December 2, 2008
Those guys over at 2-d Boys are really cool: buy World of Goo
Anyway, the other day I heard about the high piracy rate for World of Goo (over 80%?) I had vaguely heard of the game before, and I think played the entry into one of the Independent Games Festivals that started the seeds for making the real game.
Since the game is reasonably priced, only $20!, and the bit that I played before was fun and interesting, and there were no monsters chasing me and trying to kill me, I bought the game. You should too: World of Goo. It is a really good game. I've played the first two levels (I know, I should really play more and get a real review out, but I just don't have the time!)
But the coolest thing so far is that when I bought the game and payed with PayPal, things didn't go well for me. I got a reply from PayPal, but not from 2d-boy. So I went to their site and went through the automatic tools for saying "I paid, but didn't get my download link". That didn't work either, so I sent an email off, and then thought, "well, that will take a few days, so I'll just go to bed."
Before I could finish up with other net stuff though, withing five or ten minutes, I got a reply from Kyle Gabler at 2-d Boy who told me that PayPal was doing some server mantainence, and passed on the download link. I was amazed. You are lucky to get a real human at most companies, and I would never expect a message from one of the founders!
One of the other nice things is that you can download both the Windows and Mac versions (and Linux soon!) That is nice for me because I have about 5 computers laying around, and end up using different ones for different things (based on what jobs I'm working on usually.) Also, a great thing about the game is that there is no DRM. It is easy to install, and doesn't treat me like a theif. I'm glad I bought it. It is a fun and cute game, totally recommended.
November 24, 2008
Fall leaves in Koishikawa Park
R. and Dave at Koishikawa Park
Nice lake and leaves reflection
Two women in Kimono
A Bunraku show
A Surprising Birthday
I was very busy two weeks ago with work: there was a big bug in a system that I work on, and I was frantically trying to get the problem resolved before the holiday season. (The issue was finally resolved last week.) Work was keeping me busy, and I was fighting off a cold as well. I hadn't thought much about my upcoming birthday because of the recent job change, and my continuing work with the NTCIR conference, I was barely getting enough sleep at night. The weekend before though I got a package from my twin and younger sister which reminded me: "oh yeah, it is my sister's birthday is coming up, so that means that my birthday is coming up too." That's one of the good things about being a twin: usually your twin will remind you of when your birthday is.
On Thursday night, I was planning to head home and have a nice evening with my wife, but things were a bit busy at work, so I gave her a call to tell her that I would be a bit late. On the phone she told me that she was at Jiyugaoka, and when would I be there? I was a bit confused, but then when she asked whether I had read her email, I realized that I must have missed a message from her. Sure enough, she said that she had made reservations at a place at 7pm in Jiyugaoka (where I used to live) and if I moved quick, I just might get there only slightly late. So I closed out my work email and hopped on the train.
Back at Jiyugaoka, only slightly late, I met up with R. and we headed out. I thought she might have made a reservation at Lobros, a newish place that I had wanted to try for a while, but we kept walking. I was pretty sure that she had called up my friend Amadou who runs Saraba, my favorite bar in Japan and arranged for him to open up shop so we could drink there. Since Saraba is currently on hiatus, that was super cool. Sure enough, we made our way circuitiously to Saraba, but to my complete shock the place was packed with my friends! What really surprised me is that my friends from work, Dave and Ian, were even there! Just about an hour before they ducked out of work (at a reasonable hour) in such a way that I just had no idea that anything was up. I was later told that I didn't act surprised enough when I entered the bar, but I was just so schocked I didn't know how to react. My first reaction was to get a beer and drink it. (Normally a fairly good reaction to have in Japan.)
I had a great time that night, and it was great seeing all my friends. I wish I could have seen some of my other friends that live in America, but logistically that is just difficult to manage even on a non-surprise basis. :) So thanks to everyone that made it a special night. This is one birthday I won't forget for a while. Especially because R. made a night photo album with actual printed pictures in it!
Fukuya open house and Fukutoushin subway line picturesAustrian Cultural Institute in New York, a really cool narrow building.
Fukutoushin line back to Shibuya. That was the first time I had taken that line - it just opened up in June, and generally I don't go very far off of my commuter pass, so that was kind of interesting. There is also a new station entrance in Shibuya station that I thought was kind of neat. There are other renovations going on in Shibuya but I just never go through that part of the station so I hadn't seen this area yet. The colorful signs are really great. It was also interesting to see people sitting around all over the place with little clicking counters they were using to count how many people were using the the different exits and corridors in the station. They really do a lot of profiling in this city to manage the congestion. So far though, from what I can gather, the Fukutoushin line hasn't been too successful: it generally connects places that other lines also go to, so not many people have been using it. It was pretty empty when I took it too, so I wonder what is going to happen there. I'm glad that the line that I normally ride is pretty empty because it means I can sit on ride in. That is a lot better than my old commute, where I almost always had to stand, and it was usually crazy crowded.
Review of Charles Stross' AccelerandoSingularity" genre. I have written a bit about the Singularity concept before and don't particularly think it will happen anytime soon: the idea that technology will become so advanced that human will not be able to understand it, and become surpassed by or transcend through technological means just doesn't seem realistic to me: I know too much about computers to think that there will be any really advanced Artifial Intelligence anytime soon. I think that is forty or fifty years out at least before we start seeing real learning systems that do not depend on humans to supply them with a framework to run inside.
This novel focuses on one family as they travel through the singularity point. Stross as an author is a joy to read: funny, and he has a great knack for explaining technology. He throws in a lot of references to computer science concepts, and does something that is rare in media: he doesn't make technology do ridiculous things. Hollywood movies are the worst, but you come across it even in science fiction as well. Of course I only notice it when the author writes about things that I know about, and I'm sure that generally any expert in a field will find problems with the popularizations of things that they know about, but it is really nice to see things done well.
This novel has a bit of a flavor of Neuromancer, and is reminiscent of Rainbow's End as well. The book kind of flirts with the unreliable narrator gimmick that I sometimes like and that sometimes annoys me, but you are never quite sure after reading it exactly how the narrative structure is set up. There are interesting questions about conciousness and what it means to be human and sentient, but that isn't anything new to these kinds of novels.
It also has a very interesting take on the Fermi Paradox that I did find original, but I haven't been scouring the world for books that address this issue (although see also A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) for more on that.
I really enjoyed this book, and think that anyone interested in the Cyberpunk / Singularity stuff will find it interesting too. Best of all: you can get it from Amazon (like I did) or you can download it for free from Charles Stross' website. That is really great that he has made the book available for free. I wish I had known that because then I would have read that first, then probably bought some of his newer stuff. I do have one more of his books on my pile of "to read" books, but it would have been nice to get some of his other stuff. I really like what I have read so far though, so I plan to buy his other novels (assuming they have reasonable priced versions on the Amazon Japan site - which isn't always the case.)
November 16, 2008
A new, advanced phone (nice) with an awful intercface (boo): DoCoMo P906i Review
Anyway, a week ago I decided to take the plunge and switch from AU to NTT. It took most of my Saturday afternoon last week, where I went to the AU shop, told them I want to move to NTT then picked up the number portability forms and went to the NTT shop. Canceling service was easy, they didn't try any of the retention tactics that you get back in America. So that was nice.
When I first got my phone three years ago I just got the cheapest phone they had - a one yen deal with the basics (GPS was the most advanced feature it had.) For my new phone I wanted more features. The main thing I wanted was a GSM capable phone with the capability to work in America, Bluetooth, and the Electronic Wallet feature so I can put my commuter pass on the phone. That really limited selection down but there were one or two handsets that fit that criteria. I sprung for the 906i, a kind of bulky flip-open model with a beautiful screen and all those features. Actually I kind of want an iPhone but the software for those is still pretty bad (Japanese email is still really bad) and it doesn't support the Electronic Wallet feature either (or 1-seg digital TV but I don't really care about that.) Also, while Risa wants an iPhone, she isn't willing to leave NTT for one.
The new phone has great hardware but the interface is atrocious. It is awful. I thought my AU phone was bad, but this one is worse. In my old phone to see my own profile I just pressed up. That was really convenient because I put my home phone number there, which I don't have memorized. To see my profile on my new phone I need to press the menu button, then press 0, but that isn't shown as an option. I actually had to read the manual to figure that out. Worse, my profile does not show my home phone number. I have to hit the "edit" command, and then my "extra" information pops up.
This phone has three types of email. Normal email, R messages and F messages. I do know the difference between these (I think F are Free messages from NTT) or even care really. Why the added complexity?
After almost every command, the phone requires acknowledgment. If you take a picture it throws up a box "I took a picture" and you have to press Ok. After sending an email "I sent an email". I know! That is what I asked you to do! Don't force me to click stuff unless there is a problem!
One of the main features I was interested in is bluetooth. It looks like the phone can only use BT for headphones though. I wanted to send files with BT, particularly pictures. I can use it to set up internet access though, which sounds useful.
The phone has at least three ways to wirelessly transfer data, none of which work for getting data into my Mac. It has a standard IR Port, the aforementioned Bluetooth, and also some mechanism used for RFID data transfer that can be used with some phones to transfer pictures or address book information. So far they are all useless to me.
The preference settings for the phone are insane. There are about 20 menus for main settings, each with 10 more settings, many of which have another menu of 10 or so. They provide a search function to find the setting you want. I have only scratched the surface there.
- Main display: 480x854
- Front-panel 1-bit display: 128x36
- Camera max resolution: 2592x1944 (looks like crap though!)
- Video max resolution: 640x480
- Has a MicroSD card, up to 8GB MicroSDHC (I've got 4GB)
- Bluetooth, but can only use it for headphones / headset, can't transfer files with it. (To my knowledge.)
You can set the phone to use English menus, but I don't recommend it. The menus are more confusing in English than Japanese, and worse it defaults to the useless English input method in that mode, so I went back to Japanese pretty quickly.
The phone isn't all bad though - it has a beautiful screen and the GPS navigation, a different program than my previous phone, is really nice. I think the Electronic Wallet will be really nice once I set it up, but I wasn't able to transfer over my commuter pass on initial setup so I will have to see the JR People about that.
The camera is stupid crazy. It is 5MP which is just insane because the sensor is way too small for that. My old Cannon at 4MP takes much nicer pictures. I have reduced the size so maybe it will take nice 2MP pictures. A few of the pictures on my Flickr stream are from this phone now, and they seem pretty good.
I tried the 1-seg digital tuner and it works. That is probably the last time I will use that.
It is supposed to have nice games and stuff available for purchase, but I don't think I will even bother. The web browser is also supposed to be nice so I think I will try to set up Mixi on it, but I do not anticipate using the web browser a lot: I just am not often in situations where I need to access the web and I don't have a computer nearby.
Overall I like the phone a lot, but think the software and UI are just awful. It will work fine for what I need but falls very short of my expectations from looking at the specs. I could have gotten away with a $50 instead of this $400 monster, but at least the cost is broken out over the 2-year contract without any interest.
November 15, 2008
Quick Manga Reviews
So I thought I would write some very quick, very basic reviews. The first manga I read was けんぷファー (Kenu fau? Supposed to be some sort of German word) volume 1. It is completely awful, and totally cliché. The story starts with our hero, whose name escapes me, wakes up and is a girl. A high school girl (well, he was a high school boy so that makes some sense.) He has a stuffed animal that talks to him (some sort of tiger) and tells him that he was chosen to be a Kenpu fau who fights other Kenpu fau, who are all apparently high school kids. The reason they fight was never explained, but clearly that is supposed to be the interesting mystery to the story that draws people in. It just annoyed me because the fictional world makes no sense. Also, there are many gratuitous panty shots and the like. Why does the guy get a high school girl's uniform when he transforms for no reason? Yet in the middle of the story, he says he has to go shopping for clothes because he doesn't have any women's clothes (except for the magic schoolgirl outfit?)
It rates half a star. Out of however many stars you want (at least 5 though probably.)
Next up is よつばと！ (Yotsubato) which is apparently written by a well-known author, Kiyohiko Azuma who also wrote another well-known series Azumanga Daioh. The reason I ordered this manga is because in one of the chapters, the main character Yotsuba creates a robot out of a cardboard box. The author designed a toy for Amazon that uses Amazon boxes, which I wanted, and then when I tried to order it Amazon recommended the first volume of the manga. So I bought it.
What is the story? It is a cute look at Yotsuba, a young (naive or stupid?) girl who has everyday adventures. It is very easy to read, with full furigana, and simple enough that anyone can understand it. I think it is very accessible to foreigners because the humor is based on this young girl not knowing about her surroundings - a somewhat familiar situation for a foreigner in Japan. I read the first volume fairly quickly, and ordered the second volume. I haven't started in on it yet, but plan to read it on the subway.
My wife told me that I shouldn't read it on the subway though because people would think I am a nerd. Since I am a nerd, I didn't take her advice, and plan to read it on the subway.
German Models in TokyoLydia Nguyen, a half-German half-Vietnamese fashion student / model hanging out in Tokyo on a work holiday. She gave me a postcard with her website on it, so I'll link to that here so I can have the information around.
It turns out my friend Ami, a fashion design student, is looking for a model so that worked out pretty well. I never thought I would be hanging out with models in Harajuku, but I guess my life has taken a turn for the better. :)
November 5, 2008
Another site with SF ebooks for freeCheck out StarRigger.net for some free SF ebooks. I haven't heard of this series, but I've downloaded the first three books, and if they are fun I plan to donate to the author. This just makes it so easy to check new stuff out.
November 4, 2008
Simplifying the menuThe Paradox of Choice.
The interior is all black, with nice modern (well, modern from the point of view of the 80s) furniture, and everyone has black uniforms. It reminds me of some sort of Clockwork Orange view of restaurants of the future. The menu is great: Quarter Pounder with Cheese, or Double Quarter Pounder with cheese. You get a medium fry, and a choice of Coke, Coke Zero, or a hot coffee. All for the low price of 500 or 600 yen. You also can get them without cheese, which is awesome.
While I like the idea of simplification, I don't know realistically how long that place will have customers with such a sparse menu. I did notice more people than usual getting take-out from there today, but I think, like me, they were drawn in by the novelty factor.
Also, I can't believe how many people they had out there holding signs and proclaiming the arrival of "the number one most popular burger in America now available in Japan!" I'm sure this will be all over the ex-pat Japan blogosphere (Marxy at least already posted about it in the Meta-no-tame blog.)
November 1, 2008
I used the library!For the first time since moving into our new Apartment, I used the in-building library. I would like to go down there and spend some time reading, but I'm really too busy to spend time reading for fun.
Anyway, I have to review about 8 papers for the upcoming NTCIR Workshop so I brought my laptop down to the library where they have three or four carrels set up with wired ethernet and desk space. I don't have much desk space in my place (almost all flat space is now occupied with mail and other stuff that I want to clean up, but R. and I haven't had time to sit down and do that.)
So it was nice to spend a few hours at the library downstairs getting some work down. I wonder where the books that are in there are from. It is really more of a reading room than a library, but there still is a big collection of books (mostly of the coffee-table type.)
Anyway, no major updates aside from that.
October 26, 2008
A quick update, and get more convenient, Japan!Ever since I changed jobs, I've been pushing pretty hard to keep up with all my commitments. I'm organizing a track for the NTCIR 7 workshop so after work at my new job, I head home and spend anywhere from two to six hours on NTCIR-related stuff. The big push has been for this week, when I have to get the evaluation results back to the participants. I've just about finished the coding I need to do that, and then I have to spend a few hours working on some human-in-the-loop semantic matching.
So that has been keeping me very busy. I hope things will get a bit better after this week, but I am pretty sure that I'll be busy until after the workshop in December.
But there are a few things that are worth noting. First, I don't know how I had missed the show The Middleman, but it is a funny show. I heard about it on tor.com from someone there. It is a sci-fi take on Superheros and Supervillians, and is a perfect live-action match for The Venture Brothers.
Otherwise, I haven't been watching much tv, but R. has been putting the Fox Channel on TV when she's home. I really like listening to Dr. House in dubbed Japanese.
So there are two other notable events. Really, I've been working 12+ hours a day, so very little has been going on. These little stories are all I have.
The other day I decided that I would cook some curry. I went out shopping and saw that there is now "low fat" curry. There were 50% off and 30% curries. I was pretty sure that 50% would be pretty bad, so I gave the 30% a try. Back home while preparing the meat, I saw that R. has some meat scissors, which I just love. They are so convenient. So, I cut up the meat, set the curry going, and then tried to wash the scissors. Huh. Funny. The blades don't come apart for easy washing.
Later on, I asked R. about that. "Why don't the meat scissors in Japan come apart for easy cleaning?" "What are meat scissors? We don't own any such thing!"
And just yesterday, as R. and I were going out of the house to get lunch on a nice Saturday, we stopped down by the mail room in the apartment building because I wanted to mail something out. I was about to drop it in the outgoing mail slot and R. stopped me. "What are you trying to do?" "I'm trying to mail this." "By putting it in the junk mail garbage slot?"
Oooh. That explains why a bunch of the forms I mailed out over the past three months never seemed to actually arrive. Come on Japan! Outgoing mail in the building is really convenient! So are meat scissors! Let's get moving here!
October 21, 2008
Cramp!I was shocked awake at 5am this morning when I got a massive cramp in my right calf. It has been about a year since that happened.
It seems like once a year, one of my calves decides to deliver a massive cramp to me, just to keep me on my toes. Ouch! Two hours later my leg is still killing me.
October 14, 2008
The F1 Grand Prix at the Fuji Motor Speedway
Mt. Fuji from Fuji Speedway
Lots of flags
Opening ceremony taiko
F1 Car at the race
Lots of people wearing flags too
So, we both made time in our way-too-busy schedules and spent Saturday and Sunday at the speedway (and on public transit: it takes about three and a half hours to reach the Fuji Motor Speedway by rail and bus from where we live.) I should have tried to get a hotel in the area, but I didn't realize it was so far until all the local hotels were booked up. Actually though, the trip out wasn't so bad, because it was a quick trip to Shinjuku, then an hour and a half on the train, and an hour and a half on the bus. There was lots of walking once you got to the Speedway too, but it was pretty nice.
The first day we saw the Porsche qualify round, and the F1 qualifying rounds. It was really interesting. We had seats on the straightaway right near the finish line, and had a great view of the pits. It would have been nice if we were up higher actually because the fence that blocks you from exploding cars was a bit in our way, but I thought the seats were really great. The Porsche round was really interesting: those are just classic cars. The F1 race was amazing. Those cars are just stupid fast, and crazy loud. I tried taking some pictures of the F1 cars, but I never managed to get any sort of reasonable picture.
The next day we left home early (a bit before 6am) and made it in time for the Netz race championship. That is a race that takes a standard economy car and races them. It was pretty cool seeing a normal car that you see on the highway zooming around the track. The Porsche finals were next, and were really cool.
The final F1 race was really interesting. There were a few wrecks and some crazy shenanigans, and afterwards at home I found out that we had a pretty interesting race with all the crashes and close calls with the cars. It was lots of fun to watch. I think I would have had more fun if I knew more about it, but it was still great.
Even better, on the way home we stopped by Jiyugaoka and they were having their annual Jiyu Megami festival. We also found some of our good friends, and spent some time (a bit too much time!!) hanging out with them.
A very fun weekend.
October 13, 2008
Book and Backlog
Space OperaI read the first four books of the "Lost Fleet" series by Jack Campbell. I really enjoyed these four books from a standard space opera point of view. They are very interesting from a military / tactics point of view. A fairly easy read, and the pages go quickly. I'll definitely pick up the final two books in the series when they come out. I found these books because when I was shopping for some John Scalzi stuff they kept coming up as recommendations from Amazon.com so I thought I would give them a try. Good job, Amazon! I really enjoyed them!
I really liked Perdido Street Station - the world of Bas-Lag is a very interesting turn-of-the-century with magic sort of place, and doesn't feel like the standard sorts of high fantasy or science fiction that you come across, but is a blend of both. The Scar was a great follow-up. There were things about it that I didn't like: I didn't like the protagonist much, and had trouble caring about what happened to her, but there were other great characters, and the story itself is really great. I feel like you will enjoy The Scar more if you have an understanding of quantum mechanics at some level, but it was really impressive the way that the novel takes a very modern and scientific concept and works it into the fabric of the story in a natural way. There were also some elements of science that surrounded Perdido Street Station as well.
If The Scar was about Quantum Mechanics, then Iron Council was about politics, revolution, and governments. I didn't enjoy Iron Council as much as the other two, but it is still a great read. China Miéville has a real way with building interesting worlds and giving you a personal view of large-scale events from the people involved in them and on the fringes. I highly recommend all three Bas-Lag novels, you should give them a try!
September 29, 2008
I cast my voteI returned home to Tokyo two days ago, Sunday evening. The plane landed at about 4:30pm, and I made it home by about 7:30pm. I was exhausted, but I managed to drag myself over to my parent-in-law's place for the usual Sunday evening dinner with Grandma-in-law and the family, and L. even showed up (straight from work.)
After a great dinner, we went home, and I spent some time trying to unpack and clean up. L. has the habit of not organizing things and cluttering up all horizontal surfaces with stuff. And there was a lot of stuff after being gone for three weeks.
On Monday I got up early (like 6am, so not too early) and did mail triage. I had a lot of misc. things to take care of, including tracking down why we can't call cell phones from our new home phone. (Answer: our phone was set to dial 0033 before any cell phone numbers to take advantage of a cheaper calling rate by using that code to indicate something to the phone company. Since I got us a Hikari Fiber VOIP (essentially) phone, we have to dial the number directly instead of using that 0033 prefix, which the phone was adding without my knowledge or consent. I finally figured it out by calling the support center, they said things looked good on their end, but did my phone have ADRS (or something) set up? Then I cracked the manual and figured it out.)
I also finished unpacking, and putting stuff away. When I got around to mail triage, I found a few overdue bills and things that I needed to take care of, but also a ballot envelope for the upcoming US Presidential Election.
It is really amazing to me how much easier it is to vote as an ex-patriot than it is to vote when you live in the US. I just have to fill out a few marks on the ballot, then mail it in. All you have to do is make sure that you are properly registered, and you are set. (Which reminds me, I have to update my Japanese address to my new address.)
I'm really excited about the upcoming election. I'm excited to see if our country can turn things around and gain the respect of the international community, reduce national debt, reduce the consumption culture we're living in, and re-take a lead in the sciences and engineering. I doubt that all of that will happen, but at least a new president might start making headway on some of those.
Oh, and universal health care. Which reminds me, when I played soccer two weeks ago, I got my right foot stepped on by a cleat. I thought it was bruised, but looking at it, it is a bit swollen, and there is pretty sharp pain if I poke it in the wrong place. I think I will try to get an X-ray done; I might have a fracture or something. I know a bruise doesn't hurt in the ways that foot is hurting now.
I was able to run for 40 minutes on it last night though. In the rain. In the dark. In a park that I had never been to before. And the paved path kept turning into treacherous dirt. Without lights. It was a kind of creepy run. I'm going to have to do that again when it is not raining, and not 10pm at night.
September 27, 2008
San Francisco Roundup
September 16, 2008
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: Some of my faves are on the soundtrack!Just saw a commercial for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and was super excited to hear a Bishop Allen song in the commercial.
I did a search, and the soundtrack looks awesome: my favorites, Bishop Allen, also my favorites, We Are Scientists, Vampire Weekend (great set a Summer Sonic 2008!), Band of Horses, Modest Mouse, NY locals that I like (but haven't seen because I moved to Tokyo before they played any shows that I knew about) Project Jenny, Project Jan, and The Raveonettes.
I need to see this movie for the soundtrack alone.
September 10, 2008
Napa Valley Trip
L. joined me after the first day, and stayed for almost a week. We only had one weekend together in CA, so I planned a trip up to Napa Valley.
I enjoy wine, and so does L., so I thought it would be fun to visit the valley. We drove from Palo Alto early on Saturday morning and took the scenic route, up 101 and over the Golden Gate bridge. The drive itself was a lot of fun, because the car I rented was a convertible, so we drove with the top down. Things started out pretty cold, but by the time we got to the valley we were both pretty hot! I had made a reservation at the Hennessey House Bed and Breakfast for the evening, so we headed there and dropped off our stuff. We made it just in time to catch our 11:00am wine tour.
Neither L. nor I had never been on a wine tour before, so I thought the best thing to do was to get someone to show us around and drive us around, in case we drank too much. That was definitely the right way to do things. The late harvest Riesling from Trefethen vineyard really left an impression on me: it was super sweet (like an ice wine) and probably wouldn't work well in quantity, but seemed like a good dessert wine. I really enjoyed going around to the different vineyards, and we met some fun people (a couple from Brazil) on the trip. There were also three younger American girls who got totally wasted and then had a huge argument over some boy that two of them liked, but that was kind of amusing also (once you get past the annoyance.)
I wanted to write this up sooner, but it has been a bit over a week, and the details are starting to fade.
After the wine tour we took a nap at the B&B, and then went to dinner at a nice Italian place (Tuscany) in Napa. The food was good, but we were still full after all the wine, and the portions were fairly large, so we ended up going back to the B&B feeling a bit bloated (but that has how almost every dinner in America has ended so far!)
Since it was the first time for L. and I to travel in America together, I wanted to make it memorable so I also made a reservation for a hot air balloon ride. We had to get up at 5am to make the 6am gathering time, but it was worth it. The views were great, and smoothly floating through the air was also really amazing. The only way to control the balloons is up and down, and the rest is up to the prevailing winds. It was really impressive that the pilots are actually able to target a field, and then get the balloon there. Of course, they have many options, but still they can't just land the balloons anywhere.
The landing on our balloon was a bit wild, since the balloon was still going at a pretty good clip when it touched down. I thought that the basket would flip over, but it just barely managed to keep upright after a few bounces. I don't know if I'll get a chance to ride another balloon, but I really enjoyed it, and I was surprised that I didn't have any sort of motion sickness. I usually have trouble on boats, elevators, and airplane landings, but I didn't have any trouble with the balloon. I don't really think it will replace planes as my preferred method to get to Japan and back, but still.
After the balloon ride we had a nice brunch, and then took things easy before the drive back to Palo Alto. If I do things again, I would go a bit easier on the wine tour, but it was a lot of fun.
September 8, 2008
How the free ebook "Old Man's War" sold a bunch of other John Scalzi books
I'm very happy reading ebooks on my OLPC though, so it isn't a big problem for me.
I read Old Man's War, which was available for free as part of the Tor site launch, and really thought it was great. So because of that, I went to see if I could find any other books by John Scalzi (who runs an excellent blog on sci-fi and other stuff, check it out.)
It turns out, I could find other books. The real, "you have to pay money for them" kind, but I figure that I have good reason to support Amazon.com (well, the Japanese variant for me) so I picked them up off of Amazon.co.jp. I've linked the Amazon.com versions to the left, but only because I haven't bothered to get a .co.jp affiliates account.
I picked up The Ghost Brigades, the direct follow-up to Old Man's War, as well as The Last Colony, a sequel in the same universe set a few years later, and The Android's Dream, which is set in a different universe. I devoured both Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony in about a day and a half each. I would have read them faster, but I haven't had much time to read lately, so I was just able to fit in snatches on the train and a bit before bed, and at lunch.
I rate both books as totally excellent sci-fi. The whole Old Man's War trilogy is excellent, please read them if you like sci-fi at all.
I haven't yet read The Android's Dream, but I plan to read it in the next few weeks. Also, I want to pick up Zoe's Tale, another book in the Old Man's War universe, as soon as it is out in paperback. I just don't have the room to store hardcovers, and don't enjoy the price premium they command for something that I might not be keeping around.
I'm convinced that there must be other people out there like me who had never heard of John Scalzi before, but went out and picked up a bunch of his books after reading Old Man's War when it was made available for free from Tor's site. I'm actually thinking of picking up a copy of OMW so I can put it next to the other two (three?) since they are good enough to make the book shelf cut.
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