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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: Minus 2

So… in case you missed out, the diary of my three years in Japan is over.

I had lost in trying to convince my girlfriend Noboko to defy her father's wishes and just say fug it and marry me.

I figured we would leave Japan if we have to, or I'll stay… it didn't matter a hill of beans to me… all that mattered was being with Noboko and not giving a crap what other people (her father) thought of our relationship.

It's pretty strong coming from a guy who was essentially an introvert pretending to be an extrovert (I've since become less introverted)… but that's what Japan did to me.

It gave me baruzu (balls, if said phonetically).

So… when Noboko essentially decided to give up on her happiness by giving up on us in order to maintain peace and harmony and whatever bullcrap zen shite you want to pile on, it made me sick to my stomach.

Not just because she chose her father's happiness over hers and mine - ours, but mostly because I had seen someone else says screw the parents in order to achieve happiness.

My mother was Catholic, my father is Protestant. To me its two sides of the same coin, but to others it's the Great effing Divide. A deal breaker.

My mother's parents both decided to skip the wedding if she was to marry that heathen Protestant man who would one day become my father.

My mother was willing to give up on her parents to achieve happiness with my father.

It was that close to me.

And so… when Noboko couldn't do that… it really hit home.

I know you can't compare Japanese apples to oranges, but I did, and do.

I understand that every person is different… and I try to walk a mile in their shoes to avoid being judgmental… but it doesn't make the reality of the situation any different when all is said and written.

Every day I realize that my son Hudson will grow up never having known my mother - his grandmother… and while whatever kids I would have hopefully had with Noboko, there was always a chance seeing as how I didn't get married until five years later, they would have known my mother.

Put it all together and… well… damn allergies again…

Kanpai,
Andrew "I was never any good at math" Joseph
PS: It's funny. 1 minus 2 doesn't seem like it should be minus 1.It seems like it should be minus 2.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Best Advice For Successfully Surviving Japan

Since it's August, I can assume that all you new JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme participants are now nicely tucked away in your new homes/hovels and are enjoying life in Japan with all its newness and happy-happy-joy-joy verve.

Good.

It won't last. But that's okay. It'll come back again. It's life. If it was perfect, there would be no ex-JETs because we all would still be living there and Japan wouldn't need you. So, you're welcome.

Sorry for the sobering thought, but I don't want you to get carried away.

Obviously, I think Japan was a great place and I enjoyed my time there immensely - enough to be writing about it 22 years after I left. But, I don't kiss Japan's a$$. Sometimes I enjoy giving it a bit of a kick when I think it needs it. But, no matter what, it was still a great place for me to be at that time in my life.

You will discover that Japan is plenty different from whatever country you happen to be from.

Don't be afraid, rather embrace the differences - try to influence a bit if your own country's quirkiness on Japan (politely), but don't be shocked if it is rebuffed. If it's something worthwhile, Japan will get around to adopting the good stuff from other countries... it just takes a while. Decades even.

If I may... may I suggest that that you begin learning the Japanese language. You don't need to be fluent - oh man, but that would help - but you do need to be mildly conversant.

I survived three years in Japan and escaped with the language capabilities of a poor Grade 1 Japanese student who should have been kept back in kindergarten for two years, but Japan doesn't keep anyone back.

Eat the food, dammit. Every year some poor schmuck comes to Japan because they want to experience the culture, but absolutely detests Japanese food. Lemme tell ya... Japanese food is a HUGE part of Japanese culture. To not eat the food is to do yourself a disservice of your time spent there.

My buddy Jeff hated Japanese food, and every day at school would bring his own sandwich or eat at Dunkin Donuts. I never eaten at Dunkin Donuts - and I'm sure it's a fine business - but that should never be a consideration for your EVERYDAY meal while in a foreign country. Be adventurous.

Somehow, Jeff managed to snag a babe of a wife and spend the past 25 years in Japan... so I'm assuming he's eating Japanese by now... I hope... poor woman.

Look... no one is saying you need to go native when in Japan. You will in many ways. I, Mister Blogger, used to have standard Michigan cereals and milk for breakfast, eat my Japanese school lunches that I had to (and you will) have to pay for on a monthly basis, and then have whatever for dinner.

I used to make a huge pot of chili for myself and friends, lasagne (these two are expensive options, by the way) or have eggs and bacon and beans for a meal. I tried my hand at making tempura once - successfully, I might add, but I'm not into cooking. I'm into eating. I love me a good cook. Kiss the cook, indeed.

However, a guy's gotta eat... so every day after school I'd ride my bicycle to a small grocery store (or the huge one for all my other necessities) where I knew they had prepared ready-made meals and I'd choose something convenient: pork kontatsu cutlets and rice; red beans and rice with a smoked duck breast; tempura - it always tastes better when you make it yourself, but who the hell needs to be splashed by hot oil in August when you are wearing just your underwear - maybe - because you are sweating so much in your apartment?

I eventually got A/C and a central heating all-in-one machine by the way... you'll want to pay particular attention to the rules regarding your autumn/winter gas heater by the way... and follow the rules. I didn't and nearly asphyxiated myself. My brain am work fine now.

You will eventually come across a northeast Japanese delight called natto... which is essentially rotted, fermented soy beans that looks sticky and gooey, smells bad and tastes bad.

Don't you believe the hype. Try it for yourself.

It is true that most Japanese think that stuff is the cat's meow, and by that, if I was to translate it from cat, means barf - but I took it all as a challenge.

The Japanese will not expect you - the gaijin (foreigner) to eat natto. In the history of Japan and JET, only one gaijin has actually ever eaten natto and claimed he liked it.

That would be me.

Even then, I had to build my 'like' for it up over a few times of trying it.

Natto is supposed to be very good for you. When I wanted to lose 10 pounds, I was lucky enough to get some excess natto packs from a school (even the kids wouldn't eat it) for free, bought some fresh steamed rice, poured a pack of spicy mustard onto the natto, added some soy sauce and poured the even gloppier mess onto the rice and then shoveled it down my gullet with the chopsticks... I did that as my meal every day for 30 days - and off went the weight. Of course, I also was jogging at that time and after starting at 1600 meters (4 laps) I added one lap a night until I hit 10 kilometers... still, the natto gave me the energy to do what needed to be done.

When I was in Japan, when a Japanese person suggested I might not like to do or try something because foreigners just don't seem to care for it, I would surprise them (and myself, I think) by doing it. Just for spite.

Do YOU want to be pre-judged? No. So help break the stereotypes.

That's what I do here in this blog. I break stereotypes - though admittedly there is often a greater truth in some origins of stereotypes.

The point is... don't worry about things - try them for yourself.

It's the fault of social media and the Internet.

Everyone going to Japan has been reading up on the country, prefecture and city/town/village they are going to. They have been reading umpteen blogs and books trying to better prepare themselves for the country.

Y'know what? Even if you never read this blog again, stop reading to prepare yourself - just follow that corporate slogan of Nike and just do it.

Make up your own mind about stuff.

Just because someone says natto sucks donkeys doesn't mean it will for you.

Just because someone says the Japanese are weird, it doesn't make them any more weird than the people from any other country on the planet. They are just different. Vive la différence. (See Caro, I can speak French.)

Pay attention to yourself and your own experiences and discover what Japan means to you.

That's my advice.

Now stop sweating and go learn something new today and every day.

Kanpai (Cheers)
Andrew "please continue to read this blog written by nose blind" Joseph
PS: When the mood hits me, I will still chow down on natto here in Toronto with a breath mint or seven afterwards. Natto breath is kindda bad.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Remembering Hideo Nomo


Despite the headline, he's not dead. This is just a look back at my favorite Japanese baseball player - Nomo Hideo (野茂 英雄 - surname first).

I am aware that there are many of you out there who care little for 'American' sports, but you'll have to forgive me.

Aside from looking at (and talking to) women, watching hockey and basketball, playing, coaching, videogaming and watching baseball is something I really enjoy.

Don't like what I'm writing about today? Don't fret - come back tomorrow… I'll write about a Japan-related topic completely different in scope.    

Feeling old, it was 20 years ago that coast-coast in North America, baseball fans got to see Nomo (perhaps for the first time) pitch… in the 1995 All-Star Game representing the Los Angeles Dodgers of the National League.

Me? I saw him earlier when he first came up in Japan.

During that All-Star game, however, he faced six batters over two innings, meaning he faced the minimum, striking out three, allowing a hit (and erased on a pitch-out-throw'em-out at second-base), no walks and obviously no runs.

He was dominant against the bats of American League greats Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Cal Ripken Jr.

I was proud… proud because Nomo was the first Japanese-born and trained pitcher to start an MLB All-Star Game and he conducted himself with his typical efficiency.

I was lucky. I got to see Nomo play while in Japan… no, not in person, as he played for the Kintetsu Buffaloes situated in Osaka… and I lived some 500 kilometers northeast in Tochigi-ken… but rather I saw him pitch on television.

Living in Japan, despite all of the glories and new and strange sights, sounds and smells around me on a daily basis, no matter the foreigner, sometimes you just need a big mouthful of 'gaijin normalcy' to get you through a day.

While I could get that easily enough from fellow AETs (assistant English teachers) Matthew and sometime girlfriend Ashley or from phone chats with others like Kristine, I freely admit that back in Canada I was a television junkie.

Television was and is pablum for my tiny egg-shell mind. This is probably the one huge way I differ from most of you voracious readers out there, but keep in mind that I also tend to read a book a week, too.

Then, as now, I didn't necessarily have the TV Guide memorized, but I knew dates, times and channels of all the shows I wanted to watch and made time to do so.

But I lacked that in Japan. Certainly in Japan of 1990-1993.

Although Japan had a stunning (sarcasm) number of channels, aside from a comedy variety show and anime program or three (all in Japanese), every other bloody television show seemed to be related to cooking and food. I like those things, but food is also about variety.

Despite being a nerd who taught piano and clarinet (and played all brass, woodwinds and keyboards), and a Star Trek, Star Wars, comic book collecting-D&D-lovin' guy who lived in his parent's basement… I played sports: soccer and baseball.

I love all sports, actually - hockey is a favorite to watch, but in the summer, it was and is, baseball.
In Japan… I found that with their telecasts of professional Japanese baseball, I was able to easily maintain that little touch of 'home'.

Nomo was born on August 31, 1968 in Minato-ku, Osaka… so he was a hometown boy who played for the hometown team… and then left them. Owtch. 

Nomo was a rookie ball player back in 1990 when I first saw him pitch, and he was incredible to watch. That wind-up alone was something different… something North American ball players probably hadn't seen in 25+ years - if ever.

Called the Tornado wind-up, Nomo, with the ball in his hand, would raise both arms together high up into the air above his head, pivot on his right foot with his right knee high above his waist - to his chest, actually), turn his back completely to the hitter, and then come down and around with his body like a whirling dervish thrusting his plant leg (left) and then coming around to pitch.

See for yourself with this brilliant slow motion video:
If I tried to do that with my body and not have a woman involved, I'd slip a disc or three.

The wind-up also gave Nomo the fabulous nickname of "Tornado"

The fact that he could chuck the ball with alarming accuracy at speeds in the mid to high 90s (MPH), made it all the more impressive.

I watched him pitch that first game, and he immediately became my favorite Japanese ball player.

The next day at work (one of the junior high schools I was an assistant English teacher at), I recall bubbling over with excitement, wanting to talk to my fellow Japanese teachers and students about Nomo-san.

I made the bold proclamation that morning, that Nomo would one day not only pitch in the North American MLB, but would be a star - he was that good.

That was stupid of me to have said - even if I was correct.

The Japanese are a proud people… very patriotic… and while they love their own baseball, they were also kind enough and adept enough to admit that MLB was indeed the Number One baseball league… they shrugged, saying maybe… meaning "no"… because I only had that one game on which to build my strato-busting opinion… and they were more practical… and perhaps wouldn't really WANT Nomo or any other Japanese star to go to North America to play ball.

I can dig it. I'd feel that way if NHL star and Canadian Sidney Crosby suddenly decided to accept an offer to play in the Russian-organized KHL (even though it's not exactly on the same par with the NHL, in my opinion).

But… as I said, it seems like I was correct, anyway.

In Japan, Nomo pitched for five season with the Kintetsu Buffaloes—see his Japanese rookie ball card below. (This is from my collection - I collected Japanese baseball and soccer cards while abroad).

My ol dog, Buster, wearing my Kintetsu Buffaloes baseball cap with a Japanese rookie card of Hideo Nomo on the lid.

In Japan, his record was 78 Wins - 46 Losses with a 3.15 ERA (Earned Run Average), winning at least 17 games four times…

Nomo's contract was bid for and won by the Los Angeles Dodgers (them bums! sorta), and then was approved by Nomo, who could have voided the whole trade (for money). But Los Angeles did have good weather and with a westcoast locale, was 'close' to Japan.

Nomo would eventually spend seven years in Los Angeles - even throwing a no-hitter on September 17, 1996 - in Denver, where the air is thinner and the ball flies out of the park easier.

He also garnered a shoe deal, with Nike producing the Air Max Nomo in 1996.

He pitched another year in Los Angeles, but by then batters had begun to figure out his funky delivery, and his effectiveness was no longer as effective…

Still… he became the second pitcher (after Dwight Doc Gooden of they NY Mets) to strike out at least 200 hitters in each of his first three years.

After a poor start in 1998, Los Angeles traded Nomo to the Mets…and was eventually released.
He was then signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1999, played three games for the minor league team, and then released after refusing to pitch any more games down there.

He was signed (still in 1999) by the Milwaukee Brewers - finishing 12W-8L, with a high 4.54 ERA… but still became the third-fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 career strike outs.

Contract issues with the Brewers had him being waived through the league with the Philadelphia Phillies claiming him only to grant him Free Agency 24 hours later after they realized the contract talks were going to be a problem.

He signed with the Detroit Tigers in 2000, went 8W-12L with a high 4.74 ERA and was done there.
Ugh… between 1998 and 2000 he really wasn't that successful… and it seemed as though Nomo was no more going to be living up to my hype.

But he wasn't done yet. In 2001, he signed with the Boston Red Sox (hauuuuuch patooooie!) and threw his second no-hitter on April 4 against the Baltimore Orioles. That feat also allowed him to become the fourth pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter in each league (National and American Leagues - which comprise Major League Baseball - MLB). That year, he also led the American League in strikeouts.

Contract up, he went back to the National League's Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002, going 16W - 6L, 193 strikeouts and a 3.39 ERA.

In 2003, he had another decent year with LA, but then towards the end of the year… no so much…
In 2004 - after shoulder surgery, Nomo went 4W-11L with the astronomical ERA of 8.25, which is also the worst ERA in baseball history for pitchers with at least 15 decisions.

Not invited back to the Dodgers, Nomo signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, with a contract incentive bonus of $700,000 if he started 20 games. Controversy or just smart, he was released by the team two days before he was scheduled to start his 20th game… but I suspect it had more to do with his ugly 7.24 ERA.

The NY Yankees (hauuuuuch patooooie!) took a chance on Nomo, signed him to a minor league team, but he never played with the big club.

In 2006, he signed with the Chicago White Sox to play eight games their minor league team, but was released from them mid-way through the season… oh, how the might have fallen!

In 2007 he signed to play in the Venezuelan Winter League for Leones del Caracas… and did okay - enough for the Kansas City Royals to sign him in 2008. He made his debut on April 10, 2008 - his first time in the MLB since 2005, in relief against the NY Yankees (hauuuuuch patooooie!).

The Royals were losing 4-1, and Nomo promptly loaded the bases, but was able to get out of it after getting out fellow Japanese (and Yankee hauuuuuch patooooie!) Matsui Hideki (surname first).

But the Royals, also not up on the concept of using a relief pitcher with arm problems, bringing Nomo back out for the 8th (uneventful) and the 9th inning… giving up homeruns to Alex Rodriguez (steroids!) and Jorge Posada (I actually like him). He was released on April 29, 2007.

On July 17, 2008, Nomo officially retired - not with a bang, but a whimper.

Legacy:
Nomo had very good success (initially) in MLB… which helped convince other Japanese baseball stars to try their luck, which is why westerners know of Yu Darvish, Dasuke Matsuzaka, Matsui, and Ichiro Suzuki. 

So… with 12 years in the MLB, Nomo is considered to be the first Japanese pitcher to make a permanent move to North America.

in January of 2014, Nomo was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame becoming, at that time, the youngest player in the Hall's history, and only the third ever player to be selected in their first year of eligibility.

I find that interesting… only the third-ever player to get in to the Japanese baseball hall of fame in his first year eligible? How very Japanese.

It's like when you want to become a sushi chef in Japan… you spend the first five years learning how to hold a knife. You don't get to cut anything, though.

The next seven years (6-12) are spent learning how to cut things other than the main ingredient
Years 13-20 are spent learning how to manipulate the main sushi ingredient - the rice… how to flavor and cook it, and massage it into the perfect shape. Years 21+… no you can put it all together and finally make sushi. Real Japanese sushi… not that stuff you see in the clamshell packaging at the local grocer.

Obviously I'm joking about the length of time and what they do… but… not really. There is a very long apprenticeship for everything in Japan, from salary man to chef.

It's also why, I suspect that they rarely award baseball players with admission into the hallowed halls when first eligible… you better be damnnnnnnn special… and Nomo was.

Kanpai,
Andrew is out of the old ball game Joseph


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Solar Energy - A Japanese Hole-In-One

Sent to me by the sweetie from Wonderland, comes this hole-in-one, as she thought I might take a swing at a story involving Japan succumbing to the advances of solar energy, while turning its back on golf.

The image at the left is an artist's rendering of the Kyocera solar power facility in Kyoto. Image courtesy of Kyocera Solar.

While I do like the prospect of solar energy, let me just state for the record that I am not a fan of golf.

The ONLY time I played golf not involving a swinging log and Abraham Lincoln's abnormally long legs doing some 1920s dance step I can't name, was back on August 14, 2003 when I played 18 holes in Unionville, Ontario, Canada.

I plopped the first tee shot a mere three feet from the cup and thought "This game is effing EASY!!!"

Several hours and 19 lost golf balls later I realized my brain was far too advanced for this "sport" and decided to not play again.

Anyhow… if that date seems familiar, it was also the day the northeastern part of North America suffered a huge blackout, with the U.S. blaming Canada for the mess, even though it later came out the real culprit was a software bug in the alarm system at a control room of the FirstEnergy Corporation, located in Ohio, U.S.

I'm sure the U.S. never apologized for slandering Canada's good name. Blame Canada? Stupid South Parkers from Colorado. Hey... we got your Tulowitzki in Toronto now. Vengeance.

Anyhow… now that I have managed to provide a real link between myself, electrical power and golf (and South Park and baseball), let's get busy…

It seems that on at least four occasions, closed golf courses in Japan have been converted into solar energy farms.

That... that is partially about Japan embracing solar energy in the wake of its reluctance to restarting its nuclear energy programs (how many times bitten - nth time shy, I always say, but usually only involving women), as well as about the economic bubble in Japan not just bursting, but going ka-blooey - like a reactor in Fukushima?

What… too soon?

If you were living under a lead-lined stone for the past five years, you might have forgotten that on March 11, 2011, Japan was rocked by a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake that spawned an offshore tsunami wave or three that crashed into cities and towns along Japan's northeast coast - including the Dai-ichi nuclear power generating facility in Fukushima-ken.

Power went out at the plant, and back-up generators were rendered useless, and the plant began to overheat… and even after trying to get control of the situation over a month later, several of the six reactors there nearly went ka-blooey.

As it is, a heck of a lot of radioactive materials were spilled and expelled into the water, land and air surrounding the reactor facility… causing a large swathe of the prefecture to become a no-go zone and turning many towns into ghost towns that may or may not glow in the dark. I doubt they do. I'm just being insensitive.

Since that time… Japan's nuclear power generating industry has come under nuclear fire for its sub-par upkeep of it 50+ facilities, and after being shut down for repairs and upgrades, the federal government - with backing by the Japanese people - has kept them all shut down, even though many are ready to go on-line to provide a less expensive energy option.

Now… despite a plethora of volcanic thermals bubbling under and around Japan, the country hasn't quite got into using such an abundant and alternate energy source, relying instead on the tried and true extinct dinosaur to provide it with all the energy it needs to make its neon signs glow with pride.

But… someone… or rather someones have decided that where there is a will, there's a way to make money if one has the yen to try something… different. I know, I know... Japan isn't exactly known for doing something different, but in truth, Japan does a whole lotta things different - for better and for worse... and isn't really that afraid to try new things as long as it has the time to make a proper examination of it, then to hem and haw about it, complaining that changing something will make the country less Japanese, forget about it for awhile, and then when someone else comes around and proves it to be financially viable, Japan will swallow its pride and tell everyone how this new thing is the best Japanese way yet.

You know that most of Japan's social customs and male haircuts have been lifted from China right? 

So... let's get back on track... so... the little Wonderland babe... she sent me an article about Japan using an old golf course as the area to build a solar power generating facility.

Even though I know who it came from, I never take any media at face value, and so needed to see if this whole golf to-solar thing was something original... and lo and behold... it wasn't.

But that doesn't diminish the impact of the news... hell... that lead lined rock I've been living under also prevents a lot of news from entering my ears.

Anyhow... while I am aware that Japan is now trying to become very heavily involved in solar power electrical energy generation, THIS particular blog is only going to look at the construction of such facilities on lands that were once golf courses... all fore of them. Ha.

On June 3, 2014, Bloomberg reported that an abandoned golf course near the Fukushima nuclear plant would be turned into a solar park, with solar panels placed all over the former greens.

It was to have been completed by March of 2015 with Hanwha-Q Cells providing the capturing solar panels to provide for the 26-megawatt Sunny Fukushima project to be built by JFE Holdings Inc.’s engineering unit and run by Sunny Health Co. - expecting to generate enough power for 8,000 homes.

Interesting enough, Hanwha-Q Cells isn't a Japanese company, but rather a Germany-headquartered company under the South Korea Hanwha Group.

Not to be completely left behind, one day later on June 4, 2014, again according to Bloomberg News, the Tokyo-based Orix Corp.—a finance and leasing company—began building a 51-megawatt solar power plant on a then closed golf course (as of January 2014) in Mie-ken, in the western part of Japan, expecting it to be up and running by May of 2016.

Orix, in an effort to prove that Japan has still got 'it', said that as of April of 2014 17 solar power plants it built are up and running in Japan with a combined capacity of 41.3 megawatts.

On December 9, Bloomberg News reported that condominium developer the Tokyo-headquartered Takara Leben Co. was turning a closed golf course in Tochigi-ken (my old stomping grounds) into a 15-megawatt solar power plant, with Japan's Solar Frontier K.K. providing the solar panels and Hitachi Zosen Corp. in charge of the project.

This isn't Takara Leben's first kick at the can, as it currently has eight other operating solar power plants in Japan providing 10 megawatts of combined capacity.

On December 10, 2014 - thanks again Bloomberg, we have news that the General Electric Co. provided financing for a 42-megawatt Mimasaka Musashi solar power project under development in western Japan by Pacifico Energy K.K.

Toyo Engineering Corp. was tapped to build the solar farm on yet another closed golf course in Okayama, using components from Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (China) and Toshiba Mitsubishi Electric Industrial Systems Corp. The plant is expected to begin selling power to Chugoku Electric Power Co. in late 2016.

Which brings us to what Alice really sent me (fodder for thought because she knows my brain is hot-wired to know more), is news from June 20, 2015 via www.takepart.com that Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera (Kyoto, Japan) is going to turn a Kyoto golf course into a 23-megawatt farm… and despite being 3-megawatts less than the first solar plant nee golf course in Fukushima, it will also provide power for 8,000 homes.

I suppose they folks in Kyoto don't require as much electrical power as the folks in Fukushima… or this is some new Japanese math I don't know about… always a possibility considering I'm one of those people who can take off his shoes and socks and underwear and count up to 69.

Personally… I'm all in on the whole solar power thing.

I would have solar power panels on my house if the Canadian government made it more affordable, say actually providing the government financial feedback upfront so I could pay for the verdamnt thing with real money.

And… as god as my witness, I'll never play golf again… because obviously I angered the goddesses at The Weather Channel that one time and caused them to smite the eastern part of North America with some weird spiritual darkness, eh.

Somewhere I'm late because the power outage shut off my alarm clock,
Andrew "I don't know what sun-block is" Joseph

Friday, July 31, 2015

Japan's Death Star Laser

According to the Asahi Shimbun, Japan has a laser of epic Death Star proportions.

No.. it's not a huge moon-sized, movable killing machine that the Japanese have created to stop annoying Chinese aircraft flybys, but rather it's a laser capable of outputting enough power equal to the world's energy consumption x one thousand… and they plan on using it to unlock the mysteries of the universe.

Kawanka Junji (surname first) of the Institute of Laser Engineering at Osaka University says the laser has achieved a power rating of 2 petawatts at 2 kJ for 1 ps (picosecond).

I have no idea what that egg-head talk means, but just how frickin' cool is it that there are places like Osaka University with their own laser institute?

An cynic would, however, marvel at where Japan's tax dollars (yen) are going, but whatever… this blogger is a science geek.

Okay… let's examine those power claims in a manner you and I might understand… I know, I know… I had you at 'Death Star'… but still… let's see:

1 petawatt = 1 quadrillion watts.

There… did that clear things up? No, huh? Me either… what is a 'quadrillion' - some kind of dance from Alice in Wonderland?
Oops... here we have the Mock Turtle (left) and the Gryphon (far right) demonstrating the Lobster Quadrille dance to Alice. 
Well… it depends on whether we are talking about countries that use the long or short scale system of numbering (Long scale: Every new term greater than million is one million times larger than the previous term; Short scale: Every new term greater than million is one thousand times larger than the previous term.)

… but in this case, we are looking at the short end of the yard stick:

1 quadrillion = 1,000,000,000,000,000

15 zeroes. I looked it up on Google… where 1 google is the numerical 1 followed by 100 zeroes.

"How much for that loaf of bread? What do you mean no one can afford it?" One quadrillion is bigger than this bit of hyper inflation....
Anyhow…  for references sake… in 2012, the entire planet Earth consumed 155.5 petawatt hours of power.

By the way, 1 picosecond = one trillionth of a second.

What that means, is that the LFEX… the Laser for Fast ignition EXperiments (worst initial or acronym ever!) is powerful…. around the same strength or more than the BErkley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA - beauty, eh) or the Texas Pettawatt Laser (no acronym) - and all are considered to be 'ultra-fast, high-powered lasers'.

The 100-meter (328-foot) long LFEX laser system has a front end with a femtosecond (one quadrillionth, or one millionth of one billionth, of a second) oscillator, double pulse stretchers with diffraction grating pairs and three stages of optical parametric amplification (OPCPA - again... a terrible bit of abbreviation... you have to make it into something memorable.... like the word LASER = Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). Then there's a main amplifier, a pulse compressor and focusing optics.

It's okay… I watch a lot of The Big Bang Theory, and graduated from the Wile E. Coyote School of Rocket Science & Hard Knocks so I can tell you basically that energy to bounce off (repeatedly) some special glass which causes that energy to become stronger and stronger until such time that it is released - and ka-blooie, there goes Alderaan.

Well… not yet, anyways… it's not strong enough…. fortunately (?), the Japanese team plans on adding to the strength of the laser to get it up to 10 petawatts… they just need to improve their looking glass, I mean mirrors, to do so.

Non-plussed, there is word that China is also looking to create a 10 petawatt laser… but don't worry… everyone, including Europe, is using these powerful lasers to unravel the mysteries of particle physics, nanotechnology, fusion research and new material design.

And, even though no one mentioned it, it could be used by nefarious schemers to destroy buildings far away unless the get one million dollars! Er… one billion dollars. That's right… laser power meets Austin Powers.... or if you prefer... don't cross the streams...

Big Bang,
Andrew "Is it hot here or just me?" Joseph

Noboko And Andrew: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time…

In a land far across the waters... in a land of ice and snow, there lived a brave knight who wanted to get married.

The women in his land, though intrigued by his smile, did not find him to be of interest for reasons unknown to himself, and so without delay, he sailed upon his magical metal ship that seemed to skim over waters, and arrived in a land never before dreamt of in his philosophies ... a land of the Rising Sun surrounded by a ring of fire.

And so... he set out upon a quest to find himself and the woman of his dreams... seeking an equal in intelligence and kindness... and if she hath a body - forsooth!

And upon arrival in the mysterious land ringed with fire, he began his search... a search that took him through many a realm, meeting many princesses.

While these fair damsels had never before seen his like, they shewed no fear and thrust themselves with reckless abandon upon his sheathed sword... and while he racked up the score, he was troubled that his quest was still unfulfilled.

Whether it was because he had lost faith in his warped ideals and was shewn the way or whether because it was foretold in some unread prophecy, while amusing the children of a small village he came upon the scowling visage of a woman he knew he must make his wife.

The children of the village, it must be said, were smarter than all the adults combined and quickly envisioned the love the knight had for their elder sister... a friendly young thing, but always aware that her beauty had long been the object of affection from many an unwanted suitor. And so, she became shrewish.

In an effort to bend her to his will, the brave knight sought audience with her young brothers and sisters, amusing them with his strange ways until they knew he would make a brave husband for their sister.

As only children can, they pestered the princess with tales of the knight's glory, praising him whether she wanted to hear it or not, until finally she relented... understanding that this knight must have strange powers indeed if he was to have her young charges willingly tout his good graces.

And so began the romance to end romances... never seen before in this land of fire and sun, and I'm afraid to say, never seen since.

But... despite her original misgivings about the young, handsome knight (I'm the knight, see), that his ego was too large, that he had way-laid more than a few villages with various accounts of raping the cattle and stampeding the villagers, she realized that those evil spoutings were the work of the unwashed and uninformed.

Now nothing was left in the way of their plans to wed - all but one, that is.

The evil Duke of Otosan had heard of the young princesses' overwhelming beauty with hair that perpetually smelled of apple blossoms, and not wanting to lose this beauty to the foreign knight who would undoubtedly take her to his far away land causing his island to lose much of its splendor—he decided he would thwart their plans to live happily ever after by any means possible.

But the Duke of Otosan wasn't completely evil. While it was true he wished to keep the princess away from the dusky stranger with the piercing brown eyes, it was not to fetter her for himself. No... he justified the breaking up of the princess and the knight as a means to maintain harmony in the land of fire... 'surely', he thought, 'the land would be in better hands if she were to marry a local firewalker, rather than the snowback she preferred.'

But the beautiful young princess discovered his plans, and she was sickened with Duke of Otosan's plans....

Marriage to a firewalker for the sake of the land?

It was true... the knight from the land of the ice and snow would not mix well enough with her people... and yet, as a princess of the realm, she did see the wisdom of the Duke of Otosan... that her actions could affect the kingdom.

The princess did have one ally, however, the Duchess of Okasan, who shared the ear of the Duke upon occasion.

The princess begged the elder Duchess to intervene on their behalf, but it was to no avail. The Duke was set in his ways... for the good of the village.

The princess was confused. The Duke had acted as her de facto father—she was found up high, abandoned as a crying waif in the blossoming crown of an apple tree. He wasn't always nice to her, but he had always treated her in a manner that allowed her to become who she was.

She should do as he wants.

But what about the foreign knight... this princes of semi-darkness... this man who loved her as much as she loved him... this man who taught her that love was more than a concept in a fairy tale... that it does indeed exist.

To marry him and bear his many children, or to at least practice having children many times a day and night as he could muster, she knew she would be happy - even if she left the land of fire for his block of ice. She would shiver and shake, but with him in her presence, she knew she would be protected.

She was so confused... her heart tugged one way and then the other... her brain jumping from one thought and then the other... and if she did the right thing no one would be happy except two people ... what's a young princess to do?

Do her duty? Be true to herself?

The story continues in a more common vernacular... mostly because I wrote everything below first, and then decided on a fairy tale intro...

Do you know what's funny? That above story was pretty easy to write... the thing is... I can't end it in a proper fairy tale way, so it's why I am back to blogging...

The thing about being in a long-distance relationship… and being in love.. is that sometimes you can't see the trees for the magic forest.

Keep in mind I am talking about myself in Toronto, Canada (the knight of the land of ice and snow), and Noboko in Kuroiso, Tochigi-ken, Japan (the princess of the ring of fire) and it's October of 1993.

I have just set up my very first e-mail account and I am happily surfing on-line. The Internet is a lot more interesting now (1993) than when I had first been on it in the late 1970s or early 1980s when it was pretty much just message boards.

Still… most of the so-called 'facts" on the Internet circa 1993 are bullcrap. It's like it's a glorified commercial/advertisement zone with no policing… meaning people and companies could make outrageous statements and claims and you could either believe it or not.

Some people think today that Wikipedia is full of crap (it's not), but back in the early days, the Internet was filled with ads for steroids, sexual enhancers and, of course, porn - some you paid for, some you need not be a member.

And while I had an e-mail account - aside from the company moniker at the end, my e-mail has always been what it is today - a mystery, man.

I have always been a bit of a mystery man to both myself, my parents and definitely to women. My mother once told me to always keep a bit of yourself a secret… and despite all of what you read here in this blog, I have done just that.

No one knows everything about this mysterious knight. It's why I wear armor. Sorry, but either that's because certain topics haven't come up, or because it's not important, or a little protection helps not freak out people who have different sensibilities or opinions... or maybe no one has ever asked the right questions.

You'll note I rarely offer an opinion that is so fervent in manner… and I think that's because I've been cursed/blessed with the ability to see multiple facets of any given point.

And so it is with Noboko… I see what she is putting herself through… and thus I see what she is going through… and I understand why and I commend her for her duty to her parents… but I also see that the same duty is making or made her miserable.

I wonder, however, if my constant phone calls back to her across the pond from Toronto to Kuroiso are making her even more miserable.

Should I let every thing go? Should I give her that out?

I don't want to. I was going to marry her, have kids with her (preferably in that order - though it's fine if you don't, too), grow old together… die in a fiery motorcycle crash together… you know, that whole tragic but ultimately romantic fairy tale ending…

But, am I too old to believe in fairy tales?

I repeatedly ask Noboko to come and visit me for a vacation in Toronto. Just for a couple of weeks.

I tell her she can stay at my parent's place (in my room - I'll even find another place to sleep if it makes her uncomfortable.) She doesn't need any cash - I'll cover everything here. Heck, I'll even buy her the plane ticket (one-way is ideal)… but every prompt is met with the Japanese equivalent of hemming and hawing.

Has my princess become the Queen of denial? Tut-tut.

A man - even a brave knight - can only take so much adversity before even he becomes worn out.

My phone calls become less and less frequent - now just once a week… though each still lasts over an hour. Which is killing my dad with the financial costs. Hey - he made me go to Japan.

It's now September of 1994 - one year since I left Japan… it's Saturday the 10th. I didn't even need to look that up a calendar.... it's a day when things changed... when things were forced to change.

On this date, my mother suffered a heart attack… and who knows how long it was before my father found her lying on the couch on the other side of my bedroom wall… but that scream he emitted… that was infinite…it awoke me from a deep slumber... it still echoes in my half-empty head today… it's the sound of a soul being ripped in half.

While I could tell you exactly what happened next—it's etched in my mind's eye—suffice to say that the fire department arrived minutes after I made a 9-1-1 call, but they were unable to bring her back… the ambulance arrived 40 minutes later… welcome to Toronto… and they brought her back…

I'm no doctor, though I certainly have played one in the bedroom, but even I know that 40 minutes of being dead… man… the brain ain't coming back from that amount of time.

Still… she's alive… in an electrical-spasm-shockwave-through-the-whole-body way.

It's a pathetic way to see someone - anyone… there… but not there… kept alive by tubes and machines… this wasn't my mother… she died on September 10… only the doctors wanted to wait until Wednesday the 14th to see if the brain swelling would go down… and if that would cause the electrical spasms to stop…

I don't know if the swelling came down or not, but the spasms indicated brain activity but not everyday functional human brain activity. In my family, we all have an agreement to essentially pull the plug when livable human life as we know it no longer exists. So we did.

Did she die on September 14? No… that stubborn mother of mine held on… her brain truly dying right at the stroke of midnight… or at least that's when the doctor signed off… September 15…

… Noboko's birthday.

If that ain't a sign, I don't effing know what is.

I called Noboko afterwards, wished her a happy birthday… and then told her about my mom… told her she had died on the 14th… to spare her… and talked about talking later…

But that was pretty much it, my friends… the problem was to decide when to finally end things with Noboko… October? Too soon after my mother's death… and I didn't want regrets that I was knee-jerking… November? My birthday… December… Christmas…

Heck… I decided to do it a few days after my birthday… my 30th effing birthday…

I called her... we talked... I told her we need to get together right now - RIGHT NOW!!!! - or if we can't, then we should get on with our collective life the best we each can.

I never saw, talked, smelled, touched or heard from Noboko again.

While it may seem that I quit on Noboko, I don't think I did… but I think I did finally giver her the final blow to allow her to get on with her life… to make some Japanese man happy. And her father too.

Regrets? It sounds like I have'em… but I don't. Truthfully, I think I performed perfectly with what I was allotted. I don't have any regrets. At least not as far as Noboko is concerned.

The only thing is, is now the diary is over. Thus endeth my story in Japan.

No… I'm not ending the blog. If I didn't end it after the first month of writing back in 2009, I see no reason to quit now.

It wasn't quite the "and they lived happily ever after" ending a good fairy tale should have. It was more of a Grimm's Fairy Tale story... a lot more painful, a lot more real, while still maintaining the appearance of the surreal.

Many of you loyal readers who have never kissed me or tried to kick my ass have wondered if I was married to Noboko and how she could allow me to write of our courtship in such a manner.... in truth, if I was married to Noboko, I wouldn't have broadcast it in this manner...

I have no idea if Noboko is currently married, single, divorced or even alive or dead.

I'm not sure I want to know… though I do hope she is alive and happy.

… but if she is… I bet she isn't as happy as she could have been.

"This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper."

Somewhere it's The End,
Andrew "I guess I don't believe in fairies" Joseph
PS: If you don't know what the last italicized lines in the blog alludes to, let me direct you to read The Hollow Men poem by T.S. Eliot. In it, you'll find references to Bill Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, as well as to the 1899 novel Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) - which inspired the movie Apocalypse Now. Not including this blog, those are three things you should read, and one you should watch. Oh yeah… The End… as in my sign-off, because that's how a fairy tale ends… it's also a song by The Doors, which is used in Apocalypse Now… unplanned by myself, but despite my time with Noboko, I do love it when a plan comes together.

PPS: And who are the hollow men? I am. Noboko's dad. Whomever she's with now. We are the stuffed men, stuffed with straw.

PPPS: At least I won't have to write about this topic anymore... decreasing my likelihood of being sad... it sucks to have write about good times when you know it didn't end well.

PPPPS: Thank you all for being patient while I got this off my chest at my own damn pace.

PPPPPS: Lastly... the image above is a DC comic book I purchased last Sunday in Aberfoyle, Ontario at an antique fair for $2. I saw the cover of this romance comic from 1969 and knew I had to buy it. While Noboko wasn't blonde, and myself hardly a biker, the scene somehow was a reminder that sometimes love can win out. Or so I read.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Noboko And Andrew: That Long-Distance Feeling

Back home in Toronto in October of 1993 - and with no immediate plans to go back to Japan to fight for the woman I love - the first thing I do after greeting the family, talking with friends and sleeping, is, when the time-difference allows it, is call Noboko.

It's a long talk… a talk about how much she misses me, and I her… there's plenty of silence… which I have come to learn isn't awkward, but just the way some people are.

I still find the silence on a phone or even in person to be deafening… it's like I've killed the conversation somehow - good ol' paranoia, I suppose… but considering that three years earlier I had only really ever had one girlfriend… and a summer romance at that with plenty of romance and none of the sex I would say I had maintained a lot of emotional scarring.

At least with Noboko… when she's quiet, she doesn't mind me filling the dead air with my big voice.

I have learned that others when they go quiet don't NEED the air to be filled, even if they do enjoy THE VOICE.

Do I like the sound of my own voice - hell, yeah, I do! Don't you like your voice? I know I have a decent radio voice, plus I know I can come up with something interesting to discuss…

But… sometimes, as I was taught - fairly recently, in fact, that sometimes silence speaks volumes - and not only in a negative manner.

Noboko said she liked knowing that when she pressed her cheek against her phone, she could hear and feel my breath across the hemispheres as my cheek was only a mere two centimeters away from her. Close enough to stick my tongue out and give her cheek a light flick.

It's a nice thought… a great thought, in fact.

We don't talk about anything of the past or the future of herself, of myself or even of us… but I can hear her sigh in her breath.

I want to reach through the phone and pull her close to me and just hold her one more time… just one more time.

It's too soon to pressure her, but I can't resist and say: "You should come and visit me here."

You could hear the oiled gears turning swiftly… "Mm," she nods in that terse Japanese way, that is so obviously a very emphatic affirmative. Note that I can't see her, but I know exactly what she is doing.

It's midnight in Kuroiso, Tochigi-ken, Japan. Her parents are asleep. She is in her room—no idea what she is wearing, but I assume it's something light and casual—and she's lying on her stomach, pillow under her chest, left arm propping up that mess of hair, right hand holding the phone.

Old TV commercial (a couple on the phone):

"What do you have on?" he asks.
"The lights," she purrs.

That's what I want to imagine… but it's Noboko… and while I am in love with her and she with me… instead of naked and playing with herself, I imagine she has a half-empty box of Kleenax, with wadded up sorta balls of tissue on her bed as she dabs away the tears I now cause when she hears my voice.

I want her to be sad. I do. She better be sad. I'm sad.

I want her to be sad so that the dull ache inside her breast causes her to lose focus on everything but the thought of us.

I need her to think that she is going to lose the only man in her life who loves her the way she never thought a man could love a woman. With his soul.

I want her to realize she has made a mistake in ceding to her father's demands…

That'll work, right?

Fug… I don't know. I don't know what I can do that I haven't already tried. You'd think flying half-way across the world would impress her father.. and it probably did, but the Japanese tradition of male work triumphing over family is strong.

We talk and breath in each other's ear for over an hour. I'm not afraid of the long-distance costs, but I feel that she should get some sleep because it's late.

"I'll call you later," I explain.

"Good-bye, An-do-ryu-kun," she says and wails loudly as she crashes the phone down onto her headset.

Ewww… did she mean good night or good-bye forever.

I suppose I'll know in a few days when she picks up my late night call or if she doesn't.

Somewhere my cheek is wet with her tears,
Andrew Joseph