May 4, 2010

Musical Robots, Chocolate, and Alice in Wonderland

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.


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.


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...!

April 3, 2010

Pizza!

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.

March 27, 2010

Tokyo Anime Fair and Hanami

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.

March 24, 2010

(Real) Taco Night

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.

March 16, 2010

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. :-)

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.

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.

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. :-)


January 31, 2010

BigShot Camera: a camera for kids and education


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!


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!!


The further adventures of Flat Everett

(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.


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.


Stuff I've been (cooking and) eating lately

Last night R. and I invited our friends A. and D. over for dinner. R. was working, and I had the day off so I spent the morning and afternoon in the kitchen cooking up dinner. A few weeks back we had some friends over for a Christmas dinner and that went pretty well, so I wanted to try it again. I scaled back the menu a bit, but still it took a lot longer to cook everything up than I expected. I'm a pretty poor cook, so that probably explains it.

Anyway, what was on the menu?

  • Honey Glazed Ham. I liked the ham I made last time, and wanted to try a larger-scale version of it. The problem: when I finally went shopping for hams, I couldn't find one as large as what I would expect to find in the US. The ham I did get, a Rosenheim 750g gift ham was about a third of the size that I would expect of a US ham, and more expensive to boot. Ah well.
  • Buffalo Wings. R. requested this, and it was a good call. I was originally going to buy some ready-made wings, but R. didn't sound too happy about that, so I decided to go from scratch. I dug up a hot sauce recipe and cut up some chicken wings. Also, made the sour cream blue cheese sauce for the wings, and bought celery (never had the time to cut it though.)
  • Mashed Potatoes. Made these from scratch this time, since someone on Flickr chastised me for using frozen mashed potatoes before. It was really easy to make them from scratch (took longer though) and since I often have potatoes laying around I'll be doing this more often. Might try french fries sometime too.
  • Corn. From a can. I love corn.
  • Butter and Soy Sauce Sauteed mushrooms and carrots. I like butter sauteed mushrooms, so threw some carrots in there too.
  • Ambrosia fruit salad.
  • Chocolate chip cookies

Pretty good! Our guests arrived and brought a bottle of champagne, so we had to try that. Actually we swapped that bottle out for one we had in the fridge, and then later moved on to beer. Dinner went well, and I think everyone had a great time. We somehow ended up on Youtube.com watching old Knight Rider and Baywatch videos. Not sure how that happened. Then The Cribs' Cheat on Me with Johnny Marr.

So, dinner was great. Today I'm just relaxing (I feel like I'm coming down with a cold) so I'll take it easy, write some blog posts, and catch up on paying bills and finances, as well as some cleaning and washing I suppose.

What else have I been eating lately? Well, you know I can't miss out when McDonalds Japan introduces a new burger: the Texas Burger. Looks like it is a 650 calorie burger. The picture on their site looks better than the ones I've got, but that isn't surprising. They are doing a whole series on Big American Burgers with Texas up first. It looks like it will be around for about 3 weeks before they move on to the next burger, the Big America New York Burger. Third is California, and finally they have Hawaii. (See the list with pictures here.) The Texas one looks best to me, with Hawaii coming in second. I'm not sure what the differences are on California and New York, so I guess I'll go and translate their descriptions.


テキサスの荒野が目に浮かんでくるような、ワイルドな味わいのテキサスバーガー。スパイシーなバーベキューソースとピリッとした粒マスタードレリッシュの2種類のソースで、ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)を、豪快にお楽しみください。生地を一つ一つ丁寧に手で丸め、色よく焼き上げた特製3段バンズは、弾力のある食感が特徴。サクッと揚げたフライドオニオン、チーズ、旨みたっぷりのベーコンのアクセントがクセになりそうな一品です。

ニューヨークの街角のカフェにある一皿を思わせる、スタイリッシュなニューヨークバーガー。この街が発祥といわれるクラブハウスサンドを本格バーガーに仕立てました。ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)と、アメリカ生まれのモントレージャックチーズ、旨みたっぷりのベーコン、トマト、レタスの洗練されたハーモニー。粒マスタードソースのピリッとした辛味が程よいアクセント。特製グラハム(全粒粉)バンズとの相性も抜群です。

カリフォルニアの自然とそこに降り注ぐ太陽からの恵みを感じさせる、カリフォルニアバーガー。一番のポイントはカリフォルニア産赤ワインを使用した特製ソース。ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)を芳醇な香りと深いコクで引き立てます。トマト、レタス、旨みたっぷりのベーコン、この地が発祥といわれるモントレージャックチーズとの豊かなハーモニーをご堪能ください。粉チーズをトッピングした香ばしい特製バンズも見逃せません。

世界で愛されるハワイの名物料理「ロコモコ」のおいしさをそのままハンバーガーに閉じ込めた、ハワイアンバーガー。深いコクのある特製グレイビーソースが、ジューシーでボリュームたっぷりの1/4ポンドビーフパティ(通常のビーフパティの約2.5倍)、ぷりぷりのタマゴ、旨みたっぷりのベーコン、チーズ、レタスを包み込んだ幸せなハーモニー。粉チーズをトッピングした香ばしい特製バンズも見逃せないポイントです。

Texas Burger:

The wild flavor of this Texas Burger will have the wilderness of Texas floating right before your eyes! You can enjoy two different sauces, the spicy BBQ sauce and a refreshing mustard relish along with a huge quarter pound of beef (2.5 times larger than the normal beef patty.) The elasticity of the trio of carefully hand-crafted well cooked buns is the special characteristic of this burger. And you're going to love the crunchy fried onions, cheese, and accents of bacon filled with umami in this burger.

New York Burger:

This stylish New York burger will make you think of a plate from a corner cafe in New York. This burger is based on the club sandwich that is said to have originated from here. It's got a juicy quarter pound beef patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) with the refined harmony of Monterrey Jack cheese that was originated in America, bacon full of umami, tomatoes and lettuce. It is accented by a spicy mustard sauce. It has an unrivaled compatibility with the specially-made graham (all flour) buns.

California Burger:

This California burger will make you feel the natural blessing of the sunshine that falls down on the state. The main point is the specialty sauce that uses white wine from California. The full quarter pound beef patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) is made with a mellow smell and deep flavor. You'll be fulfilled with the luxurious harmony between the tomato, lettuce, bacon with lots of umami, and Monterrey Jack cheese that was developed here. Don't forget the fragrant specialty buns topped with powdered cheese.

Hawaiian Burger:

We have locked in the world-famous beloved flavor of Hawaiian Loco Moco in this burger. A thick special gravy sauce is on the large quarter pound patty (2.5 times the size of a normal patty) with a jiggly egg, bacon full of umami, cheese, and lettuce make up this wrapped up harmony. You also can't look past the fragrant specialty buns topped with powdered cheese.

Huh, sounds like they are all mostly using the same ingredients. Still, it should be interesting to see what the upcoming hamburgers are like.


January 11, 2010

Lawrence Watt-Evans "With a Single Spell"

A few days ago I started reading Lawrence-Watt Evans' "With a Single Spell". At first, I didn't like it. It took a while to get into the book. I didn't like the protagonist. He was a lazy, entitled, selfish boy. I had a really hard time empathizing with him. I feel like I've worked for where I am. I was never the smartest or strongest in high school, but I was determined, and I studied hard. I didn't get great grades, but I got into the advanced classes, got some college credit, and kept that work ethic up through an (admittedly relatively unknown) undergraduate program, and went on to an ivy league school where I felt like I got a great education at the graduate level. Now I'm somehow in my mid thirties, married, own property, and live in a foreign country. I never once felt like I was doing just enough to get by, and have worked hard, and enjoy that.

So the first two chapters of this book were really hard to me to get into. I almost stopped reading. But I kept at it (not so much out of perseverance as much as a feeling that the first book was so good this was bound to get better. Also, I had to go to the restroom and wanted something to read…)

Anyway, yesterday, and a bit more today (on my day off) I found myself getting more and more into the story. It is a good story. I really like this world of Ethshar which seems to have a well-thought-out magic system and a plausible history and geography. I liked this book in the final acts when it really got into the wizardly magic bits of things. It reminded me of reading through the old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Dungeon Master's Guide with all the spells. What could you do with all those spells? How did they work? How would they fail to work? That is some really interesting stuff. I remember as a kid I would spend lots of time thinking about that, and planning out just how my moving castle would work. (I vaguely remember some sort of moving abode spell, can't recall the name now) and stuff like that. This book hits on some of those areas.

I also like the idea about the implications of a single spell and how it can be very useful when well-used. I always thought that the cantrips in AD&D could be more useful than people thought…

Anyway, I did enjoy the second book in the Ethshar series, but definitely the first book grabbed me more. I enjoyed this one enough to go and buy the third book, The Unwilling Warlord (although truth be told, I got it from fictionwise.com instead of Amazon, which just kills me as an Amazon customer. I can't bring myself to purchased a DRM-encumbered version of an ebook when I can get it without DRM.)

So, uh, four stars? Our of ? some stars? I enjoyed it, maybe you will too!


Movie Reviews: Up and Avatar

Grandpa Carl's flying (in the sky) house

A bit before the new year, R. and I went to see the latest Pixar movie, カールじいさんの空飛ぶ家. Simply "Up" in America, and "Grandpa Carl's flying house" in Japanese. I've noticed this trend before in Japanese movie titles, where the title is more expositive than the American title. Like, for example, 2012 might be "The day the world ends: 2012" or something like that. It is a little strange, but certainly makes the general idea of the movie a bit easier to grasp.

I don't see many movies in Japan: it is expensive here. There also just isn't the same culture we have in the US of heading out to the movie theater and showing up ten or fifiteen minutes before the movie starts. Every movie I've seen we have either bought our tickets online, or shown up one to three hours early to get the tickets. It is also expensive. R. and I have been seeing a few more movies recently because with her job at Tokyo Disneyland she gets an employee discount at the Disney-owned Ikspiari themed shopping mall that brings the ticket prices down to about $12 each. So we probably will be seeing more movies there.

I'll try to write a little bit about them here. If you want to keep reading, be aware that there are probably spoilers for Up and Avatar. Click the read more link to keep reading.

read more (1935 words)

January 5, 2010

Lawrence Watt-Evans' "The Misenchanted Sword"

Note that I actually purchased the ebook from fictionwise.com. And it was cheap: about $2 when I got it, but now it is back up to $6 it looks like. Huh.

I found this book through Joseph Mallozzi's blog / book club. It sounded interesting, and I liked that the author took the time to answer the questions. The general impression sounded good and it sounded like an interesting book in the fantasy genre that didn't just throw around the same plot and cliches. (It has new cliches and a distinct refusal to accept the common fantasy plot.)

I really enjoyed the book, and found it a refreshing look at a fantasy setting. I really like that the focus of the story was not on saving the world and defeating an overpowering enemy. It focuses on a character and how the character is changed by magic and war. I am always interested in books that take conventions of the genre and do different and new things with them. I'm also interested in good standard treatments though. I am not sure that I could count the number of treatments of Lord of the Rings that I've read.

The story is well written and goes by quickly. The story really focuses on one character more or less but the other people you meet along the way keep things interesting also. I enjoyed the book enough that I went and bought the second book in the series. Apparently this is one of the author's less successful series, so if the second book is also good I think I'll look into tracking down some of his more popular stuff.

Anyway, another book to get if you notice it somewhere!

December 27, 2009

2009 Christmas Dinner at Tateru Yoshino Shiba Park Hotel

Every year, R. and I go to a nice dinner for Christmas. I really look forward to that every year. This year, I wanted to try a Michel Star rated French place in Tokyo. Well, the Tokyo part is because I live here, and the Michelin Star part is because I've never eaten at one of those places before, and I found Joseph Mallozzi’s blog, who is a producer on Stargate Universe (which I like) and coincidentally did a great write-up of amazing food in Tokyo. I was jealous. So for my revenge, I decided to go eat some nice food of my own. If only I had the budget to do this every night for a week or so. But I don't.

So, R. and I went out to Tateru Yoshino at the Shiba Park Hotel. It was probably my favorite of all the Christmas dinners that we've done for the past three years. For comparison, the other two were at the New York Grill, and the COUCAGNO in the Cerulean Tower. They were both very good, but I remember feeling like I would explode after both of those meals. This time, the portions were smaller or I've gotten fatter because I didn't feel like I would explode. We also drank less this time (only one glass of champagne and one bottle of wine) so I wasn't nearly as drunk as the other two times. We had a wine tasting menu at COUCAGNO which was great, but too much to drink.

Of the places that we have eaten, this one was at the lowest elevation, at only the first floor. The other two were forty or fifty floors up. The food was great though. The evening was full of truffes, but I have had so few of them that I can't really evaluate whether they were good or not. The stand-out dish to me was the fish (the Amadai, I don't know what it is in English or French.) It had a great crispy shell and was just marvelously delicious. I also really liked the cabbage dish, and R.'s deer with chocolate. I would have preferred that to my bird, which was also quite nice, but I'm glad we tried a bit of each. The cheese wasn't so great for me, since I am not a big cheese fan, but R. really enjoyed it. The dessert (the real one, with the ice cream and cake-like crunchy object) was also great. Overall it was a really nice dinner. We also split a nice bottle of white wine, which of course I have now forgotten.

I'm not sure what we will do next year - I want to try to get reservations at the Molecular Bar but who knows?


December 26, 2009

Adventures with Flat Everett

Flat Everett is a new friend of ours that arrived in the mail the other day. My cousin (non-flat Everett) had a school project where they make a flat version of themselves, and then mail them off to friends. Then the friends will show the Flat Person around the town they live, and take a few pictures, that sort of thing. Sounds like fun! It is a good reason to spend a bit of time around the town where you live.

One of the things that my wife and I sometimes do is have dinner at a nice sushi restaurant that her family has been going to for many years. They know the head chef there, and he's a really nice guy. The sushi place is about an hour out of Tokyo, so we needed to catch a train. We headed out to Shinjuku station, which is one of the busiest train stations in the world.

From Shinjuku station, we took the strangely named Romance Car out to Sagami Ono. We didn't have enough money to get a separate seat for Flat Everett so he rode (fairly comfortably I think) in the seat-pocket. Once we arrived, Flat Everett met two Japanese women dressed up like Santa. It was just before the Christmas holiday and so there was lots of themed Christmas advertising and trees. People in Japan don't celebrate Christmas like people in America do. Christmas is not a national holiday and people go to school and work on Christmas day. Christmas Eve is a time for couples and couples will often go to a nice dinner and exchange presents. People don't usually give presents or toys to each other on Christmas though. They traditionally have Kentucky Fried Chicken (they do a lot of business on Christmas and Christmas Eve, due mostly to strong marketing campaigns in the 70s and 80s) and a Christmas Cake. I haven't had a Christmas Cake yet, but all the big department stores take pre-orders for Christmas Cakes a few weeks before Christmas.

We walked to the Sushi place (a nice restaurant in the local department store) after doing some shopping, and Flat Everett met the Sushi Chef there. He also made friends with my niece. The dinner was great, and we all went home very full. Unlike Flat Everett, I am starting to turn round. I need to see what Flat Everett does to keep in shape.


The day after Christmas my wife and I had the day off so we decided to go out to one of our favorite places in Tokyo (the 54 story Mori tower's Mori Art Museum) and Flat Everett came along with us. We've gone there a few times in the past year, at least three or four, and there is also a great view from the top of the tower over Tokyo itself. I had also, a few weeks prior, made reservations at the nearby Tateru Yoshino in the Shiba Park Hotel (a French restaurant that received a Michelin Star rating the past few years) in the evening, so we planned to make a day of it.

There is a big Spider sculpture outside of the Mori tower, and Flat Everett got a picture there too. The thing is large, and creepy. At night it is lit up a bit, and is intimidating. It also moves slightly with the wind, and has moved six or so inches in the four or five years since the tower opened. Walking past the spider, we eventually get to the entrance of the Mori Art Museum, and Flat Everett wanted a picture there also. Inside the museum there is a strict policy against taking pictures, so we don't have any pictures there. The exhibit we went to see was the Medicine and Art exhibit, which looked at the study of medicine as art. There were lots of drawings of human anatomy through history, including three drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was a very interesting exhibit.

After the museum, Flat Everett, my wife, and I went up to the City View to get a look at Tokyo at night. One of the most famous sights in Tokyo is Tokyo Tower, a tower built in 1958 modeled after the Eiffel tower. We got a picture or two of Everett in front of the tower from the City View area, and then headed out to dinner. Our dinner was in Shiba park, and to walk there (about two miles) we would need to walk right by Tokyo Tower. So Flat Everett got to take a look at the tower up close. Since it was the day after Christmas, there was still a lot of Christmas decorations up. A lot of people come to Tokyo for Christmas with the girlfriend or boyfriend to just see all the Christmas lights and decorations. Tokyo Tower was no exception, with a big Christmas tree and lights and a little light show on the hour.

Right before we arrived at the hotel, there was an older Temple Gate with some statues in the gate. Flat Everett wanted a picture of that as well, although it didn't really turn out all that well. Flat Everett didn't join us for dinner, but it was really great.

I think we might try to visit a temple before Flat Everett moves on and visits a friend of ours.



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