Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tokyo skyline, Fall, 2010

I was going to put something nice here, but Mediafire is down and none of the photos are displaying at the moment. Mediafire screws up like that sometimes. Check back later to see if it is behaving again.


Right after I got my new camera, I decided to take some shots of the Tokyo skyline from around my apartment 15 miles away.

Facing Tokyo, including Tokyo Tower.

Little bit more to the left, closer to Shinjuku, with the Sky Tree.

Down in front of the Tamagawa River, facing Tokyo Tower.

Tokyo skyline, Fall, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Skytree so far

The Sky Tree (Tokyo's new communication's tower planned to be twice as tall as Tokyo Tower, and open to the public in a year and a half), is shaping up nicely. This was taken from a nearby office building with a clear view of the Tree a couple of miles away.

Skytree Sept. 19, 2010






Taken at 9 AM.

Taken at 3 PM. Main difference in the coloring of the shots is the angle of the sun later in the day.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Garo 71

Garo #71, Feb., '70. Cover by Sampei Shirato. 234 pages.

カムイ伝 (Kamui-den) #58

By Sampei Shirato (白土三平). 68 pages.
A basket priest reaches an old castle. As he walks through it, he comments on the damage and absence of people. Suddenly, a gong starts banging and the priest prepares to fight. But it's just the madman Koroku, who comes in and pisses on everything. He's got an incredible bladder because he hits every room on several floors. The priest leaves and passes by a wood-carrying peasant sitting on the side of the road, smoking a pipe. In the forest, more trees are being cut down for lumber to build a new town. The people of Hanamaki have decided to settle down again. Nearby, a small bandit band terrorizes a village and the peasants are afraid to react. The priest arrives and calmly dispatches all of the bad guys. He notices someone on a roof and throws a dagger at him, but it is easily deflected by what looks like the pipe smoking peasant from earlier on the road. Later, two bandits are demanding a toll for people to cross a bridge, but they bolt and run when they recognize the priest approaching them. Another bandit band sees the priest leaving, and most of them go against their bosses orders to leave the villagers alone. The bandits are spotted rushing forward and an alarm is sent out. Hundreds of farmers, led by Kokemaru and Kamui's father gather up and tear the bad guys to pieces. The bandit leader is sitting on a horse, watching the carnage from a hilltop, and he gets approached by the basket priest. The priest refuses to leave him alone, so there is a fight and the priest wins. He walks past Shousuke, who notices that he's missing his two little fingers on his left hand. The smoking peasant is hiding behind some rocks, watching, and he runs off. He's followed by two thugs, who he dispatches with throwing daggers.

In the rice paddies, work progresses, with merchants working alongside the villagers. People that Shousuke met on his travels start arriving at the village and are welcomed. Shousuke's son, Ichitaro, gets into trouble, pissing on people and jumping into the mud. He has a ball and string toy that eventually gets dropped onto the ground unnoticed. Shousuke and Nana comment on how the farmers and vagrants are working and living together, bringing his dream closer to reality. But it's still a fragile situation.

A messenger arrives at the village and puts up a sign summoning everyone to the castle. When they get there, they are introduced to the new lord. An attractive-looking man in expensive robes, and missing two fingers on his left hand. It's Ryounoshin, now bestowed with a new noble name - Ikkaku Sasa (a combination of his former friend's name, and "bamboo grass"). He promises to help the villagers in any way he can. Things are looking up for everyone involved. However, hidden in the trees, the smoking peasant takes off his disguise, revealing Yokome, who drops Ichitarou's ball and string toy on the ground as he walks off, swearing.

やなぎ屋主人 (掲載開始) (Weeping Willow Shopkeeper (First Half))

By Yoshiharu Tsuge (つげ義春). 17 pages.
This is a rambling piece about a guy who looks like Jimmy Stewart. He meets up with a streetwalker, but after watching her take off her clothes, he bolts and runs outside. He wanders around for a while then returns to the woman's room. They talk and he leaves without taking his clothes off. He gets to a train station and asks one of the employees about how to get to a specific destination. When he arrives at the Weeping Willow shop, the story ends with nothing resolved.

戦争体験と戦後精神 (Experience of War, versus Post-War Intentions)

By Jirou Iwata (岩田二郎). 2 pages.

未来のトオキョウ (Future Tokyo)

By Shigeru Mizuki (水木しげる). 2 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
This is a little 2-page piece showing the Tokyo of the Future as an over-built monstrosity.

さそり (Scorpion)

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi (辰巳ヨシヒロ). 20 pages.
This may be the first story Yoshihiro has in Garo. It certainly seems to be the first one I've read. There are a couple common threads in this story. First is that the main character keeps repeating the phrase "who are you, why are you here?" Second is that everyone cheats on each other. The protagonist is a shop worker who keeps a scorpion in a tin can. He sleeps in the apartment of his girlfriend, a prostitute. One day at work, the guy sees his boss paying off a mistress and telling her to not come back. The protagonist decides to commiserate with the mistress and they eventually go out, get drunk and have sex. The guy returns to his girlfriend's apartment, and she tells him that she has to go out of town for a while. On a whim, the guy puts the scorpion in her handbag. Later, he has a flashback of a time when he tried climbing over the fence into a U.S. Army base and got caught. The soldier at the time asked him in English and Japanese, "Who are you, why are you here?" He was interrogated but said nothing so the Americans let him go. Back in the apartment, he reads a newspaper story about his girlfriend, who had died mysteriously along with an older businessman customer, from some kind of poison. The guy takes a knife from his shop and prepares to kill his boss, but he sees him making up with the mistress. The protagonist then sees himself reflected in a window, and he asks himself, "who are you, why are you here?"

Yoshihiro Tatsumi (1935-) is credited with being the person that coined the word "gekiga" (dramatic pictures) and is in at least one way responsible for the creation of Garo, in as much that this magazine was created to give an outlet to gekiga manga. He's been translated by Drawn&Quarterly, and his most well-known story in the west may be his A Drifting Life.

平凡死 (Common Death)

By Yuu Takita (滝田ゆう). 8 pages.
Yuu has decided to get into the pointless surrealism game with an 8-page series of random images. A couple are fairly interesting, anyway.

勝又進 作品集 (Katsumata's Creation Collection) #46

By Susumu Katsumata (勝又進). 7 pages.
3 and 4 panel gags.

赤色エレジー (2) (Red Elegy (2))

By Seiichi Hayashi (林静一). 13 pages.
Seiichi continues his brand of surrealism. The overt imagery concerns a man and woman living and arguing together, and the woman's occasional conversations with her parents before making back up with the guy.

流星 (Falling Star)

By Hiroyuki Ohtani (大谷弘行). 14 pages.
No real hits on Ohtani outside of references to Garo back issues. A man with a knife surreptitiously stalks the city. Newspapers describe a serial killer. Two detectives search for the suspect but have no clear leads. The man approaches a woman at a bus stop and threatens her, but she's suicidal and welcomes the promise of death. The knife man and the bus stop girl walk past the detectives, who happen upon the real killer in the middle of trying to rape his next victim. The knife man and the bus stop girl go to a darkened apartment and the girl asks for the knife to peal an apple, and it turns out that the blade has no edge. She returns the knife and the guy continues posing as a killer.

白い顔 (White Face)

By Yoshiko Naka (仲佳子). 10 pages.
More surrealism from Yoshiko, with people walking around and saying things to each other that don't always match up with the context.

万燈流し、夜学生 (Mantounagashi & Nightschool Student)

By Masuzou Furukawa (古川益三). 10 pages.
This is part of the "紫の伝説" (Purple Legend) series. Furukawa was first seen with "Field Bath". As a side note, Mantou is an event held around Shimodate, Japan. The Tourou Nagashi involves floating (nagashi) paper lanterns (tourou) down a river to commemorate the victims of the Great Kanto earthquake, as well as the victims of later wars. These are actually two separate stories. In the first, two children on a pier watch paper lanterns floating on the river. The scene changes to follow the lanterns as they go over a waterfall. In the second story, a boy walking through the hills goes past a house where a school student is studying late into the night. They don't talk to each other, and the boy keeps walking on out of town.

少年夢遊篇 (Boy Dream Play Compilation)

By Ouji Suzuki (鈴木翁二). 17 pages.
Ouji was first seen with "Helping Shou". A boy wakes up in the morning, smells his breath and goes to wash his teeth. There's an image of a rose, and one of its leaves falls off. The radio clock alarm turns on at full blast and he rushes to silence it to make sure that the landlord doesn't catch him slumming in the room. He goes outside and debates what to eat for lunch, walking past a bookstore and commenting on how pretty the girl working there is. He stops to buy a glass jar, then gets some rice, sliced pork, gyouza and beer at a small restaurant stand. He reads some Fujio Akatsuka manga and talks a bit with the waitress before returning home. He lies on the floor in the dark, staring at the glass jar. When the landlady arrives and bangs on the door to see if he's in the room, he freezes. She opens the door but the room's empty. The camera focuses on the small jar, and the impression is that the boy has hidden himself inside it somehow. The last shot is a closeup of the jar, and the words "good night".

As a sidenote, "夢遊" doesn't show up in my dictionary, but "夢遊病" is "sleep walking sickness".

或る風景 (Certain Scenery)

By Tadao Tsuge (つげ忠男). 30 pages. This is a featured manga on Nihon-go Hunter this week.
A man goes walking out on the roads to reach a favored fishing hole. Along the way he narrates the difficulties he'd had with his parents when he was younger, and how he'd badly injured his right foot as a child. It still hurts him now. When he gets to the fishing place, one of the other men that likes fishing there comes up and chats with him for a while. The visitor asks why the fisher is here since there's few fish in the area, and the guy answers that he likes the scenery. The visitor is surprised, since the place is fairly desolate and there's nothing scenery-wise worth looking at. They both leave and the first guy goes to his shop and opens it up for business. As he's washing down the sidewalk, a customer comes up and comments that he'd been afraid the place would be closed for the day. The owner answers that the off day is tomorrow. The customer buys some bait, and remarks on how clean the shop is. He leaves, and as other customers come by, the owner narrates again about having two younger brothers, the problems he'd had with his parents, and that when they'd died he'd inherited this grocery store out in Chiba prefecture. He goes home, where his wife says that she'd gotten a call from her mother saying that she was feeling ill, so the wife is going to go back home during the off day tomorrow. She makes up meals for her husband and asks what he'll do with his free time - he answers, "fishing". His foot bothers him, and we see that it's in bad shape. He peals dead skin from the top of it. That night they go to sleep and he wakes up with a start to see that she's staring at him. He asks why she's awake, and she answers that he'd been making weird noises in his sleep. They go back to bed, and she wakes him at 9 AM as she prepares to visit her mother. He's going to nap longer then suddenly his foot cramps up. He gets his glasses and rests his eyes while sitting up, and dreams that he's in the middle of a road, wearing just his night robe.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fat pigeons

In a city with fat pigeons, you don't need a roof over your garage. Just put a door in front of your car and watch them get heart attacks walking around looking for the stairs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Bar Knuckle

I love serendipity. It's one of my favorite flavors at Ben and Jerry's.

When I was looking for a Domino's shop to see if I could take a photo of the One Piece pizza box for the blog entry on their One Piece campaign, I took the train to Komae (Odakyu line near Noborito) and then walked over to Setagaya Douri, and then about halfway down to the next station of Kitami. The Domino's shop didn't have any advertising out front, except for a banner saying they were hiring part-timers. I went about 1 block farther on and noticed this one place with the shutters down, just before I got ready to cross the street to go back to the station. The hand-written sign out front read "nakkuru". Above that was a sign saying that there was a boxing gym there. After a bit of thinking, I decided to take a photo, and then look at the sign a bit more. Turns out that Nakkuru is a bar connected to the gym. I.e. Bar Knuckle.

A few nights later, I went back in the hopes of taking some pictures of the bar, to have something more interesting for this blog entry beyond just some shutters. However, the gym was on the first floor and I couldn't find anything anywhere that looked like a place that sold alcoholic drinks. Then I looked closer at one of the other signs that had been put out front. It's a sandwich bar. I love it. It was definitely worth coming out a second time to learn about the Bar Knuckle Sandwich.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Asahi winter cocktails

Asahi has a pair of new alcoholic beverages on the market just in time for the approaching winter chill. First up is the "Shokokora Cocktail" (possibly a mashing up of the names of the two main ingredients), a so-called "liquor" combining chocolate and rum. It's 4% alcohol, so it's on the weak side, comparable with most other canned cocktails in Japan. It's also 168 yen for 280 ml, (about 8 ounces), making it about the same value as a 12 ounce can of beer. While the printing on the can says that it's good warmed up, I drank it cold. The overall affect is like watered-down Nestle Quick with a hint of alcohol. No idea if there's rum in there or not, it's so weak.

Next is the Caramel Machhiato Cocktail. I also had this one chilled. The flavor is a bit stronger, with the rum almost making its way through the artificial caramel flavoring. There's a little bit of a burnt-coffee aftertaste at the back of the throat, but otherwise there seems little point to calling this a machhitao drink. Again, it tastes watered down. You're better off getting Kahlua and adding some milk and rum to that to make up your own cocktail.

What with the weird Kitkat and Pepsi flavors on the market, it's not surprising that Asahi would want to do something similar for the more adult market. But, this is a pretty disappointing attempt. It'd be a bit better if the drink would froth when you shake up the can before opening it, but I can't even get it to hold a few bubbles for more than a few seconds. Not recommended.

Summary: A waste of money. Better off avoided.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Building a 2-color 8x8 LED matrix

If you're new to electronics, or if you've just started playing with the Arduino or Japanino, it probably won't take long before you start thinking about building an LED matrix, like the scrolling LED dot signs you see outside of various stores. You can pick up the LCD display from Spark Fun, which gives you a nice little 132x132 pixel monitor screen that you can use for displaying text and pictures, but it's not quite as eye-catching as the more primitive 8x8 matrix is. In fact, everything you can do on a matrix, you can do on the LCD shield, and a whole lot more. But, the LCD shield is nowhere near as bright as an LED matrix can be.

(Proving the initial concept.)

If you build an LED matrix, you can choose to use as many LEDs as you like. But, the Japanino only has 20 I/O pins (the Arduino only has 18), so if you go over over a 4x5 rectangle, you can't address the LEDs individually per-pin. The work-around is to connect the LEDs together so that they share common rows and columns. Depending on how you connect the LEDs at the junction points of the matrix, raising one row high and setting one column low can make the LED at that junction turn on. Then, if you do this 400-500 times per second, the human eye's "persistence of vision" will overcome the flickering and all of the LEDs in the matrix will look like they're on at the same time. It's a little more difficult to program than just writing a "1" to one pin, but it's still fairly easy to work with. And, there are so many people on the net that have done exactly this that you can easily pull up circuit diagrams and sketches for the matrix size you want.

One drawback to making your own matrix is that for an 8x8 circuit, buying 64 LEDs will cost more than just buying a pre-made commercial matrix off-the-shelf. Note that if you use 64 LEDs, the resulting matrix will only be one color. If you want to use a second set of LEDs to get 3 colors together (red, green, or red+green to get yellow), you're essentially going to be building two 64-LED matrices in the same space. An off-the-shelf bi-color 8x8 matrix can be about $4 USD. Tri-color no more than $6 or $7. Might as well get the off-the-shelf product, even if you can find 64 tri-color LEDS (which may total almost $100, depending on the size you get and who you buy them from).

(Starting out 4x4.)

Back right after getting the dual-axis accelerometer chip and Spark Fun LCD shield, I decided to build a simple one-color 4x4 LED matrix on the Spark Fun proto shield, alongside the accelerometer chip. Not much of a challenge wiring-wise, and really easy to program. But, kind of limited on the types of patterns you can animate. Still, it was fun seeing something I'd built by hand working on the first try. (Note that in the picture below, the wires crossing over each other aren't actually touching. There's a 1/8" gap between them.)

(Back of the 4x4 matrix.)

I found a bi-color 8x8 matrix at Marutsu in Akihabara for 400 yen (about $5 USD). With all of the other parts I needed to build the circuit, the total came to 900 yen, not including the Switch Science vanilla proto shield board and through headers (another 800 yen for that). So, the total for the project was around maybe $22-$23. (I'm thinking of adding two more push button switches, which will be another $3.)

(Finished kit with a simple "plus sign" pattern.)

If you're programming a 1-color 8x8 matrix, you'll have 8 rows and 8 columns. It's very easy to hook these up to the Arduino pins and you're done. For a bi-color matrix, either the red and green LEDs will share the same anode, or cathode connections, so there will be 8 rows, and 16 columns. The Para Light A-3880EG matrix I got is common anode, and has 2 rows of 12 pins each - 24 pins total. It was really hard to get a pin out diagram for this part, even from the manufacturer's own website. I did find a tutorial page that described using 74hc595's for driving the columns, and that helped a lot.

(Same pattern. The camera flash overwhelms the matrix image.)

Since we're looking at 24 pins, we can't just connect them directly to the Arduino. Instead, the idea is to use a 16-bit shift register. What this does is to take the data from one pin of the Arduino, and then clock it a bit at a time into the shift register in serial form. This lets you program one full row of LEDs, both red and green. Turn off that row and turn on the next row, really fast, and you're back to the case of a single color matrix - no problem. If you have a tri-color matrix, then you just need to have a 24-pin shift register. In any case, the shift register uses 4 Arduino pins, compared to the 8 (16 or 24) pins needed by addressing the LED matrix directly. The trade off is that with the shift registers you get more colors and more LEDs with less pins, but loading the data serially slows the data transfer rate and the LEDs may look dimmer.

I wanted to use the STP16C596 chip mentioned in the above tutorial, which is a 16 pin shift register, with the ability to moderate current to the LEDs using one simple resister connected to a control pin. But Marutsu doesn't carry it. Instead, I fell back on getting 2 74hc595's, which are 8-bit registers, with no current control circuits. But, even so, the 2 chips are 80 yen each, and a bag of 100 220-ohm resistors is also only 100 yen. No problem on cost - it just means that the circuit takes up more board space.

(Holy rat's nest, Batman!)

One thing I discovered, and that I don't like, is that the Switch Science proto board blocks the battery connector of the Japanino. I could have taken a pair of cutters and cut a notch out of the proto board (like I did for the magic candle circuit), but I figured that I might as well pull out the Japanino connector and replace it with a 30 yen right-angle connector I got from a different shop in Radio Land.

Something else that I discovered is that the pins of this particular matrix don't line up with the holes of a regular perf board. I decided to bend the pins to make them line up, and then put in a socket on the proto board so that I can easily replace the device later if I want to. Current ideas are to build extension cables to let me hang the LED matrix on a shirt or jacket, and to be able to attach a physically larger matrix (one that is almost two-times bigger is only 600 yen).

If you use two 74hc595's, you chain them so that the carry pin of the first chip acts as the Data In source for the second one. Otherwise, you're wiring all of the other control pins in parallel. For programming the matrix - the Arduino has a built-in command called "shiftOut". This makes it much easier to send data to the full row at one time, but I think it also adds some kind of unnecessary delay for the clocking that slows the program down too much. You can also use some of the matrix driver libraries on the net, but I wanted to write my own code so that I have more control over how I generate my patterns. I like the idea of having 2 binary arrays, one for the red LEDs and one for the green, and then combining them in a 64-cell unsigned int array that then gets sent to the display function. This makes animation patterns much more compact, and I can use the red binary array for any mono-color patterns, such as text fonts.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mitsubishi Paper Craft Trucks

Bunny has been a great help in telling me about paper craft sites on the net that are sponsored by companies like Yamaha, but that have these wonderful projects for kids, like the kotsu cat. Naturally there are lower-level projects like Glico's animal zoo, the Ushio and Tora airplane and car, and the "Kill Me, Baby" characters.

Well, Bunny has come through again, this time by letting me know about the Mitsubishi-Fuso page. This one is primarily just reproductions of Mitsubishi-Fuso's line of trucks and buses, but they're still pretty detailed and challenging to assemble. Just go to the page of the desired vehicle, print out the pattern on stiff bond paper, cut away, and glue up the assemblies as needed. There's not much in the way of instructions, so you don't need to worry about knowing Japanese.

This dump truck took about 90-100 minutes to cut out and assemble. It's about 4" long and 2" tall. I didn't have bond paper on hand so I just used plain copier paper, which is a bit too light and easily warped by the moisture in the wood glue. I let it dry over night before affixing the dump bed to the back of the flatbed base.

I'm almost as proud of this truck as I am of the rabbit lantern shade.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Akiba Nov., 2010

Some photos seen around Akihabara lately.

Ad for Vocaloid game.

Roaming advertisement truck, for Pretty Venus.

Another roaming advertising semi for Hello, goodbye.

Ad poster for K-On.

One of the big boys, for a PS3 video game - Trinity.