July 18, 2019

From XP to X (benchmarks)

I recently (literally) stuck my ThinkPad T42 laptop on the shelf and upgraded to an low-end HP 290-p0043w desktop PC. I continue my review with two pleasant unboxing surprises.

Some chassis guides I reviewed prior to purchase suggested that the HP Slimline 290-p0043w had an external power brick. It came with an internal power supply. HP's own product specs list six USB ports. It has eight. I suspect that some of the spec sheets for the Slimline weren't updated from the nearly identical Celeron G3930 model.

The HP 290-p0043w sports a Celeron G4900 under the hood, the Toyota Corolla of CPUs. It does what it has to do as long as you don't ask it to tow a boat.

First off, I went through Add/Remove Programs and got rid of everything I didn't want and didn't need, including the McAfee trial version software. As I said, a Toyota Corolla runs fine as long as you're not trying to tow a boat, and one such boat is a heavy-duty antivirus program. I rely on Windows Defender and uBlock and scan all downloads with Jotti.

Late model Celeron processors approach earlier Core i3 benchmarks (newer i3s match older i5s). The technological improvements are reflected in the benchmarks. With one dramatic exception, there's about a fifteen fold improvement in performance at the hardware level, and that's comparing what was a mid-range business laptop with a very basic system.

Prime95 is a freeware app that searches for Mersenne prime numbers. It includes a benchmark function based on running batches of Fast Fourier Transforms. It runs in Windows XP, making possible an apples-to-apples comparison. As you can see from the following samples, Prime95 has the Celeron G4900 running around 15 times faster than the Pentium M.

Intel Pentium M @ 1.70 GHz 1 core
Timings for 2048K FFT length 179.35 ms @ 5.58 iter/sec.
Timings for 4096K FFT length 376.32 ms @ 2.66 iter/sec.
Timings for 8192K FFT length 708.85 ms @ 1.41 iter/sec.

Intel Celeron G4900 @ 3.10 GHz 2 cores
Timings for 2048K FFT length 12.00 ms @ 83.33 iter/sec.
Timings for 4096K FFT length 23.67 ms @ 42.24 iter/sec.
Timings for 8192K FFT length 51.66 ms @ 19.36 iter/sec.

The Pentium M has a Passmark CPU benchmark of 414, versus 3262 for the Celeron G4900. DDR4 RAM and the PCI Express bus run about twenty times faster. But perhaps the most dramatic changes are in the GPU.

The ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 in the ThinkPad T42 has a G3D benchmark of 4. That's four. The onboard Intel UHD Graphics 610 has a G3D benchmark of 784, a 200 fold improvement in performance for a low-end integrated GPU. This revolution in GPU design is why a $30 Roku Express can output 1080p HD video. For ten dollars more, the Roku Premiere handles 4K video.

Wi-Fi had only reached the 802.11g standard when my old ThinkPad shipped, giving me a maximum download speed of 17 Mb/s. The 802.11n Wi-Fi in my Fire tablet tops out at 44 Mb/s. The HP Slimline delivers twice that. Unfortunately, upload speeds improved only 10 to 20 percent, but that's on Comcast. At least I'm getting the download speeds I'm paying for.

Someday I'll get around to doubling the RAM and installing an SSD (both for less than $100).

The mouse that ships with the HP is pretty good. The keyboard is meh. It's a full-sized keyboard in a workspace built for a laptop so it doesn't really fit. I replaced it with a Logitech K360. The K360 combines the number pad and cursor keys, saving four inches in width. It's wireless, eliminating a set of cables. It has a unifying receiver so I could add a mouse later.

I use Sharpkeys to reassign the Caps Lock key to Ctrl and Scroll Lock to Caps Lock, and Autohotkey to map a bunch of keyboard macros. It's been fairly easy to approximate the look and feel of XP without using one of those Start Menu apps. In fact, having gotten rid of the live tiles and populated the Taskbar with my shortcuts, I've grown to like the Windows 10 UI.

In any case, OneDrive integration makes the upgrade very much worth it. OneDrive installs with 5 GB of free storage, which is more than enough to back up my critical files without having to think about it.

Related posts

From XP to X (the upgrade)
Cool it

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July 11, 2019

From XP to X (hardware)

One philosophical benefit of being a late adopter is that the transition from old to new becomes all the more (melo)dramatic.

I'm no technological Urashima Taro (or Rip van Winkle). Windows 10 won me over, especially once I figured out that you can access "Recent Documents" by right-clicking on an app in the Taskbar (though I still prefer the fly-out list in Windows XP). I skipped right over Windows 8.

I stuck with Windows XP for the same reason I still drive a 1995 Ford. It works. Aging web browsers, not so much. Once the updates stop, they are quickly rendered incompatible and insecure. And slow. Technological life comes to a screeching halt without a fully functional browser.

Someday when I have a lot of time on my hands, I'll install Linux on my old ThinkPad so I can at least run an up-to-date browser on it.

Nevertheless, switching away from a platform in which I have invested almost a decade and a half (that's 90 in computer dog years), a RAM upgrade, a replacement keyboard, and a replacement heatsink and fan unit, was a sentimental big deal.

I don't have money to burn and don't need a lot of horsepower. I spend most of my time in Chrome, Word, and text editors (I'm not a gamer). A basic system driving a 1600 x 900 monitor (a much higher resolution than the 1024 x 768 display in the ThinkPad T42) suits my needs just fine.

In the end, I got a low-end desktop PC from Walmart. The HP Slimline 290-p0043w is an inexpensive desktop powered by a Celeron G4900 CPU (4GB DDR4 500GB HDD), with 8 USB ports (4 USB 3.1 no C) and a DVD drive. It's the size of two T42 ThinkPads stacked on top of each other.

One odd quirk is that the case is designed as a "tower," though it also has "feet" to be positioned horizontally, which is my preference. In the latter configuration, the DVD drive is upside down, a thoroughly avoidable design glitch.

The DVD drive is the flimsy snap-in kind used in laptops so discs can be loaded upside down. Once I rip my CDs and install a few old programs, I'll probably never use it again.

As for my first impressions, granted, I started with low expectations, but the HP 290-p0043w has exceeded them by a wide margin. The other benefit of being a late adopter is that just about any new thing will feel like a vast improvement.

Related posts

From XP to X (benchmarks)
Cool it

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July 04, 2019

Food fiction

The cooking show is a mainstay of Japanese television. That's certainly true of PBS Create too. And Gordon Ramsay practically constitutes his own network. Educational cooking programs are a staple of broadcasting in every market.

While Hollywood has a fondness for movies about cooks and cooking, ranging from Ratatouille to Julie & Julia to Big Night, it shies away from the genre when it comes to scripted television series.

Scripted television (anime and live-action) is where Japanese entertainment stands apart. I don't mean dramas and comedies that happen to take place in a restaurant or bakery or bar. I mean dramas and comedies that specifically revolve around the culinary arts, with concrete references to dishes, recipies, and ingredients.

In a "gourmet drama" (gurume dorama) the drama is mostly an excuse to talk about cooking, not the other way around.

Repurposed as a gourmet drama, Cheers, for example, would still be a comedy. But it would also devote a considerable amount of attention to Sam's ongoing search for the best beverages to serve his customers and the resourceful brewers who meet that need. And Frasier wouldn't be the only one with a picky palate.

Along the way, the loyal viewer couldn't help but learn a good deal about the bar and brewery business.

Consider the manga Wakakozake, which spawned both an anime and a live-action series. Aside from a few lines of plot, each episode consists of our heroine discovering a new hole-in-the-wall restaurant and eating dinner. The live-action version includes detailed information in the credits about the real restaurant where each episode was filmed.

Practically any setting and subject matter is fair game.

The manga Bakumatsu Gourmet also spun off a live-action series. Banshiro Sakai is a samurai who works as a cook in the castle of the provincial governor during the Bakumatsu period. This dramedy faithfully hews to the established trope that any problem can be solved given the right meal, so great attention is devoted to ingredients and recipes.

At the opposite extreme are silly series like Ben-to. A bento (弁当) is a Japanese box lunch, traditionally hand made, but also sold at supermarkets and convenience stores. Replace the second kanji with「闘」(combat) and the result is a made-up homophone that means "food fight."

Fighting over the food are a bunch of penny-pinching boarding school students battling for the precious remaining bento that are deeply discounted right before closing time. Since not all bento are created equal, the challenge is to figure out the best strategy to win the best bento worth fighting for.

In the middle are slice-of-life melodramas that pay a lot of attention to what everybody is having for dinner. Laid-Back Camp, for example, is as much about cooking as camping. Granted, my familiarity with cable television is thin, but the only Hollywood show I can think of that meets the above criteria is Bob's Burgers.

Here is a sampling of gourmet dramas (a longer list here).

Food Wars!
Gourmet Girl Graffiti
Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits
Isekai Izakaya
Laid-Back Camp
Silver Spoon
Sweetness & Lightning
Today's Menu for the Emiya Family
Wakakozake (anime) (live-action)
What Did You Eat Yesterday (manga)

Related posts

Eat, drink, and be merry
Hungry for entertainment
The toast of Japan
Carnivorous vegetarians
Kitchen Car

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June 27, 2019

The ear of the beholder

A cuss word is a cuss word because it violates a social norm. If you don't comprehend a cuss word it arouses no emotional response unless it is tied to a tone of voice or observable physical affect. Even a cuss word in a foreign language you do understand likely lacks same emotional impact as in your first language.

That's because the cuss word itself contains no relevant information outside the immediate sociolinguistic context. The popular fallacy that "there aren't any cuss words in Japanese" is due to a fundamental disconnect over what constitutes an offensive violation of social norms.

English speakers really are obsessed with "manners," meaning the visible and audible markers of public propriety. These words are "good"; those words are "bad." The words themselves are magically imbued with certain qualities that otherwise mean nothing until filtered through a specific sets of brains.

Stop to think about it and it is utterly strange that the FCC deems "crap" and "dung" acceptable but not "shit." One could argue as well that nobody really cusses in English either. We play games with semantics and pretend to take offense until the offense-taking becomes so imbued that it goes unquestioned.

One curious consequence is that most Shakespearean vulgarities do not offend modern ears because we haven't been to trained to take offense when we hear them. They're just funny-sounding words delivered with a British accent. You know, like Monty Python.

In Japanese, fewer words are "bad" in and of themselves. Rather, a "vulgarity" violates a social hierarchy or crosses the line from acceptable private usage to unacceptable public usage, or from a "high" to a "low" usage. So whether kuso means "crap" or "shit" depends entirely on the social context.

To be sure, some words are inherently offensive for the same reasons they are in English. The "c" word, for example. Then again, the equivalent medical term (for the most part) isn't.

And then there are words like teme, one of the myriad of second-person pronouns in Japanese. Teme is the "low brow" equivalent of kisama, the latter being preferred by a more gentile class of cusser. You would be right to conclude that using teme in a "high brow" context is even ruder.

Teme is a linguistic finger jabbed in your face. It's violation of social hierarchies. This flies over the head of English speakers because English (American English in particular) shed the T–V distinction a while back. The tables in this Wikipedia article apply equally well to Japanese.

In Japanese, T–V distinctions also permeate verb conjugations. As with the quite ordinary shinu ("to die"), the command form is a particularly harsh and a yakuza-ish thing to say. Because what makes a yakuza a yakuza is less the substance of what they say than how they say it.

To start with, they get in your face and invade your personal space. And they roll their Rs. I mean, really roll their Rs. A yakuza does so in an instantly recognizable manner, identifying his social class and lack of normal social constraints. The message: "I'm a scary person who could do anything."

This unpredictability and disrespect for social order is the eternal wellspring of "honest" vulgarity.

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June 20, 2019

To Heart

The sheer quantity and output of scripted television productions—to a much greater extent than movies—turn them into records of the current zeitgeist. And also renders them highly disposable. We tend to preserve those elements of popular culture we deem preservable after the fact, ignoring the trends that once ruled the day.

Which makes shows that otherwise would have disappeared down the memory hole all the more valuable. One such series is To Heart, a 1999 anime series produced by Oriental Light and Magic and directed by Naohito Takahashi, based on a 1997 manga and visual novel. It is teetering on the edge.

The classic cel animation, the theme songs, and character designs in To Heart all reflect the 1990s anime style. But somewhere along the line, the film prints got discarded, so the Right Stuf DVDs were digitized from the original SD masters. The resulting image quality approximates that of a very good—quite watchable—VHS. It's a 1990s experience all the way.

And also a good example of backing off on the noise reduction and leaving the film grain in during the analog-to-digital transfer. When remastering old video from non-HD sources, do not throw away information! As Justin Sevakis points out, "film grain doesn't just distort an image, it is the image" (see a detailed explanation here).

To Heart compares well in many respects to Clannad (which it predates). Both started out as visual novels with a harem structure. But like Clannad, the anime is a sweet, G-rated melodrama that is less about the romantic interests of the male lead than his platonic friendships with the various girls that cross his path.

Hiroyuki, the laid back male lead in To Heart, reminds me of Kyle in Last Man Standing, a genuinely nice—if occasionally clueless—guy who proves to be surprisingly adept at solving other people's problems almost despite himself. He fits well into the genre character category that Kate terms the "canny dope."

Like Tomoya in Clannad, when we first meet him, Hiroyuki is cruising through high school with no great plans or aspirations, aside from eating, sleeping, and video games. His Scooby Gang consists of Akari, the childhood friend (hers is the main point of view); Shiho, the tsundere next door; and his bookish best guy friend, Masashi.

Again, as in Clannad (and especially Kanon), the slice-of-life melodrama includes touches of magical realism. Serika Kurusugawa, scion of the Kurusugawa conglomerate (she arrives at school in a limo), is a practicing witch. And then there's the android manufactured by Kurusugawa, who seems to be acquiring a soul.

I can't find it on any legit streaming sites. The DVDs are only available on the used market (and at Netflix). Being locked into a 4:3 SD format may be one reason Right Stuf let it go out of print. This is a golden oldie that deserves more love. If not in the original DVD format, a re-release on a single SD Blu-ray would suffice.

To Heart 2 is in print, released in the U.S. by Maiden Japan (Sentai Filmworks). To Heart 2 was also produced by Oriental Light and Magic and written by Hiroshi Yamaguchi, but directed by Norihiko Sudo. While it takes place in the same universe as To Heart, the sequel sports a different cast of characters.

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June 13, 2019

The blah-blah-blah filter

Kate observed a while back that the dialogue in a drama communicates more than the raw semantics, such that technically incomprehensible dialogue need not impede comprehension (citing a scene from the classic police procedural Kojak).

To be sure, "dialogue can't be all connotation and jargon." But when

the dialogue carries weight with the characters, it carries weight with the audience. Meaning is determined as much by context, reaction, intonation, and individual word choice as by any insider knowledge.

I'm going to try approaching this idea from a slightly different angle.

As a general rule, while the audience doesn't have to understand everything a fictional character is saying, we do have to believe that the writer understands what he is making his characters say and why. We make a leap of faith and implicitly trust the source of the information we are getting.

Which is why the audience is so easily fooled by an unreliable narrator.

For example, few people outside the uniformed services comprehend all the intricacies of military rank and hierarchy ("captain" and "sergeant" are particularly problematic). But the screenwriter of a war movie had better know what he's talking about. Or else the actors had better sell it.

And once we are sold, as in any given episode of Star Trek, it is surprising how much meaningless technobabble a story can tolerate. As long as we grasp the key points of the story, our brains are adept at filtering out the blah-blah-blah from the elements driving the plot along.

In the anime series Hyouka, Hotaro even begins to wonder if his "powers of deduction" are due to his ability to spin the facts of a case into a compelling tale. In one episode, he has Eru present him with a randomly-chosen incident, from which he invents a convincing "proof."

The comical payoff is that he inadvertently solves an actual crime in the process.

But Hotaro has a point. The power of the human brain to filter the randomness out of random events also gives it the power to create cause and effect out of whole cloth. Hence conspiracy theories.

But when that blah-blah-blah filter doesn't work at all, we can be equally left in the dark. True fluency in a foreign language comes down to the blah-blah-blah filter.

I understand news and NOVA-type science shows in Japanese pretty well. But when watching Japanese medical dramas and police procedurals (without subtitles), I often have difficulty grasping what technobabble matters and what doesn't and in the process lose track of the plot.

Jargon and slang and mumbled lines and people talking over each other make things even murkier.

Of course, the former and the latter are working at cross-purposes. The point of a documentary is to explain technically complicated concepts to a lay audience, while the information presented to the viewer in a crime drama has the initial intent of obfuscating the existence of a simple explanation.

Practically every mystery drama ends likes a game of Clue. It's the narrative equivalent of Occam's Razor, a simple enough explanation that everybody in the audience will comprehend in the end. Clouding the waters is the whole point.

Observe how quickly a one-hour drama proceeds from climax to denouement. I recently happened across the last ten minutes of an episode of Elementary and had little difficulty figuring out what had happened in the previous fifty. But, of course, that is not why we watch.

Columbo was a highly influential series in Japan. Yutaka Mizutani's detective in the hugely popular Aibo series is a clever combination of Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes and Peter Falk's Columbo. He's a lot of fun to watch even when I only understand about a quarter of what he's saying.

But after stumbling all the way through a crime drama in Japanese, I can often work backwards through the episode and figure out what was going on earlier. This suggests that the Japanese version of Columbo would be easier to follow. Aibo follows a more traditional mystery plot structure.

Telling the story backwards doesn't always work with medical dramas unless I can identify the particular issue at the core of the conflict. Though common plots like "cute kid waiting for a transplant" are easy enough.

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June 06, 2019

Holmes of Kyoto

In a previous discussion about the "Mary Sue," I suggested the "cozy romance" as a companion to the "cozy mystery." Well, a series that qualifies as a cozy mystery, a cozy romance, and a Mary Sue that mostly works is Holmes of Kyoto.

Aoi Mashiro is a boy-crazed ditz when we first meet her. But her encounter with Kiyotaka Yagashira at the Yagashira Antique Shop turns her into a cool-headed antiques appraiser.

Eventually. Kiyotaka hires her to dust and sweep and make tea. But she's a fast study. A really fast study. Nevertheless, we see her put in the work. And she's got a great tutor. So she earns it.

Kiyotaka is, of course, young and handsome, the smartest appraiser in Kyoto. He claims that "Holmes" is merely a play on the kanji for "home" in his name, but he and Aoi end up solving a lot of crimes and mysteries.

The series has a Moriarty as well, though he's closer to Ranpo Edogawa's "Fiend with Twenty Faces." Ensho is a defrocked Buddhist priest and frustrated forger who seems mostly obsessed with fooling Kiyotaka.

Along the way, of course, Aoi and Kiyotaka develop feelings for each other. But by externalizing the conflicts and taking the usual "complications" out of the relationship, the "cozy" romance can mature at a slow slow burn.

Aoi is still in high school, to start with. In any case, I'm not interested in Mary Sue being torn between cowboy Billy and billionaire Bob. Nobody plucks petals off a daisy while intoning, "She loves me, she loves me not."

The art and animation isn't as polished as Snow White with the Red Hair. But if you're looking for cozy mysteries and a very gently simmering romance, this dive into the world of Kyoto antiquing nicely fits the bill.

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May 30, 2019

Summer Basho

Hakuho—shaping up as the most dominant sumo wrestler in history—sat out the 2019 Summer Basho with an arm injury, leaving fellow Mongolian Kakuryu as the only participating yokuzuna. Alas, with a 11-4 record, Kakuryu did not distinguish himself, leaving the door open for Asanoyama, a middle-ranked maegashira, to pick up the Emperor's Cup with twelve wins.

In any case, the 2019 Summer Basho will mostly be remembered for President Trump's participation in the awards ceremony (which was totally in keeping with the spirit of sumo awards ceremonies).

But it was the bouts of two other wrestlers that held my attention.

A previous winner of the Emperor's Cup, Georgian Tochinoshin (six-foot-six and 357 pounds) had been demoted after a two-tourney losing streak. He needed ten wins to regain his second-to-highest ozeki rank. He got win number ten on the penultimate day, concluding the tourney 10-5. If he can stay healthy (knees are a big problem for these big guys), I can see him winning again.

Ranking in sumo is similar to promotion and relegation in soccer.

At five-foot-six and 210 pounds, Enho debuted as the smallest wrestler in the makuuchi division, giving up six inches and at least 150 pounds to almost every opponent he faced. He started strong but got beaten up pretty badly the second week and finished with a 7-8 record. Still, an impressive enough performance to stay in the makuuchi. I hope to see him in the Nagoya Basho.

The manga and anime series Hinomaru Sumo features a protagonist who is too short for professional sumo and must earn an exemption by winning the high school national championship. The manga started in 2014 so reality has caught up with fiction. Though Enho (barely) meets the height requirement, he's a good example of what it means for sumo to have no weight classes.

The Summer Basho makuuchi bouts can be viewed at the NHK World website.

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May 23, 2019

Watching Japanese in English

I noted previously that localized programming is the province of NHK World, with English-speaking hosts and subtitled or dubbed content. Prime-time news aside, TV Japan ("NHK World Premium") localizes little of its content. There are a few exceptions, starting with sumo.

When I first started watching TV Japan, it devoted two hours of NHK coverage to the makuuchi sumo bouts every afternoon during the tournaments, along with the nightly wrap-up shows. Now it's limited to one wrap-up broadcast and two hours of live coverage at 1:00 AM MDT.

But sumo is obviously a big draw internationally. During the fifteen-day tournaments, NHK World carries the thirty-minute wrap-up show four times a day and live coverage on weekends.

On TV Japan, a subtitled version of the weekly Taiga drama is broadcast on Saturday afternoon. Cool Japan is the same on NHK World and TV Japan. The international members of the studio panel all speak (often impressively fluent) English. The Japanese is subtitled.

On NHK World, domestic NHK documentary series like The Professionals are show with the on-screen Japanese subtitled and the off-screen narration redone in English, which works fine. Infotainment shows like The Mark of Beauty and Lunch On are dubbed in their entirety.

While the documentary segments of The Mark of Beauty work okay dubbed, when a charismatic actor like Masao Kusakari hosts a program, even if he's only on screen for about five minutes total, I want to hear Masao Kusakari, not a dub.

Especially with shows like Lunch On and Somewhere Street, though never shown on screen, the narrator is a participating character in the show, which requires decent acting skills and a well-translated script. Otherwise the dub can sounded forced and overacted or too cute.

It's a lot easier to overlook hits and misses in subtitles than in dubs. And subtitles don't color the quality of the original voice acting.

As you might imagine, I'm not a fan of dubbing. The same goes for languages I don't understand. I mean, one of the great things about watching Inspector Montalbano is just listening to Luca Zingaretti take on the role of the great Sicilian cop. It'd be a crime to dub him!

Unless, like Jackie Chan, he dubbed himself. Though I will admit that Disney and GKids often do a very good job. Having the heft in Hollywood to recruit quality actors and quality writers really makes a difference.

In any case, Japanese beginners will be more comfortable with NHK World. But if you are serious about learning Japanese, a good first step is getting out of your comfort zone with TV Japan or dLibrary Japan. And NHK Radio. Along with, of course, a whole lot of subtitled anime.

Related sites

dLibrary Japan
NHK Radio
NHK World
TV Japan

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May 16, 2019

Twelve Kingdoms on Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll is streaming the anime series originally broadcast on NHK in 2002 and 2003. Crunchyroll acquired the rights from Discotek Media, which will release a Blu-ray edition later this month. The Discotek Media license is limited to North America. The series is also available on Amazon (dub only) and AsianCrush (I don't know what regions).

Netflix still has the series on DVD.

The NHK adaptation audaciously tried to cover all of the books in print at the time. But 45 episodes are not nearly enough to do the material justice. As a result, the sped-up storylines overlap (Taiki gets an early mention devoid of context), plot elements and characters are mixed and matched, while others are invented out of whole cloth.

To get an idea of how fast the narrative is paced, Rakushun shows up in episode 5, too early in the hero's journey for Youko to convincingly hit her physical and metaphysical "abyss." The plotting at that point instead turns on the invented elements.

Sugimoto makes a compelling proxy for both Suzu and the monkey. In fact, she's got an interesting enough arc to justify her own isekai series. She just doesn't belong in this one (beyond chapter 3 of Shadow of the Moon).

On the other hand, I have no idea what Asano is doing there as he hardly does anything. I imagine some marketing executive insisted on giving Youko a male classmate to broaden the demographic appeal. Unfortunately, the presence of these characters dilutes the dramatic impact of Youko's moral transformation.

And there are still three more books to go plus a couple of short stories.

In any case, the NHK series makes for a decent sort of Cliff's Notes guide. In the process, it leaves plenty of room for future (more faithful) adaptations. As with the remake of Space Battleship Yamato26 episodes for Shadow of the Moon and 26 episodes for A Thousand Leagues of Wind would be a nice start.

For historical fantasy world building on a similar scale, with a similar setting (though derived from medieval Korea rather than from China) and a similar main character arc, I recommend Yona of the Dawn. It is not an isekai series and I can't say how closely it tracks the original manga.

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May 09, 2019

TV Japan and NHK World

Much of the programming on NHK World and TV Japan is repurposed from NHK's two terrestrial channels, NHK G ("general") and NHK ETV ("educational"), and its satellite network. Along with original content created specifically for NHK World and TV Japan by the Japan International Broadcasting Company (JIB).

JIB "produces English-language programs about Japan and Asia for an international audience." It is majority-owned by NHK with outside investors such as Microsoft and Mizuho Bank. The most prominent entry in the lineup is NHK Newsline, broadcast on NHK World at the top of every hour and delivered by English-speaking anchors.

Aside from the news, NHK World's programming revolves around a six-hour block that repeats four times a day, with most episodes rerunning several times a week. The net result is only a few hours of original programming every day, in addition to the sumo coverage and documentary specials.

One of NHK World's big draws is its sumo tournament coverage, provided on a time-delayed basis during the week and live on the weekends. The same English-language commentary is available on TV Japan using the SAP option.

NHK World's sister network is TV Japan, branded "NHK World Premium" outside North America. It is a subscription Japanese-language service that draws more heavily from NHK G and the NHK satellite network. The news is directly sourced from domestic Japanese broadcasts. There are very few reruns and repeats in the schedule.

Along with NHK's flagship Taiga and Asadora dramas, TV Japan carries NHK's scripted dramas, documentaries, and edutainment shows, along with a curated selection of popular shows from Japan's commercial networks. The higher-brow stuff, mind you, but not necessarily that high brow. Shows that regularly top the ratings.

NHK takes that "general" seriously and works hard to appeal to an audience larger than, for example, PBS. In Japan, it's not unusual for NHK to win its time slot.

In North America, TV Japan tries to maintain a consistent programming grid that approximates the prime time lineup in Japan. So, for example, the Sunday Taiga drama is broadcast at 8:00 PM in Japan and 8:00 PM EST in the United States (6:00 PM MST).

News is mostly the live NHK feed, though it may be time-shifted an hour or two depending on Daylight Saving Time and other factors. That means Good Morning Japan (early edition) comes on at 3:00 PM MDT and at 5:00 PM MDT (late edition).

Other than some subtitled movies and anime, TV Japan localizes very little of its content. This allows TV Japan to carry a wide slate of domestic programming soon after being broadcast in Japan and sometimes live. If you're a Japanese beginner, you'll be more comfortable with NHK World.

NHK World is a free public service. In Northern Utah, NHK World is broadcast over-the-air on UEN 9.4. Thirty-minute NHK World segments are carried on the PBS subchannels as well. NHK World is available on Roku and other streaming devices.

TV Japan has significantly expanded its distribution network in the past year. It is available on DirecTV (satellite) and Xfinity (cable), and via local cable and IPTV providers. But it has also become less affordable as a standalone option.

TV Japan isn't available on Sling International, DirecTV Now, or Xfinity Instant TV. I can only hope that TV Japan is holding back the streaming rights because it intends to launch a live streaming service like HBO Now. The pieces are already in place.

NHK Cosmomedia has NHK World up and running as a live streaming service, with apps for Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV and Android. The only new feature TV Japan would need is a program guide. All the functionality is there. Video-on-demand services like dLibrary Japan actually require a more complex interface.

dLibrary Japan is a video-on-demand service for content that NHK Cosmomedia originally licensed for TV Japan. At $9.99/month, it's pricier than anime services like Crunchyroll, but more affordable than TV Japan.

NHK's 2018–2019 Corporate Profile (PDF in English) provides a colorfully illustrated overview of the organization.

Related sites

dLibrary Japan
NHK World
TV Japan

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May 02, 2019

Happy Reiwa 1!

Japan's first imperial succession from a living emperor in more than two centuries made for a uniquely celebratory atmosphere. In Japan, midnight on April 30 was like New Year's Eve at Times Square. A countdown, fireworks, and great good cheer.

The new era has arrived!

I was working in Japan in January 1989. The mood was gray and somber. Emperor Hirohito had been on his death bed for months. The press macabrely reported every blood transfusion he received. A lot of blood transfusions. Happy times it was not.

The reign of Emperor Akihito commenced on 8 January 1989 and ended on 30 April 2019 in the year Heisei 31. On 1 May 2019, Crown Prince Naruhito inherited the Imperial Regalia and the Office of Emperor, marking the start of the Reiwa era.

Naruhito is Japan's fifth emperor since the 1868 Meiji Restoration moved the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo and restored de jure imperial rule. He is the 126th emperor of Japan, the oldest continuous and hereditary monarchy in the world.

Granted, beginning with Emperor Jimmu (reigned 660–585 BC), a "direct descendant" of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, the first nine emperors are "presumed legendary." Emperor Kinmei (reigned 539–571 AD) was the first with "historical verifiability."

Mutsuhito (1867) Meiji era
Yoshihito (1912) Taisho era
Hirohito (1926) Showa era
Akihito (1989) Heisei era
Naruhito (2019) Reiwa era

In Japanese, an emperor's given name is not used in public. As a result, imperial references differ depending on whether you are, for example, watching NHK in Japanese or English. In English, Emperor Naruhito is referred to as "Emperor Naruhito."

In Japanese, while alive, the emperor is "Tennou Heika (天皇陛下) or "His Imperial Majesty the Emperor." Emperor Akihito is now Joukou (上皇) or "Emperor Emeritus." Posthumously, an emperor is referred to by his era name.

As with the several months that elapse between the election an American president and the inauguration, the formal enthronement ceremony is scheduled for October. If you're the head of state of a country with formal diplomatic relations with Japan, you're invited.

Since the Meiji era, (male) Japanese politicians have worn the English morning coat on formal occasions.

In a historical first, Satsuki Katayama, a member of Prime Minister Abe's cabinet, became the first woman to attend an enthronement ceremony. She wore a kimono.

Related posts

The last year of Heisei
The name of the new era

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April 25, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (publication date)

On 19 April 2019, Shinchosha announced the publication dates for Fuyumi Ono's forthcoming novel. The following press release was posted on the official Twelve Kingdoms website.

The latest installment in the Twelve Kingdoms series goes on sale this October!! Thank you all for being so patient! Having finalized the release date for the long awaited new novel, we wished to fill you in on the details.

The author's epic manuscript of over 2500 pages will be published in four volumes. Volumes I and II go on sale Saturday, October 12. Volumes III and IV go on sale Saturday, November 9. (Please note that these dates differ from Shinchosha's usual release schedule.)

We received the first volume from the author at the end of last year and the final volume in March. The publishing schedule has been set and we are getting everything ready to deliver them to you.

The best way to enjoy this great new saga is to start with the books already in print. Special displays are being installed in bookstores around the country leading up to the October release. Golden Week would be a great time to reread A Shadow of the Moon, A Sea of Shadows!

For those new to the Twelve Kingdoms, or read it so long ago they've lost track of the important details, don't worry! We've created a new website—"The Twelve Kingdoms in Five Minutes!"—to get you started.

Let's all look forward to the October 12, 2019 launch date together!

Shinchosha also launched a Twitter campaign (the post is misdated on the home page) asking readers to share what they love about the Twelve Kingdoms series. Twelve (randomly selected) submissions will receive a clear file folder signed by Fuyumi Ono and illustrator Akihiro Yamada.

In Japan, "Golden Week" refers to four national holidays starting on April 29 that take place within seven days. This year, Golden Week will be extended to ten days in order to accommodate the abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30 and the enthronement of Crown Prince Naruhito on May 1.

Related posts

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (It's official!)
New Twelve Kingdoms novel (Happy New Year!)
Squared (lined) paper

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April 18, 2019

Streaming according to Pareto

Commonly known as the "80/20 rule," the Pareto principle was formulated by Vilfredo Pareto to describe the distribution of wealth. For example, 80 percent of the wealth being held by 20 percent of the population. Or 20 percent of the items in a store accounting for 80 percent of the sales.

To be sure, "80/20" represents an idealized distribution. The real world is bound to differ. But as a power-law probability function, the Pareto principle describes many real-world economic, social, scientific, and actuarial phenomena. It also applies to digital entertainment services.

Back in 2004, Chris Anderson observed that at Netflix, 20 percent (or so) of the titles accounted for 80 percent of rental traffic (the DVD still ruled back then). But he also noted that the other 80 percent, what he termed the "long tail," still added up to a significant amount of business.

As inventory costs have fallen towards zero for digital media, the value of the "backlist" (as it is known in book publishing) has grown substantially.

A flaw in Anderson's original thesis is that few media services are willing to sink the resources into their search and sorting engines that Netflix did. Without discoverability, the safe money is again on the hit productions that generate 80 percent of the revenue.

Cable television has long been in the business of selling the hits and the long tail. But the cable model has increasingly revealed the misleading way the long tail is commonly visualized, as a two-dimensional line that slowly tapers off to zero, rather than spreading out in all directions.

There isn't one long tail but hundreds, often with nothing in common. Imagine that back during the 1990s, if you wanted to subscribe to PC Magazine, you had to subscribe to every periodical Ziff Davis published. And Sports Illustrated. That's how the legacy cable model works.

Streaming, however, creates an economical way to split the long tails into standalone packages. Actually, digital television led the way, with OTA broadcasters carrying digital subchannels like QVC, Comet, Charge, PBS Create, and NHK World that aim specific content at specific audiences.

Curating titles in their own genre silos addresses the discovery issues, and makes it easier for the audience to identify the channel and content they wish to watch. But it's up to the customer to do the heavy lifting.

As opposed to grabbing the remote, turning on the TV, scrolling through the channel guide, and clicking on whatever, streaming customers have to install the apps, sign in, and queue up what they want to watch (though the first two steps should only have to be done once).

Those decision trees forge a closer relationship between spending choices and viewing choices. As Jared Newman puts it, "The easier cord-cutting is, the less money it saves."

Back when the DVD was king, nothing did Netflix's bottom line better than customers who signed up for their "best deal," its unlimited three-DVDs-out-at-a-time plan, but only got around to watching two or three when they could be cycling through a dozen DVDs a month.

As long as the cable companies can sell customers overpriced "fat packages" chock full of channels they rarely if ever watch, they will be loath to offer customized "skinny bundles" at a steeply discounted price.

And for the time being, they have little impetus to. "Traditional cable" remains the default choice in 90 million households. But for how much longer?

Only a decade ago, Netflix ran Blockbuster out of business. Today, shipping DVDs is a tiny (but still profitable) part of its revenue stream. Netflix was willing to deprecate its original business model in order to adapt to the changing technological times. Blockbuster was not.

Blockbuster CEO John Antioco attempted to pivot the company. The Blockbuster board was on board at first, but couldn't believe the world was changing that fast and refused to accept the substantial hit to the bottom line. Antioco got fired. Six years later, Blockbuster went bankrupt.

Will "traditional cable" turn out to be Netflix or Blockbuster? Well, antenna-only households have grown by 50 percent in less than a decade. One way or another, a tipping point is approaching, probably faster than we expect.

Related links

Why Blockbuster really failed
Japanese media update

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