“Hogger is end game content for bank alts and forum trolls.”

— One from the forums

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.

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?

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…]

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…

Believe it or not...

I picked up the DVD box of the first season of The Greatest American Hero, and watched the two-hour pilot episode Saturday night with some friends. It held up surprisingly well. Dated as it is in many ways, the acting was at least as good as in most TV pilots, and there’s some great humor, the product of good writers working with actors who “got it”.

I have vague-but-fond memories of the series, and if the rest of the set lives up to the pilot, it should keep me happy until the Hogan’s Heroes box comes out in a few weeks…

Ai Yori Aoshi: honorifics and sex appeal

I finally got around to watching the last volume of the first Ai Yori Aoshi series, which is a mostly-successful romantic comedy in the harem genre. The art and animation are quite good, the music works, the voice acting is excellent, the antics are generally amusing, and while the characters are built on common genre stereotypes, most of them manage to grow into interesting people over time. The reason it’s only mostly-successful is that the core romance moves forward at a glacial pace, but this is largely an artifact of their attempt to remain mostly consistent with the original manga.

The only real twist in this “nice guy ends up living in a house full of beautiful women who want him” story is that the childhood-friend/first-love character bags him before any of the others ever have a chance, but must keep this a secret to avoid a family scandal. This leaves the rest with the impression that his heart is up for grabs, and, as they say, “wackiness ensues”.

The female cast provides plenty of variety for a “who would you pick” poll, but the series is so popular (as both manga and anime) that I feel no need to create another one. Instead, I’ll give my own impressions of the cast, and focus on something that I found flawed in the setup of the story, namely the way the “big secret” is constantly compromised by the way certain characters address each other.

(spoilers of various degrees follow; now updated with links to larger screenshots)


They had me at 'Ohayou'

Okay, the gameplay looks pretty standard. The graphics are colorful and well-rendered, though, and one of the screenshots suggests that you’re not limited to (literally) pedestrian locations, but that’s not what won me over about this video game based on the R.O.D The TV anime series.


It was the title, ElePaperAction.

How I'm trying to learn Japanese

Between my long-standing interest in anime and my on-and-off interest in Japan, I eventually became motivated to acquire at least a working knowledge of the language. Unfortunately, I know from long experience that I don’t do well in a traditional classroom setting (last I checked, the buzzwords were “underachieving gifted”), and in any case my rather irregular work schedule would make it difficult to even try.

As a result, I started looking at the available software packages, to see if any of them had any real merit. After a few weeks, I settled on Rosetta Stone, occasionally available in stores, but mostly acquired either by mail-order, online purchase, or at one of their mall kiosks (new one just opened up at Valley Fair in San Jose, by the way). They have standalone, online, and classroom packages, a pretty good reputation, and a significantly higher price than most of the alternatives.

A lot of the other software uses romanized text instead of the real Japanese writing systems, which makes things easier for absolute beginners, but effectively cripples them in the long run. RS allows you to work with romanized text, but offers both kana and kanji as options, so that you can acquire reading skills that will actually be useful.

It does not, however, teach them. For learning the hiragana and katakana syllabaries, I used the commonly recommended Easy Kana Workbook, along with LanguageBug’s free Java flashcards for cellphones. I went through approximately half of the RS Level 1 course this way, with all dialog spelled out phonetically.

Meanwhile, I started working on kanji, using the appropriately-named A Guide to Writing Kanji and Kana. It’s slow going, due in large part to the hand cramping I developed from writing each character 100 times, but I’m making real progress, to the point where I can slowly, painfully read magazine and manga text with the help of The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary (not to be confused with The Learner’s Kanji Dictionary…).

A while back, I finished my first complete pass through the RS Level 1 software, and it’s done a lot for my comprehension and reading skills. I’ve gotten less out of the voice-training feature, largely because the feedback is unclear; it’s extremely finicky about intonation and cadence, but lacks the ability to highlight your mistakes in a way that you can correct. If you don’t have a good ear for language, you could sit there for hours without making it through the first lesson. Even if you do (and, thanks to a youth spent in my father’s office in the Language Department at UD, I generally do), it may still take a while for you to figure out what kind of mistake you’re making.

For instance, I had an early tendency to fail on any phrase that included the word otokonoko, and only that one word. Why? My cadence was off. I was making some syllables shorter than others, and the waveform display didn’t show it. It finally dawned on me that I got better results with my eyes closed. Shutting out the picture and the waveform display allowed me to focus on more precisely mimicking the sample phrase.

Was it worth the cash? Yes. I get a lot more out of spoken Japanese in anime and when I shop at Kinokuniya Books and Mitsuwa Market. Spending an hour a day listening to native speakers pronounce realistic phrases that I know the meaning of has done a lot for my understanding, and seeing them written out in kanji and kana at the same time has given me some basic reading skills.

What can’t I do right now? Carry on a conversation. Write an original paragraph without a reference book handy. Software won’t supply those skills, but it can give me a decent framework to build them on top of. The Level 2 software (which, sadly, has a completely different set of native speakers, one of whom speaks in an extremely annoying staccato) will contribute further to that framework.

Is Rosetta Stone the best language software out there? Is their learning model pedagogically sound? I can’t give definitive answers to these questions. I do know that, within the limits of the supplied vocabulary, their model produces comprehension without translation. This is dramatically better than the approach used in my high-school German and French classes twenty-plus years ago, which left me with some vague recognition skills and the ability to sing Du kannst nicht immer siebzehn sein.

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