September 2004

Anime shopping list

Random list of recent anime DVDs I plan to pick up when I see them in stores:

  • Kaleido Star, disc 4+ --- Easily one of the best series running now, I haven't found anything to dislike about it. Well-drawn, well-written, well-acted, funny, and sweet, with a broad appeal. No fanservice, per se, but I have to say that all the women are implausibly well-stacked for professional acrobats. That's not a complaint, you understand. Actually, I do have one small complaint: the liner notes are spoiler-happy, to the point that they give away on disc 1 things that still haven't come up by disc 3.
  • R.O.D The TV, disc 2+ --- This one's off to a good start, and while fans of the Read Or Die OVA series will wonder what happened to Yomiko Readman (the fact that her voice actress is about to release a nude photobook and DVD is pure coincidence), the new characters are quite engaging, and the animation retains the flavor of the original while fitting into a TV budget. Spoilers based on the fansubs reveal that the old cast does eventually turn up, but I have no complaints about the Paper Sisters and Nenene, especially since I recently found the original manga featuring the first meeting of Yomiko and a teenage Nenene.
  • Galaxy Angel, disc 4+ --- Unlike the translated manga, which has a plot, this episodes of this series are basically independent, and very fluffy. Continuity from episode to episode is almost nonexistent, and everything is played for broad humor. It's well-done fluff, however, and they've devoted a few episodes to fleshing out the characters, to the point that I've grown quite fond of Mint and Forte. I don't know how they've managed to crank out four seaons of this without running out of ideas, but reviews suggest they've done it. Maybe the manga and games fill in enough of the blanks to keep the characters interesting, because it doesn't sound like they ever get serious with the show.
  • Chrono Crusade, disc 1+ --- The heroine is a sexy teenage demon-hunter whose middle name is "collateral damage", her partner is a mostly-reformed demon, and together they take on some rather nasty critters in 1920s New York City. Oh, and she's a nun. I've been checking out screenshots and reviews of this one for some time, and the first volume of the translated manga came out recently as well. From everything I've seen so far, Sister Rosette is the true heir to the Dirty Pair legacy, unlike a certain other series I'm about to name...
  • Kiddy Grade, 6+ (maybe) --- I originally gave up on this series after the first disc, because it looked like they'd decided to remake the Dirty Pair with two rather annoying changes: the originals didn't have any loli appeal, and they just weren't powerful enough. People swore that it picked up around episode nine, but at only three episodes per disc, I didn't feel like spending months and money waiting for the good stuff. Well, I've now seen the rest of what's been released so far, and while it has gotten better, there's still a good chance that it will end up sucking. The fact that they completely change the character designs in the next disc doesn't help, since the redhead's looks were my primary hook (although I'd like it more if they'd have given her friend Ricki more screen time...).

Further out, I’m looking forward to Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, Yumeria, Maburaho, Tenjou Tenge, Full Metal Alchemist, and the next season of Happy Lesson. Maybe Onegai Twins and Mezzo DSA, but the episode reviews of the former and the screenshots of the latter reduce my interest. I’ve heard mixed reports on Scrapped Princess, but it looks like it might be worth buying the first disc.

Update: Way, way out there in the land of things that haven’t been licensed for US distribution yet, and that I’ve mostly just seen screenshots and reviews of (here, here, and occasionally here), there’s Re: Cutie Honey, Ninin ga Shinobuden, DearS, and Tristia of the Deep Blue Sea. Gainax’s big effort, This Ugly and Beautiful World, looks nice, but sounds rather dull.

Reasons to keep an eye on JWZ's LiveJournal, #12

Links like this one:

giant-sized baby thing

Best comment:

The bad news is that it transforms into a giant robot, and for some reason can only be piloted by teenage girls.

"acts of civil disobedience," you say?


Police said that among items confiscated from protesters were gas masks, homemade forearm pads and other types of protective gear, marbles, spray paint and razors and jagged-edged wooden poles.

Stalking the Norwegian Moonbat with gun and camera...

Coming soon from a socialist state near you: “Sugar is just as dangerous as tobacco.”

Me, I’m, as they say, koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs. Or maybe Honeycomb.

Keeping it simple

Some of my friends are starting to wear pro-Bush t-shirts more often, which has produced some hilarious results when they’re out in public. My favorite was at a gaming convention a few months back, when a hotel employee took one look at what Rory was wearing and said “you’re not serious, are you?”.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find a design that I liked. So I’m working on my own. First candidate:

Bush 8, Kerry 0

ConQuest note

A quick pointer for the people attending ConQuest who asked about our initiative cards. The PDF file is here. Be sure to shut off the page-resizing options (called shrink oversized pages and enlarge small pages, last time I checked) before printing.

Reasons to vote for Bush, #347

Dateline, France:

If the world could cast a vote in the United States presidential election, John Kerry would beat George W. Bush by a landslide, according to a poll released on Wednesday that is described as the largest sample of global opinion on the race.

Some of Kerry’s biggest supporters? France, Germany, and Mexico. They apparently didn’t poll North Korea, Syria, or Iran, likely because Kerry would have gotten 117% of the vote in each. No fair making things too obvious for the readers…

Why is this news? Either part?

Today’s tempest in a teapot is the publication of recently-discovered memos that appear to demonstrate that a young George W. Bush slacked off in his last year of National Guard service, and the not-terribly-convincing claim that these memos are obvious forgeries created using the default settings in Microsoft Word.

It strikes me that both sides of this little newsblip are remarkably silly things to stake your credibility on. It’s not news that young W was a slacker, it’s part of his official biography. As for the forgery claims, they’re filled with misconceptions about typewriters (“no proportional fonts in 1973!”) and typography (“look at the kerning!”), and surrounded with a glow of “bloggers kick the mainstream media’s arrogant asses again, boo-yah!.”

One of the few cautious commenters on LGF got to the heart of it: the people dancing in their cubicles over this amateur sleuthing would absolutely crucify a Leftie who tried to bash a pro-Bush document with the same flimsy evidence. Why should it surprise anyone that the default template in Word is set up to resemble a good typewriter, with one of the most common fonts in the world?

The question for Right-bloggers to ask is not “how foolish can we make the Boston Globe and CBS look?” but “how foolish will we look if it’s not a fake, and CBS’ original holds up to inspection?”. It’s already been claimed that new copies of the documents have been provided by the White House after the AP made an FOIA request, although no one has provided a direct link to the new copies.

As for the Globe and CBS, the question is “Will anyone actually care about this, or will it just keep the focus on Vietnam, where Kerry already has plenty of problems?”.

Update: Belatedly, it occurs to me that the memo can be both authentic and word-processed. If Killian was working on his memoirs before his death in the Eighties, he may well have had someone transcribe his old hand-written memos.

Update: The most convincing argument for fraud, I think, is not Charles’ recreation of the memo in Word, but CBS’ inability to defend their source or their verification process. Even if they were caught flat-footed yesterday, they should have been able to respond today, even if their response was to say “your experts are looking at a scanned fax, and ours have the original.” They haven’t done that, instead issuing a CYA memo of their own, promising an investigation into the allegations.

There’s still a lot of misinformation floating around among the pro-forgery crowd that makes them look a bit foolish. Many of them have finally discovered that proportional type was not a creation of the digital age, although some still have using it confused with the difficulty of justifying type on a typewriter. Quite a few are still laboring under the delusion that kerning is somehow part of the smoking-gun proof, despite the fact that kerning is turned off by default in Word, and is completely irrelevant even if they’re forgeries. And there’s the poor expert whose statements were so garbled by INDC that he sounds like a complete buffoon who thinks that only digital-era Times New Roman has a “4” with a closed top and no foot, or, worse, that Times itself is somehow a new font.

In the end, I still can’t find much reason to care about this story. The biggest impact it has on me is slowing down popular web sites by flooding them with traffic.

Update: Apparently, Dan Rather has personally staked his credibility, integrity, and career on this story by going on CNN and defending the memos. CBS News is backing him up and insisting that earlier reports of an internal investigation were false. They’ve raised the stakes, but their opponents don’t have to take the same risk to stay in the game. Not smart, unless they’ve really, really got a secret weapon.

As mostly pointless, rarely enforced laws go...

…I’d have to say that this one is pretty inoffensive. It is now illegal in California to have sex with corpses. Multi-millionaires who haven’t quite kicked off yet are still fair game, to the relief of gold-diggers and their prey.

I was going to say that this was a law “I could get behind,” but that just sounds wrong somehow.

[technically, this one falls into the “Reasons to keep an eye on JWZ’s LiveJournal” category, but consistency gobbles the mind’s little hobs, or some such.]

There goes my savings...

I’ve been so good recently. Really. My credit cards are clean, my home equity loan has plenty of headroom, I didn’t spend much in Vegas (although for a change I actually lost a few hundred, but still got the room comped), I haven’t gone wild on bike accessories like some Harley owners I could name, and I’ve even resisted the temptation to buy one of the new iPods to replace my now-obsolete 30GB unit.

So what happened? Minolta finally sorted out all the problems with their merger with Konica, and announced this:

Minolta Digital Maxxum 7

Full-frame 35mm CCD, 6.1 megapixels, optical image stabilization built into the body so it works with existing lenses, and based on the Maxxum 7 body. Pixel count might seem low compared to some of the alternatives out there right now, but this thing has been delayed for so long that it’s mere existence is good news, because it preserves my investment in lenses and flash gear. And 6MP is good enough for most common uses of 35mm, especially since I’ve been moving toward medium and large-format film for a lot of things.

My model shoots will work just fine at 6MP, and get processed for the web a lot faster. And the truth is that this thing won’t actually put much of a dent in my wallet; I’ve been waiting for it for quite a while…

Update: The official announcement is out now, with sample images and more details. This is a recompressed crop from a full-sized JPEG sample:

crop from Minolta 7D sample

Right now, the only compatibility limit they list to the image-stabilization is with the 16mm Fisheye and the 3x-1x Macro Zoom. I never bought the latter, and I can see why it would be tricky to stabilize the former. If it really does deliver the promised 2-3 stop improvement in hand-holdability with the rest of their lenses, though, it’s going to be a fantastic tool. With its matched 2x teleconverter, my 300/2.8 makes an excellent 600/5.6, but I’ve never been able to use it without at least a monopod. Very, very cool.

And then there’s the 500/8 Reflex, the 100-400/4.5-6.7, etc, etc. Actually, there have been enough times when I was losing the afternoon light while shooting ISO 100 film with my 80-200/2.8, that those three extra stops would come in handy for all sorts of lenses.

Nifty feature: RAW+JPEG, which allows you to record each picture in both formats, so you’ve got both a compact version for previewing, and an uncompressed, full-quality original to import into Photoshop (a 1GB CF card will hold ~76 of them). And they’ve put in a buffer big enough for 9 RAW+JPEG images shot at 3 frames/second. If you sacrifice the RAW image and adjust the JPEG size and compression, you’ve got a continuous shooting range of between 12 and 43 pictures at 3 f/s.

Only downside: APS-sized CCD, not full-frame (“wait for the 9D?”), so there will be some magnification from my lenses. On the bright side, this will reduce the cost a bit, and I’m not big on superwides anyway.

Minolta’s official sample images.

"What if Bush wins"...

I’m still reading, but so far, I think every single member of this panel of experts assembled by Washington Monthly is, um, smoking crack. With a side order of rabies.

Pushing back the Borders...

I figure the best response to this, whether it reflects widespread Borders employee opinion or not, is to ride down there tonight, walk in wearing my motorcycle jacket and Call of Cthulhu Elder Sign t-shirt, and buy copies of Unfit for Command, Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man, a few gun magazines, a copy of Playboy, a red-meat-oriented cookbook, the latest issue of The Skeptical Enquirer, and a pile of translated manga.

That ought to confuse them.

As for the predictable outrage at discovering that chain bookstore employees tend to be virulently Leftie college students, I can only ask, “…and this surprises you how, exactly?”.

Of course, used bookstore employees lean to the Left in my experience as well, but at least they tend to be older and more well-rounded in their opinions. Like the guy who bored me stiff at ConQuest talking about San Francisco politics and the editorials he writes for a local communist paper, but who was happy to shift the topic to “guns that are fun to shoot” when my lack of interest in the Commies and Greens became obvious. Oh, and I hope he didn’t burn off too much hair lighting that cigarette; at our age, it doesn’t come back as easily.

Out with the chad, in with the pencil

Just received the bilingual instructions for how to vote in Monterey County in the November elections. Apparently we’re abandoning the aging punch-card machines in favor of an optical scan system that requires you to draw a line completing an arrow that points to your choice.

They’re also encouraging everyone to apply for absentee ballots to avoid long lines due to the projected record-high turnout.

Thanks for noticing...

So, I just received email from Apple, thanking me for registering iLife ’04 and GarageBand Jam Pack. Which I registered in January.

Why isn't this man smiling?

Is it just me, or does the new Miss America’s father look like he’d go after you with a shotgun if you asked her out? And this picture was taken before she won…

Miss America and happy dad

What a Jiffy scam!

Just got back from the grocery, and happened to notice the recent carb-faddish Simply Jif line of peanut butter. I was picking up a jar of the regular stuff, and on a whim I decided to compare the nutritional labels.

A standard two-tablespoon serving of regular Creamy Jif: 190 calories. Low-carb Simply Jif: 190 calories. Reduced Fat Creamy Jif: 190 calories. It’s the same for their entire product line. The reduced-fat version eliminates a whopping 4 grams of fat but compensates by adding 8 grams of carbohydrates. The low-carb version removes a majestic 1 gram of sugar.

(and, yes, I know they round off the calories to the nearest 10)

"Obedience to the law is freedom"

In their continuing efforts to ban all forms of discrimination except anti-Americanism, the EU Commission has ruled that it’s illegal to reject potential roommates and tenants based on their gender, even if you’re, say, a battered women’s shelter.

It’s claimed the new ruling would also prevent insurance companies from offering lower rates to women, despite their longer lives and lower car-accident rates. ’Cause that’s sex-based discrimination, y’see, and any sort of discrimination is always wrong.

Coming soon, new laws prohibiting discrimination against ugly people who want to be cover models, fat people who want to be runway models, infants who want to drive backhoes, and grade-school dropouts who want to be doctors. Or at least EU commissioners.

It’s time for a movement to decriminalize “discrimination”. It is not inherently a dirty word, despite decades of negative associations. I discriminate dozens of times every day, and I’m damn proud of it. I discriminate against the restaurants that have given me food poisoning, against bad drivers when they suddenly realize they need to merge into my lane, against any store whose prices are too high or whose employees are rude, and, in my most shocking admission, I cheerfully discriminate against unattractive women when girl-watching or chatting up potential models.

I discriminate quite viciously when buying groceries. Not just by getting my steaks at Costco (the only place that cuts them nice and thick), my cocktail sausages at Dorothy McNett’s Place, or my bagels at the Safeway on Shoreline (where they don’t overbake them, and still have a decent selection at 11pm), but by spending most of my money at Nob Hill. Because they don’t use those stupid customer-tracking “savings” cards.

Okay, they also have the best-looking female employees, at least in my neighborhood. But I even discriminate against most of them when they offer to push my cart full of groceries out to my car. Only Danielle gets to do that…

Recent anime

Quick takes on stuff I’ve watched in the past week.

Kaleido Star, disc 4 — Damn, this show is so good that I’m afraid to say anything that might spoil it. Just don’t read the back-cover blurbs or liner notes, don’t watch the next-episode previews or the special features, and stay away from the episode list on ADV’s web site, because they love to spoil things for you. Worse, many of their spoilers are misleading or just plain wrong. I’ll be buying the rest of the series (eight more discs!). [update: ADV puts spoilers into their press releases, too! I was just looking at a list of release dates, and wham!]

R.O.D The TV, disc 2 — Things are building up nicely, and the paper is flying. Good work on developing the relationships between the characters. I’ll definitely buy the next disc.

Chrono Crusade, disc 1 — Good stuff. A sexy, heavily-armed teenage nun who fights demons in New York City during the Roaring Twenties, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake like a one-woman Dirty Pair. The most glaring flaw is some poorly-integrated 3D CGI, but they either got better at it quickly or I got used to it by the time I reached episode 4. I’ll definitely buy the next disc.

Galaxy Angel, disc 4 — Fluff. Fluffy McFluff, with a side order of Fluff. This show goes nowhere, and is proud to admit it. If you’re in the mood for old-school anime wackiness with modern production values and no pretense at continuity between episodes, Galaxy Angel is the show for you. There’s really not much difference between the four volumes, and no matter how much you learn about the characters, they don’t actually grow and change, so you can pretty much watch them in any order. I’ll buy the first disc of season two when it comes out, because I like fluff. And Mint is evil, in a good way.

Kiddy Grade, disc 6 — Eh. Not impressed.

Ikkitousen, disc 1 — I can’t describe just how much this show sucks. I’ve read the available manga volumes, as well as reviews of the fansubs, so I wasn’t expecting it to be good, but I thought it might at least be amusing, in a “she kicks high” combat-fan-service way. It’s not. It does manage to be about 70% less raunchy and 50% less poorly-plotted than the manga, but also at least 20% more sucky.

What really stood out for me is that it’s just sloppy, both in execution and translation. I expect Geneon to do a good job on their releases, but this back-cover blurb is actually representative of their care and attention to detail on this product:

Once again blood flows in the streets of Kanto. The eternal fate that has been handed down for over 1800 years is now being fought by ancient warriors who have been reincarnated into the students of the seven top schools. One such student, Hakufu Sonsaku, arrives on the scene and is rumored to be the legendary Shou Haou (The one who is said to be the one to defeat many in battle). But can this blonde airhead with the overly-endowed assets actually be the legendary Shou-Haou?

I originally figured it was just a case of putting the junior translator on box work (like the charming example in Hyper Police where the box-cover claimed a character “begins acting like a little child”, but in the actual episode he becomes a child), but no, the subtitles are just like it. And I have to say that the show doesn’t really deserve better. Anyone who thought that Agent Aika’s panty-flashing was obtrusive or that Mahoromatic was in some way misogynistic should stay far, far away from this turkey.

Actually, everyone should just stay away. This show makes Amazing Nurse Nanako look wholesome and well-written. I won’t be buying disc 2.

Next up: 7 of 7 disc 1 (fluff), 50 Years of Playmates (the Playboy box set), and something called Star Wars. I think it’s a comedy. Or maybe a tragedy, the way Lucas keeps pissing in his whiskey.

Next potential purchase: Gokusen disc 1.

This company understands me...

The Evil That Is Sqyntz

Sqyntz are evil. Sqyntz are tasty. Sqyntz are addictive. And, fortunately, they’re low-calorie. Unfortunately, they’re also hard to find in stores. In the Bay Area, I’ve only seen them at Nob Hill and REI. And the way we go through them during gaming sessions, I buy an awful lot of overpriced little tins of the stuff.

So when I decided to write up a brief article in praise of the best darn sour candy on the market, I went to their web site to snag a picture of the tin. And I found an online store selling them by the six-pack, and they even had a flavor that I’ve never seen in stores. Cha-ching!

Update: they shipped promptly, but while I enjoy being able to stock up on Tropical Fruit Sqyntz at a discount, I am saddened to report that Orchard Blend Sqyntz aren’t nearly as good. They’re decent candy, but they’re just not irresistible.

Oh, the humanity...

Today’s musical question is “How Berkeley Can You Be?

In between the Commies, the America Last Coalition, the all-purpose wackos, and the people who think “bush” puns are actually funny, the true answer is revealed: Klingon cat-girls (no, I’m not going to host a copy of this picture here…). Says it all for me.

Oh, now this one's just shameless

I hadn’t seen any good spam for a while, even when I indulged my curiosity and looked inside’s Junk folder before wiping it clean. This one, however, stood out in the crowd.

Silly me, I didn’t even know the FDIC had an office in Beijing, much less that it was where they hosted their “ATM/Debit/Check Card Protection Program”.

It was, of course, sent to the email address that’s in my WHOIS records, which is not on file with any banking institution I do business with. Not that I’d have fallen for it anyway…


.Mac foolishness

So I decided to increase the iDisk storage on my .Mac account, mostly because I’m using the password-protected Public folder to share a largish database with some friends, and mounting DAV volumes is easy, convenient, and doesn’t involve bandwidth that I pay for. The fact that it autosyncs to every Mac I use is just a bonus, of course.

The problem? The confirmation screen for buying upgrades to your .Mac account includes your plaintext password. Sure, it’s a secure web form, but this is a receipt, and I print out receipts for online purchases. I suspect other people do as well.

This transaction did not involve changing a password, adding a sub-account with a new password, or anything similar, so why is my password being printed out? More significantly, why is .Mac storing plaintext passwords in the first place? This is an old security mistake, and anyone designing a service on top of Unix should know better.

Update: a few days later, they decided to bump disk storage for everyone and cut the price of bumping it further. Unfortunately, they also bounced a lot of email for a day with bogus “over quota” errors.

Update: well, that’s at least useful. The standard .Mac account now has a total of 250MB of storage, which can be divided up between email and iDisk however you like. My upgrade to 200MB of iDisk storage is now to a total of 1GB, divided evenly by default. I quickly cranked the email storage down to 50MB and put the rest into the iDisk. You still can’t safely sync it when you’re on a wireless network (your .Mac password is sent in the clear for non-SSL WebDAV), but it’s still a handy tool.

Any questions?

How UN inspectors helped Iraqis:

Adnan Abdul Karim Enad’s relatives were shocked to see him clambering into a UN inspector’s jeep on January 25 clutching a notebook and screaming “Save me! Save me!” in Arabic. A UN inspector sat motionless in the front seat as Iraqi guards pulled the 29-year-old man out of the car and carried him away by his arms and legs.

How US troops helped Iraqis:

Amnesty International has learned that 'Adnan 'Abdul Karim Enad is safe and free. He and other detainees were said to have escaped from a prison in al-Ramadi, about 80 miles from Baghdad, after it was abandoned by prison guards in mid-April.

Dicing with passwords

Last year I posted a reference to Arnold Reinhold’s Diceware page, and included a copy of my favorite passphrase generator, which attempts to generate pronouncable nonsense words.

I’ve always been a big fan of pronounceable nonsense, even in the days when passwords were limited to eight characters, but I think it’s particularly useful for long passphrases. My problem was that it can actually be pretty difficult to get a good nonsense phrase out of the original table. So I made my own.

Now, the instinctive reaction to someone creating their own security tool instead of using one created by an expert is (or ought to be) an anguished cry of “Noooooo, you fooooool!”. This is a special case, though, because the beauty of the Diceware scheme is that the contents of the table don’t actually matter, as long as each cell is unique. You could fill the first column with colors and the rest of the cells with the names of different superheroes, and the resulting passphrases would contain just as much entropy.

So here’s my new favorite method of generating passphrases. Roll three six-sided dice (one to choose a consonant, two more to choose the rest of the syllable), repeat at least ten times, and assemble into a phrase.


Update: Sorry if I didn’t make it clear. Split the results up with spaces to create two- or three-syllable “words”.

Also, a word on the relative strength of passphrases. Each syllable contains ~7.75 bits of entropy (log2(666)), so ten syllables produces a 77.5-bit passphrase, which is likely good enough for data that isn’t kept under lock and key 24x7 (e.g. login password on a laptop). See Reinhold’s FAQ on passphrase length for details. Note that the dictionary-based Diceware system requires longer passphrases to get the same strength (5d6 per word versus 6d6 for nonsense syllables).

Okay, this is cool

Mamiya has just shown off a 22 megapixel SLR body with a 36×48mm CCD. That’s twice the physical area of a 35mm film frame (which should produce visibly higher quality than the high-MP Canons and Nikons), although it will still have some magnification when used with Mamiya’s 6×4.5cm medium-format lenses, and even more when the digital-back version is used with their 6×7cm body and lenses.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”