水曜日, 9月 15, 2004

Sundry Amusements

    Before studying Chinese and reading my students' English diaries (they are so CUTE!) I'll create a quick post to fill you in on what I've been doing this week.

Now reading: しりとりえっせい、 中嶋らも作 
Shiritori Essay by Nakajima Ramo

      This is a humorous collection of essays in the "shiritori" format--that is, the topic of each essay must have the same first syllable as the last syllable of the last one. This technique creates some unexpected sequences of topic that are funny in themselves, and the essays are full of amusing anecdotes and pictures. The author is from Hyogo prefecture, so he's local. I didn't know of him before reading this book, but apparently he's a celebrity who not only writes essays but also appears in theatrical productions and on television.

Recently read: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson - Wow!

    Comparable to Dune in scope and weirdness, this cyberpunk fable is set in a future China where nanotechnology has made everything possible. National borders have almost vanished. Instead, most people belong to tribes called "phyles" with others who share the same values, religion, and economic status. Therefore, Shanghai has many such phyles whose members seldom interact, as evidenced by the fact that the heroine, Nell, is born and bred in Shanghai yet does not learn any words in Shanghai dialect until adulthood. She learns many other fascinating things however, and much of the first half of the book is an emotionally satisfying lesson in the civilizing power of education. Her teacher is a marvelous piece of interactive software called A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. It comes from the Neo-Victorian enclave - "Atlantis/Shanghai" - hence the Victorian-sounding moralistic name. I enjoyed the fact that "Nell" is also a Dickensian name. The plot continues to spin weirdly ever onward, occasionally going on some unexpected tangents, but always intellectually stimulating and staggering in its coolness.
    The part that resonated with me the most was this: while discussing the content of the Primer, the client tells the engineer: "Contemplate, as a starting point, the meaning of the word subversive."
    I did contemplate it, and am still contemplating it. Also, contemplate this:   a comparable word does not exist in Japanese.
    Now for those of you who have read this novel, here were some things I wondered about. Maybe you could tell me your ideas. If you haven't read the novel, you should skip this part - it includes spoilers.

1) Miranda was the ractor for the Primer and she did all the voices. Are we to assume she also did the male voices, e.g. Dinosaur and Dojo?

2) On the subject of Miranda, while Nell was a child, what would have happened if she opened the Primer at some unexpected time when Miranda was not at work?

3) We're told that after the success of "version 1.0" of the Primer, if you will, Hackworth was able to translate it into Chinese and equip it with voice generation capability. We're given no details about how he accomplished this. It seemed like he did it in no time at all. He even localized the Primer to have appropriate cultural and historical information for Chinese users, but no details were given about what must have been a TREMENDOUS endeavor. I really wanted to know more about this. Later, it said that the Chinese girls who had used the Primer spoke in a lovely Victorian accent. Did their Primers start in Chinese and gradually teach them English?

4) The first story told by the Primer foreshadows that Nell will come back at some time in the future to free Harv from the Dark Tower, but he will not recognize her and an arrow he shoots will hit her in a locket he gave her. I was expecting some similar scenario to play out in real life, but all we're told later is that Harv dies and Nell buries him. I realize that there are obvious limitations to the prescience of an interactive storybook, but why did the author choose to foretell this episode if he never intended to make it happen?

    If you have any ideas, please comment.

Recently played: Ghosts!

This is the "good ghost, bad ghost" board game I've heard about but never played until last night. It's like a whimsical reinvention of checkers or chess, but it only takes 15 minutes or less to play, and less time to learn. Very fun.

Still Playing: Dragon Quest I

    I got the Silver Harp 銀の竪琴、 but the game is getting tedious because I've already explored the whole world and all the monsters are easy now. I have a spell to turn off the random encounters, but it only works for a very short period of time. What am I supposed to do now?

Going to play: 弟切草 "Fratricide Grass."

    This is a "sound novel" on Super Famicon. A friend lent it to me, and I can't wait to try it. My quest for Japanese gamebooks led me to this, the first great sound novel which spawned many imitators. We don't have this genre in the U.S., but it seems to be a choose-your-own-adventure type gamebook you read/play with a game console. It has some kind of music or sound effects to go with the story - hence "sound novel" - and, of course, pictures. I heard there was one for Silent Hill, which I want very much but haven't seen anywhere.

Last weekend - Himeji

    I went to a JET party and wound up staying out all night in Himeji. The strangest thing that night was watching an American friend practicing her karate kata in a convenience store at 4 a.m. We killed an hour or so in that store laughing at the dirty manga and slutty fashion magazines. I've never really looked at those things before, but if you're in the right mood man are they funny. We also went to Jankara for karaoke.

    For an account of the same night by another person present, you can look here. It doesn't mention me, but I was there too, that crazy night in Himeji.

    Don't get the wrong idea, I don't go off on escapades like that every weekend - but it's fun once in a while.


  • At 11:00 午後, Anonymous 匿名 said…

    Re: Himeji, it looks like he just changed that entry to friends-only. Clearly, the only solution is for you to get a LJ and become One Of Us. XD

    I'm glad you figured out who he was -- I wanted to point out your blogs to each other, but since you both blog semi-anonymously it seemed like a breach of etiquette.

    Re: the Diamond Age, I'm glad you liked it! I'll try some of your questions:

    1 & 2: Yes, I think that Miranda did all the voices, much in the way that a parent reading a bedtime story changes their voice to match the different characters. From what I remember, the ractors who worked for the primer served as a way to add warmth to the synthesized voice, but the computer took care of making the sounds of the voices different.

    Miranda was offered the option to be contacted first for further jobs with Nell's primer, so if she was offline (before she got addicted to her mother role), do you think another ractor did it, or maybe did the primer do something that didn't require a ractor, like a puzzle or game? :)

    #3: I can't remember exactly when in the story it was when Hackworth made the Chinese version, but wasn't he under major pressure from the Doctor, the judge, and the (Shanghai?) government in general? They REALLY wanted their own primer, so I can imagine them sparing no expense in making sure that Hackworth had all the resources he needed to do it.

    #4: I really don't know about this one. It's easy to suggest that Stephenson got lazy toward the end (he's famous for climaxes petering out into unspectacular endings, especially in his earlier books) and just didn't tie it up, but that's a lazy thing to say. Maybe it was the primer's way of preparing Nell for an independent life, without having to worry about her brother? And-- Oh!! Oh! Didn't Harv reject her when she went to see him when he was sick? Did he say something like how she turned into a fine young lady and that she shouldn't see him anymore, and she cried on the way home? Maybe I'm remembering wrong: perhaps she was just sad that he was dying.

    I've read the book about five times now and each time I discover new details that I didn't notice before. I'll have to watch out for that one the next time I read it.


  • At 7:11 午前, Blogger Matt said…

    No, stay at Blogger! One of us... one of us...

    Those skanky fashion magazines are one of the greatest things about this country. "Egg" gets me every time.

  • At 11:31 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Re: Diamond Age, thank you for responding to my questions, and I agree your interpretations make sense. I think there were a lot of interesting things in that book that were only hinted at, never explained fully, so it's the kind of book that keeps you thinking for a while afterwards. Always a good thing. As you mentioned, the ractor added "warmth" to the synthesized voice, and that was one reason Nell had so much more success with the Primer than the other girls. I wondered how that worked too, but again we weren't given a full explanation. I also wondered why they never brought up the possibility of boys using the Primer. With some small fixes (changing the title, and making it recognize a boy instead of a girl as the owner) it seems like it could just as easily be used by boys. By chance, all of the children of the appropriate age to gain from the Primer were female (except for Harv, but I guess the author felt it was too late to save him) and so it was never necessary to develop one for boys, but in real life I doubt that such powerful technology would be so gender-specific.
    What do you think?

  • At 11:47 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Re: Himeji, thank you for the nice link on your blog. His account of the Himeji night rocked! It included some details I had forgotten until I read it. Cool.
    Actually, I created an LJ account at one point that I've never used for anything. I think if I wanted to I could add friends and be added as a friend, without using it for my blog. I've never bothered to use it, because I'm happy with the format and features I have at Blogger.
    There is already a butterflyblue on LJ, no relation of mine!

  • At 11:58 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Matt - Yes, yes, it was EGG! 始めてみた。



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