December 27, 2018

Squared (lined) paper

The Shinchosha press release announcing the new Twelve Kingdoms novel describes it as a "massive 2500 page epic." To be precise, the page count refers to the draft manuscript submitted by the author.

The actual text reads 「400字で約2500枚」 or "around 2500 pages of 400 characters each."

Kana and kanji fonts are generally not proportional. Characters of the same font size take up the same amount of space. This means that typeset Japanese naturally right-justifies. Or rather, bottom-justifies.

The equivalent of "lined" or "college ruled" paper in Japan is called genkouyoushi (原稿用紙).

The standard paper size is 400字 Japanese-B4 (14.3 x 10.1 inches). Each sheet is 10 by 20 vertically-aligned squares in two halves (designed to be folded down the middle), or 20 by 20 characters (字) total.

A typesetter's primary concern is avoiding widowing or orphaning punctuation marks, which usually get their own box. Word processing software handles this algorithmically. Wikipedia provides the following style guide.

The rules for handling punctuation marks in vertical text are called kinsoku shori (禁則処理).

Even in this computerized age, genkouyoushi remains synonymous with writing. The characters in Bungo Stray Dogs are named after famous authors. So naturally genkouyoushi is used in the title cards.

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December 20, 2018

The true believer (6/7)

In Silicon Valley, an "evangelist" shares many characteristics with his religious counterpart, preaching the good word of the new technological doctrine while demonstrating an unflagging faith in the utopia sure to come if only all within earshot would only convert to the cause.

PC Magazine columnist William Zachmann was one such evangelist, zealously devoted to the gospel of OS/2 as the one true software sect in the church of the x86 PC.

During the 1980s he was hardly a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Microsoft and IBM were working hard to make OS/2 the 32-bit multitasking operating system that would replace MS-DOS. In the 15 March 1988 issue of PC Magazine, Gus Venditto reported that while Microsoft CEO Bill Gates did not expect DOS

to give way to OS/2 for many years more, he outlined a timeline in which 15 percent of new PCs were running OS/2 in 1989, growing to 50 percent by 1991.

One can hardly fault Zachmann for agreeing with Bill Gates.

A month later, launching a new column dedicated to programming for OS/2, Charles Petzold predicted that "everybody currently using DOS on an 80286 or 80386-based machine will eventually consider upgrading to OS/2" for the simple reason that "Microsoft expects OS/2 to establish the foundations of PC operating systems for the next decade."

But a year later, convictions began to waver. In the 28 March 1989 issue, Gus Venditto counted up "2 million copies of Windows sold to date." In his 11 April 1989 column, Jim Seymour concluded that, a year after the introduction of the PS/2 and OS/2,

DOS is livelier than ever. And the original PC bus and especially the PC AT bus are robust and dominant in the market. [As for OS/2], it is mired in high costs and little value for the PC user—a fatal pairing.

But William Zachmann stuck to his guns, claiming in his 28 November 1989 column that the upcoming release of Windows 3.0 would "make the transition from Windows to OS/2 easier. The future lies with OS/2. And it is just around the bend." Then in the 16 January 1990 issue he predicted that

OS/2 will take off. By the end of 1990, many more users will be running OS/2 than most pundits predict. The speed of its acceptance is just as surely underestimated today as it was overestimated in 1987. Windows is strictly a transition product. Whatever Windows does, OS/2 will do better.

Released in May 1990, Windows 3.0 immediately raced to the top of the bestseller charts. In his August 1990 preview of the OS, Gus Venditto concluded that "A funny thing happened on the road to OS/2. Microsoft Windows has turned into the dazzling multitasking operating system that OS/2 is still struggling to become."

Countered Zachmann in his 25 September 1990 column, "Windows 3.0 will light the way to OS/2, not eclipse it. And that's really what Microsoft always wanted."

What Microsoft wanted at that point was to dump the whole OS/2 mess back in IBM's lap. The pair of September 1990 press releases hinting at but not directly announcing the breakup between the two companies had turned into a Rorschach test.

In the last issue of the year, Zachmann had to admit that the "smashing success of Windows 3.0 rolled mercilessly over my prediction [that OS/2 would take off in 1990]." And yet he remained convinced that "The renewed cooperation between IBM and Microsoft announced in September should help pave the way for OS/2."

In the same 15 January 1991 issue in which Ray Duncan methodically explained why IBM and Microsoft were not getting back together, Zachmann again miraculously managed to find the silver lining.

A significant number of desktops running Windows 3.0 will switch to OS/2 once 2.0 is first released. Windows and OS/2 will be made truly complementary to one another by both Microsoft and IBM. Windows will not compete with OS/2 but become an option on top of OS/2.

Even John Dvorak spent the first several months of the year dismissing Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft would indeed drop OS/2 development.

But by May, Zachmann was also reporting on Microsoft's System Strategy Seminar and its undeniable message: "Forget about OS/2 2.0 and stick with Windows." In June, Dvorak concluded that the feud between IBM and Microsoft was real. And finally, in his 29 October 1991 column, William Zachmann conceded the now obvious.

Microsoft and IBM aren't merely "divorced"—they are at war. What started as a difference of opinion escalated through growing levels of mutual mistrust and suspicion into what amounted, by the middle of the year, to overt hostilities. Microsoft has all but completely disavowed OS/2.

Somehow this was all the more evidence, as far as Zachmann was concerned, that IBM was destined to triumph. He warned in his 12 November 1991 column that

Microsoft made a big mistake going to war with IBM over Windows and OS/2. Microsoft could lose this war—and lose big. If OS/2 2.0 delivers as promised, Microsoft will be in tough shape trying to use the mere promise of Windows NT to hold the line with Windows 3.0. Momentum will shift dramatically away from Windows and toward OS/2.

In the meantime, the editorial board of PC Magazine was making its biases clear. The Letters editor in particular seemed to enjoy poking Zachmann in the ribs, and for the past four years had run letters every few months like the following from computer consultant Jim Barrett:

I would be on welfare if I were making my living on PM. While OS/2 and Presentation Manager articles abound in the industry journals, I wonder if anybody actually reads them! Never have I see so much written about so little for so few.

The editorial content of the magazine approached the issue with more tact but came to similar conclusions.

In their 30 June 1992 analysis, Bill Bettini, Joe Salemi, and Don Willmott concluded that "OS/2 isn't a better Windows than Windows, but it could be called a potentially safer Windows than Windows." And OS/2 was a "better DOS than DOS" only because of the caching software, an advantage that disappeared when using updated Windows 3.1 drivers.

Later that year, in a head-to-head face-off between OS/2 and Windows 3.1 published in the 10 November 1992 issue, PC Magazine gave its Editor's Choice to Microsoft Windows 3.1 "for its ease of use, solid performance, and rich selection of high-quality applications in every software category."

But William Zachmann was not about to abandon his 30 June 1992 prediction that OS/2 was on its way to being the software hit of 1992. "OS/2 2.0 is even better than I'd expected. Windows 3.1 is much worse. The result will be a more rapid "paradigm shift" from Windows toward OS/2 than I'd dared to expect."

Five months later, he was only more confident that the "shift from Windows to OS/2 that has already begun on a small scale will gather momentum." And in his 22 December 1992 column, his last for PC Magazine, Zachmann predicted "Growing success for OS/2 and the Macintosh and competitive losses for Microsoft and Windows over the next two years."

A true believer to the end.

In fact, OS/2 never gained more than a fraction of the market share of even the Macintosh. And Apple's share of the market declined over the next four years. Its financials were not reversed until Steven Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, accompanied by a $150 million investment by Microsoft in non-voting Apple stock and a pledge to support Office on the Macintosh.

But as a parting gift, in that same December issue, PC Magazine gave OS/2 2.0 its Award for Excellence. And perhaps for a short period of time at the end of 1992 OS/2 was the better operating system.

But OS/2 had few software solutions for the average consumer that didn't run better and cheaper under DOS and Windows. And with DOS and Windows pre-installed on practically every PC sold, the average consumer had no practical reason to buy OS/2. And so practically none of them did.

Related posts

The future that wasn't (introduction)
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (2/7)
The future that wasn't (3/7)
The future that wasn't (4/7)
The future that wasn't (5/7)

The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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December 13, 2018

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (it's official!)

Japanese publisher Shinchosha announced yesterday that author Fuyumi Ono has submitted her latest Twelve Kingdoms novel. As hoped for, the story takes place in the Kingdom of Tai. The draft manuscript is over 2500 pages long. ​The book will be published in 2019.

Here is the press release. (I didn't add any of the exclamation points but agree with them.)

The highly anticipated new work is finally here!!!

Today, on the 12th of December ("Twelve Kingdoms Day"), we have delightful news to share. A brand new manuscript has arrived!

The long-awaited novel has turned into a massive 2500 page epic. The setting for the story is the Kingdom of Tai. We are grateful to Ono Sensei for penning such a masterpiece in this 30th year of her career. We thank all her readers for waiting so patiently.

Now commences the business of making a book, such as copyediting and the illustrations. Though a publication date hasn't yet been determined, it is certain to debut in 2019.

As promised, we are posting important updates on this website. It was still an unexpected surprise that this news arrived on "Twelve Kingdoms Day." Going forward, we will do our best to point you to accurate information in a prompt and orderly manner.

To that end, we humbly ask for your continuing support.

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December 06, 2018

Sink or stream

TV Japan is a great service. It's the "Reader's Digest" of Japanese television, the only (legal) way to stay current with the best of scripted television (often rebroadcast within days), live and long-format news, and infotainment from NHK and the major commercial broadcasters in Japan.

But $24.99/month is a ridiculous price for a single channel. By comparison, HBO Now charges $14.99/month. And if you're going à la carte, you've got to fork out at least $25.00/month more for a "basic" package and additional fees. Even Xfinity Stream hardly saves you any money at all.

Fifty bucks for the one channel I want. And a couple dozen other channels I don't. Except they have me over a barrel so I just may cave. But I'll be grumbling about it the whole time (and get off my lawn!).

The thing is, we've been down this road before, paying through the nose for stuff we don't want in order to get the stuff we do want.

Let's stop and remember how the music business came up with the "cunning plan" of making its customers pay twenty bucks for the CD of an LP they already owned to get the two tracks they wanted. How did that work out? In the short term, like gangbusters. In the long term, it was a disaster.

According to the RIAA, American record industry revenues declined by two-thirds between 1999 and 2014, from an inflation-adjusted $20.6 billion to under $7 billion. Marc Hogan calculates that, in 2015 dollars, average per-unit album retail prices today are half of what they were in 1977.

It has not taken long for history to repeat itself.

The "bundle" is a plodding dinosaur designed to keep the cash-hungry cable model from going extinct. It's not working. As Luke Bouma reports on Cord Cutters News, in the third quarter of 2018 alone, DISH lost 367,000 subscribers, DirecTV lost 346,000, and Comcast lost 106,000.

While in its third quarter earnings report, Roku announced a 43 percent year-over-year increase in active accounts.

Granted, unless you are willing to rely solely on OTA content (which is a perfectly rational option), you'll need a broadband connection. Though these days, that's like saying you need electricity. Even calculating overpriced internet service into the equation, the savings are hard to ignore.

Compared to TV Japan ($24.99/month), Crunchyroll is $6.95/month ($59.95/year). Funimation is $5.99/month ($59.99/year) and HIDIVE is only $4.99/month ($47.88/year). On an annual basis, you can get all three—a gargantuan amount of Japanese-language content—for $14.99/month.

Toss in dLibrary Japan, TV Japan's archive service ($9.99/month), and you'll pay exactly what you would for TV Japan on DirecTV or Xfinity, minus all the fees. So about half. For four on-demand channels adding up to tens of thousands of hours of programming.

If you want to broaden your focus while keeping plenty of Japanese options on the table, Hulu's already substantial anime library (nearly 400 titles) just got bigger thanks to its tie-up with Funimation. Hulu's economy package costs $7.99/month ($11.99/month for a mostly ad-free version).

Not to mention that ad-supported streaming services like Tubi and Pluto are free. And for Roku owners, so is the Roku Channel. And NHK World is free as a public service. I mean, if you've got to watch ads on a cable or satellite channel, shouldn't it be free too? Like OTA always has been?

In any case, there is no way the average cable subscriber can consume even a fraction of the content in the typical cable package. If "all or nothing" is the only option, maybe "nothing" is the choice we ought to be making. It's a choice more and more "cord cutters" are actively embracing.

Which is no doubt one reason why, going forward, AT&T (which owns DirecTV, HBO Now, and Crunchyroll) plans to favor streaming for content distribution, with CEO John Donovan declaring, "We've launched our last satellite."

Donovan and other AT&T executives said the rampant growth of Internet-delivered video services that bypass satellite and cable networks is so significant that it is now the company's future.

A streaming version of DirecTV will reportedly be less expensive as "there is no need for crews to come to your house and install a dish." Hey, unless those cost-savings simply accrue to DirecTV's bottom line, how about knocking twenty bucks off the price of TV Japan? That'd get my attention.

On the other hand, perhaps this really is a "cunning plan." The argument here is that cable companies make better margins selling Internet service and would rather not be joined at the hip with the content providers. Though if 5G lives up to a fraction of the hype, that's no guarantee either.

Incidentally, Cord Cutters News and Cord Cutter Confidential are two good ways to stay up to date about the state of streaming services.

Related posts

Japanese media update
Streaming Japanese
Family Gekijyo

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