Level-E 靈異E接觸

日本動畫界當前的危機,便是新作過份商業主導,一切都經過精心的公式計算,務求賣出最多周邊產品,從消費者身上賺取最多利潤,反而忽略了最重要的動畫本身。上一季二十多套新番動畫中,最好看的作品竟然是改篇自十多年前的舊漫畫,相比之下新作完不撼入目,不能不慨嘆日本動畫界的凋澪。

「靈異E接觸」很多年前我曾經看過,但已完全忘記了劇情內容。當年冨樫義博還未成為富奸,不會經常脫稿一年只連載三話,也不會把未完成的草稿交出來敷衍讀者。或多或少富奸是被少年Jump週刊,流水作業式的環境迫成的。當年「幽遊白書」能夠賣紙,便把漫畫拖長至爛尾,到了「Hunter x Hunter」更是死不斷氣。反而被譽為富奸代表作的「靈異E接觸」,因為風格不乎合賺錢公式,只出了三期便被腰斬了。

十多年前的漫畫,雖然現在才改篇為動畫,但完全沒有過時的感覺。富奸天馬行空的想像力,在不受少年漫畫的公式限制下,像萬花筒般不停為觀眾帶出驚喜。不得不佩服富奸扭橋的創意,出乎意料之外的計中計中計,不出章出牌玩轉常理之餘,還能夠讓觀眾到最後彷然大悟,呀的一聲叫好,還說原來是這樣為什麼我沒有想到。

動畫版只有十三話,收錄了原作的大部份的內容。每集也是獨立單完,有點無頭無尾,不過原著也是這個風格。劇情週繞著智商過人,但整天只愛捉弄別人取樂的外星王子,來到地球的故事。富奸的搞笑能力不用置疑,他不是生硬地加插笑料惹發笑,而是通過正常和不正常角色間的互動,用掩眼法故意誤導觀眾錯落產生的錯落,從而構架一個荒謬絕倫的世界,去諷刺我們熟識的現實世界。

每個故事的主題也很特出,有別於其他動畫的表達手法。其中我最喜愛是原色戰隊的故事,一口氣完轉特攝系列和電玩RPG遊戲。外星王子綁架了五個小學生,強迫他們載上變身手帶,原本要他們去對付原本是外星殺手,現在過著隱居生活他們的小學老師。事情發展當然不如王子所願,老師和學生變成十分有人情味的結局。於是王子改變計畫,送他們去RPG遊戲星球救公主打魔王。觀眾一直以為王子把小學生心儀的女同學捉了來當公主,到公主出場時竟然是王子男扮女裝,原全給富奸擺了一道。最後出場的非一般魔王讓觀眾再次吐血,成為史上唯一會反思統治世界的意義的魔王,把打打殺殺的RPG遊戲變為模疑城市般的益智建設遊戲。原色戰隊續篇的故事,他們救了被人口販子販賣的外星人魚,亦同時帶出小學生純真的友誼,故事簡單但十分感人。

很可惜漫畫存貨已差不多全被改篇,剩下來大慨只能夠拍一套ODA。富奸靠「幽白」和「HxH」早已賺夠收山上岸,加上他的老婆是畫「美少女戰士」的武內直子,不知道他以後還會不會再畫漫畫,看來「靈異E接觸」將成為富奸的絕響。

Slaying the Cable Monster: Why HDMI Brands Don’t Matter

I have been keep saying those who buy expensive HDMI cable are idiots and now here is the prove.

By Will Greenwald, May 13 2011, PC Magazine
For the vast majority of HDTV owners, a $5 HDMI cable will provide the same performance as a $100 one.

You’ve probably experienced this when shopping for a new HDTV: A store clerk sidles up and offers to help. He then points you toward the necessary HDMI cables to go with your new television. And they’re expensive. Maybe $60 or $70, sometimes even more than $100 (You could buy a cheap Blu-ray player or a handful of Blu-ray discs for that price!). The clerk then claims that these are special cables. Superior cables. Cables you absolutely need if you want the best possible home theater experience. And the claims are, for the vast majority of home theater users, utter rubbish.

The truth is, for most HDTV setups, there is absolutely no effective difference between a no-name $3 HDMI cable you can order from Amazon.com and a $120 Monster cable you buy at a brick-and-mortar electronics store. We ran five different HDMI cables, ranging in price from less than $5 up to more than $100, through rigorous tests to determine whether there’s any difference in a dirt-cheap cable and one that costs a fortune.

HDMI Basics

The first thing to remember about HDMI is that it is a digital standard. Unlike component video, composite video, S-video, or coaxial cable, HDMI signals don’t gradually degrade, or get fuzzy and lose clarity as the signal fades or interference grows. For digital signals like HDMI, as long as there is enough data for the receiver to put together a picture, it will form. If there isn’t, it will just drop off. While processing artifacts can occur and gaps in the signal can cause blocky effects or screen blanking, generally an HDMI signal will display whenever the signal successfully reaches the receiver. Claims that more expensive cables put forth greater video or audio fidelity are nonsense; it’s like saying you can get better-looking YouTube videos on your laptop by buying more expensive Ethernet cables. From a technical standpoint, it simply doesn’t make sense.

This doesn’t mean that all HDMI cables are created equal in all cases. HDMI includes multiple specifications detailing standards of bandwidth and the capabilities of the cable.

The current HDMI specification, version 1.4a, requires all compliant cables to support 3D video, 4K resolution (approximately 4000-by-2000-pixel resolution, or about four times the detail of the current HD standard of 1080p), Ethernet data transmissions, and audio return channels. Each of these features requires more bandwidth, and considerably older HDMI cables (and all older HDMI-equipped devices) rated at HDMI 1.3b or lower can’t handle that much bandwidth. For most users, 3D is the only feature they’ll use. Ethernet over HDMI is used mostly for networking devices instead ofconnecting viapure Ethernet or Wi-Fi (the methods most consumer electronics products use). Audio return channels are only useful in certain situations with dedicated sound systems (and the same task can be accomplished by running an audio cable to the system). And there aren’t currently any consumer-grade displays or playback devices capable of handling 4Kresolutions (the least-expensive 4K projector you’ll find is more than $75,000). In all of these cases, it’s a yes or no question: does it support these features? There is no question of clarity or superior signal.

That said, there are cases where higher quality cables and going to lengths to maintain signal quality are important. They just aren’t cases that apply for most HDTV owners. If you’re going to run an HDMI cable for lengths longer than 10 feet, you should be concerned about insulation to protect against signal degradation. It’s not an issue for 6-foot lengths of cable, but as the distance between media device and display increases, signal quality decreases and the more susceptible the signal becomes to magnetic interference. In fact, for distances of over 30 feet, the HDMI licensing board recommends either using a signal amplifier or considering an alternate solution, like an HDMI-over-Ethernet converter. When you’re running up against the maximum length, the greater insulation and build quality of more expensive cables can potentially improve the stability of your signal. However, if there’s a 30-foot gap between your Blu-ray player and your HDTV, you might want to rearrange some furniture. Or just use a technology designed for long distances.

The second thing to know about HDMI cables is that they are almost always expensive when you buy them at brick-and-mortar stores. If you walk into a Best Buy or Radio Shack, you can expect to pay at least $40 for a 6-foot HDMI cable. Even at discount stores like Wal-Mart and Target, the cheapest, most generic HDMI cables retail for $15 and more. Online, you’ll do a lot better on prices. Amazon.com and Monoprice.com (the “ancient custom installer’s secret”) slash even Wal-Mart’s HDMI cable prices into tiny bits. Both sites sell several models of HDMI cables for as little as $1.50. These are generally generic HDMI cables, or seldom-heard-of brands, but they work just fine for most HDTV users. We can be certain of this, because we tested them in the PCMag Labs.

Testing the Cables

We tested five cables including Monster Cable’s 1200 Higher Definition Experience Pack, a combination HDMI/Ethernet bundle that lists for $119.95 but we found for $79.95 at Amazon.com, the Monster Cable HDMI 500HD High Speed Cable ($59.95 list, we got it at Amazon for $52.62), the Spider International E-HDMI-0006 E-Series Super High Speed HDMI with Ethernet cable ($64.99 list price and a $45.29 Amazon price), the Cables Unlimited 6-Foot HDMI Male to Male Cable (PCM-2295-06) that Amazon carries for $3.19, and an unbranded, OEM cable from Monoprice that was shipped in a Belkin bag but doesn’t match any of the company’s own HDMI cables (and retails for $3.28, or $2.78 if you buy 50 cables or more).

We’ve left out some of the more lavishly expensive HDMI cables, like the AudioQuest series of HDMI cables, because they retail for nearly $700. Unless those cables can let me eat the food I see on the Food Network, they’re not worth the price of an actual HDTV.

Based purely on the cables’ specs, Monster Cable’s HDMI cables are superior. Of course, that’s because Monster Cable is the only company of the four to offer any notable specifications. Spider International and Cables Unlimited offered very little information in the way of the cables, and the generic cable had no specifications besides it being 28 AWG (American Wire Gauge), a number that simply references the width of the wire used in the cable (28 AWG is a standard measurement, though some cables can be slightly thicker at 26 or 24 AWG). HDMI standards require that all HDMI 1.4 cables be able to handle a bandwidth of 10.2 gigabits per second (Gbps). The Monster Blu-Ray 1200 Higher Definition Experience Pack has a rated speed of 17.8 Gbps. Again, what really matters is whether the cable is HDMI-1.4-compliant, and it can support the necessary features mentioned above. The higher bandwidth doesn’t matter for HDTV signals. It might make a difference with 4K-video, but since HDTVs currently top out at 1080p, that point is moot.

As long as the cable is HDMI-1.4 compliant and it can hit 10.2 Gbps, which is will if it’s 1.4-compliant, it will do the trick. Also, we couldn’t find a cable that wasn’t 1.4-compliant, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

For consistency, we used only 6-foot or 2-meter (6.6-foot) cables to ensure that cable length didn’t affect the results of the tests. We paired a Sony Bravia KDL-46EX720 3D HDTV with an LG BD670 Blu-ray player for all tests. The television was set to standard, default image settings, and the Blu-ray player was set to output only a 1080p video signal. We put the cables through three different tests: a technical quality evaluation, a blind video test, and a 3D-support test.

For the technical quality evaluation, we used the HQV video benchmark Blu-ray Disc. For each cable, we ran through the gamut of HQV video tests, which checks video for numerous image processing, frame-rate synchronization, and color-correction capabilities. The tests include numerous patterns and animations to expose possible display problems. All five cables passed HQV’s tests with flying colors, with a single exception, which was consistent across all of them (and thus more likely a flaw of either the HDTV or the Blu-ray player): 2:2 film pull-down looked a bit jerky, a minor issue that doesn’t affect the cables individual performance.

The blind video test involved the assistance of five volunteers in the PCMag Lab. They were shown the same scene from Predators on Blu-ray with different cables. They were not told which cable was which until the end of the test. No one saw any appreciable difference between the $3 cables and the $120 cable, or any of the cables in between. However, we did notice a curious phenomenon: the screen appeared slightly darker and a bit more saturated when connected to the Blu-ray player with the Monster Cable 1200 High Definition Experience Pack cable. The HDTV showed that it was receiving the same 12-bit color depth information through each cable, so the more-expensive Monster cable wasn’t pushing through more color detail. Again, the difference was minimal, and could be corrected by calibrating your HDTV.

Finally, we loaded the 3D Avatar Blu-ray to check that the cables could handle an HDMI 1.4 standard feature: 3D content. Again, every cable, including the cheap $3 cable, carried a 3D video feed to the HDTV easily.

If you’re like the vast majority of HDTV users and have a fairly simple setup that isn’t spread across a large area, there is absolutely no reason to spend more than $10 on an HDMI cable, never mind more than $100 on one. Any possible benefit that could come from an over-engineered, overpriced HDMI cable simply won’t show up in your home theater. If you’re running a 4K projector, or have a 25-foot hallway between your Blu-ray player and HDTV, or want to show off how big your home theater budget is, that’s one thing. If you just want to hook up your Blu-ray player, cable box, or video game system to your HDTV, bypass the big stores and big brands and reach into the Web bargain bin. Then use the money you saveto buy more electronics that need to be connected to one another.

Liar’s Poker – Michael Lewis

早陣子和一個轉行不當工程師,跑去讀MBA入投資銀行賺大錢的舊同事吃飯,很自然聊起早兩年金融海嘯。當全世界也一至認為貪得無厭的金融行業,是海嘯的元兇,我的朋友身為局內人,卻持相反的意見。他認為政府只看選票的短視經濟政策,和盲目追逐利潤的投資者,才是真正的元兇,金融行業只不過是過水濕腳的中間人,時勢造英雄讓他們賺大錢。儘管我不同意他的觀點,但與他談話很有啟發性,亦引證了Liar’s Poker一書的可信性。

這本書雖然二十年前出版,但現在看也完全沒有過時的感覺,大慨金融行業中人性貪婪是恆古常理。據聞此書是華爾街MBA人手執一本的求生指南天書。這本書的作者本身也是個傳奇人物,英國名校MBA畢業,入職投資銀行Salomon Brothers,不知怎樣有金融才俊不做,轉行跑去當記者。他的研究報導改變了整個美國職棒界,他的書更屢獲新聞大獎,長期入選紐約時報暢銷書排行榜。Liar’s Poker是他的第一本著作,半自傳式的記錄了他在投行工作那幾年間的所見所聞。

Liar‘s Poker是華爾街流行的賭博遊戲,與我們去卡拉OK玩的大話骰玩法相似,分別只是估從口袋隨手抽張一元美金上鈔票編號上的數字。或許這個遊戲便是整個華爾街的縮影,金融行業只是一班人在比賽膽色的賭錢遊戲。這本書大約分為三個剖份,第一部份寫作者初入行到紐約接受培訓的經歷,他以風趣的文筆,加插幽默的趣聞逸事,把華爾街這個弱肉強食的森林世界,銀行家目空無人自大狂的性格,活露活現地描寫出來。想入職金融行業,面試時千萬別說投身這行業是想賺很多錢,儘管這是每一個金融行業中人入行的真正理由。投資銀行以業績論英雄,誰能夠為公司賺錢,誰便有權有勢,在公司內可以橫行無忌。

第二部份可說是全書最精彩的部份,講述投行Salomon Brothers的興衰史,從如何發明並壟斷按揭債卷市場,躍身成為華爾街最大投資銀行。又因為分花紅孤寒縮數,把懂得操控按揭的債卷經紀迫走去競爭對手,一手摧毀自已的市場壟斷地位。書中有很多曾經吒咤一時的名字,Ranieri從信差到紅褲子經紀的出身,一路爬到按揭債卷部總裁是個傳奇故事,而按揭債卷市場的興起更是完全出人意料。Ranieri測期按揭債卷會是個大市場的原因完全不兌現,但市場卻因為美國政府的減稅政策憑空創造出來。二十年後的次按危機,其起源可以說直接追溯至Salomon Brothers當日發明的按揭債卷。

第三部份作者受訓完畢,回倫到敦新丁上班,一直到作者離開金融業為止。從入職最初給高級經理當雜役無異,到學懂在交易場上的生存之道,在追求盈利不擇手段的環境下,投行把當顧客是水魚,互相搶奪同事間的功勞,彷彿是天經地義的事情。雖然作者也不是完全很有商業道德,書中記錄他幾場投資戰記,與其說他眼光準確,不如說他政治權力手段高明,加上有點運氣市場之神站在他那邊,才可以安然渡過升為Big Swinging Dick,交易場上的大碌炮。後來Salomon Brothers連翻投資錯誤,錯過企業垃圾債卷的機會,在錯誤時機把按揭債卷的本金和利息分拆出售,一夜間差不多蝕光所有,作者亦退出金融業,書中的故事便到此唯止。

書中最後一章,作者反思自已離職的決定,質疑整個金融行業的存在意思。試問天下間有那一行,可以讓二十多歲的年輕人,從大學畢業還不過兩年,便每年賺取過百萬美元的收入。而且他的賺錢能力,也不知有多少是基於實際的知識和能力,又有多少是純萃運氣的成份。金融行業只是金錢流動的中間人,他們的工作對社會又有多少貢獻可言,值得收取這巨額的費用嗎?