June 23, 2007

Chungking Express

On Saturday (a week ago), I invited from friends over to watch a movie. My absolute favorite movie of all time, Chungking Express. I don't really have anything insightful to say other than Chungking Express is a great movie. I was happy that the local Tsutaya had the movie in stock. They don't seem to have my number two and three movies though (Terry Gilliam's Brazil and the Coen brother's Hudsucker Proxy.)

This is a film that I've seen many times, which I was thankful for because it is a Chinese language film with subtitles in Japanese. Surprisingly, between my knowledge of the plot I was able to keep up with the subtitles without much trouble. I was really surprised, since it has been a few years since I've seen the film, that I was still really impressed by the film. I really think it gets across the quality of humanity, and feeling. The movie comes highly recommended.

June 18, 2007

Added SPF support to fugutabetai.com mailserver

Using the Postfix and SPF howto over on howtoforge.com I added SPF support to the Fugutabetai.com mail servers. It looks like that is working well, so after a few weeks go by, I'll try to remember to look at the logs and see if SPF has been useful at all at rejecting spam from known unauthorized users. Since SPF (Sender Policy Framework) won't work without domains deciding to actually fail to accept mail from machines that are not authorized to send that mail, I've switched the Fugutabetai.com DNS SPF records to hard fail on mail that doesn't originate from the proper places.

June 12, 2007

A trip to faraway Yokohama for Gyoza

Last Sunday I headed out to Yokohama with my friend after a relaxing weekend. About a year ago, a researcher I met while at Columbia University who grew up in Yokohama took me to a Gyoza shop in Sakuragicho, Yokohama that he said has some of the best Gyoza in Japan. For reference, that is a little place called Sanyou, which is always busy, but did have great Gyoza. One of the reviews for that place said they didn't like the place because they want you to order quickly, and he didn't know what to get. They gave him a beer and told him to get out.

This time instead we went to Ban-Li another ramen-gyouza shop nearby. We ordered some gyouza, both fried and steamed, and they were great. A while back I went to Namco Namjya Town's Gyoza Battle Stadium, where there were lots of different types of Gyoza to try out. That was fun too, but I was glad that this place was a normal restaurant with just your normal choices. One of the annoying things about the Chinatown in Yokohama is that it has been created and marketed as a kind of "China Land" within Japan, and is almost more theme park than neighborhood. Everything there is really expensive, and more for show than anything else.

Ban-Li is not for show: it's the kind of hole-in-the-wall Chinese place that you would find at New York's Chinatown. Along with the gyoza, we got beer and mabu-tofu, which was also great. On the way out we went and checked on Sanyou, and it was packed. Lots of people waiting outside to get in. It is a place that I would like to try again sometime.

After dinner, we headed over to Landmark Tower, which has the tallest observation deck in Japan. They are very proud of their elevator, which is the fastest in Japan. It was very fast. I think it reached speeds of 470 km/h, but it was impressively smooth. I generally don't like elevators and easily get motion sick on them, but this elevator was ok. (I really think they should replace the elevator in Disney's the Tower of Terror with the one in Landmark Tower - I got totally sick on that one, but this one was fine.)

On the way we also checked out the Yokohama Ferris Wheel, which puts on a really nice show when it isn't doing its impersonation of a giant clock.

June 11, 2007

Emulating Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord on the GP2X

Not too long ago, I wrote about my old-school CRPG party-based gaming obsession. Randomly coming across a version of Wizardry I-III for cell phones in Japan rekindled my interest, but sadly my cell phone "terminal" (端末) is not compatible so I can't play it. It was very aggravating, because I know that there is a chance to play Wizardry while I'm in the subway - which is usually about two hours a day.

Instead, I decided to look around, and found another great old game, Dragon Wars, playing that at home on a laptop is a bit too difficult to do frequently. When I get home I am tired, and usually just plop down for dinner and some tv before going to bed. Something that is portable would be very nice...

Since I started thinking about playing older CRPGs, I thought that the most likely approach would be to get a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS and look at the state of emulation on those consoles. I'm not really a Sony fan, since they have had problems in the past with excessive Digital Restrictions Management / Digitally Restricted Media / DRM in the past, and I know that they discourage people running homebrew software on the PSP by releasing firmware that makes it difficult to run unsigned code. Things seemed a bit better on the Nintendo DS, but still requires some hardware solutions for using SD cards, and certain versions won't boot run homebrew software.

Then I found the GP2X, an amazing little portable linux device that runs off of a regular SD card, has a very nice 320x240 screen, and two ARM processors at 200 MHz that can be clocked faster and slower. The system is open, supports homebrew out of the box, uses open source software as a base, and has a plethora of emulators available for it.

Read on for more information about my (successful!) quest to get Wizardry emulated on the GP2X.

read more (1098 words)

June 2, 2007

Bitten by the CRPG Bug, memories of hex-editing savegames

A long time ago, back in the days when the big fight was whether an Apple //e or a Commodore 64 was a better machine (the answer is Apple //e, but I might accept Atari ST as well) I used to play a lot of Computer Role Playing Games (CRPGs.)

Click the link to read more about computer RPGs and stuff. There is some actual useful information for people who want to cheat at the old game "Dragon Wars": I include hex offsets and directions for how to give your players some extra experience points for leveling them up. A lot.
read more (1600 words)

Babylon 5

In the past few months, I've been watching Babylon 5. I noticed the first season available for rent at Tsutaya, and since I really enjoyed the series when I watched it on TV back in the 90s, I decided to rent it. Of course, after watching the first season, I had no choice but to watch the rest. Tsutaya didn't have seasons 2 or 3 for rental, but they were available for sale over the web, and cheap too: 4000 yen per season, so about 700 yen a disc. That is a great deal, so I bought seasons two and three. Unfortunately, I couldn't find seasons four and five for sale, except as ridiculously expensive imports from the US. So I obtained seasons four and five as digitally time shifted broadcasts via the international world fat web. Coincidentally, I just found out that there is a new Babylon 5 related project: direct to DVD releases! The first one, Babylong 5: The Lost Tales will come out at the end of July. I'm really excited about that, and might have to import it. I hope that it will be on sale in Japan at the same time, but we'll see. Anyway, just a reminder to everyone out there that Babylon 5 is some of the best sci-fi that has been on TV. It definitely holds up to my two favorite things on the air right now, Doctor Who and the new Battlestar Galactica. I was also very surprised about how well the effects held up. I expected that every time I saw a graphics shot that I would be thinking "Amiga! Lightwave! Video toaster!" and so on, but I quickly forgot about the technical issues, and became wrapped up in the story. In fact, I was surprised at just how GOOD the special effects were over the course of the series. I'm really looking forward to what they will be able to do on the DVD releases due to the amazing advances in technology and CG that we've seen since then. Highly recommended, add Babylon 5 to your Netflicks queues immediately!

May 29, 2007

Tokyo Giants vs. ORIX Buffaloes



On Sunday night, I got a call out of the blue from my friend Tomoki, who invited me to the Tokyo Giants baseball game on Monday night. They were playing the ORIX Buffaloes.

Approximately a year ago, I took Tomoki to a Giants game when my friend Tai gave me a pair of tickets since he couldn't use them. He's a lawyer and their firm represents the Giants sometimes, so they get tickets every once in a while. Now, I'm not much of a baseball fan, I wouldn't really watch it on TV, but when I do go to a game with friends, I always have a great time. It is fun to watch live, and especially fun when you've got friends around and people are into it.

This game was no exception. I don't know much about the Giants, but Tomoki told me that Ogasawara is one of their best players, so we bought some Ogasawara shirts and headed to the stands. And boy, he did not disappoint. He had a homer in the first inning, and then later hit another with two men on base, and finished up the night with a final third homer. That was the first time that he has hit three homers in his career. Amazing game to see if you only see one game a year. The Giants won 8-2, even though they lost to the same team the night before! I really don't understand much about baseball, but what a swing!

Tokyo Giants: also recommended. Interestingly, it is only about a fifteen minute walk from where I work (NII) to the Tokyo Dome.


May 21, 2007

Asakusa Sanjya Matsuri (三社祭)

On Sunday, I headed out to Asakusa with a friend to see the tail end of the Asakusa Sanjya Festival. Sanjya (alternatively, Sanja) means "Three Shrines", and if you've been reading along you know that Matsuri (祭り) are religious festivals, but really more akin to block parties.

Asakusa is home to one of the oldest temples in Tokyo, Senso-ji, and is the site of the Sanjya Matsuri, which Wikipedia reports as being the largest and most popular festival in Tokyo. Since Tokyo is a pretty big place, that must mean that there are a lot of people there, and wouldn't you know it, the place was absolutely packed.

I've taken a bunch of pictures of the actual portable shrines, which on Sunday were the three main ones for the temple (supposedly!) and a few short videos, which I put up on YouTube. YouTube didn't like the first three though, so right now only one video is up there. I'll try to work on that. The videos are nice because not only are there Mikoshi (神輿), the portable shrines, there are wooden festival cars (山車, literally "mountain car") that people pull around with musicians that play really great music to go along with the people jostling the portable shrines about. There is lots of energy and activity, the place is amazingly crowded, and of course, there are little shops selling food, beer, and carnival-style games. It was lots of fun, but very tiring.

These periodic festivals in Japan area really great, and definitely something that I suggest you do if you ever have the chance.

May 14, 2007

Spider-Man 3

The last day of Golden Week, I went to see Spider-Man 3 with my friend. I see very few movies in Japan, in fact, this was only my second in a year. I've always been a fan of the Spider-Man series, and really liked the first and second movies. The first is better than the second, in my opinion, and was looking forward to the third.

Sadly, I did not really like Spider-Man 3. What bothered me most about it is that the move lacked any subtlety at all. One of the main themes, Peter Parker struggling with his dark side as brought out by the Venom suit, was so heavy-handed and yet poorly done: all his "evil" moves were over the top, with a comical song-and-dance routine, and to me as a spectator, I didn't see any real conflict there at all. It all seemed forced and out of character. I really think that all could have been done much better.

That same criticism could be applied to the two main villains in the film as well.

Still, I really shouldn't complain: can one really expect subtlety from Hollywood films? I don't think so. But I expected more of Sam Raimi, especially because I think Spider-Man 1 did such a nice job. Perhaps it just comes down to money: when the studios put more and more money into a project, you should expect more and more a lowest-common-denominator result.

May 2, 2007

My feeling about Japanese comedy

I saw a great post over at the (sadly) now defunct Japanmanship blog about Japanese comedy teams. It explains how I feel about Japanese comedy almost completely, along with some nice diagrams. A funny read and worth checking out.

April 12, 2007

Japanese traditional music, and modern indie Punk

Things have been busy at work lately, so I haven't been able to post much. Of course, since it has been busy there hasn't been much going on for me to post about. Last week though, I did venture out for two music-related events. I posted up a blurb on my Japanese Mixi blog, but I haven't had a chance to write up anything about it here in English.

First, on Wednesday I went with a friend from work to a classical Japanese concert. It was about an hour and a half long with five groups, which varied in size. The first one had about ten koto players, ten shyamisen players, and two shyachihachi players (a kind of Japanese flutes.) It was really very nice. I don't know much about traditional Japanese music, so it was a new experience for me. I really liked the Koto, which is a kind of large steel guitar type thing. The strings on all the instruments at the concert were really nice: gold or silver, bright and sparkly. The larger bass kotos had the gold strings. I really enjoyed the music, although I preffered the more traditional songs. One of the groups played a more modern song. You could tell because it was somewhat dissonant and jarring, and had pacing that made me feel a bit uneasy.

I much prefer to write these blogs posts soon after the event, because thinking about it now, I just don't give a good description up there.

On Thursday, I went out to catch noodles, (or their official website) a Japanese girl band that I caught when they came through on the Benten Records Japanese Girls Samurai US Tour back in 2004. I thought they were pretty good, and loved that they covered Depeche Mode's "See You". When I randomly saw that they were playing in Shimokitazawa, the new cool kids hot spot for the past year or so, I thought it would be a good chance to catch my first local Japanese band.

I found out that the noodles were playing because they recently performed the soundtrack for an independent movie, Love My Life, which is based on a manga (so I hear) and is a lesbian love story of some kind. I had seem some talk about the movie around on the web, and am intrigued, but am more interested in the soundtrack.

They played Shimokitazawa's Club Que. It is a nice club, kind of small but with a fairly large stage for the space. A few chairs on the walls for sitting. A bar with beer for drinking. A reasonable setup, all told. Noodles opened the show, and it seems like most people were actually there for the second or third acts (Foe, who I didn't like at all, and Platon I think who were pretty good.) I talked with one guy who came just to see the noodles, and he seemed like a big fan. Anyway, when noodles came out, they started up and it was a good show. Since I had seem them last time they had dropped a member, losing the rhythm guitarist. It didn't seem like a big loss though, since their sound was still coming through strong.

From when I last saw them, one thing that really struck me is that the bassist still never smiles. I remember her just staring down at the floor the whole time, pretty tame and relaxed. The lead singer was all over the place, strutting around, working the crowd, and smiling up a storm. Somehow the pair is appealing. The noodles are kind of interesting because they've played SXSW a few times, and a lot of their songs have English in them to some extent. It is a little hard to understand, but it is English, and they seem to have some sort of draw with the American audience; there were a few other foreigners in the club.

On the way out, I picked up their album "Cover me Shakespeare", but I haven't had much of a chance to listen to it yet.

April 8, 2007

A School Uniform and a Machine Gun

A while ago I downloaded the Japanese drama セーラー服と機関銃 (A School Uniform and a Machine Gun) and I've finally gotten around to watching the first episode. Sometimes Japanese dramas can be really hit and miss, but this one looks kind of interesting. I've decided to write a brief summary of the episodes as I watch them. The opening sequence is pretty interesting, they do some filming in front of the Asakusa Kaminarimon temple, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. I've summarized each episode in the series below.

read more (5405 words)

April 7, 2007

The Prestige

I just saw The Prestige and was very impressed. I really liked this movie a lot. I haven't read the book, but I am very impressed with the movie. It isn't subtle, and in fact was pretty hard for me to watch because it is violent and scary in ways that I do not handle well, but it did address a subject that I think Star Trek has never treated well: the transporter. Highly recommended.

Fumie Hiratai's closing party / Viola performance

A friend of mine, Fumie Hiratai (平体文枝), is an artist and recently had a show at a very interesting book shop, the Morioka Bookstore. It is a cute little book store in an art building (the Inoue Building in Kayabacho) that has a bunch of old photo books and other random art focused books. There is interesting architecture stuff, strange magazines, and so on.

If you browse the Morioka Book store site about Fumie's exhibition you can see some of the paintings, which are quite nice. The closing show was about an hour long, and featured Satou Keiko (佐藤佳子) on the Viola, as well as sporadic accompaniment on some form of drums in the back. It was quite nice. I would have gone out with Fumie and her friends afterwards, but I had to get back home to continue work revising a paper that I need to submit on Monday so I skipped out after the performance. It looks like they are planning to hold some sort of exhibition performance in the Morioka bookstore each month, which is kind of nice. It is a small setting, has nice acoustics, and promises to be eclectic. Also, the price is right: this show was only 500 yen, future shows might be in the 500 yen to 1000 yen range.

April 4, 2007

Namja Town

On Wednesday, I had a day off from work on Wednesday, so I met up with Risa and we went to Namja Town. Namja Town is a strange place in Ikebukuro, Tokyo that is essentially a food-based theme park for kids and older kids. It seems like a completely strange place to me, because it was constructed by Namco, a video game company, in conjunction with Bandai Namco group, which is I guess a toy company but I'm not really sure. I'll give you a brief run-down of the things that we did at Namja town, and let you decide for yourself what kind of place this Namja town is.

First up was a trip to Gyoza Stadium, a themed area with a whole bunch of Gyoza shops. There are about 13 shops in the area, all but one (Big Man) specializing in Gyoza. In the middle of the "stadium" there is a seating area, so we went around to three shops and grabbed three types of Gyoza, and some of the crazy Namco-branded Beer. We actually went later and got two more types of Gyoza later on.

We then went over to the Amazon Mosquito Shoot-out, which has the story of some crazy large mosquitos that came to invade Japan from Brazil, so we have to shoot the mosquitos down. It is a tracked ride where you get on these pig things, you know like they have here for burning anti-bug incense with the large mouths, and shoot at mosquitos. The guns shoot light and there are sensors on the mosquitos that track if you hit or not, just like Lazer Tag back in the day. It was actually pretty tough, but kind of fun.

After that, we decided to run the scavenger hunt / town clue hunt type thing. You get these little cats that have RFID chip or something in them, and when you are near a clue the cats meow. You set the cat down on the receptacle for them and then see a clue of some sort. Some of them are just a recorded message, others are some sort of video type thing, or something like that. After running around to the eight or nine stations you go back to the "police station" and then take a little quiz. Now this was really tough for me because the quiz (well, everything really) was all in Japanese. You have to answer each question in five seconds. That is just about enough time for me to read the question, so even with a multiple choice setup I didn't really have much of a chance. Even worse, the questions are hard. For example, at one of the "clues" you ring a doorbell, and then look in through the peep-hole at a scene inside a bar. Ok, putting aside the issue of optics and how looking through a reverse fish-eye peephole would not give you such a clear image, it was a long scene about a woman talking to someone offscreen about losing her husband, and how she is now perhaps ready to move on, and a bunch of details about her life. The question in the quiz about this clue was "What was the color of the table in the bar?" Had I known that question, I could easily answer the question, but of course if you go to ten stations first, not knowing what will be asked, it is impossible to remember all these details. That is probably the plan: you can buy a card of some sort to track your progress and run the course over and over, so it is a way to encourage people (kids) to come back over and over.
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Little Barrie and Big Strides in the Liquid Room, Ebisu, Japan

Last night I went to see Little Barrie (with a Japanese Fan Site too) and Big Strides at the Liquid Room in Ebisu.

I really liked the Liquid Room. It reminded me a lot of the Mercury Lounge in NYC, a place where I've seen a lot of great shows. It was about the same size, perhaps a slightly larger stage area, and a nice lounge area up on the second floor (separated from the live music venue though.) I plan to go there more if possible, it is one of the nicer venues I've been to in the Tokyo area.

I really enjoyed Big Stride, but that could be because they have an upright bass, which is really interesting. No frets on those things, and they are massive. Just huge. Penn Jillette plays one of those things, and I really enjoyed his radio show podcast when it was still on.

April 1, 2007

Cherry Blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen

On Sunday, April 1st, the weather suddenly became beautiful, despite earlier predictions of rain. My friend Risa and I decided on the spur-of-the-moment to head over to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Park (新宿御苑) for some Cherry Blossom Viewing. It is hard to think of anything more traditionally Japanese than a good old-fashioned Hanami, and we certainly weren't the only people with that idea. The weather was just beautiful, the day started out a comfortable and sunny 23 degrees Celsius, but after a while sitting in the park started to get a bit warm. We picked up some Bento lunches near Shinjuku station, and then some drinks (of course, Nihonshyu is a required drink) before going to the park.

After about ten minutes waiting to buy tickets to get into the park (only 200 yen for adults!) we headed in and looked for a place to sit. It was pretty crowded, but we got there at about 11:30am, and was much less crowded than when we left at about three or so. We found a reasonable place to sit, sat down and enjoyed our picnic lunch and some loverly beer and sake. With the cherry blossoms falling around us and beautiful weather, it was a great little lunch.

Predictably, I got too much sun and now the top of my head, where I used to have hair yet now have none, is slightly red (to match my beard I guess.)

Happy Hana-mi everyone! 皆様、お花見は楽しみましたか?

March 31, 2007

Sakura on the walk home

The other day, while walking home from Jiyugaoka, I was struck by how pretty the Sakura were on the main shopping street. I snapped a few pictures, and of course since the weather was nice there were lots of people lined up for Crepes at the cute little crepe stand. There were also some nice Sakura out by the Kuhombutsu temple main walk. It is really amazing that these Cherry blossoms only last for about a week. You're pretty lucky when the weather is nice and they are in full bloom.

March 24, 2007

Ishiyama-dera

After the Japanese Natural Language Processing Conference, I had a few hours before returning to Tokyo, so I went to the nearby Ishiyama temple, which is said to be where the Japanese author Murasaki began writing the Tale of Genji. It is a really beautiful temple, with very large grounds and nice areas in which you can walk around.

On the way back I walked past the Seta Karahashi bridge (also shows up in some old folding screens and some other nice pictures) before getting on the JR line to Ishiyama and catching the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo.

March 22, 2007

Notes from Thursday 2007-03-22 Natural Language Processing Meeting in Japan

テーマセッション1 (2): 教育を支援する言語学・言語処理

Theme Session 1 (2): Linguistics and Language Processing in Support of Education
  • S2-1 英語例文オーサリングのための可算性決定プロセスの可視化
    ○永田亮 (兵庫教育大), 河合敦夫 (三重大), 森広浩一郎 (兵庫教育大), 井須尚紀 (三重大)
  • S2-2 統計的自動翻訳に基づく日本人学習者の英文訳質分析
    ○鍔木元 (早大), 安田圭志, 匂坂芳典 (NICT/ATR)
  • S2-3 日本語読解支援のための語義毎の用例抽出機能について
    ○小林朋幸, 大山浩美, 坂田浩亮, 谷口雄作, 太田ふみ, Noah Evans, 浅原正幸, 松本裕治 (NAIST)
  • S2-4 外国人が作成した日本語文書に対する自動校正技術
    ○祖国威, 加納敏行 (東芝ソリューション)
  • S2-5 コーパスを用いた言語習得度の推定
    ○坂田浩亮, 新保仁, 松本裕治 (NAIST)
  • S2-6 日本語学習者作文支援のための機械学習による日本語格助詞の正誤判定
    ○大山浩美 (NAIST)
  • S2-7 Dynamic situation based sentence generation used in creating questions for students of Japanese
    ○Christopher Waple, Yasushi Tsubota, Masatake Dantsuji, 河原達也 (京大)
  • S2-8 漢字の読み誤りの自動生成における候補生成能力の評価
    ○Bora Savas, 林良彦 (阪大)
read more (1567 words)

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