Day five of theboy's patented Nicotine Intake Reduction Programme (NIRP). It's strange how at times it's the easiest thing in the world to do, not to smoke. Not to want to smoke. Not to think about it. And then in a moment, I know I will be thinking about it. Depends what I'm doing.

It's an addiction, you fool, that's what addiction does - happy/sad, up/down, two sides to the same moment.

But whatever I'm doing, it doesn't involve smoking. Not before 1 p.m., anyway.

Frighteningly habitual. Day 1, last Thursday, was the toughest. I was up at 6 am, and didn't have so much as a single puff until 2:10 p.m.. Eight hours. Eight tar-free hours in which I wasn't able to smoke:

It's a list of activities that are now incomplete, a list of things to do while smoking. How can I buy time for a quick fag? I'll wait for public transport, I'll walk somewhere I don't need to go. I used to, anyway. Now I have to sit at my desk and work. Of all things.

Saturday, woke up tired, maybe a bit dehydrated, still chewing the night before's kebab remnants, wondering immediately how much vodka you have to drink to spend 60 pounds. 3 and a half hours kicking about the house. Eat bagel, eat more, drink tea, drink coffee. Listen to neighbours swear at their kids. Nice. Beginning to despair of the world, nothing's right. And then it's 1 o'clock, and everything's just dandy!

There was a brief intermission there. You didn't notice it though, because it was an implied pause. In my time zone, it was 1pm. It could only mean one thing. So now I have a new activity; smoking while the clock ticks from one until five past. And it was a much better 5 minutes than any of the above, when there's never quite enough time, and the mouth gets dry with the pressure to finish, and I know I'm only doing it because that's just what I do at that moment. At times like this, I think Richard Klein was right.

I'm the same person I was before one o'clock; I've just shuffled away from the edge slightly is all. Talk to me, I won't bite.

16 days to go, and then I can have my vague reward. It involves buying CDs. Not buying them is harder than not smoking, I can tell you, but then I did buy 12 last week, so that should be enough to keep my ears stimulated until then.

Signs and Secrets

Spent lunchtime today double checking the GPS co-ordinates for my second geocache. I am mildly hooked on caching (insofar as I can be in this city, avec toddler et sans car). Cachers tend to be drivers, and even those caches in a town are almost completely devoid of public transport information. So my caching activities are pretty much restricted to Edinburgh, which has three caches in town (by next week, there will be four). I’ve visited one, and will be looking for another on Thursday (it was just placed on Sunday, so I may be the first to find it).

I constructed the third one myself over the last four months. I’m actually quite proud of it. It maps out a six-stage walk through Edinburgh’s Old Town in the footsteps of Burke and Hare. As the searchers go from place to place, they have to look for numbers carven on gravestones, into buildings, and on plaques. The numbers then assemble to make up the GPS co-ordinates for a final location where there’s a grim historical relic. The cache has an E2 connection as well. nine9 helped me pick some of the locations, and SEF, fuzzy_and_blue and Jongleur were my testers. Only one other person has hunted it thus far (Silver Fox, Edinburgh’s only other geocacher), but I’m hoping people will come up for the Edinburgh Festival and spend an afternoon on it.

This second cache is less public – it’s on a footpath that is not at all obvious from the streets nearby. I think non-locals will have trouble finding their way onto the path. sunpig and I didn’t realise it was there when we first moved to a flat three blocks from it. Once we found it, I used to walk home from work that way in the summers. It was a secret place, hidden from the main flow of Edinburgh traffic, and I was sorry to abandon it when we moved again. It’s also the gateway to other secret places, such as Warriston Cemetery, with its population of romantically inclined men.

While I was out scouting for the cache location, I saw my first warchalking mark. sunpig told me where it was. I’d walked right by it on Saturday, and would have done again if I didn’t know what it meant.

It all makes me wonder what other things are stashed along the path, in holes in the walls and under rocks. What else is hidden around Edinburgh? What of all the graffiti and scribbling on walls is more than it seems? It’s the fascination of spying, of tradecraft, but there’s something deeper.

I partake, to some extent, of those family characteristics that get diagnosed as Asperger's syndrome when they occur in full measure. Some of that is an inability to read the signs, to find the secrets of other people. After all the trouble I have with social interactions, I’ve come to like secrets I can unravel. I wish I could find the GPS location of a hidden agenda, or a glossary of the markings that advertise the truth.

Monday morning. Stretch, yawn, isn’t it Sunday still? I turn over and hit the snooze botton. Snuggle in close, much better under here. But morning won’t last forever, and I must get to work before it ends. Quick shower, too late to brew coffee. Running back for the keys.

I get out to my little red Honda Civic, covered in morning dew. I get in and almost miss the folded up piece of notebook paper under my windshield wiper. Getting out I peel off a soggy piece of blank paper, folded around another piece of paper with hurried, penciled letters runny across the dripping page.

5:00pm Sunday
TB

Marissia
I’ve been looking for you! -> Everywhere!!! I hope all is well on your end…I’m doing much better. I went to Hawaii for a week to kinda clear my head…Hope to hear from you soon. I’m now living back @ my moms house. The phone # is (xxx) xxx-xxxx Call me -> Now! But DO NOT call after 10:00pm. DO leave a message w/ your phone # exc. Hope to see you -> SOON!

TB

P.S. If you are NOT Marissia Don’t Call! If you know her please forward this! Sorry to bother you!

I stared at the note for a minute, trying to figure out who “TB” was. Then I remembered. I am not Marrisia. Must have been my car, looked like 'Marrisia's. OR maybe TB as leaving notes on cars at random, hoping to reach Marrisia. Or am I just a pawn? I look around furtively, then shrug.

Tossing the soggy note onto the back seat, I pulled out into the steady stream of traffic, behind a little red Honda Civic. Strange things happen in small cities.

Note: Letter has been transcribed as exactly as my knowledge of html tags allows, right down to what I assume is TB's creative abreviation of etcetera. Phone number has been omitted to protect the possibly innocent.

Well my June 27-July 1 visit to Phoenix went great. I was able to visit my relatives after getting the business done. My boss and I went to this great place Los Dos Molinos on recommendation of our customer. That was Thursday and Friday. What was really cool is that my Mom and Grandma were visiting from Texas during the weekend. One uncle and aunt is building a new home near this mountain. Don't remember the name, but it sure is a cool view. The other uncle and aunt we stayed with -- they were so cool. Talk about hospitality.... we had a first class breakfast each morning...

July 4 was great too. Not just because it made the already short week even shorter, but we had a cookout at my place, although it was so hot. Everyone ended up hanging out in front of multiple fans or outside where it was just starting to cool off. We all took off to the Charles River to see the fireworks. The fireworks were great in Boston this year – especially this one where it looks like a giant curtain that filled the entire sky. Afterwards, we went to this cool MIT bar that is right near where we watched the fireworks.

Jaw stopped hurting. Now it only makes a little funny sound when I chew. Not sure whether to be worried still or not.

Found tip on O'Reilly mailing list. Was trying to get my roommate's IMac (OS X) with an Aircard working with my Linksys wireless router. Well the list said, "upgrade your Linksys firmware and re-run the Airport Setup on the IMac.". Sure enough, this worked like a charm. You heard it here first -- random E2 Tech Support.

Where to start? I felt pretty bad this morning when I woke up. I actually got 6 hours of sleep last night as opposed to the 3 or 4 I managed in the previous 48. I spent 12 hours in the Columbus airport yesterday. It was amazing. It was one of those tests of pure will. Could I actually sit in an airport that is smaller than some of the malls in Georgia and not go crazy? I managed. I got home around 12:30 this morning. All of this would have been easier had it not been compounded by the death of my Great Grandmother a day before I had to fly to Ohio. I drove to her funeral and then drove straight back. It was more or less 9 hours in a car with an hour break. This was immediately followed by packing for my flight.

I don't have a lot of unique memories of her. It is more like one big memory of a kind and loving woman. My dad had always been her favorite grandson and I think it carried down to myself and my sister by default. She would always bring me the big 1 lb bags of M&M's when I came to visit. The hardest part of losing her wasn't her death. It was the times that I visited her in the nursing home just before she died. She had become senile and didn't really remember anyone. This was to be expected but it was still heart-breaking. I can handle a lot of grief but I couldn't handle my last interaction with her. I came into the room and my Grandfather explained who I was to her. She looked at me and began to cry. She was upset because I was in a wheelchair. Her mind was stuck in another dimension where some people were ten years younger and others never had surgery that bound them to a wheelchair and leg braces. I tried to explain that I had been in a wheelchair for a long time but she just continued to cry and tell me how sorry she was that I was in a wheelchair. I don't cry.

I cried that day.

I left the room that afternoon and waited in the hall for my Dad and Grandfather. That was the last time I saw her alive. It was a surreal moment to see her obviously slipping away from us and at the same time see three generations of men from my family drawn closer than any of us would normally even consider.

The gathering was amazing and I fully intend to do an aftermath node. I'll probably get it done tomorrow sometime. It was the first 'real' gathering I have been to and there are so many amazing things I want to tell that I'm forcing myself to take my time so it doesn't come out like a big blob of happiness that doesn't make sense. I'd like to pretend I am going to get some sleep tonight and then write the aftermath tomorrow with a fresh mind, but I am seeing Dave Matthews Band tonight.

This site constantly amazes me. Even at its lowest points I still can't stand the thought of leaving it.

There are no links in the paragraph about my Great Grandmother for a reason. Please respect my choice and don't message me about it. Thank you.

in session

weill in japan: day 06

Classes officially got underway today. There are eight levels of instruction for the summer courses, from C1 (no prior experience whatsoever) to C8 (native speakers). When signing up for the courses, I selected C7, "Advanced Japanese," not realizing just how advanced it is. After a lackluster performance on the placement test, I was duly slapped down to C4, "Intermediate Japanese I." It's a little bit demoralizing to be knocked down three levels, although I personally feel that I would be better suited in the next level, C5. After a brief interview with the professor, she noted that I was fairly good at speaking proficiency, and wrote "C5" down on my paper. I wouldn't mind being transferred into C5, especially considering that most of the class was struggling today on material that I could do easily. Being in a class that is too low in difficulty is no guarantee of an A; on the contrary, it can lead to complacency and even arrogance. That's something I don't want.

Classes run from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM with ten-minute breaks every hour, and on-campus facilities are open for a few hours after that. For example, today I bought some stationery, mailed my brother's birthday gifts home by air mail (cost to mail: ¥1550, including ¥140 for the box), ate lunch, talked with my fellow students, bought my textbook, attended a homestay orientation session, did my homework in the language lab, and played around in the computer lab before heading home.

The computer lab on campus is very convenient, and nicely outfitted: G4 towers with Office 2001, a few Internet applications (Telnet, FTP, WWW), and other utilities. Unfortunately, they still run Mac OS 9 rather than the UNIX-like OS X, but that can be forgiven. The great thing is that every day I can use the CD-RW that I have to transfer web page updates and other documents up to my Carnegie Mellon account for publishing to the web. Have I mentioned that they have US English keyboards? Very, very cool.

If you've never seen a Japanese keyboard, they can be very intimidating. Because of the addition of character set switching keys, the bottom row is very cluttered on both Windows and Mac keyboards. The space bar is often smaller than the SHIFT key on a typical American keyboard, making it tough to hit. Also, a surprising number of symbols are unshifted, so the SHIFT key must not be depressed to type '@', ':', and a few others I can't remember right now. The ENTER key is vertical instead of horizontal, making one's pinky travel unusually far. This makes Internet nomenclature easy to type, but it takes some getting used to. Also, the backslash is nonexistent, having been replaced with '¥'. A typical Windows path might look like "C¥WINNT¥SYSTEM32", for example. Overall, the changes aren't massive, but they can be annoying if you only want to type English characters.

Macs seem to be the platform of choice at ICU, as in Carnegie Mellon's administration. The choice seems logical here, since the Mac OS is far better than any other at displaying Japanese characters clearly. For example, the Japanese "Osaka" font used in Mac OS is much more attractive -- both on screen and in print -- than MS Gothic or Arial Unicode MS in Windows, in my opinion. The outstanding Japanese appearance was one of the factors that made me all but go out and buy an iBook last year, before I received my Compaq laptop as a gift.

money matters

As I've frequently noted, Tokyo is the world's most expensive city. New York is a distant second. After my early spending spree, I found that my cash reserves had dwindled from ¥30,000 to just over ¥2,000. My daily commute costs ¥370, and lunch is around ¥500, so that money doesn't go a long way at all. Credit cards are scarcely used in Japan, and this is the only place where I've seen shops that accept Visa but not MasterCard. (Guess which one I'm stuck with.) With ATM card in hand, I walked up to the on-campus cash machine. The machine beckons "Irasshaimase" ("Welcome") and an on-screen graphic shows a uniformed woman bowing at me. I inserted my card, waited for a few seconds, then notice the message "Kono kaado (something) gozaimasen." Out comes the card. Ka-chunk. Denied.

After I get off the bus at Musashi-sakai station, I decide to do some shopping at the massive Ito Yokado department store located next door. Inside, there is a cash machine. The cash machine bears a sticker with the English text, "Accepts only Japan-issued cards." Damn it! I try my card anyway, and it is promptly rejected. Next door is a branch of the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, a prominent Japanese bank. I try my card there. No luck. I show it to the women handing out flyers in the entrance, and ask for their assistance. After she tries it, no luck. I thank her for her time.

There is a large Lumine shopping mall next to my home station of Ogikubo. I ask the attendant at the information desk if there is an ATM nearby, and she tells me that there is one on the third floor. I ask if it will work with my card, and show it to her. She is doubtful, since it looks like a foreign card with the verboten MasterCard logo. I go up there, see the same English warning, try anyway, and get rejected.

That is the last straw.

Citibank is a huge multinational corporation with a large presence in Tokyo. I cannot believe that their ATM cards do not work here. I storm out of the Lumine mall to street level, looking for a phone booth with which to yell at customer service for 24 cents a minute. There is a booth near the exit. It contains... an ATM.

Inside, there is no "Japan-issued only" sign.

insert card

beep beep beep beep beep beep

pause

¥

ka-chunk

arigatou gozaimasu

I'm not normally a praying man, or even a Christian man, but oh thank you Jesus thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. I took three pictures of the ATM for future reference.

I may now return to my regularly scheduled capitalism.

toys!

Japan has a wonderful assortment of toys, and they're not all geared towards children. One of the first stops I made in Akihabara on Saturday was to the Akihabara Department Store which is accessible directly from the station platform. There, there are die-cast models, games, robots, trains, books, movies, and all other sorts of diversions. Toys are also sold in capsule machines.

Sighting: a virtual tennis game which plugs directly into a television and is controlled by a small plastic paddle. One of my friends wants to buy it for the dorm lounge. Cost: about ¥6000 ($50). I didn't buy it, because this was before I was able to withdraw money.

Soccer is big now in Japan, as the nation is still in the afterglow from the World Cup. World Cup goods are heavily discounted, but Japanese soccer jerseys are still as much as ¥12,980 ($108). Maybe I'll buy one from a less-than-reputable shop.

I still need to buy souvenirs and presents for lots of people. More capitalism is on the horizon.

Japanese vending machines serve a dizzying array of beverages, including some delicious but small cafe latte, but I haven't found any candy machines at all. I have to buy my M&M's and Pocky from a human. This is unacceptable.

think big

As you might tell from the above, I've been taking in the atmosphere of many Japanese department stores. The layout is similar to an American department stores, with specialized departments, salespeople strewn about the store, and cashiers placed in strategic location. However, nothing the U.S. has can compare to the Japanese department stores, like Ito Yokado -- a store so large it is split into two locations on opposite sides of a street. How many department stores outside Japan have all of:

Wal-Mart has not expanded into Japan, and there's a pretty good reason why. In Japan, the secret isn't to build outward as Wal-Mart has done in rural America; it's to build upward.

One last big thing: typhoons. Typhoon Shatan is expected to approach Tokyo in the near future. Me no like.

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