Many big events have happened in the interval since our last correspondence. I hope here to illuminate you on at least a few of these as well as some of the more trivial details as well. So sit back and enjoy, for you are about to enter the Trev Report:
Trev's Love Life
Signe and I are doing swimmingly. We celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary on May 25th. It has been a great ride so far, and I am looking forward to spending many more happy years with my beautiful bride, who is still as radiant as the day I first met her.
Work has been keeping me busy as of late. The first week of July, I will be hosting an International Day event at one of the schools I work at, Kimita Junior High School (JHS) [http://www.kimita-j.hiroshima-c.ed.jp/index.html/]. The all-day event will bring together people from Canada, Egypt, Australia, the US, and New Zealand. Together they will teach the students about their respective countries and interact with them by playing fun educational games.
As the assistant language teacher (ALT) at Kimita JHS, I am in charge of planning the event and preparing the students as well as the guests for the day. The students will be presenting skits and songs in English to the international guests; much work has to be done so that it comes off without a hitch.
Signe organized this event last year, and I have some big shoes to fill to be able to pull it off half as well as she did. In any case, I will do my best.
Other than that, my work life has stayed relatively constant. I spend time at elementary schools and junior high schools entertaining children and making them interested in pursuing English more rigorously. It is a fun job, but I do not envision myself advancing in this career path much farther than I already have. Which brings us to the next section and some big news.
Trev's Career Change
As of May 21, 2007, both Signe and I have given notice of our resignation from our respective jobs here in Japan. We are going to leave the country for good on the weekend of July 28, 2007. This is a huge event that has been months in the making. And herein lies the details.
The town of Iinan [http://www.iinan.jp/], in which Signe and I live, consists of two distinct sections: Akagi, where we live, and Tonbara. Each of these sections houses an ALT. The former being Signe, and the latter being a man from Philadelphia called Mike. It is with this Mike that our decision was made.
Mike is a fine and upstanding fellow in his early thirties, much like Signe and I, who came to Japan to get a much-needed break from his life of computer consultant work in Philadelphia. For a number of years, Mike had been a self-employed computer consultant specializing in Macintosh computers (Macs), used by many artists and marketing firms. His decision to come to Japan, as I understand it, was due to the fact that he was burned out in his work and wanted to try something completely different.
Signe befriended Mike when I was in Thailand this summer with Mateo [http://www.flickr.com/photos/jumex/sets/72157594312547103/], and upon my return we hit it off together, having much in common with each other, like our shared interest in technology and philosophy to name a few things.
Throughout the year it became clear to Mike, as well, as us, that this life in Japan was not a good fit for him in the long term, and thus he started to make plans to return home after his year-long contract ended in July. In the process of doing this, he tackled the problem of finding a job when he goes home. It turns out that the fellow in Philadelphia that Mike gave all his consulting contracts to a year hence in preparation to coming to Japan, Jeff is his name, is positively swamped with work and desperate for Mike to return and alleviate his workload.
So, Mike and Jeff started to discuss consulting work and decided that they would go into business together and start a consulting firm in the Philadelphia area, instead of being simply two independent consults working together. This will give them the opportunity to grow the business and hopefully add consults and others down the road.
Mike was pleased with this plan, but for one thing. The reason he left Philadelphia in the first place is that he was burned out doing his job alone. With no one to help him with his work, no one to commiserate with, no one to get him through the rough spots, he could not take it anymore. Sometime during the long winter months here in the Japanese countryside, which are naturally the hardest for a new expatriate, while Signe and Mike were discussing the ins and outs of winter depression and the trappings of staying in Japan with no real future, Mike got it in his head that I would be an ideal companion for his new company back in the US. Thus he started courting me on the idea of leaving Japan and becoming employee number one at his yet-to-be-named corporation.
From the start I had my fair share of concerns and trepidations. Not least of which being my blissful ignorance of the Macintosh line of computer in the past ten years. The last Mac I used was a Quadra 650 in 1997 working as an intern at Palm Computing. Apple and its ilk had come a long way since then. Throughout my constant concern of inadequacy, Mike reassured me that for someone with my mindset and background in computing it would only be a matter of time until I understood the details of the platform as well as any other consultant in the field.
His constant encouragement, and the lending of one of Jeff's Macs (a PowerBook G4) to play and learn with eventually eased my trepidations and eliminated my fears of incompetence, which most certainly stem from the shame of being laid off from my first computer programming job after college in San Jose all those many years ago.
My next concern was a financial one. We would be going from two salaries to one, effectively halving our income, at least until Signe can get up on her feet in Philadelphia. This was a hard issue to deal with especially since we would be moving from a financially stable, albeit stagnant, position to a much more volatile, but also more expansive, field. I will not bore the reader with the details of our admittedly private discussions, needless to say that Signe and I were able to come to terms with this situation and accept the risk it lays before us.
Beyond those two larger issues lay mostly emotional barriers to moving: the fear of change, the idea that a return to the US would trap us there, the fright of gaining back the weight we have worked so hard to take off in the past year (Philadelphia being, as we hear it, the stoutest city in all of America), among countless others.
As must be quite apparent to you now, dear reader, we have come to terms with all this and have accepted Mike and Jeff's offer to move to Philadelphia and be their first employee. I am excited about the move, and now that it is official, I find myself ever anxious to start our new life in that foreign land called home.
Trev and Signe's Diet
Signe and I have been on the same online diet plan [http://www.edietsuk.co.uk/] since last summer, and the results are very visible. I can almost fit into a pair of size 34 pants. When I started the diet, I could barely squeeze into a size 40. None of my clothes fit me anymore, not that I am complaining. It is a great feeling. I have not felt this healthy and fit in a long time.
I still have a long way to go, though. I am 15 pounds away from my ideal weight. I think most of it is hovering around my belly, but that last stretch, I imagine, is the toughest to get rid of. I am going to keep at it. I actually feel good about how I look, and that is a great thing.
Signe is looking out of this world as well. It is hard to recall a time that she has looked more vibrant and in good shape. I could not do this without her. We keep each other honest, and the healthy dinners she prepares are fantastic.
Trev's Traffic Accident
Unfortunately, a bit of bad luck and poor judgment came over me a few months ago. Signe's brother and his girlfriend, Em and Katy, were visiting at the time and I had wanted to get to the bank to get money for them for the weekend before the bank closed. A light fluttering of snow had just begun as I came down a hill on a small road preparing to cross a lightless intersection with a busy main road.
In the twilight I looked both ways and, although seeing the large truck in the distance, judged that I would be able to make it across the street in time, so I went for it. As I crossed the street I failed to continue to glance at the oncoming traffic, so I was not aware just how close the 18-wheeler was to me, until I heard a horn honk.
The horn made me instinctively put on my brakes, which in retrospect was not the best of ideas. The driver honked at the precise moment I was in front of him, and when he hit it was a perfect t-bone collision with a vibrating crunch as my car spun off to the side of the road to smash into a guardrail and send a weakly reinforced stop sign flying away.
I would have come away from the accident completely unscathed if it was not for a convenient addition I put on the car. Often here in Japan one will see tricked out cars, and a very common add-on to these cars is an enlarged front mirror. This has the added usefulness to allow you to see a great deal of your back window, instead of just enough. I had installed a particularly large and rectangular one of these in my car about a month beforehand. It was on this that I flew forward and ripped a large gash on my head on.
A lot of blood, a frantic cell phone call, and an ambulance ride later I was at the local hospital with Signe, Em, and Katy at my side as I got 7 stitches sewn into my skull. The upside of this unfortunate series of happenstances is that I finally had a good excuse to change my hairstyle to a buzz cut, which suits my balding head much better than the head of hair I was sporting before with its noticeable hole in the middle.
The downside of it all is that according to Japanese law, since I was found to be ninety percent at fault for the accident, I have to pay for ninety percent of everything out of my own pocket. We did not have comprehensive insurance on the car, very few foreigners in Japan do, and the minimum insurance doesn't cover anything, it seems. I have to pay for the guardrail and signpost I knocked over and the cost to junk my car, of course. And those two were not so expensive. The big expense will be the repairs to the truck, which were slight, but still substantial. That seems manageable if it was not for the fact that I will also have to pay for the commercial truck's estimated lost income while it is in the repair shop. Although I have not received the bill yet from the truck company's insurance company, most Japanese people I have talked to agree that the sum will be quite large indeed.
Fortunately, Signe has stood by me throughout this entire ordeal, a fact that touches me deeply. That she stands by me in my stupidest hour, through such a grand lapse of judgment, is the sign of a true companion. I am beyond grateful for her steadfastness by my side. It means the world to me.
Have you ever thought that your brain is rotting away in your skull, as you sit there in your living room watching some mindless dribble on the idiot box, knowing you should be doing something, anything, but this? I do. Do not get me wrong; I love a bit of escapism. As I write later in this letter, I watch a fair bit of television and I like doing so, but I feel, sometimes, that my mind deserves more.
I am in a quandary. I have been reading a lot about Macintosh computers, Philadelphia, etc. But I want to do exercises that flex my brain muscles. Often I will start a project with this goal in mind only to abandon it for lack of interest or what I perceive as lack of utility. My biggest problem is not following a project to its logical conclusion, but instead getting sidetracked by the latest greatest thing I stumble onto. As always, it is focus I lack. One of the reasons I am taking this job in Philadelphia is to help refine that focus.
I have gotten into the habit of listening to audio books while I drive to and from work, as well as during my daily fifty-minute walk around town. In this way I have had the chance to listen to a great many interesting books. I would like to share some of them with you now.
_The Worst Hard Time_ by Timothy Egan is a nonfiction book documenting the lives of a few select families in the Texas panhandle and dust belt states through the Great American Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Mr. Egan goes to these old farm towns and interviews once hopeful people that, instead of heading west like the Okis in a Steinbeck novel, decided to stay out the dust bowl and hold on to what little they had, even if it was nothing at all. These people's first hand accounts of the black dusters, dust pneumonia, and the great wasting away of the ancient Indian prairie land as prospectors came and tilled land never meant for tilling, is heart-wrenching. I had no idea that the great devastation was a result of man's raping of the land. This was a great listen, and an important documentary of the people the survived one of America's greatest travesties.
_Water for Elephants_ by Sara Gruen is a novel about an old traveling circus worker told from two standpoints: one as a ninety-year-old (or ninety-three, he is not sure) man, and one as a youth in the circus in the 1930's. The circus side of the story if it stood alone would be a wholly unremarkable adventure/love story. What makes this book enchanting is the introspection of the old man self as he trips back and forth between his memories and his life in an old folk's home. It is his impressions of elderly life that is especially touching and powerful. The feeling of being forgotten by the world outside, weekly visits by family he can hardly remember anyway, being trapped in a building where everyone treats him like a child, it is all so moving. In the audio book this is driven home by the fact that the chapters are read by two separate people: a young man for the circus bits, and an older gentleman for the nursing home bits. This is a story that touched my heart. It is a good listen for anyone that expects to grow old. *smile*
_The Iliad & The Odyssey_ by Homer is a twenty-eight hour unabridged audio book that is read is a dry monotone voice. Nonetheless, I found it entertaining. There are so many classics of literature that I never read or missed out on, and it is nice to read (or listen, as the case might be) to them now. Twenty-eight hours of this stuff was hard to take, though. Especially _The Iliad_ since it is just one big battle scene with hardly a plot to be seen. My friend Mateo dislikes the _The Lord of the Rings_ movies because of wanton computer graphics battle scenes. _The Iliad_, with rare exception, felt like just such a scene. _The Odyssey_, on the other hand, was a fun adventure story, and I was largely able to forgive the mundane reader as the story drew me in. In brief, for those not in the know, the plots of the two stories are as follows: _The Iliad_: The Greeks attack Troy; Achilles is a whiny baby; then he is not; Hector bits the dust. _The Odyssey_: Odysseus leaves Troy a winner; he pisses off Poseidon; takes twenty years to get home; adventure ensues; he gets home and Penelope, his faithful wife, is being courted by a bunch of jerks; he kills them all; it's over!
_Empire_ by Orson Scott Card is a speculative fiction novel set in near-future USA and describes a new civil war between the radical left and the radical right. It is a very topical novel, and I imagine that it will lose its freshness in a few years time, but if read within the next few years I think a lot of people would enjoy it. I liked thinking about the concept it laid out: mainly that political polarization in the US is getting more and more radical with no answer in sight for reconciliation. The urban/liberal vs. rural/conservative divide [http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election/] in the US is real, and it seems that the news media is not helping the cause. You can either watch Fox News's talking heads throw insults at the left, or watch The Daily Show and its ilk throw insults to the right. I have to admit, I am more to the left, but would not it be better to try to understand the other side's viewpoints instead of bash them for believing what they do? In any case, this book might make you think about these things too, and if it does, I think that is a good thing.
_The Aeneid_ by Virgil is yet another classic piece of literature that I had never read before. The reader for this book, as opposed to the two tales by Homer I mentioned above, was extremely energetic and made the book a delight to listen to. _The Aeneid_ follows the journey of a minor character in _The Iliad_, a Trojan named Aeneas, as he escapes the burning wreckage of Troy after the Greek victory with a group of his cohorts and travels to the land of Italy where he settles and creates the foundation of what will be Rome. Aeneas goes through a lot of the same things Odysseus went through in _The Odyssey_ during the first half of the book as he journeys to Italy, but the second half was just a huge battle scene, and we know how I feel about those. In any case, it was good to listen to this ancient classic.
_On the Road_ by Jack Kerouac is an American epic of drifting and life in the beat culture of the 1950's. The Hollywood movie actor Matt Dillon reads this famous piece of modern literature, and does it well done. Kerouac paints a vivid picture of the American landscape in his journeys across the country and back again many times over. His portrayal of the American underbelly of the pristine 1950's is engaging and well articulated. Although it didn't inspire me to want to wonder the country aimlessly, I think that it is reading this book, in part, that makes me want to travel from Seattle to Philadelphia by car this summer. As far as plot and such go, _On the Road_ is sparse, it is more of a travel log, and reminded me of what would today be a blog, not a book.
_On Intelligence_ by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee is a book outlining a new theory on how the brain works. Writing with the layman in mind, Jeff Hawkins, the inventor of the PalmPilot, introduces the reader to his Memory Prediction Framework model of the mind and its implementations in the field of intelligent machines, if it is proven true. The most interesting leap that I saw in the book was the idea that the mind is not like a computer, but more like a really big database with the ability to guess, or predict, future events from looking at what had happened before. Listening to this got me really excited about the possibilities of this to technology if it were proven true. The field of truly intelligent machines would take off, and there would be a lot of money to be made in it. I will be watching the development of this field with bated breath.
_The Areas of My Expertise_ by John Hodgman is a comedy book about, well, the areas of John Hodgman's expertise. I hear that the print book is full of charts and tables, so since that does not translate well into spoken word, John Hodgman (who read the book himself) improvised for most of the book and recorded it with a guitarist as a comical sidekick throughout audio book. I first heard John Hodgman on National Public Radio's (NPR) _This American Life_, of which I always look forward to listening to on the radio. On the show, he is quite funny, but this audio book was a let down. There were a few good laughs, but for the most part his dry humor did not strike home with me. I really cannot recommend the book, but he is worth checking out on _This American Life_, if you are an NPR listener.
_Lolita_ by Vladimir Nabokov is another modern classic of the 1950's, like _On The Road_. This story about an unabashed pederast is startlingly vivid and frank without being openly perverse. The reader is very convincing as the main character, he sounds like you would imagine a slightly crazed man who has justified their actions in their head to sound. It was a bit disturbing, but very much worth listening to. The story is written like a confession written after the fact by the pedophile himself while in jail as an appeal to a potential jury. He goes into extreme detail about his feelings and emotions, but never delves into the vernacular acts performed with the pubescent Lolita. It is erotic without a hint of erotica; it is uncomforting but at the same time fascinating. It is hard not to recommend _Lolita_, although I do not want to revisit its pages anytime soon.
_World War Z_ by Max Brooks is a book about a massive world war where the dead rose to attack the living. Although this sounds like a boilerplate zombie story, there is a twist: the book is written in the style of a nonfiction report of the aftermath of the war. It is like reading a book about how 9/11 affected the lives of people around the world, but instead of 9/11, it is a zombie war. The author interviews a number of people from all over the world that were involved in the war effort, as well as regular people. What really brings the book to life, though, is the full cast of readers. The interviewer is the author himself, and the people he interviews are all well-known actors and actresses like Alan Alda. In fact, the audio recording has been nominated for audio book of the year at this year's Audies, which are the Oscars of the audio book industry. It was fun and interesting to listen to.
Although my literary reviews are all of audio books, I do read printed materials as well, but they are almost all in the form of the funny papers, as my friend Jason calls them. It is not the height of intellectual pursuits, but I do get guilty pleasure reading about the antics of my favorite superheroes. I mostly read comics in the DC Universe, Superman, Batman, and the like. I especially like the Green Arrow. The Green Arrow was invented as a sort of clone of Batman (rich guy learns martial arts to fight for good) with a Robin Hood twist. That is not so impressive, but starting in the 1980's comic book artists took the character and made him a hero of the left wing. In his current incarnation, he is the mayor of Star City, a town with a substantial amount of people under the poverty line. The Green Arrow spends much of his time defending those in need and pushing his liberal political agenda. It is a fun book to read, especially for a left-leaning guy like me.
I also read the Dynamite Comics Battlestar Galactica (BSG) books. It was the BSG comics that first got me interested in getting back into reading comics. I positively love BSG and have listened to the two audio books that are out, watched all the TV series, and I am still reading the comics. Sad, I know, but I am a sucker for good sci-fi. BSG is definitely good sci-fi.
There are only three games I play a lot these days. There are two for Mac OS X, and one for our XBOX 360. The XBOX 360 game that Signe and I play most often is called _Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion_. It is a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) with lots of long and involved quests and adventures to undertake. Unlike other popular fantasy-based RPGs that are popular these days (like _World of Warcraft_ and _Guild Wars_ to name a few) _Oblivion_ is not a massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG). MMORPGs are designed for many players around the world to play at the same time and adventure together. _Oblivion_, on the other hand, is designed to be a one-player experience. I do not really like to socialize while I am playing video games. For me socialization takes a marked effort and I cannot relax when I am forced to do it. That is why I do not like to go to parties or out to bars, it just is not fun for me. So playing one-player RPGs are a perfect fit for my personality, and they are really fun as well, that is a bonus.
While _Oblivion_ is a game I like to really get into, there are sometimes when I just want a small break from what I am doing to clear my head. In those times I turn to a home-brewed shoot-em-up (or shmup) called _rRootage_. _rRootage_ was created by a Japanese shmup enthusiast and is one of my favorite games in the genre. It is a simple game, you have a shoot button and a shield button and you have to destroy a big ship that is shooting endless bullets in ever-more-complex patterns at you. That is it. It is relaxing, but just challenging enough to keep me engaged. _rRootage_ is available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux.
Finally, I sometimes feel the need to think a little. When those rare moments come upon me and I have nothing better to do I load up _UniSudoku_ on my Macintosh and play some sudoku puzzles. I did not know what sudoku was until recently. Although sudoku is a Japanese word (meaning 'only one number'), it is not well known here under that name, but as 'number place,' which was the original name for the puzzles. I have read that these puzzles were insanely popular here in Japan in 2004, but I never heard of them out here in the backwaters of the Japanese countryside back then. I suppose it takes time to trickle down to out here. My friend Mike introduced me to the puzzles. Once I figured out what to do, they got pretty fun. Basically, you have a 9x9 grid and every row and every column must have every number from 1 to 9 in it exactly once. An added restriction is that each 3x3 box in the 9x9 grid must also contain all numbers 1 to 9 exactly once. That is it. _UniSudoku_ is a nice program because it lets you keep track of your guesses while you figure out the puzzle. It is a good brainteaser for those times you are feeling a bit too brain dead.
Despite wanting to improve my brainpower, I still like to zone out in front of the boob tube at times. Signe and I don't just watch anything, though. Using digital technology, we can pick and choose exactly what we want to watch and watch only that.
Our favorite show is _Battlestar Galactica_ (BSG). I think I have mentioned this before. *smile* BSG is a wonderfully thought out space opera, and the best sci-fi out there right now. We just found out that the show will officially end in 2008 at its fourth season. Although I am sad to see such a great program go off the air, but they are going out the right way. The creators decided to end the show instead of stretching it out until it gets cancelled. They said that they want a good ending, and I respect that and am looking forward to a great final season of my favorite show on TV.
BSG is our favorite, but _Heroes_ is a close second. _Heroes_ is a show about superheroes and conspiracy. It is really fun to watch and is directed a lot like a comic book is laid out. The first season just finished and was, in my opinion, very well done. The characters are interesting and the plot kept us guessing from week to week. I am looking forward to where they are going to go with it in their second season. It should be good.
I had about four more sections planned out for this edition, but they are all pretty unimportant, like what movies we have watched lately, etc. So I thought I would spare you the details and send this report off.
I am looking forward to getting your reactions to our big move. We are looking forward to going back to America and starting a new life there. Drop me a line if you have a spare moment.