30 March 2008

Today's Japanese Lesson

早い者勝ちです / はやいものかちです / hayai mono kachi desu
-> lit. "The swift are victory"

(used when English speakers would say, "First come, first served")

Tokyo Anime Fair

So on Friday I got a chance to go to the Tokyo Anime Fair. The funniest part of the whole thing is that just inside the entrance I ran into a friend of mine from Pixar literally ten feet inside the entrance, and he was there with his friend Yoko who used to work at Polygon. I ended up going out to dinner with them and yet another friend who also used to work at Polygon!

But on to the work. Next year will definitely be the year of robots-as-characters. Besides Pixar's Wall-E, there's Fireball from Disney Japan:



The white robot is a girl, there's a much larger multi-legged robot described as a "grouchy old man". This is one of the results of Disney's local content initiative, the other one was a new Stitch series, apparently being animated by Madhouse.

Another robot series (26x22min) was D.A.N.D.Y. from Red Rover studios:



Red Rover's been around, and the director is supposed to be from Disney's direct-to-video division. I don't know if it's his influence or not, but the animation in the trailer was great compared to most of what I saw at the show. You can see the trailer online at http://www.dandyrobot.com/. Besides the big maquette above, they had a whole bunch of the robots from the show in miniature:




My favorite thing at the show was actually a self-made CG film in the "Creator's Corner". It's a great storybook look in a film called "Jack in the Box" by Tomomi Masuda that she produces nights and weekends away from her studio job. There's a website at http://www.studio-tbox.jp/ but it doesn't doesn't give a good sense of how charming the CG look of the film is. As she says in her artists' statement, "I try to produce work which conveys the realms of fairy tales and nostalgia."

22 March 2008

20 March 2008

Now that's a videogame

http://www.slate.com/id/2186848/

Has anybody seen Crayon Physics Deluxe in person? It certainly looks awesome in the video!

17 March 2008

Piperoidz -- Way cool new Japanese figures

I went to the Konica-Minolta Plaza in Shinjuku to check out the Geoscape exhibition, which was great. But actually the coolest thing I saw was in an ecology-themed exhibition next door: Piperoids!



It may not be immediately evident from the pictures why Piperoids are so cool -- they come as cardboard tubes, and nothing but cardboard tubes. You assemble them yourself from a bunch (usually 5) of cardboard tubes.

They're really an ingenious set of paper-folding and tube-nesting ideas (some of the tubes differ in diameter by exactly one thickness, so that they can function as bushings for each other!). They generally look cool, and there's a lot of clever stuff in how they go together. I don't know if they've made it to the states yet, but keep your eyes out for them!

16 March 2008

Spring is almost here in Tokyo

In Japan, the marker of spring is cherry blossom season, which is usually around end of March / beginning of April in Tokyo. The National Meteorological Agency keeps a running forecast of Cherry Blossom times here.

My more personal method is to check the progress of the buds of the cherry trees along the Meguro-gawa near my house. And they're agreeing with the Agency -- it's close. Here's a shot of the developing buds on some of the cherry trees just outside.



If you've never experienced Cherry Blossom time in Japan, it's an incredible experience -- but one very hard to describe in words. I can't wait!



15 March 2008

Nassim Taleb's "Fooled by Probability"

On a recent plane flight, I saw a copy of Nassim Taleb's "Fooled by Probability" and picked it up. Taleb is the author of the excellent "The Black Swan", a book about extremely rare events with a large effect on the world, and is a New-York-based trader who has managed to pull his living out of making slightly better probabilistic bets than others.

"Fooled by Probability" is a book about the general confusion that results in the human brain when confronted with matter relating to probability. This isn't a new theme -- there's some great material on the same subject in Richard Dawkins' seminal "The Selfish Gene" -- but Taleb definitely brings interesting and relevant anecdotes, and a little bit of research, to the topic.

He talks repeatedly about how we 'prefer the narrative' -- that is, we will search for a causal narrative in any series of events -- and the everyday manifestation of this in such inane headlines as "Dow down 3 points on inflation rumors". Yet, he's not foolishly prescriptive: he recognizes that the preference for the narrative is not something we can choose to discard, it's wired into us just as is the fact we remember emotions more readily associated with smells than sights.

And that's exactly the problem with the book: this book is a collection of observations and insights about humans dealing with probability, not a book that's actually about something. In that sense, it's clearly an earlier book than The Black Swan: by the time he wrote the second book, he had progressed as an author to the point where he could put together many of these same observations and insights into a more coherent book which is about something.

Thus, if you've already read "The Black Swan", reading "Fooled by Probability" is more about visualizing the progression of Taleb as an author than about new material on probability. It's interesting enough to read that I wouldn't recommend against it for that reason; but, if you haven't read either one yet, pick up "The Black Swan" rather than this one (and if you haven't read "The Selfish Gene" yet, that's your first stop!).