A report of the Anime Archaeology Society (from the year 2371 A.D.)

We copy here a report that we have received via radio signal through an as yet unknown process from what appears to be the future. It seems to be an extract from the proceedings of a conference where the topic of anime is studied in a society in which it is long dead.

Dear colleagues,

it is with the utmost pleasure that I present you the latest findings of my research group. We all know of anime, of course; of how it sparked great passion from the late 20th to the early and mid 21st century, leading up to the Great Waifu Wars that scorched the surface of the planet and destroyed much of the original material. We, today, may find it difficult to understand how could an entire civilization be brought to such a point of fanaticism by mere animated TV shows; and it is for that reason, and to avoid repeating that fatal mistake, that it is important that we study anime and comprehend the source of its allure as it was before the worst begun – at the dawn of the 21st century. Thankfully, we have recently unearthed an amazing finding; a cache of digital supports, mostly magnetic tapes and hard drives, belonging to what was back then termed a “weeb”. These miraculously intact findings hold data that is very useful to us to try and imagine what anime was really like. While the EMPs and radiation still partially damaged the data itself, we still were able to retrieve more anime fragments than ever before, thus allowing us to offer you, for the first time in centuries, a fresh look at this incredible and dangerous cultural product of a time gone by.

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Fun with Machine Learning – Bayes Against Humanity

Some time ago I’ve attended a course on the topic of Machine Learning – that class of algorithms that are designed to ‘learn’ from experience and improve at performing a specific task that are all the rage these days. Most of the famous stuff we keep hearing about (like Google’s Deep Dream AI experiments) has to do with so-called Deep Learning using Artificial Neural Networks, a ML technology that often performs very well for complex, human-like sort of problems (like image recognition). However, as I learned, there are a number of much simpler ML models and approaches, most of which can be used on a common laptop with a few seconds of running time and a few lines of code. So I’ve thought I’d try writing one or a few posts on these techniques, and how one can learn and play around with them at home. There’s plenty of free tools and data sets to use out there, so this is easily something that can become a fun weekend project for anyone who wants to get a taste of it. The machine is learning – and so can you!

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When Harry met science: a review of the Potter “Rationality” fanfictions

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres receives his letter of invitation from Hogwarts. He and his loving adoptive father are, understandably, sort of baffled at the notion that magic exists at all. They ask that a Hogwarts professor give them a demonstration, in person, in order to convince them. And so, Minerva McGonagall shows up at the Evans-Verres house, in Oxford, and turns into a cat.

And Harry screams in horror, instantaneously realising what that means for the principle of conservation of mass-energy.

This scene is perhaps one of the best introductions possible to what “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” by LessWrong (HPMOR from now on) and its officially approved sequel, “Significant Digits” by Alexander D., are. As far as HP fanfictions go, HPMOR might just be the most famous. The two together have such a huge word count they probably surpass the entire original seven book saga, and cover a world of even larger scope (as they can afford to skip on some of the world building by relying on your knowledge of the canon lore). Half fantasy, half sci-fi, with equal parts affectionate parody and philosophical pamphlet, and occasionally better written and plotted than Rowling’s own work, HPMOR has been both widely internet-famous and somewhat controversial. Fresh of a re-read, I’ll try reviewing it, why it’s interesting and why it might or might not be for you. I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free which means I’ll also avoid discussing some of the most specific issues that have been raised, but hopefully, I’ll still make my point come across.

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Winter 2018 anime season – What to watch

Here’s to my first anime post on this blog! I did mention in the blurb this was going to be a possible topic, but I never actually followed on that, yet. Thing is, I am not the type to do episodic reviews or the like – I tried once, and frankly, never again. Nor I enjoy much hate watching stuff to then rant hilariously about it, not even just one episode of it. So basically usually I do my own scouting on ANN and various blogs, carefully pick what to watch, and avoid like the plague all the stuff I already know I’ll hate, which is of great help towards my goal of not becoming a burned out and embittered anime veteran and instead, rather, just keep it an enjoyable hobby. Still, of course, even avoiding the major stinkers, of all I watch, some things shine brighter than the others. So here’s my run down: what I think are the absolutely essential shows that you should watch this season if you’re the type who wants to watch anime as it airs (rather than being even more sensible and wait for it to be over and for the full reviews to roll out).

Here we go!

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The Refugee (a short story)

Daylo woke up startled. When he had lost consciousness, he had not expected to wake up ever again. The orbital bombs were falling all around him, and the heat was getting intolerable. Far off in the distance, he had seen the horizon brighten despite the sunrise being still far away, as the atmosphere itself was reaching its torching point and was about to engulf the whole planet in the fire of nuclear fusion. He still felt that last sensation – the small fingers he was clutching in what he hoped was a reassuring touch, fingers that already felt too cold, even as everything else was getting hotter and hotter.

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Still on Voronoi diagrams: distance functions and procedural art

I mentioned in an earlier post how I was thinking about Voronoi diagrams for game design reasons. The other day however I went a bit deeper into playing with them purely for aesthetic purposes. I’m a sucker for simple, geometric designs – pure shapes, flat colour maps and so on – so of course this is a look that appeals to me. Turns out, there’s a lot you can squeeze from the simple Voronoi formula if you add a bit of a twist.

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Greg Egan’s “Orthogonal”: from science fiction to fictional science

When it comes to science fiction, how much of a role the “science” part plays in the narrative is often an important detail in what kind of enjoyment you’re supposed to draw from it. It is common to distinguish between “soft” and “hard” sci-fi (or as TV Tropes puts it, a Mohs scale of Sci-Fi hardness) to differentiate between works that only use vaguely science-y concepts to make the plot happen and works that actually explore serious scientific and technological questions. Playing fast and loose with the rules of the cosmos is an excellent way of setting up space epics of mind-blowing proportions and little ambition beyond being excellent entertainment – I know I happily gobbled up Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books on these terms. However, when an author sets their aims higher in an attempt to use real scientific concepts to tell a story, it also ends up being more subject to scrutiny. Personally, working with physics on a daily basis, I know I tend to have rather high standards with which to judge this kind of stuff. I started reading Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero with the promise that it was one of the “hardest” sci-fi novels ever, and that left me rather disenchanted with what the bar for such a definition would be.

Which is all the more reason why I can’t help but geek out over Greg Egan’s Orthogonal: a trilogy of books which use science in an absolutely unique way, taking world-building to a whole new level and effectively not just building a narrative that uses science as a plot device, but rather, a narrative about science, and in which the science itself plays a role as vital and active as that of any character, if not more. Spoilers (very limited: just an appetiser!) ahead.

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