BlogTV Japan: Otaku Syndrome

One of the great reasons for studying foreign languages is to see and hear new things from new lands and new people that you could never have encountered before. Once in a while you see something positively amazing. And once in a while you see something that makes you want to gouge your eyes out with red hot pokers.
When I first saw what I am about to show you, I told people about it and nobody believed me. I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t have believed it. Now, almost a year later, I have captured a followup show, and am providing the video online. So now you can see it. And you still won’t believe it.

Of all the series running on FujiTV News, one of the most astonishing (and certainly the most revolting) is the series “katazukerarenai onnatachi,” literally “women who can’t clean up.” The show offers these women a deal, in exchange for the utter humiliation of subjecting their disgustingly sloppy lifestyle to intense scrutiny on national TV, they will clean your house. I don’t know why any woman would ever agree to appear on the show, but they all seem quite cheerful when admitting the announcer and camera crew into their repulsive homes. Most of the women are disguised with mosaic and voice distortion, but some women have no problem showing their faces or even using their real names. The male announcer always appears in an impeccable grey Armani suit, shin-high rubber boots, and heavy white cotton work gloves. He comes to the door, is greeted at the genkan and admitted to the space, and plunges into these astonishingly untidy places with his camera crew.
Now I’m not talking about your average slobs here. In one segment that does not appear in my online excerpt, the announcer (wearing a mask and goggles) starts scattering a pile of garbage bags piled 4 feet high, and when he gets to the bottom, he finds a discarded, moldy food container with a sell-by date on it: 1997. The room is stacked everywhere with plastic bags full of garbage, the only clear spot is around the futon, it looks like a nest with white trash bags surrounding it like a crater. The announcer presses forward to the kitchen. Now it is getting really sickening. He opens the refrigerator, which has been turned off and not opened for years. Then.. no I really cannot go on. It is too repulsive. I could not even watch it myself, and it takes a LOT to shock me. But anyway, the cleaning crew arrives behind the announcer, and removes everything disposable and cleans the entire house until it is just as obsessively clean as it previously was obsessively dirty. It must take days to finish the job. When the room is finally cleaned, it is immediately obvious that this woman is a Snoopy otaku. Everywhere you look there are Snoopy rugs, wall hangings and posters, figurines, stuffed toys, etc, none of this was visible until the mountain of trash was removed.

But let us move on to the star of our show. “B-san” is a 36 year old female otaku. She is obsessed with collecting manga. She lives in a tiny 6-mat apartment. A year ago, the FujiTV crew visited and found her 6jo room entirely filled from top to bottom, wall to wall with stacks of manga, there was only a tiny tunnel near the door where she slept. There is nothing for the camera to explore, the announcer cannot even get in the door. The cleanup crew comes and observes the walls of the room are bulging, good thing this is a ground floor apartment or it would have collapsed under the weight. A brave workman wearing a hard hat and breathing mask enters the passageway and lies down to demonstrate where B-san slept, there is hardly any room for the camera. He can not lie down, the cavity is formed around the shape of the short skinny woman. A larger crew will be necessary to clear this rubbish pile, several heavy trucks are summoned, and eventually they haul away several tons of manga. First the entryway is cleared, the camera scans over the top of the pile, the entire room is filled to the ceiling. Household furnishings like a bed are gradually unburied. Eventually the house is cleaned, right down to the lowest layer where the camera lingers on the mouse droppings and bugs underneath the mouldering stacks. But everything is restored to squeaky clean, there’s even a nice TV and some furniture under all this crap, although the building owner will have to take care of those dangerously damaged walls. Oh dear, how will she ever explain this to the landlord?
Now it is a year later, and the same announcer revisits B-san. We get a quick review of the situation last year, and even in some photographs taken at 6 months out, the camera shows the room mostly clear and empty. But there is a troubling sign, stacks of boxes neatly lining two walls. Now fast forward another 6 months. Today her room is once again stacked floor to ceiling with piles of manga, just like before. As the segment closes, B-san bemoans her inability to change her habits. Even the humiliation of showing her year-long descent into disorder on national TV could not motivate her to change her ways. But perhaps she can serve as an example to others. The video ended with a discussion of obsessive-compulsive disorders, like the people you hear about who are raided by the SPCA for having 200 cats in their house. That otaku with the obsessive Pokemon or Transformers collection on his shelf is only different in quantity, not quality.

BlogTV High Bandwidth Experiment

Update June 2014: Quicktime Streaming Server is deprecated. The functions I described no longer work on this server. If anyone is interested in the historical operations of this software, please contact me.

I am releasing a new 1-minute video clip, there is a film studies essay that goes with this clip, as yet it is unfinished so I thought I’d start serving the video now and get some feedback. This video combines fast action with long slow scenes with high detail, which makes it more difficult to find an optimum balance in the compression. I’ve pushed the limit on the 56k clip and it still is hard to capture all the fast motion, let me know if it streams well, maybe I could up the bandwidth a bit more. I’ve also produced a special extra high quality version for T1 users, one stream should use 10% of my outbound bandwidth so go and hammer on this box and see how it behaves under heavy load. If you have very high bandwidth connectivity, be sure your Quicktime Preferences>Connection Speed is set to T1.
Before you complain about this video clip, yes, I know the lip sync is off, the original film is like that. This scene was obviously redubbed in the studio, and badly. The whole scene before this is out of sync due to a bad redub, at one point you can see Zatoichi chewing and swallowing at the same time he’s talking on the soundtrack.

I Want My BlogTV!

Update June 2014: Quicktime Streaming Server is deprecated. The functions I described no longer work on this server. If anyone is interested in the historical operations of this software, please contact me.

I am leaving a portion of this essay unredacted, the section The Napsterization of Fair Use is still relevant today. It is also worth noting how close I came to creating YouTube, when I mused “I just wonder how big this could be if it was streamlined for mass consumer use.” This was 3 years before YouTube was founded.

I am working more with QTSS and preparing new files for presentation, and more comments are coming in about BlogTV. The server logs report over 850 views of the clip, yet some people commented that the file was 404 Unavailable. I suspect there was a brief cable modem outage this morning. Also, the hi-bandwidth T1 version of the second video clip will not stream. If you change your Quicktime settings temporarily to ISDN speed, you should be able to see the slower clip. I think I encoded the T1 version incorrectly and the server refuses to deliver it. I am still a newbie at video compression, I’ll get these settings fixed up after a few more experiments, so your feedback is valuable. Remember this is a little G3/400 on a cable modem, I have an upload bandwidth cap set by the cable company, so I have limited the server to 10 simultaneous streams. Several prominent blogs have linked to this site, so probably there was a huge crush at about 9AM when everyone came into the office, read the morning blogs over coffee and saw the link and hit my server all at about the same time. Please keep banging on my server so I can test these effects. I am a bit concerned about running this all in the background on my main desktop machine. I use this machine to encode the clips, which drives the CPU load to 100%, so I don’t know how this will affect background tasks like QTSS
I am preparing a 1 minute clip of a scene from a Zatoichi movie to demonstrate the use of QTSS in film studies. I’m producing the high-bandwidth version at extremely high quality, in an attempt to push the limits of resolution and frame rate, so I can test the server under the heavier load from serving these larger clips. But it hard to improve on settings for lower bandwidth versions, so most users will not see much difference. I’ve also noticed I’ve inadvertently been resizing these clips in an odd way, which might account for some of the fuzziness. I turned off various image “enhancement” features in Cleaner that could introduce any resampling fuzziness, but the optimal compression settings appear to be more of an art than a science. But then, I’m trying to preserve the subtleties of cinematographic technique in this Zatoichi film clip. I guess I better get the Cleaner manual and RTFM. It takes about 45 minutes to compress this clip, and I have to do it 3 times so compression testing is a long tedious process. With luck, I can find a few settings that work well in general and just lock them in.
I should also make it clearer that this particular QTSS trick is not something exclusive to any particular blog softare, it will work anywhere on the web. “Outsourcing” your video to another server is how CNN.com and all the big sites do it. Except in this case, your desktop machine is serving the streams, not a huge server farm like CNN has. You could just as easily put that chunk of HTML into any web page anywhere, on your local server, on your ISP’s site, and as long as your desktop machine is up and running, you will be serving video. I wish Apple would publicize QTSS more, they offer similar (non-streaming) Quicktime support on the iTools websites, perhaps they should extend iMovie a little more to include QTSS encoding and management of the streaming folder and run it in conjunction with your iDisk site. Everyone with a cable modem could be running their own streaming server. I hacked this together in just one evening with the QTSS online help files, I just wonder how big this could be if it was streamlined for mass consumer use.
And that brings me to my last topic for the moment, something I call The Napsterization of Fair Use. On blog after blog, I see people commenting about something they saw on TV. But almost none of this content is accessible on the web. I don’t want to read a description of the event, I want to see the event, and now my BlogTV gadget will do the job. Bloggers should be able to make Fair Use of short excerpts from almost any copyrighted source, so if I want to comment on something I saw on the CBS Evening News, I should be permitted to digitize a few seconds and restream it. But the media companies want to prevent this type of Fair Use by technological means, they are afraid of the “napsterization of Hollywood” and if Fair Use is eliminated in the process of fighting piracy, they don’t care. Commercially released tapes and DVDs are already copy protected to prevent Fair Use, preventing Fair Use applications even by scholars who might use these protected materials in a classroom. Now broadcast TV is on the verge of going digital, new encryption standards will completely copy protect everything on video (except commercials, I bet). As a scholar, this loss of freedom concerns me greatly. Consumers must make a stand, and insist that the Government stop selling our intellectual freedoms to money-grubbing media conglomerates.
Now I better stop ranting and get back to work. Stay tuned to BlogTV for more postings, I should have the Zatoichi clip up soon.

BlogTV: The Aftermath

Update June 2014: Quicktime Streaming Server is deprecated. The functions I described no longer work on this server. If anyone is interested in the historical operations of this software, please contact me.

My experiment in Quicktime streaming is a smashing success, the Desktop Streaming meme has taken hold in the Blog world, and the world of video has come to blogging. My short video clip has been viewed over 250 times in just a few hours and the load on my server is so small that I can’t measure it. Unfortunately, now that I have committed to serving these streams from my desktop 24/7, I have to do some hardware repairs on my CPU. So these clips may be unavailable sometime in the near future while the CPU is shut down for maintenance. In the meantime, I have released a new clip that should stream more smoothly and with a clearer, brighter image. In response to the previous video, here is a statement by Prof. L. R. Gumby.

MacOS X BlogTV: How To Do It

Update June 2014: Quicktime Streaming Server is deprecated. The functions I described no longer work on this server. If anyone is interested in the historical operations of this software, please contact me.

Setting up your own personal web streaming service to support any standard blog is simple, with off-the-shelf components available for MacOS X. You can post links in your blog pages to streams that serve from your desktop streaming server, no files are stored on the upstream server. You must be willing to put your desktop machine up and online 24/7 with a broadband connection (a cable modem is adequate) as a streaming server. I am currently serving these clips on an ancient Powermac G3/400 with a cable modem. Here’s a summary of :
1. Put your MacOS X Apache server up on the net with an IP name. Use dyndns.org to set this up if you are a cable modem user or don’t have a real hostname that resolves in DNS. QTSS requires you to have a real IP name, and to have the system and Apache configs correctly set to the hostname.
2. Install Quicktime Streaming Server 4, it’s a free download. Install the package, go to your Applications folder and click on the QTSSAdminURL icon, the admin page will appear in your browser. Install the required passwords, and your streaming server is running! Click on the little circle with the question mark, the link will explain all about QTSS
3. Now we need some content. You can use any DV stream you can capture on a Mac. A camcorder with a Firewire port can import video using products like iMovie. I want to import from a variety of NTSC and SVideo sources that don’t have Firewire like my DirecTV, TiVo and VCR, so I used the Canopus ADVC-1000 to capture video with Final Cut Pro. Note that the ADVC-1000, like many converters, will not work with Macrovision-protected tapes and DVDs. Copy protection rears its ugly head yet again! There are easy ways around this problem, but it would be illegal under the DMCA to say what they are. Ask your local video geek.
4. Now you need to compress the DV stream into Quicktime, and prepare different versions of the files for streaming at multiple speeds. You could do this entirely with Quicktime Pro, but that process is relatively difficult. I used Cleaner 5.1.1, which has a wizard for creating and compressing Quicktime files for streaming. Even using the Cleaner wizard, you will need to tweak the settings for each speed setting, to pick a compression and frame rate appropriate to each type of video you present. Go in and explore, you can set various Quicktime features like autoplay, play in browser/external player, etc. Be sure to set Cleaner’s options to specify the IP name of your streaming server when you create the files. This will be important when the blog server remotely calls your server for the files.
Cleaner will produce two folders with compressed files. One contains a master movie and a text file with the HTML to access the stream, and another folder contains the compressed Quicktime files. One folder is labeled “Upload to HTTP server” and those go wherever you can serve web pages from, either in your root website or your ~/username/Sites folder. Copy the contents of the folder labeled “Upload to Streaming Server” to /Library/QuicktimeStreaming/Movies.
5. Now you are ready to test the stream! Remember that clip of HTML that Cleaner made and you put in your web server folder? Call it in a web browser and see if it runs from your local Apache server. Access it with your full IP name, like <http://hostname.dyndns.org/clipname.html> (I’m assuming you put the file in your root webserver, /Library/Webserver/Documents/) and see if it streams. If all goes well, when you click on the Play button, you will see “Negotiating… Buffering…” and you will know the file is being served as a stream, and is now accessible to the world.
6. So now that you can stream and have a working sample of HTML with proper tags, with a little editing we can use that same HTML in any other web page. Here’s the chunk of HTML that will stream the file “gumby.mov” just like in my demonstration (I’ve cut it into shorter lines for readability)

<OBJECT CLASSID="clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B"

WIDTH="320" HEIGHT="256"

CODEBASE="http://www.apple.com/qtactivex/qtplugin.cab">

<PARAM NAME="src" VALUE="gumby_MSTR.mov">

<PARAM NAME="autoplay" VALUE="false">

<PARAM NAME="controller" VALUE="true">

<PARAM NAME="loop" VALUE="false">

<EMBED SRC="gumby_MSTR.mov" WIDTH=320 HEIGHT=256

AUTOPLAY=false CONTROLLER=true LOOP=false

PLUGINSPAGE="http://www.apple.com/quicktime/">
</EMBED>
</OBJECT>

To make this file work on the blog server, you must change the master movie pathnames from relative to absolute, and point to your home server (I’ve marked the pathnames in red to make them easier to locate). In this example, I changed those instances of “gumby_MSTR.mov” to the full URL, like “http://hostname.dyndns.org/gumby_MSTR.mov” or whatever is appropriate for the originating server. I just take the HTML file generated by Cleaner and open it in BBEdit to edit the paths, or I could paste it into a new page in a web editor like GoLive 6 (that’s what I use). Wherever I drop this chunk of HTML into my blog entry or web page source, the Quicktime streaming “badge” will appear. Now I can copy and paste that HTML directly into a new story window on my blog’s html entry page.

Quicktime Streaming Server 4 and Movable Type: BlogTV

Update June 2014: Quicktime Streaming Server is deprecated. The functions I described no longer work on this server. If anyone is interested in the historical operations of this software, please contact me.

This is a quick test of serving Quicktime from my local desktop machine through my MovableType blog. I can capture and compress Quicktime video clips of anything I record on my TiVo, VCR, or camcorder, and stream them from my desktop computer, the same system where my Movable Type blog runs. Frame rates and quality are optimized for different modem speeds, there are 3 levels, 56k, ISDN and T1, and you will automatically be served the stream matched to your speed. Click the Play button for a short message from Prof. Enid Gumby.

This should work OK on my cable modem as long as it doesn’t get too many hits, which is likely since nobody reads this blog anyway. The public is invited to view this experiment and test the load on my QTSS system, but if suddenly this gets to be a bandwidth hog, I’ll have to turn it off.
Update: A high-traffic blog linked to this experiment, I’ve gotten a few dozen hits in the last hour and my server barely feels the load. But then, this is only a 5 second video clip. I’ve received a few inquiries about how to do this. It’s easy with MacOS X, Quicktime Streaming Server is a free download and very easy to use. I’ll write up the tech details and post them in another story, it will take me a bit of time to put it together. In the meantime, I would appreciate feedback about how well the streams, image quality, data rates, etc. worked for you.