May 20, 2016

Why are we watching?

(Yes, this post is about anime, so stick with me.)

May I introduce B.F. Skinner? He did critical work in understanding conditioning. Everyone has heard of Pavlov's Dogs, but that had to do with low level neural circuits and its practical application is extremely limited.

Not so Skinner's work. He was studying processes which happen at the highest levels of the brain. It's known as "operant conditioning" and it's extremely powerful. It has to do with reinforcement: the person who is training you is trying to achieve certain results, and he uses rewards to make you comply.

It's more complex than that, however. How does the operator get across what he wants the subject to do? You start by rewarding behavior which is close to what you want, and get more and more specific as time goes on.

You want the pigeon to peck the keyboard of a toy piano. So the first thing you do is to starve the pigeon so it's voraciously hungry. The pigeon wanders close to the piano, and you dump some food in a hopper which the pigeon immediately eats. But it wants more, so it wanders back to the piano and when it gets a lot closer, you reward it with more food. It goes like that; eventually you reward it when it puts its head near the keyboard, and you reward it for pecking the keyboard, and so on.

Quite complex behaviors can be induced this way. And they can be reinforced really very strongly. He also studied "schedules of reinforcement" and came up with some surprising results. "Continuous reinforcement" is what you use when first teaching the desired behavior but it isn't very effective at maintaining it.

The most effective schedule of reinforcement is to reward randomly, with varying amounts of reward. Small rewards more commonly, and bigger rewards more rarely. If the reward schedule is consistent, the subject knows each time whether there will be a reward. But if the schedule is random, then he thinks, "Well, maybe this time it'll hit."

Skinner's work was anticipated by tinkerers a hundred years before him, when they invented the slot machine. It turns out to be a nearly perfect device for teaching people to stick coins in the machine.

So what has this got to do with anime? Wonderduck asks, "Why are we watching?" when really excellent shows come around so rarely and unexpectedly?

The answer is that we've been conditioned. Smaller rewards more often (shows which are good but not great) and an occasional masterpiece without warning -- isn't that exactly like a slot machine?

Which makes us think, "Well, one more try; maybe this one will turn out to hit the jackpot!"

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May 19, 2016

We did it!

My fellow Americans, we have exceeded parity! There are now 11 guns in private hands in this country for every 10 Americans!

And all because of Obama. Every time he starts talking about "common sense gun control" gun sales go up another notch. declares Obama to be the greatest gun salesman in America, and I think they have a point.

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May 18, 2016

21st Century Headlines

"Man admits to using gun in SE Portland hoverboard robbery, records show"

Hoverboard robbery? It must be the future already. I didn't know anyone was selling hoverboards yet.

UPDATE: Sigh; apparently they don't actually hover. It's like a segway without the handlebars.

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Here's your wakeup call

Just in time to remind everyone that the war isn't over, an EgyptAir A320 flying from Paris to Cairo has dropped off of radar and didn't arrive in Cairo. Odds are it crashed in the eastern Med, and of course we all know the most likely reason why, don't we? 69 people on board.

I do hope I'm wrong, of course.

UPDATE: It takes two to make a peace, but only one to make a war.

UPDATE: How long before someone in a position of authority assures us that terrorism was not involved? I say even money it happens within the next 12 hours.

UPDATE: Here's a surprise: a French official says, "It's too soon to rule anything out." Of course, these days the French government is no longer so concerned with anti-Muslim backlash.

UPDATE next morning: Much to my surprise the consensus now is that it probably was terrorism. My guess: it was a bomb smuggled on board, not one set off by a passenger. I don't think this one will be "crazy pilot".

But it definitely crashed. They've already found a bit of debris, though the search is only beginning. (It takes a while for ships to reach the area.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Weird World at 08:49 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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May 17, 2016

Let's don't go there

John Kovalic is a very witty man and a very good comic artist, with a very distinctive style. His original claim to fame is a comic called "Dork Tower". It updates online when he gets around to it, based on how busy he is with paying work. He also brings out volumes of it, which are not collections of the online stuff. That, too, is "when it happens".

He's a terrible punster. Just awful. Monumental. And I want one of these.

He's buddies with Wil Wheaton, which is kind of cool. They go way back. (Probably met at a gaming convention.)

What he is probably most famous for now is doing the art for various games, in particular the Munchkin series from Steve Jackson. Jackson and Kovalic have a very long and successful business relationship going back at least 15 years, and at this point Kovalic has done more than 5000 Munchkin cards for Jackson, plus working on other things (e.g. Chez Geek). He's also worked for other publishers, about which more later.

One of the more recent versions of Munchkin is "Munchkin Zombie" and there was one card in it that Kovalic simply could not bring himself to do. He writes about it here.

What I find interesting about this is that he has done "kids in danger" before, but that was a long time ago. In particular he did the art for a game called "Kobolds ate my baby". It's a very silly game. (No, I haven't played it; I don't do that anymore.) But the original cover art is a kobold chasing a woman carrying a baby in her arms. And the baby is reaching out to the kobold.


That was long before his daughter was born, and I wonder how he feels when he thinks back to it? (Probably something like "Well that was then and this is now.")

All I can say is that I'm very happy for John and Judith that their daughter (now 7) is happy and healthy and growing up nicely.

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Cheesecake -- my kind of idols!

These characters are from "Idolmaster -- Cinderella Girls", and if that's how things are in that series, I may have to watch it.

(UPDATE: Actually, I'd watch this one, too. Thanks, Craig!)






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May 16, 2016

Japanese -- firing mode


This frame comes from the second-to-last episode of GATE. Paratroopers are about to relieve the Rose Knights defending the Jade Palace and this soldier is about to open up on the legionaries. And we see him flip that switch to its upright position.

That rifle has a triple-burst mode (we see Kuribayashi using the triple-burst mode in the last episode) and clearly that's what the "3" means. It's the other symbol, on the top, I'm curious about. What is that symbol and what does it mean?

It's possible it's タ ta in katakana. It's also possible it's 夕 which is a kanji that seems to be pronounced yuube and means "evening". But I'm not sure about either of them because they aren't exactly the same as what's in that image. I'm assuming the symbol on the rifle means "full auto" but I can't figure out how to get there from that symbol.

Anyone know?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Japanese at 02:19 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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Bakuon! -- ep 7


It's time for the school festival, and all the clubs are supposed to put on events. The Bike club decides to put on a race and somehow Hijiri ends up in charge of it, and she's got big plans and strange ideas. (Ep 6 was the setup for this race but I didn't write about it last week. Sorry!)


Her plan is to turn the school itself into a track, around which they will run 10 laps. The stairs will have boards on them to make them smooth.

(By the way, word-of-god is that "Raimu" is really named Lime, and I'm going to call her that from now on. Her name, "Lime", shows up in writing in this episode.)

In order to get the other students interested enough to watch the race, they get permission to run a book and then they go around the school trying to get people to wager on the race. First visit is Rin's class, and she challenges a classmate to name the four domestic Japanese motorcycle makers. "Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and... um... Ah! Mr. Harley David-san." (That's right, of course. Nailed it in one!)


So it's time for the race. Hane has modified her bike by adding mirrors, signal lights, and extra mufflers. (Actually, Lime did it for Hane at the end of ep 6.) Onsa is riding a special two-stroke bike her father used to ride. Rin is on her Katana but she's added a couple of mods.


And Lime is riding a Kawasaki scooter as a handicap, provided by Onsa's father.


Hijiri is announcing the race, in a rather... interesting... costume standing on a rather... unusual... motorcycle.

And they're off! And Lime flips her scooter immediately and seems to be out of the race. The other three start off pretty slowly, being cautious and getting used to the track. But competitive spirit will out and they go faster and faster each trying to get into the lead. By the final lap it's pretty impressive and they're starting to take chances.





Coming into the final lap Hane is way behind and instead of going down the ramp slowly, she takes a jump. Her bike seems to have wings. She lands perfectly and catches up. Meanwhile, Lime finally recovered and got back into the race, making back up the couple of laps she lost. Heading for the finish line, all four bikes are very close. Then Lime's engine explodes (for reasons too complicated to explain) and she tumbles through the sky. The other three make it a photo finish.



While the photo is being evaluated, the audience begins to express its opinions. To each other. Violently.

So who won? That would be telling... All I can say is that it wasn't Harley David-san.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Anime at 10:17 AM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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May 15, 2016

A public apology

I seem to have spoiled Wonderduck's fun regarding this week's F1 race in Barcelona. I'm very sorry; I thought I had waited long enough, but apparently not.

Next time I'll keep my typing fingers in my pocket.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Daily Life at 08:05 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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Livestock report


No sign of any baby ducks yet this year, which is a bit surprising. But we've got three goslings, which first showed up about three days ago. I tossed some bread out for them and they dutifully posed for your pleasure.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Daily Life at 05:50 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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