Monday, December 12, 2011

Best Japanese Textbooks

Over the years I've read hundreds of Japanese textbooks but one stands out as being the best Japanese textbook for beginners. There really is no better Japanese textbook for beginners than "Read Japanese Today" by Len Walsh. It is so beautifully written that even if you aren't intending to learn Japanese you should read it just to see how good a language textbook can be.

Before you buy Read Japanese Today make sure you take a look at this review:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Card Cheat: Goodbye America

When things go away we forget them. America is starting to go away, and we are starting to forget all about it. Strange, but true.

Many people have commented on the situation in the US but few seem to understand just how bad it is. The US economy has been in serious difficulty since 2007. Indeed, it has been argued that this is the longest recession in US history as the Great Depression lasted "only" about 40 months.

In the mainstream media, it is frequently claimed that the US economy will be overtaken by that of China, India or Europe. Differing figures are giving by the IMF, the World Bank and the CIA but they all agree that the US is going to fall a couple of places. They are mistaken. The economic system in the US is inherently unstable because it relies on pretending that everything is ok. Once things start to unravel, people rapidly lose confidence, share prices fall, currencies collapse and assets are sold off. With this in mind, I predict that the US will fall into 10th place within a few years.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Learn Travel Japanese Quickly

If you want to quickly learn travel Japanese it's worth trying out the 10-dollar Japanese language course from Sulantra.

Sulantra focuses on "Survival Language Training" so that you learn the right travel Japanese phrases and vocabulary to get yourself out of difficult situations while traveling in Japan. If you're planning to go to Japan you should do the Japanese course 30 days before you are due to leave. That way all the important Japanese words and phrases will be fresh in your mind when you arrive.

It's very convenient to be able to just log in any time to the Sulantra Japanese course and start studying. Although I've lived in Japan for a long time I've been going through the course because there are so many gaps in my Japanese vocabulary such as medical terms or the necessary phrases to rent a car.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Technology and Language

It's funny how ubiquitous technology has changed the meaning of various words, phrases and acronyms. I remember when:
(1) A "PDA" was a Public Display of Aggression.
(2) A "window" was a transparent device enabling you to see the scum in the streets without having to smell them.
(3) "Ruby" was a type of Tuesday.
(4) BASIC stood for "Basically, After Sex I Cringe"
(5) A "relational database management system" was a plastic box on your desk that held record cards detailing distant relatives you were planning to stalk.
(6) A "server" was someone exploited by the service industry; they were so unimportant they didn't even have a name.
(7) "Hypertext" refered to sophisticated, non-linear, branching text systems allowing transclusion, high-resolution linking, view control, side-by-side comparison and versioning, not the crappy Web we have now.
(8) A "Mouse" was something dropped down the blouses of female guests when they had outstayed their welcome.
(9) "FTP" stood for "FTP The Pr0n".
(10) An "Eigen value" was the ratio of West German GDP to sales of blue denim jackets and Elton John singles.
(11) "Garbage Collection" referred to books and articles by Nicholas Negroponte.
(12) A "hashing algorithm" was a technique to maximize the narcotic effects of cannabis, often utilizing a euphonium.
(13) "Polymorphism" was my friend Polly after she bought a Wonderbra.
(14) "Duck typing" was something you occasionally saw in the early hours of the morning when the ducks, thinking all humans were still in bed, used their Panasonic Toughbooks.
(15) "Packet switching" was a technique that allowed you to steal your neighbor's mail. (well, maybe that hasn't changed).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rudie Can't Fail: The Continuing Saga of Karamoon

Yesterday I tried to remember the order of 30 shuffled playing cards. I only made 3 mistakes so I'm extremely satisfied with the progress I've been making; a few months ago I'd have struggled to remember more than 7 cards. I'm now about halfway through memorizing 100 people and their actions which I will use to remember numbers. The system I'm using is called The DOMINIC System. It was invented by Dominic O'Brien and is a bit like the Major System.

In a couple of week's time I'll be beginning a new life. More on that soon.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Somebody Got Murdered (By TEPCO)

I heard that TEPCO had someone killed a few years ago. The victim was a woman working for TEPCO who is alleged to have been about to reveal something grave before she was killed. Anyone have details on this?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Indonesian Indie Music

If Music Could Talk

Scottlo, who I consider to be my main teacher at the moment, recommended that I listen to an Indonesian mix tape called "Perempuan". As the name suggests (at least to those who understand Indonesian), all the songs feature female vocalists.

It's a great mix of music, but three tracks stand out:
"The Tears Never Stop Until I Close My Eyes" by Sarin
"Lagu Hujan" by Amazing In Bed (originally by Koil)
"For Now" by The Wispy Hummers

I'm still waiting for Scottlo to talk about Southeast Asia, and Thailand in particular...

You can, and should, listen to Scottlo here:

You can download the mix tape here:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost In The Supermarket

There's nothing "super" about supermarkets. They are in fact, the opposite of "super".

Some basic questions:
Where does the food in the supermarket come from?
How far does the have to travel in order to reach my local supermarket?
How much energy is required for this journey?
In emergency situations where time is of the essence, can the food be moved faster?
In emergency situations where fuel is of the essence, can the food be moved more efficiently?
If I panic-buy all the monkey food at my local supermarket, does this mean that a child in Sendai can't feed her pet monkey?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nuclear Japan Who's Who

I intend this post to serve as a reference to interested parties, providing only the most basic of information. I shall endeavor to keep opinion to a minimum.

The Elements
Atomic weight 238.02891 grams per mole, atomic number 92, phone number 555-HOT-STUFF, uranium-238 can be used as a nuclear fuel when it is enriched with 3 % uranium-235, a more unstable isotope.

Contrary to popular belief, plutonium does not come from disgraced ex-planet Pluto. With an atomic weight of 244 grams per mole, an atomic number of 94 and a phone number that is unlisted, plutonium has a deservedly bad reputation. It's used by reactor 3 at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station that was hit the tsunami.

During nuclear accidents and explosions any iodine that's lying around becomes radioactive. If people eat or drink the radioactive iodine, or breathe it in, it can be absorbed by the body and result in thyroid cancer. This only happens if your body is in need of iodine. This can be prevented by taking potassium-iodide or potassium-iodate tablets, or by eating iodein-rich foods such as seaweed. The British embassy in Tokyo has been distributing potassium-iodate tablets to people who can prove they are British citizens.


The radioisotopes of cesium present a high health risk during and after nuclear accidents. Cesium's radioactive isotopes don't accumulate in the body but they do accumulate in fruits and vegetables. Best avoided if possible.

The Radiation
Alpha Particles
These can be thought of as helium nuclei with both electrons missing. If someone tells you that alpha particles are not dangerous because they are non-penetrating just punch the person in the side of their jaw at a 45 degree angle to the X, Y and Z planes. When alpha particles are ingested or inhaled they about 20 times more dangerous than beta and gamma radiation.

Beta Particles
High-energy electrons or positrons traveling at high speeds, beta particles have a medium ability to penetrate, and a medium ability to ionize, when compared to alpha and gamma radiation. Nobody likes Mr Average.

Gamma Rays
What most people think of as "nuclear radiation". Gamma rays are very high frequency waves that are released when subatomic particles do things. Blocking gamma rays requires thick, dense barriers such as concrete blocks or packed earth.

The Companies
The Tokyo Electric Power Company has a history of covering up nuclear accidents. TEPCO has admitted that over the 25-year period from 1977 to 2002 they lied more than 200 times to the authorities.

General Electric
The US company that built three of the six light water reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station. They also make nuclear weapons. Nice work if you can get it. Here's an ABC News article about problems with design of the reactors and their containment systems:

Hitachi built reactor number 4. Read into that what you will.

Toshiba built reactors number 3 and 5, and supplied most of the equipment for the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station including the cooling pumps.

The People
The "Fukushima 50"
The Fukushima 50 refers to a group of about 200 TEPCO workers, police, firemen and others who are working at Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station to deal with the numerous incidents that are occurring there.

Naoto Kan
Being president of Japan must be tough during times of crisis. On a good day, the Japanese government is lazy, ignorant, incompetent and corrupt. There haven't been any good days since the earthquake.

John Beddington
The UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser. He sometimes chats with the UK ambassador to Japan. Read one of his conversations here:

Akio Komori
Foreign media have been focusing on the fact that Komri, managing director of TEPCO
, cried when leaving a press conference. Crying at press conference is a standard operating procedure in Japan so I wouldn't read too much into it.

Dr Masashi Goto,
Goto designed the reactor containment vessels while working as an engineer for Toshiba. Shortly after the earthquake he gave a lecture at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan explaining why he thought the situation was much worse than TEPCO had made out.

Josef Oehmen
Oehmen was the author of a (fake?)letter asserting that Fukushima Dai-Ichi posed no threat to the public. It went viral the day after the earthquake but was quite quickly by myself and others.

Keely Fujiyama
When UK tabloid newspaper The Sun published a bizzare apocalyptic account of the situation in Tokyo by Keely Fujiyama, several people in the Twattersphere suggested Fujiyama may have been a fabrication. I can reveal that she is in fact, a real person. She was born in Nottinghamshire, UK in 1975 and married Ryu Fujiyama in 2002. She may have a famous sister. More information will be released shortly...

Taro Kono
Japanese MP who Wikileaks has revealed, expressed serious concern about the safety of Japan's nuclear power industry during dinner with a US official in 2008. Read the leaked cable here:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How Can Hackers Help the Quake Victims?

Over the past few days members and friends of Tokyo hackerspace have been discussing the best way to help the earthquake victims in northern Japan. We now have a clear plan, but we need some cash. Please donate if you can:

Japan Earthquake Update

Despite what the timestamp may say, I'm writing this on Wednesday afternoon, 4 days after the huge earthquake in northern Japan.

Here is the current situation as I see it, written in micro-paragraphs for the Twatter/Facebook generation:

There continue to be problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station. There may be problems at other nuclear power stations, but none has been reported recently.

There's been a lot of hype/disinformation in the Twattersphere. Interestingly, at least among the people I follow on the web, there has been as much calm-mongering as there has been scaremongering. I find this type of head-in-the-sand response very upsetting.

The information provided by the axis-of-stupidity(Japanese government, NHK and TEPCO) has been worse than useless. They are largely the ones to blame for any hype in foreign media. They have talked in vague generalities that frequently don't make any sense at all. I'm never one to defend the shit-for-brains BBC, but at least they've talked to a variety of "experts" about the unfolding situation.

Due to the fact I'm quite far from the nuclear reactors in Fukushima, I'm not really very concerned about the acute effects of radiation. The general concensus, if you can call it that, is that the radioactive isotopes produced in the even of a major fuckstorm would have relatively short half-lives and therefore pose little risk to people in Tokyo.

The chronic effects of increased radiation are a different matter. Tokyo is my home and I would like to remain here for the foreseeable future. I'm concerned that background radiation here might rise significantly and remain high for months or even years. The authorities in Japan don't seem to believe "Honesty is the best policy" so without purchasing a Geiger counter and using it to check food and water, it would be hard to know if we're being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

Many of the key issues regarding the short-term outlook here are not being addressed by anyone. I'll post a list of the key issues(as I see them) later today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Friends Don't Let Friends Read Josef Oehmen

Many people, including some I know personally, have been linking to an article by Josef Oehmen that explains why Japan's nuclear reactors are entirely safe, and will remain so, despite the recent earthquake, tsunami and aftershocks.

Here is a quote from the MIT website:
Josef is the author of the essay “Why I’m not worried about Japan’s nuclear reactors”. It was an email he sent to his family in Japan. When his cousin posted it on his blog, it went viral.

Josef is working hard with a team from MIT to provide an appropriate response to the interest the post has generated. The original blog will be migrated to an MIT site, managed by a team of experts from MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering. The link will be posted here when it becomes available.

Josef is not a nuclear scientist or engineer. He is a mechanical engineer by training, working on product development processes with MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative and the MIT-KFUPM Center for Clean Water and Energy.

Please direct all media inquiries to MIT's News Office.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fukushima Nuclear Spring

The situation here in Tokyo is becoming very grave indeed. I managed to get quite a lot of food and drink today but I couldn't get batteries, lights, candles or medical supplies. I can't imagine supermarkets and chemists reopening in the next few days, but just in case I'll go out tomorrow to see if I can get some iodine tablets and other medicines.

I'm about 220 km from Fukushima where the reactors are located which sounds quite far but really isn't when you are considering the movement of radioactive dust and water. Although I have a few hand tools and some basic materials I don't think it would be possible to seal my house against fallout. The nearest DIY store is about a hour on foot, and is very unlikely to be open.

Here are a couple of practical links for people in the Kanto area of Japan.

How to build a fallout meter:

Very practical book on dealing with aftereffects of nuclear accidents:

Another book on surviving nuclear accidents is "Life After Doomsday". It's available on BitTorrent or eBook websites like

Here is some info on previous cover-ups of nuclear disasters in Japan:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan Earthquake and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: How To Survive

IMMEDIATE ACTION: Prepare enough food and supplies for at least a week, longer if you can.

This is not a wait-and-see situation. If we assume that there will be no more major earthquakes, and no worsening of the situation surrounding Fukushima Dai-ishi nuclear power station, it is still likely that the Kanto region of Japan will suffer food shortages.

Some causes of food shortages:
(1) People panicking and buying up all the food. :)
(2) Existing food in Japan failing to reach supermarkets due to lack of fuel etc.
(3) A cessation of food imports. (Japan imports more than half of its food).

Something else to consider: if the nuclear situation worsens, it may not be possible to leave your house(or homestead, as you will learn to call it) for days or even weeks.

My homestead strategy is to stock up on foods that keep well and that I would usually eat. If, as I very much hope, there proves to be no food shortages, I won't have a lot of strange food on my hands.

While there is fresh food in the supermarket, I strongly recommend only eating fresh food, my thinking being that you might not get a chance to eat fresh food for a few days or weeks, so make the most of it while you can.

When buying food aim for 4 things: food that doesn't require lots of water to digest, food that is nutritious, food that is high in calories and food that makes you feel good. Buy a wide selection of spices and sauces as you might be eating the same food several days in a row.

Canned food is great because it can be eaten cold in an emergency and doesn't require water. Dried food such as pasta keeps well, but requires water to cook. On the topic of pasta, here's how you cook it: don't boil and then drain it. Instead, just leave it in a covered saucepan of very hot water until it softens. If you expect water shortages, ensure that you use the water for soup once the pasta is soft enough.

Good luck.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Death Or Glory: The Earthquake

Having quite a tough night, what with all the death around here and everything. I'm on the western side of Tokyo; there doesn't seem to have been any damage here so far. The death toll is currently 350 but it's going to go to at least several thousand, assuming nothing more happens. I guess most deaths will be a result of the tsunami, not the quake itself.

There have been serious aftershocks in other parts of japan. The earthquake warning system here is predicting the quakes but the predictions about epicentre locations are not accurate.

I've been sleeping in my clothes, with three bug-out bags next to my futon. Obviously my main concern is my book collection....

Good night, and hopefully not good bye.
Karamoon, Tokyo.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Magnificent Seven

In order to get somewhere useful once your brain has suffered sustained attack in the form of industrialized education, one possible approach is to learn from people who were able to get somewhere useful, or people who at least were well on the way. Here are seven people who will be my teachers for the foreseeable future.

Ted Nelson
Still fighting, almost winning.

Mister Rogers
A man of immeasurable power.

Alan Kay
Angry, intelligent and doing something about it

R. Buckminster Fuller
Look for pressing problems, the solutions to which would make things much better for everyone.

Doug Engelbart
We can find better ways to do things, and then apply the methodologies, languages and tools to themselves.

F. M. Alexander
We must look at how we do things, not just what we do. In order to do this we need to pause.

Leonardo da Vinci
Train the senses. Study the art of science. Study the science of art. Understand that everything is connected to everything else.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I'm So Bored Of The USA

I have some small but significant progress to report. I'm memorized all 50 US states and state capitals. The names of all the states took 10 minutes to remember. I found the state capitals to be much harder, they took almost 20 minutes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Career Opportunities

Dear Reader, I hope you are impressed that I continue to use Clash songs as my blog post titles...

Recently I've been thinking about what to do with my life. Here are some of the options:
(1) Become a Memory Man.
(2) Teach Tai-chi.(I'd have to learn it first, obviously)
(3) Teach study skills and memory techniques to children and adults.(but nobody in between)
(4) Go into space.
(5) Become a card sharp.(but I'm concerned about the passive smoking)
(6) Write and direct a film.
(7) Write and publish a novel.

Please leave your advice as a comment. Thanks.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Complete Control

It's high time that I took complete control of my life. Sadly this is not going to happen but I am endeavoring to take control of my mind.

I intend to memorize the first 101 digits of the number Pi, the first 50 digits of which are 3.1415 9265 3589 7932 3846 2643 3832 7950 2884 1971 6939 9375 10. I also intend to develop the ability to memorize a shuffled deck of cards.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rock the Casbah

I've recently started another blog, Song Secrets, which explores the many hidden themes and messages in songs. It's very likely that someone will try to get the blog shut down soon, so read it while you have the chance: