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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Phase 1 complete

Tremendous feeling of satisfaction tonight as, at the end of a long day at the office (8 hours + 7.5 hours overtime) I finally completed phase one of my project to digitise / automate as much of the teaching jobs admin process as possible.

For the past two months or so I've been working on my first ever MS Access database. It's not especially complex - for someone who's created databases before it would probably be very easy - it simply keeps a record of all our current jobs, and produces multiple reports detailing the status of the jobs in different ways for different staff.

For me it was a huge challenge. There's been countless times when I've come up against a brick wall, unable to come up with the code that would make it do what I wanted it to do. In those situations I found the best thing to do was to think intensively about the different possibilities ...then let go and sleep on it. I can recall several occasions whereby when I went back into the work the following day the answer was there, hanging in the air, waiting for me - PING! and it worked!

The past couple of weeks have been a little frustrating at times as other work has started to pile up, and I've been unable to put any time aside for making final tweaks to the database to get it from a sort-of-working state to a fully functional bugless thing worthy of putting real data into. Thus the overtime. It's my own choosing - I could not do any overtime and continue along the gradual progression route, but it's reached the stage now where I really want to make the switch.

For one thing, as of this week I'm responsible for managing certain aspects of jobs in progress. Thus, there's a bit of self-imposed pressure to get this up and running asap so I don't have to use the existing analogue recording techniques (paper and whiteboard). The switch has also necessitated the reorganising and renaming of a complex web of files too, something I started last week but was only able to finish tonight after a few hours on the job. ooooh you should see my hierarchical archives now, boy are they sexy!

So yes, tonight I feel good. Following a fair bit of testing I started using the database - and it works perfectly! I'll continue to extend it over the next few months in order that it can help simplify tasks for more people in the office. The hope is that within a few months or so everyone is benefiting from it, being able to immediately obtain whatever data they need to get on with their jobs.

And now it's time for bed.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Chasing Bubbles all weekend

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It's been a great weekend. A bit manic at times, but thoroughly enjoyable, and productive too. I've had two private lessons, spent a couple of hours taking over 300 photos in Yoyogi park (the vast majority of which I've yet to develop - will save that treat for later in the week - photos in this post are from the Bubble-chasing scene), went to a fantastic Indian music gig (amazing sitar player) (thanks Tom), made a cake, made apple crumble (thanks Tom!), did a successful photo shoot for our Yoga-teacher friend, was asked to do a photo-shoot for a nail salon next Saturday, jogged 10 kilometres, helped host & iTunes DJ a Christmassy party attended by 20 friends (using iPhone as a remote control for the Mac enabling me to change the playlist as I did the drying up :-) ), started another blog (to save Mumblers from iPhone overload - yet to put any new content on it though), studied Japanese (Yay Anki & iAnki!), banged nails into walls, rearranged the furniture in *Twinkle*s 'office' (that was at about 1am Sunday), walked home with my shoes full of water having left them out in rain...

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There's so many things I'd like to do but making time is a challenge.

I'm glad I'm really enjoying my full time job because otherwise I'd be mightily peeved about having to spend 9-10 hours a day putting energy into increasing someone else's profits, profits that might possibly be being used for a cause that I wouldn't necessarily choose to support.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's a small, small world

Photographic entertainment is provided by yesterday's Office Halloween party (sorry for the repetition to those of you who have already seen them in my site feed).

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For the past two weeks I've been looking for someone to do tandem learning with. That is, someone who will teach me Japanese in exchange for me teaching them English.

One might think that having just spent 4 years studying Japanese the last thing I'd want (or need) is more Japanese lessons. Not so. I didn't put as much into my course in my final year as I could have done (a conscious decision that I don't regret to split my energy between my course and extra-curricular activities), thus I failed to internalise a lot of the vocab I was learning.

I'd like to emphasise that this is in no way a criticism of our course, which was bloomin marvellous. If anyone wants to learn Japanese in the UK, Sheffield is the place to go, no doubt (n.b. I may be biased). But of course, you only get out what you put in, thus a lot of my course-mates have much better Japanese than me.

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Whatever, I've come such a long way, and am constantly delighted by the fact that I (of all people) have learnt to speak Japanese. However, I do tend to stick to the grammar patterns that I'm really familiar with, avoiding the use of complex structures. It was brought home to me just how far I've gone down this road when the other night *Twinkle* applauded my use of a complex pattern - it should be normal, not praiseworthy.

So I put the thought out there - I need a Japanese teacher - and tonight she presented herself (although I didn't know she was a teacher until after we'd been chatting for a while).

She contacted me having seen my profile on www.findateacher.net, and requested a trial English lesson. We met at a subway station near my office and made our way to a nice little cafe. We chatted a bit more, with her explaining why she wanted to study English.

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Then she stopped, and with a mysterious look on her face said, 'actually, I've got some photos to show you'. Confused, I took the envelope in her hand and took out the photos...

...and blow me down if it wasn't Phil, my coursemate from Sheffield! I was stunned, and naturally clammering for an explanation.

She explained how Phil had been one of her first students shortly after she qualified as a teacher, when he was living in Tokyo a year or so back. It was only after she'd initially contacted me last Friday that she'd mailed Phil to ask if he'd heard of someone called 'Joseph Tame' who'd studied at Sheffield. Seeing that I was quite a bit older she assumed that we wouldn't know each other ...and thus was very surprised when Phil replied that he did indeed know me!

Spot Joseph

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So that's how it went. We've decided to meet on a weekly basis for language exchange - my calls for a teacher have been answered. Thank you Universe!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

It's only getting better

As of this week, I'm pretty much working seven days a week. It's part of the self-imposed six month debt-repayment and moving-house program, which is due for completion on the 5th of March 2009. It's step one of many steps in our Grand Masterplan, some goals of which include the paying off of all family debt and the establishment a perpetual charitable foundation that long outlives us.

Lofty goals perhaps, but it helps us to have them, as it does to have more concrete short-term goals too, like this six-month deal. Knowing that this routine is a temporary deal, a limited-time challenge, enables me to be excited about putting a lot into my full-time job and the various regular private English lessons I give.

Slowly managing to sort out things like insurance and savings plans. Tonight, a friend of ours who works for a large life insurance company came round to explain to me more about their policies, whilst at work I'm being enrolled in various pension / insurance schemes (which I am yet to fully understand). Yesterday, *Twinkle* and I decided which charities we'll be supporting on a monthly basis (FoE Japan and Unicef). We've also started our 500 yen collection scheme - inspired by my boss Mr. D who saved 247,000 yen in one year without even trying (everytime you're given a 500 yen (£2.87) coin put it in a special tin). Proper savings and investments as such will have to wait until the debts are repaid.

It's a fun game to play, especially as we know that this is just phase one, and as the beautiful Stephanie Dosen sings, It's Only Getting Better (not sure about the video!). I have this song as my alarm clock :-)

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Refuge

It's early Saturday evening, and I've just finished work. It's been a productive day. In between today's phone calls from students located all over Japan (the majority of whom were training as maritime navigational officers) I've been plodding on with the Access database - it's coming along nicely, and makes for satisfying work. Hopefully I can start testing it by the end of next week.

I've been feeling a little homesick recently. It was sparked by a photo of the valley in which I grew up appearing as my 15-min desktop background. Having been so involved in getting set up here in Japan I'd not focused my attention on England for some time. But the picture brought it all back. I think it was especially poignant as the photo included the wedding venue, that being the wedding which saw many of my most precious friends and relatives gather to share in our marriage ceremony, and demonstrate their faith in us as a couple.

And now they're all elsewhere.

It wasn't just the people though, it was the landscape. I knew that the lack of rolling hills in Tokyo would be perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with, so I'm not all that surprised that I feel like this. In fact, expecting to feel like this no doubt only served to ensure that I would feel like this!

Still, I've been actively trying to combat this in what ways I can by visiting as many green spaces as possible. As I blogged the other day, there's a beautiful park just down the road from the office. When I mentioned to my colleagues that I'd been there, a lot of them were amazed I'd gone so far: it's a 6 minute walk from the office (I timed it!).

I've yet to explore the whole park as it's so big, but what I have seen of it, I've loved. Looking at it on Google Maps, I can see that in the spring it's a very popular spot for cherry blossom parties - if you zoom in you can see everyone on their blue tarpaulins! (The park is just to the south of the red marker).


Click here for a bigger version

Here's a few photos I've taken over the past couple of days. Not all that remarkable ...but they were taken in central Tokyo.

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The park is home to thousands of spiders - here's one I very nearly walked into!

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This poor dog was having quite a job keeping up with the little girl on roller blades!

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So yes, these little outings into nature do help, as does the fact that we actually live right next to a park ourselves, where the main sound we hear is running water and birdsong.

Anyhow, although I've got a lot to talk about, I'd best be off. My sister-in-law's birthday today.

Our Internet is being reconnected on Monday after a three week break so I should be able to get back in to blogging then. The ISP said they couldn't just switch it back on their end when the contract was renewed as we needed a different type of modem, which arrived yesterday, and is identical to the one we already have!

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Friday, October 10, 2008

My new job

Starting a full-time job has been a funny experience.

The first couple of days left me feeling somewhat stunned.

The commute to work is not exactly relaxing. The train gets so full you have those white-gloved station staff pushing you on. Wedged in by salary men, nose pressed up against the glass.

I've sorted out my timing now though. The trains arrive every 2 ~ 3 minutes, and some are a lot less crowded than others.

It's also felt funny being paid to be in a certain place for 9 hours. Due to having done the job before, my initial training didn't take all that long, and I didn't have much else to do (things get busy from the end of the month).

So I decided to tidy the office up. Moving desks to re-route wiring, finding old bits of office furniture to help arrange documents, going through shelves of old telephones and computer parts to put them in some kind of order.

Having seen me do this, on the third day I was asked by my manager if I would like to tidy up their lesson-management system, which currently takes the form of bits of paper, disjointed databases and whiteboards. I was asked to create a new database.

I told them that I have never created a database before, and I have no knowledge of Access or SQL, but they have been very generous and told me to take all the time I need to learn these things. They've offered to buy me textbooks should I need them. I've also been allowed to use my own Macbook to build the database - I think doing it all in Japanese would add unnecessary confusion.

I've now installed Windows and Office, and having created all my tables am now learning about creating queries.

I'm really enjoying this challenge. I've long wanted to be able to build databases, but haven't had the time or motivation. Here, in between teaching English over the phone and marking reports I'm being paid to learn - great stuff!

Anyway, best be off, lunch is nearly over.

tattaa

p.s. lots of other stuff going on too but no time to talk about it!

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