Food from Persona 3: Ramen

Aiyumi -

Last year (2015), I played an RPG for Playstation 2 called Persona 3 FES. The plot is set in Japan and the game shows various aspects of Japanese culture. Among often featured events are scenes where the characters go out to eat ramen (a noodle-based dish that is very popular in Japan) and takoyaki (roasted octopus dumpling).

Well... I have to admit that, despite being of Japanese descent, I had never eaten either ramen or takoyaki. The noodles-based dish I've known from my childhood is just udon (simple noodles) cooked in water with shoyu (soy sauce). The only thing with "ramen" in the name I had ever eaten was the instant noodles from Nissin Foods labeled as "instant ramen", but I guess this doesn't really count :P . I've always heard a lot about both ramen and takoyaki, but had never stopped to think about them. Only after playing Persona 3 I actually realized I had never eaten either of them! ... Yes, weird, but it's true.

A few months ago, my mother and I came across a ramen-ya (or ramen shop, a restaurant specializing in ramen) and decided to enter. We ordered the cheapest option, just to get a sense of what ramen tasted like. We got a large bowl of broth with noodles and seaweed flakes inside, and three very thin pork slices and a half boiled egg on top. Was it good? Yes, it was, but... not as much as I thought it should be. The taste didn't go much beyond the good ol' udon in shoyu, and left that impression that something wasn't quite right... I don't know if the people running the place are Japanese (the staff at least wasn't) and I don't know how close it gets to a ramen shop from Japan, but their food left much to be desired in my opinion. Even though we had ordered the simplest option, and even though I don't know how true ramen should taste like, I believe the acclaimed ramen is supposed to be something unique, on a different level, and not possible to simply be compared to udon hastily cooked in shoyu. After this frustration, I decided to leave the curiosity about ramen aside for the moment. Maybe another day, at a better restaurant ...

Forward to end of March 2016. I was writing a fan fiction about the aforementioned Persona 3. It was a scene featuring a Japanese food, and I decided to research about it to reduce the chances of writing wrong information. This research took me to a site with Japanese food recipes and, by chance, I stumbled upon their ramen recipe. Then, something unexpected happened. I don't know what got into me, and I had the crazy idea of trying to make ramen...

I found a problem right away. The recipe was in English, and, to my surprise, I found that cooking vocabulary was quite different from the "normal" vocabulary I was used to. Literal translations of verbs and ingredient names often make no sense in Portuguese (my native language), and I had to consult sites with Portuguese to English translations of cooking terms. Once I was able to decypher the terms, I could understand the recipe reasonably. It actually didn't seem that complicated, and yet I had the impression that it had the potential to turn out better than the ramen from that restaurant!

I'm not much into cooking (my lack of will to cook, as well as my lack of ability in the kitchen partly because of my vision impairment, are some of my greatest worries), but since that crazy idea managed to get me motivated, I figured I'd try to take advantage of the situation. Who knows? Maybe if I get incentives to practice, I might end up learning to like cooking, or at least come to not dislike it so much...

I can cut the ingredients (like vegetables) reasonably well, although it takes more time than it normally should. The biggest problem is to tame the beast called stove. Without the ability to see, I still don't know how to tell when things have cooked enough, for example. For now, my mother is helping me with the stove.

Fortunately, everything went fine as we followed the recipe, and our ramen got ready! Below is a picture of it:

A bowl of soup with noodles in the bottom, and a thick slice of pork, a half boiled egg and very thin pieces of green onions on top. Since our bowl is small and can't fit much inside, the noodles got hidden beneath the other things and hardly appears in the photo.

The difference from the recipe was that I didn't use the "angel hair pasta in baking soda" workaround that was meant to substitute for the Japanese noodles (I used fresh ramen noodles from our local Japanese grocery store ). Also, I didn't put moyashi (bean sprouts) on the topping because I don't like it much.

In the end, fortunately the ramen was to our liking. It was a bit of work but I think it was worth it. And yes, it turned out better than the one from the restaurant! I still don't know how real ramen is supposed to taste like, but according to visitors' comments on the recipe's page, some said the results reminded them of the ramen they had had in Japan. So, I'll consider this as a reasonable approximation.

Alright. The ramen's done. Now, I need the takoyaki...

Flying with Brahms' Waltz

Aiyumi -

In violin class last month, I arrived at the fifth track in the Suzuki Violin Method Volume 2. The book only says that it's a waltz composed by Johannes Brahms, but in fact, its whole title is "Waltz Opus 39 Number 15". My homework was to describe what comes to mind when listening to this music. And I was supposed to let my imagination fly (nothing like, "The composer meant this, this and that"). So I let it fly. It flew through the roof, and towards the clouds (more on this below). I've always liked to imagine the songs I listen to as though they were the "background music" or the "soundtrack" for something, so it was an interesting experience. Here's the result (warning: ramblings of someone who has no classical music background whatsoever :P):

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Server Migration and Blog System Change

Aiyumi -

Even though the blog's visual didn't change much, it's core has changed drastically. Now it's a static blog, with only HTML pages and doesn't need PHP or a database anymore.

Why a Static Blog?

Basically, static blogs work like this: I write posts in some markup language (I use Markdown) in a text editor of my choice, then a generator program (usually command line-driven) transforms posts in HTML and combines them with layout templates of the page (header, menu, content etc.) and generates all HTML pages, which can be uploaded to any webserver. For me, writing on my favorite text editor and typing a few simple commands to generate and upload the pages is much more comfortable than struggling for hours with a heavy web interface full of JavaScript (the reason why I never got along with WordPress).

It's been a while since I've been wanting to migrate to a static blog. I had tested several static blog generator programs, but none had exactly the features I wanted (mainly multilanguage content support). I had even started trying to program my own (in Perl), but in the end, I gave up. Then, this year (2015), I found this software called Nikola (which is written in Python). A few tests later, I concluded that it does everything I want (and then some), and decided that the time to migrate had come.

And Why the Server Change?

I've been hosting my sites at DreamHost since 2007 and never had any problems. Particularly, I rather like the great documentation available on their wiki, SSH access which enables uploading files via Rsync instead of FTP (basically, it's faster because Rsync sends only what is different between the files on my machine and the ones on the server, rather than reuploading everything all over again), the ability to install other software on the server (the wiki provides detailed instructions), the ability to edit PHP settings, among other things, and last but not least, their humorous monthly newsletters :P. Then why did I decide to change webhosts? For a few simple reasons: even though all of these features are interesting, over the years I discovered I don't need this much. I don't have as much time to develop sites as I had before, when I signed up for their service in 2007. At the time, I still didn't have a job, and believed I'd work designing sites. Then, I got a job as a Perl programmer, years passed and, in the end, the only site I've been able to maintain (more or less) actively is this one you're on right now, and it barely used PHP and MySQL. Now that the site is static, I don't even need PHP and MySQL anymore! And with the high US Dollar rates (one Dollar nearing four Brazilian Reals), the hosting plan is getting hard to afford, and it doesn't make much sense to keep paying for so many features I'm not using. That said, even if I don't use the service anymore, I still consider DreamHost's webhosting very good, and I recommend it to those who don't have problems with the Dollar rates :P , and need a webhost that supports MySQL, PHP (or Perl or Python which are also included in their plan) and SSH access.

The domain registration for "warpstar.net" will still remain on DreamHost (not only because I like the included features like whoes privacy protection, but also because this serves as an excuse for me to keep receiving the humorous monthly newsletters :P *). But now, the blog is hosted on GitHub Pages, and the pages are uploaded via Git (which also only uploads the differences in the files rather than reuploading everything every time), and as a bonus, the site even got version control :D !

  • Edit: or so I had thought. The account cancel page says that if I cancel the hosting, even if I keep the domain registration, I won't get the newsletters anymore. Too bad... :(

Edit (2016/03/04): apparently not! Despite what the cancel page said, I still keep receiving the newsletters :D !

The reasons above are important to me, but... okay, enough rambling. In the end, what really matters to everyone else is that all the content is here, the URLs remain the same, and the site is still online. The conversion may not have been 100%. There might be a few bugs here and there, and I intend to correct them as I find them.

An Introductory Video to CeVIO

Aiyumi -

I've already mentioned here on the blog a few voice synthesizer software, like Espeak (which provides a voice to my screen reader program), the Japanese voice synthesizer Open JTalk (which the Windows screen reader NVDA uses to read Japanese text), and the singing synthesis software VOCALOID, which I've been using for a while. There's another Japanese voice synthesiser program (both for speech and for singing) called CeVIO. Today I stumbled on this video about Japanese speech synthesizers, and I thought it's very interesting. It begins introducing a few software that came first (MMDAgent and Open JTalk), then goes on to talk about the main topic, CeVIO. It demonstrates various voice samples (both for speech and for singing), and examples of how to edit the voices' parameters to read Japanese text. (it even has tips for those wanting to buy the software :D )

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6c4p8Pjdf8