Japan life

On Friday afternoons, I take the role of Simon Cowell

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On Friday afternoons, I take the role of Simon Cowell.

The British television personality came to fame through his notoriously harsh criticism of talent show contestants. His ability to slam anyone and everyone's attempts on stage got him both a talking wax work model at Madam Tussaud's (where visitors could enjoy being insulted themselves) and a spot on every future talent show on both sides of the Atlantic pond. 

Fun fact: Before appearing on 'American idol', Simon Cowell had his teeth veneered to give him the showbiz white smile. This move was ridiculed in the UK, where cosmetic dentistry is frequently viewed as excessive vanity. As a side note, the view that Brits actually have bad teeth is not correct (at least, not my generation and below) but having work done for pure aesthetics is still relatively uncommon. 

The afternoon on the last day of the week is the time for our research group meeting. In this hour, a hapless student is made to do a presentation in English on a research paper they have recently read. Bearing in mind that such publications are frequently jargon-heavy, excessively long turgid reads that often refer back to a string of previously published works by the same authors, this is not an easy task. 

This week one of my own students was on the podium and he was doing an admirable job. While still struggling with speaking English fluidly, he had put together a comprehensive review of the paper, pulled out the relevant highlights from past related works and added helpful diagrams to demonstrate some of the newer concepts.

None of this stopped me tearing him apart limb from limb. 

Really, he loved it. If he shows up again on Monday.

The main issue was that --in common with most of his peers-- my student tended to copy out relevant sentences of the paper word by word, rather than using his own terms. The reason is quite understandable: if you're concerned about the quality of your own English, why not use someone else's that's already made the point? However, such a tactic has three problems:

The first is that paper writing isn't designed for presentations. Sentences tend to be long and heavy with technical terms than may (if you're lucky) have been defined in an earlier section. A presentation, on the other hand, needs to have short pithy comments that people can quickly glance at while you're speaking.

The second problem is that --since the sentences are long and technical-- I knew my student would never have written them. This leaves me wondering if he has truly understood the underlying concept.

Finally, since I am the only native English speaker in a group that consists of many 4th year undergraduates and Masters students, using such constructs doesn't help the audience understand the presentation. 

This led to each slide presented being dissected and re-explained. Sadly for me, the answers left little to insult. I wasn't able to use any of the lines I had planned. Not even "You're like a singing candle. You just stand there and melt." or "I won't remember you in 15 minutes." or "Did you really believe you could become an American Idol? Well, then you're deaf.". I couldn't even slide in Shut up and start singing.".

… Although admittedly if I had we would still be in the seminar room now while I attempted to explain why I had compared my student to a candle, demonstrated serious memory problems, promptly forgotten we were in Japan and then suggested he set his thesis work to music.

At the end, I just had one final question: "On your 4th slide, what is the difference between the data given by the black line and that by the blue?"

My student explained and then looked at me expectantly. "I actually don't know," I admitted. "It was a genuine question."

I am addicted to vacuum cleaners

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Hi. My name is Elizabeth. And I'm addicted to vacuum cleaners. 

Despite being described as a '2 bedroom', my apartment is really a one bedroom with a main area that can be divided into two by a set of sliding doors. However, if another person were to move in and use half of that space, one of us would end up being tipped over the 9th floor balcony. 

This is why I played hockey.

So that person wouldn't be me.

Anyway, when free from homicidal notions, my apartment is perfectly sized for one girl and one cat but not large. It has faux wooden flooring throughout which is covered in one area by a large rug I brought across from Canada. 

Occasionally, I clean it. Which brings us to the point of this post.

Possibly because of the low voltage in Japan (100 V compared with the North America's 120 V and the UK's 230 V), finding a vacuum cleaner prepared to put in more work than an adolescent school boy on a paper round is a serious struggle. Initially, I purchased a second hand Electrolux stick vacuum. This had the advantage of being small with a built-in dust buster and worked reasonably well when whipping round the apartment's hard floors. However, it failed spectacular on the rug. Frankly, I did a better job with a pair of tweezers and the patience of a road runner with ADHD. 

So I then bought the robotic Roomba.

OK, perhaps this wasn't the most practical of choices but it had a high cat-chasing entertainment value and I could set it to clean and leave the building. It's like the feeling of efficiency I have when I do another task while my computer code is compiling. 

With an empty dust tray and clean brushes, the Roomba actually does a reasonable job on the rug, although occasionally needs two rounds of cat terrifying fun to get the job done. Like the stick vacuum, it also works well on the hard floor. 

This set-up was… hygienically acceptable… for an academic with pets… for about 18 months. 

The problems left really centred around the stick vacuum not pulling its insubstantial weight. For one thing, it spat out cat litter. The little elongated pellets could be sucked into the vacuum, but just fell out as soon as the power was turned off. Secondly, it had no hose extension so there were areas around my desk, fridge and washing machine that I couldn't reach. The Roomba --having a dalek's proficiency for steps-- also could only do the main open areas in the apartment. 

Note, it took me 18 months to notice this. 

In the end, we had an assessment of the contributions to the household and the stick vacuum didn't come up to speed. The cat barely did and one of the teddy bears is on probation. It was time to find a cleaning replacement. 

In a rather elaborate purchase, I selected the Dyson Pet Slim Stick vacuum in the hope that I wouldn't have to be the only apartment in the world with four vacuum cleaners. Traumatically, the product arrived broken causing both myself and amazon.co.jp pain as we arranged a return. (All credit to Amazon, they handled it quickly and largely in English but I'm sure we both lost hours sleep contemplating the communication that would have to take place). 

Once exchanged, my date with vacuum #3 began. As with any budding relationship, it is dangerous to judge too early, not least because currently I vacuum every new spot of dust I see. It does slide beside my desk, around my washing machine and down the side of the refrigerator and doesn't drop cat litter around the house. It even seems to work on the rug, but we need to wait for the cat to give a really good coat-malting roll to test that out properly.  

Could 3 be the lucky number or will this become a Henry VIII of household appliances?