Try as I may, I keep forgetting the kanji for 遺伝子 (いでんし: “gene, genetics”)…

On the other hand I have absolutely no trouble remembering words like 居合い (いあい: “act of drawing one’s katana, killing with a single stroke, shaking out the blood and sheathing the katana back, as one single movement” — yes, it means all that; no, I am not kidding) after seeing them used exactly once.

Which would be great if, you know, there was more assisting with friends’ seppuku and less messing around with genes, in my life right now.

After spending 30 minutes figuring out what needed fixing on a friend’s freshly updated (and no longer working) Softbank iPhone, I figured I would commit the instructions to this blog, for all the hapless gaijin out there, trying to figure out why their iPhone suddenly stopped working.

This post is purely intended for a Google audience, so please skip if you are a regular reader with none of the aforementioned iPhone issues.

Facebook had three things going for it, a couple years back, around the time I finally caved in and signed up:

1) A fairly decent interface. A newsfeed that was actually designed to intelligently filter stuff of interest to you while hiding the the rest automagically (instead of requiring you to constantly click through endless moronic application notifications, courtesy of your bored-friends-at-work).

2) Everybody was/is on Facebook. Even those kids you used to share your milk with, back in first grade… Facebook is the ultimate “where are they now” tool… If somebody born within your lifetime is not on Facebook, chances are they are either dead or building pipe bombs in a secluded cabin somewhere deep into the woods. All you need is a full name and/or school attendance year.

3) Advanced privacy features meant that people used their real names (a necessity to make point #2 worth anything), while allegedly keeping private stuff away from your boss/exes/crazy Google stalkers etc.

Here we are now, a couple years later and point #1 has died a long and painful death at the hands of a dozen asinine “interface redesigns” plagiarising any other Web 2.0 service with an ounce of popularity, all the while bringing server cost down (yes: turned out, all those great intelligent filtering tools were so intelligent they did not scale at all… oops).

Point #2 is more valid than ever: it is only a matter of time before even dead people have their Facebook page (never mind: they already do). But let’s be honest: once you’ve looked up all your friends from kindergarten and realised you did not share much beside reminisced fondness for crayon drawing and shared hatred of afternoon nap time, once you’ve made sure the asshole bully from Junior High is now assistant manager at Taco Bell and once you’ve found out that secret High School crush Susie now has three kids, two dogs and a suburban house, and is (according to her status) feeling bloated after that huge KFC meal they just all had at the mall… Once you have satisfied that bit of morbid curiosity about every single living soul you have ever interacted with during your life… You just want to go back to hanging out with people you actually chose to be friends with, preferably at an age where your common interests involved more than making watercolour handprints and trying not to pee your pants in public.

Strolling through Bic Camera the other day, I stopped in the handheld electronic Japanese dictionaries aisle and had a quick look at prices for a laugh.

Seriously, who still buys these things?

My guess is: people who also just purchased a brand new Sony Minidisc player1 and/or will only use devices that bears the same comforting look as the pocket calculator they had back in High School.

I don’t see why else anybody would willingly spend up to twice the price of an iPod Touch on a tool that will, at best, do roughly what any iPod/iPhone does… minus the thousands of non-Japanese-related features.

Trust me, I am very receptive to the argument of the simple tool that does one thing and does it well, without the clutter and confusion of a myriad peripheral features… But if that’s what it takes, buy an iPod Touch, forget it can be a music player, a web browser or a gaming platform and use it solely as a Japanese study tool: you will still be getting a better deal than with one of these ridiculously overpriced/underfeatured denshi jisho.

In case you are considering such a purchase, or if you already own an iPhone/iPod Touch and wondered what apps you should get in order to turn it into the ultimate Japanese studying tool, here are my three picks:

  1. “fit up to twenty tracks in your pocket!” []

The PoS cellphone I use when travelling abroad has the bad habit of accidentally triggering all sorts of functions when I forget to explicitly lock the keyboard (stupid brick-body designs). Instead of staying nicely asleep in my pocket, it will kill time by calling random contacts from my address book or navigate half a dozen menu down to some obscure settings…

Last week, upon glancing at my message logs by chance, I realised it decided to send half a dozen empty messages to the first contact in my address book. It then topped that series with an audio SMS: 30 seconds of muffled sounds from whatever crowded bar I must have been in, that night.

All that while using a throwaway number on a prepaid German SIM card (thus unknown from most of the people in my address book).

Meanwhile in Europe, my friend Abigail is probably ever so slightly worried by that mysterious German caller who sent her all these creepy empty messages.