Archive for June, 2010


June 26, 2010 1 comment

Zynga, the controversial developer of a cluster of successful Facebook game applications including FarmVille and Mafia Wars, recently rolled out their newest moneymaker: FrontierVille. They’re billing it as “Oregon Trail meets Little House on the Prairie meets FarmVille,” and while I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, FrontierVille is definitely a step up from Zynga’s other offerings.

You start out with a covered wagon, three chickens, a sheep, and some coins. A few introductory quests introduce you to the game mechanics and give you a bit of direction. They’re worth completing for the rewards, and completing a quest can unlock another. As you go through the quests, you’re encouraged to take certain steps to gradually turn your plot into a town. The population eventually grows to three, since your spouse follows you out and a child comes along shortly after that.

FrontierVille vs. FarmVille

At the basic level, FrontierVille has a lot in common with FarmVille. You can plant crops, which take a certain amount of time to grow and then whither if they go unharvested for too long. You can have animals and trees, which produce for you every so often but are permanent fixtures unless you decide to sell them. You can spend the coins you earn in-game or the horseshoes that you can buy with real world money on decorations to spice up your plot. Many upgrades require you to have a certain number of neighbors (Facebook friends who also play and have agreed to link their game to yours) before you can purchase them, though you have the option of paying a certain number of horseshoes to unlock them without the requisite number of neighbors.

It adds some things on top of Farmville’s offerings, though, and they’ve made improvements to the crop system.

My favorite improvement to the crop system is that you don’t have to have pre-laid spots to plant crops in — you can plop a crop down on any cleared land. When the crop is harvested, the space it took up while it was growing reverts to grass, which you can then use to replant or build a barn on or whatever else might suit your fancy. And once a crop is planted, you can use the move tool on it and put it somewhere else without interrupting its growth. There’s no re-sowing required to make ground ready for replanting, which eliminates that extra cost — and the extra clicking that goes with it.

Everything in FrontierVille that you can clear or harvest or feed drops experience. Most drop money, though trees drop wood instead of money. Trees and crops drop food. But everything has a chance to drop one of five items specific to the type of plant or animal or what have you. This is in addition to the drops you normally get. Chickens, for instance, can drop Chicken Breast, Chicken Broth, Chicken Drumstick, Omelette, or Eggs. If you get one of each, you can then trade them in for a bonus. To continue using the chicken example, the bonus you get for completing and turning in the set is 4 energy.

Playing the Game

Before you can plant crops or build anything, you have to clear a place to put them. There are trees, grass, and wildflowers all over the place. Clearing grass and wildflowers takes one action each, though a tree can take up to twelve chopping actions (depending on age) and leaves behind a stump to clear, too. All clearing actions give you experience and other drops. And I do mean drops; rather than being automatically added to your inventory, you have to click on things to pick them up. They only last so long before disappearing, so you can’t just tell your character to harvest everything while you go make a sandwich. Well, you can, I guess, but you’d lose all the fruits of your labor.

How much you can do at a time is limited by your energy meter. While planting crops and dropping other market purchases down (like building foundations) doesn’t require energy, harvesting, tending animals, clearing actions, and actually working on construction of a building do. You start out with your max energy limited to 10, if I recall correctly; your max goes up as your family grows and as rewards for some level increases. You can also purchase permanent max energy upgrades with horseshoes. Energy is automatically restored at a rate of 1 energy every five minutes, and you’re restored to full as soon as you level up. You can also use the generic food you collect when harvesting to purchase more energy.One of the free gifts you can send your neighbors is a Light Snack, which restores three energy when used.

Sending your friends a Light Snack is a waste of your daily gift-giving. In order to finish building a building, you have to have a number of things like bricks, nails, and buckets of paint on hand. The only ways to obtain these is through horseshoes or as gifts from friends. Nails and paint are freely available under the free gift tab, but your only other option for acquiring hand drills, hammers, and bricks is to ask friends to send them to you via your news feed.

Speaking of the news feed: FrontierVille is so spamalicious that I want to apologize to everyone I know on Facebook for sending all those news items out. I’m sorry. I’d also like to take this moment to point out that you can hide specific apps in your news feed by clicking the “Hide” button in the upper right corner. It’ll give you the option to hide the person, or the app, or the particular post.

When going about your business, you have the chance to encounter varmints. Bears can appear when you’re chopping trees; snakes can pop up when you clear grass or wildflowers; groundhogs can appear when you’re harvesting crops. These make everything around them take an extra energy to tend, giving the affected objects a bright red aura. Since beating them off gives you coins, experience, food, and chances at rare item drops, it’s worth doing so… though it can be really annoying when a groundhog appears in the middle of your patch of fast-wilting clover.


Optimum use of FrontierVille relies heavily on neighbor interaction. In addition to the above-mentioned requests for supplies and energy, you’re also given the option to share experience and item bonuses on a regular basis. Combing through your friends’ FrontierVille feeds can be the best way to level up, I’ve found, though the game limits you to receiving a maximum of 30 bonuses per day from wall postings. You’re allowed to send help — bricks, other tools, and energy — up to 50 times a day, on top of that.

You can also visit your neighbors’ plots and perform up to five actions per neighbor per day. You get the usual item and experience drops for your work, and when your neighbor next opens the game, they’ll see you standing there. If they click on you, then they’ll have the option to accept your help, whereupon they will also receive the drops.

The game also provides you with an NPC neighbor right off the bat. His name is Frontier Jack, and he’s always 1-2 levels above you. At least, that’s true for me. Of my neighbors, I’m currently the highest level; for all I know, he’s just your highest-level neighbor, period. Anyway, the nice thing about Jack is that you can also help him out once a day, and his plot has a wide variety of things for you to help with. It provides you with the opportunity to get item drops from things you don’t have, or to just try harder for that one last item drop you need.

You can select up to five of the rare item drops to add to a wishlist of sorts. Your neighbors will see your wish list if they hover over your icon at the bottom of the screen or look at your entry in the My Neighbors screen. If they have something on your wishlist, they can send it to you from either place.

In Conclusion

FrontierVille has much in common with Zynga’s other offerings. It’s built around the same business model as FarmVille, though the integration of their money-making schemery have been fine-tuned. They’ve also added in the item collections, which serve the same basic function as achievements/trophies in other games: they provide easy but time-consuming goals which keep the player playing. They’ve stepped up the news feed spam, too, to the point that it’s more annoying in the game, too.

The gameplay has also been fine-tuned, though. The greater variety of things to do and the spontaneous varmint appearances add a minor element of strategy which makes the game more engaging. A clever player can find many opportunities to maximize energy regeneration. There’s better support for a wider array of gameplay styles.

In short, if you hate Zynga’s other games, you’ll probably hate this one, too. If you like this sort of thing, you’ll probably dig it.


Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-8

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

City Hall

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

Ishida-sensei gave Sayaka-san money for a cab, since there was only an hour until her second (and last) class of the day. We first hoofed it to a place to get some pictures of me taken (I’ve gotten my picture taken more times in the last three months than in the preceding year, by the way), then took a cab to the city hall.

Japanese cabs are funny-looking. Like American cabs, they have lit-up signs on top. However, they also have antennae (often v-shaped) symmetrically placed on top. The drivers all wear gloves, though there’s no standard glove type. One thing that’s really awesome about them is the fact that the driver can open the passenger door at the push of a button.

We got some alien registration stuff done, then went back to the school. Sayaka-san had her class, and I got to go to my first class. I had indicated an interest in music, and there was a traditional Japanese music class at the same time as Sayaka’s English class, so I went there. It sounded interesting; history, studying the forms, appreciation.

"Koto Strings". Photo by Adam Chamness, licensed under Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This awesome koto photo was taken by Adam Chamness.


How about, “Let’s play the koto?”

It was so awesome, especially since I didn’t see it coming. I got to the class, asked if I could join, and was heartily welcomed. I helped get some more equipment from storage rooms, and as we pulled things out of boxes I saw that it would be some kind of practical class, since these were obviously stands of some kind that we were putting together. When I saw the finger picks for the koto, I finally realized that this class was going to be WAY more awesome than I had thought. Score!

So after that, Sayaka-san and I went back into town on foot to get me a cell phone. The cell phone company had a brochure on rates in English, which helped quite a bit, as well as some phones for sale that were bilingual. Yay! But because I don’t have an account at the post office, I couldn’t get the phone yet. Alas. The next day, then, since the post office was closed.

But to get an account at the post office, I needed an inkan. The Japanese don’t actually use signatures, but stamps. The stamp itself is called a hanko, and the thing that does the stamping is the inkan. Up to this point, I had been using my fingerprint.

"Hanko this" by Neko1998, licensed under Creative  Commons (BY-NC-SA).

This is what shopping for an inkan looks like. I can read a lot of these now, but then? Totally dependent on Sayaka's help. (Photo taken by Neko1998.)

We sought a store that Sayaka-san thought made inkans. Turns out that they had stopped offering that service, and that it’d take a week or so to get one personally made, anyway. We kinda needed it faster than that. So we went to the nearby 100 yen store, which had common-name inkans just inside the door. I obviously don’t have a common Japanese name, so Sayaka-san asked what kanji I like. I ended up with an inkan carrying the name Mizuki (水木). [2010 Edit: It turns out that my name is a common name in Japan if you go by pronunciation. They didn’t have any Rina (里奈) stamps in stock at the time, though, and it would have taken a week to get one custom-made at the professional inkan store down the street.]

After that, she showed me a decent-sized store near the college where I can get food and such, then we parted ways. I wasn’t tired necessarily, but I knew I would be soon, and my brain was starting to reject Japanese. I went home for the night.

5 Songs With Great Covers

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Many song covers are nothing special. However, some musicians take a song and make it their own, producing a work of art that’s at least as good as the original.

I’d like to take a moment to honor some particularly good covers, in no particular order. They’re listed by original song instead of by cover because a couple of these have been beautifully covered multiple times.

In the Air Tonight

Phil Collins’s But Seriously… was the first CD I ever owned. I bought it to replace my worn out, warbly cassette tape. This is one of my favorite songs from that album, and it’s probably his most famous song. Although the urban rumormill claims that Collins wrote the song after witnessing a drowning that someone could have prevented, he actually wrote the song while dealing with divorce.

While covering a classic can be chancy, I’ve encountered two fantastic covers of this song. The first I’d like to share with you is a rock cover by Nonpoint. Their version was used for the Miami Vice film a few years ago — which is spiffy, since the Phil Collins original was used in the original Miami Vice TV show. I love how this version emphasizes the dark nature of the song.

The second cover I want you to listen to is by Naturally 7, a seven-man a capella group whose members all have the ability to emulate the sounds of one or more musical instruments. They’re amazing. Their cover has modified lyrics, and in spite of one member keeping the rock drum “instrumentals” going throughout, they give the song a very R&B feel.

The above video shows them performing on the streets of London for the BBC, so it’s light on the instrumentals and shows off some of their skill. The ability to mix tracks  makes their album version, below, a different kind of sweet, delicious cheesecake.

The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything

The original is a simple silly song from Veggie Tales. It’s pretty catchy even if singing Christian veggie-people just aren’t your thing.

And here’s a punk-pop version of the song by a group called Relient K. (I’m pretty sure this is an unofficial music video… but I’m pretty sure there’s no official video, so enjoy the Lego men.)

Have you ever bathed in yogurt?

The Boy is Mine

This collaborative effort by Brandy & Monica is one of my favorite songs, and has been since the summer of ’98. It’s an R&B song with broad appeal. I have learned recently that there are many more African-American women than men, which makes me wonder how common this kind of situation is. Forget the social issues, though, and it’s still a good song.

Now, I’ve only encountered one cover for this, and it’s from Glee. All the Glee covers are good quality — there are some very talented performers in that show — but this is my favorite. (Well, my favorite after the It’s My Life/Confessions, pt. II mashup, but I’m not covering mashups here.)

Since it’s not one of the glee club’s performance pieces, it doesn’t get the harmony/chorus treatment. What really makes this cover shine is that the two arguing parts are more distinct in the Glee version than in the Brandy & Monica original. Brandy & Monica have similar linguistic backgrounds and singing styles, which makes their voices difficult to distinguish from each other in the song. The Glee girls’ voices, however, are two different balls of wax, which gives the whole song more texture and makes the two parts easy to tell apart. The vocal embellishments also pop out from the background better.

My Favorite Things

If this song from The Sound of Music doesn’t bring joy to your heart, then your heart must be two sizes too small.

There’s a famous cover of this song by John Coltrane. It’s lovely. The page on YouTube for the video below has several paragraphs about the album for which it is the title track, but I think the following paragraph sums up the song itself nicely:

The title track is a modal rendition of the Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein’s seminal song My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music. The melody is heard numerous times throughout the almost 14-minute version, and instead of soloing over the written chord changes, both Tyner and Coltrane taking extended solos over vamps of the two tonic chords, E minor and E major. Tyner’s solo is famous for being extremely chordal and rhythmic, as opposed to developing melodies. In the documentary The World According to John Coltrane, narrator Ed Wheeler remarks: “In 1960, Coltrane left Miles [Davis] and formed his own quartet to further explore modal playing, freer directions, and a growing Indian influence. They transformed “My Favorite Things”, the cheerful populist song from ‘The Sound of Music,’ into a hypnotic eastern dervish dance. The recording was a hit and became Coltrane’s most requested tune—an abridged broad public acceptance.”

Then there’s this wonderful, haunting recording by Pomplamoose. Pomplamoose is a duet; the woman does most of the singing and the man plays most of the instruments. When they make a video, they record and mix multiple tracks, compiling a video to go with it that shows everything they play at some point. Unlike most multi-tracks on YouTube, theirs are done with quality equipment and are very interesting to watch as well as listen to. They also regularly use an accordian and a kid’s xylophone in their music.

You should check out their other stuff, too, actually. Their cover of I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing, for instance, is also excellent.

Poker Face

I know I said at the beginning that I’d be listing these in no particular order, but I lied a bit. I wanted you to read the other entries before seeing this one, in case you’d be inclined to scoff and stop reading at the first sign of Lady Gaga. In case you haven’t heard the song, here it is:

Let me state right now that I dislike this song. The melody is catchy, but I’m less than fond of the lyrics and less than less than fond of the video.

However, if you can watch this a capella cover without enjoying it even a little, then I have no desire to associate with you.

These guys sing it well and perform it with gusto. It’s brilliant, and watching it made me realize that my dislike for Lady Gaga’s Poker Face is really a dislike of the pop arrangement. I’ve seen several great covers since encountering this one which only reinforce that notion… not the least of which is this solo singer with piano cover by Lady Gaga herself.

I could still wish for less exploitative lyrics, but the song itself is better than that ghastly pop arrangement indicates. Other covers of Lady Gaga’s music make it look like the same is true of all her music. Hell, I could probably do a whole post on Lady Gaga covers. Instead, I’ll just end this with a multi-track a capella medley of Lady Gaga music.

Categories: Miscellany, Reviews Tags: ,

Sims 3 Legacy Challenge Scorecard Spreadsheet v1.2

June 17, 2010 6 comments

The newest version of my Sims 3 Legacy Challenge scorecard spreadsheet is here, updated with the new lifetime wants and rewards from Ambitions.


Lifetime wants and aspirations from the expansion packs are now highlighted: orange for World Adventures and blue for Ambitions. Because of the latter, the overall color scheme is now green.

The new sheet can be downloaded via Google Documents via 4shared. (Edit: There’s a new version.) It is an .xls file with no macros in it. Although I crafted it in Office 2007, it uses only basic formulas, so there shouldn’t be any compatibility issues with older versions of Office or with OpenOffice. If you do have any problems, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Edit: Due to problems with distribution via Google Docs, file sharing is now via 4shared.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-7

June 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Now What?

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

This was the view out one of my apartment's side windows. If my illiterate reading of the sign behind the fence at the end of the block was correct, this used to be a landfill. I wouldn't trust that translation, though, if I were you. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

At this point, I was tired. But it was only like 15:00! So I decided to work on this blog post. I did that until I got to my recollection of waking up in the hotel room. Then I realized if I was to hand-wash my clothes with time for them to dry, I needed to do that. I’ll tell you what: hand-washing your clothes in a kitchen sink with no drain plug is interesting, especially if you’re using cold water ’cause you don’t want to use the gas to heat the water and are not wearing much ’cause you’re washing most of your clothes.

After that, I headed for the bathroom. Since I hadn’t thought to buy any real house-cleaning soap, I used dish washing liquid to clean the bathroom. Took a shower, then settled down for a bath. I discovered that 42 C is lower than I like for a bath. Note for next time. Still a decent temperature, though. Soaked away some of my traveling aches.

After that, I hit the sack. It was only like 20:45, but with my headache and my traveling aches and me needing to adjust my internal clock, I figured I should go to bed early and sleep as late as possible.

After waking at like 4:30, I started working on this again, pausing when I hit the price of bananas to look up the exact price of the bananas, get some water, and feast on the tasty-looking rice dish with shrimp.


Tasty-Looking Rice Dish with Shrimp: 5
It’s pretty much rice with bits of egg and celery, small pieces of shrimp, and wasabi on the side. Mmm, breakfast.

So there I was, at about 7:00. I was told yesterday that I can access the Internet from the college during the day, so hopefully I will get to post this today. For now, I am leaving pictures and text file on my computer.



I forgot the feature I intended to add at the end of every blog post from here on out. So I’ll add a bit of my doings this morning as well. I did some arranging at my apartment, eventually leaving around 8:10 with wet pants on. I walked and took some pictures of the neighborhood. However, when I got to the school I discovered that my alarm clock was an hour fast. Heh. It was 7:30.

So I went for a walk. Figured out which direction the Kushiro River is in, as well as discovering that there’s a game store just on the other side. I didn’t go in, ’cause I want Internet first, but still. Walked back, and came into the school to eat some Japanese beef jerky (with its gold seal of “Good Taste & Happy Feeling” on the front).


Japanese Beef Jerky: 5
Spiced different, but tastes just as good. Very expensive, though.

While I was sitting in a communal area, I heard a band playing songs and went to investigate. There are club rooms in the basement, and as I type this, a band (a good rock band) is blaring loud music in club room 7, ten feet or so to my left and across the hall. In fact, that dictated my choice of seating for writing this.

The club room hall in the basement. This photo was taken days before I left, from right next to the drama club room. The band club's room is at the far end of the hall. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

On to the new feature!

Realizations of the Period

  1. An airport is an airport is an airport.
  2. People have told me that the Japanese speak quickly. I don’t think so. I think we just process Japanese slowly. I know that that’s my problem. I’ve found that I understand better if I take in what they’re saying by the sentence than by the word.
  3. Going to another country and writing a blog about it is a good way to practice writing. (Special note to Chuck: That was aimed at you. Alternatively, you can take my escapades and re-write them as a cheesy adventure story. I think that could be really cool. “When Lena got off the bus at the Haneda airport, she had a feeling something was wrong. A flicker at the corner of her eye made her turn just in time to dodge the swift blade of a pirate’s cutlass. Knowing that she was running out of time she quickly vanquished the pirate and his squad of ninjas, but by the time her enemies were finally laid fast upon the concrete, the nearby clock read 18:09. She was too late; her flight had already left.” If you want to try, feel free. :D)
  4. Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is pretty, but it really isn’t a good hotel at all, especially at the prices they charge.
  5. When travelling in a country where the populace speaks a foreign language, never underestimate the power of hand gestures/mime and onomatopoeia. Ever. If you can get the idea across, they’ll tell you the word for it.

New Addendum

OK, still no way to get this bugger on the Internet. Bah! I’m gonna keep just adding stuff to the bottom, then. However, It’s not going to be nearly as blow-by-blow. That takes too long, and as I settle in a bit more, that gets less interesting. Some parts will still be elaborate, but not all.

This is what kanji looked like a zillion years ago. They've been simplified over time, but if you know what to look for you can see the derivations. (Photo added to post on June 23, 2010.)

So anyway, when I got done with the Realizations of the Period, I put my laptop away and did some logic puzzles before going off to meet Hiruta-sensei. Hiruta-sensei was escorting the last two exchange students (out of four; three Russian, one me). Tolia and I got to sit around for a while, waiting for our sponsoring teachers to arrive, so we got to know each other a bit. He’s double-majoring in English and Japanese, and wants to take a class in Shodou. His mentioning Shodou, combined with me finding out there’s a Shodou class, made me want to take it, too. (Shodou = Japanese calligraphy. Sho = writing, dou = way [書道])

After a great while, Ishida-sensei arrived. He made mention of classes, asked what I was interested in, and showed me a class schedule. At that point, Sayaka-san needed to go to class, so she and I agreed to meet in the central lobby later. I spent a bit of time in the library on the Internet (which is how I found out that I still have no way to get this post on the Internet), where I did some stuff on Neopets and checked my e-mail. After that, I decided I was hungry, so I headed to the shokudou (cafeteria).

The menu was visual; there was a glass case outside the doors with the day’s dishes made up for you to see and choose from. I picked tonkatsu [insert compound word I don’t recall here] udon. Essentially, it was pork cutlet over rice and lettuce with a sauce on top.


Tonkatsu over Lettuce and Rice: 5
Who likes pork? I do. Who likes lettuce? Me. Who likes rice? Over half the population of the planet. And the sauce was tasty.

After that, I went home and took a nap. Jisabokke (jet lag) has never been a problem for me until now. I’ve been getting tired around 20:00 and been unable to sleep later than like 4:30. Haah. Suck. So, nap.

When I went to meet with Sayaka-san and Ishida-sensei again, Sayaka-san introduced me to Mina-san and Orie-san. I didn’t talk much to Orie-san because she left for class, but Mina-san stayed with us for a while. She likes to read. :D I doubt she and I have read many of the same books, though.

The meeting that followed was when Araoka-san (who I had corresponded with via the Internet over the summer) explained to myself and Sayaka-san the official-isms and whatnot that I had to go through. I say he explained to us both, but the truth is that he was pretty much telling her what needed to be done because I couldn’t understand what he was saying fast enough and he knew it. As it turned out, some of it was stuff that I knew already, but didn’t know the vocabulary for.

Bright Green Gaijin Pants, Post 3-6

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Bright Green Gaijin PantsMy first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.

The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them separately, as they were meant to be.

Yay, I Have Stuff Now!

Originally posted on October 16, 2005.

So after that, Nei-san drove us back to my apartment. We pulled up to unload my loot and discovered that a guy had shown up to turn on the gas. We took all but the futon upstairs and let the guy in to do that. There was a lot (and I mean a lot) of dust inside the heater until it was turned on. :P After the gas guy and the girls showed me how to work the stove, heater, and water heater (You have to open and close the valves to each before using it, and the water heater works so fast that you don’t have to turn the power on until you want to use it), the gas guy left and we brought the futon upstairs. At this point, Utsuki-san and Nei-san took their leave to allow me to rest/set up the place, with my thanks for their help. ^^

This is the first time since I got to Kushiro that I had taken any pictures. I could have gotten pictures of the stores, but didn’t really want to while I was doing heavy shopping. So here’s my apartment, empty.

This ended up being the corner where I did most of my living. That box in the middle of the picture was the only heating in the apartment.

This picture was taken from the same spot as the picture above. All I did was rotate myself.

I put the curtains up before taking the pictures. As you can see, I accidentally put the one set up backwards in my desperation to get the sun out of my house and away from my migraine. The heater in the corner is gas powered and came with a Doraemon sticker on it. Seen in the kitchen is the shlack, the water heater (which also heats the water to your exactly specified celsius temperature — boilers seem so stupid now), my little gas range (no oven, but a place to broil fish), cabinets, and a sink.

The Japanese have separate rooms for bathing and peeing in. This is the bathing room.

The bathroom has a shower and a bath, in good old-fashioned Japanese style. Well, not old-fashioned; the Japanese have really gotten to prefer the removable shower head over the bucket for rinsing off. I forgot to buy a stool to sit on when cleaning — traditional Japanese bathing involves washing your self meticulously, then rinsing off and soaking for a while in hot water. It feels quite nice, actually. But the bathroom door is very skinny, and interesting to get through.

The bathing room was in the middle of the apartment; the toilet was just inside the door to the apartment. The plumbing for both this room and the bathing room were on the shared wall.

Toilet gets its own room. You can’t see it in this picture, but it’s one of the toilets with a big and small flush.

The wall that the plumbing there is attached to is the same wall the bathing room and toilet room plumbing goes into.

A place to put a washing machine. Yay! I need one of those.

Around the right side is a shelf high on the wall, with a rack underneath it to hang stuf on. Like you'd see in a closet.

I’ll try putting my futon over here.

The box on the back of the door is a collector for mail from the mail slot. It was jam-packed with junk mail when I moved in.

And the entryway, concrete ending where the floor begins. No shoes inside the house! Hooray for living in a culture that echoes what you were raised doing.

I kept these turned off as much as possible at night during the summer. I liked my windows open, 'cause it was hot, but there were a lot of strange bugs attracted to light in Japan.

This looks like an ordinary light, but I assure you that it’s actually special. It has three “on” settings — both fluorescent bulbs on, one florescent bulb on, and one weak yellow light on. There are two of these in the apartment, one of which is also connected to a power switch near the laundry machine spot.

So there’s my apartment. Let’s evaluate the day’s loot, shall we?

Total cost: 22,150 yen. Right about $200 at the time. Most expensive single item was the futon.

Not bad for 22,150 yen. And zoom in a bit…

The saltines were mostly purchased out of sheer, "Tee-Hee! Same brand and everything!"

Featured here are a plate, a cup, a bowl, three random instant noodle packages, one random package of bread, a bread chosen after asking Utsuki-san what she likes, bananas, Nabisco saltine crackers (“America’s long seller cracker” according to the box), a random yet tasty-looking rice dish with shrimp and wasabi, some cucumber rolls (I’ve already eaten two; I was hungry), a bread knife, a straight-edged cooking knife, and a cutting board.


Cucumber Rolls: 5
Just like American ones, if you buy them at a place that does decent sushi in America.

Most of the kitchen utensils were purchased at 100 yen store -- the Japanese equivalent of the dollar store. Unlike Alaskan dollar stores, 99% of the stores goods were the price advertised in the store's name. The other 1% were 300 yen. (All plus tax.)

Skillet with lid, sieve, tea kettle, saucepan, spatula, ladle, spoon with holes, whisk, 1-cup measuring cup (the only non-metric measure I found, and the only one I need).

I went with the Dove brand hair products and body wash simply because it was the only familiar brand I saw.

Towel, various cleaning sponges, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toilet paper, laundry detergent, lemon dish washing liquid.

I was rather distressed when I discovered my inability to plug my laptop into the wall, due to the absence of a hole for the grounding prong in any of the outlets. This power strip had a grounding wire sticking out of it next to the power cord

Futon set, covers for the futon pieces, an alarm clock almost identical to the one that won’t get here for two days because it’s with my baggage, and a power strip that will let me plug my laptop into the wall.

Ultimate riches, yes?

Time to put them away. Yarr!

The previous occupant left this rolling rack here. That and the fact that it was a corner apartment with extra windows are the two reasons I picked this over the empty apartment on the ground floor.

I should probably put some of these in the cupboards, especially since I am likely to be hanging clothes on the rack to dry from here on out, but for now, this will do. Time to put my futon together.

Japanese-style futons aren’t quite like American futons, and not just because American futons come with racks that make them function just fine as couches. The futon was originally designed to be modular — you pick it up when you get up in the morning and you can air it out or fold it up and put it away. So a futon has three parts plus covers for them (sheets, essentially, only they zip up around the whole thing). The shikibuton is the bottom part, on which you sleep. The kakebuton is the part that goes over you. It’s like a really thick comforter. Then there’s the makura, which is a pillow.

Let’s do this.

I was so glad this fit in there. I dunno how I'd have arranged the apartment if it hadn't fit. I can only assume the place was designed with this use in mind.

Success! The shikibuton fits the alcove exactly. Time to put on its cover.

Since the futon mattress gets covered up, I didn't need matching sheets, but I got matching ones anyway.

The futon has now been covered up. O Snap! The reason the cover seemed way too big is that it was actually for the kakebuton. Let’s try that again.

Looking back on this post as I transfer it, I'm not sure why I took so many pictures of the futon getting set up. I was jet lagged and high on travel, but that's a poor excuse.

Much better. Now, the kakebuton…

I found out later that the Japanese generally also get foam padding (kinda like the ones they sell here for camping) to put under the futon. I would need that now, I think, but at the time this was perfect.

Almost there. Makura! I don’t know what they put inside this pillow, but it rattles on one side. Very interesting.

Japanese pillows take time to get used to, but they stay cooler than western pillows, for some reason. They're also only as big as they need to be.

Victory is mine! … Wait… something is missing. Oh, I know what it is!

Yep... I had put my teddy bear in my carry-on, but not a spare change of clothes. I no longer make that mistake.

Ultimate victory!

Prince of Persia Movie Review

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m pleased to say that I’m pleased by the movie Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. One thing it has going for it is that I can recommend it to just about anyone. As movies in general go, it’s pretty good; the acting is good, the pacing is good, the action is good. The soundtrack felt a little generic, but it suited the film just fine. The story is solid, coherent, and whole — which, again, is more than can be said for most movies based on video games. In short, it’s worth watching.

Compared to the Game

I played Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time right about when it came out. I was 79% of the way through the game (or so my save data assured me) when I lost the contents of my hard drive. I must confess that I left off finishing the game in despair — as any gamer knows, losing your save data unfairly is a great way to make you feel like doing anything but playing that game. It’s been seven years now, and I still haven’t picked it up again.

I’ve forgotten much about the game’s story. That will be rectified soon, since I’m reinstalling the game as I write this. However, that meant I went into the movie recalling certain elements and the feel of the game. While watching the movie, some things about the game came back to me. Most of the things I found myself remembering were different from the movie, but the changes made were good ones.

Before I went, the things I hoped to see in the movie were:

  • Proper execution of the Dagger of Time’s abilities
  • Plenty of wall running and other acrobatics
  • An antagonistic relationship between the prince and the priestess

Dagger time is visually gorgeous, and I noticed while watching the end credits that there was a team of graphic artists devoted to the dagger time effects. The mechanics of the Dagger’s usage is different in the game than it was in the movie. If I recall correctly, in the game you can only rewind several seconds at a time — just long enough to undo a mistake and save yourself from certain doom. You can use that several-second ability multiple times, until the Dagger runs out of sand, at which point you had to find more. In the movie, the dagger can hold enough sand to wind time back by one minute, and as long as the wielder keeps pressing the button he goes backwards until the sand is used up.

That’s a fairly big difference in how the Dagger works. However, the change is a good thing. In the Sands of Time video game, the Dagger does serve as a story element, but since you spend most of the game running around jumping off of walls and the like, it’s at least as much a gameplay element as a story element. Having the Dagger able to rewind up to a minute in the game would have made it powerful to the point of silliness. In the movie, however, there’s a much higher ratio of story to action. Access to more sand is limited in the movie, too, since the prince’s foes don’t just drop sand left and right. The Dagger’s power is something the prince must ration, and the situations in which it gets used require more than a few seconds’ rewind for storytelling purposes.

The ratio of action to plot in the movie is lower than I’d hoped for going in, but when coming out of the theater, I was glad for that. As I mentioned above, the story and pacing are solid. That would be untrue if it had had as much action as I’d initially hoped for. They weighted the movie in favor of story, making for a better movie without neglecting the acrobatics which are the hallmark of the Prince of Persia series.

For all that, the movie felt right, for the most part. I was a bit skeptical about the fact that Alamut didn’t turn into a crypt at first, but while the prince’s lonely journey through the palace with everyone except the antagonistic priestess to keep him company worked for the game… well, who’d want to watch that for two hours on the big screen, really? If they’d kept to the game that well, the movie would be just another video game movie, a flop and a travesty and another source of tears for us poor gamers. The fact that the relationship between prince and priestess were so well done wouldn’t change the fact that it would essentially be nothing but action scenes. I like good action scenes, but I generally like them to be tied together by something a little deeper.

I must say, there is one thing I’m glad they changed. Jake Gyllenhaal is a fairly good-looking fellow, and I wouldn’t have objected to seeing him shirtless in that hot desert sun, but the prince’s gradual disrobing that occurred throughout the game would have had no place in the movie. It’s quite possibly the silliest thing in the game, and while I found it highly amusing when I was playing The Sands of Time back in the day, it would have detracted from the movie. The movie does a good job of being serious about the story without being too serious, but a shirtless prince would have come across to the masses as fan service instead of being seen for the throwback to the game that it would have been.

In Conclusion

The changes made for the movie adaptation of The Sands of Time were chosen in the interest of making a good movie. And it is good; you should see it, and you should take your non-gaming significant other and friends to see it, because they’ll like it, too. It’s unlikely to win any Oscars, but the Academy looks for deep, artistic meaning in a movie; this movie is meant for entertainment, and entertaining it is.