Anime trails manga

June 25, 2019

My Japanese students always said that manga was more important than anime in Japan. On my first visit to Japan, seven years ago, I found that was true. Now, I have some data to back that up. In 2017, home video and streaming anime sales totaled about $1.2 Billion. That same year, manga sales totaled just under $3.9 Billion. Given that a manga costs $5 or $6, while anime prices seem to average about $40 or $50 per title (with a very wide variance), that means a lot more manga items are being sold.

In both cases, sales of physical media dropped from the previous year. Call me old fashioned, but I’d rather have something that can’t be take away from me at a publisher’s whim.

Accounting for Trump

June 24, 2019

In accounting, goodwill is the value of a company over and above the value of its tangible assets. In 2015, for example, Amazon was valued at $67B. When you subtract its cash and inventories and debts and property, etc., you end up with $3.7B not accounted for. That’s the value of the brand, if you will, an expression of the trust that investors have that Amazon will remain a high-value on-going business.

Businesses can lose goodwill because of accidents or lawsuits or industry changes. Sometimes they feel they have to use up their goodwill to stay in business. In the late 1950’s, Martin Greenberg, of Gnome Press, was infamous for not paying authors, and for using paper and ink of such low quality that it jammed the printers. He was trading the initial social goodwill of early SF fans and authors, which translated into the accounting concept, in order to run his business. In essence, Greenberg used the company’s goodwill as just another pot of money. Ultimately, Gnome Press went out of business, in part because so few wanted to do business with it. In the end, they had little in the way of tangible assets and no goodwill.

What does this have to do with politics? The US has spent the 70 years since the end of WWII building up its goodwill. Not the social term, whereby Iraqis who are building bombs to attack US troops will still ask about a resident visa (because they love us for our freedoms), but the accounting concept, the value of the brand, if you will.

For over half a century, the US has been known as a staunch ally, as a preserver of the status quo, as a country that, when it counts, keeps the promises it makes and stands by the agreements it signs. We may be the big gorilla in the room during negotiations, but we are predictable, and stable. This slow, patient, buildup has resulted in an enormous fund of (accounting) goodwill. It’s not that people like us, it’s that they trust us to be predictable. Yes, Kissenger sold Nixon to the Vietnamese as an unpredictable madman, but that was a wartime tactic.

President Trump is throwing that all away, burning through our international standing like Gnome Press through author’s royalties. He has reneged on agreement after agreement, destroying trust in our word. He has threatened draconian reprisals on countries that don’t acquiesce to our demands to alter existing agreements (Pray I don’t alter them further).

The problem is, the actions he has taken are irrevocable. Not that a future President couldn’t attempt to go back to the status quo ante, but that there will be no longer be any trust that the status quo, any status quo, will hold. If I can’t be sure that a future  American President, or her successor, will act in good faith on an agreement, I’ll have every incentive to make an agreement with someone else, or demand a higher payment for agreement from my side.

That’s what we’ve lost, and what we stand to lose.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 23, 2019

Garden Report for 190624

Weather continues its roller-coaster ride. Hot at the beginning of the period, and now forecasting highs in the middle 70s with lows around 50. Typical NENW springtime. We’ve been known to have frost in early July.

Nothing of import happened last week, but this week was Litha and the Midsummer festivities. Here’s what the gardens look like right now. The tomatoes are doing well all over, as are the weeds ground cover plants. Click to embiggen.

Things continued to grow. This week we got our first pea harvest and planted a new batch. Due out the end of August. The Bok Choy in Section 3 has finally raised its head above the …surroundings.

The lettuce in the hanging planter is doing well. The tomato plant is big enough I moved the underchard over to the south railing. Planted a container of radishes for MJ, and another container of lettuce.

Tanker War

June 21, 2019

One reason I’m reluctant to comment on breaking news is that in this day and age it’s likely to be incomplete, twisted, and wrong.

Area of the action

Here’s a timeline of what we know, so far. Last week, two tankers (neither one with any links to the US) were attacked while transiting the Sea of Oman after having departed Saudi ports en route to ports in Asia. Given the deservedly low regard that the US government and its Intelligence Community is held in these days, the first reactions were extreme suspicion, some of it coming from conservative elements that one would expect might support it.

Later pictures and video showed what was identified as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boat removing what was reported as an unexploded limpet mine from the side of one of them. On Monday, additional imagery and analysis were released.

The consensus of the US media is that Iranian forces really were involved, but questions remain as to who in Iran really did it, and what their objectives were.

First of all, we note that all of the damage to the ships was well above the waterline. Like earlier attacks on tankers in port in Saudi, these attacks were not intended to sink the ships, in fact, unlike the earlier attacks, these were evidently not even intended to cripple them — the holes were nowhere near the propellers or rudders (and the fire on board the Altair seems to have broken out some hours after the attack, possibly due to poor damage control). The US claims that the mines used on the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous were of Iranian manufacture, but in fact, we don’t have enough material from the mines to be sure — one was blown up, and one was removed.

Limpet Mine

Second, one of the ships is Japanese-owned, and Japanese Prime Minister Abe was in Tehran at the time. Japan has refused to take sides on who was responsible for the attack, primarily because they don’t want to damage relations with Iran.

I see three possible actors in this situation.

  • First, obviously, the government of Iran.The question then becomes, what was the objective? If the sanctions are starting to bite, I am easily convinced that the hard-liners in the central government are pushing for a demonstration that the US and its allies are vulnerable to their own form of pain. The attack on the Japanese ship was just an error.
  • Second, rogue elements of the Iranian government and the Rev Guard in Hormozgān province. Iran is not as unified as some would have you believe, and it’s possible that some local commander, protected by hard-liners in the capital, is making known the position of a minority element of the government. The attack on the Japanese ship was to put Tokyo on notice that everyone was vulnerable.
  • Finally, there’s the (increasingly less likely) possibility of a false flag attack by the US or (more likely) one of its associates, like Saudi Arabia. I suspect the US could mount an attack like that, complete with Iranian mines, Rev Guard boats, and uniforms, within 48 hours of being ordered to. I suspect that the Saudis could mount such an attack with a week or so of warning.

Then, yesterday, a US drone was shot down by an Iranian missile while over …. international/Iranian waters (take your pick).

Khordad mobile SAM

The US promptly decided to retaliate. A strike was mounted. Planes were in the air. Suddenly, President Trump decided that the level of ‘provocation’ wasn’t high enough to warrant killing 150 or so Iranian troops. Also, the NYT notes, buried below the fold, that we might not have been so sure that the drone actually was outside of Iranian airspace.

This might all have been as told. For all his faults, I suspect that Trump really does object to killing people in large quantities. On the other hand, it could have been a feint — launch the attack, call it back, and say see, I’m a nice guy.

So, what we have here is a long-standing US feud with Iran, because they object to our meddling in their affairs for the last 60 years, and because we object to how they phrased their objection. Trump is intent of forcing some sort of treaty concessions from Tehran, oblivious to the fact that to give in under pressure would be fatal to the regime and would only strengthen hard liners power. Meanwhile, in the US, hardliners want nothing less than regime change, perhaps to restore the Peacock Throne and put Reza Pahlavi in power.

If we go back in history, we can find another example of the US using sanctions to force our policies on others. Where, instead of destroying an economy by preventing a country from selling its oil, we threatened destruction of an economy by cutting off their access to oil. Where we totally misunderstood the stance of a proud country, unwilling to to bend its knee to a foreign hegemon. Were we totally miscalculated their willingness to engage in a hopeless war.

Anime Preview: Summer 2019

June 19, 2019

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 mine 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 didn’t like before (Is it wrong to pull on a blue ribbon in a dungeon?, Bothering Takagi-san), shorts and kids stuff (Sounan desu ka, Pirikarako-chan ), movies and OVA’s, and anything with a Certain or a Melloi in the title. Second, I should say that this was a hard season to capture. Not only are the offerings thin, with some exceptions, the art work is uninspired. Third, I’m trying something new: inserting the pictures using the WordPress Gallery feature, rather than spending an hour or so fighting the interface while trying to format a table. I’d be interested to hear any comments my reader might have.

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps (you can click on the pix to embiggen).

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

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

MH370 Final Report, and this time I mean it.

June 17, 2019

Atlantic magazine has a wrap-up article on the Malaysian Airways jet that disappeared over the Indian Ocean five years ago. It comes to the same conclusion that I did, but does it with more evidentiary support. My conclusion was that it had to have been one of the flight crew. William Langewiesche presents convincing evidence that it was the Captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

The article states that Zaharie wasn’t the stable professional that we were given to believe. He was a lonely man who was separated from his wife, who spent his time wandering through an empty house, waiting for the next flight. That information was never released by the Malaysian government because it might reflect badly on a corrupt administration. This is all laid out in Section 6 of the article, after a long discussion of various recoveries of the aircraft debris.

I’ve been following the MH370 story since the beginning, summarizing the evidence and evaluating the various theories.  My original conclusion was somewhat Sherlockian — once you have removed the impossible, what remains, however implausible, is the cause. The Atlantic article puts an evidentiary cap on it, and is likely the last original essay we’ll see on the topic until someone invents a nuclear powered deep ocean search drone.

If you want to read all my articles on the topic, click the MH370 tag, below.


Sous Vide Oatmeal

June 14, 2019

OK, so that’s kindof a click-baity title. But SV was involved, I swear.

You see, we tried our first sous-vide steak the other night. Now, most SV steak recipes don’t call for an included liquid/broth/brine or whatever. I had forgotten that, so I dropped the steak (small t-bone — I get the rib, she gets the tenderloin) into the bag, and then added a half cup of beef broth, remaining from an earlier oatmeal project, topped up with a cup of commercial chicken broth, plus salt. Two hours later we had almost three cups of liquid in the bag, along with a perfectly done, medium-rare, but surprisingly dry, steak — most of the juice had leaked out of the meat and into the bag. There’s obviously a lot more work to be done on the SV side, but that’s a different recipe.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup SV broth, 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.

Results: Excellent, as you might expect for a dish that included a cup of beef juice. I’ll finish off the other two cups, but I hope not to try this again. I want all my juice in the steak.

Rating: *****

Aniblog Churn

June 12, 2019

I have been watching anime for almost 15 years, according to this analysis. Since I’m an on-line-reading kind of guy, I suspect I’ve been following various anime blogs for almost as long. In general, I follow blogs by putting them in my RSS feed, and what started this article was the fact that at the beginning of the week, the Anime folder in my RSS feed had exactly 100 sites listed. That’s enough to convince me that it needed some pruning.

What I found was, a surprising number of blogs had stopped publishing, or at least hadn’t published anything in a year. Some were still there (Altair & Vega, last active in Jan 2016; Deneb, last active in Oct 2015). Some had just disappeared — the Internet couldn’t find Denpa Waves or Oishii Anime. One, Anime Fascination, had gone private at some unknown date since I’d added it to my list. The earliest dropout was Anime Backgrounds, in July, 2014. The most active year for site inactivations, was 2017, with four sites.

I can’t be sure how far back the earliest listing in my current RSS feed goes. Presumably at least to July, 2014, so call it five years. I have been collecting feeds for far longer, but multiple computer/browser/reader changes have lost many of the links.

Bottom line: Over roughly five years, 17 out of 100 RSS feeds have gone inactive or disappeared. Some easy math says that’s 17%. Some slightly less easy math says that at that rate, in about 25 years my anime feed will be empty. That, of course won’t happen, because I regularly add interesting feeds. On the other hand, in 25 years I’ll be 100, so my aniblog tracking might have dropped off a little.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 9, 2019

Garden Report for 190610

Well, that was fast. Temps plunged into the 50’s, with rain at the end of the week, and now we are forecast to be 89F by the end of this coming week. Typical NENW springtime.

Things continue to grow. Garden lettuce is finally distinguishable from the weeds. Bought a new railing planter and put in another tranche of lettuce. As soon as the wind dies down (tomorrow?) I’ll dig up a small section of the main garden and put in some radishes-on-tape for MJ.

The hanging planter is doing well. This time last week the lettuce was barely up to the edge of the container. Meanwhile, the Underchard is also doing well.

What a difference a week makes

Probably should start thinning soon.

Fire Season 2019

June 4, 2019

Washington state’s first biggish fire of the season is in progress on the north slope of the Saddle Mountains, near Beverly. Five thousand acres so far.

MODIS fire hotspots

It’s about a hundred miles from there to Spokane

First and only fire so far

The smoke trail is visible on satellite.

An otherwise clear view

The skies are already hazy, the AQI is up to 100, and the smell of smoke makes it uncomfortable to sit out on the back deck.

Fires to the West

Last year it was British Columbia. This year it is all home grown, and it will only get worse as summer progresses.

UPDATE 19/06/05/17:20: 19,000 acres, 25% contained.

Ship Girls

June 4, 2019

Since 2013 there have been three anime that featured cute girls doing cute things, with ships: Arpeggio of Blue Steel, Kantai Collection, and High School Fleet. Well, cute things is probably a misnomer. They are all more concerned with drama than with moe.

What’s interesting about them is the differences in the way they portray the girls, and the ships. To start with, Arpeggio and KanColle are both concerned with girls who are part of their ships, while HSF is a more conventional girls on ships anime.

High School Fleet is just what the name says. High school girls from the Yokosuka Girls’ Marine High School go to sea on the destroyer Harekaze (Clear Wind) as part of their education. BTW, there’s an alternate reading of hare as meaning cleared of suspicion. This is symbolically important since the ship and crew are almost immediately charged with mutiny, and every ship they see attacks them. After many trials and tribulations, they demonstrate that the erratic actions of many of the ships is due to a virus, rescue their friends on the battleship Musashi, and win the day.

Harekaze sorties!

The training ships are based on WWII designs (although there are more modern designs in the real fleet), and the girls serve as normal watch-standers and ship-handlers.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel Earth is invaded by the Fleet of Fog, alien naval forces with extremely advanced weapons mounted on ships with the outward forms of WWII combatants. A rogue FoF submarine, the I-401, captained by a rogue human, is charged with sneaking a new superweapon across the Pacific to the US. It succeeds, with the help of other FoF defectors, including (finally) the battleship Yamato. Crow’s World has a good series on it.

Fleet destroyer takes a hit

In Arpeggio, the FoF ships are embodiments of the concept of each class of ship. They are controlled either by low level AI’s (minor combatants) or by high-level mental models — AI’s that have taken human form, the better to understand human reasoning. This leaves them open to over-empathizing with humans.

Kantai Collection In an alternate timeline, girls (who are embodiments of WWII ships) fight a grotesque enemy in the form of the ships of the Abyssal Fleet. The battles parallel those of WWII (W island, MI base) and the girls are vaguely aware of the outcomes on our timeline — will the battle of MI be a disaster?. In the end they avoid the Abyssal’s attempt at an ambush, and everyone returns safely, with the help of the battleship Yamato.

Combat-ready Hagikaze

The ships in KanColle are not really ships. They are girls who embody the soul of the WWII ship. The girls carry strap-on versions of the weapons suites their spirit ships mounted.

One way to understand the different approaches is to create a table. I like tables.

Real Girls Imaginary Girls
Real Ships HS Fleet Arpeggio
Imaginary Ships KanColle

So, KanColle is about imaginary girls, who can roller-blade across the water, and Arpeggio is about imaginary girls, created from computer core processors and nanomaterial sand. But Arpeggio has real ships, that take real damage, while KanColle has imaginary ship attributes attached to the imaginary girls.

High School Fleet, meanwhile, has real girls on real ships, worried about real things like showers and shopping.

The one cell that’s empty is Real Girls on Imaginary Ships. A show that filled that cell wouldn’t have to be as ship-free as KanColle. It could be a standard anime young girls are the only ones who can call these ships into existence. Think of it as a mecha show, but with ships.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 2, 2019

Garden Report for 190603

Warming trend continues. End of the week was in the mid 80’s. Only rain is in the T-storms. It is supposed to cool off by the end of the week.

Things continue to grow. I should be weeding more, but the mosquitoes are a problem. The deck lettuce is coming along nicely, but it seems to have had an attack of leaf miners or something. Merciless pruning seems to have worked. We had our first full salad from garden greens only.

The local hardware store has stopped carrying hanging planters, so I had to order one from the ‘Zon. I have a Patio tomato hanging out the bottom, and a circle of seeds-on-tape lettuce on the top. Underneath is one of the small railing containers, with some up-and-coming chard.

A whole salad in one container
(click to embiggen)

Natsu no Arashi Season 2

May 31, 2019

In the interests of completeness, I watched Season 2 of Natsu no Arashi. It was good, but it could have been so much more.

Summer Girl

NNA is the story of four Japanese ghost girls who died in an air raid in 1945 and who can travel through time. In Season 1, two of the girls had reasons to go back to war-time Japan, and we had some interesting episodes centered on their goals. Several other episodes worked out their relationships with the other two ghost girls, and with the girls school they all went to in 1945. The rest of the episodes were slice-of-“life” comedy filler centered on the present day cafe where they worked during the summers.

Season 2 was more of the same …. slice-of-“life” comedy filler. The only recurrent theme was cross-dresser Kamigamo Jun and her efforts to keep protagonist Yasaka Hajime from finding out she was a girl. Meanwhile, there’s the obligatory beach/onsen episodes, a couple of transformation episodes, and the recurring short trips back in time to find lost tea bowls, A/C remote controls, and such. The relationship between Hajime and lead ghost girl Arashiyama Sayoko (Arashi) fills out a little bit (he goes back to ~1935 and saves her from some bullies, earning a kiss and a promise of a future kiss) but her destined departure at the end of summer is not fully explained.

Showa 10

The ending sees Arashi giving Hajime the promised kiss, and saying (to herself) my summer has not yet ended. This is a standard anime ending (our struggle continues) for when the source material has not yet concluded and they don’t want to write an anime original ending.

Heisei 21

The second season of the anime was released in October of 2009, while the seventh manga volume wasn’t released until March of 2010, with the eight volume following in September.

Unfortunately, those of us who don’t speak Japanese are not likely to find out the true ending. The manga ran through eight volumes/49 chapters in Japan (you can Kindle the whole set from Amazon Japan) and was never released in the US. Unfortunately, clicking on “Look Inside” on the Japanese versions didn’t help, and the available  scanlations only go up through Volume 6/Chapter 32.

Natsu no Arashi is a fun anime. Wah, over at Analog Housou first clued me into it. It is filled with zany time travel fun, and plots as convoluted as a Marx Brothers movie. Two things were disappointing. The first I’ve already alluded to — lack of closure. What happens to Arashi in the winter? Why doesn’t she think Hajime will remember her? What about Jun’s changing feelings toward Hajime, and toward outing herself as a girl? Answers cometh not.

Second was a failure to take advantage of the opportunity to exploit their time-travel-to-old-Japan hook. In Season 1, Arashi was introduced to us as someone who was interested in saving victims of the March 29th 1945 air raid, but she only went back once. Kaya wanted to speak to her loved one, but she only made one attempt. As an SF story once said, with time travel, you’re never too late.

What Natsu no Arashi really needs, and will probably never get, is a third season.

Meanwhile, the 箱舟 カフェ abides on the outskirts of Yokohama. It’s been around for untold years, and is likely to continue to be around even longer.

You’d almost expect the next owner to be an android named Alpha.

In Vain

May 27, 2019

Just over seven years ago I detailed how the 4,500 American deaths in Iraq fit the definition of in vain. If we include Afghanistan, the total climbs to almost 7,000. Nothing of worth was achieved. Afghanistan is still a semi-failed state, and the Taliban still (or again) controls much of the country. Iraq is an Iranian ally, and the capital still doesn’t have reliable electricity — 16 years after our disastrously inept intervention.

And aside from the useless deaths, the damage to Americans who made it back is enough to make you weep.

The history is bad enough that The American Conservative, not known for liberal hand-wringing, this week published an article wherein an Iraq veteran confirms my assessment — it was in vain. All of it.

Ponder that, this Memorial Day.

Natsu No Arashi

May 24, 2019

I started watching 2009’s Natsu No Arashi (Summer Storm) after seeing it listed as one of the more interesting anime of the last ten years. It wasn’t until I hit Episode 8 that I realized that I’d touched on it before, meaning that specific episode, as part of my research on the body-swapping anime Kokoro Connect, back in 2012. And that lead to the discovery that the 10th anniversary of Episode 8 was today, May 24th. What better excuse to do a writeup on the first, 13-episode season?

If spoilers for a 10 year old out of stock anime upset you, then stop here and go read my review of Citizen Kane.

What makes NNA interesting isn’t the body-swap half-episode. It’s interesting because it’s one of the few anime to directly address the home-front tribulations of Japan in WWII. The two female leads, and two later characters, were 16 year-old schoolgirls killed in a bombing raid on Yokohama on May 29th, 1945. They return as ghosts, but for some unexplained reason, only in the summer.

The main female lead is Arashiyama Sayoko, whose family name translates as Storm Mountain and who is called Arashi, for short. This plays nicely off the series name, which could also be translated as Summer’s Arashi. Her goal in the apre-vie is to go back to 1945 and rescue as many people as possible. But to travel in time, she needs to form a connection with someone from the present.

Early Shaft head tilt

Enter Yasaka Hajime, thirteen year-old typical shonen boy — high energy, high self-opinion, exaggerated concern with being seen as manly. Did I mention he is short, with square, dark-framed glasses? He develops an instant infatuation for Arashi, and becomes her connection for their many trips to the past.

Spoken like a true shonen

The rest of the cast is equally paired up:

  • Kaja Bergmann (Kaya) and Kamigamo Jun, ghost of a German schoolgirl and her contemp connection. Jun is a crossdressing girl because of anime reasons.
  • Fushimi Yayoi and Yamazaki Kanako, another pair of ghosts from Arashi’s school. Fushimi can connect with Hajime, and Yamazaki, it turns out, can connect with Murata.
  • Finally, there’s Sayaka (AKA Master), the cafe owner, and Murata Hideo, a private investigator.

The city they are on the outskirts of is Yokohama. Unlike other major cities in Japan, it had not been heavily bombed early in the war, and in the spring of 1945 it was protected by being on the short list of possible targets for the atomic bomb. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen, it was released to the general bombing list, and was heavily bombed on the 29th of May.

This isn’t a regular review, so I won’t go into details on the episodes. The first episode features some time-travel shenanigans involving a strawberry that’s been stuffed with hot spice powder, which serves to introduce all the characters. After that there are separate arcs in which Arashi/Hajime and Kaya/Jun go back to 1945, Kaya to see the man she was in love with, and Arashi to try to save people. Another arc deals with Yayoi and Kanako, and Kanako’s attempt to keep Yayoi corporeal by draining Arashi’s life force. The 13th episode looks like something you’d find as a DVD special — it’s a reprise of the first episode, but with a cherry instead of a strawberry, and everyone is in goofy costumes.

There are two aspects of NNA that are interesting beyond the actual story. First, is the look at wartime Japan. The anime shows the raids, and the B-29’s and the falling bombs. Houses burn and people die.

Not something you normally see in a shonen program. In the Yayoi/Kanako arc, you see high school girls drafted to work in an aircraft factory — one of the thousands of small scale installations that the Japanese used instead of following the German and American pattern of large production plants. This, by the way, was one of the justifications of the widespread fire-bombing campaign, because there were few concentrated high value targets. The girls work full time and are from all over. Yayoi is from a rich family (I think that’s her family mansion they end up haunting), while Kanako is a work-hardened girl from a poor family. In one sequence, Yayoi plays a concert for the girls during the weekly power blackout when the factory can’t operate.

Second, NNA has some interesting ideas about the effects of time travel. Two of Hajime’s strawberries disappear, one because his grandfather ate it, and the other because he came back in time and stole it from himself. Kaya was mad at Arashi because she never read the note she left in her diary at the school, that she was waiting at The Ark cafe, one of the few places to survive the war unbombed. They go back in time and bring the diary forward to the present, which means it wasn’t there when Arashi stopped to look for it. More significantly, Arashi goes back to 1945 and shelters a crying child during the air raid, telling him to be a hero. Later, in a trip to 1985, they meet a brash young child who informs them that his father keeps telling him that it’s important to be a hero. His father was the child that Arashi saved. Back in the present, it turns out that the private investigator is that child, all grown up and still brash — he carries a sword (practice or real, depending on the job) and drives a souped-up Vespa (another example of the goofy humor embedded in the anime).

On the tragic side, when Kaya/Jun go back, they project from the current day cafe to the cafe in 1945. Their arrival wakes up the owner (who Kaya is in love with), and he proceeds to go home, where he’s killed in the bombing. If he had stayed in the cafe, he’d have survived.

So, that’s the first season. It’s different enough that it should be on everyone’s watchlist. Crunchyroll has both seasons, but one never knows for how long.



Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 19, 2019

Garden Report for 190520

Looks like summer only lasted a few days. Then we had a couple days of torrential rain. How torrential? Inch and a half in 24hrs. Not much for Kalaloch, but way more than this semi-arid steppeland usually sees. Now we are back to highs in the 60’s and lows around 50, with winds gusting to 25kts.

The rain filled up my two deck railing planters so that the seedlings were floating like they were water hyacinths or something. Had to drill a hole near the bottom.

No planting this week. Nothing much to plant anyway. The hardware store has one partial rack of squash. I’ll see how my squash field does this week, and buy some if necessary next weekend.

The weeds are doing well.

Real men going to Tehran

May 17, 2019

You can do everything with bayonets, except sit on them — Tallyrand

Everybody is talking about Trump’s new adventurism in the Middle East. Juan Cole shows how recent US actions are right in line with a propaganda campaign leading up to a war.

Many of our actions are blustering. For example, Bolton wants the US to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East to threaten Iran. One wonders where he plans to station them, and what exactly they’d be used for. Maybe they’d be stationed in Saudi, in which case their continued presence on sacred Saudi soil might well trigger domestic extremism.

Maybe these forces would be used to respond to the recent attacks on tankers in the Gulf. Or maybe those attacks were false flag operations, seeking a Gulf of Tonkin response. Given the minimal damage to the ships, one might be forgiven for thinking the attackers were told to not do too much. Meanwhile, there’s no sign of Iranian activity elsewhere.

As with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and the non-existent Iraqi WMDs, if we want to do something, it doesn’t take much of an excuse. Sixteen years ago, people were saying “Everybody wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” So, maybe those troops are on their way to Tehran.

So, what about that? Can we do it?

First of all, if we do it, we do it alone. Europe wants nothing to do with it. Spain has already pulled her guided-missile frigate out of a planned joint Gulf deployment.

Second, the job is physically too much for us.

Yes, we might be able to destroy their main military forces, but we did that in Iraq, remember? The only thing that will effectively and reliably force a country to submit to our will is boots on the ground. And that won’t work here, for any price we’re willing to pay.

Iran is slightly larger than the combined area of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona, AKA the Far West, with vaguely similar terrain. Bolton wants to conquer it using 120,000 men (although Trump says we’d send more). That’s about the size of all active duty US military troops in California. You ever been to California? You remember the big military presence you saw there? Now consider deploying them over an area four times as large.

We had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, and got our ass handed to us. We had 170,000 in Iraq, and got our ass handed to us. Is the third time the charm?

On the spectrum of civilizations, Afghanistan is nudging up against the “failed state” model, with most of the country run by local warlords, and they like it like that. Iraq was an example of an ethnic majority downtrodden by an ethnic minority. We freed the minority Shiites from the Sunni yoke, but for some reason were not treated as liberators. No flowers.

Iran is not a free and open democracy like the US, but it’s far from being a police state with a DHS-like stasi, like the former GDR. It’s more of a gerrymandered theocracy, like Alabama. But its people, all of them, are highly patriotic. Yes, there’s an opposition. No, it won’t come over to our side once we invade. Think of the fractured social/political situation in those six western states of the US. Political leanings run the gamut, from the latte-drinkers of Portlandia to the techies of Silicon Valley to those who support the gun-toting, anti-government stand of Cliven Bundy. Now, consider what would happen if Iranian troops landed in on the west coast, bombed our coastal cities, and occupied Las Vegas. You think 120,000 troops would be enough? You think Their Boys would be Home Before the Leaves Fall?

I say Las Vegas, because that’s roughly the equivalent of Tehran, in geographical terms. Support for the operation would have to come out of Seattle, because that’s roughly how far away our support bases in the Gulf are from Tehran. The Saudis are the only people who will let us fly combat and support operations out of their airbases. Iraq won’t. Turkey won’t. Syria sure won’t. Israel would be happy to help, but there’s a lot of sovereign airspace between Tel Aviv and Tehran.

Finally, what are we going to do once we get there? Forcible regime change? And we think we can make that stick? Remember the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan? That was an attempt to keep a friendly regime in power.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 13, 2019

Garden Report for 190513

This is my 200th Green Thumb report. Considering that they’re only once a week, and only during gardening season, that’s eight years worth. Who’da thought?

And so bang, and we’re into summer. Highs in the 80’s. Lows, right now, in the 50’s. Cliff Mass says this is only temporary, a false summer as it were, and indeed, the forecast now is for temps in the 60’s, with rain by the end of the week.

Fixed the hose in Section 04. Planted asparagus. Again.

Planted my last three tomatoes: Champion VNFT in the second planter bag, Cherokee Purple and Yellow Pear in Section 2. So far, we haven’t found an other-than-red variety that we like, but I keep trying.

I had intended to fill out Section 3 with various hardware store seedlings, but the hardware store has nothing but tomatoes. And citronella plants. Maybe I’ll put a bunch of citronellas in pots on the deck, and drive all the mosquitoes into the house.

Planted more plants-on-tape. Three five-foot runs of carrots, one run each of bok choy, leeks, and bunching onions. I had intended to plant the carrots all together, but confused the tapes and so what I ended up with was one group that was carrots/carrots/bok choy, and another that was leeks/onions/carrots.

Wire shelving covers the seeds-on-tape

The wire shelving that I bought at a going-out-of-business sale some years ago looks to be a really effective gardening tool. The spacing between the wires is big enough for lettuce and chard and carrots to grow up between them, but not so wide that squirrels can reach through to dig. The baked-on enamel paint has proven highly rust resistant.

Trump’s Trade War and Washington State

May 10, 2019

The impact of Trump’s tariffs and the Chinese counter-tariffs is mostly in the US, in the form of higher prices for people who buy Chinese manufactures (all of us), and lower prices for people who sell to China (mostly farmers in Red states).

On a local note, Eastern Washington is solidly red, and 1.4% of Washington state’s GDP has been impacted, yet I don’t hear anything from our local Representative, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R). A search of her website shows that she expressed “deep concern” for the impact on our state — a year ago — and that her latest effort was signing a letter last June, along with most of the rest of the Washington delegation, decrying the impact of tariffs on WA. Since then, as they say, crickets.

One might almost conclude that she puts loyalty to President Trump ahead of loyalty to her constituents.




Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 6, 2019

Garden Report for 190506

Finally, the weather gets warm and the wind dies down. Forecast is for warm and dry, with temps low-50’s to mid-70’s.

This was my busy weekend. All of the seedlings got planted, and the greenhouse (outdoors) and the potting table (indoors) were cleared away. Right now, the new plantings look like this:

Room for three or four more tomatoes

 Section 02

Early Girl, Parks Whopper, Rutgers, Goliath, Bush Beefsteak

Room for one more something


Early Girl (2),

Yard Long Beans, Cucumber, Kholrabi

No more room


Early Girl, Grape, Patio (hanging)

Cucumber, Sugar Pea (2)

Plus lettuce and chard in small planters. You can see one on the railing. That’s an old belt what I have outgrown holding it on.


The Early Girls are part of an experiment. I put one each in the main garden, on the deck, and in one of the planting bags, plus two in front of the house — one with normal potting soil and the other a 50/50 mix of recycled soil. We’ll see which one produces the most.

Planted out the Snap Peas into Section 3. Plan calls for more carrots and lettuce and chard (oh my). I have some leeks-on-tape that I’ll probably put there also.

I haven’t properly repaired the hose for Section 4 yet, so nothing’s there. I plan Asparagus, Amaranth, and maybe more peas.

Wind finally died down enough to plant the tapes (they are as light and fragile as toilet paper and they don’t do well in a breeze). Section 1 got five feet each of carrots, Lento lettuce, and Krucha lettuce. They’re all from Poland, for some reason, but the pictures look buttercrunchlike. In Section 2 I put six feet of bunching onions and six feet of real buttercrunch. More stuff will go in Section 3 this week, but I’ma gonna hold off on any more lettuce so’s we don’t have to eat monster salads all through July.

Thank you for your service

May 4, 2019

Once again, Stonekettle nails it. As a 22-years-service Vietnam vet I can say that pretty much everything he says resonates. You want to thank us? Elect people who will support a decent education for all. Elect people who will support a sane health care system for all. Don’t elect people who get us into stupid wars. We served our country. Your job now is to make sure it’s a country worth serving.

The Long Then

May 4, 2019

Over on Edge is an interview with Alexander Rose (the Executive Director of the Long Now organization) on how to create an institution that lasts 10,000 years. Actually, it’s a bit of a cheat. The discussion makes up only about 25% of the article, and much of that is repeats of the idea that most of today’s 500-1000 year old organizations are hotels or breweries or are large scale organizations, like universities or The Church. Then he wanders off into an interesting, but off point, discussion of the Long Now organization and the Big Clock they are building.

So let’s take our own look at what might be required of a long-lasting organization. Here are some on my thoughts:

First, it has to fill a continuing need. Think of it in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy. At large scale, governments, universities, and the church provide elements such as safety. Some modern governments have lasted for hundreds of years (Iceland being the best example), but most succumb to invasion or revolution. The country might remain, but the way the inhabitants organize themselves has changed. The oldest universities are going on for 1000 years old, while the Catholic Church is almost 2000. In Asia, religions such as Buddhism are older than Christianity, but they are religions, not religious governing organizations. Having said that, individual monasteries are organizations that have the potential to last for thousands of years.

At smaller scales, the oldest survivors are fulfilling a local need, close to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy — Hotels provide shelter and sleep, restaurants provide food and water. As an aside, the key here seems to be the continuing existence of family ownership, which then makes the business possible. Theoretically, a corporation is immortal, but recent experience shows that a corporation is at risk of being bought up by some other entity.

Second, the organization should be involved in an activity that is minimally impacted by technological change, and in the case of technology, whatever it uses has to be cheap to implement. The church, for example, hasn’t needed any technology more complex than jumbotrons (yes, telephones, yes, PCs, but those are part of the general advance of civilization; no-one would put jumbotrons in that list). On the other hand, automobile and aircraft manufacturers have had to go through multiple generations of new technology, and that new technology (catalytic converters, electric cars) has been expensive to implement.

At the lower level, hotels today are not that much different from hotels of the past — a place to sleep out of the rain. Two hundred years ago you might be in one bed with three strangers, but the concept is the same and the basic technology hasn’t changed. Restaurants provide food prepared on the premises. The preparation method has changed over time — wood fired brick ovens to coal fired stoves to gas stoves to wood fired brick ovens — but the amount of new, expensive technology used is minimal.  Similarly, sake brewers pride themselves on using the same equipment and techniques that were used by their founders.

By the way, what was the world’s oldest business was a 1400 year old construction firm, Kongo Gumi. It specialized in Buddhist temple construction and repair, using traditional materials and techniques. What took it down was a combination of declining Buddhist membership in a country that is losing population, accompanied by an attempt to move into other construction fields right before an economic turndown. It was acquired in 2006.

Having said all that, I’m not sure I can imagine anything that could last 10,000 years. 10,000 years ago we had just barely started the domestication of plants and food animals. Agriculture started about 11,000 years ago, with animal husbandry coming a thousand years later. Other than those two general concepts, there is nothing cultural that remains. There is no organization, no nation, no civilization that we can point to and say that we have an unbroken (or even fragmented) line of succession from then to the present day.

Now, try to imagine the world of 12,000AD. Even if the Singularity never happens and we remain stuck at our present rate of change of knowledge — doubling every two years — the world of 12K will be unrecognizable.

The optimistic view is that by 12,000AD, science will have answered all of the big questions of today’s science, and scientists working at old, prestigious universities will have come up with new questions to answer. Meanwhile, engineering will have turned the answers to the original questions into new products. We’re talking terraforming Mars, mining the Oort, interstellar travel (possibly at FTL-equivalent speeds), effective immortality, wireless earphones that actually produce high fidelity music.

The pessimistic view is that, between asteroid strikes, runaway global warming, and the release of synthetic plagues, there won’t be anyone left to operate an organization.

So there you are. If you want your legacy to last 10,000 years join a monastery, or build a hotel or restaurant next to one. Or get tenure.


Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 30, 2019

Garden Report for 190430

So, immediately after I planted out the seedlings and my newly-purchased Japanese Maple, we had two days of high winds, and two days of frost.

The winds were Friday and Saturday, and ran 30mph with gusts to 40mph. The frosts were Sunday and Monday nights, with lows of 30F.

Ten degrees warmer than outside in the daytime, maybe a degree at night

I did my best to prep. Bought a big wardrobe moving box for the maple, wrapped a car tarp around the base, and dropped in one of those back-warmer chemical packs.

I also ran the dripper overnight

In back, I laid a big tarp over the garden, and set the soaker hose to run for a couple of hours after midnight. The aluminum gutter guards I had put out earlier, to discourage the squirrels held it off the plants. Theoretically.

It seems to have worked (click to embiggen).

The plants that were still in the greenhouse (everything that wasn’t a squash or a melon) I pulled back into the house. Those will go back at the end of the week, when we finally enter a prolonged warming phase, and I’ve found time to prep Section 3. We won’t be totally out of the woods for a while (it has been known to snow during the first week of May), but I’m willing to chance it. Forecast for the rest of the week is lows near 40 and highs in the mid-60’s.

Hot Dog Oats

April 27, 2019

Lately, there’s been a totally silly question going around: Is a hot dog a sandwich? I realize that in the Middle Ages several wars were fought over religious questions of equal import, but this enlightened age should have better things to do with its memes. And now we have the logical extension to that question: Is hot dog water a broth or a stock? For the record, my opinion is that, since a stock is made with bones, and hot dogs don’t have any bones (unless they’re the low end versions that use machine processing to get every bit of pink goo off the bones, with said machines sometimes going a processing too far), hot dog water is obviously a broth. Well, if it’s a broth, one should be able to make oatmeal with it.

I heated up two all beef franks in one cup of water, simmering them for fifteen minutes.  The franks we ate, the water I saved for the next morning (you didn’t think I was going to have hot dogs for breakfast did you?).

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup hot dog broth, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. No potatoes this time.

Results: Oatmeal.  Bland. Cheese helped, but not a lot. Evidently, hot dog water isn’t all that different from regular water. Maybe if I used Evian.

Rating: **

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 25, 2019

Garden Report for 190425

The weather is warm (lows in the mid-40’s, highs in the mid-60’s) and it’s time to (trans-) plant. Added a couple cuft of potting soil to Section 1. Moved all ten squash/melon seedlings there. Squirrels immediately made it look like a recreation of the Battle of the Somme. I have ordered some gutter guards to protect the plants. Once the wind dies down and the air warms up, I’ll put in some seeds-on-tape: lettuce and carrots.

Section 1. Grid is covering the area where I’ll put some taped seeds

I planned to put the beans and peas and cucumbers in Section 3 (Section 2 is for tomatoes), but the forecast suddenly turned to lows in the low 30’s this weekend, including frost on Sunday night. I’ll leave them in the greenhouse for now.

That’s not trash in the bottom. It’s old icepacks for thermal balance

Meanwhile, I got a new Japanese Maple for the hole out front what was left from taking out the weeping birch.

Only another six feet of growth and it will be useful

With any luck, the cold snap won’t kill the leaves.

The Mueller Report

April 19, 2019

There are two key questions we have to answer in the aftermath of the Mueller report: (1) Is Trump impeachable?, and (2) Should we do it?

First, read this. It’s a six page comic, won’t take you any time at all.


Is Trump impeachable?

That is, has he committed impeachable acts under the Constitution? Depending on how you interpret them, there are several sets of actions that might fit that definition. Meanwhile, most pro/con declarations at this point are made by people who haven’t read the report, and are mostly based on party affiliation.

To rephrase the question, since impeachment is essentially a political act, has Trump sufficiently irritated enough Representatives that they will use the actions listed above as an excuse to obtain a bill? I think we’d all agree that the answer is yes, and it might even include a few Republicans.

A followup question is, once the bill of impeachment has moved to the Senate, is it possible to get a two thirds majority in favor of removing Trump from office? Given the current structure of the Senate, and given GOP proclivities for supporting almost any policies that Trump wants to impose, my take is that there is zero chance of the Senate voting for removal.

So the answer is yes, he can be impeached, and no, it won’t make any difference to the government. All that will happen is that all other legislative actions will be placed on hold, and Trump might be politically embarrassed. Given that not a lot is getting done right now, and that Trump has proven to be immune to embarrassment, the direct impact is likely to be minimal.

Should we do it?

That is, should we go ahead with the political process set up in the Constitution? This is really a tactical decision. On the one side, there are those who say that we should do it, to place future Presidents on notice that they are not immune to oversight. That if we don’t, we have given up all possibility of holding Presidents responsible for their actions. Their position is that Congress should proceed with impeachment, even though the immediate result might be negligible.

On the other side, there are those who point out that we have an election coming up in 18 months, and that impeachment proceedings will be the one thing that can galvanize the GOP base into coming out in support of Trump (or at least in opposition to perceived Democratic bullying), despite the crimes and misdemeanors uncovered in the process.

On the other other side are those who fear that this would set a precedent for witch hunts after every turnover of power. I suspect this is why Obama didn’t sponsor war crimes trials against Bush staffers. The Republic works best when we all pretend that all members of the government are honorable people, working for the good of the country as they see it.

And here’s yet another view. Impeachment means overturning an election. Are the Presidential crimes serious enough for that?

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 2

April 13, 2019

As we head into the second week of the season, the latecomers and early bloomers start to fade.

Senryu Girl: Socially inept high school girl can only communicate by high speed calligraphating of 17-character messages on short boards. Joins the literature club to improve her writing. Meets standard anime trope #54, bad boy with heart of gold who has trouble communicating. A little too contrived for my taste. In addition, Senryu was the name of a fighter plane in the game Sky Crawlers, so I keep waiting for her to suit up and take off.

Namu Amida Butsu! Utena:  Bishi gods come down to Tokyo. Clueless bishi gods. This has so been done before, with magical swords, and magical historic heroes, and magical drain covers (OK, I lied about that last one, but wait until Summer).

Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki:  Boy from Brooklyn moves to Boston, where everybody talks funny. Sorry. Boy from Tokyo moves to Nagoya, where everybody talks funny. Like the short about Osaka of a few years back, this falls into the “You might be a redneck if…” category.

Nobunaga Sensei no Osanazuma: Is 2019 the year of the ethically challenged teacher? Time traveling 14-year old bride lands in the house of the descendant of the guy she’s supposed to marry, immediately strips off and suggests baby-making. Teacher/descendant has a hard time keeping his hands off the child. Next thing you know, the show will be talking about suppositories. Fortunately, even the uncensored version is censored.

Thoughts on Assange

April 12, 2019

So, they’ve finally dug him out of his hideaway in the Ecuadorean embassy. Actually, due to a change in government, Ecuador decided to hand him over to the UK government.

There has already been a lot of discussion of his case by a lot of people who are a lot better informed than I am. What follows are some thoughts that occurred to me over the years.

Over on Wikipedia (no relation) is a description of the history of the case.

2010 April:  Wikileaks publishes some thousands of State cables and low level military ops message traffic from Iraq, provided by (then) Bradley Manning. Obama administration starts an investigation.

2010 November: Assange accused of sexual assault in Sweden. Assange claims the US government put Stockholm up to it so they could get him out of the UK and into a more extradition-friendly country. The details of the case are murky, but could certainly be interpreted that way.

2012 August: Assange jumps bail, takes refuge in extradition-free Ecuadorian embassy.

2016 Summer: Assange, having been confined to the embassy for four years so far, starts publishing emails from the Clinton campaign. I suspect his primary motivation is revenge on Obama and Clinton. He’s striking back with the only weapon available.

2019 April: Assange is removed from Ecuadorean embassy, and that same day the US unseals an indictment against him. It’s a simple charge of attempting unauthorized computer access (“using special software, namely the Linux operating system”). Nothing political. Nothing about freedom of the press. No reason for the UK to not agree to extradite him.

So, what happens now? My guess is that, once he is in US hands, additional indictments will be issued, for things like treason and espionage and assisting a foreign power. This will raise serious issues of freedom of the press, immunity of foreign nationals to prosecution for breaking local US laws while not in the country, and so forth, but by then he’ll already be in jail and doing hard time for the duration of the trial and whatever sentence they can make stick.

Whatever you think of Assange personally, and what little I know is unfavorable, this looks like one more step in the process of restricting the press in this country.


Scallop Oats

April 11, 2019

We had scallops the other night — package of big, frozen sea scallops. We thawed them as per instructions, then baked them in a broiler pan in the toaster oven. When they were done, there was a couple of tablespoons of the liquid off them in the bottom of the broiler pan.

Meanwhile, I’d cooked some small shell pasta in chicken broth (about which more later). I mixed a cup of this broth with the scallop liquid and used it for my breakfast oatmeal.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup pasta-scallop broth, 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. Add shred cheese if you like.

Results: Very good. A little salty. Most definite seafood flavor despite using only two tablespoonsworth. I had not planned ahead on this, otherwise I would have put some water in the bottom of the pan. As it was, a good portion of the scallop water browned itself to the bottom of the pan.

Rating: ***

Memories of my Youth: The perils of AI

April 10, 2019

My Ph.D. is in Systems Science, which deals with the ways that things work together. As part of my studies I got to work with some really neat tools. The dissertation was about building a neural net supply chain management system using a neural net AI control concept originally developed as an autopilot for a single-stage-to-orbit hypersonic vehicle. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.

Neural net controllers work best when they’ve been properly trained and to properly train them you need input/output data for the “plant” they are controlling. Where to get the data? In particular, where to get the data when the system you are trying to control doesn’t exist yet? Enter simulation.

I built a discrete event simulation of a multi-layer supply chain, including both the inventory and the transport costs. In order to get a wide range of values, and to help design the system structure, I used another AI technique called a genetic algorithm to optimize the whole operation. See what I mean by cool?  Here’s a picture

Playing with all my toys at one time

Unfortunately, I made an error. The GA was developing policies for re-ordering products and passing them back to the simulation. The simulation would run by applying those policies, and report out the total cost at the end of the run. Buried in the simulation code was a set of decision rules about how to apply the reorder policies. But there was an error in the decision rules, one that rewarded inappropriate actions.  The GA, having no sense of ethics, or even common sense, noted that error and began to exploit it. Policy sets that were obviously bad were coming out with high scores and taking over the population. What to do?

Well, the what to do is, go into your simulator code and track down and fix the error. This let the system operate in an appropriate fashion and come out with usable results. There’s a lesson here — if you leave a loophole in your programming, your AI will find it and exploit it to achieve the goal you gave it.

People who talk about runaway AI often think of killer bots wandering the streets, shooting people. That makes for exciting graphics, but it’s not the real problem.

Who would you like to kill today?

The real problem comes when an AI has the ability to interact with the world, and modifies the world to suit its own goals. Elon Musk talks about a strawberry-picking AI that works to cover the world with strawberry fields. Or think of a stock fund AI that decides the best way to make money is to buy defense stocks, and then start a war. Or an AI that shorts a bunch of stocks, and then causes a market crash.

Nobody knows why the market crashed that day…

So, twenty years ago, my little AI project stumbled upon a problem that is likely to be at the center of AI research for the next twenty.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 1

April 8, 2019

Some horses fall at the first fence. Some anime don’t make it through the first episode. Not that they’re bad, as such, but that they are too too obviously not of interest to me, personally.

Amazing Stranger Tiny humanoid space explorer lands on Earth, only to end up purchased as an anime character figurine. A true teen flick, because it’s too mature for kids, and too stupid for adults.

Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu Socially inept grade schooler enters middle school, tries to make friends with her entire class because her only friend, now attending a different school, said she’d dump her if she didn’t. Doesn’t realize that if she makes just one good friend in the new school, she doesn’t need the old one. Or maybe I’m just not into middle school anime.

Why the hell are you here, teacher? That’s what I want to know. Another season, another set of inappropriate student-teacher interactions (are suppositories the new thing?). Harsh sound track, too much shouting, stupidly contrived situations. Doesn’t rise to the intellectual level of Domestic Girlfriend. Twelve minutes is twelve minutes too long.

The Rising of the Shield Hero This is the second cour of an anime that started last season. Average non-otaku guy is shanghaied into an isekai world where he is promptly doublecrossed by the local royal family, which sours his outlook on everything thereafter. Obtains a couple of cute female non-human slaves, who promptly fall in love with him and try to improve his attitude. It’s working, and it’s a halfway decent anime, until the start of the secound cour, when he gets doublecrossed again. Can you say “Perils of Pauline”? Can you say “Jumping the shark”?

I was wrong … they’re bad.

Kotobuki: Parts of it are Magnificent

April 4, 2019

Think of it as Girls und Panzer meets Porco Rosso.

In another dimension, or astral plane, or something, exists a world named Ijitsu, that looks a lot like Australia — mostly howling wilderness. It used to have an ocean, but a wormhole of some sort opened up, destroyed the oceans, devastated the countryside and dumped a lot of military technology (including every type of Japanese WWII fighter), plus curry, rice, and pancakes, onto them. This all happened courtesy of the Yufang, who appear to be alternate timeline Japanese.

A town like Alice

Now the people of Ijitsu live a hardscrabble existence in a scattering of tiny outback towns, tied together with zeppelin flights and bepestered by air pirates. The six girls who are part of the Kotobuki Squadron* fly escort off of one of the zeppelins, fighting off the air pirates and making sure their cargo, or passengers, make it through safely.

Carrier based aircraft

Unfortunately, there’s a shadowy organization, the Brotherhood of Freedom Union, led by Isao, the mayor of the biggest city on Ijitsu, a guy who can smile and joke while ordering the destruction of entire towns, and who wants to exploit any new holes that appear and use that technology to take over the world. The Union employs dozens of fighter units and is systematically intimidating all the small towns to join up. The Kotobuki Girls are not really interested in this. As with Firefly, they just want to find a job, find a crew, keep flying. Of course, they get dragged in, end up as part of the big final battle, and are instrumental in destroying a newly opened hole and the death of the mayor.

Girls at war

Got that? Good. Now ignore it. The heart of the anime is the flying, and everything else is just an excuse. Every episode has a multiplane dogfight, and every dogfight is of heart-stopping intensity. Along the way we get to see all of these WWII fighters in action, plus some machines that never made it into the sky on our timeline — the Kyushu J7W1 Shiden, of which only two were ever built, and the Nakajima G10N Fugaku heavy bomber, only ever seen on the cover of model airplane boxes.

The bomber that never was

I suspect that Director Mizushima is doing what Miyazaki was unable to do in The Wind is Rising, celebrate the warplanes of WWII without having to insert an extended apology for Japan’s role in the war. Even though he ended the film before the start of the war, Miyazaki was still criticised for not saying enough about it. But if you have Japanese fighters shooting down Japanese fighters on an alternate world on an alternate timeline there’s no way you can be guilty of glorifying the Pacific War, right?

George and Betty

Meanwhile, we have the Kotobuki Girls. Each of the six has her own personality and her own reason for flying.

Come as you are

They are portrayed in 3DCG, and are not quite ready for prime time — their faces are stiff, and their movements seem more like those of marionettes. Be that as it may, they are all individuals, and you find yourself rooting for them in all of their fights.

Fight’s on!

And the heart of the series is the dogfights. You see the action from all sides, and from inside the cockpit. You hear the clang of bullets hitting metal, and you hear the creak of that metal stressed to its limit.  At the end of every episode, I had a bad case of the leans, from following the planes as they pulled g’s.

Another kill for Kotobuki

The ending is a magnificent swirling fight in and over the capital city, and under the newest hole. Parts of it make you think of the trench run in the first Star Wars.

Turn right at the next intersection

In the end, Kotobuki sacrifices their zeppelin to close the hole,

They’ll never catch this dirigible!

the good guys win, and fly off into the sunset.

All’s right with the world

From a flying standpoint, anime artist’s license excepted, I have two complaints about the air battles.

First, it’s too hard to tell what’s going on. All of the fights are big, multi-plane furballs,  presented as a series of vignettes featuring one-on-one engagements (sometimes with a saving intervention), but there’s nothing that gives a good view of the overall structure of the battle. In Garupan, you always had the feeling that you knew where everyone was and that you knew how the fight was rolling out. Not so with Kotobuki. Now, air battles are notoriously hard to follow. You dive in, you engage an enemy, and suddenly you are alone in the sky; or an enemy jumps you, you dive away from them, and when you recover, the fight’s move on. But usually there’s some preliminary structure — “You draw off the fighters, you go after the bombers” — even if it breaks down on contact.

Which brings me to my second complaint about the flying. There’s no sign of any real teamwork. In WWII, the US developed a number of leader/wingman concepts, which gave us a significant advantage over the Japanese, even though our fighters were outmatched by the Zero, one on one. In Kotobuki, everyone piles in on their own, and if they see a chance to help a team-mate they will. That’s good team spirit. It’s not good team work. As a result, The Kotobuki Girls are protected mostly by plot armor.


Preflight check

From a drama standpoint, if I have one complaint, it’s that the action is all bloodless, at least on the Kotobuki side. Josh Whedon once said that if you have a fight and nobody important dies, people just say “Oh, look. They’re shooting.” That’s the way Kotobuki is.

Despite that, I’d still call it magnificent.

*Kotobuki, 寿, A Yufang word meaning good fortune, congratulations, or long life, but we don’t find out about that until the end.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 3, 2019

Garden Report for 190403

Meteorological Spring seems to have arrived. The snow has melted, and I can dig in the garden again, but it will be at least a month before the soil warms up enough to plant stuff in.

Only two thirds of my seeds have germinated and been repotted, but that turns out to be a good thing, since I don’t have room for any more pots. All of the melons and about half of the peas failed. I might try again when the weather warms enough to transplant the existing pots and free up some room. Of course, by that time the garden centers might be getting in their plants.

Bought a couple of small planters (24x6x4″) to grow greens in. Once they germinate I’ll put them on the back deck. Meant to plant them to different kinds of lettuce but I grabbed the wrong packet and planted one with chard. This is my first test of seed tapes. Should have something to eat by the end of May.

Once the rain stops I’ll put down some fertilizer in the garden and give it a couple of weeks to work in. I’d been feeding each section through the compost well, but I think I need to do more.

How long has this been going on?

April 1, 2019

All professors complain about students slacking off in class. Most students don’t. Many do. There’s even a electrophoretic distribution across the seating chart. The Hermione Grangers all sit up front. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they pay attention, take notes and ask good questions. Back in the back are those don’t care, don’t want to be there, and aren’t real sure why their parents are making them go. They all have their laptops open (I’m following your lecture slides, prof, and I need to sit back here because that’s where the power plugs are.) Those are the ones who look at their screens and laugh when I haven’t made a joke. In the middle are the ones who are texting on their phones. I know who they are because they are staring at their crotches and smiling.

There’s a body of opinion that we are seeing the results of the electrification of our lives. Everybody lives for their instagram, pinterest, and facebook fix. It’s a 21st Century phenomenon. Maybe not.

Here’s a 14th Century drawing of an academic lecture. Note the distribution of attention: eager students in front, disinterested students in back. Student at the end of the second row consulting their Kindle.

Picture taken from a tweet posted by Stuart Wrigley 

Domestic Girlfriend: A well-done anime about stupid people

March 31, 2019

Domestic Girlfriend (Domesutikku na Kanojo) is predicated on a set of ridiculous coincidences. High school boy has the hots for one of his teachers (as often happens). He also pulls a one night stand with a HS girl he met at a karaoke party (and where were those girls when I was in HS?). Shortly thereafter his widowed father re-marries and brings into the household a divorcee with two daughters — an older one who teaches HS, and a younger one who goes to karaoke parties. Spoilers follow.

Meet your new family

The inevitable happens, and the boy starts an affair with his teacher-sister. Twelve episodes later the inevitable also happens, and they get outed. Meanwhile, he’s trying to kickstart a career as an author. Meanwhile, the younger sister is developing feelings for him.

At the end, the older sister has to quit her job and move to a different school to avoid a scandal, despite which they still have feelings for each other. Meanwhile, the younger sister declares that she is going to go all out to win his heart. Also, he wins a writing prize.

On the good side, studio Diomedéa handled the story very well. This could have been treated as a harem romcom, or as some sort of operatic high drama. Instead, it was more like a soap opera, and I say that as a good thing. What was bad were the people.

Let’s start with Hina, the older sister. She’s in her second year as a teacher but she still has the mannerisms of a student — flirting, slapping the boys on the butt, getting drunk in the evening. Unable to control her emotions, and despite being quite aware of the suicidal consequences, she enters into a relationship with a student maybe five years younger than her, and ends up having sex with him (BTW, in the course of the anime we find out that she previously had an affair with a married man, who she thinks about when masturbating with her bedroom door open, so there’s a pattern here). In this case she is incredibly lucky, and when they get caught she just gets shunted off to a different school, presumably in a different prefecture. In the real world such actions would get her jailed, or at least fired and barred from teaching for life. Her life is going to be a series of bad decisions, and there is no way she should be a teacher.

That’s “Hina-sensei”

Then there’s Natsuo, her underage paramour. Like many high school boys he thinks with his crotch and has zero concept of what the word consequences means. Whether it’s attempting to kiss Hina when she’s drunk and unconcious, grabbing her in the school hallway or at a festival, or concocting a story to cover his visits to her apartment without coordinating with the guy he’s using for cover — twice — he demonstrates zero ability to think beyond the end of his dick.

Yes, we’re at school, but no-one will notice if we duck down like this

At the end of the last episode he claims he still has feelings for Hina but does nothing to reject sister Rui when she gets physical. He’s the kind of guy who is likely to have his head turn up in a school bag.

Maybe she overpowered him

Finally, we have younger sister Rui. Same age as Natsuo, member of the same HS writing club (once she changes schools), made a straightforward and unemotional decision to lose her virginity with a casual meetup. Shy and retiring, she has the most rational and straightforward personality of the bunch.

Yeah, that relationship

When Natsuo executes a standard anime trope and inadvertently walks in on her in the bath, she simply says “You’ve seen me already”, instead of screaming and throwing things. Her major flaw is getting romantic feelings about Natsuo, despite his obvious chasing of her older sister.

The rest of the cast is mostly good people, who help Natsuo out probably more than he deserves: best friend from middle school, gay yakuza coffee shop owner, only slightly creepy writing club advisor, shy girl and flirty girl who both fall for Natsuo (maybe it is a harem anime). Their parents are typical good parents (atypical for anime), concerned about their children and willing to sacrifice to make sure they are happy. Yes, OK, there’s also the totally pointless and irritating American transfer student. Is this the way we look overseas?

You sometimes hear an anime described as a trainwreck. This is an anime about a trainwreck, about how two flawed people imperiled their lives and futures.

Close the drapes, damnit!

The story is handled well. The ending is not as solid as it might be, but that’s because the source manga is ongoing. Judging from descriptions of the source the ending is probably the best possible, under the circumstances.

If you like well-written drama that doesn’t involve mechas, spikey hair, or lots of shouting, and you don’t mind having to read three layers down in the character list to find someone relatable, then you’ll probably like this anime.

Retirement at 90, Part 1

March 29, 2019

No, not waiting until 90 to retire, waiting for 90 days to blog about what retirement is like. Does that title count as clickbait?

This is not an early retirement as some folks would have it. I’ve been eligible for Social Security for years. But it is earlier than I planned*.

And it’s not at all what my previous lifestyle transitions were like. When I left the military, I already had a job lined up in industry. When I left industry, I was already enrolled in a PhD program. Before I finished my dissertation, I had been hired at EWU. This is the first time I have left one career field without having a firm idea of what I’ll be doing next. Fortunately, throughout my many careers I’ve been selfish and lazy enough that transitioning to a life of selfish laziness should not be a problem.

Herewith, a breakout of what it felt like each month after retirement

The first month feels like any other vacation. Final wrapup of duties. Maybe a vacation trip — in this case, a ten day cruise. My weight goes up because, hey, a cruise. So far, it’s just another Christmas Break.

The second month is when the cognitive dissonance sets in. I have this feeling that I have to be doing something — prepping lectures, rewriting syllabi, correcting homework, something — but of course I don’t have anything like that. It’s not a case of feeling useless, as many retirees reportedly do, it’s a case of not yet having figured out how to restructure my time.**

Unstructured time

Now and again I get an email from a student — We miss you! The other profs are mean to us! I refrain from getting involved. I’m going to stop by the office at some point, but I’ll hold off for a while. Student sobbing should trail off as the current generation graduates and the new ones never heard of me. Kindof like sticking one’s hand in a bucket of water.

I spend way more time on the computer than I ever did when I was teaching MIS, hitting reload on my 200 345 RSS feeds, reading lots of things I would never have wasted my time on earlier (Air Canada pilot orders 23 pizzas to Halifax-bound plane stranded on tarmac). The tendinitis in my mouse hand is back, so to get away from the computer I start binge-watching One Piece and Sailor Moon on Crunchyroll, and re-reading classic novels like That Time I Was Reincarnated as a Slime. My weight goes up because I’m not spending two hours a day walking back and forth in front of a class, waving my arms, and because, hey, all that food is just sitting there in the fridge. I can’t go jogging (OK, walking) because Spokane is still shivering from a six-week-long cold snap where the windchills are in the minuses and everything that isn’t buried in snow is covered with ice.

What I really want to do is get back to my research (and learning Python, and learning Japanese), but to do that I have to be able to get to my desk and my desk is piled high with books and papers. I’d put them away but to do that I’d have to be able to get to the various bookcases, which are blocked by stacks of coats and backpacks that I need to find space for in the closets, boxes of books from my office and old computer gear that I need to find space for … somewhere else … and papers that I need to put on my desk so I can organize them.

Meanwhile, various tasks cut into my time: patching the hole in the bathroom ceiling where the leak came through last summer, doing my taxes (This year I’m going to be early, dammnit!), upgrading my wife’s computer from Ubuntu 14 to 18, and all the rest of the twenty years’ worth of deferred housework. Since I’m not really a household chores sort of guy it takes an effort, and a strong will, to motivate myself to do these things and hey, they just released the latest episode of The Magnificent KOTOBUKI.

Actually, I’m not getting a lot of that stuff done, either. Mostly, I seem to be frittering away my time. By the time I’m done with surfing, reading, napping, kitchen, and anime, the day is over, and where did it go? I seem to be caught in a basin of attraction, one that’s not really sustainable.

By the end of the third month, things have begun to settle down. I no longer feel I have to spend an hour on the computer the very first thing, so that I get the latest MIS news for my students (I don’t have any students, remember?). So I can make breakfast, and do my various neck and back exercises (see ailments) before I stroll into my office. I’ve got a timer on the computer that tells me to stop and stretch every 20 minutes, and to go take an exercise break every hour. It turns out that I have a couple of neck exercises that take three minutes to run through — just the right length of time to steep a cup of tea.

Outside, the days are noticeably longer (but not yet long) and the weather is definitely warmer (but not yet warm). This gives me a chance to start walking again.

Inside, I’ve set up a table in the Sun Room for seedlings, preparing them for hardening-off in the cabinet-sized greenhouse on the deck. I’m also attacking the various household chores during those 20 minute breaks. It’s a slow job, but things are getting done.***

I still haven’t made any progress on my research and learning.

Since I do have all this time, and since MJ is still busy six days a week with dog training and dog judging and music directing, I get to do most of the cooking. So my weight is going up. Since retirement it’s been going up by about a pound a week.

Next time, we’ll look at the future, and the past.

*I retired because of my health. Not that I’m unhealthy on a day to day basis, but because I can’t be sure what it will be like, day to day. Quite apart from the whole multiple myeloma thing, I find that entropy is beginning to become a factor: high blood pressure, bad back, bad neck, bad hips (bursitis), bad knees; various eye issues (including early indicators of age-related macular degeneration, so I’ve got something to look forward to); gout. Gout? I don’t own a big enough home to have gout.

Of course, the big problem isn’t the ailments, it’s how to pay for them. Retirement has shuffled my health insurance and reduced my options. Plus, the new MyChart system at the local hospital doesn’t seem to be able to bill the insurers properly, and they don’t seem to have figured out what my new status is.  I am paying more now, and getting more things rejected. Part of my now-copious spare time looks like it will be spent fighting MyChart and Medicare and Tricare. So far, every visit has required that I work my way down the chain, again.

Looks like one of the constraints on my overseas trips and dakimakura purchases will be how much of my discretionary income gets siphoned off to pay bonuses to the stockholders of Celgene.

**I sent this comic to a recently retired friend, ex-Army, hard charger type. He said he showed it to his wife, and he thought he’d have to call 911, she was laughing so hard.

*** If a man says he’s gonna do something, he’s gonna do it, and it don’t do no good you go reminding him of it every six months.

Back to the Moon? Not so fast, Mr. Cavor

March 28, 2019

Vice President Pence has told NASA that Trump wants the US to return to the Moon within five years. I sincerely doubt that will happen. I don’t think Trump expects it to happen.

This announcement falls into the category of cynical political ploy, and there is a long history, long in modern media terms, of US Presidents playing the space card as a way of grasping for support from the tech industry and all the astronaut wannabes out there.

Back in 2017, after Pence’s first call to return to the Moon, the Washington Post listed all the times since Kennedy that various presidents, all of them Republican, had used that call as a propaganda device. Only Obama had resisted the temptation, saying “We’ve been there,” and suggesting more useful and achievable objectives, such as an asteroid landing.

There is an old project management theory that says your resource options for building a new system are are: Quality, Speed, and Cost, and you get to pick two of the three.

Going to the Moon is hard, and if you want to do it without killing too many people, you have to have the best quality people, processes, and equipment possible. That leaves you with making tradeoffs between the other two factors.

Speed is political. When Kennedy announced the Apollo Program in 1961, he gave NASA until the end of the decade — eight years — to accomplish it. Trump has decided that it has to be done in five. By the way, the five year limit is interesting. That’s about the amount of time that Trump has left in office, assuming the Trekkie vote helps him win in 2020.

So the factor that has to give is cost. We want a really high quality system really fast. Actually, that should read really, really fast. That’s going to cost a lot. More than the original $100B (in today’s money) that Apollo cost. Where’s the money to come from?

Keep in mind that we already have a record federal deficit, thanks to Trump. The DoD is asking for a record amount of money, not just to make up for the maintenance we didn’t do while we were pissing our resources away in the Middle East Wars (you would have thought they’d have learned from VietNam), but to completely restructure the force to meet modern adversaries with totally new classes of modern weapons. We still have a critical infrastructure problem, and the states that form Trump’s base are continuing to sink into irrelevance and unemployment, with severe drug and healthcare issues. Oh, and Trump wants to spend an additional $5B on that wall.

Enter Congress. There are two kinds of Congressional committees, those that deal with laws and policies, and those that deal with money. If a policy committee approves a $5B program, all they have done is voted for a $5B box. It’s up to the appropriate appropriations committee to fill it with what they think is an appropriate amount of money, not necessarily $5B worth.

Now, the appropriations committees are constrained by overall goals decided upon by the leadership. They can’t exceed their guidelines, but they can move money around within their areas of responsibility. And NASA falls under the United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. It’s a Related Agency. So is the Social Security Administration. Spending on highway infrastructure is part of Transportation. So, question for the class is, which would you rather do, fix the potholes on I-5, help Grandma buy her cancer drugs, or go to the Moon while Trump is in office? Note that this is an issue no matter which party controls Congress, which is probably why nothing got done after Pence’s 2017 speech.

So, no. We’re not going to be back on the Moon in five years, and probably not in ten. The call for a new Moon Program is the equivalent of a real estate developer putting up signs claiming that a new light rail station will be going in, Real Soon Now, right next to the development he’s selling houses in. It’s a science fiction pipe dream, right up there with The Second Men in the Moon.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

March 21, 2019

Garden Report for 190321

It is officially Spring, and the season begins.

The seeds are started!
In the background, the garden awaits!

Seeds planted include: pie pumpkin, five kinds of squash (acorn, delicata, spaghetti, summer, buttercup, plus three kinds of Zucchini), cucumber, three kinds of melon (crenshaw, honeydew, canaloupe), peas (snap and sugar), kohlrabi, and yard long beans.

I also have tapes for radish, pak choi, leeks, onion, chard, carrots, and lettuce. Interestingly, most of the lettuce tapes (ordered off Amazon) come from Poland.

It will be another four weeks before the seedlings are ready for transplant, and maybe another six before I can get a pick into the soil.

Evolutionary computation and the Cambrian Explosion

March 17, 2019

Science news site LiveScience has an interesting article on animals of the Cambrian Explosion. The question they ask is, “Why do these animals look so weird?” Their answer is that the older an organism is, the more changes life on Earth has had to adapt to since the organism appeared. This is accurate as far as it goes, but it doesn’t address the underlying structure of the evolutionary process, and why they look that way in the first place.

Let’s see if this approach will work

Evolutionary computation is a broad field dedicated to applying concepts gleaned from Darwinian evolutionary theory to the development of useful computer programs. The main processes are Recombination and Mutation, to generate diversity, and Selection (AKA survival of the fittest), to maintain evolutionary pressure. You mix and match some diverse population, sort them by fitness, and kill off the least fit, rinse the blood off and repeat. Since this all happens inside a computer, it is not nearly as red in tooth and claw as real nature is.

But in order for all this to work, you need to start with a diverse population. How do you do that? Well, the standard computational approach is to generate a population at random, without any thought to how well or poorly any individual may do. Most, probably all, of that first generation are seriously unfit for the task you have set them. That’s OK. The selection process will give you the best of a bad lot, and recombination/mutation/selection can take it from there. But that first generation is going to look seriously weird.

Jump back half a billion years or so, to the pre-Cambrianites, and you find a bunch of single-celled bacteria, with here and there a soft-bodied multicellular confederacy. There were many, probably thousands, of different species, all of which look pretty much the same in the fossil record but which were actually quite different, with different tools available for experimentation. And then something changed.

Two somethings, to be simplistic about it. First, the climate warmed, due to geological changes. Second, one species of bacteria, cyanobacteria, stumbled on how to use light and carbon dioxide to provide themselves with food, releasing oxygen as a waste product. On the one hand, oxygen was toxic to a whole range of organisms, but on the other hand, it was an amazing power source, if you could harness it. Selection pressure just got intense.

That selection pressure, combined with a wide range of new ecological niches made it possible for life to start a whole new era of evolutionary development. And what life started with was a large, diverse, one might even say weird population, ready to line up for fitness testing.

So the answer to the LiveScience question isn’t just the long time between us and the Cambrian, it also has to do with the diverse, let’s try anything approach that life takes at the beginning of a new era.

Wildlife in Cheney

March 11, 2019

You know the weather’s been inclement when the deer come into town to forage. Right at sundown yesterday we had eight does and one buck eating the grass under the trees at the end of our block.

As long as one walked quietly and didn’t pay attention to them, they didn’t spook. Finally, a dog started barking, and they strolled off down the street.

Of course, some people take this as a bad omen.

Anime Preview: Spring 2019

March 11, 2019

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 mine on just the title and the cover art.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I didn’t like before (Million Arthur, Bogipop) shorts and kids stuff (Isekai Quartet, Cinderella Girls ), movies and OVA’s, and anything with Fafner in the title.

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

Shoumetsu Toshi: I bought this Vespa secondhand, from a girl with a blue Rickenbacker 4001 left-handed electric bass guitar

Carole & Tuesday: If only we knew someone with a Rickenbacker 4001 left-handed electric bass guitar, our trio would be complete

Konoyo no Hate: My father is a werewolf

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

Hachigatsu No Cinderella Nine: Heisei baseball girls

Mix: Reiwa baseball girls

Kono Oto Tomare: Stop this sound

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

Jimoto na Japan: The return of Elvis

Aikatsu Friends: Magical Girl Magicgirl

Sarazanmai: The wave Hokusai never painted

Oatmeal Dashi

March 10, 2019

I have written about using dashi in oatmeal a number of times in the past. The dashi used was either home made, from seaweed and bonito, or it was home made, from crystals out of a jar. According to a recent cooking article, the go-to staple for busy Japanese housewives is dashi-inna-teabag. You just heat up two cups or so of water (600ml to be both metric and exact), throw in a bag, and simmer for five minutes. The result is a very mild broth.

The dashibags I am using are the Yamaki Katsuo and Kombu Dashi Pack (Bonito and Kelp Soup Base Bag)1.9oz, available from Amazon, $5.48 for a sixpack as of this writing, or just under fifty cents a cup. It took almost exactly a month for them to arrive from Japan, so don’t wait until the night before.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup broth, half a teaspoon of soy sauce, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.

Results: Very good. Very mild. Too much soy sauce. Try it without the shoyu first and then add it drop by drop.

Rating: ****

MH370 Timeline

March 9, 2019

On the 5th anniversary of the loss of MH370 over the Indian Ocean, Aviation Week has released a slideshow-style summary timeline.

We have good IFF and radar tracking of the initial stages of the flight

And we have limited, but telling, automated communications data of the rest of it.

What we don’t have is a good idea of exactly where the aircraft went down, but debris drift simulations agree with the general area shown by the communications analysis.

One thing we do have is enough debris pieces with serial numbers to rebut any claims that MH370 went down anywhere else (e.g. Cambodia).

Given the remoteness of the location and the difficulty of searching the depths of a rugged seafloor, it’s likely that we won’t have any further developments, and MH370 will go down as another one of aviation’s mysteries.

Upgrading my wife’s computer

March 8, 2019

We are not a cutting-edge family. Yes, we have more computers-per-room than most, and yes, we install patches as they arrive, but we don’t buy new ones very often, and we tend to hang on to one version of an OS until forced to upgrade. For example, we bought a new System76 Sable all-in-one for my wife four years ago, and we ran Ubuntu 14.04 on it until last weekend. And thereby hangs a tale.

It was getting to the point that the PC was acting funny, and it was having trouble talking to the printer — all the pages came out blue, so maybe it was sad — and I decided to bite the bullet and install an upgrade while she was away on a four day AKC judging trip.

So first, I backed stuff up, just to be sure. I backed up the /home directory, and then I backed up the /usr directory. This took all day. Why? Not sure. My LAN would start out transferring data at 12MB/s, then slowly slow to a slow 300KB/s. I thought it might be fighting with the TV or one of the other PC’s for packets, but unplugging stuff didn’t help. I finally got everything transferred to our NAS drive and decided I’d look into the speed problem later.

The next day, just for suspenders and belt safety, I followed the instructions for backing up Firefox, Thunderbird, and Opera (yes, she still uses Opera). Time to upgrade!

Not so fast, Babbage. The original install is old enough that the Software Updater doesn’t show an <Upgrade> button any more. It just gives a message box saying that updates for 14.04 ended two years ago. I tried various paths (System Settings, Toolbar/Software, …) but they all ended with the same less than helpful message. It did have an <OK> button, but didn’t have one that said <Not OK>. To the Interwebs!

It seems I have to go to Software & Updates and change my Updates settings to have it check and install new updates immediately. Didn’t work. Also, while fiddling around with it, I managed to put 18.04 on the Ignore list. To the Terminal!

When all else fails, you can always type the commands directly into a terminal window. The trick is to find out what to type. A half hour or so of wandering through the various forums gave a command that looked like it might be what I wanted. Sure enough, it opened up the repository and downloaded the update. Another half hour of watching the terminal scroll all the thousands of files that are part of Linux, it was done. I rebooted, and found I had myself a new, clean, fully updated Ubuntu 14.04. WTFO?

OK. Stay calm. Steady, the Buffs. Let’s try the Software Updater again.

As my brother would say, Yreka! It has an <Upgrade> button! I click, and away it goes. Another half hour of watching install messages scroll up faster than I can read, a simple reboot (typing in her password for the 800th time), and now it’s really done.

As an added bonus, nothing got overwrit. I don’t have to backfill on her various browser accounts. All her other software seems to be in place as well, although the Mahjong game she plays seems to have different rules and interface.

One noticeable difference between hers and mine is that her version of 18.04 is running Ubuntu/Gnome 3 while my three year old Wild Dog with Ubuntu 18.04 on it still has Unity. I presume that has something to do with the update cycle, and I must say I think that Unity works more like I think.

All’s well that ends well. Now I just have to think of a way to get myself a new PC.


10th Anniversary of the Blog

March 5, 2019

The Found on Web blog is ten years old today. In that time I’ve published almost 1,300 articles (just over 10 per month), which pulled in just over 67,000 views (about 50 views per article). They generated over 87,000 comments, of which 500 were real, and the rest were spam.

The most views were on August 10th, 2015, at 106, mostly from people reading my various Girls und Panzer essays. As for individual essays, High School of the Dead (1865) maintained its position atop the leaderboard, followed closely by Garden Gantt (1855) and Anime Worth Watching for Winter, 2015 (1492). Two others topped 1,000 views: Nisemonogatari (1107) and Picture Stories From Earth: Seawater Farms (1104).

HSOTD was described as a fan service train wreck, but I liked it. I suspect most people didn’t come for the well-handled storyline. Garden Gantt is a garden scheduling spreadsheet. Anime Worth Watching includes the ever popular Shirobako, and Nisemonogatari has the infamous little-sister-and-toothbrush scene. I suspect that Seawater Farms is a popular student paper topic.

As for the future, I hope to be writing more, and better. We’ll see.



When algorithms go wrong

March 3, 2019

Here is the latest lead image for “Self Help Books” on Amazon

Evidently, they have a fairly broad idea of what “self help” means

Green Thumb Up My Nose

March 1, 2019

Garden Report for 190301

My Spokane area garden guide says I should direct-seed peas today.

… as soon as the soil can be worked …

Memories of my youth: Scud Hunting

February 27, 2019

It looks like the government is showing renewed interest in finding mobile missiles. I did that for a while. It’s hard. Essentially, you are looking for a bunch of truck-shaped vehicles that can be on any road or hidden under any cluster of trees next to that road.

Truck on road near NK nuclear facility. Is it a TEL? Would we have found it if it paused under the trees?

Before the INF Treaty was signed, I spent 18 moths chasing Soviet mobile IRBM’s, with essentially zero luck. For that matter, we didn’t have much luck finding US Army Pershing launch units, even when we knew there were x-number of Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicles somewhere on that photo of the tops of hundreds of trees.

SS-20 Launch

By the time of Desert Storm, the first invasion of Iraq, I was a civilian contractor, working on a new mobile GIS front end to the DIA database system. We got called into the Desert Storm operations cell at DIA and the first thing the general in charge said was, “show me the Scud launch pads.” I looked up the identifier for Scud launchers and put it into the DB. Nothing. OK, how about the units themselves? Nothing.The general started ragging on us about our lousy DB, until we pointed out that the system we had build was just a window into the DIA DB.

The analyst for the Iraqi army was called over. “Oh, we don’t track those. They are a Presidential asset, not a military asset.” The general was not pleased.

Later during the war we tried feeding the launch coordinates from our launch warning systems into the DB, and doing an area search, looking for warehouses or bridges the launchers could hide in or under. Not much luck there, either.

Scud TEL with support convoy — It’s easier in the desert

In defense of all our failures, mobile missiles usually don’t need  launch pads, as such. Essentially, all they need is a stretch of flat road (or field) strong enough to hold a TEL and missile for half an hour or so. Missile accuracy is improved if you know exactly where the launcher is relative to the target, but modern systems with terminal guidance can even relax that requirement.

Iskander-K Cruise Missile

So, what DoD is asking for is almost an impossibility. It’s true that our satellite and radar and signals collection has improved immensely since I was a lad, but what they are trying to do is find a truck that could be a TEL, part of a SAM site, a coastal radar mount, or a bridgelayer, and say “yep, it’s a TEL”. Good luck with that.

Oatmeal Miso 2

February 22, 2019

I tried making a Japanese dinner the other night. Did not go well. The salt-seasoned fish (Dover sole instead of the called-for mackerel)was too salty, and the home-made miso was too…miso-y. The rice was good. So I combined the leftover fish, plus scrapings from the broiler, the leftover miso (topped up with water to a full cup), and the few remaining grains of uneaten rice, and tried it in my oatmeal for breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup augmented miso broth. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Did not require potatoes or salt.

Results: Acceptable, but I won’t hurry back. Despite the fact that oatmeal will soak up almost any amount of salt, this was slightly too salty. Which gives you an idea of what dinner was like. The fish  disappeared. The rice thickened things so that the oatmeal actually stuck to the bottom of the pot. Not burned, but heavily browned. Next time, leave out the salted fish.

Rating: ***

Nuclear Posturing

February 14, 2019

The history of mankind’s dalliance with nuclear weapons is one of fear-driven power politics and the resulting bad decisions, made with the best of intentions given the information available at the time.

The development and use of the atomic bomb was first of all driven by fear of a seemingly superhuman enemy. Between them, Germany and Japan had overrun most of Europe and Asia. A super-bomb would help tilt the scales, and in any event had to be developed ahead of known German efforts in the same area. The atomic bomb was used against Japan to shorten the war, and to limit American (and Japanese civilian) casualties. It was also a signal to the Soviet Union that the US was too powerful for them to try to dominate in the post-war period.

The immediate post-war period may have offered an opportunity for treaties limiting atomic weapons, and halting research on thermonuclear ones, but the Cold War was already starting. The Soviet Union, led by a paranoid dictator, was both afraid of another invasion by Germany and determined that the Communist System would overcome Capitalism. It might have been possible to agree to some sort of treaty, but we had no means of verification, and wouldn’t for another fifteen years.

In the 1960’s, both sides developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, making possible the almost instant destruction of opposing capitals. Limiting the development of ICBMs would have been difficult, because both sides’ space programs (including satellite verification systems) were based on ICBM launchers.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and USSR settled down to an uneasy truce. Most of today’s policies were developed then, as efforts to stabilize the system. If the enemy can launch an attack without warning, and have it take effect within 30 minutes, then you have to be able to respond within that 30 minute time frame. Hence, keeping weapons on fifteen minute alert and allowing the President to launch a nuclear war (OK, appropriate retaliatory response) with no checks and balances on his actions.

At the same time, the USSR deployed and maintained a large ground army in Europe. Interesting fact 1: East Germany is about 80% the size of Alabama, and roughly the same oblong shape. Interesting fact 2: The USSR maintained more first line combat divisions in East Germany than the total number of divisions in the US Army. Yes, the Germans and other NATO allies provided enough troops to make up the difference, almost, but we were so concerned about the result of a massive surprise attack by 100+ Warsaw Pact divisions that our war planning discussions included the possibility of defensive fallback positions on the Rhine and the Loire. The plans also contained theater nuclear options, and a common phrase heard around NATO was that the real job of the ground forces was to hold the line until R-hour was declared for nuclear release. Under such conditions, there was no way a responsible leader could espouse a no-first-use policy. The whole reason for being of theater level weapons was so the Soviets couldn’t be sure if or when our retreating forces might use them.

Today, of course, the world is a much safer place — Soviet Communism is gone, the Warsaw Pact is gone, and the Russian military is much reduced — and we can seriously consider some of the recommendations discussed in this article in Tom’s Dispatch. Note that the article discusses two main issues: how to keep us from becoming less safe, and how to help us become more safe.

1. The less safe issues surround the Trump administration’s push for extremely low yield tactical weapons mounted on strategic launchers — 5kt W76-2 warheads on Trident SLBMs. I can think of nothing less useful. First question, who is the target? Russia? China? Are you seriously going to launch a strategic missile at either one, feeling safe in the knowledge that when it hits they will realize that it’s only a 5kt yield? OK then, North Korea? We can’t have a stealth bomber drop a dial-a-yield bomb? We’re going to launch an intercontinental missile on a trajectory that both China and Russia will feel threatened by?

Anyone who has given any thought to the edge case uses of nuclear weapons comes to the same conclusion: a nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon, and once you have set one off, you are in a nuclear war. This applies to tactical battlefield weapons, EMP explosions, and small intercontinental attacks.

2. The more safe issues deal with rolling back policies that were important in the Cold War, but are destabilizing now. While Russia is certainly a major competitor, it lacks the ideological imperatives that the old USSR did, and it no longer has a large combat force on the borders of NATO (not even the “New NATO”). That being the case, a declared “no first use” policy would go a long way to defusing nuclear tensions, even thought such a declaration can be rescinded at any time. Similarly with China. China has no borders with countries we are bound to protect. Highest probability clashes are over the South China Sea and Taiwan, neither one of which is a nuclear level priority. As for Korea, if the North doesn’t use nukes, then the ROK army can beat them with or without our help. So there’s no reason not to have a declared no first use policy.

In the same way, there is today little reason for Russia to attempt an all out nuclear exchange and as for China, it is both less capable and has less reason to attempt one. That being the case, there is much less need for a continuing Presidential “launch on warning” or “launch under attack” policy. Requiring, for example, consultations with Congressional leadership, or mandating that a launch order be countersigned by the JCS, is not going to cripple our ability to respond. It might be prudent to rigidly enforce the “designated survivor” policy, but with the President we have today, who is to say that a rogue launch order is less likely than a decapitating strike event.

Configuring our nuclear posture has always been a strategic political act, as well as a tactical military one. Our posture sends a message. Changing the posture changes the message. Right now, our new message is that we are willing to make nuclear war easier to initiate, and that we are not interested in taking any steps to alleviate that situation.