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Sundae: My First Dog

This is Sundae. I adopted him from Celebrity Pets Rescue exactly one month ago on 12 March 2016.

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For as long as I could remember, I have loved dogs, long before I even knew what a budgerigar was. When I was a little kid, not yet old enough to go to kindergarten, my parents bought me a basset hound plushie which I still have today. They also bought me a small dog plushie which used to have whiskers and a bell on its ribbon collar, but as a child I used to pull the whiskers and I lost the bell a very long time ago. I had “Lady and the Tramp” on VHS tape. I really loved that movie. Even after discovering budgies, I still loved dogs as much as ever. I loved watching movies about dogs, I’m a huge fan of “Inspector Rex” (bought it all on DVD), and got teary-eyed after watching “Marley and Me” and “Red Dog“.

My parents didn’t allow me to have a real dog, I guess its because a dog was a luxury my parents could not afford at the time. So it was my dream to get a dog after I graduate from school, get a well-paying job, and my own home. I actually got my own home three years ago, but I didn’t feel like I could afford a dog because most of the time I was living from paycheck to paycheck. Eventually I got better at managing my budget, and then earlier this year I put some serious thought into getting my first dog with a preference for adopting from the RSPCA, rescue organisation or shelter. These organisations are always appealing for people to adopt, so I thought the process would be quick and easy. I was wrong.

In January I had been going back and forth between I-work-full-time-and-money-is-tight and I-really-want-a-dog. Then in early February I saw a Facebook post advertising an event for “National Pet Adoption Day” where various animal rescue organisations visit PetStock stores with a few of the cats and dogs available for adoption. That was the beginning of my serious search for a canine jogging buddy.

I went to the event at the Balcatta PetStock store. I briefly spoke with one of the volunteers and asked them what they would recommend for a first-time dog owner, but was a little disappointed that all they could offer was a brochure and told me to call the mobile contact number for more information. I tried to call the number several times, but was never able to get through to someone, and never received a call back or response to text messages.

The following week I visited the RSPCA in Malaga. There was only one staffer there, and she seemed busy with other people. I did speak with her for a moment, and she advised me to go to the kennels to have a look and see if any of the dogs interested me. She mentioned that the dogs tended to bark a lot because they were not used to being in the kennels. I went to take a look, but because the lone staffer seemed too busy that day, I left without pursuing anything further.

Next I went to visit the Dogs Refuge Home in Shenton Park. I had looked at their website previously and there were a few dogs that I liked. When I arrived around noon, there were a lot of cars parked on the verge. It was a Saturday and the Dogs Refuge Home was full of prospective adopters and volunteers. I wandered around and had a look at the dogs, and filled in a questionnaire about my lifestyle and preferences so they can review whether the dogs I liked would suit. I answered the questionnaire honestly, but because I work full time, they told me that the dogs I listed were unsuitable because they preferred someone who would be at home more. I asked them about another dog, a kelpie cross named Buddy. The volunteer said they would check with the trainer and see if Buddy would suit me. After a long wait, the volunteer came back to me saying that Buddy would be suitable for me, but the bad news is that Buddy was adopted by someone else an hour earlier. The volunteer suggested that I try visiting next week because they get 20 to 30 dogs coming in and out of the refuge each week (I found this statistic surprising). They also suggested visiting the PetRescue website.

I returned to the RSPCA and Dogs Refuge Home several times, and also contacted several other rescue organisations. Most of them said “no” because I work full time I would be leaving the dog alone at home for 10 hours, and/or because I had a small back yard. A month of scouring the PetRescue website, visiting shelters, calling and sending e-mails, I was getting really frustrated at how hard this was and was on the verge of giving up. After another visit to the RSPCA and Dogs Refuge Home ending in disappointment, I posted a rant on Facebook about the difficulties of finding a dog to adopt, and felt like throwing in the towel.

I made a last ditch attempt to find my future fur baby by sending an e-mail to a rescue organisation that I had not yet approached: Celebrity Pets Rescue. In my e-mail I explained my predicament and asked if they had any dogs that would suit my circumstances. I received an encouraging response with pictures of two German Shepherd/Kelpie crosses that were potential matches. They advised me to visit them in Malaga on Saturday.

Come Saturday, I visited the Celebrity Pets Rescue in Malaga. The ladies there discussed some of the dogs they had, and in the end they suggested Sundae and asked if I wanted to meet him. I said yes, so they brought Sundae out to the courtyard. Sundae seemed ecstatic to be out of the kennel and proceeded to wander around and sniff everything. They let me take Sundae for a short walk and spend some time with him. He was such an energetic and friendly dog, I decided he was the one!

Apparently Sundae had been in the kennels since October last year, so roughly 5 or 6 months, which I found surprising because he was such a gorgeous and friendly dog. I filled in the paperwork for adoption, the ladies were really helpful in answering my questions about dog ownership. My house was not ready for a dog, I had no dog food, dog bowls, leads, collars, beds, etc. The ladies at Celebrity Pets Rescue recommended a nearby pet store that supports the rescue organisation, so while I went there to buy a few things, they gave Sundae a wash. When I returned to take Sundae home, he looked even more gorgeous.

A week later, the microchip details were transferred to my name, and Sundae was officially mine :)

Sundae

Picking Tea Leaves & Chasing Butterflies

Ah~ the power of the Internet! I wanted to find a song that I heard many years ago, back in my childhood days. After a bit of Googling and trawling YouTube, I finally found it!

I don’t remember what year or how old I was, but my brother and I used to attend Chinese school on Saturday mornings run by the Chung Wah Association. They had three options for extra-curricular activities: kung fu, Chinese painting, and dancing. My brother did kung fu and I did Chinese painting. It seemed to me that the dance class only had one song/dance routine, so I would hear the same Chinese folk song every Saturday, and they would always perform the same dance to the same song at every end-of-term assembly.

I liked that song, and even though I stopped attending that Chinese school many, many years ago… that particular Chinese folk song has stuck with me ever since I first heard it, and to this day I would hum the tune to myself every now and then.

Today I was watching the documentary series “The Story of Maths” on Netflix, and one episode focused on mathematics in ancient China, and the Chinese folk music they were playing in the background reminded me of that song. So I set out on an online journey to find that song…

The challenge was that I knew what the song sounded like, and that it was a Chinese song that had something to do with picking tea. I had no idea what the song was called, and I thought it might be a famous or well-known folk song, but I wasn’t sure. So the first thing I Googled was “chinese folk song picking tea”, and this was the first result:

Bingo! This is the song I was looking for!

But the sound quality of that particular YouTube video isn’t very good. In fact, it reminds me exactly of the screechy cassette tape recording they used at the Chinese school. I wanted to find a better quality version of the song, and later I wanted to look for sheet music so I could try and play it on the keyboard. The YouTube video did not have a description, but based on the title, I concluded that the song was called “Picking Tea Leaves” or “采茶”. Since it is a Chinese song, I figured I would have better luck searching for a better quality version of the song if I searched using the Chinese title, so I entered “采茶歌” (picking tea song) into Google.

Apparently there are many different Chinese folk songs about picking tea, with several provincial variations, so my search yielded many results, but after watching a few of the videos that came from the results, none of them were the song I was after. I was worried that by listening to these other ‘incorrect’ songs, I would forget what the song I wanted sounded like. I watched a few more videos and finally found some that matched the song I wanted:

Again, the sound quality was not good. I wanted to find either a video or sound file that was worthy of adding to a play list of songs. The title of this video also indicated that the song is called “采茶”, same as the first video I found, which didn’t really help when used as a search term. But I had a look at the video description which is in Chinese. My Chinese isn’t that good, I can recognise some characters, but usually cannot read whole sentences unless they are simple ones. I couldn’t be bothered to use an online translator, but I did recognise these characters: 福建民歌, well, I know 福建 is “Fujian” and “歌” is song, and I had a hunch that “民歌” is folk song. So I Googled “fujian tea picking song” and this was the first result:

Bingo again! Plus the video is good quality, but the tempo was a little too slow for my taste…

The above was the second result, and while it is the right song, it was a modified arrangement of the song I wanted. It sounds great and I like it, just not quite what I’m after. But these two videos finally confirmed the real name of the song: “采茶扑蝶”, which was commonly translated as “picking tea and chasing butterflies”. Further Googling indicated that some people translated the song as “picking tea and catching butterflies”.

Now that I had the correct song title, I was able to find several quality YouTube videos of the song, here’s some of my favourites:

Orchestra with pretty pictures of scenery~

Such a talented kid, and playing from memory, no sheet music!

Another piano version, although I think it is played a little too fast.

With Mandarin vocals~

With vocals, I don’t know what Chinese dialect this is (Cantonese?), but it sounds really nice~

I may have little to no skill in kung fu, but I’m pretty good with my Google-fu :D

Melbourne Holiday 2015 – Hello Melbourne

Things were starting to get hectic at work so I was really stressed out and yearning for a break, maybe take a week off and travel somewhere. Initially I mulled over the idea of going to Margaret River, but having been there before, it didn’t seem like the kind of place to go by myself. Ever since I watched David Attenborough’s “The Life of Birds“, I had wanted to one day see the penguins at Phillip Island. So I decided to take a week off work in October, spending a few days in Melbourne and a few days on Phillip Island, my first time traveling interstate!

Planning

When it comes to traveling, I think part of the fun is the planning before the actual trip. I spent many hours browsing online for hotels, flights, attractions, restaurants, etc. While I usually don’t end up seeing or doing everything that I look up online, it’s still fun to read and think about it. I had initially planned to travel alone, but after telling my mum about my plans, she decided to come along too.

Firstly, I had to book flights. No point booking accommodation without locking in what dates I will be in Melbourne. After much browsing, TigerAir consistently had the cheapest flights. TigerAir usually had sales on airfares every Tuesday and sometimes on Saturday, so over a few weeks, I would check TigerAir’s website on those days to see if they had any cheap fares for Perth-Melbourne flights. Eventually there was an offer for flights from Perth to Melbourne departing Perth at 11:45pm, but it was only $10 cheaper than the usual price, and at the time there was no offer for flights from Melbourne to Perth, picking the afternoon flight. Ended up paying $796 for two return flights with 20kg checked luggage and seat selection.

With the flights locked in, next was accommodation. I wanted to spend a few days in Melbourne, and a few days in Phillip Island. I first checked Agoda, since I had used them before to book accommodation in Thailand, and had some points from my previous bookings, or so I thought… When I logged into Agoda to check my points, I found that the points expired and my points balance was 0. So screw that, I decided not to let the promise of useless expiring points determine where I book.

For the Melbourne part of my trip, I wanted to book a hotel in the CBD so that we would be within walking distance of attractions and public transport. I focused my search on the area near Southern Cross station. My initial pick was Travelodge Docklands because it is right next to Southern Cross station, rated 4-stars, the rooms looked awesome, and when I first checked the prices, it was still ‘affordable’ at around $150-$160 per night. Breakfast is not included, and while the pictures made the breakfast look deliciously tempting, but if I recall correctly, breakfast cost like $40 per person. I figured, since we’re in the CBD, there would be plenty of alternative breakfast options available.

But after booking my flights, I found that prices for Travelodge Docklands had shot up to $180-$190 per night (that’s for the early booking rate), so I looked into alternatives. I ended up booking a room at Best Western Atlantis Hotel. The hotel is very close to Southern Cross station, breakfast included (if booking direct), and has a swimming pool and gym (which I did not end up using), rated 3.5-stars but still looks very nice. The confusing thing was that the hotel has two websites: Atlantis Hotel and Best Western. The curious thing is that the two websites offered slightly different rates for what seems to be the exact same room types. Since the Best Western website had cheaper rates, I booked through them and got the “city view stay 2 nights” room for $129 per night.

The last thing I needed to book was the Phillip Island penguin tour. I wanted to go on the Ultimate Adventure tour, which needs to be booked in advance and is limited to 10 people per tour, so I didn’t want to miss out. I combined it with the 3 Parks Pass, which includes entry to the Koala Conservation Park and Churchill Island Heritage Farm, coming to $103.50 per person. I was tempted to thrown in a boat tour too, but I had already spent a lot on flights, hotels, and the penguin tour, so I decided to leave it at that. I also did a lot of research into other attractions in Melbourne and Phillip Island, making notes on location, opening hours and entry ticket prices.

Day 1 – Melbourne

The flight I booked departed Perth 11:45pm on Sunday night. The flight itself took a little over 3 hours, but due to the time difference, it would be 6am Monday morning when we arrived in Melbourne. I booked seats just in front of the emergency exit row thinking that the extra space behind me meant less chance of getting into an argument about reclining my seat, but I failed to realise that because the row behind was an emergency exit row, the seats do not recline at all, silly me.

When we arrived at Melbourne airport, since TigerAir uses the new terminal 4, we had a short walk to terminal 3 where we bought tickets and boarded the SkyBus which departs the airport every 10 minutes and goes straight to Southern Cross station. The SkyBus also offers free transfers between Southern Cross station and certain hotels in the CBD, but since Atlantis Hotel was just a short walk from Southern Cross station, my mum and I dragged our luggage over to the hotel. Hotel check in time is usually in the afternoon, so I initially planned to leave our luggage at the hotel, then wander around Melbourne until check in time. Since I could not find information about when check in time was for the hotel from the websites, I asked the gentleman at the front desk who said check in is 2pm, but they had rooms ready and allowed us to check in early, much to my mum’s relief as she was very tired and wanted to take a nap. We dropped our luggage off in the hotel room, then went to a nearby cafe for breakfast, and afterwards we went back to the hotel room for a nap.

We didn’t wake up until later in the afternoon. We went for a walk through the CBD (which I thought looked a lot like a bigger version of Perth’s CBD), ending up in Chinatown where we bought wonton noodles for lunch at Grand BBQ in Target Centre, and washing it down with a bubble tea from a nearby Easy Way Tea. Next, I wanted to go to Federation Square and head to the visitor information centre to get information about how to go to and from Phillip Island.

When I did my research on things to do in Melbourne’s CBD, it looked like Federation Square had a lot going on, but it wasn’t as exciting or interesting as I thought it would be. I suppose it is different when there are events happening, but the day we went, there was nothing going on. We first went to the information centre and got some advice on taking the coach to Phillip Island. Next we visited the Australian Centre for the Moving Image which was free entry and had some interesting exhibits about the history of media, movies and TV. Afterwards we crossed the road to Flinders Street train station to purchase tickets for the coach to Phillip Island, then hopped onto the city loop tram which took us to the Docklands area before turning back to our hotel.

Back at the hotel, my mum called a friend who lives in Melbourne and she gave us some recommendations for places to eat nearby. She recommended two nearby places: Gami and Suda. My mum didn’t feel like having oily fried food, so we decided to go to Suda, which is located on Healeys Lane, a short walking distance from Atlantis Hotel. There were several other restaurants in the same lane, including the aforementioned Gami Chicken. While we waited for our food, we were given a small plate of appetizers, including kimchi, bean sprouts and a sweet pasta salad. I ordered the bulgogi beef, and my mum ordered a beef stew. I thought it tasted good, but my mum found the food to be too sweet for her taste. For dessert we both had some light and refreshing green tea ice cream.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the Docklands area. Since it was a Monday night, there weren’t as many people around, and the few restaurants and bars that were open were relatively quiet. Still, it was nice to see the city lights and feel the cool breeze by the harbour. We took a few photos, including one which seemed to show a brilliant full moon in the sky… but there was no full moon that night! Nor were there any background lights that would explain what that large white round light in the photo would be, mysterious~

Melbourne Docklands

My mum took this blurry photo of me with the bridge in the background positioned awkwardly…

Melbourne Docklands

I took this photo of my mum. Seriously, there was no full moon in the sky that day, spooky~ Most likely explanation is that it’s a speck of dust floating near the camera.

Day 2 – More Melbourne

Our plan for the day was to visit the Queen Victoria Market (which is not open Mondays and Wednesdays), then meet up with my mum’s friend for lunch, and visit the Melbourne aquarium.

Although the hotel is right next to several tram stops, the Queen Victoria Market is just a short walk away, so we set off on foot through Flagstaff Gardens. We arrived around 9am so many of the stallholders were still setting up their wares. It was essentially a much larger version of the Wanneroo markets. There were stalls selling a variety of items: clothing, souvenirs, books, phone accessories. There was also a section of the market full of fresh food stalls, and an indoor section selling seafood, meat and cheese. I enjoyed seeing all the different things on sale. I bought myself a jumper (one that has real pockets and actually buttons up at the front!), and my mum bought some crystal ornaments as gifts for friends.

We took a break at a cafe and sipped on hot chocolate while waiting for my mum’s friend. After having trouble finding each other, we finally met up with my mum’s friend who had brought along her baby daughter. My mum’s friend gave us a guided tour through Melbourne Central and Emporium before heading to Din Tai Fung for lunch.

Apparently Din Tai Fung is famous for their dumplings and really popular, so we arrived as early as we could to secure a table. I thought it was a nice touch that the staff provided us with a cloth basket next to our table to store our bags, covering them with a fabric sheet to keep them safe. To be honest, I felt a little out of place because the attentive service from the staff made me feel like the place was too posh for me. We ordered different types of dumplings, which were all delicious and surprisingly filling for their size. When we left the restaurant, there was a long queue of people outside waiting for a table.

After lunch, we headed to the Melbourne aquarium, on our way there my mum’s friend gave us a tip that the tourist information booths have brochures for the aquarium which also give a discount on the entry price, so we grabbed two. My mum’s friend didn’t join us inside the aquarium as her baby daughter was tired and needed to go home to nap.

As we entered inside the aquarium, the first section had a photographer taking everyone’s photo in front of a blue screen, which would later be photoshopped onto images of sea animals and printed in a booklet that can be purchased at the gift shop. I always felt guilty about these things, they are especially common in Thailand (and overseas in general) where they would take your photo, usually without asking first, and print them on a souvenir plate or frame them on a decorative card. As you exit the attraction/location, these photos are put on display to encourage you to buy them. Knowing that these photos would be destroyed if you didn’t buy them made be feel bad because it’s a waste of effort and resources, especially when printed on things like souvenir plates. Knowing this, I found it hard to smile for the camera, but I tried my best anyway.

The aquarium layout is designed so that you generally follow one path and get to see every section, with the sea animals grouped according to habitat or animal type. We saw a large variety of fish, crustaceans and other sea animals, pretty much what you would expect from an aquarium. They had a crocodile which seemed too big to be real, but apparently it is, a little hard to tell when it doesn’t move much. Some of the tanks had little glass domes where children could crawl underneath and get an extra close look at the fish.

At the very end of the path was my favourite part of the aquarium: the Penguin Playground. They had some young King Penguins which still had their fluffy brown down feathers, I thought they were really cute, my mum didn’t even know they were penguins! There were several King Penguins sharing an enclosure with Gentoo Penguins. The enclosure also had several nesting sites, with the Gentoo Penguins sitting on eggs. While we were watching the penguins, the aquarium staff came out to check the eggs by removing the eggs from the nest, and placing a fake egg in its place while they took the real egg away to be examined, before putting it back under the nesting penguins. At one end of the enclosure was a ramp leading to a tank of water where the penguins were swimming. I could have sat there all day just watching the penguins~

I couldn’t stay there forever watching the penguins, my mum wanted to head back to the hotel and rest, so we caught the city loop tram, which again took us to Docklands. I thought the tram would then turn in the direction of our hotel like it did the day before, but it actually took us in the opposite direction and back towards the aquarium. Since it was the city loop train, I figured it would eventually stop near our hotel, but it ended up stopping at the parliament stop, and the tram driver said it would be another 10 or 15 minutes before the tram got going again. It was a hot day and I didn’t feel like waiting, so we hopped off the city loop tram and crossed the intersection to catch another tram which eventually got us back to the hotel.

My mum felt like having mussels or seafood for dinner, so while she took a nap, I Googled for local seafood restaurants. Unfortunately, they were either too expensive, too far, or closed on Tuesdays. So I looked for any restaurants nearby that would be open on a Tuesday night, and decided to go for New Quay International Buffet which is located in the Docklands area. It was kind of on the expensive side, but given the variety of food and gorgeous little desserts, I think it was well worth it. They also had mussels, which my mum had plenty of (I’m not into mussels). I started with prawns, raw sliced salmon, and salmon salad. For mains I grabbed a little bit of everything: roast duck, lamb steak, fried prawns, steamed fish, BBQ pork. For dessert I had green tea ice cream, fruit, and tried a few of the pretty little cakes and pastries.

We returned to the hotel very full and satisfied, and started to pack my things for our trip to Phillip Island. While it was warm and sunny during our stay in Melbourne, we had some light rain that evening, and the next morning would bring a heavier downpour…

Sound Effects in Scanlations

It has been many years since I was actively involved in the scanlation scene, and there is a lot I could say about it, but what I wanted to talk about is sound effects, more specifically the translation of Japanese sound effects to English. When it comes to translating sound effects, different scanlation groups and even the licensed English translation companies have different methods of translating Japanese sound effects:

1. Do nothing
Ignore the sound effect altogether and leave them on the page as they are. Sometimes licenced companies include an index at the back of the book with a list of sound effect translations (which I found inconvenient and pointless).

2. Transliterate
Transcribe the Japanese script into English script. Example: ゴクン would be written as *gokun*, and バタン as *batan*

3. Literal description
Using a word or phrase that describes the meaning of the sound effect. Example: ゴクン would be written as *swallows*, and バタン as *impact*

4. Use an English equivalent or approximation
Use the equivalent or closest approximation to English onomatopoeia. Example: ゴクン would be written as *gulp*, and バタン as *bam*

There are also visual variations: some write the translation in small text next to the original Japanese sound effect, while others put the translation on top of or completely cover up the original Japanese text.

Personally, I think number 4 is “true” and “ideal” translation, while 1 to 3 are just lazy. Visually, I prefer the small text next to the original Japanese because most sound effects are drawn to be part of the illustration. While searching for “Snow White With The Red Hair“, I came across a scanlation for it and what I noticed immediately was they way they had chosen to translate sound effects. The words “commotion”, “puts down”, “suddenly”, “huge mouthfuls” appeared on the page as literal descriptions of what the original Japanese sound effects represent, and the original Japanese sound effects had also been completely removed from the page making it almost indistinguishable from the characters’ dialogue (most groups use **  or a different font to indicate sound effect translations, but this one did not).

Scanlation example

“commotion commotion” Example of the “Snow White With The Red Hair” scanlation.

In my experience as a translator for scanlation groups, many novice translators did not bother with sound effects at all. The groups I worked for did require sound effect translation, and I often found myself translating just the sound effects for projects because the translator who translated the dialogue did not know how to translate the sound effects. When I first started as translator, I was given a .PDF file containing suggested translations and explanations for common Japanese sound effects, this was used by many translators. A quick Google search shows that there are now many online resources such as The Jaded Network.

Many translators used these guides word for word and got stumped when they came across a sound effect that was not listed in the file, but I mainly used it as a guide and drew on my own experiences in reading English comics to choose suitable translations. I was reading English comics long before I read my first manga, and I noticed that there are differences between sound effect usage in manga, and sound effect usage in Western comics.

*smile*

“niko”

For example, Japanese artists sometimes use “niko” for smiling characters (perhaps as emphasis that the character is happy?), while Western comics don’t use any sound effect, I’m guessing this is because it’s obvious from the illustration of a character smiling that the character is happy. Another example, when a character is rolling, Western comics use lines in the illustration to represent the rolling movement, while manga does the same but also adds written sound effects like “koro koro”.

Basically, the Japanese tend to use a lot of onomatopoeia for various situations, whereas in Western comics, sound effects are primary used for actions involving sound (hence the term “sound effect”). This makes choosing a translation difficult because there are many Japanese sound effects that don’t have an English equivalent. In cases like this, I have two methods of choosing a translation:

1. Make something up
If the effect involves sound, imagine what it sounds like and then try to put it into letters. For example, “goso” (rummaging through a bag of items), I might use *swsh*.

2. Describe it
Primarily used when the (sound) effect involves no sound, such as the aforementioned “niko” which I would just translate as *smile*. Another common one is *ji…* which represents intense staring, I would write that as *stare…*

I believe translators should strive to translate all written text in manga, this includes all written sound effects. The text is there to convey a message, and it is a translator’s job to convey that message in a language that the target audience understands. A capable translator will give you the meaning of the message, and a good translator will give you the meaning and the feeling of the message.

Hidamari Sketch

An old example of my translation work (I did the translation only, the image editing was done by someone else).

Thoughts on the Vocaloid Phenomenon

Back in the year 2007, the singing voice synthesiser software Hatsune Miku was released, the first in the “Character Vocal Series” or what I refer to as Vocaloids. Eight years on, it feels like Hatsune Miku and vocaloids in general have enjoyed astronomically enduring popularity amongst the anime/manga fandom. I initially dismissed it as a silly gimmick that could never sound as good as a real human singer.

I ignored Vocaloids and their music, this was back when videos tended to require a lot of buffering to play, so I didn’t waste my time on what I deemed to be a poor artificial imitation of singing. But Hatsune Miku was just SO popular, I couldn’t avoid hearing about it. The anime-related websites that I frequented would often post articles relating to Vocaloids, and figurine companies made several adorable Vocaloid character figurines. There have even been ‘live’ concerts and an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Hatsune Miku is marketed as being a 16-year old girl with a cutesy voice. That didn’t really appeal to me, and initial examples of her singing didn’t sound good to me. The second in Character Vocal Series, Kagamine Rin and Len (age 14), didn’t appear to me either. But when the third character was announced, Megurine Luka, I was mildly interested as she had a more mature persona (age 20) and was marketed as being capable of singing in Japanese and English. In 2009, when one of the sites I frequent for anime news, Sankaku Complex, made a post about “Double Lariat” one of Megurine Luka’s hit songs (song isn’t NSFW but website is), I checked it out and enjoyed Luka’s slightly husky voice, which was not as screechy as Miku, and I liked the interesting lyrics and melody.

This prompted me to buy a Megurine Luka prize figurine and Nendoroid Petit at Wai-con. I also pre-ordered/purchased the Megurine Luka figma and a scale figurine based on this lovely illustration by Tony Taka:

Megurine Luka

I used to visit Moetron regularly for news on upcoming anime series, and several years ago they also posted many articles about Vocaloids and their weekly song rankings (nowadays, they don’t post about Vocaloids as much). They also released English-subtitled copies of some popular Vocaloid music videos. I downloaded a few of them, and amongst my favourites were:

Hatsune Miku – World Is Mine
I heard that a figurine based on this song was released, so I was curious what sort of song would be popular enough to have a figurine made for it. While I found Miku’s high-pitched screeching voice a little annoying on the ears, the lyrics of the song was amusing, and the tune catchy.

Megurine Luka – Dance In The Dark
Maybe it’s because I’m biased towards Luka, but I enjoyed the tune and dark theme of this song.

Megurine Luka – Around The World
Another song that I liked for its catchy melody.

Hatsune Miku & Megurine Luka – World’s End Dancehall
This is one of my favourite vocaloid songs because it’s so catchy and because of the cool music video.

After listening to these songs over and over again, I tried to seek out more vocaloid music that I would like, and given the huge popularity of vocaloids, I didn’t have to go far to find lots more vocaloid music. But like fan fiction, there is a lot of crap and mediocrity out there. Eventually I gave up and just stuck with the above songs (as well as listening to the other non-vocaloid music that I normally listen to).

The music I normally listen to tends to fall in one of these two categories: music played on Mix 94.5 and anime-related songs. For the latter, I liked to listen to song medleys (kumikyoku) that combined several songs into a non-stop track. There were a few that contained remixes of popular vocaloid music, but given the non-stop nature of the tracks, sometimes I didn’t even realise that some of the tunes were originally vocaloid music. Now that I have a much better Internet connection, I’ve started to seek out the original music videos for the vocaloid songs that feature in my favourite medleys. I have also been checking out some of the more popular vocaloid songs. Some of my favourites:

Hatsune Miku – Senbonzakura
I was curious about this song because it had also inspired a figurine. My goodness! The first time I heard/watched this, I was hooked and replayed the video over and over and over again! I really love the song and the visuals in the music video. Also, Miku sounds good, not screechy or too high pitched. There are also a lot of nice covers of this song.

Kagamine Rin – Meltdown
This song featured in a lot of the medleys that I liked, but it wasn’t until recently that I knew what the song was called or ‘who’ sang it. I like the melody of this song, and Kagamine Rin’s voice sounds good too.

Hatsune Miku & Gumi – Matryoshka
When searching for popular vocaloid songs, people often cite “Matryoshka” as a favourite, but the first time I watched the music video for the song, I didn’t like it. The song sounded “noisy” and “annoying” to me, and the visuals were kind of creepy. But after listening to it a few times, it started to grow on me, and now I quite like the song.

Hatsune Miku – Rolling Girl
This song also appeared in many of the medleys I listened to. I like the lyrics and melody.

Hatsune Miku – The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku
Unlike the other Hatsune Miku songs that I like, in this one Miku sounds a lot more artificial or robotic, but given the lyrics and meaning of the song, it would be intentional and is very fitting. It’s another song that appears in several my favourite medleys, but I never knew its origins until recently. At times the lyrics are ‘sung’ so fast, I can’t imagine any human singer being capable to doing it.

Hatsune Miku – Two-Faced Lovers
Miku is sounding very high-pitched, but I like the melody. This song was created by wowaka who also created “World’s End Dancehall” and “Rolling Girl”.

The above songs are my favourite or ‘most notable to me’ vocaloid songs, but there are several more out there that I have added to my Youtube or Nico Video favourites list.

I’ve been reading up on the background, inspiration and meaning of these songs, but most of them are described as being “vague and open to interpretation”. There are a few songs where I like them for their meaning and lyrics, but in general I like these songs for their melody. Would the songs sound better if they had been sung by human singers? I haven’t listened to many human covers of vocaloid music, but it varies depending on the singer. Some are quite good and come close to sounding better than the vocaloid, but some just don’t work and sound worse. It could also be bias due to being used to the sound of the vocaloid’s singing.

What I have also noticed is that like any other instrument, the skill of the user is the greatest factor in determining a good song. Just as mankind has progressively developed machines that can do tasks faster and better than humans, vocaloids have also been developed to sound better and more natural (as long as you know how to tweak the software to do that). We are probably still years away from a singing voice synthesiser that can be indistinguishable from a human singing voice, but I don’t think that is the point of vocaloids, at least not the character series of vocaloids. I don’t see them as replacements for human singers, rather they are more like a new instrument used in the creation of music. While I am very late to the vocaloid bandwagon, I think some songs are just made for vocaloids, and would not have the same meaning or impact if it had been sung by a human singer.

With that said, here’s an excellent human cover of “Senbonzakura” by Wagakki Band.

Quest For An Umbrella

I have had many umbrellas in the past. From full-sized umbrellas, to the small travel-sized umbrellas. For many years, I had a preference for the small compact umbrellas because they were more convenient to carry around. Until one year, I don’t remember when as it seems like long ago now, my mum bought a full-sized umbrella that had a plastic covering on it.

The plastic covering covers just about the entire length of the umbrella, and allows you to pull it back to allow you to open up the umbrella. It’s probably easier to see it in action than to describe it with words:

I thought it was the most clever umbrella I’ve ever seen. But eventually I lost it, no idea where it went. I found some for sale at the shops and bought one, but my forgetful self lost that one too. Then a few years ago, my mum bought two of these umbrellas. She gave one to my sister, and one to me.

My sister soon lost hers. I remember that I held on to mine a little longer. Roughly two years ago, the winter after I started my new job, I had carried my umbrella with me in the morning as it was raining. Perhaps it was because it stopped raining in the afternoon, or perhaps I was just tired after a long day at work. Whatever the reason, I forgot to take the umbrella home with me.

The last thing I remember was putting the umbrella under my desk when I went to work that morning. I didn’t realise I had lost it until a day or two after. I searched the office, but it was nowhere to be found.

I searched many shops to find a replacement, but no matter where I looked, no store I visited had the umbrella with the drip-catching plastic covering.

Fast forward to 2014, I had been without an umbrella for a while, I didn’t even buy a cheap compact umbrella to use because I wanted the plastic covered umbrella. But I have given up on finding one in local shops. So I moved my quest to the world wide web.

The first matching Google result was for Wonderbrella, but given the crude amateurish look of their website, I kept looking and found Cloud Nine Umbrellas. Both websites seem to be for US-based businesses.

I decided to choose Cloud Nine Umbrellas because their website looked more professional. I placed an order online for two umbrellas since they had a $15 for two offer (one umbrella was $8). I waited a week for a response to my order but received none so I sent them an e-mail to follow up on my order. They responded promptly but claimed to have sent me an e-mail shortly after I placed my order to ask if I would agree to pay additional postage for international order. I never received any such e-mail. Nevertheless, I replied back to tell them to proceed. But later, they sent an e-mail to say that they were not fulfilling any international orders at this time. I replied back to ask if they had deducted any money from my debit card. Apparently they did, but assured me that it was refunded back.

So I move on to my second option: Wonderbrella. I placed an order online with them, but they soon replied back saying that they were not doing international orders either. Both websites for Cloud Nine Umbrellas and Wonderbrella indicate that international orders are possible. Misleading websites are misleading…

I have come this far and invested much time into finding a plastic covered umbrella. Given that the umbrellas from those websites are most likely manufactured in China, I turned my search to AliExpress.

AliExpress is a Chinese website which allows Chinese manufacturers/businesses to sell direct to customers. I find that the website feels very similar to eBay, except no auctions, just set prices. I couldn’t help but feel a little hesitant, given China’s reputation for dodgy counterfeit goods. But I really wanted that umbrella, so I searched AliExpress for sellers, and picked out one that looked the most reliable to place my order.

Umbrella
Photo from the AliExpress listing

I paid for my order immediately and a week later received notification that my order had been shipped. I also decided to purchase a tablet case for my new Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 from AliExpress. But days passed and nothing was delivered, no tablet case, no umbrella. I was starting to worry a bit, and in the meantime the weather had been rainy, and I was without an umbrella.

Eventually the tablet case arrived, yay. But the umbrella was still nowhere to be found. According to AliExpress, delivery may take up to 45 days, so I continued to wait. I little over a month after I placed the order, it finally arrived! It hasn’t rained since I received it, so I am yet to test it against the elements, but so far so good.

My quest has come to an end, and I’ll try my best to make sure I don’t lose this one!

My Little Farmies

When I was still somewhat new to Facebook and Facebook games were all the rage with news feeds inundated with automatically generated messages of gaming invites and achievements. Back then, I only played one Facebook game: Farmville. It reminded me of Harvest Moon, which is a series of farming games. But eventually I got to a point where my farm grew too large and became too time consuming to maintain, so I stopped playing.

That was many years ago now. Around a month ago, I found myself with a lot of free time to kill, so I decided to seek out another farming game to play. I didn’t want to go back to Farmville as that game gets more tedious as you progress, plus I can’t access Facebook on certain computers. Googling “farm browser games” shows that there are many farm-based browser games out there.

In the end, I picked “My Little Farmies” partially because I liked the way the graphics and layout looked, but primarily because it was created by a German developer whom later created the English version. Translating a game from one language to another takes a great deal of effort, so a game needs to be good enough to be worth that effort. Sure, I could’ve gone and read random reviews of different farming browser games to decide which one would be good, but having a company invest time and money into translating a game is a pretty convincing endorsement.

Anyway, I’ve been playing for a little over a month now. Being a “free-to-play” game, the developers need to make money somehow, and like many “free-to-play” games, this one allows you to use real money to purchase in-game currency to buy items that make things in the game easier or more convenient. For example, when clearing rubble from your farm, you can either clear it using “thalers” that you earn by playing the game and wait a certain period of time, or you can use “gold bars” which you generally purchase with real money and have the rubble cleared instantly. Or watering/harvesting crops requires you to click. Alot. When you farm expands, this means lots and lots of clicking. But there is an option in the game to water/harvest everything at one but it costs… you guesssed it… gold bars!

There are also certain crops/animals/items that can only be purchased using gold bars. Also, some later farm/warehouse upgrades cost gold bars, which effectively stifles your progress in the game unless you buy gold bars. Like most browser games I have played, initial game play gives you enough to do to grab your attention. But you will soon find that as you progress, a lot of time is simply spent waiting. Waiting for crops to grow, waiting for buildings to complete, waiting for upgrades to finish. Initially, the wait time is a matter of minutes. Then it becomes hours, then days… I did give in to temptation and purchased some gold bars to speed things up, but then making everything easy became boring. So I took up a new challenge: play through the game without buying gold bars.

Now, I had already purchased gold bars, so to undertake this challenge, I started a new account, a new farm. According to game rules, having more than one account is ok as long as the accounts do not benefit from one another via in-game trade. So the rules I have set for my challenge is:

1. No trading between my roxybudgy (gold bar) account and my sixfoureight (no gold bars) account.
2. No using real money to purchase of gold bars on the sixfoureight account.
3. Gold bars earned in-game can be spent on items that require gold bars.

Although I will try to prevent my sixfoureight account from benefiting directly from the roxybudgy account, there will be an indirect benefit of knowledge. Although my roxybudgy account was created 2 weeks before the sixfoureight, both are now the same level as I have applied what I learned from the roxybudgy account to optimise the progress on the sixfoureight.

So I am now roughly one month into the challenge. My farm is now size 7 and unable to expand further as upgrading to size 8 would cost 160 gold bars. Similarly, my warehouse capacity is stuck at 300 because it would cost 100 gold bars to upgrade it to 350. Therefore I need to carefully decide what crops/animals/buildings to use given my limited space. I have created an Excel spreadsheet comparing data and figures for the various items/aspects of the game and analysed that data to determine which crops/animals/buildings would give me the most amount of thalers/XP. And the result is this:

Screenshot of my sixfoureight My Little Farmies farm.
Screenshot of my sixfoureight My Little Farmies farm.

To generate enough thalers to pay for the buildings and upgrades, I primarily grew grapes as they yielded the highest net profit for my farm level. After upgrading my farm and warehouse as far as I could without using gold bars, I reorganised everything to focus on increasing my XP rather than thalers. That meant fulfilling as many customer requests as possible. On my roxybudgy account, I build every single building, crop and animal available so I could fulfil just about any customer request that came along, but having a lack of warehouse space causes much inconvenience. So for the sixfoureight account, I chose buildings that allowed you to purchased the 1st and 2nd upgrade with thalers, and grew crops that were required by those buildings.

My farm is now level 33. My initial goal was to expand my farm and warehouse as far as I could, which I recently achieved. My next goal is to unlock the cherry trees which can be obtained at level 41. Based on the game forums, it seems that at these levels, it requires a huge amount of XP to level up, but I’ll get there, and I’ll get there without spending a cent!

In addition to my silly little challenge, I have also been learning PHP and MySQL by turning my Excel spreadsheet into a real database. My quest to build my first PHP website and MySQL database can be found here: http://roxybudgy.com/mlfdb/

No More Free Parking

The other day I noticed a sign outside of Greenwood train station advising that all parking at all train stations will now be paid parking.

Well that sucks… I pay for parking anyway, so it’s not the price that bothers me. It’s losing my convenient parking space near the train station entrance and increased time waiting at the parking ticket machine.

The parking at Greenwood station currently has both paid and free parking. To the south of the station entrance is the paid parking area. On the east right near the entrance is free parking, and the northern parking extension on the other side of Hepburn Avenue is also free parking.

Obviously, the free parking right next to the station entrance is the first to fill up with cars, so if you arrive at the train station after 7am, you are left with either the free-but-distant car park on the other side of Hepburn Avenue which fills up second, or the more-closely-located-to-entrance paid parking which is usually the last to fill up.

I usually arrive at the train station between 7-7:30am. I used to park in the free-but-distant car park, but during the hotter months, the walk from the car park to the station and back again was a very unpleasant experience, and having to do that walk in the rain isn’t nice either. So now I park in the paid parking which usually has plenty of space as other commuters hunt for the last remaining scraps of free parking. But come 8am, all free parking is taken and even the paid parking fills up.

I start work at 8:30am, so I aim to leave the house around 7-7:15am to arrive at Greenwood station so I can get a nice parking spot near the train station entrance, pay for my parking without having to wait in a queue then it’s a short walk to the train platform. If I arrive later than usual, but am lucky enough to still get a parking space, I then have to contend with a long queue at the ticket machine.

When all parking becomes paid, instead of the southern car park being the last to be filled up, it will be amongst the first to be filled up, which means I may be forced to park in the northern car park on the other side of Hepburn Avenue and spend 10-15 minutes in a long queue for parking tickets before making the trek to the train station. The horror!

All parking will become paid parking on 1 July 2014, so I still have some time to savour my lovely parking spot near the train station entrance. Perhaps in future I may need to leave the house even earlier to secure a space near the train station entrance…

Links:
Transperth: Paid Parking is on its way
ABC News: Free train station parking abolished by WA Government in 2013 budget

Edit: Apparently queues at the ticket machine will not be a problem as Transperth will introduce “SmartParker” where you link your car details to your SmartRider and tag on at the car park, and parking attendants will use licence plate recognition software to check if parking has been paid for. See more information at Transperth’s website.