About

Who

Michaelpanda.com is the product of one 20-something year old Mistar Michael Panda, a displaced American living in Japan. Originally from the merry cow-filled rolling pastures of Wisconsin, he grew tired of winters that routinely dropped to -20C and the omnipresent threat of murderous cattle stampedes and decided, like so many young men before him, to move to Japan to see about a girl (if he might steal that line from Goodwill Hunting). Alas, things didn’t work out with said girl, but he’s still here (though there are days he thinks he shouldn’t be) plugging away at a job that while not entirely objectionable, isn’t exactly what he dreamed he’d be doing with his life either. His “Reality Bites” emo-angsty moments notwithstanding, your author greatly enjoys his time here as it allows him to pursue many of his varied interests including traveling, photography, design, fashion, tiny cute things and eating. Japan, it turns out, is a great country for satiating all those desires, so it’s a pretty good place to live at present.

Blog

Originally, the panda blog started out on a hosted service (xanga) as nothing more than just an online diary, of interest to really, no one but myself. I was still in college at this time and the entries reflected it. I have to admit that the blog was pretty boring back then, but a few highlights including my adventures fending off theporn-obsessed unwashed masses as a computer lab attendant and my crazed, drug-addled, shoelace-eating roommates. During this initial incarnation, the blog was updated almost everyday, albeit with short and not-so-fascinating entries.

The second incarnation of the blog evolved shortly after I moved to Japan. As I joined a bizarre version of “the real world” working as a fake English teacher, I found myself with less time to post. Entry frequency dropped to once or twice a week and centered almost entirely on “discovering Japan” and “sharing Japan with the rest of the world” in that utterly uninformed way that most foreigners-to-japan like to blog about. Looking back on this period, I am embarrassed to see how “fresh-off-the-boat” I was at the time – but still, this was an important phase that all foreigners living in Japan go through, so those entries remain up. As this incarnation – and my time in Japan – continued forward, the posting frequency began to drop, but the length of each entry increased dramatically. Some of the longest entries on the blog were written during this time – some of them unfortunately motivated by “anger” at perceived “injustices” in the Japanese system (some justifiable, others not). Again, this is a phase we all go through when acclimating to Japan, and so these entries remain on the blog, as a reminder of what I once felt.

The third incarnation marked perhaps the most important shift in the panda blog to date, for several reasons. The first was that this was marked my departure from a “hosted” blog service, to doing everything myself – the site was completely recoded and designed from the ground up, transferred over to the movable type blogging engine, and hosted on its own server with its own domain name. By this point I had discovered “standards based” web design and learned enough to build a “real” site. This incarnation introduced the fundamental layout and section divisions that are still being used in the site to date, as well as initial attempts at metadata categorisation.

Perhaps more importantly, by this time I had started to come to terms with living and working in Japan – it helped that I changed my job to one a little soul killing than the previous, I’m sure. The anger and knee-jerk reaction that informed a lot of the previous incarnation faded a little as Japan stopped being this “thing” that dominated every entry, and rather became the backdrop for my life – starting to let go of that foreigner obsession with “exploring and explaining” Japan to death and rather just trying to live one’s life, which just happens to be in Japan.

Midway through the time of the third incarnation, another important event occurred – I got my first “real” camera, a Canon Kiss Digital Xti. Soon, the quality of the photographs on the panda blog increased, and the balance between text and images in entries began to shift slowly towards the latter. I stopped writing so much about “Japan” and my “thoughts” (if idiotic ramblings can be called that) about it, and just started posting pictures and brief entries, to let the readers make up their own minds.

The fourth – and current – incarnation of the pandablog represents an evolution of the previous version. While the site and code was literally re-written from the bottom up, it also expounds on some of the concepts first introduced in version three. A more unified theme was introduced, with gentler, rounder corners and an increased emphasis on white space, readability and visual appeal. Photography was pushed to the fore, and the concept of using meta-data for organization was greatly developed, via concepts such as tag clouds, livesearch and the photo search engine. Interactivity was also greatly improved, utilizing AJAX and related technologies to enhance the blog experience and allow the user to choose how to interact with the blog whilst decreasing page loading times (an issue with the previous version). Furthermore, this incarnation introduced the concept of The Photo of the Day and the Tumbleblog to supplement the main blog. These “sub features” – presented unobtrusively via AJAX – aim to combine the best of the first incarnation of the blog (the daily posting frequency) with the best of the second and third incarnations (in depth entries which take longer to prepare, and a greater focus on images respectively), by presenting users with a constant stream of fresh updates and photographs, whilst still providing longer entries of greater interest on a weekly basis.

Goals for this latest version include shorter entries with a greater posting frequency, and a focus on things of interest to me – photography, travel, cute things – and the positive, aspects of the country where I happen to live. This isn’t to say that everything will be pandas and happy roses, but I’d like to think that Japan has many interesting things to offer that the rest of the world might like to see.

Pandas?

few years ago I was traveling through Hong Kong with my girlfriend, when we stopped by the Ocean Park Zoo to look at the pandas. As I was peering lazily over the railing at the pandas rolling about all over the grass with nary a care in the world I heard the sudden click of a camera shutter, followed by barely-supressed laughter. When I inquired why she was laughing, she pointed to the sign which read: “A PANDA’S DAILY LIFE: 50% eating, 45% sleeping, 5% other” and remarked in that sweet way women do when they’re subtly mocking you “that’s sooo your life!“.

Upon hearing this, I had a mini-epiphany of sorts – while that was not my life at the present, surely such a thing must be the life I aspired to…! After all, to eat, sleep, and roll around lazily all day – and yet still be praised by all as the cutest, greatest thing in the world!? What more can one want out of life?

And hence, at that moment, I came to a sudden realization of the deep and profound bond which I, being half panda myself, shared with the cuddly black and white denzins of the bamboo forest.

Camera

All recent photographs (from the last 3 years or so) on the blog were taken with a Canon EOS Kiss XTi 10.1 MP digital SLR camera. I use a mixture of lenses, but by far my favourite lens at the moment is the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 ultra-wide angle lens (used in conjunction with a high-quality circular polarizer for thosedeep blue blue skies I love so much…), with the cheap – but high quality – EF 50mm f/1.8 prime for close up shots where clarity and detail count more than getting everything in the shot. If you’re interested in more, please check out the photo gallery/search function on the site! I shoot almost entirely in RAW and post-process in a mixture of Adobe Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS 2.

Older pictures on the site were taken with a relatively ancient Konica Minolta DiMage X50, a 5 megapixel digital camera with a paltry (but better than nothing) 3x optical zoom and rather impressive shutter speed. I use this camera primarily for its small form factor and transportability (which is impressive given the resolution) and its ability to take close-up macro shots, a feature I never cease to get tired of using, often running around screaming “macro macro!!” while taking close-ups of my lunch, co-worker’s elbows, pencils, etc.

Certain images, especially those in the “photography” category or from long road trips might be taken with a friends Casio Exilim EX S600 6 megapixel digital camera.

The very oldest pictures on the site were taken with my ancient (don’t laugh) Casio-Exlim 1.8 megapixel “card camera”. A faithful companion, its measly resolution was more than offset by its teeny tiny form factor and extreme ruggedness (i could literally stick it in that little “coin pocket” in my jeans without worry), which made it a great camera for always having on you to catch those impromptu moments. Since the purchase of the new camera, my loyal friend has found his way to a relaxed retirement somewhere in my parent’s house back in America, from where occasionally I get phone calls at 2am asking if i could explain, once more, just how exactly one transfers pictures from the camera to the computer again?

Computer

The current incarnation of the panda blog was developed from start to finish on an Apple 13” Macbook running OS X 10.4 (Tiger). I made the switch to Apple about two years ago, and despite the occasional user interface frustration, have basically never looked back. There are many problems with Apple software and hardware (the latter especially) – and I haven’t drank the kool-aid like many Mac users – but for web development needs there simply isn’t any comparison to a Windows machine – with its UNIX underpinnings, OS X is simply better in every way. (Now when you need to get office work done as quickly and efficiently as possible, that’s a whole ‘nother story).

Previous versions of the panda blog were developed on a this site was produced on a hard-working and uber-cute Fujitsu Loox-T70H. This Japanese notebook fell under a category roughly termed “B5 sized notebooks”, though in the states they were probably referred to as “sub-notebooks”. It is with some amusement that I watch the current craze over so-called “netbooks” that seems to have swept the world starting in 2008. I first got my Fujitsu Loox-T70H back in 2004 and even at that time it measured a diminutive 250x190x25mm (9x7x1″) and weighed in at an amazing 1.8 kg or so (~3 lbs) fully loaded. Yet despite these tiny dimensions, it packed an incredible punch that puts even the best so-called “netbooks” of 2009 to shame: 80gb HDD, 1GB RAM, DVD+/-burner-CDRW, bluetooth, CF/MMC/SD/MS memory slots, atheros a/g wireless, 1280×768 crystalview widescreen, fingerprint scanner, 6hr+ battery life and a pentium-M 1.1Ghz processor. My little baby handled everything I threw at it, not only the web coding, but also Photoshop manipulation, moderate video editing and even the occasional game of Unreal/Counterstrike. Try doing that with the crappy netbooks that have flooded the market these days.

Ever my faithful companion, I took my it with me everywhere, and to its credit, it has survived being jostled around everyday during my hour long bicycle commute to/from work, being banged about by the spastic salaryman next to me on the shinkansen who’s having a bad dream, and even being hastily jammed into a teeny tiny overhead compartment on a plane to Hokkaido as the captain advised us “we may experience some chop because of the blizzard ahead”, in what turned out to be the understatement of the year. I worked this machine so hard I literally wore holes in the keys and still it didn’t quit. And even now, 5 years later, after I have switched to a Macbook for my main laptop, my little baby is still chugging along working as a server and backup machine for my in-home network. I think it’s pretty fair to say that I have never had as faithful a computer as this machine, and I don’t know if I ever will again. *sniff* It’s like a geek’s best friend.

Software

The Panda Blog is powered by the Movable Type blogging engine. The rest of the functions on the site, including the photo search, photo of the day, livesearch, and others are custom written applications designed in a mix of PHP and lolcode (not really) by yours truly.

Development took place on an Apple Macbook running OS X 10.4 (Tiger) with Textwrangler as the syntax-aware editor, CSSEdit for CSS wrangling, and Photoshop CS2 for image and graphic design. With the exception of certain icons from other sites (see acknowledgements below), all the graphics on the site are custom built by yours truly. Finally, as mentioned above photos are processed via Lightroom 2 and touched up in Photoshop later.

CSS/Web Standards

Michaelpanda.com uses more or less valid cascading style sheets for all layout/design on the site, which means there’s a chance it might look slightly quirky on older browsers with incomplete css support. The site has been tested for compliance with W3C standards and usability and relative consistency on modern browsers. It is important to note that “tested for compliance” doesn’t mean every page will fully validate. Rather it means that effort was expounded to write solid code with no major errors, but is tolerant of non-validating, but useful tricks. The “must validate at all costs” mentality of the mid-2000s isn’t really valid any more – it’s more important that sites look and work right to end users than satisfy some picky automatic html parser.

As of April 2009, about 18% of visitors to this site are still using the ancient (and dangerously flawed) Internet Explorer 6 browser. Despite this browser’s myriad of rendering flaws, an IE6-specific stylesheet was developed and is served up to visitors using this browser. However, if you are using IE6 or are having problems viewing the site with an older browser, you are strongly urged to upgrade (preferably to Firefox or Safari) as soon as possible. Browsing the internet using IE6 is kind of like trying to build a bonfire after taking a bath in a pool filled with kerosene. You know there’s only one way things are gonna end, and it’s not going to be good for you.

To see what can be done via the power of CSS, have a quick click on the “Style Switcher” over on the right hand side. Not bad for just switching a stylesheet, huh?

New stylesheets are (theoretically) released 4 times a year (one per season), though in reality it’s kind of up to whenever I have time. If I have more time, I hope to add stylesheets for variable width layouts, high contrast/visibility layouts and much more. We’ll see.

Accessibility

Michaelpanda.com is not a big corporate website (in case you couldn’t tell by the dancing pandas all over the place), and as such, I don’t have the resources, time or knowledge to ensure that every page on the site is 100% accessible to people using alternative browsing technologies. For one, I don’t have access to a screen reader (pretty expensive bit of software), a braille browser (even more expensive) and I’m not color blind.

Nevertheless, I’ve devoted some effort to making sure that most of the site degrades nicely in the absence of style sheets, and it is perfectly browseable in text based browsers, such as Lynx, which should be a good approximation of what a screen reader would see. That having been said, some of the more advanced AJAX functionality requires Javascript to function properly. It is not necessary to have javascript to view the site, but the experience will be greatly enhanced if you do.

Finally, in the extremely rare chance that you have disabled images whilst leaving css enabled on your browser, the top navigation menu will be unusable due to the method in which it is constructed. Nothing can be done about that, other than me shaking you violently about and asking “why on earth would you do such a thing!?”. So in such a case, please either turn back on your image support, turn off your css support or else use a straight up text-only browser. Thank you.

Copyright/Usage

Michaelpanda.com is (c) 2004 – whateveryearitisatthemoment by me, all rights reserved. So please don’t steal anything on my site, including text, images or code. If there’s something on the site you’d really like to use, why not drop me an e-mail? Chances are I would have no problem with you using it and can often provide you with a bigger resolution copy (in the case of images) or a more in-depth original (in the case of text). If there’s a bit of code or programming you want to use on your site, if you ask I’d be happy to explain to you how I did something – after all, this site wouldn’t be running today without all the other people out there kind enough to put out tutorials in the first place.

Feel free to link to any page/entry on the site – I don’t require you to “come in through the front door” as it were. However, please don’t “hotlink” to a file or leech my bandwidth – it’s simply not cool to link directly to an file hosted on someone else’s website. Be a good person, ask for permission to use an image, and after I respond, find your own host and upload it there. While I’m not an evil panda, I have been known to switch out images on bandwidth thieves and replace them with something a lot less pleasant.

Commenting/Privacy

The views expressed on michaelpanda.com are my own and are in no way representative of those of my employers, either past, present or future. On the other hand, what you write in the comments form/message board are your own opinions, and except for cleaning up messy urls, and changing naughty words into less offensive alternatives, I won’t edit your comments. By the same token, this also means that I bear no responsibility for whatever people write in the comments/message board area. Their views are not my own and just because something’s on my site doesn’t mean I agree with it – supporting free speech means not censoring views that may be contrary to your own.

Along with the comments, Michaelpanda.com is not responsible for the contents of any externally linked sites. I do my best to ensure I only link to responsible sources, but this in the internet, and things – and sites – can and do change from one instance to the next.

Your IP address is logged everytime you visit the site, and it along with any information you provide to me, either when e-mailing me or in your comments submission form – remains private and will never be displayed on the site. Of course the exception to this is if you voluntarily enter your home page URL in the comments form, then it will be linked to your name, so use common sense.

I hate spammers with a passion and I promise I won’t sell your name to mass marketers, send you e-mails about natural herbal viagra or even give up your information to the government, unless of course, they lock me up in Guantanamo Bay, in which case I hope you all understand, given that I don’t do so well in that Cuban heat. If someone steals my computer, all bets are off, but I wouldn’t worry as I have my army of killer robo pandas guarding it 24-7, ready to take immediate action against any potential perpetrators.

Finally, Michaelpanda.com doesn’t accept advertising, though if you use the google function to search the site, it is possible that you may see small text ads in the results. This is google’s doing and I have no control over it. If you see any pop-up/pop-under/etc. ads when you visit this site, please be assured that this is not my fault – more than likely your computer is infected with some manner of spyware. I recommend downloading the latest copy of ad-aware and giving your computer a good scrubbing.

Occasionally a bit of advertising might slip through, though these will be deleted in short order. If you post anything that looks like it might be advertising, please be advised that your comment will be deleted immediately – do it again, and your IP will be banned, no ifs/and/buts or ors. Be nice and enjoy your stay here in pandaland!