Saturday, October 20, 2012

They failed to debug the texts.

The new textbooks for the ALTs in the Osaka area schools where I work were not properly debugged. Lots of good ideas, but many are poorly implemented. And lots of gratuitous changes, with no apparent reason.

The elementary school text, Hi Friends!, comes with a DVD. The DVD has chants. The chants and the visuals do not match, resulting in an unusual computer until the visuals catch up. BUT!

Each lesson comes with a demo video. If you watch the demo first, the visuals stay with the chants, and the computer is generally useable.

Except that some of the audios and videos really should have a way to stop them in the middle, and they don't. Others, the controls don't work in obvious ways, meaning you absolutely must play with the lesson material for at least an hour before the stuff in lessons.

And the cursor tends to get lost in the borders all the time, and it lags a bit, meaning you have to fight with the computer to use the digital materials.

The thing really shows a lack of debugging at every level, from design to low-level implementation.

And it's not just the DVD. The textbooks also show a lot of similar stuff, potentially good ideas or not, lack of care in implementation.

An example from the second year JHS text book (latest New Crown, I think) -- the lesson about local sushi, asdddddddddd
... images in the sushi, with vegetables and foods ... .

Should be "... made with vegetables ... ." And there are other places where poor style and outright errors are chosen to shoe-horn the text into the lessons at the ideal level they think is appropriate.

You don't teach the hard grammar by avoiding it. You teach it by letting them see it, a lot, explaining just enough to help the students see the part you are trying to teach, and moving ahead. Then the students have seen examples when they get to the hard part, and you get to mostly skip the hardest battles of trying to convince them they really need to study the really hard principles.

Anyway, the texts and materials this year needed a lot more work before they got dumped on the students.

And there is just too much material, in a country where most of the teachers have never heard that it's part of the teachers' job to choose what to teach out of the text, and it's not part of their job to try to teach the entire book.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sent forth?

(Started one spring or summer several years back, never published:)

Last December, the haken-gaisha (staffing/outsourcing agency) I work for informed us that there was no way they could get our teaching contracts for a certain city in Osaka prefecture renewed in March. I don't know the specifics, and I should look it up, but the law apparently requires companies that hire temporary staff to periodically take breaks from hiring temporary staff from the same company. (And we are technically temps.)

If someone complains.

If no one complains, they can get away with using the same agency and the same personnel for three years at a stretch, and hire us at day rates after that. Or something. (Again, I'm not sure of the details. I'm not sure anyone is sure.)

For some reason, the teachers' unions have been complaining around here.

Note to the teachers unions: Who do you expect to replace us with from within your ranks? Seriously. We are working at slave wages, well, entry-level wages with no benefits. 

No insurance or retirement except the bare minimum required by Japanese law, no family allowances, no bonuses worth talking about (most I've had in a year is about 5 man-yen, about a tenth what the regular teachers with any tenure at all get).

Insurance. Medical checkup? Hah.

Shoot, we lose all wages one month a year and get shorted two, three, or four months a year because they don't "have work for us" then. And, yet, our contract says we are supposed to support the club activities. When? I'm pretty sure the regular teachers are getting regular wages in August, December, January, March, and April. 

I would love to support the club activities at my school, if I could afford it, if someone would pay my family's rent and food for my children during those weeks. And I'm sure the club interaction with the gai-jin would improve the attention of a lot of students in class. The hot-shot pitcher is going to pay more attention to the strange gai-jin in class, if that strange gai-jin gets out there shagging balls with the club every now and then.

The way things are, I can't afford to do that. Stretched too thin between the schools I'm assigned to when I'm on pay, no money to pay my bills during the student vacation time, when I would otherwise be working with the clubs and preparing lessons and materials for the year ahead, so that I wouldn't be stretched so thin.

And I would love to have real paid days off. 

Give me a break.

Yeah, there's a lot of anger here.

I'd be a lot less angry if there were real options that would allow me to work, if it were really possible for me to certify as a teacher in Japan. (Without borrowing six months worth of wages to go to school during summer.)

I've enjoyed working as an ALT/AET here in Japan for several years. The pay hasn't been great, actually below poverty line. (I'm not supposed to tell anyone about that. Talk about unconscionable clauses. But, hey, I can't afford to do this any more, so it won't matter in a just a few months more.)

But I've had a chance to get a look at Japanese society from the bottom up, and it gives me information I'll need if I try to go back to work here in the computer industry.

That was my original plan when I bailed from the computer industry -- I wanted to get some grasp on the underlying context, lack of which made it hard for me to work as part of the team. The problem, now, is going to get companies to look at me seriously as a computer professional again. Age, the gap in my record, and the competition hasn't gotten any easier.

And I find I like teaching in the public schools. (Not so much in the private juku. That's all too often little more than a racket, a confidence game. I think The Music Man has valid lessons to tell, but that was about things that were outside the confidence game, not about perpetuating the confidence game as a business model. And real juku don't run the confidence game. No racks of Seven Steps and such. Talk about confidence sometimes, but don't push it as a product.)

Maybe not so much anger as frustration. Anyway, it is not easy being an ALT or AET in Japan. And the rumours of great wages are just rumours, driven by the mis-perceptions of young single kids who do the job on holiday from college and have never had to pay real rent or plan for retirement or put kids through school. They are the same kids who think the entry level wages are great. Until they start trying to pay their school loans back on those wages.

It's a money-losing proposition, really.

Being a Saint -- 聖徒になること

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are called among ourselves, saints. Sometimes. Depends on whether we are exercising our positive mental attitudes, perhaps. We do not intend hubris in this.



Obviously, I am not a saint in the sense that Catholics use the word. My understanding is that the Catholics require a person to already be almost a lesser deity to be called a saint. At any rate, my life has not been examined by the Church's clergy and found to be an unimpeachable example of virtue. Neither have my contributions been viewed as such that thousands have benefited in remarkable ways by the things that I have done.

What we refer to when we talk about the members of the Church as Saints is the commitments we make at baptism, to believe in Jesus Christ and have faith on His name; to follow His examples as best as we can apply them in our personal lives; to live by His commandments and laws according to our best understanding; to receive and accept the tutelage of the Holy Spirit which testifies of Him.

And to continue in this way to the end of our lives.

In theory, if we really do live up to that commitment, we should all end up like Mother Teresa, which, of course, is some cause for amusement among our detractors. But that is applying conditions which we ourselves do not apply. Nor does God apply such conditions.

If we all lived like Mother Teresa in an external sense, there would be a lot of good things that would get done, and a lot of other good things that would not be getting done. I won't make a list, just ask you to consider all the things that Mother Teresa was not able to because of the course she chose, and ask whether there were not good things among them.

What we ask and expect of each other is for each to do his or her part well. Nurses be good and moral nurses, and fire fighters, teachers, computer programmers, assembly line workers, managers, sales persons, etc., likewise. And that parents, children, brothers, sisters, single people, everyone let God teach them what good they can do as they are, and then do it as best as they can, and let God teach them from their mistakes as well as their successes.

Personally, I'm not sure how we could be faulted for the attempt to live morally, cleanly, and well.

And that is all we intend by it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Intellectual Paucity

ACTA, TPP, SOPA, PIPA, ...

These are the latest steps in the process that began, substantially, in the Berne Convention, wherein the stretching of copyright laws across international boundaries has been in use for over a hundred years as a wedge against national constitutions, and against constitutional government in general, in overcoming the legal recognition of the freedom of individuals.

Sure, we gotta be nice to the artists at some level, but that doesn't mean letting them run things for us. And there are sure a lot of artists around who think they can run things better than we can.

It especially doesn't mean that we should kowtow to idiot idealists who like to use artists and other semi-innocents (and real innocents, like children) as pawns, capital, and weapons in their wars to foist their idealistically perverted views of how things should be on the whole world.

See, the US Constitution was deliberate in specifying a limited time right to inventions and creations. The time limit was supposed to be long enough for the artist, inventor, and/or creator to finish the work, and to enjoy some sort of compensation therefrom -- if and only if the work was worth compensating -- but not so long nor so absolute as to allow the inventor/creator to abuse it to for excessive gain or for establishing new bases for discrimination and for the effective granting of titles of nobility.

That's what this is all about. The use of words like "king" and "queen" and "tzar" and "star" is not nearly so metaphorical as we would wish. Intellectual property is being used as an end-run around the bans of the US Constitution on granting titles of nobility.

Come on, seriously, you know that it's not what we call them that's the problem, it's in what we allow them to get away with.

Now there is a myth of ex-nihilo creation being promoted by those who wish to abuse these extreme forms of intellectual property.

As far as the poor authors, artists, inventors, etc., yes, we need to reward with value the work that brings value and meaning into the social context.

But the fact is that no one creates anything in a vacuum. Every author, every artist, every inventor, all creative workers build from the materials available in the social melee, on the foundations of those who have built before.

Every creative worker owes the bulk of his or her creations to the society in which he or she works.

There is no valid claim to exclusivity. (Nothing new under the sun, at least nothing entirely new.) The excessive profits being made by "big hits" are unreasonable.

And they are abusive of the melee from which they derive, because they drain value and money away from the rest of the melee. (And leave less value to be made in the future, impoverishing us all.)

Some people are happy with impoverishing society. The economics of scarcity allow prices to be artificially inflated without any work at all. They also allow power-hungry types more leverage in massing power to themselves.


So, it's no surprise when there are technical issues with the SOPAs and the PIPAs. It's no surprise that the laws being made because of ACTA and its ilk turn out to be internally inconsistent and generally in contraction to the world in which they are supposed to be implemented. Bad law begets bad law, and bad treaties (executive agreements, or whatever fake excuse is given) are no different.

The result is everyone loses. The world around us is made poorer.

You may think that those in power "win" something here, but, no. in the end, they lose, too. Yeah, by constricting the market, the push values up artificially high. They get new ways to absorb power, but it's all in an impoverished context. We all lose.

Paucity. Intellectual paucity.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why doesn't Adobe understand?

Web browsers are too complex. Adobe's Flash is a case in point. There is no way to have that much stuff going on in a browser and keep it secure.

So it was no surprise yesterday to log in to the family playing-around account and see that it was complaining that the installed Flash was, heh, strongly recommended to be updated.

So I went over to Adobe and downloaded it. Used Google's site search to look for the checksums, since they were shy about posting them on the download page. Neither hide nor hair of a checksum since version 9.

Why should they have checksums posted, since they use no mirrors, and if you can't trust their download site, well, why would you risk downloading it in the first place?

Excellent question. Here's the excellent answer:

The checksums should be hosted on a separate server from the download server farm. Then an intruder would have to get into more than one server to do damage without leaving visible evidence of the damage.

(The not-so-excellent answer is, I'd rather not, but my children insist.)

So, first, I log into a console (not X11 graphical) as root. Then I switch to the graphical login screen and log into an account which I never use to go to sites with lots of ads, or other sites I think blackhat types are liable to leave their spore. (Yeah, there's a bit of probability involved, here.)

This account does not have messy stuff like Flash installed, of course.

I download the newest, shiniest Flash plugin from Adobe. Then I moved the downloaded file up to the top level of the user directory,

/home/safeuser

Then I switch back to the root console. (Sometimes use an admin user, using sudo, instead of using root directly, actually, depends on the day.) Then

mv /home/safeuser/install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz /home/adminuser

for safekeeping. And

cd /home/user/.mozilla/plugins
tar xzf /home/adminuser/install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz
chown user:user libflashplayer.so

Heres the result of a ls -l :

-rw-rw-r--. 1 user user 12127284 Mar 11 12:33 libflashplayer.so


And here's the SHA256 checksum I'm calculating on what I just downloaded (the March 11, 2011 version):


57889f6cf023927fbf50ca4d7496c0e2aa1eabad76120a18c8e4b7be57e9aaf9  install_flash_player_10_linux.tar.gz

(I need to try to fix the formatting on that.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Going ALL THE WAY!

Back when I was in high school and Eric Carmen's song was a hit, "going all the way" became a meme. Maybe it was a meme before and I was just too young to notice.

I have an Eric Carmen album. I liked his version of "That's Rock & Roll". I had a hard time understanding why "Go All the Way" would get airplay. Maybe this was when I was in junior high.

In the locker room, when the other guys were comparing things that don't really need to be compared, some of the guys who were a little precocious would brag about "going all the way" the night before or whenever, and I would think to myself how they had most definitely not gone all the way.

In reality, you haven't gotten to first base with a woman if you're not married to her. You're not to second base if you are not raising whatever children there are together. Third base is watching and helping together as the new generation gets their starts. You haven't gone all the way with her until you've gone home together.

(To that great Home Plate in the Sky, if you didn't get the allusion, and, no, you seekers of quibbles, I don't mean that you have to die at the same moment, I mean you just have to be friends with her when you die.)

I understood that when I was a really, seriously naive teenager.

Why is it that so many people are satisfied, and think that they've gone the distance, when they've just hit a foul ball?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grind? Rec? Mad dogs?

I get notes from Yahoo Japan, and they regularly send me a newsletter called "GyaO!" ("ROar!", I suppose, is close enough) with news about what's going on in the supposed entertainment industry.

I decided to see what passes as news. They were talking up the movie, Grindhouse. No, wait. They were talking up REC: Quarantine. I had to go looking and I found Grindhouse, instead. Horror movies.

I have to admit, I should have known better, but I looked up Grindhouse at the IMDB or whatever that is.

A couple of questions cross my mind:

Tarantino, was that really necessary?

Oh, never mind. I know, in your view, it probably was. Anything to keep your stuff selling.

Hmm. Zombies. Hydrophobia. Erm, rabies. Infectious diseases.

Why do people deliberately infect themselves?

Do we really want to preview the conditions at the end of the world? Why?

Being inured is not being inoculated. It's not the same thing at all.

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's the answer to my question to myself: "Why diid I go look that up?"

I have things I must do and I don't know how. For some reason, I think that numbing my mind will allow me to escape the dilemma, either allow my mind to find the solution or put my higher reasoning to sleep long enough that I can avoid the decision and pretend that the end result was fated all along.

The horror genre is just like rabies. Infectious. And it causes fear of the very things that the soul needs the most.