March 26, 2009

Bishop Allen at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco

I am a huge Bishop Allen fan. I've liked them for years now, and saw one of their first shows in New York probably 6 years ago. Any chance I get, I try to see these guys play live. They are huge fun. On Saturday (four or five days ago) I flew into San Francisco to spend a week and a half in Palo Alto at work and it just happens that by chance, my faves Bishop Allen were playing a show in San Francisco last night! I finished work up a bit early and hopped on the train. Of course I went early since I wanted to catch up with Christian and Justin if they were hanging around. When I walked into the bar, I was shocked to see someone I wasn't expecting: Michael Tapper, who I know mostly as the drummer for We Are Scientists, but maybe a year or three back they parted ways. Sounds like he's been drumming for Bishop Allen, which is completely awesome, so I spent some time chatting with him. Later on I bumped into Justin and Christian, but I didn't have my camera handy then so no pictures.

The first band was the Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band, who were ok. Next up was the Miniature Tigers who I really enjoyed. I will try to pick up some of their music when I get a chance. They had one song, "Japanese Woman Living in my Closet", about the incident that made the news a while back about a Japanese woman that was caught living in a man's closet for more than a year. I thought that was kind of funny. They have a nice melodius song, a bit of humor, and are perhaps a bit sarcastic, or at least twist convention around a bit for matching lyrics and song.

I really enjoyed paying $15 and seeing three bands. That is a real bargain compared to Japan, where I usually have to pay $50 and I see only one band. Michael was saying that he thought $15 was a bit steep, and I was just super excited about how cheap it was! I guess you really get used to the local market.

Bishop Allen was really good. I hadn't had a chance to pick up there new album, Grrr..., until the concert so I didn't know all the songs they played, but they also had some great songs off of their debut album Charm School (a great album) and The Broken String (another good album.) I recommend going to the Bishop Allen website itself and ordering from there - you will probably get the same price but more of the money will go to the band than if you buy from other places. They also sell the one-EP-a-month albums there, which are pretty fun. I think they are all generally of very high quality.

The music was great. They had a lot of energy, and were tight. There was a nice sound system, and the crowd was great. They were really into it. The people near me were actually really into (well, one girl in particular) and was dancing around like mad. I was doing a fair bit of dancing, jumping, and screaming myself. I hadn't seen these guys since they played my PhD thesis defense party (well, it was actually the closing show for the Tank in NYC, but that isn't how I remember that day) three years ago, and I've really missed the music scene I used to be pretty connected to when I was in NYC. The girl who was next to me even tried to get me to do some swing dancing type stuff (and I was awful at that when I was trying to take a few lessons back in Dallas) and (since this is San Fran., and she was pretty butch, probably of the feminist persuasion) forced me into a few spins. It was lots of fun. Apparently Bishop Allen has gotten pretty big when I wasn't looking because they really packed the place and people were really going nuts. I worked up a pretty good sweat myself. Two encores. The second was a spur-of-the-moment "Ghosts are Good Company" with Christian and Darby. Very nice.

After the show, I stopped by to chat with Christian and buy the latest album (gotta support the bands you love!) and then caught a cab back to the Caltrain station. I didn't make it back to the hotel until 1:30am, but it was totally worth it. I only wish that R. would have been able to make it. I'm sure we'll have a chance to see some of the bands that I love in the future too, but I haven't been able to convince BA to come to Tokyo yet. Well, that isn't true - Justin and Christian are really receptive to the idea, but they haven't been able to get any of the touring and booking stuff to happen. I'm starting to think that I should talk to some of my friends that have connections in the industry to see if I can get someone to invite them out. I would love to see them at Summer Sonic or Fuji Rock...

So if you don't know about Bishop Allen, you clearly haven't been hanging around with me for too long. Go hit up their website and buy Charm School - it is a great place to start and an absolutely amazing album.

Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen's Wheelers

This is a book that I picked up on my last trip out (from Half-price books I think) and I finally got a chance to read it on the flight from Tokyo to San Francisco. It was a good book, I enjoyed it. It was a nice departure from the science fiction that I have been reading lately because there was no mention of "singularity" and almost no computer use. Lately it seems like I am only reading singularity-based computer virtual reality books with personality downloading into mechanical matrixes because we have basically perfected storing models of conciousness. Those books are fine and good, but it was nice to get back to a more traditionaly space ships and aliens sci-fi novel. Still, for that genre this book was a bit out of the ordinary: it is one of the few that I can remember that limits itself to our solar system.

I enjoyed the biological / evolution / ecological system aspect of the book. It turns out it was written by professors of mathematics and a biology, so it makes sense that they put a lot of thought into those areas of the book. It took a while for me to get into it, but once I got into it things picked up. It looks like this might be hard to get ahold of, but if you see it around you might enjoy it. I thought that the aliens in the book were interesting and well thought out. I think the idea of putting aliens in our solar system now is a pretty gutsy move, and it is fun reading sci-fi that is set "in the neighborhood."

A visit to the National Art Center in Tokyo

Right before hopping on a plane to go to America for business, there was a day off and R. and I went to the National Art Center Tokyo (but I thought it was the New National Art Musuem? the English and Japanese seem to tell different stories.) I was excited to go to the museum because I had never been before, and I knew it was architecturally interesting. I really like the exterior (and interior for that matter) and have seen it from Mori tower in Roppongi Hills before. I had no idea what was going on, but when have you ever gone wrong by visiting a cool museum?

For me the big thing was walking around the building and checking out the space. I really love the organic smooth flow to the building. It has a nice, roomy interior and an interesting play of light and shadows inside the building.

The exhibition was Artist File 2009, and was pretty cool. I really liked SAITO Meo's work in particulat, even though some of the text-heavy stuff was hard to understand. The paintings had themes, all using the same shape with two different series shown. It was cool. Very detailed, very nice. There was also a series of fake encyclopedic flora, things like "suicide flowers" or other flowers that are representing concepts. Those were much more interesting if you took the time to read the justification and explanations, but it was difficult for me to do. I enjoyed puzzling out what I could though. There were other interesting things, some nice portraits (large format) and abstract paintings that had nice colors (inoffensive, easy to look at, but not as challenging or interesting as SAITO Meo's stuff.)

If you are in Tokyo and have some time, I really liked this museum. I recommend it, check it out!

March 24, 2009

Emacs, Japanese, Putty, Windows, and text entry

I don't know why but I have had to set this up a few times now. If you try writing Japanese via Putty into Emacs, and things do not work for you (instead it looks like Emacs is interpreting things as control characters in some way) then the following magic incantation might help you:

;; Set up Japanese input and coding systems
(set-language-environment "Japanese")
(set-terminal-coding-system 'utf-8-unix)
(set-default-coding-systems 'utf-8-unix)
(set-buffer-file-coding-system 'utf-8-unix)
(prefer-coding-system 'utf-8-unix)
(set-keyboard-coding-system 'utf-8) ; This is the magic for windows putty Japanese input

The important bit is the set-keyboard-coding-system. The other things are important to some degree, but the keyboard setting is what determines whether emacs will beep at you or put up some pretty Japanese text.

I actually have Putty, Emacs, and Gnu Screen all playing nicely together now, which is great. But this is only true for version 23.x of Emacs, since 22.x doesn't seem to play well with Japanese in a terminal under screen...

March 23, 2009

Apple's FrontRow

Front Row main menu
Front Row Main Menu

Front Row TV Menu
Front Row TV Menu

On this trip to the US, I brought two machines with me: my work laptop (older, small Dell running WinXP, ugh) and a bigger, middle-aged MacBook Pro 15" laptop running OSX. OSX is really great. I can not praise the automated backup facility it comes with enough. I also love the E-mail client, and all of iLife is pretty amazing also.

One thing I have never really played with though is Frontrow. So I thought it would give it a try. My MacBook came with a cute little remote control, and after putting the mac up on the desk and settling back in the chair with my other laptop for some work last night, I started Front Row up. I was really surprised with how easily it worked. I threw all my media files into a folder on the Movie folder, and navigating there was really easy. The remote works very well. I can read things from across the room. The only thing I couldn't do was delete a file after watching it, but that isn't really a big deal.

I was really impressed with how smoothly things went for playing video. The only problem is that it uses Quicktime to play files, and so isn't quite able to play all formats that I would expect. For example, I have a few files encoded into OGM (Ogg Media format), the open-source container, and Quicktime didn't know what to do with that. I got an error "the video could not be played: the format was not recognized". That is understandable - I never put any OGM codecs on the system, even though I can play the files with the VLC media player.

Perian is a codec that should let me play .mkv files, and perhaps .ogm. I'm not sure about that, but I installed and downloaded it anyway. The Xiph Quicktime components purport to support Ogg Vorbis in QuickTime. After installing that I could get the music to play, but no video. Too bad. Still, most of the stuff that I have is in an AVI container and more and more of it is coming as h264 content, which QuickTime handles just fine.

I'm really impressed with the FrontRow interface. I think once I am rich I will eventually get a Mac Mini and hook it up to the TV for media-player duties.

Back in the USA

I'm back in the USA for three weeks. I flew in yesterday (Saturday) from Tokyo to San Francisco. It was a quick flight, 9 hours. That seems quick to me because usually I fly to New York, which is closer to 14 hours. Anyway, the flight was nice. What was really great is that this is the first time I had ever had a pair of noise canceling headphones - I have a pair of big Sony headphones that I've been using at work - which really cut out the cabin noise. I was really surprised at just how loud it was in the cabin after I had had the headphones on for a while. I watched one movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still (the new one with Keanu Reeves), read a bit, played some Tapper on my GP2X, and slept a bit. The movie was ok. I have never seen the original though, so I don't have anything to compare it to. I loved the cameo by John Cleese.

When I got into SFO I got some coffee, rented a car (Pontiac G5, seems fine but has poor visibility out the back. I should have taken a car without a spoiler.) and headed to the hotel. Then I slept for hours and hours...

I now have my cell phone working - a AT&T Go Phone, so I just added $25 to it and provisioned it with a number. I did some work in the morning, watched the Heat - Pistons game, and now will relax a bit, read some, and maybe do some more work in the evening.

Best of all: I got tickets to Bishop Allen show in San Francisco on Tuesday! I'm super excited about that!!

I have also already eaten a cookie and three brownies. I know I'm going to gain weight, and R. is going to be angry with me for getting fat...

March 20, 2009

Review of Charlie Stross' Atrocity Archives and Glasshouse

I've finished two more Charlie Stross novels recently. The first is Glasshouse. I highly recommend it. A far-future sci-fi novel, instant transfer wormhole gates, personality downloads, backups, and editing. The main hook is: in a society where mass memory editing has taken place, how can you track down things that might have been completely erased from collective history? It was a very interesting read and has some provoking things to say about memory and history.

The second book is the Atrocity Archives. I also really enjoyed this book. I went in without knowing much about it except for the keywords Lovecraftian, Turing theorem, and some relationship between the two. This is really good for people who have a computer science background and have read lots of fantasy fiction. The book uses a system of well-defined magic mixed with technology. There is another series that I really like that does things the other way: Rick Cook's Wizardry Series. In that series a computer programmer is transported to a world of magic. It has rules and as a programmer he's good at doing things in structured environments. In the "Bob Howard Laundry" series in the Atrocity Archives we have the opposite approach: magic leaks into our technological world, and is also accessible to computer programming-type people.

The book is actually two short stories smashed together, which makes the book really seem disjointed. That bothered me until I realized that it was intentional (just smashing some existing writing together - a lot like my phd thesis...) and then I didn't have any issues with it. There is a sequel (The Jennifer Morgue (Decorating & Design)) that I am interested in reading now also. The book was lots of fun, and pretty funny also. Highly recommended. (Seems like that is how all my book reviews end...)

March 10, 2009

Dwarf Fortress tutorial

Dwarf Fortress is a game that I would like to play. I haven't had time to look into it though, and it looks hard to to learn. When I get a chance, I should check out these Dwarf Fortress tutorials.

And set up some machine that can play it. I hope it runs under WINE.

March 6, 2009

Gnu Screen, Emacs, Terminals, and Japanese

I spent a while today at work getting things to work in Gnu Screen, Emacs, and Japanese. What I want to be able to do is type japanese in the native environment IME over a terminal connected to a Gnu Screen session in Emacs.

This has proved to be pretty difficult. For a long time I just put up with backspace being ^H (M-x normal-erase-mode-is-backspace) which totally sucks. Finally fixed that by rejiggering the screen .screenrc. Of course, I did all that at work, and now I can't remember what exactly it was that I did... It was the "bindkey" command in some strange way. Back at home, things worked just fine on my Fedora system, so maybe it is down to peculiarities of my work environment (PuTTy and Windows currently.)

So, once backspace and delete are working right, I wanted to get Japanese input working correctly. At work the machines usually use emacs 21 of some kind. For some reason when emacs in screen tried to display Japanese it would usually show \201 \235 or other control sequences, and then the display would be mucked up somehow. That was a problem. Luckily, there was a relatively easy way to get Emacs 22 installed on my dev box, and once I did that Japanese showed up correctly. I couldn't input it with the Windows IME though. I was able to fix that by setting current-language-environment to japanese. I also then had to set the keyboard-coding-system (C-x RET k) to utf-8. That seemed to take care of things and I could enter Japanese using the Windows IME. I also set the Emacs default-input-method to japanese so I can use Emacs own Japanese input method if for some reason I have to do that.

Back at home on Fedora, I needed to set current-language-enrivonment to japanese for things to work. That was a bit easier than at work, which was nice.

So now on my home laptop I can boot into Fedora 10, pull up a terminal, turn off the scrollbar, pop it into fullscreen mode, start Gnu Screen, and head start emacs. Set the font green, and things are totally 70s. And awesome. Also, check out this site to get 256 colors working screen - I don't know why I would need it, but it sounds really cool. I have no idea what actually needs 256 colors but at least I can run the test script. That looks kind of pretty.

Also, this post here talks about using cmatrix as a screensaver in screen which I also set up. It is pretty cool. But now I wonder if there are cooler screensavers that use 256 colors... I'll try playing around with mplayer -vo caca to see how that looks.

Anyway, I actually played around with getting the laptop to boot into text mode, but unfortunately then all my other customizations (make Caps lock a control key, make the font pretty, etc.) weren't running. Also, in text mode the font is too big. So booting directly into a terminal, screen, then emacs is cool, but not quite as useful as having a real GUI.

Credit Crisis Visualized

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.
A really nice video visualizing the credit crisis. This American Life has also done three really great podcasts on the credit crisis with the guys from NPR's Planet Money .

Crazy stuff going on out there. Great little explanation in the video though.

March 5, 2009

Goro's Diner: a Shibuya burger joint

Last night I met three friends for dinner at Shibuya. I had heard about Goro's diner over on tabelog and it looked interesting. An English search turned up Jackson Hole burgers, but still) but very good. They have Anchor Steam on the menu, but didn't have any available while we were there.

After burgers we walked over to the "Suite" cafe and had some cakes. Nice!

I have to go running today...

March 3, 2009

A good thing to know...

Here is something useful for me to know:

At home, if I run the stove in toaster mode, the microwave, the heater, the rice cooker, the usual complement of computers, the other usual appliances, and I hit the "bidet" button on the toilet, I can blow the circuit breaker.

And it gets *very* dark...

February 26, 2009

Review of David Gemmell's King Beyond the Gate

I've read three of David Gemmell's books now, all in the Drenai series. I've really enjoyed all three, but so far the first one has been the most impressive. As a debut novel it takes a different look at traditional fantasy (or at least, a new one to me) and is a fun read. The second book I read was the prequel (?) to Legend, his debut novel, and this third novel is set a few hundred years after Legend but was the second one published in the series. So far, all three novels have been very similar, dealing with similar themes. Actually, I've basically read three variations on the same novel, but it has been done well each time and each has been a good read. I'm going to keep on plugging through the Drenai series for a while and see how that goes.

February 25, 2009

Jeff Bezos and Kindle 2 on The Daily Show

I'm a big fan of The Daily Show. Imagine my surprise when I came home to watch Monday night's show and - what what what!? Jeff Bezos, founder of Why didn't I know about this!? Anyway, the interview is funny, but the Kindle doesn't come out in the best light in this interview. I was surprised really, because I think Jon Stewart is usually very good, but it seemed like he didn't know much about the kindle. I thought he would be all-up-ons this ipod-like genx technology. He seems to be a big fan of reading, but maybe he also likes old-fashioned books. I do too, but I also like the idea of having a portable library if I want that option. :)

I think it is really cool that Jeff went on the Daily Show to promote the Kindle 2. I took a few screenshots, and added what I thought were funny moments. The first shot Jon acts surprised when "Kindle 2" isn't a movie. He gets lots of movie guests. In the second shot he was poking fun at shipping costs, and Jeff introduced the Amazon Prime program ($79 a year, all orders shipped 2day shipping at no further cost) and Jon gave him a bit of ribbing about that. If you order a lot from Amazon it is a great deal. If not, then it isn't such a great deal. But just wait until gas prices rise a bit more...

The third shot is the actual Kindle hand-off, and the fourth shot just has the crawl info for Jeff. Thought it was interesting.

What a surprise. R. said I was entirely too surprised when this came on, but I don't see the director of her hospital on the Daily Show. :)

A trip Hirosaki in the Winter

I'm always complaing about how I am busy and don't have any time. It is true that I am busy, but time is one of those strange things that you can definitely find more of if you have a good reason. Last weekend I took a kind of spur-of-the-moment trip up north to Hirosaki. The main reason for the trip was to get out of Tokyo and see some snow. I also thought it would be a nice trip to get a change of pace. I've been working pretty hard lately and it would be nice to get away from computers for a weekend and relax a bit. When my friend Ian suggested a trip up north, I thought it was a great chance for a change of pace.

I have been in Japan for three years, but haven't really travelled very much domestically. Thinking back, I'm a bit surprised at how little I've travelled. I'll try to fix that once R. and I get on a better schedule together. So Ian and I visited the local travel agent and got a great deal on train tickets plus an overnight stay at an onsen (hot springs resort) in Hirosaki. I haven't been up north for siteseeing much - I did go to Sapporo once for a conference, and did a little bit of travelling then, but I haven't done any tourism in the northern part of the main island. One of the goals of going there now is to see the snow, because we don't get much of it in Tokyo.

On Saturday morning Tokyo train station was absolutely packed with lots of young people carrying skis and snowboards, headed west to go skiing. Not as much people were headed north, but our train was still pretty full. After about an hour, we arrived at Sendai, and from there on things were snowy. It was amazing once we got up in the mountains because you could barely see out the window. It was snowing and things were just a white blur at the speed the Shinkansen was making. I really enjoy train trips, and this was no exception. As part of our ticket package, we got a voucher for coffee on the train, and like most coffee on Shinkansen it wasn't the best in the world, but it was coffee and came in a cute Suica cup. Also, I was amused that one of the trains on our trip was apparently executable. The trip from Tokyo to Hirosaki was supposed to take about five hours all told. The main bulk of the trip was from Tokyo to Hachinohe, on the Shinkansen taking about four hours, and from there another hour and a half or so to cut across West to Hirosaki. Unfortunately, when we got to Hachinohe (which means the 8th Door. There are also towns called 2nd Door, 6th Door, etc.) the trains were not in service because of high winds and snow. Instead they were using busses. So we got on a bus. It was supposed to be headed directly to Hirosaki, but instead at the last minute was changed to stop at Aomori. That probably added an hour and a half to the trip and the passangers were not very happy about it. Two old guy started yelling at the JR guy in very unpolite Japanese. The bus was packed - people in every seat, including the unfortunately souls who had to sit in the aisle on these lame fold-out seats that did not look very comfortable.

The bus probably averaged about 40 KM/H. It was slow. We stopped at two rest stops. There was nothing to eat there except for the standard types of omiyage (gift foods) so for lunch we had strange cake-like things and other gift-type foods. It was a long, long trip, but we eventually arrived at Hirosaki at about 4:30pm. Then we had another bus ride, about half an hour, until we arrived at our onsen, exhausted, tired, and out of daylight.

If you check the maps (hopefully on the right, or maybe a bit up above this) the trip is basically a mostly straight shot from Tokyo north-east up to Hachinohe. That is all on the bullet train. Very fast, very nice. Then from Hachinohe we take a normal commuter train (express style, called the Super White Bird I think) over to Aomori, the biggest city in the north-east. The final leg of the trip is on a tourist train with beautiful big windows called the "Kamoshika", but as I wrote above, train service was suspended and we were in a bus. For like 3 hours. And we stopped at small rest stations. And there was no food. Ian and passed the time playing video games, him on a cool PSP 3000 playing Star Wars Battlefront II while I was playing Tapper on my older, less well-known but more linuxy GP2X. Actually, I enjoyed the bus ride to the extent that long bus rides can be enjoyed.

Once we got to our Ryokan, we were tired and so hit the onsen. I'm sure I've written about onsen (the Japanese hot springs that people here love so much) before, so I won't revisit that topic again. I will note that this place had a 露天風呂 (Rotenburo, outdoor hot spring) which we made use of. Walking naked outside in the cold, with lots of snow falling and on the ground was a bit tough, but the bath is only about a six second walk from the indoor bath, so it wasn't too bad. The suddent dip then into 42 degree C hot water probably isn't a good thing to repeat over and over (and I am suffering a bit of a cold after the trip!) but it was great to sit out in the hot bath and watch the snow fall a hand's reach away.

We had a great dinner (included in the price of the trip) which I forgot to take picture of. It was very good though. Then on the way back to the room stopped to see a live Tsugaru Shamisen performance. The guy was pretty funny, and put on a good show. Then on up to the room and bed.

One of the main goals I had was to get out and see some real snow. I grew up in LA as a kid, and didn't ever see snow. When I was around 13 years old we moved to New Jersey and this white stuff that fell from the sky when it was cold was amazing to me. Then I moved to Dallas, and after that New York, neither of which get all that much snow. Tokyo sees even less snow than New York. But Touhoku (the north-east region of the main Japan island) is full of snow. Not as full of it as Saporro, but full of snow. So I wanted to get out and walk around in it. Ian and I were on a kind of tight schedule, but got up at 6am, hit the onsen again, got some nice breakfast (which I did get pictures of), and then went out for a 15 minute walk to the nearest temple. The temple, 岩木神社 (Iwaki Temple), was great. It was up a hill, full of snow, and just seemed really neat. I wish we had more time to walk around and see the temple grounds. They had a sign set up near a hanging bulls-eye target saying that if you could hit it with a snowball (from the path) then you would have good luck. I completely missed the thing. But I like interactive temples, so it is all good.

The walk back was cold, but we eventually made it. Just in time to check out and head back to Hirosaki station. We really wanted to see some of the Hirosaki sights, but due to a variety of comical mix-ups, didn't really have all that much time. We did get a chance to see the Neputa museum though, which I was really excited about because I've seen some TV broadcasts of a festival in the area where people build these great lighted floats and walk them around town. The musuem had a bunch of these on display, and they look really great. I would like to go back to Touhoku in the summer for one of those festivals. There are apparently two main ones, the one in Aomori (which is crazy big) and the one in Hirosaki, which is not quite as well known and is somehow slightly different. It is probably like the difference between the New York Jets and the New York Giants: I'm not really too clear on it, but some people are rabid enough to kill each other over it (apparently.)

After a nice trip through the museum and some shopping for gifts - お土産 (Omiyage), which are required after every trip out of town. You need to buy enough for the people you work for and pass them around. It is the only enforced social contact that we have at work with people outside our groups. It is really cool actually, because usually once or twice a week someone comes and gives you a small cake, or cracker, and you can chat about what things are like way out there where they visited (usually an hour or two away by bullet train.) The region we were in is the #1 producer of apples in Japan, so most things were apple-themed. Pretty good stuff.

The trip back we were able to ride the great tourist train. Big windows, a nice viewing lounge, comfortable seats. Really nice. Unfortunately, we hadn't booked ahead for the train from Aomori to Hachinohe, and we were a bit late making the transfer. We were in the "open seating" train, and since all the seats were taken, we ended up standing for the hour or so it took to get to Hachinohe before we could catch the bullet train home.

All in all, a really nice trip out for the weekend. I'm really surprised that after living in Japan for three years, I haven't done more of these short weekend trips. As long as the trains are running they really go pretty quickly, and you can get pretty far for a good deal when you do the package hotel + meals + train tickets plan. I'm really looking forward to taking R. out to go snowboarding sometime.

February 16, 2009

Video cards and linux ... again!

I know I've written about this before but video cards and linux are annoying. Actually, I think video cards are just annoying, this doesn't have much to do with linux at all. They are confusing and hard to get working right.

I actually have two video cards floating around here, an NVidia GeForce (uh, let me check the box) 8400GS and an AMD Radeon HD2400Pro (had to check that box too.) I think they are both reasonable cards to have.

I haven't been using either of them though, instead using the Intel GMA3100 on-board video. Why? Because the two previous times I tried to get the video cards working they didn't. The only problem with using the Intel video is that it isn't really up-to-snuff: the compiz (pretty window and graphics effects) slows down when you have too many windows open. I didn't really mind that, but the problem is that when I reboot the system I have to unplug the monitor and wait until Ubuntu boots into a 1920x1200 mode before it will work. Otherwise the monitor gets into some strange mode and the video card picks up the EDID information from the monitor wrong, sending a bad video mode and basically not working.

Since I don't reboot my machine often that isn't a problem. Except when I have to reboot. Also, I just found out that some games - or in fact random bad key combinations - might also set the monitor into a bad state. And I can't find out where Ubuntu stores the resolution information so I can't ssh in and change it back to what it is supposed to be.

Since I had to reboot to get the screen back, I thought I would pull the desktop out and try shoving the cards back into it. Maybe the drivers had advanced in the past few months. The Nvidia card was still no good: graphic corruption and hard freezes after a short while. I think there could be some hardware incompatibility there. Also, the card doesn't quite fit in my machine. So I couldn't really use it anyway.

The Radeon card is working though! Well, kind of. It turns out that there is some problem with compiz and AMD's driver so you can't run them both at the same time. After turning compiz off though, no more video flickering, and it plays back video really well. I don't know if it is an improvement over the Intel video, but at least it plays with the monitor well and doesn't get stuck in strange non-displayable states.

I would love to use compiz, so hopefully AMD will get around to making their drivers play nice with it.

Review of Charles Stross' Halting State

A while back I read my first Charlie Stross book, Accelerando. I really liked it, so much so that I bought a few more Charlie Stross books. This is the second one that I read.

I was hopeful, because the title refers to a classic decision problem that basically asks you to determine whether a given program will complete when given a certain input. In the general case, this is a very hard problem, and leads to all sorts of Goedel, Escher, and Bach type questions about how much you can infer about a system from inside the system.

The book has a very EU feel, and in fact it was hard for me to get into the first chapter because of the strong colloquial language. It actually turned me off a bit, and I had a lot of difficulty relating with the (near future, modern-day) world and characters. So it took me a lot longer than usual to make my way through this book, but about halfway through it really picked up.

I have talked about this before, but this book is basically about a theft that occurs in a virtual world (an alternate reality) and the investigators in the real world. I'm not really a big fan of these kinds of things, and even less when it is a virtual alternate reality. I ended up enjoying this book though because there was a lot in there that a programmer can enjoy and Charlie really knows what he is talking about when it comes down to bits, bytes, pointers and databases.

I was a bit disappointed in the ending, which didn't give much closure, and didn't let the reader feel like there was a real victory. The story just kind of wraps up (in a logical way) but there wasn't any sort of comeuppance for the "bad guys" (who were very ill-defined - intentionally - in the first place.) I did enjoy the book, but not nearly as much as Accelerando. I have a few more Charlie Stross books on the file though, and I'm looking forward to them.

Interesting quote: "Nobody ever imagined a band of Orcs would steal a database table..."

February 11, 2009

Amazon's Kindle 2

Not that I'm breaking any news here at all, but Amazon has announced the second version of their ebook reading, the Kindle. It is a nice looking piece of hardware. I actually tested a version of this a few months back when I was in Palo Alto. I really would like to get one of these devices, but it is only being sold in the US currently because of the included wireless internet service. I assume. I will definitely buy one of these if they are released in Japan, but I think I can wait until then.

I have an OLPC that I use to read ebooks on, so that should last me for a while. I'm also a bit unhappy that the books are Digital Restrictions Management on them so you can't read the books that you buy on other hardware. I wonder if the books will be accessible in 20 years or so. I know that my real paper books will be, as long as I manage to store them that long.

Anyway, a cool looking device that I really want, but I'll wait until we get a Japanese approved version out.

February 8, 2009

Game Center CX: So totally nerdy, it has to be Japanese


Arino-san up close
Arino-san up close. He's afraid of "the concept of (a) time (limit)!"

Game screen shots
Game screen shots with little explanations of the game characteristics. In this case, rappelling action is the key to the strategy.

A while back I heard about Game Center CX (and an English Wikipedia link also.) It is a TV show that is on Fuji TV, a normal TV channel broadcast over the air, about video games. The main focus of the show is Arino-san, a guy in this mid-30s (?) who plays video games. It is a kind of twist on a conventional Japanese formula: put people in painful or awkward situations and see how they respond to the adversity. The painful situation in this case? Play a difficult game from the 80s to completion. These games are tough. Also, Arino-san is pretty much locked up in a room and not allowed out.

Of course, as with almost all funny people on TV, Arino-san is from the Kansai region. I'm not really sure why he is so funny, but he is really funny. He's playing some game, and gets up to the end boss. He pauses the game and is like "What's that? It's HUGE!" but the way he says it is hilarious. I've watched the first 5 rental episodes of the show (there are 6 total) and have enjoyed each one.

The versions that are available for sale are actually different from the rental versions. I have enjoyed these things so much that I am thinking of picking up the box sets (1 2 3 4 5).

The other interesting thing is that there are two Nintendo DS games based on the series which are compilations of re-made retro games. That sounds interesting to me too. I really want to pick up a Nintendo DS soon: they have nice dictionary software (漢字そのまま DS楽引辞典) and "games" for learning how to write kanji (DS美文字トレーニング) that I would like to try.

The "Division Chief" (課長 - Arino-san) plays some tough games. I was interested when he played Prince of Persia (the Super Nintendo version.) I played Prince of Persia on the Apple //e (after Karateka), but I never got very far at all. So it was really interesting to watch Arino-san go at it. I'm glad I didn't put much time into the game: it was super crazy hard!

He also took on both Ghosts and Goblins and Super Ghoul's and Ghosts, both of which I've played, and never got very far in at all. Those are tough games.

Anyway, check out the Wikipedia link. It is comprehensive. Nerds. I highly recommend the show. The Japanese is fairly accessible, it is super funny, and even if you don't understand Japanese just watching the games is pretty cool.

February 7, 2009

Things I've been watching on TV

These are things I've been watching on TV. I didn't know much about "How I met your mother", but I really like Neil Patrick Harris. So I started watching because he's in it. I have no idea where I started watching from, but I really enjoy the series. Neil Patrick Harris' character Barney is an extreme caricature, but funny. It also has Alyson Hannigan in it, and I like her a lot too. It has a bit of a preachy quality to it, but is also shockingly touching at times. I think I need to go back to the first season and start watching from the beginning. Also, I want to see if they have it in Japanese ( only has the import version) and check out the dubbing.

The Terminator TV show has been excellent. The second season has started to air, and I'm really looking forward to watching that. I haven't had the time to watch it yet though. (I probably spend too much time writing pointless blog posts.)

I have also been watching "It's always sunny in Philadelphia" but honestly it is ... a bad series. But I'm somehow hooked on it. It is a low-class sort of humor, written and acted by idiots, idiotically. Slapstick and lowbrow. And yet somehow fascinating. Danny Devito randomly shows up after the first season. It is worth a look, but I can't explain why I keep watching it.

"Star Wars: The Clone Wars" is surprisingly good. The movie got panned, but I have really been enjoying the TV series. It is an old-school Flash Gordon style serial (that reminds me, I watched the first bit of Sci-Fi's "Flash Gordon" remake, but stopped because it wasn't good Sci-Fi, wasn't good Fantasy, and just generally wasn't good.) The Clone Wars has some annoying characters, but it does some very interesting things. The first few episodes have annoying characters with bad accents, but get past that (or just skip them) and it is very good. One of the things that I really like about it is that they show things from the point of view of the clones. They also kill them, and don't just have the clones act like throwaway killable ... clones. It would be very interesting if they would look more at the morality of the war, and the war from the point of view of the soldiers (they do this a bit), and the social position of the jedi and power they wield. It could become a really cool sociological study. Also, the space battles are totally cool. I recommend it!

"Flight of the Conchords" is amazing. The second season has just started. I am looking forward to that a lot. I tried to show R. the first episode. She didn't get it. Although, thinking about it, you really have to be good at English to catch the subtleties. It is hilarious. I'm positive I would not understand the same sort of thing in Japanese.

"Battlestar Galactica" is also excellent. I need to start watching the next season.

Also, I have been watching the new Knight Rider. It is bad. But I still keep watching it. Probably because all the actors are beautiful in it. And the opening theme music is amazing.

Actually, I think I watch too much TV. Man I really miss basketball. I used to be an NBA League Pass subscriber, and I would watch one or two games a day. But now I am lucky to find one game every other month or so.

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