Dear God, has it really been five years already?

According to the calendar, it’s been five years today since Portal 2 was released. Since two of those years were leap years, it’s seemingly been on the order of exactly 521 weeks. Well, let’s see… Yep, it’s been a hell of a five years!

Of course I remember being a naïve Junior Cert student fascinated by the formulae Doug Rattmann scribbled on the board. Now I realize the Lorentz factor and Schrödinger Wave Equation are very basic pieces of mathematics in relativity and quantum mechanics. Still, as for why they would be on the same whiteboard outside a Modern Physics revision class, I don’t know… After all, the Schrödinger Equation is non-relativistic. Maybe the formulae were just there for Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, to teach the young girls a bit of Modern Physics!

Of course, it’s been five years of radio silence about Half-Life 3, five years in which I was upset at first, but have now come to appreciate Valve’s point of view. Case in point, this blog! It’s apparently been three years since I got it up and running, so I guess now is as good a time as any to apologize for my almost complete silence. It’s not often that I think of something to say. That said, there is currently a mega-post/essay in the works, pointing out, and trying (and possibly failing) to fix, some of the foibles of English spelling. If that sounds like fun, stay tuned!

Rayman 2 i nGaeilge!

UPDATE: Version 1.1.1 has been released. Please download that version instead.

Well, I’ve finally got some good old-fashioned game modding to report here. I have finished my translation of Rayman 2 from French into Irish, done with the help of the tool sna_nochar, created by MixerX and distributed on the Rayman Pirate-Community. As a sample of what has been done, here is the first ten minutes or so of the very last β-test of the translation:

I did miss one Lum on purpose, just to test that cutscene (I had previously tested the cutscene where one gets all 5 Lums on the first try). Then, after making this video this morning, I ran through the rest of the game (skipping some optional bits with no dialogue!) to find any other bugs. I am pleased to announce that the translation is now ready, and available for download from this server:

http://www.vigovproductions.net/R2Gaeilge.zip

The installation instructions are fairly simple, they are written in the Readme.txt file in the above ZIP, in both English and Irish.

By the way, I used VMWare to record the video. I realised it was easier to test my translation in a virtual machine, since I could switch back and forth to a text editor to make changes, without crashing the game. But running the game in a virtual machine caused the physics engine to run too fast at times, which made gameplay really awkward…

That said, the camera glitch seen in the video happens even without a VM, and seems to be caused by the camera reaching the island too early in the cutscene. I guess my rig’s just too powerful!

Happy 85th Anniversary to the Warners!

Well, I posted back in September to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the initial airing of Animaniacs season 1 episode 1, so I might as well also celebrate the anniversary of the 65th and last episode of that season!

Because of a “newly discovered” cartoon of the Warners revealed late in the first season, the date that their red noses were first somehow printed onto black and white film was found to be 1929, rather than 1930, so the season was terminated in 1994 with an in-universe 65th Anniversary celebration. That makes today their 85th anniversary!

So, Happy (in-universe) 85th Anniversary to Yakko, Wakko and Dot!!!

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 😛 ). 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"
Maybe...

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!

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!

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…

Celebrations are in order…

Yes, I know it’s Friday 13, 2013, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I am talking about the 20th anniversary of the première of one of the most wonderful (if not the most wonderful) cartoons to ever grace television: Animaniacs!

Yep, twenty years! Life suddenly seems very long, doesn’t it? Since then, we’ve seen two commercial companies bring this weird thing called the world wide web to the forefront and battle to the death for market share. Then, the loser just happened to be absorbed into a conglomerate alongside Warner Bros. Funny how all these things are connected, isn’t it?

Update: A drawing to celebrate:

Irish Digital TV: RTÉ Two’s stretching problem

Here in Ireland, we have a terrestrial digital television broadcasting service called SaorView. There are eight TV channels available:

  1. RTÉ One, which broadcasts in 576i
  2. RTÉ Two, which broadcasts in 1080i
  3. TV3, which broadcasts in 576i
  4. TG4, which broadcasts in 576i
  5. 3e, which broadcasts in 576i
  6. RTÉ News Now, which broadcasts in 576i
  7. RTÉ Jr, which broadcasts in 576i
  8. RTÉ One +1, which broadcasts in 576i

Channels 1 to 2 and 6 to 8 are owned by the state broadcaster, which also administers the SaorView service via its subsidiary RTÉ Networks Limited (RTÉ NL). Channels 3 and 5 are both owned by the TV3 Group. TG4 is a state-owned Irish-language channel separate from RTÉ. It is a DVB-T service, with all channels broadcasting H.264 streams.

Most of these channels are able to dynamically change the aspect ratio of their broadcasts, so 4:3 shows aren’t stretched to 16:9 (widescreen). Unfortunately, this is not the case for RTÉ Two, which happens to be the channel where I watch most of my 4:3 programming. I was eventually motivated to figure out how to manually override the ratio on my decoder. This is actually rather easy, but it’s annoying, and changing it back afterwards is even more bothersome. Anyway, I assumed that, being a HD broadcaster, RTÉ Two was locked to 1920×1080 and couldn’t do anything about it.

However, recently, I was using VLC to inspect the codec information of an MPEG file recorded from RTÉ Two by MythTV, and discovered that the broadcast is actually anamorphic. It broadcasts at 1440×1080, which is a perfect 4:3 picture, then instructs the decoder to stretch it! Even normal widescreen programmes are squashed at RTÉ, then stretched back on my end. At first, I was enraged that this quality compromise was being made at all, but after doing a little research, I discovered that this is common on terrestrial broadcasts because of limited bandwidth. In fact, a quick inspection of recordings from SD channels reveals that they broadcast at 544×576, which is 17:18, but instruct the decoder to stretch to 768 (4:3) or 1024 (16:9) as required. 17:18 does seem like a strange aspect ratio, but I found a long-winded (yet satisfactory) explanation for it here.

So, rage against anamorphicity (if I may make up a word) is basically unjustified, but RTÉ still have some explaining to do. If RTÉ Two actually broadcasts a 4:3 signal, why on Earth can’t they let the decoder show it in 4:3 on appropriate programmes? It doesn’t make sense to me! All the other channels, as stated above, can dynamically change the degree of stretching, but this supposedly high-quality channel can’t simply change it to “no stretching at all”. Am I missing something here? These broadcasts are all standard MPEG-4 streams, using standard H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression, so shouldn’t they all have the same capabilities?

At any rate, I suppose little to none of it matters to me, as the end result is a paltry 576i composite analogue signal, usually containing letterboxed widescreen video, which gets overscanned on purpose by my bloody LCD television!

“Sausage factories”

It recently came to my attention that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn likened the Junior Certificate to a “sausage squeezing machine”, “squeezing creativity and curiosity out of the classroom”. [Source: Limerick Leader] So, all of my friends and I have apparently been squeezed through this unmerciful sausage factory in recent years. I can’t really say that I agree with that assessment. Let’s look at some other things worthy of the title of “sausage factory”:

I found out in the last few weeks that the old MCA television production company, Revue (later Universal), was often derided as a “sausage factory”. In all of its television shows, thanks to the regimented formula-driven production management of Lew Wasserman, it basically churned out one hour of the same thing every week, over and over again. Indeed, this prompted an FCC investigation in the late ’50s, into the reasons for the overall poor quality of American television programming. [Source: When Hollywood Had a King]


The Revue Logo

Having watched many episodes of Murder, She Wrote, I can only agree with this assessment of the studio, even though this programme is from the ’80s! In every episode, Mrs. Fletcher gets introduced to a scenario and meets a few people, then after about half an hour someone’s body is found. After that, Mrs. Fletcher collaborates with whatever authorities are involved. She has a sudden stroke of genius towards the end, then confronts the murderer with some ridiculously elaborate story. In many episodes, the murderer finally admits culpability and draws a gun, only to have the sheriff, or whoever, run in and save Mrs. Fletcher. After that, everyone is happy, then some silly joke is made, and we get a freeze-frame of Mrs. Fletcher laughing, then the credits roll!

There’s also the matter of the Scooby-Doo sausage factory. They tried to do new things with the franchise over the last forty-odd years. I was very impressed with the most recent Mystery Incorporated series. Personally, I think they should leave it at that – any more could only go down the old sausage-factory route and ruin a good thing. Besides, there are still the formulaic direct-to-video animated feature-length films they’re doing.

So now, can we really place a fundamental part of our education system, which has existed for many years, on par with the forces behind the production of Murder, She Wrote, Scooby-Doo, and other mediocre television programmes? Somehow, as a student, I’m just not comfortable with that.

How to destroy a Universal logo

There are a few ways of using animation tricks to “destroy” the 2013 logo of Universal Studios (or a Blender remake of it, at least).

Here it is, Warner Bros. Animation style:

…And Mozilla style (which is kind of related, since, you know, Mozilla started off inside Netscape, which was an [AOL] Time Warner company for many years):

Got any more ideas? I’ve released the BLEND file for the Universal remake, so, if you have Blender, go nuts with it! It’s released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported Licence.