May 15, 2017

Tokyo Offline Party 5

A few months back I went to Tokyo Offline Party 4. Tokyo Offline Party 5 was this weekend, and I wanted to go, but was unable to due to family obligations.

What is Tokyo Offline Party? It is an event run by Buttonmashers and Shinobism, Momochi and Chocoblanka's company. Tokyo Offline Party 5 had a 3 on3 Street Fighter V tournament, and might have had some other stuff going on as well - there was a Hearthstone tournament at Tokyo Offline Party 4.

Chocoblanka posted up a few pics on twitter, this one talking about how they partnered with Red Bull and were able to use Red Bull hall in Shibuya for the event. She seems to be pretty happy about how there was room for casual setups, and nice sofas to relax in. She also talks about a casual setup for ladies only which is a cool idea, and I think they ran a ladies only side tournament that she was in. I didn't see results for it though.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to look through the results and talk a bit about who as there. The main stream was on momochoco's channel, and the sub stream was on the shinobism channel.

The overall winner was "Wonder Project J" from block P with duke (Urien), Majorboy (Kolin), and ty_ty (Dictator). I'll run down the winner of each block, and any other notable players I know.

Block A was won by the group "タイステ星" which I guess is short for Taito Station Stars, referencing an arcade. The group consists of Alienware's Nemo (Urien), inco (Birdie), and Nishikin (Necali.)

Block B was won by "Power of Darkside" with Initial Kyousou (Laura), Mizuha (Chun-Li), and MOV (Chun-Li).

Block C was won by "Trashbonbi Style" with trashbox (Birdie), bonbi (Kolin), and Shiki (Ibuki).

Block D was won by "Mimorin's Bodyguards" with Gafro (Boxer), Mishie (Laura), and Oremo (Ibuki).

Block E was won by "The Young'uns" with Nauman (Ken), John Takeuchi (Rasheed), and Haitani (Necali). Nauman was joking on Twitter that Haitani said he would totally join the young kids teams, and he did.

Block F was won by "GunMaruGuchi -Revenge-" with Gunfight (Alex), Marko (Karin), UGPs Mizuguchi (Urien).

Block G was won by "Ponpoime" with Ponzaman (Rasheed), oppoi (Ibuki), and Harumy (Ibuki).

Block H was won by "Melty Blood Army" with Menma (Akuma), Garu (Boxer), Surume (Necali).

Block I was won by "Detective N suppressors" (?) with DNG Tachikawa (Ibuki), Fumiya (Boxer), Kobatake (Claw).

Block J was won by "Super Big Brothers" with PSK (Cammy), Kichipa-mu (Zangief), and Macchi (Cammy). Kichipa-mu is a really fun Zangief - he was at the recent KVO x TSB SFV team battle and got second place, largely based on his Zangief play.

Block K was won by "This players had been deleted." with Syogepi- (Ibuki), Tyler (Zangief), Deletemonster (Karin). This pool also had Crusher (Birdie)'s team with Nanai (Dicator) who are both quite good, and apparently a team with Echo Fox CoolGrayAJ.

Block L was won by "LP Fraud" with rintaro (Chun-Li), Takaroom (Karin), and sasajima (Rasheed). This block also had Shinobism's team of Momochi's pupils, Yamaguchi (Ken), Haku (Guile), and Johnny (Karin) who lost out early on.

Block M was won by "Blue League PR Dept." (?) with Deo (Laura), Agomi (Birdie), Azmx (Urien).

Block N was won by "These characters were balanced by kindergartners" with Kindevu (Urien), Vanauo (Boxer), Ando (Urien). There was a team with Reiketsu playing Cammy, so maybe not the well-known Claw Reiketsu.

Block O was won by "Pon chichi's" with Ponchi's (Claw), Bower (Kolin), and rinta (Akuma).

Block P was won by "Wonder Project J" with duke (Urien), Majorboy (Kolin), and ty_ty (Dictator). This pool also had a team with GameWith's Eita (Ken) but they didn't make it.

January 14, 2017

Tokyo Offline Party 4, and a bit Itabashi Zangief commentary

Last weekend I went to the Tokyo Offline Party 4 event at Haruimi Passenger Terminal. I didn't have a team, so joined two others who needed someone to fill out the 3 vs 3 Street Fighter V team event. I was matched with Eleichi and Ryo, two nice young gentlemen. I had played with Ryo once or twice at the Akihabara e-square events, so that was nice.

I had a lot of fun at the event. Our team (満足) lost in our first match, but we had a good time, so no problem.

I really enjoyed watching some of the Zangief play. Kichi pa-mu in particular was lots of fun to watch. I've been going through the stream a bit, and thought it would be neat to see what Itabashi Zangief had to say while he was on commentary. Itabashi Zangief hops on the mike to talk about Zangief. Tokido shares commentary with him. I'd like to give a loose translation of what they are saying. Someone asked Itazan to hop on the mike because "Kichi pa-mu", a Zangief player, is currently on. Kichi pa-mu was super fun to watch - his Zangief play was a bit crazy, and was super exciting. Where this clip starts, he just beat Oosu's Karin and Fuudo's Mika from Fuudo's team (World of Tanks.)

I didn't get permission from anyone, and this is just a loose translation. I'm no fubarduck and don't translate in any professional capacity, so any mistakes are my own.

Tokido: I'm commenting now, but our other commentator, Kazunoko, has changed.
Itazan: I was summoned.
Tokido: Yeah, there's a Zangief match now. Just how strong do you think Zangief is now?
Itazan: (Laughing.) You think so?
Tokido: Just how strong do you think he is now?
Itazan: I've been using Zangief for a long time now. So. I think we might have an argument about this.
Tokido: I think he's super strong now.
Itazan: I've heard a lot of people think that. But yeah. A big thing is that Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li got weaker. It's important that he can beat them now.
Tokido: It wasn't all that bad before but, on the other hand, now I think Guile is a real problem.
Itazan: Yeah, there are some new problems.
[The match with Chun-Li starts here.]
Tokido: I think he can do ok against Chun-Li.
Itazan: If he gets close. Ah, he got close. Yeah, that's it.
[Zangief won the round. There isn't any substantive commentary. Kichi pa-mu wins, and Tokido is called out to his match. Another person comes to do commentary.]
Person: Zangief's really strong.
Itazan: [Itazan smiles] Well, you know, he's ok. Kichi pa-mu was strong so he won. You should praise him.

Itazan had a few other things to say, but mostly just joking around. It's really fun listening to all these players (Tokido, Itabashi Zangief, Kazunoko, just seems like whoever is around that Momochi and Choco can press into service for a bit) comment. I've got to watch the final four with commentary - it was lots of fun in person but I want to hear what Momochi and Choco have to say.

Anyway, lots of fun. If you are a street fighter fan in Tokyo, definitely check out the Tokyo Offline Party when they run the next one.

October 25, 2016

Amazon cloud drive, photos, rclone, and odrive

Maybe a year ago or so (I forget when it was announced) Amazon introduced a new program for their Cloud Drive service. It was $12 a year for unlimited photo storage. I thought that was ridiculously cheap, so I signed up.

I had some complaints about the service, but nothing major. Mainly, there wasn't a native way to save my iPhoto library to the cloud. The service is only unlimited storage for photos, so you can't backup metadata, just your pictures. The web client is the only way to do uploads, and that would sometimes drop a file here or there. That meant I couldn't upload my entire library in one shot - I wouldn't know which photos were dropped. Also, the files are stored based on file name, which doesn't work well for me. In my iPhoto library I have lots of files with the same name from different camera. That doesn't matter in iPhoto, since it uses a file hierarchy and the names don't conflict, but Amazon Cloud Drive puts all photos in the root of the drive, so you can overwrite older files with the same name with newer files.

I eventually exported my iPhoto library to files with album names or dates or something in the filename, and slowly, over a few weeks, uploaded all the files. For $12 I was very happy with that.

Then I got the iPhone app, and photos were uploaded automatically. That is great!

A few weeks ago though, I got an email from Amazon saying that they are discontinuing the service. I wasn't surprised. It was a great deal for the price. They offered a chance to change to unlimited storage for $60 a year. That is also a great deal. So I switched to that.

I didn't do much for a while though, because I didn't have a good way to get files into Amazon Cloud Drive.

But then I found RClone, which bills itself as Rsync for the cloud. And it basically works like an rsync. Since I switched to unlimited storage, that can support directories. rclone worked great for me, I was able to back up a lot of personal data that should be offsite, and also do a real back-up of my iPhoto library. Nice. So I highly recommend the combination of rclone and Amazon Cloud Drive.

One thing that I would really like is the convenience of Dropbox to be able to keep files in sync. Amazon Cloud Drive is really just a big place to put files, but it doesn't have a way to do sync across files. There is a solution that can help with that though: odrive. odrive is a service that lets you add cloud storage providers (Amazon, Google, Dropbox, and others) and then it will manage those files for you. It allows for sync on top of the services that it supports. So by installing the odrive client on my machines, I now have an easy way to sync files between those machines. Another great thing about odrive is that it doesn't download everything. I have 172GB in my Amazon Cloud Drive right now, and I don't have that much space on my machines. At any given time I only want to work with a small set of files. odrive will create placeholder files and only downloads things as you need them. So I can set up one folder that I am currently working with as actively synced, and the rest of the cloud drive doesn't take any space on my machine. It is very nice.

The free client doesn't automatically keep a folder in sync, so while placeholder files will show up, I might have to click on them to download the files, but that isn't a big problem with my workflow. The free client also might only support one or two accounts, but since I only need one account, that is fine by me.

I still have some complaints about Amazon Cloud Drive - mostly that the pictures are dumped into the root folder, so I have maybe a hundred thousand files in there, but otherwise I'm very happy with the combination of Amazon Cloud Drive, rclone, and odrive working together. Check it out!

September 12, 2016

Family trip to Kobe

Friday, 2016-09-09: Arrival in Japan

Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle

On September 9th, my father, sister, and her two children arrived in Tokyo for a two week visit. It is rare for family to come all the way to Tokyo, but my dad is going to the International Semiconductor Laser Conference and it is held in Kobe, Japan. Alana and her kids were able to come with him, so we're having a kind of family reunion in Japan!

Since dad is going to Kobe, the whole family will come with him for the first few days. They arrived on Friday night, and L. graciously went to pick them up in our mini van. By the time they arrived back at our place, I had picked up Alan and finished with the day care parent-teacher conference. We all sat down at about 18:30 and I re-heated some Costco pizza. I had also ordered two rental futons, and we were able to lay out half of the living room as a large sleeping area. Our visitors fell asleep almost immediately, which was great, because the following day would be a big travel day.

Saturday, 2016-09-10: From Tokyo to Kobe

We planned to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kobe. Alana and Dad both bought JR Rail Passes for a week, and our kids (Alan 4, Aurelia 2, and Scout 5) are young enough to not need a seat; they can ride on an adult's lap. There was a 9:10 train that we could ride. We did have one complication: the plan was to stop in Nagoya for lunch to meet family friends. I had arranged all of that, and purchased non-reserved tickets for my wife and I, so all we had to do was get to Shinagawa station sufficiently early to exchange our JR rail passes and catch the train.

There is a bus stop right near our house that takes us to Shinagawa station, so we caught that at about 8:10, and got to Shinagawa station at about 8:25 or so. Unfortunately, the JR Rail Pass voucher exchange doesn't open until 9am at Shinagawa station! So after all our planning to get there early, we did a lot of waiting. Also, I didn't remember, but the JR Rail Pass only allows you access to the Hikari and Kodama trains, not the fastest (and most frequent!) Nozomi trains. The Hikari train that would get us to Nagoya in time for our lunch was sold out of reserved seats, so we just had to take our luck on non-reserved seating.

We were able to make it to the platform in time for the 9:11 Hikari train, so that was fine. But the train was at capacity, and the seven of us had to stand! And it was literally standing room only! The kids were able to find a little cubby hole in between two sets of seats, so that was great, but the rest of us stood. Luckily, about and hour and a bit after departure at Shizuoka station many people got off, and we secured seats. The Shinkansen is a really great travel experience. I highly recommend it.

We arrived at Nagoya in time for lunch, and had a very nice lunch with the Maeda family, Mr., Ms., and their daughter Ryoko were able to make it. After a relaxed lunch, we caught another Shinkansen on to Kobe, where there was a complimentary shuttle bus to our hotel, the Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel. Interestingly, my dad came to this hotel in 1983 for the same conference with mom just when the hotel had first opened - they were still apparently finishing a few things up at the time! Thirty years later it is still a nice hotel.

We were all pretty tired, so we took a walk to the nearby mall and got dinner there. The complex there has a ferris wheel, and from the hotel you get a very nice view of it. The ferris wheel has a neat lighting system which they use to put on little shows every once in a while.

I also snuck out after Alan fell asleep and got a drink with my Twin Sister at the View Bar which has, as expected, a nice view. (Keep going down to see more text. And pictures.)

Sunday, 2016-09-11: Himeji Castle

Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Trip to Kobe and Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle shrine
Himeji Castle Plaza
Himeji Castle
Sleepy cousin
Hello Kitty Inari-zushi
Steak House / Meriken Park Oriental Hotel
Meriken Park Oriental Hotel Steak House
300 grams of Kobe Beef
Some vegetables and salt for the beef
Flame cooked Kobe Beef
Flame cooked Kobe Beef
Delicious Kobe Beef

On Sunday, we took an organized trip to Himeji Castle. It is about an hour away from Kobe by bus. We stopped first for lunch at a hotel, and did the standard Japanese buffet lunch thing. They had an ice cream machine, and real ice cream too, so everyone left happy.

The castle itself was great. The grounds of the castle is quite large, and we had a long walk to get there from the parking lot, but it was a very pretty walk. The castle itself has six levels, and very steep stairs up each level. The interior itself doesn't have much in the way of exhibits or history to see, but it is all very old. The wood is worn completely smooth. Alan really enjoyed having us pull him along the floor, skiing style. There is a nice model of the grounds on the first floor, and a few other things scattered around, but as you ascend the floors get smaller and smaller. I'm actually really curious about how the castle was itself used on a day to day basis back three hundred years ago. Did the Shogun live at the top? It is fairly difficult to access!

The crowd was pretty heavily, and we actually got split up into a few groups as we went. Lisa, Alan, and I arrived at the top and there is a small temple there. We made a small donation and then headed down. Going down takes a while too - the stairs are no less steep.

On the bus ride home, Alan fell asleep on his cousin's shoulder. Lisa and I went to the Sogo department store and got some Onigiri for dinner. Not the super cute Hello Kitty inari-zushi! Alana and dad at the stuff we got them, and then Lisa, Alan, and I decided to try the super fancy restaurant at the top of the hotel that specializes in Steak. In particular, Kobe Beef. The three of us went up, and had a very nice dinner on the Teppan-yaki grill with a personal chef. The dinner was cooked in front of us, and our Chef was very nice. He was kind to Alan, and made a special large fire presentation for him. The vegetables were great, and the beef was delicious. It was very tender, and just melted in my mouth. It was great with the salts, and there were also some sauces (Ponzu, Soy Sauce, and Wasabi) if you preferred those. The view from the restaurant was very nice, with a nice view of the bay and boats. After cooking the meat, the chef cooked up some delicious garlic rice. I was super stuffed from the earlier lunch buffet, but I finished all the meat. And a good portion of the garlic rice, but not all of it. I was sad to leave it, but thought that was the smarter choice for the evening.

September 7, 2016

Street Fighter V at E-sports Square in Akihabara, Tokyo

E-sports square in Akihabara
E-sports square in Akihabara
E-sports square in Akihabara

On Wednesday I went to e-sports Square Akihabara for the first time. I've been meaning to go for over a year. It is an e-sports Cafe, and every once in a while (once a week?) they run the "Fighter's Crossover" event. That currently seems to be focused on Street Fighter V, which I enjoy. It is out in Akihabara, a place where I almost never go any more - even though I would like to. Akihabara has changed since my seminal memories of the place when I went at the young age of 13 - there were electronics everywhere, and not a maid or anime thing in sight.

The e-sports Square is a quick walk from the Akihabara JR Station. I didn't know anyone there, but the staff were welcoming. You just have to sign in with a little bit of information (in my case, name and age.) They didn't need proof of my age, but I guess that would change if you were younger-looking.

They give you a little card on a lanyard that tracks when you enter, and you can charge drinks and food to it as well. You pay on the way out. They have two hour, three hour, and all day plans.

When I got there it was pretty empty, but after an hour or two the place filled up. I think there were close to 40 people. They had about 30 SFV setups - most of them were head to head, so you had your own screen and played someone sitting across from you with their own screen. There were LP limitations on some of the setups, so there were some systems for beginners, some for intermediates, and the rest were unlimited. The signs said that you should play best 2 of three, and the beginner and intermediate machines only let you have a 5 game win streak. The other machines were winner stays on.

I had a lot of fun, and I'm going to try to go back in the future. Late night Akihabara on a weekday is pretty crazy. There were lots of lights and some maids were still out. That place is weird.

April 28, 2016

Using a Japanese Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 with OSX El Capitan

I recently got a new compute for work. It is a MacBook Pro, and will be replacing a linux desktop I've been using. I've been a longtime user of a Japanese Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 v1.0 keyboard. I want to keep using this keyboard. Unfortunately, El Capitan doesn't really recognise the keyboard. It works, but something things are missing. Primarily, the 半角/全角 (hankaku / zenkaku, usually it toggles Japanese input on and off) button doesn't do anything. Also, a few other keys (primarily 無変換 - muhenkan - and a few other Japanese specific keys) do nothing.

That doesn't work for me. I really want to be able to switch on Japanese input with key in the upper-left hand corner of the keyboard under escape. I also want to map the 無変換 muhenkan key to another command key, because that is a natural place to contort my thumb for the command strokes. By default the windows key acts as a command key (that is ok, but not in a useful position) and I always map the caps lock key to a control key for emacs usage. I like that Apple has that as a simple setting in the keyboard settings.

Some other buttons on the right of the keyboard (変換 henkan and カタカナ ひらがな katakana/hiragana button) don't work, but I don't use them and can't think of anything useful to remap them to.

This was really bothering me, but luckily someone out there in the world has had the same problem, and developed Karabiner ( a tool for key remapping, and sell ( a tool to let my keyboard actually send key codes for some of those keys.

This site clued me in that perhaps setting things up to send key codes would be possible. Karabiner has a nice key event viewer that I could use to see that there were no key codes when I pressed the keys. Seil has some options to enable those keys. And with a few quick clicks, my keyboard is working in a reasonable way now. Yay!



February 10, 2016

2016-02-06 Trip to Sapporo.

Kiraito Ramen at Kiraito Modeled after the ruins of St. Paul at Macau Sapporo Shinkansen Sapporo Snow Festival Sapporo Snow Festival Art igloos Sapporo Snow Festival Shinkansen Sapporo Snow Festival Attack of the Titans Sapporo Snow Festival Ski Slope

A long time ago, back in October of 2015, I heard that a new Shinkansen was being built that would connect Tokyo to Sapporo. Good news! Actually, reading the information in Wikipedia (hopefully that stays about the same as when I read it) what is opening in March this year is the Shinkansen up to Shin-Hakodate, and the extension all the way to Sapporo isn’t supposed to be complete until 2030!

At any rate, that also means though that a luxury train that goes from Ueno to Sapporo overnight called the Cassiopeia, would be discontinued. That is too bad. Two or three years back another overnight train (I believe from Kyoto to Tokyo, and then maybe on to Saporro) was discontinued. When I saw that on TV I thought it would be super cool to take the family on a trip on a train like that. So once I heard that the Cassiopeia would be discontinued, I really wanted to get a reservation on the train for the family.

So I looked into it. Turns out a lot of people had the same idea as I did. So JR instituted a lottery system for reservations. I looked at the schedule, and thought about what would be fun to do. Since I also have always wanted to go to the Snow Festival in Sapporo I arranged for a two day (or three depending on how you looked at it) three night stay (including the train, if we got that) in Sapporo. I figured it would be easier to get train tickets on the way back to Tokyo instead of on the way there, so I decided to fly there, and take the train back. JR takes reservations a month before the actual date, so I had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Until I heard back in January at some time that we didn’t get the reservation on the Cassiopia train. Well, we did still have the airline reservation and the hotel reservation, and the JR travel agent could help me set up a train trip back to Tokyo, so I arranged for that. I was a bit rushed on the phone, and later realized that I should have done something a bit different - instead of flying there on Saturday morning, then taking the train back to Tokyo on Monday as I would have with the Cassiopia schedule, I should have taken a train to Hakodate and stayed overnight there before completing the train journey back to Tokyo. As it is now, we will have three trains: Sapporo to Hakodate, Hakodate to Shin Aomori, and Shin Aomori to Tokyo, taking a total of about 10 hours! Still, Alan likes trains, and so do I, so I think we’ll still have a great time.

So on Saturday morning, we got up at about 6am, and started to get ready to go. We had a 9:30am flight from Haneda airport to Shin-Chitose airport. There is a bus that goes from basically right in front of our house to Haneda airport (the Keikyuu Limosine) so we caught that at 7:39am, and got to the airport at about 8:00am. We exchanged our vouchers for the flight, and hung out at Haneda airport for about 40 minutes before boarding. The flight to Shin-Chitose took all of an hour and a half (compare this to the ten hours or so it will take for us to return on five different trains!) and from Shin-Chitose we could take an express airport train to Sapporo that takes about 39 minutes. Normally we could, but there were so many people with the same idea that we had that the first train departing was already full, and reserved seats for the next one were sold out. We lined up and waited the 15 minutes it took for the next train to come, and somehow managed to real seats for all three of us.

Of course, Alan left his bag back at the airport. I knew we should have made him take his backpack instead. (We called the airport later and they were kind enough to mail it back to our house, so we should see it again at some point.)

We got in to Sapporo and checked in to the hotel - it was only a few minutes walk from the station. A very cold walk. We then went out in search of lunch. Alan wanted to try some Ramen, and Lisa had some recommendations from friends who had lived in Sapporo. We went to a place called “Kiraito” ramen, in a neat shopping arcade two stops away from Sapporo station. It was really good! It was a small Ramen place that had only four things on the menu: Miso Ramen, Salt Ramen, Soy Sauce Ramen, and rice. The rice is just normal white rice, so it probably shouldn’t even count as a menu item. It was really good Ramen though. I’m not a professional ramen eater, so I couldn’t give you a review of the place, but it was good. I’m sure people more familiar with Ramen would be able to tell you the difference between a typical Ramen you would get in Tokyo compared to this, but I certainly can’t. I’m not even sure if that was typical Sapporo ramen, or what that would be.

After lunch, we headed over to Oodori park, where the Snow Festival is held. They have a lot of stands selling things, and every block or so there is a big snow sculpture. There were lots of people. You can only walk in one direction, so be careful about that. If you see a thousand people walking in the opposite direction that you are going, you should cut through the park and go to the other side. We got our picture taken at the big Church modeled after some church in Macao, and saw a few more sculptures. I wanted to check out the Shinkansen sculpture, and that was pretty cool. We were getting really cold though, so we walked back to the hotel, and picked up some pocket hand-warmers and foot warmers for the second try in the afternoon. On the way back we cut through a park that had a whole bunch of igloos with art installations inside. It was really neat! They were also passing out hot conbuchya (conbu tea - basically salty seaweed tea, not my thing) and hot Calpis (hot water mixed with Calpis - surprisingly good!)

After a bit of break, we headed back out. It was dark out now, and a bit colder, but with a whole bunch of hand and foot warmers and a back warmer strapped on, it wasn’t as bad as the first time out. Since it was dark now, many of the larger sculptures were using projection-mapped projectors to add color and animation to the sculpture. The one for the Shinkansen was really cool! There were lots of people though, and I was getting mad at people who would push by my while I’m holding up Alan so he could see.

We planned for dinner at a fresh fish Izakaya, and headed out that way. One the way we stopped at the exhibit near the start of the park sponsored by the White Lovers confectionary group. It was a huge ramp and they have a snowboard exhibition. A whole bunch of snowboarders were doing tricks off the jumps and stuff there. What was really amazing is that the first kid down was 10 years old, and he did a back flip in the air. A ten year old kid. That is just crazy. Apparently, kids can start (and often do!) snowboard or skiing lessons here from age 4. Wow.

We were getting pretty cold again, but instead of walking to the restaurant above ground, we decided to pop down into the Sapporo underground. The underground is really amazing, about the length of two train stops, from Sapporo station to Oodori station. It goes all over the place. We were able to walk about 95% of the way from the park to the restaurant.

Dinner was at a small Izakaya with a real local vibe. I wish people hadn’t been smoking there though. That is unfortunately a common complaint in Japan though. I discovered a new Japanese food that is totally disgusting and that I will avoid in the future. イカワタのルイベ. It is basically taking the guts of a squid, and freezing it, and then slicing it thin. Maybe they do some other things. It is disgusting. The rest of the food was good though, very nice Sashimi, and some good fried chicken and fish. I ate too much, truth be told. We took the underground back to the hotel and rolled into bed.

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January 30, 2016

2016 January trip to Nagano

HiSE 1000 On the way to Yudanaka A small shrine in Yudanaka Rising moon in Yudanaka shopping street Breakfast Breakfast
2016-01-22 Today I took half a day off to pick up Alan early from Daycare so we could meet up with Eric and Claire at Tokyo station. The plan was to go to Nagano, and more specifically Yudanaka. We are staying at the Yamazakiya Ryokan, which is near the Shibu Onsen area. In fact, the right across from the Ryokan there is an onsen run by the town that is free to enter.

To get there we had an adventure! We took the Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Nagano, and from there we took the Yukemuri express train on the Nagano Dentetsu to Yudanaka station. The Yukemuri train is very interesting - I thought that I had seen a train similar to it before. After some investigation, it turns out that the Yukemuri train is actually the old Romance Car 1000 HiSE trains from the Odakyu line. They apparently sent these older trains to the Nagano Dentetsu railway back in the early 90s. Nice to see them still getting some use! This particular train, the HiSE 1000, was built in 1986 and stayed in service until about 2012. The Japanese wikipedia entry on them is unsurprisingly much more detailed than the English one. I really like that these older trains (but not as old as I thought! I was guessing late 70s!) are still being used on a smaller rail line.

From Yudanaka station it was a quick 5 minute ride to the Yamazakiya Ryokan. The owner Akira is really nice, and came to meet us in his van. It is a nice two story Ryokan, pretty small with the family that runs it living in it. They have two (or three?) cute kids that are running around and look like they would like to play with Alan.

Across the street is an onsen. They warned us that it was pretty hot, 42 or 43 degrees C. That is what we keep our bath set to at home, so I figured it would be fine, but wow, either their thermometer is broken or ours is. That onsen was HOT. After a dip in the Onsen we went out to dinner. Just up the road was a Ramen place, run by an older woman. We were the only customers and she seemed a bit worried at first, but once we spoke some Japanese she was a bit relieved, and we got some ramen, fried rice, and gyoza. Pretty nice! We had a nice dinner, and chatted with the owner for a bit. She was very friendly and happy to talk. As we left she gave Alan two little cookies and a huge Fuji apple. We got back to the Ryokan a bit late, near 9pm. Alan really wanted to eat the apple, so he went at that for about 30 or 40 minutes, and at that point I forced him into the bath. The Ryokan has onsen too, and the temperature there was much more reasonable. It was great actually. Alan enjoyed it a bunch too. We got back to the room and did the standard bed routine, but when I turned on the TV “Kiki’s Delivery Service” was just starting and Alan was super interested in it. We watched for just a little bit before bedding down at 10pm.

Alan slept soundly until I woke him at 7:15am. We agreed at breakfast at that time because the plan for Saturday was to go to a nearby Ski park and play in the snow. We had a nice breakfast at 7:30am consisting of standard Ryokan fare: some fish, rice, a nice soup, maybe some pickled vegetables, a nice mountain yam, a small vegetable salad, and some tea. It was nice quite nice. The grilled fish was Salmon I think, and also great.
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April 20, 2015

Packaging up a Java application on OSX with recent versions of Java

So, I've started hacking on a very, very old project of mine that is a Swing-based Java application. I got it running again on OSX but things have changed a lot since I last was doing much coding on it. It used to be that Apple vended Java for OSX, but now Oracle does, and the way that you package up a Java application as an OSX application has changed.

Oracle has some documentation on how to package up an application, but I have to admit that it took me a lot longer than it should have to get this to work. First, Oracle distributes an Ant task for packaging the JAR. I don't use Ant for my project. Actually, I don't remember how I was packaging up the application before. I think I just hand-crafted some directories and dropped an Info.plist file in there that worked.

I was a bit intimidated by that, but it does look like someone has done things by hand. This also looked pretty complicated.

So I ended up installing ant. I had previously installed homebrew on my machine, so that was as simple as "brew install ant". Then I needed to put together a build.xml. I know a bit about that, but not much. I use eclipse for this project, but haven't done anything smart with how it is set up. It just uses the default java builder. I think I even have it set up to put the compiled code in the existing directory structure with the Java files. Not really great. Anyway, I made a simple build.xml that pulls in the libraries I need and some other resources. When I tried to run the resulting application though, I get a failure:

LSOpenURLsWithRole() failed with error -10810

That was not helpful. Running from the command line didn't help, just output that error. Running via java -jar did help though: it couldn't find some classes it needed. Oh, right, I need to set the classpath in the Manifest file. So if you get that error, check to see if your classpath is set correctly. Remember that when you run something via -jar, the -classpath option is completely ignored, and it takes the classpath from the JAR's manifest file. Here is what my final build.xml looked like:

<project name="GMAO" default="bundle-GMAO" basedir=".">        
    <taskdef name="bundleapp"
             classpath="../GMAO_libs/appbundler-1.0.jar" />
    <!-- See the lib reference here, this is why you need to use the lib directory! -->

	<path id="build.classpath">
	  <fileset dir="${basedir}">
	     <include name="lib/*.jar"/>

	<pathconvert property="manifest.classpath" pathsep=" ">
	  <path refid="build.classpath"/>
	       <globmapper from="*.jar" to="*.jar"/>
	<target name="create-jar" description="Create GMAO Jar">
		<jar destfile="GMAOGUI.jar" basedir="." includes="**/**.class,../common/**/**.class,images/**,docs/**,*html,*xml,*xsl">
				<attribute name="Main-Class" value="com.FuguTabetai.GMAO.GMAOGUI"/>
				<attribute name="Class-Path" value="${manifest.classpath}"/>
    <target name="bundle-GMAO" depends="create-jar">
        <delete dir="appBundle" failonerror="false"/>
        <mkdir dir="appBundle"/>
    	<echo message="JAVA_HOME is set to = ${java.home}" />
        <bundleapp outputdirectory="appBundle"
        	<runtime dir="${java.home}/.."/>
        	<option value="-Dswing.volatileImageBufferEnabled=false"/>
            <!-- The following is important and should point to your build -->
            <classpath file="GMAOGUI.jar" />
            <!-- You can have multiple instance of classpath if you 3rd party or
                 dependent jars in different locations -->
        	<classpath file="lib/TableLayout.jar" />
        	<classpath file="lib/commons-logging-1.2.jar" />
        	<classpath file="lib/helpgui-1.1.jar" />
        	<classpath file="lib/jcommon-0.7.0.jar" />
        	<classpath file="lib/jfreechart-0.9.3.jar" />
			<classpath file="lib/jnlp.jar" />
    		<classpath file="lib/skinlf.jar" />
    		<classpath file="lib/swingfx.jar" />
    		<classpath file="lib/xnap-commons-0.9.5.jar" />
        	<classpath file="lib/xpp3_min-" />
        	<classpath file="lib/xstream-1.2.jar" />
        	<classpath file="lib/gmao_common.jar" />
The Appbundler documentation was useful in adding some additional properties. I know that the build.xml could be better, and I'll probably improve it, but I wanted to note it here because I know in a few years I will want to figure out why I did this.

March 28, 2015

Excruciatingly slow Swing performance while loading / painting images on a Macbook Pro Retina 13" under Java 1.8

So, in my previous post I mentioned that I was doing some profiling of a Java Swing application. The application was super slow. An operation that used to take less than a second (basically loading an ImageIcon and painting it) would take about three minutes (I timed it) under Java 1.8.0_31 on OSX 10.9.5. It made my app very slow to use. Once the image was loaded, things were fine, except some other operations (Java2D Transforms) were unusable. That made the app almost unusable under certain conditions.

I spent some time looking around on the internet, and found lots of people complaining about issues that might be related. Since this application is one that I wrote, I could change it if there was a fix out there.

Mostly discussion focused around Oracle's implementation being OpenGL only, and not using the Mac Quartz rendering anymore. That is something that I've known about since Java 1.6 when Apple dropped their own implementation. That is probably the cause of the problem, but there is nothing that I can do about it, aside from downgrading to Java 1.6, which I don't want to do because I want to be a cool guy living in cool times and using Java 1.8 features and maybe even some closures.

One thread hinted that BufferedImage of TYPE_INT_ARGB_PRE instead of TYPE_INT_RGB are significantly faster. It didn't make a measurable (wall clock) difference in my application. I was disappointed.

The actual problem seems to be with a lack of implementing VolatileImage in BufferedImage. It looks like you can use VolatileImage directly and gain back some performance, but further digging indicated that I could set the JVM Property -Dswing.volatileImageBufferEnabled=falseand for whatever reason, all my performance problems went away. That isn't super useful for software that you distribute because seriously, how many users are going to know how to set JVM properties? I guess once I get around to packaging up my software as an application again I'll be able to set that anyway, but I hope that this is fixed in an upcoming Java release.

It is disappointing to me that Swing graphics had such a horrible regression and it has apparently been around for two Java versions on OSX. I really like Swing because I can run my application on OSX, linux, and Windows (and I sometimes do!) but it doesn't seem like it is getting as much love as it used to. Which is strange, because Android is dominant in the mobile space and clearly graphics performance is good enough there for all sorts of applications and games.

March 8, 2015

Profiling in Java

I've recently started doing some manga translation again, but what that means is that I've tried to get my GMAO program running on my newer MacBook. Just trying to run the OSX app that I packaged a few years back brought up a dialog box asking me to install the 1.6 JRE. I don't really want to do that, we're in the 21st century now, and I want to run Java 1.8. So I downloaded that JRE. Still, I get the message. It turns out that the type of launcher I use (info.plist XML or whatever) is the style that Apple supported which only works with their JRE, which is only available to 1.6. And is more or less deprecated now.

So I found out that if I download the JDK (and just the JRE) I get the command line tools, and then I can pretty easily start up GMAO from the command line from the .app. Which still is far from ideal, so I guess I need to re-package it to use the new launcher format. First though, since I can at least run GMAO on the new laptop, I started to do some translation. Great.

Except, it takes about three minutes (wall clock minutes) to load a new image. That is terrible. It used to take on the order of seconds, if that. So I guess there is something in the APIs that have changed to make whatever I'm doing super slow - I know my code doesn't do anything that should take that long. So I'll have to track that down.

I installed Eclipse and copied my code over. Wow, over 800 warnings. Mostly about non-parameterized types. I should probably fix those. I'm able to compile under Java 1.8 though, so that is good.

Where is all that time going when I load an image? Let's try to profiling. So, I try to use jvisualvm. I can look at the heap and stuff, but CPU profiling is not supported: "failed to create jmx connection to target application". I tried many things, but I just couldn't get things working. I enabled some logging and a net connection was timing out.

RMI uses two ports for communication, which is pretty dumb if you are behind a firewall. Anyway, I don't think that was the problem here, I think it was having trouble finding the host to get the RMI information from.

Finally I found some java options that I could use to get the connection to work. On the JVM running the app I want to profile:

java -Xmx2048m -Djava.rmi.server.hostname=localhost -classpath $CP com.FuguTabetai.GMAO.GMAOGUI
I was able to start up jvisualvm and connect to the JVM that way. The profiling was helpful, but didn't get me as far as I wanted. By the way, if you are on OSX and want to start jvisualvm you can just use jvisualvm, but to run Java Mission Control I had to find out where that binary was:
find /Library/Java -name jmc
/Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/jdk1.8.0_31.jdk/Contents/Home/lib/missioncontrol/Java Mission
Here are some other interesting notes. Using the HPROF option just showed me some garbage, it isn't accurate. See this excellent post for more information about that. This post was super helpful in tracking down my connection problems with JMX. Google might have a nice lightweight java profiler but I haven't read that yet. This stackoverflow post pointed me in the right direction for finding the critical java.rmi.server.hostname parameter (and maybe I'll probably need to look more into how to do Java app bundles in this brave new Java 1.8 world.

February 28, 2015

2015 Austin and Dallas trip

Love and War in Texas Lisa and Alan Austin Guacamole sampler Texas State Capital Alan and Austin Mounted Police Texas Capital specific door hinges Texas State Capital Rotunda Texas State Capital Rotunda Texas State Capital
At the end of January, I attended the AAAI conference in Austin, TX. Since my father lives in Dallas, it was a great chance to bring the family and take a bit of a vacation. So, we all flew out from Tokyo to Dallas, about a 12 hour flight. That is quite a bit longer than the 9 or so that we are used to when going to the West coast, but because the flight we were on was direct NRT -> DFW, and the plane left late Alan slept most of the way, and it wasn't really all that bad.

We arrived at Dallas, rented a car, and drove to my dad's place. That first night we had dinner at Love and War in Texas. Lisa got the large beer, and it was very, very large. The steaks were also quite large. That turned out to be a theme all through our stay at Texas, lots of food. Lots of good food.

On Monday we drove down to Austin, a nice four hour drive. We stopped at one of the nice rest areas on the way, and it had a really nice park with a neat playground for Alan to play on. We were on a relaxed schedule and didn't get in to Austin until the evening. I'm not going to talk about the conference - it was a nice conference, and had a lot of NLP that was relevant to work. Interestingly it also had a few robots on display, and Alan really liked watching them. There was a robocup soccer game that Alan thought was great. Robots! Playing soccer!

The next day for lunch I met up with Lisa and Alan, and we walked across the river to 2nd street. We had lunch at La Condessa who had a great guacamole sampler. Lisa and Alan went to Zilker Park once when I was at the conference, and I have photographic evidence that they also went to the Capital building.

One evening we went out and visited from friends who live down by the Whole Foods. We stopped there once or twice over the week, and got some snacks / dinner / breakfast. It is a nice Whole Foods.

Another evening we went out for Ramen. That was certainly and experience. The ramen was pretty good, but the atmosphere was very different from what you get in Tokyo. More like a club with upbeat music and lots of open seating, as opposed to the small, cramped counter-only seating you usually get in Tokyo. It was also a very Austin college crowd. It made me feel old. The ramen was good though.

Midway Food Park Midway Food Park Louie Mueller Barbecue Louie Mueller Barbecue Louie Mueller Barbecue
Another day for lunch we all went out to Midway Food Park, a neat little place where there are a bunch of food trucks hanging out in a park. It was pretty cool. They also had a nice playground that Alan spent some time at.

On the drive back to Texas we detoured a bit and swung by Taylor, Texas to eat a late lunch at Louie Mueller BBQ. That was a great meal - paper for plates, great sauce, really good bbq, nice pickles, really great pulled pork (excellent when you made a little sandwich with the pickles and bread.) The place has had some great reviews, and makes the Texas Monthly list of top 10 BBQs in the state. It was definitely worth the extra 40 minutes or so to head off the highway. The town it is in is also a small, cute country town. Lots of open country on the drive around there too.

TV is corrupting our youth Space Pirates Welcome to America, Texas Style Welcome to Texas Doggy facilities at DFW
Once we got back to Dallas things started to get interesting. Both my twin and younger sisters flew out, and my twin brought her two kids with her. Also, a friend of ours came with her child, and two of Lisa's friends from Japan came for a week. Two of Dad's friends came as well, so there were lots of people in the house. Usually there is only one person there, but at one point there were 14 people staying there!

Alan and his cousin really get along well - his cousin is about a year older, and very active. Alan always enjoys running around with him. On this trip they had lots of fun playing in a spaceship (cardboard box) with their Space Ninja helmets (modified cardboard boxes.) Alan's cousin doesn't watch too much TV at his house (because they don't have a TV) so we probably exposed him to too much of that.

On Superbowl Sunday Lisa's friends arrived. We drove out to DFW and welcomed them to the USA in an appropriate way - with balloons and a US Flag. DFW has an interesting doggy potty facility in the parking garage. We also had a party at Dad's place. I think only one person watched the superbowl - which is probably a record for Texas parties on Superbowl Sunday.

DART to Downtown Mavs Express American Airlines Center Mavs Games Alan and Dave at the Game Three Generations of Evans at the Mavs game Lisa and Alan at the Mavs Game Alan and Lisa at Mavs Game Alan, Lisa, and Dave at the Mavs Game
On Monday February 2nd, I took cousin Scout, Lisa, Alan, Lisa's two friends, and dad to the Mavericks game. They were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves. We took the DART from Plano down into downtown Dallas, and before the game had dinner at the West End Hoffbrau Steak House. I used to really like the place back when they had the Cow Bus that ran from the Steak House over to Reunion Area for the games. I would take mom there every once in a while and we would go to a game together. Anyway, we all went out to the Steak House, and it was good, but unfortunately one of their specialties was out for the night. Still, good food, and they had nice play mats for Scout and Alan to draw on while the adult ate.

We had to quickly catch the DART for one or two stops to get from the West End to Victory Station, but that wasn't too tough. I was really excited to meet Dad at the American Airlines Center because then we had three generations of Evans men watching basketball together! That was great! Alan was excited to watch because I often watch the Mavs back at home, so he recognized the floor there. I was a bit worried that the area would be too loud for Scout, but he had a good time.

The Mavs won, but I don't think that was what was important to Alan and Scout. I think they enjoyed the timeout entertainment as much as anything else, and walking around the arena was fun too. A month later Alan still talks about it - we were up high, "like a tree". They also really liked the popcorn. I'm surprised anyone could eat anything after the large dinner, but we somehow finished off an order of popcorn. I think Lisa's friends enjoyed it too, although I doubt they had ever watched a basketball game before. By the time we got home, Alan and Scout were both exhausted, which made things a bit difficult, but we all managed. It was lots of fun, and I'm sure I'll remember that night for a long time.

Kids at the piano Perot Museum of Nature and Science Perot Museum of Nature and Science Downtown Dallas El Fenix
The next day we took a trip out to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. It is a really interesting building downtown. The museum was nice. They had an interactive exhibit / ride about shale gas drilling, which was interesting, although it really seemed like they have an agenda to promote there.

After the museum we stopped off at the El Fenix across the street for lunch. Which was great. And there was too much of it.

Panda Nigiri
For dinner Lisa's friends made a vegetarian soup and lots of sushi. One of the cute ones was this panda.
Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar B Que Fort Worth Stockyars Lots of strollers Buggy ride Buggy ride Buggy ride Cattle drive Cattle drive Cattle drive Cattle drive Cattle drive Cowboy Cowboy
The next day was a long drive out to Fort Worth for the Stockyards and the Cattle Drive. It was very nice. I think the weekends would be better, but weekdays there aren't many people so there are benefits either way. The vintage steam railroad wasn't running unfortunately, because Alan would really have loved that. That only runs on the weekend.

This highlight was certainly the cattle drive. Alan and Scout both liked that. I was amazed at how large the horns were on the Texas Longhorns. They are called that for a reason. There are a lot of cattle too. I wonder how much cattle business still goes on there - I know it isn't a small amount.

We didn't have dinner there, but we did have lunch before heading to the Stockyards. We had BBQ at Cooper's Old Time BBQ. It was pretty good, not the best I've had, but pretty good for sure. You could tell that there were a lot of locals there too, just from how they dressed. Seemed like a nice working class place with a bit of a tourist crowd, so more legit that straight up tourist places.

Japanese Facial masks Japanese facial masks Japanese facial masks
Watch the above video first. Then watch the one below. The video below is of us watching the video above and trying to do the Youkai Watch dance.
One evening Lisa's friends passed out some facial masks, which had a bunch of strange patterns on them. Actually, I think Lisa might have picked those up at Tokyo Hands come to think of it. We all put on those. I think they made us more beautiful. One of the things we did with the crazy masks on (besides taking crazy face pictures - it was very late at night) was to do the dance to the Youkai Watch "Youkai Exercise" video. I linked to a video of an English translation of the Youkai Watch exercise video. Youkai Watch is a kid's TV show, basically an updated version of Pokemon with a kid who can see Japanese monsters that are invisible to everyone else in Tokyo. The kid goes around and battles them or something and somehow his watch is involved, I don't really know. It is very popular here. With kids. Anyway, there is a song called "Monster Exercise" and it has an associated dance with it. We tried the dance. There are all sorts of crazy videos on Youtube if you search for "youkai taisou" so try it out some time. Also, try the translation of the video I posted, it is really funny. We had a blast trying to dance to it with monster facial masks on.
Clean Room Alan SMU Cafeteria SMU Wave SMU Meadows Museum

Group photo Family Photo Family Photo Funny photo Group Photo Family Dinner Lots of guests Going back to Japan
Finally, on one of our last days we stopped by Southern Methodist University where I went as an undergrad (along with both my sisters) and where my father still teaches. We stopped by his building, and did a quick tour of the clean room. We also met up with a photographer who took our pictures. Unfortunately, it was raining, but she was great and we came away with some really nice group shots. Since we only get together maybe once every few years i really like that the last time or two we have had professional photo shoots done.

We met up with even more family at the Red Lobster for dinner, and had a great time there. On our last day we all headed to the airport and started the long trek back home to Japan. It was a really great trip to Dallas, and lots of fun to see family. Alan is still talking about all the fun he had with cousin Scout and his Aunts, as well as Lisa's friends who were just great with the kids. We try to facetime with family on the weekends, but nothing replaces actually being there.

January 15, 2015

What is my mail server rejecting?

I've recently migrated my hosting from one VPS to a new host. It was a lot more work than it should have been. I'll try to be much better at keeping my host up to date and maintained.

At any rate, I finally have my mailserver up and running on the new host. I implemented greylisting and some other spam prevention measures. Sometimes I wonder what is being rejected and why. Here is a super simple perl one-liner that can look at the mail.log file and spit out what hosts are rejected, and what the rejection reasons are (independently.)

grep reject mail.log | perl -n -e 'END { foreach my $key (sort {$hosts{$a} <=> $hosts{$b}} keys %hosts) { print "$hosts{$key}\t$key\n"; } foreach my $key ( sort { $reasons{$a} <=> $reasons{$b} } keys %reasons) { print "$reasons{$key}\t$key\n";}} if (m/RCPT from (.*?): .*?: (.*);/) { $hosts{"$1"}++; $reasons{"$2"}++}'

January 2, 2015

2014 Year in Games Review

I thought it would be interesting to look at what games I played this year. I don't mean things like Basketball (which I did play, about once a month with the Amazon JP basketball club) but games on the computer.

I supported a few games on Kickstarter a few years back, and some of them finally came to fruition in 2014. Looking at my Steam page, I've played a few games, 10 with more than 2 hours on them. Too bad Steam doesn't have an option to limit game time by time period, I would love to see how much I play in a year or a month or whatever. I guess that on average, if I can get three hours of gaming a week, that is a good week. Anyway, some of the games shown in Steam I didn't play this year. For example, those 199 hours logged on Fallout: New Vegas were definitely from a few years back, before I had little Alan running around. So what did I play this year? I'll give it my best shot based on a real spotty memory. February 27th: Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall is the second in the Shadowrun Returns franchise. That came out in July 2013, and I'm pretty sure I played and finished that game then, but the Dragonfall campaign came out in late February 2014. I definitely played and finished that sometime this year. It was great. I really liked the original, it has some things that I really enjoy: turn-based tactical combat, a very interesting setting (I liked Shadowrun back in high school) and a good story. Not a great story, but a good one. The second installment makes some improvements in combat, and really brings a much better story and game structure to the table. There is more freedom in how you decide to tackle objectives, and there is less linearity in the game with more optional quests. Overall a lot of fun. It looks like they are kickstarting a Hong Kong campaign in 2015, and I will definitely back that.

July 30th, 2011: Bastion. This game came out in 2011, but I picked it up in a Humble Bundle at some point, and played it. I think it fell between Shadowrun and Divinity. It was lots of fun! I logged 12.4 hours, and completed the game once (there are two endings, and I think I chose the less popular one.) I keep meaning to go back and get the other ending, but I haven't had the motivation to do it.

June 30th: Divinity: Original Sin is the game that I spent the most time with this year. I logged an amazing 131 hours, which means I put an average of about 45 minutes a day into it since it came out. That isn't quite right, because I would say that 30 or 40 of those hours were actually logged while I was putting Alan down for a nap or otherwise not actually playing the came, but I'm still really surprised that I got that much time logged! I was just able to finish the game a few days before the end of the year (it released on June 30th.)

January 14th: Broken Age. I backed this on Kickstarter and played through the first part at some point. Steam says that I have 4.7 hours on it, and that sounds about right. I enjoyed it, the game has a great sense of humor. I'm not really good at adventure games though, and there was one puzzle solution that took me a long time to figure out. I really enjoyed the voice acting and the humorous lines you get when you try to use things on other things that make no sense. The second part is supposed to be coming out sometime in 2015, and as a backer I will get that too.

???: Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition. Steam says that I put about 6 hours into this game. That sounds about right. I got out of the tutorial section, and that is about it. I enjoyed it though, and do want to go back and play some more. I just have many other games ahead of this one to vie for my limited time.

June 3rd: Ultra Street Fighter 4. I've continued playing Street Fighter 4, but not as much as I would like. I'm not as good as I used to be. I have trouble on the execution side of the game, and it seems like Capcom keeps bringing Street Fighter further into the heavy execution required side of things. I didn't like when SF4 introduced single frame links, and they keep adding more of those. Also, the new systems like Red Focus and Delayed Standing make you have to pay more attention to subtle signs to be successful. The same thing for hit confirming. I don't like kara-throwing at all, and option selects are ridiculous. If you want to be good you have to learn about all of theses things. I just don't have as much capability in those areas, although I still enjoy the zoning and building predictive models of the other player and exploiting those.

September 19th: Wasteland 2. Steam says that I have 31 hours on Wasteland 2. This is the game that I was most looking forward to. I really enjoy it, I've pretty early in the game, but I like the combat a lot, and love the world and writing. I'm not a big fan of the camera controls and strange viewport that you are limited to. It seems like you can't play it zoomed in because your characters block too much of the view, and zoomed all the way out you miss a lot of the very pretty environments. I don't like the square based combat grid. Actually, I think Divinity: Original Sin did an amazing job with their tactical combat field. They don't have a partitioned battlefield, everything is positionally free and not aligned any kind of (square or hex) grid. They use the computer to keep track of how much movement would cost and have a great UI for displaying how that looks. I wish I had larger character portraits in Wasteland 2 as well, but for the most part I'm very happy with what my kickstarter backing delivered. I'm excited to keep playing this one, but it is the kind of game that I want to be able to sit down and play for an hour or two, and that has made it hard for me to have many sessions with the game.

So that's my year-in-review for games for 2014. I think I had the most fun so far with Divinity: Original Sin, but I also really enjoyed Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, and Wasteland 2. It was a great year for turn-based RPGs actually!

November 16, 2014

A trip to Nikko with the family

Toshogu temple
Toushougu Shrine
Toshogu temple
Dad, Dave, Lisa, and Alan at Nikko Toushougu Shrine
Sleeping cat at Toshogu temple
The carved sleeping cat up there is famous for some reason.
Toshogu temple
Alan was enjoying himself, even if I did have to carry him a bit.
Toshogu temple
We saw some of the beautiful fall colors as well.
Toshogu temple
Alan also ran around a lot on his own.
Evans family at Kegon falls
The four of us at Kegon falls
It is a bit messy, but we enjoyed the stay at a traditional Onsen. I do find sleeping on the tatami mat with the thin futon a bit tough, but for one night, no problem!
My dad came to Japan on his way to China for a three day layover. He's headed to China to give a talk at a conference (and based on my recent experience I had some advice for him!) We thought it might be fun to go on a trip, so we did an overnight trip up to Nikko. We piled all four of us into our tiny Mini Cooper (reinforcing the idea that we will need a bigger car if we want to do things like this more often with more people) and took off. Nikko was a nice two and half hour drive from Tokyo.

We made our first stop at Nikko Toushougu Shrine, where we walked up many, many stairs (still, no comparison to the Great Wall of China!) to see the grave of Ieyasu Tokugawa. It was a very impressive temple complex. We walked all over the place, and went to a nice yudofu restaurant for a late lunch. It was all tofu, so dad was able to get along just fine. Actually, now I'm not so sure that what we saw was the grave of Ieyasu Tokugawa. Based on the wiki article, it sounds like there are many shines in which he is enshrined (hah!) So perhaps there is some amount of his ash there, since cremation is very common in Japan. Actually, based on what my father-in-law was saying, burial is now illegal, so cremation sounds like the only reasonable option to me.

After lunch, we piled back into the car and headed up to Kegon falls. It was an amazing waterfall! Lots of water falling from the crater lake of a volcano that formed about 1000 years back or so. I think. Lisa said that it was well known for suicides. I think there are many places in Japan that might be well known for suicides, like the train tracks.

We had reserved an overnight stay at a hot springs resort on the Chuzenji lake. On the drive up, we took a famous road called the Irohazaka road. After the drive and settling in at the hotel we took a dip in the super-sulfurous baths. They were a bit too hot for Alan, but it was quite nice, and dad seemed to enjoy it as well. Afterwards we had a nice dinner, provided in the package (all the Onsen are like this, and include breakfast as well.) The only problem was that it was in the traditional Japanese style, and involved a lot of sitting on the floor. That is a bit tough for dad and I, but we managed. They even provided an all-vegetarian option for him, which was really nice. We all bedded down in a large room in four futons, with a super satisfying sleep given all the walking that we did.

I chatted with the staff to make sure that we could have western seating for the breakfast, which we got. So the next morning was a nice breakfast (assuming, of course, that you don't mind fish and rice for breakfast) before a leisurely check-out. On the drive back to Tokyo we stopped for some gifts (you usually buy some kind of local food / snack for people at home and work when you go somewhere, so we had to load up on those.) The drive was also pretty nice, and we didn't hit much traffic (surprisingly!) The next day Dad flew out to China - but it was great while he was here. Alan is still talking about Grandpa Gary. We'll see everyone again in July 2015 when we go to America (and probably a big road trip there too!)

November 15, 2014

A Business Trip to China

The CCTV building in Beijing
The CCTV building in Beijing. Can you see the air? You normally shouldn't be able to see air.
Tiananmen Square
I really liked the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.
Forbidden City
The Chinese Army have some hoops set up in the Forbidden City.
Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is amazing: huge, old, awesome architecture, and better history. Also, crowds! And look at the neutral gray sky; that is what I saw in Beijing for the first week of my visit.
Forbidden City
This long stone dragon carving is from a contiguous stone. I think.
Forbidden City
Upkeep costs on a multi-thousand year old property must be killer.
Forbidden City
This was in the gardens, and she was up on top of some strange stone looking object that had to have been created over a very long period of time in a very manual process. She had to climb over many "do not touch" signs to get up to the top.
Forbidden City
These nine dragons are probably important. I get the feeling that it might be nice to go here on a tour where someone speaks English. Or go here having studied some Chinese history.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
Up to the Great Wall at Badaling! I highly recommend taking the cable cars, because you are in for a long stair climb otherwise.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
The Great Wall was amazing.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
Proof that I was at the Great Wall. (Overlooking the fact that Photoshop now makes pictures almost worthless as far as proving things go.)
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
Narrow stairs within the wall.
The Great Wall of China in Badaling
One last shot of the Great Wall. It really was amazing. I'll just note though that their wall didn't work: I was a dirty foreigner on the wrong side!
I went to China for work a while back. I spent four days at the China office working with our local team there, and then spent the next week in a training session in Beijing. Many of the participants in the training session were from Japan, which was kind of funny. Still, Beijing is only a short flight away from Tokyo (about four hours - almost nothing compared to flying to America!) so it wasn't all that bad. I was excited to go to China, since I had never been there before. I had to jump through some hoops to get a Visa, but it wasn't difficult at all.

What did I think of China? I had a really tough time there. The Kanji looks similar enough to Japanese kanji that I feel like I should understand it, but I don't. At all. The simplified characters make me feel a bit uncomfortable, and they often had characters in n-gram sequences that I just don't understand. I don't know any Chinese at all, and I couldn't communicate one bit. English wasn't super useful either; it was useful at one hotel, but not so much the other. Taxi drivers didn't understand English at all. Before I went to Japan I printed out a little sheet with the possible places that I might want to go (two hotels, work, and the airport) and used that. If it wasn't for that I wouldn't have been able to go anywhere. I actually took the bus to work mostly, and the second week of training was all located at the hotel, so I didn't do much traveling at all there. We did go out as a group a few times to dinner, and we had to take taxis then. That was a real experience. It probably took about 40 minutes to get three taxis. They each took different routes and got caught up in crazy traffic. When we tried to get taxis going back, they wouldn't always stop to pick us up. Or, once we told them where we wanted to go, the driver didn't want to go there, and wouldn't take us. I was amazed. Something like that would never happen in Tokyo.

The air was unbelievable in Beijing. The first week I was there, I didn't see the sky at all. It looked gray and overcast every day. The air was kind of dusty, and I had to constantly clean my glasses. I started to get a persistent cough. I can understand why people would not like the air quality there. On the second week it cleared up a bit, and I was amazed at how many skyscrapers Beijing seemed to have. I thought that if it was a videogame, I would have said that they have terrible pop-in and too much fog turned on. It was really amazing to me. I know that Los Angeles used to have a problem with Smog when we lived there in the early 80s, but they managed to clear it up. I don't know if Beijing is going to be able to make as much improvement because they already have cars with good emissions standards (I assume) and I believe a lot of their pollution comes from factories, which drive a large percentage of their GDP, which makes it difficult to try to cut back on emissions there without having an impact on global competitiveness.

Over the weekend that I was there, one of my friends from work was kind enough to show me around Beijing. We took one day and went to the Forbidden City and Tianeman Square. They were both amazing. The Forbidden City was huge. Unbelievably so. It had some really amazing architecture. You could spend hours walking around there and not see everything. Days probably. One thing I wanted to do was find the Starbucks in the Forbidden City. I never found it. It turns out that it was shut down a few years back by the Chinese government because of concerns about the image. I can understand that. I still really wanted to go to a Starbucks in the Forbidden City. They have some tea shops now, but it just isn't the same.

I really liked Tianamen Square too, but probably for the wrong reasons. The big picture of Mao, all the people, the China Dream, all that stuff is great. But I just kept seeing Chun-Li's stage. No bicycles though, just a bunch of cars. Too bad. Now that I am back and have done some internet searching though, it turns out that Chun-Li's stage never had a picture of the Forbidden City and Mao in the background. I thought I remembered a picture of Chun-Li in front of that exact backdrop, but I was wrong!

Security to get into Tianamen Square was really tight. We had to wait maybe an hour and a half to go through security. There was a person who once immolated himself in the square in protest of something, and the government really doesn't like that. So now they check for people bringing in fuel or something like that.

On Sunday we went to the Great Wall. I don't know if can say much about the Great Wall that hasn't been said anywhere else; it is an amazing wall. We walked up and down it. We actually took a cable car up the wall. I highly recommend that. If you don't take a cable car, you will have to walk up more steps than you can easily imagine. We actually had to walk down those same steps because the cable car shut down at some point for maintenance (and does so daily - watch the schedules!) but going down was bad enough. I am very glad we didn't have to climb up all those steps. I can't imagine trying to breach that wall without steps (or cable cars) and instead arrows coming down at you. Unbelievable.

All that said, the wall didn't work. I was on the wrong side!

Based on my experience at the Great Wall, I think if America builds a huge wall between Mexico and America all that will happen is that we get massive crowds of people taking buses out to the wall to climb around on it. I don't know if that would address the problem that people have with the US-Mexico border. It might be good for tourism though.

The drive back was slow - we hit traffic in Beijing and the two hour drive out turned into a four hour drive back. Crazy.

September 2, 2014

The Magician Trilogy

Lev Grossman's "The Magician's Land" was recently released. I really enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy, The Magicians, and The Magician King. I was looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy quite a bit, and in preparation I re-read the entire series. It is rare for me to go back and re-read books, and this was my first re-read of the Magicians books. I feel like I understood what was happening a lot better and came away with a better holistic understanding of the story. The re-read helps a lot; the books are rife with references to previous characters and events. There are lots of references all over the place actually, to pop and nerd culture. I had to look up a lot of words as well - I really appreciate the dictionary feature of the kindle, which was one added bonus over the paper version that I read the first time.

Actually, last summer I read a short story in this universe from the "Unfettered" anthology. That was really a lot of fun to read at the time - it really brought back the impact of the series and was a nice short story to tide me over for the release. I was a bit disappointed because it turns out that the short story from Unfettered was in fact a good portion of one of the chapters from The Magician's Land. I wonder if the short story (starring Plum, a character from The Magician's Land) in the "Dangerous Women" anthology is also a part of the book. I'm interested in picking up that anthology, but the price is a bit high now; I'll wait for the mass market paperback edition to force down the Kindle pricing a bit before picking that up.

So, a quick post on some books. If you haven't read the Magicians, and are looking for a smart take on Hogwarts style stuff for adults, check it out. The characters are (intentionally I believe) fairly unlikeable and it takes some work to get through, but it is a really fun series. I really look forward to more in that universe, and might check out Lev Grossman's other work as well.

May 7, 2014

Updating my desktop

The main thing I use my desktop computer for is streaming NBA games via NBA International League Pass. My desktop machine is pretty old, it dates back to at least December 2007 and probably a bit before that, running an Intel Quad Core Q6600 from that time. It has been having a bit of trouble streaming the NBA games. It is running with a Radeon HD2400 Pro passively cooled graphics card, I think. Anyway, I decided that I wanted to update the system. So I decided to go for an AMD build this time, thinking that it would be a bit cheaper, and I've never had an AMD system.

It turned out, as these things always do, to be more complicated than I anticipated. First off, I decided on the processor that I wanted. Might as well get the latest and greatest, so I chose a very new "Kaveri" processor with a nice integrated graphics stack. The particular one I ordered is an A10-7850K. People say that it isn't really a great update over the previous generation, but it still should be many times better than the Q6600 I am currently running. It will also require a lot less electricity. I should also be able to get better graphics performance without a card than I have with a dedicated graphics card. All this is nice because I want the machine to run cool and silently, since I have left it on continuously since 2007.

Since I'm going from Intel to AMD, I will need to buy a new motherboard. The current one is so old that even an Intel upgrade would need a new motherboard, so no big deal there. I've had good luck with Gigabyte, so I chose another one of those that is said to work well with the A10-7850K. That also means I need new memory. So I lined all those things up.

When it got here, and once I was able to find some time after putting Alan to sleep, I pulled the old motherboard and got the new one in there. I installed all the parts and… Nothing happened. Huh.

I checked around on the web, and the processor that I have is so new that you need to update the firmware on the motherboard. Which requires an older processor that does run with it. Well, there are lots of processors that will work with that motherboard, so I got a cheap one (the A6-6400K, which still should be better than the Q6600, maybe) and a few other things. A blu-ray drive to replace the DVD drive that now won't work (no ATAPI interface on the motherboard, or whatever old interface it is using) and a bunch of other things I needed: molex to sata power converter cables, and some molex to motherboard fan conversion cables to see if I could get the two large case fans to be controlled by the motherboard.

When that got here, and I found some more time, I took out the old CPU (shoot, now I need some thermal paste for when I put that back in, so I ordered some of that too) and put in the new one.

Still nothing.


Then I checked a few things, online, and on the motherboard, and wouldn't you know it, I didn't plug in the CPU power connection. So maybe it would have worked with the original A10-7850K (it has been a few months and they might be shipping newer BIOS versions with the motherboard.) I haven't been able to check that because the motherboard posts so fast that I haven't been able to drop it into the bios screen.

Anyway, on first boot with the A6-6400K windows did come up (complained about having a problem, and that it could not fix it, and then rebooted fine) and started to install lots of drivers. I couldn't even get networking going. That was on the Radeon HD2400 Pro graphics card. I shut down after a bunch of drivers were installed and switched to the integrated graphics. That booted up too, and now I have an internet connection. To update the BIOS I need to run a few things, but until the new thermal paste comes, I'll see how well things work on the A6-6400K.

For fun, I installed Steam, and Dark Souls: Prepare to Die edition works on this setup. It probably doesn't have a rock solid framerate, but at 1280x960 (or something like that) it works well enough. Sadly, for some reason my keyboard doesn't bring up the in-game menu so I don't have a good way to quit the game (maybe because I'm using a small apple keyboard, I don't know.)

So now I've spent two days with this machine with the A6-6400K and it is just above and beyond what I had before. Probably because I was able to beat the Asylum Demon though.

Just before swapping in the A10-7850K I re-ran PC Mark7 (1949) and 3D Mark11 (it never actually got a score to me.) Also, I tried Dark Souls in 1920x1200.

Once I got around to swapping in the A10-7850K (and re-installing the drivers to pick up the proper video driver) the PC Mark7 score was 2165 (better, but who knows what that means?) and 3D Mark11 says it was P2030. Concretely, it had 2x the FPS in some of the tests that I noticed, and Dark Souls runs nice and smooth in 1920x1200, so I guess I'll just keep playing it that way.

Seems pretty good overall!

April 5, 2014

Family Trip to Ishigaki

Last weekend, the family went for a trip to Ishigaki, Okinawa. I had never been to Okinawa at all before, and was pretty excited for the trip. Our friend Mibe was getting married, so we flew out Saturday, the wedding was Sunday, and then we stayed through Wednesday.

Ishigaki is about as far South East from Tokyo that you can get and still be in Japan. It is super close to Taiwan. Maybe the embedded Google Map to the left shows that, but I was surprised at how far away it is - a three hour flight from Tokyo!

Alan was super excited to fly on the plane. He had a great time. The ANA flight attendant gave him a cute little airplane toy, which he played with the whole time we were there (and which now I can't find.) Unfortunately, we checked out stroller on as baggage, and it came out broken. Lisa talked with them, and they said they would fix it.

We rented a car and headed out to the hotel. I think you could drive around the entire island in about four hours, and mostly it takes that long because the majority of the island has a 40 km/hr speed limit. We were staying at a nice hotel where the wedding would take place, right on the ocean. They didn't really have a nice beach, but we could walk down to the water, going over a little seawall and down to some rocky shores.

We had some great food - Ishigaki is well known for Beef - and had a lot of Orion beer.

The wedding was outdoors, and beautiful. I'm sure if you know the couple you can find some pictures somewhere. Alan was a trooper and didn't make much of a fuss during the wedding, which was pretty quick as far as those things go. I got sunburned, since I of course forgot to put on sunscreen. As always.

The standouts from this trip include a Glass Boat ride, which Alan really loved. He loved all the boats really - including a ferry we took. On the glass boat ride Alan would point to a fish, and then pretend to eat it, along with the accompanying eating sound.

We had two really nice dinners, one early on at Hitoshi which specializes in Maguro. It was great. We also had a nice Yakiniku dinner, but I can't remember the name of the place.

Another memorable moment was when we took a ferry to Taketomi Island and went on an ox-cart ride. The island is tiny. It was lots of fun though.

We did safely make it back to Tokyo, exhausted. We survived a five day vacation with a two year old, and it was great! I would still like to check out Naha, Okinawa, and see how it compared to Hawaii. I don't know when we will get a chance to do that though.

January 25, 2014

Ugly Japanese fonts in Emacs on OSX

At some point, when I started to use Japanese in Emacs on my Mac (currently emacs verison 24.3.1) Japanese text turned childlike. It is annoying.

I tracked down the problem: if I do something like M-x list-fontsets and the M-x describe-fontset with a likely candidate, I see something like:

  .. 〿 (#x3000 .. #x303F)
㈀ .. 龯 (#x3200 .. #x9FAF)

You can also do something similar by placing the cursor on an ugly font, and do a M-x describe-char and it will show the font that displays the character. In general, the fonts that are used to actually display something is set by the fontset, since not every font can cover every possible character that can be in a buffer.

What is this Wawati? Open up Font Book on the Mac, and take a look. It is some ugly Chinese children's font or something.

Why does that get added as the default font to display characters in the ranges x3000 - x303F and x3200 - x9FAF? That is a lot of characters.

Based on unicode-fonts.el it sounds like the default font you get for an unknown symbol that is non-ascii is pretty random. So this unicode-fonts.el package tries to set some default mappings based on unicode character ranges. I installed some of the recommended fonts from there. I also had to install font-utils. And also ucs-utils. And also list-utils.

Once all of those were installed, Japanese fonts now look a lot better.

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