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.
October 15th, 2014
Related to the last post: I think I need to stop commenting on Facebook for a while.
People have been super up in arms about the Gamergate horribleness, as well they should be; nobody should get death threats for talking about video games, nor should they have to deal with all the misogyny and other sexist bullshit that's unfortunately part of everyday life. However, it seems that almost inevitably when people talk about it, they also get wrapped up with super-emotional arguments and start to define things in terms of absolutes. And asking about such brings derision, scorn, or outright dismissal. So, better to keep to myself, not try to contribute, and watch a few more logs get stoked in my crippling fear of interaction. It's not that I can't read emotions in people; it's that I don't know what the fuck to do when I see them, as my natural reactions seem to do little good.
October 12th, 2014
Work offers improv classes, and around July I was finally able to snag one of the open slots. It's been rather interesting, not just in going through the exercises, but also in seeing how the teacher and my fellow students react to various things. Given that my memory for trivia (names, phone numbers, and other individual data that isn't itself intrinsically meaningful or relatable to other things) is utterly terrible, I've been doing operational work for the past two decades or so (where thinking on one's feet is a job skill), and my general lack of inherent social filtering, it's been pretty smooth sailing thus far. In comparison, I see some of the other students visible grapple with overthinking things, or not being used to dealing with situations that go abruptly off-script. One of the issues I have, though, is that the teacher is stressing the intuitiveness and just going with the flow - but I get the distinct impression that if I were to just let loose with complete unfiltering, it would go too surreal and/or weird people out a little too much. (Then again, the classes are held at a tech company, so it's not as if it would be super-unlikely to have not encountered other spergs before.)
I went on a mini camping trip the other weekend, in the lovely Turlock Lake State Rec Area. It was quite nice having sun and warmth for a change, wading around in the river, and hanging around with friends I hadn't seen for quite a while. Saturday night, I went strolling around the campgrounds with the organizer and her son; her son is 8 (I think), and definitely on the autistic spectrum. I hadn't really been exposed to high-functioning kids with autism before, only adults, and few people who were both outgoing and autistic. I was mentally hitting checkboxes as I was talking with him and his mom ("flattened tones when talking, check") but it was how he described his social interactions that was the most interesting, in no small part because some of those things mirrored my own childhood experiences. He was able and willing to look at lists of rules, say "this is dumb", and question authority as to why they were enforcing stupid things - but didn't have the acumen to know why one should go along with stupid things anyway. He mentioned his frustration with social skills classes where they use scripts to enact skits - and how he couldn't see the value of enacting the thing when he could just read it, and reading it didn't make a lot of sense anyway. His Theory of Mind is definitely far behind his cognitive development. The most interesting moment was when he was telling me about his stupid vice principal and the rules he was enforcing, and how when challenged about "why does this rule exist?" said Tall One blustered on about authority and listening to adults and crap like that. I laughed ruefully at his exposure to blatant authoritarianism, which made him pause. "Are you laughing at me, or laughing at the story?" he asked, not sounding offended at all, only genuinely curious (if a bit perplexed.) That he was able to formulate the question, read enough of the situation and emotional state to not react defensively, and to trust me enough to actually ask the question with the expectation of getting a response raised my spirits, even if it meant that I had to attempt to give a short explanation of power dynamics to an eight year old. (Couldn't quite tell him, "Oh, go read this when you get back.)
One of my coworkers left the company after four years and change, and announced he was going to be at the local beer garden to celebrate his funemployment. While I've had my tiffs with him, I've known him for about ten years and he's a good egg. Even though I was almost dozing off due to insomnia having caught up with me, I figured I should at least drop by. He'd had a few pints by the time I got there, and was in cheery spirits. (This did not prevent him from bitching about some of the more dysfunctional processes at his now-former workplace.) After a little while, he decided that it was about time to move to an indoor bar; as he was preparing to depart, he told me, "Good to see you!" and made the uniquely-Californian "would you like to shake hands or maybe a hug if you're into that" gesture; when I took him up on the latter option, he grinned and said, "Wow, a hug from the Aspie!" I chuckled and bid them my adieus as they took off. As I walked towards home, though, I was really pretty confused. Said ex-coworker was high up on the list of "Coworkers who I suspect are on the autism spectrum themselves"; furthermore, I don't think I'd ever actually discussed Asperger's with him. It made me wonder if I was displaying more symptoms than usual (or if my brutal repression of some of them were failing), that there was some conversation I missed, or something else entirely. All in all, kinda odd.
August 24th, 2014
So you want to go to Japan. Cool! Here's some stuff to be aware of.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
August 17th, 2014
The flight from SFO to NRT was long and boring. The seat next to me was open, so I could have theoretically lied down... except that this was a 747 with the armrests that stick way the hell out so you can't lie down easily. Boo. Got to Narita without issue, found my sister at the baggage claim (who had only been there for five-ten minutes), and we made it through customs without delay. We took the Narita Express to Ikebukuro; the express part was only for the Narita - Ueno-ish leg, as it was slow going on tracks parallel to the Yamanote line for the rest of it. Maybe 90 minutes total from the airport to Ikebukuro station? We couldn't find the exit we were supposed to take the first time out; however, since my parents had previously stayed at the hotel we were going to, I kinda-sorta knew where it was. I also found that T-Mobile's claims of having free data in Japan were mostly true, so GPS kinda-sorta worked. (More on that later.)
We had to get up early the next morning to meet me ex-gf Yumiko, who had kindly gotten us tickets for the Ghibli Museum, so we talked about going out, but ended up falling asleep around 8pm local time. I think we woke up at 6, which was just as well. We met my ex right on time, and chatted briefly before she had to head to work. My sister and I had discussed going to Tsukiji since it was still early, but instead we decided to just go back to the hotel and laze around for a while, as our tickets didn't allow entry until 2pm. Katy got her first real exposure to Japanese convenience store food and TV, and lazing was had. Around noon, we went to Kichijoji, and started to amble our way through Inokashira Park towards the museum. It's a much nicer route to go through the park than to go to Mitaka station, like the official guides recommend; that walk is really pretty dull, with not much to be said for it other than the charming "Ghibli Museum, 1200m" signs.
I've been to the Ghibli Museum at least three or four times now, and each time has been a pleasure. It's not that large, but the grounds are immaculate, there's stained glass depicting Ghibli movie scenes everywhere, and the entire experience is just charming. The only kink is that tickets are limited; JTB will sell you tickets in advance, but they'll often run out and be super slow to inform you of this fact (or to bother updating their website.) If you're lucky, already in Japan, and have a flexible schedule, you can go to a Lawson convenience store and use the Loppi machine to purchase tickets; they usually do have tickets available a week or two in advance, and they're half as expensive that way.
Anyhow, my sister was completely enchanted by the Ghibli Museum, so yay. Took the Ghibli-liveried bus back to Mitaka station and went back to the hotel. Don't remember what we ate that night; we were still rather jet-lagged and out of it. That it was Tokyo in late July - i.e. around 80% humidity and in the low 30s Centigrade/high 80s-to-low-90s Fahrenheit - did not help our exuberance; my sister is like mom in that she doesn't handle that sort of weather well. That's what scheduling allowed for, though.
August 13th, 2014
I'll post about the Japan trip after I get back; my feelings are complex, and roiling them up by writing about them ain't exactly conducive to sleeping well before checking out of the hotel in nine hours.
Off to take a bath; no shortage of water here, unlike California.
August 7th, 2014
What I have done today: absolutely fuck-all. Slept in, watched TV, attempted to stretch my increasingly-pissed-off piriformis muscles (now angry on both sides), deleted a bunch of work email, browsed the interwebs, meditated on my sister's directive to not split my tongue because "it would be icky and mom wouldn't like it", and generally tried to convalesce from muscle injury, social overexposure, and a cold. Gotta get dressed and meet ex-coworkers in about an hour, though.
In lieu of actual content, I will merely link to some sloth pictures instead.
July 24th, 2014
Flew to Narita! Met up with sister! Got through Immigration and Customs without issue! Eventually made it to hotel! After talking about whether we were hungry or not, ended up just falling asleep around 8pm local time. Exciting!