Archive for January, 2009

Earthquakes and iPhoto09

joseph at Zieteil
Random image: me at Zietal, the highest monastery in Europe (nr Savognin, Switzerland), age 10-ish. I was in a real strop that day, running off ahead and refusing to speak to mum and dad!

Earthquakes really do give me the jeepers. I think the fact that I’m currently listening to Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything doesn’t help – in that he talks of the earthquakes that are way overdue in Japan, including the one centred on Tokyo which will no doubt see a lot of people killed and injured.

It got me thinking though. I tend to have this idea that great cataclysmic events (ice ages, meteor strikes, earthquakes, volcano eruptions etc) are all in the past, a part of Earth’s history before it settled down and enabled the current eco-system to develop.

But listening to Bryson reminds me that the Earth is no less active now than it ever has been. It still has a molten core that lets off steam now and then, it still has an atmosphere that’s changing in its composition (now more than ever of course), it still suffers from tectonic shifts. We’re still in this ‘historical era of cataclysmic events’ – it’s just one of those little quiet periods at the moment.

I find this fact useful. It reminds me how important it is to live for today, and to not focus on how much ‘stuff’ I own. If our house comes down in rubble and goes up in smoke, the only thing that will be left is relationships with others (and a backup of my hard drive that I have permanently attached to my inner thigh, updated hourly by bluetooth). Ultimately, nothing else will matter but preserving life itself. And when life itself is finally extinguished, as it surely will be, there won’t even be relationships with others to get hung up about. Best not be overly obsessed with them either then.

On a sidenote, and I forget whether I blogged this before, when we were re-negotiating our contract on this apartment, we voiced our concerns about its age and earthquake-proofness. With a smile, the agent told us:

“Well, when the big one strikes most apartments will come down anyway, so I wouldn’t worry about that”.

Well, that’s reassuring.

The two blessing we do have is that we have a park in front of us with a huge lake (useful in case of fire), and no buildings immediately to the east or south of us, thus reducing the risk of fire and giving us soft ground to jump on should we need to. In fact we’re kind of ideally situated, as the park compost heaps are directly below our balcony – perfect for soft landings.


I do love being married. Things are really good. *Twinkle* is such a blessing in my life.


As I write, iPhoto 09 – one of the applications contained in Apple’s brand new iLife suite – is trawling my collection of 30,000 photos searching for faces. It’s been at it for over 6 hours now, and apparently will take at least another 3 hours to pick everyone out. (That includes YOU if I’ve ever taken a photo of you!).

It’ll then ask me to name people, and will ‘learn’ what people look like, the idea being that when I add new photos in the future, it will automatically identify whose in them, and apply the appropriate tags. These can be synced to and from facebook – clever huh? If someone out there tags a photo of me in Facebook, my photo library on my Macbook will be automatically updated to include it.

[Update: The facial recognition thing is pretty damn good. Having labelled about 10 photos of *Twinkle* it came up with another 900 images that it thought contained her face – and was only wrong about 30 times. Not bad for a beginner!]

The ability to group photos based on their location is also pretty nifty. If your camera is not GPS equipped, you can tag your images by searching for a place name, or by dropping a pin on the built-in Google Map. The place index is a bit too US-centered for my liking, with tonnes of results coming up for American cities, but only the ‘big places’ listed for other countries. No doubt that will change.

Anyway, best get on. The earthquake has inspired me to look for an Earthquake app for the iPhone, which I now need to blog about.

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After one week out, MacBook goes back in for surgery

I don’t really know what I do to my MacBook to cause it so much damage. It’s already had 2 new displays, a new keyboard, new bottom case, new dvd drive, a new hard drive and a new fan – the last repair having been completed last week.

Tonight the DVD drive that was replaced last spring packed up (just as I was about to install iLife09, grrrr!), so tomorrow lunchtime it’s off to Apple once again to drop it off.

At least I’m getting the most out of my extended warranty…

[Update]

I made a mad dash to the Apple Store (Shibuya) at lunchtime, and was assured that the drive would be replaced by 7pm – which it was. iLife09 now installing :-)

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Taking positive action to bring about change

As many of you may know, I’m an audiobook junkie. Due to my attitude towards the use of time, reading physical paper and ink books is difficult. I feel uncomfortable using my time in that way. If friends give me books, I start to read them, but usually by the time I reach page twenty I’ve either decided that the book is not worth my time, or that the book is worth getting on Audible. If an audio version is not available, I either pass the book on, or keep it for those rare occasions when I feel comfortable with the idea of reading.

Anyhow, I’m lucky to have a fellow audiobook junkie here in Tokyo – someone with whom I can swap recommended listens. Recently, he recommended ‘Manage your tune, Master your life‘ by Robin Sharma, a very short audiobook that had helped him make some positive changes. I downloaded it this morning (in addition to Obama’s speech which is available for free), and listened to it whilst on the train to the city office.

In brief, Robin points out just how precious our time is, and how important it is that we do not postpone the things that matter most to us. He gives practical advice – one suggestion being to join the 5am club. Having started my own 6am club last week, I can vouch for the amazing difference it makes to have an extra hour in the morning. Whereas many people wake up and find that they are chasing their day before it’s even started, if you get up that little bit earlier, you will find that not only can you get a ton of stuff done before the daily routine begins, but also that you entire day will be more orderly and productive. From experience, I’d say that’s very true.

Listening to Robin’s session today, I was finally compelled to do something that I’ve been wanting to do for about a month now but have been lacking in courage to face – quit one of my part-time teaching jobs. I love the students (and judging by the emotional scenes tonight the feeling was mutual), and found myself learning a lot through working there. But (as I mentioned last night) I’ve got other projects that represent my passion, and the feeling of frustration in not being able to make time to pursue them has reached epic proportions.

It was funny though. When I gave them notice this afternoon, I felt compelled to re-write my email and explain why I was quitting, and pass on some of the advice from the audiobook. I talked about 2009 being the Year of Change. I wasn’t entirely sure why, I’d only ever exchanged very short emails with them about scheduling. But next thing I knew, the member of staff who deals with foreign teachers was asking me to come in a bit early – they needed to talk to me. It turned out they since last week they have been at exactly the same crossroads as me. There were further emotional scenes.

I think we humans are pretty good at knowing when we’re not acting in harmony with spirit. If we practice being in touch, we can tell if a job is no longer in congruence with our true paths. But taking that next step – causing inconvenience and possibly upset, stepping into the unknown in the face of (sometimes strong) opposition from those around us, is incredibly hard sometimes. But it has to be taken if we’re to move forward.

I’m glad I took that step today. In the grand scheme of things it was insignificant, but carries a lot of meaning for me as I continue on my journey.

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Tiltshift Sunday

tiltshift tokyo_2930

It’s been a great day, during which I’ve been fortunate to spend time with my two best mates in Tokyo.

Whilst I’ve managed to get up at 6am every day this week, last night’s ridiculous experiment to see if I could run four operating systems at the same time on my old MacBook made sure that I had no chance of making it a full house. (Yes, it can run 4 at the same time. Very slowly).

Still, I was up by 7am, met Tom on platform 2 at 7.30am – destination Tokyo Station.

It wasn’t really planned, but we ended up jogging 15km (9 miles) around the emperor’s cabbage patch (otherwise known as the Imperial Palace). Having not exercised all week (mainly due to the cold in the mornings and my woosyness) I was a little sceptical as to my ability to complete the last lap – so as we entered the final 3km and my hips began to hurt, I just kept on telling myself that this was only the first lap, and I felt as fresh as a daisy that had just eaten a Freshness Burger. The result – a very strong finish!

Back home, bath, then out to Shibuya for a lunchtime English lesson. That done, I headed south to Ebisu to meet Stu, my kiwi mate from the Niseko years. Having arrived a bit early, I sat on a step beside some coin lockers and played with some photos on my MacBook to pass the time.

“Hey! Wass your name?”

It was a boy in his early twenties. He looked Korean. Guide book in hand, he was probably on holiday.

“I’m Joe! I’m from the Korean Navy, in charge of look-out for 168mm gun.”

I was happy to have someone to talk to. We chatted for 15 minutes until Stu arrived. It was funny – when talking with Joe I found myself coming out with all the questions I ask my students on the phone (Ok, so I missed the one where I ask for directions to a fictional sushi shop). Nice guy. Reminded me of me on my first trip to Japan, except that I wasn’t in the army, and don’t like guns.

Stu and I spent the best part of 4 hours talking, drinking coffee, eating ramen. It was good.

Like myself, he’ll be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test this year – good to know that others will be going through the same pain :-p

Back home tonight I processed a few of the tilt shift shots I tried to take earlier in the week. I’ve loved tiltshift photography (or more accurately, Tilt-shift minature facking) ever since I first saw some examples on NHK (TV), but have only recently learnt how it’s done.

I find it fascinating how our brains can tricked into thinking that we are looking at a miniature scene by having an extremely shallow depth of focus. I’m now wondering though, if I look at enough Tiltshift photos, will their effect wear off on me, will my brain learn to associate them primarily with tiltshift and not miniature models? I guess I’ll just have to wait ten years and see.

I thought that producing tiltshift photos would be relatively easy, and in a way it is, but producing really effective shots is difficult. The examples on this page are testament to that – they’re not very good.

tiltshift tokyo_3153

First off you need to find a good candidate out there in the wild. Then, you need to choose an appropriate depth of focus, and place it well. The latter two stages I find pretty challenging. Still, it’s early days, and I have a lifetime over which to improve.


*Twinkle*s been busy today. She and a professional pâtissier hosted a Valentine’s Planning event, and, with a group of 15 or so friends who are also building Amway businesses, created a whole load of (what were apparently) delicious homemade chocolate delicacies. Unfortunately, no men were allowed entry.

She also gave a (light-hearted) talk on How to Find the Ideal Partner! Why she didn’t follow her own advice I don’t know…

Our Amway business is doing pretty well. The worsening economy has resulted in a lot of people looking for the means to create a second or third income. With so many redundancies over the past few months it seems that the awareness of the importance of having multiple income streams is growing, and people are starting to look seriously at using their own skills and talents to build their own businesses.

In some ways it’s not a bad time to start a new business, as a lot of companies that provide a poor service are going under, making way for new entrepreneurs who are determined to offer exceptional products / services.

In addition to our full time jobs and our Amway business, *Twinkle* continues to do translation work, and I’m working on creating a new Internet-based media company, about which I don’t want to say too much at the moment. Let’s just say it’s at the cross-section of a lot of my passions – I’m very excited! It won’t make money for some time, but I see a lot of potential in it. I just have to Believe, and Act. More on that in due course.

Anyways, it’s time for me to make a cup of tea.

tatta.

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A new study set-up

My old study-setup

I’m very much an advocate of taking action to change one’s surroundings should they not be conducive to feeling at ease. For example, a friend of mine has been having issues at work involving smoke from an adjoining (smoking) room filling her office, but rather than just complain about it she went out and bought some plastic sheets and a couple of heaters, in order to seal the gap between above the partition wall and deal with the resulting lack of hot air that was blow through by the air conditioner. She is now going to be happier in the short term, and live longer too.

My new getting-up-at-6am routine is going really well – I love it, and manage to get a tonne of stuff done in the 90 minutes extra that I have each day. Studying Japanese is the main activity. This involves me going through my electronic dictionary’s history to review words I’d looked up the previous day, and transferring them to Anki and paper flash cards (sometimes an iPhone interface is just too distracting). I’ve also got a couple of text books to work through, oh, and I’ve restarted my Japanese blog.

It’s appalling how much I’ve forgotten since I stopped studying, so the entries you’ll find on there are more reminiscent of the stuff I was writing at the end of my first year at uni than what you might expect from a graduate. I’m not embarrassed about this. I know I can do better, and I know that given frequent practice I will do better.

I’ve decided to use my photos as the theme, writing about where / why they were taken. Simple, yet very personal to me. I like that.

It also prevents me from using the excuse that “I have nothing to write about”.

Another thing I’ve done to encourage study is buy myself a proper desk. The Japanese-style coffee table was doing my knees / legs no good at all, and left me in quite a bit of pain if I sat there too long. Thus, I popped down to the local department store and bought a fairly cheap table, and two metres of cloth for a table cloth. I love it!

The storage shelf thing that was in this room has been moved next door, although the two sets of stationary drawers remain close at hand under the two tables.

I’ve also decided to stop using my MacBook as a laptop at home. By plugging in an external monitor and keyboard it’s possible to use Mac laptops when they’re closed – I keep it under the desk out of the way.

There are a few reasons I’ve done this:

  1. It gives me more space on the desk for study materials;
  2. I don’t have to look at all the trailing wires emerging from my Macbook;
  3. My mind associates this monitor / keyboard with study / ‘work’ and not all the stuff I associate my Macbook with.

It really makes a big difference. I’m far more productive now I have a space designed for what I need to do. Kind of no-brainer really.

Anyway, it’s bath-time now, then muesli, then off to the office to continue work on the new website for students. I’m using Joomla in order to ensure that the site can be updated for many years to come by people other than myself. As with WordPress, I am staggered by the improvements Joomla has seen in recent years. A world away from the thing I dabbled with a while back!

Have a productive day!

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