Celestial Rendezvous

As many people know, I am a bit of a science geek.  I was the science geek in high school, and I even got a degree in physics and astronomy in University.  Science is something that drives a lot of my thoughts.  I’m always reading about science, looking around at nature, and looking up at the sky.  I love science, yet I enjoy reading science fiction, even if it isn’t very scientifically accurate.  But on the topic of science, I saw something amazing earlier this week.  I’m sure many of you saw the same thing.

There was a conjunction of 3 bright lights in the sky, Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon.  I hadn’t seen anything this wonderful in the sky since the planetary alignment of 2002, when all 5 visible planets could be seen at above the horizon after sunset.  Incidentally, that was the first time I saw Mercury.  For the past month, Venus and Jupiter have been hanging out together in the evening sky to the west after sunset.  I managed to get a couple of pictures of this sight with my phone.

Venus and Jupiter over the Fujisawa sky. Venus is the brighter planet.
Here's a closer view of Venus and Jupiter.

I was quite impressed when I saw this.  At the same time, red Mars was shining brightly overhead, while Saturn was rising to the east along with the moon.  But this wasn’t the best to be seen.  The moon moved its way across the sky as it always does, and settle right between Venus and Jupiter.  Perfect!  It was a wonderful opportunity to take another picture of a celestial meeting.

A crescent moon slipped between Venus and Jupiter.

Mars and Saturn were also visible at the time, so 4 of the 5 visible planets were above the horizon.  Unfortunately, Mercury is on the wrong side of the sun to be visible in the evening.  With good timing, it could be visible just before sunrise, though.

This has been an incredible winter and spring to watch the skies.  I was treated to a total lunar eclipse and I was able to see a few meteors during a meteor shower.  I hope you’ve all enjoyed watching the same amazing events.

Book Review – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyIt took me a long time to get around to reading this.  It’s so famous, but I didn’t start reading it until recently.  This review is for book 1, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” although I am reading the 4 part Omnibus edition.  I will review each book separately.

This book is an adaptation of a radio show, both written by Douglas Adams.  It starts out on Earth, and as the title suggests, the main characters hitchhike in the galaxy.  The story starts out with Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, both colourful characters, but when Zaphod Beeblebrox, the robot Marvin, and Trillian join, it gets even more colourful.  This wacky mix of characters cannot be taken seriously at all.  The radio show was a comedy, and so is this book.  I find Ford Prefect is probably my favourite character so far, very much in the style of much of British comedy.

The story itself moves at a fast pace, not giving you much time in one place.  A lot happens in a short time.  Even the chapters are short.  What I find difficult is that while the plot is interesting, I can’t completely get into it like I can with more serious novels.  I love Terry Pratchett’s works, but this book is even more absurd, and even though it is funny, I didn’t find it laugh out loud funny.  I’m not saying it isn’t enjoyable.  I enjoyed reading it, and I am interested in seeing where the story leads to next.

One thing I wish I could find is a pronunciation guide.  Some names and places are difficult to pronounce.  I guess part of the fun is trying to say them out loud.

This is a classic book, and a very short one.  I would recommend it to anyone with a good sense of humour and at least a passing interest in sci-fi.

I give it 4 out of 5.


For those of you who know me, and know my other blogs, you will have seen this.  But if you are only following this blog, I’d like you to read something.  Please go here (the anniversary) and here (my full experience) to read about the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  I got to experience it firsthand.

On another note, I haven’t updated recently, as I’ve been quite busy.  I have a book review to write and post soon.

Book Review – Japanese Made Funny

Japanese Made FunnyAs many of you may know, I live in Japan, and I’m often looking for books to help me study Japanese.  Studying Japanese is a tough thing, as the grammar and writing systems are completely different than English.  It’s quite easy to make mistakes.  I then came across “Japanese Made Funny: Gaijin Bloops in Nihongo” written by Tom Dillon.  I love humour, and though this would be a good book to pick up.

I read more than half of the book before I got home from the bookstore, it was that hard to put away.  It’s more than 200 pages long, but half of it is in English and half in Japanese.  It’s a bilingual book, and is therefore a bit short.  However, I spent my time riding the train trying to keep myself from laughing.  I didn’t need all the people staring at me, the strange laughing foreigner.  But I just couldn’t stop reading it.  It was hilarious.  I still read it again from time to time, and I’m always sharing some of the stories with friends and coworkers.

This book shares many short stories about people’s mistakes while learning Japanese.  It’s quite easy to mistake one word for another, but quite often, the wrong word results in some confusing, yet hilarious conversations.  There are a lot of stories with innocent mistakes that will make the average person laugh, but there are also some extremely embarrassing incidents involving words for bodily functions and body parts.  It’s not a book for young people, since there is a nude illustration, but it’s related to a story.

There’s no need for a plot or characters in this book, as it doesn’t share a single story, but many very brief anecdotes.  The author of this book appears to be bilingual, since it seems that he wrote the Japanese portion.  I’ve been told by a couple Japanese people that the Japanese language used in the book is a bit awkward and unnatural.  But for an English speaker, that doesn’t matter at all.

“Japanese Made Funny” is the perfect book for the Japanese language learner who needs something to lighten up their mood.  It’s also great for anyone who loves a good laugh.  What I also like about this book is that it has helped me remember some words.  I know I’ve made my own mistakes, but nothing as embarrassing as some of these stories.  Highly recommended.

I give this a full 5 out of 5.

Random things you may not know about me

Who am I?  What makes me the person I am?  Those who know me well probably know most of these.  Those who know me from school, might not know most of these things.  My acquaintances probably know very little of this.  So, what should I tell you?

Let’s start with sports.  I used to play hockey when I was in elementary school.  It’s always been my favourite sport.  But I was never known to be an offensive threat.  I played right wing, but I’d never scored a single goal.  Why?  I hated attention.  I never liked being in the spotlight, so I didn’t try hard.  Now, I wish I could’ve changed all that.  These days, my athletic focus is on long distance walking and hiking.  I’ve walked 35 km uninterrupted in 8 1/2 hours.  That was for fun.

As the title of this blog states, I read encyclopedias for fun.  But did you know that I rarely read fiction when I was younger?  I was far more interested in science, history and geography.  I didn’t start liking fiction until I was in high school.

Those who know me know that I did very well in school.  But they may not know that I didn’t like English class.  The reason?  I hated analysing novels and poetry, describing any hidden meaning that, according to some teachers, has only one correct answer.  English wasn’t my worst class.  That was social studies.  I liked history, but I didn’t like writing essays on history.

I rarely had math homework.  I almost always finished it before class ended.

I used to be a Kabuki Kab driver/tour guide in Victoria.  It was only for a couple of months until I tore my quad muscle.  I never had surgery.  Glad I didn’t, because my knee is close to 100% normal.  Someone I know with the same iinjury had surgery and her knee was never the same.

I was bullied in junior high school.  Physically in grade 7, emotionally and psychologically in grade 8.  I faked being sick just to get out of going to school in grade 8 sometimes.  Sorry for lying about that, mom.

I was a big Star Trek fan.  I went to a few conventions.  I still enjoy Star Trek a lot.  I’ve met Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis and James Doohan.

I loved dinosaurs as a kid.  Not for the same reasons other kids liked dinosaurs, though.  I liked them for biological and evolutionary reasons.  I loved science (still do, of course).  I almost went into palaeontology in university.  One of my favourite books is a very detailed and scientific book about dinosaurs that I bought at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.  I bought it when I was in junior high school.  It was an amazing book.  When I was away at university, my mom gave away all my childhood books that I didn’t need anymore.  I think she gave that book away, too.  I still want it back.

I love Marmite.

I hate tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza sauce and meat sauce.  However, I like ketchup, barbecue sauce, A1 sauce and HP sauce.

I hate brussels sprouts.

I hate bell peppers, but I like jalapeno peppers and have been known to eat anything with habanero pepper seasoning.

I used to hate broccoli, but now I like it, as long as it isn’t boiled and mushy.  It needs to retain some crunchiness.

I hate western spinach, but like Japanese spinach.

I love wasabi.

I did a research paper for my radio astronomy class in university on the radio emissions of Jupiter.

I love being on the top of mountains, big hills and tall buildings.

I don’t believe in any religion, but I like Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, mainly for aesthetic reasons, but I also find them peaceful and relaxing.

I may not believe in religions, but I find them interesting culturally (and no, you can’t convert me).

I have a prejudice against Rottweilers.  One killed my dog.

I used to do surveys in a call centre.  Hated that job, but I was good at it.  My coworkers and bosses made it bearable.  Good group of people.  It was far more enjoyable, though somewhat tedious, being a team leader there.

I did data entry with a company contracted by the British Columbia government to input vital statistics records into a database.  I entered my uncle’s birth record.

I have eaten octopus sashimi and disliked it.  I have eaten basashi (raw horse meat) and didn’t dislike it.

One of my goals is to visit all 47 prefectures of Japan.  I have a long way to go.  I also have a goal to visit all 10 provinces and 3 territories of Canada.  That’s much easier to achieve, even though it’s a much larger country.

I enjoy The Sims 2, Simcity 4, Civilization IV and Star Trek Online.

My grade 1 teacher was my aunt, until she retired halfway through the year.  I strongly disliked her replacement, who couldn’t even pronounce the word “film.”  It’s not “fillum!” Even as a 6 year old, it irritated me.

My grade 3 teacher accused me of trying to cheat on a test.  I was merely looking at the floor while thinking.

In grade 4, an optometrist said I needed glasses.  We got them, I never used them.  We got a second opinion, and that optometrist said we were lied to.  I haven’t needed glasses at all in my life.

In grade 7, I was told by my social studies teacher that I had a photographic memory.  I’m very good at geography.  I can picture fairly accurate maps in my mind.  This ability has also helped me with physics, spelling, chemistry and biology.  Spelling?  Yes, I picture the words in my mind when I want to spell them.

I’ve witnessed a suicide.  A man jumped in front of a train almost directly in front of me in August 2005.  I remember every detail of that moment.

I have a sarcastic sense of humour, but have also been known to use terribly corny puns.

The person I most respect is my maternal grandfather.

I’m a native English speaker, studied French for 8 years (and have forgotten most) and am currently studying Japanese (speaking still beginner, but understanding is low intermediate level).  I want to become conversational in Japanese, study French again, then move on to Spanish, German and possibly Italian, Norwegian, Chinese and Korean.

I love shrimp, but I can’t stand it if the head is still attached.

My favourite alcohol is sake, though I only drink it about 3 or 4 times a year.

My first computer was an Apple II/e in 1984.  I programmed when I was 7 years old.

The search for extrasolar planets excites me.

My favourite Star Trek characters are Data and Spock (maybe because of my love of science), but my favourite Star Trek actor is George Takei.  I follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Well, I think that’s about enough for now.  Any comments or questions?  If you want to know anything else, please ask in the comments.  I may answer if it isn’t too personal.

Book Review – 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey

Author: Arthur C. Clarke

Series: Space Odyssey #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Published 1968

Review Copy: Paperback bought new

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Goodreads Description

The year is 2001, and cosmonauts uncover a mysterious monolith that has been buried on the Moon for at least three million years. To their astonishment, the monolith releases an equally mysterious pulse—a kind of signal—in the direction of Saturn after it is unearthed. Whether alarm or communication, the human race must know what the signal is—and who it was intended for.

The Discovery and its crew, assisted by the highly advanced HAL 9000 computer system, sets out to investigate. But as the crew draws closer to their rendezvous with a mysterious and ancient alien civilization, they realize that the greatest dangers they face come from within the spacecraft itself. HAL proves a dangerous traveling companion, and the crew must outwit him to survive.

This novel version of the famous Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey was written by Clarke in conjunction with the movie’s production. It is meant to stand as a companion piece, and it offers a complementary narrative that’s loaded with compelling science fiction ideas.


I’ve seen the movie, and now I’ve finally read the book.  It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but 2001: A Space Odyssey brought back a lot of memories.  2001 was published in 1968, but a lot of the science is spot on.  Of course, there were gaps of knowledge in 1968 about Jupiter and Saturn, but Arthur C. Clarke’s depiction of Europa and the rings of Saturn were surprisingly good.  Clarke understood the science of space and the difficulties involved with space travel, so this book was highly realistic.

The story is a classic.  It’s about man’s ultimate discovery and the journey to find out what life means.  This book was written in very short chapters, which made it very easy to read in short bursts.  While Clarke was very descriptive about scientific and technical terms, it didn’t make it more difficult to read.  In fact, he seemed to be able to describe these things in terms which the average person could understand.  I found this book delightfully easy to read.

The characters were very believable.  They were realistic people who behaved just like any real person would.  They were quite engaging, especially the non-human character, HAL 9000, which was Discovery’s computer.  Hal was the book’s antagonist, and is probably the most memorable computer in literature or film.

The quick pace and short length of this book left little room for slow periods.  It was constantly engaging, and I kept wanting to read.  I knew the movie was good, but I was very happy to discover how good the book is.  I highly recommend 2001: A Space Odyssey to anyone with any interest in space or science fiction.  Don’t let its age fool you.  The science is quite good for most of the movie.  One of the best books I’ve read in a while.

I rate it 5 out of 5.

The official blog of Jay Dee Archer. Exploring new worlds, real and fictional.