My Best Teaching Is One-on-One

一対一が僕のベスト

Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.

当然、先生方と共同レッスンも、特別レッスンの指導もします。

But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.

しかし、僕の一番意味あると思っている仕事は、講義が終わってから、
一対一と
個人的にその課題の勉強を応援することです。

It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.

まあ、コンピュータプログラムにすると、得意先の方に出来上がった製品を体験させるようなことと思います。
役に立たない製品はまだ製品になっていないと同様です。

Monday, July 30, 2018

Book Review -- Diving for Love by Jenny Flake Rabe

Yeah, it's a quirky title. Not exactly the worst choice for the title, and I'm not sure I could have chosen a better title, but it might make you expect it to be about pearl divers. 

Or about snuba divers.

Oh. Wait. It is about snuba divers.

Or about one part-time snuba diver guide, negotiating deep and dangerous waters of personal and social relationships during one summer of high school. And about her summer job helping her uncle with his snuba business.

You can read the official blurb on Amazon or Goodreads or, say, the Balanced Writer. My summary follows:

Mariana takes us on a tethered dive through a slice of her life that skirts ethnic issues and plows through moral and economic issues as she solves several mysteries in her life, the most important of which is why her best friend doesn't seem to want to be her boyfriend. Most important, that is, until her uncle's busines and her grandmother's house become targets of sabotage and her own life is endangered.

Now, Jenny never took any of my advice when she was writing it. (Well, just once.) And that's actually a good thing. If she had written the first two chapters my way, the story would have been over before it began. The other young lady would never have had a chance with the best friend, and neither would the mysterious other guy with Mariana. And that unscrupulous businessman would have been dead meat within a week of Mariana's arriving at her Grandmother's house and her uncle's snuba outfit, I'm pretty sure.

So we get to enjoy watching Mariana solve her mysteries and untangle that very important tangled relationship, with the help of her grandmother, uncle, uncle's girlfriend, mother, and others close to her. And of course with the help of her best friend. And Abuela's wonderful cooking.

Fun reading.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Sad Pictures

This is a kind of sad picture. This poor girl is tired.


I'll show you why.


She needs a boyfriend.
She also needs a better place to lay her eggs.

But we can't afford to get her either.

Really need to do something about this.
(A second tub filled with decently clean dirt
would at least help a little,
but hot days like today, not so much.
She needs some shade, too.)


Friday, June 1, 2018

Book Review: Spinning Silk by Taya Cook

I'm on the train recently, and I have the remarkable fortune of sitting across from a youngish woman who could make the cover of a leading fashion magazine.

Courtesy forbids that I describe her makeup and the style of her costume in too much detail for the same reasons I shouldn't just take a photo and post it without her permission. Perhaps I can say it reminds me of some of the older traditional Japanese styles. Or it makes my think of a mythical Jorogumo spider-woman. I wonder whether she is on her way to some cosplay event.

There are such writing prompts on the train every day, really. But I don't dare use them, at least not directly in my writing. Too much possibility of causing someone harm.

Common courtesy.

But this woman who was sitting across from me that day makes me think of characters from another novel I have recently had the privilege of reading at beta through the LDS Beta Readers group: Spinning Silk.

In Spinning Silk, Taya Cook creates a mashup of the oriental Tanabata/Qixi Festival myths of the cattle-herder and the weaver with the attractive and powerful shape-shifting Tsuchigumo and Jorogumo, whose creature forms are arachnid. What she produces should be considered a love story similar in substance to, and borrowing from the Tanabata myth.

As a child, Furi, the protagonist, is a member of the lower castes of a kingdom that looks like feudal Japan. Think parallel worlds or alternative realities.

Her life is cruel in the way we understand life in those lower castes was; she exists essentially as non-family chattel, spinning and weaving silk for her masters.  And what passes for her daily happiness is constantly subject to the whims of jealous members of the households in which she lives, until a deadly epidemic completely alters the patterns of her life.

Her work is beyond exceptional, and provides her with opportunities for impossible upward social mobility, ultimately into deadly contact with levels of society she never dared dream of.

Her mobility also brings her into contact with a mysterious young man of obscure and dubious origin, and this young man informs her of the truth of her own unbelievable heritage.

Gradually she develops deep feelings for the mysterious young man as she is brought into an intrigue to reform the shogunate from within, bring the military and imperial seats of power together, and bring a new era of peace unknown in the history of our world. And those feelings bring her into conflict with her role in the intrigue.

Equally gradually, she discovers a dark and deadly secret about herself, a secret which both enables her part in the intrigue and threatens the relationship she desires with the mysterious young man, repeating patterns of her own heritage.

Similarly to most fairy tales in their more primitive forms, Spinning Silk contains elements which may not really be appropriate for general audiences.

In her tale, Taya demonstrates typical consequences of a society in which power is accepted as the underlying principle of relationships between sentient beings. Her conclusion defies that acceptance, but the cost of that defiance turns out rather violent.

There is also a sexual element integral to the plot. Taya does not indulge in direct depictions of the sexual element, but she doesn't hide it. And her use of that element could be considered an implicit argument that sex has never been, and should not be considered, a safe form of recreation.

I don't believe in the moral-age-appropriateness rating system, so I won't say you should consider this a PG-13 work, but I do think you should not give it to younger teenagers without reading it first. And it may provide a springboard into discussion of important and meaningful matters, even for adults. Real literature can be difficult to read at points, and many readers will find parts of this story at least somewhat uncomfortable -- and, equally, thought-provoking.

Did I enjoy the book? Mostly.

For me, it hits a little close to home. But the pain I feel reading certain parts of it is evidence, rather, that she has captured something deep, real, and hard-to-capture about the culture.

Well worth reading.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Trademark "Spark", "Sparky", or "Sparky Clan" for SF Series Name

I am not a fan of intellectual property, either as a concept or an instance thereof.

I do recognize the need to protect yourself when you provide a service or product and someone else tries to use your good name to sell a poor imitation of the same.

That does not extend to titles of books. The existence of that kind of intellectual property would have the effect of forcing authors in our day to use nonsense words as short titles, because all the meaningful short titles would be used up -- and many reasonable longer ones would be used up, as well.

Just think. If I had an author ancestor who wrote a novel called Wind a hundred years ago and trademarked the name, and I inherited the trademark, I could keep you from writing a modern novel called Wind, and my ancestor might well have been able to prevent a certain well-known novel from being named Gone with the Wind.

Series of novels are a somewhat different matter, but I'm not sure they should be. At any rate, the courts currently accept that titling a series is more of a business practice with need for protection. Fortunately, the preexistence of the use of a word or phrase limits the reach of a trademark here, as well.

Now if I wrote a series of books about a family of inventors named "Sparky", perhaps I'd want to prevent other authors from pretending to write books in my series by trademarking the name for use with a series of books.

I would almost call that reasonable.

But here's the question:

Trademark "Spark", "Sparky", or "Sparky Clan"?

"Spark" and "Sparky" have prior use, and will have a lot of reasonable exceptions (prior use, literary, etc.) to my control. It will also tempt me to waste money and time in trying to enforce the trademark on things that I should leave alone.

"Sparky Clan", trademarked for use with a series of science fiction novels, would be pretty strong -- specifically because it is narrow. Judges and juries are much less likely to doubt my intent, in no small part because I'm going to be much less tempted to bring claims in bad faith.

Advice, if you're going to trademark the name of a series of novels or such:

Keep your trademark claims reasonably narrow.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Yet Another WIWDIIWTLWPI

This is yet another "What I would do if I won the lottery without playing it" post.

I don't play the lottery, but sometimes I daydream about what I would do if I were able to suddenly have a large amount of discetionary spending money -- millions of dollars worth.

Most of those daydreams have been about rebooting the computer/information industry with better information encoding schemes, better programming languages, better processors, better operating systems, better network protocols, etc.

Lately, my dreams have been a little less extravagant and a little more concrete.

Facebook has evolved, but it's still unstable. It works for a lot of social purposes, and a lot of marketing purposes, but lacks support for the sort of interactions authors helping each other need.

There are several authoring platforms available, but most tend toward rich text, meaning formatting.

When you're in working in the deep internals of a fiction, you don't want to be distracted by formatting. All you want to focus on is constructed of undecorated text -- typing text in, saving it in units of chapters and sections, reading what you've written, comparing what you have with what you had.

Raw text and version control.

Linux and BSD OSses provide raw text tools of various usability. Gedit is what I usually use, but friends tell me Geany is better. In a pinch, there is always vi (vim), and some prefer emacs. Lots of choices.

They also provide version control systems that work quite well with raw text. Git is popular now, and it's my current tool of choice.

Decorated text, by the way, gets in the way of version control. Someday I'll write a post in one of my programming blogs to explain why.

Someday I'll write the tools needed to wrap raw text with proper style definitions. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and HTML are not those tools, they just add more fragile layers of fragile decoration. I only hope I'll have the time to write those tools in this life.

In the meantime, text decorated with TEX or markdown gets close to the level of integration with version control that I would like.

So, if I had ten million or so dollars, I'd set up
  • a public repository like github.com or sourceforge.net or osdn.net, 
  • mashed up with social interaction functions like Facebook's -- or, more likely, slashdot.org, 
  • with a publishing platform like Wordpress or Blogger (but better).

And git being as it is, authors could keep local copies of all their versions on their own computer systems.

I'd integrate version control with the publishing platform so that authors and their critique groups would be able to select specific points in the rewrite process to read in context.

And, open source being what it is, authors would be able to replicate the publishing on their own computer systems.

Of course I'd set up domain name services so authors could have novels published as subdomains of their authoring domain name without too much fuss.

For instance, instead of
and such, they could be grouped as
  • book-review.joelrees.reiisi.net and
  • Marriage-of-Inconvenience.joelrees.reiisi.net 
  • Water-and-Earth.joelrees.reiisi.net
or something similar.

I'd set up an interface to the access control mechanisms to make it easy to give read/write and read-only access for specific works to the author's choice of critique groups, writers' communities, and ad-hoc groups.

And I'd include tools to help bundle up specific versions of a work in formats acceptable by the copyright offices of the various countries.

Daydreams.

Back to work. I need to finish six novels -- or is it seven, now? -- while teaching English and working other jobs to put food on the table. C'est la vie.

Beta Reading and Unpolished Gems

I've spent much of this past Golden Week vacation, more time than I could afford, really, beta reading for friends from the LDS Beta Readers writers' group.

One manuscript was a billionaire romance in early beta condition. It was very entertaining, and the story itself was rather well laid out. My primary suggestion was that I wished the pace had been slower. But slowing it down would require altering the premise significantly, potentially making it less interesting. Anyway, this author is experienced, and I am confident she will get this one on the market in good shape and good order.

Another was a tale of leprechauns, witches, dragons, and some other more exotic creatures, from a less established author. The tale was engaging and even somewhat instructive. It was significantly better than most of the fantasy that gets turned into published anime. I am procrastinating the feedback because I like the story and the execution, but I know I have to tell the author it's not very marketable as it is. I want the author to be able to bring this book to publication.

A third was a Regency period romance, a tale of innocent deception in the face of sibling rivalries that go too far. It is in a close-to-period vernacular, but the reader's modern vernacular shows through at distracting points. I like the story and the layout, but the execution gets in the way a little. And I am procrastinating this one, as well, although I think I know what to focus on, to encourage the author to finish.

I hope, eventually, to be able to post reviews of the published versions of these (and many others that I have beta-read since joining this group). They have great potential.

These are beta level, so execution issues (grammar, word choice, phrasing, some minor structure issues, etc.) are to be expected. This is always something of a quandary, because we have the instinct to offer editing services and opinions that the author has not requested, and that we cannot afford to give. And if we start offering unsolicited editing, it's easy to start trying to re-write.

But rewriting somebody else's work without permission is rather a breach of ettiquette and even a discourtesy. (Publishing such rewrites could even constitute a crime against copyright law, is how discourteous.)

Beta reading is a privilege with accompanying responsibility.

Now, if you understand the Japanese principle of wabi-sabi, you might understand my following comments on the privilege:

These are all unpolished gems. Very rarely do I get to do a beta read of a manuscript that does not need editing. Often, the various errors of execution make it difficult to get started into a story.

But once you get into the flow of the author's story, the rhythm of the author's voice, the story itself comes into focus, and finishing the manuscript is usually a pleasure.

Preparing a manuscript for market almost always requires "cleaning out" the rougher aspects of the author's modes of expression. Sometimes it requires cleaning out substantial parts of the author's vision for the story, and worse.

Editing a manuscript to make it marketable requires denaturing the story.

Think how it would be if all restaurant food were subjected to the same marketing processes as the McDonalds' menu.

Do I need to map this allegory? No? You do see it, right?

Sometimes, it almost breaks my heart to beta-read. Not because the writing is bad. I haven't yet seen a manuscript that is that bad, though I have seen some that need a lot of work.

Now editing can be done with light hand. Not all edited works are comparable to McDonalds' food. But market forces tend to motivate the heavier hand more often than not.

That means that, even if you do get a chance to read the novels I have beta read this week, you will not see the rough beauty I see. It will probably be polished and palatable -- easy to read. And it may have lost significant portions of the meaning that I enjoyed reading in them.

Sometimes, the difference I expect almost breaks my heart.

Do I recommend joining a beta readers group? It depends. They do require time -- and learning to read through rough writing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Two Book Reviews: The Witch's Reward and Beyond the Sands by Liz McCraine

Liz McCraine is another author I met in the LDS Beta Readers group on Face Book. She let me help beta read her novels The Witch's Reward and Beyond the Sands, from her Kingdom of Aggadorn series.

These are both medium light fantasy romances with some medium heavy and dark parts, no sex. Fun reads. As a sort of spoiler, the girl does get her guy in the end. But you knew that.

The Witch's Reward begins in a small kingdom patterned after medieval European kingdoms, in which magic is an operational principle, but it's practice is strictly forbidden to humans.

Lara, a farm girl whose mother was visited by a fairy before meeting a terrible fate has been raised by her grandmoher. When the men of the village go hunting, she takes her neighbor's young daughter Kiera out to gather berries.

Not unpredictably, they are attacked by a fearsome beast. But at the brink of death, Lara's unknown and innate gift from the fairies awakens and saves them, restoring both to life and health.

The villagers, duty bound, report Lara's magic to the authorities, and Lara, also duty bound, goes docile but captive to meet her fate. Her fate comes in the form of the Crown Prince and a small band of soldiers sent to escort her to the capitol for trial, and the novel tells how the Prince wins her trust and love and how she wins her freedom and her Prince.

In the process, hints of a terrible intrigue are uncovered, and an evil wizard is defeated.

The characters are likeable and fairly real, and it is with some regret that the reader leaves Kiera behind when Lara is taken away.

In Beyond the Sands, we get to mostly ignore Lara and her Prince, and follow a young adult Kiera in her own adventure.

Her adventure starts with tragedy when her father and her brother's best friend are killed by a pack of depraved formerly human kind of creatures. And we learn of Kiera's skill with the bow and her fearlessness as she dispatches these creatures in time to save her brother, if not her brother's leg.

Of course, she determines on her own to use her skill with the bow in finding where these creatures come from and put an end to the evil.

But the brother's best friend was also the best friend of a high-ranking warrior of an allied Kingdom, and this warrior, feeling guilt that he had let his friends go without him, perceives Kiera's intent at the funeral. Quite unilaterally, he determines that he must join forces with her in spite of their inauspicious first meeting.

The novel then tells of their forced partnership and their trek. Together, they gather information and make friends among the mountain villagers and help the mountain people defend themselves from the creatures while they learn to work together and defend each other.

Crossing the desert sands, they face severe tests in which they forge strong bonds and the ability to trust each other in battle. Their friendship and partnership is tested further in the enemy kingdom beyond the desert sands, as they resolve a significant part of the intrigue uncovered in The Witch's Reward.

And then, their first quest solved, as they return to their heros' welcome, they face the ultimate test of their friendship -- with a little help from Lara and her Prince.

Both novels stand on their own, but are even better together. I quite enjoyed them, and look forward to reading more in the series. (The Pirate and the Princess is already out.) I think many readers will enjoy them as well.