Personal


With my wife and kids in Japan, I have been spending a lot more time reading, watching movies and TV shows, etc. Although reading books is usually a personal experience, watching TV or movies is often a social experience. But when you’re a lone, it becomes personal again and I find that I have been exhibiting some strange behavior in that regard. Here are some examples:

1. Reading the book The Name of the Wind, recommended by my brother. So far seems to be an interesting and well-written fantasy novel. However about 1/3 of the way through the book, where the main character is telling his life story (making the entire novel into a story-within-a-story, it seems), when he starts telling about his first attempt at romance, I find myself putting the book down and being unable to continue. I’m not sure why, but since I know it will not end well (since we know from the beginning of the novel that he is not with this girl that obviously it didn’t end well, even though I haven’t read the actual account yet), I find it difficult to continue reading the book. I’ll get back to it eventually, but in the meantime I’ve been reading some ‘lighter’ fare, such as David Edding’s fantasy series.

2. Friday night I watched the brainless action movie ‘Dead or Alive’, based on the titular (that was a joke, get it?) video game of the same name. It’s utterly vapid in such a degree that I couldn’t even conceive of a better villain than Eric Roberts for the movie, but if you’re expecting a brainless and nearly plotless fighting movie that’s heavy on the fanservice, it’s pretty entertaining. However there is a scene where the hacker/nerd character (fitting every Hollywood trope and stereotype of the hacker/nerd) tries to woo one of the supermodel beauties that he has a crush on. I found myself pausing the movie and taking a break, because I knew that he was going to get shot down hard, and I didn’t want to watch that.

Later I continued watching the movie, and it turned out that the writer subverted the trope in this case, and the nerd did get the girl in the end. Probably a wise choice considering the target audience of this movie.

3. Last night I started watching the 1982 movie The Challenge, fish out of water tale where the hapless American protagonist in Japan gets stuck in the middle of the warring factions of a powerful family over the possession a priceless sword. It’s directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin), and the supporting actor is none other than bad-ass legend Toshiro Mifune (who so far hasn’t spoken a single line in English!) Mifune plays Toru Yoshida, the head of the ‘good’ branch of the family who runs a martial arts school. There is a scene where the protagonist Rick (played by Scott Glen), is at a formal dinner with Yoshida’s family and students. Rick gets drunk on sake and does a classic Ugly American, shouting out inane and racist comments in English, completely ignoring the alienating and hostile atmosphere he himself has created, etc. Just watching the scene, I became very uncomfortable and embarrassed. Again I found myself stopping the movie and taking a break, reading a book for a little while.

I actually didn’t finish the movie last night, I ended up going to bed early. But I do intend to watch the rest of the movie this evening.

So what is the deal with me getting uncomfortable enough while watching a movie or reading a book that I actually put it down? It isn’t anything that I find distasteful, sickening, overly erotic, or that I’m simply not enjoying it, but because I find a scene to be embarrassing for the character, and somehow I feel embarrassed by proxy and find it difficult to continue.

Perhaps I’m even projecting myself onto the characters, and recalling experiences in my past where I have been embarrassed or humiliated. Well, looking at the three examples above:

1. First love ending badly? Check.
2. Rejection when asking out a girl who is ‘out of your league’? Check.
3. Being a culturally-insensitive American in Japan? Check.

Yes, all three are embarrassing things I have experienced int he past, and even now I don’t like to recall them. Although my experience with #3 was nowhere near as bad as the scene in the film, when I look back on some of the things I said and did back during my first time in Japan when I home-stayed with a family, I feel a lot of shame and embarrassment.

Is embarrassment and shame by proxy due to self-projection into characters and scenes from books and movies a common occurrence for other people?

Since I’m all by myself for the next few weeks with the wife and the girls in Japan, I’ve been finding projects and such to do that I normally never find the time to get around to.

Today I tackled the task of trying to retrieve data from my old old laptop computer, an Acer Travelmate 512T. Given as a gift to me by my parents when I returned from my LDS mission in 1999, it has some impressive specs: 400×800 12.1″ LCD monitor, blazing speed of 366 MHz with an awesome 32MB of RAM and a 4Gb HD. Truly an impressive machine. I used it daily from 1999-2004 or so, about the time I graduated with my BS. Since I came to Austin we had a better home computer for the family and I used it progressively less and less. The last time I remembered using it was the summer and fall of 2007, when my wife and the girls were in Japan for an especially long summer. That summer I used it primarily to dink around with some linux distributions, and to write some journal entries. It was those journal entries I was interested in retrieving, since that was during the time when my wife’s mother suddenly passed away, and so I had a lot to think and write about as I dealt with the emotional difficulties of that time.

So I dug out the laptop from the back of the closet upstairs. Battery was shot, but I still had the AC adapter. That was OK. The hinge in the screen/lid is broken, but the display still works and I’m able to get it open. I turn it on – and it gives me a BIOS error. The BIOS battery is dead! Fortunately though, it gives me the option to continue with the boot defaults. So I boot it with the default BIOS, and it takes me to a GRUB screen for an Ubuntu installation – that must have been the last linux distro that I installed on it. However, at the GRUB screen it locks up. It doesn’t recognize any keyboard input for some reason, and after a few taps it starts beeping: the familiar sound of when the keyboard buffer is full. I wait a few minutes, but nothing changes. It looks like perhaps GRUB or the boot sector is corrupted.

Trying to fix this is beyond my expertise, so I decide try a different approach: a live CD. I have a bunch of old Ubuntu, Knoppix, and other linux live CDs that I can try. Since it was an Ubuntu installation, I try one of my old Ubuntu CDs. I didn’t want to try a newer one, because with a whopping 366 MHz of CPU speed and 32 Mb of RAM, there’s no way it could handle the more recent versions of Ubuntu. I had an Ubuntu v3 CD so I tried that. Well, it worked – sort of – but it literally took 30 minutes for it to boot up. When it finally finished, I went to the file browser to see what was there. It had 3 hda’s: hda1 is generated by the Ubuntu live CD to house the OS files and actually resides in memory. hda2 was a few hundred megabytes, and hda3 was the rest of the hard drive. Maybe hda2 housed the critical OS files, or maybe it was originally a swap drive, but it didn’t recognize it as such. However, Ubuntu was unable to mount either of them: it recognized they were there, but couldn’t recognize any kind of file system.

It didn’t look good, perhaps the entire file system or disk was corrupt. Well, Ubuntu was no good, so I decided to try one of my other distributions: Knoppix, Minty, Puppy, Mandriva, an old Mandrake (before it became Mandriva), Red Hat, and DSL. Mandriva, Mandrake, and Red Hat were not live CDs. Of these, I figured DSL was the best choice for an old small machine.

So DSL only took about 5 minutes to boot up (a significant improvement!), and though it is a very simplified GUI, it seemed to work flawlessly. So the real question was: would it mount the drive? It was unable to mount hda2, but hda3 successfully mounted! So what was on it? I couldn’t find a graphical file browser, so I had to go to the good ol’ command line. I had trouble remembering the linux filesystem structure, but after a few minutes of scratching my head I remembered that the various mounted volumes are in /mnt/, so /mnt/hda3/ took me to the drive in question. Inside that there was a /home/derek/journal/. Jackpot! I went there and cated a few of the files there, I had written them in plain text so they were easily readable: except where I had used Japanese characters. DSL didn’t seem to be able to do unicode, but as long as I could copy the files as-is I figured there wouldn’t be a problem.

So the next question was: how to copy them? This laptop had a PCMCIA ethernet card, a 3.5″ floppy drive, and one single USB port. I didn’t want to mess with trying to get the ethernet working and configured, not to mention even if I did, how would I copy it to my main computer? SAMBA or something? I didn’t have the slightest clue of how to do that. I figured the USB port was the easiest. I plugged in a thumb drive, mounted it without a problem, and copied the whole directory over. I also did a quick look at what else was there. The most interesting was a bunch of configuration files for DOSBox, and a file called ‘BattleTech – The Crescent Hawks Revenge.zip’. I copied it over for good measure. That game was way fun, though fiendishly hard.

Cyber-bullying and such has recently come into the consciousness and lexicon of the internet-using west. Incidents like the Star Wars kid or more tragically Megan Meier have made us more aware and wary of what us and our children are doing online.

In East Asia though, there is another type of cyber-bullying that hasn’t really been noticed so much here in the west yet. It’s called internet vigilantism, and this is where seemingly the entire internet attacks someone online, leading to real-life consequences.

There are cases of internet vigilantism in the west, but there has been almost no backlash against it because it’s almost always directed towards individuals that have committed fraud, theft, or pedophile crimes. 419 Eater is famous for baiting Nigerian scammers, and Anonymous/4chan (No link for 4chan. You don’t want to go there. Really, you don’t.) has baited and outed pedophiles in the past. Similarly there have been internet blitzes against people that have thrown dogs off of a cliff. Generally this kind of internet vigilantism results in people working to 1) identify the perpetrator 2) make their identity public, and 3) alert law enforcement. Especially in the case of the dog-throwing soldier there were also numerous death threats, etc., but overall the internet vigilantism served to bring the criminals to justice.

This isn’t how it’s been working in Asia, especially Korea. This article calls it ‘witch hunting’, which is perhaps a better term because many of these cases were not against criminals, but against normal people that had done something that people found offensive. The above article mentions the ‘loser girl‘:

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Satogaeri (里帰り) means ‘returning to your hometown’, and is used for when you go back to your hometown to visit your family. Ryoko is from a small town of Imazu on the northeast shore of Lake Biwa, about an hour out of Kyoto by train (or about 2 hours if driving).
So, I’m stuck here without the internet. I thought that I would be able to get internet access one way another because this time around I was bringing a computer with me. It has both built-in ethernet and built-in wireless, so I was pretty sure I could get internet access by one of the following methods:
1. Going to the local library.
2. Going to the home of Ryoko’s cousin Akihiro, who lives nearby and has internet access in his home.
3. Going to a Starbucks, Internet Café, or some other similar place with wireless internet available.
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Last Wednesday my family and I returned to Austin from our (so far) annual trip to Japan to see Ryoko’s family. Since Ryoko’s mother passed away last year, this year is one of the important anniversaries of her death where a special memorial service needs to be held. So we went to Ryoko’s home for two weeks to attend the ceremony and then to spend some time with her family.

The afternoon after the ceremony (held in the morning), all of Ryoko’s family was gathered together and chatting, and the subject turned to exotic foods. When asked for my two cents, I said that I’m always willing to try something at least once, and that I like new culinary experiences. Then Ryoko’s cousin Akihiro chimed in: “I know a place not far from here where you can eat deer meat and wild boar! I’ll take you there this evening!

So that’s how I ended up going here to eat:
wild boar restaurant!
That’s Ryoko’s father and older sister about to go inside. It’s a tiny little place that I can most easily describe as ‘seedy’. The outside looks a little run-down, and inside a little more so. Here’s the front of the restaurant:
front sign
Basically the large white sign says, “All natural: Wild boar stew, game fowl dishes, wild deer dishes.”
I didn’t bother taking any pictures of the interior of the restaurant, but it isn’t hard to describe: low light and dingy, old faded posters of actresses and Enka (basically, Japanese country music) stars. There was even a calendar with a nude woman on it hanging on the wall. (I took it down, rolled it up and set it behind the old dusty karaoke machine when the cook was back in the kitchen. He never noticed.)

The first dish was some wild fowl fried with some onions. I didn’t even take a picture of it because at the time I didn’t realize it was anything but ordinary chicken. Neither the taste nor texture disabused me of that notion. It was pretty good though.

The second dish was grilled deer meat with onions:
deer meat
It had a slightly gamy flavor to it, but it was pretty heavily salted and peppered so it didn’t stand out much. It wasn’t very tough, and I thought it was quite tasty!

The third dish was none other than roasted wild boar with salad:
wild boar!!!!!
This meat was really, really tough. It was hard to chew, and there was tons of fat on every cut. The flavor wasn’t too bad though. Sort of a cross between pork and something really really gamy. I don’t mind gamy flavor so once I could chew it until it was soft enough I had no trouble eating it, but someone without a high tolerance for gamy tastes might have trouble getting it down.

Overall it wasn’t too bad, but the atmosphere definitely left a lot to be desired.

(Note from Derek: my wife Ryoko has a small blog of her own in Japanese. She posts a lot of pictures and stories of our family, but my mother is unable to read them. So I will be adding some English translations of Ryoko’s posts for those that may be interested.)

Today is Mother’s Day.

I slept in and when I woke up I heard Derek making breakfast. He made oatmeal, and with yogurt, juice, and some chocolate put it on a tray and gave me breakfast in bed!

Thank you, Derek! But I’m not very good with mornings and didn’t have much of an apetite… When I got out of the shower, Karisa and Eren said ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ and gave me a card that Derek had helped them make. They had done their best to sign their names too, with Derek’s help.

At church they gave a rose to each of the mothers’ after Sacrament meeting, and the children sang a song for all the mothers.

Derek also made dinner for me, Spaghetti with a spicy tomato sauce, with some spicy Italian sausage and garlic. Karisa helped cut the onions. It made me really nervous, but Karisa seemed really happy to try and help.

From morning to evening everyone tried to make the day relaxing for me. I’m really thankful to have such a wonderful family. Thank you!

Also, recently Karisa has shown a lot of interest I playing the piano. Derek studied the piano for 8 years, and is showing Karisa some basics. Of course she couldn’t concentrate for more than about 10 minutes, but it’s great that she was having fun! I hope some day she can play a duet with her father…
Derek and Karisa playing the piano

So, I’m going to try and get back up a bit with my blog again. Back in January I had the opportunity to go to Kenting, Taiwan for a conference/symposium called Beyond Moore’s Law. There were about 100 students from the US, Korea, and Taiwan attending a series of lectures and presentations given by guest lecturers that are currently on the forefront of next-generation computer/semiconductor technology. Some of the presentations were really interesting, even though a lot of the subject matter was way over my head. Some dealt with new and emergent physics like spintronics, superconductors, and quantum computing with qubits. All of these are still in the discovery phase and are still many years from having actual devices made with them. Others dealt with up and coming devices, like higher density CMOS using different and new techniques, and there was one very interesting lecture on making programmable integrated circuits that would have the same connection density as mammalian brains – considered one of the necessary breakthroughs for development of strong AI. And of course there were several lectures that were way over my head and were very, very boring. I don’t remember much about those.

Ryoko’s one request was that I take a lot of pictures, since I wasn’t able to take my family with me. I’ll put a lot of them here on this blog, we’ll see if they eat up too much bandwidth or not.

First let me show you where the conference was. It was at the Howard Beach Resort near Kenting. Kenting (Chinese characters 墾丁) is at the very southern tip of the island, and is a famous resort area in the middle of a large national park.


View Larger Map

There is a top view of the hotel itself. It’s quite a large complex, with probably close to a thousand rooms. However, January is definitely the off-season at this place. Out of the 150 or so students, professors, researchs, and staff that were there for the conference, there probably weren’t half as many additional guests at the entire hotel. For it being the off season though, the weather was absolutely wonderful. High 70’s to low 80’s the entire week.

Here’s the front entrance to the hotel:
hotel entrance

Here is another picture about 50m down the road:
hotel entrance 2
You can’t see the details very well in this small picture (I have much larger pictures, but when I try and post them on the blog it cuts off the edge at 500 pixels and I don’t know how to make it wider…), but that is a sign for a restaurant on the left, and a 7-eleven sign on the right. This hotel/resort complex had all sorts of things. A convenience store, 3 restaurants, a bar, a beach, a gaming center
arcade
with a bowling alley,
bowling alley
and carnival rides.
bike loop

What was really strange was that since we were there on the off season, everything was almost deserted. The arcade and bowling alley was staffed by one person total, but half of the games weren’t even turned on. There was a pool hall in the next room, but the lights weren’t even on in there. There were a couple of concession stands that were unmanned, and next to this whole area was a souvenir/gift shop area with a dozen stores. I walked by them once and was cheerfully greeted by the shopkeepers, who frankly looked bored out of their minds because I was probably the first potential customer they had seen in a week. I assume they make enough profit during the peak season to sustain them through the year, because otherwise there is no way they could have lasted more than a month in that condition.

This summer has been pretty eventful for me an my family, but unfortunately not in a good way. It started off pretty well, although lonely for me. Ryoko and the kids went to Japan back in mid-April for two months for a long stay home. She didn’t get to go home last summer because of her pregnancy, so she had a very long vacation this year. In June I went to Japan to spend two weeks there with them, and then we came home together.

So things were somewhat back to normal here in Texas, although Ryoko was worried about her mother’s since she hadn’t been doing very well health-wise while we were there. Then Monday the 16th, we got a call from Ryoko’s sister at about 2 AM. Ryoko’s father had found her mother unconscious. She was in the hospital and may be dying. A later call confirmed our worst fears: after 45 minutes of attempting to recussitate her, Ryoko’s father asked the doctors to stop. Even though her mother hadn’t been well, her death was by no means expected. This was a big and tragic shock to the entire family.
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Over at fark a while back, there was a LONG discussion in the forums here. The subject is, “If you could go back in time and tell your 12-year old self one thing, what would it be? Difficulty, no stock tips.”

The ensuing discussion is REALLY long, but it was also a good mix of thought-provoking and entertaining comments. Basically, most things people say are in one of 4 categories:

1) Take opportunities or you will regret it. (For most people this equates to “You could have a relationship with [certain person] in [number] years if you just ask him/her.)
2) Try hard, or you will regret it.
3) If you love someone, tell them every day, or you will regret it. Also related to this, alot of people said something to the effect of “Get [certain loved person] to a doctor before they [die , collapse, etc.] to be screened for [debilitating or deadly condition, usually cancer], no matter how they say they don’t want to.”
4) Be forgiving, but be strong.

What would I say to myself? Probably not too much. Even though my angst-filled teenage years were pretty difficult, there really isn’t that much that I regret. Maybe just the following:
1) You’re not going to hit puberty for another 4 years, so be patient with your puny body. You’re not athletic either, so don’t expect too much even after you do.
2) Feel free to (try to) date girls and stuff in high school, but don’t be too serious about girls until you’re older and in college. They unfortunately won’t be serious about you until you’re 24 or so. If you decide to date [name witheld] in high school, know that she will only be interested in you as a temporary surrogate boyfriend that treats her nice, and she’ll be sleeping with at least two of your friends while you think you’re dating her. (This really happened.) Also, don’t date [name witheld] when you’re at OU. She actually has a fiancé back in her hometown, and she’s only dating you in order to make an excuse to break up her engagement. (This actually happened too!)

We had some family pictures taken over the holidays, so I thought I would post one of them here. I finally got around to scanning it (I don’t have a scanner at home so I had to use one at school) and so here it is. That’s me (bearded version) on the right, my wife Ryoko on the left, and our daughter Karisa.
Family Picture

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