May 5, 2009
Review of the BBC Series Survivors (2008)I recently watched the BBC Series "Survivors", which is apparently a remake of a 1975 - 1978 British TV show. It came out in 2008 an concerns a virulent flu outbreak that kills off all but about 1% of the population. Put this on the TV and see if you can convince people that it is a documentary on the current state of the H1N1 "Swine Flu" epidemic going on in Britain. You probably won't get too far with it, but it really is a pretty scary presage of what could happen. I enjoyed the series quite a bit. It has a lot of the flavor of 2006 TV Series Jericho, itself an end-of-the-world descent into de-civilization via not disease but nuclear war. Both deal with similar issues and are a lot of fun. They also both remind me of J. Michael Straczynski's Jeremiah, a TV series about a post-nuclear world where ... Hm, I get the feeling that this could go on a for a while. So I'll cut it out now. Anyway, I enjoyed Survivors a lot. It has apparently been renewed for a 2009 season, so that is something to look forward to (along with the BBC standby of Doctor Who.) I usually try to put in a few pictures because I know that people won't read blog posts without them, but I didn't manage to get any pictures this time. Bummer. Just imagine a very empty Britain, like something out of Children of Men, or 28 Days Later or ... wait, I started doing it again.
May 2, 2009
Setting up an AFP (Apple Filesharing Protocol) on Ubuntu and a Firefly iTunes Media ServerOne of the things I've been meaning to do for a while is set up my Ubuntu machine to share out the music I have on it. I run Amarok on the machine and love it, but that doesn't help when I'm super lazy and don't want to reach over for the linux machine keyboard when I have a perfectly good laptop in my lap*. (* Of course, I do have a VNC server set up on the machine so I could VNC in and start up Amarok that way, but it somehow feels like cheating.) First step in getting the machine to share out music: set up an AFP server do the other machines in the house (mostly Macs) can see it. That was a lot easier than I expected: just follow the instructions on this post. Great! That seemed to work well. I think. I already had samba up and running on the machine and I am guessing that is what is currently showing up in the Finder. I'll check it out on R.'s machine when I can pry her away from it. The one thing that I did do was to change ATALK_MAC_CHARSET to 'MAC_JAPANESE' and ATALK_UNIX_CHARSET to 'UTF8'. It was pointed out over on this Japanese blog entry that that would be a good idea. I also set up a share for my data folder. I was impressed that this went so smoothly because you need to compile the service from source in order to enable encrypted passwords on the server. It went really smoothly though. Once you have AFP set up, you need to set up Avahi to broadcast the server. This guide is a really nice explanation of how to set up Avahi. So once that is done, you can move on to the next step in the process: and set up Firefly on the system. That setup was also really smooth, with the exception that for some reason, if you change the default password the service does not seem to work. I have no idea why that would be the case, but do have a vague memory of the same thing happening a few months ago when I set it up. Annoying, but not such a big deal. Once I hit up the webpage for the service, set up the proper directory for the music, and did the scan, the share showed up in iTunes just fine. Nice.
April 30, 2009
My first, and last, Kart Racing Experiencereally amazing Tokyo Aqualine Tunnel and got there a bit early. I didn't know until then, but R.'s Mini Cooper's GPS unit has a TV tuner. So we watched some TV. Also, it has a remote control. Seriously? It is very hard to get any farther than an arm's length away from the GPS unit in that car even if you tried. But still, a remote control. Wow, we are lazy. Anyway, we had a total of 19 people. That means we had to split into two groups. The fast group, and the slow group. We determined who was in which group by a time trial. Before that we had a 15 minute practice period. I have never ridden in these little carts before, and I'm bad with motion in general. I get car sick easily, I hate landing on airplanes, basically everything at Disney Land or any of those amusement parks makes me throw up, most elevators make me a bit quesy... So sitting a few inches off the ground, zooming around and making hard turns is probably not something that would be good for me. So on the practice laps I was very slow. I wasn't sure if what would happen on the turns. I was worried that taking one at high speed would mean I would flip over. Scary. By about the tenth time I got passed on a corner though, I began to figure out that maybe I wouldn't flip over if I was going a bit quicker through the corners. So on the time trial I gave it more gas, and promptly spun out. My best lap time in the time trial was the second worst time in the whole group, so I was solidly in the second, slow, group. R. made it into the first, fast group. The slow group was first. I finally decided that I might as well try to gun it as much as possible. The race was set up for 22 laps. By the third lap I actually figured out that I basically only had to let up on the gas on two corners. I started actually passing people. I went from second to last to first. With five laps to go, I thought I had it won. Then I spun out and fell back to 3rd place. I was just barely able to make it to first place with 3 laps to go. I am honestly really impressed that I managed to do that. Unfortunately, the last five laps or so I was starting to feel pretty ill what with all the cornering and skidding and fast moving and whatnot. So basically after I finished, took the picture with the flag, I got out and felt like throwing up. I didn't though, and I managed to get some water, and about two days later I was feeling find again. R. did well for her group, came in 4th. As the winner of the slower group, my best lap time was only better than about half of the best lap times of the people in the first group. All told though, it was a lot of fun. Except for the sick part. I'm glad I was in the second group and not the first, but I know that is not something I will be doing again.
Esther M. Friesner's The Sword of Mary: A Sequel
April 26, 2009
iPhoto 09's Faces FeaturePicasa's Name Tags) is the first really commercial product that I have seen facial recognition in. Since I'm a computer scientist by trade, I'm well aware of how these kinds of things work beneath the covers, and while there has been some press coverage saying that this feature isn't ready for mass release, I disagree. I think it does a good job, has a great interface, and more than that, is really fun to use. I find that once I put a name to a face, I want to go through and see what other pictures I can find that the person is in. I also have been adding metadata to my pictures in some way (going back to file name for really old pictures) that show who is in a picture, so it is interesting to see how well iPhoto compares to my tags. Once you have added a bunch of names to faces, iPhoto has a nice cork-board of faces that you can click on to find all pictures they are in, or have iPhoto show you more pictures that it thinks they might be in. Adding names to faces is very easy. When you see a picture, you hit the "Name" button and then get a picture like the one to the left. People who have a known name have their name below their face, and for people whose name isn't known you see either "unnamed" or iPhoto asking "Is this X?" where X is someone you have already named. It is really impressive. iPhoto does a very good job of noticing faces - it doesn't always notice all faces, but it gets most of them - and it does a good job of suggesting names when it thinks it might know who someone is.
It is also easy to scan through a lot of pictures and quickly confirm or refute iPhoto's guesses
iPhoto is also wrong sometimes, and guess that strange things might be faces. In the middle picture on the right, names have been blurred to protect the innocent and stomach-face-bearing people. Also, iPhoto doesn't know when a face is a human, or whether it is just a face-like object to sometimes hilarious results.
Things that disappoint me about this feature in iPhoto: there should be better intergration with the Address Book. After a software update, iPhoto will suggest people from your address book, which is great. It does this based mostly on email addresses to keep track of people, so you can add someone's email address from address book and you won't get duplicate name suggestions. I wish that in address book though that it would know about the faces in iPhoto and you could get the faces gallery on the Address Book entry. As it is now, you have to go into iPhoto yourself, pic a picture, then drag it over to Address Book. You also lose the nice face cropping that iPhoto does for you. That's too bad. I hope that in future updates that put that kind of functionality into Address Book.
Another issue is that iPhoto 09 adds Flickr and Facebook support, but at least in Flickr it doesn't look like they send the extra faces meta-data. They should make a Flickr "note" around the face with the name, or at least put a list of the recognized people into the photo. As it is now I feel like I have to go in and manually type the names into the description field, which is exactly what I was trying to automate out of the picutre. (uh, no pun intended.) I haven't checked if they do that for Facebook yet. Also the upload interface isn't as nice as what I have been using, Connected Flow's Flickr Export. That has a lot more options and gives you a much better update on upload progress. I'll probably keep using it since I prefer it - you can create new sets with a description and it just generally is more powerful.
Otherwise I am really happy with Faces. It is a fun way to spend time going through your old pictures. I'm afraid that now I'm addicted to trying to name everybody that has ever been in one of my digital photos...
April 15, 2009
OSX Password generator scripthttp://www.codepoetry.net/products/passwordassistant
Found a nice script to open up the OSX password generator window. Might come in handy if you need to generate a bunch of passwords. I'm still looking for a good replacement password safe for OSX / linux / windows (preferably one that works on all three.) I have been using Keyring (an open source Palm application) for ages, and still have my Treo 600 as basically a portable password store (but I don't have it with me at right this moment, so this script will come in handy.)
April 14, 2009
Sakuracon 2009By pure chance our hotel was next to the Seattle Convention Center. The week before was the big comic book convention, ComiCon. The day we left Seattle was the first day of the Sakura-con, an anime-themed convention in Seattle. Apparently. R. and I had a few minutes before leaving, so we popped into the convention center and took some pictures. She was too shy to take the pictures, but really got a kick out of seeing everyone dress up. I took all the pictures, and I asked every person if it was ok. Everybody was super excited to get their picture taken, and they almost always posed in some way appropriate to their character.
Click to see pictures and ... read more (747 words)
Psalms of Herod and Architects of Emortality
Psalms of HerodThis flight out I didn't read many books. I only started one, Esther Freisner's "Psalms of Herod", but I didn't even finish it on the plane. I ended up finishing it on the road sometime. I didn't really like the book. It is set in some unspecified point of time in the future of a very heavily Christian-influenced world, perhaps somewhere in America based on how the language is written. The main character is a woman, Becca, who starts to question the social order that she lives in. The roles of women are strictly defined, and highly controlled by the paternal authority figure. There isn't much that a woman can do on her own in the world of the book. Something peculiar has also happened to women biologically so that they are only fertile twice a year, which comes into play with some of the rituals that are set up for them. The book starts slowly. Very slowly. I wasn't sure I would finish it because I was having a lot of trouble getting into it. Once things started going a bit quicker I was drawn in enough to finish off the last half of the book fairly quickly, but it was a close call. I don't like the society described in the book, and while it is very reminiscent of "A Handmaid's Tale" and is trying to warn against a strong role of religion in society it just isn't something I'm interested in reading in fiction for fun. You don't have to go far in our world today to find religion and oppressed women in non-fiction, which is what I would prefer to read if I wanted to take up the subject. Still, there is an interesting science fiction story here, and using science fiction to explore areas of the human condition is one of the things that can be done well in the genre. The book itself doesn't have an ending. Very disappointing. It is continued in the sequel, "The Sword of Mary", and the way things end in this book is just terribly disappointing. Do not pick it up unless you have the second volume on hand if you intend to actually finish it. It also has some very adult themes (sexuality, oppression, rape, child abandonment, etc.) so you might to give it pass based on content also. I do have the second book myself, since I had the series recommended to me from somewhere (a thread over on tor.com I think?) and am interested in finishing it, but I can't really recommend the book. Here is a review that seemed to like it though.
Architects of Emortality
From SFO to SeattleR. and I were in Seattle. Click "read more" to see a bunch of pictures and words about it. read more (1775 words)
March 26, 2009
Bishop Allen at the Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco
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
A visit to the National Art Center in Tokyo
National Art Center Tokyo
National Art Center Tokyo Sign
National Art Center Tokyo with plates in trees
National Art Center Tokyo interior
March 24, 2009
Emacs, Japanese, Putty, Windows, and text entryI 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-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
Front Row Main Menu
Front Row TV Menu
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 USAI'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
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 tutorialDwarf 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 JapaneseI 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 VisualizedThis 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 jointGoro'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...
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