Chapter 1 notes for Lost Logia Halo

Really, only one thing happens in this chapter: first contact between the Time-Space Administration Bureau of the Nanoha universe, and the UNSC and Covenant of the Halo universe.

Halo being Halo, there was never any possibility of a peaceful meeting between the Bureau and the people of the Halo universe. The Covenant would probably have started shooting on principle and worried about the ashes later; the UNSC might be willing to talk, but not when the first words out of the Bureau are "we're in charge here". And the Bureau is too used to being in control of the situation, and has reached the point where they take their authority over all worlds, even those they don't directly administer, as a given. (As they demonstrate in the original season of Nanoha and/or the first movie, with Nanoha's world.) Perhaps under less strained conditions, a peaceful meeting between the UNSC and the Bureau might have been possible... but this isn't the story in which we'll find out. And so, the first and most immediate question: who wins in a fight, the Bureau cruiser Arthra or a fleet of Covenant battlecruisers?

The Arthra's only demonstrated attack capability is the nuclear option: the Arc-en-Ciel from the end of Nanoha A's. It is a massively long-ranged, wide-area attack that completely eradicates everything within its blast radius; chatter in the anime suggests that this is done through some kind of dimensional distortion. Covenant shields can't block something like that, and so the Arthra does get in a serious first strike: four enemy ships wiped away in a heartbeat.

There's only two problems. First, the Arc-en-Ciel has also been shown to require charging and/or recharging, so the Arthra can't fire again immediately.

Second, the Covenant are not simply going to surrender. Instead, they take their numerical superiority and demonstrate Halo's own advantages. On the technological side, that would be weight of fire and strength of defenses... but far more important is the superiority in command ability. The Covenant ships scatter, insuring that the Arc-en-Ciel won't kill them all at once if it does fire again. One of them does a microjump through Slipspace, hoping that the weapon is limited in its arc of fire.

Either preparation would have been enough to insure the Arthra's defeat even if the Arc-en-Ciel could have been fired in repeated succession. Taken by surprise, close in, the Arthra's shields (it does have them) are simply insufficient to handle a Covenant battlecruiser's full broadside, and it's forced to run where the Covenant can't follow simply to stay alive.

Thus the technological balance seems to be "whoever fires first wins". Bureau weapons are powerful and diverse enough to either ignore Covenant armor and shields or just break through them, but Bureau defenses and tactics can't match the battle-hardened Covenant designs.

It's a balance that rears up again in chapter 2, once the boarding action begins... but that's for next chapter's notes.


Facts and Other Obstacles

Sometimes it seems practically inevitable that any given tragedy will be followed with someone trying to use it to advance their own pet theories or policies. Honestly, I can't say it's always a bad idea, because learning from the past is a good way to ensure that it doesn't end up repeating itself.

But this? This is an excellent example of how not to go about doing it.

That article was posted shortly after the attack in Oslo, before any of the details had come out. Of course, that didn't stop the writer from heavily implying that the attack was a result of Islamic terrorists and using that to argue for higher defense spending.

Of course, we know now that the attack is not being traced to Islamic terrorism, but rather to Islamophobic terrorism. And even if the attack could have been traced back to Al Qaeda or similar groups, how in hell is the F-35 going to help us deal with terrorism? Higher defense spending is not going to ensure our safety against the kinds of targets that most terrorists present, at least not without some serious rethinking of American military doctrine!

But, of course, the writer there didn't have all of this information when that article was written. Surely there was a correction later on, right? Oh wait...
There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West... There are lone-wolf domestic terrorists, and there are organized jihadists.
... Some correction. (Or, as I responded to it when I read that, "you can't be serious.") I suppose I should at least give her credit for still calling it terrorism... And I have to admire her ability to fit any set of facts to her policy advice.

The simple fact of the matter is that this is not the attack you thought it was when you made your initial post. There's no shame in that! Post a correction, admit your mistake, move on with your life. Instead, we get a strange half-correction that says "oh, well, I was wrong about it being a jihadist, but those evil jihadists are more of a threat anyway!!!1!!11!"

That's not a correction. That's evidence of someone refusing to admit to the facts. Yes, I know those pesky facts are in the way of the argument you want to make... but that doesn't change anything. This is a different kind of attack that will require a different policy to deal with. Like, perhaps, the cessation of posts that continually encourage the Islamophobia that seems to have been one of this attacker's motivations. A greater focus on tolerance, with the reminder that different religions and/or political groups are not blood enemies that need to be killed.

No, it's not higher defense spending. But this attack simply doesn't suggest that that's necessary. No matter how many times you repeat the word "jihadists."


Heartbeat/Clock Tower Lyrics

The notes for this translation are here. Please direct any comments about the translation to that page's comment field.


Heartbeat/Clock Tower

Lyrics/Composition/Arrangement: mothy (Evil P)

Vocal: Kaito



The sound of the clock tower's gears
is proof that she lives on.
So that that second hand never stops...
to watch over it is my duty.

かつての主人 物欲の化身
自らの罪は いつの日か

Former master, avatar of greed,
for my sins, the day will come
when I destroy my very self.
Why could I not have noticed sooner?

彼女の半身に今も残る 醜い火傷の跡は

Even now, across half her body, the ugly marks of those burns remain,
carved into those two's memories.

今日もまた 迷い込んだ

Yet again they are lost,
pitiable visitors that know nothing.
They as well will soon find their place
amidst the master of the graveyard's domain.

主役気取りの あの「女の子」

With her pretension of the leading role, that girl
is as always lost in her indulgence of pride.
The sadness of losing one of their own
shows ever so slightly on her face.


On the verge of death, that lonely man built
a small movie theater amidst the woods.
Utterly forgotten by all, the clockwork lullaby
begins to ring out then...


"Bloodstained scissors", "violet blade"...
The as yet unawoken days for which they wait.
When the time comes that all songs are shared,
perhaps then the utopia will be complete...

時計の針が 止まることは

The halt of the clock's hands
would mean the end of that girl.
Those rusted-together, broken gears...
not much time is left.


On the verge of death, that lonely man built
a small movie theater amidst the woods.
Employed as the director, his most beloved
"clockwork doll".


The preparations are settled.
Bringing my hand to my left breast,
I gently reach inward...

響き合って そして新たに始まる物語

My own clockwork, and the gears of the clock tower,
ring in harmony... and a new story begins.
So that the hands of the clock never stop...
to see them revolve endlessly is my duty.

Translation Notes: Heartbeat/Clock Tower

As might be apparent by the fact that I'm translating Japanese works, I'm (generally) capable of dealing with both Japanese and English. Feel free to use either language in addressing concerns with the translation. Read the notes first, because I might have answered your question/comment already. Oh, and the following Japanese is merely this, repeated.


I suspect that will become a standard addition to my translation notes. I mean, my blog isn't exactly receiving a lot of traffic from Japan, but better to be prepared for it in any case. Moving on...

Anyone else going to Otakon 2011 this year? Because I am. Better yet, I plan on cosplaying. The fact that I'm mentioning this in this particular post should tell you who I plan on cosplaying as, but just to be clear: Kaito, one of the Vocaloids and the one singing this particular song.

That right there is really why I wanted to translate it - if I end up cosplaying as Kaito, I'm pretty much forced to go to the karaoke room and sing a few songs, right? It'd be nice to know what I'm singing when that time comes. Besides, I often end up valuing the lyrics and the message of a song more than its music, whether I end up singing along to it or not.

And so Heartbeat/Clock Tower now has a translation that I wrote. (I rather suspect it already had at least one translation, but I admit I did not bother looking for another one before writing mine.)

First, I suppose I should talk about the title. I'm sure I could have done "Heartbeat Clock Tower" without the slash, and I rather suspect that most (if not all) initial reactions to the Japanese ハートビート・クロックタワー would be for the latter, rather than the translation that I went with in the end. My own initial reaction certainly was.

There are, effectively, two reasons why I chose to ignore that first impression and add in the slash. First of all, "Clock Tower" is clearly two words, yet there was no need for a dot to separate those. In that sense, my addition of the slash serves as a way to justify the dot's presence in the title in the first place.

Second, the last stanza of the song. To me, the lyrics there imply a connection between the two halves of the title that's a little different from what "Heartbeat Clock Tower" would. In that case, "Heartbeat" could merely be the tower's name. The slash connects them in a slightly different manner, essentially, in a way that I think fits with the song slightly better.

Anyway, like the rest of the Evils Kingdom songs, there's a story here. As the last in the Evils Kingdom cycle, this song sets up the small movie theater in which this entire story is theoretically being told. For his sins, Kaito gets to be the one to do this... a task which in the end seems to claim his very life, leaving only the "clockwork doll" that runs the theater.

Some of the stanzas don't seem to fit so cleanly into that explanation of the song, especially 3, 5, and the first line of 7. Part of that has to do with the question of subject... this song is actually better than Japanese usually is in defining subjects (the "kanojo" throughout, the "houmonsha/karera" of 4, the "onna no ko" of 5, the "boku/onore" self-references throughout), but the constant use of pronouns doesn't tell me who any of these people actually are, and that's something that affects the translation.

The other people in the Evils Kingdom stories? Perhaps. Maybe when I start really bearing down on this CD and translate more of its connected material, I'll understand to a greater degree the references in this last song. Really, I should have done the rest before now, at least to the point of understanding basic ideas... if I had done so, I might not be confused now.

It is, of course, also possible that my entire interpretation of this song is off base. I think that to be somewhat unlikely (considering I'm posting what I do have to the Internet...) but given that I am not yet perfectly fluent in Japanese, the possibility does exist.

... Well, honestly I can't think of any other major issues that I wanted to talk about. And I suspect I've gone on long enough already. Feel free to bring up any problems or questions in the comments.

Talks Break Down (Again!)

And so it goes again. Speaker Boehner has broken off the debt ceiling negotiations with President Obama, explaining the decision in a letter that went out to the GOP caucus.

The letter is, frankly, utter bullshit that wouldn't play with anyone. Except, perhaps, the current GOP caucus. He talks about how the Republican Cut, Cap, and Balance plan passed the House "with bipartisan support", despite having passed by 234 to 190. I was unaware that the support of all of five Democrats qualified as bipartisan, to be honest.

Really, though, that's a small issue by comparison to some of the other things in the letter. Things like this:
... it became evident that the White House is simply not serious about ending the spending binge that is destroying jobs and endangering our children's future. 
Considering that last I checked, there was talk of making changes to Social Security and Medicare, I don't know about that. Boehner does have a better view of those talks than I do, of course, so perhaps those claims never were serious. If that was the case, I say that's a very good thing!

You see, I honestly don't think that now is the best time to cut government spending. Someone needs to be putting money into the economy, and given that we're still in a slump after all this time, I'm pretty damn sure that the private sector isn't really doing that. If the government has to be the one to put money into the economy and create jobs, I think that would far more effectively fix the problems we're facing right now - because the amount of government spending is simply not a "right now" problem amidst the current economic situation.

Oh, and one more historical note, courtesy of Paul Krugman: blaming the Democrats for the current spending issue is really kind of shortsighted considering that I don't think the Democrats have ever been the problem here. Funnily enough, there are actual numbers that show that it wasn't Reagan or Bush (either one) who presided over the only time in recent memory where we were actually paying off the debt.

In fact, I'm pretty sure it was the current crop of Republican congressional leaders who continually kept authorizing the steady growth of public debt when those Republican presidents were in office. I wonder (where "wonder" means "already know it's for purely political gain") why they're so damn concerned about that issue now.

In short? Debt ceiling negotiations have broken down again. Mr. Speaker, you can pretend all you like that it has nothing to do with your party's policies. But if you want to actually govern this nation, I would vastly prefer that you stop pretending and start dealing with reality.


The Perils of Being In Command

In light of the recent News Corporation phone hacking scandal, I have only this to say: the general tone and attitude of any hierarchical organization, whether that be the military, the executive branch, or any corporation you could find, is set by the people in charge. Even without issuing a direct order in any given circumstance, the attitude that the leadership staff brings to the table will have a significant effect on the entire structure, all the way down to the lowest members, all the time. That's Leadership 101.

Consequently, an executive or officer that expects hard work out of everyone (including himself/herself), refuses to tolerate any kind of misbehavior, and stays open to input regardless of the source will cultivate an atmosphere in which all but the most hopeless screw-ups will do likewise, and those outliers will (hopefully) find themselves out of a job. Conversely, an executive who prefers results to ethics, who turns a blind eye to misbehavior (productive or otherwise), and who refuses to listen to criticism will find themselves at the helm of an organization that produces ethics violations and scandals like most companies produce newspapers.

I suppose I can't say which style Rupert Murdoch prefers. I'm not privy to his boardroom meetings or his e-mail traffic, after all. Nor can I say with any certainty how much he knew about this growing catastrophe for his corporation; that's what a lot of far more capable people in the U.S. and the U.K. are trying to determine as I write this. I will say that I would be very surprised if he preferred the former style, considering the work we've seen out of News of the World and/or Fox News.

And even if Murdoch knew absolutely nothing about the subject matter of these particular controversies, to say he has no influence on his own corporation is ridiculous. He's in command. He sets the tone. It's incumbent on him to set a productive tone that won't land his corporation in legal trouble with two separate governments. If he can't do that, perhaps it's past time for him to find a new line of work.


Midchildan Music chapter 3

The next chapter of Midchildan Music, my Nanoha/Vocaloids crossover, is up.

Chapter 3: Fated Conclusions

Despite the chapter name, this is not the end of the story; at this point plans are for two more chapters after this one. Also, the beginning of the story is here for those who want to start from there.

Chapter 3 notes for Midchildan Music

So, Chapter 3. I've been setting up the fight between the Sergeant and Fate for long enough. Now, we get to see it actually happen.

Spoiler alert: the Sergeant loses. Badly.

I mean, I never envisioned any other option here. Either from a tactical, in-universe perspective, or from the perspective of an author trying not to create a Mary Sue OC, there's no way I can let the Sergeant actually defeat Fate in a fair fight. (Although I may be trying a little too hard on the latter count.)

Miku's MRS is a powerful advantage, yes. As the Sergeant has figured out, it somehow acts as an amplifier, removing the Sergeant's lack of power as a tactical concern. However, it has a number of significant weaknesses as well. Time, for one thing. The one song that Miku has available to her right now clocks in at 3:34. By starting "before" the battle began, Miku and the Sergeant were able to finish in time for it to be relevant, but the possibility of avoiding Fate's attacks for another three and a half minutes might as well be zero.

Accessibility is another. I did say "one song" after all. The power boost is significant, but right now it is also purely defensive. It won't stay that way forever, but right now the Sergeant has no offense worth mentioning. As Fate demonstrates, that's no way to win a fight. The Sergeant tries, of course (primarily through intimidation rather than naked power), but really he was doomed to failure from the moment Fate started after him, way back in chapter 1.

The other major event of this chapter is a step in Miku's "awakening", so to speak. Up to this point in the story, she has only her programming to go on, and despite this being Midchilda, her programming is that of a Vocaloid. The Sergeant is the one that has to inform her that she is, at some level, a weapon as well.

She doesn't take that well. When I said in the last chapter notes that I draw inspiration from the Project Diva music, that means songs such as Your Diva (Anata no Utahime), melody, Electric Angel, and The secret garden. These are love songs to some extent, and also songs devoted to the making of music (well, the first two at any rate), and so this Miku at this point in time doesn't want to be a weapon, really.

Rest assured that that won't last forever. After all, there's always Love is War (Koi wa Sensou) and Disruptive Diva (Houkai Utahime -disruptive diva-) on the list of Project Diva songs...

How Not to Negotiate

From where I'm sitting, the Democrats have been more than reasonable on this one. Obama's been offering major cutbacks in government spending practically since Day One of the debate over the federal debt limit. I would almost say "too reasonable", considering how extensive those cuts are, but I guess I had nothing to worry about, since the Republicans in the House don't seem to be interested. Seems strange to me, really. They're getting a lot of things that they wanted, right? Cutbacks in entitlement programs and all. What was the number...? Right, $4 trillion. Even for our debt, that's a lot.

Oh that's right, the plan includes increases in revenue as well. Oops! Non-starter. No new taxes, right? I mean, I guess making students pay more for their student loans is perfectly fine (and coming from a student with federal loans, there's a nice, personal "fuck off" to be said to Cantor for that one!), but even closing loopholes in the tax code is just going too far!

Hint: Insisting that you get everything you want is a really bad way to negotiate. The Democrats have bent over backwards (as I suggested earlier, almost gone too far) to create a deal that will actually work on reducing the deficit. And the Republicans have refused it.

You know what? That's fine. To the Republican majority in the House: Enjoy your decision time. If you want to hold to your anti-tax dogma, you may not be able to raise the debt ceiling. Even Obama, who has not been known for taking stands, has drawn a line on this one.

Just remember, this is what will happen if you take that route: the cutting off of payment for things like Social Security, veterans pensions and disability benefits, and federal salaries and benefits. So we're looking at tens of millions of people who suddenly have no source of income, who rely on things like disability benefits or federal paychecks to have money for food.

My only fear right now? Is that the Republicans would actually decide to threaten the very lives of tens of millions of Americans, rather than accept a reasonable (unreasonably generous, even!) deal that violates their anti-tax dogma. The consequences for the 2012 election would be cold comfort then, amidst an ever-deepening spiral of destruction.

It would be the only comfort left, though: that there will be consequences. The American people are watching. We'll know who's responsible if that scenario comes to pass.


Chapter 2 notes for Midchildan Music

If Chapter 1 of Midchildan Music was the introduction of the Sergeant, Chapter 2 should by all rights be the introduction of Miku, and it is named Vocaloid Device after all. Logically, then, it would be about the Vocaloid in the story.

This is all a very long way of getting around to saying "that isn't how chapter 2 turned out in the end."

The opening and ending to the chapter are about Miku, but they're about Miku as an Intelligent Device, not as a character. I wish I could claim some grand significance to that gesture, but honestly when I was writing it it was more a matter of "how do I characterize Miku?" With the difficulty I had in answering that question, I ended up minimizing Miku's "character time" rather than solidly defining this Miku, and that's an error I plan to rectify with the next chapter.

In the end, the answer that I've come to is that the Vocaloids are expressed through the music that they sing. There's no anime to provide a look at what the Vocaloids are like, character-wise. The fandom has assigned certain characteristics to many of the Vocaloids... but in the end, I feel like it comes down to "what songs are you going to use as the guide to their characters?" (If anyone has better thoughts on how to characterize the Vocaloids, do let me know in the comments.)

And considering how many songs there are for Miku, that pretty much leaves her wide-open, character-wise. I'm mostly familiar with the songs from the Project Diva video games, and so that's what I'm generally using to define who "Miku" is. But that's more a matter for next chapter, when Miku gets to talk more about what she wants.

As long as I'm talking about songs, let me mention that I do know what she sang on the training field. I realize that I provided very little to identify it by; that was intentional. As was the "different language" bit, which was partially a slight callback to Nanoha (all the characters speak Japanese, Midchildan devices speak English, Belkan devices speak German, and somehow all the characters can fully understand their devices) and also a way to hide from the Sergeant what Miku was singing. It's not yet time for him to fully understand just what he's gotten himself into as far as Miku's personality is concerned.

Really, that's because even at the end of this chapter, he's still not quite as "aware" of how he should treat Miku as he needs to be. With his CO's help (sadly, Major Nakamura and her Final Judgment are probably not going to play much more of a role in this story) he's realized that an Intelligent Device is different from a storage device, but as he himself mentioned, there's one more category of device to worry about, one that's orders of magnitude different from even an Intelligent Device.

I am a little disappointed with myself for devoting so little time to this chapter's shift in the Sergeant's personality. He does come around very quickly, and I'm left wondering if perhaps he shouldn't have been quite so abrasive at first, or perhaps if it should have taken longer to get him to change his attitude...

Well, I don't regret making him somewhat abrasive and short with people in general, and I'd like to hope that he is, if not particularly sympathetic, at least understandable in his personality. And although it may look a little unlikely now, in the end I will try to forge a bond between Miku and the Sergeant. It won't be a romantic one, but then bonds between people don't have to be romantic. And with any luck, the next few chapters will get the Sergeant to a point where that bond won't cause people to throw their keyboards through the screen yelling "why is she still giving him the time of day".

... Hm. There's a lot of foreshadowing future events in this, and less talking about the chapter. I guess I did say I liked foreshadowing...

The Downsides of Experience

So yeah, remember this Camp NaNoWriMo thing that I mentioned earlier...?

Put simply, I fail. I wrote one day's worth of writing immediately after midnight on July 1st, and then promptly commenced with the ignoring of the entire affair. I have not written a single word since, a full week and a half later.

Which isn't to say that I couldn't turn this around; I've seen more amazing comebacks from others before. I am forced to admit that I simply do not have the will to do so. The reason I got this far in the hole to begin with was that I couldn't seem to bring myself to write. There was always something else to do, some other project to worry about, and so on and so forth. Sadly, there's no reason to suspect that I will be able to change that in the time I have left, especially not to the degree of writing 29 days' worth in 19 days. Which means I think this particular project is dead.

To some extent I guess I'm overdue. I've had two good runs with the typical November NaNoWriMo, and I don't think I had fully committed myself to this new summer version. Honestly, I think part of that comes from greater experience with writing in general. Or at least, a sharper self-censoring routine. Part of the point of NaNoWriMo in general is that you don't let yourself worry about the quality of the writing. Pound out fifty thousand words, and worry about editing later when you have a novel to work with. I think what happened this July was that I have a slightly better sense of what mistakes I usually make when writing, and hadn't quite reminded myself of how NaNoWriMo is supposed to work.

Well, however it happened, I'm not going to be writing a novel this July. Oh well. I'll refocus on the fanfiction that I have sitting around, and there's always round 2 of camp in August...


Federal Supremacy

So I picked up a copy of the most recent Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center just today, issue 142. I think there's a lot in there worth seriously thinking on, especially the cover article about hatred directed against Islam, but this particular post is going to focus in on a separate article, Western 'Patriots' Clash with Feds on Land-Use Issues:
Ever since the U.S. Forest Service issued a draft plan last year to sharply limit motor-vehicle access to the 2.5 million acres of the San Juan forest, [Douglas] Maxwell and growing numbers of like-minded Westerners have been organizing against a government they see as tyrannical. In Dolores County, Maxwell's compatriots have threatened to "arrest" federal officials. They've hanged Smokey Bear in effigy and demanded the return of "liberty."

What is happening in this sparsely populated and economically depressed southwest corner of Colorado is a reprise of other Western land-use uprisings of the past 40 years, including the "Sagebrush Rebellion" and the "Wise Use" and "County Supremacy" movements. But in a more immediate way, it is a part of the second wave of the antigovernment "Patriot" movement that roiled America and spawned much violence in the 1990s. And like that movement, it has blended issues of genuine concern, such as the federal management of Western public lands, with a staggering dose of radical-right conspiracy theories.

The rebellion is finding allies in local elected officials, some of whom argue — against well-established law — that they have a legitimate right to defy federal laws and regulations. In Montezuma County, the recently elected sheriff [Dennis Spruell], who takes four-hour classes from a local "constitutionalist," appeared on a white supremacist radio show in February to assert that county sheriffs are "the ultimate law enforcement authority."
I would sleep much more soundly at night if I believed that this was all smoke and no fire. And then I think back to things like the Republicans deciding it was a good idea to read the Constitution on the floor of Congress and remember that no, actually, there are plenty of people that buy into this kind of "constitutionalist" kind of thinking.

The simple fact of the matter is that the federal government of the United States, the national one in Washington, D.C., reigns supreme within the boundaries of the United States, by the authority of the exact same Constitution that so many people seem to be using as a weapon against the federal government. Its laws are binding for all state authorities, regardless of the laws or even the constitutions in the states in question.

If there's a federal law that oversteps federal authority, well, last I checked there were ways for dealing with that that didn't involve claiming power that one doesn't have. They're called the courts, which do have the authority to decide whether or not a law is constitutional. Random sheriffs, much less individual citizens with no governmental authority whatsoever? Don't.

And as long as we're talking about authority and rightful use of power, this idea of arresting federal agents and defying federal authority? Yeah, individual citizens and minor government officials don't get to do that either. And trying it will provoke a response from the federal government, that actually does have the authority to enforce its laws.

In short? The hand we've been dealt, by our Constitution and by the 200+ years of established law built on top of it, says that the federal government wins these debates. Period. End of story. Groups like these that have a problem with that are not "patriots" in any sense of the word I care to name. Not when their only recourse against that is an armed rebellion that would quite thoroughly destroy the very same Constitution that they falsely claim to value so highly.


BMW Performance Driving School

So I'm writing this post from the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina. This has been a short trip indeed - flew out last night, stayed that night in the airport hotel, and then spent all today at the BMW Performance Center here in South Carolina for the One-Day Car Control School, with the flight back home taking off in about an hour and a half now.

Of course, it's the One-Day Car Control School that really is the focus here. It is, in fact, quite rare to take a car and truly push it to its limits, but that's what we got to do today. (Sort of. More on that later.) There were five other people in the class, with two instructors walking us through a series of exercises designed to both give us practice in controlling the car and demonstrate just how far you can push it in an emergency.

The answer is "quite far", by the way. The braking exercise saw to that. I had never really thought about it before, but usually no one brakes as hard as they possibly can. Certainly I never had actually pounded on the brakes hard enough to force the anti-lock braking system to engage. Well, before today that is. Considering I was going around fifty miles an hour, I think that car stopped pretty damn fast.

Of course, there was also the skidpad exercise to show us just what the car is designed to do. They disabled the stability control system in the car and basically had us intentionally force the car into oversteering, where the back end comes around. Let it go without doing anything, and the back end will come all the way around and you will spin out. Which I did. More than once.

I did sort of get the hang of correcting for the slide eventually, though. It's still a really hard thing to do. Of course, with the stability control on, I couldn't make it spin out even when I floored the accelerator. Handy tip: make sure the stability control system is on and functioning. It matters.

And then there was the emergency lane change. It is, actually, possible to fit a car going 45 through a hole about one and a half car lengths long... without even braking. In fact, braking might actually cause you to oversteer and screw it up! It was a hard thing to do, but it was doable in the end.

That wasn't all we did. There was a small road course we did time trials on, and a slalom, and then racing around the skidpad, but those were less about emergency situations and more about precise control. Most of which can be summed up as such: the car will go to where you're looking. If you look at the obstacle, you'll hit it. If you look at where you want to be, you'll get there. Of course there's a little more to it than that alone, but controlling one's gaze is paramount in controlling the car.

Oh, and about pushing the car to its limits... at the end of the day, we had enough time for the instructors to take us out on a "hot lap". Which is to say, as fast as they could manage to get the car around the course. That would be very fast, in case you were curious. And here I thought I was pushing the car to its limits... I wasn't even coming close!

In short, I had an interesting day indeed.


Monterey Chronicles - Santa Cruz

... See, this is why I can't have anything nice. Or start anything without coming back to it immediately. Considering the end of the Monterey trip is now over a week old and yet I still have this post sitting here unfinished. (Actually I have several posts sitting unfinished. This is simply the oldest that I still intend to finish.)

I originally wrote "So while San Francisco is far enough away to be out of range without a fair few hours to spend, Santa Cruz is close enough to be an evening's worth of adventure," but then I never actually wrote that post. So, from a slightly different perspective then!

When we went to Santa Cruz, all that we knew about it was that my brother had been there once and had a decent time. There's a boardwalk there, you see. Very Coney Island, theme park-y in general. (Not that I've ever been to Coney Island, but still.) And because I am extraordinarily single-minded in what I count as "fun"... my brother and I went straight for the arcades. Went back and forth between two of the ones we found playing DDR pretty much constantly.

I believe I've mentioned Dance Dance Revolution before. Well, it's an entirely different experience playing it in public. Mostly because the stakes are higher, at least in my opinion. Screw up in your basement on your own pad and no one has to know about it. Screw up in public in front of the small crowd that occasionally gathers when I play DDR, and that's a little more embarrassing. And yes, I do get crowds. Not often, and not very large ones (never more than a dozen people, really), but people will stop and watch for a moment when I'm on the pad.

In this case, the half-dozen people that had gathered to watch me take on one particularly hard song on an In The Groove machine (which is basically DDR in all but name, kinda like Stepmania) actually applauded when I finished. That's not at all common, and frankly it's even more embarrassing. Which doesn't mean I disliked it, but I have no stage presence and no real sense of how to acknowledge that kind of thing. (And I was exhausted to boot.)

But, it does in the end make it all the more fun. Being decently good (if not excellent) at DDR is fun, yes. Having other people see that is even better. This is why I have never yet passed up an opportunity to play DDR in public, and that chance alone made the trip to Santa Cruz worthwhile.


Independence Day Fireworks

One of the ways Americans often celebrate July 4th is by attempting to set themselves, their loved ones, and everything around them on fire. At least in those states where fireworks can be bought and set off privately. I can happily report that my state is one of those, as long as said fireworks do not shoot off into the air. And as someone nearby attested to, "illegal" and "unable to get and use" can be two entirely different things.

Which isn't to say that you need air burst fireworks to do damage. The first firework we tried to set off was a barrel-like fountain, except when we lit it? The damn thing simply exploded. And I mean "where'd it go" honestly exploded. There was a moment of sparks and fizzling and then just BAM, no more barrel. I still don't know where all the pieces went, although apparently one of them did hit one of the spectators on the (shoe-covered) foot. This is why we run away after we light a fuse. Heaven knows if I hadn't I wouldn't be writing this blog post right now.

After that, we started working our way through the rest of the stuff we bought and managed to do fairly well for ourselves. Then another firework we got had some kind of flaw. All I know is that there was an explosion that tipped the thing over and pointed it right at the spectators. That would have been bad even if they hadn't been sitting on the front steps of the house with the entire rest of our arsenal stacked up in front of them. You don't know fear until you're sitting there with a live firework pointed right at a pile of similar fireworks, not knowing if it has the range to hit those fireworks with flaming things. Thankfully, it did not, but those were some tense few moments indeed.

And after all that, still no actual fire. Which meant, of course, that we had to create some. We usually set fireworks on a cardboard box, if only so that there's some barrier between hot sparks and the grassy front lawn, and it has become a tradition that the box does not survive the experience. By any means necessary. This year, that meant lining strings of firecrackers across the top of the box practically two deep, creating basically a wave of fire across the box that left it smoldering. (I really need to remember to pack a video camera for these things.)

Of course, that's still not destroyed. So then we moved on to the sparklers, laying six whole boxes (30 sparklers) across the top in an intricate pattern in which one sparkler would light... usually two or three before fizzling out itself. It took several minutes for the entire pattern to burn out, but the entire box was openly burning long before then. In fact, our pattern broke somewhere, leaving some of it untouched... and the box relit the sparklers for us. Oh, and this is also when we learned that there were some unexploded firecrackers still sitting on the box. When they started randomly exploding, I mean.

Needless to say, in between the faulty fireworks and the box adventures, I am honestly surprised we survived the evening without a 911 call. Grateful that we had a bucket of water and contingency plans for trouble, even if those plans were kinda basic. And I'm kinda wondering... how did this became the preferred method of celebrating anything?

Selling DVDs

So I went to a mall today, or at least what passes for a shopping center by American standards.

I went home extremely disappointed.

See, the mall in question is one that I rarely go to, for simple reasons of distance and closer opportunities. We happened to find myself in the area today (other people had other errands to run in that area, and we needed to leave the house for food for the celebrations today anyway. On that note, happy Independence Day to those of you in the U.S., and happy belated Canada Day to anyone who might have found this blog from Canada), and so I suggested a stop in the mall.

I was hoping that I could go to a DVD store that had been in the mall last time I was there. As a fairly steady consumer of anime DVDs, the idea of a store dedicated to DVDs is an attractive one. Of course, it has been a while, and that store was no longer there - simply gone, in favor of a(nother) clothing store. It was still on the directory, but it sure wasn't where the directory said it was supposed to be. And I'm willing to bet that it didn't go away because it was successful and profitable.

Perhaps the problem lies with me. In the age of Netflix and Hulu (and digital piracy, too)... who wants to buy DVDs anymore?

But that set me to thinking. My earlier comment about American standards was made for a reason, because my thinking took me back to several months ago, when I was on the other side of the Pacific. How is it that there were still racks full of DVDs in the stores I went to while I was studying abroad in Japan? What are they doing differently that keeps those DVDs profitable when they cost several times more than American ones?

(And as a side note, "several times" is not an exaggeration. Anime DVDs here from Funimation range from $20-40 for at least 4 episodes if not more than that - sometimes an entire 13-episode season. DVDs in Japan are at least 5000 yen, which is $60 with the current exchange rates, with rarely more than 3 and usually just 2.)

I think it has something to do with marketing and with extras. No one in Japan is going to buy a DVD just for the privilege of watching the show again, at least not the DVDs I was buying. Hell, I spent over a hundred dollars for one movie! But then, I could have had the movie for half that... and even that would have had a book with it of additional information, interviews, pictures and sketches, and so on. Spending more money meant I got more extras. (In specific: a cardboard box, the size of a sheet of paper except it's also two inches thick, filled with two discs of movie and features, another booklet with even more additional stuff, and a bunch of additional random trinkets that have very little functional value besides looking pretty in a picture frame or on a desk.)

And that, in the end, is why I spent more money. Because I was a fan of this particular movie, knew exactly what I wanted and why I wanted it - to "prove" that I am a fan, for lack of a better way to put it.

That line of thinking seems to be anathema to American DVD manufacturers. The Harry Potter movie that we bought recently (Deathly Hallows pt. 1) was a little plastic box around a single disc, for twenty dollars. It has what I assume are the "standard" special features these days, and is designed pretty much entirely for "seeing the movie (again)."

I add that "again" because is there anyone out there that buys DVDs without knowing anything about what's on them? (It's an honest question, hard as that may be to believe.) I can only speak for myself, but there are no DVDs on my shelf that I bought for full price (pre-owned DVDs aside) which have stuff that I haven't actually seen. There are better (read: cheaper) ways of seeing something new that don't involve buying DVDs, in this day and age.

In light of that, why try to pretend that DVDs are commonly bought on impulse or supposed to be cheap and broadly marketable? Why shouldn't we be making "DVDs" that are actually designed to be sold to the people that really want them? Add more features and extras, raise the price, decrease the number of units that need to be sold, and focus in on the people that actually want, not just DVDs, but everything else that comes with them.

If nothing else, it seems to be working in Japan.