I went off to SOAS yesterday for my first Japanese lesson (as well as the admin stuff like getting issued with a library card). The lesson went well, and we basically covered Hiragana (one of the three Japanese alphabets, that has 46 symbols). My homework is to get familiar with them, so that I can recognise/pronounce them by next week's class. And once I've got the relevant IME set up on my PC, expect to see some weird characters in my posts...
There were a few things that amused me during the lesson, related to the alphabet. As well as learning to write each symbol (the order of strokes is important), we also covered the pronunciation, i.e. the teacher would say something and we'd repeat it. E.g.
Teacher: "e" (pr. "eh")
Teacher: "o" (pr. "oh")
(My thoughts: Tellytubbies!)
Teacher: "ni" (pr. "nee")
(Insert Monty Python joke here)
Teacher: "me" (pr. "meh")
(I'm not that bored...)
At the end of the class, we played a game. The idea was that we had a set of 46 cards, which each had one letter on them. We then had a second set of 46 cards, where each letter had been turned into a picture; if you imagine turning a number 2 into a picture of a swan then you'll get the basic idea. We then had to pair off the letters with the pictures - it made things slightly more complicated when the cards had been shuffled around, so some of them were sideways/upside down. Anyway, we got there in the end, and the teacher then read out the list of descriptions, which explained why each picture had been chosen. Some of these were a bit of a stretch... E.g. there's the letter "ki" (pr. "kee"), which was illustrated by a picture of a key. Fair enough. Thene there was the letter "u" (pr. "oo"), illustrated by "OOdles of horseshoes with a stake". Or "se" (pr. "seh"), illustrated by "a girl sitting on her boyfriend's lap, SAYing 'I love you'". Ye-es.
Anyway, so far so good, and I'm looking forward to next week's class.
Yesterday afternoon I did some more motorbike maintenance - the alarm tends to drain the battery if I don't use it for a while, so I had to take it out and bring it back to the flat. Anyway, that's back to full strength now, so I'll make more of an effort to take the bike out at least once a week, even if I don't need to go anywhere in particular; it helps that the weather's cooling down, so I won't be boiling in my protective gear.
Speaking of travelling, I get quite a bit of reading done while I'm going to/from work (especially when I miss a connection and have to wait around for half an hour), so I'm now making a dent in my backlog of computer magazines (or at least I'm reading them faster than new ones are arriving). I've also started one of my periodic re-reads of the Vorkosigan series, now that I've filled the gaps with e-books (see previous post).
In Bujold's afterword to "Cordelia's Honor" (a reprint of "Shards of Honor" and "Barrayar"), she says "All great human deeds both consume and transform their doers. Consider an athlete, or a scientist, or an artist, or an independent business creator. In service of their goals they lay down time and energy and many other choices and pleasures; in return, they become most truly themselves. A false destiny may be spotted by the fact that it consumes without transforming, without giving back the enlarged self." I've read the book (and the afterword) a few times before, but this time around it really resonated with me, particularly that last sentence. I think it's partly the Pratchett-esque idea (like his parasitic shopping centres), but also the fact that I'm trying to decide what to do with my life.
So far I've basically alternated back and forth between university and "vocational" IT, but I think that I'm getting to the point where I need to choose one. Part of me says that I should embrace the professional life, since I'm good at it, and it pays well. Also, thinking back to my MSc, I have to wonder whether I like the idea of post-grad study more than the reality of it. On the other hand, I think that I could have done better, and I'd like to prove it. Anyway, I figure that I'll stay in my current job for 5 years - that gives me time to pay off my debts (barring mortgage) and would make me eligible to get chartered status (if my colleagues/managers are willing to recommend me). I'll then be 36, and in theory I could begin a PhD at that point, and become Dr Kirk by the time I'm 40. (overconvergent is the only person I know to actually complete a PhD in three years, and I don't think I'm quite at his level.) Or I could go off in a different direction...
Speaking of books (and Pratchett), I picked up "Thud" and "Where's My Cow?" yesterday. I'm still reading "Thud" at the moment, but I've finished "Where's My Cow?" (which isn't too surprising, since it's only 38 pages long, and mostly pictures rather than text). I was a bit dubious about it at first, since it is quite expensive for such a slight read (11 quid, reduced to 10 quid in Forbidden Planet), but I did like it. It's odd, but quite charming, so it's definitely worth reading if you're already a fan. For my part, I have a vague/confused feeling of "If I lend it out to lots of people then that averages out the price", so let me know if you want to read it (and if I'll be seeing you in the imminent future). On a related note, I now have two copies of "Going Postal" (the paperback came in a boxset with the Discworld DVDs), so I no longer need the hardback - give me a yell if you'd like it, otherwise I'll drop it off in the charity shop.
And speaking of media stuff in general, Firefly fans will probably like the latest Joy of Tech strip. (The webcomic tends to be fairly Mac-centric as a whole, but they have a few strips with wider appeal.)
Today I went off to Oxford, to visit susannahf. It's been about 9 years since I was last there, but it hasn't changed much (which is good). I like places with history, and Keble College looks as if it was built to be a castle - impressively thick walls, and only one entrance. Anyway, we went round a couple of museums, which were interesting. The university museum had plenty of dinosaurs, and a stuffed cheetah that visitors are actively encouraged to stroke. Mind you, I was surprised to see the Nessie-ish creatures referred to as "plesiosaurus" or "pliosaur" rather than "pleiosaur" - has the spelling changed recently, or have I always been getting it wrong? Then there was the Pitt Rivers museum, named after General Pitt Rivers (who I think has a great action hero name), and which is basically full of "stuff that he found on his travels". (There's a sign up saying that it was mostly acquired legitimately, not stolen.) It's a rather eclectic mix, so you have a display case full of shrunken heads next to a collection of basket weaving. Pretty nifty, anyway.