January 26th, 2016
(Some personal details deleted, but otherwise more or less verbatim. Said kid is around 10, I think, and has some spergian tendencies.)
So, to recap: you had mentioned the travails of dealing with one of the administrators at school who was hell-bent on doing things In The Proper Way - regardless of any logic, usefulness, or anything else - and was also demanding that you Respect His Authoritaaay. This got me to chuckling - and while you were able to recognize that I wasn't laughing at you, I was also unable to elucidate just exactly at whom or what I was laughing. After thinking about this for quite a while, I've come to some tentative conclusions. But first, two digressions: one about humor in general, the other about Halloween.
There are many theories of humor; you can read about them on Wikipedia. What I'm particularly interested in is that of incongruity. One of the more common forms of joke is to talk about A, and then talk about B, and then recontextualize things so that A + B = something entirely unexpected. (Lots of simple puns work like this - e.g. the joke, said aloud, "What's black and white and read all over? A newspaper.", as well as other, longer forms - the shaggy dog story, the brick joke, etc.) But the crux is that reinterpreting what A and B actually mean, apart, together, or both.
Digression the second: as a kid, Halloween freaked me out and I didn't want to participate. ("Kid" extended until about my late 20s or early 30s, as it turned out.) A large portion of this was due to being aware that parents and other adults found watching the kids to be rather humorous or amusing in some fashion, and I couldn't fathom why this would be, and was extremely self-conscious about this. My theory had been, "I wouldn't be caught dead like that!" That's not quite wrong, but it's not accurate, either. I suspect that for most folks, it's people juxtaposing seeing kids as they are, recalling how they used to do the same sorts of things, and then comparing that against how they are now. You generally don't do the same thing as an adult as when you're younger - or if you do, it's with the knowledge and experience and context of what you've seen over the years. It's not something you can teach; you simply have to live through it. (See also: Heraclitus talking about the river.)
Anyway - when you told me about encountering that terribly self-important teacher, and expressing how irritated you were that they couldn't explain their reasoning or why you should follow such arbitrary rules, or express much of anything other than "Just do as I say"... that reminded me an awful lot of how I was when I was younger, and how I didn't understand how people like that worked, or how people might have different mental models and behaviors, and how I've changed in the past thirty-odd years or so. It was jarring comparison, seeing young-me and present-me side-by-side like that, and somewhat unexpected. So, I laughed.
In essence, I was laughing at how I'd turned out and how my understanding of people, the world, and myself had changed, and marveling at how I got to here from younger-me. And I suspect it's the same sort of laughter that I always saw adults do when they saw kids in Halloween costumes - which brought to mind how amazingly frustrated I felt at (correctly!) interpreting adults' emotional state of things, but only partly understanding why they were acting like that (and missing the really important context behind things.) And that made me think I should follow up on our eighteen-ish month old conversation. So, here we are.
Hope this wasn't too dull or self-indulgent. Hope you're doing well.
January 10th, 2016
My boss announced, in a Friday staff meeting, that this coming Friday would be his last day. He didn't tell any of us beforehand, although in my 1:1 meeting on Tuesday he mentioned how he felt like he was drifting, and unmotivated, and that the company was making it almost impossible to get promoted, and that there was no real place for him to go. I told him that I felt much the same way, and he expressed sympathy, but without a lot of reassurance; that explains why.
After my three week vacation, it was incredibly difficult to reengage with my job; while I like my immediate coworkers, and I mostly get to set my own priorities for what I'm working on, it still feels like I'm stagnating a bit, and the majority of my work is now cleaning out the gutters and quietly cleaning up after the sloppiness of my teammates (often without them knowing.) All in all, not terribly rewarding, except for the alleviation of the irritation at knowing that stuff is terrible.
At the same time... I'm not sure what else I'd want to do. The trend for my specialty (unix-based system admin for IT) seems to be "going away in favor of AWS or the handwavey cloud", production sysadmin work is going towards the same plus "docker + vagrant + framework of the week". I suppose I could pick up coding again, but I don't think I'd be too enthusiastic about it. (But with depression + anhedonia, not a whole lot sounds too enthusing.) What complicates things significantly is my housing situation: if I left SF to go work somewhere else (the SFBA peninsula, south bay, or elsewhere), there's no way I'd be able to get an apartment in the city for what I'm currently paying. For that matter, it seems doubtful that I'd get an apartment for what I'm currently paying anywhere in the Bay Area. That implies I could or should start looking elsewhere, but I turn into a Buridan's ass way too quickly when confronted with excess choice.
I suppose I should find a shrink; judging from how pimply and broken out I've gotten after coming back, my stress levels are through the roof. Plan B: win the billion dollar lottery, ho ho ho. (Plan C is "move back to my parent's house and try to connive my way into a Master's program somewhere despite not having a Bachelor's"; I don't know how much more likely that is than plan A.)
January 1st, 2016
The theme for 2015 seemed to be: change and loss and stagnation, but with some minor resolution. My peaks and troughs weren't nearly as pronounced as for others I know; the highlight of my year was probably "my shoulder stopped hurting now that I'm back on gout meds" and the nadir "tons of friends including my former quasi-minion got laid off without warning". Not exactly earth-shattering.
What seems to be in store for 2016? Change seems to want to rear its head, although I don't know what form it will take. Job, location, and other things are remarkably cloudy. Maybe this year I'll finally see a shrink and get back on meds (like I've been meaning to for the past four-five years), or go to the Hieronymous Bosch exhibition
like I'd been threatening.
October 13th, 2015
I'm writing this with the assumption that y'all've already (or will soon) read one of the standard travel guides; my listing of stuff here is mostly to highlight niche interests or things that might otherwise be overlooked by more mainstream guides. It's almost entirely about Tokyo because, well, that's what I'm familiar with.
Bits I forgot from part I:
- mobile phones and data service
- Japan's mobile phone environment used to be extra-unique, but is now only mostly unique, on par in terms of idiosyncracy as the US. In particular, the frequencies and protocols used are somewhat non-standard; 3G GSM is somewhat available now, however. See http://prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com/wiki/Japan for some of the details (which look reasonably accurate, but which I haven't verified.)
- T-Mobile (at least for US subscribers) has free data, although coverage can be extremely spotty, and can be rather slow.
- You will probably not be able to purchase a pay-as-you-go voice SIM card. You can rent a voice SIM (and a phone if yours doesn't support the local frequencies) for usurious prices at the airport.
- That wikia link above mentions several "buy a temporary data SIM" vendors; I haven't used any of them myself.
- Toiletries, laundry, and other miscellaneous supplies
- Generally speaking, you'll want to hit up either a drugstore (くすり/薬, "kusuri") or a 100円 shop rather than a grocery store for things like deodorant or soap or towels. The hundred-yen shops are usually pretty decent, with a wide variety of goods, and the quality of items there ain't bad. The collapsable laundry bags I find to be particularly useful; I also like having my own towel (and a spare or three.)
- If you're going to do laundry, keep in mind that most Japanese folk air-dry their laundry rather than using a dryer. Most of the cheaper foreigner-catering hotels do have coin-operated washers and dryers around somewhere.
Online resources for Things and Stuff:
- There are two main centers of nerd activity: Akihabara and Nakano Broadway; Ikebukuro is a secondary center.
- Akihabara (秋葉原, aka "Akiba") is the epicenter of old school "otaku" culture. It has most of the maid cafes and figure shops and tall buildings and trading cards, and one of the largest branches of Mandarake (the comic/book/figure store) is there. It's where the women dressed in maid outfits hand out packages of tissues exhorting you to go to their cafes. It's also home to a lot of the electrical and electronics parts stores, although that's fading. The northern section of Akiba west of the main road has some used laptop stores that are worth looking at if you're curious in computers that never made it to the West.
- Nakano Broadway, on the other hand, is a single building of concentrated fandom. I particularly recommend the bookstore Taco Che on the third floor; there are also a couple of shops that sell original animation cels.
- Ikebukuro is home to Ototome dôri (乙女通り, "Maiden road"), where a lot of the otaku shops catering to girls' manga and BL and whatnot are; if you enter a manga shop and are stunned by acres of pink on the book spines, you've found this. There are also some other hobby shops and whatnot scattered around Ikebukuro, but not nearly to the extent of Akiba.
- If you want to hit up the Studo Ghibli Museum (which I highly recommend; been there four or five times thus far), be aware that you have to get tickets in advance. You can attempt to order from the overseas vendors (JTB, usually), or once in Japan you can hit up a ticket machine in a Lawson convenience store. If you get your ticket through JTB, it's twice as expensive and is tied to your passport - but you can also enter at any time during the day. The Lawson machines don't have any English (and can thus be difficult to use), and the tickets they provide require you arrive during (or after) your time window; the main downside to buying via Lawson is that museum admissions can sell out. If you do decide to go, I recommend going to Kichijoji, walking through Inokashira park, and ending up at the musem - then taking the Totoro bus back to Mitaka staiton. (The walk to Mitaka station from the museum is pretty dull.)
Books, Art, Art Supplies, and Toys
- Village Vanguard has all sorts of amusing stuff; the place is jam-packed with books and trinkets and whatnot. Multiple locations, but I recommend the ones in Koenji and Shimokitazawa in particular.
- If you like pens, pencils, or art supplies in general, Tokyo is a wonderland. My favorite art supply place is Sekaido in Shinjuku (東京都新宿区新宿3-1-1 to be exact) - six floors!
- Similarly, Tokyû Hands has a quite good office supply section, as well as craft supplies, toys, and all sorts of other things. The main difference between the Shibuya and Ikebukuro locations is that Ikebukuro's has "nekobukuro", a cat cafe on the top floor where you can pet cats for a couple of hundred yen per hour.
- The two main toy stores in Tokyo are Kiddy Land in Harajuku, and Hakuhinkan Toy Park in Ginza; the former has more sorts of kitschy Hello Kitty and action figures and whatnot; the latter has an excellent selection of jigsaw puzzles, games, and stuffed animals.
- Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku is a nice constantly-changing gallery; most of the things there are outsiderish-art or doujin-ish rather than high fine art. If you're in the neighborhood, worth a look.
- For bizarro and sometimes NSFW High Fine Art, Vanilla Gallery in Ginza has a selection that rotates every few weeks. (Link can also be NSFW.)
Areas to wander around in, and other miscellany
- Shimokitazawa is home to tiny boutiques, lots of small clubs with live music, and general funkiness. It's much more laid back than Shibuya.
- Kichijoji is home to Inokashira park (with a zoo, a lake with paddle boats, etc) and olde-school shops. It's also home to my favorite death-themed izakaya with rubber spiders that drop from the ceiling, Yurei. I don't think they speak any English there.
- Asakusa has Senso-ji, the Big Honking Temple that's practically de rigeur; however, the historical district south of the temple is worth a looksie (and the numerous monja places are worth a stop and a bite, too; they're at least somewhat used to tourists and often speak at least a little English.) West of Senso-ji is Kappabashidori, the restaurant supply area, and home to the giant chef head, plastic food stores, and quite a lot of nice ceramics shops and knife shops.
- Ebisu is home to a metric ton of ramen places; my favorite is AFURI, but pretty much all the other ones around are good as well.
October 8th, 2015
: more info on the drugs.
Slightly reformatted and expanded for 2015! Huzzah! "Stuff to do" will be in its own forthcoming post.
- Japan is extremely wiggy about drugs.
- Super-duper wiggy. I saw pot there maybe once or twice in two and a half years. Don't try to bring smuggle anything in, srsly. However…
- (edited) Do not bring in any medication containing opiates, narcotics, ephedra-like substances, or stimulants. Even if it's OTC. Though neither pseudoephedrine or its wussy replacement phenylephrine are directly stimulants, both are banned, and they will search for it.
- OTC drugs are hella expensive. If you think you might need painkillers or antihistamines, bring them from here. (500 tablet ibuprofen bottles make great gifts! HHOS.) Note that you are theoretically prohibited from bringing in more than 30 days' supply of any given drug.
- If you're flying into Tokyo:
- You don't want to use a cab unless you really can't avoid it (i.e. it's past midnight) or you have a very large travel budget; it's probably around $100 to get to downtown Tokyo from Narita during the day, and it wouldn't surprise me if it were double that at night.
- From Haneda, you have the monorail which then connects to the rest of the rail network. There are a few airport buses, but not many.
- From Narita: there are more airport buses (which are certainly the easiest if it goes right to your hotel); otherwise, the N'EX and Skyliner are the two main train lines. The Skyliner is cheaper and somewhat faster, but goes fewer places and doesn't connect to the rest of the trains as easily. There are a couple of kiosks in the airport that sell Suica cards (see below) for 500円; I recommend getting one.
- Try to arrive before 10pm, if possible; the trains start to shut down around 11 and it can be difficult and/or expensive to get into town past then, especially if you're not familiar with Japan.
- Japanese vowels are very similar to Italian. They're produced way back in the throat, and they don't change based on position in the word or surrounding consonants. tonkotsu and tonkatsu refer to very different things; resist the tendency to slur vowels into a schwa. And vowel length can matter: "meshi" means 'food', "mēshi" (with an extended e) means 'business card'.
- Japanese people are not used to people speaking bad Japanese. Bad pronunciation and bad grammar will often confuse the hell out of them.
- Did you take high school Spanish? Do you remember much of it? Do you know what "piso mojado" means? How's your accent? Yeah, well, it's like that for Japanese folks and English, except they were even less likely to have native speakers teaching them. And an awful lot of people would be too embarrassed with their language ability to admit to knowing any English at all.
- If you write something down, it's often much more likely to be understood than if you speak it aloud. Phrasebooks can be helpful for this, so you can point at the phrase you're speaking. In particular, http://www.amazon.com/Japan-Toshiya-Enomoto/dp/4795818436 and http://www.jlist.com/product/APA257 are really good - but any English-Japanese phrasebook that you can point at will help.
- The single most useful thing to learn before your trip is not Japanese per se, but the katakana syllabary. There's a whole lot of English words that have been imported for everyday use and they show up on a lot of signs. Take a look at https://www.narita-airport.jp/jp/inquiry/ ; the first two boxes have 'フライト' ("furaito") and 'セキュリティチェック’ ("sekyuritichekku"). If you know that the "r" and "l" sounds are interchangeable, it shouldn't be too hard to recognize those two as "flight" and "security check".
- 円 is the way "yen" is written most often; it's pronounced "en" without the y sound. People know what ￥ means, and occasionally use it, but it's not nearly as common.
- Get ready for stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. You can usually find elevators eventually, but they're often not terribly convenient, nor are there often multiple elevator banks.
- If you're going to be spending a fair amount of time in cities, get a Suica stored-value card or the local equivalent. It's a supreme pain in the ass to figure out what the train or bus fares are going to be, which magic turnstiles you have to use to transfer between lines more cheaply, and so forth. By getting one, you can just slap $10 or $20 on there, and just tap it at the turnstyles, and all the calculation and deduction and transfer stuff will be done for you, pretty much.
- With the exception of Kyoto, the trains (subway or aboveground) in big cities are usually going to be cheaper and more convenient than buses. They're on-time, they're cheap, they're reliable; if the train schedule says they're going to leave at 09:45, by golly, it's going to leave at 9:45. This goes for local trains, the shinkansen, pretty much everything.
- Most cities will have more than one transit vendor, and it'll be far cheaper (if sometimes much slower) to use only one vendor's transit line than to switch back and forth between them on any given trip.
- Almost all businesses will have little maps showing where they are, along with their address. The address is good for computer navigation or looking something up in a map book, but almost useless for actually navigating somewhere on foot. If you're at "1-23-4" and trying to get to "1-24-4", it doesn't mean you're necessarily anywhere near, and even local residents are unlikely to know where a given address is. See the fine Wikipedia article for more details. If your hotel has a map on its webpage, print it out along with the address.
- Get used to navigating by landmarks or notable features (e.g. "500m from the Family Mart"). Particularly common landmarks: convenience stores (7-11, Family Mart, etc) and fast food chains (McDonald's, 松屋 [Matsuya], Lotteria, MOS Burger). They usually get little icons of their own in the printed map books.
- In a lot of major cities, the trains shut down midnight-ish and the cabs go into super usury mode. If you're going to go out late, be prepared to hoof it back, wait until 5 when the trains start running again, or shell out $50 for a cab.
- Most ATMs have hours, because why would you ever need to withdraw money past 7pm? Your foreign ATM cards are most likely to work in either a Japanese Post Office ATM, or a 7-Eleven ATM. (Supposedly Citibank, too, but I've seen all of two Citibank ATMs over there, I think.)
- Be prepared to use cash. A lot. Some places will accept credit cards for over a certain amount, but it's often a minimum of $50-$100. Many places don't accept credit cards at all.
- If you've got a Suica, some vending machines will let you use it to pay.
- It's way too easy to end up with $20 of change at the end of the day if you're not paying attention, since the 500円 coin is the largest denomination, and that's $5.
- The single most useful word: "sumimasen". It's roughly equivalent to "excuse me" and all the connotations associated therein; you can use it to get somebody's attention, to apologize, etc.
- Second most useful word: "arigatō", 'thank you'.
- Use the above two a lot. Looking abashed and apologizing will smoothe over an incredible amount of social awkwardness and/or impropriety.
- Don't be loud. Watch where you're going. Be on time.
- Most of the food is great. I've heard the country referred to as "A nation of obsessive gourmands." Don't worry too much about what you're eating.
- More than once, I've referred to Japanese culture as being "Minnesota nice crossed with rigid hierarchy"; I'm actually somewhat serious.
September 8th, 2015
42 has come and gone, and I still haven't gotten The Answer. If anything, things are more unclear than ever.
An awful lot of people I know are moving, having existential angst about their work, or all of the above and then some. This weekend, I had dinner with my landlord, his wife, and a friend of theirs from chat; he's working for Slack (the new company hotness du jour), and has kinda-sorta moved to San Francisco... and can't find anywhere to live. Apparently, even the tech companies
are saying that they can't get people to come work for them due to the housing situation. Most of the fun people I know have either moved out of the city, have hooked up with folks who are in the tech industry, or have fled the state entirely; I know at least six people who have moved to Portland in the past few months.
San Francisco is not the city I remember from the late 90s/early 00s; I can't conceive of a warehouse party being thrown in the city, nor people renting out a big communal space. Many of the arts groups (Cellspace, Antenna Theatre) have either shut down or moved out as well. The city is rapidly approaching a state of being expensive and frou-frou and No Fun, and those effects are spreading out to the other cities in the Bay Area as well - not that many of them had thriving arts or culture scenes themselves, other than Oakland/Berkeley.
Going to Defcon in Vegas was more interesting than I thought it would be, but not because of the convention. It turns out that I miss having a car (and the ability to just get in and go somewhere for an unspecified amount of time), and sunlight and warmth. The people there were a lot friendlier, too; in some ways, it was the opposite of SF.
The problem is that most of the jobs I'd want to work at are still in the Bay Area. Since I have no kids, no partner, and little in the way of furniture I could conceivably pack up and move halfway across the world again with little notice... but I have NFI where I would want to go or do with myself. Of the big or well-known tech companies, there are only a few for which I either haven't worked or would want to work, and those are sounding kind of dubious themselves. (e.g. I've heard that SpaceX is kind of like videogame companies in that they'll take in the bring young things who want to do SCIENCE! and promptly use them for all they're worth and then some; Apple is full of raving paranoia; etc.)
None of this is helped by my depression having been especially bad over the past couple of months, topped off by a gout attack that kicked in right before Defcon began: not only am I lacking in motivation and want to just lie in bed all day, I have stabbing pains in my shoulder/upper back. Waking up out of a sound sleep due to little crystals in your joints going shankity-shank-shank-shank is no fun, let me tell you. And then there's the political bullshit and upheavals at work; the oldtimers are fleeing in droves; my tinfoil handcuffs are increasingly appearing to be made of actual tin, and rusted tin at that.
Even when I've been at my happiest and best-adjusted, I've never had an especially large amount of things that I've felt driven to achieve or attempt. When I'm like this, work is about the only thing that seems useful or tenable, and it takes most of my remaining energy to keep up the 'perfectly normal human' mask; going out and about and being social is beyond my capability most days, even if it's something as simple as going out for drinks with my coworkers someplace nearby.
I'd like a new body and a new supply of spoons, please.
June 4th, 2015
Last night was the first time in months I've been able to get to sleep at a normal time (i.e. before 4-5 AM) and not wake up two-three hours later in the
middle of the night. Go me!
Now if I actually had energy to do stuff in the evenings or on the weekends and/or not seethingly rage at work bullshit, I'd be set!
December 10th, 2014
I had finally gotten through the prison walls - only to find a desolate landscape in front of me. The female robot waved her disconnected leg at me and jeered, "You thought you escaped - but you're actually on Mars! You'll never really get away!"
November 30th, 2014
Apparently, medieval cloth dyeing techniques involved the cultivation of demonic tentacles in barrels, submerged in liquid; the finest tentacles produced a pigment similar to tyrian purple. The bigger question, though, was whether the dye retained the demonic taint inherent to the tentacles - or through generations of tentacle breeding, had the demonic influence been brought down to a negligible level? Did the color affect the transmissibility? And what exactly does it mean to be demonic, anyhow?
November 20th, 2014
A deep rectangular flap had been cut into the back of my leg - bigger than my leg actually was - and had been folded down to show that the interior was filled with fuzzy white mold. I frowned and cleared it away, to find that what was remaining was bright red muscle, more like a beef steak than human musculature. There was an extra little glob of flesh that shouldn't have been there; I thought "WTF?" and was able to pull it away. As soon as it touched the countertop, it fizzled and boiled away like a cross between a salted slug and a pimple. "Perhaps that white stuff is what was making me so itchy," I thought.