December 31, 2006
Koi Kaze was not what I expected. Based on the cover art I was thinking it was a shoujo anime, but it's actually very complicated and serious. And the topic it deals with is not one that most people will find themselves comfortable with. In Koi Kaze, a 27-year-old man, Koshiro, and a 15-year-old girl, Nanoka, end up meeting each other, and by circumstance going on something of a date at an amusement park. Mostly because they didn't have anything better to do. They end up finding themselves somewhat attracted to each other, but then learn that they are in fact brother and sister who have not seen each other since their parents' divorce.
Koshiro finds himself attracted to Nanoka despite his best efforts to fight it, and so acts in a very gruff and arrogant manner towards her. But it's clear he really cares about her and is actually very protective and treats her somewhat badly because he doesn't know of any other way to deal with it. Nanoka, on the other hand, finds herself with growing feelings towards Koshiro even though she has some suitors at school.
Eventually, Koshiro and Nanoka need to figure out how they are going to deal with their mutual attraction and love for each other, despite the cultural taboo against incest and also their significant age difference. In many ways, all of the same feelings and social pressures they are subject to can be seen in what homosexuals have to deal with, in certain cultures and communities.
These ideas create a gut reaction of disgust or perversion in many people, even though there is not necessarily a real reason for it. If you mention incest, or an age difference like that, the majority of people will immediately come to certain conclusions about the two people involved. But this is more of a learned behavior and prejudice than anything else. Being able to overcome that is a very difficult thing to do. Koshiro remarks on this when he asks who else but he and Nanoka has the right to decide if this will make their lives miserable.
I found the artwork of the series very interesting. It's drawn in a style almost like watercolor or crayon, that has a sort of nostalgic feel to it. I think this is the first time I've seen that art style, but I don't watch a lot of shoujo anime.
December 30, 2006
Dark City Movie Night
I had a bunch of new people show up to tonight's movie night, since Wendy and Brian have too many friends and so always have more people to bring. Although all of their friends do happen to be Asian. Anyway, Alla also showed up, and so did Thomas. New people Anh, Kristina, Roger, and Naomi showed up as well. Alla didn't stay for the movie though. This was the first movie night I've held with the new subwoofers, and I played back the Irene scene from Black Hawk Down as a demo. I'm not sure they felt as much as they could, because everyone was sitting in the second row during the demo.
We ended up watching Dark City, in large part because Kristina thinks Keifer Sutherland is really attractive from his role in 24. He plays a completely different kind of character in Dark City though, so I don't know if that worked out for her. Naomi actually only showed up shortly before the movie started, and left right after.
Most people left after the movie, but Wendy, Brian, and Thomas stayed longer. We decided to watch another movie, and Wendy picked The Avengers. She found it amusing in the beginning, but both she and Brian fell asleep pretty early into the movie, since it was so late. I was pretty tired too, but I stayed up to watch the whole thing.
December 29, 2006
24: Season 5
The fifth season of 24 was exceptionally good. I was very pleased to see the writers were able to take things to the next level, rather that simply trying to pile on more terrorist threats. I also felt this season held a much more balanced view of politics than season four, while still trying to make the viewers think about things for themselves. I think it was a good choice to include a more international flavor as well. The drama and tension of the series remained high throughout, and it was unfortunate that a number of good characters were killed off.
The acting I was most impressed by was that of President Charles Logan. I can't believe that was just acting. It really feels like his personality and behavior. He has facial tics, body language that matches up with his thoughts, emotions, and personality very well, and a character that really captures a lot of ideas and complexity seemingly without effort.
There is still a little in-show advertising going on though, which I don't really like because of how blatant it can be, and thus revealing of the artificial nature of the show. Both Sprint (I think, I didn't notice the phone brand much) and Cisco got way too much air-time, and the extensive use of texting was yucky and didn't make sense most of the time.
I also think 24 needs to get some real technical advisors, both for technology and other procedural things. But the thing that really got to me was inserting random technobabble whenever they want to make something sound complicated. Using the term "data mine" five times each episode does not make those people sound like they know what they're talking about. You'd think the writers feel you could data mine your grandma.
December 24, 2006
The Place Promised in Our Early Days
I didn't know it until watching through some of the seiyu interviews afterwards, but Kumo no Muko, Yakusoku no Basho was also created and directed by Makoto Shinkai who created by himself Hoshi no Koe. This followup work had full financial backing and a full production crew, and as a result could be much longer and fully realized. And like the predecessor, this work is also a masterpiece in all aspects.
Visually, the anime is stunning. CG and an extremely high level of perfection with the cel shading and animation, plus absolutely beautiful environments full of emotion make this film a joy to watch. The character designs are wonderful and full-bodied. The music is also amazing and was composed by Tenmon. There are some choice string pieces featuring violins (which play an important role in the film) and a piano, as well as a beautiful ending song, Kimi no Koe, performed by Ai Kawashima.
There are some parallels in the storylines of Kumo no Muko, Yakusoku no Basho and Hoshi no Koe. Both deal with a boy and girl who become separated from each other due to events outside their control, living with that separation over an extended period of time, and feelings of profound loss. There are several situations of separation and then reunion that play across the span of the story. They also both have interesting technological aspects that play an integral part in these emotions. But this film leaves the viewer with more hope for the future than Hoshi no Koe does.
One interesting twist to the setting is that post-WWII, Japan is split into the North and South by what appear to be Russia and the U.S.A. In a manner very much like Germany was. A sort of cold war exists between the two halves, which are separated by water instead of a man-made wall. And there is a constant threat of further war between the two sides.
Although I watched the film in Japanese with English subtitles, there are a number of English voice actors that were cast for the English ADR which I really like. I suspect the English dub is pretty good. There is actually a short period of English dialogue between to American military officials in the original Japanese, which sounds very wooden and strange.
Alla's Final Essays
I spent most of today over at Alla's place, going over her MBA application essays. Got there around 11:30am and left around 6:30pm. I'd say we probably spent about four or five hours with me reading and offering suggestions for improvement. But these should be her final drafts, pretty much. She's getting some feedback from Ellen and Tomer as well. She also hired a professional review service for $300, but wasn't entirely happy with the results. I think I've probably spent a couple dozen hours working with her on her essays over the past few months.
We also exchanged Christmas gifts. I knew what she was getting for me because she told me not to order "anything". She gave me season five of 24. I also gave her present to her, although I'd had it ready a while ago. She didn't want it before. I got her the board game Puerto Rico. She wasn't very surprised. But I haven't played a board game with her in a long time. This might be the last board game I get her, since it's hard to find really good games and you don't want too many since you won't play them that often.
December 23, 2006
Kakurenbo is a short film done entirely in CG but with cel shaders to look like traditional animation. It's a creepy story, the kind you'd consider campfire fare, about kids who play hide and seek in an old city but never return once they enter. The rendering, atmosphere (both visual and aural) are excellent and chilling. The story is a little short; I think a longer version could build more suspense and pull the viewer in deeper. But otherwise it's great.
December 22, 2006
Trigun is one of the most famous anime series, which originally aired in 1998. If you go to a convention, you'll definitely see a Vash or two. Easily recognizable and well known. I think the storyline, concept, and episodes are pretty good. Entertaining and meaninful at the same time. The only thing I didn't particularly like is the revelation of Vash's true nature and how things came to be on the desert planet. I feel like things would be more meaningful if that wasn't the case.
The real focus of the story is on what is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it also asks and answers the extremely hard question of sacrifice or sin for the greater good. And while I think the message that Naito-sama is trying to convey is a good and important one, I don't know if I can agree with it. I feel like my opinions are closer to those of Wolfwood, rather than those of Vash. Because the truth is, all of the suffering could have been lessened if Vash had been willing to punish Knives to begin with. Even if the truth is that he has no right to do so. I do think it's more important to do the right thing than the thing that serves the greater good, but you also have to be able to do what's necessary to protect others. I believe that protecting others is the right thing even if it doesn't necessarily serve the greater good or requires you to do something which you really shouldn't.
That's why I thought the ending was a bit of a let-down. I really don't think things will necessarily get any better. But the whole point of the series is to make it clear that you have to try. And many times it won't make things better, but sometimes it does. And maybe that's the best you can do, and that's really the right thing to do.
December 20, 2006
Luna Was Approved
Luna's K-1 visa application was officially approved today. :D She had her interview at the U.S. Consulate in Guanghzou, which is about a day's train ride away from Shanghai. The interview was about ten minutes long, although she didn't get in to see the interviewer until maybe an hour and a half or two hours after her scheduled time. She was asked how we met, a few basic factual questions about me, and some simple things like that. Nothing tricky. She had to hand over all of the information about both of us for their records.
The only bad thing that happened was sometime before or during the interview she lost her Keroro wallet. Nothing important in it, only some cash. But Luna says that it's okay because the good thing balances out with the bad thing. And she can try to buy the wallet again from the store in Shanghai near her workplace. She thinks it might have been stolen when she wasn't paying attention, because Guangzhou is so crowded and busy, and people visiting the consulate might be convenient and good targets.
Anyway, she has to go to the Guangzhou post office on Friday to pick up the visa packet, along with her passport. I'm not really sure why the packet is sent to the Guangzhou post office to get picked up, and not just picked up at the consulate or actually mailed from the Guangzhou post office to the Shanghai post office or her home. It's probably a good idea for it to be kept very safe so the visa couldn't be intercepted and used by someone else. But still seems strange. So she's staying in Guangzhou until she can pick up the visa there.
Alias: Season 5
Season five marks the conclusion of Alias, one of my favorite television series. The viewership had been dropping off, and I think the supernatural turn taken in season four may have contributed to that. Regardless, I still think it's a great series in all seasons, full of intensity and drama and intrigue. And knowing that the show was coming to an end, they produced an unbelievably good conclusion, that really feels like an ending and not a cancellation.
Season five brings back more of the original cast which helped make the series great, like Sark and Will, with some cameos in flashbacks for characters like Francie and Marshall's wife. Everything comes to a head with Sydney's mom, Irina, finally revealing her endgame in a manner which really makes you wonder what her feels are for Sydney, both in this series and in everything that she did previously. Sloane's quest is resolved, and all the questions about Rambaldi are answered.
Some new characters are introduced, and I think Rachel does an excellent job acting, although sometimes the lines seemed a bit corny or convenient. Not just for her, but also for other characters like Will, a handful of times in different episodes. I also really liked Renée Rienne, and it was kind of interesting to see a few people from the first season of 24 show up, all together, and all for the bad guys.
December 19, 2006
Sealed Sonotube Subwoofers
In my quest for the ultimate subwoofer (restriction being no infinite baffle) flat to 5Hz, I purchased four 15" TC-2000 single voice coil drivers. After going through WinISD Pro and forums and gathering information and advice from many sources over a few months, these are the drivers I ended up with and the enclosure design would be to use sonotubes. I decided to use a sealed enclosure rather than a ported one because the port volume would be too great and a passive radiator would have too much group delay and somewhat extreme mass requirements for reaching 5Hz. I've put up photos of the construction process.
The sonotubes are approximately 4' in length, and 20" in diameter. Each endcap is three layers of 3/4" MDF, with two layers inside and one layer outside. Having three layers for the endcaps posted a problem because you cannot purchase binding posts long enough to go through that far. So what I did is run brass bolts in from the inside to meet with short binding posts run in from the outside. The end caps, dowels, and protective grille over the top driver brings the total height of each subwoofer to approximately 4.5'.
Most people cover their sonotubes with a black fabric "sock". I wanted something that would look a little nicer, so I covered mine with cherry veneer. Unfortunately, due to bumps in the outside of the tubes, there are some ridges in the veneer. And Alla and I had some issues with the glue, so there are some glue marks on the outside near one of the endcaps. We also had glue on our hands for a few days afterwards. So overall the finished look is not commercial quality when seen up close, but from a distance they look very nice.
The project as a whole took a few weekends to complete. A lot of time was spent waiting on the endcap paint to dry, and sand, and recoat. I purchased a high quality mask to protect myself while cutting the MDF, as MDF creates a very fine sawdust when it is cut, and contains carcinogens. It's really best to cut MDF outside in the open air, rather than in the garage. I wish I'd found and purchased a larger circle jig though, because my makeshift one was not perfectly accurate.
I am driving the finished subwoofers with a Behringer EP2500 subwoofer and giving it low-pass boost and equalization to mimic a Linkwitz-Transform using a Behringer DCX2496. You can accomplish the same thing with a cheaper unit, but the DCX2496 provides some additional flexibility. The cables were cut from a spool of Impact Acoustics 14/4 (four runs of 14awg in the sleeve) I won in a contest a while back. I'm doubling up the runs so the signal path is 14/2 each. Each channel of the EP2500 is driving two drivers in parallel, for a ~2Ω load.
Using a Behringer ECM8000 microphone with an M-Audio MobilePre, I calibrated and equalized the subwoofer response flat down to somewhere below 5Hz, possibly even 2Hz, because of room gain benefits. The subwoofer can be driven to reference levels without clipping.
At reference levels, it's a tiny bit noticeable. It's possible to increase the low-pass filter to boost those frequencies several more dB, in which case it really feels like there is a rotor passing over you. I'm not really sure what the dB level is supposed to be; 0dB implies 115dB to me, which I don't necessarily think I can reach at 5Hz, but at ~105dB it's already vibrating the entire house. The whole movie plays way loud at reference levels though, since it's all gunshots and explosions.
Regardless, at this point I feel like I've accomplished building the ultimate traditional subwoofer, and can reproduce all the infrasonics I might need. Now I just need to get much better speakers that have flatter overall response and can reproduce high frequencies well. :)
December 12, 2006
Luna tells me that Gungrave is considered by some to be too commercialized, but that she thinks it's really good. I also think it's pretty good, however I like the first half of the storyline much more than the second. Basically, it tells the story of two street punks who have been together since growing up in an orphanage and how they transition into the mafia. At a particular point in time, events drove them to decide upon what it means to have power and control and the purpose of such things. But their decisions are split, which leads into the second half of the series. But I think the second half is too action oriented and supernatural. I liked a lot more the first half which deals with the characters and ideas.
From a technical standpoint, the animation is very good. I particularly liked how well the artists were able to convey the aging of each character as they grow older. The story takes place over a few decades, and seeing characters faces as they age is probably a distinctive quality of this series. The music is also pretty good, but sometimes I felt it a little odd. Styles change depending on the mood and setting, in ways which seem appropriate for those changes, but which sometimes don't mix together in the right way, in my opinion.
There are some ideas, ideals, and questions posed in this series. I think that some of those are very well represented and presented. However I'm not sure if a viewer can just accept those at face value. Because, unfortunately, it seems like each character's beliefs are strict rules, rather than circumstantial. And ultimately, the things they were striving for may have been achieved more easily and in a better manner had they taken a different path in life. Given that, I can't say I'd agree with the choices most of them made. Although taking that other path may have been a very difficult thing to do.
December 11, 2006
Christmas Presents w/Shannon and Yvonne
Yesterday I went to visit Shannon and Yvonne having not seen them in a long time. I brought them their Christmas presents, but also had to show them how to order things online to order my own Christmas present. :p They both wanted to get me Kingdom Hearts 2 because they want to see it. Hopefully they know how to use a shopping cart and go through the checkout process now and can do it again in the future. During dinner we talked a little bit about things like the video game controversery and the different attitudes towards sex and violence seen in the United States and Europe.
Afterwards, we decided to go to rent some movies. Wasn't sure what to pick. It's hard to find good movies at the store because the selection is so small. Shannon wanted something funny. Yvonne kept picking weird movies like the black and white Robin Hood. We settled on Beetlejuice, The Princess Bride (again), and Back to the Future. Beetlejuice is too creepy for Shannon, so only Yvonne and I watched it. Yvonne got creeped out too though. They both really liked Back to the Future and we need to rent the sequels next time. Back to the Future gave Yvonne a chance to make fun of me for being old. XD I'm just going to have to get them a copy of The Princess Bride rather than keep renting it.
December 9, 2006
Blade Trinity is a movie I mostly got because I enjoy the series in general. While I think this film lives up to expectations in terms of action, I think the plot is a little weak because it relies a bit too much on cliché and style instead of substance. I also did not particularly like the attempt at mythology introduced both with the villian and the conclusion. It didn't fit with the previous mythology. And for some reason humans are able to compete with the vampires. That doesn't fit either. Anyway, as a pure action movie it's fine as long as you don't think too hard.
December 8, 2006
Ice Age: The Meltdown
Ice Age: The Meltdown is the sequel to the very entertaining and creative Ice Age. I really like the first one. It's funny, has great characters and character development, a somewhat simple but well executed story, and great visuals and audio. Unfortunately, I don't think the sequel lives up to the name.
The sequel seems short with a recycled storyline and a lot of filler. It's just not as exciting because the build-up isn't there, nor the character exploration. There are several Scrat shorts interspersed within the film, and they really have nothing to do with the storyline. Instead, they eat up time and distract by acting as frequent and hollow intermissions. I also felt a lot of the jokes fell a little flat.
I did really like the sloth music sequence, but I think it could have gone a little farther. It's similar to the dodo music sequence from the first movie, but slightly less amusing.
December 7, 2006
Chapterhouse: Dune is the last novel of the original Dune series by Frank Herbert. It tells the second half of the story started in Heretics of Dune and follows the first half in pacing, tone, and content. I find myself more engrossed in these later volumes even though they contain less food for thought and more traditional plot movement. Yet there remain some interesting mysteries with the Bene Gesserit, Bene Tleilax, and the Honored Matres. But at the same time, it almost feels like Herbert is less imaginative and leaves too many unanswered questions.
Perhaps the weakest part of this novel. At the end, I don't feel as though anything has actually been resolved. The landscape of power changes dramatically, but not in any way that is so dramatic or revelatory with regards to The Golden Path. It's as if things are just back to where they were before, and all of the opportunities for further exploring The Golden Path, human evolution, and changes in social order are lost or ignored.
It feels like Chapterhouse: Dune should transition into another story that answers the questions and examines the impact of the new Bene Gesserit order. But there isn't anything more to the story.
December 6, 2006
Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus is the prequel to the cult favorite Ico, but developed after Ico by the same team. It has much of the same mood and atmosphere, and control scheme that tastes familiar although is more advanced and refined. The graphics are improved, and the sound track was done by Kow Otani, whom I think is an excellent composer. The coolest thing about this game is how you take on the giant colossi.
That's something which I think would be extremely hard to accomplish. You have a person of normal height, and you have to defeat colossi of all shapes and sizes, both in the water, on land, and those that go through the skies. The behavior and AI of the colossi seems natural although limited in their actions. Each has a particular weak spot or specific sequence of events that allow you to defeat them. Identifying the correct sequence of actions to take, and how to approach each colossus, is the real puzzle and a wonderful puzzle.
The ending is excellent. I was left with a feeling of foreboding, having played Ico, and at times felt saddened with a sense of loss, then at times held hope. The music and scenery and how things transpire in the end made me wonder if I'd done everything I could, and also wondering if I'd done the right thing. But that's where the hope comes into play.
Shadow of the Colossus also provides additional challenges for those who want to play through again. Apparently there are special items and weapons you can acquire if you play through on hard mode or with the time challenge. Those don't interest me a whole lot because the basic attack strategies are already known to me and I also know what the ending will be.
December 4, 2006
Ellen's Indecisive Birthday
So this year I've christened Ellen's annual event as her "Indecisive Birthday". Because we spent like two hours just figuring out what to do after dinner. Alla and I got her a gift certificate to some dance studio she likes, but Alla wasn't able to make it to the party. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant named Fiorillo's. Nice atmosphere and food, but fancy-pricey. Huong and Marty were there, along with Rita and her boyfriend, Ryne, whom I'd never met before, and Karissa and Brian, plus the usual Ellen-birthday-regulars that I don't remember names of. The original plan was to go roller skating afterwards. But things got all weird after dinner.
So after dinner the group of us were going to Cal Skate Milpitas. I'd brought my rollerblades, and it was Huong and Marty, Ellen, Rita and Ryne, and I think and Justin and a Brian. But when we got there, a few of them got spooked by the atmosphere and some people they say, so we decided to go to the Dave & Buster's at the Great Mall.
D&B's seemed so much more like a Las Vegas casino than it did when I went to one with the IBM Extreme Blue team over in New York maybe four years ago. People were getting carded to get in, and if you didn't realize you were looking at arcade games, you'd think it was a casino floor. Anyway, once we got in, people weren't sure what to do and started thinking about going to a movie. Or to the miniature golf place also at the mall. Justin didn't even really want to see a movie.
Anyway, I gave up trying to figure out what we were going to do at some point during the discussion and we ended up going to see the movie Deja Vu. The movie was okay. It got some of the technical details right, and there are lots of interesting clues along the way. And I really liked how they approached the terrorism subject and that it was not overly focused upon as anything more than a crime. But parts of it were predictable and other parts were just scienfically convenient/irreconcilable.
December 2, 2006
12V Trigger AC Outlet
So I purchased a Behringer EP2500 and also a Behringer DCX2496. The EP2500 is rated at 9.7A, and the DCX2496 pulls approximately 12W. I'm assuming the 12W off a 120V line equals 0.1A. Grand total is 9.8A. However, the problem is both of these units do not have a trigger. You turn them on and then leave them on. I don't really want to do that since most of the time the home theater is off. There are some Xantech products that can help deal with this, but they're expensive. The cheap DIY solution is a relay switch.
One of my coworkers, Po Chiu, has a strong EE background. So I asked him if he knows that sort of box I need to build this 12V trigger so that when my processor turns on the AC outlet turns on as well. He explained the different types of switches to me. From there I found an article called How To Power Your MAME Cabinet. There are very simple instructions on that site for building your own relay switch.
So I went to OSH and Radio Shack and picked up about $20 in parts. With a wire stripper and soldering iron I was able to throw everything together in about 20 minutes. End result is a 12V trigger from my processor that will turn on a pair of regular AC outlets to power on the EP2500 and DCX2496.
My parts list is:
Radio Shack DPDT Plug-In Relay (Part #275-218)
Leviton 2-Pole, 3-Wire Grounding Duplex Receptacle (BR15-W)
Some sort of blue outlet box
Prime 3' Garbage Disposal Cord (Item #PS210603)
Some 16awg copper wire
The 16awg wire is only rated at 13A, and the DPDT relay is only rated 10A, but that's good enough to meet the 9.8A required by the EP2500 and DCX2496. Assuming those are the maximum current draw numbers, and not just nominal numbers.