September 2005

Tuning in the Red Cross

Apple has chosen an interesting method for supporting the current hurricane relief efforts. They’ve made it possible to donate to the American Red Cross through the iTunes Music Store.

They also used their regular iTMS weekly updates mailing list to announce the link.

Adventures in pop culture

Last night, I stopped at the Valley Fair mall in San Jose on the way home. It’s a common Silicon Valley shopping destination. You can find all sorts of high tech toys there, and there are large Apple and Sony stores. They even have a kiosk that sells the Rosetta Stone language software I’m fond of. I had an iPod Shuffle clipped to my shirt, and a shiny new Sony Playstation Portable sticking out of a bag.

In a nearby store, the clerk looked at my Shuffle and asked what it was. She said she’d seen two others recently, and hadn’t asked their owners. I said “iPod Shuffle”. She said “what’s an iPod?”. I explained. She thought it sounded difficult to use, since she’s just getting started on that “Internet” thing. I told her how easy it was to set up, and pointed her to the large Apple store for free demonstrations.

As we finished this discussion, the next customer in line noticed my PSP. Recognizing the logo, he asked if it was “some kind of Playstation”. I explained, and his eyes widened at the concept of a portable Playstation. I pointed him to the large Sony store for free demonstrations.

Then I escaped to the security of my car, before someone asked about my cellphone…

[note that both of these people were under the age of 35]


Maburaho, Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, and Haibane Renmei. What do they have in common, apart from seiyuu Junko Noda?

Not much, really, except that I was watching them at more or less the same time. Maburaho is a pretty standard harem comedy, with lusciously drawn girls, some good voice acting, and a plot that falls apart if you so much as look at it. The director knows his fluff, though, and the show makes no pretense of being anything more.

Daphne is equal parts action, comedy, and fan-service, with a plot that could actually be pretty good if they shared it with the viewers. It has the potential to be more than fluff, but the first-time director has pretty much blown the pacing. The first two discs are spent introducing the cast, and a good chunk of the third is consumed by two lengthy, apparently-unrelated expository lumps (one of which is both dreadfully boring and immersion-breaking). Maia is an engaging heroine, and some of the other characters are nicely rounded (yeah, that way, too), but the plot crumbs are just too scattered right now.

Haibane Renmei is so good it hurts, literally, which is why it’s nice to have some fluff around when you need to recover your equilibrium. To discuss it is to spoil it. You just need to set aside an evening or four, relax, and let the story unfold.

What’s bad about them? Beware spoilers!


comment spam

Comments are off for the day, because I don’t feel like changing things around again to block the one zombie-master who has figured out how to add comments to my blog entries. It’s only about ten a day, he doesn’t actually get anything out of it (my comment pages aren’t indexed in search engines), and the originating IP addresses are blackholed the moment his script posts one of them, but their existence offends me.

I have some code lying around that will defeat his current method (harvest URL from search engines, post comment from an address that’s never surfed my site before, then get the page and see if his comment was added), but I don’t feel like tinkering with Movable Type right now. When I do, it will scramble all comments less than one minute old, preventing the verification pass.

Zombies are pretty stupid, though, so I don’t expect it to stop them from trying. You’d think he’d eventually give up when it became obvious that his spam doesn’t work here, but apparently zombie masters are pretty stupid, too.

Update: I still don’t feel like hacking on the server, so I’m reopening comments on specific entries. The spammers mostly pick on well-indexed, well-referenced blogs, so the new stuff should be pretty safe.

DearS/Girls Bravo, disc 1

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

  • Our Hero is a high-school loser, who's never had a girlfriend.
  • Girl Next Door bullies him because she doesn't have the courage to confess her true feelings.
  • Dream Girl suddenly appears from another world.
  • DG moves in with OH, for no apparent reason.
  • OH ends up in a Compromising Position with DG, and is caught by GND, who assumes the worst without waiting for an explanation.
  • This is just the first CP; there are many more to come.
  • DG has big boobs (usually bigger than GND's), frequently displayed to best advantage.
  • DG has superpowers. (optional: frequent property destruction)
  • DG has an unusual and/or unusually large appetite.
  • DG knows nothing about life on Earth, and needs to be looked after.
  • More Strange Cute Girls begin to appear, some of whom compete for OH's affection.
  • Wacky Hijinks ensue.
  • OH's classmates enthusiastically accept the DG and SCGs, even when their WH result in (temporary) injury, embarrassment, or property damage.
  • Handsome Rival attempts to steal/seduce/acquire DG, SCGs, and sometimes GND.
  • DG is utterly clueless about HR's intentions.
  • More WH ensue.
  • Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

How does Girls Bravo differentiate itself from this basic formula? Lots of bare tits, plus more than the usual complement of bare asses. The animators pushed it so far that the Japanese TV networks made them add fog effects to cover the girls up a bit. The fans knew what they were missing, though, so the DVD releases are fully-nippled and unfogged.

DearS tries a different approach, taking its basic setting from the film Alien Nation, replacing funky-skulled humanoids with half-dressed hotties, mostly female. Where most of AN’s slaves wanted freedom and equality, though, the DearS are conditioned to need masters, something they try to keep from their new hosts on Earth. One would think that the prominent dog collars they all wear would be a dead giveaway, but a year after arrival, it’s still a secret. Until the night a “defective” DearS is accidentally released into the wild, or, more precisely, Our Hero’s apartment…

OH apparently spent more time watching V than Alien Nation, so he is perhaps the only teenager in the world who distrusts the motives of the cuddly aliens. This, combined with a hint of moral fiber, keeps him from taking advantage of his willing slave girl.

Clichés aside, are they any good? Both are generally well-drawn and well-acted, with a good mix of humor and fan-service. Girls Bravo is plot-free episodic comedy that makes no attempt to explain the “other world” or its magic; Miharu (DG) and the women of Seiren (SCGs) are from somewhere else, they have a way to get to Earth, and that’s that. The manga it’s based on doesn’t seem to have any explanations to offer, either; it’s just not important.

DearS, on the other hand, has plenty of story potential, and at least tries to set up and explain some mysteries associated with the setting. They rearranged the first three volumes of the manga to come up with a relatively self-contained storyline, while leaving plenty of things to explain in a second season.

They didn’t get a second season. Girls Bravo did. Such is life.

On the whole, I prefer DearS. It’s frequently compared to Chobits and accused of blatant, vicious misogyny, but neither comment makes sense to me. The two women who create the manga know that they’re writing for a mostly young, mostly male audience, but their slave girls aren’t helpless naifs used and abused by their captors (those anime usually involve tentacles…). They’re slaves put into a situation where they’re forced to confront their conditioning.

Ren (DG) is a person with a stunted sense of free will, who rapidly adapts to her new life; Chobits’ Chii is not quite a house pet, not quite a person, and she’ll never really change. Ren, Takeya (OH), and Miu (SCG) all grow and change, and they’re all moving away from master/slave stereotypes. Neneko (GND) grows up a bit, too, although she starts out way ahead of the others.

Girls Bravo is amusing fluff, and based on the fansub reviews, I think it will deliver what it promises. DearS is a promising start at telling a story that will only be finished in the manga, but it’s still a good show, and I honestly like the major characters. As an added bonus, the end credits sequence more than satisfies my dancing-chibi fetish, accompanied by a painfully cute j-pop song.

I was wondering...

…why Apple went from “Dashboard gadgets” during the Tiger beta to “Dashboard widgets” in release. Perhaps this is the answer: Microsoft Gadgets.


To bring the web’s content to users through:
• Rich DHTML components (Gadgets)
• RSS and behaviors associated with RSS
• High customizability and personalization
• To enable developers to extend their start experience by building their own Gadgets

No comment...

Torn from today’s headlines

And in Osaka prefecture, Kinki University, which prides itself on its tuna breeding techniques, has had quality tuna on sale since September last year.

Ah, AppleScript

Daring Fireball demonstrates at length why it’s a bad idea to pretend that a programming language’s syntax is “English-like”. Personally, I’ve avoided AppleScript due to a bad experience with Apple’s similar HyperTalk language, which scarred my brain the day I tried to do something extremely simple,and found myself typing:

get line one of card field short name of the target

This was the simple, concise way to do it…

The cleansing power of Quartz

So my new Japanese class has started (lousy classroom, good teacher, reasonable textbook, nice group of students, unbelievably gorgeous teacher’s assistant (I will never skip class…)), and, as expected, the teacher is pushing us to master hiragana quickly. I did that quite a while ago, so while everyone else is trying to learn it from scratch, I can focus on improving my handwriting.

One thing she suggested was a set of flash cards. I had mine with me, and mentioned that they were available for a quite reasonable price at Kinokuniya. Her response was along the lines of “yes, I know, but nobody ever buys optional study materials; do you think you could photocopy them so I can make handouts?”

I could, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as making my own set. The first step was finding a decent kana font. Mac OS X ships with several Unicode fonts that include the full Japanese kana and kanji sets, but they didn’t meet my needs: looking good at display sizes, and clearly showing the boundaries between strokes. I found Adobe Ryo Display Standard. TextEdit seems to be a bit confused about its line-height, but I wasn’t planning to create the cards in that app anyway.

How to generate the card images? Perl, of course, with the PDF::API2::Lite module. I could have written a script that calculated the correct size of cards to fill the page, but I was feeling lazy, so I wrote a 12-line script to put one large character in the middle of a page, loaded the results into Preview, set the print format to 16-up with a page border, and printed to a new PDF file. Instant flash cards.

For many people, this would be sufficient, but one of the things sensei liked about the cards I had brought was the numbers and arrows that indicated the correct stroke order. There was no lazy way to do this, so I used Adobe Acrobat’s drawing and stamping tools. The stamping tool lets you quickly decorate a PDF file with images in many formats, so I just modified my previous script to create PDF files containing single numbers, and imported them into the stamp tool. The line-drawing tool let me make arrows, although I couldn’t figure out a simple way to set my own line-width and have it remembered (1pt was too thin after the 16-up, and 2pt had too-big arrowheads).

So why is this post titled “the cleansing power of Quartz”? Because the one-per-page annotated output from Acrobat was more than six times larger than the same file printed 16-up from Preview. Just printing the original file back to PDF shrank it by a factor of four, which, coincidentally, is almost exactly what you get when you run gzip on it…

The final results are here.

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