week getting my portfolio together. Thus, it was only on Sunday that I dared to finally re-open my to-do database.

    Gulp. It was rather full.

    One major to-do is my dissertation; I've got a deadline of Wednesday lunchtime to get the next section in, but it's not going to happen. I felt very weary on Sunday, and it soon became apparent that I wasn't going to do any work on it, as I was too busy hoovering, tidying up the noticeboard etc. Realising that this wasn't a good situation to be in, I gave myself permission to procrastinate for the rest of the day - provided I procrastinated by doing stuff that was on my to-do list (but required less emotional input). That turned out to be a good decision, as I managed to deal with a whole bunch of emails that demanded responses, I wrote a journal article (1 down, 3 to go!), sorted out some wedding stuff, spoke to *Twinkle*, processed some outstanding RAW images, changed the wheel on the car again, and dealt with the huge bunch of paperwork that has been gathering on my table with the legs sawn off.

    At the end of the day I felt quite happy with how I'd turned it around.

    Today is the first day in the past week that I've not taken a potent cocktail consisting of a large dose of Vitamin B and Caffeine to keep me going. As a result of this, my body has finally had a chance to reassert itself, by sending me to sleep in the library at lunchtime. To be fair though, I was up at 6am again today for the usual (if temporary) morning routine: This involves picking up food from a community centre with a scary alarm, delivering it to the university shop, processing returns, picking up the catering trailer from up the hill, setting that up on campus, and fetching water. I love challenging myself to apply Lean Production tecniques to cut down the amount of time it takes me to get this done. I've now got it down from 2.5 hours to 90 minutes. I like looking out of the window when I'm back home at 8am, seeing the traffic queues and thinking, "wasn't like that when I got up!"

    With these temporary responsibilities I've 'not had time' for my daily exercise: the negative impact this loss has upon my energy levels is staggering.

    Today has been semi-productive. I was in the library for about 8 hours, reading books when I wasn't dozing off. But I have felt under considerable pressure.

    Indeed, tonight it did all get to be a bit too much for me. Absolute exhaustion, and a desire to say 'sod it all'. To ease things, I went and bought a big tub of ice cream, a bar of chocolate, and some stationary. I now feel somewhat better, and very fat.

    More helpful than the consumption of 3 million calories though has been the recollection of a fundamental truth,

    It Doesn't Matter.

    None of it does. Journals will still be published without my input, life will carry on without my emails, I will graduate (with a 2:1) even if I only get 40% on all my modules. Just pass, that's enough.

    As a treat, I gave myself an hour off my dissertation today and used it to look for jobs. That's something else that has been on my to-do list. It wasn't all that positive really, just tonnes of teaching jobs, but I'm not worried. I have a strong feeling that everything is going to work out for the best. I trust that when the time comes for me to act, I will know it.

    I realised today that it's actually going to be another 4 months before I see *Twinkle*. That brought me down a bit. I've been missing her so much recently, probably partly due to the fact that she would really benefit from my support at the moment. I miss being very much in touch with how she is feeling today, emotionally, and I miss her physical warmth.

    Hmm, still, the way things are going these four months will fly by, and before you know it we'll be back off to Japan. I am so looking forward to living with her again.

    Well, it's now 10pm, and time for me to go to sleep. Tomorrow will be another long day, bu a productive and enjoyable one too, and thus I look forward to it.

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    Saturday, March 15, 2008

    My affinity with rubber

    As enormous relief as the first five weeks of my final semester come to an end, and we begin three weeks of Easter Holiday. The break will give me a chance to catch up on the many tasks that have been put to one side, victims of the constant onslaught of daily homework. Things like funding applications, newsletter articles, competition entries, wedding planning, video editing. Oh, and that dissertation.

    The catch up starts today then. I'll be spending about 4 hours in a car - this really troubled me at first as I dislike being unproductive when I have a lot on, and much of what I need to do necessitates use of my laptop, which makes me feel very sick when travelling.

    Then, this morning whilst out for my morning jog, it struck me - Jeans Repair! My patchwork jeans have needed attention for a couple of months now, but I haven't felt able to justify putting time into sewing up the holes, an activity I enjoy to a ridiculous extent.

    Yesterday I came across a photo taken 6 years ago in my cell in Asagaya, Tokyo, showing the same jeans as they were originally.

    Does my bum look big in these?

    This week's car fun continues with a blow-out. Fortunately, I was travelling very slowly at the time and thus was able to pull over without a problem.

    The 'funny thing' was, I'd been thinking about this puncture for a few days. That is, the few days leading up to its dramatic popping occurrence. I'd consciously thought through what I was going to do when it happened, where the car jack was etc. Thus, when it did happen, right outside the tyre-specialist's forecourt, I wasn't so much surprised as grateful that it had finally blown - and just in the right place too!

    Psychic connections with tyres ...whatever next? Would anyone else like some of these drugs?


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    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Results Day

    Just remembered, it's results day!

    So, overall I got 67%. Add that to my previous results and I'm on 68%, so I think it's fairly safe to say that I'm heading for a high 2:1, as in order to get a first (70%) I'd have to be get something in the mid-70s this semester, and whilst I am prepared to work very hard on my studies, I am not prepared to make the sacrifices that would be necessary to get such a result. The benefits of those things I would have to give up would be sorely missed.

    Well done me. And well done course-mates too! We made it through our penultimate semester with no casualties!

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    Rivers of money ...and parking tickets

    This past year I have adopted a policy of not holding on to money.

    The idea is not just to spend willy-nilly. As you know, I've done that in the past, with spectacular results.

    Rather, the idea (simply put) is to not take ownership of money in the first place. Instead of thinking that I 'have' a finite amount of money that has to last me until my next student loan payment, I picture money as a river that flows through my life. I trust that I will have enough to meet my needs (I've not yet gone hungry in 30 years): as some leaves my custody so more will arrive, from somewhere.

    [n.b. This approach requires that one believes that we live in a world of abundance, not a world of limited resources. I'm talking a general mindset here, not stuff like oil or water reserves. For example, a world where we are not jealous of others' success ...because actually there is plenty of recognition for everyone.]

    It is important though that I use the money in accordance with what feels right. Thus, for example, I can't just go out and buy a MacBook Pro in the belief that the money will show up from somewhere, as it would simply be my own greed motivating that action, and thus the chances are that I'd end up in a pile of horse plop.

    However, when it comes to giving to worthy causes, the river technique really works. I don't know how, but it does. It's simply amazing. The more you give to others, you more you find money flowing back to yourself in even greater quantities.

    The result of my scientific survey in which I have been deliberately far more generous than has been the case historically, is that all sorts of money-generating opportunities start to present themselves. It's happened time and time again this year, and I even find myself able to put some money aside for our wedding, despite the fact that according to my budget forecast I cannot even meet my basic expenses this academic year.

    I encourage everyone to give money away. It's liberating.

    Sometimes though, one is presented with difficult situations that send one straight back to the land of limited resources. Today, that happened to me, as the university's parking services gave me my second £60 parking fine in two days. There has clearly been an unofficial change in policy, or perhaps the regular traffic warden is off sick and some jobsworth has taken over.

    Yesterday I wasn't overly upset as I only got the ticket after following instructions from a member of staff whom I incorrectly assumed has some insider knowledge of the university's parking system (he told me to park in a registered bay). I have appealed that, and have no intention of paying. Today's though was a little more complex. I was parked outside my house, as I have done on many previous occasions, in an area that whilst not an official parking area is often used by residents who have temporary need of somewhere to put their car.

    I think the attendant must have seen the car and recognised it, and thus thought that he'd teach me a lesson by ticketing it. Again.

    Technically, I'm in the wrong. But I strongly object to being made to pay £60 for something which didn't cause anyone any harm, something that caused absolutely no obstruction and which many people do almost every day without penalty. It's our courtyard, and we don't mind sharing it.

    I visited the university's parking office to see what could be done. Unfortunately, whilst one member of staff was polite, kind and helpful (and I was grateful for her understanding my feelings), the other was not. She kept on butting in, gleefully telling me that there was no way that I'd get out of it.

    This really upset me as she seemed to be getting a great kick out of deliberately trying to make me feel bad. It was only the second time in 4 years that I'd met someone like that on the university payroll...

    I was pretty surprised by how upset I was - I actually had to leave the room very suddenly as I felt myself about to burst into tears. (What's happening to me? What's all this emotional stuff about?!)

    After leaving the parking bunker (now armed with a temporary permit which the nice lady had given me), I wandered home in the rain, and thought about how I could deal with these feelings. I realised that one reason I was feeling so upset was that I had attached meaning to that money, that meaning being £120 less for my wedding. how about if I let go? How about, if I just paid the second fine, and accepted it as part of the natural flow? Trust that the pot would be replenished. This sounded like a good idea, and thus a few minutes later I'd contacted the 3rd party parking company and given them my card details. I also realised that by doing so I was demonstrating that I was willing to pay a 'just' fine - perhaps this would give me a little more leverage as I attempted to get the first fine cancelled.

    I felt a lot better then, and went on to eat free pizza in Bart House.

    Case Study - "Making Students Matter: The Family of East Asian Studies" - now online!

    I'll blog about this next week. By then, I'd like you to have read this text :-p

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    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Organic vegetables, Nelson Mandela, and your own thought processes

    Ha. It's another of those nights. Those nights when I go to bed, but feel so excited about everything and nothing that I have to get up again.

    Part of it's the music, I know. I'm listening to Everything But the Girl - Walking Wounded. One of the few CDs I ever owned. Bought it in Switzerland I think, Interlaken. That was before I knew any Japanese. I remember that as the CD case has a bit of Japanese on it, and it was only a few years after I'd bought it that I realised what it said (Eee bee tee jee = EBTG). It's truly wonderful how music can take you back in time to a place, to a feeling, to a state of mind. Listening to this and looking at my swiss photos sees me up that Alp in 1997. Caw, that part of the world is staggeringly beautiful. I do hope that *Twinkle* and I end up back there one day (by that I mean that I hope that that remains one of our goals).

    My weekly Organic Vegee box from Beanies

    Doesn't that fruit and veg look delicious?! I love organic vegees so much, more than any form of processed food - including Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. The taste of a fresh organic salad is, according to the interaction between my taste buds and mind, the most delicious taste there is. The taste of this pile of fruit and veg could only be surpassed by an identical box of produce that I'd grown myself. It will happen.

    I had a difficult day yesterday. I was feeling troubled by Nelson Mandela's treatment having finished his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. What an incredible story. Certainly puts things into perspective. I think of his 27 years of incarceration, and of the appalling hardships endured by black South Africans under Apartheid, and then I think of complaints that I or my friends might have about noisy neighbours, our language course, or what so-and-so said... and I am reminded how spoilt we are. We have so much to be grateful for. Every single day.



    When I reached the part of the book where he described his release I paused and paid a visit to You Tube, where I observed the same scene from outside of his body. Having just gained an insight into what had led to that moment I found it to be incredibly moving. I wiped the tears away, and bang! I was back there. Not South Africa, but our lounge, in front of the TV. It was the 11th of February 1990; I was 12 years old. ...I can vividly recall watching that live news report on the BBC. I'd heard of Nelson Mandela and Apartheid, and I remember being excited, and so happy, running around the dining room and the lounge.

    It was cold outside.

    Sun shines down beyond the Arts Tower

    I went to give blood today. Unfortunately due to my history of epilepsy, I'm unable to be a donor until 2011, and was actually advised to never give blood. It's not that my blood poses a risk to others, it's that giving blood poses a risk to me in that it could trigger a seizure.

    The nurses were very good about it - they could see I was upset. In fact, they treated me even more nicely after that, insisting that I go and sit down and have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

    So, I'll just have to make do with saving people when I die instead :-) ...and keep on buying cakes all week from the Bone Marrow Society. (Bloomin' good cakes too).

    I was pretty surprised by how many people were there. It was like discovering a whole hidden culture of Good Samaritans. How come I had never tried to donate blood before?

    Been missing *Twinkle* a lot this week. In a way I wish I could bottle this experience, and keep it as a reminder for future years when we are 'always' together, to ensure that I don't get complacent, to ensure that I stay concious of how fortunate we are (will be) to be able to share our lives with one another.

    I feel I've become more aware of our differences this year. Having so much space enables one to step back and think about how differently one sees some things. That's not a bad thing at all. I see her as my teacher, thus the more differing perspectives, the more we can both learn (I would add that I don't think that the differences would be so welcome if there was not an underlying meeting of spirit!).

    I'm grateful that over the past year I have been encouraged to explore the idea that there is no right and wrong - there is only differing perceptions of 'reality'. This proves to be especially helpful in situations where social norms would normally dictate that conflict was the appropriate response. With there being no 'right' and no 'wrong' there is no impulse to convince the other that one is 'right'. One can have a completely different opinion from someone else, and yet accept that they are just as 'right' as you. After all, the 'thing', whatever it is, just is. It has no implicit meaning, it only has the meaning that we assign to it.

    This way of thinking has really helped me to back down and accept *Twinkle*'s way of thinking without my pride getting in the way. I've not quite got it down to a fine art yet though - far from it! But, being aware is the first important step, and I'm glad to have taken that.

    Changing the subject, this past week I've been marvelling at the brain's ability to assign meaning to things I see. I've been playing a little game whereby I look at something, and then observe my thought process as meaning is assigned. Of course normally it happens to fast that we barely notice (you look at a traffic light, and before the you know it, you know it's a traffic light!), but you can slow it down. One method is to turn the lights off so the room is pretty dim, then look around until you make out a shape. You can actually see you brain sorting through an amazingly comprehensive database of images, experiences, feelings, meanings! Absolutely amazing (and we think Google is clever...!). Another way to set yourself up for this experiment is to reduce the exposure on a bunch of photos, so the subjects are barely visible. Or, next time you meet someone whom you know you recognise but can't actually place or name, watch your brain sift through your memory bank in a bid to come up with a match of sorts.

    Ahh, the pleasure of introspection!

    Well, I'd best be off to bed. Up early tomorrow, and my list of things to do is almost as long as my nose :-)

    Mush love xxx

    p.s. I want this girl's voice.

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Another reason to study Japanese at the School of East Asian Studies

    No, Sheffield University's School of East Asian Studies isn't paying my bandwidth bill, nor are my examiners reading the Daily Mumble (that wig and false nose suit you pretty well actually).

    However, the department has played a huge part in giving me the best possible uni experience ever - an experience which will shortly be coming to an end. Thus, it's only right that I try and give a little back, by encouraging anyone thinking of studying Japanese in the UK to choose Sheffield.

    It's not just me that thinks it's great by the way. Check out this table, taken from the new UCAS web site It details overall satisfaction levels in Asian Studies departments at UK universities.

    (Click image for a bigger image)

    Keywords: Japanese, Japan, language, university, UK, Sheffield, SEAS, School of East Asian Studies, study, BA, Japanese studies, degree, HE.

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    Sunday, March 09, 2008

    Remote control of camera (and parents)

    Beautiful day today. I was up at 6am, and together with my flat-mate Ali headed out to Ponderosa Park.

    I'll be off to the IC soon to start writing this dissertation introduction (the one that has been turned upside down by yesterday's discovery of some new legislature governing NGOs in Japan due to come into effect in December this year), and at lunch time will meet up with a Japanese friend for lunch, and picture taking. She needs a photo for the university web site: after two years of being the 'face of Japan', my *Twinkle* is being replaced ...and I'm participating in her banishment from the web site. Ohhhh the guilt!

    Speaking of photos, this morning I discovered a remarkable capability my Mac has: remote control (via the Internet) of my digital camera. What is most remarkable is how easy it is to set up. You simply

    1) Plug digital camera into your Mac via USB
    2) In Image Capture, turn on Camera Sharing
    3) On some other computer go the web address you are given by Image Capture.
    4) That's it.

    Once on that webpage, you can see all the photos on the camera's memory stick, download them to your computer, and even tell the camera to take another photo. Or, you can click on the "Monitor" tab in which case the camera will automatically take a photo once a minute, and the web page will auto-refresh.

    Some mumblers may recall that I set up a similar system last year, but that involved creating an automator action and FTPing them to my server. With this, everything seems to be done locally.

    The wedding plans really are coming along nicely now. Mum and dad have been just great. In fact it's been a bit like remote control with them too. I just fire off an email with an idea or question, and next thing I know I get a response confirming that initial bookings have been made. Ah, the wonders of the Mac!

    OK, I'd best get on. Have a lovely day.

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    MacBook AirCraft

    I see apple have responded to the complaints...

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    Yet another way to easily save someone's life today

    A couple of days ago I blogged about signing up to become an organ donor, something I did last week. My conscience had been pricked by the results of research I'd carried out in preparation for a presentation in our Japanese language class.

    We'd been given three topics to choose from: organ donation, blood donation, bone marrow donation.

    The third option hadn't fired my imagination, as it seemed somehow limited in scope (in fact, it was my ignorance of the life-saving potential of bone marrow transplants that led to my unfortunate disinterest). The presentation done, I was ready to forget about it.

    Until fifteen minutes ago when I got an email from another student society at university:

    Sheffield Marrow will be holding their annual Bone Marrow Awareness Week from
    Monday 10th March – Saturday 15th March

    Sheffield Marrow is a student run society at the University of Sheffield which is part of the national student-run outreach project of the Anthony Nolan Trust. We are a charitable organization and our three main objectives are to:
    1. appoint people to the bone marrow register
    2. fund-raise for the Anthony Nolan Trust
    3. increase awareness of bone marrow transplants and the need for more donors

    Intrigued, I paid a visit to the Anthony Nolan Trust web site. It was there, reading the accounts of those whose lives had been saved by donors, that I realised that I should absolutely be on this register.

    Sure, by being an organ donor I can save lives ...but that may not be for a while. I can (and will on Tuesday) give blood, and that's groovy, but wow - here is yet another chance to give someone the most amazing gift they will ever receive - life. And what do I need to get on this register? A simple blood test. Easy as that.

    Having read through their guidelines I find that unfortunately, I can't add my name to their world-wide database until 2011, when I will have gone three years without an epileptic seizure. It's not that epilepsy can be passed on through a bone marrow transplant, it's the risk that I would have a seizure when coming round from the anaesthetic. So I've added it to my Google Calendar for 2011.

    The thing that gets me about these three actions that I can take today to potentially save lives (register, give blood, register), is that I haven't considered doing them before now. If those people who I could potentially save were right in front of me, about to be hit by a bus, I'm sure I would do my best to save them. But because they are somewhere else in space and time, I've never appreciated that by taking action today (signing a few forms and enduring a little discomfort) I could actually do exactly the same thing - and without even endangering my own life! To not do so out of laziness or disinterest feels, for me personally, pretty wrong. If I'd seen a child playing in the road and heard a bus approaching from around the corner and done nothing about it, I don't think I would ever be able to justify having let them get run over because "I didn't quite get around to picking them up".

    Ok, so that may be a bit of an extreme example, but at the end of the day, regardless of time and space, it's about life and death. If there's an easy way in which I can save someone's life then I feel that it is my responsibility to do so.

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    Friday, March 07, 2008

    Time for a new book

    This morning, whilst attempting to do more than 15 press-ups next in the park, I finally finished listening to the 13-hour audiobook version of Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. It's been a great listen, and I can understand why it has been received so well since its publication in 1989.

    Naturally, much of what he writes about is covered in other success / personal development literature, and of course he makes no claims to have dreamed up these habits himself. It's just another way of putting them.

    There was one tool that I picked up from this book that I have not seen elsewhere, and that is the Time Management Matrix (worth taking a look at). Whilst initially somewhat sceptical about its relevance for my life (and somewhat put off by what I perceived to be an attention-seeking title), looking back I can see I have actually referred to it and found it positively useful several times in the last couple of weeks. Specifically, I have felt myself motivated by the idea that those activities that are not urgent but important (they go into the top-right corner, that being quadrant 2), such as regular exercise, studying kanji etc, actually have a huge impact upon the quality of one's life.

    So, for example, this morning I woke up at 6.30am and looked out of the window. It was raining. "Hmm, maybe I'll give exercise a miss today" was my natural reaction, but then recalling that this was a quadrant 2 activity (important but not urgent), I realised that I could say that same thing every single day - without penalty - and nothing would change.

    OR, I could appreciate that as a quadrant 2 activity, all efforts put into it would in the long term reap enormous benefits , and it was worth the short-term 'pain'.

    As it happened, despite getting a bit wet and despite being left outside for 15 minutes when I got home having forgotten to take my key, I really enjoyed it, and I feel energised for the day. And I got to stretch my self-discipline muscles too!

    It was actually the Time Management Matrix that helped me reach the decision to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test too. There is something which will never be urgent, but boy-oh-boy is it important for me.

    So what's next? I'm out of Audiobooks for now. I do re-listen to some of them every few months, but I want something fresh. Ah, yes, I know...

    I've signed up to again, and for £7.99 have got Nelson Mandela's Long Walk To Freedom, and for a complete change, Michael Palin's Diaries, 1969 - 1979, as recommended by Andy Ihnatko. I'm really excited about listening to these! I can also feel good about my shopping-for-pleasure not having a big impact upon the environment, as all it is is data, data that makes me very happy!

    A few weeks back I was talking to a friend of mine about spending time on self-development. They mentioned that although they would love to look into this realm, they just couldn't make the time for it.

    I couldn't help but smile. "Didn't you just spend three years at university studying something which you now admit you have little interest in, and are unlikely to work in any industry where you can use the knowledge that you acquired through your course?"

    My friend was silent for a while, and then smiled at their own logic.

    I would argue, that when it comes to things that are Important but not Urgent, you can't afford to not have time at the moment, because unless you make time for them, today, they will never happen.

    Just think, all those life-changing things you could do, whether it be studying your chosen language, exploring thought patterns, or learning how to communicate effectively with your spouse and children, these things could remain as ideas associated with some conceptual ideal life - unless you choose to make them your reality by acknowledging their importance today and acting upon them. Now.

    By investing even a tiny fraction of the time that my friend had put into their university course in learning about themselves and their own potential, they could improve their levels of satisfaction, happiness and general well-being for the duration of their entire lives. And, as a bonus, they wouldn't be lumbered with another £24,000 debt either!

    Of course, I'm not denying that the university experience is all about degrees. Far from it. It is also an amazing Life School, teaching all manner of skills that could never be learnt through, for example, an audiobook alone.

    For a start, it teaches one when it's time to shut up, and get on writing that dissertation introduction..!

    (and suddenly, he was gone).

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    Make the world a better place

    One of the few blogs that I follow that does actually belong to a real live person whom I actually know, is My So-Called Japanese Life, written by Shari, a friend whom I worked with when living in Tokyo in 2002.

    Shari recently wrote a post with suggestions for ways in which one could work to improve oneself, and through that help make the world a better place.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Shari's suggestions. By adopting these principles you can significantly improve your sense of well-being and happiness, and that will have a positive effect upon all around you.

    I'd like to invite you take a peek for yourselves.

    Make the World a Better Place (and you a better person)


    Saving lives ...and broadcasting to the world

    Jade Stoner, 1999 - 2006

    Woah, what a day! Quite a bumpy ride.

    This afternoon, I had a presentation in Japanese on organ donation. That went well. We told the story of Jade, a 7-year-old-girl who was tragically killed in 2006 when hit by a car whilst riding her bicycle. However, Jade did not die in vain - her parents agreed for Jade to be an organ donor - with the result that Jade saved 4 people's lives: those of an including an 11-month-old baby, a 17-month-old baby, a 27-year-old man and a 42-year-old man.

    What an amazing thing that little girl did.

    Organ donation is still in its infancy in Japan - did you know that in the ten years between 1997 and 2007 Japan only 62 people in Japan donated organs following death? In the UK the figure for last year alone was 1500. It's not that Japanese people don't agree with it - when interviewed for a large-scale survey, over 70% of respondents said they were for with organ donation.

    It seems to be more a case of not appreciating that they could actually give the most precious gift of all - the gift of life - simply by carrying a donor card with them and informing their families of the consequences.

    It would be wrong to single out the Japanese here. Until last week, I, just like almost 3/4 of the UK population, wasn't registered as a willing organ donor.

    Then I clicked on this link, and 30 seconds later I was on the register.

    Another topic that we could have chosen to present on was Giving Blood. This year sees the first time ever that I've been able to give blood (my anti-epilepsy drugs having been replaced with organic multivitamins), but once again, until we started looking into the subjectfor these classes, I'd not thought about it.

    That's all set to change: next Tuesday (11th March) the National Blood Service is coming to our university. Perfect timing. This afternoon I gave them a call on 08457 711 711, and registered. I'll be giving blood at 2.35pm, after our literature class.

    I'm terribly squeamish, and can't bear the sight of blood, but if I can help someone, even perhaps play a samll part in saving someone's life, well, isn't that something worth taking time for? yes Joseph, it is. I'll just look the other way.

    WWW means World Wide Web

    Something quite bizarre happened this morning. I won't go into details as I've inadvertently caused enough grief as it is, just to say that a recent post on the Mumble (which I have since decided to remove so as to help relieve the stress burden of the individuals concerned) caused quite a reaction within management circles of a Europe-based organisation. They had picked up on it through what I guess would be a Google Alert (you receive an email whenever your pre-defined search terms appear online).

    What I found interesting was how my post (which admittedly, was poorly thought out and inaccurate, being the result of a combination of my strong feelings on the topic under discussion, and tiredness), could, to someone looking from a very different viewpoint, mean something so far removed from what had been my intention.

    Of course, had someone told me that members of this Dutch organisation's management team would be checking the Mumble I would have laughed - surely they have better things to do with their time than pay attention to the likes of me?! However, today has taught me that actually, I almost have to think as if my blogs are being sent as emails to everyone whom I refer to in them.

    Does this then limit my freedom of speech? I don't think so. If I were the kind of blogger who frequently criticized others then yes, of course I'd have to reconsider my style - or face being the recipient of envelopes containing poisoned bananas, labelled "eat me I taste good". But as it is, I won't blog anything that I wouldn't say to someone's face, it's just not right (in the recent post I refer to I was actually defending the individual who became upset upon reading it, my being unaware of their particular political circumstances. Since the storm, I've checked out that individual's profile on the corporate web site. They come across as being tall, and funny).


    It's been a learning experience.

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    Thursday, March 06, 2008

    Japanese Language Proficiency Test: Decision made

    I have a friend in Bristol with a Japanese wife and a child, who keeps a blog on which he posts updates about his progress in learning Japanese. This week, just like thousands of others around the world, he received the results of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, held every December.

    This time he didn't pass, but he's already looking forward to his next attempt. Reading his blog (which for some reason I can't find now, I've lost it in my jungle of RSS feeds!) has inspired me to make the decision to take the test myself this year.

    I don't value JLPT so much for what it certifies, but rather, I value the motivation I believe it will give me to continue to work on my Japanese when I return there in the summer. I know from experience how easy it is to get by in Japan without using Japanese - and this is not necessarily a bad thing, who ever said one should have to speak the language? ...But for me personally, I really want to have good communication skills, as I feel it will have a great impact upon my relations with my immediate family-to-be, and also my in-laws. Additionally, I believe it will give me more opportunities to explore my passions whilst in Japan. Oh, and it keeps my brain ticking over too!

    I can imagine that after I leave uni the last thing I will want to do is enroll upon yet another language course, but I think that if I don't set myself some specific goal (such as taking JLPT in December) then as has been the case this year, I will forget much of what I have learnt thus far.

    Finally, I'd like to congratulate my classmates who did take it this year, Charlotte, Chris and Jon. I think Jon deserves particular recognition - 76% at Level 1! Amazing stuff, I don't know how they managed it what with everything else they had going on.

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    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Today is whatever I want it to mean

    The church opposite my house

    The smallest of things make me happy. Like the way our Japanese literature teacher walks into the room with such energy, so happy to teach us (even if she can't see us: "My usual glasses are broken so I'm having to use these ones that go dark in the sun - but they seem to be delayed reaction and only change half-an-hour later when I'm inside!") Likewise with our new writing teacher. We sit there in silence, barely giving her an inch, snapping back when she doesn't quite catch what we say. But she bravely perseveres, refusing to be brought down by our lack of enthusiasm. I have a great deal of respect for her, and can't help but smile in the presence of such an attitude.

    I'm in the Info Commons now, on Skype to *Twinkle*. I can't really talk for long. She's tired, and I'm reluctant to disturb those around me. An eavesdropper may think the conversation is between two disinterested parties, but they'd be wrong. There's a strong feeling of love connecting us, and that doesn't need a babble of words to communicate.

    Next we're off to the Enterprise Zone for a meeting with some financial adviser re. raising the few thousand pounds we need to pay the bills. Oh, hang on, it's not just any old financial adviser, it's our business bank manager! He kindly offers to review our account for us - maybe he can help!

    Leaving that meeting I bump into Toni in the corridor. She's the lady who provided *Twinkle* and I with funding last year. She's been meaning to contact me. We sit down and discuss business. I can tell she is hesitating to ask for an official report on how the funding was used. I pre-empt her by producing the document I typed up yesterday just for that purpose. She smiles, and we start talking about eco-weddings.

    Next it's up the hill we go to Beanies, the healthfood store. I take a detour through the park, capturing on camera daffodils in the Spring sunshine on the way. At Beanies, my organic vegee box is waiting. I supplement it with pumpkin seeds, almonds, apples and bread - and not forgetting the raisins for my porridge! At the counter is the girl in her early twenties with the friendly smile. As with the older lady to her left, we only know each other through brief weekly encounters, but there is a genuinely caring relationship there. These are the kind of people I would like to be in a life raft with.

    Back down the hill, and into the weekly Japan soc committee meeting. Soon, it will be time for my third (and final) distributing of ballot papers as we hand over to a new group. It's been a difficult year for Japan soc. I'm sure that next year's committee will make another good team.

    A random selection from the 16 folks on the committee

    I'm struck by the diversity of characters we have around the table. In particular, I'm moved by three people who, despite being very quiet on the whole, demonstrate a great deal of compassion and understanding when they sense others are being attacked without good reason. I know I didn't have their insight 7 years ago.

    Walking home I'm reminded how it's not just the little things that make me smile, it's the big things too. The Sky! This past week we have had some amazing skies, as the days lengthen but the chill remains. Incredible deep blues, straight out of a Steiner painting! And the clouds, adding stunning contrast.

    As I reach my flat I note the trees by the side of the road. Bare twigs and branches. But soon! They're going to be bursting into life! That lovely fresh light green, so young in the spring sunshine! That truly is one of the happiest times of the year, you can just feel this energy all around you, bursting out after a winter in hibernation.

    Arriving back in my warm room, I have a huge smile on my face. Today was a good day ...and I can't wait till tomorrow!


    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Buying a coffee plantation

    I think March 2008 will go down in history as the month which saw the lowest number of Mumbles Ever (well, in 6 years anyway, last month having marked the sixth anniversary of this epic wonder).

    There was me thinking that I thought I had a lot on.

    Then I met my dissertation supervisor, and truly appreciated just how much I will have to embrace the drinking of coffee this month.

    argh. Did I really sign up for this?!

    Monday, March 03, 2008

    Twittering away

    Been a good week.

    Progress with a number of projects (CILASS, publishing company, dissertation) thanks to the fact that I finally gave up resisting actually making a start. It's a wonder I haven't learnt yet that the bad feelings associated with not doing something can be completely alleviated by doing it. Oh yeah, real rocket science around here.

    I understand that I did moderately well in my exams, thus am inclined to think that overall I got about 65% for last semester. This means that in overall degree terms, I'm now on about 67%, three percentage points off the magical 70 of the world of Firsts which I was aiming for when I started back in 2004. I'll be happy with a 2:1, partly because one's result is almost irrelevant in the real world, and partly because I feel that I have achieved a great deal outside of the classroom.

    Movement on the wedding front too as we start to think in terms of numbers. It's a real tough one. Initially we were thinking that we would like to have a big do, inviting everyone and everyone. But, having thought about it a bit more, we've started to feel that perhaps it would be better to keep it small and emphasise family. With *Twinkle* being Japanese there are factors we need to take into account that non-international couples don't have to take into account to such a great extent - such as balance.

    Ran a Mac training session the other night. It went well, and I enjoyed it a great deal. Satisfied clients too. However, I learnt an important lesson: if one is planning to introduce a whole batch of new tools to users to enable them to work more efficiently and effectively, allow sufficient time. As it was, with three macs undergoing transformation we called a halt to proceedings after about three hours - I then stayed up until 5am to fine tune the new apps!

    In the laundry this morning I noticed a flyer offering a free introductory meditation course. Starts tomorrow morning for three weeks.

    Having basically decided to go, I thought I'd find out a little more about the organisation advertising the session.

    According to the fountain of knowledge, it turns out they're a "Millenarianist New Religious Movement" from India, who have enjoyed considerable recognition for the pro-peace work that they do; "it was granted International Peace Messenger Initiative status by the U.N.for the Global Co-operation for a Better World campaign"

    My enthusiasm started to wane however when I read about their beliefs. Whilst the movement "projects itself as a vehicle for spiritual teaching rather than a religion" it does sound a little dogmatic in its teachings. The idea that there is an external God who teaches them directly and exclusively does not sit well with me, nor does the ban of sex both outside or inside marriage! So, needless to say, I won't be attending.

    I continue to love that piece of getting-things-done software, Omnifocus. Even more so after I sent the creators a nice email (and offered to place a link on the Mumble), in response to which they sent me a free serial number- which usually retails at $70!

    As some of you may have noticed, I've started Twittering. Twittering, the verb that describes the act of writing short descriptions of what I'm doing using a maximum of 140 characters (a.k.a. 'Tweets') and publishing them on, is basic a form of Micro-blogging (one step down from something like Tumblr, which I also use - mainly to keep a record of inspirational stuff I find on and offline). My tweets are also syndicated to Facebook (where they become my status, and Skype too. Oh, and of course they are displayed in the right hand coloum of The Daily Mumble as well.

    I've also set up a Twitter account for The Daily Mumble, should anyone be so constipated they want TDM delivered straight to their mobile - what more could one ask for?! The address is

    I wasn't sure what I'd make of Twitter at first. I mean, with a blog, people generally come to you, unless they use RSS (which only a minority of Mumblers do), but with Twitter & Twitterific (a simple program for posting to twitter from your desktop), you're broadcasting far and wide. A single text message from you phone or message from your desktop can reach hundreds (or thousands) of people in seconds. It's a powerful, but also dangerous tool.

    I've found it pretty addictive though, and I think Twitter is partly responsible for the drop in the frequency of my blog posts. With Twitter, I can get stuff out quickly and easily, relieving myself of this feeling that I need to share.

    I don't actually know anyone else on Twitter (apart from my old pals Leo & Merlin of course!), and come to think of it, I only know three people who regularly blog - two are in Japan, the third, Singapore. A few of my coursemates occasionally post, but it's become increasingly rare for them to do so. Considering the size of the blogging community, I'm pretty surprised that I don't know anyone else who likes to waffle as much as I do!

    I have decided to make this coming week "Week of no procrastination" - a sincere effort to get a load of things on my list done. I could get stressed about all these deadlines - but remembering that in about 12 weeks none of it will really matter anymore makes me feel a lot more relaxed.

    And scared. ...Uni, over?

    nighty night.