January 2006

Globalization is just peachy!

I needed to restock the pantry, so I made a late-night run to the local Safeway last night. I was passing through the canned-fruit section when something peculiar caught my eye:

デルモンテ イエローピーチ

These California peaches, canned by Kikkoman for a Japanese audience, somehow ended up on the shelves of a California grocery store that serves a largely Hispanic community.

Upgrading your Mini, the easy way

A while back I bought a Mac Mini to be the house server. Since it wasn’t going to be stressed too much, I just got the base configuration, and planned to leave it that way.

Well, the 512MB of memory was adequate, but the pathetically slow hard drive was not. Fortunately, the nice folks at Other World Computing were offering an attractive deal: for $99, they send you a box, pay for overnight shipping both ways, and install any combination of memory, hard drive, and optical drive purchased from them. To make it even more attractive, they give you cash back for the old parts.

I kept the optical drive, doubled the RAM, and upgraded to a larger, faster, quieter hard drive, and they gave me $80 for the old parts. I had my upgraded machine back in 72 hours, and it’s now happily running Tiger Server.

On that note: “Dear Apple, please write some decent documentation for your server product, and fix the layout of your management GUI. Love, J”. For instance, it would be nice to know how many characters are permitted in the shared secret and user passwords when you’re setting up an IPsec VPN. It’s not fun to guess why you can’t authenticate…

Good news, bad news, silly news

Apple sent me email last night at 6pm saying that my quad-core G5 was fixed and ready for pickup at their nearby store. Today at 1:30pm, I discovered that their system sends out email when the tech logs the work as complete, before the machine is burned-in. In other words, “come back in a few hours when we call you.”

At 4pm, they called, and I walked back to the store, Kart-A-Bag Tri-Kart 800 in tow. Got it back to the office, hooked it up, turned it on, and not only did the fans kick into high gear and stay there, neither the keyboard nor the mouse worked.

Power down, unplug, reseat, plug, power up, everything’s fine. I think I’ll do my own burn-in at the office for a few days, though, just to make sure…

Amusing note: the purchase price for the complete system was $3,278 after my 10% developer discount. The alleged Parts and Services cost for the repair (fully covered by warranty, of course) was $4,830.13. This included a new logic board, new quad-core CPU unit, and four new DIMMs, plus $135 in service.

Today’s lesson is “buy the AppleCare policy, or throw it away if it breaks after the standard warranty runs out.”

Update: after about 18 hours of burn-in at my office, it was looking good. Then I went to lunch. When I got back, the fans were running at full speed and the screen wouldn’t wake up. Power-cycling brought up the dark-gray-screen-of-death. Second try worked. I’m going to reset the PRAM and try again, and if it doesn’t make it to the end of the week without a problem, it goes back to the shop.

By the way, the service tech did something that walks that fine line between amusing and disturbing. I took the machine in on December 27th; World of Warcraft patch 1.9 was released on January 3rd. When I got the machine back yesterday, it had already been patched.

How to crash a quad-core G5

My recently-serviced G5 was doing well. This morning it was locked up again. Fans running at full speed, screen wouldn’t wake up, couldn’t get in via SSH.

The problem: last night before I left, I went into System Preferences and checked the little box for “Put the display to sleep when the computer is inactive for…”. This was also enabled the last time it failed to wake, and based on half-remembered forum postings, I had turned it off. I feel no need to repeat the experiment again…

Looks like some problems in the power-management firmware. Which makes sense, since the problem that sent it in for service was that it went to sleep and never came back, and the amount of stuff they replaced suggested thermal issues.

Update: No, it’s just hosed. Even without the power-saving, leaving it on for a few days killed it.

Update: Ah, turning off all power-saving, including the Automatic setting for processor performance, seems to keep it alive. So, if I don’t let it sleep, don’t let it turn off the display, and don’t let it slow down or shut off any of the cores, it seems to work. I’ve been stressing the CPU on and off with a multi-threaded Sudoku generator (not because I need 200,000 Sudoku puzzles per day; it’s just a convenient way of pounding on the CPUs).

This is not acceptable in a new machine, of course, but if it does turn out to be a firmware issue, and they release a patch soon, I can at least use it in the interim.

Be a sucker... for Allah!

This is not a political post. It’s just the latest amusing spam to show up in my mailbox. Content: typical 419 scam. Twist: be a good Muslim, receive several million dollars from this dying, devout man, and use all of it to bring the message of Islam back on target, reclaiming it from the terrorists and their allies. Nice touch: it was sent as a base64-encoded text/plain attachment, to evade many spam filters. Gratuitous silliness: his hospital ward prohibits phone conversations “due to the presence of some medical equipment which reacts to telephone waves”, so he has to use email.


Fischer Adelscott Peat-Smoked Malt

I’m not a beer drinker. When I drink at all, it’s usually single-malt scotch or sake, and not often. About ten years ago, though, I stumbled across one I liked, and would like to find again. Online reviews are all over the map; it seems to be a brew that is either adored or despised, without much middle ground. It doesn’t age well, by most reports, which makes the 1996-dated bottle in my hands worthless as anything but a reminder (and a source for a picture later…).

Last time I asked at Beltramo’s, they remembered it but didn’t stock it any more. That was a long time ago, though, so it’s worth asking again.

Sadly, the defining booze of my college days seems to have disappeared from the market, remembered only in mixed-drink recipes: Hot Shot Tropical Fruit Schnapps, from the Hot Shot Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky. I suspect that these days I’d find it cloyingly sweet, something I may test someday with the almost-empty bottle on my shelves. Still, I wouldn’t mind having a few bottles around for a reunion.

The Great Den Beste Relocation Project

[From Steven Den Beste, originally posted in my comments]

So here I am in beautiful downtown Beaverton OR, leeching internet connection off a free public WiFi system in the Beaverton Mall. I’m living in a motel, and I’ve found an apartment, but I can’t move into it until Feb 3, and won’t have internet connection at home for another couple of days after that. So until then I have no web site and no email, and decided that the only way I could offer an update to interested parties was by abusing J’s hospitality – or at least, by abusing his comment system.

After I got up here, I spent a week trembling and shivering and sweating because I had no internet connection at all. So I finally broke down and bought a notebook computer, which has built-in WiFi. First thing I did was spend an hour uninstalling all the sample programs and suchlike which Compaq polluted the hard disk with, and deactivating features in XP Home that I didn’t want. I’m sure I didn’t get them all, but at least now when I boot the computer I only have to kill one popup balloon in the tray instead of six.

When I was shopping for laptops I went into BestBuy here in the Beaverton Mall and discovered that they sold DVDs. Not only that, they actually have a small section of anime DVDs. I saw the first Bottle Fairy DVD there, but not the second one, alas (which I think just came out, and which I’m really looking forward to). I did end up buying about four DBZ DVDs I didn’t already have, and, well, on the shelf there was a copy of Eiken. I swear, it just popped off the shelf and landed in my hands, and… well, I bought it.

I’m so ashamed.

Words cannot describe how bad it is. In the teaser for the first episode our hero ends up groping the tits of one fabulously overendowed young woman (who, oddly enough, doesn’t react strongly to the experience by screaming or hitting him or contrariwise with deep passionate moans) and then ends up with another preposterously overendowed young woman sitting on his face – after which the credits roll. But that was enough for me. I’ll never doubt J’s judgment again when he says something stinks.

BestBuy also had the first three DVDs (eps 1-14) of the Ah! My Goddess TV series, and I was curious, so I got them too. They were an extremely pleasant surprise.

The art is fantastic. It’s a pure digital animation so everything is clear and clean. The original voice cast is back again, so there are no jarring changes there.

In general it feels a lot more like the movie than like the original OVA. But there are noticeable differences. The original OVA was a romantic drama. The movie was action-adventure. But the TV series is a romantic comedy, and it’s played a lot lighter. It covers some of the same basic material as the OVA but only in gross terms; in fine it’s nearly entirely different. For instance, in the OVA Belldandy and Keiichi find the temple empty and abandoned and move in. Keiichi asks if it’s OK and Belldandy says she has permission – presumably from Kami-sama. That whole section of episode 1 takes about three minutes. In the TV series there’s actually a priest there, and he gives them permission to say. Then, for reasons I won’t go into, he decides he needs to go on a pilgramage and leaves them to live in the place alone. The whole story about finding the temple and being left there to live takes a full episode.

They’re taking their time unfolding the story. Megumi doesn’t show up until ep 5, and Urd until ep 7. In ep 11 they introduce a character which is entirely new to me: Mara. She’s a demon. Skuld shows up in ep 13. On the other hand, we get to see Holy Bell in episode 3. (IIRC, none of the three goddesses summon their angels at all in the OVA, though they all do in the movie.)

Of course, the danger of “taking their time” is that it could feel padded, the way the El Hazard TV series feels padded, but so far this doesn’t. It does feel a bit leisurely, but that’s not the same.

By far the biggest and most pleasant surprise was Belldandy herself. She doesn’t show up until the last few seconds of the first episode, and it’s the strong, determined, self-confident Belldandy of the movie, not the quivering, self-pitying sobbing wimp of the OVA. In the 14 episodes I’ve seen so far she only outright sobs once, and it’s actually legitimate – and it doesn’t last long. In general, what with the overall much lighter touch to the story telling, the level of angst is much reduced, to the point where it isn’t a throbbing headache.

Another pleasant surprise is that there’s a lot of magic in the series. Belldandy and Urd (and Mara) all use magic quite a lot, and it’s a rare episode without at least one spell being cast by someone. The magic is fun, though it seems as if they’re all a lot more limited than I would have thought goddesses (or top-bracket demons) would be. Fact is that Sawanaguchi Sae or Kikuchi Yume could leave any of them in the dust as far as spell casting is concerned, and they aren’t even supernatural beings.

Skuld moves around using water, just as expected. Urd can transmit herself through electric lines and pop out of any TV screen. Belldandy turns out to have a thing for mirrors, and that’s how she moves around when she wants to get somewhere fast. Of course, Belldandy and Urd can also fly. Skuld, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to know any magic yet, but her gizmos are living up to expectations.

Megumi is the only character they really didn’t change from the OVA, and she didn’t need to be changed. She’s still strong, self-reliant, worldly. She still loves her brother and fully approves of him shacking up with Belldandy. She’s not omnipresent but she’s in a lot of the episodes and plays a major part in about four of them, and every time she’s on the screen it’s good. Her reaction to Urd and even more so to Skuld are wonderful.

I’m pretty sure that the three DVDs I’ve got so far are the only ones out, so I still don’t know where it’s heading, but I have suspicions. The last story arc in the OVA involved Belldandy being ordered back to heaven because her presence on Earth is causing problems. They’re laying groundwork that suggests that they’re planning on a similar ending to the TV series, but because they have more time they’re not forcing it. I hope they don’t wallow in it the way the OVA did, but I’m not too worried because so far the TV series hasn’t been wallowing in anything. (Another pleasant surprise is no two-part stories being told; they wrap every story up in a single episode, which also helps to keep things from getting too deep.)

The two strange seniors from the car club keep making appearances, and in the first episode they were thoroughly annoying – which was, in fact, a plot point. But later on they end up mostly being used for comic relief and mostly in small doses. Occasionally they get used for purposes of deus ex machina (e.g. when Mara appears). In the movie the segment they appeared in was easily the worst part of the film, which I invariably skip when I watch it. In the TV series they’re actually not annoying after the first episode.

There’s so much that’s different between the OVA and TV series that it makes me wonder how closely either of them follows the manga. In the OVA, the episode where Urd appears involves a trip to the beach. That’s not the case in the TV series; it happens in Tokyo. There’s no love potion that misfires, and no real misunderstanding between Keiichi and Belldandy – or rather, there is one, but it only takes Belldandy about five seconds to figure out what’s going on, and she doesn’t collapse in tears. Instead, she says (paraphrased) “Urd, get your butt out here.”

All in all I really like what I’ve seen so far, and I can’t emphasize enough just how beautiful the animation is.

Going forward, mostly I’m treading water until the apartment becomes available. I’ve also rented a garage and THAT I can use immediately. Not that I’d want to sleep in it, mind, but I can start buying stuff and leaving it there for when the apartment finally becomes available. It’s all paperwork and legalities at this point. The previous tenant moved out a week ago and went to New York, so it was empty when they showed it to me last Friday. Yesterday when I went over there to put money down on the place, the maintenance guy said he was painting it. They’re going to replace the refrigerator in the next couple days. A rational person would expect that I could move in this weekend. But it has to stay vacant until Feb 3 because the previous tenant paid the rent until then, even though he’s been sleeping in New York for a week. Hooray for rules, regulations, lawyers and bureaucrats.

It’s alright. I’ve got a lot of stuff I need to pick up, and it’s nice that I won’t have to rush. The motel I’m staying at isn’t ridiculously expensive and I’m managing reasonably well. And I think I’ve done more walking in the last week than I had in the previous year.

I don’t yet know what I’m going to do about a net connection. The big remaining puzzle is whether either Comcast or the phone company (ADSL) are willing to give me a permanent IP and let me run a server. I should be able to find that out in the next couple of days, though, and with two throws of the dice I think I have a good chance of hitting at least once at a halfway reasonable price.

Adventures in anime licensing

Anime News Network is reporting that Green Green has finally been licensed for US distribution. This is an ecchi fanservice comedy from mid-2003, in which the creators compensated for their inability to show hardcore sex by cranking up the wackiness and perversion. Based on a dating-sim game, of course.

From what I’ve seen, it’s well-drawn, with some decent voice actors and a catchy OP song, but when your comic antics include “male supporting character raped by bear” and “female supporting character kidnapped and molested by pack of monkeys” (both mostly off-camera, thankfully), it’s understandable that it wasn’t at the top of the list for licensing.

How to make anime dubs sound better

Force your audience to listen to these video game dubs first…

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