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