Thursday, March 30, 2006

All the stories

I have realized that it is about time I put all the links to the picture stories in one place. Fuzzball kindly did it for me, but I should do it here as well. I'll stick them all in this post, and later (when I am REALLY procrastinating, probably the day before classes start) I'll stick them in a sidebar. (I have to remember how to make a sidebar, first.)

So, here they are, starting from the embryo of the idea that started it all:

Bird Story.

There was something about the feet on the bird in that last picture that inspired me. Bird feet have that effect on me. They are unbearably cute, all spindly and vulnerable. When I see pigeons with a foot missing (why do so many pigeons have a foot missing? What happens to pigeons' missing feet? Where do they end up?) this feeling intensifies. When I saw a big blue heron with spindly feet (even though they look like quite TOUGH spindly feet), I felt all protective and concerned. This story started from the last picture. The heron did not want to get its precious, spindly, vulnerable feet wet. The egret admiring itself in the water provided a kick-off for the punchline (if you can call it that).

The second story, Bad Hair Day, started from the picture of the gull facing the wrong way and getting its feathers ruffled. This picture made me laugh. (It also made me think of ice cream, but that's probably just me.) The pictures I took the same day of the egret were not beautiful, as egrets usually are. In every shot it looked pissed off, and its feathers were all messy. Damn! I thought. I didn't get ANY good pictures of the egret. It was having a bad hair day.

And there it was. The bad hair day story.

Duck Olympics was the only story in which the pictures were taken on different days, although they were taken the same week. I had the ducks racing - I'd taken those on a Monday on my way to work. I looked at the shots and thought it looked like the motorboat races you see on Japanese TV, or perhaps a triathlon. But I didn't think they were blogworthy pictures. The ducks were too far away, although I was rather pleased at how clearly the carp showed.

A couple of days later the ducks were congregating at a certain point on the river, and had found something worth diving for, apparently. They were diving like mad. I thought it looked pretty funny how sometimes they dived at exactly the same time. Synchronised diving! I thought, and kept taking pictures. When I got home I found I'd caught some diving together (yes, I often don't notice until I get home what I have pictures of). I looked at the pictures, remembered the race on Monday, and the Duck Olympics were born. The gulls just happened to be there.

Sometimes I only know what's going on after the event.

Duck Olympics (cont) was obvious, once I'd figured out what was going on. I took a bunch of pictures of the crow, which was sitting on the fence alongside the river and calling and calling and CALLING. It just didn't let up, and it obviously was saying something terrifically important. If anybody has a use for another dozen or so pictures of a crow with its beak open, you're welcome to them. I've never seen a crow get so hysterical.

I didn't see what the egret had caught until I got the pictures blown up on the computer. I knew it had caught something, but didn't know what. Then I had to reconcile the egret catching something with the idea of DUCK Olympics. An egret isn't a duck! But in the end, that WAS the story. Egrets want medals, too.

(I still don't know what the duck caught but it wasn't nice, judging by his partner's reaction.)

Evolution was a no-brainer. I mean, really! There was the crow, cleaning up. (Actually it was dragging the plastic bag OUT, not IN, which is probably why it was cursing - but never mind! I reversed the pictures. Poetic licence.) I really thought I had seen a carp. It seemed to be a HUGE carp, which is why I was so surprised. I really did follow it, and really was surprised. And the bird really did levitate, apparently. It was a little further away than the story makes it seem, and I didn't SEE that it had levitated until I got home and looked at the pictures on the computer, but still. I wish I had a closer shot of it doing that, because it made me laugh. If I try to print that it will be ridiculously pixelated. It was too far away.

The bright orange teeth had to be the most surprising thing. I had never seen anything like it. It was kind of disappointing to discover that I had photographed a common pest and not some rare species. The other surprising thing is that after all my stalking carefully after it and so on an old man came up to the fence beside me and told me it had been hanging around the river for a month or so. Then he CALLED it. And it CAME.

So much for being a wild animal photographer. The bloody thing was TAME.

Intelligent Design followed on naturally after Evolution, and was the result of trying to take pictures after my last class when the light was fading, on a day when it had been raining. I do not know how to take photographs in bad light, and my hair goes silly on rainy days. All of the photos are crap. But I think the birds (and the coypu) had been reading the newspapers - that was when the whole teaching-ID-at-school thing was blowing up in the US. They really took it to heart.

Miracle was the result of my first foray down to the big river, which I hadn't visited in years. I had seen some cormorants down at the little river (and tried, and failed, to photograph them), but hadn't known that they congregated at the big river. Nor did I realize how many birds were down there. They seem to gather where the river meets the sea. What do you call that part of the river, the tidal area? I can't see the sea from there, but I can smell it.

The cat was up inside the bridge making a lot of echo-ey noises, and I stopped when I heard it, trying to figure out where it was. After I'd taken a few pictures I rode under the bridge and when I stopped to look back, there was the cat again. Except that this time it had a tail, and I was pretty sure that it didn't have a tail before. It wasn't until I got home and checked out my pictures that I could confirm this. Then everything else I'd photographed along the river that day made sense.

The Sinking Problem has my favourite ending. This is because the story was perfectly clear from the pictures I'd taken that day until I got to the ending. I didn't know how it was going to end. I also had a picture of the dog (which had really come up behind me and nuzzled my hand), and wanted to use it. It was a very cuddly dog.

I ate dinner, came back to my computer, looked at the dog picture, and it was clear to me that my story did not need an ending. It needed a dog. That was all. Who needs an ending when they can have a dog?

The Dance is perhaps my favourite story. At least it has my favourite line ("... the heron's head exploded"). When I looked at the pictures the story wrote itself - and not only that, it made me laugh while I was writing it. In practically every picture I'd taken the heron looked utterly bizarre. Professional nature photographers take pictures of animals and birds looking natural and beautiful (and how more beautiful can you get than a heron, for goodness' sakes?), but when I take photos they seem to make an effort to look as strangely deformed as possible. Do professional nature photographers edit a lot, or is it only me that the animals do this to?

The Diving Lesson was also obvious when I looked at the pictures. It was such a STRANGE place for the cormorant to be diving, and why was the egret there? I only had to think for a moment to understand what was going on.

In The Contest I wasn't quite sure what was going on at first. Why were all the birds looking the same way? What were the gulls diving for? Why were the fish jumping? Why did the heron look so mad? Why was the egret embarrassed?

The wee dog explained it all, at length. I had to interpret it from doggie language, though.

The Game was another obvious one. I thought I had no interesting pictures that day. The heron was washing, and the gulls were watching. It wasn't until I got home that I understood what the gulls were REALLY up to. They were sneaky about it, but it was pretty clear when I looked at the pictures.

So, there you have it. All the stories in one post. I don't know if I'll have time to get to the big river again before classes start, and whether there will be more stories or not. I'm sure they are happening, but I might not be able to find time to record what is happening.

But I'll do my best.

Addendum: Q.E.D. has now been added. This was a last desperate attempt to pretend classes weren't starting in under a week.

Addendum 2: Conversion, Motherhood and Manners have been added.


I have not been very inspired the last few days, as I expect my regular readers (all five of you) have noticed. This is partly because of the cold I've had, which I'm happy to say is almost gone, but also because the new semester is looming. This has sent me into the first stage of panic.

The first stage of panic is where my mind goes blank. Absolutely nothing relevant to reality happens inside my head. I cannot make myself think about work. When I try, my brain skitters around the subject. I get distracted by almost anything.

I am bracing myself for the second stage of panic, which should be starting any day now. This involves running around like a madwoman shouting, "New classes start in four days! What am I going to do? Help! Help! Help!" This is when I will get the spring-cleaning done. I am almost looking forward to this bit, because the only time I enjoy spring-cleaning is when I'm supposed to be doing something else, urgently.

The third stage of panic hits a day or two before I start back. I collect first-lesson plans like crazy, write them all up, prepare all kinds of interesting things, and fall into a black despair because I don't have time to do everything I wanted to do. Two months of inactivity stretch behind me, and I bang my head on the desk a lot and tell myself how stupid I am.

The final stage of panic is an eerie calm, which descends the night before work starts. This is chemically induced.

When I walk into my first class prepared with fifteen new lesson plans, I usually end up discarding them all and using the one I used LAST year, which worked perfectly well and is way better than any of my exciting new ones. Now and again I add something new. It is almost never something new that I prepared in advance. It is something new that occurs to me when I am facing the students. It just pops into my head, and usually works brilliantly, making me feel clever and at the same time stupid for having prepared so much unsuitable material. If I have not prepared a whole bunch of new, unsuitable material, however, nothing pops into my head, which is why I do not dare miss the third stage of panic.

So that is why I have not been blogging much. I have been in the first, blank stage of panic.

While I am waiting for the blankness to go away, here is something to keep you entertained, for, oh, around five seconds. It is a little colour by number project, for coleopterists. Do not be put off if you are not a coleopterist. It doesn't matter. I'm not a coleopterist either, and it made me giggle.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hair, taking a break, goose-stepping, sunshine

Blog hair
Today as we were walking in the sunshine to a little park The Man looked at me and said, "What happened to your hair?"

Then he laughed and laughed and laughed, and we both knew why. Sometimes I wonder whether telling him about my blog was a good idea.

Take a break before you start
This is how I do housework, and I must say it doesn't really work unless what you really need is a break, in which case it works very well. Unfortunately what I really need is to get some clearing up done.

Yesterday I watched a short video from North Korean TV, in which the soldiers are all goose-stepping, and I wondered where goose-stepping originated.

(The video is the second from the top, via Kottke)

I looked it up, and it seems that the goose-step is of Prussian origin, (pdf), invented during the time of Frederick II. I also discovered this: After WWII, the goose-step was outlawed in West Germany, making it the only human gesture to be officially banned by a state.

(That second link says the goose-step has been traced back to 17th century Prussia, but Frederick II was 18th century, so one of them is wrong, obviously. Just don't ask me which one.)

Does any other country still use it, besides North Korea?

We weren't the only people enjoying the sunshine in the park.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Confused bunny

Now and again the word Easter pops up in a textbook, and my students want to know what it means. I tell them it's a religious holiday, and get the details of that more or less right, but then they want to know what the bunnies and eggs are all about, and that's where I run into trouble.

"The Great Big Bunnies in the Sky descend to earth and lay chocolate eggs all over people's gardens," isn't really an explanation that works, if you know what I mean. And the students are all too ready to believe anything I tell them. (People will believe ANYTHING if it doesn't require thinking. Believing is easier. But egg-laying bunnies is stretching it.)

And all right, if I'm going to be honest I do understand the symbolism of eggs, but - bunnies? BUNNIES? Where do they come in? Usually I can make an intelligent guess when something like this comes up that I don't know, but for this one I'm stymied. I keep forgetting to look it up, and just now I saw a mention of Easter somewhere on the web that reminded me.

Of course I can easily Google this, but I've just taken my medicine and in a few minutes I'll need to lie down. Besides, what I really want to hear is YOUR explanation. Not the official one. I will look that up tomorrow (and this will remind me).

If you didn't already know, what kind of story would YOU invent to explain the bunnies?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Doctor, doctor

I went to the doctor today. Not because I think medicine will make this cold go away faster, but it might make it go away more comfortably. Besides, I hadn't seen my doctor for a while, and I always enjoy visiting him. Also, his way of making a cold more comfortable is to give me lots of drugs, and they sometimes give me interesting dreams.

So I went, and told him I have a cold.


"Sorry," I said, meekly.

He stared at me closely for a moment to check that I really was sorry, and laughed. Then he asked me what the symptoms were, and checked my temperature and listened to my chest.

He decided on some medicine, and took notes on his computer. The way he does this is interesting. He raises his voice a bit more and the computer starts doing things all by itself. You can see the cursor moving and windows opening and closing and words being typed, but his hands are nowhere near the keyboard. It's magic! Except that if you lean back a bit you can see the nurse through the door in the next room, typing away busily. I think he should install a secret interphone and close the door. It would be much more fun.

"Can you sleep?" he asked.

"No problem," I said.

"So you don't need anything to help you sleep," he said, and took another note. I watched and pretended to myself that the secretary wasn't there. He asked a few more questions, and we chatted a bit.

Finally, just as I was starting to worry that he'd forgotten, he asked the most important question:


A visit to the doctor would not be complete without an enquiry about my bowels.

After I came home and took the medicine I was sitting here writing the first sentence of this blog entry when I started yawning so extravagantly I almost fell off my chair. I gave up trying to think, and lay on the floor in front of the heater for a short nap. Three hours later I was in the middle of some colourfully happy dreams when The Man opened the door, almost stepped on me, and screamed loudly.

"I thought you'd died!" he told me, later.

It's a good thing the doctor didn't add anything to the medicine to help me sleep. Whatever it is that dries out my sinuses makes me sleep anyway. It's working well. My sinuses are drying out very efficiently. In fact I think my face is going to cave in any moment now, like a deflating balloon. If I open my mouth I'll fly around the room a few times, whistling, and give The Man another fright.

Colds don't have to be miserable. They can be interesting, if you have a doctor like mine.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cold, psoon, balls, bird

SERVING SPOON! That was the word I wanted, when I was talking to The Man this morning.

"The big spoon, you know, we've got two," didn't work. He didn't know what I was talking about. When he finally figured it out he said,

"But that's not a SPOON!" and I said,

"YES, IT IS!" and the argument was just about to take off when we decided that we would call it a psoon. His idea, not mine, but I wish I'd thought of it. Psoon is a lovely word, pronounced exactly as it is spelt. And yes, you'll find it's quite easy to pronounce ps. ("Just like in 'pussy,' said The Man, and I explained that pussy has a u, and psoon doesn't. Then I told him that I can't blog that, because pussy has ANOTHER meaning, and will get me all the wrong kinds of hits via search engines. That's why I'm not blogging it. Putting it in parentheses means that it's not really here.)

The reason I wanted to tell him about the psoon was that the psoon had got caught by its little loop (on the end, for hanging it up) in the drying basket, and when I dislodged it, rather suddenly, the big knife which was also in there jumped up and bit my finger. I may have bled into the chicken curry, but I didn't tell him that, because in any case I was greedy and ate what was left so he didn't need to worry about it. Does eating my own blood make me an auto-vampire? I showed him the (tiny) cut on my finger hoping for a little sympathy but he just told me I was aho (stupid). I am not aho. It was an accident. If you have been chopping chilli and then have a pee (if you are a man) THAT is aho, and I have never done that. Guess who has? Ha!

The other news, besides this tiny cut on my finger, is that I have caught a cold. It is not a bad cold, at least not so far. My temperature shot up last night so I went to bed, and when I woke up the measures I've been taking seemed to have worked. I still have a sore throat but my temperature is back to normal and my nose isn't dripping much at all. All in all, I think I'm doing rather well. In fact catching a cold two weeks before classes start is bloody good planning, if you ask me.

If you're wondering what my anti-cold measures are, I took two different kinds of kampo, also Vitamin C and laxatives, did nasal irrigation, then went to bed with two hot water bottles and several layers of warmth, and slept a lot. I also took some calcium by mistake, but you never know, that might have helped, too. (I thought it was Vitamin C, only reading the C before I helped myself to a handful.) The laxatives were because I always get constipated when I have a cold and I'm sure it's connected.

Not everybody is enamoured of nasal irrigation, I know, but it does help, in my opinion, once you get past the 'eek!' factor. It certainly helps you to breathe easier at night when you have a cold.

Today I stayed at home and did nothing. It rained a little and was generally a gray sort of day, so it wasn't exactly a sacrifice to not go out. I spent some time on the Internet, meaning to catch up on my blog reading but making the mistake of going to Pharyngula first, which I haven't caught up with for a while. That meant that I ended up following links all over the place, and never did get to number two on my list. I can now tell you, from experience, that it is possible to waste an ENTIRE DAY if you go to Pharyngula unprepared and without a strong will not to get distracted. There was even a wonderfully revolting post about earwax. (And other bodily secretions. You have been warned.) I told you about the different kinds of earwax but on Pharyngula you can learn what it is made of.

One of the places I got distracted at (via Pharyngula), is here, which is supposed to show how your computer works. Actually, I think they had a peek inside my head. But you probably shouldn't start watching that one if you're sleepy. There is a risk that you'll still be glued to your chair a couple of hours after the page loads, hypnotised by the little balls.

Oh, and I also found this picture on my disk of the little bird I wanted to ask CRMJ about. What is it? I've been checking this world bird guide, but not knowing where to start is a problem. The nearest I could find was the Pied Water-Tyrant, but it's not quite right.

So that was my day. Having a cold, naming the psoon, finding out what my earwax is made of, wandering the web, being hypnotised by little balls, and virtual birdwatching.

How was yours?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Game

The gulls were bored. They'd had a busy day, but now they had nothing to do. They milled around aimlessly.

The heron had been fishing in the murkier areas of the river, and needed a wash.

He flew over to join the gulls.

When they saw him coming the gulls whispered excitedly to each other, but I couldn't hear what they were saying.

The heron landed and looked at the gulls, who looked back.

"Why are you all looking at me like that?" asked the heron.

"Like what?" asked one of the gulls.

"You're STARING," said the heron suspiciously.

"We're just ... admiring you, said the gull. "Yes, admiring you. That's it. Right, guys?"

"Right!" chorused the others. There were muffled giggles in the back.

"Idiots," said the heron. "There's nothing to admire. I'm all grubby."

He began to wash.

The gulls tiptoed forward, cautiously.

The heron looked up, and some of the gulls in the middle stopped so suddenly they bumped into each other.

"What are you doing?" asked the heron.

"Nothing!" said one of the gulls. "You didn't see anything, did you?"

"Well, no," said the heron. "But I'm sure you've moved."

"No, we haven't," said the gull. "We were just, you know, adjusting our positions. Washing. Stretching our wings, stuff like that."

The heron glared, and they looked back innocently. He went back to his washing. "Something funny's going on," he muttered to himself.

One of the gulls flew forward and landed right in front of the heron.

Another two quickly moved closer as well. The heron looked up sharply.

"WHAT?" he demanded. "YOU'RE STILL STARING!"

"Nothing!" said the gull at the front. "Er, we're just watching, and learning how to wash properly. You're VERY good at it."

"I don't believe you," said the heron. "You MOVED again. You weren't here before!"

"Yes, we were," said the gull.

"No, you weren't!" said the heron, but he sounded a little uncertain. "Were you?"

I heard a voice beside me.

"Darn! I'm too late."

I turned.

"Too late for what?" I asked.

"Too late to join in the game," said the gull. "He's going to catch on in a minute, and I've missed all the fun. Grandmother's Footsteps is always MUCH more interesting when 'Grandmother' doesn't know you're playing."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Plum blossoms (probably)

The promised plum blossom (probably) pictures. As always, click to enlarge:

I suppose these are all plum blossoms, although they are different colours.

Even missing some petals they are still lovely.

(I have rediscovered the macro setting on my camera.)

Plum blossoms, maybe, but not yet

I might have taken some photographs of plum blossoms today. The Man and I have only just learned how to tell the difference between cherry blossoms and plum blossoms, and now we show off our knowledge every time we see a blossom. As we're concerned any blossom that isn't a cherry blossom is a plum blossom. That means every blossom we see right now, because it's too early for cherry blossoms around here yet. When they start blooming it will be all over TV, and we'll know.

It is a bit embarrassing how little we know about birds and flowers and so on. When I first came to Japan I was constantly amazed at how many Japanese people could name the plants and insects and birds around them. There seems to be quite a heavy emphasis on this at school, and it probably helps that trees in parks are often labelled. (Birds and insects aren't, but that's probably only because nobody's figured out how to do it efficiently yet.) However, when I tried to use The Man as a resource, thinking that since he is Japanese he would know this stuff, I discovered that he must have missed school that day.

"What's that bird?" I asked him one day, and he answered, authoritatively,

"It's a thrush."

It was a pretty funny looking thrush, I thought, and I was right. It turned out to be a bulbul. I have since learned that, It's a thrush is The Man's standard answer for any bird that isn't a sparrow, crow, or duck. He's almost as bad with insects, and for flowers he asks me, which is pretty funny.

So today I took pictures of blossoms that I'm calling plum blossoms (because they definitely aren't cherry blossoms), but Blogger won't let me upload them. You will have to wait to be able to tell me how right (or wrong) I am.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


It isn't only people who enjoy watching the sun set.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Some interesting things

I've been websurfing a bit today, instead of doing things I should be doing, and came across a few interesting things.

First in the list is this knifeblock. I don't know if I should admit this, but my first reaction when I saw it was to wonder if it was customizable. Could you get it made in the likeness of, say, your boss? But my second reaction shows that perhaps I'm not that nasty a person after all, because I really wouldn't want that thing in my kitchen.

(Via Crib Candy, where it is possible to waste many happy hours, via Boing boing, via somewhere else I can't remember now.)

Does this video of a robot mule make you laugh and recoil at the same time, or is it just me? This thing manages to be creepy and funny and excruciatingly clever all at once. Those legs! It looks like a couple of guys trying to dance, or fight. Except that their feet have been chopped off. And their heads. And... oh, just go and watch it. I'm fairly sure if I saw that thing coming towards me I'd run like hell.

Let me see, what else did I find today...? Oh, yes! I found a dress for couch potatoes. At least I suppose that's what it's for, because I can't imagine what happens when you get up. Check out the other clothes they sell, too. (Also found via Crib Candy.)

Finally, after all my wanderings around the web today I ended up here, learning how to tie my shoelaces.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Tonight, while chatting with some friends, I asked whether anybody else saw the story in the newspaper this morning about the snoring professor. Two people hooted. Not only had they read it, one had the newspaper with her and showed it to the others.

"At our university we aren't even allowed to sit down when we're proctoring exams," said one, enviously.

Another said, "But that isn't the first time it has happened. It happened at X university and they hushed it up because it was too embarrassing for the university. The professor was snoring so loudly during the listening part of the English exam that nobody could hear the tape."

"This guy in this story got a stern oral warning," I said, reading the newspaper, and our friend told us the best part of her story.

"The professor at X university was suspended for a month, with pay," she said, and we stared at her. She added, for clarity, "He was not allowed into a classroom for a month."

We gasped. "WITH PAY?"

"With pay," she said.

Not only did they hush up the story, they rewarded the professor!

Yet ANOTHER perk of tenured professors. We part-timers NEVER get suspended. (Of course we don't have to proctor exams, either, but still.)

If the professor in the newspaper story had heard of the earlier, hushed up snoring incident, he must have been VERY disappointed with his 'stern oral warning.' Maybe he just didn't snore loudly enough.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


RadioActiveJam alerted me to the fact that today is World π Day. When I read this, I decided I should write a blog entry about π, but since I have forgotten almost everything I learned in mathematics class at school I amended my plan slightly. I decided to listen to Kate Bush singing her song, π, and write about that instead.

So I listened, and at the same time I was checking out some web pages about π, and discovered something rather strange.

Kate Bush has left out some numbers! And no, I don't mean the infinity of numbers after the end of the song. She left out a string of twenty two numbers in the middle. She went straight from,




I wonder what she has against 9986280348253421170679?

I Googled this odd discovery and found that I am not the first person to have noticed, which was a little disappointing. I guess I'm just not geeky enough to be first. I'm certainly not as geeky as the guy who decided the song concealed a secret message, with the missing numbers as the key, and even started decoding it. I won't link to him because I don't want to risk being stalked by someone who might want to throw π in my face, or could turn out to be a πromaniac, or a sπ, but I'm sure you can find him for yourself if you really want to.


In my π-hunting adventures today, I came across some other musical π links that I will include here, since the Kate Bush song turned out to be flawed. (Or containing a secret message that I'm not geeky enough to understand.)

First there is π-Phonie, in which someone infinitely more geeky than I could ever aspire to be has transformed π itself into piano music. It is odd music, but not as difficult to listen to as I expected. This link is interesting in an quirky academic sort of way.

Next is a video directed by Keith Schofield, of Hard 'n Phirm singing a π song, Pi. This link is both wonderful and silly.

And here is Hard 'n Phirm again, obviously taken from the previous song but leaving out all the extraneous bits and leaving pure π. This one, in my opinion, should be The World π Day Official Theme Song.

I recommend that you load up that last link, then open this page in a separate window. Once you've done that, you'll have the words and the music, and you'll be set.

Now turn up the speakers and sing along. It's World π Day!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The contest

When I arrived at the river the other day it was clear that something was going on. A crowd had gathered.

They seemed to be discussing something, but I couldn't hear very well. There was a lot of giggling.

After a while one gull flew out over the river.

It dived into the water, then resurfaced and flew back.

Everybody continued to look out at the river. At first I couldn't understand why, but then suddenly there was a loud, "EEK!"

I stared, astonished.

The gulls cheered hysterically.

"Ooh! That was a good one!" they screeched, and laughed and laughed and laughed.

"Disgraceful, isn't it?" said a voice beside me.

I turned.

"What's disgraceful?" I asked.

"Those birds!" said the dog. "The PERVERTS!"

"Er, what they are doing, exactly?" I asked.

"Didn't you see?" said the dog. "They're having a fish tickling contest."

"A what?" I asked.


"I can hear perfectly well, thank you," I replied. "Fish tickling? So that's how they did it! That was amazing."

"No, it wasn't." said the dog. "It was cruel. Do YOU like being tickled so hard you jump?"

"Oh," I said. I hadn't thought of it quite like that.

One of the cormorants called for space, and I turned back to see what was happening.

"MY TURN!" he shouted. "GET OUT OF MY WAY!"

The gulls, still giggling, shuffled out of the way. The cormorant started his take off.

But just as his feet left the ground a loud cry rang out over the river.


It was the heron.

The cormorant wobbled badly.


The egret cringed, looking embarrassed. "I was just watching," she said. "I wasn't going to play."


The gulls flew away, muttering amongst themselves.

"Good!" said the dog. "I was worried they'd start on me next. I HATE being tickled."

"Really?" I asked. "I met a dog here the other day who told me he loved being tickled, especially under the chin."

"How utterly revolting," said the dog. "You're not going to try it, are you? I'll bite if you do!"

"I wouldn't dream of it," I said.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Rice production cow

I have discovered a wonderful resource, which will guarantee you hours (or at least minutes) of entertainment (or at least befuddlement). It is Honyaku Yahoo, a page that will translate Japanese into English for you. Now you, too, can read Japanese web pages!

When I found this page I decided to test it using the Japanese version of the Asahi Shimbun, even though it has an English version as well. They don't put everything into the English version, and I've always been convinced they're hiding the most interesting stories from us resident foreign semi-literates.

It appears I was right. In the English version we NEVER get stories with headlines like these (give it time to translate):

A rice production cow self-restraint does not reach an in-flight meal for infants

It is acquittal district court Hachioji branch office to a summary order, an office worker with "a pervert"

There are no rice production cows in the English newspapers, nor any office workers with perverts. They don't want us to know, obviously.

Unfortunately the translation page itself is in Japanese. It's easy, though. Just go to Honyaku Yahoo and select the fourth option from the left (the one that says 日⇒英), then paste in the url you want translated and hit the obvious button. The translator gags on pages that are too long, so if you get an error message you can't read, that's probably what it's telling you.

If you want to see what your blog looks like in Japanese, you can do it the other way, too. One blog entry at a time is all it can handle, I discovered. Here is one of mine: The Dance in Japanese, to bewilder my Japanese readers.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The diving lesson

As I cycled along the river today I spotted an egret hidden away on some concrete steps.

"What on earth are you doing in here?" I asked. "Isn't it a bit mucky?"

"It is a bit," said the egret. "COME ON! YOU CAN DO IT!"

I jumped.

"Pardon?" I said.

A cormorant popped up out of the water.

"WELL DONE!" said the egret. "I'm giving him a diving lesson," she explained.

"Gosh!" I said. "I didn't think the water was that deep."

"It isn't," said the egret. "He has to practice in shallow water where nobody can see him."

"Why?" I asked.

"He's afraid to go in over his head," said the egret. "Ever since he read some stupid story about a sinking problem he's been having anxiety attacks, and everybody keeps laughing at him."

"Oh, er, really?" I said.

"It's embarrassing," said the cormorant. "And I have horrible nightmares."

"Oh," I said.

"But I think I'm better now. So far I've managed to resurface EVERY TIME. I reckon that story was just a fairy tale."

"Oh, er, good," I said. I thought about it. "But was it really? I thought I saw..."

"AHEM!" said the egret.

"What?" said the cormorant.

"Oh, nothing. Never mind," I said.

"I'm going to practice in the river, now," said the cormorant, and flew away.

"GOOD LUCK!" shouted the egret.

She turned to me. "Idiot!" she hissed. "You almost told him!"

"Told him what? About the sinking problem?"

"Yes!" said the egret. "And it's NOT a problem, until they notice it. "They're SUPPOSED to sink. They're supposed to get the fish at the bottom, not at the top. That guy has been eating my breakfast EVERY DAY since that stupid story."

"Oh," I said. "I didn't know."

"You don't know ANYTHING," said the egret. "You're almost as bad as the dumb person who wrote those stories. Can you believe such idiocy?"

"Well, um ... my goodness, what gorgeous legs you have!" I said, desperately.

"Do you think so?" said the egret, brightening. "You don't think I'm knock-kneed?"

"Not at all," I said. "I've never seen such beautiful legs."

"But look at my feet!" said the egret. "I've got to go."

She flew over to the dam.

"I hope that stupid bird doesn't need more diving lessons tomorrow," I heard her grumble.

"I HATE getting my feet dirty."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Bomb

A while ago someone said in comments (Carrie, I think) that she used to worry about The Bomb when she was a child, and RadioactiveJam has posted a video on his blog that makes me understand how The Bomb could consume a child's imagination. (There is an alternative link if the embedded video on his site doesn't work.)

I am SO glad we didn't have to watch this sort of thing at school in New Zealand. It would have given me nightmares. Not that I think Carrie was at school in the fifties, when this little educational film was made, but I guess there was something similar, conveying the same feeling of threat. I don't think, in NZ, we ever considered ourselves a target for anything like that. (Although in my first job we had a deranged client who used to come in with highly detailed maps and plans and explain to us all about how the 'Japs' were going to invade, and where, and how vulnerable we were and WHY WOULDN'T ANYBODY LISTEN TO HIM?)

The film is rather unspecific. All you really get from it is that there is some scary horrible Someone (they don't say who) out there who wants to bomb you, thus giving you, um, something worse than a very bad sunburn, and that if this happens you should 'duck and cover.' Even covering yourself with a newspaper will help, we are told. I wonder if any of the advice would have been useful if a bomb had actually been dropped?

Did any of my U.S. readers get lessons at school about what to do in the event of a bomb, the way they show in the film? What about in other parts of the world?

We only ever got ordinary old earthquake drills, which were kind of fun. The one time there was an actual earthquake during school hours, my class was outside running around, so we didn't feel it. The first we knew of it was when someone peered into the classroom next door and saw all the kids (and the teacher) huddled under their desks looking pale and scared. Our response to this was to crowd around the window pointing and laughing, so I guess our earthquake preparedness drills hadn't worked very well.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The dance

"HEY, GUYS!" shouted a gull, flying in to greet his friends. "Guess what? I've been learning how to dance!"

"Dance?" asked his friends. "What do you mean? How?"

"Watch this!" said the gull. He was terrifically excited.

"First you go like this!" he said. "And then you go like this!"

His friends watched carefully. "Brilliant! How did you do that?" asked one.

"Watch my feet," said the gull, proudly. "I'll teach you."

"Like this!"

They were doing the first step together when there was a shout from across the river.

"THAT'S THE STUPIDEST DANCE I HAVE EVER SEEN!" yelled a cormorant, so loudly that the heron's head exploded.

It was terrible.

"Cor blimey!" said the cormorant. "Sorry, mate. I got carried away."

"Idiot!" mumbled the heron.

"Er, can I do anything to help?" asked the cormorant.

"NO," said the heron. "You've done enough already. I'll fix it myself."

And to everybody's amazement, he did.

The result wasn't QUITE perfect, but we all assured him that nobody would notice.

The gulls, slightly embarrassed, decided that dancing was not quite such a good idea after all.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Invisible building

Today I went into Osaka to meet a friend. I arrived a little early at the meeting place, and popped outside to see if it was raining. When I left the house it was sunny, but on the train I had noticed some very dark clouds moving in, and I wondered if it was going to rain.

It was not raining, but it had been. The road was wet. I gazed at the gloomy sky, or what I could see of it between the buildings.

Something really, really odd caught my eye, and I looked harder. Was I hallucinating? What I could see did not make sense. The sky had windows painted on it!

When my brain had finally figured out what was going on and I wasn't feeling quite so bewildered, I pulled out my camera and took a couple of pictures. The first one is above. For the second picture I used the zoom.

I have cropped and enlarged the second picture. If you look closely you can see the faint outline of the building. With my eyes I couldn't.

When my friend arrived I dragged her outside to see the amazing invisible building, but the sky had already changed colour. She could see what I was talking about, but the outline of the building was visible. I had been there at exactly the right moment, WITH MY CAMERA.

How often does THAT happen?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bad business

I am going to have a wee grumble. I've been stewing over this for a while now, and it's time I let it out.

The Man and I sometimes help out friends who do business with companies overseas. Generally this is small scale, and involves writing business letters and emails, with the occasional phone call. Nothing too difficult, you would think.

However, we often run into a problem. This problem is that many business people, apparently, cannot read. I send an email asking a question, and the person at the other end fires back a response answering a different question altogether, or asking for information that was contained in the email I just sent.

I am currently in the middle of one such series of miscommunications.

(Details edited out - The Man tells me we must not risk the transaction falling through, so even though I think I was fairly anonymous about it, the Japan link could make it obvious. A small risk, but not worth taking. Maybe I'll add it in again later. Anyway...)

I am getting really tired of this. A simple transaction is taking FOREVER. I wish I could say that this particular transaction is an exception, but it isn't. It happens all the time.

Also, a pattern is emerging. From my limited experience, I can tell you this:

Countries where English is spoken are the worst, with the exception of New Zealand. I don't know why, unless I just got lucky. I have dealt with two or three NZ companies and never had any problems. I would be proud of this, except that why should I be proud of normal behaviour?

The U.S. is the worst in terms of simple business etiquette, and I can't blame email for this. On one memorable occasion before we had email, a response to a fax I sent was my own fax sent back with a scrawled, difficult-to-read note in the margin and an arrow pointing to the question it was answering. The question was answered, but showing it to our client was embarrassing, it was so unprofessional. This was an extreme example, but unbusinesslike responses are not unusual. The tone is not professional, questions are not answered fully, and most of the time if there is more than one question they are not answered at all.

The same goes for companies in the U.K.. People apparently do not read emails to the end, and nor do they read them properly. Responses from the U.K. tend to be more professional in tone, but the content is no better.

When we dealt with a company in India the responses were extremely polite, professional, and to the point, and all our questions were answered promptly. (As a bonus, at Christmas we were sent the most hilariously kitch animated e-card you can imagine.)

A French company I dealt with recently responded less professionally, but it was clear from their writing that they did not know very much English. In fact the website was in French, and I hadn't been sure that they would respond at all. However, all questions were answered, and the transaction went perfectly smoothly despite the language barrier. I was impressed.

Can anybody tell me what is going on? I am generally dealing with office staff here, not the people at the top. I don't know whether they are called secretaries any more, but basically they are people doing secretarial work. (The exception is the American guy above, who was the owner, and I suspect the entire staff, of the company.)

What really puzzles me is that people who do this sort of work are making their jobs far more difficult for themselves, and making it less likely that they will succeed in doing business.


(More edited out. Sorry.)

I would use a different company, except that the other three companies I wrote to enquiring about similar products did not even grant me the courtesy of responding to my enquiries.

I hereby send out two requests to all native English-speaking business people:

1. PLEASE LEARN TO READ AND WRITE. Alternatively, hire somebody who can. A person who can compose professional, businesslike letters addressing your clients concerns in full will do wonders for your company's image in the international business world.


Thank you.