26 January 2006

"Japan Year in Review -- Pop Culture Revolution" Report

For the last eight years, the Japan Society in SF (http://www.usajapan.org/) has held a "Japan Year in Review" lecture/panel series. Last night they had their 2005 wrapup focusing on Japanese Pop Culture. This one ended up being more interesting than I expected! There were only two panelists, but they both had a lot to say. Here are the highlights:

Kaori Shoji is a Japanese journalist. Her headline for 2005 was "the rise of the otaku" -- in her opinion, last year saw the Otaku move from being a reviled, un-talked-about figure in popular culture to being the central figure in it. She cites a couple causes for this, among them the rise of a new group of (mostly Korean) male romance stars, such as Bae Yong Joon. The characters portrayed by these stars are not work-obsessed, not pushy, and not misogynist -- they're sensitive, caring, and must wear (try Google-image-searching Bae Yong Joon -- all of his characters wear glasses).

She traces the evolution in the role of the otaku this year to the book "Train Men" (I haven't yet been able to find the web reference for this book yet). In the book, an otaku ends up dating a "intimidatingly" beautiful woman, and constantly text-messages his entire group of otaku friends about what he should do/say next ('constantly' meaning, every five minutes in the middle of their dates). His group of friends bands together to be available for advice all through his dates, and turn what could be somewhat disgusting into a charming display of devotion. She also talked about the rise of "Maid Cafes" (where the waitresses are dressed in maid costumes and/or anime character costumes); the concept of "moe", the emotion behind patronizing the cafes; and the increasing patronage of them by both male and female otaku.

The other panelist was Eric Nakamura, the editor of (the LA-based) Giant Robot magazine. Eric talked about the broadening out of various toy companies' product lines; specifically, he mentioned that Medicom (the company behind Kubrick figures) has started making furniture, coin purses, and bags; he had some slides with examples there, but I haven't been able to find any references on the web to it (I've emailed him to see if I can get some references).

The other neat phenomenon he talked about was Gaisei and the Design Festa. If you know about Komiket (the huge market held once a year for amateur comics) that's a starting point for talking about these. Design Festa is like Komiket but for physical objects -- some of the entrants are more like crafty things (hand-knit caps) but many are more along the lines of Kubricks or other figurines. In addition to the booths of items, Design Festa is a contest with prizes awarded to some of the best entries.

Takashi Murakami, the visual artist (http://www.takashimurakami.com/) sponsors a higher-end event called Geisai ("gei" refers to fine arts). Geisai (http://www.geisai.net/) has the same quality of being an event in a huge convention hall where hundreds of booths are set up by attendees. At Geisai, what they're showing is their art, so it's kind of like a beauty contest for artists. Especially given the sponsorship of Murakami (who just had a huge exhibit in NY), it has much more of an explicit connection to fine arts than the other event. Geisai isn't curated (it's "pay to display" as one poster on livejournal put it), but it has a very organized competitive element -- the judges examine what's on display at the conference and award prizes in various categories to the winners. Like most art contests, the primary prize is publicity though -- Eric talked about a couple examples of the price runups some of the winners saw in their art.

Both speakers discussed a few other things as well, such as the increasingly US distribution of muji ("no-brand") products -- they're sort of Japan's Ikea, their non-logo-logo is their trademark. They're being sold at the MOMA store in NY and the MOCA stores in LA. In general the above was the most interesting, though!

09 January 2006

Double taste violation

This morning on the way to work on the 101, I saw a Hummer (with of course a single person in it) with... spinny hubcaps! It was such spectacular bad taste I laughed out loud in the car.

08 January 2006

Display PostScript

A friend asked me about the history of Display PostScript, which Jack Newlin and I wrote together with Adobe when I was at NeXT. I thought I might as well post the reply where people can comment on it!


Sure, I've forgotten most or all the proprietary stuff I knew back then :) besides the key proprietary element was what we now call Type 1 Fonts -- they (Adobe) decided to publish that stuff a few years after I left NeXT.

Basically, we actually made the window server a PostScript interpreter, and sent over a binary-encoded form of actual PostScript calls. To get efficiency out of it, we created new PostScript operators that were array versions of many of the calls so that you could draw more per primitive, but you were still sending a program to the sever that was interpreted by the interpreter.

There was one PostScript thread per connection (kind of obvious) plus some thread to handle user input. And of course, all of the windowing operations were implemented as new PostScript operators (newwindow, movewindow, sizewindow, etc., etc.). You could supply PostScript callback procedures to be called on user events in your window to filter, process, or do whatever to them (including passing them back to the client). The model was very similar to Sun's NeWS server, which we were influenced by, but they put a lot of emphasis on doing much of your application event-handling in PostScript, whereas we regarding PostScript-level event handling as the outlet of last resort (I gave a talk at SIGGRAPH once called, "Why PostScript is my least favorite programming language").

Obviously, picking PostScript defined the 2D graphics model pretty clearly. The other wise choice we made was to choose Porter-Duff compositing as the basis of all image combination operations supported by the system. That allowed programs to be very independent of the framebuffer depth and provided a much more powerful layering system as well.

Frankly, though we got it all working pretty well, I don't think actually using a language interpreter was the right idea. I think the stream-of-asynchronous-procedure-calls model, as implemented by X or by OpenGL among others, is a better model for that kind of performance- and memory-sensitive interface. I still think PostScript was a great (2D) graphics model, so we chose correctly there -- it's just that with 20-20 hindsight I would have defined a procedural interface with a clear mapping to PostScript, but which wasn't directly tied to a language interpreter.

Peter Graffagnino, who took over for me when I left NeXT, certainly thought so -- in Cocoa, that's kind of it works. There's a DPS procedural layer, and it's not subject to redefinition by the window server's PostScript interpreter, which allows a more efficient interpretation of the protocol stream and a lighter memory overhead. You can still pass PostScript down to be interpreted a drawn, but that's not the usual interface to the window system.

Hope that helps!


On Jan 7, 2006, at 12:11 PM, Justin Ryan wrote:

hey leo, i noticed on your website that you worked at NeXT on
DisplayPS technology. I'd really like to chat with you about this, if
your knowledge of the technology is not overly proprietary. I mostly
want to understand more about this, as I've seen that a number of
f/oss projects are striving to move the f/oss user interface into the
new world of non-x11 display drivers on unix.