Apparently genocide is a family value

Left Behind: Eternal Forces, an upcoming video game based on the dominionist book series:

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission – both a religious mission and a military mission — to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state – especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is “to conduct physical and spiritual warfare”; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life. [emphasis added]

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Quote of the Week #94

Abandoning the pretense of objectivity does not mean abandoning the journalist’s most important obligation, which is factual accuracy. In fact, the practice of opinion journalism brings additional ethical obligations. These can be summarized in two words: intellectual honesty. Are you writing or saying what you really think? Have you tested it against the available counterarguments? Will you stand by an expressed principle in different situations, when it leads to an unpleasing conclusion? Are you open to new evidence or argument that might change your mind? Do you retain at least a tiny, healthy sliver of a doubt about the argument you choose to make?

– Michael Kinsley

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Paging Mick Faldo

Apparently some crackpots think that a comet fragment is going to crash into the Atlantic today and trigger a tsunami. NASA scientists, on the other hand, have determined that no part of the comet will come closer than about 5.5 million miles to Earth (which, for reference, is 20 times the distance from here to the Moon).

So, who are you going to believe, professional scientists who do this sort of thing for a living, or someone whose bio closes with:

His second book came out in April 2006 in which he presents his various experiences with extraterrestrials since 1977 including his most recent communications and physical contacts with them.

Nevertheless, there is never a bad time for brushing up on your planetary defense skills. For example, did you know that archery is an ineffective countermeasure to a meteor strike?

Bust a Gun

[Editor's note: Let this post be a lesson to anyone who complains I haven't been posting enough lately. You know who you are.]

Not too long ago while doing some idle web surfing, I stumbled across the name Gunbuster 2. In itself, that wouldn’t have much meaning for me. However, things changed once I noticed who was directing: Kazuya Tsurumaki. And if that name doesn’t mean anything to you, that’s quite unfortunate, for Kazuya Tsurumaki is the genius behind FLCL, regarded by anyone with taste as one of the greatest things ever.

So, needless to say, I found myself very interested in what Tsurumaki’s newest creation is like, in much the same way as seeing Brazil made me want to check out Terry Gilliam’s other work. (Fun fact: Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen are pretty much the same movie.)

But there was one problem. I mean, besides the fact that Gunbuster 2 isn’t even finished yet, let alone released here, thus requiring locating fansubs, but the Internet makes that pretty easy. Rather, even though anime titles are often inscrutable, the “2″ at the end does indeed indicate that it is a sequel to — hold your breath — Gunbuster. And since I’m one of those people who has to see things in order, the course of action was clear: give up watch Gunbuster first.

[Editor's note: Spoiler alert from here on out, probably. But you should've figured that out by now.]

Is Gunbuster a “classic” anime? I have no idea, as that sort of things isn’t something I typically follow closely, or at all. But it was created back in 1988 by Hideaki “Evangelion” Anno, if that means anything.

Gunbuster is a six-episode giant robot show. In 2015, mankind encountered giant (as in, “bigger than a huge spaceship”) insect-looking aliens who seemed none too pleased about our existence. Protagonist Noriko’s father died fighting them, so now she’s training to battle them too and defend Earth. Of course, since these creatures live in space, the obvious weapon of choice are humanoid mechs. (Why do my plot summaries always come off sounding snarky? Stupid Internet.)

Pretty much every sci-fi TV show or movie I’ve ever seen that incorporates space travel — I can’t readily think of any counterexamples — ignores the time dilation effects of near-light-speed travel and strong gravitational fields. They always assume a constant universal temporal reference frame. Not so with Gunbuster; not only does it acknowledge time dilation, but it even serves as a prominent plot point. Although only about a year passes during the series from Noriko’s perspective, decades pass back on Earth. As a result, part of the cost of fighting the aliens far off in space is leaving behind everyone and everything you know back home.

So, Gunbuster gets major bonus points for reasonably realistic use of general relativity. I’ll even overlook how a sub-light-speed ship can catch up to a FTL rocket (yes, rocket) from Earth to Neptune in a matter of minutes.

And this may sound weird, but there’s another thing the series does that I really liked. The eponymous Gunbuster, the ridiculously huge two-pilot mech that dwarfs the merely several-story-tall mechs in the earlier episodes, is composed of two transforming spaceships creatively named Buster Machine 1 and Buster Machine 2. However, a non-negligible amount of time during battles is spent as the two separate ships instead of always joining together into Gunbuster. It always buggged me in cheesy Power Rangers-type shows how they always team up their robots immediately instead of ganging up five-on-one against the monster. Yes, of course you’d want to be able to spread out when fighting a massive alien fleet. That just seems like common sense.

Of course, it also seems like common sense to arm all of Earth’s spaceships with powerful weapons instead of putting them all on the single Gunbuster, but hey.

And speaking of things that are cheesy, Gunbuster also has its moments here. Some of the names used in the series are painfully bad. For example, the Soviet pilot (hey, it was made in 1988) is named Jung Freud, and one of the trans-Plutonian planets is named Jupiter 2. (Fortunately, the other trans-Plutonian planets do have better names, but they’re foolish enough to have a syzygy going on when the good guys open up a mini black hole near Jupiter 2 to swallow an alien fleet.) Pilots have a habit of calling their attacks, especially in the big fight scene at the end of episode 5. And there’s more Gainaxing than you can shake a… well, you can finish that joke yourself.

One of the remarkable things about watching the series about 20 years after it was created is how ridiculously optimistic pace of technological advancement is. You have the invention of warp drive by 2015 (less than a decade from now!), the ability to build and rebuild huge fleets of interstellar warships after that, a laser cannon on Gunbuster that can bisect an alien twenty times the size of one of those ships at one go, and so on.

But the climactic final battle outdoes even those. The aliens’ home is in the center of the galaxy, so in episode 6 Earth takes the fight to them with Buster Machine 3: a.k.a. the supermassive Black Hole Bomb. The core of the bomb is Jupiter — yes, the planet — which gets flown to the center of the galaxy with the intention of collapsing it into a black hole that will destroy the center of the Milky Way. This all happens in the mid-21st century, mind you. And the plan works. Well, not at first, so Gunbuster has to go down into the Jovian core and jump-start the black hole with one of its reactors, and the time dilation its pilots experience results in them not getting back to Earth until the year 12,000 or so. (And no, I won’t spoil what they find when they get back.)

You can also tell Anno’s directing, because the series shifts gears from being playful and somewhat stereotypical to being serious and character-driven about halfway through, even so far as dropping the intro and ending sequences after episode 3 and making the final episode black-and-white. But at least this ending didn’t get him death threats.

So, the overall verdict? Gunbuster’s not bad at all, as long as you don’t think too hard about the science underlying things. (Memo to Michelson and Morley: you guys were wrong.) But I suppose that goes for most science fiction. Of course, considering the roughly 20-year gap between Gunbuster and its sequel, I doubt watching this was even necessary to follow Gunbuster 2. But if you’re going to only watch things that are necessary to watch, you may as well sell your TV now.

Except for FLCL, of course.

Quote of the Week #93

[F]reedom of religion is the bedrock foundation of liberty in this country. If we allow certain special-interest religious groups to co-opt the public school science classroom, to use it as a vehicle for converting children to religious views their parents don’t hold, if we allow them to spout outright lies about the nature and content of science, what do we really have left? If you can lie about science and get away with it, you can lie about anything.

– Patricia Princehouse

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Quote of the Week #92

I mean, the computer industry promises nothing. Did you ever read a shrink-wrapped license agreement? You should read one. It basically says, if this product deliberately kills your children, and we knew it would, and we decided not to tell you because it might harm sales, we’re not liable. I mean, it says stuff like that. They’re absurd documents. You have no rights.

Bruce Schneier

I have a piece of paper that proves it

I am now a Master of Science.

Advent Children

Unless you’re either (a) living under a rock or (b) not a hopeless dork, you’re probably aware of Square Enix’s recent efforts to exploit the rabid fanbase of revive the Final Fantasy VII franchise. Along with a handful of video games that tie in to FF7, they also created another computer-animated movie: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.

But wait, you say, didn’t Square’s last attempt at a Final Fantasy-derived movie, The Spirits Within, utterly bomb and do enough damage to Square’s bottom line that they got acquired by rival Enix? (Or maybe you’re saying, “stop putting words in my mouth.”) Pretty much, yeah.

So, the big question: did Square learn from the earlier experience in filmmaking and create something that’s actually good, or is it just a forgettable effort to exploit the presumed FF7 cash cow?

Simply put, this movie is bad. Really bad.

For starters, unless you’ve played FF7, don’t even waste your time. The movie makes no effort to explain any of the backstory; it just assumes you’re intimately familiar with the characters and the storyline. And even with that knowledge, things don’t make a whole lot of sense.

To briefly summarize FF7, angsty amnesiac Cloud and company are trying to stop crazy white-haired pretty-boy Sephiroth from merging with mysterious alien creature Jenova and summoning a meteor to destroy the planet. You see, Cloud and Sephiroth were both members of a militia creatively named SOLDIER and were experimented on by being injected with Jenova cells. Apparently side-effects of the treatment can include angst and wanting to destroy the planet. There’s other stuff going on too. Oh, and Aeris dies.

I’ll also now try to summarize the plot of Advent Children, which only really serves as a loose way to segue from one fight scene to another (I’ll get to that later). (I’d say “spoiler alert,” but you can’t really spoil a movie this bad.) Apparently killing Sephiroth in the final battle just spilled those pesky Jenova cells all other the place, because now a bunch of eponymous children are infected with them and well on the road to being detached and angsty. Meanwhile, a trio of Sephiroth wanna-bes are going around to round those kids up so the Jenova cells can reunite. But more importantly, the Sephiroth Imposter Trio are looking for Jenova’s head, which I guess was left over after FF7′s pre-penultimate battle. Rufus and the Turks (from the aforementioned “other stuff going on”) are somehow involved with that, though it’s not explained why or how, especially when you find out that Rufus’s whole wheelchair-bound thing is an act and he’s got Jenova’s head in a box on his lap under his blanket the whole time.

So that’s what’s going on. See how the plot centers around getting those Jenova cells? Yeah, none of that’s actually explained in the movie; you just have to know what Jenova cells do from FF7. Not that it really makes the storyline make more sense, but there you are.

What’s truly amazing about Advent Children is how brazenly cynical an attempt it is to shovel fan service into the mouths of drooling FF7 fanboys. (“Fan service” in the broad sense of the term; unlike in FF7, Tifa’s actually wearing clothes this time around.) You’ve got fight sequences (wait for it…) every 12 minutes. You’ve got the entire FF7 party show up for one of them, despite the fact that most of them appear nowhere else in the plot, and their sudden arrival in time to fight a summoned monster tearing up the town square isn’t explained at all. A cell phone ringtone is the FF7 victory theme (and it rings right after Tifa finishes fighting one third of the Sephiroth Memorial Posse. Speaking of which, one of them suddenly turns into Sephiroth when he gets Jenova’s-head-in-a-box, because, um, then Sephiroth and Cloud can have a big extended fight scene set to a metal remix of One-Winged Angel. Plus, there’s regular glimpses of fanboy favorite Aeris, who shows up in full in the last scene.

There’s not really any rhyme nor reason to why anything happens. It feels like Square Enix rounded up a bunch of FF7 fanboys, asked them what they wanted to see in a FF7 movie, and threw together a rough plot to try to tie everything together.

And then there’s the battle scenes. You’d think anything with more fight scenes than an American action movie has got to be exciting, right? Hardly. Remember that big long fight on the highway in The Matrix Reloaded that you thought was going to be cool but turned out to be drawn-out and tedious and even the characters in it seemed bored the whole way through? (You don’t? Lucky.) The fight scenes in Advent Children are worse.

Most video games aren’t known for particularly realistic depictions of violence. For example, in FF7 you can get shot by machine guns and stabbed by ridiculously huge swords and only suffer a few HP worth of damage. That literally happens in Advent Children, and it works about as well as you think. People get thrown through thick stone columns and don’t even seem to notice. People can jump hundreds of feet into the air — thousands if other people jumping in midair at the time grab their hand and throw them upwards even more. Several times. In a row. The stuff going on in the fight scenes is so ludicrously over-the-top it’s painful to watch.

So, combine a seemingly endless sequence of unbelievable battle sequences, chain them together with an unexplained plot that doesn’t make sense even if you know the backstory, and add a heaping helping of fan service, and you get Advent Children.

Needless to say, if you’re not a foaming-at-the-mouth FF7 fanboy, avoid this movie like H5N1. And if you are a foaming-at-the-mouth FF7 fanboy, not only do you probably think all of the above makes the movie good, but you probably didn’t bother to read all the way to the end before flaming me in the comments anyway.

If Advent Children is typical of Square Enix’s other FF7-related efforts, at least now I know I have absolutely no interest in any of them.

(Also, memo to Square Enix: next time you want to cash in on FF7′s US fanbase, don’t release your films in Japan several months before in the states. I don’t think I’d ever seen a torrent with five digits’ worth of people connected to it before.)

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Best Lab Report Ever

Electron Band Structure In Germanium, My Ass

Abstract: The exponential dependence of resistivity on temperature in germanium is found to be a great big lie. My careful theoretical modeling and painstaking experimentation reveal 1) that my equipment is crap, as are all the available texts on the subject and 2) that this whole exercise was a complete waste of my time.

Read the rest here.

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For those who know anything about audio…

I’m working on encoding videos from the big Ship of Fools / Andy Ober Orchestra show this past March. The video’s coming through OK (though I’m still fiddling with mencoder’s various knobs to get a good-looking video without taking up too much disk space).

However, making the audio come out well is giving me some problems. I fear there’s no real solution to this, but I’m going to throw this out there in case someone reading this in the near future knows anything about this topic.

Here’s the situation: I have a live recording that has four basic sources of sound in it: a keyboard, an electric guitar, vocals and speech (primarily but not exclusively male), and an audience. On the recording, the instruments and audience come through quite well, but the vocals and speech are way too quiet, sometimes to the extent that they’re completely drowned out. (The imbalance was a bit of a problem live, but on the recording it’s much worse.)

I’d like to somehow remedy that, or at least ameliorate the problem, so that you can actually hear what’s being sung or said. Unfortunately, everything’s on one audio track, which means I have no simple way of adjusting a single source. Whatever I do, it has to be done on the entire audio stream.

So, is there any way to make the vocals and speech louder without distorting everything else too much? The only thing I can think of is to tweak the audio equalization to make some frequency ranges louder and others quieter. Is there a frequency range that primarily only the vocals will fall within? A little random experimentation suggests not, but this is definitely out of my area of expertise.

Or might there be some other trick I’m missing?

Of course the “proper” solution would require having recorded separate audio tracks for each instrument and vocalist, but that presupposes access to equipment we don’t (and didn’t) have access to. And it’s too late to argue about that now, since the recording’s already been made.

The recording is mostly servicable as it is, but it’s hard to fully appreciate song parodies when you can barely hear the lyrics.

I promise a free copy of the video to anyone who offers a good solution. (Pay no heed to that it’s my intention to distribute the video free to the world once I’ve got a good encoding.)

Quote of the Week #91

Atheists are angry for the same reason Jews are cheap. Jews are cheap because people say Jews are cheap, because of a hatred for Jews. It’s not true. It never has been true; it never will be true. There is nothing about temperment that is tied to being Jewish, either in culture or religion. That is an evil, hateful lie that people who do not like Jews, people who are anti-Semitic, people who are evil, say stuff like “Jews are cheap.” It’s a bad, evil, horrible thing to say, and it’s said by people who want to breed hatred toward Jews. Precisely the same reason why atheists are angry.

Penn Jillette

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Some people are finished with their finals and semester projects. Gregor is a weird name.

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Six of one, half a dozen of the other?

A big long paper due Thursday (rough draft at 18 pages and 44 references) has been using up most of my time and words, but until I find the time/words for a proper post, there’s this announcement to ponder:

HE REVIVED Doctor Who, but now Christopher Eccleston is set to take on another television hero with the starring role in a remake of The Prisoner.

The 1967 series, starring Patrick McGoohan as a former secret agent who was kidnapped and imprisoned in a mystery village, baffled millions of viewers around the world .

The new version, made by Granada for Sky One, will incorporate the paranoia, conspiracy theories and hi-tech action sequences of modern-day spy dramas 24 and Spooks.


I’m not sure whether to be excited or worried.

Quote of the Week #90

Most of all I believe in this president. Now, I know there’s some polls out there saying this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in “reality.” And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

– Stephen Colbert [video; starts at 52:25]

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