Another reason why…

…I’m a Betamax man.

In a word, Twitter.

First, take a look at this article on Gawker.

I think most people would take one of two positions on the matter; for or against.

Me, I’m in complete agreement with the article above.

In a world of internet compression, where you can zip an entire movie, multiple soundtracks, angles, extra features all onto one disc, why the arbitrary word limit of 140 characters for a Twitter post?

This has had an interesting effect on language, including the aforementioned hashtag. Another feature of this “Twitterspeak” is leaving the subject off the beginning of sentences. For example, “Had dinner. Very good.” would replace, “I had dinner. It was very good.”

This is added to previous short-message-related changes, such as abbreviations like “u” for “you” and “l8” for “late.”

As someone who has put considerable effort into becoming a passable writer (how passable depends on the you, kind reader) I find myself annoyed by these developments.  I can’t work myself up to anger yet, however. I realize that language is an organic, ever-changing thing.

It shows my age where I see these changes, and know that my place in the great information society is no longer at the vanguard of the tech-savvy.

Not that it will keep from at least trying to keep up, a little at least.

That reminds me, I should see if my Twitter account is still active…


Christmas Pageantry

It was a very busy Saturday last week, as we had not one, but three events on the day. All were labelled as Christmas Parties, and they showed a lot how people celebrate here in Japan.

First up was my son’s pre-school’s Christmas Festival. Each class from the smallest babies to the soon-to-be Grade Ones had a performance of various types, songs and dances, plays. The oldest class (my son’s) also had very short speeches.

The thing that sets this kind of thing apart from the Canadian-style Christmas Concert I grew up with was the general absence of the Christmas Mythology (for lack of a better word.) There were no plays about Santa Claus (although he did make a brief appearance at the end to hand out presents to the kids), no nativity plays (though one would probably not expect any in a Shinto/Buddhist culture.) In fact, the only Santa-related play I can remember was one I played a main role in for my daughter’s class a few years ago, the tapes of which I’m sure have been thankfully lost.

The themes are those usually found in Japanese kids’ plays: helping others, making friends, having fun, and so on. My son’s class’ play was about a group of robot children who long to get along with a similar group of human kids. The robots have some fantastic powers (they can fly, are very strong) but have limitations (they can’t jump and they stop working if they lose their ‘main screw’), just like the humans. Of course, in the end, they join together and become friends. I give the teachers and students a lot of credit for making the whole production.

With one event down, we returned home for lunch and then the kids and I went to Event Number Two. In our community district (or ku) we have a kind of PTA organization, and one of their events is a Christmas Party for the school-age kids (and their siblings.) I was appointed as a member of this association, which brings its own tribulations and difficulties. That is, however, a story for a different time.

The Christmas Party was kind of short, only two hours, but a good chance for all the kids to get together and play some games and get some presents. The Junior High School children were in charge and did a very good job keeping everyone entertained for the two hours. We parents simply watched to make sure nothing happened, which it didn’t. I did have to keep an eye on my son, as some of the food served would have been bad for him. He is allergic to eggs and peanuts, though thankfully it is relatively easy to avoid those things, and he is very aware of how to act, and to ask an adult if foods are safe for him.

After that we returned home to prepare for the Main Event. We hosted a Christmas Party of our own that evening. While the kids and I were at the afternoon festivities, Mommy was tidying up the house and doing some shopping. Some of the other mothers and kids from my son’s class came over for what was originally going to be Christmas Dinner, but when dates close to the 25th became unavailable, we decided to change the menu.

As one might expect, a lot of food that we take for granted in Canada are rather rare in Japan. None of the families we had over had ever eaten homemade pizza or Mexican food of any kind. So, we made pizza and tacos for the party. I handled the pizza-making chores, while The Missus prepared the tacos. I must say that both were very successful and the extra work my wife put into decorating the living room was very well appreciated by all.

It was a good chance to show my son’s friends and their families how we usually celebrate Christmas in Canada. They were surprised by our Christmas lights and tree (which at two metres is normal in Canada, but extra large here.) It was also, at 20 people, the most we’ve had in our house at one time.

Finally, at about 11pm, everyone went home and we were able to relax. It wasn’t long after that that everyone was in bed and fast asleep after a long day.

And it’s not even Christmas yet…

Edit: Thanks to Erich for catching my spelling mistake. That’s what happens what you don’t proofread.

Four hockey blogs to remember

I love hockey.

I love reading.

Naturally, I love reading about hockey. In my mind there aren’t enough good books about hockey, and it’s even harder to find hockey books in Japan. So, to fill the void I’ve been reading more blogs about Canada’s number one sport.

Today I’d like to introduce you to four that I particularily like.

First is Elliotte Friedman’s blog on Hockey Night in Canada. I really enjoy his “30 thoughts,” which is a segment with little snapshots of what’s going on around the league. None of these are really worth their own articles, but they add a lot of personality to the news, especially for someone who can’t watch the daily hockey report on TV. One thing I wish he would do is cut out the Twitterspeak. It’s okay to start a sentence with a subject, Elliotte.

Second is Down Goes Brown. I prefer the older stuff as I think the authour (whose name escapes me) is feeling the pressures of having to update regularily. There is more repetition these days, but it’s still worth a read twice a week.

Third, Kerry Fraser’s blog on TSN is a very interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes, from the view of a former official who worked in some of the biggest games in recent NHL history. If only Leafs fans could finally let things pass after 20 years…

Last is a rather unknown blog written by an online friend of mine, Paul Wheeler. The blog is called Songs of Fire and Ice. Paul is a passionate and insightful writer, and as good as any pro. His only problem is he hasn’t updated in a while, and needs to get back on it.

You’re listening, aren’t you, Paul?

Those are the hockey blogs I read regularily. If you have any more you like and want to share, leave a comment!

Taco Rice

A little taste of American-style Mexican food, by way of Okinawa.


I was introduced to this dish by my lovely wife. When I first came to Japan, Mexican food was very hard to come by, and even harder to cook. The ingredients were nearly non-existent, aside for the odd El Paso Taco Kit.

However, I’m a much bigger fan of soft flour tortillas than of the hard corn ones found in those kits. That, and the fact that I don’t have experience with authentic Mexican cuisine, limits what I can make.

Anyhow, one night before we got married, I came home to find a dish like this waiting. My dear had cooked this for me after seeing the recipe on a TV cooking show.

(by the way, I don’t have a picture of my recipe, but it’s nearly identical to the picture here)

Needless to say I loved it.

One thing puzzled me. She said it was from Okinawa, the chain of islands south of the main Japanese archipelago. So, I did a little research to find that the dish was invented by a chef in Okinawa to appeal to American Marines stationed there.

It has since become a staple of our diet, although we had to change it a bit to suit our kids, who also love it. It’s quick and easy, and we usually have all the ingredients on-hand. I make it on average once or twice a month.

If you want to try it, here’s a simple recipe:

You’ll need:

rice–cooked, of course.

taco meat–you can make it with a packaged mix, or with whatever you put in tacos (especially you vegetarians out there.) These days, we make it milder for our kids. I use a couple of cloves of garlic and an onion (chopped), one grated carrot and a big handful of chopped spinach. Then I fry it together with some lean ground beef or pork (usually both). Next, add ketchup, a little water, and seasoning (salt, pepper, chili powder and a pinch of cumin) and simmer.


tomato–also chopped

grated cheese–cheddar is my favourite

salsa–whatever kind you like best

The rice goes on the bottom as the base, then the vegetables, meat, cheese and salsa. You can mix up the order with little difference.


Anyhow, give it a try.

If you have any comments or variations, leave them in the comments! I’m always looking out for new things to try!


A different kind of first

This week I started working with a student teacher. We have a number of them come to our school each year, but it’s unusual for any of them to interested in teaching English.

(I work at a private elementary school in Japan, for those who don’t know)

In Japan, English is not a mandatory subject until Grade Five, and most teachers-in-training prefer to do the “main” subjects like Japanese and Math.

So, to have someone interested in teaching English is a change.

Anyhow, I will call the teacher-to-be Naoki, because that’s his name. He is teaching for the first time. He is (typically) very nervous. He has good ideas, and once he gets used to teaching I think he will be a very good teacher.

Compared to training in Canada, student teachers don’t spend a lot of time in the classroom, and much less time actually practice-teaching. The emphasis is on learning their subjects and listening to their professors and mentors. Naturally, I prefer the way I was taught. I found my time in schools to be the most productive, while I found my time in university a good way to analyse and reflect on what I had experienced. I wonder how I would have fared had I gone through a Japanese-style system.

Anyways, back to Naoki. We had his first teaching lesson today. English, like most classes in my school, is team-taught. Two teachers handle each class (with a few exceptions.) I teach with a Japanese teacher, sometimes two. In the class, I am the main teacher (which is different than public schools for the most part.) So, today, I ended up doing most of the work, with support from Naoki. It was a good lesson for him, and I think he will be able to handle more responsibility in our next lesson on Monday.

This experience made me think back to my training and the first time I (in my mind) actually taught people. In my first year of teacher training, we had a class called Microteaching, a small group seminar. There were eight of us wanna-be teachers, and we had to teach each other about something of our choice.

I decided to talk about going to an outdoor school near my aunt and uncle’s place in Brackendale, B.C.. I remember my opening to this day.

“Over the winter break I went to Brackendale. “Where’s Brackendale?” you may ask. Well, Brackendale is just outside of Squamish. Squamish is just outside Whistler. Whistler is just outside Vancouver.”

Not entirely accurate, mind you, but a good enough hook for a first-timer.

I remember how nervous I was at that time, and whenever I see these bright-eyed, fidgety youngsters, I think back to my own pimply-faced school days.

And if I can do it, so can Naoki.

The first post

Every blog needs a first post.

This is mine.

I guess a good place to start is the name. It’s a kind of catchphrase I use to refer to myself.

A Betamax man in a Blu-Ray World.

Betamax, of course, is the name of one of the first Video Cassette Recorders (That’s VCR for some of us.) Nowadays, my spell-checker won’t even recognize the word.

Anyhow, I will soon be forty years old. That puts me in the same age bracket as the old Betamax. I also find it ironic that as time goes by even Blu-Ray will also become yesterday’s technology.

I just hope I’m still around to enjoy what’s next, and I hope I don’t get left behind like the old Beta.

Besides, I just like the way the phrase sounds.