Sunday, April 27, 2008

One day in Tokyo... Part 2

Well, my flight back to Singapore wasn't till late afternoon hence I had the whole morning to kill. Originally, I had wanted to stay in bed catching up with my much needed sleep (I hardly get to have a good night rest as Jarrett keeps waking up at night fussing). However, the weather was really good and it will be a real waste not to take advantage of it.

I decided to check out the Tsukiji Fish Market after having heard about the excellent sushi they have over there. As the decision was rather impromptu, I didn't have my cousin with me, nor any GPS or maps; I only had a set of scribbled directions given by a colleague a day back. Thankfully, the market is located right next to the Tsukiji Shijou Station on the Oedo subway line hence the only challenge was getting on and off the right trains (one transfer was required switching from the JR line to the subway line at Daimon station).

As I got off the train at Tsukiji Shijou Station, I saw a couple of locals with rattan baskets in hand and I decided to follow them as I figured that they should be going to the market too. I was right on the dollar as I found myself in the inner market a short while later.

The inner market is kinda like the wet market in Singapore; small cramped stalls under one roof hawkering raw and unprocessed foodstuff in a wet and smelly environment. Definitely not a place you visit wearing Gucci shoes and Armani suits. It was however, a really interesting place. I saw up close huge frozen tunas getting sliced into chunks with large band saws (see pictures below). I also saw live seafood such as boxfish, squid, eel, sea urchin and a whole lot of other fish and shellfish that I couldn't identify.

The outer market consist of mostly individual shops selling things ranging from hardware like knives and cutlery to cooked food like this stall in the pictures below selling various kinds of shellfish including sea urchin! I was tempted to try them but decided against it as I didn't dare risk having stomach upset during the seven hours flight back to Singapore later!

Towards the furthest end of the market, I spotted this ramen shop (pictures below) that has a long line of customers queuing up and yet more customers chomping down the ramen at nearby makeshift tables. Figuring it must be good, plus the fact that I was hungry from all the walking (I had been out for close to three hours by then), I decided to give it a try. (on a side note, Singaporeans are suckers for queues yes? I guess this is the proof :))

The queue was moving very quickly as the chef prepares eight bowls of ramen at one time (see picture) and I managed to get mine within twenty minutes after I joined the queue. The portion as well as the use of ingredients was generous and it certainly helped filled my growling tummy. In fact, I also kinda regretted having it as I was too stuffed to try out the sushi which was my main intention of coming to the fish market in the first place. Well, maybe next trip... :)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

One day in Tokyo

Here is a picture of my cousin and me in front of the Meiji Jingu, a Japanese Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo. I am here on a short four days business trip while my cousin has been here for the past year as a student.

I had lost touch with this cousin of mine and I would not have known that he is here if my auntie had not asked me to help bring some stuff over to him. But I'm really glad that I did get to meet up with him and both of us managed to squeeze some time out to catch up over some sight seeing.

We first started in Akihabara checking out the many hardware shops that lined the streets. We also went into Sega World to check out the Senjou no Kizuna, which I believe is the ultimate mech simulator in the world. But alas, I did not get to play as the section was closed at the time we visited.

We then went for lunch at a wacky meido cafe called "@home cafe" and were amused by their unique "moe" culture. I'm also pretty impressed with the brains behind @home cafe as they went beyond just operating a cosplay cafe to include setting up a fan club for their "maids" and selling memorabilia such as CDs, mugs and other items.

After lunch, we left Akihabara and took the train to Harajuku to check out the "Harajuku girls" along the Harajuku bridge. Unfortunately, we failed to spot even a single one of them and my cousin attributed this to the fact that it was a Tuesday afternoon hence these folks might be in school or at work.

Next up, we checked out the Meiji Jingu which has an entrance right next to bridge. The entire compound is an amazing 175 acres (considering how dense the population in Tokyo is) and the walk to the main shrine from the entrance is a good 15 minutes. I am also very impressed with staggering height and size of the Torii in front of the shrine, which also happens to be the tallest Myojin Torii in the whole of Japan.

We then walked along Takeshita Street and the neighbouring streets where my cousin brought me to this popular kids fashion boutique called bape kids. Even though the T-shirts are really pricey (more than S$60 a piece!), I found them really cute and couldn't resist buying two of them for my kids.

This was followed by yet alot more walking as we window shopped in Shibuya (Harajuku to Shibuya on foot is only about 15 mins) and then tried to get to Shinjuku on foot thinking that its the best way to see Tokyo. It turned out to be an extremely bad idea as it took us more than two hours to get there and we ended up having dinner very late. It took us that long not because we went the scenic route but rather, my cousin wasn't really sure of the way and we ended up making alot of wrong turns; even with the help of the GPS service on his mobile phone.

Dinner was at a Gyu-Kaku branch located in the seedy Kabukichō area. Yes, it was deliberate that we went there but no, we did not do anything more than just walking down the street. As with all my other yakiniku experiences [1][2], wagyu beef is a must and as always, it was absolutely delectable. We parted ways not long after dinner as it was already late and we both were really exhausted from all the walking we did in the day. Moreover, we need to be up early next morning for work/school respectively.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself and am doubly glad that I was able to bond closer with my cousin at the same time. Hopefully, I will stay in touch with him from now on and I will be sure to look him up the next time I come to Japan.

P/S: Looking at the picture, you probably won't be able to tell that he is only just 19 years old or that I'm already 32!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Virtual CD/DVD drives in Windows.. including Vista!

If you hate the hassle of burning ISOs to physical media before you can use them, then this tool is for you. Introducing MagicISO Virtual CD/DVD-ROM, a free software that works with most versions of Windows (from 9x to Vista) and on both x32 and x64 bit editions. It has a really simple user interface (right click on the taskbar icon) and it allows you to create/mount multiple virtual CD/DVD drives! All this for the price of ... nothing! And no, its not spyware or adware supported, as far as I can tell anyway. So download away!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The king of office chairs

Every wondered who is the king of office chairs? Well, I believe the honour goes to the Aeron chair by Herman Miller. I was in the market for a good class working chair for my study and was recommended to get one of these by a friend. Sure it doesn't come cheap; at S$2000 a piece, I think expensive is probably an understatement too. However, you do get what you pay for.

Firstly, the build quality is superb. Unlike cheap mass market chairs, where the arm-rest and/or back support rattle or move as you move them, the joints on an Aeron are a snug fit and you won't find any loose moving parts or sharp/rough edges on chair at all. The rollers are made of good quality plastic that rolls evenly and smoothly. Most importantly, it won't damage your wooden (or any other types for that matter) flooring. The graphite (or titanium depending on model) frame and the pellicle mesh make the chair extremely durable so much so that they are even confident enough to give a whopping twelve years warranty.

Other than build quality, the best known aspect of this chair is actually the comfort. The seat and the back are made of a strong pellicle suspension system which conforms to each person's shape thus distributing the weight evenly and avoid strong pressure over your body. The mesh design also provides the much needed ventilation, leaving your bottom and back cool and dry even after many hours of working/typing/gaming/(whatever that is you do in your chair), especially in a non-air-conditioned room.

You probably won't be able to appreciate the comfort of the chair just by trying it out at a showroom. You really need to use it in your environment to feel the difference. I have it for a couple of months now and not once had I felt any soreness or discomfort in my back and bottom even after long hours. Overall, I will say that the S$2k is money well spent.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hooking up MioTV to ST536 via WHR-HP-G54

So far, the only way to get MioTV and the ADSL Internet to play nice together is via one of the two options below:
  1. via a single convergence device commonly called the wireless ADSL modem router (like the 2Wire 2700HGV2) which combines the functions of ADSL modem cum wireless access point (WAP) cum router features (some include VoIP features as well)
  2. via three separate devices; a ADSL modem, a network switch and a wireless router (which essentially is a WAP cum router cum 4 port LAN switch).

In the first configuration, you plug both the phone line and the set-top box (and other wired PCs if any) to the ADSL modem router and you are done. Pictorially, it looks something like this:

phone <> wireless ADSL    <> set-top box
line modem router <> PC
<> PC

Simple and convenient. Will probably sit well with non-techie home users who want minimum fuss.

However, if you are fussy over which modem/router/WAP to use or if you already have one or more of those devices and do not wish to junk them, then option 2 appears to be the only way to go. In this configuration, the telephone line goes to the ADSL modem, the modem then gets connected to the switch together with the set-top box and wireless router and finally, your wired PCs to the end of the router. The connection diagram will look something like this:

phone <> ADSL  <> network <> set-top box
line modem switch <> wireless router <> PC
<> PC

Pretty complicated and you have to waste a network switch (which usually comes in minimum four ports but you never use more than two) in between.

The good news is that there is now a third option that gets rid of the network switch. You simply need to get a wireless router that is capable of customising one of the LAN ports to become a switched WAN port. With it, the connection diagram becomes:

phone <> ADSL  <> wireless <> set-top box
line modem router <> PC
<> PC

Here's my setup that supports this configuration.

  1. Get a wireless router (i.e. Buffalo WHR-HP-G54) that supports this configuration
  2. Change the stock firmware to DD-WRT
  3. Connect up all the devices as shown above (make a note on which LAN port the set-top box is connected to, in my case, it was port no 4)
  4. telnet into wireless router
  5. run the following command sequence (take note where no 4 appears)
    nvram set vlan0ports="1 2 3 5*"
    nvram set vlan1ports="0 4 5"
    nvram commit
  6. If you are not using port 4 to connect to your set-top box, you will need to change the numbers accordingly. e.g. if you are using port 3, then the commands become:
    nvram set vlan0ports="1 2 4 5*"
    nvram set vlan1ports="0 3 5"
    nvram commit
  7. And you are done!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Joel starts school in PCF Kampong Chai Chee

Today marked the fifth day of school (K1) for Joel. Had the rare chance of walking him out to take the school bus and even managed to snap some shots of him in his smart uniform in between.

For the whole of last week, I was really worried that he will not be able to adapt to life in an institution again after having stopped childcare for the last three months and spending all that time at home where he ruled (together with his younger siblings) over my parents and wife.

Luckily, he is taking all these changes (including getting on the school bus which I though would be another challenge) in his stride. He gave me no problems what-so-ever boarding the bus today (no coxing and promise of treats needed which is unusual!) and every night just before dinner or bed time, we will talk about what he did in school that day and he just springs to life yakking away with so much energy and enthusiasm.

I guess its time I leave behind the notion that he is this timid little child that needs alot of care, attention and worrying over. Ok, not all the time but at least this is a good start!

Oh, and yes, I think its time to bring him for a haircut!

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Flashing WHR-HP-G54 with DD-WRT

Flashing the WHR-HP-G54 WiFi router with DD-WRT turned out to be a five mins job:

  1. Download the firmware (I used DD-WRT v24 RC6.2 VPN version)
  2. Restore the router to factory settings (using the web console interface is the easiest)
  3. Physically connect the PC and router together with one Ethernet cable
  4. Prepare the PC for connection (setting the static IP and subnet mask
  5. Send the firmware to the router using TFTP during the router's bootup window (this is the tricky part)
  6. If successful, the router will reboot and you can then access the new web console at IP using the username "root" and default password "admin". Remember to reset your PC's LAN settings to DHCP first!

Detailed steps for flashing the WHR-HP-G54 with DD-WRT can be found here. For details on DD-WRT and what you can do with it, look here. For details on DD-WRT for WHR-HP-G54, look here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Router upgrade project

My aging DI-524 had to go for the following reasons:

  1. I was having really patchy WiFi connectivity on the second level at less than 5mbps stable and near zero signal on the third.
  2. The LAN ports cannot be configured as switched WAN port for my MioTV connection to work.
  3. It does not come with VPN gateway feature for road warrior access.
  4. It does not do WPA2 for WiFi security. (lesser concern but heck, I needed more reasons)
To address point 1, I could have extended my WiFi coverage by installing an additional Wireless Repeater or another Wireless Access Point (WAP) connected to my router via HomePlug. Both options however, are more costly to implement compared to upgrading the DI-524 to a MIMO based 802.11g WiFi router.

Oh, and 802.11n is out too as both router and adapters (all my client machines will have to upgrade to 802.11n capable WiFi adapters) are very expensive at this point hence making it the most costly option.

My choice of replacement is really limited due to the fact that I want to run DD-WRT on it. It boils down to a second-hand Linksys WRT54G (newer versions that are available for sale over retail channels are not compatible due to changes in hardware architecture) or a new Buffalo WHR-HP-G54. I chose the latter (only S$99!) for its built-in amplifier which technically should help to reduce the number of dead-zones in the house.

Now that the easy part is over, its time to get it set up in my environment:
  1. Flashing WHR-HP-G54 with DD-WRT
  2. Setting up MioTV connection
  3. Setting up VPN for road warrior access
  4. Setting up site-to-site bridged VPN to connect with my parents LAN

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Increasing the storage capacity of the Xbox

I did not quite expect that I will need to do this mod so soon but given the rate I was downloading movie trailers via the AMT module, I guess it should not have come as a surprise.

Swapping the stock 8Gb HDD for a larger capacity HDD can be easy or hard depending on how your Xbox is modded. For those with hard-modded Xbox, its a piece of cake; Just read on and follow the instructions below. For the soft-modded camp, take a deep breath and click here for a detailed howto guide.

A couple of things are needed to carry out this modification:

  • A hard-modded Xbox with network connectivity and FTP access (i.e. either the XBMC or EvoX dash)
  • A PC with network connectivity and FTP client
  • A large capacity IDE hard disk
  • Auto Installer Deluxe (AID) on DVD
Before we start, please look here for some important information regarding limitations and the selection of the replacement hard disk!

For the hard disk, I managed to salvage a 30Gb Western Digital HDD from my stock pile of PC spare parts (or junk as the endearing term other members of my family like to use) that I've accumulated over the years. (and its times like this that you appreciate not throwing them out!)

For the AID DVD, I simply kept the copy which I used to install XBMC some three months back.

The first step in the mod is to prepare the replacement hard drive if you are reusing a old one. Those with new hard drives can skip this step. Hook it up as slave in your PC and do a health check using the excellent hard disk utility Data Lifeguard Diagnostic. It is highly recommended that you do an extended test which includes a surface scan to make sure that the platters are physically ok.

Next, backup your existing files on the Xbox to your PC. To do this, FTP into your Xbox from your PC and copy everything in the E:\XBMC\UserData folder (this is where all your custom settings and preferences are found). Do remember to copy any other data which you may have uploaded to the Xbox previously (e.g. your pictures, music, movies, and in my case, the downloaded movie trailers!).

When the backup is done, power off the Xbox, open up the casing and physically swap the stock HDD with the replacement unit. Instructions on how to open up the Xbox and remove the HDD can be found here. Connect up the cables but don't screw the cover back on just yet.

Power up your Xbox with the AID DVD in the drive. After a couple of seconds, you should see the AID boot menu on the screen. Choose "format/prepare hdd". Then "Modchip One-click Installs" to setup the new XBMC.

When done, eject the DVD and reboot. Now ftp all the contents that you have backed up previously back to the Xbox. Oh, and remember to put the screws back on! Enjoy!

Total time taken for the job : 3 weeks (20mins for the actual job of replacing the hard drive and restoring the contents, 2.9 weeks to find the @#$%^&* torx screw drivers!)

P/S: one more thing I found, on dual boot modchips, you will no longer be able to boot to original Xbox dashboard (you will get an error message instead) as the replacement drive is "unlocked" by default. This is fine with me as I only use the Xbox for XBMC.

If you need to run the original Xbox bios, you will need to "lock" the replacement hard drive. To do so, boot up AID again and choose "Config Magic" under "Advanced Options". In one of the menus, you will be able to lock the drive. Note the master password "TEAMASSEMBLY".