Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Immortal Elephant

The Immortal Elephant

The immortal elephant
Will outlast the icecaps;
Israel will persist,
And the history of origami will continue,
But my personal need for electricity will cease.
My daughter, I believe,
Will live beyond me,
My name a signature still active in the lists of time,
But the elephant,
The immortal elephant,
Will not remember
Anything of my close or my departure.
The immortal elephant will forget,
Will no longer remember
The loss of the forgetting of my name.
In time,
My surcease will be an unremembered gravy
Which the porcelain bones of the universe
Shrugged off in discards a billion years ago.
By then,
My tongue will be oblivious to honey,
My teeth will be oblivious to pain.
This termination
May be sooner than I think.
In the realm of the big machines
The humming light
Will take dictation from the waiting future.
Whatever the result tomorrow brings
I know
My calendar has a limit to its years.
My dry ice life will deliquesce and vanish,
Leaving my domain names neglected to expire.
My daughter, if I die before the spring,
Will see me perish while she is only two.
One day, perhaps, to find the moon she asks for,
The literal moon she asks for from the sky,
The literal moon she asks for, all expectation,
The moon that I can see but cannot reach,
Though I would hand it down from heaven if I could.

This Node Within My Brain

Tomorrow, Friday 1 September 2006, I will go to Meijin Hospital here in the city of Yokohama for an MRI scan of my brain.

I will be told the result on the same day, and the result will let my hematologist inform me as to whether the mysterious node detected earlier in my cerebellum is brain cancer back again, meaning death, or just another cerebral mutation caused by the ongoing effects of the radiotherapy which I underwent last year: my personal chernobyl, the fifteen-year casserole of my slow-cooking brain.

My guess is that Doctor Gunma, my hematologist, will say either "radiation damage" or "cause unknown."

If the node is cancer then that fact will be clear because the node will have grown larger since the last MRI. As is usual in medicine, a single test tells you nothing: it is the trend which is informative.
I feel okay, and, in particular, I have not been experiencing any disturbance in my sense of balance. So I think I'm going to get a "so far so good" result.

A while back, my sister wondered about the rationale for doing tests given that, realistically, at this stage there's probably no cure if the cancer does come back.

My own take on this would be that the routine follow-up tests are a good thing because they tell you where you are at. Dying or not dying. If you're not told one way or the other, then you could quite possibly end up imagining that you are dying when in fact you are not.

So I plan to go along with the tests, unless Doctor Gunma plans to do yet another CAT scan, because these things give you a solid belt of radiation, and my feeling is that there is probably no benefit for me in soaking up even more radiation.

By the time you've gone and forgotten exactly how many CAT scans you've had, which is the position that I am in, then you have had too many.

The next medical event in the soap opera of my life will be early next week, and will be yet another visual field test, this one to be done at the eye clinic at Meijin Hospital, where they earlier did laser surgery on my right eye.

When I sit on the train in the bright daylight of morning, the right eye is now good enough for me to be able to register the consolidated ghosts of passengers who are walking past, heading down the train in the direction of whatever is, for them, the optimal exit.

(When I lived in London, I never saw any such habit amongst London commuters, and could not imagine why. But, when I honeymooned in London back in, I think, the year 2000, I realized the tube is much smaller than the Japanese commuter trains which run above ground and underground, and there is simply no easy way to walk from one carriage to another without a struggle.)

In the morning, then, I can see, with my unaided vision, the consolidated ghosts of the passing world.

That is the status of my right eye.

I am pleased with the result of the laser surgery, even though the lasered eye is not good enough for finger counting. Reading? No. Forget it.

My own perception is that the left eye, the one on which I am now reliant on, is stable, and has suffered no further deterioration, even though, earlier this year, it seemed that I was heading irrevocably in the direction of total blindness.

I can still see the elephant in the garden, and, by trial-and-error photography, clicking at the scene in the viewfinder which I am not capable of seeing, I have captured an image of our elephant, and herewith deliver it to the world.

The immortal elephant, which will, without a doubt, outlive me.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Samurai Japan

Samurai Japan

In the rather murky picture right down at the bottom of this page, I can be recognized by my ratty old running shoes, which are not far from the dustbin, having approached the end of their working life.

The photo shows me participating in the ancient Japanese ritual known as suikawari, one of the more esoteric elements of the high culture of Japan, which can trace its cultural lineage all the way back to the glories of Tang dynasty China.

We, the three of us - husband, wife and daughter - did suikawari at the Kohoku International Lounge, which is here in Kohoku Ward in the city of Yokohama, right in the heart of Japan. The date of this auspicious engagement with authentic Japanese culture was Sunday 27 August 2006.

On Monday, at the start of each of my classes, I gave my students a quiz question: what did I do on the weekend?

The hints I gave them were:

1. kendo stick;
2. JR card;
3. hit;
4. red;
5. eat;
6. usually at the beach.

By the time clue number six came up, at least one of the students got it: "Watermelon!"

Yes, we were doing suikawari, which involves taking a swing at a defenseless watermelon with a bamboo stick, the odds being evened up by the fact that you are blindfolded when you take the swing.

My wife, critiquing the quiz, said that "kendo stick" should have been "bamboo stick," but, which I have no doubt that she is correct, that might have made the quiz too easy.

"Suikawari" means, literally, "watermelon splitting," with "suika" being the Japanese word for "watermelon" and "wari" having the meaning "split."

The most cryptic of the clues is "JR card." The students laughed when I explained it: "suika card."

JR, Japan Rail, sells a card that you can use to get through the ticket wickets at the station. The rail routes are, I think, supposed to be pictorially reminiscent of the stippled markings on a watermelon.

The adults found the whole thing a big laugh, but some of the little girl kids got emotional when they failed to hit the watermelon with the stick.

Two-year-old daughter Cornucopia, the smallest of the small kids there, didn't get to take a swing at the watermelon at all, because the stick was simply too heavy for her.

I did get to take a swing at one of the watermelons, but missed entirely. Once you have been blindfolded, someone turns you round so you get totally disoriented. Once the blindfold came off, I found myself lost in the room, unable to get my bearings until someone led me to where my wife and daughter were seated.

Once the ceremonial slaughter of the watermelons was finished, we got to eat pieces of the flesh of the victims.

Despite having been bashed by a bamboo stick, the watermelons (I think two were sacrificed for our pleasure) arrived in coherent chunks rather than as a pulped mess. But it was, I have to say, not the greatest watermelon in the world.

We are, I think, at the end of the season for some of summer's produce. The peaches, for example, are near their finish. But what great peaches have they been! The best peaches I've ever eaten in my life.

We got a flyer for a "festival" at the Kohoku International Lounge on Sunday 24 September. But it's a long day, starting at ten in the morning and running on into the afternoon. Apparently people from ten nationalities will be there, and, if I go, I may be invited to show some pictures of New Zealand and tell a little bit about our culture.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Failing Eyesight

Failing Eyesight.

2006 August 24 Thursday

In the last week, my eyesight started to drop off alarmingly in the evenings, this trend becoming noticeable in the course of only a very few days.

The reason for this was not some dreadful medical contingency but, rather, the failure of the light of the world itself: the seasonal decline of the sun.

By the time I get to the daycare center in time to uplift my daughter by 1800, the world is dimming into shadows, the evenings of late summer noisy with the racket of cicadas, the cicadas which will soon die.

The route from the daycare center to home is poorly lit, the streetlighting as bad as that in Devonport, back in New Zealand. Toward the end of the homeward course, we traverse streets which, like ours, are in private ownership, and are lit frugally by only the occasional neon tube perched up on top of a utility pole.

To counter the challenge of the encroaching dark, I this week resorted to American technology, that wonderful technology which is always there to bring death and democracy to the world wherever it is needed: Iraq yesterday, Lebanon today, and, quite possibly, Iran tomorrow.

The technology I resorted to was a Maglite torch, a nicely balanced weapon which holds four cells which, as far as America is concerned, are C cells, but which, in Japan, are size 2 batteries.

I bought this torch at Yamada Denki when I happened to be passing by on my way to the Midorigaoka library, one of the libraries in the Meguro library system.

The nice thing about Yamada Denki is that they have plenty of staff, and there was a cheerful guy waiting at the entrance to greet incoming customers, and he immediately led me to the torches after I had explained my mission, supplementing my Japanese language skills with a little sketch done on a bit of paper.

As soon as I had unpacked my American flashlight and had loaded it up with its four batteries, I felt an immediate urge to go and bash someone with it. However, when I was recently attacked by someone at the daycare center, I did not bash them.

There were two reasons for this.

First, on the occasion on which one of the widgets came running up to me and gleefully went into piranha mode, biting through my jeans and sinking its sharp white grinning teeth into the tender flesh of my thigh, I had not yet purchased my American-made people basher.

Second, the widget which had attacked me was one of my blood relations. My daughter, in fact.

My response to being bitten left her in no doubt that biting was unacceptable. Or should have left her understanding that. Though, later, a couple of days on, she made as if to go and bite her mother. But was checked before carrying out the action.

So who taught her to bite?

I remember my wife, quite some time back, talking about a bad baby which had gone and bitten Cornucopia, back in the days when
Cornucopia was a baby herself rather than the two-year-old girl which she has become. So maybe biting is something that she has learnt at the daycare.

She has also learn to sing at least one hymn in Japanese. My wife heard Cornucopia singing the hymn and told me it was about how children are made by God. To which I responded that, if so, then it would be nice to see more godly qualities manifesting themselves in the vigorous young barbarian.

Having used the Maglite, I have come to the conclusion that this is a spectacularly successful piece of American technology, unlike, say, the M16 rifle, or Windows XP Professional, which, for my money, is the worst operating system ever created in the history of the human race ... the OS which, to my sorrow, I am currently using.

The first time I trialed the Maglite torch on an evening's venture to the daycare center, I was, as indicated above, very pleased with the result. One option is to pinpoint the light into spotlight mode, and, used in this way, it makes an excellent daughter-spotting tool if the daughter has been liberated from her push chair.

She routinely asks to walk once we get to the top of the hill and are into the maze of largely traffic-free cul de sacs which leads us to home.

I went to Midorigaoka library to return some books and, once there, I borrowed two more volumes. I don't have time for much reading, however. And what time I have is more often spent on the Internet rather than with my nose in the pages of a book.

I am trying to build up my website, with, so far, not much in the way of success.

At one stage I was getting over 2,000 unique visitors a day, and the number was growing, slowly but steadily, but then Google went and changed the rules to measure something called "Google relevance," and my stats dropped right off, and are now barely above the 400 level.

So, to try to repair this situation, I've been spending a lot of my spare time writing HTML code. And, earlier this year, I put in a major effort on trying to crack the secret of Google relevance, but all this effort was for nothing, because the experiments that I ran were based on a false premise.

I had installed Google Desktop Search on my computer, Google's free indexing software which allows you to search your own hard drive, and I observed that it gives you two options, one "sort by relevance" and the other "sort by date."

Naively, I assumed that the "sort by relevance" option would in fact sort by relevance. If so, then I could run a series of experiments on my own computer and, by trial and error, could crack the secret of whatever algorithm is used to determine Google relevance.

But I found that this does not work.

Currently, I have 10,104 files on my computer which contain the word "Japan". The top in "sort by date" is the file I am writing right now, the most recent.

If I "sort by relevance" then I get an entirely different order.

However, if I now go and make a copy of any one of the files which features the word "japan" then that copy pops right to the top of the search which is supposedly for relevance.

In other words, the freshness of the file trumps all the other design features in determining Google relevance, at least as far as Google Desktop Search is concerned, so you cannot crack the secret of Google's algorithm by trial and error.

I ran a number of experiments which demonstrated that this is so, that datestamping is a key factor which overrides other design elements.

Consequently, I've renewed my focus on link popularity, which, as we all know, Google uses to rank pages for search terms.

Some time back, I read that some mischievous person had persuaded the world to point the word "failure" at the White House biography of George W. Bush, so that if you now do a Google search for "failure" that page pops to the top.

I did the search some time ago and, yes, it was so.

This week, investigating link popularity further, I again did a Google search for "failure" and found, again, that the number one site was:

"George W. Bush
Biography of the 43rd President of the United States."

The direct link to the George W. biography, if you are interested, is:


Google notes the existence of "about" 488,000,000 pages featuring the word "failure" but George W. tops the list.

So how many people actually pointed the word "failure" at his biography?

I fed the direct link into Google search and chose the "links" option. A total of "about" 2,760 pages link to the biography. At a maximum, then, only 2,760 people pointed "failure" at the biography.

From this I conclude that link popularity is not strongly contested.

With this idea in mind, I did an experimental search for "text stories," and found that this led to a sex site:

which bills itself as "Alt Sex Stories Text Repository."

If you were wondering where all the sex stories were hiding out online, well, here is the answer. Or a large chunk of the answer, at any rate.

The search term "text stories" is fiercely competitive, with a total of "about" 279,000,000 pages featuring this term.

So how many pages actually link to the sex stories site?

Answer: "about" 208.

I then went ego surfing for "hughcook" and "hugh cook," which are two different searches.

The number one result for "Hugh Cook" was the Wikipedia entry about me. So how many pages linked to that? Answer: only about seven.

The number two "Hugh Cook" site was for the Hague-born Christian writer who is the author of CRACKED WHEAT AND OTHER STORIES, and who is not me.

How many pages link to that site?

Answer: "about" three.

I did a bunch of other searches and decided that it would be worth pursuing link popularity to get top billing for search terms that I am particularly interested in, such as "Hugh Cook."

I already have a bunch of websites, including, and, additionally, a small website created in ten megabytes of space provided by our local cable TV company, Netyou.

Plus, some years back, I made some free websites, including one with an outfit called Bravepages and one with Tripod, and these sites are still up and running. I made them for free and they have stood the test of time, and I can always make more.

So I anticipated writing more HTML code and, at the very least, getting top billing for the "Hugh Cook" search before the year, trumping the guy from the Hague and the "Hugh Cook" who is an asbestos lawyer and all those other unwelcome doppelgangers of mine.

While ego surfing I was surprised to find that the Internet police are on my trail, sniffing to see if I have any spyware or the like on my site

At the moment, the direct link to the cop site is:

This page advises that McAfee SiteAdvisor (which I assume is associated with anti-virus software) has queued for a safety check, looking for spyware and the like.

So they're checking up.

But it's futile to think that you can control what happens on the Internet, even if you have outfits like McAfee invigilating sites.

In my own case, I have two domain names which I bought from, which offers two deals, a cheap one and an expensive one. For the cheap one, which I opted to use for, you point the domain name at your hosting company's namesevers.

For the expensive deal, however, you log on at and then point the domain name at any site you want, whether this is, for example, or the George W. Bush biography.

Easydns then redirects traffic to whatever site you are pointing your domain name at.

In my case, at one stage I had pointed at a site in Japan,

But now, for the sake of simplicity, I have pointed at, so both URLs go to the same place.

So if McAfee does give me a clean bill of health then I can simply redirect back to the Netyou site and, once there, having been cleared by McAfee, I can continue my criminal career, stealing credit card numbers or whatever.

Before I unleash myself to go and wreak mayhem on the Internet, however, I have an Internet task to do locally, which is to make a password for myself on the site run by the Yokohama library.

As I mentioned earlier, the Meguro library system, which I have joined, requires a password in "half sized" numbers, which you cannot reproduce with an English-language operating system. Plus the site is all in Japanese.

But my wife, having done some Internet surfing herself, reports that the Yokohama site has an English-language option. And, given that we drop by at the local library about once a week, and that it's just ten minutes or so on foot, down near the supermarket which we generally visit every weekend, this looks like the library that I will probably end up using the most.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Eating Bamboo Bread

Eating Bamboo Bread

2006 August 12 Saturday

A few years back, when my wife and I settled into our new house in Kohoku Ward in the city of Yokohama, there were no decent restaurants in our neck of the woods. While I was taking a year off in New Zealand, however, a French restaurant opened locally, just down the road from the supermarket, and handy to the library.

Our local French restaurant is the Saigo Restaurant, and, the daughter having been parked at the daycare center so we could have some time to ourselves on Saturday 12 August, we dined there together to celebrate my 50th birthday. (In connection with which, thanks to all those who, anonymously or otherwise, sent birthday e-mails.)

In honor of the occasion I was wearing my new straw hat, which my wife had custom-made for me. It's 61 centimeters, and you can't buy a hat that large off the shelf in Japan, because the "large" size tops out at 58 centimeters. As usual, while out in the bright sun, I wore my dark sunglasses; without them, most of the world is washed out by the sunlight. (Even so, when traveling familiar routes, the journey to the daycare center and the journey to work, I'm happy enough to get by without the sunglasses.)

In the restaurant, they were playing authentic French music as enjoyed by the people in Paris, France: not Fat Freddy's Drop, but a Beatles record that I remember hearing in my parents' home back in the early 1970s. We also ate authentic French bread, takenosumi, which is bread into which finely-ground charcoal has been mixed. The charcoal is made by burning bamboo, so this is bamboo bread.

Surprisingly, the menu was not the standard bilingual Japanese and French menu of the standard French restaurant in Japan. Instead, it was in Japanese only.

We both ordered one entree, which was eggplant and tuna, and two mains, the mains being tuna (the tuna caught locally in Kanagawa Prefecture, which contains the city of Yokohama), and shoulder of lamb. My wife, who is not one of the world's great lamb eaters, found it too greasy for her taste, but I found it perfect.

And the bamboo bread, which was, to my palate, an unremarkable brown bread, went down very nicely, thank you.

We washed it all down with a glass of white wine and I had a coffee, coffee being something that I generally only eat in restaurants.

Back home, my wife helped me make a password for the Meguro library system, at

Unfortunately, this is the site from hell. It's all in Japanese, with no English option, and to enter your library card and your password, both of which are strings of numbers, you have to enter "half size" numbers. My wife was able to do this using our ancient 64 meg RAM ThinkPad, which has a Japanese keyboard with a "half size" option, but my own ThinkPad, with its English-language keyboard and operating system, has no "half size" option.

Later I will experiment with making a "half size" library card number and password in a Japanese-language Word document, then experiment with copying and pasting these into the Meguro library's page and seeing if it will work. I've got my version of Windows XP Professional set up so it can handle East Asian fonts, so I can open a document created with the Japanese version of Word. And, I hope, copy and paste for it.

Having had that thought, I remembered that I had (or so I thought) a full-size plug-in IBM keyboard with a Japanese language layout. It was, I thought, in the dusty space beneath my clothes rack, where I have stashed a couple of profoundly dead laptops, the holy grail and a couple of other things.

I figured that if I plugged in the keyboard and adjusted my keyboard settings, I should be away laughing. But this was not to be.

The remembered keyboard was still there, sure enough, more or less in mint condition, but there was nowhere to plug it in. My new ThinkPad does not have a keyboard port. Instead, it has two USB ports, and I did not have a USB keyboard. So scratch that idea.

Still, on the electronics front, one good thing happened today. Before going to the French restaurant, my wife and I met up at our local branch of the Yokohama library system. Upstairs, my wife showed me the work tables, and said that the people I saw lining up outside the library one day were probably aiming to grab a seat at one of these tables.

There were also four computer tables with power outlets but no Internet connection. A sign said you could book one at the issuing desk, and only two out of four were in use.

Off to the right was a display screen perhaps about 16 inches in size (diagonally), and this was for enlarging books.

My wife showed me how to use this gadget, which nobody else was competing for, and I liked it immediately. It's a big hulk of a thing, and I imagine it costs a ton, but it's easy to use.

Switch it on, slide the book under, turn one knob for contrast and another knob to make the letters larger or smaller. Press a red button and red light shines down on the open book, showing you precisely what part of the book the machine is currently focused on. There seems to be a button you can use to pan left and right across the book.

The whole place is upstairs in the airconditioned cool, in a neon-lit space remote from the world of traffic and kids.

After setting up a password for me, my wife went out to collect our daughter from the daycare center, and the Mother of All Thunderstorms burst, cataclysmically, shortly after she departed.

Left to my own devices, I pulled copies of the latest photographs off the flash memory card which fits into the digital camera, including photos of myself wearing the largest hat in Japan and a bunch of photos I took of the paper windows in our one traditional Japanese-style tatami mat room.

When I was at primary school (elementary school) our teacher told us that Japanese houses had paper windows, so we asked the obvious questions, like, how come the windows don't get damaged? The teacher could answer none of these questions. Well, the simple answer is that if your energetic daughter has been to work on them, your paper windows ended up getting trashed, big time, and I have the photographic evidence to prove this.

Fortunately, for protection against insects, burglars and the elements, we rely on the insect screens, sliding glass panels and sliding metal shutters which are part of the window system.

I got a couple of e-mails about the character Sarazin, otherwise known as Watashi, who I could not place with confidence in the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series.

My own highly uncertain recollection was that this character turns up in THE WIZARDS AND THE WARRIORS, but one person remembered having seen a "Sarazin Sky" in THE WICKED AND THE WITLESS, this pet name having been bestowed on Sean Kelebes Sarazin by his mother, Farfalla, the "Kingmaker" of the Harvest Plains.

Another reader, who has just been reading THE ORACLE, the Warner Books edition of THE WOMEN AND THE WARLORDS, reports that the character named Watashi turns up in that book.

Some day I aim to go back and read the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS, though I have no intention of writing another book in that series.

In closing I'll note that daughter Cornucopia has now, at the age of two, used a computer for the first time. I received in the mail a CD of photos from Easter last year in New Zealand, loaded the snapshots onto the computer, and clicked on the first one.

I'm running Irfan View, and you can run through all the photos in a folder by simply pushing the spacebar to jump to the next. I set the computer down on the kitchen table and let Cornucopia do this.

At first she over-pressed, so the photos jumped forward in flurries, but soon she got the hang of it. Then she started kangaroo-thumping the spacebar, enthusiastically shouting out the noise that kangaroos make, which is ... I can't remember. (What's in my head is the term "Boing boing!" But, in Japan, that is not the sound which kangaroos make. Rather, in Japanese comic books, it is the sound which big breasts make as they go bouncing along.)

In amongst the Easter photographs there were none of the Easter Bunny. A Japanese visitor who had earlier visited New Zealand at Christmas recalled having seen Santa Claus at Christmas time. On the occasion of the Christmas which she remembered, Santa arrived in the Auckland Domain by parachuting in, to be greeted by a crowd of thousands.

We had seen Santa at Christmas therefore we would, at Easter, see the Easter bunny. Would we not?

I explained that unfortunately we would not.

Like Santa, the Easter Bunny is everywhere acknowledged. But, unlike Santa, he is nowhere embodied, at least not in New Zealand. I have no idea why this is so. But the photographic evidence is there. There is not a hair of the Easter Bunny to be seen anywhere in any of the photos, although the collection does include a number of shots of kids wearing bunny ears in honor of Easter.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

E-Mail Planet

E-Mail Planet

August 2006

I got an e-mail from someone asking about the name "Watashi," given to a character who features in one of my novels (I think, from memory, though I think uncertainly, the novel THE WIZARDS AND THE WARRIORS.) Given that "watashi" is a Japanese pronoun equivalent to "I," why had I bestowed such a name upon him?

""Didn't know "watashi" meant "I"... Is this why you gave one of your most self-centered and self-aggrandizing heroes, Sarazin Skye, the battle-alias watashi?""

To tell the truth, I have no recollection of any character named "Sarazin Skye," and have no idea where or how any such person fits into the CHRONICLES OF AN AGE OF DARKNESS series. But I do remember giving a character the name Watashi.

In fact, at the time when I named a character Watashi, my Japanese was limited to half a dozen or so vocabulary items that everyone knows: sushi, sashimi, kimono, samurai, geisha and tsunami.

The name "watashi" was something I picked up from an American magazine in which a guy was writing about a sergeant who was his instructor in the United States marine corps, the instructor who introduced him to "watashi," meaning "death."

I have no idea how the instructor came by this term, and perhaps it was his own idiosyncratic coinage, but I remembered it, and bestowed it on a warlike character. For me, if for nobody else on the planet, the name meant "death."

While it is true that "watashi" is a standard Japanese pronoun meaning "I," there are other options, including "watakushi" (the more formal business-appropriate version of the pronoun); a girls-only variant which is "atashi;" a variant for boys and tomboys which is "boku;" a variant which suggests a severe Prussian temperament, appropriate for tough guy intellectuals and stony authoritarians; and, tucked away in the dictionary, there is the lordly variant "wagahai," an archaic term suitable for a daimyo, a great lord, and which, applied to an unprepossessing stray cat, is part of the joke of the Japanese title of the book I AM A CAT, which, in Japanese, is WAGAHAI WA NEKO DE ARU.

Additionally, there is an extremely coarse variant which is "ore," which is the language of the gutter, and which the native speaker of English should not attempt to use.

(At junior high school one day, a female teacher asked a boy to answer a question. His response was "Ore?," meaning "I, me?" This tough dockworker's language, coming as it did from a young teenager, evidently amused the teacher, for she answered, with supreme irony, "Hai, ore.")

In the last few years there has been a scam going on in Japan called "Ore ore." A woman is home alone and the phone rings. And who is it on the line? "Ore ore!" Literally, "I, me!" Your husband, you idiot woman, and I'm in trouble, these bad guys are into me for money, and I'm a dead man unless they get it.

So the woman rushes to the nearest ATM and sends the requested money-for-my-life to the designated account, then, later, realizes that the whole thing was a scam.

You wouldn't think it would be possible to pull a scam like this, but it has worked successfully on many women in Japan.

Recently, one exercise required my students to talk about a scary experience they had endured, and one woman told about receiving a telephone call from her son, who referred to himself as "ore ore."

She panicked, thinking this was one of the bad guy calls she'd seen on TV. As she was on the phone, she saw a car going past in the street, and she got the impression that the driver was looking directly at her. Not only were the bad guys on the phone, but one of them was right outside the house!

As it happened, the whole thing was a false alarm, and the "ore ore" of the phone call was in fact her son.

But one of her middle-aged friends did get hit by the real ore ore scamsters, and got taken for a sum exceeding two million Japanese yen, which is quite a stack of money if you compute it in American dollars, with the dollar currently at about 114 yen.

Another e-mail from somewhere on planet Earth turned up recently in my in box and told me where I could find Fat Freddy's Drop online. Supposedly, you could download files in .rbs format, "the same as .mp3," at:

""If you want to download then select the triangle next to the song, which will fill a text-box in the area "Blog This Track".
You can then use the html in that text box directly, or you can extract the url within it to download manually.""

When I got to the page I found it was labeled as being licensed under the terms of some kind of public commons setup, with a little logo saying "SOME RIGHTS RESERVED."

After finding the text box, I followed the instructions, pasted the text into a text file, then looked for the URL that I was supposed to extract. But, initially, I totally failed to see it amidst the clutter of code, which looked like this:


The very first thing that caught my eye was the words "x-shockwave-flash," and I know nothing about "flash," whatever it is, except that I keep encountering websites which proclaim that they use flash, and that I must download and install flash if I want to continue.

So at first I gave up.

But, later, after a meal break, I took another look, and I realized that I could understand the code, more or less.

The "src," I think, tells you that the next item is the place you will get to if you click on the associated image, which is, apparently, something called a "player.swf," possibly some kind of software gadget which plays music.

Given that I had been told that I should be looking for an .rbs file, the end of the file I was looking for was, logically, ".rbs." Which meant that the URL which I should extract and paste into my browser was:[Fat Freddy's drop Live@Paris] - Ernie.rbs

This worked, and I downloaded the file okay.

Windows XP didn't know what to do with the file, and using Microsoft's online help didn't help at all, since Microsoft apparently knows absolutely nothing about the .rbs format.

However, I right-clicked on Ernie and opened it with my copy of Winamp, which played the .rbs file perfectly.

Once I had downloaded a bunch of Fat Freddy tracks, and had them all in a folder, I tried to play the entire folder in Winamp. But it wouldn't play, though this is a stunt that I can do with mp3 tracks.

So, experimentally, I renamed each .rbs file as an .mp3 file, something that was easy to do because I have my computer set up so all file suffixes are displayed.

I didn't really expect this would work but it worked just fine.

So I had Fat Freddy's Drop, including some tracks recorded live in Paris. And I heard one of the band speaking in a very obvious New Zealand accent, and having just downloaded that here in Japan pretty much brought tears to my eyes.

" ... we've traveled all the way from New Zealand Aotearoa, merci, thank you very much!"

Go for it, guys!

As I mentioned earlier, my understanding is that Fat Freddy's Drop is a bunch of Samoan New Zealanders who have their own laid-back style of reggae.

One of the distinctive features of their music is that songs do not seem to be segmented into mathematically precise chunks, with nobody thinking "a single must run for three and a half minutes, no more, no less."

Songs go on for as long as they want to, finding their own length, and the result has been spectacularly effective in the New Zealand market.

I found some stuff about Fat Freddy's Drop online at:

Rather than my primitive explanation of the music as "reggae," the site gives the following nuanced description:

""On stage, Freddy’s fuse skanking urban Pacific roots, soul, dub, jazz and electronica into hypnotic and thunderous grooves. No two Freddy’s gigs are the same as the midnight marauders improvise and jam each song into mystic supernovas of future funk, fakes and freaky sidesteps.""

Maybe I'll try that one on some of my high-level Japanese students of English one day:

"Okay, you guys, let me run this one past you: what does "skanking urban Pacific roots, soul, dub, jazz and electronica" mean to you?"

Reporting on the success of the band, the site says:

""The Freddy’s traveled to London in December 2005 and were on-hand to pick up the Worldwide Album Of The Year at the Radio 1 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Music Awards 2005, as voted by fans worldwide that tune in to the tastemakers show on the BBC.""

Once I was done downloading Fat Freddy, I downloaded some Stevie Wonder songs as well.

Wondering what might be online, I searched for "rbs" but hit the problem that it's shorthand for some kind of medical problem, and the Internet is littered with web pages about "rbs" which have absolutely nothing to do with music.

But I found an elegant way to get a relevant search result was to search for "rbs mp3".

For my 50th birthday I got, amongst other things, an e-mail in which I took a childish pleasure, an e-mail which assured me that "You are definitely still the smartest guy in the room..."

No longer true, but there is a kind of sweet nostalgia in thinking that such a statement might once have been true.

Also, for my birthday, I got two blocks of marzipan from my sister. Tragically, my wife does not eat marzipan (it's too sweet for her) and my daughter cannot eat (she may have an allergy to nuts, and marzipan contains almonds, so marzipan is off the menu for her.) So I scoffed the lot.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Brain-Damaged Planet

Brain-Damaged Planet

Saturday-Sunday 5/6 August 2006

I got to the library at 0905 on Saturday and found the brain-damaged people were starting to arrive and were lining up outside. A whiteboarded sign very clearly stated that the library would not open until 0930, but there they were, joining a steadily-lengthening queue.

I asked, in Japanese, if I was correct in thinking that the library would not open until 0930, and I was told that my assumption was correct.

So what were the people doing there?

At first I thought that maybe they had all been lobotomized and were showing up at the library in obedience to radio signals being broadcast to them by their controllers in Egypt. That they had been threatened, perhaps, that they would self-destruct if they failed to line up as directed.

Then I came up with an alternative hypothesis, which was that maybe some particularly juicy treat would be distributed to those who were first through the door at 0930. Fresh strawberries, for example, or packets of semtex, or North Korean flags, or second-hand circus tickets.

Whatever the explanation, I was not one of the zombies, so I absconded from the disciplinarium in the company of my two-year-old daughter, and we went to the little park tucked away behind the supermarket which is down the road from the library. The jolly sun was mounting steadily toward its daytime peak of 35 degrees celsius, which is quite a chunk of the way toward Fahrenheit 451, and we had the park to ourselves, so Cornucopia practiced digging dirt in the sandpit.

When we got back to the library the queued mutants had disappeared into the bowels of the library. But there was an old man hanging around in the darkened gloom of the foyer. He heard me talking to Cornucopia so picked up on the fact that I could speak at least some Japanese.

"Do you speak Japanese?" he said, or something like that.

He came quite close and I could smell him, though I was not exactly sure what the smell was. Alcohol? Stale vomit? Old age? Summer nights after midnight? Whatever it was, it was an alarming smell.

"Kodomo ga suki desu," he said.

Meaning "I like children." Or, perhaps, "I like your child."

I scrambled for something that I could say to disengage myself from this situation.

"Yoroshiku onegaishimasu," I said, which literally means something like "Please favor me," and may form part of a stiffly formal hello, something like the English "How do you do?"

Having thus essayed this exercise in politeness I hurried my child into the sanctuary of the library, where we were soon at the place where the Japanese children's books were. Cornucopia signaled that she wanted not these books but other books, and I presumed she meant English picture books.

So I went looking for the English picture books, which, according to my memory, were down a kind of hall to the right, past the computers. But I could find neither the remembered computers nor the hallway, so asked the librarians at the counter. Where were the English children's picture books?

"Eigo no e-hon wa doko desho ka?"

A librarian produced a map and marked "here" and "there" on the map, but I could not make sense out of it. So the librarian kindly led me and Cornucopia to the English picture books. Which were not where I had remembered them but were, instead, just a shelf away from the Japanese children's books.

Not in a different location, as I had confidently remembered, but in the same location.

The place I remembered visiting did not exist and never had. It was a location in my own private brain-damaged planet, inaccessible to anyone else. Inaccessible, in fact, even to me.

"Ah!" said Cornucopia, happily, spying what she wanted, a shelf of Dick Bruna books featuring Miffy, Poppy Pig and others.

My daughter very efficiently chose six books. She has the hang of this book-borrowing business now, and we were out of the library in only a few minutes.

I half-feared that some atrocity would have befallen our unprotected pushchair, but it seemed to have gone unmolested in the foyer. I could not see the old man anywhere about, but I noticed that there seemed to be a group of people clustered in the open area outside the library, and I got the impression that they were older guys, and a big ragged, though I could not make them out clearly as I glanced at them through my dark sunglasses in the brilliant glare of the day outside.

Maybe they were harmless members of the local chapter of retired Yokohama alcoholics or maybe they belonged to the local branch of the Senior Citizens Young Girl Appreciators Club. I couldn't tell. I was happy for us to be on our way home.

On the way home, Cornucopia saw a cat.

Later, when my wife returned home shortly after 11 am, her latest mission accomplished, I mentioned that we had spent the start of the morning in the park because the library did not open until 0930.

My wife assured me that the library did, in fact, open at 0900, always. And that was when I finally understood why the people were lining up passively outside a door which clearly proclaimed that there would be no admission until 0930.

They had been programmed to believe that the library would in fact open at 0900, and, confronted by an alternative reality, they could not adjust to the situation, so did not do something useful with their time, like digging mud in the nearby park.

Sunday was a leisurely day and, shortly before 0900, I took my daughter out for a walk so her mother could watch her regular Sunday art scene show.

We went to the elementary school just up the road where Cornucopia, as usual, said hello to the rabbits and the chicken. We admired the vegetables growing in the school's garden: tomatoes and aubergines, amongst others. I told Cornucopia that a "nasu" was also an aubergine, or, if you like, an eggplant.

The school was deserted, the school holidays being in full swing. A dry place of dusty dirt, the trees noisy with a racket of cicadas, a crow crying harshly amidst the trees. Sweat ran off my back.

Cornucopia faltered and asked to go home, then asked instead for some water. I gave her the baby's drinking bottle from the compartment under the pushchair's seat, but she demanded my bottle, a 500 ml softdrink bottle.

After drinking water, she was ready for more adventuring, and was soon getting noisy about a dandelion which had gone to seed. At first I didn't understand what she wanted, then I clicked. My job was to blow off the seeds of the dandelion. Which I did.

Then Cornucopia plucked a dandelion which was in flower and tried to get me to blow off the petals. Which I couldn't because it was impossible. She tried a number of different flowers and grasses, trying to get me to blow stuff off, but my only successes were with the dandelions.

We got back home after having been away for about 40 minutes, to find that the arts scene show had been canceled in favor of the start of the opening ceremony of the annual high school baseball competition. A brain-damaged decision if ever there was one, if you ask me, but I wasn't asked.

At home, we kept the air conditioning on and hid out from the mounting heat. At one stage I was playing lifeguard while Cornucopia was sitting in the baby bath, which was in the bathroom, full of cool water.

"Kaeru-san!" she started saying. "Kaeru-san!"

Meaning "Mr Frog." I told her there was no front in the bathroom. Then I realized she was pointing to the broad shelf by the window. I leaned over and picked up a big plastic container which was full of bath toys and, sure enough, there was a frog in there.

My daughter shares the same world as I do, but hers is a little mutated.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Problems and Solutions

Problems and Solutions

2006 August 6 Sunday

At work, at Waniguchi Gakko, I solved a translation problem for a student who is a professional translator. Her task was to translate an English-language romance novel into Japanese. (There is, it seems, quite a market for such translations.)

Her problem was how to transliterate the heroine's name into Japanese. It was "Kat," a short form of something like "Katrina." Should it be transliterated as "cat" or "cut?" Without hesitation, I advised in favor of "cat."

On the personal level, I had to confront, this week, the problem of how to find my wife and child at the circus. The circus was scheduled for Friday afternoon in a big stadium at Kannai, just down the line from Yokohama Station. I would have to find my way to the stadium and then, because I would be arriving late, somehow locate wife and child.

This problem vaporized when I realized that we had numbered seats.

Thursday, Cornucopia watched one of her Miffy videos, one showing a trip to the circus, and we were able to tell her that, on the following day, she would go to a circus for real.

My wife asked me if I had ever been to a circus, and I reminded her, that, yes, I had, because we went together, some years back, to the Bolshoi circus when it came to Tokyo. We went out to a station on the Yurikamone line and saw the circus there.

That was a long, long time ago, sometime way back in history, back in the years BC. Maybe the year 5 BC, Before Cornucopia.

Friday, I faced the problem of getting to the circus without arriving impossibly late. I scampered out of Waniguchi Gakko just after 1310 and was on the 1314 train out of Waniguchi Station. Shortly before 1400 I arrived at Kannai.

At Kannai I had the problem of getting down the steps to the gents' toilet, badly lit steps lit as if they were part of a sewer system rather than a public toilet. I lost my footing and fell, but, fortunately, recovered my balance before I slammed face first into the concrete.

I don't know what it is but every time I try to get down those stairs at Kannai I always slip and fall.

My excuse is that I've only ever been to Kannai the one time in my life. Still. Is that excuse sufficient? After all, I have made that same dumb mistake every time I've gone down those steps.

Once having exited Kannai station I promptly got lost. Every time I go to Kannai I get lost. Once again, I've only been to Kannai on the one single occasion. Even so, is brain damage really an excuse for getting lost EVERY time with such monotonous regularity?

I bounced off various people, showing my map, which I'd photocopied from the street atlas, blowing it up to A3 size, and asking my way to the Bunka Taikukan. I arrived at the stadium just a few minutes after the circus got underway and presented my ticket.

"Daitai mienai mono desu," I said. "Me wa waruku narimashita."

Which communicates, in Japanese which is probably a bit broken, the meaning "I'm someone who mostly can't see. My eyes are trashed."

This was understood, and a friendly guy escorted me into the dark of the cavernous interior, where I was pretty much totally blind. He had no idea how to guide a blind person and my efforts to get him to let me take his arm were only momentarily successful, so we ended up walking through the darkness hand in hand.

He went through three different doorways into the dark before he finally found the right one, and at last I heard my wife calling my name, and there I was, safe with wife and daughter.

Once my eyes had adjusted to the gloom I could see the interior. The sign over the stage said BOLSHOI CIRCUS, and featured the flags of Japan and Russia. Every time I go to a circus it's the Bolshoi. That said, to the best of my recollection, I've only been to the circus two times in my life.

The two-hour circus show rather exceeded daughter Cornucopia's stamina and concentration span, but she did enjoy the bear.

My wife was a bit disappointed. She remembered the Bolshoi as having had motorbikes and tigers on the previous occasion, although I, for my part, had no recollection of tigers or motorbikes.

What I did remember from my first Bolshoi was the climactic finish of the trapeze act, in which a guy took a plunge, head first, right down to the net. I wondered if they would do the same thing again this time, and they did.

I also remembered that some of the dogs at my first Bolshoi were small and not properly trained, and were being chastised by trainers during the act, kept going in the right direction by what I recall as sticks. This dogs this time were bigger, sheared into topiary shapes as if they were poodles, but they were huge, really big dogs, not my idea of a poodle at all, so presumably they were some other kind of breed.

After the circus we went out to dine. Every time we have taken Cornucopia to a restaurant, her behavior has been within the limits of the acceptable. That said, it must be admitted that we have only ever taken her to a restaurant once before.

On this second occasion, her behavior was impeccable, for the simple reason that she was asleep before we got in through the door and remained so throughout the meal. My wife bought Cornucopia some food from the supermarket while I went on ahead to open up the house and let the hot air of the Japanese summer circulate out of the rooms.

So my navigational problems, my problems of getting to Kannai, finding the stadium and making contact with wife and child, got sorted out.

On an entirely different note, another problem I tried to tackle recently was the business of finding free mp3s online. I had though, wrongly, that I could force Google search to throw up pages which included a link to an actual mp3 file. But this proved not to be the case.

Whether you search for "mp3" or ".mp3" you get the same result, so asking for ".mp3" is a waste of time, since you will not find your way to an actual mp3 file.

Either search throws up "about" 762,000,000 results, and the first few that I tried all seemed to be duplicates of exactly the same mp3 site from hell, masquerading under different names.

These sites advertized access to free mp3s but, instead, delivered a flurry of pop-up ads offering, for example, the opportunity to install a casino on your computer. I had not set my browser to deny pop-ups but usually never encounter them, because I do not, as a rule, cruise the murkier areas of the Internet.

I was, initially, defeated by the problem of sifting through well over seven hundred million sites to look for one which really had free mp3s. I went to Winamp's site and soon found out how to download free skins, great if I'd wanted to do that. They had an ad for something called AOL Music, so I found that online, but it seemed to be a site that had mp3s that you had to pay for.

Or maybe I have this wrong. If memory serves, there seemed to be a page where you could sign up and get 30 days free access to the AOL music collection, but, when I clicked on the link, the page that came up was blank, another unsolved mystery of the Internet.

Then I remembered that, earlier, while looking for mp3s online, I had seen something for free mp3 downloads from

So I searched for " free download mp3" and got to a site where you could actually download up to 200 tracks, albeit one at a time rather than in groups. You had to give an e-mail address and register a password, but, that done, you had free access to all the tracks that amazon had on offer, which are, presumably, all squeaky clean and legal.

I had time to download a couple before it was time to go to the daycare center to pick up my daughter, and the sound quality seemed impeccable.

The page I started downloading tracks from was:

I fired up my copy of the screen capture program PrintKey and captured pictures of the album covers that go with the tracks.

Presumably there are other sources of good-quality mp3s somewhere online, and, presumably, it is only a matter of looking.

One problem that I have so far failed to solve is the competitive panda mauling which the widgets at the daycare center have started to indulge in. Now that I am a familiar entity it seems that they think they can attack me with impunity, me, of course, being cast in the role of panda.

My daughter is the ringleader in these widget assaults.

Nice sunny weather here in the Tokyo-Yokohama area, the rainy season over and daytime temperatures warm and balmy at about 35 degrees celsius. My weight is currently 68.6 kilograms, down just a little but not enough to alarm me.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Language and Learning

Language and Learning

2006 August 2 Wednesday

By e-mail I received some practical advice on getting round the short-term memory problem caused by brain damage.

The suggestion was to try chunking, a word I seem to recall having seen around, but, nevertheless, a word which, up until now, meant nothing to me.

The example of chunking given by my anonymous informant is as follows:

"For numbers, this is often done by dealing with pairs: 43, 23, 52, 12 vs. 4, 3, 2, 3, 5, 2, 1, 2."

Inspired by this idea, I thought I would try the following: try to read a four-digit number such as "9876" as "ninety-nine, eighty-eight, seventy-seven, sixty-six."

Or just try the chunking idea as given, "98/76."

The impulse to improve on anything that comes my way is not necessarily a laudable one. Better to first try the tool on offer before trying to mess around tweaking it.

Certainly I want to fix this short-term memorization problem if I can, because I had one day when a four-digit number kept twisting in my mind, morphing from 9876 to 8976 to 9976. Visual acuity was not the problem. I could see the number easily enough on the computer printout which I needed to consult, but I could not simultaneously read the printout and search for the file I needed.

More significantly, the e-mail gives me the notion that there are strategies for dealing with brain damage, which was something I had not really considered before.

Except that I do try to do things in the same order each day, so I don't lose track of things. But this only works up to a point.

The same anonymous e-mail which brought me the very welcome chunking suggestion disputed my contention that the word "every" must necessarily be plural. My correspondent gave the following "single case" example:

"If I have swum once without drowning, then every time I've swum, it has been without drowning."

I personally remain convinced that this is not sayable. And, even if you can find a grammar book which permits it, I don't think it would be appropriate to teach a language student that "every" can mean "one," because under ordinary circumstances a native speaker of English would take "every" to mean more than one.

In an effort to get hold of a definition more authoritative than that provided by Microsoft's dictionary, I hauled out my copy of THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY, and the first meaning was given as follows:

"Constituting each and all members of a group without exception."

My feeling is that "each and all" cannot be traduced into meaning "one and only one."

I was a little surprised that my correspondent had, apparently, read as far as he or she appeared to have done, since the "every" argument features toward the end of a blog entry running to more than 4,000 words, and I thought maybe nobody would read that far into the entry.

An English-teacherly argument over the permissible meanings of "every" is interesting to me because I am an English teacher, but I find it hard to imagine anyone else being interested.

English is often in my thoughts because I get English-language questions both at work and at home. My wife used the expression osorobeshi of Cornucopia, who had sussed out exactly what bottle was used to fill the bubble pipe's bubble container. I glossed this as "mind-boggling," upon which my wife, very naturally, asked me what "boggling" might be. I was hard put to come up with an answer. I think I flubbed that one.

Another language that I've focused on recently is French. I spend ten minutes a day pushing Cornucopia in the push chair all the way to the hoikuen, the daycare center, because I won't let her walk since we cross a couple of roads, one of which is considerably dangerous.

I need songs to sing en route, and usually start out with the one which commences "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go."

Lately I've added the MARSEILLAISE, but my version is horribly garbled, and starts "A la defense a la patrie," whereas, when I went on line and downloaded a copy of the actual lyrics, I found that the MARSEILLAISE really starts "Allons enfants de la patrie."

Once I had the lyrics I tried to sing them, but realized that I was uncertain about a chunk of the melody, so I did a Google search for "marseilles free download mp3". But I clicked my way through a bunch of sites only to be thwarted because the sites were telling lies.

I clicked on one button which told me, clearly and without ambiguity, that I could click to download an mp3 copy of the MARSEILLAISE, but, instead, I clicked through to someone's wretched search engine, a competitor for Google.

Deliberately engineering lies makes it all the more difficult to find stuff on the Internet, and I think it would be appropriate for governments around the world to start catching a few of the perpetrators and start skinning them alive to discourage the practice of offering things which you do not really have to give.

I though there had to be a smarter animal approach to the problem of finding a site which really did have an mp3 copy of the MARSEILLAISE, so I did an advanced Google search for MARSEILLAISE with the stipulation that the search must include ".mp3," with a period in front of the letters "mp3."

My thesis was that specifying the period would produce a search which would include a link to an actual mp3 file, since ".mp3," rather than periodless "mp3," is the file suffix.

And so, happily, it proved, and soon I was the proud owner of two copies of the MARSEILLAISE, one an mp3 version of an arrangement by Berlioz, a bit jumpy but still workable, and the other a WAV file, which had quite a bit of hiss on it, sounding like somone's old LP, which perhaps it was.

[Later: thinking back to how I searched for mp3s and finding that I don't really remember clearly, I am no longer sure that specifying a search for ".mp3" was the trick. I would have to revisit this to be sure. 0235 and I am sleepless but won't make myself popular if I wake my wife and daughter while fumbling around in the darkness in the upstairs bedroom while trying to plug in the wi-fi Internet connection.]

[Awake at 0235 through no fault of my own since I have been trying to get to sleep, trying with religious intensity, but failing.]

The music files that I did successfully find were found at:


I then realized that doing searches including ".mp3" was probably an easy way to locate a whole bunch of downloadable mp3s on the Internet, though I did not immediately have the free time to start surfing around for extra music.

One thing that keeps me busy is the osorobeshi daughter, who occupies my time through from when I wake up in the morning until when I get on the slow train to Minamisenju at about 0905. (Earlier, I wrote "Kitasenju," but that was an error, and the train actually goes to Minamisenju, which is pretty much the same place, way over on the far side of Tokyo.)

Usually, in the morning, after my wife has departed for work, Cornucopia has me read one or two books. Then the daily episode of the NHK television novel comes on at 0815, and that is when I go upstairs to get dressed for work.

One morning, however, the osorobeshi daughter came to me demanding "Bubbles!" I told her I didn't know where the bubbles were, so she led me into the bathroom and pointed. I lifted her up to the level of the top of the washing machine (which is in the foyer of the bathroom) and she pointed out the bottle containing the fluid for blowing bubbles. (I've made the bubble pipes work with ordinary household detergent, but the special bubble-blowing fluid is better.)

However, despite being osorobeshi, incredible (or, if you prefer, mind-boggling) in her grip on what's going on, she didn't know where the bubble pipes were. Later, I had my wife show me where the pipes are. I don't have much free time to spend with Cornucopia in the morning, but, after cleaning away her mess, washing the few dishes left over from breakfast, finishing my muesli and eating a slice of toast, I have about fifteen minutes spare for Cornucopia.

Time enough for us to do bubbles, if that's what she wants to do.

What she likes doing is, rather than blowing her own bubbles, catching mine. This is a negative for me, because, after all, these are MY bubbles that I blew, so I compensate by standing up, so my bubbles are permitted a proper span of existence before they fall to the manic applause of Cornucopia's gleeful destruction, the bubbles being clapped into extinction.

Mornings, Cornucopia is typically cheerful as we set off for the daycare center, but is usually reluctant to enter the final portal, and has to be bodily picked up and carried inside.

On my arrival late in the afternoon, typically about 1755, she usually greets me with manic glee. Sometimes she runs around in the sandpit playground, sits on the concrete dinosaur (at least, I think it's a dinosaur, but perhaps it's intended to be a non-specific generic monster) and slides down the elephant slide.

On the occasion of one afternoon pickup, when the rainy season was still in full swing, I had the rain cover tucked into the mesh compartment under the push chair seat, since it was not actually raining. Cornucopia started nosing around the compartment, which, when we go out for walks, usually contains her drinking water.

"Water?" she asked, in English, with obvious anxiety.

I carry around a 500 milliliter bottle of water in my pack so I handed it to her and she drank most of it. My wife has taken to urging her, at breakfast time each morning, to be sure to ask the daycare teachers for water.

Although Cornucopia knows the Japanese word for water, "mizu," and usually uses it at home, when she got anxious for liquid it was, as I have noted, the English word "water" that she used.

Her English vocabulary is increasing, and she shows an incredible facility for language acquisition on the listen-and-repeat level.

In the mornings, after we go outside, I routinely ask "Do you want to be carried?" Her standard reply is something like "You want to be carried." Never "I want to be carried."

I have only once ever heard Cornucopia use the standard Japanese pronoun for "I," which is "watashi." As I think I've noted elsewhere, she generally refers to herself by name, as Cornucopia, rather than as "I."

One thing my Japanese students of English are often weak at is switching between "you" and "I" when required. Often their mismanagement of the pronoun situation is on Cornucopia's level.

It's my belief that this is because pronouns are not used as often in Japanese as in English. For example, if I was talking with Mr Tanaka in English, it would be natural to refer to him as "you," but, in Japanese, it would be more natural to refer to him as "Tanaka-san." Similarly, if I was speaking to my doctor, it would be more natural to use the honorific term "sensei" rather than "you."

At the moment I can't tell whether Cornucopia's mismanagement of pronouns is because of the fact that her language development is still at infant level, or whether her English is being dominated by her primary language which, indubitably, is Japanese.

It will be interesting to see how Cornucopia's use of pronouns develops in the month ahead.

Most of Cornucopia's linguistic inputs come from her hours at the daycare center. One day she started ululating like a cannibal savage on the warpath, so my wife asked, "Who taught you that?"

"Mai-chan," came the answer, meaning "Mai the Cute."

Who is cute, dressed up in the crash helmet that she wears when leaving the daycare center, because her mother takes her home by bicycle. As manic as Cornucopia.

While Cornucopia is mostly being exposed to Japanese, she does pick up on our conversation at home. And, recently, my wife came home with five videos which someone had placed on the recycling shelves at the local library, where you can get free books and videos which other patrons have abandoned.

These five videos are in the KIDDY CAT series, made in Japan but with American child actors speaking authentic American accents. They're a bit short and, as a rule, the episodes don't have much in the way of a plot, but the price is right.

And, thanks to these videos, my daughter has the opportunity of learning useful vocabulary items such as "vampire," "werewolf" and "witch," linguistic acquisitions which, I am sure, will be very useful to her in her future life as CEO of Transinternational Seals Unlimited.

I don't know when Cornucopia started getting into seals, but sticking seals on things has become a routine part of her life. I never noticed the existence of seals before I became a parent, but they're freely available in both New Zealand and Japan, cheap fun for kids as long as you don't mind seals being stuck all over the place.

Recently I realized that there are little seals on the oranges we get from the supermarket, so Cornucopia has added picking the seal off the orange to her daily routines.

Final note on osorobeshi: my spell-checker hit this word and suggested the alternative spelling "isotopes".

Wednesday, at work, I practiced chunking, to see how it affected my ability to hold four-digit numbers in my head. As far as I could tell, it seemed to improve things, but it was difficult to judge since, given that I had slept for barely two hours, I was mostly non-functional.

Still, I got through the day, and, at the end of the working day, finished off the last of the three sets of compulsory homework which the company had lumbered me with, including the piece in which I ended up denouncing one of the questions as being written in error, the one which equated "every time" to "one previous time".

So it will be interesting to see how my trainer, manager Marcus, responds to that one.