Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tweety Digest

I've been on Twitter since May of 2009 and tweeted (as of now) slightly less than 2000 times which isn't that much actually. It's still easier though that writing something semi-coherent in here, which is why aworldtocome is present on these two equal platforms. I link to almost all new blog contributions and whatever I find around the web I find worth sharing, plus the usual idiotic comments. I sometimes use Twitter as a feedreader in that I follow some accounts that just link to new articles on their respective websites (like @newscientist), but mostly I follow a mix of tech and world news (like @TheEconomist), parts of the so-called "weird twitter" (like @dril), some account that just post pretty pictures (like @ObservingSpace) a lot of surreal pseudo-occult/spooky stuff (like @SeventhArrival or the forever unrivaled @UtilityLimb) and only very few famous people (like @elonmusk). Here is some of the stuff I tweeted in the last twelve months.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Tomorrow's Standards

I would argue that we are living at a time that will be referred to as "the age of globalization" rather than post-modernism, because the distinction from the modern age is not as significant as the changes to our respective societies through globalization. It should not be called globalism though, because it is still an ongoing process. International trade and travel have been one stepping stone, future steps will include internationally dispersed workforces and enterprises such as the global accessibility of the Internet through satellite networks as proposed by companies like SpaceX. All this favours the development of former third world countries like for example Nigera into a standard long common for "the old world". The digital revolution (that in my opinion is still far from it's peak in terms of automation and workforce replacement) certainly is the major aspect of this era.

One thing that hinders this process are differences between societies that hold little value in themselves and should, I think, be unified on a global scale. I am in no way talking about bulldozing away cultural identity. However there are peculiarities that stem from more nationalized, non-connected times that contribute little to the identity and richness of a society. Those might as well be replaced by a global standard to engage the realities of today's connectivity.

One example is right- and left-hand traffic. 35% of world traffic is left handed traffic and I understand that British people take pride in it, but really there is no benefit of one over the other. They work exactly as well, but the coexistence of both means that travelling to a country of different handedness is a difficult transition and more importantly, vehicles need to be produced for both standards, which they quite often aren't, excluding either 35% or 65% or the global market. There is absolutely no point in keeping up both systems and simply because the right-hand traffic standard is more common, the British and their former colonies should get over their stubbornness, make the difficult change and teach the next generation of drivers only the new standard. 
The same goes for units of measurement. Fahrenheit and especially those idiotic imperial units they use in Burgerstan make no sense at all and should have long since been replaced by Celsius and the metric system. There is no point in having different units, so pick the one the civilized parts of the world have chosen because it makes sense and go with it. It makes live easier for everyone.
Another example is power plugs - our lives depend heavily on electric machinery and there are still loads of different power plugs, even in the heavily standardized EU. France and Germany still have different ones, although the "Europlug" CEE 7/16 is a start. Standardizing these would mean no worry if your devices will work one country over, there is less hassle with deploying the correct cabling for international shipments, etc. Again, it is difficult and costly to unify this on a global scale, but once it is done it greatly improves how we get the power we need. 
A final example, to be more extreme, would be alphabets. Take Cyrillic script - it is of course optimized for the sounds of Slavic languages, but I think it is a large hindrance in communication (especially from an IT standpoint, Unicode can only be applied so far). The only benefit I see in different scripture is that heavily used sounds that would take multiple letters in a foreign alphabet are consolidated into one, to accommodate the language that utilizes this alphabet. But wouldn't a unified global alphabet (similar to the International Phonetic Alphabet) of around 40 letters contain everything to write any language with sufficient accuracy?

Personally, I would argue that there are too many languages in the world and there is no point in having most of them (at least consolidate similar ones), but most people see their language as part of their identity, so that's not worth discussing in our lifetime.

Diverse cultural traditions, cuisine, styles of clothing, ways of living in communities, even differences in ethics and values are important for the long-term well-being of the human species and enrich our individual personalities. However, artificial and abstract things, especially when it comes to standards in technology and science, in transportation and communication, need common fundamental elements for the whole globalization thing to work. 
Keep the Gho and the Lederhosen, the Lutefisk and the Enchilada, the families of two and the families of twohundred, the sonnet and the rap song, but throw away the imperial units and left-handed traffic because it has no meaning.

Friday, February 13, 2015


I was looking for films similar to "Master and Commander", one of my favourite movies, when the Hornblower series was recommended, which I had never heard about. This Emmy-Winning series of eight TV films was made between 1998 and 2003, stars Ioan Gruffudd and is based on the novels by C. S. Forester first published in 1937, whose fanbase includes Hemingway and Churchill.

The series focuses on the career or Horatio Hornblower, an officer of the British Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and later the Napoleonic Wars. Hornblower starts out as a midshipsman on his first assignment but quickly rises through the ranks because of his daring, inventiveness and courage. Much time is spend aboard several ships with landfall in at least every other episode. The production value of the series is amazing and was probably the reason it was cancelled, because of the high cost. Some battle scenes and long-distance shots use models, but much takes place aboard real sailing-ships. The eventual fake explosion looks a bit cheap, but the practical sets and costumes make more than up for that.
The biggest downside of it all might be how classically ham-fisted some of the stories are. The story arcs are fairly predictable, some characters are walking cliches, which is probably due to the nature of the source material. But that's ok. There is a certain romance in these stories about young men going to war at sea, visiting foreign places, withstanding the hardships of sailing through camaraderie and all that. The series doesn't neglect to show the cruelties of war, but especially in the later episodes it glorifies the nobility that was be associated with fighting then, at a time when there were no longrange-missiles or submarines, nukes or tanks.

Hornblower is a predictable show with outdated morals and one-dimensional characters and yet I must urgently recommend it, not only because I am interested in the historical aspects, but more so because it embodies an experience and a genre seemingly forgotten by today's entertainment and that is adventure. That is what the show feels like. It works on a crafty level: there's a protagonist easy to admire, comedic relief, likeable sidekicks, hateable villains, an easy to follow story and all that stuff. More than anything though it connects with the old-fashioned thrills of travelling the world, fighting bad guys, making friends, earning respect through daring and integrity and all that. Adventure.

I might also have to add that I bingewatched King of the Hill before this so for a time, whenever they call Hornblower's name I would hear Hank's voice in my head go "Mr. Lawnmower!". Dang ol' French corvettes mang tell you hwhat.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Voyage of Excellox

Ceephax - Cro Magnox [2013] []
I must admit that I have no clue about electronic music. I sometimes listen to streams of it, but except for the occasional retrowave I don't take notice of details. Thus, I lack articulation for that genre and it is difficult for me to express why I think this is the best electronic music record I've heard in many years. What I can say is that this album sounds like a clash between thick pseudo-80s retrowave synth, chiptunish bleeps and bloops, spread on top of late 90s acid house, all of it seemingly done on analogue tech. It's not complex, it's not coherent, it's sometimes minimal ambient. The soundscapes are too narrow to feel vast, yet this album is absolutely amazing. Maybe I'm easily impressed because I'm an electropleb, but Cro Magnox sounds rich, tangible, functional and aesthetic to me. Clear recommendation out of the blue.

Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat [2015] []
After 2012's fantastic Utilitarian, expectations were high. Napalm Death has become the kind of institution that doesn't do bad albums anymore and this is no exception, but its predecessor triumphed because it held surprises, like the John Zorn bit or the clean vocals of "The Wolf I Feed". Apex Predator is the flawless sonic violence that the chaps from Birmingham command like few others and the production sounds identical to the last albums, but it's less experimental. After the almost four minute long intro, the biggest surprise you'll find is how a 34 year old band can manage to never stop kicking your ass with such intensity and still put meaning and conviction into their songs. Napalm Death in 2015 are agile, sharp, to the point, true to what they stand for and most importantly relevant.

Hannes Grossmann - The Radial Covenant [2014] []
After drumming for tech death greats Necrophagist, Obscura and Blotted Science, this is Grossmann's first solo album on which he plays the guitar and the drums, featuring lots of guest stars like Jeff Loomis and many others. True to his prior style, most of the record is technical death metal shredding with jazzy bits organically strewn inbetween. Thankfully, unlike the uber-tech solo albums of some other artists, it's not a 60 minute jerkoff but rather feels like a "normal" band album, in a positive way. If you're a genre fan and enjoy Grossmann's bands, you're going to like this record as well. Personally, while I see this as a really good record with nice variety, I am not yet fully invested in it because it's not as tight and focused as other very similar albums in this niche, so I'd rather recommend Perdition Of The Sublime by Sophicide.

Old Man Gloom - The Ape Of God [2014] []
I used to be all over anything that Aaron Turner and his colleagues are involved in, but the big days of ISIS, Zozobra and OMG are gone, so  I didn't even learn about this new album until recently. Compared to 2012's NO, this has more tight and noisily aggressive parts, like the Christmas album had, but there's still lots of the post-metal stuff. Ape of God feels more accessible than NO and even though it doesn't fully connect with me yet, it puts OMG back on the map for me. All the weird and silly buzz about the fake leak of the album aside, this might be the best post-sludge-whatever-metal record of the last five years and it makes me happy to see that this style is still alive when other bands like Mastodon and Baroness have completely thrown out the difficult, dissonant, challenging bits and only do radio-friendly material anymore. OMG is keeping it real on this.

Horrendous - The Chills [2012] []
In their 2014 best-of-lists, everybody and their moms included the Ecdysis album. Don't ask me why, I don't see the appeal. Horrendous' previous and first full-length record The Chills however is a joyous trip across 90s Swedish death metal history, and that from a US band. If you've ever heard early Entombed and Dismember, you know exactly what these nine songs sound like, yet it doesn't feel like an uninspired imitation. I just works. It's logical that it needs to sound like that because that's what the songs were written for. "The Chills" is not a work of art, it is the high-quality product of craftsmanship, and that is fine. Between all the ultra-dissonant, anti-rhythmic and destructive death metal of recent months, it's fun listening to something as charming and well-done as this. It doesn't get the same spotlight as their second record, but it should.

Further listening:
Macintosh Plus - Floral Shoppe: MUH SLOWED SAMPLING works for two songs, then the interest in glitchpop evapor-wave-ates.
Teitanblood - Death: Bredy gud, but others do it better (Diocletian).
Acheron - Lex Talionis: More than anything, it feels obsolete.
NehruvianDOOM - NehruvianDOOM: 10% amazing, 90% forgettable.
Sacrilege - Within The Prophecy: Not as worldshaking as Realms of Madness, but still good
Charles Mingus - Mingus Moves: Aww yizz.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network

"Computer!", hailing a machine to await your command, has been embedded in popular Science-Fiction for a long time. In 2015, all major smartphones offer a digital "personal assistant" that is controlled with voice commands, whether it is Google Now on Android, Apple Siri or iOS or Microsoft Cortana on Windows Phone. More recently, similar systems have expanded outside of smartphones, like Amazon Echo or Microsoft Cortana on the upcoming Windows 10 (the first builds with Cortana embedded are available). Most usecases focus on the collection and relay of information, like "what's on my schedule for today", "where is the closest fuel station" or facts you would otherwise type into a search engine. Some functions are more active, like writing e-mails, playing music or entering appointments into a calender. None of these female-voiced interfaces offer really new things for users to do, it's just a new way of accessing the same information and tasks. 

There are two things that dampen my excitement about these voice-controlled interfaces. 
First, the usefulness. When I imagine how I would use these functions in everyday life, very little comes to mind. They are like the products from infomercials, made to solve problems that don't exist. The voice interaction seems most useful when driving, when you don't have your hands free to type. However, there appears to be little use for voice searches at home or outside. With other people around, talking on your phone is obnoxious enough, but talking with your phone is a whole other level, especially since you hear the responses as well. In an office environment (when it comes to Cortana on the desktop), it is too imprecise for people in their own rooms and too loud for shared office spaces. Also, keep in mind that these products are sold as personal assistants, which is a way for people to compensate for their own lack of organization, but when they are the only human logic involved, the digital assistant will be just as cluttered as the users themselves.
Second, the backend. All these interfaces I mentioned are powered by systems outside of the user's control, like the Bing engine, Amazon's infrastructure or Google's conglomerate. It certainly makes absolute sense to use these immense sources of information to make the assistant software as competent as possible, however you're using them as a service, you don't own this software. There is no server you control yourself, it's all in the datacenter of a foreign corporation, i.e. "the cloud". This means that not only is there a pulling of the information towards you, there's also a pushing of information about yourself into a profile that is kept somewhere out of your control. Microsoft for example promoted that you can delete fields of interest from your Cortana profile to make searches more relevant, but it is to be expected that they are not removed from your profiling, only not used in searches. You effectively have no control over what information the software vendors collect about you.

2015 and 2016 are the make-it-or-break-it years for voice controlled computer usage. While I don't see a really broad adoption soon, it might become a popular gimmick for mobile devices at least for a while, mostly because it makes some things more comfortable, which appears to be the major concern for consumer electronics. On classic desktop PCs, I don't see these assistants becoming more than a gimmick nobody really uses productively. Computer, post this article on the Internet!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dragon Age Inquisition

I played Dragon Age: Origins some years after it was released and while it was mostly entertaining, I wasn't really impressed by it. I skipped Dragon Age II because of the often unfavourable reviews, so Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn't something I looked forward to. But because my life is empty and devoid of purpose I got DA:I anyways.

The story: An outcast joins a legendary paramilitary faction and faces a powerful villain that wants to enslave the world with his disfigured army and a big dragon so our hero has to make allies with a diverse crew of warriors, mages and rogues to face off against bla bla bla and so on and so forth. The story takes place in a high fantasy pseudo-medieval feudal setting with humans, elves and dwarves that live in fragile peace with bla bla bla. At one point, everybody sings (no joke). In the end, the villain is defeated because the good guys form a team of four that travels diverse places and kills the bad guys with swords and fireballs until the elusive antagonist shows up and they kill him too. The morale behind the story is that mostly humanoid people must team up and use violence to stop monstrosities from hell, something we can all relate to. 
The player, like Origins and unlike the second game, gets to choose between being male and female, human, elf or dwarf and whether he prefers melee weapons, bow and arrow, magic or bla bla bla. The game is then spent killing anything that can be attacked, leveling up characters and advancing skill trees, collecting or forging better equipment and completing tasks that more or less serve the goals of the Inquisition, a trust-invoking name for the army our hero whips up along the way. Sometimes you spend your time slaughtering through squads of demons that pop up throughout the landscape because of tears between the demon and the not-quite-so-demon world to save poor civilians from being eaten, sometimes you shepherd golden antelopes to befriend elves or collect rare herbs so your army can have that nice cup of tea that makes the colours all funny. 
The combat allows you to pause the game to give tactical commands to your groups of four (because five people traveling in one group would be ridiculous), but in most cases you just run up to an enemy and use all your special powers like "hitting really hard" or "throwing a lightning bolt in his face" as fast and as often as you can.

With all these demeaning comments in mind, Dragon Age: Inquisition, though flawed, is pretty good. While it is exhaustingly generic at times, everything it copies from the indifferent sludge of high fantasy it does rather well. The game on ultra settings looks fine, sometimes amazing, especially in terms of the landscapes one visits. The voice acting is great (with rare exceptions), the main characters (see picture above) are fairly diverse and the loot-and-level grind always brings some tiny improvements to your current equipment. 
The game feels very large at times, up to the point where one wonders why they spent time giving you customizable beds and curtains for your stronghold's bedroom that you never ever use. It was only unless the very last main mission that I had completed all regular sidequests I found. There's always some stuff you can collect, some creature to kill or some new task to choose at the war table, where you can assign your forces to complete tasks that bring coin, equipment or new quests. However it doesn't feel as organic as Skyrim, because here you have independent, diverse locations instead of one coherent style. Especially the pomp of the human capitols seems out of place with the rest of the setting.

Just because of the graphics and the level design, the third installment in the series might be their best yet. If you're willing to overlook how bland much of it is, you'll get around sixty to seventy hours of traveling fantasy world, murdering wildlife and collecting dragon bones to forge the ultimate Legion of the Dead Armor only to discover that it turns silver and gold with those materials instead of black and grey.