Thousands of Days

What would you do today if tomorrow was the first of thousands of days to come?

japan3

Travel to Japan, Part 3: Hiroshima

07/28/2011

Day 6

Today I re-packed everything into my suitcase, and left Osaka for Hiroshima. Along the way I stopped in Kobe, a small town to the west of Osaka, to meet my friend David. David is a developer who’s been doing contract work for a company in Australia, and is spending the summer in Japan to tour around with his wife, and be in the same time zone as his employer. We had lunch at the train station there (had beef, but I don’t think it was “kobe” quality) and caught up on what we’re each up to. Despite both living in DFW for the last couple of years, we haven’t seen each other very often. He’s in Japan through July, and then will be headed to Seattle if he gets into a startup incubator he’s applied to, or to San Francisco with me if he doesn’t. Where ever I go, it seems David is there!

After lunch I hopped back on the Shinkansen for Hiroshima. The trains here are both amazing and horribly frustrating. Different trains (bullet, regional, subways) are all run by different private companies as well as municipal trains, and they all require different tickets and different entrances, and the quality of signage (and english assistance) varies a lot between them. Google maps will route train connections for me, but it’s all in Japanese on google, and the characters don’t seem to match what’s in the stations. It’s probably a lot easier if you can read Japanese, and American public transport is probably just as confusing for people who don’t speak english (and even for those who do), but I’m still griping about it anyway. It’s easy to get lost, but I suppose that’s all part of the adventure. Lets just say there’s a lot of room for improvement in “usability” of these cities.

Arrived in Hiroshima, which looks much like the other parts of Japan I’ve seen, but less dense than Osaka. I can imagine someone actually owning a car and finding a place to park it here, though there’s an extensive street car and subway system for those who don’t partake. Unlike other big Japanese cities like Tokyo and Osaka, however, Hiroshima has had the “benefit” of being rebuilt from scratch just 50 years ago with proper city planning. So the streets are in a grid system (gasp!) and the transportation system seems less cobbled together as well.

After checking into my hotel I quickly headed back out to visit the Peace Park Memorial/Museum before it closed. When I was in 10th grade a few friends and I made a documentary film about Hiroshima and the first atomic bomb. It was always something I was interested in and have studied a lot, and our video took “best of state (Arkansas)” in the National History Day competition in DC. A lot of the imagery I saw in the museum I recognized as material we had used in our documentary.

It’s a pretty sobering place, and I was interested to get the Japanese perspective. Somewhat surprisingly, it was very similar to the American perspective. They freely admit that they started the war with the US with the surprise Pearl Harbor attack (I still haven’t seen an explanation for why they did that, unless it was just them being overly ambitious after taking over most of the Pacific). The only new bit of info I saw on why the US decided to use the atom bomb, which popped up several times in reading through all the panels, was that Truman felt like they needed to use the bomb to help justify the $2 billion spent on its development.

Soon after I arrived in the museum I was approached by a group of school children who asked me if I spoke english, and then asked me if I could answer some questions for their school. They hand me a little booklet with 5 or 6 english questions and a pencil. “Where are you from?” and “why did you visit hiroshima?” were the easy questions, “what do you think the effects of the atom bomb have been?” and “what steps do you think we can take to achieve a nuclear free peace in the world?” were essay questions, not 1-sentence answer questions! I commented about this to the kids, but it seems outside their rehearsed introductions, they understood very little english. I wrote some simple but thoughtful answers for them, gave them my email address, and let them take a picture with me. I thought that was kind of cool. Then 3 minutes later another group of kids came up to me. “Excuse me sir, do you speak english?” I tried to explain that another group beat them to it, but again, they didn’t understand anything outside the basics, so I just wrote down for them what I wrote down for the others, and took another picture. I guess they’re short on foreigners for their english assignments this summer. I hear tourism is down 75% after the earthquake and tsunami in hit back in March.

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japan2

Travel to Japan, Part 2: Osaka

07/20/2011

Day 2

Today I successfully managed to get from Narita, through Tokyo, and down to my hotel in Osaka. The train stations are a bit of a mess, and the quality of english communication went downhill quickly from the Airport station and Shinkansen (bullet train) to the local Osaka subway, where it’s almost non existent. The trains run on a very accurate schedule though, so you can almost identify the right train simply by the time it arrives, as it will be on time down to the minute.

The bullet train was a pretty cool experience. I’m not sure how fast it was going, there wasn’t a speedometer, but my guess would be at least 150mph (I clocked it with GPS later in my trip at 160mph). Everything just wizzed by, and with almost no noise at all. It’s surreal.

The only time I got a little lost was in Osaka trying to transfer from the Shinkansen to the local subway. It took me some time (and asking a couple of people who didn’t speak english) to figure out that I had to completely leave the Shinkansen part of the station to get to the subway, as they aren’t directly connected. Then the ticket buying process is different as well, you have to use these vending machines to add money to a ticket. So you aren’t buying a ticket to a station, but just putting yen on a ticket, and you have to figure out how much you need to get to the station you want. Fortunately someone saw that I was looking a bit lost and helped walk me through it. Now I kind of have the hang of it.

I decided to just walk the last kilometer to my hotel instead of trying to figure out the subway transfer again, which allowed me to experience the local weather properly for the first time. June is the rainy season here, and while it wasn’t raining, it is pretty close to 100% humidity, so a half mile walk left me pretty sweaty. Nobody else here seems to sweat, but I’m soaking by the time I get to my hotel.

I had plans to meet up with my friend from college, Ash, to go to a birthday party that afternoon, so I just dropped my bag in the room and turned around to go meet him (more subway fun!). We head out to this little hole in the wall bar where a friend of his from Houston is having a birthday party with local Japanese friends. It was “college tail gate” themed, so we all wore shirts from our universities. In preparation, I had a couple of SFA shirts overnighted from Nacogdoches right before I left.

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japan1

Travel to Japan, Part 1: Getting there.

07/14/2011

I recently spent two weeks wandering around Japan, visiting a friend in Osaka, and then taking trains around the country to see Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo. It was quite an adventure for two reasons – first because I don’t speak or read any Japanese, and most Japanese don’t speak much English, and second because I don’t eat seafood, and the Japanese do. A lot of it in fact. More on that later though. Here begins part one of the journey – getting there. Please note I wrote a lot of this while in Japan (usually on a train) in a ‘letter back home’ format, and decided I’d simply repurpose a lot of it for a travel log.

The journey here was long and arduous. Many great men were lost along the way. It turns out that getting to the airport 2 hours before your flight doesn’t really do you any good if nobody is working the check in counter at the airport. DFW is a cold and lonely place at 3am.

The flight to Toronto was mostly uneventful. I was seated next to a man who didn’t say anything until we landed, and then was complaining about Air Canada. He reminded me of Creed from The Office. The Canadians are a strange people. Hopefully we never have them as an enemy, because they seem able to move among us undetected. Turns out that South Park’s portrait of them with flapping heads that disconnect entirely at the jaw is not accurate.

The flight to Tokyo was delayed an hour or so on top of the 4 hour layover, so I got to know every square foot (or “meter”) of Toronto’s Pearson International terminal. I sampled some of the local cuisine, a “hamburger” with “fries.” I think they avoid calling them “french fries” so as not to offend the Quebecois, or maybe it’s just implied in the bilingual menu. Read More

sanfrancisco

Burning a trail to San Francisco

07/13/2011

Back in May I wrote a post about ‘jumping in the water‘ when it comes to opportunities in life. At the time I was on my way to San Francisco to evaluate it as a potential place to move myself and my startup company. When I arrived it was sunny and 65 degrees, and right away I met a bunch of people in the tech scene. It didn’t take me long to conclude that it was the right place to be.

So pretty soon after I returned I put in my 60 day notice to break my lease in Dallas, and booked another flight out for the first week of July, right after I got back from Japan, to go find a new home. Turns out I was there a bit early to book a place, but I know exactly where I want to be, and I found a cool room mate to split the costs with. So next month, I’m headed west to Californy.

If you’re like most people I’ve talked to about this, and you aren’t currently living in California or New York, you’re probably thinking about how expensive it is to live in San Francisco. That’s probably the first comment out of the mouth of 80% of the people I’ve talked to in Dallas. We’re very spoiled to a low cost of living here in Dallas though, and we’re spoiled to all the stuff we can afford to fill our oversized houses with.

The reality is that we can live with a lot less, and millions of people do so very successfully. Yes, it will cost me more to share an apartment with a room mate in SF than it currently costs me to have a 2 bedroom high rise apartment in Dallas all to myself. Yes it will cost more to keep a car. There are certainly trade offs. On the other side of the equation though, the weather is far superior, the public transportation is far superior (don’t really need a car), the scenery is far superior, and, for me at least, the business climate is far superior. In short, the opportunity benefit is worth the cost.

For some people it may not be worth it. It’s difficult if you have a family and kids in school, for example. And anyone who cares about what people think of their car, or whose measure of success is how big their house is and how much stuff they can fit in it, is probably going to balk at San Francisco, compared to a place like Dallas. A confession: I used to be one of those people. But the risk is that the attachment to all those things hold us back from opportunities elsewhere. Personally, I’m on a bit of an arson spree with things that are holding me back.

My current plan is to simply sell most everything I can in Dallas and drive to San Francisco taking only what will fit in my station wagon. And depending on how successful I am at reducing the ‘stuff’, maybe a small trailer. I want to shrink my 2 bedroom apartment of stuff down to something that will fit in a closet, and just buy what I need when I get to SF. It’ll be another fresh start just one year after my last fresh start. If this trend continues, I might be getting a fresh start in a box under a bridge next year!

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Microbrew Road Trip Around America

05/28/2011

Sometime back in January or February, a buddy of mine (Eric) posted to Facebook that he wanted to go to Chicago at the end of April to see two of his favorite bands, The National and The Arcade Fire, play at UIC Pavilion. He just turned 30, and is moving from Dallas to Denver, and looking for a final hurrah. Then he asked if anyone else was interested in going. They aren’t my favorite bands, but I like them alright, and I was thinking a road trip might be fun, so I volunteered. I hadn’t been to Chicago since I was a fetus, so why not?

So that’s where it started – just a simple drive up to Chicago and back. But over the next few months it sort of snow-balled. Eric’s family is in Ohio, so we planned to visit them for Easter, and then over to Chicago for the concert Monday night. I was playing around with potential routes on google maps, and figured we could hit 9 states by going up one way and back another, and I thought it’d be cool to do something in each state. We’re both craft beer fans, so I suggested we find a micro-brewery in each state and sample the local beers along the way (in a responsible manner of course!). For Kentucky, we both agreed we would have to do bourbon instead, but we had a general theme. Eric works for Starbucks and is a bit of a coffee junkie, so we hit a few local coffee places along the way as well.

Beer and coffee and concerts – sounds like a plan, right? So here’s a quick log of our 7 day, 2500 mile trip!

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learntoswim

If you’re going to learn to swim, you just have to jump in the water.

05/17/2011

The title of this post comes from my absolute favorite movie growing up, Flight of the Navigator. I watched it all the time, and at one point could probably recite the entire hour and a half of dialog from memory. These days, I still remember many bits and pieces, one of which was the advice the main character’s father gave to him in reference to talking to girls. I found the clip on youtube (skip to 5:30):

For some reason that has always stuck with me. Not so much as motivation to talk to women, though it’s helpful there, but just for life in general. If you want to do something, go do it. If you want to learn something, dive in. Don’t just stick your toes in to test the water, but jump into the deep end.

Thinking about starting a new business? Want to learn guitar? Want to lose 20 pounds? Want to ask out that cute girl (or guy!)? You just have to jump in the water.

Next month I’m headed to Japan for a couple of weeks, alone. Have I ever been to Japan? No. Do I speak the language? No. Traveled internationally alone before? No. I could let those things keep me from going, or I could just jump in the water and see what happens. Hopefully I can find some teenagers who speak english, and there won’t be a nuclear meltdown emergency, but either way I figure it’ll be an adventure.

Right now I’m on a plane heading to San Francisco. Why, you ask? Well, I have a startup company I’m trying to get off the ground, and there’s not much of a runway in Dallas. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are the meccas for the type of business I’m building, so instead of researching it on the internet I bought a plane ticket to go see for myself. It’s been pointed out to me that being single without children I should consider just moving there. It’s a valid point, so I’m taking a look.

It can always be a mistake to over-analyze things, to stay close to home, or to fear failure. I don’t recommend leaping before looking, but so long as there’s water in the pool (and there usually is), sometimes you have to stop watching and start jumping. You’ll either be glad you did, or always wonder what you missed.

losing my religion

Losing my religion

05/12/2011

This is a bit of a touchy subject to write about, but its been coming up a lot lately, so I figure the time is right. One of my ‘big quits‘ last year was leaving the Christian faith, which has many people I know concerned about me. This is a rather lengthy subject with a hundred different points floating around my head, but I’ve attempted to condense my reasoning to the basics here.

Until last year, I had always considered myself a believer; I grew up in the church, I was confirmed, I was baptized, I went to youth group, I went to a Christian summer camp, I went on missions, attended bible studies, and I married a good Christian girl. I knew my way around the bible, I knew the songs in the hymnals, I knew all the apologetics to defend the faith (and often did). I did everything a good Christian boy was supposed to, and didn’t do the things I wasn’t supposed to.

While I regularly attended church and did all the good things I was supposed to, I don’t think I was ever enthusiastic about it. If there was any reason to stay home from church, I’d usually take it. I would sing along with the songs, and I would pay attention to the sermon, but I was glad when it was over and I could change into more comfortable clothes. Looking back, I think I always had a bit of a nagging feeling that something wasn’t adding up.

A foundation of sand.

The crux of the problem for me is the circular logic Christians use to defend the authority of the bible, which is the foundation of the whole faith. How do we know the bible is the word of god, and true? Because the bible says it is:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The problem is that by the same logic, I can claim that this blog is God-breathed. How do you know? Because it says so.

Any serious biblical scholar would have to concede that much of the content is not timeless, but skewed and bias toward the culture and time in which it was written. It’s why the Old Testament is so different from the New. It’s why we eat pork, and don’t relocate menstruating women outside the city. It’s why every year a new translation comes out trying to make the text more “relevant” to the modern Christian life. I’ve also thought it was a bit weird that Jesus, supposedly God in human form, didn’t write any part of the New Testament, but it consists almost entirely of letters from Paul and other early church leaders, and the accounts of Jesus are mostly hearsay. God had a pretty obvious opportunity there to literally do some of the writing himself. Read More

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The Hazards of Online Love

04/18/2011

Online dating is serious business these days. It’s the #11 fastest growing industry, and is worth over $1 billion a year; more than porn. No surprise then that it’s pretty popular, and often the go-to method to meet new people for most singles. While it used to be a bit of a taboo to be on these sites, a 26 year old woman told me today she felt like bars and clubs had a bigger negative stigma today, and that she had no problem admitting to using it. Can’t say I disagree.

If you know my history it’s probably no surprise that I’ve entered this world in the last year as well. I don’t have time to invest a lot into it and be a professional dater, as it can easily consume hours keeping up with messages, not to mention the resulting dates. I commented to a friend recently that the daily matches were almost a hassle – every day I get another list of people to reject.

I do find it a valuable tool for modern courtship, however. I don’t like to waste time with people who aren’t a good fit, so anything that can at least run a basic pre-qualification filter is a good thing. My experience is that I’m still uninterested in 95% of those who pass that filter, so it could use some improvement, but at least it’s something. While I’ve met some cool people at bars and parties and such, I don’t really go to those places looking for someone, because there’s little to go on other than someone’s looks, which isn’t the most important quality to me. I don’t care how hot a woman is, if she spends all of her time manicuring her body but not her mind, I’m not interested. I’ve been surprised, but it’s not much of a lead qualifier.

There are some trends I see in the online dating world that are interesting though. For example, practically every woman is really into sports! Who knew? They also work out constantly, and are really into eating healthy, though you wouldn’t have guessed from their photos. And you’d be amazed how old a ’28 year old’ can look. Read More

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