It would be touching if fans hoarded 5 cm/s

But it’s so not happening.

I’m not one to note events related to commercial releases, but when it’s uncertainty related to 5 Centimeters Per Second, I’ll make an exception.

If you’ve been thinking about giving one of those poor R1’s a better home (alongside its older siblings, perhaps?) than a warehouse, store shelf, or bargain bin, you ought to do it sooner rather than later, but unless there’s some really panicked buying as a result of this discontinuation, I don’t see supply drying up any time soon.

Speaking of those other titles, it seems strange that Voices of a Distant Star and The Place Promised in Our Early Days didn’t get axed, them being under CoMix Wave as well. Or maybe they’re also on their way out. Uncertain times, we do live in.


Episode 22: Speed hax kekekekeke

If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.

Pursuant to that, is Gundam 00‘s shot across the bow of Murphy’s Law: if the most unexpected event can occur that can bail you out, it will. Bonus points are had if it’s statistically independent. For example, if you cry so hard that you get your trypants in a bunch, that system back-up will kick in, or a convenient memory will be recollected, or surprise super speed hax will be conferred with an accompanying “you graduated” speech.

The last event is Real Ultimate Power, the perfect way to counter any skill, including downloaded skill. Anyone thinking of using the quad damage/red armor/bunny hop cheat they stole from you the week before can’t possibly flip out before you can.

I suppose that to be fair, there is a mitigating factor in the cool-down effect, but its initial appearance was nothing short of clutch, and we all know that clutch writers are awesome writers. Turns out that Wang Liu Mei is in it for the lulz drama? Awesome.

So I finished watching the first season of the war on war, and I’ll probably get around to watching the second season, although maybe not as it’s airing, in much the same way that I’ll get around to watching the second season of Code Geass one of these days. The inclination (and the traffic quota) isn’t really there, but I’ve spent too much time to not see either to their conclusion, even if it may have been sunk cost.

Episode 2: Crucify me!

Who didn’t see the ending coming? Especially in light of the above, even though it was the self-proclaimed puppet master who said it, but who knew that two episodes in? It was in some ways an acknowledgment of their fate, and the fate of their mission, because as Patton never said, dead people don’t win wars. Looking forward to the somewhat cleaner slate and increased body count at some indeterminate point in the future.

Tuned cardiac resonators

Heart Station PV

You may want to skip the preamble, which is mostly anecdotal.

The review preamble

So this is a Heart Station review, and a late one at that. It was something that I’d get around to eventually, but this is a pretty tardy kind of eventually for which I have no good reason.

The kicker was when I purchased the CD, which is a bit of a story in itself. Strangely, Heart Station was cheaper to get at the mall than online, and that’s before any shipping and handling costs. Despite the price difference, it’s going to take more than an Utada Hikaru CD to drag me out to the mall, and the extra push didn’t appear until recently.

I almost didn’t find it. In the past, Utada Hikaru stuff has appeared in the R&B/Rap section, the World Music section, and I think I heard somewhere that she was once found in the Electronic section, which is a bit of a stretch but still plausible. At this store, she was in none other than Pop, but Exodus was nowhere to be found. Kind of neat seeing two Japanese-language albums (Ultra Blue and Heart Station) within spitting distance of…U2…

Except not.

Because despite marketing herself by her last name, she was for all intents and purposes one Hikaru Utada, and consequently put in sub-section H. Maybe that’s how we’re supposed to roll in the Western nations? Or just westernized inventory systems. Even the one staff member I asked was confounded since she didn’t show up in the system under U.

On the way out of the parking lot I spotted a pick-up truck. Or a station wagon. The vehicle doesn’t matter, but the license plate: BAKA-109. That capped a pretty good day.

Before getting to the review proper, I should note that it’s perhaps not a proper review. Looking back, Heart Station related events began late 2006, even if the album didn’t have a name at that point. Half of the album’s titles (excluding the interlude and including the bonus track) are from previous singles, and my opinions on those have been mostly unchanged, so some tracks are probably going to be light on opinions.

The review proper

Fans like to segment Hikki’s career based on her albums, and somewhere along the line that inevitably means her style and sound. It’s worked pretty well: from First Love right on up to Ultra Blue, any given track just “feels” right for its particular era, whether it’s because of production, performance, or varying contributions of both. Sometimes even just a dominant style is all it takes to bin a song.

Things are just a bit trickier with Heart Station. After the (jarring) reset button that was Exodus, things have settled some, and the album represents a much more incremental change, but it’s not like she’s stopped running off and doing different things. It’s more like she continues to run off and try new things, but at a slower pace.

Fight the Blues

Case in point, Fight the Blues could very well have wound up on UB as Keep Tryin’, v2.0. It opens instrumentals first followed by chorus, there is an exotic sounding bridge with the same kind of hollowed out harmony, an extended version of the chorus appears later on, and everything is wrapped up by an outro. The only argument to be made against Fight the Blues‘ inclusion in Ultra Blue, other than the title being a bit of a send-up, is that Keep Tryin’ is a lot richer in its ambiance.

Heart Station

I’ve said my piece on Heart Station. Lots of movement, especially in the chorus, but subdued all the same. The only thing I want to add is that Heart Station is night music. So is This is Love. Heart Station is track two on HS, This is Love is track two on UB. Probably just coincidence, but Fight the Blues and Keep Tryin’ are also the first tracks on their respective albums.

Beautiful World

Utada Hikaru at HEY!x3, 3 Sep 2007

I’ve also said my piece on Beautiful World, but it’s archived elsewhere. It’s a somewhat austere vision, but it’s shaping up to be a theme in this CD.

Flavor of Life (the ballad and the bonus)

Flavor of Life, in both the ballad and origination versions, is pretty pedestrian. The original is an up-tempo ballad-ish song with an electronic slant. As a full-blown ballad with acoustic backing, it lacks the impact found in similar works from her. Maybe plain was the intent, a ballad not devoted to extraordinary feelings, but ordinary life. And as it plods along, so does the rest of the world.

Stay Gold

It’s a bit odd to put two slow songs one back to back, but that’s where Stay Gold ends up. The more it’s listened to, the harder it is to engage with it. The piano line that first appears is something that can be instantly latched on to, but in a repetitive, somewhat hypnotic fashion that eventually fades into the mechanical rhythm elements. A faint layer of fuzz is placed upon the whole thing, like the distant pattering of rain. The music really hollows out any comfort in the words being sung.

Kiss & Cry

Kiss & Cry has a firmer grounding to the past, in terms of the material used (Hotel Lobby) and the bold, in your face singing and instrumentals reminiscent of her R&B work. It’s definitely one of the easier tracks that I can latch on to, if only for its slightly jaded colouring. Suck it up, take a chance, and when it’s all over, kiss and cry.

I should be a bit more specific than describing the opening as “brass fanfare,” which it is, but it also could very well be the ensuing free improv characteristic of a big band jazz ensemble closing off a number. There should be a term for this, but I can’t remember it.

There are too many of these little ironies in this album to write all of them off as coincidences.

Gentle Beast Interlude and Celebrate

Sampling material from within the same album, as is done in Gentle Beat Interlude, does not go unnoticed. Given that it transitions smoothly into Celebrate, I think of it as one track. Although Celebrate (you sexy lady) can stand on its own, I wonder if there is anything to take away from the use of Heart Station in the interlude and the fact that it was initially titled Desperation.

It’s not the first time that Hikki has taken a run at latin, and Celebrate falls somewhere in between the stately and lamenting Letters and the more raucous affair that is One Night Magic. I’ve seen more comparisons made with the latter, but there is some leeway that spans the range of my perceptions.

As a result of having listened to something slower a bit before, the contrast makes Celebrate that much more up-tempo. On the other hand, if a faster track preceded it, then the opening bass line feels very heavy for a latin number. I don’t mean that it drags, but there certainly isn’t a party atmosphere. Rather, the party is being commented on from afar, in the same coy tone that defines Heart Station.

Prisoner of Love

Utada Hikaru at SMAPxSMAP, 14 Apr 2008

Just because we may have heard bits and pieces of this track before doesn’t make it less solid. The old harmonies aren’t so ancient that they’ve lost their magic, the fact that the chorus sounds a lot like the verse in Wonder ‘Bout doesn’t make it any less snappy, and so on.

The thing is, it’s a little too grim sounding to belong on Distance, and it’s not so out there as to belong on Exodus, even if the lyrics were originally written in English. If anything, I’m reminded of contemporary strings-backed American R&B tracks, except with more prominent strings in that respect.

You’ll get no complaint about a prominent strings part from me. After all, Utada Unplugged isn’t Utada Unplugged without a strong string section.

Prisoner of Love is up there with Kiss & Cry as one of the most tangible tracks on this CD, which is in stark contrast to the next one.

Teiku 5

Fight the Blues might have appeared on UB, but Teiku 5 nearly did, and I can’t help but think it’s the opposite of Making Love, like Heart Station is to This is Love. It seems a bit of a stretch to link the two, and I’m having trouble articulating why, so for now it remains one of those “sounds about right” statements.

I’ve heard opinions that this is the Kairo of the album, it being the most out there of anything present, but I find that Teiku 5 is a lot better because the former doesn’t really register with me, while the latter is in a toss-up for best track on Heart Station.

The only other thing I have to add is that the explosion of sound after the dim opening makes this a colourful trip into the void.

Boku wa Kuma

The decision to put a song for new life after a song about death (or transcendence if you’re optimistic) is a good thematic one. The song itself, not so much. You might sing it to your kids, or your kids might sing it, so a job well done I suppose. I didn’t watch day-time children’s shows nor had lullabies sung to me, so maybe I’m missing an expected amount of nostalgia. I do, however, like to note when simple is deceptive, but that’s (simply) not the case here.

Niji-iro bus

The last in a short run of non-English titled tracks, and where Hikki shows her true colours. Not the colours of the rainbow, but a certain shade of green as she outdoes Kiss & Cry in her blunt commentary on life. And to think that the music, with its syncopated piano and slippery analog loops, has such a cheerful disposition — at first.

In no time at all, the leaping vocal motif used to transition from the chorus back to the verse fades into an expanding landscape before returning with a much sparser arrangement. The little details that made the first phase so quirky return, but twisted into a minor key in a turn towards wistful lament, capped by the occasional zephyr. As she repeats her first line in this section, she is backed by a haunting multi-voice part, rivaling the swelling chorus from Hotel Lobby, that marks the height of this song, or indeed the entire album.

In Sigma

Putting Ultra Blue and Heart Station side by side leads to mixed results. There are tracks that could have been on UB, and one that was made for it but was eventually dropped. And then, from out of nowhere, you get run over by a rainbow-coloured bus.

Ultra Blue is a lot more earnest. It was overall richly layered, with vibrant lines and strong vocals reflecting passionate feelings. With the exception of maybe Prisoner of Love, you won’t find any of those at the same time in a Heart Station track.

This is really a somewhat pained album, in a “truth hurts” kind of sense and it seems only right that the tracks are generally thinner and subdued. Where Ultra Blue covered the excitement of the night, Heart Station is generally about the hangover the day after. That’s not a strictly negative comment; it’s just the cynical truth, and Hikki has made the most of it.

Fork your fansub

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.  I forgot to note the episode number.

One of the many questions that sprouts like a weed goes something like, “What is the cost of a fansub?” Current practice is to deploy the pesticide known as, “Lost sales (maybe),” one whose long term effectiveness is dubious at best.

That’s a cost to the industry, and a monetary one at that. But what about the viewer?

Apparently the cost is absolutely huge in some cases, kind of like the price paid by a person allergic to nuts in the presence of a large open container of cashews. Free education and aesthetically displeasing (although beauty is in the eye of the beholder) visual value-adds make people watery in the eyes, uncomfortable in the gut, prone to violent threats and militant outbursts, and making videos that put kids in their place by treating them like…kids.

The “free is a license to do whatever” is an old defense, at once obvious and tired. Sometimes, the truth is just boring, like remedial school. YouTube is pretty much free, and doing whatever includes putting electronics in the microwave and setting your peers on fire. In free there are no hard standards, but maybe that’s why it draws all sorts of people. Somewhere hanging around Free, chances are good that you’ll find Technology, so tinkerers (hackers?) tend to be well-represented.

Maybe you could call old school fansubbers white hats. They self-regulate, climbed the learning curve of technology that was state of the art over a decade ago, have a strong sense of tradition, or whatever passes for tradition. Not sure what passes for a black hat; if you know anyone that subs for organized crime, call the police.

And then there are script kiddies (see what I did there?), and they require no further elaboration.

I keep running off on tangents. Anyway, have you ever considered a modification to the above argument? Free also happens to be a license for you to do whatever. Suppose you’ve got a soft-subtitled Fansub.mkv sitting on your drive. Apparently the poor grammar and honorifics are like a stake through your eye socket, a desecration of your eternal soul. Don’t look now, but I think that makes you a pretty good editor, so I’ve got an idea.

Demux the ASS file. Edit it in Notepad or Aegisub. Remux. Select your scrubbed subtitle stream. Chill out and stop crying into your alcoholic beverage of choice.

There are limits. Most of the more complicated typesetting, including moving signs, logos and karaoke effects, are trade secrets and/or difficult to render in real time, so they are superimposed onto the the video stream itself. But, chances are good that you can scrub any and all translator notes, something that ought to make a few of you delirious with joy.

Soft-sub capable machines need only apply. If you don’t happen to have one, you could always try and hard-sub, but I leave that as an exercise to you, the unfortunate reader.

Afraid that you’ll upset somebody? That’s alright, since it’s better (and easier) to say sorry than to say please, but if you keep your bloody mouth shut, no one has to know. That means: don’t go on some group’s IRC channel and brag about it, don’t release it, and don’t be dumb and talk about what you’ve done on your website. As if the first two weren’t.

Not worth the effort? Then clearly Fansub.mkv is not sacrilegious enough. Rename it to akuma.mkv and try again.

Fork your fansub. Be legendary.

Misnomers and supposition

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.  I forgot to note the episode number.

The first half toes around the umbrella known as translation. The second half manages to trip over the big orange monster to whom that umbrella belongs to.

Somewhere along the line, the lot of us became translators. And I don’t mean just fansubbers, but fansub watchers as well. The term gets thrown around so frequently that most don’t even bat an eye upon reading something like, “That episode’s translation is bad.”

Press further: Why?

“Because it has spelling errors.”

In reality, the text is bad because it has spelling errors, and that alone isn’t enough information to say who is at fault. Oh yes, there may just be more than one person involved in these crazy hobby projects. There usually is, yet it’s something that tends not to register with many, which is great because it allows others to get away with murder.

Translation and editing go hand in hand, not unlike book writing and editing, or article writing and editing. In all these cases, it’s hard to determine where the former ends and the latter takes over, and many times it’s an iterative process that occurs inside one mind first and involves others second. It’s not hard then to see why there’s a tendency to lump things into just translation, or just writing in general, but step back enough and these become two distinct steps, albeit with no strict borders.

In some ways, translation is like static compilation. You’re sitting in first year programming for n00bs and you press whatever button it is in your C++ IDE to see if passing the Hello World assignment happens now, or some indeterminate time later. What exactly is going on? You’re compiling your code, words are being translated into a program. And maybe that’s true for toy programs.

Fast forward a couple weeks and, my goodness, you have to reference some external library. Quite ambitious. Suppose that you are “just” compiling your program. Are you done? Can you call it a program? Does it run? No, no, and no. The translated code does not compute, it needs ideas and algorithms provided by the library, and it’s not called external for nothing. Who will reconcile these dangling connections to distant functions? A linker.

I suppose that linking is to programming as editing is to fansubbing: important steps for any non-trivial project, but terms that exist outside of popular nomenclature. If the extent of your programming knowledge is from some movie about a game of thermonuclear war, then programs get compiled, full stop. If the extent of your fansubbing knowledge is clicking torrent links, then dialog gets translated, full stop.

If there’s anything untranslated, if there are little details that are eating you like mosquitoes, or honorifics, if there is a failure to link, then chances are good that a decision was made, for better or for worse, out of literalness or out of laziness, by the editor and not the translator. The translator can output anything from product to raw one-to-one correspondences. His/her responsibilities end there. Localization, omission, salvage operations, are duties ascribed to the editor.

Of course there’s a garbage in, garbage out phenomenon that occurs when dealing with sub-optimal conversions, but spelling errors? Funky grammar comprehensible only by persons of East-Asian descent? Unsatisfactory amount of Westernization? The first two are not functions of translator laziness, and the last is proportional to the amount of material that an editor is willing to let slide.

Part 0010

Even if you were just watching Saturday morning Tom and Jerry (like me) while real people were running JACOsub on their Amiga machines, you can safely say that “Fansub” is a term that has stuck. Yet it is not representative of what can be and is done today.

Old school fansubs probably advanced as far as industry allowed it to, and it seems like in industry, subtitling has not evolved beyond the style set forth in the DVD spec. To claim that DVD subtitles are the best subtitles is like claiming that the sailing ship was the best way to travel internationally. It sure was if you were living circa 400 years ago. It also happened to be the only way, short of sitting on a bunch of strung-up logs and crossing your fingers.

Back then, technology was hard to find. It was also quite limited. Case in point, DVD subtitles are actually prerendered overlays because while Moore’s Law marched on, it hadn’t quite marched far enough to put enough horsepower in commodity DVD players to support real-time soft-subtitle rendering.

To this day, there are still howls of protest over soft-subtitles on desktops, although the performance problems don’t belong solely to the soft-sub component in a media container. But if real-time soft-subs are problematic in 2008, then they were downright infeasible in 1997. More supposition on my part, but the method of production back then was basically soft-sub rendering onto video, so even though SSA or JACOsub existed and were used, much of the potential flexibility lay dormant.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that subtitling was all past technology was capable of, even if more could be done on paper. And when that happened to be all that the industry was (and is) capable of doing, then it’s easy to spot the stylistic similarities.

There are any number of claims one can make about technology. Technology happens, social change follows. Technology lowers barriers to entry, it increases flexibility, it’s empowering, it reduces to time to market, it can improve quality of life yet obliterate business models. The ability to better exploit SSA and its successor ASS might be an evolutionary upgrade in the subtitling world, but it’s flexibility that DVD doesn’t have and something that the industry hasn’t been able to capitalize on.

Meanwhile, the lower barriers to entry mean that younger people can access fansubs, make their own, and distribute them. The result is like a playground without adult supervision (or yes, kids in a candy store), and we are all witnesses to the attendant consequences.

Apparently the free reign, somewhat hacker-like mentality drives people up the wall. The ability to overlay images or other animations on the cheap plus aspiring graphics artists wanting to prove their skills has lead to an explosion in typesetting. The cost of a simple note is virtually nil, requiring little more effort than inserting another line into a soft-sub script. But placing any line of text, in any font size, in any orientation, anywhere on the screen, is virtually nil to begin with.

Cue adult outrage, but we were all kids once and you know what? Kids just wanna have fun. You could give them a stern talking to, and I suppose that’s already been done, but it’s still pretty hard to ground people you don’t know, from over the internet. I think that’s a Good Thing. That’s neither here nor there, but perhaps an article for another day.

At one point it may have been perfectly fine to accept the text-only world that arose out of the constraints of the day, but today’s fansubs are a much more visual and generally information intensive beast. And it’s all because people can do nifty things like coloured text and custom fonts while being able to render them in real time. You laugh (or rage quit F10) now, but I think it interesting to note that, at one point in time, mainstream computing was the domain of the command line.

An absurd proposal

I’m not particularly well-read. I lie. I’m not well-read at all, having last studied any kind of literature in my last year of high school. Whoops, actually I did make an attempt at higher reading out of interest some time later, but more on that, later.

So back in high school, I read a number of works by Shakespeare, something I think most North American high school students do. I saw words and structures that I had never encountered previously, my text was filled with footnotes, sight reading in class was always a point for embarrassment, and formal instruction plus the threat of course failure was required to maintain something barely approaching enthusiasm. Things got progressively better, if slowly, but only because I was being prodded up the learning curve.

A while ago, I tried to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Joyce. I had a gift certificate, I’m cheap, it was in the bargain bin, and I had never encountered such stream of consciousness as I did in the first arc of that book. Not even while daydreaming, although I suppose that’s a bad example since I’m technically zoning out. How about, not even while trying to dodge grenades and shotgun blasts while returning fire, while my aim is swinging in figure-eights, while defending a flag and having my frame rate drop below 30 fps.

My comprehension abilities at the height of my iambic pentameter parsing powers probably clocked in at about half a page per minute. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty poor. School textbooks are larger than commercial paperback equivalents to accommodate my still shaky fine motor skills; this wasn’t densely packed text or anything. My comprehension abilities trying to parse someone else’s stream of consciousness? About one-eighth that. Clearly gift certificate credits well spent.

Maybe before people get all up in arms over literal translations in fansubs, we should try localizing some of this arcane or outright wrong English. It’s certainly doable. I mean, half of the assignments I received in English class were to express some passage in my own words, and because I don’t speak Shakespeare to this day, to me that meant “lay it out for the layman.” Coles Notes rakes in the dough for doing pretty much that. But instead of using a localized reference to study literature, we should just study localized literature.

Except any English teacher is well within their rights to smack you upside the head for suggesting that. It took me a couple minutes to find the iodine bottle. It’s English class, not English class for Idiots (is that book series taken already?). There are barriers to entry and, I suppose, enjoyment. Readers are held to a standard.

So why not viewers?

Flattening pyramids

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.  I forgot to note the episode number.

There is a very real tendency for young and niche communities to go to war with, and amongst, each other. Linux versus BSD, FreeBSD versus OpenBSD, GNOME versus KDE, Ruby versus the world, not to mention globalization internationalization versus sterilization localization.

(But everybody knows that if you want to get anything done, you use C)

The ferocity of these wars abates only when the community matures, which is to say that mostly counter-productive bickering is replaced by wholly non-productive apathy and/or the bane of (de-facto) standards. The L in LAMP is generally uncontested these days, or it doesn’t really matter so much as the P, or whether that P should be an R, or E, or something.

When it comes to moving pictures, maybe I’m the worst kind of viewer in that unless there’s some extreme abuse, I can’t be bothered to get riled up. Screen clutter? You should see my desk, the most recent addition being an empty pack of gum, a half-used pack of gum, and the contents of my wallet as if I had tipped it upside down and given it a good shake. I can spot a partially buried headset, an unopened pack of playing cards, and newsletters dating back to last fall (or last summer? I can’t see the date).

So no, clutter and information overload don’t really bother me. I don’t strictly approve of mismanaged real estate, screen or desk, although my indifference does amount to tacit approval. My way of dealing with distractions is probably a common one: tune them out. I suspect that most people around my age are quite good at tuning out, to the extent that it takes a monumental effort to get them to tune back in, but that’s what enormous marketing budgets and hype machines are for.

There are some things that I don’t tune out, though. They could be incredibly useful bits of information, or ultimately frivolous ones. But for what they’re worth, I can’t tune out honorifics. In a sense, you could leave them in subtitles or take them out and I wouldn’t care, because I care. I can’t not hear them; they can’t be unheard. Why?

Part of it is a uniqueness factor associated with honorifics. More often than not, they’re preceded by a name and that’s just not how we roll over here. Surely the person we’re speaking to knows their own name, and even though people like to hear their name when addressed, I find that there’s a line between personal touch and discomfort, the kind experienced as if being addressed with a number instead of “you” when being spoken to. For whatever reason, this difference in mindset continues to be interesting instead of — I don’t know — repulsive.

By and large though, I think that I’m just interested in systems. I suppose that should have been obvious from the get-go, since a fair number of courses in the syllabus have the word, but honorifics as a system? It’s an efficient way of compressing and delivering relationship graphs, compacting the social hierarchy and letting everyone know where they stand on the ladder of life. And by constantly reminding others of their own status, perhaps it went some way towards maintaining social harmony.

I don’t pay much attention to pronouns, but should I? I see them as one part protocol, and one part loopback mechanism. After all, your relationship with yourself kind of falls into a special case. Self-esteem is essential to scaling any height, but at the end of the day how far you get is measured in the eyes of others. As they should be. Autobiographies excepted.

Augmented Realism

Director talks Dennou Coil, wao translates. Near the bottom of the first translation, amid the talk on realism or at least scientific/technological plausibility, is a perspective on how to draw.

At times, what’s in your mind’s eye sometimes carries more momentum than what’s in front of your real ones. But to think that this is something to be capitalized on, well how cool is that? The world may not be as simple as black and white, but perhaps our memories have striking shadows akin to line art, tinted with such vibrant shades as midnight blue and sunset pink.

And maybe I’m just crazy and dream in the palette of 5 cm/s. But I’d be okay with that.

I once bandied around the term hyperrealism without bothering to see if it was an actual term or not. Oops, but maybe it wasn’t such a bad guess.

[Meh-ta] Aggregating aggregators

Antenna-Nano. Why?, Read on.

Let me describe my feed reading habits. Most of the entries I see originate from feed aggregators. I may not read every single entry I come across, but I will at least scan headlines and read summaries to get a sense of what others are interested in.

In terms of anime and related topics, Anime Nano or the AB Antenna are go-to sources, but if you’ve ever subscribed to the full feeds of either, then you know that the unread post count can and does accumulate rapidly.

I’m subscribed to both.

I think you can see how this might be a problem, but it’s actually not too bad most of the time. In fact, it’s roughly only half bad. There’s a lot of overlap between the two feeds since many sites have been admitted to both, and it’s also probably a major reason why many pick just one of the two, if they pick one at all.

It would be useful to me — and perhaps others — if I could take a union of sorts, with the resultant being a new set with the entries of both but devoid of duplicates. I thought that, if nothing else, it would be a rudimentary study in web services programming.

So I wrote Antenna-Nano, which periodically polls both aggregators, and maintains a list of all unique entries within a 10 hour window. There are actually two feeds that do the exact same thing, one being the main site and the other being a FeedBurner feed that acts as a kludge-tastic cron service whenever it refreshes.

As a result, expect updates every 30 minutes. I’d prefer every 10 minutes, but I don’t have much of a case griping over free cron for a hobby project. I’m pretty happy with it otherwise.

Those of you with more experience than me (it wouldn’t take much) are probably pointing to Yahoo Pipes right now while scratching your heads over my choice of Google App Engine. Actually, I do have a Yahoo Pipes version and it is indeed very easy to do what I want, but the output is ugly for the sole reason that it has sketchy Unicode support.

It may have been fine even a year ago when most used only the 7-bit subset of UTF-8, but these days, more people are using a couple non-ASCII characters to decorate their titles and post descriptions. But it’s not just exotic characters that Yahoo Pipes has trouble with: I’ve even seen something as mundane as the apostrophe encoded into its 3-byte equivalent.

Going with a pipe is more elegant, though, and I did try to make it work, but the result was me subjecting myself to a day’s worth of Unicode hell as I tried to build a custom filter to de-Yahoo the data. We can discuss the sordid details if you’re so inclined, but in the end I found no workarounds.

Ethereal puffs tough to autopsy

I finished Shakugan no Shana II a bit past midnight today, capping a roughly 5 hour run from episodes 14 to 24. The point where I took a break might have been purely coincidental – this winter has been blurrier than usual – but it made for a good dividing line anyway. A couple remarks below.

The “home stretch” was a lot more entertaining, with entertainment being proportional to the amount of time devoted to combat. At the same time, the lack of a body count was anti-climactic (I’m looking at you episode 22). I’m not sure if it’s because I was particularly jaded at the time, but I had no time for conveniences.

(That’s a cute way of putting it.)

Without a scattered collection of details resident in intermediate memory, I probably wouldn’t have guessed as to how the last fight would end. As it was, I kept thinking, “This is going to take more episodes than there are left, but if they really had to…” I go with the flow almost exclusively and speculation hardly ever comes to mind, but it did and it was validated, in much the same way that the conclusion tried to validate much of the time spent in the first fourteen episodes. I roll my eyes to both.

Episode 17: Eita FAILS

When the most positive thing that comes to mind is, “He bears a striking resemblance to the Cowardly Lion,” I know that some buttons are being pushed. I’ve been lucky in the past in that most of the characters I’ve stumbled across tend to do one of two things when faced with indecision: they tip-toed or otherwise walked in circles around it, or they struggled to escape its strange allure with varying degrees of success. Usually the latter follows after a ton of time spent in the first state, in a transition that is popularly called “development.”

But I’ve seen a third option in the past, where a character gleefully jumps in and proceeds to roll around wallow in it with something approaching enthusiasm. This guy is the latest addition to an unfortunate list of rare events.