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I keep waking up at 4:30 AM wide eyes open, too wired to sleep, too tired to think straight. At least I won’t be late for basketball this morning.

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We have perfect timining. We arrived in Los Angeles this morning to beautiful blue skies. Rumor has it that it’s been raining for the past four days or so, but I don’t believe it.

It’s nice to be home after a wonderful vacation. We picked up Twiggy from the doggy day care and are now fighting the effects of jet lag. I am also struggling with my new addiction, NeverWinter Nights Platinum edition. As if I don’t have enough on my plate with RSS Bandit Dev, Contracts, Book Proposal Reviewing, and general reading. Oh yeah, and my day job.

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Due to my love for sake, my father-in-law gave this bottle to me as a parting gift.

Castle Sake \ top exposed \ *hic* I’m ready to shtorm the castle shir *hic*

He also gave me two bottles of “Negori” Sake (not pictured). This is a milky looking sake that contains the live cultures used in the sake making process. I absolutely love it, but I learned that it’s more of a commoners drink and not served in many of the fine restaurants.

Now I just need some people to share it with when I get back to LA.

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Do you remember that episode of the Simpsons (number 24 to be exact) where Homer takes his family to a Japanese restaurant and orders the blowfish? Yeah, me too.

My father-in-law took us out to a very traditional Japanese dinner as a celebration of TY’s (Akumi’s brother) impending wedding. Here’s a picture of our room and Akumi listening attentively as our server tells her the menu (or something like that. I couldn’t understand as it sounded like a bunch of jibberish to me. I think they call it “Nihongo” or “Japanese” to you and me).

Japanese Dinner \ And for the main course, I will feed you poison.

The food was outstanding and very delicately prepared. At least for the two microseconds before I clumsily destroyed my dishes with my two chopsticks of death.

\ Thar’s gold in them there soup.

Much to our surprise, we were served Fugu. It’s not a typical part of this meal and isn’t listed on the menu, but apparently Akumi’s dad is such a regular he received a bit of special treatment.

Now back to that Simpsons episode. Homer discovers that he’s eaten poison and is going to die. He makes a list Homer’s List of Dumb Things I Gotta Do Today Before Dying (the first item on the list is “Make List”) and hilarity ensues.

Fugu is an ugly fish that is capable of inflating itself and exposing protective spikes (think Finding Nemo). Those spikes contain tetrodotoxin, a poison that is 1200 times more lethal than cyanide. It only takes a small amount to kill a person and each blowfish contains enough to kill 30 people. It is the one delicacy that is not allowed to be fed to the emperor (and no wonder). Approximately 100 people die from it in Japan yearly, though mostly in outlying areas where fugu is prepared by those who are not trained to prepare it. This is probably less than the number of people who choke and die on mochi rice each year.

Blowfish (fugu) \ Meet the maker of your doom.

But I happily dug in. In the picture above, the plate is covered in Fugu sashimi, the main meat of the fish. At the top left, the white stuff is the skin of the fish (the best part in my opinion) and at the right is something explained to me as the “stuff between the skin and the meat”.

Apparently the word “delicacy” in Japanese means “Food that has very little taste. What little taste it has, is too subtle for your western tastebuds”. The fugu meat had a very subtle taste and a very slight chewy consistency. We dipped it in a sauce to give it more taste. Later we were served fried fugu (not pictured) and that was very delicous. Cooking it brings out more flavor.

One of my favorite parts of this meal was the expensive bottle of sake we consumed. For only 10,000 yen (around $100), we enjoyed this very smooth and clean concoction with a slight fruity aroma and taste.

Sake \ Mmmmm Sake

I’ve become quite a connoiseur of sake, so much so everyone wonders if I’m secretly Japanese myself.

Technorati Tags: japan,tokyo

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Burning Man First level:\ 10,000 tickets at $175\ Limit 2 tickets per person\ Internet sales\

Second level:\ 5,000 tickets at $200\ Limit 2 tickets per person\ Internet sales\

Third level:\ 5,000 tickets at $225\ Limit 4 tickets per person\ Mail order and internet sales\

Unlimited ticket at $250\ Mail order and internet sales\

Buy now to get the best deal.

Go here:

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Yesterday, along with Akumi’s uncle Tadashi, we visited her grandmother at a rest home. She’s a spunky 90 year old woman and gives me great insight into where Akumi gets her rebellious nature from. We took her for a walk and I jumped onto a thin railing. Her reflex wasn’t to wave me down for my safety, it was to reach out as if to push me off and cause me to crack my skull. We made sure to push her wheelchair to the edge of the river as if to push her in. We all had a good laugh afterwards.

Akumi's Grandma

Katana\ Afterwards we walked over to the uncle’s house. Akumi refers to him as the “Harley Davidson” uncle as he rides a Harley and is in love with the Harley brand. He was wearing Harley jeans and a Harley cap. When we arrived at his place, he showed us his 200 year old Katana.

Katana \ The Katana in its case. Tadashi made the stand himself.

It’s a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Every two weeks he cares for it with a strict regimen to ward off rust and keep its beauty. Should he require a sharpening (which probably won’t be required) it costs $100 per centimeter to sharpen properly. It’s a collector’s item worth over $8000 made by some guy named Hattori Hanzo (ok, the Hattori part isn’t true).

Collector's Item \ Tadashi shows us the engraving on the hilt and a matching monograph in a collector’s book.

Tadashi explained to us that Samurais went to great lengths to take care of their swords and a good way to get yourself killed back in the day was to carelessly handle or knock down a Samurai’s sword. That would invite a fight to the death. Only then did Tadashi let me handle the Katana and I took great care to show it the respect it deserved.

Me with Katana \ Displaying the ferocity and skill that would have made me a great samurai. Or samurai fodder.

Seppuku\ Tadashi has a sense of humor similar to my dad’s. He told us that when he’s unable to care for himself, he’d prefer to commit seppuku than waste away in a rest home. My dad always tells us that when he can’t wipe himself, drive him out the backwoods of Alaska and let him loose for the bears to find him.

When a samurai was dishonored, he would commit Seppuku in order to regain his honor. Today, dishonoring oneself is a sport displayed on reality television.

Sometimes this is referred to as Hara Kiri, though Tadashi tells us that Seppuku is the correct term. Hara Kiri and Seppuku are the same characters in Japanese, but they have two different ways to pronounce them.

The act of seppuku required the samurai to essentially dissect himself with a katana while another Samurai chopped his head off to finish the deed. The sword the other samurai used was specially made for this purpose as just any sword will not do. To test the sword (see, “test first” is not a new thing) they piled dead decapitated bodies one on top of the other, in what must’ve been a pleasant ritual, and then attempted to cut through as many as they could with one strike of the katana. Afterwards, the katana was carefully engraved to document the number of bodies it cut through. Thus a “three body” sword meant it cut through three bodies.

Tadashi showed us a picture of a sword with an etching of “Three Body Sword” on one side. On the other side it said “After re-engineering, Four Body Sword”. I want to know where they got all these bodies for testing. I’d hate to be the QA department for a seppuku katana.

In the next two pictures, Tadashi demonstrates Seppuku.

Seppuku demonstration step 1 \ Step 1, insert the blade here. Be sure to disinfect first.

\ Step 2, slash across here. Be sure to cut into the major organs. Doesn’t that feel nice?

For women who had been shamed, they would often kneel down to commit seppuku and were permitted to lean into the blade, bracing the hilt on the ground if they did not have the strength to cut themselves.

Technorati Tags: japan,tokyo

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I can’t access Google, Gmail, or BlogSpot. (which used to redirect to my Gmail account) now takes me to However I can get to etc…

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map of Japan No, I haven’t become a paranoid privacy freak ready to purchase a cabin in Montana. This is just something that struck me as I opened my browser today. My default home page is Thus when I open my browser, the following information is sent to a Yahoo! server via HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol. The rules for sending and receiving data between a browser and website) (note: some data omitted for brevity).

GET / HTTP/1.1\ Accept: */*\ Accept-Language: en-us\ Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate \ User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 … \ Host: \ Connection: Keep-Alive \ Cookie: B=1note6p0p3843&b=2;…

Notice that the last line is labelled Cookie and there’s a bunch of data that comes after it (which I omitted). That data is the infamous cookie data you no doubt have heard about. It probably contains some sort of identifier which Yahoo!’s servers use to look up my personalized information in a database, thus rendering a page just for me using my settings (hence the name and not

So far so good, it’s really quite benign. But what you don’t see in the HTTP request is the TCP/IP data. Simply put, TCP/IP is the underlying protocol used to send and receive HTTP messages across the web. As you know, every computer connected to the internet has an IP address (the IP of TCP/IP) which uniquely identifies that computer. When joining a network, your computer will often have an IP address dynamically assigned to it. Right now, my IP address is

Without getting into the nitty gritty, it’s enough to know that blocks of IP addresses are assigned to ISPs in huge blocks. Different blocks also tend to be allocated to various geographic regions. Thus Yahoo! can lookup my IP address in some database and figure out that I’m in Japan. In fact, that’s exactly what they did as when I opened my browser, I noticed that the ads were in Japanese.

When I saw those ads, it occurred to me that any website I visited via my laptop using cookies could corroborate the fact that I’m in Japan. Of course, it might be easier to discover that fact by just reading my blog.

As far as I know, this isn’t a perfect means to obtain your whereabouts. There are anonymizer services out there that can hide your true IP, though the anonymizer service itself will know your IP.

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Chris Sells humorously relates his experience dealing with his traffic violations.

The one where I describe my recent run-ins with the Oregon traffic police and my availability as the “Bad Boy” in your boy band.

[Via Marquee de Sells: Chris’s insight outlet]

If you think the Oregon police sound strict, try dealing with the Military Police. I once was ticketed by an MP on an Air Force base while riding a 10 speed! He claimed I entered the intersection too fast, but from my view, I had waited till all the cars had passed and then entered the intersection.

When I saw the tell-tale red and blue lights behind me, I considered gunning it for a moment, but my legs were tired and I wasn’t ready for a Dukes of Hazard moment.

I don’t remember a monetary fine, but my dad did have to go talk to his first officer as a result. He tells me it was rather non-eventful, but I like to think it went something like this:

1st officer: So Sgt Haack, I see your son got himself in a bit of trouble.\ Dad: Yes sir, a minor traffic violation.\ 1st officer: I didn’t realize he was old enough to drive.\ Dad: Well sir, he isn’t.\ 1st officer: ah, so driving without a license too. Sounds like a bad start.\ Dad: Possibly, though he was riding a bicycle. But you know kids these days. It starts with riding a bicycle too fast and the next thing you know, he’s smoking crack.\ 1st officer: Ummm. I see. Well tell your son to keep it in a lower gear. Dismissed.

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Unicef We finally have a moment to sit down and make a donation to the relief efforts under way in South Asia. With the death toll at 141,000 and rising, it’s impossible to grasp the amount of devastation caused by this disaster.

Although it’s easy to just not think about it, I hope you consider taking a small moment and making a small (or big) donation. We chose to contribute to the UNICEF relief effort. You can also contribute to the American Red Cross via which is convenient if you’re an Amazon user.

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I read with interest Dare’s post on the quandary social software finds itself in today. In a nutshell, the current crop of social software tools are not very sociable once you step outside of the particular tool. It’s really like one big world wide cliquish high-school. Your orkuts won’t talk to the friendsters who won’t talk to the Amazons and so on…

As Dare points out, there’s really no business incentive for these companies to allow users to export their social networks. They probably contain teams of marketers who drool at the personal information they are gathering and the opportunities of marketing. Why share?

I’ve tried to flesh out some ideas before on how I see social software evolving, but it occurred to me that there’s two possible solutions. The first is to create a profit motive for sharing. Once you give Google an incentive to allow users networks to be exposed outside of Orkut, they’ll do it.

Ok, that’s obvious. The question is how? Well first, users have to demand more control over their own data. Unfortunately, users don’t have that much leverage right now. They can threaten to leave Orkut, but only to move to Friendster? That only trades one closed network for another. My answer is to not leave social software soley in the hands of profit driven businesses. I think as tools like DasBlog and .TEXT evolv, it’s possible to create a social network that is completely based on open standards.

Take a look at RSS Bandit. As an open source RSS aggregator, it has no incentive (nor capability) to keep its data private. Thus it supports exporting feeds as OPML as well as many other standards. Another example is the Jabber protocol. Although it’s not widely adopted, the jabber protocol for instant messaging is another step in the right direction as its communication format is an open standard. Anyone can make a client to the protocol. Contrast this to the IM wars seen between Trillian, MSN, AIM, and Yahoo.

If these tools can gain traction and users start to demand control over their data and leave the closed systems for these open systems, we may see a move by these companies to open their systems in order to maintain a piece of the action. Hopefully these companies will focus on providing the best tools for navigating the various open networks as their point of distinction, rather than holding users data hostage.

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Code Complete 2 Back in the day when I was a wet behind the ears developer a coworker gave me some sage advice. He told me that if I wanted to become a good developer, I need to read the bible. He was of course referring to Code Complete, the bible of software construction. When I was promoted to manager, I made it required reading for developers. Several years later, I’m reading through the second edition savoring every page like a fine glass of sake.

This time around, I have a lot more experience to provide context to what I’m reading. Around page 270 (Chapter 11 end of section 2) I came across McConnel’s recommendations about the use of constants and it got me thinking about how appropriate that advice is in the world of .NET.

McConnel discusses good and bad names for constants. An example of a poor name for a constant is FIVE. If you needed to change it to another value, it wouldn’t make any sense (const int FIVE = 6;). Instead choose a name that represents the abstract entity the constant represents. For example, CYCLES_NEEDED.

Another bad example he presents is BAKERS_DOZEN which he states would be better named as DONUTS_MAX.

Although I agree with him in principle, his advice might need to be modified in light of how constants are handled in .NET. For example, CYCLES_NEEDED probably shouldn’t be a constant if you think you might change the value later. Secondly, BAKERS_DOZEN might be a fine constant since it’s a value that will never change.

This boils down to a semantic issue. What exactly is a constant? Is it simply a variable with a value set at compile time often used to consolidate a setting in one place? Or is it a variable that holds a value that never changes, not even from build to build?

Well the answer of course is “it depends”. When you look at .NET however, it seems to favor the latter behavior. Suppose you’re building a class library that contains a public constant like so:

public class Library
    public const int CYCLES_NEEDED = 5;

And you build an application that references this assembly and makes use of the constant like so.

class MyApp
    /// The main entry point for the application.
    static void Main(string[] args)
        for(int i = 0; i < Library.CYCLES_NEEDED; i++)
            //Do meaningful work...

If you compile and run this simple program, the console will output the numbers 0 through 4 as you would expect. Yes, this is a complicated program. The result of many years of experience.

Now suppose it’s several weeks later and your boss storms into your office. The company is bleeding cash and he wants you to up the cycles to 6 to increase profit. “Why that’s simple” you say to yourself.

“I’ll just change the value of CYCLES_NEEDED, recompile my library assembly, and deploy the dll without touching the exe so that the downtime is minimized. I’m such a genius!”

So what happens when you do that? You get the same output as before.


When one assembly references a constant in another assembly, the compiler will embed the value of that constant into the assembly. For example, using Reflector to decompile the sophisticated console app presented above, the Main method is compiled as:

private static void Main(string[] args)
    for (int num1 = 0; num1 < 5; num1++)

So as you can see, in order to change the value of the constant, both the library and the consumer of the library have to be recompiled to reflect the change with the constant. If we anticipate that CYCLES_NEEDED might ever change, it would be better to make this a public static read only variable as such:

public class Library
    public static readonly int CYCLES_NEEDED = 5;

Now should you deploy a change to the value of CYCLES_NEEDED, the console application will pick up the change without needing to recompile it. This is especially important in cases where it’s much easier to deploy a dll rather than the entire application.

The only drawback to this approach is that the value needs to be obtained at run-time instead of having the value compiled into the app which is a slight performance hint. Well if you’re worried about this, I’d suggest that you’re suffering from a case of premature optimization and you need to go read Rico’s blog where he’ll tell you to measure measure measure. As McConnel states repeatedly in Code Complete, the greatest impediment to performance is most likely to be the overall architecture of your system and not minor code issues.

Of course, if you have full control over your libraries and clients of the libraries, this may not be as big an issue to you. However, if you have several production systems deployed, it’s nice to apply patches via deploying the least amount of code as possible.

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After a wonderful time with my family in Anchorage, we flew back to Los Angeles for a day, dropped Twiggy off at a doggy day care, and flew into Tokyo. Below is a picture of Anchorage from our airplane as we were leaving.

Anchorage at night from an airplane

The transition from 2004 to 2005 was quite uneventful this year. I think I was asleep when we crossed the international date line. Unfortunately we didn’t have a countdown or bubbly. Well there’s always next year. New Years Eve is a special day for my wife and I as that is the day we met in 2001/2002.

In any case, to my pleasant surprise, my mother-in-law’s building has been outfitted with wi-fi internet access! I was expecting a severe case of internet withdrawal, but my RSS Bandit installation is humming along nicely and I’m able to post a blog post or two while here.

But even nicer was the exquisite meal that awaited us when we arrived. Here’s a pic of a small plate of sashimi we had. Along with the sashimi we had some onigiri and tempura. Akumi’s mom is a phenomenal cook.


Well I better be off to bed and let the fight with jet lag begin. I wish you all a happy new year and hope we all can make some exciting things happen in 2005.

Technorati Tags: japan,tokyo

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Ok, the title is a mouthful, but it addresses a concern with the new alpha version of RSS Bandit. As of the current build, the feature to view the raw XML before it is rendered by the stylesheet is no longer there.

However, here is an identity transformation you may use. Just copy this to the templates sub folder of your RSS Bandit installation. You can then go to the Display menu (via Tools | Options) and select the Identity.fdxsl for your stylesheet. Afterwards, view any feed and then view source to see the raw XML.

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In case you’re wondering (and I know at least one of you is), my blog is hosted at WebHost4Life and is running .Text version 0.95 (or is it .96?). I chose it over DasBlog because of its SQL Server support, but I’m not sure that’s such a compelling reason given that configuration is such a pain. I’m hoping that Community Server will address many of the issues I have with .Text.

From reading the .Text newsgroups, it appears I’m one of 25 people on the planet to get it working. Ok, perhaps that is an exaggeration.

I created a custom skin for my blog a few months ago, but the logo was created by a talented coworker. I also use w.bloggar to post to my blog.

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It’s been said that native Alaskans have 40 or so words for snow. Roughly translated, they all mean “Fuck! Get the shovel!”. It was a winter wonderland for my wife until I handed her a shovel and led her to the driveway.

Akumi Shoveling The Driveway \ The driveway’s full of snow and my husband is full of …

We both spent the next hour or so working on the driveway, making sure to take the occasional break.

Phil taking a break \ The only thing missing is a beer in my hand.

And in the end we could enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.

A well shoveled driveway \ This is his idea of vacation?

Afterwards we decided to go moose hunting under a dramatic sky.

A dramatic sky \ You can shovel it yourself fool!

We decided to have a look in the woods near by.

A walk in the woods

Phil in the woods

This is my idea of a great Alaskan vacation. Shoveling snow and a walk through the woods jumping into snow drifts.

Akumi in the woods

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Took this picture of a Moose wandering my parents’ neighborhood.

\ Have you seen Rocky?

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This is the road out of Anchorage towards Turnagain arm. It’s around 10 AM and the sun is just about to rouse its lazy butt above the horizon.

The Drive To Alyeska

Turnagain arm provides spectacular scenery. During the summer, this inlet hosts some of the best wind surfing in the world along with Beluga whales.

Still Driving

It was too cold to take too many pictures, but here’s one from the top of the quad. In the background you can see Cook Inlet where we drove in from.

Akumi at the top of the Quad

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We went snowboarding this morning after finally getting in and to bed at around 3 AM last night. At the top of the quad, it was -1 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the coldest weather my wife has ever snowboarded in. She’s such a trooper. We won’t be going outside the rest of this vacation. ;)