Snow Removal Etiquette

It only snowed about 9 inches in my neighborhood. So how did this car end up in a wall of snow 18-20 inches high?

Apparently this one’s really difficult for people to figure out

We all heard the news, right? Six to ten inches of snow expected in Southeast Michigan? Big snow storm? Schools closing? Yeah, we knew this was coming. And we knew, or should’ve known, that all that snow would have to go somewhere. With a bit of consideration and planning ahead, it’s possible to clear snow out of your way without turning it into Somebody Else’s Problem.

Let’s say it has snowed 9 inches. So, there are 9″ of snow everywhere. In the road. Around your car. On top of your car. You need to clear the snow on and around your car to be able to go anywhere. So you clear it. You take the 9″ of snow from atop and around your car and…throw it in the middle of the street. So now, in the street, are the 9″ of snow that originally fell, plus the 9″ you just threw on top of it.


But wait, Fed-up Neighbor! you say to me. When cars pass through, they pat down the snow!

But does each passing car make sure that it travels a different path such that the snow in the street is evened out? Or does everyone just do their best to travel in the previous car’s tracks? And most of the snow is still there anyway. The cars carry some off on their wheels (which means putting your snow in the middle of the street means you are adding to the problem of decreased traction…don’t you feel good putting others’ lives in danger! Yay!)

My delightful neighbors spent the storm snowblowing and shoveling their snow into the middle of the street. When the city plow came through, the wall it ended up building to either side of the plow was higher than it would’ve been had people not been being inconsiderate assholes looking out only for their own convenience. That is how my brother’s car ended up walled in on the side.

It ended up walled in on the front when the next-door neighbors hired a plow truck and had it clear the parking spaces in front of their house…by pushing all that snow toward my brother’s car. And these people had the nerve to say to me “It would’ve been nice if you’d moved that car so we could clean there too.” And I’m thinking, “1. You didn’t tell us you were going to hire a plow. In fact, I came out here because from my window it looked like your plow was going to completely ram my brother’s car, and the plow driver was hesitating, but your husband was egging him forward. So…are you sure you wanna say that right now? and 2. We didn’t ask you to plow in front of our house anyway.”

What I did because I have some sense and don’t want to have spin-out accidents on my conscience was park my car in the driveway behind the house on Thursday night since I knew the storm was coming. This way, we could pile excess snow into the spot where my car usually is, and my brother would be able to clear his car and the area around it easily. Granted, parking in the back meant I would have to shovel the alley from my house to the street, an area about 50 feet long by 12 feet wide. It would be a lot of extra work for me, since I knew I could only count on one of the neighbors adjacent to the alley to help clear the snow, but at least this way I knew I would be able to get in and out safely without making things unsafe for others. Besides being able to pile the snow into the backyard, I knew I would be able to pile it in an empty lot also adjacent to the alley.

Every house on this block has a front and back yard. The one building on the block has a side lot, and in any case, the sidewalk is wide enough that they could leave half of it for piling up snow and still have plenty of space for people to comfortably walk in.

I’ve been trying to find out what the laws are in Michigan for a while now but couldn’t find anything state-wide until now. According to this article from WWJ, “it is actually illegal under Michigan law (section 257.677(a) of the Michigan Vehicle Code) to shovel or plow snow or ice onto any road or highway, or to deposit snow on a road or road shoulder in such a way that it blocks motorists’ views of traffic.”

The City of Detroit website also says, “Residents and businesses are reminded that they are responsible for maintaining their sidewalks in a manner that makes its safe for pedestrians. Snow removal services and property owners are prohibited from putting snow from their property onto public roadways, as it represents a hazard to vehicle traffic.” (Source, emphasis mine.) While this comes from a 2015 press release, the regular Department of Public Works website’s section on “Snow and Ice Management” (updated for 2017-2018) also states that people shouldn’t be putting their snow into the middle of the road.

More than the law though…I wish people would just not do this out of basic decency and good judgment. After all, when you make the road adjacent to your property more dangerous, you’re increasing the chances that someone will crash into your car, your house, and/or your loved ones. Is that risk really worth saving yourself the physical exertion of pushing snow onto your lawn instead of into the street?


A Thanksgiving Pun? The Sunflower Incident

One of my favorite moments from the YFC in Europe DVD I LOVE YOU ALL is what’s labelled in English as “The sunflower seed incident.”

Basically, a certain someone put a bunch of sunflower seeds on Chirolyn’s pick stand & mike stand at the concert in Barcelona, and Chirolyn, thinking he was supposed to do something with them, decided the thing to do was chew them and spit them out. On stage. Leaving the floor crunchy.

I loved the unhinged-in-a-different-way element that Chirolyn brought to the band. I wonder if he was also the one who wrote Spanish cuss words in katakana on his pick stand.

Anyway, a couple of years later, I was telling my students in Japan about Thanksgiving. The pilgrims, the Mayflower, etc. And one of my students says, 「メイフラワー?メイフラワー事件?」(“Mayflower? The Mayflower Incident?”). I was like, “What? They teach you guys about the Mayflower landing as the Mayflower Incident?” The student replied that yes, that it was in the history textbook. Huh. With all the Japanese history textbook controversies, I found it funny that they’d get holier-than-thou about the start of future Americans’ transgressions against the Indigenous peoples.

Then I remembered the YFC “Sunflower Incident.” Was it a history pun?!

I think I at least Googled “Mayflower jiken” in Japanese to see if the Mayflower landing was indeed commonly referred to as an “incident” in Japan. Though the word 事件 (jiken) can have the neutral meaning “event,” overall the connotation is decidedly negative.

I don’t remember the results of that search back then. But for the past 4 years I’ve been amused by the thought that the YFC bit had this extra joke in it. Finally, in the spirit of the season, I got around to checking it all out again.

The man behind the mayhem was actually Junji, who got the idea to surround Chirolyn with sunflower seeds.

But Junji himself didn’t call this “The Sunflower Seed Incident.” He called it 「ひまわりの種大作戦」(himawari no tane daisakusen), literally meaning “Big Operation Sunflower Seeds.” Or as I would translate it, “Operation Sunflower Seed.”

I suppose it’s possible the person who wrote the subtitles was a history geek being cute. Or passive-aggressive maybe.

If you Google メイフラワー号事件 with quotation marks, you’ll get a bunch of Yahoo! Chiebukuro (=Yahoo! Anwers) pages of high school students asking what the “Mayflower Jiken” was about, or why the Puritans left England. So while this usage doesn’t seem to be too widespread, it certainly is in Japanese high school world history textbooks.

On a bit of a side note, now that I’ve seen Delinquent Hamsters, I can’t help but wonder if Chirolyn inspired their creators a little bit. XD

Is the hamster with the Mohawk Chirolyn?!

Of Parking and the Two Detroits

By law, most people don’t have any particular claim to the street space in front of their house, unless they’ve gotten a handicap parking space. But sometimes laws don’t deal with human experience very well. If I’m legally bound to clear ice and snow from the city property adjacent to my house, and if I’ve grown up in a neighborhood—no, a city, where most people went by the unspoken rule that you don’t park in front of other people’s houses, especially not if you can easily avoid it, it isn’t hard to predict that I will be more than a little miffed at people choosing to park in front of my house when they are not my guests and had other options available to them. Add to this the fact that the people now doing this are guests of gentrifiers, while I will probably not be able to afford buying a house in my own neighborhood no matter how hard I work or how much longer I go around with a $100/year prepaid flip phone in my 13-year old pre-owned vehicle that I’ve only had for two years, and well…I’m pretty annoyed. I’ve taken to confronting these people and so far most have had the decency to move their cars but I can’t help thinking, “Why are you doing it at all? Did you not see the huge empty lot kitty corner from here? Did it not occur to you that in a city without good mass transit other people might have cars too?

The Status Quo Dressed in Progress’ Clothing

There used to be a fiberglass factory across the street from my house. Maybe when it was first built in the late 1890s it was an apartment building. But by the time my family moved from rented housing elsewhere in Southwest Detroit to our first home in 2001, the building was a fiberglass factory. The lot next to it was vacant, so the workers would park there. There were never any problems. Granted, I didn’t have a car at the time, so if someone parked in front of my mother’s house (which the next-door neighbors’ guests sometimes did) it didn’t bother me much. It always annoyed my mother though. A few years later the factory closed down, and the building sat vacant for several years.

Around 2013 we started seeing people going in and out of the building. Then stuff getting taken out. Eventually a letter came from the city saying the building had been purchased and the buyers wanted to convert it to three housing units, which would require a rezoning, and that there would be a hearing if neighbors wanted to express any concerns. As they were also taking the side lot, we didn’t think there was anything to be concerned about. Assuming 3 cars per unit (2 for the residents and 1 for a guest), that would be 9 cars. One vacant lot was enough for 9 cars. No problem! How nice that the vacant building would soon have tenants and they would have a place to park.

But that’s not what happened, because the owners only used half of the lot for parking. They seemed to have made some sort of garden-ish patio-ish thing in the other half.

Every weekend 10 completely different people show up, park in front of my house and the neighbors’ houses, and walk into that building. I get home from work at 9PM and can’t park in front of where I live. Yes, legally no one ever guaranteed me this convenience. But I don’t park in front of other people’s houses if I have an alternative that wouldn’t inconvenience anybody, such as these people do despite the building owners’ inconsiderate decision not to turn their whole side lot into parking space for their tenants and their guests.

Kitty-corner from my house is a huge vacant lot. The grass is always mowed and there’s a streetlight on the corner. It’s large enough to hold 3 single-family homes with big yards. So the street space in front of this corner lot is enough for 6 or 7 cars to park in without running afoul of parking laws. That’s enough for all the dinner party guests. Do they park there, even after I suggest it? No.

Because you want US to watch your car for you, don’t you!

Anyone would feel more secure leaving their shiny new vehicle in front of a house instead of a completely vacant lot, right?

So wait, lemme get this straight: you inconvenience me and my family by parking in front of my house but you want the convenience of extra security and being close to your destination? While I—the resident who would get in trouble if that same spot were ever full of more than one cubic yard of bulk trash or snow or weeds growing in between the cracks in the concrete—have to go park elsewhere?

Well ain’t that something! Que bonito!

It adds insult to injury to know the unholy rent price of those units. I Googled the address and found that the larger unit went for nearly $3,000 a month and the smaller one for nearly $2,000 a month. For comparison’s sake, my mother’s mortgage payments on her 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house were about $800/month; and most Detroit renters I know who are in about my same age & income brackets are paying $400-$700/month depending on location and how many roommates they have.

When Mike Duggan won reelection and his supporters started chanting “One Detroit!” I had to roll my eyes. I got your two Detroits right here on one street.

Isn’t it enough you’re gentrifying my neighborhood? Can some Old Detroiters at least park by their house in peace?

Detroit isn’t a city where you can assume most people are relying on mass transit. If you see a single-family home you can safely bet the residents there have at least one car. But a quick look up and down the street reveals most people have two.

There’s the family that needs a wheelchair van. So they have multiple vehicles. The families with their little work cars and one big pleasure car. The family with the two work vehicles and the classic car. We—a household of four adults—have three cars between us. So even with one car in the garage and one in the driveway, one needs to be on the street.

One more thing to consider: it is illegal, at least in Detroit, to park within 17 feet of an intersection. The neighbors to the intersection-side of us have gotten parking tickets for having their car too close to the corner. So when two strangers park their cars in front of my house, if one of us parked in front of our neighbor’s house, then we would be leaving them without legal space to park in in front of their house. That’s not fair either.

A while ago the landlady in that building was going around telling neighbors to protest the city’s dealings with the Ambassador Bridge Company. They’re trying to take the neighborhood.

It’s true. And it pisses me off.

But this neighborhood might be lost to me either way. As an educator I will probably never make enough money to buy a house in my increasingly expensive neighborhood like I always dreamed of. I can only hope that between the four of us we will be able to keep paying the utilities and the ever-increasing tax & water bills. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make a difference to someone like me whether it’s Moroun or gentrifiers taking my neighborhood as their pie. I’m up the creek without a paddle either way.

Is this progress for the neighborhood? Yes, when you consider a “neighborhood” nothing but a collection of bricks and mortar and anonymous sources of tax revenue. Is it really progress when all it does is repeat the all too common cycle of displacement?

The Bagley Pedestrian Bridge was supposed to have metaphorically “healed” the neighborhood of the gash the construction of I-75 caused decades ago. Things on this side of the freeway started looking up. Now, here we are again.

Meanwhile the people across the street continue with their blasted dinner parties and don’t have the consideration to tell their guests to freaking carpool like any decent person would.

You know where I park when I go visit friends who live in Midtown? In my university’s paid parking lots. I PAY to park before I go do some assholery by taking a local resident’s space. Or I ride my bike to avoid having to deal with parking altogether. Or I take the bus. I make a conscious decision about what I will do to not be a jerk. Because I know that cars need to be parked somewhere. And I know that someone coming home from work or Life doesn’t give a rat’s ass that they legally don’t have any claim to exclusive use of the street space in front of their house.

A little bit of consideration, folks. That’s all it is.

Words of the Day

Alternative facts: Doublespeak for “inconvenient truths”

Cherry-picking: Deliberately ignoring facts you don’t like in favor of facts you do, then acting as if one fact can cancel another fact

Foreshortening: The visual phenomenon of the length of something disappearing when viewed from dead-on. The length of the thing in question nevertheless continues to exist. Related: Object permanence

Headdesk: The sound of the point being willfully ignored

Object permanence: The understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be directly observed, usually developed in humans by the age of 2 years

Peek-a-Boo: A game which is fun when you are a baby without object permanence or a child or adult with object permanence entertaining a baby; when all parties involved have object permanence it’s just insulting


Yes I Too Have Osaekirezu ni Aishitsuzuketad

Was thinking about this question of why GACKT used kanji+katakana instead of kanji+hiragana and since I’d seen the video relatively recently it occurred to me that since this arc of the MOON SAGA takes place in Europe, it could be that he did that to show that the character singing isn’t one of the Japanese originators of vampires but rather a European one. Because the other use for katakana besides emphasis or historical uses is to show that a) a non-Japanese character in a work of fiction is speaking Japanese for the benefit of the Japanese audience but within the story line should be understood to actually be speaking whatever language would be appropriate; or b) to show that a non-Japanese person is speaking Japanese (regardless of whether they’re speaking it well or not—kinda the same way that sometimes American TV shows put captions on people speaking English if they have an accent even if it’s not heavy). In these cases it is more common to write everything in katakana, but mixing in kanji isn’t unheard of either. Sasazuka Elise comes to mind.

Personally I prefer to think he did it for emphasis because unrequited or otherwise unfulfilled love is a particularly strong and sucky emotion, and because I find the practice of writing what non-Japanese say in katakana discriminatory (though I can cut Usage A some slack). But given that GACKT’s always talking about how each song portrays a character, I think the possibility that he meant for this to be a non-Japanese character’s song is also possible.

There’s one other thing I’ve wondered about this song, and that’s the weird beep at 3:40, right behind GACKT’s vocals as he’s singing “kimi no na wo.” I hear it on the CD and on MP3 and AAC rips of this track. It sounds very similar to one of the beeping noises the old iMac G3 had. It was one of the sounds you could use as an alert. There’s at least one other instance of a Mac sound in GACKT songs in weird places, namely at 2:37 of “Kimi ga Matteiru Kara.” I had that chime noise set to announce the quarter hour on the old family iMac. I’m pretty sure there was one more song with one of these sounds, but alas, I’d written these observations into the comments section of iTunes on my now-dead MacBook Pro. I’ll try to remind myself to write things down next time I hear these beeps & chimes.

I Stand Partially Corrected: Revisiting Google Translate & Related Tidbits

A few months back I posted about a hilariously off Google translation from English to Japanese of a status I’d originally posted to Facebook. After reading this massive article about how neural networks have dramatically improved the service, I got curious and figured I’d plug the exchange back in and see what it gave me now.

The original English:

Adult & three little kids walking down my street:

Kid: What’s that?
Dad(?): It’s a rooster.
Kid: What’s a rooster?
Dad: It goes *does an admirable impression of a rooster crowing*
Kid: Cock-a-doodle-do!
Kid 2: Cock-a-doodle-do!
Youngest Kid: *attempts to crow, ends up shrieking instead*

This made me smile as I sat in my window reading. lol

And now the new Google Translate result:




This is most definitely miles above the engine’s September attempt. Unlike that try, here the first sentence is completely correct, the sentences which used *description of action* are now at least grammatically if not contextually correct, and the very last bit of the last sentence has been corrected from an ultra-literal translation of “made me smile” in which “made” was interpreted in the sense of “create something” rather than “give rise to an action.” There are only two major problems with this translation: tone, and the engine’s inability to recognize misspelled words.

What I described was an informal exchange between a dad (I assume) and his three children. The use of the words “Dad” and “Kid” rather than “Father” and “Son” or “Child” partly indicated that in English. However, the tone of the Japanese translation is inconsistent. It used “Kiddo” for “kid” which feels informal, as does my narration which was translated in plain form. But the speech was translated into polite form, and “Dad” was translated to “Otou-san” (honorific way of saying “Father” when addressing your own father or when talking about another person’s father) when “Papa” would’ve been better for this scenario.

One thing I hadn’t realized when I made my first post about this translation was that I had misspelled the onomatopoeia for a rooster’s crow: “cock-a-doodle-doo” ends with two o’s, not one as I wrote it. Google Translate’s inability to interpret not what I wrote but what I meant to write created much of what made its first translation particularly funny. This time, instead of bringing a “huge cock” into the mix, it translated my misspelled sound effect as “Ojii-chan,” which is a somewhat affectionate-polite way to address your grandfather. How it got “Grandpa” from “cock-a-doodle-do” is beyond me.

I’ve actually come across a few similar cases doing translations from Japanese to English. For example, one customer wrote 通風 (“tsuufuu” meaning “ventilation”) in a list of diseases/conditions hot springs baths help to alleviate. Within that context, I figured this was a typo, and that the intended word was 痛風: also pronounced “tsuufuu,” but meaning “gout.” More amusing was 賛成用化粧品 (“sanseiyou keshouhin” meaning “cosmetics for [use by] agreements”) which appeared to be the product of the client typing in romaji input mode and hitting the “s” instead of the “d,” which would have gotten the correct 男性用化粧品 (“danseiyou keshouhin” meaning “cosmetics for men”).

Given the description of neural nets in the article, however, it’s only a matter of time before we can make Mr. Data even machines can spot things that don’t make sense and correct human errors in typing to produce translations of what was intended rather than what was typed. That said, I think there might be an unfortunate trend that would hasten the death of human translators somewhat unrelated to how good machines get at doing it, and that’s people accepting (paying for) sub-par translations and people not wanting to pay for things at all.

There is hardly anything in the world that someone cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price alone are that person’s lawful prey.

Common Law of Business Balance

I remember seeing a post somewhere (probably Tumblr) a few months ago about an otome game with an absolutely dreadful translation, which the OP rightfully pointed out. But then they said they hoped that wouldn’t turn anyone off from the game, because really it had a good story, and I wondered how they could gauge that when the writing was so horrible, and if they realized that companies would have no reason to invest in proper translations if they could make money off fans with crappy ones. I think the post was about the game Ephemeral by Hunex. I can’t find the precise post I’m thinking of but this one has some screencaps, as does this review. It is bad. Anyone who doesn’t think so either has a poor grasp of the English language, or has only ever been exposed to bad writing.

In a similar vein, I couldn’t help but recall all the reviews for Voltage games in the App Store where people were complaining that it wasn’t “fair” to charge for the games, how they loved the characters and everything but that the games would be better if they were free, etc. If so many people in your customer base like what you make but repeatedly tell you it’s not worth paying for, would you feel motivated to improve your product, a move which would cost you money and necessitate raising prices to remain profitable? Probably not.

While the examples I’ve given here are about a relatively niche market, I think it holds true even when taking a wider view. Services like One Hour Translation and Gengo wouldn’t exist if people weren’t okay with getting inferior products. Even if computers never become capable of producing 100% human native speaker-level translations, the skill itself has already been deprofessionalized enough to lower rates for translators working in the lower ends of the industry. Simply being bilingual and a good translator probably won’t get you very far without a STEM or law background.

Well, ultimately, what can I say? We’re probably living in the Eternal Sphere. What humans are doing now with AI is perhaps what someone else did to make us and we just think we’re thinking. Je pense, mais je n’en sais rien.