March 2005

Why the Minolta Maxxum 7D is cooler than your Nikon/Canon digital SLR

Minolta was a bit late in producing a modern digital body that used their full range of 35mm lenses, and the 7D doesn’t have the raw pixel count that some of the others do. In addition to Minolta’s typically superior ergonomics, though, it has one very cool feature: optical image stabilization that works with almost every autofocus lens that Minolta has ever made.

I haven’t picked up a 7D for myself yet, mostly out of laziness, but a co-worker did, and I brought in some of my lenses to see just how well the image stabilization worked. The following image was shot handheld with the 500mm/f8 Reflex lens, and the full-size JPG (click the thumbnail for the 4MB version) is straight from the camera with no modifications (fine-mode JPEG; I didn’t change the settings on his camera, so I don’t have a best-quality RAW image).

That’s a very small bird, but I was able to grab a quite reasonable picture of it while just walking around outside my office with a cheap mirror lens. I own much better lenses, and every one of them will gain the benefit of the 7D’s image stabilization. Now I just have to buy one…

Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, disc 1

Take an ordinary teenage girl. Bright, clever, slender and pretty, with a pleasant but not exaggerated figure. Now shrink her down proportionally until she’s about four feet tall, then stretch her vertically until she’s back to her original height. Perform the usual big-anime-eye surgery, and reshape the rest of her face until she has a chin that could cut glass. Throw in a haircut that further enhances her resemblance to a puppy-dog, and finish with one of the goofiest-looking dresses ever. You’ve now created Maia Mizuki, heroine of Daphne in the Brilliant Blue.

With that out of the way, she’s the star of an action/comedy series, so set the tone by putting her through The Worst Day Ever. Go wild here; we want her to be about ten minutes away from peddling her cute little ass on the street in exchange for a stale ham sandwich and a dirty patch of floor to sleep on.

In the second episode, we’ll start introducing the rest of the cast, consisting primarily of a conveniently color-coded set of gun-toting women with lush figures and fashion sense that rivals Maia’s. Don’t worry, their chins are razor-sharp as well, so Our Heroine will fit right in. Which one’s Daphne? Well, none of them, actually; we figure that will be covered on disc 6, which comes out next January. You didn’t realize that we’re releasing each of the seven discs two full months apart? Sucker!!!!

Now, for the fan-service, we want to do something a little different. Boobs are great, and we’re always glad to show that our girls have them, but we want to stand out from the crowd, so this show should be all about the ass. No, not the panty-flashing thing, everybody does that. Cheeks. Bare cheeks. Bare cheeks in the water, bare cheeks on land, bare cheeks in combat, cheeks, Cheeks, CHEEKS!

Why? Well, it’s for the fans, really. It catches their eye when they’re changing channels or walking through the video store, and the promise of more cheeks will keep them watching while we set up the plot. It’s not for me, certainly; I’m not one of those, y’know, ass-otaku. Okay, maybe a little. Or a lot. Just don’t ask me why I lock my office door when I’m “reviewing” the storyboards.

Moment of sanity: yes, I’ve now seen the first four episodes of this show, and I’m sufficiently amused that I’ll pre-order disc 2. The character designs grow on you, and the cheeky fan-service is something that just blends in after a while, helped by the fact that no one else ever notices it. Seriously. Maia and Shizuka casually walk through a crowded casino while carrying huge pistols and wiggling their bare asses, and it’s like they’re invisible. Until Shizuka starts shooting up the place, that is.

In vaguely related news, the English translation of the Tenjou Tenge manga has been chopped to bits by a publishing company that's terrified of sexual references and exposed nipples. Um, hello, did you actually look at the product before you licensed it? Did anything about this series say "kid-friendly"? Did no one mention to you that the sexy girls are pretty much the primary draw, here?

Based on the ham-fisted editing they’ve done with volume one, I don’t even want to think about what they’ll do to the Chiaki/Aya bathing scene in volume two. If they feel the need to draw in bras and delete sexual references in the dialog, they’re going to really butcher a lesbian seduction that shows one girl sucking on another’s tit. And as for the dialog that goes with that scene, brrrrr.

[update: I picked up the Japanese version of volume one today and examined the pages in question. The folks at ListerX underplay some of the edits, neglecting to mention that they’re changes to a rape scene. I’m not a fan of using rape to show that villains are villains, but from the description, it sounds like the edits attempt to reduce the severity of his crime, which leads to more edits as the characters react to what happens, etc, etc.

Either way it’s not critical to the story, but this kind of tinkering tends to snowball. It’s the same sort of “mother/editor knows best” attitude that led Eric Flint to “modernize” elements of James Schmitz’s Telzey/Trigger stories when he assembled the new editions (because, after all, modern audiences would be blasted right out of their immersion by the concept of a man offering a woman a “friendly cigarette”, and in an aircraft, of all things!). At least Flint was trying to guess what the audience wanted to see; DC is apparently trying to guess what the local Soccer Moms Against Fun committee will complain about.

If the only thing they’d done was downgrade a violent rape to a violent assault, I’d be able to understand their reasoning, but I’d still be annoyed by it. It’s not that I want to see Chiaki shriek and cry while some leering clown slams her into the wall and gets off on her pain; no, not at all. I’d much rather see her smiling and laughing in the arms of her loving boyfriend, but they hacked up those scenes, too. Because her tits were showing.]

[Update: Adding insult to injury, someone pointed out this statement on the DC/CMX web site: “And it’s pure manga — 100% the way the original Japanese creators want you to see it.” What a shame they don’t read their own press releases…]

If this isn't a coincidence...

…then it’s hilarious. I haven’t been following the new Battlestar Galactica series, even though it’s getting lots of good reviews, mostly because I simply haven’t been watching much television at all. However, while looking at the fan sites, I noticed that Grace Park’s character, Boomer, is a Cylon disguised as a human being.

Boomer. Cylon. Where are the Knight Sabers when you need them?

iPod Shuffle to the rescue!

So, yesterday afternoon I went in for some quick outpatient surgery. Nothing major (or ahem life-altering), just some quick drainage work, and then I’d be able to drive myself home. I figured I’d stop at Costco on the way back and pick up some steaks to grill.

That was 1:30PM. At 2PM, the surgeon finished looking at my “right axillary abscess” and said he wanted to take me across the street to the O.R. and do the (still simple, still minor) procedure under general anaesthesia. Not having spent much time under the knife, I didn’t immediately translate this to “you ain’t driving home, son”.

After getting me into one of those silly gowns and inserting an IV, the nurse asked who was going to pick me up. I explained that everyone on my list of possibles was at least 70 miles away and stuck at work for several hours, and found myself being admitted for the night.

Then they told me it’d be at least 5:30PM before they started. Then 6:30PM. At 8:15PM, I was finally knocked out with a clever assortment of chemicals, and woke up at 8:45PM with a well-packed bandage under my right arm. I got about an hour’s sleep last night, and finally got out of there around 10:30AM this morning.

The point of this story? When I left the house to start this little adventure, I stuffed my iPod Shuffle into a jacket pocket, figuring I might need some entertainment for half an hour or so while I waited for the surgeon. It saved my sanity. Except for the relatively short time that I was otherwise occupied, I was able to stay entertained with an assortment of music and Japanese talk radio.

Being partially color-blind, I couldn’t decipher the red/orange/green LED that signals remaining battery life, but it never ran dry. It warded me from the chatter in the hospital hallways, the burbling of my roommate’s oxygen supply, the dreadful basic-cable offerings on TV, and the small stack of relentlessly defeatist newsweeklies that passed for reading material.

And since the Shuffle correctly syncs play count with iTunes, I knew which talk-radio shows to delete when I got home this morning, making room for more.

Oh, and everyone I ran into wanted one. Most of them found the price as attractive as the product.

Thank goodness he wasn't allowed to own a gun, eh?

…shame none of the witnesses were, either: man beheaded with axe on London street.

Sadly, it sounds like the witnesses weren’t the sort who’d have done anything even if they’d had the means. At least half a dozen people stood there and watched for several minutes, and all they did was politely ask him to stop chopping up his victim.

Apparently I'm supposed to have an opinion...

…about Terry Schiavo. It seems to be one of the most important issues in the country, judging from the amount of ink, pixels, and heat that it’s generating.

After reading up on the facts of the case (well-referenced and presented with a refreshing lack of bias), I think the key point is that the medical experts agree that her brain scans consistently show that there is little or nothing remaining of her cerebral cortex. That is, the portions of the brain responsible for everything we associate with a functional living being are just plain gone (sorry, Rachel, but your analogy fell apart the moment your arthritic dog licked himself).

The only debate between the doctors is whether she has a small amount of isolated living tissue in her cerebral cortex or whether she has no living tissue in her cerebral cortex.

I’m not familiar with any existing or promised medical procedure that promises to grow a new brain, and even if one existed, that person would have little or nothing in common with the previous occupant of that body. Unless you believe in miracles, Terry Schiavo can never wake up, because she’s not there any more.

Since I don’t think the courts have any business basing their decisions on the likelihood of a miracle occurring, they must balance the medical testimony against the emotional appeal of the family. The judge chose medicine, which sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

I don’t actually care if the family manages to win the right to keep her body running on life support for another fifteen years. I think it’s a pretty morbid way of coping with loss, but they’ve apparently got the money to do it, so who am I to interfere?

I do care about politicians and pundits suddenly pretending to care about her. It reminds me of the old VH-1 Earth Day commercial “we’re not doing it because everyone is doing it, we’re doing it until everyone is doing it”, one of the more blatant lies in the history of environmental activism.

Update: The American Council on Science and Health speaks up.

Fear for the future

The latest claimed advance in stem-cell research is natural breast implants. On the one hand, their response to touch and motion would be realistic, and, being grown from the patient’s own cells, they would be free from the risks associated (true or not) with other methods of bust increase (which I will not refer to as “enhancement”, based on extensive familiarity with their unclothed appearance).

On the other hand, there’s no guarantee that they’d look any more realistic than current implants. If, as the article suggests, they’d be grown outside the body and installed in the usual way, patients seeking significant size increases would still end up with their nipples in the wrong place.

On the gripping hand, they’d pass the flashlight test, a first for breast-implant technology.

Burn-Up Scramble, disc 3

Disappointing. Why? Because the series up to this point has been straightforward action/comedy with a dollop of fan-service and plenty of cartoon violence, and they inexplicably turned serious on this disc, dropping the comedy and making the combat bloody and lethal. Previous incarnations of the Burn-Up franchise are reported to have had the same problem, but it really looked like they’d decided to keep this one light.

Nope. Of the four episodes on this disc, only the first matches the tone of the previous stories. In episodes 10 and 11, Our Heroines take on a pair of powerful, brutal “replacements”, and the losers end up on life-support, while shadowy figures pull the strings. There’s some good character development mixed in, and they partially redeem themselves with the final episode (despite the baggage left over from the two-parter), but based on the first two-thirds, this wasn’t the sort of series where you expected to see one of the good guys lying in a pool of her own blood. And I counted at least two arms being graphically broken in ways that don’t heal quickly, which was two too many.

I don’t get it. I thought they’d done a nice job of setting up a world and characters that would support several series of light-hearted action, with sexy heroines and a slapstick supporting cast. I assumed that was what they were shooting for, but even though the last episode leaves room for more adventures with these characters, they left the shadowy string-pullers pulling strings.

So, either they ran out of ideas, they didn’t really want to continue writing an episodic comedy, or they were seeing how an “edgier tone” would play with the fans. Well, I’d have bought five discs like the first one, or at least three like the second one, but I don’t want any more like the story that dominates the last one. Not even with Maya in a bikini.

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