A Geek in Japan | Interviews
Adventures of a geek living in Japan
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Interview with Néstor Soriano, Konamiman

Néstor Soriano, known on the Internet as Konamiman, is the first person in the history of humanity that was able to tweet from an MSX, a great geek achievement! That’s why I decided that it was time to interview him so he could tell us how he fell in love with MSX computers for life, moreover he also has a Japanese wife… here you have the interview:

> – Your life in 5 sentences
My name is Néstor Soriano, I was born in Andalusia but grew up in Majorca. I was a normal kid until the 6th of January of 1986 when, being almost twelve years old, a brand-new Canon V-20 fell into my hands that would convert me into one of those so-called geeks. At the beginning of the 90s the MSX system died officialy, but I joined the resistance, composed of other geeks that persisted in keeping it alive. In 1993 I went to college to study Telecommunications Engineering and I graduated in 2002, having developed a TCP/IP stack for the MSX as my Master Thesis. In 1997 I met a Japanese lady in a chat room on the Internet that sent me a typical Japanese product: an MSX Turbo-R; of course I ended up marrying her. Since 2002 I work as a programmer, it couldn’t be any other way.

MSX Konamiman and son

> – What does MSX mean? What is it?
MSX was an attempt, successful according to some and unsuccessful according to others, to bring some order to the chaotic panorama of home computing at the beginning of the 80s. The MSX system defines the minimum specifications for home computers that can be implemented by any manufacturer, assuring that way that all computers that have an MSX logo are hardware and software compatible. So, basically the same thing PCs are today.

The MSX standard was showcased for the first time in 1983, and the last computer, an MSX Turbo-F, came out of a Panasonic factory at the end of 1993. Major Japanese corporations like Sony, Sanyo, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Toshiba or Philips made MSX computers.

The MSX standards was developed mainly by Microsoft and ASCII (that by that time was the Japanese subsidiary of Microsoft), and the meaning of the three letters it’s still not clearly known even today. The three possible meanings could be “MicroSoft eXtended”, “Matsushita-Sony-X” and my favorite “Machines with Software eXchangeability”.

> – Tell us the origin of your nickname Konamiman
Around 1991 my father bought a card to connect our PC to Ibertex (which would be like the great-great-great-grandfather of the social networks today). At the beginning I used “Néstor Soriano and his MSX2+” as my nickname, but it didn’t have much glamour, so I started thinking and I said to myself: “That’s it, I will be Konamiman because I like Konami video games a lot” (I’m sorry if I deceived somebody who was expecting a crazier story).

Years later I found out that in a NES game there was a character named Konamiman, but I was not going to sue Konami by that time. :)

> – How did you come up with the idea of making an MSX Twitter client? Divine inspiration?
Let’s go back in time a little bit: in 2002 I made InterNestor Suite, a TCP/IP stack for MSX that I developed as my Master Thesis. In 2003 I simplified the stack (the original one was very standard and beautiful but very heavy) becoming InterNestor Lite (INL). In 2004 an MSX user developed ObsoNET, a network card for MSX; I adapted INL so it could be used with ObsoNET.

Last year another user developed DenYoNet, another network card that processes TCP/IP by hardware (something very useful when you CPU is a Z80). Problem: INL and DenYoNet were going to use different APIs, thus the applications made for one would not work on the other. Solution: develop a standard API for TCP/IP stacks. That implied changing INL from scratch, so that it could comply with the new API, and converting the existing applications.

To “promote” the new INL, I thought that it would be interesting to develop some other application, apart from the basic ones that I already made (ping, FTP, TFTP and telnet clients). I made a SNTP client that allowed to set up the MSX time remotely, but I thought: “I need something cooler”.

Then I recalled that another user had modified my telnet client in the past, turning it into an IRC client. I thought that maybe the same could be done with Twitter, that is something which is cool nowadays. And, sure enough, I found a website that explained how to tweet using telnet, it was quite simple.

However, ouch! That example used the basic authentication, and as I investigated more I found out that since July of this year Twitter would only accept OAuth authentication, that implies calculating SHA1 hashes and redirecting the user to a website to complete the authentication. At the beginning I thought: “Too much of a hassle”, but afterwards I thought: “But what if I can do it, if would be really cool!”. So I started coding.

MSX Twitter

> What was the main obstacle you had to overcome while implementing the Twitter client
The main obstacle of all my current projects is the lack of time. I work every day until 7:00pm and when I go back home there is a Japanese women and two little monsters that require attention, and I do it with pleasure. So I have to manage to find some spare time, using an MSX emulator in luch breaks at work, and waking up a little bit earlier to be able to use my Turbo-R.

Technically speaking, the difficulties that I bumped into were to have to hash in SHA1, for that I had to find an existing C module and adapt it; understand how OAuth works, although luckily in oauth.net there’s a quite detailed interactive tutorial; and to keep the size of the application under 64k of memory.

MSX OAuth
OAuth authentication via MSX.

> – What is the most interesting thing that you learned while implementing the client
I’ve learned that although real men code directly on their MSX and using assembly, when real life attacks and you don’t have much time to be a true geek then it’s OK to be less of a man and code in C, using a cross assembler (SDCC in my case) and an MSX emulator (although of course, the final test has to be done in a “real” MSX).

MSX Twitter
This is the final result, tweeting directly from an MSX!

> – What do you like the most about Japan?
Do I have to say it? To go to Akihabara in Tokyo or Nihombashi in Osaka, enter into Sofmap or Super Potato and find shelves plenty of MSX games and MSX models that even I hadn’t seen before. And that is taking into account that there’s not much MSX stuff comparing to the amount of NES or SNES games available…

Apart from that, it’s really great to be able to plan your time knowing that the people, as well as the public transport, are extraordinarily punctual; food is delicious, even more in the Osaka region, from where my wife comes; and what to say about the Internet bandwidth… for example my father-in-law who is a little bit old-fashioned has an Internet connection of “only” 30 Mb.

MSX Twitter

> – And what do you like the least?
It could surprise some but, I don’t like how uncivil the people is; I’m not talking about throwing away trash on the street (we all know Japanese streets are spick-and-span) but about the human treatment and manners of the people, which could easily improve. And this is not the opinion of a gaijin like me, my wife thinks the same.

Many times we have been on a train full of people holding our baby on our arms, and nobody stands up to leave us their seat (cellphones are great in this situations so it seems like you’re busy and not paying attention). The same thing happens, with elevators in malls which are always crowded with healthy youngsters that could easily use the escalators and leave more space for old people and parents carrying a baby, they see you and don’t really care.

I am also surprised that such an advanced society in some aspects is so backwards in other aspects. How is it possible that it is not well seen to live with you girlfriend without getting married? Why does a woman have to give up her career when she marries? Why is pornography censored? (hey, I just know that last one because somebody told me!)

> – A life lesson learned in Japan and the Japanese people.
I think this is not what people is expecting me to say but, coming back to the last two questions, I can say that I have learned that every country/culture has bad things. If you say “but Japan is years ahead of us” you are just partly right, the opposite case is also true, in some aspects we are years ahead of the Japanese. All countries/cultures have something to learn from the rest.

After saying all this it could seem that I don’t like Japan, however I love Japan, I go once every year and I hope I will be doing it for a long time.

MSX

> -Do you have another geek project in mind?
Of course, although I don’t know how will I have time for all of them. Short-term I am working on the DenYoNet card BIOS that I’ve mentioned before; and I want to improve the MSX trivial tweeter so it can support Japanese characters (Japanese MSX computers use shift-jis characters and Twitter only accepts UTF8; to convert one to the other is not easy at all) and maybe also to show the user time line (something that some people has already ask me to do it).

More long-term, I would like to retake the project of a USB card for MSX. Five years ago a user made a prototype and send it to me, I coded the controller and I was able to make the MSX read and write files from a pendrive. However the project was just that, a prototype, and of course, if nobody decides to develop something similar nowadays there is no useful software.

Thank you very much for your time.
Thanks to you. My pleasure.

You can follow Konamiman’s adventures at:
Konamiman’s MSX page
Konamiman blog (Spanish)

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An interview with Chris Willson

A few months ago I got to meet photographer Chris Willson and now I consider him a friend. You can follow him on Travel67.com, on his blog and on his flickr.

Your life in three sentences
Grew up in England. Traveled a lot. Now live in Okinawa where I take photographs, write and teach.

Why did you end up in Japan? and why in Okinawa?

I’d just got back home after working in Peru, and wanted to go somewhere completely different. I’d never been to Japan so thought it would be an exciting adventure. I lived in Niigata and Hokkaido, then moved to Okinawa because I heard it had good SCUBA diving. I stayed in Okinawa because it has an interesting mix of people, good weather, fascinating cultural events, sandy beaches and coral reefs.

Chris

When did you start taking pictures?

I used a point and shoot camera when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until I got an SLR back in 2000 that I started taking photography seriously. Not long after I managed to get some photos into a local
newspaper and things grew from there.

What do you love most about capturing the world in pictures?

Planning my trips and the anticipation that comes with it. Visiting new places, talking to people, having surreal and exciting experiences, patiently waiting for the right moment, getting the shot.
Picking up film from the lab, then looking at the transparencies on the light box reliving those brief moments in time.

What camera do you use, are you thinking of changing or not really?

For the last seven years I have used a Pentax 67II. It’s a medium format film camera that produces transparencies about 4.5 times the size of 35mm film. I use Fujifilm Provia 100F most of the time. I
haven’t made the switch to digital yet, but the Pentax 645D looks like it will be a great camera, and I’ll be able to use my 67 lenses with it.

Chris

From all the pictures that you have taken up until now, which ones are your top 3 favorites? Do you have them at flickr?

These are three of my favorites. They involved a certain amount of planning combined with a good dose of luck.


Rising Sun

After securing the perfect location at 8 AM I waited 12 hours before the firework festival began. Pressing the shutter a little late in one frame and capturing the glowing embers was luck.



Into the Mist

I knew I wanted to get a shot of the world’s longest suspension bridge. Having sea fog rolling in off the ocean was a case of right place right time.



Outcast

I was walking back to the subway, having taken photos of Notting Hill Carnival, when I saw this fantastic mural. I knew it was just a matter of time until someone walked past. The fact that the man is staring down at his feet really made the shot.

Tell us about your online strategy and how do you sell your art on the net.

A few years ago I set up my own website www.travel67.com. My friend Nick built the site and keeps it up to date with new articles and images. It is a good portfolio of my work, and through the site I have had several commissions from in-flight magazines and newspapers. A couple of years ago we added an area where people can buy limited edition prints of my photographs. I have however sold more prints at exhibitions than through the website. As the number of visitors to my site increases and the global economy recovers I expect sales to increase. Six months ago I started a blog and although it isn’t fully integrated with the main site it gets several hundred visitors a day.

What do you love the most about Japan?

The weird and wonderful festivals. From Okayama’s Hadaka Matsuri to Okinawa’s dragon boat races they are a great opportunity to see people relaxing, having fun, and celebrating their cultural heritage.

On a practical note I love the fact there is so little serious crime in Japan (however two of my bicycles and several umbrellas have disappeared).

What do you hate the most about Japan?

Nothing I really hate, but there are plenty of things that annoy me. Power lines, ugly buildings, taxi / bus / truck drivers, kids not in child seats, anyone with a loudspeaker, road works, lack of awareness
of cyclists (or vegetarians), most Japanese television.

Tell us something we should know about life that you have discovered lately

Our perception of the world is distorted by the types of maps we look at. Check out the Gall-Peters projection for a more accurate representation of our world. I discovered this delightful fact while watching The West Wing season 2 episode 16.

Greeting to all Kirainet readers and see you at flickr!.

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Open interview to Wada-san

Wada-san is programmer at Technorati Japan, he works with me and gave me the opportunity to interview him. I decided to do an “open” interview, that means that you make the questions making comments in this post.

The rules are:

  • Enter your questions commenting in this entry.
  • Wada-san understands English, of course you can ask in Japanese too.
  • Read all comments before you make yours, don’t repeat previous questions!
  • Check the comments already made at the Spanish side. At the end we will answer the best questions from the English and the Spanish versions.

Some data about Wada-san: he is married, he is in his forties, he worked at Yahoo! Japan and now works at Technorati Japan, one of his hobbies is to play music at Akihabara’s Meido Kissas.


I’m Wada-san. Please, ask me whatever you have ever wanted to ask a Japanese!

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