Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Amendments I Would Like To See In An Ideal World (But Probably Won't See in This One)

As we all know, the US Government is currently in a case of horrible gridlock. I have a specific commentary on this that I'll put up later, but for now here are 2 constitutional amendments I would love to see to help address issues with the current US governmental setup. Of course these are 99.999% pipe dream, given that I can't see any politicians even having the wherewithal to propose these, much less enough at both the national and state level voting for them.

28th Amendment:
  • Article the 1st: In the event that Congress shall fail to pass a budget before the expiry of a previous budget, the previous budget shall continue in force until a new budget has been ratified.
  • Article the 2nd: Congress shall pass no law causing, nor through inaction fail to pass any law preventing, the United States of America to fail to meet any debt incurred, public or private.
  • Article the 3rd: The executive shall have the authority to take needed steps in order to make payments on such dept irregardless of, or in spite of, any acts ratified to the contrary, including incurring new debt, not authorized by Congress but equivalently insured, only in such situation as it is necessary to ensure compliance with the 2nd article. This shall not be construed in any way as granting the executive the authority or ability to bypass the explicit budgetary powers of congress enumerated in the Article 1 of the constitution in any other instance.
Reasoning: This allows us to avoid the ENTIRETY of the issue we are having now. If you don't like the budget, you have to pass a new one, you can't just refuse and have the entire system shut down. Also ensures that the US will not default, securing our currency, while stating explicitly and unambiguously that while the president has the authority to borrow more to pay back debts (thus ensuring that the 14th Amendments is actually enforceable), he is not in any way shape or form allowed to go around congress in any other instance.

Why it will not happen: Congress is loath to give away any power, even in a very specific instance. The ability to induce a shutdown, being horribly abused currently, is a tool in the hands of the minority, and, just like the filibuster, one which even the majority will not want to surrender for their own use when they are again the minority. And of course in the current climate there is no way the republicans in congress or in the states would agree to anything that gives up their ability to block democratic priorities, no matter how much good it would do for the economy and governmental function.

29th Amendment:
  • Article the 1st: The election of federal officials to the Congress shall be performed via the Alternative Vote, defined in Article 4.
  • Article the 2nd: The election of the President of the United States of America shall be performed via direct popular vote, utilizing the Alternative Vote, defined in article 4.
  • Article the 3rd: District lines utilized in the election of Senators and Representatives shall be drawn by a neutral committee or method, prioritizing geographic simplicity and maintaining integral town, city, and neighborhood borders. Voting patterns and ethnic, sexual, or religious demographics may not influence the distribution of these districts in any way.
  • Article the 4th: The Alternative Vote shall function as follows - the people shall indicate an order of preference, from most preferred to least, among available candidates, with the option of refusing to vote for specific candidates. The first choices shall be tallied. If no candidate shall have the needed votes to win office, the candidate with the least votes shall be removed from the ballot, and votes which were indicated for this candidate shall be redistributed among the remaining candidates according to the next listed preference of those who voted for the removed candidate, with those who did not indicate further preference being discounted. This process shall continue until a candidate shall have sufficient votes to win office, in which case it shall be awarded to this candidate.
  • Article the 5th: The appointment of justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America shall be for a period of no less than 15 years and no more than 30 years. If a Justice shall be more than than age 70 years and have served 15 years or more, their term shall end at the conclusion of the current court session. Justices who have served on the Supreme Court are barred from any further practice of Law or consultation in legal matters in the United States or its territories for the remainder of their natural life. Congress shall pass legislation providing for a suitable benefit for justices after the expiry of their term, such that this bar shall not be a hardship.
  • Article the 6th: No Senator having served 2 terms, or having served more than 2 years of a term to which another was elected and 1 elected term, shall be eligible for election to the Senate.
  • Article the 7th: No Representative, having served 5 terms, or having served more than 1 year of a term to which another was elected and 4 elected terms, shall be eligible for election to the House of Representatives.
  • Article the 8th: No individual above the age of 70 may be elected to the Presidency, Senate or House of Representatives.

Reasoning: Sensible term limits for all offices are a must. The revolving door of incumbency creates a massive corruption machine. The lifetime appointment of justices made sense when lifetimes were 30-40 years shorter than they are now, but have become a problem with increasing life spans. 15 years ensures justices outlast a president, but not that they do so by over a quarter of a century. Barring justices from practicing law after serving avoids conflicts of interest and influencing judges ("I wrote that opinion, here is what I meant" during an argument before a lower court judge by a former supreme). The alternative vote prevents spoilers, avoids issues like the 2000 election, and ensures that people can safely vote for third parities without wasting their vote. It also informs electees of what their constituents are really interested in. The age limits are to avoid stagnationary and health issues (reps who don't understand modern technology or social structures, "back to the good old days" legislating, inability to vote due to illnesses, unelected representatives serving terms due to deaths in office from old age).

Why it won't pass: Career politicians will never pass anything that prevents them from being continuously reelected until they die in office. When getting elected once virtually guarantees you reelection as long as there is no scandal (even now reelection rates stand at >80%), gathering the votes to end the gravy train is virtually impossible. The only reason we have presidential term limits is because the president couldn't veto it.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Physicist Discusses: Star Trek Into Darkness

Into Darkness is a good summer movie. It is a passable Star Trek movie. I would recommend you go see it. It's certainly a fun time, though not without its problems. You can find plot reviews anywhere, so I'm going to talk about the problems from the view of a physicist and writer.

From here on out I will be talking about what the movie did wrong. I am not talking "trekkie" items either, I am talking about basic things that should have been caught by the writers or any science consultants they had. That they weren't indicates lazy writing, bad editing, and a lack of understanding in several subjects. They don't really detract from the movie from a fun point of view, but they do take you out of it if you think about them for a few minutes.


  1. Just because it is called "cold fusion" does not mean it has anything to do with freezing things. A cold fusion device would not create "freeze waves". All that the "cold" part implies is that the reaction is started without having to deal with the types of conditions you find inside stars (super high heat and pressure). Cold fusion is pretty well established as impossible in real life, but I'm willing to give a sci-fi movie a pass on that point and assume they figure it out later.
  2. Freezing the top of a volcano would make the eruption worse, not stop it. Volcanoes erupt because of a huge build up of pressurized liquid rock under the surface. As anyone who has ever shaken a carbonated beverage container can tell you, capping it makes the eventual explosion more violent, not less (unless you arrange a controlled leak, such as popping the cap just slightly so gas can escape). Unless they vented the pressure somewhere else (and maybe that is why they had the enterprise under the ocean, which is never really explained), they have just guaranteed the natives an even worse time in a little while.
  3. Kahn's plan is very cliche, but it is cliche because it is a workable plan (the one to get the senior staff together, not the one where he puts people in torpedoes). But the horrible, inexcusable incompetence of Starfleet makes the entire situation unrealistic. No one but Kirk in the entirety of Starfleet could see through Kahn's plan, which Kirk figured it out in less than 2 minutes with no prior information or knowledge about the situation. Further, the entire plan hinges on the fact that they apparently wrote in the regulations the exact room in which everyone important was to meet in the event of an attack. This isn't "Kahn figured out where they were", it is "every single person in Starfleet or who has read the starfleet regs knows where they are". At the very least Admiral Marcus should have realized that he was a target and moved the location.
  4. The most ridiculous thing in the whole movie is the "Transwarp Transporter". Kahn beams from Earth Kronos using a device slightly bigger than a suitcase. From the center of the Federation to the capitol world of a belligerent power. How can they be a threat, if we can just beam explosives at their planet without even taking them out of the factory? Why do we even need starships if we can just beam from planet to planet? Why didn't Admiral Marcus just beam the torpedoes at Kahn instead of sending out the Enterprise?
  5. Correlated with that is how Kronos is apparently 2 minutes from Earth at warp. How can you have two belligerent powers with capitols 2 minutes apart? Even an hour might have been believable, but having these two worlds this close together makes it completely unbelievable that they have not just gone to war and finished already.
  6. Neither Starfleet nor the Klingon's appear to have any kind of security sensors or defenses anywhere. No one sees Kahn's flyer, no one detects Kahn beaming to Kronos, the Klingons do not see the enterprise 20 minutes from their capitol, do not notice the shuttle till it is about to land, nor can they track it when it leaves. The secret Jupiter shipyard can't detect a shuttle flying right up to it making no attempt at stealth, no one in a small convoy of ships can see said shuttle just slipping in with them, and at no point while a battle is going on in lunar orbit or during the several minutes it takes the Enterprise and Vengeance to fall through the atmosphere does anyone notice and respond in any way until the Vengeance break the cloud deck. Also, there were several other ship captains and first officers in the meeting earlier; where are all of their ships while this is going on? Where are the orbital defenses around Earth or Kronos?
  7. Why does McCoy need Kahn alive? He has 72 other augments in stasis, one of whom he later pulls out while keeping him unconscious so he can use the stasis pod he is in. Couldn't he have gotten a blood sample from any of them?
There are also several basic character and sensibility failures.
  1. You would never put a large multilevel vertical atrium on a ship exposed to vacuum. As soon as there was a breach anywhere on the ship, you would expose all of the decks to space.
  2. We finally get seat belts in Star Trek, and they are really dumb computer controlled seat belts. What happens if something knocks out the computer? Why aren't they worn more often, since we clearly see you getting knocked around in several scenes?
  3. Why is Carol Marcus in this movie? She doesn't give any exposition that couldn't have been handled by Spock, she gets kidnapped by Admiral Marcus in 5 seconds and then basically ignored. I thought maybe they would set her up for a reverse Women in Refrigerators relationship with Kahn after she saw him kill her father, but she is absent for almost the entire rest of the movie and it is Spock who gets to go after Kahn in a rage.
  4. Uhura's entire role in the movie is to be in a relationship with Spock. Nothing she does in the entire film has anything to do with anything else.This is a waste of the character.
  5. Is there no one else working in engineering other than Scotty and his pal? Kirk bypasses the entire existing engineering staff and gives the chief engineer position to Checkov, an ensign whose primary post is tactical. In a real situation, there would be a 3rd officer who would take over from him.
  6. There was no need to bring in Spock-Prime (Leonard Nemoy). His presence is strictly fan service.
  7. I'm sorry Zachary Quinto, but you cannot do the Shatner "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN".

Friday, May 17, 2013

April Showers Bring May Flowers And Late-Season Flu

This was not week I intended to take most of off. Not a pleasant one either. Anyway, it is letting up, so hopefully I can get back on a schedule of some kind soon.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

End of Semester

End of semester is a busy time. Seeing it from the other side makes you appreciate how much work goes into it by the professors and TAs.

There is making the tests, checking them (this is where I come in), making a gajillion copies (me again), proctoring the usually multiple test sessions, grading everything super fast (because we get about 5 days to do all of it), entering everything, and then most of a day just to decide fair cutoffs, make weighting changes, deal with student feedback... and of course the inevitable flood of  'HOW DID I GET THIS GRADE YOU MUST BE WRONG AHH MY FINANCIAL AID' type e-mails, phone calls, and unscheduled office visits.

I'm not going to call it pure chaos, but it is pretty close and awfully time consuming.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Evangelion: Q

I was going to write a post about the 3rd movie in the Rebuild of Evangelion series. Then I watched it.

What the hell was that? Can anyone tell me what the hell I just watched?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writers' Block

As I said back when I started this blog, part of the idea is get practice writing regularly. So you could be forgiven for wondering where I have been this last little while.

The answer is that I have been suffering writers block. Now, a common misconception is that when I say that it means I have been sitting here staring at my screen. Actually, at least for me, writers block has more to do with writing a ton of drek than it does with writing nothing. I have several posts that will not be seeing the light of day, because they are horrible. None of you want to hear me harp on the discontinuation of my favorite trackball (The Trackball Explorer) or have a 3 page rant about CISPA that ends up supporting the position I am against.

Dry spells happen in writing so sorry, and I'll try to do better.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Learning An Instrument As An Adult Beginner

In August of last year, I began learning to play the violin. This is the first instrument I have ever played, and I did not even know how to read music (and to be honest I am still working on getting past counting from the G clef every time). I am 30 years old.

Many people consider this too late to get started. I will probably never be as good as someone who started as a child. I will not be attending a conservatory, nor in all likelihood will I ever make money off this. I am doing this because I want to. I have wanted to for a long time. While I was growing up, we had an upright piano in our living room. I would peck at it randomly, sometimes even getting something remotely rhythmical going, but I was never able to learn to play. We didn't have the money or the time for me to have lessons, and most time I went to the piano I was pulled away from it anyway, due to it disturbing the neighbors in our thin-walled apartment. Eventually, my parents decided to sell the piano to open up space, and so it could go to someone who would actually use it.

The other question I get is why I picked the violin. It is, after all, one of the hardest instruments to play, held in an awkward position, requiring vastly different motions with each hand and lacking any visual or touch indicators for notes. The instrument also does not hold tune very well from session to session due to temperature and humidity based expansion/contraction, meaning you can't even get started till you can tune well. A piano needs to be tuned once or twice a year. A violin needs it once or twice a week, at minimum, more preferably every time you play (I admit that I cheat and use an electric tuner). My simple answer is this: If I am going to spend hours upon hours playing an instrument (especially the basic 'learner' songs I will be playing for a while, which are not that interesting), I am going to do it on the instrument I am most interested in listening to. It was violin or piano, and violins are more portable.

The challenges as an adult beginner are myriad. I have no one but myself to encourage me to play. I have to self critique my own practices; there is no one to sit there and listen to me playing all the time. I have to find time around my job and everything else in my life. I have to scrounge up the money for a violin, lessons, repairs, etc. Shopping for a violin when you have no idea what you are doing is also nerve racking; I personally lucked out in that a family friend had a violin they were willing to give me, for which I am very grateful.

One thing that turns out to be an unexpected benefit is that I am hard of hearing. You would think this would be a problem, but when the sound source is 10cm from your ear, you can actually distinguish tones more easily with decreased volume. This is, of course, dependent on the level of hearing loss; I am fortunate that I have not lost the ability to hear any of the relevant frequencies.

The hardest part is finding a teacher. Most music teachers fit into two classes: people who teach children the basics, and people who teach adults the hard stuff. Just as kindergarten and college teachers cannot switch places, music teachers do not like to step out of their specialty, and many will refuse to teach a beginning adult. You also sometimes find a teacher who is willing to teach, but cannot stop treating every student as a young child; this obviously creates and awkward situation for an adult learning. Finding a teacher who is comfortable and able to teach an adult beginner is not trivial; it took me months after I obtained my violin to find a good instructor.

So here I am, working away at Suzuki 1, with weekly lessons. And I have no intention of stopping any time soon if I can help it.

Should you, however old you are, go out and learn music? The answer to this is of course personal, and depends on your personal definition of 'worth it'. You will have to be willing to put time and effort and money into it. You definitely have to understand that you will not learning quickly; you will be doing simple things for quite some time. You could find that you have no talent, or that you picked the wrong instrument. All of these are risks. So the question is, for all this, is it worth it? For me, I will say, it most certainly is.

If you want some good violin tunes, check out these artists on Youtube:

Lindsay Stirling
Taylor Davis
The Piano Guys (not strictly speaking violin music, but I don't discriminate in the family)
Jason Yang
Ben Chan
Josh Chiu
Lara DeWit
2 Cellos

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Physicist Recommends: Bioshock Infinite

I just finished playing Bioshock Infinite. I know my post is a bit late in the grand scheme of reviews, but I was taking my time with it. Bioshock games don't come out that often, so I saw no need to burn through the experience quickly.

And what an experience it was. The world is fascinating, the characters interesting. There is a little bit of an info dump right at the end, but all of it is built up to and it's really just about making sure everyone got it, rather than coming out of nowhere. Pacing is excellent, except for some issues caused by the combat, detailed below. Bioshock games are known for story over gameplay, and this one does not disappoint. This is a game with a set story that you are playing through, though; there is no free choice at all, but you will not find yourself minding very much.

Combat is more or less standard for an FPS, but it is almost an afterthought to the experience; you are here for the story. The game uses Halo conventions for weapons (can only carry two, must switch between them or drop one to get a new weapon) and a Halo shield (recharges by hiding behind cover for a bit), neither of which I am a big fan of. I prefer to carry a huge arsenal, no matter how unrealistic it is. Ammo scarcity is a minor annoyance, since you often find plenty of ammo for weapons you are not carrying. Some of the vigor special abilities are too good (Possession, Murder of Crows, Shock Jockey) while others are nearly useless (Bucking Bronco, Charge, Devil's Kiss) except in specific situations or before you get the more useful ones. The upgrade system for weapons can be limiting too, since you cannot upgrade everything, nor can you always carry weapons you have upgraded to to ammo limitations. The skyline system adds some variety, but is underutilized and a bit awkward.

Enemies are a bit stupid, and there is low variety, a chronic issue in Bioshock games. The mechanic where the same enemies get tougher and tougher to kill as the game progresses for no apparent reason also makes an unfortunate return. While they do not blindly charge you, in many cases it is hard to get them to move. You will often find yourself hiding behind ludicrous cover, spending far too long playing peekaboo with your recharging shield as you slowly whittle down enemy forces that never close on you or move to better firing positions, or alternatively you will find yourself pinned down because you cannot get a shot for the same reason. There is too much use of large numbers to offset AI issues. Several sections require flawless execution to survive, due to enemies being too numerous or too well positioned, which is frustrating, especially since the game uses set autosave points, rather than free save. If you want to finish without ever reviving, it can require extensive retreading.

Much of the threat from enemies comes from a combination of their preset positioning being good, your own lack of ammo/correct weapon, a lack of appropriate cover, and shear numbers. Miniboss enemies are either very threatening due to overpowered abilities (Handymen), or not particularly threatening due to the cover system issues (Iron Patriots). Fewer, more intelligent and more difficult enemies deployed in smaller groups would have been more interesting. There is also no sneaking around; the instant one enemy in an area is alerted, all of them are. Combat can be fun, but sometimes you will find yourself wishing you could skip to the next bit of story, and abusing your infinite resurrections in response (be aware, resurrecting does cost money, which you need for upgrades, and you can run out of continues in 1999 mode).

By far the best game yet in the series, which is already among the best game series period, it gets my highest recommendation. Play this game for the story, even if you need to play it on easy.

Final Scores:
Story: 10/10One of the best stories in any game I have ever played. Anything I say could spoil it, which you absolutely do not want.
Voice Acting and Cinematics: 10/10Perfect pitch on all the characters with major speaking parts. Cinemas are well placed and not obtrusive. Almost everything is rendered in game, so there are no jarring changes in character appearances.
Gameplay: 5/10A passable FPS, it is rather generic, and innovative ideas like the skylines are wasted. Not particularly difficult except due to enemy numbers.
Music: 7/10Game original music is quite good. A large number of songs are recovers of various songs from across the 1900s; there is a nice variety of these and they fit in well.
Replay Value: 3/10The set nature of the story and lack of player choice mean that there is not much point in repeated playthroughs other than to try to beat it at a higher difficulty or to try to spot information you missed the first time
Final Verdict: 9/10
A brilliant story, only slightly hampered by mediocre gameplay. Well worth your time and effort.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

First Sale In The Digital Age

Do you think you just bought an e-book from amazon or an MP3 from iTunes? Only if you redefine your definition of "bought".

In a decision concerning Capitol Records v. ReDigi, a judge has again confirmed what tech savvy people have been trying to get across for years: what you get when you purchase something digitally is not what you get if you purchase the same thing physically.

Richard J. Sullivan declared that reselling digital goods is illegal without the permission of the copyright holder. His argument hinges around the act of copying, focusing on how a physical object with a song on it can be transferred unaltered, while a digital file must be copied to be moved. He ignores the fact that you can rip the song before giving away the physical medium, or that even playing a song on a computer requires copying it into RAM, which by his standard would also be illegal. The argument is strictly about physical permanence vs. digital ephemeralness. The case is particularly about MP3s, but the reasoning makes it broadly applicable to anything digital.

This will of course be appealed (this was only a district court ruling, so it will be a while before the appeals process ends) but in the meantime, it sets a very dangerous precedent for electronic goods. Many people 'buying' things in digital form assume that the word 'buy' means the same thing it always has with physical goods, including permanent possession and first sale rights, but that is not the way it is shaping up in the legal system. Most never notice the difference, because businesses are extremely careful to hide the distinction, lest people start objecting. Ask a customer of Apple about their music and they will assume that it works the same as buying a CD, but ask former customers of MSN music and they will warn you about how everything they had payed for disappeared one day, with no recourse.

We must not allow this to become the new norm. What you have bought should be yours to do with as you please, with only the minor and logical restrictions we have come to expect. "Don't buy a CD and use it to make hundreds of copies and sell them at a personal profit" is a fair restriction. "Don't give away the song to anyone else, allow them to listen to the song with or without you present, or play the song in such a way that a person might listen to the song by accident" is not. "If we ever turn off our servers for confirming who you are, you lose everything you have every bought from us with no compensation or recourse" is not. We should own what we pay for. That what we bought is made of bits instead of paper or plastic should not change that.

Correction: It has been pointed out that Apple now uses a watermarking scheme, rather than server-based DRM, for its music. You won't lose access to your purchases if Apple goes out of business. The songs have your identity encoded in the metadata, so if you give the songs away, Apple or the music label can still say that they sold it to you and not X, so you are in trouble. While this is slightly more acceptable in that you don't lose your paid content if they stop paying for servers, the lack of transfer rights is still worrying, and the main point of this post.

Posted a few days late to avoid April Fools.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools

It's Internet Fake-out Day. Since absolutely anything I could post would be considered a joke, I'm not going to post at all.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Physicist Recommends: Maoyuu Maou Yuushya

Maoyuu Maou Yuushya, literally "The Demon Lord and the Hero", shortened to Maoyuu on Chrunchyroll, is an anime you should see. It is the story of how the lord the demons, Maou, and the fantasy archetype hero, Yuushya, team up to try and save their worlds from the endless war between humans and demons.

Those of you with some knowledge of Japanese may have noticed that "Maou" and "Yuushya" literally mean "Demon Lord" and "Hero", respectively. In the tradition of oral folk stories, all character names are simply their roles, which can get a little confusing at times when characters break archetype, such as when Onna Kishi (Female Knight) becomes a nun. It serves the purpose, though, of making all the characters quickly and easily identifiable, without the need to get a dictionary of strange sounding fantasy names out.

The setting of the story is mostly in the Feudal/Pre-Renaissance era human world, with brief forays into the demon world. After convincing Yuushya to team up with her using a brilliant argument involving the socioeconomic underpinnings of the war and how his killing her or vice-versa will only make things worse for both sides, which I'll leave for you to see yourself, Maou drops out of sight, and sneaks off to the human world with Yuushya, to begin laying the foundations for a sustainable end to the fighting. The human world is in bad shape, with massive famine and religious and social oppression similar to that of the 14th-16th centuries. She plans to do this by INDUCING a Renaissance, introducing such things as the printing press to relieve the church's monopoly on information and the potato to solve mass hunger. At the same time, Yuushya, as the conveniently face concealed Black Knight and Right Hand of the Demon Lord, engineers events in the Demon world to help bridge the gap between humans and demons through trade.

What makes the story good is that, under all the fantasy trappings, it is for the most part real. The issues that are addressed, and the reasons to address them, are perfectly applicable to the world, with simple replacement of the terms "Demon" and "Human" with those of nations or groups. The solutions and the reasoning behind them are never forced or contrived (although occasionally Maou comes across as knowing a bit too much, such as when she literally pulls the smallpox vaccine out of a hat), and the reactions that people have to what is going on are realistic. Even when fantasy elements like magic make an appearance, they could easily be replaced with more realistic equivalents without changing things. All of this lends the show a topicalness that is not often seen in other anime. If you are looking for action, you won't find it here, as there are only a few very brief (and not very good) action sequences, but politics and intrigue, those are present in spades.

The only major flaw with the show, which is an adaptation of a Japanese novel series of the same name, is that it is only 12 episodes. There is a lot of rush involved in getting the show from point a to point b, and in this case point b is approximately the end of the first novel, so there is no real conclusion. Hopefully we will see another series out of the show (for those unaware, Japanese television shows, particularly anime, tend to be only 1 'season', doing a continuous story from start to finish, but sequels are not unheard of). Despite this, the show is well worth the time, as long as you are willing to fill in the blanks a bit.

For those looking for a mostly serious political drama, this show is excellent and should not be missed.

Final Scores:
Plot: 9/10Excellent, must see. Loses one point for obnoxious, but not obtrusive, harem romance subplot. I really wish that particular anime convention would be dropped already.
Animation: 6/10The animation is serviceable, but the focus is on what is happening, not how nice it looks. Extensive use of static, stylized backgrounds. Much of the animation is people talking, so there is not much movement
Voice Acting: 8/10A few characters sound a bit... off, but nothing truly egregious. The voice for 8(?) year old Maido Imouto (little sister maid) is the worst offender. If you don't understand Japanese, you probably won't notice.
Music: 4/10Nothing particularly standout, but nothing really bad either.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Last Minute Specification Changes

We have all been there. We have been working on something for weeks. We have it all set up, with everything functioning perfectly. And then one day, just as you are about to be done, your boss comes in and declares "Actually, can we do this other thing we hadn't planned on that has these additional requirements?" You throw up your hands and complain about how all the work you just did has to be redone... and then your boss looks at you sharply, you turn around, and start redoing it. This kind of thing happens all over the place, in IT, in business, heck even in the military ("no plan survives contact with the enemy").

You would think that science being, well, SCIENCE, this wouldn't be so much of an issue, but it happens more often then you expect. You are setting up an experiment and it occurs to someone, "Hey, we could measure this other thing too, and get a two-for-one setup". Science experiments are expensive and often overspecialized. It can cost thousands of dollars to make setups to test only one thing, often out of parts that need to be custom made and are virtually useless for anything else. That's not even including the mammoth machines needed for modern High Energy Physics, like the Large Hadron Collider (this isn't why I am not in HEP, which I'll get into in another post, but it was sure a factor). So when you are able to make a setup that can be used for multiple experiments, or at least to measure more than one thing at once, you jump at the chance.

The annoying part is when you figure this out when you are 99% done. In my case, we found a way to measure fluid velocity in our setup. Don't laugh, measuring this when you can't just shove the water through a flow meter is much harder than you think (if you are brave/mathematically savvy, have a look at this). We were going to have to do a dozen test with different samples and techniques in order to get that velocity. Now we can just use a laser. So changing things to let us do this saves us a ton of work later, and gives us a better set of data. The rub, of course, is that none of the work done to this point had a laser beam anywhere, and so it's back to the drawing board. Just like in software, it's not as simple as just tweaking a variable.

So raise a glass to me as I start over, and I will raise one to you the next time you get this dreaded visit. And remember my credo: "At least they aren't TPS reports."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Blogger Version Control

I had a second post up. Some of you may have seen it. Unfortunately, it no longer exists.

Google, in their inability to program, cannot handle version control. When I opened the blogger app on my iPhone, it pushed the version of the site it had stored internally to the server and completely overwrote everything, even the saved drafts. Only a few paragraphs of my post remain, and I am not rewriting it from almost scratch.

If you use blogger, STAY AWAY FROM THE IPHONE OR ANDROID BLOGGER APPS (I checked and there are reports that the android app is doing this too), unless you intend to use them exclusively. They are incompetently coded.

If you are from google and looking at this, try using filemtime if this is written on a PHP back end.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Welcome To My Blog

I was originally resistant to the idea of doing this. Who is going to care about what I have to say? Why should I bother spending the time to write this stuff when I am working on a PhD? Where am I going to find the time to write while working on a PhD., which already involves quite a bit of writing? What about my fiction writing?

That last point was actually what sold it for me. I have tried, repeatedly, to get published as a science fiction author, in such august magazines as Asimov's, Analog, and Amazing Stories. But what I wrote and submitted always needed more work. I don't mean the usual "an artist never thinks it's done" kind of work, but more the "this just doesn't sound... right" kind of work. And of course, as you can tell from 'tried', it was always rejected.

The real purpose here is to keep me writing. If I am writing all the time, then it stops being a special thing when I break out my fiction writing hat. Sure, it's a bit different in terms of content and style, but if I get used to writing for x amount of time, then maybe I can write fiction just as easily as these blog posts. So in the meantime, I hope you, the reader, find some of what I have to say interesting, and we'll see how this works out.

This blog is going to be a mix of things. I'll be doing politics, science, technology, games... basically whatever strikes me. If something turns up that is particularly good or that people are particularly interested in, maybe it will get more specialized later. One thing I am going to be watching for is factual accuracy. I am a scientist, and nothing annoys me more than an unsupported argument, at least one that is phrased as factual. So I am going to try my best to make sure everything I talk about as a fact is a correct fact, and I hope that any discussion will do the same.

That's it for this opening. Tune in next time for...