Friday, December 22, 2006

The Japanese Tradition DVD

According to Amazon, The Japanese Tradition series will be available on DVD from 2nd March 2007, and available for pre-order now. Here's what they have to say...

“The Japanese Tradition series carefully explains ancient customs passed down from generation to generation, as misapprehendedly preconceived by the western world.”

“Purely by word of mouth over the internet, this Japanese short film enjoyed huge success overseas! Finally, its global popularity has reached Japan!” (...Sound of Coal clearing throat...)

-Main Contents-
Utage, Hashi, Origami, Natsuyasumi, Obon, Ocha, Shazai, Onigiri, Tejime

That's a lot of Japanese Tradition, not to mention the bonus features. This thing's gonna go faster than a Wii in Yodobashi, so pre-order yours now to avoid tears come March.

This has been a public service announcement.

Update The official site is here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Aeroplane Conundrum

Imagine a plane is sitting on a massive conveyor belt, as wide and as long as a runway. The conveyer belt is designed to exactly match the speed of the wheels, moving in the opposite direction. Can the plane take off?

The connundrum above has been doing the rounds for a while now, most recently on a message board that appears to be related to the New York Times, so I decided to have a go at answering it myself. Here is my own, definitive answer, in vague non-scientific terms.

With very little thought, what the question appears to be asking is "could a plane take off without it actually moving relative to the ground if its wheels were spinning fast enough?" Of course, anybody familiar with the way flight works will tell you that the movement of the wheels is for all intents and purposes irrelevant, and that it's the plane's movement relative to the air that determines whether or not take-off is possible. If we were to assume a very strong and consistent headwind, so the plane had a high airspeed but zero groundspeed, then it's certainly possible in theory that a plane could take off without moving relative to the ground. Science museums, and museums specialising in flight often demonstrate this principle using wind tunnels. In practice however it's very unlikely and would be reliant on additional circumstances not specified by the question. Indeed, if the headwind was sufficient that the plane could take off with zero groundspeed, the wheels would not need to turn and the runway would not need to be a treadmill.

Also not specified by the question is whether or not the plane is equipped with VTOL (vertical take off and landing) capabilities, like a Harrier jumpjet. Such aeroplanes specialise in taking off with both zero ground AND airspeed.

However, upon closer inspection, the question is not in fact asking that at all. Whether or not the plane could take off is something of a red herring to disguise the flawed reasoning that makes the question itself a paradox. The paradox lies in the use of a false relation between cause and effect. Let's break it down into the order of causes.
  1. The plane is pushed through the air by the power of the engines, which act like rockets sticking out the back. This causes the plane to also move relative to the ground.

  2. The movement of the plane relative to the ground causes the free-spinning wheels to rotate, like pushing a supermarket trolly.

  3. According to the original premise, the treadmill counters the rotation of the wheels EXACTLY, cancelling their rotation and causing the plane not to move.

  4. The plane is not moving, so the wheels do not turn.

  5. The wheels are not turning, so the treadmill does not move to counter them.

  6. The treadmill does not move, so there's nothing stopping the plane from being pushed through the air by the XX kilograms of force produced by its engines.

  7. We find outselves back at (1) - the plane is pushed through the air by the power of the engines, causing the plane to also move relative to the ground.

Clearly this cannot be right, and the flaw in the reasoning can be traced to part 3, where it states the treadmill EXACTLY counters the rotation of the wheels. This cannot work in theory or reality.You have to think about it in terms of cause and effect. The wheels rotate, so the treadmill matches them. The rotation of the wheels is the cause. The movement of the treadmill matching them is the effect. The wheels turn first. The treadmill moves to match them second. The wheels have to be turning BEFORE the treadmill attempts to catch up. And of course, the treadmill's attempt to catch up would itself cause the wheels to rotate faster, which cause the treadmill to move faster, which cause the wheels to rotate faster, which cause the treadmill to move faster, so on and so forth . It's the classic scenario of a dog chasing its own tail, or Homer Simpson looking around to see what Bart had written on the back of his head. All the time the treadmill attempts to copy the wheels' rotation, but in doing so affects the wheels' rotation, there will remain a difference between the speed the wheels rotate and the speed the treadmill moves. That speed difference matches the speed of the plane as it moves down the runway.

Of course, the wheels may be DIRECTLY attached to the treadmill by a chain and sprocket with zero slack, but then it wouldn't be a plane on a treadmill anymore, so much as a plane tethered to the spot. Only enough engine power would be required to break the chain before the plane is off on its merry way.

Now in reality, were such an experiment to be tried, the engine of the treadmill would probably explode, the wheel bearings would probably melt, the tires would probably burst, and the plane would probably end up sliding down the runway on its belly before exploding, killing everyone. Put another way, it WOULD find a way to move under the power of the engines. Whether it is able to take off or not under those circumstances would involve a number of factors that are not specified by the question, but as such circumstances would not match the initial premise, the answer would be moot. The actual circumstances of the question assume we are in a fantasy land with laws of physics quite quite different from that of the world we actually inhabit, so it would be impossible to answer without understanding the other physical laws of the universe. Does this crazy world where cause and effect happen together even have gravity? Is up really down? We just don't know, and I'm not hanging around to find out.

So if you want a simple answer, ask a science fiction writer.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Sir" Cliff Richard must renounce his title

Poor Cliff feels horribly wronged by the system he's benefited from for so long
For all the arguable benefit the aging singer-songwriter may have brought the British public, a single act of sheer greed has demonstrated the contempt he really holds for the very people that made him what he is. As such, I petition that he should voluntarily and without delay renounce his knighthood and return to being just plain old "Mr Richard."

I'm referring of course to the recent less than successful campaign he has been spiritual leader of to retroactively extend UK copyrights on sound recordings from the current 50 years to a mind-blowing 95. Cliff, who will no longer have exclusive privilege to profit from some of his earliest recordings in just over a year's time, claims that his wish to extend copyrights comes from an altruistic desire to "bring parity" to a currently "unfair" system. Artists have families they need to support, so it is important they should receive nearly 90% more than what they originally agreed to when they first created the works.

Such appeals to the apathetic heartstrings of the public claim that many artists are relying on income from royalties as a kind of pension fund, and that if the terms they originally agreed to 50 years ago are not nearly doubled in their favour, they stand to "lose everything." This ignores the fact that if they're successful enough that they're still profiting from a sound recording 50 years on, they probably could have invested some of those 50 years of profits a little more wisely. They knew the terms when they made the recordings, so petitioning for a 45 year extension just as they're about to expire is really not going to win them much sympathy.

And of course, their absolute awareness of the copyright term demonstrates remarkably well the original intent of copyright. Copyright is about giving artists an incentive to create new works at the lowest cost to the public. It's a very fine balancing act – too short and artists will be unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary; too long and they will stagnate on their laurels, at great expense to the public good. If 50 years ago they were willing to create artistic works on these terms, then the price was probably set about right. I'm no scientist, but extending the terms retroactively is not going to cause them to retroactively create more works.

And all of this conveniently ignores the fact that their copyrights as songwriters will already outlive them by 70 years. The retirement funds of the more successful artists' grandchildren and in some cases, great grandchildren, are quite secure for the time being.

Sheer unprecedented greed aside, what Cliff and his tight fisted cohorts have also rather intentionally overlooked is the damage that such an extension would do to the public domain. Copyright is a contract between artist and public, in which a certain amount of exclusive rights are temporarily granted after which the work belongs to everyone. The tiniest fraction of sound recordings created 50 years ago are still being published, and robbing the public domain of those and the remaining vast majority for another 45 years will come at a major cost to the country's cultural heritage, much of which will be lost, forever. And because it's retroactive, works produced more than 50 years ago which currently belong to us all and can be freely shared and enjoyed, will disappear back into copyright, and probably never re-emerge. The legal position of so called orphan works where a work is technically copyrighted but the copyright holder is unknown or unreachable is already a serious grey area problem in the US, and if the various artists' associations have their way will become a lot less grey and a lot more restrictive. Is this what you want, Cliff? Is it? Is it?

Thankfully, those whose heartstrings are less easily manipulated have made a pragmatic study and concluded that the extension would be a really f&#*ing stupid thing to do. Common sense and the public good may yet triumph over the penny pinching desires of a very lucky minority.

So I put it to you, Cliff. If you wish to retain any honour, you will do the right thing. Stop this pointless and dangerous nonsense, admit you were greedy and wrong, renounce your title voluntarily and without delay, and if things get tight during retirement you could perhaps switch to a supermarket brand of caviar to make up for the minor dip in earnings that were entirely predictable at the very start of your career!

Sign the petition!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Another New Apple Ad

Much like the last lot, and featuring our friends the Rahmens! This time it's about nengajo (the new year postcards that people send instead of Christmas cards). Nengajo always have as part of the picture a representation of the Chinese Zodiac animal for the coming year. See if you can guess what animal 2007 is...

Now if only there was some way to stop YouTube from covering half of my subtitles with their own logo...

UPDATE See also another three, and the latest one.