Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Comfort Women and Justice? And revisionism!

From what little time I have for the news, I gather that, for some time now, the Japanese government has been asserting that it will clear up the issue of comfort women with Korea by the end of the year. Personally, I applaud this effort to try and reconcile differences between Japan and Korea, and I hope this marks a greater shift towards a deeper understanding between Japan and its neighbouring countries.

However, I have a couple of issues with how this reconciliation is being approached. The short version is that the approach of both governments is fundamentally flawed.

1) The necessity for financial compensation.

It makes sense from a legal perspective that victims be compensated for the traumas (in this case, quite horrific ones) incurred. However, who should be paying that compensation? The issue is such an old one now that it is no longer possible to round up the responsible people and impart justice.

From the agreements reached so far it looks like the Japanese government will be paying compensation, which superficially seems fair: it was the Japanese government that occupied Korea, right? Well, I have problems with this.

Firstly, the Japanese government now is nothing like the organization that rampaged around East Asia during the war. To my mind, it is a separate entity, established largely by the US when they demolished Imperial Japan and led them by the hand to a truer democracy*. Since then, it has evolved yet more. As such, I think it odd that modern Japan be held directly responsible for the compensation of the comfort women.

Secondly, where does this money come from? The government gets its money from taxes, which are paid by working individuals in Japanese society that are entirely innocent. Sure, the figure per head is going to be infinitesimal** (7.8 yen, something like 4p), but to my mind this is foundationally flawed.

2)Japanese revisionism

Just so we're clear, it's not just the Korean side I have issue with here, the Japanese side is equally flawed. It is plain to see on the news, Abe wants to "put an end to the issue before the year is out". Why the rush? Is this really the best premise for discussion? He may as well announce "Let's just get this over with quickly so that when the new year comes we can forget all about it". Anyway, part of the initial terms drawn up by Japan was the removal of a statue erected outside the Japanese embassy. This statue symbolizes the pains inflicted by Imperial Japan and a defiance, which I applaud, towards Japanese indifference to the issue.

I think part of the issue here is that the statue hurts Japanese honour. But let's be honest, it should do. The actions of Imperial Japan are a shame to the name of Japan, and it is by overcoming that shame that Japan should move forward; the Japanese government should be working towards building a society where past lessons are learned and can never be repeated. Instead, Japan has focussed on this shame as something that needs removing, rather than a harsh lesson.

I feel slightly alleviated by the fact that Korea haven't agreed to this term yet; however, I am somewhat disappointed that revisionism isn't the main thrust of Korea's discussions. If you're going to hold modern Japan to account, at least do so for its own wrongdoings***...

*The barbarism the US displayed (admittedly blood was on everyone's hands back then) is at least partially offset by the spirit of cooperation the US managed to forge with their vanquished.

**1 billion yen divided by 127 million people. 7.8 yen doesn't sound like much, but 1 billion yen is. A lot of good could be done with that money; lives could be saved with it, but as it stands a lot of elderly people and their families are going to get large sums of money. Yeah, they deserve a break, but so do starving children in the slums of the places we like to forget about.

*** My greatest fear here is that, by focussing on the money, the solution will only be a temporary one. I'm sure there is still plenty of anger in Korea regarding this issue, and while Japan keeps avoiding the issue, the Japanese will be less informed as to why such a sentiment exists. This in turn reinforces Japanese hostility. In such a situation, one can only hope that time passing will counteract this.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review of the Ewin Bluetooth keyboard for 7-inch tablets

While I wait for my more "competent"* computer to compute the Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon test on a 2x4000 dataset , I thought I'd do a first-impressions review of the keyboard I recently got for my Nexus 7 (2012 version).

I had previously been using one of these (yes, it's a Japanese link, but they were definitely available in the UK, which is where I bought it), and to be honest, that was great; it fit snugly around the Nexus, protected the screen from harm, and was ultra-portable. The only real complaints I had about it were the lack of a TAB key, and the fact the letters eventually wore off**.

There are new versions of the keyboard that have the TAB key, and I would have gotten one; however, I was seduced by the idea of having a nexus case that enveloped the whole device, not just the screen-side.

Consequently, I bought this little gadget (not the pink one, the black one!). The device itself was (like any other keyboard I've come across) simple to set up; just turn on and have the tablet search for bluetooth devices. I've not had any problems with connection, and the keys are very responsive. Indeed, the keys have much more depth to them than my old device***, making it easy to feel whether you've hit a button sufficiently. However, I did have the backspace pop off the keyboard a couple of times at first (perhaps due to a bumpy ride here?). I've not had the problem since, but I'm inclined to be gentle with the device for the time being.

The keyboard itself is only marginally larger than my previous one; however, the extra vertical spacing between the buttons makes the keyboard feel decidedly less cramped, and I think I'm making far fewer typos as a result. The layout is a bit different to what I'm used to, but I know from experience that I'll adapt in no time.

The biggest change in this keyboard is the introduction of function keys. This is great as it allows for a more spacious layout and it also allows me access a number of the tablets functionality without lifting my hands from the keyboard****. However, because this is a generic keyboard, it has buttons that cater only to iProducts (a cmd button that appears to have no use, and non-functional brightness keys). Oddly, some of the typographical keys are also relegated to fn keys: the apostrophe, inverted commas, square brackets, and parentheses. If you like your apostrophes, this will take some getting used to. Luckily, being acclimatized to Japanese keyboards and their odd apostrophe placement (shift-7), I suspect that I'll adapt to this keyboard soon enough too.

Of course, for just over 2000 yen, I'm not surpised that the faux leather is of uninspiring quality; however, the product doesn't look ugly, and it is functional. One advantage that the case has is its ability to fold back and form a stand that actually positions the screen at a natural distance from the user. Even better, you can detach the keyboard from the case entirely for completely free placement of the device. I found the inability to do this with my previous keyboard decidedly awkward.

So, all in all, I think the keyboard is well worth the money. Despite some initial mishaps, it feels like a sturdy product and, having used it to type this article, I feel it functions better than I need it to.

*the lab workhorses could manage this within a few seconds...

** This ended up being the downfall of the keyboard; in an effort to maintain its usability, I resorted to using correction fluid to write the letters back on it, which worked well enough, but I didn't fancy going into work and using it (it looked decidedly DIY, and not in a good way). So, I bought some letter stickers from the local 100-yen store, and used nail varnish remover to (after much effort) get rid of the now-ingrained correction fluid. Unfortunately, I got somewhat carried away in this cleaning, and at some point the keyboard stopped working. All I can say is that keyboards and acetone don't mix...

***I hear that some people enjoy the sound of keyboards clacking. I'm indifferent, but the keyboard might satisfy such people.

****My particular favourite being the unlock button, as the lock button on my Nexus 7 has been temperamental since I bought it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Getting LuneOS running on the Nexus 7 (2012 ver.; grouper)

I had a go at installing LuneOS on my Nexus 7. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, given the performance issues; however, here is how I achieved it:

0) Install and set up MultiRom Manager

1) Download image
2) Copy onto device
3) Boot into Recovery
4) Advanced > MultiROM > Add ROM > Android ROM - then navigate for the zip file in your device
4) Backup > Select system and boot
5) Go back to main recovery menu and check the "Restore" section to see if the backup ROM is present
6) Install > navigate to the luneos grouper zip file, uncheck "inject MultiROM after installation" and swipe to flash
7) You may get a message saying "no OS installed" and another "not set as root". Ignored both messages and reboot.
8) I got fed up of waiting and turned off during the Google logo; however, after rebooting the device and waiting for ages at the Google logo, some minutes later the LuneOS logo appeared and the OS booted up!

But! There was no virtual keyboard... I couldn't get fingerterm to load, and bluetooth wouldn't load, so I had no software or hardware keyboard. Consequently I had no way of entering the LAN password, and thus no way of pulling any new packages that might have helped solve the problem. Oh dear.

Worse, the system was fairly slow to respond, and after several attempts to get the above to work, I ended up ditching the OS in the end, rather than pursue further to see if the keyboard worked in a nightly build.

(LuneOS Version 38 build 286)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Installing SailfishOS alongside CyanogenMod on the Nexus 7 (2012 version; "grouper")

The cyclic frustration that is my old Nexus 7. As I install more apps and things get updated, the poor thing eventually struggles to keep enough RAM to remain responsive. Consequently, I have tried a few ways of coaxing it into doing things a little faster.

Installing a fresh OS (be it the factory software or otherwise) keeps things smooth for a while; however, the accumulating apps, data, or updates (I'm not sure which is the most problematic here) does tend to slow things down.

Recently I installed Sailfish OS. It seems fast enough, but I managed to kill the OS when installing Japanese input. Whoops.

Anyway, if you care about not voiding your warranty, and have a rooted Nexus 7 try this:
1) Install MultiRom Manager
2) Download the Cyanogenmod and Sailfish OS images linked at this page.
3) Copy the downloaded files onto the home directory of the nexus
4) Run MultiRom Manager and have it install all the necessary kernel patches etc.
5) Once (4) is finished and you're back in Android, use MultiRom Manager to reboot into recovery
6) Go to "Advanced" and find "MultiRom" then "Add ROM".
7a) You can now follow the pictures.
7b) i) If you dislike pictures; select "SailfishOS" as the ROM type and press next
      ii) Select the CyanogenMod and SailfishOS zips (in "/data/media/" if I recall correctly)
      iii)Press install

When booting up, you can interrupt the boot countdown and then select SailfishOS from the list.

Have fun!

EDIT: I did also try "Plasma Active" which feels much more "old-school linux"; however, its small keyboard led to immediate removal.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Getting anaglyph 3D working on old games

More so the internet retains a copy than anything else, I thought I'd write down my experiences in trying to get anaglyph 3D to work on TESIV: Oblivion. I have lost my 3D specs, so I actually can't comment on the quality of the end product; however, it appears to be working, so this is what I did:

1) Downloaded Vireio Perception 2.1.6 *
2) Open Perception\cfg\profiles.xml
3) Scroll down until you find "Fallout 3"
4) Copy the entire tag and paste a new entry
5) Edit the game name and exe tags:
game_name="Oblivion" game_exe="Oblivion.exe"
6) Run Vireio Perception as Admin
7) Run Oblivion.exe **

You should see some green writing after a short delay on the loading screen.

I suspect the reason this was so simple was that Fallout 3 and Oblivion use pretty much the same engine. I might give some other games a try and see what happens.

What, you haven't run off to try this for yourself? Fair enough. If you're interested, I used to use iZ3D (which I believe is still available). That was my first experience with 3D immersion in a game, and while I'm sure some would be horrified with the loss of colour quality using red-cyan glasses, I quite enjoyed it. Unfortunately, Windows 8 was completely incompatible with iZ3D, and I've never since been able to play around with true-ish 3D immersion in games. In contrast, the above technique got things working for my win 10 laptop, so it looks like all I need to do now is get hold of some 3D glasses again!

*There exists a version 3+; however, I was fiddling with 2.1.6 when I got it working, so I can't yet comment on whether the more recent version is more appropriate.
EDIT: You can use version 3+; however, when you load up the game, press Ctrl-Q to bring up a menu, select the "3D reconstruction settings" option, and turn "projected FOV" OFF.
** I copied the dlls from perception/bin/ into the Oblivion game folder; however, this might be unnecessary.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Every app has a dictionary now. The Aedict suite.

In my recent forays into searching for better solutions to working with Japanese on Android I became aware of a new addition by the developer of Aedict, called (unflatteringly, but descriptively) "Aedict Reader Popup".

I think I've mentioned the following already, but the existence of a dictionary that uses the EDICT Japanese dictionary, i.e. Aedict, was the reason I originally bought a smartphone. Thus allowing me to hold a book in one hand and dictionary in the other while on the bus. Although I was almost ready to jump ship when Aedict turned paid, Aedict3 remained head-and-shoulders above the competition.

Looking through the various Japanese dictionaries in development, there are a number of promising (even free) alternatives available. Indeed, I have Jsho installed on my phone just to see how it develops from here (however, its current lack of technical dictionaries is a bit of a turnoff at the moment*).

It was while looking at these apps that I (quite accidentally) came across the aforementioned Aedict Reader Popup. Despite having my eye on Aedict's competition, I thought I would at least buy it and try it.

I was first presented with the screen to the right. This is AedictReader, a web browser that automatically translates Japanese to English. By accidentally skipping the next dialogue, I thought for a moment this was the entire app. But the settings allow it to be used pretty much anywhere (I've yet to find anywhere it doesn't run; hell, it will even display over World of Goo if I tell it to**). The reader does, however, serve as a useful introduction to Aedict Reader Popup's functions.

Once enabled to work across all apps (I think that is the default setting), copying text will result in a popup, as shown to the left. Any dictionaries you have enabled in Aedict3*** will be consulted for a match. The picture shows an example of the app being used on a biosciences document. Since I have the life sciences dictionary installed, "transcriptional activity" is correctly displayed when "転写活性" is selected and copied in my document viewer (I've blurred the rest of the writing in the GIMP*4 but you get the idea).

Tapping on the popup gives access to more advanced functions, including the ability to quickly switch to Aedict3 to have a closer look at the word and scrutinize it further. There is also the option to temporarily remove the popup or minimize it (down to about the size of a fingerprin; easy to push, but unobtrusive on my largish AQUOS Crystal).

You can set the popup app to remain in the notification bar; from there you can activate the popup even if using a program from which you cannot copy/paste. If you have the paid Aedict3 Kanjipad plugin, this lets you copy the character in-situ*5. You can also do a normal search, though with the app-of-interest, the popup, and the keyboard on screen, it does get crowded. On tablets; however, this is very manageable.

When reading books on the Kindle, Aedict's new popup app even seems to outperform Kindle's own dictionaries (see below), especially considering Aedict is aware of verb tense, while Kindle's is not!

The only thing I can imagine that would make this better is integration of the OCR package, so that I can hover the popup over some uncopyable text and have the popup translate it. A tall order, but given the completeness and robustness of the app, I wouldn't be surprised if such a feature does appear in the future.


Today, I expect almost every learner of Japanese, everyone with Japanese as a second language, absorbs the language in some way via their phones. Whether it is film, books, instant messaging, news, websites, or even games, any tool that could be used to take the chore out of looking up a new word, or a forgotten word, makes these activities even more rewarding than before. Thus, it is easier to spend more time getting better at Japanese.

The popup app extends the features of the Aedict suite into almost any/all app(s) and does so without compromising the ability to search multiple dictionaries. It works and responds well on phones and tablets, even where the most basic system functions (such as copy/paste) fail. From my own experiences, I surmise that there has never been a more robust, accurate, and flexible Japanese dictionary tool in history*6, besides -perhaps- the human mind.

The ol' Nexus 7 running Kindle. Left: Kindle's own Japanese-English dictionary shows the entry, and I can get a full definition from there (but that opens up a new window, so I cannot see the word with its definition in the context of the book). Right: pressing the copy icon brings up Aedict's definition, complete with example sentences, all in one place so that I can still see the word in context. Moreover, having the popup installed doesn't interfere with the apps existing functions, so I (of course) still have Kindle's Wikipedia links etc.

*It is also light on other features, such as different methods for kanji lookup, though handwriting recognition is probably the way forward. Given the dictionary aims to be "simple, lightweight, fast and accurate. No unnecessary splash screens and no need to download any additional files", I'm not sure we'll see Jsho becoming the powerhouse that Aedict is.

**Rest assured, this is optional.

***And usefully, ONLY those dictionaries you have enabled in Aedict3's word search.

*4 "GNU Image Manipulation Program", before you get any odd ideas...

*5 previously you'd have to copy the character onto paper and then use the drawing to rewrite the character into the dictionary, or use another device with a Japanese dictionary. Either way, the new solution is much more elegant.

*6 good enough that I took the time to upload pictures, which I don't often do. Also its difficult to explain just how elegant the app is without them.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Handwritten Japanese Input by Google

+Google's handwriting engine is free and highly accurate for writing Japanese characters
-If you already have good handwriting recognition as part of your dictionary, you likely wont need this

Having rediscovered that I own a blog, I thought I'd have another delve into the experience of using Japanese with Android, and quickly came upon the existence of Google's very own handwriting recognition (apparently its been around for months now, though).

I was very happy to see this for 3 reasons: 1) Google provide their input methods for free, 2) Google's products tend to work very well with each other

Reason 1 doesn't really require introduction, everyone loves a freebie, and anyone who has read any of my previous rants will know I am a techno-miser.

For point 2, I'd like to point out how all of Google's input methods* have a shortcut where you long-press the space bar to switch input methods. Thus you can switch between English, Japanese, and handwriting method fairly simply. (Many of the iWnn methods require that you pull down the notification menu and select the input method dialog from there).

So, lets do a little test. I randomly took whatever Japanese happened to be on my desk, in this case "電気料金等払込取扱票"**. Not particularly challenging, but a nice string of characters. So, I'll use a few handwriting recognition apps/input methods to see how good they are at recognizing my numpty attempts at copying these words by hand. The method counts as correctly predicting if it shows the character I want in the suggestions it displays.

Google handwriting recognition 100% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
Kanji Draw 60% correct, of which 50% were the 1st suggestion
Swype (In handwriting mode) 100% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
Aedict3 KanjiPad Extension 100% correct, of which 70% were the 1st suggestion
MyScript Stylus Beta - 90% correct, of which ~70% were the 1st suggestion

Similarly, the results for "納付書兼領収剤通知書"*** were:

Google - 90% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
Kanji Draw - 50% correct, of which 80% were the 1st suggestion
Swype - 90% correct, of which 100% were the 1st suggestion
MyScript Stylus Beta - 100% correct, of which 90% were the 1st suggestion
Aedict3 KanjiPad Extension - 100% correct, of which 90% were the 1st suggestion.

Evidently, the methods are neck-and-neck.

I'll keep Swype installed and hope that one day they'll release an update with prediction on par with Google's (Swype's language switching is faster and easier than Google's, but I've grown dependent upon how Google correctly interprets my input in the easier-to-use 12-key format).

However, I am thinking of switching from Google to Swiftkey. Why? Swiftkey's Japanese beta offers: one-tap switching between English/Japanese with very good prediction*4 in both languages and swipe input for English*5.

The other reason for this is that handwriting is only really useful when you need to input a character you cannot copy/paste and do not know the pronunciation of: ie. a random word you find in a book*6. The only reason I ever have for doing this is to look something up in a dictionary. Consequently, having bought into*7 the whole Aedict bundle (which I still think is the best dictionary around, despite previous misgivings*8) it makes sense to use the dictionary's kanjipad.

Also, note that I changed the settings of the Aedict handwriting recognition to search for kanji with the wrong number of strokes because the added accuracy saves time in the long run (if you're as sloppy a writer as me).

*at least, the ones I've used
** Yeah, I also find it depressing that the most prominent Japanese on my desk happens to be my electricity bill...
*** So many bills :(
*4 Google Japanese Input's English prediction is, for some reason, awful. Also, by very good Japanese prediction, I mean I can type "かつこうにいくとおもつた" and have it converted into "学校に行くと思った". However, Swiftkey didn't recognise the word 電磁気学 like Google does.
*5 Swype offers swipe input for both languages, but I never found it particularly reliable for Japanese, which I presume is because of the short consonant-vowel pattern of the language. Swiftkey seem to realise this and offer swipe for English and a 12-key layout for Japanese as default.
*6 or bill! (-_-;)
*7 technically, I only bought the Aedict KanjiPad Extension for the test above...
*8 And I still wouldn't recommend the Aedict OCR app.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Yochien 幼稚園 - Starting Preschool in Japan - What it Means for Your Child, Time, Wallet, and Sanity

Figure 1: Specifications for a box to contain a child's tools for playtime.
Note the needlessly specific specifications that make what would be a 
simple trip to the 100-yen store many times as expensive in time and money.


Executive summary

Preschool education in Japan is an over-subscribed, unstandardised mess. I'll surely be glad my child attended, but it's everything that needs to be done until then that riles every rational bone in my body. My choices of education appear to be "no education until age 6" or "Christian preschool", complete with vaguely-defined charges and mandatory DIY children's accessories.

Warning. Applying for preschool in Japan may make you homesick.


Herein lie the experiences of one fallible man and his family, trying to make ends meet on the fringe of Tokyo. I'm unsure of how relevant my experience is to anyone else in the country. Additionally, I was educated in the United Kingdom, which schooled me at negligible expense, albeit in the soggy, grey sort of way that everything tends to happen in the UK. This under-exposure to financial hardship* has undoubtedly clouded the glass through which I see the Japanese education system**.

*I would like to point out that this isn't due to having wealthy family; unlike many so-called "university students", I underwent the increasingly rare right-of-passage of making it through university without a stipend from my parents.

** Or indeed the health system, real-estate, etc., etc..


When to get your child educated***

I approached childcare with the same angle I use with most things; "Can it wait?" To be fair, I've spent much of the last year ensuring I've had the financial stability required to relocate my wife and children from Kagawa*4 to Saitama, and prior to that, getting my foot in the door of a university in Tokyo.

Nonetheless, the technical answer is "yes", compulsory schooling starts with primary school*5, and so my daughter will be joining the local preschool at the ripe age of 5. Nonetheless, this being later than I started school, I've been keen on getting my daughter some form of education for a long time now, and while my wife was in hospital, I used kindergarten to care for my daughter while I went to work*6. Anyway, pre-schools (which is what I will call "yochien" here) are generally entered from ages 3-6.

*** Yes, I will keep writing second-person for my titles, despite the first-person narrative; this is a blog for the grammatically masochistic. I will also keep up the footnotes, just to make things even less tidy. 

*4 Land of Udon, temples, and -if you ask the Japanese- more udon.

*5 Or "elementary school", if taxation without representation upsets your sensibilities.

*6 I survived a total of 2 months in a 1R ("one-room"*7) flat in Yokohama whilst supporting my daughter and trying to successfully translate for money, and write research documents for the promise of money. Those single parents that do that sort of thing every day of their parenting lives deserve all the help they can get. And a medal.

*7 The "One room" being a combined bedroom and kitchen. Toilets and hallways are not counted in Japanese estate agentese.

Finding education for your child

So, having successfully ported my family from Kagawa to Saitama*8, our first priority was to get our daughter's education sorted. Therein manifested problems 1 and 2, which are "the lack of preschools" and "nursery school requirements", respectively.

Within walking distance of my fledgling, car-less family are precisely 2 preschools, thus we're very short on options. Both preschools are ostensibly Christian schools*9, and more-or-less at maximum capacity. This led us to broaden our search to include nursery schools ("hoikuen"), which would be less educational and more focused on play. Given that many preschools also take the play-focused approach, hoikuen are a reasonable approximation of preschools, and tend to be far more numerous (with at least 3 within a 8-minute walk of our house).

However, it quickly became apparent that the nursery schools were not an easy option due to their requirement that both parents be working. We reasoned that we could probably weasel our daughter in by using our 4-month-old son as reasonable grounds for not having sufficient time to spend on our daughter; however, my wife discovered through conversation that it is likely that such an application would likely be refused. Additionally, my wife was concerned about the possibility that our daughter might be taken out of nursery school when our son reached a more "manageable" age of 1. Thus, I remain slightly sceptical about the existence of this problem, as due to the above concerns we never proceeded as far as making an application.

*8 Still have some incompatibility issues due to unmet dependencies for Sanuki Udon (I currently live above an udon shop, and have yet to eat there because "udon in Saitama is so expensive"); however, as a quick workaround, there is always ramen.

*9 Which should be a non-issue, given my primary school education included prayer each morning; however, now that I've given in to rational thought, the idea of someone teaching my children that, essentially, fairies are responsible for all of the mysteries of this world... Doesn't sit too well with me.

Applying for education for your child

Eventually we settled on the larger of the 2 preschools in the area, and they offered us a look around. The staff were helpful, kindhearted people of the sort you might hope to find in a preschool. Additionally, my fears of brainwashing were belayed by assurances that the preschool honoured the spirit of Christianity more so than the actual spirits of Christianity. They even gave me a rhinovirus so that I could get an authentic preview of childhood education as viewed from a father's perspective. Excellent! Where do I sign up?

The preschool provided us with the application form after we visited them for the tour. However, of course, once signed, there is the issue of financing this little endeavour. The nyugakuhi ("school entrance fee") for our chosen institution was 90,000 yen. Given that I'm fed up with the aforementioned delays to our daughter's education, and my eagerness to have the school accept our application, I've not been so crass as to ask what that money is used for; however, I will point out that I will also be paying additional initial costs of around 20,000 yen for equipment/clothing etc., and a monthly fee (of around 20,000 yen) too. Assuming the monthly fee covers teaching expenses, and the equipment will be paid for or provided by ourselves, I do wonder, for a preschool with about 20 children per teacher, "what on earth is this sum of money for?"

Preparing your child yourself for preschool

Occasionally, I am suddenly struck by the fact I am here, in Japan, living my dreams amidst that misty, bamboo'd, fairytale image of the East that drew me here in 2007. Sometimes, rather than be "struck" by this magnificent contrast, I am entirely bowled over*10.

By far the biggest surprise, even more so than the existence of a entry fee for preschool*11, was the outline of "things to do before your child enters school". It starts out asking for a photo of the family together (fair enough, I guess, over 100 kids, they're going to want some visual reference, though I'll be damned impressed if Teacher of class A knows which parents a pupil of class G belongs to, even with photos). It continues with a reasonable list of items such as a rucksack, scissors, etc., and specifications for those items. This is where things go a bit odd "Letter bag. This is a blue, vinyl bag. It is used to store letters at the preschool." Is a "letter bag" really necessary? How about the rucksack, that's also a container for holding things, right? "Album: We make an album with pictures that the child has drawn, which is for the graduation ceremony." OK, so having not attended either of my higher education ceremonies, I'm biased here, but a graduation ceremony for 6-year olds? I knew they had them for primary school, but damn it that is just pretencious. 

Things get worse. On the next page "Items to be prepared yourself", the words prepared yourself are key here: "Smock: ... The instructions for making the smock will be explained during the meeting for school entry preparations". 

I'm sorry. I must have read that wrong. No, it really does say that. We're obliged to make a smock, as we shall learn at the "meeting for school entry preparations"*12. Wow, Japan. Just wow. Global trade, record quality control at reasonable prices and we have to make our own child's clothing now? I mean, I know this smock is just to keep dirt off the expensive clothes, but it would literally be quicker to go to the second hand store clothes and grab something there. Probably cheaper too, as now we need to buy everything necessary to make a smock from scratch.

I know I'm getting rhetorical now, but really! I can use trains as fast as helicopters, watch robots play badminton*13, access lightning fast internet, and eat possibly the most refined food in the world, but children's clothing is a DIY job? Somebody pass the education system a link to wikipedia, they have a lot of catching up to do...

We also need to make an additional 2 bags: 1 for a cup, and one for a lunchbox. As if lunchboxes with handles never existed. Another two bags are also requested, which we'll buy if possible, but they have very precise size specifications (32 cm by 45 cm and 30 cm by 35 cm). We also need to make a "child's tool box", 9 by 15 by 28 cm, "please attach decorations (buttons, ribbons, pieces of felt, lace etc.) as desired". 

I asked my wife whether this strange list of DIY necessities might have something to do with a vestigial post-war "make do and mend" approach to preparing children's things for school, and she said "yes, probably. But we have so many more things these days, so they've probably all been added too". She also says that the above isn't a particular surprise to her, and that the main concern of parents will be in finding materials unique enough to befit their pretenciousness*14. 

Apparently, there also exist companies that will make the above items (this link is Japanese), and these can cost  more than what you might pay for branded items. So, there is hope for those with more money than time, but not much hope for common sense.

*10 Such that I even write blog articles subtly(?) infused with impotent rage!

*11 Hell, I've paid "key-money" twice and I was informed enough to be rightly surprised when my deposit for my 1R in Yokohama was actually returned to me! Anything that is slightly "one-off" in Japan, such as entering an institution or changing address, seems to have at least one vaguely-defined fee attached.

*12 "Yeap. That's it, I'm writing that blog article."

*13 To be honest, I randomly witnessed this through the window of one of the halls of the university I work at while I was walking home one night, so that was one of those "some things money can't buy" moments

*14 not exactly in those words, mind.


Preschool is set to drain my wallet, my time, and my patience. I only hope that my daughter gains, through socialising with people of her own age, what my wife and I cannot teach her at home.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Fixing" the Toshiba Sattelite touchscreen

The problem:
As much as I love my Toshiba, it has its quirks. My first major problem (some months ago) with the Toshiba was what I would be inclined to call "touchscreen spasm". The problem with touchscreen spasm is that when it occurs not only the touchscreen, but the mouse, too, becomes basically useless (because the mouse cursor position is affected by the touchscreen). I forced a hard restart to temporarily alleviate the problem; however, the problem kept returning. One time it happened in the middle of some unsaved work, and after having "a bit of a moment", I endeavoured to fix the problem.

The "solution":
Being ostensibly a work machine and equipped with a mouse, it was inevitable that the touchscreen had to go, and my "fix" basically involved disabling the touchscreen drivers. This is actually a fairly easy job, you simply go through the device manager and disable the touch screen from the "Human Interface Devices"; however, if you too are caught in the middle of work, you can easily do the same thing without using the mouse:

1) Windows+X  - brings up a small admin menu
2) Select Device Manager by pressing M, or by using the up key on the keyboard and hitting ENTER.
3) (Once Device Manager has started,) press TAB to switch focus to the device list
4) Scroll down to "Human Interface Devices" and expand it using the right key
5) Select HID-compliant touch screen and press ALT+ENTER.
6) Press TAB to highlight "Disable Device", then  hit ENTER.

Note: When researching the problem, I noticed that for some touchscreens the name of the touchscreen might not be "HID-compliant touch screen". Hopefully it will be something equally straight-forward, if not, then you'll have to turn off/on interface devices one-by-one making sure that you don't turn off the keyboard (although, the keyboard should be listed under "Keyboards" not "Human Interface Devices" - still, things might differ depending on the device).

The conclusion
I would have expected Toshiba to build their hardware somewhat more robustly, but for the price and specs of my machine, I still feel I got a good deal; there seems little requirement for a touchscreen on a laptop which doesn't even fold flat, and while it was cool for a while, Windows 8 software is rarely touch-friendly enough to be worth the hassle.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

3D: film gimmick, gaming fantasy?

Occasionally I remember a conversation I had about games in which, on discussing how I'd tried out 3D glasses (imagine the old red/blue things) with some games, I was told "3D can stay the f*** out of my games. I was taken aback at the time, and it still seems odd to me now; enough that I've mulled it over sufficiently to want to rant about it.

It's popular these days to either love or hate 3D; however, I think that to do either of these things for all 3D media is misguided.

I can think of some compelling arguments for why 3D simply isn't a good fit for a lot of cinema. Much media has gotten used to being presented from one direction; cinematography and TV is filled with scenes where everything is essentially occurring well away from the camera (in TV shows, especially live ones, this is so prominent that I'd argue this is a significant reason for the relative lack of 3DTV adoption). Additionally, depth isn't a hugely important dimension in storytelling in most films.

As the technology becomes more familiar, I think this will change to some extent. Watching Lindy Beige (not necessarily a film expert, but he is a persuasive talker) in his video on the introduction of 48 fps (particularly his point near the end about zooming techniques), it seems to me that cinematography techniques will always take some time to adapt to new technology. By extension, I think cinema can adapt to 3D... When it feels it necessary. After all, there are numerous theatrical styles, but there are not all adopted all of the time.

The goal behind 3D, in my opinion, is to draw the viewer into the experience. If you were to think of this in theatrical terms it would similar to invisible theater, which brings the action right in front of you. It must be spectacularly difficult to produce a story that is spatially distinct, which you can navigate and interact with; however, games take such an idea and allow you to experience it at your leisure.

In most games, you become an actor in the theater. It thus makes sense to me that if you are an actor in the story then this story should be occurring all around you. What's more, gamers have had the freedom of exploring their game worlds in 3 dimensions (albeit via the 2D of their screens) for years, and while I think 3D is going to take time to mature in the cinema, games developers have been thinking in 3D constantly for years now. Even some existing games would work spectacularly well.

Yes, there will need to be adaptations, but mostly nothing that wasn't already on the to-do list: more detailed actors and props, better physics implementations, and more attention to details such as the placement of actors during important plot points (For example, in Skyrim you may sometimes find other actors or props obscuring your view of someone you're in conversation with). Very few things need to change in games that would be unnecessary if 3D didn't exist.

So, I still disagree that 3D screens/goggles are in any way bad for games. Luckily for those who think otherwise, implementing such technology requires almost no changes to the mechanics of a game, so we both get what we want.

But anyway, give it another 5 years, and no one will want to consume 3D games on a 2D screen any more.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Breathing life into sluggish Android devices: Samsung Galaxy Fame GT-S6810P

Another departure from all things Japanese to talk about making technology easier to manage. In particular, I want to commit to writing the method for installing a fresh operating system on the Samsung Galaxy Fame GT-S6810P (before I forget it). Off-the-shelf, it is atrociously slow, but it can be improved a lot by installing Cyanogenmod 11 on it (nothing miraculous, but it feels much more responsive).

All of the necessary information can be found on this thread; however, having never tampered with my phone at all, it took me a while to get the job done, plus having just installed cyanogenmod on my Nexus 7 I had gotten cockey and by skipping a step got the "status 7" error, which was caused by having the wrong recovery for this installation (see below).

Before proceeding, as with the thread above, you tamper with your phone at your own discretion, preferably with a backup phone on-hand in case you screw up, because I can't help you if you do. Phones come in many models, and some may not be compatible with the following instructions, if you attempt to tamper with your phone without being sure you wont brick it, then it is ultimately your fault when it dies.

0a) Turn on USB debugging on the phone
0b) Get a copy of adb.  You can use adb by going to the command prompt, navigating to the folder where you have adb, and then just typing adb and a command. E.g.
cd C:\Path\To\ADB
 adb devices
the "adb devices" command queries for the plugged in android devices. If you dont see your phone on the list, you will need the USB drivers for the phone.
0c) Get the USB drivers for your phone! I'm not sure if I needed them, since adb recognized my phone without them, but I installed them anyway, so I recommend it.
1) I downloaded ODIN 3.07 (don't forget to virus scan the file, and be careful where you download ODIN, as my internet security went haywire on a couple of sites).
2) I followed the instructions on this post
   2a) I flashed CWM6 using ODIN (turn off the phone. Plug the phone in, then hold the power, home and vol down buttons at the same time - keep holding until the download mode appears - then, in ODIN, add the CWM6 tar file to the PDA section of ODIN and click start)
  2b) in command prompt I ran adb like so:
          adb reboot recovery
  2c) this reboots the phone into CWM6, a recovery system. From here you can sideload a second recovery which is either more compatible with the phone, or more compatible with the Fame version of Cyanogenmod 11. This is achieved by selecting the menu option to install a zip by sideload, then use adb again:

adb sideload C:\Path\To\Recovery\GFameAngerManagementRecovery.zip
and when that is finished:
adb reboot recovery 
  2d) install cyanogenmod through sideload again:
adb sideload C:\Path\To\Cyanogenmod\cm-11-20150129-NIGHTLY-nevisp.zip
  3) At this point, I rebooted the phone (adb reboot) to check that it was usable. Sure enough everything was working. However, there were no google apps. Thankfully, the author provides a link to the google apps on his post (same post as before). This can be installed by sideloading as before (reboot into recovery, then use adb to sideload it in)

Now my phone works better than it has ever worked before. It's slowed back down a little after I choked it with all my "must have" apps, but it is still faster than before the tampering.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why the Asus Transformerbook T100A isn't a work machine

These words might be redundant already, but I've seen it is still on the shelves, I have some words of warning as I lay my faithful Asus Transformerbook T100A to rest...

Recently, I upgraded to a Toshiba Dynabook N514/21K. To my eyes the specs between it and my Asus Transformerbook T100A are almost identical; dual core processor, identical screen resolution, Intel HD graphics (Skyrim on low settings with algoBoost seems to work OK on both), sizeable HDD disk space. However, what difference there is in specs has a huge impact on your experience.

The main difference between the machines is that the Dynabook came with an extra 2GB of memory, and doesn't have the 16GB SDD drive.

The 2 vs 4 GB problem is fairly intuitive for anyone who has had a few computers in their time, and to be clear 2 GB is not enough memory to run Windows 8 stress-free. If you utilize the machine for work then this becomes problematic whenever you want to browse and use other programs at the same time. Web browsers these days love to fill up the RAM, and websites are getting heavier all the time (my subjective feeling). If you're working then maybe you have a tab for your email, maybe even a music site to make the work experience more palatable, and in the foreground whatever office programs you might be using. Add in Skype, Dropbox, and a few other minor programs, and that is about the limit of the Transformerbook's abilities. I would invariably have task manager open in the background ready to zap Skype or any other program when the computer inevitably froze up.

The SDD drive is another problem that I didn't really anticipate since the Transformerbook comes with an extra, sizeable HDD. However, the OS is installed on the SDD, and every now and then you will come across a program that just demands to be installed on the same partition as the SDD. This lead my SDD to fill up within weeks of purchasing the computer and subsequent file juggling to keep it clear. A more careful person might not have this problem, but I like to think I'm not entirely careless either.

The added advantage of being able to use the Transformerbook as a tablet isn't enough to justify it as a work computer. In fact it is the very tabletization that made the Transformerbook a failure in this regard, mainly in that the SDD is too small, but also because tablets are so difficult to upgrade. My new Toshiba has accessible RAM and HDD slots (I'm not sure of how much RAM it can actually take, but 4GB is enough for me... for now).

Additionally, the webcam doesn't work correctly out of the box (this is fixable, mind), and the microphone is terrible, meaning even something simple like Skype requires using a microphone (I count myself lucky for having kept the mic+earphones from my old HTC tattoo).

That said, the Transformerbook can handle less intensive use very well, so long as you're not multitasking, it can manage MS Office, video, even games as recent as Skyrim (damn, is it 4 years ago already?) on lower settings. Plus, audio-wise, the Transformerbook sweeps the Dynabook off its feet (I now have a set of speakers, the first time I've felt compelled to by speakers for a laptop since 2007 - oh dear Toshiba, oh dear). The Transformerbook's reduced size also means it is much more portable for use with presentations etc. But not great for use on-the-go as the Transformerbook's screen doesn't tilt quite far enough backwards for comfortable use on the lap.

So my closing remarks on the Transformerbook: A great laptop/tablet for messing around, but a stress-magnet when you need to get things done.