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.
Dave, Alan, and Lisa at Tokyo Disneyland!

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.

Untitled Alan isn't happy to see Chip.  Or Dale.
Alan isn't too happy with Lilo either
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:

  1. Check my email. Note that this almost positively involves writing email in Japanese.
  2. Browse the web
  3. Keep up on my RSS feeds, which I currently do with Google Reader
  4. (Optional) Play some games
  5. (Optional) Keep up with FaceBook. Note that this almost positively involves writing in Japanese.
  6. (Optional) Video chat with family
  7. (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:

  1. 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.
  2. Hook up the phone to my computer and copy the backed up APK files to my computer.
  3. Hook up the tablet to the computer and copy the APK files over with the now installed 1mobile File Expert app.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

September 29, 2012

"That traditional walk"

A bit after lunch today, Lisa mentioned that there was a festival not too far from our house today and tomorrow. I asked her what the festival was for, and she said it was a festival for the local area, and specifically the Shinagawa Toukaidou area that used to be a stop on the tranditional road from old Tokyo (Edo) to Kyoto. We used to be about a (very) easy day's walk out of the Edo capital, so people would stay here.

Anyway, I didn't really know what the festival was about, but the timing was right: we could walk there, and have dinner. Dinner at a Japanese Festival is a super inefficient thing, but useful for one or two reasons: there are lots of types of food, so everyone can find something to eat, and you can drink while you walk around. Also, it is a great chance to walk around the area that the festival is in. It is not really the best in terms of actually eating though: the food is usually expensive (single appetizer type things only for about $5 each, basically carnival or county fair kinds of food) and the quality isn't that great.

We walked over to the place (a bit of a hike actually, maybe about three quarters of a mile away) and grabbed some food at a section that is sponsored by some local hotels. The food there is actually pretty good. Then we walked on down the road (the festival spanned the distance of three train stops, so quite a long route) closer to where the parade was going to start.

I didn't know there was going to be a parade so I asked Lisa about it. It actually wasn't a parade as much as just some people walking. Walking in the "traditional Oiran style". I didn't know what an Oiran is, or how they tradiationally walked. So I tried to clear that up. I asked Lisa what is an Oiran. She said that they are prostitutes, and they traditionally walk in a distinctive style where they kick their legs out. I was pretty sure that I didn't understand some of those words, so I asked her again, particularly to clarify on the prostitute part. She looked it up, and told me in English "You know, prostitute." Two surprises: huh, I knew the word for prostitute (I figured I was wrong, but the word comes up in history a bit.) Second, prostitues have a particular distinctive style of walking where they kick their legs out.

I told her I was pretty surprised that they would have a parade for prostitutes, and that we definitely wouldn't do that in America. Lisa said that she was surprised because America has prositutes everywhere, and they are held in high regard! They have them in the windows in the parts of town where prostitution is allowed! I'm pretty sure she is thinking of Amsterdam, since as far as I know prostitution is illegal in the US (outside of parts of Nevada.) So hopefully I cleared up her understanding of that.

Talking a bit more about it, Oiran are actually courtesans, similar to Geisha, with years of training in entertainment. It seems like they might also be open to some additional entertainment options, but this is all back a ways in history. The culture of the Oiran has been preserved up to today, and we got a chance to see them today.

The parade started in the evening, and was opened by some priests (their sashes read "Overnight staying place festival".) Three small girls were walking in front of every Oiran, but I don't know if they are actually in training or just cute local girls. They looked like they were having fun though. And some crazy make up.

The Oiran had amazing hair. I don't know how long it took to make up, but it must have taken a while. I don't know if I could actually tell the difference between the different type of courtesans in Japan. I know of Geisha, Maiko, and now Oiran.

I did take a video, so check that out. You can see the distinctive walking style of the Oiran. Look at that sexy walking! I don't know how I managed to resist. It must really take skill to walk in those shoes though - they are like a foot high! Amazing.

All in all, it was lots of fun. We walked way too far, and I'm exhausted from carrying around Alan all night in the Baby Ergo, but it was total worth it.

September 17, 2012

What have we been up to recently?

So, I've been neglecting my blog, but finally put some time in over the three day weekend (respect for the Elders day!) (no relation to Cthulhu) and wrote up some stuff. Now to catch us up to the present day (or at least the same week) let's see some of what has been going on around here lately.

We got Alan a new chair. Something called a Stokke, which apparently is good, and our friends the Evans' (no relation) have and like. Alan seems to like it.

The other day we took Berry (the family dog) to the groomers. Usually it isn't too much of a walk, but their place is under renovation so we had to walk a bit farther than normal. On the way there is a shop that has a sign in the window saying that they sell Shinagawa beer. We live in Shinagawa, and I always wondered what that was about. I bought some on the way back. The beer has been in production since 1870 apparently (although I am at a loss as to where.) It was pretty good!

I got some programming done, but it was a bit hard to type with that baby in my arms.

Finally, just yesterday (on Sunday) we went down to Ebisu for the beer festival. It isn't a festival as much as an outdoor beer hall where they sell only Ebisu beer. They have some food (mostly stuff that goes well with beer) and there was a stamp rally. We went with some friends of ours, Aki and his wife Kiyoko, and after lunch took some time to run the stamp rally. We needed to spend some time while another friend of Lisa's, Shino, arrived a bit later with her daughter. Come to think of it, does anyone find it odd to bring a young child to a beer festival? It didn't really strike me as anything unusual, but I've been in Japan for so long that I consider that to be a normal occurrence now. There were lots of kids there actually, not even including the two at our table.

On our walk around the area we saw a bit of an actual festival complete with a Tengu. They have long red noses. We also stopped by the Ebisu beer museum (although we didn't go through it.) The museum looks pretty cool actually, so one of these days we'll have to try and go back.

August 17, 2012

The Wedding of Jana Evans and Marco Rosichelli

So, as I mentioned in my last posting, my younger sister Jana Evans got married! Jana's been amazing since I knew her. It must have been tough growing up five years behind a pair of rambunctious twins, but she managed it. She also moved at about the start of high school from New Jersey to Texas, just to ensure that she would end up with a ridiculous accent. Or maybe because her older siblings and father all moved en-masse to Southern Methodist University. It was one or the other, I forget.

Well, she was always a kind younger sister, and never caused any problems. That I knew about. And now she's marrying a exemplar gentleman, Mr. Marco Rosichelli. Lisa, Alan, and I flew out from Tokyo for their Wedding in Helena. I had never spent much time in Montana (if at all!) so it sounded like a lot of fun to me. I was also excited to introduce Lisa to a new state and location, since we always seem to only go to one of a few pre-determined locations: San Francisco (really, Palo Alto, for work); San Diego (for my twin sister); Dallas, Texas (for my father); Seattle (for work); various small towns in Washington state (for family); or New York (for my friends.) So Montana is new to us. I also thought it would be fun to do an old-fashioned road trip.

I looked it up, and we could have flown from Seattle to Helena, but with a kid flying is tough, and I also wanted to stop along the way and visit with family. Since that would mean way too many flights to some tiny airports, instead we rented a car. And drove it 1,400 miles in a week and half. All told, it was fun. Alan slept very well in the car seat, and when he wasn't sleeping he is at the age that it is pretty clear what the problem is (bottle or diaper basically.)

We were able to stay with family and friends of family along the way, so didn't incur much in the way of hotel costs. I enjoy driving in the US, which is a change from driving in Japan, and after a good day on the road, we arrived in Helena (after staying overnight with family in Wenatchee.)

We spent some time with Jana and the family in Helena, taking a tour, hitting a Carousel, and things like that. The day of the wedding, which started at about 8pm in the evening, we dressed up and took off. (After a great steak dinner at Chubby's bar.)

The wedding was a the home of one of Jana's friends, up in the hills surrounding Helena, Montana. It was a beautiful home built into the side of the hill. Of course, all sorts of family was in attendance, as well as many friends of Marco and Jana. They both have been at the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts and have made many good friends there. A friend of their officiated the wedding, which included a traditional (of some tradition) binding using a large rope. It looked like it was pretty permanent.

Our Aunt, Laura Kirk, made the wedding cake. The cake was a quirky as Jana; a standard seeming cake on the outside, on the inside were brightly colored polka-dots of cake. It was apparently quite a trick to figure out how to do that. I don't really know the technical secrets behind it, but I think it involved cooking multiple small polka-dot shaped multi-colored cakes into a large cake.

The dancing went on into the night, and I think we just made it home before midnight. It was a great wedding, and I wish the best to the newlyweds!

July 17, 2012

What I did over the summer

I'm looking at my blog, and the last time I posted was back on June 10th. Wow, that is a long time ago! So the obvious question is, what has our family been up to since then?

At the end of June, Lisa, Alan, and I flew to Dallas for a few days. Then we flew up to Washington state. We had a busy two weeks planned.

We went on a trip from Tokyo to Dallas, Dallas to Seattle, and then from there we had a bit of a classic American Road Trip. From Seattle to Omak, and then through to Helena, Montana, back to Omak, up to Osooyoos, Canada for lunch (because hey, we have our passports) and then back to Seattle, and finally back home to Tokyo. We had some stops on the way in Wenatchee and Leavenworth as well.

We had a joyous occasion for the travel: my younger sister, Jana, got married to Marco! I'll get to that in another posting.

We also celebrated the lives of two important women in my life. My mother, Judy Marie (Kirk) Evans, passed away on June 12th, and shortly thereafter on June 29th my paternal grandmother, Bessie Evans passed.

We've set up memorial obituaries for them at Pax Memoriam:

Since this was Alan's first time on an airplane, we had plenty to keep us occupied as we flew over. I was surprised that the airlines (in our case, American) had a baby bassinet that could be hooked up for us. I would have thought that you could reserve the bassinet, but it is on a first-come first-serve basis, and your plane might or might not have one. Usually they do. They have mountings for multiple bassinets, but probably only have one. They really should try to set up some sort of ordering system so that they can load the bassinet when they need it, and not bring it when they don't, and also allow more customers to make use of it. Alan slept pretty well in it on the flight out (on the flight back the timing wasn't as good and he didn't sleep as much.) Still, it was great that they had something like that.

In Dallas we met up with Dad, and also had the time to go to a Ranger's game! We saw Darvish pitch, which was great, but they lost the game (which wasn't so great.) Still, Alan got his first Major League baseball game before he hit one year old! I think that is pretty good.

From Dallas we flew to Seattle, and then drove to Wenatchee, where we stayed with our cousins for the Fourth of July. Alan got to meet a lot of cousins, and play with some fireworks. We also had a nice US style barbeque. Great food, although probably a bit too much of it. Nah.

We drove the next day to Helena Montana, where my younger sister was living. I'll get into that more in the next post. We had a lot of fun over there, and then she had an amazing wedding, and we drove back to Washington state.

We took a tour of Helena on train-type thing, and Alan rode his first Carousel at the Great Northern Carousel, which conveniently is co-located with an ice cream shop.

We drove back to Washington and prepared for the memorial services for mom and grandma. On the way we stopped at the place that my dad is having his 1948 Hudson Hornet and 1954 Pontiac repaired. Since Grandma passed, and he has kept those cars in her garage on and off since high school, he plans to drive them from Washington State to Texas. I think we'll try to accompany him on that trip, but in the meantime the cars have to have some modern components installed for safety.

I don't have much to say about the services. I think they were wonderfully done. We had services for Grandma and Mom at the same place, back to back. A lot of people were able to come, since they were held in Grandma's hometown, which is a short drive from mom's hometown. I prepared a few things and read them, but what was really nice is that many of the people that came shared memories and stories they had. It was really amazing to hear one of Grandma's students talk about how Grandma pushed her and had a big influence in her life. Grandma went back to school in her 50s and eventually earned a Master's of Education and taught at the local high school. I don't know how she was as a teacher, but she didn't put up with any nonsense and always expected the best of you. She introduced us to literature and poetry when we were young, and always had interesting activities for us when we would visit from California. One summer, she opened up her freezer and gave us snowballs that she had made and saved during the winter, since us California kids had never seen snow before.

Snowballs don't really freeze well, but that didn't stop us from having fun.

After the services, which included a wonderful song by family members, we had a live butterfly release outside of the funeral home. I don't really have a good way to express how I feel, but both mom and grandma will be greatly missed.

After the services, we had a reception at the Bread Line Cafe in Omak. A lot of family made the trip out, so Alan met a lot of cousins. We even got this great picture with Grandpa Kirk and all of the attending great grand kids. That is a lot of great grandchildren!

Finally, in the evening, even though the day was already quite long enough, we had a birthday cake for Lisa. Note that kid that is super excited to see Lisa is not our son, but my sister's son Scout, who is super cute and really likes Lisa.

The next day we took a quick trip up to Osooyoos, Canada. We had our passports, and I don't know when we'll have a chance to take a trip up to Canada again. Since grandma has passed, we won't be able to stay in Omak any more, and Brewster is a bit further (only about another hour) from the border. So it sounded like a good idea. We had a nice lunch - Poutine is ridiculous - and then headed back towards to Seattle.

We made a quick stop in Leavenworth for lunch, which is a tourist town made up to look like an old German town. We spent the night in the outskirts of Seattle with our friends the Weavers, and then were back on the plane to Tokyo.

Alan packed in a lot in his first trip to America.

June 10, 2012

Shinagawa Tennousai

On Friday, the Shinagawa Tennou Festival began. It runs through Sunday. Lisa and I took Alan out this morning for a walk through the local neighborhood and headed down to where the festival is going on. Alan's still a bit young for these things, but probably when he is three or four I think he's really going to enjoy the festival atmosphere. A lot of kids are always running around at these things buying food and playing some games at the different stalls, trying to win goldfish or candy or little trinkets. The adults are usually eating (overpriced) street food and drinking beer. The closest thing to these kinds of festivals in the US would probably be a street fair, but you mix in some real traditional sorts of elements.

The Japanese page linked here: Shingawa Tennou Festival page (Japanese) says that the festival is held primarily between two temples, Shinagawa Shrine (I can't find any English pages for that) and Ebara Shrine (Japanese). Some portable shrines are carried between the two temples, accompanied by priests, drums, and flutes playing a special Shinagawa-themed tune apparently.

From out point of view we just walked around, got some food, and watched some people walk by. On the way home we also took some pictures of the parked portable shrines. I always enjoy these kinds of festivals, even thought he stall food is too expensive, you see lots of people, there are people in Yukata and Jinbei (kind of traditional summer clothes) and it is just fun walking around. I'm looking forward to going to some of these things in the future when Alan Yoshiyuki gets older!

The Galactic Mage and "Book Trailers"

I recently read The Galactic Mage by John Daulton. I had never heard of him before. I had never heard of the book before. But Amazon recommended it to me, and the kindle version is only $3.99. It has good reviews, so I picked it up (months ago!) and only just now got around to reading it. I have a few more cheap Kindle books that I haven't read yet, and I hope they all are as interesting as this book.

There is an embedded book "trailer" on the left. Book trailers are a relatively new phenomenon to me, but apparently they have been around for a while. I know that I saw something about a Spanish trailer for Patrick Rothfuss' Wise Man's Fear, but that was the first I had heard of them. Since then, I've seen one or two youtube trailers for books. I like the idea. It still seems a bit strange, but it is a good idea.

The Galactic Mage has a few properties that I really like in fantasy books: it has a consistent seeming set of rules for its magic, and in this case the author really follows through with them. His main character applies a kind of scientific method to magic, and we get to see magic applied in interesting ways in the world. Most interestingly, the juxtaposition of high tech and magic is explored a little bit. I really like the consistency and the logical process used in the book. The characters are for the most part interesting (it seems like some of them are exaggerated for the purposes of the story, but that is fine by me) and the story itself is very involving. I really wonder why I haven't seen the idea of space exploration in any fantasy books before, and this one does it very well.

I kind of see this book as another side of the coin to Rick Cook's Wizardry series (first two books are available from the Baen Free Library - they are very good, and it is worth buying the others!) That series has a computer programmer transported into a land of magic. This series has a wizard out there somewhere in the universe (how magic works and why is never explained, but the usage seems to have good rules and limitations) that just happens to also be a universe where (not too far away) technology has developed to an advanced level as well.

I really enjoyed this book, and if you have a kindle can wholeheartedly recommend it for the great price it is currently at!

June 9, 2012

Jordan Mechner's The Making of Prince of Persia

The online version of the book

GDC 2011 Classic Game Postmortem Price of Persia

GDC 2011 Vault Search for Classic Game Postmortem, there are a whole bunch of good ones!

Prince of Persia on the Glorius Apple //!

A long time ago, when I was still a young kid, my dad bought an Apple //e (or maybe a //+, but eventually we ended up with a //e.) That event likely changed my life, and definitely set me on the path that ended up being my passion and career: a software developer. Before I got anywhere near programming though, I spent a lot of time doing all sorts of things on that computer. What I enjoyed most were computer games, and one of the most amazing games I had seen at an early age was Karateka.

Karateka was amazing because it had large characters that were animated very well. They were as close to lifelike as we got back then. It was written by someone called Jordan Mechner, who of course I had no idea who he was. The name stuck in my head though. A few years after Karateka, he came out with a game called Prince of Persia, which much later became a video game franchise and a movie. Back in the past when I was a kid, I played this game. It was a great game. It was hard. I never finished it. I also never actually bought the game, I illegally copied it from someone.

Well, recently Jordan Mechner released the source code to Prince of Persia, the original game! With that announcement, I spent of a bit of time on his website, and found that he also had written a book, the Making of Prince of Persia. I've got a link on the left to the Amazon version, I suggest the Kindle book because it is pretty cheap, like $8. I bought it because I was feeling a bit guilty about not paying for the games I had played. Karateka, which I did finish, and from which I learned one important bit of information: never run straight up to a princess if you have the opportunity to meet a princess. Walk slowly and respectfully towards her. I never did get very far on Prince of Persia - it was hard! - but I did enjoy playing. I think that even without the time limit Prince of Persia would have been hard for me back then. It would probably remain hard for me today, since there is a lot of mapping that you have to do, and I don't know if I have the patience for it now.

I highly recommend watching the GDC Postmortem (linked on the left) of Prince of Persia, and buying the book. It isn't really a technical programming book, it is really more of a diary about a young man trying to find a career for himself. I didn't know that Jordan Mechner wanted to be a screenwriter, but that plays a large role in the book as well. I had a hard time putting the book down, and really enjoyed reading through the book, partly as nostalgia, and partly as an interesting look at a young man trying to find his way in life.

In fact, I've been really struck recently by how young people really can make a large difference and make a big impact. The most important thing is not experience (that helps, but can also just prevent you from doing something because you know how hard it can be to actually accomplish difficult tasks) but is just the idea of doing something. If you have an idea, don't let people stop you, don't let your idea of what you need to be to accomplish something, just get started and get out there and do it. I'm looking at all these amazing people who accomplish amazing things before the age of 30 - John Lennon, Steve Jobs, Anne Frank, Mozart, Shawn Fanning (well …)

It makes me excited to see what my young son will do when he is young. I'm proud of the things that I accomplished, but I haven't changed the world. What is amazing to me is that you can change the world, even if it is only in the way of creating an amazing game that inspires others.

Eclipse, Subversion, and Moneydance CSV Importers on OSX

I use Moneydance to track my personal finances. Recently Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ bank decided to drop support for downloading transactions in Microsoft Money format and switched to a CSV format. That is kind of annoying because I like to download my transactions from the bank and jam them into Moneydance. It means I don't have to type them in. But now they are in CSV format, which isn't natively supported

There is a beta CSV import extension for Moneydance though, so I tried that out. It has support for formats from some banks, and then has a "custom reader" format that you can use to set up the fields that your bank sends. That worked out well. The problem is that the imported transactions from the bank were garbled. The text didn't show up as proper Japanese, it was more like goobledegook.

That is a clear indication that the encoding on the file was set wrong. I know the files my bank sends are in Shift-JIS, but I changed the format to UTF-8 in Emacs since UTF-8 is the format that all text files should be saved in. Unfortunately, the extension does not import as UTF-8 and since it does not give an option for selecting the encoding I assume that they just take the platform default or something.

A quick check of the code shows that indeed, they use a Java FileReader (who thought it was a good idea to have the filereader open text files in the platform default encoding? It is never a good idea to assume a default and not allow programmers a way to change it.) So to fix it, you simply need to use a FileInputStream and an InputStreamReader with the encoding set. No problem.

It looks like Google has a SVN repository for the project. I figure I'll open up Eclipse and use that to make the local change and import my text file. Oh, my version of Eclipse is really old. So let's download a new version. That was pretty painless.

Now, how do I hook Eclipse up with Subversion? It looks like there are two solutions, the more popular of which is Subclicpse. I was able to install that without any trouble. I was a bit worried about the version of Subversion that my mac came with (1.6.17 according to svn –version) and a mismatch there, but let's give it a go.

Wait, they don't have any information telling me how to use Subversion. Well, some British guy wrote something up that makes it pretty clear. Following along with him, I got up to where Subclipse would try to pull down the information and … Some sort of error about a JavaHL library! What? Well, that seems to be pretty well explained on the Subclipse website, so I downloaded JavaHL (the Java subversion bindings apparently) and tried again. Now I get a version mismatch! It says "Incompatible JavaHL library loaded. 1.7.x or later required." But there were no versions listed on the download page! And by the way, that download from open.collab.net does not list any different versions, only different operating systems! I downloaded the correct version for my version of OSX (I still haven't downloaded to the latest version) but that did not work! What do I do now? The documentation says that it installs svn itself (it did, in /opt/subversion/bin) but that version is the same as the one that came with OSX by default anyway. So why would there be a version mis-match? Also, they made me register to download their package, which was kind of annoying, but forgivable. As long as they understand that some guy named Fugu Tabetai working as a consultant for Fish Eating Incorporated that makes less that $25 million a year probably isn't a good business opportunity for them.

A little searching shows that other people have had this problem as well and the solution is to install a newer version of Subversion than the one that open.collab.net installs from wandisco, whatever that is. Apparently wandisco is a subversion provider of some kind. In my case, since I am on 10.6 I needed their 10.6.x package from their subversion download page. After downloading that though, it still seems like I have the same old version of subversion and not some sneaky new 1.7.5 version.

Guess what? Rebooting did not solve the problem either. But doing a sudo rm -Rf /opt/subversion and re-installing the wandisco problem did get me the proper version (after appending /opt/subversion/bin to my PATH) in terminal. So maybe now it will work in Eclipse? Let's give that a go!

Hey what do you know? It worked! I was able to suck down the code for the CSV importer. Of course, then I realized another problem: since the importer is an extension for Moneydance, I now need to find the Moneydance library files (JARs) that is links against so I can actually compile the thing. Then I have to figure how to compile and package it in the extension format that it needs after I make my changes. Luckily, all of that is available at the Moneydance developer page.

Adding the two JARs in the developer kit did get the project to almost completely compile, except for six errors that popped up. It looks to me like I'm linking against old JARs, because the documentation says that the errors Eclipse is complaining about are not true (e.g., this class doesn't implement some method, but it shows in the API docs that it does.) So perhaps I downloaded an old version of the developer's kit somehow. I don't see how that is possible though; I downloaded the only one that is up there. Well, I've posted in the group for the csv importer and will see if that is actually something that they can help me with. If not, I'll email the Moneydance folks. This should be a simple problem that I can actually fix, and it would improve my life, so I really want to get this done.

After a day's delay, I heard back from the maintainer of the CSV import plugin and he passed me different versions of the Moneydance development libraries. They were created in 2011 sometime vs 2006 which are the ones that came from the Moneydance website. The project compile successfully with them, so now I have no excuse not to actually add this feature.

The GUI was created in Netbeans' Matisse which is supposed to be a nice automated GUI creation system. It generates regular old Java code though, so I might as well edit that directly in Eclipse myself and then worry about what to do on the commit later.

I need to modify ImportDialog.java's creation of a CSVReader and also the one in TransactionReader.java. I did all that, and now I am caught up on the failing unit tests (nothing that I did - these were pre-existing failures) from what looks like a test that can't compile anyway. After making those modifications and building on my machine (generating my own keys to sign the plugin and all) things looked great, and the import went fine. I've sent the changes on to the maintainer, so maybe we'll see this show up at some point!

June 4, 2012

Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy

Another post about books. I heard about The Blade Itself a while back, probably from one of the author blogs that I follow. I don't know which one; it could very well be any one of John Scalzi's blog, Joseph Mallozzi's blog, or Patrick Rothfuss. Or possibly even tor.com. I don't know; I just heard that this guy Joe Abercrombie wrote a good yarn.

I think I found "The Blade Itself" on sale on the kindle store at some point for like $5 or something. The normal price seems to be around $7, which is reasonable to me. I like the idea of not having to lug around a physical book, and I certainly can't store books in my tiny Tokyo apartment, so a virtual good is actually worth money to me, although I do balk at paying more than what a physical book would cost.

At any rate, I read through the first book at a quick clip. It has very memorable characters, a well-constructed world, a believable and interesting magic system (perhaps even three or four, depending on how you count) and an interesting story.

I'll probably verge a bit into spoiler territory, so if you are interested in hearing my thoughts, click the readmore link below.

read more (331 words)

May 20, 2012

Ginza and Kamakura with Alan

We've had a busy week this week! To start things off, at some point last weekend Lisa snuck a shot of Alan and I taking a nap. It was a good nap.

Also last week, we took a walk to a local park (a different one from one of the parks that I've mentioned on this blog before) and on the way home stopped at a nice cafe not too far from our house. They are a cute little cafe called Les Cinq Épices in Aomono Yokocho that makes their own cakes and bread. We stopped over there and had some cakes, which were great. I love how there are all sorts of little cafes all over Tokyo with small cakes, and they usually have a tea and cake (or coffee, if that's your thing) set that you can get. We enjoyed a nice walk through the park in the sun, and had some tasty cakes on the sidewalk cafe, then had a nice walk home. On the way back we rented "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (the newer one) and "Kung-Fu Panda". It took us a week to watch them, but we actually were able to watch them before they were due. Both good movies, although nothing to rave about or anything I would write a blog entry about. I will note though that they were our first movies post-Alan!

Sometime during the week while I was working, one of Lisa's friends, Julie, stopped by for a visit. Apparently a few other people stopped by also, but I was never around so I'm just going on rumor. I did find some photographic evidence of one visit though, and it looks like Alan was having a good time. He seems to be pretty popular with the ladies. I can't blame them, I think he's a cutie myself.

On the weekend we decided to go to Ginza. After our stop at the local cafe I was in the mood for more cafes so that put Ginza on the plate. With the additional "todo" item of getting our broken Time Capsule looked at, it was pretty clear that a stop at the Apple store in Ginza might be useful. Finally, Lisa planned to meet her friend Mibe, the jeweler, who just finished up a bracelet for little Alan. So we set that meeting for our favorite place in Ginza, and decided to make a day of it.

Wandering around the area, we came across a lot of people taking pictures. I fought through the crowd and found that they were taking pictures of a Geisha! That is pretty rare in Tokyo (this isn't Kyoto!) but it looks like she was selling a CD and some postcards. So that made some sense. Interesting!

Our first stop was the Tokyu Hands store, but we didn't find what we were looking for (glasses to view the upcoming Solar Eclipse) - they were sold out! So we ordered some from Amazon Japan on Lisa's phone. They actually did arrive the next day (Sunday) in time for the solar eclipse on Monday.

Our next stop was a cafe. I didn't really know where to go, but we wandered around and decided to go to Mitsukoshi, which has a rooftop garden and some restaurants up there. We got some gelato and tea and then hung out with Alan for a while. There were lots and lots of families out there. You really get the feeling that there are not many places in Tokyo for families to hang out on grass at all, so they all congregate at any place that looks like it might be nice. We did have maybe a 15 minute wait just to order our gelato and tea, but at least we were able to find a place to sit without any problem. We spent a bit of time on the grass, but since Alan can't walk around yet we didn't really have too much to do there with him. He likes it when I lift him up high, so I gave him a few tosses. He seemed to enjoy it.

I should mention that right now we are at that one very brief period in Tokyo where the weather is nice. It is warm, but not humid. Pretty soon it will get humid and then oppressively hot and you will not want to spend any more time outside than possible. Because all of the nuclear power plants are currently shut down, we also will have to reduce energy consumption by about 10% over the summer, which means there will not be enough air conditioning and I am going to have a terrible summer.

I should also mention that I think this picture of Lisa and Alan is really great. It isn't like I'm a good photographer or anything and know what Bokeh is or how to cause it, but if you take enough pictures eventually one of them must turn out well. It looks like this one is it!

On the walk to the Apple store I came across these two cool cats, hanging out on a Ginza street sign. Those cats were just taking a break, oblivious to everything. I have no idea if that is normal or not (I doubt it) but it was super cool.

After a nice dinner at Hayase, we headed home for a good night's sleep, because the next day was shaping up to be a busy one! We also got a nice bracelet for Alan that our friend Mibe made. We hope that it will last him until his coming-of-age celebration (at 20 years old) but we'll have to see.

On Sunday, Lisa had to a attend a friend's wedding, but neither Alan nor I were invited! Since the wedding is in Kamakura, we thought it would be fun to head down there and hang out while Lisa has fun at her wedding. So it was decided! A boy's afternoon out on the (small, temple-laden) town! We drove down to Kamakura, got stuck in traffic for a bit (about half an hour) but still made it in time for Lisa's wedding. We parted ways, and Alan and I struck off on our own.

The first place we stopped was a nice cafe that had organic homemade food. I ordered the set lunch (it was some sort of beef bowl, very delicious!) but before I could eat Alan started to get fidgety. I prepared some milk for him, and we sat by the window for half an hour or so while he drank his bottle. I noticed quite a few people walking by and looking at Alan. I guess we make for a bit of an unusual pair, but no matter. The owner of the cafe liked Alan and chatted with us a bit. She got a few smiles out of him; he's a really friendly guy so far. After Alan's lunch I changed his diapers and he was calm enough to sit in his stroller for a bit while I ate. We left after a relaxed lunch, and headed to Hachiman-gu temple.

The street was pretty crowded. Kamakura is a small town, and pretty heavily driven by tourism of some kind. It is on the sea, so there are beaches that people go to, and there are also a whole bunch of temples. Kamakura was, for a very short time (about 200 years - and that is a short time!) the seat of the government. So the government, as they were wont to do in those days, helped out with local temples. There are lots of them. In our case, I had hoped to visit the large Buddha shrine, but that would have required a trip on the train, so we went to the closest one instead. That worked out well, because we had a nice walk and it was just about the right distance for a there-and-back-again in time to meet Lisa.

Lisa did mention when we were in the car that there are some steps at the temple, but I thought "ah, that shouldn't be a problem. I'll just pick up the baby carriage."

The main street in front of the temple entrance was a 5-way crossing with a nice big gate. It made for a busy intersection, but an interesting picture. After that I got a few pictures of Alan: in front of some (presumably?) famous bridge, in front of the long walk up the temple, and in front of a whole bunch of sake lined up. These monks are prepared for a party, if one ever spontaneously breaks out. Actually, I'm not sure why but temples always have lots of sake around. I think it is because Sake is somehow sacred, but I don't really know. I'll have to remember to ask someone sometime.

At the temple there was a couple that was getting married, and I snapped a few quick photos of that. I don't have any super good ones, but they looked like a very nice traditional couple.

Do you see that staircase? Man, that is more stairs than I was expecting. Alan and I gave it our best though, and we made it to the top. Alan was pretty tired, so he's got his eyes closed up there. You have a really nice view of the street. I doubt you can see it, but that street goes right up to the ocean, and we walked the entire length. On the way back we stopped for a bit in front of a nice pond with lilies.

On the walk back I spotted a woman getting on her motorcycle. This has nothing to do with temples or Japan, I just thought she looked cool riding and old (maybe?) Yamaha. You see a lot of women on small scooters, or these strange scooter-like things that can fit two people and look like space-aged minibikes, but this might be the first time I've seen a woman on a serious looking bike. She had leather boots and leather gloves too, really looked like she knew what she was doing.

We stopped at the end at a Mister Donut, where I had a donut and Alan got some more milk. From the temple to the shop, he was completely zonked out, sound asleep. He slept for quite a while at the shop too, but when he woke up I think he was confused. He didn't know where he was, he hadn't seen mommy for hours, and the place was full of strange people. So he really started to let loose with some loud crying. I got busy making a bottle for him, but the woman next to me actually offered to hold Alan if that would help. I was pretty close to finished with the bottle by then, so I thanked her but declined, and Alan was happy as a peach once he got some of that milk.

After he finished his bottle we had a bit longer to wait around in the shop, but Lisa called not too long after that was we were ready to go. We hopped back in the stroller and headed out. By the time we got back to the wedding venue, Alan was super happy to see mommy!

Unfortunately, we had an hour and a half ride back to Tokyo, but he's a good kid and really loves riding in the car. He fell back asleep after a bit of fussing and crying.

All in all a really fun day! I think Alan enjoyed his boys-afternoon-out, and I know I did!

May 13, 2012

Computer failures all over the place

About a month back, Lisa's MacBook Air (2008 vintage) gave up the ghost. It just wouldn't boot anymore. I bought the machine back in 2008 so four years running, that isn't too bad. It is the second generation MacBook Air, and still has a 1.8" hard drive, no fancy SSDs here. It died though. I took it down to the Apple store recently and let them have a look at it.

I was hoping that it would be dead, and we would have to buy another nice MacBook Air for her. Then, through some magic of my own I would be able to bring the thing back to life somehow and I could use the old one. But Lisa is a practical woman, and so we just paid about $100 and had them throw in a new hard drive since that is what went wrong. At the same time, there was some sort of bulletin out on that machine, and we were eligible for a free replacement of the screen mount (with new screen!) since the hinges were known to be bad on that model. That is pretty sweet, getting a new screen for free. So we did that too.

I wasn't too worried about the hard drive since we have time machine backups on the Time Capsule (500gb, also bought in 2008.) It took a few days, but the machine was repaired, and I brought it home. It booted up fine, and things looked good, so I decided to try to start up the Time Capsule and restore the old data back onto the machine.

This is where things started to get tricky. First off, I dug around until I found the original install disks for the MacBook Air. I finally found those and got the machine up and running via the external DVD drive. I found the Time Machine restore option, it found my Time Capsule fine, and the restore started. I've done this once or twice before, so I expected about 16 hours or so to do the full restore over wireless network (there is no built in ethernet port on the MacBook Air, and the USB port was taken up with the install DVD - I don't have the ethernet dongle anyway.) After an hour or so, an error popped up saying that the Time Machine backup couldn't be read.

Uh oh.

I checked the Time Capsule and it was flashing amber, indicating a problem. After firing up AirPort Utility, I saw a little message: "S.M.A.R.T. Status: Drive failing". Oh, that isn't good. I was prompted to plug in an external USB disk and copy data off the time capsule ASAP. Since I happen to have a 1 TB disk laying around, and the Time Capsule is only 500 GB, that shouldn't be much of a problem. I formatted the external drive as a Mac Filesystem and plugged it in … nothing happened.

I checked a bunch of things, made sure the disk would show up on my MacBook Pro (it does - that is where I formatted it) and tried again. No go. So I guess I can't plug it in to the Time Capsule and copy the data off. I should be able to still mount the Time Capsule as a disk and copy the sparsebundles for each machine I have backed up though. So I tried that. Unfortunately, the Time Capsule made a strange clicking sound, and I didn't think the disk was even spinning. So … What to do?

Well, I've been around the block a few times, so I threw the Time Capsule in the freezer, right under the frozen strawberries over night.

When I came home the next day, I was able to connect to the Time Capsule and copy both of the backup files off of the disk to the external USB drive now plugged in to my MacBook Pro. Once the MacBook Air backup file was on the external USB drive, I was able to use Disk Utility to repair it (it needed one round of repairs before things looked good) and then ready to try to install again.

After digging around in my bag of tricks for a while, I found a powered USB hub and plugged in the external DVD drive and the hard drive, then booted up.

But the MacBook Air didn't see the DVD drive. Oh yeah, that's right, Apple decided for some reason to only let the DVD drive work if it was plugged directly into the single USB port on the MacBook Air. Why? Why? I don't know. But that is what they did.

So now I have set up Remote Install on my MacBook Pro and have it sharing the install DVD over the network (and of course the MacBook Air can't see the Time Capsule network when I have WEP encryption on, so I have to remove encryption) and now it is trying to boot off of that. It looks like it is working but I bet it will take a long time before I can get up to the screen where I can choose to restore from the external USB drive with the Time Machine image. Man I hope that works.

(Many days later)

Installing over a networked-shared remove DVD worked. That is really amazing. How much technology do we need to have for that to actually be a reasonable sort of thing to do? It is amazing how far computers have come since I started out on my Dad's Apple //e back in the early 80s.

At any rate, I was able to get to the "Restore" option from the remote install DVD, and it was able to see the Time Machine file on the attached USB disk. I was able to recover Lisa's data, so now we are back to a working MacBook Air for her, and my MacBook Pro for me. And an ex-linux now Windows machine (ugh - I want to go to linux but the flash performance is so terrible that I was forced to install Windows) for videos.

The Time Capsule (maybe it is first or second generation?) gets very hot. It ran fine for about four years straight, so I have nothing bad to say about it at all. I'll go to the Apple store and get a new one at some point, but we're a bit tight on cash right now (and more taxes are due shortly - the car tax, local property type tax, and some other sort of tax are on the way) so I'll just use the external disk as a weekly manual backup for now.

I should also note that we rented "Charlie and Chocolate Factory" (well, the new one with Johnny Depp since Lisa hasn't seen either of them) and "Kung Fu Panda" the other day. For some reason the DVD player we have is broken too! So we needed to watch the DVDs on my MacBook, which worked, but requires some cable swapping. Lisa's TV (maybe 6 years old now?) only has one HDMI port, but it has a bunch of strange ports that I've never seen before (D4 they are called. I think.) So we are just full of electronic mysteries today.

May 7, 2012

Golden Week 2012

Last week was "Golden Week" in Japan. That is a run of 3-4 holidays that usually land on the same week, and on unlucky years, span some of the weekend. It usually is the time in Japan when everyone in the country takes time off of work and bundles the kids in the car then goes somewhere. The kids school is out, summer is just starting, and people want to get out and do something different.

In the Tanaka-Evans household we had some small travels. We'll be going to America in July for my younger sister's wedding in Montana, and likely hitting Glacier National Park, so until then we don't plan on any expensive travel.

Three to four times a year (not every day) our family will get together and go to a nice sushi place. There is one place in particular in Sagami Ohno that the Tanakas like, since they used to live in the area and know the sushi chefs well. We went there on Monday, the opening holiday in the week long salvo. This year, Tuesday and Wednesday were work days, but Monday, Thursday, and Friday were national holidays. We took the train down to Sagami Ohno, visited the Paul Smith shop that Lisa really likes and chatted with the employees there, who all thought Alan was cute. Then we went on up to the Sushi place.

Alan was excited to be in a new environment, or maybe he was just happy that I was feeding him some milk. He didn't seem to mind being surrounded by cold fish and beer. He did like his milk though.

This place is always interesting because of the variety of dishes that you can get there. We always start out with some Sashimi, but this trip out we also had some very good mushrooms stuffed with something (grilled, so served warm.) The Satsuma-age (fried fishcake) was also very nice. The grilled bamboo was also great. I didn't take pictures of the sushi, but it was also excellent.

After that, I spent two days at work. On Thursday, two of Lisa's friends (bridesmaids at our wedding!) stopped by for a visit. We had a nice time visiting, and Alan enjoyed being held by more people that didn't have beards and made cute noises at him.

On May 5th, "Children's Day", some sort of day that boys are supposed to be celebrated (but maybe girls too?) it was a beautiful day (it had rained on Thursday and Friday) so we decided to take a little walk to a nearby park. This is the same park where we went for the Cherry Blossom viewing a while back. I didn't notice then, but there is a building (a pumping station it sounds like) that has an elevator to the roof (4 stories up) and a roof garden. So we hung out there for a while. In a city with lots of roofs and few gardens, this roof garden concept is really cool. It was a cute little garden, and there were a few other families with their kids up there playing catch or just sitting in the shade.

That park is a pretty nice park. We wandered around it for a while. They have a nice bridge going across the canal, and in the park itself have a big open space for kids to run around in and skateboard on or something. They also have a kind of fountain that overflows and turns into a very shallow wading creek for the kids. I think we'll be coming back to this park a lot as Alan grows up. It is only about a ten minute walk away.

Finally, we didn't do much else (I was working from home a bit, but helping out with Alan a bit too) but Alan did manage to get his favorite panda toy stuck on his foot. I think he's just trying to make sure he has a lot of foot dexterity for his upcoming career as a professional basketball player. You need to have good foundational basics you know!

April 29, 2012

Alan's first play date, trip to Tokyo Disneyland, and visit with the family in Chiba

Over the past few days Alan and Lisa have been busy! One of Lisa's friends, Kaori Nishi, had her first son Taishi about a month after Alan was born. During the week while I was out working, Kaori and Taishi came for a visit. I wasn't here so I only have photographic evidence, but it looks like they got along famously. I wonder if they will grow up to be great friends? Well, they are holding hands already, so that is a start.

On Friday, the day before the long "Golden Week" holiday in Japan (we have Monday, Thursday, and Friday off the coming week) Lisa, Alan, Lisa's mother, her sister Rie, and Rie's daughter (4 years old) Yuzuna went to Tokyo Disneyland. Since Lisa works there (currently on maternity leave) even though Alan is really young (4 months!) it is fun for the whole family. They actually went there for a "Character Breakfast", where I guess they all get breakfast and then meet some of the Characters from the theme park. It looks like they were able to meet a lot of characters, primarily from the Winnie the Pooh franchise. So that was great! They also went to Mickey's house and got a picture with him. Nice.

Everyone was really tired when they got back. The next day, on Saturday, we drove over to Chiba to introduce Alan to his Great Uncle. We all had a nice lunch there with family, and stopped by Costco on the way home. Alan was getting pretty tired after all the excitement this week, and we had some trouble getting him to sleep, but hopefully things will be better today (Sunday.) He's already shown lots of interest in the NBA playoffs, so I think we will just stay around at home and take it easy.

I really like that picture with Tigger. Tigger is great.

April 28, 2012

Books by Shamus Young

I've linked to Shamus Young's Twenty Sided blog before. He puts a lot of time into his blog and what he writes there, often explaining technical concepts in plain, easy-to-understand language. He has run a great series on procedurally generating a nighttime city and a 3d terrain engine.

I was happy to hear that he was working on writing a fiction novel, The Witch Watch. He's actually written two novel type things before, one of them the freely available "Free Radical", which is loosely based on the old First Person Shoot "System Shock". I never played System Shock, I actually never really got into first person shooters. I did play Bungie's Marathon (look it up kids, also now freely available as Aleph One) but never got too far. I kept getting lost and confused, and people were shooting at me. It was too much pressure.

I did actually, come to think of it, complete one "first person Shooter", Portal. But that was more because it was a great game and allowed me to take my time to think about things without getting shot up all the time. Or lost as much.

Anyway, I didn't know anything about System Shock, but I have read a lot of cyberpunk and I do know a lot about computers. So I was really happy to read Shamus' take on the genre, and also thought he did a great job of writing about Cyberpunk and computers without making all the dumb mistakes about computers that people who don't know about programming make. You can get a kindle version for free at the link to the left, and I highly recommend it. You won't beat it for the price (free!) so you can't lose much by taking a chance on it.

More recently, Shamus wrote an autoblogography, and then turned that into a book (linked to the left.) Shamus didn't enjoy school much and homeschools his own children. While I never really fit in at high school, I don't think I had a bad experience. I made some great friends, worked hard, learned a lot, and had some fun. I'm not sure that I would have described it as such at the time, but that is probably more just about being that age with others kids in a social situation. At any rate, you can read Shamus' take on his education process in the book "How I learned." It is also full of funny stories and is a run read itself. You can read through it on his blog as well, so give it a try.

Once you are done with all of that content I linked, you can then decide if you want to buy his book "The Witch Watch." I really enjoyed this book. It is completely worth the price - I think he has dropped the price all the way down to $5, which is my impulse purchase price for books now. I've been reading a lot more with the Kindle, and taking chances on books with lower prices and finding some really good stuff. For $5 though, The Witch Watch is a steal. It is well written, has a very well-thought-out magic system, and has interesting characters, as well as a strong female lead. The only knock I have on her is that she is a bit too appealing as a smart, confident, skilled, and attractive character that seems like a dream come true for geeks, but that isn't really too hard of a flaw to overlook. Better than the default of assuming that a woman couldn't be all those things at any rate!

I highly recommend the Witch Watch! If you liked Brandon Sanderson's Elantris then you will like the Witch Watch. And if you haven't read Elantris, I recommend that one too!

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