Kaburi Pass

2018-11-02

Kaburi Pass (顔振峠) is an easy day hike in the outskirts of Tokyo. The starting point is Agano (吾野). From there, it's around 3.6 km to the summit of the pass. It's about half road walking and half trail walking. For most of the walk, you're close to a stream, which is nice for sound and cool air, and near the top there's a view of Mount Fuji if the weather is good. At the pass, you get to a road crossing, and the road crossing has a little restaurant run by an old woman with soba and udon. I had a bowl of sansai udon.

From the pass, you have several options. You could walk down the road either direction, but I kept following the path to the north. After a lot of downhill in thick forest, the trail comes out on a road near Kuroyama Santaki (黒山三滝). From there, it's a very long road walk to Ogose Station (越生). There is also an infrequent bus that goes to the station. I walked down the road until the bus came, took it back to station, and went home.

The popular hiking destinations in Tokyo get crowded. A place like this isn't famous, and that makes it a nice choice for a lazy relaxed hike. The trail is fairly easy. There's some elevation change, but it's nothing too severe, and the forest is quiet. I only met two other hikers over the whole 10 km! At a leisurely pace, 10 km only takes two or three hours, so if you get up late and get a late start like I did, you won't have problems running out of sunlight.

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USA Flashcards

2018-10-18

This is a deck of maps of the fifty states in the U.S.A., plus Washington, D.C. These images are SVG, so they'll scale well to any size screen.

Here's the 51-card package for Anki.

MapName
USA/Alabama.svgAlabama
USA/Alaska.svgAlaska
USA/Arizona.svgArizona
USA/Arkansas.svgArkansas
USA/California.svgCalifornia
USA/Colorado.svgColorado
USA/Connecticut.svgConnecticut
USA/Delaware.svgDelaware
USA/Florida.svgFlorida
USA/Georgia.svgGeorgia
USA/Hawaii.svgHawaii
USA/Idaho.svgIdaho
USA/Illinois.svgIllinois
USA/Indiana.svgIndiana
USA/Iowa.svgIowa
USA/Kansas.svgKansas
USA/Kentucky.svgKentucky
USA/Louisiana.svgLouisiana
USA/Maine.svgMaine
USA/Maryland.svgMaryland
USA/Massachusetts.svgMassachusetts
USA/Michigan.svgMichigan
USA/Minnesota.svgMinnesota
USA/Mississippi.svgMississippi
USA/Missouri.svgMissouri
USA/Montana.svgMontana
USA/Nebraska.svgNebraska
USA/Nevada.svgNevada
USA/New Hampshire.svgNew Hampshire
USA/New Jersey.svgNew Jersey
USA/New Mexico.svgNew Mexico
USA/New York.svgNew York
USA/North Carolina.svgNorth Carolina
USA/North Dakota.svgNorth Dakota
USA/Ohio.svgOhio
USA/Oklahoma.svgOklahoma
USA/Oregon.svgOregon
USA/Pennsylvania.svgPennsylvania
USA/Rhode Island.svgRhode Island
USA/South Carolina.svgSouth Carolina
USA/South Dakota.svgSouth Dakota
USA/Tennessee.svgTennessee
USA/Texas.svgTexas
USA/Utah.svgUtah
USA/Vermont.svgVermont
USA/Virginia.svgVirginia
USA/Washington.svgWashington
USA/West Virginia.svgWest Virginia
USA/Wisconsin.svgWisconsin
USA/Wyoming.svgWyoming
USA/Washington DC.svgWashington, D.C.
MapName

If you are planning on traveling extensively within the U.S., learning the states is probably worth your time. I knew most of the states before making this deck, and for me the only tricky places were the tiny states near New York.

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Canadian Province Flashcards

2018-10-15

This is a deck of maps of Canada's provinces and territories. Canada only has thirteen provinces and territories in total, so it won't take long to learn. These images are SVG, so they'll scale well to any size screen.

Here's the 13-card package for Anki.

MapName
Canadian Provinces/Alberta.svgAlberta
Canadian Provinces/British Columbia.svgBritish Columbia
Canadian Provinces/Manitoba.svgManitoba
Canadian Provinces/New Brunswick.svgNew Brunswick
Canadian Provinces/Newfoundland and Labrador.svgNewfoundland and Labrador
Canadian Provinces/Northwest Territories.svgNorthwest Territories
Canadian Provinces/Nova Scotia.svgNova Scotia
Canadian Provinces/Nunavut.svgNunavut
Canadian Provinces/Ontario.svgOntario
Canadian Provinces/Prince Edward Island.svgPrince Edward Island
Canadian Provinces/Quebec.svgQuebec
Canadian Provinces/Saskatchewan.svgSaskatchewan
Canadian Provinces/Yukon.svgYukon
MapName

If you're thinking of visiting Canada some day, it might be handy to know the general geography. Also, having some general geographic awareness of a country helps you connect with people who tell stories about the place when they lived or visited there.

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Organizing Files

2018-10-07

As teachers, we have a lot of data, and how we organize our files impacts whether we can easily share them with other teachers in the future. Here are some organizational tips I've learned over the past decade that I think will help you keep your data organized so you can work smoothly with other teachers to develop excellent educational materials. Let's assume you have a shared drive, such as a local network folder, Google Drive, or Dropbox.

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If you think it's useful, and you only have a paper copy, scan it. Some people have physical folders with copies of all the great worksheets they've made or received, but generally speaking, digital is better. Here's why.

  1. You can email it to a friend or coworker.
  2. Your shelf won't fill up.
  3. You can search for it quickly by name.
  4. You can copy/paste good parts and use them in new materials.
  5. You can easily take it with you when changing jobs.

Our school has a photocopier/scanner combo machine with a feeder. It scans stacks of papers and makes PDFs. If you have that kind of device on hand, scanning things is quick, and surely it will benefit you later.

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Let's suppose you have a bunch of documents. You might keep them on your computer in folders like this.

Homework ├ 2016 ├ 2017 ├ 2018 ├ Amazing Plants (2).odt ├ Copy of Amazing Animals.odt New ├ Letter to Parents (New).odt Notes ├ Eighth Grade ├ Ninth Grade ├ Letter to Parents.odt ├ Seventh Grade ├ Grades (2017).ods ├ Grades (2018).ods Oral Communication ├ 2012 ├ 2013 Pictures ├ Summer Slides.ppt ├ Summer Slides PDF.ppt.pdf Tests ├ Seventh Grade Term 1 Test.odt ├ Seventh Grade Term 1 Test (Old).odt Worksheets

When we start creating and organizing data, something like this seems like it'll work. But over time, issues creep up. Here are some tips that help things stay sorted.

  1. Make the year folders top-level. If you have file names like Grades (2017).xls and Grades (2018).xls, you're mixing last year's data with this year's. It makes more sense to have a folder called 2017 and another called 2018. Put grades inside those folders.

  2. Don't use parentheses. In the above example, consider these two files.

    Tests ├ Seventh Grade Term 1 Test.odt ├ Seventh Grade Term 1 Test (Old).odt

    The bottom file is apparently old, but next year, both files will be old. What should your file names be then? I don't know! But if you sort the data by year at top level, you can avoid this whole problem.

  3. Remove pointless words. Here's a directory worth cleaning up.

    Homework ├ 2018 ├ Copy of Amazing Animals.odt ├ Amazing Plants (2).odt

    They probably got those names because the user was copy/pasting files, and the system automatically added Copy of and (2). To make the data easy to read, we should go through and rename files, removing the extra text as appropriate. It would be much prettier if it looked like this.

    Homework ├ 2018 ├ Amazing Animals.odt ├ Amazing Plants.odt

  4. Use numbers instead of words. The example has notes for Seventh Grade, Eighth Grade, and Ninth Grade. If you sort the directory alphabetically, it shows up like this.

    Notes ├ Eighth Grade ├ Ninth Grade ├ Seventh Grade

    That's awkward because seventh grade comes last. If you use numerals instead, it looks much more sensible.

    Notes ├ 7 ├ 8 ├ 9

  5. Don't repeat extension information. In the above example, there's a file, Summer Slides PDF.ppt.pdf. The file type is expressed by the end of the file name, so it should simply be called Summer Slides.pdf. Duplicate information about the format makes things hard to read, and it's not needed.

  6. Preserve the original file. In the above example, there are two related files.

    Pictures ├ Summer Slides.ppt ├ Summer Slides PDF.ppt.pdf

    It looks like the user made a PowerPoint file and then generated a PDF of it. There are good reasons to do that — for example, I often copy data onto my tablet, but my tablet doesn't support PowerPoint. As a temporary measure, it's reasonable to make PDFs, but for archiving, it's unnecessary. When you or another teacher is looking at the data next year, the original file is by far the most useful, because it can easily be modified to fit new situations. The PDF doesn't help, so delete it and be happy.

  7. Use the date if really needed. In the above example, there are two related files.

    New ├ Letter to Parents (New).odt Notes ├ Ninth Grade ├ Letter to Parents.odt

    Most of the time, you don't need both files, so you should just replace the bottom file with the top one. However, sometimes you really want a record of something. Perhaps you sent a letter, realized there was a typo, fixed it, and sent a new version. In that case, you could put the date in the file names, like this.

    Notes ├ Ninth Grade ├ 2018-09-01 Letter to Parents.odt ├ 2018-09-05 Letter to Parents.odt

    This works well because the two files are in the same folder, and the file names tell us which was sent when. Always use the format YYYY-MM-DD or YYYYMMDD. This is unambiguous — you don't wonder whether 9/3 means September 3rd or March 9th — and it automatically sorts in chronological order.

  8. Don't assume course names will stay the same. The example has a top-level folder, Oral Communication. That class used to be offered in Japanese high schools, but several years ago the national curriculum was revised, and it no longer exists. Instead, there are two related classes, English Communication and English Expression. If I want to organize everything by course name, what do I do? Should I leave Oral Communication there, knowing that new teachers will never look at it? Should I rename it to English Communication, because the two courses are similar? It's unclear what to do, but if the data were sorted by year at top level, we wouldn't even be asking the question.

  9. Don't assume event names will stay the same. This is similar to the previous point. My school has an event called "International Day", but it used to be called "MECC", and from time to time it's called "Board Game Day". If file organization depends on the name staying the same from year to year, it's going fail.

  10. Video files might need special treatment. If you have lots of very large video files, perhaps you can't just copy them to a new folder each year, because it might fill up your hard drive. You might need a separate top-level folder just for videos. In my experience, only video files are large enough where this is a concern.

    If I'm using large videos that are on YouTube, I like to keep the URLs in a notes file, and I can download the videos again in the future.

    I always take videos of students' presentations. This lets me grade the presentations at a leisurely speed, and when students have questions about why they got a particular grade, we can watch the video together. A month or two after the term ends, I delete most of those files, saving a few of my favorite ones to be used as examples in future years.

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If we apply the above rules to the initial example, we get a directory structure that's much easier to navigate. It would look something like this.

2012 ├ Oral Communication 2013 ├ Oral Communication 2016 ├ 7 ├ Homework ├ 8 ├ 9 2017 ├ 7 ├ Homework ├ Worksheets Grades.ods Term 1 Test.odt ├ 8 ├ 9 2018 ├ 7 ├ Homework ├ Amazing Animals.odt ├ Amazing Plants.odt Grades.ods Term 1 Test.odt ├ 8 Summer Slides.ppt ├ 9 ├ 2018-09-01 Letter to Parents.odt ├ 2018-09-05 Letter to Parents.odt

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I like to create materials for classroom use, and I enjoy sharing those materials with others. This is particularly important for a school like mine, where we have several native teachers on staff. Every few years, some teachers go, others come, and there's a decent chance that we teach different grades or courses than what we taught previously.

When you're planning for a class you haven't taught before, or haven't taught for several years, the first step is to ask last year's teacher for their data. If that data is organized well, you'll definitely appreciate the work they did to get it that way.

Some teachers are self-conscious about sharing their materials. They might refuse to upload files, or they might upload them but leave everything in a horrible mess where we can't really tell how things were meant to be used. Perhaps they lack confidence, and they are worried that if other teachers see the low-quality materials, their poor teaching practices will be revealed. This type of concern is understandable, but if you're feeling it, here are some things to keep in mind. First, we all make mediocre materials from time to time, and yours won't be the worst. Even if some of your materials are mediocre, there are probably some gems that will excite your coworkers. Second, materials are only one aspect of teaching, and looking at them doesn't give other people enough information to judge your general effectiveness as a teacher. Third, if you're going to continue teaching in the future, then sharing your materials with others is a great way to get their feedback. If they find typos, they'll tell you, and if they make an updated version, just ask them to send you a copy.

Be positive, share your data with other teachers, get their feedback and their data, and work together to create cool stuff.


The Tatsudomari Line

2018-09-16

For the long weekend, I took the shinkansen to Akita City, rented a motorcycle and went riding. One goal was to ride the Tatsudomari Line (竜泊ライン), a famous motorcycle road in the Tsugaru Peninsula of NW Aomori. So I rode up coastal Route 101 from Noshiro, spent the night in Hirosaki, and rode the Tatsudomari Line the following day.

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Later in the day I headed south, first on Route 101 back to Noshiro, and then down the expressway to Honjo. Todd put me up for the night, and we went drinking at Castaways. The next morning we went to visit Michan and Eva.

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Tohoku in the fall is a magical place. For the week or two before the rice harvest, the plants turn yellow and gold and sparkle in the sun. If the weather is good, any activity that gets you into the countryside is a great experience. When I lived in Akita, I was driving and jogging every day in that environment, and since it's awesome, this weekend I went for the shinkansen plus bike rental option. Highly recommended.

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I owned a Honda CBR250 for several years and sold it last fall when I moved apartments. I sold it for several reasons, but one reason is that getting out of Tokyo on a motorcycle is tiring. The hour plus ride on city streets in city traffic is one I'd rather avoid. By taking the train and then renting, I can save my riding energy for the good roads, and it gives me more range. Get to the good places, ride the motorcycle in a leisurely fashion, visit friends, have a good time.

Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere. We are just vacationing. Secondary roads are preferred. Paved county roads are the best, state highways are next. Freeways are the worst. We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on “good” rather than “time” and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes. Twisting hilly roads are long interms of seconds but are much more enjoyable on a cycle where you bank into turns and don’t get swung from side to side in any compartment. Roads with little traffic are more enjoyable, as well as safer. Roads free of drive-ins and billboards are better, roads where groves and meadows and orchards and lawns come almost to the shoulder, where kids wave to you when you ride by, where people look from their porches to see who it is, where when you stop to ask directions or information the answer tends to be longer than you want rather than short, where people ask where you’re from and how long you’ve been riding.

— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Police Harassment

2018-08-26

Here's a history of times in Japan that the police stopped me on the street and demanded to see my Residence Card.

I've written about this in the past, but the short story is... The cops come up to me and demand to see my passport or Residence Card. But only foreigners have those, and the only reason they think I'm a foreigner is my skin color. It's pretty obviously racist. However, the law is ambiguous, and getting arrested would be horrible, so there's very little I can do except document the badness and share it with others.

WhenWhereDetails
2010-07-28Narita AirportWalking to the check-in counter to see Toby off.
2010-07-28Narita AirportTwo hours later while sitting on a bench.
2014-05-29Musashino (Musashisakai)Walking to dance class after work.
2014-06-18Tokyo Metro (Kayabacho)Escorting students on a school trip to Tsukiji.
2014-07-07Musashino (Musashisakai)Walking to the coffee shop.
2014-09-05Musashino (Midori-cho)Walking to dance class after work.
2018-08-24Musashino (Midori-cho)Walking home from work. YouTube.

Each time it happens it's scary, and it doesn't get any better over time. Each time they come up to me, there's a chance I could have forgotten or lost my Residence Card, and then I'd be arrested and thrown in jail. Also, once you realize that you're the target, because they'll harass you when you're simply walking down the street, your perspective on the police changes. They see me as the likely criminal. In their eyes, I'm a danger to society. And all because I did ... nothing at all.

I live here and go about my life normally. I work a job and pay my taxes, just like anyone would. If I'm not doing anything suspicious or breaking any laws, I just want the cops to leave me the fuck alone. They don't, and it sucks, and it's sad.

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