Thursday, October 29, 2009

Driving Range

So we went to a driving range with a friend the other week. It was nice to play a "real" game for once, and I did pretty decently if I do say so myself (games are basically all the same, if you're good at Mario the basic skill-sets transfer easily to club and contact sports). My only prior experience with a club, except for the video game variety that is usually used for less than wholesome purposes, was the pitch-and-putt at Cambridge that was usually undertaken after some beers.

As you'd expect, the Japanese affair is well organised and pretty cool; this was very 1980's Japan in my opinion, which is most definitely a good thing. Think business men going there after work, drinking coffee and smoking - very cool.

The Nami also took to the clubs for the first time. Here is a fair representation of her skill...

Hehe, no she did actually get better! When we finally get a new car, this is something I'll be keen to do more often.

Monday, October 12, 2009

AI Interest

So pretty much my only hobby is studying and trying to work out a description of the human mind for building a Synthetic Intelligence (I use this term instead of "Artificial Intelligence", or AI, because who wants to be called "artificial"?). I have this site that has been up for over a year now, describing an as of yet, on paper, unfinished model. Now whilst I get dejected from time to time by the absence of any intelligent conversation I can have on the subject with other people (most people on the internet seem to think the mind is something ethereal), I keep track of visits to my site using Google Analytics, which provides some amusement, and occasionally spurs me on to do more work when I realise some people are actually reading it!

Analytics is a Java based tracker, like a cookie system I gather but it doesn't record everything 100%. However, like everything else Google, it's free and well presented. So I had a look at the data spread over the past year, and Analytics puts it into this neat graphical representation based on the region/city from where the traffic to the site came from...

Now of course there will be a slight bias towards English speaking countries because the site itself is written in English, but Anglais is also the lingua Franca of science, so there is still traffic coming from all over the world (eg. Philippines, Brazil, China, Egypt, Iran). From a technological point of view, the most interesting, and perhaps only point that can be taken from this, is the relatively large amount of traffic that comes from the USA.

City view shows more of a balance between the US and Europe as a whole (Leipzig is number one).

Other minor factors aside, such as the US having a greater number of internet users than other countries, it is easy and interesting to conclude that SI research is being pursued far more aggressively in the US than in other countries. For my site at least, the traffic from the US is four times next place, the UK, and five times Germany.

So what I'm thinking about this morning, is "why?" This site shows the percentage of GDP put into research by a few developed countries, most being around 2-3%. The US is second to Japan, but even adjusting that graph by accounting for actual GDP, the numbers alone sound a bit off the ball. The US is obviously, technologically ahead of every other country, if not publically by far, then at least by several steps. Their space programs alone demonstrate this; in the process of retiring the Shuttle, the most used and most successful space transportation vehicle to date, developing new systems (the Orion rockets), not to mention the NIF (a practical fusion reactor) and military technology which is sometimes (often?) researched and produced off the books. On this note, the US military has shown an interest in developing SI systems, most notably and publically in the DARPA Grand Challenge, where they encourage teams to build driver-less cars. Now the "why?" of all aforementioned research lies primarily in two reasons; technological power translates to both military and economic power, and this is the raison d'etre for US research. Does SI fit into this plan? Very much so!

If machines can be made sentient, then simply because they can be constructed by design means they can be improved, and it is a widely held and old concept (from science fiction) that once one SI is built, that SI will then help design new SIs, and the feedback will create exponentially smarter SIs until a technological and logical limit is reached. Basically, they will become far, far smarter than humans.

Leaving aside what "smart" means (too complex to go into here!) the question then becomes, where can such a being fit into our society? One answer is as an advisor. Kind of like Skynet from the Terminator story, SI advisors will find good homes as economic, political and military strategists. Other, less encouraging, uses of such a technology would include using sub-sentient drones (though more advanced than current military drones, perhaps) for combat.

I, however, would hope for a more optimistic future with SIs, but one that would require massive social and legal transformation. Essentially, laws will have to be rewritten to not speak of "humans" or "adults" but of sentients, being self-aware becomes the defining factor of inclusion within society, making special cases for pre-sentient or mentally damaged individuals. Perhaps then, after social "adjustment", SIs might find homes as citizens. Would you take a machine as a friend?

Just such a situation is a long way off, and perhaps shall follow private and military use, but whatever the ultimate fate of SIs is to be, for the moment it seems to me that the US is more dedicated to SI research than any other country, and perhaps will get there first. What one can make of this is difficult to say, but as a technology it would be akin to the nuclear bomb and space flight; getting there first doesn't stop others getting there (indeed, once it's done, others will try to get there as quick as possible!) but it will probably give you an advantage and that seems to be more than enough as a geopolitical goal.

But then, not everyone is motivated by such banal things as "advantage".

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tentless camping

Last month Nami and I went camping with some friends, we went to a small but popular place called Kobuchizawa, near mount Yatsugatake which we passed earlier this year going to Karuizawa...

The place was called Yatsugatake Auto-camp, and was run by a very friendly and helpful couple. Lots were surrounded by trees, some were for tents and others, like ours, had small wooden huts which the Japanese, ever optimistic, call "cabins". Shed is a more accurate description in my opinion. It was really nice to escape the humidity of Shizuoka, which is only now, in October, beginning to give way and approach more civilized levels. We stayed two nights, and enjoyed our time walking around the town, playing Uno, going to a hot spring, playing badminton, going to a craft center and playing more Uno.

More camping up for this week... we are going to an outdoor festival (not the indoor kind) called Asagiri Jam, and will be camping on Saturday night. Not sure it will be my thing, so will take backup-books and a chair just in case.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monkey Business

Spent another whole weekend day (well, half the day so far) on the internet. This video amused me greatly, monkeys are so cool!

Now if only I could get a permit for one of these things...

Thursday, July 23, 2009


A couple of weeks ago now, I think, we went to Tokyo and Yokohama for a couple of days to do some shopping and see a concert. First stop was Tokyo and we went to Ginza to pick up Mami for the concert, after she finished uni. It was a hot day and, such are my requirements, we had to stop at a coffee shop every hour to drink and replenish bodily energy. Unfortunately, Ginza is the high-class shopping district of Tokyo, and we just couldn't seem to find a regular place like Starbucks. In the end we bit the bullet and went to a fancy place - though I assure you this was in name and cost only, the service was hilariously wooden and the tea nothing special. I was pleased to have a chance to order camomile tea, however, with honey and bourgeois sand-timer.

And despite my curse, I was served first! The ladies had to look grumpy as I played with the tea set...

After footing a 4500 yen bill for tea and cakes (and subsequently finding a Doutor, regular coffee shop, around the corner), we made our way to a small art gallery where Kiyo had some T-shirts she designed and made on display, along with others by students at her fashion design college. Kiyo had died her T-shirts, with tea, I believe, so literally Tea shirts, and printed some bagel patterns on them. They looked pretty stylish and cute I thought, and the manager of the gallery said they had had some good interest. Thinking about it now, I should have tried to see if they smelt of tea.

Saying goodbye to Kiyo, we popped on the subway to Yokohama and what has become our hotel of choice in these parts, the Royal Park hotel in the Landmark Tower.

They look more cheerful here in the luxury of a 62nd floor room.

The view from the window.

But no rest for the wicked, we left almost straight away and met up with Meg at a small amusement park near the hotel. We went on a rollercoaster, and a crazy small coaster where the car moves and a water flume (is that even a word or did I just imagine it?)... it was great to get my head out of my book, which incidentally got wet on the water ride. Books are, by the way, a necessity when going shopping with more than one lady - if just one lady then you have to give full attention lest you want to start an argument in the shop.

After that we went to the concert. It was held next to what is called the "Red brick warehouse" on the dockfront in Yokohama. This place was traditionally a storage area for western traders coming to Japan, and this year celebrates its 150th anniversary, to which the concert was loosely associated I believe. The artist performing was Kimura Kaela, who is half British half Japanese, and is quite popular in Japan for cute, quirky pop-rock. The area of the concert itself was imaginatively called "Kaela-land" and various places corresponded with parts of Kaela herself. Here are the ladies standing in front of Kaela's mouth (in Japanese "entrance" is "iriguchi" which literally means "enter-mouth").

The concert was pretty good, went for about three hours (long) but she sung all her best stuff (unlike the disappointing Mogwai concert where they changed all the songs to make them boring... grrrr). This is one of her songs I like the best...

After the concert, having been up since 5am and travelling all day we were exhausted and ambled back to the hotel saying goodbye to Meg.

Finally, Nami had booked a table at the Skylounge on the 70th floor for 11pm, so we went up for a drink. I had a glass of whiskey that cost 2000 yen, and bought a bottle for the same price the following week. Sigh!
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hula Hoop

Today was Hula day again! After staying up 'til 4am watching Battlestar Galactica and drinking sherry and whiskey (everyone drinks on that show), I wasn't feeling tip top, but made it out of bed, walked to the station, went to Shimizu and caught a taxi to the Marine Park just in time to watch the Nami's dancing. To the bottom of the picture you can see hula-girl, a daughter of one of the dancers who, with much encouragement from her family from the sidelines, tried to copy some of the moves. I think Nami is getting better, more relaxed when dancing and kind of smiles rather than looking like a deer in the headlights.

The temperature display outside city hall reckoned it was 36C today. And Nami ordered a bread-making machine. And we booked a holiday to Guam in December.
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Monday, July 6, 2009

Stairway Hobo

Walking up the steps to the apartment a couple of weeks ago I raised my head from its usual lolling, staring at the floor position and jumped when I saw a bird on the 2nd floor windowsill. It didn't move, and appeared to be sleeping, so got my camera and quietly tried to take a picture with no flash...

The next morning, hanging around the apartment before work, I could hear a continuous tweeting from the poor chap. He had flown up to the third floor, my apartment's floor, and seemed to be trying to attract avian family attention. I really didn't know what to do, here! I remember trying to get a bird out of the house when I was young, and it was chaos. So I ruled out trying to herd him down three flights of stairs. But I was equally concerned that with all the tweeting he might dehydrate, anyone know how long birds can last without water? So I filled a small plate with water from the cooler, and slowly put it on the sill near him.

I don't know if that helped, but after another couple of hours the tweeting got louder as another bird arrived, and 30 minutes later they were gone. Before he left though, very politely, he flew up the the railings in front of the apartment door, tweeted a loud "thanks buddy!" and defecated on the floor.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So I got this bee in ma bonnet this week for drawing, then painting. After re-watching "Ways of Seeing" by the artist/critic John Berger I was taken by the whim to paint a series of pictures(oh no, not just one) based upon the programs. This is a sketch I did of him yesterday, I started trying to paint this today, but in my enthusiasm forgot how difficult oil painting is! My plan is for each painting to be representative of the points he makes in each program.

The first program is right up my street, philosophically speaking, as he deals with the impact photography and printing has had on art, and how this affects context and interpretation. I recommend you watch it; it was filmed in the 70's to accompany his book, has strong themes of feminism and communism, and I can't imagine a program like this being made these days.
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Thursday, June 4, 2009


A couple of weeks ago I bought a new pair of Shimizu-Orange running shoes, this great pair of Nikes...
They really are great to run in, they have wider and more comfortable soles than the Asics I used before, and aren't that much heavier. The best part though is the Nike+ system. There is a small chip you put in the sole of the left shoe, which communicates with your iPod and records your running time, distance and speed - fantastic! Except "your iPod" is in this case Nami's iPod, which she, understandably, likes to take to work everyday to listen to music on the train. If I go running without the iPod, my run isn't recorded and I can't upload it to the Nike+ website. So buying these trainers has had the ironic effect of reducing the number of runs I do every week...

I know Steve is training for the London marathon next year, which is a fantastic goal. Given my current form and inability to run regularly, I shall have to content myself with knowledge that the Japanese call any run over 150m a "Maruhon" :D

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hula Hula

Nami started hula lessons a few months ago, and took part in her second public performance last saturday at Hamanako Garden Park, near Hamamatsu city. Nami went with the other dancers in a coach from Shizuoka, I made my own way by Shinkansen, local train and taxi. The taxi driver was the highlight of my morning, a real chatty guy who asked me,

"Where are you from?"

"I'm from England."

"I love English people!"

I asked him about the local town, Bentenjima, and he told me that clams/cockles/muscles (not sure which!) are a local speciality. As we passed over a bridge on the way to the Garden Park we could see hundreds of people cockling in the low tide, reminded me of cockling in England or France as a kid. Didn't see anybody rocking on the wooden boards to tease them to the surface though, the Japanese prefer to dig with the hands it seems!

Hamanako Garden Park was very crowded, hot sunny weather on a Saturday had brought every man and his dog to this place, nice fields of grass, beautiful flowers, fountains for kids to jump in and ice cream (only chocolate unfortunately). The hula (and Tahitian dance, think hula crossed with belly dancing with coconut bikinis) was held on a covered, open air stage. See if you can spot the Nami...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Gunma trip part two

This is the Gunma trip crew, from left: Nami, Kiyo as a volcano demon, Me, Kazuo. This place, overlooked by Mt. Asama, was next on our way to Kusatsu after having picked up Kiyo. It was called "Oni oshidashi" which I shall nerdily translate as "ejected demon(s)". This area is strewn with volcanic rocks as large as a sumo wrestler. I found it interesting that some had smooth, curved surfaces, whereas other aspects were rough and bumpy through erosion or moss growth. I couldn't figure out why some were different, and rather than confuse everyone with another difficult question (I make them explain the meaning of every Japanese place name's kanji, which bores Nami silly) I kept my trap shut. Though I wished dad was there to give an answer!

A little difficult to see... the near rock has smooth surfaces, those in the background darker and rougher. Now presumably these arrived here as a result of an eruption, which one I'm not particularly sure. Differential cooling? Splitting after cooling? Anywho, the tourist company that operates this field of volcanic debris was obviously compelled to provide some defense for its patrons should another eruption shower the place again.

One of the half a dozen concrete shelters, all with the entrances perpendicular to the approach of one ton boulders flying from 4km away. Not sure I'd like to be around to test one of these babys out.

After Mt. Asama, we finally completed our trip and made it to Kusatsu, an onsen town famous for its public (free) baths and sulphur pit in the centre of town. We arrived at a ryoukan (Japanese Inn) and greeted those that had already arrived in a tatami room. I had my beer glass refilled about five times in the first ten minutes, and this only stopped because they found out I like sake and produced a "One Cup" for me to drink.

Kazuo's friends were all very friendly and everyone enjoyed meeting each other again. There were maybe six couples, half of which brought children, mostly about my age. After a few drinks we went for a look around the town, when we got back I tried to take a hot bath in the ryoukan's bath room, but it was scorching. I could only manage getting my calfs (calves? Is one for cows, one for legs? It's like dwarfs vs. dwarves...) in the water, and did not go further lest I become a lobster and impress everyone with my red skin again.

Dressed in loose Japanese bath clothes I then went and joined everyone for dinner. One of Kazuo's friends was very nice and started asking me lots of questions, and he enjoyed trying to speak in English. After lots of sushi (I got Nami's and Kiyo's and an extra plate from somewhere) and some super expensive sake someone had brought I was finished and retired like the old man I am to the room. The young'uns went for a walk around the town at night.

Nami taking this picture, Kiyo in the denim jacket. I don't know the name of anyone else here, such are my social skillz. Next day!

Up pretty early, everyone packed into cars we headed for the hills. We went up a mountain next to Kusatsu called Mt. Shirane. Of course I enquired of the meaning ("white root(s)" - Japanese only defines plurals by context so it can be hard to translate names where there is none), but in this case I found it more amusing to give my own meaning. "Shirane" is the phoneme of a rough form of the verb "to know" which I might translate as "I don't f***ing know". Again, a private joke which I didn't really wish to explain to the others! So in my head I had this whole story of a cartographer coming to the region and asking a local the name of that particular mountain and taking his gruff reply in earnest.

Anyhow, on the way up the twisting road, the photographer in Nami emerged as she shouted orders from the passenger seat to myself and Kiyo in the back.
"David! Left side... take picture! Kiyo! Kiyo! Right side!"

Frauline Direktor in action.

She is adorably genki here, perhaps the thin mountain air got to her. Up on the mountain it was about 2000m, and whilst the winter's snow had melted down in the town, it was still clinging on here, as were a few snowboarders who had organised a small event. But the main attraction of Mt. Shirane was a short hike and the beautiful scenery.

The crater or caldera at the top was really great to see, with a beautiful pool of turquoise water. My pictures for the trip pretty much stop here, but there is little else to tell. We left Kusatsu and stopped off again at Karuizawa on the way home. Driving home I thought Kazuo was trying to have an head on crash as he was fond of cutting corners and crossing the centre line at every possible opportunity. I can't complain though, he did a couple of marathon drives, and I was sorry I couldn't get my license in time to lend a hand, more on that next time.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Golden Week Living

In lieu of writing lengthy emails, I have reluctantly decided to start a blog, and even though this stems from some form of laziness on my part, perhaps some would say a general incompetence, I hope it is at least interesting and lets people know what's going on in Shizuoka.

Last week, from Sunday to Tuesday, was the optimistically named Golden Week; national holiday where everyone in Japan scrambles to go someplace other than their homes for a few days with the family. Kazuo keeps in touch with old rugby friends from his university days, and every two or three years meets up with them, this year they planned a get together in the famous onsen (hot spring) town of Kusatsu. Leaving at 3am on Sunday morning, Kazuo hoped to fool the hoards of travellers, which indeed he did. After a few hours of lolling my head with a slackened jaw, I woke up at the highest line Japan Rail has, overlooked by the famous Yatsugatake range...

We exchanged photographs in a very civilized manner. The name Yatsugatake, means "eight peaks", though this local map, much to Kazuo's amusement, apparently only recognises seven...

Getting closer to Kusatsu, we made a scheduled to stop off at the picturesque town of Karuizawa to pick up Kiyo, the second sister after Nami, who had taken the Shinkansen from Tokyo. Whilst waiting for her train to get in, since we had made such good time, we went for a short hike to see Shiraito no taki, a rather amazing mini waterfall, apparently the result of geothermal activity, but not as hot as a regular spring, only about 11 degrees. And I don't know whether to believe this or not, but I read the water that comes out of the falls fell as rain six years ago.

The mountain from whence this water came is Mt. Asama, an active volcano, who kindly spewed a cloud of sulphur for us to see and smell.

Then we went to see another waterfall, downstream from Shiraito no taki, called Ryuugaeshi. Walking through the forest to get there, first we came across this sign. Not sure if the bear has a birthmark, a cowboy mask or a Yogi bear style napkin, but he looks like a nice enough chap.

Further down the path, Kazuo told us bears had stripped the bark of these trees, and we could easily see some decent sized paw prints in the soft soil...

By this time, Nami was pretty scared, so much so she held my hand. This just made me even more nervous. Then we saw this Taco-boy tree (he has an octopus face, Nami said, "Oh, he looks like... you know." And I said, "Yeah! It's OOOO." But it turned out we got our wires totally crossed here. Who do you think he looks like?).

Anywho, despite Nami's drama and protesting ("I think we should go back to car. Yeah.") we unfortunately didn't see any bears, but made it to the second falls; not as approachable, but more genki (energetic) than the trickle before.

OK, it has taken me an inordinate amount of time to do this, so will be splitting up Golden Week. Next blog, Japanese health and safety (non-existent for those that don't know), Kusatsu, more sulphur and caldera action.