Friday, December 18, 2009

Cute little town of Nozawa Onsen

This is such a cute story I thought I would post it quick before I go to bed here in Nozawa Onsen.

Today I left my buddy Tatsuya and all the amazing Lucas Singapore peeps and Dave and Regina from Weta back at Siggraph Asia in Yokohama and took off north to Nagano. It was a long trip - I left later than planned and then (since I wasn't following any particular schedule, for better or for worse, hehe), I got to Yokohama station at 3 something in the afternoon. Then took off to Tokyo station, and actually found out I missed the Shinkansen (high speed train) to Nagano by like 5 minutes. Bah! But turns out Japan is the most amazing place ever, so there was another one about 45 min later. Hung out for a bit, got some sushi, and then got on the train. From there is was about 100 minutes to Nagano. I got off there and was trying to take a bus to Nozawa Onsen (I heard that was simpler and more direct than the train) - talked in broken Japanese to a travel agent at the station and found out I'd missed the last bus, so I took the local train... coming in... 1 hour! Crap! haha. So instead of standing in the cold for an hour, I bought a burger and it was tasty. Several arrigatos later, I bowed 100 times and then changed into my winter clothes - it was VERY snowy already in Nagano.

Got on the train to Togarinozawaonsen (closest train station to Nozawa Onsen) and 1 hour there, caught up on some emails and journal writing. Then got to the station and there was a girl heading for the same cab as me - "where do you go?" she asked. I told her I was going to Nozawa Onsen and she said "me too, let's share!" So we shared the cab and she asked if I had time for coffee. Turns out she stays with the guys who own the Burton Snowboard store here in town and she was inviting me to their store. I got there, they were very welcoming and she said "Welcome to Japan!" and slammed down an Asahi Beer and a bowl of potato chips. :) It was VERY snowy, so they got their friend to drive me in his car up the hill to my hostel! There I found a note on the whiteboard saying "Hey Mike! Come on in, we're in the TV room in the back!" Everyone here in Australian or Canadian, and SUPER FRIENDLY and AMAZING. I am SO IMPRESSED. This evening I went to an onsen outside, super traditional, bathed totally naked (2nd time so far in Japan!! As they say... when in Rome...) with strangers and this time in a super old school wooden onsen, big tubs and extremely hot mountain water bubbling around you. Awesome times! Then dried off and followed all the customs to keep your shoes away from the bathing area, got dressed again and headed out to the "Stay Bar". There I met 2 Aussies (one was the splitting image of Tim Nash) and a really funny older Japanese guy who lives here. As expected, they were all super nice and welcoming and so awesome.

Had some fancy sochu litchi graprefruit thing and then some hot sake which was nice for a cold winters night. The cool thing is that there was NO SNOW last week - friends in Tokyo said they'd gone up to a ski hill and it was all slushy and most runs were closed. I thought I should do some sort of haka/snow dance :) Apparently it worked :) It snowed a bunch Thursday onwards, and snowed like 50 cm just this afternoon I think. TONS of snow and it's SUPER FRESH. This is gonna be an amazing time tomorrow!

On that note I gotta go get some sleep so I am ready for the slopes tomorrow and lots more partying tomorrow night with all the people in my hostel! AWESOME TRIP. For those of you interested in photos and videos, please hold tight. I will be posting all that stuff, definitely, just not until I get back from Tokyo.

Now drinking a hot chocolate and about to go back to my awesome 4 person room which I have to myself tonight. I love Nozawa Onsen already. Can you believe those guys in the Snowboarding store??!?!?!!!!!!! Nicest and best hospitality I think I've ever seen. :)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Asakusa at night

Awesome times. Got to Tokyo and made my way from Narita to Aoto and
then to Kuramae and found my hostel. Made friends in like 12 sec cause
they were from San Francisco too :) then out wandering to asakusa
shrine area and buying some street food and other tasty goodness. Got
some great green tea.

Note about my blogging on this trip: I'll post once in a while from my
iPod briefly like this. Full posts and photos when I get back to

It's 11:20am... I made it up this late!!!! It's like 6:20am body time
now and I am exhausted. Off to my 8 person dorm room which smells like
feet and backpackers :)

Met like 5 cool peeps tonight and hung out by the shrine and tried
some weird cheese bread cake thing. This is already the best trip

Toillets are CRAZY here.

Harajuku parade tomorrow!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

iMenorah is the "iPhone App of the Day" on Appolicious!

Wahoo, we're the App of the Day!!

Great review here:

Thank you, Appolicious!!

Un-jetlagging in advance

I'm really happy this worked out in my favour!! So I've been so busy doing a bazillion things this last week or two that I keep going to bed after 4am every night. I am now stuck in a bit of a routine going to bed super super late and I was curious to see if I somehow managed to un-jetlag myself in advance of my trip to Japan... survey says... YES!!!!!!!!

It's currently 3:40am and I expect I'll finally get tired in like 30 minutes. That is equivalent to 9pm Japan time!!!!!!!!!!! So that means when I arrive in Japan it'll be just like it's the late afternoon, and when the evening arrives in Japan I can probably push myself the first night to stay up until 11pm or so pretty easily... and then I am exactly into the swing of things on the first day!

Haha, I love when my chronic doing-too-much-stuff-at-night finally pays off. :)

Here we go!

Japan and South Korea, here I go!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Awesome Japan trip blog

Was searching for photos on Bento Boxes on Google Map and found this blog ( about a girl's trip to Japan. It is excellent!! Great photos, lots of good pictures and descriptions in English of all the food and sites. Awesome.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Freakin' AWESOME Star Wars stuff

Today I got 2 ABSURDLY AWESOME Star Wars things, and I figured I had to post this.



The first is a couple sets of Star Wars lightsaber chopsticks created by Kotobukiya in Tokyo! They come in adult and child-sized, and I got the Vader/Yoda and Luke Skywalker/Yoda combo packs. This is going to make for some magical sushi eating when I get back from Japan!!

The other thing I got today is SO INSANELY AWESOME too. This is a signed 8x10 photo of "Luke and Leia", signed by BOTH the actor Mark Hamill and actress Carrie Fisher. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!! This is so frickin' amazing. It's an authorized print, verified by the Licensing department. So ammmaazing. I'm getting this beast framed, for SURE.

iMenorah at the Apple retail Store

Don't think I posted any of these yet...

A few photos from one of the Apple Stores in San Francisco with the display of a huge iPhone with app images on it, and all the holiday-themed apps posted around it. Then a few photos of Matt and I freakin' out at how insanely awesome it is that our iMenorah App is on there!!



Matt pointing out the iMenorah App Logo to random passers-by :)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

iMenorah - our iPhone Menorah App, is now an iTunes App Store FEATURED HOLIDAY APP!!

This is absolutely absurdly insanely amazing, I can hardly talk.

Tonight I logged onto the App Store on my iPod Touch, and noticed a new "Holiday" banner. Pressing it, I got to the list of the iTunes App Store "Featured Holiday Apps" list...

iTunes App Store - new "Holiday" button

...and iMenorah is on the list!!!!!!!! Oh maaaaan!!!!!!!! I can't... believe... how awesome... this is. :)

iMenorah is on the list!!

I called Matt right away and we celebrated and jumped up and down with excitement. Not only are we are SO excited from all the reports from friends about the iMenorah logo in the holiday displays at Apple retail stores across North America (so far: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Winnipeg, Toronto!), but to add to the excitement, iMenorah is now featured in iTunes as a "Featured Holiday App!" This is so motivating and surprising and SO SO SO SO cool.

Even better, this is not just exciting news for us, but we hope this advertising will help us make an even bigger impact this year for our local community. Last year we donated approx. 10% of the 2008 holiday proceeds of iMenorah (in multiples of $18 - חַי) to the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, to help with their renowned Arts & Ideas lecture series. These seminars bring all members of the San Francisco Bay Area community together - Jewish and non-Jewish alike - in a captivating spirit of shared learning, questioning, debate, and inspiration.

This holiday season, we have decided to donate to a local San Francisco Food Bank. This past Thanksgiving weekend, many local news outlets reported about a significant increase in the patronage at local food banks, and we feel that food banks meet an incredibly current and rising need in the United States. With your support, we hope to donate more this year than we did in the holiday 2008 season! So, thank you in advance!

For more info on iMenorah, check out our site here:

And it is available for purchase now on the iTunes App Store, by clicking here:

Thanks for your support, and Happy Chanukah!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Video Post: Mike and Norm in Banff Part 2: Sulphur Mountain and Gondola

Tour of Banff, Alberta, Canada. Going up the gondola at Sulphur Mountain and an awesome view of the rockies.

Video Post: Mike and Norm in Banff Part 1: Johnston Falls and Lake Louise

Tour of Banff, Alberta, Canada. Driving along Highway 1, visiting Johnston Falls, and Lake Louise.

Windows Vista -> Windows 7

This had the potential to be a nerve-wracking upgrade, since this site had warned me against the potential issues of attempting to do a "full-install" (otherwise known as a "clean" install) of Windows 7 using a Win 7 "upgrade" disc. In the past if you tried to install a Windows upgrade and you had a previous version of Windows, you could format your hard disc and then the upgrade OS install would ask you to "verify" your original media by placing the Windows 95 disc (or whatever it was) into the CD drive temporarily. It would verify the original disc, and you'd be on your way.

It's different now, but not bad at all. It sounded like it was gonna be nuts, and instead it was absurdly and totally straightforward. You boot off the upgrade disc like normal, it verifies that you have Vista installed, and then you ask for a "clean" install, and it finishes. You then boot into Windows 7, run the activation (AFTER IT HAS INSTALLED, NOT DURING)

So it was an absurdly simple "full" upgrade (with reformat) from "upgrade media", and super quick to get going. Right off the bat, Windows 7 looks similar to Vista, but a few awesome things are already obvious. There is excellent driver support - it automatically recognized my video camera and downloaded the installer from Logitech's site and started automatically. It auto recognized dual monitors, my video card, etc, and installed all the Windows drivers and 3rd party drivers. It recognized my printer, my external drive, my USB keyboard hub, my exact monitor brand and model number... absurd!! Truly amazing. It even installed a driver for my Video Capture card. This is a really smart OS, and the amount of driver support is through the roof.

It really does not feel a lot like OSX at all. I think it just feels like Vista (which I thought was fine), but with better driver support, slicker UI, and some nicer/better thought-out usability features. The stability feels better than Vista, too. Startup time is fast, and there is fancy new stuff like an integrated virus scanner (nice touch). Another benefit is file type support... it seems that I can run MOV and DIVX files without downloading any extra codecs (FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) This is AWESOME. Windows Movie Maker now fully supports MOV files, so the big 720p videos from my Canon Rebel T1i can now be edited and uploaded to YouTube with Windows Movie Maker. Very fancy.

Haven't tried the Networking stuff yet but it's supposed to be fast and easy to set up. Windows Media Center looks even better, and considering it was probably the best thing about Vista, it's pretty cool that it got an upgrade too.

Other stuff is just slicker - the "jump lists" showing recent files per application on the new "Taskbar" seems much more useful than the anything-goes "My Recent Documents" from XP and Vista. The "Libraries" folder is somewhat of a collection of all user documents, music, pictures and videos... nice touch. All my XP and Vista applications (32 or 64 bit) all run fine, no problems at all with compatibility. The OS was a super fast install (~30 minutes) and the programs all installed pretty quickly as I could do several things at once. It seems to be taking much more advantage of my Quad-Core machine and my 4Gb RAM. I kinda wish I spent the extra at the time and got 8Gb... but I'll upgrade at a later date I guess.

Seems to be running VERY smoothly already, it looks sharp, everything worked first go, and I'm really impressed with the clean UI, the smooth transitions and general slickness, the compatibility, file-type and codec support, and so on. Nice work, Microsoft! For those who are dumping on Win7 as a total OSX ripoff, I'd suggest a closer look. It's sharp, it's snappy, and to me it seems that rather than sending people over to Cupertino to copy OSX, I think they focused internally on Vista and worked their butts off to make it better. It is clearly a "usability pass" over top of Vista, some base cleanup, a way better way to lower the annoyance of that User Account Control thing, and some fundamental changes to the driver and codec and file-type support. Bravo!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

60 minutes interview of James Cameron for Avatar

Great 60 minutes segment on James Cameron, talking about the upcoming release of Avatar.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Archiving your old Thunderbird emails to Gmail

My bro Lausch told me how to do this ages ago and I've finally had a chance to get 'er done. This is sweeeeet.

If you're like me, you've been emailing "like it's goin' outta style - since '95". If that's the case, you probably have ~100,000 emails saved up in various locations, and if you've had internet since 1995 then you also probably are now (like me) addicted to Gmail and figure it is likely the only email system you'll expect to be using for the next 5 or 10 years. It's also got a massive 10Gb archive space on it, and a little note at the bottom of the screen to the effect of "You are using only 7% of your allotted 8Gb of storage space on Gmail", that is just tempting you to dump a pile of emails in there.

So I finally took the plunge, and it wasn't that tough (albeit a few small annoyances):

How To:
  • Make a label or labels in Gmail which will translated into a folder in Thunderbird.
  • Add gmail as a new IMAP account to your old Thunderbird or Eudora client.
  • Then just drag, drop, and wait while the magic happens!! It's great. Emails are auto folded into gmail threads... Amazing.
A few isssues:
  • I saw this message come up a lot: "Unable to append message to folder". This is either because one of the emails in your list is not compatible with Gmail, or you are overloading Gmail's bandwidth with all your flirty teenage emails from 1994. Or both. Anyway, to fix it I just deleted any offending emails as they went, and tried to shorten the list of emails I was transferring in 1 go to more like 60-100 emails, rather than the whole folder of 9,000.
  • Note that if you get the above error Thunderbird will stop transferring the remaining emails (crap). This sucks if you're trying to copy the whole lot of them overnight, so you'll probably need to have your old laptop set up beside your big new computer and keep a roughly keen eye on it all afternoon and evening (that's what I've been doing). Re-starting it on smaller-sized lists is a pain, but it seems to work eventually.
  • Note that it looks like you're getting multiple copies of emails if the above happens. Turns out that I am pretty darn sure that Gmail is actually auto-deleting duplicates for you!! This is AMAZING. So any bad server things and Gmail seems to handle it quite gracefully, so that rocks. I thought I was going to have to download some Thunderbird "find duplicate emails" plugin and run that beast on my Gmail IMAP folder, but seems like it's all good.
The best thing? You get all your old emails, archived gloriously in Gmail, searchable with Gmail's glorious indexing, and FOLDED GMAIL CONVERSATIONS AUTOMATICALLY!!!! Oh sweet!! I can't believe I used to write emails without threads. :)

Good luck! And happy re-discovering of all your old email threads and old friends. :)

iMenorah website update

iMenorah website has now been updated!!

Click here to go directly to the App Store:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Making of the Computer Graphics for Star Wars

This is AMAZING.

This is our job, 30 years ago in it's infancy... absolutely fascinating!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

iMenorah - our iPhone Menorah App is now featured on a display in the APPLE STORE!!!!!!!!!

Oh maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks to Jacob for pointing this out - our iMenorah app for the iPhone ( is now in a real-life display at the actual APPLE STORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our icon artwork for iMenorah has been placed amongst other holiday-themed app advertisements in the Apple Store! This first sighting is at the Chestnut St Apple Store in San Francisco, CA. We'll update when we hear of more sightings!!

For more details about our app and a link to buy it on iTunes, please see our website here:

This is so frickin' exciting!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Got my hiking pack for Japan!!

After an long and arduous search, I found my pack!!! Woo!!!!!!!!

I didn't want to go with a suitcase option or those weird half-suitcase/half-backpack options, that seemed like a bad idea after my major overpacking schlep throughout Europe with a pack on my front, back, AND a small rolling suitcase. Insane. Adding to the craziness, I am going to Japan and South Korea in the winter, so it makes even less sense to be dragging something along the ground (esp if there is snow, ice, slush or rain... that's just asking for wet clothes!!)

So after all those thoughts I did some research into the North Face packs, and actually I wasn't all that impressed. 80% of them seemed to be top-load only, and in some cases with a small bottom zipper just for sleeping bag storage. One or two of them had a sort of partial side-zipper, which could give you access to a few medium-weight things, but didn't really seem like the best idea either. What I was really looking for was a full front-zip opening, giving you full access to the entire bag from the front, and some big, fat, monster zippers on there... and some waterproof zippers on the front for valuables or maps or lonely planet guides. :) And I found a bag with all of this sweet goodness at REI!!!!!!! This is GREAT. I went with the REI Mars 85, a big honkin' 85-litre bag. I thought I'd probably be fine with a 60 or 70/75, but this one is actually closer in size to my previous bag from Novack's in London, Ontario. This is going to be GREAT. The back padding is really excellent, and the internal frame seems light and incredibly strong. The hip belt is absurdly well padded, and so I think that'll transfer a lot more of the weight to my hips rather than my shoulders, which will be a nice improvement over my old bag.

I was really impressed with the service at REI too, they were very knowledgeable and helpful with sizing and giving me lots of details about what I might need and what features some bags had over others, it was great. It is also a "Co-op", and seems like basically the same deal as MEC in Toronto. Pretty sweet.

Very happy with the pack!!!!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

From MTV: Richard Kelly's Latest Guest Blog Takes Us To Skywalker Ranch!

Awesome mention of Kate's interview of Richard Kelly last week at ILM in this article:

Google Wave first impressions

Joel just sent me a Google Wave invite (thanks, Joel!) Been checking out google wave for about 45 min, seems cool so far. I am pretty nervous about instant messaging in general though, cause it's always so "in your face" when you've got thousands of contacts potentially all writing to you at the same time... it becomes overwhelming in those cases. That's why I literally never run Facebook chat, and why I am invisible in Gmail chat or invisible on Skype. Alternatively, I just turn those tools off when I am not logging in specifically to talk to someone.

This sortof brings up the issue of instant gratification in today's society ;) I like the letter writing style of email in general, by not having an instantly-viewable conversation, email lets you word sentences a certain way, give a certain focus or intention to your words, and really focus on why you're saying something and how you are trying to say it.

Instant Messaging is more akin to chatting with 1000 people, all at the same time, and each person pulling your in a different direction. I always get way too flustered with instant messaging, and that's the main reason I stopped using ICQ and Windows Messenger ages ago - it's just too much to handle all at once. When I go to write an email, I am aiming to communicate calmly with one person (occasionally more), and I want to write a letter at my own pace and send it off once I've proofread it (to make sure it doesn't sound stupid or imply things I didn't mean to imply)... so for the Google Wave folks to say that wave will "completely replace email" seems a little far-fetched (at least in it's current implementation). I think there will always be the need for quiet, private conversation, and it seems too nerve-wracking to have someone potentially peering in and reading my sensitive email while I am in the midst of writing it to them!

An area where I really DO see using Google Wave is collaborative stuff - brainstorming, working with co-workers, planning classes and curriculum... this would be huge. It could even be a more exciting/interesting way to deliver blogging to friends and family. This is sortof like sending a mass email but you get to drop photos and comments and stuff in the "wave", that is actually VERY cool. I also see this as the real implementation of google docs - this is the way that people will actually use Google Docs for business meetings etc (and Google could take down MS Word with this). Pretty cool stuff.

One area where Google might benefit is that I could definitely see using this for work, but definitely not with proprietary files or company information. I don't think this is a plausible tool for a lot of businesses yet, until there is a "private" version that doesn't store any information on Google's servers. But until then, I can definitely see using this as a personal communication tool (rather than sending multiple text messages, for instance). The "invite" feature is awesome, and totally wipes the floor with Facebook's Events feature.

Cool stuff!!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How To Train Your Dragon trailer

My buddy Kurt is working on this!! The dragon looks hilarious, GREAT water shots too, really nice stuff. Looks like lots of great fire sim and action sequences too... badass.

Banff Day 3: Gondola up the mountain

On the last day in Banff, we went up the gondola at Sulphur Mountain and got some AMAZING views of Banff, the city and the rockies surrounding it.

This is literally the view FROM OUR HOTEL ROOM WINDOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A funny chaise thing and the view of the rockies from our hotel room

Gondola lift up the mountain


Norm getting onto the gondola

View as we are going up the gondola

View from the other side

This "castle" in the middle of our photo was our hotel!!

Hilarious signs

Good stuff

Awesome view!!

"Don't feed the mountain goats!"

Another hilarious sign


Norm having fun too

Gondolas coming up to the station

Oh, Canada :)

Our "castle" again

It was a GREAT trip! :)

Banff Day 2: Lake Louise

On Day 2 after the huge breakfast, we went down highway 1A (rather than the Trans-Canada Highway, Highway 1) which turned out to be more scenic. We stopped off first at Johnston Canyon and saw the Lower Falls there. We became quite accustomed to "falls" since the pathway was insanely icy, and we almost fell over like 20 times. It was funny and I took a good video of Norm trying to walk along the ice. Eventually we got to the falls and it was great.

After that we drove to Lake Louise. We were sorry to see that the road to Moraine Lake was closed, we really wanted to go there. Since that was the case, we just spent a longer time at Lake Louise, which was fantastic. We took a bunch of photos, walked along the edge of the lake, and then went for tea at the Banff Lake Louise hotel. They also had scones, which was EXACTLY what I was keen for. Awesome stuff.

Then we made our way back to Banff, and checked out the city itself. It was Halloween so to "celebrate", we bought $20 each of candy at a candy and chocolate store. Yes!!

In the evening we hung out in the heated outdoor pool while it was snowing outside, awesome times.

River near Johnston Canyon

Haha they had an ice cream store?! It was freezing outside!!

Norm trying not to slide down the ice

Still walking carefully on the ice



Lots of flowing water too

Lower Falls!!

A weird bird who landed on our car in the Lake Louise parking lot

A little snowman and Lake Louise

Glorrriouuuus. You can see the Banff Lake Louise hotel in the distance

I loved this tree

Hangin' out


At the "V" of the Lake Louise mountains, this is the classic postcard photo

Lake Louise!!!

Then, back to the hotel for dinner

Norm chillin' out


Funny mailbox chute