Flake Prime Minister to be Awarded Fake Doctorate

Things have been looking up since former New Zealand Prime Minister John Key decided to give up and pass the baton along to his dull, bigoted and ineffective deputy. One of the most surprising aspects of the post-Key era is how quickly the public has forgotten about him. I’m able to go for several weeks at a time without thinking about him.

Of course, that serenity is punctuated by the brief occasions where Key makes the headlines again. One example being  when Key was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, an archaic institution that he revived during his tenure as PM. The words “John Key” and “Sir” don’t go well together. However, I manage to forget that he was ever knighted, just as I manage to forget about him altogether.

Key’s back in the headlines again as the University of Canterbury has announced that he shall receive an honourary doctorate at the upcoming December graduation. The press release is obsequious and sanitises his record as PM. Vague references are made to the Christchurch Earthquakes, the Global Financial Crisis and the failed flag referendum, which was described as “focused on enhancing New Zealand’s sense of nationhood”.

The rebuild of Christchurch has been derided as autocratic and homeowners are still battling their insurers to get what they are entitled to. A once-in-a-generation opportunity to upskill our youth and plan for a modern innovative city has been squandered in favour of exploiting overseas workers and urban sprawl.

New Zealand’s trajectory through the GFC was largely credited to the Clark Labour Government who paid off government debt. The gains of the economic recovery have not been felt by the vast majority of the population who rely on borrowing and a property bubble to feel wealthy. Let’s not forget the deeply unpopular partial privatisation of electricity retailers. Higher prices were levied in order to pay dividends to those immoral enough to purchase shares, depriving the government of long-term revenue.

The flag referendum attracted international ridicule, Key was not shy about his bias and his mindless supporters were quick to put his pick up against the current flag. Even anti-British republicans such as myself opted to keep the old flag. Instead, the nationhood discussion was put on the back burner instead of accepting Key’s false national identity which amounted to little more than a tawdry attempt at corporate branding.

UC has a history of giving out fake doctorates to undeserving right-wing maniacs, compromising the rightful recognition also given to artists, activists, engineers, and scientists.  It is a poor reflection on the outlook held by the decision makers, especially given the timing of the announcement which is in the middle of election season.

The University of Canterbury does its graduates (some who have real doctorates) no favours by pulling vapid stunts like this one. Honourary doctorates should be reserved for those who achieve great things in the arts, science and justice sectors, or not awarded at all. They should not be given to failed politicians or so-called “popular” figures as a cynical ploy to embellish the University’s public profile.

On the bright side, I will undoubtedly continue to forget about John Key, his knighthood, and his fake doctorate just as I did before.

 

It’s My One-Year Bloggiversary!

Bloggiversary: n, occasion denoting that a person has been blogging for one year.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at this for a year already. In that time, I have produced 39 posts and racked up over 200 views! Much of this was the result of interest in my posts about the video game Elite Dangerous. Judging from the search engine terms which resulted in views, my posts probably didn’t answer many of the questions that the CMDRs had. Sorry if I wasted your time!

My post about predatory conferences has also got some views, hopefully I was able to help others avoid getting trapped by the unethical organisations involved in this practice. No news about how the FTC is going along with their case against OMICS Group. Hopefully President Trump won’t fuck up the FTC and let OMICS get away with their crimes.

Who knows what I’ll write about over the next year? I should definitely have some incendiary opinions regarding the upcoming general election here in New Zealand. And some more Elite Dangerous posts of course. Thanks to all the blog viewers and its commenter for their contributions. It’s good for me to learn from others, just as it is good for all of you to learn from me!

 

Elite Dangerous: Visiting Remote Asteroid Bases

While I enjoy much of the gameplay in Elite Dangerous, I still tire about travelling long distances in supercruise. Supercruise is the mode which players use to move about within a star system. This involves faster than light (FTL) travel, reducing travel times to a matter of minutes. For systems with multiple stars, you arrive at the largest star when you enter the system. Depending on where you want to go the travel time can increase to about half an hour, which gets pretty boring.

One way I like to spend time while in long supercruise periods is browsing the galaxy map. It’s neat to go to the galactic core where all the stars are really squished together, or looking for nebulae. One day while I was searching through nebulae, I noticed that some of the far out systems had economies. That means human habitation. What form would habitation take ~5000 LY away from the “bubble”? I had to go and find out.

I’ve talked about the 2.3 update before. Mega-ships and asteroid bases were introduced in this update, increasing the number of assets that players may dock their ships. It also included some modifications to the Diamondback Explorer, increasing the jump range to ~60 LY, second only to the incredibly expensive Anaconda (when engineered). I took the engineered frame shift drive (FSD) from my Asp Explorer, added to a Diamondback I had just purchased and outfitted it for exploration (fuel scoop, auto-field maintenance unit, scanners, and heat sink launchers). With a full fuel tank, I had a jump range of 52 LY, compared to the Asp’s 47 LY range. If you’re travelling long distances, that means there are fewer jumps that you need to make and less time staring at the loading screen. The time saving is slightly offset by the slow fuel scooping in the Diamondback, which can hold a 4A unit, compared to the 6C that I use in the Asp.

My first destination was the Jellyfish Nebula,which is further outwards from the galactic core compared to Earth. As I got close up, I took an image of the nebula, one can see why it was called the Jellyfish Nebula, with the cloud resembling the bell at the top and the tentacles beneath it.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 21_05_2017 5_01_37 PM

the system Jellyfish Sector FB-X C1-5 had an asteroid base (Beta Site) within the ring of the gas-giant planet 7. The asteroid bases are much like large starports, many of the assets are similar to any other station, just implanted into an asteroid. It’s a shame we can’t land on asteroids like we can land on planets. Here’s a photo of my Diamondback in the station.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 21_05_2017 5_15_03 PM

Understandably, the station isn’t as well stocked as one in the bubble would be, but a few more outfitting options would have been nice as I was regretting not taking an SRV. The next stop was the Rosette Nebula, which was a red colour as any decent rosette should be! I forgot to take any shots of the nebula itself, but there is this one from within it:

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 27_05_2017 3_40_31 PM

Being 5000 LY out of the bubble means that there are many systems which haven’t been discovered by other players yet, so this was a good time to get my gamer tag added to many decent objects. I was able to filter a route that took me through A-class stars and above, which tended to yield many nice systems including many water worlds and Earth-likes. In fact I discovered 4 ELWs on this trip, which each gave a good payout when the time came to cash in the data.

earthLikeDiscoveries

Clockwise from top-left, we have: COL 107 SECTOR UE-P D6-98 A 8, COL 107 SECTOR SU-E D12-117 B 6, GLUDGAE IX-L D7-34 6, and GLUDGEIA DK-G C24-13 1 (not to scale). A detailed surface scan of an ELW nets players 600,000 in game credits, plus a 50% bonus if it’s a first discovery, that’s ~4 million credits for my commander. It’s not all about money, sometimes there are unusual and interesting things to find. For example, I came across a gas giant with an axial tilt of ~90°.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 8_06_2017 9_16_40 PM

The striped pattern of its gas clouds was perpendicular to the orbital plane as a result, unlike Jupiter, where the gas layers are roughly parallel to its orbital plane. Having seen some of the close-up images of Jupiter from the Juno mission, the in-game planet looks a bit bland by comparison.

Having returned to the bubble and cashed in my commander’s discoveries, I can conclude that the asteroid bases by themselves are not particularly groundbreaking. Nonetheless, it is definitely a good thing to increase the diversity of in-game assets. Placing bases in far-flung regions of the galaxy adds to the mystery of the in-game lore and is a great motivation for going on exploration trips. After all, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the places you’ll go while getting there.

UK 2017: May Loses the Unloseable Election

I’ve been rather quiet about the snap-election called in the United Kingdom that took place on June 8. This was for two reasons: (1) it was completely unnecessary and was a contradiction by Prime Minister Theresa May who had promised not to call an election, and (2) I was terrified, UK Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn was polling very poorly and under unwarranted media scrutiny. It looked like a disaster was on the cards.

The campaign was fascinating, the UK Conservative Party was able to squander a 20% lead in the polls to a 2.3% lead on voting day, while Corbyn led UK Labour to their best result since the early Blair years. It was the result those of us on the left had hoped for, but didn’t hope for too strongly given the past heartbreaks we’ve endured. There’s a few points that I would like to raise from the whole event

Labour’s messaging was superb, from the leaked manifesto which offered policies that appealed to marginalised Britons, to turning the “weak on security” meme back onto the Tories with their criticism of spending cuts to police and fire services. The Labour result was extraordinary, the vote share was now up to 40%, with 12.9 million votes, which eclipses Milliband’s result from the 2015 election.

Thus Corbyn’s position as Labour leader is now secure and there is no prospect of a leadership challenge, with the exception of the moronic Chris Leslie who had another go with the now discredited Blairite slogans. I was always a fan or Corbyn, like Bernie Sanders in the USA, he had the potential to redefine politics with his straight-talking decency. I was impressed by his substance over style manner and how he would relay questions from the public during PMQs. I can think of no better representatives for the people than Corbyn and those who follow his example.

It was amusing to see right-wingers give themselves whiplash by shifting the goalposts following Corbyn’s better than expected result. Firstly he was criticised because he would lead Labour to a humiliating defeat. When he does well enough to strip the Tories of their majority, he is criticised for not winning. Such analysis focuses on the 56 seat gap lead the Tories have while ignoring that this is a distortion caused by the FPP system. If the seats were allocated by PR, then the gap would only be 15 seats which doesn’t look like a great victory? It comes as no surprise that right-wingers choose to ignore FPP distortions as it benefits their party and demonstrates their contempt for democracy when it doesn’t go their way.

There’s another great irony in this result. One of the most common criticisms of MPP, the electoral system used in my home country of New Zealand is that minor parties hold undue influence when forming a coalition with a major party. This was predicted to bring economic ruin (which hasn’t happened) by failed finance ministers and corporate robber-barons. FPP was praised for producing strong governments with working majorities, even though it screwed the will of the people. MMP was derided for allowing the “tail to wag the dog”. And lo, here we have an FPP election that produces that exact result!

To hold on to power, the Tories look set to do a deal with the corrupt, wasteful retrogrades known as the Democratic Unionist Party. This leads to all kinds of problems in terms of the Northern Irish peace process and concessions that will be unpopular in the UK. May’s hold on the Tory leadership is also weakened, although nobody seems interested in replacing her. Time will tell whether this government can last, or if a new election will be held. So long as Labour doesn’t trigger it (parties causing unnecessary elections seems to be unpopular), they are well placed to win next time around, although post-election polling is still thin on the ground at the time of writing.

Most importantly, this is a huge defeat for vapid centrism, the prevailing line of thought in 21st century centre-left social democratic political parties the world over. Their obsession with the vague concept of electability has been demonstrated to be a falsehood. It’s no longer good enough to be “not as bad” as the lunatics occupying the political right-wing, now is the time to make a positive case for popular left policies in a way that involves the public. Now is the time for Jeremy Corbyn.

Formula Fusion: My Impressions

It was a sad day when Sony closed down Studio Liverpool in 2012, the games developer who had produced highly regarded titles such as the early to mid 2000s Formula One games (but not the abomination that was F1 Grand Prix for PSP) and the WipEout series. The WipEout games were futuristic hovercraft racing games, where players piloted anti-gravity (AG) craft around a variety of challenging circuits. The games were particularly unique for their electronic soundtracks and superb visual design that extended to AG craft sponsors and advertising around tracks. For me the portrayal of the future in the WipEout series was alluring , the racing was frenetic, and to this day WipEout Pure remains my favourite video game of all time.

The closure of SL means that there are no more installments in the WipEout series. In its place similar games such as BallisticNG or RedOut have been released. Joining them is Formula Fusion. Formula Fusion makes a convincing claim to assume the mantle of spiritual successor to the WipEout series; R8 Games has ex-Studio Liverpool staff and The Designers Republic was involved with the graphic design. While it has been in development for a while and I have been playing the early-access version for a few months already, June 1 marked the release of the full version. Below, I’ll list my impressions of the game, starting with the positives:

  • The graphics are superb, the craft and track assets are very well resolved (I’m playing with “high” settings). The sense of speed is immense as surroundings whizz by when I boost down the straights of Midtown at 600 km/h. I also enjoy the glare when I exit the tunnel in Niagara.
  • The ships have very different personalities. The Vixen is a good all rounder, with predictable turning behaviour, the Sabre feels more “pointy” and I can dart it about to get onto speed-up/pick-up pads. The Python is very floaty and slow to respond, so forward planning is needed to keep it out of the wall. Such diversity in ship handling is good, it allows players to work with a ship that suits them and introduces an element of strategy where ship benefits and drawbacks need to be weighed against each other.
  • Customisation. The ship skins can be changed (without any microtransactions, take note Frontier) and modifications can be made to make the ships faster, handle better or give them superior offensive/defensive capabilities.
  • Race results. This was a weak part of the WipEout games that I played. You never got to see the results at the end. This is addressed in Formula Fusion, the results are given in real time and at the end of the race. Furthermore, the lap times of each AG-craft are displayed in bar-graph form making it easy to identify how I compare to my opponents.
  • Replays. These can be set to auto-save and can be viewed under the “Records” section. When viewing the replay, you can switch between the AG-craft and camera views. You can even change the zoom and orientation of the camera in one of the modes. This feature is great for making videos to share online, or reliving past glories.
  • Game Modes: The elimination mode isn’t anywhere near as fun as the similarly named mode in WipEout Pulse, which was all about racking up kills. Here it is the more traditional “last place is eliminated each lap” approach. The endurance mode is interesting. The shield/health drains at an increasing rate as the laps go by, the challenge is to go as far as possible before the ship explodes. This requires a balance between outright speed and collecting shield pick-ups to prolong your time on the track.
  • Double Boosting. Fly between two adjacent speed-up pads and you can get twice the boost compared to going over a single pad. This feature is useful for speed runs, race strategy and improving the precision of one’s piloting.

Now for some negative aspects:

  • The game isn’t as smooth as it should be. There are jitters in the frame rate, which is an issue when precise movements are needed. This was improved by a patch released not long after the release of the game, but it still isn’t perfect.
  • The music seems quite dull and repetitive. More variety in this area would make things more interesting.
  • There was a cockpit view during early-access, but this isn’t in the game now. While I wouldn’t use it, it was nice to have the option. From what I can tell, it will be back in a later update.

All-in-all, Formula Fusion is a welcome addition to my SSD. I don’t bring out the PSP to play WipEout much anymore, so it’s great to have something that can run on my PC. From a graphic design and lore point of view, it offers a fresh break while demonstrating the same attention to detail that endeared the WipEout franchise to me. The ships are great fun to pilot and the tracks are well-designed and very rewarding to fly when one gets everything right. That feeling and new content including free tracks and craft will keep me coming back to Formula Fusion for a long time to come.

Here’s a video of what it’s like to play:

Apologies for the pixelated appearance, I’m new to video capture. I recorded the gameplay with OBS, the footage looked great. Then I had to truncate it in Blender, which is where the quality was lost. With practice, I’ll hopefully find some better settings.

Elite Dangerous: Going to “The View” and NSV 1056

I’ve been able to get a little more time in Elite Dangerous, the space exploration/trading/combat game that I’ve written about before. The latest update (2.3) was released a couple of weeks ago. There are now megaships and asteroid bases in the game, which are little more than rehashed stations. There is another passenger liner ship called the Dolphin, which is great fun to fly. Players can now join other players ships with the multicrew feature.

While very exciting in principle, multicrew has been very poorly implemented, with a combat focus. There is an exploration mode, but there is nothing for crew players to do but watch, e.g. they can’t use SRVs. The lack of things for crew to do stems from the lack of things for pilots to do while exploring apart from scanning systems, scanning objects and stumbling across points of interest on barren planetary surfaces. One can hope that the developers will get around to adding more gameplay sooner rather than later. I had a go with multicrew and my computer crashed after a minute of sitting in someone else’s ship. As with the rest of the game, Frontier needs to spend more time fixing the cause of these problems.

There is also a avatar creator, which is a bit of a lark. I tried to make a version of myself, but it looks like a fuzzy memory of myself in a mirror. Still handsome enough to pass muster. Other players have complained about the lack of body types (with a focus on certain areas in particular). The developers would do well to ignore these strange demands and focus on actual gameplay.

The avatar creator does highlight one of my biggest qualms about Elite Dangerous and modern gaming in general: microtransactions, where users have to pay for additional content. I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy, who remembers when you could pay for a game once and that was it. Sometimes there was free downloadable content (DLC), sometimes there wasn’t. Some of my favourite examples were:

  • BMW M Roadster and M Coupe additions to Need for Speed: High Stakes.
  • Porsche 928GTS, 959 and 911 GT2 and GT3 additions to Need for Speed: Porsche 2000.
  • The Classic2, Delta  and Gamma packs for WipEout Pure (the best game in all of human history), which nearly doubled the amount of tracks and craft available in game. There was also the Omega pack, but I found it so disturbing that I removed it from my Memorystick.

Things started to go downhill afterwards, some examples of paid DLC that I stumped up for were: the megapack for Test Drive Unlimited, which added ~45 cars to drive around Oahu; and the add-ons to WipEout Pulse*, which weren’t as plentiful as those in Pure. Elite Dangerous takes this to an obscene level, your ship is available in one colour, unless you pay for more skins for your ship. You have to pay to change the colour of the ship laser beams. You have to pay for avatar flight suits and tattoos.

Update 2.3 (which is DLC in itself) then took this to an even more ludicrous level with ship naming. Sure, you can name your ship. But if you to display it on the exterior, you have to purchase a name plate with real money! This is pathetic, they advertise features coming to paid DLC which are only fully available as a further microtransaction. Disgusting!**

In my last Elite Dangerous post,  I travelled ~12 kLY to a pair of binary Earth-likes orbiting a neutron star. Following that, I decided to take a shorter passenger mission, this time to “The View”. Now this has nothing to do with the homonymous daytime television show The View. From the mission description it was not very clear what “The View” is. It was only 1000 LY away; after about 25 hyperspace jumps, I was there.

It turns out that “The View” is just an area of extreme natural beauty. An O-class star and a neutron star nearby each other. There is a tourist installation below (or above?) the neutron star, where I took the animation below using what is probably one of the best parts of 2.3: the camera suite.

Neutron

My ship isn’t actually in the ejection cone of the neutron star. The camera can now be easily moved to the right place. Think of it as one of those “holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa” photographs that annoying tourists take.

To finish the mission, I had to scan the appropriate tourist beacon. Unfortunately, it was on a 3.3g planet! I had to face my high gravity world fears to get to the beacon. I took it steady and came in to land like an aeroplane. I managed to land successfully, although I overshot the beacon by 65 km! I can see why they call it “The View”, there’s an O-Class star, a neutron star and a planetary ring all in one image.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 26_04_2017 10_44_22 PM

Once I had spent enough time looking at “The View” and taking jumps in the SRV (the boosters don’t get you very high obviously), it was time to leave. This isn’t as easy as one would expect. Pointing away from the planet and boosting would probably cause a crash at high g. I targeted a system just above the horizon, lifted off with vertical thrusters and slowly gained altitude. I yawed towards the target and then charged up the hyperdrive, which generated a lot of heat close to the planetary surface and set off all kinds of alarms, but I made it and jumped into the safety of hyperspace. To make it less stressful, I could have picked a system at a lower elevation angle before I launched.

It was then an uneventful series of jumps back to Conway dock, where I got to pocket a mission reward of several million credits.  Another tantalising mission was already available on the list. This time the trip would take me to a planetary nebula, NSV 1056. The tourist beacon was orbiting a volcanic moon. Once I had travelled further away from the system, I could get a better view of the planetary nebula. A pleasing radial iris of orange and blue.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 19_05_2017 11_27_59 PM

Want to know what it looks like on the inside? There’s a Wolf-Rayet star at the centre which I can jump to. Here’s the view from inside: It reminds me of the ripple patterns you can see looking at an outdoor swimming pool on a bright sunny day.

Elite - Dangerous (CLIENT) 19_05_2017 11_32_58 PM

And that’s just two places, there’s a whole Milky Way of wonders to travel to. These trips illustrate why I like the passenger missions, they are not combat focused, show off the best looking parts of the galaxy and they pay well. For all of the faults with update 2.3, passenger missions are well served by the new Dolphin ship and the improved camera suite. Frontier is annoyingly vague about what update 2.4 will bring. Atmospheric planets and bug fixes would be nice, but I know that is wishful thinking.

*In Pulse, you could even design ship liveries online and download them to your system. For free!
**As a protest, I have given my ships names such as No Microtransactions!, Not Paying for Extras and I Like Free Stuff. There’s also a 22 character limit, which is simply not enough for fans of Iain M. Banks.

Why does the Maxim Institute Hate Democracy?

Earlier this month, the Maxim Institute, a far-right think tank based in Auckland published an article about the urban/rural divide in New Zealand.The institute has done some “research” that indicates that there are differences in lifestyles and attitudes between regions in New Zealand. They forecast that a greater proportion of the population will live in urban centres (70% in 30 years time). Strangely the institute chooses to frame this as a problem:

That’s a lot of urban voters, and it’s going to be very tempting for politicians to focus more and more on urban interests in order to win those votes, possibly at the expense of the rest of the country.

It could also make it easier for urban voters to ignore or mock the interests of voters living in very different communities.

I don’t see the problem. If the vast majority of the population lives in urban areas, then it is only right that politicians focus on urban interests. That’s democracy in action. It’s also assuming that policy development is a zero-sum game. This is not strictly true, a policy designed to help urban dwellers does not necessarily harm rural dwellers.

Let’s also keep in mind that the opposite situation exists at present. Politicians already prioritise property owners and corporations at the expense of ordinary people. Policies such as irrigation schemes and the dilution of water quality standards are designed to benefit rural voters while harming the interests of the wider public. Why doesn’t the Maxim Institute write about these issues instead of this one that they made up?

It’s worth mentioning that the urban-rural divide is a cornerstone of political analysis in USA, where it plays a massive factor in elections. Donald Trump can credit the urban/rural divide with handing him the presidency that he didn’t deserve. The electorate is divided into a series of winner-take-all states where the number of electors is not proportional to the state populations. Narrow victories in swing states and the over-representation of small rural states turned a 2.7 million vote deficit into a 77 vote surplus in the electoral college. By preserving and accentuating a bias in favour of rural areas, the American right-wing have been able to engineer electoral victories in the face of popular defeats.

When we keep this in mind, the motives behind the Maxim Institute’s article become much more sinister. They don’t say it, but it is implicit that they think that the electoral system should be redesigned. I imagine they would want something less proportional, like FPP that favours rural constituencies. Never mind that FPP has been rejected by the public twice during the past two and a half decades.  While they may cry crocodile tears about their contrived decline in rural areas, this is all about securing right-wing power over New Zealand for years to come.

As things stand NZ has a very proportional voting system. There is no reason for this to ever change. If the increase in the numbers of urban voters is a problem for the political right, the problem is with them, not with the voters and not with the electoral system. If this is typical of the standard of work that the Maxim Institute is producing, urbanisation should be the least of their worries.