January 17, 2019

The old brand new

AT&T CEO John Donovan recently announced that, going forward, DirecTV would be transitioning from satellite transmission to streaming technology for content distribution. In other words, depending less on outer space and more on wires hanging from telephone poles.

To be sure, in large swaths of the United States and the world, there are still no viable alternatives to satellite content delivery. But like a medieval circle of fate, technology is always circling around to where it began. The old becomes brand new again.

In terms of the large-scale infrastructure, the communications satellite was a simpler solution than the microwave relay stations that once dotted the land. In turn, those relay stations were a vast improvement over the copper wire telephone circuits they replaced.

Fiber optic cable wiped out the microwave towers and may soon do in the communications satellites.

Like the transistor, vacuum tube electronics, and the internal combustion engine, the amazing thing about television satellite service is that it works at all, let alone that it can be mass-produced as a consumer good.

A communications satellite orbits 22,236 miles above the equator, a tenth of the way to the Moon. And yet it beams a signal down to the Earth's surface that can be scooped up with an eighteen-inch dish on your roof and decompressed into 500 channels.

When I first got DISH, I was impressed at how "clean" the picture was. Completely static free. These days, it's ho-hum compared to free over-the-air HDTV.

OTA HDTV breathed new life into the old UHF broadcast spectrum. 5G networks promise to steal that precious "last mile" connection to the home away from fiber and cable.

Google's foray into the home Internet business ran into the buzz saw of regulatory capture, which lets cable cartels box out the competition. So Microsoft is going wireless instead, much as the smartphone leapfrogged the landline in the developing world.

The Microsoft Airband Initiative launched in July 2017 with the goal of working with partners to make broadband available to 2 million Americans in rural communities who lack access today and to help catalyze an ecosystem to connect millions more.

Radio really is all the rage these days. Smartphones are just smart radios operating at UHF frequencies. That microwave relay technology that got passed over by the telecommunications satellite and then buried by fiber optics? It didn't go away. It mutated.

Back in 2016, Ars Technica reported that some of those old microwave towers are being repurposed to augment fiber optic networks. Because it's cheaper than laying brand new fiber and because radio signals move through the air faster than light through fiber.

And let's not too hastily write off satellites either. Elon Musk plans to tackle the latency problem of satellite-based Internet service with a swarm of satellites in low Earth orbit (such that at end-of-life they'll simply burn up in the atmosphere).

Every time you turn around, another moribund technology is "not dead yet." The solid-state disc drive should have sent old-fashioned "spinning rust" into retirement. Except every time it's knocked to the canvas, the hard disk drive staggers back to its feet like Rocky Balboa.


For example, Seagate has successfully prototyped a 16TB HDD using HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording). The heat comes from a laser diode attached to the read/write head. Western Digital answered that challenge with a 16TB MAMR HDD (Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording).

In the steampunk space opera future I like to imagine, the only way to build a faster-than-light starship engine will be with old-fashioned vacuum tubes and analog circuitry. And thus technology from the 1930s will end up being the most modern thing ever.

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January 10, 2019

The last year of Heisei

Shinchosha's final press release of 2018 on the Twelve Kingdoms website included a nod to a fairly monumental political, social, religious, and cultural event commencing on 30 April 2019.

According to the Japanese Constitution, the reign of the new emperor begins with the death of his predecessor. The formal enthronement ceremony, including elaborate Shinto rites, takes place later at a designated date.

The Showa Emperor (Hirohito) died in 1989 and was succeeded by his son, Akihito. Thus 1989 was the last year of Showa and the first year of Heisei. Confusing, indeed, especially if you make calendars for a living.

This time around, Akihito will abdicate. After open heart surgery in 2012 and now in his eighties, he "worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state with my whole being as I have done until now."


He means that business about "my whole being." Not only is he still the most active and engaged monarch in the world, the man is a solid mensch.

When he visits the site of a natural disaster (which Japan has plenty of), he doesn't settle for waving to the crowds from behind the tinted glass of an armored sedan. He sits down on the floor in the evacuation center and talks to people.




So 2019 will be the last year of Heisei and year one of—well, we don't know yet. The era name (nengou) is chosen by a convocation of scholars and is announced with great fanfare at the time of succession.

At the end of Shadow of the Moon, Youko chooses Sekiraku as her nengou ("red" + "Rakushun"). But back here on the other side of the Sea of Nothingness, we'll have to wait until April to find out.

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January 03, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (Happy New Year!)

Shinchosha posted its 2018 Year-End Greetings on December 28. A little news, a little marketing, and a nod to a big historical change the new year will bring.

We are coming to you for the last time in 2018. This year, with an enormous sense of relief, we were able to make the long hoped-for announcement that a new installment in the Twelve Kingdoms series is heading to publication. That announcement was met with a deluge of delighted voices through SNS. We thank you again for your warm messages.

The new novel is a sequel to Tasogare no Kishi, Akatsuki no Sora ("The Shore in Twilight, the Sky at Daybreak") and takes place in the Kingdom of Tai. How about reacquainting yourselves with the series during the upcoming holidays? For those of you new to the series, please take this opportunity to dive into the world of the Twelve Kingdoms and enjoy it to the fullest.

Shincho Paperbacks has now published new editions of all of the Twelve Kingdoms novels, including The Demon Child and Hisho's Birds. Available at a bookseller near you! You can find the eleven volumes on Amazon too.

Whilst coping with her long spell of ill health, Ono Sensei's unfolding Twelve Kingdoms drama turned into a massive epic! More than anything else, as we work towards the day when the book will go on sale, we pray for her continuing convalescence. Fresh information will be posted here in "Kirin News."

This is our last Year-End Greetings of the Heisei era. The New Year will also bring with it the first year of a new era, full of newborn promise. And so with that same sense of hope we shall continue to ask for and thank you for your continuing support.

Please have yourselves a Happy New Year!

I'll explain a bit more about the historic end of the Heisei next week.

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