March 14, 2009

I think too much

If Raising Heart can understand spoken Japanese, why can't she speak it?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Engineer's Disease at 11:29 PM | Comments (17) | Add Comment
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January 27, 2009

Aria the Natural -- Carnival

Carnival AKA Mardi Gras AKA Fasching AKA lots of other names from different places around the world is celebrated on Fat Tuesday, which happens just before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent.

Lent is a period of 40 days leading up to Easter, which is always a Sunday, and is a period of fasting, penitence, and self-denial for devout Christians which corresponds to the 40 days that scripture says Jesus spent in the desert.

Easter is set to be "the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox". And because it is a religious observation, it happens every terran year.

It simply wouldn't make any sense to have Easter once per Aqua year, on a date determined by the astronomy of Aqua. It wouldn't make religious sense, in particular. So if there is any justice, Carnival (which is a fixed interval before Easter) should happen twice per Aqua year.

But it probably doesn't. They celebrate Christmas only once per Aqua year, and that is also a religious observation intimately tied to terran astronomy.

To the Japanese, Christmas is a big deal, but it's entirely a secular event. Few Japanese are Christian. Of course, even for Americans many who celebrate Christmas are not Christian or at least not particularly devout, and many if not most of the modern trappings of the Christmas holiday have roots in European paganism, including Druidism. Even the date of celebration is fundamentally pagan. No one really has any idea what day of the year Jesus was born. The early Christians during the days of Roman persecution set their celebration of Christmas to coincide with a Roman mid-winter celebration so that they wouldn't stand out. (That's why Christmas is within a few days of the solstice.)

And I would venture to say that the majority of people who celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or Carnival in Rio or Venice, don't in turn celebrate Easter, and don't practice self-denial during Lent. Carnival is also a largely secular event.

Even so, for something as much fun as Carnival, and as lucrative to a tourist destination like Neo-Venezia, wouldn't you think that whatever government authority has jurisdiction over such things would recognize the benefit of celebrating Carnival twice per Aqua year instead of only once?

And if you say, "It would be strange to celebrate Carnival when it was hot!" then tell that to the people of Rio. They seem to manage it.

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January 21, 2009

Nanoha A's -- Fridge Logic

There's a big problem in the logic in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's which made me subliminally uncomfortable on the first watching, and really became evident later. It's about the "masked man" and discussion of it is necessarily a huge spoiler, so it's below the fold.

(By the way, please remember to use spoiler tags in comments when discussing this.)


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January 20, 2009

Nanoha A's -- tsukaima

In some magic traditions, when a mage summons a familiar (tsukaima) it comes from afar, from this world or another. That's the case in Zero no Tsukaima, and in Macademi Wasshoi.

I'd been assuming it was that way in the Nanoha series, too, but now I'm not so sure. Another possibility is that the magician begins with a normal animal and uses magic on it. There's an ongoing maintenance cost in magical power as well.

If so, then it means that Arf was originally a canine of some kind, dog or wolf. And it means that Lotte and Aria began as cats.

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December 22, 2008

Camera autofocus

Back in the day, when they first started trying to develop auto-focus cameras, one of the clever things they tried was using ultrasound. They mounted an ultrasound transducer on the camera, and when the user clicked the button, it fired a sound pulse at the direct center of the field of view, and then measured the bounce time to figure out the range.

There's a really huge flaw in this concept, which rendered it completely useless. Can any of you figure out what it is? (It isn't "flat angled target bounces the sound off to the side." That one's a problem, too, but it's not the one I'm thinking of.)

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December 20, 2008

Avatar -- which would you choose?

So anyone who's watched even a little bit of Avatar: the last Airbender will have asked himself, "which of those powers would I choose if I could have one?" For me the answer is obvious, but let's talk about them all first:

Air bending
ammo: There's virtually always air around
Coolest ability: flight
Practical uses? magical rake, magical snow shovel, but not really a lot else.
combat attack: air blasts, pretty much telekinetic blows. Also can create tornadoes, but hard to control and of limited use.
combat defense: air benders can dodge faster than anyone else

Fire bending
ammo: it comes from within.
Coolest ability: firing flame out of your hands is inherently cool. (Or hot.)
Practical uses? Not really any, except starting cooking fires without matches.
combat attack: flamethrower. Fire bending is all about attack
combat defense: no special defenses

Water bending
ammo: ice bergs, glaciers, rivers, and the sea. If you're away from those, you have to rely on spontaneous springs.
Coolest ability: icing up an enemy to freeze him in place
Practical uses? Can be used to catch fish. Also boat propulsion?
combat attack: firehose, ice balls, icing up an enemy.
combat defense: ice shields, moving water shields. Most effective against fire, least effective against earth.

Earth bending
ammo: the ground on which you walk. Don't try to fight at sea, though.
coolest ability: opening and closing doors in solid walls
Practical uses: see below
combat attack: throwing boulders, causing earthquakes beneath your enemy, turning the ground he walks on into quicksand. Also destroying city walls during sieges and taking out any fixed fortifications anywhere.
combat defenses: rock shields, which stop anything.

What strikes me is that for everyday life, earth bending is far and away the most useful of the four. You can dig ditches and canals, create city walls, dig mines, and build buildings; it's the civil engineer's dream power. Anything a bulldozer or a cement mixer can do, an earth bender can do faster, cheaper, and more easily.

In one-on-one combat, "on any given day" any of the four can prevail against any of the others, but overall earth benders have a substantial advantage. Their rock shields are the best defense and can stop anything except maybe a water-bender's firehose attack. High-speed thrown boulders are the most effective attack available to any of the four because they're the hardest to defend against. And as long as they're fighting on land, the earth benders never run out of ammo.

Plus, no walled city can stand against an army of earth benders, because the walls won't stand for long. On the other hand, earth benders are the best defenders you could ask for in a walled city, because even if the enemy does knock a city wall down (e.g. with siege engines or firehose attacks), the earth benders can repair it in minutes.

So though I really like the idea of being able to fly, I have to say that if I were to pick one, it would be earth bending.

Which would I least like? Water bending not only is almost useless in everyday life, it's also far less potent in combat. It works best against fire users, for obvious reasons, but it's nearly useless against earth benders. And in terms of where people live, and where they fight, water benders are the ones most likely to not have any ammo available. Where they're going to shine is in naval combat, for obvious reasons, but navies don't win wars. Armies do. (The Royal Navy didn't defeat Napoleon. The Athenian navy didn't defeat Sparta. There are exceptions in history but not damned many.)

All of them are awesome, and any trained bender is vastly stronger than a non-bender. These comments are about relative advantages of each against the others.

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October 23, 2008

I thinked a thought

Inspired by this, I wonder if eventually someone will release a cellular product handset code named Xylophone. Or Sousaphone.

UPDATE: Or Grammaphone.

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October 22, 2008

Engineer's Disease: Haruhi

I'm rewatching Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu. Just had a thought about it, and I'll probably have more. They'll all be spoilers so they go below the fold.


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October 17, 2008

Aria -- calendar

Ep 13 of Aria, the Animation begins with Akari sending a letter to Ai on Earth. "Ai, today is the 31st day of the 24th month."

The Mars year isn't precisely twice an Earth year. Earth years are 365.24 days. So two Earth years are 730.48 days. A Mars year is 686.97 earth days, 43 and a half days less than that.

Worse, a Mars day is longer than an Earth day (by 39 minutes, 35 seconds), so a Mars year is 668.6 Mars days. (Mars has about 35 days for every 36 Earth days.)

If you divided that into 24 months, they'd average 27.8 days each.

If you made the year 22 months, you come in with an average length of 30.4 Mars days.

Wikipedia has a good article about the problems of coming up with a calendar for Mars.

UPDATE: Of course, if they could terraform Mars, and build a moon for it, maybe they were also able to correct its orbit to be exactly twice Earth's orbital period, eh? And adjust the Martian day while they were at it?

You could get all three of those simultaneously using asteroid impacts. Hit the night side of the planet with glancing blows from behind the planet in its solar orbit: you could speed up the spin, add orbital energy and boost the planet into a higher, slower, orbit, and knock debris loose to form a moon. Hmm?

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October 13, 2008

Aria -- engineer's disease


I don't think that Phobos or Deimos look anything like that.

Just did some calculations. At its closest approach, when directly overhead, Phobos has a disc of 0.2 degrees. From earth, Luna is a disk of about 0.5 degrees.

But because Phobos has a smaller orbit, then when it's on the horizon its disk would be about 0.15 degrees, or about one eleventh the area. Visible? Yeah. But it wouldn't look like that image.

And since its orbital period is only 7 hours, it would visibly move.

OK, Steve, put down that slide rule and back away slowly...

UPDATE: Not only would Phobos have only 1/11th of the apparent disc, but illumination by the sun would be 43% as bright on average, which means as a night-sky light illuminating things on the ground, Phobos would only cast 4% of the amount of light that Luna does on "Manhome" when full.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Engineer's Disease at 05:43 PM | Comments (7) | Add Comment
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