Yare Yare ...

It seems that my site looked pretty good ... for about a day.

I'm not exactly sure why, but something happened where the contents of my server was starting to be offloaded to a foreign IP. At the same time, it seems that my MySQL database started going a little corrupt, and I've been trying to fix quite a few of the issues that have popped up over the last little bit. Add to that the issues I'm now having with the weather bar, and it certainly doesn't look to good.

I must admit, I have no idea why this has occurred. I've spent the last two hours putting my network back together, as well as my server. It seems that several things all went at once. To that end, I've beefed up the security on my network, and taken my site off port 80. I don't think this last thing will do very much, really, but everyone has already bookmarked the site using the :88 switch, so why change it?

I'll hope to get the site back to it's previous state in the next few days. Until then, it will run in reduced mode.

What a lovely way to start the week ...

Holy Cow, Batman!

After spending most of the day at my keyboard and writing/modifying/obtaining PHP code, I've managed to get the site looking pretty complete!

The countdown timer is a nice touch. For the moment it will display the number of seconds remaining before my flight to Tokyo is scheduled to take off. I'll probably change that before going to the airport to show how many days until I return. I have no idea what to put after that, as there are no other specific dates that I can think of to use.

The weather bar on the side is also looking pretty good. That bar was the smoothest plugin I could install. Kudos to the development team, as their hardwork has certianly made less work for me. After getting the basics set up, it was just a matter of 1 line of code in my sidebar (aside from the seperate frame, which is a copy/paste job from existing frames).

Another cool feature is the Google Maps plugin. I've included a sample for this post, just to let you know where I'm currently sitting. The plan is to use this while in Japan to give people a better idea of where I am at any given time. For the moment, Google Maps doesn't like the Japanese address system, but perhaps I can hammer out some GPS coordinates or something similar that will work. It seems that everyone I talk to asks where I will be in relation to Tokyo ... but they don't really know where Tokyo is, either.

My image gallery appears to be working, and there is still quite a bit more work that needs to go into that. However, so long as it's functional for the time being, I will be happy. It seems that I'll need to upload pictures in a 4-step process until I can get a faster/better/stronger server. However, once the pictures are uploaded, the current server will work just fine. That said, I'll just stick with the 4-step process.

For a brief period I tried to have a language bar on this site. This would have been a cool little feature as it would have translated my site into eight other languages by referencing the Google Language tools. Unfortunately, I could never make it work, so it was yanked. I might revisit this at some point in the future, but it's not a clear requirement.

The final note is the missing :88 from the end of my site address. I've decided to remove the port 88 reference because this was causing some problems with the Google Maps plugin, as well as the Google language bar. While I might not have the language bar installed anymore, there's still the possibility of adding it in the near future. Aside from that is the ease of finding my site. I highly doubt I'll ever get a real traffic load to my site, but if I do, I'll put some Ad Sense on here to recover the costs of bandwidth :P.

Most people say this site looks professional, now. Only one person recommended a change. Hmm ... perhaps I could put some kind of polling software on here ... this way people could vote whether they like the site design or not. So far, it's taken me several hours to learn PHP and construct it as it is. But that doesn't mean that it couldn't be better.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.

Image Gallery Up!

Alright ... It's only taken me three days to build the image gallery into my site, and another 10 hours to load 80 pictures, and then three hours to work out the scripting error that prevented me from writing this post, but it looks like it's actually working now :D

Of course it's taken so long because I'm still teaching myself PHP and working within the limitations of MySQL 4, but it's all good. Pretty soon, this site should almost look like it was setup by an intermediate user :P There are still about 400 pictures that I would like to post on here, and of course once the pictures are up, I'll need to replace the reduced images with the originals (long story), but all in all, I should have this part of the site done by the end of November.

That's the plan, anyways.

There are still a few more things that I would like to add to this site. A working calendar (since the scripting here will not handle the default calendar setup), a site counter, and even a count-down timer. All of these things are pretty minor, though.

Alright, I'm way too tired to see straight ... so I'm going to bed.

Lest We Forget ...

Today is Rememberance Day in Canada (Veteran's Day in the US), and we're asked to remember all the people that have fought and died in the many wars our country has taken part in. In British Colombia, November 11th is considered a holiday, while in other parts of Canada it is just another day.

I have never been in the military. Few of my family have actually served, or even gone to war. All of my grandfathers were in the second world war, and fortunately, all survived to tell about it.

For most of the year, people go about their business and completely forget how often our way of life has been challenged by those with designs to take over the world, or just a little corner of it. We have become very spoiled with the lack of insurgency and the relative peace on our side of the planet. Today there are millions going about their business, never once stopping to think of those who give their lives to preserve what we've taken for granted. Sales at retailers and the start of Christmas shopping for many will keep their minds occupied.

The phrase "Lest we Forget" is often invoked on this day, and I think it truly suits the purpose of Rememberance Day. History has taught us that those who do not learn from the past are likely doomed to repeat it. If we forget about what we've fought for, we might forget why we fight.

I hope that I never have to take part in armed combat.

I hope my children never have to take part in armed combat.

When diplomacy fails, violence is sometimes the only resort. Let's just hope the next great battles that ask us all to rise up will be for something greater than in the past... lest we forget.

I Hope My PDA Can Go 12 Hours Without a Recharge

I don't know why I didn't do this sooner, but I just checked out where I will be sitting during my flight to Japan and back this coming Winter.

I have not flown very often, but luckily I have had the window seat each and every time. I enjoy looking out the window (before the plane gets above the clouds) and seeing the world below. This bird's-eye view gives me great appreciation of both nature, and the ingenuity of the human race. I can see well planned cities, and not-so-well planned cities. I can see the rivers and streams flow through lush greens, golf courses and even suburban residences. I can see the small cars travelling here and there as people go about their business.

Of course, this is just my excuse for not saying things like "I get claustiphobic when I'm stuck between a bunch of strangers in a tight space for hours and hours and I want to look outside to get at least a partial sense of space and freedom."

During my flight to Tokyo from Vancouver, I will not be sitting beside a window. Instead, I'll be sitting in the centre row of seats. Luckily I'll be on the outside, so I can assume that this means I'll be flying next to a married couple with one child. Hopefully that child knows how to relieve the stresses of cabin pressure.

On my last overseas flight, there were several children under two years of age that didn't know how to handle the cabin pressure. Unfortunately, the pressure would fluctuate quite often for some reason as well. The pressure changes alone gave me a terrible headache 30 minutes into the 10 hour flight, but the crying children only added to it. Even though I could listen to some music in order to escape the echoing cries, I could not drown it out completely.

My flight back will be a little better, because I'll have a window seat. I'll also be on one of the nice Boeing 767's as I fly back from Osaka. One little hitch will be that my seat cannot recline. I'll be right ahead of the rear cabin door. While this means I'll have a great unobstructed view of the ground (because I'll be ahead of the wing), and I'll be right beside the washrooms should nature decide to call, but I will not be able to get much of a comfortable sleep.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain.

I was able to obtain these flights pretty late into the season, and they were at a pretty decent price ($1430 return). Had I bought the tickets sooner, I could have saved a few hundred and maybe been able to request better seats. But even though I might not have the most comfortable flights, I'll get to spend two weeks with my Reiko-chan. That alone will make the 21 flight hours seem like nothing.

That said, I'll still bring my PDA and about 2 Gig of music with my trusty headphones just incase. Who knows ... maybe I'll meet someone really interesting on these flights and make some new friends, or find some opportunities for work in Japan.

Image Gallery

In preparation of my upcoming trip, I've been examining digital cameras to see which one would be the best to capture all those unique moments. I've been looking for months, really.

When it comes to capturing a memory on film (or in a computer), can you have too much quality?

For the last few months I've examined dozens of cameras made by Sony, Canon, Panasonic, HP and Fuji to see which would be the best option for me. I'll admit that I do not want to have a film camera, as development costs are not something I would look forward to, and I would really much rather have the freedom to capture a thousand pictures and then have just the ones I want developed and put on paper.

I'll also admit that I will not settle for anything less than 6.0 MegaPixels.

When I first went to Japan in April, and when Reiko came to Canada in August, I had borrowed a friend's 3.2 MP camera. This was okay for some shots, but it was an older unit. This meant that some pictures would be out of focus or in the wrong color spectrum depending on the lighting, the shake of my hand, or the speed of the object (very few of my shots from the Nagoya Aquarium turned out really well). Add to this the fact that I'm looking for something that I can use for several years to capture all those moments when I go somewhere nice or spend time with the special few people in my life, and I'm forced to wonder if "buying" is even the right option for me.

One of the things I've seen many people do (and get away with) is the "return". This idea makes very effective use of a department store's policy to accept returns on things within a certain time frame. One option that I've been considering is to buy a really nice Canon 7.1 MP (or better) camera before going to Japan, and then return it right after I return. So long as I keep the unit in great shape, this shouldn't be a problem. This option would also give the the ability to "borrow" a better camera this spring when I visit my family in Ontario with Reiko. Of course, I could do the very same thing again when I travel to Japan or Reiko comes to Canada at a later date.

Using this policy to my advantage, I could always have a great camera at my disposal with ever-improving picture qualities and ever-larger pixel resolutions. I've met people that do this very thing with almost every piece of technology they own so that they are able to have the latest and greatest cell phones and notebook computers, so I should be able to do the same thing with a camera ... right?

Unfortunately, every time I've ever tried to return something to a store, I've been turned away for some reason. The best I've ever managed was a partial store credit on a PDA. I also have this notion that exploiting this policy is morally wrong, so my conscience warns me against it.

Sure, I wouldn't have the camera for more than 3 weeks. Sure, I probably wouldn't even have more than two thousand pictures taken. Sure, I would make certain that I didn't get any scratches or damages on the device to ensure a smooth return transaction. But even with all this, I would feel as though I was cheating the system for my own personal gain. This is a practice that I've never endorsed or successfully accomplished.

Then again, perhaps that explains a few things...

I'll definately be going to Japan with a camera. There are just way too many memories that will be made, and I want to have something to show everyone that can't come with me. I'm sure I could borrow the same camera I had used before, but I want something more. I want a device that will give me bigger and brighter images. I'll be in another country with my Reiko-chan ... why would I want to settle for less?

So I guess that means the only question that remains is: which is the right camera?

Benkyo! Benkyo! Benkyo!!

It seems that my trip to Japan will be quite interesting this time around, and I should really study the language better.

The route has been confirmed as follows:

  1. Fly from Vancouver to Narita (Tokyo, Japan)

  2. Somehow find the JR Train Station and the train I'm supposed to get on to Gifu

  3. Find Reiko at Gifu Station

And then on the way back:

  1. Make the trip from Nagoya to Osaka without Reiko

  2. Find the right place to catch my plane

  3. Fly from Osaka (Kansai) to Vancouver

    It should be interesting.... One of the nice things is the time I need to be in Osaka. Luckily, my plane will depart at 5:55 pm. This means I need to be at the airport no later than 3:00 pm. This will give me the required time to "get lost" and completely make a fool of myself as I try to find my way to the airport :P

    Of course, it shouldn't be too bad. The first time I flew to Japan, I had to take the train from Nagoya to Gifu following a set of instructions from Reiko. She did a pretty good job of putting everything together, and once I got to Japan and started using them, it made sense. I'm sure I'll be able to get instructions that are just as clear as before.

    By taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Toyko to Gifu, I'll get to see quite a bit of the country, too. In April, it was already dark by the time I got on the train from Nagoya to Gifu so, there was no way to take decent pictures of the countryside. This time, I'll be landing in Tokyo at 3:20 pm, so I should get a few hours of sunlight before I can't take pictures from the train without excessive reflection from the glass. I can't wait!

    I've wanted to see Japan in the winter for the last 10 years. In all the movies, dramas and anime's I've seen, it's always looked so peaceful and serene. It shouldn't be too cold where I'm going ... but one day I would really like to visit Hokkaido during the Christmas break. It's supposed to be really cold up there, and it would be great to see many of the less-Americanized places in Japan.

    Before meeting Reiko, I found it hard to believe that people would fly to other parts of the world more than once every few years. The costs always seemed to be very limiting. But now I can see what the attraction is, and why so many do it whenever they can. Seeing the beauty of nature around the planet, and the amazing cultures everywhere is what makes distance vacations so enjoyable. We can learn so much more in person than we can with any documentary ... no matter how good the narrator and script is.

    I'll make sure a photo gallery is running on my site before I go. This trip I'm aiming for at least 1000 pictures. I still need to get the Canon camera I want ... but it shouldn't be too much of a hassle.

    Of course I should really learn some more Japanese so that I can get around better...

Overstated Requirements

Computer technology is an amazing thing. Moore's Law continues to be true, despite the incredible complexities involved, and the applications people use daily are becoming more and more powerful to take advantage of this power.

It's no secret that I've wanted to upgrade my notebook since the release of Intel's Core processors in March of this year. The new architecture would resolve some of the bottleneck problems that I've faced when working with really large records at work, and it would make my favourite applications at home run faster, too. Of course the other benefits of upgrading, such as a more powerful video card, would be an added bonus.

For the last few months I've been looking forward to a new game called Need For Speed: Carbon. This game has minimum system requirements that practically match my current computer. This made me wonder whether it was time to upgrade the notebook. I would not be upgrading my computer only to play a game, though. The upgrade would have been used to get around much of the sluggishness and stagnation my PC has faced since it was introduced three years ago.

Windows XP has become a pig on resources with the release of SP2 and the quarter-million updates since. The programs I've been writing at work have become more complicated and involved, requiring more processing power and time to work through the incredible number of records. And my video needs at work have increased as I have a new LCD that is being under-used due to the limitations on my notebook's video card.

But this was before I started using an application called CleverCache by O&O software. This has got to be the best caching program ever written. Less than an hour after installing the program, my notebook was noticably more responsive. The last time it felt this responsive was when I first took posession of the device in January of 2005.

I managed to obtain Need for Speed:Carbon last week and it plays considerably well. I had worried that perhaps the game would lag, or not install whatsoever. This is not the case.

This has given my notebook a new lease on life. I can most likely continue to use this machine until January of 2008, which is when I plan on replacing it. By that time, it will be 4 years old (according to the date stamped on the motherboard), and would have served me exceptionally well in the time I've had it. I've got to give HP credit ... they know how to build a notebook PC.

I've saved more money over my computing career with their hardware than with any other vendor, and with O&O, this hardware has a new lease on life.

Three Weeks!

Where does the time go?

It seems like only a week ago that my countdown showed 38 days, but now it's rolling under 21. As my trip to Japan edges ever closer I'm beginning to wonder whether I'll have everything ready in time. For the moment I still need to get a few little things, like a new suitcase that won't bust open during airport baggage handling and some stocking stuffers for Reiko-chan. I still haven't found the perfect gift for Reiko's family and, of course, I'll need to get some money converted to Japanese Yen, too.

Last time I went to Japan, I was there for 9 days and managed to spend less than $900. This time I'll be in Japan for 13 days and can only bring about the same. There will be some extra expenses this time, too. The trip from Narita Airport in Tokyo to the train station in Gifu will be about $100. And then the train from Nagoya to Osaka when I return will be about $50. Will nine hundred be enough?

Accessing my Canadian money is not very easy when I'm in Japan. Last May I was forced to draw money from my MasterCard when running low on cash, and this could only be done at a Post Office during regular business hours (not all ATM's operate 24 hours a day, there). I'll admit that the exchange rate during these transactions was much better than expected, but I really don't want to resort to this unless necessary.

So there's the question ... just how much should I bring in cash?

One Man's Trash ...

Today I witnessed the time honored tradition of a father teaching his son some important life skills. Often times this can range anything from using hand tools, to barbecuing, to shaving. Today's lesson was quite a bit different, though.

While waiting at the laundromat, I happened to see a father show his son howto effectively "dumpster dive". For those that have never heard the term, Dumpster Diving is the art of going through a garbage bin in search of usable goods, sometimes food.

Today's lesson seemed to focus on recyclable metals such as aluminum and copper.

Witnessing homeless or poverty-stricken individuals going through garbageis hardly new to me. In Vancouver, the cost of living is ridiculously higher than in other parts of Canada. Because of this, and the difficulty in finding well paying jobs, many people find it necessary to root through the refuse of others in search of something that can be exchanged for money at the local recycling center, or the things they cannot afford.

Most large cities around the world have a problem with homelessness and those living below the poverty line. At rallies here in BC, many of the participants (mostly students who should be studying, rather than pissing away their parents' money) seem to think that raising the minimum working wage from $8 to $12 will solve the problem. Unfortunately, this would only make it worse.

Wages have to come from somewhere. Nobody should think that increasing wages by such a large amount wouldn't have dire consequences elsewhere. The cost of food would rise as employees at processing plants and grocery stores get the increased rate. Gas prices would rise as attendants would have higher wages. Department stores would have to recoup their costs, also. Every sector would be affected by this change, and it would only make the high costs we deal with that much higher.

At 90% of all businesses, payroll is the highest monthly cost. Many small and medium sized businesses would be forced to either close down because they could no longer compete, or they would need to lay off 40% of their staff just to afford the other 60%. And that's assuming it's even a viable option.

Then comes the problem with the wages for skilled people who earn less than $12 an hour now. Will they be happy earning the same as someone at McDonald's? Probably not.

The lessons that child learned today with his father will likely have a lasting impact on his life. He'll be able to tell the difference between usable and unusable refuse with a very quick glance. People throw away useful materials all the time without any idea of their true value. It's up to people who are desperate enough to sort through the trash to keep these useful materials out of our landfills.

One of the most positive things I witnessed about this lesson today was that the father never once said anything bad about another person, or group of people. Often times, people who are very poor or homeless blame others for their condition. In BC, most of the homeless people I overhear will complain about Asians, and how they ruined everything by bringing their money when immigrating. In Ontario, I would hear people blame Italians and black-skinned people. There was not one racial or ethnic slur uttered in the 10 minutes I witnessed.

I really hope that child can do more in their life than root through garbage. If they're taught that where we come from or what we look like does not warrant our futures or our enemies, then he could do just fine.

Giving money to those who need it most will not solve their problems. Changing the core concepts of society and dependency will.

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