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

Expatriate? Ex-patriot?

(Originally posted at Moved here on March 31, 2017 because it fits better here. 

And I note now that there were serious ex-post-facto issues with the bill. Too bad the ex-post-facto clause of the Constitution now seems to have been nullified by ignorance.)

Sometime last month, the news about some famous big shareholder of some famous US company that was going public and expected its stocks to shoot through the roof (silly boys) was supposedly going to become a Shanghai resident and declare himself no longer a US citizen, etc., to avoid the huge tax burden such a sudden over-valuation would hit him with. Supposedly.

Silly boys, indeed. Well, the tax burden did not materialize.

Not to say that I would have blamed the guy. The US IRS is out of control.

But that's not what he did. He was simply asserting his original Brazilian citizenship. And he paid his US taxes, as well. On time. Well before the knee-jerk legislative reaction to rumours got started.

But some US Congresscritter got his shirt wrinkled or something and decided to sponsor a bill to force people like that to remain subject to US tax laws, and banned from entry into the US.

This is beyond silliness.

And, as I understand it, he called the stupid bill the "Expatriate Act" until someone explained to him the real meaning of "expatriate". (Maybe I'm wrong about that, but the term "expatriate" in the backronym title seems inappropriate to an expatriate who wishes he had been making enough money to pay US taxes all these years of living outside his homeland.)

Calling it the "Ex-Patriot Act" does not really fix the glaring goof in terminology. And it does nothing to fix the other issues with the Constitution. (Bills of attainder, anyone?)

Anyone who even voiced support of this bill really should check their understanding of Constitutional law. I'd go so far as to echo certain who questioned the Congressional qualifications of Congresspersons who supported it.

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


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.