The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Endless Minutiae of my Daily Life

Well, I haven't written in a while. No big news: no more earthquakes, no promotions, wedding proposals, or anything else. So, I thought, why not bore you with details of my quotidian existence?

Currently reading: a few different books, actually...

-The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. I'm re-reading this one. It's fascinating, even if you're not "into" language. The theory is that our brains are wired, genetically, to work with language. De-bunks a lot of myths about language, too, such as the one that "kids these days don't speak properly" or "Our language defines how we see the world". Really, really good.

-The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. Really remarkable, thought-provoking, and extremely optimistic book about the future. Basically, technological change is speeding up exponentially. (As a familiar example, the computational power of computers doubles every couple of years.) The mistake people make is to use the current rate of change to predict the future, but the rate of change is itself increasing! We are soon to approach the "knee" of the curve where we begin to notice explosive changes in technology, including but not limited to computation (Artificial Intelligence?), genetic engineering (the end of disease? the end of aging?) and nanotechnology (total control over matter on a molecular scale). Far from just being pipe-dreams, this book carefully charts the progress made in the past and provides tons of examples of emerging technology that will power the technological changes of the future. (If we don't all die of nuclear / chemical / biological / environmental catastrophes first ... ) Basically, the future looks pretty cool, and it's going to be almost nothing like the present.

-Killshot by Elmore Leonard. (I need some light reading!) Have you ever noticed how Hollywood movies (this goes for books, too) can be set in any old small town, from Maine to Alabama to Alaska to Utah ... they can even be set in Mexico, or some exotic place anywhere ... but they are almost never set in Canada? Why is that? (It's the second-biggest country in the world, for crying out loud.) This book is cool because it's set in Toronto, and in the Detroit area, so the action jumps back and forth around the border. The "good guys" are Americans, and for a twist, the bad guy is Canadian. Cool.

Work: more or less fine. My students have finally given up the pretext of being interested in what I have to say, and I have given up the pretext of caring whether or not they learn anything, or pass the course. So everything's copacetic. Not an ideal state of affairs, but a one-sided relationship (e.g., I care but they don't) just doesn't work.

The weather: Hot. Muggy. Rainy. Time to be on constant lookout for mold.

Love life: Um, non-existent.

Martial arts: Busy. Added another training night to my regular schedule. I'm kind of excited about it, but the style of iaido they do is almost impossible for me. I'm not going to give up right away, but it seems like it was made for small, limber, flexible people. And that ain't me!

Currently worrying about: finances, living arrangements, employment, taxes, etc. The usual.

Long term plans: Ha ha ha ha ha haaaaahhh! Ughhh.

Project: I have an idea about an iaido book, but this being Japan, it seems like it is going to be difficult to realize. I don't want to go into details here, but I'll let you know if anything moves forward with it.

Reason I'm happy I'm in Japan: Surely Western culture is a sinking ship, right? (Would someone just terminate Paris Hilton already?)

Reason I'm unhappy I'm in Japan: With all the earthquakes last week, Japan may be a sinking ship, (literally).

Dissatisfied with: My complete lack of progress in Japanese in the last, oh, 6 months or so.

Satisfied with: Hmmm...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

Beppu has been the epicentre of 31 earthquakes in the last 24 hours or so. Something like 5 of these have been Level 4 on the Japanese Seismic Intensity Scale (which goes from 1 - 7) and another 3 quakes have been Level 3. It's been quite an interesting day. They started around 11 pm last night. I was in my friend's car (a large SUV) and we were stopped at a red light; I thought he was pumping the brakes or doing something strange because the car was bouncing on its shocks. He made a noise of surprise and I noticed that the electric poles were shaking, and that's when I knew it was an earthquake. When I got home, I didn't have much time to do anything before another one came along, and then another ... I went outside, only to find my neighbour Keith lurking around outside, too. But apparently, the locals weren't too worried -- they were all still indoors. After a few more small quakes, we went back inside. There were a few more small quakes through the night, and a couple the next morning.

The next day, at school, the students (many of whom are from outside of Japan) were pretty excited. They all wanted to talk about the earthquakes, which would have been fine as long as they had discussed it in English! As it was, they had trouble concentrating on the lesson. It was made a lot worse by the fact that, during two of my classes, fairly strong quakes happened right in the middle! They only lasted a couple seconds, but the students were freaked out for a few minutes, and on-edge for the rest of the time.

The worst one came last night at about 9pm. It wasn't that much stronger (in terms of magnitude) than the others but it felt somehow more violent. Stuff fell off my shelves and onto the floor, and so I hightailed it outside pretty quickly. The thing about earthquakes (in my limited experience) is that they're pretty scary, and you want to run outside, but once you get outside, you realize that all the buildings are still standing (of course!) and so you feel kind of silly. Oh well, better safe and silly than sorry and squashed.

The Japan Meteorological Agency predicts that the quakes will continue today and tomorrow. I don't really mind that much, as long as they don't get any stronger ...

Here's how the JMA Intensity scale works:

1 - perceptible only to measuring equipment and dogs

2 - barely perceptible; some people think a heavy truck has driven by; unstable objects shake

3 - felt by most people indoors; noticeable shaking; foreigners run outside

4 - felt by everyone indoors and many outdoors; strong shaking; objects fall off shelves/walls; foreigners panic; some cowardly Japanese run outside; poorly-constructed buildings (e.g., sandcastles, card houses, etc) may collapse

5 - very strong shaking; even Japanese are frightened; people and 3-legged animals have difficulty standing; some old buildings are damaged; foreigners pass out and/or die of fear

6 - catastrophic shaking; even turtles have difficulty standing and may flip over; Japanese people begin to believe in God; supposedly earthquake-proof buildings are destroyed

7 - complete and utter devastation; the ground moves in waves; Spiderman has difficulty standing; bodies of foreigners and other objects are thrown into the air