Archive for December, 2008

The Fall of Empire

I just finished reading an excellent book, Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain’s Asian Empire.  I’ve been having to take the train quite a bit and I finished the entire 550 pages in about a month while on the train only.  This book is published by Penguin, which means that its dirt cheap but a great book.  I think it only cost 1500 yen as an import book here in Japan, and the list price seems to be about US$13 in North America.

The book covers the independence of India, Burma, and the events leading to Malaysia and Singapore’s eventual indepence (though it came later than India and Burma).  This book starts with the fall of the Japanese occupation of Malaya and Burma.  It covers the years 1945 though 1950 very thorougly, and then briefly touches on what would happen in French Indo-China, Dutch Indonesia and then Malaya and Burma.  The book covers all of the major characters of the time:  Mountbatten, Dorman-Smith, Atlee, Nehru, Aung San, Nu, Lai Teck, Chin Peng and many more.  I particularly find it amazing that Mountbatten survied the independence movements of the Asian Empire, but was eventually taken out by the notorious IRA late in his life.  Reading about the deceptions of Lai Teck alone makes the book a great story of espionage as well.

I have to say it was also interesting to read about what happened to the Japanese after the war.  Even in 1947 many were laboring away on the reconstruction of British infrastructure because Tokyo could not afford to send air or sea transport to bring their POWs back home.

The reason I recommend the book to North Americans is that it sets the scene and leads right into the Korean War and the start of US intervention in French Indo-China.  It really prepares a solid background for a good read into the conflict on the Korean Peninsula and the CIA’s early activities in Vietnam.  I think next I’m going to have to pick up some reading on what happened with Malaya and how it became split into Singapore and Malaysia.  I am also interested in reading more about Ho Chi Minh, the CIA in Vietnam and the People’s Repulic of China and their activities in and out of Hanoi.

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And then a miracle happened

My wife labored for eleven hours and this was the result: our first child and son, Liam.

Liam on Day One

So let’s talk about something different.  I find that no one really talks about the stress of the father during childbirth.  It’s not like we go through anything painful, so I guess it sounds kind of pathetic too.  Sure, our wrists and biceps are sore from the massages on the lower spine and what not, but come on, chopping firewood is a lot more strenuous.  It’s not a physical stress though, it is the mental stress of knowing that you cannot do anything at all.  You just have to standby and wait, and even then, you cannot do anything.

What is most stressful is watching your spouse in pain for 90+ minutes, and after each contraction you’re hoping your child will come out and your spouse’s pain will subdue.  It was all very stressful to watch (and you thank the gods that it is not you in your spouse’s place!), and as professional as the midwives are, you wish they’d just shoot the truth instead of saying “good job” on each contraction and push.  Some women take three days in labor, and I doubt I could have handled that as a spouse.  Our 90 minutes felt like eternity, but when Liam started to cry, complaining about how he was evicted from his home of the past months, the stress quickly evaporates and you’re just left in a state of awe.  I’m not a poet or a writer of fiction, so I cannot really describe it.  Perhaps every one just has to experience it for himself.

So the New Year is almost here, it is good timing so I can spend some time with my wife and Liam.  We have so much to learn about Liam, and hopefully he is equally interested in us.  I hope Liam doesn’t end up with his old man’s ever-thinning hair and “stocky” build.  

Happy New Year, everyone.  2009 is an odd-numbered year, it should be quite interesting.  I suppose it is time to go back to Longshan Temple in Taipei as well.  I owe yet another delivery of thanks at that temple.

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Christmas 2008, or work

I was at work yesterday like everyone else in Japan.  Christmas, the event, is over after the 24th here, and the country is looking forward to the New Year holiday next week.  I have Dec. 30th through Jan. 2nd off,  I must say I am really looking forward to it as well.  I really need some time to clear my head.  Even just a day away from the hell that is my office feels like a blessing.

I try to tell myself that it could be worse, I could be back in the warehouse lifting boxes and operating a forklift, dealing with the demands of a physically tiring job.  But I never felt as tired in that job as I have with my current job.  It is one-hundred percent mental, and even when it is late at night and time to go home to get some sleep, I just can’t turn off my brain from debugging software and isolating faults. I need to wind down somehow, and so far television seems to work the best for me because I don’t have to think or exert any energy.  I can sit in my chair and eventually the mind slows down and sleep calls.  I really envy people who can just switch it off.

It is not like the work is really that bad.  I write software based on a specification, and then I try to find problems when we integrate it all.  Nothing every works the first time around so there is a lot of troubleshooting and writing reports to send to third-parties and what not.  It is a rather standard software job.  I suspect it might just be the way that work dominates every part of my life.  Twice I have tried to be an active participator in a toastmaster’s club only to have to miss meetings because of working on weekends or late on Friday nights.  I have had to withdraw from my Mandarin Chinese lessons on Mondays because of work “responsibilities”.  I had to  give up my gym membership for work “responsibilities” because when I returned home the gym was already closed! Imagine if I ever wanted to work on a master’s degree?  Ha!

As a final kick to the groin, recently I’ve been told indirectly, but for Japanese language rather directly and curt, that I’m still not putting in enough time into my work.  I guess until I’m at work until midnight, every day from Monday through Saturday, management is never going to be happy.

It isn’t that I don’t want to work.  I just want to have a balanced life and I don’t want my work to define who I am.  If I have to work like a robot for a few weeks, fine, so be it.  But there better be some down time following it where I can go home after a normal work day.

Maybe it is my attitude that is the problem?  But is it unreasonable to try to be more than just a company man?  Upper management gets mad when we at the bottom fail our health physicals due to weight gain or unhealthy lifestyles, yet middle management drives us like bovines in a Spanish bull run.

Just one more working day until the winter break…I cannot wait!  Yet I’m sure January will have much in store.  At least it will be an odd-numbered year.  I don’t know why, but the odd-numbered years are usually the eventul ones for me, which can be both good and bad.

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DHS at it again

It looks like the Dept. of Homeland Security is at it again, this time expanding their biometrics collection to green card holders (permanent residents).  I’ve given up protesting about the colletion of biometrics as Japan followed the US in this practice, and I can only see this practice expanding in other countries in the next decade or so.  What concerns me the most though is that I don’t trust governments to securly manage those records.

The US government has a horrible track record of having personal records stolen, and just because this department is called DHS, it does not mean it is secure.  That civil servants and contractors can download data to notebook computers should be of immediate concern to EVERYONE.  But the public probably does the same thing at their workplace to make their lives more easy and flexible.  It saddens me how little understanding or even interest the public has in privacy and security.

My favorite exerpt of this article, however, really says something about DHS.

“There’s still the irony that the government keeps expanding the US VISIT program but never built the exit system that is supposed to be built,” he said. “They know when people come in but don’t know if they’ve left. Rather than expand the program to people who are lawfully residents here, they might want to consider possibility of actually building exit portion.”

So they’re collecting all of this data, mostly likely paying millions of dollars to private contractors to create a network database system to query biometrics information, as well as paying millions more to private contractors to manage the storage of all of the data, but they haven’t quite figured out how to use it yet?  Oh wait, I guess we’ll have to pay millions more for that over the next ten years…

Way to go Congress, instead of spending this money on updating infrastructure, new energy research or even on existing issues, you’re spending the money to hoard data.  But I guess this type of program advances certain civil servants careers and makes some software businesses a lot of money.   I’m really in the wrong business.  I should get back to DC Metro area and get into developing software as a government contractor!

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[WaPo] Long Arm of the DoD

Thomas A. Schweich has an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post:
The Pentagon is muscling in everywhere. It’s time to stop the mission creep.  As the title indicates, he is concerned about the encroachment of the Dept. of Defence in many arms of the government.  I’m very much glad to see that someone else shares my opinion on this.  Since the creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security I’ve been saying that the consolidation of government powers under the military and intelligence communities is a concern for alarm.

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Weekend of peace

The wind howled through Hachioji today, almost strong enough to feel like the dawn before a hurricane is to arrive onshore.  Thought it was warn even around 11 PM tonight (15 *C), the wind must have been up to almost 30 km/h.  A fitting day for the end of Autumn and the beginning of Winter, I must say.  The last of the yellow leaves of autumn were swirling around in little cyclones on the streets.  It was a really rare peaceful weekend, and for the first time in a long time I was able to completely forget about the ever-increasing stress of my job and just enjoy a weekend for what it is.  

So who watched the FIFA club world cup tonight?  This year the club world cup was in Japan, and there were some really good games.  Kudos to Gamba Osaka, the Japanese J-League team that took third place this year.  Just like Japanese baseball did in the past, Japanese football is working its way to becoming world class.  I still prefer the Premiership; it is 90 minutes of constant attacking and action.  Manchester United took first place and the final match was quite a game!  They were playing against the South American champions, a club from Ecuador, but the South American club was playing defense on their heels most of the game.  It was only a matter of time before the strikers of United found the net.  The entire game United dominated the movement of the ball on the pitch.  Say what you will, but Premiership teams like United are in a league of their own.  

I found it quite interesting that the majority of Gamba Osaka footballers were Japanese players, whereas at least half or even more of the United footballers were not English.  Also, what was with the Japanese television crew obsession with taking shots of Cristiano Ronaldo?  Sure, he’s 23, has an excellent physique, is handsome and quite gifted at football–some guys get all of the luck in the world, yeah?  But Rooney scored the winning goal (albeit with a nice assist from Ronaldo) and landed the MVP spot.  But Japanese TV practically ignored his existence until the Man. U. PR woman pulled Ronaldo away and left the TV channel with just Rooney.  I suspect that was to please the ladies though.  Just like in 2002 when women were head over heals for Beckham, I guess Ronaldo is the new pretty boy.

What else?  I think I might be enjoying “Endaka” (円高), the rise in the value of the Japanese yen against other currencies.  Japan has to import so much and at the end of the day the consumers are hit hard by this.  Though Japan has a good services industry as well, the economy is still very much dependent on manufacturing and exports.  Recently, with the dollar and sterling pound taking a nose dive, imports from abroad are very reasonably priced.  So while the Keiretsu (系列) are hurting, for consumers like myself it feels good to be able to buy British red cheddar cheese at a low price.  I drove out to Costco yesterday to stock up my little freezer box.  While I normally stick to chicken breasts (cheaper than the “dark” chicken meat in Japan actually!!), pork and Atlantic salmon, I was able to pick up some beef imported from the USA at a really good price.  The Atlantic salmon was also very reasonably priced I must say.  So I’m looking forward to cooking quite a few meals now.

Of course now I might have to deal with the mad cow…

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Following Jamie’s Path

The Foodies Network has been airing old BBC videos of Jamie Oliver’s “Naked Chef” (he is really young in these!), and when I can’t sleep sometimes I’ll watch them around 1 AM or so.  I like his shows because his recipes are simple yet they all look great.  Last night I watched an episode where Jamie was preparing a broiled pork dish, and after looking in the freezer today I found some pork tenderloin that I bought last week and decided I would give his recipe a spin.

If you like herbs then I highly recommend the recipe.  I did it a bit different from the show, but I’m working without a true oven, the same ingredients and I also did not use fresh green herbs (I used dried herbs).  It is really simple to make, all you need is a pork tenderloin and some basic cooking spices.  

herb pork tenderloin

So I know that I need to work on the presentation a bit more…any way, that is what it looks like, here is the recipe:

#1.  Take a pork tenderloin and cut the tenderloin into about 12~15 cm sections.  In each section, cut about half a centimeter into either one or both sides of the tenderloin, separating cuts by about 2~3 cm each.

#2. Take a small pinch of dried or fresh rosemary and stuff it into the slits that you cut into the tenderloin.  Repeat for each slit.

#3. Mix equal amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a big bowl.  If you want a heavier marinade add more, if you want a light marinade go easy on it.  Stir up the mixture and add the tenderloin sections.

#4. (Optional) Crush some fresh garlic if desired.  I resisted the temptation tonight!   

#5.  Add sea salt and crushed pepper to your liking.  I like to use rainbow peppercorns (a mix of different type of peppercorns) and grind them up and add them to the mix.  The aroma of the ground peppercorns is amazing!

#6.  If you want to add some character, chop up some peppers very finely or add crushed pepper.  I used ground Thai prik-pon peppers but anything would do.

#7.  Let the marinade sit for half and hour, but when half-way through turn the tenderloin over on its other side

#8. While the marinade is doing its thing, heat your oven or your microwave+ovens (for people without an oven like most in Japan) to 220 degrees celcius or about 430 degrees fahrenheit. 

#9. When the oven has heated and the marinade has soaked into the tenderloin, get out an oven pan and place a broiling rack on the oven pan.  Place some bay leaves on the part of the broiling rack where you will set a section of the tenderloin.  Make sure the leaves are not overlapping and you left some spacing between them; we want the oils and fat to drip from the tenderloin to the pan.  Place the tender loin on top of the bay leaves and set the timer for thirty minutes and wait patiently.

#10.  (Optional) Sprinkle some ground peppercorns on the surface of the tenderloin sections.  

#11. (Optional) If the heat is too strong, it might be a good idea to flip the tenderloin sections on their other side to prevent any over-cooking and burning.  In my microwave+oven combo, this was not necessary.

The result is a wonderfully tender pork tenderloin with the pleasant fragrances of balsamic vinegar and herbs like rosemary and bay leaves.  On a grill this would be great too I think, but because I do not have a grill I have started broiling things more often.  While broiling is a great way to cook, it does create quite a bit of smoke if you’re not on your watch.  This is due to the fats and oils that drip from the meat on the broiling rack to the surface of the oven pan.  Often it will start to burn and turn black on the surface of the pan and proceed to smoke out your kitchen.  You can either add water to the oven pan so that this does not happen, or you can open up your windows and turn on your ventilator.

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