The Joys and Perils of the Hockey Pool

When the hockey playoffs are in full swing, and your team is busy improving their golf handicap, what are you supposed to do.  You can enjoy the skill, athleticism, and tenacity that makes hockey a game without equal, but you have to watch some other person’s favourite team.  You can speculate who is going to win.  You can even root against your team’s arch rival.  However, the best way to get into the playoffs is to join a hockey pool.

For the first time, I joined a charity pool with my co-workers and I must say I have been having a blast.

It started with an innocent idea and progressed to a trash talking bacchanalia.  Just picking the teams required days of study and a ream of paper’s worth of printouts.  People who had only a minor interest in hockey became grade A statisticians.   More importantly people learned how to pronounce the names of hockey players.  (It’s harder than you think)  What did we ever do before we had the internet?

Every morning has started off with trash talking about the performance of the players the night before.  I’d love to tell you it has all been high brow, high grade humour, but that wouldn’t be true and you probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.  Before the end of work, which basically means as soon as the morning trash talking ended,  the pre-game trash talking has begun.  As people have risen and fallen in the standings their philosophies and strategies have changed.  As they have tasted success they have boasted, and as they have tasted defeat they have developed various shrugs and wait and see poses. 

Of course, much time was spent speculating what could have been.  Players that no one suspected would even touch the puck  have become heroes.  Doubtless, many players are playing on injuries that would fell a lesser man, but their pool numbers have been less than predicted.

All in all, it has been fun.  A lot of fun.

As I write this, the final round is beginning and I am looking forward to tomorrow’s trash talking.

Commuting Distractions

Commuters have lots of complaints.  Crowds, noise, smells, rude people, selfish people and delays seem to be the common ones,  For me, however, commuting allows (mostly uninterrupted) time for a variety of hobbies that I classify as commuting distractions.  There are a lot of them, and with each of these blogs I will highlight one of them.

One of best ways to kill time on the commute (and avoid killing your fellow commuters) is reading.  In a good year, when I am not concentrating on other hobbies, when there isn’t a strike, when the person beside me isn’t bleeding music out of his ears and when I can find books that aren’t a slog, I get through about 50 books.  In a bad year, that total is probably 30, probably because I read at home.
Finding books to read is occasionally a challenge.  Yes, I was an English Literature student at university, but I don’t always want to read the classics.  My degree may have prepared me for life in the 17th century (and not much else) but that doesn’t mean I want to spend all my time there.
Fortunately, most of my friends and family also love to read and they often make great recommendations.  I also, sometimes, make a good guess when judging a book by its cover and discover a great read.
As we are in the 21st Century, I have decided to embrace technology and buy an e-reader.  I haven’t used it yet because I have a few books in the queue.  I have the latest Ian Rankin book and people have been urging me to read The Game of Thrones.  When I get through them, I will fire up the e-reader and see where that takes me.  I chose the Kobo because I can access the library catalogue with it.
Loyal readers, if you have any good book recommendations, please list them in the comment section of this blog.  Your help is appreciated.

Learning Japanese Part two–Kanji

If you’re going to learn Japanese you should probably know some kanji.  By kanji I mean those Chinese characters which were integrated into Japanese a long long time ago.  You could learn Japanese and not learn them.  They are not vital, unless of course you want to use an ATM, know the price at the cinema, get the half-priced sushi at the supermarket, or at the very least not look like a complete knob because you consistently push when you should pull and pull when you should push trying to get through the door.  Of course most doors in Japanese big cities are automatic, but do you really want to take that chance. 

this means this sushi in on sale for half-price

Understand this?  Then Kanji will be no problem

Friends and family always ask how anyone can memorize all of them.  First of all, we live with lots of symbols in our daily lives.  The instrument panel in any car is a good example of this.  Other examples include road signs, logos, and computer icons.  Once you get over that, it really isn’t much of a stretch beyond that.  If you’re in Japan, they’re everywhere.  Put in a little bit of study and a little bit of intuition and you’ll quickly learn small, large, push, pull, exit, entrance, bank and half priced sushi.

When it comes to studying kanji I think flashcards are best.  You can flip through them on the train, before turning in, and in line to buy half priced sushi.  The other option is to get some inexpensive elementary school books from the 100 yen store.

Procrastination, Thy Name Is Research

At last count I had more than 15 books dedicated to my train hobby.  This doesn’t include magazines, which despite some recent purging is still a formidable pile.  These are books, probably culled from magazine articles or possible specially commissioned from contributors to those magazines.  I kind of feel like I’ve built my own reference library.

When I check my Amazon “wish list” I’ve got somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 more waiting for me to get over my reluctance to part with my cash and load up my shopping cart.  If this keeps up I might have to buy another bookcase…. I could build one, but that sounds like the start of a woodworking hobby, and despite the draw of tools that almost all men feel on a genetic level, I do not have the room and I like my fingers.  When it gets right down to it, I’ve got a brother who is quite good at that sort of thing, and I am happy to make him feel useful.

Having a train book library sounds great.  However, having a working train sounds better.  I often find myself spending a lot of time planning and researching, pricing and searching.  A great train book library can take up a lot of time.  However, there comes a time when you have to put down the books and pick up the tools, get off the sofa and get on the workbench.

And I am going to do that ….. just after one more peak at Amazon, and a quick look in one of those books, and….

Lego Update

My will remains strong–barely.  By mere chance, Friday saw me perusing the store once more (perhaps if I avoided the mall altogether….)   And, as if the train, and Lord of the Rings kits weren’t enough, they now have an array of superhero kits.  I suspect a conspiracy to separate me from my money.  Will this assault on my bank balance never end?

Which one do you think looks the best?  My vote goes to Thor–though I thought he’d be taller.

Learning Japanese (part one–Corn is con)

For people who are good at spotting things through pictures, or have a good sense of intuition, they can tell that Japan and things Japanese play a significant part in this blog.  To call learning Japanese a hobby is probably not correct.  Japan has played an important part in my life.  It has been my home, has provided me with an income, and has stoked my imagination and affected what I watch, what I read, and countless other parts of my life.  Together with all this is my ambition to learn Japanese fluently.

I started studying Japanese in 1993–which, coincidentally, is the year I started living in Japan.  Basically I was thrown into the deep end of the pool, and had to start swimming.  I don’t regret this because it was an effective way to make me study.
I learned Hiragana first, and the following book was helpful in this regard.  It is simply laid out, and its pictographic representations are brilliant.

I waited until I took actual Japanese classes to learn katakana–and I paid for this mistake one night at a pizza place and couldn’t decipher the menu–so yes, the tales are true, corn does indeed come on pizza in Japan (and other parts of Asia as well)

Hiragana is not an alphabet, but a syllabic alphabet.  It represents vowels and consonant vowel clusters like ka, ki, ku ke ko and one simple consonant n.  Unfortunately learning hiragana doesn’t allow you to read anything other than a child’s reader, and you can’t read any words that are borrowed from a foreign language (that is the job of katakana) you can still find it useful, and recognize it wherever you go.

I learned katakana when my Japanese course started.  Actually I learned it the day before the course started (yes, the book is that good) It is probably more useful than hiragana because more complete words that litter the Japanese neon landscape are presented in katakana.  These include shop, bus, toilet, convenience store, and of course corn.  Japanese people tend to think that katakana is easier than hiragana and often wonder why foreigners things otherwise.  The basic truth is that while they are simpler, they are more confusing and because of their plainness tend to resemble each other. 

I mentioned before that they are mainly used to represent foreign loanwords.  While this is true, it doesn’t necessarily make them easy to understand.  Combini is convenience store, toire is toilet, and of course con is corn.

While I joke about it, I do love the Japanese language, and have attained a level of proficiency that can both get me in and out of trouble.  I would love to be incredibly fluent and I continue to study and practice to this day.
These cards are a cool, and inexpensive way to organize your vocabulary,

A Whacky Idea

While writing the post about the Rubik’s cube, and pondering my sometimes lacklustre economic future, I wondered if I should set up a business solving the cubes.  I envisioned a system whereby people sent me their cubes (along with a return envelope with sufficient postage) and I would solve their cubes and send them back.
Of course I expected to charge a small fee for the service.
I know what all of you are thinking.
1  People could buy the book (or check on line) and solve the cubes themselves
2 It would be easier, and cheaper, to take the cube apart and reassemble it correctly
3 Nobody would pay for that

Sadly, the last point is the one that I think is most true.  I know there are thousands of cubes clogging up people’s basements, or going unsold at garage sales.  I am sure it would be easy to find them a new home if only they were solved.
Weep, for this dream is dead.

A Puzzling Life

I must confess to some geekdom…. I should probably confess to a lot, but since the blog is doing it for me, I can forgo that for now.  Back to my confession.  I love puzzles.  I love crosswords, Sudoku, word search, the jumble, mind puzzles, lateral thinking puzzles, logic puzzles, and yes, things like the Rubik’s Cube.

Being able to solve the Rubik’s Cube is an honour which lies somewhere between useless and dubious.  It certainly doesn’t help me meet women, and other than surprising some of my students–who quickly ask me how fast I can do it–curse you YouTube, curse you.  I can do it but I am no record holder.  Shouldn’t that be good enough?  As I was saying, other than surprising my students, it doesn’t do much else for me.

I remember watching a “reality” TV show called “Beauty and the Geek”,  One of the contestants (guess which one?) was unpacking their luggage when they produced multiple cubes.  When questioned why so many cubes were needed, the reply was, “Just in case.”

Since that day I have wondered what that meant.  Just in case what?  Is there something about the Mayan Calendar prophecy that I don’t know?  Maybe I’ve got some kind of edge.  Maybe cube solvers will rule the new order.  Probably all that guy meant was that he would have something to do if the internet went down.

I learned to solve the Rubik’s Cube from a book.  I got it as a Christmas gift while still in elementary school.  Oddly enough, I did those moves so many times that I haven’t forgotten them more than 28 years later.  I guess there really is something to muscle memory.

I had a whole collection of these puzzles.  I had a pyramid, a missing link puzzle, a tower with colour graduated balls.  I think the people in my life wanted to get me on that TV show That’s Incredible.

Progress Report

I started this blog with the idea that it would contain a whole bunch of things.  I had this mission statement

I plan to write about the different hobbies I have take up, the ones I have researched, and my future hobby dreams–and believe me, I have lots of those.  I will also mix in amusing stories of my hobby foibles, as well as thoughts on the state of hobby pursuits in the twenty-first century.  On top of all that, I may find time to review tools, hobby kits, and anything else.  In essence, I am promising a mixed bag of tricks. 
I think I have covered the foibles and the amusing stories, but I really haven’t updated you on my hobby progress. That is where this blog comes in.

Amongst my many hobbies, building plastic models ranks pretty high.  I build cars, military vehicles, Japanese castles, and science fiction subjects.  One of my ambitions is to build a car themed diorama.  It was this in mind that I started the Fujimi Tools kit.


I really liked the subject of this kit because it was a little different. I am attracted to more unusual pieces.  I have seen some nice finished examples of this on the internet.  My pieces are coming along, but, as you can see, they need a little finishing.

 I should point out (because I have learnt that there are some very smart people inhabiting the internet) that the engine is not from the Fujimi kit.  I am also working on a Ford Fairlane–but the engine is all that I have managed to finish.

I also recently finished the Schwimmwagen.  (okay, I haven’t added the crew, but I probably won’t)

That is where things stand, today.  As far as models go.  You’ll find out the progress, or lack of progress, in future blogs.

Comic Book Day

Today is Comic Book Day.  You can walk into a comic book store and walk out with a free comic book.  It makes me wonder what I am doing inside, typing this, rather than at my local comic book store.  Sadly, I had made other, unchangeable, plans before I found out that today was comic book day.  For those of you who are reading this, you should be out there getting your comic–after you finish reading this of course.
As you might of guessed, comic books, and the superheroes they were full of, played a big part in my early years (and later years, but that isn’t the point really).  The epic struggles depicted on those pages were great food for my imagination.  Every month my heroes fought the villain, overcame great odds and personal doubts, and eventually triumphed.
These days comic book characters have made the jump to the big screen.  Yesterday the long awaited Avengers opened.  I wanted to be among the first in line, but sadly it will have wait until later this week–but it will be this week.
Comic books might get a bad rap but, honestly, how can anything that promotes literacy be bad.  Besides, comics haven’t just been about superheroes for a long time. They have been used to tell a wide variety of stories with appeal to more than just your stereotypical teenage boy.
Enjoy Comic Book Day everyone.