Saturday, July 6, 2013

Q.E.D. volume 4 review

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Q.E.D., vol. 4, by Katou Motohiro. Grade: B


(Demonstration of the "monopole".)

1st,April,1999 (Great Magazine, 1999). The story starts out with the country of Clavius receiving a shipment of bad food from Japan. Seems that Japanese companies have a reputation for dumping inferior products on third-world countries, and Clavius now has to deal with not only the loss of the money spent on the contract, but also with the need to dispose of tons of rotted fish. The Minister of Foreign Affairs collapses from the smell and stress, and the Minister's assistant director, Clift Baum, is tasked with helping save the poor, food-short country. Meanwhile, Touma is complaining that he has to defend his first place prize position in the April Fool's Club. He'd won last year, and the challenger - a woman named Elenore Grea - is gunning after him now. He's soon visited by Clift, who asks for his help in finding a Japanese company that will buy the mineral rights from Clavius as a way of helping make the country richer. Touma refuses, so Kana volunteers to play Baum's assistant when they visit a prospective client. But, the company is unwilling to throw away money on something so speculative (i.e. - they don't see a fast and easy profit here) and they laugh Baum out of the office. However, Kana demonstrates something interesting, a metallic rock that causes a compass to always face south no matter how the rock is facing. One of the junior staff recognizes this as a monopole, a magnet that only has one end.


(April Fool Club awards ceremony.)

If Clavius is a source of monopoles, then that would make whoever owns the mining rights insanely rich. The problem is, monopoles are hypothetical only, they don't exist. The client is soon visited by Elenore Grea, who says that they're a victim of an April Fool's joke as part of the annual Club contest. The officers feel relieved that they haven't fallen for the gag, until one of their agents discovers that Grea is staying at the French Embassy. Maybe the monopoles are real and France wants the rights. The men panic. The deadline for meeting Baum at the Clavius Embassy is approaching and Grea is seen driving in the direction of the Clavius Embassy on Odaiba Island. Everyone rushes out of the offices to follow Grea, and Kana is told to take the opportunity to copy a file onto a floppy disk using their computers. She then goes to the roof of the building, where Touma has a helicopter waiting for her. She's flown to the Embassy, where she intercepts Grea, pretends to be one of Grea's partners and drops the disk on the ground. One of the officers snatches up the floppy, reads it on a laptop, and discovers a French document that mentions monopoles. This clinches it and the Japanese company signs for the Clavian mineral rights. Immediately after, they find out that monopoles really don't exist, and that their contract is fully binding. Afterward, at the April Fool's Club meeting, Elenore Grea, Clavian Minister of Foreign Affairs, accepts her prize as runner up again. Kana is announced as the winner this year and is told that she must defend her title next time. That's when she realizes that Touma has played her from the very beginning of the story.

Most of the science involves discussions of magnetism and magnets. There is some information about unfair Japanese business practices, and a few pictures of Odaiba (the artificial island in Tokyo Bay that's home to some high tech buildings. The full-scale Gundam model had been built here 3 years ago.)



(The traffic lights fail as Kana crosses the street.)

Yakobu no Kaidan (Jacob's Staircase, Great Magazine, 1999). Ok, this one is a bit out there. Eva Sukta, Loki's partner, last seen in volume 3, works at MIT's artificial life computer sciences lab. One of her projects does something really weird. Shortly after, the entire traffic light system in Tokyo fails. All the lights turn green, creating massive accidents and shutting the city down. Kana saves a shop owner from getting hit by a car, then returns to Touma's apartment (which seems to be in or near Akihabara). We get a view of a nomad desperately searching for a home, and then the scene changes to the CIA offices, where Eva is being interrogated for the damage caused by her program. Next, we see Loki on an airplane, followed by another CIA agent. Loki ditches the tail and arranges to meet Touma at the Akihabara train station to ask for help saving Sukta (thus proving to Kana that Loki really does like her). They encounter the shop keeper that Kana had saved - he's a small restaurant owner, and the second floor attic is available for them to hide in if they want it. Even better, the attic has a discarded server workstation.


(Touma confronts the CIA agent.)

Loki describes Eva's Life program (based on Conway's game of Life) and the fact that it takes rules in English. In essence, the rules are to feed on the weak, become strong, look for the most amount of memory available, and breed. Seems that what surprised Eva was that over one weekend the program had created 3 stable "nations", but then the code was wiped out. When she tried again, she had the same 3 stable nations, but over the weekend again, one of the nations went to war with the other two. Right after that, she was picked up by the CIA, and used her one phonecall to contact Loki. Touma figures everything out and tweaks the CIA's nose over it. So, why were the specific rules for the game created? How did the game turn into a virus that could bypass the various firewalls to get into Japan? Where in Japan is it? Why was it erased once? Why does the traffic system only fail at the end of the weekends? What is Eva's involvement in all this and how does she get out unscathed?

The science this time focuses on what viruses are, how servers and firewalls work, the nature of simulation software, and a discussion of one form of Conway's game of life. Plus, we get to see people eating okonomiyaki.


(Jacob finds the promised land.)

The "out there" part involves the nomad searching for god's promised land. One specific cell in the life simulation is following the rule for locating the most available memory, and at the end of each weekend, the computers get turned off so it has to try again. So, yeah, the one cell is "Jacob" searching for a "home" for "his people".

Comment: We get told that while Eva is a great programmer and could make a lot of money writing software if she wanted to, the real genius that could become rich overnight with his own applications is Touma. This helps explain how Sou can live in an ultra-expensive apartment complex on his own in the heart of Akihabara. Recommended.

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