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 a 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 PC from Walmart. The HP Slimline 290-p0043w is an inexpensive desktop PC 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 about the size of two T42 ThinkPads stacked on top of each other.

The case can be positioned as a "tower" or horizontally. But with the tower's feet on the right and the front USB ports and switch at the top left (my preference), the DVD drive—the whole motherboard, actually—is upside down. That doesn't appear to affect the reliability or performance at all.

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 more complete list here).

Food Wars!
Gourmet Girl Graffiti
Kakuriyo: Bed & Breakfast for Spirits
Isekai Izakaya (anime) (live-action)
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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