Stephanie’s Shrimp Étouffée

Post moved to my new blog at http://www.couyon.net/1/post/2011/05/stephanies-shrimp-etouffe.html

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Making XFS volumes in CentOS 5.4/5.5 kickstart

Moved to my new blog at http://www.couyon.net/1/post/2011/06/making-xfs-volumes-in-centos-5455-kickstart.html

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Saints tailgate jambalaya

Moved to my new blog at http://www.couyon.net/1/post/2011/05/saints-tailgate-jambalaya.html

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Shanghai part two

Another quick little round up:

 * Sunday – took a train to Souzhou with (Patrick, Sean, Bob, Margaret, Eric, and some other Shanda people) to go eat some BBQ. Now this wasn’t just any BBQ, it was one being cooked by Patrick’s brother (also from Texas) at his restaurant, Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant. So yeah, a chance to have some good Texas BBQ in the middle of China? Why not? Now yes, it’s not the superior pulled pork BBQ that I came to love after living in North Carolina for 4 years, but it’s still pretty good. BTW, the coleslaw and potato salad were great, too. It looked like the secret was out in Souzhou as it seemed whiteys from all around were descending upon Zapata’s. However, if you were the only person who didn’t know about it, you should check it out on Sundays near the "Rainbo Walk" — named after the pretty nice park and shoreline of the man-made lake there. (The entire area is a Singporean development.) Aside from the BBQ, a few other things. The train we took there was five bucks, went 160 mph (indicated 258 km/h), was clean, and was on time. Dear Americans, we’re doing it wrong. Yes, I know the train was probably Canadian, but still.

* Monday – we decided to observe Labor Day here in the US and take the day off from work. In pursuit of custom made clothing, Margo, Eric, and I descended upon the Fabric Market. It’s basically 3 floors of stalls crowded with hawkers selling all kinds of fabrics in almost any cut you want. At $15 per shirt (delivered), it’s hard to pass up. I wouldn’t get any suits made there as the quality was a little suspect. I saw a few people getting suits made, but they were German tourists who didn’t know any better. Everything I’ve read says that Hong Kong is still the best and only place to get suits made in China. The nice ones in Shanghai will cost more than they do in the US. Still, I ordered a six shirts apiece from two places. Let’s see a) who actually delivers on time and b) how they turn out. My expectations are kinda low, so hopefully things will work out. After that we strolled through the Shanghai "old town" which was actually kinda disappointing (it’s a craphole) and toward something called You Plaza (or something along those lines). For my NOLA readers, it kind of felt like the Riverwalk, minus the A/C. Lots of stores selling loads of tourist crapola. You had to search hard to find worthwhile gems. I did manage to find Shelley a cool birthday present, but nothing for Caitlin. It was too expensive (in any country) and the woman wouldn’t haggle.  Next we grabbed a late lunch, headed home for a power nap, then did some work.

More later, but I have to run to work. Oh yeah, the Internet is painfully slow everywhere in China. Like, worse than 56k dial-up modem bad. For that reason, I’ll wait before uploading any pictures.

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Singapore Redux and Shanghai part one

Yep, I’m back in Asia. This time it’s mostly work related instead of all fun. I’m out here working with the Mochi China team on deploying our platform in mainland China, explaining how things work in operations, listening to how things work in China — basically bridging communication gaps in person. But before all that, I made a pit-stop in Singapore to hang out with my stepbrother Ross.

This trip to Singapore was very short, and under different circumstances than last time. I think this one was more authentic since there isn’t a Forumula One race going on right now; so the city is more at ease. Still, it was great to get back to Singapore and see some people from last time, meet new friends, and hang out with Roscoe. As usual, it was hot. Fooking hot. It rained. Things were expensive. Welcome to Singapore. Well before I got to Singapore, I was lucky enough to fly Singapore Airlines business class SQ1 from SF to Hong Kong to Singapore. Talk about a great experience. I know that it isn’t the super blinging first class suites on the Singapore Air A380’s, but it was still a great experience. Comfy lie flat beds, good food, superb customer service (they pronounced Hesse properly German style), and overall great facilities. Even the business class bathrooms were excellent — I think that they cleaned them after each use. They had a orchid or lotus flower in there or something that just smelled awesome. I used the first class lavs once, and they were nice but nothing overly more impressive than the business class ones. So yeah, big thumbs up in my book for Singapore Airlines business class. Back to Singapore proper, I had a great time. Checked out a cable wakeboarding park, ate a ton of chili crab, ate some pepper crab, drank a metric ton of Tiger beer, went to a Singapore house party thrown by some Americans, introduced NWA’s Straight Outta Compton to Singapore, yelled at Uncle a lot not to drive in the middle of the street, ran into a bunch of Sings who for some reason can’t walk at all without crashing into you, got motion sick while drunk due to Uncle’s constant strumming of the accelerator, drank a bunch at BQ Bar, drank a bunch at Clark Quay, played around with Boudreaux, sweat my ass off, ducked the rain when possible, then bailed out to Shanghai. All in a all, a great little trip. I felt bad for Roscoe since he was going through some lady problems at the time, but he’ll pull through. Oh, Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge in SIN is fucking epic win.

Shanghai has been pretty eye opening to say the least. Jumped off the plane and jumped in the huge line to get through customs. Took about 30 minutes to work my way to the front, where they checked my documents, then let me through. The reason I mention this is that there was a little blinking light machine with a "rate my performance" scale of happy faces to sad faces. I pushed the happy face button, but I just got a kick out of it for some reason. I’m probably making something out of nothing, but I just liked it. Met the driver outside of customs, then rode over to Bob and Margaret’s place. The first thing I noticed quickly is that Chinese people can’t drive. No really, they can’t. Singaporeans drive in the middle of the road and strum the accelerator, but Chinese people flat-out can’t drive. When they get lost they just stop immediately — in the middle of the road with traffic frantically swerving around them. They change lanes at the last second and just careen towards other cars. About the only saving grace here is that traffic moves so slowly that any possible damage would be rather minimal. Oh, and pedestrians DON’T have the right of way in streets. That means you gotta dodge the bicycles, scooters, and run from cars while crossing the street. Takes a while to get used to, but it’s still kinda chaotic.

Anyway, got to Bob and Margo’s place, grabbed some food, then grabbed some z’s. Mochi’s cofounder Bob Ippolito and his wife Margaret are living in Shanghai for the next 6 months or so. They were gracious enough to let me stay in their spare bedroom rather than having me fend for myself at the Westin or something. I will say it was definitely nice to land in the laps of people who know what’s going on here as this really is a super foreign culture and so few people speak English. Oh, Eric Chen (another Mochi) moved from Taiwan to Shanghai and has been helping out us whiteys in this foreign land. He’s been a great "fixer" and smooths the way. We’ve been doing OK on our own, but things definitely are better when Eric is with us. A quick rundown of this week’s events:

 * Went to work at the Shanda Games offices on Monday and Tuesday. Bob has a driver to take us to/from work everyday so that we don’t have to cram into the metro. Very nice setup indeed. More on the office later. Monday night we went to drink Belgian beers and gnosh at Kaiba. Tuesday night we went to Mesa Manifesto for tapas and tasty drinks. For the record, a Pimms Cup is extra fookin tasty when it’s 95+ degrees out and crazy humid. Thumbs up for both places, but the food at Kaiba was rather meh.
 * Worked from home on Wednesday, went on a field trip for the world’s most awesome dumplings (at Yang’s Fried Dumplings), then went to the police station to wait around for 30 minutes before finally registering as a foreigner in temporary residence. If you’re a foreigner not staying at the hotel, you must register with the local police. Welcome to China. Ordered in some Nepalese food Wednesday night and avoided the crazy monsoon/typhoon.
 * Rode the subway to work on Thursday. Pretty clean, very frequent, and overall pretty good. Interesting that you have to x-ray scan your bags before entering. They have a distance based payment system here using electronic cards — kinda like Tokyo and BART in SF. The cool thing here is that you can use the cards for all sorts of things — including taxis. Huge win in my book. Not messing around with cash and figuring out foreign language numbering systems is nice. Just tag it and go. Thursday night we went to chinese hotpot (like Japanese shabu shabu) at Hai-Di-Lao Hotpot. Sooo good and such great service. For real, the service was super fantastic number one quality. It also helped that our waiter was enamored with the fact that we were authentic Americans. BTW, you can get a haircut or a shoe-shine there while you wait for your table.
 * Worked from home Friday, ate a wicked good hamburger at Gourmet Cafe, then went out drinking with some of the Shanda Games people including Sean and Patrick. Sean is a native Chinese person who speaks great English and is an all around good guy. Patrick is an american born chinese (ABC) from outside Dallas who does some bizdev work for Shanda Games. Our Friday night was supposed to start off with a Tiger Beer pubcrawl, but we kinda ixnayed that. Instead we had some drinks at D10 Departure Lounge. It was a pretty cool setup where the bar looks like the inside of an airliner. It wasn’t an actual airliner, but it looked like one. Pretty cool concept and they pulled it off very well. Only one bad thing is that the bathrooms were the same size as ones in a plane. After that we headed to a KTV bar named Muse next to Restaurant 97. Everyone had a great time and it was definitely an interesting experience. KTV is kind of like a cross between a hostess club and a karaoke bar in a private room. You pick some girls to hang out with, get drunk, then (badly) sing some songs.  Sounds odd to Americans, but it’s definitely a big thing in SE Asia. Overall a fun time; my only complaint was that some of the songs has lyrics which were terribly off.
 * Saturday (today) woke up on the last side (see KTV above), then went to dimsum with Patrick, his girlfriend Yoko, and Patrick’s sister in law. Needless to say, this was easily some of the best dimsum I’ve had in my life. I’m pretty sure that the place was called Royal China. The highlight was the radish (or was it turnip) cube things which looked like cubed fried potatoe’s but were not made from potatoe. SOoOooO good. The conge (conje?) was pretty tasty and was a new experience. Everything else was great, but I’d had it before in the US (yay San Francisco). After dimsum, came back for a powernap, then rolled to the Bund. We went around 5 which ended up being perfect both in terms of heat and number of people. Overall it was a fun stroll to see some great architecture and good views. We capped off the walk with some drinks and light bites at a rather nice gastropub named New Heights which overlooked the Bund. Overall I’d give it a thumbs up. Afterward we decided to walk down to People’s Square from the Bund for more exploring. Highlights included a cat on a leash, some people welding metal on the side of the street, and people just hanging out on the sidewalk in lawn chairs and pool lounge-bed-things. A bunch of the apartments in Shanghai don’t have AC, so people just hang out on the street rather than cook in their apartments. You’ll see guys playing cards, people dragging their furniture to the street, and people just hanging out. To be honest, I kinda like it. One thing I also like is the guys who roll up their t-shirts and rub their sweaty chests and bellies. It’s quite a sight. Hilarious and I love it.

That’s all for now. More later. BTW, the food here is fantastic.

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Checking out for a few days

Going to Kauai for a few days to recharge the batteries. Too much work and not enough personal time lately. Hopefully this will take care of that.
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Erin’s shrimp creole recipe

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Lael’s chicken and andouille gumbo

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My Blu-Ray movie archival strategy

I’ll admit it; I love Blu-Ray movies. The huge improvements in audio and video quality over DVD are so tremendously worth it. However, playing Blu-Rays on HTPC’s can even be somewhat awkward. Even though I have my machine setup to automatically run Power DVD and start playing the disc after it’s inserted, it still kinda rubs me the wrong way. It’s one of the two things that can’t be done inside of Windows Media Center (Hulu Desktop is the other). Over the years, I’ve also been spoiled about having my entire movie library on the Drobo and instantly accessible without physical media (I also hate physical media). Hey, it’s a nice thing when you’re hammered at 2AM after a night of boozing and want to watch Heat at 150 decibels. Yeah, fuck you neighbors.

So here’s what I’ve been doing lately, and I’m pleased with. Rip the Blu-Ray movies into high bitrate WMV 9 video with WMV10 Pro 5.1 audio. There are pros and cons for every choice, but here’s why I chose this:

1) Media Center/Windows can natively handle both of these formats. No plug-ins or anything needed.
2) Can fast-forward and rewind natively; no need to skip in 30 second increments or jump backwards in 5 second hops. Can’t do that with any of the directshow stuff.
3) This is about the best combo for Media Center Extenders and xbox 360. Everything else is flakey on them.
4) 10 Mbps VBR WMV9 video looks pretty good. Great for casual viewing.

Now, the steps:
1) Use eac3to to rip the AC3 audio track to an AC3 stream. I guess you could try using other multi-channel formats, but I’ll stick with the AC3 5.1. eac3to is normally a CLI app, but there are a few GUI front-ends for it. I use the yr_eac3to_more_gui. Be sure to select the option to disable center channel normalization.
2) Use eac3to to rip the video to a MKV file. Don’t do anything super fancy here, just straight video to a MKV.
3) Fire up Windows Media Encoder and add the video file to the project. Select the correct profile and hit encode.
4) Convert the AC3 file to WMA10 Pro using dbPowerAmp or something similar. I usually do this ahead of time. Takes 8 mins or so.
5) Use Windows Media Stream Editor to mux the WMA file into the WMV.

5 steps isn’t too shabby at all — especially compared to some tutorials out there. Oh, it takes a long time to encode (about 4-5 hours on my rig). This is why you overclock and buy liquid cooled PC’s. Hot

Now for the pre-requisites. You’ll need the following software packages:
-Slysoft AnyDVD HD. This circumvents the retarded copy protection on BD movies. It is fucking pricey though (over 100 euros).
-eac3to (free download)
-eac3to GUI (not required but nice. free download)
-Windows Media Encoder.  (free download. be sure to grab the vista updates if you’re on anything later than XP)
-ffdshow & matroska splitter (free downloads). This allows Media Encoder to read the MKV file. Both are free downloads. Avoid any codec packs and just install them.
-something that installs with Windows Media Audio 10 Pro profile. This is generally included with commercial software, but I’m guessing it can be found somewhere on the net. I got it with dbPowerAmp which I bought eons ago. Great software then and still pretty good now.

That’s it as far as software. You will have to setup your media encoder profiles though. Use the Media Encoder Profile Utility for that. I generally shoot for 10mbps video and 98 VBR 16 bit audio at whatever the native AC3 rate was. I chose 10 Mbps because that’s right around the area where most media extenders and the xbox 360 top out at. People have reported issues at 15 mbps so I figure that 10 mbps gives us enough wiggle room. Plus, it looks pretty good.

If you have subtitles, there are a few more steps:

1) Extract subtitles to a .sup file using eac3to.
2) OCR the .sup file into a .srt file using supread
3) Convert .srt file to .sub file using Subtitle Workshop or something like that.
4) Make sure the name of the .sub file exactly matches the name of the WMV file and put it in the same directory.
5) Be sure to enable subtitles in WMP.

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Tokyo Update

Those that know me well know that I prefer to sleep in rather than wake up early. So when I say that I woke up at 4:45 AM to catch a flight to Tokyo, yes, it’s OK to be shocked. Still, the prospect of Tokyo was so great that it didn’t matter what time it was. I said goodbye to Ross’ dog Boudreaux and hopped in a cab around 5:15. Uncle (Ross calls all the cab drivers Uncle) thought he was driving the Starship Enterprise (not the crappy diesel we were actually in) and flew down PIE to the airport. His little LCD panel constantly said "Speed warning! Drive safely!" which gave me the idea that we shared the same sentiment for speed limits. Went through security, had breakfast at the United lounge, then plunked my ass down in a United Business seat to Tokyo. While I did sleep a little on the plane, I spent most of the time reading a guide book on Tokyo. By the time we landed, I was completely amped. Went through immigration and the guy was a little surprised that I was there on vacation. He kept asking me if I was going to work. Bizarre. Made it through then went to the airport limousine bus counter, booked a ticket, and waited for the bus. I found my numbered waiting area, watched 3 buses come and go, then jumped on mine. Yes, everything you’ve heard about Tokyo transit is true — it is on time. One nice thing is that it’s considered rude to talk loudly or use a cellphone. Oh to have that attitude in the US!

First stop on the bus was my hotel, Cerulean Tower Hotel. Took about an hour with all of the traffic and a decent deal at 30000 yen. Let’s just get this out of the way first, Tokyo is expensive. Yeah, I’m sure there are ways to do it on the cheap, but almost everything here is expensive. Come here with the wallet open. You don’t have to be big pimping, but it doesn’t hurt. Speaking of not hurting, this hotel is da bomb. I managed to swing a single room with city views of the Hachkiko crossing for $220 US/night. For this a place of this quality, that’s a steal. Let’s just go through the check-in experience:

I was off the bus, had not stepped more than 2 feet with my bags before someone asked me if I was checking in. He took my bag and handed me a ticket in return, then another person greeted me and showed me the way to the hotel reception. At reception there were no less than 3 people waving me into the shortest line. The receptionist asked me to fill out the standard hotel stay card. I literally hadn’t finished writing "HESSE" on the form before the guy had read it (upside down mind you) and asked, "Mr. Hesse will you only be staying with us for 3 nights?" Honestly, I don’t think the ink was dry yet. Once I was all settled up there, a woman suddenly appeared with my bag and showed me into the room. We talked a bit in English and hers was very good (not the case *at all* in Japan). Once into the room, she showed me all of the various things, said goodbye, and slipped out with ninja stealth lest I suffer the indignity of hearing the door close. Looking around the room I thought to myself, I’ve stayed in much worse places in the US (and abroad) for $220/night. So, score one for japanican.com! I highly recommend using them.

The room isn’t pimping, but it is just nice. There’s nothing cheap here at all. It’s all very high quality. Not blinging, but nice. OK I take that back, the toilet is blinging. I want one for home. I mean it. Automatic controls for flushing, bidet, and ummm ball washing. Heated of course and you can adjust the water pressure. Hello, Christmas list anyone?

I had to fight a fire at work, send some emails, then I was off to explore Shibuya. From my room, I could see exactly where I wanted to go, but leaving the hotel….ok I’ll admit I got lost. Welcome to Tokyo. Lost in the first 5 minutes and probably not the last time. Wandered around for a good hour then found the "Ramen place with the pig’s head on the sign" as my coworker Justin described it. Everything on the outside was in Japanese. I don’t speak Japanese. I can’t read it. Luckily I’ve eaten enough Japanese food in SF to know my way around a menu. Standing outside, the place was packed with Japanese people all chowing down. OK, it’s got to be good. Deep breath, here goes nothing and I went inside. After some pointing and gesturing, I ordered what I wanted and paid. A minute later, my ramen popped out, and I went to town. It was great food, and I was even happier. I’d had my first successful Japanese meal without an English menu and without any trouble. When I was finished I looked around for a napkin and then realized that I was in Tokyo. They don’t give you napkins here; you have to bring your own. Granted, they do hand them out attached to advertisements on the street (think tiny packets of tissues in the US), but I hadn’t run across any yet. Oh well, that’s what jeans are for.

I wandered around after dinner and found the train station. Decided to buy a Suica card before rush hour the next day. While the signs and terminals in the Tokyo stations might be in English, the Suica machine is not. However, I knew that it was 2000 yen for a card so I plunked in two 1000 bills and hoped for the best. Some whirring later, I had a Suica card — Tokyo was now at my disposal. What did I do though? I found the nearest Belgian bar and proceeded to get drunk. I stumbled upon this bar named Belgo which had over 100 types of beer, mostly Belgian. Plopped my rear on a bar stool and did what I do well, get drunk.

Slept in late the next morning due to time change from Singapore and decided to watch the Hachiko crossing from the nearby Starbucks. Oh, did I mention that it’s raining hard today? Yeah, that crossing is kinda insane on a normal day. Add umbrellas into the mix and hello collisions! Wolfed down my morning coffee and tried to figure out what would work tourist-wise with all of this rain. I slept through the fish market action so I said fuckit and jumped on the Yamanote line to Harajuku. I wandered around a bit, popping in and out of various shops. Ended up with some cool t-shirts and my obligatory expensive pair of Japanese jeans. All very cool. I was also looking for some postcards to send and a folding hat for Amanda but struck out on those.

On the way back to the hotel, I thought it best to get some lunch — it was 4PM. I ran across a vending machine ramen shop so decided to give that a try. So basically this is how it goes: There’s a big picture menu out front which you use to figure out what you want, you figure out what number that is, go inside, and put your money in the machine and choose the right number. It spits out a receipt that you take to the counter. They asked me some questions in Japanese, I kinda shrugged, she asked "Soba?" and I nodded and gave a thumbs up. A minute later, my curry and my ramen were put on the counter. Bam! I like this. The food was excellent, too. So when you hear about someone ordering food from a vending machine, this is what they’re talking about.

I returned to the hotel, plopped my bags down, and crashed for a nap. Shopping and touristing in the rain can be quite tiring.

Wrote up this post and a Bali post, now I’m headed out to Shinjuku for the lights and night life. Wish me luck! Oh yeah, it’s still raining.

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