October 29, 2006

TV and Autism

Researchers at Cornell University published a paper earlier this month exploring a possible link between excessive television viewing by toddlers and increased risk for autism. The findings demonstrate that autism rates have risen with the introduction of cable television and programming specifically targeting young children, like Nickelodeon.

The full paper is available as a pdf file here. Gregg Easterbrook also has an article about the findings in Slate. Unless you are into 40+ pages of academic writing with tons of footnotes and graphs, you'll probably want to start with the Slate article. The findings are preliminary and definitely not bulletproof, as you'll see in the readers' comments to Easterbrook's article, but they're good enough to give me an excuse to banish the Teletubbies from my home.

[Photo Credit: "Tubi" by Juan Nosé]

October 27, 2006

Battery Babel (Part 2)

Tomomi and I woke up very early this morning to a robotic voice from our living room saying, "U . . . . . . . Umbrella" over and over again. It sometimes repeated every few seconds, sometimes not for five minutes or so. After the initial fright, we realized it was a talking alphabet game that the kids hadn't played with in over a year. (If a talking alphabet game sounds familiar, see my post from October 14. Weird coincidence?)

Yesterday evening, R found the game and asked Tomomi to install batteries. The game worked fine until the kids went to bed and only started acting up at around 5:00 this morning. I wonder what makes it do that, and why it doesn't say any of the other letters.

U. S. Geography Quiz

Just for fun, how good are you at placing states on a blank map of the USA? Try it at this link. If you want to have a little contest, put your score in the comments. For the record, my score was 82%, my average error was 42 miles, and it took me 369 seconds. This California boy had the hardest time with those little New England states.

Good luck!

October 23, 2006

Trains in Japan: Cheap and Easy (Part 2)

My last entry discussed how to find the best train or subway route from A to B using route and fare finder web sites. Once you've figured out your route, you'd still probably like to save some yen on ticket fares. I'll tell you how in this and other posts. This one will be about buying kaisuuken or multiple trip tickets.

When you buy kaisuuken (sometime called coupon tickets) you pay for 10 tickets, but get 11, 12 or 14. Here are photos and descriptions of the kaisuuken. These are Tokyo Metro tickets, but most other train lines are similar.

Regular kaisuuken (left photo--the button on the machines says 回数券) can be used any time. You get 11 for the price of ten. You can buy child or adult tickets.

Off-peak kaisuuken (center photo--時差券 jisaken) can be used between 10AM and 4PM on weekdays and any time on weekends and holidays. You get 12 tickets for the price of ten (adult tickets only).

Holiday kaisuuken (right photo--土休券 dokyuuken) can be used any time on weekends and holidays. You get 14 tickets for the price of 10 (adult tickets only).

These holiday kaisuuken save us about 1800 yen or so each month on our transportation to and from church.

October 21, 2006

Trains in Japan: Cheap and Easy (Part 1)

Trains are a great way to travel around in Japan, but they can be confusing and expensive. I'll share in the next couple posts how I cut 3383 yen (about US$30) per month from my family's Sunday train fare. We live in Shiki, a Tokyo bedroom community, and go to church in Ochanomizu, downtown Tokyo. At first we took the Tobu Tojo line to Ikebukuro and transfered to the Marunouchi line, which stops at Ochanomizu. It takes about 40 minutes and costs 490 yen one way. This adds up to 7840 yen per month, just to get to church and back. It's a little expensive, but definitely worth it. After a few months we checked out some online "fare and course search sites" (kind of like MapQuest but for trains), and found a better way to go. It takes about 5 minutes longer, but if we use the Yurakucho line instead of the Tobu Tojo line for part of our trip, the one-way fare is only 390 yen or 6240 yen per month. Plus the Yurakucho line is less crowed so we almost always get a seat.

You math smarties are probably wondering where the rest of the savings is. I'll tell you in the next post. For now, I'll offer some instructions on using the fare search sites.
  1. Find a site you like. I use Yahoo!'s because I'm used to it and I've found it to be fast, configurable and accurate. It's all in Japanese though. If you want one in English, then hyperdia.com looks good. There aren't as many search options, but at least the translation of the help documents will make you laugh. Other sites are optimized for mobile phones. I always check from my PC, so someone who uses a keitai for this might be able to help out in the comments.
  2. Enter your starting point and your destination. Here is where the search tool can be helpful. If there is more than one similarly named station, it will give a dropdown menu (Ochanomizu, Shin-Ochanomizu). If more than one station works for you, run the search multiple times to find out the fastest or cheapest way.
  3. Enter the date and time. This can be the time you want to depart or arrive. Also you can tick the last train ( 終電) button to find out the the last train you can catch at night to make it to your destination.
  4. Sort your results. Depending on the search site, results can be sorted by travel time, number of transfers, and price.
  5. Choose the best route and go! Don't forget to think about things like walking to and from stations, buying tickets, and how crowded particular trains might be. It can help to try taking different routes at different times. Also cars on the same train are heated and cooled differently and may have more or fewer people in them. If you are a woman, many trains now have "Ladies Only Cars" during rush hour.
Next time I'll write about the various discount tickets that are available.

[Photo Credit: "Twilight Yamanote" by Kappuru]

October 20, 2006

Guest Book

Thank you for visiting. You can write greetings, general comments, requests for posts, or anything else in the comments below. Thanks for keeping it family friendly and spam-free.

Your turn!

October 17, 2006

Wisdom of Children

As a father and a preschool teacher, I take notice when Jesus talks about children. And he talks about them a lot.

"Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." -Luke 18:16-17

"I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." -Luke 10:21

How could this be? How could children have direct access to Jesus, the key to receiving the kingdom of God, and revelation that is hidden from the wise and intelligent? I think it has to do with three qualities we all possess as children, but tend to lose as we get older.

Children live entirely in the moment.
We often think of young children as easily distracted, but when something grabs their attention, it grips hard. Try talking to children who are building an underground tunnel in the sand box. Observe the intense concentration as they paint, build a city with blocks, or run to kick a ball. "Seize the day!" is the unspoken motto of all children.They aren't hung up in the past. (It's over--who cares?) They aren't worried about the future (There will be clean clothes tomorrow--so what if these are smeared with paint or mud?) Children don't need to be reminded like adults not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). In fact, they haven't even begun to think in that stressful, counterproductive way.

Children are quick to apologize and quick to forgive.
The fiercest fight, with flying fists, feet and angry words, ends in a moment with a simple "I'm sorry" and "It's okay." Former enemies play happily together even before the tears are dry. And not only do children forgive one another, but they also forgive themselves quickly. They move on without shame to the next adventure, usually having learned a lesson.

Children still know how to learn.
"Why?" and "What does that mean?" are questions I hear many times a day, but rarely from adults. Children know they don't have it all figured out, and their minds are wide open. Have you ever seen a child bluff with a knowing smile when he is clueless?

You don't need to be a parent, a teacher, or even a Christian to gain from what Jesus says above. Just hang around kids, or think back to when you were younger. Reclaim some childlike winsomeness, be a little easier on yourself and others, and once again open your eyes wide with curiosity. I know that whenever I do these things, I'm better for having done so.

October 16, 2006

Japan Window

If Japan interests you, or if you just enjoy great photos, then you must see Andy Gray's photoblog. He has an excellent eye and offers keen commentary on life in this country. He mainly does street photography (what he calls "people related to their environments"), but there are also portraits, buildings, and shots of nature and temples.

After getting numerous requests, he recently began offering some of his photos for sale.

By the way, Andy doesn't mind people reposting his images as long as they do so appropriately.

Automate It

Just over a month ago, I started using a goal-tracking web site called Joe's Goals. It's great for keeping track of daily and weekly (but not long-term) goals. You pick as many goals as you want and check them off whenever you meet them. Who would have guessed that the prospect of an unbroken line of green checkmarks could be so motivating? You can add notes each day and even share goals and progress with others for more accountability. I use the notes feature a lot but as for sharing, I'll just do it here.

One of my goals is to read the Bible and pray every day. Another is doing push-ups and sit-ups. My routine every morning is to wake up, start the coffee, do calisthenics, and open my Bible. By the time I've read a few verses, the coffee is ready and I can complete my devotions with a double rush of exercise and caffeine. There hasn't been a blank day for these two goals in quite a while.

Another goal is to clean my desk every day. I don't have a set time to do that. The last time I checked off that goal was September 22 (although since then I have a note that says "almost" and one that says "pile is smaller.") I take care of very important matters or anything with a looming deadline, but papers that just need filing or a "someday" decision can float around for weeks.

So what have I learned from this? Looking back over the past month, I generally succeed in meeting the goals that are an automatic part of my day and pretty lousy with the things I can do any time. Now I just need to find more ways of making things automatic for myself without turning into too much of a robot.

Any ideas?

October 14, 2006

Battery Babel

Yesterday evening, we tried to get a talking alphabet game to work. It was old and the battery compartment showed signs of leakage and corrosion. As feared, even with new batteries, the game gave nothing more than an electronic whine.

Six-year-old T observed, "Dad, I think it doesn't work because we put Japanese batteries into the English game and they can't understand each other."