June 17, 2010

Mehr Licht (more light) part 1

***** Update 2013 *****

I noticed this old page is getting some traffic lately. I just want to say, all of this information has been completely obsoleted by Ruifan in 2012. The 12-color KingBlade X10 was a huge breakthrough which pretty much dominated the penlight market, and allowed entire sets of flashlights to be replaced by a single product. Now companies like Lumica are playing catch up and responding with their own versions like Lumica Ace, while Ruifan seeks to keep their advantage with frequent and substantial improvements like X10 Mk. II. There's a penlight arms race going on in 2013 and we get to benefit.

***** End of update *****



Momoi and UO on the shores of Waikiki Beach. Photo by tenton

Lately, I've been thinking about how to plan my upcoming seiyuu driven related trips and that lead to thinking more about concert lighting.

While glowsticks have been used for fan participation in idol concerts since at least the 80s, they are especially heavily used for Momoi concerts and even carry a bit of emotional significance. Momoi generally thinks of a concert as a two way exchange where the feelings of a performer connect with the energy of fans, and she often mentions her first experience of cheering on her favorite idol with lights as an eye opening moment that is one of her fondest memories as a child. Since then, just consider some songs, like "Kagayaki Cyalume", "Yume no baton", "Lumica", "Me-ar-ri-hi-to" and you might notice from the theme that Momoi has been quite busy indoctrinating her audience with the same ideas. So it's no wonder that Momoists myself included probably have a bit of interest in lights.

Current inventory:

ColorBrightCountType
Yellow High 10 Firefly 30 minute chemical light stick
Orange High/Ultra 2 Fenix LD20 LED flashlight + orange diffuser wand
Orange Ultra 20 Firefly 5 minute chemical light stick
Blue Normal 1 Concert pen light
Pink Normal 2 Concert pen light
Blue High 1 Pocket Neon light
Pink High 1 Pocket Neon light
White Normal + 1 Party wand (Multiple LEDs)

To start from the basics, the standard instrument would probably be the chemical light glowstick, which comes in a variety of colors and three flavors. There's the 6 inch, 6 hour glowstick, a cheap long lasting stick which usually forms the staple of cheering. A 6 inch, 30 minute high intensity glowstick, which is a brighter version of #1. It's more expensive and harder to find, but generally used on a song-by-song basis to match some color. And finally, there's the 6 inch, 5 minute ultra high intensity stick (usually orange) - a military grade signaling flare that we call UO. It costs $1 - 3 a piece depending on where and who you buy from and produces blazing results.

At some point a while back, a shift happened where some fans started to feel that it was more cost effective and environmentally friendly to use electronic lights, and we slowly saw pen lights start to take the place of traditional glowsticks. Still, as many songs required the use of UO or high intensity lights, this wasn't a complete solution. Then, somebody had an idea to start using high powered flashlights. One thing led to another, and today, there are a lot of fans out there with gigantic penlight collections, dozens of flashlights, custom designed and patterned diffusers, and even home-made LEDs rigged to a tube.


A pen light insert being signed by Momoi. From her twitcast



Custom engraved LD20 gifted to Momoi by a fan (Silli) during Desucon in Finland. From her twitcast

Speaking more personally, among some friends, there has been a collective goal to get 100% transition from chemical light sticks to electronic alternatives without sacrificing the brightness and convenience of the former, but it has been an ongoing process of trial and error with flashlight models and application.

As a note, I am not being paid in any way to recommend anything in this post.

The latest model that seems to be favored by Momoi fans (in the US at least) has been the Fenix LD series, specifically the LD10 and LD20. As electronic light sticks, they do satisfy three important attributes.

1. Re-usability

Re-usability comes down to more than just being able to turn it on and off through multiple sessions. They should be easy to service, replace, and easy to customize. If it falls short in any of these areas, you will always be tempted to go back to chemical lights. But, when done right, electronic lights will mean less waste, less garbage to dispose of, fewer liquid-related messes, and longer lasting light.

In the LD20 and LD10, the 21.5mm flashlight head fits for Fenix's own various diffuser attachments, but can also take a tube from a standard pen light (the kind that you buy at concerts) with a little bit of tape. You can see the comparison shot later down showing how effective it can be to swap out the standard bulb. Second, its AA batteries can be found in any convenience store, and the replacement process is a simple tool-free unscrewing of the end cap by hand.

2. Brightness

For the most part, brighter is better. But when thinking about brightness for a concert light, there's usually a time and place for regular light, and ultra light. The natural thinking is that you should always be on maximum brightness, but sometimes it's better to have different levels. For one, you might be blinding the people next to you and annoying them. After all the point of the lights is to support the artists along with the fans in a synchronized manner, not break the harmony and distract them. Ultra might not match the mood of the performance. For a slow song when everyone switches to blue for a calming "ocean effect" you don't want your light to look like an emergency flare. And consider a song like LOVE.EXE - usually everyone will switch from regular glowsticks to ultra orange. When this happens, you will get really pumped after suddenly feel a major shift in the tone because the whole room just lights up. If you were just using ultra mode the whole time, the effect is diminished. Rather, it's better (and cheaper) to go with the flow of the concert*.

As for an LD, the lowest setting at 9 lumens is satisfyingly bright without standing out too much, and the turbo mode at 180 lumens, while no match for a freshly cracked UO, can ably compete a few seconds in. Fenix LDs aren't special in this area, and there are other models that do have multiple output modes, and even higher brightness. However, with LDs priced between $40 - $60 a better deal hasn't popped up yet...or has it (more on that later).

* Of course there are always a few hardcore dudes who are willing to burn through tons of UO* to do Wolverine (glowstick between each finger, aka Balrog as Momoi calls it, aka wada-san) for the entire duration of an event. If you want to buy 8 flashlights to do this and can actually hold on to them all, more props to you.

3. Handling
This is determined by the durability, size, weight, general form of a light so that it is comfortable to hold and but also able to withstand force and potentially impact while it is being waved around. LDs are generally suitable, but not without shortcomings. As far as the LD-20 goes, its size and finish create conditions that are not optimal for concert use. The long handle, weight, and finish seem trivial at first, but after 2 - 3 hours the hard metal becomes irritating to the hand and the unbalanced weight makes keeping a grip difficult. You will find yourself gripping by the wand instead of the handle. Additionally, on lower settings, the light can flicker on impact. We're still not sure what causes it (it usually doesn't happen while in turbo), but multiple owners have confirmed this to be the case on their own models. LD-10 fares much better, suffering from no issues with flickering, and is much lighter and comfortable to hold and much more recommended for long term use while LD-20 should probably be reserved for UO due to its higher output. In both flashlights, heat is a problem while if in Turbo mode for more than a few minutes and this places a limit on how long you can stay in UO. This is usually not a problem, but sometimes you get back to back UO songs and have no choice but to deal with it or switch to chemical backup. We're still looking for sleeves or grips that can provide some insulation.

In terms of durability, so far both of my lights have been excellent and have survived being dropped, launched as projectiles, and other accidents. The orange traffic wand attachment on the other hand, while advertised as being made with "Bayer plastic used in bullet proof applications" is actually pretty brittle and has broken three times on relatively minor impact (once with each other). Even the tubes that come with penlights are probably less prone to breakage. Luckily they are cheap to replace.

Overall, Fenix LD series is probably currently the best choice available that I know of. If I had to choose one, I'd say the LD-10 slightly edges out LD-20 due to much better handling at the cost of UO brightness. In terms of alternatives, there are definitely others, such as the Surefire series which may meet or exceed in some of these areas. However the Surefire carries a high premium for its construction and name brand, so it will probably cost at least twice as much. It's not a bad choice if you have a lot of other uses for the flashlight and go hunting/camping regularly, but unless you have cash burning a hole in your pocket, I don't recommend it due to higher cost yet when used solely as a concert light.


Comparison of LD flashlight at 9 lumens with standard concert pen light. Identical exposures

Alternatives

Even though I consider Fenix my primary workhorse light, it's not always convenient to swap color covers in the middle of a concert, and it's definitely not economical to buy a new flashlight to premount each color. Sometimes, you have to settle for other lights. Many people contributed to buying and trying the various items listed. I've collected some that have worked decently. They serve well for misc colors, backups, or even as a main light if you don't really think buying LDs are justified.

Concert Pen Light
This is the standard light that's always sold officially by idol seiyuu like Momoi, or Mizuki Nana, or Tamura Yukari, etc. for their concerts. The source is not very bright, and can be prone to going out if the wiring is loose. They are passable if you forgot to bring your own lights, and they will last the entire duration of the event since they have quite a long life. But I doubt you will ever reuse them once the battery goes dead. You need to take the whole thing apart including the knob to replace the battery, and by then you'll have probably bought a new light anyway for the next event. Though it's not recommended in as a light source I listed it here anyway because you might still want to buy the light as a souvenir, or (if you went the flashlight route) to unscrew the tube and get that tube insert so you can put on your own light. Just keep in mind every time you get one you're going to get another unneeded piece of plastic, so I'd limit ownership of these to 4 or 5 max. There are better ways to support the artist than buying too many of these.

Cyalume Classic Penlights
They're decently bright and are designed to look just like a regular glowstick. If you're in Japan and need glowsticks in a pinch, they can be found in nearly any store that sells glow sticks in Japan for about 1000 yen. However, they only take button cell batteries. Although they are manufactured by Omniglow, I haven't seen these sold anywhere outside of Japan. They're good, but not worth importing. If you are in Japan and want to buy a glowstick around that price, I'd consider the Pocket Neon unless you really prefer the cyalume shape.

Pocket Neon
These are a great inexpensive choice, and quite commonly seen at concerts in Japan. Even Misato Aki was using them. They were originally recommended to me by a Japanese Momoi fan and became one of my first electronic light stick purchases in Japan. They served very well on the 2 included AAA alkaline batteries during Animelo for nearly 3 continuous hours before finally dimming down (will last even longer on Lithium). They are very bright as you can see below in the comparison, far surpassing the standard concert pen lights and the Cyalume Classics. From my experiences with them, they are sturdy and can withstand most impacts without any permanent damage. The only problem I have with these are the unpredictable wait times during a cold start, which can sometimes take up to a minute (and then you forget if you turned it on or off). They are also somewhat short, though it's not noticeable in the dark because the glow aura appears much larger.


Left to right: Concert pen light, Concert pen light, Pocket Neon, Cyalume Classic. From To-zen Nikki

There have also been some lights that simply didn't pass the test. For two lights to avoid:

Happy Camper light sticks
Probably one of the first results you'll find if you search for lights in English on the internet. They are cheap, and easily available in the west, but their brightness is average and they only take button cell batteries. They are also a bit fragile and can cut out if you wave them too hard. They might be well and fine for camping as the name suggests, but not recommended for concert use. On the bright side, they go for about $5. Just be warned you get what you pay for.

Nite Ize LED wand
Had some experience with these from another owner. They're manufactured by Inova which also makes higher end flashlights. While they're sturdy, the grip is difficult to get used to. And unlike pocket neons they are not bright enough to make up for the shortness of the tube. They also leak light at the tip and need to be capped. Not recommended in general, but if going the budget light stick route, they are probably more reliable than Happy Camper mainly since they don't randomly turn off.

In part 2, I'll post about what is still to be done, environmental concerns, problems we've yet to solve, battery tips, and ideas for future. And I'll be trying out a new light. Can there be a brighter UO substitute than Fenix LD20 for a reasonable price? Maybe...

Two lights on full turbo. Guess which one is new.

Posted by Paranda at 12:05 AM | Comments (8)

June 14, 2010

Fanime day 3 and 4

Last post for Fanime to tie up loose ends.

Day 3

5/30 was the final day for Momoi quest. Our group had a late breakfast at Peggy Sue's, a local diner that served massive plates of french toast and pancakes, and then headed to wait in line for Quest #5. The performance started at 12:00 in the large karaoke room. I was sort of worried about crowd attrition given the multiple quests, but the attendance remained high. Momoi came in with her uniform, and a pair of wings as an accessory. Set list was:

1. Shooting Star
2. Romantic Summer
3. LOVE.EXE

I packed light so I actually forgot I needed a yellow glowstick for Shooting Star and just jumped with pink. During Romantic Summer, it was cool to see that several people had studied the moves. As for LOVE.EXE, again many people remembered from last year or looked up the song online and knew to produce UO at the correct time. Jumping was slightly hampered by rows of seats. After the event was over, Momoi announced her next quest would be the same day in a ballroom at 6PM. We scoped out the ballroom later and were delighted to find it was spacious and standing room only.

After getting stamps, we headed over to Charity auction after that to look at bids. Each item was signed by all Fanime guests. From our group, Silli won the tamborine for $70 which he planned to use for the concert. The cowbell went over $90 and Guitar for over $150 (not sure how much surplus they could have made on that one).

Then we lined up outside the ballroom for the long wait. Several hours later, Momoi passed by and began her soundcheck. When we started handing out glowsticks, security stopped us and said glowsticks had been banned after earlier incidents. I guess glowsticks get a bad reputation due to ravers here, but thanks to several people including some staff vouching for us, they deemed Momoi fans behaved enough to have them and distribution resumed. Thank goodness, because everyone really put them to good use as you can see here.

Quest for Momoi #6

Quest 6 set list:

1. Ai no medicine
2. Wonder Momoi
3. Yume no Baton
4. LOVE.EXE

While the room was large, the stage was extremely small. Since without the chairs there were absolutely no physical barriers, we ended up getting pushed way too close by everyone that if anyone fell they would have landed on the stage. I guess that's how it works with indie bands in the States? When the maids went up on stage, Momoi was a bit surprised but let them stay on for the entire duration of the live. As a bonus she did 4 songs this time, with LOVE.EXE acting as a bonus "encore" of sorts (though not really, since we didn't even have a chance to chant).

The raffle was held immediately after the concert. Mini-prizes were the actual physical stamps used to stamp Momoi quest cards, and the final "grand prize" was a trip to the maid cafe to enjoy dessert with Momoi. One of the fans from Japan managed to win a stamp.

After leaving the ballroom, we ended the day at the convention with a big group picture. Later, Yoshisawa invited Momoists to a karaoke joint. Since Momoi didn't sing any of her newer songs, it wasn't hard to find people to tag along for some DIY makeup tracks. Karaoke with Momoi fans inevitably involves people whipping out glowsticks and doing calls for anybody who goes up singing. As a side note, that place we went to sure had a lot of obscure otaku tracks. We were able to do stuff like Jienotsu Song! Color me impressed. I admit I'm a bit guilty of blasphemy here though because the only song I personally sang was "Fancy Baby Doll" - a YUKARIN song. *gasp* GET THAT TRAITOR!

Day 4

Not much for day 4 so I'll just combine it with Day 3 post. The only Momoi event was autograph signing.

Autograph Session #2

Finally, we took our last group picture and waved goodbye to Momoi. Quest complete. Final stats:

Items acquired:

Wisdom gained:
Don't be paranoid about DOF. f/7.0 is overkill. Lower aperture, reduce ISO, and pump flash next time for the group pic. Less noise that way...

And many memories. Thanks everyone for making it a great experience for me.

Posted by Paranda at 12:35 AM | Comments (3)

June 9, 2010

Fanime day 2

Since I finished my last CFA exam last week, I can finally forget it forever (unless I failed). But now I can close out the last few days of Fanime, which I'll say was and probably will be the best trip I've taken all year for various reasons, even factoring 2 other events I still plan on going to.

Day 2

You know you're off to a strange start when the group makes an early excursion to Whole Foods for breakfast, and the first thing you hear is an employee making a "har har it must be Halloween" comment - this store was well outside the range of the convention area and our party included a dude wearing cat ears and a girl in a panda costume. It was a minor reaction though, compared to the time when a waiter gave us the evil eye for being in concert gear at the CN tower rotating restaurant. And nothing compared to that time in 07 when we did a cyalume run exploring hardware stores in downtown Long Beach with chibitech dressed in full meido drag.

Quest 3

After returning, we lined up outside the karaoke hall for Quest #3. The previous day, due to running out of time, the panel actually forgot to mention the location so we were kind of worried when the line looked pretty short. Luckily it filled up just before the show started.

Quest for Momoi #3
Momoi came back in her signature sailor fuku as made famous in Yume no Baton. For the format of the events (several scattered mini lives that relied on people following signs and hints), she wouldn't be changing costumes. That's fine though, this has always been my favorite one post-U17 and it makes up for when she didn't wear it last year. What did change during each quest though was the hairstyle.

This time was a rare casual style.
Quest for Momoi #3

Momoi seems kind of hesitant to play her newer original stuff though. Again, this time the tracklist was a cover song, and two established fan favorites. I guess she's trying hard to tailor the list to her American audience, but I kind of wanted to hear at least something from the new album.

1. Get Wild
2. Tenbatsu! Angel Rabbi
3. Motto Yume Miyou

Well, Tenbatsu is always fun for doing calls. It is always another front row chance to cheer for a UO-type song after all.

After the mini-live, we took a quick break and then moved over to Stage Zero again in case Momoi showed up for the Fanimaid performance like she had done last year. Each maid had a repertoire of idol moves and songs memorized with pretty good accuracy, and Momoi was impressed they stepped up their game to include singing in addition to dancing. However, since she was crunched for time and had to host a panel right after, she only stayed in the guests area this time and didn't jump into the crowd to lead calls.

Fanimaid Live

Quest 4

Quest 4's panel format was pretty much the same as Quest 2's. Although they are given unique names like "Halko Momoi and Industry", she doesn't give a themed speech or anything like that - just regular Q&A. These will probably be uploaded by Autolooper at some point. Highlights to look for are:

Momoi asking if anybody watched Kodomo no Jikan, followed by a complete silence in the room. After an awkward pause, one guy slowly raises his hand. Momoi looks him in the eye and just deadpans "you are lolicon."

And Momoi singing "Take me out to the ball game" and playing on her keytar, but forgetting all the words.
Quest for Momoi #4, Panel

Call Workshop
After the panel, we headed to the call workshop to talk about Momoi's calls, and Japanese concert etiquette in general. Sadly, we had requested two hours but only got half of that, plus we were sandwiched right between Momoi's panel and autograph session so nobody was willing to risk running long. The workshop ended up being incredibly rushed and probably 70% of the information content got skipped. The etiquette bit is something I'll probably post about separately as there are some questions I think are interesting. The media and live demonstration were also heavily cut so we could pack up and race to the Momoi autograph line.

Autograph Session

Momoi generously allowed two items per person plus a posed photo. The photo is a bigger deal that it sounds. I think most Western fans are used to taking pictures with their favorite celebrities during meet & greets as it is practically the norm, but in Japan taking a posed picture with an idol seems to be very limited. Usually, you have to win a raffle or pay for the privilege. In fact the photo is always mentioned as one of the selling points in the Momoi tour packages. So, while I shamelessly took advantage of the opportunities, there was a small bit of guilt since we were hanging out with the Japanese fans. Some of them actually passed, maybe because they felt uncomfortable crossing that culture barrier.

1st Autograph Session
In case you were wondering about Momoi's hat in her new twitter picture, she's actually wearing an Angry Video Game Nerd cap that she got from a fan.

Dinner
Not eventful, but if you remember my sidestory from Fanime 2009...well we went to THAT diner again. It was just so damn good there was a unanimous vote to make the drive all the way to Winchester House.
Flames, Classic American Diner

And that wraps up Day 2. By the way, to respect everyone's privacy preferences, if you were in any of the group pictures we took for any of the days, shoot me a mail and I'll send you a link.

Posted by Paranda at 1:52 AM | Comments (4)

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