February 16, 2009
Review of Charles Stross' Halting State
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 2their 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. He's afraid of "the concept of (a) time (limit)!"
Game screen shots with little explanations of the game characteristics. In this case, rappelling action is the key to the strategy.
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 "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!
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
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.
February 1, 2009
Running across the Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Odaiba Run, about 10.8km
Ooedo Onsen Monogatari
It is like a hot springs theme park
Choose your Yukata
Lots of shops
Ninjas! No pirates though.
Lots of games and stuff
Lots of food: not good, but expensive
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
Large Danboard Robot (peeking over my cube wall)
Mini Danboard Robot
Danboard and mini Danboard hanging out together
I envision that the start of the human-robot wars will look something like this
A visit to Kashiwagi Farm and Ooyama TempleKashiwagi 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.
Lots of steps
Crazy Cable Car
We must be far from Tokyo...
From the Shrine looking down
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
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 LegendThis 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"
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 near home
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 ZangiefActually, 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
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 KooksLast 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
Crayon Physics Deluxe Menu
The level select GUI is cool too
Pivots! They are part of Physics!
Make your own pivots!
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
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
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 WorkingSo 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...!)
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