Two years of (un)sustainability

It’s Sunday morning. It’s four Celsius below freezing point. The kids are asleep. I have pulled the laptop out to sit in my un-preheated lounge room to write this without any preparation or thought.

Sustainability Dharma is two years old. But what should I write about? What is there to write about?

Over the past year I have occasionally (very occasionally) looked at some older posts. There were some good writing in there, especially early on. There was passion, content and substance in it. They were proofread. They had been researched, not thoroughly but at least I had spent time on them. But these days I have to sit and rush my writing in between life. I have neither time to view or comment on the blogs of fellow writers nor time to keep up with the sustainability news. So should I be blogging at all?

Should a father of two young attention-heavy children, who is driving (unsustainably) to a university 60km (40 miles) away from home almost everyday to do a Masters thesis, and does part-time teaching at night three times a week, be blogging? I don’t think so.

But I will continue. I will write because I think it is important. I will write because I share with others a desire to make the world a better place. I will write because I think I have something valuable to say.

While I am still very busy I do not see this situation to continue. I am in my final semester, writing up my thesis, and my youngest goes to daycare in a couple of months. And holding on to my newly acquired degree I will be looking for work again, hopefully at a higher institution. By then my kids will have grown out of their “terrible-twos” period.

But will things really improve as I imagine them to? I have come to understand that things never progress the way you think they will (like me being married, having two kids and doing my Masters). Life has more twists and turns than any labyrinth. What is installed for Sustainability Dharma for the next year, I cannot imagine. All I know is I still have a passion for writing about sustainability.

One year of sustainability theory dharma

This week marks the one year anniversary of sustainability theory dharma or just ‘std’. I must admit I had my doubts over the course of the year that this blog would last this long. But it has. And I have learned much about myself, blogging and the environment from maintaining std.

This year I will aim for one “column” per week. I experimented with various posting styles last year. At times I had strayed from the environment topic and found that this was not what I had wanted for the blog (but others thought it was great). At other times my posts were short and pithy, making them cryptic and zen-like. In trying to keep up with the Joneses I had forgotten that I had a family, university and part-time work, that I am not the average Joe Blow with time on my hands.

So instead of posting often my goal is for one better-than-average post of about 1,000 words focusing on one current environmental event. The aim is to raise the standard of my writing which had wandered off at one point. My goal is to keep the act of blogging simple and without distractions. std itself has gone through some evolution. I will describe some of the changes that have happened here.

a slow start
A year ago I was still working. As a full-time English teacher the environment had not been a priority, but a personal issue. My concerns for the environment were not mine alone as a number of great blogs on environmental issues had also sprang up (It’s the Environment, Stupid, Oikos and Stolen Moments to name just three) around this time. My want of knowing how I could live sustainably and to share this knowledge with others was the impetus for starting std.

And now, as my sidebar says, I am back at university studying about the relationship between language and the environment. One year ago I did not know I would be doing this. I have this blog to thank.

what’s in a name?
For those who have been around here long enough you will also recall the name change. It started life out as ‘sustainability dharma blog’. I had wanted to use the word ‘blog’ in it as a reminder that it is not a commercial enterprise. It was a dig at those environmental blogs that put advertisement on their page, a hideous practice to say the least.

Advertisement only hurts the environment. You (yes! you! Mr Sustainablog) are sending out the wrong message to your readers about consumerism, that selling more is okay. And I am still against that. So I may start a campaign to rid commercialism from environmental blogs. It’s simply wrong.

Coming back to the name, I had wanted to show how theory, Buddhism and sustainability can be about the same thing. And hence the name. But a year later I have shifted my focus to only sustainability because it is simply too much to consider, which brings me to the next section.

jack of all trades…
That was me – the master of none. As the years roll on in my life I have learned that I must focus. It is nice to learn and know a lot of things, but not being great at any of them is a real pity. To use another cliche, life is too short. My advice is this: have one blog and focus on a topic. There are too many people out there who own several blogs about different topics. That’s fine… if you have that much time on your hands. Or else there are blogs that write about everything and anything. I may want to read about how you fixed a bug on some software but I don’t want to know the colour of your latest pair of underwear. In short, one blog one topic. If you cannot blog for more than one year on one topic do not blog at all. You are only wasting your time (and mine) and energy (the environment’s).

This may seem harsh criticism but it is for the environment that I say this. The soaring energy use is partly due to maintaining a network like the internet. As wonderful as it is for useful information it is also a doorway to some of the most useless drivel too. Consider what you write and post and upload for the sake of the environment.

what is the calendar for?
If you are like me it is to highlight how infrequently one blogs. So get rid of it if you are an occasional poster.

ranking mayhem
And don’t feel you have to post something everyday either. You don’t. It is the blogging system that is telling you have to. Search engines like Technorati reward those who post more often with better ranks. It is a scam. But it also gives better ranks for more established blogs which is why it is important to stay with one blog rather than moving around. Regularly updated blogs – whether once a day or once a week – seems to fair well. If you stay around long enough the bulk of your readers will come from other sources anyway.

Keep It Simple Silly
Ahh… the KISS rule. No better rule in life and blog. I used to do a “keep the readers updated” post once a month. What a waste of time. It’s cute. It was cute. But seriously your readers are here to read about one thing and not about your blog goings-on. They don’t care, even if you do. So keep it to yourself or save it for a once a year post on anniversaries like today. You don’t need other pages to supplement the blog either. Your personality will come through from your writing. I learned that the hard way.

the coming year
One of the things that I started with a year ago was the notion of strong sustainability. I still maintain this and would like to elaborate more on this coming year. Another topic which I haven’t covered much but would like to is money, and how it works against the environment. This goes against many of the blogs and ideas out there. But I think it is an issue which needs to be addressed. And of course my interest in overpopulation or rather population control (thanks John Feeney) is still there and would be something I would like to explore also.

Flickr Uploadr 2.3 problem and fix

Continue reading “Flickr Uploadr 2.3 problem and fix”

Searching for Bobby Fischer’s playing partner

My brother-in-law came over with the family for New Years as usual. And everytime he comes we play “a friendly game” of chess. But really it is all very serious. It is about pride.

This year he bought a chess set and a book for beginners for his elder daughter. But I suspect the book was for himself more than anything. But there is nothing wrong with that. You need to study chess, like anything else, to improve. I have a dozen books on chess myself and I still do not consider myself strong at all. But, at least, I am stronger than I would have been if I didn’t read them.

Flicking through the book I found it surprisingly good. It included all the basics and a little bit more to get you started. The book was by Miyoko Watai. The name caught me by surprise. Not because she is the head of the Japan Chess Association, but rather she was the one Bobby Fischer was living with when he returned to our consciousness from hiding in 2004.

Using Amazon Japan I discovered there are only 87 books on chess in Japanese. Whereas Amazon US lists 65,700 titles for chess books in English. This just goes to show how little interest there is in chess in Japan. Anyway, I recommend the book to any Japanese interested in chess. It is as good as any beginner’s guide to chess written in English. I can safely say Ms. Watai does knows her chess.

I am really looking forward to the next match with my brother-in-law.

Seeing Red and White

The end of year Red and White Song Contest (Japanese: Kouhaku Uta Gasen) has just finished here in Japan. What it is is a competition between male and female Japanese music artists. Each side has about twenty members singing their songs and judges decide which side overall wins by vote.

Why it is called “Red and White” is because the male is White and the female team is Red. This has been the tradition and it has been going on for sometime now. This year the MCs were Yukie Nakama, a popular young actress, and Masahiro Nakai from the immensely popular group, SMAP. While Ms. Nakama was rather awkward, Mr. Nakai was the veteran that he is.

The highlight must have been DJ Ozma’s over the top caberet-style number where he had dancing girls filling the entire stage. Some were seemingly topless when in fact they were wearing bodysuits with a female anatomy print design. NHK, the government channel which produces and airs this show, got a number of phone and fax complaints from viewers, to which one of the MCs had to explain while on air (this show is live).

In the end White Team (the male side) won through a tight vote – audience and television viewers were given a chance for giving one extra vote overall.

A note on why white for men and red for women – red and white are the two colours of the Japanese national flag. So, slyly, patriotism was injected to a seemingly an innocent annual event for the family, for New Years in Japan, unlike the West, is a family affair, and not one for spending with friends.

So better luck for Red next year. But now we all know either way the real winner every year is Japan.

Blogging is work!

Since Christmas holidays started I have had the luxury to blog again.

Yet, this break has taught me one important lesson – that maintaining a blog is really time consuming. It takes more than just the desire to blog – the want to be heard – to keep one going. And even if you have the drive to have one you may not have that much to say. So one has to consider why one wants to blog.

When I started this blog it was to talk about my belief in sustainability, Buddhism and theory. And it still is. While I have much to talk about I don’t have the time to put it down into posts. A “good” blog needs at least two hours of work a day. And that does not include reading. To be a good writer one must also be a good reader, I believe. Because I do not have the time to keep up with the latest news, my blogging suffers for it.

So why I do not have this time? Well, I have twelve hours of lectures a week. I have the homework that comes with these classes. I drive at least as many hours just to get to and from university each week. (Don’t talk to me about contributing to greenhouse gases. If I could move closer to campus I would.) I have two children under two, so my time at home is devoted to helping with looking after them and doing other chores to free my partner’s time to perform other household duties (and to relax). And I teach three nights a week to slow the rate of dwindling of our savings.

So, when I say I do not have time, yes, I mean I do not have time.

There are plenty of websites out there that give advice to people about blogging and how to be a good blogger, etc. They usually tell you you need to post regularly, you need to read other blogs and comment, you need to do this and do that. Well let me tell them – great, if you are single, or somehow you are blessed with much time on your hands (this usually means an disgruntled wife or husband lurking somewhere in the background).

But most people are not like that. Most people have real work that takes up most of their waking hours. I repeat again, most people are not like that.

So here is my advice for people who want to consider starting a blog or has already started a blog:

  1. Do you have things to say that are important or interesting?
  2. Do you think you have enough to say for at least one year?

If you said ‘yes’ to both these by all means, go for it.

Even if you do not have time it could be done if the content is important or interesting. If you are like me – without time to even read let alone write – then I still say it is fine. Don’t listen to those “professional” bloggers telling you you need to do this or that.

And don’t worry about stats and hits. If you have good content people will come.

Be realistic about what you can do with a blog. It is an only outlet for your thoughts. It is only a glorified webpage. It is only a personal journal of sorts. It isn’t the whole world. If you want to be blog-popular then by all means put work much into it. But if you are like me, who does not care for ratings, then it can be a rewarding means of self-expression that does not take up most of your life, because there is life beyond the internet and blogging.

Reviving literature

The trend today is to teach and learn only the practical. Does this spell the end for the teaching of literature in the langauge classroom?

My teacher in my teaching materials class made a comment about how one of his colleagues is lamenting the lack of literature in langauge teaching today. With the emphasis now on communicative grammar, poetry, short stories and novels have all but disappeared from the langauge classroom.

But only as recent as fifteen years ago it was still different. During my undergraduate years I studied Japanese. It was expected that one studied Japanese literature. It was not because literature would help directly with communication, but rather we were reading what the Japanese were reading. It is was this kind of authenticity which helped us understand the Japanese and their culture. Certainly my Japanese vocabulary is better for it today than if I did not read Japanese novels. Where else would come across words teppatsu (elms bowl for Buddhists teaching exchange for food) or learn about sabi (rusticness. But it means much more than this and as an Japanese cultural aesthetic, inseparable from their identity).

Literature therefore teaches you more than language. It teaches about culture also. And in some ways langauge is culture. How else would I learn these things except for novels. While in this age of fast pace and quick and efficient solutions I still believe the quality of learning gained from just a few pages of hard and studious translation is worth more than, say, a week in Japan observing only and trying to find hints of meanings from gestures and practices. I feel books – any books in the target language – are undervalued as a resource. Books need not be especially designed for language to be useful. If anything they are better because they are authentic.

But coming back to the language teaching, textbook writers and publishers highlight this point. For if ordinary books are seen as good as (or better than) specific-purpose textbooks then these publishers’ and writers’ potential market to sell becomes smaller. In other words there is a hidden agenda to the reasons to promote textbooks in this way.

Twenty years ago still we saw literature as an important part of language learning. But communication was also taught if we were to go into the real world and mingle with real Japanese. However, today you can talk to a non-native speaker of Japanese and he or she will almost know or say nothing of Japanese culture or literature, but talk only about her or his country or about his or her opinion. If this is what internationalization means then I do not want to be part of it.

Since literature is still being read widely today it is not that troubling. Sooner or later the pendulum will swing back and literature will once again become fashionable, that is, until it is overdone, again. Remember this: trends are so predictable in this way, and how we teach is also nothing but a trend.

Mara’s Dictionary – internet security

internet security – (n. phr.) the warm fuzzy feeling one gets when one connects to her/his internet service provider and finds it is not down due to server failure or maintenance.

See the rest of Mara’s Dictionary

Safe searching with SiteAdvisor

Here is a great Firefox Extension that will keep you informed about suspicious sites by McAfee called SiteAdvisor. It works with both Google and Yahoo!’s search engines. If don’t know what Extensions are take a look at Wikipedia‘s entry.

There are many suspicious sites out there pretending to be legitimate ones through copied content but contain dubious links and other . By analysizing its pop-up, link information and emailing policy SiteAdvisor shows you if the site is safe (a green tick), questionable (a question mark) or unsafe (an exclamation mark or red cross) so you can decide whether you want to visit the site or not.

I also recommend Mozilla’s Firefox browser (over Internet Explorer) for better internet security and experience.