March 06, 2012

Mouretsu pirates -- Engineer's disease

One way I can tell that a series is a good one is that it engages the part of my mind that tries to figure things out. Some thoughts below the fold, spoilerish.

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October 13, 2011

Space Refrigerator Yamato

And now a trip to the refrigerator. (This always happens to me.) Naturally, this is loaded with spoilers, so it's below the fold. more...

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December 24, 2010

Engineers take on Santa

Man, you thought I had it bad. Check out these guys trying to explain Santa Claus.

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November 28, 2010

I think this pretty much says it all

/images/engineer.png

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October 04, 2010

Buck Godot -- Gallimaufrey

I am completely out of it today. Two naps, more caffeine than usual, and I feel like I weigh about half a ton. I can't write.

But there is an idea that occurred to me the other day about Phil Foglio's "Buck Godot" stories that won't leave me alone. So here goes:

Early in the canon (maybe the story about the teleporter?) we learn about the law machines. They're sapient robots who, one day, appeared on all human worlds simultaneously and implemented The Law. Nobody knows where they came from, or why the human race was the only species they picked on in this way.

There were 21 (IIRC) elements to the Law, and each would come into force when a certain (unspecified) proportion of the population voted for it. But you could only vote "yes" and you could only vote once. When the required number of yes-votes had accumulated, that law went into effect and henceforth was enforced by the law machines.

The deal about New Hong Kong was that when the law machines arrived there, someone hacked the voting process and change it so that it read, "There is no law on New Hong Kong." It immediately accumulated an overwhelming number of yes votes, and though the law machines found the hacker and did something with him, they didn't change it. That's why New Hong Kong has such a wild-west feel to it. It's the only world in Humanspace where The Law doesn't apply.

Now... in Gallimaufrey we learn that for the last several hundred years, the human race has been the custodian of the Winslow, as part of a deal with the Prime Mover. In exchange, the Prime Mover guaranteed that the human race would not go extinct.

What occurred to me was that the Law Machines were the way that the Prime Mover fulfilled his side of the bargain. He's the one who created them and sent them to humanity, and their implementation of The Law had the effect of suppressing the most pernicious tendencies of the human race, which otherwise might have led to self-destruction. If I've got the chronology right, it seems that they showed up just about the time that humanity took over as guardians of the Winslow.

And the reason the Law Machines didn't override what happened on New Hong Kong was that their mission only required that enough humans survive to represent a viable breeding stock. If New Hong Kong did eventually self-destruct, it was OK as long as other human worlds continued to exist.

Not too impressive an idea, is it? But when ideas like this seize me, the only way I can get them out of my head is to write them down. And I don't have the energy to write anything else today.

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September 26, 2010

Asobi ni Iku Yo -- comments on the Cathean ship

We hypothesize that the Catheans have faster-than-light travel but they don't have faster-than-light sensors. There are only two ways to find out what's going on in a given star system: look at it with telescopes (with the inevitable centuries or millenia latency and poor visibility), or visit it to look around.

The Cathean mother ship is on an exploration mission. They move the mother-ship to an unexplored section of the galaxy, and then the mother ship dumps out a whole bunch of one-person scouts, that being the Rulos and her sisters. The scouts are capable of short-distance star travel (maybe 20 light years) but aren't capable of traveling galactic distances. The pilots of those ships (including Eris) all work for Chaika, commander of the exploration team and one of the top officers of the ship.

Each scout is assigned (one?) previously unexplored star system with instructions to check the place out. Does it have planets? What kind of orbits are they in? Are any of the planets habitable? Do any of them have life? How evolutionarily advanced is it? And prize of all prizes, do any of them have intelligent life? How advanced? Have they discovered stone tools yet?

Those advanced scouts are elite-of-the-elite. If they do make contact with a tool-using alien race, that very first contact is critical and can set the pattern for all future interactions. Get it wrong, and friendly relations may become impossible.

So the scouts are heavily trained, and are selected for certain characteristics, which Eris displays in spades. (And no, I'm not referring to her breasts.) Eris is smart, kind, even-tempered, happy, brave, resourceful, personable, even charismatic. She is exactly what you'd want a scout to be to give you the best possible chance for successful first contact.

Part of being a scout is that if you do luck out, you get to be the ambassador. This is an honor. It's a duty. It's also a considerable risk, as this series makes clear.

Eris hit the jackpot. The system she was assigned to explore contained a planet inhabited by a technological civilization which was within a couple of hundred years of developing star travel; it's the prize of all prizes for this kind of exploration mission.

Especially because Eris had reported her strong suspicion that the Doggies had been on Earth for quite a while, and that they were behind the first attempt to kidnap and kill Eris herself. Hardly any wonder that Captain Kuune decided to move the mother ship to the Sol system when they received the first reports from Eris. She clearly was going to need the resources and support of the ship. (No, they didn't show up because they wanted to taste braised beef. That was a joke.)

Ubu in comments mentions just how nice Eris seems to be. I don't think there's any reason to believe that this is a racial characteristic of the Catheans, though they do in general trend that way. It's a selected characteristic of the crew of the ship, and in particular it's a selected characteristic of first-contact specialists like Eris.

Most scouts won't ever find a planet like Earth, but all of them are ready to do so if luck favors them, and they're all trained for that mission. Any of the rest of the people working for Chaika would have been about the same, because anyone who isn't wouldn't qualify for that assignment.

Eris certainly understands the gravity of her situation, and the burden of responsibility on her is heavy. But she handles pressure well. And again, I think that's the result of selection. Likely they test for it, and those who don't handle the pressure don't get that job.

I'm thinking of a contemporary earth equivalent: submarine service in the US Navy. Crew for subs are recruited from the rest of the navy, and they're all volunteers. There are ten times as many volunteers as there are positions to fill, and they undergo really very strict testing to make sure that only the very best get in.

One test I've seen film of involves putting some of the men in a chamber full of pipes and valves, and having high pressure water leaks develop. This is something that can happen in a real submarine, and if you don't handle it well the sub could be lost. So the test is very realistic: it's loud, it's cold, the water pressure is very high, and by all accounts it's terrifying. Some men who go through it panic and start screaming and try to escape instead of dealing with the leaks. Obviously those don't pass the test.

How many billions of Catheans are there? How many volunteer for this kind of mission? Millions, maybe? Only the very best of the best make it through, and those are the ones we're seeing. Hardly any wonder they're impressive as hell.

The mission is a complex one. The Catheans are trying to make a good first impression on Earth, obviously. They're also trying to find out the real deep truth about what kind of people the humans are, and that's at least as important, and probably even more difficult. (And they're trying to avoid having the Doggies derail the whole process.)

Doing a knowledge-dump from the local library was a valuable part of that, and you have to believe that as soon as Eris transmitted all that information to the ship that a team of specialists on board began reading and evaluating it. But direct observation of how humans react to the Catheans, and direct observation of humans in daily life, is also immensely valuable and that's one of the areas where Eris shines. Close observation of three particular humans has been another aspect of the process, and the Catheans have learned a lot from Kio, Manami, and Aoi.

Eris has made mistakes. It's inevitable that there will be some misunderstandings (the swimsuits) but she hasn't made any that seriously jeopardized the mission. And all through the series, what becomes clear is that Eris (and Chaika, and Kuune, and Melwyn) are tremendously competent at their jobs.

Title of the show notwithstanding, they are not there to have fun. They are having fun, but that's not the mission.

UPDATE: Ubu responds (spoilers).

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September 24, 2010

Strike Witches 2 -- lithium batteries

The whole business of witches sometimes using up all their magic and recovering the next day, and sometimes really using up their magic and never being able to use it again? It occurred to me last night that it's like how lithiium batteries work.

Spoilers below the fold.

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August 17, 2010

Strike Witches -- how it ends?

Man, when I come down with Engineer's Disease, I get it bad. Let's put some pieces together, shall we?

1. Mysterious diagrams left behind by Dr. Miyafuji.
2. A tendency of the writers to deliberately "rhyme" with the first series.
3. In the first series, Akagi flew.
4. Yamato is coming in from Fuso by sea.

What do I see coming? How about this? An amazing device which can be mounted in Yamato, which when powered by a very strong witch (guess who?), gives the entire ship the ability to fly, and gives it a mondo shield. And in the end, Yamato will directly attack the new Neuroi nest from the air using its legendary 18" guns.

Whatcha think?

UPDATE: Let's overload. After Yamato wins against the nest over Venezia, there will appear a small nest which will, for the third time, send down a witch-shaped neuroi in hopes of negotiating. And it will be Sakamoto who deals with it, and this time negotiations will work -- and that will really end the war. The Neuroi will be royally freaked by the humans sailing 65,000 ton pieces of steel around in the air and decide we're not worth conquering.

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August 14, 2010

Dr. Miyafuji's Gun

I only recently learned about "Chekhov's Gun":

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

So if you toss in a reference to something and do camera closeups of it in the first episode, then it absolutely must be important, albeit not necessarily  to appear again by ep 3.

In Strike Witches 2, we've clearly got an example of that. It's the mysterious letter that Yoshika received in the first episode. In plot terms it served to get Yoshika to visit the Navy base, to learn about the disaster that happened to the 504th, to meet Sakamoto again, to steal a striker and chase the flying boat, and to end up in Romagna to rejoin the war. All well and good, but definitely not all there is to it.

What I'm assuming is that he developed some sort of war-winning weapon. For mysterious reasons he sent pieces of the schematics to a bunch of people, including his daughter. That eventually all the pieces will surface and be collected at the weapons lab in Japan, who will build the device.

And... though it can win the war, it will require a witch as an operator who has far more power than your average witch. In other words, it won't work unless Yoshika runs it. She's the only one who can.

Alternatively, it will be a multi-crew weapon, requiring fully 11 witches to operate it (just by coincidence). But I'm leaning towards the former.

The other thing is that it will have to be based on something that really existed in the war, or might have.

The first choice that springs to mind is the Ohka, but there's no way the writers would use that. To require Yoshika to commit suicide in order to win the war is out of the question. This isn't that kind of show.

I think I know what it's going to be. Near the end of the war, a U-boat was sent on a mission to Japan. It delivered the plans for the ME-262, plus example hardware. It didn't turn out to make any difference. Japan was never able to build their own version, in our timeline.

We've seen the Me-262 appearing in this series, but it was buggy. What if Dr. Miyafuji had access to early plans of the Karlsland effort, and figured out what was wrong? What if all those mysterious plans are for a Japanese jet-striker, one that doesn't have the bugs of the Karlsland version? Barkhorn demonstrated the potential of the jet-striker, before it nearly killed her. A working one with reduced magic consumption could be a war-changer.

And what if Yoshika defeats the nest that conquered Venezia while flying it? Anyone buy that? (Alternatively, what if everyone in the squadron gets re-equipped with them?)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Engineer's Disease at 01:53 PM | Comments (15) | Add Comment
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April 21, 2010

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou -- ep 3, censored

I just watched the censored version of ep 3 because I was curious to see what, if anything, they thought deserved censorship. I only saw four times, plus a couple I thought they'd censor but didn't.

But that's not why I'm making this post. Care for some wild-assed guessing? Spoilers below the fold.

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