29 Apr 2004 1:18 pm

Courtesy of Natsume Maya, I’ve found yet another source for future financial pain. It turns out that Bandai is releasing a bunch of Evangelion Series 2 toys-that-come-with-candy (or is that -candy-that-comes-with-toys?). Yes, it’s not for any sequel or alternate-world series that I’m aware of, though it might be from a game; I vaguely recall seeing something in a recent-ish Newtype about it, and that came with some pretty cool concept art for the new Evas. Or maybe I’m muddling that with memories of concept art posted on 4chan.

Asuka red and white suit variantsRei red and white suit variants
Heavy armoured EvaJet Alone

Bandai Eva Series 2 Candy Toys

If this is keeping with the sizes of the other Bandai Candy Toys, which includes the Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon and the Futari wa Pretty Cure stuff, then these figures should be around 11 cm tall. W0ot.

Man, I knew I wasn’t going to be buying electronics when I go to Japan this summer; my money’s probably going to be spent on gear like this instead. Arr. Time to find and move to a bigger place to keep all this stuff.

28 Apr 2004 1:37 pm

Here’s a great GIF animation remake of The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. By “remake”, I mean “very loosely modeled on”.

Yes, it’s in Japanese. You don’t need to read it to appreciate it (translations welcome, though).

For comparison, here’s one version of the original Little Match Girl story.

27 Apr 2004 3:17 pm

Just when I was feeling down about science, Wired comes to the rescue with a great article about Super Organics and smart breeding. I highly recommend you follow the link and read the article, but I’ll summarize it here, with some interpretation and analysis.

Let’s start with the transgenics — generally plants or animals whose genetic code has had bits of others species genetic code grafted on. Transgenic foods have a certain Iron Science Future Gothic sensibility to them — aside from nanotechnology, transgenics are one of the last places where you can make bold and occasionally unwise comments like “And this fruit, spliced with the genes of the mighty salmon and hardy dandelion, can survive killer frost and thrives in the worst of environments!” But people like the Pure Food Campaigners have this fear that these transgenics will contaminate the food chain and lead to unparallelled ecological disaster.

However, some clever lads and lasses have, with the help of massive genome maps, figured out a really freaking cool end-run around the political and social acceptance of transgenic plant products. The basic concept is that, in a given plant family — say, carrots — there is a wide variability in related carrot species that may have genes of interest that would be useful in the main-line (ie, produce-ready) carrot species.

In the evolutionary past of carrots, many genes have been created, used, and eventually suppressed in the rough-and-tumble darwinian struggle of carrot progression. Certain species may express some genes that aren’t expressed at all in other species, or certain genes may exist in all carrot species that have simply been silenced (the mechanisms for this kind of go beyond the scope of this post — I’d recommend a good introductory class in genetics, really).

Now, smart breeding comes into play when scientists and farmers pose a question: “Wouldn’t it be dandy if my carrots had more Vitamin E?”. This questioning would result in a search of the carrot family’s genomic map for genes which cause the expression of Vitamin E in carrots. Once this gene is found, and isolated to a species of carrot, they can then make several decisions — whether they should cultivate this species (sometimes not a good idea — it may be unsuitable for use as a produce plant due to a number of factors, like being hard to cultivate, bad taste, purple appearance instead of the expected orange, etc), or whether to hybridize the Vitamin E-making trait into a more produce-ready species of carrot. Instead of taking the transgenic approach and splicing in this subspecies’ genes into the produce-ready carrot species, scientists end up using traditional techniques like cross-breeding and hybridization.

No haphazard trial-and-error attempts here — thanks to the maps, they know the gene (and therefore the end-product) that they’re looking for, and can concentrate specifically on expressing those traits. Granted, they also use some of the more arcane plant-science methods that scare the bejeesus out of me — things like embryo-rescue and tissue culture cloning, which works so much better on plants than animals — but only because I was trained as a molecular biologist and find plants incomprehensible.

I’ve kind of glossed over certain details — not everything has detailed genomic maps, for example, but then again, there are bioinformatic techniques that are available to alllow for searches of related genomes for similar gene products (wheat, corn, and rice, for example, are different species, but genes in all three for, say, leaf shape or stalk growth or starch-depositing tend to be similar).

Smart breeding has interesting ramifications. First, it gets around the “Frankenfoods” label, because the techniques they’re using for the actual hybridization are well-characterized and have been used for most of our agricultural past. Second, because this kind of research is generally being done by universities, in cooperation with local farmers, and because this kind of process is generally unpatentable, it unlocks farmers from Monsanto’s deadly and pricey grip; in effect, open-sourcing plants.

I’m a little skeptical about claims that smart breeding could lead to another Green Revolution, but anything that helps lessen the impact of starvation and scarcity is double-plus good. And, if that means that I could someday grab a banana that gives me my full recommended dosage of daily vitamins and minerals, promotes enamel growth in my teeth and staves off any number of diseases, then I’m all for it. Bananas rock.

27 Apr 2004 9:58 am

So, some time back, scientists discovered that the force that lets spiders and geckos stick to walls is due to miniscule hairs on their feet / legs that lead to strong Van der Waals interactions between the creature and the surface in question.

So, what do they do with this information? Spider-man suits? More secure coupling systems for vehicles that need it (think trains / trailers)? Nope.

Post-it notes.

Yep. No wonder we don’t have flying cars.

23 Apr 2004 11:30 am

Action! Excitement! Magical Girls! Cosplay Idols! As they say, hilarity ensues… I’m not really sure how to begin reviewing Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magikarte. It’s an older series, released in 2002, and I’m informed that it’s a spinoff from Soultaker, but with more humour. Thankfully, this four-episode OVA starts with a funny and succinct encapsulation of The Plot To Date; namely, that Komugi-chan, Cosplay Idol and singer, has been entrusted by the magical powers of Vaccine World to catch rampant intelligent viruses loose on Earth. While that sounds similar to 99.999999999% (ISO-certified, dontcha know?) of all other Mahou Shoujo shows out there, the differences lie in the exceedingly wacky execution.

Komugi-chan is here!

Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Henshin!

The show tends to be divided into two separate acts; on one hand, you have Komugi-chan’s day-to-day life as a schoolgirl and Cosplay Idol. She has her teenage crushes, her friendship with Koyori (who’s another idol, though more in the “hot babe” genre than cosplay, and who has the unfortunate tendency to transform into Magical Maid Koyori, who is Magical Witch Komugi-chan’s rival), and her job. From my perspective, her job’s one of the funniest aspects of this show, as she deals with (or is dealt with by) her manager, the uber-cool and mostly laid back Shiro; the president of their idol agency (whose name escapes me, but whose long-suffering demeanor severely amuses me); and by her other rival, Megumi, who constantly belittles Komugi on her breast size and inferior status as a Cosplay Idol. The animated character dynamics of this group tend to occur over very short periods, but packs a good chunk of the funny into the show.

Komugi-chan, snarkyKomugi-chan, Megumi, insults-aplenty
Agency president, a-tearySuper-cool Shiro

Komugi-chan’s workplace

The rest of the humour comes from the villains that Komugi-chan has to fight. Generally sent by Magical Maid Koyori (who has an endearing habit of floating about on giant pieces of dessert — I kid you not), these villains tend to be some of the funniest and most imaginative that I’ve seen; I mean, when you’ve got the 2chan ascii-cat and a transformed Giant Robot of the Comiket convention hall, then you’re definately gunning for the absurd.

2chan ASCII cat villain!

Aiieeee! Ascii-cat!

I especially loved the Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets) riff in Episode 2, where Komugi splits herself into all 5 members of the team (six, if you count their head scientist).

Komugi-chan Gatchaman!

Battle of the Nurse Witches!

The level of fanservice in the show is high, but appropriate and totally in-character. Her “service-off” against rival Magical Maid Koyori remains as one of my favorite scenes.

I hear ADV has licensed this puppy, and I’d love to get my hands on the DVD. I should probably try out Soultaker and see how that show goes, while I’m at it.