NaNoWriMo 2014



It has been three years since my first (and last) attempt at National Novel Writing Month in 2011, and though I enjoyed it, and was successful, I just didn’t get to do it in either 2012 or 2013.  However,  that was then, and this is now, and I’m ready to do it again. I even have a story in mind, and potentially,  just potentially, a title. I’m terrible at coming up with story titles. Also, I use too many commas.

If you have no idea what NaNoWriMo is, check out their FAQ, and by all means give it a try – it doesn’t start till November 1st., so there still the option to create an account.

This year again, I’ll be using Scrivener (also a sponsor of the event) but this time, it’ll be mostly written on my GNU Linux based laptop in the beta version of Scrivener.




Bike Trip to Manazuru

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been out on my bike for a run, rather than just running errands, and in fact, the last time, I just did old faithful – the Izu Skyline. This time I decided to blend the old and the new, so I took my favourite ocean-side route 134 down towards Odawara, and then go up the Hakone Turnpike. It used to be called the Toyo Tires Turnpike, but now it’s the Mazda Turnpike. At the lower entrance they basically changed one cheap sign for another. At the top, they’ve renamed the cafe area to the Mazda Skylounge, though aside from that, it’s business as usual – and there’s nothing wrong with that – a good chance to see people who love to get out on 2,3 or 4 wheels. I await a unicyclist at the SkyLounge for that single wheel addition.

Sat outside the SkyLounge, on one of the benches with a view down onto lake Ashinoko, I was drinking some tea from my flask, and leafing through my Mapple touring map book, trying to find somewhere I could do in a couple of hours, and be back home in the early afternoon. It just wasn’t going to be Izu again I’d decided. As I leafed through I noticed a small spit of land out into Sagami Bay, that just hadn’t registered with me before, I suspect as I’m usually on the coastal road, which lacks an exit near it – the small peninsula called Manazuru.

View Larger Map

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, first I needed to get from (A) The Mazda Skylounge, to (B) Manazuru. Fortunately for me, a nice way to get there is via Yugawara and Route 75, a playful twisty something, meandering down through the mountain valleys, with plenty of tree overhangs, shade, and more corners than you can shake a moderate sized stick at. It must be five years since I last used this road, and it’s a shame because it’s a lot of fun. At Yugawara, at the base of the 75, it’s a short jaunt on that 135 coast road, but you jump off before the toll and express routes, and then in my case, headed for Manazuru station. I was wondering how these roads were going to work, as on the map there seem to me a mass of turn-offs in front of Manazuru station – and there are. However, after years of tourists, they’ve got it organised, with colour coded lanes to take you to different areas. Fundamentally, the 739 road loops the peninsula, but near the cape (as it’s called) a smaller road breaks off, but this is one way, and quite narrow, which is a good thing, as it keeps traffic flowing safely.


I stopped a couple of times along the road to watch people sea fish off the rocks, see the literally fresh fish being dried, and listen to the waves. Riding on though, and onto the one way loop through winding lanes, you finally get down to Manatsuru Cape itself, and a nice large tourist area with car parks and bus parking. From the building, you can get a great view of the bay, it’s very scenic, but I hadn’t come all this way to look at the Pacific from the top of the cliffs – I’d come to touch ocean, and see the shrine. Well, not so much a shrine but, well the photo explains it. As far as I can tell, it’s called ‘名勝三ツ石’ or Meishoumitsuishi. Literal translation – ‘A place of beauty with three rocks’.


As you descend by the steps though, there’s a nice looking cafe. I can’t recommend anything from there, as I was a little early for it to open, but it looked very inviting, perched on the sloping rocks with a grand view of the ocean. At the base of the slope are some toilets, then the pebble beach. The large rocks at the end of the spit are often cut off from the coast when the tide is high, but when it’s low, you can walk out towards them on the rock causeway. You have to be careful on the rocks, and there are thousands of beetles and such, but it’s nice to get out around the waves, and if you’re up for it, try to catch some small fish or shellfish.


The rocks themselves, between two two of which are stretched some Shinto based paper streamers on a long rope (called shime 標, or even a rope version shimenawa), look quite striking against the surf, and it’s easy to see how people living near here in times past would want to make an acknowledgement to the gods of the sea.  All it all, it’s quite a fetching place, and somewhere you can sit for a while and just look out over the vast Ocean. You’ll likely want that rest too, before the hike back up the steps.


The building at the top of the cliffs is nice, but it’s nothing special, if you’ve seen one tourist targeting restaurant selling local food and trinkets, you’ve pretty much seen this one, but it’s got a great view, the menus seemed OK (again, it was too early to try), the staff were nice,   it had some nice places to sit outside, and vitally, the toilets were clean.

After I’d drunk some more tea on the lawn over the cliff, I could feel the bike calling me, so off I went again, giving cyclists plenty of space on the bumpy road, but actually not so far, as another building came into view, and in front of it, the Manazuru Fire Station, which is a simple building with large glass windows, showing off the single fire engine. It looked quite nice in it’s own way.

The building just behind it looks like a large converted house, in some old, and non-Japanese style; at first glance it looked almost south east Asian colonial – yes, I’m not much of an architectural scholar. In front of the house, what was once likely a large stately lawn, has been quite tastefully converted into a miniature golf course. Walk past this, through the palm trees, and again there’s a beautiful cliff-top view of the ocean. I think this is all a part of the number of hotel resort facilities in the area, for those who want to come down for several days.


There are lots of things to see on this peninsula actually – I’d quite like to come back for a full day and walk around a lot more to see more of them, and once you’re here, on foot is a good way to do it. Of course, two wheels are the best way to actually get here.

Manazuru My Map
Manazuru My Map

I made a Google Map link, as the image above is a grab – it didn’t want to show for some reason. However you get here though, the compactness of the area makes it worth the trip.

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Over to a Nexus 5 and a Thinkpad E440

My mobile setup doesn’t change very often. My iPhone 4 was three years old in August, my old Core Duo MacBook (2006) died last year, and I was saving to replace it, having borrowed the netbook from the kids as needed.

The iPhone’s button and battery were both on the way out, and the iOS7 mandatory upgrade had slowed the thing to a crawl. Having had a Nexus 7 for a couple of years, I wasn’t wed to the iOS ecosystem, and SoftBank’s LTE based plans for the iPhones all carried big price increases per month over my 3G plan. I shopped around and found virtual carrier Y! Mobile (what was WillCom and E-Mobile, and ironically piggy backs off the SoftBank network) was cheap,  and had the LG Nexus 5 phone for a smaller monthly fee than my current 3G plan with a 3 GB cap . As it’s an unlocked phone, it’ll also make trips outside Japan a little simpler with SIMs, which will really help.

Six weeks on, as a physical device, I like it, it’s very light after the iPhone, and even with the fairly chunky Spigen case, it’s still light but solid feeling. I tend to get a case which will survive well. It feels speedy, but I accept that’s relative after the disaster the iPhone 4 became with iOS 7 (not helped by Apple refusing to let iPhone 4 users update to a secure iOS6 train release after the goto fail fiasco).  There are plenty of reviews though which will do a better job than I could. I do like Android, but you’ll notice I tend to get Nexus devices, and that’s because I like that they don’t ship with the ridiculous carrier and manufacturer apps, and you’re almost guaranteed to get OS updates quickly.

For the laptop, I looked at the MacBook Air – it’s a beautiful piece of engineering, but truthfully, outside of  my 80,000 yen budget (it’s almost 110,000yen with 8GB RAM, 13″ screen but a relatively slower CPU). I looked around at a lot of laptops, but kept coming back to Lenovo’s relatively unsung Thinkpad E design and pricing.

After prioritizing my wants, I got a unit with 8GB RAM, the higher definition 1600*900 screen (matte), and the dual antenna ac wireless. I debated i5 vs. i3 on the CPU, which had an ~8,000yen price differential, but since the only difference appears to be the turbo on the i5, and since this is mainly a movable writing rig, I went for the lower CPU. For a decent review of the unit, did a great review, especially on the BIOS.

Having installed a 128GB Crucial MX100 SSD, this thing flies with Mint Linux 17 Cinammon on it. The only issue I have right now is suspend is a bit unreliable, and it would appear to be the continuation of a Linux tradition; in my case it may be anything from the Intel graphics driver, to the lack of a swap space under LVM with 8GB of RAM. Hibernate is fine though.

As for real world performance, I was ripping a CD to FLAC, transcoding other FLACs to OGG format, watching a 1080p video over the N based wifi from my old Bufallo NAS with a few IRC chats, and browser tabs going, and the thing never missed a beat. I think that should cover my average usage.

Physically, it’s really nice, much more solid than I was expecting, and the keyboard is probably the best I’ve had on a laptop. I’ve been a general Linux user for a long time, so it was nice to use it on a dedicated laptop, having kicked the idea around for a while.  It also doesn’t seem to get very warm either, especially near the keyboard, where the old Macbook would get a little uncomfortable after a while. I have not yet tested out the spill resistant keyboard, and don’t actually plan to.

Using the Windows 8.1 the laptop shipped with and the horrific dance it likes you to do through first boot was enough in itself to put you off – really Microsoft, that obsession with linking to an MS account before you can play with your new machine is really annoying, and the first thing I switch off afterwards anyway.

For what it’s worth, if you do want to continue using it, it comes with less crapware than I’ve seen elsewhere, and is easily removed. The fact I even had to cover that tells you something. To cover performance, the machine is very snappy in Windows 8.1, and I had no problems with it, even though it was running through a 5400rpm HDD.

In the six weeks I’ve had it, I’ve taken it on an international trip, and it performed excellently, even if it is a little bulkier than a more expensive ultrabook. I’ve dragged it around the house, sat in the park with it, and generally lugged it about, and it’s done exactly what I wanted from it.

So there we are, that should be me done for several more years. Also, this is not an Apple vs. Linux vs. Google thing. Brand loyalty is a silly thing, you should buy on your needs and your available money. For me the Nexus and the E440 are exactly what I need for the foreseeable future, and whilst I like the alternatives, they don’t represent good value for money to me.

[Fixed for me] Mac rebooting during sleep

Posting this in case it can save someone else some time:

It all started so innocently. I’d bought a Logitech wireless mouse (an M325)  for my wife’s Mac Mini and put the tiny receiver into the keyboard USB port for proximity, because I never use those ports. It seemed to work fine and also reduced the number of cables on my rather cluttered desk.

A couple of days later, whilst I was playing Minecraft on my Windows box, I noticed that the Mac Mini was unexpectedly rebooting, so I trawled the Macs logs in the, and found an odd error message regarding a sleep issue. It wasn’t a one off either – in one evening it had rebooted and actually shutdown three times.

9/24/14 11:35:04.000 PM kernel[0]: Sleep failure code 0x00000000 0x1f006900

I read around on the net about that message, and what it could be related to, and it seemed that some people were having similar issues and suspected USB devices, especially drives, such as for Time Machine, as the culprit.

Of course, the first thing you check for should be recent changes, and there had been some Apple patches go in, but I decided to test the Time Machine USB drive theory first (almost dismissing the new mouse!). In summary:

– Removed Time Machine drive – same problem.
– Removed the Logitech mouse dongle, but crucially, put the old known good basic Microsoft mouse in that same keyboard USB port (previously it was plugged into the rear of the Mini) – same problem.
– Tested disabling sleep to confirm it was sleep related, and yes, confirmed that there was no problem with no sleep.
– Finally, decided to plug the Logitech dongle into the USB hub attached to the mac – and yes, all was fine, no sleep problem anymore.

It would seem that keyboard port does not like USB HID devices.

The bottom line: never dismiss any change, and never underestimate the weird things which can cause issues.

Kiva Update – Two Loans!

Kiva is an organisation which works with micro-finance organisations all over the world to provide loans to help people move forwards with their ideas and businesses. Essentially, several people, sometimes many, pool their money to extend a loan to a person or group they select from the Kiva website.

I made my first Kiva loan in 2011 of 25 USD to a group in Viet Nam, the second was to a sewing services lady in Colombia, the third was to a man in Kenya, looking to build his motorbike transportation business. I won’t deny my love of motorbiking played a part in that last one. However, this has been that same 25 USD going around, so I’ve added another 25 USD (as well as a small donation to Kiva itself) and made two more small loans this time around.

The first new loan is to another Kenyan motorbike transportation chap, and the second is to a Balinese crafts family. This latter one is the first time then that I’ve lent money into a country I’ve actually been to.

This brings my money-lent level in total to 125 USD, well below the Kiva average of 333USD. One must try harder. Kiva knows this and provides plenty of statistics and badges on your portfolio in the hope it might make you want to cover that last country you haven’t lent into yet.

It’s worth remembering that this is a loan, not a donation, and many recipients are looking to build businesses, or better themselves for their communities, and unlike a donation, you stand a very good chance (98%+) of getting your money back to loan it out again, or even take it out of Kiva.

Give it a try.





Review: Why We Ride

I heard about ‘Why We Ride‘ in the middle of 2013; it’s ostensibly a documentary of sorts about why people ride and love to ride motorbikes. I love riding my motorbike, if that’s any kind of caveat, but that’s not actually why I bought the film, or what this review is about. Also, I’m reviewing the 2,000yen iTunes HD movie, not the BluRay/DVDs version.

To cover the structure, it’s beautifully shot, the camera work and direction are top notch, the soundtrack is fantastic, and as it lacks a central  narrator, the narrative is done via the people being interviewed. One trick the director uses is to not introduce the people speaking, until a sequence which closes the movie. I think this is so as to not distract you and focus on what they say, but I found it a bit confusing in places, because I like to know who is talking, and the end roll, whilst a good idea, comes off as a little bit clumsy in places by comparison.

As you can see from the trailer, it looks beautiful, and whilst much of the road footage looks good, the staged ‘bikers helping each other’ section looks a bit overly staged, and wasn’t really needed. That said, there are some wonderful pieces from the Bonneville salt flats, which reminded me that anyone can go out there and try their bike out, and the place looks truly extraordinary. There is also some time spent looking at training classes, and other skills based exercises, which fit with the theme the film has that motorbiking isn’t the outlaw groups some imagine, and it hits on the old Honda ‘you meet the nicest people on a Honda’ campaign, to show that to an extent motorbiking has grown up, though it goes without saying that it still has a sharper edge.

The film follows some of the history of American biking icons, like Daytona, some of the dirt tracks, some famous figures, and biker culture over the years, including events like the Sturgiss Rally.  One issue then for non-Americans then is that it can seem a bit disconnected. As a non-American myself, I understand the allure of biking to be universal, and some of the background on Daytona to be interesting and informative, but as I don’t follow American motorsports, I didn’t know who some people were, or their larger relevance. It’s not a criticism, just an observation. It’s also odd that they discuss European biking and MotoGP, but don’t seem to interview or go into that at all.

One person I did recognise, and I think the one who came over very well, is Ted Simon, of Jupitalia fame. I’ve read his books, and he’s a fascinating man, whose dual round the world trips inspired the Long Way Round & Down series. As ever his insight was concise and based on personal experience of going around the planet on a bike. I’m biased though; everything he says I find to be interesting.

Even if I didn’t know some of the people, or the relevance of their achievements, the key is really the points they make, there’s a focus on those women who ride, both now, and those who have ridden their whole lives, and how it’s not just about riding pillion, but being the rider. There’s a lot from kids and how they’re safely and constructively introduced to motorbikes, and thus the family and community built around it. It’s endearing to be sure, and so it’s not so much a documentary as a rallying call for those who already ride, and something of an advert perhaps to those who don’t, mainly though it’s about the people – some are champions, some of just people who like to get out on the open road.

One interesting aspect not discussed, but just something I noticed in the shots themselves are the split in those wearing helmets, and those who aren’t. It’s an issue to some, not to others, but in a documentary trying to show how safe and responsible it’s participants are, it’s interesting to see no discussion on this, and plenty of comments about feeling wind in your hair.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always worn a full face helmet on scooters/motorbikes, though I don’t mind what other people choose to wear – its a personal choice, sometimes with personal consequences either way. I remember riding 50cc Zoomers around packed Tokyo streets at night, and how bad the taxi drivers were and how close those trucks got, so any additional protection was a good idea for me. I know in America helmet laws vary by state, but in many European countries (and here in Japan) they’re mandatory.

So who is this targeted at? People who currently have a motorbike for sure, it may also coax some people back, and perhaps get some new converts, or re-assure people they can still ride. Truthfully, I think you could expand that to people who like to see some great cinematography, and listen to people who truly love doing something. In that aspect, it reminds me of the snowboard film “Art of Flight“.

It’s nice it covers so many branches of the biking community – it’s not all speed freaks, or custom bikes, or off-road, it’s a collection of different riders, and so does live up to it’s title, why we ride.

Isehara Camping during Rainy Season

It’s fair to say that I like to get outdoors. Although I’m not a frequent or avid camper, now that the kids are sort of old enough, I think it’s important we all get out and get some outdoors and tent time in.

We first went together in 2012, but for a pile of reasons we missed last year, and so this year we’re trying to make up the trip count. June is  part of Japan’s rainy season, but undaunted I booked a spot at a place I hadn’t camped at before up in the mountains, near a river,called Yamagoya.  It’s only a bit over an hour  from the house, so I thought that if it turned into a complete disaster I’d just have to up sticks and it would be a short drive back.

As the date came up, it was clear it would rain at some point. On the day we drove up it was raining, and when we arrived, I expected the kids to complain, but actually they loved it, and I have to say, they didn’t complain once during the whole weekend.

The site is small, running about 100m along a small river bank. Come the real summer they’re mainly set up with family sized BBQ sites, but right now they just had a few tarps up covering about half of them. They actually only have 3 designated tent pitches. This was the first odd point  – the pitches were away from the river, and broadly flat, but they’d put several layers of stones there, which may have helped run-off and drainage, but made getting the tent pegs in quite a bit harder, and of course the rain makes everything more slippery.  Like the previous camp though, I set up my GoPro on time lapse, and afterwards made a video from it – the kids love watching the tent go up at high speed!

The stones could have been a bigger issue, had I not brought our Thermarests, of which I’ve become a bit of a fan over the last few years, meaning for the kids especially, they could get comfy in their sleeping bags on one of these mattresses, and get some sleep.

Once the tent was up we went in to the adjoining cafe for some lunch. They only have a small menu, very Japanese oriented, which is fine, but not much for the kids. That said, the tofu salad and udon we ordered was excellent, and we could divide it between the three of us. They also do desserts and kakigouri (shaved ice with some fruit cordial), which obviously did go down well with the kids. It wasn’t expensive, given they’re serving a relatively captive audience, but marginally more expensive than a family restaurant.

Tenting in the Rain

As the rain came down gently, it was actually quite picturesque, looking down the river, and off a slight cliff down the valley. The kids were happy with my decision that since they were wet anyway, paddling into the river a little wasn’t going to do any more damage, so we passed quite a bit of time just exploring the riverbank and the site.

One of the best things about camping is cooking outside though, and it’s something my kids like too. For normal meals at home they can sometimes be picky, but when it comes off a BBQ or the camping stoves, there are no arguments. The drizzle had let up a little, so I broke out our two stoves – one is my normal lightweight backpacker stove, the other is a domestic ‘cassette gas’ burner. I found one of the set out tarps which was anchored quite high up, and set up just below and to one side of it – you don’t want to be melting or setting fire to tarps – so we got some rain shelter and played safe. I do like cooking outdoors, and with two stoves, got some spaghetti bolognese going.

One thing I was glad I brought is my Gerber multi-tool – I somehow bent one of the guide lips on my camping stove, and had to gently bend it back into shape with my pliers.

There wasn’t any showers that I noticed, but the toilets were clean enough for a camp site, and part of a concrete building, so the kids weren’t too fussed about it. It’s still odd to me that the same kids who complain about a small mosquito at home, don’t seem bothered by much bigger insects when they’re camping.

Let’s talk about insects. I don’t really have a problem with insects when I’m outdoors, with the possible exception of the midges in Scotland. Insects live outside, it’s what they do. However, twice over the weekend, I must have looked like a tempting and tasty target to Yamaburi, which are Japanese mountain leeches, and I had to remove them both forcefully, but safely (well, safe for me, not so much for them). They’re hardy things I can tell you.

I should probably discuss something about the staff at the site too. They’re very nice and polite, but a little slow, and aren’t entirely intuitive. I noticed this when I booked the site as I booked over a week ahead, confirming everything down to kids ages, arrival and departure times. When my wife called a few days before to check on things (if they rented towels etc.) she got into a weird conversation that the booking was somehow not complete. Finally she got confirmation that actually it was all booked. We still don’t know what the story was there. If it wasn’t complete, why hadn’t they called the mobile number I’d provided. I wonder if they’re the off-peak part timers?

All in all then, a good, simple one night camp. I think we’ll go back later in the year, and take advantage of one of the BBQ spots, as well as the tent pitches, as that would be fun. All that remains is for me to find out how to dissuade the local leeches, or a better way to remove them (if you have any ideas, please add to the comments).

New Arai Astro IQ helmet!

After probably too long with my old faithful Arai Rapide Or matt black helmet, a couple of months ago I got around to getting down to NAPS and getting myself a new helmet. After trying on quite a few, as always, I actually went with another Arai helmet, the Astro IQ in a matt white going by the seductive name of ‘silk white‘. I went for the white as my current bike is black and quite a lot of my gear is, so for the sake of visibility, I’ve gone for the lighter coloured helmet. That said, the one thing to remember about helmets: fit is everything. My fit apparently is XL, due to the size of my cranium or something.

This model forms part of Arai’s R75 technology range, making a rounder helmet, which along with the Facial Contour System should make the helmet safer in crashes, and more comfortable in use, including making it easier for emergency services to get the helmet off after a crash. Lot’s of marketing talk, but how does it feel out in use?

Astro IQ

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting it to be that much different to the old helmet, but after a few hundred kilometres around town, on the expressways and into the mountains, I was really impressed – more comfortable, quieter, and much easier to turn my head in at speed to check behind.

Some of this I’m sure is the new design, but some I suspect is how worn and settled my old helmet was, and whilst it’d never had an impact, the padding especially had settled a bit.

The IQ does indeed feel rounder, and lighter too, and I take it as a great sign that I began to wonder why I hadn’t bought a new helmet sooner. The ventilation is impressive, with a good selection of vents made of solid slides and switchers, which are broadly adjustable with your bike gloves on; this is definitely an improvement over the old helmet – the ventilation wasn’t bad, but it couldn’t be practically adjusted with gloves on.

So that’s it, I’m very pleased with the new helmet, and the only real downside is that huge Arai logo on the front.