Welcome to Charles Wetzel's Japan Website

  • Click here for a brief explanation of what I do in Japan, and why I chose Japan.
  • Click here to read old news.

    A minor piece of news copied and pasted from my Korea site (I plan to unify the blogs for my Korea, Taiwan, and Japan sites starting in 2014 so that I will not need to post the same thing on multiple sites):
    September 30, 2013: I Made Jeyuk Deopbap (제육덮밥) and Wrote a Photo Essay About It


    One of my favorite Korean foods is jeyukdeopbap. Prior to today, I had never made it myself. However, driven by outrageous prices on jeyukdeopbap (and decent Korean food in general around here), I decided to learn to cook it myself. It was complicated and required 16 ingredients, but in the end, I cooked some decent jeyuk. The photo essay is 1,279 words long and has ten photos. Click on the banner above to read the photo essay.

    Boring technical notes (feel free to skip these): I spent quite a while on the banner above, including the Taegeukgi Korean flag, which I rendered myself; it required the use of Inkscape, two new fonts (Korean Calligraphy and mh.ttf, which is the Hunminjeongeum font), and Pinta. I made the entire banner and photo essay on Linux (Fedorda 19), with the exception of the Hunminjeongeum font, because it would not install to Linux (it only worked under Windows, and even then, it had issues).

    September 29, 2013: Just 21 Calendar Days (Three Weeks), Including Today and the Test Day, Until I Take the DSST Personal Finance Exam, and My Various Study Plans
    I did some Personal Finance study before. I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki and Money Matters for All Ages, both in their entirety. However, I still need to do a bit more to prepare for the exam. This post will serve as a plan of what I plan to do over the next three weeks, in terms of study, both for the DSST Personal Finance exam, and for other subjects.

    Why am I taking the DSST Personal Finance exam? Well, basically, it's because I will be 27 soon. Currently, in the United States, the retirement age is 67, so 27 is the 40-year countdown to when I can receive full Social Security benefits (well, assuming they don't raise the age, which they no doubt will)—I have also amassed over ¥1,500,000 and have no debts whatsoever, so it is a great time to start thinking about investing and personal finance beyond just cutting costs. I think that taking the DSST Personal Finance exam will push me to become more literate about money than I would have become had I not signed up for the test.

    I hope to learn the best way to manage my money, which is just over ¥1,500,000 (a little bit more than $15,000) right now, but that ought to grow considerably in the very near future (it is possible for me to bank over ¥100,000, or more than $1,000, every month, thanks to a decent wage and a bearable cost of living). For a 26-year-old, $15,000 saved isn't a whole lot of money, but I am absolutely debt-free. No student loans (I paid them all off when I was 24), no credit card debt, no vehicle loans, and no mortgage. Basically, here are my financial requirements for the near future:

    • I should try to invest in something, because Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is targeting 2% inflation. In other words, if my assets are not appreciating, then I am losing 2% of my assets per year.
    • Normally, they say that a guy my age should be investing very aggressively. Using the 110 - my age rule, I should be investing 84% of my assets (except for a safety net to get me through periods of unemployment) in stocks or that sort of thing. However, I am not living in America, and since I am an immigrant, things are different. In a few years, I might want to go back to school full time (which might require a student visa) or, in a few years (not anytime soon), I might want to start my own business, which would require a special visa. Both visas require large amounts of money in the bank (i.e. not in speculative investments) to show the Japanese government—in the case of a student visa, that number is ¥3,000,000 and in the case of the visa for starting a business, that is ¥5,000,000. Even if I stay on my current visa, which does not require a minimum bank balance, pursuing another degree or buying real estate would also require likely tens of thousands of dollars in cash.
    • I will probably not need to access large chunks of money over the next year or two, but starting about two years from now, the cash will have to be available for these various goals for which I am planning.
    • No-load mutual funds/a highly diversified portfolio of blue chip stocks are very, very likely to have good returns over the long term, but over the short-term (i.e. when I would need these large amounts of money), they are much more volatile and cannot be relied upon, so I will likely only consider things like relatively high-yield savings or money market accounts or short-term bonds. These will allow my money to grow (or at least keep pace with inflation) without locking it up for too long or putting it at a high risk for major short-term losses.
    • Once I have gotten the big-ticket things out of the way (like changing visas a few years from now, or buying real estate), then I will not need to have so much cash handy. This will probably happen around age 29. At that point, I will probably transition from short-term bonds and savings/money market accounts to a more aggressive investment strategy (mutual funds and stocks).
    • I am an American living in Japan. This means I have an important choice to make—investing in American securities, or investing in Japanese securities. Here are pros and cons:
      Pros of Investing in American Securities
      • My studies about personal finance are in English, and English is my native language, so I am more likely to understand what I am signing up for if I buy bonds, get a savings/money market account with a decent interest rate, etc. I'm less likely to get ripped off or fail to understand the rules (for example, rules on tōshi shintaku, or Japanese mutual funds, are different from rules on U.S. mutual funds, which could lead to unwelcome surprises since I only know how U.S. mutual funds work).
      • In the short term, the Japanese yen is expected to lose value, because that is PM Shinzō Abe's economic policy. Therefore, if I send my money to America now and his economic policy pans out, I will be very glad that I did that. For example, if I send ¥1,000,000 to a U.S. account when the rate is ¥100 to the dollar, and then the yen weakens to ¥120 to the dollar (likely if Shinzō Abe's policy pans out), my $10,000 Stateside will suddenly be worth ¥1,200,000. This is, of course, currency speculation, which is risky business.
      • Return on investment is likely to be higher with U.S. securities. Based on the research I have done here in Japan on savings account and bond interest rates, the rates are absolutely atrocious (even more so than in the U.S.).
      Pros of Investing in Japanese Securities
    • No exchange rate volatility—money abroad is volatile and assets held overseas can fluctuate radically when the exchange rate fluctuates. If I send ¥1,000,000 yen abroad when the rate is ¥100 to the dollar, and then the rate changes to ¥80 to the dollar, then that piece of cash will be worth only ¥800,000. This is unlikely to happen, but I don't think anyone has a working crystal ball.
    • Keeping my money in Japan might be better in the short-term because I won't have to pay all kinds of fees to transfer the money. For example, if I send the money to the States and only 98% of the money arrives in the U.S. due to fees assessed by the sending and receiving institutions, and I then proceed to invest in a short-term bond that only yields a coupon rate of 1%, I will have actually lost money versus if I had just kept the money in Japan, in my Yūcho Ginkō account, with virtually no interest rate.
    • Cons of Investing in American Securities
      • Exchange rate volatility (if the yen strengthens, I will lose money in yen terms)
      • Fees to transfer the money
      Cons of Investing in Japanese Securities
      • Language barrier might result in screw-ups (though these screw-ups are less likely for simple things like bank accounts/bonds, which is what I am likely to be investing in)
      • Given the forecast that the yen will lose value, I may miss out on an opportunity (albeit, a somewhat risky one) to increase my money in Japanese yen terms by engaging in currency speculation
      • Return on investment will probably be lower. Japanese financial products have very low interest rates (Japanese inflation and economic growth rates have been extremely low since the Bubble Economy of the late 80s burst).
    • However, part of the process of preparing for the DSST Personal Finance exam may change my mind on some of these things.

    So anyways, how am I going to prepare for this exam, and then go about investing, before hitting that magic age of 27? Well, I will spend up to October 19 studying for the exam, then taking it. Then, over the next four days (October 20-23), I will use what I learned to reallocate my money in a more intelligent fashion—open higher-interest bank accounts, buy short-term bonds, or whatever. I will take action based on my personal finance studies (nothing too risky, don't worry).

    Here is my 21-day plan:

    1. September 29 (1 day): 1 hour: Write this plan (one hour).
    2. September 30-October 4 (5 days): Just spend half an hour a day studying for the exam because I will be very busy with other things. For each half-hour block, read ten pages from Personal Finance for Dummies and write a five-minute summary.
    3. October 5-17 (13 days): Get more hardcore about studying for the exam. Spend four hours per day studying. The goal is to read all of Personal Finance for Dummies and all of the Wise Owl study guide for the DSST Personal Finance exam, and write up at least some notes for both.
    4. October 18-19 (2 days): Spend six hours per day on DSST stuff. On Friday, I will have a super study session. On Saturday, I will commute two hours to Tokyo, re-read my notes on the train, take the exam, and commute two hours home.
    Total study/test-taking time (not counting the two books I have already read and written notes on): 67.5 hours

    Estimate on how much time I have already spent preparing for this thing (reading two books on the subject cover-to-cover, writing extensive notes, scheduling the exam, watching YouTube videos/reading Web sites on things like mutual funds, bonds, etc.): 67.5 hours

    Total time spent on this endeavor in the end: 135 hours (the ECE-recommended amount for this sort of thing)


    My Self-Built PC with the New Hard Drive Installed (click to zoom in)

    My computer, when in the dark, gives off a demonic red glow.
    September 28, 2013: Third System Drive Installed
    Whereas before, my computer had one hard drive with Fedora Linux 19 and one solid state drive with Windows 8, there is now one more hard drive in it! This one also contains Fedora 19 Linux. I decided to install it because although the Windows 8 SSD was working perfectly, the Fedora 19 Linux hard drive was not working properly. Sometimes, BIOS detected it, and sometimes, BIOS didn't detect it. I'm not sure exactly why. It may have been because the hard drive was old (as in, salvaged from a Pentium 4 old), or it may have been because I was having it interface with the ASUS motherboard via an IDE->SATA adapter, which may have been causing problems. Whatever the case, I bought a SATA hard drive, a Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM (with a capacity so small, I am embarrassed to type it here), and installed Fedora 19 Linux onto it. So now I have three system drives. The computer can now boot into Linux reliably, at any time, unlike the temperamental setup I had before.

    September 23, 2013: The Oni Koroshi Layout Is Complete
    I have just completed the new layout for this Web site, which I call "The Oni Koroshi (Ogre Killer) Layout," which I have been working on since last month. I named it after a type of Japanese liquor, and the layout is supposed to have a theme of feudal Japan at night with a little bit of the occult. I think that visually, it is a major leap forward versus this site's previous layout, which was plain and boring.

    Features

    The new layout features rollover buttons (try putting your mouse cursor over the Japanese lanterns and watch them light up). It has an animation in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen (if you can't see it, wait—it only plays every 30 seconds, and if that still doesn't work, refresh your browser by pressing F5 on your keyboard). It features many images that were created from hand-drawn pictures, photographs, and SVG vector art.

    A Dragon (竜, I'm especially proud of drawing this picture, since it is very intricate, and since I drew it from a picture I had taken years ago of a dragon at Bongwonsa Temple in Korea)

    A Kappa (河童)

    An Oni (鬼)
    And some of the photos:

    I needed a picture of the moon. I photographed the full moon on September 21, 2013. This was supposedly the most beautiful moon in eight years, and many Japanese people went and did tsukimi (looking at the moon, traditionally done on the first day of fall).

    I needed an image of a Japanese castle at night. So I walked to the castle in Utsunomiya and took the picture above at 9:15 PM on September 22. Then I cropped the skyscrapers and artificial light out of it to make it look truly medieval.

    Technical Details

    I developed the entire layout using Fedora Linux 19 with Wine and free software tools. Here is a list of the hardware/software tools I used:
    • Inkscape for vector art in SVG format
    • Pinta for editing the exported PNG files after they were exported
    • Shojumaru (a Japanese-looking font)
    • I used gedit to do the HTML code
    • Daniel Nolan's Image Rollover Code (http://www.dnolan.com/code/js/rollover/)
    • The online GIF animation application http://gifmaker.me/ to make the original two animations that I combined into one later
    • Microsoft GIF Animator (running on Wine) to add timing and loop conditions to the animations (the online application was better in dealing with colors, but did not permit more than 30 frames or complex timing/loop conditions, so I used MS GIF Animator to add these—the total frame count: 36)
    • A Fujifilm Finepix JX camera (for the photograph of the castle at night—I took that right here in Utsunomiya, near City Hall)
    • A Medias Android 2.3 smartphone (to scan the drawings using its relatively high-resolution camera)
    • The computer I used to develop it is a self-built computer with an Intel Core i7-4770S CPU and a Geforce GTX 650 GPU. It has a dual boot configuration of Fedora 19 Linux and Windows 8, although only the former was used to develop this layout.

    September 2, 2013: First Day at My School in Utsunomiya
    I had my first day at my school in Utsunomiya today. I may or may not post pictures later. It was a decent first day of work. There were no lessons today (instead, there was an assembly and a school cleaning), so there was very, very little work to be done. I met the two other native speaker English teachers. The English department head had me prepare a self introduction in both English and Japanese, which I gave to the students (elementary schoolers) at the assembly. The department head seemed approving of the speech and so did the other two native speaker English teachers. However, the biggest indicator that I didn't screw up was this: kids didn't laugh! I was so, so sure that a bunch of elementary schoolers would laugh at a foreigner who was speaking imperfect Japanese, but they for the most part did not! I was impressed with this. It seemed very progressive.

    Well, I won't write too much, because I want to do a few things, watch an episode of Dr. Who, and then go to bed (I'm trying to get adjusted to a morning schedule). However, the first day was decent.

    By the way, I am working on a new layout for this Web site. I am using various tools to do this, including Inkscape (for vector graphics) and gedit (for HTML coding) and Shojumaru (a freeware Japanese-style font), all under Fedora 19 (Linux). The new layout is a quantum leap over what I have right now. Expect that new layout sometime this month. I am tentatively calling the layout "Oni Koroshi." Its graphics/theme are based on Japan after dark, with a somewhat occult twist...glowing lanterns, ryotei, legendary Japanese monsters such as oni, etc.

    Visually, this site has lagged far behind my Korea site, and slightly behind my Taiwan site. My Japan site is ugly. However, that will change soon, thanks to this layout. I have already made several rollover buttons that function really nicely/simply thanks to a certain helpful JavaScript script by Daniel Nolan, and also thanks to Inkscape, which is a great free vector graphics program. I have re-engineered this layout to use an IFrame instead of frames, and there is a cool border around the IFrame... Once this layout is done, it will be just as visually appealing as my Korea site, but with a larger viewable area for text/graphics (the Korea site, although it had a cool photo-based banner, suffered from a very small viewable area). I am about 60% done with the layout as of now, I estimate...just wait until sometime this month...

    August 27, 2013: Currently Installing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

    I'm installing FF14 right now (released: 8/27). I'm a bit worried about all those question marks. Those are supposed to be Japanese hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Is all the text in the game going to look like that on my English Windows 8 computer? I sure hope not...

    I made the last additions to my system unit (8/27). The specs of this system are now:

    • An Intel Core i7-4770s CPU @ 3.10 GHz (the 4th generation Intel Core i7 CPUs are literally the best desktop CPUs that money can buy)
    • An ASUS H87-PLUS motherboard with an LGA1150 socket for the CPU
    • 16 GB of CFD DDR3 RAM (8 GB x 2, meaning I still have two more slots if I want to be greedy and upgrade to a completely unnecessary 32 GB)
    • A Galaxy Geforce GTX 650 graphics card with 1024 MB of 128-bit GDDR5 memory (I will admit, this card is rather low-end considering most of the other specs on this system, and it is the bottleneck and the reason the system only scores a 7.2—however, it will be quite easy to upgrade it in a couple of years, since I just need a new PCI-e graphics card [a new graphics card probably won't require a new motherboard, unlike most new CPUs, which generally do]).
    • An Intel 120 GB SSD for 64-bit Windows 8 (fast 6.0 Gb/s transfer speed)
    • A Maxtor 120 GB HDD for 64-bit Linux Fedora 19 (slow 7,200 RPM hard drive—high speeds are less important on the Linux drive since I will probably not use it for much gaming)
    • A SilverStone Redline Series RL01 ATX case with an acrylic panel (so a person can see inside the PC and cool red fan lights and a red case light)
    • A 700 W Kurōto power supply
    • I am still working on the peripherals, but I have a Logicool G105 blue-lit glowing gaming keyboard and an optical mouse that glows red and blue.

    August 26, 2013: Charles' Korean Quiz Program Version 1.0 Complete, After More Than Seven Years of Development
    One of my goals for this staycation was to upload some of the programs that I had worked on, progressed very far with, and then abandoned. That's Goal #7 for this staycation. I finished getting Charles' Korean Quiz Program (CKQP) to a decent enough state that I'm not ashamed to put it on my Web site. See below...


    Title Screen (VGA mode)


    English-to-Korean Quiz

    Using the Built-in Input Method Editor (IME) to Type the Word "Hanguk" (한국) into the Program and Append It to the Word List (the program then converts the input into Unicode for storage, which should work even on a 1981 IBM PC)


    It can run flawlessly even on a CGA machine. It could probably run on a decent IBM PC from 1981. How's that for compatibility?!


    The Main Menu in CGA Mode

    Click here to download Charles' Korean Quiz Program Version 1.0 (401 kilobytes zipped).

    Instructions:
    1. Download it.
    2. Unzip all the files (they should end up in a directory called CKQP).
    3. Get QBASIC (not available from this site for legal reasons). Run QBASIC, click "File," click "Open," find KOREAN.BAS, and press F5 to run it.

    Charles' Korean Quiz Program Version 1.0 (PC [QBASIC], 2013)
    Basically, this is the same program that I used to quiz myself on Korean in 2006. I wrote it myself, used it as my primary quiz program for my FCPS Adult Education Korean Level 2 class, Yonsei University KLI Level 1, and Yonsei University KLI Level 2. This year (2013), I cleaned up the code, added a title screen, different graphics modes, the ability to select word lists within the program, lots of extra error handling, and the ability to specify a "from" point and a "to" point to limit which words the user is quizzed on. However, the core of the program is pretty much the same as the 2006 version. Then I uploaded it to this site.

    I don't expect anyone to actually download this. Let's be honest, Anki (yes, even the clunky Anki 2) is better than this program. However, this program has a couple of special features. First of all, it will run on pretty much any IBM-compatible PC (even one without a hard disk, or one that just has DOS, or one that only has CGA graphics). It doesn't require any Hangeul card, Korean operating system, IME, or even a Korean font, since that stuff is all self-contained in the file. Second, I am proud of this because I wrote all the code to render hangeul and work with the Korean part of Unicode (encoding and decoding), from scratch. That is much more difficult than it sounds. I had to literally render each hangeul, and in many cases, I had to render several different sizes, then I needed to program the computer to know how to build a hangeul character (which means the computer has to know whether a vowel is vertical or horizontal, and resize the consonant accordingly, and know where to place all the letters on the non-linear characters). I accomplished my goal. It's a bit ugly, but it works, and in less than 40 kilobytes.

    After being parsed by QBASIC, it is 1,433 lines long. That's my largest program to date by lines of code!

    August 24, 2013: My Computer Now Has a Case, and I Saw Star Trek: Into Darkness
    First, I want to discuss Star Trek: Into Darkness. Spoilers follow, so if you don't want to read them, skip the rest of this post!

    I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness today (the first day of its general release in Japan, excluding a few early bird screenings). It was only ¥1,000. Surprisingly, they had something called "Men's Day" at this movie theater where men get a discount, which was why it was so cheap. "Men's Day," what a novel concept. I've seen "Women's Day" or "Ladies' Night" hundreds if not thousands of times, but I am going to have to say this is the first time I have ever seen a Men's Day. Oh, and ¥400 for the 3D glasses.

    Basically, the movie involved Captain Kirk discovering a genetically-engineered superman named "Khan." "Khan" was genetically engineered ~300 years before the events of the film, cryogenically frozen after the Eugenics Wars, and sent into space, where he was later rediscovered on the ship "Botany Bay" by a Starfleet vessel, along with his 72 disciples. Khan gets control of a Starfleet starship using his superior intellect and strength, and Kirk and Khan do battle, with Khan losing in the end, but one member of the Enterprise crew dying from radiation poisoning after entering a dangerous part of the ship, in order to stop Khan. That crew member is then resurrected using a type of science that was discovered by accident. Does this plot sound familiar? Well, to anyone who watches Star Trek, it should, because that was the plot of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), and guess what, Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) has the same plot!

    Granted, there were some variations in the plot. In this alternate timeline version, Vulcan has already been destroyed in the previous film (in the original timeline, Vulcan was never destroyed). And in this timeline's version, Khan and Kirk had no prior history, whereas in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan wanted to take the ultimate revenge on Kirk because Kirk had marooned him and his disciples on Ceti Alpha V, where Khan's wife had died. In the new movie, Kirk hadn't been promoted to admiral; he was just at the beginning of his career. But overall, the plot was more or less the same.

    It wasn't a bad movie. It wasn't my favorite Star Trek movie either, though.

    Basically, these are my thoughts on the recent (2009 and 2013) J.J. Abrams Star Trek movies:

    • I'm not a huge fan of them. I'm not against them, because I think they are breathing life into the Star Trek franchise, and perhaps without them, Star Trek might die, but I feel like Star Trek is kind of selling out in a (successful) effort to stay alive after the relative failure of Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005). Anyways, here are my reasons for not liking the J.J. Abrams' movies that much:
    • Reason 1: Star Trek is better as a nerds' TV show than it is as a mainstream movie franchise. The late night TV show format is great for cerebral people who like to watch deep, thought-provoking episodes that explore serious issues using the Star Trek universe. The original series' ongoing conflict with the Klingons was clearly just a metaphor for the Cold War, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in the early 90s, in which the Federation and Klingon Empire signed a peace treaty, was clearly analogous to improving relations between the U.S.S.R. (and after its collapse, Russia) and the United States. Star Trek: Enterprise's Season 3, with a Xindi attack (a metaphor for 9/11), followed by Captain Archer leading an expedition into the Delphic Expanse (a metaphor for the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban/The War on Terror), Captain Archer torturing an alien soldier by putting him in an airlock (a metaphor for Guantanamo Bay), etc. had something to say about contemporary issues. Star Trek: The Original Series had the first interracial kiss televised on American TV, for example, way back in the 60s, when that sort of thing was still controversial. Star Trek often has plotlines that are deep and thought-provoking, too. The trouble is, with movies, it's more difficult to have that. Movies can't have long plot arcs that mimic current events. They can't be too deep or complex, since they are trying to appeal to a broad audience and are trying to tell a story in 2 hours instead of 140 hours (7 years, 20 episodes per season, 1 hour per episode).
    • Reason 2: I don't like this "alternate timeline" 23rd century business. Let me explain why. Star Trek has already done the 23rd century, not once, but three times. First, it was the original series. Then, they had Star Trek: The Animated Series, which was also in the 23rd century. Then they had Star Trek: Enterprise, which was ostensibly the "22nd century," but their technology level seemed more or less 23rd century level (dual warp nacelles, shuttlepods, phase pistols [basically just phasers], photon torpedoes, etc.). I'm sick of the 23rd century. Star Trek has also done quite a bit of the 24th century (TNG, DS9, VOY, and a few movies).

      Star Trek can either go forwards or backwards in time, but re-hashing the 23rd and 24th centuries is not a good direction, in my opinion. Star Trek could move to the 25th century, or even farther, but I'm worried that if they did that, it would be too futuristic and the people of 500 years in the future wouldn't even seem relatable anymore.

      In my opinion, it would be far more interesting if Paramount made a mid-21st century Star Trek about Zephram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive. Start during World War III, when the earth is split into factions and people are dying by the hundreds of millions, and Zephram's attempts to survive that. Then have the events leading up to him purchasing a disarmed nuclear missile. Then have his process, as an inventor, as he works on the warp engine. Maybe have a rival inventor, or an alien race bent on preventing him from getting that warp engine on line. Then have the events of Star Trek: First Contact (a movie that already came out, about the Borg trying to interfere with Zephram Cochrane's project), and then, when he does get the Phoenix and its warp drive online, have some interesting plot arcs that take place in our solar system and adjacent solar systems. With only Warp 1 or Warp 2 speeds, very small starships, primitive 21st century weapons (guns) instead of phasers, no transporter technology, etc. I think the crew of one of Zephram Cochrane's starships would have to be much more creative to solve problems.

    • All of that said, Star Trek: Into Darkness is not a bad movie. I think it is action-packed, has great special effects, and they have sexed up the members of the crew/picked younger actors/actresses to appeal to a wider audience, and the crew members swear and talk in sexual innuendo more, particularly Montgomery Scott, so now Star Trek is grittier and less PG (a good thing, I guess). If the J.J. Abrams series, as a result of "selling out" like this, can revive Star Trek, then I think the ends justify the means.

    As for other news, very early today (just after 1:00 AM), I finished putting my computer into its case, screwing everything in, and connecting the motherboard to the front panel USB ports, sound ports, switches, and LEDs. I also got a cool keyboard that glows. I would still like to put in a video card (I am currently using the on-board video) and an SSD (I am currently using an old ATA 120 GB hard drive attached to the SATA port using an adapter). I would also like to buy some new peripherals (though the glow keyboard is a very nice peripheral).

    August 20, 2013: I Hope the Last 12 Days of My Vacation Are More Productive
    Today, I just played games all day, pretty much. I beat Oregon Trail with a Trail Guide-level score, played Dink Smallwood HD on Linux via a program called "Wine" that allows Linux to run Windows programs, and also beat Tetris after that with a score of over 146,000... I was gaming almost all of August 20.

    However, it's time to get productive. When I wake up tomorrow, I want to accomplish the following before midnight:

    • Go to both the city hall and the immigration office and report my change of status to them (this is due on 8/24, and I should probably finish it a few days early in case there is a snag).
    • Do at least 400 reps on Anki, in an effort to start getting caught up.
    • Walk from Utsunomiya to Nikkō and lodge in Nikkō. This is part of my three-day Tōhoku trip.
    If I do that stuff, and stay reasonably hygienic and don't get into any trouble, tomorrow will be a success. It will have been far more productive than the days leading up to it, at any rate.

    ...though I will say, I had fun playing Dink Smallwood HD today. I played through the game from start to finish in a single day (quite an extraordinary feat for most RPGs, but Dink Smallwood is quite short [it is possible to finish in a few hours, but I took a little over seven according to the game timer]). I even reached Koka Isle, an island with large ducks as inhabitants (and bought the Flame Bow there, the best weapon in the game, for 25,000 gold).

    August 19, 2013: I Have Built a New PC with an Intel Core i7 (well, kind of)
    A screenshot of Fedora 19 Linux running on it:

    I say "kind of" (about having built a new PC) because although I have built a computer around the Intel Core i7, it does not yet have several things that most people would say are essential for a computer. Like a case. Or a graphics card (I'm just using the onboard graphics right now). As it is right now, the CPU and RAM are extremely impressive: Intel Core i7 4th generation with 16 GB of DDR 3 RAM on an ASUS motherboard, not to mention a strong power supply with 700W of output. However, the most urgent thing is that I need a case, because with this thing sitting out on my desk unprotected, one spilled drink could wipe out my whole investment (needless to say, any drinks I set down on this desk will be placed there without thinking, as I'd have to be crazy to put a drink near this thing). Once I have a case, I'll think about what kind of graphics card I want, and what kind of hard drive or SSD I want. So far I have spent slightly less than ¥70,000.

    So here is a picture of what the computer looked like on my floor, before I moved it up to the desk (it was already quite operational at this point, and I had installed and played around with Fedora 19 Linux at that point):

    This photo was from early on in the process. I got my first screen image (BIOS), which I photographed:

    August 13, 2013: Moved into My Utsunomiya Apartment
    Well, I am in Utsunomiya now. All nine boxes that I sent myself have arrived, too. Tomorrow, I will go to City Hall to register, I think. Tonight, I made a calendar of how I plan to spend the three-week vacation, but it is currently secret!

    August 11: My Last Real Weekend at Big Apple/My Last Weekend Living in Yokkaichi
    I taught my last lessons at Big Apple International School of English yesterday (yep, a Saturday). I am done teaching there now. I am in a limbo between working there and not working there, as there are a few tasks left to complete and I have yet to receive my LOR (Letter of Release), though. Tomorrow, I will move the remainder of my stuff to Utsunomiya. I still have to:

    • Vacate the apartment and hand my keys back to Kaori
    • Give Brian Derby the document I created that has all the students' textbook page numbers and what kind of quiz situations they have
    • Help Kaori move the Big Apple Web site either to a new server, or to the cheaper NTT Web service (if it is the latter, she may not require my help)
    • Check out with Yokkaichi City Hall and check in with Utsunomiya City Hall
    • Finish moving to Utsunomiya
    Once all of those things are done, I will be out of the limbo—I will be an ex-employee in every sense of the word. However, as it stands now, I'm kind of working for Big Apple still, just not actually teaching...

    I have slightly over three weeks of vacation before starting at my new job in Utsunomiya. I want these three weeks to be well-spent. I don't want to spend them surfing the Internet and engaging in flame wars on messageboards, or spending entire days saying to myself "You know, you really should be studying x or y right now, you slacker." All of August 12, I will be extremely busy preparing to leave Yokkaichi and going to Utsunomiya, but on August 13, I definitely plan to make a comprehensive plan of everything I'm going to do this break. Here are some preliminary ideas:

    1. [COMPLETE] Build a new computer.
    2. [ATTEMPTED, but abandoned due to some things happening that led me to believe that continuing on to Tohoku on foot would be too dangerous] Walk to Tohoku. I have never been to the Tohoku Region (Northeastern Japan), so it seems like a great hiking destination. However, I think it will take at least two or three days to reach Tohoku on foot, since it is 79.3 kilometers from Utsunomiya to Shirakawa in southern Fukushima (the southernmost part of Tohoku).
    3. [COMPLETE—saw the castle, Futaarayama Shrine, Nikkō, Tōshōgu (Tokugawa Ieyasu's grave and the Three Wise Monkeys), and ate Nikkō's specialty, yuba] Do other sightseeing around Utsunomiya and really see the area. Apparently Nikkō is quite famous because of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
    4. [COMPLETE, went to both the Horse's Head and the Bayside Club] Find some kind of social scene in Utsunomiya. One major drawback of Yokkaichi was that I was pretty much socially isolated for over two years. I need some kind of a social life.
    5. [COMPLETE, but it was a disaster because I made so many substitutions—I don't think I will make burritos with that recipe ever again] Make burritos for the first time.
    6. [COMPLETE—created the Oni Koroshi layout and monetized the Korea site (and I don't plan to monetize anything else until the Korea site starts turning a decent profit, which it is not doing right now, with over 20 visitors per day on average, but zero clicks)] Enhance this Web site. Technologically-speaking, my Japan site is the worst of my three Asia-related Web sites. The design on my Korea and Taiwan sites is far superior. This needs to change. And I am also thinking of monetizing this site with ad banners and trying to make revenue off of it.
    7. [HALF DONE] Possibly release some programs that I made years ago, but never got around to quite finishing. In particular, I am referring to the FirstBasic VGA version of Dungeon! and the QBASIC Korean hangeul display program that I wrote back in 2006 that can display hangeul on pretty much any computer with CGA or better graphics, even without a hangeul card.
    8. Catch up on some of my studying.
    9. [COMPLETE, beat Windows Dink Smallwood HD and also completed the Mystery Island DMOD that I had started before, but never finished; I got Final Fantasy XIV and hit Level 30 (although I have played FF games before, the online series is new to me)] Do a lot of gaming. Beat games on my backlog (games that I have made significant progress in, but just haven't finished yet). Get some nostalgic classics and use them to break in my new PC that I'm going to build. Get a new release game, like one that is from a series I haven't played before, to broaden my horizons.
    10. [COMPLETE] See the new Star Trek movie. It's coming out on August 23 here in Japan. I intend to catch it on its first day in the theater!

    So yeah, those are some preliminary ideas for my "staycation." I will spend most of it in my apartment in Utsunomiya, where I plan to work for at least the next year, but it will hopefully feel like a vacation because I will be new in that area.

    July 31, 2013: Oriental Long-Headed Locust
    These are photos of a rather large Acrida cinerea, or oriental long-headed grasshopper. There are two main Japanese names for this: shōryō batta and chiki chiki batta. "Chiki chiki" is onomatopoeia for the sound it makes when it rubs its legs. I found this clinging to a quilt I was drying outside.

    July 18, 2013: Today I Climbed Mt. Gozaisho Again
    I re-climbed Mt. Gozaisho. Before that, I also walked to Shiohama Beach and back. I have decided to write an epilogue to the ELI Pedometer Challenge photo essay over the course of a couple of days. Photos from my re-climb of Mt. Gozaisho and my trip to Shiohama Beach are in the epilogue, which is currently in progress (658 words so far, which brings the total photo essay to a whopping 9,032 words [more than 36 pages], my largest photo essay ever). Click the link below:
    Epilogue (ELI Pedometer Challenge)

    July 8, 2013: Vector Graphics with Inkscape
    For a while now, I have been noticing vector graphics all over the place. After reading a tutorial by Kerm Martian on different graphics file types, I became aware of SVG, a vector-based graphics file type sometimes used on the Internet. I became intrigued and researched SVG files, finding out that Inkscape is a freeware editor for SVG files. That led me to some tutorials on Inkscape, and then led to the following simple vector image that I created, below, of a torii:

    So...now that I know how to create vector graphics, expect to see more vector graphics (hopefully more complicated ones, too) on this site and in my programs. That is all.

    July 6, 2013: This Week in Review: Moth's Passing Away
    The most important event this week was unfortunately a sad event. Moth (pronounced like the "moth" in mother, not the flying insect), my grandmother on my dad's side, died at the age of 94 today (actually July 5 in Ohio). Later, I will write a more extensive blog post about her. I'm not going to write an extensive blog post about her just yet, but when I get some decent photographs of her, I will. As well as being a wonderful grandmother, Moth was also traveling to Japan as early as the 1970s, when Japan was just beginning to reemerge on the world stage, and also traveled to China in the 1970s right after China, under Zhou Enlai, opened up to the western world. Moth used to take our family to a Chinese restaurant in Ashland, Ohio, where I would write out a few crude Chinese characters on a place mat and the restaurant staff would get really excited...it wasn't every day that they saw a little, elementary school-aged white boy trying to learn how to write Chinese in that small town in the Midwestern United States. This had a profound effect on me as a small child, and encouraged me to learn more about Asian languages. Although her passing away is sad, it was not unexpected. We had known for quite some time that this would happen soon. Stay tuned for a future update that is entirely about Moth. And rest in peace, Moth.

    Moth isn't the only important person who died this week. Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the computer mouse, died earlier this week. So the world has lost two great people this week.

    As for other, non-death-related news...well...I learned how to make sushi (Kaori told me how to make it on a break one time). My sushi is crude, but to me, it tastes indistinguishable from store-bought sushi. Here is a picture of one of the pieces that I made:

    The recipe is extremely simple:

    1. Pour a bunch of vinegar into rice.
    2. Mix it around.
    3. Put the rice in the fridge so it gets nice and cold.
    4. Mold the vinegared rice into elongated balls like the one shown in the picture.
    5. Put a piece of salmon on top of the rice, like shown.
    6. Enjoy with soy sauce (optional).
    The salmon necessary to make eight pieces was only ¥136, so I'm guessing the per-unit cost is about ¥20 per piece (the rice, vinegar, and soy sauce are all quite cheap). In other words, I could afford to eat sushi at every meal.

    As for other important news...well...I got my J-Test exam pass:

    The purpose behind me taking the J-TEST is different from the purpose behind me taking the JLPT. Whereas I take the JLPT for motivation and something to put on my resume, the J-TEST probably won't go on my resume, and I will not study especially hard as the J-TEST approaches. I am taking it to get an objective measure of my Japanese. This will allow me to detect changes that are too small to be perceptible under normal circumstances (in other words, avoid the boiled frog phenomenon).