December 31, 2012

Back from Guam but the cold of Osaka barely seems so, though if Wifus™ drags me to Kyoto's Heian Jingu (平安神宮) to ring in the new year tonight, I might be eating my words. Luckily, I brought back a nice flask with me from Russia in September, so I'll have the appropriate anti-freeze. Have also started to chip away a little at the mountain of work that sits between the beginning of the calendar year and the end of the academic year in early February. Oh, and that birthday thing; wouldn't mention it except for the welcome and humbling tsunami of birthday wishes I received. Thank you all. Not nearly enough time to put together my usual nengajou (年賀状) - sad, the first time in years, but this and a tweet or two will have to suffice this year.

RIP 2012 Chicago Bears.

So, it's goodbye to another year. No major quakes here in Japan, but plenty of strife elsewhere - Syria, Gaza, Sandy, and all these Americans killing each other. Madness. Old buddy Dee Morgan finally found peace after struggling horribly with Parkinson's for years, and he is missed.

On the bright side, happy to have plenty of work - not only teaching, but also some proofreading and the Macworld/TechHive headphone reviews. New toys to play with, too: headphones, microphones, some models of the old sports cars I had way back when cars were an option. Yeah, these, too. The teacher podcast is going well; still want to get my high school friends to get some kind of oral history on record; such an odd time and place it was.

There was some travel, too, though that's not my "thing." I had my requisite therapeutic Chicago visits, but also a hop to Cambodia and Vietnam in the spring; much too short, but very interesting. In fall, spent a few weeks in Russia (pics still to come!) - Moscow-Souzdal-Vladimir-St. Petersburg - mostly sightseeing, but also two presentations at the University of Vladimir. And, of course, ended the year with a few placid days in Guam. In addition to the sun, sea, and sand, played Santa for some young marines at an Outback Steakhouse, possibly saved the life of a child whose father was about to walk into traffic with the kid in his arms, and survived an aborted landing at KIX when another plane was sitting in our designated landing runway.

So, here for another year, still taking the punches and still swinging back. Happy new year all. 明けましておめでとうございます。

December 22, 2012

Ah. Winter vacation. Here. But so is all the residual work before a fast sojourn to a South Pacific paradise. So, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and the Best of New Years while I, to my tasks. Catch you on the other side.

December 2, 2012

Can I say how happy I am not even to know what "war on christmas" refers to? From here in Japan, it seems as if the wacko right/ Fox News/Republicans/Conservatives just haven't gotten the message. The jig is up, guys. You've been found out for the frauds that you are. Give it up. For the country you claim to love.

Looks like this Christmas will be even less Christmasy than usual for us, and, that coming from Osaka is a biggie. Not a bad thing, though, as come 12/25, I'll be "blogging" (the posting infrequency here really disqualifies this site from blog status) from Guam. Yeah, I know; hardship squared. Better yet, it's my Christmas present; not only is the wonderful wife picking up the tab, but she's doing it because she knows it's the only way she can pull herself away from her work to adequately reward me in the way we all know I deserve so well.

Hey, I said I had a whole lot to be thankful for.

I never did post my pre-election stuff. I had a veritable treatise written, but as election day loomed, the political news overload was just too much, and coupled with the awful fear of the worst possible of outcomes…the bits never made it up.

No matter. We have all now sighed our well-earned sighs of relief. Now, B, you southside mofo, get to work on this shit. Swing for the fence, make every round the 15th, choose your own metaphor. Make these four years count.

Me? Teaching MY ASS OFF and loving it. Seeing results - a luxury in this profession. Touching lives. Having a ball. Working on my headphone reviews for Macworld/TechHive. Excuse me if I say so, but the podcast, at times, kicks ass, and I'm enjoying the hell out of that, too. Don't know anyone else who is doing better in our admittedly small niche. Do you? PLEASE let me know. I want to learn.

So, three more weeks of classes before Guam and Christmas, no talk of raising taxes on alcohol, and the ground here in Kansai has been blessedly stationary. Merry, know...the best of it all to you.

November 8, 2012

Four more years.

Thank you, American voters. Congratulations, Mr. President.

Can't imagine the alternative. So grateful.

September 20, 2012

Goodbye, Dee buddy. Dee Morgan Kilpatrick. Good man, good friend. Railway porter, track star, social work professor, hell raiser bar none. It's finally over, Hatter, rest in peace.

September 14, 2012 - From Russia with Fatigue

Surprisingly or not, managed to get on the right plane back to Chicago (via Helsinki) without a word of Russian beyond "спасибо." Quite an intense twelve days, and so much already washed from memory. Even my notes may be hard to find.

OK, I didn't fall in love with Russia. Not that it was a bad trip; far from it. I liked it, and I had a great time with Alison. It was especially nice watching HER enjoying it, even when I wasn' walking through another park in the rain. But seeing the joy she got from it, I couldn't raise a word of complaint. Not out loud, anyway. I know how lucky I am to be able to have the chance to share these things with someone special.

For a brief summary, again, I didn't fall in love with the country. Some of the people can be and were genuinely warm, kind, and welcoming, maybe even in a more sincere way than they have been in Japan (or maybe not - but how do you measure that?). Our hosts at the American Home - the school Alison helped establish twenty years ago - and our "homestay Mom" Zena Ivanovich are examples. Yet, the overriding impression is one of a whole lot of people who are having another of a long series of very bad days. Lots of what, frustration, unhappiness, maybe, under the surface right there waiting to seep to the top - or explode. Too, something in the building of the country that seems to have been omitted is the concept of maintenance. Lots of grand projects of a time out there, lots of "park land," but it seems once something gets built, it gets forgotten, and the deterioration is allowed to begin, progress, and continue. And continue. The result is an overwhelmingly depressing impression of slums everywhere. When I mentioned to Alison that these conditions were worse than I'd expected, she laughed and told me that it was better than it was twenty years ago and better than she'd been expecting. This is hard for me to reconcile, because it was pretty bad.

Sorry, did I say brief? Can't do it.

Twelve days makes me no Russian expert, but it might be that the acceptance of the deterioration (and perhaps the omission in the system of some mechanism to counter it) might be a reflection of the stereotypical Russian fatalism. Why bother washing my car when chances are good that someone will steal it tonight? Or, another cultural quirk that Alison explained to me: if my neighbor has a chicken that is better than mine, kill the neighbor's chicken. Perhaps it's the result of time after time, a people's hopes and dreams igniting, and then, each time, extinguished in disaster. Not unlike our own underclass in the U.S.? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? After a while, it takes a toll.

Some details.

Also, to be fair, our final stop, St. Petersburg was much nicer in almost all aspects than either Moscow or Alison's beloved town of Vladimir. St. P could almost just as easily been any other old European city - Paris, Salzburg, etc.

Context-wise, let's also remember that the trip comes at the end of a long, hot, stressful, and work-laden summer for both of us. Throw in the usual stressors and a few special ones of our own. The "vacation" began a bit earlier for Alison, and that meant an insane schedule of teaching workshops, presentations - a crazy timetable only partly of her own doing. Very little free time and even less privacy. Then I plop into that, so now she not only needs to deal with all that fun for herself, but now, has to take care of helpless me, as well. As for me, I walk into that, and am confronted with "special circumstances." Such as, you ask...

Well, for starters, there's the aforementioned impression of a slum - this is where we're staying. Odd characters lingering about the door, little street lighting, cat piss in the hallways, "isolated" in that it's in the middle of a huge housing project in the middle of nowhere. (This is how most people live there.) The apartment rooms are tiny, there are almost no chairs, and of course, no net access. Little privacy, a rigid schedule (curfew and meals), and no English spoken. One turns the water for the toilet tank on and off manually. No shower curtain. Few doors that close. There is an unexpected and disconcerting lack of access to alcohol. I do a presentation to one group the first day (Discussion Classes, Communicative Competence, Learning Barriers), another the second (Japanese Meetings), two different venues, two different groups, the nature of each of which never gets clearly defined. As uncomfortable as all this is for me, I am (silently) freaked that Alison has been living this way for a week already. I try not to show any sign of discomfort.

The homestay mom herself was a sweetie in her own way, if a definite control freak. Old school to the bone, what we think of as depression-era frugality, but by necessity, a kind of self-described cooking-cleaning machine. Kind of.

Things normaled out once the presentations got themselves done with. We had a nice day-trip to a nearby place called Suzdal, including a driver and guide (in English!), the guide was a pro, almost to a fault, if you know what I mean. Once the smiley"tour" part was over, it was all "leave the money on the dresser." Anyway.

Alison's expert guidance got us the tickets we needed to get to St. Petersburg on Russia's version of the Shinkansen as well as on the right train and to the place we would stay while there. Need I say, NONE of this would have been possible without Alison. Her Russian language ability and extensive research and prep made things go as smoothly as one could expect.

The days in St. Pete's went pretty much as those of any of our other travels. More comfort, more privacy, more control of our schedule, a nicer place. Lots of great stuff to see, with only the rain following us around to dampen things a bit. A great last meal of Soviet Georgian fare at a restaurant hosting an office party, a shotgun wedding, a few random customers - and featuring a belly dancer. We'd have danced ourselves had time not cut us short - our B&B had a curfew of its own. It had an odd sense of housekeeping, too, seemingly consisting of opening the window and spilling vinegar somewhere in the bathroom.

Other random thoughts? The Moscow Metro stations are amazing; very, very deep, and the ornate decorations deserve days of appreciation. Deep. The escalators are steep and twice the speed of those in the US or Japan, and it still takes minutes to get to top or bottom. Deep.

Also, given the number of old Ladas still in service (not sure "running" is the best word), I can only surmise that Russia exported its steel to Italy for Fiat manufacture but imported Japanese steel for its own Ladas.

Now I sit in the wide guy row with two large Finns somewhere over Greenland, I think, headed from Helsinki back to sweet home Chicago. A very busy week in Chicago and then back to a very busy second semester. I honestly look forward to both, and I know how lucky that makes me.

I hope to get the pictures up by the end of September. Really.

One other bit of news...I'll be doing a series ofreviews on full-size headphones for Macworld, and I'm looking forward to that a lot. My old review of in-ear canal buds is here.

We will not mention the Bears.

August 24, 2012 - Vacation

First of all, a notice that finally the pictures from Cambodia and Vietnam are up and available on the photo page. I also re-added the 2011 Guam gallery that slipped between the cracks with the demise of Mobile Me.

Second, a small cry for help from what should be an enviable vacation. I just don't know how this big block of what should be relaxing time gets filled with must-dos and responsibilities and turns into a period of yet more stress. Actually, I do, but I seem to lack the tools or skills to remedy the situation.

Anyway, enjoying some time with friends and my brother, as well as doing some catching up on work. Even met with some cousins, which I very rarely am able to do. A small wrinkle when our garage was broken into; nothing of great value stolen, but there was the door to repair, security to beef up, and that lingering sense of violation and unease. An observation. It seems the police are out of the business of crime prevention. The pair who burgled our and the neighbor's garage were scared off by our neighbors, who saw them in their garage at about 7 p.m. on a Saturday evening - not quite dusk. Of course the police were called. They've yet to respond, five days later. This tells me I can break, enter, and steal with impunity; they won't even try to find me. There are cameras all over the city that will catch me if I'm a second or two late on a yellow, though. Urban life in 2012, I guess.

A lot of the time is being spent on preparation for Russia, mostly for the two presentations that I'll give there. My podcast partner is MIA, so it looks as if the next Two Teachers Talking episode will be delayed a week or two. The sleep irregularities aren't much help, either.

Yes, on Tuesday I leave for Russia, where I'll meet up with Alison, who's already there spinning her own cyclone of hyper-activity at the school she helped start 20 years ago. Looking forward to what will without doubt be a very interesting experience. I'll make a short stop in Chicago before returning to Osaka and almost immediately to classes.

These trips do help remind of the passage of time, marked in so many ways. There's always a bit of dyssynchrony; mid-August always meant the end of summer for us here in Chicago, but the Japanese school calendar doesn't free us now until the second week of August. Here in Chicago, kids are already heading back to school. Stopping by to see my Parkinsons-stricken friend, Dee, I was reminded of the similar visit last year, followed by a great Mexican lunch with friends from the university department where we all worked together, and the extra extremely relaxing solo margarita I allowed myself in a rare stop of the treadmill. Days before my departure, I got word that one of my favorite cousins had passed. It was Mary who took me to Cubs games as a kid, and even taught me the rudiments of baseball. Peaceful rest, Mary. Rental cars bring to mind good and bad rides of past years. Noting changes in my brother's garden, and the progress he has made on getting the house ready for sale. The annual Beck family picnic has been replaced with the Annual CCE Orphan Picnic, and the changes there, too, are logged.

Time racing by, the minutes running away at full tilt, the futility of trying to hang on to each, trying to savor, appreciate.

But I blather. Ahead lies a rare, almost unstructured day. A 95 degree day, yes, but every minute counts.

July 21, 2012 - Commuter

Osaka, July 2012

Hit the hot, humid streets of Osaka at 6:30 a.m., and you're wading through 80% humidity, 84°F. A 20 minute walk to the nearest station in the center of the heat island known as Osaka that leaves you soaked no matter how slowly you walk. As you approach the station, you cross a final plaza, Hopper-like, dodging commuters themselves just escaped from the orange steel urban human delivery tubes rumbling overhead on the JR Loop Line, circling the urban dystopia, 'round and 'round. There's a hurried goodbye to the wife at the train station where you part ways, and you join the hordes on the platform in a pretense of lining up - a sham that collapses as the train pulls up, the doors open, and the waiting passengers-to-be storm the doors, to hell with the poor souls trying to get off, let alone anyone who bought into the illusion of a "line" in the first place. You're not in Tokyo, Taro-kun.

On the train, a primal staking out of territory, trying to open up the stance enough for solid footing as the train lurches forward. Standing outside the train on the platform fading into the distance, why, there's Lo-lee-ta, herself, complete with schoolgirl uniform. In the next section of the car, maybe 13 feet over, there's a guy on crutches, teetering over a bank of commuters - seated comfortably in front of him in the disabled priority seats, pretending to be asleep. Seated directly in front of you, a guy with steaming rancid crotch rot. One seat over, an anorexic septuagenarian female (probably), trying to pass for 23. Or younger. To your right, and I mean immediate right, putrid breath that carries with it the stench of the last three of the salaryman's nights out. Then he burps. Fuck. In back, don't dare turn around; something huge, soft, and sweaty, making constant squirmy contact. The collective mass of human meat heats the train car to unbearable levels. Thankfully, no one is farting this morning.

There was a crisis of a nuclear nature, 600 miles away, over a year ago, and so it has been mandated that we, all over Japan, be uncomfortable, in appeasement of the gods. Atonement for survival? Minimal air-conditioning on trains, and the threat of rolling blackouts across the land. My take is that the utility companies are trying to scare the populace into accepting rapacious rate hikes to, yes, pay for their mistakes. Fuck the politics; it's hot. Hot. The austerity measures have nothing to do with real conservation and everything to do with creating the illusion of a crisis so that people will accept ANY rate hikes just to get their electricity back.

Two stops later, Osaka Station, almost everyone off, major shoving matches. The guy on crutches spins on the axis of one crutch, one way, then the other as people jostle past. A woman tries four times - four, I count - to insert herself into the eight inches that separate me from the passenger I am following off the train, just repeatedly bouncing herself into the non-space. No eye contact, just four willful attempts at insertion. I trip her as she exits the train. Only the oddest twist of zen discipline prevents this from escalating to a riot. If this were Chicago, the mayor would be out here with a bullhorn and the bodies would be stacked three high. As for me, I'm all elbows and shoulders, bouncing salarymen off me like so many nerf boys.

The platform here is even hotter than the train, and more humid, but possibly offers more oxygen. Japan has no daylight saving time, so the sun has been beating on the tin roof of the platform for more than three hours now. My mini-violent swipes become the behavioral norm and the scene approaches anarchy, but I make it to the escalator . . . and glide down with the need for only an occasional elbow to those that can't seem to walk past without contact. They want, they get. Hard.

Enough. I slip into a convenience store for the short jolt of frigid air and a drink. No crisis here. Probably 65°F inside, door wide open to the heat. Grapefruit-flavored Strong-Zero Chu-hai: 350 ml, low carb, 8% alcohol, icy cold. At 7:30 am. Yes. The ONLY two things that make this daily routine humanly endurable are noise-isolating ear bud tips on premium headphones and the fact that one can drink any time, anywhere: street, station platform, train, you name it. Ask the Russians. It works. And don't dare judge me.

6000 miles away and 14 hours later, Chicago, Illinois:

Down the elevator to the cool basement garage. You open the car door and are met with a whiff of God's own cologne: Eau d'New Car. Leather seats hug you as you slip behind the wheel. The engine barks to life and settles to a pulsing purr. The AC, after a short chuff of warmth, bathes you with cool dry air that you can almost see, taste. The interior fills with tunes from your iPhone or WXRT, one of the countries last listenable FM stations. The premium sound system was worth it. You bought the right car, and there's communion with the beast through the wheel, the pedals, the seat, the smells, the sound…it's almost sex. The feedback through the wheel is, well, yes, just like what you'd imagine. You ease out of the garage and you drive, you drive.

Your hell? The guy in front of you isn't going fast enough.

June 10, 2012

The year rolls on, and the semester clock registers mid-term. Head down engrossed in work, hard to notice the time slipping by. Classes going well, as they should with the effort going into them, if I do say so. Also, quite bowled over by the positive response to the Two Teachers Talking podcast; check it out to see what the fuss is about. Also available on iTunes. New episode up yesterday.

It's not without a price. Have at least two friends pissed at me for not having time for them with all the work going on. There may be others who just haven't bothered to register their anger. Some would say screw 'em, they're juts being selfish. I don't see it that way. I understand it. Wish there was something I could do about it. Like work less and have some fun. They'll come around or they won't, and there'll be time when there's time. We all make decisions with the 24 hours a day we're given, and I'm not infallible. I just try to do my best, make my decisions and live with their consequences.

New topic. Was thinking about the times the other day. A lot gets blamed on the boomers, but lay this one squarely on the shoulders of those who came after. You know, the ones who benefitted from all the good we did (too melodramatic to mention the blood shed?) and show so little gratitude for it. Not sure if the blame lies with the Slackers, the Millennials, or folks in between, whatever they're called, but I peg the time at about 1990.

It was just about then that "attitude" shifted from being something you put up with from someone who didn't know how to handle success gracefully to, inexplicably, an end in itself. A goal. You didn't have to actually accomplish anything or be good at anything, you just needed "attitude." Morons. We suffer the consequences of this half-assed shortcut daily in many aspects of our lives. Music, journalism, politics, movies…. So, hey, fuck your "attitude." Do something, fix something, build something, help somebody. Do it well, we'll put up with your attitude. It's something you need to earn.

May 1, 2012 - Two Teachers Talking on iTunes

Two Teachers Talking is now up and officially at the Apple iTunes Store - as well as on the T3 website.

April 29, 2012 - Two Teachers Talking Launches

Launch! Yes, the Two Teachers Talking podcast has launched. Right now there's an intro episode and one "regular" episode, with more to follow soon, at the rate of about one very two weeks. Have a listen, and share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, questions and tips. Please help spread the word. よろしくお願いします. It's been submitted to the Apple iTunes Store and should be available there before too long. Just need to fix that "clean" tag.

Else-wise, it's just a day to day struggle to keep from getting buried under the ever growing mountain of work. Luckily, I'll be having something of a real Golden Week next week, and it's never been needed more. Most years I wish it came in June, but this year, glad it's here. (Damn, that was a FAST four weeks.) School work, taxes, house chores...that's what holidays are for?

Of note, I have found what may be the perfect sounding in-ear monitors: Grado GR-10. The fit may be a problem, as the cords interfere a bit with getting the buds all the way in, and there are no in-line controls for the iPhone. But, the sound. Perfect. For the more rartional, the ME Electronics CC-51P-s are a much more economical choice. For a more laid back sound, the Etymotic hf5-s are mighty fine, too.

Oh, and those Camboia-Vietnam pictures? Soon, I hope.

March 31, 2012 - Back from Cambodia and Vietnam

And here we are, back from the Asia jaunt, noses to grindstones. Classes kick up in no time, and the fates have smiled on me, if a bit sardonically, bestowing on me another class, which means some additional much needed cash, but also a lot more work. A big class, 40+ kids, all of which will need to write longish papers each semester. Now it's up to 18 classes. My reward will be a new MacBook...but I'll need to see what Tim & Co. offer with the lineup freshen later in the year.

No matter. Love the teaching. Encouraged by the very positive results of student surveys of my classes I stumbled onto when loading data related to the new class on the university's web site. And other projects, too, AS YOU CAN SEE AT THE RIGHT. Notice the new section of projects and shameless self-promotion. Hell, it even looks interesting to me. Books, presenting in Japan, Russia. And it's me doing it. Huh. Who'd a' thunk.

I'm especially excited about the podcasts, as it's a nice combination of tech and sharing. I think the podcasts will have stuff definitely worth sharing. The Teacher podcast is shaping itself to quite high standards, and I'm very happy with what Charles Wiz and I are producing. The other podcast, Rita Men, will be something of an oral history of my and several close friends/classmates' Catholic high school experiences in the late '60s and early '70s. Tough, gritty, funny, incredible, and true, I have very high hopes for it. I expect it to slowly expand to quite an opus over the next few years.

The trip was great, but if you were hoping for pictures, you'll need to wait a while. Lots of prep for the new academic year pending, and my Japanese income taxes are way overdue, but I'll get to the pics when the brain begins to fade mid-afternoons in this coming week of balls-out work. Speaking of which...

Oh, and yes, spring training is underway, the season openers are right around the corner, and these colors are a tribute to the great game of baseball. Cubs be damned. (And note the fonts on this page...)

March 16, 2012 - Between Vacations

Happy St. Pat's to all, and hopes that everyone back home in Chicago is making the most of the glorious weather blessing the city. Drink responsibly and drive safely.


You might be busier than I am. Sorry if you are. Really, very sorry, because it has to be very hard.

Tomorrow Alison and I embark on a quick trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. Why, yes, I just returned to Japan from a trip back home. Sweet, right?

This is what life will be like when I return.

I will clean out files from last year's classes (~20 lbs.) and prepare for a new academic year. Five different universities, five different sets of rules, policies, calendars, and the rest. Most of the information is in Japanese. Four of my classes will be using new textbooks, meaning lots new prep, and I'm doing major changes to another four. How many classes do I teach? Seventeen. Seventeen 90-minute classes each week. Twelve discrete preps.

School days, which are Monday through Friday, I usually pop out of bed around 4:30 am, check the mail and Twitter, tend to basic hygiene, make the coffee and wake the wife, and I'm out the door between 6:30 and 7:00, depending on the day and school. My commutes take from 1.5 to 2 hours door-to-door one-way, depending. I never go out to lunch (As in never. Really, never.), and use the time to "catch up." I'm home around 6, maybe some grocery shopping on the way home. I balance simultaneous preparations for dinner and next day-classes until Alison gets home around 8. I may have 10 minutes to read a magazine if she's running late. We eat. We talk. We collapse. At 4:30 the next morning it starts again.

Wednesday nights I have a private lesson, but it's easy, and my doctor student brings dinner for all three of us.

Weekends are usually spent at home. Laundry, grocery shopping, other house chores. Work on several irons in the fire: podcast launch in April, presentation on said podcast in Shizuoka in June, writing book (now at 30%) on Japanese meetings, two presentations in Russia come August.

Maybe time for a movie on Alison's iMac come evening. It will be like that until the end of July, when classes start tapering off.

So, yeah. Two vacations.

March 10, 2012 - See you again, soon, Chicago

The fading sunset of a too-short trip back home. Starting this at the kitchen table in the house where I did much of my growing up, will likely continue this in one airport or another (unlikely the econ class seats will allow room) on the way back, and may not finish until I'm back in Japan…and that with the upcoming Cambodia-Vietnam hop looming. Strange how the truncation of the trip cut out so much of what makes the trips home so much fun. Strange and sad. Likely the same will happen this summer if I'm not careful; need to take care travel doesn't impinge on vacation.

What did pan out was an ad hoc gathering of the 1972-1975 UIC(C) Pier Room rabble, the friends that defined my undergraduate world. Oddly scheduled a Wednesday lunch for the convenience of one of the principals who, as it turned out, didn't make it; all the others did. Quite magical. Wonderful stories and memories.

Of course, enjoyed the usual gathering of the order of old farts, the Rita men, Class of '71. Shudder. Sad an beautiful to mark the years as they race past, and these guys are among the best to do that with. Come to think of it, I think the Rita Wikipedia page needs a bit of revision. We'll time that for the next visit.

Plenty of good car fun with the guys from the old Fiat X1/9 Club, but describing them that way shortchanges us all. They're much more than that. And, no, I haven't remembered how to drive, though I did re-learn a few things on the last laps of a marathon kart racing session. Sure, I haven't been "driving" for over 20 years, but that excuse doesn't change the lap times nor make me feel any better.

On one of the few shopping forays I did make, I came upon a real Wienermobile, if a modern iteration. No Li'l Oscar, but a couple of attractive university students in charge who didn't seem to be enjoying themselves or be aware of the historical (nostalgic) value of their vehicle. I remember when one of its forebears made it to our neighborhood what must be 50 years ago; there was also a Silvercup Bread truck, too, if I recall. Anyway,the Wienermobile back then had it's own Li'l Oscar: a little person in costume and all.

Finally tried the bacon-cooked-in-the-oven trick for one of my midnight super-breakfasts with my brother, and it works wonderfully. It helps if you can buy real bacon at the grocery store…which we can't in Japan, sadly. Among the many treats I can enjoy here.

Usually, weather is not among those treats in February and March, but this trip I didn't touch a shovel once, and enjoyed at least five days in the sixties, including these last two. Warmer here than in Osaka, amazingly.

So, here it ends. A last day of last-minute shopping and chores, dinner (BBQ!) with some friends, a sleepless night of laundry and packing, and an early Sunday morning car drop-off downtown, and a limo to O'Hare's Terminal 2.

Here we go. (But still one 60° day left to savor…love you, Chicago.)

February 12, 2012 - The School Year Ends

So ends another academic year. Later today I'll be inputting grades for my last classes and that will be it for 2011-2012. Always bittersweet, a bit harder this year, as I'll be saying goodbye to some very special students. We've gotten to to know each other well, and I'll miss them a lot. So it goes. One mitigating factor is the virulent spread of Twitter (and Facebook), and it'll be good to stay in touch with them and watch them grow. Love this job.

What comes next is a short breather before trips to Chicago and then Vietnam and Cambodia. It'll be nice to exercise the Nikon a little, and it's always great to get back to sweet home Chicago and the special friends I have there. So many of my fellow ex-pats here in Japan have very little "home" outside of Japan left, and in that regard, I am truly blessed. On the work table is a book on Japanese meetings and a possible revision to Us & Them (Lulu / iTunes).

In 1972, mine was the first cohort group to have none of its members drafted into service and the Vietnam War. I was very lucky, and knowing that makes me feel for our young men and women trying to readjust to life stateside after tours of duty in the mideast. Let's not forget them.

No surprise that another of my hot buttons is education, and watching the eroding quality of schooling in the US is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Whether it's budget cuts or class sizes, we can't get it right even when clear examples of how are right under our noses.

As for the idiocy that is the Republican primary circus, what can I say? Here's what the leading fool would have in store for us. Instead of:

Unemployment since 2009? A steady decline.
The Dow? Steady progress.
Nasdaq? Yup.

God-damn Democrats, amirite? But, seriously, we can only hope that sanity will prevail. Please do what you can to keep a Republican out f the White House for the next four years.

On to tech. Listen, I'm in love with Dropbox. Part of the reason is explained by fellow nerd, John Gruber. I've also had incredible service from these folks, responding quickly, and often with free storage thrown in the deal. For syncing files between devices (computers, iPads, iPhones) and safe backup of critical files, they're hard to beat. Find out more and get an additional 250GB storage free.

OK, ready for fun? In case you haven't seen them yet, these awkward stock photos are truly bizarre. Try to imagine the need for these shots. Amazing. And what fun would it be to be a kid with an unlimited supply of stickers in a white room?

January 1, 2012 - Goodbye 2011

Goodbye 2011. Hello 2012. I'm cheating a bit, starting this a few days early, on my birthday (12/30), but it's not too early to say goodbye to another rough year: the passing of friends and meaningful others; the economy hurting at a national level and really dumping on folks very close to me; our departure from Iraq bringing, yes, many of our troops out of that specific hell, but exposing other troops in others, and dooming the forsaken desert of Iraq itself to the chaos caused by the absence of a stabilizing, if detested, presence. The list could go on, but let's just close the book with one last goodbye to Susan, Saul, and Steve, and best wishes to all the survivors.

Though the big picture is pretty gray, I have to say that, with all due respect to the possible jinx, things here in Silva-ville are pretty damn good. Health concerns are all mere irritants, work is steady if not booming, my students are wonderful, and I never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from or where I'll be spending the night. Where I spend the nights ain't bad, either. The nearby earthquakes have been rather small. Typhoons in our part of Japan the past year were few and mild. I begin the sayonara festivities with what has become an annual ritual on the day: Kobe Steak. Insanely expensive, insanely good, guaranteed the best you've ever had. Guaranteed.

Looking ahead,I may be optimistic in thinking I'll crank out a new mini-eBook, and still manage visits to Vietnam and Russia with Wifus™ in addition to my usual pilgrimages to Chicago. I resolve to drive more in Chicago, too, perhaps trying a number of fun-to-drive cars under $30,000 at local dealers under the guise of a potential buyer. Oh, the potential is there, just not for a few more years. There'll be competitive driving, too, as last year I broke down and bought myself a new helmet that needs more breaking in.

Just some cleanup and stuff to share. The SOPA thing is far from resolved, so do what you can, please. Something I will not have the time to contribute to, but could be great fun if more old-timers get involved, is a site devoted to cars people drove in high school. Would love to have my memories up there: 1963 Chevy Impala, 1969 Mercury Marquis, and finally, in college…1969 Fiat 124 Spyder. Yes, red. Loved that car. Looking back, a collection I've linked to before, some wonderful images of 1950's Chicago, and the the main web site. One little kick at my host country about its duplicity in reporting on events surrounding the nuclear meltdowns following the earthquake and tsunami in March. A reminder about yet more good Obama has done, and finally, a little humor.

So, happy birthday to me. Good riddance 2011. Best of the new year to you all, and thanks for reading.