A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
Ring. Fumble. Where is my cell phone?Ring. Fumble. Aha. Ring. Hello?
Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company... Hello?
Yuzu Trading Company, how can I help you?
"May I speak with the owner?"
What do you need?
"Hello? This is [unintelligible] with Domain Names and [blah blah blah]. Can I get your fax number to send you a packet of information [unintelligible]?"
"Uh... I ..."
No, I already have information on domain names. Thanks. I don't need anymore. Especially sent to my fax number, I think silently.
"Well, I just [unintelligible] mrpfhfmphf."
No, thank you. (Click)
Granted, I have some sympathy for people making cold calls... I've been there, done that. It's no fun. But the last thing I want, when on the receiving end of such calls, is to give implicit permission to send even more marketing material that I don't want. Especially when it's the in the first semi-intelligible utterance in the conversation.
I have this instinct that makes me immediately suspicious when I receive a call and the person on the other end of the line doesn't respond like a normal person... if they say hello before I do, or if there's a second or two of supernatural silence before a clicking sound, I just know it's a marketing droid and I immediately activate my "fight or flight" defenses.
However, I've had those defenses successfully disarmed, at least long enough to listen to the key message.
It just takes a little more effort. Not that I want more marketing calls, but just as an example...
Jason Truesdell, Yuzu Trading Company...
"Hi Jason, I was just looking at YuzuMura.com... It's a beautiful site. You have some really interesting products I've never seen anywhere else."
Flattery will get you 15 seconds of myattention... "Is this a customer?" I wonder? Oh! Thank you, I say.
"I know you're busy... I'm with [name omitted] publishing company that produces a number of books, some of which cover Asian art and travel topics... Would you be interested in taking a look?"
Oh, it's a marketing call after all. But wait, she actually knows something about my business, and has something potentially relevant to offer.
Well, I'm certainly willing to take a look... On my web site I really need books that have a coffee-table format, or otherwise have a production style that would be appropriate for the gift market. At the moment, I have some hurdles with books because my storefront's software has some issues with shipping calculations using multiple shipping methods, but it's certainly something I've been considering...
"Yes, that's pretty much all we produce. Would you be interested in..." (the conversation continues)
To be fair, I haven't yet ordered from that second company yet, either, but I have a positive impression of the company, and the salesperson put me at ease. She appeared to take a serious look at my business, even if it only means she spent 30 seconds skimming through the text and photos on the top page of my online shop. She tried to offer me something she thought would be compatible with my business.
Not everything works out instantly, but guess which company I'm likely to call back when I need something they offer?
I’m not completely up and running again, but I got my replacement hard drive for my laptop installed and the OS is back up… now I have to install all the stuff I used to have and try to recover as much of the data of the old drive as possible.
I bought a USB device that’s supposed to allow me to plug in the old hard drive and use it as an external device… I suppose that’ll work until the old one is completely dead, though it didn’t arrive with the hard drive itself. Or rather, FedEx seemed unaware of it when I went down to their sort facility to pick it up, and the tracking number from Buy.com was useless.
Tomorrow I’ll try posting some food from the weekend.
Lucas of Cooking In Japan tagged me with the “Too Much Information” meme, for which I am invited (commanded?) to present 10 revealing/odd/interesting/random facts about me. I can’t promise much, but since I haven’t revealed terribly much about my pre-blogging existence here, I thought I’d reach into the past…
Before I could even properly speak English, I had a Japanese babysitter, and I learned to speak enough Japanese that my mother nearly worried I might have a learning disability, until the babysitter started translating for me in my mother’s presence. I promptly forgot all of this after growing a bit older, and it hasn’t apparently helped me move beyond my limited Japanese.
I quietly claimed, studied, and, due to frequent commutes in a backpack to school, damaged the paperback binding of my stepfather’s German Made Simple textbook about 3 years before I could elect to take German in high school, first learning to mispronounce German words around age 11.
After planning an exchange program to Germany, I switched my major from Literature to East Asian Studies, putting myself in the odd position of trying to learn Japanese in Germany.
Before I was allowed to cook unsupervised on the stovetop, I was fascinated by cooking with the microwave, and made various melted marshmallow concoctions.
The first baking recipes I learned, other than those taught to me by my mother or other family members, were taken from the back of a Bisquick box. (I haven’t touched a box of Bisquick since 1993).
I remember more about my first meals with girlfriends, past and present, than I do about such details as, for example, when their birthdays might be.
I once held a dinner party to which more than 35 people showed up. Everyone went home well-fed, though most of them had to sit on the floor. I was able to maintain some semblence of domestic civility: Most people ate off of ceramic dinnerware, rather than disposable.
Back in my college days, I produced a television show, produced a radio talk show, created TV news graphics, and hosted several music shows on my college TV and radio stations, when I wasn’t busy with political rabble-rousing. Frequent typos and grammatical flubs in this blog notwithstanding, I even had a brief stint as assistant editor at a small Seattle weekly newspaper.
I’ve never paid for a TV, and I still have the same cheap stereo I bought in college about 12 years ago.
I started college with a clear idea of what kind of work I wanted to do after graduating, but I graduated without one.
The memetic process depends on reproduction, so part of the deal is that I’m supposed to tag 5 other bloggers to respond to the meme. It’s meant to take a life of its own, like the game “telephone” combined with a chain letter. I’ll ask Hiromi to spread the meme in Japanese. Perhaps Travis in Tokyo and nearby Amy of Blue Lotus can play. If she’s amenable, perhaps I can convince my almost-neighbor, Gluten-Free Shauna, whom I’ve never met in spite of the fact that we both know some of the same people, to participate. My former roommate, Kaori, may answer in English or Japanese.
I was pleased to hear a feature on Japanese ukulele player and singer Tsuji Ayano on PRI’s The World. I’ve been listening to her music since around March 2000, when I ran into one of her early full-length albums at a “New Release” listening station in HMV Shibuya. (A Japanese site has some sound clips).
That album was a refreshing change from standard-issue Japanese pop fare, mostly because the production aesthetic was so austere.
Most Japanese musicians are barely distinguishable under the weight of their usually far more famous producers. In contast, Ayano’s work has an infections, unpretentious style, slightly boyish lyrics, and is relatively free of the standard issue self-conscious cuteness endemic among Japanese female vocalists. She has a kind of singer-songwriter style that, while certainly Japanese, would not be shocking on a playlist of contemporary American folk music.
When I first heard her music, I was hooked. Ever since then, I tend to seek out her newer albums whenever I travel to Japan, and I buy them before I even have a chance to listen to them.
The funny thing is that I started listening before most of my Japanese friends had ever heard of her. A year or so after I started listening to her music a friend in Japan told me she had a bit of an ear worm from a song of Ayano’s that had apparently been featured on a TV commercial or movie or something, but apparently the marketing department of her record label took a relatively soft approach to promoting her work.
I wonder if the little mention on The World will build some awareness of her work in the U.S.
I’m not a big fan of Japanese pop music, but Ayano’s work has made me hopeful to find more quality music from Japan.
I found my business email account is now averaging one spam message per day advertising some sort of questionable Japanese matchmaking service, and about one or two messages per week in Hebrew. Every once in a while I get spam in Chinese or Korean, though that’s far less common.
My domain name has a Japanese word in it, so maybe that would explain why I’m targeted for Japanese spam, but it’s not much of an explanation for the stuff in Hebrew. I haven’t ever registered for any Japanese site with my business email account except FoodEx or Hoteres trade shows.
Except for the fact that MSN somehow redirects a defunct Israeli florist site to my YuzuMura domain, I can’t figure out why I get spam in Hebrew. I tried to get someone in MSN that I used to work with to investigate that particular problem, though nobody has ever gotten back to me.
I’m not literate in Hebrew and I don’t understand enough Korean to recognize what the Korean spam is about. I understand the gist of the Japanese spam but even on the extremely remote chance I were the type inclined to respond to such offers, I don’t see what value sending it out of the country would be. The Hebrew spam seems to be Israel-based companies promoting vending machines or vacation packages or something similarly useless since I’m nowhere near Israel. They are particularly abusive because they tend to include large image files.
Sometimes I wish email weren’t so close to free. One of my email accounts became almost completely useless after 6 years of use.
Whenever I’m driving somewhere, I irritate my passengers by being ultra-conservative about when I enter traffic. If I see someone on my left when I’m turning right, if I think there’s the slightest chance they could come near me, I usually wait, and wait, and wait.
So about five or ten seconds after I turned right out of a parking lot around Leary and 14th in Ballard today, I was very surprised to see a car bearing right into my direction on my driver’s side mirror. I started moving closer to the right because I thought it was very strange that someone would be moving so close to me so fast. It was also strange to see the car bearing right, as if it was aiming for me.
Then, I noticed a little scraping sound as the car zoomed in front of me. I remember thinking, oh, what’s this about? And then the car finally started slowing down and turned into another parking lot. An elderly woman got out of the car and was complaining that I had just hit her. She said she was “just in her own lane” but of course there was nothing on the left when I entered traffic, so I am quite convinced she had a very loose interpretation of “in her own lane”. In any event, she left convinced that I had hit her, even though she was coming from behind me.
She started talking about the last time someone hit her, so I thought maybe this is a habit of hers.
There was no meaningful damage to speak of; some clearcoat scratches on her car. She said there was a dent, but I couldn’t see anything; the other side of the car had the same shape. My car had minor scratches in the clear coat and a small amount of chipped paint at the wheel well edge.
She collected my driver’s license and insurance information and I got hers, borrowing her pencil and notepad, which she had in her hand as soon as she got out of her car. I didn’t think it was worth reporting, but then I realized I should call my insurance company since she seems intent on placing the blame on me.
I guess I have to watch out for people who aim at my car… It never occurred to me that someone would do that.
Wow… I was just watching an earthquake on an MSN Messenger video conversation and was a little speechless. Hiromi and I were struggling with network flakiness and general computer headaches and just as we got video up again an earthquake hit the Kantou region in Japan.
It seemed fairly hefty, but appears not to have been too destructive. Hiromi says it seems to have hit the Izu peninsula the hardest. The Japanese scale was about Shindou 4.0 (different than the Richter scale of magnitude). We stayed connected, so I could also see shaking from many smaller aftershocks.
It was a little scary to watch. Actually, I can’t say I’ve ever observed an earthquake from the point of view of a video conversation before…
A few days ago I started getting attacked by Trackback spam.
You know, I’ve gotten used to spam in many forms… I’ve been getting junk mail since the mid-1990s, and even good junk mail filters don’t quite get everything out of my mailbox. I’m relatively unsurprised, though still annoyed, by most email spam.
When I started my blog, I didn’t quite realize that I was opening the door to additional types of spam.
Early on I started noticing “referrer spam”, which basically attempts to exploit administrative curiosity about who is sending visitors to your site, producing clickthroughs to sites which are actually scams for debt reduction or body part enhancement or whatever. With the aid of a slightly jaded eye, I can pretty much identify most of these referrer spams right off the bat and I almost never get suckered into visiting such sites.
But later I started facing “comment spam”, which were created by automated scripts. The motivation would appear to be to get users to click on such spam messages, but for the most part the spammers target older messages that only get sporadic reading, and so it turns out that what they were really trying to do was exploit Google PageRank algorithms to get people to go to pay-per-click or pay-per-lead sites. Basically, the more links to a particular site, the more highly ranked it will likely be for a particular keyword, and people searching for gambling or pornography or various misspelled male impotence drugs are more likely to find some spammer’s site and he’ll get a few cents for each clickthrough; well worth the effort of distributed spamming of thousands of blogs.
I got rid of almost all comment spam by implementing a slightly finicky Human Interface Proof technology on my blog (if you mistype the HIP text the comment goes to a bit bucket). So that disappeared, and, with a few small probably manually plotted exceptions, very little comment spam appears.
I still get referral spam, and this will likely never go away, even though it doesn’t really help the spammer much.
But more recently, I have been getting inundated by Trackback spam. A trackback is basically a ping that is sent when someone links to an article on my blog site. Most of the time, their software sends a ping request, and it magically transforms into a mini-post that looks similar to a comment on my web site. Well, spammers can exploit this also. They use it for the same purpose as comment spam, and somehow since June 7 I’ve been targeted with about 200 trackback spams. In my massive deletion of bogus trackbacks I probably deleted some legitimate ones. I may disable the display of trackbacks just to avoid the benefit to spammers… I would actually like to see who is referring to me for real, but if the order of magnitude of spam trackbacks increases I’ll not really have the energy to keep up with the deletions.
It seems over the last few months my referrer logs on my blog site have become nearly useless.
I used to enjoy looking to see who was linking to me, but now 90% of the “referrers” are actually bogus. They attempt to promote questionable pharmaceutical or gambling sites. Someone just writes a bunch of scripts that cruise blog sites with forged headers.
Most of them are immediately obvious ploys but every once in a while something pops up with an innocuous-looking URL that tricks me.
I think they are trying to trigger fake trackbacks or something. After I added the Human Interaction Proof (HIP) requirement to post comments on my blog, all of the spammer efforts were shifted from making bogus comments to making bogus HTTP referral log entries.
Somehow I can’t figure out how such spammers think this helps them. I wouldn’t actually buy anything from such a site and cluttering up referral logs can’t help with search engine page rankings, so what exactly is the objective?
A bit over a week ago my otherwise nifty Motorola MPX220 phone decided to stop charging… the battery seemed fine, but when I plugged in any of several charging devices, no power flowed into the device.
After struggling through what I thought was a long hold time, I got someone who had a hard time understanding how to spell simple words, even when I spelled them out multiple times. A scheduled pickup never materialized, and I called back late the next day, and they told me my address was not on file. I gave my information all over again, and the scheduled AM pickup also never happened.
I called a third time yesterday, waited on hold about 20 minutes after several abortive attempts at navigating irrelevant voice prompts, and they scheduled a same-day pickup at my office. Someone from FedEx did show up, this time with a completely blank waybill, and I had no idea what the address should have been. So she said she could come back the next day, but I figured I could drop the package off somewhere just as easily on my own.
When I called Motorola again, I waited on hold for 25 minutes once more, only to get transferred a recording with a barely audible pronunciation of the destination address. I tried to drop the filled-out waybill today at Kinko’s, but they refused to accept the package because there was no recipient account number on the waybill.
On the rare occasions when I’ve had to return something electronic for repairs or exchanges, the vendor almost always just sent their driver with a door tag, or gave me a link to a web page where I could print my own label. This odd exception has wasted more hours than I would have thought possible. I found the whole thing very frustrating.
I was about to unleash a fury on the unfortunate person who would answer my call today, but the wait time was only 2 minutes, this time and she was oddly disarming and suitably apologetic. She managed to confirm the pickup by telephone instead of the usual electronic method, and even gave me an account number to list on the waybill in case something went wrong.
I could have been more explosive… I was rehearsing empty threats of lawsuits in my mind before I called. Thank goodness an occasional customer sevice lackey has decent people skills. We might be reading about violent cases of Customer Service Rage.
All of the daytime customer service staff seemed to be located in India, and are apparently unaccustomed to US accents pronouncing things like letters and common street names. However, after 4 pm or so, it seems that the support staff are in some Latin American country, and although the staff speak with an accent the ones I’ve encountered so far seemed less confused by American English conventions.
I’m not philosophically opposed to outsourcing; it stretched our resource-constrained team far further than previously possible when I was at Microsoft. Telephone customer service is hard to do well even inside a company. But I wish companies would evaluate the cost in a more sophisticated fashion: What’s the cost of customer frustration with a company? What’s the cost of a bad experience? What are your corrective measures when your outsourced customer service ruins your customer relationships?
In my import business, my goal is to find things that are imported for a good reason: I want something if the product is made better where it’s from than anywhere else, or an has a distinctive style that can’t be readily duplicated, or it otherwise has a really compelling origin story. I think that outsourcing of technical services will ultimately have this approach, as well as the low-end brutal cost consciousness that’s the dominant reason for going to India, China and Russia right now. There are some really well-educated folks in Asia and Russia and some of them are bound to develop technologies or maybe even service methodologies that will be in demand on their own merits, rather than simply because they cost less. Burnout jobs in call centers that spend most of the time trying not to be helpful to customers in to avoid expensive bench time or better software design… is this really the best outsourcing model?
I have been living on borrowed laptop since the 29th or so, when I sent my laptop off for repairs. It finally came back today. I was off running errands in the morning so I had to pick it up from the FedEx distribution center down in South Seattle.
I scheduled a bunch of demos for the next couple of weeks, so I hope to clear some inventory. I don’t like being in the position I’m in now… having too much inventory, having no seasonal factors in my favor for buying… it’s frustrating. On the bright side, one of my customers indicated they had sold through more product over the last few weeks, so the sting will be a bit smaller.
Yesterday I had a meeting with a distributor to talk about a line of products I don’t think I can completely handle on my own. It’s will be using my own branding, so I can minimize the risk of someone else stealing my supplier, and of course I also would be selling some custom products that couldn’t just be duplicated. I need to explore a bit more. I learned a lot at the meeting, and got one option that might work out.k
In the evening, since it was First Thursday, I went to the Henry gallery with Jennifer and another couple of folks, where I saw a couple of nifty installation pieces. One of them, a three-screen video installation from Doug Aitken, called “Interiors,” must have taken some incredible editing skills… three simultaneous videos on three different screens with edits tightly syncronized, overlapped and with a complex sound design.
Alex Lieber’s mobiles were kind of clever… They seemed a little Ikea-inspired, but I might just be cynical.
I had some dinner guests yesterday, not quite something I had planned. I was planning on making squash gnocchi for myself anyway so I added a few other dishes and had a little party... a little salad with pomegranate seeds, a frittata, a little mushroom dish with some garlic and rosemary, and of course the squash gnocchi, made using potatoes, kabocha, and flour, roughly estimated. I then served some sweet potato ice cream and pear sorbet. The pear sorbet turned out really nicely... nothing more than pureed, slightly cooked fragrant pears, sugar, and lemon juice.
Today I woke up after sleeping a rough 5 hours, and then I was up for a couple of hours before I crashed again. It was a little late to properly prepare my planned contribution to a Jennifer-hosted Thanksgiving. I made a hurried bread dough and then I prepared a butternut squash gratin, which was a good way of using up the extra pureed kabocha and heavy cream from yesterday. Today's stuff was a little rushed, so it didn't turn out as well as yesterday's food.
I got a replacement for my damaged Sony Ericsson T616 cell phone. I settled on a Motorola Mpx220, which I hunted down at a Best Buy location after abortive attempts to order it online. It seems like a decent choice so far, though I'm having some little frustrations with it.
The voice recognition works better than my last phone's "voice tag" system, though it doesn't seem to work in handsfree mode. The camera was behaving erratically yesterday but seems not so completely insane today. I had some issues setting up features like email and so on because the menu system was not initially very intuitive for setting up new accounts.
Voice quality is decent, and I can hear better than I did with my T616. The internet features are substantially better, and syncronizing my address book with Outlook is absolutely painless; it was something I dreaded when I was trying to do that with my Sony phone, because I was always wondering which contacts would suddenly be duplicated and also whether the phone would even be detected by the Sony-bundled package. ActiveSync is actually a pleasant experience, which is surprising to me, considering all the horrible things that people said about ActiveSync a few years ago.
The next few days I'll be doing in-store demos for my candy at the Uwajimaya stores, and then I have to furiously get my publicity stuff together.
On my way home from an in-store demo of the dragon beard candy, I started my car, and a warning light which I have never seen before was illuminated. I wasn't sure what it meant, but based on the hieroglyphics, I surmised that the problem was a taillight of some sort.
I thought that I should inspect the lights before I drove any meaningful distance, so I stopped my car just before leaving the parking lot and took a look. The lights seemed to be ok, and my turn signals checked out fine, and even the reverse gear lights seemed to be normal. So I decided to worry about the problem when I got home. Not really sure what to make of the issue, I tried jamming an umbrella against the brake pedal to see if it the problem would appear when the brakes were engaged.
Finally, I gave up, thinking the only option would be to have someone else take a look at the car. I shut down the engine, and got out of the car.
Suddenly, a thought occured to me.
I turned on the engine again. The indicator light did not illuminate this time.
It was merely a bug. The car needed to be rebooted.
Amelia and Jennifer and I had a need for some decompression yesterday evening (and I'm sure we're not the only ones) so we made arrangements to meet up for dinner at Monsoon, a yuppie Vietnamese restaurant which cleverly located itself next to Kingfish Cafe on 19th in Capitol Hill a few years ago.
Monsoon has the "small and sexy" thing right; the food was generally pretty nice, though we had some grit in the matsutake component of our bok choy and matsutake. The lemongrass tofu was nice, the persimmon salad was simple and clean (though they didn't warn about the shreds of bacon... I chose to work around them), and Jennifer and Amelia devoured the foie gras and poached peaches. A tamarind, chicken and shrimp soup probably serves as a year-round staple, and I ate some of the vegetables and broth, which was pretty pleasant.
The matsutake oversight aside, the food helped lift our apocalyptic moods.
We felt the need for movement en route to dessert, though our dessert move morphed rapidly into a need for red wine and cheese. We made our second stop at Brasa's bar, and had the cabrale cheese plate with a Spanish red that was just about the right complexity for the cheese. The thinly sliced apples, grapes and spanish almonds also helped.
We ordered more cheese from the main dining room's stash, trusting our waitress to pick the right ones, and she did. Somehow we ended up ordering the grape pizza with more cabrales cheese, which was worthwhile, and I'm sure I remember it from when I was there three or four years ago. It was a good way of communally distracting ourself from our country's confusion of bravado and virtue.
Our theme for the evening: We may not have a Democrat in the White House, but we can drink like Republicans.
If polling on the reason people voted as they did yesterday is accurate and this election was about moral values, I'm a little curious why active deception and hostile, aggressive behavior were not considered as horrifying an affront to moral values to the red states as, for example, being pro-choice. Bush's morality is far from unassailable, and yet somehow he was given a free pass to own moral values as an issue.
I was not a particularly enthusiastic a supporter of John Kerry, since he never truly articulated a vision for the future. I think this was his undoing, and not any question about his morality. He never successfully articulated a position on the Iraq war rooted in a discussion of values. When he was talking about jobs, he appealed to individual self-interest rather than to humanity and compassion.
The religious left once owned the issue of morality in American politics, the influence apparent from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr. Even Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, for all their weaknesses, always spoke from a foundation of values. The ability for a caricature of morality to dominate the discussion of values points to a failure of the left to speak to people at a human level.
We are not a people unable to see the morality in compassion, truth, and humanity. But in the absence of an articulation of a message built on these, the best of American values, a fetishized morality assembled from token kneejerk issues like abortion, gay marriage, and ambiguous references to "traditional values" will do. I think that it is reasonable for people to expect their politicians to speak to values, although I certainly don't want a religious group to wield all the power over the moral compass of the nation.
The future of progressive thought will be closely tied to the ability of reformers to speak to the values that are our strengths. Threats of hellfire are frightening and effective tools of the religious right. But they are no match for the strength of a positive vision articulated by someone with a unironic approach to the imperative to love thy neighbor.
John Edwards had some potential to accomplish this, but he was overshadowed by the muddled message of the Kerry campaign. The Kerry campaign offered the promise "hope" but did little to build it; all of the hope was assumed, based on the momentum that came from frustration with the situation in Iraq, the casualty of truth, the Bush antipathy to reality. The promise of hope came mostly from faded memory of the election primaries, the voices of Howard Dean and John Edwards.
Hope is precious, but needs to be nurtured. The Kerry campaign was never successful at that. The volunteers were hopeful, but it was a hope that something better than Bush would emerge.
A few articles I've seen have suggested that the re-election of Bush will force the administration to clean up its own mess. It will be at a very painful cost, for now and for a few generations, and I doubt the cleanup will happen in the blissful unawareness the Bush administration seems to have of its disasters. Four years from now, if we have made a clean transition from Iraq and haven't created new disasters, I'll be very surprised.
I am not a religious person, and perhaps this makes me part of the progressive vision problem. But I hope progressives will be able to communicate a vision that shows a positive, coherent alternative to radically isolationist Christianity.
One of the things I learned in high school German class was never, ever to accept a compliment. The proper response is denial; graciously accepting someone's praise in Germany is hopelessly gauche.
Fortunately, a similar aesthetic regarding compliments prevails in Japan, as this Japan Times article suggests. So even my first time in Japan, around 1998, I was habitually denying the overwrought compliments offered on my truly atrocious Japanese. Anyone I know whose Japanese skills are actually worthy of praise ceases directly hearing even a word of such, unless they are particularly tired and sloppy and making mistakes. Such people are offered praise (or bewilderment) through intermediaries.
Unlike Germany, however, it seems to be far more common for Japanese to lavish praise on people, so the skills in deflecting compliments require somewhat faster reflexes.
It is somewhat news to me, though, that I would need to be cautious about group contexts when offering compliments to people close to me... But since Americans can be insulted by insincere compliments, I suppose the same risk would be present in U.S. situations; offering an insincere compliment to someone you know in a mixed group might be taken particularly badly. I think that the most sincere direct compliment in Japan is when someone is saying that they like something about you (I like your hair when it is longer) or something that you have done (is it ok if I eat more of this?), rather than offering general praise (your Japanese is good, etc.)
I woke up remembering all sorts of dreams involving earthquakes. Not nightmares... no substantial amount of fear was a part of them...
I briefly chatted with Hiromi this morning via MSN Messenger and I mentioned the dreams. She went to bed, and a few minutes later TV started showing images of a steam and smoke eruption at Mt. St. Helens.
On Friday while I was driving toward Seattle, a few hours shy of Portland I remember hearing about another minor plume. I started to recall the big eruption when I was about 7 years old... If memory serves me, my family was living in Kent and I was in first grade. I remember my neighbors pointing toward clouds in the sky and explaining that I was seeing Mount St. Helens erupting. I was disappointed, because all I could see was clouds... My 7-year-old mind wasn't quite able to see the difference.
Today I'm preparing a ceramics shipment... I hope I can get this and my other chores done in time.