Monday, March 3, 2008

Demo... mudda... jozu jari masen

(as seen in the March 2008 issue of The Grapevine, at Skokie Public Library)

Maiko and I met in August 2002 when we started our graduate studies. We were friends for several years before we began dating. This trip offered an opportunity to meet Maiko’s parents, mentors, professors and friends, and to better understand more of the culture from which she comes.

An American friend who once taught English in Japan shared many stories that promised just how radical, debilitating, even scarring my culture shock would be. In retrospect, I appreciate having spent the two months before my trip imagining his worst-case scenarios, as none of them were realized.

Language. Every two or three weeks last fall, while carrying clothes to and from the laundry room, I would pump up my iPod. I would try to sort, wash, dry, and fold clothes while practicing the “lyrics” to Pimsleur’s Speak and Understand Japanese:

Watashi-wa [I] nihongo-ga [Japanese language] scochi [a little] wakarimas [understand], demo [but] mudda [yet] jozu jari masen [I am not very good].

This sentence emphasized the importance of modesty as a new learner of Japanese. I understand the importance of modesty, but it’s also just true: I Japanese language a little understand, but yet I am not very good. One needs not modestly downplay an ability one has not.

In her parents’ home, we communicated in fragments of broken language. One of my favorite moments was when, after much effort, I decoded Maiko’s father’s words, go-oru den reddo ribaa, first as golden red river, and then as Golden Retriever.

Food. Japanese cuisine was, like Japanese language, designed for a foreign tongue, but I found it easier to pick up, and swallow, literally, and figuratively. Indeed, my proficiency with chopsticks – o-hashi – was not merely noticed, but celebrated. Weekend chopstick academy finally paid off. I was so caught off guard by the praise that I forgot to respond with modesty. Some highlights of our 10-day food fest:

Better than a Zen garden. Mister Donut serves a “bitter choco” donut, which is filled with a decadent, dark chocolate cream – not brown-colored, shortening-flavored Cool Whip. Outstanding. Worthy of reverence. Sublime.

Tofu. Nishigaki-sensei, Maiko’s undergrad thesis advisor, took us to a tofu restaurant in Kobe where we had a 10-course tofu feast. It didn’t all taste the same. Nor was it bland. It was experiential, intersensory dining -- an amazing tapestry of textures, colors, aromas, contrasts, and flavors. $25, tax and gratuity inclusive.

Sushi. My mother taught me when I was young that eating anything raw – other than fruits and vegetables – would certainly kill me (or if it didn’t kill me, she would kill me for risking it). Nevertheless, in the spirit of good old-fashioned, late twentysomething rebellion, I had become acquainted with sushi and sashimi a few years back, and discovered I really do enjoy it. (Please do not tell my mother.) I ate a lot of very tasty, very recently deceased swimming things on this trip. Amazing. But I’ve eaten my first and last raw prawn.

Ramen. In a traditional Japanese noodle shop, you can get a bowl of hearty, homemade noodle soup with meat and vegetables, starting at about $4, and slurping is encouraged. It’s a Japanese staple food, celebrated in Itami Juzo's culinary cult film, Tampopo. A comparable bowl of ramen on the 7th floor of Macy’s costs $9. (For a good value on American-style soup in Skokie, try Pat’s Place, where you can still order a cup of soup for less than a dollar. Jaime, thank you for introducing me to Pat. Anna, thank you for sharing Chicago’s own Tampopo.)

Vending yin and yang. Vending machines serve canned and bottled beverages, both cold (blue buttons) and warm (red) in the same machine. Whether you’d like iced coffee, warm green tea, Mountain Dew (cold only), or canned corn chowder (warm only), someone’s looking out for your beverage needs. Cost: about 20% higher than U.S. vending machines.

To tip or not to tip: there is no question. The Japanese have extremely high standards of customer service, so a tipping system could cause the Japanese psyche to melt down. One simply knows to expect extraordinary service from every server in every restaurant. Bonus: there are no mental gymnastics needed to calculate “actual” food prices from the menu (taking a $17 entrĂ©e, adding 11% sales tax plus either 15%, 18%, 20% or more tip depending on your mood, your server’s mood, and the efficiency of the kitchen staff).

McDonald’s and Starbucks. Yes, they’re there, but we didn’t go there.

For more on the Epistelesslogical Rupture's Japan trip, see the Epistelesslogical Rupture's previous blog post (or next post, depending on how you look at it) on public transit; check out the YouTube video by clicking here; and visit our Picasa photo album by clicking here. Where was the first photo posting about the trip? Take a look on SkokieTalk!

Friday, February 29, 2008

Suffering from Extraordinary-Public-Transit Envy

The Epistelesslogical Rupture is pleased to return to the blogosphere to commemorate a 10-day trip to Japan in January with the Epistelesslogical Rupture's significant other.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture had a particularly interesting experience of public transit in Japan, and would like to share some reflections, observations, and concerns.

Act I.
The Quasi Humorous Anecdote.

If you’ve ever been on the Chicago Transit Authority's elevated train system (the El), you’ve experienced the stumbling drunk train effect. This is that jerky, uncoordinated, toddler-walking movement that the trains make frequently when they start, while they accelerate or slow down, and when they stop. It’s an effect that causes Olympic gold medal gymnasts to lose their balance unless they are anchored to a grip of some sort. This happens, on a ride of about 10 minutes on the El, approximately five times. In the Epistelesslogical Rupture's 10 days of train riding in Japan, it happened once.

This was because someone ran across the tracks at an approaching crosswalk, after the pedestrian crossing gates had already closed. An off-train sensor at the crosswalk transmitted an emergency signal to the train, automatically applying the emergency brakes (without the train operator needing to do anything). We did not come to a screeching halt. We stopped slightly abruptly, but no one in my line of sight lost her/his balance. The train operator apologized profusely to the passengers, and explained what had happened. We were moving again – smoothly and quietly – a few seconds later.

Act II.
A Miracle in Springfield.

During the Epistelesslogical Rupture's trip to Japan, the Illinois legislature finally was able to craft a long-term funding solution for the Chicagoland mass transit system. This was wonderful news for the Epistelesslogical Rupture, as neither the Epistelesslogical Rupture nor the Significant Other of the Epistelesslogical Rupture own a car, and both the Epistelesslogical Rupture and the Significant Other of the Epistelesslogical Rupture rely on a combination of 90% walking, biking and public transit (CTA, Metra and Pace), about 5% on a car-sharing service (i-go car sharing), and 5% accepting rides from friends.

While Illinois Rep. Julie Hamos ( and other lawmakers) were busy saving Chicagoland public transit from international embarrassment in the press in the neverending cycle of doomsday scenarios that had become reminiscent of the plot of Groundhog Day, the Epistelesslogical Rupture and the Significant Other of the Epistelesslogical Rupture were moving around Japan in comfort and economy (it was economical only because no bullet trains this trip).

Act III.
Such is the difference
between a country
where public transit is really for

and a country
where public transit is for
poor people,
homeless people,
crazy people
and smelly people.
Such is the difference
between a densely populated country
where the "convenience" of a car for every person
would be a logistical impossibility,
and public transit is a necessity,

and a s p r a w l i n g country
where the automobile has become a symbol of freedom,
in many places is a necessity for survival,
and where public transit is considered a burden upon society,
a privilege for the unfortunate, unblessed, carless.

Act IV.

Since the spring of 1995, when the Epistelesslogical Rupture spent a semester abroad in Strasbourg, France, and traveled to 51 cities in 15 countries from France to Liechtenstein to Poland, without ever using an automobile (okay, that's a white lie -- I think I took two cabs; and twice, my host mother drove us to dinner in her car), the Epistelesslogical Rupture has yearned for the sort of freedom that accompa
nies such an integrated, well-funded system of transportation.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture looks forward to working with Rep. Julie Hamos, Richard Harnish (Midwest High Speed Rail Association and the Transit Riders Alliance), the National Association of Railway Passengers, and others, in an effort to expand and advocate for public transit, and to make existing transit work better, and more efficiently, for more people.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Epistelesslogical Rupture downloads Terry Pratchett eBook

The Epistelesslogical Rupture figured out how to check out and download an eBook of Terry Pratchett's Small Gods. The Epistelesslogical Rupture has learned in these first few moments that the Epistelesslogical Rupture does not much like the experience of reading books on a computer screen. (Perhaps if college textbooks had been available at a discount as eBooks, the Epistelesslogical Rupture would embrace the concept of eBooks. eTextBooks wouldn't take up tons of space on bookshelves and wouldn't make moving from apartment to apartment such a cumbersome chore. Make textbooks eBooks. Students stare at computer screens for most of their time in college anyway.)

The Epistelesslogical Rupture spends a lot of time staring at computer screens for work, banking, correspondence, and recreation. So the Epistelesslogical Rupture prefers ink-and-paper books and magazines to reading more online. The Epistelesslogical Rupture also loves audiobooks. During graduate school, when reading meant "agonizing work," the Epistelesslogical Rupture re-discovered the world of audiobooks from childhood.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture realized that the Epistelesslogical Rupture could rest its eyes while listening to a book, could ride the El while listening to a book, could scoop nasty clumps of stuff you don't want to think about out of cat litter while listening to a book, could ride the El and drown out of the sounds of screaming children while listening to Jim Dale's narration of a Harry Potter volume, could travel to distant lands in real and imaginary lands, past, present and future, without getting out of bed or opening the Epistelesslogical Rupture's eyes.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture will stick with audiobooks for now.

Radical Trust: Just as Murphy was an optimist, so also the Epistelesslogical Rupture is a MOZART

Just as Murphy [of Murphy's Law] is said to have been an optimist, so also the Epistelesslogical Rupture one day will be said to have been a Most-Of-Ze'time Advocate for Radical Trust, or MOZART.

In an April 2006 blog entry, Darlene Fichter describes radical trust this way:

Radical trust is about trusting the community. We know that
abuse can happen, but we trust (radically) that the community and participation
will work. In the real world, we know that vandalism happens but we still put
art and sculpture up in our parks. As an online community we come up with
safeguards or mechanisms that help keep open contribution and participation

The Epistelesslogical Rupture celebrates and embraces the idea of radical trust, but the Epistelesslogical Rupture does not put all of its proverbial eggs in one radical basket of trust; nor does the Epistelesslogical Rupture wholly swallow, digest, and incorporate the idea of radical trust, complete with its literary hook, metaphorical line, and reality-testing sinker.

"Trust thy public, even those radicals among them," saith the Epistelesslogical Rupture unto the Skokians. "But be ye realistick also. Sometimes, as with them who are called "teen-agers," trust may need to be earned."

As one who was trained to be a publishing professional in a previous career, the Epistelesslogical Rupture initially flinched at the notion of empowering anyone and everyone with Internet access and a passion for creativity (i.e., not just the Privileged Few with Professional Training and Expensive Degrees)to be a publisher, or a writer, or an editor, or a photographer -- or all of these. But the tools of Web 2.0 in some sense do bring the power to the people; the design of Web 2.0 tools acknowledges that each person has the right/choice/power to contribute something to the community.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture often used Wikipedia to learn about the unfamiliar terms the Epistelesslogical Rupture encountered every few paragraphs in certain graduate school classes. Professors used Wikipedia as a teaching tool and recommended it as a research tool. There seem to be far fewer voices calling for the end of Wikipedia these days; perhaps the grand, old-fashioned, leather-bound, expensive, omniscient encyclopedia publisher's lobbying budget has dried up.

Last summer, the Epistelesslogical Rupture helped a professor-friend to prepare and contribute a requested entry for a non-wikiesque, ink-on-paper encyclopedia. In this process, the Epistelesslogical Rupture realized how, while the entry covered all the bases for this professor's lifelong, encyclopedic knowledge of the assigned topic, it is basically one man's thought on the topic. A wiki version of the same encyclopedia entry would have a radically different flavor, or combination of flavors. A young student, or an armchair philosopher, or a casual reader could have a stab at contributing to the entry, and in participating in the collaborative effort, all could learn from one another's wisdom.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On Zombies: Epistelesslogical Rupture praises theory of Google Docs, lists frustrating practical limitations of Google Docs

As the Epistelesslogical Rupture was watching the Common Craft video on How to Identify a Zombie (which was a link from The Skokie Ten page on Google Docs), the Epistelesslogical Rupture realized that perhaps the creative folks at Common Craft were never going to get around to the part where they describe how zombies have something to do with Google Docs. The Epistelesslogical Rupture finally found the Common Craft page about Google Docs and watched it.

The Google Docs video from Common Craft wasn't as amusing as the zombie one, but it made sense of the "one file, many contributors" idea. Because the Epistelesslogical Rupture has a history in journalism, editing, and collaborative efforts, and because the Epistelesslogical Rupture often finds itself serving as the hub of a wheel with many spokes, the Epistelesslogical Rupture immediately saw the value of the "one file, many contributors" idea.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture has previously used Google Docs for basic word processing at public computer terminals which were not equipped with a word processor ... and the Epistelesslogical Rupture has also previously used Google Docs to edit a letter emailed to the Epistelesslogical Rupture by a colleague. However, the "one file, many contributors" idea was the cha-ching selling point tonight.

  1. The Epistelesslogical Rupture is currently working on a large-scale editing-and-revision project for the Epistelesslogical Rupture's employer, which involves taking a Word document and revising its contents, which then need to be reviewed and approved by two people, then eventually by ten people, then eventually by an additional eight people. Eureka! One file, many contributors. The Epistelesslogical Rupture decided to upload the Word doc (of the file needing revisions and a million approvals) to Google Docs.

    However... Google Docs cannot upload a Word doc file of more than 500 kilobytes. The file needing revisions and a million approvals, because it contains some graphic elements, is 14.8 megabytes. So the simple, straightforward upload process stopped with an imprecise error message ("Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage...") Google Docs is a great idea, but it should be able to offer to extract the text from a graphic-heavy Word doc, instead of grinding to a halt without explaining why. If the Epistelesslogical Rupture has time, the Epistelesslogical Rupture will plan to cut and paste the text of the Word doc into Google Docs. But chances are, the Epistelesslogical Rupture will choose to use Word for its collaborative needs for this task.
  2. The Epistelesslogical Rupture's second issue with Google Docs is Docs' lack of support for footnotes. The Epistelesslogical Rupture was helping to type a chapter of an academic book for a professorial friend when the manuscript called for a footnote. The Epistelesslogical Rupture looked for a footnote tool in Google Docs, but found none. The Epistelesslogical Rupture searched Google Docs help center for support, but found only that Google Docs does not currently support footnotes or endnotes.
  3. The Epistelesslogical Rupture's third issue with Google Docs is like the first: the Epistelesslogical Rupture has a friend who had to, with a graduate school classmate, assemble a Powerpoint presentation for a class discussion they were leading together. The two had a cumbersome time emailing Powerpoint presentations back and forth to each other until the files became too big to email back and forth anymore. Then, it fell on the shoulders of one of them to finish the presentation solo at the last minute. Had they attempted to upload their presentation to Google Docs to edit it there, they would've had the same limitation: Google Docs will upload a presentation (such as a Powerpoint presentation) of up to 10 megabytes, but the cumbersome Powerpoint was larger than 10 megabytes. A company like Google that can provide 5GB of email storage per Gmail user can provide better upload limits.
Until Google really invests in making its Google Apps (like Google Docs) into really professional tools, Google Docs will be a fun gadget to play around with (sort of like the Common Craft zombie video), but not a reliable tool for professional or scholarly collaboration.

Nevertheless, the Epistelesslogical Rupture feels certain that Google is already aware of these limitations, and probably has a timetable for finessing those limitations into something more satisfying and productive, and less frustrating.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Epistelesslogical Rupture discovers loves of podcasts ... for the first time ... again

The Epistelesslogical Rupture has discovered its love of podcasts ... for the first time ... again.

The Winning Non-Library-Related Podcast
After following the Onion Radio News podcast via Gmail RSS feeds for most of 2006, something suddenly changed in the way that the Onion Radio News podcast posted its daily newsbriefs in RSS. Consequently, the Epistelesslogical Rupture spent most of 2007 in a state of disbelief ... believing that the Epistelesslogical Rupture would never again be able to download the Onion Radio News podcast without using iTunes. The Epistelesslogical Rupture was very, very sad.

Imagine the Epistelesslogical Rupture's surprise when the Epistelesslogical Rupture discovered, through the guidance provided by the fine folks at, that the Epistelesslogical Rupture could once again access and download the Onion Radio News on a daily basis through a subscription in Google Reader ... (You see, the Epistelesslogical Rupture finds that an excellent holiday gift for warped family members is a best-of-the-year compilation CD using the best of the worst from the Onion Radio News...)

The Epistelesslogical Rupture sends many thanks to The Skokie Ten Team for unlocking this secret, for solving the Riddle of the Onion Podcast, for enabling the Epistelesslogical Rupture to access immature humor more easily.

The Winning Library-Related Podcast
More importantly, the Epistelesslogical Rupture learned that there are a lot of podcasts out there other than the Onion Radio News. One podcast of particular interest is LibVibe, a weekly five-to-seven-minute newscast about libraries. While this is approximately four times longer than the average Onion Radio News brief, the Epistelesslogical Rupture found the professional quality and content of the reporting to be highly interesting and engaging. If the Epistelesslogical Rupture has set it up properly, you can click on the LibVibe logo at right to connect to the LibVibe podcast blog. If not, click here instead. The url for the feed is

The Non-Winning, Quasi-Library-Related Podcast
Less enjoyable was the Epistelesslogical Rupture's adventure with the esoteric, free-verse content of the Secret Library Science Research Lab podcast. The Epistelesslogical Rupture by definition is accustomed to being less logical. The Secret Library Science Research Lab podcast takes less logical to new heights, and the Epistelesslogical Rupture is scared of those sorts of heights.

Some Things Are Coming Together
The Epistelesslogical Rupture is also learning to appreciate the power of GoogleR eader as the Epistelesslogical Rupture continues to explore the ways it intersects with podcasts, and in the way that the Epistelesslogical Rupture can access its Google Reader and Picasa content from the Epistlesslogical Rupture's cell phone web browser.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Epistlesslogical Rupture adds most powerful search engine in the world to social bookmarking site, discovers unused tags

The is plea.sed to re.po.rt that it has, the world's most po.we.rf.ul sea.rch, to, the world's tas.ti.est soc.ial bo.ok.mar.king site.

436 other users have had the same id.ea. But none of them have tagged with the words omniscience, omnipotence, or infinite. The Epistelesslogical Rupture, however, did.

Indeed, the Epistelesslogical Rupture was the first user ever to use the tags omniscience, omnipotence, and infinite. The Epistelesslogical Rupture was, frankly, disappointed to find no other sites tagged with these really all-encompassing tags.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture recommends using tags including epistelesslogical, skokie, mostwanted, reference, betterthanbordersorbarnesornoble, and chillax.

The Epistelesslogical Rupture has had very limited exposure to social bookmarking, and is not immediately impressed by it. Perhaps the Epistelesslogical Rupture will be swayed in the future.

Important Clarification & Correction: The Epistelesslogical Rupture has received a communique from a family member who was under the impression that the word epistelesslogical had something to do with epistles, which it does not. In some previous posts, it is possible that the word epistelesslogical was accidentally misspelled epistlesslogical (i.e., without the second e). The Epistelesslogical Rupture regrets these errors.