Manga Online — I like it!

What’s not to like about manga online for 25-cents a chapter?  Not much … that’s just what a website called www.netcomics.com offers.  I came across this website about six-months ago while looking up the publisher of some of the manga/manhwa (Korean comics) I read.  The concept is simple:  buy a block of chapters for $10 and then pick whatever chapters from the manga they offer for 25-cents a chapter.  The chapters the user purchases are available for the user to view for 2-days.  For a typical manga, this is about $1 per volume vs. ~$10 to buy a new book from the bookstore.  For manga that I don’t want a hardcopy of, I think this is a good deal.  It also helps me decide whether I want to spend the $10 to actually buy a hardcopy.  Another great thing is that this method of distribution allows the publisher to simultaneously release the manga/manhwa in Korean and English.  The release period is about a chapter per week, so it feels very realtime unlike printed manga which can take years to get to the US and once it does, the volume release frequency is 3 – 6-months (ARGH!!!).

Unfortunately, Netcomics’ selection is small and most of what they have is of no interest to me.  I do wish though, for this method of distribution to be offered in general for books and manga.  I think for smaller authors it would give them a chance to be read without the publisher having to make production commitments, which leads to greater choice for the consumer.  Also, the consumer can preview or read the entire book without having to commit to the full cost of the hardcopy book and bookhelf space once the book is finished (ah, yes, there’s still the library …).  Also considering the size of some folks’ computer monitors, reading online can actually be quite enjoyable.  Particularly for manga, if you have a big enough screen you aren’t confined to squinting to read small text on a 7.5-in tall page.

There are other ways of getting manga online too.  Various download sites are available to get fan “scanlated” (scanned and translated) manga.  The quality, both of the scans and the translations, can widely vary and once the manga gets licensed in the US, the manga becomes vary difficult to find and the user becomes a pirate if he or she does happen to find it and download it.  And then there’s also the HDD memory issue which becomes quite apparent for multi-volume series.  Anyhow, kudos to Netcomics and I hope to see more sites like it in the future.

It Takes 6-Hours to Set up a TV? and the "Cord Fairy"

My entry into the world of high-definition continued last weekend and let me say that setting up a new TV and plugging in the various peripherals we own was not easy.  To set the scene properly, start the music from the Nutcracker Ballet going on your internal MP3 player.   First there was the task of dismantling our old set-up with the digital projector.  Since I’m the smaller of the pair between me and my husband, I had to venture behind the electronics pile to disconnect the stereo, the Tivo, the cable box, an antennae, and the hub.  The devastation from the Cord Fairy was extensive.  We were also visited by the Dust Bunny who left an egg-size wad of sneezing fun (thank goodness for mini-shop-vacs).  This was something I didn’t want to do until we actually got the TV in place because I had no idea how I was going to remember where all these cords plugged into without disconnecting and reconnecting them into the new holes one-at-a-time.  My husband challenged the engineer in me and after a long staring contest, in which I tried my best wifely “you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” scowl, I gave in and with reckless abandon unplugged everything and did head to head battle with the Cord Fairy and the Dust Bunny.  With everything unplugged; the components spread out and the cords laid neatly in rows before us; my husband and I  lugged the TV onto it’s thone.   *Uwahhhh* (Imagine the Christmas tree unfolding scene)  Nice … again, since I’m the smaller of the pair, I climbed into the little triangle of space behind the TV, and pulled cords and components through the TV stand as my husband placed them into the empty cubby holes.  Okay … cable out the wall and into the cable box … S-video from the cable box and into the TV.  Red and black sound from the cablebox to the Tivo.  Red and black sound from the Tivo the stereo and then to the TV.  And so it went, the marvelous weaving the cords and within a blink of an eye, the Cord Fairy had struck (Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is the Cord Fairy’s soundtrack) … “Honey!  I need some twist ties!”  Sigh … after an hour the cords were nicely contained and it was time to turn the TV on and test the cable and Tivo connections before plugging in the X-Box 360 and the entertainment laptop.

Miracle of miracles, my engineering prowess prevailed and everything came on!  (That wiped the smirk right off my husband’s face 🙂 ).  Now, onto the X-box:  Not wanting to be outdone, my husband decided that he could fit behind the TV too if he only used his upper body.  He sat down upon the TV stand facing out towards me and then leaned back and to the side to get behind the TV to plug in the HDMI cable, after which he discovered that he couldn’t get back up as he was then propped precariously on one butt-cheek and didn’t have enough leverage.  After chuckling a bit I helped him up and he powered on the X-Box and ramped through the resolutions.  480 lines – check, 720-lines – check, 1080 lines interlacing – check, 1080 lines non-interlacing – failure.  Huh?  It turns out that 1080p is a box spec and can only be shown on the display if pushed through at 30-Hz, which none of our devices can do.  My husband pouted, but I assured him that we most likely wouldn’t be able to see a difference.  We then enjoyed a couple of Halo 3 previews in all their 1080 lines of resolution glory.  *Nice*

Onto the nightmare – the PC:  The TV comes with a VGA port to directly plug a computer into.  We connected our trusty 3 – 4-year old entertainment laptop in (it may be old in computer years, but it still has respectable specs, even for a current desktop).  At first the TV defaulted to 1024 by 768 – no!  We then ramped through the resolutions only to get no response from the TV.  We fiddled with the refresh rates and dual view and again we were able to do 1024 x 768 and a few higher resolution settings if we spread the view of the desktop onto both screens.  After 1-hour of futility we gave up and figured that maybe the laptop was too old.  So we plugged in our laptop that is ~1-yrs old.  This time we were able to get more resolution settings to work, but not to our satisfaction.  Apparently the video card in that laptop scales everything according to the native resolution of the laptop.  We were able to push 1920 x 1080 into the TV, but it was scaled from 1280 x 800, so we had to pan in order to access the edges of the desktop.  No good!  It was now time to probe deeply into the finer features of the video driver.  After much trial and error, the video card recognized the TV as a TV and reported back that the native resolution of the device is 1360 by760-ish – Huh?  We set the resolution accordingly, laughed at HP “box specs”, and then enjoyed the third installment of the “Hellsing Ultimate” OVA.  BTW:  The TV produces excellent reds, which if any of you know anything about “Hellsing”, then you understand how marvelous (in a beautiful and hideous way) red can be.

After watching “Hellsing” we came back to reality and decided that we could not keep the working laptop downstairs because it is severely infested by Cord Fairies.  This is the computer that we download entertainment content to, print from, and do everyday computing stuff with and consequently it has 2 external hard drives, a printer, speakers,  a wi-fi mouse, and now a TV plugged into it – it looked like a hardware explosion in the middle of our Spartan family room.  So it was back to the old laptop.  Using the tricks I had learned from fiddling with the driver on the newer computer I tried a different approach on the old laptop and after an a couple of hours of trial and error and then a couple of TV synchronizations I got the thing to work at 1360 x 760-ish.  Victory!  And the casualties were: 1 digital projector which took 2 cords with it and three more cords because my husband figured out how to run all the audio connections to the TV such that there only needed to be one connection to the stereo for all the video components we have. 

Some observations on the TV:  The TV by default renders color vividly.  The is great for us because this feature really makes anime “pop,” it’s but not so good watching live action content because it causes flesh tones to look unnaturally flushed or washed out against vibrant backgrounds when the vibrancy is dialed down.  Since my husband is color blind he didn’t understand what I was talking about and I don’t particularly care because the colors are rendered much better than t
he digital projector and I like “poppy” anime.  The other thing is that watching TV (broadcast and cable) on this display sucks as it would on any high-res display.  This was made worse for us because there is significant noise in the connection between our Tivo and the TV.  Another thing about this TV is that it takes FOREVER for the thing to power up and it doesn’t come on until the second attempt to power it up.  This has gotten a lot better as of yesterday.  It now powers up on the first attempt in about 30-seconds.  Perhaps there was a burn-in period ???  Overall we are very happy with our TV.  It’s great for viewing anime, playing video games, and watching hi-def content (we watched some hi-def movie previews via the X-Box 360 and they looked outstanding! – it could be that the X-Box renders better so we didn’t get the weird flesh tones.).  As for cable TV, we watch it from a great distance so as not be upset by the blurriness.

 

Hi-Def Rabbit Ears! They Work!

After seeing several news stories about getting Hi-Def and digital broadcast freely over the airwaves, my husband bought us a pair of rabbit ears to try it out.  It works!  We get analog channels, digital channels, and hi-def channels though the antennae.  Unfortunately, there is not much choice yet.  PBS comes in really well as well as some second tier networks, however we are only able to sometimes get NBC and we are not able to pick-up any of the ABC, CBS, or Fox channels.  Since we don’t watch much network TV, this isn’t too upsetting.  PBS comes in beautifully and we have already enjoyed a couple of episodes of Nature, some random documentaries, and a travel show – and then the “Antique Road Show” came on and it was back to anime …

 

Speaking of anime, we found a “sleeper” called “Towards the Terra.”  At first this show seemed like another show about a whiny brat who gets trusts into a role he doesn’t want – which it was for the first episode.  But then it turns out that the main character is quite scrappy and has enough power to possibly destroy a planet.  In the 4 and 5 th episodes he has a raging tantrum that had me and my husband rolling in our seats.  Nice … anyhow, they’ve brought in the parallel story of the “enemy” and it’s nice to see the mirroring of the two stories.  I wonder how they will intersect.

 

“Romeo X Juliet” just keeps getting better.  Watch it!  (Baka-Updates or Animesuki)

Homecoming — Part 1

My maternal grandmother passed away early morning on June 6th, ending several months of pain and suffering upon her wary body.  This was one of the 6 days in my life that I had been dreading (the other days being the death of my parents, brother, husband, and such …) because I knew my Mom would take her mother’s death hard and, therefore, I too would have a hard time worrying for her and feeling bad because I would not be able to do much to ease my Mother’s sorrow.   The family had been bracing for this day for months and my Mom was beyond her limit and signs of stress were manifesting physically on her body.

 

The funeral was scheduled for Thursday.  My Mom flew out to South Carolina on Tuesday to help her last remaining brother make final arrangements.  My father and I followed on Wednesday afternoon and evening, respectively.  My arrival to the Greenville airport was rather unceremonious.  I sat outside on a concrete planter rim dressed in a hoodie, cropped cargo pants, and socked feet in sandals, with my ever-present backpack affixed texting my husband about state of the airport and the absence of my mother, who, as usual, had turned off her cell phone as soon as she had confirmed that I was on the ground.  After a 40-minute wait, my Mom and her sister-in-law showed and with a hug I entered the car and we were on our way.  I, of course, wanted to freshen up from the plane ride at the hotel, but my Mom was agitated and vetoed my request instead insisting that we go see the body.

 

My grandmother was beautiful – minimal make-up was applied to her amazing ageless skin (my grandmother had amazing skin that, even at the age of 86, really never developed wrinkles and she only got gray hair very late in life).  She was dressed in a pink flowey dress adorned with little white pearls along the neckline that then ran down her chest.  She looked as though she was just sleeping.  I should kiss her I thought and then chuckled – as though that would bring her back … I turned my attentions to my Mom who was concerning herself with who sent what flowers.  I hugged her and we looked at my grandmother together and cried. 

 

Within that same funeral home, far more tragic corpses were present.  There were 3 caskets containing the bodies of most of a family who had died in an auto accident.  We went to pay our respects first to the father and then, to my horror, the children.  At that point I lost it and bolted out of the mortuary, crying, and shouting up to the sky “Those are children!  Old people can die!  But not children!”   I hadn’t been that disturbed in a while nor had I ever felt so much emotion for people I had never met.  All I could think about is how a mother had been deprived of her entire family and all she had left of them are her memories and photos.  What happened in the next few minutes, I don’t remember, but when I came to I was back in the car and we were heading to my Mom’s home in the small town of Jonesville South Carolina.

Homecoming — Part 2

For a San Diego native like me, South Carolina appears to be super green with trees and moss and grass and vines everywhere.  Within that green there is screaming life – mostly insects – and after a while it’s just too much for my senses and I long for the scrubby browness of home.  My grandmother’s house is located on small triangle of Earth amidst the super greenness on a little path of the road call “Pump Hollow”.  It was called “Pump Hollow” because at the end of the path was the community water pump, where not too long ago, folks used go and pump water for daily use.  There are two houses situated on this small sliver of land.   One is the old house where my Mom grew-up and where I have misty childhood memories of being warmed by a wood burning stove and being confounded by the fact that this house had maybe 3 bare light bulbs and no running hot water (if you wanted a warm bath you had to boil water on the stove).  This was a place this suburban brat did not like to visit.  The other house is a small trailer juxtaposed by the presence of giant tube TV with an accompanying giant lazy boy chair in which my grandmother always sat.  Every time we visited, the trailer was always filled with the sounds of playing great children and their parents desperate to tell their “rich” California relatives about their hardships, pleading with us to give their children a better life in California.  This is yet another place this suburban brat didn’t like to visit.  The old house was boarded up long ago and nature is now steadily reclaiming it.  On this day the trailer is filled with grandchildren, who are now in their 30’s and 40’s and those same great grandchildren who are now teenagers.  The house is filled with laughter as they share stories about grandma and enjoy the food the community has provided for the family during the time of mourning.  It was surprisingly uplifting.

 

Upon arrival, I head back to kitchen to finally get some food.  There are the usual southern comforts; fried chicken, biscuits, potato salad, and orange soda to choose from.  I loaded my plate with chicken and bread and wince at the soda.  I gave up soda years ago and I now I find it almost undrinkably sweet.  But there’s no such thing as bottled water here … so … As cousins make their way in they all greet my Mom and then begin to interrogate me – what’s your husband like?  (They are very curious about interracial marriage.) What do you do at work? Are you day or night shift?  What do you do when you are at home?  Do you know any stars?  And on and on.  I answered as best as I could and they seem disappointed that my life is pretty ordinary and their illusions of my wealth are shattered as they learn they drive better cars than me and see that I have had the same cell phone for the past two years.  I explain that we just have different priorities.  To which they seriously explain to me that there’s no point in saving when you could die tomorrow – a point I didn’t fully understand at the moment but later came to poignantly understand.

 

And then the pictures come out.  One of the cousins who was poking around the trailer found a large envelop containing a bunch of pictures.  Some were very recent, taken just weeks ago, and some were very old, chronicling the lives of my Mom and uncles.  Most precious to me were some photographs of my Mom when she was about 10 and another when she was about 12-years old.  I had never seen pictures of her in her youth and I was surprised to see that she looked just like did when I was younger.  In one of the pictures my mother defiantly glares at the camera, her eyes stronger and fiercer than I’ve ever seen them.  My Mom explained to me that she did not want to be photographed that day and so she refused to smile.  But I could see underneath that defiant glare a small smile of victory.  I guess she thought she had somehow defeated the photographer, but instead she had given him the gift of a “priceless” expression. 

 

 

 I pulled out my digital camera to take a picture of the photo.  I had fallen in love with my Mom all over again.  I see, I thought, this is the expression of a child who escapes Pump Hollow.   I then asked the family could I keep a few pictures, and surprisingly they were unattached and allowed me to take them as long I digitized them and put them on a photo sharing website.  To which they added that should remember to properly label the images so they know who’s in them.  *Record scratching noise*  Double-take!  Huh?!!!  Whoa, wait a minute!  You have computers and the Internet?!!! 

 

And then I woke up and took a look around me and finally noticed that my family was happily snapping photos of each other with digital cameras and cellphones and that one of my cousins had brought over a laptop and was using a cellular phone modem to connect to the Internet.  I am a fool … they’ve probably Zillowed my home address.