Saturday, September 30, 2006


The carrots especially need some explanation. They were a gift to me from a farm. Delicious and fresh. Its a shame I had to cook and freeze half of them. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ligthening Quick

It's Friday here, which is very nice, but I am a bit busy this afternoon. No winding down into the start of the weekend. Just to let everyone know, I plan to do a big photo update tomorrow, so that is something worth looking forward too.

Waiting for Friday

The Shikaoi Board of Education is starting to get very busy with preparations for the high school trip to Stony Plain next week. Large wrapped boxes containing the official gifts were dropped off yesterday, causing visitors to the office to wonder aloud why they were so big, what they contained, and why there were placed in the exact middle of the entrance. Lately, I have been privy to some "interesting" queries regarding Stony Plain, including a long conversation (at the behest of a parent) about what medical procedures are available at the Stony Plain hospital and how much they cost for foreigners to access (someone might need to get stitches out or something). Neither of which I had any great insight into. I'm not worried in any case because, as I explained, Canada is not the Amazon and the students are traveling with the cadillac of travel insurance.

I did speaking and listening tests at Urimaku Cho today. I was pleasantly surprised at the high level of English demonstrated. Some students were almost conversational. I was the most surprised by two girls in grade 7 that when ever called upon go white and barely speak at all. Today, however, they showed good composure and improvement.

I plan to eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches for supper tonight because I am just that crazy.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Planning to Blog

Got back to the office to what I assumed was going to be a normal afternoon only to find a fax that gives me lots of work and also many emails that need to be dealt with. Not an insurmountable amount of work but enough to keep me busy for the rest of the afternoon. No blogging expose today I'm afraid.

Shikaoi Tei Dinner

I had some extra gift certificates left - because I am so lucky, and being Monday, went to Shikaoi Tei, a local restaurant, for dinner. Shikaoi Tei is run by an older couple who I have gotten to know quite well. Actually, at first they crushingly shy of me but once they noticed I wasn't going away, they warmed up substantially. Shikaoi-Tei is known in town for katsu, a kind of breaded and fried pork cutlet. Something so devilishly delicious I'd eat it everyday if I didn't know it would stop my heart. They have various other things on the menu but today I spoiled myself and got the katsu meal deal. I got rice, miso soup, vegetables, and cabbage salad with my katsu. Everything was so good. In all, as long as your not eating it everyday, it happens to be a very health and balanced meal. I always feel healthy and good after I eat there, it's nothing like eating western food. Today the miso soup was a bit different. Normally, I really like their miso soup. (I have never wanted to say anything because it could be from 7-11 for all I know.) The recipe was slightly changed and I found large chunks of fresh trout in my miso soup. Soooo good. Such a deep flavor.

I didn't happen to go out with anyone tonight, just myself and a book for company. One can find many people dining alone in Japan because often it costs as much to eat-in as to eat-out (especially if no alcohol is ordered). A little known fact - but something always in the fore here - is that Japan runs a massive food deficit and is no where near capable of feeding themselves. Imported food is a necessity (up to 70% is imported) which puts Japan at the whim of other countries for their food supply. Also, the price of most food is strongly leveraged to the price of oil (because it all must be transported here).

There was some tragic news on national TV tonight. Nothing to be wrung for its humor I'm afraid. A negligent driver on his way home crashed into a group of kindergarten students on their way to a nearby park in Saitama prefecture (near Tokyo), killing two and injuring a dozen, all between the ages of 0-5. A very senseless accident in a cruel universe if you ask me.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sonic Survival Kit

I have not talked about the issue much on my blog - many find the topic boring or pointless - but I have been starved for good music over here. Not starved for good bands or good tunes, but listening through my iPod, I know I am not hearing it all. I took a big step forward this week with the arrival from Germany of a headphone amp. What!? Are you crazy!? I didn't know such things existed!? Why headphones, you ask, when clearly my heart lies in full stereo reproduction? The short answer is that I have to get this thing home next year. As an interesting side note to my research for the perfect amp; China's entrance onto the world hi-fi stage has vastly changed the scene. Now there are $300 Chinese tube amps that make a very strong challenge to $700 European units. Again, solidifying my view that technology and the market place are the great equalizers in hifi. But a tube amp, being a bit too delicate, would have been an absolute nightmare to get home. As it stands now, the Aria's small compact nature and military grade build will assure it's return trip in one piece. Also playing a roll in the purchase was the fact that most of my music here is in a digital format. The brilliance of this unit is that it has a built-in DAC (digital/analogue converter). This means I can bypass my Powerbook's dinky DAC and line-out through the USB and use my unit's better DAC. (Computer's are notoriously noise machines.)

But what does a dedicated amp do to headphones? First, it follows that one owns a pair of headphones that can benefit from a dedicated amp. I have Sennheiser 595s, which are about as high performance you can get without starting to see diminishing returns. (The first time I put them on and listened to Johnny Cash it put a smile on my face.) My amp has a nice power supply, which cleans the power coming into the unit. And while the amp is only slightly more powerful than anything found on a computer or iPod, it's frequency response is several times more accurate, dramatically increasing the resolution. Also improved are the dynamics. Quick changes from quiet and loud in music (and also, to a lesser degree, in the leading edges of notes) call for a lot of power to be accurately provided. Something most headphone units just aren't to up. Secondly, the benefit I get from a dedicated headphone amp is somewhat counter-intuitive. A dedicated headphone amp actually allows me to listen at a lower volume and still keep the entire sonic picture intact. (This being a long established fact in the hifi audio world.) Low level detail and dynamics are not affected by changes in volume which makes listening at lower volume (I aim for 60db) a much more pleasing experience, especially, if like me, one intends on enjoying the recorded arts for decades to come.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

This week went by fast!

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It's Friday again. Everyone in the office seems to be in high spirits. I am often baffled by my students inability to appreciate the importance of Friday. They all say they prefer Sunday, or, goodness forbid, Monday. I guess without responsibilities and a life that more closely resembles a sit-com, one doesn't need weekends. Listing my baffles with children: it struck me as odd while introducing a picture of my family at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival to them this week that my student's consistently thought my Dad in the picture was my Grandfather, even though just seconds before I had described my Mom. (I have attached the picture below for reference.) It goes without saying that my students don't have a hope of distinguishing between Sean and I in pictures. All gaijin look the same, don't they? This weekend is what I would call a normal weekend. It's not jam packed - hour to hour, - like my weekends in the summer had been. There will be time to have a nap, watch the sumo finals, read and listen to music. Tonight I plan to go for a run and have some leftovers for dinner. On most Fridays I barely can make it until 10. I play hard. I will probably try to find some trouble to get into on Saturday night.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Most Dangerous Meal of the Day

In a change from recent posts, this update includes lots of pictures. I find the ones below particularity funny. Returning yesterday from my presentation at the high school (pictures included), I noticed in the parking lot an unusual combination: An imported yellow Corvette customized - "pimped" if you will - with a trailer hitch. (The logic of which completely escapes me.) But perhaps the reader will find the matching yellow camping trailer funnier? It is hard to tell when one is surrounded by such absurdities on a daily basis. The accompanying detail provides proof of the hitch and the car's make, it also reveals that the car is from Gifu prefecture, located far south of Hokkaido near Tokyo. (I have also included some random images from today.)

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Now I would like to turn and comment on the most dangerous meal of the day; what can also be called toast! I frigging cut my finger on a knife I wasn't even using. Rationally, I know it's not breakfast's fault, nor the knife's, it all stems from me being a clutz. But if I am a hair's breath away from breakfast taking my pointer finger, at this rate I could be dead by the end of the week. The cut was nothing a small band aid couldn't cover, but I regret not having the foresight to hord cute band aids - no Hello Kitty or Winnie-the-poo band aids in sight. Then I wouldn't have had to wear an uncool normal band aid to school today. And yes, watch out for breakfast please, everytime you wake up and make something to eat, you are taking your life in your hands. Is this yet another another reason never to get out of bed in the morning?

Monday, September 18, 2006

No News is Good News

Note: This blog was delayed serveral hours as a result of problems with

One thing I regret as this long weekend comes to an end is that it was not nearly as sunny and bright as the forecast on Friday had predicted. I really wanted it to be one of those stellar early autumn days great authors always write about in great books. I guess this is the price one pays for getting their hopes up. I was amazed how quickly it got dark. I did make my goal of 10km a day, or rather I think I did because I never accurately measure my distances. It might have been further or it might have been less; anything that gets me running is enough. I do know that my pace for the third day was miserable and I can't blame the weather. The last two days I had made the run in one hour and while sore afterwards I woke up fine and rested. Today however, I was outside for 1 hour 20 minutes and I know I did less distance than previous days. Still I am amazed at my ability to lock in a pace and keep running. Tonite, I am off for some sushi and tomorrow, beside my usual school commitments, I have a presentation in the afternoon to the grade 10's about Stony Plain. Just watching some Sumo now as I wait.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Shikaoi Harvest Festival

I was only able to quickly visit the festival last night because of another engagement later. What can I say? This brother is busy. I did manage to bring my camera along but with so many people I knew present, it kind of skipped my mind to take it out. For example, I would be talking to someone and then hear a chorus of small voices behind me calling my name. That would be my students, of course, in high spirits last night either because it was the start of a long weekend or because they were at a festival overwhelmed with childish delights, no one could tell me. I had to contend with the pattern of saying hi and then getting called away throughout the evening and eventually, haphazardly saw everyone, though it was not for what I would call a quality visit, but I am sure they understood. My run this morning felt great. Cleaned the house, changed and then I was out the door. I thought it was especially good weather for running; cloudy with a bit of breeze, but I nearly killed myself doing a hill climb (something I have been trying to work on). It's a longer hill than I remember from the car. Now it looks gloomy outside but there is no rain forecast. This summer has been so cloudy and rainy. Still, I shouldn't complain, hearing the shock in the voices of CBC Radio Calgary this week. I thought I would try setting a goal this long weekend to do 10 km everyday, so that would make it 30 km in 3 days which is what I normally do in a week. I don't think it's a hard goal because I really like running and don't normally have any trouble with motivation.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Summer Friday

Calgary this week, from what I hear, is getting an early insight into winter. Today, however, in Shikaoi, it is exactly the opposite, and the weather seems to have forgotten what season it is. Gone is the rain, for the moment, and out comes the Sun; without, I should add, the oppressive humity (it is a little too late in the summer for that). I look forward everyday to the cooler tempatures that come with evening. This is all good news because yesterday and today is Shikaoi's harvest festival to celebrate this year's crop. And if you can believe it, the site is not even a block from my house. Except for the increased foot traffic around my area, the festival is very Japanese and thus impecablity well behaved; so no problems there. Also lifting everyone's mood today is the fact that tomorrow marks the beginning of a long weekend. "Respect for the Age Day."

I would also like to give a big Happy Birthday to my younger brother Sean, who, for the record, can no longer be called "little brother." I was a bit worried about him spending his birthday alone because my parents have gone out East to Nova Scotia, just in time to catch the tail end of a weak hurricane. Everything should be back to normal soon.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How to Show Family Pictures to Kids

My neck is sooo sore. I don't think high school teachers ever come across this problem. A grade two student tried to sit on my head at a very odd angle. It was rather innocent because there were already others sitting on me thus all the good real estate was gone. Pushing one of the bigger kids off is not always an option for a pint-size grade two. This all came about because I wanted to show my students (at the after school day care) pictures I had printed off from this years Edmonton Folk Music Festival that my brother had uploaded. It was such a treat to receive pictures from the folk fest I missed that I wanted to share. I had planned to bring my small camera because I knew the students' reactions would be hilarious, which they were, but I forgot my camera, it would have only tied me down anyway. By far the biggest, most spontaneous reaction was "That's Canada!?!?!" And to complete the picture, normally this statement was accompanied by a small step back, as if the shear surprise was overwhelming. As my kids huddled around the pictures, I tried to answer the flurry of questions shot at me. Earlier, I had laminated the images because I knew, with these types of pictures, the kids would want to get very close to see the details. If the pictures are laminated I can just pass them around and not worry about them (it is very think plastic), then the students can put their noses right on the thing for all I care.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday Blues

I didn't wake up Monday morning expecting things to turn so blue. I already feel beat down this week. My body is sore and there are a million things swirling around in my head that need to be dealt with. And of course the worst part of it is is that it is only Monday. Can my week still spiral down after this? The one bright, shining, glowing part of my week is my students. I walk into school and I practically get tackled; everyone has news, or a question, or a simple hello. All I have to deal with is their problems, which somehow seem manageable. "There's a big hairy bug over there!" "He's not sitting still!" "I can't find my pencil (or shoes or handout etc.)" It is not the fairest of analogies but I think it has a lot to do with the reasons people get dogs. The dogs are always happy to see their owner. There are a lot of things different about teaching from that analogy but I find it very easy to shelve my problems and worries and focus my energies. The children's spirits are overwhelming, it relief for awhile.

I will go for run tonite and try to put some kilometers between me and decisions I need to make. I ran a lot during the summer, and while I have absolutely no goal in mind, it is something I want to keep up with. (One of my weird quirks about running.) It is starting to get dark early now, so my routine will have to change soon to running inside at the sport center after work (like last winter). Two differences I have noticed from this summer is that I don't sweat nearly as early into my run. Now it takes at least forty minutes until I am completely drenched in sweat. And secondly, after even an hour hard running I can find my breath quickly soon after I stop.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Picture of the Week

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Between having gone for a run this morning and it raining again, I found myself at home this afternoon. I took this picture last week and have not found time until now to develop it. Yes, in the digital age, pictures need a digital darkroom. But this in turn this leads me to one of the reasons I like the picture so much; it needed very little post-processing in the first place. The tonality in the picture is fantastic. I was surprised when first viewing the image on screen how good it looked - that I had gotten exactly what I wanted and more. Last Tuesday, again following a rain shower, I watched from the office the sun getting lower and lower. I knew it was going to be a good sunset. I left work the minute it was over and got home just as the sun dipped below the hill west of me. I had to be quick, I grabbed my camera from inside the house and rushed outside again. Unbelievably, that image is from the edge of my driveway. Unfortunately, computer screens tend to compress the delicate tonality of this type of image. Paper printing will generally offer greater dynamic range and subtly.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I love Fridays

Today was filled with ups and downs (I spilled my half-eaten school lunch all over the place), though as the day turns into evening, I definitely feel like I am ending it on a good note. Of note today, Urimaku elementary School, with the kindergarten, had a marathon. For the smaller students - one kilometer, and for the upper grades - three. Some tears but overall without problems. I have attached some pictures from today.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006


I witnessed in real time yesterday the news of Steve Irwin's death race through the net. I happen to be in the office with nothing to do, waiting for a meeting to start. My first notice came by email, and then within a minute it was on The Drudge Report, then Wikinews, then Google News, then everywhere. The information didn't travel fast because the news was particularly earth-shattering nor because it was particularly surprising (considering his line of work). In fact, I would suggest this is an example of how fast I expect all modern news to travel. It might seem unrealistic on my part or that I have a death-wish to die by information overload, but to me it all seems very natural.

I don't think I have blogged about this yet but it really brought a big smile to my face the other day. For the past two weeks all grades in Shikaoi Sho Gakko having been participating is a Dodgeball Tournament during the morning recess. (Every grade in a Japanese Elementary school is already split by the home room teacher into two fair teams; red and white. Grades 1-3 played in one tier and the older kids in the other.) As chance would have it, I caught only lower tiered games, which, I can assure the reader, was more comedy than sport. I remember in particular a brutal take out by the third graders because a whole group of second graders were busy dancing distractedly in the back of the court. Unfair perhaps, unleashing the grade three's killer instincts on ambivalent and harmless grade two's, but one has to admit the second graders played with spirit. Some of the second graders' play was especially creative; their aim being so awful they often hit unsuspecting people they hadn't been aiming for. When the games ended with no injures I gave a sigh of relief.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

300th Post

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Welcome to the 300th post for The Perfect Architecture Company. I'm sorry it took a bit longer than expected to get posted. I really wanted to do something extravagant and historical to commemorate my blog's 300th post, but, being a blog, e-celebration opportunities are quite limited. I considered all the obvious choices: animal sacrifice, throwing a party , a marathon blogging session, or hiring a crack advertising company to deploy a viral marketing campaign on to increase traffic, but, instead, finally settled on a detailed account of the name of my blog.

I am pretty sure the wower part of my page's URL came from a nonsense word I made up sitting in Mr. Ogulstone's Math 20 class during high school. In those days, the classes were held in portable units in the back of the school and Mr. Ogulstone was not a teacher to mess with. He would probably be upset to learn I daydreamed through his presenation of quadratic equations. I also used the word as a nick name during my old Quake 2 days.

The orgin of the name the Perfect Architecture Company: The name of this webpage is important to me. I stumbled across the idea doing university research. Focusing a great deal of time of modern architecture, I was confounded as to the reasons why people create architecture; how can people motivate themselves to do anything when it will never reach perfection? I guess this question can - in reality - be expanded to cover a vast range of artistic endeavores, or, for that matter, to anyone that has ever questioned their reasons to get out of bed in the morning. I intend for the name to be propelled into the future because it accurately represents my thoughts toward architecture; that while perfection will most likely always be just beyond our grasp, it really is the only thing worth aiming for. In hindsight, it was a pretty good choice because I get lots of traffic by people searching for "architecture company." A review of my website states states:
Why on earth trust a company whose architecture is only just good enough? We at the Perfect Architecture Company have set the bar higher then any other company in the world. For your project, we will settle for nothing less than perfection. If one is going to put for a herculean effort toward architecture, you might as well reach for the Sun. We at the Perfect Architecture Company will set aside semantic ambiguities about the nature of perfection, and also cost, to bring you, the client, perfect architecture.
My weekend: I would also like to include a short summary of my weekend trip to Iwanai Gorge for a Tokachi English teacher conference. The meetings are always helpful; not only to learn new pedological nuggets to use in the classroom but also to discuss issues surrounding living in Tokachi. ("Where to buy such-and-such?" was an often heard question during the weekend.) The location was great for a gaijin conference; a lodge tucked away on the side of a mountain with a sharp gorge below. I feel stupid for not having considered my camera essential for the trip. Everyone was up very early on Sunday as a result of a very loud siren going off at 6:10 AM to ward off bears. It gets light here so early that no one minded, except for those who were exceptionally hungover. I, for one, felt genki, and savored the French toast for breakfast (secret ingredients: vanilla and cinnamon). I snuck out for a short mountain walk on a path above the gorge before breakfast. I'm glad I didn't take my iPod with me because the quiet morning soundscape of bird calls and rushing water was perfect. The air felt so fresh and good on my skin that it really struck me as the highlight of the day. You must realize that most people in Japan, as a result of living in crowded cities, don't have the oppurtunity to take deep breaths of mountain air like we can do in Tokachi. I think the air got to every cell in my body. It made me feel very alive.

And, as if on cue, in honor of my 300th post, I present a classic moment from my life in Shikaoi: Arriving at Shikaoi Elementary School ontime Monday morning for what I assumed to be a day of teaching English, I noticed the school grounds to be suspisiously quiet. No bikes. No students. No cars in the parking lot (except mine). Was it Sunday? Was my watch wrong? In the end it turned out there were no classes on Monday and everyone had forgotten to tell me. I am use to learning this sort of thing on short notice; normally late in the afternoon the day before. But it is rare thing indeed to learn in person the day of - just in time for this post.

Headline of the week: Many on the web are filing this headline under the Only in Japan Department: Kanagawa man arrested for stealing more than 2,500 items of women's underwear.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday Photos

I turned my camera toward the blue sky today; something that has been missing from Shikaoi all week. If it wasn't raining this week, it was overcast; not the best way I could think of to end an overall very wet summer. Everyone is predicting a warm fall which would be nice for a change. I won't be around on Saturday but will pick up my blog on Sunday - hopefully in the company of good weather.

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