Tagged: internet

Tempted by Commufa, a Cheap Alternative to NTT Flets

If you live in the Chubu region, you’ve probably seen the TV commercials for Commufa Hikari, a product of Chubu Telecommunications. They run a pretty aggressive marketing campaign with door-to-door and telephone sales reps, and since I was not opposed to saving 2,000 yen on my phone bill, I agreed to take them up on their offer.

A no-hassle changeover?

At least I did at first. The problem is, although they promise an easy transition from your current phone and internet setup, it’s really not that easy at all. They give you the impression that they will take care of everything for you, but they can’t. It’s still your responsibility to cancel your internet provider (in my case OCN) and your current internet setup (in my case NTT Flets Hikari). Plus, you have to deal with the sales rep, the engineer and the admin person, all of whom phone you at 30 minute intervals on numerous occasions – at least in my experience.

Twenty questions

They weren’t rude at all, but with so many questions about your current set up, including the direction of the room in which your second computer is based, it all gets a bit overwhelming, especially when they fire their list of technical questions at you in Japanese.

Since I also had to contact the phone line rental company in Osaka to confirm whether I could switch to Commufa or not, I found the the hassle was not worth the 1,000 yen monthly savings. Yes, that’s right, once you include the costs to continue using your current phone number and email address, you don’t save as much as you expect.

Enough already

In the end, after about eight phone conversations with Commufa, I decided not to follow through with the switch. If you find yourself tempted by monthly savings and promises of a hassle-free changeover, just remember that it might not be quite as easy as it first appears.

Update: The very next day, someone from Commufa drove all the way up from Nagoya (90 min. drive) and rang our doorbell. He said he knew nothing about my conversations with Commufa the previous day and he was “just in the area”. Anyway, I invited him in and after he looked at my current setup he talked me through everything I had doubts about – and even showed that I’d be saving closer to 4,000 yen a month. So, I’ve signed on the dotted line and now wait for a visit from the electrician.

Ramsay Ramblings 5/6/2008

There are lots of little things to talk about this week, so here’s another dose of Ramsay Ramblings!

May 5th was Children’s Day

Mami and I have a little boy, and this year was his first Children’s Day. Thomas wrote all about Koinobori, Japanese Carp Streamers, so I’ll skip the detail and get to the photos:

Japanese Carp Streamers - Koinobori

Our Koinobori – Japanese Carp Streamers

Children\'s Day Kintarou Cake

A Kintarou cake

Mochi rice cakes wrapped in kashiwa

Kawashi-mochi – rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves

Rikuto enjoying his first Children\'s Day

Rikuto celebrates his first Children’s Day at the park

Those bloomin’ berks at Bloomberg published the suicide gas recipe

Of all the dumb things I’ve seen, Bloomberg published the “recipe” to the poisonous concoction of household cleaning chemicals that people have been using to kill themselves in Japan lately. Shane kicked up a storm and we all pitched in. In the end, Bloomberg edited the dangerous parts of the article, so hooray for us! 😀

Making a start on WritingWorkbooks.com

I had a good response to the post about my dot com lifestyle, and was encouraged to talk more about what I do for a living. It seems I’ve inspired a few people to earn some money online, including my mum, so I’ve started some behind-the-scenes work on a joint project with her, taking advantage of her experience as a primary school teacher.

The idea is to make a large number of handwriting practice workbooks for children, each book based on an elementary school subject, such as dinosaurs and weather. Each page of each book will have a traceable general knowledge fact about a chosen school subject, and the books will of course be for free.

I already have a website in the “handwriting” niche, so WritingWorkbooks.com should complement it well. My mum is the perfect partner since she knows so much about the curriculum and knows exactly what teachers and parents need for their children.

In picking this topic for a site, I considered:

  1. Do I know enough about the topic? – Including my mum, yes.
  2. Will people find it useful? – My mum thinks so.
  3. Will it cost me anything? – $10 for the domain name. I already have the $100 fonts.
  4. Will it need ongoing work? – Not after it’s finished.
  5. How will I monetize it? – Probably with Adsense. Decide later.

The beauty of a site like this is that it requires no maintenance. A blog always needs new material, but sites like this can be built and left alone. That leaves you free to build more and more. That’s why I don’t worry too much about its earnings potential. Once you’ve got your starting costs back, it’s pure, passive income.

Jason got hitched! Congratulations!

Jason Irwin, has tied the knot. He had a long-distance relationship for nearly two years with his bride-to-be, Reiko, but after a succession of trips between Canada and Japan, they finally live together as husband and wife in the same city as me, Kakamigahara. In a related post, Jason poses the interesting question, is the distinction between the online world and reality fading?

Ramsay, Mark 1 launches into cyberspace

Speaking of online relationships, my brother, Mark, has discovered the internet for the first time. He is a complete newbie, so I’m helping him learn all the basics (left-click, right-click, drag and drop) before he joins me on our joint project, VirtualTripping.com. He’s already taken to the net like a duck to water, managing to watch 652 YouTube videos in his first four days online! It should be fun blogging with him on VT, so swing by and join the Ramsay brothers as we send blog “post” cards from Google Earth.

My Dot Com Lifestyle in Japan

I was reading John Chow’s article, with accompanying video, The Dot Com Lifestyle, and it prompted me to write a little about my own work-at-home life.

My work commitments

I was an English teacher for ten years, working six days a week, and thinking I was lucky because I only worked for five or six hours in the evenings and had decent holidays. Still, I was more passionate about the internet than teaching, so two years ago I started building some websites, and I turned to the internet full-time in January this year.

Now, my only commitments are one class a week at a kindergarten, and some curriculum work for an international school which I can do from home. Besides that, I have complete time freedom.

What I do to keep busy

An afternoon at the park with RikutoWhile I may have time freedom, I still have to pay the bills somehow, so I’m constantly working away on one of my websites, trying to build it up so it becomes more competitive and attracts more visitors. This doesn’t mean I’m chained to my desk, though. I often sleep in until 10am, work for a couple of hours in my pajamas, have some lunch, do some more work, go for a walk and play with Rikuto for an hour or so, do a bit more work and then finish up at around 6pm.

No longer do I have to put on a shirt and tie, I don’t have to drive to and from school. I don’t have to smile all the time, and I don’t have to shave so often! An added perk is I can avoid all the busy times by going shopping, doing banking, etc. when everyone else is working.

What keeps me motivated

I have come to realize that I don’t need a lot of money to enjoy this lifestyle, so it’s not really the money that motivates me. My natural passion for all things webby is more than enough to keep me at my desk, although knowing my wife and son are counting on me to provide for them is also a factor!

With a 9-month old boy, my wife stays at home, too, so that puts me in the really unique position of being a work-at-home dad who gets to spend all his time with his stay-at-home wife and son.

Am I lucky or what?

I truly am grateful to the internet for giving me a chance to break free from the daily grind and have so much time with my family. It kind of saddens me to see people, especially all those salarymen, slugging away at jobs they don’t enjoy, just because it’s considered the “norm”.

Motivating my readers

Earning a sufficient income on the internet is difficult, but you don’t need to suddenly quit your job and throw yourself into it. Set yourself tiny goals to begin with, such as $5 a month, $10 a month, and go from there. I remember how excited I was when I put ads on my site and earned 11 cents! Everyone’s reaction was “Big deal… 11 cents… Who cares?”, but to me, I had made money on the internet and I wanted more than anything to see that figure grow and grow.

If you need anymore motivation, have a read of my all-time favorite Steve Pavlina article, 10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job. And remember, money does grow on tress, you just have to plant them yourself! 🙂

Apologies for “Unscheduled Maintenance”

Cannot connectLet me take a moment to apologize for the 6+ hours of downtime my websites experienced today. When I woke up and switched on my computer at 8:00 am, it was already impossible to connect to any of my sites (of which I have a dozen, serving around 8,000 visitors on a typical Tuesday). The problem wasn’t resolved until mid-afternoon, and a few connection difficulties persist as I write this.

I have been promised a written apology and explanation, but all I have been told so far is that the server had “unscheduled maintenance”. I blame the lack of communication on what is obviously outsourced tech support. 🙄

Thank you to those of you who called or emailed to let me know the sites were down. I promise to buy you Mars bars and baked beans when I visit England this year.

Japanese Don’t Need a Home PC

I’ve lost count. I’ve bought either six or seven Japanese home PCs since coming to Japan and would be lost without my beloved computer. My wife often jokes that I love my PC more than her because I spend more time in my home office than I do in the living room. I solved that problem by setting up Skype on her laptop so she can call me from downstairs!

Mami rarely uses her laptop. In fact, she struggles to find her way around the Windows desktop. In all honesty, it was a waste of money because she really doesn’t need it. As a housewife, she has no need for Microsoft Office and she can email her friends and browse the web from her cell phone. Now, her laptop is just a clunky piece of furniture she rests her coffee cup on.

Japanese cell phones do everything!Cell phones replace the Japanese home PC 

My wife is just an example of many Japanese who have stopped using home computers. Few Japanese bring their work home, and use their cell phones for everything from email and internet, to photos, music and video. These days, you can bypass computers altogether by sending your cell phone’s photos, music and video directly to your printer, home stereo or television.

ContraCostaTimes.com reports that in Japan, flat-screen TVs, iPods, cameras and video game machines are higher on the priority list than a home PC. So, could this be the end of the Japanese home PC market?

Overall PC shipments in Japan have fallen for five consecutive quarters, the first ever drawn-out decline in PC sales in a key market, according to IDC. The trend shows no signs of letting up: In the second quarter of 2007, desktops fell 4.8 percent and laptops 3.1 percent.

Japan is the first major PC market to shrink after 25 years of solid growth. Do you think we will see the same decline in other major markets? Will the home PC once again be a toy reserved for computer geeks?

Inspired by the article, PC market running out of steam in tech-savvy Japan.

88% use Internet Explorer

For the month of November, 88% of visitors to my Writing Wizard website use Internet Explorer, while only 7% use Mozilla Firefox. How does this affect my approach to web design? Well, although I check my sites in Firefox, if they don’t work correctly, I honestly don’t care!

Tech-heads and Firefox fanboys will rave about tabbed browsing, rss web feeds, security and extensions. And yes, Firefox offers loads of extensions to make life easier for webmasters, but how many of my visitors are webmasters? Probably less than 1%.

Having just seen that some of pages look screwy in Firefox, I’m left frustrated that regular people are still jumping on the Firefox bandwagon. I could fix up my sites so they work with both browsers, but why spend hours doing that for the minority of Firefox users who, in my opinion, would have a less bug-ridden browsing experience if they just followed the masses and used IE7.

This is what confuses me. Now that Internet Explorer 7 is freely available and offers all the modern comforts one would expect from a browser (tabbed browsing, rss support, and security), why bother with Firefox?

A friend of mine in Canada uses Firefox, not because he wants to but simply because the I.T guy installed it on all the computers in his office. How many companies and colleges are using Firefox just because the tech guy thinks it’s better? Isn’t it like using betamax video recorders despite the dominance of VHS?

While Firefox fans such as the I.T guy in the above scenario continue to force their preferred browser on people, I worry that those unknowing users will suffer in the long term. In my opinion, there must be thousands of webmasters like myself who simply can’t be bothered to iron out bugs for the sake of a few Firefox users. This will lead to thousands of Firefox-unfriendly websites, and all those people like my friend in Canada will become frustrated at not being able to views sites properly.

The solution? The World Wide Web Consortium is doing all they can to encourage webmasters like me to comply with web design standards for compatibility across different browsers. However, personally I think it would just be much easier to get everyone to use the same browser. Heck, I wouldn’t mind if that were Firefox, but considering I.E’s overwhelming hold on the browser market, switching to IE7 just seems to be more sensible.

Hmm… I guess that’s like trying to persuade Mac users to use Windows!

Update (Dec 2nd, 2007): One year after writing this post the percentage of IE users has dropped only 2%. All IE users combined currently account for 86% of visitors to my Writing Wizard site.

Money DOES grow on trees.

I didn’t come to Japan for the money. No, really! I’d love to say I came to experience the culture, learn the language and teach English, but if truth be told, I came for a girl… but that’s another story.

So, although I wasn’t here for the money at first, it has become a big reason for me to stay. Contrary to popular belief, I find the cost of living in Japan far cheaper than back in the U.K, and my teaching salary is enough to live on. Having enough to live on though isn’t much fun though, is it? For me, there’s always something new I want to splash cash on, whether it’s a plasma TV, a DVD camcorder or a new computer. I must admit that since I turned 30 and got married, I’ve been more concerned with saving for a house and having enough left over to pay exuberant health insurance fees.

Trying to earn some extra green has always been on my mind. When I was in secondary school (J.H), I would spend my lunch money on candy and snacks in the convenience store before school, then sell them for a profit from my locker. That was working great until a school bully broke into it and stole the lot. Among a plethora of part-time and temporary jobs while in college (H.S) and university, I tried selling double-glazed windows door-to-door. The commission was good but I only made two sales in two weeks!  

Then I came to Japan. The most obvious source of additional income as an ESL teacher is to teach students privately, cutting out the middle man and earning anything from 20 to 100 dollars an hour. The legality of teaching on the side while employed by a school is questionable though. An alternative which I tried and failed miserably at was network marketing, or perhaps more commonly known as multi-level, or pyramid, marketing. There are a lot of MLM companies trying to break into the Japanese market, and they tend to target foreigners because they speak English. Very few are then able to market the products to their Japanese friends because of both the language barrier and cultural differences.

Another common part-time job for foreigners is working in a bar, but that never really got my interest. Instead, I would look out for one off opportunities to make some extra money. The most memorable are: Clapping my hands and chanting “One potato, two potato” etc. as part of a musical experiment at a university to compare how westerners and Japanese clap; and the other being part of a blood-clotting medical experiment in which I had to give blood, urine and a stool sample! Don’t worry, it was all above board and I think I’ll save that story for another day. The first of those little jobs earned me about $100 for ten minutes clapping, while the second got me $800 for two trips to the clinic.

After a few years in Japan, the internet really took off, and the day I switched to a broadband connection was when I really started looking at making money on the web. I failed at selling Pokemon cards on eBay, and my attempt at recording a “101 Ways to Learn English” audio CD for sale on Yahoo auctions and from a website also bombed. I couldn’t earn anything with the Amazon affiliate program, and although I sold loads of “I am not American” t-shirts through Cafepress, I had to end that little adventure after receiving numerous complaints and eventually a ‘cease and desist’ order for breach of copyright!

I had a brief stint writing language-learning software to help with my Japanese studies, and even got one of my programs listed on a Monash University professor’s website, but nothing to earn me that extra income stream.

In 2005, I started on a program to rival StartWrite – a popular piece of shareware for teachers wanting to make handwriting worksheets for their students. To grab market share, I decided to offer it for free on the net. Getting my new website listed on Google was a long, slow process and I was becoming increasingly frustrated. I had worked really hard on it and nobody knew the website even existed! So, not really wanting to spend any money, I figured I’d advertise using Google Adwords, a cheap way to get seen at the top of Google’s search results. I probably only spent $20 in that first month, but it was enough to get some visitors to the site…. and then they kept coming, and I started getting emails thanking me for it. Then, I guess those teachers told their co-workers and they told their friends and it all started snowballing.

It’s funny when I think back because the frustration that led me to Google Adwords set me on a path of discovery. I learned about Google Adsense, affiliate programs, search engine optimization, and a whole host of technical tricks and marketing techniques.

One year on and I’m pulling in a very nice monthly bonus from Google. Okay, it hasn’t replaced my teaching salary, but it has continued to grow every month since I started. I probably spend less than two hours a week checking things are all running smoothly, but other than that I just leave it alone while it works it’s magic, and every morning I wake up to see how much money I made while I was sleeping!

They say money doesn’t grow on trees. I say it does. You just have to plant those trees yourself.