Japan at the British Museum

Today I visited the British Museum with my trusty iPad and took a few photos.

Continue reading Japan at the British Museum

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British 10K London: fundraising for Scope!

I’m racing in the British 10K London in July and looking for sponsorships for a great charity! Scope work to provide people with disabilities the same opportunities and rights as everyone else. They work with hundreds of thousands of people and it costs a lot, so please donate a little if you can! It’s a great cause, and even if you can only donate £1 it all helps!

My JustGiving page is here! Thanks!

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Living a double life

I have nothing against people who don’t play video games. It’s just another form of media, and in some cases another form of art. Not everyone watches films. Not everyone reads books. It’s not a big deal. But I do get irritated by people who don’t play video games and therefore don’t understand them, then judge and criticise those that do.

I recently rediscovered this brilliant ad for the very first Playstation. It captures something that I think a lot of non-gamers miss when they make fun of gamers. We apparently waste our time for hours sitting in a room doing nothing. Nothing? We build worlds. We live dreams. We face impossible odds. We go to places, meet people, have adventures, that would otherwise be impossible. You can experience similar things in films and books, but gamers live it. If all we did was sit and stare at a screen, it would be a waste of our lives, I admit that. But is that all we do? We live a double life. Is a double life a waste? Or is it something more?

The ad is about gaming in general, not necessarily the ones that make a good case for gaming as an art. But the point remains. Anyway, the ad:

at least I can say I've livedgamingplaystationsony

Tweeting in Japanese – Part 1

I’ve been using Twitter for quite a while now, but to many people it doesn’t appear to have any immediately obvious uses. Most of the things that can be done on Twitter can already be done elsewhere (e.g. status updates on Facebook). But for the millions of users who now find Twitter both useful and fun, I’m sure they will agree that it is “the internet service nobody knew we needed until we had it”. Every once in a while I intend to write a short post about learning 日本語 (Japanese), and I’ve decided to start with a post about using Twitter.

A few months of using Twitter had passed before I even thought of searching for Japanese users. I had no idea if Twitter was even popular in Japan. I have a friend who also uses Twitter and is learning Japanese. It was only when we began sending each other tweets in Japanese that I first thought about searching for Japanese users of the website. It turns out there are plenty of Japanese people happily twittering away. Search for the #followmeJP hashtag and you’ll see what I mean. Another popular hashtag is #sougofollow.

Twitter is a great resource for practicing other languages. Note that I say “practicing” and not “learning”. Sure, practicing is a part of your learning, but I would never suggest that someone used Twitter to learn a language from scratch. I’m suggesting that once you understand some of the basics, Twitter can be a great place to practice your reading and writing. Firstly, you are never going to come across an essay to dig through because of the 140-character limit to tweets. Secondly, the nature of discussions on Twitter tend to revolve around simple statements and questions, which are usually easy to understand. Tweets in Japanese can be far more expressive within that character limit than English, but most users still use tweets just to make a simple comment or two, and to find out what friends are up to. I think this is a great way to find other languages to read, and you might even make some new friends in the process.

I intend to write a few posts on tweeting in Japanese, covering different aspects that may be useful to know. Here are the first hints and tips for Japanese students using Twitter… Please note that most Japanese tweets are similar to casual chat in person. Just like in real conversations, the Japanese often combine words together, leaving students of Japanese utterly confused. Most of these words won’t be found in a dictionary, and some are found only on Twitter! Yes, some words have been invented on Twitter! There are quite a few, so I’ll only discuss the most common ones for now. These words aren’t real Japanese and have evolved on Twitter for various uses. I suppose you could say they are a bit like our “brb”, “lol”, “stfu” etc. Because certain phrases are often used online (or on Twitter exclusively), and because of the character limit, new words have arisen to help communicate while saving space on tweets.

「なう」is used in a lot of Japanese tweets in order to save characters. Apparently its use on Twitter was quite specific when it first appeared, but it has now taken on a far more general role in tweets. It is supposed to resemble the English word, “now”. Initially, 「なう」was mainly used with locations. For example, 「店なう」would mean “I’m at the shop now”. You can see how this kind of thing would be useful in the context of a tweet used as a status update. Three characters used to explain where you currently are is pretty good. Over time, 「なう」was used in various ways other than to state the current location of the user. Now the most common use is to explain what the user is currently doing. In this way, you can think of 「なう」as 「今〜をしている」. So if someone wanted to mention that they are currently eating their breakfast, they could simply use 「朝ご飯なう」. Now that’s efficient!

The other unusual words I see everyday are strange one that end with 「あり」. I’ll get to them in a moment. As you can imagine, there are Japanese words related to social conventions that are used everyday and often become trending topics. Watch one of the popular hashtags and it won’t be long before you see phrases and words like 「ただいま」, 「行ってきます」, 「お帰りなさい」, 「行ってらっしゃい」, 「おやすみなさい」and 「おはようございます」. These are fairly typical words and phrases, and the responses are usually much the same. Let’s imagine someone says “good morning” to me: 「@harrison_peter おはようございます」. If I’m online, I’d be polite and simply say “good morning” in return, just as I would do in English:

“@harrison_peter Good morning!”

“@random_friend Good morning!”

The strange words that end with 「あり」are used to respond to phrases like the ones above, but in a way that thanks the author of the original tweet. It makes more sense if you think about the response occurring a while after the original tweet. If someone says goodnight to me, I say it back. But if I went offline in the evening and woke in the morning to find lots of people had been very nice to me and wished me a goodnight, it would be silly to then wish them a goodnight in return. It’s now the morning. So instead, it would be polite to thank them for the “goodnight” that I had missed. You might not normally do this, but many Japanese would. Essentially, the words ending with 「あり」are used to thank individuals for the comments they left previously. The strange thing is that they aren’t really words… some are actually a real pain to speak, and they should only be used on Twitter or some other written format online. Instead of being a completely new word, they are usually two words mangled together: 「the start of the comment that was left」and 「あり」.

For an example, imagine someone said “good morning” to me on Twitter:

「@harrison_peter おはようございます」

Now the response. Let’s break the “word” down.

「おはあり」=「おは」+「あり」

The 「おは」comes from the start of “good morning”, 「おはようございます」.

The 「あり」comes from the start of the “thank you”, 「ありがとう」.

This will make a bit more sense when you see that 「おやあり」is used to thank someone for saying “goodnight”.

「おやあり」=「おや」+「あり」

These words take up only four characters yet they can be used to simultaneously thank others for previous comments and indirectly apologise for not replying at the time. If you use Twitter, I bet you can already imagine other uses, such as thanking people for retweets or follow suggestions. I hope some of this helps any new Japanese students using Twitter and explains what these weird words are for!

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3rd of May – A day that always makes me angry

For the last few years, the 3rd of May has been a sad and angry day for me. This is a quick anniversary piece about a conservation tragedy that occurred on Grand Cayman 4 years ago, one that I find very few people are aware of.

Cyclura lewisi, the Blue Iguana, is a species of lizard endemic to the island of Grand Cayman. They exist nowhere else. They are fairly large lizards, they can live up to around 70 years of age, and they’re regarded as a national symbol of the Cayman Islands. It was under tragic circumstances that the species was thrown into the news four years ago.

A little info about the beautiful Blue Iguanas; they are vegetarians, mostly eating flowers and fruit. They like dry, open areas, and aren’t as well equipped defensively as the Green Iguanas (a separate species). In the past, the Blue Iguanas were classed as a subspecies of the Cuban Iguana, but they are now classed as a unique species after studies of their genetics. Their colours range from brown all the way to a bright blue that can be very striking.

The fossil record indicates that this animal used to thrive before the European colonizations. However, their numbers since then have declined to a critical level. In 2003, it was estimated that there were between five and fifteen specimens left in the wild. Not much hope was seen for this wonderful species and it seemed that their time had come. Predictions for the complete extinction of the Blue Iguana varied but it was generally estimated that they would be extinct between 2008 and 2015. It’s always sad to see a branch on the tree of life come to an abrupt stop, especially when the main cause of the decline and loss is habitat destruction by humans.

When these reports came out, the Blue Iguana was immediately placed on the IUCN Red List as “Critically Endangered”. In 2005 the species was classed as “functionally extinct”. It was around this time that the species started getting more press, including articles on the BBC News website. The Blue Iguana had become one of the most endangered species on the planet. They were on the edge of extinction. However, during these surveys, the government was already working on a project to try and help save their national symbol.

The government realized as early as 1988 that the species would soon be in trouble and could possibly go extinct, and they would lose their national symbol, so they began to plan a conservation program as early as possible. In 1990, The National Trust for the Cayman Islands started a very ambitious project: to breed captive Blue Iguanas and try to reestablish a healthy population in the wild. So while surveys were discovering the wild population was essentially screwed, there were projects taking place to keep a captive population going. Although far from saved, the project has been going really well. Two subpopulations were released into the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park and the Salina Reserve, consisting of 125 individual iguanas in total. The population at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park had been breeding since 2001, and in 2006 some eggs were found to show breeding had started at the Salina Reserve too. There was a big release in 2007 bringing the population to 300, and last year another huge release to make the total 650! The longterm goal for the project is to hit 1000. So from 2003 there were between 5 to 15 individuals left in the wild, and just four years later, we have 650. This is conservation work at its best. Compared to the predictions of impending extinction within the next few years, things generally couldn’t have been going any better. But on this day back in May 2008, not long after the big release to make the total 300, a tragedy struck the entire project that left the locals, the breeders, and most of the world’s conservationists in complete shock and disgust.

At one of the breeding sites for the National Trust’s Blue Iguana Recovery Program, six of these rare animals were murdered on the 3rd of May 2008. The bodies of the iguanas were mostly left behind, and no obvious theft had taken place except for a few seemingly random body parts. They were murdered for what appears to be no reason at all. They were killed on Saturday night and found by workers shortly after 9am on Sunday morning. The iguanas were found in different conditions, but all had suffered extreme internal injuries and displayed evidence of being stomped on repeatedly. Some were also dismembered. Three were killed in their breeding pens, two were dragged outside and killed, and another has never been found, but evidence was discovered outside his pen indicating that he was likely killed there before being taken/hidden. Medical personnel and the police arrived immediately and began forensic work. A total of four males were found dead. Two females, Sara and Jessica, were also attacked during the night. Sara was killed along with the males, but Jessica was still alive when the workers discovered her. She had been thrown from one pen to another and was in pain and shock when discovered. To make matters even worse, both females were pregnant. Dr. Wakelin arrived in the morning and worked to stabilize Jessica. He worked non-stop, doing everything he could, working straight into the night, but Jessica sadly passed away.

The locals found out quickly, and two days later there was a press release from the Blue Iguana Recovery Program appealing for any information about the criminals who broke into the facility and repeatedly attacked these animals with no foreseeable motive. The news quickly spread around the globe and reptile enthusiasts and conservationists everywhere were hit hard by the shocking news. Many online forums and magazines arranged opportunities for their members to donate to the Recovery Program to give some support through that difficult time. It wouldn’t bring them back, but people wanted to show their support for the conservation efforts and their disapproval and sympathy of the attack. Days later, it was discovered that some more iguanas had been injured but not as severely, hence the delayed discovery, including Billie and Archie who have actually survived the whole ordeal. Sadly, a seventh iguana did die later from the attack just when people were starting to come to terms with what had happened. It was a huge set back, especially with the pregnant females, and to this day nobody has been charged, but the Recovery Program is continuing to do the best job they can getting the wild population of these animals back to a healthy level. The video below is from 2012, when eight blue iguanas were released into the Salina Reserve.

If you’re interested in learning more about Cyclura lewisi, or the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, or wish to make a donation, you can find their website at http://www.blueiguana.ky.

blue iguanafucking arsehole bastard cuntsGrand CaymanReptiles