Our new washer/dryer

I’m well aware that there can’t possibly be anyone besides my wife and me who gives a rat’s ass, but here’s the story anyway.

About 6 or 7 years ago we were in the market for a new washer and dryer. Back then I had a better paying job and money to burn, so I let my wife choose any model she wanted. (Plus, it was her birthday present. How romantic.) With the monthly salary I was receiving back then, it was easy to be generous. She had her heart set on a combination washer/dryer that went for 80,000 yen, so I bought it for her with nary a whimper. It was an exceedingly kind and selfless act on my part. I wanted a separate washer and dryer, and the man in me wanted to put up a fight about it, since if one of them broke we’d still be able to use the other instead of having to replace a single, very expensive dual purpose unit.

Flash forward 2-3 years and the dryer stopped working. Since then we’ve been air drying all our laundry. I never complained, and the words “I told you so” never crossed my mouth.

Last week, the washer kicked the bucket. Somehow my wife found out–maybe on the Internet?– that Sanyo was admitting a defect in our model and was offering to repair it for free. The repair guy came to our house, did something, left, but it broke again immediately. The second time he visited he told us the motor was shot and we’d be receiving a replacement completely free of charge.

Let me emphasize that last point. Without any hassle at all they offered to replace our old and broken 80,000 yen washer/dryer that had only a one year warranty with a brand spankin’ new 110,000 yen model chocked with the latest technology for holy frikkin’ completely free, AND they hauled away the old one free of charge. Keep in mind that there’s no way I could have afforded to buy a new one, let alone pay to get the old one fixed, and as luck would have it, it turns out we’re given a better model than the original on Sanyo’s dime. Right now, I could not be happier. Normally I hate doing laundry, but I’ve already gone through two loads tonight. If I didn’t have to work tomorrow I’d stay up all night tossing load after load of my entire wardrobe into the machine.

I must say, the next time I buy a home appliance, I will definitely give whatever the Sanyo version is of said appliance some very serious consideration. I owe them a big one.

Holiday Photos

This week is Golden Week, when a slew of national holidays fall within days of each other and the entire country takes off work en masse. Unfortunately, this year next Saturday and Sunday are two of the four holidays, so the only days I have off are yesterday and next Monday. It’s better than nothing, so I’m not complaining.

Yesterday was a beautiful day and Tony, Andy and I were home. There was no way I was going to let the kids stay inside playing video games (Tony: Monster Hunter for the PSP; Andy: Animal Crossing, Super Mario Brothers, Yoshi’s Island, and Bimoji Training on the DS), so I dragged them kicking and screaming to the local park to play catch and wade barefoot in the little man made stream.

There’s nothing like the smile on Tony’s face when we play catch. I need to put more effort into playing outside with him. It sure beats the zombie-like expression he has on his face when he’s under the hypnotic spell of his PSP, and the guilt I feel for letting him zone out like that for far too long. Andy, like me when I was his age, can’t catch a ball to save his life so he either watches from the sidelines or goes off to do his own thing. It doesn’t bother me in the least that Andy isn’t athletic. He likes to make up his own games and enjoys playing with other kids, as long as whatever they’re doing doesn’t involve ball catching.

While they played together, I foraged through the park for things to take pictures of with my new camera. There aren’t too many flowers in the park this time of year, but I did find a few bushes with bees buzzing about. Up a path through the wooded hills in the middle of the park there’s a restored 17th century house called the “Old Nakayama Family Residence,” designated as a cultural treasure by the Ibaraki Prefectural government. I won’t go into details about its history. Basically, it’s a big, old house that people come to see and there’s some old stuff inside it from that era. I waited with my camera on a tripod for about half an hour for a chance to take an HDR shot with nobody getting in the way.

Before heading home, we stopped off at the little restaurant on the park grounds for some overpriced eats. $1200 yen for two soft ice cream cones and three bottled drinks. My fault for not being able to deny my kids their right to ice cream on a spring day. What a racket they’ve got going there.

We went home and I made the boys a late lunch of their favorite spaghetti (Prego sauce out of an industrial sized jar bought at Costco). Tony, when you put food in front of him, has to be reminded a hundred times to shut up and eat. Man, that kid is skinny. Afterwards I fell asleep until 11pm, then stayed up till 3am messing around with Photoshop and uploading photos to Flickr. The end.

In other news, our washer/dryer is broken and laundry is piling up, but the good thing is Sanyo recently announced a defect in that model so we’re getting it fixed replaced for free. As a homeowner, it feels a bit like winning the lotto.

Weekend Photos

On Saturday while the boys were taking swimming lessons I spent around 45 minutes walking around the neighborhood in search of stuff to shoot with my new camera and lens. It’s been so long since I’ve used anything other than a point-and-shoot camera that my eye for photos is not what it used to be. I HDR’d the best shot:

On Sunday Tony and Andy’s elementary school held classes and invited parents to come and watch the last class of the day being conducted. I brought the camera, figuring ya’ll might like to see what a schoolroom looks like.

360 degree panoramic photography

When QTVR came out in the mid 90’s I was really into it. I took many cylindrical panoramas in my free time and also for clients of the web development company I worked for at the time. The technology has changed only a little since then, but the big advancement is that it’s now possible to see not only 360 degrees horizontally, but also vertically as well. I want to acquire the equipment, software and know-how to take panoramas like this one, and hopefully use it at work too.

Here’s the information I’ve collected so far:

  • Best lenses: Sigma 8mm or Penleg 8mm if I can find it in Japan. Another low-budget choice is the Fisheye MC Zenitar-M 16mm f/2.8 Lens made in Russia.
  • Panorama tripod mount: I already ordered a Panosarus. It’s the least expensive model I could find that lets you do multi-row panoramic shots, meaning you tilt the camera up to take one series of shots all the way around, then tilt it down to take another, then stitch them all together into a single full 360 degree spherical scene.
  • Panorama stitching software: For free there’s Panorama Tools, then PTAssembler for $40, or what’s considered the best out there, PTGui, which is $130 for the regular version or $245 for the pro version. The latter two are GUIs built on top of Panorama Tools. Another way to go is the combination of Hugin and Emblend, both open source.
  • Viewers: There are a number of ways to go: Java, Quicktime, Shockwave, proprietary browser plugin or Flash. Obviously, these days Flash is the best choice, and the most popular Flash viewer is the Flash Panorama Player, which costs $70 for a site license, but there are many interesting free or open source plugins available for it. Another group has developed an open source version recently, and I might look into that one instead.

Flickr user Simon S. has a set of equirectangular photos from Japan with a link to the interactive viewer under each photo.

The reason why I want to get into panoramic photography is because it’s getting harder for me to bare my soul in public through podcasts and videos. If I were independently wealthy, I could talk about whatever I want and not worry about what people think, but I’m not and I can’t. But still, I want to act as peoples’ window into the real Japan, and show you places you might not see even if you were to take a trip here. I’m also hoping I’ll be able to use the technology at work to show off schools’ facilities on the new version of the Global Daigaku website. Our current site is really showing its age.

First Pics!

With the money I just received from my parents for last Christmas (we’re a pretty laid back bunch), I bought a Canon EOS Kiss Digital X camera, also known in other countries as the EOS Digital Rebel XTi or the EOS 400D. It’s the most popular model among users of Flickr.com, so choosing it over all the other cameras on the market was a no-brainer. Also, I already own a set of autofocus lenses from my 20 year old 35mm EOS, so upgrading to digital wasn’t too expensive. For over ten years I’ve been looking forward to the day I finally own a digital SLR that takes pictures equal in quality to 35mm film.

Here are the first pics from the new camera. (Click thumbnails to enlarge.) This is how my family spends every night at home before bedtime.

Bimoji Training for Nintendo DS

Finally a new “game” has come out for the Nintendo DS that will make me start using it again. Last night I was surfing the Nintendo channel of our Wii while putting off going to bed and came across an advertisement for 美文字トレーニング, a program that helps you improve your handwriting in Japanese. I downloaded the trial version from our Wii to my DS and was instantly hooked.

Penmanship means a lot to Japanese. From kindergarten through high school, children spend countless hours in class learning and practicing how to write properly, and even as adults people still take courses in penmanship and calligraphy. Although I’m not Japanese and never will be, I still compare myself to those around me, and everyone–including my kids–have better handwriting than I do, and it bugs me. Every time I have to put pen to paper, I’m ashamed of my chicken scratch that looks like that of a four year old stroke victim with cerebral palsy.

Here’s how it works. The program shows you a character on one of the DS’s two screens and prompts you to trace it on the other screen in the correct stroke order. When you’re done it gives you grades for balance, detail and stroke width along with praise or advice on how to improve, just like a calligraphy instructor. It covers 3,119 characters including kanji, hiragana and katakana and up to six people can keep track of their progress on one DS.

For 3,800 yen it seems well worth the price and I’m going to stop off and buy it on the way home tonight.

Japanese Only

A link to this video showed up on BoingBoing today. In the 18 years I’ve lived here, the only establishment I’ve seen that refused foreigners and wasn’t a shady pub or run-down love hotel in a neighborhood full of foreign prostitutes or massage parlor-type place was a pachinko parlor on the outskirts of my hometown. Anyone who thinks that normal places in Japan–restaurants, hotels, public baths, shops, whatever–are in the habit of prohibiting foreigners from entering is mistaken. Since I don’t try to go into sleazy bars and such I’ve never, not even once, been refused service anywhere. The fact that there are a few businesses out there run by organized crime syndicates that don’t want my money doesn’t bother me in the least.