December 26, 2019

Roku Express 3930R

I "cut the cord" (well, canceled my Dish account when TV Japan jumped to DirecTV at almost twice the cost) eighteen months ago. Sure, you could pay me to sign up for DirecTV (DirecTV has the best full-fledged Japanese language package), but short of that unlikely event, I'll stick with streaming. My technology of choice is the Roku platform.

Any set-top box I use must work with an inexpensive programmable or pre-programmed IR remote (a feature that rules out the Fire TV). I have no plans of getting a television with higher than 1080p resolution anytime soon, so for the last year and a half I had been using a Roku Express 3900X.

It was not without glitches. The 3900X always reported Wi-Fi signal strength as "Poor" (-80 dBm) even when a Wi-Fi analyzer next to it never dropped below -50 dBm on a clear channel (full signal strength). When testing the connection, the Roku often reported there was no connection at all. Strangely enough, this didn't seem to affect actual performance.

I might have seen more problems crop up at native resolutions higher than 720p. Subsequent firmware updates didn't help, so the glitch was likely in the hardware. At the time, similar complaints showed up in tech forums, so it wasn't just me. The common conclusion was a manufacturing defect with the antenna.

But it hobbled along well enough to keep using for the past eighteen months. Still, while I usually forswear upgrading a device that more or less works simply for the sake of upgrading, when the new Roku Express 3930R went on sale, I figured it was worth paying $24.99 to answer the question.

Well, whatever the glitch was, it's fixed. The 3930R consistently reports an "Excellent" Wi-Fi signal at -40 dBm. That's loud and clear.

I described the 3900X as half the size of a pack of playing cards. The 3930R is a bit smaller and squarer, with the edges rounded rather like a computer mouse. It's a more aesthetically pleasing design, though it's so small it's hard to even notice except when the little blue power light is on.

I like the simplicity of Roku's "Windows 8" style interface. Nine icons fit on the home screen so that's what I limit my options to. For me, a big advantage of streaming is leaving behind the "traditional" MVPD model (Multichannel Video Programming Distributor) and its endlessly scrolling program guides, not replicating the same old with a virtual MVPD.

Related posts

The streaming chronicles
Japanese media update

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December 12, 2019

The magic mirror

Illustration by Kyosai Kawanabe.
(1831-1889). In chapter 5 of The Space Alien, Kitamura-san describes a piece of mind-reading alien technology as a "magic mirror."

At first glance, it looked like a round silver metal tray. When I brought my face closer to it, I did not see my reflection as in a typical mirror, but a reflection of my mind. The thoughts of the person holding the mirror are displayed like a photograph on the surface of the silver plate. In short, a movie of the mind.

This "magic mirror" bears a strong resemblance to the jouharikyou (浄玻璃鏡) in Buddhist mythology, commonly translated as "Enma's Mirror of Judgment" or the "Mirror of Karma."

Enma (閻魔), commonly known outside Japan as "Yama," is the Ruler of Hell. Enma is a wrathful god who judges the dead. But unlike Saint Peter, he stands at the gates of Hell, where he decides which of the six paths in the eternal cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) the recently deceased will take.

One of the tools Enma uses when passing judgment is a mirror. Wrote the poet Kobayashi Issa (courtesy David Lanoue, edited for syllable count), perhaps referring to Issa's habit of "stealing" flowers from the gardens of his neighbors,

In Enma's mirror
shines back a reflection of
the plum blossom thief

This "magic mirror" reflects the deeds and true nature of those who stand before Enma, such that they cannot deny the verdict he hands down.

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December 05, 2019

A green light (for pedestrians)

I mentioned hassha tunes last week. These are the melodies played on train platforms in Japan that signal a train's departure. It's a nice way to hurry people along without ringing a loud bell or blaring a klaxon.

These tunes are particular to the train line and the station. A more universal melodic alarm is played at crosswalks to indicate when pedestrians have the right of way. Japanese are not ones to cross against the light.

Toryanse (通りゃんせ) is a traditional Japanese nursery rhyme (comparable to London Bridge is Falling Down). If you spend any amount of time in Japan, you will hear it. A lot. That pentatonic scale will soak into your brain.

Here is a vocal rendition of the traditional song.

If that's not melancholy enough, here is the actual MIDI melody that is played at crosswalks. Think of it as a kind of mental cattle prod to herd you out of harm's way before the light changes. Very Pavlovian, me thinks.

This crosswalk in Mitaka in Tokyo alternates Toryanse with the cheerier Comin' Thro' the Rye (which in Japan is well known as "The Sky over My Home Town").

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