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Election Oddities

Election season is finally over!  Unlike in the past, I did try to keep up with the election this year.  I watched all three presidential debates as well as the vice-presidential debate.  I followed stories in the Washington Post as well.  I even stood on queue for an hour to cast my ballot on November Sixth.  I am glad it is over and done with, and I am very thankful that Rick Perry is not the president.  He sure was popular in Charleston while I was living there, but at least the primary voters bumped him during the primary.  I suppose now we have the budget issues to look forward to…more brinkmanship on the horizon!

So I had some interesting mail back in mid-October.  I was a registered independent in SC, and when I registered to vote in Virginia, there was not even an option on the form.  I am just stating this to make it clear that I am not (knowingly) on a registrar of any conservative or liberal groups.  In mid-October, about a week after I submitted my own voter registration application, I received an odd notice in the mail from Americans for Limited Government. I was very curious about this notice, not because of the sender, but because of the red lettering in all capital letters “VOTE HISTORY AUDIT ENCLOSED“.  I was curious, very curious.

Upon opening the notice, I found the vote history audit and an application for voter registration.  There were not any overt political messages thankfully, but the message was encouraging me to register for the vote and be active in civic participation.  Nothing wrong with that.  The vote history audit, however, was rather creepy.  It did not show for whom I cast my ballot, but it had columns for 2004, 2008 and 2012.  It correctly showed that I did not vote in 2004–because I did not request my overseas absentee ballot in time–and that I did cast my vote in 2008.  For 2012, it was marked pending.  Even weirder though, where the names of six other voters with street addresses around my parents’ home.  While living overseas, my parents’ address was the address I used with the US Govt.  My parents’ next door neighbor, whose name I immediately recognized, also had his voting history in the audit.

I suppose voting attendance in and of itself is public information, but it felt a bit creepy to have what appears to be a conservative group sending out information to others about my voting attendance record.  I probably would not have blinked had my parents’ neighbors vote attendance history not been included in the notice.  The notice concluded saying that after elections the group would be sending an updated vote history audit to myself and my neighbors. Perhaps there was a hidden message, such as nag your neighbors to go out and vote?

My wife’s notebook PC recently died on us (luckily we had backups!) so we went shopping for a new computer.  We considered tablets, but in the end we ended up going with an ultrabook (thin notebook PC).  We had a coupon for the Microsoft store, and in the end I think we got a rather good deal.  If only we had a student in the house, we could have received an xbox for free…not that I ever have the time to play any games.

We had considered ordering a laptop from Japan so that it would come with the Japanese version of Windows and a Japanese keyboard.  But doing so was out of our budget, and instead we decided to buy a US laptop and just use the Japanese IME from Microsoft.

After a few days now, my wife is frustrated with the American English keyboard layout, just as I was when I lived in Japan and had to search hard for the quote mark key and the “@” mark on a Japanese keyboard.  With time though, that annoyance goes away as you modify your muscle memory.  To make her computer more Japan-like, I configured the tilde or accent grave key as the language switching key in the top-left corner of a Japanese keyboard.  I could not completely make it Japan-like, however, due to a lazy Microsoft design flaw.

Windows 7 has a major flaw that does not appear fixable.  When switching to the Japanese IME, even if you have set “Hiragana” mode as the default, the IME always starts in Direct Input English mode.  After much searching, a Microsoft support rep appears to have said, in summary, that it will only revert to Hiragana mode if you have a Japanese keyboard, and there is no fix for this.  This is highly frustrating for anyone who has to switch between English and Japanese input.  Prior versions of Windows did not have this issue (e.g. Vista, XP).

The alternative appears to be setting non-unicode language default of the computer to Japanese, and then installing ATOK, the widely popular Japanese IME program in Japan.  Hopefully this issue will be fixed in Windows 8 when it comes out (we have an upgrade coupon for that) if ATOK does not work.

Every once in awhile I wonder if I ought to get off of Apple platforms and go back to Microsoft, especially because Apple computers cost about 33% more than Windows computers.  Also, Apple’s drive to sell software through AppStore also is a bit unnerving.  I like to direct download from the vendor, or better yet, have a CD or DVD with the software on it.  Yet issues like the one described above remind me of why I enjoy my MacBook–things just work.  I have had my MacBook for 4 years now, and though it runs slower with the new apps, it is still usable for me.  My previous computer, and Apple iBook, lasted 5.5 years.  So while Apple products may cost more than a PC, I have had good luck with getting a long life out of them.  Perhaps I have just been lucky though?  We shall see where this AppStore thing goes, and whether or not Microsoft decides to follow the idea…

Cars and white shirts

I had a real “American” day today, meaning that I worked on my car while also working on a cheap American beer (Coors Light, just 102 cal for 12 oz).  If only I were buff, I could star in a TV commercial.

While recently driving to work one morning before the sun had risen, I realized that my driver-side low-bean headlight was out.  I inquired with Honda about having the bulbs replaced, and they recommended to replace both low-beam headlights at the same time, and for US $50 each with labor included.  Nice idea on doing both lights at the same time, but not so nice on the price.  Instead I went to an auto parts store a picked up a set of bulbs for US $30, supposedly brighter than the default factory installed lights.  We shall see…

Before starting, I checked the manual that Honda included with the car.  It took about 15 minutes in the end to replace the bulbs, and I had to add an extra step that Honda did not mention:

  1. Rotate the tires so that you have access to the front part of the wheel area
  2. Remove the two plastic tabs holding the plastic boot to the body of the car
  3. Pull back the plastic boot, and the headlight bulb and connector should be visible
  4. Loosen the screws surrounding the connector (two out of three will do) — Honda did not mention this!  Simply trying to turn the connector in the socket will not work
  5. Turn the bulb and connecter counter-clockwise until it pops out
  6. Replace the dead bulb with a new bulb, being careful not to touch the bulb with your hands (I pair of non-slip rubber cloves can be obtained for $5 or less)
  7. Put the connector back into the socket, turn it clockwise until it fits snugly, and then tighten the screws loosened earlier
  8. Push the boot back into the body and attach the plastics tabs removed earlier
All in all, an easy enough task.  I have to remember to do a general check-up on the car this summer.  I bought it last June, and for the simple things I can replace, I really should…it is tough sticking to a budget.  Having left South Carolina back in February, I also got around to attaching a front bumper license plate holder.  Like many states in the Southeast, South Carolina only requires a license plate on the rear of the car.  When I re-title the car here, I’ll need both front and rear license plates.

Of relative non-importantness, I am in a job now where I should–in other words, must–where a necktie, so Sundays are usually when I make time to iron my work shirts.  Yes, I know, I probably should enlist the services of a dry cleaner.  I may do so one day.  I need to do a cost-analysis of time versus expense, and I also need a larger wardrobe so that I have enough shirts to cover the outage time.  For now though, I am my own launderer.  I hate to say it, but I do kind of miss the 作業着 (sagyogi – work clothes) that I wore at that very first job just out of college in Sakado…so much more comfortable than a tie around the neck.  Oh well though, moving up in life I suppose.

To get to the point though, I was astonished today when I went to the market to try to purchase some starch.  I have two shirts that I really like, but even after damp ironing they still wrinkle.  I need the power of starch to keep them looking sharp.  Unfortunately, there was no liquid starch, and I was left with only spray-on starch.  I suppose it will work, but I have read about staining with the sprays.  Will report back on how that spray starch works.

End of the day.  I’ve got some pork belly in a sweet and sour sauce in the pressure cooker that I am looking forward to.  Mad Men is on TV tonight too, that would be a nice way to finish off the weekend.  I should be listening to some Chinese recordings or reading some Chinese, but I’m not much in the mood for anything that requires thought.  It looks like the pleasant, cool spring weather will be replaced with 30*C weather.  As long as the humidity does not accompany it, I will be happy.

I need to get back into the blogging routine…

Hot Winter

I recently switched from paper to electronic notification for my electrical utility, SCE&G,  I was browsing my account history on their website this morning and I found the following to be most interesting for January 2011 vs January 2012.

Year                  2011 2012
Avg Local Temp        43F  52F
# of Days above 70F    1   8
# of Days below 30F   12   2

This January was noticeably warmer than the previous.  What really stands out is how many days have been over 70F (21C) this year versus the last.  Today at lunch when I went to my car, the car’s thermometer read 78F (25C)!!!!  What happened to winter in January???  While it was nice for idle activities, when I went for a walk this afternoon, I broke into a sweat and was rather uncomfortable.  It felt like April!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against warm days with no humidity.  It is just that I like and prefer four seasons.  In Winter I want to be cold, and in summer I want to feel the warm air on my skin, and maybe even break into a sweat!  Experiencing this makes me look forward to each season as it approaches.  And just as I have tired of one season, the next is shortly on its way and I can take refuge in better weather.

Sadly, the Lowcountry of South Carolina has only two seasons.  Warm, and ungodly hot and humid.  I really need a trip to Sweden…

Autumn in Review

Yesterday was the first day of Winter, and it was quite warm, around 22*C.  I was hoping it would be at least brisk, but it looks like another warm Christmas.  The leaves have finally all fallen, but it is still very green in Charleston.

I was quite busy because from late September to late November because I was regularly exercising. If you do any one thing outside of work, then there goes all of your time for doing anything else.  And December is just busy because it is always that way in December. I hope to get back to exercising regularly though. I didn’t lose a lot of weight, but my clothes fit much better and I generally felt better overall.

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The marshland is every where and just goes on and on…

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Sometimes a boat is just the best way to get around — riding on the Wando River with a colleague from work

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Low clearance

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Dusk on the water

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Some people live on the water in mansions like this…I cannot even fathom this kind of world.  From what I’ve heard, this home is owned by a surgeon.  Kids, go to medical school.  Period.  No further questions are necessary.

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Liam at the Children’s museum mock grocery store — despite the fact be appears to have picked out a lot of bread and fish, he consumes neither on a regular basis.  He is just into rice and miso soup.

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At Checkout he experiences the sticker shock due to the food price inflation

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Canadian Geese flew to SC in mass numbers and seem to bully the areas the occupy.  I could even walk beside them and they were not the least bit nervous about me–they even seemed a bit confrontational at times

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Suspension cables on the Ravenel Bridge — there is a walking lane on this bridge, and it takes about 90 minutes to walk from one side of the bridge and then back.  It is a great workout due to the up/down slopes, and the views of the harbor of Charleston are wonderful on a clear day.

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Downtown Charleston from the top of the Ravenel Bridge

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The old cigar factory, which is now poised to be renovated and turned into modern urban living spaces

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Port of Charleston – there is a lot of political fighting at the local and state level about competing with the Port of Savannah in Savannah, GA.  The Savannah river is going to be dredged further to allow ships with a deeper draft to enter the Port of Savannah.

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The Bibimbap (비빔밥) at RiceB — they also offer a hot stone bowl type as well, which I was more familiar with because it is how it is often served in Japanese-style Korean restaurants.  Perfectly prepared, and oh so delicious!

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The Bulgogi (불고기) bento box at RiceB — the beef, broccoli with sesame flavoring, seasoned tofu, daigaku imo (Japanese University Potatoes, or candied sweet potatoes), and rice topped with a sesame flavored sauce.  Home-style Kimchee also comes on the side which is quite refreshing.  Delicious!

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My favorite plant in Charleston, yet I don’t know its name.  I just know that from late October to mid-November, this beautiful pink hue is everywhere!

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High tide!

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Seriously, high-tide!

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After fixing Liam’s anpan-man piano, Liam enjoys playing along while giving his “Hi!” hand signal

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Sedrin Beer (雪津啤酒) – I had to try it when I saw it in the Asian Market.  It is a very watered down beer, resembling Taiwan Beer or cheap Japanese Happoshu (fake beer)

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“Inebriate American heart totally” — I think all of the China phobes and pundits misunderstand China’s plans.  China won’t attack the USA with its military, it is just going to get all of the Americans drunk

Labor day weekend

(I started to write this in September and was going to add some pictures from the Lazy 5 Ranch, but never got around to it.  I’m just going to post this as is…)

It is still too hot in Charleston, so we decided to head back to Charlotte for the weekend wear at least the trees help to beat the heat.  Last time we came for the Japan Festival, we had wanted to take Liam to the Lazy 5 Ranch, but the rain prevented us.  This time we made it to ranch, and it was quite enjoyable.  The animals roam freely around a large track of land with a dirt road.  You drive your on car on the road and can see the animals up close.  Among the animals on the grounds are emus, ostriches, water buffalo, bison, various steer from around the world, gazelles, zebras, and much more.  There is also a special section with giraffes.  All in all it was worth the visit, and though the large animals scared Liam, he enjoyed the emus, pigs, giraffes, goats and other less intimidating animals.

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台湾牛肉拉面 Taiwan Beef Noodles — I skipped breakfast just to make sure I had room to enjoy these noodles at the Joy Luck Club cafeteria in Grand Asia Market.  They are not better or worse than Japanese style ramen noodles, they are different.  I really enjoy the beef broth!

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This one is for Spounge Bear — Taiwan Beer now selling at Grand Asia Market in North Carolina.  Next time I will buy a few cases and start handing out beers at work.  In five years, Taiwan beer will be everywhere. Ha ha ha!!!

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I had to work to get this photo of the gecko, but he eventually tired and let me take his photo.

Frustraton

It has been a long time since I’ve blogged anything. A lot has happened this autumn, but there is not much to say at this point. Hopefully 2012 will allow me more time. I’m just thankful I survived the lay-offs at work.

I do, however, have to say that the health care industry in the USA is out of control and absolutely horrible. Not only is it ungodly expensive, it employs the most lazy and the rudest people I’ve ever met in my life. You get better service at a Walmart! The next time I hear someone going on about how the health care system in the USA is supposedly the best, my head is going to explode. They are obviously people who have never received medical service outside of the country and are just saying that to make themselves feel better. We could do worse, but at the same time, we could do a hell of a lot better.