...how could I let this slip past me?
New from Criterion:
While doing research for an article about machine translation, I happened to remember a piece of trivia: The biggest and most authoritative Japanese-English dictionary out there is affectionately referred to by its patrons and maintainers as the "Green Goddess", thanks to its binding and its sheer size. At some point, I keep telling myself, I plan on dropping money for an electronic version of this divine behemoth, but for the time being I'll stick with EDICT and the freeware that one can use to search it with. EDICT probably isn't anywhere nearly as complete or authoritative as GG, but it's hugely handy for the kind of quick-and-dirty lookup that you might need when translating a web page or the like.
One of the contributors to and editors of the most recent edition of the GG, Tom Gally, has a website with some wonderfully fascinating notes about the dictionary, specific entries, and books about language that have caught his passing fancy. Another great time-killer.
Well, I've had to bulldoze most everything and start from scratch — for the second time in a row — but I think I'll have a smoother road going forward from here than I did before. Again, I'm going to be emphasizing my writing projects and new stuff rather than migrating the legacy content, but some of that will come back in over time when I can find the time to do it. I've got a lot more going on in my life, and in a good way, than I did even a year ago, so naturally some things are going to take a backseat.
A nice bit from Timothy Egan at the Times about the pleasures of reading and printed books, even in the digital age. He also takes time out to swipe at the probably-erroneous stats about who reads and who doesn't, and gives a little uplift as well: "[Reading is] fad-resistant, precisely because human beings are hard-wired for story, and intrinsically curious." (My favorite quote from the comments: "Forty percent of Americans do not vote. Does that mean that we have no elections in the United States?")
The one thing I can be compelled to spend money on without thinking too hard about it is a book. Granted, writing for AMN has made it possible for me to not have to shell out as much money for some of the books I'd want to read — but that's only freed me up to pursue a nearly-bottomless well of other bookish fascinations. Most of them center around Japan or a few of my other fields of deep and abiding interest (movies, music, etc.) — and anything that I don't keep, I can usually give away to someone I know who'll benefit from it.
The notion about "hard-wired for story" — that's something I'd love to see a neurologist or another scientist comment on. I suspect there's a lot of truth to it; we respond more strongly to a narrative of some kind than we do a dry recitation of fact. There's just something about a narrative that makes the synapses light up in a way that's heavily primal, both in the sense that it addresses something primitive in us collectively and that it plugs into something that reminds us of the way we were when we were young (that is, if we aren't already young to begin with).
The downside of that, of course, is that we're also prone to believing in narratives that may be enthralling on their own terms but have no connection with reality at all. Sometimes this is innocuous, like SF/fantasy/anime fans who talk about a given character as if he/she/it were real. Sometimes it's far less so, like the person who believes he's being watched by government agencies and tapes tinfoil over his windows. The idea of our lives being stories that we tell ourselves is something that was touched on in Why They Kill; small wonder I come back to that book a great deal. (There's a great deal in it that I'd like to embody in a story someday, but I haven't yet reached the point where I could talk about it coherently.)
First off, the Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD thing. There's scarcely a warm body drawing breath by now that hasn't heard the news: Toshiba's thrown in the towel, and HD-DVD is soon to be an abandoned technology. I banked on Blu-ray as of last December or so, and I'm grateful I made the "right" choice — but at the same time I'm worried about where all those players and discs are going to end up. With any luck there will be some kind of recycling or reclamation program to make sure all that plastic, polycarbonate and metal doesn't simply end up in landfills. (If anyone knows of such a thing, tell me about it and I'll post it here!)
Obviously the next step after this is disc media vs. downloads, and to some degree it's already been tilting in that direction (see my column at InformationWeek about this very issue) — but I still think solid-state manufactured discs are going to be a bit more immediately useful, especially where video is concerned. (Come on, Criterion, let's have some HD titles! Bring on Ran and Days of Heaven!)
Books: I most recently finished Rohan Koda's Pagoda, Skull & Samurai as my last bit of extracurricular (non-work, non-anime) reading. I didn't like it as much as Samurai Banner, unfortunately (same publisher); the author's style seems to be deliberately and heavily reminiscent of the formalized, long-monologue style of a stage play. It gets wearying after a while, even if the subject matter he approaches in these three stories was right up my alley. Best if you're already a die-hard fan of Japanese history, like me, but not really for the casual reader.
Also read, but not yet commented on: Yasushi Inoue's Lou-Lan, a collection of shorter pieces in much the same style and approach as Tun-Huang, but there are a couple that stand out explosively. My favorite: "The Rhododendrons," a portrait of a truly sad and pathetic man who has thrown his whole life away for the sake of his work. "Man was meant to work furiously to the end," he writes. "What else? Not just to bask in the sun. Not just to be happy." It is work which gradually reveals itself to be nothing more than a systematic way for him to hide from the messiness and bustle of life, to deny himself the joy he feels he does not deserve.
(I'll post a longer review of these books if time permits, but the way things are tilting most of my free time for reviews is being taken up by AMN work — for now, the capsule summaries will have to do.)
I still haven't been able to iron out that weird Movable Type publishing issue, so for now I'm just going to work around it and post anyway. Onward!!
A bunch — and I do mean a BUNCH — of stuff arrived from Vertical for review. I'll probably be busy some portion of the long weekend reading and getting that stuff written up. It's all good material: the new Guin Saga book, the third and last Guin Saga manga volume, the final installment of Andromeda Stories. Plus, I have a bunch of other books in the offing which haven't arrived yet, but which I've got to stake out a fair amount of time for when they do show up.
The surest sign of an avid reader is a book pile that never gets any smaller. That or a fool who has eyes bigger than he has spare time.
The Blood+ DVD set has also landed on my doorstep, which is going to get a fairly high-priority review. A few people I know have turned up their noses at the show (since it's airing on Adult Swim), but I found myself liking it, especially since it expands nicely on the mythology that was set up in Blood: The Last Vampire and which really never got a fair shake at being expanded.
Work continues on
The New Golden Age — er, The Four-Day Weekend, just very slowly. The official site hasn't been updated in a bit and the formatting's a tot messed up, but I'm going to post an update there and clean it up by the end of February. I know a lot of people are looking forward to this — both existing fans of Summerworld and folks who've heard about it from others — and it needs to be done right from start to finish. I'd like to have at least a chapter sampler that I can call finished by the time summer rolls around, but there will be a finished product by autumn, one way or another.
Some more new stuff that's been in the playlist recently:
An article in the Times about Japan's rare-and-getting-rarer iriomote. (Fans of Azumanga Daioh, take heed!)