Friday, March 18, 2005

Two things you must download! 

After watching some streamed demos lately, I decided to look around online, to see what was out there to run on my machine. For those that don't know, the demoscene involves creating a program which acts like a music video to demonstrate the skills of the programmers and musicians involved. This has a long history stretching back into Amiga days, but hasn't died out...

First is fr-025 (aka The Popular Demo) from the group farb-rausch. It is basically scenes of a living disco-ball type creature who tends to light up what he walks on like Michael Jackson. Good music and spectacular graphics. The readme says you need at least DirectX 9.0a installed, but there's also a lot of options for resolution, windowed or not, anti-aliasing, etc. I have a pretty new graphics card (Radeon 9800Pro) so I could do full quality on 1280x1024, but YMMV. Best of all, it is only 8megs in size. You can get it here

Next up is zoom3 (trance generation) from the Russion group Intercon. What is amazing about this one is that it is only 64k! (there are competitions for the best in a small size). Yet it is almost 10 minutes long with really interesting graphics, music, and even computer-generated speech. It requires a video card with pixel&vertex shaders, so you'll need some sort of GeForce or Radeon card, but it also has settings for resolution and quality. There's no excuse not to get this, even if you're on dialup. :) Thanks to Thomas for pointing this one out to me... incredible programming! Grab it here.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The year the modem was put to rest... 

It is funny how difficult change can be at times. Personally, I'm a fairly nostalgic person and my memory also isn't all that great. The combination makes me tend to be a packrat, fearful that losing an object will lose the memories as well. I think my digital camera will help with that eventually, but today's topic is about something a bit less physical. I'm finally moving away from my old ISP, losing my old e-mail and website in the process. It may not sound like a big deal, but check out how I got to this point:

[Note: I'm using the wonderful Wayback Machine for links that are gone or might be soon.]

Way way back I was part of a local Bulletin Board System called the-SPA! (Springfield Public Access), run by Linda McCarthy and Matthew de Jongh on TBBS. They were always one of the larger systems in the area, I think eventually getting up to a capability of 64 simultaneous users. I'd tried one BBS for like a week before that, but SPA was really where I found my home and got exposed to the concept of "online". This was still before anyone but people at universities or large companies could use the internet, and no one else knew was really even aware of it. Check out this article which looks back on BBSs and fidonet in the area and talks to Matthew about the SPA.

At first I just went in and downloaded some files. I got an image viewer and it was really the first time I experienced photos on my commputer. These days it is hard to imagine the huge shift that represented. I mean why would you have a photo viewer when there was no real way to get photos? No digital cameras, scanners were really expensive and mostly b&w, printers were b&w dot matrix, etc. But now on the BBS there were all these cd-roms of interesting pictures and programs. Back then I was on a 2400 baud modem, so a 640x480 jpeg took something like a half hour to download.

I believe I may have also grabbed a MOD file player and some songs, which was some of the first high-quality music I'd hear on the computer (along with the awesome Tetra Demo that came with my Sound Blaster, which was a tracker, though I didn't know that at the time). See Mindcandy for more on the demoscene.

Eventually I started talking to people in the chatroom. For a shy kid of around 15? or so, it was a pretty liberating experience to talk with local people from all walks of life. We went to a SPA picnic and some parties and people's houses. I got involved in a MUD called Illusions, which was a really cool experience to play online with other people and also roleplay a character. In later years I'd even have my first relationships based off of meetings on that BBS and even know of some people who got married who met on SPA.

SPA always had Fidonet, which I believe was hooked up to Usenet. I never really got involved in that, but later SPA would get e-mail. You could always send messages to other people on the board, but this was something new. About that time, more people were starting to talk about the internet, though most still weren't sure exactly what it was. I actually went to the library and found the book Zen and the Art of the Internet. Not only did it explain things like ftp, gopher, and the www (which was still mostly text-based at that point), but it gave some addresses and also my way into the big time.

That way was ftp by e-mail. You see, some people had created special gateways so that people without ftp could still download files. I'm sure there are still a couple of them out there somewhere actually. Basically you'd send an e-mail with your instructions and it'd spit back the result. So if I e-mailed something like:

ftp ftp.sunet.se

It'd then e-mail me back the directory listing. You'd mail back go into one of the directories and list it again. When you finally got to a file you wanted, it'd send back a series of e-mails with the file converted to text. Back then I had an offline reader for the BBS and it let me save e-mails to disc. One of the CD-ROMs on their system also had a program to uudecode back into a file.

Back then I was homeschooling and one of my things was to learn some Pascal. I didn't have a lot of money, so I decided to try to download one online. I ended up finding an ftp site with it and using the mail-to-ftp which sent me back something like 5 e-mails. After saving and decoding, I got a zip file. I downloaded an unzip program off the BBS and it unzipped! It is hard to explain just how amazing it was to go through that convoluted process and have it actually work...

Now, eventually SPA got a shell account which let you use ftp and gopher and lynx. It'd download the file to the BBS, and then I could download it to my computer. That was a big exploration period, and you also started to see things like the Internet Yellow Pages in bookstores so you could find good sites to go to.

Eventually SPA started up a real internet service. I remember going to classes that they held to help educate people about the internet. I actually knew a decent amount by then about the net itself works, but having graphical tools in windows was new. I started off with an early version of Netscape which didn't support background images yet. Lots of gray in those days..heh. Started getting involved in usenet. Eventually I'd put up my own website, complete with rainbow dividers in January of 1996. That version isn't online, but you can look here for October '96 (Wayback doesn't store background images unfortunately).

I'd also fulfill a bit of a childhood fantasy. Back even before the BBS days, we had a paper catalog where you could send away for software and they'd send you back a floppy disc with it on it. In the catalog was a program that I never did end up getting at the time, but whose description made an impact on me. It was POV-Ray, a program that'd let you make 3d images on your computer, along with a screenshot of I think it was a train. Once I got active on the net, I was able to grab that program and start exploring 3d, which was a great time. Actually, I may have downloaded a version off of the BBS at one point, but my computer was really too slow at the time. Anyway, I'm still proud of the 3d mechanical pencils I created using entirely a text editor.

By and by, the internet would slowly kill off the BBS. First you'd use the e-mail go to the internet for files. Then you might see all the MUDs you could telnet into. I think what really nailed it in the end was ICQ. Once friends that met by chatting on the BBS stopped going to it even for that, there wasn't a whole lot left. Still, I can't help think that something was lost when you stopped having that center of community which was location. Of course that's been starting to come back lately in various ways, but that's another story.

So, since that time I've been plugging along using the internet with my trusty USRobotics 56k modem. I've had the website for almost 10 years now, and the e-mail address for probably close to 12? Despite my e-mail address being flooded with spam (I get lots of e-mails from people I don't know, so I'm scared of filters) and moving a lot of personal correspondance over to gmail. Despite finding other web hosts in various places and leaving the old site as mostly a relic. It is still hard to let go of that after so many years.

A couple of weeks ago, SPA announced that they'd merge with the biggest local ISP: Crocker Communications. The advantage of this would be that I could keep my e-mail and website address. However, calling several times to ask for information got met with tech support which was too busy. The service was also $10 a month more than Verizon for the same features. Plus, as I thought of it, this wouldn't be the same anyway. Matthew and Linda aren't running it. Dan Berger won't be creating cool images of the roman corporate mascot Sparky.

[As an aside, Dan is a great artist and was one of highest scoring MUD players as King Hell. I haven't talked to him in ages, but last I checked he did work for Mirage Studios and produces his own comic book called Gutwallow.
Matthew recently got married, but I do wonder what Linda is up to?]

I've prided myself on keeping this connection to the past, but it is probably just time to move on now. It is too late now to waffle anyway.. the router and modem will arrive on Monday. I'll make sure I have the old site backed up, move all my mailing lists and logins over to gmail. In the practical sense, it'll barely make any impact on my dailing life at all, but in my mind it feels like the end of an era. Hopefully the start of an even better one...

For anyone who has actually read this far, here's a couple more things:

Lastly, let's take at what was on my site: the the latest version [Wayback link]

Check out my bio page. The funny thing about the picture of me is that it was taken when I was 17. Now that I've lost weight and shave, I actually look younger now than I did then! And check out this quote:

I also enjoy looking at other people's artistic work. I've always loved Fantasy/Sci-Fi art, and have a lot of books and cards on the subject. I got into it origionally by interests in Fantasy literature and comic books. Speaking of comics, I used to collect them before they got too expensive, and I enjoy the somewhat related Anime/Manga genre when I can.

Who'd have thought comics and anime/manga would become such a big part of my life again these last couple of years? I also had a brief spell of going nuts downloading a ton of Jpop, hence my name-dropping of Glay, etc. I seem to be getting back into that lately as well.

I was always a person of many hobbies. It is really too bad that particular Rubik's Cube site isn't around anymore. Had cool 3d illustrations. I think I printed it out somewhere though. Aparantly some people are still making KiSS dolls, which is good to see. Hmm.. I never did figure out how to pick locks..

A fun relic was my technology tv guide. Do you remember C/Net Central, Computer Man, Future Watch, New Edge, Next Step, The Site, CNN Computer Connection and the rest of those technology shows that were out during the 90s tech boom? I hear Beyond2000 is still being made, though I don't think we can get it here. That used to be one of my favorite shows...

I'll be very sorry to see my old POV-Ray Utilities List go offline. I based it off of another list that got abandoned. Unfortunately mine would suffer the same fate. A lot of pages still link to it, though, so it'll be a shame to move it. The same goes for my old yo-yo site, where I first took a my message board post about how to loop and put it on my site, eventually becoming something quite larger.

Since we're on a nostalgia kick, I'll end with a couple of old yo-yo posts. My first post back in 1997, hailing my official entry into yo-yos as a more serious hobby. My trip to Nationals in California in 1999. People actually did a fundraiser so I could fly out, which was an amazing experience. Lastly, my trip to Worlds in florida in 2004. It seems my end of blogging never really came to be did it? I think I've found a bit of a balance for it now...

Sorry for such a personal post. I just really wanted to have a record out there for that part of my life and also try to get it all out of my system. Is it weird that most of the important events of my life have been catalogued online? Such is the world we now live in, I guess. :) If you're a kid or just weren't involved in technology during that time, I hope you follow some of the links in this post and this list of tech-related documentaries. It is good to know how we got to this point.

So, moving on...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Reviewing Worst - Vol. 1 

It seems like Digital Manga Publishing has been doing a push to send review copies to bloggers, and I was lucky enough to get the first volumes of Worst and IWGP. Most of the reviews I've read from others liked IWGP best, so I decided to tackle Worst first:

Worst is by Hiroshi Takahashi and revolves around country boy Hana who arrives at a boarding house in the city where he'll stay while going to school. It ends up that his school is one of the worst around, full of toughs who fight it out. Despite being friendly and unassuming, it turns out Hana is a great fighter with plans of his own.

First, let's talk production. I have to say that the quality on DMP's books are very nice. The front cover is pretty striking and the logo seems fine. The DMP bar/logo is also thankfully pretty innocuous. Something to note is that this is slightly larger (8.25"x6") than most of the manga out there these days. This gives it a pretty substantial feel, things aren't lost in the spine, and it opens up well. It'll stick out a bit on a shelf, though. It has a dust cover like most digests do in Japan, with a b&w cover under it. I do wish they would have removed the "over 1 mil sold" balloon from the b&w cover. The back has a flower design instead of the description/price/rating of the dust cover, so why keep the marketing quote on the front?

The paper is good and the printing quality itself is very nice and crisp. There was one panel on page 62 that seems strangely pixilated, but other than that it looks fantastic with no moire patterns in the screentone. I have to admit that at $12.95, I'd be less likely to pick one of these up on a whim, but the price seems justified due to the quality of production.

The translation seems fine for the most part in terms of how it flows. No unnecessary slang, etc. I really like how they handled the sound effects. The sfx are left alone but then a small english subtitle is placed next to it. Replacing sfx entirely is difficult (especially when they are integrated into the art), glossaries are a pain, and I hate when they aren't translated at all, so this seems like a good compromise. They also keep in the occational word like "sempai" with a culture note in the gutter. One thing that is a bit odd is a couple of places where a sfx switches between the meaning and the sound. For instance the first time you see "shiin", it is translated as "silience". The next time they just write out "shiin". That kind of works, but for people less used to Japanese sfx, they might not make the connection that these two instances are the same thing.

For artwork, I have to say that Takahashi is pretty gifted. For those that aren't into the "big eyes" look, here is something for you. In fact most of the characters' eyes are SMALLER normal people's. ;) And while there is still some cartoony moments (especially for Hana), the artwork is generally pretty grounded. Other reviewers have mentioned his skill in differentiating the various characters, and I agree that he's done a good job. Lots of distinctive facial features and clothing keeps you from getting the main characters confused. Here are the char designs of the five guys at the boarding house. But once it gets to the school, I almost feel like I stepped into a shoujo manga when I look at how many shirt patterns this guy comes up with. ;)

I was also impressed by the judicious use of screen tone (after the first couple of chapters). When it is used, it doesn't call attention to itself and a decent number of shirt designs were inked by hand. The backgrounds are surprisingly detailed as well. You get the feeling that in the times when it is left out, it is to emphasise the character, not just the creator being lazy. Also interesting is a technique used during crowd scenes. I've seen other manga and anime to sometimes leave background characters undetailed, but in Worst he will tend to render these people as very detailed except for having totally blank faces. This gets across pretty well that they are just a sea of people that we don't need to focus on.

Now, as for the story, it certainly isn't for everyone, but I found myself warming to it. Our main character (nicknamed Hana, which means flower), is a friendly country guy with a shaved head. He reminds me of adult Goku in DBZ in that he's a genuinely nice (and somewhat innocent) person who can switch into a serious fighting mode. The other characters he encounters at the boarding house range from tough to outsider to fearful. The adult who runs it seems like a yakuza (but might not be), and the cook is his brother, a transvestite.

Speaking of which, I think it is interesting to note that (at least in this first volume) there are no females at all. It might be that girlfriends and such will appear later on, but currently they don't seem to exist in this world. While on first glance that seems like a bad thing, I'm not so sure. So many fighting manga seem to put in females as either token characters or sexual objects. It is refreshing that there is no fanservice to be found in this book.

In fact, for a book about fighting, there's surprisingly little fighting as well. Takahashi seems to take a more abstract approach. While many fighting manga will have entire volumes devoted to a single fight, so far most of the fights have either taken place off-panel or at most a couple of pages. Even the fighting tournament which decides the top dogs of the school is half-over during one chapter (and most of that chapter is devoted to the people on the sidelines talking). With this being a bunch of normal street brawlers, I think he is smart to realize that (like in a horror movie) it is better to let us use our imaginations to fill in the fight. Here is an entire fight in one two-page spread.

My main complaint at this point is just that there are a lot of characters thrown at you at once (especially once they get to the school), as well as a lot of exposition to introdcuce those people and explain the groups and factions. Still, it seems like this is going to be a book focusing less on the fights themselves and more on the characters involved in them and the various politics of alliances and such. I'm very curious to see where it heads. If it can keep up the energy it has and provide some more depth to the characters, it should be a pretty solid fighting soap opera.

As an aside, considering the recent hoopla surrounding TenTen, it is nice to note that DMP gave this a rating of Young Adult (16+), which seems appropriate. While there is some moderate swearing, the violence is actually less graphic than that of Teen-rated series like Naruto, though that could very well change in future volumes. But it also just feels older than the Jump titles do. Still, if CMX wanted a fighting title for teens, this would have been way more appropriate than the graphic fanservice and violence of TenTen. This is a very solid production from DMP that feels pretty transparent. Instead of screaming about "authenticity" like some companies do, in this case the results speak for themselves.

DMP also has the entire first chapter online as a preview, which is always nice (and sure saves me some time in linking to images..heh). Next up will be a review of IWGP.

A look into the studio of Otagaki Yasuo 

The author of the manga Midnight Mile (which I haven't read but seems to have some of the same feels as Planetes) has put up a page detailing the process he and his assistants go through to create it. Pretty neat stuff.

[via T Fraga on the TCJ board]

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Tenjho Tenge update and guerilla fighting techniques 

Wow, I'm pleasantly surprised by how much coverage this controversy is gettting. Lots of blogs of course, but now the news sites are starting to take notice. Newsarama has an article up and I'm especially happy to see ICv2 cover the issue. I wish they'd have mentioned that many feel the content isn't appropriate for 13+ even with the edits, but it is still a well-done summary of what is going on.

Striking is that Newarama and ICv2 both got a "no comment" from DC when asked. Seriously, are they not going to say anything at all? ICv2 is a pretty major pop culture site and it doesn't look good for them to keep ignoring the issue.

Fight: DC CMX has updated the list of edits with several more edits that were found and more importantly has created a campaign page. Besides listing mailing and e-mail addresses, there's the great idea of putting some guerilla style fighting to work. You can download a 4x5 pdf which you can print out and stick into copies of the book on shelves in stores to let people know it is edited. Some people have already started to do this, and it is a neat idea of getting the word out to the general public without doing any damage to the books.

Also, someone on the Newsarama thread mentioned that everyone should mention the edits on the online stores that support user reviews. I think that's a great idea, and two sites which allow comments are Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Anyone know of other sites that do this? I just posted a review to B&N which hopefully will show up in a day or two.

Friday, March 04, 2005

CMX's Tenjho Tenge fiasco... 

Geeze, I don't check the boards for a couple of days and everything goes crazy. The long and short of it is that DC has decided to extensively censor the long-awaited fighting manga Tenjho Tenge. All instances of nudity have been removed, through a combination of drawn-on bras and panties, zoomed in panels, and over-large sound effects. It is also rated Teen (13+) and is non-shrinkwrapped.

Not only is editing bad in general (and this is some of the most extensive editing done in quite some time), but even worse is who they are marketing it toward. It is a series for adults (or at least late teens), containing violence, sex, and various instances of rape. People have pointed out that this is the same kind of rating used for Shonen Jump titles like One Piece and TenTen is being put on the endcaps right next to them. I don't think drawing a bra on someone being raped automatically makes it appropriate for a 13-year-old. I've not read much of the series, but I hear it only gets more troublesome as time goes on, with things such as lesbian sex and some disturbing torture scenes.

This is even more stupid, when taking into account the success of titles like Berserk and Battle Royale in the direct market, and the strong sales of Negima everywhere. Negima was originally going to edited, but the decision was reversed after fans got wind of it. This could have been a successful title with the adult market, but instead they'll alienate those people with censorship and market it to an audience for which it still isn't appropriate.

If you'd like to see before and after images, you can visit: FIGHT: DC CMX - The Campaign for Uncensored Tenjho Tenge. I haven't looked at this yet, but I'm guessing it is NOT worksafe. Actually there is a textual list of edits on ListerX.

Personally, I'd urge everyone to boycott this title until CMX gets its act together. It has been suggested that people who bought it unawares to try return it to wherever they bought it. A lot of people are also sending letters to the editor here:

Jake Tarbox-- Editor
CMX Manga
DC Comics / Wildstorm Productions
888 Prospect Ave., Suite 240
La Jolla, CA 92037

Posts are starting to pile into the CMX message board, but no one from DC aparantly ever posts anything on their own borad. Not they've responded to anyone in any capacity that I know of yet.

If you'd like to see the three huuuge thread on AoDVD, you can look here, here, and here.

I really think DC may have set themselves up for a fall here. CMX is just getting started as an imprint and so far hasn't had as much overall success as other newcomers like Del Ray. This is going to cause a huge backlash from fans and also make people extremely suspicious about any new titles they decide to come out with. It certainly hasn't been helped by their total silence on the matter.

It's a shame, since I've heard their other titles have been pretty well done so far. I've been meaning to at least check out Swan myself, but this dampens my enthusiasm toward CMX in general. If they wanted a title for teens, they should have licensed a title that was meant for them instead of trying to shoehorn something else. I myself wasn't going to buy TenTen, but I've really been enjoying Dark Horse's release of Berserk. I can only imagine what might have happened to it if CMX had been the one to release it...

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Weblog Commenting by HaloScan.com