Welcome to Charles Wetzel's Japan Website

Click here for a brief explanation of what I do in Japan, and why I chose Japan.
December 29, 2012: Lots of Progress with Linux
On December 27, I bought a used laptop and installed Fedora Linux 17 onto it. I have been teaching myself Linux for the last few days. From what I can see, it's not really that difficult. Here are some things I have figured out how to do:
  • Partition the hard drive and install Linux (learned: 12/27). The closest I had come to this before was burning a live CD and booting from it. This is the first time I have actually successfully installed Linux onto non-removable storage.
  • Compile programs using the JDK (learned: yesterday). See screenshot of my Assignment 3 program running virtually flawlessly on my Linux PC:

    The commands javac (for compiling programs) and java (for executing compiled classes) are exactly the same as on a Windows PC, so this ended up being much easier than I had expected. Most of my programs appear to work just fine, but in the case of Assignment 4 for my Java course, I tried running it under Linux and the alignment of the widgets was way off, and the button didn't even appear on the window...clearly there is some issue with heavyweight components here.
  • Use the "bash" shell (the Linux Terminal). I learned how to do this last night, but wrote up a little guide for myself early this morning so I wouldn't forget. This is basically analogous to Windows' COMMAND.COM or CMD.EXE: a command prompt. I've learned how to navigate using the cd and cd .. commands (identical to DOS, so this was easy) and how to make directories with mkdir and view the contents of directories with dir (also exactly the same as DOS). Unlike DOS, the contents of files are viewed with the more command. I have learned how to create files using the extremely succinct > command and how to edit text files with the vi command/text editor program. Am I some sort of master at bash? Heck no. But I'm getting there.
  • I learned (on 12/27) how to install programs. I installed Anki and the JDK, and transferred over my Anki decks yesterday. In order to install files, I download the RPM file and then install the program from the RPM file. I am not yet sure how to install using other methods, such as compiling the program's source code from bash. This is a project for later.
  • Oh, and today, I learned how to take screenshots, which is what made the above screenshot possible.
So...I'm still an elementary-level Linux user at best (probably more like "false beginner"), but I'm making steady progress. It feels good. I look forward to doing my next big Java programming project under Fedora 17.

December 27, 2012: Yesterday's >51,000-Step Walk and Associated Adventure, Today's Stuff with the New (Old) Laptop and Fedora Linux 17, etc.
This is a traditional Japanese house in Hinaga next to some agricultural fields.

Yesterday, I went on a most interesting adventure that took me approximately 25 miles on foot, some of which was in below-freezing temperatures! During my long walk, which spanned most of the day from morning until after 11:00 PM, I went from Hinaga (where I live in southern Yokkaichi City) to Yokkaichi Harbor, from Yokkaichi Harbor to Hinaga again, from Hinaga to Komono Town elsewhere in Mie Prefecture (outside Yokkaichi City), and then from Komono Town to Sakura (back in Yokkaichi), and eventually back to Hinaga. My total number of steps on my pedometer for December 26: 51,046. That's a new record, surpassing the time I walked home from Chiyozaki Beach.

The Journey Begins

I started my day by going to the Yokkaichi Immigration Office on foot. That's located on a small island connected to Honshū with a bridge. I walked all the way to the immigration office and got my embarkation card stamped with a stamp that says I have "Special Re-entry Permission." Then I came back home to Hinaga. I wanted to make sure I had this in order before I flew to the United States for the New Year's portion of my break, so I wouldn't come back to the surprise that I had lost my work Status of Residence. I don't think I actually need this special embarkation card (I think that new regulations that took effect in July nullify the need for this), but it can't hurt to be extra careful, especially when my ability to work in Japan is on the line.

Okay, so I decided that I wanted to see some monkeys. Now, don't get your hopes up — in the end, I didn't see a single monkey. I have heard from my students before about monkeys in Yokkaichi, including a rampant monkey that was seen running around downtown near the Kintetsu Yokkaichi train station after hitching a ride on a produce truck. These monkeys are macaques similar to the ones I photographed in the wild on Chaishan in Taiwan.

Okay, so what was my game plan to see monkeys? Well, it just so happens that in Japan, there's a Web site called Saru Doko Net where people post their latest monkey sightings. Using this service, a person can easily locate his or her local monkey. According to Saru Doko Net, the nearest monkey sightings were at Yokkaichi Golf Course, and were of the hondozaru (a type of indigenous macaque) type. So I set out for Yokkaichi Golf Course...

A Rice Paddy in Hinaga

Okay, so eventually I reached my first stop: Tomariyama. I saw the house and clinic of my student (who is a cardiologist), Tai-san. However, I did not photograph them since it would be really weird for a teacher to photograph his student's house. :-) Even so, it was a large, impressive, upscale building. Then I set off down the road from Tomariyama towards Yokkaichi Golf Course, which I believed would only be a few miles away.

An Interesting Feather


Well, I just kept walking, and walking, and walking. Finally (this was after a matter of hours), I made it to the intersection near Yamada-chō. At this point, I knew I was still on the right track, but also knew that my chances of actually making it to the golf course before nightfall to see some monkeys would be slim. So, on the way up a hill, I decided to cut through a forest with lots of bamboo. I figured that since I was near the golf course, I might see monkeys in this forest.

A View Inside Aforementioned Forest

Unfortunately, I didn't see any monkeys in there. I heard some calls of some sort of animal, but am not sure if they were simian or avian. I decided to dash up an incline (through dense vegetation) and ended up at the top of a hill. It was rather difficult, and I decided not to attempt to go back through the brush. This was, unfortunately, where I began to lose my way.

So I walked, and walked, and walked. I made an ATM withdrawal for some cash and then ate mabo tofu, a hotdog, and some pizza filling mandu from the Family Mart. Then I went to the post office and asked for directions to the golf course...

In order to preserve some shred of dignity, I merely asked about "the golf course," not mentioning monkeys. But I showed them my map.

The senior worker at the post office asked "Is what you are trying to find related to this 'mark?'"

He pointed to the monkey's head on the map I had gotten from Saru Doko Net...

Eventually, I stated that yes, I was trying to find monkeys, not just reach the golf course (I think they couldn't understand why someone would want to go golfing in the middle of winter when it was almost dark). They told me that it would be 5 kilometers to the golf course...

At that point, I decided to go to Komono Town instead. I had given up on reaching the golf course. The honodozaru monkeys would just have to wait for another day.

Komono Town was 10 km away, so that was no small undertaking, either. I started walking down the highway, where I found...

...A DEER ANTLER! Note that this picture was actually taken later, on the train home, which explains the red velvet underneath...

I believe these snow-capped peaks are part of Gozaisho/the Yunoyama Onsen area, but I'm not 100% sure.

As I trekked on, I passed...A SWORDSMITH!

This sign says "Yokkaichi Liberty Golf Course," which I assume is the golf course I was trying to reach with the reported hondozaru sightings. Unfortunately, it was much too late to make out anything, and the weather was also starting to get very, very cold.

Eventually, I reached Komono Town (the sign above signals one's entrance to Komono; it is a giant K with "Yōkoso Komono-chō-he ['Welcome to Komono Town']." written on it). In Komono, I checked out some video game stores (didn't find anything particularly great, though) and ate a slice of pizza and some "Three-Types-of-Mushroom Bentō" from the MaxValu supermarket.

Eventually after — you guessed it — more walking, I exited Komono Town, made it into northern Yokkaichi City (Sakura Station, to be exact), and took a train back to downtown Yokkaichi. At least I knew where I was, again.

Sento-kun, the Mascot for Nara Prefecture
They made this mascot in 2010, to celebrate the 1300th anniversary of the city of Nara. He has antlers...

...so do I!

They say Japanese people are reserved, but I've been able to make random passersby laugh on many occasions. This was one of them. Another trick that works is to grab about 15 little Styrofoam packs of nattō (fermented soybeans which Japanese people are taught from a young age foreigners can't eat) and walk around the supermarket with them all stacked up, holding them together between your hand and your chin like you're about to drop them...Japanese people can't stop their laughter for that, either.

Well, I eventually arrived home just before midnight. Did I see monkeys? No. Did I have a lot of fun? No, it was actually kind of a boring and aimless walk. Did I stay warm? Nope. The puddles in Komono were frozen. But did I get pictures and a few stories to tell? Yes.

Then, this afternoon, I got a laptop from Goodwill to replace my other with the broken screen. It was ¥15,980. It's pretty obsolete, but is just over 1 kilogram, has an SSD (Solid State Drive), which is better than a hard drive because it is faster and has no moving parts, and I have installed Fedora Linux 17 onto it. So that has been my last two days, basically.

This update was made entirely using Fedora Linux 17, without any Windows use. Forgive the large images that take a while to load. I don't yet know how to resize images in Linux...

December 25, 2012: Merry Christmas, and My Plans for December 25 - 30
I spent the first roughly 25 hours of my vacation in a very idle state, not really doing anything — lots of reading message boards and random stuff on the Internet, aimless walks without any real destination, etc. But you know what? I refuse to spend my entire vacation like that! I have 17 days in a row to devote to many different worthwhile pursuits! I'm not going to just throw it away on Dave's ESL Cafe, 3dsforums, pointless research on Japanese visa regulations, aimless walks, playing Tetris (oh, today I made an all-time high score of 342,982), and the other shit that I normally do to waste time when I have a weekend or renkyū (consecutive holidays). I'm going to do something this Christmas vacation!

Now, I know there is no way that I can be as productive each day as when I'm working. So I'm going to plan on doing six hours of stuff a day instead of the usual 12. That'll give me ample time to relax and so forth, but I won't go into the aimless/existential crisis mode that I tend to go on on these long holidays. So...6 hours per day * 16 days remaining = 96 hours of stuff I can accomplish this break. For now, I will just plan until Friday (because my weekly plans go from Friday night to the following Friday night). I have 18 hours to do productive stuff... I think that the priorities should be:

  • [COMPLETE] 1.5 hours: Going to the immigration office and making absolutely sure I don't need a re-entry permit (according to the new immigration regulations that took effect in July, I don't, but I want to confirm this).
  • [4 HOURS COMPLETE] 5 hours: Housekeeping/hygiene/bookkeeping — I need to get this place clean enough so that if someone (i.e. my boss or landlord) drops in while I'm out of town, it won't be a major international incident. ;-)
  • [1 HOUR COMPLETE] 2 hours: End-of-the-year stuff (e-mailing a few people to whom I owe an e-mail).
  • [COMPLETE] 1.5 hours: Anki reps
  • [1 HOUR COMPLETE] 4.5 hours: Java — I need to start coding something significant and work on fully digesting Chapter 14.
  • 1 hour: World Religions DSST Study
  • [COMPLETE] 1 hour: Obtaining a super-cheap laptop just as a temporary stand-in for the holidays; I have seen some working laptops at Goodwill for less than ¥9,000. I'll buy one of those, install Fedora Linux on it, and begin learning Linux. The computer doesn't need to last me more than a few months. I really, really need to start learning Linux. My plan is to use Linux as my dominant operating system all the way through 2013, which is why I want to acquire one of these computers quickly. The only real "requirement" is that it must have a working internal CD-ROM drive, because most old laptops (particularly ones without an FDD drive to run the Plop boot manager) can't boot off of USB peripherals.
  • [COMPLETE] 1.5 hours: Cooking and eating
I've already done a fair amount of stuff this week and the unplanned weeks before that (Saturday, I accomplished a ton as I not only worked that day, but studied, too, and yesterday, I was the Santa for not one, but two Christmas parties), but I need a plan to make sure I don't fall into do-nothing mode. I don't plan to go anywhere during the next three or four days, but still need a plan to keep myself on track, and here it is.

Not bored to tears, yet? Well, I should outline some additional stuff to keep in mind:

  • Don't spend any additional money on food. I spent ~¥5,000 this week for groceries and an additional ~¥2,000 in bonuses from Kaori on restaurant meals (because that's what it was intended for), but I don't intend to put on too many additional holiday pounds this year.
  • Try to walk at least 20,000 steps at least one day over the next three (for health reasons); perhaps couple this with a trip to a mountain to see hondozaru, a type of monkey.
  • For fun, I'm going to go and get the latest Paper Mario game tonight. Better to be sitting around playing Paper Mario than to spend that time playing Tetris (relatively pointless) or surfing Dave's ESL Cafe. At least Paper Mario will help me practice my Japanese, and isn't a game I have beaten countless times before.
December 24, 2012: Merry Christmas Eve, and the Big Apple 2012 Christmas Party

We had a Christmas party today. I started doing the bulk of my planning last night, and continued planning this morning. I came up with two games to play (the Candy Cane Pass game and a Simon Says-style dancing game to "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"). We had a raffle with many prizes and other activities, as well. Overall, I think the party went pretty well.

← 四日市市の2012年サンタ年会
Yokkaichi City's 2012 Santa Convention (not really, but there were a lot of Santas in Kayo Mall. These Santas were actually high school girls trying to get people to donate blood. Note the sashes that say "献血にご協力をお願いします" ("kenketsu ni go-kyōryoku wo onegaishimasu", or "your honorable cooperation in donating blood, please").

← A Convention of Santas, Part II
← The kids (and some of the parents) are working on coloring sheets, unscrambling words, and word searches with me in the foreground.
← Two Japanese students, two Korean students, and Chasuk (one of the moms) working on coloring sheets, unscrambling words, and word searches at the Christmas Party.
← I couldn't find candy canes here in Yokkaichi for the Candy Cane Pass game. So I got some cardboard, cut out eight candy canes, and painted them to look like candy canes using acrylic paints. The game went relatively well.

December 23, 2012: Deciding What's Important in a Netbook
My HP dv6000 was a decent laptop for about two years, starting when I bought it used in October of 2010. However, recently, the screen has started to go. Sometimes I can still get an image on the laptop's screen, but it's very red-tinted and often shuts off without warning. It's fine when I'm at home because I can simply plug the computer into my TV, which is exactly what I have done (I am typing this update on the HP Pavilion dv6000 right now). However, it is no longer portable.

I made an exploratory visit to Goodwill (the computer store) yesterday, and then again today. I quickly realized that here in Japan, where tariffs jack the prices up on most imports substantially, buying a new laptop would be prohibitively expensive. However, there are plenty of used laptops. So many to choose from, in fact, that I'm writing this post to outline what I really want in a laptop. Just writing this will help me "think out loud" and decide.

Absolute requirements:

  • Must be a laptop with a battery that can hold a charge for at least one hour (both because I travel a lot, and because I will be moving to the Tōkyō area at some point). Besides, if I didn't need a laptop, then my HP Pavilion dv6000 would suffice and I wouldn't need a new machine, since my HP Pavilion dv6000 can still be used with the TV screen at home. Tablets are not in the picture (I need a full keyboard for speed of data entry).
  • Must be less than ¥30,000 — laptops are targets for theft, and I plan to build a dream PC next year (desktop), so there is no point in spending a bunch of money on a top-of-the-line model.
  • Must have Windows (XP or above) and be able to install Linux (either Fedora or Ubuntu), because I need to learn how to use the Linux operating system for my future as an IT guy. It must have Windows already installed on it because Windows is so prohibitively expensive, I can't really afford to buy it separately.
  • Should be 2.2 kilograms or less (my HP Pavilion is approximately 3.2 kilograms; I liked the portability of my DreamBook C6 (2.19 kilograms) much better. The HP Pavilion dv6000 is like a claymore sword — powerful, but heavy and must be wielded with two hands.
  • Should be ¥20,000 or less (note that the part above about ¥30,000 is a "must" condition; I am willing to pay up to ¥30K, but only for something really exceptional).
  • Should be able to run Blender (a 3D modeling program): Blender requires a 1 GHz processor, 512 megabytes of RAM, and a 64-megabyte video card (with OpenGL support).
December 21, 2012: Planning for the Rest of the Second Year in Japan
I've accomplished a ton in my second year of Japan so far (which extends from 11:55 AM, March 7, 2012 to 11:55 AM, March 7, 2013). On Saturday, I got over 96% on the final exam for ITP 120, ending up with 102.97% in the course, thanks to extra credit on assignments in which I really went above and beyond. I have taken the last six days easy, accomplishing little else except my day job, but starting tomorrow, I ought to get started again on my studies. I calculate that I have approximately 11 weeks left before my third year in Japan officially starts. At 20 hours a week that I can spend studying, that's 200 hours. How will I divide those 200 hours? Here is my plan:
  • 37 hours: Anki reps (about half an hour a day, and there are 75 full days left between now and then)
  • 16 hours: Japanese lessons with Hagino Sensei (I estimate eight more lessons remain in my second year)
  • 20 hours: Fully digesting the last pages of Chapter 14 from my Java course on Java Swing GUI widgets.
  • 50 hours: Writing some kind of PC application or game consisting of at least 1,000 lines of code that implements something major from every chapter of the book, to practice what I've learned (and so I don't forget it).
  • 77 hours: DSST World Religions study (hoping to pass the exam around March 3, which is a Sunday.
Close to the start of Year 3 in Japan, I'll think very carefully about what my goals are for the third year. But until then, these are the things I plan to work on.

December 19, 2012: Hehehe...

I might have had something to do with this...

December 18, 2012: 2013 Holidays
I just got the work schedule/calendar for 2013. Here are my vacations that are three consecutive days or more between now and October 31, 2013, and some notes on those days:

  • December 25, 2012 - January 10, 2013 (17 days) - Winter Vacation
  • March 22 - 24 (three days) - I get a three-day weekend for Shunbun no Hi (Vernal Equinox Day). This holiday would be an excellent time to do some Hanami (viewing of cherry blossoms) because on most of Honshū, that falls around late March or early April (since Yokkaichi is more southerly, I'd expect late March to be the best time).
  • May 3 - 6 (four days) - This is the Kenpō Kinenbi (Constitution Memorial Day)/Golden Week Holiday.
  • July 16 - 23 (eight days) - Ironically, I have to work on Marine Day (7/15), but then I get eight days off in a row after that that aren't related to any holiday, at least as far as I can tell. I believe that my boss is taking this time to go to New Zealand and see her daughter there. If I am planning to visit Korea in 2013, this would be a good time to do it because the Boryeong Mud Festival is being held from 7/19 to 7/28. This is also the last time I can safely go swimming without fear of large numbers of jellyfish, which usually come out around Obon.
  • August 16 - 18 (three days) - I'm assuming this has something to do with Obon even though Obon falls on 8/15.
  • October 12 - 15 (four days) - This is the Taiiku no Hi (Health and Sports Day) holiday, which appears to have had one extra day off added.
Now, that seems like an extremely generous number of holidays, but in case you're jealous, just remember, most of those are just weekends with one or two additional days added (15 days of the 39 total days listed above are either on weekends, or are public holidays). Plus, I have to work 11 Saturdays and 6 national holidays during that same period. Therefore, adjusting for all of that, my actual "paid vacation" during that period is actually just seven days during a ten-month period. I'm not complaining about that, though. It's all right. I mean, it's slightly above the national average for a working Japanese person, and not too far off from what most American workers get. Basically, in 2013, I'll work a bunch of six-day weeks, but will also have some fairly long vacations.

I've got to think about how I'll spend those vacations. The long vacation in July, in particular, is eight days in a row during the summer just perfect for international travel. Even the shorter holidays could be utilized for a short trip to somewhere close by in Asia, or an in-Japan trip.

December 16, 2012: UPDATE 2: The December 16, 2012 Election
Across the street from my apartment, in the gym of Hinaga Elementary School, people are filling out ballots by hand and dropping them into a box (underneath the basketball hoop in the picture):

Today is the election in Japan. Now, those of you who are mouth breathers are probably saying, just about now "Charles, why do you care? You are NOT Japanese. You CAN'T vote. It's NOT your country."

Well, mouth breathers, guess what? You're right that I can't vote (although your hypothetical statements were needlessly provocative; I'm well aware that I can't). However, that doesn't mean I can't have an opinion. And I do have an opinion. So shut your traps.

Now, I'm not completely sure how Japanese politics work, but I have some basic idea. People are going to vote for several different parties. Here are the main parties, so far as I can tell:

  • The Democrat[ic] Party of Japan
    They are basically a centrist party. They have been in power since 2009. Most recently, their Prime Minister is PM Noda. In general, I like the DPJ because of their rhetoric about immigration reform, which might improve my lot here (though I will note that while they have been in power, though they have made many so-called "reforms", very little has actually changed for the average foreigner).

  • The Liberal Democratic Party
    Despite the name, they are fairly right-wing. I had previously referred to them as far-right, but I take that back. I've been reading about them quite a bit today, and now I'm just going to classify them as "right-wing." The LDP has controlled Japan for most of the post-war era. If they win today (and they probably will), they will probably appoint Shinzō Abe to be the Prime Minister (this will be his second term as PM). Shinzō Abe wants to increase inflation to 2% (can't say I'm thrilled about this since English teachers never seem to get pay raises, and even if everyone else's wages start to rise with inflation, mine probably won't). I'm not really sure what Abe's position is on immigration, but I have read a couple of articles that suggest he wants more foreign students to study in Japanese universities and that he may be slightly more pro-immigration than the fairly nativist Japanese norm (not sure), but probably not as much so as the Democrat[ic] Party of Japan (DPJ). He is hard-line on North Korea but wants to preserve the alliance between Japan and the US and also improve relations with China and India.

  • The Japan Restoration Party (formerly the Taiyō no Tō)
    This party ought to scare the shit out of almost anyone who isn't a pure-blooded Yamato Japanese (and even if you are pure-blooded Yamato Japanese, you still aren't safe). Ishihara will become the PM if this party is elected. Ishihara was the mayor of Tōkyō until earlier this year, and is a definite xenophobe who has said some very nasty things denying the Rape of Nanking, about how parts of Tōkyō are becoming an African ghetto, how old women are useless, etc. He has accused Diet Members of having ancestors who were naturalized citizens. The guy is clearly a nativist. His rhetoric generally puts down people from poor countries and not other industrialized countries (for example, in his anti-African remark, he specifically stated that the "problem" Africans in Tōkyō were non-English-speaking Africans, not African-Americans, whom he apparently prefers), but still, this guy is a pushing-80-year-old bigot and things won't be fun if he becomes PM. He supports re-militarization of Japan (much like the LDP), but unlike the LDP, is also not particularly pro-US alliance. He wants to kick the US forces out of here by 2045 ("Gee, and that is the 100th anniversary of what, exactly? I'm really scratching my head here trying to figure out what point he's trying to make!").

Personally, I would prefer to see the DPJ win. I'm an immigrant here and the DPJ is most likely to improve my lot as an immigrant. I really don't want to wait eight more years to get permanent residency, after all. One of the DPJ's goals is permanent residency (eijūken)/general immigration reform. If that reform goes through quickly, I might get permanent residency at the age 30 instead of 35, which would totally rock. However, if the LDP comes to power, at least I'll know what to expect (they have run the country for most of the post-war era). The only election result that would scare me would be if the Japan Restoration Party wins. That would be scary, but that scenario is unlikely.

Junk Mail from My Mailbox Inviting Me to Come Vote for the DPJ (Minshū-tō) — Thanks for the Invitation, But as I Do Not (Yet) Have Japanese Citizenship, I Can't

December 16, 2012: ITP Final Exam a Success!
I got 114/119 (96.64%). Not bad! My final course grade, according to Blackboard, is 102.97%. This is the first time I have exceeded 100% in any course, ever. I definitely feel empowered to become a programmer, now!

On other technology-related news, I just beat Aquanaut's Holiday: Memories of Summer 1996 on my PS Vita. I have beaten it before. It isn't even a particularly great game (huge potential, but fell flat because the map screen wasn't visible while maneuvering the submarine, and because it had so much potential to educate the player about marine biology, but doesn't even have the names of any of the animals or plants the player sees). But at least I've accomplished something on my PS Vita now... I have had it for nearly a year. Wouldn't want to let it sit around for an entire year without using it to do anything significant, right?

December 15, 2012: ITP 120 (Java Programming) Final Exam Taken, Results Pending
I just took ITP 120's final exam. It was tough. The problem is that the vast majority of the points on the test come from writing out code. During the test, we don't have access to a compiler to test our code to see if it works, so I have no idea whether what I wrote contained compile-time errors or not. My guess is that it probably did, as some of the code blocks were rather sizable, and usually, I make an error or two in such code blocks (which is then caught and fixed easily when I try to compile it). However, without a compiler, I did not have the ability to check my code to see if it worked or not.

So ultimately, how I do on this test will be determined by A) how accurately I was able to write code (probably not very — to err is human), and B) how much partial credit I get for code with small mistakes in it. If the professor is liberal with the partial credit, I could easily end up with an A or a B on this test. If she's extremely strict and gives very little partial credit, I could end up with an F. I just don't know.

So...in conclusion...I know I have a letter grade for that exam somewhere between an A+ and an F-.

The good news is that I have done so phenomenally well in this course, wracking up so much extra credit, I will not end up with less than a B no matter how badly I did. As long as I got 34.56% or higher on that test, I'll end up with an A in the course... So although I have no idea how my test was, I'm pretty sure I got an A in the course, because I highly doubt I got less than 35% pretty much no matter how strict the grading is.

It's not getting/not getting an A that concerns me. I'm more worried about trends. For example, back at Yonsei University Korean Language Institute (YSKLI), I started the intensive program with a 98% in Level 1. By Level 6, I was struggling just to pass and although I managed a 75% overall, my writing score was only about 2% above the pass mark. And I'm worried this same thing might happen with Java. I do great at first, but suddenly the material starts ramping up in difficulty and the other students in the class, who used to be scarcely able to tell an int apart from an import statement, suddenly get smarter.

Another thing that I'm not sure about is whether to sign up for ITP 220 (Java Programming II) immediately starting January 14, or whether I should wait and then take it. Pros of Waiting:

  • I could have as much time as I wanted to catch up on certain Chapter 14 material that I had to cover very quickly (the Swing GUI) before entering Java Programming II.
  • I would have ample time to work on some personal, fun projects like games, Android apps, or Java Applets. These would help me hone my Java skills.
  • I would have plenty of time to study Japanese if I didn't rush into ITP 220 immediately. If I'm taking ITP 220, all but the most minimal Japanese study will be out the window.

Pros of Going Directly to the January 14 Java Programming II Course:

  • I will be able to finish my Application Programming Career Studies Certificate by the end of the spring.
  • No inertia around programming will develop. I will be forced to continue using Java whether or not I want to get up off my ass and do it.

I won't go into too many specifics because I don't want to accidentally disclose something that my boss may not want made public. However, I'm leaning towards postponing ITP 220 until later in 2013. I plan to do both ITP 220 and JLPT N2 at some point, but think that JLPT N2 would have more immediate benefits.

December 9, 2012: ITP 120 (Java Programming) Assignment 4: A Huge Breakthrough, or Rather, Several Breakthroughs
Basically, I wrote a program that takes a number (in this case, 23), runs some equations on it, and displays the equations. Who cares, right? I mean, that's rudimentary crap, right? Oh, but wait...
^ Notice in the picture above that A) this rudimentary application uses extensive Java Swing GUI (not just the JPanel, but FlowLayout, JButtons, JLabels, Icons, ImageIcons, ActionListeners, ActionEvents, etc. and B) it is able to update the window contents depending on user input.

...and then redraw the Swing GUI window accordingly!

Now, you might be scratching your head, wondering "Why the heck does any of this matter? Who cares? Aren't you patting yourself on the back over nothing?"

Well, maybe. But the thing is, I now know how to create a GUI application that is interactive and updates the screen depending on user input. I could actually make rudimentary interactive games now, complete with graphics in GIF or PNG format, modal dialog boxes, Java Swing GUI windows, etc. This is a quantum leap beyond what I have been able to do in the past in Java, basically. So the application is rudimentary, but it's a huge proof of concept. It weighs in at 140 lines of code. Man, I've learned a lot in less than two months.

December 8, 2012: I Got a Wii U

I am now the proud owner of a Nintendo Wii U, for which I paid ¥26,230. It was just released in Japan today (ironically, slightly after it was released in North America and Europe). I have set it up and imported my Mii from my Nintendo 3DS and synched my console and controller, but that's about it. I don't have any games or anything for it yet. After I finish ITP 120, I'll plop down some money on some games and really enjoy this thing, but until then, I've got to focus on the course.

My tentative want list for this system:

  1. Dragon Quest X (partly for fun, and partly so I can improve my Japanese by chatting with the other players in the game)
  2. All of the SNES Final Fantasy games, except for IV (because I have already beaten that one five times)
  3. Various other Virtual Console games
  4. Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (WiiWare)
  5. Assassin's Creed III, Mass Effect 3, and/or Monster Hunter 3G — it's not that I'm a fan of any of these series, but they're all prominent RPG series in this day and age. I've become increasingly aware that Final Fantasy games, while great back in the late 90s, are no longer the most popular blockbuster RPGs being made. The three games I just listed are much more prominent these days. I need to get with the times and stop living in the 90s! I might have been missing something really good all along...

December 6, 2012: ITP 120 Final Exam Rescheduled
I just don't think I'll be ready by Sunday for the exam (I was originally scheduled to take the exam on that day). At a rate of 10 textbook pages per day and 20 per day on the weekend, it would have been doable, but that was before Chapter 14 started. Chapter 14 is straight out of Hell itself! Basically Chapter 14 is an attempt to teach almost the entire Java Swing GUI in one chapter. There is a ton of pre-fab code, a ton of new commands, concepts that are very difficult for me to wrap my head around (unless I spend hours experimenting with them), etc. There is no way I can cover the 82 pages of Chapter 14 with the necessary level of quality by Sunday. Therefore, I have postponed my final exam from 12/9 to 12/15, which will give me a much more reasonable ten calendar days to study for it.

Unfortunately, this has a ripple effect. I'm not sure where my DSST World Religions study time is going to come from, since I take that exam on 12/16. Should I just do the study guide and go in there and see if maybe I can pass it? While that might work if I were pursuing it for college credit, that's not the reason I'm taking it. I want to have a decent understanding of the world's religions. I was already having doubts about being able to do sufficient research on the world's religions by 12/16, but now, I'm really doubtful. I had really wanted to read the Quran and the New Testament. I have barely done any reading of either. I had hoped to visit both a mosque and a synagogue. I have done neither. So maybe I can go in and pass that DSST, but that'll mean I'll have basically BSed arguably the most important subject in the history of mankind. Do I really want to do that?

So I'm afraid I'm going to have to postpone that test into next year. That's something that just can't be rushed. You can't BS Yahweh, God, Allah, Ahura Mazda, the Heavenly Bureaucracy, or whatever the heck you believe in, after all.

So...for now, the World Religions DSST shall be put on hold. I'm pretty sure that I could go in and pass it, but once I passed it, I would no longer have an excuse to read the Old and New Testaments, the Quran, go to the houses of worship for those religions, or that sort of thing, since those aren't the types of things I ordinarily do. I must do them before I take the test, or I might never end up doing them.

November 27, 2012: 1/6th of the Way There to Permanent Residency
I have a JavaScript script that tracks my progress to permanent residency in Japan. At 11:55 AM, 11/26, this counter reached 16.68%, meaning that I have spent 1 year, 8 months living on Japanese soil (out of the required 10 years for PR). This means I have passed the 1/6th mark. In other words, if I can just keep up what I've been doing so far five more times over, Japanese permanent residency can be mine.

November 25, 2012: sales.java
Today I finished and sent in sales.java, part of Assignment 3 for my programming course. I went all out on this. We were supposed to make a program that keeps track of five salespeople and their sales and shows this data in a table and tells who the highest seller is. I went above and beyond and added a GUI window pie chart and a gradient background. I wrote the code to make the pie chart and the gradient from scratch. The pie chart involved doing a bunch of fillArc operations and required converting each salesperson's sales to a number of degrees; the gradient object really used my brain to the max as I had to figure out how to make an object capable of drawing gradients of arbitrary size and coloration at the four corners.

November 18, 2012: I Beat Stephen Meek
For the first time, I topped Stephen Meek's score of 7,650 with my own score, 7,717, on Oregon Trail (Windows 3.x version). I am now #1.

My score broke down in the following way:

This took several tries on the Windows 3.x version in order for it to work. Most things are quite controllable as long as the player works hard at them (like amassing over 1,000 pounds of food, and using that food to trade for any needed items). The difficult part is getting to Oregon with all the party members still alive.

Party members are worth so many points, if one party member dies, it is nearly impossible to make up the score deficit. If two party members die, forget it (because it is not possible to carry in one's wagon enough supplies to improve a score of 5,250 to 7,650). Basically, assuming the player has selected the job "Teacher" for his or her main pioneer (hardest difficulty level but 3.5X score bonus), that means that each player in "Good" health is worth 1,750 points. With five party members, that comes out to 8,750 points, but with four party members, that's only 7,000 points (650 short of beating Stephen Meek).

In my case, one party member died, so I spent a very long time on the Barlow Toll Road right before the Willamette Valley repeatedly hunting, then trading my food for oxen. I got 20 oxen and also arrived in the Willamette Valley with 1,141 pounds of food and some other stuff. By going the extra mile to do all that stuff, I was able to make up the score deficit (just barely).

Basically, I looked at the problem (how to get my score up to 7,650) and did the math, and was able to reach that score. However, I doubt I could have done this back in third or fourth grade when I was really into Oregon Trail, though. I just didn't have the math/analytical skills to figure out how to work a scoring system like I can now. :-)

Basically, my formula is this:

  1. In the beginning of the game, select "Teacher." Teacher, considered the most difficult pioneer job, has a 3.5X scoring bonus. The disadvantage of the Teacher job is that the player only gets $400 to work with at the start (Banker starts with $1600 and Doctor starts with $1200 and the ability to [sometimes] cure sick people, so having only $400 to start is seen as a major disadvantage). However, this is more than enough to start, in my opinion. Invest lots of money in oxen, sets of clothes, and bullets. Invest very sparingly on food and wagon parts, because food is easy to hunt for on the trail, and wagon parts tend to get lost in wagon fires, stolen, or end up on the bottom of rivers during failed crossing attempts, and can always be traded for (and are only rarely needed, anyway). Try to have $100 left over for ferries/Indian guides/toll road tolls.
  2. Go at a grueling pace to Oregon. This may seem counter-intuitive (since keeping at least four people alive is essential, and a grueling pace takes a toll on their health), but actually, the grueling pace has barely any effect on how likely they are to get sick or get better. By going at a grueling pace, the number of days on the trail are minimized. The more days on the trail, the more likely somebody's going to die.
  3. If a wagon party member gets sick, DO NOT REST. I can't back this up with data, but I have noticed that anecdotally, when I rest, the wagon party member is just as likely to die as if I just keep going. Usually, wagon party members recover while continuing to travel the trail. Resting seems to have no effect on recovery, so why bother doing it?
  4. However, there is one time a player should rest — when the party's health is rated "Poor." Rest may not cure illnesses, but it does help bring the overall wagon party health rating up.
  5. Don't waste much time hunting. Just hunt for the necessary amount of meat until near the end of the game. The more days that are spent hunting, the more likely someone will get sick/injured and die.
  6. If, at any time, the wagon party drops to three members or less, give up. It is impossible to beat Stephen Meek's score with only three party members.
  7. If possible, always take a ferry/hire an Indian guide/take the Barlow Toll road. Wagons having accidents on rivers is a major cause of dead wagon party members. Ferries/Indian guides/the Barlow Toll Road are much, much safer than attempting to ford a river or attempting to float the wagon on it. Make sure at the beginning of the game to leave about $100 for various tolls.
  8. Once on the Barlow Toll road, if all five party members are still alive, just go! Make sure they are all in "Good" health (and slow the pace to "Steady" to make sure their health doesn't drop down to "Fair," which will result in a much lower score) and get to the valley. However, if one party member has died somewhere along the way, hunt, hunt, hunt! Stock up on a bunch of food and trade it for items like oxen to bring the score up. See the scoring table above to calculate the score in advance to make sure it's over 7,650 points (preferably by a decent margin to prevent any last-minute disasters) and proceed to the Willamette Valley.
  9. If a player arrives in Willamette Valley with five people in "Good" health, or four people in "Good" health and a significant amount of equipment/items, he or she will beat Stephen Meek.
Who was Stephen Meek, anyway? Well, he was one of the early pioneers of the real Oregon Trail, who was a fur trapper and adventurer who had attended public school in...Virginia. He lived from 1805 to 1886 and guided wagon trains. His wagon train was called the "Meek Cutoff." Recently, a movie was made about him.

So...I guess my next goal is to get so many scores over 7,650 that I completely remove Stephen Meek from the high scores of Oregon Trail. ;-)

November 17, 2012: ITP 120 Midterm Exam
Well, I just finished the midterm exam. I got 90.625%. To be honest, that was slightly lower than I had predicted (and I suspect it may not have been all my fault — I found typos on the exam, and some of the code samples looked suspect, like they wouldn't really compile, and in at least one case, I knew the right answer [to a very simple question where I was pretty sure I was right], but it wasn't among the four options listed). However, it's not a big issue. I still have slightly over 100% in this course (410.63 points out of a supposed "maximum" 410) thanks to liberal extra credit from the professor for Assignment 2...

So...I don't need to worry at all. According to my calculations from analyzing the grade book, I'll get an 'A' as long as I maintain a 79.21% average on all future assignments in this course... That should be a piece of cake.

November 13, 2012: A Window into My ITP 120 Course
For Assignment 2, we had to create a bidirectional temperature conversion program. Sure, I could have created a crappy command line-based program and satisfied the requirements. But guess what, I'M A PROGRAMMER! So I decided to flex my GUI application-building muscle and programmed the following rudimentary GUI-based application instead, complete with crude graphics and dialog boxes. The source code weighed in at over 6K and this took most of tonight...

Sure, the program sucks. But at least I've now written a graphical GUI application. It's a step in the right direction. Certainly better than writing C++ console applications that only work from the command line, or TI-83 stuff.

UPDATE: Grade: 114%
Worth it!!!

The Willamette Valley, the Last Location in the Game

I got a respectable Trail Guide rank (the highest one) because I played as a farmer (farmers have extremely limited funds to start, so they get a 3x point bonus at the end).

UPDATE: I replayed the game again this afternoon.

Hunting: I killed a bear (bears are usually around 100 pounds each, which is the maximum amount of meat that can be brought back to the wagon).

Okay, now I'm confused here. I had closed the Web page and reloaded it hours later... Why was my old high score still there? Is it persistent only on my computer (i.e. was the disk image downloaded to my hard drive), or is the Apple II disk image shared among all computers that access this page? Did I seriously just earn the two highest scores (because Stephen Meek isn't a real person, but a placeholder put there by MECC)? Can someone besides me please load up this game and check the high scores? I simply can't believe that I'd be leading the Top Ten in any sort of public, online game (UPDATE: I have since discovered .BIN files of Oregon Trail on my hard drive, in my Internet cache, so the answer is that these scores are not online, but cached on my hard drive — although it is a very minor bummer that other people can't see my scores, the silver lining is that the .BIN files work on a PC-based Apple II emulator, on which I can play the game and view my high scores anytime I want, offline).

November 11, 2012: Apple II Oregon Trail (1985 Apple II Edition)
Today, I played all the way through a childhood favorite: The Oregon Trail! The version that I played as a kid was the Windows 3.x version, which was more sophisticated (particularly graphically) than this one, but the overall game is the same. I chose this version because it is now available for free online, officially sanctioned by The Learning Company, the company that currently holds the rights to The Oregon Trail, so this is legit and legal, even though it's emulation which is normally in the legal gray area. Click here to play (despite the URL, this is just a regular Web-based Apple II/Oregon Trail emulator and NOT anything related to Facebook)...

I'll confess, the first time I played, my entire wagon party got wiped out. The Apple II version isn't easy — basically the whole second half of the game, there isn't enough game to hunt in the deserts and mountains to replenish the wagon party's supply. I recall that in the Windows 3.x version, there was a dry spell as the wagon party crosses through the desert, but towards the end (the Willamette Valley) there was decent hunting again — not so with this version. I arrived in the Willamette Valley with a mere 4 pounds of food left. To make matters worse, I was playing as a farmer. Farmers only have $400 to work with, and that's final — you can't get more money. My solution was to channel almost all my money in the beginning of the game into essentials like oxen, bullets, clothing, spare wagon parts, etc. that would be difficult to replace when underway. I bought a minimum of food, and as soon as I left the first town, I just hunted and hunted. At one point, I had shot so many buffalo that I was carrying over 1,500 pounds of food! By doing that, I was able to make it through the desert and the Rockies (though I still needed to hunt frequently). I saved a bit of money for toll roads and ferries and such (in the Apple II version, on my first play through, my wagon NEVER made it across any of the numerous rivers without capsizing when doing the ol' caulk-and-float).

Well, with all this advanced strategizing, I was able to make it with four out of five of my original party members, in good health, and got a Trail Guide ranking, the highest in the game. It was epic.

So...why did I choose to unearth this game and play it tonight? Because I'm looking for inspiration for an Android app that I want to write in Java — an airship exploration simulator based on the Norge used by Roald Amundsen to reach the North Pole in the 1920s. And because it is an old favorite, and I wanted to reward myself for having completed a six-day hardcore workweek.

Anyways, The Oregon Trail is a classic. Try it today by clicking the link above!

UPDATE 3: 1979 Apple II Version
The version mentioned above is the 1985 version, which is relatively up-to-date. However, after watching a documentary on YouTube, I became aware of an even older version — the 1979 version! This version is the oldest version available on any personal computer (there was an earlier version that dates back to 1974, but that was for mainframes, and I don't know if it's available anywhere anymore, and even if it is, I'm not sure if there's a distribution of UNIX or an emulator that can play it on a modern PC). The 1979 version is incredibly easy. It can be finished in less than an hour, easily. Here are some screenshots I took of the 1979 version.

The Title Screen (all text)

This is the map screen. The 1979 version on the Apple II was the first version to have any graphics; the earlier 1971 mainframe version was only text sent out to schools' teletype systems over an acoustic coupler modem.

The Status Screen

The 1979 version had graphical hunting, which was extremely easy (unlike the 1985 and 1992 versions in which deserts and mountains towards the end of the game have a major shortage of game you can hunt, the 1979 version allows you to hit a fairly large animal nearly every time you go hunting, with the selection of animals the same wherever you are). The 1979 version also has attacks by bandits and wild animals that require the use of your gun, something the '85 and '92 versions took out (perhaps because they were too controversial for a game that would be played in schools).

The Ending (all text)

November 7, 2012: UPDATE 2: You know you've been in Japan too long when...
You know you've been in Japan too long when....

...it's election day in America, and due to your workplace not having TV, radio, or Internet access, you don't know who won, and in walks Miho-chan, an 11-year-old elementary school student who enjoys playing Pokémon and Puyo Puyo, and you have a conversation that goes like this:
Teacher: Hello, Miho! How are you?
Miho: I'm fine.
Teacher: That's good. Who won?
Miho: Obama.
Teacher: WHAT?! How many points?
Miho: 303 to 202 [so far].

I must comment, though, that Miho has an incredible grasp of current events for a kid her age and a good grasp of English. And thank you, Miho-chan, for enlightening me on who the leader of my country will be for the next four years.

That said, today was still a good day, more or less. I mean, I got a Japanese credit card, so someone in Japan clearly thinks I'm worth risking almost $5,000 on, and my proctor request was approved, and hey, at least the Republicans still control the House.

November 7, 2012: Three Good Things on November 7, 2012
Today is off to a fine start! I woke up and found out that my NOVA proctor request has been accepted. I was worried because it was a really borderline application (I am using a full-time computer instructor at a private computer academy [i.e. a business]) and was worried they wouldn't approve it and that I'd have to go out of my way to find another proctor. Thankfully, they approved him, so I should be set for this course, ITP 120.

Then, I logged onto CNN. The Republicans will almost certainly get control of the House. Mitt Romney is slightly ahead so far with electoral votes, as well. I don't really care about politics that much, but I tend to lean right a bit (particularly on one particular issue, which I'm not going to disclose lest somebody flame me by e-mail). I don't know if Romney will win, and if he doesn't, it won't be the end of the world for me, but that's a minor piece of good news, too.

But here's the best part. Today, I received this in the mail:

Yep, that's right, Ladies and Gentlemen, as of today, I am now the holder of a Japanese credit card. That's a major rite of passage for foreigners living here, as many financial institutions here don't trust foreigners, and getting a credit card can be tough. And that's not all — with a credit limit of ¥400,000 (~$5,000), it has more than TWICE the credit limit of my best US card. Word.

So...today is off to a good start. If Romney wins and my day at work doesn't utterly suck, I think today will turn out to be a really awesome day.

November 2, 2012: Summary of the Last Couple of Weeks (Halloween Party, Food and Drink, etc.)
The last couple of weeks have been super busy. For one thing, we had two Halloween parties at Big Apple. I wore my Mongol warrior costume. As you can see below, I have a large horde at my command:

Right now, I am sipping some amazake. This is an alcoholic beverage, but only about 1% alcohol. It is so weak in alcoholic content, it is sometimes used as baby food (it is very sweet and smooth). It is made from rice and kōji (a type of fungus). It looks like makgeolli, but aside from being sweet, does not taste like it. Amazake:

These are some stewed daikon radishes. I made these by boiling them for >20 minutes in water mixed with dashi and soy sauce. That's how the Lawson convenience store cooks them (the manager there told me how to make them). They're an acceptable snack when drinking.

An Ebi (Shrimp) Tower Burger from Lotteria: five patties (they also have ten-patty burgers, which are truly tower-like, but only the five-patty ones were on sale today for ¥500):

Aside from that, I have been studying a bunch of programming. I can now make some Java GUI programs, including ones with simple graphics, entirely from memory, without looking anything up. Such is the miracle of Anki.

Mongol Warrior Costume Plans


The hat, made of free cardboard made into a cone and painted gold with acrylic paint, the sword, and the Fu Manchu (printed at the printing kiosk of Lawson) are ready. This is off to a good start...


And here we go — a robe that I sewed myself (took a large portion of the day) out of brown felt and some Mongol warrior fur made out of fake fur leggings that I cut up!


Anachronistic Mongol Map Showing Invasion Plans for Japan (to make the costume more obvious to people who can't figure out what kind of warrior I am)

These are furry slippers that look kind of like hide Mongol boots. Kind of. Well, at least I can wear them in the classroom since they aren't true shoes.

Total cost to produce this priceless costume: ¥965 (~$12.17, doesn't count things I bought but didn't end up using, nor the hours I spent making it)

October 21, 2012: Designing My Mongol Warrior Halloween Costume
I've drawn up the picture to the left of some ideas... Special thanks to the HuHot restaurant's Web site on some good ideas to make a Mongol warrior costume. I'm now going to go out and actually try shopping for some of this stuff. I'm going to hit the thrift shop Nandemo Kaimasu and also the ¥100 store, and maybe some others.

The tough part is making sure that my costume is recognizably Mongolian and not Japanese. I don't want people to think I'm dressing up as some famous Japanese historical figure. This means I probably can't use a yukata for the robe, and that I must make it really obvious with things like a map labeled in Mongolian and perhaps even a Mongolian flag (anachronistic, but perhaps necessary)...

I hope to wear this Halloween costume to the two Big Apple Halloween parties on Saturday and also maybe to a Halloween party in Nagoya. Not sure, yet.

October 13, 2012: Photo Essay on Kyōto Will Be a Bit Late
It's mostly my fault. I just haven't been able to pick myself up off my butt and write the photo essay since I came back from Kyōto on Wednesday.

I also conducted a failed experiment with WordPress.com. My idea was to make a more professional-looking photo essay using WordPress (normally I write my photo essays in pure HTML with a text editor and use table layouts; WordPress blogs often look more professional). However, WordPress really, really bugged me for the following reasons, and finally, I just said "screw this:"

  • The file management sucks. I delete a file, but it persists on the server. For example, I upload a file called "omurice.jpg." Then I delete it. According to my Gallery, the photo is gone. But when I check the direct link to "omurice.jpg," it's still there. What the hell?

    I checked WordPress help on this. Apparently, photos are "cached" and not deleted for "up to a few days."

    To make an analogy, imagine that I'm asking the garbage men to take away my garbage. I give them all my trash bags, and they say "okay, we'll take your garbage away." But then, I discover that the garbage hasn't been taken away — they have just stuffed it under my house, where I can't see it. So I call the garbage removal company and complain, and they say "Oh, don't worry, the garbage is under your house, but in a few days, it'll really be gone." Ummm...that kind of garbage service would really suck. Just like WordPress.com's file manager sucks.

  • There is a cool gallery feature, but it seems impossible to control which files are actually in the gallery. I try to upload a picture, and it automatically attaches it to a gallery that I didn't want to attach it to! For example, let's say I want to have a gallery with only two pictures — Kyōto Tower during the day, and Kyōto Tower at night. Well, the gallery is going just fine, and the user can view both pictures. But then I want to upload a picture of Tsuge Station, which is not related to the pictures of Kyōto Tower. Well, WordPress insists on sticking that picture in my gallery anyway.
  • Once a file is "attached" to a blog post, there is no way to unattach that photo. Unless, according to the WordPress help section, I download a special "plug-in." What the hell? There's an "Attach" button, but once a file is "attached," there's no way to "unattach" it? Logically, if there's an "attach" feature, there should also be an "unattach" feature. But there isn't. So the file must be deleted, which brings us back to the first bullet point (deleted files aren't really deleted).
  • Of course, several of these problems are supposedly fixable with plugins and by editing the code of the blog entry directly. But wait a second — isn't the whole point of using a WYSIWIG blog editor so that I don't have to learn a bunch of code? If I'm going to write code and install plug-ins, why not just continue using the HTML/JavaScript that I have used for the past six years on this Web site? Sure, I could track down obscure WordPress plug-ins and learn esoteric WordPress code. But why? Why not just become better at HTML and CSS?
  • Finally, this is a very small thing — the WordPress logo is displayed on my page. I wouldn't really mind this if WordPress.com was giving my page an extra technological boost, but it isn't.
So...perhaps instead of worrying about WordPress, I should just look into improving my site within its existing framework of HTML and JavaScript, adding various pre-made scripts as necessary to enhance it. And maybe learn some more CSS.

The Kyōto photo essay will come, but not today by 3:00 PM as promised. Sorry about that. I expect it will probably be online tomorrow-ish.

...and in an update, today has been a fairly relaxing day. In fact, even though I've been awake for over 12 hours, I haven't even left the house. But that's okay. Here are some things I did:

  • I created the HTML file for the photo essay and inserted all 60 (yep, a mighty 60) photos and uploaded them to a secret directory on this site. Now all I need to do is write text (the file currently has a small amount of text in it like titles and so forth).
  • I beat Dink Smallwood HD. This was a milestone because it is the first game that I beat on Android. Why is this significant? Well, because first of all, by messing around with the game, I've learned a great deal about the Android OS (how to use the Google Play, how to manage files with Astro, what a typical application for sale on the Android looks like and its interface, etc.). I know it sounds like I'm just trying to justify spending hours playing a game, and maybe that's true, but I have learned a great deal about the Android OS while messing around with this game.
  • After finishing Dink, I typed in and compiled my first type-in AIDE Android app. It just displays a message, but is an important first baby step. I even got it to work with Japanese text. It's a standalone app that runs on Android.
So...I haven't done anything super impressive today, but have accomplished some decent baby steps. By the way, speaking of Java, my Java programming course starts in four days...

October 7, 2012: Kyōto Plans and More Tetris News
Man, I've sure gotten my money's worth out of Tetris (¥400). A while ago, I beat A-TYPE with over 200,000 points (in fact, I have duplicated this feat thrice since then). However, last night, after returning from the Kusu Matsuri, I decided to try B-TYPE, which I hadn't played in years. I beat it several times on Level 9, High 5 (the hardest setting). It's actually much, much easier than getting 200,000 points on A-TYPE.

Winning the Game Yields a Space Shuttle

These are my high scores, which prove I didn't just copy this from someone else's Web site. CHW is my initials.

Now for my Kyōto plans...

I have decided not to go to Kyōto today, but rather, hold off until tomorrow. I will be there from October 8 - October 10 (three days, two nights). I plan to leave early tomorrow morning so that I can get the maximum number of daylight hours in Kyōto.

I think that the first thing I need to do is identify my goals for the trip. I'll model these after the goals from my successful Jeju-do trip back in April.

Since I will have three days in Kyōto, I will try to see six things (two per day). There are two that I want to see, personally, even though they are not UNESCO or particularly common tourist sites:

  • Nintendo Headquarters
  • Kōryū-ji (a temple built on the site of what may be an ancient Nestorian Christian church)

    Those two are definite. However, the trickier part is deciding the remaining four, because there are 17 different sites that are recognized as part of the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyōto" UNESCO World Heritage Site. Obviously I don't have time to visit all 17 in just three days, so I'm going to pick out four. I have checked three sources: UNESCO, my students (Moto-chan, Yudai-kun, Tadakazu-san, Chasuk-sshi, and Naoko-san), and TIME Magazine's Top 5. Each time a given thing is mentioned by one of these three sources, I give it a point (so the maximum is 3 points). Here are the four that I have decided to visit:

  • Ginkaku-ji (3 points)
  • Kinkaku-ji (2 points)
  • Kiyomizu-dera (2 points)
  • Ryōan-ji (2 points)

    Now, note that Gion (only 1 point), the world-famous geisha district, isn't on that list. That seems a shame. However, since that's open at night (whereas the other things are all during the day), I can tack that on, too (not as much of a hurry to get there since it's at night).

    So basically, I've decided relatively objectively what the Top 6+1 things are to visit. These are all my trip goals, modeled on my Jeju-do trip goals:

    1. Speak lots of Japanese (within reason, try to always speak Japanese).
    2. Visit Kinkaku-ji. Somewhere in all this temple/nature sightseeing, get a picture of momiji (autumn leaves), as well.
    3. Visit Ginkaku-ji.
    4. Visit Ryōan-ji.
    5. Visit Kiyomizu-dera.
    6. Visit Nintendo Headquarters. Either spend three hours within 100 feet of it, OR get a total of 10 official Nintendo StreetPasses (counting the ones I have gotten in the past via "Itsu no Ma TV"), whichever comes first (I suspect the latter). This is part of the "Oiwai List" on my Nintendo 3DS (StreetPassing ten Nintendo employees).
    7. Visit Kōryū-ji (built on the site of the ancient Nestorian Christian church).
    8. At night (i.e. after sunset), visit Gion.
    9. I want to do something off the beaten path that a gazillion other foreigners haven't already reported on.
    10. Eat some sort of Kyōto specialty (budget for this: maximum ¥2,000, so nothing terribly expensive).
    11. Get some omiyage (souvenirs) to bring back to people. At very least, get one for Kaori.
    12. After coming back, write up a thorough photo essay on the experience by Saturday at 3:00 PM. Starting in 2013, I want to transition from hand-coded HTML to professional blog software, because the latter is less time-consuming and more professional-looking, so I will write this photo essay using blog software to test the system out.

    October 6, 2012: The Kusu Matsuri
    Today, I took the train out to Kusu (a town to the south of Yokkaichi) for the festival being held there. Naoko-san, one of my students, had told me about it, and looking to break up the monotony of a Saturday which would probably otherwise be spent lounging around the house in my underwear, I decided to go.

    Yasunari-san, Naoko's husband, met me at the station. I had not expected him to be waiting there, but it was nice of him and his family to do that, and he led me to the site of the Kusu Matsuri: a bridge.

    Yep, that's right. It's held on the bridge over a river that separates Kita-Kusu (North Kusu) from Minami-Kusu (South Kusu). Why is it held on a bridge? Because South Kusu (the old town) and North Kusu (the new town, formed mostly of people who migrated internally from other parts of Japan, and also immigrants) have a rivalry, and have a game of tug-of-war on the bridge.

    Here are some pictures:

    Immediately upon arrival at the festival grounds, I was given the "celebrity treatment." A free yukata and hachimaki were handed to me and I was immediately pressed into service helping to carry the omikoshi, or the portable shrine for the local deity! We were supposed to shout "Seiya! Seiya!" and "Wasshoi! Wasshoi!" while carrying the omikoshi. There were television cameras, so having to do all of this without any prior training or even knowing the correct way to pronounce these words was a bit...embarrassing. Oh well.

    In this picture, I'm meeting (and just about to shake hands with) The Governor and The Mayor. That's right, ladies and gentleman, today I met Eikei Suzuki (right), the governor of all of Mie Prefecture (a prefecture of more than 1.8 million people, so this guy was about as important as the governor of West Virginia or Nebraska, which also have populations around the 1.8 million mark). I also met Mayor Toshiyuki Tanaka (center). Cool.

    There was a game of tug-of-war across the bridge. The people of North Kusu and the people of South Kusu pulled an extremely long rope. Since North Kusu is the town of newcomers and also the town of my students, I obviously joined their team. We won. Man, that was a short game of tug-of-war!

    After that, the Governor signed my hachimaki...

    And Naoko, Yasunari, Yudai, and Sara (Yudai had been helping to carry the whale boats in the ritual of praying for a good catch) went to Chasuk's Korean restaurant (Chasuk and her kids, Rae-eun and Areum, are all my students, as well). We had a delicious Korean meal including bulgogi and I had some yukgaejang. While the adults were talking, the kids played on my Nintendo 3DS and also my Android phone: Dink Smallwood, Excitebike, and Super Mario Bros.

    Me Out Front of Chingu, Chasuk's and Her Husband's Restaurant

    Then the Koide family drove me home. Special thanks to them for making it a memorable day! What a day!

    October 5, 2012: A TROLL HAS BEEN SLAIN!
    A troll on Dave's ESL Cafe, who has been harassing people on that site since 2003 (including, but by no means limited to me), has finally been banned from the site for good. I won't go into any more details than that, but let's just say, after being flamed by him for four years, good riddance, and it proves that sometimes, justice is done.

    October 1, 2012: Mosquito Hunt
    Every time I was about to sleep peacefully...buzz~~~!!! Finally, several itchy mosquito bites later, I finally decided that enough was enough. I woke up, turned on the lights, and did a thorough sweep of my room — five six mosquitoes dead. I guess they were coming in through this narrow space between my screen door and the wall that had opened up when I put the shutters over the windows during the typhoon.

    Unfortunately, I'm now wide awake, which is not what I should be at this hour. So I guess I'll play some Dink Smallwood HD (here's to rediscovering old favorites) and gain 50 experience points or so, and go back to bed. ...okay, it ended up being 2,621 experience points while I waited for the elusive sixth mosquito (okay, I admit it, I kept playing even after the sixth mosquito). Slayers are 200 exp. a pop, and other monsters in this area yield a ton of exp. I also reached 1,500 gold and bought "bow lore" (then proceeded to kill the guy who taught it to me with an accidental fireball spell) and filled all my empty inventory spaces with elixirs, as well as reaching Level 7 (not that leveling up in this game is that important). Man, Dink Smallwood is addictive, because every time I've just accomplished a feat, another feat is just within my reach. I could probably play for another 10 or 15 minutes and get the bow and arrows (1,000 gold), but no, I really need to go to bed...

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