Thursday, December 21, 2006

My New Addiction

The Last Screenshot of My ubuntu Desktop before I Moved on to . . . .

Lately I have been changing and re-installing operating systems on my laptop the way some people change their underwear--provided we are talking about the dirty sort of people who only change their underwear every couple of weeks. I re-installed ubuntu no less than three times. Sometimes it was because I broke something beyond my humble ability to repair. Sometimes I just wanted to try something new.

I also got into the habit of watching google videos about Linux and its pantheon of nerds and browsing through Linux forums. Ubuntu was working great for me, but I was hurt by comments like "why don't you guys take a step back and ask yourselves 'why do I have so many problems playing videos in my poo-brown operating system'?" Poo-brown!? How dare they! Mine was more of a sepia tone.

Nevertheless, there was an element of truth in that rude disparagement of Linux. Even with the wcodecs32 package it is still impossible to play all Windows media perfectly. For example, my cell phone video footage which uses a proprietary Windows file format with a proprietary Sharp codec plays very choppy and without sound in Totem. What's worse, there is nothing comparable to Windows Movie Maker in the free software repositories. There is Cinelerra, which is extremely powerful but apparently doesn't work well in ubuntu, and then there is everything else, which can't even begin to handle the demands of Keitai Cinema. Did this discourage me from ubuntu? Mei genoita! May it never be! Ubuntu was working just great for me, and I was learning all kinds of new things. As for Keitai Cinema, I still have Windows Movie Maker in my Windows partition, and if necessary I can always invest the fifteen minutes it takes me to boot Windows up.

No, it wasn't pragmatic issues that began to fill my heart with doubt. I began to wonder if ubuntu is really as cool as can be. And as I became practically acquainted with the fact that ubuntu runs the Gnome desktop environment, I began to wonder what that other thing was . . . KDE . . . kubuntu. It was a Linus Torvalds quote that finally pushed me over the edge. I quote:

I personally just encourage people to switch to KDE.

This "users are idiots, and are confused by functionality" mentality of
Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will
use it. I don't use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long
since reached the point where it simply doesn't do what I need it to do.

Please, just tell people to use KDE.


Now, if Mr. Linux, the Big Penguin himself says that KDE is better than Gnome, who am I to disobey his advice? Why, just a couple of weeks ago I didn't even know what either of them were. So, behold . . .

. . . and take a look at my latest screenshot below.

The background image is just a temporary fix until I get around to creating my own.

So far kubuntu has been a lot cooler to play around with than ubuntu. In many ways, ubuntu had the look and feel of a brown version of Windows that just happened to be slicker. kubuntu looks and feels totally different. I feel like I finally found that free sports car that Troy Johnstone promised everyone.

Granted, I have had to install a couple of Gnome packages in addition to the usual restricted formats. I find Gnome's f-spot photo manager to be a lot handier than KDE's digiKam. f-spot automatically organizes my photos into handy little files by date, and I can browse all 3790 of my photos at once in a single panel. Also, at first I was impressed by the Konqueror web and file browser but I quickly realized that it couldn't handle gmail's standard view or uploading photos in blogger. I ended up installing the Firefox browser which I launch with my KCheckGmail button, and I do all of my blogging and email correspondence in Firefox.

As anyone who has read this far is aware, this post has gone on way too long so I will save the rest of my wanna-be nerd talk for another occasion.

Squid for Lunch . . . Again

Actually, normally I would never devote a blog entry to anything so banal as squid for lunch, but I thought it would be funny to take pictures of a junior high girl trying to clean a kitchen drain with squid guts stuck in it. When I took this picture she said "Stop! Now your friends and relatives are going to think that we do this all the time!" Well, kiddo, that's the nature of journalism. Besides (wink), maybe you would be doing it all the time if you ever helped your mother in the kitchen (smile).

Fried Squid Rings in Home Ec

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Preparing to Say Farewell to (Relatively) Sunny and (Relatively) Warm Osaka

Urban Airport: Unfortunately, I didn't get a photo of Osaka Castle when we flew in to Osaka, and when you fly out you can't see the castle from the left side of the plane. Bummer.

The weather is less fair at Misawa Airport . . .

. . . but the novelty of sharing a runway with the air force takes some of the tragedy out of living in cold and gloomy Aomori.

Just kidding. I love it here. This is the kokudo (national highway) that we have to take in order to get from Misawa Airbase to our village. Notice the squid hanging out to dry on the wall of the house in the upper middle sector of the photograph (click on the image to see a larger version).

The "highway" does, in fact, get a little wider in some of the flat stretches between villages.

In Which My Japanese Proficiency Level Is Measured and Found Wanting

Students Making Their Way to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) on a Sunday Morning

When I returned to Japan in the summer of 2004 I came with the understanding that I would be in the JET Programme for three years. With that in mind, I developed a cunning plan to leisurely climb my way up the JLPT ladder. This ladder only has four rungs, and so by starting at the second rung--level 3--I planned to make my way up to the top--level 1--before retiring from my career as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). Level 3 of the JLPT is a pretty low level for someone who grew up in Japan and graduated from Japanese elementary school. So my first year back in Japan I took that little Level 3 test by the scruff of the neck and kicked its butt: 400/400 = 100% Take that, JLPT! Now, rumour has it, and I attest that it is true, that there is a huge gap between the second and third rungs (levels 3 and 2 respectively) of the JLPT ladder. Nevertheless, I somehow managed to grapple my way up without any special conditioning. Not with a 400 out of 400, mind you, but a Pass nonetheless. Which brings me to the last rung (Level 1) which I attempted to mount a couple of weeks ago. Passing this level would supposedly make me fit for matriculation in a Japanese university. I can honestly say that in the first section of the test--Writing/Vocabulary--I didn't know the answer to a single question. That doesn't mean I didn't have a good time. Like most standardized tests in the lazy half of the world, the JLPT is multiple choice, so anyone who has a taste for games of chance can enjoy them. In fact, not knowing the answers probably made it that much more exciting for me, although I was a little sad to come face to face with my own ignorance. For the second section--Listening--my main difficulty was paying attention. I may have missed a couple of the questions out of sheer carelessness. The final section--Reading--was made difficult by the fact that I can't read Japanese, but by applying my analytical powers to the "comprehension" component of "reading comprehension," I may have come off half decently. The real tragedy of this episode will be if I find out (in February) that I actually managed a 70% and passed. It will shake my confidence in "the system." However, that is unlikely, and so I consider it providential that the JET Programme has changed its policy on re-contracting, thus allowing me to extend my ALT career by two years and to have another two goes at JLPT Level 1. Maybe I'll even study for it next time.

The Exodus: At this testing site alone, there were literally thousands of students taking the JLPT. Two years ago I did my Level 3 in Sapporo, and last year I did my Level 2 in Sendai. There were far fewer people taking the test in those locations, and I would say that a large percentage of those who did were native English speakers. This time I took my Level 1 in the Osaka area, and not only were there many times more people taking the test with me, but almost none of them were from English speaking countries.

The sky is dazzling blue, but all below it lies in gloom: Students of Japanese Leaving the Testing Grounds

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In Which We See Nara . . . .

In the course of the week I spent at the Translation and Interpretation Seminar (a mere 15 minutes from Kyoto Station), I didn't set foot outside of the building even once. So when Saturday came, it was time to bundle Grace up and have a go at some sightseeing. After consulting with our gracious hosts, we settled on Nara instead of Kyoto, as there was an art exhibition going on there for which we had coupons, and Nara Park is a one-stop destination for a great variety of sites and wonders.

The art exhibition was great, but when we came out it was raining. And cold. Normally this wouldn't be an insurmountable problem, but we all had colds, including the baby. This is a view of Nara from the van.

Here is another view. Unfortunately you can't really make out the famously aggressive deer of Nara Park in this photo. I had great plans of engaging them in friendly physical combat, but that will have to wait until the next time we are down that way.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Meanwhile, In Osaka . . . .

Grace Being Taken Care of by a Few of the Five Mortimer Boys: Come to Think of It, Grace Almost Looks Like a Mortimer Boy Herself

The Japan Intercultural Academy of Municipalities (JIAM) is a typical social institution molded around fragmented and corporatized notions of humanity that tear individuals from the familial fabric of their beings and repackage them as discreet units labeled "doctor," "lawyer," "teacher," "civil servant," "Toyota employee" or some other indicator of their status as slave to corporate society. In other words, Yuko and Grace could not stay with me at JIAM because JIAM is only for civil servants selected to participate in training courses. This may seem perfectly reasonable to the vast majority of people in the industrialized world, but I am a Free Narnian and I hope to leave my government job and live safely someday under my own vine and under my own fig tree. In the mean time, I took my family to the house of my wife's friends in Osaka where they were cared for and enjoyed great fellowship.

Grace Entertaining the Mortimers' Next Door Neighbours

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

(Self-Assigned) Homework Submission


My assertion in a previous post that I felt my migration from Windows was complete proved to be grossly naive. The night before getting on the plane to Osaka I was up until four o'clock in the morning trying to figure out how to enable Japanese input. And I was up until three o'clock in the morning on almost every subsequent night trying to figure out how to install a Japanese dictionary "from source" as well as what Linux video editors to install and what codecs I need in order to move my Keitai Cinema operations to Ubuntu. One of the main problems I have had is software programs not installing or un-installing properly.

Screenshot Update

I have learned much (about computers and Linux, not Japanese and translating) and accomplished much, but I think by the time the next version of Ubuntu comes out that my current installation will be so broken that I will need to reformat my laptop and start from scratch. I would like to close this post, though, with a success story. As one can readily see, the photos in the last few posts are right side up. That means that I have solved the problem I discussed on 21 November (by using F-Spot Photo Viewer, not Gimp). Also, one can see from the above photo that I have (clumsily) fulfilled my pledge to "draw forth from the darkness a baby and a man looking at the airplane sitting in bright sunlight." When I opened the photo up in Gimp I saw a little wand in the tool bar. I clicked on the wand, "waved" it and said "Lumos!" and, presto! Well, I might have done a couple of other things as well, but my memory is a little blurred.

Bisy at Biwako (Near Kyoto)

Day One in My Room at the Japan Intercultural Academy of Municipalities: Getting Down to Business

Our Kansai trip was made possible by my CLAIR sponsored Translation and Interpretation Course. Like the Linguistics and Pedagogy Course I took last year, it had a one week seminar component. I have said it before, but the JET Programme is probably the best scholarship program out there if you already have a degree and you want to learn Japanese. My course expenses were fully covered by CLAIR and my attendance at the seminar was treated as a business trip by my supervisors. Since we used my wife's air miles we were able to move the whole family down to the Kansai area for the week and still come out a few hundred dollars on top in our budget.

The Bilingual Panel Discussion on the Last Day, Complete with Role-playing Panelists and Interpreters

I am afraid that I wasn't prepared for the course. For one thing, I haven't been doing any of the coursework. For another thing, it was a lot more intensive than I expected. The instructors were all very high-level professional interpreters and the head instructor was a venerable veteran who, in his time, interpreted for sundry world leaders, including Nelson Mandela as well as various U.S. presidents and Japanese prime ministers. Added to this, I was put to shame by other JETs who clearly had a better grasp of Japanese kanji and vocabulary even though they have only studied Japanese for a few years. All-in-all it was a very humbling week, and I didn't even accomplish my main goals of catching up on coursework or preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test that happened on the weekend. Instead, I worked on horrifically difficult vocabulary lists and fiddled around trying to install and enable various Japanese related software programs on Ubuntu . . . oh, and worked on coursework for seminary, too.

Still Working Hard at the End of the Week

Monday, November 27, 2006


This chapter introduces the time that Grace saw Mt. Fuji (if she was paying attention) and discovered that she could fly. Also, I have decided that this photo should be the photo on which I should test the powers of Gimp. I propose to draw forth from the darkness a baby and a man looking at the airplane sitting in bright sunlight.

Unlike her mother, Grace seems to enjoy flying or, at the very least, to be indifferent to it. After coolly observing the ground recede as we took off (what else could she do? I was pressing her face against the window) she settled down for a quiet talk with the little blue thingy that the stewardesses gave her.

As we were flying to Osaka, we passed Mr. Fuji on the way.

Actually, this is what it really looked like when not viewed through our Handycam's optical zoom. Where's Fuji?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Screenshot of my Ubuntu Desktop

Today's photo is a screenshot of my desktop in Ubuntu because, unlike my cellphone photos, I can upload it to blogger right-side-up. I am eagerly anticipating that "the Gimp" will solve all of my cellphone photo woes here in Ubuntuland, but upon our initial introduction I discovered that Gimp is a formidable friend. It makes even a seemingly simple operation like rotating an image feel like learning calculus. Nevertheless, now that I am posting a successful blog entry from within Ubuntu, I feel that my migration from Windows is complete. Perhaps I will celebrate by popping in my GParted live CD and making my Windows partition a little smaller. And perhaps I will celebrate in that way with each new Ubuntu release. I just learned how to use GParted so I'm apt to abuse it in this way through overuse. And since I am an immature amateur who is totally new to Linux, there's a part of me that wants to shout out, "Hey, look at me everybody, I'm using Linux! Aren't I nerdy?!" However, since there appears to be no Ubuntu logo screensaver installed by default, and since I still haven't figured out Gimp well enough to superimpose an Ubuntu logo onto my desktop image (I did try) my dignity is being spared the consequences of such rash exhibitionism. Besides, nobody around here would notice anyway.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Lately . . .

. . . I need to be careful when I drink water. Otherwise, someone shoves it in my face.

In Which I Perform a Successful Surgery On My Laptop and Thereby Complete “Phase Two”

Digging In

One of Averatec’s 3200 series’ weaknesses is a faulty power connector resulting from a sloppy step in their manufacturing process. After about a year and a half, most of them begin to suffer from a bad power connection. Unfortunately, this takes place right around the time that the battery wears out. The result is spontaneous shutdowns. I had been living with this problem for over half a year. On a number of occasions I began to take my laptop apart to see what the matter was, but I always gave up when I couldn’t pull the back cover off after removing all the screws (there’s another secret screw hidden under the keyboard). A few weeks ago, in desperation, I tried prying a something-or-other inside the what-chama-call-it a little outward so as to hold the doohickey that plugs into the laptop a little tighter. It improved things slightly, but I still needed to twist the doohickey around a little to get a connection and place the cord just so and be very careful not bump anything or else I would be looking at a dead screen before I could say “Averatec rots.” However, with the commencement of my "seasonal computer elective” I made a special effort to type “Averatec 3200 bad power connection” into Google and immediately came upon a thread in an Averatec owners’ forum that dealt precisely with the problems I was faced with. If you own an Averatec 3200 that is behaving in a similar fashion my blog is useless to you. Go here. It has photos and everything. It will show and tell you step by step how to take an Averatec 3200 apart and fix its power connector.

I Can’t Be a Fancy Sort of Nerd Who Does Cool Things Like Write Code and Customize Software, But I’m Thinking of Doing A Little Something On the Mechanical Side Like Cutting the Front Panel Where the Touch Pad Is and Putting Some Sort of Hinge On It and Drilling Holes in the Side to Expose the Latches So That I Can Lift It Up without Removing All the Screws

This is where the problem lies. In order to get to it, you have to take the entire laptop apart. There are three thingy-ma-jigs that should be soldered but aren't. I had never soldered anything before but I had watched my father do it when I was a kid. So I soldered the three thingys with the soldering iron I borrowed from him last time he came up to Kazamaura.

Success! My Power Connector Problem is Solved! I Forgot to Replace the Hidden Screw Under the Keyboard but, Oh Well . . . .

Incidentally I have also completed phases 1 & 3 of my “fourfold project” but since I am still in the tinkering stage with my Ubuntu and having difficulty with uploading photos to Blogger without them being tipped over on their sides, today’s post was compiled in and uploaded from Windows and does not include a screenshot of my new Ubuntu desktop.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Yes, I have installed Ubuntu . . .

And while I love it, I can't seem to upload photos to blogger right side up anymore. Full story to follow . . . .

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Tunnel of Smelly Feet

In my old regiment we had what we called The Tunnel of Love. Two sofas in the officer's mess would be tipped over on their sides to make a "tunnel" and two teams of junior officers would start at opposite ends and attempt to battle their way through in gladiatorial fashion while the senior officers held the couches down with their big bellies. It was not a pastime for the claustrophobic. On a visit to one of my elementary schools last week I encountered a longer, darker, smellier tunnel. It was made out of cardboard and masking tape and smelled of glue and stale body odor. Naturally I was invited to play tag inside of it but I only made it through once before succumbing to nausea.

I spent the rest of the noon hour grabbing feet through the ever increasing number of tears in the system and tickling them.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Different Kind of Gardening . . .

My Digital Garden (Averatec 3220 H1-01)
Lying beside it are some of my "tools": my new portable hard disk, my 256MB memory stick, and the little blue card reader that I use to transfer photos and videos from Mobileman II to my laptop.

My Digital Garden, Closed (Duh!)

I am currently focusing on three areas of study in my life: Theology, Japanese, and Gardening. However, my gardening for the year is over so I am thinking of substituting it with computer studies during the winter months. One might think that there is no reason for me to stop my study and research of gardening just because it is winter, and such a person would be absolutely right. But I really want to increase my knowledge of computers, so I am declaring my third subject to be a seasonal elective. I hereby declare my computer elective to be in season.

Besides my laptop is, in a sense, a digital garden. I use it to grow blogs, home movies, photo albums, emails, lesson plans and many other kinds of digital produce. I also try to keep it free of digital weeds like viruses, ad-ware, slack etc. And just as I favour organic methods in gardening, my desire is to favour freeware and open source, free and freely redistributable software. I don’t really understand all of those terms 100% but I’m trying.

Now, I really like my laptop, but just as I enjoy rearranging my furniture, I also enjoy rearranging my laptop's software and hardware. Here is my fourfold project with which I hope to begin my seasonal elective:

1: Back up my computer using my new 80GB portable hard drive and the Acronis True Image LE software that came with it. First, though, I need to figure out whether I want to partition my hard drive before doing so, and I need to figure out what is and isn’t possible using my portable HD. The instructions are all in Japanese. (It’s a Buffalo HD-PHGU2/UC in case anyone out there is feeling extremely helpful).

2: Disassemble my laptop and repair the power connector (fortunately I have found extremely detailed instructions on how to do so, complete with photos, on an Averatec owners’ forum).

3: Erase my entire hard drive and install Ubuntu (When my free Ubuntu installation CD arrives). I could, of course, take the more conservative approach of choosing to have Ubuntu's installer automatically resize my Windows partition and create an Ubuntu partition out of the free space. However, I can be an extreme person sometimes, like the time I chose to be homeless in Whitehorse, Yukon in January, and I like fresh starts.

4: Find the cheapest way to purchase a new battery (Averatec 3000 Series Product# SA2305017000), a 1GB memory card (DDR333, PC2700 SO-DIMM), and a new optical drive (the same Multi-Format DVD ± Burner as used in new Averatec 3200 series laptops, since my current one can’t burn DVDs).

If you, the reader, have anything wise to say to me regarding my fourfold plan, please do, before I do anything rash. In Engrish, “Ret’s gardening with me.”

The Bunny, The Bunny, Oooh I Ate the Bunny! ♪♫

The Rabbit’s on the Fire, the Bear’s in the Pot (but why does this rabbit meat look like squid guts?)

We are sometimes invited to eat dinner at the Muraguchis. I have written about the Muraguchis quite a few times but most recently Mr. Muraguchi featured in Monkey Wars Episode I. Last night he phoned my keitai (the same one I use to film Keitai Cinema, none other than Mobileman II) and invited us over because he had received a gift of bear and rabbit meat from Akita. We went. The bear tasted fine. In fact, it didn’t really taste at all because it was in a stew. No one seemed too excited about the rabbit, though. I finally took the initiative and started grilling it while everyone was running around getting this and that. The rabbit began to char, but everyone studiously ignored it. When I was a kid my parents tried many ingenious ways to trick me into eating our rabbits because we had so many of them. And they had every right to do so since I was always going on about wanting to hunt and eat rabbits. But once faced with the reality of rabbit flesh, I always lost my appetite. So you can see what a great and magnanimous effort of mine it was to start eating the rabbit yesterday. But in spite of my best efforts to set a good example, no one followed my lead and we ended up grilling pork cutlets instead.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


We Apologize for the Long Wait

4 min 15 sec
For an enhanced viewing experience (one in which you can read the subtitles) click on the "Google Video" button in the bottom right corner, then click on the "Go to Google Video" box that pops up.

The Changing Face of Higher Education

Grandpa Elliot and Grace (in Ajigasawa, Japan) Helping Aunty Sarah (at university in Manitoba, Canada) with an Essay

When I went to college there may have been an Internet, but I had never heard of it. In fact, the only computers I had ever seen had black screens with green text. They confused me. When I transferred to a four year college after my second year, I chose the school that accepted hand-written applications. I didn't have access to a typewriter, word processor or computer. Well, maybe I did, but I didn't know how to use them so it wouldn't have made any difference. Sister #4, on the other hand, grew up with computers and the internet. She applied for college online. And now that her first essays are due, she is able to enlist the advice and assistance of parents and siblings by means of email, MSN Messenger and Skype. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had had internet during high school and my first two years of college?

RooTube 9:

If Canadians Are So Smart, Then Why Can't They Read Half of What's Written in Their Own Passports?

51 sec

Grace Clutching Her New Canadian Passport

I am not sure what children of "mixed marriages" are called in other countries, but here in Japan they are called "Half." I suppose that this is an implied reference to such a person's half that is lacking--that portion of them that is not Japanese. As for myself, when I was a kid growing up in Japan I always called them "half-n-halfs" but everyone thought I was talking about coffee. Now that I have a daughter who falls into the category under discussion, I use the term "Double." No one else does, but that must be because they are all under some sort of misconception. My daughter has two citizenships, a double portion of genetic diversity, and will soon speak two languages and carry two passports. That sounds like 1 times 2 to me, not 1 divided by 2.

Monday, November 06, 2006

RooTube on Bearwatch:

Don't Poo Poo the Pooh Bears

2 min 57 sec

Harvest Time

A Garden with a View: Namely, the school Garden, a tree line, the Straits of Tsugaru and beyond, Hokkaido

I suppose it is time to update everyone on the ignominious history of my garden in its latter days. From my—was it sixteen?—earth mounds I gathered two gourds of the squash variety. They were both wormy. The corn was trampled by the beasts of the field and picked clean by the birds of the air. I am surprised that they bothered. There wasn’t much there to trample or pick at. I had given up on the beans early on, but one day the school’s cleaning lady brought me a little paper box that she had made out of newspaper inserts. It was full of what she claimed were my beans which she had found scattered over the face of the earth. I suspect that this worthy woman also hoed my garden for me, not discriminating between my rows and the school’s rows. I am embarrassed.

I was VERY embarrassed the day I discovered that someone had cleaned up for me the mess that was once my Three Sisters garden. It was, no doubt, the cleaning lady. I think she feels sorry for us since she often brings my wife vegetables from the school’s garden, and sometimes from her own. I am embarrassed.

On a happy note, my daikon patch turned out nicely. The cleaning lady probably kept it weeded for me. She also came and told my wife that I had done a good job on my daikon and that I should probably think about digging them up soon. I was embarrassed.

So I dug them up.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

RooTube 7: The Dancing Baby

50 sec

Grace Continues Her Campaign to Convince the World that She Is Not Boring . . . Just Bored.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Aomori is Still Beautiful . . . Even Though I Haven’t Had Time to Write About It Lately

Beautiful Lake Towada

Action Photo of Yuko, Mom, and Dad Running Around the “Statue of the Virgins” (Usually Translated “Statue of the Maidens”) at Beautiful Lake Towada (Both the “Virgins” are Actually the Sculptor’s Middle-aged Wife . . . .)

Constellation of Squid Boats on the Tsugaru Strait: The Beautiful View from Our House at Night

Out with the Old (Left), In with the New (Right): The Beautiful Reality of New Tatami

My status in this village has greatly improved since I got married. Within a few months of Yuko’s arrival, the mayor dropped by our house to ask her to become the forth member of the village board of education (as a replacement for the one that had just died of old age). That means that at many village functions I get to sit at the head table with my wife instead of at the bottom table with the cleaning ladies (where foreign Assistant Language Teachers belong). A seating map for a recent banquet showed a square at the head table labelled “Board Member Mrs. Yuko Elliot” and, next to it, a square labelled “Luke.” I’m glad that at least one person in our family is entitled to an honorific and a surname, since even the cleaning ladies are afforded that dignity. But I digress. The board of education has always been good to me, but to my wife they are very good. The other day, after a board meeting, my wife pointed out that the tatami mats in our house were of dubious quality. They immediately sent someone to check on it, and the tatami-man declared our tatami to be ten to fifteen years older than the house itself. When he lifted the tatami mats up he discovered a decaying world of mould and creepy-crawly beasties. Now all the tatami has been replaced and we are living like royalty, enveloped in the sweet aroma of green straw. My wife’s success in this matter gave me courage to ask the board to install a new ventilation fixture so that we can move the superfluous second stove in the living room over to our bedroom. The previous winter, the lack of a stove forced us to evacuate our bedroom for nearly four months. Last time I requested a new stove vent I was still a bachelor and my request never got anywhere, but this time I received an immediate affirmative. I guess this is the board of education's way of rewarding me for increasing the village’s population by getting married and having a kid.