Friday, May 27, 2016

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

Into each life some rain must fall....

It's been many soooo long since I updated this blog! Is it closed? Is that the end?
Never never! I love reading this blog, and I realized in order to have something to read, I have to write something every now and then.
What a pain! ;)

I was also having a bit of an identity crisis, thinking this blog name no longer applies to me.
I really don't feel like a "Little Gaijin" anymore, being 34, having a kid, having lived in Japan for 10 years (congrats me! :)).
I am still not as good at Japanese as a native speaker, but I really lost that 'gaijin vibe' long ago, getting a little closer to the jaded expat mindset. Oh dear. I should really work on that, I don't want to wind up like Japan-hating "debito" on the Japan Times.

But anyways. There is another reason I haven't been updating .. I kept having small personal setbacks.
Every month there would be a little demotivator. I tried joining an open source project and contribute to a team, but I found out the hard way I didn't have time to do it, and had to bow out in shame. When finally I was given interesting projects at work, I would work on it just long enough to become passionate about it, when it would be taken away.
Then to add injury to insult, I had a miscarraige at eight weeks!
Combined with working full time and taking care of a toddler, I just didn't have the energy or the topics I wanted to write about. Or, I had depressing topics that I wanted to write about, but didn't want to read about later or pass on to anyone else.
"I'll wait until later," I'd think, then I'd put it off. Another little problem or unhappiness later, I'd put off blogging again. Who wants to read about that stuff. People want to read fun and funny anecdotes about the good times. I'll wait until then.

But then, on February 21 Japan time, I got a phone call.
On February 19, US time, Dad didn't come home from work.
He was in the middle of server maintenance, on call, running to catch the train home.
He didn't make it out of the train station.

Mom and Ellen were called to the emergency room, told nothing specific, only to come.

I got that phone call from Ellen on February 21st telling me that dad had a heart attack in SF CalTrain terminal.
I guess you can say I've been in a state of denial and sometimes shock, ever since.
The only thing going through my mind, for the longest time, is
"What the fuck. I don't get it. Does not compute. He was fifty-five. How is that even possible"

The coroner's office kept the body an extra week to do an autopsy to rule out any foul play, because it was such strange circumstances.
Finally when they gave us the medical report, they said it was a hypertensive heart attack, caused by years of high blood pressure.
He had a stroke five years ago, but since then he had been careful to bring his blood pressure down. We thought he was fine as long as he was careful.
He had even had a medical exam ONE WEEK before he had his heart attack. The only thing they had found was that he had gluten intolerance!

Compounding my disbelief was the fact that he was an organ donor, so they didn't let anyone identify the body. I wasn't told the exact details but it seems that he was already dead by the time he had gotten to the hospital, so they decided to harvest the organs right away.
He had his phone and wallet and keys and company ID badge. Apparently that was all they needed. And they didn't want to further traumatize mom and ellen, so no one who knew him even saw him pass.

This is your brain on denial:
"So that was probably, like maybe not even him! Right?

Right now Dad could be wandering the world, like a character in a novel, the body someone else's. Maybe he was actually a spy! Maybe his IDs were passed off at the last minute to fool us all...!"

... that sure beats thinking about the alternative, that an apparently healthy middle aged man could have a heart attack on a random Friday and leave us all bewildered, licking our wounds, left with no one to blame or outlet for anger the unfairness of the situation.
It's hard to talk about. Unfairness is isolating. Friends want to comfort, so they call on that old tried-and true nugget: "It could have been worse".

Yeah, there were a lot of ways the situation could be worse. I don't really want to think about them, but I know they are there. Like those lucky people who got the organs of a man who didn't drink or smoke or take drugs other than blood pressure meds. But I want to be selfish for a second. I'm sure those are deserving people, but really, I don't care about them right now. I want my dad back.
Or another friend, relating the story of how his family was torn into a bitter feud over inheritance and care for elderly relatives. It was easy for us, we're scared for mom and want every drop of benefits to go to her.
But in the end, I don't care about those ways, I don't want to look for a silver lining of a cloud that is raining icy sleet.

Sooner or later I will be able to appreciate that lining. I will be able to let go. I will write a blog about the man who raised me and introduced me to my profession, who had a kind side and a snide side and was known for his sweaters and distintive facial hair. But for now, let me hang on to my grief and disbelief a little longer. Let me process this, think of why it could have happened.
Let me walk a bit, until my feet get me out of the rain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hello summer 2015!

Hi guys! I gave a speech at the office on how to get started with Yeoman and Generators, so I will post my powerpoint slides here, just so you can see I am keeping my word about contributing to open source projects every few months.

... Basically I joined the development department's hackathon , where I developed a chatbot that would detect if anyone was using Japanese, and chide them into speaking English...
Well, it worked a little TOO well and joined every chat group in the company and trolled all the forums, detecting all unicode characters in the Japanese range and saying "English please!" as a response until I realized and hastily turned it off.
Luckily my bot was registered as developed by a team, and though my teammate had very little to do with my bot, it was registered as  "Nitin's Bot" so my name is not a name of infamy throughout Rakuten. :D 

We are totally not troublemakers!

And here are some random pictures of Japan that amused me, because even though I've lived here for ten years (forever) some things never cease to amuse.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

stick it to THE MAN

Just found out that two of my US checking accounts have been charging me $12 a month, for years, because I don't have direct deposit or more than $5000 balance in them. Yuck.

Like many people I am a casual reader of Cracked, because every now and then they have really insightful articles disguised as humor.
This one stuck with me, because I know these things are 100% true.

My friend Astrid Sison gave a devmeet talk about what she took home from Craft conference in Buddhapest. She wanted to emphasize a panel she heard about Innovation - ie, solve a real problem.
There are so many really real problems in the world that have immediate needs immediate users.

I couldn't stop thinking about what she said, and that cracked article floated to the forefront of my mind. I tried to find a google entry about if there is any way to avoid these 'poverty taxes'; ie, the bullshit charges given to you because you don't have enough money.
so I googled 'poverty tax', and it showed me:
Then I googled 'app ghetto tax' and it shows an app alright, one for
"Avoiding the Ghetto".
Jeez, kinda insulting.
'avoiding the ghetto'

So this is an app that should happen, and it is kind of eating at me, making my heart pump loudly when I am thinking about it. I want to make an app, or something, to find a way to avoid the little 'f-yous' that come with poverty. I guess it would have to be by region... and right now I am in Japan, where I am hoping this is not so bad. A lot of things on the social front feel a lot more advanced here, like free medical insurance for children until they are FIFTEEN years old. never a bill for the doctor, or vaccines, or anything! it's AMAAAZING.... (anyway I digress). The problem I would like to help with is for people living in the US.

Any resources to avoid nickle and diming fees I should know about?
Cars that are cheap but aren't lemons?
gas stations?
ahhh so much to research ... and so dependant on area... and so subject to change...

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Gettin' Busy

Oh man. I am itching to write about work, but also, slightly terrified this blog will get in the wrong hands and be used against me somehow, as it often goes with the wiley ways of the ol' Internets.

I have been back to work for a year now (go me!) and, after shifting around in my department like some sort of ping pong ball, have settled into a non-demanding and technically noninteresting role.
Basically I am bored and feeling the lethargy of not learning any new technology. It is settling over me like a hot itchy blanket. A blanket I would like to kick off, poof, into the air, and scratch my legs and whatnot!

I know you're probably thinking, but Kyra, can't you learn new stuff at work?
Theoretically, yes. Practically, no.
Let me explain: I have not so much time at the office because I have to leave early to get to daycare on time, and so I have to get some shit DONE between x and y hours of the day, which leaves no time for prototyping or setting up development environments and so on. It doesn't help that we're not allowed to have training meetings not directly involved with projects that are making money for the company during business hours. (reasonable? yes. Annoying? you betcha!),
So, basically there is no opportunity to learn new technology at the office if you only work during the dedicated office hours.

Well... you're probably thinking.
Can't I dedicate some time at home to learning new stuff?
Theoretically? yes.
Practically speaking? Not so much.
I also have a tiny son who is very demanding, and adorably so, who makes me so exhausted that when I finally wrangle him to bed at around 10 o'clock (yes I know this is terribly late, please don't judge me), I fall asleep with him about 9 out of 10 times.
Apparently this is a pretty common problem with parents of young kids, so maybe Dr. Google can prescribe me some advice. Today Ray was sick so I stayed at home and started installing VM VirtualBox manager during his naptime, so I can run Ubuntu as a virtual machine on my windows desktop. I'm hoping to play around with FuelPHP and maybe work on some open source projects. Not like I have much time, but every now and then T will take Ray to have a daddy baby day on the weekends, so I guess I will settle for that for now.

After some cringing and wringing of the wrists I downloaded Lean In for the kindle, and am going to try to work on my career a little harder. For me, this means kicking off the itchy blanket and doing some projects, even when I don't really have time. I'd just better find some fun ones so I can stay motivated.
So my 18 month plan for now is.... contribute to open source projects and blog about them.
My goal: 1 new project, preferably in different programming languages, contributed to and blogged about every 2 months. I think that's a reasonable rate I can stick to.
My first project is working on creating some scripts for Hubot, an open source chat bot, that a coworker proposed for a company hackathon. The event itself will be held outside of working hours due to reasons mentioned above, but I'ma gonna work on something anyway just for kicks and giggles. I finally downloaded all the things you need to even start working on it, which is an extensive list!! and have learned a lot about new (ok, new to me) tech like... Yeoman, a generator... did you know about it?
You did?! ok, well, ... be that way, you smart person you.
So anyways! within the next two months, be prepared to see a blog about a chatbot! ;D and please let me know if you know of any other fun projects to get involved with.

Also, UPDATE! I got a lot of interest in my proposal for a tech study session, so we're going to bend the rules a teensy bit and have it during lunch time. I'm going to give a chat on CoffeeScript! And my friend John gave a really interesting talk about Reflexive site design.
Yay! Brainfood is delicious.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Ray's 2!

Oh god you guys, Ray turned two last weekend. What? duh? naturally time will continue to pass and kids will get older?
Here he is at the 2 year birthday party for my 'mama-tomo' babies!

I know, but jeez! he started talking (still mostly nouns and some adjectives) but in two languages! I used to know how many words he could say, but a month ago he had another vocab explosion and is chatting up a storm!
I thought that he would be harder when he's two, but honestly, the ability for him to speak allows for negotiations by both parties, and that really makes life a lot easier.
There's only really one authoritive 'book on parenting' I've been reading, Harvey Fishman's 'The Happiest Toddler on the Block' ; it has some good advice and practical examples.
I've been reading it off and on sice ray turned 1. Now he's two and I'm approaching the last few chapters, and he explains that '18 months to 2 years is a very difficult time, and around 2 it levels off, and kicks in when they turn 3 again' which would explain what I'm seeing, and also helps me breathe a sigh of relief (I get a little break!), as I was dreading the 'terrible twos'.
I turn to the next chapter about 'red light behavior' and how to respectfully discipline. he explains how to administer a Time Out. I read on in curiosity because we still haven't done any of those and I think they may come in handy in the future.
"I recommend practicing Time Outs after they come in for their first year's checkup."
crap, we're a year behind!
I think on this, there were a few times when Ray's thrown tantrums or pulled our hair, but not that often... I am trying to remember some examples.
Am I letting him have his way all the time and thus spoiling him and being a bad parent?

The night before last he screamed and cried when it was bedtime, really having at it. He was clearly upset. It was already 9:30 and past his bedtime, so we thought 'aw, poor kid, he's just tired. Let's just put him to bed.' But he was so adamant about not going to bed! Saying the same word over and over again.
I was tired and cranky, and annoyed with him, but I could tell he wasn't just stalling, he really wanted something.
"innah!! innnaaaaa!!" He is red and purple-faced with rage that I am not listening to him, glaring through his pouring tears.
Gosh, what is he...
"Takeshi I think he's saying dinner."
"what really?"
"Is it dinner? are you still hungry?" i ask ray. He is still crying but tries to nod.
so we go off back to his high-chair, where his half-eaten dinner is still there, abandoned because he climbed down and played with his toys. I had naively thought he was full!
He scarfs down the rest of his dinner and asks for seconds!! I am cranky through this whole thing but manage to get him fed.
After that he's content and goes to bed with little fuss.

There are many episodes like that, where he was screaming last night and saying something, and he wants to bring his toy car to bed. I don't let him, and the crying gets worse and worse. I give in, but tell him to hold it really close to his chest so he doesn't smack me in the face with it. (my main concern). He agrees and is pretty careful.

Daddy sometimes goes on business trips or fishing trips, so when he's sad I sing a song for him about daddy.
"Dadd's going boxing, bish bish bish!" (boxing motions)
Daddy's going fishing, fish fish fish! (fishing motions)
Daddy's going working, type type type! (typing motions)
Then dadda comes home to ray! (kiss kiss!)
This and looking at pictures seems to work.

He will run off if you let him (he got hit by a little kid on a little bicycle this weekend in the park and a big old bruise on his face!! (O_o)
update- he keeps pointing to his boo-boo and seems to have taken it seriously, and says stop! bicycle! (bap! bi-cle!) and mimes stopping and looking.
So maybe it's one of those things you have to learn the hard way. I'm just glad it was a little kid on a little bike.

...but his tantrums seem to be resolvable by compromise and trying to understand what he's talking about.
basically I decided my parenting philosophy will be:
Help him find the things he needs to do what you want to do happily. Respect his wishes and choices even if you have to say no to them. Explain why you have to say no and try to respect him when he says no, which is different from spoiling or giving in. Just think of him as a person.

Which makes me wonder if he's the kind of kid who needs time-outs, anyway?
According to another chapter, Ray is both 'easy' not too picky about most things, and 'spirited'.
He's also just such a sweetheart to everyone!

Anyways, hopefully I can keep being a good mom and Ray will keep being 'easy' ;)

Ray: "Haha, you wish, bucko"

Oh also, as promised: a comic!  I was too lazy to draw anything, but here is the template from Dinosaur Comics that I filled in and tried to make funny with a 'slice of life' observation.
Because my life is filled with dinosaurs these days, obviously. ;)  

Until next time, jya ne!

Sunday, March 22, 2015


This new years, we went to the Shinkai Jinja in Nagano, which is a major shrine in that area, as well as sharing my inlaws family name. It was a freezing cold crisp morning, but the snow had stopped falling and some sun was filtering through branches of immense pine trees. We went up cobblestone steps and got to the place you're supposed to wash your hands before you enter the shrine itself.
I stop and give it a sceptical look. There is an icicle forming on the handle of the ladle used to scoop water, and also there is no way to dry your freezing hands. I guess the gods want you shivering when you go to get your new year's blessing.
I notice most people ignore the fountain and keep walking, so I  guiltily do the same, dirty hands and all. 
We walk up the steps and get to the old wooden structure, and I giggle and try to remember the order you do the prayer in. Is it, money in the box? then clap? then bow? Definitely money first. Then you pray with your hands touching, and bow at some point! Really, I know what I'm doing! 
So I akwardly do some rendition of this ceremony.
"Thank you for a great year", I mumble my 'prayer' while bowing. Are you supposed to ask for something? I would feel strange asking something of a stranger..
We then go to the stand where you can buy various trinkets, like good luck charms, 'daruma' heads, porcelin figures of the zodiac animal for the year, and... omikuji.
Omikuji is where you draw a number randomly from a box, then get a slip of paper with your fortune on it, ranging from 'very good' to 'very bad'. 
'you should get one!' my inlaws cheer me on. 
"ahh,... I'm always afraid I'm going to get bad luck..." I say, hemming and hawing.
"Are you superstitious?"
I think I am not superstitious, but I don't want one.
But I go ahead and get one anyway, just to prove I'm not a chicken!

... I drew BAD LUCK.

(bum bum bum,...)
When we got home, I started noticing unlucky things happening... ok, they probably would have happened anyway. But STILL. 
-our garbage bag , and only ours, was strewn across the street with all its gross contents , because some cat got hungry and noticed a delicious smell of fish kitchen scraps on garbage day
-When we went shopping we got a 'lucky bag' of wine (a special bargain from the import store).
When we unpacked the groceries, the 'lucky bag' FELL TO THE GROUND shattering glass and wine all over.
That was particularly sad.
Other things happened like toddler poo getting everywhere, but that is a daily occurance so I will write it off.
 ANYWAYS! Bad luck.

It turns out you can go to another shrine and do 'omikuji' again, and so the very next weekend we wento to a major shrine within tokyo, and I redrew my fate. 
This time?

well, I will take what I can get.
So far, nothing too terrible has happened. ;)

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Happy year of the sheep!

It's 2015! How did that happen? Somehow this date seems terribly futuristic, like where's my flying car already. I would settle for Elon Musk's hyperloop, which seems close enough. I think he invented an *actual* flying car at some point, but that project never really got off the ground (budum, ching!)
Also it's almost the year that Doraemon is supposed to come from with all these fancy gadgets, like a time machine, a door that goes anywhere, food that makes you speak a different language...
Oh and don't forget the propeller beanie!
Image: the height of fashion
Speaking of fashion, I've been watching project runway at a very slow pace because that is the pace it's aired at on our cable channel 'wowow'. We're still on project runway all stars season 2. The only thing preventing me from strangling the remote and downloading the remaining four seasons from itunes is that we're already paying for cable so I'm cheap.
Achem! Anyways, on the last show, they introduced as a guest judge this girl named Tavi Gevinson, who has a blog titled The Style Rookie (apparently she has moved on to bigger and better things since, see I told you we are BEHIND! )
But it is just the best thing. She collects things from around the internet and books etc ... that have a particular colorful fun aesthetic, being books, clothes, movies, clothing, you name it, and talks about it's  backstory and why it's awesome. For instance, that glowy look of Disney cartoons in the 60s were in a large part colored and designed by one lady.
So it made me think that style is in a large part having a personal aesthetic and incorporating it into your life. I think that's a good thing to aim for, as these days my priorities have been more like trying to find both of Ray's shoes in the morning and hence I've been getting kinda shabby... for instance, I haven't gotten a hair cut in half a year.
New year's resolution: polish yourself!
Er, that came out weird. Ok, I don't mean cover myself with polish. I think I've been living in Japan too long, I'm borrowing a phrase "jibun wo migaku" which means 'hone oneself'.
I resolve to hone my professional life and personal style!
So how am I going to do that? My team has a Agile methodology of doing a retrospective every two weeks and writing things on sticky notes. We list up things about the way we've been working that can be sorted into 'keep' , 'problems' ,  'try'.
I have to admit I thought taking the time to write on a sticky note was kind of dumb at first, but it gives you time to think,and that way everyone gets a say, not just outspoken people. 
You list what you thought was a good idea on the keep section, something that needs to be fixed on the problem section, and every problem listed gets some proposed solution, and then we check if it's being carried out every day until the next retrospective.
Actively working on solutions to problems is really empowering, no matter how trivial the problem, and often people feel proud to volunteer for some of the tougher solutions.
I thought this was working so well for the team, why couldn't it work for me too? So I listed up some of my 'keeps', some difficulties (not following what people were talking about on their tasks, feeling out of the loop) and thinking of some ways to overcome them. I'm feeling more optimistic already! Highly recommended.