Sunday, July 26, 2009

Manga Review: Ai-Ren

Series name: Ai-Ren (translation: "lovers")
Author: Tanaka Yutaka
Number of volumes: 5 (series is completed)
English language distributor: none
Fan translation link: on Manga Volume

I didn't think I was going to review this one. Ai-Ren is a sci-fi Manga set on a grim future version of Earth. The human race has lost its vigor and appears destined to die out. Most people do not have children, those that do have them by artificial means; people have forgotten what sex is. People no longer build, nuclear weapons detonate in some part of the world on a nearly daily basis, coastal cities are inundated. World events are not really presented in a complete or coherent way, either as a result of deliberate narrative choice or sketchy amateur translation. But world events are generally not important.

What is important are the main characters. Ikuru is very ill. Due to some mysterious past catastrophic accident, extraordinary experimental measures have been taken to save his life, grafting parts of another person's body to his. These measures are inadequate however, and he is slowly dying, frequently in pain, and usually unable to eat. Because he is dying, society has given him a gift: an ARG-RMS which is a companion for the dying, an artificially created, genetically enhanced girl left over from some unknown project (experimental super human?, assassin?, sex-slave?). She has been genetically tailored to love him (an only him) absolutely. When he first takes her to his home, an isolated crumbling house on the "coast", she has no memory or sense of self. These companions for the dying are themselves doomed to a very short lifespan, frequently dying before their beneficiaries. Typical to this genre, her name comes from the first word she can say, Ai ("love").

Despite the monstrous morality (my judgement) of Ai's creation, purpose, and the massive way in which her innate volition has been violated, what transpires between them is one of the most beautiful, innocent, disturbing, and heart-rending short love stories I've ever seen. All of the things you think could be creepy about this situation are in fact, creepier than you think they are. This creepiness is enhanced by the fact that Ikuru is stalked in his dreams by a shadowy feminine figure of death and Ai seems to fell that she is destined to kill him, the person she loves most in the world. Besides the near continual presence of death, the fact that Ikuru and Ai (ages unknown) are drawn to look so young (manga, go figure) there's a very creepy, Blue Lagoon vibe to the whole thing. As an aside, the artwork is (almost) top notch for manga.

This is not one of those sci-fi stories where the mysteries about the state of the world are resolved with some big reveal, or we learn more over time. Humanity's crisis is not resolved. The story shifts back and forth between Ikuru and Ai, and other world level plots involving a dragon... or an alien, or ghosts in space. It's unclear just what it is, but in essence, there's a starman waiting in the sky. He'd like to come and meet us but he thinks he'd blow our minds. Just who or what he is, like so much else, is never reveled. And it doesn't matter, because there's Ikuru and Ai, whose story blows my mind effectively enough without the starman... dragon, ghost... whatever he is.

Do I recommend it? No... Yes... No... don't read it. Well, you should,... but you really shouldn't. I've been holding off a review until I can say just what I think of it, but I am still unable to really characterize it. Is it a great piece of art? Maybe. Is it an exploitative, amature, trashy work? Maybe. Is it good, bad, moral, immoral? I don't have a mental compartment where it fits... which is an artistic triumph in a way. If you can get past the cover art on it's page at Manga Volume and the end of the second chapter without completely freaking out, congratulations, you've made it through some of the most disturbing parts; you might as well finish the series. It's very short.

Americans, I think, will view this series from across a very long cultural divide (I did), probably why it has not found an English language distributor yet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kindle Now Actually Freaks Me Out

Amazon recently debased itself apologizing for their terrible solution to a copyright infringement error they created on the e-version of George Orwell's 1984 for their Kindle device.

I had heard enough good reviews about the thing that I was beginning to think about learning about them and (someday) acquiring one. No time soon. I don't do pleasure reading at present, and Amazon is not selling Adaptive Control e-books. But I was interested.

I'll include some words that Jeff Bezos used in the apology letter to set the tone for just how badly they screwed up:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
He really doesn't go far enough in apologizing. He also doesn't mention just what it is he's done.

In short, they bought an e-book version of 1984 and Animal Farm from people not legally empowered to sell those properties. The correct thing to do would be to fess up, and pay the real copyright holder some moneyto compensate for the fact that a whole bunch of people interesting in owning those e-books now own pirated copies. Instead, Amazon tried to limit their damage done, and take back the pirated books.

It turns out that the Kindle does not simply download your new purchases when you link it up with the mothership (Amazon's server). Instead, it performs more of a hot-synch, uploading status, downloading new crap, deleting old stuff when told to... including pirated books... maybe stuff that says bad things about Amazon or the government, you know... just whatever.

Or maybe it lets you keep your copy of 1984, but subtly changes it over time, into something unrecognizable. Maybe the totalitarian govenment is benevolent, efficient, keeps people safe, provides economic justice, and oly hurts bad people from that group we hate.

When I buy a freaking book, I own the book. It stays the same. The ideas are only corrupted my my preconceptions, my failure to understand them, or mildew. But my Kindle e-book? Who has access to that? What is it doing as when it syncs?

Suddenly, every heavy-handed, dystopian polemic I've read, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Anthem, If This Goes On-,... um, Animal Farm and 1984, jump, sharply focused, into my mind and I question the wisdom of e-books, web mail, netbooks, and digital resources in general.

Thanks to Bezos, I'm not afraid of, I'm afraid of the internet. I want a backup of my digital data with no physical connection to the rest of the cyber-world... possibly paper.

I understand the need for paranoia, but it's time consuming and hard work. Bezos has reminded me that it's worth it.

Apologize again. I'll see how I feel after putting a lock on my paper library.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stupid .TIF

I really don't know how it happened that the .tif (tagged image format) became the go-to, most demanded, image format for journal submittals. It's really horribly inefficient. Some plots that consist of really fine, orthogonal lines look slightly better as .tifs rather then .jpgs. Slightly.

I just finished rescuing a file that actually exceeded the size limit of MS Word 2007. It had 27 images and was over 700 Mb in size. Word will not open files greater than 512 Mb in size.

I can understand a maker of word processing software having an upper size limit on the files that it will deal with, but if you're going to insert a check that refuses to open a file greater than that max size, insert another $%&*ing check that prevents me from saving my files if they're going to be that big. (And before any of you smug m____f___ers tells me "That's what you get for using that Microsquash stuff..." at least have the decency to verify that this problem does not exist in your favorite MS Word alternative and be prepared to provide some kind of evidence.)

Anyway, a neat trick you can do with a .doc file, is change the extention to .zip and open it with your favorite compressed-file utility. The document will be there, broken down and laid out in its naked .xml glory for you to pick at, rescue text, or remove gargantuan figure files.

I replaced the .tif files with .jpg files that look (to me) every bit as good as the horribly oversized .tif files (same resolution, different compression). The new file is 9 Mb in size.

Journal editors who demand .tif files are going on my list.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Avoiding Eternal Damnation Has Its Costs

It's soon time for the Weasel Meme to be baptized.

Baptism cannot be done in just ordinary baby clothes (the kind that are worn 6-12 times before they're outgrown), but in a special expensive gown that they wear once.

Here's the one (I think) we're ordering. It's pretty.

Baptism is largely thought of in Christian circles (depending on denomination) as the means by which people gain entry into a church body and how new infants are "saved" from their inherent "fallen" state. The logic behind the second part is built on the concept of (the strong form of) "original sin", possibly the most offensive concept that I have ever encountered. It manages to bundle aspects of self-hatred, collective/hereditary guilt, creationism (in its anti-science form), and devaluation of life, knowledge, and personal responsibility into just two words. Some may argue that the concept provides a tempering effect on human hubris, a warning or a trick to encourage prudent behavior. I don't buy it. Other metaphysical arguments regarding admission to paradise are both unprovable and irrefutable (i.e. uninteresting).

My own thoughts is that baptism a nice way to stand up before your community and affirm your membership and support, and remind them that, at times, their support for your little one will be necessary. Overloading a community building ritual with broader dogmatic and theological issues (as I just did) tends to ruin things for the participants. Also, shelling out the cash for traditional vestments is a little off-putting but I'll probably forget about it as soon as I see how cute (I'm confident) she'll look in the thing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I Called It... What!?!

With respect to the off-season Red Wings' roster shake-up, my recommendations have, so far, come to pass:

Hossa is now a Blackhawk
Kopecky is now a Blackhawk
Conklin is now a member of the team known as the Blues
McCarty and Downey will not be back

Something strange is at work in the universe. If the Wings sign Beauchemin, I will officially freak out. Regular followers to this blog know that, when it comes to hockey, I am always wrong.

Update: Also (as helpfully pointed out by Ish), Chelios will not be back.
Update: Samuelsson is now a Canuck.
Update: Leino resigned.
Update: Hudler files for arbitration.
Update: Hudler leaves the NHL for Russia to play for the Moscow Dynamo.