Book Review: The Physics of Everyday Things

Book Review: The Physics of Everyday Things by James Kakalios

Disclaimer:  I received an uncorrected proof of this book for the purpose of writing this review.   No other compensation was offered or requested.  The final product,  due out May 2017, will have some changes, including a full index.

The Physics of Everyday Things

Today is no ordinary day.  While it may seem normal as you wake up and have breakfast, getting ready for a doctor’s appointment and a work presentation, today will actually be extraordinary.  For you will be accompanied at every step by Professor James Kakalios, author of The Physics of Superheroes, who will explain the physics behind the many objects you interact with every day.

In the tradition of Hugo Gernsback’s seminal novel Ralph 124C 41+, the narrative frame takes “You” (a prosperous business person with a late-model car and many of the latest gadgets) through a typical day in 2017 as an excuse to discuss the physics involved in such devices as digital timers, magnetic resonance imaging and flat panel televisions.  While not as thrilling as a superhero saga might be, the day is eventful enough to keep the story moving.  (And relatable for business people who might invest in scientific research.)

The book mostly skips the mathematical formulas that are the bane of non-scientists trying to follow physics discussions, but a basic understanding of high school level physics principles will make this book easier to understand.  There are figures to illustrate how some of the devices work, as well as both footnotes and end-notes.  T he finished product will also have an index.

Overall, the superheroes book was more fun, but is now outdated.  I recommend this volume primarily to business people and those who want to know a bit more about physics as it applies to real life.  (Well, except for a last discussion on flying cars and the physics of why we still don’t have them.)

Open Thread: Webcomics You Might Enjoy

Open Thread: Webcomics You Might Enjoy

Over the holiday weekend, I went to ConVergence 2016 in Bloomington, a yearly science fiction convention.  One of the panels I was on was “Web Comics”, during which we discussed many webcomics that panelists and audience members have enjoyed.  As promised, here’s a list combining the handout by Kathryn Sullivan http://kathrynsullivan.com/ with those mentioned by other people that I remembered to write down.  Descriptions I am copying from Ms. Sullivan will be marked by (KS).

O Human Star Volume One

Some of these strips may have Not Safe For Work (NSFW) content, and not every webcomic will appeal to every reader.  Nor is this anywhere near an exhaustive list of good webcomics.  If you don’t see your favorite, by all means comment and tell me about it.

Achewood http://www.achewood.com/index.php?date=10012001 by Chris Onstad is surrealist humor focusing on a small group of anthropomorphic animals, stuffed toys and robots living in the house of the never-seen Chris, in the community of Achewood.  The most celebrated storyline in the series is “The Great Outdoor Fight” which is to an extent exactly what it sounds like.  Sometimes has NSFW content.

Anna Galactic http://www.baldwinpage.com/annagalactic/2015/01/28/43/ by Christopher Baldwin.  Anna and her friends investigate why their ship seems to be settling a planet rather than just refueling.  Updates Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  (KS)

Batgirl Inc. http://batgirlincorporated.tumblr.com/tagged/read%20batgirl%20inc  by Max Eber & Yulyn Chen is a fan comic which teams up the various characters who have been Batgirl in the DC Comics as their own group.

Blindsprings http://www.blindsprings.com/comic/blindsprings-page-one by Kadi Fedoruk is about spirits and the politics of those attempting to control magic.  Updated Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Breaking Cat News http://www.breakingcatnews.com/comic/everything-is-broken/ by Georgia Dunn is a news show where all the reporters are cats, with their own special take on what seems newsworthy.

Cucumber Quest http://cucumber.gigidigi.com/cq/page-1/ by Gigi D.G. is a cute fantasy adventure comic starring bunny children.  (Note that I have not read all the way through–check carefully for surprises before letting your kids on.)

Demon http://www.shigabooks.com/index.php?page=001 by Jason Shiga begins with Jimmy Yee attempting to commit suicide and failing repeatedly.  Eventually he discovers that he didn’t fail–every time he dies, his spirit simply possesses the closest available living person.  Somehow the Feds know about his ability even before he does, and now Jimmy is on the run with an escalating body count.  NSFW.

Digger  http://diggercomic.com/blog/2007/02/01/wombat1-gnorf/ by Ursula Vernon is for an older audience than her Dragonbreath series.  The completed version won the Hugo Award and is the tale of a wandering wombat and the beings she encounters.  The collected issues are available in paper.  A wombat wandering a magical world.  (KS)

Dinosaur Comics http://www.qwantz.com/index.php?comic=1 by Ryan North has the exact same images for (almost) every strip as a Tyrannosaurus Rex discusses philosophical questions with other dinosaurs while running amok.  Often funny, sometimes makes you think.

The Firelight Isle https://www.paulduffield.co.uk/firelightisle/1  by Paul Duffield is a fantasy coming-of-age story about two childhood friends about to undergo the trials of adulthood on an island controlled by a mysterious religion.  Done in “ribbons” that require scrolling down to see all of.

Forming http://jessemoynihan.com/?p=11 by Jesse Moynihan (one of the Adventure Time people) involves ancient astronaut “gods” and their effects on the civilizations of Earth.  Some NSFW material.

A Girl and Her Fed  http://agirlandherfed.com/1.1.html by K.B. Spangler is about a young woman who’s haunted by the ghost of Benjamin Franklin and the federal agent who has been assigned to watch her and has his own annoying invisible companion.

Girl Genius http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/comic.php?date=20021104#.V3sALvkrLcs by Phil and Kaja Foglio is an alternate Earth story where mad scientists called “Sparks” have run amuck and made history unrecognizable.  Agatha Clay discovers that she is actually Agatha Heterodyne, a powerful Spark and the heir to a near-mythical dynasty.  Largely comedic, but with an epic story.  Has won several Hugos and has multiple print collections.

Girls Next Door http://pika-la-cynique.deviantart.com/art/GirlsNextDoor-Introductions-73082145 by Pika la Cynique has Christine Daae (of Phantom of the Opera and Sarah of Labyrinth as college roommates, dealing with their stalkers and trying to get through finals.  Irregular updates as it needs to be translated from French.

Gunnerkrigg Court http://www.gunnerkrigg.com/?p=1 by Tom Siddell concerns Antimony Carver, whose mother has recently died.  Her rather distant father ships her off to the school of the title, which is decidedly weird, especially if you add in the magical forest across the bridge.  Almost everyone has secrets, many of them dangerous.  Note that the art improves drastically over the course of the series.

Hark! A Vagrant http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=1 by Kate Beaton is a humorous strip, mostly doing historical & literature jokes.  Updates have become sporadic as Ms. Beaton has gotten paying gigs.

Homestuck http://www.mspaintadventures.com/?s=6 by Andrew Hussie is a recently concluded epic fantasy that operates like a cross between a webcomic and a Flash game, using the writing style of an old-style computer adventure game.   John Egbert and three of his friends are going to be playing a new virtual reality game, Sburb.  Naturally, the game hides secrets that affect real worlds and has many plot twists that are massive spoilers.

How to Be a Werewolf http://www.howtobeawerewolf.com/comic/coming-february-3rd/ by Shawn Lenore is yes, about werewolves.  It just started last year.  Updated Tuesday and Thursday.  (KS)

Hyperbole and a Half http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-of-cake.html  by Allie is more of a heavily illustrated blog than anything else, often telling stories from Allie’s childhood.

JL8 http://limbero.org/jl8/1 by Yale Stewart is a fan comic depicting members of the Justice League as roughly eight-year-olds attending elementary school.  Very irregular schedule.

Kill Six Billion Demons http://killsixbilliondemons.com/comic/kill-six-billion-demons-chapter-1/ by Demonaic starts with Allison about to have sex with her boyfriend when the room is invaded by “demons” that drag off the boyfriend while Allison has a “key” forced upon her that transports her to the world of Throne which is inhabited by demons, “angels” and other weirdness and must make her way without knowing anything about her new setting.  NSFW.

A Lesson Is Learned but the Damage Is Irreversible http://www.alessonislearned.com/index.php?comic=1 by David Hellman and Dale Beran is a Dada-esque strip that takes advantage of “the infinite canvas” to have as much space as it needs to tell the day’s story, which is seldom directly linked to any other story.

Namesake http://namesakecomic.com/comic/the-journey-begins by Megan Lavey-Heaton & Isabelle Melançon follows Emma Crewe, who is a “Namesake”, a person who is expected to follow in the footsteps of a literary character, in her case Dorothy of Oz.  She has no interest in being locked in the story, and is prepared to fight fate with the help of new friends she’s made and her little sister who develops the powers of a Writer.

Necropolis http://necropoliscomic.tumblr.com/post/118905492171/prologue by Jake Wyatt is a high fantasy story with some fine illustration work; it’s still relatively new so the full plot isn’t know, but there’s a war between kinds and a young woman who battles the undead.

O Human Star http://ohumanstar.com/comic/chapter-1-title-page/ by Blue Delliquanti begins with a robotics engineer having a dream of dying, only to awaken to it being true.  He’s now in a robotic body that resembles his original appearance, and it’s fifteen years in the future when intelligent robots have won civil rights.  Alastair is originally told his former lover Brendan arranged his “resurrection”, but Brendan denies this.  Also how does Brendan have a teenage daughter that strongly resembles Alastair?  I reviewed the first print volume, and a second is in the Kickstarter process.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn http://www.gocomics.com/phoebe-and-her-unicorn/2012/04/22 by Dana Simpson was formerly known as “Heavenly Nostrils.”  A delightful story of a young girl who becomes friends with a unicorn.  It’s now available in newspapers and past issues were collected into three books, Phoebe and Her UnicornUnicorn on a Roll, and Unicorn vs. Goblins.  Updated daily.  (KS)

PS 238 http://ps238.nodwick.com/comic/12072006/ by Aaron Williams is an elementary school for metahumans hidden beneath a regular school.  Amazon has both the collected and the individual issues available in paper, so trying to find the collected issues can be difficult.  (I’ve found the term ‘paperback’ worked.)  This one I recommend starting from the very beginning, as the setup for the school is very interesting.  Updated weekly.  (KS)

Questionable Content http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1 by J. Jacques is slice of life in a world where weird things happen but usually don’t get life-threatening.  This is another one where the art drastically improves over time.

Rice Boy http://www.rice-boy.com/see/index.php?c=001 by Evan Dahm is a surreal fantasy about a young fellow who may or may not be the one who can fulfill a prophecy, but is curious enough to at least investigate what the prophecy is.  Completed, and there are two other series set in the same world accessible from the website.

Spacetrawler http://spacetrawler.com/2010/01/01/spacetrawler-4/ by Christopher Baldwin is a comedic SF actioner about a group of Earth humans abducted by aliens who want to free an enslaved species.  It’s currently on hiatus, but a sequel is scheduled to start soon.  The original is collected in three print volumes, the first of which I reviewed on this blog.

Strong Female Protagonist http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com/issue-1/page-0/ by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag follows a young superhero who has come to question if “fighting crime” is the best use of her powers, and discards her costumed identity to explore other paths to help people.

Subnormality http://www.viruscomix.com/page324.html  by Winston Rowntree is a “deconstruction” webcomic that looks at tropes and finds new ways to examine them.  It’s an “infinite canvas” strip that takes as much space as it needs.

Unshelved http://www.unshelved.com/2002-2-16 by Gene Ambaun & Bill Barnes is a gag-a-day comic about the workers at a city library and their eccentric customers.  Often has book recommendations.

Wapsi Square http://wapsisquare.com/comic/09092001/ by Paul Taylor is a “paranormal slice of life” comic originally about an archaeologist named Monica who discovers that she’s not crazy, the whole world is.  It starts out as gag-a-day before the plot kicks in, and what a plot it is!  The focus has shifted to another character and her adopted daughters as they try to blend into human society.

XKCD http://xkcd.com/1/ by Randall Munroe is full of math and science jokes.  After some experiments at the beginning, it settles down to stick figure art, but many of the ideas are nifty, and if you like math and science jokes…

Freakangels and City of Reality came up during the panel, but are no longer reliably available on the internet.

Anime Review: I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying

Anime Review: I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying

Kaoru is a typical office worker in her mid-twenties who by chance meets, falls in love with, and marries Hajime, who is slightly younger than her and a dedicated otaku (A person who is a big fan of a particular esoteric subject and has poor social skills, much like an American nerd.)  She doesn’t really understand his hobbies, but they get along well.

I Can't Understand What My Husband Is Saying

This short slice-of-life anime series (three minutes an episode!) is based on a gag manga, Danna ga Nani o Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken, by Cool-kyo Shinja (which I am pretty sure is a pen name.)  Typical episodes have them meeting each other’s relatives or friends, or doing simple activities like going out drinking.  Hajime often makes anime references, which makes this series less viable for those new to anime fandom.  The final episode has Hajime talking about how anime series end, and a change in their lives.

While the writing and animation are no great shakes, it’s a pleasant enough series, and the short length makes it a good palate cleanser between heavier shows.  The couple have an active sex life, off-camera but referred to a few times, so parents may not feel comfortable having little ones watch.  As noted above, Kaoru and Hajime drink, Kaoru sometimes to excess, and in some episodes Kaoru smokes.  (She’s given it up in the present day.)

As of this writing, you can find the series streaming free on Crunchyroll.

Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans

This last weekend at Minicon 49, I moderated a panel on “Anime for Speculative Fiction Fans.”   As is common at this sort of thing, a lot of series and films were mentioned very briefly, and not everyone had the opportunity to write them all down.  Therefore, I promised to put up a list.  I should note that this list covers a wide variety of genres and styles, so you may see things that are not to your taste.

Wolf Children
Wolf Children

In roughly alphabetical order….

  • Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero:  A story that examines what happens after teens summoned to save magical worlds are returned to Earth.  (Note: the main character is a pervert and the show is heavy on female fanservice.)
  • Akira:  Motorcycle gang members deal with psychic children in a post-World War Three Tokyo.  One of the first anime films to make it big in America, massively compressed from the groundbreaking manga.
  • Appleseed: Post-apocalyptic society building with a heavy emphasis on artificial humans so close to biological ones that the lines are blurred at best.
  • Aria: A very quiet series about gondoliers on a terraformed Mars.  The setting is heavily based on Venice.
  • Attack on Titan:  Action series about humans in a walled city battling anthropophagous giants.  Extremely violent, anyone can die, some fascinating world building.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/The Legend of Korra: Not actually anime, but heavily influenced by it.  An alternative Earth setting with “benders”, people who can control the classic elements via martial arts training.
  • Azumanga Daioh: A slice of life series about a loose group of friends who go through high school together.  Some mild fantastic elements implied.
  • Big O:  In a city that has lost its memory, negotiator Roger Smith must resort to giant robot battles when negotiations break down.  Noted for a very dubious ending as the third season never materialized.
  • Bubblegum Crisis:  Cyberpunk series about armored vigilantes that fight Boomers, robots that have gone amok (not always by accident.)
  • Chobits:  An impoverished student in a world where personal computers are humanoid in shape, discovers an amnesiac “persocom” in the shape of a young woman lying in the garbage.  some interesting themes of humanity’s interactions with their machines and the effects of computers on society are set aside for soppy romance by the end.
  • Crying Freeman:  A mysterious criminal organization turns an innocent man into their assassin, whose body obeys orders even as his eyes fill with tears.  Quite a lot of sex in this one.
  • Dot Hack: A multimedia series of series revolving around a massive online immersive reality computer game.  Can be confusing, as important information only appears in other stories, not all of which are available in America.  Spawned a number of imitators.
  • Final Fantasy Advent Children:  An animated sequel to the fan favorite Final Fantasy VII video game, demonstrating the advances in computer animation since the game came out.  Cloud and his friends saved the world, but at great cost; can they get together for one last push to keep it saved?
  • Fruits Basket:  An orphaned girl becomes a servant to a big, screwed-up family cursed with animal transformations.  Despite their magical abilities, her compassion may be the strongest power of all.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist/Brotherhood:  There are two series based on the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, as the first one aired while the manga was still ongoing and had to come up with its own ending.  Both series revolve around brothers who practiced forbidden alchemy and paid the price.  They join the military to gain the resources they need to try and make things right.
  • Future Diary:  A young man discovers that his cell phone diary now records what he’s going to do in the future.  which would be cool if there weren’t other people with future diaries who want to kill him.  It seems the last one living will become the new god.  The standout character is Yuuno, the young woman who takes “stalker” to a whole new level.
  • Ghost in the Shell: By the same artist who brought us Appleseed, the cyberpunk tales of a special police unit that deals with cybercrime of all sorts.  The chronology can be confusing, but the themes run deep.
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time:  A film about a young woman who discovers the ability to leap to the past and redo events, which she promptly abuses.  But just because you’ve erased an event doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, and it turns out there are, in fact, rules and a cost for time travel.
  • Iron Man: Yes, an anime series based on the Iron Man movies, and thus on the comic books.  Tony Stark goes to Japan and fights opponents based on Zodiac creatures.
  • Karneval:  A very new series about a young burglar, a mysterious albino boy, and a government agency they join for protection when a bioaugmentation organization puts them on its hit list.
  • Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya:  The title character is a young woman who longs for excitement in her life, so creates a club to seek out weirdness.  She is unaware that most of the club members are in fact the weirdness she seeks, or that she herself has a hidden power.  Hugely popular.
  • Moretsu Space Pirates: “Bodacious” space pirates in the American market due to the direct interpretation “flaming” being even less felicitous.  A young woman discovers that she is the heir to a pirate ship.  “Pirates” in this future are actually privateers, and it’s mostly for show…but then the politics start happening.  Notable for centering around a good mother/daughter relationship and female friendships without making the male supporting characters useless or invisible.
  • Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit:  A spearwoman becomes bodyguard to a prince who appears to be possessed by an evil spirit.  Things are much, much more complicated than they seem.  Notable for such things as having a heroine that’s pushing thirty, good worldbuilding (the author is an anthropology major) and not having a villain as such–everyone is trying to do the right thing, they just violently disagree on what that is.
  • Nichijou:  The ordinary life of four ordinary high school girls, one of whom happens to be a robot.  The closest genre might be “magical realism”; many strange and wonderful things happen, but it’s all part of the characters’ ordinary life.
  • Planetes: A hard science fiction series about astronauts whose job it is to clear space junk from Earth’s orbit.  Very down-to-earth (pun intended).
  • Project A-ko:  A girl with superpowers and her ditzy best friend transfer to a new school, where they meet a snobby girl with mechanical genius and a grudge against them.  Their battle is interrupted by an alien invasion.  Lots of fun.
  • Psycho Pass:  In the future, the cops have a way of detecting whether you are likely to commit a crime.  And if you detect too highly, they might act pre-emptively.  Dark.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica:  A girl named Madoka is offered a wish, any one wish, in exchange for which she must become a magical girl and fight “witches.”  Her new friend Homura doesn’t want her to do this, and there are a variety approaches to the life of magical girls.  This is a deconstruction of magical girl tropes, so you may want to watch some Sailor Moon or Pretty Cure or other “standard” magical girl show first.
  • Queen’s Blade:  In a fantasy land, several women compete in a tournament to see which of them will become the next queen.   Extremely heavy on the erotic fanservice, but oddly feminist otherwise; the women have varied personalities, agendas and agency.  It’s a love/hate show.
  • Record of Lodoss War:  Essentially Dungeons and Dragons: The Anime.  On the island of Lodoss, a small band of adventurers discover that a secret hand is behind the wars that rack their lands.  There are two continuities, the direct to video version, and the television series.  the latter replaces the last third of the video version and moves on to a “next generation” plotline.
  • Robotech:  An oldie but a goodie, it took Macross and two other mecha series from Japan and edited them together into a surprisingly coherent continuity.    In what is now an alternate history, an alien craft landed on Earth, and was turned into our planet’s best defense against the aliens who had sent it.
  • Rosario + Vampire:  A “harem” series about a boy who mistakenly transfers into a school for monsters, many of whom appear to be pretty girls.  Some exciting fight scenes with the many monsters, but also much fanservice.
  • Samurai Champloo:  In a rather odd version of Meiji Restoration Japan, a samurai, a renegade swordsman, and a young woman search for “the samurai that smells like sunflowers.”  Interesting music.
  • Serial Experiments Lain:  A young woman builds her own computer, and connects to the Wired.  Government agents are not pleased by this.  Very surreal, and a mind screw.
  • Summer Wars:  A young man is dragooned into posing as his classmate’s fiance during her family reunion.  Meanwhile, a hostile program has taken over a major Internet hub.  These things turn out to be much more connected than they might look.  Very much a family movie, though the dub adds extra cursing.
  • Tiger and Bunny:  A superhero story in which the heroes are commercially sponsored and appear on a reality show.  Surprisingly much less cynical than that sounds, it’s very much a homage to American comic books.
  • Witch Hunter Robin:  Government agencies track down and capture/kill mutants known as “witches.”  Robin herself is a witch who serves humanity.  But is she really on the side of good?
  • Wolf Children:  A woman falls in love and marries a man who is also a wolf.  But he dies shortly after their second child is born, so she must raise their kids/cubs alone in a world that hates and fears wolves.
  • Yokohama Shopping District:  A very humanoid robot runs a cafe at the end of the world as we know it.  Humanity is almost gone, but our creations live on.  A very quiet story.
  • Yume Tsukai: “The Dream Master”; the main characters have the ability to pacify nightmares, turning them into restful dreams.  Which is kind of important when the nightmares can manifest in the real world.
  • Zipang:  A modern day Japanese destroyer travels through time to World War Two, and changes the course of history.  No take-backs, no reset button ending, and semi-realistic consequences, especially when the current Japanese try to interact with their historical counterparts.

Did we miss your favorite title?  Want to expand on the descriptions?  Just have some questions about anime?  Let us know in the comments!

Comic Book Review: Uptown Girl – All This Time

Comic Book Review: Uptown Girl – All This Time by Brian Bastian & Bob Lipski

girl

Uptown Girl was a Minneapolis-produced minicomic first published in 2003 and running for 75 monthly issues.  This is a “best hits” collection with the creators’ favorite single issue stories.

Uptown Girl is a reporter for a Minneapolis newspaper who has wacky adventures with her friends, artist Ruby Tuesday and laid-back office worker/slacker Rocketman.  (There are a lot of music reference names in the series.)  In the framing story, Rocketman is moving, and ropes his buddies into helping him pack.  The various items they find cause flashbacks to earlier stories.

The first and final stories of the series are included, and it’s easy to see how much the art improved while still remaining simple.  (Uptown Girl’s head is a circle!)  There are werewolves from London, the first appearance of Sulky Girl, and my personal favorite, the introduction of Ana Ng, a photographer from Hibbing.  The collection leans more to the slice of life stories, rather than some of the more actiony plots.

Admittedly, this book is mostly of local interest, but some of the stories are funny and touching even without getting the Minneapolis jokes.  I’d recommend this volume to any fan of small-press comics.

 

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