Status of Aperture Ireland 2.0 and other things

I was just browsing through the archives of this blog and saw a post mentioning Aperture Ireland. I realised I’d never actually checked whether or not Valve had gone about porting Portal 2 to GNU/Linux. I fired up Steam and it seems that this port recently entered beta.

Had I known this earlier, Aperture Ireland 2.0 would probably be underway right now. However, at this late date, it seems unlikely that I will be able to release on this side of June, since I will be otherwise engaged for much of next week. I apologise for what may seem to have been an avoidable delay.

On the plus side, Sony Pictures Television History Mark IV is almost done. I am half-way through documenting 2011 and the animation work should be all done by Easter Sunday. After that, putting it all together should be simple enough, so expect it to appear on Tuesday!

Some observations about the proposed Comcast-TWC merger

First of all, allow me to apologise for the recent week-and-a-half of downtime. Storm Darwin took out my phone line. Seemingly, while my connectivity with the outside world was a lot more tenuous than what I’m used to, Comcast announced that it wanted to merge with Time Warner Cable. It’s not my prerogative to complain. I don’t live in America and am not particularly affected by its telecoms market, though I was startled to learn that I have faster broadband than 66% of America (I do now, that is :-P ). Besides, the last week has seen more than enough complaints about this thing on various sites. All I wish to do is share a few humorous/ironic observations of my own, which I have been formulating during this extensive downtime.

The torch of “The Octopus” has finally been passed

It’s no secret that Comcast owns Universal Studios. Even when their shareholding was only a controlling 51% stake, the 2012 Universal logo announced to the world for the first time that it was “A COMCAST COMPANY”.

The 2012 Universal logo

In the olden days, Universal was owned by the MCA conglomerate, which I discussed last June in my “Sausage Factories” post. Before MCA owned Universal, it was the largest talent agency in the United States of America. With its shady dealings and relentless buying-up of other agencies, it earned the title of “The Octopus”. The agency was dissolved when the company took control of Universal, because of antitrust concerns, among other things.

However, MCA and Universal became more and more closely associated over the years, with the Universal name eventually replacing “MCA” altogether at the hands of Edgar Bronfman Junior. Now, it can be said that Comcast owns what is left of the original MCA, and it is now seemingly vying for the title of “The Octopus” of cable operators, rather than “The Octopus” of talent agencies.

A combination of the current Comcast logo and an old MCA-TV "bug"


One less confusing brand-name on the market

Well, whatever about the implications for competition of this particular deal, I’m glad someone is getting rid of the Time Warner Cable name. From the information available, one would be forgiven for thinking that two of the “Big Three” music companies were about to merge. We have Universal Music, which looks like it is owned by the same company as Universal Studios. We also have Warner Music, which looks like it is owned by the same company as Warner Bros., which is Time Warner. Time Warner Cable also looks like it is owned by the same company.

None of this is true, however. Both Warner Music and Universal Music separated from their respective film studios a decade ago. Time Warner Cable separated from Time Warner half a decade ago. Unfortunately, trademarks are licensed. They all get to keep using each other’s names, under the terms of some obscure agreements. One needs look no further than the comments on this Techdirt post about the lawsuit against Warner/Chappell Music over “Happy Birthday” to see the confusion caused by this.

Therefore, I sincerely hope that Comcast will not renew their trademark licence once the deal comes through, so that this nonsense can finally start coming to an end.

The NBC Peacock finally gets an eye?

Peacocks have fake eyes in their plumage. The well-known NBC Peacock, however, seems to be an exception.

Peacock Closeup vs. NBC 2014 Indent Style

What about Time Warner Cable though? That weird Celtic-esque graphic that it uses as a logo surely qualifies as an eye:

The logo of Time Warner Cable

An eye or what?

What if Comcast got rid of the Time Warner brand, but kept the logo in some way? Would the NBC Peacock finally get something resembling an eye?

Time Warner Cable and Comcast logo fusion

Perhaps needs a bit more polish...

So anyway, that’s my two cent on this Comcast-TWC thing!

Why we shouldn’t use “Splenda”

Lately, I’ve been seeing this ad for Splenda, showing various “want versus should” situations, before claiming that the sucralose-based sweetener satisfies both. The ad is about health. For years, sucralose has been marketed as a healthy alternative to sugar, which is made from sugar and is just as sweet (in fact it’s much sweeter), but has negligible calorific value. Therefore, it doesn’t lead to weight gain or diabetes or anything like that. However, to me, it seems that sucralose may indeed be a “want”, as a supposedly healthy alternative to sugar, but by no means a “should”.

Unlike in the case of aspartame, this is not an issue of health. This is a moral/ecological issue. Let me start by explaining the way in which sucralose works. As widely advertised, it is “made from sugar”. The initial substance is sucrose, or normal sugar. This is called a disaccharide, because it is two sugar units stuck together. In the small intestine, it is split up into glucose and fructose, which can then be absorbed into the blood and used to make energy. Creating sucralose involves subtly changing the chemical structure so that this can’t happen.

Sucrose molecule Sucralose molecule
Spot the difference!

As you can see, three of the hydroxyl groups (OH groups) in the structure are replaced by chlorine atoms. The result is a molecule that seems similar (hence we taste it as sweet) but is actually quite different (hence our bodies can’t break it down to release energy). Since only tiny amounts of this substance can be actually used by our bodies, the rest is excreted and ends up, dare I say it, in the sewage system. Of course, from there, it ends up in rivers and seas, where it is no good as a food source for micro-organisms or anything. But that’s grand, right?

WRONG! The original sucrose that was used to make the sucralose was obtained from plant material. The plant had photosynthesised, taking in sunlight and using its energy to combine carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrate. The natural order of things would have this used, either by the plant or an animal, to produce energy, releasing the carbon dioxide and water back into their respective cycles. Instead, we end up with carbon, hydrogen and oxygen dumped uselessly in some body of water, where they may never be returned to their proper places. Carbon is a fundamental element of life, required to build most plant matter and also very important in animal biochemistry. Is it really right for us to squander it like this?

Granted, lots of plant matter from millions of years ago was turned into useless coal and oil, but that was perfectly natural. In a world where resources are increasingly strained, can we really afford to waste them this way? I think this is a real moral issue, and something that is often overlooked by people who talk about sucralose and artificial sweeteners in general.

Subatomic Particle Simulator now on GitHub!

Well, I have just spent an entire weekend using Windows, amounting to probably more hours than I had spent with this operating system in the previous six months! Of course, this meant that I had to endure loads of automatic updates, their drain on bandwidth and automatic restarts! It was worth it though to get the Subatomic Particle Simulator up, working just as well as it does on GNU/Linux! It’s nice to know that I’ve made this thing cross-platform.

More good news: In the process of porting the code, I realised that the best thing to do was to fork the Source SDK repository on GitHub, and that way avoid all the problems of contaminating a working copy to compile the simulator. It is here, so you can now clone it in a ready-to-compile state, or even download a ZIP file if you would prefer.

Again, same legal restrictions apply – due to incompatible licences, it is not currently possible to (legally) distribute binaries. Once again, I apologise for this, and hope I can sort it out in the future.

PS. If you would like to express your opinions on how legal restrictions like this should apply in the future, please go to this new campaign website.

Release of Source Code of Subatomic Particle Visualiser

Well, this is kind of embarrassing. In October, I implemented the GNU Scientific Library as part of the science project I mentioned in the previous post. Since I was working towards an actual deadline, I guess I was too hurried to thoroughly check what licence the GSL uses. Apparently, I assumed it was licensed under the LGPL, which many GNU libraries tend to be. However, it is actually under the much more restrictive GPL, which forbids me from distributing it combined with any proprietary programme. The code given by the Source SDK for the server DLL (the only thing I actually modified) counts as proprietary, since it is distributed under a licence that forbids selling. Therefore, while experimenting with the two pieces of software together is fine, if I were to distribute my compiled server library, I would be in breach of the GPL.

Therefore, the long and the short of it is that my only option is to distribute my code and the GNU Scientific Library on their own, and let you, the user, actually compile it. To that end, here is an archive containing my code plus the GSL code, in a directory structure that will let it fit right into a fresh download of the Source SDK, plus instructions for getting it up and running:
It is currently designed to compile only on GNU/Linux. A Windows version will be made in the coming days.

Here is a game directory to put in your SteamApps/SourceMods folder:
Once you put it there, don’t forget that you need to add in a bin folder, with the libraries compiled from the source code. They can be found in “sp/game/mod_episodic/bin” and “sp/game/vigov_simulator/bin”, under the Source SDK directory structure.

I apologise for not being able to release a compiled game. In order to do so, I would need to either pick a different game engine or a different mathematical library (or write the code myself…). I may do one of those in the future.

My return to the blogosphere

The time has come for me to return to this blog and explain my absence for the last few months. I was spending a lot of time working on a project for a prestigious science and technology exhibition. As such, between that and school work, I had basically no time to blog, or upload anything more than trivial logo videos to my YouTube channel.
Well, the project is now “finished”, and a selection of the fruits of my labour has been uploaded to YouTube.

The files for this game/tool will be uploaded to this site in a few days’ time, when I have had a chance to sort through them.

Here are some of the things I could have mentioned had I been actively blogging:

  • The change in Saorview frequencies, and how it left everyone with eight extra dud channels in their EPG.
  • The introduction of RTÉ One HD, and the stretching of classic programmes that came therewith.
  • The court cases involving the NSA.
  • Halloween
  • Christmas
  • The New Year

So what’s on the cards now? Well, apart from school, there’s:

  • Sony Pictures Television History Mark IV – I know, when does it stop, right? Well, significant info has been discovered since Mark III was made. Hopefully I can reuse lots of animation from previous videos – the thought of starting from scratch really doesn’t appeal to me!
  • Updates to the spreadsheet-based corporate timelines published on this site.
  • That new Aperture Ireland release I promised but never delivered. Speaking of which, I wonder if Valve will ever get around to porting Portal 2 to GNU/Linux…

US avoids default – is this really a good thing?

Well, the US government is finally back up and running, and the debt ceiling was raised in the nick of time to prevent the first US default in 152 years (sorry, couldn’t resist pointing out that mathematical curiosity!). Such a default would reportedly have had disastrous consequences for the entire world economy, negatively affecting every citizen on the planet.

Is this really true though? The US debt ceiling was already a whopping $16,700,000,000,000 and is now apparently even higher! With all the talk of “disastrous consequences” of the default, all I could think was that, yes, there would be disastrous consequences, but no, not for ordinary people. There would be disastrous consequences for the banksters, but everybody else would benefit hugely. The centuries-old smokescreen set up by the Bank of England, and amplified in the last century by the Fed, would finally collapse as the dollar went down the tubes.

When something catastrophic like that happens in a system like the one set up by the central banks, I can’t see any other outcome than that system’s exposure as the fraud-driven, intrinsically corrupt juggernaut that it really is. After the initial fallout, people would realise that we don’t need fractional reserve lending, that we don’t need a debt-based monetary system, and that there are much better alternatives out there (Bitcoin, for example). The world’s other problems and injustices could then finally be properly tackled.

But who am I kidding. We always knew that the corporate puppet-masters and misinformed public across the pond just weren’t going to let that happen! Ah well, looks like it’s back to the same old dollar-driven routine, for the next few months anyway.

Lollies for Likes?

Well, it appears that yet another trend is emerging in the vast, superficial numbers-game that is social media marketing. A number of my school colleagues went to a nearby careers exhibition today, at which numerous colleges from around the country were advertising their curricula. Having been there myself a year ago, I didn’t bother going again, since I figured I’d already seen everything there was to see. This was not so, however.

Apparently, at one stall, a person had a laptop and a box of lollipops. A lollipop was handed to anyone who would be willing to sign into Facebook then and there, and give a “Like” to the college represented at the stall. To be honest, I don’t really know what to make of this. Is bribery really worse than some of the other shenanigans going on out there, like sock-puppet accounts and Tweet-bots?

In the end, I think this social media marketing concept is pretty ridiculous and, at the risk of sounding like Cliff Clavin, part of me believes that, somewhere sown the line, this will be recognised and the whole thing will be given up as a bad job!

September 2013

From bust to boom and boom to bust;
And yet you all still seem to trust
The banks, the Fed, the ECB:
The truth, none of you seem to see!

Occupy has come and gone
And yet when all is said and done
The system goes on as before
Based on fraud and debt galore.

You struggle through the systems they
Have built to make us slave away.
You study up to get your poin’s
Then spend life chasing notes and coins!

Of course you get distracted by
Infotainment, which makes me cry.
Entertainment conglemerates
Make the news: now why is that?

These problems won’t just go away,
They’re aggravating by the day.
Please don’t let them con you blind:
Do your research: expand your mind!

Just a little tribute to Yeats’ work from about a century ago. It’s in a similar style, but focuses on more modern issues, and is overall a lot less “poetic”, as one might say…

P.S. Slappy Squirrel in Marty Crane’s chair? You bet!

I know it might seem ironic, almost hypocritical, to criticise entertainment conglomerates and then post a fan-work like this – suffice it to say, I don’t oppose the forms of entertainment that exist today, just their exploitation for excessive profit or, worse, misinformation.

More televisual anniversary celebrations!

Twenty years ago yesterday, Slappy Squirrel was introduced to America as “the crankiest of creatures in the whole wide world”. The next day, however, another contender entered the race: Marty Crane! That’s right, today marks the twentieth anniversary of the début of another excellent television programme, Frasier! This day twenty years ago, a Thursday, NBC donated an extra minute of airtime to their new programme, a decidedly generous move to help the teams at Grub Street and Paramount avoid a last-minute rewrite!

There’ll be no drawing today, but my mind’s eye is currently trying to show me Slappy Squirrel in Marty Crane’s chair, something which I might commit to paper by Friday…