It’s like poetry, it rhymes. A dose of online nostalgia.

So it’s been an exciting week on the Internet. Twitter found out that saying “yeah, so whacha gonna DO about it?” to the world’s richest man might not have been the greatest plan, and the site has been experiencing some … challenges ever since. An awful lot of people seem to be looking for somewhere else to go that fills the same role, and I keep seeing Mastodon kicked around as the Next Big Thing so I naturally did some research.

To be clear: I’m not particularly worried about the future of Twitter, and if the site inexplicably went down tomorrow I would only REALLY miss the English Word of the Day twitter account and like two or three other cool people I follow.

Plus a whole lot of Genshin Impact fan art of various levels of work safeness.

But to get back to my original point, I started looking into this Mastodon thing and it instantly snapped me back to the person I was like 30 years ago, because it’s like FidoNet all over again.

If you weren’t online 30 years ago, or maybe not even alive 30 years ago, FidoNet was this big, mostly non-commercial network of computer bulletin board systems. Like, imagine that you really liked parrots and you wanted to devote a computer and a phone line to running a program that that let people call in and talk to each other about parrots and download parrot pictures and maybe play parrot-centric games. FidoNet would let your system communicate with OTHER systems run by parrot fans, so people on your parrot site could talk to people all across the world without paying long distance bills.

OK, yeah, one more thing from the dark ages of history. It used to cost money to make phone calls – or computer modem connections – to anywhere outside of your immediate geographical area. So instead of every parrot fancier in town making multiple long-distance calls to all the different parrot fan sites, your local parrot Uber-fan would shoulder the costs of batching up all of your conversations and exchanging them with all of the other sites.

Anyway, FidoNet was how the individual systems, which were called Nodes, could communicate with each other, and the conversations about parrots, or cars, or movies, were sent around on a system called Echo Mail. The idea was that countries were split up into smaller and then larger geographic areas and messages were routed in a way that was the least cost. It would sometimes take days for your messages to reach all of the other parrot fans throughout the world, and their replies might take days to come back.

In theory, FidoNet had two social rules and one technical rule. The technical rule was that for an hour every night your system had to be closed to users and open for FidoNet communications, and the social rules were “Do not be excessively annoying, and do not be excessively annoyed”.

In practice, there were a ton of other rules and a whole mess of politics.

For example: because Echo Mail was expensive to run, systems would typically all pay money to ONE guy who would handle the process of collecting and distributing all Echo Mail from and to a particular geographical area. That guy got to pick what Echoes, or discussion topics, he would forward. Our local Echo Mail host was pretty famous for not liking certain topics (anime among them), so he simply wouldn’t host offending Echoes. Also, if it turned out that he thought you were forwarding messages to a system that wasn’t paying HIM, he would simply cut you off the network. In that case, your option was to try to find another source for Echo Mail and incur the network charges yourself.

Oh, and then he went through a messy divorce and left town, breaking Echo Mail for every system that had been paying him.

There’s a reason it used to be called “Fight-O-Net”.

Side note, because every system you used was literally Some Guy’s Computer, the person running the BBS had full access to everything on it. So if you were sending private mail to another user of the same system talking about what a tyrant the admin was, the admin was right there reading it. They could also see your passwords – this was before passwords were hashed, so they were typically just stored in plaintext – so if you used the same password on multiple sites you REALLY had to trust the admins.

So. Back to Mastodon. Where the admins can read your DMs, just like in the FidoNet days.

Every Mastodon instance is its own distinct thing and ALSO part of a larger network, like FidoNet Nodes and the FidoNet itself, and Mastodon admins are a lot like the BBS administrators of old. They have an interest in a topic, they are willing to spend money to host a system for people to talk about that topic, and their system can interface with all of the other systems.

And woo boy the drama is right there, just as strong or maybe stronger.

For example: there are a lot of legitimately awful sites on the internet, so there are some very well-intended blacklists to ensure that the users on the awful sites can’t interact with users on your site.

On the other hand, you – assuming you’re daft enough to set up your own Mastodon instance – may have your site wind up on one of these lists because, oh, you have one legitimately awful user, or maybe you have a user who just seems problematic or maybe because you yourself aren’t blocking the right sites. You can get off these blacklists, sure – just correct your behavior and grovel in the right ways, make sure you’re blocking the right sites and you’ll be back in the good graces of the community in no time. In the meantime, if you’re an individual parrot fan and not the admin, you probably have no idea why your feed just went dark.

So say you’re an admin and you have a guy that signs up to your instance at 2 AM and blasts racist nonsense to every other site he or she can find and you wake up at 8 AM to an inbox full of angry email and need to deal with the collective Karen that is the internet when it isn’t getting its way Right Now.

Or, heaven forbid, someone on your instance toots something that goes viral. Suddenly dealing with the server costs of 20,000 Boosts may put you into massive debt, because Mastodon doesn’t seem to have copied the hub and spoke model of FidoNet. Your system is responsible for sending that Boosted Toot out to every other instance that interacts with it via point-to-point connections, which are fast but oh-so-very inefficient.

From a user’s point of view, since the individual sites are largely run by hobbyists and nerds, you also run the very real risk of the Messy Divorce or maybe even the “You guys have ruined every bit of fun I once found in this, I’m pulling the plug” and suddenly all of your data poofs into the virtual ether.

So after educating myself on what the heck Mastodon was all about, I naturally went looking for drama. I confess, it was just a massive nostalgia hit at this point. It brought me right back to those late 80s/early 90s flame wars that seemed SO IMPORTANT at the time.

Honestly, this is the virtual equivalent of eating a lot of really greasy food. It may taste good in the moment, but you are going to regret it in a few hours.

Anyway, one particular complaint kept popping up over and over: To wit, there were a ton of people who had their own super nerdy, super niche space that was their haven, and they naturally wanted to make it easy for other Cool People to join this space.

And then the Cool People came, and some slightly less Cool People that they knew, and some generally entirely un-Cool People who wanted to get in on this thing that was suddenly Happening, and the original batch of Cool People suddenly feel that they’ve lost control of their space.

And man, if that don’t sound familiar.

Posted in random | Leave a comment

I’ve assembled something!

I bought this Lego Y-Wing shortly after seeing Star Wars : Episode IX : Skywalker-palooza in the theaters, in December of 2019.  It has been sitting in its box ever since, slowly collecting a fine layer of dust and taunting me with its state of disassembly.

Roughly a year ago, I opened the box, took out the four bags of parts, read the instruction booklet and then put everything carefully back in the box.

Tonight I decided to just get down to it, and three-and-a-half-hours later I was holding a damn Lego representation of the best starfighter to ever come out of the Star Wars universe.  It also made me realize why the Y-wings shown in the Clone Wars series were designed with the armor plating around the engine, because man those struts are some kinda flimsy and the armored design probably made the toys considerably easier to make in a way that was sturdy enough to survive the first five minutes of play.

Speaking of this as a toy, it’s pretty cool.  You’ve got two spring-loaded blaster bolts you can fire out of it – and a spare for when you inevitably lose one – and the bomb bay holds three bombs that load in from the top.  You also have a rotating ion cannon up top and it has space for a pilot and the included nameless Astromech Droid.

I mean, I’ll never actually chase the cat around with it making engine noises and firing blaster bolts at him, because that would be childish and I am a Grown Man Now.

Part of being a Grown Man apparently includes wasting three years before assembling a Lego kit.  But at least it’s finally done.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’m FINALLY caught up to Genshin Impact

My recent Game of Choice has been Genshin Impact, which is a huge rabbit hole to fall into. It may be the most dangerous game I’ve played, barring actual MMOs like WoW or the original Everquest, and I’m not just saying that because it provides hot and cold running waifus and husbandos for any taste which can be yours for a mere $HOWMUCHYOUGOT.

Rather, it’s dangerous because there is just so much to DO and it’s so easy to just get lost picking flowers and mining rocks and hunting for treasure chests for hours at a time. I used to point at Skyrim’s quest that sends you to High Hrothgar as the ultimate example of a game that gives you a clear objective to accomplish while also making sure that there are dozens of distractions along the road from Point A to Point B, but Skyrim has nothing on Genshin.

That being said, I really didn’t click with the game when I initially tried it.

I started Genshin about two weeks after it launched in 2020. My wife wanted to find a mobile game we could play together, and Genshin had a co-op option that sounded interesting. It turned out that co-op was a bit limited and required getting a fair way into the story to unlock, so that didn’t go anywhere. I mucked around a bit and got up to like Adventure Rank 10.

Nearly a year later, Genshin announced a collaboration with Sony and Horizon: Zero Dawn, where you could get Aloy as a playable character if you were Adventure Rank 20 when a certain patch happened. I didn’t really understand how to grind Adventure Rank, but I came back to the game and went nose-to-the-grindstone on any quest I could find in order to make the deadline for the patch.

I then didn’t really play it any more for quite a while.

Come this summer, I picked it up again for some reason and managed to get to Liyue. It was super confusing to figure out what to do and in what order, because at this point there were a million* things in my quest log and there were new quests being unlocked all the time. I finally decided to buckle down and do everything I could before going to Inazuma, which was the region that had been released at about the same time Aloy was given out.

I got super lost at this point, and getting through Liyue took over three months. Really Genshin should make it more clear that Archon Quests = Main Quest. Story Quest = Character-focused Side Quests. World Quest = Side Quests. At least it’s pretty good about pointing out when one quest or another is blocked by needing to complete something else, and actually pointing you to the “something else”. It didn’t help that the Chasm is a region you can get to during the Liyue quest line, but it doesn’t actually fit into the overall story until you’re almost completely done with Inazuma.

As an aside – once I hit Inazuma, I made a huge mistake when getting the boat. I immediately used it to sail all over the map, meaning that I unlocked a ton of regions and quest lines well before I should have. I strongly suggest not doing this. Play through the Inazuma storyline and only go to new islands when you’re told to.

From entering Inazuma to completing Sumeru (so far) took about a month and a half, and I have to say that the writing has only gotten better and better. The Mondstat story was constantly roadblocked by Adventure Rank requirements and the mountains of text in Liyue made it a super drag at times, but Inazuma and Sumeru just knocked it out of the park in making Teyvat into a world that I wanted to come back to.

If I had any one thing to complain about here, it would be the many Inazuma world lines that were time-gated, meaning that you would do one short bit of story and be told “come back tomorrow”… as in real-world “tomorrow”… to get the next story quest.

If you’re at all curious, I simp for Best Girl Noelle, but unfortunately she’s a little bit annoying to run around the world with because Mihoyo just LOVES to throw a bunch of enemies with various elemental shields at you, and grinding those down without the specific opposing elements is an exercise in frustration.

Hence my go-to team. I’ve got Electro, Cryo, Pyro, and Hydro characters to make any enemy shields basically an afterthought, a claymore character for mining, a bow character for “now you need a bow character” puzzles and a damage rotation that consists of “set everything on fire and electrocute it, then spam water attacks while everything dies to lightning and hot steam”, or “freeze everything, then hit it with a big sword” as I feel like it.

It also uses all 4* characters, and two of them are even characters you are guaranteed to get simply by playing the game. I think Beidou and Diona have to be acquired via gacha, but with a low rarity rating they show up a lot.

Anyway, I’m finally caught up to the story so I can now join the ranks of people who actually need to wait for the next patch for more content. Well… there are a bunch of character stories I haven’t seen, and I skipped a ton of world quests while I was running around Sumeru, and… and…

Yeah. It’s a dangerous game.

Posted in iOS, PS4, PS5, videogames | Leave a comment

I did some woodworking

I recently discovered the joys of buying refurbished micro-format PCs, specifically a couple of HP EliteDesk 800 G3s. They’re basically the size of a Mac mini, easily able to run server versions of Windows (I’m using Server 2019 on both) and are extremely easy on the electric bill.

Technically, they can stack on top of each other… But I’d like a little more airflow, and the ability to take one server out of the middle of a stack without shuffling the entire stack.

Enter my latest woodworking project, made from about five bucks of dowels and a hunk of MDF I had lying in the scrap bin in the garage.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not all that impressive. I just cut the MDF down to two 8″ by 9″ panels and made a 4×4 grid of dowels. I’m deliberately not showing you the sides.

HOWEVER.

It fits the EliteDesks, a Mac mini and a NUC very well, and I didn’t spend any money on Amazon. Plus I feel super manly for actually getting to use power tools.

If I made a second one, I’d probably cut the dowels a little shorter. These were trimmed to 10.5″ because I didn’t want things to be too snug, but I think I could trim an extra half inch and make things look just a little neater.

Posted in organization | Leave a comment

All’s Well That (Endwalkers) Well?

Finished up FFXIV’s Endwalker expansion today – just the main story, mind you, I haven’t gone in to any of the post-launch content or done any of the optional stuff like raiding. I’m not really feeling any great need to at this exact point in time, however, so I thought I’d write up what I thought and then maybe come back to the game later on.

I haven’t played much FFXIV in the last couple of years. I was keeping an active subscription solely because I’d lucked into a housing plot and you lose your house if you’re inactive for too long. At some point, I logged on to go through all of the post-Shadowbringers stuff in order to be READY for Endwalker, and I pre-ordered Endwalker so I’d have the pre-order bonuses, whatever those were… and then it released last December and I’ve just gotten around to playing through the main story over the last couple of weeks.

The promise of Endwalker was that it would wrap up all of the story that started with your player getting off the boat (or wagon) way back in the opening quests of A Realm Reborn, and it does this pretty well. You meet old friends, there are unexpected callbacks to prior events, evil is defeated, good rules the day, you’re off to unspecified adventures. The last couple of hours of the story include a dungeon, with some actual teeth to the dungeon bosses, an 8-man trial that is packed full of WOAH moments, and a solo duty that is just *chef’s kiss*.

If that’s enough for you, stop reading here! From here on out I mostly complain!

It’s a shame that almost the entire story up to that point is told through painfully-long cutscenes, most of which are just a handful of characters standing around and expositing while you try to ignore the godawful textures that the game has been stuck with since its beginnings as a PS3 title.

Don’t zoom in. Just don’t do it.

There are a few breaks from the reading – like every FFXIV Expansion, there are six dungeons and three trials, and those actually involve some action, and there are a handful of solo duties which might be fun if you got to play your own character instead of being forced into whatever alternate skin the game thinks you should be wearing – but by and large the main story is, well, a story. Talk to person A, which triggers a cutscene, watch the cutscene, take five steps and talk to person B which triggers another cutscene.

Sometimes you have to sneak around – has there ever been a fun mandatory stealth section in any game ever? – and sometimes you will be tasked with a quick escort mission where you will stop three or four times to fight a couple of monsters, but those don’t come nearly often enough to break up the monotony of what feels like a visual novel, but without even the hope of porn.

It’s a shame the story doesn’t do more to get you out into the world. Like most FFXIV expansions, Endwalker’s zones are gorgeous and made more vibrant and alive with the weather system – still unparalleled in any MMO I’ve ever played. The combat animations, when you get to fight things, are satisfying and the sheer PUNCH of damage spells is just perfect.

Please keep in mind that I was playing as a healer – a Scholar, to be precise – and even the single nuke they give to healers has a solid, satisfying BAM to it.

There’s also a joy to the way FFXIV lets you start moving just before a cast finishes. The sense of dancing out of a nasty AE at the last second just brings an irrepressible grin to my face every time I do it.

Having said that, the zones just feel empty, populated with easily-dodged packs of monsters that exist …for some reason. Probably for repeatable “kill 10 x” quests that aren’t part of the main story. If you’re running around as a combat class, you don’t get to see gathering nodes, there aren’t any collectibles or any real reasons to explore, and once you get flying you will pretty much just be flying over all of it anyway.

Moreover, the dungeons don’t really exist “in the world” either. Of the six dungeons in the main quest, five of them are accessed by boarding a vehicle or by walking through some sort of mystical portal. There’s no finding a sea cave that turns out to be a pirate stronghold, here.

The Trust system from Shadowbringers returns, which lets you play through the dungeons with NPC members instead of needing to find other people, and it’s a low-key way to run them that lets you check out the scenery at your own pace. The dungeons, more than the overworld, are where FFXIV likes to stick little bits of lore, and I enjoyed being able to stop and read the books.

You can also get all the drops from the dungeons all to your own without needing to share, which is a time-saver if you’re trying to collect a specific set of gear for the way it looks. I mention looks specifically because dungeon gear is nothing more than a collection of stats, with higher-level pieces having larger numbers than lower-level pieces, and no special effects that would drag you back to a dungeon multiple times trying to get Just That One Special Piece.

Like, I have never been a huge fan of Diablo-style loot games where you are swimming in piles of similar gear and need to decide whether the +0.2 crit chance on THIS piece is better than the 0.2 crit damage on this OTHER piece, or whether it’s better to have a higher base damage on a weapon or whether you should use the weapon with the lower base damage that also has a 30% chance to set your opponent on fire 2.4 times a minute… but FFXIV’s loot is a Baskin Robbin’s with 31 flavors of vanilla.

And none of them are even vanilla bean.

To follow up my loot rant, I had a long rant here about FFXIV dungeon design, but I read it through a few times and it sounded super whiny so I elected to delete it. I will sum it up as “There are 18 dungeon bosses, 16 of them are pretty dull, one of them actually requires the healer to pay a little attention to debuffs, and one of them may be the only heal check in a game that relies almost entirely on DPS checks. Maybe they’re more interesting if you’re playing a tank.”

Anyway. When you get to the credits of Endwalker, you’re treated to a long scroll of monochrome screenshots from earlier expansions, so you can remember the fun times you had in those. Some of them actually had you playing your characters, rather than watching cutscenes!

Posted in MMORPG, videogames | Leave a comment

Grinds, silly:

I am no stranger to games that encourage, or actively require grinding. I played Everquest for several years, and I can vividly remember spending hours at a time starting at an empty spot on my screen that would, every six minutes, be populated with a single monster, which I would then kill.

The six minutes between spawns were largely spent with my character sitting down to maximize health regeneration so that I’d be ready for the next one.

I did this for HOURS. Mostly while eating unhealthy snacks.

So in comparison, grinding my way through the first Chrono Circle season pass wasn’t THAT bad. I only needed to, basically, play the game 19 times before I unlocked all of the cosmetics.

This is also my first time completing a “season pass” in any game. They are silly things, and I didn’t understand the mechanic behind them for quite a long time. “DLC, but you don’t get everything you paid for unless you log in every day for a month” was such a foreign concept that my mind dismissed it out of hand as being ridiculous.

Nonetheless, that’s apparently how they work and they’re a Thing that we are unlikely to see the end of any time soon.

Chrono Circle’s Season Pass was, at least, less ridiculous. You didn’t have to pay for it separately – you make progress on it simply by signing in to your AM Pass account and then playing the game. The only manual step needed is to sign on to the Chrono Circle web site and click the claim buttons for every reward you unlock.

So while I did play a LITTLE more Chrono Circle than I might have otherwise in order to unlock the final item in the Season Pass, it was just playing more of a game I already enjoyed. I also had, like, two months to play the 19 games needed to max it out.

But, looking back, it was a little dumb. Chrono Circle is a rhythm arcade game in an environment littered with the burned-out husks of rhythm games that failed to catch on. The nearest Round One has like, FOUR Wacca cabinets – that’s a game that released in 2019 and has already had its online service element canceled. There is a SUPER high chance that the cosmetics I unlocked will have a shelf life roughly equivalent to the sour cream you opened two weeks ago when you were making tacos and then put back in the fridge planning to make more later and then just never got around to.

Man, I have made some pretty tortured analogies in the last 15 years of occasionally updating this blog, but that may rank in my top 10. Moving on.

I think what I’m getting at is this. I’m enjoying this game, with its mix of high-voltage music and seizure-inducing flashing lights and haptic feedback, and it’s kind of cool that I have some limited-edition virtual items to customize the game presentation for me… but there’s definitely a realization of how ephemeral they all are and how grinding specifically to fill a bar to get them would be a particularly silly thing to do.

Good thing I didn’t do that! Right?

Posted in videogames | Leave a comment

In which, I finally make some use of my “smart” TV.

So, a couple of nights ago my wife and I sat down and watched “Luck”, which is an Apple TV+ exclusive animated movie that had a funny enough trailer to actually get me to subscribe to Apple TV+. I have seen this trailer roughly seven thousand times on twitter and other sites. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Having now seen the movie, iI I had to write a short review of “Luck”, it would probably include the phrase “Well, the trailer was funny”. Some of the creature designs are cute, I guess. I was also oddly and strongly reminded of Teela Brown from Niven’s Ringworld series, and that wasn’t a series I had thought about in years. I guess that’s a positive thing? I should totally re-read those.

Despite my generally lukewarm response to the film, I will acknowledge the positive messages that came out of it:

First, it’s pretty strong on the message that bad luck isn’t the catastrophe it seems like if you learn to prepare for things going wrong, and second that bad luck makes you better able to deal with adversity. Both of these resonated with me, and I’m totally not just desperately trying to justify my ATV+ subscription here.

While I do not suffer from atypically bad luck – quite the contrary, in fact – I do find that I have my best days when something goes wrong and I’m forced to figure out how to fix it.

Case in point: I’m following a few anime series this season, and one of them is a particularly awful piece of isekai drek called “Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World”, which is mostly notable in that the main female lead looks an awful lot like Isabelle from Animal Crossing, albeit with massive bazongas, and that the main male lead is even more of a murderhobo than most fantasy protagonists. Like, we’re talking serial killer levels of sociopath here. I cannot morally justify watching this show, but I cannot look away.

This show IS available on Crunchyroll, but I would charitably describe their presentation as “unwatchable” and thus I have been watching fansubs. Which brings me to the chain of events that I went through earlier:

Goal statement: Rather than watching the show on my computer screen, I’d like to watch it on the moderately-sized television a few feet away, from the comfort of the chair in front of the television, and I don’t want to spend time re-encoding the files. I also don’t want to run an HDMI cord from the computer to the TV as that would be unsightly.

First attempt: The TV has a built-in media player app, and some USB ports. Copy episodes to USB stick, plug into TV, it turns out that the TV can’t read the USB stick as it’s formatted in a Mac format. Erase USB stick, reformat to ExFAT, TV can now read it and the media player can even see the files and play them… without subtitles.

Second attempt: Install VLC for Android TV. Play episode. First episode plays with subtitles. Second does not. Some time here spent trying to figure out if the episode has subtitles (it does) and why VLC for Android TV isn’t working. It turned out that the answer was to change the default subtitle language from “no default language” to “en”. I have no idea why this was necessary for some episodes but not others. Fansubs are not entirely known for quality control so who knows. Now I have subtitles working.

While doing this, I also noticed that VLC has an option to get video files off a network share, which would save me the annoyance of copying them to a USB stick. I, therefore, set my ~/Movies folder to shared, pointed VLC to my desktop computer and it immediately told me that there were no files it could play.

This seemed odd, because it hadn’t even given me a login error or prompted me for a username/password. I found a suggestion online to turn off SMB1 in VLC’s settings – I have no idea why VLC defaults to SMB1, as an aside, it’s been deprecated since WINDOWS VISTA – and that didn’t seem to make a lick of difference.

Finally, out of frustration, I force-quit VLC and restarted it and tried to connect to my desktop again… and it immediately prompted me for credentials and suddenly I could happily stream anything in ~/Movies.

Let’s hear it for the power of Turning It Off And On Again.

Side note: seeing the contents of ~/Movies from the VLC file browser made me realize that I had been tossing random video files in there for years and that it was a godawful mess of a directory, so I spent several minutes whipping it into shape. Another positive outcome!

But then I got to thinking. If I could stream files from my desktop, I could certainly point it at the well-organized video library on my NAS as well… and I could probably set up network shares in VLC on the iPad as well.

So now, instead of my former process of running video through handbrake to make it compatible with the iPad’s TV app, then copying it over via Finder, I can simply stream the original files over my local network. No transcoding required, no slow file copy required, just point, click, watch, and then delete because no way on earth I’m going to want to watch this series a second time.

ALSO, I’ve been watching Crunchyroll/Netflix/Youtube/etc off the PS5 apps, but setting up VLC pushed me to finally install and configure all of the various streaming apps – including HiDive, which doesn’t have a Playstation app – on my TV proper. So I’m also saving however much power a PS5 sucks up, which I suspect is quite a bit of power even if it’s just playing a video.

So all in all, a very positive outcome to the day and it all started simply because the built-in media player app on my TV couldn’t display subtitles.

Posted in anime, gadgets, random, video encoding | Leave a comment

This is the sort of thing you humans do for fun?

So, like many things I wind up doing, it all started when I saw a single picture on Twitter. In this case, it was a manga panel with a bunny-eared girl attributed to a manga named “Mimi Mix!”

Anyway, the drawing style was cute so I looked it up on a manga reader site and read the first three chapters or so, at which point I decided I was liking the story – a sort of fluffy slice-of-life story about a cafe with some heavy yuri elements, though I perhaps should more properly describe it as a heavily yuri story with some light cafe elements – but really disliking the experience of reading it online, what with all of the ads and the loading times and blah blah blah.

So I went to download it from any of the usual sites and quickly discovered that it just wasn’t out there, or at least wasn’t out there in any of the places I knew to look. In addition, it had never been licensed for translation so I couldn’t buy it from Kindle or iBooks and wasn’t even available through Bookwalker’s Japanese site, which is my go-to for buying Japanese-language manga and ebooks.

amazon.co.jp had the series available in paper form, with used volumes starting at one yen and no new copies available except at “collector’s” pricing. For a manga that was released in 2017 it seemed like it had already been completely forgotten.

So I went back to the manga reader site, and considered my options.

  1. I could just read it on the site, but that involved a really mediocre reading experience.
  2. I could download it image by image and then mash it back together into a .cbz file for iComics. This would work but would be far too manual.
  3. Safari gave me the option to save off an entire page – so, one chapter – as a .webarchive file. This seemed the best option, and I even found a command line to extract the contents of a .webarchive.

For the record, it’s “textutil -convert html (filename)”, thanks to https://badcoffee.club/how-to-extract-images-from-webarchive-file-using-terminal/ for the tip.

This gave me a folder of images (both comic pages and ad images) and html files. So that was a big advantage over the downloading an image at a time method. But it still wasn’t quite right.

A few hours of shell scripting later and I had a bash script that would take a folder full of .webarchive files and do its best to make a single manga volume out of them.

I’ll put that script here, with no guarantees or warranty. It works for me.

#!/bin/bash
#
# extract_webarchive - batch webarchive extractor, for saving manga
# Usage: extract_webarchive all - creates folders for each web archive and extracts contents
#	 extract_webarchive filename - extracts a single web archive
#	 extract_webarchive (filename or all) cleanup - try to remove all files other than pages, and make a single cbz
#
if [ ! -f *.webarchive ]
then
	echo "No webarchive files found in current directory"
	exit
fi

currentdir=${PWD##*/}
# thanks to https://stackoverflow.com/questions/1371261/get-current-directory-name-without-full-path-in-a-bash-script
if [ "$1" = "all" ];
then
	echo "Batch Conversion"
	for filename in *.webarchive
	do
	echo $filename
	filenamenoext=${filename%.*} 
	if [ -f "$filenamenoext".webarchive ];
	then
		mkdir "$filenamenoext"
		mv "$filename" "$filenamenoext"
		cd "$filenamenoext"
		textutil -convert html "$filename"
		if [ "$2" = "cleanup" ];
		then
			mkdir pages
			mv ?.jpg ??.jpg ???.jpg ????.jpg pages
			rm *
			mv pages/* .
			rmdir pages
		fi
		cd ..
	fi
	
	if [ "$2" = "cleanup" ];
	then	
		zip -r "$currentdir".cbz "$filenamenoext"/*
		rm "$filenamenoext"/*
		rmdir "$filenamenoext"
	fi
	done

else
	echo "Single File Conversion"

	filename="$1"
	echo $filename
	filenamenoext=${filename%.*} 
	if [ -f "$filenamenoext".webarchive ];
	then
		mkdir "$filenamenoext"
		mv "$filename" "$filenamenoext"
		cd "$filenamenoext"
		textutil -convert html "$filename"
		if [ "$2" = "cleanup" ];
		then
			mkdir pages
			mv ?.jpg ??.jpg ???.jpg ????.jpg pages
			rm *
			mv pages/* .
			rmdir pages
		fi
		cd ..
	fi
fi

That wasn’t QUITE enough, though. One of the things I’ve been trying to do, now that iPadOS has a halfway-decent file manager, is to try to use my iPad as a laptop replacement. It’s not quite there, but it does most of the things a traditional computer can do most of the time.

One thing it certainly can’t do is run shell scripts. But Safari on the iPad CAN save a web page as a .webarchive, and I could save it to a folder on iCloud drive that could then be read by my Mac Mini.

And from the Mac Mini, I could create a Folder Action through Automator to watch the iCloud Drive folder for new files and run my script against the folder. So now I can drop manga chapters into this folder one at a time and the script will build a .cbz file out of them, which I can then copy back into iComics on the iPad.

At some point, I even went back and finished reading the rest of the series that had started me down this path. It’s a fun read, and I challenge you to not have a goofy grin on your face throughout it, but I don’t think it’s one that really sticks with you once you’re done with it.

That’s not really the point, though. I just wanted to document my madness.

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I watched some shonen battle anime

I have pretty bad taste in anime. Basically I watch either comfy slice of life shows where nothing really happens but you get a nice fluffy feeling afterwards or trashy harem shows where between three and ten inexplicably hot girls throw themselves at a basically personality-free male lead who serves as a screen for the audience to project upon. Often these latter shows feature fantasy worlds or supernatural elements, but they all pretty much feature boobs.

Occasionally, OCCASIONALLY I watch something with some actual substance to it. Like, this season has me watching both Rent-a-Girlfriend Season 2 AND “My Stepmom’s Daughter is my Ex” but I am also watching Lycoris Recoil which would probably pass for a fluffy slice of life show if it wasn’t for all of the terrorist plots and the underlying premise that modern Japan owes its famously peaceful lifestyle to a heck of a lot of extrajudicial murdering.

In fact, it’s kind of like Is the Order a Rabbit? but with far more guns. Also it’s not based on any manga or light novels so you don’t have to put up with Smug Internet People knowing how the story is going to go.

I also like idol shows. I’m not sure where those fall. You could argue that stuff Love Live! or The Idolmaster is basic waifu trash but I also really enjoyed Idolish 7 and that’s 99% waifu-free.

One thing I don’t watch much of is shonen battle anime. The closest thing to the genre that I can remember watching in the last few years is Fire Force, which felt a lot like Fullmetal Alchemist – the good FMA series, not Brotherhood – but also had the “How will Tamaki fall out of her uniform THIS episode?” as a draw.

However, I have been watching a lot of Trash Taste and related youtubers, and if there is one thing you get exposed to over and over in those, it’s the slow realization that many nerds out there have a really strong connection to a trio of shonen battle shows and that I had never watched any of them.

So, with a spare evening I figured I would fix that.

OK. One Piece is the currently-reigning champion of the shonen battle anime genre, with over a thousand episodes and movies and video games and tie-in media and on and on and on. It has a huge and devoted fan-base and I would rather not raise their ire, so I will simply put it this way:

After one episode, I realized it was not for me. Moving on!

Naruto seemed like a much shorter series, but I rapidly discovered that this is only because it’s actually several series and there’s a time skip and some of it features Naruto’s kid, and knowing that he gets hitched AND who he gets hitched to does take some of the drama out of things I suppose.

I actually kind of dug this. Having the titular character be an outcast in his home town is probably huge for any young kid watching this show, because every kid is going to feel like an outcast at some point and this holds out the promise that you may be an outcast but you may also have a Super Cool Hidden Destiny. It also feels like it goes pretty hard with the Valuable Life Lessons mixed in with the ninja life, and I enjoyed seeing the degree of growing up Naruto does just between episodes 1 and 2. Plus, as aforementioned he does get hitched and has a son and presumably there will be humorous episodes where he has to deal with his kid being just as much of a brat as he was.

And, hey! The idea that there is a hidden Ninja village of Ninja bureaucrats who send their kids to Ninja grade school, and for some reason they felt the need to carve a Ninja Mount Rushmore into the mountain above their hidden village is pretty fun.

Watched two episodes. May watch more! I understand there is a deep and lasting rivalry between fans stemming over who Best Girl is, and I haven’t seen enough to have an opinion. At the very least it’s nice to know that both Best Girl candidates are also ninjas so with any luck there shouldn’t be many damsel in distress episodes.

There are probably a ton of damsel in distress episodes, aren’t there.

Best for last here, because I am a colossal sucker for shows set in modern everyday settings but with some supernatural elements for spice. For extra points, Bleach opens with an Orange Range song and I love me some Orange Range.

The worst thing I can say about this is that there were bits in the episodes I watched where I found myself thinking, this is Ushio and Tora but with the serial numbers filed off. It seems to find its own footing pretty fast, and if you ignore the Annoying Dad character I found everyone pretty likable.

Besides, the gimmick of the main character getting his soul punched out of his body every time the main girl wants him to get to work on the whole spirit battling thing is just the sort of running gag I can find myself enjoying no matter how old it should get.

Side bonus, I now know where the leekspin girl is from.

Watched two episodes. Will watch more. While shorter than the other two shows, it still has 300+ episodes, and we’re not exactly talking a fast watch here.

Of the three, this show seems to have had the least cultural impact. It’s less goofy and has older characters, so maybe it wasn’t able to really land with kids.

One thing common to all of these shows is that they’re pretty old and not exactly lookers. They’re all 4:3, at least in the episodes I’ve seen, and I swear that they look like paint on cellulose instead of being digitally-painted. They’re that old. All of them ran for several years, so presumably there’s a point where the production values go up. I vaguely recall these all found release in the US during the dark ages of dub-only shows, so it’s nice that Crunchyroll has them all in subtitled form.

I’ll acknowledge that if I wanted to go with the real grandaddy of shonen battle anime I probably should have started with some Dragonball, but (a) I’ve seen a little of that in the past, by which I mean a handful of episodes from the original series and one movie from DBZ and (b) I didn’t want to.

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Friendship ended with PROJECT DIVA. Now CHRONO CIRCLE is my best friend.

So, the worst thing about the whole global pandemic thing – apart from, you know, millions of deaths and a crippling blow dealt to the global economy – is that the entire country went into lockdown literally the same MONTH as a Round 1 Arcade finally opened up sorta close to me, like less than an hour’s drive away.

Just to really drive this home, I actually did get to walk in during their first week of operation, but I was kind of in a rush and didn’t want to figure out their payment card system so I mostly walked around, drooled – figuratively – over their bank of Project Diva arcade machines, and planned to come back and sink a good bit of disposable income into said machines as soon as I had a little more time.

Then the world went straight to hell. So that didn’t happen.

On the other hand, I recently had a birthday, and the mask mandates are off, and I have a good friend who obsesses about Japanese crane games and Round 1 happens to have a bunch of those machines. So her and I and her husband went down to Round 1 to celebrate me getting slightly older, and she proceeded to win FIVE plushies and a Hatsune Miku figurine.

I won nothing. I have not spent hours watching YouTube videos of people playing crane games, to be fair. It would have been unreasonable to expect the same degree of success without extensive preparation.

But it did give me the chance to finally try out one of those Project Diva arcade machines, and it was…

It was OK. After playing the heck out of all three PSP games, and three Vita games, and even some time spent with Future Tone on PS4… it was just OK. It turns out that I may be a little jaded and that the arcade experience really didn’t offer anything extra except for needing to pay by the song. Roughly TWO DOLLARS per song, thanks to Round 1’s ruinous dollar-to-credit exchange rate.

NEAR the Project Diva machines, however, there was this thing:

And this drew me to it like a summer insect about to end its life with a sudden arcing sound and the smell of burned wings.

Then I went through the process of trying to figure out how to play it. This included needing to make a login account, then going through a fairly involved tutorial to cover all of the machine’s controls.

Speaking of which, WHOOO MAMA. Let’s sum things up. You’ve got a touchscreen, where you need to tap notes as a clock hand sweeps through them. You’ve also got clicky buttons around the edge of the screen, where you need to tap and occasionally hold notes, and the screen is surrounded by this massive rotating ring which contains the clicky buttons, is rotated during hold notes, and which is occasionally spun for screen-filling spin notes. During all of this, the light-up pad you are standing on is pulsing and throbbing to the music so you are getting bombarded with light and sound and thumping bass.

Frankly, I want a rhythm game to give me an experience as close as possible to illegal drugs without actually BEING illegal drugs, and this is it.

After a few plays, I also noticed that my Apple Watch was giving me exercise minutes just for the way I was dancing along to aforementioned light/sound/bass. Yes, I am a very large, very bald middle-aged man and I was dancing to anime girls singing catchy music in public. Nobody called the police, however, so maybe they were assuming I would simply have a heart attack and that would take care of the problem.

Rhythm games: They Make Your Watch Happy With You.

In addition to the genuine JOY to be had in playing Chrono Circle, it has the login system I mentioned, which lets you either use an IC card (which I did not have) or scan a QR code with your phone to log in to the game’s servers so it can track your play history and progression for purposes of unlocking new songs. It also tracks how you are doing compared to other players on the same machine AND worldwide.

For arcade rats Of A Certain Age, this is like going back 40 years to the days when you would stare with envy at the initials on the high score list. Just, you know, the people on the high score list are in freakin’ Japan.

So, to sum things up, I am in love with this game and Round 1 is about to make a small but regular income off me.

Side note: very close to the Chrono Circle machine is a “Tetote Connect” cabinet, which is a rhythm game where you play by high-fiving cute anime girls. One play session of that had me feeling like I was about to lose my fingerprints. Apparently you are supposed to wear gloves to prevent this. Will report my findings later.

Also, both Chrono Circle and Tetote Connect machines give you three songs for the same price as a single Project Diva song. I’m not sure the reasoning there but I suspect it contributes to the number of people I saw playing Project Diva while I was in the arcade. Which was zero.

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