November 15, 2008

Quick Manga Reviews

One of the interesting things about working at Amazon Japan on the 14th floor is the shelf of free books you can peruse. There are lots of manga, so I started randomly grabbing volumes here and there. Here are some random reviews (click the links on the left to go to the product pages on the Japanese website - fair warning, if you buy something I will get like, 2 or 3 yen or something.)

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 Tokyo

The other day I met some friends - a lot of friends, about 18 of us - and went to dinner in Harajuku at an all-you-can-eat Okonomiyaki place. It was lots of fun. Sadly, I didn't take any pictures, but one of the people that I met was really interesting: Lydia 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 free

Check 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 menu

At work this afternoon a friend brought in a bag labeled simply "Quarter Pounder". Our office is out in Shibuya, and randomly what used to be McDonald's turned into some random post-modern simplified version of McDonald's called simple "Quarter Pounder". I guess they are promoting the Quarter Pounder coming to Japan (wasn't it always here?) by changing two shops, one in Omote-sando and one in Shibuya, into Quarter-Pounder only joints. I stopped by for dinner more out of curiosity than anything else. I actually really like the idea as a short-term thing: it addresses the concerns brought up by The 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!"

Oops.

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

For L.'s birthday a few months ago I got L. and I tickets to the F1 Grand Prix in Japan. I don't know much about F1 Racing, but I know that L. likes cars, and when we randomly stumbled upon some F1 Cart Racers in Italy, she was captivated. Maybe the real thing would be fun too! Also, I like technology and cars, and the F1 has plenty of both.

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

I went to America last month, and as usual, I read a storm on the plane. I've been meaning to post this for ages, but I've been ridiculously busy so I haven't gotten around to it. I'm finally going to just take some time this morning and post stuff.

Space Opera

I 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!

Fantasy

I already wrote about China Miéville's Perdido Street Station a while back (it was plane fodder on a trip to Singapore) but it has taken me a long time to read his later two novels, The Scar and Iron Council.

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 vote

I 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

It has been a while since my last post. Since then, L. has gone back to Japan, and I've been working. On the weekends, I take a quick trip out to visit some family, and then get back to my hotel late Sunday night, and back to work on Monday. It has been really hectic. The second weekend of my stay here, I went back to Dallas to visit my mother and father. The trip was about $400 cheaper if I took a stop on the way, so on Friday afternoon I took an early flight with a half hour stop in Phoenix, Arizona with a late 11pm arrival in Dallas. I had two days in Dallas which were kept busy catching up with mom and dad, and my aunt, uncle, and a cousin. I also helped my dad out with a lot of computer stuff, but every time I visit I never seem to knock everything off of the list. Still, progress is progress. Since the last time I had visited, my sisters had come by and cleaned up the upstairs part of the house, which looks great compared to what it used to be like, but is still a complete mess. I also got some books from my room (which I had mostly cleaned out when I moved to Japan) and added a whole bunch more books to the pile that I picked up at Half Priced books. The main treasure I'm bringing back is a copy of the Feynman Physics Lectures. The trip back to San Francisco was tough because I had a suitcase full of books, but I made it. I also had an hour stopover in Las Vegas, but I didn't play any slots because I don't think the reward function makes it worth while. The next weekend, I took a trip out to San Diego to see my twin sister and her husband. That trip was a bit tougher, even though it was closer. The reason is that after the hour flight to Los Angelos, you have to board a really small turbo-prop plane for a short thirty minute flight. I don't like these small planes because they are too choppy. Luckily on this flight out it was all smooth and I didn't have any trouble. I landed at the ridiculously small Carlsbad airport at about 11pm, and Alana and Dave showed up to pick me up in their newish Prius. I was excited to see the Prius because I've never ridden in one before. It was a really nice ride, I think they are great cars. I'm really excited about the prospect of fully electric plug-in cars, or even plug-in hybrids. Also, the day before I played Soccer with the A9 guys and totally got a sunburn. Ouch! The sun is strong in Palo Alto. Also, I'm balding, and even though I brought sunscreen, I completely forgot to actually use it. We stayed up late into the night catching up. The next morning Dave had gone out diving for work (he's a marine biologist) so Alana and I went out for brunch. I had a great stack of pancakes, which I almost never see (or have) in Japan. It was great, but as with every meal in America so far, I ate too much. Also, I had some chocolate from the white house that Alana pocketed after her dinner there (it would probably be worth writing a post about, but my sister and dad had dinner at the white house and met the POTUS and the FLOTUS.) After brunch, we headed out to the outlet mall, where I scored some great Cole-Haan nike air shoes and some great Banana Republic stuff at good prices. A quick trip back home, we picked up Dave and headed to the beach. One really interesting thing about Dave and Alana is that up until two weeks or so ago, they had six cars. One of them was Dave's old Honda Civic, which got hit while it was parked and was totaled. So that one went away. Another was the Infiniti J30, which they gave away to a friend of the family who had just moved his family to California last week. Now they are down to four cars: Alana's Prius (about 2 years old), Dave's work pickup (which I haven't yet seen), the 1976 Mercedes D600 Alana got from Dad (I used to drive that car a lot, and it is really a nice car), and the 19xx International Scout II that Dave gave to Alana in place of an engagement ring. It's a really fun car: four on the floor manual transmission, and a really nice look to it. We all piled into the front seat, and Dave threw his surfboard in the back and we headed down to the beach. They are only about five minutes away from the beach by car, so they get to use the special VIP parking and special VIP beach entrance. VIP parking is a back road off the highway that you can park on. Then you walk a bit to the special VIP beach entrance. The special VIP beach entrance is a tree stump next to the fence which has had a bit of the top pulled down, so if you are nimble you can climb over the fence. Then there is a nice stairway down to the ocean which normally is available only to the people that are camping in the state park, whose entrance is a mile or two up the coast. So it is pretty convenient, if slightly ghetto. Dave surfed and Alana and I walked up and down the beach. Then we all went out to a movie - I haven't seen a movie in about a year, the tickets are too expensive in Japan - and got a movie dinner (popcorn and a hot dog.) The next morning I worked while Dave and Alana were out at their swimming class and doing other errands, then in the afternoon we went to pick up Dave's little brother (he volunteers as a Big Brother) and took him to an Oktoberfest street fair. We didn't get any beer - what kind of example would that set!? - but really enjoyed walking around to all the shops, got dinner, and just hung out. We dropped off Dave's little brother, then I packed up and headed home - again on the small turbo-prop, but this flight went well again, so no problems. I had a layover in LA, and didn't get back to SF until midnight. On Wednesday of my last week in Palo Alto, I met up with my friend Michel and met his beautiful son and girlfriend. I'm really jealous of their son because Michel speaks to him in French, his mother speaks to him in Japanese, and depending on how long they stay in the US, he will probably pick up English at an early age. Tri-lingual from a young age! That's the way to do it. It is difficult to pick up a language in your teens and twenties, but certainly possible. Still, starting out with an advantage would be really nice. Their son was super cute. Everyone at the restaurant was saying that he was just a super cute kid, and he totally is. He's 6 months old about, and was really great, didn't cry at all, and seemed to be having a great time. It was fun talking with Michel's girlfriend because since L. went home, I haven't been speaking any Japanese, so that was nice. I think Michel might have had a bit of trouble following us, but I'm sure his Japanese will improve! In the evening I went back to San Francisco and met up with my friend Andy. He managed to get some tickets for the Giants-Rockies game. We went to a Sumo match together when he came to Tokyo, so he wanted to return the sporting-events favor, and we had a blast (and some beer!) in some totally excellent seats. I don't know how he did it - well, I do, he used StubHub.com - but our seats were great. They were in the first row in the clubhouse section, so we had a great view from a bit to the right of the plate. Unfortunately, and this is probably why we were able to get the tickets, the Giants just totally sucked. They were losing 17-3 at the top of the 7th inning. It was amazing. Lots of fun to watch though because there were lots of home runs and scores. Not for "our" team, but still. We hung out some more after the game, and I made the last train home, the midnight train, which got me back to Palo Alto at 1am. Wow! Late! Thursday evening I went back down to SF to meet up with my friend Kurt, who I hadn't seen in three years. It was great catching up with Kurt again. I wish I had gotten in touch with him earlier on, but I've just been swamped with work, but it was great that I was able to see him before going back home. We had a great dinner at a nearby Thai place, and the walk there from the SF Medical Center was amusing: it was uphill all the way. I'm clearly out of shape as I broke into a sweat (although it wasn't nearly as cold as it had been previously, so I was over-dressed.) On the walk back there were unexpected fireworks, I think over the baseball stadium. On the walk back to the train station I stopped into the Stone Slab Creamery and got a small cup of chocolate ice cream with strawberries. I haven't had very much ice cream at all since I arrived here, so that was really great. I caught the 9:30pm train home, so should have a bit more time to catch up on email and maybe even upload this blog post. :) I head back to Tokyo on Saturday (two days from now as of this writing) so I'm really excited.

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

Last week I packed up a bag, and flew from Tokyo to San Francisco. I'll be here in CA for about a month for training at my new job. It is really nice to be back in the US after two and a half years.

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

A while back, I wrote about reading Ebooks on the OLPC. I am really interested in getting myself a Kindle, but until there is a Japanese release I don't see the point of buying one: the wireless portion won't work in Japan, and that is a very attractive feature that I would rather not neuter.

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.

Also, because Amazon.co.jp recommended the Lost Fleet series of books to me, I picked up the four of those that are available. Working at Amazon could prove to be ... difficult for me.

August 30, 2008

My computer smells funny

I really don't like funny smells that come from computer equipment. Read on if you want to hear about power supplies and funny smells.    

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The trials of installing a video card under linux

For a long time I have been running my home linux machine (Fedora 8) on the built-in video chipset, an Intel GMA3100 that is on the Gigabyte GA-G33M-S2H. It actually has an HDMI connection, which is interesting, but the video capabilities of the part just aren't that great. I guess the performance is OK, but it has trouble with HDTV content. I don't think that the processor is the bottleneck, since even SD content takes up a good amount of CPU when played fullscreen. Following the information at Mian Hasan Khalil's blog on HDTV playback on linux using mplayer, but the GMA3100 just wasn't cutting it.

Click to read more about linux-specific video card rants and complaints.    read more (1208 words)

August 29, 2008

The Crabbing Boat

I heard about this book sometime last week I think. I'm not sure where, but probably from one of the blogs that I follow. It is a very interesting and curious phenomena: a book written in 1929 becomes suddenly very popular. I'm curious, and thinking about getting a copy.

Anyway, first up: an excellent introduction to the book and some theorizing on the background situation that might have contributed to the popularity from the interesting Néojaponisme blog. One of their contributors has translated (part of?) the first chapter, so you can get a flavor of that.

From the comments in that post, I clicked over to an entry at Takiji Library where they have a free manga version of the book available for download or online reading. That looks like it will be interesting to check out, so I downloaded the PDF version for later ebook train consumption.

Finally, I was curious whether Amazon was selling The Crabbing Boat, and sure enough, it is. This is the version from 1954 (I am digging that cool cover) and is a very reasonable 420 yen. The book is pretty highly rated with lots of positive reviews. I really like that Amazon will sell the book to me bundled with a manga version of the book that is aimed at College students, and claims that you can read it in 30 minutes. This is an interesting take on Cliff's notes, but looks to be even more accessible. I never used Cliff's notes myself because if there is a book to read, I'll usually read it, but for Japanese novels the idea of a manga adaptation appeals to me.

I wanted to use another affiliate link to get the cover to show up on this post, but I need to sign up with the Japanese affiliate system to make links to amazon.co.jp products, so maybe that will wait until I have more free time and more links to make to Japanese stuff. Given the abysmally slow rate that I've been reading "Kafka by the Sea", I don't think that is likely to happen any time soon. :)

August 24, 2008

Changing Jobs

After two and a half years, last week was my last week at the National Institute of Informatics. As of this week, I am starting a new job working on Japanese search at Amazon.co.jp.

You might have noticed that I have been using a lot of Amazon.com affiliate links lately and this new job is one reason, but I have to admit that I have always been a book worm and have always been a heavy Amazon user. Working here is very exciting because I love the idea of working in applied search, I have the chance to stay in Japan and use Japanese as it applies to search, and there is the potential to work in interesting areas for cross-lingual search, using lots of interesting data and so on.

I also can use it as an excuse to buy more real books (I just bought about 6 or 7 the other day!) Since I work there now, I'm just making sure that our customer experience is up to standards. That's how I'm selling the sudden influx of new books to L. anyway.

It will probably take a while to learn the ropes, and I will be spending about a month in Palo Alto for training in September, which I am looking forward to.

It is really amazing how quickly time has passed. The two years at NII went by very quickly. I really enjoyed working there and think it is a great research environment. There are lots of people from all over the world working on many different, interesting problems. It would have been almost as beneficial for me to be able to speak German or French as Japanese!

I really enjoyed the opportunity I had to work on the Information Explosion World News Research Group since I was able to meet and interact with many professors in the NLP area. Sitting on the NTCIR organization committee also was an invaluable experience and I know that my Japanese improved greatly due to both.

My written Japanese got a work-out as well due to all the email, and the multiple times I applied for research funding. I even actually was awarded one of the young researcher grants, which is amazing. Of course, it was a bit depressing at how much "editing" the proposal required - although I will point out that I am positive an NSF grant written in English would need an equal amount of editing from a senior faculty member as to what I received from Professor Kando.

On my last day at NII Professor Kando organized an informal farewell party that friends and co-workers were kind enough to attend.

The turnover at NII for the foreigners seems fairly high: usually one and a half to two years seems to be the norm. Many foreigners are here on JSPS fellowships which are prestigious and pay well (but not as well as an average postdoc in CS in America) that last about two years. In the time that I was there at least three friends of mine on those programs went back to their own (or a different) country. I also made friends with Masters program students and interns, who are there usually only for a few months, and with some of the secretarial staff.

I am going to miss the very inter-cultural lunches that we often had: Japanese, American, French, and German were the common cultures in attendance. One of my long term lunch Buddies, Eric P., is particularly interesting: he has been at NII for 5 years! I hope we will the chance to get together once in a while in the future because he is also committed long-term to Japan, so it is nice to complain about the ex-pat annoyances with him.

I was very glad that Nakagawa-sensei and Taura-sensei from Tokyo university were able to attend the going-away party because it has been great to work with them in the Information Explosion World News Group. In true Japanese fashion, they started the party with beer. Eric P., Frenchman that he is, started with wine. Since I caught a cold last week, I was sticking with Orange Juice and other non-alcoholic drinks.

The trip back home was a bit tough as I was loaded down with some last minute things from the office, my work machine, and then flowers and a gift on top of that. I eventually made it though, and collapsed into bed. Looking back it really was a great two+ years.

Looking forward I'm very excited about the new job at Amazon, so don't expect to see the book links disappear anytime soon. If you have any issues about Amazon's search, let me know! (Note: I've been really busy with the new job, so this post didn't go up until the weekend. I've had a week's worth of experience at Amazon now, and I've really enjoyed myself, but I have tons to learn.)

August 18, 2008

Our new "Mansion"

I never thought that I would be able to say it, but "I own a Mansion." Of course, this is a Japanese style mansion, so it really means "steel-reinforced concrete apartment", but still. L. and I bought a two bedroom apartment, a 2LDK in Japanese parlance (2 bedrooms, a livingroom / diningroom / kitchen.) The kitchen is actually a small separate affair in our place, and L. got a great refridgerator for it. There is also a super tiny (optional) dishwasher that she wanted, and I sprung for the built-in convection oven / microwave combo, so our kitchen is pretty well set up.

The living room is big, and this is one of the first times I will live somewhere that isn't just packed with furniture like a tetris game. That works out great because with the order for fiber-optic internet I picked up a Wii and Wii Fit. All of that is set up in the custom order cabinetry that I think looks great.

We are up on the 14th floor with a West-facing apartment that looks out over a canal and Tokyo Bay. We can also see Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba from our balcony and should have a good view of fireworks shot off there. Once the weather cools down I look forward to sitting on the balcony, watching boats go by, and drinking a beer with L..

The room I will probably spend the most time in is the one where I set up my computers. I got a nice computer desk from Tokyu Hands which took a while to put together, but is great. There is one desktop and some notebooks on it.

I already wrote about the crazy remote control features of the apartment, but I have become fairly used to living there now. The building is really great and I love how you can throw out garbage of any kind on any day. That is just amazing.

Since I've been busy and sick, I haven't used the Fittnes (SIC) Room yet, but I plan to. Also there is a big park that looks good for running right across the bridge. The conveniently located Jusco is amazing, like an American supermarket, and we are only about a 3 minute walk from Shinagawa Seaside station, which conveniently (for me) has direct (and not crowded) trains to Shibuya.

I hope I can convince some friends and family to come and visit! The sofa DOES pull out into a bed.

Ebook reviews: Peter Watts' Maelstrom and Behemoth

In the past I read and wrote up Peter Watts' Starfish. The review comes off a bit negative I think, which isn't quite right because immediately after Starfish, I found the other two novels online and started reading them (sequentially, not in parallel.)

Maelstrom has a different focus than Starfish, and went into more detail about the networking system and pervasive spread of genetic algorithms and emergent behavior. I was really impressed by the computer science aspects of the novel. I don't think that genetic algorithms as they stand now will develop as described, but the vision isn't completely off base, although some of the anthropomorhism applied to the programs is a bit hard to believe.

Maelstrom was also an easier read than Starfish because the characters were more likeable (despite being the same characters mainly as in the first novel.) I really got into the series from the second novel and had a hard time putting it down. The novel ends setting the scene for the third and final (?) novel, Behemoth.

The final novel has more of a focus on Biology and chemistry, and brings the focus onto another character that is hard to like. In fact, the third novel might have been a tougher read than the first novel even. Other than a few scenes with that one character, the novel was fascinating. The entire trilogy viewed together is really impressive, although there is too much sadism for me to want to read again.

I really recommend these books if you can look past unconventional characters and some unappetizing sadism.


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