Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Day Round Up

I arrived safely at Koriyama Station after a night's travel, the last person to arrive on New Year’s Eve at the Tsuchiya’s house. I will write more about the train later. The weather has been snowy in Koriyama but no where near the biblical proportions that came down on Shikaoi on Dec 29th. In the end, it makes good weather for playing inside with the Wii that Santa brought. Also, people playing the Wii makes good pictures. Despite a feast for dinner New Year’s Eve we sat down at midnight to eat a tradition meal of soba which I thoroughly enjoyed. Everyone was able to role out of bed in time for a traditional breakfast of mochi (pounded rice cakes) and pickles (shown), and then all the boys headed out to shovel and between the four of us under Yukipapa’s direction we had the property cleared very quickly. How rare the occurrence of 8cm of snow was was illustrated by how long it took us to find enough snow removal gear for four people. For dinner I can imagine more pickled everything. The reason for this is locked in Japanese history. In previous generations stores were closed for a week at New Years and without the modern convenience of refrigeration, people had to depend on imperishable foods. I’ve learned to like Japanese pickles far more than Canadian pickles but eating them morning, noon and night is a bit much for me. Anyways, I can't say too much more about dinner because it's still a couple of hours away.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Koriyama Bound!

I'll be out of contact for the next day as I will be on the train to Koriyama. I'm well prepared for it with a full iPod and a good book. BB

Friday, December 28, 2007

These pictures have other meanings

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New Years Holidays Count Down

This is going to have to be a speed posting because the office is about to get very busy. In less than an hour the town basically shuts down for New Year's. In a welcome change, the office bought everyone soba for lunch. Also, a New Year's display sprang up in Chomin Hall where I work over the course of the afternoon.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

My special plans for New Years

In response to queries about my New Year's plans - or perhaps my over-hyping of them - I thought I'd outline my trip to Koriyama. I leave Sunday on the overnight journey by train to Fukushima. Why train? I love trains. No lines. Lots of room. If you have the time, an overnight train might be the best way to go. I say "might" because I've never taken an overnight train before, just the normal kind. I get to sweep under the ocean in the tunnel between Aomori-ken and Hokkaido that preceded the English-French Chunnel. It's also cheaper than flying, though once all is said and done, only by $30. Hopefully it will be light as I travel through the snow encrusted peaks and valleys of Northern Japan in the early morning hours before arriving in Koriyama. In Koriyama I will spend a week with my old host family the Tsuchiya's, a connection that might possibly be stronger than when I was living there in 1999-2000. A lot has changed since I was hosted there 7 years ago that I won't get into here but I feel very fortunate to be invited back for my 5th visit in 3 years. The good news is that all of Kumama's and Yukipapa's university age sons will be coming home for the New year's holiday. Making a total of 4 over-sized loafing boys. (There's also a rumor someone got a Wii for Christmas.) Reminding me a lot of my own mother, Kumama feigns hestiation at all that eating and laundry, but deep down I know she is happy to have all her boys is one place.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Where did the snow go?

Terrifying from the front, these mysteriously moved to the front of the building yesterday, meaning only one thing: snow. In the end, however, they were unneeded as the predicted snow never came. It's a balmy 0C today and such a small amount melted by afternoon. Recognizing the scarcity of this topic, I'm sure this post will be ranked high on Japanese snowblower searches but I have no information to offer except that knowing Japanese engineering, these robotic-looking self-propelled units are probably only a couple of generations away from self-awareness. Be very afraid.

File under "Inter-cultural Office Humor": every morning we have a formal greeting with the superintendent at the start of work (and at the end of work). Something happened during this rock solid ritual this morning that offers a subtle insight into Japanese culture; the far side of the room was engaged in something, I didn't notice, and ignored the greeting completely, no one seemed to noticed until it was over and our dutiful side turned and asked if everything was okay, then one of their guys responded innocently, oh has work started, and everyone laughed. Maybe you had to be there?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Boxing Day Round up Part Two

Being a normal Wednesday, waking up early was the only thing different I did for Boxing Day. I was expecting calls from both my younger brother on west coast and my parents in Calgary. I have considered it at length, and well I can't necessarily explain it, I enjoy talking to my folks on their Christmas more than on mine. It makes me feel more apart of their Christmas. As luck would have it, with the price of international calls falling from year to year, we can fortunately talk on both Christmases. I was in Sapporo yesterday doing some shopping but came home will cash. Nothing I really needed. Nothing to buy. That's a good feeling. One important obersevation from around the station yesterday: I saw Nintendo Wii Fit's everywhere. I guess we know how the Japanese will be getting their excerise next year. (No more Billy's Boot Camp! <--- internal Japanese reference.) Of course I ate my fill of sushi. I have included a picture of me looking gluttonous and guilty. The sushiya-san wasn't busy as expected. In another stroke of good luck - a Christmas miracle if you will - I was able to pick up Radiohead's new In Rainbows. Amazon Japan and Wikipedia both listed the Japanese release date as Dec 26th. Initially I was disappointed being so close to a record store on the 25th but so far from the new album. To my surprise upon entering Tower Records I was greeted by a big display. I might have pushed a child, a clown or Santa out of the way in a rush to get a copy. It's all kind of a blur. I don't want to reopen the debate on digital rights management, but even though I took advantage and downloaded it for free when offered it was offered for free, I still did the completely illogical thing and paid for the CD (and not just for it's audiophile qualities) showing the music industry is still rocking and rolling despite people's worst predictions. (For people who love music or pointless facts, I have included an image of the Japanese cover because it differs from the North American version which isn't even out yet. Double cool.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How to Survive Chirstmas in Japan

This is by no means meant to be a complete guide on how to survive Christmas in Japan. Indeed some may feel no need whatsoever to be saved from Christmas in Japan, however, every year at this time the risk of feeling homesick increases; the foreignness is perhaps a bit more acute and what is missing is more readily apparent. In Japan, Christmas Day is just like any other day. People go to work. Kids go to school. Thus one could say the only part of Christmas to survive in Japan is the rampant consumerism. Take away the traditions and good will towards men and it's kind of depressing. One has to take all their desires for Christmas and put them aside. I have always worked it so that I have the day off as I don't think my gaijin mind could abide working on Christmas. Christmas 1999 in Fukushima was the hardest because it was not a white Christmas per se. Perhaps only a Canadian could understand the shock of a Christmas without snow. There's snow enough in Shikaoi for this not to be a problem. I avoid the Christmas blues two ways; one, I focus on the New Year's celebrations right around the corner which is a highlight of the year and goes on for a week. Secondly, I create my own Christmas traditions, such as eating sushi on Christmas. This leads me to note an interesting Japanese fact: On Christmas, many want to eat KFC. As in lines around the block want to eat. I see the lose connection between chicken and turkey but don't understand how a mob scene at a fast-food restaurant is appetizing. Thus sushi has a practical advantage in that we have the sushi joint pretty much to ourselves.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Kind of Sort of Christmas Dinner

According to the stats, the absolute most popular page on my blog was a post about Japanese school lunches. Since it's inception, people have flocked to it by the hundreds through google. (I really need update it in the new year.) My blogging about school is closely tied to how outside the norm it is; it's very easy to fall into the trap of apathy when routine and familiarity sets in. Today's school lunch was something I had never experienced before so it became perfect fodder for my jaded foreign soul - er, blog. Today was sort of a Japanese-school-lunch-on-a-budget version of Christmas dinner. So it involved the Japanese's mental conception of a western christmas dinner crossed with the cold tasteless food of kyuushoku. At lunch time, instead of the kids eating in their prescribed classrooms, we joined in the gym at low tables on mats to eat our "Christmas Dinner". It consisted of some roasted chicken, broth-based soup, sushi rice (very christmasy my kids stated), cake, mini-tomatoes, and boiled wakeme salad. I found the portions today much bigger than usual. "Cold and tasteless" deserves a wider explanation; I actually ate every scrap. The food gets cold because in Japan there are numerous rituals around meals, those rituals take along time to accomplish because we are working with kids. Thus, we sit there like sad hungry dogs in front of full plates while the food gets cold, waiting for everything to be perfect. Tasteless because school lunches have to be very healthy. Salt, fat, sauces, basically anything delicious, has to be kept to a minimum in the name of health. Everyone being extremely hungry is one of the best things going for it and normally my brain enjoys the food and the company of the kids, whose wondering conversation, curious questions, and innocent blunt comments are great entertainment. I was, of course, in exceptionally high spirits. Most of the past week has been centered around Christmas and in planning for today I was favoring games (Yes, I am an awesome teacher). At first I was overruled but once we saw staying with a normal class would be like teaching monkeys, my suggestions were adopted and we played Canadian dodgeball in the gym, much to the kids' and - reluctantly - the teachers' delight. While the younger ones followed me around like baby chicks while singing the only choral they knew well, "We wish you a Merry Christmas," the older ones rolled their eyes at my carefully chosen Christmas clothing and merry behaviour.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chocolate Chirstmas

I opened my fridge this morning to a happy sight; chocolate. Lots of Chocolate. December has seen packages of chocolate (among other things) from my Grandma McR, Uncle Rick and Aunt Lori, and also my parents. Perhaps the amount of chocolate is not as stunting as keeping 30 or 40 Wakayama oranges in one's fridge, but it's still blogworthy. I find Japanese chocolate to be waxy in appearance and taste. I have no doubt there exists somewhere in Japan a person who has dedicated their life to chocolate; I would like to find that person. But until then, I will always crave Canadian chocolate over the Japanese variety. My uncle and Aunt also included peanut brittle, something that had escaped my mind for two years. It was more peanuty than I remember and perfectly hit the spot. What am I going to do with all this chocolate? Some of it I plan to share but most of it will be carefully rationed, like it's the world last. (Also included to get this blog into the Christmas spirit, a picture of a beautiful handmade card from my Grandma B.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

B-B-B-Badminton! FTW!

Some of the shock has worn off due to my delay in posting but I guarantee that Sunday was still full of surprises. The day previous had seen me partying at the Pure Malt Club house - schmoozing but not boozing - some might enticed by the sound of that and want details, but I'm moved to talk about the results of my badminton tourney today because that's where the months of hard work, discipline (like not drinking at a party!), and training went. And what a surprise it was! As a way of lessing what was sure to be disappointment later I had only told a small circle of people. (I remember explaining graphically to a friend how bad I was expecting to lose.) Held in nearby Makubetsu, I and another teacher were entered into the mixed doubles category. We had only played together once the week before, but both of us play weekly. Warming up I was getting worried watching teams with matching tops. The first game of the first match we lost. I take much responsibility because I couldn't tell where the lines were to save my life. After that first stumble we continued to win. My partner was helpful in yelling out (as opposed to quietly suggesting) when shots were out and communication was generally good. (We also improved once I told her my Japanese was not that speedy and to please use English.) My serving was good whereas my partner's serving was deadly. Nakamura-san was exceptional at the net all day and the opposing team had no choice to pop it up to the back of the court. In this type of play there is still a lot a person like me can mess up, but my smashing was solid, laying it right at the feet of the opponents, even eliciting some "wow's". I only put 2 or 3 in the net the entire day which is the reverse of how practice games normally go for me. With all the teams in the mixed round robin it was evident everyone had experience, but normally one had more than the other. I felt bad continuously hitting to the weaker player but I think this behaviour is programed deep in the brain. In the split second between getting into position and contact, careful consideration about relative player strength rarely comes to mind. In the final game we played a team we hadn't played nor observedbecause they were in group B. They were serious and had matching shirts to prove it. I thought, here is where the dream stops. It was the best serving we saw all day, they had excellent control side to side, and were just plain scary reading the lines. We took both games but had some epic rallies. We won the most anti-climactic way possible on one of their errors where they sent it out. I remember laughing so hard with Nakamura-san once we finshed the game. It was the last thing either of us had on our minds as we started the day. I know for a fact I was way more surprised at winning than the teachers and organizers were at a gaijin in the tourney. Afterwards on the way home I treated myself to the nice onsen in Makubetsu.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Music has Rights!

I'm writing this on a computer and you’re probably reading it on a computer and thus it’s fair from time to time to examine issues facing the 'net. Digital Rights Management has consequences for every Canadian. This week Minister of Industry Jim Prentice withdrew his legislation that would have seen some of the toughest copyright restrictions in the world for Canada. Included in the legislation were absurd restrictions like no device shifting (don't you dare think about putting that CD on your iPod), no back ups (just plain inconvenient) and a rollback on fair-use exemptions for education and political comment which would have resulted in a tightening of free speech. The reason the proposal was withdrawn is simple; it represented a dream list of laws as conceived by the world's biggest media content companies and their lobbyists. More disturbing for me than the legislation was the apparent attempt by the government to quietly pass it without public debate - debate being the key world here.

There’s no denying Canadian copyright law is in dire need of updating. Laws written in 1997 don’t any good in today's internet and technology dominant age. And I’m not really a radical in this regard—I believe in paying for music—but any changes must represent a balance between with all stakeholders—musicians, consumers and lobbyists. With the age of digital, a remix cultural has emerged and the behaviour of record companies is truly backward (Suing music fans anyone?). Despite the ease—one might even say naturalness—with which digital information is moved around the world and altered, the media companies have seen fit to move in an army of lawyers rather than change one thing about their business model. Which is all good and fine—the market will take care of it—this makes record companies poor investments since their structures are becoming top heavy with legal departments (you know, instead of finding great new bands that would sell records). Small artists generally like the internet because—take something like the CBC radio3 podcast—it allows them to have a global audience where once all they had to look forward to was a life of endless local gigs. Taking the view that music should be paid for, I lament that music fans are starting to view music as free, however, artists are quicker than multinational companies to shift business models and many artists have found success in cutting out the middle man, directly connecting to fans. I think this is one of the things that most upsets the large record companies.

Probably the most alarming fact for me is that media companies, through the heavy use of digital rights management that protects content, are giddy at the prospect of controlling content even after it has been purchased by the consumer. They are ready to pull western civilization back several decades. Say you bought a CD to play in your stereo, the record companies believe you should pay again to have the honour of playing it on your iPod and another fee if you want to play it in your car, and on and on. This flies directly in the face of widely used modern technology that already allows this to be done cheaply and easily. That's why I want claim media companies want are pulling backward. Crippleware is another great facet to this debate. Industry wide there is pressure to cripple data devices with DRM. Window’s Vista is by far the best example. Here is an OS that is designed bottom up to protect the rights of other’s over the user’s. All at the expense of stability, operability, and even logic as users flee to any other OS besides Vista, be it Mac, Linux or even WinXP. Vista’s implantation of DMR causes the OS to act paranoid to the point of uselessness. This is only the first in what is sure to be a long sad parade of crippled devices. And don’t think for a second any tech company wants to cripple their wares. That just gives sales to companies with more open and useful platforms. In a remix culture, the ability to buy a movie, rip it, put it on a one gig USB drive and to show it at a friends, just as we did with DVDs before and VHS before that is threatened by DMR. And consumers should say yes to a balanced review of copyright in Canada.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sorry for the Thusday delay.

Meetings and classes have been going longer than usual the last couple of days and then there has been stuff waiting for me at the office when I get back. All this limits the time I'm able to blog. Something will be up for Friday I promise.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dodgeball Part 2

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This box was sitting at work looking too interesting to be ignored (click to enlarge). Upon further inspection, it contains a set of comic books. The box proudly proclaims it is educational manga about the history of Japan. Cuteness is probably the most ubiquitous thing in Japan, but manga might run a close second. It's questionable how historically accurate elementery school manga is. Reading some myself, it certainly approaches the topic with a certain amount of romanticism, but does nothing to shield the readers from the bordom and monotony that is true history. Parts of the books seem recreate the passing of time. My heart has finally returned to it's normal pace after playing dodgeball with the grade five and sixes at Tsumei Sho Gakko. It was a small group of three students against three teachers. There was a reason no small kids played which will become clear. I wanted to use a normal nerf ball but the kids wanted to use was a very hard, heavy, volleyball-like ball. I asked them why and, sure enough, they showed me written on the ball is, "Offical Japanese Dodgeball Tournament Ball". Discussion was closed as far as they were concerned about what ball to use. Two questions hit me at once: one, that such a thing exists and, secondly, why it would be composed of such hard materials. What kind of masochist wants that thing thrown at them? It certianly motivated me to get out of the way. The type of ball used dictated the game: absurbity is one way to describe it, with both teams sticking close the walls, as far as humanly possible from each other. When you see a grade six, arm raised, holding that ball, they may as well been holding a ball of flaming pitch. The game was reduced to the ball slaming into the back wall with a satisfy thwack, and also it slamming into things; pianos, soccer nets, unicycles, a pile of brooms, furnaces (sounds like a fun gym doesn't it?). I nearly had my head taken off a couple of times and dove for my life more than once. I think the kids like the rush but there is no way my conscience will let me throw it as hard as I can. They get mad at me for not trying if I obviously miss or lob it gently, so it required a certain amount of acting on my part make them think they were being hunted while also aiming carefully so as to leave a safe distance between the kids and the ball. When things were reversed, exiciting is not how I would discribed it. I got hit squarely in the back by a mistake on my part when I zigged when I should have zagged. Ouch. After the bell rang, my chest was hurting from my pounding heart having literately just dodged a life or death situation.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Something to Make Monday Great!

On most days I eat lunch with my students. It creates a day with no breaks until the kids go home but I definitely enjoy it. Lately I have been switching between one of two grade one classes at Shikaoi Elementery School. A lot of what happens at lunch revolves around students' craving for attention. On the rare occasion this is manifested through poor behaviour; it definately gets the person in authority's attention when you threaten to through food. However, the majority of the time the kids turn into perfect angels, in fact, sometimes things go a bit far in the other direction and they get scrapy. Everyone wants to show me where to sit; everyone wants to clear my dishes; everyone wants to sit beside me. I have learned pretty well to navigate these potential landmines with promises of "next time" or just doing it myself. I also love observing the culture surrounding lunch time the kids have created from their imagination. For instance, on the milkbox there meaningless single digit number - probably a lot number - every lunch it's imperative to share that number and check for matches. In case you think this is an orgainized process, you're wrong, it consists of yelling out your number and thus I end up answering the same question several times. During lunch the kids love love love creating quizes for each other, the broader the topic range the better, but this is in light of a 6/7 year old's world that consists of school and home. My most successful question today was asking my group if "Blair likes space vegtables?" which had the group evenly split and created a lively discussion. Wouldn't this type of lunch make anyone happy? It makes me tired just thinking about it, but I digress: Today everyone was in high spirits because today's school lunch was curry-and-rice. A meal that's very hard to mess up and thus is always tasty and filling.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Music Issue Pt. 2

Changing subjects now to Radiohead's new ablum which was released digitally all the way back on Oct 10th; I have to say I really like the album. In Rainbows is Radiohead's 7th studio album and, to say nothing of the uproar it's released causein the music industry, it is one of their best. A lot of the eletronic beeps seemed to have been worked out of Thom Yorke's system which led to a much more relaxed sound. Throwing back to the times when there was far less to prove for them and it was all about the music. There are only two tracks I consistently skip over, which is not to say they are bad, it's just they're not up to the high bar set by the other strong tracks on the disk. Reading the music forums about this disk it was great to see the varitery of tracks people picked as their favorite, it was almost evenly distributed across the entire album. That is a rare occurance and should show something of the albums quality. My favor tracks are:

  • "15 Step"; One of two rockers on the disk in my option. Tight drumming from Phil Selway. This is probably the most electronically inspired cut on the disk and also the closest thing Radiohead has ever done to R'n'B.

  • "Nude":This song has been played live for 10 years, become a huge crowd favorite. It has never been put doen until now. I have several bootlegs and the studio version is very good.

  • "All I Need": Probably my favor cut off the disk, it's a bit darker. Love the subterranean bass. It's a slow builder that doesn't fail like the last track on the album. When the crash symbols come in, one knows this track is flying.

  • "Reckoner": The other rocker on the disk that one can turn up proudly.

  • "Videotape": The last cut on the disk that in live shows exploded. Here we are offered a slow burner. Radiohead still pulls it off however, creating a great closer in line with OK Computer's "The Tourist." Lots of the track show strong writting and this is as a fine example as any on the ablum.

  • Will this album ever gain the status of 1997's OK Computer? Not it my book but time will tell. However, one thing I hate hate hate about this album is it's lame title. In Rainbows? How is Radiohead going to take over the world with a title like that? I'm not alone in my views as suggested by a fan made satirical cover displayed below. Isn't that what everyone was thinking when they first heard the title of the new disk?

    The Music Issue!

    Announcing I had received my new headphone amplifier just before my birthday raised the level of curiosity surrounding my hobby. Directly never making mention of it again was wrong. In an effort to reverse this deficiency, I henceforth offer an excess of numbers, statistics and details. I will describe my new headphone unit while strictly ignoring questions about why one needs a dedicated headphone amplifier.

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    Wide angle view of the Yamamoto HA-02. (Click to enlarge)

    The Yamamoto HA-02 is a singularly beautiful piece of audio equipment. Hand-made by Shige Yamamoto in Hyogo prefecture outside Tokyo, it uses two type of exotic woods, a hand-wound transformer, gold-plated tube guards and a life time of experience in electrical engineering. Asking “why tubes?” opens a topic that threatens to overtake my blog. The short of it is is that there must be some type of inherent value in a technology that perseveres even though it was far surpassed by modern offerings by any scientific measurement 50 years ago. At risk of ignoring large parts of the topic, like the clipping characteristics of tubes or impedance curves, I will start at the point I find most interesting having to do with the different types of harmonic distortion found in audio circuits (feel free to jump to the pictures at this point); odd order harmonic distortion versus second order harmonic distortion. Smarter people than I have put it better:

    …tubes have more measured distortion. However this distortion is primarily 2nd order, lessening greatly as we go through the higher harmonics. Distortion characteristics for solid-state however, tend towards higher odd order harmonics (5th 7th etc), albeit in smaller amounts.

    Scientific studies have shown that humans perceive even order distortion as being musically consonant while odd order distortion is perceived as musically dissonant. Anecdotal evidence shows that while up to -5% of 2nd order distortion is audibly tolerable, only -0.5% of 5th order distortion is audibly tolerable.[thanks!]

    Staying on the topic of harmonic distortion, the harmonic distortion found in audio circuits is what allows the human brain to distinguish between a recording and a real instrument. Because such low levels of odd order harmonic distortion are audible to the human ear, solid state manufactures have gone the very edge of material science in a quest to lower harmonic distortion. On the other hand, second order harmonic distortion is the type associated with the decay of a note in space and time or a chord being struck. Called “musically consonant” in the quote above. A tube amplifier’s high levels of 2nd order harmonic distortion in effect accentuates the decay of notes and creates a sonic glow around harmonies, though the exact mechanisms of such are lost in the workings of the brain. One could almost say that tube circuits sound “hyper-realistic.” This is the characteristic euphony that many listeners describe ultimately leading to a more musical presentation at the expense of accuracy.

    My Yammy, as it has been coyly named on the internet, uses two Western Electric 408As tubes. The WE408A themselves have an interesting history that prove it did not find its way into the Yamamoto HA-02 by chance. The tube was initially used in underwater telephony applications in the early 60s. This gives the tubes excellent reliably and longevity compared to other tubes. Most tubes are designed for higher output levels than needed for headphones amplification, meaning they are not working within their optimum range. However, the WE408A’s optimum working specs sit exactly in the micro current range needed for headphone amplification. Coupled to the tube circuit is a transformer output stage. Glossing over volumes of electrical engineering theory, a quality transformer is essential and this is where lesser amps fail. Shige-san guarantees quality by providing an in-house built, hand wound design. If you are familiar with what goes into hand winding a transformer, than you know this means serious dedication, and ultimately, along with the circuit design and tube selection, defines the sound of the Yamamoto HA-02; which is transparency, coherence and musicality. The Yamamoto HA-02 has a life-like flowing midrange. Over the years, I have read comments from the hi-fi community that music lives in the midrange. My Yammy has certainly turned me into a believer. (Upper Left: "Pilot Lump"? Just to prove it's a product from Japan, there's an English error included on the front.)

    My description has probably raised questions in the reader as to why one would ever need anything beyond an iPod with those white things. Again at great risk of ignoring large swaths of the discussion, I can touch on two major positives for myself. Headphone listening in my opinion, offers a great value, even in light of the law of diminishing returns that defines hi-end audio. I could probably never afford a tube amplifier for a stereo rig but because of the lower power requirements of headphones it offers a possible solution. Top-shelf headphone gear can offer surprisingly high sound quality. Consider, for example, the stereo system needed to distinguish between a $1000 CD player, $3000 CD player, $10,000 CD player and a $50,000 CD player; it would take speakers in the $20,000 range to say nothing of ancillaries. A headphone system can do the same trick at a fraction of the cost. Secondly, a stereo system deserves a home. Hi-fi hobbyists are not a condo association’s best friend. Because home ownership is far off for me, headphone listening offers the perfect balance between sound quality and the ability not to drive roommates or neighbors crazy.

    I probably didn’t change too many people’s opinion about my hobby. However, I offer this warning: if any reader feels a slight tickle in their brain to try, please do yourself the favor of first giving a trusted friend or family member your wallet.

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    Macro shot of a Western Electric 408A out of it's socket. (Click to enlarge)

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    The Yamamoto HA-02 at work. One can see the headed cathodes and the blue plasmas created by the electrons jumping the vacuum. I believe Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major was playing.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    Seen at a Japanese Construction Site

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    This made me smile (and nearly drive off the road). Now I can say I'm ready for Christmas.

    Sunday, December 02, 2007

    Monday on my own

    I'm going to make this a brief update because I'm planning for a longer post tomorrow about two things I have neglected for a month. Today, all the Japanese English teachers in Shikaoi, and Austin, who is a JET-affiliated English teacher, are in Sapporo for a two day teaching conference. I wasn't invited, I'm guessing because I'm privately contracted with the town of Shikaoi. This left me on my own. Instead of sitting in the office all day, I offered to teach. This left me in charge. In consultation with the other teachers, normal classes were eschewed in favor of a christmas craft class. The only thing special I did was get to bed extra early last night. The classes could of gone smoother, but that was really a function of time. I also went for a really super good run last night. Not quite sure where that came from; I wish I knew because them I would bottle and sell it. My feet were so light and I kept a great pace. Why can't everyday be like that?