November 30, 2009

Nick Harkaway's "The Gone-Away World" and Bich Mihn Nguyen's "Short Girls"

Nick Harkaway's "The Gone-Away World"

I picked up this book a while back, and once I started reading it I had a hard time putting it down. This was my first time reading anything by Nick Harkaway, and I found his writing style to be a bit verbose, but very refreshing.

The setting is interesting; a broken world after a scientific disaster that allows the fantastic to leak into (or completely overrun) the world we are familiar with. The story isn't as much about the fantastic creatures and events, but about how people deal with things, and in particular, the protagonist and his circle of friends. There is also a very interesting comment on society and capitalism and the role of corporations.

Also, ninjas.

I really enjoyed the book, and in a way it reminded me of works by Haruki Murakami (one of my favorite authors) where there is some underlying fantastic element to life. It is much more obvious here, but I felt the same sense of an awakening wonder as I read.

Bich Mihn Nguyen's "Short Girls"

I also recently read "Short Girls" by Bich Mihn Nguyen. I haven't read anything by her before, but was intrigued by the cover (which depicts a ... short girl) and despite the warning not to judge books by their covers, went ahead and picked it up. I enjoyed the book, but it was a bit tough for me. The book centers on a Vietnamese immigrant family, and in particular the first generation daughters, Van and Linny, and their father.

Since I'm in an inter-cultural marriage, the focus on Van and her marriage to a American (of Chinese descent, but many generations out so just a regular American I suppose) was very interesting, and yet difficult for me. I can understand some of the sources of friction in inter-cultural marriages, and that whole aspect of the book led to a lot of introspection.

I enjoyed the book overall, but it isn't on my standard list of "entertainment" (science fiction or fantasy) books, but instead is more of an interesting piece of fiction that goes into a pile for understanding the American experience when you aren't American. Or trying to make your own American experience. I'm interesting in those sorts of stories more now that I'm in living in Japan and trying to come to terms with what that means for me and my family, and wondering about whether we will ever move to the US, and in that capacity deal with issues like these.

The book does deal with adult issues (marriage, adultery) and looking back, was not the happiest thing I've read lately. I still enjoyed the book a lot, and you might want to give it a try if you are interested in America and cultural assimilation / adaptation.

November 20, 2009

Very interesting Stardock Annual Report

I like Stardock a lot. They started out as a windows accessory developer, and then branched out into games. Now they are running an online distribution network for games and other stuff called Impulse. Their president, Brad Wardell, seems like a great guy.

I bought Galactic Civilizations 2 from them and really enjoy it. (Man, I wish I had a Windows machine so I could actually play it, but I don't have any windows machines any more.) I also bought a few other games from them over Impulse, and their weekend impulse sales, where they put really good discounts on games for just a weekend, are really tempting. Too bad I don't have a gaming PC any more. Hopefully I'll address that shortcoming in 2010 or 2011.

You can read their 2009 Annual Report (warning: PDF link) and I highly recommend it. Very interesting. I think it was the first annual report I ever read front to back just because it was interesting.

November 12, 2009

Happy 35th!

Just a quick note (since I have completely been busy with work and more importantly, Fallout 3) that I turn 35 today. It has been 3 years since my 2^5 birthday party in Shibuya (which was lots of fun) and lots has changed since then:

- I got married!
- I bought a house!
- I changed jobs to a job that I truly love!

And gray hairs have started showing up on my head and in my beard.

I am also positive that at 35 years old, my dad was not shooting super mutants and still playing Street Fighter.

Also: Happy Birthday Twin Sister. I beat you to it by a day, but man, where has the time gone? When did we turn 25, much less 35!?!

October 31, 2009

Setting up Postfix to forward mail to gmail and keep a local copy with LDAP

Harder than it sounds. I think due to the setup I currently have (which I have not really changed since 2006) this isn't possible to do without changing my LDAP schema. That sounds like a lot of work, so I think I will just have to set up an alias and ditch the "keep a local copy of Grandma's email" and move to the "manage her password and every once in a while sync changes from her account for backup purposes."

So I hope you didn't reach this blog post hoping for changes to master.cf and LDAP query filters to work with JAMM (which seems to have been abandoned about two or three years back) because you aren't getting that. You are getting a mild rant about something that should be not too hard to do, but with the setup with JAMM (since it keys on the "mail" attribute, which is what I would change to add a second destintation) is a bit tough.

Also, I'm at Grandma's house.

October 10, 2009

Yum! Grandma coffee



Friday night we had dinner at R.'s grandma's house because this weekend is our niece's birthday. She is 2 years old. At dinner, I remembered that I had forgotten to buy more coffee grounds that day, and probably only had enough for only one more day. Well, it isn't a huge problem; I can always go and buy some grounds on Saturday I thought.

It turns out though that R.'s grandfather used to run a little coffee shop after he retired (and before he passed away.) Her grandmother still has a massive bean grinder, industrial-like, sitting on the counter. They bought it in 1974, so it is just as old as I am.

She also drinks coffee, so she ground up a little bag for me. Today is the first morning I get to have Grandma blend coffee.

It was delicious.


September 27, 2009

Home Owners Association and Fire Walking

Today was an interesting day. I started the morning off with a 6km jog by the canal, and then got back in time for toast and coffee. It was very rushed though, because from 10:00am today was our first Homeowner's association meeting. This was the first major meeting of the elected body of representatives in our apartment building to present stuff to the people that live here. There was an initial meeting right after we moved in (and the building opened up) when I suppose people were elected. Actually, they weren't elected as much as drawn randomly from a box, but that is somehow on the egalitarian end of things so good enough.

The meeting was being held across the street in the convenient high school there. It is a pretty nice campus, and was the first time I had ever ventured inside the grounds. There were about 100 people at the meeting (over half the required to make quorum) but our building hasn't yet passed 50% occupancy. The meeting was all in Japanese, and more or less understandable. The main thing was a discussion of the budget and what the monthly maintainence fees are being used for. There wasn't anything super exciting in there, although since it was the first year the building has been in use some of the estimates were not spot-on. Electricity use was the big under-estimated cost. They keep the lights on all the time here, which is very nice, but apparently costs a bit of money. For the meantime they would like to keep the lights on because we want to present a nice image of our building. I'm fine with that. I don't really use the hallways much past 1am or before 6am, but keeping the lights on doesn't hurt me either.

Probably the most controversial thing discussed was a plan to invest a large sum of money for a 10-year period to get interest on it. In about 10 years there is a big expenditure that is required to keep the building up to spec so until that time we might as well try to get some use out of the money. There were lots of questions about the investment vehicle to be used, risk, stuff like that, but in the end it passed.

Ah, also there was one person complaining about signs that were posted saying not to make too much noise. Especially if you have young kids try to keep them quiet late at night and stuff. She complained that you can't really do much about young kids, and those signs feel like attacks on her. I don't think I even noticed the signs, even though there is a good chance they are aimed at me: I drop my bags (loudly!) says my wife when I come home. Huh. Also, she said that the signs for the AED machines need to be translated into Chinese and English so that foreigners could understand them also. I thought that was pretty funny; she said that there are "lots" of foreigners in the building. There are two Americans that I know of (including myself!) and maybe one or two Chinese people.

Anyway, after two hours of meeting, that was over. New representatives were "elected" (their room numbers were pulled out of a bag, and the ones that stood up made the cut) also. Luckily I wasn't in the candidate pool. Whew. I don't have enough spare time as it is.

Shinagawa-dera Fire Walking Festival

The rest of the afternoon we went to the Shinagawa Fire Walking festival: 品川寺大祭 柴灯大護摩 火渡り荒行. Ok, so let's see what that is. Shingawa-dera is pretty clear, as is the big festival. Then there is brushwood fire big buddhist rite of cedar stick burning and finally fire crossing asceticism. Whew, what a mouthfull. Sounds like fun. First up: standard Japanese festival stuff.

We walked down to Aomono Yokocho, near the temple where the main activities are. Those would start at 1:30pm and it was only noon so we had some time. They actually closed off the main street, which is on the historic Tokaido route from Edo to Kyoto. There are actually a bunch of festivals coming up, part of the Shinagawa-juku set of temples I guess. Seems interesting, I need to look into it more when I get some time. There is a lot of stuff that people around me assume that I know, but I don't have the accumulated knowledge that one soaks up from growing up in Japan. So, we have this really old road, which now has kind of been relegated to just a small street in some older falling-out-of-use shopping streets (but the temples along the way get very busy at New Year's) that every once in a while has a nice festival. These festivals really are excuses for block parties, but excuses that are backed up with hundreds of years of precedent and religious justification. Pretty cool.

As part of the festivities they held a parade. As you should do with any parade, make sure priests go first and salt up the road a bit. We used to salt roads back in Jersey in the winter, but I don't think there was any religious justification for it. There were police out, showing their colors, and they had two pretty women who were made police chiefs for a day. Because they are pretty. I think. Maybe having really cute women as your police chiefs would actually incite lawlessness from love-starved youth. Who knows.


There were lots of groups in the parade. The PTA, local associations, etc. One of them was the anti-terror association. I am not convinced that the people that comprise the association are crack anti-terrorism experts, but it is nice to know that we have people looking out to make sure that we are safe. I like their banner anyway. Also, a giant cat, of the delivery variety.


Like all parades, the local high school (or possibly middle, I am not really sure about that) marshals (hah!) a band. So we've got a few pictures of that. I actually really enjoyed the music, and they had some nice trumpets and drums. The girls were really working up a sweat also. There are a few more pictures over at my flickr set for the pictures. There is one picture that is pretty good of two small girls carrying these massive Tubas. Pretty funny.

Otherwise, on the walk we also passed by a fire truck. It was a nice looking truck, and there was a line of kids waiting for a turn to ride in the fire truck ladder basket. Right near that is a nice bridge that had the nice old-style look to it. I know that there is a temple right near the bridge though, R. and I went there last near at the New Year for the Seven Gods of Happiness temple tour.

A little later we saw some of the standard festival dancers go by. We had stopped a bit earlier for some lunch, which consisted of the standard Matsuri food: beer, yakisoba, kara-age, and gyoza. Nice.

So we walked quite a ways down the street sampling all sorts of stuff from the shops. We headed back to get to the temple in time for the main event: ascetic fire walking.


We got to the temple and there were lots of people. They had shops set up, and some women dressed up in a traditional style at the gate entrance. I'm not really sure why though. We pressed on deeper into the temple, but you really need to get there probably an hour or two earlier before we did to actually get a good view. I wasn't really able to see anything, and neither could Risa. Once things started to get going though I played the part of the human tripod, R. got up on my shoulders, and we got a few shots of the action. Sadly, we don't currently have a real camera. I lost my point-and-shoot about half a year ago in Dallas somewhere, and R.'s camera has been sent for repair for the third time. So all these pictures from my camera phone. But still, pretty good for a phone.

The whole time we were there, some great monk chanting was going out over the PA system. They were probably preparing the fire in some way; I really couldn't see well enough to be able to tell. At some point though, the monks started going over the fire. I could catch a few glimpses of that. I think the main point of the thing was for them to carry the cedar planks across the fire, which eventually happened. After a while, they announced that anyone who was interested could also join in and walk across the fire. The number of people who took them up on that offer was pretty impressive. I decided that next year I'll join in too. If I'm going to walk across fire, I at least want to have someone take some good pictures with something other than a camera phone.

Anyway, it was a very interesting festival. There are supposed to be many festivals in this area so maybe I'll be able to catch another one or two in the coming weeks.


September 23, 2009

Dinner at TY Harbor

Last night R. and I went to the TY Harbor Brewery at Tennouzu Isle near Shinagawa. I like that place; it has a nice view on the canal, good food, and they brew their own beer. As a bonus, it is only one station away from where we live.

So we met with two friends, ending up with three couples. Two French men, one American, and three Japanese women. The conversation flipped between three languages, English, French, and Japanese. Fairly confusing. The food was quite good: we got a seafood platter, and a platter of ribs, and some fries. Then we got another platter of ribs because man, those were some good ribs. We also had a nice bottle of wine, and a few glasses of beer.

I did a search on the web for reviews, and some were mixed. I wholly recommend the place. I'm biased though; I eat once a week at the sister restaurant in Shibuya, Beacon. Right now the weather is great and perfect for sitting outside, but since a lot of other people had the same idea the place was busy enough that we were seated inside, which is also nice.

Also, Beacon is running a Monday night BBQ deal where you get a bunch of types of bbq for a very reasonable price. Also recommended.

September 20, 2009

A visit to the family grave

We are currently in a three-day off period in Japan. That means people are busy going to their ancestral homes and whatnot. R.'s family invited me along with them to go to the family grave at the Eko-in temple in Ryokoku.

I've done this a few times now. I thought it would make sense to write down what a family grave visit in Japan entails. First, you have to get there. I drove there, which was a bit of a trick. Because of the holiday, the place was pretty busy and we had trouble getting a parking place. We eventually got into the temple grounds though, and said hello to the head priest. A few months back he did a ceremony for R.'s grandfather and apparently the family knows him well.

You have to fill a bucket with water, and also should pick up some incense and leaves. I am not clear on how you get those things; the other family members always just got them somehow. The leaves or incense might be for sale, I'm not really sure. Then you head out to the grave. I don't know if it is because this is Tokyo, but the graves are all in small concrete plots. They should contain ashes, but I am not really sure about any of that. They are quite close together compared to what I would expect from an American graveyard. Once you find your grave, you take water from the bucket and fill up the central reservoir that is on the grave. Then usually in some pre-determined order (age / seniority of some kind) you splash water from your bucket on the grave. Pull a leaf off of the branch of leaves that you got in advance, and dip both sides in the water reservoir, then place it on the grave. Then you say a prayer for your ancestors. Then the next person does the same thing. I know they explained this to me before, but I am not really sure what the water and leaves represent. I think the water is a simple thing: to cool the spirits down. That grave gets hot in the sunlight. I might be mis-remembering though. I don't know what the leaf represents, but let's say life of some sort. After everyone has had a turn, you are done. Mission complete. It is actually very nice. I like that there is a set ritual for things. I don't know if that is the case in America. Well, you bring flowers, and say a prayer. Maybe it is similar.

Also, we visited the temple interior and said a prayer there also before visiting the grave, but I don't know if that is common.

The temple, Eko-in is in Ryokoku, where they Sumo matches are held. It is an interesting temple, with a few famous people there, and a large monument to past Sumo wrestlers that is still used by modern day sumo wrestlers to pray for power. One of the interesting residents is Nezumi Kouzou, a famous thief. I was told that you are supposed to chip shavings off of his gravestone and put them in your wallet, then you will also become rich. I definitely took them up on that; they have added a stone especially for the shaving bit, because the old tombstone kept disappearing over all the years. So it is nice that they accommodate people like that, both respecting the past and making realistic concessions (also, probably making money.)

There is also a little shrine there for cats, but I didn't really understand the story behind that. Something about a guy who had a fish shop, then got sick. Somehow, the cats brought him money and he was able to recover thanks to that, and really liked cats. But then some neighborhood thug beat up his cat (?) and it died, and he commissioned a grave for cats. Or something like that. You can try to figure it our here if your Japanese is any good.

After visiting the temple, we went to the Mitsukoshi in Shinbashi and had a very nice lunch at the Shark-fin Chinese restaurant. Overall a very nice day.


September 15, 2009

Busy lately, but weather is looking up

I have been pretty busy lately. I haven't had much time for reading, or the blog, or translating, or extra-curricular programming.

I've been getting up at 6am and running most days, and the weather is really great for it now. As long as you avoid the typhoons, it is a bit cool and usually sunny. On the days I don't run, I try to go to the gym at night, since I am cutting my monthly ($130!) gym membership down to a pay $15 each time you go plan. I had been going about twice a month since my friend and gym partner went back to the states, so it seems to make sense.

Except that once I made the decision to kill my membership this month, I've been going twice a week, which is the break-even point. Ugh.

Well, once I make the change I have an economic incentive *not* to go to the gym, which probably isn't a good thing, but at least I should be able to save some money.

Also, next week we have holidays on Monday through Wednesday, and since we don't have any plans we can do what I think is the most exciting thing possible for the vacation: stay home! I love my new (well, it has only been a year) apartment, and there is so much I can do around here (clean up, work on computer stuff at home, read, translate, go jogging, cook, watch tv (american and japanese)) etc. that it just sounds like so much more fun than planning a trip to any of the standard Japanese places that will be absolutely packed on the holiday.

I do think we will try to get out at least to one temple or matsuri or at least Akihabara or something though.

September 14, 2009

Added a book list on the right

Added a book list running down the right-hand side of the blog.

It is provided by Library Thing but I have also been playing around with Amazon.com's Reading application. It doesn't yet seem to provide a nice badge of books that I've read recently though. (Neither does Library Thing, I can only order it by the date I entered books, which is close enough for now unless I want to go back and fill in more books.)

September 9, 2009

Mister James, McDonald's and MOS Buger

An interesting article on the McDonald's "Mister James" kerfuffle. Nice video with an alternative view pushing people to Mos Burger.

http://thedailyyoji.blogspot.com/2009/09/mr-james-madness.html

September 6, 2009

Lev Grossman's "The Magicians"

Last week, I finished Lev Grossman's "The Magicians". I have a few things to confess. Well, more than a few, but we will limit things to only relevant confessions for this post. First, I've never read any Harry Potter books (wait, what kind of page is that Amazon? I appreciate the link to Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter but that is a strange page you got there. I should dig up the link to the series page I guess. Maybe later.) I haven't read any Harry Potter books because they sound like bad Young Adult fiction to me. I like good Young Adult fiction (see, for example, Garth Nix's Shade's Children, or for that matter, anything by Garth Nix. I am also interested in Zoe's Tale but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.)

Anyway, the point is that Harry Potter looks like bad young adult fiction to me. I have watched one or two of the movies, but never with my undivided attention (I'll divide my attention on just about any crappy thing, wait two of those are actually pretty good…) and definitely not with any sort of anticipation. Well, Cho Chang was cute.

So, I have a bias against Harry Potter. I also have a love-hate (hate-hate?) relationship with alternate-world fiction but lately I have been finding examples where I actually enjoy it. (Also, see Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber for an exemplar of the genre.)

A few weeks ago, I noticed the book "The Magicians", and picked it up. I never got around to reading it until it showed up on one of my blog feeds. I can't remember now which one it was, but the tagline was "What if Hogwart's Academy was real, and real people went there?"

Now this is interesting. What if you put real people into unreal situations? I am somewhat fascinated with this topic; I kind of feel like I have made my life into a study of this topic. I wake up every morning thinking "I can't believe I live in Japan" - which is when you get down to it, an unreal situation for a regular joe from New Jersey. Not even a regular joe, but a somewhat under-achieving nerd. So I am interested in this topic. Even more, this is one of those good examples of science fiction / fantasy where the setting, while unreal, is itself not the main point. The main point of the novel is about the characters: how will these people react, and what will they do?

The central question of "What is the point of it all?" comes into full focus when you have characters that are, in their universe, masters of great power, and who can conceivably do whatever they wish. What then is left but a philosophical discussion about the point of life, the universe, and everything?

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. I would love to see a follow-up, because the characters were interesting, and the universe was developed enough that now I think it would be interesting to see further adventures in it.

Other points of interest: Lev Grossman is a literary critic at the New York times. Shouldn't he be qualified to write a good book? I think he did. Also, the Amazon book page has an interview with him. Cool! I didn't know they did that. I didn't know that Amazon.com's books editors had a blog on books either, but now I do and I will follow it. (What's that? An interview with China Mieville? You had me at word one.)


Naoko Ogigami's "Glasses"

So, R. and I watched two movies (three, but I am not counting "A Nightmare Before Christmas", which we watched while I was working yesterday) this weekend. The first was Kamome Shokudo, directed and written by Naoko Ogigami. I enjoyed it. The second was "Glasses", also by Naoko Ogigami. I have seen two of her movies now, and am pretty sure that she has a distinctive, slow, good-hearted feeling movies.

This movie was also a good movie. I am seriously reminded of Jim Jarmusch movies, so I'm excited to get a few of those and see what R. thinks. Mystery Train is pretty high on the list, that is one of my favorite movies (I didn't even know it was Jim Jarmusch until many years later.)

Anyway, I don't really know what to say about this movie except that it is very atmospheric, slow-paced, and relaxing. I came away from it feeling happy and satisfied, and also somewhat confused about the application of Chekov's Gun to the movie (I was derailed by the Biology teacher information) and now wonder about the validity of story fabula theory applied to modern independent cinema.

I guess that is one thing that keeps us on our toes; when we go and see a hollywood film, the twists and turns of the plot are expected so much that we can hardly be surprised (or are surprised by the lack of a turn) - so when you enter into the realm of less constructed (more constructed?) stories that all just breaks down.

Anyway, good film. Has a nice Japanese expression in it, which managed to cause a minor fight between my wife and I (only in the sense that my Japanese sucks, and her randomly generated picture is a totally hilarious bean.) So, recommended!

Although honestly, it isn't like I'm going to spend ten or fifteen minutes writing about something sucks on my blohg. Am i?

梅はその日の何を逃す

Remember that. Similar to "An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away", a Plum a Day wards you from the dangers of the day.

Kagome Shokudo

In English: Kamome Shokudo

Last night, R. and I sat down to a nice evening movie. We rented a few things at the start of the weekend, and I was actually pretty excited to watch a Japanese-only movie with her, one of her choosing. She chose Kamome Shokudo, a Japanese comedy set in Helsinki.

The big surprise for me was that it had English subtitles. While I really wanted to listen only in Japanese, when the subtitles are there it is just too easy to read. I was glad for them too; some portions of the dialogue are in Finnish.

The movie is really nice; a slow-paced, dialogue-based ambiance-drama. It explores questions about living in a foreign land, which is of course very interesting to me, as a foreigner in a foreign land. A critical claim of the movie is that Japanese people prefer Japanese food (and possibly that Japanese food is the best kind of food.) That actually comes up a lot here, and I am sure that R. would back it up. Since I like Japanese food, this isn't really a problem, but it is always a little surprising to me when the idea of having say, Italian food for lunch and then also dinner is shot down. I don't actually consider pizza Italian food, or spaghetti for that matter, but that's ok. I'm pretty used to eating Japanese food twice in a day by now, so I guess I've become used to things here. I do sometimes want to have American food once or twice a day. Guess I have to start cooking more.

There is also a character in there that is the typical Japan-obsessed kid who studies the language a bit and tries to speak Japanese whenever possible. It is interesting seeing that character portrayed from the Japanese point of view.

An interesting parallel they draw is between the Japanese and Finnish cultures, portraying Japan as busy and stressful while Finland is laid-back and easy-going. The discussion around that concept, and why the characters thought they would be better off in Finland is interesting.

It was a fun movie; I recommend it.


August 30, 2009

A relaxing evening on the balcony

Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, the weather cooled down enough in the evening to go outside on our balcony. R. and I live in a small Tokyo condo in a large highrise. We are about halfway up on the 14th floor. One of the really nice things about our place, I think anyway, is the view we get.

So sitting out on our balcony, sipping a beer, we played a game: "What can you see?" I had to answer in Japanese, and R. had to answer in English. It was a very fun and relaxing way to pass the hour (we clearly are not going rapid-fire with this thing.)

So, what can we see?

The Monorail. Coming and going. I love watching the monorail roll past our place. We look down on it, but you can surprisingly see very clearly into the cars, and have just about enough time to wonder what is going on in the lives of the people as they commute from one place to another on the past's impression of the mass-transit-system-of-the-future. Also, about every one in five trains is the "Pokemon" train with cool pockemon paint schemes. The swooshing sound the monorail makes as it goes by is strangely soothing. Monorail is the same in English as in Japanese.

A four-lane highway, two coming, two going. This is kind of annoying because it can be loud. We are far enough away that it isn't too bad, but we don't have our windows open generally because of the noise. Late at night people zoom by in loud cars playing the real-life version of "Tokyo Drift". A surprising number of the popular-in-Japan motorcycle-sized scooters have ground effect lighting. They are fooling nobody. Highway / kousoku dourou 高速道路.

A canal. Just beyond the highway and monorail we have a canal. It is a nice canal. Fairly wide, calm looking. I get lost staring into it watching the motions of the ripples on the surface, and the reflections at night can also be mesmerizing. Sunset and Sunrise are also nice. R. called it a river, which you can do, but I usually go with Canal. In Japanese kawa 川 (river) or more correctly unga 運河 (canal.)

Bridges. Crossing over above-mentioned canal. 3 over our canal that we can see, and then one massive bridge off in the distance, the Rainbow Bridge. I once did a run through Odaiba with a leg over and back on the bridge. It is a nice bridge, and big. World-class sized.

Boats. More specifically, party boats known as Yakata Bune. Not too far from where we live, these things cast off for a night of drinking, food, and fun cruising around Tokyo Bay. They are particularly fun to watch as they slowly float by because they have lots of lanterns and lights that make nice reflections in the water. English: Party boat, Japanese Yukata boonay.

A big park. Across the canal there is a large park. Lots of trees and a nice jogging path. I usually run 3-6km weekday mornings there. Park / Koen (公園).

Traffic lights. About 4 of them. Shingo (信号).

Cranes, the boat-unloading variety. Many of them. Right beyond the park is Tokyo Bay. Lots of boats come in and unload their cargo there. So we have a kind of industrial view that I waffle over. I really like the industrial wasteland Bladerunner-esque vision of the future (from the past) but also would like to have a better view of the bay. If only we were 10 more floors higher. I kind of like the cranes though. In Japanese and English: crane.

Tokyo bay. As above, we don't have the best view of it, but it is there. Tokyo Bay / Tokyo Wan (東京湾).

Buildings. Skyscrapers. Highrise towers. Lots of them. Mainly from Odaiba. In Japanese: bi-ru. We don't have a view of the main part of Tokyo, but we do see a lot of city lights and stuff. It is nice. Lots of blinking red lights.

A Ferris Wheel. It is very hard to see, because we are looking at it side-on, and it is behind some other cranes and lighted things, but there is a large ferris wheel on Odaiba that lights up in different colors. When it does its colorful flower impersonation you can tell that it isn't a normal crane or tower, but is something more festive. In Japanese: Kanran-shya (観覧車).

Airplanes. We live pretty close to Haneda, the Tokyo domestic airport. So they swing a bit low a few miles out. We can't hear them, but they are fun to watch. In Japanese: hikouki (飛行機).

A giant Gundam statue that was built over on Odaiba for a limited time. There is lots of coverage of this over the web, and you actually can see it from our place if your eyes are very good or you have some binoculars or something. It just looks like a big blur of light at night. The same in English as Japanese: Gundam.

There is also a lot of construction going on, so we have some of those things to watch as well. Construction in Japan is pretty interesting. They create lots of jobs for people. For example, right out in front of our building they were working on the power system - laying new wires under the road or something. There were about two people doing the work, but five people directing traffic for them. Also, one or two robot sign-waver guys. In the US, they would have just set up the cones and stuff, and not worried about people to direct other people around. Over near where I work, there are two people who just stand at the start of the construction site and say "Sorry for the inconvenience" every day. All day. That is all they do.

August 1, 2009

Best wishes to Sasha and his family

I was shocked to hear today that my ex-officemate and friend, Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, was hit by a falling tree branch in a freak accident in Central Park yesterday. I hope for a full recovery.

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/30/man-hit-by-falling-tree-limb-shows-signs-of-recovery/?scp=1&sq=sasha%20blair-goldensohn&st=cse

July 30, 2009

Sigh... But hooray for rimuhosting.com's backups!

So this morning Mail.app on my Mac started to do strange things, like say "Can't delete message server does not allow operation (moving to folder "null")" or something like that. I don't really remember. Things looked strange too - for some reason my trash can icon for my main email account had turned into a world icon, and all the folders were duplicated under that. Strange. So, I did what any under-caffeinated, not-thinking person would do at 6:30am, I deleted the folders.

Then my entire mail server disappeared. After I clicked the "this will delete files on the server and is a non-recoverable operation, and are you really sure you want to do this? Like, seriously? McFly?" button. Maybe that wasn't exactly what it said, but it was close.

So it looks like for some reason Mail.app got confused, thought my entire mail hierarchy was supposed to go under the trash can (I vaguely remember this happening once before and I know that I needed to set the trash can up using the "Use this folder as..." function) and aliased things there. It also was syncing and re-downloaded everything to be under the trash can, which was what clued me in. Along with not being able to delete email.

So I don't know what happened there. But I did wipe out my entire email account. Which goes back to maybe 1999 or so. That is bad.

I run my mailserver on a virtual private linux box from Rimuhosting.com, with whom I've been very happy.

Anyway, they take weekly snapshots of the disk image, and have an easy process to restore to a backup image (they keep two it looks like.) So I restored to the backup image. I probably lost a blog post or two (maybe not though, I haven't been writing much lately) but anyway, I regained my many years worth of email. So hooray for rimuhosting! And boo for me.

July 4, 2009

OLPC Screen, Mary Lou Jepson keynote

I have a OLPC, and I really love it. I have been using it a lot lately for ebook reading. The most remarkable feature of the computer is the screen. It is a normal LCD display (a bit lower resolution than the ones that are popular on most computers now) but if you press a button, it jumps up into a high resolution black and white only display.

Even better, if you turn off the backlight, it becomes a reflective only high quality black and white display.

It looks beautiful for text, and is sunlight readable. The Kindle screen is better, but the OLPC screen is still very, very good. I really want to buy a netbook with one of these. The only thing that is lacking on the OLPC is the keyboard. So a normal factor (10" or so) netbook with a good keyboard and this screen (still with the tablet style function so we can do ebook reading) would be completely killer for me.

Go watch this video which has an interesting keynote by Mary Lou Jepson on the OLPC. Interesting. Nice. The comments are crazy though. Really you need to see the screen (and perhaps use it, try to read on it) to believe. It is very nice though. Maybe not a revolution, but something I would really like to be see become commercially available. (Keep watching Pixel Qi I guess?

Stripping DRM from Ebooks

I found a good post on how to remove DRM from ebooks at http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/how-to-strip-mobi-and-prc-ebooks-of-encryption/. They have a link to some python scripts that can remove DRM from some forms of ebooks as long as you know the PID for the book that you bought.

This morning I purchased Brandon Sanderson's "The Well of Ascension", the second book in the Mistborn series. I found the first book during Tor.com's launch ebook giveaway, (you can get it too!) and really enjoyed the book. I wanted to read the rest. (Apparently, I might not be the only one.) So I checked online, and I could get the second book for about $14 from Fictionwise. Sounds great. The only problem is that the books they sell there have DRM, Digital Restrictions Management. I am not able to read books that are encrypted with DRM on my preferred ebook reading platform: FBReader on my OLPC with Ubuntu installed on it. So I decided to try to remove the DRM. That would restore my rights as the owner of the book to archive it, so that I can read it in a month, six months, five years, or twenty years. As long as I ensure that I have the regular unencrypted file and software to read it, I should be fine.

If I did nothing about the DRM I would only be able to read the book on the computer that I used to download it. A 15" notebook. It isn't really all that portable.

I was able to strip the DRM as outlined in the link above, but the resulting mobipocket file came up empty when I tried to load it on FBReader. Bummer. So I tried another approach. I took the unencrypted mobipocket file, and loaded it up into the OSX Stanza ebook reading software. Then I saved it again as an ePub file, a more open format. That did open ok in FBReader, and now I can read the book that I purchased on any hardware that I like.

I am a bit disappointedthat I needed to pay $14 for the book. I would have preferred $7 or so since I do not get a physical copy, but ebooks are actually more convenient for me. On Amazon.com the book is actually $7.99 for a new, physical copy (or the Kindle copy, which I am not able to buy, but could use if I could after stripping the DRM) that includes lots of costs for printing, shipping to warehouses, distribution, whatever. Ebooks are a lot simpler when it comes to distribution: you ship them over the internet, with perhaps some up-front computation to encrypt the book using some sort of DRM scheme. Costs would be lower without the DRM. Customers would be happier because things are easier to use. People who want to buy books probably are not the people that are going to go and upload the files to the internet. People who just want to get the book for free can already do that. I can't see how DRM is really helping the industry, but that is the standard for books right now.

Thankfully, it is now possible to get non-DRM'd music files, from Amazon or Apple's iTunes store (but you need to make sure the stuff is iTunes plus still I think?) Hopefully video will go the same way.

I would really like to get a Kindle but I won't do that until I can get one that works in Japan. Until then I will make do with what I have. Even once I get a Kindle though, I would like to make sure that my books do not have DRM on them so that I have control of my files, and what I can do with them is not dictated by a third party (regardless of whether or not I think that the system is reasonable enough, and non-intrusive enough to use.)

BTW, you can use the MobiDeDRM if you get the Kindle PID (type '411' from the Setting menu, according to this blog post.)


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