August 3, 2015
I accept the acceleration of the passage of time that comes with growing older. But, as a part-time university teacher in Japan, there’s a more insidious time suck to deal with. Once upon a time, the last university classes of the semester would come around just after Independence Day - that’s July 4th for you non-Americans. Now? My last classes are August 6. Semester length has crept up from a nominal 14 weeks (usually 13 or even 12) to a mandatory 15 (or 16) class meetings. Good for education, sure. And, hell, three or four more weeks work, three, four more weeks pay, right? Think again. What other industry gets to squeeze 20-25% more working hours from its employees for zero extra remuneration? That’s right. Salaries for part-time teachers have been frozen (or have gone down) for at least 20 years. All well and good if one was paid on merit, and as one improved his teaching acumen, his salary would increase accordingly. No, no one pays you for teaching better, only more. So, here I am in the swelter of a Kansai summer, buried under the end-of-semester landslide of grading that comes with teaching 18 koma and about 550 students. Not typos.
OK, just needed to get that off my chest. Back to work for me. Meanwhile, you can figure out what Abenomics has done to twist the knife. Time was, each of the hundred yen I eked out here got me $1.20; now it’s $0.80. Consider what that does to your retirement strategy.
But the break is nigh. Chicago and a little Mexico. Some new headphones, new blogs for students, central air, dinosaur-burning private transportation and clear pavement, just a week away. I’ll make it.
And share some cheerier posts. I can almost promise.
June 13, 2015
March 26, 2015
This is what I think.
Our house on the southwest side of Chicago has had bullets come through its roof and through a living room (frontroom, Chicagoans) window. Through the window, through the CD rack, through the wall about a foot above the top of a couch, through the wall, and into my childhood bedroom. Three weeks ago, during my last visit, a young man was shot at the end of our alley (drive-by), at a spot my brother and I drive past each time we go out or come home. At 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon. If you think more guns or easier access to guns are the answer to anything, you are delusional and need help. Please find it.
In summary, America, WTF?
March 8, 2015
At least it's stopped snowing. That's the best I can say today.
Comcast. Colonoscopy prep. Already more than you wanted to know - and sparing you any links. Twenty-four hours from now the word will seem like a better place, I'm sure. At the very least, I can join all Chicagoans in saying goodbye to winter.
Last, please do checkout the latest Two Teachers Talking™ podcast. Good one, despite audio quality at my end.
March 4, 2015
Not exactly what I had in mind. The first several days can be summed up as jet lag and snow shoveling. The jet lag has been pretty rough with pretty much random sleep patterns, and total confusion regarding time, day, and place, and a general fog of stupidity.
Still, friends Bill and Sue abducted me and subjected me to a reflexology massage, which was a novel (and refreshing) experience. I got the chance to meet online colleague/pal Matthew Ward and his gracious wife Cindy Ly who drove up from St. Louis. Matt and I both wrote headphone and audio equipment reviews for Macworld before it imploded, so it was kinda cool for him and his wife to drive up from St. Louis. We had a great Thai dinner, followed by some live music, a rare thing these days. Best part? I was asked for my ID; yes, his wife is a not-so-tall Asian woman who looks very young who might have flagged our group as college students, but I'm over 50, folks. OK, over 60. May you be so fortunate. Matt also generously passed on a Dragonfly DAC, which is GREATLY appreciated. (Thanks, Matt!)
As for the snow, well, Chicago winter: what do you expect? Yes, it's been cold, too. At least I had the wisdom to order my bro a new Sweethome approved snow shovel. Yes, it works well - it moved lots of snow. Otherwise, lots of sleep and all kinds of great unhealthy food, heavy on he bacon. The rental is a very red Ford Fiesta that is surprisingly agile and spunky; fun little scoot.
Ahead? Greektown, kart racing, more old friend get-togethers, dental and medical hijinks, maybe a road trip, and plenty more good food. And, no doubt, more cold and snow. As little work as possible: no papers, no books to write. Maybe some personal writing, and maybe some fretwork on the Strat that Bill so generously lends me when I'm in town. It's supposed to be a vacation.
February 12, 2015
This morning, got a note from some folks, er, actually, one folk who has been working on a refreshed Vivian Maier page. Since I linked to a page with some of her work then, he provided a link to a new Vivian Maier page, with 87 works displayed (and for sale). Great urban photography from the fifties.
Great article here laying out the debacle that is Illinois' Governor Bruce Rauner. Even worse than you could have imagined. Nauseating.
On the brighter side, it's time to get your beads out. It's Mardi Gras time, and February 17 is Fat Tuesday. Laissez les bon temps roulez!
February 8, 2015
Let the date of the previous post stand as testament to how busy I've been. Some will say no one's that busy. But not to my face. No.
Since then Christmas has come and gone and we've begun a new year. After we tried to recover from the disastrous elections back in the US...and in Japan, too. Still trying. A Republican House and Senate back home, and Abe still mucking up things here in Japan. Very depressing.
Well the busy-ness at least is passing and the academic year is at a close. Happy to say I can welcome it free of major worries and stress. Health good for me and those close (mostly), the ground isn't shaking, there's a roof over my head, and there's food on the table. Had a good year of teaching , some wonderful classes and great students. Always grateful for that, especially with the years of that fun running out.
The only heartbreak was totally misreading the pricing of much lusted-after headphones: I blinked and they went off sale and thanks to the weakening yen, the retail price jumped. Even at the "cheap" price they were extravagant, so now, out of the question. No matter; plenty of good gear to last me for a while.
Alison doing her workaholic thing, and, one assumes, enjoying it, though she does have some travel planned that does not involve work. Mostly. The teacher podcast is going well and getting comfortable with both the technicalities and the "performance" of it that I can relax enough to enjoy it - and hopefully that's making it better. If you're a listener, a review on iTunes would be greatly appreciated - and please share the link with teachers or students who you think might be interested.
Have a nice new BIG high-res Dell monitor that is great, but whose high resolution reminds me of the aging and deterioration of my eyesight. Happily, the hearing is holding up, as is almost everything else. Over the holidays, treated myself to a nice roomy 1 TB SSD for the MacBook, so now not only does it mean no stress on what files will and won't fit, but it also means worry-free storage of big fat lossless music files. Nice.
OK, grades for two universities to go, and Chicago-bound soon after that. Cue the old guys (video). Gotta pick up that guitar now...September 24, 2014
Just checking now how I did with the checklist, but it was a great trip, and more needed than I'd realized. Last summer (2013), I left for Chicago and landed a verifiable basket case, stress needle pegged in the red: snapping at friends, just overall exhausted and super-irritable. This year, the need for rest manifested itself early: most of my last week before I left for Chicago is a blackout. I have evidence and receipts of tasks completed that I have no recollection of doing. But, now, mid-September, I can report feeling amazingly better. Yes.
Did I say it was a great trip? It was a great trip. Plenty of chances to kick back, great times with my brother, Dave, and wonderful friends, delicious meals cooked either by me or by others, great weather, lots of driving miles, naps (Naps, friends. Naps.), and so much good. Cooking (Greek! Chinese! Mexicano! Plain ol' 'merican!). Naps. Friends. Naps. The good life, I'm telling you. And, yes, call me crazy, I don't care, then and now I'm enjoying the hell out of these.
Weirdest moment was returning from the Indiana/Michigan trip with Bill and Jerry after visiting and staying with John (THANKS, JOHNNY!). Throw in some autocross (thanks for letting me beat on the Mustang, Bill) and an exceptional visit to the Gilmore Auto Museum (Michigan) cum auto show. Perfect weather, natch. Three old farts let loose on the highways in a nicely set up Mustang. Coming home (luckily I wasn't driving) our left rear tire met with something mean, slicing the middle two inches of the tread down to the casing. The tire never lost air, but the disintegration of the tread felt like all hell breaking loose from inside the car. So we were left to change the tire on the precariously narrow left shoulder of the inbound Dan Ryan. Ordinarily life threatening, we were "lucky" in that further on up the road, a major accident had occurred and traffic had slowed down to a crawl, making the tire change much safer. Once the spare was on, all we had to do was get home on the CLOSED Dan Ryan. Again, lucky, as I was with two Chicago routemasters. A bittersweet end that enhanced the memory of the rest of the weekend all the more.
Other random thoughts. JAL, you kick ass. Great service, even in in Economy. Ditto Wildfire on Erie in Chicago. OK, call it a tourist trap, but the food was good and the service…the service made me proud to be a Chicagoan and an American. Great evening there with my brother, and thanks to cousin Mark for the gift coupon that sent us there. Nice to have Mariano's in Chicago, replacing Dominick's; it's made Jewel up its game, too. Food shopping at both was very enjoyable; again, really great service. Enjoyed another great show at the City Winery (Alejandro Escovedo and Joe Ely). If one of your favorite artists is appearing there, don't miss a chance to see him/her/them perform in an almost intimate venue. (Los Lobos scheduled for later this fall, but I'm sure too late for tickets.) A little pricey, but worth it.
And, so it ends. Classes have already begun at some schools, and starting Friday, it's full-on again. Luckily, there is a sprinkling of off-days (holidays, university festivals) and the winter vacation to break things up. And Alison is here to share it all with, luckily. OK, we can do this. Again. ヨシ！
August 16, 2014
The Optimist’s Folly - Summer Vacation Plans
Complete more Chicago stories/vignettes for upcoming book
Write bits for Alison’s upcoming journalism textbook
Crunch and upload Two Teachers Talking podcast #54
Catch up on Instapaper and Reading List backlog
Read Alison’s anniversary present: The Audio Expert: Everything You Need to Know About Audio, by Ethan Winer
Play some guitar (thanks for use of the Strat, Bill!)
Wisdom tooth extraction, dental follow-up
Routine eye exam
Eat the hell out of Chicago without gaining too much weight
Crank out paper using recent extended reading data
Shihan and Dojo crew (Osu!)
Car guys (friends from the old X1/9 Club of Chicago)
Rita men (HS friends from St. Rita): Taste of Greektown
LAS ladies (colleagues from UIC Liberal Arts & Sciences)
JACSW ladies (colleagues from UIC and Addams College of Social Work) Opaa! Greektown again.
Grill whole lotta meat with brother Dave
Joe Ely and Alejandro Escobedo at City Winery with brother Dave
Catch up for a beer with homie Dave Step while he visits Chicago, too
Drive the wheels off the rental Ford Focus
Spend at least one quiet day reading (and snoozing) at the beach
Burn in a new pair of very nice headphones (HiFiMan HE-500i - poor me)
Help brother with repairs and stuff at the old Wood St. home
Miscellaneous shopping for return to Japan (clothes, toiletries)
August 9, 2014
Ah, the semester ends.
Extra bonus: the approaching typhoon, while it brings plenty of rain, also brings some wonderfully livable temperatures.
Happy to be going back? Fuck yeah.
June 8, 2014
And seemingly, shazaam, just like that, the semester is half over. We’ve gotten this far without any of the hellish heat and humidity sure to come, though there have been a few uncomfortable days. Necessarily, there’s not a lot to report; life here during the semester is pretty much just work. Very lucky this year in that for all my 17 classes, I have no “bad” ones. Two classes did succumb to the institutional culture of their university, and that’s unfortunate, but they were surprisingly pleasant enough for the first seven weeks. As for the rest…all I can do is be grateful.
Mid Golden Week. I remember the amazement my first year here in Japan at the number of holidays these “worker ants” were given. No matter, I’ll take all I can get.
April 4, 2014
Can it be? Can it be the last, absolute last day of the break? Does spring semester really begin tomorrow? Adding to the sadness is not only the usual moving on of favorite students (yes, I admit it) from one year to another, but, also, this being a year in which quite a few of my very favorite students have graduated. Godspeed all, I wish you the best. I will miss you.
Still, BUY THE BOOK!
March 12, 2014
Happy Birthday, Word Wide Web! (OK, so I'm a little early...)
March 3, 2014
FINALLY, IT'S OUT: A Quick and Dirty Guide to the Japanese Meeting. So close to completion for so long, I finally found the couple of days to put the finishing touches on the book before leaving Japan. Very useful guide for anyone who'll be involved in Japanese-style meetings.
December 27, 2013
Looking back at 2013, and trying to ignore my country’s (and Japan’s) continued wrong-headedness in clinging to conservative (i.e., radical right wing) ideology, not a total disaster. First and foremost, the year has been almost free of personal loss: the angel of death and his minions have been merciful this year, and for that I am truly grateful.
September 26, 2013
The end of the summer break is here. Have had some classes as early as last week, but today is the last scheduled day of the break. Classes tomorrow (Friday) and full on from Monday. Despite some scary wind, it's a nice one - sunny, dry, not too warm. Naturally spending most of the day preparing for classes, though did get some podcast listening in. Even the text is turning brown.
Never got to the Japanese meeting book, and never got to writing any fiction. Have begun talks with Dave Clough about a project revolving around his Empty Bowl Ramen Tour. It'll be an interesting challenge if it comes about. Been feeling the pinch of Twitter's 141 characters of late, and App-dot-net's audience isn't quite developed yet, so toying with the idea of making this page a bit more blog-like. Workflow looks to be a pain, though, so not sure how well that will work out. But that's the explanation for what is likely to be a much higher frequency of rant here.
Speaking of which, lets just make quick mention of the bozos still unable to accept the fact that Apple has another round of hits with the new iPhones and the horror of the US GOP. As for the latter, I can't decide which is their most loathsome aspect - the cynicism, the stupidity, the heartlessness, or the pure evil. Just a venomous infection plaguing the country. Oh, and no, I won't forget the Abe-Ishihara-Hashimoto act from Japan, either; what an amazing feat to lure the Olympics into the radioactive disaster of central Japan. Oh, yes, I'm sure it'll all be fine by 2020. Oh, yes.
But plenty more of that, with choice examples to follow.
September 16, 2013
Reworking words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs so they all hang and flow just right. Massaging images taken with my Nikon P7000, reframing, tweaking. Fiddling forever with audio recording apps, filters, and mics, getting the settings just so for the next podcast. Discovery, learning, mastery, joy. Creation.
If I can, I'll try to get down my thoughts on the 2020 Olympics. Meanwhile, those of you in Japan or anyone interested in the radiation sitiation here, this app that uses user uploaded data to plot radition levels: Safecast.
August 28, 2013
Today ends Phase 1 of the vacation…the part that I have "to myself." Which means, catching up with work (grades, headphone reviews…never got to finishing the book or getting ready for the upcoming semester, dentist, ophthalmologist, catching up with friends, getting more than five hours of sleep. It's been packed, helping my brother buy his new car, having a hell of weekend at the Dream Cruise in Detroit with some of my very best friends, cranking out a 4000 word six headphone roundup, and just being in America, Chicago, again. For a great change from the Osaka sauna, almost nothing but wonderful weather the whole time I've been here. And central air for those days when it got a little warm.
July 21, 2013
Summer days. Spring semester "winding down." If there ever were a less accurate expression of reality, I haven't heard it. Only the glimmer of the break a couple of weeks ahead lightened the intense workload of these last weeks. Just very lucky so many of my classes and students truly are a joy. Love 'em.
Grilling as I type: brats, burgers, ribs, chicken. Menu for tonight and the week ahead, as there's only time for microwave meals come Mondays. But this shit is GOOD.
Down on the streets below, neighborhood groups are practicing for this Thursday's Tenjin Matsuri…in full dress. They've got their shorts and happi coats, their drums and tong-tinglers, their wheeled danjiri, their goofy chant…local color out the wazoo, and a great background soundtrack to the sizzling heat, supplemented by Japan's cacophonic semi (cicadas). Several years hence, all that will be replaced with Nativity and Crucifixion re-enactments, Quinceañera galas, and Day of the Dead fun. So, yes, appreciating it all. No Alison Fest this year for the matsuri, and while sad for her, I have to say the prospect of coming home from a hot hard day of work toward the end of a hot hard week of work to a house- and balcony-ful of guests is, conservatively, daunting. We'll have dinner and drinks alone together out on the terrace and enjoy the fireworks of one of Japan's Big Three festivals. All I need to do is navigate my home through the hordes clogging the trains, station platforms, and streets. Each year I end up arguing with the police doing traffic control to let me walk home; they keep trying to direct me into the crowds packing the Ogawa (Oh River) banks for the big display. It's something. It's really Japan, or as close as you'll ever get.
Also, just a PSA, if you're looking for headphones, Sony MDR-7506. OK, if you're a golden-ear audiophile, I look forward to discussing that with you, but for 99.9% of the folks out there (and I include myself there), these are as good as you need. Period. Is there better out there? Yeah. More expensive? Yeah. Can one hear the difference? Maybe. Just make these your next cans and enjoy the music. Hate Sony? Try of these: Sennhieser HD280 Pro (best bass), Shure SRH440 Pro (neutral and flat), Grado SR60i (detail and texture at the expense of strong bottom - odd price jump: they were $70 a week or two ago). All under $100. I'll be writing about some of these for Macworld/TechHive soon.
OK, papers and projects to grade, tests to make, and so on. But first, back to the grill, the heat, and the matsuri revelers. Stay cool, all.
And, Happy Birthday, little brother!
July 6, 2013
Maybe the worst time of the year here (except for the 24 hours that is my birthday): oppressive heat and humidity, the end of semester crunch concurrent with a long spell without a day off, and a perversely demanding teaching load all weigh heavily. While cohabiting with someone under similar strain. And her aging cat. And a mildew-ridden air conditioner.
It will get better.
And it is, even now.
The podcast going strong, and, if I dare to say so, getting better. Health and home doing as well as can be expected given the cumulative workloads. Quest for the sweet spot in sound reproduction paying dividends with some new favorite headphones and in-ear monitors. Maybe drinking less and enjoying it more. Fee like I'm teaching at the top of my game, getting great feedback and feel from the students.
Of course, congratulations to the ice gods, the Chicago Blackhawks.
May 2, 2013
Holey moley, a whole month and change.
Of course, a new semester and academic year is underway, noted because, as do schoolchildren, teachers measure the passage of time by the school term. I benefitted from a lucky draw, with sixteen of eighteen classes being pretty good. One of those two classes is still a herd of deer staring into the headlights of my tutelage going on week four, and the other a bevy of young ladies with terminal sophomoritis. I should also mention the one very sad, extremely shy girl who is not doing very well at all recovering from what must be some unimaginable trauma. Last, I am finally implementing digital submission of student work. Yes, Japan, 2013. And, yes, I am finding myself teaching the subtleties and nuances of such high tech voodoo as email attachments and SUBJECT fields.
So much work. Good thing I love it.
My brake foot has finally recovered from the bizarre kart racing injury I inflicted on myself in Chicago. Weirdest thing. Also, learned that, after much serious deliberation, that, in fact, the difference between a 12mm and a 9mm buzz cut is much less than what you think 3mm looks like, and is invisible to anyone other than the wearer. The podcast going well, and pretty happy with the last few. Just and the chance to configure a slick TextExpander snippet to streamline my biweekly wrestling with the XML feed file.
A cool spring here in Osaka, no complaints. Not happy at all about the largish earthquake a few weeks ago, the biggest I've experienced since what I think of as the big one in 1995. No injury or damage (well, small stuff), but not a nice way to wake up.
Golden Week is here, which means, mostly, a chance to catch up and, hopefully, get ahead with (wait for it) work. One of the projects loaded in the chamber is a pile of headphones to review. No diamonds to reveal, but if you are unafflicted with audiophilism, there is a real bargain to be had with these Monoprice cans. I'll let you be surprised at the price. Your free tip.
March 27, 2013
Procrastinating my taxes makes me so productive. The Detroit Road Trip pics are up, the Japanese Meeting book is ready for proofreading, my next two headphone roundups for Macworld are outlined, and I'm sketching out ideas for the next book, which will most likely be the first of two, maybe three memoir/fictions about growing up on Chicago's south side. Working title: Then and There. Spreadsheets and class plans for the new semester just falling into place. Now I hear my guitar calling me...
March 21, 2013
Happy Vernal Equinox!
Just a bit of shameless self-promotion, as FINALLY, the Us and Them book is available on amazon's Kindle Store, both in the US and in Japan.
Get it here:
March 16, 2013
BTW, this crew on Japan Airlines 009 (3/14) ROCKS. American, United should be ashamed.
OK, Japan, Wifus™, students, here I come, tank full, batteries charged. I'm back.
February 20, 2013 - Sweet home Chicago
OK, got here. It's the coldest day of the season. And the forecast is for more of the same. Until it snows. Nice welcome home, Chicago. No matter, the old family home is toasty, and between the weather and jet lag, I am a virtual productivity nuclear reaction. Witness, the Russia photos.
February 19, 2013 - Goin' home
No net access on this flight, but here I am at 5,000 feet somewhere over the northern Pacific headed home. Always nice. Plenty of work to get done there while "on vacation" but lots of play to look forward to: Detroit with the guys, some kart racing scheduled, real, real Mexican fare with the high school gang, Greektown with friends/colleagues from the UIC days...and driving.
February 13, 2013 - Month two
The classes have finally stopped, and this morning I submitted the last of my grades. The schedule shifts from daily commutes to considerably more keyboard time: proofreading, headphone reviews, work on the books, etc. Finally found the missing link at lulu.com so now I can track sales of my Us and Them; not that there's much to track. Amazon.com's Kindle Store is STILL unable to handle non-Roman characters (my calendar says 2013…) and Apple's iBooks store in Japan isn't due open until later in the year, so I'm effectively blocked from my market. Still, getting an ebook out on my own was a great learning experience, and SOMEDAY that Japanese Meeting book will make it out there.
January 22, 2013 - It begins again
A new year and 6% over already. Even my iPhone battery does better than that. Seems the weather is a bit weird all over the world, but here in Kansai, it's pretty much the usual winter-wanna-be: nothing that would ever be called winter where I come from, but just cold and windy enough to provoke one to bitching about it. I could start on Japanese house construction, but I'll spare you.
As usual, last year's posts are archived at the bottom of the page in case you need to call me out on something you swear I said last year. If you're really bored, you can go back to 2006 and see what life here was like then. Me? Chicken.
Wrapping up another academic year here, so even thought the tick-over rituals are long over for folks outside Japan, I'm still caught up in a second wave of last/next turn over. Some classes and students I'm really going to miss, maybe a lot. To some, of course, I'm happy to say "sayonara." (Because "goodbye" is too good a word, of course.)
Looking back, at the last year, the travel really stands out: Cambodia, Vietnam, Russia, Guam, and, yes, my beloved home, Chicago. Managed to keep all my teaching and proofreading work, which is great. Most outside of Japan don't understand that being a part-time university teacher is very much a freelance/ronin affair; you're pretty much on your own. Labor laws ostensibly passed meant to help folks like me have moved employers to change their "contracts" to exploit gaping loopholes, leaving us bent way over grabbing our ankles in even more pain than before. But that's the nature of war. Don't like it, don't enlist.
Balancing that was the launch of our Two Teachers Talking podcast, which is a hoot. Lots of work? Yes. Revenue? Zero. That may or may not change in the future, but it's still fun.
Coming up soon (I hope) will be the Japanese meeting book, as will a (mandatory) re-release of the Us and Them book. Let's hope amazon figures out how to handle non-roman characters in books in its Kindle Store. I'm not making this up.
How nice to see a sign of life in the Democratic Party in the US, though I might be mistaking that for a death wish among the opposition. I guess the lesson is whether it's national or local (Chicago/Rahm), it never pays to expect too much from your elected officials. Don't fool yourself that it's only the US. Jesus H. F. Christuminus, just look at the Japanese equivalent: Abe as Prime Minister and Hashimoto as Mayor of Osaka. There you go! Load up the expletives, friends. For now, I'll just enjoy the afterglow of the Obama Inauguration.
But, my life right now is tests, scoring, grading, syllabi…keeping FIVE academic institutions happy with their assorted bureaucratic needs that must not be neglected.
Us and Them - Buy my book!
Two Teachers Talking - Podcast with Charles Wiz focusing on teaching English in Japan, and on education and learning in general.
Good morning, Москва. "The Japanese Meeting," and "Topics-Based English Classes in Japanese Universities." Two presentations at The University of Vladimir in Vladimir, Russia. September 2012.
Rita Men Podcast. An ongoing oral history of our days at St. Rita High School, 1967-1971. WAY more interesting than you think. Hope to have the first episodes up in September.
on my iPhone (music
books being read or I wished were:
better in theory
*Stolen from Esquire