June 2008

Ah, the DNC…


With the latest antics among the Democrats, I was reminded of the video from their last convention [NSFW!].

Dear Amazon,


Fail.

Classroom fun


One of the other students in my reading class brought in the first chapter of the One Piece manga, which we finished a few weeks ago. Towards the end, there’s a scene in the bar where the villain Higuma is laughing with his gang about how pathetic Shanks and his pirates seem to be. One line in particular is noteworthy.

To set the scene properly, the teacher is a rather attractive woman “somewhere past age 30” (coughcough), there are two male students in their early twenties who are big Japanese pop-culture fans, and a basically-bilingual female student who’s about 19. And me, the big hairy over-40 otaku. We were translating as we went, and I had just finished reading the following speech bubble:

ぶっかけられても文句一つ言えねェで!!

This loosely translates as, “they didn’t even complain when I threw a drink in his face!”, but before I had a chance to say that, the teacher launched into an explanation of the verb, which she was sure we wouldn’t know: bukkakeru.

All three of us guys were trying hard not to say anything, or look at each other. We just let that one go quietly by…

I know it’s not porn, but…


Despite the fact that I poke fun at Amazon’s recommendation system a lot, I respect the amount of work they’ve put into solving a really hard problem. How do you classify how “similar” two items are? How can you tell the difference between classes of items that you want more of and classes where one satisfies the demand? When should you consider two items too similar? Etc, etc.

They’re mixing a lot of variables together, and trying hard to sort something to the top that will be interesting. Sometimes, they sort too many of the same class of item to the top. Sometimes, they come up with surprising, apparently insightful associations. Sometimes, they just goof.

And sometimes, I have to stop and try to figure it out. Today’s link goes from a lighthearted relationship comedy to a hardcore rape cartoon. The anime series Please Teacher is certainly suggestive at times, but it’s really a story about two misfits who accidentally marry and try to make it work. The only disturbing elements are the age difference and power imbalance between the couple: she’s his high-school teacher (and an alien with a powerful spaceship), and his physical maturity is below average for his age (especially compared to her height and lush curves).

Because I’ve told Amazon that I own one of the DVDs in this series, although I haven’t rated it, it recommended something called Perverted Thomas, which is apparently about a guy who learns an “ancient Chinese secret” that lets him force any woman to have sex with him. I’m pretty sure it’s not Calgon.

I think the link actually runs backwards, because on that page, Amazon reports that people who bought Perverted Thomas also bought animated titles like Night Shift Nurses, Maid Service, Xtra Credit, Mother Knows Breast, Anyone You Can Do I Can Do Better, Hot For Teacher, and … Please Teacher.

Boy, I bet they’re going to be disappointed.

[The also-bought list also included Cutey Honey, Appleseed, Please Twins, Elfen Lied, and Witchblade…]

Black boxes blech!


Who came up with the idea of using black boxes full of white text as the universal character-sheet format? I just took a look at the new 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons character sheet, and there they are again! It’s like these people have never heard of chartjunk, or, more significantly, inkjet printers that bleed.

The designer at least had the good sense to use nice thick fonts in the reversed-out sections, but its still a huge inkblot, and the layout of the key data is an assault on the senses. I’m also surprised that someone would go to the trouble of using Adobe InDesign to lay this out, and then not bother keeping the text grid consistent between columns.

There are sure to be third-party character sheets, some better, most worse, but if Wizards actually delivers their promised official online tools, and they don’t completely suck, almost everyone will use them, which means their official character sheet will dominate. Pity.

Moe Max?


While idly browsing the recommendations on Amazon Japan, I found the latest volume in the apparently-popular Moe yo! Tank School series. The uniforms are decidedly non-regulation, but what really caught my eye was the mascot on their tank.

I had my hopes up for a moment, but sadly, it looks like a generic angry bunny-head, not the one true Max.

On Piracy


Back in March, Shamus Young suggested practical ways software vendors can deal with piracy. Step number 5 was “clean house”: as with movies, most of the widely-traded pirated copies of games come from insiders, not retail customers who’ve disabled DRM on their copy and uploaded it.

Supporting evidence for this claim? I just saw the official honest-to-prepress PDF file for the just-released 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. I’m sure WotC will sell plenty of copies of the book, but I’m also sure a lot of people will be downloading this PDF version for free.

[Update: heh; some downloaders have outed themselves by posting rules complaints and questions based on the PDFs, which apparently are not identical to the printed books. The files that leaked out were not the “gold masters”, as it were.]

Ooma goes retail!


We’ve been taking it slow, but we’ve finally got a retail trial running. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you can finally see our product before buying one, at Best Buy.

"Now throw the switch and let us begin the battle for the planet."
--- The Brain

This is wrong tour


Never use this.

Step 1: Take the train to Akihabara on a Sunday. Step 2: Pay an American cosplayer $50 for a tour. Step 3: Profit?

At least they advertise it correctly: anyone on this tour will indeed be called “otaku” by the natives…

Expect to see a lot of these…


Today was the public pre-release of the Spore Creature Creator. Lots of people are going to be making critters and posting pictures and videos of them.

Here’s my only contribution for the foreseeable future:

sample Spore creature

And here’s the video, which works in some video players, but not others. (Quicktime with assorted plugins, but not Quicktime as a browser plugin, for some reason; also, no VLC)

I like the way that the children are chibified.

[Update: the web site claims 71,860 creatures uploaded in the last 24 hours. Oh, yeah, you’ll be seeing a lot of these.]

One in every crowd…


A short visit to Sporepedia.

The creator: 500000753443 Lrg

The artist: 500000752060 Lrg

The specialist: 500000751545 Lrg

One in every crowd:

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Queen’s Blade: The Solo Game


ANN says Queen’s Blade TV anime series. I expect well-rounded character designs with paper-thin personalities, bound together by fate in a by-the-numbers plot.

More Spore


I couldn’t resist linking to this one. Eeeeeevil.

Useful information…


View from the wing provides a handy piece of information (via Marginal Revolution):

Regardless of what you pay and what fare class you’re booking in, your travel on United between San Francisco and Nagoya, Japan is going to have almost no effect whatsoever on United’s decision-making. They’ve got a very large contract with Toyota and they fill up their 747 with cargo and the flight goes out with very low load factors yet is still profitable for them to operate. That’s why the single easiest flight in the entire United system on which to score an international premium class award ticket on is San Francisco- Nagoya...

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,


I know, I thought there really wasn’t anything left to say about the horrible outfits you daily inflict on the girls of Tsunku’s army, but this is different. It’s a safety issue.

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Today at ANN…


Sekirei trailers (Windows drm-laden-player only) and the announcement that the Mahoromatic manga artist’s current step-incest comedy, subtly titled kissXsis, will be animated soon.

Juxtaposition…


A friend just called to tell me I might not want to start my drive home just yet, since there’s a big fire near Watsonville. Checking in with Google News, I see these headlines:

Fireworks sales OK in Watsonville despite fire danger
Watsonville Fire Grows To 1000 Acres
Blaze Closes 6-Mile Stretch of Highway 1

[Update: over a thousand acres burned, smoke you can smell from 101, and some nitwit down the street from me is setting off fireworks.]

Shrine fetish


Amazon Japan just informed me that the third volume of Makino and Tsutsui (A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar) is now in stock. I’ll put it in my next order, because now that I’m fumbling through light novels, I’m running into things not covered by the previous two volumes.

While I was there, of course, I went through their recommendation list. I can’t imagine anyone who’d be interested in something like this…

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Dear Maki Goto,


You’ve left Hello!Project behind. You’ve got a new manager, a contract with a real record label, and tens of thousands of fans had idolgasms just seeing cellphone camera pictures of your recent training trip to LA. You’re positioned to take over the world.

Could you at least pick up a decent dress on the way to the show?

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4th edition Dungeons & Dragons


Braving the heat on Saturday, we gathered at Scott’s to try out the new D&D rules, using the commercial 1st-level module that’s available. We had fun, we felt vaguely heroic, and we narrowly avoided a TPK, so I’d call it a success. The occasionally-subtle, usually significant rule changes didn’t interfere too much, and many of them contributed to making for more dynamic, exciting encounters. We’ll play again. With a cleric.

Character creation was annoying. As usual, the rules are scattered across dozens of pages, and with so much that’s new, you really need to read up on how things work to understand the decisions you’re making. Due to the poor layout of the rules and the character sheet, it would have gone very slowly if I hadn’t already run through the process several times and taken notes, including page numbers.

The game can run very smoothly if the DM has a summary sheet of the characters’ defenses and passive skills, but the supplied “combat cards” are just a cargo-cult imitation of the init cards I and others designed for 3rd edition. They’re slightly more useful than tracking combat on a sheet of scratch paper, but have no value for handling situations like “everyone make a spot check” or “make a saving throw… okay, nothing happened”.

The character sheet wastes a great deal of space on trivia, while leaving you little room to record information that’s needed in combat. For instance, there’s no place to record the range of a ranged weapon or the area of effect of a power. A few fan-made sheets have turned up, but I’m not impressed. We’ll have to make our own, and we’ll definitely have to design a useful combat card before the next huge event at Kublacon.

Here’s my character-generation cheat-sheet (pdf). Hopefully it will clarify the process a bit for others.

One more note on character creation: we decided to try the new point-buy system for stats. It was fairly easy to use, but there’s just something un-DnD-ish about min-maxing your stats, so I decided to knock together a random generator that produced N-point characters. Unfortunately, doing that well is more work than simply generating all possible N-point characters, dumping them to a file, and selecting one at random, so I did that instead. It turns out that there are exactly 118 22-point stat arrays.

Dear Parallels,


I’m sorry, but companies who forge email headers do not inspire customer confidence:

From: 
To: "J Greely" <______@ooma.com>
Reply-To: "Parallels, Inc." 
Subject: 2 Licenses. Only $20 Each! Parallels Desktop 2-Pack
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2008 10:03:40 -0700
Message-ID: 

Please fire the idiots responsible.

[Update: they sent it out again with a decent From: header:
“From: “Parallels Inc” central@parallels.com]

Vampire sweat!


This is not a poster.

Moka, from Rosario & Vampire

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Strike Witches simul-streaming


ANN reports that the upcoming Strike Witches anime will be streamed worldwide via Youtube and Crunchyroll.

[Update: er, that is to say, officially :-)]

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,


I give up. You have destroyed my will to live. I know this, because the first thing I objected to in this picture was the boots.

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The DFC Discontinuity


With my mind already broken by the folks at H!P, today was not the day to confront me with a contradiction. I give you メロンパン Flat Pretz:

Bakery Flat Style Pretz - Melon Pan Fuu

Yes, these Pretz possess both delicious flatness and melonpan-fu. The mind boggles.

“Back off, man, I’m a scientist”


Way to bolster your credibility, Hansen:

James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Actually, I’d like to see this happen, because the defense teams would quickly subpoena the source code for all of the computer models being used to project future climate conditions, opening their assumptions up to real independent investigation. You know, “science”.

I spent too much time working in a university computer science department to have too much faith in the results of highly-tweakable computer models. Between twiddling the knobs to get what you want and simply leaving out variables that are inconvenient or too difficult to model, I suspect most sophisticated models could be replaced with:

10  PRINT "WORLD ENDING, PLEASE FUND MY RESEARCH"
20  GOTO 10

Go Fug H!P


Someone with a stronger stomach than I has taken on the task of documenting the worst abuses of the Hello!Project costume designers.

Supremes Gone Wild!


Quoting:

“The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child”

I agree, but only in the sense that hanging’s too good for him, not, as this court has decreed, that it is cruel and unusual punishment incompatible with “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society”.

Feh. They’d better rule against the Second Amendment in Heller, if they want to keep themselves safe from parents everywhere.

A simpler time…


The first two generations of Morning Musume, frolicking happily on the beach after making a movie about fighting back against stalkers. My, that’s a young Mari.

[Update: Oh, my, I’ve never seen this one before. It’s a short clip of a more recent edition of the group singing a song called “please don’t strip off my sailor suit”.]

Dear schoolgirl,


It’s cute that you like Morning Musume so much that you want to sing and dance like them in public, but may I offer you a bit of cautionary advice?

  1. Your performance was uploaded to Youtube with the title "Shock! 10-year-old lolita in a sailor suit". You may not understand why this is a problem, but you should make sure you've got a trustworthy adult with you when you go out singing.
  2. Please, however much you admire Morning Musume and wish to emulate them, ignore their fashion sense. You'll thank me later.

[Her role models perform the song here]

Ah, Chicago


Now that the Supreme Court has unambiguously ruled on the only “right of the people” ever to be considered “the right of state governments”, the Chicago Tribune has come out of the closet: “repeal it!”, say the guardians of freedom.

We’re just not sure whose freedom they’re guarding.

4th Edition D&D: character sheet and combat card


[Update: character sheet updated after playtesting; also added extended powers page for wizards and high-level characters]

I’m still tinkering with these, and I haven’t even started on the creation/leveling worksheet, but I think they’re a solid version 1.

The official character sheet has a lot of problems: first, it’s cluttered with ugly header boxes; second, a lot of the space is devoted to calculating values; third, a lot of information that you need during play is either on page 2 or just plain missing.

My goal was simple: put everything you need during combat on the top half of the first page. That leaves half a page for recording all other useful information, and frees up the second page to be a coherent worksheet for character creation and leveling.

The half-page rule also gives you a clean design for a combat-tracking card that can be used for monsters as well as players. This is always useful, and critical for large con events (we run 20-30 players, and the finale is always a massive player-versus-player battle). I actually started with the 4x6 combat card, and then expanded the design into an 7.5x10 layout that can be printed on both US Letter and A4 paper.

Here are the PDFs: character sheet, combat card.

Sometime this weekend, I’ll adapt my character-creation document into a proper worksheet that can be used to maintain the other two.

[side note: I’m working in Adobe Illustrator CS2, and the best way to get a small PDF file is to “save a copy” as EPS, then open it in Mac OS X’s Preview app and save. The only semi-downside is that it clips the bounding box to the objects rather than generating a full-sized page.]

“Please don’t pull off my school uniform”


[Update: added amusing machine translation of the lyrics, along with commentary]

Okay, so a link to a link to a link to a Youtube video got me started on this, and now I have six videos of the song セーラー服を脱がさないで.

Apparently, it all started back in 1985, when someone formed the idol group おニャン子クラブ (literally “kitten club”). The title of their debut single was “Please don’t strip off my sailor suit” (school uniform, that is), and their first album included songs like “Teacher, stop that!” and “Oh, no! Molester”. They lasted long enough to grow to over 50 members, and inspire future generations, including Morning Musume.

Videos and lyrics below the fold.

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Okay, this would be annoying


In the Yumeria anime, Mone, the #1 Strange Cute Girl, has a very expressive one-word vocabulary. It never occurred to me, however, what a pain in the ass that would be in the associated adventure game.

Not spam, scam


While flipping through my “couldn’t possibly ever be non-spam” folder (which occasionally reveals what real companies try to discover email addresses for their customers by correlating with spammer databases, and I mean you, Calumet Photo, Lexus, and Bed, Bath, & Beyond), I found a message that wasn’t offering viagra, penis enlargement, breast enlargement, free downloads that would add me to a botnet, or the opportunity to help some nice Nigerian take over my identity.

No, today’s offer is “help some Russians launder money stolen from other suckers”, as a Transactions Group Specialist.

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Little-sister cafe changes theme…


Apparently the competition was just too fierce in the adoring-little-sister cafe market, so Nagomi has gotten tough: it’s now a tsundere cafe.

(once the pretty-girl commercial is over, skip to about the 50-second mark)

A Heller-ing we go…


Step 1: friend announces imminent arrival of his new M1911A1.

Step 2: J remembers how to open the safe, verifies operational status of contents.

Step 3: J searches the house for “supplies”, finds a surprising amount of the stuff squirreled away.

Step 4: J re-reads friend’s email, realizes he won’t have the damn thing for another day (California).

Step 5: J contemplates the revolutionary concept of multiple range trips in one week (just like the good old days…).

Dear Hello!Project Costume Designers,


You bastards.

You waited until the last possible moment, when Biyuuden is disbanded and two out of three members will likely never be seen again. For years, you’ve been dressing them in tinsel and tulle, mixing cowboy hats and bunny ears with taffeta and rhinestones, sparing them the ruffles only when they’re in lingerie, and now you let them get in front of a camera in actual clothing. You didn’t even dye their hair unnatural shades and staple bows to their heads!

Or is this why they seem happy to break up? Quick! Someone get word to Aya, before she gets eaten by tribbles!

[again]

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