Friday, December 29, 2017

Black Mirror - USS Callister - Recap

Spoilers ahead!

The 4th season of the Black Mirror series started in Netflix on December 29th 2017 with the episode USS Callister.

The plot evolves around a psychopathic coder (Daly, played by Jesse Plemons) in a software company creating a virtual reality game where customers can in a dreamlike state witness the events happening. The coder makes digital copies of the real workmates by using their DNA and then traps them inside the game.

They are forced to play along to pleasure the coder, who is the captain of the ship in the game. They cannot defeat the captain in any way. And if they refuse to play along they are tortured, like suffocated for a while. Another time the (copy of the) young son of one is thrown out of an airlock. The copies also cannot die. Even if they committed suicide, the coder could recreate them because he keeps their DNA in the real world. Being a 60s Star Trek (TOS) like game set in the 60s one of the characters claims there is no sex. Also showing where his genitals should be, there is nothing. They have no feelings, cannot even take a dump. Their only pleasure is a bar filled with alcohol.

When a new copy (Cole) comes into the game she decides to fight back. But first has to convince the others to do so.

The cast played their roles well, the story was compelling. In my opinion one of the best episodes since San Junipero and Node dive. Really enjoyed it and look forward for more episodes.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Plug-in Hybrid

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, short PHEV, is a car which uses an electric motor lie a purely electric car plus some other motor, usually a combustion engine. It can recharge, like a pure electric car, from grid power. But also by the other engine or even convert some of the energy won by decelerating.

As noted in the article about electric cars you might will a worse turnover when living in an area where the electricity is created by the use of fossil fuels. But since plug-in hybrids also uses the combustion engine to recharge, you are still "greener" than with a car running on pure electric, if the efficiency of the electric car is worse than a car running on gas, and the electricity for recharging the electric car is mainly made from fossil fuels. Might help to not let the climate change become as worse as predicted without cutting carbon emissions.

Donald Trump and the moon

Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 on December 11th 2017 and wants to put a man back to the moon again. And while the NASA's budget is at a all time low. But with companies which have or develop rockets in competition. From a financial view it should be feasible. But why is Donald Trump saying this now?

We've been at the moon, we've done this. Back in the 60s it was thrilling, winning the space race against the Russians. Which actually was part of the arms race. Other Presidents usually said Mars is the next target to go, like Obama. It seems like shortly after elected president most say something like that because they know the people like space. I don't know if this Space Policy Directive 1 is binding, or like with all the other US Presidents not much will happen.

May be one reason is to play North Korea, showing off with "We don't need to focus on a possible war with you and prepare. We have all out missiles already, can kick you ass any time. We are ready and until then we have time to waste some money for fun and put a man on the moon again, let's do some space exploration".

Monday, December 18, 2017

Electric cars and climate change

Many hail electric cars to be "green". Slow down climate change by induced global warming. Save the planet by reducing carbon emissions and its footprint, and thus the greenhouse effect. But this would be too easy. It's an equation, and all depends on the variables to fill in.

To be "green" the electricity has to be from renewable sources, such as solar, wind. Also hydro-electric should count, as its turbines spin when ever water flows. May be even nuclear, as it does not produce carbon emissions. But it has other disadvantages. How to do dispose spent fuel? Or disasters like in Chernobyl and Fukushima.

So it mainly depends on where you charge your electric car. What are the means used there to produce electricity. If using fossil fuels by a coal fired plant, oil, natural gas or petroleum, or bio fuels like heavily used in Brazil, this isn't really "green". It might be "greener" though if the electric car has a higher mileage than a car with combustion engines using the same energy (efficiency).

Also take take into account is the manufacturing. As of 2017 the manufacturing of an electric car emits more carbon emissions than of a conventional car.

I say we are on the right way. But as mentioned it highly depends how the electricity is created where an owner of an electric car plugs it into the grid. If it is from (mainly) hydro, wind or other renewable, also nuclear, energies where you plug it into the grid, you do something positive at the end. If your grid's electricity derives from fossil fuels you probably not. Taking here in account the costs of an electric car you might be better of with a conventional with a low fuel consumption. At least until your grid feeds from renewables.

Technologies have to improve too, and they will. Emitting less carbon on the manufacturing. Building better batteries giving electric cars a longer range. And of course the sources of which the electricity is produced has to more and more come from renewable forms.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

California fires caused by global warming?

Is climate change responsible for the massive 2017 wildfires in California? Some point the finger at it. And although I am a believer that global warming is caused by humans and the burn of fossile fuels I don't think there is enough conclusive evedence to support this.

Wikipedia states 250 fires were burning 245,000 acres (990 km), and causing more than $9.4 billion dollars in damage in October 2017 alone. 10 of the worst wildfires occurred in the past 14 years since recording. And California is not alone. It has also been a particular bad year for British Columbia.

Contra global warming is La NiƱa, which is currently weak, causing cooling. Then strong Santa Ana winds (not caused by global warming) helping the fire. Then there is a pretty cold East Coast, bulging the Jet Stream, contributing to conditions for wildfires. This appears also to not caused by climate change.

Pros are the drought over the western USA, which is believed by many to be caused by global warming. And the delay of the onset of the usual rain in fall, worsening the drought.

I suppose only time will tell if global warming is the culprit. To see how this develops in the future. And if fires get worse, if pros or cons for global warming indicate if climate change is to blame, or non related patterns emerge supporting the one or other.

Z Nation - Mt. Weather - Recap

The guys are heading to Mt. Weather to get the thumbprint from the president. After mercying several service agent zombies, Congress zombies, they are stopped by Johnson and Johnson, two living agents, and the acting president. She explains although she is US President now they need the thumbprint from the president who was in power when the Z outbreak started. First they watch a cold war video about the 4th strike AKA Black Rainbow, which turns out to be flesh eating bacteria, on an 80s style TV with built-in VCR. This video explains why Russia would look better than the USA after a nuclear war. Then using an elevator to go down to the Z level. After finding the President who is also a zombie the acting president explains she doesn't want to stop Black Rainbow. And also successfully orders Seargent Lilley to turn against the guys.

Not want to spoil it in case you haven't seen it so I stop here. I liked this episode with some funny nods to the cold war era. And because this time they did not spend so much time showing the guys moving slowly through underground tunnels, wielding their weapons and flash lights. Even Doc complaint if it cannot be some upper level room with a window instead for a showdown.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

AIM AOL chat 1997 - 2017

Started May 20th 1997 AOL shut it down on December 15th 2017. The yellow running man had 20 years on the clock.

It was one of the first chat messenger drawing the masses due to that all AOL customers got it, wanted or not. Little later the "chat war" started with Microsoft's MSN. Around 2011 AIM rapidly started to lose popularity in part due to the rise of Google with its Gmail and built in chat (now (2017) converted into "Hangouts" I believe). Losing the sinking ship AOL announced in October 2017 to retire the chat client.

AOL seems to have no interest in chat anymore, stating on their web page something like there is not currently a replacement product available. And some annoying empty marketing phrase

We’re more excited than ever to focus on building the next generation of iconic brands and life-changing products.

without saying what.

Although I haven't used AIM for years (I might have had one chat in the past 10 years, so technically "a decade" would be wrong ;-) another internet era ends. While AOL wasn't the first to shut down their messenger, and won't be the last, it's kind of sad to see this go.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Z Nation - Return to Mercy Labs - Recap

Warren follows her dreams to find out what the Black Rainbow is all about. They go back to Mercy Labs where they encountered Dr. Teller before. Everybody has flashbacks of the happenings from the last encounter. They are trying to get their radio working by finding batteries, but also find the kid of Dr. Teller Andrew in a glass container with a bullet hole in the head. But Murphy believes he is not dead.

Meanwhile at Camp Northern Lights Citizen Z and Kaya go through old floppy disks from after 1982, to find out that Black Rainbow is a biological weapon program of mass destruction, a fourth strike weapon to kill everything left on the planet. So that the guys from Zona can "repopulate.", called RESET.

Well this episode was slow paced again. Not much happened while it was again tried to stretch it to some 45 minutes. There is a gain a lot of walking trough dark rooms, pointing flashlights and guns at things for a long part of this episode. I hoped Z Nation could go back to the pace of the first and second season, if there is a season 5.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Orville - Mad Idolatry - Recap

In this season finale Kelly accidentally makes contact to an underdeveloped society, what Ed calls "cultural contamination". In the Star Trek Enterprise episode Civilization Captain Jonathan Archer coined this term too. This is clearly a nod to The Prime Directive of Star Trek. Kelly ends up being worshipped as God, after she healed a young child with a skin regenerator.

The idea taken that time on a different planet passes faster then normal is likely taken from Star Trek. In both series an immortal observer is sent to witness some hundreds of years in development, then returns. In The Orville it was Isaac, in the Star Trek Voyager episode "Blink Of An Eye" it was the holographic Doctor. Not to steal the idea completely it is explained that the planet goes into another universe, where time progresses 700 years, while in our universe only 21 days have passed, called a "multi phasic orbit".

So when the planet reappears after 21 days they realize 700 years have passed. And that everybody worships Kelly. She tries to make it right proving that she is no God. It became apparent that it failed after they scan the planet again after 21 days, which has evolved another 700 years, comparable with our time now.

The episode starts with Ed being bored and trying to socialize with different members of the senior staff, going to get a drink. But all are busy, or play games with items where suddenly blades come out, and drinks, which seem to have been predigested. So he winds up with Kelly, hoping that her cheating was due to the pheromones of the alien male. At the end Kelly has doubts if a new relationship would be a good idea. Jeopardizing everything.

I found it a bold move by Seth MacFarlane to show religion in a bad light. Future people even call it "growing pains" and apparently got rid of it.

Interestingly there was no cliffhanger for the upcoming season. I am so used that today pretty much every show's season finale ends with a cliffhanger.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

South Park - Splatty Tomato - Recap

For the season finale this episode ties up some, but not all, lose ends. After previous episodes were more carefully about attacking Donald Trump, this hits it right in the face.

The overall plot evolves around searching for Ike after a city of his country (Toronto) has been nukes by US President Garrison, seeking revenge.

After visiting many places where Cartman and Heidi previously faced to make decisions Cartman "forced" her to make. Like Heidi tossing here smartphone to get rid of Twitter. At the end she realizes the person she has become is Cartman's fault, and breaks up the relationship, spanning for too many episodes in my opinion.

Another plot is that the President has the lowest approval ratings and roams through the town, scaring children. Thus it's decided to get rid of the President, and a man hunt is organized. While only the White family opposes it, wanting to save the President, arguing "but who cares what the Whites want?". In the end it's Ike capturing the President, wearing a Royal Canadian Mounties uniform.

The third plot evolves around PC Principal and Vice Principal Strong Woman, who can't help but want to have a relationship but keep it secret. So they go to an Italian restaurant, with Butters as distraction that other guests might not think they go on a date. Later at the hunt for Garrison a tent is found by Randy where PC Principal and Strong Woman are making out. After some rounds of vomiting by anyone who witnessed it or been told (Randy's wife pukes Randy right into the face after he told her), Garrison is toed back to town.

I give it a 4/5, the best episode after a more "meh" season for me. While still leaving topics open for the next season, like what will happen to the US-Canada relationship, the kids were playing "kick ass" 80s music, like Gloria by Laura Brannigon and a song by Richard Marx when walking through the woods. How can you not like that?!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The M.A.M.E. emulator

M.A.M.E. (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), or short MAME, is a software emulator, allowing to play original video games from the arcades, starting from 1975 to today and tomorrow. Its main purpose though is to preserve decades of software history. Besides the emulator itself you also need roms from the game you want to play.

An emulator in general is creating a hardware environment (called "driver" in MAME), like chips in a video game (CPU, RAM, I/O and other support chips) by software. Thus you can "have" what ever video game hardware you want in your PC or smartphone. Then you can load up the original code, usually dumped from the original chips of a video game, into the emulator, and play them. Since it's all original you can even experience bugs and glitches which came with the original game. But you also have the option to activate cheats, speed up or slow down the game and more.

Since 2015 MAME's sister project M.E.S.S. (Multi Emulator Super System), or short MESS, was merged into MAME. MESS allows to also emulate any computer, if somebody wrote a driver for it and the BIOS rom was dumped. You could run an Atari 2600, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, (Super) Nintendo Entertainment System, SONY Playstation, XBOX, SEGA... Well anything existing. In theory you could play on a Playstation or other which would only exist in say three years - if someone would get hold of it specification. But that's just theoretically. And even if, no actual of today's PC hardware is powerful enough to run it in a decent speed. Even on older systems or video games modern PCs cannot run the emulation in a speed to match the original speed of the emulated machine. There are also prototypes or hard to come by systems you can emulate. Like the Apple I or Commodore 65 you can run.

If you want to bring back some fond memories you had when you had your first game console, first home computer or video games you played as kid in the arcade back in the day, the MAME emulator brings back nostalgia.

Legal mention: Obey the ROMs copyright!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Stop bed bugs

How to stop bed bugs, and possibly for good

Do you have bed bugs? Don't be ashamed, bedbugs are everywhere. I had them too when I moved into a new apartment. They don't care if the place is spotless. They don't care if you live in an apartment, house or villa, or for holiday in a hotel. They don't care if you are rich or poor. They only want your blood. Although it's suggested they prefer alcohol free blood. Not that I want to suggest everybody should become an alcoholic to fight them.

The good news is that bed bugs do not transmit diseases. Besides some, possibly nasty, itching there should be no health concerns. Unless you scratch the spots open and accidentally let something enter the blood stream. It's also known that a few people are allergic to bed bug bites.

Some people call an exterminator to stop bed bugs. While that might work for a while, it can be inconvenient having the place gassed. And they will be back after some time if areas outside your apartment and thus out of your control also have them. This, and an attempt to spray the rooms by oneself or apply heat to the spots where they are suspected to hide, are active approaches which may only be of temporary relief.

Keeping that in mind I was looking for a permanent - or close to permanent - solution to tackle the problem, which then must be a passive attempt. A solution which once put into place stop bed bugs without further action. And something cheap if possible. So I did some research.

I read about Diatomaceous Earth (I will use DE later), a powder killing bed bugs and prevent re-infestation. It is available in any home improvement store, usually found where the other insecticides, like RAID, are located. And fairly cheap ($20) compared to other, less promising means of stopping bed bugs. If you cannot find it, ask the staff. Again, don't be ashamed, you won't be the first asking them.

Now a warning. Although DE doesn't harm - you could even eat it - it's a powder and while applying it or when accidentally stepping into it one could inhale it. People with asthma, people with young children or pets should take extra caution or not do this at all!

My idea was to have two zones in each room where there is a bed. The bed bug free zone, which is the bed, and the "well there may be bugs but doesn't really matter" zone, so everything else. The border between these zones is a layer of DE. Bed bugs coming in contact with DE ingest it. The powder will then bind their inner body fluids and they dry out from within and die. It's not instantly but will take between 24-48 hours. Every bed bug coming to your bed will die, assuming the layer has no gaps. Since it also takes some days (thus longer than 48 hours) for a new born bed bug to mature and be able to reproduce, this also will never happen. And the population in your environment will soon be gone. Give it three or four weeks after DE is applied.

Another good thing is the DE layer works for a long time. Months or even years before it should be re-applied. The bad new is that when you step into it you carry it around. Not that it causes stains, but think about how you would handle wheat.

To work with this you have to embrace that ever so often a new bed bug might come from the outside of your apartment, walk through the DE and bite you. But will die soon after. So there might still a few bites. But you might not even notice them at all.

I could now go on explaining how to apply, what to also take care of. But I already did this on a web page where I explain all of this and more in detail.

I hope you can also get rid of your bed bugs. Although this advice is free I'd appreciate a small donation on this web page if you were successful. Would also be nice to put your comments on the Facebook form there.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

War with North Korea?

Like the Trump administration or not (I don't). But while the threat, that North Korea develops nuclear weapons was lingering since decades, just like it was with the Iran, nothing has been done. Both countries are in my opinion instable and should not have nukes. Like children you give matches, "Now go playing outside, have fun". One might be reminded on the development in the 1930s when Nazi Germany (illegally, according to treaties) built up and army and weaponry. The world condemned it, namely European countries, especially neighboring France, and the UK, but also the US. But nothing was done. Pretty much until the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Only then war was decleared upon Nazi Germany. But it was too late to quickly deal with the situation, because Nazi Germany had one of the largest armies by then. The result was much of Europe was overrun by the Nazis, and the allies (well UK, France, Poland, Canada, Australia and a few others, but not the US yet) suffered defeat everywhere, while the Reich was expanding. You might also see parallels to the Japanese Empire, also pretty much have been left alone for too long. It took the attack on Pearl Harbor, until the US woke up. Not after a year two or until the US joined the war the tide was turned, but killing and destruction still went on for years until 1945. Are we (mainly the US) doing the same mistake again? Seeing the problem but not tackling it already? Again waiting until it's too late, and when finally dealing with it - which of course means war, since diplomatic attempts failed since decades - and casualties on all sides will mount? Back to Mr. Trump - like him or not. In my opinion he is the only president within the last decades to have the balls to do something about it. And now. Although so far he only had a big mouth and nothing has happened I hope he is doing something about it soon. Which unfortunately will include war. I hoped though that China could be persuaded to deal with it instead. Is China more or less the only reason the US hasn't intervened already when Bush or Obama was president. [Update] The 2018 inter-Korean summit was a meeting between leaders of the two Koreas, Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea and Kim Jong-un, North Korea's leader. It leads to the Declaration of Panmunjeom, which affirms the common intention of "no longer wanting war on the peninsula", to put an end to hostilities and to sign a peace treaty by the end of 2018; the two states also undertake to denuclearize the peninsula, both on the South Korean side, which does not have the atomic weapon but is under an American nuclear umbrella, than North Korea I don't understand why Kim Jong-un was building a nuclear arsenal over decades, threatens the US with an attack, and now takes a 180 degree turn, wants denuclearization and peace. Is North Korea out of money? Or is this just a distraction to soften up the US and secretly continuing building up?

Syria plans to join the 2015 Paris agreement

Apparently Syria plans to join the 2015 Paris agreement along with Nicaragua. Makes the US the only country not joining. There are tow things making me wondering. Is Syria now doing anything to oppose what ever the US is doing? Why would they (and Nicaragua) suddenly care? May be it just feels bad to be among the few countries not signing, bad to be outcast? And why didn't they sign earlier? Both are not among the major polluters, why did hesitated? The other thing is what would have happened for the decision of the US if not Trump, but Obama, even Bush, were in charge? May be they'd joined? If, that would be just another indication that the Trump administration seeks to be isolated from the rest of the world. Possibly trying to get back to a state from the 30s before the US joined World War II, where the US didn't really cared what was going on in the rest of the world, minding their own business.

How to keep vintage game consoles alive

In November of 2017 The 8-Bit Guy on YouTube created a video featuring new (2016 or 2017) games for vintage consoles, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. Although he isn't a big fan of beat-em-ups he tried to give an objective view. He concluded that buying new games will keep these consoles alive. Although I agree one should support new games if one is fan of vintage consoles I don't agree that these new games are the (only) way to keep them alive. In my opinion only the love of folks who owned and used them back in the day already will do just that. That said, some things can kept alive without spending a dime. If you still own a working machine and (old) games, play them, to bring back memories from decades ago. If you don't own one, there are emulators and fan pages in the internet dedicated to a certain machine. Lot of documentation, tips, questions and answers, as well as discussion forums. One might as well find some game code dumps to use with these consoles.