Saying RAAAAAA to life

SistersA week between Mumbles…. how about that?! I think Twitter‘s to blame. I wonder what the global impact of Twitter has been upon blogging? If my performance is anything to go by it’s not insubstantial.

Is this a good thing? I’m inclined to think it is, and it isn’t.

The nature of Twitter means it can be done on the road, no need to sit down in front of the computer – thus providing us with more time to do stuff out there in real life.

However, it also means that there’s less motivation for us to think things through. Big decisions get compacted down to a single line of text, responded to in kind.

For me personally, whilst I am now posting here less regularly, I’m not thinking that this marks the demise of the blog. Far from it. Thanks to Twitter, blogs are far more likely to be read – if you write something of interest! (I’ll have to figure out how to do that 🙂


With only a few minutes to spare before I head off to do my regular bit of voluntary work at the town hall, this post will also be a little twitter-like.

The pace has really picked up. For the past couple of weeks I’ve had every day pretty much fully booked, going from work at 7pm to meet someone / attend an event – weekends have also been filled with ‘stuff’.

Work too has suddenly become a lot busier, with the departure of a colleague leading to a whole new area of responsibility – and a whole new area ripe for improvement. As I’m taught the new systems, I’m finding myself constantly looking for ways in which processes can be streamlined – as with many SMEs in Japan, there is so much room for improvement. I like to work in an environment where people say things like ‘Hey! That might work, let’s give it a try!” instead of what is often heard in Japan, “oh, you’d have to speak to so and so about that …but we’ve always done it like this so I don’t think it can be changed”. I’m fortunate in that there is a degree of the former in my workplace.

PigeonThe bird table / window ledge I made last week (of which this isn’t a picture, this is a pigeon that was unimpressed by the cherry blossom) is now sporting a wealth of vegetation, with lavender, parsley and assorted flowers now bringing a great splash of delicious green to our bedroom / winter workspace. The birds remain happy, devouring all the food I put out for them. It’s not uncommon for up to 14 sparrows to be seen fighting over the seed. I was going to live-stream some video from it yesterday, but it seems the birds realised that – and boycotted the event. I guess they’re not happy with being paid peanuts.

My efforts to create a large network of friends in Tokyo continues to be a great success. This week I was fortunate to attend a party at the Appliya offices – Appliya being a rising star amongst iPhone / iPod touch developers. It was inspiring to hear about their culture of creativity, and to meet so many individuals who are doing what their passion inspires them to do. (I also got an interview for the upcoming podcast with Genkii, who were all over the news earlier this week with their 3D virtual world for the iPhone).

I also met up with Karamoon, an online acquaintance of several years who, until now, I’d never met. He’s working hard to bring about a Tokyo BarCamp [@tokyobarcamp – this is a very exciting project and I’m sure will be a great success. I’d encourage others interested in technology in Tokyo to attend, especially those who’ve not been to a Barcamp before now.

Cherry BlossomYesterday *Twinkle* and I hosted a little cherry blossom party – unfortunately we were a week early so the cherry blossoms that fill the entire glass-doored wall to our East were yet to bloom (although as can be seen it’s only going to be a couple of days before they do). Yesterday also so saw the Himonya Park Cherry Blossom festival take place – all around the pond were groups eating and drinking on the traditional blue tarps. There was dancing, a display by the fire brigade, food stalls, drumming, and a plant sale.

International boat race - the German / Japanese teamOh, and an International Boat Race: England vs. Germany vs. Japan! Germany, represented by our good friend Daniel, won by a mile. Well, by about 300 metres. England (me) were second, and Japan (our neighbours) took a relaxing detour around the fountain.

Last night I attended the sayonara (goodbye) party of a good friend @papadimitriou, someone whom in a very short space of time I’ve found to be a great source of inspiration. Whilst at the party we remembered that we were supposed to be taking part in the weekly podcast Japan Tech Talk – kudos to our host Robert in Nagoya for dealing with the drunken rabble that called in! [photo courtesy Andrew Shuttleworth]

The podcast is coming on. I’ve uploaded the first mp3 file – it’s not an episode in itself, just a kind of promo – although it’s real purpose is actually to establish the feeds and entry in the iTunes podcast directory. I’ll let you know what it is when Apple are done reviewing it.

The live-streaming marathon all went very well. I’ll be posting a video review of that once I, er, well, hang on, I think we need a new section…


MAC / PC CORNER

…manage to edit the video.

Don’t tell my old MacBook, but it’s soon to be replaced.

I say ‘old’, but actually the only old bit about it is the motherboard – virtually every other part has been replaced at least once during the last 18 months. I’m replacing it as a) the small screen makes audio / video editing difficult, and b) it just doesn’t have the power I need for editing videos – the other morning I spent a good deal of time editing a multi-track video in Screenflow, only to lose all my work when my macbook ran out of memory and panicked. Even editing RAW files from my Nikon DSLR in Adobe Lightroom has been causing problems lately, with regular hangs when processing those that I uploaded to Flickr yesterday. With over 20,000 photos in my iPhoto09 library, loading that takes forever too (just since the upgrade from 08) – meaning I’m reluctant to look at my photos.

Macbook ProMy new baby will be a bit of beast: the 17″ Macbook pro. I’ll be going for the default 4GB of RAM etc. They claim the battery lasts up to 7 hours – I’ll be putting that to the test when it arrives next month. My current MacBook will be passed on to *Twinkle*. She doesn’t seem all that thrilled, even though I insist that it’s basically ‘new’ due to all the repairs it’s had!

We also have another new Mac in the family (inherited from my sister-in-law) – an old iBook G4 (1Ghz/640mb) with a broken DVD drive. Having bought an external DVD drive for it I’ve been able to install Leopard – it runs no problem, although admittedly we’re only using it for the internet and iTunes. I plan to use that as our live stream server when the birds are feeling co-operative.

This means we now have a spare Toshiba laptop …which has just found a new home following an accident my friend had yesterday with a cup of water and their own laptop.

Anyway, I’ve long wanted to get into video production, but without a powerful-enough computer for anything other than the simplest of edits it’s something I’ve held back on. I look forward to branching out into this field with the arrival of the new one.


Another field I’ll be branching out into is singing jazz.

Yes, I know, I can’t sing (I’ll be making a point of this in our podcast).

Yesterday, one of our cherry-blossom guests, a chap in his early 50s, spotted my Samson Condenser Mic and became interested in what I was doing. Turns out he has a ton of studio gear, and regularly produces CDs for local jazz bands. For some reason he asked me to go along to the next session and see what it was like – and then (following practice) to record a song myself!

I’ve often wanted to be a singer, despite not being able to sing. I’d like to take lessons – but it’s not enough of a priority at the moment.

Oh, one final thing – I’m currently listening to Miracle In The Andes. It’s a powerful story. Shocking, gripping, inspiring.

Anyway, I’d best be off. Since I started writing this post I’ve actually cancelled my voluntary work, need to focus.

Incidentally, we have beautiful blue skies in Tokyo today, it is just glorious.

tarra.

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.

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 🙂

I’m marrying *Twinkle* in 15 days


Ha. Everything but the girl. Nice.

Last week I upgraded my Macbook’s hard-drive to the 320GB Toshiba MK3252GSX. At £66 it was a bargain, and being a Macbook the upgrade can be done on the kitchen table in about three minutes.

One result of this is that I can now fit my entire music collection on my laptop – I used to just carry a small selection, whilst my main library was on an external drive that was a bit of a bore to plug in. This week I’ve been stuck on the playlist “Not played recently”, and wow, what a treat it has been. What a wonderful gift music is. Rediscovering all this old stuff that I’ve not heard in ages. Pink Floyd. Everything But the Girl. Genesis. Beth Orton. Joni Mitchell. Dick Gaughan. Nick Drake.

Another result of the upgrade is that I’ve rediscovered my video collection which, like my music, had been languishing on an external drive. I was staggered to find that I have 567 home-movies, many of which I haven’t seen in years. My favourites were those taken in the first few months of my relationship with *Twinkle* (I haven’t shot so many since then). She’s so funny, and so cheeky. Watching those really brings it home to me why I love her so much. I wrote a little while back about a difficult patch we were going through then, and how we had ‘lost touch with one another’s realities.”

After 6 months apart, the love I feel for her is not grounded in or dependent upon any physical realm. It’s not her cutey looks, her kind words or her personality. It’s underground, it’s her spirit, her ‘soul’. That’s been so important, as when there’s ripples across the surface, I just look below – the water is calm, rich, full of life.

Thus, watching those videos of her in hysterics due to me looking terrible in a photo that she’d just taken of me (etc) have been a great reminder of just what a joy it is to be with her on a ‘superficial’ level. She is so lovely to hang out with, and I can hardly believe that I have been so fortunate as to be destined to be her husband. I mean seriously, I can hardly believe that someone who fits so perfectly with the ‘girl of my dreams’ is coming to the UK next week to marry me. It’s a miracle!

I have a lot to thank Sheffield uni for, and a lot to thank the world in general for.

Thank you world

(now please tell Apple to get on with the MobileMe launch. .mac was due offline 9 minutes ago but it’s still working!).

Generosity, and packing for Japan

Been a funny old day today. Everything’s been out of context. Started with being woken by my mobile. I get an average of one phone call a week, so it startles me even if when I’m already awake. My friend had a puncture, meeting might be delayed. I can sleep in a bit. Tired after last night’s coaching call, finished that at 1.30am. It’s almost the end of the course, more change there. Good change. Change is good.

But hang on, it didn’t start with that phone call. No, it started with what happened the night before. It was about 11pm, and I was unpacking my bag. Earlier in the day a friend of mine (another student) who I’m probably not going to see for a long long time after this week handed me an envelope: “Look after it, and open it when you get home”.

When I did open it, I gasped. Inside was a beautiful handmade card with a lovely message, and inside that, a number of bank notes. I was stunned, and tears came to my eyes. This was an act of supreme generosity, utterly unexpected. I was completely thrown by it, and spent some time feeling lost in the kitchen talking to myself.

I contacted them, communicating my feelings. They reassured me. Boy am I grateful. Thank you so much.

This act of generosity made me think a lot about giving and receiving, and reinforced for me the importance of giving in my life.


This afternoon I was on Three Seeds business, Three Seeds being our online publishing company. Met up with our marketing adviser, who, in a nice way, pointed out all of the flaws in our plans. I was very grateful for that – better to hear it from him than someone whose business we are looking for (or the judges at next week’s competition final). We need to do some serious thinking about where we want this business to go. It would be a shame to bring it so far (we’re now in testing) and not see it to the launch. It’s a shame we lost two months to the first company we approached, but no doubt the reason for that will come to light in due course.

Tonight I’ve been starting to pack for Japan. I move out of here next Tuesday, but will be heading down to London on Friday for a rather special meeting with a high-profile businessman from Japan (I hope I can still speak Japanese!), so basically I need to prepare for the move now. I’m taking a lot of stuff to the charity shops: stationary, kitchen ware, small bits of ‘furniture’, books, women’s clothing.

Whilst I’ve moved every year since about 1999, this is the most important move yet. I won’t be coming back to live in the UK for a long time, so decisions need to be made about stuff that means a lot to me, but has little practical use, or can be bought in Japan for less than the cost of postage to Japan.

I’m down to about ten books. Ten books that have changed my life in various ways. All the rest have gone to Oxfam. I have quite a few things that have been given to me as gifts by friends over the past 15 years, but serve no purpose other than to look pretty and remind me of them. It’s tough parting with these things, but I know that my relationships with these people are not ultimately contained within these objects. It’s time for someone else to provide a temporary home for them.

I’m so glad that the vast majority of my photos are digitised. If my collection of 20,000+ were in the form of prints and negatives I really don’t think I could justify shipping them over. As it is, they just occupy an eighth of my Macbook’s (320GB) hard drive. Handy that. Hurrah for technology.

*Twinkle*s getting closer. 15 days. Can’t quite come to terms with that. Kind of scary. It means we’re getting married soon.

This morning I did a bit more wedding organisation. Booking rent-a-cars, and a hotel for *Twinkle* and I in Windsor, where we’ll stay the night before she returns to Japan. It’s all going to happen so soon. In a month she’ll be back in Japan, and I’ll be back here at Sheffield, learning how to teach.

Ho hum.

Well, best be off. I need to sleep – tomorrow is my last day working for CILASS (probably!). A group of people from Hong Kong have come to the UK to tour learning environments – I’m one of the Sheffield Students providing the student p.o.v. on the IC.

Nighty night.