Sunday, November 26, 2006

"I Am My Own Rival"

Yokozuna Asashoryu finished off the year with a 15-0 zensho yusho (all-wins championship) in the Kyushu basho (tournament). He sewed up the trophies yesterday, so the only question today was whether he would get his fifth perfect record or not. He was up against Chiyotaikai an ozeki with a solid tournament going. (Not sure what the heck I'm talking about? Click the links, should be obvious.) Chiyo blasted out of the tachiai, had Asa back on his heels and reeling, and stuck his elbow in Asa's throat and starting pushing. Asa slid all the way back to the bales at the edge of the ring, teetered there... and for some inexplicable reason, Chiyo pulled his elbow out of Asa's neck and tried to wrap his arm around Asa's shoulders. That was all the opening Asa needed. He slipped under Chiyo's arm, came around the side, and picked Chiyo up and put him down outside the ring. Chiyo, at 160kg (350 pounds), is probably intermediate weight for a sumo wrestler, but picking up a guy that size who doesn't want to be picked up is quite a trick.

Asashoryu is the perfect sumo wrestler. If I could pick one adjective to describe him, it would be "fierce". He hates to lose, concentrates incredibly well, is never intimidated, and goes all out, every match. He has technique, he has strength -- his shoulders and legs are incredible. He has unreasonable amounts of speed for a guy 148kg -- lose contact with him for a fraction of a second, and he's around your side, and it's all over. But above all, he has that fierce will to win.

He said yesterday, after his win guaranteed him the Emperor's Cup, "I am my own rival." Some say he does so well because he has no competition; the ozeki are all bumblers, over the hill, or injured most of the time. I say Asa is just plain better than they are. I've watched Konishiki, Takanohana, Wakanohana, Musashimaru, and Akebono many times, and while it would be entertaining to watch Asa go up against one of them in his prime, my money right now is on Asa as the best wrestler of the last fifteen years. Koni-chan and Maru had that immovable bulk (and Maru a fierceness of his own), Taka that beautiful technique, Ake that long, long leverage -- but I'll take Asa. His strength is a clear step above Taka, who is perhaps next on the list, and I think his technique is as good (that page above lists nineteen techniques used in his last six tournaments (67 wins) -- great versatility, since the ozeki run nine to fifteen, albeit for smaller win totals). Both know how to win the big matches; Taka perhaps had more of them that Asa has had so far, but I think Asa is his equal in ability to win them.

In 2005, Asa's record was 84-6, and he won all six tournaments. In my opinion, he was sportsman of the year for the entire planet. 2006 has not gone quite as well due to an injury mid-year, but when healthy (as he usually is -- nothing seems to nag at him) he has no rivals. Except, of course, himself.

Beautifying Kyoto

Today's Daily Yomiuri contains evidence of the visual blight of Japan that Alex Kerr talks about in his fantastic book Dogs and Demons. A front page article says that Kyoto will ban flashing neon signs atop buildings, starting next year and going into effect over the next six years. Kerr has watched the decay of Kyoto's beauty since the 1960s, and must be saying that this move is far overdue. The city should, by all rights, be a charming, quiet place, good for strolling narrow streets with old houses and traditional restaurants. Instead, except for the neighborhoods of Pontocho and the Philosopher's Walk, most of it is rather garish, especially at night, combined with some world-class ugly buildings. The Japan advertising association naturally says it's not the only ones to blame, as if that's a good enough reason not to fix one of the worst problems. Kyoto will also lower the maximum allowable height of new buildings, especially around Kyoto's world heritage sites.

Then, on page 3 of the DY, there is a picture of the proposed New Tokyo Tower, to be the world's tallest transmission tower when it is finished in 2011. Designed by Tadao Ando (arguably Japan's best and most famous architect, and deservedly so -- he does some beautiful things with curved concrete that work wonderfully in their environment, rather than simply destroying it) and sculptor Kiichi Sumikawa. The tower will be triangular at the bottom, round at the top. Personally, I'm not sure it's needed.

Friday, November 24, 2006

IIJ "Improves" Their Service

IIJ, Internet Initiative Japan, is one of the oldest and most respected ISPs in the country. I've never used anyone else. But the day before yesterday, they implemented an "improvement" to their network that has me looking for another ISP.

With no prior announcement that I saw, they started blocking outbound SMTP. This means that, all of a sudden, I can't send email from my house, except by using some web-based mail system such as Gmail.

I use three different email accounts that I need outbound SMTP access for. I called their service line, and the woman I talked to suggested that I get them to open up SMTP on another port. Ugh. Like that would solve anything, even if I could get them to do it.

I threatened to cancel my service, and she said that any other ISP I can find will likely either already have port 25 blocked, or be doing so in the near future. It's an anti-spam measure recommended by the Japan Email Anti-Abuse Group (JEAG).

I haven't been this angry about some utility in a long time...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I'm watching a news press briefing right now about the tsunami. It was triggered by an 8.1 earthquake several hundred km northeast of the northeastern tip of Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four major islands of Japan.

The earthquake was felt only mildly in Hokkaido and not at all in Tokyo; I wouldn't even have known about it except that I happened to check a news website before going to bed.

The threat is quite serious, and is being treated so, but at this particular moment the only reports of activity are in the 20-40cm range. That's big enough to create serious water coming onshore; they said that the height can be amplified two to ten times that when it hits land, depending on conditions.

All of the TV stations except the shopping channels (which probably run only canned material) have a map of Japan with flashing coastline covering most of Hokkaido and the eastern coast of Honshu all the way down from Tohoku, past Chiba and Tokyo down to about Nagoya. But they are saying that the size and threat are smaller down here.

We live high enough and far enough inland that we're in no danger, and neither are our friends, but there are plenty of people close enough to the coast to worry about.

The predicted time of the earliest arrival has come and gone for the northern part of the country with no major waves reported, but we're not out of the woods yet...

Someone (the head?) of the meteorological agency is giving a briefing at this moment...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

IPW2200 on FC6

Sorry, I still haven't written up my full notes on getting Fedora Core 6 running on my Sony Vaio Type T laptop, but one tidbit:

Sometimes when I boot, the initialization of the IPW2200 builtin WLAN interface doesn't happen properly. This symptom is this:

[rdv@localhost ~]$ iwconfig
lo no wireless extensions.

__tmp1804289383 IEEE 802.11g ESSID:"xxxx"
Mode:Managed Frequency:2.462 GHz Access Point: 00:07:40:xx:xx:xx
Bit Rate:54 Mb/s Tx-Power=20 dBm Sensitivity=8/0
Retry limit:7 RTS thr:off Fragment thr:off
Power Management:off
Link Quality=62/100 Signal level=-63 dBm Noise level=-85 dBm
Rx invalid nwid:0 Rx invalid crypt:0 Rx invalid frag:0
Tx excessive retries:0 Invalid misc:482 Missed beacon:20

eth0 no wireless extensions.

sit0 no wireless extensions.

and networking fails to work. This condition sometimes persists over reboots, it seems, though as far as I can tell it's just a random phenomenon, so I don't know why it would persist.

The solution is:

[root@localhost rdv]# rmmod ipw2200
[root@localhost rdv]# modprobe !$
modprobe ipw2200
[root@localhost rdv]# iwconfig
lo no wireless extensions.

eth0 no wireless extensions.

sit0 no wireless extensions.

eth1 IEEE 802.11g ESSID:"xxxx"
Mode:Managed Frequency:2.462 GHz Access Point: 00:07:40:xx:xx:xx
Bit Rate:54 Mb/s Tx-Power=20 dBm Sensitivity=8/0
Retry limit:7 RTS thr:off Fragment thr:off
Encryption key:off
Power Management:off
Link Quality=67/100 Signal level=-60 dBm Noise level=-86 dBm
Rx invalid nwid:0 Rx invalid crypt:0 Rx invalid frag:0
Tx excessive retries:0 Invalid misc:0 Missed beacon:10

Hope this helps somebody; meantime, if any of you know why it's happening and how to stop it from happening, let me know.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hello, Dali

I had the day off yesterday, and went to the Ueno Go Club (first time) and the Salvador Dali Centennial Exhibition at the Ueno Mori Museum. The exhibit is well worth seeing, something like a hundred of his works, starting from his teens and going into the 1980s. I was surprised to see some Cubist works (in both form and palette) in his early period. If this exhibition is any judge, surrealism sprang from his head full-blown in about 1927; I didn't see anything I'd consider a "transitional" work.

The logistics aren't perfect. His pencil sketches are dimly lit, presumably to protect the paper, but that makes them difficult to appreciate. And he painted a couple of stereo pairs which are very large; it's impossible to get far enough away from them to cross your eyes and see the stereo effect without a crowd gathering between you and the paintings.

Speaking of which, though it was a Wednesday afternoon, the museum was crowded. Go early.

The catalog appears to be only in Japanese, though the works were all titled in both English and Japanese. Some of the quotes on the wall were in English, some in Spanish, all translated into Japanese. But for paintings, at least, an English explanation is optional; we recently went to see the exhibit of Chinese terra-cotta warriors at the Tokyo-Edo Museum, and that also had no English, which would definitely leave you lost if you couldn't read Japanese. "What the heck is that? When was it made?" Those are important questions for historical artifacts.

Anyway, Dali is there until Jan. 4. Don't wait!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fedora Core 6 on a Sony VAIO Type T Laptop

One of the most popular entries on my blog right now is the one on getting cpuspeed working right on a Linux laptop. I am almost done with my upgrade to Fedora Core 6 (FC6), and it was significantly painful. I'll give you the gory details in a few days (assuming I get around to it), but for the moment you probably need to know this: anaconda (the Fedora installer) sometimes installs the wrong kernel. My eventual solution involved installing the .src.rpm for the kernel and recompiling to get the p4-clockmod module to regulate CPU speed properly, but just as I was getting that process really under way a friend pointed out a note on which leads to the bug description.

I had considered removing the running kernel from my machine and installing (or just forcing) the right package off of the DVD, but worried that it had the potential to trash my machine, so I elected to do a kernel rebuild instead (always good practice, anyway). However, others are reporting that the remove and install works for them.

I also took the opportunity to do things like specify that the console resolution is 1280x768 on my machine, but AFAICT, that had no effect.

More later, but this may help somebody right away...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Zen 747

I look at this in a different light after reading Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons, but it's still one of the cool things about living in Japan, running into unexpected things tucked into corners, like a zen rock garden on the roof of an internal structure in the terminal at Narita Airport.

Caltech's 100 CS Questions

Caltech, like most U.S. universities, has a qualifying exam that you must pass during your Ph.D. studies, generally around the time you finish classes and begin serious research. At Caltech, it's an oral exam, and the examiners can ask you anything. Adam posted the 100 key questions from 1998. They cover graphics; numerical analysis; continuous math; theory; algorithms; predicate calculus, program semantics and complexity; concurrent systems; hardware; databases and directories; and programming languages.

And, as Adam says, "The candidate should be able to leap tall buildings, outrun speeding bullets and be able not only to forsee [sic] the future, but control it."

The list very definitely represents the interests of the faculty. If you're not interested in one of those topics, you shouldn't be at Caltech; it's still a small, eclectic place (which, IMHO, is to its benefit). There are a couple of questions on the Internet, and some of the basics of operating systems are incorporated into concurrent systems, but there's very little that's directly related to the last twenty years of my life: the words virtual, disk, storage, memory, cache, file, mobile, and even architecture appear nowhere in the list (though some of them could plausibly appear in the answers to some questions).

The list is intimidating, but you have about two years to prepare for the exam, and much of that two years will be spent in classes that will answer most of those questions. In preparing for the test, you've probably already covered half the material or more, so an hour for each of those questions should be plenty of review; the other half you probably need a half a day to a day in the library for each question. Total, 2-3 months of hard prep work for your quals seems like a reasonable expectation.

This is roughly the era my pal Eve Schooler, who was a student of Mani Chandy's, was probably taking her quals. I should ask her how much of an ordeal it was...