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restoring connectivity is like breaking a dam

My internet connection is back, which makes me very happy. Below are some entries that I wrote while the connection was down:

20050721

Last night, my students took me out to eat for my welcome party. It was a traditional Japanese restaurant, so the table was about 30 cm off the floor, and we had padded mats to sit on. Unlike a Japanese restaurant in the west, there was no pit under the table to rest your legs in if they fall asleep, but it turned out alright. They encouraged me to relax and be comfortable, and it wasn’t actually all that difficult to accomplish.

They were very complimentary through the night. I’m not sure how much of it was ritual courtesy, but it was certainly very nice to hear that I’m stylish and that I’m good at using chopsticks. What was really unexpected was that they all seemed to agree that I looked like Tom Cruise. Of course, whether they intended it or not, there was a veiled warning behind their compliments: they were entirely uncomplimentary to the previous teacher. Obviously testing new vocabulary, they said he wasn’t fit to teach, and one woman present said she had lost her will to learn English because of him. As that’s not the kind of legacy I want to leave behind, it’s incentive to do my job properly.

The food also was generally Japanese, which meant that with certain exceptions, I had no idea what I was eating. Luckily, I had my students to help out; they were more than willing to debate over the translation until they could tell me with certainty what was squid and what was octopus, and other distinctions between things I would otherwise never have tried. Actually, the octopus was pretty good, once you got past the appearance: It’s served as slices of tentacle, complete with suckers. Nevertheless, I’d be willing to have it again; it’s got a different texture than squid; almost crunchy. It’s (at least prepared the way I had it) more like a vegetable than like seafood.

Actually, there were a large number of small dishes, most of which were delicious. The order of events was as follows: when we arrived, we were shown into a mid-sized room containing only the six mats and a long table. The room was nicely paneled in wood all around. As we entered the room, there was an area to remove our shoes before walking into the room proper. Once people decided what they wanted, someone would get up, go to the telephone by the door, and call in the order. Shortly thereafter, a waitress would knock, apologise for disturbing us, and walk in and serve the food requested. People would eat, then someone would think of something else they wanted (or need a refill of their drink) and the process would repeat.

Consequently, I had a little bit of sashimi (sushi without the rice and seaweed), a little bit of octopus, a rice ball, a little bit of pizza, some garlic steak with radish, some delicious salad with “rare ham” on top, some rice dish which they said was Korean and which apparantly involved, among other things, an egg, onions, and other vegetables; I had some lightly pickeled cucumber, and a bit of pickeled eggplant, and some of another vegetable which I couldn’t identify; they told me the name but I don’t remember it. Everybody ate little bits of everything, from plates smaller than the average tea saucer. The experience seems designed to encourage sampling. I did manage to avoid the squid, but by that point, it was almost as much because I was full as from any reluctance.

Japanese colleges are all strictly ranked, and highly competitive in the upper ranks. What I didn’t know was that there exists a directory of foreign colleges for Japanese people considering studying overseas, which ranks them on the Japanese system. Apparantly, one of my students looked up WPI, and it turns out to be in the top rank. This made me happy. This, combined with the fact that in the previous two generations in my family, there are two dentists, a programmer, and a lawyer, made them very impressed with me and my lineage. They told me that they would like it if I stayed in Japan for a long time, and that I should find a nice Japanese girl to go out with. I can only hope that they continue to like me for the remainder of the year.

Eventually, someone noticed that it was past midnight; we had been there for almost four hours by that point. I was startled by the bill; it would have been over $30 per person, but they wouldn’t let me chip in, saying that it was my party. Overall, it was a really nice experience, and I was really happy they would do this for me. There were times when there was a flurry of conversation in Japanese which went way over my head, but usually someone would notice and give me a synopsis in English. There were also times when they were talking in Japanese that I understood nearly everything. It was, if anything, an incentive for me to continue learning.


20050725

I am going to go insane.

I finished assembling the new computer today; it’s working nicely, thanks to a linux distribution called Ubuntu which has the first really user-friendly installer that I’ve seen on a linux to date. I popped the CD in, and an hour later, I had a nice GNOME desktop environment with a graphical login screen and everything. The only work I had to do during the install process was decide how I wanted to partition the drive, and tell it what language I wanted to use.

It’s going to get ripped out later, of course, and replaced with something a bit more heavy-duty. That’s a project for another time, though.

Anyhow, while I was assembling the Linux system, I wanted to give it the old drive from when I was seriously trying to dual-boot my Windows machine. I had formatted the smaller drive in the old machine to ReiserFS (as well as a boot and swap partition) and Windows could no longer see it. Actually, Windows continued to be unable to see it even after it was formatted to Fat32 again, which is why it was no loss moving it into the other machine.

After taking it out, I discovered that Grub has serious issues when you do something like remove a hard drive without telling it what’s up. Unfortunately for me, nothing I tried in attempting to update it as to the situation worked; it just sat there, politely working perfectly while the drive was plugged in, and refusing to let me boot anything when the drive was disconnected.

After a while, I got sick of this, so I decided that Windows surely could solve the problem by eradicating Grub. Unfortunately, normal system repair doesn’t do this, it just un-did the effects of SP2. I ended up reinstalling Windows, a process which took about 90 minutes longer than it should have, for no reason that I could discern. Perhaps it was decrypting everything on the disc on the fly, or something.

This solution worked, which had me really happy–for about five minutes. I knew that I would need to reinstall every application that touches the registry, but I figured that was a small price to pay; I wanted to do some housecleaning anyway. What I didn’t know was that apparantly the onboard audio controller on the motherboard doesn’t get automatically recognized by Windows; you need to install it separately. This wouldn’t be a problem but for the fact that I don’t have the motherboard’s driver CD, and I don’t have the internet. The result is that I don’t have sound.

In the absence of the internet, I’ve kept myself functioning by listening to music non-stop, and watching movies very often. It’s a good strategy to keep out boredom. Neither of those activities are worth much, though, when your computer refuses to produce any sound at all.

Even though this was highly annoying, I thought I had a way around it. Ubuntu came pre-installed with a ton of software, and sure enough, there was a “Music Player” installed that was such an obvious Itunes rip-off that I’m amazed they haven’t been sued out of existence. I burned a CD with enough good music to tide me over for a while, plugged it in, dragged it into the Music Player–and got an error message: “Music Player doesn’t have the plugin necessary to play MP3 files.”

That’s not the end of the story. Not all of my music is in MP3; some of it is, for one reason, saved as flac, as ogg, as aac. But no matter what I tried, I always got the exact same error: “Music Player doesn’t have the plugin necessary to play MP3 files.” I don’t know what’s up with Music Player and its crappy plugins. If I had the internet, I could probably get the plugin in 5 minutes. But I don’t have the internet.

Interestingly enough, NOTHING AT ALL works right now that I want to do. Music, games, movies, internet–these comprise my leisure activities indoors, and all of them are impossible. The last of them is prerequisite to the first three, and I have no idea if or when it’s going to come back. I can’t sign up for a new plan myself; the only way I’m going to be online before I get my alien card in another two months is if my landlord/franchise owner agrees to buy it in his name for this apartment, and just take the amount from my salary every month. Communicating this desire to him is complicated, as he speaks no english. I’ve tried the indirect route (otherwise known as the Japanese route); I’m going to ask tomorrow if my inquiries have been passed along.

It’s not quite true that I have nothing at all to do. I brought 10 of my favorite books to Japan with me. It was a difficult process, because I have quite a few more than 10 that I would have liked to bring. Eventually, I worked the number down to that many, because that was the number I could afford in space and weight in my duffels. However, there was one flaw with this strategy that didn’t occur to me until I was here: I’ve practically memorized all of them. They are my ten favorite books. It’s not much fun to read a book that you’ve memorized; there’s no point to it.

I will go insane. I know this, and there’s not much I can do about it. Except maybe go outside sometimes. Or something.


20050727

There’s a typhoon scheduled for tonight, but it seems oddly rainless. Nevertheless, the manager and boss all seemed deeply interested in its progress on TV, so it’s probably best to assume that it will eventually come…

I just had an interesting experience. Though I noticed that Ubuntu wasn’t explicit about setting up the root account as distinct from the normal user account, I wasn’t worried about it. I assumed that it was the same as my user password, because sudo worked with my user password. However, when I tried to su, I couldn’t seem to log in. Eventually it dawned on me that the root password was /not/ the same as my user password, and that Ubuntu had set it to something without telling me exactly what it was set to.

Luckily for me, sudo passwd root worked just fine. I think the idea the designers had was that anyone who both knew that root existed, and could think of that trick, was safe to grant root access to. Anyone else could just get by in blissful ignorance.

Speaking of passwords, I had encrypted all of my private journal entries using Windows’ encrypted file system feature some time ago, more because I was interested in it than out of any sense of security. This bit me in the ass: when I reinstalled Windows a few days ago, I lost the ability to decrypt those files. Six years of journals vanished without a trace just now, and no practical chance of recovering them.

I don’t particularly mind: I only ever write in journals; I almost never read them. Still, it’s kind of too bad; they were the sort of thing I thought posterity might be interested in; whatever spouse or kids I might have could probably get a kick out of them.


20050728

The date on the previous journal entry is misleading: it happened around 0130; conceptually two days ago, even though the actual date is yesterday’s.

The predicted typhoon never showed up. When I asked about it later, the secretary told me that it had passed quickly in the night. Whatever the cause, when I woke up yesterday, it was to weather more nearly perfect than I had yet experienced in Japan.

The sky, for the first time since I arrived, was not cloudy at all. Instead, it was a deep and radiant blue, with only a few wisps at the top of the atmosphere to mar it. The temperature was pleasantly cool in the shade, and very warm in the sun. The humidity was low enough, for the first time that I’ve been here, that I didn’t actually notice it. There was a strong breeze blowing steadily, which rolled the surface of the pond and the tops of the rice in the fields in similar and relaxing ways.

Today, the weather shows definite signs that it is moving toward the normal summer behavior. Though the sky is still mostly clear, clouds are moving in on every horizon. There is a breeze blowing fitfully, but it isn’t enough to distract you from the humidity, which has returned in full force.

If this is how typhoons go, I want more of them. I want them every week. Yesterday was my busiest classroom day of the week, and I want to spend more time outdoors in weather that actually deserves it.

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