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...