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!

Saturday.

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.

Sunday.


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!

April 9, 2012

Cherry blossoms and Saitama Shrines over the weekend

Last week I was in the US after a business trip and had a day to visit with family. Due to the international dateline, coming back to Japan you lose and entire day, so I had two days at work (and groggy ones at that) and then the weekend hit. What a weekend it was!

During the weekend the Cherry Blossoms around Tokyo are just starting to come into full bloom. They aren't there yet, but it is really close. Usually, due to the timing of my twice-yearly business trips to America, I miss the Cherry Blossom season in Japan. This year though, due to the weather and trip timing, I'm here for the Cherry Blossoms! Hooray! The Japanese love the Cherry Blossoms. Something about the transience of time and impermanence of beauty, the passing of seasons. So people love to go out and sit in under the Cherry trees and watch the blossoms fall. Whatever your reasons, it is very pretty. So we decided to take Alan out to a nearby park, Eastern Shinagawa Seaside Park, a good ten minute walk from our house. The weather was very nice, a little bit chilly but comfortable in a t-shirt and hoodie.

The park was playing host to a Cherry Blossom festival, so there were lots of people around and nice little stands selling food, candy, and of course beer. You can't have a proper Cherry Blossom viewing party without alcohol, and you can't have a proper festival without beer. That means a Cherry Blossom festival definitely has beer on the menu.

We wandered around a bit, found ourselves a spot under a tree, and had some nice food. Overpriced for what it is - in our case some fried chicken, yakisoba, and grilled clams, but super good. The clams were so good we bought a bag of them to use in the next night's dinner (kim-chi hot pot, which was delicious.)

It was Alan's first trip to a park, and first time to see Cherry Blossoms. I'm not sure that he noticed, but we had a good time. I know that Alan likes taking trips in the baby carriage, so I think he enjoyed that at least. We had a really nice time at the park, and I'm really glad I had a chance to see the Cherry Blossoms with the family. I know Alan won't remember this, but we got a few pictures and at some point we'll be able to line up pictures of Cherry Blossom parties every year. Maybe.

On Sunday we had a plan to visit some friends in Saitama. We decided to drive. It has been ages since I've been to Saitama (perhaps only once?) so it was a bit of an adventure. It was also Lisa and Alan's first time! The trip took about an hour (I drove on the way there - on the way back it was about 40 minutes, but I wasn't driving...) We stopped by our friend's place, and visited for a while. Alan was sleeping almost the entire time. The purpose of the visit was interesting; my friend's younger brother is in grad school for biology, and has to give a talk (in English!) at a conference coming up in two months. I've given talks before, so his sister thought I could help out with the translation. The talk itself wasn't ready, but I did get a chance to listen to his research work, give some pointers on research presentations, and learn a bit about high fat diets and mouse pregnancy. Pretty cool actually!

After a delicious homemade lunch, we went out of a walk to the nearby Hikawa Shrine. It was a nice walk away, maybe twenty minutes or so. Alan was a good kid on the way there, and we walked around the temple for a bit before heading back. On the way back Alan started to cry because it was about time for his milk, but we weren't prepared to walk and feed him at the same time, so it had to wait until he got back to the car. Alan's actually had a cold or something so his voice sounds funny, and just sounds so painful for him. I hope he gets better soon. He isn't crying or anything because of it, but when he does he sounds like a confused chicken.

So, in two days we had two firsts for Alan: first Cherry Blossom viewing, and first Shrine visit (along with a trip to Saitama to visit some friends!) It was a great, but busy weekend. I was really happy with how it turned out, even though I think both Lisa and I are tired from all the prep work it takes to travel with little Alan. Still, lots of fun!

Happy Cherry Blossom viewing to all of you!

March 4, 2012

A visit to the limited-time Koyama Sweets shop

My friend Akihiro Oyama's family has run the Koyama Western Sweets shop in Kessennuma for 120 years. His older brother is the 5th Oyama to run the Koyama sweets shop. Last year in the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami, their town and shop was completely wiped out. Since then Akihiro has been involved in various charity and other efforts to bring attention to the Kessennuma area.

On Saturday and Sunday his older brother opened up, for two days only, the Koyama shop in the Takanawa Prince Hotel in Shinagawa. Since we were out and about for the day, and Shinagawa isn't all that far, we took a trip out there. We all bought a bunch of stuff - prominent among things the "Kizuna" (bonds / community) Sponge Cake. The box for the cake has messages from all their supporters, a delicious honey flavor, and appreciative feelings for all who have supported them (and other recovery efforts in Japan.)

Alana's friends Wendy and Lizette also bought a few goods from the store and between the three of them we will be spreading the word about the Koyama Western Sweets shop throughout Austin and San Diego. Probably not much further than that, but I'll tell you what: the stuff is delicious, they deliver from their website (linked above) throughout Japan, and you can't go wrong trying to support recovery efforts in Eastern Japan by eating cake.

Aside from France, when has eating cake every gone wrong?

Professional Family photos

As my loyal readers know (all one of them - myself, potentially twenty or thirty years down the road when I start to forget things) that my sister, my father, and two friends have been in town for the Tokyo Marathon. Well, back before Lisa and I had our son Alan Yoshiyuki Tanaka-Evans, we went to Happy Birth Photo studio to take some professional Maternity photos. We thought that went really well and we liked the studio so we decided to go back when my sister and father were in town. This time we had a lot of people - Myself, Lisa, Alana, Gary, and our son Alan Yoshiyuki as well as Alana's son Scout.

I think the pictures turned out great. Initially our son was tired and most of his pictures show him crying, but by the end of the session he started to cheer up a bit, and we got some nice photos throughout the shoot. We have a bunch of photos with my sister, father, and I with out medals we received for finishing the Tokyo Marathon - those are great! We also have a few pictures with me and my twin sister as well as our sons. They all turned out great.

Growing up we never really took too many professional photos, but these have really turned out great so far, and I think that we will treasure them for a long time to come. Assuming our digital data storage strategy keeps them from being deleted at some point or other. I'll have to get started on setting up some sort of secure backup for the important data, but for now at least I have them on two machines with one backed up nightly.

March 2, 2012

A trip to Hakone with the family

After running the Tokyo Marathon, I was a wreck. My legs were shot, and I was just barely able to hobble home with the rest of the group. When we decided to actually run this marathon, I thought it would be a lot of fun for us to go to Hakone, a traditional Japanese hot springs resort.

It is about an hour and twenty minutes from Shinjuku via the Odakyu (private railway) Romance Car train (which has nothing to do with romance.) The ride up to Hakone from Shinjuku is quite nice; you get a nice view of Mt. Fuji, and also Odawara castle near the end of the trip. You end up in Hakone Yumoto, and from there can take a very small train further up the mountains.

Before continuing on the trip, we went to get lunch at a soba shop that we often go to. Hakone Yumoto is a small little town with a nice shopping street aimed heavily at tourists. On the walk up, we stopped at a little shop that outside lets you grill some of the fish that they sell. For free. I don't know how they make money because every time I have gone to Hakone I have stopped there and had some fish (it is delicious) but I have never bought anything from that store.

The soba shop is just up the road and across the river. We ended up going to the "new" building of the same shop, around the corner and a bit further down the river, but as always the soba was great. We then took a walk back down the shopping street and headed to the train station, where we were able to get on the small mountain train that takes us up to the small station closest to the onsen we were going to, The sound of Water (水の音.) I've been there a few times with Lisa's family before and it is a nice onsen. They've got I think five different hot springs (ten really, since they are segregated by sex, and switch who goes where each day) both inside and outside. We got there in the afternoon, and had time for a trip to the onsen before dinner. I stayed in the room and looked after little Alan, and dressed him up in the cute Yukata that everyone wears there.

Dinner was a great 12 course meal that is half cooked at your table. Our bunch took over two tables in the place, and with Scout walking around, and sometimes Lisa or I would take Alan for a walk (it was a long dinner) the people at the tables near us struck up some conversations about how our kids were cute. I agree! But they were probably only getting that because our kids are double American and Asian mixes. I won't turn down a compliment though.

After dinner, we entered the hot springs again. Of course, it is a little strange getting naked with your dad and father-in-law and hanging out in a bath for a while, but once you do that, it does help break the tension and make things more informal. It is a pretty good way to build up personal relationships and break down barriers actually.

The next day we left and headed up the mountain more. We took the train to one of the stops, and then from there took a special cable car train. The cable car climbs up a steep mountain, so the car itself is canted and has stairs in the car. Neat.

At the end of the cable car ride, you can take a ropeway ride to another station where they make black onsen eggs. You eat one of those and your life is extended by 7 years. The eggs are black because they are cooked in a sulfur pool. A bunch of us hiked up to some place where they made the eggs - which was really tough because my legs were still jelly from the Marathon. The eggs are pretty good. We also had some awesome sweet potatoes. It was pretty cold though, so we hurried back and caught the ropeway down the mountain to Lake Ashinoko (or really just Lake Ashi, since no ko just means it is a lake.)

At Ashinoko we rode a boat. A pirate boat. They were announcing stuff that was on the lake, but we were just taking it easy after all the hiking and various modes of transportation. When we got off of the boat - and why there are fake pirate boats in a lake up in the mountains I will never know - we just took a bus back to Hakone Yumoto, did a little shopping, and hopped back on the train back to Tokyo.

It was a great trip with great food, and we saw a bit of natural Japan. We road all sorts of different types of transportation, and had some eggs that increased our lives by seven years. If you want a nice relaxing getaway from the city, Hakone is always our go-to place.

February 29, 2012

Tokyo Marathon

About a year ago my father made a joking suggestion that we run the Tokyo marathon together. My twin sister ran the new York marathon in 2010 so she wanted to run her second marathon. So we planned to run the marathon. By early October our application results were in and all three of us made the lottery. We were committed. I had never ran a marathon before - the closest I got was a half we ran as training in high school cross country once. I started training.

I initially started daily 5km runs and worked up to 10km per day. Up until the end my standard run was a 60 minute 10km run at 6am before work. On the weekend I would run longer distances, usually between 20km and 35km.

I started training in October, and it just started getting colder and colder in Tokyo. It was hard to get up at 6am and go for a run, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I really needed to complete this marathon. I was expecting a son in December, and I thought it made a lot of sense to try to show him that you can accomplish difficult tasks if you set your mind to it, make a plan, work hard, and stick to the plan. That is the main thing that kept getting me up and out into the cold to train for this marathon.

During training, I usually listen to a bunch of podcasts. Mainly some NPR Cartalk, APM Marketplace, This American Life, Marc Maron's WTF podcast, Freakonomics, NPR Planet Money, and a few Japanese podcasts (news and economics.) I was on target through most runs for a four hour time. My longest training run was about 35km, and through the first 30km I ran it in 3 hours, but then the last five kilometers went a lot slower. I estimated based on that run that my final time should be around 5:30, since basically I would end up walking the last few kilometers. Still, my goal was to finish, and beat the Tokyo Marathon mandated 7 hour (gun time, not chip time) limit.

The day of the race, we woke up early (I believe 5:30am) and headed down to Shinjuku, where the start is at. We went through all the procedures (drop off the bag, line up) and probably had about an hour until the 9:10am gun. Alana and Dad said the process went very smoothly, at least compared to the New York marathon, and the line up went well. We chatted with some of the people around us, and before you knew it, the gun went off. It was cold, but we had enough people around us that it wasn't too bad. Alana and Dad were amazed at how quickly we proceeded through to the start line after the gun. I think we were about fifteen minutes behind the start, despite being very far back. They made us line up in order of how long we thought we would take, and I entered the slowest time of 6 hours, so we were in the six hour block.

I don't have much to say about the Marathon, aside from how much fun it was to run with Dad and my sister. We went through some really interesting parts of Tokyo that I know well, and it is very strange to have the whole road to yourself without any car traffic. The first twenty or so Kilometers went pretty well. The time between twenty and thirty is about when Alana and I went a bit ahead of Dad. After about thirty five kilometers it was very tough. Perhaps the last three kilometers or so we ended walking at a fast pace, but that was ok.

Oh, I will note one amazing thing that happened during the race. Alana's husband (coincidentally named David) didn't come to Japan because he was very busy at work. But secretly he flew in at 5am on the day of the race and surprised Alana at the 11km point. It was amazing. There is video proof of how amazing it is.

Near the very end, with a kilometer left to go we started running again. The crowds the whole way along the route were great with supporting us. They thinned out a little bit near the end, but were still there and trying. At the very, very end Alana took off like someone had lit a flame under her. I took off after her. Later, she told me that her husband was always telling her during training: "You're at the very end! It is you, Twin A, and Twin B. Who is going to win? You can't let Twin B win!"

She beat me by 2 seconds. So I need to run another marathon so I can run it three seconds faster than this one.

For posterity sake, here are out times:

  • Alana Evans: 5:34:22
  • David Evans: 5:34:24
  • Gary Evans: 5:41:09


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