Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Problems and Solutions


Life since returning to Japan has been a series of problems and solutions, with all the problems being, up to this point, resolved in a satisfactory manner.

One problem was my daughter Cornucopia, aged two, screaming routinely at 8 am in the morning, for three minutes by the clock. This is a long time to listen to a child screaming.

The occasion of her screaming was the measuring of her temperature, something done every morning so the temperature could be logged in the notebook which, daily, accompanies her to the daycare center. If her temperature exceeds a certain point she is not permitted to attend the daycare center, and, if her temperature escalates during the day, her mother will be phoned and told to bring her home.

Every morning, at 8 am, a digital clock marks the time on the TV screen, the TV being on at that hour, and it was, yes, three minutes by the clock that the taking of the temperature required.

The procedure is totally painless. The thermometer in the armpit does not deliver cattle-prod-sized jolts of electricity or anything like that. But my daughter, nevertheless, screamed. Every morning.

To this, my wife found two solutions. First, a temporary fix. Second, a solution which was permanent. Sort of.

The temporary fix was to suggest to Cornucopia that she take her temperature herself, which she did, not exactly enthusiastically, but at least without screaming.

She is at the age where she wants to do things for herself, such as buckle herself into her own pushchair or put her own shoes on, and resists other people helping her.

She says, often, in Japanese, "Cornucopia-chan do it!" -- meaning "Cornucopia the Cute will do it". (She always refers to herself by name, Cornucopia, appending the diminutive "chan", a childish version of "san", and never uses the pronoun for "I", not in Japanese and not in English either.)

A more permanent solution was to order a thermometer which promised to deliver temperatures inside of thirty seconds. This fast-action arrived on the second-to-last day of May, 2006, and I tested it, and it worked as advertised.

The thermal probe of this device sticks out from a bulb which is about as big as the circle made by my thumb and index finger, and features LCD numbers which, by thermometer standards, are exceptionally large, easier for me to read than are those of our previous thermometer.

Cornucopia was invited to try the new thermometer and did so, and was delighted by the swift response and the "beep beep beep!" with which this new electronic toy rewarded her.

Naturally, she wanted to try it again.

And again.

And again.

When I take her out of the daycare center at the end of the daycare day to bring her home, I count how many times she goes racing down the blue elephant slide in the daycare's modestly-sized playground, and it's always about ten times.

Eventually, it was time for Cornucopia to do something other than play with the thermometer, so the thermometer had to be put away.

So she, of course ...

... screamed.

The following morning she was still enthused by the new thermometer and insisted on using i three times.

Other problems, recently, have been of the computer variety.

We have, in our home in Japan, a wi-fi setup. The cable TV company runs its lines along the utility poles in the street, and a wire from this hooks up to an upstairs bedroom, where the cable TV company has installed a router. This is where the Internet arrives in our house.

There is a port for plugging in a LAN cable, and this has been connected, by a short LAN cable, to a dinky little radio station called an Airstation. This is made by Buffalo.

We are using two computers.

One of these is an extremely old Thinkpad, an i-series Thinkpad, one of those old charcoal-burning computers that you don't see around very much these days. It has 64 megabytes of RAM and runs a Japanese-language version of Windows 98.

In the side of the machine is a slot where you can plug in cards, and plugged into the slot is a little two-way radio which is in the form of a card which is designated as the WLI-PCM-L11GP.

The card plugged into the slot in the side of the computer talks to the Airstation, with the result that you can use the Internet anywhere in the house.

This is good because, quite apart from anything else, the upstairs bedroom where the router lives is, in the long term, going to be Cornucopia's.

If your computer has a port for a LAN cable then you can, at your option, connect the computer with a LAN cable, plugging this into one of the four LAN ports which are a feature of our version of the Airstation. But wi-fi is really a great way to go.

I bought the hardware about five years ago. It came with a Japanese-language manual and two CDs, and, more by luck than good management, I managed to set it up and get it working. If I ever had to get it working again, that would be a MAJOR hassle.

Recently, I was using the reliable old i-series Thinkpad and was horrified to realize that I seemed to have (somehow) broken the Airstation. Then my wife looked at the problem and told me that the Airstation was not plugged in. I had lost track of which gadget was plugged into which plug.

Later, I trashed the i-series a second time, by installing a free version of anti-virus software from AVG, which I had been using on my XP Thinkpad.

Our Norton antivirus software had expired, so it was time to do something. And, since the AVG software had worked perfectly on the XP, I had no qualms about installing it on the Windows 98 Thinkpad.

But, once installed, the AVG program trashed the machine.

During the boot process, the AVG program initialized at an early stage, flashing a message on the screen to say that it was doing so. Then all I could get was an hourglass.

The computer, I presume, did not have enough RAM to load the antivirus program, but persisted in trying to do so, with the result that the screen was frozen and I could do nothing with the computer.

Eventually, having tried every option I could think of, I rebooted the computer and yanked out the battery early in the boot process.

The boot process, therefore,failed.

With my Thinkpad running its Japanese-language version of Windows 98, if the boot process fails once, then, on a subsequent reboot, the machine offers you a bunch of recovery options, one of which is something called "safe mode", in which the machine loads a limited number of programs and device drivers.

I hypothesized that, if I could get the machine to go into safe mode, then it would not load the AVG program. And this is what it did.

Once in safe mode, I was able to uninstall the AVG program, which, however, I would recommend to anyone who has a decent modern computer running some version of Windows on a system with a reasonable amount of RAM.

When I rebooted the computer, it worked.

I was anxious about this because I have an old and more or less broken Thinkpad which seems stuck permanently in safe mode, and will probably end up being thrown away.

Having gotten the i-series fixed I resolved to pay Norton to enable us to continue to get antivirus updates.

Next, I thought I would like to plug a card into my XP machine and connect that to the wi-fi system.

So I went to an electronics store in Shibuya called Bic Camera to buy a new WLI-PCM-L11GP, only to find that they don't make them.

Buffalo still makes and sells a version of the Airstation, but techology has moved on.

My wife phoned Buffalo here in Japan and a technician recommended an alternative card which might work. Well, he said it WOULD work. I was not so sanguine and, anyway, this thing was going to cost five thousand yen.

Then this problem was solved.

My wife has been encouraging me to press ahead with the job of cleaning up my personal room, and, having made a fresh assault on the room, I soon chanced upon an envelope which was stuffed with what seemed like a formidable number of American currency notes.

I had no recollection of having possessed any secret slush fund in American currency, and had no idea what this money related to.

Some long-ago drug deal back in some former life which I had entirely forgotten about? The payoff for some forgotten hit which I contracted to undertake?

I had no thesis.

Then I found, with the money, a letter from my parents, dated 2004. The money was a gift for traveling expenses for my planned trip home to New Zealand, the money being left over from a trip that my mother had made to the People's Republic of China, where American currency is always acceptable.

When I counted the money, there was US $320, and my wife and I plan to buy the toy piano which my wife saw in the baby shop Akachan Honpo.

The toy piano will be considerably less than the toy piano on the market. The idea is that if Cornucopia seems really enthusiastic about the piano then we might get here started with piano lessons.

Having discovered the forgotten cache of American dollars, I pushed on with the archaeological exploration of my personal room, and the next thing I discovered, much to my astonishment, was a plug-in computer card, this being none other than the desired WLI-PCM-L11GP.

I plugged the card into my XP computer and installed two pieces of software which I found on the CDs which came with the Buffalo Airstation.

Although I had installed East Asian fonts, the Japanese-language instructions for the software displayed on screen as meaningless strings of question marks, so I installed on a best-guess basis, then connected to the Internet via a LAN cable when XP asked for permission to go online to look for a device driver.

Finally, more by accident than design, I had the wi-fi system working with my XP computer.

My next computer adventure will be to use the Windows 98 Thinkpad, which is running a Japanese-language version of Microsoft Word, and make an advertisement to advertise English conversation lessons at home.

My wife thinks this is a good idea and I guess it is worth a shot.

I may also try my hand at making some Japanese-language web pages to go with the advertisement. If memory serves, a Japanese-language page made with Word can be saved as a Japanese-language web page by simply saving it as an HTML file.

As I mentioned, on the second-to-last day of May, the new thermometer arrived.

On that same day, Tuesday 30 May, my wife and I went to a clinic at Mizonoguchi, where I underwent an MRI scan of the brain. I was asked to fast for this and did not understand why. But we asked the doctor and he explained that some people throw up, presumably on account of the dye which is injected to provide contrast, a rare earth called gadolinium.

If you are going to throw up then they would prefer you to do it on an empty stomach, thank you very much.

I was given the actual film of the MRI scan with instructions to deliver it by hand to the eye clinic at Meijin Hospital in the city of Yokohama, where I will be seen early in June.

My next adventure, then, looks like it is going to be an experiment with trying to get my own English-language students and set up my own business.

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