My SNES troubleshooting workflow for “black screen of death” systems

SPOILER ALERT: They ALL have dead CPUs.

SPOILER ALERT: They ALL have dead CPUs.

I have dozens of these black screen systems. I have a basic flowchart for troubleshooting all SNESes in my head. It’s simple and progresses from the easiest fixes to the most difficult. But I’ll spoil it and reveal ahead of time that they almost all have dead CPUs that need to be replaced. It’s never the easy stuff.

The first steps are disassembly and cleaning the housing. Of course, the latter doesn’t fix anything, but time is money, and by cleaning the housing first I can leave it to dry while I work on the motherboard itself.

Step one is to clean the cartridge slot with a toothbrush and 91% alcohol. 99% is better but it’s more expensive and harder to find. 91% is good enough. Most folks recommend wrapping a credit card in a cloth, dipping it in alcohol, and then inserting and removing it repeatedly to clean the cartridge slot, but I’ve never understood this method at all. I don’t understand how that could possibly be very effective. A toothbrush seems like the obvious answer to me. For one thing, with the credit card and cloth method you’re only cleaning the removable top part of the connector, which is completely pointless if you don’t also clean the pins beneath it that are soldered directly to the board. For RGB, APU, and 1CHIP models I suppose the credit card method may be all right, since you can’t just lift the connector off on those. But a toothbrush just seems like a far better method to me. You need to use serious elbow grease when cleaning these things, and there’s no way to put the kind of force necessary behind your scrubbing if you’re just using a credit card wrapped in cloth.

Of course, rather than clean it, it’s faster to just grab a known working cartridge slot connector to test the system quickly. Keeping one handy saves time.

It's pointless only cleaning the removable top part of the cartridge connector if you don't also clean beneath. How would you possibly clean a system like this with the credit card method?

It’s pointless only cleaning the removable top part of the cartridge connector if you don’t also clean beneath. How on earth could you possibly clean a system like this with just the credit card method?

Cleaning beneath the connector is very important. If someone spilled something on the console long ago, you have to consider where gravity would have taken it. Soda spilled on top of the console wouldn’t have just sat on the top removable piece of the connector for all those years, so it’s rare to find much corrosion on the removable part. Any liquid spilled on top of the system would have run down through the connector and settled on the pins beneath. That’s why you tend to find rust and corrosion on these pins. Sometimes they look all green, like the Statue of Liberty. I scrub these with a brass brush to remove any corrosion, then clean them off with a different toothbrush and some cotton swabs. Deoxit is also good to use here.

Knowing how gravity works allows you to predict this before you even fully disassemble the console.

Knowing how gravity works means this kind of result is predictable.

At this point you can test the system. If it works, great. You’re done. But the premise here is that these simple things usually don’t work. Most consoles don’t have so much corrosion, so, while cleaning is always a good idea for sanitary reasons, it rarely actually fixes anything. Ordinary dust and dirt won’t stop the console from reading games. So let’s move on to the next step in my flowchart.

If you hold the reset button on a working console while powering it on with a game inserted, you get a black screen until you release the button. The idea here is that if the reset button is very dirty (again, think spilled soda) then it can be stuck in the activated position, causing the same symptoms as if it were actually being held down. I’ve never actually seen this personally, but it’s an explanation that makes a lot of sense to me, so it has a place in my flowchart and I always first try cleaning the reset button with a toothbrush and a bit of alcohol. If it seems sticky I temporarily desolder and remove it just for testing. It never turns out to be the culprit, but it’s pretty quick to remove so it’s not much of a waste of time.

C62 and the reset button.

C62 and the reset button.

C62 is a small 2.2µF capacitor right above the CIC chip, near the reset button. I’m told that if this is bad it has basically the same effect as holding the reset button down, resulting in a black screen on all games. Again, I’ve never actually come across a system where this had happened, but it’s an easy thing to replace, so I sometimes try replacing it if it looks funny. It has never fixed anything for me though.

I’ve seen this next thing once and only once. Since it happened once though, it does have a place in my flowchart, since I suppose I could come across it again.

I flip the board upside down and do a visual and tactile check of the solder joints on the bottom of the cartridge slot. When I say “tactile” what I really mean is that I press on them one at a time with my fingers to see if they’re cracked. It doesn’t hurt to quickly reflow them all. It almost never fixes anything, but it can help you eliminate the cartridge slot completely as a possibility. If you are an insane person you can get a multimeter, connect the top removable connector, and then check each pin on the bottom of the board for continuity with the corresponding pin inside the removable connector. This is a colossal waste of time though and you should only do this if you are a masochist. Even with a third hand tool, you’ll nudge the board constantly, your hand will slip, you’ll drop one of the probes, you’ll lose count of which pin you were at and have to start over and you will want to off yourself in no time. Besides, you really don’t need to test. It’s never the cartridge slot that causes these issues. When it comes to the cartridge slot, if everything looks good, it is good. The one time I had a system where this sort of thing was an issue, the solder joint was so badly cracked on the underside of the board I could wiggle it with my finger. If something is wrong it will be obvious.

Next is to check for broken traces. There are no shortcuts here. You just need a jeweler’s loupe and a lot of time on your hands. What I’ve learned from experience though is that you shouldn’t waste your time on this step unless you have good reason to suspect there will, in fact, be some broken traces. Basically that means if you have a system that had liquid damage or was in a very damp, wet, humid, or dirty environment you may want to spend some time looking at it carefully under magnification. So if you open it up and find lots of rust or dead bugs, it may actually have some broken traces. But if you open it and it’s nice and clean, don’t waste your time. Unless, of course, someone else worked on it prior to you. If that’s the case, you should absolutely check for broken traces, scratches, lifted solder pads, and that sort of thing, since you never know what the last guy may have done to it.

If the system is an SHVC model, yes, you can try swapping out the sound module. Some games will give a black screen if the sound module is disconnected or bad. But many games actually load to the first screen and freeze when the sound module is bad or disconnected, so if you’re using a game like that and you get a black screen, don’t waste your time, since it’s not the sound module. An Everdrive will load and display the contents of your SD card even with a bad/disconnected sound module. If you try to run a ROM, it’ll freeze.

An Everdrive, by the way, is something that can be very helpful when you’re not quite sure of the extent of the problem. Some systems may give a black screen on most games, but display garbled graphics on another. Still others give a black screen on 9 out of 10 games but might play one specific game just fine. Those consoles may have hope. To help understand the extent of the problem a bit better I see if it’ll read an Everdrive. If it reads the Everdrive and loads the burn-in test rom, I run it and see what it says. These black screen systems may not read any retail games, but sometimes they do read the Everdrive, though it doesn’t always actually load up fully. It often crashes when trying to display the contents of the SD card. But if it does load and I can get the burn-in test rom to run, it usually is very straightforward and simply says, “CPU —— FAIL”. That’s about as clear-cut an answer as it gets. Almost all the failures are CPU-related, but occasionally you do see some VRAM problems. Those are nice since you can easily grab the VRAM from another console. There’s also plenty of space between the pins so soldering them in is easy. But I’ve only seen bad VRAM two or three times and those had all been worked on previously. I don’t think the VRAM is typically prone to failure. Normally it’s a CPU problem.

At this point the only thing left is to replace the CPU. That’s not as hard as it sounds if you have hot air rework equipment. It’s very easy to remove the old CPU, but you do need to be moderately good at soldering to put in the new one. I usually end up with a few solder bridges at the end that need to be fixed. The hardest part though is locating a good CPU. The reason I have dozens of dead black screen SNES boards is because I have no good CPUs to put in them. Most, I’m sure, would work fine with a new CPU, but the trouble is that there’s nowhere to get them. I found a few IC dealers online that claim to have a small quantity in stock, but they are asking such high prices it would actually be cheaper to buy working SNES consoles for the CPUs than to buy from those bloodsuckers. When I get really badly water-damaged or otherwise screwed-up boards I take the CPUs. Sometimes they’re bad, too. But occasionally they’re good and I can revive one dead system from my stack. It always feels good. Plus I end up producing some unique SNES consoles like 1990 SHVC boards equipped with the later (and much more resilient) “S-CPU B”, which was normally only found in the GPM-02, RGB, and APU motherboard revisions.

Don't worry. I didn't cannibalize a working RGB board. It had been eaten up by roaches and was totally beyond repair with broken traces all over and the solder mask peeling up on the back.

Don’t worry. I didn’t cannibalize a working RGB board. It had been eaten up by roaches and was totally beyond repair with lots of broken traces and the solder mask peeling up all over the place.

Quick and easy fix for a Super Nintendo suffering from “black screen of death”

DSCF7636 - Copy

One of the most common problems people seem to have with Super Nintendo consoles is they find that the console powers on but only displays a black screen with no audio, even with known good games. I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience repairing Super Nintendos, but it is something I do occasionally for fun and because I find that I usually learn something in the process. I generally stay clear of consoles with this type of problem though, since it could be caused by just about anything. Determining the exact cause can be next to impossible. Normally these boards look perfectly fine visually, so figuring out where there’s a broken trace can take forever. They’re usually not worth repairing. Sometimes, however, you get lucky and there’s something very obviously wrong that you can see visually. It still may take some careful inspection with a magnifying glass, but if there are any signs of corrosion or other damage, it’s always worth trying to fix it, even if it doesn’t look that bad visually or strike you as something that’s likely to be the cause of your problem.

You can see here I've put down a bit of solder along a trace running near U15. This trace had a lot of corrosion on it and appeared broken visually. It is so tiny that, rather than fix it with a wire, I just lay down a bit of solder along the broken length of it to repair it. In the end I determined that it was not, in fact, the cause of the problem

You can see here I’ve put down a bit of solder along a trace running near U15. This trace had been broken due to corrosion, but it was so tiny that, rather than fix it with a wire, I just lay down a bit of solder along the broken length of it to repair the problem.

I wish I had taken a photo prior to the repair, but the opening photo up above shows the area where I found damage on this GPM-02 board. There are two audio RAM chips in the opening photo. U15, shown here to the left, is the one where there was a problem. Pin 12 of U15 had a bit of corrosion on it. I checked for continuity between it and the via it was going to and the connection was not totally broken, but it wasn’t exactly sound, either. If I fiddled with the multimeter probes I would get continuity, but it wasn’t consistent. Something told me to try using a wire to connect pin 12 directly to that via, just to see if it would help things. I put a bit of flux in the via, insert the tinned end of a small wire into it, crossed my fingers, and hoped that the solder would flow into the via and secure the tip of the wire in place. Fortunately it worked out as I had hoped and I was able to solder the other end of the wire to pin 12.

Without really thinking there would be any improvement, I went ahead and tested the console. To my surprise my test game worked fine. I then tested with about a dozen other games and they all worked. I was very surprised that this broken trace would cause a black screen for all games. Since mostly audio-related stuff goes on in this area of the board, I would have expected that symptoms of this type of damage might have been games playing but without any audio.

It's not pretty, but it works.

It’s not pretty, but it works.

In the end, I’m not sure if the damaged trace running near U15 actually had anything to do with the black screen problem. It was the first thing I noticed though when I opened the console, so I thought scraping away the corrosion and patching it was worth a shot. Fixing it alone didn’t solve the black screen problem though. Before reassembling I tested the console without the wire from pin 12 to the corresponding via and was able to reproduce the black screen problem, so a bad connection to/from pin 12 was clearly responsible for the issue. The other damaged trace may not have even been bad enough in the first place to cause a problem.

Though it looks pretty sloppy, when reassembling the console I simply placed a bit of electrical tape over the blobby length of solder on the patched trace. The console has been working fine for some weeks now, so it seems nothing is shorting.

I bought this (almost) brand new 40 inch LCD TV for $78

I've had this Coby TFTV4028 TV for a few months now.

I’ve had this Coby TFTV4028 TV for a few months now.

Sometimes gambling on those “parts or not working” eBay auctions pays off. The damnedest thing is that, from what I gather, this was a store return. It’s still under warranty though, which means that even if it were broken, the original owner should have been able to get it repaired or replaced for free. He or she would have had no reason to sell it.

There’s not a single scratch on the screen at all. The only cosmetic imperfection is a scuff on the lower left corner of the bezel.

The TV does have an iffy power supply. It sometimes won’t come out of standby mode. If I take the back off the TV, unplug the motherboard from the power supply for a few seconds, and then plug it back in it usually starts working again and will last for weeks or longer as long as I leave the TV plugged in and don’t have any electrical outages. If it loses electricity for even a second, it’s likely to get stuck in standby mode again and I either have to leave it unplugged from the wall for anywhere from several hours to several days or unplug the motherboard from the power supply again to get it work. It’s not much of a problem though since I don’t plan on moving/unplugging it any time soon.

People should really erase their tablets before selling them (p.s. I have a Kindle Fire now and you don’t so ha-ha)

What a waste of an e-reader.

What a waste of an e-reader.

Note that I actually wrote this thing in late October 2012 and forgot to post it after, you know, getting my ass handed to me by Sandy. I checked my records and it looks like October 22nd was the day I got the Kindle Fire. That means I had a grand total of 7 glorious days to play with it.

I’m perpetually a generation behind. As is my wont, I went ahead and purchased a Kindle Fire the other day, shortly after reading about it’s successor, the new Kindle Fire HD. I have a Nook Color on which I run Cyanogenmod 7 and love it, but I found a good deal on a Kindle Fire listed as “bad battery” on eBay. Well, it turns out the USB port is the problem, not the battery. The USB port must be coming loose from the mainboard because it won’t charge unless it’s held in a certain position. Presumably this is why the seller took it to be a bad battery.

In any case, though I deny all accusations of being a stalker, I do enjoy the sort of voyeurism purchasers of used tablets are given opportunity to enjoy. The previous owner of the last tablet I bought seemed to use the device for nothing other than logging into his profiles at multiple online dating sites. Other than a few shirtless pictures of what I presumed to be him taken in front of a mirror using the built-in camera, there were hardly any multimedia files on the device at all. I checked the man’s email (which he had neglected to log out of) and found that he used it for nothing other than dating sites. He had even received via email nude pictures from a few ladies. He left himself logged into Facebook, too. I had a look at some of his friends’ profiles but got bored quickly. There weren’t any naughty or incriminating pics. Nonetheless, there was enough information available to me so that I could have found out where his house was and gone to kill or burglarize him had I had the mind to.

So it’s a fun thing to do, snooping through the stuff left on pre-owned devices, that is, not killing people. Of course, I always restore to factory settings after getting bored perusing the previous owner’s emails and other personal information and it should go without saying that I’d never actually reveal information that could be used to personally identify the previous owner or take advantage of it, since I’m an ethical sort of person. But I certainly could, if the mood struck me.

It’s both funny and a bit frightening that people don’t take the precaution of removing personal information from devices before selling them or giving them away. Sometimes it’s understandable, such as in the case of tablets with cracked screens. But other times, such as with this Kindle Fire or the shirtless man whose email I was able to read, there’s no explanation other than carelessness. On the other hand, most people, I would hope, even if given the opportunity to log into the previous owner’s online accounts, would take the high road and refrain from doing anything naughty, instead simply chuckling privately at the previous owner’s quirks and vices and then promptly wiping the device.

Pages and pages of novelty apps.

Pages and pages of novelty apps.

When you buy something like a Kindle Fire, you expect there to be some books on it. My generation 3 Kindle keyboard had lots of books on it when I got it, including Fifty Shades of Grey. Incidentally, an e-book reader is the best way to read a book you’re too embarrassed to be seen with. This Kindle Fire is well-used yet there’s not a single book on it. The reason I know it’s well-used is because of all the non-book shit left on it. There’s several hundred megabytes of useless apps on here. There’s a baby adoption app, ice cream shop simulator, daily joke, truth or dare, child lie detector, and something called “Fake iPad” which, when opened, simply throws up an image of an iOS screen to make your tablet look like an iPad. There are pages and pages of apps like this. Almost none of them do anything useful.

Out of the countless apps on the device, there are only a few that I would ever consider choosing to reinstall after I restore this device to factory settings and register it to myself. Pandora radio is one of them. Christmas is coming and I refuse to buy an entire album just to annoy my family with Wham’s “Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)”. The previous owner and I differ in our taste in music though. I opened up the Pandora app (which logged me into her account automatically) and the sounds of ‘Lil Wayne immediately spread through the entire apartment because the previous owner had left the volume set to maximum. This, by the way, was my first opportunity to listen to the speakers of the Kindle Fire which, I was pleased to learn, are incredibly loud and clear. I’m not an audiophile by any means and don’t know the first thing about speakers so I’m not speaking from a technical perspective, but from a practical one there’s no question that they’re much better and significantly louder than the speakers in my Velocity Cruz PS47, T301, or Nook Color. Heck, they’re actually a lot louder than the speakers in my Acer laptop, although part of that problem is a less-than-ideal driver implementation in my OS. After being blown away by the volume of the speakers I tapped the back arrow in the Pandora app to see if there were any other stations that the previous owner had created. There were seven or eight others featuring artists I’d never heard of. There was one with a name that I did recognize though and that was the Justin Bieber station.

The previous owner's Pandora radio stations.

The previous owner’s Pandora radio stations.

It’s not exactly my intention to ridicule (although that is always fun), but I can’t help but find it peculiar that someone would buy a Kindle Fire just to listen to Justin Bieber and play the ice cream shop simulator app. The previous owner was still logged into so I decided to check her recommendations. Interestingly, as far as I could tell she had never purchased physical goods from Amazon. She had purchased dozens and dozens of apps and had lots of recommended apps, but no matter which category of physical goods I clicked on — even music — Amazon reported that they had no recommendations, which is most likely because the previous owner never actually bought anything other than digital goods.

Of course, on the one hand I am very much a believer that every person ought to spend his or her money and time as he or she likes, particularly if it doesn’t harm anybody else. So it’s fine with me if someone wants to buy a Kindle Fire and never read a single book or periodical on it. It just seems to me though that if the chief reason you’re buying the tablet is to kill time with apps and listen to music, then why buy one marketed as an e-reader that lacks access to the ordinary Google Play store and costs $199?

Meh, probably the same reason I need four tablets and an e-ink Kindle.

I’ve been very lucky in iSRO this week

These are just a few of the prizes I got in the White Day event.

I barely played at all, to tell the truth, and I still ended up getting some fabulous prizes. The last one is from SRO-R. Of course, I’m happy about it since I’m the one who benefits, but it’s quite obvious that the ease with which these items can be acquired will be ruinous for the game economy. It really ought to take a lifetime of grinding and alchemy, not to mention massive amounts of real currency, to be able to obtain these Seal of Nova and “Rare” items. Yet a person like me, who had barely played in the last year, was able to get those items using a brand new character that I hadn’t even been botting very much with. Case in point: I bought a level 101 “Rare” earring from a guy for 150k gold. That’s how flooded the market is with Seal of Nova and “rare” items; people will sell them for less than the price of a single star level 35-50 Dimension Hole.

Ruined though the economy may be, it was to my great advantage, especially since my character is a newly created one. I once again am reminded of my theory that the bad luck I used to have in SRO was due to some sort of invisible “luck” factor built into the game, one that is assigned to each character upon creation and never changes. Not that I really believe there is a hidden “luck” statistic, but I did play legitimately without botting from level 1 to 80 during cap 80 and it is true that I never once got an SOS drop or even a +5 drop. Yet, in the space of several days of light botting (not even 24/7), my character got these:

As though that wasn’t enough good luck, the new equipment exchange system is worth mentioning. I haven’t seen too much written about this yet, which surprises me because it strikes me as one of the biggest game-ruining updates ever implemented, dwarfed in imprudence perhaps only by the elimination of the triangular trade system. The idea of the exchange system is that if you have, say, a level 56 sword and you need a level 56 blade you can go to the Magic Pop NPC in any city and exchange the sword for a blade or any other Chinese weapon of equal level with randomized stats. You pay a small fee in gold for the exchange. The key phrase here is randomized stats. This isn’t random in the same sense that the alchemy success rate is “randomized” to never, ever work when you most need it to. No, it’s “randomized” in a good way. Say your sword has shit stats, no blues, and is +0. You might get a +5 blade with full blues and superb stats in exchange. All it’ll cost you is a very modest fee in gold. Here are some items I got today with my new character by exchanging equipment with no bonuses on them at all:

I don’t know if the best part about all this is

    a) that you can buy an item from the NPC and “exchange” it for a superior item of equivalent level or
    a) that you can “exchange” an item into something else and then “exchange” the resultant item back into the original type of equipment

The latter requires a teensy bit of elaboration. Let’s say you use blades and have a level 52 blade with garbage stats. You have no money or patience for alchemy to fix the stats on the blade. As long as you have at least a little bit of gold you can exchange it for some other weapon and then exchange that weapon back into a blade. There is a good chance the resulting blade will have better stats than it did when you started the process. If it doesn’t, you can just keep repeating this exchange loop, as it were, until you get a blade with stats that you can be satisfied with.

The fee is not enough to discourage gaming the system like this. I can’t remember the exact fees, but for low degree stuff the fee was only four digits. For the 8th degree staff it was around 250k or thereabouts. It’s highly affordable and less of a gamble than you might imagine. I didn’t go through the loop more than three times on any of those items, if I recall correctly.

Once again, this change to the game gives some instant gratification and I’ll even admit I did momentarily feel like posting a global chat message proclaiming my overflowing love for Joymax when I realised how I could take advantage of it, but, just like the White Day event, it takes one of the meaningful challenges out of the game while leaving untouched the most injurious of the game’s many flaws which is the amount of time it takes to level up. Planning ahead was one of the things that made SRO great. You could never be certain that you’d be able to find equipment mid-degree. By this I mean that, while you could always be sure in the knowledge that, in a pinch, you could buy NPC equipment, you couldn’t buy equipment after the first item for each degree from NPCs. So if you were level 52, you needed to start thinking about buying your level 56 and 60 weapons because, though you could buy the level 52 weapon from the NPC, you had to buy the latter two from actual human players via a stall or direct exchange. The same was true for equipment. The stall network made it easier to find the second and third tier items for each degree but didn’t actually do anything to reduce the scarcity of them. The exchange system, on the other hand, actually reduces that scarcity and makes it easy to create out of thin air equipment that cannot be purchased from the NPCs. This reduces the importance of long term planning and will surely precipitate a sharp fall in the prices of most non-SoX equipment and perhaps even elixirs.

Having said that, I should really quit biting the hand that feeds me. I will exploit the exchange system to the fullest. It’s not a bug, so I can’t be banned for it. I just can’t help but wonder if Joymax realised when they implemented it how generous they were being.

The most incredible episode in my series of good luck, however, must be the following:

I’m telling the truth when I say that I only started playing again in mid-March. I went to the Forgotten World a total of three times since I started playing and, as is my wont, only went to the first treasure box. I got Spell Paper on my first run, Red Tears on the second, and Elder Staff on the third. I’m now in the peculiar situation of having the two most sought-after talismans but nonetheless being unable to finish the quest for lack of a Puppet, which is not all that rare of a talisman. Yet in the entire stall network there has not been a single puppet since this morning, when I got the Elder Staff. I suppose I’ll just try to get one myself since I’m only level 56 and have no need to finish the quest just yet. I can’t wait to one-hit mobs in DW stone cave with my SoSun staff!

Trinkets, odds and ends. That sort of thing.

Lisbet is my most beloved Ukrainian cannibal of all time, standing heads and shoulders above her compatriots.

It’s fun seeing what else the people who buy my items on eBay are purchasing. As I’ve admitted before, I really enjoy watching the TV show Hoarders because mocking these people who are tens of thousands of dollars in debt from compulsive shopping who live in filth and have to shit in buckets behind their homes because a plumber cannot physically fit into the bathroom to get the sink, shower, and toilet working again makes me feel better about my own minor foibles.

Of course, the one question that’s always on my mind as I laugh at these basketcases is where they get all this stuff. I always wonder if the people buying the old books I occasionally sell are like the people on that show. Sometimes I find evidence that they are.

I’m not proud of the fact that I sometimes look at the purchase history of my buyers, but I’m sure others do the same. People know that others can view their feedback profiles and they also must know that each feedback entry, save for private listings, has a link to the item for which the feedback is for. That’s why I never buy stuff that could later come back to haunt me on eBay. That’s what proxy services are for.

I wouldn’t be so interested in looking at purchase histories if it weren’t for the fact that the books I’m selling are such garbage. There are kid’s books, very old textbooks that are surely outdated and nearly useless (eg. a book on Photoshop from 2000), school books, detective novels, movie scripts, and occasionally some old game-related books.

As it turns out, at least some of the people buying my items buy other garbage as well. Here’s a case history of my most recent customer, who bought a kid’s book from me:

  • a vintage hobo-shaped pin complete with bindle
  • an army strongbox for storing documents
  • a toy treasure chest for storing cash
  • a custom made motorcycle tag
  • several motorcycle-shaped pins
  • several motorcycle themed stickers and other ornaments
  • a snowflake-shaped cookie cutter
  • egg-shaped novelty salt and pepper shaker set
  • a pumpkin-shaped pie mould
  • an apple-shaped pie mould
  • 2 moon-shaped pins
  • 3 candles shaped like little girls
  • a pendant souvenir from the book/movie Eragon
  • numerous vintage postcards
  • another novelty cookie cutter set
  • a cookie recipe
  • a green, plastic, St. Patrick’s Day themed wreath
  • a pig figurine
  • various china dresses like China-san’s from Spirit of Wonder
  • motorcycle themed temporary tattoos
  • a novelty drinking glass with dancers painted on it

This is all from February. In all fairness, it is a leap year, but even so, that’s far more rubbish than I would purchase in any given month. Not that I’m complaining, since, without this sort of person, I wouldn’t be selling my books filled with scribbles and underlining and, of course, a person with my profligate spending tendencies is really in no position to preach. Nonetheless, I genuinely find it entertaining seeing what interesting folks like this customer are buying.

I hate how expensive R2J DVDs are

I like Shoukoushi Cedie very much, which was surprising to me since I usually don't go for family-oriented shows unless a cute orphan girl is the protagonist, which, as it turns out, is the case often enough that I actually end up watching such shows frequently. Cedie proves though that it's not just traps and ludicrously optimistic orphan girls bereft of their parents by whom I can be moesaserareta.

Because I’m not an encoder I rarely need full DVDs. The only time I do is when good raws are not available. Sometimes I get DVDs that I never watch. Sometimes I’ll get the first disc in a multi-disc series, intending to decide if it’s worth it to get the rest only after watching the beginning. The trouble is that these DVDs sometimes sit around for months or even more than a year before I watch them, by which time the rest of the discs are often unavailable. Sometimes the rest of the discs are never available in the first place, such as with はいからさんが通る and キャンディ・キャンディ, neither of which ever had official Japanese DVD releases as far as I know.

I’ve got the first four discs of Shoukoushi Cedie. A nice bonus about the DVDs are that it’s one of the few series to have Japanese subtitles, which, other than subtitles in your native language, are about the most helpful thing in the world when, like me, you don’t speak the language in which the dialogue is spoken. All DVDs and Blu-ray discs should have subtitles in my opinion. I usually turn the subtitles on when I watch movies or TV shows in English, too. I just prefer being able to confirm what I think I’m hearing by reading it simultaneously. Either that or my English is even worse than I realise it is.

The problem is that I just can’t get the rest of the DVDs. I have similar problems with other shows that I’d like to watch, too. I want to watch 巴里のイザベル but I can’t find any DVDs. I can find it on Amazon, but the only two sellers who ship internationally on there, one with a new copy and one with a used copy, are charging JPY 30000 and 50000, respectively. The series is only 13 episodes. It should be about JPY 2000. Sometimes I see 13 episode series of relatively unpopular shows like this for JPY 500 on Yahoo! Auctions.

I wanted to watch さすらいの少女ネル very badly at one time. I looked at Amazon and saw that the only seller who ships internationally was selling a used copy of the DVD box for JPY 60000. That’s nearly USD 800. This is almost as ridiculous as the price for the Card Captor Sakura special Blu ray box set that came out recently. Yahoo! Auctions is a bit better, but I’ve only seen copies of the show on there a couple of times for JPY 10000 to 20000 and none of the sellers would ship internationally. With a proxy service I’d still be looking at USD 300+ for a lousy DVD of a feel good kids story based on a book I could buy for USD 2. Thankfully ARR released rips. I love ARR.

I was looking for at least two years for a copy of the 野ばらのジュリー DVDs. There’s only four of them. It’s a short series. Someone finally made them available, by the way, but this was another series I had considered buying because it was so rare in digital form. If I had, I’d be out JPY 49000.

These aren’t even World Masterpiece Theatre shows. Those are more expensive. They don’t release DVD boxes that contain the entire series for those shows; they release a “complete version” which condenses the entire series into only a few episodes. These are actually relatively inexpensive, but why would I want them?

One show that I’ve mentioned I really like before is 風の中の少女 金髪のジェニー which is loosely based on Stephen Collins Foster’s childhood and did not, I repeat not, make me drag my morose, inconsolable Sunggie-clad self out of my desk chair, and drape myself in a comforter as I groped about in the dimly lit room for my weeping companion teddy bear Sniffles because he knows the telephone number for the Tennessee Valley Authority. That most certainly did not happen.

I did cry when I saw the price the same Marketplace seller at Amazon who had the above items for sale was charging for the Jeanie DVD boxes: JPY 64000 and 59000 for volumes one and two. That’s 1579 dollars! Of course, nobody will purchase these items. It would be much cheaper to buy from sellers who do not ship internationally and use a shipping proxy in a case like this, but even if I did, I could expect to pay more than 200 dollars. Maybe that’s reasonable for some people, but it’s still too high for to make it practical for me.

There are other shows I want, too. They all cost too much money though. Proxy shipping services are impractical for low value items like DVDs, but I must either use such a service or pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for these DVDs from the few sellers who do ship internationally.

This is one of the ways copyright infringement by duplication via Internet can be rationalized. You may think it’s immoral to duplicate some DVDs without permission and then proceed to enjoy them for free. But then, when you see that it would actually cost around USD 500 for many of these series, some of which are unpopular and short, you may no longer think it so immoral. Shoukoushi Cedie is a Sekai Meisaku Gekijou series and has 10 volumes, each of which are about JPY 3000 for domestic buyers. That’d be JPY 30000 for a domestic buyer. If I used Shopping Mall Japan service I’d pay an additional USD 35 plus various other fees for an order like that, not to mention domestic shipping and international shipping, which is always expensive with Japan Post. On the one hand I understand that international mail needs to be expensive because the transportation, inspection, and other costs are very high for any type of postal system, but I’m used to USPS prices. I can send a book from New York to Guam for USD 3.50 and probably have it arrive in less than a week. 30000 Yen is about 400 dollars, plus 35 dollars, plus a few dollars for domestic shipping, plus about 30 dollars for international shipping, plus a few more dollars for other fees, and you’ve got a pricetag of nearly 500 dollars for used DVDs of a show from the 1980s. When I think of it this way, I can’t really think of duplication of such DVDs as immoral.

I’m happy that exams are over (but I quit anime again)

I'm a winner.

I quit anime again. Initially this was because I figured I’d be playing Skyrim right now but I’ve been embraced by one of my periodic waves of morality and decided that I will buy it instead. In keeping with that decision, however, I’ll now be waiting a year or so until the price decreases.

If I’m not watching anime or playing Skyrim though I have no real reason to keep writing anything. I never have anything interesting to say anyhow. I’m to media consumers as Takeru Kobayashi is to diners. I’m the least discerning viewer out there.

Calling someone a Type B anime viewer can have a pejorative connotation. I once maintained the delusion that I could claim to be a Type A viewer because I count series and films like Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiments Lain, NHK ni Youkoso! and Satoshi Kon movies among my all-time favourites. But I can no longer delude myself about being a Type A viewer when I’ve also seen Okusama wa Joshikousei. I’m not a connoisseur, I’m a garbage disposal.

One of my guilty pleasures is watching Hoarders on television. This is a reality TV show in which camera crews and TV therapists exploit people who suffer from chronic disorganization and clutter in their homes. Some of these people are really hopeless nutcases who pose a danger to themselves and their neighbours, but others are just normal people who have too much junk in their homes. Part of the definition of a “hoarder” that the show employs is that, regardless of the type of item that the patient accumulates, it must be relatively worthless. Occasionally they profile people who do collect valuable items. They’re not hoarders; they’re collectors. I see an analogy between the behaviours of these people and my own omnivorous appetite for pandering, derivative, clichéd shows that rely on preexisting, done to death tropes rather than taking a leap and telling an interesting story.

If it weren’t for FTTH and my lack of ethics, I’d be the ideal consumer. I can easily imagine myself buying any Blu-ray with an attractive cover design, any video game with voice actors I like, and anything associated with a studio that produced a single franchise that I may have once enjoyed, regardless of how abhorrent their subsequent work may have been. I have no taste whatsoever. The only reason I can associate somewhat competently with people when they talk about anime masterpieces is because I watch everything. The principle of averages means that it’s inevitable that I eventually watch some gems with the kind of methodology I employ.

Having said that, I’ve stalled on one of the only two shows I’m keeping up with this season: Idolmaster. To my credit, I’m still watching the type A show, Mawaru Penguin Drum. The opening of this most recent episode reminded me of that famous painting which, proving to myself that I’m not a complete buffoon, I knew was by Seurat, though I had to look up the name,

This show is great, but I sometimes find that, rather than strain my head to try and construct some understanding of the overall plot, I just say to myself, “Fuck it. I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt that it’s profound”. The more abstract an episode is and the harder the narrative thread is to discern, the more likely I am to be impressed yet the less likely I am to understand why.

Figuring out exactly what I am supposed to be most impressed by is too much effort so I sometimes skip the drawn-out post-viewing contemplation session and jump ahead to the part where I just give the show credit for saying something incisive, deconstructing some taken-for-granted assumption about the social world, or challenging my preconceived notions about some social construct, even without knowing which cornerstone of my worldview has just been shattered. It could be all of them for all it matters. Something is certainly being chipped away at. It just remains to be seen exactly what.

As for my vengeance driven experiment, I’ll go ahead and try to resume that next week. I couldn’t very well count how many people were using electronic devices while taking exams. Incidentally, I don’t know whether I should do a facepalm or be impressed at the security-by-obscurity tactic to prevent forgeries used by the City University of New York on their official department stamps:

One more thing: child broiler? What is that? a German fairy tale?