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Yaeyama Islands


For winter vacation, I'm headed to the Yaeyama Islands, which are in the far SW of Okinawa, Japan.

12/25✈ Haneda → Ishigaki.🏨 Blue Cabin Ishigakijima
12/26⛴ Ishigaki → Ohara, Iriomote.🏠 Minshuku Yamaneko
12/31⛴ Iriomote → Ishigaki.🏨 Hotel Mr. Kinjo Suns in Ishigaki
1/6✈ Ishigaki → Haneda.

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Tokyo Marathon


I'm going to run the Tokyo Marathon on March 1, 2020. 2017 and 2018 were great, so why not do it again?

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
            9/1910.1 km 9/20  9/215.1 km
9/22  9/2310.8 km 9/2411.1 km 9/25  9/26  9/27  9/2810.0 km
9/29  9/309.9 km 10/15.0 km 10/2  10/3  10/4  10/5 
10/611.1 km 10/7  10/8  10/9  10/105.1 km 10/11  10/12 
10/1310.8 km 10/14  10/15  10/165.0 km 10/17  10/18  10/195.0 km
10/2025.3 km 10/215.0 km 10/22  10/235.0 km 10/24  10/25  10/26 
10/275.0 km 10/2815.3 km 10/29  10/305.0 km 10/3125.3 km 11/15.0 km 11/2 
11/35.0 km 11/4  11/5  11/6  11/7  11/8  11/9 
11/10  11/11  11/12  11/13  11/14  11/15  11/16 
11/17  11/18  11/19  11/20  11/21  11/22  11/23 
11/24  11/25  11/26  11/27  11/28  11/29  11/30 
12/1  12/2  12/3  12/4  12/5  12/6  12/7 
12/8  12/9  12/10  12/11  12/12  12/13  12/14 
12/15  12/16  12/17  12/18  12/19  12/20  12/21 
12/22  12/23  12/24  12/25  12/26  12/27  12/28 
12/29  12/30  12/31  1/1  1/2  1/3  1/4 
1/5  1/6  1/7  1/8  1/9  1/10  1/11 
1/12  1/13  1/14  1/15  1/16  1/17  1/18 
1/19  1/20  1/21  1/22  1/23  1/24  1/25 
1/26  1/27  1/28  1/29  1/30  1/31  2/1 
2/2  2/3  2/4  2/5  2/6  2/7  2/8 
2/9  2/10  2/11  2/12  2/13  2/14  2/15 
2/16  2/17  2/18  2/19  2/20  2/21  2/22 
2/23  2/24  2/25  2/26  2/27  2/28  2/29 
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat



This summer I took students to Boston for two weeks, sent them home, and then spent another two weeks visiting friends and family around the country.

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7/21🚌 Musashino → Narita.🏨 東横イン成田空港 新館
7/22✈ Narita → Dallas → Boston.🏢 Tufts University
7/23We opened with an ice-breaker where students all join hands and try to unscramble themselves. A tweak I'd never seen before is to require that left hands go with right hands. Adding this extra rule makes each team talk a little more before starting to untangle themselves. For another speaking warm-up, we split students into three lines. The line on the left had a message to say to the line on the right, and the line in the middle spoke and yelled to disrupt communication. In the afternoon we went for a tour of MIT and continued with group projects students started last month. The process we're using is called design thinking, which is similar to the "twenty-four steps" method of product development.
7/24In the morning we went to Harvard University. The tour was fairly generic — there's lots of history, but the guide didn't know it, and the campus looks a lot like any other university campus. Still, it was cool to see where my grandfather and great grandfather went for their PhDs. In the afternoon we did group work. Students are working on a big problem-solving project, and today they did an analysis using the nested theory framework.
7/25The creator of PoolText, Ali Furkan Akin, gave a talk about his career and how he formed his start-up. He had a good job in Turkey, left it to get an MBA from MIT, worked for Sprint, and then made a new company with several of his friends. It was pretty exciting to hear him tell the story. In the afternoon we went to Greentown Labs, an environmentally-focused incubator. Their work was cool to me, but our students don't know much about start-up businesses or technical environmental problems, so I don't they learned very much.
7/26Students made empathy maps for their projects. There are many tools in the Ideation process they're using, and empathy maps are one way to focus on the target persona for the thing they're making. I took a group of students to a burrito shop, but sadly the quality was kinda meh. They told me that horchata tastes like yatsuhashi, a famous Kyoto sweet.
7/27The creator of room2learn came and spoke with us in the morning. She started the website and company in order to help teachers and architects work together to build classrooms that fit the kinds of lessons they want to teach. Later, students worked on their projects and wrote a user story. On another note, the dining hall here at Tufts University is expensive but has decent food. The vegetable and salad selection is quite nice. This is quite different from my experiences in Japan, where it's remarkably hard to find vegetables when you're eating out.
7/28Students spent most of today working on their projects. In the afternoon we started making prototypes and writing pitches. It's in the 90s, and indoor work is ideal.
7/29Students gave midterm presentations today. The key points were empathy, expression, passion, message, and English. For practice we did a rotation where each group presented to five different teachers separately, so that they got five chances to speak and five different reactions and recommendations. In the afternoon students started to consider financing and channels for their products.
7/30In the afternoon we took the train to the Boston Commons and hit up Fanueil Hall for lunch. Tasty lobster — I waited all week for it. After that we went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
7/31In the morning students did interview work at Harvard University. I took a few students to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. Solid American Chinese food.
8/1We went to the MIT Museum and played with Lego robotics in the morning. I haven't done mobile robotics since college and these Lego kits look like a great way for students to get a toe into the water. Students are nervous about their upcoming presentations, and there is some conflict within many of the teams as students try to align their personal and team goals.
8/2Students spent the day preparing for tomorrow's sales pitches. I took a nap in the afternoon. Last night I moved the mattress from the bed frame to the floor and my back felt much better.
8/3Today our students gave their final presentation, a sales pitch for their product. it went better than I expected because the topics they have her very open-ended and that means it's easy for the students to feel like their project is lacking depth even though they have considered it carefully. one notable thing is that when they finish their presentations we had a young man who owns several companies, he was one of the judges and he asked a lot of difficult questions — for example, regarding the funding model or attracting users — and most of the groups were able to answer most of the questions to some degree, which is quite challenging. entrepreneurship is not what I teach and it's not my area of expertise but it was cool to see the final results of this two-week summer study abroad trip.
8/4We got up at three in the morning to go to the airport. The students and other teachers fly back to Japan today. I went with them to the airport and fell asleep on the airport bench after they saved goodbye and cleared security. Later I dropped off my bags at the airport hotel and headed out to see the city. My first stop was Belle Isle Marsh, a quiet place to take a nap. In the afternoon I saw the Blue Man Show, a music and performing arts act. It would be neat to bring the students here next year.🏨 Hilton Boston Logan Airport
8/5✈ Boston → Minneapolis → Grand Forks.🏠 5571 Charlie Ray Drive.
8/6My parents built a new house last year. It has thick walls with tons of insulation and was designed to be highly energy efficient. As best we know, it's the only house in Grand Forks that has solar panels at all, which surprised me. Perhaps the upfront costs plus worries about winter snow have scared off everyone else? The yard is a giant prairie flower garden.
8/7Betsy and Dex help run adventure races in the summer. We went up to a hiking trail near the Pembina Gorge to clean up trail markers from the most recent race. It was a half day walking through creeks and following game trails, with great scenery and few mosquitoes.
8/8We went canoeing on the Red Lake River in the afternoon. North Dakota has very nice summers. It gets hot, but that's offset by the breeze and the dryness. I like being outside.
8/9Betsy and I went for a bicycle ride in Turtle River State Park. It's a beautiful little park that I went to a lot back in elementary school.
8/10✈ Grand Forks → Minneapolis → Seattle.🏠 Kirkland
8/11We got a late start. Marjorie, Zoe, and I headed out to a campground near Mt. Rainier.⛺ Ohanapecosh Campground
8/12The weather was good. We did a short day hike in the morning and a longer day hike in the afternoon. The wildflowers are still in season up here in Rainier National Park.⛺ Seaquest State Park
8/13We drove into Mt. St. Helens National Forest. There are several excellent visitor centers, but the mountains are where it's at. I went on a seven-mile hike to Spirit Lake with nice views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood.🏨AirBnB Portland
8/14We hit up the OMSI in the morning and met with Toby for lunch. Portland is a nice city for walking around, and we did.
8/15We went to Powell's bookstore in the morning. I don't buy paper books for myself, but my school can always use a few extra novels for returnee students.🏠 Kirkland
8/16Doing an escape room was a first for me, and it was pretty exciting. In the afternoon we went to Living Computers, a museum with all sorts of old computers and video games, many of which are mostly functional. We played Oregon Trail and looked at punch card readers.
8/17Marjorie took me to Nash's house and on the way we stopped at Taco Bell. in the evening Nash and I went over to Matt and Diana's and we had dinner together.
8/18Jez and her husband Matt picked me up. We headed over to West Seattle and walked on the beach and had a seafood lunch. In the evening, Nash and I went to see a movie. It was really nice to spend time with relatives and friends that I haven't seen in a long time on my last day in the US.
✈ Seattle → Narita.

Moving Apartments


My old place was quiet, but it had little direct sunlight. That was fine, but after a year and a half, I wanted to move into something sunnier. At the same time, I decided to go smaller. My previous apartments were two-bedroom, but I don't really need a second room unless guests are staying over, which isn't very often. I had a big shelf that was mostly empty and a bed that was far too large. So I replaced them with a small shelf and a small bed. In the process of moving, I also got rid of some possessions I haven't used in several years.

The thru-hiker's rule of thumb is that if you don't use it every day, get rid of it. That's too aggressive for general living, but the same kind of perspective is helpful. I had some large stuff in a large apartment, and that was fine, but owning it and paying for it takes some effort. It's quite nice living in a smaller place now. There's a little less junk, and I save a little extra each month.

LocationNishikubo, Musashino
Floor4F (of 4F building)
Bicycle ParkingCovered bicycle parking
Rent¥75,000 (¥72,000 家賃 + ¥3,000 管理費)
Key Money¥72,000
Security Deposit¥72,000
Realtor Fee¥72,000
Renter's Insurance¥15,000 (2年間)
Guarantor Company¥37,500 (1年目)
Build DateFebruary 2010

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New Zealand


For winter vacation I took a trip to New Zealand. I had a wonderful time and definitely recommend the journey. Here's where I went.

12/23✈ Haneda → Guangzhou
I didn't know New Zealand had such wonderful geography until the Lord of the Rings movie came out. So then I wanted to visit, but it's relatively far from everything and relatively expensive, too. Fortunately, the December-January airline prices are reasonable, and that's summer in New Zealand. I also read online that there are a great many decent quality campsites for $15 a night, and car rentals are reasonably priced as long as you book them months early. So I got the ticket, reserved the rental car, and spent ten minutes reading the Internet to plan the whole thing.
12/24✈ Guangzhou → Auckland
My lack of planning paid off, in a way. Apparently I had reserved the car a day later than I planned to, so that gave me some time to kill in Auckland. But hey, no worries, it's not like I had anywhere I had to be. I spent a few hours looking at maps and some guy's favorite North Island hikes list.
🏨 ibis Budget Auckland Airport Hotel
12/25I walked around Mangere until the car rental was ready. It was on-and-off rain all day. In the evening I got to the campsite but still it was raining. Around 8PM, the rain mostly stopped, so I got the tent set up and went inside, and the rain picked back up again. There was a severe wind advisory, and mine was the only tent in the campground... Actually it turns out there were other people, and I was just camping in the wrong area in the park but didn't find out until the following day, presumably because the ranger decided not to worry about it when the weather was in a funk.
⛺ Te Haruhi Bay Campground
12/26I contemplated driving far north but changed my mind and instead drove around the Mangawhai Heads area. The steep grassy hills and roads without cars are reminiscent of NE Thailand. In the afternoon I walked and ran and swam in Shakespear Regional Park, where the campground is. This is quite the spot for kiteboarding. It's cool how those people can carve turns and get big air.
⛺ Te Haruhi Bay Campground
12/27I drove several hours in the morning. In the afternoon, I went for a day hike up to the Pinnacles. One can go all the way to the top, but my start was late, and my speed was slow, so I got to the viewpoint, enjoyed the view, ate a New Zealand apple and a granola bar, and headed back down. In the late afternoon, I drove NE to the campground. This road is twisty, windy, all kinds of turns. Plus, it's heavily crowned gravel for a few dozen kilometers. I can't imagine it'd be much fun in the rain ... which is slightly foreboding, perhaps, because the weather forecast shows rain in two days.
⛺ Waikawau Bay Campground
12/28The campground water supply requires purification. I haven't used this jar of iodine in many years but it's up for the task. The other day at the grocery store I had bought some expensive instant coffee, so I made a cup of it, which tasted bad but not nearly as bad as cheap instant coffee, and ate a peanut butter sandwich. There's good bread all over the place here, and peanut butter sandwiches are suitable for any meal. In the late morning, I went out on a three-hour hike, Matamataharekeke Hike. It started from the back of the campground, went out along the river valley, up to a high overview of the mountains and beaches and ocean, and then followed the ridge down, ending at the campground. In the afternoon I went to the beach and swam in the ocean and sat in the sun for a while. Sunburn is a concern, so after a while I headed back to the car, with a quick stop at the beach-side shower to get clean.
⛺ Waikawau Bay Campground
12/29In the morning I went to Cathedral Cove, a neat rock arch down by the sea. It rained a little walking down to the cove at the beach, but nobody seemed worried about it. Neither was I. On the other hand, sunlight is a concern because I shaved my head the other week and it's easy to get sunburned if I get careless. It's been years since I burned the top of my head, and it sucked then, so let's assume it'd be about as bad now. Anyway, after checking out the arch I headed south to a small town that had a hotel room available, checked in, took a shower, and shaved. My scraggly beard growth was at that itchy length, and it looked fairly splotchy. Also, there's a laundromat nearby, so I washed all of my clothes.
🏨 Katikati Motel
12/30It took about two hours to drive to this campsite. It's a no-reservations site, so I wanted to get here early. This is up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. What a nice location. The water supply is the nearby stream, but I brought a few large bottles of water so there's no need for iodine just yet. In the afternoon I drove down some gravel roads. The economy-class rental car is totally unsuitable for the bumps and potholes — this brings back memories of damaging the axles on my Mazda Demio back in Akita years ago — but hey, better a rental car than one you own, and anyway that's why I bought the expensive insurance package. In the end, the car didn't break, and I got to the trailhead, and climbed to the top of Mount Pureora. The view from the top was a scenic 360 degree panorama.
⛺ Kakaho Campsite
12/31Skydive Taupo. This was totally awesome. Several of my students who studied abroad in New Zealand did skydiving when they were here, and I felt like, hey, maybe I should try that, too. The location is part of the experience. Here, we took off from an airport in Taupo and on the ride up and the fall down, we had great views of Lake Taupo, the ocean far to the east, and the mountains near to the south. This dive started at 15,000 feet, and they open the parachute at 5,000 feet. The guy let me handle the controls for a minute; that was pretty neat, too. The free fall itself is neat because the stomach turning sensation, the Oh hey, I'm falling right now. feeling goes away when you hit terminal velocity. But you're still going super fast, and it's exciting as hell, and you could yell but nobody could hear you over the wind anyways. There's time enough to look around, to look down, to feel like, Hey, I'm going down there, really fast. Very cool stuff. In the afternoon, I went for a hike from Spa Park, near Taupo, down the river an hour to Huka Falls. On the return, I went for a swim at Spa Park. There's a hot spring creek that flows into the stream, and it was a little crowded, but I got to cool off and take a quick bath.
⛺ Kakaho Campsite
1/1The Tongariro Crossing is a highly recommended 20 km day hike, and now I know why. The scenery is mostly desolate — a volcano that was used for Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings, plus several steam vents and some alpine lakes that look like they're sitting on top of steam vents, considering the light blue and yellow and white colors here and there. According to a guide website, the hike itself is usually quite crowded, and I had fears it'd be an ant march like Mt. Fuji, but actually the people were much more reasonable in number. After a nice hike, it was a two-hour drive to the campsite. This campsite has hot showers. I didn't bring any shampoo, so I used dish soap to wash my hair ... although my hair is very short, so it doesn't really matter.
⛺ Otorohanga Motor Camp
1/2The Waitomo Glowworm Caves is a pretty cool place, first because it's a cave so the temperature inside is well that outside, and second because the glowworms are kind of magical in appearance. This cave has some stalactites and stalagmites and columns and whatnot, but the reason to come is to see the little blueish greenish glowing dots on the roof of the cavern.
⛺ Otorohanga Motor Camp
1/3The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour is a fun stop if you liked the books or the movies. Peter Jackson and his crew made a spectacular village for the Lord of the Rings, it was abandoned for a decade, and then they re-made it for The Hobbit, after which it opened for tours.
⛺ Otorohanga Motor Camp
1/4The last day is a half day. In the morning I drove up to Ngarunui Beach near Raglan. It was windy and appropriately filled with hundreds of surfers. After a relaxing break on the beach, I drove north, back to Auckland Airport for the flight home.
✈ Auckland → Guangzhou
1/5✈ Guangzhou → Haneda

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Homework Objectives


What is the point of homework? I was chatting with my coworkers the other day and learned they were spending long hours grading homework. I asked them why, and we had a fascinating conversation. It turns out they were spending ten times as long on it as I was, because they felt like it was somehow proper or necessary, but on later reflection we agreed that oftentimes it isn't.



The first and most common objective of homework is to practice something. Students studied it in class, and you want them to get some reinforcement, so they do some drills at home. Suppose they are learning to spell some words, and their homework is to write each word five times. The next class, you show up, and collect the homework. Here's an important question: Should you carefully check that they spelled each word correctly? In my view, no. Most of the time you don't need to check so carefully. If you're smart, you'll have a spelling test in class, and tests are the place to find out exactly how good their spelling is. When you're grading their homework, you can take a quick look, see that they did it mostly correctly, and give them an A. Remember, if they were supposed to practice by doing their homework, and they did, even if they were wrong in certain places, then they did what you asked, so give them the A already.

I sometimes feel weird writing "100" or "A" on something that might have errors, so I instead draw a star or use a "Good Work!" stamp to indicate it was done well. Conversely, if students skip sections, copy, or are obviously careless, I write "0" or "25" or "50" and a note explaining why.


In college you were probably assigned to read some pages before coming to class. It's possible to use homework as a way to preview a topic, or to get students' minds primed so you can jump into it quickly in class, either for a project or a discussion. In many junior and senior high schools, this is probably less effective than in college, because some students don't care about your class. You can give it a try, but have a backup plan in case things fizzle out.


Sometimes we assign homework mostly because it's fun, or at least we hope students will feel that it's fun. If you ask students to make an exciting video about something, you'll be surprised how much energy they might put into it.


I don't assign much homework, and most of what I do assign is stuff that we started doing in class and we ran out of time. By making it homework, I'm encouraging students to use class time efficiently. If Jane was focused and finished the paper in class, but Jimmy was sleeping, then Jimmy has to finish up at home. Jane feels happy because she can take it easy later, and Jimmy still learns whatever I wanted him to learn.

Check Answers in Class

Suppose your students do a homework assignment with three parts: a true/false section, a spelling section, and a paragraph writing section. In class, before you collect it, ask them to correct the first two sections themselves. You can say the answers aloud or write them on the board, and students can see what they did right or wrong much faster than if they had to wait until you graded it. Also, if they have questions about why something is what it is, they have a good chance to ask you. Since they can't reasonably check their own paragraph writing, you'll have to handle that later.

You might worry that students will cheat, and either they'll write down the correct answers when you say them and pretend they finished it at home, or they'll pretend an answer is correct even when it's wrong. In my experience, this doesn't happen very often. You can easily see if they are holding a red pen or pencil, and even if they grade their homework erroneously, that won't help them when similar questions appears on the test later. Ideally, your tests look similar to your homework, and you can tell your students this, which should help them focus on properly identifying and understanding mistakes.

Don't Fix Everything

Suppose your students did the above homework, and in the writing section they each wrote a paragraph about their favorite breakfast and why it is or isn't healthy. You're now grading the writing section. Many teachers have a strong urge to fix all the mistakes. This is wrong. It's wrong, and the reasons it's wrong are cool to think about.

First of all, you're a teacher and you're busy with many tasks. If you want to provide detailed writing feedback with lengthy corrections for hundreds of students on a regular basis, you probably can't do that in your working hours. So then you're taking things home and working overtime, for which you almost certainly don't get paid. That makes your life suck, so don't do it. But you might object, and you might say something like, No, no, I agree my life sucks right now, but it's for the good of the students! I have to help out the students, so I'll do it anyway. OK, it's good that you care, but if you really believe that, then it's your duty to go to the boss and tell him you need fewer classes or an assistant so you can handle all of the writing. Don't overwork yourself on a regular basis when the problem is the lack of adequate staff. After all, whoever replaces you in the future might not put in those hours, and if you can fix the problem properly now, future students will benefit too.

Even if we ignore that, and you're OK with doing a ton of unpaid overtime, it's still bad to correct all the mistakes, because it destroys motivation. Imagine Joe writes his paragraph, hands it in, and gets it back with 28 mistakes noted in red pen. What will Joe feel? I imagine he'll feel pretty damn awful, like maybe he sucks at doing English, like maybe writing is pointless because he'll never get rid of all of those errors. Also, if he has 28 mistakes and you corrected all 28 of them, it really doesn't help anyone, because he's not going to read all of it. Understanding why something is wrong takes some time, and Joe might look at the homework for a minute or two, but that's it. So don't correct everything. Choose some mistakes that you think are the easiest to fix or the most important and correct those, and you'll help Joe focus that minute or two on something small and comprehensible.

Sometimes you don't want to correct mistakes at all, because you could just underline them instead. If you find five relatively simple mistakes and underline them, you can ask the student to figure it out on their own. If they already studied that spelling or grammar point, and they can do error correction themselves, it's a great learning opportunity and a useful life skill to develop.

Depending on the circumstances, you could respond to the content and not the delivery. If students are writing about their healthy breakfasts, you could correct the spelling and grammar as described above. But instead you might want to focus solely on the content. You could read their paragraph and put a comment at the bottom such as, The example you gave of bananas with high vitamin value was great. Nice job! and be done with it. This would show the student that you really care about their thoughts, which would raise their motivation for that type of work. It turns out that writing things, even if nobody corrects the mistakes, helps people get better at writing. So although sometimes you definitely want to proofread and mark things up in detail, you certainly don't have to do it all the time, and some of the time you don't have to do it at all.

End at the Term End

Suppose you collect some homework in the last class of the term, right before winter vacation. You could mark it up, grade it, and hand it back in January, but why? If the term test is done, the odds of students caring much about homework they finished a month prior are relatively low. In a situation where you can't return the homework in a prompt fashion, you don't have to return it at all. If it's something special, hold onto it until January, but if it's a fairly standard assignment, just enter the grade in your grade book, drop the paper in the shredder, and enjoy the holidays.


In summary, when you're grading, decide what you think is important. Once you know what the main objective is, you'll get a good idea of what to look for on students' papers. This will allow you to quickly focus on a few key areas, give students suitable feedback, and finish everything in a professional fashion.