December 14, 2011

So begins what nay be the last entry of 2011. As usual, the year's collection will be archived and remain available through a link at the bottom of the page. Links to previous year's entries are there, too.

I imagine I must have been as tired as I am now at some point in my life before, but I can't remember it. Don't remember falling asleep WHILE WALKING before, stone, cold sober. Serious tired. But the holiday is less than two weeks away, and with it comes sleep. Thank you, Santa!

It's too late now, as the SOPA vote is tomorrow, but fingers crossed Congress's collective head isn't too far up its ass. Speaking of heads up asses, exactly how far up was Heritage/AEI's when it barfed up its report?

On the other hand, here's what should be an obvious, common-sense suggestion to try what worked so well in the past to build a strong middle class.

There'll be plenty of best-of lists to wade through in the coming weeks, but here's a collection not to be missed: most powerful photos of 2011. Aptly named, so be forewarned.

Oh, alright, if you must know, yes, there is something you can send me for Christmas. You don' have to, you know, but I appreciate the thought.

Happy shopping and Merry Christmas! Please remember in your own way those less fortunate this holiday season.

November 23, 2011

Inexplicably, it's already Thanksgiving week. Regardless of how we may have gotten here, take a moment to reflect on all the good around you for which you should be truly grateful. Hell, it looks like even our man in the White House may have gotten a stay, what with old Newt emerging as a GOP front-runner and possible 2012 opponent. Can't ask for a better present than that. This weekend we'll be the guests of some of our gracious friends in nearby Nara for what has become a Thanksgiving tradition; turkey, football, and even the Bears on DVD. Just like the real thing, only 6000 miles west. In the East. You know. Can't wait. Wifus™ and I will also have a mini-feast of our own on Wednesday, a holiday of its own here in Japan, with even more bird 'n' fixin's. (I hope it's not too late, but beware that old bird in the freezer.) Plus, here's a great piece about how gratitude is good for you.

Work seems to be mostly secure for the next year, at least, and climate change hasn't yet wreaked too much havoc on Kansai. The earth beneath us has been relatively calm, too, though one can never take that for granted. Not-so-distant Hiroshima got rocked by a 5.3 shake last night, for example. Nothing felt here.

I love my job, I really do, but, like Taylor Mali, I'll kick your ass if you in any way dis what happens in my classroom. But it CAN be very hard, and some people are feeling it - and that's in a country where teachers are fairly well-respected, if not well-paid. Also interesting is this bit on the city in Japan I've chosen to live in.

Among creative tasks and associated chores, I'm beginning to move this pack-rat of a web site to a new home, GoDaddy. Tried to enlist FatCow as the host, but gave up arguing with a computer telling me my last email did not contain the identity verifying attachments I knew it did. So, a couple of bucks saved. GoDaddy is the biggest, and I figure it got that way for a reason; the fact that its retrosexual CEO and advertising rile so many political correctos is just icing.

More fun is the any-day-now web debut/rebirth of Autocross Ace, Jerry Galkowski's graphic creation depicting a unique view of autocross in the eighties. Yes, I know most of you don't care and even fewer will understand. It's art, philistines, I can't help it if you don't get it.

Allow me to deal a kick here at Consumer Reports. I can't say they're idiots, however much I'd like to. Nevertheless, their continued viability baffles me; how do they stay in business? When the iPhone 4 came out, they panned it for a non-existent antenna issue. With the release of the 4S, they now recommend it…even though the 4S has serious battery issues. Way to go, geniuses. I remember when they panned the handling of one of the best handling sports cars ever (the mid-engined Fiat X1/9) because when, at 50 mph, you cranked the steering wheel 90º to the right and let go, yup, the car responded to that input. OK, I relent. They're idiots.

Definitely not an idiot is this craftsman lovingly making some wonderful cutlery. Just watching is good for the soul. Noteworthy, though in a very different way, are more reports of those speed limit breaking neutrinos, one from the Post and the other from Wired. I still think they're cheating.

Lots of grateful folks in these two items, bittersweet, both. The first deals with the problems vets are having on their return after deployment in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Mid-East. The second is an indulgence on my part, some happier moments of return, in addition to the final argument for the superiority of dogs over cats. Warning, you'll probably cry, so choose an appropriate time and place. And, while Veterans' Day has passed, these pictures will remind us, and make us grateful for, the sacrifices of out fathers and grandfathers. Thanks to Rich in West Chicago for those.

And, last, let's be grateful for the right we have to engage in this kind of exchange, and remember that it's a right we need to continue to fight for.

November 6, 2011

Goodbye, October. You will not be missed. A month filled with memories of the passing of many close to me, and not improved this year. November has it's bad spots, as well. In caseyou by some chance missed it, the finest Steve Jobs eulogy of them all came from his sister, and if you read only one thing about the passing of Steve Jobs, let it be this. Oh wow, indeed.

And in that spirit, we move on.

There's plenty to keep our attention in the wacky political world, as well. Wanna talk taxes? Take a look at W vs. Obama on the issue. The Occupy movement is making some welcome noise, and hopefully awakening some of the 99% to who the real villains are in their plight. Whatever you think of the Occupy methods, it's hard to argue with rational observation. Or with this analysis of the very disturbing wealth polarization afflicting our country. Several other economic myths get debunked here - highly recommended: learn something.

On the Japan front, some amazing then and now photos of the earthquake-tsunami site in Tohoku. Remember that the proceeds of this collection of donated stories (one of them mine) go to the victims.

On a lighter note, unless you're waking up in an unknown location after a night of over-imbibing, a scientific look at that beer-goggle effect. You know what I mean. If that hangover is making you feel your years a bit more than usual, this discovery may provide some hope. And, to end with a little wholesome reverie into the past, with a passing nod to the end of baseball season, batter up!

October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011

We all knew we'd miss you, but we had no idea how much. Thank you for all you did for our world.

September 28, 2011

Damn. Classes beginning (and not even looking at a full week ahead) and the only word I have to describe my state is exhaustion. It seems that the necessary multitasking of the past week of returning to Japan, catching up from the first semester, prepping for the fall semester, and holding the home life together has drained me faster than Skype drains an iPhone's battery. Brothers and sisters, let me say that today I was way too much on the side of "meh" to go to the liquor store across the street to stock up on beer. Serious straits, let me say.

And that's not even accounting for the battering that awaits when one lifts one's head for a second. The comi-tragic horror of the GOP debates, the continued implosion of the world economy, and damned if some rogue neutrinos are guilty of exceeding the absolute speed limit. Hard times, I tell ya.

Luckily, I have a store of good memroies from the summer break, and many of those are being kept alive by my, get this, reading a book. Yes, that is part of the multi-tasking I referred to above, and with the 21st century miracle that is the iPad, I am forcing myself to actually read a book. No, it will never win an ward, but it's a car book and very readable, which puts it in a very special, small category. It's The Last Open Road, by Burt Levy, and it's filled with randy tales of coming of age in the dawn of the sports car era, filled with famous names and hallowed car meccas, such as Elkhart Lake and Watkins Glen, and filled with busted knuckles and grease. You can almsot smelll the rubber, exhaust, and beer. Great storytelling, even if the prose is a bit, er, amtaeurish. Even Jay's a fan.

Rather a special day today. One of the last days before full resumption of fall classes, and a blessedly wonderful one, weather-wise. Sunny, 80, soft breeze, and an occasional cooling cloud. Used it to work, of course, but not without a little break to finish the Levy book. Also managed a little quality time with my Mac, and with the help of John Gruber (see below), rid my machines of Flash. (Thanks for the reminder, Ron!) They seem happy and grateful. Provision securement from the local supermarket and liquor store, with a tsaty meal for Wifus ™ coming up later - nice fresh shabu-shabu pork salad. No, not Polk Salad. Oh, and just look at the goodies on the right hand side of that YuTube page, would ya? There goes an hour you'll never get back.

Any Waits fans out there? Three for you: Tom Waits singing "God's Away On Business," the lyrics, and the Cookie Monster version. And, a bonus for all my friends, Waits reading Bukowski.

Finally, a little beauty from Japan, or, at least the changing Japanese perception of beauty, the female kind.

But, as I said, it's a special day. I'm going to try to get all I can out of it.

September 15, 2011

As far as I can tell, I'm being buffeted by turbulence somewhere over Alaska, heading back to Osaka (via possibly still glowy Narita), after a very nice, hard-earned vacation in sweet home Chicago. The change in scenery is always welcome, but there's always something special about getting back home for a bit. I guess "home" is the operative word there; it means getting emotional when just looking at a map of the city. I feel very fortunate to have that and all it entails: friends, family, memories, sense of place, identity. I now lots of ex-pats here in Japan who don't, and maybe can't even understand what I mean, or why I "waste" my two semester breaks on visits back home in lieu of more exotic getaways.

Had great weather throughout, Chicago style, ranging from 97ºF on the day Wifus™ arrived (great for some outdoor pool time), to a brief but dramatic midwest US thunderstorm, to dry, cool pre-autumn perfection. Plenty busy, too, including the usual paint and maintenance of the family estate in Chicago's Back of the Yards, a couple of great car events with old sports car club friends and even Wifus™, great get-togethers with old friends, and eating way, way too much of Chicago's wonderful gustatory offerings. Got almost zero work done, aside from two "must do" proofreading jobs.

Housework included prepping and painting a complex hallway, gutter maintenance, and an aborted attempt at a garage door opener installation. The opener just wouldn't fit given the door/rafter alignment/configuration. Cooked all kinds of very unhealthful wonderfulness for post-midnight consumption with the bro while watching B-movies and film noir sub-classics. Among the first outings were the now traditional Taste of Greece with my great old high school crew and a second Greektown gorge with my former colleagues from UIC-LAS. A less joyous event was a visit to a dear old friend losing a battle with Parkinson's, buffered a bit by a following lunch in the Pilsen area with more former UIC colleagues. Margarita's, yes, perfect weather, yes. Bad with the good, pain and joy, accept the feelings.

As mentioned, Wifus™ was able to squeeze in a visit to Chicago as well this time, after spending some time with her family in Oregon, Boise, and Denver. I introduced her to kart racing, where she acquitted herself very well, impressing the hell out of my racing friends. No, she didn't beat me, but it was closer than I'd have liked. I also arranged a small early birthday surprise for her. She loves planes, so I got her an introductory flying lesson, in which she flew a small (4-seat) Cessna for most of an hour-long flight over Chicago's northern suburbs and up and down it's lakefront. Yes, I was in the plane. No, no extra pants laundering was required. There were also two family events, a lunch and a wake, so she also finally had a chance to meet some extended family members on both my mother's and father's sides.

In addition to the karting, there were a couple of other car events that were a wonderful contrast to my life in Japan. One was the annual Orphan Picnic, for cars that have been orphaned from the US market, and the other was a great Wisconsin weekend that included a day at Elkhart Lake's Road America Historical Races and a second day at the Wisconsin Dells. Perfect weather, great old cars, track/bar dining adventures, boat tours, and best friends. Spice with a brisk run home covering 180 miles in 2.5 hours for a 72 mph average in a rental Toyota; no Cannonball hijinks, just competent modern motoring, maybe of the kind to become history not too far into the future. (The record remains a gonzo run about ten years back in a rental Neon, with an average speed about 8 mph faster.)

Of course, none of this occurred in a vacuum, and vacation or no, the world keeps spinning. This week marked the tenth anniversary of 9/11. When the planes hit, I had just returned to Japan; a friend here in Japan called and told me to turn on the television. Something bad had happened in New York. Indeed. We were all subjected to the media blitz surrounding the memorial, but I still want to point to two of the articles that registered with me. The first is straight, simple, and true, and the second is remarkable not only for the quality of writing, but maybe more so because this is likely the only time I will ever agree with it's author. But he nailed it here, and I gladly offer him his due.

The GOP Tea Party circus continues, embarrassing patriotic Americans at home and abroad. Others have done a better job than I could hope to do chronicling their cynicism, hate, and stupidity, so there are no links here. Either you already understand or you've fallen victim to the mass hysteria spreading over our country, MY country, like a cancer. I will never forgive what they have done, are doing to my country. OK, so the Obama presidency may not have turned out the way you'd hoped. Nevertheless, the crazies must be defeated in 2012. Our country is at stake. Please do what you can.

In a few hours, it will be back to heat and humidity of Kansai and a return to work. No question that I'll miss the freedom, the driving, the weather (!), my brother and friends, the food, the city, but I have no bad feelings about returning to my work. I love my jobs.

Speaking of friends, here's a provocative collection of thoughts on friendship among foreigners and Japanese natives. Collectively, they tell the story much better than I can.

Finally, just for general appreciation for the wacky and absurd, a final bit from Florida, where else?

In St. Petersburg, Florida, a blood-covered, half-naked 22-year-old woman was arrested for biting the face and arm of a 69-year-old man who had been sleeping in a motorized wheelchair in front of a Hooters. "I'm a vampire," the woman said, according to an affidavit. "I am going to eat you."

Planet Earth.

July 18, 2011

I want to thank some people. Most of them don't know me. Yet, they have been a huge part of my life the past few years, and add immeasurably to the quality of existence I enjoy here in Japan. In fact, they have transformed the worst part of living here, the commute, into something most days I actually look forward to. These are my podcast guys.

See, just doing the math on the English-speaking, culturally sympathetic (no soccer, thank you), intelligent, interesting people on the population here tells you most of what you need to know about the chances of finding a good drinking buddy. Factor in a wacko work schedule, and I'm pretty lucky to have a wife that fits the bill (well, there's the soccer and the cat, but I let her slide) plus another friend or two that I can abide.

Several years ago, with the advent of the iPod, I surprised myself (a little) by suddenly listening to a lot more music on the way to and from work. Finding a pair of noise-blocking audiophile-worthy headphones for my little white Nano clinched the deal. What I hadn't expected was to find a whole group of drinking buddies. Well, minus the beer, at least on the commute TO work. Luckily beer and chu-hai are available at almost every train station for the ride home, and the podcasts, a cold beer, and the ability to tend to email and Twitter almost make up for the lack of a decent sports car to get me to and from work. Almost.

My selection is eclectic and personal; I don't expect my choices to be yours, and maybe podcasts aren't for you at all. Maybe you prefer to music to read by, or for critical listening. Perhaps your taste runs to audiobooks, or the very short podcasts Wifus™ is partial to. Or, maybe you're a Luddite.

So, for what it's worth, meet my commuting friends. I'll be clipping all these comments to their iTunes review sections, too. Someday. Hopefully when these spring semester classes finally and mercifully come to an end. In no particular order:

Back to Work - Part of Dan Benjamin's 5X5 podcast group, this one features the sometimes dysfunctional but always satisfyingly intelligent Merlin Mann focusing on getting stuff done. Rambling, fast-paced, self-referential, just like a good bar discussion if you have chosen your drinking buddies carefully. Toss in interesting stuff like diet, self-hacks, meditation, and (holy shit) taking an honest look at yourself, and hey, it's a bracing way to start, or end, the day.

MacGeekGab - The best of the Mac podcasts. There, I said it. The chemistry of two old friends comes through, and both these guys know what they're talking about. Even when they disagree, which is often. And fun. Just geeky enough: not for engineers, but for adept users, it hits the sweet spot. The differences in their personalities adds just enough sweet and sour to make it fun. Lots of solid tips and info for the Mac user. An informed listener base provides interesting problems and solutions.

MacBreak Weekly - Leo LaPorte does all kinds of stuff well. His radio background gives a flow and professional sheen missing in other podcasts. But, Leo, sorry, you're such a douche. You don't listen to other guests's answers before butting in or making an (often) inappropriate joke, and if you hate Apple that much, recuse yourself and go play with your Android phone. Plus you remind me of someone I used to work with that I really would rather not be reminded of. Maybe it's the California in you. So why listen? Andy Ihnatko. Best insight of anyone into Mac and tech. And, I guess it's good to hear a point of view of an intelligent Apple hater, even if he's wrong.

The Talk Show - Again, Dan Benjamin, but with John Gruber. Need I say more? And whether you hate Bond movies or love them, hearing these guys dissect each and every one chronologically from the first to the latest is a wonderful train wreck. Gruber is way more rational than Mann, so the train stays pretty much on the tracks, but, as you probably know, Gruber is almost never wrong. About anything. Nor does he hold back. Smarter than I am. Get it?

PBS: Car Talk - I haven't owned a car in over twenty years. That's no greenie self-righteousness; that's the heart-rending lament of a car-guy to the marrow. These guys help me remember how much fun (and headache) cars can be. The fact that they know Fiats is a huge plus. Great diagnostic skill-building, too, and, sure funny as hell.

This American Life - Sure, the formula is a bit stale, and as for Ira Glass, yes, I can certainly understand where he might fall on the "No, thank you," side of the line for you. Yet, even these days, often enough, there are some real gems. One never knows what one's going to get, and there's very little dumbing-down to the audience. (Well, OK, there's a little.) The podcasts related to economic issues are often the ones that have the biggest impact, surprisingly. Take a listen to "How to create a job" (#435) .

The Moth - The lost and now rediscovered art of storytelling, pure, simple, and profound. This is so not me - I'm a word on the page/screen guy, and hate the "interference" of the human teller. Hate musicals, opera. But this stuff is pure gold. Sure, there are some lemons - these are live, amateur performances, folks, but there's something elemental that makes listening to these stories irresistible. And they always make me miss Studs Terkel.

Give them a listen.

July 15, 2011

The dreaded heat and humidity of Kansai summer have arrived, and are every bit as unwelcome as one would imagine. Kansai's biggest quake since the big one in 1995 made a visit, too. Read that Japan has presented world with an untreatable strain of gonorrhea .Throw in another curveball or two from Life, and yeah, the 2011 hits just keep coming.

Dunno if this is going to brighten up much, so if you're not sure you can handle a bucket or two down, maybe nows a good time to click on out of here.

Heard a great, if depressing, This American Life podcast (#435 ) that very eloquently made the point that government can either go for the short-term or long-term good. Cut taxes now, at the expense of investment in education, infrastructure,and public services, and enjoy short-term economy uptick, or, bite the bullet and make those investments and reap the benefits eight years down the line. Getting the picture? No? Same problem from a different angle, this one, naturally a bit closer to home.

Of course, it could be worse. Look at Japan. Its economy. Its government. Its men. No, really.

In this mood, pictures like these can cheer me right up. Wonderful stark beauty of aging, dead machinery. Similarly, some great old shots of Chicago's elevated train system. affectionately known as "the El."

Oh, can I loft a string of expletives at the poms at Oxford? Ladies and gentlemen, this is why the serial (Oxford) comma is necessary, hereafter to be known as the Chicago comma:

An interview with the Pope, a whore, and a thief.
An interview with the Pope, a whore and a thief.

Long may it live.

OK, so having given up on people, I still have the internet. Kind of, anyway, seeing as our friend, Steve Jobs, will be evicting me from this the Apple servers. At some point in the next 12 months, the "homepage.mac" url will be defunct; the link will still work, and connect you to this page on its new home. (That's how the semi-colon is used. Why the confusion?) The new home will be GoDaddy - just BECAUSE you politically correct dweebs hate it so.

So there. Happy summer.

June 15, 2011

Steve is killing the Web.

First, let's agree on terms. The Internet is the physical network that all kinds of services use, including "the web"; the web is the world you see through your browser. It's the latter that's getting the knife from Apple. If you've been paying attention, it's not that big of a surprise.

It started with the iPhone and iOS. The Apps. Sounded so cute and harmless. An App. But "the App" is first blood in a much bigger fight. Each app chips away at some web (i.e., browser) functionality. iTunes, Facebook, Twitter, the App Store…just take a look at your iPhone or iPad and remember when all that functionality came to you via the web. Now, all those services are handled by individual apps. Yes, apps that you pay for; remember, the web was free. The developers get their cut, Apple gets its cut, and at a buck or two per hit, we don't complain much.

Now, with iCloud, another big cut. Yes, some might argue it's just a re-packaging of MobileMe, hopefully one that works. But notice what is not there. iWeb, the app for creating web pages, gone. Web page hosting, gone. A web interface for email and file management, gone.

Goodbye, web. Welcome to eWorld 2012.

And don't forget the book! Buy on or iTunes.

June 5, 2011

No surprise, the year continues to torment with an early rainy season along with an early typhoon season...which are pretty good indicators of an early, long, hot summer. Why not? Golden Week is fading in the mirrors now, and ahead is just a long slog without holidays until the end of the semester...which now has bloated to the beginning of August. Add in some labor issues at one of my schools and the dismal health insurance options facing an aging self-employed (in most ways) ex-pat, and the picture can start to look pretty grim.

On the plus side, the iPad 2 has finally arrived, and it's indeed a slick toy and great classroom tool, though I'm still frustrated by many interface oddities and cumbersome file management. Great fun, though.

Perhaps the biggest good news is that the book, Us and Them, is finally available on the Apple iBooks Store. You can get the general description page on your browser, but actually getting to the book requires going to the iBook app on your iPhone/iPod. It's also available directly from Lulu for Adobe Digital Editions e-reader. Take a look and buy a copy if it interests you.

There's been some ink out lately about commuting. One item linking one's happiness with the brevity of one's commute, the other, a look at commuting times in Kansai, the area in Japan where I have been living for about 20 years. Seems I fit right in with the averages here, with these being my door-to-door commuting times, to a different school each workday of the week:

Monday 8o min. Kobe Shoin Women's University
Tuesday 100 min. Kyoto Women's University
Wednesday 75 min. Osaka City University
Thursday 70 min. Osaka University
Friday 70 min. Kobe College
Average: 79 minutes

These commutes begin and end with fifteen-minute walks to the station here in my neighborhood. At the other end are either additional 15-20 minute walks or, in two cases, taxi rides up hills just steep enough for my aging legs to say no to. In all but one case, there is at least one train transfer, all of which involve stairs and distance and more stairs.

In my previous life, my commute involved going downstairs to my garaged sports car and a nine mile 20-30 minute drive, unless the snows really snarked things up, stretching that to 45 minutes. The record may have been an hour.

The iPod/iPhone (and great sound-isolating Etymotic HF2 headphones) has been the device that gets credit for preserving my sanity, insulating me from the crowds and din around me. Japanese rush hour. Lots of crowd, lots of din. But the headphones keep out the sound and my vision is focused on my iPhone screen. Dual input of various podcasts and my Twitter feed effectively remove me from my surroundings.

So, to all those extolling the wonders of public transportation, two @mayoremanuel-grade flying birds to you all. Trade an open-top sports car singing a redline aria syncopated with snick-snick gearshifts for a hot, crowded, oxygen sparse, Japanese commuter train? Insane.

More fun stuff next time. Meanwhile, buy my book.

May 3, 2011

Another page turned, as it seems Osama bin Laden has been caught and dealt with. Not to celebrate an assassination, but let's just say this is a good thing.

Back on the home (US) front, sadly, things seem as upside down as ever. Creationism inexplicably making inroads like a stubborn mold. Against all odds and sense, none other than Donald Trump is, er, it's even hard to type, making noises about running know. I do so want to believe there is a limit to American stupidity. Don't look to "school reforms" to get us out of the woods, as many of the "reforms" being pushed by the misguided will only make things worse. Here's a great article on how to make bad teachers from good ones. Our friend Roger Ebert delivers a nice observation, though: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in philosophy; the search for a moral justification for selfishness." Finally, a funny look at how all those wacko emails get to you.

A couple of interesting tidbits from the gender wars, as well. In case you missed it, here's a humorous (unintentionally?) take on why so many women who want to be married aren't - by a woman. Her words, not mine. The New York Times continues its slide with this hard-hitting item on vibrators. I wonder, though, what "taking ownership of one's sexuality" might involve.

Though some might fantasize about it, there's no slowing down progress, or, in value-free parlance, change. Here's a thoughtful look at what that accelerated pace of change means and how one might cope with it. Also, with an eye toward maintaining sanity is this discussion of the psychological aftershocks of earthquakes. Yes, I do know. The problems with the nuclear reactors in Tohoku have spawned no small debate on the merit/dangers of nuclear energy, along with weekly protests in Tokyo. While not dismissing the real dangers inherent in any use of radioactive material, this web site looks at different energy sources and the deaths associated with each.

Again, here in Osaka, we are fortunate to be far enough away from the earthquake/tsunami area to be unaffected in our daily lives. Very shortly, the Write for Tohoku book, to which I am a contributor, will be available in all ebook formats (PDF only, as I write). When the other versions are available, I'll hit you all with requests for support. Incidentally, my contribution is the story of a morning commute on the anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. On the plus side, it's Golden Week here, and my iPad 2 is on order, due here in about three weeks.

Last, hang in there, Susan and Rion. May these last days together pass peacefully.

April 7, 2011

Rest in peace, Saul Preker. Thoughts and best wishes to his wife, Marianne, son Jason, and the rest of the family.

What an awful year this is turning out to be.

March 17, 2011

As all or most of you know, I have made it back safely to Osaka, where Alison and I are, truthfully, out of harm's way. There is always the danger of another large earthquake, but that is always the case here - or in California.

The approach to Narita was bumpy, as it often is, but the landing itself was smooth. Immigration, customs, drug-sniffing beagles, transfer to my Osaka flight, all negotiated with out a hitch. Airport, normal. Granted, I was concerned about radiation in Tokyo, and, in fact earlier that day, radiation levels 20X normal (but still safe) were detected in Tokyo. I was unable to find iodine pills on the way to O'Hare before I left, but no need, as radiation levels and returned to normal by the time I landed. On the flight from Tokyo to Osaka there were a few families I suspect were "refugees," but there was very little other sign of anything out of the ordinary, except maybe a more somber than usual mood overall. The duty-free shops had their usual customers. The Osaka passengers were their usual charming selves at baggage claim (i.e., rude as hell).

Several things are important to keep in mind. It should be apparent that, even discounting the distortion and falsehood that is Fox News, news media has deteriorated greatly from the days of Cronkite, Brinkley, Flynn, Drury, et al. I am appalled by the sensationalism and irresponsible reporting of rumor as fact, even by "trustworthy" news sources. That being said, let me aver that for those living IN the affected areas, things are likely much worse than even the fear-mongers make the situation appear. Remember I have been there before and Alison is a survivor of a major midwest tornado. The horror of the triple strike of earthquake, tsunami, and now the nuclear treat is impossible to overstate. Remember that they are also suffering through DOZENS of MAJOR aftershocks (each a serious earthquake on its own) daily. Again, I've been there. It was hell in 1995; this situation is considerably worse.

That being said, I can't emphasize strongly enough how far removed we are from all that hardship here in Osaka. We feel few of the aftershocks (though one is too many, I agree). Our water and power are uninterrupted. There nay be shortages because of hoarding - but we don't notice it. I'm sitting at my workstation at home, sipping some whisky, feet nicely warmed by the under-desk heater. We aren't inconvenienced in the least.

Of course, there is the emotional burden of knowing how people are suffering up north, and we discuss the best ways to offer what assistance we can, but, I have to say that for us, and for anyone without loved ones in the affected area, it's mostly business as usual. The reactors are about 400 miles away. The Japanese government has recommended evacuation within a 20-30 km (12-18 mi) radius from the reactors; the US government has recommended a 50 mile radius. Again, we are 400 miles away. I came home, had a shower, then relaxed with a little sushi and hot sake.

We are touched by the concern and worry so many of you have expressed, but rest assured, we're OK. Again, here is a graphic showing our location relative to the damaged power plants. Help, not with prayers, tweets, or messages, but by donating money to the Red Cross or another trusted aid agency. Contact me if you want recommendations. Though there may be little we can to for them - literally - please take a moment to respect and honor those working heroically at the site of the nuclear reactors and the extreme sacrifices they are making and may yet be asked to make.

So, again, thank you for your concern and wishes. Let's make some lemonade from the lemons and use this as a little prod to keep closer in touch. Life is short, and disasters can be very stern reminders of what matters in this life. Thank you, my friends. I know I am truly blessed.

March 13, 2011

Frustrated at not being able to help in Japan, I put together a list of essentials and some helpful links to those new to the Mac. Please share wit your favorite Switcher/Newbie.

March 12, 2011

With the tragedy still unfolding in Japan, one is faced with the dilemma of not saying anything or trying to find words befitting the gravity of the situation. As a survivor of another earthquake, I should be able to relate better than most, but I can only say that it doesn't help a bit. As much as I feel for the true hell the inhabitants of northern Japan now find themselves (and make no mistake, it IS hell), my over-riding thought is gratitude and relief that neither I, my wife, or any friends that I'm aware of are there. Finally, don't send prayers to the survivors; send them cash, either from the U.S. or from Japan. I'm scheduled to fly back this week Tuesday-Wednesday…assuming, of course. The scale of the damage is beyond comprehension, of course, but consider this: the quake was strong enough to both shift the earth's axis 4 inches (10 cm) and move the main island of Japan (you read right) eight feet (2.4 m). Sets of Photos from The Atlantic and The Boston Globe. As if you haven't seen enough. And, if you want to know more.

Even as we watch the destruction of a part of Japan, a look back at Japan advertising of another era can remind us that life does go on. Japan has always been subject to and recovered from numerous earthquakes, and the 20th century added atomic bombing. In the U.S., we had our 9/11. Our shared DNA is ready: we are hard wired to cope. We push on. It's what we do.

Hats off to the brave Wisconsin legislators, and I'm putting aside all my anti-Green Bay sentiment aside here, this year more than most others, in their effort to save the unions' right to collective bargaining. Recently, a conservative friend tried to paint the picture of them not showing up to work, not doing their job. I was a bit too slow-witted (or besotted) to respond that they ARE doing their job: serving their constituents as best they can. Let their efforts galvanize similar efforts in other states, and for some deity's sake, in Washington, as well, as we wait and wait for our Democratic representatives to grow a pair. If they don't, and soon, we and your children will be dealing with the consequences for years to come.

Speaking of standing up for oneself, and the irony is not lost on me, but it may be time for men in Japan (and I mean the men, though the new generation of girl-boys are always welcome, should they, like our congressmen back home actually grow a pair) to stand up for themselves. Some think so. On the other hand, I think anyone would have a very hard time hanging the luddite label on me, but I hope never to run across any of these while teaching at Osaka University.

A few weeks ago (see below) I shared some shots of Chicago's historical Pullman District. Here's another little piece of history.

A last bit of practical information: how to discover - and block - various bots and cookies following you around your web browsings.

Soon, back to Japan, an iPad 2, a new school year. Strife, struggle, life, and the joy of it all. がんばろう。

February 28, 2011

Down on the south side of Chicago, there's a small neighborhood steeped in history: Pullman. Bill and I took a swing down that way yesterday to poke around, as well as to visit next-door Roseland, where he grew up. Take a look at his pictures, mine, and other people's. More information about its history and the efforts to preserve it (it's all a city, state, and national landmark status) here.

In other news, I have finally conquered the epub dragon and will very soon have the second edition of my textbook Us and Them textbook available as an ebook on Lulu,, and the iTunes Store. I SEEM to be finished, but until I see it on those virtual shelves, I can't completely accept it as fact.

February 24, 2011

OK, so we're already 15% into this year and I'm finally getting to welcome it in. Good riddance, 2010. Certainly not as bad as some, but no treat. The new one not impressing so far, either, and before it's over, we may be thinking about 2010 as the good old days. The big news a while back was all those dead birds and fish (forgot already, right?), and then there's been a nasty winter for most of the folks back home in the U.S., but since then there's been a whole slew of world-changing events. Too many to count, let alone comment on here. But, from Tunisia to Egypt to Wisconsin, things are a changing, and this looks to be one hell of a year.

If you're wondering where all the old stuff is, by the way, it's all accessible via the links to archives of years past there at the bottom of the page.

I'll stat with a gentle reminder to the new House majority that when slashing a budget, one starts with the biggest piece of the pie. I'm waiting. Meanwhile, here is what those dollars create. The Times will follow these men and women over the next year, and hopefully, that will mean happy returns home for many of them. There's only one side to this - get these people home, safe. Period. Meanwhile, let's not forget or shortchange their sacrifice, whatever the wrongheadedness that demands it. Help out if you can, in some way.

You don't need to be an old fart to appreciate these pictures, but being one will certainly bring out the flavor. There's plenty more. apparently, and our world needs al the beauty it can get, so if you know anyone who can help... My generation gets a lot of blame for the world as it is, but if you remember, it wasn't all that great when we were given the keys. Keep it real, and think of all the things that have gotten better, way better, in the last 50 years. And, just for fun, as it always is with Dennis Hopper, some of his photos.

But, screw 'em, I say. More time for my own projects. First up is the release of the second edition of my intercultural communication textbook, Us and Them. Just the final last rounds of epub hell for me before I throw up my hands and turn it over to an aggregator. After that, though, it should be up on both and the Apple iTunes Store. Yassir. Links here as soon as available. Next up will be a quickie on the joys of the Japanese business meeting, and then some academic product, either a presentation or paper, probably ebook related, possibly a follow-up to my decade-old studies (sorry, that's a .sit file) on trying to bring tech possibilities to Japan's universities. (Yes, as I say almost daily, "You would think..." Yes, one would.) This last bit of academic effort the result of the Wifus's™ whip to my backside, but as the nuns used to tell us, it's for my own good. I thank her and ask respectfully for another. Also lined up for takeoff from the keyboard are more Back of the Yards chronicles. Hope to get those out in some kind of book form someday, but that might take a bit more peace of mind than I see in the next year.

Busy? Hell yeah. Just finished a year of teaching 18 classes per week, along with all the associated paperwork demanded by five different universities. Then, poor me, got whisked off to Guam for a few days with Wifus's™(the good photos are all hers!), stopped back in Japan for just enough to time to repack, scarf down a few chu-hais, and get back on a plane to Chicago. Luckily, most of the real winter nastiness has passed, and I'm rewarding myself with some new gear (a new camera, a new 2 TB hard drive)...and a whole lotta work. Still, it's always good to touch ground here and spend some time with the bro and friends. Hopefully, the new camera will mean a few more images to share.

Locally, congratulations to Rahm Emanuel, though, I have to say, after listening to Miguel del Valle, I think we're missing out on a good man. My real thought is that Emanuel will be the better mayor. I'd just rather have del Valle as a neighbor. Of course, I am personally devastated over the induction of @MayorEmanuel into the Time Vortex. Anyway, Mr. Mayor, the Chicago colors are here for you. We're counting on you.

OK, friends, that's it. 2011 seems to be as much of a taskmaster as 2010, so noses to grindstones, all. Next report may be coming from a v2 iPad. we'll see. Hoping yours is a good year.

January 24, 2011

Oh, well. Thanks Jay.

January 23, 2011

The hell with everything else. GO BEARS!