My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Friday, December 24, 2010

A Little Fantasy about Intelllectual Property Law

"Counsel for the Experts, please summarize."

Mitsufuku JohnJacobs Sierpinski stood and addressed the court.

"Honorable Justices, Respected Jurors, we have heard argument for the referendum and for the counter-referendum. The parties have addressed their grievances. We have heard the Legislative Counsel declare the intent of the Constitution and of the laws, and the Executive Secretaries have addressed the current state of implementation. We have been briefed by the Amicii.

"The entire case can be summarized as follows:

"Holders of Real Property hold their properties in perpetuity. They have the privilege and duty, under law, to bequeath it to their Posterity, and thus the stewardship over the lands, seas, airspace, and mineral rights is maintained.

"Consumable properties are generated and recycled, and title passes from hand to hand, but when the current Holder of a consumable property yields his stewardships to his Posterity, consumables pass with the Real properties, as they are tangible. Thus stewardship over consumables is maintained.

"The First Democracy established Intellectual Properties originally as temporary stewardships over certain areas of the Public Commons of the Market, as they were discovered. The stewardships were generally assigned to those who could claim discovery, by means of patent, copyright, and trademark. As the First Democracy established the principles of Democratic Living, the laws concerning Intellectual Properties were refined. However, the Constitution declares that those rights must be temporary, and so we have, at the beginning of the thirty-first century of the Common Era, a situation wherein Intellectual Properties cannot be maintained in the same fashion as the tangible properties. Current law limits copyright to two thousand years from the original registration, most of which was taken during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Likewise, patent is currently limited to fifteen hundred years. Trademark can be held in perpetuity, but only by means of active maintenance of the Mark in the Marketplace.

"These limits make it difficult to establish full forward-looking value of Intellectual Properties, and makes their use as collateral for debt, or as capital base for the establishment of stocks and bonds, very difficult.

"Thus we have an imbalance, an unfairness, between the holders of tangibles and intangibles. As the Constitution demands Fairness in all human dealings, according to Amendment 211 section 419 paragraph 23, Something Must Be Done! Either we must amend the Original Constitution to allow permanent holding of Intellectual Properties, or we must declare all titles to have limits similar to those on intellectual properties.

"In any case, when a limit of title has been reached, there is always the problem of establishing a new stewardship over the Property. In truth, since we have extended the limits to their current state, we have not actually been faced with the problem, but the problem exists in theory, and, as I have shown and declared, interferes with the full use of the Properties, going forward, in the present.

"Rather than establish a situation where the stewardships over properties cannot be maintained in orderly fashion over time, we must resolve and repair this inequality by establishing permanent rights to the Intellectual Properties, even though it means amending the Original Constitution.

"As Counsel for the Experts, I direct the court to issue a court order to the Three Houses of the Legislative Assemblies to amend the Constitution to establish the authority of the Patent and Trademark Office and the Library of The Legislative Assemblies to establish permanent rights over all Intellectual Properties. I further direct the court to order further research to discover other forms of Intellectual Properties which may be established, to add value to the Economy."

Mitsufuku JohnJacobs Sierpinski sat down amid applause from the paid gallery. The unpaid gallery was quiet, as usual, as all who had applied for seating there, according to the usual due processes, were under detainment for Intent to Disturb the Peace.

The Chief Justice banged her gavel. "So has it been Said by the Experts, So is it ordered."

"All rise"

The Chief Justice stood, and all in attendance stood, as well.

"Court adjourned.

The Chief Justice stepped from behind the camera and took off the robes of office, and sat down behind her desk. With a smile, she picked up her portable communicator and paged her stock bookie.

Mitsufuku JohnJacobs Sierpinski had also stepped away from the camera in his office when his portable communicator beeped. He frowned and mumbled to himself, "Can't she show even a little patience, here?"

Then he waved his hand in the (patented) User Interface Gesture which set up the link and received the call from the (Let it be noted that she is also now officially off-duty.) Chief Justice.

"Sylvia, you know that, even with the precautions we have taken, it will take at least a few hours to get the amendments through all three houses of the legislatures."

"But, Mit-chan, can't we set up a bond on the time it takes?"

"Sorry, the Free-the-Mind League has already taken a defensive patent on that bet. Litigating the patent will take enough time to eliminate the value of the bond. I've already checked."

Sylvia swore. "I have thirty-five minutes until the first payment comes due on the loan I took out to grease the wheels and push this case through."

"That's not my problem. You can always resort, perhaps, to your skills at the oldest profession?"

"I suppose I'll probably have to. That'll mean I won't be free tonight."

"I'll make do."

"You always do."

"I have another call. Hmm. It seems to be from the Free-the-Mind League."

"Put me on monitor."

Mitsufuku JohnJacobs Sierpinski waved his hands in another patented gesture, checked the channel indicators and the monitor ear plug, and received the call. He recognized the face that was projected before him from the publicity announcement that the Free-the-Mind League put out from time to time."

"This is Mitsufuku JohnJacobs Sierpinski. How may I help you?"

"Hello. This is Richard Raymond de-Brian of the Free-the-Mind League."

"I thought I recognized your face."

"I thought I would let you know that we have obtained warrants to establish a civil case on your breach of patent 3,357,248,999,101,436,000,333."

"I didn't catch that number."

"It's in the official written notice I have just sent, along with the summary."

"Care to tell me what the offending behavior is?"

"Amending the Constitution to allow permanent Intellectual Property Rights. And it covers quite a range of activities pursuant to such amending. We have the public record, and our first count shows 31 incidents of infringement."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Where are the real netbooks? 本物のネットブックって、どこだ?

I stopped by the Yodobashi Camera store in Umeda today. I just needed a plug to fix the rice cooker. It was a waste of time, no better selection than Kojima, and it just takes a lot of time to get in and out.

Took longer because I checked out the current version of Sharp's Netwalker. Nice. Found a Toshiba Android Dynabook while I was looking, and it looked sweet, too. But, according to the salesman, neither has drivers to hook a cell phone modem to them, so phone activities are limited to Skype via wifi.

Not that I would pull down lots of web pages via a cell modem. I just want to be able to send e-mail from school without wearing my thumb out on my cell-phone's keypad.

Didn't actually ask about Skype on the Android Dynabook. The salesman was telling me, "Of course you can't get on the phone network with these." like it was the only sensible answer: "Oh. You really want an iPad!"

And I just gave up talking to him at that point.

Yeah, the iPad is a sweet machine, too.


I don't have money to buy a new Mac, and I'm counter-motivated by the processor in the current crop, anyway. And there is no way I'm going to buy an MSWindows box, not until Microsoft is under 50% market share and learning to play by the rules instead of playing the rules.  And the iPad is, by design, a peripheral to the Mac, or, in deference to the insensate market, the MSWindows platform. Most of the iPad function is unavailable from a Linux or BSD class box.

I do have some old PPC Macs, but the OS is old, and even if I updated to the last version to support PPC, 10.5, that's no longer supported by Apple. So, if I were to buy an iPad, I'd have to spend yet another JPY 100,000 minimum to be able to get reasonable value out of it.

Now, if I had that kind of money, I could afford to not work over winter break, and I might be able to hunt around and find a cell modem with a driver I could load for one of these two machines. Then I could buy a USB hub and headset and have a portable phone that I could actually send e-mail with, instead of just txtng.

Oh, the Netwalker would need a separate keyboard, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

So, they are sweet machines.

Light.  Cheap.



And no use at all when I'm at the school and the wifi is (as it should be until they can tear themselves loose of Microsoft) locked down and off-limits to the teachers' own PCs. (Bite your tongue, boy!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mined Fields (maybe I'm starting a novel with this)

"Hey, Josh!"

No answer.

"Lotus position, right? Your mom said you've been sitting like this for most of the day. What's up?"

Still no answer.

"Are you attempting enlightenment?"

Still no response.

"You can't just start an attempt at enlightenment without preparation, you know. You have to start the fast right so you don't end up having to break meditation to go to the toilet."


"That did not sound like a a mantra."

"It wasn't.Who dares do any kind of yoga without a lawyer and a coach these days?"


"In the news today, three more lawsuits over people practicing patented yoga positions."

And now Max doesn't know what to say.

"So, what do say to that?"

"Is that why you aren't doing a proper lotus?"

Josh wrote a song, but fears to publish it because of copyrights. Also fears to do correct yoga because of patents.

Don't remember where it went.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

implementation constraints and software patents

I posted this on Groklaw, in response to some who were bringing out the Turing argument without thinking about it. I'll post it here, too, with some editing and comments: 

PHBs use the Turing Machine argument to justify using cheap CPUs (or simply the CPU "everyone else" is using) in applications those CPUs are not appropriate for.

There is a logical equivalence between CPUs, but the equivalence breaks down somewhat in the real world, where time and memory are ultimately limited.

And then the PHBs can't figure out why the project gets mired in engineering time working out tricks to somehow squeeze enough juice out of said CPU to get at least the most important features of the application to work.

And then they want to recoup the excessive costs of development (that could have been avoided, if they had been willing to use a better CPU) by getting patents on the inventions from the work.

And then, once they have the patents, it's all too easy to think that the patents must apply to any machine that does the same thing, not just to the tricks they used to get their functions running on the hardware they were stupid enough to choose.

This is precisely the reason patents are supposed to be specific. They are supposed to allow control over what has been invented, but not allow the limited control to monopolize the entire market.

Historically, there were a few cases where the patented invention was new and opriginal enough that it seemed to be reasonable to allow the patent (for the limited lifetime of the patent) to virtually monopolize the market for a particular kind of product. Those were supposed to be exceptions. Rare exceptions.

But everyone thinks (without thinking of the consequences) that it's unfair that their patent doesn't get the same treatment. Well, at least in physically embodied patents, the issues with freedom are obvious enough to keep the "It's unfair!" arguments at bay. Or, the issues were obvious enough for a long time. Apparently, the issues are no longer so obvious.

So, the PHBs have succumbed to the siren call of the illusion of monopoly control, and they sue the living daylights out of the market, and the profits from the suits is what enables them to put sell the product at the originally specified price that assumed that the cheap CPU would do the job without the extra development.

And their cheaper product (cheap by unfair means, mind you) now takes over that piece of the market on price instead of actual performance or other merit. (Two monopolies for the price of one, you could say.)

(You wonder what wonderful things could have happened, were the intel CPU not strangling the desktop, market? and now parts of the server and high-performance markets? Someday, maybe I'll have the time and resources to show you. It's hard to explain in the present market where people can't see the future for the marketing schemes of the rich and famous. If not, well, this world has a history of regularly rejecting the better way, so it won't be the first time.)

I'll personally accept the idea of software patents when the patent applications include the source code and hardware specified and the claims are limited to the specified source code and specified hardware and the specified combination thereof.

But patents on source code itself get really tangled up in the fact that source code is automatically transformed. It's hard to set boundaries on the transformations that are covered without being either overly restrictive or overly broad.

And that's why copyright makes more sense for source code. The way it should work is that there should be a copyright on the source code and a patent on the hardware and on the hardware combined with the source code. That is, the patent claims should only be for the hardware and the hardware+source code, and the claims on the source code itself should be copyright claims only.

Thus, dealing in the hardware is controlled by the patent on the hardware. Dealing in the software is controlled by the copyright on the software. Dealing in the combination is controlled by the patent.

Then software functions can be re-implemented (using clean-room techniques where necessary) for other hardware without infringing the patent, and this is as it should be.

I suppose the law may be missing a way to tie patent claims to copyright claims, if so, that is where the law should be changed, but we must be careful to avoid allowing the tying to defeat the intended limits on both patents and copyright.

Otherwise, there is no way to avoid being over-broad.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My responses to the SCO arguments.

Kevin McBride posted a comment on a Lantham Act case, and Andreas Kuckartz pointed out the possible Lantham Act implications concerning SCO.

Kevin ran out of time to respond to all the people like me who wanted to add their two cents, so I'm adding my two cents here. I wish I had time to do more than express my own opinions  and make naked assertions, or even to convert it from the open letter format it became:


Hi, Kevin,

I appreciate your willingness to open up a conversation about the wisdom of SCO vs. IBM and the related law suits.

I thought I'd respond to your "last word", I'm sure I'm not the only one.

One problem we have is that too many of the experts are experts in computers or in the law, but not both, and the odd impression, often not admitted, that there is something very similar between the two.

It's important to understand that there is a similarity, but also that the similarity will trip up an expert in the one field when trying to operate in the domain of the other. However, computer science does allow us, as a race and as an amalgamate culture, the opportunity to understand the intersection between our mathematics and our laws. Well, those are side points that aren't really that far aside, but back to my response to your last word.


I know I'm picking a fight with your specialty when I ask this, but is "Intellectual Property" really the best word we have for what were originally temporary grants of rights to exercise a stewardship in the commons, that is a right to control a new piece of the marketplace for a time?


Why should the software industry be any more protected against commoditization than any other?

To the extent that participants in any industry should be protected from commoditization, isn't copyright and trademark about the best we can get without shooting ourselves in the foot? (I reference the fashion industry and admit that copyright doesn't provide nearly the protection that players in the fashion industry currently seem to think they want.)

I know I'm treading awfully close to your toes, but I don't think the present world really is a world without IP protection. As an individual software developer, my point of view (through painful experience with Microsoft, in particular) is that I think I have a much better chance of making any money at all from my software using the GPL or MIT license than I would have trying to work withing the IP framework the big IP players claim.

The GPL, in particular, gives me a lot more control over my projects under that license than any agreement I could make with a corporate steward. (Something of an oxymoron, that "corporate steward" thing.)


Poisoning the well isn't nice, but there has been a bit of that going around on all sides, so, well, let's leave the issue of poisoning the well aside.

The critical analysis of Groklaw's work is an ongoing process. I suppose there is a bit of rah-rah at Groklaw, but there is also plenty of critical analysis. When PJ is wrong, we tell her so.

PJ is not unbiased, and her point of view is not unflawed. But that's okay. I think I hear you laughing at that and asking why it could be okay, but are you unbiased? Is your point of view unflawed?

The problem here is that we hear plenty of people pounding the drums you pound. We don't hear anywhere close to enough on any other side, and the industry is way out of balance.

Professor Lessig has some odd ideas. Some just seem odd in the present context, kind of like the idea that governments should recognize their dependency on (relatively free) individuals once seemed odd. Others of his ideas are truly way out there.

But how does that tie to the fact that, in the current world dominated by IP holders, the only places I can make enough money to feed my family, pay the rent, and send my kids to school just happen to be places using free and open source software?

Different strokes for different folks, but if Microsoft's dominance of the industry had not been stanched, I'd be faced with real commodity wages building add-ons to add-ons to add-ons to add-ons to Microsoft's latest fads. That's where the world was heading back in the early 1990s, and that's where a world dominated by Intellectual Property is heading.

By the way, don't forget that the Macintosh OS was essentially saved by the FreeBSD community.


Stallman is a crackpot. The world needs more crackpots, including more like him. When industry moguls recognize it helps their promotional campaigns, they admit it, but it is true. The pool of crackpots is the pool of talent that moves the industries forward.

But, yes, Stallman understands copyright, and many of us don't. That's something we are working on, getting more people to understand the laws of copyright.

I might add, for what it's worth, many in the "IP" camp fail to understand copyright.

As for information wanting to be free, I think even Stallman admits that the meme might have been a tactical error.

We are, after all, bundles of information, we want to be free, and we aren't always willing to do what it takes to maintain our freedom. Of course, we are fundamentally free, until when we sell our freedoms away.

But that's all a red herring. The real issue is not whether information wants to be, or should be free. The real issue is how do we allot people their stewardships over their intangible properties which they create? How do we do it fairly, how do we balance the inventor's stewardship against the stewardships of others in society?

How do we integrate the stewardships of the various people who want to join in the work developing a particular intangible property when we don't want to make money the gate to the market segment? The GPL works well for that for many people. The ISC license also works well for some people, although it takes more activity and effort.

Money itself is not evil, as long as there remain things that you can't buy with it.


IBM has IBM's future in mind in the games they play. Most of us trust IBM only as far as we can throw them, but as long as they play by the rules, we'll work with them.

Linux did not save their faltering business. The kernel and the OSses and the community helped out somewhat, but the attitude helped even more. The fact is that they had gotten stuck in the mode of licensing as their business model, and they shifted to a mode of providing services, and the shift pulled the company out of the dive.

Licensing as an implicit services model has its uses, but it also has its limits, and it will kill any business that forgets the implicit services part.

The idea that IBM violated IP rights of SCO is, well, sorry to say so out loud, but it is just plain wrong. It's re-writing history.

Old SCO bought a business supporting the dying UNIX. It was a valid, athough not extremely lucrative, business model. Novell wanted to go other places, the old SCO figured there would be lots of business opportunities helping UNIX customers switch to Linux.

I remember the ads and the publicity campaign, I am not depending on Groklaw's cache of found documents.

There was more work involved than was expected, and there was more necessity for patience than was expected. Linux was, in many cases, not yet quite ready, and that meant that many of the customers needed a lot more support Unix, more than was expected, before they would be ready for paying for the support in moving to Linux.

And the Unix expertise was a bit harder to come by than the Linux expertise.

And then, when somebody dug around to make sure new SCO had the rights to do the Unix support, it was discovered that an intern had realized that old SCO didn't seem to have the IP rights without some sort of explicit agreement about the "IP". Falsely, because the agreement between AT&T and UCB made the question moot. And so we have a half-baked left over from that in the APA, which, at any rate, was only meant to give SCO the evidence for their customers that they had sufficient rights to maintain UNIX and to move the customers' applications to Linux when the time was right.

And then somebody (sorry to say it this way) got suckered into the old licensing-as-a-business trap.

Darl should have known that Novell would not have voluntarily just walked away from a gold mine. It would be huge hubris to for him to believe himself to be able to see a real gold mine where Novell had not. It would be even stranger for him to have believed that Novell was trying to leave the gold mine alone just to nurture their own piece of the nascent Linux market and convince himself that Novell would have then been willing to let SCO kill the market in Novell's place.

It's hard to see any sort of reasonability in Darl's behavior.

I'm not going to try to read his mind, because it doesn't make sense the way he tells it, whether you assume the IP could really be enforced or whether you understand the implications of the agreement between AT&T and Berkeley.

Dynix or otherwise, there were no protectable methods and concepts left after AT&T and Berkeley settled. This is common knowledge among the Free/Net/OpenBSD community. It's hard to argue with the question of why neither Berkeley nor AT&T bothered shutting down the BSD projects.

Some/most of the early technical users of Unix (engineers) would say that the methods and concepts in Unix were so basic and so understood by practicioners of the art of the time that they were unpatentable anyway, completely aside from the question of whether or not software in general should be patentable.

Copyright cannot be substituted to control an invention that is unpatentable.

There is nothing there, nothing except Darl's insistence that he should have been allowed to say, "No, I didn't really mean it." about something that was, if you have to take the IP point of view, was given away before SCO ever came into the picture.

The Monterey arguments, well, Groklaw raises a lot of questions about the trail any new IP from that might have taken into Linux. To convince any of us, you're going to have to demonstrate that there was meaningful new IP that didn't take any of those trails in.

The standards bodies argument, you're going to have to unpack that one, too.

IP discipline? I don't know. If I were to take any of this seriously, I don't think "discipline" would be the right word. "Fear", maybe.

Now, we are not telling anyone they have to give their software away for free.

It would be nice if the whole world suddenly came to their senses about Microsoft. It would also be nice if the whole world suddenly came to their senses about religion. And freedom. It ain't gonna happen. There will always be plenty of people willing to buy proprietary, non-free software, as long as there is any market for software.

But if it did suddenly happen, I think the problems you are seeing would solve themselves.

You see, there will also be plenty of people willing to buy service agreements for free/open source software. People who pay me for the software I've put out there are not buying the software. They are buying my time, and they pay me the same, whether I slap a restrictive EUA on it or give it to them under the GPL.

The problem of competition is not a problem either because my clients are not buying the software. They are buying my time. And if it comes down to forcing them to buy my time, why should I?

You can have your IP, as long as you let me have my GPL/ISC. Different strokes for different folks.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Still in Panic Mode まだパニックモードです。

Seriously, what else would get me looking at certifying?


Well, I was reading material from the Hello Work Hanshin Satellite for the Japanese. They point out that experience without certification is often worth more than certification without experience, except in certain fields. But certification is usually better than nothing, and experience plus certification probably gets rated better than experience alone.


Okay, okay, I'll take another look at certification. I'll ignore what I know from the inside of the Eigo Kentei. (English Language Certification Test in Japan -- Really, it has improved significantly since they started it.) And I'll wink at the recent (and unsurprising) flap about the Kanji Kentei. (Kanji Certification Test -- The guy in charge was skimming profits or something.)


(Something about certifications invites abuse of power, okay?)


Oh, I'll admit these kinds of tests can be useful for two things:
  • Communicating to the uninitiate one's interest in and theoretical knowledge of a subject -- of theoretical use even in practice; 
  • and providing incentive to study a subject -- of real use, but easily taken way too far.

  • 資格を取っている本人のその科目に対しての関心や理論上の知識を、分野に精通していない人に伝えること。(応用時にも理論的に役に立つのですね。)
  • また、その課題を勉強する動機付け。(実際に役立つものですが、容易に行きすぎるでしょう。)
I've been looking at the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (in other words, for foreigners), and I'm considering taking it. Either the top or second level should be an achievable challenge for me. Because of my non-canonical (applied) approach to studying Japanese (I study what I need when I need it.), I'll want to study a bit, either way.


I've also been looking at the Nihongo Kentei. (Yeah, I have a little problem with hubris.) I could get a level 3 on that with about the same amount of study (but different focus) as I would need for level 1 of the JLPT. Might even be worth trying for the preparatory level 2.


Actually, any level of the test, from 9 to 3, would be a bit of a stretch. It would give me an excuse to study things I want to study, but,then again, I don't have time to go back to kindergarten.


That was actually part of the reason I spent four years as an Assistant Language Teacher in the primary grades, but these days they really don't give the ALT/AETs much spare time for real study. Besides, I like the kids and the teachers and I really want to help out where I can.


Great, as long as I'm spinning my wheels, why not push one or both of those ahead? When are the tests? The next Nihongo Kentei is scheduled for mid-November, I can register starting in August. The next JLPT is scheduled for December, registration begins in late August, materials available in mid-August. (Yeah, I know those links are going to go stale.)


Uhm, yeah, I can pursue that, but I sure hope I have a job by then. If not, I'm going to be working short-term as a guardsman or something (again) and my family are going to have to move in with my wife's folks, since we won't be able to pay rent. (I don't think her dad will be happy.) Oh, and we'll have to take the kids out of juku. No more swimming for them, either.


All those low-paying jobs are hard work. I don't mind the grunt work, but I would sure like to be paid enough to feed my kids and put them through school.


So I went over to look at the Data Processing Specialist certifications. Erm, Information Technology Specialist. Whatever. Maybe those exams come earlier.


I have a bachelor of science degree in computer science. BSCS. It's not a brand new diploma by any means, but it should be enough to get me certified, at a basic level at least, right?


So I downloaded the most basic test from last year. They call it the "IT Passport Test"


Let's see. What's the first question? The meaning of "data"? Something about places to find data? Something about distinguishing data that can be processed by a computer and data that can't?


Erm, Something about process elements and algorithm construction? About program objects? About the concept of modules?


errrrrm, uhm, (Will they send me a take-down notice if I put even one question in here? I'll re-word it.)


What strategy allows a company to bring in advanced technology and skilled technologists from another company?


No way to re-word the answers and keep the meaning:


  • M&A [??? Check the web for buzzwords. Ahah. エムアンドエー。 merger and acquisition]
  • R&D [research and development, we assume?]
  • アライアンス [alliance]
  • 技術提携 [technical partnership]
Wait. 待ってよ。

This is not basic IT, this is business. IT business maybe, but business. Comparative interpretation of profits. Management techniques. Buzzwords galore. Gag. Patents in the test, too!!! Strategy, strategy, strategy!!!!!!


Deep breath. Let's go back and see if this really was intended as the entry-level exam.


Yeah, that was level 1, and level 4 is all the individual topics. So this is not the inverted rank like the language tests I'm needing to take, where 1 is highest and 5 or 9 is lowest.


They've just made a business overview of the current state of the market the entry level test.


Well, I guess I can handle that. I've seen this kind of craziness before.


I would need to buy a recent book for the test to decode the buzzwords and the context of expectations, but it should be an easy read. Might be useful just to get me through interviews a little better. Don't really have the money, but maybe I can skip lunch for a week.


Old books like I'd find at the library are not going to be useful with these kinds of questions, of course.


Let's see, registration begins next week, the new materials should be available, the tests are mid-October. I don't see anything that tells me I have to start with the lower-level tests, I'll have to check the registration forms to be sure.


But it's still not really timely.


Monday, June 14, 2010


(With apologies to Gilbert O' Sullivan)

In a little while from now,
if I'm not finding any more leads,
I promise myself to treat myself to a visit to unemployment
and, climbing to the second floor,
to throw myself on their mercy
in an effort to make it clear to whoever,
what it's like to be let go --
Left here in the lurch
with no pay
and teachers saying,
OH, NO! it's tough,
how we gonna teach?
Won't you come back in three months?
I could if I'm alive.
How are my kids gonna survive?
Unemployed again,


Friday, June 4, 2010

The necessity of Assistant Language Teachers in Japan

Many people question whether it is really necessary to have foreigners assisting in teaching foreign languages in Japan. It's a good question.



In truth, the Japanese program for teaching English in the primary grades is not bad. If anything, it's too good. (I suppose I'll have to rant about how an education program can be too good. Later.)


At any rate, when the Japanese teachers use the resources they have, and put out a little effort, the program works as well as it might be expected to, even without the ALTs.


Pronunciation? Grammar?


Horror stories about errors perpetuated are like horror movies -- they have little to do with the real world. (Or they promote a perverted view of the real world.)


You don't have to be perfect to teach. You just have to be willing to try to help children see the meaning in things.


Some people question the goal of teaching every student English. That's not the real goal, the real goal is to give them important communication tools that are often best obtained by learning a foreign language. English just happens to be the best choice to standardize on.



(Why standardize? And, really, why English? Those are, indeed, very good questions, and I'll have to rant about that later, as well.)


So, if the program is good enough, without the foreign ALTs, why have ALTs?


How, indeed, do I justify the humongous salary I was receiving to stand around and spout "native" English in class at the lead teacher's request?


Number one. I was not receiving huge money. Ten, twenty years ago, the pay was good, maybe too good, and that's something else I want to rant about later. I have never received that kind of pay. I've barely received enough to keep my own kids in school.





So, why?


In truth, there are better solutions, many of which involve making it easier for foreigners to work normal jobs in Japan. Others involving giving primary school children more options. I need to rant about both of those subjects sometime, too.


My wife and I tried to raise my son bi-lingual. It worked okay until we put him into day-care at four. (Yeah, another topic for another day.) From that time until he was in the third grade (elementary), he absolutely refused to touch English.


In the 3rd grade, an ALT visited his class. Finally, he got a chance to see that there was, indeed, someone besides his crazy dad and sometimes crazy mom who talked in those crazy sounds.

Thomas the Tank Engine, etc. didn't do the trick for that. Like magic shows.



Some ALTs really don't do much more than stand around doing the human CD player gig. My first few months, that was almost all I could do.


After building trust with the teachers, however, I was able to give one-on-one help to the students, both during class and after. I found many ways to earn my wages. There are many of us who do. I think most ALTs who stick with it for long do so.


Could Japanese citizens be doing the same job?


Well, yeah. Maybe. But they don't, and that's one of the points.


The regular teachers are overworked as it is.


In an ideal Japan, no, not necessary. In the real world, you don't want to do the job without us.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I pad.

Well, yeah, Apple has hit the sweet spot again with this iPad thing. According to the sales reports, they've hit a good market window, too. They're good at that sort of thing.


And the processor is neither INTEL nor x86. Yay!


Yeah, I want one. A whole bunch, in fact, one for each member of my family.


No, my budget isn't going to stretch that far. Not this year.


My wife and children really wouldn't know what to do with an iPad anyway.

まあ、家の嫁さん、子供たちは今のところ iPad なんてそれほど使いこなせないでしょう。

Eh. Wait a minute.


My children would figure it out quickly enough, and the boss would not be far behind.


By the time I can afford one, I'm sure they'll have a lot of the bugs worked out.


Maybe there will even be solutions to make them compatible with Linux machines. (Fat chance of that.)


[update -- June 5th]

I was in Osaka last week wrapping up the contract that just ended, and I took the chance to drop by the Apple Store and check the iPad out.

先週、終わった契約の後片付けに、大阪に行った。ついでにアップルストアに寄り道して、 iPad を視てきた。

Erm. I guess my enthusiasm gets a little moderation here.


It feels like a large cell phone. Yeah. Klunky.


No, I take that back. It's not that bad.


No way I would put it in the same class as my Docomo-branded Panasonic-built Linux-hidden-in-there-somewhere-and-where-is-the-source? cell phone.


It feels like the iPhone on steroids.

ステロイド射たれて拡大された iPhone という感じだ。

Oh. That's what it is.


Maybe I still want one, or maybe I want Sharp's NetWalker instead. If I had the budget, I'd probably want both.

まだ欲しいかも知らない。でも、シャープ社の NetWalker を先に欲しいかも分からない。予算あれば両方欲しい。

But what I really want, nobody seems to want to make.


I want the NetWalker with the cellphone radio and headset jack built-in.

携帯無線電話装置と、ヘッドホン・マイクの差し込み口を内在している NetWalker がほしい。

(Maybe an iPhone with a blue-tooth keyboard will do? Oh, and I'd have to buy into the developer program, too. Gotta be able to program it myself. But I want to be able to tweak the programs when I'm on the train, too.

iPhone とブルートゥースキーボートを組み合わせたらどう、かな?ただし、開発者プログラムにも有料登録しないと行けない。自分でプログラムを組むから、な。でも、電車に乗っている間プログラム弄ることができないとダメ。あかん、アカン。)

iPad? Again, I need a physical keyboard. The iPhone/iPad user interface model is too narrow for me.

アイパッドはどうでしょう?本物のキーボードはここにもいる。ボクには iPhone/iPad の利用者接触面が狭すぎる。

I found myself continually wanting to do something the UI architects haven't been able to squeeze in yet.


In the case of cursor control, the UI takes too long figuring out I want to edit, and there are places it won't give me cursor control at all.


And the developer program, of course. But I haven't checked. Does the developer program provide the tools for compiling on the iPad itself?

やはり、開発者プログラムも要る。しかしまだ未確認の点ですが、 iPad 本体上にコンパイルするのは可能かな?

What I want instead of the iPad is the Macbook Air. Running both Linux and Mac OS X. (Can you really squeeze a useable Parallels install into a Macbook Air?) On a non-Intel processor. (Thank you for your non-support, Intel.) Preferably a multiprocessor ARM, although I'd take a dual G4 PPC. Or even an AMD!

iPad の代わりに欲しいのは Macbook Air かも知れない。ただし、リナックスもマック・オ・エス・テンも平行に稼働しているまま。(Parallels を本格的に、使いこなせる形、 Macbook Air に搾って導入できるでしょう?)それはインテル社以外のプロセッサーだよ。(インテルよ!非応援ありがとう!)望ましくは 複合 ARM。 Dual G4 PPC でもいい。さもなければ AMD!



Sunday, April 4, 2010

silence is not golden

Time to break the silence. Break ranks, really.


(By my contract, I'm not supposed to talk about this stuff in public, but, when conditions become as they are, those terms becomes unconscionable.)


Hmm. I'd like to break the silence, but I'm not sure where to start.


When I started working as an assistant English/language teacher (ALT/AET) here four years ago, I had intended to run a regular blog talking about the experience. But I realized that, contract aside, there were moral issues about the information, too much personal information to wash out, and figuring out how to make an interesting blog that doesn't breach someone's right to their own information took more time than I could put in on it.


Working in IT, I understand that sort of thing all-too-well.


Anyway, I find myself, after four years in a job that I knew was a dead-end, facing a two-month contract and then a three-month chasm, with unknowns beyond that. If I were single, no big deal. If my wife and I had no children, well, it would not be easy on my pride, but it would not be an impossible situation.


But we have two children, and if I don't get work in June, we all don't eat, and they don't go to school.


The last several summers, I've made ends meet by working summer or part-time jobs, graveyard shift sorting packages for the parcel post or sorting and checking orders for a cake manufacturer, eight-plus hour shifts as a guardsman waving the red wand around at fireworks displays and roadwork sites, concerts, etc. That way I was able to stretch the already tight budget across an always unpaid August.


(See, I'm not really a teacher employed by the shool board. I'm an uncertified assistant, a temporary worker, no less, employed by a staffing agency. A scab by some interpretations.)


But three months is too long a stretch, and we don't know whether our company will be able to get the contract again in September.


There are laws, you see, to protect somebody or other from the evil that would occur if we were allowed to work too long for the same school district.


Well, this is going to be a long rant, and I want to translate it, so I'm going to stretch it across several posts.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Everybody's Beautiful in English Class

There's a problem with sharing all the interesting and funny things that happen in class. It's called, "personal information". In a legal sense, I have to wash whatever I share of identifying data -- names, dates, places, and all the details that make it a smooth read. In a moral sense, I'm not the only one there, so I really don't have the right to act unilaterally with the information.

(This is the fundamental reason why gossip is wrong, even when it isn't "bad". But that's a rant for another day.)

That said, with care, I think I can share a few things.

For instance, two days ago, I joined the lead teacher for a jr. high 2nd year (8th grade, in US terms) class.

You know the age group. In the statistical mean, they have been struggling for almost two years with their hormones and, at the same time, trying to understand the adjustments as they are being helped as gently as is possible (ergo, not very) to make the transition from the walled gardens we call elementary schools to the adult world. (Run-on sentence, yes.)

Well, the subject of the lesson was, what was it? Oh, yeah. It was a poster made by a Japanese volunteer to help Cambodian children learn to read.
You see, some Cambodian children can't read the danger signs.
Or something like that. (Yes, illiteracy is part of the problem with landmines.)

And the lead teacher was trying to explain the phrase, "You see, ..."

It's easy to confuse the phrase with "... as you see, ..." [ご覧のとおり== go-ran no toori] and similar phrases. It's also easy to see it as just an intensifier. [ほら! == Hora!]

I thought I'd try to help:
My father-in-law often says, "見てみ" [mite-mi].
(That's actually closer, I suppose, to ,"See!" or "See, here." But, really, we humans are usually kind of sloppy with interjections.)
Your father speaks Japanese?

My wife's father.
[Joeru-sensei no okusan no otousan, ... == Joel-sensei's wife's father, ...]
[Ehh? Joeru-sensei, kekkonshiteru? == Huh? Joel-sensei is married?]
美人なの?[Bijin nano? == She's beautiful?]
Of course.
もちろんって。[Mochiron-tte. == "Of course." (He says.) ]
ポンキュウポン? [Pon-kyuu-pon?]

If you're familiar with Japanese pseudo-onomatopoeia, I don't need to explain that. I, myself, get confused easily. But I knew what he meant. It would be similar to an American boy intoning "36-24-36", or whistling while drawing the hourglass shape in the air. I think, in fact, this particularly young man did draw the hourglass shape in the air. (From him, it was a bit unexpected.)

Pon -- rhymes with "bone" -- would be the sound a bump makes, kyuu -- rhymes with "Q" -- would (probably) be sound of the para-Chinese reading of the ideogram that means, "steep, sudden". In this case, vertical more than steep or sudden, I think.

Well, my wife (no, really) when we married, was awfully close to 36-24-36. A bit narrower at the hips than that, a bit more shouldered than busty. Something like the reality behind those idealized female superheros we used to see in (American) comic books before the manga invasion. But it's not uncommon in Japan.

She still has a good figure.

I, myself, have rebelled against those overly idealized charicatures of beauty. So I was shaking my head and chuckling a little, thinking to myself something like, "How do I help you really understand what beauty is?"

He, of course, misunderstood my reaction.
And I couldn't help laughing a little.
キュウキュウキュウ?[Kyuu-kyuu-kyuu?] ポンポンキュウ?[Pon-pon-kyuu?]
And a few other combinations, and I was having trouble not rolling on the floor. Pon-poko-pon, and visions of tanuki playing in my head. I had to do something.
Everybody's beautiful!
Misunderstood, I'm sure. I wrote it on the chalkboard, just to be sure the students got it. Things quieted down a bit and the lead teacher finished explaining the phrase, "You see."

But female figures kept coming up, of course, so I had to keep calling out, "Everybody's beautiful!"

Which is something I really wish I could get these young men and women to understand.