Sakurajima, an active volcano in Kyushu

December 31, 2011

There’s an active volcano (活火山, lively + fire + mountain) a ten-minute train ride away from Satsuma-sendai.  Named Sakurajima,  (桜島, literally, cherry blossom island), this formerly island volcano is home to giant radishes, tiny satsuma tangerines, and numerous hotsprings.


While Sakurajima continually erupts today, ejecting clouds of ash and smoke, its most recent major eruption was in 1914.  Locals knew before the big eruption that it was time to leave: they’d heard stories about the giant 18th century eruption when the islands’ wells boiled, shoals of dead fish washed up on shore, and earthquakes rattled their towns.  In what was a rare eruptive event for Japan, home to explosive high silicate lava, Sakurajima belched a veritable flow of lava (溶岩), which covered villages and caused the island to grow, eventually connecting via isthmus to the mainland.  The volcano erupts more than daily, spewing ash over Kagoshima-shi in the summer and further south in the winter.

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A visit to the Ghibli Museum

September 5, 2011

Six months after the disaster of March 11, 25 years after Chernobyl, and 66 years after the end of World War II, radiation fears, expectedly and heavily, wear on the collective Japanese psyche.  I saw very few advertisements for art museums, much less smaller galleries, in my six weeks in Japan—how do the Japanese cope with having lived through multiple nuclear disasters if not through art?  Under the weight of such fear, a country could sink into oblivion, but there are some creatives who understand the “resilience of nature“, and that life goes on after such a cataclysm.  One of these creatives is Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese artist, director, and founder of Studio Ghibli, an animation company based outside of Tokyo.

Best known for his films and manga (Japanese graphic novels) such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro, Miyazaki also directed a music video that deals with the aftereffects of a world that experienced nuclear meltdown, “On Your Mark”.

On Your Mark – Chage & Aska from bahimas on Vimeo
(There’s a version in English, as well).
When I heard that JAXA was located near the Studio Ghibli Museum, I jumped at the chance to go.  What would this museum show me about Ghibli’s creative process?  What other ideas were Miyazaki and his collaborators generating in their studios?  Joined by two members from the lab, we took the 14 bus across the street from JAXA up to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Getting tickets is a bit of a chore, and can only be done in advance through a travel agency or through vending machines at Lawson convenience stores in Japan. Many thanks to Morita-san for acquiring tickets.

Located in Mitaka, not far from the Kichijo-ji neighborhood, and bordering Inokashira Park, the museum is surrounded by verdant trees, shrubs, and vines.

How to get to the Ghibli Museum

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Students arrive tomorrow!

Our lectures are prepared, our labs are tested, but we’ll still have to check our classrooms for cats tomorrow. Twenty-nine year 2 (Y2) students arrive tomorrow, and we’ll get to introduce them to the wonders of software engineering as well as abstraction and modularity. (And no, I haven’t been having dreams about model-view-controller, why do you ask?)

But! Before my life becomes all IM client all the time, here are some more images from around Jerusalem taken during the last week.


I’ve driven about 80% of the time we’ve been here, and it’s actually a lot of fun. Aside from no right turn on red, it’s like driving in Boston, except you’re a lot more likely to get cut off by someone driving at warp factor nine. One of these days, Eric and I are going to take the standard transmission van out and try to refresh our memories on how to use a clutch. Adventures in transporting eight or so people from point A to point B aside, here are some images of the stunning parking jobs we’ve witnessed in the last few weeks.

Parking: you're doing it right

You see some pretty epic parking jobs around here, namely this sedan neatly positioned under a staircase in the Old City. How did they do this? Three hundred-point turn? Your guess is as good as mine.

Parking: you're doing it wrong (or right)

Mr. Timmons is just as befuddled as I am at this parking job at Mount Scopus.


Tiny cat investigates

Remember Tiny Cat who hid in the classroom? I finally got a photo of him, scared to death. Unfortunately, you can’t see his adorable white-tipped tail.

Around Hebrew University

Taking notes

We spent a lot of last week preparing for the students’ arrival. Domo-kun couldn’t wait to take notes.


As part of the teaching workshops, we got to teach anything we wanted for five minutes. I did my usual instruction on how to tie a bowline knot. Justin taught us all about vampires. I’ll give you a hint as to which presentation made it on to YouTube.

Working outside

Eventually we became bored of working in the lab known as the Aquarium and migrated out under the trees on the lawn. Thank you, Hebrew University, for having such lovely, shade-providing arboreal specimens as well as strong outdoor wireless!

In Search of Food

Since I haven’t eaten gluten in over a year, getting proper nourishment around here is a bit of a challenge since almost everything is made of wheat. I know you’re about to say, “try the hummus!”, but you are most certainly incorrect: that stuff is like spackle and turns one’s stomach into concrete. We maintain our rating on the stock of Middle East Hummus Producers Unlimited as a STRONG SELL. Put your NIS toward raw materials instead.

Things here on Mount Scopus shut down on Friday afternoon, and don’t generally reopen until Saturday night at the earliest, though usually it’s Sunday morning when most businesses resume commerce. Thus, everyone does their shopping early on Friday afternoon, so by the time I make it to the grocery store on Sunday it’s like a Soviet supermarket with nothing left on the shelves. Since prepared food doesn’t do much for me, I’m generally good about buying my own food and cooking for myself. The vendors at the Damascus gate have great prices on fruits and vegetables, and Mahane Yehuda’s sellers have good prices on Swiss chard and peaches, though the dried fruits and nuts are a bit expensive. Too bad I haven’t found a source of gluten-free bread yet.

Domo-kun and a pita full of falafel

Domo-kun tried some falafel and chips in pita bread. Verdict? “Domo domo domo…”

Wedding celebration

Last night we decided to head out for dinner, heading vaguely for a schwarma place that George recommended in East Jerusalem. After a long and slightly exciting stroll down Wadi Al-Jos (horses! no sidewalks! accosted by street kids who punched Ben!), we found the place to be closed, so we decided to press on to the next street, where we encountered a wedding celebration. The groom was lifted onto another man’s shoulders while another man played the bagpipes. Everyone was dancing, chanting, and clapping. Fireworks kept being set off further down the street. We later passed the women of the wedding party, hanging out in front of a building further down the street and watching the men dance. The groom, however, did not look like he was particularly enjoying the merriment.

We, on the other hand, promptly discovered the nearby wonders of Azzahra Hotel and Restaurant, and did we ever enjoy that experience. Reasonably priced menu for an upscale place (dishes starting around $14), great service, lovely atmosphere (huge windows surrounded by trees and ivy), and tremendous lamb dishes. Kim and Larisa reported the pizza to be amazing. Our rating on this establishment is a STRONG BUY.

Finally, you’ve reached the end of this installment with a dose of this week’s questions. Respond via email or comment if you so choose, and thanks for reading!

  1. What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten in the last week?
  2. What made you laugh the hardest in the past few days?
  3. Anything particularly awesome you’ve seen on the roads?

Always check your classroom for cats

Jerusalem is overrun with feral cats. In December, one came up to me in the Old City and just began nuzzling my legs. They’re everywhere on the Hebrew University campus, fishing falafel wrappers out of trashcans and eating leftover chips. This morning on a walk, I encountered a man who feeds the same four every day, including a rather pregnant female. One feline regular outside of our apartments is at the trashbins every morning at 9 am, going through the dumpsters in search of first breakfast.

This morning during a teaching workshop, I began hearing a soft “mew” in the classroom. Was it Mor’s chair being squeaky? The mewing stopped, then started again. Was it my chair? No, I wasn’t moving. Were Mustafa’s shoes making that squeaking noise? That really sounded like a cat. Ben got up to inspect the corner of the classroom. Was it a cat? Nothing behind the lectern.

Mustafa got up to check behind the curtain, revealing an incredibly tiny, scraggly black kitten with a white-tipped tail cowering on the windowsill behind the curtain. I tried offering it a bit of my turkey sandwich, but Tiny Cat huddled further into the windowsill, anxiously eyeing us humans.

After a long pause, Tiny Cat hopped up and tried to running out of the classroom. A combination of high kitten velocity (vk) and a low coefficient of kinetic friction (µk) foiled Tiny Cat’s attempt to flee via the door, resulting in a mass of ruffled black fur, various limbs, and the white-tipped tail splaying out in all directions from Tiny Cat’s body as the feline slid along the slick tile. Reversing course, Tiny Cat decided to re-enter the classroom, realized there were 20 absolutely terrifying humans in the room, made an about-face, and scuttled its way out the door and down the hallway past some confused-looking students.

Thus, today’s lesson from the discussion on education versus instruction: always check your classroom for cats before teaching in Jerusalem.