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Apparently your reading page only goes back 14 days. I've been without home internet for 3 weeks. Hopefully that was not a very exciting week.
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I enjoyed the recent anime series Mawaru Penguindrum. This is a map of the inter-character relationships, as best as I could make them out. Spoilers, naturally.


I did my best to duplicate the subway-map aesthetic that appeared in the series. The series (and the actual Tokyo Metro) uses the font Frutiger for its roman-character signage. Sadly, I don't have Frutiger but Futura seemed closer to it than Helvetica.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.
yomikoma: Yomikoma reading (reading)
In Stanislaw Lem's book The Cyberiad, the main characters are two constructors, almost-omnipotent robots in a posthuman world. In their sixth sally, they are captured by the pirate Pugg, a robot with a head covered in eyes who has an insatiable hunger for information. He demands they tell him everything they know before he releases them.

To defeat him, they create a Demon of the Second Kind, which lets only true facts out of a random data source. Pugg starts reading with gusto, only to soon realize that most of these facts are totally useless. At first he hopes that great secrets of the universe will be related at any moment, but soon he is buried in information which his many eyes can't help but take in (as the heroes sneak away).

I was naturally reminded of my current information-acquisition tactics - twitter, lj/dw, rss feeds, etc. There's a lot of good information there but plenty of useless nonsense too. I need to remember to filter agressively, lest I end up crushed under a mountain of facts like the Pirate Pugg.
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Goodnight Room (2825 words) by [livejournal.com profile] skogkatt

Every year there is a end-of-year fanfic exchange called Yuletide, where people request underserved fandoms and other people anonymously write fic for them. Often these are fandoms that are very small or barely exist at all. I don't participate directly but I enjoy seeing the clever things other people do.

I've only begun to see recommendations for this year's Yuletide but one story knocked my socks off - Goodnight Room, by Skogkatt for Kass. As the title implies, it is based on the classic picture-book Goodnight Moon, but I don't think there's much overlap in actual audience since the original isn't a beautiful, creepy, hopeful science fiction story. I'm not sure how to recommend it without spoiling it, so here's a small excerpt:

When it is time to sleep, the bunny tells all the things in the room goodnight. All except the telephone. The telephone must stay awake in case anyone wants to make contact. The telephone used to ring. It was alive; it was connected to the rest of the universe. It brought news of the parents and the siblings, of the farmer and his rake, of the primroses. It has been silent a long time now, though the bunny has never told it goodnight. It sleeps just the same, and the bunny knows deep inside that the telephone will never wake, no matter how many times the bunny doesn't say, "Goodnight telephone."

Go read it. But bundle up first.
yomikoma: (muchaesque)
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In many fantasy worlds, magic is a mystical power, unconstrained by science, not subject to the laws of scientific inquiry. The Harry Potter series is not one of those worlds. In that universe, magic can be taught and used reliably, which should mean that it's analyzable by the scientific method - if only there was a magician who knew enough about science to do so.

The author "Less Wrong" is writing a story in which Harry Potter is that magician. Thanks to Petunia Evans marrying professor Michael Verres instead of Vernon Dursley (and many other changes from canon), the adopted Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres is a very bright 11-year-old who is proficient in math, science, and skepticism. Harry gets his Hogwarts letter, insists on experimental verification that magic is real, and proceeds to cause (and get into) impressive amounts of trouble in the wizarding world.

To some degree, the entire story is an introduction to rational analysis of the world, but the writing is not at all didactic. It's exciting, funny (with a wide variety of in-jokes and references to other works), occasionally touching, and the central conceit is fascinating to me. Given (more-or-less) the world as presented by Rowling, what can be tested? What is implied? What can be done, given a willingness to consider all the possibilities of something like a soda that guarantees that something surprising will happen as soon as you drink it? As I said in a comment at parenthetical.net, the fact that magic is being analyzed makes this, to me, a science fiction story.

One more thing - Harry's ally in scientific analysis of magic is naturally Hermione Granger. This gives her a much bigger part in the story, which I'm glad to see, and she's also a more important player in the clash of powers at Hogwarts.

After 49 chapters the story is up to February of Harry's first year. Many interesting things are happening and I'm at the point where I pretty much drop everything when a new chapter is released. Take a look.
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Having enjoyed the Moyashimon anime, I was excited to finally get to read the manga it was based on. It was as good as expected, with some surprises!

Moyasimon (for some reason it's being sold under the Nihon-shiki romanization instead of Hepburn, which would be Moyashimon) is the story of Tadayasu Sawaki, a boy from a mold-brewing family who has just started at an unnamed Tokyo-area agricultural university. For no explained reason, he has the ability to see microbes with the naked eye, which look like small cute creatures to him (and to the reader). However, this ability is only occasionally the main point of a chapter. The primary plot driver is the interactions between Tadayasu and his classmates, who are an interesting ensemble of fellow students (including a grad student) and a fermentation-obsessed professor. Happily, there's a good gender balance and the comic easily passes the Bechdel test. It's mostly a college-based comedy with occasional breaks for relationships or microbiology. (And can I say, as much as I enjoy some high-school manga, it's nice that there are college ones out there too, about adults.)

It was interesting to see what pieces didn't get adapted into the anime, including a page about hemp cultivation and an entire chapter about lactic acid bacteria. One chapter is just the microbes discussing human-germ relations. And yes, they're still funny!

The female characters are cute, but more important to me they're competent. These characters are skilled biologists or at least biologists-in-training, not "cute-but-stupid" stereotypes.

One last thing - I had no idea how much I loved fake previews. The preview for book 2 at the end of book 1 makes it look like the book suddenly becomes a tense horror-action-thriller. Naturally it does nothing of the sort. I'm guessing book 3 isn't actually about the characters suddenly gaining ridiculous amounts of weight either. Also - really funny margin notes!

(The author mentions in some of those margin notes that he's excited that the book is being released in the US. Ishikawa-sensei, if you find this review, at least one fan is eagerly awaiting the next volume!)
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From http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/17/pope-astronomer-baptise-aliens?CMP=twt_gu :

Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham tomorrow, [Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno] said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. "Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul." Would he baptise an alien? "Only if they asked."

The Gostak

Jul. 19th, 2010 08:23 pm
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I recently played Carl Muckenhoupt's interactive fiction game The Gostak. It was wonderful.

Like other IF games, you interact with the game via a text prompt, telling it what you would like to do. The game responds with textual descriptions of the world and the effects of your actions.

Unlike other IF games, The Gostak takes place in a completely alien environment with an almost completely alien vocabulary. It's still in English - with familiar tenses, pronouns, articles, prepositions, prefixes, and basic verbs - but most of the words are entirely unfamiliar. Even basic IF staples like "That's not a verb I recognize" and "You can't go that direction" are replaced with "That's not a dape I recognize" and "You can't pell at that lutt". Luckily, there is some jallon provided which gives some basic dapes to start with. It's a joy to deduce from context and the small amount of data you have what to do with the things you find and the problems you encounter. If you get really stuck (like I did) there are brolges provided for particular puzzles. (One puzzle, the Cobbic glaud, completely stumped me - I never did figure out how I was supposed to learn that dape.) But for the most part, just pelling at the various deaves and trying dapes will make more and more sense as you internalize the logic of this new world.

Very strange and very enjoyable - at least if you're me.

Library ad

Jul. 16th, 2010 09:26 am
yomikoma: Yomikoma reading (reading)
Hopefully all my librarian friends have already seen this, but some of the rest of you may have missed it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ArIj236UHs "Study like a scholar, scholar"
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All my puzzle friends were tweeting this morning about Francis Heaney's crossword in the New York Times. I know Francis and know he has good taste in puzzles, so I thought I'd check it out.

We needed some things at the drug store anyway, so I walked down to Davis Square (15 minutes) to pick up those things and get the paper while I was at it. The paper seemed kind of small but I don't really know the NYT very well.

Got home, got ready to puzzle, and could not find it. The front page referred to an "arts and leisure" section, and I didn't have that. I got a defective Times! So, back down to the Square with my paper and my receipt.

I had bought one of two copies in the store - but BOTH copies were missing the same sections. Happily they refunded my purchase in cash. Walked over to the Indian grocery (turns out we needed coconut milk too) and they had complete editions of the Times - turns out about half the paper was missing from the drug store version! Verified that there was indeed a crossword in there with Francis's name on it. Got the bus home just so I didn't have to walk up the hill again.

Was it worth it? Yes! Not to spoil much, but this was a great theme. It wasn't one of the all-too-common "change a common phrase slightly" themes, but something where there was a real wordplay element going on in both directions. The real-world knowledge required was cleverly embedded in the grid (handy in two cases for me), which is always nice to see. Great job, Francis!
yomikoma: (solarsystem)
Antlia symbol
Apus symbol
Ara symbol
Caelum symbol
Circinus symbol
Columba symbol
Dorado symbol
Fornax symbol
Grus symbol
Horologium symbol
Indus symbol
Mensa symbol
Microscopium symbol
Musca symbol
Phoenix symbol
Pictor symbol
PiscisAustrinus symbol
Reticulum symbol
Sculptor symbol
Telescopium symbol
Volans symbol
New Constellation Symbols
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Today I spent a happy afternoon
(plus bits of morning) walking all around
the streets of Boston, solving puzzles with
some friends. We four were playing in a game
called DASH (that's Diff'rent Area, Same Hunt).
Our team (STDP) had played in DASH
the first when it was held September last -
this was the second, and we had a ball.

Like then, this hunt consisted of a set
of puzzles, with the first given to all
the teams at once. The answer to
each puzzle lets you figure out the place
which holds the puzzle following. A bit
of walking will ensue in unknown parts
of town. Unlike DASH 1, there was no cost
for taking time to just enjoy the day -
the ranking is on solving time alone.
The sites are clued by numbers on a map
which changes in each city with a hunt;
thus all ten cities shared the puzzles and
the answers, simply walking different ways.
The final place provides a puzzle which
will take as input all the answers of
the hunt - a metapuzzle. Finally
a single answer's given and the teams
relax and chat and eat some food nearby.

I really liked that change - it meant we could
relax and see the sights - some lovely parks,
some fountains too, and, in the BPL,
some murals that were worth the trip alone.

There will be puzzle details in this cut. )

In general I'm very happy with
DASH number two and will be waiting with
impatience for the third one. If you want
to solve or volunteer to help put on
the next one, there is contact info on
the playdash website. Hope to see you there!
yomikoma: Yomikoma reading (Default)
If you (like me) are interested in
the culture of the nations of the "East",
then "Journey to the West" is known to you
as source and inspiration of a bunch
of modern stories, films, and such. But have
you actually read the book itself?
I surely haven't. So I'm glad to see
that David Peterson not only has
but also wrote a nice review in which
he summarizes most of how the book's
100 chapters go. He spent five years
in reading it - glad I don't have to, now.
yomikoma: Yomikoma reading (Default)
(Oh, sure, I'll do blank verse blog week. Why not?)
I just watched Katanagatari 4
(the episode for April/Uzuki).
Beware! There will be spoilers under here! )
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How do I say anything about this without spoiling it?

This was an amazing episode, not just for the series but for TV in general. The resolution of many mysteries done in a completely sensible way, the optimism, the message about anyone's ability to make a difference, the visual grammar used beautifully - if only all "mysterious" shows were this well plotted. And we're only halfway through this 2-cour series, apparently.

It could be seen as kind of an otaku-wish-fulfillment moment but despite the fantastic nature of the show it feels realistic - I feel like the cool parts of this could actually happen.


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