Friday, September 29, 2006

Takeshi Terauchi

And Bunnys!

This album is not as captivating to me as Wu Orleans, but it is pretty neat. Recorded in the Sixties, this is Surf Guitar music seen through the lens of Japanese minyo. Takeshi Terauchi was apparently inspired by The Ventures, who did a tour of Japan in 1962.

At last count, I've played the entire album maybe five times!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Been reading mostly on the Web lately, and lots of technical papers. While I dip into a lot of non-fiction, which you'll occasionally see on the sidebar to this site, I don't usually finish them, as they're generally sorta browsy items. In fact, the last non-fiction item I read cover-to-cover, The Big Con, took me several weeks, even though it was only about 300 pages.

Anyway, I'm now giving in to a spate of fiction reading again. And not just fiction, but fantasy and science fiction. Just finished Jhereg, by Steven Brust. While I've been aware of Brust for years, I've never taken the plunge, being only a lukewarm reader of fantasy. Usually it takes a Roger Zelazny or Gene Wolfe to get me interested. But recently, Cory Doctorow waxed enthusiastic about Dzur, the latest book in Brust's main series, and I decided to take the plunge.

No write-up, follow the link. I'm noting it here so I'll remember which books of his I've read. And yes, it was more than entertaining enough for a light read.


A couple of the guys whose weblogs I read have publicly announced that they are switching away from Mac OS X to Ubuntu Linux. Individually, I'm sure their arguments are subtly different, but it seems to boil down to dissatisfaction with the proprietary lock-in of various file formats (iTunes, iPhoto, etc.). In a couple cases, vocal anger over DRM factors in as well. I admit that I dislike the DRM on iTunes music, even if I've purchased a number of tunes since the store opened. The fact is, were it not for the DRM, I'd be a lot more cavalier with my money. So I can understand where these guys are coming from, even if I'm not ready to abandon Mac OS X.

Anyway, some but not all of these folk claim that Ubuntu fills all their needs, and is just as easy to use as Mac OS X. Curious, I decided to install it on my laptop for a week or two, just to see for myself. The experiment has been concluded, and my laptop is running Mac OS X again. This in itself is not a judgement, as I fully intended to put it back after some period. However, I'm here to tell you that Ubuntu is not fully baked yet. Maybe in a year or two, since they seem dedicated to improving. But right out of the gates, I ran into obstacles. The wireless networking doesn't work, and a laptop without wireless is too annoying to contemplate. Sure, you can grab fwcutter and an open source driver for the wireless card used in iBooks, then patch the kernel and tweak some config files. You can also drive a nail into your temple, but it wouldn't be half as much fun.

See, that's why I use Macs at home. My sysadmin activities are usually limited to running Software Update a couple of times a month, and doing regular backups. The tools I use work. Sure, some of the tools have proprietary formats, but if I care, I can use open source tools on Mac OS X. I don't have to switch to an entire other operating system. And in practice, I manage my data just fine where it is. Should the world change and DRM go away, I'll be the first to celebrate. In the meantime, I'll just spend a little less money at the iTunes Music Store than I would otherwise. And while I'll save RAW files from my digital camera, if a particular image is important to me, I'll convert it to a TIFF or JPEG. So I'm still in control.

And in the meantime, I won't be spending my evenings tweaking the kernel of my OS.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Real life or videogames? Hmmm....

Since I've been tending to play at most an hour, more likely a half hour, on weekday evenings, and sometimes not at all, I've discovered that I'm reliably lazy. Dead Rising requires some degree of work to make progress, and for my clumsy reflexes it's relatively easy to get killed. Then I get to start over from the beginning, albeit with a slightly stronger character (nice feature). Since that gets tedious when playing in half-hour batches, I've defaulted to playing Enchanted Arms almost exclusively. Unlimited saves at any point in the game (excluding narrative cut scenes and battles) make it very easy to move forward in the storyline in tiny bites.

Tomorrow night I am the elected proxy to attend Renee's back to school event, so I doubt I'll fire up the 360 at all. Maybe over the weekend I'll take a stab at some Dead Rising. It really is a fun game! I'm just lazy, is all...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Brute Force Wins

I mentioned earlier that I accidentally mangled the super-seekrit code for my first purchase of Microsoft Monopoly Money. After much scrutinizing with a magnifying glass and a bright light source, I concluded that there were four characters which were most in doubt. One could have been a 'C' or an 'O'. Another could have been a 'P' or an 'F'. And so on... Holding all the other characters constant and generating all the permutations meant that there were 24 possible matches.

I wrote up a quick program in Python to generate all the possible strings, then sat down and started trying them, one after another. On try number 11, I succeeded! Glad I only had to try less than half the combos, since 'typing' with a game controller sucks.

Just for chuckles, here's the Python 'brute force' program, with the fake 'constant' characters to protect the innocent:

def gen_stuff():

ONE = "PX"
TWO = "MN "
THR = "EF"
FOU = "G 12345 67890 HIJ"
FIV = "Z"

for ONE_ in ["C", "O"]:
for TWO_ in ["P", "F"]:
for THR_ in ["E", "F", "P"]:
for FOU_ in ["E", "F"]:
print ''.join([ONE, ONE_, TWO, TWO_, THR, THR_, FOU, FOU_, FIV])


The bonus of this geeky little exercise is that I -- all unawares -- turned a problem into a 'problem', and got a giggly little boost instead of a headache!


I decided I liked the example program better with 'real' letters, so I amended my sample above with substitutes. That allows me to inflict the result on you:

PXCMN FEFPG 12345 67890 HIJEZ <== TeH Winx0rz!!

Yeah, something like that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Games and Goofs

So Monday I took back the new router and the Xbox 360 wireless adapter for credit, using it to buy a copy of Enchanted Arms, a longish cat5e ethernet cable and 1600 Microsoft points. Now that the rig is all set up, complete with neatly tucked-away ethernet connection, I've been alternating between Dead Rising and Enchanted Arms. I'm barely started on either, but having fun with both.

I expect that I'll never catch up with Alan on Dead Rising, for two reasons: one, I spend maybe a half-hour or an hour at a time playing, preferring to take time with Jean in the evening before geeking out. Two, Alan has the magic god-hand, and I have nerve-less fists. Dead Rising requires some dexterity, which as we have established over time, I have none of.

Enchanted Arms appears to be a standard Japanese RPG, and so far lacks any of the action-oriented 'enhancements' of Shadow Hearts or Magna Carta. I.e. there are no 'judgement rings' or timed button sequences, which the earlier games require in order to let you even try to launch an attack. I've managed to enjoy both those games, but in spite of the action gimmicks, rather than because of them.

Renee's RPG-Radar is functioning beautifully. I've been sneaking sessions of Enchanted Arms in during her evening shower and bedtime prep rituals, hoping to get a bit into the game before she starts to insert herself into my sessions. However, tonight she popped out of the bathroom wearing a towel and dripping, and creeped into the den, asking "what's that?" Before I knew it, she was smashing barrels wherever they appeared.

As for Microsoft points, or MS Funny Money (tm), I bought a card with some of my exchange credit at Fry's, thinking that I'd save the bother of trying to use my credit card online with Xbox Live. The card has a scratch'n'sniff window where the security code for your credit resides. I didn't have a coin handy, so I used a nail file. Unfortunately, the plastic was so fragile, that I scratched off part of the underlying code. I'm hoping either Xbox Live or Fry's will show me some mercy. Otherwise, I'm kinda sour on the whole MS Monopoly Money experience...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Protector

Tom pointed out yesterday that the new Tony Jaa film, The Protector, was in general release. That is, showing in regular theatres in the 'burbs, not just arthouse theatres downtown where I'd never get to see them. Given that I had to miss the theatrical release of A Scanner Darkly due to a limited downtown release, I knew I really wanted to try to see this one. Ong-Bak, the first Tony Jaa action vehicle, is in my collection, as a VCD, no less, and is one of my favorite martial arts movies.

So I cleared it with Jean and ran off to the theatre with money in my sweaty fist.

If Ong-Bak was a classic Asian martial arts movie, heavy on action, stunts and angst, light on plot and character development, then The Protector ... well, let's just say that director Prachya Pinkaew has pared things down to the 'bone' for his second film with Tony Jaa. Ong-Bak might have been twenty percent plot, but The Protector is lucky if it is five percent. After a brief, sentimental, narrated opening montage to set the scene, we are plunged into ten straight minutes of foot and vehicle chases through Thailand, culiminating in two tail-boats shooting off a ramp into a mid-air collision with a helicopter (helicopter go boom). Occasional pauses for motivational plot elements links the following action sequences, but this is condensed Muay Thai, here.

I like the fact that Tony Jaa speaks Thai throughout the film, with his conversations (and shouted challenges, imprecations, curses...) being subtitled for the benefit of the audience. The rest of the actors are ostensibly members of the Chinese mob, or Australian, as the chase (after Jaa's kidnapped friend and ward, a baby elephant) has led to Australia. Chinese tong leader Xing Jing has had the adult mother of said baby elephant poached because the symbol of the elephant will grant her power, like the ancient Khans. Yeah, I know...

Fights include random encounters with masters of other disciplines (wushu, capoeira, some sort of machete master), two or three huge hyper-muscled, adrenaline-drenched thugs who must hail from professional wrestling, and of course, the obligingly serial stream of cannon fodder who rush forward one by one to be mangled by Tony Jaa in the grand Bruce Lee tradition.

There was a lot more shouting, angry aggressive posturing and running attacks in this movie than in Ong-Bak. But there were still a number of the impressive, poetic battles and ballet-like stunts which made Ong-Bak such a joy. In sum, I have to give Ong-Bak the crown, but I'm just happy to see this crew getting wide-release treatment, and hope that when they find their stride again, they are allowed to debut in the 'burbs again.

P.S. - Jackie Chan had a movie called The Protector in 1985, a rather sad attempt to break into the U.S. film market. So it's amusing that he does a ten-second uncredited walk-on where he bumps into Tony Jaa at the airport. Jacky is still the king, but he pays his respects to the young pretender.

360 Converging

I'd like to thank all the little people... Jean for watching Renee after getting home from work while I went over to Tom's place, Tom for letting me haul my Xbox 360 over to his place and plugging it into his network in not one, but two places...

Anyway, with Tom's help, I was able to confirm that the ethernet port on my Xbox 360 was dead, dead, DEAD! Out of the box! Okay, after all my other diagnostic work, I was pretty sure that was the case, but Tom allowed me to get concrete evidence of same.

Afterwards, we went out to dinner at the Beaverton Wu's Open Kitchen, where I had the Kung Pao Shrimp, which was tasty, but strangely subdued. I spent a couple hours at Tom's chatting, then back home for an early evening.

This morning I went down to Fry's and returned the Xbox 360 for an exchange. I hooked up the new unit to my router -- via the ethernet port -- and yes! It connected to Xbox Live immediately! Thank you Jean and Renee for your patience. Thank you Tom for your help. Thank you Alan for your moral support in encouraging me to do the final diagnostic. So nice to have working hardware.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

The Big Con

This review is a decent summary of the book I just finished, written by David Maurer in 1940. In The Big Con, what started out as a linguist's attempt to document the argot of a criminal brotherhood became a sociological study and a document of all the popular "big cons". Somewhere out on the Internet I read how this book had served as the inspiration for The Sting, which I'd seen as a kid, and I had to read it.

Nowadays I seldom finish a book, browsing for the highlights instead. But I finished this one. Let that be a testament.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Wu Orleans

My current favorite hit on my iPod, playing over and over, is Wu Orleans, a mash-up of Wu Tang Clan and Dixieland jazz by djBC. I've never been much of a fan of Wu Tang Clan, but set their rap/hip-hop to artfully selected jazz from New Orleans, and it just works. I wish I could buy this album. Guess I'll have to buy some Wu Tang Clan to support their work, even though it's this mash-up that I really like...

Monday, September 4, 2006

The Long Weekend

Thursday evening I brought home an Xbox 360 and Dead Rising. I played for maybe half an hour or an hour, then tried hooking it up to my network. Simple summary: it doesn't like my network. There's nothing wrong with the ethernet cable; I can use it to hook my laptop up to the router and see the Internet, no problem.

Thinking the problem might be imcompatible firmware / old hardware, I hooked the 360 directly up to the router. I only got slightly further before hitting a wall. On Friday I bought a new router for hardwired network experiments, and the 360 wireless adapter to see if that would work. Friday was spent mostly powering down and up all the hardware in various configurations. The final verdict is that for the time being, I can get the 360 online using the wireless adapter, but not any combo of hardware ethernet. Next Saturday I'm gonna haul the 360 and the router over to Tom's to see if my hardware (in any combination) will work on his network. If not, I'll conclude that the ethernet port on the 360 is defective and take it back. Otherwise, I'll just stick with the wireless adapter.

So to summarize, mostly for my own fault memory:

  • The ethernet cable is fine. I can use it to connect my laptop to the internet through the Linksys BEFSR41 V4 router (with what is apparently the most recent firmware, 1.04.05) with no magic settings.

  • Hook the Xbox 360 up to the router, and it reports that the router is "Disconnected", though I can use my desktop computer to access the Internet when it is hooked up to the same router.

  • Hook the 360 up directly to the DSL modem (Fujitsu Speedport R14) and I get a connected message, but obtaining an IP address "Failed". I think this is due to the fact that Verizon identifies the router by MAC address, and needs around eight hours of idle line to reset, so it was unwilling to give the 360 an IP address.

  • Switching over to the wireless router, which plugs into the USB port, not the ethernet port, I am able to connect to Xbox Live immediately. Speeds are about what I'd expect for my connection type (tested by downloading both the Prey Demo [1.17 GB] and the Condemned Demo [~500MB]).

Friday wasn't spent entirely noodling with my network. I took a lunch break and went to see Crank, the new Jason Statham movie. It's really over the top. Definitely not something I'd recommend seeing with the parents.

I expected that I'd spend Saturday playing Dead Rising and maybe fiddling with the network, but that plan was shot down when one of Renee's friends sent her an online message asking her if she was going to be at Kumoricon. This is an anime convention held in Portland, small by the standards I've gotten used to over the years of attending Anime Expo. I had not planned on going, never have. I chose not to mention it to Renee, as I really didn't want to go. So she got this message and immediately hit me with "can we go, can we go?!?!?"

I told her I'd already blown my allowance for the next three months on my new toys, but she offered to pay her own way with birthday/Christmas money. "Still doesn't pay my way in" I said, but she decided that she'd try to sweet-talk Mom into finding money in the household budget. Since Jean works on Saturday, it was decided that Renee and I would do a single day badge at the convention, and there went my Saturday.

We drove up and got in line around 9:30am, and 2.5 hours later we got our badges. Renee complained the entire time we were in line. I told her "welcome to an authentic anime convention activity." I ran into Chris Arneson, and he said that the Friday night pre-registration line was just as bad. Four people running the registration table, 1800 pre-regs. Seems they are even more disorganized than Anime Expo staff.

The first thing we did on entering was to visit the Dealer's Room. It was tiny compared to Anime Expo, but Renee managed to blow her entire remaining cash in the space of ten minutes (when we went to lunch and I paid for it out of the funds Jean allotted, she said "if there's any money left, we can go back to the Dealer's Room!" I nixed that in a hurry).

We saw the anime music video (AMV) contest, and Renee was just tickled. She especially liked that she got to vote for best videos in various categories. We did a lot of walking around the convention, checking out the costumes. Renee is now convinced that she needs a costume for next year (that's right, next year, I'm committed already). Especially as she met her friends Elaine and Bleu, both dressed to the nines. Bleu was a not-too-elaborate Loli-goth (at twelve years old) and Elaine was some primary-color character I didn't recognize. I didn't see an adult within 50 feet of them any time we ran into them. And they're twelve. Renee better not get any ideas on that count...

Our last activity was to check out a panel. The Kumoricon program was printed out in tiny print in a 2" square booklet, so I had trouble making out what was happening where. But I spotted a panel called "So you want to be a cos-player?" Since Renee was talking about needing a costume for next year (Sakura from Tsubasa -- the older, more romantic version of this character) I suggested we check it out. We stood at the back and listened for half an hour as the young woman up front talked about the various issues in hiding her bosoms so she could pretend to be a boy character. It was only then that I discovered that the name of the panel was "So you want to be a Cross-player?" Fortunately, Renee took the info in stride, deciding that it would help her to play an older and more mature Sakura as well.

We finally went home, and Renee was bubbling and buzzing for the rest of the evening. A more loving child you never met. She thanked me dozens of times for taking her, and she thanked Jean for finding the funding to support the trip.

Sunday was mostly chores, lotsa laundry.

Today, we went to the Japanese Garden. I took scads of pictures, but most of them are uninteresting, out of focus or repetitive. I'll try to cull a few and post them soon. The trip itself was a lot of fun. So now it's off to bed, and back to work tomorrow.

Oh, and Renee is heading to her first day of school on Wednesday. It'll be just a orientation day, but it's a new school, so she's pretty nervous, though she tries not to show it. Fingers crossed!