November 11, 2015

Teachers keep telling themselves and each other that the Fall Semester is much easier than the Spring. This is the first week this year that feels as if it possibly could be true. It's been a relentless slog so far.

At least the weather has helped; very little rain and very few chilly days. And we actually  got out a few days. On one of the holidays Alison and I went up to the Open-Air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses , which was pretty good despite the mosquitoes. Had two date-like dinners with Alison, too: one steak and another ribs. We also saw The British Museum Exhibiton: A History of the World in 100 Objects at the Kobe City Museum ). Had Turkish food ( at a memorial dinner honoring the passing of a friend's parent, and we have the the Two Thanksgivings coming up soon.

So, yeah, making time for the non-work stuff, but that doesn't lessen the amount of work. I pride myself on prioritizing and time management, but there's no way to get to cruising mode when 27 hours each week are spent in the classroom and another 15 are spent commuting. 

A new iPhone 6S has relieved the battery aggravation I had with the 5S and a new iPad feels wonderful after suffering with the old mini for so long. Of course, I have my audio toys, too, and they continue to be perfection. OK, some comfort issues with the Shures, but I'm not complaining.

So, just over 40 shopping days until Christmas, and about 30 class days until the break. Doable.

September 13, 2015

The last week in Chicago was pretty much a blur - as is often the case. Eye exam, new iPhone battery, Supercar Saturday, 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Ride-and-Drive, neighborhood Sunday morning tamale hunt (a story to be written), great BBQ party hosted by the Duchess of Lauritania, final whack at the shopping list, a special dinner out with my brother Dave, an incredible mid-day black sky downpour, and some fast laps racing karts out in Addison. Got the very nice silver VW Jetta back to he rental agency without incident, and even scored an empty seat next to me on the very well served JAL flight back to Narita. That didn't do anything for the racing ache and pains, however. Racing is hard work; don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Now, back in Osaka. The heat has departed, and the temps are wonderfully comfortable. Have unpacked, grilled, gone for a walk with Wifus™, and even done some minor home repair. Still working on the month of snail mail piled on the desk, and even updating this web page. Enjoying the hell out of this trip's indulgence: a pair of Grado GH1s. They're good, very good.

Which, I guess sums it up. Chicago, Mexico, Osaka, family, friends, Alison: all very, very good.

Lucky guy.

September 8, 2015

Since then, there's been loads of work done and the sleep patterns have been wack, but no question it's been a good one. First, the weather, the weather; wonderfully cool days, so wonderful after weeks in Osaka when the highs each day were near or exceeded 100°F. Home alone, warm afternoon sunlight filling the kitchen where I'd spent so much time growing up, MacBook on the table, flanked by a small glass of whisky. Shooting the breeze with the Comcast guy, trying to stabilize the house's internet connection: the house; the neighborhood; the garage my father, his friends, my brother, and I built; his friend the drag racer in Florida; and, of course, the failings of telephone tech support.

Then, ten pretty demanding days in Mexico: lots of driving in a VW with an awful transmission, lots of hard thinking. Lots of exploration, trying to determine what's possible and what is not. Still, ten extremely productive, informative, positive days. Mexico, or at least the Querétaro/Tequisquiapan area where we spent our time, cleaner, wealthier, safer, "nicer" than remembered or expected. For me, the hard part is trying to fit my car jones into the picture, all the while balancing that with Alison's needs. For the two of us, the realization of the enormity of the task that lies ahead. Or, you just pack a suitcase, throw the keys on the table, and head for the airport.

Also learned that one doesn't need to leave the Back of the Yards to find good (real) Mexican food; in many ways, the old neighborhood is more "Mexico" than the Mexico we saw on this trip. Front yard chickens, for example: Queretaro 0, BOTY 4. There were a couple of truly exceptional meals, however.

And damn you, damn you American Airlines for what you subject passengers to in your airplanes. That letter gets written this week.

August 10, 2015

The trip did not start all that well. Moving down the aisle of the plane, I fear and then conclude that my rowmates are a 10-year-old boy and his father. Oh, well. Headphones in, eyes closed, I'll be OK. I do open my eyes as we taxi, as I've still somehow not passed out from exhaustion, and see the kid with his faced smashed against the window. The acceleration then pushes him back into his seat, but he recovers as we rumble don the runway, and as we lift off, he turns to flash his dad a tooth deficient smile that belies the true joy we so rarely come across in life. OK. This will be OK.

Turns out, the kid's an angel. He coordinates his pee breaks with mine. I'd always beat him back, somehow, and while early in the trip he was tentative and shy when re returned and needed to stir the scary gaijin to pass, by the time we were over Canada, he would return flashing that damn missing tooth smile of his.

But, yes, the plane was very warm for most of the trip, my driver was a cross escapee from the casbah, his car was a grotesque white stretch, and the jerk at the Hertz counter tried to hustle me on every line of the rental agreement. And or so, I ended up with a Chevy Spark - "Ford Focus or equivalent" in no one's universe, and not a very good car at all.

On the plus side, thanks to T-mobile and JAL's in-flight wi-fi, I enjoyed internet connectivity door to door, with the exception of takeoff, landing, and SIM card swap in Narita. Seems like a small thing, but getting a jump on a day's worth of email accumulating and having phone service upon arrival is huge. 2015, finally.

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

So. Busy.

March 26, 2015

This is what I think.


- Increasing the number of Americans with health insurance. (+11,000,000)
- Osama Bin Laden, rest in hell.
- Lowest unemployment rate since 2008.
- More jobs created than in 2000-2008. (12,000,000) 2014 best year yet.
- Troops out of Iraq.
- Shifting tax burden from lower and middle to upper classes.
- Making net neutrality the law.
- Pursuing diplomatic over military solutions.
- Record high Dow, S&P, NASDAQ. Doubled since 2008.
- Clean energy doubled.
- Marriage equality
- Decriminalization of recreational marijuana.
- Ending the Bush tax breaks for the rich (in effect 2013).
- Deficit: $600 billion cut from long-term debt projections.
- Reining in renegade Wall St. (Dodd-Frank)

Thanks, Obama.


- Wasting $16-24 billion to shut down government in attempt to stop the ACA. (Ted Cruz)
- Taking health insurance away from Americans.
- Opposing efforts to reduce climate change.
- Imposing Christianity and "Christian values" on Americans. (See: religious FREEDOM.)
- Usurping power from the working class. (anti-union, "right to work")
- Adherence to discredited economic policies. (trickle-down, growing deficits)
- Corporations and the wealthy buying elections with excessive donations. (Koch Bros.)
- Removing science (evolution) from school curricula.
- Attempts to weaken, restrict, or overturn Roe vs. Wade.
- Prayer and religion in public schools.
- Attempts at restricting citizens' right to vote.
- Blocking immigration reform.
- Netanyahu.


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.

Never got to the academic paper (no surprise, no regrets) and too little time on the Strat (but thanks again, Bill!), but for the rest of it, I did damn well. Despite the naps.

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

Lay foundation for new audio podcast (web page, feed, template, content); record several practice sessions with Charles

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

Exercise, fatass

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)

Yeah. We’ll see.

August 9, 2014

Ah, the semester ends.

Extra bonus: the approaching typhoon, while it brings plenty of rain, also brings some wonderfully livable temperatures.

With semesters getting longer, life cramming more into each week/day/hour, the loss of downtime in the break is palpable. Nevertheless, aside from the usual medical and business tasks that need tending to, this looks to be a pretty stress-free visit home: no extra travel, no friends or family visiting…just a couple of weeks unstructured time. Unstructured, not free. On the table: get off a couple more Chicago short stories/vignettes, an extensive reading research paper, launching the audio podcast, keeping up with the Teacher podcast, general class prep for the fall semester, and, and, and…

Nevertheless, nice to be going back for one of the last few times to the house I grew up in…savor the sounds (neighbor’s mariachi music, the creak of the floorboards, occasional gunshots late at night), the play of light as the sun arcs through the day (late afternoon warmth in the kitchen, the certainty of the noonday sun overhead), the smells (cut grass, bacon cooking up, car exhaust in the garage), the familiarity of the proximity of the walls as I old-man trudge through its rooms and corridors, whether it’s bringing in groceries from the car or getting up in the middle of the night for a piss. Memories of  what’s not there: the rumble of the Grand Trunk & Western trains passing 100 feet away, smoke from my father’s Camels wafting through the house, my mom’s heavily creamed and sugared coffee cooling while she worked on the day’s crossword. Savor, I do. Every minute I’m there.

And every trip back home is special, for what was there and what is still there. Family, friends (real friends), memories, and, yes, hopes for the future. Even the immigration officers at O’Hare, some of whom remember me (How long you been doin’ this? Welcome home.) Sorry if you don’t get it.

Japan, Russia, Guam, Cambodia, Sicily, Saipan, Spain, Ireland, Palau, Vietnam, Mexico. Sure. Ain’t southside Chicago.

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.

Charles and I have pared back the Two Teachers Talking podcast frequency to once per month, and that makes a big difference. We’re better prepared and bring a good bit more enthusiasm to the show, too. And the time it frees up is needed and appreciated.

A couple of weeks and it’ll be - I can’t believe this - a tenth anniversary for Alison and I. We are rewarding ourselves with a  short, fast getaway to Okinawa, first time for each of us.

Outside my self-imposed cocoon, Shinzo Abe continues his Bush act on poor Japan…slashing corporate taxes, devaluing the currency, forcing more and more people from full-time to part-time employment (sans benefits)…almost a direct parallel to the number Bush did on the US from 2001-2008. Of course, the antics of the GOP and the wacko right back home are apparent to all, and nothing I can say can make them look any more insane than their own words and actions.

May 5, 2014

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.

So, yeah, spending much of it working, by necessity, but also getting some important business done. Finally got tethering set up on my iPhone, so I can say goodbye to my separate little Mi-Fi gizmo. Failing again at falling in love with Scrivener. Hosted a “ホームパーティー” for a group of students for the first time ever; they deserved it. Helping Alison with some of her projects, laying groundwork for another of my own (wait until September). With luck, I’ll even get to my US income taxes.

Did manage to get out for a mini-celebration of a collective anniversary of various events in our relationship. Explored a restaurant floor in one of the huge new buildings popping up around Umeda in the center of Osaka. Decent ribs, and my first in-the-wild siting of a Google Glass. Woman said she used it mostly to tell the time.

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.

But the vacation sure as hell was a good one. Sure, Chicago dealt me a full dose of winter in the two weeks plus I was there, but I also crammed in a traditional road trip with the guys down to Sebring FL for the twelve hour endurance race. A first, and quite an experience. Sadly, it also meant confronting the forgotten reality of what a significant portion of the country is like. Sorry, Lynyrd Skynyrd, old Neil had a point. (But, Johnny Colt…respect for coming clean). Convinced more than ever that Fox News and the red states are a cancer destroying my country. No other way to say it. But, after hightailing it back to Chicago through the crazy Florida drivers, heavy, heavy traffic and white-out rain in Georgia, low thick clouds in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, just missing a late season blizzard in Kentucky and Indiana, and ending in a welcome home Chicago-Gary morning rush hour…the next morning had me flying down to Mexico for five idyllic days in San José del Cabo. Yes, yes. Yes, it was wonderful.

And now I’m back in the Japans, gearing up frantically for the start of a new school year. However, with so few of them left, it’s much, much easier to appreciate and savor each one, if not every day. Yes, the commutes still really suck. Even worse in the summer and rainy season. Some students do manage to find the limits of patience. Still - salary aside - teaching has been a great way to make a living.

To help me a bit, I asked to bring me a major league baseball, if only for my desk. The hope is that fingering this totem, tossing it from hand to hand in the rough times will make them a little less rough. As backup, I have my stable of miniature X1/9 models mirroring the real cars of my past, expertly prepared by Bill back in Chicago, as well as my Motown baseball cap hanging next to my rack of headphones. I’ll make it.

Which is maybe more than I can say for Japan. I fear the country is about to come face to face with the ugly reality of the Abenomics scam. Long-term denial of the scale of the Fukushima problems, its increasingly withdrawn and xenophobic attitudes, its lost and directionless younger generation. China and the Koreas. Attempts to re-write its war crime history. The list goes on. Now economic Armageddon? I was first here in 1988 and have lived here since 1991, and the squandered potential of this nation is one of the tragedies of the era. The country so needs a hero, and it is so not Shinzō Abe, or anyone like him.

But, as I am wont to say, I’m just an English teacher. What do I know? 


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.

As for the nation, no matter how the right and media spin it, I see unemployment down, the DOW and NASDAQ at record levels, health care for millions who were previously without coverage, a strong movement to increase the minimum wage and lessen wealth inequality, real trends in both marriage equality and marijuana legalization, and even continued discussion on immigration reform. Chicago’s homicide rate is down (though Rahm is still mucking things up badly else wise). The next year will hopefully bring our men and women home from Afghanistan. Still, our veterans and homeless still need a hand, so help if you can. I’m a fan of the McCormick Foundation’s Chicago Tribune Charities because of its gift-matching and low overhead costs.

Personally, I am failing at keeping work corralled in its proper boundaries, but enjoying the teaching and my students, so it’s not a total wash. Alison is also failing miserably; no consolation there. But, we continue to try. I have managed to make some great sound acquisitions over the year, including a FiiO DAC/amp, and four great pairs of headphones: Grado SR225i and Sony MDR 7506 for full-size listening and UE900 and Sony MDR-EX600 for in-ear listening on the go. Love each. Why four? Addiction, no excuses.

So, now, just year-end cleanup, getting ready for the last month of classes, and girding myself for the big bad birthday about to hit me. しょうがない。

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.

Some just see a guy sitting in front of his damn computer. Still. Again.

I'm back in the Japans, by the way, fighting jet lag and missing the dry, cool weather I enjoyed in Chicago for most of the visit back home. (A typhoon is just skulking awayas I type this.) But very happy to be back at a full-size keyboard, staring at a huge Apple display, seated in my Aeron chair. And don't forget Japan's baths and toilets: unmatched anywhere. Have already chowed on some delicious sushi - our local guy may be both visually impaired and in possession of Kansai's dullest knives. Really need to catch a good look at how many fingers he has left. There are some pictures up from the trip: the Detroit Cruise and the Elkhart Lake Vintage Races. Big thanks to everyone who made the trip such a great one, from beginning to end. Just great.

Classes begin on Tuesday, but sporadically, leaving a few days off, still. What's left is to prep for the semester's beginning, get the damn meeting book to amazon and Apple, then attack my blessedly short chore list from Wifus™. Possible? Maybe. But there is, of course, more, as there always is. Following up on complaints of some very sub-par service from the Advantage car rental company, as well as a few bogus credit card charges. I suppose I should finish unpacking, too, at some point. 

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.

Now it's a week or so of tour guide until the in-laws leave, which will be a great chance to see my favorite city  with fresh eyes. Great folks, too. The vacation ends with a fast ride up to Road America, Elkhart Lake, for the Vintage Festival for the weekend with the guys - and two of our ladies. If the weather cooperates, it's a guaranteed great weekend. Nothing vintage race cars at speed. Alison will leave for Japan a couple of days before I will, and I'll spend those days shopping and tying what loose ends I can. I imagine even by then there'll be a little chill in the air here, just as I imagine the steamy air that will rich into my lungs when I step off the JAL plane into the jetway at Narita (and again in Osaka). That stop in Narita, by the way, is as close as I'll be to the disaster in Fukushima.

And so my very unusual dual universe life continues.

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

Belated birthday wishes to my favorite country, which I embrace unabashedly, faults and all, as serious and as numerous as they might be. USA. Here's an up close look at our other First Lady.

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.

New look on the page? Yeah, figured why not get on the Jony Ive bandwagon and look like everyone else out there. For a while, anyway.

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:

Apple iTunes


Also, coming later this year will be another book, A Quick and Dirty Guide to the Japanese Business Meeting.

March 16, 2013

Seems just hours ago we were in Studio A of Hitsville, USA, the Motown museum on Grand Blvd. in western Detroit, then barreling toward Chicago through whiteout conditions across Indiana, the tiny Mazda 2 rental, screaming its anemic motor out. Now, those Motown hits are funking me up over Alaska, flying "home" to Japan. Great road trip it was, too. Down and dirty diners with their coney dogs, classic Americana at the Henry Ford Museum, and the sheer awe of the Ford Rouge Plant's complexity and precision. The chance to drive, both Interstate bullet mode as well as stupid parking lot drifting. Way too much beer (for some of us, anyway - and, surprise, I don't mean me), diamond quality camaraderie. The rest of the trip was also just fine; lots of down time, a chance to relax and catch up on work, even enough to wrestle the next book to the mat if not quite finish it off. Cooked well enough to pack the pounds and cholesterol on both my brother and myself. Caught up with more old friends that matter. Really matter. Drove a new BMW 3-series, though gingerly. Got some of the old driving mojo back and managed second in one of the go-kart racing heats, maybe second fastest of our group all day. Felt good - it's been a while. Saw the old hood, smelled the Back of the Yards air, drove its potholed streets, marked the passage of time. Nothing finer.

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 so now I can track sales of my Us and Them; not that there's much to track.'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.