Pre-Flight Checklist

With less than a day to go before my flight, I'm mentally checking off the things I need to do before boarding the plane. So far, the list is pretty light:

  1. convert a few hundred dollars to Japanese Yen
  2. do two loads of laundry, making sure to buy some travel-size Tide for Reiko
  3. pack bags with careful attention to gift placement
  4. make sure clock-radio alarm is disabled before leaving the house

Not a whole heck of a lot to do, here.

It's probably for the better, too. Since finalizing the flight several weeks ago, I've been slowly making sure that all the necessities and requirements are taken care of before this trip. One thing that I am a bit worried about, though, is the money situation while in Japan. I will likely not be able to pull any money from an ATM until Wednesday, so will the cash I bring be enough?

Reiko and I discussed the train ride that will be required to get from Narita to Mietetsu Gifu last night, and this really shouldn't be too much of an issue. This is what we've figured so far:

  1. 3:30 PM JST - Land at Narita
  2. 4:15 PM JST - Get past Customs & Immigration, and make way to train station at Terminal 1
  3. 4:30 PM JST - Catch train to Tokyo Station
  4. 5:30 PM JST - Arrive at Tokyo Station and purchase Shinkasen (Bullet Train) ticket to Nagoya
  5. 6:00 PM JST - Catch train to Nagoya Station
  6. 8:00 PM JST - Arrive at Nagoya Station and purchase train ticket to Mietetsu Gifu
  7. 8:15 PM JST - Catch train to Gifu
  8. 9:15 PM JST - Sit and wait 15 - 20 minutes for Reiko

Sounds simple enough, right? Hopefully I won't get lost along the way.

I'll be taking lots of pictures along the way, and I hope to post them on here whenever possible. Because of the limitations of my web server, I'll need to make the images quite a bit smaller than their actual size, but once I get home I will be able to post the full size images. I wonder how much internet access will cost at Narita Airport....

What to Do About Homelessness

Today I was in Downtown Vancouver with some friends, and a common scene played out before me: the poor and destitue were asking for spare change, or a meal.

Homelessness is something I've thought about for quite some time. What can societies do to help prevent this from happening?

There are lots of programs available to help people who have nowhere else to go, but there are many homeless who will not take part in these programs for various reasons. Before living on the streets becomes necessary, people usually have the ability to find work one way or another ... even if it's with a temp agency doing terrible jobs for minimum wage. Anything to keep rent paid and a meal in the stomach is better than the streets.

I've come very close to being on the street before. When I moved to BC several years ago I ran out of money and had no work and no leads. I knew nobody and was 2 weeks overdue with the rent payment for my one room in a family's home. I could have called home and asked for help (again), but my pride wouldn't let it happen. I vowed that if I completely ran out of money, I would walk back to Ontario.

They say that pride is the sign of a foolish man. After that experience, I agree.

Since that time, I've often given some money to homeless individuals or taken them to Subway or some other place for a quick meal. I've been in a position where the smell of food was enough to make you both incredibly hungry, and incredibly ill. These people are humans, just like the rest of us. Though I may not understand why some don't try to get off the street, I can't ignore them completely.

So this makes me wonder: What can we do?

Money isn't the answer. "Affordable Housing" might make things easier for many of the homeless, but doesn't solve the underlying problems. I don't think education is a valid option unless these people had food, shelter and clothing first. So what could trigger a large group of these people to come in off the streets and try to build a better life for themselves?

Some people have told me that the homeless are that way because they want to be that way. Maybe this is true for some, but not for all. I've spoken with a few, and these are people that had some terrible habits that they can no longer afford, with lives and families that they lost because of these habits. I'm sure that given the opportunity, at least some will take the offered hand and rebuild from nothing.

Of course the method for this isn't exactly clear. There is no single solution. Perhaps I should talk to a few of the local ones and see what I can do, helping one person at a time.

Japanadian Up and Running

One of the things that's been bothering me about my site is the difficulty in remembering the address. The dashes, the nickname, the :88 at the end ... it's just too much for most people to remember.

So to that end, I've set up an easier name: www.japanadian.net

I've always wanted my own .net domain. Of course, I'll leave the old address running for anyone that doesn't want to change their bookmarks :D

Imagining the Infinite

I love documentaries.

Although, admittedly, I don't know what it is exactly that attracts me to them the most. The educational content in most of the recent documentaries have been absolutely top notch. In the last two years there have been more high-calibre shows than in the last twenty. On top of that is the visualizations that give viewers a better understanding of how events occured. Then of course is the switch from normal television to HDTV.

Tonight I watched yet another documentary about some objects in space. In this case, it was the black hole. I believe this is the subject that I've thought most about in the last 10 years, and it's the subject I've watched the most when it comes to any celestial entity. Suns, planets and extra-terrestrial organisms is all fine and good, but something about these infinitely dense objects fascinates me.

Perhaps it's the "infinite density", since I believe the term is incorrect. Nothing is infinite. Everything has a set limit. Whether our minds are capable of grasping that limit or not is yet another subject.

Einstein's theories of space and time are pretty complex. I can't even fathom the levels of understanding required to make these ideas completely work. My mind just isn't wired that way ... yet. However, given his ideas that space and time form a mesh that is warped by all matter in the universe, an object of infinite density would create a hole that is "off the scale", which would be absorbing everything in its path (since literally everything would be in it's yaw).

Since this is not the case, I would think that black holes should really be referred to as "objects of currently immeasurable density". OCIDs, if you will ...

Insofar as science can tell, the universe is expanding at an increased rate of speed after a lull for several billion years. Does this mean there is no ultra-massive black hole that has created such a dent in the space-time fabric that all objects will eventually be pulled into its event horizon? Who knows. If there is, science hasn't found it yet.

Humans are pretty intelligent. What once was thought of as infinite now has definitions that can be measured and confirmed. The size of the universe. The speed of expansion. The speed of light.

I believe that in the next half-century, humans will find a way to measure the density of a distant black hole. Perhaps this will come about when a new chapter to the laws of physics are created. Perhaps one explaining how reality exists inside these powerful objects.

Waiting for Thursday

With less than a week to go, the only left to do before the flight to Japan is wait. I still need to convert a few hundred dollars to Japanese Yen, but I'll likely do this on Tuesday at Yaohan.

Yesterday I had a conversation with gentleman who also enjoys watching Korean Dramas. He's in his mid-30s and we seemed to get along pretty well for the short hour we were talking. It turns out that he knows the area of Japan that I'll be visiting soon.

Several years ago he was had an internship at a company somewhere in Anpachi, Gifu. He knew where Kakamigahara was, and had even travelled from his home to Nagoya most every Saturday to shop and wander around the city. He was only there for seven months, and unfortunately he didn't really enjoy his stay.

He never really said why he didn't like the stay in Anpachi. 'Constant boredom' was said a few times, but that can usually be cured by going out and doing things or meeting people. Perhaps he just didn't feel comfortable there because he was not very fluent in Japanese.

Either way, I look forward to spending time in that country no matter where I am. There is so much history to learn, and so many things that I've never truly understood to contemplate. I certainly hope that the locals will be patient with me as I try to take everything in for the first few years.

Update:

I just got off the phone with Reiko, and I'm so proud of her! She earned a bonus this year for working so hard at her school. Congratulations, Reiko-chan! I've always known you were the best :D

Understanding the Value of Life

Today I read an article about an existing crisis in India that left a bitter aftertaste.

I have always found it hard to justify why men are treated differently than women. Sure, I've studied some of the history behind the patriarchal system, and even seen it in action everywhere on the globe. But that doesn't mean it should still be practiced.

I just cannot fathom how these parents could kill their children, though. Who is the primary instigator of the murder? The father or the mother? I wouldn't believe that any mother would willingly say "Yes, kill this child to prevent it from being a burden on our house". A life is a life.

None of us asked to be born. None of us asked to be male or female. None of us asked to be white, black, hispanic, asian, or whatever. None of us asked to be born in a certian country or financial situation. These things just happen. It's up to all of us to make the best out of our lives, and enjoy the short time that we have on this earth.

If human life is so cheap to some people, how would they feel if their wife was not permitted to live because she wasn't born male? If everyone was male, everyone would either be celebate or homosexual. If everyone was male, old clan-style wars would erupt where men from one village would come steal the women from another villiage.

I know we can't educate everybody in the world. And the ideals of one society cannot be forced upon another who's unwilling to listen (Iraq is only the latest example of why this doesn't work). But surely something can be done to quell the unecessary slaughter of innocents.

Aside from the procreational roles played by each gender, women are just as capable as men. I wish that people would wake up and realize it.

Searching for that Quiet Place

The last few weeks have been pretty frustrating for me, and I actually realized it today after becoming personally offended by a request made at work.

It takes quite a bit for me to be personally offended. I can find things offensive without letting them get to me, and often let as much slide as possible before taking it to heart. Of course, there are some things that I take very seriously and it quite easy to push the right buttons, if you know which ones to push.

I'm not exactly sure why these frustrations build up over time silently. I seem to vent quite often about this, that and the other thing ... it makes me think that I've become dissatisfied with myself.

From today, I am going to try even harder to keep things in perspective. The quality and completeness of my work falls considerably whenever I'm frustrated or offended, and this isn't good for anybody. I know that I've said this many times in the past ... but I really need to control myself better. Although some Canadian employers might tolerate my attitudes and habits for a short while, nobody in Japan would let it slide ... even the American-based organizations.

It has never been easy to hold myself back from a biting remark or well-placed comment, but at this point in life it's become clear that I am my biggest limiting factor.

At Telus, "Enhanced" Means "Less Reliable"

I've had the Telus Enhanced 1.5 DSL service since March 2005, and it's shared across a few PCs. On a good day, the maximum download speed would be around 140 KB/s, and it would usually average around 80 KB/sec unless I was getting the latest episodes of Daily Show and Colbert Report (my fastest downloading Torrents). This package has certainly had it's problems over the last year and a half as my landlord and I share this connection, and we both love to download (only about 10% of what we download is of similar interest, and these files are often put on a single networked storage device so we don't double-download).

Two weeks ago I noticed that the Enhanced 2.5 DSL package cost the same as my current service, and was being offered for $10 less for the first six months. Considering that my landlord and I had been fighting each other quite a bit that week regarding bandwidth usage and who could use how much during what times of day, this was a perfect solution. Although it would only be an extra 1 Mbit of bandwidth, that translates into roughly 120 KB/sec throughput.

I couldn't refuse, and signed up for that package.

The service was active less than 24 hours later, and I was thrilled to see my downloads were moving not twice, but three and a half times faster than they had been previously. My landlord reported that their internet experience was remarkably better even when downloading large files, and we were all happy. Alas, it was not to last.

Three days later, the internet speed dropped to about 40 KB/sec and stayed at that level for almost a whole week. This is a painful speed for anyone that has to share a network connection with someone who wants to see everything on 4chan. On a Sunday our connection started working properly again, and we were able to download at several hundred K per second. I thought that perhaps there was an upgrade going on at the local switching terminal, but no ... because two days later the net connection dropped once again to 40 KB/sec.

According to Telus, there's nothing wrong with the switching station, and nothing wrong with their hardware. They want to send a technician over to my home to examine this, but I'll be charged $100 if they don't find anything. More often than not, I'm charged this amount because the technician doesn't find anything seriously wrong at any given time. Of course to add insult to injury, last Saturday the internet went out completely for about an hour and a half. From what I could gather at the time, the DNS servers not only slowed down, but died completely.

One of the things that has always bothered me is the amount of time it takes to load web pages. Even at 40 KB/sec, it shouldn't take 10 to 15 seconds to load a simple HTML document without any PHP, Javascript or what-have-you. This is typically due to DNS issues for sites that don't have heavy traffic demands. To test this, I switched my primary and secondary DNS servers to the OpenDNS servers.

What a difference.

Within the space of an hour I had noticed that all the sites I typically visit would load quite a bit faster, and several of the issues I had experienced with MSN Messenger and Java-rich websites had gone away. Unfortunately, this doesn't really solve my problems. My net speed is still terribly inconsistent. Some days I'm fortunate to get 100 KB/sec bandwidth capacity, and others I'm reduced to near-dial-up. I'm almost afraid of what the service will be like in a few weeks when all those new gifted computers come online with Windows Vista.

Vista will be hitting the DNS servers twice as hard as the current computers. With the wide-scale deployment of IPv6, Vista will be sending two requests whenever looking up a website or other internet address. If Telus can barely handle the traffic they have now, how will they handle this substantial load increase?

Sure, Vista will not be widely deployed for another 8 months to a year ... but will Telus, a massive telecommunications corporation be ready in time? Considering their track record, I don't think so.

Prove me wrong, Telus. I don't mind.

What's Wrong With the UN?

Much like Stephen Colbert, I'm forced to give a tip of the hat and wag of my finger today. The UN has called for an investigation into the human rights abuses by "universally respected experts".

WTF? Why investigate something you already know? Seriously ... this is like investigating why grass is green.

The situation in Sudan has been building for years. There are two million refugees that have been displaced, tens of thousands of women and children gang-raped, and mass murders. This has happened so many times in the last 50 years, and each time, the world has just let it happen.

I've had alot of respect for what the UN has done in my lifetime for millions around the world, but I'm very disappointed by the constant lack of action played by this "world council". It seems that whenever anything deemed as morally wrong is committed on a grand scale, the UN bitches and moans but never follows through on any real action plan. Sanctions wouldn't really do much against a country like Sudan as there isn't much of an international economy there at all. I highly doubt anything short of physical retaliation will actually reduce the violence and human injustice that is plaguing that nation.

I hate to say it, but the UN needs to be more like the US in terms of military strength and reaction time. If there is injustice, it should be stomped out before it gets out of hand. How many millions need to suffer before the world takes notice? How many women and children need to be brutalized and scarred before someone defends them?

I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Kofi Annan and several dozen other representatives at the UN. But I am extremely disappointed with the unworkable "process" that is followed in the halls of that building.

Advanced civilization is over 7,000 years old. In that time we've conquered the earth and sent out probes to examine the universe. We've fought wars like children, and saved countless millions with selfless acts. We agree that we're all human. Most of us believe that we should all have the same inalienable rights and freedoms. It's time to defend these ideals and send a message to the world's leaders: "Play time is over. Grow up, or get out."

Ten Days to Go!

Only ten days remain until I make my second trek to Japan. I can hardly wait, but I'm oddly calm about it.

In order to ensure I don't get too lost while travelling from Tokyo to Gifu, I've been studying a set of instructions provided by Reiko. They're pretty complete, telling me what to look for and which ways to turn, so I shouldn't have much trouble moving about.

My new luggage should be okay for all this travel, too. One of the concerns I had was whether I could easily carry the wrapped gifts in the suitcase without tearing the paper, or damaging the contents. After some simple testing, it seems that the tote is the perfect size for what I needed to accomplish. I'll make sure the packages are set in such a way that they can handle the rough handling I'm sure they'll receive at the airport.

I was not able to get my hands on a cell phone capable of WCDMA transmission, however, this should be okay. I was considering getting a new cell phone from eBay or one of the phone dealers in Parker Place, but decided against it for the moment. It would have been nice to have a phone do everything I needed for several years, but my current phone is less than 12 months old ... I couldn't justify replacing it for the few trips I'll make to Japan every year (even though after this trip, I will have spent 24 days in Japan this year -- that's 6.5% of the whole year!).

Hmm ... when I look at it that way ... it's almost worth it ...

Either way. If I really want a cell phone while in Japan, maybe I could purchase an unlocked one from there. It might be cheaper than trying to find some high-end Nokia or Motorola sold in North America, since WCDMA usage is really a narrow market globally.

Either way, I think I have everything I need. This is going to be a great trip. I don't have the stresses and uncertainties like last time, and I don't have any unfinished business waiting for my return. The way things are going, I might just find an employer in Japan who's willing to hire me and help with the paperwork required to work in the country!

Well ... here's hoping, anyways :P

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