25 September 2017

The Perfect Solution

How to Save The Coal Industry From Itself
and Deal With Flat-Earthers in Education. 

Apparently, some people still look to athletes as role models in this day and age over rescue workers, engineers, doctors, and scientists. Teachers find themselves arguing with students over the shape of the earth because Kyrie Irving wasted his Duke University education. If he played football, we could simply blame the CTE and carry on with our lives. 
Also apparent according to a few authority figures is that our coal industry is in serious need of revitalization despite the fact that doing so at this point in time would only stimulate the economy by a factor of one-one-hundredth of a percent and make even less of a dent in the unemployment situation.

Here's how to solve both problems.  

Gather all students who believe the earth is flat, tell them that the robots have taken all the jobs they ever would have been qualified for, and cart them off to the coal mines. If they ask questions, just mention reptoids and flouride in whatever impromptu narrative structure comes to mind and make sure the last word is Skynet. Failing that, tell them that robots also want the coal mining jobs and they'll be in too much of a frenzy to see the plotholes. 
Put them through a basic outdoor survival seminar on site, making doubly sure they know how to make tents and boil water at the bare minimum. Finally, promise each of them a dollar for every metric tonne of coal that gets brought out. If they ask about minimum wage, health plans, or any sort of benefits, simply make chicken noises at them while challenging their maturity and dropping the term "snowflake" at least once. Arm-flapping is optional, but encouraged for the benefit of visual learning. 

Now walk away. 

If you're at all concerned about matters of conscience, rest assured that the part about robots taking all the jobs they would ever be qualified for is completely and totally true. If further doubts arise, ask yourself this question: Exactly what tasks would you trust people who fall for this plan to do, much less people who believe the earth is flat? 

Funding is simple. Take the total number of participants, work out what they would earn in their lifetimes from social security, and deduct one-third of that from social security. Like this new workforce, it will not be missed. 

10 September 2017

Distro Fever

Thingiverse has recently been beset by some "enterprising" individuals and small groups who think spamming forums at best tangentially related to what they have to offer is a legitimate form of advertising in this day and age. Thingiverse is owned by Makerbot, in turn owned by Stratasys. It acts as a file repository for digital files created by its community for purposes of 3D printing, CNC, Laser-cutting, and many other forms of computer-aided manufacturing and rapid prototyping. There is no advertising on the site. 

Without getting into a long, drawn-out retrospective of what Linux is, one of the great aspects of Linus Torvalds' original source code is that it can be customized to whatever extent computer engineering allows. As a result of this, there are hundreds, if not thousands of individual "flavors" of Linux, with Android being the most widespread. The trouble this paradigm presents, however, is one of saturation. Operating Systems are vast technical undertakings, and barring anything simpler than a graphing calculator, they're not handled by small groups on their downtime. Debian, for example, is the culmination of thousands of hobbyists working piecemeal over many decades. The point is that while everyone starts somewhere, "humble beginnings" aren't as endearing a selling point as they once were when there were maybe a dozen computer manufacturers worldwide with virtually none of them having any interest in the consumer market. 

Okay, first big red flag. Never, ever, ever trust anyone who uses "Good day" as a greeting. I know it's more of a language barrier thing than anything else, but I've seen too many e-mail and telemarketing scams that use this slightly-broken English to ignore it. As a rule, "Good day" is a parting phrase, especially if you're Willy Wonka and/or you really want to stick it to somebody. Call it a pet peeve, but couple this with the fact this exact same message was posted in at least 8 different interest groups, and matters start looking more than a little shady, and we're only at the first line. 

What follows is a standard laundry list of claims. While many well-known Linux or other cross-platform applications such as OpenSCAD, FreeCAD, Blender, and Inkscape are as free of charge as they are easily available, certain flavors of Linux like to separate themselves from the endless cacophony by offering included bundles of programs. It's more a stamp of approval than anything meant to be convenient. By having a program preinstalled, you're showing that it's passed your various benchmarks and is guaranteed to work, whereas some Linux flavors may not play nice with others for the sake of favoring a different suite of programs. Again, there's nothing wrong with that (though some argue whether or not it violates the various open source licenses some programs are made under, but those cases are few and far between) and it's honestly very convenient, no more guesswork for one's workflow. 

Then there's this part about giving out free goods and services:

Along with the "Good Day" greeting and the faux pas that is forum spam, another red flag is unqualified promises. Something I used to see on Yahoo! Answers all the time was someone asking a fairly vague question about Risc Management or Viral Marketing or whatever, all wrapped up with the promise, "Help me out and I'll give you anything you want."

Yes, yes, I know they're just a phishing operation trying to get my e-mail and can't REALLY get me anything I want, but that's precisely my point. These InventOS yahoos answering the prayers of designers and makers are making the same vague, unqualified offer that a con artist does. If your product, an operating system, is still in the alpha stage as you say, are you sure you've got the resources to back up this 
Let's start with the elephant in the room concerning the economics of this claim. Yes, everybody starts somewhere, and of course you often have to spend money in order to make money, but there's a fine line between a free sample and a free ride, to say nothing of not being able to spell freeloader without free... and load. 
While the technology behind 3D printing is nothing new, with roots going back to the early 1970s, this recent wave of "Open Source Prosumerism" that started with the original Makerbot Kickstarter campaign and the explosive popularity of the Arduino microcontroller is still fairly young. We've had a lot of promising startups rise as quickly as they fall. Many a career has been made and ruined on the power of a few calculated risks. Still, a broad range of events across the board plus a little common sense have given this particular subculture of designers/inventors/makers/artisans/what-have-you a better perspective on how to market themselves. 

Your skills have a value, even if the only cost is your time. 

Offering a service of value for free drives down that value for everyone else in that profession. It's kind of ironic that the open source nature of the software you're using to make your OS (which comes prepackaged with applications other people have made) has seemingly driven you to offer physical printing services and design consultation for free. 

As of this writing, they have no responded, and I rather doubt they will. 

Actually, they're not offering everything for free (they're just asking for volunteers to help them back up their claims). I don't personally know of any Linux distribution that makes use of Patreon, but it's not necessarily a red flag. Ubuntu has a similar business model, offering its software for free but asking fees for technical support. Google doesn't offer Android as a standalone download, instead licensing it to hardware manufacturers with part of the sales helping support further developments. So, technical support and customer service has a dollar value, but a physical print of a design someone has volunteered to me is free, so long as...? 

So, is InventOS a scam? Probably not, but they sure act like it. Between the broad, sweeping claims, sketchy "marketing" efforts, too-good-to-be-true promises of free lunches, and wait-and-see attitude towards valid questions of their business model, it's certainly hard to tell their message apart from the many offers from Nigerian diplomats trapped aboard the ISS who need me to buy them 1,000 spark plugs with unsigned checks they'll mail me before getting sent off to out of state PO boxes. More likely is that they're simply inept. 

By the way, here's what their community forums look like as of today:

05 September 2017

Patent-ial Turnarounds

In August of this year, Gamevice brought suit against Nintendo for the Switch console, alleging it infringes on their patent for the Wikipad, an Android-based gaming tablet released in 2013. Although the suit was brought to light in August, it's possible Gamevice began filing suits earlier, as the Switch was released in March 2017 with marketing beginning several months before. 

Patent suits are nothing new in the tech world, certainly not in the gaming industry, and definitely not Nintendo's first rodeo on this front. What makes this suit different, or at least what seems to be getting it more attention than other suits is Gamevice's exact demands as far as restitution. Not only is the company seeking damages, but moving to have sales of the Switch halted altogether. Similar suits have led to the Classic Controller being discontinued and at least two other suits have sought to halt Wii sales in the United States. Nintendo was able to defend itself against some of these suits while settling with others. 

After customer complaints of Nintendo underselling its NES Classic mini-console, its fluctuating Amiibo line, and similar grumblings of Switch console availability, it simply seems Nintendo fans can't catch a break when it comes to putting Nintendo hardware on their shelves. Overall it seems unlikely Gamevice will get its way and have the Switch stopped dead in its tracks, that part of their case most likely being a bargaining chip of sorts, something they can give up later as a gesture of good faith towards a more reasonable settlement (a bluff). 

As of this writing, there's no real word on how much of a bluff said bluff actually is. For the sake of putting to rest any possible fears people may have of not being able to get a Switch, I'd like to offer a glimpse into a possible future, based on nothing more than informed speculation. Here's the informed part: 

Let's face some cold hard facts about the Nintendo 3DS... the 3D gimmick was awful. It's practically Virtual Boy levels of awful. I know some people never had an issue with the 3D, but I did, and I know I'm not alone. I couldn't look at that thing for more than 30 seconds before my brain desperately tried to make a break for it through my nose. Between that and my Playstation Vita, I had little to no interest in what Nintendo's clamshell had to offer (also I'm not a big fan of the clamshell design). I did eventually get a DSi XL secondhand mostly for the sake of playing a handful of games I was interested in that weren't for the 3DS. I did, however, get a 2DS for my roommate. Apart from the screen being kinda small compared to the various XL models of DSi and 3DS, it pretty much fixed every issue I had with the 3DS. I think it was a good move on Nintendo's part to offer more options to their customers. It's easy to fall into the old Sega trap of too much hardware, but on the other end of the spectrum, I think Nintendo is more often than not far too stingy with hardware. Their so-called Wii "mini" was almost an insulting joke of a console, ironically being slightly bigger on some dimensions than the Wii proper, and with overall fewer capabilities like a lack of an SD card slot (so no WiiWare or Virtual Console games). 
More recently, Nintendo has made a 2DS XL, finally giving the bigger screen the previous lacked, though going back to the clamshell design of the past. At this point, I'm okay with that. The price the 3D brought with it, along with the Amiibo feature that was equally uninteresting to me, were my biggest gripes against getting a 3DS

It turns out there's actually a reason for this new handheld's existence, and it has to do with a patent lawsuit. 

A Sony employee brought suit against Nintendo for a patent infringement involving a "glasses free" 3D effect for displays. The suit was settled out of court and while Nintendo does still produce the 3DS XL, the 2DS and new 2DS XL don't violate the original agreement. It's funny to imagine the various higher-ups at Nintendo looking over all the legal paperwork from Sony over the 3D, looking up at each other, one saying, "You know, the 3D really is kinda dumb." with another adding, "Why don't we just make a DS that doesn't do 3D?" and everyone nodding in uncontested agreement before going off to lunch. 

Now comes the speculation. I don't have a Switch, and I haven't talked to many people who do. Earlier, I honestly praised Nintendo for turning their next-gen console, their Wii-U successor, into a handheld. It's frankly genius to leave the console market behind and instead double-down on handhelds, which have always been Nintendo's more lucrative endeavors, going all the way back to the Game & Watch. If the Gamevice suit is really over the detachable controllers, would it really hurt Nintendo to just pull a 2DS move? Are any Switch owners out there playing their games and thinking, "Man, this wouldn't be worth it if I didn't have these tiny little sticks of controllers I could slide off!"? After all, if the side controllers are too small or uncomfortable, more traditional controllers can be linked to it for multiplayer. 
Imagine a Switch that keeps the dual analog sticks and buttons exactly where they are, but doesn't let you detach them. Suppose multiplayer were only minutely inconvenienced by requiring additional controllers or (in rare cases) another system to play through a link like every handheld before then can do. I mean, I'm no product designer and I certainly have no concept of what goes into developing a handheld, but how much R&D could truly go into effectively making a souped up original 2DS? One slab, buttons on the side, all framing a big, beautiful screen. It would basically be a Vita done right (and I'm saying that as someone who likes the Vita wholeheartedly). 

This is where I'd have an image of some hastily-rendered mockup made in TinkerCAD or SketchUp or Blender or something, but as I said, I'm not a product designer, and I'd rather open it up to see what others might come up with given these criteria. Remember, Gamevice's beef isn't with having buttons on the side of a screen; Nintendo's Game & Watch beat their Wikipad to that decades ago. All we need is a system with all the Switch's insides, but with an interface that doesn't have detachable controllers. 

Before writing this, I'd tossed around the idea of Nintendo making an entirely new console, but making it backwards compatible with Switch games. The more I thought about it, the less likely Nintendo would go that route. I simply hope they don't outright abandon the Switch the way they abandoned the Wii-U so hastily. 

Of course, my ideal Nintendo would be one that foregoes hardware in favor of simply working with the platforms that are available. Hardware is ultimately a failure mechanism for games, as Moore's Law puts developers and publishers in a position of making the most of what's available to them while preparing for the future. As much as I don't like the idea of endless ports, re-releases, and remakes overshadowing new and original IPs, I absolutely hate the idea of a game being bound to hardware that's likely going to fall apart with time regardless of how meticulously I maintain it. I do not care how I get my games anymore. As long as developers are getting paid for their work and are able to carry on making more games, I do not care about the means of conveyance for their properties. 

Goodnight, and game on. 

03 September 2017

The Last Guardians of the Orville's Trek (OUTDATED)

Douglas Adams spent virtually his whole life trying to push science fiction comedy into the mainstream. Drawing primarily on the absurdist works of Kurt Vonnegut and Stanislaw Lem, Adams took the edge off such hard satire and social commentary for something seemingly more light-hearted and overall softer in tone. That's not to say he was unsophisticated or less compelling or somehow tarnished those who pointed out the shortcomings of the human condition within the scope of speculative fiction. He still had the same borderline misanthropic, cynical DNA of Pirx the Pilot or Player Piano, but added a distinctly English flavor of self-deprecation one might call Happy-Go-Lucky or even Quixotic. 

When he worked on Doctor Who, future writer Steven Moffat said of his tenure that his contributions were worthless, that his humor and comic sensibility were of such esoteric genius replicating it would be impossible. 

Sadly, I don't think he's wrong. Science fiction and comedy is a delicate balance that you're either going to get very right or very wrong, and what few times you get it right are usually going to get a tad samey after some time. It's the very definition of niche, with the appeal leaning rather heavily on novelty and rarity. Historically, the most successful examples of Sci-Fi-Com apart from Adams' own Hitchhiker series have been Men in Black and Red Dwarf. In fact, MIB is partially responsible for kickstarting many more lucrative talks about getting Hitchhiker made into a feature film. Previous attempts were frequently stalled at the pitch level with many a stuffy executive insisting that science fiction and comedy didn't mix, that if they did someone would have succeeded at it by then. Along comes MIB, and suddenly sci-fi can be funny after all, laughing all the way to the bank. 

As a die-hard Hitchhiker fan, hardcore Smeghead, longtime Whovian, and whatever MIB fans are called, as well as a fan of Stansilaw Lem (haven't gotten to Vonnegut yet), you'd think I'd be really cool with the success of light-hearted humorous sci-fi options like Guardians of the Galaxy. However, as much as I like Guardians, certainly Guardians 2, I think I may well have reached my point of saturation. Even while watching Volume 2, I began letting out audible groans at the many recurring instances of what, if I had to coin a term, I'd call Deflated Melodrama. It starts with someone saying a line that's very melodramatic, almost Shakespearean, and the next line is a shrugging dismissal. In The Long Dark Tea Time of The Soul, quite possibly my favorite Adams book, certainly that's not part of the Hitchhiker cycle, the God of Thunder Thor himself declares in a loud booming voice that he shall meet his father Odin in the Halls of Valhalla, to which a minor character asks, "Again?" Put simply, this is the dead horse that Guardians 2 kicks into the ground for two hours. It was funny the first time because it came out of nowhere and was repeated maybe only one other time in the remainder of the book. I stopped counting how many times Marvel's manic merry misfits made their mark on this martyred muse of a mare. 

Seth MacFarlane's new show The Orville is coming to FOX, an absurdist parody of Star Trek that looks and feels to be one part Red Dwarf and one part Galaxy Quest. For the record, I liked Galaxy Quest. It came out in 1999, a full year after Star Trek: Insurrection made it pretty clear that First Contact was bottled lightning and the Star Trek franchise as a whole was beginning to fade from favor with even its most ardent fans. It essentially said what we were all thinking at the time. I bring it up because I can't help but feel like the same thing is happening with The Orville

Although the J. J. Abrams/Bad Robot reboot of Star Trek has been successful, it hasn't been successful enough for Paramount to reinstate it as the company's crown jewel. For my viewing pleasure, I think the series is just fine, each film getting incrementally better than the last, especially with Beyond. Hell, I wish Beyond had been the first, instead of faffing about establishing the canon with Number One (pun intended) and giving fans a pandering tribute they never asked for with Into Darkness. As such, there's considerable debate as to whether or not there will be a fourth film, whether or not that will be the final chapter in the Abrams timeline, and if the cast wants to commit to that many future installments. 

Then there's the TV show... the one that's been cancelled now. I've never seen a grander, hotter mess than this spectacle of entertainment-by-committee versus social media outrage culture. A wise man once described the Falklands War as two bald men fighting over a comb, and I don't feel like that's too far off from what's happened now. No one wanted the show that Paramount wanted to sell, but no one necessarily agreed with the Social Justice Warrior outcries. Sure, setting the series in line with the original (Enterprise, Classic, Next Generation, DS9, Voyager....) would have been as welcomed as a female, non-white captain (staying faithful to Gene Roddenberry's super-centrist, egalitarian ideologues), but not only was the proprietary streaming service eye-rolling, the last-minute ground-up overhaul of everything from the setting to the ship and alien designs to the cast being more, er, "washed out" reeked of the studio playing it safe in the laziest possible manner known to them, which ironically is what causes franchises like this to stifle in the first place and lose footing to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Social media mobs may have had good points about racism and sexism dominating mainstream entertainment, if only passive-aggressively, but I don't share their basis for that point of view. That is, I didn't care what race or gender the captain and crew were, I cared about having something different that still paid tribute to the original. A safe bet to Paramount, systemic racism to others, and lazy repetition to me. Yeah, Picard is probably my favorite captain out of Archer, Kirk, Sisko, and Janeway, but I don't want him to be the gold standard against which all other candidates are judged. It's like all the actors who have played the Doctor; I like Tom Baker, but I like the others as well and all for different reasons (even Matt Smith and Colin Baker). The last thing I ever want to say about a Doctor is how much like (insert any other Doctor here) they are. It's the same for Star Trek. I want different starship captains to captain their ships among the stars differently. Challenge my expectations, for pity's sake (feel free to make your own joke about spaceships and the word "Challenge" if you want some sort of parallelism like the sentence about captains... I don't feel like pushing that boundary just yet). Maybe I won't like the new direction, but I don't want someone else missing out on what they make like for the sake of my placation. 

YouTuber Armoured Skeptic can explain all of what happened with Star Trek Discovery better than I can:

So, here we are. A Star Trek series has been cancelled, but a Galaxy Quest-like parody is getting the greenlight. Will I watch it? I don't know, probably not. It looks well-made and I don't doubt it will be funny, but barring any exceeding of expectations within the first few episodes, I don't see myself staying invested. Even then, nothing really makes me want to check it out in the first place. It's offering to scratch an itch I don't have. Instead, I think maybe I'll fill up my Kindle with some Vonnegut, and finish Pirx the Pilot. I also realize I've never actually read the first Dirk Gently book, and I'm rather mad at myself for that. 
You know that guy who really likes (insert band from 1960-1985 here) and says all current music is bullcrap? If I end up becoming as much for science fiction comedy, swearing that it all never got much better than Red Dwarf before returning to my reading of The Cyberiad... I'm completely and totally okay with that. 

UPDATE: I guess it's not cancelled, after all. (shrugs before returning to reading Memoirs Found In A Bathtub)