Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 10, 2021

Garden Report for 210503 and 210510

And so the agro year starts. We had frosts every night up to roughly Monday the 12th.  The next Thursday the forecast was for a week of good weather — highs around 70 and lows in the upper 30’s — so I was off to the hardware store for plants and…well… hardware. You see, over the last five or seven years, my carefully crafted soaker hose irrigation system rotted. Unfortunately, the nifty kit I used back then is no longer in stock, just some expensive improved versions that provide half the functionality at twice the cost. That’s OK, I’ll knit my own. Our local hardware store carries everything I’ll need — soaker hose, connecters, t-connecters, elbow con… no elbow connectors. Not only are there none to be had, not even for ready money, but they no longer stock them. Well, local business, I tried. Now I’m off to Amazon.

It turned out to be worse than I thought. Those t-connectors I mentioned. They are Toro brand, and labeled as 3/8″. They’re not. If I had gone to Amazon first, I’d have seen the one-star reviews. So I’ve ordered some t-connectors from the same company (xGarden) that makes the elbow connectors, which work fine.  Their reviews said they had a tendency to leak, which they do. A few tiny hose clamps and we’re on our way to solving that problem.

Having put off the garden work for so long, and having to do the irrigation system by hand, I’ve decided to move the tomatoes to Section 2. Since 1 & 2 are together, I can put in one big hose assembly and worry about interconnectedness later.

 

As for planted plants (all from the hardware store), I’ve put two bush Early Girl in containers on the deck, an Early Girl in one of the house bags, and a Beefsteak Hybrid, Early Girl, and Beefmaster in Section 2.

Last week, I set up the deck greenhouse and moved everything but the sweet potatoes out there. Sunday night a big wind came through, so I weighted it down with the grates off my Weber gas grills (that’s about 10kg of iron in addition to the bungee cord tiedowns. Wind didn’t cause any problems here (others lost power) but the temperature fell 10 degrees in 20 minutes, and bottomed out close to 32F.  Our birdbath had ice on it (Caution: birdbath freezes before roadway), but most of the plants seem to have weathered the stress. One pot of squash seedlings didn’t make it.

A week later, after a bunch of 60F days, followed by a 78F day, we plunged to 58F, so twenty degrees in 24 hours, and night-time temps are forecast to be near freezing. I brought most of the plants inside and left some in the greenhouse.

This weekend I moved everything out of the greenhouse and planted two sections of the garden. Section 1 is squashes. Section 2 is tomatoes. I’ll have more details later.

And so the only plants left inside are the sweet potatoes. I’ll be planting them out at the end of the month.

Authentic Japanese Rice

May 7, 2021

I got to thinking about this topic after reading a highly interesting article recently on Just One Cookbook.

Everybody talks about how to make authentic Japanese rice the way mother used to make…in an authentic traditional Japanese Zojirushi rice cooker. But there’s an older tradition. One that involves unstitching kimonos. Let me tell you about it.

You see, at the turn of the last century there were a number of westerners who toured Japan or, like Lafcadio Hearn, settled there. Their narratives all are similar — thousands of poor but happy peasants tilling their small rice fields, with rice and eggs, or rice and cucumber, as the main meal served in the inns of the countryside. Nowhere does one learn of how the rice for these meals is cooked. Except in passing, in one book, written around 1910: Lady Kate Lawson: Highways and homes of Japan tells how the “rice for family use” is boiled all night, and then the rice-water (so it’s been boiled with a lot of excess water?) is used as starch, to stiffen the panels of cloth that have been unpicked from the kimonos, which are then dried on boards (see the link for a picture).

This is a far cry from my impression of traditional Japanese cooking. I’m thinking of trying it, but I don’t own a kimono.

Spring comes to the NENW

May 6, 2021

Spring is here. The pandemic, though receding, is not yet defeated, but some aspects of life are returning to normal. Tuesday was Opening Day for the Spokane Indians, our local High-A team, affiliated with the Colorado Rockies. The stadium was open to 25% capacity. Masks required except when in our seats. Ballpark food limited and not quite what we’re used to — our nacho plate was a plastic bag of nachos and a plastic cup of microwaved cheese. Dip it yourself.

The Indians (one of the few teams without a controversy over the name because of our close coordination with the Spokane tribe, and because our mascot is not an Indian) lost to the Eugene Emeralds, 8-6. Still…baseball!

 

Top of the 6th

Obama vs Osama 3

May 2, 2021

Ten years ago this weekend, a US SEAL team killed Osama Bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. I have, in the past, written a couple of blog posts, about how you can use game theory to think about the decision-making for the raid. Now, Politico has published an oral history of the decision-making process, from the viewpoint of the high-level people who made those decisions. It is very long, but very much worth reading.

WHSitRoomSmall

One thing that jumps out is the extreme measures that were taken to maintain secrecy. No emails. Few paper copies. Information couriered in locked bags. It worked, because everyone recognized the importance of the operation, and because it was only necessary to maintain secrecy for about three months. In wartime you can expect much more. The Enigma secret was maintained for thirty years. Nowadays, such devotion to duty is unlikely.

Another thing is the role that Vice President Biden played. At the final decision meeting, he emphasized the downside of failure, one participant said “while he was opposed in the meeting, [I think] that some of his opposition was this role he saw for himself—he took a position against the grain to just create space [for Obama].”

And finally, an example of what happens when you leave DC. Your presence diminishes rapidly. So much so that when it came time to notify former Presidents that the raid had happened, a staffer had to ask Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “Madam Secretary, I’m really sorry to bother you, but do you have your husband’s phone number?”

Urasekai Picnic Part 4, Final thoughts

April 25, 2021

I started reading Urasekai Picnic on my J-Novel subscription. It was good. It was good enough that I bought the four-volume set as e-books, and I’m considering buying the print omnibus versions when they come out. In addition, I’ve read Book 1 of the manga (in scanlation — so shoot me) and I’m planning on buying that when it’s released next August. And then, of course, is the anime.

I’ve written before on the novel/anime, the characters, and the settings. Now, I’m going to wrap up my thoughts, and jot down some things I learned while doing an after-season review.

The Novel

UPDATE: As of 30 April, 2021, J-Novel has started serializing Volume 5.

Just for completeness, it should be noted that Picnic has roots in a 1972 Russian novel Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and the associated Andrei Tarkovsky film, Stalker. As far as I can tell, it shares what Hollywood calls the ‘high concept’, and nothing more. Oh, and in a further result, Stalker is what they call unauthorized visitors to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Pretty everything I wanted so say about the novel and the characters I said in the first two essays. However, on re-reading the novel I found that Sorawo ends up being a stronger character than I first thought. First of all, a more attentive reading shows that she is totally, hopelessly, in love with Toriko. The problem is, she’s so stunted emotionally that she has no way of recognizing it. Most of Toriko’s expressions leave her confused: Why would she say that?  As a result, she’s even more protective of Toriko than, I think, Toriko is of her. In a couple of places she says “Toriko shouldn’t have to see that[horror]”.

Second, Sorawo turns out to be the real brains of the outfit, developing a theory of fear as a communication device, and responding to Toriko’s “Sorawo, what do we do?” in multiple situations.

As for the story, the fact is that we’re at best two-thirds of the way through the novel means there’s lots of loose ends at the conclusion of Volume 4. What is Otherside, and what do its denizens want? Satsuki is being portrayed more and more as the Big Bad, but there’s no real resolution. The Girls relationship is clearly Yuri, but doesn’t reach even the level of Class-S Yuri, at least not so far — their relationship is more like close siblings. Hopefully, all of this will be resolved in the final two volumes, or however many there finally turns out to be.

The Anime

Technical Issues

Let’s start with the obvious. On a technical level, the anime was sub-par. The best descriptor is the minimums must be acceptable or they wouldn’t be the minimums. The character art is OK, but even our main heroines suffer from a lack of detail and a lack of motion. Then there’s the animation itself. Lots of speed lines. Lots of scanning across stills. Lots of holding a shot for five seconds longer than is comfortable. The whole thing reeks of a low-budget effort trying to punch above its weight.

Sequencing

I re-watched the anime in chapter order, and I can say that the story is much better as originally told. The problem is, within the anime, the Station February arc is the only one with any sort of sustained action leading up to a dramatic finale. Which is presumably why it was given three and a half episodes.

For those who haven’t read, the big differences are that Time, Space Man (File4) came between Kisaragi Station (File3) and Kisaragi Rescue (File5); Rescue was followed by the Beach chapter (File6), and then came Ninja Cats (File7) and Sannuki-san (File10).  For the re-watch, I dropped anime-original Episode3 and Episode10. Finally, the Bird-Box chapter (File8) and the Yamanoke Tower (File9) had to be dropped, probably because Kisaragi — which took up only two chapters in the books — occupied fully three and a half episodes in the anime, and also because they would have caused even more continuity problems.

Here is a list of all the US published chapters, with their associated anime episodes. You can see that a number of significant chapters got left out — everything associated with the cult, for example — and that the anime downplayed the AP-1 agricultural machine.

Book Chapter Anime Episode
1. Kunekune Hunting 1. Wiggle Waggle Hunting
2. Hasshaku-Sama Survival 2. Surviving Lady Hasshaku
4. Space, Time, and a Middle-Aged Man
3. Station February
The full arc in one chapter, with the train acting as the gate that delivers them back to Tokyo. They went in with no weapons, and they come out with no weapons

5/6. Station February/Meat Train

The arc is split over two episodes, and the Meat Train delivers them to Okinawa, complete with weapons.

7. Resort Night at the World’s Edge

 

In the anime, this takes place after the first return (Episode 6), and not only do they have their Mararov pistols and Toriko’s AK, but Sorawo now has a gun that she didn’t have when they jumped in front of the train in Episode 6. They get back by destroying Lady Hasshaku’s hat

4. Time, Space, and a Middle-Aged Man
5. The operation to rescue the US forces at Kisaragi Station
The full arc in one chapter. The Girls use an unspecified gate to return to downtown Naha, with a gun given to Sorawo by the Marines.
11/12. Operation Rescue U.S. Forces
Episode 11 covers most of the arc, with half of Episode 12 used to get the Marines back to Okinawa. Sorawo gets mods to a gun she was already carrying, and the Girls return home via an unspecified gate.
6. Resort night at the beach of the end

 

Girls take a taxi from downtown Naha and end up at an Otherside beach. They return by destroying Lady Hasshaku’s hat.

 

7. Ninja Cats

 

Girls take delivery of the AP-1

8. Ninja Cats

 

Girls take delivery of the AP-1

8. Bird in a Box
The Girls find out about the DSR Company. Satsuki attacks.
Not in the anime
9. Yamanoke Presence

 

The Girls test the AP-1 on the Otherside

Not in the anime
10. Sannuki-san and Karateka-san

 

Sorawo gets Natsumi-san to modify the AP-1

9. Mrs. Sannuki and Karateka

No mention of modifying the AP-1

11. Whispered Voice

 

A major arc involving an Otherside cult and the DSR Company. Satsuki (or her Otherside doppelgänger) is revealed as a villain.

Not in the anime
12. The Farm

 

An extension of the previous arc

Not in the anime
13. Pandora in the next room

 

 

The Otherside invades Sorawo’s apartment

Not in the anime
14. Hot Springs Not in the anime
15. Overnight on the Otherside

 

The Girls drive the AP-1 to a love hotel

Not in the anime

Reviewers have said that parts of the anime were confusing, and it’s not just the continuity issues raised by inept shuffling of the chapters around. How does Sorawo know how her blue eye works, for example, and how does she develop her theory of the Otherside? From my point of view, many events and actions seem confusing because the anime ignored those bits of the novel that provided the backstory.  Part of it is because they had to leave a lot out, because they were trying to build a twelve episode season on an eight episode budget. This is not unlike trying to fit two liters into a one liter jug — you will strain the jug.

I am told that back in the days of B&W films and early TV, movie companies would go to great expense to trim a 3-reel, 90min movie down to less than 60 minutes for sale to television. Often, that was done by picking a minor character and dropping them from the shortened version. To do that, they had to go through, scene by scene, and cut as much as they could without damaging the story. It was expensive work, but the owner of one editing shop was able to do it for half what the other firms were. When a friend asked him how he did it, he replied “I just throw out the middle reel”. One gets that feeling about Picnic. The AP-1 was a significant player in the novel, and played a major role in the lead-up to the night in the love hotel. In the anime it spent most of its time parked out in front of Kozakura’s house before achieving its big scene when they parked it on Otherside. The best way to describe the AP-1 is that it was a prop that helped structure the closing half-episode.

The Characters

I’ve already said all I need to about Sorawo and Toriko, above and before. As for the others, Satsuki remains an enigma. Even after four volumes of the novel we can’t be sure if she’s really gone bad or if those are Otherside-generated doppelgängers, although the amulet she gave to Karateka makes me wonder. Karateka, for that matter, is an overenthusiastic idiot that will get them in trouble, or deaded, someday, either on this side or on Otherside. Kozakura is a good stand-in for the audience, asking the questions Sorawo and Toriko want to ignore.

The anime portrayal of Kozakura is one place where the anime art is better than that in the novel or the manga. Kozakura is a small, childlike adult, of grad school age and old enough to have experience driving fast cars, call it mid twenties. The novel makes her look like she’s six. The manga makes her look like she’s ten. Only the anime makes any effort to portray her as an adult trapped in a small body.

The Manga

The first volume of the manga won’t be available in English in the US until August of 2021. As might be expected, it follows the novel rather than the anime, covering the first two chapters of the novel (Kunekune Hunting and Hasshaku-Sama Survival), with the second volume rolling straight into Kisaragi Station instead of jumping ahead to Time, Space Man. The artwork is clean and functional, what the anime should have looked like. From the Amazon.co.jp website, it looks like six volumes have been published in Japanese (taking us through Chapter 6, the beach episode), so there should be something more to look forward to. My main objection to buying the manga is the cost. At one chapter per book (on average) and $7.00 per, the first four volumes of the novel will take over $100, even on the Kindle, to get in manga form.

Conclusions

The novel is excellent, far above your average light novel in quality of writing and subtlety of narration. It’s hard to describe how disappointing the anime was. If you have seen the anime, use it as an introduction to the novel. If you haven’t, don’t bother.

Universal Health Care — Proof of Concept

April 23, 2021

There was an interesting article over on The Week, about how the Covid vaccine rollout was a good trial run for a universal health care system. Government-sponsored, and government-supported organizations, from the National Guard to your local hospital stored, transported, and delivered the shots pretty much as fast as they rolled off the production line. For free. Yes, there were glitches (mostly in reservations  systems not designed to handle a pandemic surge), but overall, it just worked, damnit.

I was the beneficiary of the military equivalent of universal health care for almost half a century, first as a military dependent, and then on active duty. It was simple. If I felt sick I went to the dispensary. The doctors would figure out what I had and prescribe prescriptions. I picked up the drugs on the way out. That’s it. Three sentences, no bills.

Once I retired and went to work in industry/academia I still got Tricare, as well as employer-funded health care and, (after a while) Medicare. I also got bills. Dozens and dozens of bills. Most of them were covered by my work and Medicare and Tricare. I still had to track the paperwork, and was responsible for the final payments of costs not covered. Of course, that news wouldn’t come in until months later. Remember that office visit you had six months ago? (no) You owe us $150, payable at once.

Two examples illustrate the systems. In DC, back in the 80’s, MJ broke her foot off. Fortunately, there was muscle to hold her shoe on. I took her to the hospital at Andrews AFB, where an Air Force doctor (a civilian who previously worked on Joe Namath’s knees and was currently on active duty in the reserves), made everything well (or, as well as can be expected). Total cost to us, including hospital stay: zero.

Fast forward twenty some-odd years, and MJ managed to break her arm off while trying to catch a king-sized mattress with her left hand. Total shoulder replacement. Hospital stay. Blizzards of bills. Costs to us, rolled out over the next twelve months or so, around a thousand dollars. I tried to look up the cost on the hospital web portal, but they don’t keep records back that far (of course not). What was interesting (OK, horrifying) was that everyone wanted a slice: X-ray tech, X-ray machine cost, X-ray interpretation, emergency room X-ray surcharge, and the list goes on. 

And this is not an aberration. My mother-in-law had excellent health coverage through her late husbands employer, a government contractor. Her own post-retirement health care was based on thirty years at SeaFirst Bank, which she was screwed out of when they were taken over by Bank of America. She faced the same tsunami of paperwork every month, enough to drive an old lady to distraction.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a friend of mine expressed horror at the costs of US healthcare, compared to the NHS. More recently, he cut his finger severely in the kitchen, took a cab to the ER,  had stitches, then spent three days in the hospital for treatment of a previously undiscovered heart condition that turned up. Total out of pocket expenses? The cab fare.

So call it what you will — Universal Health Care, Medicare For All, TricareForEveryone — the fact is, it works. It’s cheap. On a per-person basis, the US military spends two-thirds what the civilian sector does, for care that’s every bit as good.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 19, 2021

Garden Report for 210419

And so the agro year starts. We had frosts every night up to roughly Monday the 12th.  On Thursday the forecast was for a week of good weather — highs around 70 and lows in the upper 30’s — so I was off to the hardware store for plants and…well… hardware. You see, over the last five or seven years, my carefully crafted soaker hose irrigation system rotted. Unfortunately, the nifty kit I used back then is no longer in stock, just some expensive improved versions that provide half the functionality at twice the cost. That’s OK, I’ll knit my own. Our local hardware store carries everything I’ll need — soaker hose, connecters, t-connecters, elbow con… no elbow connectors. Not only are there none to be had, not even for ready money, but they no longer stock them. Well, local business, I tried. Now I’m off to Amazon.

Having put off the garden work for so long, and having to do the irrigation system by hand, I’ve decided to move the tomatoes to Section 2. Since 1 & 2 are together, I can put in one big hose assembly and worry about interconnectedness later.

As for planted plants (all from the hardware store), I’ve put two bush Early Girl in containers on the deck, an Early Girl in one of the house bags, and a Beefsteak Hybrid, Early Girl, and Beefmaster in Section 2.

Meanwhile, I’ve set up the deck greenhouse and moved everything but the sweet potatoes out there. Sunday night a big wind came through, so I weighted it down with the grates off my Weber gas grills (that’s about 10kg of iron in addition to the bungee cord tiedowns. Wind didn’t cause any problems here (others lost power) but the temperature fell 10 degrees in 20 minutes, and bottomed out close to 32F.  Our birdbath had ice on it (Caution: birdbath freezes before roadway), but most of the plants seem to have weathered the stress. One pot of squash seedlings might not make it.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Spring 2021

April 13, 2021

There are anime that don’t really require the three-episode rule, because if you follow that rule blindly you can lose a full hour of your life for each show, instead of just twenty minutes. We start off by dropping four shows like this, shows that demonstrate how anime has run out of ideas and is now checking under the seat cushions. Fortunately, we don’t have a gender-bender Oda Nobunaga to deal with.

Let’s start with sports. Anime loves sports (well, the shonen do), but has pretty well cleaned out the cupboard on them. We’ve run through all the standard sports-ball sports, both for men and women, and we’ve looked at various track and field events, including new things, like rock climbing and exercising. Now we’re down to making up sports, and even if next season brings a show about cross-country ballroom dancing, none of them will be as good as Girls und Panzer. This season gives us Burning Kabaddi, which is nothing like Burning Love. Think of it as Keijo for guys. Reluctant former soccer player gets enticed into trying out for a new sport because he’s good at soccer, even though he hates sports.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t hate sports as much as I do.

Anime also loves seeing how close they can get to sexually exploiting children without having the whole production staff get arrested. Sometimes they try to cover it up with handwaving — yeah, she looks and acts like she’s ten but she’s really an 800 year old elfin shrine maiden. Sometimes they just cut things very close, like Koikimo, for example, which features a man in his middle twenties hitting on a girl in her middle teens.  OK, so these guys are not much different in age than, for example, Princess Elizabeth and Lt. Philip Mountbatten when they started dating. But unlike Philip, this guy is a stalker and his own sister says he’s a creep, which is pretty much confirmed by Ep 1. The fact that the girl is inexperienced, non-assertive, and has low-self esteem  doesn’t help.

On another note anime, like Hollywood, is willing to squeeze variants of a good idea until all the entertainment is wrung out of them. On the Hollywood side, think of any recent superhero movie. On the anime side, this seasons entry is Combatants Will Be Dispatched, where the creator of Konosuba cranks it up to 11. In Konosuba, a snarky protag assembles a team of inept haremettes. In CWBD, an inept protag assembles a team of snarky haremettes. But instead of coming across like a lovable idiot, he just makes himself out to be a true idiot, with an unlikable personality. Just shows the dangers of overstaying your artistic welcome.

Finally for this week, we see how scrabbling for that one thing that can lift your game-based isekai above all the others can instead demonstrate your basic artistic ineptitude. In Full Dive: This Ultimate Next-Gen Full Dive RPG Is Even Shittier than Real Life we have a protag who thinks he knows everything, kindof like the early Subaru from Re:ZERO. He plunges ahead, killing NPCs and messing things up to the point that even his freshly bathed fairy godmother can’t help. Think of it like the artistic equivalent of the Streisand Effect.

 

Beef Jerky Oatmeal

April 8, 2021

A few days ago I came across an article about a Japanese company that was making a beef jerky curry rice product. Since it wasn’t available in the US, I thought I’d make my own, using a standard beef curry rice recipe, replacing the beef chunks with beef jerky chunks. It was most excellent, and there were a few chunks of jerky still in the bag (Jack Link’s Original). If it worked in curry, it ought to work in oatmeal. BTW, according to Alton Brown, this is pretty much how jerky was intended to be used, as an ingredient, not as a trail food.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup beef broth, two chunks (25g) of beef jerky, cut up with scissors (better than knives), two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes. Add the jerky when you add the oatmeal, but wait to add the salt — the jerky is fairly salty. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. Good enough that I’m considering different jerky flavors for next time. Had just the right level of salt.

Rating: ****  four stars

Astrophysicists discover the name of the universe

April 1, 2021

Recent research into the changing structure of the Universe, from the time it started with the Big Bang up until now, has allowed astrophysicists to determine its name.

See, the Universe that was created by the Big Bang was very small — small enough that it’s original name was “BB”. But as it expanded into nothingness, as more empty space intervened, it became “BOB”, which it is today.

Welcome to Universe BOB.

Of course, many billions of years from now, it will expand even more, and we’ll have to change the name again.

Salted Salt-Free Oatmeal 1

March 26, 2021

In exploring things to do with oatmeal I have pretty well run through all of the contents of our cupboards and am casting about to find new thing to write about. I suppose I could search the world for strange and rare packets of herbs from overseas, but we’re still fighting that whole pandemic thing and travel is somewhat curtailed. What I’ve decided to do instead is run through different variants of Mrs. Dash’s salt-free seasonings. I plan to test them both with and without added salt (remember, this isn’t a health food blog).

I recognize that the salted version is pretty much always going to taste better than the unsalted — there was a study a couple of years ago of user ratings of FoodNetwork recipes, where they found that dishes made with bacon averaged half a star higher than the same dishes without — but what I want to see is how much better the salted is. Is the difference small enough to go non-salted for the sake of your blood pressure?

In order to minimize the number of variables, I’m using the same boxed chicken broth for all of these: Kitchen Basics Original Chicken Stock, made with chicken, vegetables, and McCormick’s otherwise unspecified herbs. It already has 440mg salt per cup. Let us begin at the origin.

Mrs. Dash’s Original, Salt Free

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes; replace the salt with a dash of the Dash. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end. Fat pinch of shred cheese at the bottom of the bowl with a fatpat of butter on top.

Results: Good, if you like it. Black peppery, with a hint of dried green pepper in the background. I was surprised at how good it was without added salt but it was not something I’d want too frequently.

Rating: *** three stars

Mrs. Dash’s Original, Salted

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes; two pinches of salt, one dash of the Dash. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end. Fat pinch of shred cheese at the bottom of the bowl with a fatpat of butter on top.

Results: As above, it’s good only if you like it, otherwise, much better but not great. Black peppery, with a hint of dried green pepper in the background. That small amount of salt really improved the flavor. I’d put up with it more frequently than the salt-free version.

Rating: *** Still only three stars, but slightly bigger stars.

Urasekai Picnic Part 3, Virtual Pilgrimage

March 25, 2021

Given that the pandemic has us all cowering under our beds, and most foreigners are banned from entering Japan right now — even being prohibited from attending the Olympics, it’s impossible for me to use Urasekai Picnic as an excuse for visiting Tokyo. That’s OK, through the wonder of Google Maps and the associated images, I’ve been able to put together a virtual tour of some of the locations mentioned that are on This Side. UPDATE: A much better tour (in Japanese) is available at Furaba’s Anime Pilgrmage site.

There are a number of locations mentioned in the anime, and more in the novel. Unfortunately, most of them are either train stations, or unlocatable locations. So, the gate that Sorawo found in Episode 1 was in a run-down shotengai west of the Oomiya station. Except that there isn’t one. There’s a large, modern mall-like complex immediately west, then nothing between there and the Arakawa river. UPDATE: However, the Ichibangai shopping street does indeed exist. It’s on the East side of Oomiya, and it’s not at all run down. Later, after picking Sorawo up at Saitama University, Toriko takes her to a gate based on an elevator in a building in the bookselling district of Jinbouchou, near Ochonomizu Station, and most of those are on the map.

After visiting Kozakura, in her large, unlocatable house near Shakujii Kouen Station, Toriko picks Sorawo up at the Shosen Grande bookstore, in Jimbouchou, and they use the elevator gate again.

If you want to break up with your accomplice, there’s no better way to do it than by going to a cafe in Ikebukuro

After the Kisaragi Station episode in the anime (and after the File 5 Rescue in the novel) The Girls end up in an unspecified hotel in Nara, Okinawa, and from there they catch a taxi for the beach. In the novel they ask for a quiet beach and the driver says “I’ll take you to Nezokobama in Nadabaru“. Unfortunately, neither of those places exist. Well, Google and Google Maps can’t find them (all I get are pages from the manga). This implies they were already in the In Between zone once they stepped into the taxi.

The two novel-based episodes featuring Seto Akari are also short on locations. Ninja Cats starts out in a real life cafe, and ends up under a bush in what might be Minami-Ikebukuro Park. UPDATE: It is. There’s a Racine’s Restaurant just off my screengrab. The Sannuki-san episode takes place at an auto repair shop a short bus ride from Minami-Yono Station.

The last episode is located mostly on Otherside, with the events on This Side happening at Kozakura’s house and at an unlocated yakiniku restaurant. Chekov’s Agricultural Vehicle finally makes an appearance.

 

Urasekai Picnic Part 2, Sorawo and Toriko

March 24, 2021

Urasekai Picnic is a story of romance and horror and adventure. It’s about Sorawo and how she met Toriko and about what happened after. Yesterday’s entry talked about the novel and the anime that tell the tale, and you should read that before you read this (and tomorrow’s is a virtual pilgirmage). Today, we’ll go into the characters of the two women themselves. This will include spoilers from all four novels released in English, including some events not covered in the anime.

UrasekaiGirls04Med

A quick summary, before we begin. Sorawo is a poor, introverted, low-self esteem, survivor of a cult that took her family. Toriko is a richer, more outgoing, better looking, foreign influenced daughter of a pair of what sound like strong assertive women. The difference between the two can be seen at their very first meeting, where Toriko rescues Sorawo and they fight the kunekune. At one point, Sorawo says, haltingly, thank you for saving me. Toriko, talking about the same experience, laughs and says ohh, wow, that was creepy, as if it were some sort of amusement park ride.

UrasekaiSorawoHeadSmallKamikoshi Sorawo, our POV character, is a badly damaged person with significant trust issues. After her mother died, (effectively abandoning her), her father and grandmother also abandoned her by joining a cult, one which put so much pressure on Sorawo herself (attempted kidnapping, setting fire to the Internet cafe she was staying at) that she took to hiding out in ruins and abandoned buildings. At one point, while hiding in an abandoned love hotel, her mind threw up a ‘red person’ who convinced her to take a can of kerosene back to her house and await the return of her relatives. Fortunately for her continued survival, her relatives had already died in an accident in the mountains. Left on her own with no inheritance, she enrolled in college (majoring in Cultural Anthropology and studying ghost stories and urban legends at Saitama University, which is why she knows so much about various Otherside phenomena) but found she hated people who, as she put it in one novel, weren’t actually interested in her but tried to get close by being overly friendly. As a result she’s in her second year, doesn’t know how to make small talk — when she talks in the anime she sounds like a sullen teenager — and has no friends. She feels the only people who will miss her if she dies are the college administrators who expect her to pay tuition and repay her large student loans. The primary draw of the Otherside is that there are no other people to have to interact with. Even Toriko calls her a misogynist misanthrope.

Another result is that she tends to initially classify anything out of her ordinary as a possible cult — Kozakura (and Migiwa-san from the novels), for example. On the plus side, the hard core of angry resolve she developed when fending off the psychological assaults and then escaping from that cult (I won’t be a victim any longer) served her well when she found herself having to escape from an Otherworld-linked cult in one of the novels, and which informed her efforts to deal both with strangers and her fears. At one point she says “maybe I should be angry all the time”.

Possibly because of her traumatic past, she appears to have no concept of love. She starts developing feelings for Toriko early on, but doesn’t realize it, nor what to do about it. In Episode1 she is taken aback by Toriko’s characterization of her as an accomplice, “the closest kind of relationship in the world”. NOTE: The phrase Toriko uses is kyouhan-sha (きょうはんしゃ), which the novels (and Nihongodict) translates as accomplice. The anime translation, partners in crime, is a totally different phrase. By Episode 9/File 7 she has so internalized the accomplice relationship that she violently rejects giving Akari that title. Victim will be good enough.

As early as Episode2 Sorawo is shocked to find that the Hasshaku-Sama monster was able to exploit an attachment to Toriko that she didn’t know existed.

A key revelation comes in Episode4/File4, when an interaction with an Otherside phenomenon in Tokyo dumps her and Kozakura into Otherside. She had come to ask for Kozakura’s help finding Toriko, who had gone over to Otherside on her own after the two of them had a fight. Kozakura refuses. She’s not as physically capable as Sorawo, and she is genetically prone to an extreme fear response. Suddenly, they are both on Otherside, with the diminutive Kozakura dressed in house-slippers, shorts, and a t-shirt. Instead of thinking about how to get this fragile and vulnerable person back home, Sorawo’s first thought is that now they can hunt for Toriko together.  Kozakura says “I thought you were a subculture maniac with no communication skills, but you were actually a psychopath with dependency issues?

Sorawo and Kozakura return to the elevator building and she starts to climb the ladder, but freezes in fear halfway up. She realizes the the reason she hadn’t been afraid before was because Toriko had been with her.

Even if you’re not here, I can do this by myself. So…so…Hurry up and come back, Toriko!

By Episode5/File3, she surprises herself by telling Toriko it’s OK to ask about her past (thinking I don’t mind if it’s you — a line more often associated with being seen naked).

Sorawo’s comments on Toriko’s beauty begin at their first meeting and continue throughout the books. At one point in the novels she comments that she’s always able to pick Toriko out of a crowd, since it’s like this light is shining onto a golden figure. Her inability to understand Toriko’s feelings is demonstrated by the follow-on comment that she’s not sure how Toriko likewise is always able to single her out, given that she’s so dull and normal looking. Maybe it’s her blue eye.


UrasekaiTorikoHeadSmallNishina Toriko, is a harder character to get a handle on, since we can’t see her inner thoughts. She’s bright and cheery with people she knows, but tends to be standoffish with strangers. Her backstory includes two mothers, Mom and Mama, but no mention of a father. She was born, and apparently spent most of her life, in Vancouver, Canada and has Canadian sensibilities (e.g. she immediately goes to first names with no honorifics).  Mama (and perhaps her father) was in JTF-2, a special operations unit within the Canadian military, while Mom stayed home, played housewife, and worried when Mama was on deployment. It was Mama who taught her how to shoot. Evidently, all are now deceased (with no indication of how), leaving Toriko just as alone as Sorawo.

Toriko met Uruma Satsuki while studying for her Japanese college  entrance exams (she never went to a Japanese HS, and we never learn why she came to Japan for college), and imprinted on her, both as a good teacher and as the person who introduced her to the Otherside. Early in the anime she says that Satsuki is the most important person in the world to her, causing accomplice Sorawo a certain amount of chagrin. Many of her planned expeditions to Otherside are to search for Satsuki, who disappeared three months before the start of our story. Even encountering evil Satsuki dopplegangers, like the one in her apartment in Episode4/File4, and finding evidence of Satsuki’s hostile actions (cat charm in Episode8/File7, flying bird trap in File8) does not seem to dampen her feelings. By the end of the anime, and of Volume 4 (File 15, the last one published in English) she has yet to confront the clash of her feelings for Satsuki vs Sorawo (although at the end of the anime she says that meeting Sorawo means she isn’t alone, despite Satsuki’s disappearance).

Toriko is somewhat impulsive, and the things she says can’t always be taken at face value. When she meets Sorawo, and lets her know she has an illegal weapon, she calls her an accomplice. She apparently sees the ‘closest relationship’ line as a throwaway at that point, despite its deep and lasting impact on Sorawo. There are a couple of times in the novel that she says ‘I love you’ to Sorawo, but Sorawo seems never sure it’s intended as a declaration, or if it’s just a passing exaggeration (“How am I supposed to respond when somebody that beautiful suddenly says things like that?“).

Toriko’s protective stance towards Sorawo surfaces in Episode2/File2 Hasshaku-sama, where she said she didn’t try to follow Abarato towards the apparition, even though she thought Satsuki was there, because she was worried about Sorawo “You seem so vulnerable, Sorawo. Like you’re going to go off somewhere.” Which causes Sorawo to think “I could say the same to you.

By Episode8 and Episode9 the anime producers are demonstrating Toriko’s deeper and more serious intentions by way of the chibi figures in the end cartoon. In the Ninja Cat episode she’s wearing a cat mask and interspersing her words with meows — “I-meow-Sorawo…” and “Marr-meow-me”. Sorawo, of course, doesn’t pick up on any of it, and asks if she’s asking for another beer.  At the end of the Episode 9/File 7 episode, side characters Akari and Natsune are in a big hug, doing the John/Marsha thing: “Akari”…”Natsune”, “Akari”… “Natsune” to each other. In the end cartoon, Toriko says “Akari/Natsune” a couple of times, and then says “Sorawo…(pause)”, “Sorawo…(pause)”, to which Sorawo replies “Do you want another beer?”

In Files11 and 12, not covered in the anime, Toriko rescues Sorawo from the Otherside cult and they explore the cult’s still-active facility at The Farm. Toriko is spending a lot of time close to Sorawo and is a lot more handsy than Sorawo is used to. She finally realizes that Toriko is acting like a protective boyfriend. Sorawo is not sure how to react to that.


The final half-episode is an anime original that essentially closes out the story and kills any hope of a sequel. Even here at the end, there’s no defining moment, no formal confession. Both of the girls are committed to the relationship and both are happy to no longer be alone. They wrap their AP-1 (タバコの管理作業) tobacco farming vehicle  in a blue tarp, park it under a tree, and head back to Kozakura’s house. Sorawo thinks I’m not alone anymore, and the ED says “Please don’t try to find us.

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Urasekai Picnic Part 1, the anime and the novels

March 23, 2021

Every four years or so there’s an anime that cries out for more than just a set of episode summaries. In 2013 it was Girls und Panzer, in 2017 it was the Saga of Tanya the Evil. In 2021, it’s Urasekai Picnic, also known as Otherside Picnic. This essay is the first of three that will look at the anime and the source novels, and the two women at the center of the story. The third essay will be a virtual pilgrimage to the various locales. I am concentrating mostly on the events covered in both the novels and the anime. There may be a fourth essay covering the events that only appeared in the novels.

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Sorawo and Toriko

The story is hard to deconstruct but easily summarized. Otherside is a different world/dimension, accessed through various gates between the worlds (a concept as old as Narnia, and as recent as Un Lon Dun).  Sorawo and Toriko are two college students who meet while exploring Otherside and who team up to continue their exploration and to search for Toriko’s missing tutor, Uruma Satsuki. Author Miyazawa Iori has strip mined Japanese folklore and urban legends to present a story that is a modern-urban-fantasy/horror/isekai/yuri/romance. It features a series of encounters between the two women and the phenomena of the Otherside, which increasingly appear (in the novels, at least) to be the attempts of something on the Otherside to communicate with our side.  The problem is, humans are so different that the only common link is fear. The encounters start off on Otherside, but gradually leak more and more onto our side of the divide.

Six novels have been published in Japan (as of March 17, 2021), but only four have been translated into English (and only those four were published early enough to influence the anime). Interestingly, I am told that neither the publisher nor the retailers consider the Hayakawa Bunko JA works as light novels, so works published under that imprint are regular novels and thus might not appear in light novel listings. This might also be why the quality of the writing is so good. The anime uses stories from the first three novels, covering eight of the fifteen chapters (and splitting two of those eight into two episodes).  Given that the last novel took a year from release in Japan to release in English, and given that it might take another half a year to produce an anime, I was hopeful that we might see a sequel sometime in late 2022. Unfortunately, the ending of Episode 12’s anime-partially-original pretty well killed that idea.

The story is somewhat slow-paced, nevermind the exciting individual episodes/chapters. This is not, as I’ve said elsewhere, a Matty Brown — Come here often? What’s your sign? And off they went to bed — kind of story. Unlike standard romances, where it’s obvious early on that the central couple will get together, with only plot twists to hold them apart for twelve or so episodes, it’s not clear at the start that Picnic will even be a romance. And in fact, the final chapter of Volume 4 is about as far from a romantic conclusion as it is possible to get, and still take place in a love hotel. What we have is a slow realization solidification Sorawo’s feelings for Toriko, with no a-ha! moment, no confessions. While we have Toriko saying things like “You know I love you” in a couple of places in the novels (but not in the anime), it’s very much in the Japanese tradition of the moon is very bright tonight approach to declaring one’s love.

Urasekai Picnic, the anime, follows the novels closely, except when it doesn’t. Of the twelve episodes, three are out of order from the novels, and two are anime originals, written by the author. Speculation is that they moved the episodes around so they’d have an exciting finish to the season. The Kisaragi story then takes up three and a half episodes, with the final half of the final episode an anime original used to give them some sort of ending.

Although they did move episodes around, within any given episode the presentation is faithful to the novel. The few exceptions appear to be attempts to address issues created by the out-of-sequence presentation. For example, in the books the Kisaragi Station events included the Hasshaku-sama Hat taking them to Otherside and the meat train taking them back to Tokyo. Later, in Kisaragi Rescue, Sorawo obtained a gun from the Marines (which she rarely uses), and The Girls found yet another (unspecified) gate, which brought them to the Real World in Okinawa, in time for the Beach Episode; they returned to the Real World from there, via The Hat, which is lost in the process. In the anime, the train took them to Okinawa with no Kisaragi Rescue and no new weapon for Sorawo. Yet she has one at the beach.  In addition, they still have The Hat in Episode 11, when they decide to rescue the Marines at Kisaragi, but it appears to be gone in Episode 12, when they look for a gate to return home.

Artistically, the anime is below par. There’s too many scans across stills and the characters are somewhat stiff. I wasn’t as bothered by the use of CG as some people were, but I noticed that the two insert episodes, 3 and 10 were overly dependent on that technology. I wonder if this was a deliberate attempt to cut the animation costs. LIDENFILMS has done some good work in the past (Blade of the Immortal, AIURA) and some stinkers (Berserk 2, Akashic Records) but their partner Felix Film has apparently only ever worked on  Nekopara. One wonders what KyoAni, or even J.C. Staff would have done with it.

In addition to general clunkiness, there are issues with the anime portrayal of the geography of Otherside. The novels consistently describe it as rolling grasslands, dotted with ruins, with the only major relief being mountains on the horizon. So, much like the Palouse country, only the inhabitants aren’t as weird. The anime has steep hills (with ponds and marsh on top), deep chasms (with rivers at the bottom), and a geometry that allows for a flat land atop steep hill encounter with a kunekune … within sprinting distance of the elevator building.

I wanted to like this anime. I really liked the novels, and I was hoping for something that would put a worthwhile face to the names. Alas, the low budget and (to me) unnecessary and inept shuffling of the episodes prevented something that could have been really great from being more than something that wasn’t all that bad. As a Southern girl might put it I didn’t say I can’t stand it, I said I can’t hardly stand it.

Other reviews of Urasekai Picnic may be found here:

Yuri Empire

Rory Muses

100 Word Anime

Angry Anime Bitches

Draggle

Conflagrate

K at the Movies

Anime Preview: Spring 2021

March 19, 2021

Unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base my decisions on what to watch on pretty much just the title and the cover art.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I dropped earlier (Black Arrow, Nanatsu no Taizai), movies and OVA’s (Fate/Grand Order, Godkushufudou), and anything with a decimal in the title (2.43, 3.0).

Second, I find this season to be remarkably thin. There are 39 full-length anime this season, and 9 of the top 18 are second seasons, extensions, or spin-offs.

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing (or I liked the first season), so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps

Princess Joran
Cute girl does cute things with umberella
Tokyo Revengers
Monks of the flooded temple
Shadows House
Trick or treaters beware

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is off-putting, but I might watch it.

Mashiro no Oto
OK what instruments haven’t we anime’d yet?
Bakuten
Free meets Skate-Leading but nobody gets wet
Eighty-Six
Discarded humans drive driverless drones and nobody gets hurt. Well, nobody worth mentioning

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

Thunderbolt Fantasy
Combining the worst aspects of stop action, CG, and manwha
Shaman King
A saga about people with weird hats and weirder hair
Gloomy
You are what you eat

NOTE: A few days before I started on this, WordPress changed their editing tools such that it’s impossible to both attach a caption and see all of it on the page. You have to mouseover the pic to see the full caption. One workaround is to put up a bunch of picture/caption singletons, but WP won’t let me resize the picture. Instead it goes full size (i.e. drapes over the page). Another workaround, seen here, is to put in a “gallery”, which does resize the pix but hides the captions, and then put the captions in a table below, and hope they line up reasonably well. Thanks, WP.

PastramiOats

March 18, 2021

We were out of bacon. MJ wanted to do braised scallops with bacon crumbles, but we were out. But we did have some deli-sliced pastrami, so she diced it up and fried it and crumbled it and it was very good atop the scallops. There were a couple of tablespoons of the pastrami crumbles left, so I decided to use them as topping on my oatmeal the next day. The trouble is, two tablespoons on top would do nothing to unbland the oatmeal underneath. Well, why not fling a slice of pastrami into the chicken broth while cooking the oatmeal? Yes, I know, I could boil a slice of pastrami in plain water for a bit to make authentic pastrami broth, but that was too much like work.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup chicken broth, one slice of pastrami, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, two tablespoons of fried and crumbled pastrami. No salt, because, you know, pastrami. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Remove the pastrami slice and add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Not great, but very good. A layer of cheese at the bottom helped. The boiled pastrami slice was pretty flavorless. Note: if you just throw in a whole pastrami slice, like I did, some of the oatmeal will want to migrate on top and not get cooked properly. Next time we have scallops with pastrami crumbles I’ll cut the pastrami into smaller strips. Or dice it and leave it in.

Rating: *** three stars

Green Thumb Up My Nose — Plans for 2021

March 15, 2021

Three-field rotation continues.
Section 1: squash
Section 2: carrots and lettuce and peas
Section 3: tomatoes
Section 4: corn, sweet potatoes — not in the rotation, special crops only.

I’m going to go a bit over the top on plants this year. Most of my old seeds seem to have passed their use-by dates. Not just from the packet labeling but because the germination rate is down around 10%. So I’m dumping the old stuff and buying all new. Plus seedlings, from two different nurseries.

Speaking of which, and given that I am now covid-safe, it looks like I’ll be able to get out and hit the nurseries early. Plus, I’ve bought a bunch of seeds to start now.  So far, my seeds include Delicata, Crookneck, Spaghetti and Zucchini squash; Burpee Brandywine Red and Early Pick Hybrid tomatoes, and Bush Cucumber. I’ll start putting them into their little pots sometime this week, and time it so I can plant them out in early May. That’s a month earlier than normal, but you know, climate change. Also have some Iceberg lettuce and some Baby Romain. I’ll be starting them in the indoor containers this weekend.

Have never been successful in growing corn — all kinds of critters get to the plants — but this year I bought a biggish greenhouse and will be growing corn inside it. A 6x8ft will fit on one section of the garden exactly. Amazon, $150. And since I now have a big greenhouse, I’m also going to try my hand at sweet potatoes.

Right now, the soil six inches down in the garden is at 45F, so it will be a while before anything actually gets planted.

Meanwhile, here’s an article on winter lettuce. If it can grow in central PA, it should grow here.

Garden Gantt 2021

PinquitOats 2

March 11, 2021

Just over three years ago I wrote an item on how to cook pinquito beans in a pressure cooker, and then went on with instructions for  using the water  as a a broth for oatmeal. This time I tried both beans and broth out of a can as an oatmeal extender. Specifically, S&W’s Heirloom Series Pinquito beans, sometimes available in Safeway Stores.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup chicken or beef broth, two sloppy dinner teaspoons of canned pinquito beans and their associated water. two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end. If you like, throw a fat pinch of shred cheese into your bowl before you dish out the oatmeal.

Results: Very good. Not quite as strong as the previous beanwater broth, but the pinquito flavor came through. An excellent way to use up a little bit of leftover beans, although how that could happen I’m not sure.

Rating: ***  three stars

Found on Web is Twelve

March 5, 2021

On this date in 2009, NASA was preparing to launch the Kepler space telescope, and I was preparing to launch this Found On Web blog. Twelve years later, Kepler is retired but the blog is still going.

Retired at ten

I’m going to take a quick look back on how the blog did in over the last year, but before I do that, I want to touch briefly on how this blog has kept going when so many other blogs and space telescopes have faded away — about 5 per month, according to a comment from Crow, and one per decade according to NASA. I think what keeps me going is that I don’t have as much invested in it as others do. That’s not to say I’m not serious about it. I seriously do this for fun, writing when I want about what I want. Some years it’s military, some years it’s politics. I maintain a strong running base of essays about gardening and oatmeal, and most years there’s a non-trivial amount of anime. But I don’t have a self-inflicted requirement to publish three or four times a week, or to follow every anime of the season, and I’m not trying to make any money off of it. As with Kepler, if you use it too much you can burn out your gyros.

In 2020 I published 158 essays (3 per week), bringing my grand, twelve year total to just over 1600, or 135 per year (2.6/week). In terms of topics, 35 of the 158 were on various aspects of Anime(~22%), 17 on Gardening and of course, 64 on the Pandemic.

These essays enticed just under 7,000 visitors, who clicked on just over 11,000 views. As usual, the high-scoring essay was Highschool Of The Dead, with 613 views, just over 1.6 per day. It just confirms my suspicions that what the fans really want is…service.

The essay is a serious analysis of cinematic themes in the genre, really!

Also up there was my Garden Gantt chart (364), a spreadsheet designed to help with scheduling that complex, multiphase project known as the backyard garden.

Gantt Chart Calendar

Two other essays of note, which demonstrate how a simple mention can skew public interest in a blog, were the book review on Tearmoon Empire (553), and the anime review of Flying Witch (344). What makes these interesting is not their topics, but the parts of their content that drove the views. Flying Witch included a short discussion of the Bechdel Test, and concluded that the anime passed the test with flying colors. The Tearmoon Empire review included an even shorter paragraph, sarcastically comparing the heroine’s trip from the Palace to a walk from the US White House to the Office of Personnel Management. Anyone Googling “WH tour” or “OPM” or similar was going to get directed here. I guess that counts as an odd form of clickbait.

Of course, the really high scoring entry was “Home Page/Archives”, with 2512 views. I’m still not at all sure how one gets to the Home Page without clicking on a direct link, and I can’t believe there’s that many direct links out there. Most of the other references BTW, were from search engines, but a goodly chunk were from Crow’s World of Anime. Thanks, Crow.

Pandemic Deaths

February 28, 2021

Just found this tweet from Dr. Jens Foell.

One year ago, on February 27th, 2020, Trump said that “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle…”

He did add some weasel words later, but that was the message.

As Dr Foell pointed out, a year has 525,600 minutes. As of today, there have been 525,776 deaths due to the pandemic. So, one death per minute, every minute, all year. Thanks, Donald.

The War Against the Covid

February 26, 2021

Just a brief note to supplement what I’ve said earlier. Let’s set the stage with a discussion of the concept of framing, the way one structures an argument, going in. The words used at the outset of a discussion will alter our entire picture of what we’re trying to decide. Are we reaching out to people who are in dire need of assistance, or are we creating additional and costly government programs? Are we promoting the growth of freedom in the world, or are we embarking on expensive foreign adventures? Which set of phrases you use will ultimately decide the question.

The frame that I use for dealing with the pandemic, is that we are in a war. The invader is attempting to take over our country, take over our culture, and substitute their own. If the virus wins, we will descend into a third world darkness, and become a nation of short-lived long haulers, broken into hostile camps of maskers/anti-maskers and vaxxers/anti-vaxxers, with small pockets in lockdown, struggling to survive; if we win, we will once again ascend into the sunlit uplands of indoor dining and unmasked rock shows. Once one thinks of the problem from this perspective, a lot of things become not only clear, but simple.

In a war, the central government decides on the overall strategy, on what forces are needed and on how they will be applied. In practical terms the government decides what equipment is needed, directs industry to make it, and pays them. The government enlists soldiers to do the fighting, using volunteers if they can, but forcibly via conscription if necessary. After which it tells them where to go and what to do,  and pays them. It’s no different with a pandemic.

So, at the outset, the President should have issued a proclamation:

Citizens, you are all conscripted into the war on Covid. Unless there are compelling circumstances, which we will define, your duty station is at home. Go there. Stay there. We will pay you to do this, just as if you were a front-line soldier, because that’s what you are. Essential  industries, we will tell you what we need, and how much and when. We will pay you for this. Non-essential industries, our directive to you is to shut your doors and not let anyone in. We will pay you for this.

Now, it’s a little late for this kind of proclamation. Four years of domination by Trump and his collection of quisling enablers have left us ill-prepared for the kind of national response that won WWII. It’s as if the French threw off Nazi rule in 1942, and set out to recover the rest of Europe, unaided.

Still and yet, this is something that is do-able and worth doing. The Biden recovery plan (recovery, not stimulus, get your framing right) is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough.  What about $1500/month for every unemployed adult who doesn’t look for work, and $5000/month for every small business that agrees to close until Fauci gives the all clear. What about selling a ‘mask-free’ license of $3000/month to everyone who doesn’t want to wear one, with a $10k fine for those who go maskless without a license, along with a $5k fine every time a business fails to enforce the ‘No shirt, no shoes, no mask’ mandate.

So, who’s gonna pay for all that? Howsabout we tax the survivors? You know, those who didn’t die, because we enforced the lockdown? So far, over half a million people in the US have died from Covid-19. Now, a lot of those were old and retired (like me), but most were not. How much tax could we have collected from those who were young, working, and alive? It’s too late to get money from the first half-million, but what about the next group?

Or, howsabout we borrow the money? You know, sell war bonds. But doesn’t that saddle our grandchildren with debt? Well, given that it would be nice to be alive to have grandchildren (and they’d likely thank us), I’ll just point out that the current U.S. Federal Funds Rate is 0.09 percent. That’s within rounding error of zero. Back in the day, we called that ‘free money’.  A ten dollar ‘Covid Survival Tax’, imposed starting a year from now, should cover the interest nicely.

But might some of this spending be un-needed and wasteful? You betcha. But we’re at war, damnit, and in a war you don’t ask penny pinching questions about winning it on the cheap.

The point is that, as aggressive as the Biden/Harris Administration is about fighting the pandemic, they still haven’t really changed their framing, or come over to a wartime mentality.

The Germans know how to do it.

Fauci Ouchi, Part 2

February 25, 2021

So twenty-four days after our first shot we masked up and headed out for our second one. Two things were different this time. It was a weekday, not a weekend, and it was snowing. Fortunately, the traffic was light and the snow was light, and the main roads were merely wet, so it was smooth sailing all the way from Cheney to Spokane. Unfortunately, Snoqualmie Pass, between Seattle and Spokane, was closed due to avalanches and things. That meant our vaccines were stuck in the snow. Which they told us when we arrived at the vax center.

On a large scale, one wonders why such a precious and time-urgent commodity wasn’t sent via air.

On a somewhat smaller scale, one wonders if they had to go car-to-car offering free vaxing for other stuck drivers? No, thanks, I already got my shot, over on Stevens Pass last week…

More personally, why couldn’t they have told us of this before we left home? They did send a text at exactly the time we got in the car, and were not using the phone.  When we got home we had an email saying the appointments were canceled and that they would reach out to us later. At least we got home early, and had time to watch Rachel Ray tell us about the joys of English muffinburgers.

A week later, MJ got a call from a friend, who said the system was open again for second shots. We hurried up and signed in and made our appointments, and as we finished, the system groaned to a halt. That’s OK. We were in, and so much for them reaching out.

.

.

So thirty-three days after our first shot we masked up and headed out for our second one. This time it worked. I must say, that the endpoint delivery organization at Deaconess was first class. Again, there was no line, and again there were helpful helpers helping people fill out their forms and get ready for the shots. Fifteen minutes door2shot, fifteen minutes precautionary wait time shot2door. We were home ten minutes ahead of our schedule, which meant MJ had time to hit the head and grab a bite before turning around and going to her dog training class.

They said the reaction to the second shot might be a bit stronger, and it was, but not a lot. Arm pain at the injection site (on my arm, not downtown), achy bones, mild headache, general malaise. Woke up shivering, despite the electric blanket. Finally got to sleep around 2AM. Woke up at 3:30AM, feeling much better.

Napped 8-10AM and woke up stuffed up. Ramen for lunch and then back to bed. I didn’t really need to go back to bed, but it was that, or taxes, so I slept another three hours. Still stuffy-headed and hurtful armed, but otherwise feeling pretty good (slight touch of the dire rear).

Two weeks from now, no more unicorns. No…that’s birth control pills. Two weeks from now I get my first professional haircut in a year, and our life goes back to something approximating normal. Except for the masks and the social distancing and such.

UPDATE: Two days after we got the shot, Deaconess texted us to say the shipment had made it through and that we should sign up for our second shot. It’s better to have friends than rely on the system.

Memories of My Youth: National Capital Astronomers

February 22, 2021

This week’s news about the Mars lander Perseverance, reminded me of my days as an active amateur astronomer, founding member and observer for the now-dormant IAPPP, active observer for AAVSO, and member of the National Capital Astronomers.

Washington, DC has a wide range of cultural resources, from great museums to lecture series to membership organizations. Some are better than others. The various museums on The Mall are world-class. The National Geographic lecture series are over-rated. The National Capital Astronomers is both world-class and under-rated. NCA, as their web page declares, supports research, lectures and presentations, publications, expeditions, tours, public interpretation, and education. I was a member, back in the 80’s, and it proved to be a marvelous experience.

My impression, based on no actual facts, is that the people running NCA were mostly retired DC area astronomers of one stripe or another. They all had friends in the astronomical community, which is to say NASA and places like the Naval Observatory (where they operated a small 6″ refractor telescope). They would invite their friends to come speak at the monthly meetings.

Their friends were people like the chief scientists and operations managers for the Voyager, and Mariner spacecraft and the Hubble telescope. That is to say, the people who designed and operated the spacecraft came to tell us how they did it. You know — the ones who sit at the front table during the NASA news conferences. If you need further examples of their clout, the meetings were held in the conference rooms of the National Air and Space Museum, which they opened up for us some hours after normal closing time. Once the terrorist threat became too high to allow parking underneath the building, we moved to the Department of Commerce, on Constitution Avenue, home of the original National Aquarium.

As the years went by, and the federal bureaucracy became more hostile to informal groups, the NCA moved their meetings further north, to Howard University campus in NW DC, at which point it became inconvenient for me to attend. Later still, they moved even further north, to their current location at the University of Maryland Observatory, in College Park. I’m a long ways away from DC, but I remember those days fondly.

The tales of two Seiyu

February 20, 2021

Winter 2021 gives us a chance to examine the range of performance required of Japanese voice actors in a single season. Hanamori Yumiri and Kayano Ai  are both lead actors in two different anime.

Hanamori and Kayano

Hanamori Yumiri plays Kamikoshi Sorawo in Urasekai Picnic, and also plays Lloyd in Last Dungeon.

Previously, she voiced Doumeki (in Eizouken), Fey (in Bookworm) and Souta Amaya (AIURA). Currently, she’s also playing Nadeshiko Kagamihara in Season 2 of Laid Back Camp, and Sango Suzumura in Tropical-Rouge Pretty Cure.

Kayano Ai, who voices Nishina Toriko in Urasekai Picnic, also plays the witch Azami Maria in Last Dungeon.

In addition, she’s voicing three other main characters this year: Takebe Saori (Garupan), Anya Dostoyevskaya (Aria) and Sylphiette (Jobless). Previously, listing just the characters I liked, she did Darkness (Konosuba), Mamako (Do you Love your Mom), Kasumigaoka Utaha (Saekano), and Takamiya Kasumi (Witch Craft Works). Competing with Hanamori (who played in AIURA in 2013), she voiced, and Aikaw Chiho (Yuyushiki) that year. She also played Chito (aka シェード , Shadow), the cat, as a supporting character in Flying Witch.

I picked these two anime because the two actresses have starring roles in both, so it’s possible to watch them side by side.

Urasekai Picnic AKA Otherside Picnic (Picnic) is a modern-urban-fantasy/horror/yuri-romance/isekai story of two college students exploring a different world, one that’s an extension of our own. There’s four adult women in the primary cast, and the main villain is Otherside itself, and the horrors there that might be trying to communicate with them via fear.

Suppose a Kid From the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town (Dungeon). is a straight up fantasy about an amazingly overpowered teenager and the women he attracts, including the witch Maria and, well, all the others. It’s a typical shonen harem anime, in that all the other males are in strictly supporting roles. Not only does Dungeon differ completely in subject matter from Picnic, but it’s also much more cartoon-like, in a Looney-Tunes fashion. Characters smash through walls, or leave a spiderweb of cracks when they smash into them, and they will sometimes stretch their limbs beyond human range or drop their jaws all the way to the floor when amazed.

Kayano plays two roughly similar characters. Toriko (Picnic) is bright, happy, optimistic and outgoing. Her family background is obscure, but it seems to be happy. The biggest downer in her life appears to be that her good friend Satsuki is missing on the Otherside.  Maria (Dungeon) is not quite as outgoing. She’s not only a witch and a business owner, but she’s also hiding her identity as the missing princess of the kingdom. Despite her greater maturity than Toriko, she often overreacts to Lloyd’s extreme powers, as expected of a harem member.

Hanamori, meanwhile, plays two quite different characters. Sorawo (Picnic) is a shy introvert. When she talks she sounds like a sullen teen-ager, but her sullenness is primarily defensive — her family background is depressing, and as a result she has trouble relating to people. Lloyd (Dungeon) is a young teen, who is not so much introverted as unassuming. He spends a lot of time apologizing for things that are not his fault, and like most anime heroes is oblivious to the female machinations going on around him.

It’s interesting to think of these two seiyu dashing from studio to studio — four per week for Hanamori and five for Kayano — constantly changing their mindset and vocal approach throughout the recording season. When going from Picnic to Dungeon, maybe they share a cab.

Moon Phase

February 18, 2021

Last January, NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day had a neat video showing all the phases of the Moon for all of 2021.

I want to talk about two specific phases, where the Moon is directly ahead of, or behind, the Earth in its orbit. The official names are First Quarter  and Last Quarter, but they are generally referred to as half-moons, because that’s what they look like in the sky.

When you look at a half moon you are looking at the sunrise/sunset line, or terminator. Yes, you can see the terminator if you look at a crescent moon, or a gibbous moon, but it’s only when you are directly over the sunrise line that you see that kind of a half moon.  In fact, when you look at the Moon at your local sunset (about 19:00 local in the Summer in the lower latitudes) you are standing on the sunset line of the Earth, also called the terminator. If you think about it,  the only way this can happen is if the Moon is directly behind the Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

Now, the Earth travels about 29.6km/sec in its orbit around the Sun (circumference of the orbit/seconds in a year). And the Moon, on average, is 382,500km from the Earth. So, the Earth covers the Earth-Moon distance in about 3.5hours.

That means that when you look at a Last Quarter Moon, at sunset, you are looking at the very spot in space that the Earth was at, 3.5 hours ago. In the morning, should you be up early enough to see a First Quarter Moon at local sunrise, you will be looking at the very spot in space where the Earth will be about the time you sit down for your pre-luncheon snack.

 

A Brave Acquittal

February 14, 2021

The real story behind the acquittal, the real headline, ought to be: Forty-three Republican Senators decided it was in their personal best interests if Trump was acquitted, and bravely voted against the evidence and the best interests of the country to make that happen.

I am constantly amazed at how the news media and analysts report on the actions of Republican politicians as if they were motivated by the principles they publicly espouse, as if those principles had any relationship to reality, and as if any deviation from those principles was just a momentary lapse, an aberration, soon to be corrected.

So, the GOP is (soi disant) the party of fiscal responsibility, but the press makes no attempt to highlight the inflationary impact of a big deficit caused by a Republican President’s tax cut for the rich. On the other hand, when we have a Democratic President and the GOP suddenly comes out against deficit spending (as expected), the press (less expected and less defensible) reports their “concerns” as if they were real, principled, positions.

The fact is, most politicians are lawyers, and while lawyers are not allowed to mis-state facts (unless they’re Trump’s lawyers), they are allowed to present different interpretations and argue to different conclusions. That’s what lawyers do. You don’t have to believe that someone is innocent to defend them in court, all you have to do is skillfully manipulate the argument so that your client wins acquittal. That’s the goal, and truth has nothing to do with it. Principles have nothing to do with it, except to the extent that they might put limits on the way one might act in court.

In the corner of lawyering known as politics, the goal is power, tempered by the fact that both sides have agreed to not only play by the published rules but (in the past) have tacitly agreed to the basic principles of fair play. Today’s GOP has given up on fair play in their search for power, and have adopted the lawyering concept that any argument that advances the cause is a good one — but that it only needs to be retained as long as it contributes to that advance.

For example, McConnell’s refusal to allow hearings for Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia because it was too close to a Presidential election, then turning around and allowing hearings for Amy Coney Barrett even closer to the next one has been vilified as failure to stick to his principles. It was no such thing. It was a naked power play. He prettied up his refusal on Garland with a specious argument about proximity to an election, but the fact is, his actions in both cases were driven by the concept of “because I can.” In the past, Democratic Senates allowed Republican-nominated justices, because they had principles and stuck to them. The current Republican Party has no principles beyond might makes right.

In the latest situation, many commenters are calling the Republican actions ‘cowardice’, because they were afraid of getting primaried, while other media and some politicians are saying that Trump got off on a ‘technicality‘, because many senators thought the trial was unconstitutional. So Senators McConnell and Grassley and Lankford and Portman all said they voted to acquit because they thought the trial was unconstitutional, despite the fact that the United States Senate, the only body with the power to make the decision, had already voted on that subject and decided that it was constitutional. The Senate vote provided political cover for those who wanted to vote to convict, but they didn’t want to vote to convict. So they came up with the ‘unconstitutional’ argument. This wasn’t cowardice. This was a display of naked power, covered by a rhetorical fig leaf.

 

Anime double feature: Isekai Shokudo / Isekai Izakaya

February 11, 2021

In the past few years there’s been perhaps a dozen food-oriented anime, from the full length, long running Food Wars, to the single-season short Wakakozake. Only two, however are devoted to food in other worlds — isekai tabemono, if you will. With this increment of Anime Double Feature, I’ll be looking at those two —  isekai shokudo and isekai izakaya. Let’s take that first one first.

Restaurant To Another World

異世界食堂

Isekai shokudo, which translates as Otherworld Restaurant (and no, I don’t know why the translators thought they needed the to), is a 2017 full-length anime, which started as a light novel series in 2015 and reappeared as a manga just as the anime aired. The fact that the manga and the LN were recently made available in the US means I can start off with a slight digression, comparing and contrasting the three different modes.

The Media

Looking at all three presentations highlights the different ways the three different media present the same information.

Light novel:
Reading is different. It engages different parts of the brain, essentially requiring that you decode marks on paper and use them to draw pictures in your mind. Books, therefore, are information dense, and since everything has to be described in words, any single passage can leave a lot of information out. In our case, some of it, but not all, appears in earlier or later paragraphs of the LN.

Light Novel

Of course, part of that is the fault of the Light Novel format. LN’s are not intended to be long, information-dense, documents. They don’t give you the minute character descriptions of a Charles Dickens, nor the convoluted lists of a Neal Stephenson.

Manga:
Manga mix art and reading. The information density is mostly in the artwork, which (for instance) gives us a better picture of the owner (which makes him look a little younger than one would assume from the description in the LN), and gives us a look at the chapter/episode protagonna (Sarah, named but not described in the LN).

Manga

Anime:
With color and sound and movement (and camera cuts), the anime gives one a much better feel for the restaurant and the people. The owner doesn’t appear quite as old as he sounds in the LN (less of a paunch), nor as handsome as he does in the manga, and Sarah is not as cartoony looking. Of course, for many of us, there is still a lot of reading involved, because we are dependent on subtitles. Those with a higher tolerance for the cartoon voices of the dubbing cast don’t have that problem.

The Story

The restaurant’s actual name is Nekoya, after the owner. It’s a small restaurant in a Tokyo business district, but once a week, on Saturday, it closes its Tokyo-facing door, and a magical door opens into a different world. There’s one door on the Tokyo side, and many doors on the isekai side. Towards the end we get the impression that the door was a magical item created by one of the great magicians of the isekai, who took refuge on Earth after the Demon Wars.

As is typical whenever Japanese food is introduced to a foreign culture/country/universe, the locals go wild over it (I still plan to write a story one day, where they think nigiri are bland and shoyu is too salty). Here, all the visitors come from the same world, even if they entered the door in different locations. So, we have an adventuratrix in a mine, a soldier in an abandoned cabin, a merchant in his storage room, an elf in an elven forest, etc. The only outsider is the dragon lady from their shattered moon. None of the guests can read Japanese, but they can all speak it as soon as they enter.

The episodes are pretty much cookie-cutter copies, with two meals highlighted per episode. So the sequence is: Local person comes across the door in an unexpected place; Local person goes through and finds themselves in the restaurant; Local person orders a dish off the menu (written in Eastern Continental); Local person describes meal in terms normally reserved for use by professional culinary reviewers giving a five star review. Unlike some of the other anime, we don’t get any real recipes, just partial lists of ingredients.

Later episodes branch out, a little, and we see interactions between the guests and learn some of their backstories. There is some crossover activity, as when the demon girl Aletta gets a job working for Sarah. Unlike Isekai Izakaya, however, there’s no significant outside plotline running.

Isekai Shokudo is pleasant enough, but not particularly memorable. The reasons for each meal choice can feel a little forced because the obvious goal is to come up with 24 different dishes. So, the elf can’t eat meat of any kind (tofu steak), and the perfect meal to give a gladiator strength is katsudon. Aletta doesn’t like potatoes until the Owner shows her how to steam them with butter, not taking into account that potatoes are all she eats on the six days of the week the restaurant isn’t opened, so she’s probably sick of them.  The LN in particular gets boring fairly fast because it’s not much more than a constant refrain of and then what did they eat? The manga and the anime at least have pictures to look at, which gives you an idea of what the characters and, more importantly, the food, looks like. The anime is not one you’d want to marathon, and by extension, the LN and the manga are better off when sampled, infrequently. The animation is low budget, but not as low as some. It’s best with calm indoor scenes, and breaks down when portraying action.  I did like the soundtrack.

 

Otherworld Bar “Nobu”

異世界居酒屋「のぶ」

Isekai Izakaya “Nobu” translates as Otherworld Bar “Nobu”, an izakaya being a small bar (similar to a Spanish tapas bar and typically consisting of one counter, with a few tables along the opposite wall), catering to salarymen on their way home in the late evening.  The franchise started as a LN in 2014, with a manga version appearing the next year. The anime aired in the US in the Spring of 2018. Unlike Shokudo, izakaya is a half-length program, running 15min per episode. Actually, there’s only about ten minutes of anime programming, because each episode ends with Nobu Plus, a five minute live action commentary by a chef, who cooks up the meal shown in the anime part.

The Story

Izakaya Nobu (after the owner) is a little bigger than average, with more tables and a somewhat wider range of bar food. Whereas Shokudo has a door that opens to many places and then disappears, Izakaya Nobu is a permanent establishment, with a back door opening to an alley in Kyoto, and a front door that opens into a back street in the isekai. It exists because the waitress prayed for the success of the business at the Inari shrine in Kyoto, and the goddess granted her wish by creating the link to the isekai.

Light Novel:

I have not been able to find the LN for sale in English, but there are a couple of on-line translations.

Amateur translations sound amateur

Manga:

I own a copy of the manga, but not in an e-format, so here’s another from on-line.

Anime:

For some reason Crunchyroll decided to leave a header bar up throughout each episode.

There are some parallels with Shokudo. People can’t read Japanese, but are able to speak it, or maybe the owner and the waitress can automagically speak isekaian. Unlike Shokudo, Nobu has a couple of actual plot arcs, despite its limited episode length. Many of the episodes are one-shot and food related but, for example, there’s a set that deal with attempts to force the sale of the restaurant.

What sets Nobu apart is the five minute live action trailer, that has a Japanese chef cooking dishes inspired by the program. So, for example, Episode 1 features a potato/daikon oden dish. In the trailer, Chef Kijima Ryuta puts his own spin on the leftovers, producing a mashed potato salad and a daikon ‘steak’ appetizer. It would be much better if it didn’t have Suzuko Mimori, the seiyu for waitress Shinobu doing a color commentary — Oh wow! … That looks great! … Very interesting!– over top of his presentation.

Looks good, chef!

Both of these programs are good in their own way, although both tend to overplay the ‘Japanese food is the best in the Universe’ trope.

 

Requiem for a Prof

February 9, 2021

Vance Cooney died last week. Cancer, not Covid. He was a good friend, a helpful colleague, and an excellent and popular teacher.

He and I were the first Assistant Professors to be hired to teach Management Information Systems at Eastern Washington University following the retirement of the entire MIS faculty at the College of Business in the summer of 1999. We walked in the door together that Fall, gazing at the empty halls and vacant podiums and saying  ‘I wonder what they did here’. The department responsible for accounting, statistics, and MIS gave us our textbooks and schedules and said ‘Good Luck — Do whatever it is you do’. So we redesigned the MIS program from the ground up. A decade later, when Health IT became big, Vance designed a new program, again, from the ground up, and made sure all the paperwork and plans were in order. Then, the University decided they could get more money with their own approach, and stole the whole idea. Vance never held a grudge, and in fact became a coordinator for the program.

Vance and I and a few others formed the MIS clique at the meetings, working to counterbalance the views of the accountants and managers. I like to think that we had an impact that lasted beyond our departures — him first, and me a couple of years later, both of us due to health considerations.

He was cheerful, helpful, energetic, and smart — way smarter than me, and way better at getting things done through the EWU and College of Business bureaucracy.

Once we were both retired we promised we’d get together for coffee or something, but we never did. Time just slipped away, and then, so did Vance.

I’ll miss him

Halfway through the Other Side

February 8, 2021

Here we are at the halfway point of Urasekai Picnic, six episodes in. This isn’t a review article, really, so I’m not going to go discuss the events and actions, much. Instead, I want to comment on some aspects of the anime that I found interesting.

First, and most obvious, is the relationship between the anime and the LN source content. These six episodes used up all the content of the first novel, plus an additional anime original (Ep3), written by the author. The LN chapters were switched around, with the Time, Space, Man chapter moved ahead of Station February (Kisaragi Eki).

Station February, the last chapter of Volume 1,  gets spread over two episodes (5 and 6) of the anime, and they both track the LN pretty well — and continue to demonstrate that this is a low-budget animation. The only major change is that the end of Ep6 has them waking up in a tropical setting (instead of the LN ending of having the train stop at a regular station in Tokyo), with the only reference to the train being a set of tracks scratched in the sand. Presumably we are now going to get Volume 2’s beach episode as Ep7, but don’t get your hopes up.

There’s really three intertwined themes in Picnic. First, and most superficial, is Cute Girls Doing Cute Things … in Otherside. Second, is figuring out what Otherside is all about. And third, of course, is Toriko and Sorawo coming to terms with their mutual feelings.

The anime (and the LNs), emphasized the Cute Girls aspect in the early parts of the story. Every other episode/chapter seems to have Toriko in a skirt and heels, hardly the best dress for exploring wild country. The story uses these early parts to establish the girls’ individual characters. Sorawo is a poor, introverted, low-self esteem, survivor of a cult that took her family. Toriko is a richer, more outgoing, better looking, foreign influenced daughter of a pair of what sound like strong assertive women.

As for the portrayal of The Otherside, a number of commenters have complained that some of the content is arbitrary — characters appear once and never again, events happen with no explanation. I think you’ll find that the arbitrariness is a feature, not a bug. Otherside is a nightmare world, and as such doesn’t always make sense, and things that look like they might be significant don’t always get a followup. As Sorawo said, if you try to figure out the logic behind what happens in a ghost story, you’ll go mad. At one point, Sorawo postulates that Otherside is trying to communicate with us via fear. Even having read ahead in the LNs, I’m not sure if that’s true or not, and I’m not sure I’d address it if I did, because <spoilers>.

My own personal issue with the anime portrayal of the LN is with the geography of Otherside itself. The LN consistently describes it as rolling grasslands, dotted with ruins, with mountains on the horizon. So, much like the Palouse country, only the inhabitants aren’t as weird. The anime has steep hills (with ponds and marsh on top), deep chasms (with rivers at the bottom), and a geometry that allows for a flat land hilltop encounter with a kunekune within sprinting distance of the elevator building.

Otherside has gained some publicity as a yuri story. It may well be, but the relationship between Sorawo and Toriko is developing slowly, as it often does in real life. This is not a “Come here often? …What’s your sign?… and off they went to bed…” kind of story. POV character Sorawo (after two years of college) seems never to have had a significant other, or a close, or even a casual friend, and doesn’t recognize the feelings she’s developing. Toriko seems fixated on Satsuki-san, perhaps in a kohai/sempai way. They both have occasional as long as we’re together moments, often brought about by the need for trusting collaboration. So Sorawo has to look and call, and Toriko has to grab and tear when the train comes through at the end of Episode 6. I’ll have more to say about that as we see things develop.

One final note. Toriko and Sorawo encounter a US Marine unit from Okinawa stranded on Otherside, and the anime makes a valiant effort to fill the roles with Japanese actors speaking English (with Japanese subtitles). It doesn’t really work. I am reminded of when we were living in England and watched a BBC costumed period program set in the mid 1860’s. A Confederate blockade runner comes into port, and the Southerners were portrayed by English actors attempting American Southern accents — it became our new standard for bad acting. Of course, American actors sound just as bad when attempting other accents. As far as I can tell, the only one to pull it off was James Marsters.

A strong argument for hiring American speaking voice actors

Biden’s War Plan

February 7, 2021

This is a wartime undertaking. — Joe Biden

When you’re budgeting for a war, you don’t decide how much to spend by estimating what it would take to fill the output gap; you estimate what it would take to win the war.Paul Krugman

A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week. — George Patton

We are fighting a war. Our enemy is the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is not a metaphor. This is not a “moral equivalent of…” situation. This is a war. The enemy is relentless. Its unthinking goal is world domination. It’s not smart, but it’s flexible, and uncaring of losses. Like the Terminator, It can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. The fact that it’s not organized, that it has no ideology, that it is not a state actor, makes no appreciable difference except that each of those facts takes away possible tools we might use to defeat it.

Our ability to fight this war has been hampered by a year’s worth of delay and denial, of obstruction of efforts and destruction of organizations dedicated to the fight by a government filled with quislings. Our political leadership — and let’s not put too fine a point on it, our Republican political leadership — primed by three years of effectively using lies and  propaganda in the pursuit of power at all costs, failed us at the start and at every step along the way. For an entire year.

Now that we are finally out of the starting blocks, with new leadership, comprised of people who understand the situation and what must be done to win this war, we find that the previous administration, the old guard, the ancien regime, has fallen back to its usual tactics of complaining about a lack of unity, of a threat of inflation, of debasement of the currency to attempt to limit the ability of the Biden administration to fight. As with almost everything they’ve said over the last four years, this is nothing but lies and propaganda. Let me hit on a couple of ideas that are not just wrong, but egregiously so.

Spending too much will cause inflation
This has been a common tactic of the conservatives (and, to our shame, some Democrats as well), to claim that government spending on poor people will result in runaway inflation, but that government spending on the rich will trickle-down to the poor. This isn’t true. It’s never been true. And even if it was true, it doesn’t matter. Forty years of inflationary spending, including on never-ending wars in the Middle East at the behest of government by tax and spend Democrats, and spend and spend Republicans, shows our inflation rate rarely went over 5%. Fifty years of evidence shows that trickle down doesn’t work. And none of this matters, because we know, absolutely know, a fool proof way to stop inflation dead in its tracks — raise interest rates. For most of the last ten years, the Federal Funds Rate has been close to zero, compared with 4-6% for the end of the last century. If inflation starts up, we raise rates, and bang, it stops. Are there side effects? Yes, but that’s a set of problems we can face if and when. Remember, we’re fighting a war.

If we pay people too much unemployment, they won’t want to go back to work
It’s how you win the war, dummy. We don’t want them to go back to work. We want them to stay home and do nothing, including not spreading the disease. If we are serious about beating this virus, the government should pay people whatever it takes to make them stay home. And the government should do this in the quickest, most expeditious way possible. Quick means direct deposit to everyone who filed a DD tax return, and checks in the mail for everyone else. Expeditious means not worrying about means testing, to find out who we think does or doesn’t deserve it. In war, there’s this thing called suppressive fire, where you pour a lot of shells into an area where the enemy might be, or might want to be. You don’t have a specific target, and you don’t mind wasting a lot of shells. Same way here. So what if a bunch of the checks go to the 1%, who absolutely don’t need them? They’re only one percent of the population, right? So what if they go to the  top ten or fifteen percent and we waste even more money? The urgent need is to get money into bank accounts, to provide suppression fire on all that pandemic-induced poverty. If we keep people from going broke, we’ll keep them from clamoring to open up businesses too early. And when the pandemic is defeated? Then we cut the money. And if we gave a lot of money to rich, or well-off people, well, maybe some of it will trickle down.

Anime I’m Watching, Winter 2021

February 6, 2021

Next thing, he’ll be telling us about a cup of coffee he’s having. What does he think this is? Twitter?

I just figure that if I’m gonna bad-mouth a bunch of anime (Hi, TLDR!), I might as well tell you about the good stuff as well.

Edutainment

Cells at Work: Operating Manual for Space Ship Me. AKA Season 2 of the original, plus a separate  series on the effects on your body of working for what the Japanese call a black company. If you ever had fantasies of tipping back champagne glasses filled with ALDH in the company of scantily clad Hepatocytes, this is the show for you.

Heaven’s Design Team: In the spirit of Cells, a subcontractor to Creation works on designing new animals based on typically fuzzy inputs from the Customer — someone at Asahi Production has obviously worked in software development. I’ve already learned many new and disgusting facts about Koalas.

Season 2

Log Horizon: [actually Season 3] Trapped in a video game. It shares the same studio (Deen) and director as Season 2, but it feels a bit off. The character designs have changed and it looks like they’re skimping on the animation budget. Nevertheless, it’s a lot better video game isekai than that one with the unbeatable hero in black.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Continuing adventures of Rimuru, the friendly slime. Same studio (8-bit) but a different director. Still, the story and the animation and the action continue in the tradition of the original.

They’re holding my interest, just

Mushoku Tensei: Middle-Aged Otaku is hit by truck-kun and isekai’s into a new world as a newborn infant with his 40-year-old memories intact. A lot of folk take issue with it because the MAO continues to act like one, despite being in a kid’s body. I think it’s refreshingly accurate, and probably worth a whole separate essay.

So I’m a Spider, So What: A mixed bag. Entire HS class gets killed in some sort of disaster (quake? gas leak? Third Impact?) and everyone isekai’s into new identities in a typical fantasy world, except that some of them end up as monsters, like the girl who reawakens as a spider. Fortunately, she’s a cute little pink and white spider, and her efforts to survive are even cuter. The rest of the class, not so much.

Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies moved to a starter town: Ridiculously overpowered hero — what others call monsters, he calls insects, and kills them with a forehead flick. The women, of course, all flock to him.  I am watching this primarily because the voice actors for the two protagonists are the same as in Otherside Picnic.

The only really good one

Otherside Picnic: Strip mining the Japanese urban legend tradition, we have two college women who stumble into a shadow world populated by monsters of the imagination. I got into this by way of the LN published on J-Novel, probably the best new JNLN of 2020. Not only are the books good, the anime is the one Winter ’21 program I really like. Having said that, it’s a little disappointing — Lindenfilms are skimping on the animation and the artwork, and I’m not yet sure I approve of some of their directorial decisions. I’ll have something more in depth at midseason.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2021

February 3, 2021

The Winter 2021 anime season has been disappointing. I started out following 14 programs, and now I’m down to seven, and of those, I’m only excited by one. Maybe anime isn’t coping with the  pandemic as well as we thought. Maybe I’m outgrowing anime. Maybe I’m just getting old How old are you? I’m older than Cher, alright? Shuddup.

Dropped like a flaming bag of poop

Redo of Healer: Possibly the worst anime concept I’ve seen, and that includes Gantz. Ero-torture male power trip disguised as revenge porn. Graphics are evil enough that they had to black-censor half the shots. But even if it all happened off-screen, it was still disgusting enough to be unwatchable.

Not Impressed

Kemono Jihen: Monsters amongst us fight monster of the week, with betrayed-by-authority Fire Force vibes.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki: Bland HS rom-com. Interesting Game of Life premise not interesting enough to make it interesting.

Horimiya: YABHSRC. Boy/Girl are attracted to each other, but they both have secrets they have to keep from their classmates — she has to babysit her sibling while Mom works, and he has tats.

The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter: OverPowered Hero attracts women the way velcro attracts dust-bunnies. OPH powers up through various ecchi shenanigans. I’m half a century too old for this.

They say it’s pretty good, but it’s not for me

Wonder Egg Priority: “When people leave your play talking about how good the scenery is, you’re in trouble.” Gatcha game, with eggs. Troubled teen of the week. This is why I don’t have kids.

Skate-Leading Stars: Two quotes from online reviewers capture this one. “…a shout until you win hero.” and “…takes the prize for the least amount of time spent by a sports anime on the sport it’s supposed to be about.”

 

Pandemic 60

January 24, 2021

What with Biden coming in and the vaccine ramping up, and me getting my first shot, I’m not sure this series does anything useful any more, and judging from the number of hits it’s gotten, pretty much everybody on the Interwebs agrees with me. So this will be the last of the Pandemic series, unless something untoward happens.

Quotes of the day

We should immediately be more aggressive about mask-wearing and social distancing because of the new virus variants. We should vaccinate people as rapidly as possible — which will require approving other Covid vaccines when the data justifies it.


People who have received both of their vaccine shots, and have waited until they take effect, will be able to do things that unvaccinated people cannot — like having meals together and hugging their grandchildren. But until the pandemic is defeated, all Americans should wear masks in public, help unvaccinated people stay safe and contribute to a shared national project of saving every possible life.


“We’re concerned [about B117],” Jay Butler, CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases, told STAT. “We want to sound the alarm and urge people to continue to do the things that we know work…Efforts to prepare the health care system for further surges in cases are warranted,”


A new, very large #SARSCoV2 household transmission study (27K households, 30K cases, 58K contacts):
—age ≥ 60 and infants most likely to get infected
—<age 20 most likely to infect others (1.6X)


The problem with vaccines is that most of them fail. That’s been true for the Covid19 vaccines too. We’re seeing a bunch of fairly successful ones showing up now, but over a hundred firms started this race and most of them disappeared. Even now, there are questions about how good a bunch of the vaccines actually are.

 

Meanwhile

UPDATE: NIOSH mask assessments.

UPDATE: Vaccine Summary.

Using language AI to predict viral escape mutations.

Surviving B117. Note: not the aircraft.

Two shots. You need them.

Do your neighbors want to get vaccinated? A map.

Lancet study on who gets it and who gives it.

Possible new treatment.

What the insurrection did for Congressional Covid.

Two Dose vs One Dose — the business managers guide

Mask up. It works, stupid.

Stuck @ Home?

Hashtag party.

Look up at the sky. Tell a story.

Just got my Fauci Ouchi

January 23, 2021

UPDATE: Weather delayed the second shot. I’ll have a new post when it happens.

Vaccinating 300 million people is a complex process, and governments and the media and people in general have underestimated exactly how difficult it is. The fact that an entire administration of trumpish incompetents ignored the problem for half a year didn’t help. Nonetheless, the process is gathering steam, to the point that vaccinating isn’t the problem, but vaccine supply is. This may cycle back and forth, the same way that balancing milk and cookies does.

So it’s with great satisfaction that I say that the system is now working, for me at least. Being old and canceric helped.

We signed up on line and got an early appointment. Drove in to Spokane, parked 20ft away from the entrance to the vaccination facility, and walked right in. There was no line. There were several helpful volunteers pointing us in the right direction and telling us to follow the blue dots, placed at socially distant…distances…on the floor.

Inside we found a medium sized conference room containing about twenty two-person tables, each with a chair at each end. Volunteers were wheeling mobile workstations around the room, signing people in and handing out information sheets. We sat at the first available table and filled out our sheets. A nice lady came around with an arm-basket filled with needles and vials (Moderna).

Quick alcohol rub, quick jab (no pain whatsoever), brief wait to see if we keeled over, and we were done. The part that took longest was the fifteen minute post-vaccination wait. We were home an hour after we left. I don’t think it’s possible to pick up a fresh baked baguette from Huckleberry’s that fast.

Even before taking our coats off, we logged into the PC and set up appointments for our second shot.  By mid-March I’ll be able to stop hiding under the bed.

We wanted to do something special to celebrate, so MJ drove down to Taco Bell and bought a party-pack of hard-shell tacos.

Memories of my youth: Kennedy Inauguration, 1961

January 20, 2021

Sixty years ago, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States. It was the first inauguration I was old enough to pay attention to, and we were glued to the TV in our home in Santa Maria, California.

It was of particular interest, because our local high school band, from nearby Lompoc, a school I had attended for a couple of years, had been chosen to march in the inaugural parade. One of the interesting things about it was the fact that ours was one of the few bands allowed to do maneuvers in front of the reviewing stand. They could do this, because they marched at a pace of 180 steps per minute, instead of the standard band 124.

Lompoc High School Marching Band

They performed well, despite the fact that a midwinter Noreaster, with 22mph winds and 28F temperatures dropped 8″ of snow on the capitol the night before.

I remember them marching briskly in, over the icy road, performing a quick set of maneuvers (that attracted Kennedy’s attention), and as the announcer said, setting off at almost a dead run, down the rest of the parade route.

Urasekai Picnic after three

January 18, 2021

Well, that was interesting. Originally, I thought we were going to get only one season of Picnic. Now, I’m not so sure.

UPDATE: I’m sure. No sequel. See my wrapup posts.

Looking at the TOCs for the four volumes of the LN in English, there’s a total of 15 chapters (‘files’), plus one more volume in Japanese (so maybe 19 published so far?). Episodes 1 and 2 each used a single ‘file’. Judging from the OP, they plan to use most of the first three volumes, so it was unclear if they planned to throw away/combine some files, or stretch the last eight or so fit a second season. Instead, it looks like we’re getting some anime originals.

Episode 1 was based on File 1 of Volume 1 of the (so far) five volume series — only four of which are available in English on J-Novel. That covered the meeting of Sorawo and Toriko and their defeat of the kunekune. Episode 2 use File 2, about their meeting with Abarato-san and the Otherside creature Hasshaku-sama. It also introduced Otherside researcher Kozakura.

Episode 3 is an anime original, with no relation to anything in the four English volumes. Unlike the first two (and next three) episodes, the screenplay was written by the light novel author, Miyazawa Iori. Does this mean they are going to generate enough new content for two seasons? Wakaranai. I note that the staircase monster in the OP doesn’t appear in the first four volumes, so there may be at least one more on the way.

The episode itself was somewhat bland, and felt a little bit like filler. Unlike the first two episodes, there was no interactions between the Otherside creatures and the human perceptions of them. These were just, well, creatures (who look to Sorawo’s right eye a little bit like bacteriophages), and their presence didn’t advance the story. In addition, there was lots of running and lots of exposition, and they spent far too much time on the mechanics of glitch-finding. We saw a little bit of character development, in that Sorowa is still dealing with her complex feelings about — too soon to say for — Toriko.

Going through a phage

Another thing I found when looking at the staff lists in the Wikipedia entry (and on the official website) is that Linden Films is using a different director for each episode. This could explain why Episode 3 looked so much different from Episodes 1 and 2.

Overall, the series captures the feel of the light novels very well. The music on the first two episodes fit the action. Episode 3, not so much. The character designs are well done, and I think they did a good job of making Kozakura look reasonably adult, instead of going with the standard anime approach of making someone that small also look exceedingly young.

The faces remain remarkably stiff, possibly because they lacked the budget to make them more expressive.

As expressive as they get

They also cut corners on the animation, reusing gestures

Watch that arm

Overall, I’m still liking this a lot — just, not as much as I had hoped. The LN is one of the best-written that I have come across, being one of the few that doesn’t read like some sort of fan-fiction. I hope the overall anime can live up to its origins.

Power Down

January 15, 2021

On Wednesday morning, early, we had a pretty impressive windstorm, here in the NENW. Sustained winds approaching 40mph, with gusts over 60. Spokane had tens of thousands without power, and Cheney had…Cheney without power. It went out about 6AM. Evidently a big tree had landed on a major substation, and given that there were a lot of other trees down, power didn’t get restored to the entire city until 2AM on Thursday. Mostly.

You see, they forgot about us. I think they came by a 11AM, fiddled around for a bit and called it done. We had power for about a minute. Then the dark returned. At 10PM I walked around the neighborhood, and everyone but us and the five houses around us had power. Since it was still out when I got up Thursday, I gave them a call. A crew came out and fiddled around some more and turned the power back on. Big spark, flame and smoke, from where some lines were crossed. Out again. Back again. Big spark from the stanchion where power went into our neighbor’s house. More fiddling and line replacement. Final power back about Noon.

I had downed the computers and UPS when the power went out, but the TV and the other electronics were at the mercy of the power surge gods. The only untoward effect was that a GFI circuit breaker for the outside lights got popped.

So, our power was out for almost thirty hours of a cold and windy winter. We spent all day in the dim light of a pale and watery sun, and then fifteen hours in the cold and the dark. Outside temps dropped below 30F, and inside temps drifted down towards 50F, colder upstairs than down. Fortunately, we have a gas fired fireplace, which provided a small circle of warmth but not much light. The fireplace isn’t suited for cooking except in extreme emergencies, so we ate a cold dinner, and warmed up with wine. We had charged our tablets and rechargers the night before (thank you NWS), and sat reading by the light of the fire. Kindof reminded me of Abe Lincoln’s boyhood. What with load balancing and recharges, our tablets and phones got through the day and the early night OK, although they were all down in the 30% range before the power came back on. MJ has a solar-powered recharger that helped.

There were interesting psychological side-effects. Sitting in the dark, watching the temperature drift down, not knowing when power would be back, was a bit of a strain. Even after sunrise the house was cold and dark, so we stayed huddled up with the dogs and read our reads. MJ played games on her tablets and handhelds. I worked my way through the four volumes of Urasekai Picnic, again, after finding that I was limited to things stored on my tablets because J-Novel required Internet access, as did most of my other reading sources. And when the power came back we stayed huddled up and reading, or catching up on the news on TV, not really interested in doing anything. It was only after a hot meal and a warm night’s sleep that we felt energized enough to rejoin the world.

Is this really how George Washington got his start?

 

Pandemic 59

January 12, 2021

Good news and bad news.

Quote of the day

Mixing different coronavirus vaccines without any data to suggest the safety and efficacy of the practice is “a huge gamble,” Dr. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto said. “I think it’s irresponsible … it’s unethical because we don’t know what that does,” he said. “We don’t know what the effectiveness is, we don’t know what the side effects are.”


Turns out that COVID-19 can affect the blood brain barrier too, potentially leading to problems like dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Other than that, and the cardiac and pulmonary damage, it’s exactly like the flu


On Biden’s proposal to distribute the full vaccine supply: the bottleneck now is not supply, but the “last mile” between getting the vaccine to distribution sites & injecting it into people’s arms. Speeding up this process should be the focus, or else vaccines will just sit in different freezers.

Meanwhile

I don’t care what the politicians say. Get both shots.

Tales of a Covid survivor. Not hospitalized. Not fun.

AstraZenica goes halfsies. What did they know and when did they know it?

Technical details of RNA Vaccines. Well written and understandable.

Good news: Scientists say if you had COVID-19, your immunity may last for years
Bad news: Scientists say if you had COVID-19, your immunity may last less than 90 days

Stuck @ Home?

Let your future self tell your past self about the pandemic. Three min vid. Part 1 of 4.

Listen to some Byzantine tales of horror.

Tomozaki plays The Game of Life

January 10, 2021

Back in the mid-80’s, there was a spoof in an April edition of, I think, Analog SF magazine. It was an announcement for a new game, a game called Life (not Conway’s, as one slowly realizes while reading the announcement, but real life). They talked about possible adventures on a water-world with multiple continents and thousands of cultures, and an expansion pack to extend the game to the planet’s airless moon “as soon as we straighten out some issues with a subcontractor”.

The takeaway line, which has stuck with me to this day, is this:

In Life, you set your own victory conditions.

You get to set those conditions, and you get to decide if you have won.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki is the anime embodiment of Life. Episode 1 establishes Tomozaki Fumiya as a low-prestige otaku loser, good only at computer games and really good at only one. He’s not bullied at school, but neither does he have any friends.

Meanwhile, the one person he respects is “NO NAME”, the nom du game of the player he has the hardest time beating. They decide to meet up IRL, and it turns out that “NO NAME” is actually Hinami Aoi, a high-prestige girl in his school. She showers him with contempt, particularly when he complains that he prefers computer games, because real life is a terrible game, with obscure rules and no chance to change characters. She repeats a line he used earlier: only bad players blame the game. She decides to take him in hand and show him how to play the game called Life.

I am attracted to this anime primarily because of the game of Life tie-in. It looks like it’s going to provide an example of how you apply the idea in the real world of Life. Other than that, it doesn’t have much to recommend it. The characters are pretty much walking anime tropes, although not as over-the-top as some. The animation is OK, given that so far the only action sequences are on the gaming screens. The motives and the logic are typical anime.

Overall, I’d say that if it weren’t for my interest in Life, I’d drop this one.

The Clown Car Coup

January 8, 2021

Sometimes history doesn’t repeat itself. Sometimes it picks up a stick and says “Weren’t you listening the first time?”

I usually avoid commenting on ongoing situations, because, being ongoing, they are likely to go on to places we don’t expect. I’m breaking that rule here, because the situation is fraught enough that I thought I should say something, even if it turns out to be based on incomplete information.

There are two interpretations of the events of the 6th of January, 2021. One is that a disorganized mob of white supremacist protestors, some armed, stormed the Capitol building, and were able to gain access because those responsible for security did not see them as a threat, not in the same way that peacefully protesting Black people are. QAnon is not a threat, BLM is. This interpretation blames the lack of security on the lack of imagination of those in power.

The other interpretation is that what we saw on Wednesday was a bona fide attempted coup, planned for months, and aided and abetted by those in power. There are those in the US who feel this way, and there are some security professionals in Europe who are characterizing it as such, in reports to their governments.

I’d say it was a typically Trumpian sort of half-assed coup, full of bluster and incompetence. Trump is an incompetent bully, incapable of conceiving and carrying through on any sort of a complex plan. His approach is to push the boundaries until superior force makes him stop. As President, he is constrained by many legal boundaries, but he also has a serious amount of push on his side. So, if he invites his followers to come to the Capitol on the 6th, and if he then incites them to attack the Capitol building at the time the electoral ballots are being counted, and if those followers get out of hand, well, it’s not his fault. He just leaned against the door and it opened, perhaps because the pro-white supremacist Capitol Police left it unlocked. Meanwhile, his recently appointed acting lackey in the Pentagon is slow-rolling and restricting a request for support from the DC National Guard (DC not being a state, it can’t just call them up, the way the governor of Virginia can) until directed by Vice President Pence. Note, by the way, that Pence is not in the chain of command, and can’t legally do this.

If the mob had been successful in disrupting the proceedings enough that certification was impossible, and if Trump’s allies in the Senate had worked some procedural sleight of hand that would allow him to claim victory, then Trump would have accepted this demonstration of the will of the people and stayed on as President. Of course, this was never going to happen. The clown car coup was doomed from the start.

And once the coup failed, as it always would (none of the posers, grifters, sycophants and yes men on his staff being competent enough to engineer an actual coup), then he can just disavow the violence, wash his hands, and say that the activities of the mob were nothing to do with him. Trump has always depended on plausible denial as a smokescreen, but this time it may not work.

Memories of My Youth: Radar satellites

January 5, 2021

Back in the day, I was originally trained as a photo-interpreter. That very phrase shows how long ago it was. Today, the term is imagery interpreter, since the skill set has expanded beyond photographic film, to include digital images, InfraRed images, and images collected using reflected radio frequency waves, AKA radar images.

Unlike visible and IR imagery, which generate their pictures from either an external point source (visible light from the Sun) or from radiant energy coming off the object itself (IR energy), radar images are created from energy created at (and reflected back to) the imaging location.

What most people think of when they say radar is a rotating dish atop a tower. In those systems the picture is created by an energy beam heading out from and returning to that dish. This is not suited to creation of a detailed image. What we use instead is what’s called a Synthetic Aperture Radar.  This is one where the energy goes out to the side of the line of flight and returns to an antenna that has since moved downtrack. When I was just starting out in the radar imagery business, all the imagery we had was from aircraft, like the SR-71 or, later, the JSTARS. Later still, radar satellites came on the scene.

Recently, CapellaSpace has unveiled a system that will provide the highest quality radar images commercially available — 50cm resolution. While they look like black and white photos, they are most definitely not such. For example:

The radar image on the right looks similar to the optical image on the left, but looks are deceiving. We see an airplane’s wing in optical wavelengths due to the light reflected off the surface. With radar, we see those areas that are most radar reflective. So it is likely that what we think is the leading edge of the wing is actually a reflection from a row of rivets a foot or so behind the front edge of the wing. Note also the bright spots on the radar image, like little stars. These are places where a three-dimensional corner collects the energy and squirts it back in a narrow beam — a radar corner reflector. From their positioning, I’d say they were power carts or tow-bars, but a corner reflector doesn’t have to be very large to show up brightly on an image.

Here’s a better example, of C-130 transport aircraft on the flightline. You can see that in this case the brightest returns are from an area near the trailing edge of the wings.The radar image is ultra-high resolution from an aircraft. While a military satellite might approach this, it will be a long time, if ever, before a commercial firm can collect and sell imagery like this.

Because of the way it generates the pictures, SAR images can be confusing to the uninitiated. Look at these images of downtown Tokyo and the Imperial Palace. The enlargement on the radar side shows buildings and rail lines in the vicinity of Tokyo Station (the smaller circle is slightly displaced). One commenter says the radar image shows how SAR can penetrate buildings and show what’s inside, and indeed, it looks like the buildings are transparent. They are not.

As CappellaSpace hastened to explain, a radar image is a portrayal of how the beam interacts with the objects on the ground, in particular, responding to how far away from the beam source the reflector is. So the top of a building, being closer to the satellite (and yes, at 50cm resolution, that shows up), is portrayed as being in a different place than the base. This is called the Layover Effect. The rail lines show up because they were illuminated by the radar, and then the computer constructed image of the top of the building lays over the image of the rails. No transparency here.

Other artifacts look like they are due to light falling on the object, but are really, again, due to the way the radar beam interacts with it. Take the Harwell Campus at Oxford, home of the Diamond Light Source synchrotron.

The optical view has a ring of sunglint peaking on the SE side of the building. If you look closely, you can see that it’s light reflecting off of the rectangular panels. The radar view shows something similar, but its on the Western side. Both are due to the position of the illuminating source.

Satellite-based SAR is a marvellous tool for the Intelligence analyst. No, it can’t see through buildings, but it can see through clouds, and it can collect the same quality images at night that it does in daylight. In addition, because human creations have many radar-concentrating right-angles, and usually contain large amounts of radar-reflective metal, they are easy to pick out from the rough background noise found in a natural scene. That means we can monitor activity at high-latitude Russian bases through the long Arctic night, or track North Korean troop movements during the cloudy days of the Summer Monsoon. In addition, because we are talking satellites, we can see activity pretty much anywhere, just not any time.  Roughly (the details depend on the exact orbit and the exact location on Earth), if the satellite passed directly overhead now, it will be back in 90 minutes or so, only 15 degrees further on (because the Earth has rotated underneath the orbit track). Which means it will be looking at the site at an angle. And then 90 minutes later it might get one final look, from low on the horizon, after which we have to wait until the orbit precesses back around.

Otherside Picnic, Episode 1

January 4, 2021

Just finished watching the first episode of Urasekai Picnic on Funimation. I don’t do weekly reviews, but I thought I’d put up a first impressions post.

I was attracted to the anime because I’ve purchased and read the four volumes of the light novel that are out in English. It’s one of the better LNs out there. Unlike most of that media (which usually read like lightly edited fan fiction), it is well written and well structured, with good characters, who develop as time goes on. In addition, it’s about adults, not high school kids acting like adults. Yes, they are college students, but in Japan, if you are an adult who is not in school, then you are slaving away twelve hours a day as an office worker, with no time for adventures.

Character differences

My main concern at the start was whether or not the anime would maintain the integrity of the original. Overall, I’d say it did. Dark-haired Sorawo comes across as a reserved, but not reclusive, college student who finds herself involved with blonde, vivacious Toriko, also a college student, but one who searches the Otherside for artefacts and for her friend. At one point, Sorawo says, haltingly, thank you for saving me. Toriko, talking about the same experience, laughs and says oh, wow, that was creepy, as if it were some sort of amusement park ride. I note that anime Sorawo sometimes shows a fang tooth, generally assigned to a mischievous or trickster character.

The picture of Otherside is close to the images in my mind (although it feels smaller than in my imagination), and the kunekune monster is close, but more dynamic…more, er…, animated.

Judging from elements of the OP, Season 1 is going to use up the first two volumes of the series, which means it really needs a second series if it wants to reach a suitable conclusion.

Pandemic 58

January 1, 2021

Happy New Year — for some suitably low value of ‘happy’.

Quote of the day

[The US may not have been aware of the new strain of Covid because]…the U.S. doesn’t sequence coronavirus samples frequently and the sequencing that does get done often happens in private labs, meaning that the government doesn’t really trace viral genomes. “In the U.K., they’re sequencing about 10 percent of all the samples, here we’re doing a fraction of 1 percent,” Gottlieb said during his appearance on Face the Nation. “We probably need a better approach…”


Comment on a Reuters report that a California nurse tested positive over a week after receiving Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine: To achieve 95% effectiveness, you need to wait 10-14 days after the *second* dose. This was less time than that after the *first* dose. And 95% is not 100% anyway.

 

Meanwhile

Reverse engineering Pfizer. You can actually print it on your home DNA printer.  Long, but surprisingly readable (the article, not the DNA printout).

Peer reviewing Moderna. Looks good.

Vaccination rant. We knew it was coming, but the government President didn’t act.

And here’s how they do it in Florida. First come first served for 20% of the population. I suppose that’s better than piling them all in a football stadium.

Not so fast with the Remdesivir. There are side effects. Also known as ‘effects’.

AstraZenica. Speed, Quality, Price. Pick two.

Roughly 3 million vaccinations in 2020. Only about 17 million short of the goal.

 

Stuck @ Home?

Draw some roads.

2020 Anime Year In Review

December 31, 2020

Oh, all right. Here’s my summation of 2020: I spent a year locked in a room with my TV, and only watched thirteen fourteen anime.

I know everybody does these, but I rarely read other people’s annual anime roundup’s, roundsup, summaries. In spite of that I decided to do one of my own, not because I think others will read and enjoy it, but because I will enjoy writing it. Feel free to read it. If you enjoy it, that’s not my fault.

As I said, I only watched 13 14 current-year anime all the way through in 2020. Most of them were low-end snoozers that wouldn’t have made it in a more fruitful year. Having watched that low a number means I can’t do a traditional top ten, because that would be not much different from what I watched. Making do with what we have, here’s my top three four.

Looking at this list I guess the main theme of all of them is determination. All of the women (and it’s all women) have specific goals and work hard to meet them. NOTE: because I was in the middle of a rewatch, AniList didn’t highlight Eizouken, and I forgot it was 2020 and not 2019. So I’ve added in where it belongs — at the top.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken

Easily the best anime of the year. Eizouken is about three determined high school girls working to produce an anime. You might think of it as Episode 0 of Shirobako. They have the usual problems of a HS club vs the Student Council, but they persevere, and end up producing not one, but three anime products.

Each of the girls has their own distinct character, and each of them gets their own character development spotlight. My favorite, and the one who unexpectedly carries the story, is the mercenary-seeming producer, Kanamori Sayaka.

If it were not for Villainess, this would also capture the best OP category.

My Next Life as a Villainess

Young aristocrat Katarina Claes gets hit on the head and suddenly realizes she’s been reincarnated as the villainess in an isekai based on a Japanese dating game, one that she played in a previous life. She’s not very bright but she’s laser-focused on one goal — avoiding the various dooms the game holds out for her. She reaches her goal by charming all the characters the game set up as enemies, both male and female.

I liked her character, and her determination. And it wasn’t just her. In fact all the women in the show far outshone the cookie-cutter men.  Mary is a full up yuri, and worries that her fiance has been charmed by Katarina, not because that makes him unfaithful, but because that makes him a rival. Sophia is the reincarnation of Acchan, Katarina’s otaku friend in that prior life, but mostly without her memories. Anne is the dedicated maid, and Maria is the original main heroine of the game, who ends up in love with Katarina instead of with any of the intended love interests.

In addition, I found what I take to be the Buddhist elements in the show to be unexpectedly interesting. As is usual in this kind of anime, Katarina is reincarnated, and remembers her previous life.  Less usual is her brief return to Earth while in a coma in Ep 11. There, she speeds off to school on her bike while eating a cucumber, possibly a Bon Festival reference. Meanwhile, the spirit of Acchan inspires Sophie to help her wake from the coma. The next to last cut of the OP shows Katarina and Acchan standing on the beach, hand in hand, ready to cycle through future reincarnations together.

Speaking of music, the OP is my favorite of the year.

Ascendance of a Bookworm

This is Season 2 of an ongoing series. Previously, a young Japanese woman — avid bibliophile — died in an earthquake and was reincarnated in the sickly body of a young child in an isekai where books are rare. The anime documents her efforts to bring books to this culture. Season 2 deals with her adventures inside The Church, the only element of society with large numbers of books.

Once again, this is a story of determination in the face of obstacles — cultural, bureaucratic, and technical. If she wants books, she has to invent paper, and printing, and ink; she has to teach people to read; she has to do all this within the constraints of the church and society.

Many multi-season anime feel as if every season after the first is a bolted-on effort to exploit an unexpectedly successful franchise. Bookworm feels like it was completely structured before the author started the first light novel.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle

Princess Syalis is kidnapped by the Demon King and brought to his castle as a hostage. This doesn’t bother her much, because it gives her time to indulge in her favorite pastime — sleeping.

That’s it. A one-joke anime about her determined (there’s that word again) efforts to achieve a world-class nap. Every episode has her trashing some part of the castle, looking for a softer pillow, or warmer blanket. Surprisingly, it works.

It’s not the greatest anime in the world (although AniList says it has an average score of 79%), but it appears to be one of the best of 2020.

This limited selection wasn’t for lack of trying. I watched, and dropped, an additional 40 shows. Many were better than the bottom of my watchedlist, but they just didn’t hold my interest. It’s not them. It’s me. The shows I dropped ranged from Somali and the Forest Spirit (too twee) to — OK, it’s them — Nekopara (target demographic is people who like underage furries).

So what did I watch? I rewatched my perennial favorites: Kotobuki, Garupan, Eizouken, Abyss. Bits and pieces of Log Horizon, Flying Witch, Kanon, and Big Windup. I also made unsuccessful attempts to like past programs that everyone else has liked, so (parts of) Toradora, Re:Creators,  Blast of Tempest.

And, of course, the first season of Buffy, which isn’t anime, but which deserves mention in any list of things to watch during a lockdown.

Oats for the goose

December 31, 2020

This year, for the first time in a very long time, we had a Christmas goose, which produced a surfeit of giblets and bones. Well, one quart of giblet broth, and four quarts of bones-and-scraps broth. I tried a number of variations on the theme and thought I’d combine them here.

General Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup goose broth of some kind, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Experiment 1: I wasn’t sure how powerful the goose flavor would be, so I went with half goose giblet broth, half chicken broth.

Results: OK. Should have gone full goose. Did not add any herbs, but I think some rosemary or poultry seasoning would have helped.

Rating: *** Three stars

Experiment 2: Full cup of giblet broth, generous sprinkle of poultry seasoning and onion powder.

Results: Very good. Tastes almost like my grandmother’s turkey dressing.

Rating: *** Three stars

Experiment 3: Full cup of goose meat broth, generous sprinkle of poultry seasoning and onion powder.

Results: Very good. Needed salt.

Rating: *** Three stars

Experiment 4: Full cup of goose meat broth, generous sprinkle of rosemary and garlic. Added additional salt beforehand.

Results: Very good.

Rating: *** Three stars

Comments: Turns out, goose broth seems somewhat milder than turkey. Both the poultry seasoning and the rosemary versions were very low-key compared with more traditional broths.

Wonderella in Nashville

December 29, 2020

For the last five years, superhero Wonderella has been pushing her Some Asshole initiative. Here’s her explanation:

Meanwhile, in Nashville, some asshole is looking for immortal fame.

Memories of my youth: Christmas Goose

December 25, 2020

We’re having a Christmas goose this year. We got into the habit half a century ago when we were living in England. One reason was that British turkeys were not very good. You see, they fed them fishmeal, and it came through in the meat. The base commissary at RAF Lakenheath, next door to RAF Mildenhall, had turkeys shipped in from the US, but it was a bit of a hassle to drive over there. Besides, what could be more English than a Christmas goose?

In those days, before the advent of supermarkets, your average East Anglia village had all sorts of specialty shops — greengrocers, butchers, ironmongers — along with small convenience stores that would be called bodegas, except that they were run by Indians and weren’t in New York. The butcher’s was a small shop, with a display counter up front and room behind the counter for hanging hams and poultry.

Number 10 The High Street, Mildenhall

Some of the birds, the kind we bought, had been plucked and cleaned. Others were mostly whole. One man came in for his order, and left carrying the goose draped over his shoulder by the neck.

We kept the tradition for years after we came back to the US, but drifted away as the availability of frozen goose dropped and the price increased. Now days, our local Safeway only has them for a couple of weeks in November, and they cost around $80 for a 15 pound bird. I understand that popularity has dropped off, even in England.

Another English tradition we adopted was making mincemeat pie, using real minced meat. But that’s a story for another Christmas.

Pandemic 57

December 24, 2020

Mostly research links this time, but Merry Christmas anyway.

Quote of the day

Are you proud to be an American, where at least you died mask free?
And I won’t forget the men who lied, and gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
But I’m on a respirator, and I got no way to pay


No one, especially children who are in the peak of their social and mental development, is meant to sit in a room for a month. I would not be surprised if in a few months or years, we swapped the COVID-19 pandemic for a mental health one without being creative about ways to think upstream and prevent this. When we emerge from the pandemic, it will be crucial to offer support, such as providing free or affordable counselling, training more physicians in mental health and teaching children coping strategies in schools.


What if instead of a vaccine we just were able to get exposed to a weak version of the virus that enabled us to build the antibodies we need to fight the real thing?


Meanwhile

Fauci’s Warning and R0. We may need 90% vaxing to get to herd immunity.

Super spreaders….viroids gonna find me. Like they always do. But I won’t feel blue. ‘Cause somewhere in this crowd is you.

Spit works.

Black churches. You have to trust the messenger.

People are actually pretty smart. Except of course for Idaho. And Florida.

Quarantine your ferret.

Mask and maintain your distance.

Non-pharmaceutical modelling. Is it better to quarantine before limiting class size, or to close businesses after social distancing?

Mood rings.

The new strain.

Risk Alert Levels. And what to do with them.

NEJM on prior infections. TLDR: protects for about six months.

Stuck @ Home?

Watch some African wildlife. Difficulty — when it’s daytime here, it’s nighttime there.

Learn about exponential growth.

Listen to a forest. Most are pretty quiet, so jump to the next one.

The Gods Aren’t All That Graceful

December 22, 2020

By the Grace of the Gods (kamihiro) is a light novel -> anime isekai of the form “and now how does he use his special powers?” It’s a bog-standard example of the genre, with nothing particular in the way of redeeming features, not even the usual harem/fanservice elements. The high concept is:

Middle-aged salaryman dies of overwork and is reincarnated by a production-companysworth of Gods into a magic-using world where he spends three years living in a cave and learning to use his overwhelming magical powers to control slimes before meeting and befriending the local Duke and his Daughter, after which he moves to town and becomes a successful local businessman and sometime adventurer.

That’s it. Slice-of-Life, with slimes. He and the Daughter are both the same apparent age, 11 years old, and subject to the same tweener embarrassment when confronted with the opposite sex. Almost makes you forget that, mentally, he’s forty-something, and should be looking at her more like a daughter.

Slimes are a standard monster class in many RPG’s, and kamihiro is one of a handful of anime looking at them from a new perspective. Instead of using slimes as a weak opponent, suitable only for levelling up, Our Hero can train them up to do just about anything he wants — heal wounds, wash clothes, purify sewage, extract minerals from ore, etc. If the gods let him live long enough, he should eventually be able to use slimes to extract uranium from ore and concentrate it to a level that would let him build nuclear weapons. Instead, he uses the laundry slimes to start a dry-cleaning business. Well, baby steps.

Since it’s a Slice-of-Life show, not much happens. At the end, the Duke’s Daughter gets on a carriage to head off to boarding school and a three year separation. The final shot shows Our Hero heading back to the dry cleaners, and the Duke’s Daughter risking a tooth by playing her flute while the carriage bumps away over the local roads.

The show features cardboard characters at a draw this anime boy level of artistic design. The artwork is workmanlike, and the animation is not overly …. animated. It’s not a bad anime (AniList score is 67%), it’s just not very good. I had read the LN on J-Novel (hey, I got to get my moneys-worth for the subscription somehow, right?) and wanted to see how the anime handled the story. There are nine volumes of the LN released in Japan, of which six have reached the US. The anime extracts events from roughly four of them, so there’s enough content for at least one more season. Based on the fact that no-one has mentioned a second season, I’d say that we’ve seen the end with this one, which is OK by me.

Christmas Cantata

December 20, 2020

My wife works as the Music Director of the Cheney United Methodist Church, here in Cheney. The fact that they are maintaining horizon-level social distancing hasn’t kept them from doing virtual worship services, nor from doing a full-up virtual Christmas Cantata this year, with socially distanced handbells and Zoom’d choir.