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    Sunday, December 30, 2007

    Love, Fun, Beauty

    Three words, three photos, to sum up how things are.

    Us at Windsor Castle: The flag is flying, the Queen is at home.

    Pepé and the armed policemen

    I am so happy to be with my *Twinkle* (who, incidentally, took the above sunrise shot).

    Saturday, December 22, 2007


    I'm now at my parent's house, a 150-year-old blacksmithy that sits at one end of a peaceful valley on the Welsh Border. No signal for my mobile phone, no broadband internet. I like it.

    On Thursday morning I found myself faced with an impossibly long list of tasks to get through before evening. Looking at it, I felt worried. How would I get it all done?

    As I ate my muesli, I considered how I might rid myself of this anxiety - it wasn't very helpful, and had me feeling that I had to rush rush rush - not a good thing.

    It was then that I remembered something. That something being, "I am going to get to the end of this day anyway, whether I have a lot of things to do or not. By taking one step at a time, I shall be moving towards tonight, and tonight I will have got through the day, and everything will be alright, the day will be over and I will have no cause for anxiety"

    I found that tremendously helpful. Recalling the fact that the day was going to happen anyway regardless of whether or not I was busy took away from the me the responsibility of making the day happen. Without that responsibility, I was free to do the things I chose to do.

    It turned out to be a mightily constructive day.

    Yesterday saw me experiencing stress levels I'd forgotten actually existed.

    There was a 5pm deadline for the Business Competition, and at 4.53pm I found myself scrabbling to complete our entry. I felt absolutely desperate, brain not really functioning under the extreme pressure. The situation wasn't eased by the doorbell that was constantly ringing - my flat mate had locked himself out, but with just 7 minutes to go I couldn't afford the minute it would take to go downstairs and let him in.

    It was exactly 5pm when I clicked on 'Send'. I'd just managed to do it (albeit with totally incorrect finances).

    I could then breathe, although it took me over an hour to recover. My shoulders were incredibly tense, I was shocked - I've not felt that degree of stress for months, and was astonished by it's force. Breathe, Joseph, Breathe.

    It was later last night when I really went into shock though.

    Skirting the south of Birmingham on the M42, we were faced with a sudden queue of vehicles on all three lanes of the motorway. We stopped, and then crawled forward about 50 metres to the scene of what was the most serious road traffic accident I've ever seen in real life. It had only just happened, and the emergency services yet to arrive on the scene.

    There were several cars involved. A couple of them were only slightly damaged, and had come to a standstill across the two inside lanes. Another was right up the embankment, windscreen smashed in, bonnet scrunched up. The final one was on its side, sticking right out into the right-hand-lane; we had to drive around that one.

    I was pretty shocked by this; seeing a group of people standing around someone lying on the tarmac. A couple of people sitting in a daze on the embankment. Tears immediately came to my eyes as I gasped for breath. I considered stopping to help, but there were a few other cars parked on the hard shoulder just after the accident scene; I decided that there were enough people there already.

    A couple of miles later I felt better, just upset for those involved.

    Ten minutes after that the motorway was once again lit up by slow-moving headlights, with the addition this time of a flood of flashing blue lights. The accident had occurred on the opposite side of the motorway, and had closed all three lanes. Traffic on our side slowed to a crawl as we passed the scene. It was pretty horrendous. Multiple cars had been beaten out of shape - one of them had no roof, cut off by the fire brigade. And then there were the casualties, bring strapped into stretchers, surrounded by police and ambulance staff.

    We journeyed on.

    It was only when we arrived home that I realised just what an impact the accidents had had upon me. I started to feel very upset; my body started shaking un-controllably.

    It took me 5 hours to calm down. I watched a film - Brokeback Mountain which I've not seen before. That didn't really help much - all that tension left me feeling even more wound up! At 2am I decided to listen to a relaxing audiobook and edit my Japan soc Christmas party photos - and with that, I was able to process what I'd experienced, and let go.

    The thing that really struck me about the whole incident was the extent to which my body had subconsciously suppressed the state of shock, enabled me to function normally for a further 90 minutes until that time that it was free to let go. Given the signal that it was now safe to relax, it took just a couple of minutes for the impact of the two accidents to hit.

    What amazing bodies we have!

    Today, I'm going to visit a few friends around Herefordshire, before heading off to London tomorrow to see Tom, Miyu and baby Jay, who is here in the UK for the first time ever following his birth in August! Tanoshimi~!

    Thursday, December 20, 2007

    You get what you give

    It has indeed been a Wiggy Week of the highest order.

    The Japan soc Christmas Party was a great success, with over 150 people attending, including our beloved sensei, one of our favourite tutors, and his wife who played a big part in making me feel that Sheffield was my home, before I'd even returned from Japan. I'll post the photos soon.

    Then there's my friends who, in September, set themselves the goal of buying a house before Christmas. Today, they picked up the keys to a brand new home, and tonight we moved them in. They managed this despite having no money - in fact, they were actually paid £70 to buy the house!

    Then there's some other friends who today had their offer on a nearby house accepted - 10% less than the asking price too!

    Yesterday, myself and my two business partners picked up the first bit of funding for our new business - £1000. My bankruptcy wasn't an issue at all when we opened the account. Tomorrow we will submit our business plan to the White Rose competition, to put us in the running for another £5000.

    Oh, and tonight I received an email about another competition whereby graduating students can win up to £5000 in acknowledgment of their extra-curricular activities. Naturally, I'll be entering! Who says it doesn't pay to not concentrate solely on studies...?!

    I'm feeling a lot more confident re. the interview exam and the speech contest. It's all in my head. I've been listening again to 5-hour-long audiobook of The Secret (modern day version of Earl Nightingale's 'The Strangest Secret') for the past few days. Since I first heard it in the summer I've tried hard to put into practice the lessons given on the Law of Attraction - and today found myself laughing with joy when realising how effective those techniques have proved to be for me.

    Gratitude. Positive thinking. Love for all others. It really works! The cynic in me that used to criticise these books full of techniques for self-improvement has been well and truly quashed.

    Mr T has had his back operation - it was a success! Wellness wishes winging their way to you Mr. T.

    Two more appearances in the media this week, this time starring alongside a lost Samurai, and in another article sporting a sexy blue T-Shirt in the CILASS newsletter.

    Attended the university carol service a few days back. Just beautiful. Literally had me in tears. Amazing energy filled that huge hall - my hair was standing on end.

    Mince pies and Port in the SEAS office today. Yum Yum Scrumptious.

    Life is great, and I feel very grateful for that. Oh, and I do believe it's only 84 hours till I can hold my *Twinkle*. :-)

    Ok wigsters, it's off to bed for me.

    xxx love joseph

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    I'm through to the final

    Last week I reported on my atrocious telephone interview which, after the submission of an essay, served as the second stage of the selection process for the 3rd Japanese Speech Contest for University Students.

    Today, mid-Japan Soc committee meeting, I received the following email.

    Gulp indeed. According to the leaflet, I'll be one of just 6 finalists for my category here in the UK. Whilst that may make it sound like I can actually speak Japanese, I am more inclined to think that they felt sorry for me after I was turned down at stage 1 in 2005, and that they were suffering from a lack of entrants.

    The date of the contest should make for an interesting few weeks. It coincides not only with the exam period, but also, Big Job Interview period.

    They call this the "Christmas Holidays" - all I can say is I hope *Twinkle* enjoys listening to the same speech morning and night.

    My topic, actually decided upon last Spring, is NGOs / charity organisations in Japan and their influence upon the democratisation process, a topic that happens to mirror that of my final year dissertation.

    2008 sees the 10th anniversary of the NPO law, a landmark bit of legislation that came into force following the Kobe earthquake of 1995, which, in addition to leaving thousands dead, resulted in over a million volunteers flooding into the region from all over Japan to help out. None of these volunteers were covered by any kind of insurance etc as there was no established system for recognising NGOs - thus they couldn't do things like set up bank accounts, rent photocopiers or claim tax back from donations.

    The NPO law changed a lot of that.

    By combining my experience working with Oxfam Japan earlier this year with my dissertation research, I hope to give a presentation that is at least semi-interesting. Hopefully, I will have prepared sufficiently so I won't be quaking in my boots.

    Oh, and by the way, I dedicate this speech contest effort to my sensei, without whom my university years would not have been anything like the amazing experience they have been thus far.


    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    Squirming under the Japanese spotlight

    I received feedback for my presentation today - it was very positive, and generous too in light of the fact that the hours spent editing the video somewhat robbed it of having any form of 'balanced' argument.

    We had our final class with the lecturer in question today, which despite being great fun, left me reeling from shock having been made to realise just how much reading I have failed to do over the course of the semester.

    Following that it was our final class with Nagai sensei, possibly the most gifted sensei in the whole world, mother to many a SEAS Japanese Studies student. In these lessons, we've been rehearsing for interviews for jobs with Japanese companies / organisations. It's been tremendously helpful, yet at the same time has seen me feeling like I'm scrabbling for a handhold when hanging over the abyss of doom. I don't know what it is, but sitting there in an interview situation (even when my interviewer is my friend and sensei of 3 years) I simply freeze. My brain refuses to budge. I clam up. Confidence deserts me faster than a herd of cows who wake to find themselves in McDonald's after a heavy night out on the town.

    Sensei was right, the Joseph in me just disappears, as I become a bumbling bag of nerves.

    This is most unlike me.

    The thing is, it's all in my head, and I know it!

    Thus, I have decided to treat this as an experiment. An experiment which, should I be lucky enough to be chosen for an interview at the embassy, will run for about 5 weeks. In this experiment, I am going to practice wearing my suit, and imagine myself in that interview situation on a regular basis. I shall ask *twinkle* to interview me, and my friend Will too. I'll ask any other Japanese people I can find down south to grill me, put me on the spot, make me squirm.

    I've found my public-speaking (in English) confidence has shot through the roof this semester - through repeat practice. I can do the same with Japanese.

    I can, and I WILL.

    Monday, December 17, 2007

    Start of the wiggiest week yet

    Ok, so here we go, into the home straight.

    Good start to the week this morning: a friend of mine unexpectedly brought me some hand creme, having read about my dry hands on the Mumble! Very kind, a nice surprise, thank you Miss. F.

    Now, if anyone out there happens to have a spare radiator bleeding key could they possibly lend it to me - we've got so much air in our system it sounds like we're living next to the sea. You can use my contact form to send it in.

    In a couple of hours I'll be handing in that essay, my first in about 18 months, and hopefully the second to last one I'll ever have to write! tell you what though, it's amazing how much you can learn when the pressure's on! I should set myself a monthly essay, it would make me so clever.

    Seven days boys and girls, SEVEN DAYS till my cutey rushes into my arms at Heathrow! Or as should more likely to be the case, staggers towards me under the weight of chocolate bought especially for me.

    I think this is going to be a very WIGGY week.

    p.s. Update on my friend Mr. T (who've I not mentioned here before but anyway): he is probably undergoing surgery on his back this morning - so lots of of love and skilled surgeons being sent your way.

    Mr. T., Sorry I can't see you in your cute little NHS gown and black stockings!

    The end is in sight

    Ooooooohh I can SMELL the FREEDOM!

    It was back into the darling Western Bank Library this morning. Until this September, it was called the 'Main Library', but what with the opening of this swish new high-techno-wiggy-wiggy 24/365 'Information Commons', it's been renamed.

    Despite the fact that Western Bank Library contains the main Japanese Studies Collection, I've not been in there much this semester. The PVC walls and £2,600 designer 'Egg' chairs of the Info Commons have been too much to resist. However, this past week I've got a bit peed off with all the traffic the IC sees - gets a bit distracting. So it's been back to the huge reading room in Western Bank.

    It's so quiet in there! Almost completely deserted. I love it. There's virtually never a time I can't get my favourite seat overlooking the park (home to my friend Grey Squirrel who helped me survive my first two years), and of course it has the bonus feature of the bald security guard who calls me 'duck' and if I'm really lucky, 'love'.

    During my research this week I've rediscovered just what a great collection of Japan-related books the library has. Whilst reading some journal article I'll come across a reference to some book that sounds ideal: I pop the name into the library search engine and Hey Presto! It's there.

    (I've also found a blog belonging to one of my tutors - the first ever... unfortunately it hasn't been updated for the past year, so no juicy gossip!). Oh, that was on the internet though, not in the library.

    Anyway, I have basically finished my essay now. Just a case of sorting out the in-text references.

    Starting to get a whiff of freedom, oh, and the intense excitement and happiness related to *Twinkle's* visit is really starting to hit now - couldn't sleep last night. In fact, in the end I started to watch a film at midnight, a film I've been wanting to see for ages: The Bourne Ultimatum (received yesterday courtesy of Amazon DVD-rental-by-post).

    OMG is that a nail-biter or what?! I literally was biting my nails all the way through, absolutely loved it. I was a huge fan of the first two in the trilogy, and thought that was a fantastic ending. Just thinking about it now gets me all hyper.

    Ok, ok, let's do these references, then I can start on my final piece of work for the year, my dissertation proposal due in Wednesday, the same day as the Japan Soc Christmas Party which I am really really looking forward to, as many of my favouritest people in the UK will be there!

    Wiggedy woooooo

    Sunday, December 16, 2007


    flugg. flugg. fluuugggggggg,. arr. 67&^$&, $%^ Grinp etat.

    (after 14 hours in here, I've nearly finished the first draft)

    Saturday, December 15, 2007

    In the IC

    Gahhhhhhh. Midnight thirty on a Friday night and still in the Info Commons. An expresso and two cans of evil red bull are keeping me awake, as is the stress of a deadline now only 48 hours away. ga gagagaga gahhhh.

    I have a head full of a gendered workforce.

    Friday, December 14, 2007

    What would St Francis do?

    Last night, a small crack opened up next to the nail on the index finger of my right hand. I saw it happen, and thought at the time, 'hmm, this is probably going to be painful' (I was right).

    The reason this 3mm crack appeared was because for the last few days it has been bitterly cold, with temperatures dropping below freezing. The nature of my part-time job (man-handling a heavy trailer at 6.30am every day) means that my hands have become somewhat dry. I'd been meaning to get some moisturiser, but had kept on postponing the trip to the shop.

    Essentially, my not ensuring that they had got enough moisture had left them prone to cracking, and inhibited their ability to deal with harsh conditions.

    This reminds me of something else that happened today, something 'bad', that resulted from a lack of flexibility in me that was in turn, caused by my not giving my body what it needs. The lack this time wasn't in moisture, the lack was in sleep.

    This morning, when I arrived to do my job, I found that my friend had not bought the de-icer spray as requested. This left me in a bit of a fix when presented with a padlock that was frozen shut - it took a lot of persuasion (and cold fingers) to get it open.

    Being tired, I didn't react as I normally would have done. Normally, I would have laughed and seen it as challenge to my ingenuity. But this morning, overly tired, I got annoyed, and, once I had managed to open it, I spent about 15 minutes feeling angry.

    Feeling angry is (on the whole) not something I do these days, so naturally I was only too conscious of this bad feeling. After a little while of wording and then rewording again and again a text message to my friend in my head, I started to talk to myself, and laugh at myself for feeling negativity towards them. They hadn't meant any harm by forgetting to buy it ...and everyone forgets things all the time anyway (only this morning I forgot that I was supposed to be meeting someone at 11.30am in the library - they were looking for me for ages).

    I started saying to myself "Come on Joseph! You don't need to feel this badness! It doesn't feel good to feel angry does it?! So let go! Send love instead, come on Joseph!" - yet the feelings wouldn't dissipate.

    I must admit I was surprised by how dark the badness was (I visualise it as blackness in my heart). I don't remember the last time I was actively angry or cross, my strong determination to not devote energy to negative emotions and to practice acceptance in everyday situations really having worked wonders for my sense of peace. Yet this morning I felt myself a victim of my own feelings, tiredness having robbed me of my ability to deal with these emotions that arose uncontrollably as a result of having no de-icer.

    It served as a timely reminder that it is vital that no matter what else I have on my to-do list, I must give my body the basic things it needs. A good diet, regular exercise, chocolate, and adequate rest.

    It also reminded me just how bad it feels to feel anger towards someone. Why do we do it? What purpose does it serve for us? I'm intrigued. I don't see how my feeling angry towards my friend could have helped me (or them) in any way - so why have we humans developed this emotion?

    This evening, listening to a story about St. Francis, I'm reminded of how important it is to not feel enmity. Connecting that with this morning's events reinforces in me the importance of doing the right thing if I wish to be at peace with myself and the world around me. Peace is perhaps my ultimate goal in life (not sure how the Embassy interviewers would respond to that if I gave it as an answer to their question about life ambitions...), and so anything which works against that, such as lying or saying bad things about others could be thought of as the equivalent of using £20 notes as toilet paper were my ultimate goal to be financial abundance.

    I think that relationships can provide the greatest opportunity to practice forgiveness and understanding. *Twinkle* and I are fortunate in that we both share this attitude of stopping any badness before it really starts by practicing complete openness, honesty and frequent communication. Despite this, there have of course been times when we have felt frustrated or upset with each other for longer than we would have liked. When you love someone so much, it is desperately difficult to not let (for example) protectiveness generate anger. It has been tricky when *Twinkle* has not been feeling good and has shared her problems with me, for me to not feel frustrated about being able to do nothing to lift her up. This frustration can lead to 'badness', which doesn't help the situation at all.


    I am really looking forward to being back with *Twinkle*. It will be so exciting to grow together, pursuing our dreams and learning all the way.

    256 hours and counting!

    Ah, crap! That means my essay deadline is 133 hours and counting!


    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Why Japan needs me

    Getting there

    It was last week sometime when I suddenly noticed that the sun had set. Ok, so it had set before, but at 4pm? I'm sure it didn't set this early last year.

    I'm finding these short winter days absolutely magical. Last night, with the clear skies came a heavy frost, and this morning a bright, clear (freezing!) morning (I wrapped up very warm when going for my 5.30am jog!). Sunrises this week have been just beautiful, the low rays filling the churchyard opposite my flat with gold, frost-coated leaves sparkling with frozen life. It's enough to take your breath away.

    With so few hours of daylight, every second seems all the more precious. Living not for the day, but for the hour! Smiling at strangers as I walk down the icy road - and receiving smiles in return, an unspoken friendly "Cold isn't it?!" passing between us.

    We're getting there. It feels great to have 'done' that presentation for tomorrow before the class has even started. :-) Hurrah for technology!

    Also, today, myself and my fellow CILASS Tech-Groupies held an interactive workshop for university lecturers on using technology to further learning at uni. The fact that the number of attendees was very limited in number worked to our advantage as it enabled us to experiment with the format, and not worry when things went a bit wrong. The feedback was very positive - we'll be holding it again in January.

    (one of our attendees, a lecturer in Information Studies, is using Second Life in class!)

    So, with that, my uni-based extra-curricular activities are over for this year :-)

    Next project is an Essay on the gender divide in the Japanese workplace. Something I know nothing about, thus something worth writing about so I have another base covered for the exam :-)

    Flippety wiggy woo.

    People trafficking on my doorstep

    As mentioned in the past on TDM, I live in a red light district. Most nights, I hear cars screeching to a halt outside my window, women swearing about the attitudes of clients... I don't mind too much as it rarely continues long after midnight.

    But until now, I've never really stopped to think about the reality of this trade.

    Earlier this week when checking my RSS feeds, my interest was caught by a blog entry by my classmate, A. She'd written about a pretty disturbing presentation she'd just attended, and I must admit, having read it, I was in shock too.

    We frequently hear the kinds of stories she describes in the news - but I would never have thought that such a problem existed on my doorstep.

    Read the article here: More on internal trafficking

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    That dam presentation!

    Wow weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Ha! I did it!!! The presentation is complete!

    I can't remember if I've talked about this here before or not, but on Thursday, I have to give a 20-minute presentation on Development Resettlement, the Chinese Governments program to deal with over 2 million people whose homes are suffering from a rather major case of damp as a result of the Three Gorges Dam (i.e. they're under 150 metres of water).

    I jokingly asked my tutor, Chris Bramall, if I could just video myself giving a presentation, and show that instead of doing it in person.

    "I don't see why not Comrade Tame! Yes, a splendid idea!"

    Last week, when I mentioned that I'd decided not to do a video, he seemed somewhat disappointed. Thus, I resurrected my plan, and embarked upon a 40-hour project to create a 20 minute documentary presentation for class.

    The whole weekend was spent searching for suitable clips and photos. Prior to that, I'd read numerous journal articles and 2 books on the 3 Gorges. Then, it was into production, Apple's Keynote '08 and iMovie HD (iMovie 08 can't handle soundtrack adjustments) my main production tools, with those special scenes in which I appear actually at the Three Gorges filmed by Photobooth.

    It was a long process. I spent hours painstakingly applying subtitles to one particular sequence, only to find at the end that it was just too long - into the trash it went. Other scenes had to be filmed again and again, as I forgot my lines or the sun came out, destroying my magical blue screen effect that allowed me to be at the Three Gorges.

    The final obstacle was adding narration and getting the timing right. I'd be fifteen minutes into a flawless recording, and then accidentally advance onto the next screen - back to the start I went.

    [technical note: All this time I was suffering sudden system restarts - no kernal panic message, it just switched off. A bug in Keynote causes your system to suddenly restart when you click on the 'play' icon. I looked on the forums but no help there, called Apple and after an hour on the phone to 'Owen' was no closer to getting it sorted. Over time I realised that it only ever happened if I pressed play right after clicking on save, and it only seemed to happen with video-heavy presentations. Clearly, Keynote is not saving files as fast as it says it is, resulting in it trying to play a file that is halfway through being saved and thus causing a system restart, which can lead to all system preferences being reset, thus best avoided!]

    Finally, about 50 minutes ago I managed a clear run through. The voice over's OK, the timing pretty much spot on. I quickly saved it on two different drives, and am now exporting it as a movie so I can just sit back and laugh at my own silliness when it's played on Thursday.

    Whilst the end product is not a professional video, I am delighted to have completed the project. I don't think anyone will believe how much work went into it. I just hope that when marking it, Chris finds it in my heart for getting the name of that city wrong halfway through!

    Caw, I love being 'creative'! And the sun's shining today. Oh, and just 13 days till I see my *Twinkle*!


    Caw blimey gov, talk about being pushed to the limits of epilepticness.

    So many deadlines bearing down on me, it's a case of bed at 2am, up at 6am. Not good for me, but possibly sustainable for another 10 days.

    It is amazing how much you can get done if you put your mind to it though.

    It'll all pay off in the end.

    Saturday, December 08, 2007

    Balls ...and a birthday party

    You know that faulty electric toothbrush that I took back to Boots last month after only having it for a week due to the fact that it wouldn't charge?

    I've just discovered that this is because electricity doesn't come out of the mains socket in the wall unless I turn it on..

    That would probably explain why it wouldn't charge.

    I found some balls in the street the other day. They were big, and talking to a post box about their dream of being orbiting moons in outer space. They realised that their dream was unlikely to become reality, and so instead spent their time orbiting Rotherham city centre.

    I allowed myself a little time off tonight to attend a triple-birthday-party. It was a surprise party for Xinxin, Anny and Danni - and as you can see, it was a surprise! The girls had been taken out to the cinema by our female accomplice - Panni - whilst we lay in wait back at the apartment. You should have seen us seven boys, jumping around in excitement as we planned how we were going to surprise them. Eventually, it was decided that we would burst into "Happy Birthday" accompanied by Steven on the guitar as they entered the room.

    Xinxin's reaction says it all!

    Birthday cake's galore


    Che: heez the man! We sat around the campfire coffee table and sang songs, with Steven acompanying us on the guitar. Brown Eyed Girl, The Boxer, Have a Nice Day... the internet providing the lyrics.

    Good times, good times.

    The Exam

    Module: EAS332 (Japanese Language V) - 3 Hours - 21st January 2008

    1. Japanese to English Precise Translation (probably about UN) (Nic) - 25% - 45 mins

    2. Comprehension (Angela) Short text, answer in English. 20% - 30 mins

    3. Newspapers (Rick) Longish text, English summary, 25% - 45 mins

    4. Writing in Japanese (Mika) Letter to employer - 30% - 1 hour

    5. Drinking 10 pints of beer (Joseph) - straight from keg - 3 days

    Friday, December 07, 2007

    The Lead Telephone

    That was not an enjoyable experience.

    As arranged, the phone rang at 9.15am. It was the lady from the Japanese Speech Contest organising committee, and she was phoning to interview me.

    I remember the experience well from two years ago. Ten minutes of panic, desperately trying to recall bits of vocab. (I didn't make it through then).

    This time it was almost as painful. I made an idle comment, which the interviewer picked up on and drilled me about. Something I really didn't want to talk about as it focused upon the 'badness' of a particular group of people (European tourists). I don't agree with slagging others off - and it's not exactly a great first impression if all you talk about is how bad other people are.

    It serves me right though. I shouldn't even have let it slip that I preferred serving Japanese tourists to European tourists. There's a lesson there for you Joseph.

    I'm now going to try and forget all about the speech contest, and concentrate on writing two essays, preparing two high-tech presentations, and getting a dissertation outline together. All by the 19th December. Hurrah!

    Chocolate. I must buy chocolate first.

    Wednesday, December 05, 2007

    What happens when your Mac's hard drive dies

    Wednesdays and Fridays see me getting up at 5.45am, due to the demands of some local sushi. My involvement with the local sushi also means I have to have a police check, and unfortunately my last police check certificate has just expired. I must say, I'm glad I've never done anything illegal, as it would prevent me from doing quite a few things I want to do, such as play with Sushi.

    It's been a hectic few days. The website project is virtually over thankfully, well, I thought it was, until details of the ongoing maintenance and improvement project emerged. We need to get some plans in place as the uni's Vice Chancellor is coming to visit in a couple of weeks, and we have to tell him all about our exciting future.

    Ok, time for a bit of Mac Talk. I know, you love it.

    People sometimes say that Mac's are ultra reliable, and never go wrong. This is of course complete rubbish, as anyone with a Mac will tell you if caught off-guard. Look at mine - it's now had over £700 of work done on it in the last 3 weeks, the latest drama being the grinding to a halt of the hard-drive. It may be made by Apple with attention to detail, looks and reliability, but at the end of the day it's a computer made of a load of different parts which in turn are made by various different companies. Like my hard drive - that's made to order by Toshiba.

    So whilst I think Mac users experience fewer Where-did-I-put-that-hammer? situations as a result of OS / software issues (at least in my experience), when it comes to hardware all computer users are in the same boat, as Apple have no magic dust to prevent things like optical or hard drive failure.

    So how about when the hard drive fails, perhaps one of the most disastrous things that every computer user will experience? What's it like trying to recover from such an ordeal which requires one to start from scratch?

    Well, I don't know what it's like with Vista, but I remember with XP a format and reinstall was a major headache, and took what seemed like forever. All those programs to reinstall, settings to customise. Say bye-bye to two-days.

    Then of course there's data loss. I used to keep weekly or monthly backups, but a lot happens in a week, making the potential for data loss only too, er, potential. And, there always seemed to be at least one little thing that I'd forgotten to back up.

    With Leopard? I tell you, it's a picnic. Time Machine - what did we ever do without it? Every hour it makes a complete backup of your entire hard-drive onto an external drive. Oh, and it doesn't affect performance in the slightest.

    So, last night at 9pm I had a new hard drive fitted at the Apple store (I discovered that it's such a simple thing to replace even a child could do it - takes about 90 seconds!), then reinstalled Leopard (this took 40 minutes, whilst I was on the tram on the way home). Once home, I switched it on, it detected my Time Machine backup drive and asked me if I'd like to restore my data from there. I said yes.

    I left it for an hour, went back to it, and hey presto - it was exactly as it was just before it died! I mean, identical. Settings, my millions of customisations, and of course all my files. Nothing lost at all. Incredible.

    No reinstalling any programs. No reconfiguring any mail applications.

    At some point soon I'm going to get another internal hard drive - the current 100GB model is a bit on the small size, and the price of a 250GB drives is perfectly reasonable (just not from Apple! My 100GB disk replacement was billed at £170!!). I'll keep a copy of Leopard and an archive of photos / videos / docs on the old disk, then, next time the hard drive fails I'll be able to keep on working without any downtime at all, Time Machine updating any changes made since the swapout.

    So, all's well and groovy. Now I guess I can do some work...

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    TBS Podcasts

    In order to feel that I'm making the most of the time that it takes to get to my part-time job and back, I jog. That's about 30 minutes of easy downhill and harsh uphill - really gets me going for the day. I was wondering what I could listen to whilst jogging - whilst music is nice, I want something a little more stimulating - it was then that I remembered TBS Radio.

    These podcasts are fantastic! I just scrolled down the page and subscribed to them all in iTunes, then, when listening to them on my iPod over the space of two weeks, marked some for unsubscription, and left myself with four that I like. Because the episodes are all quite short (20 mins), they make great manageable bite-size chunks. Also, because these are podcasts and not actual radio programs, the things they talk about tend to be a bit more 'real', and the presenters somewhat relaxed and 'natural'.

    I'm really enjoying listening to them. There used to be a time when I'd listen to Japanese radio and find it hard work to make sense of anything that was said, finding it to be more of a chore than anything, but now, whilst I don't understand about 50% of what I hear, I can follow the conversation by using context and my own knowledge of the subject to fill in between the bits I do understand.

    This morning I listened to a recent episode in which my favourite presenter, whose name I forget, spent 20-minutes talking about a movie director who suffered terrible embarrassment when filming because he couldn't click his fingers. Yesterday, it was all about the funny things people do on the bullet train. There's also a five minute program where these two 'singer song-writers' (I use that term in the loosest possible sense) visit schools, ask children to write down their dreams, and then turn those dreams into a song which they sing live ('growl live' would be more appropriate in the case of the male presenter).

    I'd thoroughly recommend TBS radio for anyone studying Japanese, although I think due to the speed at which people talk, it would probably be more confusing than rewarding for people in their first or second year of study.

    Ho hum, porridge must be ready by now.


    Three weeks and counting

    Big relief today with the handing over of the website I've been helping co-ordinate the construction of. I've put about 30 hours of work into it over the past three weeks, which has of course impacted upon my studies. I'll be mightily glad when this degree is over - never before have I been inundated with so many project deadlines, all requiring an immense amount of input.

    If my course wasn't finite in length, I don't think I'd last another 6 months (naturally, it's the very fact that it is finite that leads to its intensity). However, with the end of 5 years of study in sight, I have to keep going.

    I had two classes today, one language, one a lecture based session on agriculture in China (whatever you do, don't eat any fruit and veg if you go to the Olympics next year!). I was once again touched by the care, kindness and enthusiasm of my lecturers, and leaving the Arts Tower a tear came to my eye as I thought about what a precious gift this uni thing is.

    Just three weeks to go then. I'm really looking forward to seeing *Twinkle*. It seems absurd for us to be spending so much time apart when we are to play such important roles in one another's lives.


    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    Laziness leads to pain least it does when tea pots full of just-boiled water are concerned.

    Not wanting to have to put the teapot down in order to turn the door handle, I held it in my fingers and turned the handle with my palm, the result being a great gush of scalding water all over my wrist and hand. Ouch.

    Well, I didn't need the use of that hand anyway, what with the website deadline now only being 24 hours away...

    At least it was herbal tea.


    I love days like this.

    First, I got a toasty wrist - and now my MacBook's 100GB hard drive has died, not to be replaced until Wednesday! [Good job you can run MacBooks using an iPod as the system disk!]

    Let this be a warning - All Hard drives WILL fail!

    Saturday, December 01, 2007

    From the IC

    Back in the Information Commons today, aiming to get through a lot of 'stuff'. The university website project deadline is just a couple of days away now, so later on I'll be pulling the remaining loose threads together and hopefully creating a nice neat package to pass on for review on Monday, before it goes live later in the month.

    The prep for my presentation on The Three Gorges dam in China is going well - it's been really interesting. Once again, it strikes me just how easy it is to educate oneself about something in a relatively short period of time. Perhaps it's just me, but when talking with people about something about which I know nothing - say, the flora and fauna of South-West Vietnam - I tend to feel that as I don't know anything about that, I probably never will. But that doesn't have to be the case; we can educate ourselves about anything about which there is written material available, and given time can even become experts. That's easy to forget in a world in which we are constantly confronted by things about which we know so little.

    I'm looking forward to my 3 Gorges presentation, and will no doubt spend a ridiculous number of hours creating a Keynote presentation. I have some cunning plans to make it more exciting...

    My big brother is up for the weekend - he has a workshop in Leeds to attend, and is using mine as a crash-pad. Great to see him again, it's been over 15 months. Last night, after a couple of hours of him attempting to break my Mac (he has this knack with computers to make them just stop working, a result of years of using Windows which has caused him to have an antagonistic relationship with any machine whose keyboard he lays his fingers on), we headed out for food. Piccolos, the little Italian restaurant on West Street with the big pepper grinders was our choice - I like it there.

    By about 11pm we were ready to dance, and so headed to the union to get tickets to see, er, Wild Beasts. Arriving at the box office we found the foyer packed full of drunken students - this was the first time I'd been out in the evening in Sheffield in over 2 years, and I found myself a bit shocked by the breasts falling out all over the place, and the bum cheeks showing through the ultra-short skirts. So much sexual energy oozing about the place - I felt relieved that I wasn't one of the young men accompanying them, hair meticulously styled with great splodges of gel, competing for attention Ra Ra Ra.

    Making our way to the underground venue, we were struck by the length of the queue - it was non-existent. "Oh, come to join the other 3 people in there have you?" said the bouncers on the door.

    The support band, or support-mad-person as he would more accurately be described, was doing it for therapeutic reasons I think. As he heavy-breathed into the microphone, he didn't seem to be aware that he was actually performing in public. He clearly had a lot of stuff to work through - it was a shame that he chose the University of Sheffield Union as the place to do so.

    Wild Beasts were great! Fantastic voices - harmonious opera singing, with a drummer who sometimes didn't bother with his sticks at all and instead just clapped his hands.

    The assembled mini-crowd stood there, pints in hand, supportive, yet not quite sure how to react. A couple of drunk people joined my brother and I, uneasy as they observed us gradually loosen up and start to work our wiggy. I was later told that I caused quite a commotion, one girl standing there just pointing at me. It was great though, to feel that music flowing through me, wiggying my arms and legs, expressing the drama through rapid little foot maneuvers, looking like a monkey on steroids.

    The gig came to an end just after one, leaving me feeling contentedly shattered and ready for bed. The glass of red wine I'd had some 5 hours beforehand had really gone to my head, the feeling of rejection my stomach had felt when I'd taken my first sip having never quite worn off.

    It's good to go out once in a while. Not only to dance, which feels wonderful, but also to reassure myself that going out more often is not really my cup of tea.

    Anyhow, time for me to tackle this final text book, The River Dragon Has Come - The Three Gorges Dam and the fate of China's Yangtze River and Its People.

    xxx joseph