May 30, 2009

Chapter 2 (Kizan)


隆洽 [りゅうこう] Ryuukou ("wide prosperity"), capital of Sou
清漢宮 [せいかんきゅう] Seikan Palace (pure China)
典章 [てんしょう] Tenshou Manor ("temple of the law")
正殿 [せいでん] Seiden ("true building"); the main building of the palace
保翠院 [ほすいいん] Hosui haven (protect jade)
大翠 [たいすい] Taisui (big jade), exective director of the Hosui Havens
高岫山 [こっきょうざん] The Koushuu Mountains that divide two adjacent kingdoms
巽海門 [そんかいもん] Sonkai Gate, lit. "southeast sea gate," the narrow straits between Kou and the Yellow Sea (not an actual lock or gate)

恭国 [きょうこく] Kingdom of Kyou (reverent)
供王 [きょうおう] Royal Kyou (accompany)

巧国 [こうこく] Kingdom of Kou (adroit)
塙王 [こうおう] The Royal Kou (promontory)
塙麟 [こうりん] Kourin (the kirin of Kou)

奏国 [きょうこく] Kingdom of Sou (musical performance)
宗王先新 [そうこくそうおうせんしん] The Royal Sou Senshin (future new)
宗麟昭彰 [そうりんしょうしょう] Sourin Shoushou (shining clear)

宗后妃明嬉 [そうこうひめいき] Queen Meiki (bright joy) of Sou
英清君利達 [えいせいくんりたつ] Prince Eisei (excellent purity) Ritatsu (profitable accomplishment)
文姫文公主 [ぶんきぶんこうしゅ] Princess Bun ["Bunki"] (literature) Bun Koushu (literature official chief)

Chinese surnames only have one character, but that doesn't apply to azana. In Chinese, Princess Mononoke uses koushu (公主) in the title, so I concluded that "Bun Koushu" means "Princess Bun." I'm also treating kouhi (后妃), kun (君), and ki (姫) as titles. In Japanese and Chinese the characters all run together without any convenient spaces.

For example, in Scrapped Princess, Pacifica refers to her older step-siblings as "Shannon-nii" and "Raquel-nee." These suffixes are short for nii-san (兄さん) and nee-san (姉さん), meaning "older brother" and "older sister," but she makes them part of their names.

"Everybody just bows standing up? Like the kirin?" The kirin only kneels before the king, and no one else. Youko outlaws kowtowing in chapter 81 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

A tasuki is a sash or cord used to tie up the sleeves of a kimono or yukata, when cooking or doing housework or farming. They are still used today.

This is the last chapter in the book.

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May 27, 2009

SF/F cliches


A list of overused fantasy tropes and cliches here and science fiction tropes and cliches here. Amusing and telling. At the end of the day, telling stories is all about "the same only different."

Here are a few more of my own:

In the future, not only have we run out of oil, but everybody's forgotten that internal combustion engines run equally well on ethanol, butanol (better than ethanol), hydrogen and natural gas, not to mention all the diesel/turbine substitutes.

Any bright kid can crack 128-bit encryption with a laptop (Mac, of course).

Supercomputers are all mainframes based on the Cray-2, circa 1985, just bigger. Despite faster-than-light communication, nobody uses distributed networks, making single-point-of-failure catastrophes inevitable.

Nobody uses off-site backups either.

Passwords and one-time pads, no matter how complex, are always crackable thanks to some super-duper mathematics genius or wizbang gizmo.

It is impossible to "crack" a true one-time pad except through brute force. There was an old Mission Impossible episode where the mission was to crack a one-time pad. The only way to do it was to socially engineer a situation that would force the villain to reveal its source: a page from a randomly-chosen phone book. Clever.

Shooting the ten-pad causes a digitally-locked door to unlock (great security, that!).

Similarly, the hero can hotwire any vehicle or spring any prison lock with rudimentary tools.

Super-advanced militaries of the future lack the equivalent of the guided missile, JDAM, HARM, Vulcan Phalanx, drones, or even effective firearms (or lack them in sufficient quantities).

A Vulcan Phalanx is used in Under Siege. Mount a couple on the Death Star and Luke Skywalker would have lasted about five seconds. You do see guided missiles a lot in anime--but they are never proximity devices, so the good guys can always outrun them.

A nice thing about the Stargate series: conventional automatic weapons remain quite useful at killing things.

Alien races bent on destroying civilization will descend into the atmosphere and engage Earth air defenses rather than staying safely in orbit and pummeling the planet with really big rocks.

Heinlein, Niven and Pournelle have used this idea. And despite how dumb the rest of the movie is, Independence Day deserves credit for illustrating the proper use of a nuclear warhead against an enemy.

No matter how technologically developed the society, all communications systems are analog (even faster-than-light) and AM radio is ubiquitous.

Robots insist on occupying the same ecological niches as humans, despite robots ostensibly having no need for what those ecological niches provide humans.

A few more from Kate

Since Alec Guinness is dead, if you have a wise sage that instructs the youthful hero in his life's work, the wise sage must either be Liam Neeson or Roy Dotrice. That is, he must have a beard, a deep voice, and talk in something that could be a British accent. Even Ewan McGregor had to grow a beard before he could give sage advice.

Super-advanced society with massive technological advances will nevertheless be completely lacking in one area that the heroes just so happen to be skilled at.

A few more from Joe

When a movie is turned into a TV show, the villain's powerful abilities are diminished and continue to diminish as the TV show progresses. And other, often extremely useful ones magically pop up, often to only disappear the next episode without explanation.

In order to see with helmets on, lights are placed pointed at the eyes.

Complex societies exist in the future despite a) the lack of technology, b) the lack of resource, c) completely dysfunctional organizations, or d) the obvious lack of physical ability.

Aliens that aren't humanoid must build ships, machines and cities that easily accommodate humans.

When aliens or robots want to get rid of those pesky humans, they do it piecemeal instead of whacking everyone at once with poisonous gas or neutron bombs.

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May 23, 2009

Chapter 1 (Kizan)


The title "Kizan" (帰山) literally means "homecoming mountain." Pronounced kisan, the same characters refer to a monk returning to his temple after a pilgrimage. This meaning will become apparent in the next chapter.

芝草 [しそう] Shisou (lawn grass)
芬華 [ふんか] Funka Palace ("perfumed splendor")

柳国 [りゅうこく] Kingdom of Ryuu (willow)
劉王 [りゅうおう] Royal Ryuu (axe)

利広 [りこう] Rikou ("wide advantage")
助露峰 [じょろほう] Jo Rohou (rescue dew summit)
宗王 [そうおう] Royal Sou (essence)
延王 [えんおう] Royal En (prolong)

In chapter 24 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, Enki recruits Rakushun to travel to Ryuu to collect information on the state of affairs there.

The names of the city gates are explained here.

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May 20, 2009

Who needs 500 channels?


With my SUPERDish, I get another two dozen free channels in addition to the handful of Asian channels I was already getting, Christian, public access, and shopping networks. And CSPAN and NASA ("Making space exploration as boring as CSPAN!"). Plus the countless PPV sports, porn and movie channels.

The best free channels are Research and UCTV and NASA. (During an actual mission, that is. The Hubble Repair Mission was like This Old House in space. The ISS is boring. What's it supposed to be there for, again?) BYU has a channel too, but it's as dull as CSPAN.

That's not counting the 500+ channels I could choose from with a domestic programming package. It strikes me as a goofy business model that only makes sense if the marginal cost of each new channel is minimal compared to the profit from adding each new paying-through-the-nose customer.

Though a "pure" a la carte system is equally unworkable unless, like TV Japan or the Wall Street Journal, a very specific demand is met by a very specific supply. A la carte plus over-the-air works fine for me.

Mark Cuban says that the Internet can't compete with established broadband delivery networks. I think he's right. On-demand SD television over the Internet would become a bandwidth hog, especially in the local loop (until fiber reaches the home in significant numbers). Forget about HD.

Heretic that I am, I also think ISPs should meter or even block file sharing ports. We're in classic tragedy-of-the-commons territory here. Hey, considering the bandwidth even cheapo web hosting plans allow, if you have to depend on file sharing, then your business is way undercapitalized.

I've never been sold on the next great technology that promises to turn your computer into an "interactive TV." Just because computers and televisions look like each other doesn't mean they are each other. The only thing I want to interact with while watching TV is the remote.

Satellite and cable could implement the on-demand programming using current DVR technology. Basically the Netflix model, but streamed or trickled over unused sidebands. But perhaps people don't want to think even that hard about it. They just want to pick up the remote and watch "whatever's on."

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May 17, 2009

A crazy way to lose a race


In an almost-repeat of the Kentucky Derby, Mine that Bird came from dead last in the Preakness Stakes to lose to favorite Rachel Alexandra by less than a length. Granted, it makes for great television, but the Preakness revealed the Achilles' heel in this come-from-behind strategy. Without a route along the rail, Mike Smith got jammed up in the middle of the track and easily lost a length during his last-minute surge. Mine that Bird was the faster horse, but only as fast as the track and jockey allowed.

So there won't be a Triple Crown winner this year, but there may be a Triple Crown rider, as Calvin Borel was riding Rachel Alexandra this time around, the first filly to win the Preakness since 1924.

Breaking sports news video. MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL highlights and more.

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May 16, 2009

Chapter 24 (Dreaming of Paradise)


天帝 [てんてい] "Tentei," the Lord God Creator
宗王 [そうおう] Royal Sou (essence)
黄姑 [こうこ] Kouko (golden mother-in-law); Shinshi's azana or nickname

In the Twelve Kingdoms, a monarch can't simply abdicate and retire. As the Royal En tells Youko in chapter 59 of Shadow of the Moon,

Becoming a king or empress means dying as a human and being reborn as a god. When you are no longer a monarch, you cannot continue to live. So the Late Empress Yo climbed Mount Hou and there renounced the throne. Heaven accepted her abdication and Keiki was emancipated.

Otherwise, as in the case of the Royal Kou, once struck down by the shitsudou, the Taiho would die first, and after the kirin died the king would inevitably succumb.

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May 13, 2009

Out with the old


In his aforementioned Tokyo travelogue, Orson Scott Card also mentioned that

Japanese have never built their houses to be permanent. When paper is a major component of interior walls, you're not building for the ages. Houses have no resale value--only the land they're built on.

This, bemoans Alex Kerr as well, is all too true.

When I was working in Osaka, I observed a house on street lined with Japanese-style "row houses" get torn down to the foundations (the street looked like a kid missing a tooth), and a new house (that looked the same) being built in its place using an I-beam steel frame.

That last bit reveals a big reason why Japanese aren't so sentimental about "old" buildings. Earthquakes. The Kobe earthquake in January 1995 killed 6400 people, most of whom were living in older wooden houses that collapsed, triggering fires from space heaters and ruptured gas lines.

Card also observes that "[Tokyo] is a city with little air-conditioning, though it gets as hot (and as cold) as Washington, D.C." Actually, there's plenty of air-conditioning in Tokyo, but little central heating or air-conditioning in residences.

What can be additionally confusing is that like the switch from winter to summer school uniforms, air-conditioning tends to be turned on and off according to long-established seasonal rituals, not necessarily because of the weather.

When I was living in Osaka, my very nice and fairly new apartment didn't have central heating or air conditioning, or high-pressure hot water (you could run hot water in the shower, or the kitchen, but not both).

There were hookups for a heat pump, but that was an after-market accessory I couldn't afford. My missionary apartment in Odawara did have an air-conditioner, but only thanks to a generous landlord. Heating was by the ubiquitous kerosene stove.

The delightful anime series Strawberry Marshmallow takes place in an upper-middle class suburb. Watch carefully, and you'll note that the rooms are heated and air-conditioned separately (it figures occasionally into the plot). There's no central air.

A recent episode of the NHK science program Tameshite Gatten! ("Science for Everyone") analyzed why people sometimes fainted and even drowned after getting into a scalding hot o-furo. One recommendation was letting the shower run for a couple of minutes first.

The problem, you see, is that in the winter, stepping from the cold bathroom air into a hot o-furo causes the blood pressure to spike and then plummet. Why such cold bathrooms? Because they're not heated! Hence engineering marvels like the electric toilet seat.

So, just how eager are you to reduce your carbon footprint?

To be sure, most newer studio apartments do come equipped with a combined heating/cooling heat pump, an important prop in Freeze Me.

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May 10, 2009

Chapter 50 (Angel Falling Softly)


"Blood is thicker than water" was originally a German proverb ("Blut ist dicker als Wasser") that first appeared in print during the 12th century.

1 Samuel 2:6-9 (KJV):

The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and he hath set the world upon them. He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail.

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May 09, 2009

Chapter 23 (Dreaming of Paradise)


Carrying over from chapter 22, chapter 23 begins with a flashback between Shinshi (Eishuku's mother and Seiki's foster mother and Shishou's aunt) and Seiki. So the king referred to is King Fu.

昇山 [しょうざん] Shouzan (ascend + mountain); when a dynasty end, the prospective candidates make an arduous journey to Mt. Hou, where they are chosen by the kirin.

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May 06, 2009

OSC goes to Tokyo


Orson Scott Card takes a trip to Tokyo and loves it. He gushes, to be sure (the Japan Tourist Board should hire him), but in a couple of hundred words he describes the experience better than most "correspondents." Dave Barry did a good job too (Dave Barry Does Japan). Journalism needs more sharp-eyed writers and fewer reporters.

Card (rightly) rhapsodizes about the trains in Japan, but (wisely) notes that

If we had stations in the same proportion to the population, they would be so far from most of us that we would never walk to them; and if we had stations in the same proportion to the area, there would only be a relative handful of riders per station.

Sorry, if you build a Shinkansen here, they will not come unless you can do something magically overnight about population density. Right now, my niece is in Numazu on her mission, a "little" town out in the sticks with a population of 205,000 and a population density of 1,100/square km.

Salt Lake City has about the same population, and even with expansion checked by the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake, a population density half that. As Card points out, "America won't benefit from urban railways until we create neighborhoods that cluster rather than sprawl."

One way to do that is to peg the price of gasoline at $5.00/gallon (and adjust for inflation). But both sides of the political aisle hate the idea, which means that outside a small number of urban corridors (where zoning and eminent domain present other problems), high-speed rail in particular is a wasteful pipedream.

Expensive gasoline doesn't discourage driving in Japan as much as exorbitant tolls and taxes, and literally having no place to park in the big cities. Out in the 'burbs, cars are very popular, but Japanese car makers aren't rushing to sell electric cars in their domestic market. They can't compete with small displacement gasoline engines.

Pretending for a moment I'm not a running dog libertarian capitalist, the best "exotic" solution is a multi-fuel turbine/electric powerplant that would provide the energy densities that batteries can't by themselves. But I'll bet that improvements in conventional technologies will outpace abracadabra solutions for decades to come.

When it comes to mass transit in the U.S., alas, the biggest obstacles are geography and the stubborn laws of thermodynamics. All those CAFE standards and Volt-style subsidies will only exacerbate the so-called "problem"--the dream of a home in the suburbs--and won't make Mother Nature change her mind.

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May 04, 2009

Kentucky Derby


What a fantastic race! The kind of story that would beggar belief if Hollywood told it exactly as it happened. A veteran jockey riding a 50-1 nobody comes from the back of the field to win by 6 3/4-lengths.

You can't see it in the regulation coverage. The aerial view is what blows you away, Calvin Borel riding Mine That Bird from next-to-last through the pack like a motorcyclist cutting through a traffic jam.

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May 03, 2009

Chapter 49 (Angel Falling Softly)


Newgate Prison in London remained in operation from the late 12th century to the early 20th century. It was located at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey (the central criminal court).

Newgate was originally intended to be a "new" gate into London City (in addition to the existing four), hence the name.

In contrast to Newgate's corrupt reputation--at many times during its history being run as a for-profit penal institution--high status criminals and royalty were usually housed at the Tower of London (which enjoys its own spooky reputation).

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May 02, 2009

Chapter 22 (Dreaming of Paradise)


慎思 [しんし] Shinshi (humble thoughts); Eishuku's mother, Seiki's foster mother, Shishou's aunt.

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May 01, 2009

Kanon (box set)


Kanon is available from Netflix, Blockbuster, and Greencine. The box set just went on sale at Amazon (at a very reasonable price) and at most other online book/DVD retailers. The Amazon listing for the box set is quite detailed, with stills and trailers. The review by "Oneneo" is especially worth reading.

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