May 25, 2009

Monday 2009-05-25

1 Monday 2009-05-25

Monday morning was consumed with packing. We had lots of stuff. More than we started with.

We then left the Kahala - after a bit of a delay in finding our cake - and went back to the Waikiki Banyan.

The big plan for the afternoon was for Risa and Alana and Jana to go to the VIP room at Louis Vuitton. The organizer there, Mariko, a friend of the Tanaka family's friend (Kobayashi, who helped with a bit of the arrangements here and a lot of the Tanaka family planning) gave us a cake there. It was delicious.

I might not have mentioned it, but our rental car was a Chevy HHR wagon type thing. It is a reasonable car. Mr. Tanaka said that I should get a big car so that we can shuttle people around. Turns out we didn't really do much of that. It was useful when we moved from the Kahala back to our other hotel though. But Risa was complaining that it wasn't really a cool car. So while she was at the Loius Vuitton showroom, I took the car back and changed it for a convertible Mustang. Protip: do not let them close out your car when you want to do an exchange. Use the magic words: "I want to exchange." If they close it out, it might take a long time to get the car you really want. It turns out that the change to a mustang didn't really cost anything. huh. Maybe it is a few dollars, but it isn't really much of a premium over the normal car.

Also, the speed limits are low in Hawaii: the fasted road I have found is 55 mph. There is hardly any benefit to getting a hot car over a normal one, but I can't argue that the mustang isn't cooler than the HHR, because it is.

1.1 Dinner at Gordon Biersch at Aloha Tower

After that, I picked people up, and we went back to our place. Eventually we made it to the Gordon Biersch Brewery where the Tanaka and Evans family had a last dinner together. It didn't really work too well though because of the Japanese - English barrier, and like I said before I am not really a very good interpreter. I was super happy to see Eric Tschetter and Sayuri there, but it looked like Eric was either perpetually embarrassed, or had a devastatingly sunburned face. Turns out it was the sunburn. After dinner he was out of commission as he (probably) repeated applied Aloe Vera to his face while cursing his pigment-lacking ancestry. I do that a lot too.

Dinner was nice. Dad met a friend there from Omak. He had friends everywhere. After dinner we went back home, then to the Moana Surfrider bar for drinks with Alana and Jana. And finally back home for more dead-like sleep.

May 24, 2009


We got married on Sunday. It was great.

My thanks go out to Eric Han, Ron DeVilla, my family, the Tanaka family, Yuzuna (because she is so super cute), Eric Tschetter, Sayuri, Eric Han, and Tomoko for their translation help, Carl Sable, Jon Evans and Lilly, and everyone that came.

Our cameraman, Kenrick, was great.

Risa loved her makeup artist (Mariko) and our wedding coordinator from Issei company, Sayuri. Otherwise, I have nothing but good things to say about the Kahala hotel. I was amazed that so many friends came from the US. It was great to see everyone. Even those late people (I'm looking at you, Andy! But I love you anyway. I think it would have been strange had you been on time!)

We had a strange mix of Japanese and American ceremony. I know Risa and I ate more than say, my best bud Ron and Michelle at their wedding. So I think that means we are bad hosts. I loved how people gave impromptu speeches, and I knew my sister would cry. I wasn't sure which one it would be, but it was Alana.

I really should have given Carl more time for his palindrome.

We ended up with waay too much cake. But the dinner was delicious.

Did you know that we got married at the Magnum PI Bar? We did.

We were both exhausted by the time it was over.

May 23, 2009

Saturday 2009-05-23

1.1 Pick up Aiko and Satoko from the airport

I was supposed to drive us to the airport to pick up Risa's bridesmaids, Satoko and Aiko, but instead I spent the morning throwing up, feeling amazingly sick, not being able to sleep, and trying to stop the room from alternating from spinning to punching to my head.

Risa was a bit dubious about going out to drive on her own, but when we visited California a half year back she did some driving and didn't have much trouble, so I figured she should be able to make it to the airport and back. And she did! She did warn me on the way out that she might crash and die, but in the state I was in that sounded safer than me trying to get out of bed.

1.2 Move to Kahala

A few hours later I was feeling somewhat human again (with faint zombie-undertones) and got up and showered. I had a bunch of IMs from people, and managed to even get dressed by the time Risa returned. I think we had a bit of time to recover, and maybe we went out an ate something. I know that we eventually got back into the car, and I took up the wheel. We headed to the Hyatt, where Risa's friends were staying, and picked them up, then went to the Kahala, checked in there, and wandered around for a bit.

The Kahala Hotel is pretty crazy. It is a very nice place (they had pictures of both Shawn Bradley and Kareem Abdul Jabber from when they visited there!) and they have a kind of artificial lagoon in the middle of the property. With dolphins. And Sea Turtles. And other things. It is really crazy. There is also a nice beach and places to eat, a pool, etc. We were only there for two nights but it looks like we have to go back for a bit longer next time. I've been told.

We wandered around the grounds and someone there gave us free Pineapple Popsicles. Score! Also, Risa and her friends hadn't seen a hammock before, and were pretty amazed at them. So we spent some time playing with hammocks.

By 3:30pm our bus had come and picked us up for the Paradise Cove Luau. Lena decided to go there, then we ended up getting a bunch of other people to go.

1.3 Paradise Cove Luau

The bus that came to pick us up was huge - a regular tour bus. There were only the four of us on it. We then drove to the next pick up point, met another bus, and filled this one up. Wow. Also, I called my favorite brother Jon and found out that he was totally waiting at some other hotel. I got him headed in the right direction and he and Lily eventually made it on the bus.

The trip out to the Luau place was about 45 minutes. Most of my friends made it, except for Carl and Cha-Eun, who went to the competing (supposedly much better, but Mormon-run and alcohol-less) Polynesian Cultural Center Luau. That's cool with me: I wanted to go to that one too, but on general principles think people should have the choice of destroying brain cells with alcohol if that is what they want (and what I often do, but didn't this evening since I had to drive.) I also am not sure what the Mormons are doing running that thing; I guess they didn't have enough of an imperial native-dominating experience back in the Missionary era? I hear that the pork is excellent though.

The Paradise Cove Luau is pretty cool. I was glad to see that cousin Doug made it, despite having been to this very Luau multiple times (I think.) He had some good advice on what do to. Generally I think the place was pretty cool.

I really liked Dave's Ice Cream. Surprisingly I have only had ice cream three times in Hawaii. One of them was here, where I got a nice Chocolate and Macadamia nut ice cream. It was good. Then Risa went and made a nice flower bracelet and a really cool headband with her bridesmaids. I tried really hard to translate and keep everyone involved, but I get the feeling that I'm not really a very gregarious guy. I need to work on that more.

We then headed over to the water and watched the tree climbing thing, where a dude totally just climbed up this tree like it was nothing. Then he threw flowers at people. Pretty rude if you ask me. ;) After that we watched a traditional fishing thing with nets. It was pretty cool.

Then I had the bright idea to get some drinks. I got in line. About an hour later I got our drinks and brought them back to Risa and her bridesmaids. The Luau had already started. It was a buffet, and it was good. The pork was amazing. It was very tender (a whole pig, probably more than one) and delicious. The other stuff was ok. The fried chicken was pretty good. I can't believe the pork though - it was great. Lena made me say into her video camera that it was the best pork I had ever had. I said that while eating chocolate cake though, so I am not sure how convincing it was. It was really good though.

Then we had the entertainment portion of the Luau. They had lots of dancing - hula and otherwise. The fire dancer was really amazing. I kept on saying "Sugoi" (Japanese for amazing.) I then noticed that I was speaking Japanese and started to feel self-conscious about it. It was just coming out naturally though. Have I turned into one of those people that thinks they are Japanese? Having Eric sit next to me can make me feel self-conscious.

Anyway, after the revue ended (did I mention that the fire dancer was amazing?) we headed home. Risa fell asleep on the bus. After that I had to drop off Eric, give Ron his pants and Best Man shirt, and pick up my bag from the, uh, … club … where I accidentally left bag back on Friday night. Then I came home and slept the sleep of the exhausted. But not without first noticing that the showers at the kahala are amazing. Also the bed is amazing. And the TV was amazing. Not that I got to watch it. Compare the TV in the Kahala to the one in our Waikiki Banyan condo. Their TV: large, LCD, wall mounting with an awesome swivel mount. Our Banyan TV: maybe a 24" electron tube (I can't believe I forgot what these are called) non-flatscreen TV where the colors are off (the Orlando Magic are green instead of blue) with no remote control.

May 22, 2009

Friday 2009-05-22

On Friday we had a meeting in the morning with Sayuri A., our wedding organizer from Issei Corporation. They did a really great job. The planning and wedding itself went very smoothly, and we didn't have to fret over many of the details. I highly recommend them if you are looking for a wedding in Hawaii, particularly if you have English and Japanese speaking people in the party. The meeting took about an hour and a half, we wrapped up some final details and went over scheduling. After that we had a bit of time, then Risa's makeup person (Mariko) came over and they did the test-run makeup and hair session.

After that we had a pretty good chunk of time. Risa's family had arrived earlier in the morning and made their way to the Kahala hotel. They had forgotten to buy diapers, so they asked if we could do that. We had a bit of an experience finding diapers, but finally did find them, and headed over to the Kahala hotel. It was my first time to see the place, and it is really nice. They have an actual lagoon type thing with dolphins in it. Also large turtles. And a variety of fish. It has a very nice property, private beach, the works.

After spending some time with Risa's family, we all headed downtown to Chinatown where we met everyone for drinks and dinner at Bar 35. Actually, most people were about an hour late, but we did eventually get everyone together and had some of the great pizza there. It would have been if it wasn't so loud though - I had a sore throat the next day from all the shouting.

After drinks the girls and guys split up for more traditional activities. I made it home sometime past 2am, but had had way too much drink.

May 21, 2009

Thursday 2009-05-21

Moco Loco

After getting the morning stuff done (some coffee and some work) Risa and I headed out to Keoni's for a brunch. We got Moco Loco, a dish she had heard about and was eager to try. It is basically gravy over eggs over a hamburger over rice. Add some Tabasco sauce and maybe a bit of salsa and you have yourself a big, hearty meal. It was good, but didn't really have much of a flavor. It tasted like someone mashed up a bunch of eggs, hamburger, and rice. Bland. Add some Tabasco and it was pretty good, but tasted pretty much like Tabasco. So maybe there are other places that will have more flavor, but I get the impression that it is more of a hearty meal with volume for the surfers than anything else. We split one order between the two of us and we were stuffed.

Perhaps it would be better to get it from one of the plate lunch places where it is usually sold, the problem is that it is hard to find those places and we are not locals so we don't know what is where. We also just want to get something easy in the morning without having to make huge plans or do lots of research, so usually we just limit ourselves to things in the area. Anyway, it was interesting to try.

I'm looking forward to some spam dishes. Looks like McDonald's actually has a spam and egg plate so I might try to find that at some point - I love the regional McDonald's differences. I also want to find Krispy Kreme, but that has nothing to do with Spam and is more just a general love of doughnuts.


After Moco Loco we hooked up with Alana and friends to complete one of the wedding items from our checklist: buy white pants for the best men and myself. This turned out to be a lot harder than I expected. The other day Alana had put some items of clothing on hold at the Macy's across from the Moana Surfrider, so we headed out there. The pants were too transparent though, and another style that was less so were not available in all the sizes that we needed. I bought a pair that fit me anyway (on the theory that it is better to have some pants rather than no pants) and then we headed out to a larger Macy's at a mall down the road. They did have a wider selection, and we eventually picked up three pair of the same style of pants for the best men and I, but I'm not too sure of the sizings for the best men. Well, they can probably make do for half a day.

While shopping, I also picked myself up some new shoes, since the ones I have been wearing for the past two years are about to fall apart.

DK's Steak House

From about 7pm we had reservations at DK's Steak House at the Mariott. I had read good things about it. Another steakhouse that looked good (Hy's) seemed to have a pretty strict dress code, and didn't have any views of the ocean.

So, Alana, Jana, Dad, myself and Risa went out to the Marriot. It was a bit of a trick finding the place, but we managed in the end. Risa had a nice NY Strip, and I had an 8oz Filet Mignon. I meant to get it Medium, but I accidentally said "Well Done". It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't as good as it could have been - and that order mistake was my fault. It was a very good steak. Risa's NY Strip was also very nice. I think everyone enjoyed what they had. The soup that we got - I think it was a potato onion soup. It was delicious. There was entirely too much food, but it was all very nice. I had at least two glasses of a nice merlot with my meal.

After dinner, we got a picture or two (thanks random passer-by!) and then Risa and I headed back to the hotel.

May 20, 2009

Wednesday 2009-05-20

USS Arizona Memorial

After the normal morning work and coffee routine, we finally got moving and headed out to see Alana, Jana, and Dad. The plan: to go to Pearl Harbor and visit the USS Arizona memorial. We got there a bit before noon, waiting in line for about five minutes, and got free tickets to the 12:30pm visit to the memorial. It was really great that everything there was free: parking, and the Arizona memorial and museum. If you had the time and the money, you could pay extra to visit a restored destroyer and a submarine, but we didn't think we had the time. I would like to go back and do that some day though - it looked really interesting. I got Risa a Japanese guided tour and we hit the museum up for the introductory movie and boat ride over. The memorial is really nice, although it is a bit hard to tell what you are looking at. There is a diagram in the museum that makes it really clear, but we didn't see that until we got back. I'm really glad that we did it - it is a really interesting piece of living history.

I wonder how Risa felt, we talked about it a bit, but not in too much depth. It was very strange for me when I visited Hiroshima, but I definitely think it was worth it and am glad that I did it. I hope that Risa feels that same way.

Hotel Viewing

After the USS Arizona, we headed back to Alana's hotel and then took care of some business: I played tech support to Dad, and also made reservations for dinner the next night. We also ate the PB&J sandwiches that Alana had prepared in the morning. They were Risa's first PB&J sandwiches, and Alana was bit disappointed that she had to have somewhat stale sandwiches for her first ones, but it all worked out in the end.

A few hours later our friends Ron and Michelle arrived. They had just flown in, and were staying at the same hotel. Since Ron is the architectural superstar, he had some hotels on his hitlist that he wanted to see. We commenced with a hotel lobby viewing party. We ended up at the Moana Surfrider, a hotel that is right on the beach and has a real history attached to it. We got some light snacks and drinks, then split out.

Risa was interested in getting a bit more to eat so we stopped by at The Big Kahuna (some sort of bar / restaurant) and got a drink and some onion rings there on the walk back. It wasn't nearly as interesting as the sports bar (Legend's) that we had visited before, but it did have a kind of commercialized Tiki-bar atmosphere. I really should find a Tiki-bar while I'm here, since I like the Tiki-bar TV podcast, despite not really "getting it".

Then back home and some sleep.

May 19, 2009

Tuesday 2009-05-19

Did some work in the morning, and in the afternoon my family arrived. Dad and both sisters. We met up with them at their hotel and then went to get something to eat. The closest place that I saw on the way in was an IHOP, and since we were all hungry and didn't want to have to make a big production of finding a place, we went there. I also happen to really like pancakes, and haven't had many since moving to Japan, so IHOP it was. On the way in we were accosted by a big pancake ("Charlie") and he gave us some coupons that we used on the way in. Charlie was pretty cool as far as pancakes go.

We had some time making sense of the menu, and I went for a Rooti Tooti Fresh and Fruity (strawberries.) A while later we saw Charlie trying to get into some door. He was having a tough time because he was about 4x wider than the door. He eventually turned sideways and slid in that way. Surprisingly, he came back out bearing our pancakes! I didn't actually get a shot, but it was very funny. It looked like pancake cannibalism.

Not sure what else happened that night, but we made it home and got some sleep. The rest of the week people start showing up and things start to get busier.

May 18, 2009

Monday 2009-05-18

Up early, I did a bit more work. I got some coding done and got a build off an running before rushing out the door - I'm a bit curious to see if it worked, so I hope I can spend a bit of time looking at that tonight.

Anyway, we made it out the door at about 7am. We had to be at the place at 8:45am for the check-in, and it is about an hour or an hour and a half to the ranch, so we should have been ok. I punched everything into the GPS and we looked good, but it was putting us there at about 9:15am. Shoot. So I tried to go a bit quick. It took me about an hour to realize that the GPS unit was reading the time an hour fast - probably something to do with daylight saving's time. Well, we didn't get pulled over, so all's well that ends well. We even had a bit of time to stop at 7-11 and get a coffee. Risa got a Spam Musubi. Cool. She said it was good.

Up at the ranch we were about twenty minutes early. So pretty good, all told. The horse ride was very nice. I'll write a bit more about that later.

1.1 Horse riding at Happy Trails in Hawaii

So I set us up with a ride at Happy Trails on Oahu, a nice little ranch up on the North Shore. I think Risa has done one of these horse riding things once before, and I've done one out in Texas. It is generally really nice: get on a horse, and ride around for an hour or two. Enjoy the view, enjoy riding on a horse, and have a nice time. Maybe your butt gets sore.

I don't really have much else to say: I really liked the company, we had a great time, and it was a lot of fun. There is at least one other place on Oahu that does horse rides, but it sounds to me like they are a more touristy place. This place was small, and the people were very friendly.

1.2 Shrimp (lots of) at Romy's Shrimp

We stopped for lunch at Romy's Shrimp. We had shrimp. Lots and lots of shrimp. It was very good, but a lot of work: we had to peel it ourselves. Our hands were just a mess by the time we were done. It was very nice though. I don't think I'll need shrimp for a while though.

After that we drove along, and stopped at a random beach. Really nice, great waves. The north shore looks like it has some great beaches. I found a Fugu washed up on the shore. Crazy.

We then headed to the closest shopping center to try to find some swimsuits. Risa doesn't like the one that I brought so I need to get one that meets her approval. We didn't find anything at Ross (did get some cheap shorts and beach towels though) and now I am writing up the events of the past few days at a Starbucks. We'll head out in a bit to look for more swimsuits.

We eventually found a nice suit for Risa at the Hip Up store on Waikiki, and then went home for a relaxing evening for sleep.

May 17, 2009

Sunday 2009-05-17

No pictures: A pretty uneventful day! Still, imagine the pretty Waikiki beach, a completely pale white guy deathly afraid of a sunburn (so wearing way too much sunblock) and a cute Japanese girl wandering around looking for places to eat and trying to plan the next two weeks.
Sunday morning I slept in, and then got up and did some work. That is the main reason I went to all the trouble to get the net access - I have a few things I need to finish up this week and wasn't able to get done before the vacation. Things went well with that though. By about 1pm I was ready to head out. I had hoped that Risa would have spent the morning looking up things and deciding what to do, but when I asked her what she wanted to do, she didn't know. She was pretty mad at me.

At any rate, we headed out for lunch. Risa was being difficult, so (because of that?) we ended up at McDonal's where I got to try a Big N' Tasty, a burger that I always liked. Interestingly, they came with pineapple slices also. Neat. I thought we could get pineapple instead of french fries, but not so: you get both! It would probably be a lot healthier if they just let you do the swap right up. It feels kind of stupid to pay extra to have them not give you the fries though.

After lunch Risa was feeling a bit better. We bought some cheap flip-flops at ABC and walked down around on the beach. After a bunch of walking we went back to the hotel, and took a break. I ended up dumping sand all over the place. I should have checked out my rolled-up pants before laying down for a nap.

For dinner I had noticed a Chili's not too far from our hotel, and Risa wanted some Americana flavor, so we headed that way. A bowl of chili and their "make your own dinner" was enough to stuff the both of us. We wanted to check out a "local bar" so I spied a sports bar down a side street. I was interested in catching the end of the Lakers-Rockets series, so we tried that place. It was a small little place, but the people were having a lot of fun. According to the owner (I assume) that day was the place's 15th Anniversary party, and for that reason the beers were only $3 each. Very cheap! But also because of that the crowd, which had been there drinking since about 5pm, was totally nuts. Seemed like a nice group though. I chatted with a guy, Ike, for a bit. He apparently does something with Harley's. I've got his card around here somewhere…

We made it home by about 11pm or so, and to bed by about midnight. By now I had almost completely recovered from my cold, so I finally got a bit of a break there. Earlier in the afternoon I had looked into options, and not wanting a repeat performance of the morning's inexplicable animosity shot at me, I made an appointment to go horseback riding up on the north shore. That means we needed to hit the road at about 7am, and get up at around 6am. But, I made plans so hopefully that means a less hostile day.

May 16, 2009

(Another) Saturday 2009-05-16

I had arranged for a rental car, not a great deal, but a good enough one through National. We got our choice of about eight cars, none of which Risa really liked, but in the end she took a Chevy HHR. It is a pretty nice SUV-style PT Cruiser knock-off. I probably should have just sprung for more and gotten a convertible, which is what Risa was after.

We drove over to our hotel, the Aston Waikiki Banyan, but we were renting for two weeks from a Japanese-oriented company so the check in was on the 3rd floor instead of the normal place. We sorted all that out and headed up to our room on the 36th floor. It has an amazing ocean view. The place is a bit old - the building was built in the 70s sometime - and it looks a bit old. Most of the electrical fixtures in our place for example are loose. I get the feeling that it isn't the kind of place that Japanese people would like. Usually even older places are better kept than this place. It isn't bad though; just a bit on the older side. For what we are paying - which isn't really all that much, especially given the amazing view - I'm quite happy. Risa doesn't want to use the kitchen though because the pots & pans & plates are a bit dirty. They look fine to me though.

The strange thing is that we have two beds. Separated. Which is a little strange for a newlywed couple I think, but whatever. Turns out it wasn't much of a problem because usually we were exhausted when we got back and just fell asleep anyway. Also, the beds were pretty average, not really so great. And only two pillows. And small ones. There were some more up in the closet, but I didn't even bother to pull one or two down. Too tired.

I was pretty tired, but went out and did some shopping, and arranged to get the broadband option: a broadband over powerlines (a Motorola Clear Wire modem) solution. It wasn't wireless though, just one wired connection. Good thing I had bought an Apple Airport Express the other day. Set all that up and we were good to go. Well, I had to change to a different outlet than the one I originally chose because the outlet was loose and the internet connection was bad. Not surprising. It isn't the best connection, but works well enough.

I also picked up some local beer (Big Wave) for Risa.

In the evening we went out for a walk, checked out the beach, and got some dinner at a Korean BBQ place. It was very good, but not cheap. (Although, now on the second and third days I've noticed that as a theme: things are not cheap here!) I have some pictures of the food around here somewhere (Risa likes taking pictures of food) but it was just regular old good Korean BBQ, so I won't bother to put those up.

We headed home, and I fell asleep immediately. Risa took her time, but I have no idea what she was up to.

Saturday 2009-05-16 Going to Hawaii

These are my notes from our Wedding trip to Hawaii. I plan to post up a blog post for each day and backdate them so they are on the correct date in the calendar. I also notice that I don't really write interesting posts, and stick mostly with just a "what we did, what we ate" kind of approach. That's too bad; I would love to write more interesting, introspective, and emotional entries, but it turns out that I just naturally do a more simple and boring documentation.

We left for Hawaii on Saturday evening, 2009-05-16. Sadly, the day before I started to get sick. At about 3pm in the afternoon I came down with a splitting headache, after having a sore throat all morning. This was bad because I don't like being sick, airplanes usually dry my throat out as it is, and worse, the first two cases of H1N1 Influenza spread by person-to-person contact between people who had not been out of the country had just been confirmed on the news. I was worried that they would not let me out of the country. Or back. Or something.

That evening was pretty tough, but at least we didn't have to leave early. Our flight out wasn't until about 9pm. We did some pre-travel shopping, packed up, and just barely made it to Shinagawa in time to catch our Narita Express. In the end though we made it. The trip through the airport was as usual, but nobody pulled me out or accused me of being sick (even though I was.) We made it on the plane though, no problem.

We flew ANA, which was nice. Very good service. The flight was about 8 hours. I couldn't sleep, but I did watch Gran Turino, a very good movie. They were running a whole Clint Eastwood marathon, with a bunch of his movies. I spent a lot of time playing "Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth" - I only made it through the first two missions. It seems like a pretty good game, but I don't really like real time strategy games. I want to take my time and plan out moves. Basically, I like turn based games. Still, I guess I have to get dragged into the 20th century at some point or another, so I might as well try to get used to the real time strategy paradigm.

The landing was really tough: because of my cold I was congested, so changing altitude was really tough on me. I thought my head was about to explode, or at least my eardrums. I did manage to get through it, although my nose did start bleeding a bit. Great. When we landed in Hawaii, happily, nobody pulled me over for being sick. Maybe I didn't look as bad as I felt.

May 14, 2009

Awesome Three Wolf Moon Tshirt review at Amazon

I totally need to improve my reviewing skills. These great reviews (the positive and the negative one) and lots of fun. And what a cool shirt.

May 6, 2009

Shamus Young's PixelCity Screensaver

I'm a big fan of Shamus Young's Twenty Sided Tale blog. It is very well written, generally very interesting, has geeky computer stuff, fun game-related stuff, DRM related ranting, and generally is just a very interesting blog. I don't really know how Shamus does it; it looks like he is married and has N kids where there is an N that exists such that N >= 1, writes funny stuff for his blog, and has very high quality posts overall. I've been trying to make my blog a bit better by emulating some of Shamus' posts: write clearly, use pictures whenever possible, and try to pick interesting topics.

I generally am only able to use pictures, and only then infrequently. But I'm trying. For some really interesting and funny stuff, see the DM of the Rings, an exploration of what Lord of the Rings would look like if it was a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Very tongue-in-cheek humor.

What I'm interested in publicizing this time though is a very interesting programming project that Shamus took on in the completely unflattering light of the public. Programming is a lot of fun, but you certainly have to be of a certain mindset to enjoy it. In a way, programming is like building a city from the ground up: you have to start out planning the zoning, the roads, the infrastructure, utilities, then the kinds of buildings you need, how to build them, how to manage them, etc. It is even more like building a city from the ground up when you are writing a program about building a city from the ground up, which is exactly what Shamus did. His series on PixelCity starts out with a simple goal: automatically build a city completely algorithmically. Wait, actually that isn't really such a simple goal.

Anyway, start with the link above and read through the whole series. By the time you get to the end you should have a good understanding (from a high level) of what programming projects are like. As a reward, you can download a Windows Screensaver that builds a city for you and then flies you around it. It is seriously cool. He has released the source code to the community, so I expect that a Mac and Linux version will show up soon. If not, that is something that I would be interested in looking into, but until I get my wedding planned and done, I don't have much time for those kinds of projects. I'm lucky to find the time to put out a half-coherent blog post every once in a while.

So, if you are interested in what it looks like, check out this very nice video Shamus posted on YouTube:

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 Server

One 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 Experience

So last Sunday the guys at work set up a Kart racing outing. If you drive from Tokyo to Chiba, about an hour and a half from where R. and live, out in the boondocks, you can find a small Kart Racing track. I have never been Kart racing before, but R. has, and when we were randomly in Italy for 24 hours (bad -- or good -- planning on my part, don't ask) we saw a Kart race and R. was just enthralled. So I thought we should join the group and give it a go. It would be a fun way to spend an Sunday evening.

We drove out there, taking the really 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

I posted earlier about the book Psalms of Herod, and generally didn't come away from it with a good impression. The main detraction is that it is not a self-contained book. It just ends, abruptly. It was just by chance that I picked up the sequel, The Sword of Mary: A Sequel (at least the title makes that clear.) I had heard good things about the two books on in the comments of some thread, and so I picked them up. If you only have the first book though, I think you would be very disappointed. It just ends, halfway through. It would be like you started reading The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Part 1) and then that was it. Over. Frodo and Sam break off from the party and head to Mordor on their own with clearly nothing resolved and a lot left to happen. But that is where it ends. So be sure you pick up the second book if you do start this two book series.

That might be easier said than done though: it looks like it is a hard book to get your hands on. I'm conflicted on these two books because they deal very seriously with sexuality, power, sexism, politics and the judiciary (more in the second book than the first) and religion as a foundation for social order. These aren't fluffy summer-reading topics, and a lot of the world described in the books is grim and downright depressing. I think they are interesting in that it highlights some issues with blindly following through with tradition without thinking and analyzing it, but the two books seem a bit on the salacious side. I have to admit though that I did enjoy the story and by the end was rooting for the (initially quite annoying) protagonist. Friesner has also done a very nice job of world-building; she obviously put a lot of thought into the economics, politics, and control structures of her world. She doesn't go in depth into the history of her world, but it is hinted at, and I like how you get the feeling that there is the thought and complexity behind the world in the books.

The ending of Mary's Sword is also a bit abrupt, but is satisfying. I did enjoy the story though, and while I had a tough time getting into Psalms of Herod, The Sword of Mary picked up a lot quicker. It should though, because it already had an entire book to set it up!

So, a mixed review. If you invested time in Psalms of Herod though, you really should finish it out with The Sword of Mary.

April 26, 2009

iPhoto 09's Faces Feature

I recently bought iLife 09 and have been using the Faces feature in iPhoto a lot. The Faces feature will look through all your pictures and identify people's faces. Then you can put a name to the face, and gradually iPhoto learns to spot pictures of that person. It is an amazing feature. Facial recognition has been a promised feature from Artificial Intelligence since the 80s, and this (along with Picasa'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.

Once you have named a few people and they show up on the list of faces, you can easily scan through lots of pictures and confirm or deny iPhoto's guesses. You can go through and quickly click once to confirm a face, or twice to deny it. You can also name a guess as someone else with a control-click if it threw someone else into the list of guesses. It makes it really easy to go through and check all the pictures iPhoto thinks someone might be in. Then once you have done a round of confirmation and rejection it will re-search the database for more pictures. Getting it to get down to zero suggestions for each person is addictive. Of course, even if there are no more suggestions, that does not mean that all pictures of that person have been found. If you are going through yourself and find some untagged pictures, you can tag them and then iPhoto will do more guessing based on the new data point. For obsessive compulsive people you might stuck in a loop where you want to go through every picture and make sure that everyone is named. That might not be a good thing...

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 script

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 2009

By 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)

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