July 29, 2013
HDTV on the cheap
One sure sign of technological change is how quickly the CRT has disappeared from consumer electronics showrooms. My old and once reliable JVC CRT television decided to join the race to extinction.
The vertical flyback circuitry or transformer was dying, squashing the picture to an inch tall. Super-wide screen! It failed when the set was cold and usually stabilized once it warmed up.
The warm-up period was taking long and longer. I finally resorted to never turning the TV off. But it was only a matter of time before the t variable in this limit function reached infinity.
On my budget, cheap was the priority. I've been watching letterbox on a 20 inch 4:3 screen for the past decade-plus, which comes to about 19 inches at 16:9. That makes a 22-inch HDTV big by comparison.
Walmart's cheapest 22-inch LED LCD is (was) the Seiki SE222FS. According to Gizmodo, Seiki is a Chinese OEM that other sources suggest co-manufactures with LG (LG remote codes do seem to work).
Seiki had already retired the model when I bought it. Walmart had it for the firesale price of $118. Online reviews gave it good marks for everything but the sound, not a deal-breaker for me.
Low expectations certainly help. What do you expect for a hundred bucks and change (refurbs for $20 less)? The entire shipping weight was 12 pounds! Moving that JVC around constituted an OSHA hazard.
My other dinosaur was a dead Panasonic VHS (another technology that went extinct almost overnight). It stopped working a year ago. I used it as a signal amplifier for the DTV converter box.
Blu-Ray players cost almost as much as the TV. An upgrade for another day. I agree with Forbes that the DVD isn't dead yet. Walmart sells a Sony upconverting HDMI DVD player (DVPSR510H) for $40.
It's a quarter the size of my previous DVD player and does a decent job upconverting to 720p (after I figured out the scads of settings; this time I actually had to read the manual).
Seiki first impressions
The last picture tube show
July 25, 2013
Tonan no Tsubasa (40)
Shushou learns about Kenrou Shinkun in chapters 10 and 12. She applies the lesson about the jewels in chapter 30.
July 22, 2013
Not a Dry Eye in the House
Meat Loaf is a singer (and actor) with plenty of talent but not tons of range who found his musical niche (thanks to Jim Steinman) and does very well by sticking to it like a magnet. As he explains in this mini documentary, he chooses writers who can write the "goth rock" ballads that define his oeuvre.
Here's a lesser-known Meat Loaf classic by Diane Warren (from the 1995 album Welcome To The Neighborhood), who does a good job channeling Jim Steinman.
There's not a dry eye in the house
After love's curtain comes down
Listen and you'll hear the sound
Hear the sound of a heart breaking
Not a smile left on my face
The ending's just too sad to take
And there's not a dry eye
Not a dry eye in the house
Too Late to Apologize
July 18, 2013
Tonan no Tsubasa (39)
When Shushou says, "But those aren't real towns. They don't have a riboku," she is commenting on the etymology of riboku (里木), which means "a village with a tree."
The term "koushu no tami" (黄朱の民) is explained at the end of chapter 15.
In chapter 44 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, Enho tells Youko that emperors can't have children. (He also explains the 100 percent inheritance tax, though people like Shushou's father have figured out a big loophole.) And yet Gankyuu says the Imperial riboku can bear the emperor's child.
Googling around, I found a couple of Japanese message boards where the same question was raised, though nobody could offer a satisfactory explanation other than editorial error. Or Gankyuu is simply misinformed.
July 15, 2013
I'm a cheapskate, but sometimes I will buy the name-brand. Bounty paper towels, for example. And Jimmy Dean Original Pork Sausage Links, mostly because they don't use soy fillers (I've got nothing against fillers, but they don't agree with me).
It doesn't hurt that they taste great. In taste tests, Cook's Country rated Jimmy Dean precooked sausage the best, even over homemade.
When it comes to rice, the store brand (Western Family) and Botan (a California brand from JFC) stay within a dime or two of each other. Nishiki is JFC's premium brand, premium enough to advertise heavily on TV Japan and charge twice as much as Botan.
The Botan is definitely better than the store brand. Out of curiosity, I sprang for a bag of Nishiki. It tasted the same as the Botan.
A rice connoisseur would blanch at the sight of my 30 year old National rice cooker. Maybe a modern model (with digitally-controlled induction heating coils) would make a difference. But I'm not upgrading anytime soon, so I'll stick with the Botan.
There are times when I prefer instant long-grain rice (laziness being one variable, "mouth-feel" another). Comparing the store brand and Minute Rice, the latter is slightly better and only slightly more expensive. And the Minute Rice box is less flimsy.
While it won't overcome pure price considerations, decent packaging can push a purchase over the top.
July 11, 2013
Tonan no Tsubasa (38)
Despite anata being shoehorned into the role, Japanese doesn't really have a neutral, second-person pronoun equivalent to the English "you," relying instead on names (plus the requisite honorifics) and titles.
Wives refer to their husbands as anata (often translated as "dear") while husbands refer to their wives as o-mae. Shushou is pointing out that when Gankyuu refers to the haku as o-mae, it sounds more intimate than a name.
At the end of this chapter, Shushou describes how to get around a 100 percent inheritance tax by setting up a living trust and spending it down to zero.
July 08, 2013
Even in a rock-ribbed Republican stronghold like Utah County, a city government can find itself sucked into a failing socialist experiment. The iProvo fiber optic system was Provo's attempt to treat Internet access like a municipal utility.
Except that, unlike electricity or water, it wasn't exploiting a natural monopoly.
The idea certainly looked good on paper. Like the transcontinental railroad, the city would provide the rights-of-way and a commercial ISP would run things. Its citizens would get superduper fast Internet service for a song.
In reality, Union Pacific was driven to the verge of bankruptcy a mere three years after the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Summit, Utah. The entire state of Utah did go broke as the unpaid subcontractors fell like dominoes.
But the next time will be different, right? No, it was pretty much the same thing, albeit (thankfully) on a tiny scale.
With cable, DSL, and wireless already available, none of the service providers Provo partnered with could sufficiently cover the outstanding debts the build-out had already incurred to make any money, let alone extend it to all customers.
Back in 2008, the Reason Foundation reported that Provo "faces the dilemma of continuing to fund iProvo with no break-even point in sight, or it can sell and recoup as much of its investment as it can."
It took a few years, but Provo does deserve credit for recognizing a sunk cost fallacy when one was staring them in the face.
So when Google came calling, Provo was happy to sell the whole thing for a dollar, even if that meant eating $2.2 million in outstanding debt and the remaining $3.3 million of the bond issue that funded the network's construction.
Once it goes live, Google says it will provide Provo residents with Internet speeds of 5 megabytes-per-second for seven years after a one-time $30 activation fee. Now that's UTOPIA.
Which happens to be the name of iProvo's sister fiber-optic network that operates on a (very) limited basis throughout Northern Utah. It was started with the same starry-eyed utopianism and ended up in pretty much the same financial straits.
A flyer from an Orem mayoral candidate (local election this fall) I got in the mail last week pointedly deplored Orem's continuing involvement in UTOPIA, throwing good money after bad. Alas, the candidate didn't say what he'd do about it.
Pretty please, Google, buy the whole thing! And build out the service to my address!
July 04, 2013
Tonan no Tsubasa (37)
July 01, 2013
Here's some great material for a Bones or CSI episode.
Sokushinbutsu (即身仏) were Buddhist monks who starved themselves to death in a way that resulted in their mummification. After exercising and dieting for 1000 days to burn off body fat, and drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree (from which lacquer is made) for 1000 more days to "preserve" the rest, the self-mummifying monk would
place himself inside a stone tomb, ringing a bell once each day. When the bell failed to ring, the other monks would seal the tomb, wait another 1000 days, and then open it up to find out whether the monk had mummified.
Over the past 1200 years, less than two-dozen sokushinbutsu have been officially documented, the most recent in 1903. It is not advocated or practiced by any Buddhist sect and is banned in Japan.
But it has been done on TV, specifically on Partners, TV Asahi's long-running police procedural. The lead detective, Ukyo Sugishita (Yutaka Mizutani), is an amusing combination of Jeremy Brett's dapper Holmes and the dogged inquisitiveness of Peter Falk's Columbo.
I didn't know anything about sokushinbutsu until seeing that episode. But, of course, Detective Sugishita does.
His latest partner, Toru Kai (Hiroki Narimiya), goes mushroom hunting on his day off. The next thing he knows, he's in the hospital with a bad concusion and temporary amnesia. Sugishita zeroes in on the last thing his partners remembers hearing: a ringing bell.
As it turns out, he'd stumbled across a sokushinbutsu tomb. Hearing the bell, he knew the occupant was still alive. But before he could report this unusual crime-in-progress, the son and grandsons of the devout--and deranged--old man konked him on the head.
They get arrested for the head-konking. But Sugishita is left with a literal habeas corpus problem: Kai can't remember where in the forest the tomb was and nobody in the family is talking. All one of the granddaughters will say is, "Come back in 1000 days."