September 29, 2004

Uplink, on nerdy video games

Hello, and welcome to uplink, the premiere source for information and stuff.

So I'll admit to being a bit dissapointed in the lack of reaction to my last post. I figured at least someone would be like "hey, that's a crazy thing that kid-dude wrote, eh?" But no.

But that's OK, I'm very much used to no one saying anything, cause that's what I do in class.

So the last few days have been quite frustrating, trying to get a wireless thing to work, but it doesn't, etc etc. And it's raining again. So it's a little not so cool.

At work, I've been a-playing Zork. It's pretty hard for a game that's like 100K. There's one part where there's this "maze", and so I've been mapping it out on paper. No one cares, they think I'm doing work. Or really, they just don't pay any attention. I don't think I could really get away with playing some straight up games like tyrian or something though.

So yeah, Zork is pretty awesome. It's cool because a lot of things in it are still like way in the back of my head from watching Danny Kinnecom play it on an apple IIe back like... jeez, a really, really long time ago, probably 16 or 17 years ago. That's crazy. I remember it being kindof scary back then. It isn't really now though. I think what was kindof scary was that one, there were grues and stuff, sure... but mostly I think it was the impression that this game was completely limitless, there were no walls or boundaries, that it was basically an entire world full of monsters and stuff, if you ever managed to get anywhere in it. I mean, it was in green text on an apple IIe, in some corner room of their house... it was some indeterminate number of disks (actually, probably one, but I didn't know that). Other games, like say pac man, most atari games, etc, had pretty clear rules. In pac man, you've got one screen. You move around in that screen, and eventually beat the level. Then you get to the next level, which is really exactly the same as the last one. So yeah it's 'infinite' in that way, but even at like 4 years old I could tell that it was a pretty constrained, limited game. Same with, say, space invaders, combat, pinball, most other games.
There were some atari games that seemed a lot more mysterious. Pitfall was a sortof borderline case. Yes, I suppose it has multiple "screens", but every screen is pretty much exactly the same, just with a lake or rope or something. Still, this slight variety gave enough of an illusion of depth to the game. I still distinctly remember discussing the game in kindergarden, and one kid, Pat, said that his brother had gotten really far, and that there's gold, but then there's purple gold, and if you get *really* far, then cops drop out of the trees and chase after you. This isn't really the case, but we all believed it. There was no real way to disprove it either, cause none of us were *good enough* at these video games to really get too far.

Then there was that like fireworld or whatever. I never had that game, some kid named gareth, who I remember was about 8 at the time, which I thought was extremely old (so I must have been much younger) had it. Completely inscrutable. No clue what was going on, the limits of the game, etc.
Pete got that game much later in high school, and it was still totally trippy and didn't make any sense.

Solaris was probably the most mysterious though. I had solaris, and I would play it all the time, and never figure any of it out. You could move around in space, kindof, and get to planets, and rescue people on the planets... and refuel... but you could also blow up the planets, if you shot the thing that you refuelled at. Then there was some cryptic map screen, and sometimes it would change colors, like red, or flash or something, and when that happened usually the game was almost over and I died.

But who knows what the object of the game was, or if there even was one.

But these days, I know way too much. Solaris is probably all of 32K or so. Zork is 92,160 bytes. I guess that's the whole like, tree of knowledge thing for ya, huh? Clever as I may have been at age 6, I just didn't grasp the limits of these games.

I can't really imagine what it must be like to be little and play today's videogames. I mean if I thought Zork was immersive and cool, then ... hmm... but then again, the whole "adventure game" is kindof a thing of the past. Most games now are pretty well defined in their boundaries. Adventure games like Zork, King's Quest, etc, sortof mutated and de-volved into Myst and that kind of thing, then died out. I wonder if the increasing technology, with accompanying levels of realism and production values, sortof nessecitated that. Cause I guess "Myst" is the obvious answer if you want to do Zork in the 90s (or heck, didn't I get some "return to zork" lame "MPC" "interactive movie" kind of thing??), and it's totally lame. I mean you can't stick to text if everyone else is doing the EGA then VGA thing. Just wouldn't be commercially viable. And once you've got graphics, I guess the temptation is very great to make the input graphical as well, which basically kills it, since that basically boils down to clicking on a bunch of stuff.

Yeah the text parser is definetly what gives a huge illusion of depth to the game, especially if you're still under 4' tall. Cause you can type ANYTHING. Granted, it won't understand most things you type, but ... ah, see even that term, "understand"! As if there's some entity involved somewhere that "understands" what you mean when you type "tie rope to railing". But still, there it is. You interact with Zork the same way you interact with people (well on the computer) -- you type to it. There's no method of human communication based on clicking on things though. So put that in your head & think it.

Ah, such weighty matters. All should weigh in on such important discussions. Especially Pete, cause he wrote an essay about Zelda for his final paper in some class, and got an A. Dude, that's like, the best grade you can get, man. Whoa!

Anyway I'm gonna head out pretty soon, and it's still raining, which calls into question my plans to get to ginza and buy a tripod. Nn.

Posted by tadge at 10:29 PM | Comments (89)

September 27, 2004

UV4 - The Reckoning

Ah uplink. Direct from my brain to the all-pervading ether.

So now I'm back at minami-urawa. This place just isn't as fun as the othr school, Tajima. Sure, maybe it's a "better" school, but it's totally boring. I had three classes today with watanabe-sensei. I'm assuming he will never see this web site, so I'll be candid -- this dude is a really lousy teacher. He just doesn't care. The kids will be talking all class, and he'll just give a sort of half-hearted "shizuka, ne" and no one will pay attention.

Ah, I did get some interesting stuff today though. All the kids had to write an "e-mail" to their friend as an assignment, and I was going through and correcting them. One dude's assignment was this.

Yeah that's a little odd, eh? Maybe I just heard a few stereotypes or things about japan, but a little red warning LED lit up in my head when I saw that. I showed it to watanabe, and he couldn't be bothered, and shuffled it back into the pile of other papers. Well, glad to know I made a difference. Hopefully the kid is just joking around or doesn't really know what he's saying anyways.

I may actually get a semi-legitimate internet connection today. Until now it's been some random wireless from someone down the road, but now it will be someone across the hall, who I will split the bill with. Rocking.

So basically I've been developing a lot of film, medium format film that is. Still haven't gotten the 4x5 camera running unfortunately. I've got a bit of color 120 film to run, and was thinking of going to ginza today to do that, but it's raining, so that is postponed. I got pretty soaked on the way to school and am just dried off now. But it's still raining and I fear it will be when I leave.

This also disrupts plans to train for the "marathon" I'm going to be running. One of the teachers here signed me up for it I guess. My general plan here when I'm not sure what's going on, but the people I'm dealing with seem cool, is to say "Uhh, yeah, OK". So I'm running in a marathon. From what I gather though, it's not really 26 miles, but more like 7 or 8.

I don't have internet at school, but there is definetly a hub kicking around under these desks. I don't have a regular ehternet card, only wireless right now. But the regular ones are pretty cheap. Then again maybe I shouldn't really be on the internet while I'm ostensibly at "work". Then again, according to my schedule, I have no afternoon classes for the next two weeks. So that means from when lunch ends at around 1 or so, until 4 or so when I can leave, I've got nothing. 3 * 10 = you know, 30. That's thirty hours dude. That's extnensive.

Then again not like I really need to spend more time reading random stuff off the internet.

I do miss the Wall Street Journal though... wonder if you can get that online. It wouldn't be the same though. Nothing beats sitting on a bench on some breezy fall morning, wearing a tie, leaves scattering about you, people passing all around, and just reading about OPEC or Microsoft or some massive organization that weilds unimaginable influence over the world, that you've never seen... yeah, I sure miss that. Even if I had the journal here, I'm not sure where I'd read it; there aren't really any parks nearby, let alone natural greenery.

It seems that I have a lot more time to write than I have stuff to write about. I suppose that's just cause I have really an extraordinary amount of time to write.

Posted by tadge at 06:47 PM | Comments (59)

Uplink V3 - Kyoto

Hey dudes. This is uplink v3, live from kyoto.

Well not really. I got back today. Basically I took a "night bus" with some other kids to kyoto. That means you get on the bus in tokyo at like midnight, and then you get to kyoto around 7am.

This, as you can imagine, is pretty awful. From now on I'm going to be taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) or better yet, some kind of two wheeled motorized transport/launcher.

Anyway so kyoto basically consisted of going to maybe 80 temples. I got pretty sick of temples, but everyone else seemed to remain ravenous for the shinto spiritual fufillment afforded by the structures.

The whole time I was kindof wondering, just how much do these japanese folks buy into this stuff anyway? Maybe they bought in to it a lot more back in the day. Cause it doesn't seem like anybody here is religious. But also all the temples are pretty recent -- they keep falling apart or burning down, and they keep rebuilding them, so none of the things we saw were more than a hundred years old or so I think.

Kyoto as a city did seem decidedly more "chill" than tokyo, though. The busses and trains weren't quite as hectic, that kind of thing. Although, to be honest, it was pretty subtle, and if you just dropped me in there, I probably wounldn't be able to tell it from tokyo. Except sometimes you can see the horizon, and there are mountains. There aren't mountains around tokyo... though if there were, you'd still never see them since there is no place where you can see natural horizon, only buildings.

I did look at a bunch of motorcycles in Kyoto. The dude we were staying with was a bike enthusiast, having bought an Aprilia literbike the night before we had arrived. He also had an extensively modified kawasaki 650 vertical twin, which was pretty awesome. We went to a bike shop or two, and there was a lot of stuff that seemed like pretty good deals. Of course, buying a motorcycle in Kyoto is hardly convenient when you live in Tokyo, but then again, I haven't seen deals nearly that good here. So who knows. There was a Suzuki TL-1000S that was particularly attractive at only 37-Man-en. (that's < $3700). The thing was a total beast.

Anyway I got back today at like 8am and slept a bit. I didn't sleep at all on the bus... at first I sat next to some very thin young japanese woman. I was quite pleased, thinking, man, you take up almost no space at all! You rule! However it turns out I was in the wrong row and was moved up to sit next to some big indian guy who took up half my seat most of the time. Another minimal japanese woman then took my former seat.

Anyway, another week at Minami-Urawa begins tomorrow. I usually don't have too much to do at that school, so maybe I'll write a bit more. Though about what, I'm not sure.

Oh and I've been polishing up the uplink code... spiffy, eh? Now just need to get stuff to post photos easily...

Posted by tadge at 12:30 AM | Comments (143)

September 22, 2004

Uplink 2

It is september 22nd. Uplink is running, albiet in a somewhat depreciated mode, but whatever.

Im at school again, and have nothing to do for the afternoon.

I'm going to Kyoto tonight. I'm not really sure why, and I'm not really sure what I'm going to do there, or even where I'm going to stay, but... well, I figured why not. Maybe it will be cool. But really, as though more travel is really going to help at this point ... I'm already about as far away as you can get, I'm not sure further travel is really going to do all that much.

Anyway so I'm doing that.

Also I'm really, really REALLY thirsty. I need to start bringing drinks to school. There are no water fountains here or anything. All there is at lunch is a little thing of milk, which is like kindof lukewarm and whole milk, so... usually I drink it all, but it's a real far cry from gatorade. I wonder if there are any addictive supstances in gatorade. I guess I'm probably not so much physically as psychologically dependant on it. Or I guess you could say I really like it. What other food product can you buy for so many years, so regularly, and yet never tire of it? Bread, maybe. But if I ate bread everyday for a few years I'd be sick of it. Not so with the 'rade.

Anyway. It's still wicked hot here. Like 90 almost. What, I ask, is up with that. It's fall. It's officially fall. But here, it's still summer, pretty much as hot as when I got here. Well, a little less so, but still way too hot for the outdoors to be enjoyable.

That said I went running yesterday and saw a lot of cool stuff, like abandoned construction machinery and old factories and stuff like that.

Oh yeah I guess I went to a "club" this weekend. It was pretty fun actually. It was in "Roppongi", which people say is populated mostly by foreigners, but at the place we went to, it was all japanese dudes.
Yeah other than that I'm not really doing much of anything around here.

Hmm. I think it's starting to rain. That's kindof a problem since I have to leave soon and it's a half hour bike ride or so. There's a bunch of, you know, thunder and stuff like that. All the kids are screaming each time they hear the thunder. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I kindof recall most american kids being prety well over that kind of thing by the time they were in like 8th grade. Well.

... OK I made it back without getting too wet.

Anyway y'all should do that little respond or comment or whatever thing, so that I can see who is reading this thing.

I'm off to kyoto so prolly won't write till sunday.

Posted by tadge at 07:42 PM | Comments (117)

September 21, 2004

Uplink, pre written sept 16th / 17th

Hello and welcome to

This site is basically to keep anyone who might be interested up to date on what I'm up to in japan. I realized that I was basically rewriting the same email many times, so I'm making this site, with some backing from Flimshaw Heavy Industries, LLC. Hopefully as I have time it will include photographs, people can post, etc.

So, this is the first entry. I guess it can be like, the innaugural address

It's september 16th. I've been here for about a month and a half. Seems like quite a while, yet I seem to have gotten little done. It's somewhat frustrating living here, because even some of the simplest things can be almost impossible to get done. Not just because of the language, though that certainly doesn't help. But moving anywhere, into a new (miniscule) apartment, with no car, no friends, no resources, is pretty tough.

I still don't have "real" internet access for example. I can pick up a wireless signal pretty reliably if I stick my antenna out the window. It's slow but it works. Maybe sooner or later I'll get a decent connection.

Furniture is also another tricky thing.

So I came here with the intent of taking lots of photos, and I haven't exactly been doing that just yet. Taken some, but I'm not nearly at the productivity level I should be at given the amount of time I have. And there's time. Work here is somewhat sporradic. Heck, I'm typing this at work right now.

Yeah. I spend a lot of time at a desk. That part is not so interesting. Other times, I'm dealing with these crazy, crazy japanese kids. I'm not sure what their deal is. They seem a lot "younger" than american counterparts. Like I'm teaching kids that are roughly my brothers age, but they still are in to stuff like Pokemon and I dunno, just general kids stuff. And the younger kids... well they're just crazy, they run around screaming and stuff. I'm pretty sure that by 7th or 8th grade in my school, people had chilled out considerably.

So, let's see-- maybe a quick sketch of what exactly is going on in japan.

So I live in "saitama city", which is a fake, new city I guess, cause they 'merged' (although not physically, though that would have been cool) 3 other cities. So really I live in urawa. It's maybe half an hour, or 45 minutes north of tokyo. So I can get into tokyo pretty easily. Which is good.

I live in a pretty tiny apartment. It's definetly smaller than my dorm room last year. But, whatever, it's big enough to live in, and it's cheap. They subsidise our rent, so we end up paying only about $200 a month. Cool. Also they take that directly out of our paycheck, so really it's like we don't pay anything. Er, sortof.

Yeah, the money is pretty good. Get about ... 270,000 yen a month. Stuff is pretty expensive here though so it's not like I'm amassing a giant horde of gold. But I'll try.

There are a bunch of other JET kids here. Mostly girls. Mostly americans, but there's a canadian, kiwi, etc. Actually no etc, that's it. In my building there are 6 girls and one other guy, but I never see the other guy. So the whole situation is a little weird, of course. Unfortunately it seems that though initially we all hung out quite a bit (before our jobs actually started), we now really see each other only in passing or occasionally on the weekends. Which I suppose is fine; maybe it will be motivation for me to somehow go make some muley japanese friends here. Though that might be tough.

So monday through friday (though I don't think I've had an actual full week yet) I bike to work at about 8. It takes around half an hour to get to work, through fairly thick tokyan-traffic. Then I'm at school with all these wacky kids for a while, and eat school lunch (which is sometimes scary, but usually is edible) and then I leave at 4. That's the story.



So, while uplink isn't really... ah, linked up quite yet, I'm still going to write another entry. I have the utmost confidence in Carlos Montoya (or... whoever) 's capabilities in getting this whole web doohicky working. Unfortunately I'm not in a position to administer my own internet servers at this point, seeing as my link to the internet is some transient thing radiating from some unknown house somewhere in my neighborhood.

Wireless is kindof amazing in that way. All this amazing stuff just comes out of nowhere, out of the all pervading ether. I imagine that this must be somewhat like what people felt when first using radios, or maybe later televisions. But wireless is a little different in that I have no idea where, exactly, I'm getting a signal from, and it's irrelevant anyways... I'm just going *through* this dude, since I can connect to him, and he's connected to the rest of the internet.

Of course I need to get my own internet whenver I can.

So today in school I had 4 classes in a row, which was somewhat exhausting. It's a drain on the old voicebox... I have to talk a lot, really slowly and pretty loudly. I had to record a bunch of stuff to, for kids to practice their speeches off of.

One problem is that this place is chipping away at my english. Now I never have been a linguist snob, and I'll say that "Me and Pete went to the store" just as readily as anyone else. But at least I *know* that it's supposed to be "Peter and I", and that "Yeah, this is him" should really be "This is he", and all that kind of thing.

But here I'm starting to say all sorts of wrong stuff. First off some of the english-speaking people I talk to in english have weird accents. The japanese people I speak to in english though have their own weird version of it. The other problem is that written english is all over the place in japan -- signs, TVs, billboards, magazines, everywhere. But it's ALL WRONG. Like, all of it. But I don't even realize this any more. I was in "Freshness Burger" the other day, thinking, you know, this place could do allright for itself in America I'd bet.

But no, right? Isn't "Freshness Burger" a totally weird name for a restaurant? I can't even tell any more. Certainly less weird than, say, "Mos Burger", which is what I'm comparing it to.

Yeah the food here is weird. At first, you think, wow, there sure are a lot of different things, products, etc etc. But, no, it's not really true. They're just all new, so you notice them. If you look at the total number of products availible at your average grocery store in america, it's simply staggering. I mean, everything comes in 50 different flavor variations and sizes.

Like milanos. You can get a pack of Milanos over at a store called "Queen's Setan" down near Kita-Urawa station. It's about twice as much as it'd cost over in the states. But that's all, just milanos. If my memory serves, back home there were... let's see... regular, milk chocolate, double chocolate, mint, orange, rasberry, and then mini- and mini/ mint. I'm absolutely sure I'm missing some there. And everything comes in about 4 different sizes.

Gatorade is prolly the worst example. Here there is one flavor of gatorade. Just... gatorade. It's not really like any flavor back home. It's more opaque, kindof colloidal looking, and has a vaguely grapefruit flavor. It's decent. It's availible in 500ml and 2000ml bottles. Back in the US I don't even want to think about gatorade at this point. There were... lets see, 16oz bottles, 16oz 8 packs, 32oz bottles, 64oz bottles, and the gallon bottles. There were maybe 10 flavors in each, well "genus" I guess, and a few of those, like "ice" (no coloring), "extremo" (some kind of hispanic market targeting?) "frost" (I dunno) and so on.

Here, just one.

That said, there are some things here you just can't get. Onigiri are at all the convenience stores, and those can be really good. Ice cream is cheaper here. Lots of ice cream bars, sandwiches, etc etc, all for well under a buck at palces.

Convenice stores are pretty key here. I pay my bills at them. You get a bill, it's got a bar code, you take it to 7-11, they scan it, take your money.... bill payed. Weird, eh? I guess no one really has checks or cards here, so they just use cash and this is the easiest way to deal with that.

Anyway so the basic idea is that I'm in Japan. Right. I keep wondering, why am I here? Not in some weirdo hippy way, or like soul searching or anything like that. I mean, why have they imported me? Why do they want me here? So I can teach english, sure, sure. But why do they want to learn english? That's what I really keep wondering. Cause they must really want kids to learn english. In August we had our little orientation, which had to have cost at least a few million dollars to run. Kids from the program mobbed two of the biggest hotels in shinjuku for 3 days. And then they pay us. And there are a lot of us too.

The kids themselves... don't seem very interested in learning english. Most of them anyway. But older people are maybe sometimes. And in the subway, and on TV, there are always little tidbits, fact-oids, and so on regarding english phrases, how to say this and that. So it seems like maybe the desire to learn english is a very top-down kind of thing. Someone way up there in the ranks decided that everyone really, really needs to learn english, and they should do all sorts of stuff to make that happen. I guess.

There is an 'english club' at this school though. I'm trying to think of what that would be equivalent to. If you had a 'japanese club' in a middle school in America, I kindof imagine it would either be like a 'japanese kids club', ie, kids who are japanese, or a 'anime/videogames/japansese club'. Which they had at CMU I think.

There are no american / english kids here, so the first is out. It's not quite the mirror image of the second thing though. First off, any nerdy anime club in the US is going to be all guys. Maybe one girl who has a thousand stuffed animals or something. But pretty much guys.

Here, the english club is all girls. They do seem pretty nerdy I guess, but a lot of the kids here seem nerdy. Then again, I haven't really hung out with middle school kids in a while, and I bet if I hung out at an american middle school I'd think a lot of the kids were dorks.

Then again, my brother was in middle school, and he and his friends like, listen to silly rap music and texas hold em with $20 buy ins, and all sorts of stuff like that. So who knows.

Anyway yeah. Yesterday going to the english club was a little sureal. All these 14 year old girls clapped as I arrived, and then they stood up and sang me some songs. In japanese. It was... kindof awkward, looking down at the table as they sang... at first I thought I might look at them while they were singing, but that wasn't going to work. Any girl I happened to be looking in even the most general diretion of would immediately begin giggling, threatening to derail the whole production.

But that was then, this is now. It's friday and work ends in an hour or so. Which would be great, were it not for the fact that I have work tomorrow as well. Ah, another "sports day". Kindof a cross between a track meet, boot camp, pep rally, and year opening ceremony. Mostly boot camp though. There's a lot of music blaring on those outdoor, grey, conical loudspeakeks way up on poles. Military sounding music. Lots of brass & drums and stuff. Then there's this dirty, clay field. The kids are all wearing athletic looking uniforms. They all assemble into rows, there are kids in the front of the rows with flags (though not japanese flags, just random colors) and kids march around, sing etc. Then they race on the clay. They all get tied up, like 20 kids tied together, foot to foot, and then race. I guess the idea is that if one kid falls, they all fall.

Basically when I saw all this last weekend, I just kept thinking, "And you guys *lost* world war two?!?!?!? How did that happen???"

Well, yeah, ok nuclear weapons but still.

So tomorrow is another one of those. I did get some pretty interesting photos at the last one, maybe cause the kids were too busy to pay attention to me, or flash the little V sign or whatever.

I keep saying I should get a film scanner, so that I can post a bunch of this stuff. But I don't know, those things are pretty darned expensive.

Really I need to find a decent darkroom. Preferably for free, and nearby. You really can't beat having a big, full-service, well stocked darkroom in your basement. So if anyone knows a place around tokyo where I can splash some dektol around, let me know.

It's still too hot here. And wicked humid. It seems to be starting to cool down, but I sure hope it hurries up. It's halfway through september. Supposedly it doesn't really snow here which is kindof a drag, but I guess that will be nice when I have a motorcycle.

Oh yeah people drive on the wrong side of the road here too. What's up with that? Also red lights seem to not register in people's heads for a few seconds here. I guess they figure the fist few seconds after it goes red, the light is still pretty close to being yellow, so tearing through the intersection is still OK.

Posted by tadge at 06:02 PM | Comments (296)