Zach awry in Japan

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14 March 2011 Earthquake

I have gotten lots of email in the past couple days asking if we have been affected by the earthquake and tsunami (and nuclear fallout?). The answer is, blessedly, no. We live very far away. By purest coincidence I was in Tokyo for the first time in about three years just for the day of the quake, but the worst I suffered was some very heavy shaking and a few minutes of sincerely wondering if I would be seeing my family again. I was planning on going home the same day, but the trains had stopped, so I couldn’t. I was fortunate enough to have someone I know invite me to stay in their apartment. It is on the 53rd floor, and the elevators were not running, so it was a long trek up the stairs.

I took some photos of the gorgeous view of Tokyo from the 53rd floor with the intention of posting them, but given all the horrible images proliferating from the disaster, posting them as my own experience of the event seems inappropriate at best.

28 January 2011 Off-topic: Gmail

I use my own personal email address(es) for lots of stuff, but I also find it convenient to use Gmail. Now I find that they are beginning to implement image-based ads in their service.

It is, of course, a free service, and they can operate it as they wish. The first image that appears in an ad, though, is the last time I use it. (Of course, if it appears in emails I send with Gmail, how will I know about it? Hmm….)

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20 January 2010 Hanging out with the Kamadas and playing karuta

The other day the Kamadas came over for a little new year’s get-together, which involved hanging around at our house for a while and then going out for some great yaki-niku, where you grill your own meat at the table and drink lots of draft beer. The owner is a fan of Kamada-san’s pottery, which I’ve blogged about in the past, and he treated us like kings, especially because Kamada-san brought him a little present at my suggestion.

Genbo acting….Like Genbo
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He loves that thing. I think Maki made it for him. Those Japanese are good with folded paper.
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Kamada-san playing with Zoe
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Zoe and Mom
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The photo below shows them playing something very interesting. Japanese people are very big on various forms of karuta, or cards. The most widespread version is the Hyakunin-Isshu, which was originally an anthology of 100 poems compiled in the 12th century.These were then assembled into a deck of cards, with each card containing a single poem in calligraphic form. The game is that two or more people will sit in front of the spread-out deck, while another person reads the poems at random. The contestants then have to find the appropriate card and pick it up before their opponent does. This is actually a very big “sport” in Japan, with national championships, ranks, and the level of obsession Japanese people pour into just about everything. The “pros” only have to hear one or two syllables before they recognize which poem is being read, and their hand shoots out unbelievably fast. Here is one gorgeous video showing people dressed up in the ceremonial garb of the 12th century playing the game at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto (a ritual carried out at the beginning of each new year), and here is a national news report about the national championships, with some great video showing how fast the pros are. Coincidentally, this is at the shrine where Genbo and Zoe go to daycare.

Anyway, Genbo got a deck of karuta for new year’s from his Japanese grandparents, although these don’t have the Hyakunin-Issue poems on them, but rather kotowaza, or Japanese proverbs. Being a confucian country, Japanese people are big at sprinkling proverbs into conversation. They learn them very early—five years old, in fact. Genbo already has his proverb cards memorized, and Zoe isn’t actually half bad either.

19 October 2009 Japan: Apparently the only island nation on Earth

Apparently even the intellectually deficient can become president of RISD, probably the best design school in the US. I hope he can draw good.

There is an article in the NY Times about extravagant Japanese lunch boxes, or bento. I am well aware of these, and tremble at the thought of having to compete with all those Japanese moms willing to get up an hour early to craft their little one’s piece of art for the day (I know people who do this).

In this NYT piece, various luminaries (or not) give their opinions as to why Japanese people seem to care more about the aesthetics of little things. Anyway, the president of RISD gives this little piece of wisdom:

“I would say that Japanese culture is particularly attuned to the appreciation of beauty because it springs from an island nation with limited natural resources. Japan has always had to get by with less wood, metal, fuel and so on, so its culture has evolved around how to make less into more.”

Now, this is a worn out piece of Japanese cultural theory that Japanese people (and the guy appears to be Japanese, or at least of Japanese heritage) trot out to explain just about anything about Japan.

The thing that always bugs me is…The world is full of island nations. A fact that Japanese people never seem to have caught on to. And, if the world has many island nations, then offering “Japan is an island!” as a primary explanation for anything that doesn’t also apply to all those island nations, is just blather.

Does Brittain have ornate bento? How about Jamaica? New Zealand? That this little piece of Logic 101 appears to be be beyond so many cultural commentators never fails to astound me.

16 October 2009 I Am an Idiot

A week or so before our yearly, much anticipated vacation back to the States I take it upon myself to cut my own hair, which I’ve done for years with a trusty pair of electric clippers. They betrayed me this time, though, because I forgot in the middle of the process that I had taken off the length-adjustment guard to clean it, meaning that when I applied the clippers to the very front of my head they cut away everything, resulting in the absurd half-reverse-Mohawk you see here. Looks like I have some serious hat-wearing in my future.

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It’s a good thing I work at home.

28 September 2009 Thanks, Jeremy!

A big thanks to Jeremy Visser (the Good Samaritan who originally set up my blog) for upgrading my WordPress installation and taking it upon himself to redo my Archives page such that it’s actually legible.

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9 February 2009 A little light food blogging

One of the benefits of the slow economy is that I get to spend more time cooking great food. Today was the first day in a week and a half that Genbo went to daycare, finally flu-free. I used it by luxuriating in a child-free, quiet house, with just the McNeil Lehrer Newshour to keep me company while I cooked. The entire week’s worth I haven’t been able to watch until today, in fact. It was glorious.

This loaf of bread is a variation on the no-knead bread that has been making the rounds on the internets after being introduced in the NYT last year. This version is about one-third whole-wheat with some dried cranberries to make it appetizing for the kiddies. I’ve been experimenting with ways to make the recipe even easier, and today I found out that if you let the dough rise in the same cast-iron pot you’re going to cook it in, then cook it without removing it first and washing the pot, the entire circumference of the loaf will stick like glue to the pot. Hence the jagged edges all the way around. That was OK, though, since I got to peel the stuck crust away from the cast iron and gnosh on it while I prepared the below.

I used to be intimidated by the idea of making lasagna, until I realized that it’s just red pasta sauce layered with flat noodles and cheese. And, since I consider making pasta sauce by anything less than the gallon a waste of energy, I usually have some left over for lasagna. Genbo requested lasagna today when I asked him what he wanted, and I was perfectly happy to whip up a batch of sauce for it.

This also, of course, helped him get out the door in the morning with no tears. He does enjoy daycare, but he’s prone to forget this fact if he hasn’t been in a while. Today I was able to avoid tears by promising him lasagna and mentioning the fact that if he complained every time I let him stay home for an extended period, I would be less likely to do so in the future (the last couple days he was home, he really could have gone). Maybe I should have taken pictures of carrots and sticks instead.

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Lens: 16-85, Uncategorized

6 February 2009 A Bleg

(A bleg is a beg performed by a blogger, often in terms of asking for information.)

I can’t help noticing a specific pattern of logic that pops up frequently. I think there must be a name for it, but I can’t find it. Hence the bleg.

Here are three examples: A wife suspects her husband of cheating. Or, I suspect Genbo has been raiding the ice cream while I was giving Zoe a bath. We can ask the suspect if a sin has been committed, but only one of two possible answers will actually contain information. That is, the husband will say “No” whether he cheated or not, so this response essentially conveys no information. Only an answer of “Yes” actually resolves uncertainty. Same thing, of course with Genbo and the ice-cream.

Similarly, assume there is a biomarker for a cancerous tumor. If you have this thing in your blood stream, you definitely have the tumor, as the molecule is created only by the tumor. However, it is possible to have the cancer without the biomarker being detected. So, no information is gained by failure to detect the biomarker. Only through detection is information gained.

Finally, assume that on a given train line there are two colors of trains. The green train could be either local or express, while the red train is always the express. So, if you see a green train coming, it could be either the local or the express. Only sighting the red one resolves information about the coming train.

This pattern pops up often, and I would love to know if there is a name for it. Asymmetrical information would be a great name for it, but that’s already taken by something totally unrelated (as well as by one of my favorite blogs).

Anyone got a clue?

30 January 2009 Unclear on the concept, No. 428

Me: “Genbo, what’s 2 plus 2?”

Genbo: “22?”

28 January 2009 A mysterious yet disconcerting trend

I can’t believe how fast January has passed. It certainly does not seem like four weeks since I last posted. Although things have been extremely, excessively, are-you-frickin’-kidding-me quiet on the work front, I have actually been pretty busy. Everyone in my family except for Genbo (who has a constitution of iron) came down with the flu at the same time. And, Maki is working at a hospital on the other side of Kyoto for the time being, which means she leaves earlier in the morning and comes home late. Zoe is now probably in her peak of difficulty, as she has very concrete desires and wants yet not nearly enough words to express them, which leads to frustration. And, she is for some reason waking up about five times a night these days. I think it is proof of evolutionary principles that babies are at their most cute when they are the most demanding; those who weren’t were simply abandoned on the African savannah by frustrated parents tearing their hair out.

And yet, despite the fact that I have not posted for a month, I have more readers than ever. I’ve noticed for a while now that readership grows when I don’t post, and declines when I do. This is a mysterious yet disconcerting trend perhaps explainable only by the hypothesis that people visit only in the hopes of not finding anything new here.

Well, I intend to post once every day for the next month. That should pummel my readership into negative territory.

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18 November 2008 Fall colors in Japan this time

These are all taken from my balcony. The colors are all pretty realistic, and I have not increased the saturation at all. However, in order to get the great light and shadow I had to wait until late afternoon, at which point the sun was pointing almost directly into my camera, which kills contrast. So, I had to boost the contrast to keep them from looking completely washed out.

Love those red trees in the foreground
Bigger piece of the hill
The pool at which I swim a few times a week to battle my mid-30′s child-rearing gut
There’s something so delicate about the light on those hills that only partially comes through in the photo
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3 November 2008 Genbo’s First Halloween

This is Genbo’s first Halloween in America, and he had a very good time. He enjoyed it with his step-sister Linnea, who showed him the ropes.

He was Curious George, which strikes me as fitting because he A) loves Curious George, B) was born in the year of the monkey, and C) has always seemed to me to be very monkey-like (in a good way) in his love of and playful manner of cavorting around.

Conquering yet another porch with Linnea

I love his nervous expression here (“Um, dad, you’re suuuure this stuff is all for play, right?”)

No nervous expression here

“Hey Genbo, no eating while still on the porch! It’s declasse.”

22 October 2008 Off to the States

Genbo and I are going off to the States for a couple weeks. This will be both his first Halloween and his first US Presidential election! I hope to be blogging soon from beautiful autumnal Minnesota, but before I go let me share this video that a very good friend of mine had a key part in making. Do not press play if profanity and bad Jewish jokes offend.


The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

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16 September 2008 Too funny not to post


Pre-Game Coin Toss Makes Jacksonville Jaguars Realize Randomness Of Life

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