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Episode #0028 – PMX 2011
Released: December 4, 2011

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Video #0016 – Cool Find: Air Video HD: stream your downloaded anime, with perfect subtitles!
Released: June 16, 2014

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OT: These printable models of the iPhone 6/6 Plus might help you decide which size to get! (Updated)

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 PlusUpdate: It has been pointed out to me that Ars Technica beat me to the punch with their own printable iPhone 6 mockups. Story of my life, right there. ūüėõ Still, I can claim some superiority with the fact that, unlike theirs, my models are actually in 3 dimensions! So there!

People who’ve visited this blog/podcast before are probably doing a double-take right about now, and wondering if they managed to wander onto some other website by accident. Either that or they’re facepalming and wondering how on earth this has anything to do with the normal topic of this website. It’s true, I feely admit it. I could try and come up with some far-fetched means of justifying this as something worth talking about here (after all, we have talked about iOS apps and devices before.) But I’m not going to. Because, you see, this really is the only place I have to post stuff that I want to draw attention to. This is my bully pulpit. I do have my own blog but it’s pretty badly neglected (it’s been on my “I’ll get to it one of these days” lists for ages now,) doesn’t get nearly the same level of traffic that this site does, and (perhaps more to the point) doesn’t have the web ads and analytics infrastructure in place. Yes, I freely admit that I am a click whore, I won’t deny it. But, unlike, ahem, certain linkbaity news sites out there (edit: I certainly do not mean you, Ars!,) I intend to back up my linkbaitiness with some actual useful content (at least I hope so!) And, hey, who knows, maybe one or two of you will decide to pay us a visit again sometime. So if this ends up getting me a few new listeners… well, so much the better. (Welcome, by the way. Make yourselves comfortable, I think you’ll like it here.)

Anyway, enough jibba-jabba, on to the actual subject of this blog post!

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, or traveling in another dimension or something, you are no doubt aware that a certain fruit-flavored company held a little event yesterday in which they announced a few new products, including the inevitable iPhone 6. And, true to the rumors, they have made two different sizes available; the iPhone 6, which has a 4.7-inch screen, and the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a positively gargantuan 5.5-inch screen. (They also unveiled some sort of wearable thingie…)

As it happens, not only am I due for a carrier-subsidized upgrade (I didn’t get the 5S, even though I was seriously tempted) but my poor iPhone 5 is also on its last legs. So this announcement couldn’t have come at a better time. The problem though is, which one should I get?

The iPhone with its 3.5-inch screen has been the smallest of the smartphones for quite some time now. Still, that has never really bothered me. The smaller size makes one-handed operation simple, which is very important to me. But as apps grow more complex, their user interfaces tend to grow as well, and this UI growth has really started to push the limits of the 3.5-inch screen size. When Apple moved to the 4-inch screen of the iPhone 5, that helped significantly, without compromising the one-handed ease of use. (If I needed to tap something single-handedly at either extreme end of the phone, I would perform a maneuver I’ve dubbed “the iPhone shimmy,” where I sort of wiggle the iPhone in my hand which lets it slide up or down in my hand until my thumb can reach the desired area of the screen.) But, once again, the ever-increasing complexity of apps has really started to push the limits of the 4-inch screen too.

Meanwhile, my Android-toting friends have been mocking me, and shoving their 4.5-, 5- and even 6-inch behemoths in my face. So I mocked them in return. The “phablet” form factor never really appealed to me. Sure, the screen is big, but you would need the hands of an NBA all-star player to hold it, and putting something the size of the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey against your face when making a call just seemed… wrong. And forget about one-handed use! But then I hear people swear up and down, saying stuff like “no, it’s not really that big,” “you quickly get used to the bigger size,” etc. I’ve been thinking all night about how to solve this (admittedly first-world) problem when the answer (or at least a tool that might help me arrive at an answer) hit me: why not create mockups of the two new iPhones? Then I could play with them and experience how actually using them might feel. So, armed with this idea and a copy of Adobe Illustrator, I set to work. And this is the result.

First, the disclaimers. I really, really suck at Adobe Illustrator. Frankly I’m amazed that I was able to produce something even remotely iPhone-like. The only thing I can guarantee is that the dimensions of these mockups are the same as the specs that Apple has published, which, for the iPhone 6, are 5.44 x 2.64 x 0.27 inches (138.1 x 67 x 6.9mm), and for the iPhone 6 Plus, 6.22 x 3.06 x 0.28 inches (158.1 x 77.8 x 7.1mm). Also, the actual iPhones will be much rounder than these mockups; both the edges as well as the front and back surfaces are subtly curved, and I couldn’t really duplicate this in my mockups. So these models will look and feel decidedly brick-like. Finally, the size of the screen, the app icons depicted on it (which are also decidedly box-like) and the size of the physical controls (home button and earpiece) are best-guess approximations. We only know the diagonal measurement (4.7 and 5.5 inches), and I suppose there is probably some sort of magical equation that would let me calculate a length and width based on that, but I haven’t the foggiest of how to do that. However, in spite of these caveats, I still believe these mockups will give you a reasonably close idea of what holding and using the actual device would feel like. (Oh yeah, one final caveat: since you’ll be walking around with what is essentially a slab of cardboard, and pretending to tap on it, talk into it, etc., people might think you are a little bit strange…)

To use these, simply print these out (preferably onto a heavy paper or card stock), cut along the outermost lines, and fold along all the other lines. Tape or glue shut. For added realism, find yourself a postal scale and, before sealing them up, fill them with small objects (paperclips, coins, what have you) to approximate the actual weight of the devices: in the case of the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, that would be 4.55 ounces (129g) and for the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, 6.07 ounces (172g).

Go download them now!. They’re available as both Illustrator (.ai) and PDF files.


Anime Expo 2014 preliminary schedule is now up in both PDF and Guidebook! (Updated)

AX 2014 LogoUpdate 06/20/14: The Guidebook guide has been updated, and now contains the complete schedule, as well as general info, event policies (weapons policy, code of conduct, etc.), GoH and industry guest info, and a transportation guide!

We have spoken at great length about the tips and techniques we recommend to ensure you have the best, least stressful and least-drama-inducing experience at con. One of the main points we drive home is that one should always research the con you’re going to. For one thing, read up on the Guests of Honor. That way, if you happen to be with a group of friends who decide they want to go to (insert random GoH)’s panel, you won’t have the pain and embarrassment of having to admit that you have no freaking clue who that is. Also, it always helps to know what’s going on, where it’s going on, and when it’s going on. In other words, peruse the con’s schedule just as soon as they make it available. Most cons put up a preliminary schedule 2-3 weeks before the event, with the caveat that, being preliminary, it is subject to frequent change (and often does indeed change frequently.) Still, grabbing the schedule as soon as it’s available and making note of the events that might interest you is always a good idea.

All of this long-winded rhetoric leads up to the announcement that, after a bit of a false start, the folks at Anime Expo have put the preliminary schedule online. It’s available in PDF form, which pretty much every computer, as well as most smartphones and tablets, can read without difficulty. Grab it, print it out, put it on your smartphone or tablet’s PDF reader app, and start planning out your schedule. We’ve only got just a hair over 2 weeks to go till AX time!

But wait! There’s more! Smartphone and tablet owners, pay attention! Rather than downloading the PDF, you might want to take a look at the Guidebook app instead! Because Anime Expo has, once again, and to my extreme delight, made their schedule available in the Guidebook app! This is by far the best way to view con schedules if you have a mobile device. Once you’ve downloaded the app and downloaded the Anime Expo guide, you can browse through all of the panels, workshops, main events, video screenings, and list of dealers’ hall exhibitors. As you browse, you can mark down events that you are interested in, and they will automatically be added to the “Your Schedule” section of the app, where you can see at a glance the events you’ve marked. You can even set alarms to warn you X minutes before a must-see event starts. Or you can use the handy search feature to quickly find what you’re looking for. The app doesn’t require a data or WiFi connection to browse the guide. However, if you do have a connection available, it will automatically check to see if there are any updates to the guide, which is awesome, especially at con, when schedules can (and often do) change from moment to moment. Note: the current version of the Anime Expo guide in Guidebook doesn’t yet have event information in it. I’m sure they’ll be updating it shortly to include that information, and when they do, your Guidebook app will automatically download the update! The Guidebook guide does have information on Guests of Honor and dealers’ hall exhibitors, so you can start looking at those right away. Update 06/20/14: The Guidebook guide has been updated, and now contains the complete schedule, as well as general info, event policies (weapons policy, code of conduct, etc.), GoH and industry guest info, and a transportation guide! Guidebook is available for pretty much all mobile platforms, including iOS (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad,) Android, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, etc.

iTunes

Get the free Guidebook app on Google Play

Get the Guidebook app on other platforms


Cool Find: Watch the classic Sailor Moon anime, uncut and unbowdlerized, on Hulu and Neon Alley!

Sailor Moon charactersIn our recent episode that took a look at what’s coming up at Anime Expo 2014, we declared that this year’s Anime Expo’s “theme” is looking to be a cross between Sailor Moon and KILL la KILL. We also mentioned offhandedly that the original Sailor Moon was available for streaming at Hulu.

In fact, Viz Media has licensed all 200 episodes of the classic anime series, plus three feature films and assorted tie-in specials, for both streaming and physical media distribution. Currently, twelve episodes are up, and they will be releasing two new episodes every Monday (or “Moonday,” as they like to call it.) This represents the first time that Sailor Moon has been broadcast in the U.S. for over a decade. Moreover, this will include the first North American release of the final television series, Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars. They are able to do this thanks to having recently acquired the license from Toei.

Viz is releasing the series with the original Japanese audio and English subtitles. They are also working on an all-new English dub with a brand-new cast, and will start releasing those later this year. For you physical media diehards, they will also be releasing the show in DVD and Blu-ray/DVD combo releases, in half-season sets, starting this fall.

Best of all, the show is being presented completely uncut and unbowdlerized. Content that was considered “questionable” back in the day and that was removed has been restored, and non-mainstream character relationships (i.e. yuri) have been restored.

The show is also being streamed on Neon Alley, which makes sense, since Neon Alley is Viz’s own service. (Incidentally, a lot has changed at Neon Alley since we looked at it back in 2012. They’ve switched away from the “broadcast TV station” model to the more mainstream “streaming on demand” model that everyone else is using. They’ve added computer/web browser-based streaming, but have sadly removed their PS3 app, instead directing people to use the Hulu Plus PS3 app. But Neon Alley is now a free service, so one can’t complain too much!)

So go watch it on Hulu or Neon Alley today!

Sailor Moon served as the “gateway drug” for many a current anime fan. Now it’s poised to do the same to a whole new generation of fans. And that’s a Good Thing.


Video #0016 – Cool Find: Air Video HD: stream your downloaded anime, with perfect subtitles!

Video Podcast SymbolIn this episode, we take a look at a really cool app for iPhones, iPod touches and iPads, Air Video HD. Air Video HD lets you stream video files over your home network from your computers, media centers, network attached storage, etc. It automatically transcodes the video if needed, and supports pretty much every video format under the sun, including MKV and Hi10p. It also supports all the common subtitle formats, including advanced subtitle features (SSA/ASS) such as fonts, text positioning, styles and more.

Watch this video on YouTube (higher quality)

Get more info on Air Video, and download the companion app here

Buy the Air Video app on the iTunes Store

iTunes

iPod touchiPod touch
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Buy iPod touch at Amazon

iPad AiriPad Air
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Buy iPad Air at Amazon

iPad miniiPad mini
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Buy iPad mini at Amazon


Cool Find: Let Flix Roulette help you decide what to watch on Netflix tonight

Flix Roulette LogoAnime fans these days are truly blessed. Gone are the days when you had to wait months and months until the next DVD of (insert name of anime series you’re following) came out, which of course you’d have to pay $30 or more for. Today, with our fast Internet connections, wide variety of computing devices and on-demand streaming video services, there’s always something to watch right at your fingertips. One could argue, however, that this is a problem in and of itself: there’s just too much stuff to watch out there! How is one to choose? Well why not throw caution to the winds and let the fates decide for you? This is easy to do, thanks to a cool service I found called Flix Roulette.

As its name implies, you’ll need a Netflix account to take advantage of Flix Roulette. But, with plans starting as low as $7.99, and with Netflix’s vast catalog of available titles (both anime and non-anime,) having a Netflix membership is definitely worthwhile.

Anyway, the next time you have trouble figuring out what you want to watch, just head on over to the Flix Roulette website. Click the “Spin” button to spin the wheels of fate and let Flix Roulette pick something random for you to watch. If that’s way too random for your tastes, you can filter by genre (only choose from titles in a certain genre, such as anime, sci-fi, comedy, action/adventure, etc.); type (movies and/or TV shows); rating (titles rated between X and Y stars, to filter out the crap – or to specifically zero in on crappy shows, if that’s what you want); and by director, actor, or keyword.

Once you click the “Spin” button, Flix Roulette will think about it for a bit, then it’ll come up with a random title for you. It’ll show you the show’s title, rating, a brief description of the show, the director and cast, and a thumbnail (usually the DVD/Blu-ray cover or poster art from the show.) Click the “Watch on Netflix” button and you’ll jump straight to the Netflix website and begin streaming the chosen title. It’s as simple as that.

Flix Roulette is a fun way of solving that age-old problem of “what are we going to watch now?” Try it the next time you have a group of friends over. Check it out today!


AMV Spotlight: Fate Matrix and Fate Network

Video Podcast SymbolWhen crafting up an AMV, you have two choices. You can either create an AMV based on a single anime, or you can make one based on a compilation of multiple animus. This latter option is, by far, the hardest way to make an AMV. Think about it: if you’re basing a video on a single anime, it’s pretty easy to come up with a storyline for your AMV, because with only one anime involved, you have only one set of characters and one plot to deal with. But when you are working with many different anime, each with its own set of characters, its own storyline, etc., weaving all of those into a consistent, plausible story for your AMV is really difficult. Which is why I give mad props to anyone who even attempts such a feat. And when I see a video that just “nails it,” its creator deserves legendary status.

One such video that, to this day, remains one of my absolute favorites is “Fate Matrix” by Shin (AMV.org profile, YouTube page) and GuntherAMVs (AMV.org profile, YouTube page) of PixelBlended Studios. Drawing from an amazing 27 anime, including Angel Beats!, 5 Centimeters per Second, Ore no Imouto, and K-ON!, this AMV tells the story of the “Little Sister of Fate,” played by Alice of Heaven’s Memo Pad, who sits in her ethereal headquarters, manipulating the “Threads of Fate” that bind various characters together, causing them to find their true love, avoid disaster, achieve happiness and so on.

I absolutely adore the concept behind this video; it really spoke to the heart. In addition, it is a very well put together video from a technical standpoint. The editing is flawless, and the creators did a great job of blending the various anime, with their different styles, into a single cohesive vision. Finally, the music they chose, “Tell Me (Clock Opera remix)” by Au Revoir Simone, is a perfect fit.

I first saw this video during Anime Expo 2012 where it was a finalist in the AMTV Pro category. Unfortunately it didn’t win. This made me very sad, since I felt that it was better, both from a storyline and technical standpoint, than the other videos in its category, and that it really should have won. However, I am happy to learn that it did win Best Drama at Anime Boston 2012.

In addition, the creators are working on a follow-up video of sorts, “Fate Network,” which expands on the Fate Matrix universe.

Watch Fate Matrix and Fate Network on YouTube or via the embedded players below the cut.

Bravo, creators! Well done!

Continue reading AMV Spotlight: Fate Matrix and Fate Network


Cool Find: Crunchyroll app for iOS and Android adds Chromecast support

Crunchyroll + Chromecast = A Winner is YouYou’re probably wondering where we’ve been and why there haven’t been any new episodes in a while. This year has been pretty bad for me in the health department. Some health problems have finally caught up with me, and could not be ignored any more, and had to be dealt with. This included needing to get surgery. Fortunately I am on the mend, just in time for summer con season and Anime Expo (yay!) so expect a relaunch real soon. In the meantime, we bring you yet another Cool Find!

We’ve spoken quite a few times in the past about our love of Crunchyroll. In our not so humble opinion, it’s the best way to legitimately enjoy low cost (as low as $6.99/month, or even FREE, if you’re willing to put up with a few restrictions) high quality (up to 1080p) streaming anime, straight from Japan (new episodes are published literally hours after they air in Japan!) If you aren’t already a Crunchyroll Premium member, then what are you waiting for?! For less than the price of two fancy coffee drinks a month, you can enjoy beautiful streaming anime at home or on the go, while directly benefiting the companies that bring anime to you, without having to resort to certain, uh, controversial methods. Epic karmic win!

Of course, Crunchyroll streams beautifully on any computer-like device, running Windows, Mac OS X or even Linux. And when you are on the go, you can also enjoy streaming Crunchyroll on a wide variety of mobile devices, including iPhones and iPod touches, iPads, as well as a wide variety of Android smartphones and tablets. But many of us now have nice big-screen HDTVs in our homes. What about those? Fortunately, Crunchyroll has got you covered, thanks to its PlayStation3 and Xbox 360 apps. They have apps available on several other set-top boxes as well. And recently, they’ve added yet another set-top device to their lineup, and an inexpensive one at that: Crunchyroll now supports the Google Chromecast!

The Chromecast, in case you haven’t heard of it, is a very inexpensive (only $35!) yet powerful set-top box released by Google. Based on their Android and Google TV operating systems, the Chromecast attaches directly to any TV’s HDMI port, and allows you to stream content from an ever-growing set of third-party apps on both iOS and Android. And it now supports Crunchyroll as well!

Once you’ve plugged in and set up your Chromecast, just download the Crunchyroll app (available on iOS (iPhone/iPod touch/iPad) and Android) and, once you’ve launched the app and logged in (you did go and get your Crunchyroll Premium Membership, didn’t you?) just tap the Cast button at the upper right of the screen, and you should see your Chromecast appear as a menu option. Tap it, and the app will connect to it. Then just play your desired anime. Instead of showing up on your phone/tablet, it will start playing on your lovely big-screen TV. Playback works flawlessly and the video quality is excellent. Tap the Cast button again to access playback controls (pause/stop.) Easy peasy.

The Chromecast is an excellent addition to the Crunchyroll device lineup, and is by far the most inexpensive way of enjoying your Crunchyroll on the big screen. Go buy yourself one today, and definitely go grab the Crunchyroll app for your mobile platform of choice. And, hello, have you gotten your Crunchyroll Premium Membership yet?! ūüėČ


Get a Crunchyroll Premium Membership!

ChromecastChromecast
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Buy Chromecast at Amazon

iTunes

Get the free Crunchyroll app on Google Play


Remember, remember, the 11th of March… (Updated)

Operation TomodachiOkay, so it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as that famous verse commemorating another infamous day in history. But March 11, 2011 is still a date that we should all keep in our minds and in our hearts. For it was three years ago today when the horrific Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit an unsuspecting Japan, resulting in thousands of dead, injured and missing, and untold millions of dollars in property damage. Entire towns were washed off the face of this earth, and many people saw their livelihoods vanish in the blink of an eye.

Even after 3 years, both the land as well as the people are still scarred and in shambles. Recovery efforts will likely continue for years to come, many families and individuals are still homeless and in need of work. And those who lost their loved ones… well, that kind of wound never heals. And the country as a whole is still reeling from the economic impact of this disaster. Japan is also still facing a very real threat in the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation, which continues to leak dangerous nuclear waste to the environment.

This disaster brought out the worst in humanity. Almost immediately the scammers took advantage of our compassion and generosity to line their pockets. Then there were the religious nutjobs, so-called “environmentalist” whackos, politicians with an agenda, and various other mean-spirited asshats who came out and said that Japan deserved it. Here’s hoping that these wastes of oxygen go die in a fire.

But it also showed that humanity still has a heart, and is capable of much good and compassion. Immediately offers of financial assistance came pouring in from countries large and small. But even more impactful were the offers of physical assistance, both from the military as well as countless civilian organizations – even individual citizens. Many are still on the scene today.

I remember the night of March 11, 2011 well. I had been busy all day working on some code for a work project. It was around 10:45 and I decided to take a break and get a snack and check in on Twitter, email, etc. Then I started seeing tweets coming in about a terrible earthquake in Japan. Information was still quite sketchy during the early hours of the disaster. Finally someone who had access to a good news source fired up Ustream or some other streaming video app on their smartphone and pointed it at their TV. Fortunately it was an international channel so it was being translated into English. As I watched the horrible pictures of destruction and devastation come in my heart sank. I began to worry about the four Japanese exchange students we hosted several years ago, hoping and praying that they weren’t in an affected area. (Fortunately they were safe.) Later I got word that the crew of the AX Live webcast/podcast/videocast, who were coincidentally livestreaming and recording an episode when the earthquake hit, decided to continue the livestream and provide news coverage of the earthquake and related news. And, damn it all, they did a bang-up job bringing us the news. They did some real journalism there. Of course they also did some opining along the way, but they clearly indicated it as such when they did. I just could not sleep that night. The news was riveting, plus there was a possibility that the Southern California coastal community in which I live might get some of the tsunami, so I needed to be ready to GTFO if necessary. I kept one eye on the AX Live broadcast and another eye on Twitter, along with several local news websites, and I also tuned in some local radio stations on our emergency radio. Fortunately it turned out not to be a concern for our area. The water may have risen a bit, I’m not sure, but that’s about it. Sadly, others weren’t so lucky. I gather Hawaii was hit rather hard. And, up the US West Coast a ways, someone was swept out to sea and lost his life. Anyway the AX Live crew went above and beyond the call of duty and continued their excellent coverage, going on until 4 or 5 AM the next morning. Finally after they stopped coverage and the rest of the news started to get repetitive, and when I was convinced that nothing was going to hit me, I went off to bed. But the rest of the weekend I was in a daze, it almost didn’t seem real. I remember it well because that next day (Friday, March 12) was the day that the iPad 2 was released. I still went to our local Apple Store to buy one. But normally on an Apple product launch day, I am like a kid in a candy store who has gotten hopped up on way too much sugar even before he got to the candy store. And yet, on that day, I was in a weird, somber, almost surreal mood.

I urge everyone reading this to keep that infamous date, March 11, 2011, in their minds and hearts. What we must remember is that, even though it’s been 3 years, it ain’t over yet. Not by a long shot. There is still a ton of cleanup and rebuilding to do. If you are in a position to where you can volunteer your time and physical strength, by all means do so. Otherwise, please consider donating. There are still a ton of charities desperately in need of money to keep on going. And perhaps you should check out the film Pray for Japan. Not only is it a somber yet hopeful and ultimately uplifting story that really shows the compassion and dedication of the volunteers, as well as the resolve of the Japanese citizens, but all proceeds from the sale of the film go towards charities providing relief efforts.


Cool Find: Google Translate

Google Translate screenshotYes, ladies and gentlemen, I’m still here. Busy podcaster is busy. Haven’t had any time to produce any content lately, even blog posts. So sorry! I’m hoping to have some time to record an episode soon. In the meantime I’ll try and find the time to kick out some blog posts such as this one. ūüôā

When my girlfriend and I went to Japan in 2004 (wow… that’s 10 years ago now… sigh) communication was a major concern for us, since neither of us knew a lick of Japanese. (Thanks to my anime watching, I could understand a very small smattering of Japanese, and could more or less speak some of it, but it was definitely not enough to carry out even a brief conversation with a native speaker, unless they wanted to talk about transforming giant robots or special attack moves or something. :)) The good news is that most of the signs in Japanese rail stations, as well as the train stop announcements, plus signs in more popular businesses in larger cities are in both English and Japanese. That helped a lot. Also most of the major hotels had signage in both languages, and their staff spoke both as well. But there were still plenty of times where we needed to communicate with someone who didn’t understand English, be they a restaurant employee, store clerk, etc. We had an absolutely wonderful tour guide that helped with making arrangements and translated for us (Hi, Iko-san, wherever you are!) However she wasn’t with us 100% of the time, and there were plenty of moments during the tour when we were given free time to roam about when we really needed to be able to communicate in Japanese.

Unfortunately, the smartphone and tablet hadn’t come out yet, so all we had to rely on was our trusty Japanese phrasebook. It worked fairly well, although using it was kind of awkward. We had to flip through it to find the section appropriate to the type of conversation we were having (ordering food at a restaurant, buying something in a store, getting directions, etc.) Then, once we found the phrase we needed, we had to stumble through the phonetic pronunciation, hoping and praying that we got it right and didn’t end up accidentally saying something offensive about the other person’s parents or something. Then there were those times when none of the canned phrases in the phrasebook were really appropriate to the situation, which is when we had to resort to the stereotypical dumb tourist’s technique of enunciating loudly and slowly, combined with a lot of hand waving, pointing and various other gesticulations. It’s a miracle that we weren’t arrested and charged with criminal insanity or something.

Well, you lucky travelers of today have it easy, thanks to the aforementioned smartphones and tablets which are now all the rage. Today, smartphones and tablets and their always-on Internet connections are a traveler’s best friend. Gone are the days when you had to lug around large collections of maps, guidebooks, etc. Now all of that information is at your fingertips. Lost your way while wandering about? No problem, just pop open your Maps app and you’ll be back at your hotel in no time. Looking for a good place to eat? Between the over 9,000 restaurant review/travel sites out there, I’m sure you’ll find something pretty quickly. Bored and looking for something cool to do? Well, Google can help you with that; just search for wherever it is you’re staying at and soon you will have plenty of search hits telling you the various museums, parks, gardens, and various other interesting spots nearby. But what’s even cooler is that now, your smartphone and/or tablet can actually translate for you too!

Simply install the free Google Translate app (available for both iOS and Android) and your device becomes a lean, mean translating machine. Just type in or speak (!) the phrase you want to translate, choose the language you want to translate it into (the app supports many languages, including of course Japanese), tap a button, and voila! – your phrase gets instantly translated. It’s displayed in the language you chose to translate it to (e.g. into Japanese characters if you chose Japanese) and is also spelled out phonetically, should you want to attempt to speak it yourself. Or you could have the app speak it for you by tapping on the speaker icon. Or turn your device sideways, and the phrase is displayed in large type, perfect for if you want to show the translation to the person you’re attempting to talk with.

But what happens if the person talks to you in response? Well, you can tell Google Translate to reverse the translation. You can have the person speak into your smartphone/tablet and it will actually translate their words back into English for you! Unfortunately I had no Japanese-speaking volunteers to help me test this, so I tried the next best thing: I put on some anime and held my phone up to the speakers. And it worked surprisingly well, well enough for me to get the gist of what was being said. Your mileage may vary of course, and using this with regular peoples’ voices (as opposed to voice actors doing their in-character voices) may work better.

Now, bear in mind that this is machine translation, which doesn’t always get it right. (If anyone can read/speak Japanese, I’d be curious to hear your opinion on how good (or bad) its translation is.) But it should be at least good enough to get your point across. (Although you might get a snicker or two from the person you’re “talking” with if the translation is particularly weird or funny.) But I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a darn sight better/faster/easier to use than those phrasebooks of yesteryear.

So go grab it today on the iOS App Store and Google Play – it’s free!

iTunes

Get it on Google Play


Cool Find: Pixelmon mod for Minecraft – gotta catch ’em all!

Pixelmon bannerOne of the most successful media franchises to come out of Japan is Pokémon. Second only to that juggernaut Mario in terms of success and lucrativeness, Pokémon grew from its humble beginnings as a Game Boy role playing game to encompass not only a great many sequel video games, but tons of derivative works, including manga, anime, trading card games, toys, and books. To this day it remains one of the most popular and lucrative, and Pokémon properties continue to be produced to this day.

Of course, us anime fans are most familiar with the anime incarnation of Pok√©mon, which began its long and illustrious career back in 1998 when the infamous 4Kids Entertainment, Inc. licensed and began broadcasting internationally the original Pok√©mon animation. This served as many a fan’s introduction to anime, and helped bring quite a few newcomers into the fold.

In my case, I hadn’t really taken notice of the whole Pok√©mon thing. My introduction to anime (though I didn’t know what “anime” was at the time) actually came courtesy of Robotech, back in the mid-80s.(I have spoken ad nauseum about this in the past; I will refrain from doing so now so as not to infuriate or bore those reading this post.) I wasn’t (re)introduced to anime until the early 2000s, when, while casually chatting with a friend, the subject of Robotech came up, and he turned to me and said “you know, you should really check out this “anime” stuff…” and lent me his badly-degenerated (must have been 8th or 9th generation) VHS tapes(!) of a little show called Bubblegum Crisis, which remains one of my favorites to this day. So, yeah, the whole Pok√©mon thing sorta passed me by: it came during my long dark years when, after coming home from a failed attempt at getting a higher education, I slummed around SoCal jobless, penniless and rather sad.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m blathering on about Pok√©mon and/or shouting at your computer for me to STFU. Patience, grasshopper. For today, I bring you, as my Cool Find, the Pixelmon mod for Minecraft!

As the name implies, Pixelmon adds a Pok√©mon-inspired game mechanic to everybody’s favorite retro blocky sandbox game. Fortunately, no Pok√©mon knowledge is required to enjoy this mod. When you first create a character (or the next time you log in to an already-created world) you will be given the option to choose your first Pok√©mon. (Don’t worry, you won’t miss out if you happen to sleep through your alarm and end up arriving late to the party.) With your new-found friend, you can go out and explore the lands of Minecraft. As you do so, you will find many other Pok√©mon wandering around, whom you can do battle with and attempt to capture. (gotta catch ’em all!) If you’re on a multiplayer server, you can do battle with other players on the server; and in single-player mode, you will also see computer-generated (NPC) Pok√©mon Trainers wandering about whom you can challenge.

Of course, a young Pok√©mon trainer needs quite a few supplies — Pok√©mon balls, PCs, healers, trading machines and the like — and you can either find a convenient Pok√©mon Center and use theirs (they are randomly generated and scattered throughout the world) or you can go out, harvest resources, and craft your own.

As for the Pok√©mon themselves, as near as I can tell (remember, I’m no Pok√©mon expert) pretty much every Pok√©mon from the franchise is represented. You’ve got your Pikachus, your Magikarps, your Squirtles, your Bulbasaurs, your Mareeps, your Miltanks, and… You get the idea. There are even Pok√©mon fossils that you can find while mining, which you can regrow into ancient Pok√©mon. And, every now and then, a Legendary Pok√©mon appears, which you can take down and make yours, if you’ve got the right skills. Each Pok√©mon is lovingly rendered in Minecraft block style, and the developers have also recreated many of their signature noises. Each has its signature attacks, and as your Pok√©mon win battles, they gain levels, increasing their stats and unlocking new attacks. And under the right conditions, your Pok√©mon will evolve as well. Of course, there’s an in-game Pok√©dex you can craft up that helps you identify Pok√©mon and look up their stats, etc.

Oh, and by the way, the Pixelmon mod is very well written specifically to maximize compatibility with other mods. It works with all of the mods I use, including littleMaidMob, Mo’Creatures, Flan’s Mod, Twilight Forest, Mill√©naire, and more.

You don’t really need to be a Pok√©mon fan, or know a lot about Pok√©mon to enjoy this mod. It’s really fun. Read more about it and download it at the Pixelmon website or the Minecraft forums. Check out the installation video (also embedded below the cut) to find out how to install it (it’s really easy). They have a Getting Started guide with the basic steps to get started There’s also a third party wiki with an even better Getting Started Guide, along with tons of other info. And finally check out YouTuber and Minecraft “let’s play” video creator paulsoaresjr’s Pixelmon Let’s Play videos (also embedded below the cut) to see the mod in action (and besides, his videos are always awesome).

Gotta catch ’em all!

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