Tuesday 21 December 2004

Ticket to Macland

A week ago I ordered a Macintosh. After eight years of using Windows—95, 98, 2000, and XP—I just can’t stand it any longer.

I admit that I’ve been threatening to do this for way too long a time. Finally, last January, in a post titled S**t or get off the pot, Burningbird let fly:

Okay, enough is enough. Jonathon Delacour has been flirting with the idea of getting a Mac, teasing us, coyly, with this will he or won’t he like a 16 year old on a hot date.

Time for this man to buy a Mac.

A couple of days later, when I mentioned “how gorgeous Japanese text looks on the Macintosh, compared with Windows”, Ralph Brandi made a prediction:

Ah, the seduction is well underway.

It’s only a matter of time at this point…

Just under a year, as it turns out, assuming that my Macintosh will be delivered in the next couple of weeks (Chris, the sales guy at the Apple store, told me that the 6-8 day Estimated Build Time on Apple Australia’s website was wildly optimistic).

After Shelley’s demand that I “s**t or get off the pot”, I put the “get a new Macintosh” project on the back burner—though I did smile when I read Loren Webster’s response to Jeff Ward’s announcement that he’d bought a PowerBook:

Nice to see you’ve come over from the dark side, Jeff.

Now if you could just convince Jonathon.

Then in July, lamenting the lack of decent weblog editing tools, I wrote:

Why can’t Tim and I have a decent WYSIWYG browser-based editor? Or, speaking for myself, even a standalone application with the features I’ve listed? (And, before anyone says “ecto”, I don’t have a Macintosh, I don’t have the ready cash to buy one, and I have no intention of ever installing the .Net Framework, which the Windows version of ecto requires.)

In a post on his weblog (no longer online), Alex Hung, the developer of the Windows version of ecto, wondered why people might be reluctant to install the .Net Framework.

Is it because it’s from Microsoft and therefore bad by default?

I replied in a comment:

No, not bad, but mediocre by default. The highest praise I’ve ever been able to offer any Microsoft software that I’ve used extensively is that it is “merely adequate.” (Whereas many third-party Windows applications I use are superb.)

I switched to Windows from the Macintosh in 1996. In eight years, not once have I felt—whilst using a Microsoft product—the pleasure that comes from employing a tool that is elegantly and artfully designed.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I realize now that the edge of the slippery slope was already in plain view.

I was referring to four versions of the Windows OS, plus Word, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook. My guess is that Excel might be an fine product—friends and colleagues whose judgement I trust tell me it’s excellent—but I haven’t used Excel extensively enough to make an informed judgement. Marius Coomans swears by OneNote 2003 but, although this is exactly the kind of application I need, there are plenty of alternatives for Mac OS X.

In October, Kerim Friedman wrote a post titled Mac vs. Windows in which he quoted the reply Brent Simmons, developer of NetNewsWire, gave in an online forum on RSS to the question Why, relative to its marketshare, does Mac OS X have a disproportionately rich variety of RSS aggregators for users to choose from?

It’s mostly because Mac users like to try cool, new, interesting things—especially things that help them get more done in less time.

Windows users, it seems to me, have endless patience. They reboot their systems, run virus scanners, go nuts fixing weird conflicts. With that kind of patience, surfing in your browser from site to site isn’t that bad. But Mac users want things to work, and they want their software to help them get things done, and they like trying new and different things.

Kerim observed that “most Windows users actually seem somewhat afraid of their computer, worried that trying something new might cause it to blow up.”

Although I’m not sure about most Windows users being afraid of their computers, I suspect that Kerim’s observation is close to the truth. For instance, here’s Halley Suitt on upgrading to version 9 of Windows Media Player in order to have her music CDs play properly (the post is titled Upgrade = Downgrade Per Usual):

Everytime I upgrade, something completely screws up and that new problem proves nearly impossible to fix and results in either a completely NON-working computer, or some totally screwed up application. In my mind there is absolutely NO correlation between the words “upgrade” and “positive” — it’s always a negative result…

Well, at least it’s nice to know you can count on some things in this world— NEVER EVER EVER BOTHER TO UPGRADE. The word “upgrade” is an illusion.

Upgrade actually means downgrade.

The final step of my upgrade process involves removing the CD from the computer, walking across the room and putting it in the Sony CD Player. Voila! It works!

And Scott Hanson on updating the route planning software on his wife’s Windows XP notebook (MDAC Insanity):

Finally, after a couple hours of Googling, I find a FAQ at Microsoft that covers rolling back MDAC to the original version installed with Windows (“dasetup.exe /u”). Never mind that it doesn’t cover XP or the version of MDAC that we have. I’m desperate, and I try it.

It works. Both setup programs no longer complain that MDAC is missing, and both programs are now installed and run flawlessly. I’m an experienced Sys Admin, and it only took me 6 hours to track down and correct a corrupted MDAC installation. I have no idea how a normal Windows user is supposed to fix something like this. Maybe Scoble can tell me. I know he follows linkbacks…. Scoble?

I’ve had similar experiences but I also wonder if I don’t expect too much. When I bought a Dell desktop machine in 1998, I explained what I wanted to do with Windows to the consultant who was installing a DAT drive:

  • Use all the Microsoft Office applications.
  • Scan photographs and edit them in Photoshop.
  • Run Personal Web Server to do some dynamic web development.
  • Do my accounting with QuickBooks Pro.
  • Run Microsoft’s Japanese IME so I could read and write Japanese.
  • Burn CDs.
  • Install a Firewire card and capture footage from my Sony digital handycam.

“You’d probably be better off splitting those tasks between two separate Windows machines,” he told me.

Perhaps the majority of Windows users don’t place such strong demands on their computers. If Office meets most of your needs and you can surf the Web and edit your digital pictures, then Windows might be perfectly fine.

I added a comment to Kerim’s post:

I’ve finally become so exasperated with Windows that I’m on the brink of returning to the Macintosh (which I used from 1985 to 1996). What’s stopped me so far is not fear—hardly a day goes by without my comparing Windows unfavorably to the Mac—as the cost of buying new applications but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that it might be money well spent.

Kerim wrote me a long email in reply pointing out that a lot of applications I might expect to pay for are already installed on the Macintosh while recommending cheap alternatives to anything else I thought I might need.

Dave Rogers and Burningbird sent similarly encouraging answers to my questions about switching to the Macintosh. But I was still undecided.

Then a month ago Steve Gillmor wrote something that resonated (and not just because I remember Mr. Natural):

Simply put, I lost trust in Windows…

You know the drill—the spyware, the Trojan horses, the corporate firedrill that is announced not by IT but by a stream of emails from co-workers you haven’t heard from since the last exploit. It’s been years since I lived in the Northeast, where you learn that tentative way of walking on icy streets with a center of balance that can recover from a slip. Move to California or Charleston and you slowly unlimber and stride more openly—like Mr. Natural for the hippies among us who remember Zap Comics. That’s the feeling I get from Windows now—a vague unease, a tension, a sense that I can’t count on the machine to get out of the way and let me listen and relax.

Robert Scoble zoomed into Steve Gillmor’s comments to assure everyone that Windows machines are actually very secure as long as—like the computers at Hertz Rental Car—“they are administered properly and locked down.” In other words, you’ll be fine as long as you have dedicated IT staff working overtime to properly administer your Windows machines—a condition that the average Windows user who doesn’t work for a medium-sized corporation will find difficult to fulfill.

But I do have a few geek genes and, after eight years of troubleshooting Windows, I’m no longer an average user so out of interest I ran through Robert Scoble’s fourteen layers of security. I wasn’t really surprised to learn I’d already implemented twelve of his suggestions (or thirteen, if not having a wireless network counts as “not allowing anonymous users on your wireless network”). The fourteenth—Don’t run in administrator mode—is simply impracticable, as Scoble himself admits:

Out of all the steps here, this one is the hardest to do, though, because a lot of things don’t work on Windows if you’re not running as administrator.

That’s right. And a lot of things don’t work particularly well even when you are running as administrator.

But it’s not really Microsoft’s laissez-faire approach to security that worries me. Rather it’s the vague unease, the tension that comes from knowing that, as Mark Pilgrim once pointed out, “Windows has a half-life.”

Every installation of Windows naturally degrades along a logarithmic curve until it becomes annoying, then unbearable, then unusable. Each successive revision of Windows has featured a slightly longer half-life. Back in the day, Windows 95 would last me about 3 months, while my copy of Windows XP has lasted me almost 9. I’m not bitter; when you realize that you’re measuring on a logarithmic scale, a factor of 3 improvement is really quite impressive.

My current Windows XP installation (I reinstalled XP eight months ago) is just now entering the unbearable phase: the Show Desktop shortcut no longer works, for a while I couldn’t set the date to Australian day/month/year format, the InCD packet writing software randomly quits, the BSOD frequency is increasing… Norton SystemWorks fixed the date glitch but if it reappears, I’ll know I’ve entered the unusable stage.

So I couldn’t help experiencing a flash of wry amusement when I read Burningbird’s recent paean to Microsoft and Windows:

Now I have a Windows 2000 machine, which sits with a little upgrade wizard in it that checks periodically at Microsoft and lets me know that there is a new fix I should think about installing. My machine works beautifully, even being an old machine using an old operating system. All because Microsoft has learned how to adapt.

My Windows 2000 machine works beautifully too, even though it’s an “old machine using an old operating system”—because I reinstalled Windows 2000 six months ago. But this installation is rotting away slowly too—as is Burningbird’s—and there’s nothing either of us can do about it, other than reinstall when our PCs become unusable.

As Burningbird said at the beginning of the year, “time for this man to buy a Mac.”

I’m not fostering any illusions that life with a Macintosh will be problem-free but I did think to myself, “It should be at least an order of magnitude better than Windows.” Just to be sure, I called my friend G and said, “I’m thinking of going back to the Macintosh. Would you mind if I came over and installed and tested a few applications on your dual processor G5?”

“Would you mind if I had unprotected sex with your wife?” he replied.

I’m no longer married, but I got the message. The next day I called him back and suggested that we install Mac OS X on an external Firewire drive I’ve been using for Windows backups.

“Sounds good,” he said. I prepared the Firewire drive and drove over to G’s house. Installing Mac OS X and updating to version 10.3.6 took about 40 minutes. We set the Firewire drive as the startup disk and rebooted, G explained how to install Mac applications, and—almost before I knew it—I was sliding full-tilt down the slippery slope. The hardest thing to get used to is that the Minimize, Maximize, and Close buttons are on the opposite side of the window.

I spent about a day and a half playing with G’s Dual 1.8GHz PowerPC G5 and then, not wanting to stretch the friendship, another few hours with the Firewire drive attached to my friend Brenda’s 12-inch iBook. Once I have my own Macintosh, I guess I’ll write some posts about the software I’ve settled on.

A couple of years ago I expressed some amusement at the religious fervor with which Mac users were greeting the release of Jaguar (Mac OS v10.2):

If this is the response to a 0.5 release (10.1.5 to 10.2), what’s going to happen when Mac OS 11 (XI?) ships?

Burningbird replied in a comment:

When OS 11 ships, why the planet will slow on its axis, stop, and then slowly begin to rotate in the opposite direction.

Just think, Jonathon — you’ll finally have summer in July.

To which I responded,

Bb, the only way “the planet will slow on its axis, stop, and then slowly begin to rotate in the opposite direction” is if I switch back to the Macintosh.

So, regard this as a preliminary warning. I think we can assume that the reversal of the earth’s rotation will take place at the moment I actually log on to my new Macintosh. I’ll try to give you all a day or two’s notice.

Now, as I prepare to make the switch, I realize that—despite all my discontents regarding Windows—there are two Microsoft products that are well-designed and pleasurable to use: I’m reluctant to abandon the two-button optical mouse and the natural keyboard. Fortunately, the Mac-compatible Wireless Optical Desktop Pro set includes both.

Finally, permit me to ask a question about Macintosh books. If I’m only going to buy one Mac OS X book, which should it be?

Any other suggestions (apart from Maria Langer’s Mac OS X Panther Visual QuickStart Guide) are welcome.

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Thursday 23 December 2004

My DVD of the year

There are only a couple of days left if you want to vote in the Masters of Cinema DVD of the Year Award. The guidelines:

  1. The DVD can be from anywhere in the world and must have been released sometime in 2004;
  2. You can vote for box sets;
  3. Choose your personal favourite release;
  4. Please don’t vote for MoC DVDs, the vote will receive a glowing smile but won’t be counted.

DVD Box Set, The Yakuza Papers, Battles without Honor and HumanityI voted for Home Vision Entertainment’s DVD box set of Fukasaku Kinji’s The Yakuza Papers: Battles without Honor and Humanity. Dave Kehr’s New York Times review concisely conveys the importance of the films and the quality of the box set:

The most ambitious project in Mr. Fukasaku’s long career was The Yakuza Papers a five-feature series from 1973-74. Ostensibly, it’s the story of the gang leader Shozo Hirono, played by the charismatic Bunta Sugawara, an actor with the looks and bearing of Robert Ryan, who emerges from the chaos and trauma of postwar Hiroshima. But as the story moves from the late 40s to the early 70s, it becomes clear that Mr. Fukasaku (who died in 2003) is really relating the unofficial economic history of postwar Japan: the underground of ruthless aggression that made the Japanese “economic miracle” possible.

Home Vision Entertainment has packaged superb, widescreen transfers of all five films, plus a sixth supplementary disc filled with enlightening historical material, into a handsome metal case, creating one of the most impressive box sets in a year already quite rich in them. It’s a touchstone for those who know Mr. Fukasaku’s work and an excellent introduction for those who don’t.

I’d already seen the first film in the series as it is part of a Eureka Video box set titled Yakuza Triple Pack:

  • Battles without Honour and Humanity (仁義なき戦い, Jingi naki tatakai, 1973)
  • Yakuza Graveyard (やくざの墓場 くちなしの花, Yakuza no hakaba: kuchinashi no hana, 1976)
  • Street Mobster (現代やくざ 人斬り与太, Gendai yakuza: hitokiri yota, 1972)

Eureka offer a second Fukasaku box set called The Yakuza Collection:

  • Graveyard of Honor (仁義の墓場, Jingi no hakaba, 1975)
  • Cops vs Thugs (県警対組織暴力, Kenkeitai soshiki bōryoku, 1975)
  • Japan Organized Crime Boss (日本暴力団 組長, Nihon bōryokudan: kumichō, 1969)

Although I paid £19.99 (US$38.28) for each of these box sets (and regarded that as a bargain), Benson’s World in the UK is now offering both the Yakuza Triple Pack and The Yakuza Collection for only £14.99 (US$28.70) each. Note, however, that your television and DVD player must support Region 2 PAL DVDs.

Although I was impressed with the 16x9 anamorphic transfer on the Eureka DVD, even a quick comparison reveals that the Home Vision NTSC version of Battles without Honour and Humanity (also anamorphic) is undeniably superior.

Amazingly, Fukasaku made the five films in less than two years (the series was released over an eighteen month period between January 1973 and June 1974):

  • Battles without Honour and Humanity (仁義なき戦い, Jingi naki takakai, 1973)
  • Battles without Honour and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima (仁義なき戦い 広島死闘篇, Jingi naki takakai: hiroshima shitō hen, 1973)
  • Battles without Honour and Humanity: Proxy War (仁義なき戦い 代理戦争, Jingi naki takakai: dairi sensō, 1973)
  • Battles without Honour and Humanity: Police Tactics (仁義なき戦い 頂上作戦, Jingi naki takakai: chōjoō sakusen, 1974)
  • Battles without Honour and Humanity: Final Episode (仁義なき戦い 完結篇, Jingi naki takakai: kanketsu hen, 1974)

I watched the six Eureka DVDs one after another and, on this first viewing, found the plotlines difficult to follow since Fukasaku kills off characters almost as fast as he introduces them, packing the widescreen frame with shootings, betrayals, and historical references—the ongoing voiceover narration fostering the illusion that one is watching a carefully researched documentary about the impact of organized crime on postwar Japan.

The Battles without Honor and Humanity series is proving easier to understand since Home Vision Entertainment have included a character tree—a small section of which is shown below—that shows the myriad characters and their relationships.

Character tree for the Battles without Honor and Humanity series

The sixth (supplementary) DVD contains interviews with Fukasaku and his son Kenta, director William Friedkin, and subtitler Linda Hoaglund, plus background video essays about the yakuza and how Battles without Honor and Humanity radically changed Japanese movies.

I’m not sure how long it will take these DVDs to reach the rental market but they’re certainly worth watching. And, if you like Quentin Tarantino’s movies, you might want to take a look at the real thing.

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Wednesday 29 December 2004

Enhancing Windows 2000/XP stability

Responding to my post about abandoning Windows and returning to the Macintosh, Ed Bilodeau wrote:

I’m always interested in hearing stories from people who have made the switch, if only because I still see a Mac somewhere in my future. Jonathon covers all the major reasons I can think of, although the points relating to Windows XP’s instability are, IMHO, off the mark.

I suspect that “off the mark” combined with “IMHO” is how well-mannered people say: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Maybe I was dreaming when, late on Christmas day, I came home from my mother’s house and turned on the Windows XP computer to check my email—only to find myself running at 800x600 resolution. (It was 1152x864 when I shut down the computer that morning). Windows, apparently, had forgotten my NVIDEA GeForce FX 5600 video card and reverted to the generic video settings. I shrugged my shoulders, reinstalled the video driver, rebooted the computer, and everything looked normal again.

The following morning I turned on the same computer but, instead of the login screen, encountered the following error message:

Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:
\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM

You can attempt to repair this file by starting Windows Setup using the original Setup CD-ROM.
Select ‘r’ at the first screen to start repair.

I pressed ‘r” and, in the Recovery Console, used ‘help’ to list the available commands and—because it seemed like a good idea at the time (I wouldn’t want to give the impression I knew what I was doing)—ran the ‘fixboot’ command (although it might have been a better idea to have done a Windows XP Repair Install). The machine booted properly and I copied the few files that had changed since the previous night’s backup to my second internal hard drive.

When I tried to run Norton SystemWorks, the following error message appeared:

The InstallShield Engine (iKernel.exe) could not be launched. The RPC Server is unavailable.

As I’d suspected, my Windows XP installation had gone from annoying through unbearable to unusable in a 24 hour period. It was Ghost time:

  1. I booted from a Ghost recovery floppy and restored the image of the fresh Windows XP install I did in April.
  2. I installed the Windows XP Service Pack 2, updated ZoneAlarm and Norton SystemWorks, then made and verified new Ghost images on the auxiliary hard drive and on DVD.
  3. Where necessary I updated the other applications to the latest versions and created (and verified) another set of Ghost images.

Why am I explaining all this? Because, if you’re stuck with Windows, Ghost vastly reduces the pain of reinstalling the OS and all your applications and utilities.

Over coffee this morning, I asked my friend Karl whether he thinks Windows XP is as stable as Ed Bilodeau implied. “Not at all,” he replied, “but you can make it run reliably.”

“How?” I asked him, although I thought I already knew the answer.

“Restore from a Ghost image regularly,” he said.

“How regularly?”

“I do it about once a month. It only takes a few minutes because I keep all my documents on a separate partition.”

I knew he’d say “restore from a Ghost image” because I turned him on to Ghost and Partition Magic. But I didn’t expect him to do it every month. Perhaps that’s the key to making Windows 2000/XP run reliably: reinstall the OS every month. It certainly eliminates the Windows half-life problem. Karl’s Windows XP machine never gets the chance to become annoying—let alone unbearable or unusable.

Perhaps my problems stem from having a custom-built PC, albeit one constructed from high-quality components. As Ed correctly pointed out:

…since there are many, many, many more Windows users then there are Mac users, and Windows is running on all-sorts-of-only-god-knows-what machines, yeah, I would expect there to be more Windows people overall who have run into big problems. The Mac systems, built on a stack that is, for the most part, closed and proprietary, don’t have that problem.

Then again, perhaps not, since my Dell PC running Windows 2000 wasn’t particularly stable. The most reliable machines I’ve had so far have been notebooks:

  • a Toshiba Tecra 500T running Windows 95 then 98; and

  • an IBM ThinkPad 600E running Windows 2000.

Maybe that’s how you enhance Windows 2000/XP stability—it might even be a viable alternative to the Ghost method—run Windows on what is (effectively) a closed system: a notebook computer.

I’m counting the days until (hopefully) I won’t have to think about this nearly as much.

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Thursday 30 December 2004

Brand power

Ed Bilodeau also wondered whether something else might have encouraged me to switch back to the Macintosh:

One thing that Jonathon doesn’t mention is the influence the Apple brand had on his decision. Although he appears to have been the target of a fair amount of peer pressure, I don’t know to what degree this affected Jonathon’s decision. But when talking about the decision to switch platforms, to ignore the power of Apple’s brand is a mistake. Apple’s brand is incredibly powerful. It connects with people on a deep, emotional level. That had to affect their decision-making process, so that it is no longer a case of making a rational, business-case for buying a Mac. In my case, put me in front of two systems, one PC and one Mac, with approximately the same specs. Right away, I know I can easily live with the PC, but I want the Mac.

Firstly, any “peer pressure” was prompted to a large degree by my own weblog posts about returning to the Mac. I doubt whether anyone who left a “welcome back to the fold” message spent more than a nanosecond in the past two years worrying about the fact that I didn’t have a Macintosh. More importantly, if Windows had run more reliably for me, I would almost certainly have tolerated its other inadequacies—after all, going back to the Macintosh is going to require time and money that might have been more profitably invested elsewhere.

Not that I consider myself immune to the power of a brand. I’m only too aware of the extent to which my decisions are based on emotional, not rational, criteria—an awareness that has increased as I’ve followed (and absorbed) Dave Rogers’ meditations on the subject. For example:

The only power we have is the power to choose. Most of the “choices” we make in the course of our daily lives, are really little more than habituated responses selected for by some interior emotional state. We “feel like” having a cup of coffee, or a beer. We yell at the TV when some talking head says something we don’t like. We get up in the morning and get ready for work. We don’t “think” about any of those things, we just do them. We lack the time and the cognitive resources to think about every single “decision” we make in the course of a day. So nature has provided us with a means of going about most of our daily routine in a routine fashion, requiring the least amount of time and energy to accomplish the things we need to do in order to survive.

Sometimes we are confronted with choices that are somewhat outside the bounds of our ordinary experience. These choices usually call for some cognitive effort, though not as much as we might expect…

Other times, a decision may be outside the bounds of our ordinary experience, yet we do have a significant emotional commitment to the subject of the decision. In those cases, our choices are usually based on how we “feel” about the issue, and our reasoning is constructed to support the “feeling.” In other words, we reason backward from our feelings.

I guess this is what Ed Bilodeau was getting at when he wrote about Apple’s brand connecting with people “on a deep, emotional level… affect[ing] their decision-making process, so that it is no longer a case of making a rational, business-case for buying a Mac.”

But I’m not a “switcher;” I’m a “returner.” The Apple brand used to affect me in exactly the way Ed (and Dave) describe, until I was given one of the legendary PowerBook 5300 models to use: in a three-month period the LCD screen, motherboard, keyboard, and a serial port all had to be replaced. Suddenly Windows began to look attractive. And the Apple brand had lost its luster.

Now, eight years later, the Windows brand connects with me on a deep, emotional level: I hate its (and Microsoft’s) guts.

But Ed Bilodeau’s observations on the power of the Apple brand did make wonder about the emotional component of my decision to return to the Macintosh.

The brands with which I’ve felt the warmest emotional connection over the years are Hasselblad, Leica, Nikon, and Apple. Nowadays, if I were still a photographer, I’d probably include Canon (my friend G’s Canon 1Ds is the first camera I’ve desired for eighteen years).

Other brands with a strong emotional pull? Walker Evans and Robert Frank. Ozu Yasujiro and Jean-Luc Godard. Nagai Kafū and W.G. Sebald. Keith Jarrett and Van Morrison. But I digress…

If the Apple brand no longer tugs at my heart as it once did, what brings me back to the Macintosh (apart from an irrational hatred for Microsoft)?

UNIX.

For the UNIX brand is incredibly powerful too.

As Burningbird wrote about her decision to switch:

I used to say I would never use a Mac, until I saw that slim, lightweight, extremely well designed Titanium PowerBook. What pushed me over the edge is when Apple came out with this operating system that was a fantastic mix of new, hot, albeit proprietary GUI built on top of powerful, bare metal, open source FreeBSD kernel, combining the best of all worlds.

For me, UNIX promises stability and reliability that Windows will never be able to match. The Mac OS X user interface is the frosting on the cake.

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Friday 31 December 2004

Minx

牝狐   めぎつね (megitsune), minx

In Mori Jun’ichi’s Laundry, Teru (Kubozuka Yōsuke), a young man with mild brain damage from a childhood accident, runs his grandmother’s coin laundry where he meets and falls for a customer, Mizue (played by Koyuki, Tom Cruise’s improbable love interest in The Last Samurai).

When Mizue leaves a scarf in the dryer, Teru runs after her and returns it as she reaches her apartment block. Mizue invites him in for a cup of tea.

Teru with a cup of tea and Mizue with a cigarette, sitting on Mizue's bed

On his way back to the laundrette Teru, in a voiceover, says:

For five minutes she didn’t say a word. My heart was beating faster. It was my first time touching a woman’s hand… other than grandma’s. That night I casually told grandma about what happened. Very casually. Grandma called her a minx.

It has been a long time since I’d heard someone use the word “minx” and I was curious about its Japanese equivalent.

The word Teru’s grandmother used is megitsune. (Baa-san wa, sono hito no koto wo megitsune to itta.)

I fired up my Canon WordTank G50. Though megitsune wasn’t listed in the Japanese-English (J/E) dictionary, it was in the Kōjien (J/J):

めぎつね(牝狐)
めすの狐。転じて、男をだます悪賢い女をののしっていう語。

The character is a prefix for female while means fox.

The Japanese definition (Tenjite, otoko wo damasu warugashikoi onna wo nonoshitte iu ko) means (roughly) “a derogatory term for a crafty woman who distracts or deceives men.” My (electronic) New Oxford Dictionary of English defines “minx” more broadly:

an impudent, cunning, or boldly flirtatious girl or young woman.

Whereas the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary offers this definition:

Minx. 1542. [Of unkn. origin.] 1. A pet dog. Udall. 2. A pert girl, hussy. Now often playful. 1592. b. A lewd woman —1728. 2.b. This is some Minxes token. Shaks.

I’d vaguely thought that “minx” was in some way related to an animal but was surprised to learn that it originally meant a pet dog. I was probably thinking of “manx“—a tail-less cat “believed to have originated hundreds of years ago on the Isle of Man.”

The New Oxford Thesaurus of English provides these alternatives for “minx,” most of which seem unsatisfactory in that they emphasize the sexual at the expense of the deceitful:

tease, seductress, coquette, trollop, slut, Lolita, loose woman, hussy; informal tramp, floozie, tart, puss; Brit. informal scrubber, madam; N. Amer. informal princess, vamp; vulgar slang cock-teaser, prick-teaser; archaic baggage, hoyden, fizgig, jade, quean, wanton, strumpet.

Nowadays an “impudent, cunning, or boldly flirtatious” young woman might simply be seen as assertive so perhaps the word has fallen out of favor. That seems a pity. There’ll never be a shortage of deceitful young women (nor of men eager to be deceived) and, in any case, “minx” has always struck me as a word whose lighthearted sound matches its meaning—a young woman whose sly behavior rarely has serious consequences.

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