my anime watchlist

AICN has a synopsis of the plot of the anime “Death Note” that makes it sound really quite intriguing:

The titular Death Note is a note pad of a shinigami (death god, comparable to the notion of a grim reaper), which allows its owner to dictate the time and cause of death for the victim whose name is inscribed on one of its pages. This is a very rule based process, starting with the clause that if no cause is specified within 40 seconds, the victim will die of a heart attack, and getting more complex from there.

Bored by the listlessness of his people, the shinigami Ryuk decides to amuse himself by dropping a Death Note into the human world. There, it is picked up by ace student Light Yagami. To Ryuk’s amusement, Light proves unphased by the power to kill, the revelation that shinigami exist, or that using the Death Note ensures that a human will neither travel to heaven or hell upon death. After using the book to kill, the only repercussion incurred is that the user’s name will be written in the book by its original shinigami owner upon the user’s death.

When it comes to shock, Light is revealed to have iron fortitude. After the ability to kill on a whim is dropped into his lap, he proves able to compose himself and push forward with his agenda.

The certainty with which he embraces that power makes Light an intriguing character.

The description of Light as a character both arrogant and idealistic make for a very righteous archetype, like a paladin convincing himself of the greater good and a ends-justify-means crusade. I am reminded of the Kingpriest from Dragonlance Chronicles as well. At any rate, I’ll see if I can find the torrents for this one.

I am also determined to watch Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei – though from what I read at Astro’s, its unclear if the fansubbers will finish subbing season 1. I’m also fascinated by the premise of Moyashimon, which has the visual appeal of a science lab on LSD. My friend Jon also dropped by Marshfield on his way home to Appleton from the Twin Cities, and brought Read or Die (the pilot as well as the full season), Ranma, Ergo Proxy, FateStayNight, Gankutsuou, Noir, and Samurai7. That’s a feast of anime that should keep me and my baby daughter fed through the holiday season (I typically watch anime while bottle-feeding her; we both just zone out and do our respective thing). Suggestions as to which I should tackle first are welcome (and requested).

I also have to get off my arse and write something about The Girl who Leapt, Twelve Kingdoms, and (waaaay overdue) Someday’s Dreamers. However, of late I’ve been distracted by something decidedly non-anime: Heroes. More on that later 🙂

unreal Great White shark photos

If you’ve seen the Planet Earth series on DVD (or even better, high-definition DVD) then you’ll recall the astounding footage of a great white shark hunting seals for food, leaping out of the water like a leviathan and twisting in midair while it lunges towards its prey. Now you don’t need the DVD – check out this astounding hi-speed photography of a great white hunt. These pictures are simply awesome. In the original sense of the word.

woah, that’s like deep

Surfer dude comes up with the Theory of Everything?

An impoverished surfer has drawn up a new theory of the universe, seen by some as the Holy Grail of physics, which has received rave reviews from scientists.
Despite this unusual career path, his proposal is remarkable because, by the arcane standards of particle physics, it does not require highly complex mathematics.

Even better, it does not require more than one dimension of time and three of space, when some rival theories need ten or even more spatial dimensions and other bizarre concepts. And it may even be possible to test his theory, which predicts a host of new particles, perhaps even using the new Large Hadron Collider atom smasher that will go into action near Geneva next year.

Although the work of 39 year old Garrett Lisi still has a way to go to convince the establishment, let alone match the achievements of Albert Einstein, the two do have one thing in common: Einstein also began his great adventure in theoretical physics while outside the mainstream scientific establishment, working as a patent officer, though failed to achieve the Holy Grail, an overarching explanation to unite all the particles and forces of the cosmos.

Intriguingly, the theory apparently has something to do with “E8“, an 8-dimensional mathematical shape with 248 points that pops up in theoretical physics and in nature. So, the universe might well look like this, in a sense:


There’s a lot more information about E8 at the American Institute of Math – including some clever marketing text describing E8’s mysteries as containing more information that the human genome, and the calculations delving into its nature being the size of Manhattan if written out in tiny print on paper.

we can dance like Cthulhu

C, c, c, c
T, t, t, t
H, h, h, h
U, u, u, u
L, l, l, l
H, h, h, h
U, u, u, u


We can dance like Cthulhu
We can answer to his call
Watch him kick Lady Liberty’s head
down the road like a soccer ball

Say, we can dance like Cthulhu
Live it up while the livin’s good
Cause once he awakens, the world starts shakin’
and there goes the neighborhood

Say, we can dance, we can dance
Great Old Ones are in control
We can dance, we can dance
Hear them callin’ the call
We can dance, we can dance
Terror makes you go in a trance
We can dance, we can dance
Everybody’s shitting their p-a-a-nts

The Cthulhu Dance
The Cthulhu Dance
The Cthulhu Dance


lyrics by Mr. Nice Gaius, a frequent commenter at Ain’t It Cool News (with the best Galactica-fan screen name ever).

social linkages online

Earlier, I mused about whether the inherent limit on human interaction group size would apply to online social networks or not. That limit is called “Dunbar’s Number” and is estimated to be ~150, based on observations of social networks among primates and then extrapolating to humans taking increased brainpower into consideration. An intriguing piece in the WSJ asks whether online social networks are still bound by Dunbar’s number or whether technological innovation might permit us to exceed it:

But there is reason to believe that the social-networking sites will enable their users to burst past Dunbar’s number for friends, just as humans have developed and harnessed technology to surpass their physical limits on speed, strength and the ability to process information.
Robin Dunbar, an Oxford anthropologist whose 1993 research gave rise to the magical count of 150, doesn’t use social-networking sites himself. But he says they could “in principle” allow users to push past the limit. “It’s perfectly possible that the technology will increase your memory capacity,” he says.

The question is whether those who keep ties to hundreds of people do so to the detriment of their closest relationships — defined by Prof. Dunbar as those formed with people you turn to when in severe distress.

The problem here is the definition of the word “relationship”. Dunbar’s definition of “closest” is just one of many possible ones, and the various definitions might well overlap. But does that mean that business relationships are excluded from Dunbar’s limit? If so, then you might expect to see many more contacts on LinkedIn, which caters to a business networking model, than on Facebook which is primarily stalker heaven. LinkedIn is approaching critical mass in terms of network effect; RWW found over 80% of their business contacts already using it, for example.

There are surely other models one could employ to map relationships: blogrolls, chat client lists, twitter fans/friends, etc. I think any one of these – or a weighted combination of all of them – would be good data sets to see whether Dunbar’s number truly holds online or not.

striking with wit

Jammer weighs in on the writer’s strike.

If Internet media is the future of television revenue — and it will be at least in small part — then the studios owe it to the writers to compensate them fairly.
And when there’s original content produced for network’s web sites — like with the Battlestar Galactica webisodes last year and again this year, then the creators definitely should be paid for the hours they worked.

I was stunned to learn that the creative staff of “BSG” was originally not going to be paid for creating those webisodes. I guess I had simply assumed as a given the studio would want to pay their creative staff for original web content. One (although not me) could argue that a writer has been compensated for an episode that has already been broadcast on TV and doesn’t need to be paid again for its posting online. But not paid at all for new work?

The writers are certainly making their case using their craft, and leveraging the new media that ironically has been the source of their complaints:

I’m glad to see that people who were originally skeptics/apathetic are beginning to come around; Shamus asks though what benefit to the writers such a shift in public opinion confers. I think that the answer is simple; by watching better television. I don’t have cable TV and I refuse to watch any “reality” show, even American Idol, on principle. Also, I do not engage in any online viewing of streamed content, because I know the writers don’t get a dime. This is why I won’t be patronizing’s “Unbox” service (even though I’d net a generous affiliate fee if I hawked it) and will also stay away from when it goes live. I also am holding out on DVD purchases of several box sets of shows I truly enjoy (including Galactica and Samurai Jack) until such time as the writers’ reasonable demand for increased royalties are met. These actions amount to barely anything at all in isolation, but if enough people become knowledgeable about the basic economics of the industry, I think that they will take similar steps. Reward good behavior.

the paradox of paradise

If not for the fact that Steven den Beste is already a founding member, I’d label Mark the SDB of the Otakusphere. He’s got another long, deeply insightful essay up, about strategies of choice. The idea is to look critically at Barry Schwartz’s idea of a “paradox of choice” (ie the concept that too much choice is detrimental). A book by Chris Anderson, The Long Tail, devotes some space to analyzing whether the paradox truly exists and whether or not there is a “paradise of choice” instead. Mark deftly summarizes the arguments and lays out his own analysis. Go take a look.

I think that there is some legitimacy to the idea that the paradox of choice represents a limitation of the medium rather than anything inherently wrong with too much choice in the abstract. However, we humans are probably wired for some optimal N in decision-making; an example is that N ~ 100 when it comes to our social circle (I wonder if anyone has explored that using Facebook or LinkedIn as a dataset?). As a strategy, “satisficing” (defining your desired parameters and then choosing the first candidate that meets them rather than trying to find the “best”) is probably the most robust in the long run. The concept is well-described in the aphorism, “perfection is the enemy of the good” and from political candidates to digital cameras, it’s pretty much the only way to make a meaningful choice rather than be ensnared in perpetual indecision.

Philosophically speaking, should there be less choice? Like Mark, I am leery of mandating it to be so, but the question of whether there should be less choice to increase “optimal-ness” (in the abstract sense) is an intriguing one. Is it true, for example, that someone who buys a product where there is relatively less choice (ie, a gaming console) is happier with their choice than someone who buys a product where there is far more choice (like a phone) ? Politics is a natural counterexample; almost no one seems happy with their choice, despite it usually being binary (for all practical purposes). One can then postulate an “optimal” N about which happiness is maximized. But here again I think that too much N is preferable to not enough N, because then at least you have the satisficing strategy to fall back on, whereas there is no such mechanism at the low end.