August 29, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (45)

As best I can figure, this is how the whole process works:

1. If the kirin died with the previous emperor, then the whole process can't start until a new kirin is born on Mt. Hou. This appears to have been the case in Kyou.

2. The kouki (flag of the kirin) is raised over the rishi. This signals the beginning of the Shouzan. In the meantime, some kirin don't wait for potential candidates to come to them but go looking on their own.

3. The kirin chooses the next empress (emperor). The moment she accepts (or at least doesn't say no), she becomes immortal. This is what keeps Youko from dying a dozen times over before the next three steps can take place.

4. Her formal investiture takes place on Mt. Hou (her name is entered upon the Registry of Gods).

5. She is officially enthroned in her kingdom (with much pomp and circumstance).

6. She issues her inaugural rescript.

These events can be spaced quite far apart. Youko doesn't deliver her inaugural rescript until the end of A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

By comparison, in the U.S., the election and inauguration take place three months apart. The inaugural address is delivered at the same time as the inauguration. In exigent circumstances, as in the case of LBJ, the swearing-in can take place anywhere and by the authority of any federal judge.

Kindle (Mobi) and ePub files should be available on the download page next week after the last chapter is uploaded.

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August 26, 2013

Miyazaki interview

Hayao Miyazaki latest film, a biopic about the designer of the Zero fighter plane, is not Miyazaki's first film about (real) fighter planes. In Porco Rosso, an Italian fighter pilot's WWI experiences have turned him (literally) into a pig. He declares: "I'd much rather be a pig than a fascist."

And speaking of the Miyazakis, From Up on Poppy Hill, a post-war Showa melodrama directed by Miyazaki's son, Goro, is scheduled for a September release on region 1 DVD.

Goro's first effort, Tales from Earthsea, is a good example of a bad adaptation. It is technically proficient, but anybody not familiar with the Earthsea series (like me) would just end up confused.

Even Le Guin had mixed feelings about the film and the editorial choices made about what was kept, cut, and changed.

I saw NHK documentary about Hayao Miyazaki when Earthsea was coming out and it was clear that he thought the "suits" had rushed the "heir apparent" into the director's chair before he or the project was ready.

He was so grumpy at the in-house screening it made me cringe. But Goro must have a thick skin and learned a lot in the meantime as From Up on Poppy Hill has been very well received.

Related links

Twilight of the Zero

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August 22, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (44)

As explained in chapter 25 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, an allotment is a land grant given to every eligible citizen when they come of age. Technically, it's a lease, as it can't be inherited and the kingdom reclaims the property when the owner dies.

In A Thousand Leagues of Wind, Shushou still treats Kyouki pretty much the same way. But it's not like he can't take it; unlike most kirin, he's described as a big, burly guy.

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August 19, 2013

Complex simplicity

The HDTV (plasma or LCD) is another confirmation of a perhaps inexorable trend in consumer electronics over the past quarter-century: devices have gotten vastly simpler at the macro level as they've gotten vastly more complex at the micro level.

To start with a simple example: from three (audio/composite/S-Video) to five (audio/component) cables/jacks replaced by a single HDMI. The back of the TV is no longer a spider's web of wires.

The increasingly rare CRT is such an absurdly complex piece of equipment—basically a tiny linear accelerator—it's amazing that it works at all. From both a design and manufacturing standpoint, the LCD screen is simple by comparison.

The game-changer is that the micro level has been completely automated. Most of the macro assembly tasks are done by robots too. Back in the early days of the semiconductor, transistors were hand-made, just like vacuum tubes.

The planar process (the second great breakthrough in modern electronics, preceded by the transistor and followed by the integrated circuit) made it possible to mass-produce semiconductors using photolithography.

I grew up at the end of the vacuum tube era and dismantled my share of discarded TV sets (and even managed to fix a few). It's truly amazing what electronics engineers could accomplish with a handful of vacuum-tube driven discrete circuits.

A basic B&W set back then had a dozen or so tubes. The typical vacuum tube was the equivalent of two transistors. Your remote control has about a million times as many.

There wasn't a part in a vacuum tube TV you couldn't see with the naked eye, including the stuff inside the vacuum tubes. All of those parts were hand-assembled and quite literally added up to a scalding hot cauldron of energy-eating entropy.

The tuner alone was a two or three-tube local oscillator, frequency mixer and IF amplifier built around a multi-deck rotary switch the size of a gear shift lever. It was a major point of failure, fueling a small industry in cleaning sprays.
The tuning coils were hand-soldered to the contraption, which had to be bolted to the frame. As you can see in this blast from the past at Phil's Old Radios, even though printed circuit boards were coming into use, a lot of the guts were still hand-wired.

That meant manufacturing televisions was hugely labor-intensive. In inflation-adjusted terms, A 19-inch TV from that era cost almost $2000 in today's dollars!

An LCD TV is simply a specialized laptop with five SKUs: a mainboard, screen, power supply (power brick), remote (instead of a keyboard), and case. Like white box PC parts, wholesalers will happily sell them directly to you (preferable in lots of 1000).

Related posts

HDTV on the cheap
Seiki first impressions
The last picture tube show

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August 15, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (43)

Kouya (更夜) means "late in the evening."

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August 12, 2013

The Wolf Children

Mamoru Hosoda started out his career working for franchise productions (Digimon, One Piece). With The Girl who Leapt through Time (2006), Summer Wars (2009), and now The Wolf Children (2012), he's proved himself one of the best and most original anime directors in the business.

The Wolf Children deserves a place alongside Miyazaki's "quiet fantasies" such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Whisper of the Heart. Like Miyazaki, Hosodo embraces the sentimental while avoiding the maudlin, communicating a deep sense of poignancy and loss that Miyazaki rarely achieves.

This is less the loss that comes from melodramatic tragedy (the father dies early on, in what is more of a preface to the rest of the movie) than the inevitable loss that comes from simply living a life to its fullest.

Hosoda has masterfully fused two fundamental concepts of Japanese aesthetics: wabi-sabi, the beauty of the old. Not that of antiques in a museum but objects allowed to age and wear in their natural settings. And awa're, "an awareness of impermanence or transience of things, and a gentle sadness at their passing."

This is a story about family, community, and coming-of-age in rural Japan, a part of Japanese society that is itself inexorably aging and wearing away. As he did in Summer Wars, Hosoda has taken a genre fantasy and moved it to the Japanese countryside (which, to much of his audience, is no less fantastical a setting).

The rural drama in Japan has become a genre of its own (a common variation is the island drama).

The best-known example outside Japan is probably Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro. A lesser-known Yoji Yamada classic is Harukanaru Yama no Yobigoe ("The Call of the Distant Mountains"). A wanted man on the run (Ken Takakura) is taken in by a widowed farmer's wife (Chieko Baisho) in Northern Japan.

In Home: Itoshi no Zashiki Warashi, struggling businessman Yutaka Mizutani gets transferred to the sticks. The traditional old house (similar to the one in The Wolf Children) he rents for his family turns out to be haunted by a zashiki warashi, the ghost of a child who brings good fortune to those who treat it well.

Like the zashiki warashi in Home, it's pretty much impossible not to read scads of metaphors into The Wolf Children. There's the obvious (little kids are wild animals), but Hosoda is tackling a much bigger theme: how the maladaptive adapt to societal norms. Or in some cases, how they simply choose not to.

Rarely has the truism that children grow up to pick their own paths in life been stated so unpretentiously and in such a heartfelt manner.

Thankfully, though, Hosoda doesn't let the "message" get in the way of taking the story literally either.

I saw The Wolf Children on TV Japan. It's been licensed by Funimation and is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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August 08, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (42)

Hyakka (百稼), a made-up word, means "hundred" + "work." Mt. Tai (泰山) is the foremost of the "Five Great Mountains" of ancient China. It is also the ancient name of Mt. Hou.

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August 05, 2013

Seiki first impressions

Holy cow, the outgassing! The first day or two, that "new electronics smell" seemed to be issuing from a glowing lump of radioactive plastic. But everything worked right out of the box. The stand was easy to attach and solid.

Over-the-air HDTV is simply incredible (especially sports), which makes SD look grungy and programs with screwed-up aspect ratios all the more annoying. It's been four year since the mandated shutdown of full-power analog. You'd think they'd have it figured out by now.

Which brings me to my biggest beef with the Seiki, and it's the software. When you change the aspect ratio on a channel, the Seiki does a poor job remembering it. My old HDTV set-top converter box did a much better job (it also had a better program guide).

My Dish receiver upconverts to 720p but TV Japan SD programming is often so compressed there's not much left to upconvert (though thanks to the unsharp mask, graphics with high contrast edges, like B/W text, display crystal clear). As a result, the SD quality is all over the map.

Digital to analog (component) and back to digital obviously isn't going to work well, at least not with budget equipment (my aging Dish receiver only has DVI). The obvious solution is an upgrade to HD content and a Dish DVR receiver with HDMI. Someday.

As noted in many reviews, the Seiki's sound is lousy. One nice thing about those old CRT TVs was that, even in a cheap set, there was plenty of room to fit in a set of solid speakers. The Seiki's dime-sized speakers are squeezed into the back bezel and sound like a transistor radio circa 1960.

A pair of budget computer speakers (Logitech S120) are filling in for now. Not quite as good as the JVC but they make a huge difference (and the sound of the S120 speakers has actually improved over time; "speaker break-in" is apparently real).

I replaced my jury-rigged dipole with an RCA "flat" passive antenna (ANT1400R). Once I positioned it just right, it picked up the local DTV stations, plus a few analog signals. There are still a handful of "local only" analog TV broadcasters out there. They have until 1 September 2015.

Related posts

HDTV on the cheap
The last picture tube show

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August 01, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (41)

In chapter 3, Shushou observes that if you rise high enough in the government, you will never grow older. That is because high government officials become Chisen, or "wizards of the earth." Hisen ("wizards of the air") do not take part in government. Tensen constitute a third category. In chapter 14 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, they are referred to as "Hisen who served the gods."

At one point, Shushou comes close to quoting from Hamlet:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

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