Weekend Reads: Sonny Chiba, Sudoku, Pi, "Evangelion"

Recommended weekend reading material for August 21, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

Martial arts and action star Sonny Chiba died earlier this week from COVID. He was 82 years old.

Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba was born in 1939 as Sadaho Maeda and is from Fukuoka prefecture in Japan. He was known to have great abilities and passion in track and field sports, baseball and volleyball before focusing on artistic gymnastics and with great promise as a future Olympic athlete. A back injury later in his university athletics career sidelined his hopes of Olympic participation. He then decided to train with martial arts master Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama, who Chiba later portrayed in the Karate Baka Ichidai film trilogy. It was as a result of this training that he became highly regarded as a martial artist and stunt choreographer in his career.

Chiba starred in over 200 movies. His most iconic role is arguably Terry Tsurugi from The Street Fighter (1974), but Western audiences will more likely recognize him as the swordsmith Hattori Hanzō from Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Boss Kamata from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006).

Doctor Who is one of the most iconic and beloved sci-fi TV shows out there. But it actually got its start as an educational program for families.

BBC drama head Sydney Newman had tasked writers with creating a family educational show to meet the network’s public service mandate, and came up with the idea of a science fiction show as a way to have characters visit historical periods and talk about science in an entertaining way.

Jodie Whittaker, who stars as the Doctor’s current incarnation, will be stepping down from the role in 2022. Needless to say, plenty of other names have been suggested as her replacement, including Michaela Coel, Michael Sheen, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and my personal favorite, Richard Ayoade.

Since time immemorial, white guys have figured prominently as the protagonist of countless TV shows. Several recent series are challenging that status quo but even so, they’re still trying to figure out what to with the white dudes.

One conundrum has kept cropping up in various genres and iterations: The white guys who used to be default protagonists on TV and in American life, all of the beleaguered dads, bad bosses, authoritative leaders, and wild-card mavericks, are no longer the main characters. So what happens to that guy now? Should he be erased? Can he be rehabilitated, his entitlement washed away? Where is he supposed to go?

Some of the series that Kathryn VanArendonk’s article looks at include Rutherford Falls, Kevin Can F**k Himself, and not surprisingly, Ted Lasso.

Earlier this month, one of my favorite bands of all time — Hood — finally arrived on Bandcamp. Hood’s music encompasses a lot of styles (e.g., lo-fi noise-pop, pastoral post-rock, glitchy hip-hop) and it’s consistently fascinating stuff. If you’re looking for a good place to start with their catalog, then I highly recommend 1999’s The Cycle of Days & Seasons (my review) and 2001’s Cold House (my review).

Maki Kaji, also known as the “Godfather of Sudoku,” died earlier this week from cancer. He was 69 years old.

“His most important contribution to the world of logic puzzles is subtle and underappreciated,” Nick Baxter, the captain of the United States team that competes in the World Sudoku Championship, wrote in an email.

In an age where most Sudoku and similar puzzles are computer generated, Mr. Baxter added, Nikoli continued to make puzzles generated by humans.

Via Kottke.

Cancer has also claimed British comedian Sean Lock, best known as one of the team captains on 8 Out of 10 Cats. Watching clips of 8 Out of 10 Cats on YouTube is one of my favorite ways to relax and lighten up, and Lock’s acerbic wit is a huge part of that. As can be seen by the quotes and tributes in the article, Lock was hugely respected by his fellow comedians including Bill Bailey, Jimmy Carr, and Ricky Gervais.

For one of the best Sean Lock moments, watch him play “Carrot in a Box” with fellow comedian Jon Richardson.

This Gina Dalfonzo piece is an excellent rejoinder to some of the bone-headed rhetoric coming from people like J. D. Vance.

A lot of people were shocked by Vance’s blatant cruelty, not to mention his apparent ignorance of how the U.S. Constitution works. I wasn’t shocked. I’ve been informed before, in ways both overt and subtle, that as a childless person, I’m worth less than others. I’ve heard it quite a few times over the years behind the scenes, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before it started leaking like a toxic gas into the public arena.

And I’ve nearly always heard it from Christians.

A team of Swiss scientists have announced a new record for the longest calculated value of pi: 62.8 trillion digits.

To calculate such a large number requires a huge amount of memory and processing power. The ultimate pi result took 63 terabytes of space to save, and the computer needed 108 days and nine hours to calculate it, nearly twice as fast as the speed set by Google’s cloud in 2019.

Related: Why is pi so important?

As a web developer, I feel obligated to share this: Alvaro Montoro addresses some of the arguments used to state that HTML is not a programming language. But as he points out, this discussion is largely pedantic:

[A]s developers, we must be wary of this question as, in many cases, it is not used to spark a serious debate but to stir controversy while hiding ulterior motives: from getting easy Internet reactions, to dangerously diminishing the contribution of a group of people to the development ecosystem.

He’s right: regardless of its status (or lack thereof) as a programming language, HTML is absolutely worth celebrating as an essential component of the Internet.

From the Blog

Earlier this month, all four movies in the Rebuild of Evangelion project — which remade the iconic Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series with modern animation and a new ending — began streaming on Amazon Prime Video. As a longtime Evangelion fan, I watched all four movies in about three days, and then spent a week processing my thoughts on the Rebuild and its new ending.

I’ve been a fan of Evangelion for decades and consider it a monumental title in many ways. However, I don’t disagree with any of those criticisms. Evangelion is, without a doubt, pretentious, convoluted, and gratuitous, not to mention pretty dark and twisted in places. But it’s also much more than the sum of its parts.

At its core, Evangelion is a deeply personal message from Hideaki Anno about growing up and confronting one’s grief and pain, facing life’s hardships instead of running away from them, and not fearing the hurt and misunderstanding that comes with human relationships. (That Anno himself has struggled with depression and suicide for decades, and fully acknowledges the help he’s received from his wife and mentors like Hayao Miyazaki, lends only more weight to that message.)

I fear that my article is probably overly long, needlessly convoluted, and even a wee bit pretentious in places. Then again, I am writing about Neon Genesis Evangelion, so that feels rather apropos.

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