June 30, 2008
Paying the Tax Man, and stuff around townnew Setagaya Museum of Art exhibit on architecture by Osamu Ishiyama.) A few weeks ago I got a big, fat letter from Setagaya county. I knew that they wanted money from me, and specifically money for having the honor of living in their ward. I wasn't in any rush to open it. I wonder if I had just refused to open, like the White House, if it would all just go away. Probably not. So I finally opened it over the weekend, and found out that I had to pay up on Monday. Monday was actually the last day that I could pay the first installment of the tax (although I've paid other installments a bit late, and they have been very kind about it) so I deviated from my standard schedule. Usually I'm out of the house by 7:30am, but today I needed to go to the bank, get some money, go to the post office to mail some stuff, and then go to the ward office to pay the tax bill. I went to my local bank, and was amazed. I have never seen more than two people in that bank ever. There must have been twenty people in line for the ATM machines. I believe that you can register with the ward office to pay the tax bill using the bank system, but I'm not really too sure about that. If I'm going to pay a bunch of money, I like to go down and talk to people, especially because then I can ask questions. That's a lot easier than making sense of tax documents written in Japanese. I still needed to get money out though, so I got hit by the last minute rush. (Nobody was at the actual ward office tax payment division though - that was super quick. Much quicker than waiting for the ATMs.) After pulling out some money, I walked by a local shop that makes tatami mats. I've seen that place once or twice before, but generally they are never open when I am around. I had a camera handy and asked if I could take a picture. It would have been nice to hang around and get some shots of them working on those mats by hand, but I had to get going to get my taxes paid and get to work. It really is pretty amazing though: they do all that weaving and finishing by hand. It looks really tedious. Finally, I also found another interesting candy bar at the local convenience store. Meiji Salty Pralines Chocolate. It is pretty good! I just barely taste the salt, and I really liked the pralines a lot. There are a few more salt and chocolate items that I saw, so maybe I'll pick a few more of them up.
June 28, 2008
Conference HoneymoonAfter L. and I got married, we took a trip to Morocco for our honeymonn. Actually, I had made a committment a long time before to attend the 2008 LREC Conference in Marrakech, Morocco, so we went together as a kind of honeymoon. It was the best honeymoon conference ever. Read more for notes from the trip, and a few pictures. read more (8661 words)
June 21, 2008
Second Apartment ViewingToday I went with L. for the second apartment viewing. On the first viewing we filled out a form with 10 issues we found in the apartment. The majority of them were small bumps in the wall, or a few were areas where there were imperfections in how the finishing on the doors, or how the doors close. They addressed all of the issues, and we pointed out a few more new ones that we found, but generally things are looking good at the apartment.
We were presented with one major change though: in the living room where the pipe from the air conditioner blower unit to the compressor was supposed to be, it turns out that they could not put the compressor where the initial plans indicated they would be. Instead, the compressor had to be moved to the other side of the room, so the exit pipes were changed to the other side. This is a problem because we plan to have custom built shelving put where there is now an exit pipe, and two access panels for the air conditioning unit. In the end the company that does the custom furniture was able to work around the constraints, but it is kind of annoying.
After the second walk-through we went down and spent a while with the custom furniture people working on the wall cabinetry. I'm very happy with it, and excited to see what it will look like when it is done. I can't believe how much it costs, but I'm sure it will be worth it. (For that matter, I can't believe how much the drapes cost either!)
We also had a chance to check out the common facilities at the apartment: the exercise room (looks pretty nice), the two guest rooms (Japanese style and Western style, look very nice), and the library (three study carrels which look very cool - net connections and everything.)
When we finally finished up everything, L., her parents, and myself all went out for an excellent sushi dinner.
June 15, 2008
The NHK Man pays a visitFriday evening I came home from work to a hot apartment: it was raining all day so I had left the windows closed. When I do that my apartment warms up pretty quickly, mostly due to the refrigerator and computer I suppose.
I put some rice on for dinner and opened up the windows but it was still pretty hot. Since I absolutely never have any visitors, I stripped down to my shorts and tried to cool off using the fan.
Sometime around 8pm or so, the doorbell rings. This is very unusual. Nobody ever comes to my place unless I'm expecting a friend or a delivery. Since neither were on the schedule, I assumed it was just some sort of salesperson. I probably should have thrown on a T-shirt and pants, but I figured I could get rid of him fairly quickly, and if he wants to bother me right before dinner he can put up with a shirtless foreigner for the time it takes for me to get rid of him.
When I opened the door, I was surprised that the person there was a NHK representative. I had previously had one visit from the NHK guys. NHK is the Japanese national broadcasting service, like the BBC. They are supported by the government and officially people who have TVs are supposed to pay a licensing fee. I don't have a TV, but I do have a computer monitor that has an internal analog TV tuner, and since I was watching NHK News at the time, I felt like I should pay up. I didn't pay last year when the guy came around, but since then I've been watching a lot of NHK news in the morning and evening (it is good practice) so I really felt like I should pay. So I did. It was about $30 for two months worth of the broadcast fee.
I'm planning to move at the end of next month, so I don't think I'll be paying further licensing fees, but I'm glad I did pay at least once.
Also, some foreigners on the expat blog community have warned of scams where someone pretends to be the NHK guy for collecting licenses so some foreigners are wary of paying. This guy was the real deal though, and I've got some nice official paperwork backing things up.
Still, I wonder what the NHK guy was thinking the whole time, talking to a foreigner in his shorts the whole time. I wonder if I just started some other strange stereotype about Americans for him. :)
June 14, 2008
Saturday morning alarmI was looking forward to getting a bit of extra sleep on Saturday night, but at about 8:45am this morning, there was a pretty big earthquake north of Tokyo (centered on Iwate, a low level 6 on the Japanese scale) which caused shaking down near Tokyo. It was very minor, not strong enough to move anything off my shelves or bookcases, but enough to convince me to get out of bed.
Everything is fine for me, although it was pretty strong farther up north, so I'm watching TV (NHK, I'll have a post about that shortly) to see if there were any injuries or damage caused near the center of the earthquake.
June 11, 2008
Notes from Marriage WeekAs always I am a bit behind posting news to my blog. Sorry about that. If you couldn't tell from my previous entries, I married my girlfriend L. three weeks ago. We didn't have a wedding ceremony, but plan to have one next year in May. My family came to Japan to meet with L.'s family, which was totally great. If you are interested, I've written up the events of the week. read more (3260 words)
June 9, 2008
Busy busy busyI'm back in Japan - got back in just about a week ago. I've been really busy catching up on stuff, and very soon I plan to post an entry about my "wedding week". Next up is a post on the trip to Morocco for a conference / combined Honeymoon. In short: Wedding Week was awesome, got to see my family and my amazingly beautiful wife. The honeymoon was also great, with two "surprise" trips to Casablanca and Milan. More on that later.
For now, I just wanted to say that I am busy, tired, and now sore. I went running this morning with my friend Sebastian, a marathon runner. I haven't run for three months, so I'm out of shape. Horribly, horribly, out of shape.
May 25, 2008
One picture - Traditional Japanese Kimono and Hakama
May 17, 2008
The Future of NewsI do research on automatic opinion identification, and one thing that is really interesting to the community right now is analyzing blog data. Most of the available tagged resources are over newspaper data or movie reviews or other kinds of collectable TEXT - user star rating type things (restaurant reviews, product reviews, etc.)
The community is very interested in moving to blog data, where ostensibly there would be more and varied opinions available to analyze, but there isn't too much data available for that yet. (But see the TREC Blog track work where there is an opinionated blog search task.)
All this interest in blogs and user generated media seems to have had an impact on "traditional" print media. Recently, there was a workshop on the Future of News. It was held at Princeton University, near my old stomping grounds. It would have been nice to go, but thanks to the (news-media destroying!) blogs, I've been able to at least get a brief impression of what was discussed.
Matthew Hurst's great Data Mining blog has two posts with pointers to some summaries from the workshop. Fun stuff.
I'm firmly of the opinion that traditional news media will be around for a long time. Blogs do have some role to play in modern news dissemination, but not a large enough role to displace focused organizations that can fund people to do research and have a vested interest in vetting information. It isn't clear to me that the newswires do as much of this as they should, but the traditional media certainly will play a role in choosing what news to elevate to the national level.
At some point, most blogs are really locally focused, and I don't see how any of the personally-run small sites (like, say, my blog) could ever hope to break interesting news more than once in a lifetime. Also, I like writing about what I ate for dinner. That isn't news. :)
May 15, 2008
Licensed to drive: Making Japanese streets more dangerous
- A valid Driver's License from a reputable country
- A translation of the Driver's License
- At least for me, I needed a certified copy of my driving record from the Texas DMV because the driver's license does not have a date of issue field on it. I also needed a translation of that.
- Your passport
May 11, 2008
Updates around Jiyugaokaother unlikely food combinations that I've come across before. (Although, on that note I did have a Spicy Wiener Doughnut this morning. It sounds like it wouldn't be very good, but it actually was quite nice. The hot dog was great, and a bit spicy, with the same kind of sweet fried exterior that you would find on the misleading Curry Bread that pretend to be sweet jelly-filled doughnuts, but totally are not.) Back on topic with the New York Doughnut Plant, I was really excited to check it out but it is closed! They are remodeling and will be until sometime in September! I'll have moved away from my beloved Jiyugaoka by then! Oh noes! No doughnuts for me. Next up on the docket are the new express trains on the Oimachi line. I often take the Oimachi line from Oyamadai (my beloved small town where I live) to Jiyugaoka (the nearby "big" station) where I can transfer to the more respectable Toyoko line. I take it every day to go to work. The Oimachi line is pretty small, only 10km from end to end. If the weather is nice, I'll just walk. I live very close to the tracks, basically separated only by a narrow road, so I hear the trains go by all the time. One thing that really surprised me is that these new express trains are much less noisy than the local trains. They look pretty cool too. I'm going to miss the noise of trains going by every ten minutes or so. After about two years, it is strange how comforting the noise has become. I know that if I haven't heard trains go by in a while, I really need to get to bed. And they give you a good incentive to wake up when you really should be awake. Finally, one shot of the Cherry Blossoms in Jiyugaoka. I made it through the whole cherry blossom season without posting any photos (I do have a bunch that I could upload, but it seems very clichéd.) I kind of like the cherry blossom trees that line the Jiyugaoka shopping street.
Mabo Tofu: Cheap and easy food
May 9, 2008
More earthquakes in JapanSo I'm a bit late on this -- I meant to write something last night, but never got around to it -- but there was a medium-sized earthquake two nights ago (Wednesday night.) Actually, it was early Thursday morning, at about 1:45am. I was in bed, somewhat asleep, when my dreams started to become strange and wave-like. The entire bed was swaying. There have been a few small earthquakes in the two years that I've been in Tokyo, but this was one of the bigger ones. In my strange dream-like logic, I thought "Should I wake up and run outside?" I convinced myself that the rocking, wavelike motion was kind of pleasant, and somehow thought that I was a on a nice boat.
I feel back deep asleep again shortly.
It was apparently a fairly big earthquake - showing up on the the local blogs.
Checking some of the earthquake report sites it looks like it was a 6.8 on the US scale, and a 4 or 5 on the Japanese scale.
Anyway, things were fine in my place. I think a pen rolled off one of my tables, but that was about it. I'm up on the 4th floor of a 4-story concrete "mansion", and that thing really gets swaying!
I'm a little worried now thinking about "the big one". Benkei is convinced that the big one is coming and will hit Tokyo soon. A friend of mine at work said the same thing. I'm not so sure: I don't really know much about how earthquakes work. Since I'm in the process of buying a place here though, I've decided that the big one is not coming, and our new place will be built to withstand it even if it does hit.
Unbridled optimism is a great power if only you can harness it correctly!
May 6, 2008
How I spent my summer vacationThis week was "Golden Week", a sequence of usually 4 days off at the start of May. This is one of the big holidays in Japan, and people usually have big plans for the break, including overseas travel and the like. The gas prices always seem to go up a bit before Golden Week, and miraculously return to normal a few days afterwards. This year, things are even crazier because of the reinstatement of the lapsed "temporary gas tax" (temporary since 1954! - well, 1974 for the actual temporary part, but there have been gas taxes in effect since 1954.), which are about 50 yen a liter.
I don't really want to write about that - it was reinstated in a recent push by the upper house that overrode the lower house and probably angered a lot of people - but just wanted to quickly jot down the things I've been doing on my "vacation".
I wanted to get some work done over the four day break. Usually the holidays are four weekdays, but timing is particularly bad this year, and two of the holidays fell on the weekend, so we only got Monday and Tuesday off. I brought my work laptop home so I could do some programming, but as often happens high hopes clashed with reality and I didn't get as much done as I wanted.
On Saturday I slept in, and did some needed cleaning around the apartment. I watching some TV, and started looking at my email backlog (that always takes longer than expected.) I have family coming to visit soon and spent some time planning for that, and then in the evening decided that I would take advantage of the holiday and play a game. Quite a while ago I bought Galactic Civilizations 2, a space war and conquest game. It is really cool, and I was totally obsessed with it for a while. Because I'm the obsessive type, I just drop things cold-turkey when I think they are taking up too much of my time. I think by the time I realized what had happened, it was 6am on Sunday morning, and I had wasted about 14 hours in a blink.
So I've put that away again, and won't go back until I can learn to set a timer or something.
I woke up Sunday afternoon, went down to the local cafe for lunch, and read a bit more of "Kafka By the Sea", the Murakami Haruki novel I've been working on for over a year now. I'm about a quarter of the way into the second book and it is really getting interesting. I wish I had more time to devote to reading in Japanese - it is a great way to study, and lots of fun - but it seems hard to take the time. (I say, as I blog.)
Back at home I spent a few hours reading up on the FrameNet project, which I'm using in some research. The framenet book is pretty large, but does not cover the xml file format and all that stuff. Since the data files are pretty large, it is a daunting task to dive in and start using them right away. I'm very surprised that there are not more well-developed interfaces to accessing FrameNet in Java - there are two that are kind of old, and don't look very well adopted, unlike the state of affairs for WordNet, which has many Java interfaces.
On Sunday night I went out and met a friend for dinner, which was lots of fun. I've been cooking at home a lot lately and it is really nice to eat something that I didn't make myself. I have started making lots of Mabo tofu lately, which is pretty good and very easy to make.
Monday I spent some time doing work email, and a bit of programming (getting a feature set developed for a CRF learning system) and in the evening I went to my finaceé's parent's place for dinner. Unfortunately, L. was sick, and holed up in bed. Still, dinner with the in-laws was nice (more food I didn't cook!) and I helped L.'s dad set up his email on a new computer.
Today I've spent the day working with a FrameNet semantic labeler from the NLP group at Lunds University. It looks really great, because it will save me the trouble of having to build a learning system to map from syntactic dependencies to semantic roles. Since that is a pretty tough project in itself, I wouldn't be able to do it justice because really I just want to use a bit of the semantic information in FrameNet for sentiment analysis.
As vacations go, it was nice because I spent maybe two days goofing off, and then a bit of time working but in a more relaxed environment than usual.
Unusual things that happened while walking around Oyamadai: another new restaurant opened up. I'm amazed at how quickly they tear down and construct new buildings around here. For the first time since I've been here, I received a benefit for having signed up for the local supermarket's "rewards card" thing. They gave me a coupon for 500 yen off. Not bad. That's almost a pint of Hagen Daaz ice cream here. (Or two gallons of Blue Bell back in Dallas.)
While I was dozing off in the afternoon, I heard something strange out my window: English! I poked my head out and it looks like another foreigner is moving in nearby. Neat.
April 23, 2008
The Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese and Japanese Blog DataToday I went to a brief introduction talk about the plans to release a corpus of Japanese blog data for research use. The presentation was at the National Institute of Informatics, with a panel of Professor Toukura and Professor Oyama from NII, MAEKAWA Kikuo from The National Institute for Japanese Language, and a representative from Yahoo! Japan's blog division (I didn't catch his name, sorry.)
There were a lot of people there, about 30 or so all told. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce the plans to make a corpus of Japanese blog data available for research use. The presentation wasn't too detailed about what exactly will be released, but the current plan is to make the data available to researchers in July of 2008. The data consists of post entries from the Yahoo! Blog service where the users have agreed to allow their data to be collected and used in such a manner. The post comments are not included in the data, and the corpus will possibly have things like proper nouns anonymized and other things done to protect the privacy of the people in the data. It is really nice to see people thinking about putting together this kind of data for research use. I haven't found a URL for the project or I would post that - the contact section of the handout says to email Professors Toukura, Professor Oyama, or Mr. Maekawa, but I suspect there will be information on the main NII homepage about the data release when the time comes.
In addition, Mr. MAEKAWA spoke a bit about the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese, which looks very interesting. The project to build the corpus runs from 2006 to 2010, so they are only about two years into the project right now, but it is looking to be something like a Brown corpus for Japanese. It contains three sub-corpora, published material from 2001~2005 (magazines, newspapers, and books) and material from 1986 - 2005 from library sources (books mostly it looks like), and a mixed domain sub-corpus with web data, white papers, text books, records from Diet meetings, best seller novels, and so on.
This post isn't really all that content bearing, but there was only very useful resource that Mr. MAEKAWA mentioned in his talk: the demo of the KOTONOHA Corpus of Modern Japanese Search system (actual entrance is on a button click from the description page.) This is exactly what Alex was asking about in one of his posts: a Japanese KWIC (Key Word In Context) search.
I don't know how long that demo will be available, but it is totally great for language learners or generally people who don't know colloquial usage. I tried poking around at it a bit, putting in a few terms but didn't come up with anything too interesting. I liked めんど as a search term because there were lots of hits, some showing it used more as めんどう and others the shorter めんど, often with a くさい not too far behind...
Anyway, that demo search could be a useful tool for non-native Japanese speakers. I'll add it to my toolkit of places to check when I'm mystified.
Now if only someone would make a Geinojin info site that would tell me *why* that person is famous and should be a guest on some panel, that would be great. (I currently use Wikipedia for that, but I would be happier with something that just says X: comedian, Y: famous lawyer, etc.)
April 16, 2008
First impressions of OSX 10.5 Leopard and Time CapsuleA while ago I bought a 500GB Time Capsule and Leopard at work to use as a backup solution. It took me a while to find the time, but I had a lot of papers to read recently so I installed Leopard and set up the Time Capsule while reading the papers.
First off, I'm really impressed with Time Capsule. It costs only a bit more than an external hard drive, but had a Gigabit Ethernet 3-port switch and 802.11n wireless. It feels very solid, is small, and is very, very quiet. I have an external IO Data 500GB hard drive right next to the Time Capsule, and it just drowns it out. Even after turning off that drive, I had a hard time hearing the Time Capsule. I'm really shocked at how quiet it is.
Setting the Time Capsule up was really simple, Zero Conf is just great for getting things on a network and making it easy to find them. Since we've got wireless at work I turned off the wireless interface, and just used it to extend the wired connection I already had. Once I set up Leopard on my machine, I started the Time Machine backup, and I have to say again that I am really impressed with how quiet the drive is: I had to listen pretty hard to hear the write noise. I was using ethernet plugged into the Time Capsule for the backup, so I was surprised that I was only getting about 10 MB/sec (sometimes up to 12) to the drive, which surprised me. The Gig-E connection should be able to support 125 MB/sec. Well, not really of course, but 10 MB/sec is an order of magnitude less than I expected!
Interestingly, the 802.11n interface should typically get (according to Wikipedia, so who knows if this is true) about 9.25 MB/sec, or about what I was seeing with the ethernet connection! Wow. Now I want to get one of those Time Capsules at home...
I'm very, very impressed with Time Machine. I haven't played with going back in time for the recovery stuff yet, but it looks like it will be great. I had been using an rsync-based backup solution that would use hard links to not duplicate files that have changed, but there are some problems with that solution. It works very nicely, but every four hours I run the backup script, and for about ten minutes the hard disk thrashes madly as rsync runs down the file tree looking for new files. I had it in a cron job, and nice'd the process so the machine is still totally usable, but there is a noticeable drop in performance, and sometimes you get the dreaded beach-ball while it thinks about file operations.
Time Machine uses a very similar approach, but Apple does some other magic that lets them link directories (not possible with standard Unix tricks as far as I know) and more importantly uses a DBUS-style notification system that tracks file operations, and keeps a list of things that have changed since the last backup. It doesn't have to check the whole file system for changes, it just has a list of things that have changed. The backup is impressively fast. I'm really impressed with how easy it all comes together: this is a consumer solution. There are no real drawbacks: the backup is so fast you wouldn't notice it happening (after the initial full backup) and the drive is so quiet that you can just forget it.
That's all I have to say about that. There are some other things about Leopard that I've noticed that I like:
- The "Spotlight" window is now a real finder window and you can use exposé to find it. In Tiger if you are in finder and do a "show application windows" the Spotlight window does not exist!
- Spotlight is a bit faster now for launching applications, which I use all the time.
- I like the coverflow view for windows much more than I expected. Being able to see large views of PDFs makes it really nice to look for a paper. It also helps recognizing Word and Excel documents quickly much more than I expected it would.
- They fixed the annoying "yellow cursor bug" in the X11 server. Yay!
Here are some annoyances:
- Mail.app again defaults to sending Japanese email in UTF-8. Generally, I think this is a good idea, but for some reason if email isn't in ISO-2022-JP for Japanese a lot of mail clients turn it into gibberish (mojibake). What really surprised me is that this happened with someone on Windows Vista - I don't know what client he uses, but if you are on Vista shouldn't your email client be able to read the headers and use UTF-8? Most mobile phones can only accept ISO-2022-JP, but I would think big computers could deal with it fine. By the way, to set the default encoding for Mail.app, you can enter "defaults write com.apple.mail NSPreferredMailCharset "ISO-2022-JP"" in a Terminal window. I vaguely remember having to do something like this on Tiger as well.
- I don't know if they fixed this, but at one point after a recent Security update in Tiger, all text pasted into Mail.app lost carriage returns. It was awful. There are ways to work around it (paste into Text Edit first, make rich text, paste into Mail.app, then make it plain text again) and so on, but that is annoying. I'm sure I'll notice this pretty quickly because I'm always pasting text into email. But I haven't noticed it yet. (I hope it is fixed.)
April 15, 2008
Just try not to get sickAs of April 1st due to some law changes in Japan many people are changing to a new health insurance plan. I'm also switching plans, either because the type of employment I have has changed, or because of the health change laws - I don't really know. I saw a story on the news about some people who are in a situation where their old health insurance cards are not valid, but their new cards have not come yet.
I'm currently in that situation. I went to the HR department the other day for something unrelated to health insurance, and while I was there I had a conversation about my health insurance. My new card hasn't come yet, but they want me to turn in my old card.
I asked them what I should do in case I got sick. They said "Well, tell them that you are waiting for your new card." It wasn't clear what would happen at that point there.
So in the end: just try really hard not to get sick. I hope that new card comes soon!
April 14, 2008
Good News, Everyone!I've been neglecting this blog a bit lately. I've been a bit worried about the personal / public boundaries a bit, but one of the reasons I have a blog (besides the fun part of playing around with blog software on my personal server) is to keep friends and family up to date with that is going on in my life.
So I would be remiss if I didn't write about one of the biggest events in my life to date: two weeks ago, I proposed to my girlfriend, Lisa. I met her almost two years ago (we met at the We Are Scientists concert in Shibuya on May 12th, 2006) and we've been dating for about a year and a half. I won't go into detail here (that whole public / private thing) but Lisa accepted, and we will be getting married!
This year seems like it will be full of big changes. Lisa and I currently in the process of buying an Apartment together in Shinagawa, which will commit me to a mortgage, and through the transitive property of debt, a country for the next many years (where I don't like to think about how a large a number many is.) We've applied for a loan together, and have preliminarily been accepted by at least once bank, so once the apartment is finished (August 15th is the date that it is supposed to be completed) we should be moving in. Hearing all this stuff about the US Subprime Mortgage meltdown is a bit scary, but as far as I can tell they don't have ARMs here, and the terms of our loan looks quite reasonable -- actually cheaper than what I pay now in my rental place.
I'm really excited about life with Lisa though - we've been spending a lot of time together over the past year, and she really gets me. She doesn't mind that I'm nerdy, spend too much time on computers, watch Star Wars, and love some crazy music. She's got great taste in music herself, and has introduced me to some great bands. She also picked up an extra ticket to Summer Sonic for me too. She's the best.
Things will probably be super crazy busy for me over the next few months, but I'm also really looking forward to May, when we do the paperwork for the marriage (no time like the present!) and my family (mom, dad, Jana, Alana, and Grandma Bessie) come out to meet Lisa's family. That should be interesting.
Even though we're doing the legal paperwork soon, we plan on having a wedding ceremony sometime in the summer of 2009 - probably May 24th, 2009. Also, it is likely that the ceremony will be in Hawaii based on the information Lisa's been giving me. I really want to have a celebration where friends and family can gather and have a great time together, so I'll be in touch about that once we firm up our plans.
I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, but am really happy!
March 26, 2008
Mail Server downtimeThe mail server on FuguTabetai.com was broken for an unknown period of time.
I didn't notice because essentially, once I set up the mail server (postfix) it just worked, and kept on working. I should also take the time to note that Rimuhosting.com, which hosts this server (on a virtual linux system) has been just great. Set things up, do an yum / apt-get update every once in a while, keep the software up to date (essentially keeping up with phpbb patches) and things have been great. Once set up. :)
Anyway, the problem with the mail server is that it was using a dns blacklist that went out of service a while back, and I guess the owners decided they wanted everyone who still had it in their configs to remove it NOW because all messages sent to me were bouncing because of the blacklist. I removed it from the postfix setup, restarted, and things are back to normal (as far as I can tell.)
So I might have missed a day's worth of mail or two. Not more than that though, since stuff got through two days back.
Pretty boring post come to think of it. I should have more exciting stuff coming up (well, if you like Perl I've been meaning to post something about that in a bit.)
March 24, 2008
Tax TimeI don't know what to think about taxes when one is a resident of a foreign country. I think it is completely reasonable to pay taxes where you live: I am living in Japan, and taking advantage of their infrastructure, so of course I should pay taxes to help defray those costs.
I also think it is good that, as an American citizen, I am allowed to take a certain exemption (about $80,000) of foreign earned income that I do not have to pay taxes upon. Since I don't get paid all that much (why did I go to grad school and get a phd again? Well, at least I enjoy what I do!)
I'm not so sure that people who make over the exemption amount should pay taxes. Just because of the coincidence of where one is born, the US decides that it is entitled to a cut of the money you make even if you do not benefit from the services that the taxes support. I suppose the argument is that, as an American overseas, you benefit from America's reputation, the protection of the US armed forces in keeping the global peace, US foreign policy and aid, and so on. I can't really say that the US foreign policy has helped me out personally: in fact, living in Japan right now a few thousand people in Okinawa are pretty angry with Americans.
So I don't really know where I stand on that issue, but I guess I'll give the US the benefit of the doubt: while I do not agree with current US Foreign policy, I hope that in the future it will change to be less violent and warlike. Given the way the US Political system works, I'm hopeful that a change can be made (unfortunately, with major policy changes likely every four years, that doesn't say much about stability, but that is another issue entirely.) I also exercise my right to vote via absentee ballot, so I guess that is worth paying some amount in taxes to have a voice in my government.
Anyway, as like last year I am again going to take the foreign earned income exemption. You can read about it in the Tax Guide for US Citizens and resident aliens abroad publication 54.
A really, really interesting note is that you are able to also take a foreign housing exemption. Most places in Japan (and Tokyo-to) are about $30,000 - $40,000 a year. Tokyo (do they mean only the area around Tokyo station??) though jumps all the way up to $85,000 a year. My guess is that this is where politicians who have some influence over the tax code live. :)
Assuming I filed correctly last year, I was able to use the 2555-EZ form (2555EZ instructions here) and the 1040 form (1040 instructions here.)
I would have preferred to use a 1040EZ but the 2555EZ says to use the 1040 form. It is nice the that US Government sent me a booklet of tax forms to use, but man that thing is big and complicated. It is poorly laid out: you open it, and are faced with the 1040 form. No table of contents until after that first form, and as far as I can tell, no simple directions. I wouldn't have known what to do had I not used the 2555EZ and 1040 forms last year.
Taxes. This stuff is crazy. I would much prefer something simple, like a single sided sheet of paper that says "pay 20% of your income for the time that you lived in the US" but I'm sure that doesn't cover enough cases, and would decimate the tax preparation industry.
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