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[Travel][Review] Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan [Apr. 21st, 2012|09:20 am]
Verdict: The central nexus for all things anime and manga-related, but near-useless for gaijin shopping because you won't be able to locate anything, even if you can read Japanese; stick with e-tailers instead. The land is flat but the shops are vertical and hence bad on the knees. Indispensable if you're looking for maid cafés.

Additional specifics forthcoming.

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[Anime][Review] Space Battleship Yamato 2199, part 1 (2012) [Apr. 17th, 2012|12:51 pm]
Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is a remake of the 1974 TV series (known in the U.S. as Star Blazers) with modern sensibility and character designs. Its theatrical premiere (think Star Wars: The Clone Wars in 2008) fortuitously coincided with my trip to Japan for Hal-con 2012. The plot generally follows the original ("TOS"), although my command of Japanese is insufficient to follow any divergences gross (new characters) or subtle; fortunately, there's plenty of pre-release commentary at starblazers.com. This review assumes familiarity with the original material.

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The Martial Bioengineering of "Old Man's War" [Feb. 20th, 2012|10:09 pm]
The central premise of the mil-SF novel Old Man's War (John Scalzi, 2005) is that future humanity, in its fight against alien races for interstellar territory, has found it expedient to create synthetic bodies for its soldiers, and to transfer the minds of septuagenerian recruits into those bodies. The novel's protagonist, John Perry of Ohio, learns that his new Colonial Genetics Defender Series XII "Hercules" body (CG/CDF Model 12 Revision 1.2.11) features a BrainPal™ neural prosthetic, UncommonSense™ sensory enhancements, nanotech SmartBlood™ with increased oxygen capacity and immunity, HardArm™ musculo-skeletal boosts, and KloraDerm™ skin with photosynthetic abilities (and green color).

That an oldster is magically granted a shiny new youthful body is a power fantasy, and hardly a unique one in SF. Likewise it's the rare novel whose engineering can't be improved. Scalzi's SmartBlood is conservative, KloraDerm is pointless, and the CDF soldier's sex life needs a rethink.

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[TV][Comic] Young Justice: Name the character time! [Oct. 16th, 2011|09:37 pm]
Cartoon Network's Young Justice [CN] is making an effort to include obscure or little-used characters (if only as cameos), although often redesigned so that they're unrecognizable (at least to the toon-only audience). All of the DC animated projects of recent years seem to have been doing this. Fan service? Or trademark protection? (Here's a handy resource for the show: heroes and villains. It's not a visual index, though. Somebody needs to assemble one of those for use at comic book conventions.)

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[TV][Comics] Space Ghost joins Batman [Oct. 15th, 2011|09:24 am]
The animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Cartoon Network, November 2008, now in its third season) [CN, TV.com] has a habit of showcasing decidedly obscure characters (and characterizations of familiar ones) from the DC canon, particularly in a mini-adventure set before the title credits. The preface to last night's episode, "Bold Beginnings!" went above and beyond, featuring the late-1960s Hanna-Barbera hero, Space Ghost [TV.com] (later host of his own talk show [TV.com]). Also, the segment featured some smooth dimensional movement that was completely atypical for Space Ghost's original era.

Over the decades DC has absorbed many other comic book publishers and their stables (it's why Superman and Captain "shazam!" Marvel can come to loggerheads), but how did this happen? Oh, I see. Hanna-Barbera (1957) was purchased by Turner Broadcasting System (not TBS the channel) (1991), which in turn merged with Time Warner (1996); it was folded into Warner Bros. Television Animation (1998), much of whose work is branded as Cartoon Network Studios [Wikipedia, Hanna-Barbera at WBShop.com].
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[TV][Review] Terra Nova - Science of the first two eps [Oct. 4th, 2011|10:42 pm]
Fox's new SF-adventure TV series Terra Nova looks rather like a TV version of Dragonsdawn -- the 1989 novel in which Anne McCaffrey reveals the circumstances of Pern's colonization by humans, 2,500 years before the established "ninth pass" stories. But with more terrestrial megafauna (Pern's ecosystem had been repeatedly ravaged by the depredations of Thread, and had adapted) and no blue-toned vegetation. And fancier settlement architecture and computer gear. And no SSTO shuttlecraft flying to starship colony vessels in orbit.

The show's premise is that, in the mid-22nd century, scientists discovered a temporal rift and determined that it debouched to a parallel-timestream Earth, 85 million years ago. (Awfully convenient that the end-point wasn't anoxic Precambrian Earth, or the surface of Titan, or intergalactic space.) Enlarging it to send colonists seemed like a really good idea, given Earth-Prime's (not their term) pollution. For twenty years they've been doing so, and have sent ten batches ("pilgrammages") of humans, plus lots of gear. (Operating the rift appears to employ two city-sized ring-shaped devices. That's a heck of a capital investment, but still cheaper than interstellar travel.)

What do we see on the far side?

Flowering plants evolved about 130 million YBP, but only half of today's main groups had evolved by 65 MYBP. So when we see baskets of fresh fruit around the settlement, were they gathered locally, or are the settlers raising plants brought from the future?

We see some huge dinos, and some mid-size dinos, but no chicken-sized dinos. And a millipede the size of a garden hose, but no giant dragonflies.

At the end of the premiere (first two hour-long eps) the family is standing around, staring upward at an oversized Luna. The "smart one," 15-year old daughter Maddy, comments that the moon is moving away at (if I recall correctly) half a centimeter per year. It's actually (based on laser range-finding) 38 mm. At 85 megayears, that's 3,200 km less than today's mean distance of 385,000 km -- only 1%. Since angular size is proportional to distance (for small angles) the moon would only appear 1% wider (i.e. 101% today's width, or 102% today's area). A barely visible difference, and probably outweighed by the "horizon effect" optical illusion.

Nobody mentions that the day is slightly shorter (a consequence of such a mass-shift in the Earth-Moon system), and they hadn't been around long enough to notice that the "moonth" (lunar orbit) is shorter too. Maybe in an upcoming episode.

Further, when they notice the constellations are different (wait, weren't they just complaining about the omnipresent orange haze of the mid-22nd century?) Maddy says "expansion of the universe." Um, no. Most everything the naked eye can see is a star in the Milky Way, and constellation-shift is due to their proper motion (vectors imposed atop their (and our) orbits around the galactic center). Heck, every galaxy in the Local Group is gravitationally bound together; universal expansion is applicable at the scale of galactic superclusters and above.

Huh. Maybe she's not so smart after all.
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[Game] Mastermind - Online Flash version of the logic game [Sep. 23rd, 2011|11:21 pm]
Mastermind (Wikipedia) is a two-person code-breaking board game from the 1970s, manufactured in the U.S. by Hasbro. Hmmm. I remember playing it, but it must've been a friend's copy.

Dissatisfied with the absence of any true-to-the-original version in the iPhone App Store (um, just possibly to avoid infringing on patents?), in 2008 programmer Jeff Culbertson attempted to create one. Discovering that fluency in Flash does not necessarily translate to iPhone, by 2010 he had, at least, posted a working browser-based version to his blog. Test your logic against the software! There's a very simple algorithm that works for me, but possibly this implementation picks easy-to-guess peg-patterns.

Actually, it seems I didn't find the fastest algorithm -- mine takes six to seven moves, and the Wikipedia article describes one devised by Donald Knuth (of TeX fame) in 1977 that takes no more than five.
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[Review] Online heraldic generators [Sep. 23rd, 2011|08:54 pm]
While brainstorming artsy-crafty ideas for the Philcon 2011 Family Program, I thought a "build a coat of arms" activity would be fun, achievable with our materials, have tie-ins that are real (historical, if not tech/scientific) and Harry Potter-ish, and is likely to attract qualified leaders -- there's at least one SCA member on the concom. Since my knowledge of heraldic specifics is rusty, I started browsing for online references and interactive graphical generators.

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[Tour][Review] Inside CNN Studio Tour, Atlanta [Sep. 5th, 2011|07:28 am]
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Abstract:
The "Inside CNN Studio Tour" (official info, official Facebook) is a guided introduction to the technical tools and production process of cable news, through purpose-built demo rooms
and windows onto live studio floors. At CNN's global HQ in central Atlanta, Georgia.

(Photos later.)

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[Con][Review] Dragon*Con: The Parade [Sep. 4th, 2011|10:53 am]
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Abstract: The Dragon*Con 2011 costume parade route is seven blocks long and attracts many thousands of spectators from the convention and city, who pack five-deep along the route and into the skybridges above. The parade is divided into sections by topic and fan group: Star Trek, Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, elves, steampunk, etc.

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