February 1, 2009

Running across the Rainbow Bridge

Lately I've been running once a week with a running club from work. I was hoping that the once-a-week runs on Friday would motivate me to also run once or twice during the week to make three runs a week. I haven't been able to run more than once or twice a week because work has been very busy and last weekend I came down with a fever. It was horrible, but after losing my Saturday and Sunday, I managed to recover for work. By Wednesday or Thursday I was ready to start running again, but the timing didn't work out.

The runner's club at work planned a jog on Sunday to run across the Bay Bridge. I've been wanting to run over the bridge ever since we moved to our new place, because we can see the bridge from our balcony (if you do enough acrobatics to actually twist around an see it.) It looks like a run from my place, up to the bridge, across it and a little loop on Odaiba would be about 17km, so that is maybe a long run I can target for an upcoming weekend.

The run that we did today was really nice. We gathered at the and in English) and headed out for our run. There were five of us, and we took a gentle pace, which was good for me since I didn't run at all this week. The run through Odaiba was really nice, there were lots of people around, and the running area was very nice. You didn't have to fight through crowds and there was lots of space. I was excited because I could see my apartment building from Odaiba and the bridge.

The bridge itself was pretty cool. There is a northbound and southbound walking route. Twice over the length of the bridge you have to stop and walk through a building. And take an elevator in one to transfer from the northbound route to the southbound route.

After the run we hit the onsen. I'm not really a huge fan of onsen, although I do like them in general. I just have a hard time staying in a really hot bath for more than fifteen minutes or so. This place is set up to make a nice day trip. You go in there, get a wrist-band with a bar-code, and choose a Yukata to wear. Then you change into your Yukata and head out into the big shopping / eating / gaming section. It is a big themed building with lots of things to do, and lots of things to eat. You can pay for things with the bar-code on your wrist-band that has your key. And you will need it because things are expensive. I had a pretty normal lunch (well, it was more than I needed, but come on I had just run 10km!) and a beer, which came to 2700 yen! That is 1000 yen too many. And the food was completely average. I could have gotten some ice cream for 600 yen too, but I didn't think it was worth it.

I enjoyed the onsen, but again couldn't spend too much time in there. There were lots of foreigners in the onsen compared to other places that I've gone, probably because this is a really big onsen in Tokyo that is well-known. Also, onsen in Tokyo? Really? Are you saying that there is real natural hot spring water in Tokyo? I know there are lots of places that say they pipe it in from deep underground, but...

After lunch, the five of us went to the outdoor "foot bath" where you could wade around in these hot springs with rocks that is supposed to be good for you if you walk over them, but it was mostly just agony for me. You could also pay 1500 yen for 15 minutes with your feet in the "Doctor Fish" pool, where there are these strange fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet or something. I didn't think that was worth it either, but it was apparently an interesting experience. Maybe if I go back.

I really enjoyed the "run 10km, then hang out in an onsen for a while" day plan. I don't think it is something that I will do regularly, but it certainly was something doing once. It would be a lot less fun without the run though I think.

Cool Amazon Robot Party

A Danboard is a "robot" that showed up in volume 5 (I think - I'm only up to 3) of the Yotsubato! manga. It isn't really a robot, it is actually one of the characters from the manga dressed up as a robot made from carboard boxes. The main character, Yotsuba, thinks it is a real robot and hilarity ensues.

Thanks to Matt, the previous occupant of my desk, I've got a huge Danboard robot peeking out over the cube wall. I really like it. I also bought the normal sized version, and then the mini version when it came out in December of 2008. I was really surprised; those guys were the top sellers for weeks at Amazon.co.jp's hobby store, and now they aren't available new any more. The prices shot up quite a bit and now they are hard to get.

I'm glad I've got my two cute robots though.

A visit to Kashiwagi Farm and Ooyama Temple

In mid-January R. and I had a party at our apartment. R. wanted to make roast beef for the party, and since we had a rare instance of days off at the same time coming up she thought it would be fun to drive somewhere to get the meat. She was wanted to go to Kashiwagi Farm, about an hour out of Tokyo in Kanagawa that is apparently pretty well known. Of course, that means I was going to drive, but it is just as well since I need to get used to driving in Japan anyway.

The drive went well, and the farm had a nice shop. We got a bunch of meat, and then on the way out checked the nearby building where they milk the cows. You can take a tour, but it costs money and takes time.

Since we had the rest of the afternoon, we thought we would take a trip to nearby Ooyama Shrine up on Ooyama. I've never been to Ooyama, but I liked it because it was a big mountain and that is exactly what the characters mean: 大 big, and 山 mountain. I love it when things make sense like that. It must be a big mountain because even after we drove up pretty far (through some super narrow roads that were absolutely one-way despite what R. kept telling me) we then walked up lots and lots of stairs. Then we took a rope-train. Cool! The view was really great from up there (not that you can tell from any of the pictures.) Since it was "Adult Day" they had set up some special stuff that I do not know the purpose of. The last train out was at about 5:30pm or 6:00pm, so we just had time to really look around, take a few pictures, then get some tea before catching the train back to the midway station. Then lots more stairs, back to the car, and back to some super narrow roads before hitting Tokyo traffic.

It was both fun and stressful, but I do feel like I'm getting a bit better at driving in Japan. I don't know if I will ever be as comfortable as I am in America though.

You can see all the pictures at the Flickr set.

January 31, 2009

Amazon's list of 2008 Award Winning Manga

The good people over at Amazon Japan have just released their list of 2008 award winning manga. The good folks from the book department, whose floor I also sit at, put the list together. I've been reading the second series of books (well, comics) on the list, よつばと! and think it is a really good manga for Japanese learners.

January 30, 2009

Books: David Gemmel's The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend and Natsumi Hikaru's "The Doctrine of Sex"

David Gemmell's Druss the Legend

This past week has been a busy one, but sometime over the past week or two I picked up the second book about Druss the Legend in David Gemmel's the first book, and was even more impressed on reflection because that was David Gemmell's first book. It takes on the fantasy genre in a way that is interesting, going from the point of view of a hero on the way out. I've read lots of fantasy novels, and enjoy the straight on group of heroes against evil approach, but also enjoy fresh looks at the genre. (Most recently George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire's take on Fantasy as historically influenced political novels with a dash of magic.

What really surprises me is that David Gemmell's first book (Legend) was so good and so refreshing. The second novel in the Druss series, but not the second by publication date by a long shot, is a more traditional hero story, but still lots of fun. It is a great light reading fantasy novel that doesn't engage any of the meta-criticism centers of the brain that Legend challenges, and also comes off as a unique story on its own. Another book on the recommended pile. I do have the second book (by publication date) in his series on the pile to read, but next up will be something science fiction (Did you notice the Sci-Fi / Fantasy alternation I've been doing? I don't remember if I've actually done the write-ups in order, but I've been doing that for a while now.)

Natsumi Hikaru's "The Doctrine of Sex"

This is another one that I've been slowly reading. It is a Japanese book, and a bit of a random shot in the dark for me. A few months back Iijima Ai was found dead in her apartment. She is an interesting character, and was a regular on Sunday Japon, a weekend talk show that came on in the mornings. (Also famous as one of the shows that Dave Spector shows up on frequently, but I'm not going to write about him right now. Another interesting character.) She started out as a porn star, and ended up a pretty interesting commentator - a cut above the women that are on the shows to just look pretty - who had a bit of a feminist agenda, and definitely had interesting things to say.

So when I heard that she had been found dead, I decided that I should order her book PLATONIC SEX (小学館文庫) and try to read that. At the same time, Amazon decided to recommend this other book, "The Doctrine of Sex", to me, so I thought "why not?" and picked it up too. It came first, so I slowly worked my way through it.

I wasn't too serious about reading the book - just a chapter here or there when I had time (short chapters, about 1.5 to 2 pages) so you aren't going to get anything about Japanese literature analysis or pedagogical theory out of this from me. (Better hope Alex doesn't see this entry.) It was a fun read, Hikaru had some funny stories, and filled in the background of what it is like to work in the "water business" trade in Japan. It is really pretty light-hearted, she doesn't regret her job, and enjoyed the lifestyle while she was doing it. I did come away with an overall impression of a sadness, or rather a kind of process that jades people. One of the striking things she says is that she started to view men as belonging to one of two categories: men that should love her (and she loves) or men that should pay her. There is something about stripping people down to a sheer monetary value that is sad and depressing: over-application of capitalistic values seeping into the joy of life.

I came away from the book a bit depressed about it all, even though it really is fairly light-hearted. There are even lots of little one to four panel manga illustrating various funny things. It is an adult-oriented book though, so maybe I shouldn't admit that I read the thing here...

One interesting thing from the book is just how much money those women make. She commented once that if she saw something for $1000 or $2000 that she wanted, she could make that just by working hard for a day or two. Wow. Even more crazy is how much money people in those jobs can spend. A really interesting documentary The Great Happiness Space (or on Amazon: The Great Happiness Space (Original Japanese Version with English Subtitles)) is about the host clubs where a lot of these women spend their money. And boy do they spend it. I'm in the wrong line of business. (Actually I don't think I can drink enough to survive in those clubs, and I definitely don't have the people skills to cut it.) Anyway, an interesting movie. Check it out. Also kind of depressing.

For people that might be interested in reading it in Japanese: the level of Japanese was pretty high. I read it without dictionaries, but had to use my phone a few times to look things up, and sometimes just said "screw it, I've got a clear enough idea about things from context". It isn't as tough as some of Haruki Murakami's stuff, but it is harder than most of the manga that I translate. (Not that that is a very high bar, but...)

January 20, 2009

I need to check out 紅虎餃子房 or 万豚記

According to Famitsu, the restaurants 紅虎餃子房 and 万豚記 will have SF4 themed menus from 2009-02-12 to 2009-04-12. There are a bunch of either of those places in Tokyo, so I should be able to find one. Didn't look like there were any in Shibuya though.

Also you get a card with a QR code and can download a character voice to your phone. Or something. I hardly use all the crazy stuff that my phone can supposedly do.

January 19, 2009

Joe Haldeman's "The Accidental Time Machine"

On Sunday I picked up Joe Haldeman's "The Accidental Time Machine", a novel that I had ordered because Amazon told me to buy it. When Amazon tells me to buy something, I usually listen because it knows what I like. (But then again, I'm biased!)

Anyway, by Monday evening I had finished reading it. It was a really quick read. I read fast, but a little over a day is fast even by my standards: usually a Japan to US flight eats three novels, and those are about 14 hours flights. I probably only put in about 3 hours reading this book, so it runs a bit shorter than average for me.

I was interested in "The Accidental Time Machine" because I am a big fan of "The Forever War" - one of the classics in SF literature. I actually haven't read it in a long time and would like to pick up the new version that is coming out shortly. That is a good to book to have on hand. I should also pick up Starship Troopers since that is another great one to have around in a similar genre.

Anyway, I really enjoyed The Accidental Time Machine. You can tell because I didn't put it down until I had finished it. I don't think it is on the same level as The Forever War, but it is a nice time travel book. It reminded me a lot of Marooned in Realtime (which if you are interested in picking up you should probably pick up The Peace War as well.)

It also reads along the same lines as The Time Machine. I really enjoyed the book, but it was more along an indulgent, fast and fun read. I was disappointed with the Deus Ex Machina ending, but only in a plot and science kind of way, emotionally it was a really fun and rewarding ending.

I enjoyed reading through some of the bad reviews on Amazon, but I recommend it. Slot it in after you've had your does of hard sci-fi (or run it after some fantasy) and you'll probably really enjoy it!

I did anyway.

January 18, 2009

Recent Running and Hidden Raves

Run around the Imperial Palace
Run around the Imperial Palace

Run near home
Run near home

I just found out that there is a running club where I work. Nice. I joined up and the first run of the year was on Friday. Generally the club meets for dinner at 9:30pm, after running. People run at their own pace, so you have to make plans with people that you know that run at your pace if you want to run with people. The run is around the Imperial Palace, a run I'm intimately familiar with since I did it two or three times a week for 2.5 years. It is a convenient place to run because there is a facility called Runner's Station nearby. It is a little place where you can drop your stuff off in lockers, run, come back, and shower. It is actually very convenient, and I wish there were more of these places located conveniently around the city at nice running spots. Actually, I guess you can get almost the same deal by joining one of the gyms in the area and using them as shower facilities, but Tipness doesn't have a location convenient to the Imperial Palace.

After a nice run I met up with the rest of the crew and we had dinner at a korean place nearby. We got there at about 9:30, and probably left at about 11:30. It was so late in fact that I wasn't able to make the last train on the last leg of my commute. I had to take a taxi from Shinagawa back home, about $10. I didn't get home until 12:30, which is easily the latest I've come home because of the train system here.

On Sunday afternoon I took a long jog around the island across our house. I went as far south as I could for this run. It was about a 9.6km run, and I think I did it in about 56 minutes. It was a nice run. The most interesting thing was that down near the very tip of the island, in the midst of an industrial park, I came across a group of about 30 people. They were young, maybe in their mid 20s. There was a huge speaker system set up, and they had music going. I think it was a small rave-style (?) party. It was really strange. There is really nothing in the area. A nice little park, and a bunch of industrial factories and loading docks. And a big party of hip fashionable youths rocking out by Tokyo bay. Strange. I'll see if they are there next week at about the same time (Sunday, maybe around 4:00pm or so.)

I hope I can run a bit more often in the coming weeks. I still really want to find a way to run by the open side of Tokyo Bay, but it just doesn't look like I will be able to do that from where we live.

January 17, 2009

I really hate Zangief

Actually, Zangief is totally my favorite character. I love him. This guy apparently doesn't though. A rap from Balrog / M. Bison's point of view. Really funny. Man, I want to go play some SF4.

January 13, 2009

Review of John Scalzi's Android's Dream

I became a fan of John Scalzi when I read a book of his that Tor gave away as a free ebook: Old Man's War. After that I read The Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony. That took me through the "Old Man's War" series, except for the new still-in-hardcover Zoe's Tale.

So, I've really enjoyed all of John Scalzi's stuff that I have read so far, and there is another book that is outside the "Old Man's War" series. Guess what? It's really good! You should read it too. It is a bit wacky, but in a good way, and has strong conspiracy and thriller elements. There are some things in it that are a bit easy to see coming, but not enough that the book is predictable. It was a real page turner and hard to put down. I'm really looking forward to reading Zoe's Tale when that comes out in paperback. If you have only read the Old Man's War books, you really owe it to yourself to pick up Android's Dream.

The Mystery Jets and The Kooks

Last Thursday, R. and I went to see The Mystery Jets.

We've seen them maybe two or three times now. I like them; they have good rhythms, nice hooks, and are pretty clean. They aren't one of my favorite bands, but they are good and I enjoy listening to their stuff.

Of course, they are another band that appeals to the Japanese young woman demographic, so the place was packed with young women with the random guy. I was really surprised because right next to me was a really young-looking high school girl still in her school uniform. I didn't think that people that young would be allowed because the place does serve alcohol, but I guess maybe that isn't as important in Japan as it is in the US.

I enjoyed this concert a lot. It wasn't as crowded as these things usually are - still was pressed up against all sorts of people, but it wasn't super crazy hot, just hot. I'm glad R. got me out of my work routine to go out to the show.

I should note that at Fuji Rock last year R. and I randomly bumped into the lead singer and his father hanging out somewhere (at the strange robot art sculpture place) and they were both really nice when R. chatted them up and asked for their autographs.

Then tonight R. and I went to see The Kooks. The Kooks are another band that I like, but they aren't really up on my favorite list. They have a few songs I really like though, among them "Seaside". They're another young good-looking UK band and they had even more women at this show than the Mystery Jets. I had a tougher time at this concert because it was super packed, and I was just crushed. It was super hot and people were going nuts so elbows and arms were flying everywhere. Times like that I would really prefer to be back in the back and enjoying the show with a nice cold drink, but R. just loves to be up in the mix dancing like a maniac. I totally understand that though, if Bishop Allen, We Are Scientists, Say Hi, or any of my other favorites came back to Tokyo I would totally be up there dancing my head off. No question. It is just a bit tougher to enjoy it when I don't really know the band well. :)

Anyway, one of the things that is really great about R. is how she gets me out doing new things, and I especially love her enthusiasm and appreciation of good music.

January 12, 2009

Crayon Physics Deluxe

I recently bought a new game, Crayon Physics Deluxe.

In the past three or four years, I've bought maybe three or four games: the Orange Box (for Portal mainly - I haven't gotten anywhere on HL2 really, it is too scary, Galactic Civiliations 2, which is totally awesome, World of Goo and now this one.

I have only played a few levels, but it is really fun. You basically get to draw stuff, and they follow a reasonable physics model. So far as far as I have gotten there are little pivots points that you can use to make pivots, but so far most of the game involves drawing bridges and using weights and stuff to make the ball move around.

There is a really nice pace to the game where each level takes only a few minutes. It is slowing introducing me to how to use the game's controls and idioms, and probably will get harder once they have introduced all the game elements.

The music is really nice, and the GUI is very pretty with a child-like crayon-based feel to it. I highly recommend this game. Go and get it!

Let's Talk about Bathtubs


My bathtub is a lot smarter than I expected. It has a nice little spout thing that doesn't get in your way. The spout can shoot water out to the left or to the right. There is a control panel where you can set the temperature of the water, and the bathtub will re-circulate water to make sure that the water stays at the temperature that you set. More interestingly, you can press a button to have the bathtub fill itself up automatically. It says nice things like "Ok, I'm filling up!" and when it is done it says "Ok! I'm ready and full, let's take a bath!" It plays little songs to encourage you to take a bath. Inviting, warm and nice sounding songs. There are a lot of appliances in my house that play songs, and in my opinion the bathtub is the least demanding and annoying of them all: if you ignore it for a bit, it doesn't start to get on your case about it.

One of the things that really surprised me is that after you take a bath and let the water out, it says something about cleaning, and then starts putting more water into the bathtub. It shoots water around in an attempt to clean the tub for you! My wife got after me because I was actually supposed to take our special bathtub sponge and bathtub cleaner thing and clean it myself, but I was still surprised. Actually, I thought it was starting the robot revolution because even though I had hit the big physical button that opens a drain, the bath decided to counter-mand my orders and started filling itself back up. (Well, it couldn't beat the big wide open drain, but still.)

Finally, if you tell the bath to fill it up but accidentally forget to close the drain it will do its thing for a while, and then tell you the check the tub: "I can't fill up! Check the drain (you moron!)" Then it waits until you close the drain and tell it to fill up again.

Man that thing is smart.

Review of David Gemmel's Legend

While I was busy reading and buying the Caine series of books by Michael Stover Amazon recommended that I read David Gemmell's Legend (Drenai Tales, Book 1), so I added that to my cart to await an opening in my reading schedule.

A few weeks back I started reading Legend, and really enjoyed it. I didn't think the book was as engaging as the Caine series, but it opens with an interesting concept that I hadn't read before: what happens to heroes once they are leavig their prime? This was also the first book I've read by David Gemmell, and I enjoyed it so I have since picked up another book of his, the later written "prequel" to this book, which describes how Druss, the tititular Legend, becomes a legend. The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend (Drenai Tales, Book 6)

The battle scenes are very good, and the world also seems to have some sort of magic system that is, if not entirely explained, at least internally consistent, and used sparingly enough to make magic feel magical and not everyday and ordinary.

I'm excited about reading more books in this series. It seems like a somewhat confusing set of novels: looking at this list of books in the series they seem to be written at different times in different orders, but it is nice to see I have a new source of fantasy novels to mine.

January 8, 2009

Another brief roundup: cheap ebooks, cool indy games, and a neat graphics library

This is another post mostly for myself so I don't lose track of some interesting looking things.

First up, cheap $1 ebooks from Orbit. It looks like this publisher is selling one ebook per month at $1, which is a deal that you can not pass up, even if the books are DRM-encumbered. I'm seriously considering buying at least the first two books, The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks, and Ian M. Banks' Use of Weapons, even though I can't DRMd books on my OLPC with FBReader.

I highly recommend Use of Weapons by Ian M. Banks, but you should probably wait until next month to pick it up for $1. I have the paperback sitting right in front of me and I'm still going to buy the ebook.

Next, an interesting looking programming language for visualization and graphics. I wish I had more time to look into stuff like that.

Finally, Game Tunnel's list of 2008 best indy games - I want to check these out when I have more time.

January 3, 2009

Time Capsule Finally Working

So I have had a 500GB Time Capsule for a while. I am really impressed with it as an automated back-up device for Macs. I run two Macs at home, a three-year-old (and a bit) Mac PowerBook G4, a year and a bit old MacBook Pro (Intel, but not the latest all from aluminum one) and have been backing them up to my Time Capsule. When I first brought the Time Capsule home and tried to set up a wireless network, it worked fine for about ten minutes, but eventually the wireless would cut out. Connection attempts from Airport Utility would time out, and the wireless network itself would just disappear. Connecting from a wired connection worked fine though, and since I've been super busy I just chalked it up to one of those things and put the Time Capsule on a separate wireless router. I could still backup using wireless because it was on the same network, but I was limited to b/g speeds.

I recently had a reason to look into fixing this again: the warranty period is coming up in 3 months, and I picked up another Mac (for my wife - maybe I'll post more about that later.) I really wanted to get backups of her machine and my machine. The third G4 PowerBook is used essentially as a TV player connected to the TV, so that isn't too critical.

Anwyay, I took the Time Capsule down to the Apple Store in Shibuya, and after talking with the guys at the Genius bar, they recommended that they swap it out for a new one. That means that I lost the backups I had up until then, but there is no major loss there. They are only backups. I got the new Time Capsule home, and wouldn't you know it, this one works like a charm. The wireless network is 100% solid with WPA2, I backed up 100GB+40GB+70GB or so over wireless, no problems.

I really think the Time Capsule is a nice bit of hardware. First, it is absolutely silent. There is no fan on it (that I know of) and when you don't use the hard disk it spins down eventually and becomes dead silent. I tried to spin down external USB hard drives when they aren't being used under Ubuntu, but I never got them to turn off their fans. The Time Capsule is a lot more quiet than the other two external USB hard drives I have. The 802.11n wireless network is fast - on my MacBook Pro I was getting from 2GB/sec to 3GB/sec throughput on it. (On the PowerBook G4 only up to 1GB, but that doesn't have an 802.11n adapter on it.)

The backup software with OSX Tiger, Time Machine, is just amazing. It takes snapshots on the hour every hour, and has an amazingly pleasant UI to use to restore files. I have a similar sort of script running under linux with rsync and hardlinks, but there is no nice file restoration GUI, and ou can tell when it kicks in. Time Machine is really great because you can sleep the machine in the middle of a backup and it takes care of things gracefully.

So I'm really happy with my Time Capsule, even though it wasn't working for months. When things are covered under the warranty with Apple, you really get great service. I love that you can just make an appointment and walk into a real store and talk to a real person. I always buy the 3 year AppleCare Extended Warranty with Apple machines because having that service is just super useful.

That said, I also have three linux (Ubuntu 8.10, Fedora 10, and some random Ubuntu with XFCE version on the OLPC) machines at home and enjoy working with them also. The Macs are still better for just getting stuff done. I spend more time screwing around with the linux machines that I would like to admit (just look at my most recent posts...!)

Getting Tomoe to recognize Japanese characters in English on Fedora 10

I recently set up Fedora 10 on a ThinkPad X60 laptop, which has worked very well. I'll write about that a bit later I think. There are still some issues with the wireless connecting to a WPA2 network, and the Intel 945GM video drivers are apparently pretty crappy right now due to changes in the underlying architecture, but things are working really well on this small laptop.

One of the things I am interested in using this laptop for is as a Japanese-English dictionary. To that end I installed GWaEi, a Japanese-English dictionary using the Edict files. I had been using GJiten for a long time, but that project hasn't been updated in a while, so I thought I would try something new. (Warning: I had to compile from source, and make a minor change in main.c to have it default to called "/usr/local/bin/gwaei" when re-setting the language variables. A simple change, shouldn't be tough to figure out but feel free to drop a comment if you want more info.)

GWaEi seems to work well.

The other thing I like to do is use Tomoe, a linux-based handwriting recognition engine for Japanese and Chinese characters. It is conveniently available for install via yum. The problem is that after installation, no matter how many strokes I entered no candidates would show up. That is odd. I vaguely remembered that when I installed Tomoe on Ubuntu recently that I had to copy some file.

So, for those facing a similar problem at home: if you want Tomoe to make suggestions when you are running in an English environment, you will have to do something like this:

$ sudo cp /usr/share/tomoe/recognizer/handwriting-ja.xml /usr/share/tomoe/recognizer/handwriting-en.xml

That took care of the problem for me. Yay! Now I can fingerpaint my way to successful Japanese reading.

My next project: see if I can upgrade to the newest version of Ubuntu on the OLPC that I have, and get Tomoe working on that. It is a bit smaller than the X60 and might make a good machine to take to coffee shops. (That isn't really true though: the keyboard on the X60 is vastly superior to the one on the OLPC, but the OLPC has a much better screen for doing lots of ebook reading.)

Anyway, hope that helps someone out there. Jeez, it seems like my entire vacation has been spent on sundry computer things at home.

Our Hatsumode Plan

One thing people like to do in Japan around the New Year is their first shrine visit, the Hatsumode (初詣). I think generally people in Japan visit a temple probably on average 1.8 times a year (this is a wild guess.) Generally, people go to a shrine right after the new year. Then they probably don't go again, unless they have kids at those special ages (3, 5, 7, 20) a wedding, or some other things. I don't really know though.

Anyway, at midnight of the new year people go to shrine. Meiji Jinguu is probably one of the most popular shrines in Japan. It is absolutely packed.

R. wanted to go to Meiji Junguu for our first shrine visit of the year. As a foreigner, I actually go to lots of shrines. They are cool and new to me. R. likes to visit shrines around the country when she travels, so she goes to a few shrines a year also. I haven't really visited Meiji Jingu so I was excited about it.

The interesting thing is that R. had a plan to avoid the crowds. She was working the night shift on the 2nd, so she would get home at about 2:30am or so on the 3rd, then we would go to the Shrine. Awesome! So she got home at about 3:30am, picked me up, and we drove to the shrine.

I like cities late at night. People say that New York is the city that doesn't sleep, but that isn't true. I've walked around New York city last at night, 2am to 5am at various different times. The city does sleep. But it has different rhythms at night. Garbage men are out, people are making deliveries. The roads are less busy, sidewalks are empty. Just seeing what does on behind the scenes while we sleep is interesting. Of course, there are places that people are out and partying or whatever, but those are more the exceptions than the rule. Las Vegas is probably a better example of a city that sleeps less than New York.

So driving around Tokyo late at night was very interesting. I haven't spent as much time out late at night in Tokyo because the mass transit systems shuts down, but I really enjoyed it.

So when we pulled up to the shrine and got out of the car and found out that the temple was closed until 6am, it wasn't a disappointment for me: I had already had a nice time. We went home, and got in bed by 4:30am for some much-needed rest. (I stayed up until R. got home out of a misguided sense of solidarity. Also, I was trying to get WPA2 wireless on Fedora 10 working on a ThinkPad X60.)

Just to be clear, she was pretty sure that the place would be open: it is open 24 hours on New Year's eve / day, and probably should have been open until the 4th or so.

January 2, 2009

MAME Frontends in Ubuntu

I have been interested in getting MAME running on my desktop again. I never got SDLMAME working on Fedora 8 because performance was terrible. For some reason, under Ubuntu with my Intel GMA3100 onboard video things work well enough to play pacman at least (and probably others, SFA2 seemed to work well, but as always SSF2T was too fast) so I wanted to see what the state of MAME Front Ends for linux was. (Oh, also I have to run in the software render mode to get the tab menus to show up, otherwise they are garbage. Once things are set up though I don't need the menus, so back to hardware mode which is fast.)

kxmame doesn't believe me that my sdlmame executable is a MAME executable, it complains that it can't find any MAME instance and errors out. So that is enough time spent on that one.

kamefu refuses to find any of my roms. So that one is out.

wah!cade seems to work, but it uses bitmaps for the default UI and on my 24" monitor I can't read anything. So I stopped play with that for the time being.

Two more I am looking at are Lemon Launcher (probably won't install it unless I can't get AdvancedMenu to work) and AdvanceMENU which is my current best hope. There is a description of the install process here. So far installing AdvanceMENU has been a real pain. this thread has helped me fix a few SDL errors and of course I had to install a lot of stuff to get this to compile.

Once compiled I couldn't get it to run well: I added sdlmame as an xmame emulator, and had to make some init files for that. But it would freeze when trying to launch a program. I am now checking on the configuration used by Piapara, a bootable ISO that runs advancemenu and sdlmame to see what they use. To do that I had to create a boot cd, mount the iso in a loopback filesystem, then mount the app.img in a loopback filesystem. Finally, the relevant setup info they use is:

emulator "MAME" mame "/usr/bin/mame" "-inipath /mnt/pendrive/sdlmame/ini"
emulator_roms "MAME" "/mnt/cdrom/sdlmame/roms"
emulator_flyers "MAME" "/mnt/cdrom/sdlmame/flyers"
emulator_altss "MAME" "/mnt/cdrom/sdlmame/snap"
So they set up the emulator as a mame emulator. Ok. I'll try that.

Also, a new discovery: using the sdlmame option -gl_forcepow2texture fixes the menu corruption bug that I was seeing. So yay for that! Actually on further investigation I also needed to set the filter to 0 and (remove bilinear filtering from output, which makes things look more pixelated and better anyway) and enable gl_glsl in the sdlmame config. It seems to be working well now.

I haven't got advancemenu to work though. I have all these great artwork cabinet and screenshot files, but I can't get advancemenu to launch sdlmame. Ah well. That is enough time spent on that today.

Annoyingly Super Street Fighter II Turbo still runs too fast. Tapper runs well though, so that is good enough.

January 1, 2009

Spinning down external USB hard drives on Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex

So I recently switched to Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex from Fedora 8 for no real good reason. Anyway, I have two external 500GB drives that I use for backup, accessing about once a day or so. I would like for those external USB drives to spin down when I am now using them. How can I get that to happens?

Generally, it looks like you can use the sg3-utils package to do that. First, install the package:

$ sudo apt-get install sg3-utils
To do this right you should probably make sure that your hard drives show up in predictable places. The best way I know to do that is to set a label on the partition, and then it should mount in /media/LABEL. So here is a good article on how to rename external USB hard drives. I saved the script at the URL above as /usr/local/scsi-idle and following along:
$ mount
(note that sdc1 has mostly TV shows, sdd has my other data)
$ sudo umount /dev/sdc1
$ sudo umout /dev/sdd1 
(name both partitions appropriately - one partition per drive)
$ sudo e2label /dev/sdc1 BackupTV
$ sudo e2label /dev/sdd1 BackupData
Then power cycle the drives. Check that they show up as expected:
$ mount
...
/dev/sdc1 on /media/BackupTV type ext3 (rw,nosuid,nodev,uhelper=hal)
/dev/sdd1 on /media/BackupData type ext3 (rw,nosuid,nodev,uhelper=hal)
That looks good to me. I also added to /etc/local.rc
# added by devans to spin down external disks.                                                            
# See http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=560958&page=3                                              
# and the related wiki entry https://help.ubuntu.com/community/ExternalDriveStandby                       
# Spin down any external SCSI drives after "X" seconds:                                                   
/usr/local/bin/scsi-idle 900 &
which should take care of that. Just for this first time, I ran it myself: $ sudo /usr/local/bin/scsi-idle 900 & While that did work ok, it only spun down the hard disks. It did not go the extra step of shutting down the fans on the hard drives, so they are about as noisy as they were before. Still, at least they are spun down now. I set the drives to their "auto" setting, but it looks like that will only kick-in and shut them down when they are unmounted, which I do not want to do.

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