National Geographic: An Army of One

This is just one of those stories that makes you chuckle a bit. My wife just told me of a coworker who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Before he left he packed a National Geographic map of Iraq among other things. He didn’t really think he would need to bring his own map, but he packed it just in case.

Well it pays to be prepared! During his months of service, he and his unit relied heavily on this map to get around as they were never issued anything official by the Army. Oh boy…


Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

This past weekend I took my daughter, one of her best friends, and the best friend’s mom to see Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Both of the girls are 11 year old 5th graders studying Japanese in school and while they are both anime fans, I was rather dubious at first of the wisdom of taking them to see a PG-13 film knowing the graphic nature of the first Ghost in the Shell film. This had originally been suggested by the friend’s dad who knew that I was an avid anime fan. The dad was unable to come due to illness, so mom filled in.

After giving it some thought and considering the personalities of the girls, I decided to take a chance. Besides, I figured it would be a good opportunity to show the friend’s mom that anime is not just for kids. Both my wife and I went to some length to warn them about this, but like many Americans, they tended to think that anything animated was a kid show. Well after Ghost in the Shell 2 that would all change.

Now as for the movie itself, it was pretty good. This is a very stylish film that does a good job of blending computer generated graphics with cel shaded hand drawn characters and backgrounds. The look is not unlike Witch Hunter Robin, just on a greater scale. Ghost in the Shell 2 is a good cybercop movie with decent doses of action and a heavy dallop of philosophizing over life, death, and what it means to be human. If you liked Blade Runner, then you will probably like this too.

As for the girls, they enjoyed it though the philosophical talk may have been over their heads. There’s nothing too shocking, and sexual content is virtually nonexistent, which is interesting given that the central plot revolves around the question of why robots made for sex (gynoids) are killing their masters. The film is in Japanese with English subtitles. And the mom enjoyed the film too, quite impressed with the visuals in particular.

Ghost in the Shell 2 is currently playing at only two movie theatres in Chicago with no marketing to speak of. This is really too bad, because on more screens and advertising this could be a top ten box office film just as the Chinese martial arts drama, Hero, has been this summer.


Messing Around With Japanese Text

This is just a little experiment to see if I can post Japanese text with this thing.

はい! まにあさん!

As near as I can tell, it appears to have worked! This was just a simple copy and paste job. I entered the text using the Unitype Global Writer (in romaji) then copy and paste in here. What does it say? It says "Yes! Mr. Mania!"


BTW, you won’t see the characters properly unless you have Japanese language support installed. If you are running Windows, the easiest way to get this is to go to Yahoo Japan using Internet Explorer. A dialogue will pop up asking if you want to install the language support. Just follow the instructions from there. You might be able to get the language support kits via Windows Update, but that didn’t work for me.


Rocket Science? Oh Boy…

"Rocket science is more fun when you have real rockets." Or so said the Navy ad that just aired during Adult Swim tonight. I could hardly believe my ears though because it was pretty funny, until I began to think that they were making light of real warfare. Then I couldn’t help but think that it was inappropriate, especially with over 1000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

I’m no proponent for political correctness, and I do enjoy various types of war games. But those are just games! The Navy is recruiting people for the real thing, something far more solemn and with no reset button. There are few things more honorable and brave than volunteering to defend your country and I don’t think "fun" plays much of a role in that decision.


Xbox 2, The Halo Effect, and Too Many Lawyers

There have been rumors going about that Xbox 2 may achieve backwards compatibility with the current generation of Xbox games through emulation. Attendant to these rumors were also concerns that this would run into legal problems with Nvidia, the company that makes the graphics chips for the current Xbox, but will not for Xbox 2 (ATI got that job).

I’ve believed from the beginning of talk about the next Xbox that backwards compatibility was something that Microsoft could not afford to be without. They simply are not in a strong enough position relative to Sony and Nintendo, to just dump the current library of Xbox games and force everyone to start over again. More to the point, Halo is perhaps the one game most responsible for much of the success that the Xbox has seen. And with the much anticipated Halo 2 just over the horizon, it is hard to imagine that Xbox 2 could launch without the means of playing the platform’s most successful title to date. And it should be noted that the Playstation 2 benefitted greatly at launch from its ability to play games written for the original Playstation. Backwards compatibility lowers a lot of buyer resistance to upgrading.

Emulation has so far withstood legal challenge (but not ROM copying!). That is, emulating someone else’s hardware can be done legally if proper clean room techniques are followed. This doesn’t mean you won’t get sued, but it does mean that you will win, if you don’t run out of money defending yourself first! So if the Halo Effect holds, then expect backwards compatibility in Xbox 2. Microsoft has legions of lawyers, so if Nvidia wants to sue like a jilted lover, MS can deal with it. But of late, MS has shown little desire for legal entanglements, so some sort of licensing deal is more likely.

As always, I reserve the right to be completely wrong about all of this!


My iPod Is A Star…Sort Of…

Oh fickle fame! After much anticipation and fretting over whether I would look fat on TV, the true star of the show was my iPod! The only part of my interview used in the news story was a 3 second shot of my iPod on my butt! I snapped a shot off of my TV for posteriority! The woman in the picture is not me, but that is definitely my behind! Oh well, to quote Ai from Excel Saga, “Ketsu wa ai ja nai!


Me, My iPod, and 15 Minutes Of Fame

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a lunch time walk to Chicago’s Millenium Park. As I often do for long walks, I had my iPod all hooked up and pumping out a mix of techno and Japanese anime tunes. Near the Tribune building I noticed a camera crew and took steps to avoid them, so as not to get in their shot. We’ll it turns out that they wanted to talk to me about my iPod, what I use it for, and why I bought it. I agreed, and if the footage is used, you can see me in all of my glory tonight at 10pm central time on WLS ABC news, channel 7 locally. Just look for the geeky Black guy. πŸ™‚

Andy Warhol said everyone would get 15 minutes of fame. Well actually, this would be my second 15 minutes since several years ago, during the tech boom, I was geek of the week in the Chicago Tribune careers section. I like to joke that I have a pretty high luck multiplier!


Virgin and the Rise of the DVD

After I left work yesterday, I walked over to the Virgin Megastore to see if I could find the new Inuyasha movie on DVD. This should have taken just a few minutes. Instead I was greeted by quite a jumbled mess as the entire DVD section had been relocated. Virgin employees were busily reorganizing the shelves. Unfortunately for me, the anime DVDs had not been reshelved, so I couldn’t find anything.

Later I gave some thought to the overall meaning of this relocation. The first thing to notice is that the new location is more prominent and spacious than the old. Indeed, previously DVDs and video games were in a smaller area off to the right of the escalator on the second level. They were almost there as an afterthought, not a main part of the business. When the store first opened, years ago, the music CD was king. But oh how times have changed. The rise of music downloads, video games, and the steep fall in the prices of DVD movies and DVD players has probably resulted in a flip flop reflected in the new arrangement of stock. Right now CDs still have more floor space at Virgin than DVDs and video games, but probably not for too much longer.

In the meantime though, Inuyasha is still nowhere to be found.


The Perfect Storm

Here in Chicago, the day after Labor Day means back to school time. This year that day was especially full of promise as my youngest daughter was entering Kindergarten. Oh what a beautiful day to begin school…then it hit…

Hair hair hair! Such was the cry of thunder as the perfect storm began to brew. Growing up, I was always considered to have the good hair. We African Americans tend to make a lot of hair, I think because there is so much variance among us. Some have nearly straight or wavy hair at one end of the spectrum, at the other end are tightly curled naps. I’m somewhere in the middle. My wife though is Chinese and has very fine hair with only a hint of waviness. So what do you get when you mix these together? Hmmm, for the boys it’s easy, they have wavy hair that is really easy to take care of. On the other hand the girls’ hair is more of a challenge. They have fine corkscrew hair that is actually very amenable to braiding. Unfortunately, I didn’t grow up doing hair and my wife didn’t grow up dealing with this kind of hair either. So today was the perfect day to have the hair argument right at the school, oh joy! If only that were the end of it…

I’m not one to let things sit without a solution, so I resolved to learn to deal with this hair so that I wouldn’t have to take a sword to the chest (Hero reference) in order to make a point. That was the plan anyway. The call I got on the phone would say otherwise. It was the school calling me. At first I thought it was something with the youngest, instead the call was about my oldest son. All plans were dropped as I left work to pick him up. On arrival at the school I was not surprised to find that he had thrown up at lunch. Sickness calls from school always involve vomit. What did surprise me was the principal telling me that the rash on his chin was ringworm! I later joked with him that if he wanted a few more days of vacation, stomach flu and ringworm was overdoing it a bit!

Well maybe it wasn’t the perfect storm after all, but it was a rocky start to the school year. We capped the evening with a tussle over our differing pedagogical styles in helping our eldest daughter with her homework. Yeah, in all a perfect day in paradise!:-)


Blue Haired Chix

A couple of days ago I had the pleasure of seeing an honest to goodness blue haired woman on the streets of Chicago. She was a petite, attractive, Asian woman probably in her twenties. She hadn’t dyed all of hair blue, just half of the front bangs. Darn this civility! I really wanted to stare for a while, but that would not have been polite.

Summer in Chicago is a wonderful time to be on the streets downtown. There are so many people of all shapes and sizes. And the ladies are mostly very nice to look at! Yes, I’m married, but not dead!πŸ™‚

Again, modern civility forbids that one makes comments about the looks of a stranger, so I’ll do it here! So if you’re an attractive woman who’s been out and about at lunch time in on North Michigan in Chicago, you’re lookin sooo F-I-N-E! Ugh, that felt pretty good!

Now in the interest of full disclosure, my wife is pretty fine too, more so than most of the aforementioned ladies. And no, I’m not just saying that, though I’ll never be able to prove that here…


Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

We all get and pass around stories like this, but on occasion one comes around at just the right time. This came from my wife’s childhood piano teacher and for me at least puts my little efforts here on the web into perspective.


Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star>> Wishing to encourage her young son's progress on the piano,> a mother took her boy to a Paderewski (see foot note) concert. > After they were seated,> the mother spotted an old friend in the audience and walked down the > aisle to greet her. >> Seizing the opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall,> the little boy rose and eventually explored his way through a door > marked "NO ADMITTANCE.">> When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin,> the mother returned to her seat and discovered that the child was > missing Suddenly,> the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive Steinway > on stage.>> In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, > innocently picking out "Twinkle,Twinkle Little Star.">> At that moment, the great piano master made his entrance,> quickly moved to the piano,> and whispered in the boy's ear, "Don't quit.""Keep playing." >> Then, leaning over,> Paderewski reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass > part. > Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child,> and he added a running obbligato. >> Together, the old master and the young novice transformed what could > have been a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative > experience. >> The audience was so mesmerized that they couldn't recall what else the > great master played.>> Only the classic, " Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.">> Perhaps that's the way it is with God.>> What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy.>> We try our best, but the results aren't always graceful flowing music. > However, with the hand of the Master, our life's work can truly be > beautiful.>> The next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. > You may hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, "Don't > quit." "Keep playing." >> May you feel His arms around you and know that His hands are there,> helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces.>> Remember, God doesn't seem to call the equipped, rather, He equips the > 'called.'> Life is more accurately measured by the lives you touch than by the > things you acquire. > So touch someone by passing this little message along.>> May God bless you and be with you always! >   ***Paderewski, Ignace Jan

Born: Kurylowka, Poland, 1860Died: New York, 1941 aged 80

He composed his first piece at the age of 6, and at 12 entered the Warsaw Musical Institute, studying piano and theory, and graduating as a pianist in 1878. In 1881 he went to Germany to study counterpoint and orchestration, and from 1884 to 1887 he stayed in Vienna, studying piano and earning a living by teaching. In Paris in 1888 and in London in 1890 he was acclaimed as a great master of the piano; he travelled widely, and visited America. In 1899 he settled in Switzerland. From 1910 he took an interest in politics, becoming in time the epitome of Polish patriotism, and prime minister of Poland in 1919. He resigned a year later. He was a great philanthropist and was decorated by Poland, Great Britain, Belgium, France and Italy, and received a great number of honorary degrees.


Say Hello To StressGirl!

I’ve been wanting to update my Product Image Not Found image on the main site for a long time since the last redesign. So I’ve been doing a lot of sketches with an anime theme in mind and finally became inspired by some sketches I’d done based on my oldest daughter and the craziness of the Excel Saga.

So after a couple of days of on and off work going from a letter page sized sketch to scanning it in and finishing it off with Fireworks MX, I got an itty-bitty little image for the main site. Well, I really didn’t want to waste the full sized image having grown somewhat fond of it. So here she is! The StressGirl!


Big StressGirl

Small StressGirl


Gundam Seed Sooner Than You Think!

It’s funny how life can often imitate art, and sometimes it’s scary too. Gundam Seed is a popular Japanese anime series currently airing in the United States on Cartoon Network. The series is an alternate universe retelling of Mobile Suit Gundam, except that this time genetically enhanced humans, known as Coordinators, who live in giant space colonies, are at war with unenhanced humans, Naturals, who live on Earth. The war was apparently started by an Earth alliance nuclear attack on a Coordinator space colony. Beyond that, the heart of the conflict is the fear that the Naturals have for the Coordinators who have enhanced mental and physical capabilities. Many Naturals feel that manipulating human genetics for nontherapeutic purposes is immoral, while many Coordinators feel that conscious human enhancement is the next step in human evolution and a way to a better life. They are faster, stronger, and smarter than the Naturals.

That all sounds nice and science-fictiony doesn’t it? Well, this morning’s New York Times has an op-ed article on the subject of genetic enhancement that is all too real. Here’s a bit of it.

"Belgian Blues are unlike any cows you’ve ever seen. They have a genetic
mutation that means they do not have effective myostatin, a substance
that curbs muscle growth. A result is that Belgian Blues are all
bulging muscles without a spot of fat, like bovine caricatures of
Arnold Schwarzenegger."

The article goes on to describe gene therapies being developed to inhibit myostatin to cure or prevent diseases like muscular dystrophy, and how these same therapies might be used to enhance athletic performance. The article lists a few exceptional athletes who have been found to have naturally occuring genetic mutations that in turn lead to their exceptional abilities. Hmmm, to anyone who has seen Gundam Seed (or the Star Trek episode Space Seed) this sounds all too familiar! So it would seem that questions of just what it means to be human are going to become relevant sooner than we think. The past doesn’t hold much hope for a peaceful discussion of this, as not too long ago (in the history of humankind) my people were not even considered to be human which was very convenient for those in the slave trade.

What do I think of all this? Well first, I don’t believe that genetically enhancing humans is immoral. Our creator has allowed us to enhance ourselves in many ways to suit our cultural tastes and personalities and to learn more about what it means to be human. But I do think that genetic manipulations will be very dangerous with an initially high failure rate. I don’t think there is an ethical way to do this kind of research. We are only understanding little pieces of a large and complex puzzle which means that changing one little thing may appear okay at first, but could have consequences that won’t manifest themselves for some time. There is also the danger of unleashing dangerous organisms that natural systems won’t be able to adapt to in time to counterbalance them. Should this stop us? I don’t know, because someone, somewhere will always have the motivation to go where no one has gone before. So I think it would behoove us all to be fully prepared to deal with whatever fruit comes of genetic research and the consequences.


Will Windows XP SP2 Drive The Market?

As most tech interested people (i.e. geeks) already knows, Windows XP SP2 made its oft delayed debut last week. I resisted any urge to immediately deploy it at work and waited a couple of days before installing it on my home PC. The installation went without a flaw and I think I may have seen a speed increase. My hope was that installing it on my wife’s computer would result in  a similar speed increase.

Alas, it was not to be. My wife’s PC didn’t have enough disk space for the service pack to install. And since I’d already done the ol’ file shuffle, it furnished the perfect excuse to buy a new hard drive. Afterall, SP2 is essentially a must have upgrade for Windows XP users and my wife’s PC was definitely hobbled by a lack of disk space.

So the shopping began. A coworker pointed me to Circuit City which had a great rebate deal on what turned out to be a 120GB Western Digital HD. I had to go to two CCs before finding one in stock. So it occured to me that SP2 might actually be spurring some hardware sales (along with Doom 3 of course). So I guess one could say that the good folks in Redmond are doing their part to aid the alleged economic recovery! πŸ™‚

Final word on this, I installed the 120GB drive in my computer and plan to move the old 40GB to my wife’s. The upgrade was not at all easy until I used the partition copy function of Partition Magic 8 instead of the Data Lifeguard 11 tools. So my advice is to use something like Partition Magic or DiskCopy if you need to move your XP installation to a new disk. If I’d thought of this earlier, it would have saved me a day of work!


Obama Obama Obama!

Last night’s keynote address at the Democratic National Convention by Barack Obama was something that many of us in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood have been waiting for for a long time. For a number of years now, we’ve known how good Barack is, and that he was someone who was going places, and we’ve wanted to share that. Well now the cat is out of the bag and there’s no going back!

The thing about Barack is that he’s the real deal. He didn’t just make up all of that stuff in last night’s address in order to turn a clever phrase or two. He believes in what he is saying and acts on it and inspires others to act as well. And now it’s fair to say that the whole world knows that there’s a new star rising on the horizon! Go Barack! Go!