February 27, 2011
A bunch of fantasy books on the kindle
For the past few months (about four) I've had a Kindle. Of course, I get some free content, from places like Project Gutenberg, or Amazon's own list of free book sources. I also have some old ebooks that I bought over the years that are not DRM'd, so I can convert them using Calibre or the like into a format that the Kindle can use (Mobi, in case you are interested.)
I love reading on the Kindle. It is small, fits in a coat pocket, looks beautiful, doesn't strain my eyes (unless I read too much) and is way too easy to acquire new books. In fact, even though I want to try to spend less on books, and I have major problems with ebooks costing about the same as hardcover books when I naturally feel like they should have a lower price structure due to cutting out printing and transportation costs (note that the majority of the overhead probably lies in editing, layout, design, and above all else advertising.) So I have been trying to restrain myself to older titles. But when Tor.com started a poll on best books of the decade, I noticed a few books there that looked interesting.
So I bought The Lies of Locke Lamora. And I read it. Then I bought the next book in the series, Red Seas Under a Red Sky. I really enjoyed the Lies of Locke Lamora, a fun sort of mystery or reverse law and order. Interesting characters, and more humor than I expected. The first novel flowed very quickly, and I had trouble putting it down. The next novel was very good as well, although didn't seem quite as magical to me. I look forward to the next books in the series, but do not look forward to paying the hardcover (or higher) price for it when it releases soon.
After that I moved on to another book that had been seeing a lot of acclaim lately, The Name of the Wind. That book also was hard to put down and a great read. Its sequel comes out in a few days, and I am sorely tempted to buy it at full price to continue reading about the development and growth of Kvothe. Interestingly, the next two books all share a thread of "Legendary Heroes" of some sort. This book also reminds me of The Misenchanted Sword, which also opens (or ends?) with a legendary hero who puts aside his old life in favor of running an inn. (Also a great read btw.)
Next up was a book that I have been meaning to read for a while: Elantris. This is a stand-alone book by Brandon Sanderson, the author of the Mistborn trilogy. I really liked the Mistborn trilogy, and in particular the well thought-out and developed magic system. Elantris is a book that he wrote before the Mistborn series apparently, and also has a well-thought-out magic system. The protagonist is also someone who will become legendary (I imagine) in his world, and is generally a stand-up hero. All three of these books (not the first two) have heroes that are probably written in order to be very, well, heroic. And that is fine by me; I read my fantasy for an escape from the morally ambiguous difficult world we live in. It isn't that I don't like more realistic political stuff (I have been reading George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire) but I also enjoy more fun fantasy with clearly delineated good and evil characters.
After Elantris, I read The Warded Man. The kindle version of this book is a steal at $5.99. I'll have to pick up the sequel which is down to $4.39 for the Kindle. This book has another interesting magic system (well, rules around magical wards, not so much full on fireball throwing wizards, but lots of demons) and another strong protagonist that passes into legendary status.
So I've read enough books on the Kindle now that I know this is a dangerous device: it gets me reading more, and I don't have the time for that. It is keeping me up late, and eating into my free time, when I should be programming or writing blog posts. It is so easy to take around that if I find that I have a few minutes, I can pull it out and read, and then my few minutes turns into a half hour. Really all that means is that I need to get more self control. I've found that I can wait in between books, but once I get involved in a good one, I have a hard time putting it down.
Other things about the Kindle that are great: I like changing the font size. It makes it easy to read. A few times I've run into problems with the DRM and publisher set restrictions on the device. For example, I tried the text-to-speech feature while I was reading Elantris. I was cooking dinner, and over the course of the two hours that I was prepping and cooking, got a good portion of the book read to me. That was great. Unfortunately though, some of the other books have had that feature disabled by the publisher. I wanted to go to the store and have the book read to me while I was shopping, but I couldn't do that. (I had to consume a podcast instead.) The text to speech feature is nothing that would replace an audiobook version of the book. Actually, I don't know if that is true; I would never buy an audiobook because I can read faster than I can listen, and I don't want to be tethered to an audiobook for an extended period of time. Using the text to speech feature for short periods is really great though.
I'm also a bit worried that I am now tied to the Amazon ecosystem for books. That doesn't really worry me too much, because I like Amazon and I think they have my interests as a customer at heart (note: I do work at Amazon, but I am not speaking for them.) The books that I have that are DRM'd though can't be moved to a new reader in the future. I hope I don't have to ever do that, but I have already brought ebooks over from at least two platforms in the past (my Palm Pilot, Treo 600, and OLPC.) So I am hopeful that Amazon will be able to move to a non-DRM'd platform in the future, but until then the DMCA should give me the protection to break encryption in order to view the files on other devices. I think. Actually I'm really very clear on that, but I think it is something I should be able to do. I'll have to spend some time looking into the legality of it. For the time being though, I'm very happy using the Kindle.
February 20, 2011
Molecular Tapas Bar, TokyoMolecular Bar on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Tokyo. I have been wanting to go to this place for a few years now, ever since I first ran across it in Joseph Malozzi's blog (a writer/producer on the Stargate series whose blog I ran into looking for restaurant recommendations but who I follow now for the sci-fi and book content) a few years back. Ever since I started watching Top Chef I've been interested in trying some of this new-fangled molecular gastronomy, and this looks like the place for it. The place is small - seven seats, with two seatings a night, so you should make reservations in advance if you are interested. The menu is set, the Chefs work in front of you, explaining the dishes in English and Japanese (or just Japanese since I was the only non-Japanese that night) and are very open to questions. Very friendly people. We also chose a Champagne tasting menu to go with the fixed menu, which worked very well. While we were waiting for things to get started, we spent a bit of time watching the random brac-a-brac on the bar float on their magnetic stands. Pretty cool, they twirled most of the night without much to maintain their momentum.
Chazuke, which is normally fish in rice with tea, eaten at the end of a meal (or apparently, when you overstay your welcome in Kyoto and hosts are trying to get you out of their house. Kind of funny that our meal started off this way.)
pork itself was excellent. After that was another great dish, which had probably the best sauce of the night, a Foie Gras, Coffee, and potato dish. The foie gras was shaved from a frozen block all over the dish, covering the potatoes and sauce. The coffee sauce was amazing. Maybe that's just because I gave up coffee a few months ago, but I really liked that sauce.
January 23, 2011
Monjya-yaki and the Lion King's Simba
It was only the second time I've ever had Monjya-yaki, but was quite nice. We had a lot of fun. The most unusual aspect of the night is that one of the people at the party is an actor in "The Lion King" - he plays Simba. Just by chance when my friend was in New York, he sat down next to this guy who was also in New York at the time, and they became friends. So we had a good time talking about plays and musicals and the like.
R. and I actually had tickets to see the Lion King, but due to a comedy of booking errors, ended up giving the tickets away to other friends. So we're going to have to try again to see it in Tokyo. It will be a lot more fun thinking that an acquaintance of ours might be in the show!
October 3, 2010
Fukuroda Falls shrine
Tokyo Night Driving
Last weekend R. and I took a day trip out to see Fukuroda Falls. It is about three hours by car to the North of Tokyo. We took the car out (for the first time in months) and I drove. It was supposed to be about three hours, but I think the way there took about three and half hours. I'm not a big fan of driving in Tokyo, but I have to admit that the highways in Tokyo are pretty interesting. Some of the central highways through the city are elevated to about the third or fifth story of the surrounding buildings. If I wasn't in such a panic while driving I would like to enjoy the scenery a bit more.
Anyway, once out of Tokyo, we headed through the country-side of Ibaraki prefecture. By country-side R. means that you are on smaller roads and only pass through a town or population center every twenty minutes. Or that there are only five or six cars within site at all times. Compare that to our trip through Eastern Washington state when we went two or three hours at a time without seeing cars or signs of civilization.
We had a nice trip, and got up to the waterfall. Like all things in Japan there is a fee to enter the waterfall attraction. A very reasonable fee, like $3. It was a nice waterfall, and pretty large. I haven't seen many large waterfalls, and this is apparently the third largest in Japan. So now I'm a bit curious about the other two larger ones. It is a pretty nice waterfall and the surrounding area is a bit nice too. There is a nice bridge and lots of hiking paths in the area, but our plan was to get lunch and then head home, because that will take a few hours. We really just hung out near the waterfall, but if we had more time we could have done some hiking. It would have been nice if we had the time to stay overnight and maybe try the hot springs there. It is apparently the only one in Ibaraki. I like the idea of taking a day trip though, and just getting out and doing a bit of driving - it is nice to take that car out if we are going to pay for parking it in this crazy city.
Lunch was a special type of hot pot native to the area. And pretty good. Then we headed home. Of course, on the way home there was an accident or two, and the roads into Tokyo were very busy. I think it took five hours to get home. Still, a nice day trip and fun. The most important thing is that there was this crazy road sign showing the traffic status on the major Tokyo highways. It isn't that bad, but still at speed that thing is tough to take in.
September 19, 2010
The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester
September 8, 2010
What I had for dinner
August 28, 2010
A week of biking to and from work
August 15, 2010
Summer Comic Market 78 in Tokyo
Comic Market Catalog
Waiting in the parking lot for the Comic Market to open
A crowded Tokyo Big Site
Comic Cure Sports Drink
Captain Jack Sparrow
Saint Oniisan: Jesus and Buddha
Some Giant Robot
Ginrei from Giant Robo
On Saturday, I decided to take a trip out to Tokyo Big Sight to stop by the 78th Summer Comic Market. I've never been to one of the comic markets before, and have always been interested. They are a large forum for the amateur (although quality can be extremely high) clubs to sell their work. Usually they write comics (同人誌, fan comics) that use characters from popular series, or sometimes their own creations entirely.
Since I've never been to one of these things before, I just kind of winged it. I left the house at about 8:10am, and arrived at Tokyo Big Site at about 8:30am. We live pretty close. The first thing I didn't expect were the crowds. There were lots of people. The first thing I noticed were the staff out there to direct the crowds. I followed the signs for "general admission" (一般参加) and eventually got herded into a large parking lot. A very large parking lot. With other people. Lots of other people. While we were lining up I stopped and bought one of the Comic Market Catalogs. It is about the size of a phone book. It cost 2000 yen. Apparently there are also CD-ROM versions of that thing, which would probably be even more useful for people preparing a strategy for the comic market. We were herded into the parking lot and then told to hurry up and wait. That was at about 8:45am or so.
Checking the Catalog, I learned that the comic market opens up at 10:00am. Crap. I didn't bring a long sleeve shirt or sunblock. I didn't bring much of anything. All I brought was a book (Haruki Murakami's Kafka by the Sea, which I've been reading for two years now) and a camera. I am terrible at sitting on the ground. The line didn't start moving until about 10:30am. I didn't get in to the venue until about 11:00am. I think this was a bit harder to handle than Fuji Rock, because I just was not prepared for it, and also the attendees didn't seem to be as well groomed as your standard Fuji Rock attendee (just joking. Kind of.)
Once inside, Tokyo Big Site was crowded. Very crowded. I kind of went with the flow of the crowd and ended up in East Hall 1-2-3, which isn't where I wanted to go. I had studied the catalog a bit before going in, and that hall had a lot of stuff that I'm not into (mostly groups focusing on Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, and women's comics.) I wanted to go to East Hall 4-5-6, which had some stuff from Ultra Jump. I was hoping to find some Tenjo Tenge and Dogs: Bullets and Carnage stuff, which are two manga series that I enjoy. I just had a hard time fighting the crowds, and figured I would come back a bit later. On the way, I picked up a sports drink. I was interested in getting "Comic Cure" - a kind of special drink for the Comic Market I guess - but passed on it. A normal Aquarius was 50 yen cheaper.
First, I wanted to check out the Cosplay portion of the Comic Market, which it is pretty well-known for. What is Cosplay? It is generally people dressing up as characters from manga or anime series, and people taking pictures of them. Since I didn't really know what I was looking for, I thought it would be most fun to go and check out the costumes and take some pictures. So I headed over to the cosplay area.
The cosplay area was out in the garden of Tokyo Big Site, outside. Apparently when it is rainy sometimes they cancel it altogether. The weather was nice, but started to get a bit hot. There was an incredible number of cosplayers and probably more photographers with varying degrees of pro-sumer DSL cameras. Some of the people had really incredible gear. I took a bunch of pictures, and some of my favorites are listed below:
- Captain Jack Sparrow
- Jesus and Buddha from Saint Oniisan.
- Some Giant Robot
- Ginrei from Giant Robo
- Usavitch Rabbits
- Xbox Man
You can see the full set here on Flickr, which includes a few women in skimpy outfits.
After the cosplay, I wanted to get something to eat and head back to the East 4-5-6 hall. All the restaurants were packed. So I just grabbed something quick, and tried to go to the East Exhibition hall. The place was jam packed. The hallway to get there looked like it wasn't moving at all. Since it was about 1:30pm, and I needed to get home to prepare for the fireworks in the evening (which I had somehow been roped into providing pizza for) I just decided to call it quits and head home. Without ever seeing any of the main Comic Market that I originally intended!!
So, based on my first foray into the Comic Market, what do I think I need to do to improve the experience?
- Find someone who knows what they are doing. Since I don't really have any Japanese friends that are into manga, this might be hard to do. I would like to make more friends though, so maybe I can look into the communities for this and do a more organized outing.
- If I can't get a guide, the next best thing to do would be to prepare beforehand. Decide what groups I would like to see, and find out where they are. That means buying a catalog in advance, and doing a lot more preparation work learning about the different circles and what they do.
- Prepare for longer lines better. Bring a small portable stool to sit on. Sunblock. A fan. Some snacks.
- Buy a bigger zoom lens. I was starting to feel inadequate next to all these people with large DSLR setups!
- Or, forget about it and just play it by ear again.
Overall it was a pretty fun day. Took a lot more time than I expected, and was more tiring than I expected, but I think I will give the Winter Comic Market a try too. Probably do a bit more up-front prep work and might just go later to avoid the long lines, but it isn't that far from home and was pretty interesting.
August 13, 2010
Royce Chocolate Potato Chips
For the past few months, we've had a mysterious box in our refrigerator. It was labeled "Royce Potato Chip Chocolate", which mystified me. It looked like it was chocolate. But it said something in there about potato chips. I had a hard time consolidating those two concepts. I was almost convinced that they were chocolates in the shape of potato chips, except the picture on the cover was pretty clear that the contents were chocolate covered potato chips.
Finally, the other day, I wanted a snack, my wife wasn't around, and I noticed the things were two months past their consume-by date. So at worst, I could just say that I threw them out (and I might possibly have to spend some time with food poisoning - but when chocolate is involved, that isn't really a convincing threat.)
Surprisingly, they were great. The potato chips do have salt on them. And chocolate. The chips are a salty, chocolately snack that is a bit strange, but very good. They are filling, and it took three days to finish off the bag, but they are gone now. We received them from a friend, and now when I want to find out where I can get some more, it turns out that Royce is a chocolate company from Hokkaidou. Hokkaidou is a bit far (by Japanese standards) and they might not have a shop in Tokyo. But I bet I can find them again if I try.
Turns out these things have been around for a while; see also this blog post on dessert comes first.
August 12, 2010
More books: Paolo Bacigalupi
While at Fuji Rock, I read two ebooks, both by a new author (to me), Paolo Bacigalupi. I thought they were great. First up: Pump Six and Other Stories (link is to the Baen Webscriptions.net ebook version, which is an amazing $6.) This is a collection of short stories and a great place to start. Not all of the stories are in the same universe, but a few of them are, and they give a very good introduction to the world used in the full-length novel. I really enjoyed most of the stories - although in all honestly some of them are a bit disturbing. The majority deal with a post-peak-oil world where energy is not abundant and people have reverted to a more local economy built on human and (genetically engineered) animal power.
It is a haunting and not-unrealistic vision of the future. Living in Japan, and occasionally going back to America, I keep wondering how long it will be until jet fuel starts to cost so much that I just can't afford the trip back to the US. So far it hasn't happened, but I'm not sure that we will be flying around the world ten years from now. I wouldn't mind a nice relaxing cruise to the US on a well-stocked cruise ship, but I just don't see that happening with current standards for US and Japanese vacation allowance.
Anyway, I really enjoyed Pump Six and other stories. Pick it up!
Next up is The Windup Girl, a longer visit to one of the worlds introduced in Pump Six. The main action takes place in Thailand, and follows the lives of people trying to live in the energy-deficient world that has a surplus of engineered plagues targeting non-GMO foods. The whole thing seems like a completely realized extension of where we are headed with Monsanto's engineered seeds that are not fertile. Also, they'll sue you if you somehow get their seeds into your field by (say, like the wind) accident. Crazy. A really great piece of Science Fiction, and wholeheartedly recommended.
August 8, 2010
2010 Summer Music Festivals
Usually R. and I are Summer Sonic attendees. This year though, we got three day tickets to Fuji Rock, a three day festival up in the mountains in Naeba, Japan. So I took Friday and Monday off work, and Thursday night we packed up. Early Friday morning (about 4am) we loaded up the Mini Cooper and headed out. It is about a four hour drive, and we rolled into Naeba at about 9.
To do a good stay at Fuji Rock, you really need to prepare. Things that are essential:
- Rain gear. In our case, relatively nice ($100 or so) ponchos. It very likely will rain. You need to be prepared.
- Rain boots. Even if it does not rain, there will be mud. Lots of mud. Ankle deep mud. So either wear shoes and socks that you don't want to use ever again, or get some good mud-proof boots.
- Portable chairs. I recommend folding Coleman camping chairs, but you can also get by with smaller portable stools. Generally the deal is that you leave in the morning at about 10am, then go somewhere and set up a small camp. There are not benches or seat or bleachers, so you need to be able to spend a long time in one place. Either standing or sitting, but a portable chair will help either way.
- Sun protection. Sunblock or long sleeves.
- Bug spray. You are in the mountains.
- Possibly a tarp of some sort.
- Books? Something to pass the time.
Why would you want a tarp? Generally people set out a tarp like thing (normally in the US we would use a picnic blanket or something) take off their shoes, and use the tarp as a home base. No shoes though. They also will leave their stuff at the home base and maybe go out to other stages. You definitely should not leave anything valuable there, but I've left my folding coleman chair at the home base without any problems. So semi-valuable (< $40?) is probably ok. And you spend the entire day going from stage to stage (factor in about 20 minutes to get between the close stages, longer for the further ones) and stopping at the stands to get food.
Overall I find Fuji Rock to be a really tough time. I'm always deathly afraid of sunburns, so I wear long sleeves which means that I pretty much am too hot all the time. I also do very badly at sitting on the ground or in sub-optimal furniture, so end up with sore feet or a sore back, or whatever. I do like reading though.
So what did I see? The bands I checked out are on the left - all merchandised links to either Amazon or Amazon Japan - and the stand outs for me were:
- Vampire Weekend. I've seen these guys a few times now. They remind me of my days in New York. I really want to see some of my favorite bands from those days come back to Japan (We Are Scientists, and Bishop Allen primarily) but have a really good sound and catchy pop tunes. They were one of the few bands that I dropped my stuff and went up to the stage for. Lots of fun.
- I hadn't heard Atoms For Peace (or maybe they go by Thom Yorke's solo name? They are Thom Yorke and Flea primarily) before, but they were really good.
- !!!. My friend, D.S. was the interpreter for them, and it sounds like it was a tough job. They put on a really fun show though.
- MGMT. White stage was super crowded at that time and they limited entrance. It must have taken us like an hour to get there, but we did get there before MGMT went on. We also left a bit early because it would have sucked to try to walk back with the entire crowd. I suspect White Stage was so crowded because the act on Green Stage at the time was just awful (Chris Cunningham?) It looks like he is primarily a video artist, but when we were walking by his set I was really surprised that he would be closing on Green Stage. Dissonant, noisy, disturbing. I don't think that is appropriate for a Green Stage closing act. I might be wrong though.
- The Cribs. A favorite of R.'s, and I like them now as well.
- Mutemath was good. Fit very well with what I was reading at the time (Paolo Bacigalupi.)
- Scissor Sisters. A bit rainy when they were on, but lots and lots of fun.
- There were a bunch of acts that I didn't know but saw and liked. On that list: Them Crooked Vultures, Jamie Cullum, Kula Shaker, John Butler Trio.
I had a lot of fun, but I need to remember that every time I go to Fuji Rock it is exhausting. Tiring. If we weren't staying in the Naeba Prince Hotel (sharing a room with people that R. found on Mixi?) it would have been awful. I would never camp out there. There are other hotels you can stay at, but they often involve 40 minute or hour long bus rides from the Fuji Rock site. If the weather is good, and you can relax on the Green Stage hillside with a good book and nice chair, it is really fun though.
The Naeba Prince Hotel also has a nice public bath for 300 yen that you can relax into after a long day at the festival. It also sidesteps problems with 1. No door on the bathtub area in hotel room (wtf? Normally there is a door there so you can change before hopping in the tub.) and 2. with 4-5 people in a room, it can be a long process to figure out how to use the bathroom resources. The big (culturally very normal in Japan) sex-segregated public baths nicely sidestep that issue. Also, the Naeba Prince has a breakfast buffet. Nice.
2 Summer Sonic 2010
The week after Fuji Rock was Summer Sonic. Usually R. and I go both days to Summer Sonic - last year was the 10 year anniversary and they had a 3 day festival for the first time, and we went to all three days. If Fuji Rock is the advanced level Japan Music Festival (it is) then Summer Sonic is beginner to advanced level. You can commute to the festival on the train - it is out in Chiba and about an hour from Tokyo or a bit more depending on where you are at. The major advantage that Summer Sonic has over Fuji Rock is that most of the music festival is indoors. The only outdoor stages for Summer Sonic are Marine Stadium (large baseball stadium) and Beach Stage. The others are either indoors or under a tent (Island Stage.)
The lack of sun, and minor level of air conditioning really makes Summer Sonic easier to attend. You still have to be careful to drink enough fluids and not over-do it though.
This year I wasn't too excited about the Summer Sonic lineup compared to previous years but I was looking forward to Passion Pit. There were a bunch of acts that I hadn't heard of before, but ended up enjoying:
- Yes Giantess
- Two Door Cinema Club
My two favorite acts were Passion Pit - I've liked them for a while - and A-Ha. Mostly because of "Take on Me", which I bet as a band they are pretty sick of, but still. Lots f fun. I hadn't heard too much of Delphic, a group that R. likes, but they weren't really my cup of tea. The last two bands, Pendulum and Orbital, weren't my thing at all. Dance mostly. I'm not much of a dance music fan. I did like the orbital two-flashlights-on-the-head thing.
Otherwise things were par for course for Summer Sonic. The main Corona booth (like last year) had a few stage shows with pole dancers, and there was lots of merchandising around music, alcohol, and clothing. There are some pictures in this Flickr set.