Sunday 14 October 2012

Japanese Text Input in Fedora 17

Those who know me will already know that I'm currently learning Japanese.  Something that has helped with drafting assignments and corresponding with my teacher (we're encouraged to email to practice our Japanese) is setting up a Japanese IME on my PC.

As I use both Windows and Linux, I have the Microsoft IME set up on my Windows 7 partition (quite easy to set up) and Anthy on Linux.

After breaking a few things on my Fedora 17 instance, I reinstalled Fedora yesterday.  Since I couldn't remember what I did last time, a little Googline yielded what (or at least what I think is) the guide I used last time.

Written by Mark Rogoyski, it outlines everything you need to do to be able to enter Japanese text in GNOME3

A few pointers for those who are not familiar with a Japanese IME (which certainly caught me off guard at first) are:

  • ん - To enter this symbol, type "nn" rather than "n".  This has caused me problems where this character occurs immediately before another character on the n line.
  • The IME automatically tried to convert to kanji.  Pressing return will keep the hiragana/katakana you're entered.  Particularly important if (like me) you don't know kanji
  • Remember to switch it off!  I've lost track of the number of times I've Googled for a nonsensical set of Japanese characters or typed them in to an IM chat window.
  • On Anthy, Ctrl+Space switches between input modes.  I've found this to be quite useful when quickly switching between English and Japanese.
So far, Anthy has proven to be a very useful tool.


Monday 13 August 2012

Travelling and Reflections

Well, it's the end of the holiday.  Today has consisted of a lot of travelling.  Up at 04:30 to make sure I get to the airport early, having to check in at the airport (longest leg of the trip was codeshare so no online check in), a long flight and a lot of waiting.

At Narita Airport, quite out of character for me, I actually felt like breakfast.  So here is the last thing I ate in Japan

Ramen and Green Tea
Just the thing I needed to set me up for the day.

The flight itself went ok.  This particular flight was operated by All Nippon Airways and this was the first time I've flown with them.

Experience was good and I'd say the food was better than Lufthansa.  When boarding, after the staff scanned my boarding pass, they called me "Mr Snowden" - Definitely formal and courteous.  The cabin was set out in an rather strange way.  I'm used to a 3-4-3 seat configuration.  This one was 2-4-3.  Getting the window seat on the side with 2 seats certainly made things seem quite spacious.

Definitely one I'll consider next time.

Time passed quite well thanks to plenty of music and a copy of Big Finish "Project Destiny".  I seem to be getting used to long flights and flying alone.

I'm currently in Germany, kicking the crap out of the Wi-Fi hotspot and writing this update.

On reflection, this has been a nice holiday.  The weather was hotter than I anticipated, Hitomi and Kyle definitely weren't exaggerating!  The heat and humidity did make things a little uncomfortable, I think next time, if I visit in August I might book a hotel.  Reasons being 1)  space 2) hotels in Japan seem to have very good AC.

Even though it's been nearly 2 weeks I think I did about as much as I did last trip (8 days).  I think this worked out well as last time I was very rushed.  This time things were much more leisurely.  It's been nice seeing the neighborhood that Kyle lives in and seeing what things are like outside the city.  Staying in Shibuya was nice but it was always bustling.

Going to Hiroshima had to be one of the highlights of the trip.  Getting to see more of the country, getting attacked by deer and getting to visit Seto.

Overall, I've really enjoyed the time I spend in Saitama, Tokyo and Kansai.

Now, to wait for my flight.  Once I get home I'm probably going to sleep for a solid day!  My return flight is quite well timed as I arrive home when I'd be going to sleep anyway, this probably helped with jetlag last time.


Askukasa and Tokyo Sky Tree Tower

As this was my last day in Japan, the day was spent doin the last of the main things I wanted to do this trip. Unfortunately due to various constraints, I was unable to go to Nikko. This I didn't mind too much as I've seen and done some incredible things and on the last day I got to go to the Sky Tree Tower.

First stop of the day was Asukasa. I'd decided early on that if I had enough money remaining that I woud buy my mother a silk yukata (the word "kimono" has often been used but these days the yukata has generally replaced the kimono). Locating the shop I'd purchased my yukata from turned out to be relatively easy.

If anyone is in the area and is interested in buying one, the shop is called "Fujiya" and . The owner spoke excellent English and seems to cater to westerners as well as locals.

Next we searched for the Sky Tree Tower. This actually proved quite easy as it is the tallest structure in the area - just head in it's direction, it's not hard to miss. The only issue we encountered is that, due to it's size, the distance could be quite deceptive. We thought we were getting quite close but were still quite a distance from the tower.

Getting close... or are we?

As Kyle wasn't particularly interested in going up the tower, wee agreed that he'd keep himself entertained while I went up the the viewing deck. Upon arrival I was issued with a numbered ticket telling me to go to an entry gate at 17:30. It appears that the tower is so busy that this timing system is required just to buy tickets. As this was something that I really wanted to do, I took the ticket and went to find other amusement while waiting (it was only 13:00 at this point).

The area surrounding the tower

As none of us had eaten, that most important of affairs needed to be sorted - lunch! Trying something new, we went to a place called "Pepper Lunch". This restaurant served hot rice in a heated metal dish. The idea is that you control how cooked your meat is and then add your desired sauce when ready.

We also found a convenience store where we could buy wash bags. Reason being the Yukata need to be washed in one (when machine washing) to prevent damage.

At 17:30, after much queueing, I finally purchased my ticket and ascended the lift fto the main viewing floor. This is around 300 metres, same as the upper deck at Tokyo Tower. The views were spectacular and due to the time, I was able to see Tokyo in both daylight and the dark. As there were additional queues for the upper deck, I opted to forgo it. Sky Tree, in my opinion, was certainly wirth the 2000 Yen for admission.

Views from the tower

Illuminated tower

The days events complete, I headed back to get an early night. The following will be a long day!

Sunday 12 August 2012

A Quiet Day

The following day was fairly quiet.  As neither of us had the energy for a particularly big adventure (and we needed to wait for some registered post that morning) we chose to spend the afternoon in Misato.

One of the things that I've enjoyed about this trip has been the opportunity to spend time in a Japanese neighborhood.

For lunch, we headed to the LaLaPort shopping mall at Shim Misato (not sure if it shoud be Shin, but it's romanized as Shim on the train station sign).  We headed to a restaurant called "Stone Burg", somewhere Kyle had heard good things about.

Stone Burg is seems to be a Japanese take on an American steakhouse with a Western theme.  The verdict - pricy, but worth it!

Later I had another go at Kareoke.  I honestly expected the police to burst in and arrest me for murdering music!  From this experience I can determine that I REALLY can't sing!

Musical murder aside, it was another enjoyable day.

Friday 10 August 2012

Back in Tokyo

This is my second day back in Saitama, I was a little too tired to update the blog at the time.

Wanting to avoid the incredibly long journey (losing a day and a half) by coach we opted for the Shinkansen this time round.  Unfortunately, Waiting until 14:00 for the train meant spending most of the day waiting in Hiroshima station (to make sure we didn't accidentally miss the train)

No photographs that day, but there wasn't anything to really get pictures of anyway.

Returning to Tokyo really made me realize the differences in climate between the Kansai (where Hiroshima is located) and Kanto (where Tokyo and Saitama are located).  It's hotter in Kansai but it's a dry heat.  Kanto is much more humid.

On the first day back, there was work that Kyle needed to do so I did my own thing for most of the day.  Original plan was to go back to Asukusa, however, due to my famous lack of direction we decided against this.  Instead I went back to Akihabara - somewhere much easier to navigate.  So I hopped on the Musashino line to Minami-Nagareyama and from there hopped on the Tskuba Express to Akihabara.  Fortunately this was an express so I was able to skip most of the stops.

Akihabara: First priority was to grab lunch.  It was 14:00, I hadn't eaten and my stomach was growling.  Venturing off the main street, I found a nice little restaurant.  Given the recipe was all in Kanji and Katakana (my Katakana still needs a little work, got Hiragana sorted) I used the old "pointing at pictures" trick.  Using this process, I ordered a chicken ramen and some gyoza.  Suitably fueled, I went back to the figure shop I saw on the first day and bought an evangelion figure.

Mari Illustrious Makinami
The figure I bought was Mari Illustrious Makinami from the second "Rebuild of Evangelion" movie.  Mari is a new character introduced in this movie.  Mari is a pilot (and appears to actually enjoy piloting an eva) and is, well... nuts.  When first piloting an eva (and fighting an angel), one of her lines was "Shit! This would really hurt, if it wasn't so much fun!"

I still had plenty of time so I had an extended wander around.  I stumbled upon the Tokyo Anime Museum, but much to my disappointment I found that it was closed for temporary works.  The fact the sign was dated Februrary, made me a little suspicious.  When going up the floor of the building where the museum was located, I stumbled across an interesting little typo on the Lift:


In the evening, we met up with Tony, whom Kyle has known since University, and his friends.  The evenings entertainment was a horror themed bar.  Tokyo has some great theme bars.

The food followed a suitably spooky theme and the drinks resembled something out of a mad scientists lab.  Definitely creates an atmosphere.  It's a unique experience performing something akin to an experiment when  making a cocktail or drinking beer from a lab style flask.

Of course I don't know what I'm doing - that's what SCIENCE is all about!

The experiment is to determine how much beer Dan can handle!
Definitely an entertaining day.

Next up is a trip to Omiya.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Oh Deer!

Before todays visit to the island of Miyajima I was warned that the deer could be... bold.  By bold I mean they started trying to eat Seto's wheelchair when he and Kyle were last there.

One of the deer grabbed the bag I was holding and proceeded to tear open the box of coffee sachets within.  All I could do was watch in stunned silence as many onlookers clearly gained amusement from the ongoing spectacle.

Do NOT trust this deer!
The journey to the island went well enough, taking only 25 minutes by ferry.

Miyajima is home to a famous shrine.  This particular shrine is unique as it has a Tori out in the water.

At the shrine I decided to add to my ema collection and get another omamori.  This time it was one for finding ones life partner.  Unfortunately, upon returning to the hotel I discovered my second piece of bad luck.  I'd managed to lose the omamori.  I think the Shinto Gods are trying to tell me that I'm going to be single forever.  Zetsubou!

The island also featured a nice aquarium.  It's relatively small (certainly not on the same scale as The Deep, in Hull) but nice.

Furthermore, when jumping between Kyles room and my own (sorting out who has the correct souvenirs for when we check out) I discovered that I had managed to lock my keys in my room.  This is really not my day!

Despite the slight mishaps I had a great time today.  As we are returning to Misato tomorrow this was our last day with Seto.  Meeting Seto again has been great.

For the return to Misato we're travelling by Shinkansen this time.  i don't think I could survive another overnight bus and I fly back on the 13th so I'm going to make the most of the remaining time I have in Japan.  Time to swap the dry heat of Hiroshima for the humidity of Misato and Tokyo.

And lastly, a little proof that the Deer do in fact steal and attempt to eat whatever they can get away with:


Monday 6 August 2012

I skipped a day - Kimono Time

in the day before the trip to Hiroshima, we visited Askukusa.  Boasting a large shrine and traditional market place in the middle of busy Tokyo, this provided an opportunity to see one of the many interesting facets of the city of Tokyo.

I'm visiting another shrine - this is becoming a habit!
As this area is close to the Sky Tree, it provided an opportunity to get a closer look at it ahead of a full visit.  I'm planning on seeing the observatory when we get back from Hiroshima.  As Kyle doesn't have a head for heights I', going to do this one alone.

Tokyo Sky Tree, seen from Askukusa
While touring the market, we found a stall selling Kimonos.  I couldn't resist - I'm going to post a picture of me wearing it later but for now, here it is!

A cotton Kimono
Another enjoyable day.

On to Osaka and Hitroshima

After spending a few days in Saitama we've moved on to the next leg of the tour.  Hiroshima.

The reason for going to Hiroshima is to visit Setoguchi San (せとぐち さん).  For those who didn't follow the "Seriously Shinto" blog, Seto is a friend of Kyles whom I met when I was in Tokyo back in February.  I was a little nervous about meeting Seto last time but was happy to find out that he thinks I'm cool.

In order to save costs for Kyle and to see a little more of the countryside of Japan, we opted to travel by coach (Willer Express).  Here are a few samples of the pictures:

Because the coach trip is actually 2 separate journeys (Tokyo to Osaka, Osaka to Hiroshima) we got to spend a little time in Osaka.  By a little time, I mean enough time to frantically try to find the bus terminal and then enough time for a nice relaxing dinner.

As it turned out, the bus terminal was in the Sky Building.  Sky building is a landmark building complex featuring an observatory at the connection between the 2 main towers.

Osaka Sky Building

In the part of the complex named "Fun Fun Plaza" there is access to the observatory along with a large number of restaurants (レsツラン) in the basement.  After selecting a suitable venue, a nice meal of Katsu Curry and Plum Wine (that plum wine is powerful stuff!) we had plenty of time to wait while checking in.

If you are thinking of using this cheaper alternative to the Shinkansen please bear in mind that all announcements are in Japanese.  That being said, the staff spoke good English and were very helpful and friendly.  I think this service is quite popular with both locals and Gaijin.

After arriving in Hiroshima I can safely say that there is a reason I don't do overnight buses/coaches.  I can't sleep in an upright position!  I have the same problem with airline flights.  All being said an done, we got to our destination and it didn't cost the earth.  If you need something a little more comfortable, Willer seem to offer a range of seat types (certain coaches have improved seats) and this goes up to what I can only describe as a "first class style reclining pod".

Following our arrival we had some time before checkin (try checkin is at 14:00 and we arrived at 06:00) so after grabbing some breakfast, we dropped our bags off at the hotel and did a little exploration.

We managed to find a small Shinto Shrine near to the hotel, providing Kyle with an opportunity to expand his ever growing Ima collection (and to have a chat with the priest of the shrine).

August 6th was the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima so we journeyed to peace park to attend the somber ceremony and to pay our respects to the 140,000+ people who died during and immediately after this attack.

Unfortunately, a group opposed to nuclear power chose to use this rememberance day to launch a protest - something I found rather disrespectful and distasteful.

For a long time I've believed that nuclear weapons are an incredibly bad idea, but anyone who thinks they are a good idea should go to this place.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the reality of nuclear warfare - over 70,000 lives wiped out in an instant and a further 70,000 died in the immediate aftermath.  I hope we never allow such a weapon to be used again.

After this somber visit, we went to the Starbucks in the NHK building (they have an office in Osaka) and proceeded to consume our respective body weights in iced drinks (this certainly made me wonder how much  I've managed to undo my recent weight loss).

Finally we were able to checkin, grab baths/showers and freshen up ahead of meeting Seto.

After meeting Seto we visited the war museum, bought a new hat to add to my collection (I didn't bring any of mine and I burn easily!), grabbed dinner from a street seller and went to a nice little bar Seto knows.

One of the bar staff is an old friend of Seto's so we spent the evening chatting away and downing long island ice teas.  Suitably fresh, we called it a night and headed back to our respective abodes.

So far, this is proving to be a very nice trip.

Friday 3 August 2012

Day 3 in Japan - So Hot...

I've been a little lax in keeping this thing up to date.

It's the start of my 3rd day.  At the time of writing, it's Saturday morning in Japan, and Friday night in the UK?  Time zones are difficult to get used to.  But another thing that can be difficult to get used to - the heat.

The day I arrived was the hottest day of the year so far, the second day was only slightly cooler.  I was warned that August is an incredibly hot month in Japan but I really had no idea.  Those who may have seen some pictures I posted before from Japan of the ubiquitous vending machines will start to realize why they are there.  The ability to grab a cold bottle of water has been a Godsend.

Didn't get up to much on day 1, mainly settling in.

I went back to Akihabara on day 2.  In one of the stores I saw I well made Yu-Gi-Oh! figure that I've decided to purchase.

Getting from Misato to Akihabara, I've found that the most efficient way is to go to Shin Misato station (Mushashino line, 1 stop) and then get the Tskuba express to Akihabara.  Only problem there is that Tskuba Express is not part of Japan Rail so I can't use my JR pass on that leg.

In the evening we grabbed dinner at a nice traditional style restaurant.

On the way back I noticed that the Seven Eleven had some Melon Bread (メロン パン) - Something I can never resist!

Things are getting off to a slower start from before as last time there was a lot to cram in to 8 days.  This time round the pace is much more relaxed and there's a little more time to get used to the warmer conditions.

During the night (while we were talking to Setoguchi San in a skype call) I experienced my first earth quake. Given that this occured just seconds after not using the correct honorific, I did wonder if the 2 were linked.  Earthquake was a small one (Likely a 2), small ones are quite commonplace.

Most of today is going to be getting final preparations in place for going to Osaka/Hiroshima.  Going to get the overnight bus tomorrow.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Frankfurt and Beyond

It's currently around 10:00 in sunny Frankfurt, which means I have nearly 4 hours before my flight to Tokyo.

Seeing as I'm in Frankfurt again (and my departure gate is exactly the same, given that it's next to the exact same pretzel bar) I've decided to grab a beer and a pretzel while I wait.

The good news so far is that there is free WiFi for half an hour, which I'm currently using to post this and check a few email/social network updates.  Afterwards I expect that I'll shell out for paid hotspot access in an hour or 2 just so I don't go completely crazy.  As I recall, last time it seemed quite reasonably priced (and is provided by T-Mobile and Deutche Telekom).

Bad news is that I've found that keeping a big box of batteries (for my camera) in my hand luggage wasn't a brilliant idea.  Hasn't stopped me getting anywhere but at both Manchester and Frankfurt the security staff did want to check what they are.  On the way back, they go in the suitcase!

Anyway, I'm relaxing now while I wait for my flight.  For those who are interested, I'm flying on one of the new A380 SuperJumbos.  I flew on one last time I went to Japan and I have to say they are really comfortable and certainly quieter than anything I've ever flown on before.  Hopefully I should arrive fairly refreshed.  At least I hope I do as I'm landing at 08:00 - got a full day ahead of me!


Tuesday 31 July 2012

Start of Vacation (Sorry - Holiday)

Just a quick status update.  This post is brought to you from the departure lounge of Manchester airport.  Having woken up at silly O'Clock in the morning, I'm starting my trip to Japan.  Whike out there, I'm going to be staying with my good friend Kyle and later visiting Setoguchi San.  It's a little early for long writing and I'm currently typing on my phone so I'll post a little more once I hop on to WiFi hotspot in Frankfurt.


Saturday 7 July 2012

Learning A Little About Falung gong

Today I visited the art of Zhen Shan Ren exhibition which (at the current time) is is displaying at the Corn Exchange in Leeds.

For those who are not familiar, the exhibition draws attention to the suppression faced by practitioners of Falun Gong within China.

I'd prepared myself for what I was going to see on an intellectual level but it couldn't prepare me for the raw emotion involved in such an exhibition.  This is not an exhibition for those who just want to see pretty pictures!  What I saw gave me an insight in to a horrific world where abuses that would seem completely alien to a westerner are the tragic norm.  This is a world where people are taken without warning, tortured without mercy and even murdered, all with the tacit approval of the state.  And what monstrous crime could these people have committed?  Their only crime was following a system of belief that the state does not endorse.  A system of belief that the state does not control.

It's origins are varied but it draws heavily from Buddhism.  Falun Gong became publicly known in 1992 where it enjoyed popularity.  Unfortunately, it proved to be an influence to rival the Communist Party.  In 1999 the Communist Party of China executed a nationwide crackdown on this "heretical" organisation.  Since then Falun Gong practitioners have faced a merciless campaign of intimidation and torture by a government which has been seen to enjoy increased respectability in recent years.

At first I was intrigued by the spiritual element of the exhibition.  I've been interested in Buddhism for a while and as a result found those parts of the exhibition to be fascinating.

Later I saw a representation of the repression, horror and violence that Falun Gong followers in China face every day.  The images I saw hit me with the force of a bomb.  The reality was hit home.  People are taken from their homes, indoctrinated, and tortured until they reject their "heretical" beliefs.  This is not something I expected to see in the 21st century.  This is something that I'd expect to read about in history books.  This sounds more like the Spanish Inquisition than the present day.

Seeing image after image of tortured soul I felt a well of anger building up.  This was not directed against just against the government orchestrating these acts, it was against the governments and peoples who tacitly approve these acts - myself included.  We do business with the PRC, we lend legitimacy to them and their actions.  WE are just as responsible because WE support them.  Through our moral cowardice we failed to make a stand against a holocaust in our own time.  I don't want to know how  history will judge us.  The only thing I'm sure of is that we are just as morally bankrupt as as those who said they were "only following orders".

Innocent men, woman and children are taken in to custody under the auspices of the "6-10 office".  They are subjected to indoctrination, torture, even murdered.

"Murdered" is putting it lightly.  In some instances, they are carved up for their organs, body parts - while they're still alive!  Some 3200 Falun Gong followers are believed to have been murdered by the regime.  Many have been orphaned and ostracized for their parents beliefs.

As cold as I may seem, even I found it difficult to avoid breaking in to tears.  Despite all of this, Falun Gong practitioners still believe in good.  After living through such horrors (which only seeing accounts of, make me think that the world is rotten and that humanity i s doomed) they still see a hope that I will probably never understand.  the fact that they can cling to such belief in humanity demonstrates not only the strength of their resolve but their hope for humanity.

I've said before that Edmund Burke once said - "All that is necessary for evil to triumph if for good men to do nothing"

We do nothing.

Friday 15 June 2012

Lets look at the specs - Samsung 305U1A and VX6s

As it's going to be a little while before I can afford any new toys I'm going to have to fawn over some specifications.  While looking around for NVIDIA ION powered netbooks (the NC10 doesn't like driving 2 screens) I stumbled across some interesting machines on ebuyer.

The first is the Asus Eee PC VX6S Lamborghini Netbook (£470.00 at time of writing) and the Samsumg 305U1A Laptop (£366.34 at time of writing).  My first thought was WTF!  That's one expensive netbook, and more expensive than a laptop?  Time to investigate.

On paper they are certainly very similar machines.  The key differences being AMD vs Intel CPU and 12.1" vs 11.6" screen.  Likewise, it's Intel vs AMD for the chipsets.  Interestingly, both machines (or at least the 2 specific models I found) use AMD (nee ATI) graphics.  The 2 being similarly specced with the Asus offering a 6470 against Samsungs 6310.  That being said, I'm not entirely sure that's a relevant point.  Both machines have an internal screen resolution of 1366x768 so I'm not sure anything too taxing could be thrown at them.

Asus VX62 Lamborghini Samsung 305U1A
Form Netbook Notebook
CPU Intel Atom D2700 2.13GHz AMD E-450 1.65GHz
Chipset Intel NM10 AMD A50M
Storage 320Gb HDD 500Gb HDD
RAM 4Gb 4Gb
Display 12.1" LED (1366x768) 11.6" LED (1366x768)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6470 AMD Radeon HD 6310
LAN RJ45 (Unknown) 10/100/1000 Ethernet
WLAN 802.11bg/n 802.11bg/n
Bluetooth 3.0 3.0
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium (64bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64bit)
USB 3 (1xUSB2.0, 2xUSB3.0) 3 (USB 2.0)
Graphics Out VGA, HDMI VGA, HDMI
Card Reader 802.11bg/n 4 in 1 card reader
Audio Out Headphone, Mic Headphone/Mic combo
Battery 6 Cell Li-Ion 2600mAh 4 Cell Li-Ion, 4000mAh

I'm going to do a little more research in to the battery life of these 2 machines.  At this point I wouldn't like to say whether I think the Intel or AMD CPU will be more advantageous.  The first netbook I bought had a VIA CPU and a pathetic runtime.  For a machine like this the power consumption is crucial.  Samsung offer a larger battery than Asus.  Whether this is offers greater runtime or makes up for increased power consumption remains to be seen.

While the 12 inch screen on the Asus is tempting, I think this starts to break the idea of what a netbook is.  I'm certainly not one to use novelty, oversized laptops.  I use a 14" as my primary PC.  That being said, it's a Dell Latitude that spends most of its time in a port replicator, driving a 24"/22" display combo.  When on the move, it's a little more practical than the 15"+ laptops available today.

At first glance my preference would be the Samsung due to the lower price tag.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Fun With Tech Support Scammers

A little earlier this evening I received a "tech support" scam call.  I've noticed that this scam has been going around in a few forms over the last few months.  The basic premise is, someone phones up saying that your computer has been sending error reports, has viruses etc and attempts to dupe the mark in to either downloading a repair utility (malware) or allow the "technician" remote control through a remote support tool such as LogMeIn etc.

Suffice it to say, this was a short call:

Caller: Hello, I am calling from Microsoft Windows XP tech support, do you know your computer is sending us error reports?Me: No... I'm actually a little surprised it would be sending reports to Microsoft as I use a Macintosh.*hangs up*Me: Hello?

After spending a few minutes laughing to myself (a rather evil, self satisfied laugh at that!) I started kicking myself.  I'd missed a golden opportunity.  Reason being, I'm not a Mac user, I'm not a Windows user (my laptop has Windows 7 but I rarely use it) - Most of the time I run Fedora Linux.

I'm starting to wish I'd played along.  That way I could see how long it would take for them to figure out that I'm not actually running Windows, made a little more believable by pretending not to be an expert (I've seen enough novices to be able to pull it off!).

Gotta love scambaiting :-D

Sunday 10 June 2012

NC10 Touchscreen Mod - With Demonstration Video

Hardware modification time!  I finally got around to installing a touchscreen in the netbook, then I got around to actually doing a video of it.  Since this is the first time I've actually talked in a video (usually I just demonstrate without saying anything), it's pretty cringeworthy.

To the hardware - installing the touchscreen took longer than I had thought, fortunately I was spending the day with some suitably geeky friends and we eventually managed to get the whole thing working.  One of the major issues is that there really isn't much space in those netbook cases.  As it stands, the NC10 has space where an additional mini PCIE device would have gone (the 3G equipped model) where we could install the touchscreen controller.  As there are limited USB headers on the system board, the controller also includes a USB hub.  This meant the USB header for the webcam could be used and the webcam is plugged in to one of the USB headers provided on the touchscreen controller.


I purchased this as a kit which included:

  • Touchscreen panel
  • Controller/USB hub
  • Stylus (I foolishly lost mine a few days ago!)
  • Plastic device to help open the case

Looks like a guitar plectrum, but a useful doohickey

The controller was detected as an eGalax and appears to be a fairly common type of controller with support under Windows, Linux and MacOS.

As Fedora is my distro of choice, I did a search on YUM for touchscreen and found a calibration tool.
  In order to persist the changes, I added a configuration file to /etc/X11/xord.conf.d/ containing the device info and calibration settings.

Section "InputClass"
Identifier "eGalax"
MatchProduct "eGalax"
MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
Driver "evdev"
Option "SwapAxes" "off"
Option "Calibration" "1934 81 190 1904"

Replace the values in the "Calibration" line with the values you got from the touchscreen calibration program. An alternative approach is to take the output from the calibration program (which includes the program they need passing to) and put it in a script that is launched at login.  I opted for the X11 configuration approach instead as I wanted to have access to the touchscreen at the login page.

Overall, it was an interesting experience and I find the touchscreen quite useful.  the GNOME3 desktop handles the touchscreen quite well.  It's certainly not as good as Apple IOS or Google Android as it's a desktop UI with adaptions for touchscreens but it's not bad.

Hairy moment!
The demonstration video is available here (finally - I get to try out embedding a youtube video!)

Setting up Google Calendars in GNOME Evolution

Now that I'm starting to make more use of the notification, contact etc facilities of GNOME3 I thought I'd have a go at integrating my Google Apps provided Email/Calendar.  This is going to be a long day!

Connecting an Apps account appears to be a simple affair, most of the steps are the same as for connecting a regular Gmail account.  The only difference is using your full email address rather than a Gmail username.

As Evolution is not a supported client, I used the generic instructions.  This only includes instructions for setting up POP, which I've disabled on my account.  When enabling IMAP connections for my account, the web interface rather helpfully informed me that I need to use "" as a server.  Armed with this knowledge I set Evolution to use IMAP+ (I've heard that gmail supports push email with IMAP) and continued.  Please not that security settings are SSL (not TLS) and Password rather than PLAIN for authentication.

The tricky part for me is that I'm using 2 factor authentication on my account.  First step for this is to create an application specific password, this can then be used in place of your regular password when setting up the connection.

Generating an application specific password
And hey presto! We now have email!

Calendars are proving a little more tricky to get going.  By default, evolution creates a single calendar, which appears not to be connected to anything.  The partial solution I've found is to manually add each calendar.  Because the the infernal 2 factor authentication (starting to regret setting it up now!) I'm having to keep the application specific password on hand as I need it to retrieve my calendar list and add the appropriate calendar.

This all went well until adding the 3rd calendar.  At this point it refused to allow me to add the calendar, despite having all the appropriate details entered.  Can't be a bad password as it allowed me to view the friggin calendar list!  At first I suspected this was some kind of limit.  So I deleted calendar #2, can't add it again!  I can add local calendars but not Google ones.  Very useful!

After a few more attempts I found it was being temperamental - sometimes allowing me to add a calendar and sometimes now.  Finally, I think I've figured it out.  If I don't enter a name to give this calendar, before retrieving the list from Google - it won't let me add it.  Specify a name first (even a temporary one) - it can be added.  How strange is that?

The only other "quirk" I've noticed is that my default colour selection is overridden when a new calendar is added.  Going back in to change the colour will commit my ACTUAL selection.  Annoying, but not a deal breaker.
At long last, calendars!

Don't check the box marked "Mark as default calendar" - I did this with my main calendar and no entries showed up in GNOME.  I could be wrong, but changing this setting seemed to help.
Default Calendar - Caused me troubles!
The end result - I can now get my notifications on my desktop.

Something particularly useful is that selecting the current day will let you see your schedule for the week along with that days events.

I don't see this as a replacement for the web interface.  I see this more like my Android phone, it's another tool to complement it.  The web interface is very useful for when I need access to my calendars when I haven't got my phone with me.  My phone and GNOME are great for providing notifications.

I'm going to need to use this intensively for a while before I can say for sure whether I'll continue using this and how useful I think it is.  It's certainly much more of a faff to set up than an Android device.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Asus Transformer or iPad?

Having used my Transformer for a year now I've started to realise my next tablet will possibly be an iPad.

Don't get me wrong, the TF101 is still a nice piece of hardware and the keyboard dock is useful (I'm actually writing this blog on it right now!), I'm just not sure tje keyboard is such a big deal.  What I use this device for, more than anythin else, is web browsing.  For that I almost always use the Transformer without the keyboard.  This is something that a tablet is very useful for.  Furthermore, I'm not convinced that the 16:9 aspect ratio is that good in portrait mode.

The main gripes I have with the Transformer are:
  • Poor battery life.  Compared to the iPad, the TF101 just doesn't deliver.
  • Buggy Software.  Ice Cream Sandwitch has some nice features, unfortunately this doesn't make up for the buggy implementation Asus released.  On occasion the device gets stuck in a reboot loop, causing the battery to quickly expire.
  • Sluggish - While a factory reset or new upgrade (e.g. ICS) runs smoothly at first, the device soon starts to become sluggish.  Screen transitions and web browsing suffer especially from this.  Sadly I've seen the same deterioation in performance on my HTC Desire-Z so this could be an inherent issue with Android.
  • USB3 charging.  I don't know if the iPad has this issue, but USB3 charging means that I can't use my AA Battery based portable charger.  Not very good when I want to use the Transformer for entertainment on my next long haul flight.
  • Poor video codec support.  The iPad has the same issue so not fair to point fingers at Google.
All that being said, I'm still planning on taking the TF101 to Japan in August as my Dell Latitude was a little too heavy and took up too muh space in my carry on bag last time.
Question for the long term is: Will the iPad do what I need and can I live with iTunes?

I'm hoping to get a few feature comparisons and differences from Bytey who has used the same TF101 and now uses the iPad3 as his tablet PC.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Review - Gin-Iro No Kami No Agito (Origin: Spirits of the Past)

It's been a few months since I first watched this film (and posted a few words on my Facebook profile), so I thought it time for me to write something a little more detail.

I'll start off with a little background.  Origin: Spirits of the Past is a 2006 film by the studio Gonzo and was Gonzo's first foray in to feature films (Previously they've produced series such as the Anime adaption of the Gantz Manga).  I stumbled across this little gem when browsing for DVDs in HMV and noticed Origin for the princely sum of £3 - Worth taking a chance on, I thought.

"Long, long ago, there was a seed, which shook the heart of the forest. A Forest Dragon fell from the moon. Man trembled at the Forest Dragon’s red breath. Man cowered at the Forest Dragon’s green tears. Long, long ago, when the Forest Dragon’s tears dried up, man strained his ears to hear the voice of the forest"

Origin is set in a post apocalyptic Japan after extensive genetic experimentation on trees caused the trees to become sentient, fracturing the moon, and returning to Earth in a fiery holocaust, wiping out most of the human race and eventually turning much of the surface in to a giant forest.  Not only are the trees sentient, they are incredibly powerful and generally hostile to humans.

Setting new standards for hentai, Origin manages to tentacle rape an entire planet!

The story starts out in Neutral City, a growing town built in the ruins of the skyscrapers of the cities of old.  Neutral city sits between the forest and the military state of Ragna.  Where the people of Neutral City try to live alongside the forest (negotiating with the forests messengers, the tree-like druids, for the forests water), Ragna intends to use military power to bring the forest under control.

Neutral City

One day, a boy from Neutral City, named Agito stumbles upon an old cryogenic stasis pod.  Frozen in the pod is a young girl, Toola.  Once revived Toola finds it difficult to adapt to a world that seems completely alien to her.  She is further distressed upon meeting Agitos father, a man who became enhanced by the forest to help him build Neutral City.  Having overused the forests power, he began turning in to a tree.  A world of violent trees that attack people, ruined cities and people turning in to trees is too much for her to handle.

As the apocalypse approaches, a frightened Toola is placed in stasis
Toola was not the only person from the past.  Shunack, an officer in the Ragna army, had previously been discovered but chose to defect to Ragna.  When Shunack tells her that she holds the key to her fathers work, the ability to tame the forest and restore the cities of old, Toola must choose a side.

Overall I liked this film.  It's similar in concept to Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of The Valley of the Wind.  Having seen both, I'd say that Origin is more morally ambiguous than Nausicaa.  Where Nausicaa (the character) has a clear belief in humans living in harmony with the Fukai, Toola is much more conflicted.  As someone out of time and place it is harder for her to choose between maintaining the tentative peace the people of Neutral City have created and using the power of her time to restore the world as it was.

The forest with the fractured moon in the background

Visually, Origin looks like it was inspired partly by Nausicaa (hardly surprising as Miyazaki is regarded as one of Japans masters of animation).  The steampunk style of the Ragna tanks reminded me of the live action adaptation of Casshern.

Now the crucial question - to watch in Japanese or English?  Having watched in Japanese (with English subtitles) and the English dub I can safely say

Unfortunately, like many Anime films Origin suffers from poor execution.  I felt the ending was a little disappointing.  Not that I'm saying it was bad, I just think it could have been better.

My recommendation:  If you liked Nausicaa or Princess Mononoke I think this film will likely be up your street.  If you're expecting something as deep as Nausicaa or Mononoke, you'll be disappointed.