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    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    It's all Well Wiggy

    Big congrats tonight to our friends L&P for securing their first buy-to-let property - inspiring stuff!

    Apologies to Rick, Nic & Lianne for taking over the SEAS Open Day - I think the public-speaking bug has well and truly got me, I'm lovin' it! (sorry, again, Ronald).

    For tomorrow's Japanese speaking class I have to come up with some self-PR for an imaginary job interview (self PR? ooh, now that will be tricky...!!). Conveniently enough, one of the model interviews we will be using is that for the position of CIR on the JET scheme! (Speaking of which, got confirmation today that they'd received my application).

    Everything is well wiggy these days.

    Oh, and I wrote a HUGE mumble entry tonight on self-help books, a response to a couple of comments demonstrating a similar attitude to that that I used to have.

    That mumble comes in the form of the big comment at the end of this morning's Mumble, What If?

    Right, 10pm, bedtime for josey.


    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    Woop Woop it's another great day in Life

    Yo Yo Wiggy!

    Great start to the day - news that a close friend has had their business idea shortlisted for a £100,000 prize!

    Now we're just waiting on our phone call to tell us that our business idea went through too!

    This afternoon is the first of our department's three annual open days. I love these, and always take part to tell the prospective Japanese Studies students what it's really like to study here.. (and for the free chocolate biscuits).

    I remember coming on one myself and meeting Rick Siddle (who now teaches me newspaper translation, and is supervising my dissertation) - boy was I excited! I still remember the train passing through Chesterfield (just south of Sheffield), hearing that the next stop was Sheffield and almost wetting myself with excitement. Seeing the Arts Tower with its Paternosters for the first time.

    Funny to think that at that point I hadn't met any of the lovely SEAS (School of East Asian Studies) staff, people who have now played a very important part in helping me develop my sense of self.

    Everyone thinking of going to uni: come to Sheffield. Student's Union has just won "Best Union in the UK" award too, for the 2nd time in the last few years.

    Raa raaaaa raaaa woof woof!

    What If?

    Listening tonight to one of the audiobooks that has helped me most, There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by W. Dyer, I'm reminded of something I tell myself all the time, yet do not fully embrace - there is no ultimate goal to be reached, there is only now.

    I'm also reminded of that Flash animation I shared with you a few week's back by Alan Watts - Life is not about the final note - the whole thing from the very start is a path to be danced along!

    No matter how much I feel these ideas to be true, I still can't break away from feeling that there is 'more' around the corner.

    Take now for example: if I think of the things I've achieved in the past couple of years, I am immensely satisfied, I wouldn't change a thing. I would say that I am successful, a successful student, a successful friend, a successful thinker, a successful photographer, a successful writer, a successful happy person - but hang on! I'm only an undergraduate university student - how can I be "successful" when I have achieved "nothing". I'm bankrupt, virtually unemployed, I have no qualifications apart from a 1994 Basic Food Hygiene Certificate, I have no quantifiable skills as such - OK, so I can speak Japanese. So what? so can over 150 million other people.

    So, I still have this unconscious idea, lurking there at the back of my head, that when I get that job, when I have my own business, when I'm a dad, when I have that home in the countryside with a big organic garden, then I'll be successful!

    But what twaddle is that! There is NEVER going to be any greater success that there is today! Today, I am happy. I achieved a lot, I had a positive impact upon a good number of situations, I lived in harmony with my inner self - I can rest my head and feel content that today was a model day.

    So if that's the case - how can things ever be any better than this? OK, so the circumstances may be different - I may be Prime Minister of Japan introducing a new government program that involves stripping the hillsides of concrete cladding and replacing it all with trees, I may have a helicopter (air powered so as to be non-polluting of course), I may have published a whole series of books on achieving your dreams - but would that make me any more 'successful' than I was today?

    It may be a difference of scale, but ultimately, is there really any difference?

    I'm inclined to think that no, there isn't. I never will reach that magic point in life when I am 'successful' - because I'm there every day, we all are.

    Which is a bit disappointing really. If I'm never going to be any more 'successful' than today, why bother try harder?

    I think, however, there is an area of life where there is room for constant improvement - spirit. There is a realm that knows no boundaries, that is always open to us should we wish to explore. Perhaps here, there can be a brightER future, a better tomorrow. Perhaps the large vegetable garden, the helicopter, the baby - perhaps they are physical manifestations of a soul that is successful. Having said that, putting 'soul' and successful in the same sentence doesn't sound right.

    Hmm. I think for now, I'll continue as I have been. Believing in and striving for a better future, whilst simultaneously celebrating today, everyday, as if there were no tomorrow. Perhaps that will mean that my whole life is based upon a figment of my imagination, but if it helps me to continue to develop, then perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

    Productivity and happiness

    Wow, another productive day. I'm finding proper planning so useful - by putting absolutely everything in my calendar and then printing it out a-week-to-a-page, I feel in control even when I have a hectic schedule.I can see it all laid out before me.

    Today's was particularly busy.

    Starting at 6am: 2 hours of part-time work, an hour of podcast / commercial creation (to avoid having to pay for bandwidth! - thanks Positive Internet!) 5 hours of meetings, 2 hours of lectures, half an hour of exercise, half-an-hour of food shopping, 4 hours of work / society related emails & website work, an hour of working on my speech-contest entry ...and lots of jogging in-between!

    I don't think I could keep this kind of routine up for a long time, but for now it's really making me buzz. I don't feel all that tired, I don't feel stressed. I'm eating healthily (that's the great thing about [some] meetings, you get free food which includes lots of fruit that gets neglected!)

    Really looking forward to the holidays though :-)

    Oh, watched a fascinating video on Happiness yesterday (thanks jason), another one of the great TED series.

    I think this goes some why towards explaining why I feel so happy, and have done for so long. Makes me feel justified! Not that I have to justify myself!

    It's about 20 minutes long, well worth watching.

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    Interview Manners in Japan

    NO NO no nono nononono

    If it was a piss-take it would be funny.

    ...But as it's real it's positively scary. Someone, save that country!

    A guide to Interview Manners for graduate jobseekers in Japan.

    (If unable to see video watch it here)

    Sunday, November 25, 2007

    The *Twinkle* Fund

    This morning I got a warning from the company that hosts the podcast I recorded in Japan last year, A Year In Japan.

    "Our bandwidth monitoring systems have detected that you have currently used
    100% of your available monthly bandwidth.

    The good news is your podcast is very popular!

    Please be aware, however, that if you reach your bandwidth limit before the end of the
    month you may find that subscribers to your podcast are unable to download
    or access your content until next month.

    We recommend that you consider upgrading your Jellycast service to the next
    service plan level in order to prevent this from happening."
    Looking at the iTunes Podcast library, I note that it's just inside the top 30 (number 28) when it comes to Japan-related podcasts, despite the fact that I've not released a new episode for a few months.

    So, what to do? With my current plan, it's hosted for free, and I can't afford the £10-per-month fee for the upgrade to the next package. One thought I had was advertising.

    Advertising was something I pretty much avoided on the TGW network until last year, afraid that it would degrade the site. However, with rising bandwidth costs, and a whole load of domain names to renew every year or two, I realised that I was starting to lose quite a bit of money through TGW.

    That was when I started using Google AdWords. These covered all my bandwidth & domain costs ...but I felt that their intrusiveness couldn't be justified by the relatively low returns.

    Amazon has been yielding slightly better results, and I prefer supporting the publishing industry than some of those companies that appear on Google.

    By clicking on my Amazon links, 5% of the profit that usually goes to Amazon comes to TGW, money that is being channeled into the fund to bring *Twinkle* to the UK this Christmas, a fund that in two weeks has raised £565 (only a tiny proportion of which is from Amazon).

    (So, this Christmas, if you do shop at or please consider using these links - it won't affect your shopping experience at all - the site appears as normal.

    UK shoppers:

    Japan shoppers

    If you're considering becoming an eBayer (eBay being the place where you can get stuff dirt cheap, like the webcam I got last week for £1.99!), 25% of eBay charges will be redirected to the *Twinkle* Fund:
    Register on!

    And of course, we have the wonderful folks at Audible too, who have really helped me change the way I look at life:

    2 for 1 audiobook downloads at

    Whilst this kind of advertising does bring in a small, steady income that just covers the costs of running the site, it's not enough to cover further expansion as well or fund campaigns such as Bring *Twinkle* to the UK.

    For that, I need proper advertising partners, of which I am fortunate to have a few.

    Earlier this month I went to the pub with my friends, and a decision was made to raise £1000 for a fund to bring *Twinkle* to the UK, as mentioned above.

    Within 24 hours of that, and as a direct result of that decision, I had sold £360 of advertising on TGW!

    This really demonstrated to me that advertising does pay, and does not necessarily have to be intrusive. Thus, my thinking about A Year in Japan - could I use advertising to pay those bandwidth costs?

    The reminder that my Podcast is being well received also encourages me to start it again - After all, I have my big sexy mic and headphones here beside me. Time is a factor though, I think I'll have to wait till I can release a New Year Special just after *Twinkle* goes home.

    I'll definitely start doing it again next year when back in Japan, I imagine that my job (should I be fortunate enough to get it) will provide me with a few more insights into Japanese culture.

    Anyway, must be off to the library, have a tonne of homework to do.


    p.s. I signed up for a free Trial of Amazon's rental-DVD-by-post service on Friday - it's fantastic! I had my first 2 DVDs through my letter box within 24 hours. When I send them back, they send the next ones on my list. Freepost envelopes provided. If anyone's interested in a free trial let me know and I'll send you an invite, and should you choose to carry on using the service a £5 donation will be made by Amazon to the *Twinkle* fund!

    (Also, by being a member, you get 5% off all DVD purchases on Amazon.)

    Last night I watched the first in the Series of the BBC's 'Planet Earth'. WOW! If you haven't seen these, you must! Last night's episode, all about caves and the life within them, saw me gasping, smiling widely and feeling so incredibly fortunate to live on such a beautiful planet. Highly recommended!

    Changing the face of the globe

    Whilst researching the Three Gorges Dam for a presentation I have in a few weeks, I came across this talk by the photographer Edward Burtynsky, taken from the excellent TEDTalks series.

    I found it pretty terrifying. Familiar too in the case of Shanghai.

    But inspiring too - a single person can make a difference.


    On a related theme, there's this:

    Here's one of the videos from his series - thanks to Stu, and my brother, for the tip-off

    Now please excuse me whilst I wind up my Macbook's spring.

    Saturday, November 24, 2007

    Astral Weeks

    Last night, lying on my bed exhausted, I picked up my remote control and began to idly browse my music library. There's so much stuff in there that a lot of it is rarely heard, buried beneath thousands of other songs that have been lucky recipients of a couple of stars at some point in the past.

    Flicking through the album art, I noted how each album cover summoned up different emotions within me - many of these images signified far more than the sounds I would hear if they were selected.

    It was then that I came across Astral Weeks.

    1968 was the year that Van Morrison released this record, a record that was to become a landmark in my life.

    I remember that time well.

    I was age 23, living in Switzerland. Kussnacht-am-Rigi. "Lord of the Rings Country" I called it, what with its rolling hillsides, deep blue lake, and mighty snow-capped mountain rising to dominate the horizon.

    I was initially drawn to this place, a family-run dairy farm, by the description of its owners, Fredi and Antonia, in the International WWOOF handbook.

    They were described as being a kind couple, who hoped to provide an atmosphere that enabled people to work through difficult times by helping in the daily routines of the farm. Living in an old, traditional Swiss chalet, they played host to a couple of young lads from the Dominican Republic who had been abused as children. To Hans, a man in his 40s who had never felt happy fitting in with society and preferred to spend his evenings in quiet contemplation, surrounded by books on woodwork and philosophy. To Suzie, a local girl who's mother had passed away, leaving her with an abusive step-father.

    Having just emerged from a difficult two-and-a-half year relationship myself, I decided that I'd fit in perfectly.

    I did.

    The routine followed that of a typical dairy farm. Up at 5am to milk the cows, muck out their stalls, feed the sheep and pigs and then go out to work on the land. The previous Christmas had seen severe storms in Europe, so much of our time was spent chopping, transporting and stacking wood. It was a very therapeutic exercise: over the course of several months we transformed the landscape from one of chaos, destruction and disorder into one that was once again workable, the nature-felled trees now arranged in neat piles of 2-foot long logs, ready to fuel the family over the long cold winter.

    This work outdoors mirrored the changes going on within me. During that time I was able to work through the crap that accompanied the breakup, every swing of the axe serving to cleanse me of the anger I felt. At night I would disappear into the work shed and chisel away at a block of cherry that was to become a wooden owl, a gift for my now ex-partner that was to help me apologise.

    It was after I'd been there a few weeks that I discovered an old vinyl copy of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Wow, this really knocked me for six. The confusion, pain, love ...and glimmer of bright hope it held touched me where it was hurting. I listened again and again, sometimes in floods of desperate tears, sometimes with so much joy I would feel compelled to climb to the top of the mountain on whose slopes we lived, and shout it out to the world.

    He would sing me to sleep at night, he would wake me in the morning.

    That time was very important for me; its legacy lives on in who I am now. My trust that I can work through difficulties and emerge stronger. My love of self-sufficiency. My belief that surrounded by love and honesty, even the most hurt people can be healed.

    That time is referred to whenever I say my name: up until then, I had been 'Joe'. It was only then that I had the strength to cast aside the mask, and start to get to know the boy Joseph.

    Listening to Astral Weeks now, I'm transported back to that time of growth. Remember those creaking floorboards? I used to wince with every step as I'd come in late at night from the woodshed, trying not to wake the rest of the family who slept at 9pm. Oh, and the dog! It was vital that I try and get her to see me before she heard me, otherwise she'd erupt into a chorus of howls.

    There was no insulation in the chalet, and I recall showers in the outhouse being a 'bracing' experience. I remember the lock on the door too. I piece of wood hanging on a nail.

    Meals stand out in my memory too, had as they were as a family, seated around a huge round table that almost filled the entire room. Breakfast was always the most delicious muesli, with milk straight from the udder (had a hell of a time getting the cow to stand still on the dining room table...) and fresh berries from the hedgerows. Lunch tended to be lovely wholemeal bread, home-baked in the log-fired Ager, topped with either local cheese or jams made by the grandparents who lived in the chalet next door. Supper often featured steamed potatoes and other assorted vegetables from the garden, accompanied by some kind of grain.

    As mentioned before, most of the family retired to bed early, but there was usually time for a little talk. Freddi was a great comfort, his limited English ability and my poor German not really standing as any barrier to our communication. Antonia too, mother to all, remarkable. Drama would be provided by the boys from the Dominican Republic working through their histories, peace by Hans, normality by the Freddi and Antonio's own children age 7 and 9.

    I've not been in touch with the family since I last saw them, 6 years ago. It is important that I see them again in order that I may thank them, thus, when I do next make my way to Switzerland, Kussnacht-am-Rigi will definitely be on the schedule.

    And of course, van Morrison's Astral Weeks will be playing as I make my through Tolkien land, up from the shores of the lake below to the old chalet on the slopes of the snow-capped mountain.

    It seems that others have also found Astral Weeks to be a great comfort in difficult times: Link

    Friday, November 23, 2007

    Letting fear get the better of me

    I can't help but feel a sense of disappointment for not dealing with my fear towards my Japanese presentation today at an earlier date. This fear, which saw me spending ages creating a Keynote presentation (only to scrap most of it when I found out it was way too long), resulted in my failing to learn my script properly, which had a major detrimental impact upon my performance.

    I feel disappointed with myself, and take it as a lesson that this is not to be repeated.

    In other news, happily, I am increasingly saying 'No'. I've said it a number of times this week. In fact, just this morning I said 'No'. Long may the 'No's' continue!

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    H A P P Y

    Caw blimey, whoever invented this life thing, they get Top Marks. I'm lovin' it!

    Today was yet another superbly sublime day. Thank you everyone who was in it; I hope it was sublime for you too.

    I was just looking at some photos of *Twinkle*, who I haven't seen now for, er, over THREE MONTHS!

    Looking through my albums I can't quite believe how cute she is. Really makes my heart beat faster seeing photos of her, butterflies in my stomach. I think it must be love :-)

    ...and I get to see her in 34 days!!!

    Picture: Ian Spooner

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    The good times

    We are feeling good. Very good. Today was a good day. It started last night.

    It must have been about midnight when I picked up the Japanese book. I was restless, and feeling bad about having done so spectacularly badly when tested on Keigo (polite Japanese) in class that morning. There was one consolation though, we'd all done spectacularly badly. Apart from one classmate who used to learn in when in the bath with their (Japanese) partner. Why did I never think of that?

    OK, New Action Plan. It doesn't matter that my previous action plans have been short-lived, they were NOT failures. That is how it goes. We keep the habit for a while, we get lazy and stop, we start again. Better than never starting at all. I think accepting that this IS the pattern and not constantly feeling crap at having lost all forms of self-discipline temporarily is a healthy thing.

    As of this week, I have a regular date at 6.30am the other side of town, so that means a good jog to get me going every morning. Porridge is, as of today, being soaked with raisins the night before, so as to cut down kitchen trips at breakfast time. Thanks Jo and Catherine for the tip.


    Oh, and by the way, CONGRATULATIONS Catherine! And how did you manage to keep your engagement a secret from us at the weekend?!!! That's all three of us engaged now - who's next to actually marry though...? I'm so happy to hear that news.

    It's funny, I'd begun to think that marriage had gone out of fashion. There was definitely that kind of attitude towards it amongst my friends (and I) at some point in the past, a kind of, 'we don't need to do that these days' type thing. But you know, I'm delighted to say that almost all of my closest friends are either engaged or married now, and happily so. For me, marriage means commitment, a deep love and trust, security, ...and a father on the birth certificate.

    I was first in the queue (of one) when the box office opened for Bjork this morning. "Sorry mate, they only sell them online!" You should have seen me run home from the City Hall, desperate to get a seat near the front, as close to my Inspiration as possible. Log on, select a ticket. Five rows back, not bad. AND, as has since been revealed, only a few seats away from my lovely classmate who tipped me off.

    After a couple of hours of prep for Thursday's (filmed) Japanese presentation (using Keynote is all very well, but the transitions are just so damn exciting I've not even started writing a script!), it was off to CILASS where I presented the student perspective on using technology in the classroom to a group of university librarians. It was a bit intimidating initially, but the Keynote transitions soon won them over... (tee hee).

    "It's wonderful that we actually have a real student here!" said one of them afterwards. "Often we just hear about some new policy, or spend an hour listening to a talk about some abstract theory - to actually see this stuff in use makes such a change!"

    That was very rewarding - and not just in terms of the free lunch. We're planning two more dates now, sessions which will be open to all university lecturers who wish to learn more about how to use modern technology to help further enliven the learning process.

    After that I met up with Emmy to discuss the next session ...although we soon got sidetracked by my mac, she being a Mac User too. There we were, in the middle of a serious discussion about Inquiry Based Learning when suddenly my Lotsawater screensaver kicked in. "OOoooohhh! I love that one!" She then saw me launch mail by just pressing ctrl+m, "How did you do that?!!" (Quiksilver triggers, no MacUser should be without them!). Rathole heaven.

    The tech training I've had through CILASS came in handy in our next lecture - someone had spilt a drink over the keyboard in the lecture theatre rendering the computer useless. Our powerpointless tutor looked somewhat distressed, but being superficially 'guaranteed' by the CILASS training I was happy to pull all the plugs out and fail to get it working. ...before reaching for the MacBook and plugging it straight into the projector. Hurrah for the Macbook! It doesn't even require Fn+F7!

    Following that it was, er, oh yes, Newspaper class with Rick. I like Rick. He is, like (almost) all SEAS staff, only too approachable, friendly, and can be easily distracted into talking about what life in Japan used to be like and is my dissertation supervisor.

    I love those classes. Partly because the texts are impossibly difficult and therefore immensely rewarding when we finally figure out the meanings. My individual kanji recognition is quite poor, so I tend to go from reading whole sentences or paragraphs and guessing what they mean. It works, sometimes.

    I also love those classes because I get to hang out with my coursemates. I was thinking tonight, as I transferred my alfalfa and radish sprouts from the jam-jar on the windowsill to the tuppa in the fridge, I'm going to miss my coursemates. They're all so nice, without exception. In fact, everyone in the world is really, and those who aren't nice, well, it isn't their fault and there's no point in feeling any negativity towards them - it will only hurt me if I do.

    Japan soc meeting tonight was absolutely delightful, with the new plan seemingly (which I think I mentioned before) going according to, er, plan. It involved a brief run through a pre-determined agenda, and then splitting off into groups. Revolutionary or What?!! It gives everyone a chance to input their ideas meaning that much more gets achieved. More importantly, it's fun! And more importantly than that it makes me feel able to let go. Look Anonymous! I'm letting go of Japan Soc! Aren't you proud of me!! (tee hee)

    In order to stop myself feeling overwhelmed by appointments (luckily just one meeting tomorrow to discuss the amazing new yet-to-be-launched CILASS website, something else I'm very excited about) I've started to print out a weekly view of my (iCal) Calendar. Last night I added all my lectures to it, so I have an hourly breakdown of every day. It really helps me be more productive if I can SEE, "right, I have an hour till my next appointment. In that time I can get this and this and this done".

    So yes, the good times are here again.

    woopety woo. woo woo. and woopety woo again.


    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Differing attitudes towards smoking

    With the Japanese government holding the majority of shares in one of the world's largest Tobacco company, Japan Tobacco ("The Delight Factory"), one could argue that this first ad is Government-sponsored.

    As is the second one, from the UK.

    Bjorky baby

    At long last, a dream I've had for over 10 years is set to come true.

    A date with Bjork.

    I'm just 5 rows back from the stage!

    Big thanks to JJJ for the tip-off. :-)


    A message from one of the masses:

    "Joseph, Did you know that your web site is a google whack?!!!!!! i managed to find your site by putting 2 random words into google, they were
    Amazing !!!! you are the only person on the web to have these 2 words on the same web page!!!

    Monday, November 19, 2007

    A time of darkness

    As you may have noticed, I've been a bit stressed of late. Why? Deadlines, confusion over what I'll do after I graduate, financial concerns.

    Being ill with a very bad cold left me feeling too shattered to exercise, and I turned to junk food to deal with stress. Mr. Kipling Mince Pies, Buy-one-get-one-free. Magnum Ice Cream Classic - £1 off.

    The Mince Pies were nothing but sugar, actually hurting my teeth. Sent me on a real high, and then a low.

    My dear friends Jo and Catherine visited on Saturday. It was quite a squeeze to get both of them and baby Ben in his cot into my 3 foot square student flat, but we managed.

    I was reassured to find that despite us each having taken very different paths, we remain as close as when we were at college, 13 years ago.

    After a much-needed snooze this afternoon, I started making phone calls to friends and family I've not been in touch with lately. It certainly put things into perspective for me.

    Two of them are having a very difficult time emotionally, each day posing a big challenge to get through.

    Another has a family member who suffered a series of complications following cancer-related surgery, and is just starting a course of chemotherapy.

    Another is the victim of a vicious campaign of character assassination that has resulted in a high-profile court hearing, the loss of their job (and livelihood), and a pack of lies being fed to all those around them by an antagonistic manager who feels threatened by them.

    Another, who has suffered an injury, is having to take a high dose of Valium to deal with the pain.

    My love goes out to all of them. May the pains ease soon.

    Having spoken to them all, it reminds me that I really have nothing to complain about. I should just get on with it.


    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    Front row seats only £34.99

    little text BIG TEXT little text BIG TEXT

    ha. that's fun.

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    What NOT to do when applying for JET

    Whatever you do, WHATEVER you do,

    DON'T click on 'Back'.

    I'm just trying to convince myself that there is a good reason why I have just lost 2 hours worth of stuff entered into the JET job application form.

    I just can't see it yet.

    3 hours later...

    Ok, so I'd missed a couple of volunteer things out.

    In total, that application took me 8 hours - and I haven't even started on the 1000 word application letter. Just done the 14-page form, on which you basically have to record your entire life. I couldn't remember half the stuff I'd done, but found a handy resource on the internet called "TameGoesWild..."

    I'm very happy with my application. Once I get the essay done tomorrow and pick up my second reference I can send it all off - in triplicate! I guess the next stage (confirmation of whether I've made it through to the interviews at the Embassy) will be sometime in the new year. Fingers crossed.

    Remember, only 8 positions available in the UK - the odds are stacked against me ...but I feel good about it. The Ultimate Test of positive thinking!

    oyasumi xxx

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Academia vs. 'Other stuff'

    In their welcome comment on my previous post, "Anonymous" expressed the view that a half of me is expressing. That is, that having made the decision to concentrate on my degree which is after all the reason I came back to the UK, I should stick to that, and not be sidetracked so much by other distractions such as CILASS, my part time work, or Japan soc. I can't help but think that they are right ...and yet...

    I find it difficult to weigh up the value of these activities. Academic study vs. extra-curricular activities. If those extra-curricular activities took the form of getting bladdered every night then there wouldn't be much of a debate, but the problem is, I'm getting so much out of these extra-curricular activities!

    (self-justification follows)

    My CILASS role gives me so much pleasure. Much of what I do is essentially, teaching & training. Teaching students, providing feedback to and training staff. I'm also learning how new systems (in this case teaching systems) are taken from idea to fruition, and also learning basic stuff like How to Hold Effective Meetings. (I'm then applying some of the stuff I'm learning through CILASS to Japan Society, with (what I perceive to be) excellent results). Team management is another key skill that this role is teaching me, something which will no doubt be a great asset in the future.

    Then there's Japan soc. Now this one, I think, could be considered of questionable value, except that apart from the fact that I enjoy it, I also get to network, practice my Japanese (I write all the bilingual emails), and am able to experiment with the people skills I learn elsewhere. It's been a tough one though, as I find myself getting more and more involved, victim of having all the records (both on disk and in my head) of how the society has dealt with various events in the past.

    My part-time job, along with the entry for the business competition, is teaching me a lot about starting one's own business. Once again a life skill.

    BUT, by doing all these I'm neglecting my studies. The likely outcome is a 2:1 degree (or perhaps even a high 2:2, instead of a 1st.

    I don't see this affecting my employment opportunities, I do see it disappointing myself, perhaps my teachers to to a certain extent, and some Mumblers!

    And I don't want to disappoint myself. I don't want to disappoint those who have expressed their enthusiasm for me doing well academically.

    So the big question is,

    What would YOU do in my situation?


    6.30am Up to go pick up Takoyaki trailer and tow it to trading position

    7am Breakfast, deal with 16 emails that came in overnight

    8am Jog down to hire car place, arrange car rental for Christmas

    9am - 11am Read book about Japanese NGOs and write dissertation outline

    11am - 12.30pm meet with librarian to discuss dissertation

    12.30 - 2pm Have all that fuss with the WIFI / staff

    2pm - 2.30pm meeting with member of CILASS staff to discuss a joint presentation we're giving on 'technology in the classroom' next week to library staff.

    2.30pm - 3.30pm take a breather, blog

    3.30pm - 4.30pm Sheffield Graduate Award meeting

    4.30 - 5.30pm dash home to pick up posters for winners of Japan soc competition, eat

    5.30pm - 6pm take trailer back to parking place

    6pm - 6.45pm Stop off at tandem learning to drop off posters and catch up with a couple of people

    7pm - 10pm training for part time job

    10pm ~ now: emails re. CILASS projects, TGW advertising, complaint to computer services about staff attitude!

    It does worry me that I am so busy that I am not spending any time on my Japanese studies. I think I will say bye bye to that First right now!

    These past 7 days I have written an average of 34 emails a day, most of which are related to some kind of business. Exhausting stuff.

    How can I let go?


    It's incredible how a bad attitude can affect others.

    For the past week or so, I've been unable to connect to the University's wireless network. I took my Mac to the computer help desk, and was told that yes, it was a known issue with Macs running Leopard. They would look into it.

    I went back again today to see if they had figured out what was up. Nope. No luck. The chief technician had been given a Mac and told to sort it out. There was no timescale given

    Going across the road to the Info Commons, I figured that if this was a common problem here at uni, it was probably a common problem on other wireless networks, and thus there must be some info about it on the Apple website.

    Off to the website I go, and sure enough, within a couple of minutes I find the answer. It was that security update we had earlier in the week.

    The solution? Restart your Mac in Safe mode (shift and power), then, once it's restarted restart it again in normal mode and Hey Presto! It will work. And Hey Presto! It worked!

    Naturally, I was quite happy to have found this out, so off I skip to the computer help desk to tell them what the answer to the problem was. They could then tell everyone else what to do.

    I thought they might be pleased ...boy was I wrong. As I have since found out, there is an attitude amongst staff there that no-one knows better than them. No-one can tell them the answers to anything, they have to be all patriarchal, never questioned, only obeyed.

    "Back so soon?" said the receptionist. I explained what the situation was; "oooh, well done! Go on through and talk to the technician". So I went on through to the next room, and started to explain why I was there.

    The moment I mentioned that I'd found a fix I was pushed firmly by the shoulder back out through the doorway and told to wait. I took a seat. When the technician came back I started to explain what I'd discovered - he refused the look at me, but instead turned so that he was facing the far wall, ignoring me completely!

    I finished the explanation. His reponse?

    "Yeah, we know all that. Who's next?"

    The receptionist smiled an apologetic smile.

    I must admit I was pretty thrown by his attitude. It was upsetting. I guess blogging about it here is part of dealing with it.

    Why do people have to be like that? Does it make him feel better to treat people with such disrespect? I doubt it. I guess he felt threatened by me in some way - might have been the blue wooly hat.

    Ho hum.

    Anyway, it's another busy day so I'd best get on. Next stop is the Sheffield Graduate Award intro session. The idea behind this award is to recognise students for what they do outside the classroom. I'm told that if you've done a year abroad you're well on the way to getting it, and my work for CILASS and with Japan soc will also feed into it nicely.

    I hope they have tea and biscuits.


    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    "Public" transport

    A few days ago I started writing a post in which I was going to mention the pleasures of being sobre (as I have been for many weeks now). It was prompted by a blog post written by my friend Shari, an excellent little piece on 'alcoholism' (nani sore?!) in Japan.

    But then I forgot to finish the post, so I'll leave it at that.

    Today I wish to talk about trains.

    I love trains. They have wheels, and go fast (and slow if in Mongolia, or the North of England), and look really sexy when covered in paint.

    The only problem is, here in the UK they are now prohibitively expensive! Apparently, the way they have chosen to tackle overcrowding is by raising fares.

    Right, so let's see how much a return ticket from Sheffield to Hereford is...

    Ok, now multiply that by two, add a return trip to Heathrow and another to Devon (for Christmas day), and that comes to several hundred pounds.

    OK then, what about buses?

    They must be a lot cheaper!

    Crikey O'reily! Clearly, these companies clearly don't like the idea of people leaving their hometowns. Perhaps the UK government is using some old Chinese Transport Policy document as a guideline.

    So what options are left? Hitch-hiking... but that's pretty difficult these days. Cycling? Sure, if I was by myself (and fit). But with two of us, there seems to be only 1 option left: Hire car.

    £15 a day.

    It seems there is some seriously wonky thinking going on here. If the government is as concerned about climate change as it makes out, why is driving people onto the roads, people who would normally flinch at the idea of using a car?

    I hope *Twinkle's* driving is OK. She's not sat behind the wheel since she passed her test three years back...

    White Water

    Wow, my body has been Super-Ill today, it's been mightily impressive. My nosy is bleeding it has been blown so many times. My throat is raw, my tonsils large making swallowing something to be avoided, my legs and back totally ached out. Energy levels are somewhere in the bicycle shed below my room.

    Good thing it's only my body and not me that's ill.

    Soooooo excited about Life! I got a phone call today about a plan for a New Year road trip to Scotland with friends. Stay in a cottage in the highlands, Edinburgh for new year... only thing is, we have to get *Twinkle* here, which will not be easy as the flights from Japan are so so so expensive now. Thus, a massive project is soon to be launched with the aim of getting her here on her birthday, Christmas Eve.

    I finished THREE website projects today which have been hanging over me for months. Just been putting them off. Luckily I get paid for all that work. :-)

    Oh, and met up with a couple of business partners to draw up our official business proposal to secure £1000 of funding towards the launch of a project we're very excited about... there's also a chance that we'll get £5000 worth of professional business advice from a local company that has helped UK businesses raise over 2.6 billion pounds, and has had a direct beneficial effect upon 4% of the British workforce. We need a fabulous business proposal to win this 10-day course, and we think we have one! ...There's just so much money in the UK to help new businesses get off the ground, it's staggering.

    Japan soc continues to be fascinating, and is taking up far too much of my time - hurrah!

    Anyway, amidst all this there's been mist and fog clouding my year ahead. Return to Japan? Stay in Sheffield? One passion competes with another, competes with emotion, competes with business sense, competes with changing values attached to time and space. Negotiating these torrid currents is very tricky, and that's even before they interact with other flows! The white water ahead looks very exciting, even if the destination cannot be seen.

    And the more I do, the more I feel detached from exam results. I'm really enjoying my course for what it is on a daily and weekly basis. I'm loving reading books, I'm loving giving presentations (can't wait to try out those cheesy new transitions in Keynote 08!), I'm loving the translation, I'm loving the debates. I'll do my best in the exams, I'll pass the course, everything will be OK.

    There's just so much to be thankful for and happy about, I just can't help but smile. And blow my nose again.


    Leopard: One Week On

    Non-macaddicts, skip this entry.

    I've finally figured out why photos I edit in LightRoom look crap on Firefox - Firefox (and Internet Explorer for that matter) ignore embedded colour profiles and assume everything has been created in an sRGB colour space. Thus whilst my photos exported with other colour profiles look great on most of my mac apps (including Safari, which can read the colour profile metadata), when they're displayed in apps that don't support those profiles they look dull and washed out. The answer is either to use Safari (which I'm not a fan of due to the lack of plugins) or export everything in sRGB.

    Myself and a Macuser friend tried out Screen Sharing today - it is FANTASTIC! Anyone who's used the remote assistance tool in Windows will know how excruciatingly unresponsive and jumpy it can be - it feels like one is jabbing at the remote computer with a floppy stick in the vague hope of moving the mouse in the right direction. But Leopard's new Screen Sharing is just red hot - and so easy to set up. Both mac users just log into iChat (have to use your .mac / AIM account, not Gmail etc via Jabber), then click on screen sharing. Accept the invite, and bang! There you are. Full direct control of that person's Mac. You can switch back to your own at any point by just clicking on your mini-screen bottom right, it swings back into full screen mode with all the sexy moves of a chilli pepper on roller skates.

    And I'm still stunned by the speed. Anyone with a Macbook with under 2GB's of RAM - if you're a Photoshop user, upgrade now! It makes a huge difference - today I had PS, DW, Bridge, LightRoom AND iPhoto open at the same time - with not a sound from the fan! Using Dreamweaver used to be excruciating, both on Windows and on my MacBook, but now, it's a breeze.

    Oh, you can put Time Machine in the menu bar if you get annoyed with having it in the Dock - although this fix is not perfect, the "last backup" will always display as the time the icon was run (i.e. on startup). I also noted that Time Machine will not backup unless you're plugged into the mains.

    Another feature I'm really enjoying is Spaces (it's like having 4 screens on my Mac) - although I've found that unless I assign apps to launch in specific Spaces it's easy to forget I have them. It's so handy though: Mail is always top left, Firefox top right, Dreamweaver bottom left, image editing software bottom right. No clutter, everything where you know you can find it. I tried it with 6 windows, but it kind of gets confusing then!

    Spotlight is very usable now. I used to avoid it like the plague, and even went so far as to try Google Desktop. Now, it's instantaneous. It's a shame there's no option to make it search system files.

    The Japanese dictionary is ma-ma. It is handy to have is as an option, but it's pretty pathetic when compared with JEDICT (which uses Jim Breen's database).

    The spinning beachball of doom has made very few appearances this week, despite my really hammering the processor.

    So, the verdict one week on is, 'bloomin' marvelous' (and it'll be even better when fixes for Skype, LightRoom, Pathfinder and Super Duper have been released).

    Saturday, November 10, 2007

    No Procrastination Weekend

    Being in the grips of the lurgy (confined to bed, floor near bin covered in snotty tissues, legs not working), and with a ton of study to get through, I thought I'd declare this weekend "No Procrastination Weekend".

    So I thought I'd design myself a nice poster in Photoshop that reads "No Procrastination Weekend"...

    Thursday, November 08, 2007

    coming out of the dark

    Of all the scary photos, this one scares me the most.

    I like it.

    p.s. thanks to the person who sent me that mystery (drunken?) message at 3am today. Next time you do see me, introduce yourself and I might be able to indulge you.

    Wednesday, November 07, 2007


    I've been very busy this week helping my friend Will get his brand-spanking-new WillYaki mobile eatery business on the road. It's come a long way since those days when we used to sell octopus balls from a cardboard stall outside the union, using a borrowed BBQ set.

    There's now two sides to the business: preparation of sushi / Japanese lunch boxes for sale in the university shop, and the WillYaki trailer, making octopus balls and so forth every day on Portobello Street.

    The official opening

    The logistics involved with getting that trailer to-and-from the trading site are pretty complex. In order for the business to work efficiently we need to be able to make this a one-man-job, but it weighs an absolute ton, and maneuvering in has proved to be quite tricky. It's been a fabulous process of Kaizen (continuous improvement), as day by day we think of little adjustments that can be made to the process to make it a bit more manageable. Things like parking it at a certain angle to help with hitching up in the morning, using a car jack to support it when trying to swing the jockey wheel around so that it doesn't hit the road when driving, moving it very early in the morning to avoid the wear on the clutch that would incurred after 8am!

    It's the same inside the trailer as well. What system works best for taking orders? How can preparation time be minimised, and health and hygiene issues be effectively addressed? It's great fun experimenting in real life with systems that I've been studying in the classroom.

    Time. Where does it go?

    Ah, yes, it goes into painting oneself white for a halloween parties. Here's some of the other costumes.

    Macbreak - those who have a life, switch off now.

    So, I finally got my mac back. I received a call 20 minutes before the store closed Sunday. You should have seen me run after that tram (I missed it, and caught a taxi. When I arrived at the Apple Store the doors were locked. I begged through the glass, they let me in).

    It's had over £530 pounds worth of work done on it, including a new optical drive, new keyboard, new screen, new OS, double the amount of RAM it had before, two new application suites.

    Good thing was, I had to pay for very little of that. Hurrah for Apple Care!

    I tell you what, it's like having a new computer. It is soooooooooo fast. OK, so the RAM upgrade would have helped, but I think Leopard has a big part to play in it. You should see the speed with which it deals with Dreamweaver and Photoshop, unreal. I love it.

    Of course, being an early adopter there's a few issues (Like Skype only starting up once. A computer restart or Skype re-installation is required if you wish to open the app again!). Super Duper is not yet supported. LightRoom has limited functionality.

    But overall, it's a real case of WOWness. Spotlight is actually useable now, as is the finder, a big improvement although I wish they'd included a Pathfinder-esque drop-stack.

    The word on the street is we won't really appreciate just what a revolution Leopard is until next year when 3rd party developers have got to grips with Core animation, and the technology that makes Time Machine possible.

    So, it's exciting stuff! There never was a better time to buy a Mac!


    Tuesday, November 06, 2007


    Sunday, November 04, 2007

    Spinning is so sexy

    Quite an eye-opener this Japanese Studies degree course.

    Below are some quotes from one of the handouts we're working with in one of this week's translation classes.

    (It's not an English-Japanese dictionary I need here, it's an English-English dictionary!)

    ", a multiracial coalition of mixmasters is bumrushing the hip-hop/soul arena, dawning the latest trend in clubland: the female DJ."

    "The slew of female neophytes, who usually spin at posh clubs and lounges, aren't necessarily tech geeks or tricksters who'll cut and scratch the groove out of a song two minutes in. "There's nothing more annoying than when I am at a party trying to get my dance on and someone just gets scratch-happy on me," says 25-year-old Japanese American DJ Erica "E-Love" Hamilton."

    E.R.'s Eriq La Salle sits a few feet away from the booth, frantically pumping his limbs, while two female patrons squawk about who's going to start DJ'ing first. "Spinning is so sexy," says girl one; the other rolls her neck in total agreement.

    "Tonight at NV, Kaori is in control of the masses of sweaty bodies bumping, humping, and grinding into each other without mercy to the bass resonating through the club's excellent sound system. People are getting their freak on. And even if only a handful will survive the furor, female DJs in hip-hop are not going anywhere, as long as there are asses to deliver to their mothership."

    Er, yeah. Quite.

    Sleep ...and more mac clap-trap

    I really like the way my body knows what it needs.

    This past week has been pretty hardcore, with several nights that have seen me sleeping for less than five or six hours. Thursday was probably the longest day, with the fire alarm going off at 5.40am and then again at 6.20am, 10 minutes after the fire brigade had left. When it happened that second time I decided that rather than waste time standing around waiting for them to come back (they took 10 minutes to arrive that first time, despite the station only being at the bottom of the road and despite my having called them within moments of the alarm sounding), I'd go and do some shopping in the evil 24 hour supermarket down the road (oh, that reminds me, a warning to people in Japan: Tesco is planning to start opening Express stores over there soon, having got a taste for Japanese retail action through the Tsurekame chain).

    The 15 minute downhill walk was a 5 minute jog. Running back up the hill with 8 litres of water in my rucksack took a little longer, and has left me with satisfyingly knackered calf muscles. Oh yes, the fitness routine continues.

    Anyhow, I was doing OK on relatively little sleep, but knew it would catch up on me eventually, and sure enough, yesterday at 5pm my body told me it needed more sleep, sending me on a 2 hour late afternoon sleep trip, and then this morning, shut-eye that lasted (on and off) until midday.

    (The 'off' bits were where I was reading The Accidental Office Lady, a true 1980s story set in Honda HQ, Tokyo. Whilst it made for an easy and at times entertaining & inspirational read, it wasn't all that useful for the purposes of my essay. Nonetheless, I'm glad I read it as it made me feel that if she can publish a book, so can I).

    This afternoon, having made my packed lunch (marmite and alfalfa sandwiches, banana and apple) I made my way here, to the 24-hour Information Commons which is providing magnificent views over a Sheffield alight with fireworks displays. When not looking out of the window I have been ploughing my way through translations and essays, turning text books into 3 page word docs, and hearing about the horrors of Leopard.

    And thinking back to yesterday morning when I finally learnt how to make battered octopus balls.

    The rest of this entry is all about Macs. Feel free to switch off now.

    I'm starting to feel that not having my Mac is actually a good thing (having said that, last night I was checking out Apple's terms and conditions and noted that it would actually be possible to buy a new mac, use it for a week and then take it back for a full refund).

    In addition to denying me my usual supply of RSS feeds and quick links to favourite websites (thus giving me more time to study), it seems that delaying my debut with Leopard has helped me avoid some teething problems. These include

    Time Machine - Mac users beware!!!

    I got an email from a friend earlier today who, thanks to Time Machine, has permanently lost 10GB of data, including archive videos, photos and other docs. Why? Simply put, Time Machine will not keep permanent copies of any data that is on your machine for less than a week (for details check out Apple Discussions), and thus should not be used as ones primary backup tool. Rather, it should be thought of as an additional (and somewhat sexier) addition to one's data protection arsenal.

    Whilst I am of course very sorry for my friend (and I hope Stellar Phoenix or equiv recovery software is able to work its magic), I'm also glad I didn't find out the hard way.

    (The moral of the story seems to be don't let Time Machine become a replacement for full, regular incremental backups made using Super Duper or equivalent, and if you're really neurotic additional monthly backups to DVD which are then sent to a different geographic location to guard against loss due to burglary. Alternatively/additionally, a remote server with lots of space would do the trick).

    Problem 2: Adobe LightRoom is not yet supported by Leopard. TM will corrupt the LR library, imports of RAW files direct from one's memory card / camera are not possible, the print stage doesn't work. The update for that is being released mid-November apparently. (However, all CS3 apps work OK, so I guess it's back to Photoshop and Bridge for me for the time being.)

    Problem 3: TM can't use disks hooked up to an Airport Extreme network. At least not unless you connect the disk directly to your mac via USB for the first sync, then plug it into the airport. Glad I know that in advance so I won't get frustrated trying to get it to recognise my colourful collection of external hard drives. There's been talk that airport networks aren't as reliable with Leopard. Let's hope that bug gets fixed soon.

    So yes, perhaps letting others be the guinea pigs is the best thing to do. Having said that, I do look forward to Monday / Tuesday when they finally manage to fit the new screen which has been giving them grief - something about the wire being too short?! Ooh, I'm looking forward to trying out iLife 08 too - and did you know, you get a free trial copy of iWork with it. The educational discounts on Apple software are even better than the hardware discounts - up to 50% (otherwise there's no way I would have bought iLife).

    Despite the bugs and unnecessary eye-candy, it does sound like Leopard is an incredible beast when one strips away the spots. There's a great review here, which talks about the nuts and bolts of it all - reading that gave me a whole new perspective on this OS, and is well worth a read by anyone who feels a bit disappointed with the release. (Be warned though, it's quite long, and took me over an hour to read!)

    Hmmm. Am I obsessed?

    OK, back to the grindstone.

    Saturday, November 03, 2007

    Feeling a bit washed out tonight

    Mada Macless

    It's good for me, right? A good long break from my computer. It's day 8 today. I'm going to have to wait at least another 4 days.

    It's been good in a way. Playing with this Windows laptop is just so boring that I only bother switch it on to check emails. Saves me a lot of time.

    One disadvantage is that I can't upload my photos. which is why those is the next post are stolen from Facebook.

    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    Just for the record

    Listen, can you hear that?

    Listen carefully.

    Yep, you know what that's the sound of.

    It's me, vocalising the words


    And I did, you know.

    Long Distance

    Tonight was the Japan soc Halloween Party. Fabulous, just fabulous. Everyone made such a big effort to dress up - there were some pretty scary characters there! I'll post some photos which I think you may like a little later in the week. The status of my Mac has finally changed to "Undergoing Repair", so I hope that means I can pick it up tomorrow and download the 3GB of photos I have waiting for a receptacle.

    I finally managed to get the paint off. It took me a while, but I got there. It should wash off my boxer shorts eventually.

    This long-distance relationship thing is getting very difficult. I don't know why, but I thought it would be easier than this. Choosing not to focus on the fact that *Twinkle* is not here has helped. Just keep her with me, in my heart. Multiple daily email exchanges and a few phone calls have eased things too. But they don't make up for not having her here with me.

    Ne, someone who you can trust completely, someone with whom you can be more yourself than with anyone else, someone who knows exactly what you're thinking and where you are without a word being exchanged.

    I still find it hard to believe that we found each other. My dream come true.

    It's amazing to feel all these feelings of love and attachment. So complex, so powerful; aren't we amazing, the way we can feel these incredible feelings?

    Ho hum. Time for bed. Tomorrow is going to be a packed day. In the morning we have the launch of the brand new WillYaki trailer (I'm unable to update the website at the mo due to being macless), the next step in the success that will be the WillYaki network of Japanese eateries spread right across the world. We picked up the custom-built wagon this morning, which was very exciting. Amazing to see Will's White Rose Award-winning business idea becoming a reality, very inspirational.

    Then there's lots of lessons. Oh, and hopefully a trip to Meadowhell... busy in the evening too.