June 12, 2007
A trip to faraway Yokohama for GyozaSanyou, 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 GP2XNot 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)
Blog · Fun and Games · Software • 2 Comments
June 2, 2007
Bitten by the CRPG Bug, memories of hex-editing savegamesA 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 5In 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)
Entire photoset of Flickr.comOn 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.
Short videos up on YouTube.com
Women carrying the shrine
Short videos up on YouTube.com
Women carrying the shrine
May 2, 2007
My feeling about Japanese comedyI 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 PunkThings 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.
Blog · Music • 0 Comments
April 8, 2007
A School Uniform and a Machine GunA 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
Fumie Hiratai's closing party / Viola performanceA 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.
Blog · Japan · Music • 0 Comments
April 4, 2007
Namja TownNamja 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.
read more (597 words)
Little Barrie and Big Strides in the Liquid Room, Ebisu, JapanLast 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.
Blog · Music • 0 Comments
April 1, 2007
Cherry Blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoenthe 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
March 24, 2007
Ishiyama-deraIshiyama 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.
Blog · Japan · Travel • 0 Comments
March 18, 2007
Installing Retexturizer plugin for Gimp on OSXResynthesizer is an amazing plugin for the Gimp, an amazing open-source photo editing program. Since I usually run OSX, I like to use Gimp.app, but it does not include the Resynthesizer plugin. Gimpshop, a version of Gimp modified to be more like photoshop, is supposed to include Resynthesizer, but the version that I downloaded did not seem to have it. So I've decided to try to build the Resynthesizer plugin from source to see if I can use it in either Gimp from fink, Gimp.app, or Gimpshop. First, to build the plugin read more (613 words)
Blog · Software • 0 Comments
March 10, 2007
Review of Wataya Risa's "Keritai Senaka" / 綿矢リサの「蹴りたい背中」Benkei's suggestion, I started to read his copy of Keritai Senaka. It took me a long time, but I finally finished it. Now I want to give a review of the book. In all honesty, I was quite surprised because I was not impressed with the book. It won the 2003 Akutagawa Prize for literature, so I was expecting great things. I've since heard a lot of talk about the prize being engineered by publishers as a public relations move. In 2003 the winners were both very young, 18 and 19 I believe, and cute young women, which publishers felt would interest youth in reading. I believe that they did get some positive effect from that move, but I was still disappointed with the book. Warning: plot spoilers follow! read more (395 words)
March 6, 2007
Maid Cafés in Japan
January 15th 社会研究調査As part of a societal cultural research learning field trip, Benkei and I went with a friend of his to the Pinafore Maid Cafe. We went on a Wednesday evening, in the rain. This actually turned out to be pretty important, but more on that later. I went to and wrote about Maid Cafés in Japan once before, but that was an individual trip, I went on my own, alone. This time, I was going in prepared, with comrades and advanced information: According to Benkei's friend K, we were going to one of the most representative Maid Cafés in Akihabara. The place was actually pretty small, and quite busy so we had about a half hour wait before we were seated. The Maids were all very cute (a prerequisite for working there?) and very polite, to the point that I might need to study more honorific Japanese to understand the conversations completely. The food was slightly more expensive than what you would find in a regular café, but not unreasonably expensive. The menu was quite heavy on the desserts, but the meal section was a bit sparse, with perhaps five major items. The most popular item (I presume) is the "Loving Omelette Rice", which is regular Omelette Rice where the Maid writes something on the Omelette in ketchup for you. Of course, you are allowed to choose what the maid will write, but the picture in the menu is "LOVE", with cute hearts around the side of the plate. A very cute dish. I think the idea of writing on your food, giving it a semantic meaning and clearly-defined role, is a great one. I asked that the Maid write "栄養" (nutrition, nourishment) on my rice. She seemed a bit daunted (she was actually a Maid-in-training) but wanted to give it the old college try, and decided to write the Kanji characters. Unfortunately, she was a bit off and wrote something that looked more like "労良" (not a Japanese word, but maybe "work, labor, good"). Honestly, I probably wouldn't have noticed the difference, but Benkei's got a keen eye, and picked up on it immediately. K asked for the Maid to write her name, and the Maid, somewhat shaken by her earlier missed attempt, used incorrect characters for the name as well, but Benkei didn't say anything until after the Maid left. Still, I was impressed: I always thought that the line on Japanese youth today is that they can't write Kanji at all, and what I asked for is a fairly difficult word. One of the interesting things about the place was, of course, the clientèle. There were a lot of people that seemed to be the classic Otaku, loners who looked a bit shy and lonely, and who positively lit up when the Maids talked to them. I can understand how targeting that demographic could be lucrative, as they might develop a fancy for a favorite maid and become regular customers. Surprisingly though, there were also some groups of very normal looking people, a salary-man or two, and a few women in the café. I'm beginning to think that Maid Cafés in Japan are just a kind of mini theme park, or some sort of Las Vegas theme microcosm. As we checked out, we were told about the point system. They have a point card that accumulates points based on how much you spend. There are various multipliers that can increase the number of points that you get. We hit two multipliers on this trip: it was raining outside (x2 multiplier) and there was a female in our party (x2 multiplier, which is a very revealing one!) Because of this, my card filled up to about 20 points. At 15 points you get a laminated card with a Maid character (anime style) on it, and at 30 points you get another card and you can take a picture with a maid. I didn't mention it, but all of these places have very strict prohibitions against photography. They use the promise of photographs as a reward for return visits! Another avenue towards profitability. Since Benkei was going back to America, and K didn't seem too excited about going back to the café I got the point card by default.
March 5thA friend of mine from the US, Panos, went to Hiroshima to give an invited talk for a conference and then came to Tokyo for three days for a visit. Since we both went to Columbia together, he called me up and we decided to get together for dinner on Monday night. Panos has come to Japan a few times previously so wasn't interested in the usual tourist options, but when he said that he was staying close to Akihabara, I knew I had to take him to the unusual Maid side of Tokyo. I took him back to Pinafore, and we had dinner. This time I also got a 4x point multiplier (2x because it was raining again, and 2x because it was a weekday and we finished our stay within 60 minutes) so I collected another laminated maid card and a card for a picture with a maid if I ever go back. I thought it would be nice to get a drink after dinner, so I did some searching to find interesting places in Akihabara. I had heard about a bar where you go and can play games of chance with the Maids (yep, another Maid themed place) like paper-rock-scissors to get a possible half-off the drink price, but it seems like that placed closed down. Too many customers getting drinks for half-price? People really love paper-rock-scissors here, so it is possible. A quick search turned up a crazy number of maid-themed places. There are even maid cafes in Roppongi and Ginza now: they are spreading out beyond Akihabara. There was a place that looked very interesting though: the witch bar unattico-sttrega. We went there and had a few drinks. It was a fairly nice bar that was like any other bar, except all the bartenders were cute women dressed up like witches. Which is somewhat surreal, but that is Akihabara for you. There were only six customers, two Japanese men at the bar, the two of us, and then later on two women came in and sat at a table. There was a 600 yen charge for sitting at the bar, and 300 yen to sit at a table, and then the drinks which were a bit expensive. We had some sake, and then since each Witch has a special cocktail, we each had one of the cocktails. One of the witches was complaining that she hadn't made her special cocktail in a while, and had forgotten what it was! They both turned out quite nice though. After that Panos and I parted ways, since he had to catch a plane back to New York the next day, and was dead tired. Sadly, he will probably be about adjusted to the time difference tomorrow, when he leaves, and then will have a crappy week back in the US as he tries to re-adjust to US time. One week is just too short of a trip to get used to the time difference well. I think Panos had a good time, we certainly had a lot to talk about, but now I feel a little bad about introducing odd aspects of Japan to tourists. I always worry that the Western media only picks up the strange and unusual stories from Japan, ignoring the many similarities there are here with normal city life. Still, those few unusual stories are quite interesting. I'm not sure when or if I'll go back to a maid café, but I feel like I should at least go back once to use up my picture card.
March 3, 2007
IO Data LCD-TV241XBR LCD monitor with linuxread more (810 words)
March 1, 2007
Updated referrer tracking codeThis is an update to a previous post on simple referrer tracking. The original code is from justinsomnia.org.
I was playing around with the referrer tracking code I use here over the past few days, and made some minor adjustments: I use a DHTML slider to set the range of days over which to track, and I allow you to choose to get a count of the unique referrers or requests. There is a max limit of 365 days, but that is totally arbitrary. Maybe I shouldn't have used a DHTML slider, but I thought it looked cool. I guess I could also change it so that "365" means "all days" too. But I won't do that right now.
Blog · Software • 0 Comments
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