August 12, 2010

More books: Paolo Bacigalupi

While at Fuji Rock, I read two ebooks, both by a new author (to me), Paolo Bacigalupi. I thought they were great. First up: Pump Six and Other Stories (link is to the Baen Webscriptions.net ebook version, which is an amazing $6.) This is a collection of short stories and a great place to start. Not all of the stories are in the same universe, but a few of them are, and they give a very good introduction to the world used in the full-length novel. I really enjoyed most of the stories - although in all honestly some of them are a bit disturbing. The majority deal with a post-peak-oil world where energy is not abundant and people have reverted to a more local economy built on human and (genetically engineered) animal power.

It is a haunting and not-unrealistic vision of the future. Living in Japan, and occasionally going back to America, I keep wondering how long it will be until jet fuel starts to cost so much that I just can't afford the trip back to the US. So far it hasn't happened, but I'm not sure that we will be flying around the world ten years from now. I wouldn't mind a nice relaxing cruise to the US on a well-stocked cruise ship, but I just don't see that happening with current standards for US and Japanese vacation allowance.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Pump Six and other stories. Pick it up!

Next up is The Windup Girl, a longer visit to one of the worlds introduced in Pump Six. The main action takes place in Thailand, and follows the lives of people trying to live in the energy-deficient world that has a surplus of engineered plagues targeting non-GMO foods. The whole thing seems like a completely realized extension of where we are headed with Monsanto's engineered seeds that are not fertile. Also, they'll sue you if you somehow get their seeds into your field by (say, like the wind) accident. Crazy. A really great piece of Science Fiction, and wholeheartedly recommended.


August 8, 2010

2010 Summer Music Festivals

Day 2

Day 3

While on days 1 and 2 we took the full day, on day 3 we got a later start (exhausted?) and only started in the afternoon with the band to which I was most looking forward.

Usually R. and I are Summer Sonic attendees. This year though, we got three day tickets to Fuji Rock, a three day festival up in the mountains in Naeba, Japan. So I took Friday and Monday off work, and Thursday night we packed up. Early Friday morning (about 4am) we loaded up the Mini Cooper and headed out. It is about a four hour drive, and we rolled into Naeba at about 9.

To do a good stay at Fuji Rock, you really need to prepare. Things that are essential:

  • Rain gear. In our case, relatively nice ($100 or so) ponchos. It very likely will rain. You need to be prepared.
  • Rain boots. Even if it does not rain, there will be mud. Lots of mud. Ankle deep mud. So either wear shoes and socks that you don't want to use ever again, or get some good mud-proof boots.
  • Portable chairs. I recommend folding Coleman camping chairs, but you can also get by with smaller portable stools. Generally the deal is that you leave in the morning at about 10am, then go somewhere and set up a small camp. There are not benches or seat or bleachers, so you need to be able to spend a long time in one place. Either standing or sitting, but a portable chair will help either way.
  • Sun protection. Sunblock or long sleeves.
  • Bug spray. You are in the mountains.
  • Possibly a tarp of some sort.
  • Books? Something to pass the time.

Why would you want a tarp? Generally people set out a tarp like thing (normally in the US we would use a picnic blanket or something) take off their shoes, and use the tarp as a home base. No shoes though. They also will leave their stuff at the home base and maybe go out to other stages. You definitely should not leave anything valuable there, but I've left my folding coleman chair at the home base without any problems. So semi-valuable (< $40?) is probably ok. And you spend the entire day going from stage to stage (factor in about 20 minutes to get between the close stages, longer for the further ones) and stopping at the stands to get food.

Overall I find Fuji Rock to be a really tough time. I'm always deathly afraid of sunburns, so I wear long sleeves which means that I pretty much am too hot all the time. I also do very badly at sitting on the ground or in sub-optimal furniture, so end up with sore feet or a sore back, or whatever. I do like reading though.

So what did I see? The bands I checked out are on the left - all merchandised links to either Amazon or Amazon Japan - and the stand outs for me were:

  • Vampire Weekend. I've seen these guys a few times now. They remind me of my days in New York. I really want to see some of my favorite bands from those days come back to Japan (We Are Scientists, and Bishop Allen primarily) but have a really good sound and catchy pop tunes. They were one of the few bands that I dropped my stuff and went up to the stage for. Lots of fun.
  • I hadn't heard Atoms For Peace (or maybe they go by Thom Yorke's solo name? They are Thom Yorke and Flea primarily) before, but they were really good.
  • !!!. My friend, D.S. was the interpreter for them, and it sounds like it was a tough job. They put on a really fun show though.
  • MGMT. White stage was super crowded at that time and they limited entrance. It must have taken us like an hour to get there, but we did get there before MGMT went on. We also left a bit early because it would have sucked to try to walk back with the entire crowd. I suspect White Stage was so crowded because the act on Green Stage at the time was just awful (Chris Cunningham?) It looks like he is primarily a video artist, but when we were walking by his set I was really surprised that he would be closing on Green Stage. Dissonant, noisy, disturbing. I don't think that is appropriate for a Green Stage closing act. I might be wrong though.
  • The Cribs. A favorite of R.'s, and I like them now as well.
  • Mutemath was good. Fit very well with what I was reading at the time (Paolo Bacigalupi.)
  • Scissor Sisters. A bit rainy when they were on, but lots and lots of fun.
  • There were a bunch of acts that I didn't know but saw and liked. On that list: Them Crooked Vultures, Jamie Cullum, Kula Shaker, John Butler Trio.

I had a lot of fun, but I need to remember that every time I go to Fuji Rock it is exhausting. Tiring. If we weren't staying in the Naeba Prince Hotel (sharing a room with people that R. found on Mixi?) it would have been awful. I would never camp out there. There are other hotels you can stay at, but they often involve 40 minute or hour long bus rides from the Fuji Rock site. If the weather is good, and you can relax on the Green Stage hillside with a good book and nice chair, it is really fun though.

The Naeba Prince Hotel also has a nice public bath for 300 yen that you can relax into after a long day at the festival. It also sidesteps problems with 1. No door on the bathtub area in hotel room (wtf? Normally there is a door there so you can change before hopping in the tub.) and 2. with 4-5 people in a room, it can be a long process to figure out how to use the bathroom resources. The big (culturally very normal in Japan) sex-segregated public baths nicely sidestep that issue. Also, the Naeba Prince has a breakfast buffet. Nice.

2 Summer Sonic 2010

The week after Fuji Rock was Summer Sonic. Usually R. and I go both days to Summer Sonic - last year was the 10 year anniversary and they had a 3 day festival for the first time, and we went to all three days. If Fuji Rock is the advanced level Japan Music Festival (it is) then Summer Sonic is beginner to advanced level. You can commute to the festival on the train - it is out in Chiba and about an hour from Tokyo or a bit more depending on where you are at. The major advantage that Summer Sonic has over Fuji Rock is that most of the music festival is indoors. The only outdoor stages for Summer Sonic are Marine Stadium (large baseball stadium) and Beach Stage. The others are either indoors or under a tent (Island Stage.)

The lack of sun, and minor level of air conditioning really makes Summer Sonic easier to attend. You still have to be careful to drink enough fluids and not over-do it though.

This year I wasn't too excited about the Summer Sonic lineup compared to previous years but I was looking forward to Passion Pit. There were a bunch of acts that I hadn't heard of before, but ended up enjoying:

My two favorite acts were Passion Pit - I've liked them for a while - and A-Ha. Mostly because of "Take on Me", which I bet as a band they are pretty sick of, but still. Lots f fun. I hadn't heard too much of Delphic, a group that R. likes, but they weren't really my cup of tea. The last two bands, Pendulum and Orbital, weren't my thing at all. Dance mostly. I'm not much of a dance music fan. I did like the orbital two-flashlights-on-the-head thing.

Otherwise things were par for course for Summer Sonic. The main Corona booth (like last year) had a few stage shows with pole dancers, and there was lots of merchandising around music, alcohol, and clothing. There are some pictures in this Flickr set.


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July 3, 2010

Dave's Delicious Restaurant


Dave Cooking


Ratatouille, corn soup, and steak


Chocolate Fondant and Strawberry Ice Cream

In Japan, the pixar movie "Ratatouille" was called "Remi's Delicious Restaurant" (レミの美味しいレストラン). I have a whole spiel about how Japanese movie titles are basically the entire movie plot in a single sentence (like, The Sixth Sense would be titled "A kid sees the ghosts and his psychologist is a ghost too") but I won't go into that now.

R. and I went to see Ratatouille when it was in the theatres here. It was great. We have the movie at home. I watched it the other day and thought it would be fun to do a "davee's delicious restaurant", so today while R. was at work I spent the day cleaning. And when I was done cleaning I went shopping. The Jusco (large suprtmarket) near us decided that since it is the 4th of July that they would do a big "American Sale". All sorts of "American stuff" was on sale. 24 packs of Budweiser for only $40. I actually think I'll pick one of those up tomorrow just for laughs. They also had some nice American steaks for $12 so I picked one of those up. and since I watched Ratatouille not too long ago, was able to pick up all the ingredients I needed for that. I also checked out what I would need for some chocolat fondant and picked those up.

I'm a bad cook, and slow, but after a few hours managed to get some stuff made. I also threw together a corn soup (Campbells, but it was great.) When R. got home I pretended to only speak French and sat her down at the (cleaned and repositioned) table, then went and changed into some nice pants and shirt. Then we had a great dinner and watched Ratatouille. And ate too much, but man that Chocolate Fondant recipe was great. I wouldn't say easy, but not hard, and great. Too much for two people though.

Also, of course we are following that up now with Wall-E.

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June 12, 2010

What's for dinner?

Some variation of this was. It was pretty good too. I think R. might have snapped a shot before we ate, but I didn't. We don't have a real camera anymore either, just cell phone cameras now.
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June 6, 2010

Enable SATA AHCI on Gigabyte GA-G33M-S2H motherboard with Western Digital 1.5 TB drives

I've had a few posts before about my desktop computer, mainly that first one about putting it together, and an entry about replacing the power supply when that blew up.

Well, two days ago I decided to do a system update (Ubuntu kept complaining at me for a week or more) and on reboot, there were some disk read errors, and eventually the OS couldn't boot. I had two 500GB hard drives internally in a LVM group, which is nice because it lets you use the space between the two in a unified view, but bad because it makes it hard to troubleshoot the disks with simple tools. I have had to try to recover broken LVM setups before, but it has always been pretty tough. Hopefully the rescue and recovery tools will get a bit better there, but since I don't need to do it all that much, whatever.

Since the last time I had to do that kind of recovery (lost an entire weekend and lots of files) I have been regularly backing up to two external hard drives. Of course, I have been lazy lately and my last full backup is probably a week old, but still, not that bad. Probably I'm not even going to lose anything important. Well, I might lose one chapter of a manga that I translated recently, but no huge loss there.

So I made the trip out to Akihabara yesterday, and picked up two 1.5TB hard drive (Western Digital Caviar Green drives) that spin at 5200 rpm and should be a bit slower but more energy efficient and quieter than my previous two drives.

I had spent hours on this, and for the life of me have not been able to get a good OS install. First, I want to go back to Fedora, and use the latest version in 64bits. So I tried installing Fedora 13 x64. The DVD I burned for that (while a good burn) won't boot. I don't know why. I did get the live 64bit cd burned, and could get that working, but it was slow. It took maybe 5 hours to go through the install process. I eventually let it go the whole way (I tried a few other things first) and when I boot from the internal hard drives it was extremely slow. 20 minutes to log in. Just horrible. I couldn't understand why.

So I tried the 32bit version. Same thing.

So I tried Ubuntu. Same thing. The strange thing is that the 32bit versions could boot off of the live CDs just fine, and things are great. I even mounted the new hard drives and copied over a few gigs of data no problem. But when I booted internally things because super slow and unusable. Why!? It is like there are disk errors, but the disks are brand new.

So I finally started poking around in the bios, and noticed that I did not have AHCI mode enabled. I enabled that, and the 32bit OS seemed to be fine. I should probably try to install 64bit again, but at this point I just want to get a Fedora install that works and start copying my backed-up data back over again. That will probably need to run overnight (about 800GB of data.)

My new plan is to run on 1 1.5TB drive, and then set up a script to mirror the data to the second internal drive nightly. Why not run in RAID? It seems like if there are any problems I have had a lot of trouble dealing with LVM and RAID would only make that worse. Probably. But just having a second drive that I could mount in another linux install and copy data off of seems pretty easy.

The long term plan is to put together a Drobo or something that I can back up to, and then add the second internal drive to the LVM (which I know I complained about, but is kind of nice) when I need the extra space. I should be pretty good on 1.5TB for a while though.
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May 17, 2010

A small bar in Ikebukuro

Last Friday, R. and I went to a small bar in Ikebukuro. Our aim was to find the small bar Afiya, run by a friend of a friend. It is a really small wine bar that has a focus on food from Senegal. The place has maybe room for 8, so a very cozy atmosphere. We actually headed down a bit early (because I am an early to bed, early to rise kind of guy) but the place wasn't open yet. We called the proprietress and it turns out she wasn't planning on opening until 8pm, so we had about an hour to spend.

Luckily, right around the corner was Ete, another wine bar. It was a themed night. The place is actually very nice. I highly recommend it. They had some nice French food, some nice French wine, and the staff was great. The chef was a pretty taciturn guy, but the waitress / bartender was a very friendly young lady, who I later learned was much later younger than I thought! (23. Why does age always come up in conversations in Japan so often? I don't know.)

Anyway, a glass of wine and some appetizers later, we headed down to Afiya and met up with Kei, the owner. Then we had more wine, and some great Yassa chicken. Highly recommended. The regulars were also really nice and fun to chat with. Ben, one of the regulars, beat out a mean rhythm on the drum.

And we had a bit much to drink, but did make it back home eventually. If you are in Ikebukuro sometime, check Afiya out!
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May 4, 2010

Musical Robots, Chocolate, and Alice in Wonderland

Chocolate and Coffee
Le Chocolat De H chocolate and coffee

Tea and Cake
Tea and Cake

Skate Park Art
Skate Park Art

Musical Robots
Musical Robots

Musical Robots
Musical Robots

Musical Robots
Musical Robots

Musical Robots
Musical Robot video

The other day, R. and I had a rare day off together, so we headed to the Mori Museum of Art for the Roppongi Art Crossing 2010 "Can there be art?" exhibit.

Before that though, we made a stop at Le Chocolat de H, a chocolatier in Roppongi Hills. I had their chocolate and coffee combination. The three types of Chocolate were cinnamon (a bit spicy), regular (very nice), and goma (normal, but a nice crunchy texture.) I think I liked the cinnamon the best. They are all chocolate though, so you can't really go wrong. R. got a nice cake with a tea. I really enjoyed the relaxing cafe break, and love chocolate, so I might be stopping there again in the future.

We then went on to visit the museum, and there were lots of cool things there. I really like the upside down Japanese flag (but you could only tell because of the placement of the mounting rope) but my favorite by far were the three musical robots. They are cool. They make strange noises from electric guitar pickups and recycled home stuff (blenders, vacuum cleaners, car stuff, etc.) Really cool.

They also had a nice skate pipe setup that was painted. They have periodic live painting shows with skaters too, and we'll try to go back for that sometime in May.

After the museum, we went to the theater and saw Alice in Wonderland. It was in 3D, which I'm not a big fan of. I just don't really see 3d. So that left the story, which also wasn't all that great. I was really hoping for a new re-interpretation of the source material that would be more nuanced and sophisticated. It was anything but. Caricatures and exaggeration. The computer graphics were nice though. It certainly wasn't worth the $60 or so it cost (2 $24 tickets, drinks and popcorn.) I'm going to try to avoid 3D in the future; it gives me a headache and seems to be a mask for movies with weak stories.


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April 24, 2010

Wilco at Zepp Tokyo

Last night R. and I went to see Wilco at Zepp Tokyo. Zepp is pretty large, but has a really good and clear sound system. We did a lot of waiting, and ended up with sore feet, but it was a good concert.

They played for over two hours, which was great, but I realized that a lot of their music isn't exactly rock out high energy music, and I don't listen to them that way either. I like to have them on when I'm coding at work.

Jeff Tweedy was interesting when talking with the crowd - he wanted to talk to and perform for the Japanese in the audience, but of course the Americans were the most vocal. He told them that just because we're all from America, it doesn't mean we are friends. He seemed to have a handle on (or dislike of, or interest in) the sort of concept of foreigners in Japan feeling entitled and special, and did not want that to become a theme of the show. I guess. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. It was some interesting banter though. A good laugh was had by all. I totally agree with the sentiment that just because we're from the same country that does not give one any right to assume friendship or intimacy; that is just crazy. You would never do that back in the US.

Next up: The Wedding Present. I'm super excited for that one. We also have Mika in the near future. Also, Fuji Rock.


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Fafhd and the Gray Mouser: finally getting around to a classic

On my last trip to the US, I decided to finally sit down and read a classic in the fantasy genre, Fritz Leiber's Lahnkmar series with Fafhd and the Gray Mouser. I picked up the first volume, a compilation of sorts I think, and gave it a read.

Overall it took a while for me to get into it. I persevered and near the end it really started moving. I'm looking forward to more adventures of this famous duo. I'm kind of curious what other gaps I have in the "classics" of the fantasy and science fiction genres. I've read a lot of the interesting sounding stuff from Project Gutenberg, but since nothing has fallen into the public domain since about 1923 or so there isn't much that is "newish" - I'm thinking of stuff from the 50s and 60s. Some of that is still being collected and published in new volumes for reasonable prices, so I guess it isn't too bad, but it seems strange to me that things published before my father was born are not yet available for the greater social good.

At any rate, I did enjoy this book, and will probably get started on the next one. Too bad I don't have any long 8 hour plane rides coming up where I can steal some time for reading...!

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April 3, 2010

Pizza!

Pizza dough
Pizza dough

Pizza ready to go
Pizza ready to go

Delicious Pizza
Delicious Pizza

Broken hearts
Broken hearts

Risa asked me to make dinner tonight. I've wanted to make Pizza for a long time, so I did some scouting on the web (found a few good looking pizza recipes but none of them were for convection ovens) so in the end I checked the Japanese cookbook that came with my convection oven. It has a recipe so I used that.

First off, the dough from scratch. I didn't know there was both strong and weak flour, so I had to get some of the strong kind. Making the dough was pretty fun; it was the first time I used yeast and watched the stuff rise. Pretty impressive. I had to make a lot of use of a metric conversion chart and a lot of guessing, but in the end the dough turned out pretty good.

I also used this recipe for tomato sauce which turned out pretty good. At the same time, since I felt a bit bad about always making American food for Risa, I wanted to try something with fish. I decided to try a salmon fillet en Papillote because it sounded like fun, and my convection oven cookbook had a recipe also. My book didn't have good directions on how to do the heart-shaped cooking bags, so I checked this page, but in the end my paper bags were too small. It turns out we were not hungry after the first pizza, so I just put those in the fridge and I'll try to salvage them tomorrow.

The pizza went well. I made the dough, let it rise in the oven (which has a setting for it,) let it rest, and then put on the ingredients and we were off to the races. I did more chopping on this night than I ever had before. The sauce turned out great, and on the pizza I had mushrooms, some sausage, and cheese. It was great. The recipe actually made two pies, so one of them went into the fridge. I'm really happy with the experiment though; I foresee more pizza in my future.

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March 27, 2010

Tokyo Anime Fair and Hanami

Tokyo International Anime Fair 2010
Tokyo International Anime Fair 2010

Tokyo International Anime Fair 2010
Tokyo International Anime Fair 2010

Sakura in Ueno Park
Sakura in Ueno Park

Sakura at Ueno Park
Sakura at Ueno Park

Last weeked, R. and I had tickets to go to the Tokyo International Anime Fair. Why did we have tickets to go? That's a good question. It turns out that the President of Mushi Productions is a relative of Risa's father, and he passed on two tickets to the show. So we decided to go. We didn't have too much time there, but it was interesting. I would like to go back when I have more time. We checked out a few of the studios, I was interested in the China productions booth. They had a large booth, but not too many visitors. The big anime players were very popular, but I don't really know too much about anime, so it I didn't really know what was what. Risa and I had an appointment later in the afternoon so we didn't hang around for too long.

There were lots of foreigners there. They seemed to be pretty into anime. Maybe I won't go next year. Maybe I will. Hard to say.

After the anime fair, we headed out to Ueno park for a hanami party with our friends. Not much of a party really, only the four of us, but it is the time for cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, it is unseasonably cold. I was freezing. There were plenty of people out at Ueno park though, never let it be said that the Japanese are put off by a bit of cold. The party next to us actually seemed to be workers from construction, because they had industrial strength lighting (which the park cops had them turn off three times,) three generators, electric grills, all sorts of stuff.

Mibe and his girlfriend cooked up some great food, and there was plenty of drink to go around. That didn't stave off the cold though. Anyway, I'm glad that Risa and I got out for a hanami at least once this year - right now the cherries are at full bloom, and I doubt we'll get out again even though it warmed up. I might go for a walk tomorrow in the nearby park though. That might be fun.

I'll probably just clean though.

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March 24, 2010

(Real) Taco Night

taco night
Taco night

Dave eating a taco
Dave eating a taco

Last night I cooked dinner. I've decided to try to come home a bit earlier and cook at least once a week. And also run. But that is a different post. Anyway, I've wanted to make tacos for a while, so that is what I did last night.

The big deal for me was making tortillas from scratch. I found a recipe online and went for it. I did burn the tortillas, and they were a bit small (I cut the portions in half and still had leftovers) and a bit stiff, but edible. And good. And kind of fun to make. I also got an avocado, cut that up, a yellow pepper (need some color), a head of lettuce, hamburger, and mixed seafood. Also some great jalepeno cheese. I made a bunch of cheesy mixed seafood, which was great, and standard hamburger meat for the taco (also great - but could have used some cheese) and away we went.

I think we both ate a bit much, but it was fun, and R. was suprised that Taco night didn't involve octopus.

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March 16, 2010

Chicken Cordon Blargh

chicken cordon blargh
Tonight I decided to go for broke and I cooked up some chicken cordon bleu. I have always liked the idea: ham and cheese wrapped up in chicken with breading and cheese. I can't really find a problem with that. It sounds delicious.

So I went shopping and armed myself with a random recipe from the net (that is where I get most of recipes - the "I'm feeling lucky" button) and came home. I was a bit late because work went late (and I have to log on again in a minute) so dinner ended up being pretty late too. I also don't have a meat mallet - I used to have one back in New York, but I don't now. I figured I didn't need one though because I have Eric's old sugar jar which is glass and fairly heavy. So I used that to pound on the chicken breasts for a while. I didn't ever manage to get them very flat though.

Too bad, because that was the main flaw. Anyway, I pounded the chicken semi-flat, added in some cheese and ham, and rolled them up, battered them, and cooked 'em. I had some stuff left over (flour, egg stuff, bread flakes, ham) so I mixed all that together and made some sort of crazy fake latkes.

In the end the chicken cordon blargh turned out pretty good, except the thick chicken parts had little flavor (despite the salt, pepper and shichimi I threw on the batter) ... Still, R. ate it, I did too, and neither of us have had to run to the bathroom yet...

A final thought: this stuff is like, entirely meat! It is amazing! I was shocked after I ate it that ... this is American Food! We actually only ate half of one of the chicken breast things because it was just so much meat. Along with the salad and random fried ham stuff I made, just wow. Meat meat meat.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. :-)

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March 14, 2010

Virtual Game Developer's Conference via blogs

Just a heads up to a series of great posts over at http://www.sirlin.net/ about the Game Developer's Conference. So far I've read Sirlin's report on the pre-GDC day, day one, and day two.

I follow Sirlin's posts on his blog. He's a game designer that knows street fighter in-depth (worked on balancing Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD, which I really wish was available in Japan) that I learned about back in my days on alt.games.sf2. If you don't know what that is (most people probably don't) then don't worry about it; USENET is basically dead now anyway. But it was a great forum back in the day talking about Street Fighter and game balance in that area. A few of the people from that forum have gone on to lead interesting lives in the game development community.

Me, not so much. But I really enjoy reading about game design. One of the reasons I don't think I'll ever play any Facebook games (and to some degree, MMOs) is because when you look at how these things are designed, a lot of the time they just break down to skinner boxes. I'll stick to Street Fighter (competition and natural dopamine) and RPGs (interesting stories, some number crunching and optimization) thank you very much.

Definitely check out Sirlin's posts though, starting from the pre-GDC day, day 1, and day 2.
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March 7, 2010

Japanese that Japanese people don't know

The other day I bought the book 日本人の知らない日本語, "Japanese that Japanese people don't know". It is a cute little book with comics, lots and lots and lots of ruby (furigana readings over the Kanji) written by a Japanese language teacher who primarily teaches foreign students. The idea is that foreigners have lots of crazy questions about the Japanese language that Japanese people just don't think about.

Having asked lots of those questions myself, I thought it would be a fun read. So far, it has. There is lots of ruby over the kanji, so it is very easy to read. Unfortunately, the vocabulary is pretty large, and by nature heads off into unusual places in the language (like counters for strange things, or the names of unusual utensils) so it isn't really appropriate for entry level Japanese language learners. That said, so far it hasn't really been all that hard to follow, so if you are an intermediate learner you might want to give it a try.

Actually, I take that back. Some things are hard to follow. The punchlines usually. The things that students say make intuitive sense to me - because I don't understand the natural Japanese language things that the readers are supposed to know. Sometimes the last panel of the comic just leaves me scratching my head.

The sequel just came out recently so I'll probably pick that up pretty soon too.

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February 16, 2010

Cocoa Programming

I've been doing some Cocoa Programming for Mac OSX lately. I've been using Aaron Hillegass' "Cocoa Programming For Mac OSX" and have really had an easy time following along with the book. Before ordering the book, I tried to dive into OSX programming using online material, and while I was able to get some things done, I was having a real hard time trying to wrap my head around general concepts (how does the general cocoa interaction model work? how do I try to understand when to hook things up with connections in interface builder and when to code things? What things are done for me automatically?) and found that this book has been good at explaining these things.

The book itself is pretty easy to follow and has extensive screenshots, not normally something that I would think is important in a programming book, but for XCode and Interface Builder this is surprisingly helpful. Oh, I have to drag from this to that, or that is the pane in the inspector I need to be looking at. A surprsingly large amount of "programming" so far has involved knowing what key to type in which box in interface builder to get some control to watch some value in some object. And knowing which objects that Apple already provides has keys that can be watched to do what you want.

I'm coding on snow leopard (10.6) and the book was written for 10.5 so there are some disconnects there, but so far I haven't run into any errors with the code that I can't figure out quickly. The biggest so far has been an example in Chapter 11 which looks like it is a bit hairy to fix. The amount of commitment I need to make as a student to something that is easy (binding in Interface Builder) compared to writing a (granted, very small!) custom class and using it to basically just type cast is pretty big. It seems like a simple type cast operation could also be accommodated in the bindings / core data paradigm (and it is, using transformations, and a small custom class) but at any rate I have really been enjoying this book.

It makes it much easier to get a handle on where to start, and since I have programming experience (C / C++, Java user interfaces, and perl mostly) I have been able to get through about a chapter per session while doing the examples and challenges.

One of the controversial things seems to have been the introduction of "dot notation" in Objective-C 2.0. This post on Big Nerd Ranch explains pretty well how I feel about it. It is confusing to me. I like the @property and @synthesize tags added to the language a lot; being able to use dot notation sounds convenient, but only if the class is accessing properties. Otherwise it can be confusing. Is that a method call? Is it doing anything tricky with memory? Do I have to worry about it and check the setter / getter selector? I'm going to stick with bracketed notation until I get a better handle on these things.

I also like that Objective-C 2.0 introduced garbage collection, but I also want to do explicit memory management with release / retain for a while.

I've been really impressed with how easy it is to create user interfaces in XCode / Interface Builder. All I have to compare with is Java's Swing platform, and I never used any GUI interface builders with that. I know things are getting better in that area with NetBean's Matisse and some of the Eclipse plugins, but every time I have looked at those they don't seem to save you from writing much of the boilerplate code that you need to navigate user interfaces. With XCode and Interface Builder you really don't have to write much code and things are saved out as data.

I am sure that similar systems exist for Java out there by now, but I don't know where I would start with them and they are certainly external to stock Java vended from Sun (Oracle?)

The other thing that has really impressed me is Core Data. Apple makes it really easy to do the common things, and not hard to difficult things. In my experience with Java, it is as hard to do easy things as hard things (they are both surprisingly difficult.)

I've got a project in mind for Cocoa on OSX, which will probably take a few months (I do not have much free time!) but once I finish up with that I am really interested in looking at iPod / iPad development. It's too bad that there are major differences in the APIs available to the two platforms, but that might be the next thing I look into. I guess I would have to get an iPod Touch or iPad at that point though. :-)


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January 31, 2010

BigShot Camera: a camera for kids and education


Coverage from Columbia University's "The Record"

Coverage from Wired Magazine

Computer Science Professor Shree Nayar at Columbia University has a pretty cool project in the BigShot Camera. It is a digital camera designed to teach kids about optics and electricity and all sorts of other things. I think it looks really fun. They include a power generation explanation that is exemplified by a hand crank that you can use to charge the camera up. It also has three different lenses that you can use to change the types of images the camera takes.

I think this is a really fun way to introduce kids (even high school students and college students…) science.

Too bad they aren't available for sale. They would make absolutely great toys. I should also note that Professor Nayar is a really great guy; when I was a grad student in Computer Science at Columbia University I had really good interaction and experiences with the faculty there. So I'm probably biased (don't bloggers have to disclose their biases now?) and just wanted to write something up quickly when I saw this project in the recent Columbia Magazine that I received. It also had a cool piece about the new Northwest Science Building that I really wish was around when I was there!


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January 30, 2010

Thexder Neo (A.K.A. Jon is cool)


Back when I was young (hard for me to remember that far back, but I'll try) I had moved to New Jersey. Now, don't get me wrong, I really like New Jersey. Now. But then again, I also have a fond spot in my heart for Texas, and we all know what they say about Texas (Beers, Steers, and what now?)

Anyway, I was young, and a new kid in a new place. By the chance alphabetization of last names, I quickly befriended Jon, a great guy with a great last name. Anyway, I remember that Jon had an Apple IIGS. It was a great computer. I was jealous. My family had an Apple //e but that couldn't come close to matching the amazing 320x200 (well, 640x200 under special circumstances) graphics on that thing.

One of the games Jon had was Thexder. It was amazing. Great sound. Great graphics. And a giant robot. At the time my friends and I were all into Robotech (uh, Macross, sorry I forgot no true Anime fan would ever watch Robotech!) so this game where you could change from a jet (just like Robotech!) to a Robot (just like Robotech!) was awesome!! The game was hard. I don't know that any of us ever beat level 2. But we sure did play a lot of level 2. And the music. The music was great. To this day Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is one my favorite classical songs. (It doesn't hurt that it was also the B-side for Little 15.)

So, for a good portion of my life I was convinced that Jon was cool because Thexder was cool. It is the transitive property of coolness and "my friend has a cool computer". Actually, truth be told that is still why I think Jon is cool. I imagine him hanging out in Tonetown, having Tass Times even now with Sabrina in tow.

Anyway, I decided today to browse the PS3 network on my Japanese account and see what they had. Mostly I wanted to buy Flower for the PS3 (I did, and got Lumines Supernova while I was at it) but then I saw Thexder NEO. What what what??

It is a remake for PSP and PS3 I suppose. I downloaded the demo. It was exactly how I remember it: really hard and frustrating with amazing graphics (now updated and 3d) and sound (still old and 8bit and awesome.)

I checked around, and it seems to be getting uniformly awful reviews (even on blogs!) That is too bad. I mean, I agree with the criticisms, but come on!

Jon is still cool!!


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The further adventures of Flat Everett

Flat Everett visits Tokyo Disneyland
Flat Everett visits Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland New Year's decorations
Tokyo Disneyland New Year's decorations

Flat Everett Visits Meiji Jinguu
Flat Everett Visits Meiji Temple

Flat Evereet in front of the Sake
Flat Everett in front of the Sake

Flat Everett in front of the temple

(This post is very late, please forgive the tardiness.) In my previous post about Flat Everett we met our flat friend, and took him around Tokyo. Over the New Year's break we took two more trips with him. First off, Japan doesn't have a big Christmas break, but they do have a big break over the New Year's holiday. Usually people get the 30th and 31st off, with a few days around the New Year, going back to work around the 4th.

Over the break my wife's sister and her daughter came to stay with their parents, who live just down the street from us. One of the big events was a family trip to Tokyo Disneyland. We all piled into the car the morning of the 31st, and headed out to Chiba, about an hour away or so by car. The place was very crowded. Since the day before there were people waiting (out in the cold!) for the 6pm start of the Disneyland New Year's celebration. We weren't going to stay for the evening celebration - you have to win a lottery drawing to be invited for that - so just headed in.

I got a picture or two of Everett in front of the Disneyland entrance, and some of the 2010 New Year's signs, but didn't get too many other pictures of him. He was enjoying the rides from inside my bag. The most exciting ride we went on was Space Mountain. I'm sure Flat Everett enjoyed it, but I have never liked roller coasters, and had to go to the Nurse's Station (where R. works actually) and rest for two hours. Then I went home while everyone else stayed at the park.

I really don't like roller coasters. I know R. does though, so I thought I would try to tough it out with her. I barely survived. (Flat Everett seemed to have enjoyed it all.)

Flat Everett's First Temple Visit

The other thing that people in Japan do after the new year is go visit a local temple. The "first temple visit" of the year is traditional, and people buy various charms for good luck for the new year. I decided to take Flat Everett to one of the most popular temples in Tokyo, Meiji Temple. The temple is very popular, and when I went on the second (I think) Flat Everett and I had to wait about three hours total in order to get into the temple itself. The place was absolutely packed. I got a few pictures with Flat Everett, one in front of the temple archway (the wooden gate structure, called a Torii), and also in front of a collection of sake barrels that are donated to the temple by local businesses. The final picture is Flat Everett in front of the main temple structure.

That concludes my travels with Flat Everett. He has since moved on, and arrived in New York. I'm curious to see what sort of trouble he gets into in my old stomping grounds, New York City.


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January 17, 2010

Review of Lawrence Watt-Evans' "The Unwilling Warlord"

So a few days ago I finished reading the second book in the Ethshar series by Lawrence Watt-Evans. It took a bit of time for it to get going, but I liked it in the end. The third book, The Unwilling Warlord, was quicker to get started. What I have really enjoyed about the Ethshar series so far is that the protagonists are more or less normal people. They don't want to save the world and generally just want to do what they can to lead a comfortable life. The second book in the series was a bit tougher to get into because I didn't like the (lack of) work ethic in the protagonist. I didn't have that problem with the protagonist of the third book. He seemed like a bit of an opportunist, but not lazy and not stupid. He takes a fairly straightforward approach to things, and the story one of the magic systems in Ethshar (Wizardry) in depth.

I really like the multiple forms of magic in Ethshar and am looking forward to seeing more stories in the world that explore more of the magic system. This entry in the series focuses on a gambler playing dice for small stakes, who finds out that he is the hereditary warlord for one of the small Southern Kingdoms. He's forced into service there and of course hijinx ensue when the small kingdom faces a war on two fronts. He falls back on his gambler instincts and decides to use magic to cheat.

That's basically the summary from the back cover, so I'm not giving anything away. I would really like to see a story set in this area a few years down the road to see what came of Sterren's story. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. I wonder how it has been that I didn't find Lawrence Watt-Evans' work before. I know it can't be because of the name; he's got a great name. He apparently has another well-known fantasy series The Lords of Dus. And a few others it looks like.

I've really enjoyed Ethshar though because they are a bit light-hearted and fun.


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