September 12, 2019

The orphan's saga

Anne of Green Gables has been a perennial bestseller in Japan ever since the publication of the first translation by Hanako Muraoka in 1952.

The character of the spunky orphan (or a girl who becomes a "social orphan" when she sets off alone for the big city) has long been beloved in Japan. NHK built an entire franchise around the concept, with the Asadora morning melodrama now entering its sixth decade.

When it comes to cheerful and resourceful optimism in the face of punishing circumstances, Tohru from Fruits Basket is every bit Anne's equal. She needs to be when she ends up the only "normal" person in a household whose members are the actual animals of the Chinese zodiac.

The orphaned Takashi in Natsume's Book of Names (a guy for a change) has the ability to see the spiritual beings that haunt the Japanese countryside. Like Anne, he was fortunate enough to finally end up with adoptive parents who truly care for him.

The far less fortunate Chise in The Ancient Magus Bride has the same abilities as Takashi (a common trope). She was orphaned when her mother committed suicide and blamed her in the process. Little wonder she's a borderline basketcase when we first meet her.

In a twist on Beauty and the Beast, the Beauty (Chise) is saved by the Beast (the monstrous Elias Ainsworth). Although Elias isn't exactly a rock of stability either. He's not even human, to start with.

Speaking of borderline basketcases, Rei in March Comes in Like a Lion is a shogi prodigy orphaned when the rest of his family is killed in an automobile accident. He turns pro in large part to get away from his screwed up adoptive family.

Rei is saved (psychologically) by an eccentric family of three orphaned sisters (mom died, father ran off) and their grandfather. And by the wealthy Harunobu, another shogi child prodigy who adopts Rei as his best friend. Harunobu is sort of an orphan himself, being raised mostly by his butler.

And then there's Motoko Kusangai from Ghost in the Shell, who can be counted on to be resourceful in the face of punishing circumstances, though not necessarily very cheerful about it. In any case, she can count on her "family" from Section 9 to watch her back.

Related links

Fruits Basket (CR Fun)
Natsume's Book of Friends
The Ancient Magus Bride
March Comes in like a Lion
Ghost in the Shell: Arise

Hanako and Anne
Anne illustrated
The drama of the PCB

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September 05, 2019

"Anne" illustrated

Mangaka Chica Umino, best known for Honey and Clover and March Comes in Like a Lion, created the cover art for Shueisha's new translations of the first three books in the Anne of Green Gables series.

"Red-Haired Anne" (Anne of Green Gables)

For her original translation published in 1952, Hanako Muraoka chose the title Akage no Anne (「赤毛のアン」). Due to the book's immense popularity, translations since have stuck with it.

"Anne's Adolescence" (Anne of Avonlea)

The kanji for "adolescence" is seishun (青春), literally "green spring." In this context, the word takes on an aura of classical romanticism tinged with sentimentality, the "blossom of youth."

"Anne in Love" (Anne of the Island)

Though now a century old, Anne of the Island reads very much like a contemporary shojo manga, right down to the emphasis on competitive academic performance.

Related links

Honey and Clover
March Comes in Like a Lion

The orphan's saga
Hanako and Anne

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September 02, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (covers)

Inaugurating the 40-day run-up to the October 10 launch of Shirogane no Oka, Kuro no Tsuki, Shinchosha published the covers for the first two volumes and went live with a redesign of the official Twelve Kingdoms website. The artwork is by Akihiro Yamada.

The Twelve Kingdoms Twitter account is @12koku_shincho (in Japanese).

「白銀の墟玄の月」第一巻  ISBN 9784101240626

「白銀の墟玄の月」第二巻  ISBN 9784101240633

Available online for pre-order at Amazon/JapanHonto, and Rakuten.

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August 29, 2019

Last storehouse standing

Chapter 10 of The Space Alien (which takes place in 1953) has the following description of a neighborhood in Setagaya ward in the southwest corner of Tokyo:

Less than a mile from Ichiro's house, a concrete storehouse stood alone in the middle of a field. During the war, air raids had destroyed all of the wood-frame houses on the block.

The genesis of these fireproof residential storehouses goes back almost three centuries.

The Great Meireki Fire (named after the imperial era or gengo) in 1657 destroyed over sixty percent of Edo (now Tokyo) proper and killed upwards of 100,000 people. Halfway around the world and less than a decade later, the Great Fire of London wreaked an equal amount of physical damage.

(Click image to enlarge.)

These two cities responded in quite different ways to these similar disasters. In the latter case, a concerted effort was made to prevent further conflagrations.

The zoning laws and building codes of London were upgraded, specifying wider streets and deeper setbacks, and access to wharves along the Thames. Perhaps most importantly, brick and stone were dictated in the construction of new buildings, resulting in thicker walls and heavier framing.

Famed architect Christopher Wren distinguished himself during this period, rebuilding fifty-two churches along with many secular buildings in London.

These building requirements raised the cost of housing and slowed the overall growth of London, but were effective at preventing further similar disasters until the air raids of the Blitz.

During the rebuilding of Edo, city planners moved the larger estates and many shrines and temples to the outskirts of the city, opening access to the rivers and widening the main thoroughfares. However, in almost every other respect, they took a completely opposite approach to fire prevention.

In short, the point wasn't to prevent fires but to slow fires down and give people time to escape. Fire was treated as a natural disaster, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons. Survival mattered, not, as George Carlin famously phrased it, saving your "stuff." A very Zen philosophy.

The result of this policy was that, on average, an Edokko could expect his house to burn down at least once during his lifetime. In 1806, the haiku poet Issa Kobayashi wrote of a fire in the Shitaya district where he was living at the time (courtesy David Lanoue, edited for syllable count):

Everything has burned
down to and including the
blameless mosquitoes

Firefighters in Edo (the true action heroes of the era) took pretty much the same approach as hotshot crews in the United States today. The lightweight wood frame row houses that were home to the majority of Edo's population were a key part of the strategy.

When the fire alarms rang, firefighters first collapsed the flimsy row houses in the path of the flames. The "floor" formed by the roof tiles created a firebreak. The row houses were inexpensive to rebuild, and neighborhood mutual insurance organizations covered the costs.

A wealthy family might keep an entire house on layaway at a lumberyard, like the one depicted (at the bottom right) in Hokusai's "Lumberyard on the Takekawa in Honjo." As an inside joke, Hokusai put his publisher's name on the placard.

(Click image to enlarge.)

These firefighting techniques successfully limited widespread loss of life without holding back the economic and population growth of Edo, that by the 18th century was the biggest city in the world.

The devastation of the Great Meireki Fire was not equaled until the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake and the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo at the end of World War II. In both of these cases, the fires broke out everywhere all at once, rendering traditional firefighting techniques ineffectual.

To be sure, Buddhist beliefs in the effervescence of life notwithstanding, the denizens of Edo weren't entirely nonchalant about the loss of their "stuff."

Residents of the row houses dug root cellars beneath their apartments, where they could stash their valuables during a fire. Landowners built a stone storehouse in a corner of the property away from the main house. These Edo period storehouses can still be found scattered throughout Japan.

In the NHK serial drama Warotenka, the Fujioka family returns to Osaka at the end of the war to find that only the wrought iron front gate and the storehouse survived the air raids. So they move into the storehouse until they can scrape together enough materials to rebuild the main house.

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August 22, 2019

Interviews with Monster Girls

This adorable 13-episode series revolves around one of my favorite variations on the slice-of-life genre. Call it the "supernormal supernatural."

A supernatural element is introduced into everyday life without significantly altering the known world, other than possibly requiring the creation of a government agency to provide oversight. Before long, the "normal" world grows so accustomed to this supernatural element that its existence becomes rather run of the mill.

In the equally delightful Kamichu! an otherwise normal junior high school student becomes a Shinto god and pretty much keeps on being a normal junior high school student at a normal junior high school in a normal fishing village on the Inland Sea. Except for being a Shinto god, of course.

That the "monster girls" represent a small proportion of the population helps to maintain an aura of normality. Some inherited their traits. Others are the product of mutations. There is nothing at all supernatural about Hikari's fraternal twin sister, for example. Aside from the headless Kyoko, none of them appears that out of the ordinary.

And even without her head literally on her shoulders, getting accustomed to Kyoko proves surprisingly easy.

Amidst all this "supernatural normality," Tetsuo Takahashi is a biology teacher at Shibasaki High School. Despite his keen interest in "monster girls," he has never met one. Until this semester. Three of the first year students and a new teacher turn out to be "demi-humans" (Japanese uses the cute diminutive "demi-chan").

Hikari is a vampire (and thus receives a monthly blood ration courtesy of the government). Yuki is a yuki onna (a snow woman from Japanese mythology). Kyoko is a dullahan from Irish mythology (and thus carries her head separate from its usual location). And the new math teacher, Sakie Sato, is a succubus.

Hikari starts hanging out in Takahashi Sensei's office because it has the best air conditioning (she and Yuki have an aversion to hot weather). Takahashi asks her about what being a demi-human is like. The preternaturally extroverted Hikari happily strikes up a conversation. Before long, Takahashi is interviewing all of the girls.

Takahashi Sensei is smart and insightful, and being a nice guy, brings both a natural empathy and a knack for problem solving to the subject. Some of the most interesting parts of the series are these "interviews."

While Kyoko is the strangest in appearance, she is the most "normal" of the three monster girls in terms of personality. The dullahan is depicted in legend as a violent and bloodthirsty demon, more commonly known as the "headless horseman." The starkness of this contrast leads to a fascinating discussion about how mythical types arise.

Takahashi Sensei later introduces Kyoko to a friend of his from college, now a professor of physics. He comes up with a explanation for her "condition" based on theoretical physics that could qualify as an episode of Because Science with Kyle Hill. This contemporary fantasy very often snugs up close to "hard" science fiction.

There are a few episodes at the beginning that suggest Takahashi Sensei is getting a little too personally involved with his students (at least applying real-world standards). But then the grumpy vice principal suggests to Takahashi Sensei that he dial it back a bit and the grumpy vice principal turns out to more or less right.

It is always better to directly address the obvious rather than wave it aside.

The presence of a succubus at the school means the subject of sex is bound to come up. But director Ryo Ando and screenwriter Takao Yoshioka, adapting the manga by Petos, keep the dialogue smart and relevant. Takahashi Sensei and Sato Sensei engage in the kind of intelligent conversations that only make you wish they went on longer.

As it turns out, Sato Sensei's personality is at odds with her "powers." She is a reserved person, loathes being the center of attention, avoids crowds, and dresses plainly to suppress her aphrodisiacal nature. The word for the latter in Japanese is saiin (催淫), which you should have learned by the end of the series.

Sato Sensei is an excellent example of how fantasy can give substance to a psychological or metaphysical concept and make the metaphor concrete. Her concerns about whether a man will ever truly be interested in her for her arises out of neither neurosis nor narcissism but is rooted in the realities of her supernatural biology.

(Another great example is when Youko kills the monkey spirit in Shadow of the Moon, she is literally killing the voice of her uncertainty and self-doubt.)

Alas, their relationship doesn't have time to progress much by the end of the series. The manga is still ongoing so that subject will hopefully be addressed in the future. The only disappointing aspect of Interviews with Monster Girls is that it contains so much great material and not enough time to handle it all.

Related links


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August 18, 2019

Kyoto Animation fire (update)

The servers for the building were located in a concrete-lined room on the first floor. All of the data on the servers has been successfully retrieved.

Investigators confirmed that the (confessed) suspect submitted a manuscript to a writing content sponsored by Kyoto Animation. According to Kyoto Animation's legal counsel, the entry did not pass the competition's preliminary stage and there are no similarities between Kyoto Animation's IP and the manuscript in question.

Three survivors of the fire remain in critical condition. On August 2, Kyoto Prefectural Police released the names of ten (of 35) victims of the fire, one of whom was Yasuhiro Takemoto.

Takemoto directed Kyoto Animation's first in-house production, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu. It is no exaggeration to call him one of the best series directors in the history of anime. His credits include Lucky Star, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Hyouka, and Amagi Brilliant Park.

NHK reported this morning that Kyoto Animation has thus far received donations totaling $18.8 million. On August 22, the Japanese government announced it would classify these donations as "disaster relief" and not as taxable income. The ruling also means that donations (in Japan) will become tax-deductible.

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August 15, 2019

From XP to X (software)

My biggest concern about upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 10 was having to replace all the legacy software I'd become dependent on. As it turns out, I had to replace very little (though I ended up replacing some of it anyway).

Homesite 1.0 (1996), PaintShop Pro 7 (2003), and JWPce 1.50 (2005) still run fine in Windows 10. The latest version of Notepad++ runs even better. The ancient and venerable DOS has left the building, but in real blast from the past, Webster's Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus 1.20 (1993) runs great in vDos.

Microsoft's older Office apps "are not certified compatible with Windows 10 but might work with or without compatibility mode." At least Microsoft still sells new standalone editions of Office at a reasonable price. Getting used to Word 2019 wasn't that hard and it has a couple of nice new features.

Like Microsoft, Adobe is all about the subscription model these days, which makes no sense when I only occasionally have to convert high-resolution raster graphics to the PDF format. Thankfully, except for an inoperable printer driver, Acrobat 6 runs without any issues.

Windows 10 comes with a built-in Print to PDF driver. It's a much needed feature, but could stand to be a lot more configurable and user friendly. I only got it to work with non-standard page sizes after hacking the configuration files.

Update (8/30/19). Well, so much for configurability! The 1903 update broke that workaround completely. I finally gave up fiddling with it and installed Bullzip.

For the most part, everything runs fast enough on my entry-level PC. PaintShop Pro 2019 is the only app that pushes the limits of the system, but not intolerably so. I tackle day-to-day graphics jobs in PaintShop Pro 7 and use PaintShop Pro 2019 when heavy lifting is required.

Bill Gates and Microsoft don't get enough credit for maintaining backwards compatibility in MS-DOS and Windows operating systems for so long.

Related posts

From XP to X (hardware)
From XP to X (benchmarks)

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August 08, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (title)

On August 1, Shinchosha announced the title of Fuyumi Ono's new Twelve Kingdoms novel: 『白銀の墟 玄の月』 (Shirogane no Oka, Kuro no Tsuki). I have tentatively translated it, "Hills of Silver Ruins, a Black Moon."

The furigana oka lends the kanji for "ruins" (墟) the meaning of "hill," which is difficult to incorporate without getting wordy. Based on the hiragana for the title (above), it would read, "[A] Silver Hill[s], [a] Black Moon."

As for the literal meaning, all that remains of most medieval castles in Japan are overgrown hills. Oda Nobunaga's magnificent Azuchi Castle was destroyed by fire after his assassination in 1582, leaving behind only the stone foundation.

Without the actual context, other than the Kingdom of Tai being in the midst of a civil war, these are the images the title brings to mind. Considering the northern climate of Tai, "silver" could also describe ruins covered with snow.

The Traditional Colors of Japan website assigns「玄」a web color of #3E1E00, closer to "maroon." But it also describes「玄」as a synonym for black and suggests that「玄」is less a traditional color than a metaphysical concept.

Metaphorically, "silver" and "black" could refer to the silver-haired Gyousou and Taiki, a rare "black kirin." Using the possessive particle no (の), "silver" and "black" can function as both adjectives and nouns in Japanese.

Attempting the equivalent in English would sound clunky. So at this juncture, the English version will lean more heavily on the dictionary meanings.

At the end of July, Shinchosha released a Twelve Kingdoms promotional video (in Japanese). The narrator is Ken'ichi Suzumura, who played Rakushun in the NHK anime series.

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August 01, 2019

The Space Alien

My translation of The Space Alien by Ranpo Edogawa is now available.

The year is 1953. The Korean War is winding down. The Cold War is heating up. UFOs are appearing all over the world. Five flying saucers suddenly zoom across the skies of Tokyo. Ichiro Hirano's next-door neighbor is kidnapped by an alien lizard creature. That same creature is now stalking the pretty and talented sister of Ichiro's best friend.

What in the world is going on? What do the aliens want? And where did they come from? These are the kind of questions that only master sleuth Kogoro Akechi and the Boy Detectives Club can hope to answer.

The Kindle and paperback editions can be purchased from Amazon, and ePub version from Smashwords and Google Play. Please visit the website for more details and bookstores, and check out Kate's interviews (and here, here, and here) with me about the translation process.

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July 25, 2019

Kyoto Animation productions

Founded in 1981 by Yoko and Hideaki Hatta, Kyoto Animation didn't produce its first branded series until 2003. But it learned the ropes during those two decades. Beginning with Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, a hilarious riff on the mecha genre, Kyoto Animation has become one of the most influential studios in series animation.

Like Studio Ghibli, Kyoto Animation established itself around a core group of in-house directors (Yasuhiro Takemoto, Tatsuya Ishihara, Naoko Yamada). It produces television series and films with consistent production values perhaps only matched by Studio Ghibli. Basically, everything Kyoto Animation does is worth a look.

Below are the Kyoto Animation productions I've seen so far and links to the main streaming sites (Crunchyroll, Funimation, and HIDIVE). Wikipedia has a complete list.

Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu (CR Fun).

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (Fun) After a bit of comic relief with Fumoffu, our team gets back to serious business of saving the world from a new mecha menace.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (Fun) The modern cult classic about the hyperactive Haruhi, who just might destroy the universe if she gets bored, and her time-traveling classmates tasked with stopping that from happening.

Kanon (Fun) See my review here.

Clannad (HD) See my review here.

Clannad: After Story (HD) See my review here.

K-On! (HD) When Yui joined the Light Music Club (kei-on in Japanese), all she thought she had to do was listen to music. But it's a very talented rock band, and now she's got to master the guitar fast. K-On! pretty much defined the "look and feel" of the slice-of-life genre.

Hyouka (Fun) See my review here.

Tamako Market (HD) An adorable slice-of-life series about the daughter of a mochi merchant in the Tamako Shopping Arcade and a snooty talking bird who quickly develops an unhealthy fondness for mochi.

Beyond the Boundary (CR HD) See my review here.

Amagi Brilliant Park (CR HD) After Seiya Kanie gets roped into saving the local amusement part, he discovers that the costumed mascots aren't wearing costumes. They're creatures from another world (watch for the crossover character from Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu).

Myriad Colors Phantom World (CR Fun) Ghostbusting is a high school club activity in this parallel universe where Shinto spirits and deities have a habit of raising havoc in the real world.

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid (CR Fun) As if working sixteen hour days as a computer programmer isn't tough enough, Kobayashi's new roommate turns out to be a fire-breathing dragon.

Tsurune (CR HD) Hanging out with a bunch of alternatively obnoxious and overly angsty teenagers is actually tolerable when they're members of the high school kyudo team (the martial art of Japanese archery).

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July 21, 2019

Kyoto Animation fire

Thursday morning (Japan time), 18 July 2019, a man entered the lobby of Kyoto Animation with ten gallons of gasoline. Screaming "Die!" he ignited a fire that killed 35, making it the worst single act of mass murder in Japan's post-war era. He was also carrying several knives.

The suspect later told police that Kyoto Animation had "stolen his novel."

Sunday morning (Japan time), NHK reported that he had never worked at Kyoto Animation, never published a novel, that no Kyoto Animation employee knew him or had corresponded with him, though the company had received anonymous death threats for the "past few years."

Kyoto Animation has a good reputation in the industry as an employer and for hiring animators on a full-time rather than on a contractual basis.

The suspect served three and a half years in prison for a convenience store robbery in 2012. He was briefly confined to a mental institution and recently assaulted and threatened to kill his neighbor. He is currently being detained in a burn unit because of injuries suffered in the attack.

On Friday, Kyoto Animation president Hideaki Hatta stated that the building and all the work material was a total loss. Sentai Filmworks, that works closely with Kyoto Animation in the North American market, launched a GoFundMe campaign that so far has accumulated $1.86 million.

At this point, screenings of the trailer for the 2020 release of the new Free! movie have been postponed. Production on the latest season of Sound! Euphonium has been suspended. Violet Evergarden was completed and will debut on schedule.

Fire Force has gone on hiatus for at least a week. Fire Force is not produced by Kyoto Animation, but it is standard practice for broadcasters in Japan to pull episodes of shows that touch on sensitive issues in the news, especially if there is any possibility of "life imitating art."

According to the police, the suspect confessed to starting the fire and has been formally charged. Japan has the death penalty and uses it, though the question at this juncture is whether he will be found competent enough for the case to be adjudicated in a criminal court.

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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 (hardware)
From XP to X (software)

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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)
From XP to X (software)
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)

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