My dad has two cars that are in Washington state: a 1951 Pontiac, and a 1954 Hudson Hornet. The Pontiac is a car that his dad (my grandfather, Chet Evans) took delivery of when he owned the garage part of the Pontiac dealership (McGillvrae Pontiac, Omak, WA), and he drove it to the dealership from Oregon before it was passed on to the original owner, after Chet installed accessories: seat covers, backup lights and possibly the heater.
My dad then bought that very same car from the original owner (who lived in Okanogan, WA) in 1978 and used it while he was teaching at the UW in Seattle. When we moved back to California in 1979, the Pontiacc was left with Grandpa in Omak, and he drove it with some regularity until the late 1990s, at which time the engine was getting low on compression and the car sat in my grandparents’ garage.
Last year after she passed, we had the Pontiac and Hudson moved to a place near Spokane, where we had work done on them to make them mechanically safe for the trip to Dallas.
The Pontiac has had a lot of work, the engine was rebuilt, the pistons cylinders were bored out, the transmission was re-built, the brakes were re-done, the front suspension was rebuilt, seatbelts were added to the seats, and so on. This summer it was ready, and timing worked out such that I would be in Seattle for work in late July.
So dad and I decided to drive the Pontiac down to Dallas, TX from Seattle, WA to get it where it needed to go.
3 2013-07-25 Ennis to Yellowstone, with a lot of luck in between
We went to the Napa Auto Parts store at 8:00am when they opened up, and asked about parts for the Pontiac. We wanted to get a rebuild kit for the carburetor and an electric pump. They didn't have anything for the carburetor (we would have been shocked if they did) but they did have some electric fuel pumps. 12 volt ones. The Pontiac runs on 6 volts, but dad thought that a 12 volt pump would work, it would just work at about half capacity. We had some discussion with one of the guys at the shop who was pretty adamant that it would not work, and quoted Ohm's law. Dad knows that law pretty well, and tried to talk a bit about it, but in the end we didn't get in to any arguments and I was happy that nobody trotted out whatever degrees they might have (I think between the two of us we have 2 undergraduate Electrical Engineering degrees, and one PhD in Electrical Engineering, as well as a few other degrees not worth mentioning.) We didn't get anything at the Napa store, and headed out to the other store in town.
The other place didn't have anything that was helpful either, although they could have had a 6 volt fuel pump sent overnight. It wasn't clear whether they would be able to install it the next day. Installing the fuel pump (in line with the existing mechanical one) is a bit of a job: you have to mount it, maybe move some hoses or lines around, run electrical power to it, maybe mount a switch for it, drill some holes to get wires where they need to go, and so on. Maybe a 1-3 hour job on a good day.
While we were at the shop, we picked up some insulating wrap used to wrap exhaust headers. We thought that would help keep the fuel line cool. One of the guys there also told us that he had problems with vapor locking, and one thing that worked was to put some transmission fluid in the gas – that raises the density of the gas and raises the flash point so it is a bit harder to vaporize it. We put the wrap on the fuel line (with the help of some duct tape – and I actually did the wrapping myself) in the parking lot of the parts store. Hopefully that was helpful. It couldn't hurt anyway.
We went back to the hotel and made a few calls to parts stores in Bozeman, which is the nearest large city, and was recommended as a place that might have a 6 volt fuel pump. One place actually did have a 6 volt fuel pump in stock, and we asked about whether they knew a place that would install it. It turns out they did, and the guy could do it the same day! We told them we would be there in about an hour (it was 50 miles away) and we packed up.
After we got some gas (premium) we headed down the road to Bozeman. And the car stalled. On a straightaway. Actually, I should mention that yesterday, after putting the carburetor back together, I thought something was funny with the gas pedal. It seemed like it wouldn't go down as far as it used to, like something was stopping it about halfway down. Dad took a try at driving, and agreed that it felt strange, but after stomping on it a few times it was back to normal. That was yesterday, when basically we just limped up a bit of a hill and then went downhill from there.
Well, after the car pulled over about 800 meters from the hotel that we started at, we popped the hood and took a look. Part of the accelerator linkage was bent, and that is when Dad noticed that the previous day he had installed the linkage that sets the idle and fast idle (and is part of the automatic choke system) improperly when he put the carburetor back together! That explains why the pedal wouldn't go all the way down - until it was forced and bent the linkage. And explains why the car wouldn’t idle…
Dad used some duct tape to secure the automatic choke linkage out of the way and we were able to just barely limp up the mountain, then coast down to the flats. Bozeman was about 50 miles away, and we had a few more mountains in the way. There were some close calls where I didn't think we would make it, but in the end we were just able to clear the final uphill parts of the road, and we got to Bozeman probably at about 11:00am.
The parts store there did have a 6 volt fuel pump. We also picked up some other miscellaneous stuff, and then headed over to the shop (next door) run by a guy out of his garage. He had a truck up and had pulled the rear end on it. He took a look at the Pontiac, but was a bit negative when he realized that the job wasn't to swap out an electric fuel pump, but to install one where we never had one in the first place. That is a significantly harder job. He wasn't sure he would be able to get the car done since he had other business to finish, but after hearing out story he said he would take a look at it.
The mechanic's name was Jason, and he was just great. He was a younger guy, but really knew his stuff when talking about these older engines. He grew up working on cars apparently, and managed to move around his schedule so he could start on the pump installation right then. While he did that dad I did some work on the accelerator linkage—basically repairing the damage that we had self inflicted the previous day. We had bought some parts previously that we needed to properly reconnect the linkage, so after bending it back into place, we checked back in with Jason. He said he need an hour or two more, so we went off to lunch.
When we got back Jason was done! The pump was in, he had a switch installed nicely under the dash, and it worked great. We paid him (and gave a nice tip for all the trouble we caused him) and took off, headed for Yellowstone National Park.
I cannot stress just how amazing Jason was. He was fun to chat with, really knew his stuff, worked very quickly, and went out of his way to get us on the road again. It was really just amazing when you consider that there is no reason that any parts store really should have a 6 volt fuel pump. Those are just rare. We were very lucky that there was one near us, at a place that we could limp to in the Pontiac. Then we were super lucky that there was someone that could install it for us. That isn't the kind of job that you can do (or would want to do) easily on the roadside. You need a shop with a lift or at least a jack, power tools to cut some holes, wiring, all sorts of stuff. It is really amazing that we were able to find the right combination of parts and labor to get the Pontiac back on the road.
And it was really back on the road. We had a few hills in between us and Yellowstone, and it took them like a champ. Before, you could only give the car a little bit of gas. If you gave it too much it would cough, act like it wasn't getting any gas (which is wasn’t), and start to die. It would do that too if you just gave it a little bit of gas, it would still do that, but you could get a lot further. A bit further.
Now, if you put the pedal to the floor it would downshift and give you all it got. The engine is about 90 horsepower, so if you are used to a modern musclecar, or even just a modern* car, that isn't really much, but with the electric fuel pump (and our additional ad-hoc modifications like a wrapped fuel line, transmission fluid in the gas (only once), and premium gas) it would now power up the mountain and only lose a bit of speed. Down to about 50 instead of 20mph (or stalled.) We had lots of ups and downs, but the Pontiac took them all like a champ. We probably crossed the Continental Divide about 10 times.
Clearly this is what was giving us our problems. Before when you climbed a hill, the car would slow down, and the engine temperature would rise. Now the temperature stays pretty constant and you can go at a reasonable speed up the hill. That fits in well with what we suspect: the mechanical fuel pump wasn't able to supply enough fuel, making the engine run lean, raising the temperature, causing misfires, reducing the engine speed causing the fuel pump to pump less, reducing the fuel supply, etc. Now, we have enough fuel and the engine temperature doesn't rise.
It was just an amazing feeling. It took a while, but it even got to the point where we didn't start to worry at approaching mountains.
We made it to the Yellowstone entrance, and dad got a 65+ lifetime pass to all national parks for $10. That is cheaper than normal admission. He has no excuse not to come back. We drove around and stopped at a few places. There was one really neat geyser, and we met some nice people. Everyone seemed to like the car.
We decided that there isn't anyway way we could stay at the Old Faithful Inn (they book up in advance pretty quick) but we wanted to check at the lodge for some souvenirs and ask about a room anyway. It was about 17:30 when we pulled in to the parking lot. The place is just beautiful, old wood, huge. We asked at the registration desk whether there were any rooms open, and they said no, they had just turned some people away right before us. We asked if there were any other places to stay in the park – as young kids we stayed with the family in some cabins, and there are other places to stay here. They checked, and while they were doing that, a room at the Old Faithful Inn opened up! There was a cancellation, so we took it right away. Amazing! Our luck today has been unbelievable. Perhaps it is some sort of karmic payback for the vapor locking and hours that we have spent on the side of the road (about 6 over two days and three "stops".)
So we decided to go for a loop around the park. There is a highway that circles the park. Going by the map I guess that the full loop is about 160 miles or so. There is also a road that cuts the park in half, for about a 80 mile loop. We thought we could do that and get back by 21:00 or so. The restaurant in the Inn closes at 22:00, so we thought we would try to look around the park and come back for dinner.
We headed out and the car was great. A champ on the mountains. We saw some Bison, got out and looked at some geysers, saw an old bus (it was actually on a new chassis and engine, maybe a modern bus but made to look like the old ones) and stopped for a picture at one of the Continental Divide signs. We had crossed the Continental Divide a few times already, but didn't stop because we were going to fast. This time we were able to stop. While there we met some guys riding their bikes from Oregon to Vermont. Crazy! Two more guys cycled up and they were riding from Washington state to Argentina. Or something impossible like that (isn't there an ocean in the way?) They were all really great guys, and took some pictures of us, and then were interested in the Pontiac so we took some pictures of them. Lots of fun.
We finally did make it back to the hotel at 21:20, almost exactly three hours after we left. You could easily take a lot longer than that if you wanted to stop to get out and look at things. A full loop of the park would probably take 6 or 7 hours just driving, much longer if you actually stopped to look at stuff.
We're in the hotel room now, and while there isn't any tv or internet access, that is just about how a place like this should be.
The plan tomorrow is to get up and go for a run, then take some pictures at Old Faithful, hopefully with the Pontiac in them. Then we'll head south and see how far we can get.
Things are looking up!
6 2013-07-28 From Tucumcari to Plano
We got an early start and were on the road by 7:00am. We forgot about the time zone change, so once we entered into Texas we lost an hour. There wasn't too much going on from New Mexico into Texas. Once we got into Texas we took an exit for Historic Route 66. We road along that for quite a while, but at some point it turned into a gravel road! And then a dirt road! We had to get back onto I-40, and we stayed on until we found an exit for Cadillac Ranch.
Cadillac Ranch is an art installation that has been around since the sixties. It is basically a bunch (10) of older Cadillacs that have been jammed nose-first into the ground at a 45 degree angle or so. People are encouraged to spray paint the bodies of the cars, and they are very colorful. It is a really interesting project. There were lots of people visiting, from all over the place. We had wanted to drive the Pontiac up close to the installation but that wasn't possible. We did get some shots with the Cadillacs standing in the distance though.
We got back on the highway and drove through Amarillo. We didn't find too much Historic Route 66 stuff, unfortunately. It was just a normal city, so we got some gas and drove on. There wasn't really too much interesting out of Amarillo; we just were on some big roads for a while. Eventually we made out way to 286, which headed West pretty much across Texas until we hit I-35, and we know our way home from there.
We pulled into the house in Plano at about 5pm that evening.
Can you believe it? According to the Odometer we had come about 2700 miles, in a car that is 62 years old. We had two major failures: fuel pump not strong enough, requiring the installation of an electric fuel pump, and the generator failing, requiring replacement with an old one that was in the trunk. The chances of that old generator working were tiny, but it actually worked. Dad didn't bring it along as a back-up, but as something that he would have rebuilt once we arrived. So that was just very lucky. We were both kind of curious how far we would have been able to go just on the battery alone; we think we could have made it in about the same time with two batteries and a charger, but we never had to test that theory.
It was a really great trip. Part of the adventure of driving a classic car is dealing with the adversity that it presents: no modern conveniences (no air conditioning, power anything, comfort), very high likelihood of some sort of break down or problem, and a change of mindset to a more slow-paced, relaxed trip where we could see the sights.
Dad still has a 1954 Hudson Hornet in Washington state that he will need to get to Texas at some point. It is also being mechanically restored, and he will have the electrical system switched out to a 12 volt system since he's having the wiring redone anyway. There is a chance that we can have another adventure like this next year.
I'm looking forward to it!
*Dad’s definition of a modern car: hydraulic brakes, 12 volts and overhead valves. His definition of a luxury car: a modern car with air conditioning.
June 30, 2013
More on Baldur's Gate on a Kindle Fire HD 8.9" with GemRB
I've spent a bit more time playing around with my Kindle Fire and GemRB. Planescape: Torment seems like it needs more work before that will be fully playable, but Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 are supposed to be very well supported. I would like to play through those, so I set them up. I played Baldur's Gate 1 many years back, but I remember very little.
This time through I want to play as a Fighter/Mage and import the character into Baldur's Gate 2. There is a nice mod that adds the Baldur's Gate 1 content to the Baldur's Gate 2 engine, and lets you play through them both. That is called Baldur's Gate Trilogy WeiDU
. I installed that. I also followed more or less exactly this post from gog.com to enhance the gameplay
which includes some other mods and restores some extra content. This time around I took some screenshot with the game in 1920x1200 resolution with the original fonts, then with some large fonts (overran the content areas for the most part) and finally at 960x600 (my preferred resolution) with the droidserif font. It looks pretty good, but the font is still a bit big, and the "p" is cut off (probably it is too wide for the space allocated to it?) but still it is all very readable.
Unfortunately I have some some problems. I keep finding hard crashes when I explore around the map. They are repeatable, and I have a save game for them so I'll try to get in touch with the GemRB community to see if they can help. My guess is that the BG2 engine with the BGT mod and the additional content plus other mods that I added just hasn't been tested much.
So I think I will just install Baldur's Gate 1, and the suggested mods for that, and then try again.
June 28, 2013
RPGs on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9"
I've had a Kindle Fire HD 8.9" model for a few months now. I really like it. I am able to read email (personal and work) and set up calendar entries (personal and work.) I can do some light web browsing, and check up on FaceBook with it.
Every once in a while there are deals on Apps. In a recent deal, I picked up the game CHAOS RINGS
from the Amazon Appstore.
It is a pretty 3-D game with what look to be pre-rendered (or at least fixed camera position) backgrounds. The story is simple, and very Japanese. Combat is a JRPG style system where the two opposing forces line up and take turns attacking each other. I love turned based combat, so that is a bonus in my book, although I prefer games that blend strategic with tactical combat like the old Gold Box games, or Infinity Engine games. Still, this game is very easy to pick up for a few minutes, grind out a few battles, and put back down. They have a few puzzle stages that have all been variations on a theme (sliding block puzzles, teleporting block puzzles, things like that) but they have all been fairly easy. The maps on the overwold have so far been very simple, there is an automap, and zero need to take notes.
The economy seems pretty poorly balanced to me. The only thing I think you need gold for is to buy keys to open locked chests, and at this point I have more gold than I know what to do with. You can buy weapons and armor (as well as "gems" and items) but for everything except the item, there is a linear progression in power and zero choice involved. I either find something better than what is for sale in the dungeons, or I buy the best that is available (it hardly makes a dent in my amassed wealth) and that is it. The items can be somewhat useful, but so far the battles haven't been well tuned either and I think that giving up a turn to apply a buff just isn't worth it.
So I'm still going through this RPG, even though the story seems a bit simplistic, contrived, and the characters are annoying. It is a fun diversion.
GemRB and Infinity Engine Games
The other thing I came across recently is GemRB
. GemRB is a "Game Engine Made for pre-Rendered Backgrounds" that is an implementation of the Infinity Engine
that powered the BioWare and Black Isle Studios RPGs (Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, etc.)
I had known about GemRB for a while, but since I heard that Planescape: Torment wasn't really playable in the current build, didn't go to too much effort to try it out. The other day though, Good Old Games
had a D&D bundle for a ridiculous price which included six or seven infinity engine games for like $20. So I bought it, and then started to play around with getting it to run on my Kindle Fire HD 8.9".
First off, I basically followed this forum thread
on how to set up GemRB for Android. I ran into a few problems, but not too many.
First, you have to install the game on windows. That went well. Then, you have to decide what resolution you want to play at. There are mods that modify the game engine and data files to allow resolutions that were not supported at the time the game was written. In my case, I thought I would try out 1920x1200, which is the native panel resolution on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9".
That didn't work out so well; I was able to play the game, but the controls were so tiny that I had a real problem reading text and hitting controls.
I then re-sized the game using the tweaks and fix packs
and the widescreen mod. There is an option to install for GemRB, which I did. I changed the resolution to half the native panel resolution, so 960x600. The controls are still a bit too small, but they are at least mostly reliable. Text is still smaller than I would like, and a bit hard to read due to the raster fonts being scaled.
It turns out that GemRB supports TTF fonts
, and people have been able to get that to work on the android version
so I'm going to look at that next.
I wanted to find out what fonts are already on my system (so maybe I can just set the fontpath to that), so I started up an ADB shell session
. It looks like the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" (first generation) fonts are stored in /system/fonts/
, and the following are available:
I think I'll try Droid Serif Regular.
In the GemRB.cfg file, which is /sdcaard/Android/data/net.sourceforge.gemrb/files/GemRB.cfg
, I had to edit it and add in
The thread I linked to says to edit the override/pst/fonts.2da file, but that file did not exist. Knowing how these things sometimes work, I copied the file /sdcard/Android/data/net.sourceforge.gemrb/files/unhardcoded/pst/fonts.2da
over to /sdcaard/Android/data/net.sourceforge.gemrb/files/override/pst/fonts.2da
and edited that to include the DroidSans-Regular file.
Unfortunately, that didn't work. My fonts.2da file was seemingly deleted on program launch? I came across a message suggesting that the GemRB binary directory might be getting unpacked on launch, but that you could put the fonts.2da file in the game's override directory, so I added it and modified it in the /sdcard/gemrb/pst/override/
directory. That caused the program not to be able to launch, and the log file revealed that it couldn't find the font DroidSerif. It turns out that I had a space like: "DroidSerif -Regular" so that is not going to work. After fixing it, it worked! But a lot of the text was too big at 24 point... And when I tried to talk to someone the game crashed. Setting the size back to 14 for two of the entries seemed to fix it. Not bad. Not great, but not bad.
June 21, 2013
Family fun at Disneyland!
On Tuesday, Lisa, Alan, and I went to Disneyland as a full family for the first time. Lisa and Alan have gone a few times with Lisa's parents, but I was never able to join them. On Tuesday, I took a day off of work, and invited another friend of mine and his wife who also has a young child a few months older than Alan.
I was very excited to go with them, but unfortunately their child got a fever, and was unable to go. We'll try to re-schedule before the end of summer, but we decided to take the chance and go to Disneyland with just the three of us.
I get very motion sick very easily. Lisa doesn't seem to have that problem, and who knows whether Alan does or not. I have to say that going to Disneyland with Alan was a blast! There were many things for him to enjoy, and I think he had a great time.
Alan, at a little over one and a half years old, really loves boats and trains, and to a lesser extent buses and cars. There are lots of boats and trains and cars at Disneyland! I'm not sure if I remember the exact sequence of events, but I know that one of the first things we did was take the Jungle Cruise
. Alan really liked the boats, and waiting in line wasn't even that much of a problem. It was a bit difficult for him to see the animatronics because they were always off behind him, and looking forward across the boat to the other side his view was obscured by the other passengers. He really liked the waterfall though.
Come to think of it, before we did the Jungle Cruise, Lisa went to get the Monster's Inc. fastpass, and Alan and I lined up in the line for Buzz Lightyear's shooting ride. Alan rode that with us, but he was a bit scared at the loud noises and some of the dark places. When he saw the Toy Story characters that he recognized though he was really happy! On Lisa's ipad we have two short videos, and they are both Toy Story videos. Alan loves watching them, and I'm sure he liked seeing life-sized versions of characters that he recognized!
After the boat ride, we got a fruit cup snack (that went over well!) and then road on the train. The train at Tokyo disneyland leaves from the second floor of the Jungle Cruise ride, and drops you off at the same place after making one loop of the park. Alan also really liked the train ride (he loves trains) and wasn't even scared in the dark parts of the ride.
After that we headed over to Fantasyland because we had a fastpass for Monsters Inc. coming up. On the way though, we noticed that The Pirates Carribean had only a 5 minute wait, so we rode on that. Alan liked the boats again. I thought he might have had a problem with the drop at the beginning of the ride, but he really seemed to enjoy that too (more than I did even!) He was a little bit scared at some points of the ride, but mostly seemed to enjoy it, and even fell asleep halfway through! Up until now Alan had been doing a lot of walking and was probably getting a bit tired, so when the ride turned a bit dark it isn't surprising that he would nod off. He woke up when we picked him up though, and then wouldn't go back to sleep in his stroller unfortunately.
We went over to Monster's Inc, but were a few minutes early, so we rode on the race car ride. Alan tried to steer for a bit, but didn't seem to really understand the concept of a steering wheel yet. After that we did head over to Monster's Inc, and Mommy and Daddy enjoyed that one. Alan seemed to have a bit tougher time - that ride really does have some violent turns. He wasn't crying though. After that we got Alan into the stroller, and he fell asleep. We had a lunch reservation at Lilo's Luau and Fun
at the Polynesian Terrace restaurant. Many of the Disney characters took part in a kind of show, and walked around the room letting you take pictures with them. For the most part Alan took good pictures! He was a bit scared of some of the characters, but oddly enough he seemed to warm up to them later on. At the end of the lunch there was a show on the stage where the characters taught everyone a dance. Can you spot Alan? He has a bit of help from Lisa.
During lunch, I got a message from a friend of mine. By change he and his wife were at Tokyo Disneyland, so we met up with them and watched the parade.
Alan was up on my shoulder for the whole parade. That was a long parade. Maybe it was just that Alan is getting heavy, and it was pretty hot, but I was glad when that was over! We went with the Oyamas and road on Haunted Mansion. I always liked Haunted Mansion. At some point we took a ride on the Mark Twain, the large riverboat, and Alan really liked it. We wandered all over the boat and he liked waving to people on the shore.
Lisa and Kiyoko went to ride Big Thunder Mountain, while Alan, Akihiro, and I sat down and rested for a bit. After the ladies returned we walked over to Star Tours where we had a fastpass. Lisa and I rode it first, and Akihiro and Kiyoko watched after Alan. We were able to get a pass for them once we were done, which was really nice. I was looking forward to this ride, but was a bit worried that I would get motion sick. I got very motion sick. I watched about half the ride, and then had to close my eyes and pray for the ride to end. Afterwards our friends rode, Lisa took Alan to the baby center to feed him, and I just tried not to be sick, and tried to stop my arms from tingling. That pretty much ended our evening; when the Oyamas returned we decided to part ways. Lisa was off feeding Alan, I was useless, and they have yearly passes so didn't feel a need to ride on anything.
We ended our day off with Pizza for dinner, and Alan really liked that. He ate an entire slice - the same as Lisa and I! Then we finally headed home, and got him into bed by 10pm. He slept in late the next day. I think he had a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to going back with our friends who have a boy about the same age.
April 28, 2013
Whew, it sure has been a while!
Wow, I have not written in this blog for a long time. Almost five months! It is true that I have been busy, trying to get work done and keep things running smoothly at home. Mostly though, I just haven't been prioritizing writing a blog. I don't think that will change too much, but I'll try to get a few posts in here and there.
The main problem is that if I put a computer on my lap, that is an open invitation to Alan to come around and start pounding on keys to see what they do. (Mostly the make me mad, and then I have to close up the computer.) Alan is walking around like a pro now, and anything within outstretched arm reach is fair game to be grabbed, pulled, hit, and generally abused. So that means that when I'm at home, I pretty much am not doing computer things.
I've been making special effort lately to come home from work before the sun sets, and then I take Alan out for a walk. Usually that means that he walks to the elevator, presses the down button (and probably the up button) then a few buttons in the elevator, and wants to be picked up not too much longer after that. We wander around outside for a bit and he waves hello to basically everyone.
Anyway, Alan recently started going to day care, and probably because of that our family has been sick for the past two weeks. With colds that just won't go away. Or maybe one does go away, and a new, different strain takes it place. I'm really getting sick of it.
Alan is just about getting to the point where he does not need to be held every waking minute, so I've started to get a little bit more free time. Just a little bit. I've been doing two things: playing around a bit with Android programming (fun!) and playing a little bit of Street Fighter IV. I've also been watching some basketball games, but usually that turns into taking Alan over to the balcony and looking for boats, so I'm not really paying too much attention to the games.
Speaking of the balcony, Alan really like it. From out condo we have a nice view of a canal that connects to Tokyo bay. Boats go through there every once in a while. The weather has recently got pretty nice, and jetskis have started popping up, as well as a boat pulling a wake boarder. There is a company around here that offers that, but I haven't been able to find them on the internet. Alan really likes the boats - he has his own sign for boat. He also has learned airplane, which is convenient because we can see a lot of those coming and going out of Haneda airport which isn't too far. We can also see the Tokyo Monorail pretty well, and he loves watching those go by. We have a nice view of a bridge and a highway, so he'll sometimes point out busses too, but I haven't been able to teach him the sign for bus yet.
Because the weather is nice now, I expect to be spending a lot of time out there with Alan. I'd better clean the balcony up!
Other fun stuff: I figure in the next week or two I'll be able to get my T. Hawk ranking up to B+. The online ranking component doesn't really seem to mean anything though, other than the more you play the higher your rank goes. That isn't quite true, because there are rules about points going up and down, but more or less, if you play more on average your score will go up. I'm still kind of excited to get a B+ ranking though.
Finally, programming with Android. This has been fun. I actually got my Kindle Fire set up so I can run my own programs on it. It is really exciting to see something that I wrote working on a small touchscreen. I've got two apps I'm working on: one is super dumb and just for me, to track my wins and losses in street fighter because I want to see that kind of data. The other is an android implementation of my manga translation program. I think if I have that on a tablet it will be a lot easier to translate more. Even if not, it will be fun to program the thing up and correct a few mistakes I made in the desktop Java version. Mostly, architecting a more clean model for displaying the text bubbles.
I'll try to post a bit more too! And take more pictures. Looking through the pictures that we've taken recently, I just don't have enough showing how far Alan has come from a non-moving slug-like being to the small human that he is now!
December 23, 2012
Disneyland in December
Lisa, Alan, and I flew to San Diego last week and will stay here at my sister's place through the new year. Last week we also decided to go up to Disneyland for three days (THREE DAYS!) to get a taste of the American Disneyland park. We had come here together before Alan was born a few years ago, but that was just for one day with a park hopper ticket, which didn't leave us enough time to really experience what both parks (Disneyland and California Adventure) had to offer. So this time we booked the Grand Californian Hotel
for two nights.
The hotel was quite nice, a very large room, and had two queen sized beds. On our first night there, Alan (for the first time ever) got a bad fever, so we had a real tough time. After a bunch of calls to the front desk, who were super helpful, they were able to provide us with disposable thermometers, baby advil, additional towels, and some bags for ice. This was all between 2am and 4am, and the Disney staff was really great. Of course, since Alan got sick, that eventually got passed on to me, and I am now feeling terrible, but I guess you have to expect that when you have kids.
I've stuck a bunch of pictures over there to the left. We decided to get the Disney Photopass plus on our second day. I really should have pre-ordered that thing, since it costs $70 if you pre-order, and $100 if you don't, but at any rate it was worth it. The photopass plus basically lets you get your picture taken by the disney photographs that are all over the parks, and after your trip, you can download all of those pictures. The flat fee gives you access to all the pictures, which is great because you don't have to pick and choose and then pay for each one. We got about 100 pictures, so that comes out to about a dollar a picture. Not bad. The photographers will also take a picture with your camera, which is really great, but their equipment is better and they have it set up to get really great shots. Particularly the shots of Snow White's castle at night turned out well, whereas with my camera the white balance wasn't quite right, and the flash exposed our faces well, but the background was more washed out.
We were lucky that my younger sister Jana and her husband Marco were able to join us for the three days, and on the last day my dad, Alana, her husband, and her son Scout were able to join the five of us. We got a whole bunch of group shots in that time, which is great, since it is very rare for the whole family to get together.
Going to Disneyland with a kid (a one year old in our case) is a lot different than when you are alone. I'm not really a big disney fan, and in fact I get very sick on most rides, so I don't really ride many things, but since we had Alan we didn't ride much at all. Disney does have this one feature which is great though: parent swap. You can get in line, and ask for a parent swap card, which lets one parent wait in line while the other takes the child off to do something. The cards are good for two people, so in our case Marco and Jana waited in lines, which Lisa and I fed Alan lunch or whatever. We did that with a few rides, most notable being Radiator Springs Racers and I think also California Adventure. That system makes it much easier to take care of a young child, and makes it really convenient if you have some friends who will wait in line with you. When your friends are done waiting in line, they pass the ticket back to you, and you essentially get to join the fastpass line for the ride. So you don't have to wait very long.
I was super excited to see Cars Land in California adventure, which is based on the Pixar movie Cars. The only ride I wanted to try was Radiator Springs Racers
and it was the first thing we rode (I think.) It was great. I really like the whole feel of Cars Land, it looks just like it came right out of the movie. I get motion sick very easily, but as long as the rides are smooth and don't make sudden jumps or drops, I am ok. Radiator Springs Racers does have one or two quick drops and jumps, but I was generally fine with it. It was a lot of fun. We went through the path that has you go through Ramone's Body Shop, although apparently you can also go through Luigi's tire shop as well. It was lots of fun. It looked like the line had a lot of neat stuff in it too (we skipped that with the parent swap thing) so that might have been neat to see also. Highly recommended.
We ate at Flo's V8 cafe, which was ok, but expensive for what it was. Since we planned to spend 3 days at Disneyland, I expected that we would spend a lot more money than reasonable and eat a lot of food that was just average. The decor was great though.
I don't really remember too much what we did in the afternoon, we had to drop Jana and Marco back off at their hotel, and then we took the monorail over to Disneyland. I was really surprised that they made us fold our stroller on the monorail. The monorail is really small compared to the one at Tokyo Disneyland, which is more or less a normal form of transportation compared to the one at Disneyland, which is like a small scale toy monorail. I think we rode the Buzz Lightyear ride, did some shopping, and then headed to dinner at Goofy's Kitchen.
I reserved one "Character Dining" experience which we used as dinner at Goofy's Kitchen. It was a buffet with a pretty reasonable selection, where a bunch of disney characters would come to your table while you eat. It was very popular with the kids. Alan was a bit too young to really appreciate it, but we got a few good pictures with some of the characters. The food wasn't bad, and I did certainly eat a bit too much. If you don't like loud kids though, this probably isn't the place for you (but then, is Disneyland at all?)
That evening, unfortunately, Alan started to sound a bit sick so we went back to the hotel after dinner. He napped for a bit, but was burning up and couldn't sleep. Like I already said, the Disney staff was great in getting us stuff that we needed to make sure that Alan had as comfortable a night as he could. The baby advil seemed to work and brought down his fever enough that he could sleep. We caught a few hours of sleep as well, but it was probably on the order of two to four hours of sleep for the parents.
We got a bit of a late start on Wednesday due to the sickness, but were able to meet up with Jana and Marco. We split our time between the two parks. We met Jana and Marco at Cathay Circle
and rode the Soarin' over California ride (again with the parent swap thing.) I normally get pretty motion sick, but Soarin' was smooth enough that I didn't have much trouble. After that we tried to meet back up with Jana and Marco, but we got stopped by a parade. A parade! Those are great fun. So we watched that for a while. Then we met up with Jana and Marco and probably wandered around a bit more. I don't really remember. At some point in the first or second day we rode the Ariel ride, and Lisa and some other people rode the roller coaster on the Paradise Pier which I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole if the pole operated by telemetry from an undisclosed bunker location multiple states away. I do remember that we left the park early in the afternoon (like at 4pm or so) to go back to the hotel because Alan was coughing and seemed to be sick again.
Alan slept a lot on on Wednesday night, so that was good. He was pretty clearly sick though.
Thursday was our last day, so we checked out and had the front desk store our luggage. Then we headed out to the Disneyland gates and met the rest of the family. The plan was to have lunch at 11:30am at the Cafe Orleans (it was the only place we could reserve for a party of 10.) We went to Small World before lunch, and rode the carousel. At lunch we got some birthday celebration stuff (Alan turned 1!)
After lunch some of the big kids rode on Big Thunder Mountain (yet another I passed on.) Then we tried Matterhorn. That is one that I did try, and it was a little rough, but I came out of it ok. Then I bought some popcorn (which was delicious) and everyone ate it up in quick order. We went to the line for the Casey Jr. Circus Train
(which was probably the longest line we waited in!) and by the time we rode that, we were hungry so got dinner and some people left. Lisa, Alan, and I made one more pass through the park (hitting Cars land at night) then returned to the hotel to pick up our luggage and drive back to San Diego.
Aside from the people getting sick, it was a very successful and fun trip.
December 22, 2012
A quick review of the US Kindle Fire 8.9" tablet
I bought myself a Kindle Fire a while back. I only got to see it recently; I live in Japan and we only have the Kindle Fire 7" over there. I had it delivered to my sister's place in California, and have been playing around with it for about a week while I've been here on vacation.
I bought a cheap case for it (about $20?) and the case is great too. I have an android phone, so was curious how the Amazon UI experience compared. The choice was down to this or a Google Nexus 10". I actually think I would prefer the nexus, but I wanted to see how the Amazon experience measured up, and anyway my phone (a new LG Optimus G) is a new phone with a pretty powerful setup and should be a good indicator of the stock Android experience. So I picked up the wifi only 32GB (I do wish it had SD expansion if only because I could not worry about filling it up) version.
There are three main things that I want to do with a tablet:
- Check my email. Note that this almost positively involves writing email in Japanese.
- Browse the web
- Keep up on my RSS feeds, which I currently do with Google Reader
- (Optional) Play some games
- (Optional) Keep up with FaceBook. Note that this almost positively involves writing in Japanese.
- (Optional) Video chat with family
- (Optional) Play around with programming this thing
So how does it hold up on those fronts? For checking email it is great. I don't know what the email app is that it uses but it works great when I set up an IMAP connection to my personal mail server. It also works well with the web-based Gmail page. Of course, Google Play is not on the tablet and you don't have access to the Google apps. Normally. The email is great though. I have no problem with it (except that maybe it looks like if I have multiple devices on the same IMAP account, I can't force a sync so the local changes on the tablet might not be reflected on the other devices.)
Web browsing: great so far. Except I have now way to change the font size. Sometimes you can use pinch to zoom and it will zoom in on the web page (scaling it up.) Sometimes pinch to zoom will increase the font size. Sometimes it does nothing. Otherwise, web browsing on the tablet has been great, and much better than on my phone. The screen display is gorgeous, it has a HD 1920x10yy panel (I don't really remember off the top of my head, but it looks great.) The web pages load quickly over wifi, it scrolls well, and hasn't really had many problems with any web pages. There is no flash support, which is a good thing from my point of view. I haven't wanted to install flash yet, but there are ways to sideload it as far as I can tell.
Keeping up with RSS feeds has been great too using the Google Reader webpage. I do have two minor niggles with that: it should just load all available stories automatically (I have to periodically tell it to load more -- same with Gmail) and I wish it would say how many stories are left. Also, when I long press on a link to open it in a new tab, every once in a while (after opening up lots of tabs) it will open the link in the main tab I am in. I think that is intentional, they probably limit the number of open tabs.
The one major problem is that I can't write Japanese on this thing! I finally fixed that today. I spent a lot of time reading things about this and that, but in the end the approach I took was this:
- Backup the Japanese keyboard (that I like, not the default one) from my phone. I have one keyboard that I like, Jellybean keyboard. I needed to back that, and its Japanese dictionary up. I was able to back them up using File Expert, which has an option to save the APK files for apps that you have installed on your phone to the internal memory. Since I don't have access to the Android App store I used the 1mobile appstore file expert download. Note that you need to enable loading 3rd party apps in the Kindle, which is buried somewhere in the preferences but that isn't too hard to do.
- Hook up the phone to my computer and copy the backed up APK files to my computer.
- Hook up the tablet to the computer and copy the APK files over with the now installed 1mobile File Expert app.
- Run File Explorer, locate where I copied the apps, and run them. Run the Jellybean Keyboard app and it pulls up preferences that let you select the language to use. It looks like actually just installing the Jellybean keyboard would have worked, but I need the Japanese dictionary to type Japanese. For some reason, the keyboard itself could not download the dictionary, so it is good that I copied it over.
- Hey, Japanese works!!
So now I just have to focus on the other things. I did buy CinePlayer, which plays movies fine (I copied some over to the tablet.) I usually use VXPlayer, but that crashes after a few seconds, consistently, so I needed to pay all of $2 for the CinePlayer app. It works well. I also bought a Humble Bundle a while back that has a lot of Android games. I haven't had time to play any of them yet.
The FaceBook app is broken in a strange way: the first 10 entries or so work, but after that everything is just text and looks like there is no CSS formatting. No pictures. And you can't update it. I've reported that to FaceBook (as have others) but luckily the mobile version of FaceBook in the browser works very well. There are some problems there (sometimes pictures are too large and run off the screen?) but it works well enough. Time should help there.
The speakers on this thing are great. They are loud. I fired up Amazon's cloud player and have a bunch of music in there, even though I haven't ever used it before. Previous purchases just ended up there. Neat.
I haven't looked at video chat, but it does have a front facing camera. I haven't looked at programming either, but it should be possible.
Overall, I'm really satisfied! We have an ipad mini in the house too, and I prefer the Kindle Fire 8.9" to that, and it was cheaper to boot.
November 15, 2012
2012 November Osaka and Kyoto family trip
This November, Lisa's father had a school reunion for the 50th anniversary of his school. Lisa's grandmother and father grew up in the Kyoto area, and have roots going back there very far back. Probably more than 500 years at least. Grandma also wanted to go back to hold a ceremony for Grandpa, who passed a few years back. So the whole family, Lisa, Alan, myself, Lisa's younger sister, her daughter, and her husband, Lisa's mom and dad, and Lisa's grandma all headed out to Kyoto on Friday morning, the 9th of November.
We got a Shinkansen at 8:00. The Shinkansen are a real treat to ride; since I've been living in Japan permanently I've only taken it once or twice in six years. They are fast, smooth, comfortable, and you don't have to go through any of the trouble that you do when you fly. No security. No X-ray scanning. No millimeter wave back-scattering devices. No pulling laptops out of bags. And the stations are right in the city center. We took a taxi from our house to Shinagawa station, it takes all of 15 minutes, and we board the train shortly after that. You can see on the left here a shot of Alan in front of the train. He's too young to really have an interest in trains yet, but I bet he will be one of those kids that like trains. I like trains anyway!
We arrived at Kyoto station at 10:30 and walked to our hotel, the New Miyako. That was only about a two or three minute walk (once you walk to the station exit, which can take a while since the station is pretty large.) Lisa's sister and her family were on a different train, they were coming from Shizuoka. After waiting a bit for Rie, Aki, and Yuzuna we went for lunch at a Chinese place in the hotel. Nice. We had some beer at lunch, and everyone got a kick of how Alan just passed out in front of one of the glasses. So don't take the picture the wrong way, you have to be at least 20 years old to drink alcohol in Japan.
We left our luggage at the hold and took two cabs to the shrine and they had a private ceremony for Lisa's grandpa. The temple was kensiin - I do not know the Japanese writing for that. It was a smaller place, not the kind that you see as a tourist. It had maybe four or five rooms, some in separate buildings with covered outdoor walkways between them. There were three monks, one older and two younger. I got the impression that they were family. They held a ceremony of about 40 minutes of chanting with some drums and other things to hit every once in a while. The Tanaka family seal was a few places there and in gold in the main chamber. I'll need to talk to Lisa's dad a bit more about it, but I don't know why the Tanaka family seal is displayed in the temple.
The cemetery is in a large nearby complex so we went to their graves - 7 for the Tanakas family. There are 500 years worth of Tanakas in there, according to Lisa's dad. Note that in Japan people are usually cremated, and the ashes are placed in family graves. We met with a caretaker who was talking about how they will need to repair some of the graves due to the tree roots nearby. I guess if you have a few hundred years to deal with, all sorts of things can happen. Mr. Tanaka is the 15th in the succession and likely will be the last buried in Kyoto. They also have a plot in Tokyo, near Ryokoku (the place where all the Sumo wrestling happens.)
On the way out of the cemetery, which was quite a ways up a the hill, and very large, we passed some interesting stuff. There was a temple at the top of the hill with trees whose leaves were starting to turn. Lisa took a great shot, which I've included. Also, Afro Buddha. Well, his actual name is 五劫思惟阿弥陀如来像, but I can't read that.
We went to the nearby Konkaikoumyouji temple (金戒光明寺 こんかいこうみょうじ.) They've got a website but it is only in Japanese. There is also an entry on Wikipedia but the English entry is almost bare compared to the Japanese entry. We toured around there for a bit, entering into the grounds and walking through the gardens. It was quite nice.
Dinner was from 5pm at Nijyou Fujita (二条ふじ田) a kaiseki (traditional long form multi-course) meal. I didn't find anything in English (there is a tabeblo link) but the place was very good. Unlike most kaiseki I've had, I didn't almost explode and feel sick from overeating this time.
There were a bunch of dishes, some of which I took some quick notes on. しそうのこうせん hot shiso flavored water.
The waitress made some jumping origami frogs for Yuzuna and Alan.
The soup used water from a temple 60 meters away.
The fish was Sawara さわら cooked by Yuuanyaki ゆうあんやき 幽庵焼き which is apparently like sukiyaki for fish with some sudachi and lemon.
We had a very nice selection of Japanese sweets to choose from also.
After dinner we took cabs back to the hotel and checked in. We were staying in rooms 667 to 669. It was a close call - 666 was right next door!
An expensive buffet breakfast at the hotel and then a train to Osaka. We took the local so we could sit.
We made our way by subway to Namba where we hit up the main road and eventually arrived at Daruma, a kusiage place. The tomatoes were the best. The place was packed, with people shouting all the time. If you haven't had kushiage before, it is great. Basically, it is just fried stuff on a stick. There are big communal bowls of sauce, with instructions all over the place talking about how you can't double dip. No double dipping. There is also free lettuce. Or maybe it is cabbage. I don't know. That isn't really what I am focusing on. We had a bunch of thinks, like tomatoes, potatoes, fish - there was something on the menu called "kiss". I didn't know what that was, but was of course imagining the chef kissing the batch of frying oil and frying up that, lips in pain the whole time. Of course, it turns out it was just a type of small fish that you each whole, but whatever. I like my idea better. Another good one was fried pork cutlet. I don't know if they really take a regular pork cutlet, and then fry that, but that is what I like to think. These things are all quite small by the way. There were onions, eggplant, I had some cheese, and their fried ham was good. I'm sure I'm missing lots of good things, but anyway, if you go to Osaka, try their Kushiage. No double dipping though!
We wandered around a bit and went to Nanba bashi, where we got some pictures of the famous Glico sign. It's that guy holding his arms up. The whole time we were there people were taking their pictures in front of that thing. Then we headed for the taxi stand and Osaka castle.
The castle was really nice. They let us ride the elevator since we had kids in a stroller. We wandered around a bit and went up to the observation deck. They have an entire museum in there. The place was packed, and the castle is on a huge park ground. It is really worth going to see.
Dinner was at FuguYoshi, a fugu place. Sadly, I've had fugu a few times now, and despite the domain name of this website, I'm not really a fan. A meal entirely of fugu is … not particularly a great meal, but you should at least try it once.
First up was Fugu skin with ponzu and nikogori. Next up was fugu sashimi with ponzu.
We also ordered fugu-hire, which is hot sake with two fugu fins in it. As you open the cup (it comes covered with a wooden cap) you light a match to burn off the excess alcohol. Even after doing that the sake tastes quite strong, smells terrible, and frankly just isn't that good.
After that was fugu nabe. And then egg, rice, and water is added to that leftover broth and simmered. Top off your bowl with either salt or nori and onion. That is the bit at the end that fills you up.
Desert was a grape, persimmon slice, and small ball of matcha ice cream.
We walked to Osaka station and caught a train back to the hotel. Well, everyone else did. I had a bathroom emergency (I don't think the fugu agreed with me) and caught a later train. I did eventually make it back though, and thankfully the express train did have a bathroom on board.
I skipped breakfast since I didn't want to deal with fish. We rented a minibus for the day and headed out first for Kiyomizudera, which is one of my favorite temples. It has a great view of Kyoto from up on the mountain, and has a super famous balcony. It is an all wooden balcony constructed without any nails that is very high off the ground. It is really amazing. The temple is really great in fall when the trees start to turn red.
Then we took a ride to see a 750ton bell at Chion-in (知恩院神社 ちおんいん。) It isn't something that people go to all that often, but since we had a whole minivan the driver was taking us all over the place. The bell is really big. They ring it every new year, and usually it shows up on NHK TV.
After that we went way up into the mountains where few people go (we were the only ones) with a nice view of Kyoto. Too bad about the rain. The place was Shogun Dzuka's garden (将軍塚庭園 しょうぐんづかていえん.) It was a really nice garden, had some great views (or would have if it wasn't so foggy due to the rain) and would have been great to walk around at more. We had an appointment for lunch though.
Lunch was at a fancy looking yuudofu (boiled tofu) place. It had a nice garden between the multiples buildings with a koi pond. The place is called 順正 じゅんせい。They do have an English website. I took a bunch of pictures, but didn't post them here. They are on Flickr if you really want to look at more food. Alan really enjoyed watching the Koi in the pond. I'm really excited about when he gets a bit older and we can go to Zoos and stuff. He doesn't really know animal names yet, but we do read a book every night with some animals in it.
Tea and tounyuu to start with a small goma tofu. Some ginnan and miso flavored tofu kushi. Lots of tofu. Some tempura, rice, pickles, and other vegetables.
After lunch we went to kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. It was nice. There was a group of French people in kimono. You definitely should go at least once if you haven't been. I prefer some of the other temples (Kiyomizudera primarily) but this place is so famous you just can't pass it up. It is always insanely crowded though. Still, that is one impressive temple they have there.
After that we picked up our luggage from the hotel and hopped on a train back home. On the way Alan and I spent some time reading. Well, he didn't actually read with me for all that long before he started throwing his magazine around the train, but still. Cute picture I think.
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