Men's Pocky replacement

Several years ago, I did a post about Men's Pocky メンズポッキー, but after that, I could no longer find it at Mitsuwa, which carries all the Pocky products. When I was at the Sweets & Snacks Expo last year, I asked the Pocky folks what happened, and they just said it was discontinued. I liked it because it was dark chocolate, but I didn't see such a product for a while.

Then last week, I found a Men's Pocky replacement at Hello Tokyo in Niles: Pocky カカオ60% (Cacao 60%). The first screen at the website says "The most bitter Pocky ever. Whole-grain cocoa pretzels. Bitter chocolate with 60% cacao."

Here's the translation for the main screen: "Dark, fragrant. Pocky Cacao 60%. Bitter chocolate with authentic cacao. Bitter chocolate with 60% cacao is combined with whole-grain cocoa pretzels. Mild sweetness made with beautifully fragrant Ecuadorian cacao. One bag has 367 mg of cacao polyphenols. Delightful, authentic cacao Pocky, with plant fiber."

It's actually better than Men's Pocky. But I can't say the same for Banana Pocky. It's worse than before. I'll post about that later.


Still fake blogging

Someone in a writing group was sort of mocking me for often writing in my fake blogs, but at least I'm writing. The bottom line is that writers write. I've met people who haven't even finished anything and don't post anything in public. I do, and have, and will continue to. I've gotten paid to write, have written a novel, have been blogging for years, and have added two fake blogs to my pursuits.

It's fun to escape reality and pretend I'm someone else. At first I had only one fake blog, but I added another one to process the toxicity that I've experienced and seen over the years. It's so liberating to write in a different space and take on the mind of a created character.  

I wasn't planning on posting this today because I've been working on a Japanese-related post this week, but I wanted to mention the fake blogging because it appears that I haven't posted to this real blog in a while. 

And since I no longer work before dawn nor in toxic workplaces, I'm still using that renewed energy to study various languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, French, Italian, and German. Lately I've been focusing more on French and Spanish, with the other sprinkled in. I love studying languages, and I am so glad I quit draining, abusive, unfair situations!


I finished the Duolingo Portuguese course!

A couple of weeks ago, I said that I was studying Portuguese more intensely and thought I would be done with the Duolingo course more towards June. But I decided to try to finish the course by Easter, which was yesterday, and I managed to finish it last night. So I got to the finish line by the end of March, and now it's the beginning of April, a fresh start for another pursuit. 

Since the beginning of the year, I've finished the Japanese and Portuguese courses. But I don't think Duolingo really cares if we finish; it seems like they want us to stay mired in endless lessons because they keep changing and extending their courses. While I'm very glad I've attained a couple of major language goals, I don't really want to use Duolingo as much anymore. My paid account ends in July and I am not going to renew the subscription.

I wasn't planning on saying anything negative, but the Duolingo admins blocked my post about it on an online forum. I'd posted an image and wrote two sentences about it, but they said that violated their rules because they wanted a more robust written description. I thought, okay, I finished a course. That's a big deal; why aren't they accepting that as-is? They're constantly throwing out stats saying how rare such engagement is, but when you actually achieve something, they downplay it, not just in discussions but in the app. They celebrate tiny wins but don't care about the larger ones. So I wrote a longer description and was not blocked when I posted it again, but there was a bot answer that told people how they should engage with my post. 

I've been studying languages and teaching ESL for several years. I'm obviously really into language and have kept this blog going for almost 20 years. But a bot blocking me, then responding to posts (not just mine) to tell people what they should say, in addition to an app that keeps moving the goal lines, is sort of crass. That's why I'm way more appreciative of what Easy German is doing. I'll be doing a post about them in the future. But in the meantime, yes, I'm happy that I learned a lot and finished two courses, and will still engage with Duolingo a bit every day, but I'm not going to promote them anymore, even to my students.


I translated a bit of German

When I had more time between jobs, I decided to spend more time on Twitch to listen to electronic music, especially from Germany because I was trying to improve my German while listening to music that was very different than what's popular in Chicago. 

What I've noticed is that American music has been hip hop-oriented while Germany seems to not have focused on such beats or sounds, and what they call "House" really isn't the House that originated in Chicago. It's also interesting when the DJs don't speak much English because they play music that is more European-based, and to me it's both enjoyable and interesting. I haven't been to Europe in several years, so it's like I'm traveling via music. 

One day I was listening to a German DJ and I noticed that his bio was only in German. Even if other DJs don't know English very well, they usually manage to translate their info, even if it isn't so perfect. So I asked him in the chat if he wanted me to translate his bio into English, and he said yes. At first, I didn't see it in his profile, so I figured he didn't want to post it. Then he did, and here it is

Meine Leidenschaft zur Musik begann schon vor einer gefühlten Ewigkeit. Mit den ersten Schul-Disco's wuchs die Liebe zum DJ'ing.
Seit 89 war ich dann über 12 Jahre aktiv als DJ in Clubs und Diskotheken unterwegs.
Nach einer längeren Pause bin ich jetzt wieder hier am Start und möchte euch auf meinem Kanal eine Galaxie voller elektronischer Musik präsentieren.
Begleitet mich auf meiner Reise durch die unendlichen Weiten mit elektronischen Melodic und Progressive Sounds, chillt mit Deep-House Music oder tanzt ab bei Special-Sets mit House-Music oder ab und zu bei Sets mit Musik aus 80er, 90er oder Trance-Classics.
Werdet Teil einer tollen Community 
My passion for music began what feels like an eternity ago. From my first school discos, my love of DJ’ing grew. I was an active DJ in clubs and discos from 1989 for more than 12 years.
After a long break I’m back, starting here again, and want to offer you a galaxy full of electronic music on my channel.
Join me on my journey through the infinite expanses of electronic melodic and progressive sounds. Chill out with deep house music or dance the night away to special sets with house music, or sometimes sets with music from the 80s, 90s or trance classics.
Be part of a great community. 

The intro is still only in German, so I'll post the translation that I did here: 

Herzlich Willkommmen auf dem Kanal von Galaxy-Music! Neben spacig-elektronischem Sound aus Melodic und Progressive House, gibt es hier auch irdische Klänge mit Deep-House, House... bis hin zu Special-Set's. Enjoy it and feel the Music und werde ein Teil unserer großartigen Community.  
A warm welcome to the Galaxy-Music channel! In addition to the spacey-electronic sounds of melodic and progressive House, there are also the earthly sounds of Deep-House, House…including Special-Sets here. Enjoy it and feel the music and be a part of our great community.  

My next German-translating endeavor is going to be an article about a German electronica group that I also discovered on Twitch.  


Getting more into Portuguese

After I finished the Japanese Duolingo course, I decided to try to finish another course. Before trying to attain the Japanese goal, I'd been spending a lot of time on German, with other languages sprinkled in. But the satisfaction of finishing something I'd started caused me to look at the length of each of the courses I was taking, and they were either really long or extremely long. I think it's because the courses are aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Spanish and French look like they'll take forever, and German will take a long time as well. Italian seems better, but Portuguese seems more manageable. So I've decided to concentrate on that, and I'm having a great time.

My previous exposure to Portuguese was several years ago in some casual lessons and a couple of trips to Brazil. I also translated Portuguese into English for work and for fun, which didn't seem difficult after trying to tackle Japanese translation. So my Duolingo learning is pretty challenging, especially because it's hard to understand the audio. If I want to skip a unit, the vocabulary questions seem easy, but I don't always understand the dictation. So when I see the correct answer, I understand what's written and am pretty annoyed that I wasn't able to discern the words.

It's sort of messed up my Spanish, which wasn't that great anyway. Now I'm working in more Spanish environments, so I have to sometimes speak it and understand what people are saying to me. But sometimes I'll say a word that is correct in Portuguese but is wrong in Spanish, so my mind feels more scrambled. The other day I told some Spanish speakers that I've been doing more Portuguese in Duolingo than Spanish, and they were cool about it, but I was sort of frustrated that I'm attempting different languages but they're just mush in my mind. But I feel like my reading skills are still solid, so at least I have that going for me :) If people email me in Spanish I understand, and I understand articles pretty well, but listening is difficult and speaking is almost impossible at this point. 

Because Duolingo can't be used alone to get a better grasp of a language, I've been looking at some old books on my shelf such as Essential Portuguese Grammar and Teach Yourself Portuguese, which are written for English speakers, and Bem-Vindo, which is more challenging because it's totally in Portuguese. They're all still useful even though they're from early in the century. I even have a Portuguese Bible that I bought years ago in Brazil. It's written in modern Portuguese, so it's not that hard to understand.

I'm planning on finishing the Portuguese course before the summer. And I would love to go to Portugal sometime because everyone says it's a fantastic country to visit, and some people say it's the best.

Portuguese Duolingo

p.s. the e-book version of my debut novel is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.


Do rich people have it better?

Welcome to the post I've been writing for a while, and rewriting, which I've been asking people and thinking about for a long time: is it better to be rich? My short answer is yes.

Commentators will point out unhappy rich people and say, "See? Money doesn't buy you happiness." True. You can find happiness in various ways, and according to The Happy Person, written 30 years ago by therapist Harold Greenwald (which I read a while ago and am now re-reading), people can choose to be happy in any situation. But I'm not talking about general happiness or attaining it. I'm talking about the idea put in front of us that rich people are unhappy so it doesn't matter if you're rich. 

In the larger scheme of things, it doesn't matter. But it makes life easier, and I suspect rich people have better social lives and more social opportunities. One time I wanted to ask a rich person if being rich means a better social life. But before I could even finish the sentence, he said "yes." He didn't know that I was asking about socializing; he thought that I was asking if being rich is better. And to that question he also said "yes."

Think about it: if you want to go to Europe for the weekend, you can. If you want to join a club, you can. If you want to buy a better car, you can. You can give your kids what they need: a safe neighborhood, dynamic activities that will help them grow, a good education, clothing, nice parties, opportunities including valuable contacts for jobs, and more.

But the problem is when there's money but no love or warmth or authenticity. Then people feel lonely and unhappy and isolated. They can buy whatever they want and fly wherever they want, but it won't matter because they don't feel accepted and safe, and it's like living alone in a hardened, cold cave. But the commentators will take those examples and downplay wealth, as if everyone who has money feels that way. But that's not true.

I've met people who have a lot of money who never have to worry about paying their bills. It's only the irresponsible who squander it and end up broke. But those who are smart (and there are many) live within their means, even if it appears to be extravagant. For instance, a rich person can buy a large beach house outright, but they realize they can't have one on every gulf and ocean. So they stop at one. Or they can fly first class every time, but they know that buying a private plane is stretching it. To the rest of us, even an apartment on the Pacific is too expensive, so we have to settle for one in a concrete jungle. But rich people do have their limits, it's just that they're broader than ours. 

And then there's the pursuit of money that can make people feel miserable. I'm not talking about people who need a job to get their basic needs and to get out of a shooting-filled neighborhood to be able to pay for a one-bedroom in a stable suburb. I've met people who are more than millionaires and they're neurotic and lack peace because they want what other rich people have and are envious. They work to acquire more but don't enjoy what they have nor what they can do with their money. But again, that's not every person I've met. There are lots of people who are living comfortably, paying for what their children need and want, and their concerns are academic because they have way more than they need.

I've met a lot of people who are just getting by and are stressed out, and understandably so. If they lose their job, they'll have to scramble to get another one to survive. If prices go up, they have to make decisions about what is most necessary. If their car breaks down, they have to be able to afford to get it fixed. When gas prices go up, they have to forfeit other necessities to be able to fill the tank. They want to be able to enjoy Christmas, nights out, weekends away, but they know they'll get into debt over it. Their lives are filled with decisions and sacrifices over basic needs and desires for luxuries that a rich person's pocket money can take care of with no problem.

Many years ago I met someone who made wise decisions and ended up pretty well off. She never had to worry about paying for anything, and she was able to pay people to help her as she got older. But she said some of her happiest days were when she and her husband were just starting out and they lived in a studio apartment, where she tutored students and her husband worked at a job that didn't pay a lot. She said life was so much simpler back then and she enjoyed it. I think she was just being nostalgic as she got older. Would she think the same way if she raised her kids in such a situation? She'd have a small space for her, her husband, and a few kids, enough money to pay the rent and some basic food but not much else, and a neighborhood with bad schools surrounded by decrepit buildings. They would've been stressed out and fighting about money, and complaining that they wanted their kids to be in better schools, have decent clothes and an infrastructure that had pathways to a brighter future. I was pretty young when I heard her talk about the good ol' days, and even back then I had my doubts. 

Last month, I was hanging out with some people at someone's house, and we had a great time. One person said what we were doing was worth more than being able to fly to Europe for the weekend. There was no money required for what we were doing, and while it's great to be able to afford a spontaneous European getaway, the fun we had was priceless. And there are other experiences like that: having the opportunity to be yourself in a judgement-free safe space, having fun doing what you love, helping people live with dignity, or just helping people.

The big news recently is that a super-rich woman gave a medical school a billion dollars so students can study for free. Imagine being able to do that for people. I know there are wealthy people who don't donate anything to anybody, just enjoy buying houses, yachts, cars, planes, and whatever else they want, but they're rich enough to have that choice. 

I know that money doesn't buy you happiness, but if someone is level-headed, that person can coast. Even professor Michael Blanding confirms More Proof That Money Can Buy Happiness (or a Life with Less Stress): less stress, greater control, and more satisfaction. 

p.s. the e-book version of my debut novel is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.


I finished the Duolingo Japanese course!

I decided to set a Duolingo goal to finish the Japanese course this month, and I did it!

At first I didn't know if I was really done because there was no celebration from the app. Usually they give you high-fives for things such as completing lessons or challenges, so I expected something like that. When I got to the end of the challenges, Section 6 turned gold and Duo appeared in the middle of the circle with pom-poms, and a trophy appeared. But the app didn't give me a separate message of congratulations nor put anything in the feed, which is something it usually does for other milestones. But since now everything is in "Review" mode, I'm assuming I'm done and can review as I want. 

I still have German to tackle, followed by Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian, so I'm not done with the app. I'm going to continue studying Japanese in other contexts, and Duolingo definitely helped me improve my skills. It's a good app; you should use it to at least augment your language-learning pursuits.

p.s. the e-book version of my debut novel is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.